Now that the garden is growing, every day some brilliant color or flower jumps out at me. The pansies I have scattered around in the asparagus bed, irises and poppies and the dear plum trees, which never looked so sweet. I walked all around them to find the best presentation.
Today a handywoman named Julie sanded my playhouse. I was surprised at how thorough a job she was able to do with the mighty power sander. Now I must seal it up against next winter’s weather. It lost its little dormer decoration and I’m thinking of having a church friend stencil something on the front to restore that cuteness — or repair the dormer piece.
I worked outside a little in the garden myself and wondered why the peas are so late; they only now have a few blossoms. I’m afraid they have some kind of wilt as well. One of the planter boxes has nothing but parsley – and weeds – in it, both trying to go to flower and seed, but I found quite a bit of parsley that is still as sweet to the taste as the plum blossoms are to the eyes. And things blooming in the greenhouse, cold and damp as it is.
Since we pruned the echium correctly last fall, it has sprouted ten stalks! Later I’ll show you its history, but enough to say right now that the first year it had three, and the second year only one, because of me not knowing how to prune it back. I can’t envision what it will look like when they start getting tall and covered with a thousand flowers.
The pink clusters are hanging like jewels on the native currant. On the left, one plant seems to have some dead branches. And it looks like I should sand that bench, too!
The most delightful thing right now must be the bugloss, or Anchusa officinalis, which I had planted in a pot on the patio last fall. It’s in the same genus as borage, and probably forget-me-nots; just starting to bloom, and the main reason I wanted to share the garden with you today.
In Washington and Oregon this wildflower is a noxious weed. 😦 “Common bugloss is a threat to agriculture. It invades alfalfa fields and pastures. The fleshy stalks can cause baled hay to mold.” But it is as popular with the bees as borage. It likes a little shade, which is why I have it in a pot with begonias on the patio. I hope the bees find it soon!
This morning I drove on many narrow and winding roads that I’d never been on before,
on my way to the coast to meet Pippin’s family at the oyster farm.
On the way there, I lost cell service, and lost my way, but until I realized how late I was going to be, I was oohing and aahing at the scenery and hoping to take pictures on the way home. After that, I just drove as fast as I could and made myself carsick.
But I got there, and pulled up behind the familiar black van; Pippin and the children were standing next to Highway 1 looking for me, and Ivy ran up and declared, “It’s stinky!” With that we began our tour of the Hog Island Oyster Company. Hog Island is an island in Tomales Bay, where these oysters are raised, several million every year.
< < Oyster shells are put to good use
in the parking areas.
Isn’t that an interesting crack-like body of water? It can’t be a fjord, because this is California. The San Andreas Fault, which is “a transform fault–where plates pass one another like cars on a two way street,” runs in a line down the middle of the bay. This classic photo (at left) of a displaced fence shows what happened as a result of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, and why rock formations on the east and west sides of the bay are so very different. Earthquake country! Here is another map of the area if you want to get your bearings. It is the county just north of San Francisco.
Oysters really like to grow here, because of the particular mix of fresh and salt water, the currents, temperature, and the rich variety of plankton. The farmers keep constant and close tabs on everything, including bacteria, temperature, and those plankton. The plankton are counted every week! Here’s a chart they use when they are looking through their microscopes at the seawater samples:
(Sorry, I was also looking at it upside-down.) We saw samples of different types of oysters such as French, Pacific, Atlantic… As you might guess, the Pacific oysters are what they grow the most of here. Oysters naturally grow and fuse together and if left to themselves will eventually form a solid oyster wall in the water. Farmers have to be stirring them up all the time or breaking them apart to keep them growing in the most usable form, and a typical smallish Pacific oyster takes one and a half years from seed to harvest.
These farmers typically harvest 60% of what they plant. There are frequent quarantines for a few days every time it rains, or if a strange bacterium is found in the bay. Regulations come from the government at both federal and state levels, and they can conflict and cause delays that have nothing to do with safety. You can be pretty sure that the oysters you buy or eat here are fresh and safe, but oysters are like Petri dishes if you drive a couple of hours on a warm day, carrying them home in the trunk of your car. With all of the possible complications in oyster farming, I’m surprised that they aren’t more expensive to buy.
