Back in February our church held it’s yearly grand fund-raiser – a silent auction. The organizing committee really pulled out all the stops and created an incredible evening of fun and entertainment. Our Fellowship Hall was transformed into something that resembled a New Orleans night club/café. Sparkling gold, green and purple beads and baubles decorated tall round café tables and stools, and similar colors decorated the walls and the many tables cram-packed with items for the silent auction.
One side classroom held some very yummy food – and plenty of it! I went back a couple of times because there was just so much to choose from and it was all very appetizing. (Church ladies sure know how to cook!) The other side classroom was a fun “ticket auction” area. You bought a sheet of tickets that all had the same number on and you went round the room looking at the various items displayed and each one had a plastic cup in front of it. If you liked an item, you tore off a ticket (or more than one) and popped into the cup. You maintained the stub which carried the same number as the tickets.
Both the silent auction and the ticket auction were closed at the same time. We had made bids on a few items and were happy to win a couple, especially tickets for a showing of the Peking Acrobats which were dated for our wedding anniversary. When the results were displayed for the numbers pulled from the ticket auction, we were even more happy to discover that we had won several items including a “Bird/Garden Basket”. The basket contained several different items including a fun, round, hanging bird house painted bright blue with a straw thatched roof which we hung from a small tree at the back of our yard.
About the same time that I first noticed my Baltimore Oriole, I also noticed a small bird “checking out” the blue bird house. After observing him a couple of times I identified him as a Carolina Chickadee. He would sit on the branch that the house hung from and then he’d sit on the peg just below the opening into the house and kind of look in. Then he’d hop back on the branch. He did this several times and then he actually put his head inside the opening before hopping back onto the branch.
This “checking out” continued for several days until one day he brought his mate to check it out too. They would both pop their heads in and out, then fly back on the branch, then after a while they would fly off. About a week ago only one of them came but this time he actually went inside the house. He stayed a few moments then flew off. This continued for a couple of days and then, as I was sunbathing, I heard this rhythmic tapping coming from inside the bird house. It went on for a few minutes, then the Chickadee flew out. He returned another day to do some more tapping.
Finally, two days ago as I was in my early morning quiet time with God, I noticed the Chickadee making repeated fly offs back and forth to the house. He was most definitely on a mission, flying off then returning about a minute later and going right into the bird house; out again and back a minute later. So I grabbed the binoculars, watched closely, and realized he was carrying tufts of stuff into the house. Bingo! He was nest making. Since then they have both been back and forth carrying more stuff in to create a soft nest.
Yesterday, while I was out of the house, Richard said he saw an amazing sight. He had glanced over at the bird house and noticed a squirrel on the branch sniffing out the house. All of a sudden the two Chickadees appeared and started puffing themselves up, hunching their wings forward and beating them back and forth making a loud whirring noise as they hovered in front of the squirrel. When that didn’t budge him, they “dive-bombed” him, actually hitting him with their wings, and he finally ran off.
This truly confirmed that we have “guests” in the garden and that they had set up home and were protecting their territory. We are now looking forward to watching the family form and hopefully we will see the little ones when they begin emerging. What an amazing creation God has made.
Our friends, Greg and Sherry, bought an old barn on a large piece of property in Minnesota a couple of years ago. Since then they have spent a lot of time between here, Jacksonville, and there, making changes, clearing a few trees around the barn, and putting on an addition to the original structure. Out of the old barn has emerged a lovely living space of two bedrooms, a bathroom, an open plan kitchen, dining room and lounge area, plus a nice comfortable screened in porch.
There is still a lot of work to do, but the main thrust is there. The rest is mainly “accessorizing”: putting in permanent flooring, deciding on décor and finishes, and painting the exterior. The barn-house is surrounded by woodland and even though there are two sets of neighbors living close by, the trees almost completely hide the other houses from view.
Five days into our retirement ride we stopped to visit with Greg and Sherry. In fact we spent 4 blissful days with them in their “little piece of paradise” (my label). One element of this new habitat that I really enjoyed is that they have installed floor to ceiling windows in the dining room and on both sides of the spacious lounge. This means that not only does a lot of natural light fill the home but it also seems like sitting in the middle of the woods – but with all mod cons!
While we were there, I spent my early morning quiet time sitting in a chair right up against one of these enormous windows. With my meditation books in hand and a cup of herbal tea close by, I was truly in “God’s space”. Greg and Sherry have placed several bird feeders within a few yards of this particular window and the morning activity was quite frenzied. Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers vied with Hairy Woodpeckers and Chickadees as well as some small sparrows and titmice, while the hummingbirds buzzed in and out. I also saw a bluebird one day.
