Thursday, July 23, 2015

The First Days of Spring

Today, a really nice thank you note arrived from the latest houseguest. I can only hope that as he works through his grief, he can start feeling those first days of spring in his heart. I cried as I read the note, and was so thankful that I listened to that inner prompt that told me to call to see how he was and to extend an invitation to visit.

Why do i bother?

A few years back, I bought some asparagus crowns, dug up the old asparagus bed that had been started years before but now lay fallow, and planted the crowns. I did it a tad too early, seduced by a warmish, early spring day, and the crowns struggled to survive.

Then, when the boat was being transferred from the jack stands to the trailer, a sailing friend was helping me and when the truck driver with the lift asked if he could back up a bit, sailing friend said, "Sure, there's plenty of room," and ignored me saying no, as he backed up right on the asparagus bed. A few came up next year, but most decided to abandon the attempt, and I bought more crowns and waited.

Last year should have been the year that I could collect a small supply of asparagus safely, but the spears that came up were still quite spindly.

This year, disgusted with my patient waiting being fruitless, I decided to plant in the rows between where the asparagus should have been, just a few vegs.

I got some tomato, pepper, musk melon, watermelon, pumpkin, and squash plants. Also six kale plants. Added a couple of scarlet emperor runner beans, which were seeds I had and wasn't sure how viable they were. Planted some radishes and beets.

And the asparagus grew. Not thick enough to really collect, but I guess word on the street had reached them that it was now or never.

After I planted everything, we had a bit of a cold snap, and the pepper plants have been pouty ever since, except the cayenne pepper plant.

Slugs decided to come and nosh, so I sprayed an organic spray and outlined the plants in diatomaceous earth. The slugs denuded a few of the marigolds, which I had planted around the plants as protection.


The squash and pumpkin plants have flowered, but then the flowers drop off and there's nothing. Unsure if it's because nothing decided to pollinate it. The beans are climbing the trellis. The lone cucumber plant I got so I could make some pickles flowered and the teeny cornichons were coming along nicely. A bright spot in an unpromising bit of ground.

The tomatoes flowered and some plants have green tomatoes that look good.

The kale had gotten to a pretty good size. I planted them a bit too close together and thought today would be a good day to cut some of the leaves for a meal.

So, I awoke to brilliant sunshine, and after hanging a load of wash on the line before starting my work day, I took a walk over to the garden.

I noticed some of the volunteer violet plants had their leaves shorn clean off. The tomatoes were untouched. And I went down the line. The tops of most pepper plants chewed, more violet volunteers neatly trimmed, beets dug up, with one small one left. The cucumber plant is half its size and sports three small cukes. The kale was the hardest hit: among the six plants, there might be ten leaves left.

Two more new sprouts of asparagus waved in the light breeze as I surveyed everything.

I consoled myself by picking raspberries and eating about half as many as I picked.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Another day, another house guest

Several months back, a woman I know from my last location died. Her death wasn't entirely unexpected, but her departure left a gaping hole for many people, especially her husband. She'd been his bride for nearly 42 years.

About two months after she died, I called him because I had been thinking of him, and though I sent a card immediately after I heard about her death, I had done little else. My experience is that when someone close to me dies, i'm usually quite busy immediately following the death but a few months after, when most of the Things that Need Doing are done, I find myself really starting to ache. So, after a few days of pushing away the desire to dial the phone, I caved.

He was glad to hear from me, and we talked for nearly two hours. We laughed, we cried, and he did most of the talking whilst I did most of the listening. Towards the end of the phone call, I told him if he needed a geographic change for a few days, he was welcome to visit; we've got a big guest room. I went on to say I knew it wouldn't fix anything, but sometimes a change of scenery is welcome, and as he likes hotter temperatures, he should wait until summer was in full swing here and even then to bring long sleeves and trousers because it often gets chilly at night.

He thanked me for the offer, and I wondered if I sounded too much the way some people do when they want to supply comfort. They say stuff, and mean it, but there's no follow through.

