It’s Been A Quiet Week

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Anolis Carolinensis

Although we have been privileged to enjoy very mild temperatures for late June – no triple digits yet! – there’s been rain on and off, and the humidity has made it feel as if all the oxygen has been removed from the atmosphere. When the air is still, it is eerily still, quiet like those New England nights when snow is fluffing and drifting down in huge flakes. No one hurries.

It’s a good time to sit three feet from a cold-blooded garden visitor and snap away to my heart’s content.

It’s too bad “cold-blooded” sounds soDSC_0001 pejorative, since these little color-changing creatures don’t seem vicious in any way. They spend much more time running away than they do trying to bite you, but they are quite ferocious-seeming when they go fighting with each other. I do wish they would eat more leaf-hoppers and fewer bees and spiders, but they never ask me.

Here on the right is Sceloporus olivaceus, the Texas Spiny Lizard. I just love the little lizards and wonder what the backstory is to that missing piece of tail. It amuses me when they run away with that funny lizard gait, one foot moving forward at a time at breakneck speed. Last year I discovered a Spiny Lizard corpse out behind the steel planter, and wondered what had happened to him. Sometimes I just hate nature. Lots of the time.

We always have a little mob of geckosDSC_0004 in the eaves outside the front door. They are extremely shy and disappear into the siding if you so much as speak to them. I imagine they are very cautious; given that their bodies are virtually translucent, I suppose they have to be careful. But somehow they manage to reproduce, providing me with an endless array of lizardy surprises. I’ll find one under a flowerpot, so teeny I’ll think it must have just been born this morning.

Or one will come FLYING out when I’m struggling to pull apart two pots that were stuck together – causing me on more than one occasion to shriek, drop the pots into a trillion shards, and end up mortally embarrassed (for shrieking at a creature whom I really love) and anxious (lest the little thing was injured in the fall). I imagine they hurry off thinking the lady of the house is off her rocker.

It’s been a quiet week. 

DSC_0007A neighbor around the corner had a tree taken down, and Travis and I, out on a walk, encountered the resulting pile of wood. It is a pleasure in such slow weather to lean in to notice a neat stack of circles, still clean, without a single spider web or ominous creature in evidence; then lean closer to take in the changes of color and texture. DSC_0010

On winter walks I feel I’m always in a hurry to get in out of the cold, or I don’t want to take off my gloves long enough to get a photo; and so often miss life’s small details. If I knew how to paint, I would paint that meeting-place of wood and bark, piling up the oils to capture that lovely roughness. 

Once we had an outdoor table made from a two-foot-thick slice of a big old tree that had been struck by lightning in its youth. The tree had formed into a giant “C” shape that wasn’t so great for a tall tree needing to withstand decades of bad weather; but when it came down across Floyd’s aunt Villa Belle’s driveway and had to be sliced up and hauled away, that chunk made a really nice little table. I wouldn’t mind having another.

All week the sky’s refused to make up its mind: it would rain, or not. One clap of thunder announcing nothing. Yesterday when I was running errands, three times in a row it wasn’t raining when I went into a store and it was coming down hard when I came out. We pay a lot of attention to rain around here, every one of us silently hoping that this span of cloudy weather is the preface to a stretch of rain that will finally make a dent in our relentless drought.

In the evening when Travis and I checked out the sidewalk garden and thought about taking a walk, the air felt hot-then-cold as we started out. Blue-black clouds shifted heavily across an anxious sky. I thought, well, if the street isn’t haunted then we may be running a lightning risk, so we’d better not venture too far. Floyd was having the same thought while he and a friend were mountain biking. Oddly irrational, since being struck by lightning would feel quite similar on your doorstep or miles from home; there’s just something about us that wants to be as close to our place of safe haven when a threat seems to be looming.

Storms off and on, some gully-washers, some clouds breezing past without getting the sidewalk wet. The other day I drove home in a downpour only to be disappointed to find my neighborhood nearly bone-dry. It’s that kind of weather. Often I will leave my umbrella behind for good luck. At least the rain barrels are full.

These are good days to ride my bike, despite the fact that I’ll be dripping sweat before I even finish blowing up the tires. The mild air – oxygen or no – is irresistible. Last night I didn’t feel like a real ride at all, and so departed the house in the dress I’d worn to work. It’s the kind of weather in which a bike helmet and a weightless summer dress make perfect sense for a slow five-mile pedal through the ‘hood. 

It goes without saying that flowers are DSC_0014blooming all over the place. On one ride through the ‘hood I’d gone out with my camera around my neck, which I don’t usually do. Having slammed a lens into a doorframe once, I’m sure I’ll just whack mine against the handlebars and be rightly annoyed with myself for weeks. But sometimes I throw caution to the wind and act all unruly. 

I had no earthly idea what this is, but there was a tall bush full of these outrageous blossoms in a yard a few blocks from the house. It reminded me of Pride of Barbados, but just wow. Finally went to Howard Garrett’s Texas Gardening the Natural Way, and after twenty minutes of moony gazing over pages of plants I’d like to have, I found it: this is a Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia, I’m guessing C. gilliesii because of the “tiny leaflets and yellow flowers with distinctive long, red stamens.”)

It’s not the Bird of Paradise I know from southern California, but I sure do want one. This guy is as over the top as a flower gets. Nobody in my native Connecticut would ever approve of that level of flamboyance, I don’t think. Love the near-tropics!

Compared to a bloom the size of myDSC_0026 head, this tiny succulent flower, smaller than my little finger’s nail, isn’t much. But I hadn’t taken out the macro lens in weeks because of the persistent wind. Yesterday was a perfect afternoon to take advantage of the motionless air. 

I sat at the mosaic patio table and took this little lovely’s picture from a dozen angles. The cloud-filtered sun was warm enough, and the day humid enough, to heat my skin and send rivers of sweat running down my back, but I find especially with tripod photos, I become completely lost in the task. Find your object, focus, shoot. Do it some more. Do it ten or twelve more times. Resolve to limit your shots as though you were shooting film. Promise to remember that resolution some other day. Move the flowerpot slightly. Move the tripod an inch. Raise it. Shoot another bunch, knowing full well it will be a pain later on to select which to keep while trashing at least seventy percent of the new photos. 

Time disappears. Travis saunters off, bored, and flops down in the shady grass under the cedars. Later I will download the photos to find gently illuminated petals of the exact colors I saw with my own eyes, and things I hadn’t seen at all. See that leaf under the points of the featured blossom? The dark scalloping? There’s the shadow of the flower. 

I can’t think of the last time I became still enough to notice the shadow of a tiny flower. 

Just as I was fooling around with the succulent flower, the anole whose portrait is featured at the start of this post appeared on the trellis a few feet away. Without expecting him to listen, I asked him to please wait while I ran in to change lenses. Quick switch from macro to telephoto, and I was back at the mosaic table, snapping my camera into the tripod and hurrying to find that anole, hanging face down on the hot metal.

He’d waited. It was that quiet a day.

 

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