It’s a Fair Day

13aug_fairpie2_smsmIt’s County Fair Time again!

Fairs: you either love them or… it’s expensive, it’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s crowded, the food is bad, it smells like animals, all the vendors are con artists, and my feet hurt…

All of those things are true.

I love the County Fair.

County fairs are a cheerful remnant of simpler times, when people came together to sell, to buy, to share their work, to compete a little, and to perspire in common under the summertime sun. At the fair we can eat overcooked corn on the cob, sausage on a stick, sugary lemonade, and pie from the Methodist pie concession. We get advice from the County Extension booth, and admire the gigantic tractors,

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or sit on them,

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or drive them.

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We gaze upon the patient cudding cattle mothers and marvel at their size,

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and we eye the flat-backed steers on their way to the judging ring,

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overseen by the haughty llamas, superior in every attitude

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to the slumbering pigs,

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the smiling, slumbering pigs.

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Who cannot love a sleeping pig?

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At the fair you can learn how to milk a cow.

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You can admire the curls of the visitors.

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You can buy a thrill,

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or try your hand at winning a — whatever that was,

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and eat pink stuff until you are ill,

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and you can save your soul.

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Or you can sleep it all off with your friends.

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And then you go to the crafts hall to appreciate the prize-winning handwork which sometimes shows a fine sense of humor!

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And some of it is lovely and detailed.

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And you look to see whether you won anything with your own entry. And you did! You won a blue ribbon on the brown wool sweater in the front of the case!

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So you take your tired feet back across the parking lot, and you drive home remembering that you didn’t actually ride the thrill ride, and you didn’t eat any cotton candy or a sausage, but you did have a piece of pie.

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And since it came from the Methodists, you will probably not be punished for it later.

 

 

Published in: on August 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm  Comments (20)  

Tansy Dance, Pasture Parties, and Br’er Rabbit

We are just back from two wonderful weeks in Italy (sunshine, food, seashores, food, music, food, art, food…) with a group from Portland’s All Classical radio. Casting a loving eye over our little farm, I immediately espied an infestation of Tansy Ragwort. Ugh. I do realize it must have been there before we left, but until it raises its bright, happy, bad-smelling flowers, you can miss it in a pasture.

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Pretty, isn’t it? It’s an invader, though, and can kill livestock in grazing fields. Tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobaea or Jacobaea vulgaris) is native to western Europe, arriving here in the 1920s. By the 1950s it was a terrible scourge, killing thousands of livestock animals feeding on contaminated hay. Pasture lands across the west were golden with its late summer blooms.

Time out for terminology: Senecio jacobaea, commonly called tansy ragwort (or just ragwort, or ragweed, or stinking ragweed, or stinking nanny/ninny/willy, staggerwort, staggerweed, or stammerwort, dog standard, cankerwort, mare’s fart, cushag, benweed, bunweed, bundweed, beaweed, bowlocks, curly doddies, or curly head, kettledock,  slavewort, fizz-gig,  felonweed, stanerwort, or yellow perils)

Illustration Senecio jacobaea.jpg (This image is in the public domain because the copyrights of the original work of art have expired. It is a reproduction of a painting by the Swedish botanist C. A. M. Lindman (1856–1928), taken from his book(s) Bilder ur Nordens Flora (first edition published 1901–1905, supplemented edition 1917–1926?).

is not the same weed as Tanacetum vulgare, Common Tansy,  or bitter buttons, cow bitter, golden buttons…

 This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923. It is a reproduction of a painting by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1840–1925)Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz

which is, all on its own, a fairly noxious, invasive plant from mainland Europe. This one has historically had some medicinal and culinary applications. It is still listed by the United States Pharmacopeia as a treatment for fevers, feverish colds, and jaundice, and has been used as an insect repellent. Tuck it round you in your coffin to ward off worms.

That may be about enough on the distinctions of tansies, but you can clearly see the problems with naming. Look for the raggedy leaves to spot ragwort.

Beginning in the 1960s Senecio jacobaea was greatly controlled through the introduction of insect predators: the cinnabar moth, the tansy ragwort flea beetle, and a seed head fly. Unlike so many well-meant introductions of species intended to control others, this one seemed to work, and not to have unforeseen negative consequences. Farmers and university scientists believed tansy ragwort had been all but annihilated.

But now, the climate has changed. We’ve had some weather recently that pleases the tansy ragwort, and is not so salutary for the cinnabar moth and her friends. The clever, patient tansy ragwort has taken the opportunity to surge into prominence again. It’s interesting that while horses and cattle fall to the toxins in tansy ragwort, sheep are unaffected. Our sheep could safely graze in an invaded field. But, though sheep have been suggested as a biological control for ragwort (Journal of Range Management), I have noticed that if there are alternatives, the sheep disdain it. So I was out there yesterday lopping and bagging flower heads and pulling the stems from the ground. The idea is to get it before it does this:

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While I was cutting and pulling and sweating, I noticed the resident gophers have been partying again. I see this mostly in spring when they turn up all kinds of pottery and glassware in their mounds, signs, I believe, of their tea times and other imbibings underground. I imagine them celebrating their own waking to the season and their lively romantic carryings-on.

