My Autobiographical Garden

All gardens  are a form of autobiography.” – Robert Dash.

 

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I can’t stop thinking about my back yard. To say that events have not unfolded back there as expected this year would be a gross understatement.

I tend to take a benevolent dictator stance as a gardener. I agree to plant seeds with the understanding that in return said seeds will grow into objects of beauty and astonishment, seeking only to please me.

Of course sometimes  – ahem- often, things don’t turn out the way I hoped. And when that happens I always think I have next year to correct the situation.

And then I find out I don’t have next year to correct the situation, because the garden has taken a new path altogether, regardless of my wishes.  I realize I have counted upon an illusion.

Take this year. In late 2013 a pseudo ice storm froze several Leyland Cypresses, causing them to fall over my fence and knock it down.

The trees weren't pretty, but they did conceal a tacky shed next door.

The trees weren’t pretty, but they did conceal a tacky shed next door.

As the bitter winter weather continued with low, low temperatures I huddled inside the house unaware of  how my plants would be affected.

When spring finally arrived, I saw I had lost Grandfather, my enormous rosemary. I counted on his leaves for cooking and his lovely aroma to greet me as I swam in the deep end of the pool.

This was an enormous rosemary named Grandfather. He didn't make it.

This was an enormous rosemary named Grandfather. He didn’t make it.

This was Grandfather during healthier times.

This was Grandfather during healthier times.

And my poor fig tree. It was dormant for a long time and when it finally began to leaf out, it was from the trunk and not the branches. What will this do to my fig crop this year? I don’t know.

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Because of the Leyland Cypress tree incident, in the spring we made the decision to cut down our remaining Leylands along the back fence. They had outgrown the bed and covered the patio beside the pool to such an extent that it was impossible to walk past. Down they came, leaving another gaping hole. We planted new arborvitae there which will eventually fill in.

The new arborvitae barely clear the fence.

The new arborvitae barely clear the fence.

Despite my optimistic outlook, many of  my vegetable and flower seedlings drowned in the rainy spring. What has lived has not seemed very robust. And to add insult to injury, to quickly fill in the front of the bed with the new arborvitae,  I planted geraniums. Yes, they are hardy and colorful but they look like little old ladies.

I think they burned their hair sitting in one of those hair dryers at the beauty shop!

I think they burned their hair sitting in one of those hair dryers at the beauty shop!

My gardening sprits matched the general ennui of the flowers. I could see this would not be a summer in which to have a flower fashion show, for there were no saucy teenaged fuchsias, shapely gourds, or statuesque bee balms in red high heels.

The garden had turned a corner, and so must I. Like so many events in my actual life, the truth of the garden jarred me. Who knew that after so many years of devoted service that I could lose my giant rosemary? That I would have only one single red hot poker bloom? How could I figure out solutions for the garden situation  before me? Should I just give up this gardening game?

This backyard dilemma had a ring of familiarity to me. I realized that once again my garden had  mirrored my actual life.  To make a 32 year old story short, a long time ago I had children.

1981-01 I did not know what I was doing but I did the best I  knew how.

1984-08a1988-01a Every time the children reached  a new stage in life, I was not ready. I wanted things to stay the way they were, whether it be kindergarten, third grade, or high school, because the future was unknown, and I always thought if I had a little more time I could really get the knack of the current situation.

1992-141989-45a

But those pesky kids kept changing on me, until they finally left the house.

2003-25 Of course I didn’t know they were really gone when they left, because like all mothers, I had bargained with myself. Sure, I could be a good sport about letting them leave BECAUSE THEY WERE COMING BACK. College is temporary, right?

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In time I accepted that they had begun their own lives, and that I had mistakenly believed all these years that I had unlimited opportunities to be a hands on parent. Again, I had relied on an illusion. We had all turned corners, begun to walk new paths. There would be no going back.

I pondered all of this as I regarded the new open spaces in the yard. Where the trees had knocked over the fence, I now had room to put in a few new hydrangeas. I could see that that corner, previously difficult to reach, could now become a destination. The giant rudebeckias would have more sun.

