On My Knees, Preying

The past week was unusually hot. I like summer, but 38°C/100°F is a little too warm for me. So I’ve been getting up at 6:00 AM to pick veggies and water the garden. It’s gorgeous outside at that time: The sun is just coming up, the air is cool and fresh, and the only sounds are the birds and the trickle of the creek.

Coincidentally, there was a recent news article about how the bear population is exploding on Vancouver Island. Bears are now regularly seen in residential areas where there’s no record of a bear being spotted in the past 40 years. So big hungry critters were in the back of my mind when I hauled myself out of bed a few days ago and opened all the windows.

I was sitting at the breakfast table when a blood-curdling cry froze me to my chair. It was close. Somewhere in our yard.

After a moment of breathless immobility, I relaxed. The ravens were flapping around as usual. They have a huge range of vocalizations, so I figured one of them must have gotten creative. I carried on with my breakfast.

But only for another minute or two, until the terrible cry came again, even louder. The ravens fled. And my primitive lizard-brain screamed, “COUGAR!”

A couple of years ago, a big cougar came right up on our neighbours’ deck; so we definitely have cougars in the area. I scurried over to the internet and looked up ‘cougar vocalizations’. Sure enough, cougars make a lot of different noises; and some of them sounded just like what I’d heard.

No way was I going to kneel out in the garden like prey when there was a big predator around. But where was it? I hurried from window to window, peering out. Nothing. Then I went through our attached garage to look north.

As I eased the door open and cautiously stuck my head out, a Great Blue Heron took off from our pond with an irritable squawk.

Yep, it turns out that cougar cries and close-range heron squawks sound remarkably similar.

So I did my garden duties after all, and my week turned out fine. I hope yours does, too — may all your scary cougars turn out to be harmless herons!

Book 17 update: The draft is FINISHED, woohoo! The title will be Live And Let Spy. I’m editing madly, and I hope to hand it off to my first beta reader next week. Stay tuned for cover art and a release date, coming soon!

Half-Naked Ant-ics

Well, Mom’s admonition to ‘always wear nice underwear, just in case’ has proved (once again) to be good advice.

I used to think it was just silly. Seriously, Mom: What could possibly make me strip off my clothes in public?

(The Fates let out an evil chuckle.)

So.

There I was, out in our front yard on a sunny day, minding my own business. As usual, I was togged out in more clothes than most people wear on an Arctic expedition: Jeans, T-shirt with a long-sleeved shirt open over it, steel-toed work boots, knee pads, work gloves, sunglasses, a broad-brimmed hat, and enough sunscreen to kill a dozen coral reefs. (Note: We don’t have coral reefs in our front yard. No coral reefs were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

I was working on a rotten log, tearing handfuls of squishy wood into the rich mulch that our rhododendrons love. Trying to appease my cranky lumbar vertebrae, I sat on another fallen log.

Anybody who’s spent time around rotten logs can probably see what’s coming; but in my defense, I’ve done this loads of times all over our property and I’ve never had a problem before. But this time, I felt a painful little pinch. In… my armpit?!?

“Okay,” thought I. “Maybe it’s a bit of heat rash, or an errant hair follicle.” I scratched the spot and carried on.

But then there were more pinches. Armpit, shoulder. What the…?

You guessed it: There was an ant colony in my log seat. And a bunch of big black-and-red ants had climbed up the back of my jeans, under the loose long-sleeved shirt, and chowed down on the tender armpit exposed by my short-sleeved T-shirt.

Let’s just say I moved, um… briskly. I yanked off my overshirt, but by then the ants had found their way through my T-shirt arms and down inside my jeans.

So, yeah. I did an extremely graceless striptease in our front yard. The exhibition was made even more alluring by the fact that I couldn’t take off my jeans without first removing my bulky boots, which have long laces that require some effort to pull loose.

So there I was: Head down, ass up, hopping around and whacking at random parts of my half-naked body. The sun’s reflection off all that pasty skin could probably be seen from outer space. (And if that didn’t warn any passing aliens to avoid Earth, nothing will.)

But I guess it could have been worse. At least the neighbours can’t see into our yard, and no cars drove by. (As far as I know.) And I was actually wearing nice underwear, Mom.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s flung off my clothes in public…

Book 17 update: My optimistic plan to finish the draft last week was scuttled when I had a reaction to a prescription painkiller and ended up in Urgent Care for a day, then spent the week stoned brainless on heavy-duty antihistamines. Fingers crossed for this week…

Bee-Watching

I had a post all ready for today, but then I read it over and thought, “The world doesn’t need any more snark.” Yep, it’s been one of those weeks; but I’d rather concentrate on the good stuff instead of the tear-out-my-hair stuff. (’Cause I don’t think I can pass off bald spots as a fashion statement.)

