Ten Thousand a Day


I should be honest and open with a Lack of Restraint warning right up front. Travis and I, as you know, walk a good deal around our little piece of heaven. The Fitbit expects ten thousand steps at a minimum every day, and it’s just as well. My back and I are having a fierce argument that’s gone on for weeks now, and thus far I am losing. This means, among other things, that walking is about as much as I can manage.

Fortunately, such a pace allows me to be thoroughly and repeatedly entertained by the array of flowers currently unfolding in every square inch of the neighborhood. So today, you get flowers. Maybe the Fitbit ought to have a way of tracking the number of small amazements you encounter in the course of a day.

IMG_3310When it was still cool enough for Travis and me to walk through the woods (i.e. before the snakes woke up), I saw hundreds of these lovely stalks. The whole cluster maybe a half-dollar size in diameter, these tiny flowers were among the first to emerge. On such small things I pin enormous hopes.

IMG_3312Down by our community offices in Blue Valley, this fence and its pungent cloak have been very evocative for me. It could have stood there a hundred years ago. I think I like it because a neighborhood with a Homeowners’ Association can be a terrifyingly cookie-cutter operation, and this stretch of fence is unruly enough to summon a smile as Travis and I either cut uphill to the streets or across the lawn to the woods on our way home.

IMG_3337Outside our kitchen window the Nellie Stevens holly has hosted its usual troops of honeybees. There are an array of flowering shrubs along that northwestern face of our house, and I just love it when I can have the window open to listen to the buzz. Again it is the small things that pull me back from the flood tide of calamity that occupies my mind most of the time. Small things.

IMG_3427At one corner of the front patio, a cluster of irises. This was the kind of wondrous surprise we count on from so many things that come from bulbs. This little family lives alongside a duranta. Last year, because we had no freeze, my three duranta thought they’d died and gone to California: they were enormous and heavy with flowers. Consequently, the iris never bothered to wake up.

This year the duranta froze to the ground, so these lovelies had the chance to emerge and blossom before it woke up and overshadowed them. That’s how it’s supposed to go, isn’t it? Irises planted beneath deciduous trees?

IMG_3385I’ve written before about how the scent of bearded irises is so evocative of my childhood, when we would carry long cut stems to school. My father, the gardener of the house, must have been very generous about this. It wasn’t like we had oceans of irises in the yard. And yet he never seemed to mind. Maybe he figured that since the flowers were for Mary, she might put in a good word for him. (He could have used a few good words in that regard.)

As soon as these characters are done for the year, I really must dig up a bunch to share with daughter and daughter-in-law – excellent gardeners both. IMG_3525Here’s an iris in a distant neighbor’s yard. I must keep track of where I saw this one so I can beg for a bulb or two from the gardener. The neighborhood often has informal plant and bulb exchanges, so I’ll keep an eye on the Nextdoor site to see when such an event pops up. Who knows, maybe I’ll facilitate one myself. Small things.

IMG_3369There’s a cactus in a bowl that sits on a table right outside my little corner of the living room – that angled spot behind the couch where I sew and read and spy on the birds. It was by far the first of the cactus to bloom, and it was covered with these flowers. Made me sad that I hadn’t done some planning to see the “super bloom” in the desert around Big Bend this year.

Oh well, I’m all about the small things. (Although I really MUST get to Big Bend before the wall goes up. Cough, cough, choke. For the first time in my life I have a raging case of camper fever, and situations like this are one reason why. At nearly 64 I only have just so much time to see certain things, and now it’s clear that all of us may have just so much time to see them. Tick tock.)

IMG_3356There are poppies in bloom all over the neighborhood. This one lives at the end of our driveway. I see a few more scattered about the yard, but can never really have enough. The very thought of poppies at this time of year is enough to pull me into the car and over to The Natural Gardener, where serious poppy inspiration took hold of me a few years ago.

The other day, though, a table of dahlias caught my eye.

IMG_3544I didn’t buy any, for no reason I can quite explain. It may have been one of the days when there were so many people shopping I simply walked around, took in my fill of flowers and herbs, and left. Maybe I think I could never possibly cultivate flowers this beautiful. Fortunately, you don’t have to grow flowers to draw pleasure from them. Other peoples’ flowers work just as well.

I did, however, pick up a few columbine plants at some point. They are the flower of my birth month, after all.

IMG_3419I just sort of can’t believe flowers. This must be part of their appeal for me. At this time of year I start walking out of the house and along the sidewalk garden about once an hour just to see what unbelievable thing has emerged. I mean, really. These are living works of art, plain and simple.

IMG_3518The neighborhood is also teeming with amaryllis at this point in the season. So many colors and sizes. We’ve had some stormy weather off an on, and it’s always a relief to wake up after a thunderous night and see that beauties like these weren’t pounded into the ground. It’s the little things.

On a recent Sunday we had the family over and in the midst of the racket I wandered out front to see if I could capture even one shot of the cedar waxwings I love so dearly. It was a very windy afternoon, and cedar waxwings are way too unruly to cooperate with an amateur photographer; but I caught a few glimpses of these beauties in the live oak next door. They feasted for days on holly berries – I’ll never get those stains out of that stretch of sidewalk, and I’m glad.

IMG_0317Frustrated with the wind that seems to LIVE to thwart my photographic ambitions, I brought the camera into the house and went back to the front yard. What do you think was fluttering around?

A hummingbird moth, of course. Much to my amazement it hung in there as I rushed back inside to grab my camera.

IMG_0320 (1)I tell you, if the little things don’t do it for you, you are in a whole lot of trouble.

It is a splendid time of year here in central Texas. Generous winter rains have insured us weeks of wildflowers-by-the-mile along every road and freeway. As I’ve said before, no landscape shot of mine will ever do them justice, but a quick Google check will yield as many calendar photos as your heart may desire. Better yet, come down one year when the winter’s been wet enough, and see for yourself.

Acres and miles of flowers are excellent, no doubt about it. But it is at least as excellent to walk around the blandest of “planned communities” and take in as many amazing sights as you can stand.

It’s always fun to see what people have planted, and there are more and more neighbors who have shifted away from manicured shrubs and lawns, and moved toward the kind of unruly landscapes that in my mind are so much more suitable for this former ranch land that sits alongside Austin’s phenomenal greenbelt.

Smack in the middle of our neighborhood sits an undeveloped plot of land belonging to the school district. For a number of reasons no school campus was ever built there, and as the district’s budget exists on a very tenuous fiscal ledge we live on pins and needles as we expect the land to be sold to a developer at any moment. We count on an army of citizens to uncover so many environmental and legal hurdles that no developer will care to spend the money to take it on. Fingers crossed.

For the moment it remains an oasis of wildness where people walk, bring their dogs to play, put up owl houses, and throw down wildflower seeds in the fall. It is a good thing to be walking my excellent dog along a curve in the road as we head toward Blue Vally, and see something like this spilling over the rough curb.

This is a wildflower called Antelope Horn. It is a variety of milkweed and therefore a treasure for butterflies and butterfly lovers. Don’t let me forget to plant some of these next fall! IMG_3627It really is the small things.

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