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Six-foot cocktails in the garden eased our lockdown

In March of 2020, with the pandemic so new and all, we took to the garden. Searching out warm spots where the sun poked through often-cloudy skies, we sat and let the winter sun warm our backs.

The very first of spring flowers had made their appearance with tulips, daffodils, daphne and bleeding heart. Every so often a faint fragrance from our old lilac would drift across our patio.

Meanwhile COVID-19 raged in New York City, and we began to count the odd case in Jackson County. Our calendar for March recorded 15,000 cases in our country. Sometime a little later, as the yard began its seasonal “greening,” we noticed what looked like small green leaves twisting and turning as they were blown about by the wind.

A closer look revealed they were small green grubs wriggling and twisting as they were wafted by spring breezes. A Google search revealed they were oak leaf caterpillars that live on oak trees and emerge in spring. We had lived here nine plus years and had never noticed them. The pandemic, it appears, sometimes causes a closer look at the small world around us.

In April, with the pandemic figures rising to 353,012 cases in the U.S. and 1,299,930 in the world — and a mere 37 in Jackson County — we cautiously began what we termed “six-foot cocktails.” Usually, two friends would come through the side gate and sit at a designated table. They would bring their own drinks or wine and even snacks.

We were very careful and stayed 6 to 10 feet apart and never hugged or even touched each other’s things. People would often just sigh as they sat down enjoying our trees and green space along with a myriad of early spring flowers: daisies, peonies and roses just beginning their ascendancy.

As summer approached the yard was full of any number of creatures. Every lover of Rogue waste seed was on display: finches, sparrows, scrub jays, northern flickers, acorn woodpeckers and many others. As the six-foot cocktail parties continued with certain guests totally dive-bombed by hummingbirds, we began to wonder if we needed a control tower installed. Innumerable bird baths were taken, with birds even lining up for a chance at the bath.

During this time we noticed a mouse family had moved into our rock wall. One group would dart in and out of the wall grabbing spilled seed at amazing speeds. Some of our guests even thanked us for the “mouse floor show.”

The garden forced its last blooms as we drifted into autumn. Meanwhile the pandemic roared across the world. Cooler days limited opportunities for guests in the garden. Suddenly the yard was a waste of fallen leaves and browning plants and dried stalks. We began cleaning up the garden with some sadness as the cold days began. The garden seemed as desolate as the daily news. The last day in the garden brought one last afternoon with friends — a New Year’s Eve celebration with ski wear, blankets and mulled wine.

As we cleaned up the patio one last time, we considered living through the singular health crisis in over 100 years. We remembered that old adage “Gardeners live longer awaiting another spring” and felt a small spark of hope.

Julie Crites lives in Medford.

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