So:

Bees! I adore bees. As a kid I was afraid of them, but my fear didn’t last. Bees were ever-present on our family farm and I never got stung; so I learned to ignore them. (I later found out that I’ve probably been stung quite a few times. Other than the initial ‘Wow, does that ever hurt’, I don’t have much reaction to bee stings.)

Anyhow, when I started gardening and growing fruit, my interest in bees ramped up. Then I discovered that without bees, we’d lose about a third of the food crops we eat. Now I’m firmly Team Bee!

When I started paying more attention, I realized how cute they are, too: Wee tubby fuzzy almost-bears with sparkly gossamer wings. We grow lots of pollinator-friendly plants, and a huge variety of bees come to the snack bar. You can hear the garden buzzing from across the lane.

Since I haven’t been able to do much outdoor work this spring (no thanks to my back problems, grrr), I’ve developed a new hobby: Bee-watching. From my chair on the porch, I can train the binoculars on the garden several yards away, and watch the action to my heart’s content. Here are a few of our many visitors:

This tiny guy is dusted with pollen.

Who says you shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes?

So fuzzy! ❤

One of the big bumblers

Snazzy two-tone bees!

No bees in this one, but I couldn’t resist photographing the fuzzy centre of a poppy.

Here’s how it looks fully open.

The bees’ snack bar. (Just ignore the weeds. Or, as I like to call them, “groundcover”.) 😉

I hope you’ve found some beautiful things to enjoy this week, too!

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 47 and John and Aydan are in serious trouble, with no rescue in sight. Sometimes no matter how smart and resourceful you are, circumstances get the best of you…

Of Loggers and Lapins

We live in the country, so we’re beset by garden-destroying wildlife. Our big fence keeps the deer out (mostly); but nothing stops rabbits. They usually stay away from the house, but every now and then I discover that my perennials have been ‘pruned’ by sharp bunny teeth.

It’s a love/hate relationship: They’re furry and cute; but they’re also destructive and damn prolific. From their standpoint, we’re the benevolent purveyors of gourmet plant material; but we also have a distressing tendency to run at them yelling and chucking pebbles. So we’ve maintained an uneasy détente, and the sighting of a rabbit in our yard is usually accompanied by (empty) threats involving rabbit stew.

But this spring, larger and more destructive critters arrived down the road: The local logging company decided to remove some timber from their property. We keep a set of binoculars by the window for bird-watching, but this time we used them to watch the big hungry machines growling through the woods.

They worked steadily for four days, but on the fifth day the racket was silenced. Instead, I could hear clunks, clanks, and the metallic chirping of a socket driver wrenching on some recalcitrant part. The machine started up, then shut down several times. At length, the truck departed and the defunct machine sat silent beside the road.

Several days later the loggers still hadn’t returned, but our resident rabbits put on an impromptu dance, leaping and chasing each other. We watched them through the binoculars, enjoying the show while muttering dark incantations designed to prevent them from getting too close to our garden.

The next day, I came into the living room to see Hubby standing at the window looking through the binoculars. I looked, but couldn’t see any rabbits.

“They’re probably screwing in the woods,” I growled.

Hubby burst out laughing. “Actually, I was checking to see whether the loggers were back. But I guess they could be screwing in the woods.”

So from now on I’m keeping the binoculars trained strictly inside our yard… just in case. The only full moon I want to see is the one up in the sky.

Have you spotted anything interesting in your neck of the woods lately?

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 43, and Spider and Linda’s baby is on her way into the world… at a time that’s convenient for her, and nobody else!

Alien Volleyballs And Other Garden Lessons

Well, another gardening season has come and (almost) gone.  I’ve been gardening for decades, but every year I learn something new.  For example:

