Still Sputtering

It is a clear, chilly Tuesday morning and we have had quite an array of weather. Last week saw some warm breezes and hot sun – the kind of weather in which lots of yard work gets done, shoulders turn pink, and days end in a pleasant sense of accomplishment. I let myself believe spring was settling in.

But a whole week’s worth of April has gone by, and spring still fails to commit. Our entire weekend called for sweaters and – if you were facing north – a steely resolve: come around the corner of the house and the north wind was blowing as if Canada were trying to set up life in the Hill Country. Opaque clouds took over the sky and held on. If the weather’s going to be so crummy, it should at least rain, I grumbled to Floyd.

On Friday morning Travis and I picked up a double-barreled rain collector despite the risk of jinxing our precipitation chances altogether. I’d also drained the one collector we already had, since water in the bottom tends to get funky after a while and I figured on giving the whole works its annual clean-out. Sixty-five gallons of water toted to various garden spaces in a watering can, two gallons at a time. Only the water-saint halo glowing just above my head kept me going.

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Old Faithful

Like anyone who is facing the prospect of watering restrictions and the utility bills of summer, I’ve had rain collectors on my mind for months. The price-tags on really big ones are absolutely mind-boggling. I’d have loved one of the big guys from the Local Designer Hardware and Drinkable Paint Boutique, but they run way too close to a thousand bucks for my budget. Even plain galvanized rain collectors from farm supply stores run that high.

Floyd was naturally willing to make a rain barrel, but he’s been working overtime lately, and if we’re going to get rain this season it’s probably going to be soon. So Travis and I went to the Natural Gardener and picked up a two-barrel model (55 gallons each: think “oil drums”) made by a local outfit. It has a nice sturdy cedar base and fit into its space by the back door perfectly. All it needed was a sawed-off gutter downspout and some plastic tubing for the overflow spout.

If I tell you I spent all day Saturday sewing up a sleeveless tunic for summer, that tells you all you need to know about the weather. I like a couple of shirts I’d made from one particular pattern and so decided to go at it again with a couple of changes: I lined the bodice (because I dislike facings in a sleeveless top) and decided to try the shirring suggested for the back. A newcomer to Sewing World, I was unaware that elastic thread was invented by Satan so that especially evil people could spend eternity shirring. Live and learn, I guess.

My machine wishes to state that it does not like elastic thread and if forced to utilize it, will create the kind of trouble that requires taking the entire bobbin assembly apart. Perhaps more than once. It must have something to do with “tension,” plenty of which was projected directly into me as I sat fiddling, tweaking, and pulling on the ends of six strands of elastic thread in an attempt to get the material to gather evenly.

Amazingly, once I hauled the piece to the ironing board and shot satisfyingly punitive clouds of steam at it, the shirring puckered up just as it is supposed to do. No matter that I was several hours older and considerably embittered. Can’t wait to try it again.

Be all that as it may, the shirt turned out well and by late afternoon It seemed like an excellent time to summon camera, leash, and Travis to a walk. We took the path through the woods from Hilltop over to Blue Valley, where we found certain beauties growing right along with no help from anyone.

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As we made our way through the woods, we came to one of those calendar-page places where there’s a carpet of bluebonnets so lush you can smell them.

DSC_0027When we arrived at Blue Valley – which is basically the place where the subdivision offices and some of the amenities we fund each month can be found – Travis was thrilled to find a family playing tennis. I allowed him a few minutes of running back and forth along the fence, then called him away with the reminder that his hips would be very sore if he kept at it. He was unfazed by the prospect of pain, but agreed with what I found to be a reasonably brief show of reluctance. Poor dude.

I’d been hoping to stop by the Community Garden across the street from Blue Valley to chat up some community gardeners and take a few photos of the goings-on, but no one was there. Evidently I wasn’t the only one who found the weather too discouraging to face.