I also told him he could call at any time. Which he could. Again, I knew although I really and truly meant it, and although he knew that, he most likely wouldn't. He's always been a very private person and, like me, prefers to work things out by himself.

So it was with some surprise when I found him on the other end of the phone when I picked it up about two weeks back. He was quite chatty and told me he was going to take me up on the invite offer.

JoJo is a bit put out since this is the third person to be sleeping in "her" bed this summer (she claims the guestroom bed as her own). I couldn't get a lot of time off work, but I did supply him with area maps and goings-on so he can explore a bit on his own. Phoebe has deemed him worthy of allowing him to be her doorman, even if he doesn't understand she needs to be pet as well and complimented, but he shows promise that he can be trained.

He's been a wonderful houseguest. He cleans up after himself, selected a wonderful wine to go with last night's dinner, and we've laughed and talked a lot.

He didn't come with when I had my piano lesson. I didn't expect him to want to sit there while I was murdering something on the keys, the way I do when first learning a new-to-me piece, but I thought he might want to walk around the town during my lesson, as it's in a different one from where I live.
I returned from my lesson to find his eyes a bit red. He started reading an anthology of poetry I had and the page fell to the Thomas Hardy section. Many of the Hardy poems in that anthology concern themselves with loss and death. He read aloud "I Look into my Glass," and I could feel tears well up in eyes.

"I should have gone with you," he said.

I nodded in agreement, but sometimes, a piece of poetry can remind us that we are not the first or only ones in a place of hurt, and comfort us in a way that nothing else can.

Sometimes, the best thing we can do when friends are hurting, is to provide a loving space where they can simply be as they process their pain. Years ago, when my grandmother was dying, this friend had done that for me. And, while i'm sorry he's in a place now where the roles are reversed, i'm only too glad to repay my debt of gratitude as much as I can.

I Look into My Glass

I look into my glass,
  And view my wasting skin,
And say, “Would God it came to pass
  My heart had shrunk as thin!”
For then, I, undistrest     
  By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
  With equanimity.
But Time, to make me grieve,
  Part steals, lets part abide;    
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
  With throbbings of noontide.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I may scream like a girl

A week or so ago, a former neighbor, K, stayed chez moi for a few days. She had a family reunion not too far away from where I live now and decided she'd take a week or so and visit friends, staying a day or two at each place and catching up.

I was working during her stay, so she'd find things she'd want to see or do during the daytime, and we'd meet up at suppertime to catch up. Sometimes we went out to eat, sometimes we ate at home.

I don't know that the cats remembered her, per se, because she wasn't often inside our house. K has a couple dogs, a horse, a donkey, some chickens, and her latest foray into the animal world has her keeping bees as well. She arrived in the rain, giving me a jar of honey and four bags (!) of my favourite potato chips that cannot be found here, at least not regularly.

We talked and laughed as if only a few days have passed since we last saw each other, and it was a fun visit. Her plan was to leave Wednesday morning and stop at a friend's south of me, stay there a day or so, and then head home. On Tuesday morning, she regaled me with how there was a bat in the house, how she had felt the rhythmic puff of air on her face that caused her to wake up. Phoebe was sitting in the middle of the room, watching it circle. K felt the bat was flying too close to her for comfort, and switched on the light. It flew out of the room, and K left the light on while she tried getting back to sleep. She thought of waking me but didn't know what good that would do. I was on the other side of the house and upstairs, oblivious to any drama going on in the guest room. I am a sound sleeper, and K is, too. She said it was the rhythmic puff of air that seemed to stir her enough so that she woke up. We looked around the house and didn't see anything; so, perhaps the bat found its way out.

On Tuesday evening, the cinema the next town over was showing a rebroadcast of "The Audience" with Helen Mirren. I had seen it when it arrived earlier in the year and very much wanted to see it again. K hadn't seen it and thought it'd be grand to go. We went to one of  her favourite restaurants beforehand to get a local dish then off to the cinema we went. This encore presentation was a bit longer than the first one because they had a question and answer segment at the end where the small audience were theatregoers who had seen the play performed both in London and New York, so they gave their opinions and also asked Helen Mirren some questions.