The squirrels up there were enormous, about twice the size of squirrels down here in Florida. Although Greg and Sherry had installed a really interesting squirrel feeder for them, they still came and tried to access the bird feeders once in a while. But they also had a plentiful supply of corn down on the ground because our friends also took care of the numerous deer that would come almost up to the house in search of food.
Every evening at about 9pm we would spot movement out among the trees. We would turn off the lights inside the house, and soon we would see the deer emerging cautiously from the trees and coming toward a large block of salt that Greg and Sherry had attached to a tree, and also toward a long wooden palette that lay close by on the ground piled high with corn. They are such graceful creatures and are a delight to watch. One evening we were treated to the spectacle of a mother deer with her two young ones.
During the four days that we stayed, I also got to see an animal that I had never seen before – at least, not in real life. I’m sure you’ve all heard them “singing” and maybe even seen them in an animated movie. Yes, I’m talking about the chipmunk. I was so amazed at how small they were! I had always imagined chipmunks to be the size of a squirrel, but instead they are these tiny little animals probably about the size of a hamster. They were very entertaining scampering here and there in the undergrowth. Richard managed to get some really good pictures one day as a chipmunk decided to sit on a small fallen log not far from the window and complete his/her morning ablutions.
Although they did not come into the yard, we also saw many Canadian geese and wild turkeys not too far from the house as we made various trips in the surrounding area. There were two very large fields on opposite sides of a nearby road that had been mowed recently, and the geese were there in large numbers mainly in the morning, probably more than a hundred at a time, feeding on whatever geese feed on. The turkeys were usually in a lower section of the field apart from the geese.
It was such a joy to be surrounded by so much of nature’s wonders that God created for our pleasure. I am so grateful that Sherry and Greg gave us such great hospitality in their tranquil haven, and I hope it won’t be too long before we can go back and enjoy it some more. We have to go back anyway, so that we can see the finished product that is their summer retreat!
Finally the sun has deigned to grace us with his presence, his light, and his warmth down here in (normally!) sunny Florida. The biting cold, the frosts, and miserable grey are hopefully a thing of the past. And not a day too late; my garden Muse was absolutely itching to get to work because I had major projects to accomplish!
This year I decided to shake things up a little in my garden. The St. Francis flower bed, so named because his statue oversees this part of the garden, had developed a deep-rooted weed system which was hard to control. So I decided to dig deep, dig out as much as possible of the offending growth, and put in a fairly large (10’ x 6’) paved patio center-front of the bed to eliminate some of the back-breaking work of weeding. I have dressed up the patio with pots and urns of various sizes and colours which are planted up with bulbs, seeds and some partially developed plants.
The Quan Yin flower bed, obviously named because her statue reigns supreme here, is much the same as before. However I have decided to fill it with even more flowers this year. There are also hundreds of seeds lying just below the surface of the soil which hopefully will germinate and bloom as the year goes by. I also plan to add to the collection of brightly coloured chimes and wind twisters that hang from the wrought iron framework of the old gazebo that I moved to this bed when the lanai was built last year.
The front yard has undergone the biggest transformation: the side two of the three small flowerbeds have been eliminated and returned to sod, while the central flowerbed has been enlarged to four times its original size. I have walled it in with rustic stonework, elevating the back part to a higher terraced level. The front area has been filled to overflowing with brightly coloured spring flowers and hundreds of seeds are also germinating here for later in the season.
However, the central attraction of this new terraced bed is the weather-worn, trellis arch that originally sat just outside the screened-in back porch room. This arch, which was deeply rooted into the ground on each side with six years of steadily growing orange trumpet vine, was dug up and relocated to the center of the raised terrace part of the new bed out front. A couple of extra trellis panels have been added on each side of the arch to accommodate the copious trailing branches that grow from the vines, and I have planted several rose bushes in this elevated section too.
All of this was done with much help from my assistant gardener, Linda – a very dear friend without whose help I could not have achieved this major overhaul!! This morning, after many anxious days of waiting and watching, new green growth showed on the winter-hibernating vine that wraps itself intricately around the arch:-).
As I sit in the lanai writing, my heart is full of joy and my soul sings in gratitude as I survey the end result of much hard work. It continues to be a work in progress and God’s creation will become even more beautiful as seeds develop into plants and then bloom out in a riot of colour. And this joy and gratitude are magnified because I know that passers-by can feast their eyes and experience their own heart joy.
My happiness is complete as I watch the birds swarming at the feeders. Squirrels are scurrying in the grass and chasing each other up and over the back fence. Lizards and frogs are awakening from their winter lethargy and today I have seen at least a dozen butterflies.
Richard has taken some lovely photos of the garden today, some of them early this morning in the subdued sunrise light, and some of them around lunch time. Enjoy!!
You can see all 45 photos at the Spring Garden Update Photo Album.