It’s morning in Birdland, and I’m sitting on the porch with the two dogs and the cat. It will warm up today, but just now, I feel a pleasant, damp chill in the air. Birds trill and tweet and screech and chirp and rustle and warble.

Cullen, the brown dog, stands at attention, his nose quivering as he looks handsomely into the distance. Ursula, the black dog, lies with one paw hanging off the edge of the porch.

The past few nights, we have watched the light show of fireflies over our yard. Our longish grass and areas of flowers and natural weeds we have cultivated seem to have nurtured them. The corn is up, giving the whole area an emerald glow, but the fireflies are not so numerous over the corn.

We are mostly between blooms. The iris and peonies have faded, just some crumpled petals. The redbud, lilac and ornamental quince are just a memory.

But our yucca plants have sent up their snake-headed shoots, like giant asparagus. Soon, they will be dripping with a framework of fragrant white bells, tinkling in the breeze like a chandelier.

The leaves of ghost lilies have wilted, falling to the ground suddenly to yellow and decay. It will be a while before they make their second appearance of the summer.

Mulberries have come suddenly, even on my tiny trees in my corner meadow. We pruned them so they will stay short. I don’t want them to shade the meadow.

Michael’s roses have one bloom and another bud. My husband surprised me with a circular bed of roses in the middle of my meadow while I was away in China. They didn’t make it through the winter, so we bought five more, this time paying careful attention to the growing zone.

We try different plants, and sometimes they work. The other day, walking in my winding path through the meadow (my morning meditation), I spotted a couple of clumps of red amidst the sprouting goldenrod: sweet William! One of my favorites from childhood. It was the first I remember cross pollinating the different colors and then saving the seeds to see what new colors would come in the spring. I plant flowers along the edges of my path, but never in the middle. I don’t know where it came from, unless it was from a packet of old seeds I threw into the meadow to see what would grow.

A big bumble bee hovers at the edge of the porch then darts away. When we nurture an ecology, we can expect many visitors. Some we need to give respect to, but if I don’t bother that bumblebee (as I have done in the past by clumsily stepping on a nest I didn’t know was there), she most likely won’t bother me.

My students in China have created an ecology where there was nothing but turf grass with their composting project. I asked my colleague, Dr. F., to estimate how much food waste they have redirected to the student farm. He said it was about 7,000 kilograms. I’m so proud of them!

They meet in pairs to bring totes of kitchen scraps from the canteen across campus to the student farm. There they dump the scraps, rake and hoe to mix the compost. Then they cover it and take a “thumbs up” picture to post to their WeChat to show they have done their cheerful duty. Sometimes they take pictures of the life that springs up from the decay: a little green frog; a strange beetle; last week, a Chinese red-headed centipede. It was about eight inches long. The picture was startling and exciting. These creatures are venomous. (“Be careful!” warns Dr. F. on the WeChat.)

The Wikipedia description made it sound like a hornet sting, painful but not life threatening. But these creatures are also used in cancer research, so give a gift to humanity. Although sometimes an ecology grows creatures we may not want to encounter, we should treat them with quiet respect.

But more than insects grow in our new compost pile. Last week’s pictures also brought vines: pumpkin and watermelon! The watermelon is just beginning to sprout, but the pumpkin has already grown up over a fence with several blooms. One has become a shiny green pumpkin the size of a tennis ball. With any luck, I’ll be back to China in time to harvest it and show my students how to carve a Jack O’Lantern.

Welcome Beauty; Embrace Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays teaches writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Zhejiang University in Haining, China. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at or via snail mail care of the Journal-Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856.

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