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Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Ghosts of the past

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Tuesday evening post dust storm sunset

Time to reflect. Last weekend was hot and humid. Tuesday ushered in a wall of dust and low humidity. My Covid-19 mask was used as a dust mask. Wednesday was cooler but the heat is returning for an encore. Going to be a very hot, dry June.

After three wasps stung my husband on his arm, the frantic discussion turned to what to do with the wasp nest no one knew was there. The clever crew had constructed their nest inside the plastic owl decoy on a pole by the house. Something set them off, otherwise we’d never have known about the nest. Had to be the heat.

The red paper wasp (black wings, red body) has an aggressive nature which earns respect. Within the colony the social wasps are gentle. They chew plant fibers to create an upside-down paper umbrella for the eggs. The wasp queen produces over half the offspring, but other females contribute. The honey bee queen is the exclusive egg layer.

If we waited until it got cooler, the wasps could be moved in November. Next option was the post-sunset surprise approach. The wasps usually retreat to their humble abode as darkness sets. A thick plastic bag was inverted over the owl and bunched around the bottom. The owl, buzzing with intense activity, was slipped off the pole. It was quickly moved to a grassy area and placed under a redcedar. The plastic was pulled off and my buddy took off like a scalded cat. Wasn’t going to let them sting him again. Wasp queens often share nests in spring. Two days later the owl on the ground was empty of wasps.

The day held other surprises. The Plumeria needed to come out of the greenhouse heat of 115 degrees. Not far from the greenhouse a wood base was built to keep the plant upright. The eight-foot-tall Plumeria was top heavy and tended to fall over. In the process of hoisting the plant up over the threshold, the main growth stem, full of leaves, snapped off. The decapitated but very streamlined Plumeria was wedged within the braces. The leafy stem was planted in semi-shade next to a pineapple top with the hopes both will root and grow.

The last plant, the five-foot tall avocado, was moved outdoors by the raised bed. Don’t get excited. The raised bed has gone wild with rampant blue lobelia interspersed with wild lettuce and onions. If I have a garden, it resides in two Earth Boxes overflowing with tomato plants. Should have thinned the heirlooms. The potato vines to the east are dying. But….

The leeks. Last year the leeks produced foliage. This year the rangy plants are blooming, attracting a variety of pollinators, especially bumble bees. Next to the leeks, growing in the metal stock tank/converted giant planter is the minty bee balm (Monarda sp) with serious intentions to tower over the sunflowers.

The new fig tree to the east has eleven figs, count them, eleven. The green pear-shaped fruits get larger every day. Yum. May even inspire the older fig bush to at least stay alive.

What’s with the worms.? They seem to be committing mass suicide. The past week dead worms litter the hard surfaces. It is mating season. Worms breath through their skin which must remain moist. The hermaphroditic worms surface and pair off, but some get caught off guard, dry up and become hard dry coils. What a way to end. Kind of like the male spider being eaten after having his fun with the lady.

The milkweeds at the Japanese Garden are being watered during this indefinite hot, dry spell. We connected with some of our walking friends who have been coming to the track for years. They often saw us as we worked in the garden. One lady helped uncoil a hose and talked about her husband who used to bike and walk, but no longer. The older man had two shih tzus but now walks one. The young athlete said he’d rather be in the garden than the real world because God started the world in a garden. Seems we all share a history.

Time to explore family history….in air conditioning. The red genealogy book was dusted off. I have pestered relatives for years about family. Most are now gone. My mom, steeped in family lore, was the glue of our family. After she died, pretenses were dropped and the family drifted away with their memories. My mission is to dig up the ancestors, figuratively speaking.

Connecting with others obsessing over their family trees is exciting but challenging. I joined Ancestry.com for a DNA test which confirmed my European heritage. The unknown relatives now coming on board have new info. The task of coordinating all the particulars involves attention to detail and dates.

A photo of my mother taken during her school days showed up in one family tree. I have few pictures of her family. Her father died before I was born. On my dad’s side, the picture of my grandfather’s people taken during the funeral of my great-grandmother included eight sons and daughters (out of 13). Everybody but the kids wore black. A picture in another tree presented both my great grandparents at a much earlier time. So that is what Malissa looked like! Another tree posted a photo of my grandfather. Never knew him. My aunt was keeper of the family pictures, but she married a man with children from another marriage. She died, he married a third time and the photos vanished.

That’s the way it is with genealogy. One guy married six times, typhoid fever killed four children in one family living in Indian Territory, my grandfather and Elvis were both born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and one ancestor lived to 111 years of age. Elizabeth and Thomas are very common names. Storekeepers, railroad men, teachers, farmers and alcoholics have appeared. In one quote, the ancestor drunk could run a store better than others sober. His daughter collected every bottle opener inscribed with a beer name and locked them in a drawer never to be used. Another relative was the record keeper with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He took a downhill spiral into the bottle. Then there is the respected judge in Missouri, the North Carolina relative who left beau coup land and possessions listed in an elaborate ten page will, and those who served in the military.

My newest quest is to find the Sardinians. According to DNA results, one percent is from Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Now that’s exotic and mysterious.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.