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Sometimes I am surprised at remnants of what must have once been treasured pieces of fineware. It seems gophers are none too careful with their belongings.

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But yesterday I truly blinked at what came up from below: a substantial length of plumbing pipe and joint ejected from the household to the surface, along with a piece of broken window glass.

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What on earth, if you’ll pardon the phrase, can be going on down there?

Having filled my quota of feed sacks of ragwort heads, I thought it was time to gather some blackberries in the afternoon. They’re just coming on here, with those big stem-end first berries scenting the summer air.

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It’s another nasty plant, really, the Himalayan blackberry. “Invasive and difficult to control,” say the university websites. That does not describe their savage attitude toward passersby. But I believe that if your landscape is overtaken by a fruit-bearing invader, you might as well make the best of it. I rummaged around and found my milk jug with the string attached, and headed out to the sticker brush.

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Do you remember the story of B’rer Rabbit and the Wonderful Tar Baby?  Do you remember how the worst, the very worst thing he begged not to happen to him when Br’er Fox caught him one day was to be thrown into that briar patch. “Please!” he begged. “Do whatever you want to me, hang me, skin me, cook me, pull off my legs and ears, but please don’t throw me in that briar patch!” So, being that foxes and rabbits are always fussing with each other (in the 1888 Charles C. Jones, Jr. book Negro Myths from the Georgia Coast Told in the Vernacular, it is a Wolf, but the relationship is constant), Br’er Fox did just that thing. He threw that rabbit right into that briar patch. Where, it turned out, Br’er Rabbit was most happily at home because that was where he was bred and born, right in those sticker bushes.

I remind us of this tale only because, I might say, not everyone is comfortable when they end up tossed into the briar patch. Picking berries I made a small misstep, and the branches beneath me weren’t there, and I tumbled right into Br’er Rabbit’s house, and I did not like it one bit. There is nothing to do but save the bucket of berries as you are going down, and then prickle yourself out as carefully as you can.

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I wish I’d been that rabbit.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 12:43 pm  Comments (4)  

Off the Farm: The Sylvia Beach Hotel

I suppose it’s a little late for this post, since we made the expedition at the beginning of December. But I promised to make blog posts (I promised!) and we had such a good time, I want to share it.

For years we have said, “We should just go there,” meaning to spend a couple of nights at the Sylvia Beach Hotel

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in Newport, Oregon.  For years. Perhaps 20 years. So when we decided that our Christmas present to each other this year would be to do something together, to go someplace, to have a weekend-long play date, the Sylvia Beach seemed the perfect choice.

For those who don’t remember, Sylvia Beach was a bookseller, born in America but living most of the time in Paris. Between the World Wars her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering place for young writers of the Lost Generation. Visitors to the store could buy or borrow controversial books banned in the U.S. and Britain. Sylvia Beach stocked the shop with her own preferences, she encouraged writers, she encouraged publishers to publish them, and she published, herself, James Joyce’s big, difficult, and banned for indecency book, Ulysses, in 1922. That was Sylvia Beach, the woman.

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Thanks to Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, for the use of this image of Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company in 1920.

Sylvia Beach, the eponymous hotel, is another thing. Like the woman, it is imaginative. It is elderly (neither of them was always that). It is individual and fun and funny and beautiful. It is courageous: the hotel has no TVs, no radios, no wifi, no telephones in the rooms. But it has books. It is full of books, authors, writings, pictures, details, jokes, and good, good food at the Tables of Content dining room. It has a reading room with soft chairs and a fireplace and a view to the horizon across the Pacific Ocean, and a loft library above. It has jigsaw puzzles on a table and urns of hot spiced wine in the evening. It is a creaky, cranky old building that embraces its visitors, if they will let it. Inside, you can hear the wind outside. You can, without much effort, even feel the wind. There is a wardrobe in reception  filled with rain gear, but the hotel makes you hope for such foul weather you will stay indoors.

The guest rooms are each assigned the identity of an author: Alice Walker, Amy Tan, Dr. Seuss (look for the see-through toilet tank with a red fish and a blue fish in it), Emily Dickinson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway (with papiermâché animal heads on the wall), Herman Melville (the floor slants), Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling (with a sorting hat on the bed post and a Nimbus 2000 hanging from the ceiling), Ken Kesey (watch out for the monkey wrench on the door), Lincoln Steffens, William Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Jules Verne (if you wake in the night, be prepared for the sense you are being watched), Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, Colette…

We stayed in Shakespeare. Of course we did. We had tickets to the Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet on Friday night.