DSC_0011I didn’t plan it, but now that it had  happened, it seemed  just right.

I decided that the geraniums were a one season aberration. In my mind they would look more at home in a red state yard. That one was as easy to fix as a bad haircut.

And my vegetable garden? I’ve decided it’s time to start over. I’m going to turn the whole area into a larger bed with room for large stands of flowers as well as vegetables. In sections I’ve been turning the last grassy part of the yard into a bed, lasagna style. Before long I will be able to move some flowers which are  cramped where they are into spots where they can have more room to breathe.The change will be a good one.

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The part where I have existing flowers and vegetables I will leave for the season. Though many things are not hardy, I do have some carrots, tomatoes, a cucumber vine, some okra and tiny eggplants.

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But at the end of the season, I’ll uproot everything and lasagna it as well, enriching the soil, which will make a more hospitable environment for next spring.  I’ll put some kind of a path leading from my sunroom door all the way to the new destination at the back of the yard.

While I’ve been contemplating what to do in the yard, thoughts of my own life have not been far away. For several years now I’ve been an empty nester, at peace with the new path and actually quite pleased with the fun it has offered. Until I experienced it I never could have dreamed of the pleasures that would come along when one part of life ended and another began.

But I have known that  more life changes  were in the making, for they always are. Just one week ago today a whole new path  opened up for me when I became a grandmother.

GRANDMOTHER????? That would mean my own daughter is a Mother. Thank goodness I did all that good work letting go, so that I am very confident she and her husband are ready for that role.

My daughter has claimed for years she was ready for motherhood!

My daughter has claimed for years she was ready for motherhood!

But what about me? The path is not clear. The only way I  know how to be a grandmother is to go over to my daughter’s house several times a week, and to have my grandchild with me at my house the other days of the week. In other words, seamless intimacy.  Immersion, even. How will I accomplish this when my grandson lives across the country?

I have worried and worried about this while dumping out bags of peat and pulling the endless weeds which proved to be my most bounteous crop of the season. And now the baby is born.  It discombobulates me even to think that he was born AND I WASNT THERE. I haven’t yet held him in my arms, but I gaze at him on FaceTime with some deep intensity every chance I get.

I’ll tell you one thing. Several, actually. Maybe I don’t know yet how I can function as a long distance grandmother, but I am going to kiss the fool out of that tiny blonde head. I’m going to trace every tiny wrinkle in his feet until I know each one  by heart. I’m going to memorize the sweet smell of the back of his neck to comfort me when I’m away from him.

As I plan flowers for my new destination spot at the back of the yard, I imagine sometime in the near future a pair of sturdy toddler  legs running past me to hide behind the burning bush. It’s just right.

IMG_2978                                                      Welcome, Baby Micah!

 

The Good Life

I’m afraid to even say this out loud, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but here goes. The last four weekends of my life have been as smooth as a bowl of fresh whipped cream. I started to call this post “Whipped cream weekends,” but realized that the title could have been misleading. My meaning of a whipped cream weekend would of course be one in  which every activity seems to be topped off with that extra sweetness, that light fluffy accompaniment that makes each dessert that much more sublime.

The situation called for whipped cream.

The situation called for whipped cream.

Why, and how has this happened, when I ought to be still worn out from traveling, allergies, and work? I cannot say for sure. But here is what I  would like to believe.

I would like to believe that because I have been nicer to my self lately, that my self is being nicer to me. I had a big reset a few weeks ago, and the time frame fits: when I decided to stop pushing myself to take care of outside matters and to allow myself to concentrate on some inside matters, my life became easier and sweeter.

Could the key  to increased energy, creativity, and peace have been this simple all along? I  can’t say because I’ve never been in this particular spot in life before, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of a developed interior life.

