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.



  1. A good day's work by the sound of things. Willis is the image of our Ghengis, who is like him in supervising me in the garden!

    1. Jennie; What is it that prompts our cats to be in the middle of our endeavors? Companionship? A need to be noticed? Sometimes their 'help' is more welcome that others.

  2. Ah - that got posted early as Pippi strolled across the keyboard! - then leapt on my shoulders :) I managed a little tidying up outside yesterday, but gosh, I need to do 12 hours a day before it all starts growing again!

    1. Jennie; We know [don't we?] that we will never be caught up with the garden chores we've set for ourselves. I tell myself if I can only get some sturdy plantings established the upkeep should be manageable. I may be delusion rather than realistic!

  3. Looks like you’ve a jump on spring! Not so here in southwestern Vermont! It was 9F when I looked first thing this morning. The sweet little Snowdrops are now hidden beneath a hefty layer of snow and ice but will no doubt be just fine when their frosty blanket melts away. I suspect that today will be devoted to knitting in front of the fire and finishing up a batch of Orange Marmalade.

    Lovely that you have such a devoted supervisor of all things gardening and meanderings. He seems to take his job quite seriously.

    1. Mundi; We greatly enjoyed our taste of springtime, with the caveat that cold weather will visit us several more times in the next two months. I noted two large hybrid magnolias in full exuberant bloom in town yesterday. Wild daffodils are blossoming on all the verges and meadows nearby. They endured several bouts of frost while in bud, but they are nearly unstoppable. We are kindling the woodfire most mornings, letting it ebb away during the daytime, stoking it up in the evening.
      Willis declared himself 'overseer' from the moment he arrived at our first Kentucky home in 2010.

  4. Your need to "air yourself out" reminds me of when I was a child and my mother always urged us to get out to "blow the cobwebs away"; I was pretty certain that I didn't have any cobwebs on me, but didn't need much persuading to get outside and play in the puddles. You're lucky to have a cat to lend a paw in your tasks!

    1. John; 'Blowing the cobwebs away' was also one of my mother's suggestions. I suspect that perhaps our mothers hoped for a few quiet moments without fractious children underfoot.

  5. How nice to do your garden rounds with Willis. Earl Grey teas are favorites of mine, Plum Deluxe makes some great ones. Now I want to plant some Monarda since it has a bergamot scent.