MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Martin Chemnitz Press/A Mighty Fortress site: www.myplanet.net/chemnitz
Bethany Church site: http://www3.cybercities.com/b/bethanylutheranchurch/
Very Unofficial WELS: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Atlantis/5256/
Very Unofficial CLC: http://www3.cybercities.com/a/aclc/index.html
Very Unofficial ELS: http://cfwwalther.tripod.com/
Lutheran Book Treasury: http://www3.cybercities.com/l/lutheranbooktreasury/
Friday, November 19, 1999
GARDEN BIRDS FOR KATIE: PART II
I was planning to get another gardening article written when a hummingbird reminded me of my sacred duty. I was fairly sure it was a Costa, which looks grey until the sun lights up its green highlights. The bird saw me. He was going through the flight patterns used in searching for food, against a masonry wall with no vines. I thought, “He is signaling I should fill the humming bird feeder.” Some may think I am imagining this, but he buzzed my face on purpose. The entire show was exciting to watch. I wondered if he was the same bird who last night flitted around at the top of my neighbor’s tree, as if to say, “Have you fed me lately?”
We figured that a hummingbird built a nest in the rubber tree in our front yard. The nest is as large as a half walnut shell. I was curious to find the nest, but I did not want to disturb the family. Several people were glad they met secretly to form the Save the Rubber Tree Committee. I was going to remove it, but they nixed the plan. Now it has grown luxuriously and become a hiding place for several birds. They fly out in alarm as we leave the front door, since the rubber tree is just to the right of the entrance.
For years people have been carrying on about the humming birds losing their winter homes in the rain forest of the Amazon River basin. The Brazilians are foolishly burning off trees for quick crops, destroying the fragile soil in a few years. But the humming birds are not so foolish. It was once orthodoxy that only one species of humming bird was found east of the Mississippi. All others were west. All humming birds flew south for the winter. Not now. They have not read the books. They go where they please and stay in the southern states for the winter. Doubtless the birds gossiped and said, “Why go south and starve when people put up feeders just for us and grow plants for us?”
Birds have their own way of doing things, no matter what we plan for them. I built a pond for them in the backyard, in time for the warm season in Phoenix. The first disaster was our puppy Precious running full speed into it, climbing out, and soothing her fragile nerves on a pile of dry manure, which stuck marvelously well to her fur. Secondly, I could find no fence within my budget to keep toddlers out of the pond. It was the best kid magnet I could have built. But it was not the greatest bird magnet. Algae grew in the warm soup of the shallow pond, incubated by the black plastic liner. Soon it smelled ripe. I filled in the pond, planted zinnias, and dreamt about a fountain in the same place.
The torrid summer came to an end, so I bought a pool solar blanket, nothing more than stiff bubble wrap plastic, floating on the surface. The blanket promised to elevate the pool temperature by 10 degrees, keep the water cleaner, and raise my self-esteem. One little fact was forgotten. The pool blanket lurked just beneath the surface of the pool, collecting shallow puddles on its powder blue surface. Yes, it was the ultimate bird magnet. Birds love shallow water, but all bird baths suffer from their own popularity. Organic material and the sun feed algae growth, and that drives birds away. They have dignity. They do not want to bathe in the green lagoon. But they love prancing across the pool surface, sipping the clean, filtered water, bathing with the knowledge that their organic donations will be washed away every night in the artificial turbulence of the skimmer and pop-up pumps. The two pumps agitate the water, draw it through filter baskets, a mesh basket, a sand filter, trying to ape the work of the Creator. Divinely created ponds take care of themselves quite well. But many dessert dwellers have stories about coming back to their pools after the pumps failed or the chlorine ran out, looking in horror at the green slime staining their pools.
One morning I looked across the surface of the pool. I thought I saw a fountain. Instead, it was a spray of water sent up by a grackle. All grackles love water and cherish a rollicking good bath. He was scooping water up with a dip of his head, puddling it between his wings, and shaking it to the tips of his wings. My mother enjoys his daily splashing. He also sneaks over to the dog’s food dish and steals food whenever possible, strutting by in a typical grackle kind of way. Various grackles share in the booty. They like to sit on the pool fence and cackle. They are morning scavengers, early to get at the food in the dog’s dish and around the bird feeder.