  • Never let Hubby start the tomato plants unsupervised.  Each spring we talk it over, decide which varieties we want to grow, and figure about twenty plants should do us. Then Hubby plants the seeds in their little cells (allowing a few extra in case of germination failure).  This year we had forty-three tomato plants, up from thirty-seven last year.  ’Nuff said.
  • Chickweed is a cover crop.  I’ve finally accepted that chickweed springs up to form an impenetrable carpet in the winter here no matter how I try to stop it.  So now I’m embracing it.  Chickweed conserves nitrogen and protects the soil structure, it’s cheery bright green all winter long, its fragile leaves and stems till easily into the soil in spring; and it’s even edible.  Win!
  • We rarely eat as many beets and carrots as I think we will.  If Hubby’s weak spot is tomato plants, mine is beets and carrots.  We still have carrots in the freezer and beets in jars from last year, and four long rows of each await me in the garden.  Anybody want twenty or thirty pounds of nice fresh beets and carrots?
  • Pumpkins have a twisted sense of humour.  Last year I planted four hills of pumpkin seeds and got four pumpkins.  This year I planted two hills and got thirty pumpkins.  WTF?!?
  • “Naturalizing” tulips don’t.  They’re gorgeous the first year, smaller the second year, and they vanish without a trace in year three.  But they’re so beautiful, I just keep planting them.  Some folks never learn.  (Other folks buy botanical tulips, which do naturalize. So I planted some of those, too.  You can’t keep a good addict down.)
  • Wet cabbage leaves are SLIPPERY.  One moment I was strolling over a layer of discarded cabbage leaves; next thing I knew I was on my knees in cold soggy mud, laughing like a lunatic.  Fortunately no cabbages were harmed; and I’ve never been particularly attached to my dignity anyway.
  • No amount of spring bulbs is “enough”.  I planted another couple of hundred crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths this fall.  That makes over 2,000 bulbs we’ve planted on our property in the four years we’ve lived here.  (I need more bulbs…)
  • I have zero ability to manage outdoor projects.  They always take three times as long as I think they will, and something “more important” always comes up. This summer I completed projects I didn’t even intend to start; and didn’t finish projects I’d sworn were top priority.  But they all need to be done, so I’m hoping it’ll even out in the end.
  • Superschmelz kohlrabi is da bomb.  I love kohlrabi even though it looks like it was conceived by a green alien with an irresistible attraction to volleyballs.  This year I grew Superschmelz for the first time:
No, this isn’t Photoshopped – that kohlrabi really *is* almost as big as my head.

Any alien veggies in your garden?

Book 17 update: I’ve started plotting, woohoo! Stay tuned for regular progress reports starting in two weeks…

Fall Colour

Hi everyone!

The last couple of weeks have been a bit crazy — we had a death in our family, and the rhododendron society where I volunteer is presenting an international online conference in ten days. As the resident techno-geeks, Hubby and I have been pouring intensive hours into organizing the IT end of the conference, so there’s nothing left in my brain for a blog post this week… unless you really want to learn the sordid details of video compression, PowerPoint shows, and organizing Zoom webinars for time zones all over the world…

(What’s that you say? Sorry, I was temporarily deafened by the chorus of “No, for the love of all that’s holy, please NO!!!”)

Anyhow, if you’re interested in gardening and/or rhododendrons, we’re hosting some amazing international speakers and it’s free (pre-registration required). Click here for the American Rhododendron Society Fall Conference 2021 schedule.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from our garden — its last show of colour before winter closes in. Happy fall!

(Note: If scrolling makes it hard to see the photos, you can click on each photo to get a full-screen view.)

The asters are putting on a show.
The last bloom on the ‘Beverly’ tea rose.
The tiny-but-tough miniature roses are still going strong.
The hydrangeas are fading to pink, but the burning bush is ablaze!
I was lucky to snap photos of the dahlias on Monday, just before the first frost damaged them.
So many fascinating flower forms…
It’s hard to believe these are all dahlias – they’re so different!
And then there are the colours: Bright red…
Hot pink…
Striped…
And streaked…
Bicolours so intense they barely look real…
And understated singles that are beautiful in their simplicity.
The last of the zinnias glossy with rain.
A tiny rudbeckia sheltered by a giant geranium.
The crazy spirals of Cyclamen hederifolium albiflorum.
A dew-spangled moth rests on the flower of a carrot that went to seed.
Even the veggies are putting on a show – bright red peppers with pumpkins in the background. (Oops, I guess I should have weeded before I took this photo!) 🙂

Writing update: As you may have guessed, no fiction writing has taken place in the past couple of weeks. But the screenplay for Book 1, Never Say Spy is being shopped around in hopes of finding a producer; the audiobook for Book 5, How Spy I Am has just been completed and will soon be released; and Book 17 is taking shape in my head. (In all my spare time, ha ha!) Assuming nothing else blows up in my life, I’ll start posting writing progress for Book 17 in early November. Stay tuned…

Bean There…

The garden is in full swing again, and we’re at the ‘buried in beans’ stage.  I’m blanching and freezing and pickling, and still the beans keep coming.  I’m starting to dream about beans.  So you can imagine my freaked-out chagrin last week when I found a bean in my bed.