The oysters here are raised in bags on a line under the water, and the bags are frequently flipped to jostle them and keep them from growing on to each other. These are a couple of bagsful just harvested.
We did get to eat a few oysters, too, and several other delectable things from the picnic café right next to the barn where they are sorting. With all the variableness of growing conditions and regulators’ decisions, oyster farming is not consistently profitable, so many farmers have branched out and are operating restaurants as well, from which they can earn a somewhat more steady income. Here in Marin they have a lot of clientele from Marin County and the East (San Francisco) Bay.
The little café has barbecue grills where you can cook Hog Island’s oysters in your own way if you want, while looking out at Tomales Bay and the birds. We didn’t use those, but we did eat raw oysters with lemon and Hogwash — this establishment’s version of Mignonette sauce; barbecued oysters, burrata cheese, and trout with roe. Our guide’s son preferred to put the Hogwash on his bread or to drink it straight up. Truly, it’s good to have bread with a meal like this, for sopping up the juices of everything.
Pippin and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the wildlife and the child-life,
and the multicolored buildings of this historic town of Marshall.
After all that fun I said good-bye to everyone and drove home by myself. Sprinkles of rain accompanied me all along my leisurely drive, but not so much that I couldn’t take take pictures. Right across the road from the oyster company were bushes that looked sort of like broom to me… but not quite.
When I got home I found out it is gorse, of all things, like in the English stories. This cousin of broom is not native, it’s terribly invasive and undesirable, and a fire hazard to boot. Broom has leaves, and gorse has prickles! If you want to know more, this article about Gorse the Invader is very informative.
I feasted my eyes on Tomales Bay, cattle, mustard and more mustard, and clumps of calla lilies like you only see on the coast. Often next to a driveway to a dairy farm, a few bulbs were planted long ago and still thrive and expand on benign neglect under the foggy skies, growing into an irregular and wide swath that contrasts in the loveliest way with the green grass. These patches never will appear where I am able to pull over and snap their picture. Pacific Coast iris dot the fields on such narrow stretches of road that it would be dangerous for me to walk back from a turnout in an effort to frame them with my camera.
My favorite Pride of Madeira (echium) is in bloom, too!
As you can see, I did eventually get home, filled with knowledge and images — and oysters!
These narrowleaf milkweed flowers were the inspiration for the first draft of this blog post, which I thought to title “Wonders of the Universe.” Their intricacy and delicacy wowed me!
I had been thinking for some time about the gentle bombardment of the senses I experience in my garden, including how on warm days the space hums with the sound of busy insects. Just to sit out there is to listen to Life, and is a privilege. It’s also a sweet gift that God gave me, that I could have a tiny part in creating this environment, doing a little bit of planting and watering and seeing God give disproportionately generous increase.
I knew I wanted a Pollinator Garden, because I like the idea of helping the bees. But it was theoretical, and I didn’t begin to imagine what the physical reality would feel like when these fellow creatures buzzed their flight patterns in a rich tapestry of sight and sound throughout the garden. It fills my senses which in turn communicate with my soul.
“God is the Creator of the world. The world as cosmos, i.e. a created order with its own integrity, is a positive reality. It is the good work of the good God (Gen. 1), made by God for the blessed existence of humanity. The Cappadocian Fathers teach that God first creates the world and beautifies it like a palace, and then leads humanity into it. The genesis of the cosmos, being in becoming, is a mystery (mysterion) for the human mind, a genesis produced by the Word of God. As such, the world is a revelation of God (Rom. 1:19-20). Thus, when its intelligent inhabitants see it as cosmos, they come to learn about the Divine wisdom and the Divine energies. The cosmos is a coherent whole, a created synthesis, because all its elements are united and interrelated in time and space.” (From this site)
Now I often think of the book, My Family and Other Animals, which Gerald Durrell wrote about the Greek island of Corfu where he lived for a time as a boy. The one concrete image I’ve retained from my reading many years ago is of Durrell on a baking dirt road stooping to examine and collect whatever fascinating insects and other animals he could find. This quote I found I think is representative:
“…the incessant shimmering cries of the cicadas. If the curious, blurring heat haze produced a sound, it would be exactly the strange, chiming cries of these insects.”
