Sitting and Wondering on a Cloudy Afternoon


A cool overcast afternoon. Perfect for transplanting the flower that the woman on the Northern Central trail gave us. It was the color of rich wine, of rubies. We had admired it as we passed on our walk and the woman, who was working in her garden bordering the trail, made us a present of a clump. She told us its name, but I've forgotten.

The cool temperature is conducive to other garden chores, so after planting, I fetch the pen knife and twine and tie up some tomato plants, and I snip a stem off a squash plant where its big umbrella leaf was shading my lone eggplant, and I pull up some pussley and scratch the soil around by basil plants, and with my trowel I pick up some dog droppings from the concrete walkway and bury them in the soil where the earthworms will turn them into food for the tomatoes.

Overcast, cool -- lazy -- an afternoon for wondering, for gazing at my few remaining romaine lettuce plants. I wonder why the ants, who stole several hundred seeds of my first plantings, left me those three. The half-grown plants are beautiful -- tall, green, strong -- and I am grateful to the industrious little bandits for what they left me (or to Providence that caused them to do it.)

I wonder why, while the other johnnie-jump-ups are doing fine, the one near the right edge of the garden has grown so tall it has fallen over and now looks raggedy -- so raggedy that if I weren't feeling so indolent I would get up and pull it out.

I wonder what happened to the house wren that earlier this spring filled all the back yards in this block and the alley behind with rich song. A warm bubbly melody, I used to hear it through my open bedroom window before I got up and then later as I stepped outdoors. No more. Has it now raised a family so it doesn't need our neighborhood any more and moved on? I wonder.

I wonder about the mockingbird that a few minutes ago was perched on an electric wire just over the back steps imitating the song of a robin. It confused me, and if I hadn't seen the dark of its lips opening against the gray of the sky as the song poured forth, I wouldn't have been sure the singer was the mocker. (I have to admit that now I wonder whether the bird was imitating a robin. It might have been a vireo, who sings a similar song -- but I don't suppose the robin cares.)

I am looking at the open place where I made my fourth planting of lettuce, wondering whether the ants will get those seeds too. This time I buried them a little deeper and packed the earth over them a good deal tighter, tight enough that maybe little ants won't be able to move it. But then, I wonder, will it be too tight for tender sprouts to pop through.

I wonder if my little dog, now perched so peacefully by my side, will ever learn that --ing back and forth in a frenzy before the fence and growling through the wires at the big red cat that sometimes passes along the alley won't do him a bit of good. I'm not about to let him have a go at it -- or it at him.

I wonder how that one single cosmos plant over there ever found its way out of the row of other cosmos plants into my little patch of basil. It's doing as well as the others but looks lonely there.

I wonder if the robin that just took a bath in my neighbor's birdbath is the same one that hatched out a month ago under the eave of the front porch of the house. The robin's nest -- tight and tidy -- was built inside a sparrow's nest, which is a mess, not tight and tidy at all. Originally there were three babies, but by the time the parents were giving flying lessons on the next-door neighbor's lawn, only one fledgling was left. Highly unlikely, but could this back-yard bather be that former front-porch hatcher?

I wonder if all robins when they bathe do it like this one, first standing with both feet in the shallow water, then dunking its head, then raising its wings and dunking its body under them and wiggling it, then turning its head in every direction to see if anyone is watching -- making me feel like a peeping-Tom.

And I wonder if the television weather men ever experience the joy of sitting quietly on a cool overcast day looking into back-yard gardens, not doing much of anything, just being there. They must not, or they would not describe such lazy days as bad weather.

Isaac Rehert is a retired Baltimore Sun writer.

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