Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood

BY FLORIDA PANHANDLE WINTER STANDARDS, Wednesday was cold. Stayed around 45 with a strong wind. The saving grace was bright sunshine. Early afternoon, I pulled on some old sweat pants, a thick pull-over fleece hoodie, and my battered zip-up water resistant boots and headed outdoors to play.

The bird feeders were covered up in feisty pine siskins. A rufous-sided towhee in his executioner-style balaclava peacefully hopped over a log to find the sunflower seeds spilled there. A pair of cardinals watched from a nearby magnolia tree, its large shiny leaves making a swishy sound like brushes on a snare drum.

The area immediately surrounding the house is planted in a mixture of wheat, oats and rye. It’s a critter friendly yard, where deer and bunnies keep it well, if unevenly, mowed. In mid-spring, when the seed heads out, birds lose any residual shyness, perching sideways on the stalks until they have stripped them clean.

Maggie and I walked around. She poked her tan pink nose into bushes, chased a squirrel up an oak tree, then rolled on her back, kicking those muscular back legs into the air, making snort-snuffle sounds through her open mouth, long tongue hanging out the side. I planted some yellow pansies in an old stump out front, pulled a few remaining weeds from among the blue rug junipers Buck and I planted soon after the cottage was built. The junipers have really taken hold and are snaking out across the curved bed of river rock we had laid between them and the sidewalk from parking pad to screen porch. The flat of English ivy I randomly stuck in the ground two springs ago has multiplied into a lush bed, aggressively attempting to scale the garage wall. I don’t care. I’ve always wanted ivy, and each November now when we return from the North Carolina mountains, I patiently pull the vines from the wall and redirect them easterly on the ground.

Walking out back by the big oak tree where we buried Contract last April, I took clippers to begin clearing away the oak and yaupon seedlings that have proliferated there. The big flat stones we placed there re-emerged, and I was able to see that the Easter lily we planted for Maggie’s predecessor has multiplied and this year there will be three. Con’s full name was Westmark’s No-Cut Contract. She was a stocky,big-headed sweet as sugar black lab who almost made it to 17. The sempervivum (hens and chickens) planted on one border has divided as well. It appeared to be well established.

Armed with lopping shears, Maggie and I headed down the dirt road to check on some plants I left in the care of the stream bed before leaving last spring. The calla lily plant, born of a “mystery” bulb that ended up in my bag of paper whites, has gotten huge. It looks more like an elephant ear than something that produces the lovely white calla. Overhead, a resurrection fern dips to tangle in my hair.

On down the road, at the gate, the neglected climbing rose bush pays repays my current ministrations by jabbing heavy thorns into my thumb and index finger; nonetheless I free it from the smilax vine’s stranglehold. I carry gloves stuffed in a pocket. They’ll never wear out.

An afternoon inventory, a little work, a few flowers planted, and I have been transfused once again with the ineluctable life of these woods.

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