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Spring has sprung, but winter isn’t through with us, yet! (and what say the squirrel god?)

On of my lavender plants on the veranda is blooming!
On of my lavender plants on the veranda is blooming!
Just over a week ago we had a pseudo-spring, when over the course of three days the daytime high temperature went from about 10 degrees below average for this time of year, to more than 25 degrees above normal (and then over the next two dropped down to right about normal). Today, on the first official day of spring, the daytime high is set to be just a teensy bit below normal. Sunny and dry, and clearly the plants are all loving it. Rain and cooler temperatures are coming. Though we’re going to just get a fringe of the enormous atmospheric river about to hit California. They are currently predicting some snow in the foothills on Friday and maybe Saturday. Which is nothing compared to the winter storms heading toward the eastern U.S.

In our little corner of the world, spring is definitely here, as noted with the lavender starting to bloom, for one. Most of the rest of the flowers blooming out on my veranda are spot colors I planted weekend before last, so those don’t really count (though they are very pretty).

Most of them don’t count, that is.

The squirrel-planted tree and two pansies from last year survived the winter.
The squirrel-planted tree and two pansies from last year survived the winter.
Because in addition to my lavender plants which wintered out on the veranda, a couple of the spot color pansies from last fall survived, along with my tree. That’s right, I am growing a tree on our 5-foot wide deck. It wasn’t something I planned to be growing. See, a squirrel at our old neighborhood buried a filbert nut in one of the smallest flower pots I had, and it grew to just over 10 inches last year with a small cluster of leaves. Once I identified it (by the distinctive leaf shape), I posted pics of the little tree online and asked people’s opinions on what I should do. Everyone who replied agreed I should see how well the tree could do out there. One friend said, “Of course you keep the tree! Mustn’t anger the squirrel god.”

But, as I mentioned, the little tree was growing in the smallest flower pot that I had (there had been one smaller one at the old place, but it had a broken lip and large cracks, so I tossed it rather than move it to our new place). I was afraid the tree would quickly outgrow the pot. On the other hand, I didn’t want to damage its roots digging it up. So I left it in the pot over winter, intending to move the entire contents of the small pot into one of the big planters where I’m trying to keep my grandma’s irises alive. For whatever reason, the two pansies in the tiny pot had also survived the winter. Usually two or three of the fall pansies appear to make it through the winter, but usually in the spring when I start planting new flowers in the pots, a closer examination reveals that there are only a few green leaves visible above a decidedly sickly-yellow body of the pansy. Any time I tried to keep them, they usually died without blooming again. So I usually compost the over-winter pansies and replace them.

Since I was moving the entire pot, there was no point in pulling the two pansies loose. So they moved to the bigger planter along with the tree. It has been 9 days, and not only are they both much leafier and much greener than they were when I transplanted them, one has bloomed again! Which I’m going to take as a sign that the squirrel god is happy that I am trying to keep the tree alive. I know in the picture that the tree just looks like a stick, but just a few weeks ago it was a drab brown stick, whereas now there is clearly a lot of green in that bark. Plus there are a bunch of little buds all up and down the tree. So I expect it to be much leafier this summer.

I also moved my teeny wind chime from one of the medium pots to the bigger planter. My husband insists on calling wind chimes of all types “wind clunks” and gives me serious side eye whenever he catches me looking at them in stores. This little stained-glass butterfly and tiny chimes was a gift from a friend, and are so quiet that one has to be outside and fairly close to hear them, so my husband can ignore them.

I’ve been thinking about whether to move the bird feeder to a spot further down the veranda, away from the place where our chairs and table are. More of the birds might be brave enough to keep eating while I’m out there if it were further down. Also, most of the spilled hulls and seeds would be centered away from the section I walk on to get to the table. The down side is that the feeder would be harder to see from the living room window if I moved it down.

So, for now, I’m leaving the feeder where it is.

Pseudo spring arrived, time for flowers and to assess our plans for the veranda!

