Monday, April 16, 2018

just two cheerful snaps

 A White-throated Sparrow, perched in the sugar maple sapling just outside my window. I saw the first flash of yellow last week and have been hoping to get a decent photograph ever since. Today, this little bird provided several.

This fragile stem has been rooting in water after a recent horrible mishap involving a very large potted begonia and a windowsill. This morning I was surprised by the sudden appearance of a perfect flower.

I hope your week is off to a pleasant start.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

saturday snaps

Lately, there's been so much this.
If it's not raining, I try to comb cashmere for two hours in the morning
and one or two hours in the afternoon.

Today, though, being Saturday, there was no morning combing. I needed that time to gather up rubbish and recycling from the barns and the house and take it to the dump.

This afternoon I could have combed, as it was overcast but not raining. But Piper deserved some quality time with a person not too pooped to be good company.
We headed for the woods.

Funny thing: you know how a dog will jump up when the car keys jingle? Well today, Piper didn't wait for that. She jumped up when she saw me put a sketchbook and paints and brushes in a little pile.

We spent nearly two hours wandering around.
Trying to keep our feet dry. (Mostly me.)
Smelling things. (Mostly Piper.)

It was perfect light for soaking up colors.
Striped Maple buds looked almost black next to the deep green stems:

A single partridgeberry:

Color and texture:
I generally take many photographs of bark.

So today I also tried painting some bark.
Red oak, hemlock, and black birch:

Before I could add a fourth species, the sky suddenly grew darker and the temperature dropped. So Piper and I packed up and headed briskly out, just making it home in time to cover the hay. It was a very good couple of hours.

Piper had a grand time, even during the few minutes that I was painting. We have reached an agreement about how close a dog's head should be to a watercolor.

This close:


Sunday, April 8, 2018

a sketchy week in review

Early in the week, so much snow had melted in the woods that the partridgeberry was visible again. So refreshing to see that occasional glint of red on the forest floor!

Then, it snowed and hailed and rained and snowed.

There were thunderstorms. Gusting winds.
Branches came down.
The power went out twice in 12 hours.

Then we had a sunny day!

On the sunny day, I took a break from combing goats. Although it was still cold and windy, I dusted off my sketching chair and headed to the woods with Piper.

We walked in, then Piper trotted around while I set up my chair, unpacked my watercolor pencils, got settled in and started to work.

But...Piper was so excited to be out in the woods, she kept coming back to me, dropping her head - thud! - onto my sketchbook, and looking up at me, grinning. Seeing her so happy made me happy, too, so I put the sketchbook away and brought out the treats instead.

Outdoor sketching can wait.
I still have lots of photographs to work with.

And nighttime sketching is good.
The trickiest part is staying awake.

I don't know where this weekend went,
but I hope you all had a good one!


Friday, April 6, 2018

now you see it

now you don't!

If you happened to see the horrendous comment that was up for a couple of hours recently, my apologies. Very few slip through the net, and in fact, there's been a remarkably low level of ugliness on this blog over the years.

My guests are just The Nicest People!

So this may have been a one-off. If it becomes a recurrent thing, I will have to implement "administrator approval" for comments, as do many of you on your own blogs. We'll see.

Further seediness:

Attention Tess, Winner of Seeds: I have no way of contacting you directly! Please send me your mailing address and choice of seed - Winter or Summer squash. If I don't hear from you by Saturday, a full week after the drawing, I will assume you have also won a trip to Tahiti - hey, congrats!!! - and are going there instead of planting a garden this year.

Also in Seed world: here's the link to Tipper's giveaway in case you missed it. Ends tomorrow, 7 April.


Are we ready for the weekend?

Let's hope for a little less of this:

and a lot more of this:


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

another giveaway - right now

Guess what!

Tipper over at Blind Pig and the Acorn is giving away two more Sow True Seed squash seeds packets in a drawing today! Click that link to get over there and leave a comment. Good luck!


Sunday, April 1, 2018

now appearing

The tulips I hastily planted in the new raised bed on 15 November 2017 are beginning to appear! Snow predicted tomorrow, then days of rain.

But today: tulips.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

and the winners are

The sun has been shining all day and I'm heading back outside for another round of cashmere combing. But I didn't forget about the Sow True Seed giveaway!

