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Monday, August 22, 2016

A Gardener's Diary: Tiny Birds and Extended Dog Days

The Dog Days ended over a week ago, but you wouldn't know it in these parts. The heat is still oppressive, if down slightly: about five degrees off the day and night-time highs. So 90 daytime, 70 at bedtime.

When the temp drops, the TV weathermen start pushing the heat index and other contrived measurements to make it seem like 110 again. We have to be anxious about the weather as they are: Channel 9 reports from Severe Storm Center after all. About ten days ago they were running ads about a cluster of storms that caused flash flooding in Statesville. It seems they were the only station with a meteorologist "on the ground."

That meant they made the late-night and substitute head Severe Storm Center guy drive up there to stand in front of flooded places and tell us it was flooding there.

Weather is a ratings driver, it seems. No longer can you find out the forecast before the sports report. They do a Mother Nature striptease now, revealing bits and bobs about the weather to come through the broadcast to make people sit there through all the Breaking News stories. Everything is Breaking News these days, and all reported, almost as fast as Morning Edition reporters on NPR, in the present tense, even if it happened the previous day.

Me? I just look outside. I grew up in the first days of satellite photos of the weather, and so imbibed a certain amount of pre-space age weather knowledge. As Yogi Berra said, you can observe a lot just by watching.

The humidity is fierce; the only saving grace the last week has been that the sky clouds over late in the . There's no thunder; it just starts raining, nice and steady, and in about fifteen minutes it stops.

So I continue not to get much done in the yard. The dry stream bed to handle the runoff from big storms is months behind. Weeds go unpulled. I manage to keep the plants suffering the worst from the heat in a state of near-death but not quite there yet.

My next door neighbor, whose yard I keep up as she is unable to and can't afford a service, has come down with a pretty dire case of supervisoritis this summer. She bade me stop with pruning the giant overgrown bushes left unattended for a decade, and barred me using her abundant pine straw from one side of the house as ground cover and weed suppressant in the big beds I restored last year on the other side.

She doesn't like how the cones let seeds loose that generate with ease and promiscuity. I don't know how she can tell. I pull them up.

Mostly my neighbor likes to tell me, after I have done something, that I shouldn't have. I tend to take this with a grain of salt, as she cannot tell an azalea from poison oak. Her new formulation, "You're doing a wonderful job, but..."

So now the beds are almost as overgrown as they were when I started clearing them two summers ago.  I lose ground every day, as hard digging and pulling when it's 95 out is ill-advised.

I'm hoping for mild weather in September. A few days of hard yakka next door and I can put her yard to bed for the fall. Even the birds have seemed tired this year. I've not seen nearly as many different visitors this year as last. Today, however, as I was standing in the doorway onto the deck, looking out at projects undone, baking in the heat, a ruby-throated hummingbird, zipped up, chest high on me, and hovered, looking expectant.

"Sorry, bud," I had to confess. "I got nuthin'. I'm as little use to you as I am to humans these days."

"Hmph," he squeaked, and was gone. But he was species #37 on the guest list for this little half acre avian resort.

I got out two evenings this week, just before dark as the fake-rainstorm clouds gathered and the winds whooshed and howled as I remember them in the Dana Andrews supernatural film, Curse of the Demon (1957), and mowed the lawns- mine, and my neighbor's. It was cool for a bit, and that was a welcome change. But we got no rain. I don't know how many inches we are down this summer, except a lot.

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