Now that the Cape Cod summer is a distant memory and the region begins its preparation for the long winter, it’s interesting to look back at how I used the few warm weeks. Like everyone else I spent some time navigating large traffic jams which never seem to change or go away. But rather than spend all of my time fighting traffic here and other popular destinations, I decided to focus my attention and limited leisure time to my own backyard.
Getting away from it all involved a few steps out the back door and onto my deck where I sat for hours observing the diverse plants and all they have to offer. I was surprised to see so many different species of trees in such a short space. Several small hollies were scattered throughout the woods, presumably growing where a bird deposited a berry after passing through its digestive tract. A large poplar tree made its presence known with the characteristic flapping of its flat triangular leaves.
The two common pines were well represented. The sturdy pitch pine contained numerous prickly female cones at the top of its branches. The softer, yet taller white pine also was present. These two trees can be easily distinguished by counting their needles or leaves in each cluster or fascicle. The pitch pine has three whereas the white pine has five.
The deciduous trees present included white oak with its large lobed leaves, the American beech known for its smooth bark, and the red maple, one of the earliest flowering trees in the spring. Though these three species lose their leaves in the fall, they remain a conspicuous presence in the forest year round.
My wildflower garden was a glorious cascade of color this summer. I particularly enjoyed the members of the Compositae of which there were many. Clumps of purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and blue chicory filled the backyard for many weeks. They were followed by scores of bright goldenrod from late summer to early fall. These plants required neither fertilizer nor water from me. And I think they are spreading to other parts of my property each year.
My traveling companions were the birds, insects, and other animals that found food and refuge in this diverse vegetation. It was quiet and peaceful there with no traffic, no trash, and no noise. And it was only a few steps away from my kitchen. Sometimes it’s more relaxing and productive to focus on the simpler things in life and to pay closer attention to the natural world in our own backyards.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.