Monday, April 7, 2008

One Small Square

And more signs of spring!

Dwarf Pink Heronsbill
It was a lovely day here on the Island, sunny and warm - most welcome after a few days of cold, wet weather, but for some reason we all felt uninspired and tired today. I was actually feeling restless and vaguely crabby, but one of my New Year's Resolutions was to keep a sock in Grouchy Mum's mouth, so I did my best to repress it. These sorts of days make me despair a bit, partly because I feel compelled to do something about the ennui and partly because we end up getting on each other's nerves when we're all like this, and that's never fun. Plus, the twins are young and still of the inclination to follow me around looking for excitement and adventure; it seems a waste not to enjoy the attention while it's still sweet and adoring.
So, tying an anchor to Grouchy Mum and tossing her overboard, I bagged some library books, a yard stick, some sketch pads, some string and pencils, and out we went into the Great Backyard (I wasn't energetic enough to get us all into the Great Outdoors so we settled for the backyard). Since we were ostensibly exploring the world through botanical eyes, we examined the various plants in the yard for sepals, petals, pistils, and leaf patterns. We sacrificed a few daisies and dandelions and anemones in the interests of Exploration. Some of us used a magnifying glass and some of us took pictures (Sheila coughs discretely). Then we sat in the grass and I read aloud while the kids lolled pleasantly in the warm sunshine with their eyes closed (Grouchy Mum peered over the side of the boat and glared somewhat but I managed to keep her sock in). We read Flowers, another in the brilliantly photographed David Burnie-penned DK Eyewitness Explorers series, How Seeds Travel, which has some very good pictures of seed pods and is technical enough without being too dry, critical considering I'm balancing the interests of 6 year olds and 11 year olds, The Sunflower Family, another lightly technical-yet-absorbing look at seeds and flowers, The Life Cycle of a Tree, How Do Apples Grow? and the charming but sadly out of print A First Look at Flowers. And then it occurred to me, after we read One Small Square: Backyard, to create our own Small Square in the backyard. Since it was there. And so were we. So we did.

As you can see from the picture, we strung up some lines to mark out our Small Square (give or take a few slants). I was tempted to choose a more heavily populated area of the garden in the interests of immediacy, but opted instead for a bare area so we could see the contrast when it fills in. We decided to take a picture every week for a year, if we can manage it.

The kids sketched the Square, and then we went over the plants we could see already: a scrawny fuchsia stem, feverfew, violets, pulmonaria, corydalis (have you ever noticed how the corydalis flowers look like the head of the monster from Alien? I've named my corydalis Sigourney because of this), lupin, and a teenie tiny columbine. I put the shovel into the ground so we could see what was under the ground, but sadly it wasn't half so exotic as the picture they had in the book (which was teeming most unrealistically with animals, insects, worms, and microscopic things, says Grouchy Mum). The twins began to sigh. Oops, I thought, Sheila, this ship is foundering. I dropped the shovel full of dirt back into the place it came out of, wondering glumly if the sun was over the yardarm yet (to continue our nautical metaphors) and what do you know but a little chestnut-backed chickadee swooped right in under my feet. He swooped out again almost as soon, but when he left he had a little bug in his beak. This thrilled everyone present (except for the bug of course) and things began to look up again. Grouchy Mum receded into the depths.

One of the suggestions the author makes in One Small Square is to sit with your eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the yard. So we sat, listening to sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, bushtits, and chickadees. We live quite near a bird sanctuary, and there's a lot of bird life in our back yard as a result. Max is pretty keen on birding, and has developed his call recognition skills over the last couple of years, so when we hear unfamiliar calls we usually ask him to identify them. But one bird we couldn't identify. It had a thin and piercing sort of call that sounded quite distinct from the sparrow and chickadee chirps, but we couldn't see what was making the sound. We wandered around under the Garry oaks, and eventually we saw it - a red-breasted nuthatch (sitta canadensis). I don't know why but we'd never noticed it making those calls before, but we hadn't. If you click here you can hear it for yourself.

Then, it was time to go in and get ready for Cubs.

But wait, there's more!

Here's the charming little Corydalis Sigourneyius.

Look at that jawline!
Is that or is that not the Alien head? Some days I expect to see them come after me, their little jaws snapping at my heels like bad tempered terriers (or aliens).

A frittilaria. More properly: Meleagris. Also known as the chequered lily. Deer resistant and naturalizing, apparently. About 8" tall so far.

Finally, my Narwhale. Atmospheric, isn't it? Oh I know, it's really a piece of driftwood, but it looks like it might actually swim away, don't you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great day. good job keeping grouchy mom at bay. I like Sigourney, very pretty in an alien head sort of way.