Friday, May 29, 2020

pictures from several walks

It's been hot lately. Over 80 every day.
I don't usually install my air conditioner in May, but I'm considering it.
Some nights have felt airless, even with a fan on.

One morning after very little sleep, I got a foolishly late start on chores.
By the time I came in, it was 84F in the shade and I was soaked with sweat.

Full disclosure: that doesn't mean I was working hard.
It doesn't take much physical activity to bring me to that state.
These days I break a sweat walking to the letterbox.
But that morning was hot.

I could say, "I just haven't adjusted to the hot weather yet,"
but there's no reason to think I will adjust to it. I never do.

One day I took Piper to the pond for our walk.
We haven't been going there lately, and we almost didn't go that day, because there were so many vehicles at both entrances I had hoped to use.
I can't take Piper off lead if there is anyone else on the trails.

Fortunately, there are other entrances, and other trails.

Generally, no matter where we walk, even on our own little road, there are more people and biting bugs about.
We just need to be out early and back early.
Piper is not really helping with this.
If she would just get up from her bed, jostle my elbow and look enthusiastic,
it would be much easier for me to fall out of bed - I do rely on gravity to help with this - and get moving, so we could go for a walk.

Instead, I'm the one doing the jostling and enthusing.
Piper is perfectly content to sleep in.
But once I've gotten her up, she is happy to go for a walk.

Warning: Introspective Moment 
It's a surprise to me that it's taking so much effort to reactivate a simple habit - getting up and out at dawn - that was a way of life for decades.
It's a surprise of the, "What? Am I not that person anymore? When did that happen?" variety. Hmmmm.
End of Introspective Moment

It doesn't matter, really.
All that matters is, I need to get up and out early.
Yesterday we started at 8, and walked less than a mile because it was very biting-buggy despite my herbal repellent spray, and as soon as the sun was high enough to come over the treetops and reach the was hot.
Today we started at 7:30 and although the bugs were horrible, it wasn't quite as hot. Humid though. Ugh. Tomorrow I'll try to get us out earlier.

Because this hound isn't going to walk herself.

Trust me. I asked her.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

thankful thursday

The tulips are planted in a small perennial bed by the barn paddock, where I pass them multiple times every day and very often stop to admire them. I've posted several photographs and sketches of the first tulips of the year.

You may recognize this one. It was the very first:

The first few tulips provided joy day after day after day, surviving very cold nights and even a snowstorm. The colors have surprised me by changing over time -
some becoming lighter, others deeper.

After the first week or so, I often considered putting them in a vase.

Three had reached the stage of being more open than closed in the evening,
when we got the multiple-storm and tornado warning.

 Thinking that strong winds would shred these very-open tulips, I finally cut the stems and put the flowers in a vase on the porch, where I could enjoy them. Considering that every paddock and garden is currently scattered with branches that came down in that storm, it was a good decision.

For several days, the tulips opened more and more.
Don't you love the way tulips stay beautiful even as they become fully "blown"?
They simply begin to look like a different flower, one with wide open petals.

But yesterday I turned the vase slightly,
and instantly most of the petals fell into my hand.

Imagine how fragile the connection must have become.




Tuesday, May 19, 2020

but my wheels won't go

I often sing a bit while doing chores.

Sometimes I sing to focus my mind and remain calm when life is complicated.
I think Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" got me through chores the entire first year after the 2016 election.

Sometimes I sing to distract the goats while they are being combed. I'll bet my goats know more Hamilton material than just about any other goats.
Even my own special segue from "The Room Where It Happens" into "Quiet Uptown." Whew, I can almost make them cry with that one.

Well, do you remember the Cat Stevens* song, "Fill My Eyes"?
This song has become the whimsical sound track for my morning chores these days:

"I'm just a coaster but my wheels won't go..."

I own two wheelbarrows, a garden cart, and - a very recent acquisition - a tiny open trailer designed to be towed behind a utility tractor or whatever those machines are called. Every one of these items was secondhand and, except for latest, each has already given me years of yeoman's work.

Unfortunately, at the moment, none of my four cargo-movers has its requisite number of functioning wheels. In fact the wheelbarrows don't have one functioning wheel between them and my fanciful idea of cobbling one sound undercarriage out of parts from two very different wheelbarrows hit a snag quite early on.

If the pandemic hadn't put a crimp in even my limited amount of normal "travel," I would have made a determined effort to get the garden cart in working order by early April. I knew at least one tire was in sad shape last Autumn. Once the snow is gone, I rely on the cart to move bales of hay from the roundtop to the "central distribution landing" between the barns. The bales I'm feeding now are particularly heavy, and - although I don't like to admit it and have had to prove it to myself over and over again - I cannot carry a whole bale that far. So I have to open a bale in the roundtop, stuff flakes of the hay into a big plastic bin, and carry the bin out to the paddocks.
It takes three or four trips per bale. Four to six trips per day.