What I have noticed is that with more balance between the mindful and magpie parts of me I have  done many, many things while feeling relaxed and in the moment. In the past I have also done many, many things, but depending upon the circumstances there were always some unwanted feelings: dread, resentment, defeat, regret, ambivalence, because usually I had taken on too much. I would always follow through with whatever was going on, but there would be loud sighs, followed by naps and crankiness.

It was not that I had no fun. Hey. I’m a fun person. But I see now that by not organizing my own inner home team, I was using my energy struggling with myself.

Here is a  partial recap of the last few weekends, not that the actual activities matter.  Each weekend had aspects which in the past would have been triggers to angst or run-around-like a chicken – with your head- cut off- syndrome. But instead  each held felt  expansive, and unhurried.  Is this how other people have been living all along?

Weekend One: Youngest son’s graduation, oldest son in town for the occasion. Beautiful weather and beautiful times.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Weekend Two: Sit down dinner party for 17, decided upon on a Tuesday and executed on Saturday night. Made the main dish, salad, salad dressing and six loaves of bread.

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Bread in the oven.

Bread in the oven.

Weekend Three: Memorial Day Weekend: Spent one day working on editing my little book, and another ( after the book sale)  on spreading many bags of mulch in my back yard while my husband power washed everything in sight.  Followed by a relaxing float in the pool.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

DSC_1419Weekend Four: Had a great time at a rained out beer garden, and a leisurely breakfast on a patio the next morning. Then went to a farmer’s market, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my “booty” for dinner that night. Sunday after an early Father’s Day brunch, I went for a scrumptious foot massage.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scales from my own yard, seared scallops.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scapes from my own yard, seared scallops.

I don’t suppose there is much deep meaning to this post except that I may be on the right track to balance, at least for me. My way is not unique. It includes lots and lots of noticing, journaling, contemplation, and taking care of me first. I’m just so grateful to have stumbled upon a deep well of abundance.  I feel as rich as a bowl of whipped cream right now. Right now. Right. Now.

 

Failing Farmer Flees To France

Want to know one of the most satisfying parts of being a 50 something? It’s simply the ability to do what I could not do as a child. I’m referring to creativity mess making here. How many tantalizing dreams did I entertain, lo those many years ago, only  to be thwarted by some short sighted adult saying “Girls can’t do that”, or, “I will not take you to the store”, or “PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT THIS MINUTE!!!!!”

Before long I was an adult myself and  in charge of OTHER people’s messes. I was all for turning a refrigerator box into a spaceship, or the living room into a cavern made of bedsheets. I tried never to say “Girls can’t do that,” but I did on many occasions say sternly, “PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT THIS MINUTE!”

Now, as an empty nester, I can come up with whatever big idea suits me, and proceed to make as big a mess as I want to. If my first mess making attempt does not pan out, I am free to try the same schemes over and over again! There is no one stop me, which is one of the reasons why I need to go to France right now.

Didn’t you ever want to get as close as possible to the very beginning of whatever you wanted to make or do? For instance, to not only paint your own picture, but to stretch the canvas as well? Or to not only make a quilt, but  to also dye the fabric yourself? That’s my approach to farming. I want to grow plants from the seed right to the table. Also I will admit  that colorful seed packets remind me of the penny candy we used to be able to buy at the TG&Y. And I want them all.

Each spring, having had the winter freeze my memories of  whatever farming peccadilloes I got myself into the year before, I  vow that this year I will be organized and efficient as never before. And because of my vow, now seems like a good time to go to France.

Here is where I so carefully planted one million seeds.

Here is where I so carefully planted one million seeds.

After planting

After planting


DSC_0323This year I kept meticulous records of which seeds were planted in which little container. I didn’t want to wind up not knowing what was where. On April 12 I transplanted almost every seedling into my garden. It was a calculated risk, because I knew I was going out of town before long. I thought the plants might do better in their natural habitats instead of crammed in those little plastic trays.

