I live in a conundrum. When our kitchen counter begins to pile up with unread mail, pens, coffee cups, rounded stones from an emptied pocket, and too many onions and apples spilling out of baskets, I get to work. Tidy up. Clean. Order. Simplify. Scrub.

Then, I return to my desk in front of the window and gaze upon the tangled, jumbled, and layered abundance of our pollinator and songbird garden. Slide open the glass and through the screen I listen to the sear-your-heart harmony of Lesser Goldfinches.

Bees hum upon purple aster bouquets crowding the walkway. My attention is diverted by chickadees, nuthatches, flickers, hummingbirds, juncos, and the latest fall arrivals, like a fox sparrow among fallen leaves below a manzanita. The yard has begun to go to seed, yet the daytime temperatures still soar into the 70s and rain is slow to come our way

Lesser Goldfinches feasting on evening primrose seeds in our garden- October 16, 2022

Sauntering into thickets of cone flowers, bunchgrass, goldenrod, aster, sunflowers, evening primrose, brown-eyed Susans, milkweed, yarrow, and blanketflowers, I often gasp at the tenacity of life. A six-foot-tall sunflower leans so far over, the blooms skim the ground, and still the yellow petals open to the sun far above. One plant supports another as if offering a shoulder.

“In the past, we have asked one thing of our gardens: that they be pretty. Now they have to support life, sequester carbon, feed pollinators and manage water.”

Every day I learn the elegance of disarray. I puzzle over relationships of flower, seedhead, and fruit; of spider, wasp, bee, and beetle; of least chipmunk, sagebrush lizard, and Douglas squirrel; and the daily lives of birds that guide me to all that makes this garden surrounded by pines a refuge.

Our walkway in September (before a wee bit of trimming for easier entry)

Inside, I find mental clarity with a lessening of clutter. There’s a satisfaction in recycling paper, vacuuming up dust and dog hair from the rug, and picking up all that is random, scattered, heaped, and tossed. I remind myself of the mantra, “live simply so others may simply live.”

Outside? I embrace the interweavings in the way of a Spotted Towhee’s hidden ground nest framed in leaves, stems, and strips of bark; and lined in rootlets, pine needles, and animal hair. I measure fecundity in their fledglings raised on beetles, caterpillars, moths, spiders, bees, and wasps. Watching one, two, or even three towhees of our yard scruffing their elongate toes in lava soil for tasty morsels, I am startled by their eyes like smoldering wildfire.

Spotted Towhee (Image from All About Birds)

Where is the balance between order and disarray? I believe when it comes to self-willed nature, we must let go of our propensities for tidying up. Notice how fallen trees in streams shelter fish in deep pools; the drums of flickers and hairy woodpeckers feasting upon insects within dead trees; and the way a bumblebee slumbers at night in the cupped bed of a mountain hollyhock bloom. Underfoot, tree roots are talking in a language of reciprocity within their mycorrhizal network. Scientists continue to reveal hidden world upon hidden world….and the message? Be humble. May our actions be in relationship. We are kin.

Bumblebee sleeps in a native mountain hollyhock blossom just outside our kitchen window


Tips for Offering a Refuge to Wildlife

Choose native plants as much as possible (we do have a mix). Make use of National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder to link your choices to caterpillar hosts.

Strive for blooming plants from spring through fall and bushes with berries–always a smorgasbord for pollinators and both resident and migratory birds.

Brush piles and rock piles offer homes and shelter for wildlife.

Water is important! We keep fresh water baths, and in this arid central Oregon landscape we selectively water plants, while striving for conservation, too. (Our native plants are adapted to xeric habitats).

In fall, don’t cut down the standing flower stalks –leave them for sheltering birds and hibernating insects.

To fence or not to fence? We do fence our front yard to keep out the mule deer, but they have plenty to eat in our open backyard of manzanita, ceanothus, bitterbrush, and currants below the ponderosas.

Keep cats indoors–safe for the cats and safe for the birds.

Place parachute cords down the outside of your windows 4-5 inches apart to prevent bird collisions.

Turn exterior lights off at night. Lights disorient migratory birds and lead to collisions, too, plus the lights cause the death of many moths. See this: Lights Out.

Certify your yard as backyard wildlife habitat. Join Doug Tallamy’s Homegrown National Park. Share plants with your neighbors. And..here’s a link to how our garden started--from old lawn, thistles, and cheatgrass to this elegant disarray.

Bumblebee on native purple aster in our yard
A chewed and tattered leaf is a good leaf! Insects are essential to life.
White-headed Woodpecker young male peeking up from a lava stone–once again we were graced by a family. This species depends overall on big intact forests with plenty of tall ancient snags–increasingly rare, because of commercial logging
Lesser Goldfinch on evening primrose
Yellowjacket upside down on sunflower leaf
Blanketflower seedhead
Goldenrod -gone to seed!
Native milkweed seeds about to go aloft on their silken parachutes. Monarch butterfly caterpillars depend on this plant.
Natiive bumblebee on sunflower–most of our sunflowers planted by birds
Hummingbird mint flower–the brightest bloom in our garden right now–the Rufous Hummingbirds have left and the Anna’s Hummingbirds are still here seeking nectar
A sculpted tree’s afterlife–giving life to birds ( in a nearby forest)