Monday, May 3, 2010

The Sky Above, the Weeds Below








I lean back in the lounge chair and contemplate the sky. Some of my best memories of making a garden in Quincy have happened this way. The odd thing is they are promoted by the ability of the lounge chair to lower the back and lift the gaze: Look upward, man.
I have been looking downward, at the ground, all afternoon, a pursuit I find fascinating to an extent not easily explained. Armies of tiny plants have invaded everywhere. My job is to find them, identify them if possible (ah, ha, you were here last year in this very spot, weren’t you?), and then make the crucial decision of whether to leave them there or send them on to second life in the mulch pile.
When I take a break to drink something cool – not so simple, we can’t drink the water here today – and settle into the tilting chair, there it is above me. The roof of the world.
Much of the upward perspective from this patio is absorbed by the trees. Since it is mid-summer warm today, I sit back and once more realize the pleasure of looking up at big trees. I have done this in past years, though later in the season when the big oak tree is fully leafed. The oak has merely new, thin, pale yellow-green leaves today, but birds work among them. They tweet and call each other, a pack of 20 or so little black ones, flitting through the branches, occasionally stopping to pick at one of the leaves. Caterpillars would be my guess. Though if they’re up there, they’re too small for anything bur a bird’s eye view.
It’s restful to look at trees and sky, and sometimes there is action is up there too. I’ve watched squirrels chase each other, presumably squabbling over territory, from the farthest extending branch of the oak, an archipelago of dwindling form in the sky, to the maple tree on the other side of the yard. The last branches sway under a squirrel’s weight and there’s a little hop needed at the end, but nothing to cause them a second thought.
What did bother the squirrels was the blue jay that had a nest up in the maple one year. Squirrels most fast and freely in a tree, but birds have even more agility. The bird came at the squirrel from his blind side to get a peck in or make a credible threat; after a few moments of this, the squirrel ran away to another branch. The bird lifted, floated, and dove at him again, once more from somewhere above and behind. The squirrel flinched and jumped a few branches lower, the bird repositioned and attacked again. They circled the tree this way. The ferocious resolve of birds, creatures which weigh nothing, possessing only hollow bones and a few sharp points, is often overlooked. I’ve seen crows and much smaller birds as well drive away a hawk from this vantage point as well.
When my vision returns to earth, my gaze is refreshed and my eyes fill with green. I’m in a midsummer state of mind because it’s one of those sudden heat-spike days in New England, but also because the early season garden profile has a summer heft to it as well. The color is mostly low to the ground, from the first round of spring-flowering groundcovers – vinca, violets, mazus, all hues in the purple range, and now joined by the white blooms from the thickening colonies of sweet woodruff. Along the stone path the sky blue flowers from a low, thick-leaved plant I planted two years ago and whose name I have since forgotten took off this year. This nameless blue lines one side of the stepping stones. Yesterday I added some new plants which flower in the hot color range, pink, red, on the other side.
Today I heighten the color, by getting close to the earth and searching out the weeds. It’s addition by subtraction.