I moved the tender plants onto the patio in preparation for planting. I likened  their journey from seed packet, to seed tray and to the garden as a kind of Middle Passage. My young plants had not chosen to come to my yard. Rather, one day they were dislodged  from a seed packet and packed together, head to toe, in plastic seed trays. Today I would free them from their rude vessels and release them into a New World, where they could  freely reach toward the sun. I am nothing if not a benevolent farmer.

 

DSC_0328 Did you know that it is very difficult to get  a miniature seedling out of a plastic tray section which is only 1/16th of an inch wide? As my planting day progressed, despite my lofty plans,  I grew weary of trying to gently pry out the seedlings. More often than not I turned the whole tray upside down and shook, then tried to turn the seedlings right side up. There was no one to stop me.DSC_0336 I also ran out of room. I resorted to finding a spot that didn’t look already dug up, and stuffing the darn things down right there. So much for organization; I could find out what things were whenever they got big enough. At 3:00 I stopped, having only one more tray of peas and a couple more seed packets to take care of at some later date.

That Tuesday night we had a FREEZE warning. I spread tarps over as much of the garden as I could. It was out of my hands now. This past Saturday it was warm again. It seemed some  bedraggled seedlings may have pulled through. In a hopeful mood I gave the garden a good drink from the irrigation system. Two hours later my husband came in and said, “By the way, I’ve watered your garden for you.” DOH!!!DSC_0327 When it finally dried out a little, things didn’t look too promising. DSC_0325 Is that something growing up there??? Maybe???

All I can do at this point is to say that I had a big idea and made a big mess to go along with it. Mostly it has been glorious fun. I can’t bring myself to believe that NONE of my one million seeds will make it. Four o’clocks and peppers, for example, are fairly hardy. Since I can do no more now except wait, I’m going over to France for a few days. DSC_0329 If worst comes to worst, when I get back, I can try again with these babies. Isn’t it great being a 50 something? There’s always another big idea around the corner. See you when I get back!

Bon Voyage!

Dear 2013,

A  few nights ago I  navigated myself to your outer deck and from there leaped onto another vessel named 2014. I  hope she will be as hardy and productive as you were when I was with you. Having only been aboard for four days, I haven’t exactly gotten my bearings. I find myself looking out portholes, back to where I see your sturdy form  chugging away in the opposite direction, growing smaller in my vision with each passing day. I know it’s too late to turn back now.

Things don’t seem the same without you. It’s not that I’m pessimistic  about my trip aboard the 2014, but thus far we have no shared history. The sudden change has caused me to reflect on our time together, on moments of whimsy, creativity, tedium, frustration and exhilaration we shared. From my vantage point I would say we had a successful voyage together. To thank you for your loyal service I am sending you some remembrances to look over when you have the inclination. Here they are, in no particular order:

Istanbul:

A feast for the eyes and the spirit.

A feast for the eyes and the spirit.

The mild winter of 2013:
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A return to the meditative practice of knitting:

Luscious color ways.

Luscious color ways.

Embracing my ongoing remedial skill level in painting:
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Gardening – Some things came up; others didn’t.DSC_0273

Preserving – The famed laboratory kitchen. “Figging”, by the way, means something other than picking figs in the back yard. It has to do with punishing one’s female slaves. Who knew?DSC_0721

Writing – NaNoWriMo. I never dreamed you would navigate me through this, 2013. I would recommend the experience to anyone. And of course it is not over. So far I have had three people read my little book. Hopefully 2014 will bring more readers!

Daily Happiness:
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The Condo – I will be posting more about this but in June of 2013 we were finally able to begin to use it.DSC_0708

Family: 2013 helped me see my children wherever I could: San Francisco, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, and in my own home.

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Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge

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Under the pergola

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In St. Louis, opening up “Breaking Bad” Christmas presents.

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In an enthusiastically decorated German restaurant in Manhattan, drinking mulled wine.

At the Space Needle

At the Space Needle

In St. Louis

In St. Louis

Not So Good Ideas: Of course no voyage is without some pratfalls, like flooding your bedroom and having to pull up the whole floor,IMG_2162IMG_2419Or  an imaginary ice storm which uprooted two cypress trees and knocked over my fence.IMG_2422I’m very grateful that the very nice fence man who came  the next day was not also imaginary.

