small things

Some things are so small, we will never lay eyes on them, and they can change our lives in an instant (bacteria, atoms, for instance).  Other things are so large that they are invisible, and they change our lives every day whether we think of them or not (the galaxy, and love).  Often, these two kinds of things are hard to tell apart.  Sometimes, they’re even the same.


This week, the small things have had my attention.

This furry jumping spider, for instance, posed for a picture on an okra seedling, showing off a brightly colored fresh catch of the day.  I’ve seen this little one a couple times since taking this shot.  It occupies an important place in the greenhouse, where pest bugs can quickly become an issue, and spider pest control is most spider

Bugs are (usually) small things.  But many of them sure can pack a wallop if they decide to put a stinger in you, or eat a piece of your garden.  Flea beetles are a great example.  It’s hard to see them, but they can do amazing damage in almost no time at all.  Tender spring arugula gets hit by them, but usually pulls through with just cosmetic damage.  We cover our eggplants with hoops and row cover the first day we transplant them to avoid flea beetle damage.  Small can be large.

But small can just be small too.  Up picking peas and pulling weeds, I saw these little Billy Flies (I don’t know what they’re proper name might be, but my Grandpa always called them Billies).  They’ve never stung me, and I’ve never seen them do damage to the garden.  They may be beneficial for all I know.   They probably pollinate something.  I’ve also never seen them mate in midair, until now.   It was hard to catch a picture, but you might be able to get it.  Pretty impressive little lives, I think.

It is in part because our gardens are so small that we are able to live with this awesome diversity of creatures and bugs around us.  If we were more driven by economic pressures, we might not notice, honor, and enjoy these multitudes of critters that share our gardens, our world.


Billy Flies were a nice thing to contemplate in the face of the task at hand in the gardens right now.  More small things to work on there.  Weeds.

Each one may be small, for now, but taken in total, they are a green carpet that appears to grow exponentially each day, rain or shine.  As Cher noted on Wednesday, this is not complaining about rain, or work, just commenting that with each rain comes the need to cultivate any un-mulched ground (believe me, we’ll be mulching some more soon) and knock back the sprouting weeds before those small things grow so much bigger.

weeds long

The really good thing about frequent cultivation is that it keeps the gardeners eyes on the garden, on the small things.  We notice early infestations before they grow larger.  We notice that the texture or moisture of the soil on one end of a bed is different from that on the other end.  Our regular attention makes the garden more successful.  Attention is one of those invisible things with a large effect.

If we’re fortunate, we’ll notice some things in our garden that bring us joy.  For me, it’s the chamomile.  After several botched attempts, we’ve finally got a nice patch of chamomile in the garden.  It’s such a lovely plant.  The flowers and leaves are both delicate, but the effect on tummy aches and tension isn’t small at all.  Just smelling it puts me at ease.  Interesting, too, that Nature (the science journal) just published a piece about Neanderthals eating chamomile 50,000 years ago.  My appreciation for that pretty little plant are a drop in the bucket of the continuum of hominid history.


The five new turkey chicks are bigger than chamomile flowers, but still count as small things – they’re sure smaller than they will be!  Two grey, two black, and one white (a piece of surprise genetics, must be a white grandparent back there somewhere) hatched this week from our most experienced hen.  The cute and curious little furry peepers draw our attention to their coop several times a day.

chicks 2

So I notice about small things, especially those imbued with LIFE, that the presence they contain is not reflective of their physical size.  Anyone who has been near a newborn baby can relate to this.  Newborns are so small, but it’s hard to take your eyes off them.  They are the center of attention and their energetic presence (even as they sleep) is just as large, if not larger, than the bigger folks around.

When I spend time with my children, and really give my attention to them, I can sometimes glimpse a memory of that newness in myself.  We were small things once.  The world was that new to each and every one of us.cute

Truth be told, we’re still pretty small.  Under the large dark summer sky, it does me good to remember how little I am, and how tiny the whole human family is in the face of the universe.  In the light of day, the whole universe expresses itself some more, made of many small things.

getting around to it

Finally, we re-planted the strawberry bed.  We’ve been without strawberries for two seasons and were really feeling like ninnies.  Having strawberries fruiting during the thick of planting season is as good as a babysitter.  Lulah spent hours in the strawberry bed when she was smaller and I got a lot of work done.

