Following the route of the seasons, I find myself deep into my late summer/early fall routine. I’ve canned a box of peaches, something I must do, or my Inner Squirrel is out of sorts. This is the time of year when the Douglas squirrels are feisty and busy, gathering cones for winter storage, nibbling on tasty mushrooms, getting the territory ready for a different season. I know the feeling so I put juicy ripe peaches in jars, just as I was taught by Mother and Grandmother Squirrels. Doesn’t matter if I’ve been sawing logs on the trail all day. Green beans, tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers and basil are also on my rodent radar. I’m looking at the nest with a critical eye, setting goals for projects I want to have done before the snow flies and time to move inside.
Between bouts of frenzied food processing, I make time to dawdle around the garden. The bright sunlight pours over a tomato-colored zinnia, making it glow. The hot pink ones are nice too. I stand next to the ‘Kong’ sunflowers, rooted into the garden soil like pine trees. They are twelve feet tall, and I marvel that they are annuals which grow so high in a short season. The big heart-shaped leaves could be an umbrella. Mornings are cool, so the bees are a little slow to wake up. But when the sun hits the hive and the air warms, they go back and forth with their usual single-minded purpose. I see them in the sunflowers, rolling in pollen.
Over at the ranger station, Smokey says the fire danger is “Very High”. Indeed, it’s dry and dusty in the woods. Some people are unsettled by this, as Cliff Mass notes in his weather blog. It should have rained by now, shouldn’t it?
Well, this squirrel is not ready to be driven indoors by foul weather. Nor is she ready to seriously pull out the rain gear and boot dryer. It’s time to do those squirrel activities, and enjoy the changing moments of September. Drink deeply of the blue sky, and eat fresh peaches while they last.
Other gardeners are doing what I do–bringing flowers into the house. In July, we have a couple months of flowers yet to enjoy, and we take the abundance for granted. But in September, any day could be the last for the garden. Morning comes later, evening darkness sooner. To wake up and find sunflowers out my window–still! in spite of rain–feels like a celebration of yellow. I brought in white phlox, deep pink rubrum lilies spotted with freckles and pollen, purple native asters. A faint fragrance wafts through the house. I cut big puffs of gold-toned dahlias to pile in a glass vase.
Artists from many cultures and centuries have turned their eyes and hands to flowers. I feel that pull too. How to draw and paint them without giving in to the merely pretty? How to show how incredible and transient they are? I have books on botanical illustration. The value in this approach is the close observation and wonderment in detail. I have books showing Japanese prints of flowers. These are closely observed, yet have poetical meaning. A chrysanthemum is a beautiful thing and it signifies autumn. Autumn signifies change and yearning. My art history books show European Baroque paintings of flowers. To me, these demonstrate the pleasures of paint and the mastery of craft, a sort of showing off. Yet flowers in a vase can also be a memento mori, a reminder of mortality. When we cut flowers and bring them inside, they die before going to seed. This could happen to anyone, so be mindful and humble.
Why grow flowers? I don’t eat them. I grow flowers for my own gratification, I guess. The neighbors say they enjoy them too. It’s not a practical act to put seeds in the ground to just watch plants grow then go dormant or die. I like the colors and shapes. I like the bees and butterflies. I like giving them away. I like when the snow melts and the first green shoots appear, a banner of flowers unfurling until the snow flies again.
So while I still have them, I will pick glowing jewel-toned nasturtiums for my kitchen windowsill.
A couple of rufous hummingbirds in the honeysuckle this morning, nectaring up prior to migrating south. Red-breasted nuthatches hanging upside down from sunflower heads.
Dew lingering in the shade, on rocks and huckleberry leaves.
Perfect blue sky. Green reflections in water. Vine maple leaves painted yellow and red as the chlorophyll drains away. Warmth in the sun, coolness in the shadows. The presence of centuries-old Douglas-firs. Red sockeye salmon under the Cooper River bridge. They came back!