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Our neighborhood’s Community Garden was brought to life last year by a troop of zealous enthusiasts who worked hard to get the Homeowners’ Association to allow the use of a previously hideous piece of land right next to a small sewage pump station. (There is the aroma to contend with, when the wind is wrong, but I assume the soil must be acceptably uncontaminated.)

Plots naturally went to the people who put in all the effort; and immediately a waiting list was formed, of residents hoping to put in a plot when space becomes available. Seems like a murder mystery just waiting to be written.

I’m looking forward to bringing you more info about this garden space (complete with its array of picnic tables and grills) and the people who share it. I so admire people who grow food. There’s talk about more community gardens in other unused areas of the ‘hood, but thus far I haven’t seen any action. Gardens are much easier to talk about than to create, let alone a shared garden space that needs to be completely fenced against the evening creatures who would devour every green thing in a matter of hours. It is a truly cooperative venture, another aspect deeply admired by this Unruly and Solitary Gardener.

Travis and I took the sidewalk route home. Despite the coolness of the day, I know the rattlesnakes are stirring and hungry. All the way to Blue Valley I’d been stamping my good foot on the ground in the hope of convincing any rattlers on the prowl that I could stomp them before they stomped me. If there were any out and about in the vicinity, I imagine they are still laughing.

On our way we took a few moments to notice early bloomers. It was the least we could do.

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On our misty, drizzly Sunday morning Floyd provided the new rain collection system with its connections to water. He cut the gutter downspout (at a perfect angle, of course) to fit right over the screen that covers the hole in the top, and immediately sky water began trickling into the first barrel. Later in the day I ran over to Breed Hardware* for some fittings and plastic tubing for the overflow – which will run out into the side yard where it can do some good. And I can attach a real hose to the spigot to bring water to the sidewalk garden!

Even though we had very little real rain that day, the expansive square footage of our metal roof makes the most of even a paltry amount of moisture. Two more “decorative” type rain collectors and all four corners of our house will be doing their part to keep our gardens as green as possible throughout the coming torrid season. Severe drought is expected to continue in this part of the world, and though a couple hundred gallons won’t save the world or even all of our little yard, every drop matters.

Apology in advance: in the “Preview” version of this post, the following little clip shows up as gigantic. I don’t know what it will look like in the published version, but I’m too excited not to share it. Remember, there was just a mist in the air at the time. Music to my ears, and Travis expressing his enthusiasm in the background:

Spring is kicking its heels the entire way. Last night there was a quick, intense storm that showered hail on my office up north. It’s a location where, if hail is going to fall in Austin, it’s going to fall there, so I wouldn’t assume hail down at our house. Besides, I don’t have any tomato plants, and our roof is new and sturdy, so what’s a little hail even if we did get some? Exiting the freeway I drove under the rim of the leaden clouds into a clearing night.

As I drove at last into our southwest neighborhood, I saw quite a few trash cans set out for this morning’s collection lying on their sides. Must have been quite a gullywasher, I thought. Sometimes that fast rush of water down the curbsides will carry even full trash cans off and knock them down. As I approached the house, the number of new leaves in the street signaled a weather event no gardener could regard with equanimity: at the very least there had been a crash of rain, a wild wind, and…sure enough, when I came in the house Floyd asked if I’d seen the pile of ice by the front door. Ice.

I had no interest in seeing the pile of ice by the front door, but he took me out there and its existence was undeniable. Not the worst hailstorm in the world, not by a long shot, No baseball-sized specimens to photograph and send to the local news channel. Just a little pile of ice.

Just a spring that refuses to commit.

*Breed (http://shop.breedandco.com/) should not be confused with that Drinkable Paint Boutique I mentioned. Breed is an old Austin institution that just happens to have a second store down southwest near our neighborhood. I love to take visitors there, telling them, I have to stop at the hardware store and noting their astonishment when we enter. You can register for your Reed & Barton table ware and Vietri place settings on your way in to buy PVC pipe and spray paint. If Breed has any faults as far as I’m concerned, they just have too many people ready to wait on you.

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