For me, I have never equated being grown-up with being too old to learn new tricks, or to just plain learn. Our gray matter doesn’t seem to have any upper limit for knowledge, so why not fill it up all along the way. When I watch people park themselves in front of the TV for the entire weekend, I think about all the adventure they’re just plain missing out on. I’ve always been a curious type, and discovering new things about the world never gets old, tiring, or boring.
This weekend, I spent both Saturday and Sunday entirely outside and entirely at the house. I am lucky in the fact that my “backyard” covers about two acres and is just about jam packed with Nature’s bounty. By bounty, I certainly don’t mean a harvestable crop. I mean everything from the ground up to the tallest trees waiting to be poked, prodded, and played with. Here’s a little bit of what I did and learned between being set free on Friday, and punching the clock on Monday:
- Gathered a bunch of pine cones together, since I think they might be good for something, if for nothing else than just ornamentation piled high in a bucket.
- Made a list of all the different trees I recognize growing around the place…Pine (two different kinds I think), Hickory, Oak (again, two different kinds), Magnolia, Maple, Sparkleberry, and numerous others I can’t identify yet.
- Looked up what the shrub that has always grown along my back fence might be and found out it’s an American Beauty Berry. I always believed those outlandish purple berries must be poisonous. Turns out people have been transforming them into delicious jelly and syrup for generations. I decided not to mess with all that so I made myself some tea, instead. It was sublime! (The leaves are also used as an insect repellent).
- Discovered that three herbs sitting on a table in my house, a fourth crouching on the back porch, and a fifth running wild in the yard all belong to the same family – Thai Basil, Sweet Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, and Peppermint all belong to the Mint family. I was told to look closely to see that they all have leaves that grow at right angles with each successive layer. By golly, they were right!
- There’s this “weed,” as the professionals call it (although it makes up most of my lawn, so I will call it…”lawn”) that they say they can eradicate for me. My question would be “Why?” Its real name (or common name, I guess) is Florida Pusley. It has the tiniest little white flowers that grow in either a five or six-pointed star. I couldn’t imagine what might be small enough to pollinate these guys, but all I had to do was wait a moment. There were miniaturized butterflies that were terribly efficient on the job, perhaps visiting a new flower every second or two. Numerous strange looking wasp-like insects (they dithered more), and ordinary bees also showed up. I had a big ole magnifying glass and got right down amongst the action. There’s a whole lot going on all around if we just take the time to notice.
- Found out my Oaks are probably at least 20 years old, since that’s when they start dropping acorns. Of course, they’ve been dropping them since the house was built, which has been ten years now, so they’re probably at least 30 years old.
- Read a whole bunch about the nuts, themselves, and was amazed at the history and uses for them. I gathered some of the pretty black colored ones and put them in a jar. Hours later I discovered numerous little white grubs appearing alongside the acorns, as well, and didn’t remember seeing them before. That led me to read up on the acorn weevil, which was a fascinating learning experience, too. I discovered on my own that they’ll play dead for an instant whenever they get touched in any way. They have no legs, so to watch them squirming their way across my hand, playing dead, then squirming again was comical. I let them go in the yard, since that’s where they were heading, anyway. They’ll be underground for a year or two before emerging as adult weevils, looking for mates, and acorns.
- Dog fennel, by the beginning of Fall, might have grown to a height of ten or twelve feet. And the rather medicinal smell it gives off on my hands whenever I try to pull one up during summer gives way to a delicately sweet aroma that arises from their thousands of tiny flowers that sway most charmingly in the breeze. The picture below might deceive you. It looks like a tree, and a double-trunked one, at that. In fact, it’s just a bunch of fennel strands tied together with some Velcro around a dead tree trunk. Looks pretty cool, huh?
- I saw a strikingly red colored wasp that was pollinating the fennel (or at least I thought that’s what he was doing). I had to look him up on the web, and thought I was in for some digging. Turns out I was wrong. He immediately revealed himself to me in just a few short minutes with the search term “red wasp pollinates dog fennel.” He was a scarlet-bodied wasp moth, or Cosmosoma myrodora. Although he may have been inadvertently pollinating, mostly he was interested in extracting toxins from the fennel, which he would later dump all over a female just prior to mating (I guess even the insects can get a little twisted in the bedroom, at times). Actually, the toxin protects the male from spiders, increasing his chances of getting to mate. When he sprays the female with the stuff during mating, she, in turn, is also protected, increasing her chances of successfully laying her eggs for the next generation. Some of that protection even gets passed on to the eggs. It’s the only known example in the insect world where such usage of a plant toxin occurs. All this was learned as a result of standing quietly still in the yard and just watching, then following through on curiosity.
- Massive blackberry bushes can spring up in the woods, taking over the place in very short time. (I didn’t even know there were blackberries right outside my front door until my keenly observant daughter pointed out the obvious). This was not something I discovered this weekend, by the way, and blackberry season is well behind us now. But chopping through a blackberry bush while blazing new trails in the woods is not for the faint of heart. Freaking out at the sight of several dozen thorns buried firmly in my unsuspecting arm was not an option, as I conquered the bushes with clippers, machete, and handsaw, loving every minute of Man Against Nature. Read more about the trails…
- My artistic daughter drew up a map of the trails I have hacked out of the jungle that is Northwest Florida. I cannot imagine what the early Spaniards must have encountered when they landed here all those centuries ago, but I’m sure it was challenging. It is only very recently that I set foot on parts of my own property, simply by deciding that I would cut through the undergrowth (along with the overgrowth and middlegrowth, if those terms can properly describe the thick mass of vegetation that crept and hung and tangled its way across my path from head to toe). Now, after several weekends of effort, we have forged, for our walking pleasure, trails with the following names…Deer Run, Walking Stick, Three Sentinels, Armadillo Hideaway, Picky Vine, Knife Fork and Spoon, Brown Bench, and one or two more. I blazed two of the last ones today (Sunday), before deciding that the look and feel of the place is just about right for now.
- Gathered beauty berries and some other kind of red berry that is attractive in the extreme. Put them in jars without the lid to help dry them out. Hope they retain their texture, shape, and color, since they look really nice in glass.
- It’s mid-October and I’m still picking tomatoes off the vine, albeit small and green ones. They are Romas I grew from seed, then promptly gave up on, since every red one I picked during summer was already eaten through. Now, as I pick them way before they are ready, they ripen up just fine indoors on the windowsill over several days, granting me something to toss in the sauce for whatever dish I might be preparing at dinnertime.
- Read about John Ray, Phillip Miller, Carolus Linnaeus, and a few other famous botanists.
I guess that about sums it for now. If every weekend was as relaxing and educational as this one has been, I might live to be a hundred. I would say to anyone with kids that the backyard, no matter how big or small, holds more adventure in one square yard of ground than all the video games and TV channels combined. Get out and explore, breathe the fresh air, feel the sun on your face, and live as though you are a part of the natural world from which you sprung…sprang…done did spring.
Sincere thanks for stopping by!