"I'm just a coaster but my wheels won't go...
my legs are weak, my heels are low."

After the initial rebuild, 2015

The extra work isn't a bad thing in and of itself (I could live without it), but every time I open a bale, some hay falls to the ground. Every time I grab a flake to stuff into a bin, some hay falls to the ground. Every time I put the bin down to open a gate, carry the bin through the gate, then put it down again to close the gate, ditto and ditto. I've been trailing hay all over the place, several times a day, and the wastefulness is very frustrating. Considering how often the goats hear a lecture about not wasting hay, this very much smacks of "Do what I say, not what I do!" 

Still going strong in 2016...right through 2019

So on today's early-morning walk with Piper - which is when I got all these fern portraits you may have been wondering about - I decided to Take Steps. As soon as we were home and Piper was having her breakfast, I got online and found a bicycle shop a half-hour away that is open, with appropriate levels of distancing and caution. I've emailed my cart details to the shop with a request for an estimate. The tires may be standard bike tires, but the axle of the cart is different from a typical bike axle, so the job may hang on whether the rims are still in good shape.

I'm hoping this won't turn into one of those decisions about replacing an entire  item because the relative cost of parts is so high. I don't enjoy those decisions.
On the other hand, this little cart has worked very hard for a long time and "doesn't owe me a thing," as the saying goes. Do you remember the state it was in when I found it?

2014: the original "cart" - a jumble of metal parts


*  "Fill My Eyes" 1970 by Cat Stevens, who later changed his name to Yusuf Islam and stepped away from music to focus on doing good in the world, and now, later still, is known by both names and for using music as a vehicle for doing good in the world. He's always been On The Road To Find Out, that fellow.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

after the storm

A weather report, with unrelated images.

Well, we knew it was coming.
I woke up yesterday to a storm warning: from 3 to 7 and from 7 to 10.
A series of storms moving in different directions,
all projected to hit my area pretty hard.
Rain, damaging winds, and a tornado watch.


The goats received their morning AND evening hay rations at 630 AM,
with the reminder that wasting hay is a sin (this does not seem to have much  impact on goats, by the way) and a warning that there would be no supper.
They all enjoyed their extended breakfast, and as the afternoon ticked along it seemed the first storm episode was giving us a miss, hooray.

But at 4, when I was busy moving things into the workshop or under the roundtops, and generally battened down hatches,
I was followed every step of the way by goats asking,
"Where is our supper, please?"
They clearly had no memory of our earlier conversation.

So I got half the hay I had already dragged out to the workshop for the morning after the storm - that would be today - and distributed that, along with a recommendation to eat quickly and then pick a comfortable spot to hunker down in.

"Preparing" for heavy winds mostly means tying things to other things.
Light things to heavy things.
Loose things to stable things.

But there is no "preparing" for a tornado,
apart from hoping very hard that there will be no tornado.
So I did that too.


When I turned to leave the barn, the sky was suddenly turning black.
I walked in the back door, and when I got to the front parlor - about 6 paces - the wind was roaring and trees were bending and rain was coming in sideways-blowing sheets. And it was very dark. I turned the Barnyard Theatre lights up, got a candle and matches, and settled in with Piper and Moxie and Della to see what we could see.

poppies, drawn from a carving

It was quite a storm.
A lot of lightening.
A lot of very strong wind and heavy rain.
And by 10 PM, it was pretty much over.
When I woke at 230 AM, it was so quiet I opened a window for fresh air.

We are all fine.
The herd is subdued, but fine.
Moxie and I went out first thing this morning and walked the fences: all intact.
We released Agatha and Eloise from the barn, where they had been confined.
They may have been a bit annoyed but at least they hadn't blown away.


It's been a glorious clear and sunny day,
quiet and peaceful. But I haven't taken photographs.
So even though they are not related at all to the storm,
I've illustrated this post with some recent line drawings.
Left-click to see them in nicer resolution, if you wish.

This one was from last night: 

I hope your weekend is going well!
I think we are all going to have an early night here.

Friday, May 15, 2020


A few quick snaps
along the path between house and barn.

mayapple - Podophyllum peltatum

hawthorn - Crataegus
(will update when species identified)

bluebead lily - Clintonia borealis

mapleleaf viburnum - Viburnum acerifolium

anise hyssop - Agastache foeniculum

sugar maple - Acer saccharum

wild ginger - Asarum europaeum

bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

regarding seeds

All the Candy Roaster Squash seeds have been posted to the people who requested them, and I hope they arrived intact. Squash seeds are rather large and thick, and I tried several methods of cushioning them against the jaws of postal equipment. If your seeds were damaged in transit, let me know and I'll send replacements this week.

Ordinarily I would have designed little seed packets with an original watercolor and so on, but these are not ordinary times and the library where I would have printed up the packets is of course closed. So it was a matter of cobbling together pieces of padded mailers and taping things to old - but with Snow Leopards! - postcards and so on. No two packages were alike.

