Summer: Sex in the Garden

It’s full summer in my high-desert valley in the shadow of the tallest peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Summer here means four species of hummingbirds zip through the yard every day in their quest for high-octane flower nectar from the various species of red, tubular wildflowers, scarlet gilia, scarlet bugler penstemon, scarlet indian paintbrush (see the theme?), and from the garden flowers too, including the scarlet runner beans twining up the bean trellis.


(These are Super Bush tomatoes from Renee’s Garden Seeds. Thank you, Renee Shepherd!)

Summer means sunflowers opening wide and attracting droning bees of all sorts; it means melon, cucumber, and winter squash plants sprouting, and fledgling birds of all sorts bumbling about the yard learning to fly–and still begging for food from weary parents. Summer means swallows dipping and swooping in the air over the creek in the morning as they catch insects; it means clematis blooming in a brilliant purple drift on the arbor and Missouri evening primrose opening impossibly huge, lemon-yellow flowers as dusk falls, and wafting their sweet perfume through the cooling air to entice hovering moths to sip their nectar and dust their sticky female pistil with golden male pollen; it means flowers and babies and seeds and eggs….

In the heat of mid-day, the summer garden may seem like a dozing, tranquil place, but it’s really a world gone mad with dividing cells, focused on growth and reproduction, where every life is doing its best to pass on its
genes–now!–while the going is good, before the days grow shorter, the sun
loses its warmth, and the life here at 7,000 feet elevation shuts down
for the northern hemisphere winter.

In short, summer is the season of sex. Including the brazen craneflies pictured above, who spent yesterday noon coupled on the glass of our garden door. Craneflies look like humongous mosquitoes, and indeed are distantly related to those buzzing blood-suckers, but craneflies are not only much larger, they lack mosquitoes’ piercing mouth parts and they spend their adult lives making love, not war, sipping flower nectar and mating, after which the female lays eggs to launch the next generation.

The mad rush to reproduce starts before dawn, with house finch males warbling loudly, proclaiming their pride in the broods of streaky brown, just-fledged young, and suggesting for all the world–or at least nearby female house finches–that perhaps it’s time to seed another brood. (You can imagine how the female finches, skinny and harried from feeding hordes of clamoring fledlings feel about that idea!)

It continues with the hummingbirds, whose dazzling irridescence is all about impressing the opposite sex (the males are the flashy ones with throat-feathers in scarlet, ruby, and other jewel-like colors; the females are more sober to better blend in as they do all the nest-building and family-rearing). Hummingbirds zip in to drink nectar as soon as the sun rises, and return at intervals to slake their hunger throughout the day. There are the swallowtail butterflies lazily flapping between the tomato plants, the males on alert for unmated females; those females already gravid sniffing the air with sensitive antennae to find their particular host plants on which to lay eggs like miniature green strings of pearls. (That’s a short-tailed swallowtail below, depositing her eggs on a dill plant.)

 And the plants, from the dill blooming to the spinach bolting, the sugar snap peas with swollen pods, the asparagus putting up ferny flower stalks four and more feet tall, the strawberries flowering their fool heads off and producing intensely sweet, succulent berries, the tomatoes just beginning to ripen, the bees and moths and butterflies whirling around in an orgy of fat-rich pollen and sugar-filled nectar…. The garden is a hot-bed of beings focused on one thing: sex, or at least creating a new generation to carry on their genes.

Summer’s here, and the world around me is a riot of growth and reproduction. What a wonderous gift to be alive and part of this rich community of the land!

Coming up: Join me on Isla Espiritu Santo off Baja California this winter for a week of honing your creative writing and evaluating your course in life. See my web site for more details.