“It's like winter is really mad and keeps storming out of the room and then coming back yelling, 'And another thing!'”
(click to embiggen)

While some parts of the country were experiencing unseasonable warmth punctuated by intense winter storms in a weird whiplash effect, here in western Washington we were experiencing colder than usual temperatures. A lot colder for a while, there. And while we were getting rain, we were also having more dry days than usual. For most of my life the wet part of the year as been more about drizzly or non-raining but cool and overcast than intense rainstorms. Lately, thanks to climate change, our rainy season has been about more intense rain storms punctuating longer stretches of dry-but-overcast days. Then this weekend it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned on spring all at once. No rain, almost no clouds, and temperatures climbed from the forties into the 60s. Then Monday they soared (relatively speaking) into the low 70s!

Now the temps have dropped, but not all the way back to the 40s. Forecasts indicate that temps are going to be in the 50s all week, which is statistically more typical for this time of year. While that isn’t as cool as it was last week, it’s still a drop of about 20 degrees from Monday!

Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.
Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.

One of the things I accomplished this weekend was getting the veranda ready for spring. Which meant planting new flowers in my planters. And that meant a lot of cleaning, repotting, pouring off excess water, dumping of old potting soil and the dead remnants of last fall’s final flowers. My various lavender plants were already budding, so it is arguable that I should have started working on the other pots earlier. On the other hand, it was only a couple of weeks ago that overnight low temperatures were in the 20s, so this sudden temporary spring was a great opportunity to get things started out there.

My hanging planter had to be converted to a regular pot. I had fuchsias in it last year. At the old place I used to take the hanging planters down as soon as the plants wilted then stuck them in the basement until the next spring. Since I have to use completely contained hanging planters here (don’t want to drip muddy water on my neighbors downstairs!) I only had the one. And every time I thought it was time to take it down, I would notice not just that one of the fuchsias was still green, but it had a new flower! All through December and January it kept putting out new flowers. And a local hummingbird kept visiting it to eat, so I felt guilty thinking of taking it down.

So one evening about a month ago I was outside refilling the birdfeeder with seed, and I banged my head into the hanging planter. As it was swinging I thought I should take it down, now, because the very cold weather seemed to have finally done in the last fuchsia. As I was raising my hands to take hold of the planter, its hanging mechanism broke.

I caught the pot. Barely! The super saturated soil made the whole thing a lot heavier than I expected, and I wound up dumping about half the potting soil onto the deck, but I didn’t drop either the pot or any of its contents over the side. I set the whole thing down and figured I’d sort out what to do about the hanging bit later. This weekend I cut of the reaming bits so the plastic suspension system, planted a couple of pansies in planter, and put it at the end of the row of pots next to the railing. A new plastic hanging pot just like this one is less than 5 bucks. In a few weeks fuchsias starters should be available, so I can set up another hanging planter then. I just need to remember that before the heavy rainy season begins next fall to take the planter down, no matter what state the flowers in it are in. If one of the plants is still blooming, I can put the planter agains the rail so the flower hangs out. The hummingbird will find it.

Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.
Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.

Another issue we had was the otter planter. The cute terra cotta planter survived about 8 years outside at the Ballard place with only a few cracks. But she didn’t do so well this winter. I think the problem was she isn’t shielded from the rain as much at this location and we had a lot more hard freezes this winter. The super-saturated potting soil froze, expanded and broke the terra cotta in a bunch of places.

But with she can still hold a flower!

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is whether to try to grow tomatoes or some other edibles out there. Last year, since we only signed the lease on this place in mid-April, and didn’t finish clearing out the old place until the end of May, I didn’t even try tomatoes. I’m still a little ambivalent in no small part because most years I’m not sure the number of tomatoes I managed to grow were worth the expense and effort. On the other hand, when they’re perfectly ripe right off the plant they do taste so, so, so much better than the ones bought at the store. And there are possibilities for growing things other than tomatoes. There’s certainly room for more planters on the veranda!

