Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Compact Ecosystems (The Urban Backyard)

Oh my gosh, you guys, SPRING is HERE!! I am so, so unbelievably happy about this. Winter dragged on so far into the springtime months that I really thought I'd never see a green leaf again. I was just beginning to dip my toes into the Pool of Utter Despair (okay, let's be honest, I was already knee-deep) when suddenly we got a burst of warmth and sunshine, and everything erupted. Lilacs blooming, dandelions everywhere, little wild violets and white flowers I can't identify. The garden centers are open all over town, I laid out new garden beds and then ACTUALLY FILLED THEM WITH DIRT AND PLANTS. I've been pulling weeds! Things are really growing! It's amazing!

Over the years we've tried to improve our house on the inside and on the outside. Limited funds, limited time, limited skill... not everything gets done when or exactly how we'd like. But this year I really have devoted myself to the yard. I've got dreams for some things I can't do myself (like installing a fence along the back alley) but I was able to use some of our old wood stashed in the corner of the yard from the dying Tulip Poplar we had cut down years ago to build some fresh garden beds. I answered a Craigslist ad for free stone--it turned out to be my cousin!--and stoned in little flower areas. Martin put a picket fence panel across the top of the driveway, replacing the stick fence I made last year (which fell down, whoops) and closed in that area to make our entire yard secure for kids and dog. I set up some pallets to make a little fence wall for the girls' play area underneath the honeysuckle, and in another corner of the fence we tied up a hammock (an old woven baby wrap, idea stolen from my sister-in-law and her daughters!) and I put up an extra panel of picket fence behind that just for decoration. I've planted flowers all over the yard and vegetables in all the beds, and I'm really pleased with my own hard work. (Toot-toot! That's my own horn!)
This year I think I've finally kept my planting to a reasonable level. I started everything from seed (except some potted flowers) but I don't know if any of my seedlings are going to survive. They're definitely not thriving, that's for sure. But it's still early yet, I suppose. Back in April we bought some little strawberry plants and the girls and I set up a new bed for them--they look GREAT! My onions and garlic look fantastic too--actually, pretty much everything I bought as plants from other people is doing wonderfully, while the things I started inside on my own with all of my love and passion are sort of withering.

But it's not just plants that we're enjoying around here. Our little snippets of wildlife are giving us such joy! We don't have deer down here, unfortunately... we do have lots of urban deer in our town, even just a few blocks up the hill from us, but our neighborhood doesn't have much in the way of woods, so we have to be content to watch our birds and insects, but we do have lots of birds and insects! We keep our feeders filled and really enjoy watching our feathered friends (and bushy tailed thieves) visit for snacks. But today we saw something we'd never seen before!

Right before dinnertime Anja noticed a bunch--I mean, hundreds--of baby spiders coming up from the dirt under the old air conditioning fan thingy that is in the yard. (We don't have air conditioning anymore and we really need to have that thing removed.) They were SO TINY, and they all crawled up a thin web, then they spun their ways over to this trash can (we sound so dumpy right now, and I can't even deny it, we really are,) then from there to the bird feeder. There were SO MANY TINY BABY SPIDERS. And I'm not a lover of spiders, but these things really were so cute. They were just unbelievably little, and yellow, with a little bit of black on them. So, from their web that they'd made, they hung out for awhile, AND THEN! THEY STARTED DRIFTING AWAY ON THE WIND ONE BY ONE!!! It was JUST LIKE in Charlotte's Web when the baby spiders go parachuting away. It was so, so beautiful, I can't believe we were lucky enough to see it. Some of them went up to the top of the bedroom window where I bet they will stay. Some of them ended up all over us, haha, and some just went off to who knows where. It was seriously amazing, I've never seen anything like it. Over the span of about three hours they almost all went away; I counted 20 still on the web when we headed in for baths and bed. A basic Google search lead me to believe they are orb weavers, or garden spiders, and extremely beneficial to the environment while typically not inviting themselves into homes. So basically they're my favorite spider.

I am beginning to see an odd benefit to having such a small space (and this is made better by our awesome neighbors who yard-keep in the same spirit as we do) in that we don't need to look far for these little miracles. There is an intimacy that comes with all of our nature-ing being crammed into a teeny urban backyard. The birds are friendly, so we get up-close views. Things as tiny as baby spiders don't go unnoticed. Snakes, centipedes, worms (we love worms!), all kinds of creepy crawly things are in abundance and just waiting to be observed. (Okay, snakes don't come in abundance, but we have had a few over the years.) And our bees!
With our beekeeper friend we opened the hive last week and found all of our busy, buzzy friends are thriving in there. Anja has really become brave in her beekeeping. I love these things. They are beautiful and fascinating and whatever breed they are (they were caught wild by our friend pictured here,) they are SO docile. Our only stings have been accidental, except for Martin--they don't seem to like him very much and tend to go into attack mode when he's around. But the girls and I can go right up to the hive door and observe them for as long as we want and they don't seem to care at all. (I think they can sense our peacefulness.) We also have mason bees making homes in various places in our yard--also insanely cool to watch. 

We've got a good spot here. And even though this afternoon I was reminiscing on our cozy winter nights of Hot Buttered Rum and Poldark binge-watching, I am so incredibly glad it's not winter anymore. In fact, I think a measurable portion of my days lately has been spent standing in the middle of the yard exclaiming, "It's such a beautiful day!" to the kids who have started ignoring me. It's not that they don't notice the beauty of the day--they're just too busy setting up their mud pie pastry shops to comment.


  1. I love this post so much! I recently wrote a similar one about our current location and yard. The ability and time to observe nature up close is such a blessing that so few people have these days.

  2. LOVE THIS!! I have been so enjoying the nature and bounty around us too! Thank the Lord it is Spring!!