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When Peaches Meow: Musings with “Most Beloved”

The Orchard Years

I look up and above to the picture Mom gifted me of my 11-year-old self, hand across the back of our Labrador Retriever’s shoulder, and Dusty (our rescued groundhog) pulling at his jaw. I was sitting, plaintive smile, faraway look in my eyes even then, blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, choppy bangs, knees tucked both under and sideways, on the top of the hill of our orchard.  

And I fall back, am called back, where 88 acres of orchard defined all the summers of my childhood and young adolescence. Rich Haven and Hale Haven peaches—Alberta Cling peaches, peaches by the peck and by the pound, peaches in half-bushel baskets, Montmorency sour-pie cherries, Sweet Cherries, Bartlett Pears, Concord Grapes, Jonathan, Melrose, Red and Golden Delicious apples. Nectarines, Black Raspberries. My mind drifts. My tongue remembers.

Peach fuzz from picking sticky on my hands and arms, peaches bigger than my fists could hold, sweet, ripe peach juice dripping down my chin. The ’54 Ford tractor with the wagon hooked up, flatbed, empty crates out into the orchard and full crates of peaches coming back on that slow, bumpy ride from bush-hog rough-cut orchard grass clear up to the packing shed. 

Dad driving the tractor, his lopsided smile beaming, my sister and I riding on each of the tractor-well wheels, our black lab up on the wagon along with all those crates of peaches that we had picked in the heat of late July and early August sun. The kind of heat that sinks into you in this part of southeastern Ohio. Humid heat. Overhead, brilliant noonday-sun heat. Heat that makes you thirsty—before-anything-else heat. 

Grandpa bought that land, 100 acres at the top of Malta Hill, to start an orchard. After WWII. Money from his G.I. Bill. Planted an orchard 4 miles straight up that hill to get all those fruit trees close to the heat of the full Ohio sun. And far enough away from the Muskingum River valley where trees, townspeople, and a stronger chance of a killing frost could wipe out a full crop of peaches.

Memories of so far away and long ago, wispy—as if, almost, they didn’t happen in this lifetime, in my lifetime. And yet still the peaches cling, the orchard clings, a love for planting and growing. A heart for all things earth, sky, trees, plants, flowers, animals, that way of life from so long ago, my love still. 

And so on this late August day, I am still who I always was. Perhaps a riper version of self, but still, at my core, that 11-year-old girl sitting atop that hill of our orchard. A bowl of white peaches today centers my table (though these peaches came from California).

White Peaches

And the box they came in? That box belongs to Most Beloved who relishes sitting in (and looking out from) a box clearly labeled “Peaches.”

Most Beloved, When Peaches Meow
California White Peaches “I. M. Ripe
Most Beloved, When Peaches Meow
The Orchard Years: Dusty, our groundhog, tugging at our Labrador Retriever’s jaw
The Orchard Years, Dusty, our pet groundhog

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A Cat Sleeps in Our Garden

Days fall short now, time cutting across day’s light, night coming too fast—before supper, before work can be done, before we are ready.

Gardens have been put to sleep—by us, or by nature—and while inside we work by light, outside, this early darkness awakens late fall’s chill. 

Against this vague, ambiguous drift of days between November and March, skies sketch a steady kind of gray.

A Cat Sleeps in Our Garden

Tigers crush where Lilies sleep. A cat sleeps in the gardens today. He’s tucked in and around himself right now, curled up on a large, flat stone between a rose bush and a forsythia bush. His markings flank and imitate this late fall day around him. 

Leaves are mostly fallen from the black walnut trees behind him, the roses lie dormant and sad after an early heavy frost last week, the mulch, well withered and now covered by brown crunchy leaves, work together to provide just the right amount of camouflage for his heavy tiger-striped frame.

He is a large cat. Daddy cat, perhaps, of the feral cats in this area. A show cat with markings parallel and perfect. He is a traditional striped cat, though with tufted fur, tufted ears, and a tufted chest. I remember the first time I saw him sitting on the brick path leading up to the garden gates. Stunningly beautiful, striking in that he just sat for the longest time, square on his haunches, front paws tight and connected, dark ribbons of stripes at perfect intervals up his legs. And that face. A large, perfect stare, eyes wide open, unafraid, as if saying something, but what, exactly?