We ended up getting home around 10:30 pm, which was a bit later than planned. We also discussed the possibility of the bat's still being in the house and what should we do? Fervently hoping he had found a way out wasn't quite enough to allay our fears, and I suggested that we open the sliding glass door. That way, in case he awoke and wanted to go out, he'd have an easy way out.

We looked around the house, again seeing nothing, hearing nothing. The cats did not indicate that they saw him anyplace. I was walking behind K as we came into the living room a second time, when she stopped suddenly, and I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck.

"I found him. Look left. In the curtain."

And there, to our left, I made out a smaller, brown blob behind the lacy curtain. The little fellow appeared sound asleep.

Now, I live in an old house, which I've mentioned before. K also lives in an old house, about the same vintage as mine, so she's had experiences of wildlife finding its way in. We discussed the best way of getting this bit of wildlife out. It was too late to call anyone to ask for help. It would make the most sense were we to capture the bat and unhook the curtain rod, carry the whole shebang outside and let the bat fly free. Sounds easy enough. Except...

The curtain rod hooks into its attachment so a simple lift and separate wasn't going to happen. It would be turn, click, lift up, and away for both sides. In order for me to reach that, i'd need help since i'm short. So, maybe using the boat hook would help? I got the boat hook and tried on the dining room window that has the same setup. No, even harder to do with the boat hook. I'd have to get a step stool if I wanted to reach easily. I could just about reach the one side, but the other would be lopsided and if K were to be cupping the bat...

K is enough taller that she could reach him. I had gauntlets I use for the woodstove. Like most protective gear, they're sized for the average sized man, so my hands swim in them. K's hands aren't any bigger than mine or marginally so at best, so they swum on hers, too.

We talked about other ways to do this. I had no butterfly net available. I couldn't think of anything I had that would allow us to capture the bat easily because even if we opted to use a container with a lid, he was on the inside part of the lace curtain, so we'd still need a way to take the rod off the wall. We could cut the curtain, which seemed rather drastic.

We could just close our bedroom doors. Only Phoebe hates when a door is closed, and if I left the sliding glass door open, hopeful that the bat would make its way out, who knows what would make its way in? And I doubted i'd be able to sleep, really. Still, there was some sense in closing the doors we could so that we could limit where it went, at least somewhat.

So, we closed doors. Phoebe walked with me, and promptly complained as her litter box is upstairs in the other upstairs bedroom. She doesn't need her box all the time, but she wanted that access that an open door provides.

It was getting near 11 pm, and we agreed that we ought to try something. K suggested that she'd put the gauntlets on, approach the bat, and cup her hands around it. My job was to free the curtain rod so we could carry everything outside. I'd need to stand on tiptoe to do this, as that was easier than dealing with moving around a stepstool. K could cup the bat because she was taller and could reach.

We both looked at each other for a moment, perhaps to draw strength or courage from each other. I felt pretty tapped out of both at that moment and felt it was obvious to anyone who looked. K's face was working on being resolute. "I have to tell you," she said slowly, "I may scream like a girl."

"Oh, sister, i'll be screaming right there with you," I replied.

We each took a deep breath, and she approached the sleeping bat. She paused, squared her shoulders, focussed her gaze, and calmly reached her hands to cup the bat. I could scarcely look. The anticipation was palpable. I'd often heard the little "cheep-cheep" sound bats made outside and did what I could to prepare my ears to hear that once the bat was startled. But this one didn't go "cheep-cheep." Rather, he made a buzzing noise like a bee, which was completely unexpected. K screamed, throwing up her hands, and ran towards the guest room, which is off the LR, through a teeny hallway and stage left. I screamed and ran into the DR, stage right. The bat meanwhile flew in circles in the LR.

