Untitled watercolor & pen painting by Adra Fisher
Untitled water­col­or & pen paint­ing by Adra Fisher. (Click to enlarge)

It’s go-time for back­yard gar­den­ers, and the signs of sum­mer are unmis­tak­able in my lit­tle patch of par­adise — nick­el-sized chig­ger bites where I used to have skin, chip­munks feast­ing al fres­co on my just-ripe straw­ber­ries, and bul­bous car­pen­ter bees so bored with our dai­ly stare­downs that they’ve moved on to the more impor­tant work of pack­ing bee bread into the per­fect­ly round holes they’ve drilled into my old wood­en deck. (Bee bread, also known as ambrosia, is the pollen-and-nec­tar equiv­a­lent of baby formula.)

Curmudgeonly as I may sound, I’m not com­plain­ing. I love shar­ing my space with these indus­tri­ous and engag­ing crit­ters — though, in all hon­esty, the chig­gers could stand to ease up a skosh. That’s just my opin­ion, though, and I try not to give unso­licit­ed advice.

The truth of the mat­ter is that everyone’s got to eat, and I ful­ly under­stand that around here I’m just anoth­er 130-pound strand in the ever-widen­ing food web. There’s plen­ty to go around, thank­ful­ly, and I’m more than hap­py to share.

At this par­tic­u­lar moment, how­ev­er, as I lounge on my deck amid pyra­mi­dal piles of saw­dust (those car­pen­ter bees are pre­cise and tidy), I am off the menu — tem­porar­i­ly, at least. The mos­qui­to pop­u­la­tion won’t reach the point of pesti­lence until July, and the chig­gers pre­fer hang­ing out in that humid jum­ble I call a peren­ni­al border.

So now, from the rel­a­tive­ly safe van­tage point of what’s left of my deck, I savor the morn­ing cool­ness and take in the tableau — a fun­da­men­tal, yet often over­looked, gar­den­ing skill at which I excel.

Before long, a sleek, twitchy chip­munk tot­ing a straw­ber­ry the size of his head bounds onto the deck. I watch him nib­ble, admir­ing the stripes on his curved chest­nut back. High above in the sweet­gum, tat­tle­tale robins snitch on prowl­ing neigh­bor­hood felines, one of whom pads unde­terred toward the cat­mint. Atop the fence line, a trio of grey squir­rels pause their exu­ber­ant chase to check out the progress of sun­flow­ers grow­ing below. Reassured that the delec­table seeds are nowhere near ripe, they resume their acro­bat­ics with the grace and agili­ty of Olympians.

Less ani­mat­ed but equal­ly eye-catch­ing is the flower bed, lush and love­ly as a June bride. On this par­tic­u­lar morn­ing, blooms of dain­ty white beard­tongue bob among swords of spent iris, red-hot pok­er spikes pierce the air next to cool blue rue, and nascent daylily buds promise dra­ma beneath the thou­sand green hearts that the red­bud calls leaves.

The veg­etable plot is a dif­fer­ent scene alto­geth­er. Over by the yard barn, the sal­ad gar­den is wind­ing down — once-order­ly rows of radish­es are now a tan­gle of flow­er­ing stalks. Nearby, in seem­ing con­so­la­tion, seeds of yel­low squash, zuc­chi­ni, and cucum­ber have sprout­ed and are mak­ing up for lost time. Around the cor­ner, bur­geon­ing toma­to and pep­per plants explore their cages along the east side of the house.

As I sur­vey my sur­round­ings, it occurs to me that a gar­den — like so many oth­er things we cre­ate — is nev­er real­ly fin­ished. Dynamic and evolv­ing, it is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly alive and dying, pro­vid­ing end­less boun­ty in the form of beau­ty, nour­ish­ment, and per­haps most impor­tant­ly, food for thought. There are lessons here — on humil­i­ty and grat­i­tude, accep­tance and awe, stew­ard­ship and sharing.

With so much injus­tice and tur­bu­lence in the world, a gar­den — or any nat­ur­al green space, for that mat­ter — is a place of respite and renew­al. There is a sooth­ing sym­me­try in nature, a reli­able jux­ta­po­si­tion of “what was” and “what will be” — bal­anced per­fect­ly on the ful­crum of Now. With per­spec­tive in short sup­ply these days, any­thing we can do to main­tain equi­lib­ri­um seems well worth pursuing.

My small back­yard deck heats up quick­ly in June. By mid-morn­ing it’s time to move indoors or to a shadier spot (where hun­gry chig­gers, no doubt, lie patient­ly in wait). I weigh my options, con­sid­er­ing whether to do some weed­ing or go inside and write. Lacy mats of spurge are tak­ing over the brick walk­ways, and this­tle has sprout­ed in the peren­ni­als… but those things can wait.

As beau­ti­ful as the day is, I opt to go inside, my deci­sion based on anoth­er valu­able les­son I’ve learned over the years — know and respect your limits.

After all, I can only take so many chig­ger bites, and the straw­ber­ry har­vest is in very good hands indeed.

* * *

To my way of think­ing, there is noth­ing more cre­ative or for­ward-think­ing than plant­i­ng a gar­den and watch­ing it grow. It’s only June — still ear­ly in the sea­son — so if you haven’t done so already, I encour­age you to try plant­i­ng some­thing this sum­mer. Start small if you’re skep­ti­cal or short on time/space. A sin­gle toma­to plant in a pot can pro­duce sat­is­fy­ing results that will feed both your body and your soul. Free seeds are still avail­able at the local library, or you can buy plants all over town. Remember, it’s nev­er too late to grow.

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    Adra Fisher grew up in Winchester, moved away in her ear­ly 20s and returned a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry lat­er. She enjoys all types of art and encour­ag­ing oth­ers to live creatively.