Category Archives: The Great Outdoors

Mine!

I am selfish. I have a hard time sharing things I like — dark chocolate, Jelly Bellies (TM), time with my kids, etc. I remember attending a Friday Mass when I worked at a Catholic school that talked about the benefits of sharing but I remained steadfastly selfish.

The other day I picked some lilacs from “our” bush (it was the neighbor’s lilac bush when we moved to Hoover Street but it has since  migrated to our side of the property line) and noticed that we had more bunches of flowers than in years before. I wondered how to make them last so I could enjoy them for as long as possible. I love lilacs. I worried that people would come in the night and take away my fragrant blossoms.

This evening as I planted basil in a planter on my front porch two women walked by the lilac tree and stopped and smelled and exclaimed at the scent. I called my agreement to them.

One of the women said she grew up in the Alps and had lilacs in her garden. I told her to take some. She was reluctant, but did take some. Then I realized that sharing is better than not sharing — you get more out what you share. I think I understand that Mass now.

 

Patchwork garden

grandma's quiltWhen I was a child and would visit my Grandma Patrick, sometimes she’d tell me about the patchwork quilt that hung over the back of her sofa in her living room. Its pattern was of tulips in pots and suns with beams. Flowered material made up the border. As we sat under the quilt she’d point to a pot or a flower or a sunbeam and tell me about the piece of clothing that it came from. Sometimes her own, sometimes one of her 4 daughters. There even were pieces of shirts from my dad and his dad, her husband.

mountain mintTo me this quilt was special, not only because she made it herself, but it was made up of scraps of material that once clothed her family. This quilt now hangs on a sofa in my house. While I don’t remember whose dress or shirt each flowerpot or sunbeam was made from, I have told my children about it. Maybe someday they will tell their children too.

fall blooming crocusI thought about this quilt last night after thinking of the plants that will go into the bed in my front yard. I’ve hired my neighbor, Terese, a professional garden designer to plan the bed, and she’s come up with a great design. She’s purchased some plants for it, but we will incorporate some existing plants from the bed and take some from other places in my yard that I planted without knowledge of what they needed in the way of sunlight, drainage, etc. A few of these plants were from the garden of my friend, Bob, who reluctantly moved away from the neighborhood last December. We’re also getting a few plants from my friend, Alison. Terese is giving me some plants from her garden and maybe some from a community garden.

So my garden will be somewhat of a patchwork garden, plants from friends and neighbors will grow next to newly purchased plants. Plants that are re-purposed — just like the cloth in Grandma’s quilt. And it will be all the better for it. Maybe, when my future grandchildren visit, I will tell them about the people who gave me each of the plants; about Bob and what a beautiful garden he had or about my friend Alison and her family, with whom we had some amazing times. If only I’d remembered to take the plants that Frances gave me from my yard in Alexandria when we moved to Bethesda.

Ms P. and the Rats of NIH(M)

I’m a birder. A lazy birder, but a birder nonetheless. It is part of who I am and has  been for more than half of my life.

One huge aspect of birding for me is feeding the birds. I have many bird feeders — two Droll Yankee tube-like feeders: one serves up tiny nyger seed that the finches love and one doles out larger seed such as sunflower, cracked corn or safflower. I also have decorative bird feeders — one looks like a birch log, but is ceramic. Another looks like a church, with a roof and clear plastic sides which hold in the seed — which I am surprised has not been chewed apart by squirrels yet. Then there are the suet cages and nyger seed socks.

I don’t have all of these feeders up at the same time. That would be unwise in Bethesda. I’d be the crazy bird lady. Recently I had one Droll Yankee feeder filled with sunflower seed and one nyger sock in back by the bird bath and one nyger sock outside the attic window.

One day I noticed that the nyger sock in the backyard had a huge hole in it. I wondered what animal had made this hole. I suspected it was a squirrel, but knowing that squirrels don’t particularly care for nyger seed, I was more than a little worried we had another rodent problem.

A few days later I looked out the window and saw the culprit. A large brown Norway rat. It was just after dinner and this rat was helping him or herself to the nyger seed. It was actually kind of cute — if you forget all the bad rat stories. But I was dismayed. I thought we were done with these things.

Years ago we had rats in the ductwork of our addition. Dean and I both noticed a funky smell coming from the heating vents in the sun room — it reminded me of the elephant house. When we discovered that it was a nest of rats, I was horrified and would never ever have admitted our discovery to anyone. I was embarrassed and ashamed and it lowered my self-esteem for a while. Dean, being the son of a dairy farmer, took care of it and we hoped we were done with rats.

The following January, however, we came home from our annual Christmas in the Midwest trip to find a rat had gotten into our house and was trapped in a mousetrap behind our stove. Dean took care of it, too. I was ready to hire an exterminator, but Dean felt that he knew what to do as well as any exterminator, so I believed him.

The next year was the year of cicadas in our area and when the cicadas died out the entire neighborhood had a rat problem. It seemed that the rats were displaced from NIH because of construction there. They didn’t care where they lived because they had a bounty of cicadas for several weeks, but after the cicadas were done with their (very cool) life cycle in our area, the rats had nothing to eat, so became a nuisance. I finally lost the embarrassment I was feeling about the rat problem we’d had — especially since other neighbors were admitting to having had rats in previous years as well.

Everyone dealt with the rats in their own ways, some hired exterminators while others, like Dean, took care of it themselves. The worst part of the rat problem for me, however, was having to give up feeding the birds. I had a slight meltdown when I realized I’d have to do this, but Dean said that maybe it would not be permanent. I held on to that hope.

We went a few years with no apparent rat problems — I even was able to feed the birds again until this year when I saw the rat eating the nyger seed.

So now I’ve had to store my bird feeders for good. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feed birds in the backyard again — certainly not at this house. I think I can still feed them at the attic windows — but it’s not really the same. I’ll not be seeing any more Rose Breasted Grosbeaks feeding on sunflower seed outside the window in the back yard.  I can still provide water for the birds and I have started looking more at planting more bird friendly plants in the yard. But I feel as if a part of my personality has been lost for good.