"Go outside, OUTSIDE, please God, direct the bat to go outside," I said, first to the bat as if it understood what I meant and next to God to interpret for me. K and I called to one another, each having a different vantage point. We decided keeping lights on in the guest room and DR would contain the bat more or less in the LR, which was the darkest of the three places, and the darkest spot of all was the open slider door.

After several minutes which felt interminably longer, the bat stopped flying. Had he made his way out? We hesitantly crept into the LR.

"I see it," said K, and here she pointed to the other LR window. He was perched on the wooden frame at the top, hanging upside down, peering at us.

We discussed options. It would be hard to put a container over him, and we had furniture to contend with by this window. We were too revved up to consider going to bed and just seeing what happened. If only we could guide him in some way to the door. I recalled a neighbour boy who lived next door to my grandmother. He liked catching bats, and would string a sheet across a line. The bats would fly into it, and he could close the sheet, scooping them up in it, and then releasing them. But how could we do that?

K agreed we couldn't, but what about a towel? Maybe snap a towel, stun the bat, and then take him outside?

I got a beach towel, which was longer than the bath towels I have, and I got the biggest jar I could that had a wide mouth and lid. K swallowed a few gulps of white wine for courage, and she went back into the LR. She snapped the towel, touching the bat. It dropped to the floor, and she scooped him into the jar, screwed the lid on enough so that he couldn't get out while in the house, and walked outside. She may have made little yells. I know i did. I closed the screen door as she unscrewed the lid, and opened the door as she hurriedly made her way back inside.

Phoebe had watched with great interest but kept her distance. Jo had been outside, not wanting to let such a beautiful summer night go to waste, and now, she thought it might be time to come in. She wanted to come in via the LR sliding door, of course, and the bat emerged from the jar, sitting quietly beside it. Jo cast her eye over to it, and I begged Jo to come in. She feinted a step or two towards me, but the lure of Something Interesting on the edge of the deck won out, and I closed the door, watching desperately as she wended her way slowly towards the brown blob. I prayed fervently that she'd lose interest or...

and just like that, the bat flew off.

Jo watched it fly, made her way over to where it had been, and sniffed. After two or three inhalations, she determined there wasn't anything interesting enough to make her stay there, and came inside.

Meantime, K and I were ecstatic. The bat not only was outside, but it flew away. We hoped it would let other neighbourhood bats know about the Screaming Mimis who lived there and best not to visit. We hugged each other, I picked up the towel to add it to the clothes in the hamper, and felt my stomach do flip-flops. As the adrenaline ran out, I felt suddenly very tired and overwhelmed. K decided she'd have a glass of wine and wind down by checking her i-Pad for news and emails. We both also thought taking a shower was a good idea, and i went to the upstairs bathroom to take mine. The guestroom has its own bathroom, which K would use.

And yes, in the shower, i cried. They were tears of relief as well as frustration and gratitude. Relief that the invader was gone, gratitude that i didn't have to face that alone, that someone was tall enough to reach, that we didn't have to kill anything, and frustration that i felt so damn useless. I would have liked to have been braver than i was.

I screamed like a girl and did nothing. K screamed like a girl and took action. The bat, realizing it needed to move along, wanted to and couldn't see the huge way out we had left for it to find, wanted it to find.

I wondered how many times we've been in situations where well-meaning people have done what they could to point us to the next step where we need to go, but all we do is go in circles, not understanding their screams or gesticulations, nor realizing just how close we are to where we need to be for this chapter to end and the next to start. And i wondered about the times that we seem paralyzed by the situation and all we can do is scream. Why is it sometimes that happens and other times, we have that extra something to make us take action as well?

I need to get a butterfly net. I'm thinking of it as my insurance policy that if i have it, i'll never need to use it.

Oh, and i also found out that bats need a space that's 1/16th of an inch to get in someplace. That's 1.5875 mm, metric folks. Which means in nearly every house, there's at least one way in, and in an older house, probably many more.

K made it home safely and has gotten a lot of mileage out of the bat story. She's eager to visit again, and i was very happy to tell her that I've been bat-free since. I hope it stays that way.