I do not have cicadas at present. I have quieter bees and flies, and nearly silent butterflies, and cries and songs from the bird kingdom as well, adorning my garden. A day or two after I took the picture at the top, I saw a Monarch butterfly near the narrowleaf milkweed. I watched out the window for a few minutes and then… yes! She had landed on the plant. So out I went with my camera, and crouched nearby.
She fluttered away, and circled the garden to come back and light again, but only for a few seconds, mostly hidden by leaves, and then off she flew, nearly grazing my head as she made the same circuit, repeating this behavior many times! My knees got a little tired, so I lay on the ground waiting with my camera at the ready. But that didn’t give me enough flexibility, and I moved to the plum tree nearby and leaned my back against it.
Was she laying eggs each time she landed on those narrow leaves? I gave up trying to get close enough, or to catch her at rest, and began to take shots as she was flying. And this is the best one I have to show, proof to myself that she was there. 🙂
A couple of weeks later, back from the mountains, I found the minutest caterpillar on one of those narrowleaf milkweeds. Quickly I went indoors to attach my new clip-on macro lens to my phone, such as son-in-law Tom showed me how to use months ago but which I hadn’t taken out of its box. I hope my one-and-lonesome caterpillar does not get eaten by a bird, and survives to grow large enough to use my camera alone on, because this is the best I could do:
It seems this little lens is best for completely still shots, not flowers or creatures on long stems waving in the breeze. Here is a sharper image I captured using it:
Can you guess what it is?
Clue: It is a closeup of a flower I showed you in a recent post…
You’re right! It’s the center of a hydrangea bloom!
It’s another decoration of this palace into which we have been led by God….
But bees have preferences, and I’ve never seen them interested in hydrangeas.
What they love is the echium! Remember when it looked like this?
Its flowers just kept opening on the ends of what I don’t think would be called a stem… so that those parts got longer and longer, with always new flowers that the bees never tired of.
Until the Autumn Joy opened. Now the echium is deserted.
It has been two days since I wrote all of the above, and I’m sorry to say that my infant caterpillar has disappeared. If I’m around next August maybe I will bring some Monarch eggs into the house to safeguard the latter stages of this project of assisting the butterfly population. This year I will have to be content with having seen progress beyond the planting of the milkweed, my only direct contribution. I saw the milkweed thrive in its second season, I saw the Monarch laying eggs, I saw a caterpillar… and then, I fed a bird!
One recipe for a Satisfying Day just fell together starting as soon as I woke up yesterday.
*Waking up early enough to take a walk before church.
*Picking pineapple guava petals from a hedge down the block
and sharing them with a neighbor who was also out walking.
My cousin Anne told me that you can eat them,
and they truly are as sweet as candy.
*Not putting off drudgery such as stretches and floor exercises.
*Managing to stand through most of church (this was easier after having walked, etc.)
and receiving Holy Communion, on the Sunday of All Saints of America.
*Wowing over the catalpa tree at church. Each flower is like an orchid…
*Shopping for garden twine at the nursery across the road from church
and finding seeds as well 🙂
*Talking to my dear cousin Renée on the phone
while sitting in the garden with the sun on my back.
*Taking pictures of bees on the thyme while talking.
*Sorting through pictures of bees I took before and finding some good ones.
*Taking more pictures of bees on the echium.
*Sorting through more pictures.
*Taking an evening walk beside the creek and studying the mystery grass again.
*Identifying a plant in the creek: It’s buckeye! I know buckeye, but only as a tree; I wasn’t used to seeing leggier growth in the creek. This picture shows some of the lighter green leaves of buckeye in the creek, a mature tree above, and even some mystery grass in the middle. I don’t think it’s Timothy grass, which one of my commenters suggested, but it looks more like Timothy than anything else so far:
*Going to bed too soon to finish this post last night,
but early enough to contribute to a new recipe for yet another Good Day!