Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Life on the edge

Today seems to be a woodpecker day. I could hear one really digging into a tree somewhere while I was hanging the laundry. Not the ratatat-tat of a bird declaring his territory but the purposeful chiselling/chopping sound of one that's found a good food source.

I lingered on the porch watching the gold finches having a ball feasting on seeds in the sunchoke patch .. well it's hard to actually see the gold finches, mostly what I see is a sunchoke suddenly springing up as a goldfinch moves off it and another sunchoke going down. Flashes of gold as though the flowers themselves are flying up into the air. The morning glories have wound their way through and up the stalks so there was a brief kerfuffle between a humming bird and a finch. Then a flash of red up high in the treetops attracted my attention; the Big Guy is here, a woodpecker easily the size of a raven had begun tearing into the uppermost part of a dead tree, the one that's covered in a mix of wild grape and ivy. Other, smaller woodpeckers seem to follow him around and pick up his scraps.

We live on the edge of the village. Our back yard edges onto a forest, which is on the edge of a wetland on the edge of a very big river (the Ottawa).

Life loves the edges. Dappled light, mixed types of soil, dead and dying trees mean a feast for everything from microbes to our friend the really big woodpecker. Small mammals rustling for seeds and beetles, fungi in the moist undergrowth. It's in constant flux, our yard.

Once upon a time we used to try to keep it tidy, now we know that surrender to the encroaching tide of wilderness makes for a much more interesting place. The taller flowers manage to make it up through the ferns, the wildcucumber vines lean down from the trees and between them create a habitat for nectar and pollen loving insects which of course bring birds.Then it all goes to seed and that brings more birds ..

I certainly don't have to plant much of anything back there any more. Everything I need for medicine, many many food plants, berries and greens and things with useful roots just show up. The "proper" term for this delightful chaos is a "food forest". All we did is plant the fruit trees and mark out a few beds, the rest really just happened. We mow, occasionally, if we didn't we'd have a maple forest. So the "lawn" is a meadow; just now red clover is the star of that show.

The beds are a bit of a laff. In spring time there are tidy rows of carrots, carefully caged tomatoes, nicely placed clumps of parsley. Well that was one bed. I say "was" as it's all doing rather better than expected and along with the morning glories and nasturtiums and calendula, it's becoming rather difficult to find the carrots. Another bed is long since taken over by nettles - that's fine by me and the yarrow and the other rows of carrots - a third by particularly rambunctious mallows, also fine, the garlic didn't seem to mind, nor does the echinacea and the spinach and onions seem to like the company.  All the beds offer generous quantities of lambsquarters in early summer (yum), and now oh my I have an awful lot of evening primroses. But they smell so good, the bees love the flowers and by the time they have branched out in a truly unruly fashion so that one has to push through large branches just to find a tomato, they will save us a small fortune in bird seed and provide us with the entertainment of dozens of small winged creatures for most of the winter.

There is far more back there than what I have listed, of course. Multiple roses, massive clumps of dangerous prickly wilds, now sporting orange hips and the odd stray bloom in white or pink or red and a lady-like yellow tea rose having a second bloom of slightly spicy scented glory. Gigantic rhubarbs, a black currant who's days are numbered if it doesn't learn to play more nicely with the sweet cicily. Far more than that, too. We don't really know, we've never done an inventory. We do know there is too much comfrey.

All this means, for the humans, it is now possible to get lost back there, even though we have maybe a fifth of an acre - and if we're counting the house and driveway and the reasonably tidy front lawn, far less than that. Yet, still, one can ramble for a very long time and feel rather small, too, a very good feeling. It's lovely to feel dwarfed by the sunchokes or overwhelmed by the fragrances of all the flowers and now the gently tangy smells of autumn. The hum of bees is drowsiness inducing. The movement of the snake through the long grasses, satisfying, telling me all is well within our little eco-system. Crickets chirp, dragonflies dart and hover, toads sit still, believing themselves unseen.

Sometimes we look at it all from the kitchen window and think ourselves to be on the edge of madness to let it get this way. My husband declared the other day "that's it, we're spraying next year, I've had it with the worms in the apples!" but he won't. The blue jays dig into those apples and leave the unbuggy ones for us. There's plenty for everyone.


  1. Oh, yes, it sounds heavenly. I would be running around like a little child. I would be totally excited and I know I would love every minute!