Summer is a most untidy guest

Summer is a most untidy guest,
A vacation rental every landlord dreads:
Crumbs all over the floor, attracting pests,
Insects and mice of which we can’t be rid
Without some icy extermination. Look
At all this filth! This vile disgusting mixture
Of excrement and dirt in every nook.
Cobwebs stringing sticky from the fixtures.
And the clutter! The crap he collects, like some fanatic–
Pine cones, bird bones, leaves in piles ascend
Like unread magazines all stuffed in attics
Of trees. And at the season’s withered end
He packs his bag, drives off, skips the scene,
Leaves no forwarding address. Expects the chill
Wind and rain of autumn to sweep it clean.
I shouldn’t have to put up with this. Still–
Without him, it’d be awfully quiet round here.
I guess we’ll have him back again next year.

Cicadas and similes

The thirteen-year cicadas emerged yesterday, in our woods at least; a few miles away they’ve been active for weeks. We heard their song in the afternoon, and in the evening I found a half-dozen husks hung out to dry on the clothesline like withered garments from an attic trunk. Along the Eno today the woods vibrated with them, a low local chattering backed by the familiar high-pitched drone that I guessed to be the chattering’s more distant echo. I tried, and failed, to describe the sound. A friend said “loud as a police siren,” but that seemed unfair to the cicadas. I thought of the hollow rattling of dice in cups, but more rapid and higher-pitched, as if the Chipmunks were playing Yahtzee. And that being possibly the single worst simile in the entire catalog of Western literature, I thought I’d turn for inspiration to days before police sirens and Yahtzee and 33 rpm records played at 78, when, one would hope, the well-read and literary-minded could invent better comparisons. Continue reading “Cicadas and similes”

Life cycles

Originally published in the Northern Agrarian, September 2008.

In June a black swallowtail butterfly laid a single egg in the windowbox of parsley on our front porch. Several days later an almost microscopic caterpillar emerged and did what caterpillars famously do. When it left its patch of parsley to become a chrysalis we couldn’t find it in the tangled mess that a seller’s agent would call shrubbery, and we hoped for the best. The miracle of a butterfly is a cliché, but it’s a miracle my daughter, who is four, hadn’t yet witnessed, and she gave me daily — if not hourly — updates on the caterpillar’s progress. And, really, it’s a miracle that never grows old. When the aptly named “Parsley” went off into the wide world we were all a little disappointed that we wouldn’t see her emerge as a butterfly. Continue reading “Life cycles”

The wheel bug of life

wheel bug

Photograph by Ronald F. Billings of the Texas Forest Service, USDA Forestry Service Archives, image 226085.

Since we began gardening several years ago—when we moved into our first house—we have grown our vegetables in raised beds. This has always been primarily a practical decision. Had we topsoil to till, I would gladly till it, amend it, and leave it where it lies. But in our present home we had to cart in, wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful, two pickup truckloads of soil and compost just to get started. There was no point digging it into solid clay; far better for our backs and our crops simply to dump it on top and build a box around it to keep it in place. Continue reading “The wheel bug of life”