Familiar faces

The snake is back in the vegetable garden.  I heard him this morning, slithering through the dead leaves between the compost bin and the sprouting raspberry canes.  I haven’t seen him yet, but I know what he looks like: a sinuous foot or so of black checkerboard skin with bright yellow racing stripes running down the length of his body. Generations of garter snakes have staked out that corner of the garden for as long I can remember.  It’s one of the great pleasures of spring to see familiar faces returning.  You never know from one year to the next what will make it through the harsh New England winter.  Oh — look! — here come the chives, the sage, and the mint which wiggles up in overeager patches all over the place.  The clump of red-veined sorrel — almost too pretty to eat — that seems to have sprung from the earth fully formed overnight.  But the Italian parsley, which had wintered-over two years in a row, is a no-show this season. And the thyme which usually overspills the raised bed in enthusiastic abundance is just a hopeless snaggle of dead twigs.

The ants, however, are back en masse which brings to mind this poem by the American poet Timothy Steele.  His keen eye and artful use of meter and rhyme make him a perennial favorite of mine.

Herb Garden

by Timothy Steele

“And these, small, unobserved . . . ” —Janet Lewis

The lizard, an exemplar of the small,
Spreads fine, adhesive digits to perform
Vertical push-ups on a sunny wall;
Bees grapple spikes of lavender, or swarm
The dill’s gold umbels and low clumps of thyme.
Bored with its trellis, a resourceful rose
Has found a nearby cedar tree to climb
And to festoon with floral furbelows.

Though the great, heat-stunned sunflower looks half-dead
The way it, shepherd’s crook-like, hangs its head,
The herbs maintain their modest self-command:
Their fragrances and colors warmly mix
While, quarrying between the pathway’s bricks,
Ants build minute volcanoes out of sand.

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13 Responses to Familiar faces

  1. Cheryl Sullivan says:

    Such a beautiful photo to accompany the poem.

  2. Gwen Rhodes says:

    this is a beautiful rendition of spring…I loved reading it and at the same time reminded me as I was looking out my window at my gardens in their fullness…dripping from yet another rain…peonies bending loaded with raindrops…a light shake springs them back to standing once again…snapdragons glistening in their muted colors..anyway…loved the poem and your writing about the garter snake we have one too…always fun to see.

  3. Phyllis says:

    Great post Liza! Love your description and this poem is particularly beautiful. Thanks, Phyllis

  4. Margie says:

    I haven’t seen our resident garter snake yet this year. I rather miss him/her. Not a big fan of snakes – they usually startle me, but they are still interesting in their movements and the patterns on their backs.

    • Liza says:

      I think it must have been a snake that left a perfectly composed skeleton of a frog on a rock by the pond.So beautiful and terrifying — just like snakes! — at the same time.

  5. Bill Loeb says:

    My gift to you !

  6. Barry LITTMANN says:

    Barry AWOTC
    Like you, I too enjoy nature’s nuances, except for those fuzzy white things that float in the air, I know I shouldn’t care, it should be fine, but they keep landing in my wine.

    • Liza says:

      Dear AWOTC: Are you referring to blossoms or caterpillars? The former would add some piquancy and the latter a little protein to that glass of wine of yours. Please let me know if I can help you solve this dilemma.

      • Barry Littmann says:

        I’ve always liked piquancy in my merlot, but the fuzzies I’m talking about are more like angel dandruff, and they absorb too much wine. But I have a solution…i’ll have my wine on the couch.

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