2013 darling,  I could go on and on, but I just can’t include everything. You were a good companion for me; healthy but sassy, unpredictable but rarely actually harmful, full of surprises but also on a good path.We made some precious memories.  I’ll miss you, but it’s always good to leave when you are still a little reluctant to do so. Wish me luck with my voyage on the 2014; she has some large shoes to fill. Speaking of shoes, I’ve got to go now. It’s time to find my sea legs on the good ole 2014.

Happy Sailing!

Can’t Stop The Fall

I just got in from the backyard, and I’ve shut the door firmly behind me. It is October 16, well into the time when summer should be “shutting down”, but judging by the some of the plant  activity, revolution is in the air.DSC_0273

This old timer carrot realizes the time has come for him to become a part of my salad. Digging in his heels will only bring him into danger of becoming flash frozen in the dirt. Who wants that?DSC_0337This elephant ear shows the color splotches he has earned during many blazing hot afternoons on a patio. We expect these signs of character by October. He has fought the good fight. The onions have turned from a foamy, lacy white to an earthy brown.DSC_0278The burning bush is showing its first red leaves.DSC_0279But while some backyard citizens are yielding gracefully to the change of season,  a younger, less mature set is just starting out in life.  They are budding, blossoming, perhaps frolicking in the headiness of youth,  as though unaware that cool temperatures and short, dark days are just around the corner.

Naive optimism? Or plain nihilism?

Some expect to produce offspring. Will they have a chance? I wouldn’t want to say.DSC_0330

This gourd has at last appeared. He is an only child. Does he think he can halt the march of nature long enough for him to reach his full growth?DSC_0276

The tomatoes are churning out more blossoms, defying the notion that they should have been turned into mulch by now.DSC_0314

And look at this poor tomatillo, newly raised from seed after my first two attempts failed. It seems he wants to take his chances.DSC_0325

Meanwhile, the four o’clocks are blooming like it is June the sixth.DSC_0278

What can they all be thinking? Have they not seen this old grandma in her nightgown, telling all it is time for a long winter’s nap?DSC_0289But the youth…. they spurn the voice of experience.
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I’m hoping this dissension is not something organized. But when I see the reach of the hummingbird vine, I know that seditious ideas could easily be passed from one young bloom to another.DSC_0283DSC_0303They look innocent enough, but they would look that way, wouldn’t they?DSC_0274

Well, in case any of them are listening, I do not allow politics in my backyard. Swift action will be taken against any special interest groups which threaten the general ecosystem. I  empathize with those who find themselves unready for the march of time, who still have  big plans they will not be able to carry out when the weather changes. As an old lady who feels as spry as a cosmos bloom I too must accept that my time here is finite.
DSC_0318My message to any wannabe overthrowers in my backyard is this: No one can stop the fall.

Granulatin’ Bad

Sure. I look pretty harmless. I’m polite to the neighbors, fairly unobtrusive when I leave the house, as middle aged ladies often are. No one could look at me and know that in August, within the confines of my home, I’ve got skills, mad skills. Because when boiling sun and steamy air turn the tiny green figs into golden orbs, I’m Granulatin’. Granulatin’ Bad.

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You’re no doubt familiar with someone else who may appear mild in the outside world,  but who  leads a whole other life right under his neighbor’s noses. That’s right –  Walter White.

Don’t think I have anything in common with Walter, or Walter with me?  We’ll just see about that! Here are some similarities:

Photo Source: IMDB

Photo Source: IMDB

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Obviously we’re both bad you know whats.


1)  Highly desirable product:  Walter’ s blue meth is apparently the stuff of dreams. OK, fine. But you should  see the eyes widen when I walk into the yoga studio with a box of twelve gleaming jars of fig preserves.  Excited murmurs float across the studio. When class is over they make a beeline for every last jar. Unconditional acceptance of your product by a yoga class says only one thing: 99.1 % pure, total quality.

