Is there anything better in this world than playing hooky? To turn your back on all responsibilities and wander through a day doing nothing but just what you feel like doing, while everybody else is at work, or school, or whatever their daily tedium happens to be? The very thought makes me want to go Yippeeee!
If you know in advance it’s going to be one of those days, I guess you could sleep late if that happens to be your thing. Me, I’m an early riser especially on days off – who wants to waste a day of total freedom sleeping? And while a rainy hooky day possesses its own variety of charms, one that’s all sunshine and mild breezes demands the outdoor life.
Since the entire enterprise is based on a break from dull routine, I like to make sure that breakfast starts me off on the right path. This is no time for the usual bowl of whole grains and half a banana, oh no. It’s time to start the day with dessert: I’m going to need plenty of energy to be unruly all day long.
A hooky morning entails some time with favorite bookmarks, but a few feet away the living-room windows are filling with light and an enthusiastic breeze is pushing clouds apart to let the sunlight through. Time to embark on two of my all-time favorite hooky activities: puttering and meandering. Time to find out what happened in the yard while I was spending all day yesterday cooped up in an office.
It’s not a real hooky day if you use it to clean bathrooms, catch up on paperwork, or drop off dry-cleaning. (At least I think it’s not. I never drop off any dry cleaning, so I could be wrong there.) If there are any tasks to be accomplished, they must be of the fun, amusing, hobby-related, relaxing, or utterly self-indulgent type. It is true that one person’s amusement could be another’s torture, but springtime yard work is never a chore for me. It’s what I do to avoid chores.
On this particular do-nothing day, my first non-chore was giving away all the water in the tall plastic rain barrel in the hope that we might get the new double-barrel rain collector in place before the next wet weather arrives. There’s nothing like delivering rain water to new plants in a two-gallon watering can to bring home the value of that limited commodity. On the other hand, it’s luscious to water a flower garden without a trace of guilt.
Colorful things are opening up all over the yard. The Jerusalem sage has grown into a full-fledged bush of a plant, nearly three feet in diameter. At the moment its furry gray-green leaves make a perfect backdrop for dozens of bright yellow lanterns. Even the fragrance seems warm as it floats across the garden.
The various cactuses continue to carry out their exponential growth program, the new vivid green paddles nearly doubling in size every day. This is exciting enough to watch, but it almost pales in comparison to the wait for cactus flowers. They take their time in coming, and aren’t the most long-lasting bee attractants; but maybe that’s half their appeal.
I imagine gardeners who’ve lived in Texas all their lives must appreciate their native plants too; I see plenty of them in the yards of neighbors whom I know for a fact were born here. But for me, there’s a special attraction in flora and fauna that were unknown to me for the first half of my life: they never cease to seem as exotic as Casablanca.
It’s easy for the shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) to surprise me, since I’ve never had one before. All I’d ever noticed about them were the pinkish maroon shellfish-like fronds that I assumed were its flowers. Suddenly I noticed there was more to them than that. It was even more of a surprise to discover a little flower could stick its tongue out at me, but I suppose such things should be expected in an unruly garden.
I’ve set my first three shrimp plants in a place where the only sun is the dappled afternoon version; we’ll see how they manage.
Once the watering was done and the tall rain collector empty, it seemed like the perfect time to pull my handy dandy PacSafe camera backpack out of the closet and head out for a slow bike meander through the neighborhood. While a hooky day may sometimes entail good hard aerobic exercise, I was feeling very lazy. Not lazy enough to say home, however. At this time of year every leaf is still perfect and every flower unsullied. Rosebushes are more blossom than leaf, and there are colors, colors, colors everywhere. Must go see what the neighbors’ yards are up to. So many dazzling patches.
All over Texas now, wildflowers shimmer along every roadside. I haven’t advanced to taking decent landscape shots yet, so if you happen to live somewhere else you’ll just have to take my word for it. Indian blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella) is always a favorite of mine. A few blocks from our house, someone has a very picturesque array alongside a picturesque fence (that happens to be quite close to where picturesque rattlesnakes are discovered on paths and porches every year).
As you recall from a previous post, I put in two gaillardia hybrids this year just for fun, one a vivid yellow and the other more traditionally hued. In the past I’ve had a few blanketflower blossoms mutate into something slightly different from the ones in the photo just above; this new hybrid produces flowers like those mutant numbers. They’re pretty, of course, but very close up they’re amazing: flowers made out of flowers. They look like quarter-inch trumpet vine flowers stuck into a pincushion by a very delicate hand.
Around the neighborhood, amaryllis are in bloom. I really favor the dark red ones but somehow came into possession of amaryllis of a different color. Mine live in a pot in the front yard, under the Texas mountain laurel. I think when they are through blooming I’ll put them in the ground. There isn’t an unruly thing about amaryllis, but every garden needs to make room for one or two fancy-dress items, I think. Gotta keep the rest of the garden on its toes.
Ah. We were talking about hooky. Well. As you see, every day I don’t have to go to work is a special occasion for me; it really doesn’t take much. All I need is a collection of hours to spend going from front yard to back yard, through the house and around again, up and down the sidewalk garden, with maybe a venture out into the neighborhood. Phones and e-mail are ignored; laundry sulks unwashed in the hamper.
At some point when my nails are dirty enough and I remember I’m thirsty, it seems like the best thing in the world to take to the front yard garden bench with a cold drink and my camera. Don’t need to do a thing but catch the breezes coming from all directions, lean back to take in a view of tree, clouds, and sky, and watch the cedar waxwings.
The first time I ever saw these birds was when my best friend Mary came to Austin for my 40th birthday all those many years ago. We were walking through my neighborhood when we heard a great din of bird conversation coming from a large bush. Suddenly what seemed like a zillion birds exploded from the bush all at once. We were able to catch enough details to look them up in Birds of Texas, and that’s how I first learned about the existence of cedar waxwings.
They look to be carved out of marzipan, with eyeliner put on by a dramatic hand. They travel in mobs, going from snack to snack chattering the whole time. The whole gaggle will perch and eat for a while, still talking away; then all of them take off in an enthusiastic detonation of birds. Still talking.
They make me laugh every time I see them. The perfect amusement for a day of hooky.
I highly, highly recommend it.