Today’s Memorial Day, a natural time for musings on mortality and the shadow side of our lives and the world around us.
Late yesterday afternoon I dragged my garden hose to the back yard for yet another session of watering. (It’s been abnormally dry here in upstate New York.) When I got to the viburnum I planted seven years ago, I was shocked to find practically all its leaves had turned to sheer, lacy skeletons. A mild breeze was blowing some of them off the branches. Looking up at the few relatively intact leaves and pitiful white flowers that remained, I noticed shadowy black forms. Something dropped onto my bare arm. I examined the squirming culprit – a tiny caterpillar-like creature, about a third of an inch long.
Three days ago, the viburnum, now over eight feet tall, was in flower and flourishing – or so I believed. But all the while, this creature and its thousands of brethren were coming alive, unseen beneath the leaves. Perhaps they’d wintered over. They’re not tent caterpillars – those are larger and much more obvious. I’ll do the mandatory Google research and get the facts: What is this nasty creature, and what can I do about it? I’ve never seen it before; could this have something to do with climate change? Can this beautiful shrub be saved, or is it already too late? Would radical pruning help?
In previous waterings, I’d been ignoring the viburnum and concentrating on the smaller perennials and the new plantings, but now I set the hose on soak and draped it low in the branches to give the shrub a good long drink. Then I helped my husband move a 300-pound slab of snowy white Vermont marble to the edge of the front yard near the road, where the garden ends. (He used to be into stone sculpture, and we still have a few beautiful slabs around. They’re a little reminiscent of gravestones, and that’s probably what much of the marble was quarried for.)
Our neighbor Wendy came along to help maneuver the stone into place. Just back from visiting her 89-year-old mother in the hospital, she told us they’d stopped all aggressive measures and started a morphine drip. Wendy’s strong, and she loves physical yard work. Maybe wrestling with that slab of marble was just what she needed at that moment.
Oh, and there are small black birds nesting in the corner of our eaves outside the bedroom. We can hear them chirping all day, beginning at dawn. But it’s not too bad – my husband and I both have severe tinnitus, and the chirping blends right in. The birds drive our cats crazy, but that’s another story . . .
A beautiful shrub under lethal attack, funereal white marble, black birds in the eaves, an old woman near death – you might think I’d be depressed. But threading all the images together, dark and shadowy as they may be, fills me with elation. Guess that’s why I write mysteries!
Tomorrow, tune in for more on the shadow side of life, with nods to Carl Jung and Sue Grafton.