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2) Large amount of raw materials needed:  Walter buys his in more than one location to avoid suspicion. But I HAVE to buy mine in multiple locations because no one stocks as many jars or as many boxes of pectin as I need. And unlike Walter, because I deal with a live ingredient, I  can never predict the exact amount of supplies I need. They may suspect me of something at the grocery store when I dash in wearing sticky shoes and a stained T shirt and buy ALL of their eight ounce  canning jars,  but they know not to question me. I dare them to. 
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3)  Specialized work environment and equipment:  We each need to set up a pristine, industrial workspace. Mine is the kitchen. Walter  may have a gas chromatograph while I use a spoon and my own mouth for quality control, but the concept is the same.

My lab.

My lab.

Walter's lab. Photo courtesy of breakingbad.wiki.com

Walter’s lab. Photo courtesy of breakingbad.wiki.com

4) Total concentration: We can’t do anything else while cooking.  We’re basically unreachable. When my harvest begins, I am in a flurry of picking, washing, cutting, cooking, sterilizing. My hands get too sticky to even think of touching a phone. So don’t call me. Walter and I agree that production stops when we say it stops.

5) Hazards:  Yes, it is hazardous work. You are familiar with what Walter has faced through the years: beatings, torture, kidnapping, and even death. But what about me? I’ve bravely faced my share of challenges. Here is a short list:

a) Balancing on the part of an eight ladder where it says not to standDSC_0736

b) While keeping up with a bag of figs over one shoulder

These babies aren't light.

These babies aren’t light.

c) While grasping at leaves and branches and clutching them to your chest so you can pull off the figs with the other hand, sweat dripping off your brow,

d) And a swarm of mosquitoes gets close and personal with your armpits,

e) And getting down from said perch,

f) Dealing with the crazy violence that seems ubiquitous in the fig tree world

Nobody saw nothin'.

Nobody saw nothin’.

g) And even having to hide some ominous, foreshadowing symbols from my family, like this.DSC_0718

Inside the house, once I have gathered my figs I  still have to endure deep, deep stickiness from spilled sugar and gooey figs, boiling water, hot pans, an extended cleanup, and last but not least, the sick feeling that comes from tasting preserves fifteen times. Let me tell you, I’ve paid my dues!

I'm tough enough to take the heat.

I’m tough enough to take the heat.

Walter and I, we’re a pair. We may threaten, cajole, and intimidate, but we get the product out.  Still, we have our differences. First he sells his product for top dollar while mine is  free of charge. Maybe I could sell mine, but unlike Walter I have no partner to handle the distribution end. Second, he can’t taste his product, but I can. Mr. White always uses the   same recipe, while I  I experiment with new flavors. This year I’ve added a little something different in every batch. Walter never divulges his recipes, but I can. I’m not trying to corner the market.

Walter in his work clothes

Walter in his work clothes. Photo: breakingbad.wiki.com

As fig season winds up, so does Walter’s last season. I don’t have a good feeling about his prospects, but he may surprise me yet. While we wait to learn his fate, won’t you try some of my  fig preserves? Really. They’re free, and you won’t have to worry about going to jail!DSC_0710 Postscript: This years flavors: cinnamon, cinnamon and ginger, rosemary and port, pepper, basil, amaretto, and that’s all I can remember. Tell that to the D.E.A.

Code Orange No Longer In Effect

My friends, you have all heard the rumors of the Magpie Backyard Code Orange Security Alert  we recently faced. It is true that I solved the case in only one day, which means you may now go back to all your normal activities. I am not responsible for rescheduling the Midsummer Fashion Review. But I would not object to chairing a Philosophical Debate  Society so that we can mull all the ramifications of this recent event in our community while keeping alive ancient Greek and Roman oral and intellectual traditions.  Oh. Just file my report.? Very Well. My confidential account is below.

