Archive for January 2010


January 31, 2010

I recently read a fascinating book called “Wesley the Owl” by Stacey O’Brien. It tells the story of how O’Brien adopted an infant barn owl and cared for him for the rest of his life. The logistics of living with an owl make living with a dog or cat seem simple.The story is at turns entertaining and poignant.

What stuck with me when I was done reading the book is how elegantly O’Brien balanced the triad of work, enjoyment and study. There is much for the gardener to learn in her story especially if you have a scientific bent.

O’Brien was working as a biologist in a raptor center at a University when she adopted Wesley.  Taking an owl into her home meant that for the next two decades every aspect of her life revolved around the bird.

How many times have I found myself thinking that my garden has taken over my life?  Sometimes I look over the yard, make a mental list of the things that need doing and think that the garden could easily be a full-time job. It takes a visitor, asking about the lovely scent on my front steps, to remind me that the vanilla plant is in bloom and that I should take a few minutes to go out and take a whiff myself.

Then there’s the science. While caring for Wesley and enjoying his antics, O’Brien remained at heart a biologist. From the description of his minutest feature to keen observations on his behavior, she recorded in intimate detail how a barn owl interacts with and reacts to its environment. She tracked the owl’s development, seasonal changes and behavior over time.

There are so much to be learned by watching our gardens with the same intensity.

When I put a new food source in, be it feeder or plant, it takes time for the birds and other creatures to actually partake of it. Does it take time for them to discover it? Many of the creatures have fixed habits going to the same plant or part of the yard at the same time every day. Alternately, it could be that they are immediately aware of something new but caution prevents them from approaching until the new thing becomes familiar.

To know for sure I would have to spend time, probably sitting quietly at some safe distance, watching.  I would need to recognize the signs that a particular animal was aware of a thing and how they react to those that are familiar and those that are not. I could spend hours over many days at this.

Plants require even more patience. When I was in Colorado in October, my brother mentioned that it was a bad year for foliage because it had been so hot. With all the deciduous trees and shrubs in my yard, I have never really paid attention to when they change color.  Nor do I know how that varies from year to year though I have a vague sense that it isn’t the same every year. The colors also change. Some years there is good color, rich vibrant color that lasts for days. Other years the leaves barely change at all and turn brown before falling off the tree.

Surely I would know much more about the various life forms in the garden if I watched them as closely as the resident the crows and jays watch me. I know this because if I put food out, one or the other is inevitably snatching at it, waiting just long enough for me to retire to the house.