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Garden Dramas

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One of the many benefits of gardening is a connection to “something greater than ourselves,” a well-researched perspective leading to happiness. On the macro scale, nurturing something growing connects us to all of life. On the micro-scale, putting our hands into the “dirt” connects us to a busy and productive microscopic world that, by its very contact with our skin, increases happiness.

This natural life going on all around us provides dramatic events if we simply happen to notice. Here are some recent dramas that unfolded without any influence from me.

Birds and Cats: Movement behind an almost-dry California poppy caught my eye. A chubby nondescript bird with short, stubby wings and tail sat there preening its feathers. I became increasingly nervous for the bird’s welfare, knowing that neighborhood cats routinely prowl my front yard. A robin landed in the neighbor’s yard and began hopping across the street. When it reached the edge of my yard, the chubby bird fluttered to it. Of course…a newly fledged baby robin. Daddy Robin hopped around the yard, encouraging the youngster to follow him, and showing how to peck for food on the ground. The young robin was having none of this and started calling loudly. Another robin (Mama?) appeared almost immediately and fed it, returning to give it another bite. Suddenly, Daddy took flight and flashed across the yard. Immediately, the baby followed, flying safely into a tree. Within seconds, a cat came slinking up the street. I walked outside to see if I could chase the cat away and here was baby robin sitting safely on a utility wire, watching the cat. Clearly, Mama and Daddy were doing an excellent job of raising this youngster with no help from me!

Spiders and Flies: After some hand watering on the patio, flies were attracted to left-over water drops. Suddenly, a light-colored, big-eyed jumping spider marched resolutely, in a straight line, across the patio. Nearing a clay pot where a fly sat, the spider stopped and literally hunkered down to the ground. “Is it stalking that fly?” Indeed. So quickly that I couldn’t see it, the spider leaped onto the pot. The fly lifted off in alarm, but the spider stayed low and the fly settled down. This cat-and-mouse (or spider-and-fly) activity repeated three times, with the spider moving so fast I couldn’t actually see the jump. Each time the fly escaped; the last time was a close call. Finally, in defeat, with the fly still safe (and not returning to the side of the pot) the spider disappeared.

Moving Lint: A phone call from a friend announced, “There’s what looks like a piece of lint crawling in my bathroom sink! What IS it?” She sent over some photos and a quick Google search of possible images brought up BugGuide (https://bugguide.net/node/view/15740), the comprehensive all-things-insect site hosted by Iowa State University. Turns out (who knew?) that lacewing—a very good bug—larvae sometimes cover themselves with materials from their environment. Camouflage? Protection? The bodies of their aphid victims? Determining that this critter was an asset to our home gardens, the almost-microscopic ball of lint was gently carried outdoors, where—at last report—it was crawling on a leaf.

The next time you’re in the garden, take a moment to observe the interconnections going on all around us. You may find life’s drama right under your nose.

Rebecca Miller-Cripps is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.

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