Respectfully Submitted,

Mr. Biblio Turturis

Head Of Magpie Backyard Security
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 TOP SECRET First of all, I never expected to be named Head of Security, and I don’t know why I was , except many were tired of the heavy handed tactics of Owlus Rusticus, who served for many years in this post. For years I have volunteered to oversee a debating society, yet the position remains unfilled.

Had he been at his job too long?

Owlus Rusticus: had he been at his job too long?

At first the  season was going well. We had the usual complaints: the slums at the back of garden, vandalism by young figs on the pool deck.

These kids!

These kids!

Most of the time I could read and keep my eye on things at the same time. But two weeks ago I received a disturbing report of an unauthorized device in the compost heap.

Where the device was found, with the white part protruding like a periscope.

Where the device was found, with the white part protruding like a periscope.

It had a long  white sinuous neck which protruded between decomposing issues of The New York Times. It was attached to a purple rectangle which held another rectangle inside it. There was instant unrest in the backyard. Mrs. Squash Blossom and her sisters had to be hospitalized after a bout of hysteria during which they were certain the object had grown up out of the Book Reviews, and posed a danger to their unborn children, for who knew what seditious ideas had seeped into the soil? The one known immature squash is being cared for, along with a young cucumber, by the Okra family. The Blossoms should be back to normal soon after emergency application of electrosunlight. One unripe tomato fled all the way to the end of swimming pool where it was last seen  calmly sunning itself on a lawn chair.

A weeping Squash Blossom, as neighbors try to comfort her.

A weeping Squash Blossom, as neighbors try to comfort her.

The child seems unharmed.

The child seems unharmed.

This tomato removed himself to another clime.

This tomato removed himself to another clime.

The Red Hat Society, sure the object was a sign of imminent attack from outside the yard, instituted a daily watch along the southern perimeter of the fence, which  they faithfully completed whenever they were awake and not playing bridge, whenever inclement weather did not threaten their hairdos, and  before cocktail hour. After one day of watching they reported seeing no undesirables.

A member of the Red Hat Society on patrol.

A member of the Red Hat Society on patrol.

I had to appeal to Owlus Rusticus for help in this matter. He took a break from his new job as Pool Director, where he was busy admonishing  youngsters not to congregate in the groundcover. He advised me to interview Grandfather Rosemary. And he complained about some of the skimpy bathing attire being worn this season. I couldn’t advise him on that, as I wear the same shell year after year.DSC_0736

Grandfather Rosemary has been here for at least thirteen yeas and does not scare easily.

This revered gentleman has many years of experience of supervision  around the diving board.

This revered gentleman has many years of experience of supervision around the diving board.

But he told me he had never seen such a thing come out of a compost heap in his life. Had it been spying, he wondered? That sent a chill down my shell. If the thing ( which by the way had uttered not one word since its discovery) had been sent by an adversary, I would need to coordinate with the Armed Services Committee Head, Cowboy Bob.DSC_0730

Cowboy Bob was under the influence, as usual. I could tell he’d been trying to lasso the new hanging lightbulbs on the pergola. DSC_0718And the Echinacea Girls  were just egging  him on, fluttering their petals and admiring his manly talk.

The Echinacea Girls using their feminine wiles.

The Echinacea Girls using their feminine wiles.

Mint has become absolutely rich betting him he can’t hit a single bulb.

He's filthy rich.

He’s filthy rich.

And night after night… Bob  doesn’t remember that the night before he couldn’t hit a single bulb.

It seemed I was on my own for help. I squirmed that night in my shell, searching for answers. What was this ungodly object, and did it mean us harm? How would Brother Cadfael proceed in such a situation? Or Aristotle? I awoke early as is my routine, and made a sweep around the yard. All too aware of the need for speed, I made the circuit in just under four hours.

The Lantanan Ladies were entertaining insects, seemingly undisturbed by the Code Orange.DSC_0723

But I noticed that some of our  expected summer citizens were not making much of an appearance this year. There were very few nasturtiums, for example, and the sweet potato vines I saw were certainly not as robust as in years past. Had the purple and white creature already begun to harm our ecosystem?

