Spring Turns Our Yard into a Jungle Worth Exploring

Hello from North Haven!

I took a quick inventory of the pockets of my black Arcteryx jacket just now, and it revealed:

Three (3) brown paper napkins from Cooper’s Landing

Three (3) spruce cones of various sizes

Half (.5) of a mussel shell

Three (3) periwinkle shells with interesting coloration

Six (6) shriveled dandelion flowers

Eight (8) small rocks

Two (2) birch catkins

Three (3) maple flowers

and one (1) dried wild lily-of-the-valley leaf

It’s spring! For real this time! And our yard, the collection point for most of these artifacts, has exploded into an exciting jungle, worthy of intense scrutiny and exploration, especially for those of us who just turned three.

Conducting an archaeological/worm finding/soil sampling study at school. Photo courtesy of Laugh and Learn Preschool, used with permission.

An expedition a few weeks ago turned up a friendly snail, who responded to my daughter and I humming to coax it out of its shell. Penrose directed me to show it a drop of water hanging from a branch of our beauty bush, and we were rewarded by watching it drink and observing the water slide down into its translucent body. A slug left orange slime all over Pen’s hand, and was treated to a ride in the back of her tricycle. While she wants to pick every dandelion blooming in the yard, I remind her to leave some for the bees, and we observe many pollinator species, from honey bees to hummingbird moths, helping themselves to the abundant source of nectar.

Even more exciting, the yard is full of things to eat. I’m not yet harvesting any of our ostrich fern fiddleheads, since there aren’t enough for a sustainable patch, but Penrose loves to pick and eat the deep purple violets that have appeared over the years in cleared spots in front of our shed and compost bin. Flowers are appearing on our low bush blueberries, and the apple and peach trees are about to unfurl their pink and white blooms. The garlic we planted together last fall, the biggest cloves selected from the harvest in a cycle that’s been going on for years, sprouted in the mid-April chill, was mowed down by deer or rabbits, and came right back.

The best thing about being three, I imagine, is that every tiny thing is an opportunity for scrutiny and learning. A putter around our yard is punctuated by Penrose dropping into a squat at random and exclaiming “Look at this cool rock! Look at this tiny tiny bug! Look, a closed dandelion!” Her deep investigations into the content of our lawn have opened my eyes to the biodiversity it hosts, from feathery yarrow leaves to delicate chickweed flowers and all manner of unnamed weeds. She notices every ant, millipede and robber fly. The rocks around the hostas and azaleas planted into our patio, which came from a bag in the hardscape department of a greenhouse, gleam matte grey and sparkling white. Mica and quartz seem impossibly sparkly and magical.

I was that kid, that flower munching, rock collecting kid. I spent hours trying to dam up our frog pond and fed my sisters goutweed root, thinking it was Queen Anne’s Lace (oops). Now I want the rocks to stay put for drainage, weeds to stay out of the lawn, and slugs and snails to stop eating the garden. But on Penrose’s guided tour of our jungle yard, I can set that aside for a while, and marvel with her at all the things to touch, smell, taste and learn about just outside our door.

Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to kveller.com, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for reformjudaism.org, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!