The Inspiring Distraction of Nature

It’s surprisingly hard to write while sitting outside. Nature is inspiring, but it’s also distracting. No sooner do I begin to compose a coherent thought when the sudden waggling of a tomatillo plant indicates the woodchuck has stopped by for a snack. A flash of orange and black among the zinnias tells me the monarchs are here, looking for their daily allotment of nectar and pollen. A loud buzz and a quick series of “cheeps” is a sure sign that the hummingbird is working the jewelweed and the sunflowers and is not too happy that Athena is watching. Or is she? No, she’s not really into it at the moment…

Then there is the sky… On days like today, the sky is active and full of stored energy, just waiting to let it go when it feels ready. Warm breezes carry the cottony cumulus over the yard and beyond the trees; they seem to be on a mission. Above the clouds, the sky is a powdery grey-blue, a bright but hazy melange of water vapor and dust particles that may coalesce at any moment into a towering cumulonimbus that produces a rip-roaring thunderstorm… or not.

A small plane comes into view over the trees, it’s engine changing pitch as it circles the neighborhood. Another warm breeze brings the sound of the late-summer cicadas, their whirring buzz rising and falling in intensity. Who can concentrate with all this going on?

It is, of course, all worth the distraction. When the words don’t come, you can just sit back and take it all in, soaking Nature up in all its distracting glory like a thirsty sponge. It’s really amazing that there’s so much going on in what is usually just a distant backdrop to our lives. And when we do want to bring this backdrop closer for our inspection, we feel that we need to create artificial enticements in order to experience this connection. Not true!

For example, we have, in the past, fed the birds from various feeders throughout the year. Not just winter, but through the summer, too, so that we could enjoy their beauty and intriguing behaviors. Turns out, there’s no need to purchase expensive bird feed and put up feeders (only to watch helplessly as squirrels and raccoons and chipmunks make off with the precious loot, destroying the feeders in the process). Just plant a variety of flowers and let native plants have their way. That’s all there is to it!

This year we planted a large area along the back fence with various flower seeds–a sunflower mix, marigolds, zinnias, borage, lemon grass, and chamomile. Everything sprouted and grew with vigor except the lemon grass, and perhaps that’s not such a big loss. The chamomile did surprisingly well (I’ve tried it before with little success), but it was quickly overshadowed by the other larger flowers. Besides adding beautiful color to the backyard, all summer these flowers have attracted butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds in search of nectar and pollen. Now that most of the flowers are going to seed, the cardinals and the goldfinches spend hours there every day. I’m hoping to collect some of those seeds, myself, but there certainly seems to be enough for everyone. Of course, with an abundance of greenery around, you often get the occasional uninvited guest…I did take some time yesterday to collect a few seeds. Some of the zinnias and marigolds have finished blooming and are ready for harvest. Then there are these yellow aster-like flowers that I bought last year but can’t remember what they’re called… they reseeded themselves and did pretty well this year.

I really want to cut some sunflower heads, but I don’t think the seeds are quite ready yet, even though the birds and squirrels seem to be going ahead. Sunflowers are a new thing for us; seed collection (and next spring’s planting) may be successful, or it may not. Either way, we’re learning.

It’s all an experiment, though… our gardening motto is “go ahead and try it… see what happens.” There’s always next year. 🌸


A Preview of Fall

August 27, 2017 – The morning is cool and clear. The air is light–unusual for August in the midwest. The crickets are still singing even though the suns’s light is creeping over the trees in the east. Before long, cricket song is slowly drowned out by cardinals “chipping” and squirrels scolding as the morning brightens and warms.

Athena, our visiting cat, pads softly across the back deck, heading out to the birdbaths for a quick drink.













Inside, Duncan monitors her movements closely. 

Athena and Duncan don’t get along, but I hope they will work out their differences eventually. But for now, there is much muttering and hissing as the “conversation” moves from window to window.

The sun is up beyond the trees now, and the bright light reveals a late summer garden, somewhat rejuvenated by the recent cool weather. The usual August heat is a harsh reality for the flowers and vegetables. Everything wilts by midday, and there is no energy left for growth… only survival. The bugs seize the opportunity to really wage an all out attack on the vulnerable leaves and petals. Squash borers weaken stems and stalks, and the yellow and black spotted cucumber beetles chew away at the beautiful green leaves. Even the tough prairie plants, with their deep, deep roots, look pale and tired. At this point, it seems like it’s time to wrap up the gardening for another year.

But, the resilience of Nature is not to be underestimated. On this morning’s garden walk, I notice a renewed vibrance in the greenery and a freshness to the flowers. Next to a dried, chewed stalk, a new green tomato hangs quietly, and young green leaves and small yellow flowers hold the promise of more to come. The fallen seeds of bolted  cilantro have sprouted and reach for the sun.

The zinnias look refreshed and ready to face the rest of the summer. Just a small preview of fall is a real boost to the heart and soul of the garden, not to mention the gardener. 🌱