Upon inspection and interviews I found that the Celosians had become more bellicose than I had ever seen them. Instead of letting their fringy fur grow in unmanageable tufts, they were forming themselves into missile shapes in order to attack if needed.

A Celosian in a warlike pose.

A Celosian in a warlike pose.

And if not needed, I was told, they would try to enter the Midsummer Fashion Review in the Fake Christmas Tree category. When  I told them there was no such category, I heard distinctly unhappy mutterings from the crowd. But they had given me an idea: what about newcomers in our midst?

I got ahold of these new flowers as the breeze blew them past me.

Should new citizens automatically be suspected of ill intent?

Should new citizens automatically be suspected of ill intent?

Where were they from? I yelled from the deck stairs. Lichterman Nature Center! they yelled as they blew in the other direction. A Nature Center, I mused. That seemed innocent enough. And they were scared, too. I could tell. Their posture was appalling. I think the rumors were getting to them.

Some in the community I didn’t even want to approach. Hettie Hydrangea, for example.

Hettie prefers the shade.

Hettie prefers the shade.

She’s so delicate her little blue hair just wobbles on her stalk. She couldn’t be involved in this, so why bother her? To be polite I did stop by and check on her. She seemed happily oblivious to the dangers in our community, and was happy to tell me again how she, Grandfather Rosemary , and the Figs had colonized this area thirteen years ago. And her mulch tea was refreshing.

Corrie Opsis, as one might have expected, approached me, wanting to know why the Midsummer Fashion Review could not go ahead as  planned, since my investigations weren’t turning anything up.

Corrie with an unnamed relative.

Corrie with an unnamed relative.

Didn’t she know I would not be pressured? I felt  for her though. With  so many deadhead relatives that followed  her everywhere. I’m sure she counted  on the distraction.

I did hear some moaning and wailing over by  where the Nolias live. And God help me, I didn’t go over there. I knew they’d be no help. Maggie and her sisters had  been nothing but a hot mess ever since this Paula Deen thing came out. With Paula’s fall off the pedestal, they were  sadder than a burnt  fried chicken leg or a scalded chess pie.

The Nolias fell apart when they lost their role model.

The Nolias fell apart when they lost their role model.

Don’t base your self esteem on others’ lives,  I always say. Reflected glory isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Most of us thought  privately that those Nolias needed to come down a peg anyway.

Finally I made my way over to Vlad. It’s short for Vladimir I think, but no one ever asks him.

Vlad thinking deep thoughts.

Vlad thinking deep thoughts.

He’s kind of the Zen Master of the Backyard. He gazes for hours at shapes, never moving except to grab a fly with his tongue and slide it in his mouth in one  masterful movement.

He can contemplate something like this for hours.

He can contemplate something like this for hours.

What did he make of all this, I asked him. I didn’t expect an answer, and I didn’t get one. But what is an answer, actually ? I think I am developing some Zen-like qualities myself.

Defeated, I returned to my home perch in a potted plant. No one had seen the object since it had been removed by the Magpie the previous day. It upset us all to see the Magpie screaming like that as she tried to remove the maggots off the object which was still and silent  as death.  What a brave human she was for removing the device from our midst! As I reflected on this I heard a human enter the yard. It was the Magpie again. WITH THE DEVICE!!!!!

She threw it  carelessly onto the patio behind me. Maybe its bones were broken now.  Luckily my neck can go in all directions so I was able to observe her getting the hose and spraying off the purple part. I held my breath in fear that the object would detonate or release poisonous toxins. I heard her take a picture of the hideous thing  with her phone. Then she called someone and said, “Do you remember when I lost my Kindle? You’ll never believe where I found it!”

The creature that had secreted itself in the compost heap.

The creature that had secreted itself in the compost heap.

And just like that, I solved the case. Code Orange Averted!