I am working on more plants to feed and shelter birds and butterflies. It is a challenge, especially after the lengthy and brutal summer. I thought roses were annuals in Minnesota, but I lost more roses to the heat and the dog than I ever did to the cold of Minnesota. Members worship at the chapel we created in the garage, giving them a weekly view of my gardening efforts. They like the bulletins, because they can cover up their smiles with them. While they were feigning pity for my learning experiences, my tomatoes were making a comeback. I planted them late in the spring. February! In Minnesota, that is still early winter. I proudly counted all the tomato flowers I saw. I mentally ate many tomatoes. But it remained a virtual pleasure. The flowers never fruited. But now, the tomatoes are marching across the pool area, even invading the cool deck, with deep green vines and many green tomatoes.
One scientist recently wrote about the unusual qualities of water, certainly a special part of God’s Creation. Water stores heat and cold extremely well and inexpensively as a bonus. If you put a cooler, with 3 inches of water in the bottom, in your deep freezer, it will take about 24 hours or more to freeze solid. Water gives up its heat slowly and it takes a huge amount of energy to make it freeze solid. On the other hand, it also takes a lot of energy to melt it. So if you take a cooler out of a deep freezer, with 3 inches of solid ice in the bottom, it will take about 24 hours to melt down. In fact, at first you will think it will never melt, just as you thought it would never freeze.
This little side trip about water does relate to tomatoes. To keep tomatoes from freezing, various catalogues will sell you “Wall o’ Water,” a clear plastic collar to be filled with water and placed around tomatoes and other tender plants. The idea is to store up solar energy in the day and radiate around the plant at night, preventing freezing. The gimmick is expensive, in my opinion, so I put “Jug o’ Water” in my tomato patch and any other place needing some temperature moderation. I filled a gallon jug, glass or plastic, with water and stuff in among the vines. I am confident that God will warm the water during the day and gently warm the vines during the night, when temperatures plunge to 60 degrees.
Plastic jugs leak beautifully in the frig, so this can be useful in the garden as well. If you want something gently watered, get a leaker going and place it on top of the soil, or bury it in the soil. It is one way to water plants at the root level and add nutrition as well. I am always afraid that someone who has watched “Planet of the Apes” too many times will think that the milk jug tops sticking out of the soil are survivors of a global catastrophe.
I am trying to build up bushy plants around the pool for various reasons. Birds love lots of cover. Insects love moist shade, and birds love insects. I read in a butterfly maniac book that I should stop feeding birds in the yard and hire a mean old cat to kill them. That would let butterflies rule in the yard. I thought, “I will build up the biological centers of influence and let God sort it out. He is better at this than I am.” Sure enough, when the zinnias went into their flowering stage, butterflies and bees gathered to enjoy the food. Some of my plants are now getting large enough to appeal to many different species. Cape honeysuckle’s bright orange flowers appeal to humming birds. Zinnias draw butterflies and bees. Scarlet runner beans are climbing the pool fence again, ready to bloom and attract more humming birds. The best wrought iron does not look as delicate as a scarlet runner bean climbing a support, especially when back lit at dusk. Mankind’s best artisans are clods compared to God’s daily work.
People wonder why I keep skeletons of plants and piles of plant material in the yard. (That’s another reason to grow tall plants, to hide the trash and stop the questions.) I grew some gourmet sunflowers this summer, the kind they sell for many times their worth in seed catalogues. They tend to have many small flowers of various colors, and small seeds, rather than one large seed head. I left the sunflower plants up after they finished and died. Birds land on them. The morning glory vine has climbed one and bloomed. A third one became a favorite resting place, several days, for a dragon fly. I could not tell if he was resting or perhaps gaining some nutrition from the cut end of the stalk. When I approached close to him, he flew up and settled down on the same spot. Insects and birds like to rest on plant structures rather than man-made structures.
Now that we are blessed with a dog (named Precious, ironically) who eats Blue Lily of the Nile, water lilies, roses, and morning glories, I am inclined to shift gardening toward more rugged flowers. I turned on the newly built sprinkler and saw the head spit up into the air. It took a long time to screw it back in, so I suspected the two sons of an engineer. Not that it was a problem. When I asked the older boy, he was quite upset that someone found something broken that he had never touched, perhaps a first in his short life. But later I saw our sheltie chase the sprinkler head, clamp down her jaws on it, and run in circles with it spouting water. I apologized to the mother. “Your sons are innocent. Precious is trying to be a plumber.”
