Tuesday, May 24, 2011


A garden is all about plants... isn't it?
When one thinks or talks about gardening, the attention is always on the plants.
When you are actually out in the thick of things, however, it is obvious that plants aren't the only things living in the garden.

I have daily encounters with all sorts of things. Birds, of course, are the first things we encounter -- albeit rarely up close -- when in the garden. They go flitting about and announce themselves with inumerable songs and calls.
Bumblebees like collards flowers.
Bees might be the next thing you notice, since they usually buzz as they work. Bumblebees are large and slowish, with loud buzzes that actually shake the pollen from the anthers, thus facilitating pollination. Honey bees are not so loud or large, but they are fast.

Many people are wary of encounters with bees -- those with allergies understandably so -- but bees in the garden are not to be feared. Unless you sit on one, or it flies up your skirt, bees working the flowers are pretty easy going.

Honey bees like collards flowers, too.
They will protect their nests, however, and I have the memories of stings to remind me of this.
In my garden, an encounter with snakes is not uncommon. Most of them are small, either young ones or species that do not grow large. The little brown snakes that eat snails and slugs are most welcome. Others might not be as beneficial by eating pests -- ring neck snakes eat earthworms, and garter snakes like frogs, for example. Yet I do enjoy their company.
We are surrounded by rocky woodlands populated by copperheads and rattlesnakes, Kansas' only venemous snakes (we do have 2 or 3 kinds of rattlers).
Wheel bug. A bug predator.
Since we have established ourselves here, though, I have only once seen a copperhead (and that a baby) within the homestead borders. I did encounter one under a tarp  in the main orchard, but that is far from the house. Copperheads are not generally aggressive, and I just let this one be, telling it I intended it no harm. (Yes I talk to snakes and other critters.)
The other day as I was squatting in the flower garden next to the house, doing some weeding, I looked up and saw our friendly neighborhood black snake, also known as the Western Rat Snake, checking me out. It was probably following a mouse trail and was as surprised to see me as I was to see him/her.
Sorry, no snake picture. But here is a nice lady bug larva.
I see this large snake (perhaps 4 feet long or larger) regularly now. We think of it as our homestead's guardian. It goes after mice and rats that might do damage, and, from what we've been told, may be instrumental in keeping copperheads and rattlesnakes from the house and gardens.
I've come to look forward to encounters with this guardian snake, which is a long way from the screaming and running that I did as a child.

When you live right up against nature all of the time, you change. You begin to see things you encounter in a different light.

The first time I remembered encountering ladybug larvae, I found them on some eggplants. They are rather fierce looking and I assumed they were up to no good and started killing them, but my conscience stopped me before I got them all.
 Imagine my chagrin when I learned that they are voracious aphid eaters.

Praying mantis. Close encounter of the bug kind.
I have long ceased to be fearful or even startled upon encountering snakes in my garden. They have become simply part of the family, as have many other creatures. From the earthworms, to the frogs, to the lizards, to the birds, turtles, snakes, coyotes, deer and so on, I encounter something different every day. Living from this land isn't just about the plants we put in place, it is about cohabitating with many things, weeds, pesky bugs, potentially dangerous critters, as well as the many benign and beneficial things we encounter.
We continue to learn to appreciate the things with which we share this land and to appreciate their places in it.
Through this appreciation of other things, I learn to appreciate my place in the midst of it all.

Swallowtail butterfly encounter.

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