We’ll see. I still need to get more of grandma’s irises planted. And right now the pots just have a minimum of spot color flowers. Once everything is going, I may decide that what I have now is taking up all the time I have available to pseudo garden.

Oh! I ought to mention the tree. Last year a single stalk of something came up in one of the smallest flowerpots I had, and when leaves started growing, I realized that it was a Turkish Filbert (there were a couple of yards in our old neighborhood with Filbert trees). The squirrel at the old place must have put it in the pot, and when I posted about it last year, the consensus was that we should try to keep it alive, lest we anger the squirrel god. Anything, I’ve moved it to the larger planter with the irises. If it keeps growing, I may eventually be asking around whether anyone who has a yard wants a Filbert tree.

We’ll see what grows and what doesn’t!

The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!
The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!

We have birds coming to the bird feeder

Trying not to scare the birds away by taking a picture from the further window.
Trying not to scare the birds away by taking a picture from the further window.
At our old place we only sort of had a yard. Our first two landlords (yes, the property ownership changed hands twice during the 21 years I was there) were quite happy to let us manage the two flower beds near our door, and to grow tomatoes in containers, but the lawn portion of the yard and the bushes had to be left as they were. The original landlord had very specifically said he did not want Ray and I to put up a bird feeder, because in his experience they just attracted rats. When the new owner took possession (after Ray died and after Michael and I had gotten together), she said she had no objection if I wanted to put up a bird feeder. But then the question became where.

I will freely admit that much of the appeal of a bird feeder for me is to actually get to see (and hear) the birds. So I wanted to hang it somewhere that I could see it from a window in the house, right? But at the old place I almost always kept the curtains closed, because most of the windows were very close to either the sidewalk (and there was a lot of foot traffic in the old neighborhood) or the walkway to the neighbors’. So whenever the curtains were open it felt as if I were on a stage rather than in my own home. And because the lot the building was on had a steep slope, and our unit was essentially a split-level, the only window whose curtains were routinely open was in the computer room, where the windowsill was about 10 feet from the ground. So if I had found a location to hang the feeder where I could see it from that window, we would have required a ladder on uneven ground to refill the feeder. The upshot was that there was no place that appealed to me to put a feeder so we never had one.

At the new place our veranda is on the third floor (from that side of the building) with tall tress screening most of the view. There are blinds instead of curtains on all the windows, which give us more options. The blinds of the big living room window and the sliding glass door, for instance, are almost always open.

Shortly after we moved in, we bought a sock-style bird feeder kind of on impulse. A friend had been talking about all the goldfinches he got visiting the sock-style feeder he had on the balcony of his apartment, so when I saw one in the store, I grabbed it. After we hung it up, I got one sparrow, but not eating from the feeder. It was eating the seeds that had spilled on the deck when we first set up the feeder.

The feeder was out there all summer. We moved it a few times, thinking that maybe being too close to the window was a problem. It wasn’t just that we never saw any birds at the feeder, the amount of seeds never changed, and there was no bird poop underneath the feeder (something several people warned us we’d be cleaning a lot of once birds starting using the feeder).

I see and hear birds outside from time to time, but never at the sock. I eventually came to the conclusion that at least some of the seeds had started rotting inside the sock, and that clearly a sock-style feeder wasn’t recognized as a food source by the birds in our neighborhood. But I still wanted to try to get some birds visiting the veranda. So we picked up a different type of feeder and a fresh bag of birdseed. I hung the feeder up Saturday. It was raining most of Saturday, and the only birds I saw flying around were crows.

But Sunday morning, while I was out on the veranda having a mug of coffee. A chickadee started flitting in the vicinity of the feeder. It kept flying near it, then flitting away and chirping. Probably being scared off by me. So I went inside. As soon as I got the glass door shut and had walked over the the other window the bird was perched on the feeder and eating enthusiastically. And as I watched, a brown sparrow landed on the other side. They chirped at each other and kept eating. I figured if I opened the blinds further to try to take a picture that would scare them off, so I went over to the glass door to get a picture from there. The second bird had flitted away by the time I had the shot lined up. About five minutes later it was back. I sat down in the living room and just watched them through the blinds.