I’d like to say I have no idea how it got there, but the truth is I’m pretty sure I know.  Freshly-picked string beans are like VelcroTM:  They’re covered with microscopic hairs that cling to everything, particularly synthetic fabrics like fleece and yoga pants.  Also, to human hair.

Yes, there is a reason why I know that. 

I originally discovered the VelcroTM-like properties of beans back in the dark days when I still had to wear business suits and attend meetings to make a living.  I had been to an important business luncheon and had schmoozed appropriately.  Afterward, I retreated to my car with a measure of pride:  I had gotten through the entire luncheon without committing any social gaffes or spilling anything on my nice clothes.

I let my head fall back on the headrest as I blew out a relieved sigh, and my upturned gaze snagged on my reflection in the rearview mirror. 

Oh. 

Shit, no.

Yep, I had a green bean lodged in the ends of my long hair.  At some point I must have leaned too close to my plate, and its perfidious little hairs had latched on.

I mentally replayed the conversations I’d had at the luncheon and concluded (with my usual semi-delusional optimism) that nobody had noticed.  Or maybe they were all just people with superhuman self-control.  In any case, nobody raised an eyebrow and/or pointed out that I had a renegade legume attached to my person.

So, it was with a sense of rueful déjà vu that I picked the offending bean out of my bedsheets last week.  It brought back a cringeworthy memory; but at least the bean didn’t get lodged in any truly embarrassing personal places.

That would have been a little tricky to explain to Hubby.

Anybody else ever unwittingly hosted a sneaky vegetable?

Hubby’s no midget; the zucchini and corn are giants!
And then there are the wee sunflowers…

Power-Trippin’

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember me crowing about the fun I had with a mini excavator we rented back in 2017.

Well, pshaw.  This time we got a SERIOUS machine (and I’m a lot better at operating it now, too):

It’s only a ‘midi’, but at 14,000 pounds it’s much bigger and more powerful than the mini.  (Which was still a hell of a lot bigger and more powerful than my muscles.)  Our ‘soil’ here is so full of rocks that the only way to dig by hand is with a pickaxe and hoe and a lot of elbow grease.  Even the mini struggled to scrape out a small hole. But this excavator?  Big beautiful bucketloads, woohoo!  Those rocks don’t stand a chance.

This is our fourth year in our ‘new’ place, and while I’ve accomplished a lot of landscaping by hand, there were some projects that were just too big to manage.  F’rinstance, here are before-and-after shots of the rhododendron garden. (The ‘before’ photo comes from the post I linked to above.) I did all the rock and soil fill by hand, and it took a couple of years to show progress:

Back in 2017 when I was just starting to lay out the beds.
Early this spring. (You can still see the snow on the mountains in the background.)
And a few weeks ago in full bloom. (Different angle, though.)

But… here’s a project I just did with the excavator. That embankment is about 4 feet high and full of rocks; and it took me around 10 machine-hours to scrape up the fill, level the garden, and grade/contour afterward:

No chance of me EVER doing that by hand, unless I wanted to make it my life’s work.  (Hint: Nope!) 

I’m getting a bunch of other long-postponed projects done with the machine, too.  More landscaping and grading, some new flowerbeds, lifting deadfall trees off our beleaguered deer fence… the possibilities are endless! 

Better still, even though my first project was a flowerbed only two feet away from the house, I haven’t caused any property damage.  (Well, except for our wheelbarrow, which suffered a permanent curvature of its spine when I had a brain fart at the excavator controls.  But the wheelbarrow still works, so I’m counting it as an ‘oops’, not actual property damage.)

There’s only one flaw in this seemingly-idyllic situation:  I’m far too attached to this machine.  The more I use it, the more I want it.

Yep, I’m power-trippin’.  And when it’s all over and the machine goes away, my withdrawal symptoms will be truly ugly.

But that’s in the future.  Meanwhile, I’ve got more flowerbeds to build!

Anybody else tackling major landscape projects this spring?

Critters vs. Me

So, it finally happened:  The local critters have ganged up on me.

Last week I had rolled our garbage carts out to the curb and retreated to the house to wash my hands and grab my morning cup of tea to enjoy on our front porch.  About fifteen minutes later, I heard the distinctive sound of a garbage cart being rolled over asphalt. And we don’t have neighbours who live close enough to interfere with our garbage carts.

I craned my neck.  Sure enough, a big black bear was batting our kitchen waste cart around, about a hundred yards away.

I jumped up and yelled, “HEY BEAR!  GET LOST!”