And perhaps more to the point, I couldn't print instructions. So here's all the planting info I can think of, for anyone who will find it helpful.

re: germination
I gave everyone seed from 2 or 3 different squash, to increase the odds of germination. Even if you only have room for a couple of plants, I strongly suggest planting all 8 seeds. Just be emotionally prepared to thin them if necessary.

If sowing directly into your garden, wait til after your last frost date.
Plant 1" deep in hills or rows, and space them knowing that you will eventually have to thin young plants to 2 or 3 feet.
If starting in pots, transplant 3 feet apart.
Need full sun and a lot of room.

trellis vs. trailing:

A strong trellis is great and keeps the squash clean, but the plants will also grow along the ground without any support. I've had vines grow 10 feet along the ground, massive leaves all along the way, and then grow up and over a 6 foot fence. Last year a vine grew up my trellis arch and then into a nearby tree. They are always seeking support and are quick to utilize it. One year I moved my wheelbarrow in the nick of time.


My original seed packet from Sow True Seed said 100 days to harvest, but the point is, these are winter squash and should be left on the vine as long as possible in Autumn. I let the squash stay on the vine even when the plants are dying back and the squash color deepens, until there's a warning of frost. Then I cut the stems at the vine end and bring all the squash inside. Candy Roasters keep wonderfully well. Mine stay on windowsills, stems attached, til they are needed.

Good luck, gardeners! I hope you get good germination and enjoy your plants!


Sunday, May 10, 2020

an interesting weekend

Last week, snow was predicted for Friday night,
but by Friday evening the forecast had been changed to rain.

So I was a bit surprised to wake up at dawn Saturday to this:

It was still snowing but very lightly.
Seemed like it would end soon.

But it didn't.

By 7 or so, it had actually started coming down harder.

I knew the goats had plenty of hay and water.
Moxie and Della had enjoyed breakfast at five.
Piper had been out, come right back in, and was sound asleep.

So I decided to have a mug of tea and do some reading.
A lazy lie-in.

As soon as I made my tea...the snow stopped.
The sky turned blue.

The sun came out.

Change of plan:
outside to remove some snow from fragile plants.
Many plants are budding now, or putting out soft new leaves, like this sugar maple:

Of course I couldn't shake snow from every tree and plant but I did lighten the weight on some, like the young white pines that were bowed right over. Will they will be able to grow straight up again without a permanent bend in the trunk? We'll see.

Nice thing about shrubs: their growth form is multi-stemmed, and in the case of this Kerria japonica below, also densely branched. I could easily reach way into the center of the shrub with a broomstick, gently shake one stem, and see dozens of stems simultaneously shed their snow. 


I was also able to gently tap the tulips
so clumps of wet snow fell right off.

The Clintonia borealis only started growing last week - I was so happy to see them coming up after almost losing them last year. I don't know how much damage they sustained from the snow, but there wasn't anything I could do. Any effort to remove snow would only have sent it deeper into the center of the plant. 

At least the still-open canopy meant the sun reached them right away and most of the snow had been melted from them by the time I came back indoors. Fingers crossed the buds weren't damaged.

My boots and jeans were soaked, and I peeled them off to dry before sitting down to enjoy my tea - remember the tea? - and watch gusts of wind blowing clumps of snow from the tall trees. It was like a snowstorm but with flakes the size of shapeless snowballs, and all under a bright blue sky. And then, before my eyes, a tree came down across the garden fence, inside the Upper West Side paddock.

Wet boots and jeans back on, and out to assess the situation. The tree could not possibly have fallen in a better way, and everything would be okay unless/until one of the goats decided to try to jump onto the top of the bole and use it as a bridge to get into the garden.

Back into the house, peeled out of cold wet clothes again, and phoned to tell a friend that the garden he was coming by to till was temporarily inaccessible. He answered the phone from his truck which coincidentally had just pulled into my driveway.

Wet boots and jeans back on again.

My rototilling friend - who is a logger - cut the fallen tree to stove lengths which I carried one by one to the back of my Highlander where it will stay dry til I decide where to start next Winter's woodpile. This is how most job planning works at my place: you think you're going to do one task but then you find out you have to do two unplanned tasks first. And the unplanned tasks are often bigger than the planned ones.

The amazing thing was the weather: the whole time we were working, the sky was brilliant blue and the sun was dazzling. After my friend packed up his tiller and his chainsaw and left, I decided to - guess what? - make a fresh mug of tea and set up the chaise and enjoy a little rest and satisfaction at a heavy job finished. I dragged the chaise out, put my mug on a little table, Moxie hopped up to keep me company...

and the wind came up and it began to hail.


Okay, I said.
I get it.


Moxie raced me to the house and I made a smoothie.

Later in the day, there was more hail, and overnight there was more snow. Piper didn't have a walk yesterday - Piper didn't want a walk yesterday - but we went out first thing this morning as the snow was melting. Maybe we're back to May now?

Aquilegia canadensis

I kind of hope so.