28 August 2012

The secret life of gardens

I watch
a spider's web,
Silver, shining symmetry
in the dawn sunlight.
I ponder the night's work
of the builder...
—Graeme King
I don't know if it's just this summer, but I seem to have so many more spider webs in my garden than I have in past years!  Each morning there's another one that must have been spun in the dark of night, with slender threads reaching from a potted plant up to the arm of a chair, or from a trellis over to a wind chime.  The patio and gardens are an obstacle course each day, trying not to be caught up in webs as they brush along my arms and face.  And I always feel badly after walking into one of their masterpieces.  I think of how long and with what difficulty they toiled overnight to build them.  And here I am—like a marauding giant in their Liliputian world—crashing through their handiwork.  But unlike humans, they don't seem to feel sorry or angry and simply drop down on a new 'line' and start spinning again. By morning, or even sooner, there will be another web, just as intricate as the one I inadvertently disturbed.

Speaking of marauding, I was drying some white work pillow cases on the clothes line recently. I don't have a proper clotheslines but, rather, a doubled strand of jute twine reaching from the edge of the verandah to the edge of the garden shed. While waiting for my linens to dry, I sat in one of the Adirondack chairs to read, looking up now and then and enjoying how the pristine white cases looked in the sun with all the garden greenery waving softly in the breeze around them. Smiling, I went back to my reading but when I looked up again, the pillow slips had vanished! And not just the pillow slips but the entire clothesline.  I shot up out of the chair and found a white mass of wet pillow cases lying on the brick garden path.  Scooping them up, I muttered something un-ladylike and then checked the clothesline.  Someone or something had sliced cleanly through the end that had been tied to the edge of the shed.  At that moment I sensed movement on the shed roof and looked up into the face of a squirrel who had a nicely bundled piece of jute twine hanging out of both sides of his mouth.  "What did you do!" I scolded, trying not to laugh. He only cocked his head and clasped his paws in front of him, snapping his tail a few times, the piece of jute still clenched in his mouth.  With a sigh I repaired the line and tied it back on the shed and the went back to my reading, keeping an eagle eye on the wash line.  A few days later, while sitting in the garden, I saw what I guessed was the same squirrel, bounding down the shed roof, hopping onto the clothesline hook, and nibbling another piece of jute from the line.  "Here! Stop that, you naughty thing!" I said, getting up and running to the shed.  Again, he just sat back on his haunches, with folded hands and a jute-filled mouth, looking at me with beady eyes. I had to laugh, in spite of myself.  Most often they busy themselves with stealing birdseed, but this was taking thievery to an entirely new level. I suspect he's lining a nest, getting ready for winter.  Or perhaps, as my neighbor suggested, he's making a hammock to enjoy these last days of summer!

And then there was the opportunist who started visiting the garden "after hours".  (I hesitate to call him a thief since my part in all this could be construed as entrapment.)  A few weeks ago, I was standing in the kitchen one night when I heard activity at the floral water bowl I keep next to the rain barrel. (I like to have fresh water for my neighbor's two cats who visit during the day, and the little Corgi mix who wanders down with her mistress each night at five o'clock.) It sounded like the bowl was being pushed around on the ground with quite a bit of gusto, but the lateness of the hour convinced me that it was neither the cats nor the Corgi, and I wondered if it was a racoon or even a skunk. It's been so hot and humid recently, I know that the garden animals have been desperate for water, even going so far as digging around flower roots to get whatever moisture might be there.  Not wanting to scare whatever it was (and not wanting to get sprayed if it was a skunk!) I didn't dare walk outside. The noise stopped after awhile and I forgot about it. But then it happened a few nights later, and again a few nights after that.  My curiosity winning out over caution, I carefully crept to the side door and opened it as slowly and quietly as I could, trying to peer down the patio to the rain barrel. There I could see an enormous fluffy cat (one I've seen in the neighborhood before) bellying up to the water dish for a drink, making quite a mess and nearly upending the bowl with his antics.  ("Make mine a double!")  Apparently my kitty bar has an evening clientele!

It's amusing to realize that "my" garden really isn't my own much of the time, and that so much activity takes place there. Here's to the spinners, the thieves and the thirsty prowlers that busy themselves in the garden when I'm not looking!


  1. I enjoyed this narrative. So B. Potter of you!

  2. Oh my goodness, it's madcap in my gardens some days. (And nights!) I only wish I could draw as well as she could. There would be many tales to tell!