Wednesday, July 11, 2007


The elevator is clearing out last year’s grain to make way for the new harvest. Yesterday the railroad engine moving grain cars around on our little side spur was wailing and hooting. Usually the moving around is at night because the railway track crosses the highway close enough to the elevator that it necessarily must block the highway now and then. They don’t make so much noise at night.

On the way to Cut Bank for supplies on Monday I noticed that the winter wheat was beginning to turn yellow. (Winter wheat is planted in fall. It sprouts and grows a bit before winter freezes it. In spring it comes back up from the roots and grows quickly while the spring wheat is still making roots.) Many roadsides are already mowed. Where it isn’t, the alfalfa is purple with blossoms. The field alfalfa is mostly cut and under irrigation to start the second growth.

A few days ago we had an interval of very hot weather, over a hundred degrees. I went over to water my neighbor’s pots (she went to a wedding in Portland) and a half-grown robin hopped over boldly to stand in the side-spray with its mouth open, gulping down a drink. Along the north side of my house are volunteer poplars that the robins use as a nursery. One sitting of babies is finished now and they’re starting the second batch. The goldfinch family had a tragedy. A nestling fell out, a tiny bit of fluff that would fit in a teaspoon, and the noises that adults and babies made had the unwanted affect to attracting my two fat cats, who didn’t eat the fluff but patted it and pressed their noses on it. I went out to intervene by putting the baby into a bush higher than the cats could reach and limber enough that they couldn’t climb it. But it jumped out and scurried off. I put it in my compost pile, which has snow fence around it that a cat can’t penetrate. It left. I put it on the garage roof. It bailed. Finally I brought it in and put it in my shower stall to give it a rest and a saucer of water. Then I made a sort of sling on the clothesline and put the mite in this sort-of nest. It was weak, didn’t make its noise, and the parents ignored it. Pretty soon it died.

This old house has had flower borders against each building and though they had been untended for a few years, some things survived. The peonies, of course, and the Harison’s Gold rose. But also flowers I didn’t recognize and still don’t really know how to manage. This year I’ve watered them a lot (alternate days) so they are pretty vigorous. I think they are wild geranium -- not the perlargonium we all call geraniums and that I keep in pots all winter -- but what is sometimes called “cranesbill,” an intensely blue flower a couple of feet tall with deeply cut leaves like the pink wild geranium that grows in the foothills here. And there’s a bed of what must be a kind of bluebell, with a globe on the end of a stick-stem. This is short. I get another kind of very tall bluebell that appeared as a weed -- I recognize it from Portland. At first there was a lot of beebalm, but that must have frozen out a few years ago.

I’ve planted hollyhocks, which came back weakly this year, partly because I gathered the seeds to try to plant elsewhere (failure) and partly because I haven’t conquered the grass that wants to grow everywhere except as a lawn. When I first came, I was hypnotized by the White Flower Farm catalogue and ordered their lilies and daffies border mix which I installed along the sidewalk in front. I knew absolutely nothing but the old town lawn maintenance guy said he knew everything about yards and broke up some dirt with a spud bar. I suggested using a sprinkler to soak it up, but he said that wasn’t the way to do it. NOW I know the sprinkler was definitely the way to go. (His next exploit was mowing down thirty dollars worth of white peonies.)

In the following half-decade, the border has been half-alive, hardly the glorious tumult shown in the catalogue. But this summer the daffies were charming and the lilies are all budded, every plant. I’m so anxious to see what they’ll look like! They’re mixed varieties, many colors. In the meantime the Asiatic lilies in the back are doing their usual good job, unfurling a bouquet on every stem, all bright warm colors from straw to vermillion. Nicotiana, burgundy and chartreuse, is dependable on my front stoop in pots.

I have one small bed in front where I keep planting individual specimens as a sort of research project. What I find so far is that thistles grow there so well that I have to wear welding gloves to weed. But lupine took hold this year and is blooming. Also, something tall and purple that I don’t remember the name of. My Canadian Explorer indestructible baby rosebush had five blooms.

Ants think they own the yard and the house in spite of my war against them. I hate to use weapons of mass destruction, but I’ve been free with the ant powder and have begun to use poison spray in selected spots. All my “organic” and “natural” methods failed in spite of careful study of my “How to Outwit Ants” book.

I was a little daunted to hear that my volunteer daisies are “ox-eyes” which are considered an undesirable weed, but reassured that the way to control them might be to convert them to bouquets before they go to seed and then dispose of them in tight garbage rather than the compost. They make excellent summer bouquets.

One of my favorite poetry books is Lorna Crozier’s “The Garden Going On Without Us,” but if I wrote a parallel, it would be entitled “The Borders Going On In Spite of Me.”

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