by Audrey Y. Scharmen
The woman is at work in her garden on a summer day. There is a scent of sea from the creek that is lazily lapping the bulkhead. Offshore, a transient trawler crouches in the heavy heat. The scene is blurred bottle-green with humidity. Like California summer smog, she muses.
She frets because she has yet to see a baby mallard in the creek this season. Mute swans paddle beside the shoreline, and she can see that one of their quartet of young is missing. She wonders if the others will survive the onslaught of hot-rodding personal watercraft, the latest man-made threat to this popular Bay tributary and its occupants.
She kneels among the daylilies, humble field flowers that have invaded her garden and grown tall and disorderly. Their blooms have faded, their time is past, and so she prepares to trim them to make way for the hybrids, those she calls every-other-daylilies. They are disciplined summer bloomers and uniform in height. Thus for a brief time, the row beside the fence will look as a proper garden should.
There are gaps among the perennials, and she fills them with slightly bedraggled plants she has brought from the garden shop. They have a weary post-solstice appearance. Nothing is sadder, she thinks, than these shopworn flowers no one wants: plants with a withered expression of disillusion. But they will rebound, she says, as she tucks them snugly in place.
Gardening is solitary, and so the woman does a lot of musing aloud, to no one. Much miscellaneous trivia passes in review.
Summer is good. Crabs are scarce but sweet and heavy this year. The garden has never looked so good (but that isnt saying much; it is, after all, a simple one). There have been nurturing rains to prepare it for the cruel whims of July. The yard burgeons with newly fledged birds. There are thrush, titmouse, cardinals, and a second batch of bluebirds is hatching in the house beside the creek. This is her first year to see a young titmouse: Tuftless, skinny, gawky and curious as first graders on a field trip. Each creek-summer brings new surprises.
She wistfully recalls the recent fledging of one more grandchild who graduated from university. His was a circuitous route to the podium, as harrowing as a baby birds. His father, too, had taken the long way to his college graduation 30 years before, one that led through Southeast Asia and the A Shau Valley. Thus they all felt a rush of gratitude to be present at this one.
She idly wonders why she has never seen a killdeer here in lower Calvert County. They are abundant in the meadows of St. Marys County just across the river. And there are meadowlarks there as well. None here. Why?
When she was in old Ocean City last month, a pair of killdeer bobbed happily about the wide lawn of a big white frame house where she vacations. According to her hosts, the birds are regulars there in the bustling, congested area at Seventh and Baltimore streets a block from the seaside boardwalk. The birds lay a nest amid the bluestone of an adjacent parking lot where passersby look out for them. (It really does take a village.)
The hatchlings immediately flee the nest for the alley behind, and they obviously survive there amid moonflowers and rambling roses and sparse patches of tall weeds, surrounded by horrendous traffic.
Silly birds: They could be in Rehoboth or Bethany forheavensake. But the woman, too, is a honky-tonk sort of old bird who prefers the surreal summer symphony of that beach town to any other. And so she understands.
Summer is a time of resilience, she remarks (she likes to philosophize). And she lays her trowel aside and wipes her brow and spies the first Japanese beetles of the season on the ragged leaves of her favorite bee-balm plant.
Well, so much for resilience, says she, as she reaches for the bug spray.