Here's the result: 

The winners are Spinnerin and Tess!

Please send me your mailing address (q.piper at hotmail dot com) and tell me whether you'd like the Summer squash or the Winter squash. I'll try to get the seeds in the mail this week.

Happy planting!


Friday, March 30, 2018

someone else's photograph

Sometimes lately I've drawn or painted from another person's photograph, always after asking permission from the photographer. Usually it's something posted on twitter. The good folks working at Kew Garden post lots of interesting plants, for example.

Last night, a writer - Michael Marshall Smith - posted a photograph of a plant I have never seen growing in the wild. I became a bit obsessed with trying to get the feeling of that photograph onto paper. I did not succeed, but at least gave it a few good tries over two days! Here is the sequence in order of appearance:

Many times after I finish a sketch I think of another way to approach the subject. This time I actually did it. But it's still not satisfying.
Also, don't know if sharing this will make an interesting post.
Don't feel that you have to say something nice in the comments - really.

P.S. There are still a few hours left to enter the giveaway.
I'll do the random number generator thing after midnight tonight.
Good luck, gardeners, or friends of gardeners!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

always learning

There is a tendency to see things as larger than they are, especially when it comes to wildlife. And memories can grow, as well. One rarely, I think, remembers a hawk or a bear or a spider as smaller than it really was.


This morning, glancing out the porch window, I was astonished to see two otter-shaped creatures bounding around in the Upper West Side. Look right at the center of this image (left-click to embiggen):

They must be fishers,
because there is nothing else they can be.

I have seen fishers before, although not often and only once close enough to examine - an adult female that had been killed by a car, retrieved by a biologist, and thoughtfully stored in the refrigerator in my office. Hello.

Fishers, in my experience, are somewhat larger than ferrets.

These two were much bigger than ferrets. They were very similar in size to large otters! As my mind clickety-clicked through the possibilities - are they both unusually large males? are their winter coats making them appear bigger than they are? - I decided a combination of the open area and bright snow must be distorting my perception. Because, unlike even the muted tones you can see in these images, the high contrast of snow and dark animal meant all I was actually seeing was solid black silhouettes.

I was working hard at convincing myself that the "big animal" thing was just a trick of the eye, but then...

one of the critters began walking straight up to the corner of the fence closest to the house, maybe 15 feet away.
And I said, "It can't be a fisher - it's huge!"

Normally when something this unusual happens, I focus on paying attention instead of trying to get photographs. But this time - feeling that my sanity might later be in question - I tried to do both, hence these poor-quality images of two fishers - the first I have ever seen on my property.

One fisher was startled by something and loped down the paddock and across the road. The other ambled around for a while before heading out of sight, up my driveway. I quickly pulled on boots and went out to look for tracks in the morning's dusting of fresh snow.

And found a perfect set.
If you imagine a head added to the front and a big tail added to the back of those tracks, you get a pretty good idea of actual animal size.

Apparently fishers can be a lot bigger than I thought!
I have learned something new today.

How is your Sunday going?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


It's been a while since I've done a giveaway here on Comptonia, but something came in the mail today that seems like a perfect Thing To Share.

I've mentioned the Sow True Seed company before. I like this company a lot, both their mission and their catalog, and I'm grateful to Tipper from The Blind Pig and The Acorn blog for sending me their way. Sow True Seed is a big part of the annual adventure in sweat and emotion I call "gardening."

This year, in response to a rather challenging winter which is ongoing, I have already ordered my seeds, including lettuce and candy roaster squash and little short-season melons.

These squash seeds are not actually part of my order, but I have a couple of packets to share. If you think you would like to win a packet of either variety, just leave a comment on this blogpost. Any comment will do, but if you include a gardening tip it will count as a second entry - we all need all the gardening tips we can get, don't we?

Please feel free to share this in any way and with anyone you think might be interested. I don't mind folks just dropping in to Comptonia to enter a giveaway. I'll draw two winners at midnight on March 30th and post the names on March 31st.

Seeds! Just a little something to help turn the page on the month of March.

And...ahem, coughcough...not to make a fuss about it but... you happen to know the person who painted the watercolors for the seed packets.