He seems tended to, a house cat let outside, an unneutered cat left free to roam where might he may. I’ve only seen him twice, this tomcat unafraid. Unlike the feral cats who run skittish and fast, this tiger lumbers up our long drive, sauntering past the Weigela, passing by the just-last-summer planted dwarf-mounding chokeberry bushes, brushing past the dwarf cameo flowering quince. His haunches define his fearlessness, his size alone big enough to take down another male cat foolish enough to enter his territory, his domain, these, our Gardens at Effingham. 

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Paradise Lost

November 17, 2019

Sunday, cold now, but beautiful and sunny today

I found a dead bird today, vertical descent and upside down in the suet round house feeder, the one under the awning and cornering the sweet bay magnolia against the house. 

I found it quite by accident. Shock made me motionless, breath held, life suspended, my life suspended over the upending of this delicate bird.

How sad for such a strong one born with wings to fly, to die in such an unnatural position. Although really, what is a natural position in which to frame the arc of a bird’s death? Wings bear weight, and breadth, for only so long, flight inherent in the lift and swoosh upward, ascent gliding course and construct of all things its life. 

And then this—paralyzed acrobatics belonging to predator birds, big birds —hawks, falcons, owls—on such a small slim body. Though not so slim, when by proportion, two suet cakes could squeeze the life out of the little bird.

Did it dip down to eat suet? Dip in through the caged openings, big enough for small birds but not large enough to let big birds come in? Where, fully centered, sweet suet cakes, plump with fat and berries, became the gulped joy of Carolina wrens, chickadees, a female downy woodpecker, and small finches.

Is this what happened? Perhaps the bird was sick? Starving? Just plain stuck? Did it reach so far down because the suet tasted sweeter near the bottom, lodged between that just right place and its own death?

Feral cats, hungry themselves, lie completely still— waiting, waiting, patient because to wait—and to pause, to appear motionless—means to eat. And in so these cats’ eating, these birds’ demise? Is death life? Is life death? Is there a difference?

I know only this still small shock, this harsh blunt of a horrible (hideous) truth—that nature runs wild. Wild against my intent to care for and maintain life in my gardens. Wild against my will. Wild without my permission. 

And in an artful arc of my brush against this garden canvas, I find pain in color—and a hideous descent of all I intended to make divine. And so like bird, death in flight, upside down and strangled, I find a most loathsome urge, guttural choke my own throat, to cry out—how awful this is, how haunting this is, how I shan’t be able to sleep tonight. 

But I cannot speak. Nor breathe. For in sacred gardens, this moment lingers, my profaned art, decried, desecrated, ruined. 

A bird’s life ruined. And the slow sick rise that where placed my heart, my art depends on life without the descent, arc of color without the necessary flourish of denouement. In ache, my own, a small bird’s love stays still. My beloved then, and my beloved still.

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Tucked in ’til Spring: Must Be Winter Gardens at Effingham

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Tucked in ’til Spring: Winter Gardens at Effingham

Tucked In ’til Spring

Naps loom large on January days. Hours tap out a day’s rhythm counted only in number of naps. And baths. And regular breaks meant for nibbling snacks.

I live here year round at Gardens at Effingham, and not to brag, but I have been here longer than any other cat (ahem, yes Mr. Poof, that’s you). I make regular rounds to view  the perimeters of my garden, but alas, only from the inside of my gardener’s home.

Yes, yes, our house is large, spacious, accommodating, but house rules dictate: indoors only for all cats. Or at least us (and yes, no exceptions Mr. Poof).

I regularly watch skinny stray cats stretch themselves long and low to wiggle under the heavy garden gates. Stray cats are not technically “allowed” into the back gardens, but sneaking into the gardens doesn’t count if the owners don’t find out.  The bird feeders and winter gardens are equally as enticing for both songbirds and stray cats.

But that’s okay. I didn’t want to go outside anyway. Cold doesn’t look good on me.  Best for now just to stretch, yawn, and tuck in ’til spring. Beauty looks best when rested.

Affectionately yours,

Miss Purrfect (and you know it 😉

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Tucked In ’til Spring–Winter Gardens at Effingham
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The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

 

Summer Love