It was one of those almost somnambulant fall days. A few days before the equinox, in fact.
Friends were coming over for an afternoon visit on the deck. Sad to say, such events will soon be less frequent, shorter, harder to arrange. One couple we know has purchased outdoor propane heaters to keep their social alive through the coming season. We've done a little research along those lines ourselves.
I had made an early morning run to Trader Joe's, taking advantage of their Sunday morning "old folks" hour. I was impressed to discover that they had the Musak tuned to the "old folks" station, too. I was greeted at the door by a song from the seminal Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album Deja Vu. "Carry On," I think. Then it was "Green Eyed Lady" by Sugarloaf.
I was home by 8:30 with two bags full of produce: peppers for the salsa, fruit that would be easy to serve without touching, blue corn chips full of mystical desert power. The cashier was—by Trader Joe's standards—unusually reserved. He got out two brown bags immediately, making it clear he wanted to bag the items himself, and stayed hunched behind the plexiglass shield the whole time. I don't blame him. While I waited for him to finish the job I studied the huge map of Lake Minnetonka on the far wall, trying to memorize the municipalities and bays—Lower Lake, Chubbs Bay, Tonka Bay, Minnetrista, Deephaven, Shorewood—while I grooved to "Who'll Stop the Rain."
By noon Hilary had cleaned the bathroom, swept the deck, and chopped the various ingredients for the salsa. I had watered the compost pile and turned the leaves with a pitchfork; we're going to need more room in there soon. I also got out a ladder from the garage and repaired two holes in the gutter—created by me with an ice pick years ago—using duct tape and silicon sealer. I've done it several times before. Nothing seems to work for long.
While I was out in the garden I stopped to admire the white turtleheads that, modest though they may be, are currently its chief glory. They look feeble all summer, crowded out by the expansive bleeding hearts. Now the bleeding-hearts are mostly dead, and they shine above the violets and hostas that have been eaten down dramatically by the rabbits.
Most gardeners would not be impressed.
I was relaxing with a game or two of free cell on the computer when I heard a call from the other room: "John, there's a redstart in the birdbath!" A few warblers pass through the woods behind our house every fall, but they rarely come anywhere near the deck.
It was a female, less dramatic but more attractive than the male. She had an unusual way of dealing with the water in the bath. She would fly over it, moving from one lip of the basin to the other, dipping in very slightly or not at all. It was hard to tell.
Eventually she took a plunge directly into the pool. She didn't splash much, but she lingered at various points around the birdbath for at least five minutes.
This has been one of the great discoveries of this very odd summer: how much more popular a bird bath is when located on the deck rather than out in the yard. I suppose the protection provided by the nearby shrubs far outweighs the longer sightlines available out in the yard, where a cooper's hawk can swoop in out of nowhere.
We made this discovery entirely by accident when we brought the birdbath up from the basement last spring. I don't remember why we set it on the deck. Maybe we hadn't uncovered the garden yet. In any case, we put some water in it and the birds seemed to like it. Four or five cardinals sometimes jostle for position, and when a blue jay or a robin hops in to rustle his or her wings, it's quite a show.