Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Clothes Dryer, Ants, and a Baby Robin

In our new house in a new city in a new province, a lot of things are, not surprisingly, new. For example, birds. Our backyard is filled with birdsong. Unfamiliar birds swoop down from the trees squabbling and chasing each other. There is a black bird, smaller than a crow, with long fan-shaped tail feathers, an iridescent blue head, a white beak, and a short harsh call. Another interesting small bird, unlike anything I have ever seen, is sleek and tan coloured with a tuft on its head like a jay, and black, yellow, and red markings on its wings. There are also lots of flickers, robins, and sparrows; these I do recognize.

One morning recently, Rob and I stood at our bedroom window rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and surveying the backyard. We observed a short, very fat bird hopping on the lawn. We wondered what kind of bird it might be. I said to Rob, "It almost looks like a robin, except it is so short and stubby, and it doesn't have a red breast." Simultaneously, we both recognized it as a baby robin.

The next morning, we saw the baby robin again, a little bundle of feathers, dead on the back step. Our cat, Oliver, must have been outside doing what cats do. He is a fat, lazy fellow. As he spent the first year of his life in an animal shelter, we didn't know he he knew how to hunt. But apparently he can catch birds: baby ones.

This afternoon, in between doing loads of laundry, I was out the back working in the garden, and I noticed another baby robin. The little bird was perched on the fence (and the cat was safely in the house, sleeping). The dogs were in the yard with me, but oblivious to the robin.

As I worked the heavy clay soil (new to me: for the last twenty years, I have gardened in sandy loam), I was thinking about the clothes dryer. When we moved in two months ago, the first thing we did before the moving truck even arrived, was purchase a new washer and dryer set. The laundry area in the new house is a challenge. It is a small nook off the hallway. Because of narrowness of the space and the placement of the doorway, there were limited options. The previous owners, who are tall people, had a stackable set that they took with them, but I am too short to reach into a dryer placed up on top of a washer in any case. We settled on a side-by-side set with a top loading washer that was just barely narrow enough to fit in, and the dryer has to be positioned just so in order to have enough room to open the dryer door.

The set we bought was expensive. The two appliances are solidly made, and have touch-screen computerized controls. They are quiet, energy efficient, and most importantly, they fit the space. However, the computer in the dryer seems to not be working properly. The screen turns itself on at random times of the day and night with little beeping sounds. It flips through the programming options by itself without anyone or anything touching the touch screen. We have read the pamphlet that came with the machine, and researched the model on the internet, but have not found a solution to the problem with the controls. We searched for the warranty card and sent it in. I was fretting about this as I dug and planted.

From time to time, I glanced over at the robin. It continued to perch on the fence in the same place looking around, a bit of cottonwood fluff stuck to its head. I must have worked in the garden for a couple of hours, and the bird never moved. I wondered if it was able to fly, and where the mother robin was. The dogs remained oblivious to the baby robin.

I needed a stepping stone for my garden. On the edge of one of the nearby raised beds, there was a red flat rock, about sixteen inches in diameter -- a perfect stepping stone. As I had noticed quite a few ants around it, I began by tipping the stone off the raised bed and turning it over. As soon as the stone was removed, ants exploded in every direction. It was the roof to their anthill.

I sat down on a garden tie to watch. On the exposed top of the anthill and also on the underside of the rock, were many ant eggs. The ants urgently surrounded the eggs, and began dragging them down holes into the anthill. The eggs stuck in the clay soil of the overturned rock posed a greater challenge. Somehow the ants had to drag the eggs, each one larger than any individual ant, a height of five garden ties (about two vertical feet) off the lawn and back up to the nest. I watched the ants working together at a frenetic pace to rescue their eggs.

As I sat there with my back to the fence, I heard a commotion and then a swoosh of wings. Sophie, our terrier mutt, apparently finally had noticed the baby robin. She was standing up on her hind legs against the fence, and the baby robin was nowhere to be seen. After securing the dogs, I went out the gate into the alley, looking for the baby robin. It was not on the ground nearby. I didn't see it on a fence or tree, either. However, in a tree across the way, I heard robins twittering loudly. I would like to think that the baby, startled into flight, had managed to fly up into a tree and back to its mother. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Flower or Weed?

One of the interesting things about moving is learning how to garden in a new place. I have moved from a coastal rainforest with a hardiness rating of 4a to 5a (depending on elevation and micro climate) to a sunny, semi-arid grasslands rated at 3a. It is also windy here. The soil is heavy clay.