The bear glanced up and a thought-bubble appeared above its head:  “Why is that annoying little creature disturbing my breakfast-to-be?

Since my primary goal is to not die of my own stupidity, I didn’t press the point in person.  Instead I got into my car and drove to the front gate, where I bravely honked the horn from behind our 8-foot deer fence.  The bear ambled off into the forest, and after a respectful pause I scooted out to retrieve our garbage cart (fortunately bear-proof) and replace it at the curb.  But I’m pretty sure the bear was the master of that situation.

The next marauding critters were robins.  The cheap plastic mesh we used to protect our strawberries two years ago has rotted away, so we’re constructing a new permanent enclosure with chicken wire.  But we’re behind schedule, so the ripening berries are unprotected.  I’ll say no more; and simply refer you to my post from two years ago:  https://blog.dianehenders.com/2019/06/12/flipped-off-by-the-bird/.  It’s an exact repeat.

I wasn’t surprised by the behaviour of the bear and the birds, but the crowning insult of my week was being bested by a bunny.

After discovering that some of our newly-emerged beans and sunflowers had been nipped off by bunny teeth, I deployed a rabbit fence around the garden.  I was short on time so I shoved the posts into the ground by hand and strung a two-foot-high barrier of chicken wire between them.  It was wimpy, but I figured it was strong enough to stop a not-too-determined rabbit.

And it was.  No more rabbit problems.

But the bunnies got the last laugh:  A couple of days ago I was striding across the garden with my attention elsewhere and my gaze fixed on the horizon.  Moments later I was doing a graceful slow-motion faceplant when the damn-near-invisible rabbit fence tackled me around the knees.

On the bright side, I was lucky my makeshift posts weren’t solidly rooted. I easily broke my fall with my hands in the soft earth, and the only injury was to my dignity. Plus, I made an important discovery at the same time.

Science tells us that rabbits don’t vocalize, except for a truly horrifying scream when they’re attacked.  Well, science is wrong.

’Cause I distinctly heard a rabbit laughing.

Anybody else have run-ins with rabbits? Or do things like that only happen to me?

Book News: Book 16 is available in paperback now! If you’re interested, purchasing links are available on my Books page. And Book 17 is swirling around in my brain. No formal plotting yet, but it’s slowly taking shape. Stay tuned…

Going Buggy

Remember the old figure of speech, ‘put a bug in your ear’?  It means ‘give you a hint’.  So, the other day I was out in the garden and a bug flew up my nose.  I’m not sure how to interpret that.

What made the whole episode disturbing (other than, hello, a bug up my nose) was the fact that the bug flew directly up my left nostril with all the precision of a shuttlecraft docking in the Starship Enterprise’s shuttle bay.  (Well, maybe a shuttlecraft with a slightly inebriated pilot, because I did feel the bug carom off the inside of my nostril as it rocketed up there.)

Even more worrisome was the fact that the bug didn’t come out.  No matter how much I sneezed and blew, no reassuring bug-body appeared.

So as far as I know it’s still up there, tunnelling slowly but steadily through my sinuses on its way to my brain, where it will lay a zillion eggs that will hatch into hungry little carnivorous worms.  I’d like to say that’s nothing more than a bizarre fantasy on my part; but I’m afraid it might be actually possible after reading about the woman who had a cockroach living in her ear (and there’s a disturbing twist on ‘a bug in your ear’).

The sad fact is that even if my brain had as many wormholes as swiss cheese, it probably wouldn’t noticeably affect my current behaviour.  I’ve been deep in writing again this week (six more chapters, woohoo!) which means I’m perfectly capable of:

  • Not noticing real-life people and events that are right in front of my nose
  • Forgetting that my fictional people and events never actually existed
  • Forgetting to eat, sleep, bathe, and keep important appointments
  • Muttering incomprehensibly and making weird facial grimaces for no apparent reason

On the upside, it’s possible that my resident brain-worms will have minds of their own, which might lend a certain off-the-wall creativity to my future ideas.

Or who knows?  Maybe they’ll just be in single-minded pursuit of their next meal.  Food normally occupies a large portion of my waking thoughts, too, so… dang. I guess I’ll never know whether I’m going buggy.  But if I start vigorously flapping my arms and searching for dark moist tunnels to inhabit, it’s probably time to call the bug-catchers.

Oh, and maybe give Hollywood a call.  It’s been a while since they remade ‘The Fly’.

Anything bugging you this week?

Book 16 update:  I’m on Chapter 17, and Blue Eddy’s has been taken over by folks wearing tinfoil hats to protect themselves against space aliens.  In Aydan’s world, there’s always something…