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View from My Back Steps

By John I. Blair

By July summer is here full-tilt boogie, with high temperatures already hitting the century mark and plants wilting as I look at them. All of this is normal, as it should be I guess. Happens every year. And every year I am sad about it.

Springtime, now past, was so beautiful, with flowers and singing birds and cool breezes and new life everywhere. Intoxicating and a bit delirious. But summertime is just as normal and just as necessary. This is when many young insects and animals, born in the spring, are maturing.

The huge fennel plants, up to six feet tall when blooming, are (if everything is going well) rapidly being consumed by big and colorful black swallowtail caterpillars. Surprisingly quickly they will turn into foliage-stripped stalks with a scattering of big cocoons dangling down.

The goldenrod is still bolting to incredible heights – up to twelve feet or more. They won’t bloom until autumn (pic shows Fallflowering Goldenrod) and meanwhile make a small forest of green around one side of the patio, festooned by a plethora of wild grapevines. Together the two plants provide a privacy screen toward the east.

The wild carrots that decorated the south side of the patio with white flowers and lacy leaves have turned brown and brittle and covered with tiny “sticktight” seeds that cling strongly to any bit of fabric or even my bare arm if I brush up against them.

Possums and raccoons shuffle across the nighttime cement to the water basins, intent on getting a long drink and taking a splash bath, or at least washing their paws.

Overhead in the daytime a blistering sun blasts down in midday, making the steps too hot to sit on. So I wait for afternoon or early evening to perch there and direct a spray hose on all the potted plants I can reach. Inevitably I miss some and they wilt as if torched. “Planting opportunities” I call these pots; and perhaps in October that’s what they will become – places to insert cool-weather specialties like curly parsley, pinks, snapdragons, violas, sweet alyssum.

Patio Cat and Blackie (my two resident feral cats) stay hidden all day, but are waiting hopefully on the steps at six a.m., expecting me to show up with fresh kibble and fresh water. They’re never disappointed. Later they can retreat to thick shrubbery clumps or to the old insulated doghouse a neighbor lets me use for the purpose.

And at some point during the month my ironweed will bloom its feathery blossoms, attracting yet more butterflies and bees. Photo shows Vermonia-fasciculata, same as Ironweed.

There’s always something if you’re patient.

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