Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Working With Willis

A Sunday afternoon of sunshine and blue skies, a welcome change from the slanting cold rain and gusty winds which have become overly familiar during February. The recently created sun room lures me with thoughts of a mug of tea, the current book, the cushioned chair.

No, better to go outside and as a friend used to say, 'Air myself out.'

I anticipate trudging around the perimeter of the property, looping around the east meadow, along the edge of the north ravine, around the narrow curve of the west boundary. 
I get as far as the retaining wall on the south/west end of the house. Leaning against the wall I begin tweaking out weeds, pesky evergreen things that spring up around roses, foxglove, pinks. 

Willis [predictably] saunters around the corner of the house, leaps to the wall and parades directly in front of where I am reaching. When he has received his due homage, he strolls to the end of the wall and stretches out, face to the sun. 

When I move up a level to the first raised bed, Willis moves with me. The monarda that I transplanted to this spot two summers ago has spread into a carpet of fragrant purple-green leaves. Tendrils of chickweed thread through the monarda, needing to be teased out. With each touch the monarda [bee balm] exudes the scent of bergamot. I am instantly reminded of the Englishman, Mark, who came to work at the Wyoming ranch. He complained of the inferior quality of American tea, until I presented him with a box of Twinings Earl Grey.

Willis is not impressed with the scent of bergamot. He sprawls languidly in my way, lays his ears back with displeasure when I suggest that he moves. 

Finally, disgruntled by my prodding, Willis stalks with slow dignity to bask on the sun-warmed stone path behind the David Austin roses.

Perhaps the rising wind carried a whiff of lemon catnip in the direction of Willis. 
A good sniff and nibble.

Slightly 'stoned' and sprawled on top of a catnip plant.

Monday's overcast day was an excuse to stay indoors, but Tuesday saw me outside at noon. Willis offered his help but prudently kept his distance when I brought out the big 'loppers' to give the 
Knock-Out Roses a severe pruning. The rustic bench by the front door is a safe place to keep tail and whiskers out of harm's way, but still close enough to supervise. 

When I exchanged the heavy loppers for my usual hand pruners and moved to snip away last summer's woody stalks from achillea and Michaelmas daisies, Willis felt comfortable with joining me to bunt at the clippers, prod at my fingers, generally hamper my task.

Today we ventured along the lane which follows the south ravine, on a clean-up mission to collect the branches blown down by last weeks heavy winds.
Willis and I start our mornings a bit creakily, but we are soon on the move. I fetch a large bucket and begin snapping smaller branches across my knee, stuffing them into the bucket to serve as kindling. Jim prefers scrap wood from his various projects for fire starting, but some older instinct in me enjoys gathering twigs. I can pretend that this serves a dual usefulness: tidying the yard, repurposing debris into handy fire starters. 
Branches are strewn across the grass, all along the edge of the south ravine: tulip poplar, sycamore, sweet gum.  I drag the larger branches to heap in piles where Jim has been cutting brush. Willis follows, pouncing on the trailing ends. 
The wind sings in the tops of the trees, the sun rides billowing clouds. As I carry the last armload of slender branches to a pile near the bottom of the lane it occurs to me, rather belatedly, that I'm working in the area where yet more branches may be hurled down.

Jim, finished in his workshop for the moment, joins me and we meander down to the end of the property, back up the north edge along the deeper ravine. 

Willis trundles stoically behind us seemingly relieved when we have made the circuit back to the house where he can flop on the sun-warmed bricks below the front door. 
We thank him for his assistance and companionship, then go inside where I will make the first iced tea of the season.

Signs of spring: trees coming into bud.