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  • Jennifer Jewell


Valley Oaks in the Canyon.

Lizard flower-surfing the Thyme pots.

It has been very hot here, and when you look at the weather forecast in the morning it is prefaced by a large and visually loud declaration that we are in an "extreme heat event" in Northern California.

It makes for long and slow mid days and long afternoons - that stultifying stretch of time between the coolness of early morning and the great relief of the coolness of later evening.

This morning as I watered the garden in the early hours, I watched a lizard. They were sort of flower-surfing across the blooms and seed heads rounding out the pots of flowering thyme near the front stoop. They were hunting and pecking, snacking and checking - for nectar? Seed? Tasty summer bugs? What order of operations was at play, I’m not sure, but they ultimately rested on one branch and nestled down in the full sun - basking there for a bit.

They were lovely, slow, shimmery, and mesmerizing. I am finally feeling myself caught up, a little bit back to a normal daily rhythm after 10 days away. I was glad to travel, but travel takes it out of me as well and at this stage in my work and life, I need two days rather than one day to regain my on-par energy. I traveled to Virginia to watch my oldest daughter graduate from college, which was magical and monumental especially this year, perhaps, with the loss of all such celebrations and group marking of such moments last year. She is off now to a summer job, the first step on the other side of this threshold as she makes her way further into "adulthood", her horizon filled with decisions and choices to be made - sorted out.

From Virginia, I was called back to the Southwest to again be with my father and step-mother. My father, home from the hospital, home from rehab, is struggling a little to find his feet in this new territory post brain-injury and at almost 84, well along his aging path. A very different threshold beckons to him than that calling to my daughter.

Oddly enough I am just two months short of being able to claim that I am fully in menopause. Is this too much information? Perhaps. But it is also part of the fullness of a life, a human life, a lizard life, a plant life, and therefore worthy of recognition with all the losses, gifts, and lessons offered by such fullness.

I think about my father, my daughter, and me all at deeply signifying thresholds of any life's timeline.

There are many wayfinders along each of our pathways, in the form of people, places, (plants ;), events and interpretations. Sometimes it can be hard to sort them, no matter how hard we try, no matter how observant we might be. Sometimes we can only sort them in hindsight. Or at least understand how and what we sorted, and even why we sorted that way.

A roadside Sphaeralcea sp. blooms about to open for the day. Rio Arriba County, NM - Spring 2021.

All of this brings to mind a lovely article I read recently on a craftsman in the UK, Steve Overthrow, who hand crafts traditional garden tools, especially sieves and riddles. He began teaching himself/learning the traditional methods of this craft after reading that they had become extinct at the hand crafting level.

A riddle, in this sense, is a large gauge sieve used to help screen the largest of bits - rocks and twigs, etc. - from soil before working, seeding or planting, or from compost -in-process before spreading it into the garden.

The article in Gardens Illustrated earlier this year, written by Natasha Goodfellow and photographed by Lisa Linder, captured my wordy imagination: a riddle, to riddle.

Photos below of Steve and his sieves and riddles by Lisa Linder, all rights reserved.

To solve a riddle is to sort out its parts and put them back together in a corrected - often unsuspecting or surprising - way or order.

Riddling in both cases is a way of sorting and ordering, prioritizing and coding; it is both deciphering and deciding.

Staghorn sumac in winter dress, photo by Seabrooke Leckie, all rights reserved.

Roadside evening primrose (Oenthera neomexicana, I think?) Rio Arriba County, NM - Spring 2021. Blooms about to close for the day.

Back here on the ground in Northern California, the heat wave I mentioned at the start of this is the second of two extreme heat waves to kick off our season of dry summer heat so far.

The plants know this rhythm (just as somewhere at the cellular level in our bodies my daughter, my father, and I all know where we are and what to do at our seasonal thresholds). Whether it comes early or late, the long season of heat and dry always comes. All seasons come back around.

And while, as I am sure alarming headlines across the globe are alerting you, we in California are in yet another epic dry spell, summer hot and dry is also a norm with which we - humans, plants and other animals of here - are intimate. We take measures. I open my windows and curtains at night and turn on my fans, I close up in the day to make the most of what cool there is and expend as little energy - in the form of movement or air conditioning - as possible mid-day.

The plants and flowers of summer show me likewise - the evening primrose and mallow close respectively during the day or night to conserve their energy and resources, then fling wide their petals for the other half of the day; many trees and shrubs -buckeye, oak, and manzanita have begun their summer shed - leaves and bark curling into themselves and dropping to the ground below, to blanket the soil, cool it, and feed it for the next season of growth and cool, sheltering the next stages of bug and microbial life until their next season...Many trees, shrubs, geophytes and herbaceous perennials of my place have already bloomed, set seed and settled in to sleep through the long hot dry.

Summer dormancy is a good habit well worth discipling yourself to (as a student, not a punishment) for life in a hot climate.

For many plants who prefer to not go summer dormant, their often soft and silvery foliage holds their moisture as close as possible and reflects the sunshine away. With each shift in light and temperature, they sift through their choices and skills and act accordingly.

We are all, in effect, sorting, ordering, sieving (and riddling) our way along (removing the largest of obstacles) a day, a season, across a threshold, across a life of them. We surf the flower heads, pick out the seeds, the tasty bugs, throw out the not-yet-digested twigs, the uncomfortable stones and set them aside. Hunting and pecking our way, screening our way through.

Such are the sieves and riddles of our days. Such, in fact, is the gardening of our days - so much seeding, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and starting again. Best we can, where we are, with what we have. Sometimes enjoying a nap in the sun. Sometimes curling up into ourselves or another.

And the riddle of how to make our (path)way through our (garden) life and days is as good a riddle to work on and play with, growing into and on from, as any, don't you think?

Happy sieving and riddling to you and your garden, no matter your seasons.



and the Cultivating Place Team



(just click the live link that is the green title of each program to get to the audio file and listen in....)


Summer dormancy, shedding and seed set. Butte County, CA.




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Me. Bio photo by Eddie Altrete 2019.



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