Summer Solstice in NC

Warm steam envelopes my air-conditioned skin. Humidified air needs no machine to provide air-borne water. Peep-toads whistle over the wetlands to fireflies floating around the tomato plants. Perfumed gardenia surrounds the beauty of blooming double pink and bright purple petunias, white pansies, red snapdragons and sage, pink and white verbena with a pink and green sweet potato vine curling toward the deck over the edge. Lantana matches marigolds, but fragrances compete. Red petunia and dusty miller’s yellow blooms tower over salmon-pink verbena peeking through from behind. Lily stalks are tall and heavy with flagrant pink perfumed blossoms, sunflowers stretch for the sky bobbing under bumblebees. A chastened rose bush is half its May size, trimmed of the spent vines, blooms and hips, loved by sheep. Lush new dark red and green leaves on soft vines watered daily with dishwater, shoot out to catch hair and clothing. Neighbors’ dogs are sleeping. In full dark the whip-or-will begins to sing, its voice echoing around huge pine trunks, making location impossible. A shhhh indicates water trickling on gardens, soaker hoses making tiny sprays of water up under leaves of tomatoes, peppers, acorn squash, kale, butternut squash, chard, beets, string beans, and cucumbers. Gone are the sugar peas and spring onions of the cool spring, and the massed pansies in all my pots, thriving through a mild winter.

White smudge of magnolia bloom peers at me through the near-dark, holding its fragrance for me to get near to wrap myself in the heady perfume, sweet and musty. One bloom fills a large bowl and scents a large room.

The sundial  is completely in shadow, and points to no time passing at all. Time is suspended in this silent peep-toad stillness. Trees have lost their color, moving from green to a shadow outline against a pale blue sky, empty of planes, even the birds are asleep.

Possums and rabbits silently roam the woods. Shining my lantern toward the wetland, I see hundreds of shining eyes peering back at me.

Birds’ nests peep from forks in holly and in a bag of pine cones not used for kindling last winter. Friendly wrens keep close company, nestling on little brown splotched white eggs in a cozy bundle of leaves, like the wind blew them there, shaped the small tunnel of pine needles, twigs, leaves and bits of soft grass and left-over wool. Soon the nest will arrive in a classroom to teach and charm children.

A yellow warbler clings to a butterfly bush branch working at a bit of partly-felted wool too short to spin, dangling there just for nests. I waited and watched as she struggled with the stubborn fibers, finally tugging a mouthful free and taking off in a flash. She was back in no time, lining her nest with our soft Romney wool.

The whip-poor-will is in a tree very near me. He doesn’t know I’m here. In winter they come to search the yard for bugs, ignoring bird seed. Summer is bug-time, birds are overjoyed: blue birds, fly catchers, cardinals, chipping sparrows, titmouses, chickadees, nuthatches, orioles, grosbeaks, gold finches, robins, catbirds, even the cow birds; especially the woodpeckers, tap, tapping on the pine bark.

Night things will be out in the barn, mice, an occasional rat, and the large snakes who hide well, and thrive on the rodents. In the yard our snakes eat moles, voles. Black racers, garter snakes, rat snakes, and ordinary black snakes need to dodge my Aussie, who hasn’t learned which are poisonous. She has yet to meet a copperhead. My Great Pyrenees, Emily, is wise to the difference– knows a corn snake from a copperhead, a prudent and sophisticated analysis. Emily ignores snakes unless its aggressive and could hurt us, her, or the sheep she protects.

Coyotes are in someone else’s fields and woods tonight–no yipping pack of predators and barking neighborhood dogs, lead by my Great Pyrenees, tonight. The danger is real: my friend’s Aussie was killed by coyotes last summer. Our fences are a mere impediment–if coyotes want in, they’ll get in. Sheep pasture has sturdy fence as well as a fierce 4-footed very loud protector.

Mosquitoes are waking up and finding warm blood to feast on (mine) while I revel in the solstice evening, clear and quiet.  One mosquito bite too many and I glide toward the house. Standing by the door, I hesitate to leave this magical dusk . Rain barrel is nearly empty, flowers gulp water in 90-degree summer. No respite at night when “cool” is 79 and humid.  Rain barrel and buckets of saved rain water breed flying bird-, toad- and peep-toad meals. Flowers have the benefit of extra compost in the squirming black noodles swimming in their water.  Highest-priority watering bucket is dark with embryos, air is thick around it with freshly hatched flying blood-suckers. Fewer of them to bite and breed, after I pour the bucket along rows of vegetables.

In dry summers, a dozen empty buckets and the rain barrel sit and wait for rain.  Kitchen gray water and compost coax gardens to thrive. Hot summers yield a pale-blue twilight, as the summer sun fades in the shadows of the yellow pine and oak, revealing a carpet of stars, by its absence. Dark arrives and “too-hoo” echoes off invisible woodpecker-drilled trunks of 90-foot yellow pines.



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Filed under gardening, Health, sheep, wildlife, Writing

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