Monday, March 19, 2018


We haven't had new snow in 4 days!
And no snow is predicted until - oh rats.
I was going to type "Saturday" because yesterday the forecast called for a clear week. But I stopped typing to check, and found we are expecting 6-8 inches on Wednesday.

Still. One more clear day!

The snow is still deep. The paths are all packed down and nearly as slippery as ice, so I often just walk through the snow. Especially if I'm carrying buckets, or hay.

Only one gate is functioning now; the rest are snowed in and frozen shut. On Friday, I had to heave a bale of hay over a fence for the goats, then climb over after it and push the bale under the deck on the stilt barn, so it would be protected from rain or snow.
This may not sound like much, but these days, it was quite an athletic feat for me.

Speaking of goats...guess what time it is?

Yes, cashmere harvesting season has begun.
Slowly. It will pick up soon enough, so I am making an effort to do as much combing as possible now to help get ahead of the long push that I know is coming.

When I bring bags of cashmere into the house, I leave the tops open in case there is moisture in the fiber. But the other morning before I was fully awake, I heard an odd rustling sound coming from the table on the porch. I dozily wondered what could be making that sound, then came fully awake with a snap as I remembered the bags of cashmere carefully placed in a plastic carrier on the table. I saw a flash of white as Della hopped off the chair where she had been sitting, busily rearranging cashmere.

The evidence:

I'll have to find a better place for the bags.
Della and Moxie are Wild Girls.

Ms. Piper has also been on a bit of a tear recently!
Raiding the rubbish while I am asleep. Stealing the plastic container of joint supplements and eating ALL of them. Taking off into the woods so frequently that I am now putting a lead on her even to walk down and check the letterbox.
And here's what a cat's little dish looks like when Piper has managed to get to it, two minutes after eating her own big bowl of food:

Maybe it's just cabin fever?

I think I must have the opposite of cabin fever. I've spent the past three days shuffling around, recovering from the longest trip I've made in ages; very worthwhile, but physically grueling.

I left for Maine at 3:45 AM Friday, to visit a cashmere goat expert and try to learn a bit more about this thing I am doing. And it turned out to be four intensely focused hours of information and experience. It was excellent.

You know how sometimes it's the busiest, most knowledgeable person who is willing to generously share their valuable time and superpowers?
It was like that.

One half-hour of the day, I declared "my vacation in Maine."
Here is the sketch to prove it.

When I got home, I knew my Occasional Helper had already done both the morning and evening chores as arranged beforehand, despite this being his month "off." Words cannot convey the gratitude I felt - to arrive home after a 16-hour day, utterly exhausted, and know that there were no chores to be done before I could go to bed.
I did take a quiet walk around with a flashlight, to see each animal and say goodnight. But it was just a pure luxury.

Reliving my Vacation In Maine.
That half-hour has already inspired two sketches.

Which reminds me, I haven't done my daily markmaking and it's getting late, so time to post this and get the sketchbook before I fall asleep. Sleep is a good thing, and if we're likely to have snow on Wednesday, tomorrow will be a busy day.

I hope all is well in your neck of the woods!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

postcard from this morning


And blowing.

I'm very happy when the occasional gust take some of the snow from the trees.
The less weight on the trees, the easier I feel.

Despite the dense snowfall, birds have been busy at the feeder since before daylight. Right now there are at least two dozen taking turns: woodpeckers, goldfinches, juncos, cardinals, titmice. They are not even wasting time warning each other off the feeder - just eating as fast as they can.

I put a loop of 6-foot fence around the feeder a few days ago, to keep the chickens out from under it. They were ignoring their own bowl and eating up all the millet I put on a platform and on the ground for the wild birds. Bonus: the fence is providing lots of great perching opps. Not very nice to look at, but as a first attempt at any new experimental design, I always go for function over elegance ;)

I have doubts about how clear these images will be, but I'm not going to edit them. I want you to experience the full dim and murky effect of this, the third big storm in what seems, unbelievably, like only a couple of weeks.

It seems like it because it is.

I don't mind telling you, I brought out the serious reinforcements for this one. Not just the extra hay and prepping the barns the night before. Not just filling water jugs in case we lose power.


This time I went to the grocery store and bought:

and ginger beer.

I also made a roast yesterday and cooked a pound of pasta,
because I am a grown-up.

But it's the ginger beer that will get me through.