Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pernicious Weeds

A friend defines a weed as anything growing where you don’t want it. By that definition I have a bumper crop of weeds this year.

Following the Square Foot Gardening plan I attempted to plant a four by 5 foot section of my garden in mid April, when we had a warm week. I carefully planted carrot seeds, four by four in one square, placed beets in a three by three array, and Swiss chard seeds were only four to a foot. Then the rains came—and they were heavy. Now that seeds have sprouted—only some of them, I watched birds feasting and many never made it—I have a beet growing among the Swiss chard, a head of lettuce trying to share a square with a Roma tomato plant, and carrots attempting to flourish outside the raised garden plot.

I refuse to consider these plants in the wrong place as weeds. They are, after all, still edible. Live and let live, I say. However, it’s also a good year for real weeds. Most annoying is the succulent weed that has come back every year. Years ago a woman who is a master gardener visited. Looking at those weeds she said, “Just throw out that soil and start new.”

I should have asked her, “How do you throw out soil?” but didn’t. I mean, where do you put dirt that is—well, dirty? So I just attempted to pull out each and every one of those weeds. Obviously I didn’t do a good job because today, I was pulling more of them out.

Maybe the problem is with my compost. I have put weeds that don’t appear to be going to seed in my compost. I know compost must heat up to destroy unwanted seeds. And I’m fairly certain mine does not heat enough. That happens best with coffee grounds and grass clippings. But we have a mulching lawn mower and don’t drink coffee so there’s a dearth of those warming elements. I knew one man who stopped at Starbucks each night to pick up their coffee grounds for his compost. He even had thermometers in the bins to measure the heat. His compost was really cooking!

In the parable where the weeds are collected and burned and then the wheat is collected— Matt. 13:24-30— an enemy sows weeds in the master’s field. Whenever I hear that story I laugh. I need no enemy to sow weeds in my garden. Or perhaps, if my compost has weed seeds, I am my own worst enemy.

I recently reviewed composting instructions on the Internet. They said don’t add “pernicious weeds” to compost. Well, I never put poison ivy or nightshade into the compost. But perhaps I should call that reappearing succulent pernicious. “Pernicious weeds” makes me think of Willy Wonker’s “vermicious knids.” I pull weeds and dream of Willy Wonker taking me to “live in peace and safety” away from the pernicious weeds. I wouldn’t mind all the chocolate either.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Encounter with a duck

Duncan (on left) and friend
Duncan paddles softly up to shore, climbs out onto a flat rock. He approaches us cautiously walking pigeon-toed, body swaying slowly side to side.
            “It’s okay, Duncan,” I say. “No one’s going to hurt you.”
            The Mallard duck cocks his head sideways, holding my gaze with one eye. I’m fascinated by his iridescent head—dazzling with royal blue and emerald as the sun plays over it. I suspect that Duncan is looking for a handout. He certainly has reason to expect one. I gave him a cracker the evening before when he waddled through our campsite, closely examining the ground of our cooking area.
            We were on Little Harbor Island in Lake George where my husband and I joined some old friends from my college camping club for a reunion.
            “He’s the same duck that was here last year,” says Sam.
            It’s obvious to me how he knows. I had recognized the duck from the previous day because he’s missing a part of his right foot. Some of the webbing was cut off at an angle. I decided that such a personable duck deserved a name.
            “I’m calling him Duncan,” I say. “He keeps going back to the lake for a dunk.”
            To my surprise, nobody groans. So Duncan Duck he is—for at least as long as we are on the island.
            I think Duncan must be a loaner. He’s come solo to our campsite several times each day.           But Laureen said, “Why not. He’s done his duty for the year.”
            She’s right. I saw a mother Mallard leading six tiny balls of fluff into the lake at Bolton Landing the day we arrived. She kept them all in line with gentle quackings. No Mallard dad was in sight.
            Steve, who prepared dinner last night, had deliberately left vegetable scraps on the ground for Duncan. So I left some apple peels this morning. I offer a tiny piece to Duncan. He takes it from my hand but lets it drop.
            “No apples for you Duncan?” I ask.
            “He doesn’t have teeth, you know,” says Sam.
            “Okay. How about a crasin?” I drop a dried cranberry at the duck’s feet. He gobbles it up and looks at me. I toss a few more. He eats one after another.
            “I wonder what the park policy is about feeding wildlife,” says Sam.
            I hadn’t thought of that. But I can’t be the first person to feed this duck. He’s too people-friendly. But anyway, Duncan’s had enough. He ignores my last crasian, waddles down the sloping rock into the water, and paddles off.
            I knew we’d see him again.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Walking by the Lake

            The surface of the lake was perfectly still as I approached from the dirt path. Quite close to the water grew a cluster of tall, yellow flowers, appearing, with their added reflection, twice as abundant. They looked like daffodils but it was June 4th—too late for that flower to bloom.        
            As I went closer, curious to see what they were, one flower toppled completely over from the bottom of its stem. Startled, I looked for an explanation. There was no wind. None of the other flowers had moved. Then the iris—for that’s what it was—took sail on the lake. A brown nose of the culprit who had felled the blossom broke the surface of the water. Nose and flower swam quickly eastward. I followed along the shore, trying to keep up; curious now to know—was it a beaver? –a muskrat? What did it intend to do with that yellow iris?
            The creature’s body was shorter than the stem it carried, too short, I thought, to be a beaver. Perhaps it was still young? I needed a glimpse of its tail to know for sure. I stepped closer to the water’s edge. “What are your plans for that flower?” I asked it. “Will you eat it? Or weave it into your home?”  
With a splash, the brown nose disappeared, dragging the stem below the surface.
            A clump of trees blocked my way, just where I guessed the animal was heading. It was the place where the lake ended—where a trickle of water crossed under the path into the woods. I hurried around the trees and back to the water’s edge. No brown nose, no stem appeared. I waited a while but then, with a sigh, continued my walk, disappointed that I could not discover the creature’s species, or its purpose in harvesting the flower.