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.



Monday, March 12, 2018

into a new week

Hold onto your hat, Ms. Piper!

Apparently we are to expect more of this in the middle of the week:

I don't think I'll be putting away my high boots any time soon.


Meanwhile, in the "Spring will come!" department: my order from Sow True Seed has arrived, with all my 2018 vegetable seeds except pole beans and turnips, because STS doesn't carry the varieties I've chosen. I also bought flower seeds when they were on sale at a local store: zinnias and sunflowers. Color? Yes, please.

This year I plan to start several things indoors from seed, so I won't be tempted to buy plants. (Unless I find that amazing, velvety, nearly-brown Rudbeckia again. If I ever find that again, I will certainly buy it.) The last time I started a few vegetables indoors, we had a wet, cold Spring and they got leggy before I could transplant. Fingers crossed for an easier transition this year.

It seems like a long time before we'll be seeing flowers in the gardens here in Massachusetts, so I've been sketching flowers from photographs. Like these primroses:

And this iris.

I've been trying to draw an iris for several years now.
I think this is as close as I've come to being satisfied with the result.
Not very satisfied.
Will keep trying!

And finally, this is a terrible photograph, but I'm sharing it with you because it's also wonderful: the first bluebird I've seen on my property.


Here's hoping for a week of wonderful firsts!

And wishing a huge snowfall to my friends in Colorado.


Thursday, March 8, 2018


It's that quiet, pre-dawn time when the world outside my window has very little color. Ordinarily, it is a view of very dark shades, with light gradually increasing.
This morning, it's reversed: nearly greyscale, with a strong emphasis on the light end of the spectrum.


The first birds - a cardinal and a titmouse - have caught my eye as a flicker of motion in an otherwise still, east-to-west panorama. The birds are silhouettes, swooping to the thin branches of shrubs now arched with a heavy burden of snow.

When there is this much snow balanced in narrow ridges on even the tiniest of branches, you can be sure there is quite a lot on the ground.

The goats will be in no hurry to start their day.
Nor am I, really, though Moxie and Della will have something to say about that.

But the wild birds have been busy at the feeder for a good while already.
And now it is light enough to see them as more than a silhouette. 

Good morning!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

saturday already

This has been a busy week. Wildly variable weather means any day which is above freezing and not raining is a day to Get Things Done Outside.

Also, a day to take Piper for a little walk.

One cold but sunny day we walked in this hay meadow.
Makes a change from our usual woodsy walks.

There's a tiny wetland (a big shallow puddle) at the lower end.

The meadow is public property but is surrounded by homes with horses and dogs, so Piper was on lead the whole time and therefore I have no pictures of her.

Well, I tried, but they all look like this:


At home, The Flock has made the most of every non-precipitating hour. Already there are patches of suddenly-clear earth where they have scratched and pecked away the covering of semi-frozen, decaying leaves.

This may not be a great thing for wintering plants, since any perennial crown is left exposed to the rest of Winter, beginning with the snow and sleet we have had since this picture was taken.

I need to make a pen for the chickens, but I always hate to do it as they generally have run of the place within the perimeter fence.
Still, they must be contained when gardening begins, else they will cheerily scratch up and eat every planted seed. So "build chicken pen" goes on the list.


Moxie alerted me to the latest activity of the squirrel recently defeated by a block at the porch gable. Now, the squirrel has undertaken entry via the vent window in the west gable of the house. There is a screen on the attic side, which fortunately had not yet been breeched though it was only a matter of time.

I almost never use the door on the west side of the house. It could have been weeks before I realized what was happening, and I would have realized it because I would have been hearing squirrels in the attic.

On his last day of work before the month off, my Occasional Helper kindly saved me the awkward effort of dragging out the extension ladder and climbing up to install a new piece of hardware cloth on the outside of the vent window.
Nice work, Occasional Helper!

There is nothing to nail to across the bottom edge, and no way to slide the screen into the window frame as was done on the top and sides. So...fingers crossed the squirrel doesn't manage to work that bottom edge loose. I know she hasn't done it yet, because I heard her swearing at me from the porch roof yesterday. Then she slid down the wall and hung onto the porch windowframe, staring in at me. Della marched right over, put her nose a millimeter from the glass, and gave that squirrel a Meaningful Look. I took the opportunity to mention - again - the abundant trees of suitable nesting size available in every direction.

And on we go.

Good night from the land of cold but not-currently-snowing-or-raining!

I hope all your skies are clear (unless you need rain)
and all your squirrels are nesting in trees like Proper Squirrels.