One year the mulch thinned too much, the weeds got out of control, and we mowed the whole bed, just to pull it back together.  Amazingly, the mowing timed out just right and the strawberry plants sprung up refreshed from the low cutting and bore wonderfully the next Spring.

We tried mowing about the same time the next year, and the whole bed died.

We got too busy to re-plant the bed that Fall, and then it got away from us the next Spring.  You know how it goes.  Things get away.

After the strawberries were set and doing well, a nice sized oak tree behind our house pitched over in one of these windy rainstorms.  Since the ground has been too saturated to work in the garden, we took the opportunity to inoculate some shiitake logs.  Another job that had gotten away from us for several years.

big tree down

Our last attempt was not well organized and our logs dried out too much before we got the spores.  Then the spore-plunger-thingy that we borrowed was not working as it ought and everything went slow.  There were a couple of flushes of nice mushrooms before the logs began to rot in earnest, or get colonized by other forms of fungus.

With all the rain as of late, these logs were anything but dry, and the Mushroom People were very prompt in their shipment (we opted to pay for plugs instead of sawdust inoculant this time), AND our children took an interest in the project.  Levon hammered an amazing amount of plugs into the logs while our awesome 7 year old Lulah took on the task of waxing each and every hole in the logs with great diligence and accuracy.  The time went quickly and another small homesteading victory was won.

waxing levon hammers

When the drizzle continued an extra day, the house was too small for us and there was still nothing to be done in the sopping wet ground, so we wandered the hillside picking violets (both flowers and leaves) and cleavers (before they go into full bloom) to refresh our home medicine closet.  It was a joy to look closely at this little chunk of land we tend, and venture into some of the wild and weedy places we may not always notice in the busy-ness of keeping everything else going.


Cleavers and violets are both fantastic herbs.  They have – “low chronic toxicity” – a phrase I’ve come to love, which simply means that they won’t have nasty side cumulative effects if you use them regularly.  We use cleavers in tincture form as a tonic for the lymphatic system.  There’s an anti-inflammatory component to them, too.  Violets, sweet beautiful little shade-loving violets, are also anti-inflammatory, but more importantly to us, they are an expectorant.  There are a great many very safe and under-appreciated herbs in our local flora, and we do our best to study them and use them wisely.


It’s small stuff, all this.  Strawberries and mushrooms.  Violets and cleavers.  But it indicates something larger to me.  We’re getting around to things.

There are these sweet little books, put out by the Gesell Institute, about child development.  (Your Six Year Old, Your Three Year Old, etc.).  I’ve read a few of them in the process of puzzling through my children’s education, behavior and development.  One concept used in those books that I’ve come to appreciate is that of a spiraling developmental trajectory.  Louise Bates Ames (author of the books) writes:

“Child behavior, for all reasonably normal children, does develop in a relatively patterned way.  Stages of equilibrium tend to be followed by stages of disequilibrium, which usually occur before a child can reach a succeeding and more mature, stage of equilibrium.  And stages or ages of inwardized behavior tend to alternate with stages of outwardized or expansive behavior.”

Like so.


graphic from The Center for Parenting Education, link above

It’s not hard to see that life and time are not purely linear in form.  It stands to reason too, that the cycling doesn’t suddenly end at age 12 or 18.  Surely we continue to ride this little sine wave of development for our whole lives.  Maybe it slows down, or we just don’t notice it as strongly (perhaps because we do not scrutinize ourselves as much as do our children?), but the patterns of contraction and expansion are going on all the time, inside us and all around us.

That’s what I feel when I see the jars of tincture, the stacked logs waiting in the shade, the first strawberry blossoms, the tall cover crops ready to make a new garden.  I feel like we, as a family perhaps, have just made the transit of another developmental cycle.  We pushed hard, went into disequilibrium, learned some lessons, and grew through it towards the place we want to be.  Here in the beautiful home we’re constantly making.

tall cover crops

We can enjoy the plateau while it lasts, until we hit another learning curve. One of the tricks to maintaining a deeper equilibrium, I suppose, is being content in knowing that we are never completely static, never perfect, that there is always room to grow, improve, change.

In this moment of relative equilibrium, it is deeply satisfying to take the time to do these smaller jobs and see them through.  It feels strengthening on a cellular, soul level.   A to-do list with everything checked off makes for a good night’s sleep.

Have a good weekend.  I hope you get around to things, and rest well.