Enjoying the view from the patio

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, August 2, 2020 in the Gaston Gazette.

“There’s a whole lot going on out here,” my girlfriend, Jillian, says as she steps outside. And she’s not wrong. There is a lot going on when you step out of the house from the sliding glass door onto the side patio.

There are two hummingbird feeders, three flowering hibiscuses, about a dozen sunflowers, some zinnias, and a few hyacinth bean vines wrapping themselves around some trellises. There are flowers and flora as far as the eye can see. Oh, and weeds too. There are always weeds.

That is what life looks like from the patio these days. In the 15 years that I’ve called this house my home, I’ve never spent as much time on my patio than I have this year.

But this is no ordinary year. The world we knew just four months ago is not the same world we know today.

But Mother Nature, she still looks the same. She still acts the same too. The sun still rises in the east and it still sets each evening in the west. The summer days are still long, hot and humid, and the anticipation of a late-day thunderstorm still remains a guilty pleasure of mine.

The rest of the world may look very different these days, but the view from the patio is about as close to normalcy as I can find.

And Jillian is right. There is a lot going on. It’s in the definition of the words “a lot” where we tend to vary. One glimpse and she gets overwhelmed by the horticultural clutter. After all, she’s a Jersey girl. And Jersey girls don’t do nature. Little does she know that she fell in love with a Nature Boy. (Sorry, Ric Flair.)

But where she sees clutter, I see life. I see normalcy.

It’s from the patio where I get to watch the wasps chase off the thirsty hummingbirds from the feeder. Or catch a napping bumblebee sleeping soundly on the leaf of a sunflower plant.

It’s from the patio where I’ve caught two Japanese beetles mating inside the emerging blossom of a hibiscus plant. “Get a room!”, I tell them. And in a way, they have. Until the flower unfurls and they have to go somewhere else.

It’s from the patio where I’ve observed June bugs blindly flying around, occasionally bumping into the side of the house. I’ve seen hummingbirds dive bomb other hummingbirds when they get too close to the feeder. Hummingbirds don’t share. They want it all. That’s how one feeder in view from the patio became two feeders in view from the patio.

It’s from the patio that I occasionally see yellow finches dropping by to see if the sunflower seed harvest is ready to eat. I can also hear the chirps and tweets of the Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Song Sparrows from where I sit.

I’ve never paid attention to these things before. It’s funny how an abundance of time can cause you to take notice of the everyday things that are all around us.

It was spring when the world started falling apart. We’re knee-deep in summer now. And it won’t be long before fall arrives, followed by winter. But when it comes to the pandemic, what season are we actually in?

I have no idea. If we knew, we’d probably know what to do.

Austin Kleon, the self-proclaimed “writer who draws”, said it best when he was talking about the seasons and what that means for a creative artist like himself. He said: “Creative work has seasons. Part of the work is to know which season it is, and act accordingly.”

From the patio, the seasons tell me when I need to prune my shrubs. They tell me when I need to to cut my grass. And if I had leaves to rake, they would tell me when to rake them.

I don’t know what season it is when it comes to this pandemic. So it’s hard for any of us to know how to act accordingly.

The beauty of nature is that it is cyclical – we see the patterns, we feel the rhythms. It provides a structure, a routine of sorts, to our lives. And then, the virus came along and screwed all of that up.

There’s always something going on from where I sit on the patio. When one flower dies back, another one blooms and takes its place. As a friend recently pointed out, it’s in that new life that tells us that hope and love are still in this world. And that gives me hope for all of this in the long run.

But in the meantime, I’ll just stick with my view from the patio. There is indeed a lot going on. It’s beautiful, clutterful and full of life. Thank goodness. It keeps me sane and grounded while we find a way to sort out the rest of this crazy world.

Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. You can email him at [email protected] and read more from him at www.TheBenDungan.com.