One of my first strategies in figuring out how to garden here was to wait and see what would come up in my garden. The backyard of our new place is fenced, with one large spruce tree, a number of deciduous trees, and flowering shrubs. There are several raised beds planted with hosta, ferns, bee balm, and decorative grasses, and some creeping ground cover, along with the shrubs. One bed seems to have been well augmented with black humus, and I was curious to see what might pop up in it.

In the front yard, there is a flower bed. When I arrived in April, I could see three clumps of an unknown perennial, two clumps of (dead) decorative grasses, and not much else. By mid-May when it was safe to start planting, I could see an unfamiliar plant coming up in several places in the flower garden. Was it a weed or flower?

I am not much of a flower gardener; I mostly like to plant things that I can eat. So I do not recognize many types of flowers, especially ones that might be particular to an unfamiliar climatic zone like that of my new home. My second strategy was to look for my unknown plant at the plant nursery when I was buying bedding plants. I didn't see it, although at one garden shop, there was something that looked similar way up high on a rack that I could not reach.

I left the unknown plant in my garden, in fact several of them, to see what it would do. It thrived, grew tall, and began forming flower heads. The flowers when it bloomed were yellow, and star-burst in shape. The flowers opened during the day and closed at night.

Strategy number three: I walked around the neighbourhood, snooping to see if anyone else had the unknown yellow flower in their garden. No-one did, except for one neighbour, whose garden was as much weeds as flowers.

I was starting to become suspicious. The thing was growing like a weed, and although its flowers were reasonably attractive, the plant was scraggly and weedy in appearance. What clinched my decision to consider it a weed was that I began to see the same plant out in the grasslands park, and also in back alleys. Weed, not flower.

I dug them all up. I still don't know what it is. I should have taken a photo of it and posted it here. I suppose it is odd that wild flowers are considered a weed, whereas petunias and impatiens are not, and are therefore pampered.

And as for the back garden plot, nothing came up there but many (recognizable) weeds. I have weeded it, dug it up, and that is where I am planting my veggies. At least I know how to discriminate between vegetables and weeds!     

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land

When I was seventeen, I left my small-town home and went off to a big city in the south to attend university. At the end of my first year, I moved back home to live with my parents for the summer and work. In September, I moved back to the city for second year, and so on. Pretty typical. Lots of young people begin their adult life this way. My experience varied only in that my home town was small, rough, and pioneer-like, and more than 1000 kilometers from the university city.

By the time I was 24, I had moved at least twice a year for seven years, almost every time to a different apartment or living situation, and I had lived in six cities or towns in two different Canadian provinces. I was an old hand at moving. I had worked my way through university completing two degrees, spent a summer backpacking through Europe, was just starting my first professional position, and was about to get married. However, I still wasn't ready to settle down.

Over the next eight years, I moved six more times, lived in three cities in two provinces, bought two houses, had four different jobs, gave birth to two children, and enrolled in another university degree program. Whew! I get tired just thinking about it.

In contrast, my middle years have been much more stable. I have lived in three houses, each in a different city, and stayed in the most recent home for eight years. And somehow, along the way, I have lost the knack of moving.

If you have been following my blog, you will recall that in April of this year I uprooted my family, sold my one-of-a-kind log house in a coastal rainforest, waved goodbye to friends and family, and moved far away in pursuit of a great job opportunity.

The new city is lovely. It has parks, walking trails, beautiful vistas, clear air, and good shopping. People are friendly and helpful. The new job is a little overwhelming at the moment, but it offers new intriguing challenges. We have moved into an old house with character and great bones, not to mention a large private yard with gardens, trees, and many song birds.

But I am homesick. I feel like a tourist here in this city. I am ready for the visit here to be over now; it's time to go home. Except, oh no! I've bought a house here and committed to five years at the new job.

I really had settled into a happy life in that northern town. I miss my friends, and the activities and pursuits that make up life's fabric: fly fishing in the wild rivers, exploring logging roads on a mountain bike or cross country skis, buying Asian condiments at the specialty foods store and pants that fit at my friend Lori's store. I don't think I had quite realized how much my core identity is wrapped up in being a northerner from northern British Columbia.

I left for a great job opportunity. It was a sensible decision, the right career choice. I've moved many times before. What the heck -- we can do it. I'm sure that we just need to give it time. We will settle in here and meet people, and be glad we had the courage to make this leap into the unknown.

However, at the moment I almost feel as though I have lost both my home and my self. I am a visitor here in a strange land.