bunt sign

Tuesday, October 8, 2002

With the days getting ever shorter (the sunlit portions anyway), I'm rearranging the important items on my daily schedule. For someone whose gears grind slowly until noon, that means squeezing everything into the last few hours before dark.

I put the sprinkler on at four this afternoon instead of five. Well, you have to start somewhere, right? At dusk lately I've found myself complaining that there wasn't enough time to get all the garden watered. Somehow it occurred to me that starting earlier would give me more time to finish. I don't know where that came from, time management not being my strong suit.

This turned out to be a good idea even though it didn't work the way I wanted it to. The birds thought it was a great idea. I had more of them in the yard, and more different species, than I've had all summer. I got so wrapped up in watching the aerial circus that I didn't want to move the sprinkler. So I ended up without enough time to finish the whole garden despite the extra hour at the start.

The bushtits are still the best. They haven't been around much, but they darted in and out of the water, up and down the low shrubbery, back and forth, sometimes flying upside down like Woodstock. In the past I've compared these tiny birds to a team of eight-year-olds playing soccer. After seeing actual eight-year-old humans chasing the ball and each other around the field this weekend, the comparison seems apt.

After I moved the sprinkler to cover the center of the garden, where the birch and the small oak trees grow, the sparrows and black phoebes showed up. They couldn't seem to decide whether they wanted to perch on a branch and let the water bounce off them, or dart back and forth through the spray. The sparrows puffed up to twice their normal size as they fluffed their feathers in the water.

When I went out to move the sprinkler to the back of the garden, I disturbed a Northern flicker in the top of the dying birch. ("Dying" being a redundancy here, as all the birch trees on this side of town are on death watch.) The early watering also attracted the first goldfinch I've had in months. I love the brown and gray of the common birds, but it's good to see a flash of color here once in awhile.

This hot weather makes the water all the more attractive. I know it makes it easier on me when I soak myself moving the sprinkler. I'm always trying new positions and directions, to try to get the most out of the water I use in the places it's needed. For some reason, this wasn't one of my better days for finding the right spot, and I took on a lot of water myself. I dried off pretty fast in the heat, though.

You'll never see pictures of those birds here, because as soon as I touch the screen door handle, they scatter in all directions. You could come by some afternoon about four o'clock, or you could just take my word for it. It's a happy little circus, a water show of the highest order.

sprinkler head

One of the many useless sprinkler heads in my garden.

If my landlords would fix the underground sprinkler system, as they promised when I moved in two years ago, I'd be sure to time it so that it was running when I could watch. I sometimes watch my sprinkler even when there are no birds around. I used to get a lot of pleasure out of watering by hand, but I think moving the sprinkler around has been even more therapeutic.

It'll never happen anyway. All I get when I ask about the sprinkler system is a shrug and another empty promise. It isn't quite true that the sprinkler heads are useless, though. Sometimes I use them to prop up the hose so that it doesn't flatten any plants. That's not what they were designed for, but in this case function follows form.

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John Scalzi's Whatever column for October 8

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