Sunday, August 22, 2010

Air Traffic

Serving as Chief of Air Traffic Control in my yard, I am very busy this time of year. Air traffic is at an all-time high. This is not easy work, but I am dedicated to doing it with skill and without complaint.

First I must observe...and direct...the larger crafts (birds). Work must be done to ensure that their approaches, landings, and take-offs are without incident. Hazards need to be minimized, which may require posting hawk-shaped decals on window panes or moving fueling stations away from easy feline access.

Then I must think of the community concerns. If a hammock is in the area, I must monitor it to ensure that residents are not bombed or subjected to excessive noise. If a gathering occurs, I must be vigilant that guests are not having close encounters of an avian kind.

Once I take care of safety and comfort issues, I can focus on observation and that is the fun part of air traffic control in my yard. A few years back, I followed the advice of an Audubon Society speaker and planted a hummingbird island. Using native plants as much as possible, I put in lots of mallow and pentstemon, in brilliant girlie-hues of hot pink and violet. I also added white monarda to the bed, which already had good stands of blue cornflower and pale yellow columbine. The island sprawls just north of deep pink monarda, dogwood, coral and yellow honeysuckle, and three large butterfly bushes (including the gorgeous deep purple of "Black Knight"). Pale coral oriental poppies, Japanese spurge and pale pink Queen of the Prairie round out that bed. The two spots lure hummingbirds shamelessly.

The hummers come. I hear them often before seeing them. Sometimes one will plummet into the honeysuckle, stay a flash, and then lift off. Sometimes one will wander a bit through the aspen grove, its subtle green shape looking much like an aspen leaf. Sometimes a pair will race through the yard, dipping, chasing, soaring in a crazed duet. Sometimes, rarely, one will perch on a limb or a wire and take a micro-nap.

The air is filled this time of year with bees. My benign neglect of oregano and mint and sunflowers under the bird feeders brings hoardes of bees. What a joy to see golden buzzes of different sizes working the big yellow faces of six-foot tall sunflowers! What pleasure to hear the soft whirr of bee in the tiny orchid oregano blooms next to the sunroom! What satisfaction to see a huge bumble of black and gold among the columbine! Given the globe's bee problems, I'm pleased to be helping a tiny bit.

Most notable in my garden air this time of year are the fluttering ballerina butterflies, their ivory tutus dotted with dabs of charcoal. These sweet creatures kiss many of my plants, not just the open-faced ones like yarrow and buddleia, but the ruffled skirts of yellow hollyhock, the pale umbels of parsley and the cheery white goblins in my petunia bed. Sometimes these performers do solos and other times engage in synchorized gyrations that spin my head. I watched a quartet this week whirl, dive, pop, and glide in a dance of impressive length. What, I wondered, made them move as one?

Monitoring air traffic in my yard is one of my important chores in late summer. You can rest assured that I am going stay vigilant at my post (whether it's a hammock, swing, or futon), keeping watch on all my aerial visitors.

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