I bought more seed for the winter garden, the first time I have grown anything except spinach under a cover of leaves. This time I can grow spinach above ground. I ordered some zinnias. I did not want just a packet. The Harris order person said, “Three ounces equals 3,500 seeds.” The members of A Mighty Fortress thought I would buy a pound. I did buy a pound of mammoth sunflower seeds. It’s handy for trading. I take the bucket o’ seed on visits and give away or trade seeds. In it I keep all the seed I have ordered.
Thompson and Morgan remembered my previous orders and sent me their unique seed catalogue. It is the Mercedes Benz of seed catalogues, especially when price is considered. But, where Harris sniffs at providing soy, T and M sells it. Ordinary catalogues sell the ordinary seeds in a most common way. T and M is aristocratic, offering the Latin name and many varieties. For instance, I looked up mullein in the index. It is the state weed of Michigan, loving bad soil and quite hardy, a(n) herb brought over that escaped and succeeded, one with many nicknames – Indian blanket, witches candle, and so forth. I used to kill it in Michigan, until I realized that it created a wonderful stalk of flowers in its second year, a nice perch for birds. The first year the plant offers a huge rosette of velvety leaves, prompting the innocent to say, “Oh dear, let’s kill that thing before it covers the yard.”
T and M does not lower itself to sell mullein as mullein. The index says, “See verbascum.” There it was: not just one verbascum, but many different varieties. I bought one with bright yellow flowers. “Horticulture” magazine motivated me to like mullein. They featured the plant in an article. One of their better writers always plants it. Now that I cannot get it for free, I have to buy it. It is a common plant in Minnesota as well, bravely enduring the incredibly good soil of New Ulm.
I enjoy evolution writers, because they betray themselves so easily. We started to watch a TV special called “The Miracle of Evolution.” In my opinion, the title negated a negative, making it a positive. Therefore, it was a feature on Creation. My wife Chris found it tiresome and turned it off. The evolution writers who deal with plants have an amazing concept of horticultural thought. The evolutionists imagine that plants think and plan. Yes, they know where to go to succeed and they know how to work with all other plant and animal life. One plant displays a flower just so a bat will pollinate it. How clever. We often say, “Dumber than a rock.” We should also say, “More genius than a cabbage.”
My yard has many different micro-environments, based upon shade, structures, and the vicissitudes of watering. The sprinkler over-waters some areas and leaves other parts with some water, some sections with nothing. Roses thrive in parts with moderate water and moderate shade. Zinnias tolerate tons of water and roasting in the sun. Phoenix is part of a small section of the country that supports the saguaro cactus, the cactus with arms and weirdly human shapes, an icon of the wild West, even if limited in its distribution. I have planted various cacti in the area bordering the fence, outside the yard. Catching a little stray water from the sprinkler, they thrive in the hot sun. The prickly pear (not to be confused with Bill and Hilary, the prickly pair) has grown mouse ears. Cholla is spreading. Another species has babies at its base.
No matter what we think, plants will thrive only in their favorite environment. We can bend it a little, but we cannot make a divinely designed cold weather crop love a dessert valley, unless we make believe that it is spring when it is winter. Peas thrive in Minnesota’s spring and the so-called winter season of Phoenix.
Birds do not change their created characteristics so much as they adjust to their situations. Man provides feeders, so this act shifts the bird population toward those who eat seed. The doves are ground feeders, but they will gladly cluster on the feeder if most of the food is there. We have a “seed saver” tray that holds four doves. (Did the manufacturer think that fallen seed was not eaten, or that a little tray kept seed from falling?) The doves eat away until a fifth one tries to squeeze in. Then they all flutter and adjust. But they do not stay all day. They leave and another species arrives. God arranges for all of them to be fed in order, with the sick and weak fed to hawks. Cardinals live in Phoenix (and I don’t mean the pathetic football team) but I have not seen them in our yard. Road runners appear in many areas, but our wall keeps them out of the yard.
Birds remind us that Thanksgiving is near, that we should be as thankful as they are, since the Creator has provided for our material needs and a Savior for our spiritual needs.
"Early in the morning it rises, sits upon a twig and sings a song it has learned, while it knows not where to obtain its food, and yet it is not worried as to where to get its breakfast. Later, when it is hungry, it flies away and seeks a grain of corn, where God stored one away for it, of which it never thought while singing, when it had cause enough to be anxious about its food. Ay, shame on you now, that the little birds are more pious and believing than you; they are happy and sing with joy and know not whether they have anything to eat."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed. John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, V, p. 114. Matthew 6:24-34.