Working at a property on the shore of Lake Burton this week, I helped plant a thousand perennials; beside--and between--long runs of stepping stones that run from the driveway to the boat house, out back; around the stones in the hillside; in the beds bordering; amongst the larger plants we planted, earlier this year.

We top-dressed the areas around the new plantings adjacent to the walkways with pine bark fines; a delicate mulch suited for small plants, fines help to retain moisture, and let the beds and plantings meet the eye with pleasant contrast.

I lift the branchings with one hand, and apply the fines with the other, spreading the mulch evenly before freeing the branchings.

I do these things as fast as possible, without thinking, relying on muscle memory to complete one, as I look to another.

I've performed these steps hundreds of thousands of times, with gloves, and without; mostly without, as I rely on my tactile sense to carry me further, faster, my eyes looking to the next steps in the process.

On Tuesday, it was a flurry of activity.

As I was working my way down the steps, adding mulch to areas that needed it, I raised my right hand to grab more mulch from the bag I carried with me, and a glob of mulch came with me, sticking like a cocklebur pod to a cotton sleeve.

"Shake it off!", my muscles said, without thinking; things just happen without thought, at times.

"Scritch...scratch...nibble...scratch...", the feedback, active; something other than a passive rider.

"Don't come between a mother and her offspring" I have heard said, now knowing just what a statement does mean.

Momma (as wide as a golf ball, and half as high) tried Her best to defend herself and the marble-sized egg case I dislodged in my absent-minded gripping. Seeking defense in offense, She attempted to get my attention with Her pincers, only to be met with the leather of my skin, hardened by years of gloveless effort.

The memory of my feeling that scraping lives with me now, and I will always feel it.

I retrieved the egg case, and tossed it back to Her like a soccer ball, and She deftly retrieved it; putting Her pincers to good use, She gripped it close, still, furtive, unsure in Her own shock to what had just transpired.

She sat still long enough for me to collect the picture I share with you, now.


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