More birds coming to the feeder!
More birds coming to the feeder!
Over the course of the day, more birds showed up. Some birds went after the seeds that got scattered onto the deck by the other birds eating at the feeder. It appears that the new feeder is a success. I’m hoping this means that there will be a lot more birdsong audible at our house.

A once familiar land

I spent the weekend visiting my Mom for her birthday. Just under a year ago she moved back to the town where I attended High School—a town I haven’t lived in for 28 years.

I’ve visited regularly throughout that time. My grandma lived there until her death a few years ago, along with numerous cousins and my Aunt Silly. A few years ago my sister and her two kids moved back. So I have visited for various holidays, birthdays and the like, and/or stopped in on my way elsewhere. So it isn’t that I am completely unfamiliar with the place and the changes that have occurred since I left.

For some reason this weekend left me feeling more of a stranger to that place than any previous visit.

I’m not entirely sure why. I have some suspicions. This is the first time in many years that my husband, Michael, wasn’t with me (he had stayed in Seattle to rest and recuperate). He’s never lived in that town, so I was always more familiar with the place than at least one person I was hanging out it. Being with my husband anywhere is always like we’re carrying a bit of home around with us, so no strange place feels entirely alien if he’s with me.

This was also the first visit in a long time that I didn’t at least stop at Grandma’s house. My aunt moved into Grandma’s house after Grandma died, and so I’ve continued to have a reason to visit the house. While my aunt has changed a lot about the place, it’s still Grandma’s house on Grandma’s street. I saw my aunt this weekend (she came to Mom’s for cake and ice cream), but I didn’t go by her place.

This isn’t a case of me suddenly realizing the truth encapsulated by the cliché, “you can’t go home again.” When I left to finish my college degree, I had every intention of returning to that town, or a very similar community, to settle down. But I fell in love with the city. I can’t imagine living somewhere where there aren’t multiple supermarkets open 24 hours, for instance. Let alone living without multiple theatre companies, the opera, and all the other things that come with a culturally vibrant city. And while Seattle isn’t exactly known for its racial diversity, with about two-thirds of residents being white, that’s a big difference from the 92% white demographic in Mom’s community.

Maybe it is the slow accumulation of little changes over those 28 years, making once familiar places look less and less as I remember.

But I don’t think it’s about the town changing, it’s the other way around. I’ve changed a lot, yes, and even more importantly, the world has changed.

Coming out of the closet more than 20 years ago, and realizing how little freedom to be myself I would have if I returned, played a big role in the alienation of my affections for that town. I don’t remember anyone who was living as an openly gay person when I was attending high school and community college there (there were people that everyone suspected and whispered about, of course). Now there are several gay and lesbian people living there, and at least one gay teen support group that advertises meetings and activities. But it did not escape my notice that the recent referendum to extend marriage rights to same sex couples was rejected in that community by a margin of nearly 20%.

But it’s not just about me being gay and unsure how welcome my husband and I would be if we moved there. Nor is it just the practical financial matters (there aren’t many jobs that require my skills and specializations). It’s so much more. I like not having to bite my tongue as strangers make racial comments about the president. I like walking through a parking lot and not seeing dozens of deeply conservative political, religious, and anti-science bumper stickers, and absolutely none of the other kind. I like living in a community that believes in and enjoys investing in infrastructure and schools and social services. I like living in a community that knows that a lot of its tax dollars go out to less-populated parts of the state, without resenting the people who use them.

I’ve changed. That town as changed. One can argue about which one has changed the most, but it’s not just about how far down our paths we’ve gone, but also about direction.

And I know we’re not headed toward the same goal.