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The room is full of Things. Fun things. Some of them have tags attached with references to Act and Scene, though for most you might have to work it out on your own. Scrolls, daggers, crowns, a throne, images, books, and a nice writing desk (that’s a Kindle on the desk, and it came with the guests, I’m afraid, not with the room).

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And a good mattress, too. If you tire of reclining there with your Complete Shakespeare on your lap, you can wander up to the reading room on the third floor

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where you can work on the common jigsaw puzzle

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or look out the windows to the Yaquina Head lighthouse.

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The first evening we walked two blocks to the theater for the National Theatre Live production of Hamlet. Reviews of the show have been mixed. I understand. Cumberbatch did well with an enormous role. But he was not happily supported, we thought, by the rest of the cast. Recorded sound levels were not consistent (editor? editor?), the lighting design was dreadful (major speeches lost in the shadows), passages of dialogue I know well were unintelligible because actors were speaking to the back of the stage! Meanwhile, Hamlet himself, Hamlet seemed remarkably sane and measured. Benedict is weirdly lean and handsome, and he is athletic in ways that make you gasp. He holds onto the character and to the scenes despite some really odd director’s choices. I would rather have seen it than not seen it, but I would rather have seen it better. But to bed! We took ourselves back to our lodging, sipped a cup of warm spiced wine in the library, and vanished beneath the blankets.

On Saturday we visited the Hatfield Marine Science Center where we met the new octopus, Montgomery. I have no photos of him because he really was new to public display, and we didn’t want to compromise his experience on that first day of having lunch in front of people. But he is an engaging individual who understands spoken English and will hide his ball so he can have it later. And then we went on, to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where we saw

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really mean fishes

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and beautiful settings

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and impossible streaming jellies

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and lovely, ethereal moon jellies.

With weary feet we made our way back to the Sylvia, where a wonderful menu awaited us in the Tables of Content dining room. Garlic soup, duck breast with huckleberry sauce, barley risotto, a beautiful salad, and crème brûlée for dessert. Good, strong coffee — who would try to serve poor coffee to Oregonians? — and a delicious Port wine follow-up. Some after-dinner minutes at the jigsaw puzzle and we took ourselves again to a welcome bed.

Sunday dawned with heavy skies and a tossing wind. It was all the more tossing at the Head where we stopped on our way home for an ascent into the lighthouse,

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ascent through the winding tower of iron stairs:

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I have a history with these stairs. When I was 4, my great-uncle Gus took me up for a look around, and I simply could not come back down those 93 feet of open stairway. I’m sure I wept. What I remember is that the lighthouse keeper picked me up and carried me back to ground. I can still recall the smell of tobacco in his beard.

Inside, things seem tranquil. The bricked walls are thick enough you cannot hear the blustering sea outside. But we could see it through the tiny, heavy windows in the staircase:

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It was a fierce day, the kind of day when sailors look for the light shining from that beautiful lamp through its first-order Fresnel lens:

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Originally the lamp was oil fueled. Now it is electronic, and still as important as when it was first lit in 1873, when the day might have looked just like this:

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Oh, the wind doth blow, and we left it behind to head for a hot bowl of clam chowder in Lincoln City before finding the long road home.

 

 

 

 

Published in: Uncategorized on January 16, 2016 at 2:09 pm  Comments (10)  

A Gathering and Departure of Gray-striped Cats

I think it is the Christmas letters flying back and forth: I am nagged upon at this time of year, pushed, and urged and reminded that friends look for my blog posts, and complain that there have been no new ones and they are tired of the old ones. And I admit: it’s been a year, about, since the last one. An annual blog post does seem like fairly little effort.

But what to write about?

In the last, I spoke of the several cats that had come to us, an abundance, it seemed, of gray-striped cats. Cats are desired on a place. A place with a barn needs cats to keep the rodents down. A place with a garden needs cats to keep the gophers at bay. In the interim between cats, when our beloved, efficient Yellowcat 10mar_yellowcat1  had expended all of her 9 lives, and the new cats were not yet established in their art, I lost a well-grown Benjamin Britten rose, a young lilac, and lot of dahlias from the garden. I lost tulip bulbs, and daffodils. Strawberries. Daylilies. Carrots. A place needs cats.

We had meant to have Gollum’s Precious and two from her litter to stay with us. Yellowcat’s standard of performance was so great that we thought it would take more than one cat to match her. But Gollum’s Precious, who had come as a wanderer and had what I thought was an uncomfortably large territory, made a mistake one day in regard to the road. So she used up all her lives in a moment, and left us. The kittens were on their own by then, two had gone to another farm home. That left us two for ourselves: Cobweb and Moth, little brothers in mischief.

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In the fullness of time, we took them to the doctor for their exams and alterations. The vet told us, with actual tears, that Cobweb had a pretty serious heart murmur and would not be with us long. Well, we thought philosophically, he’s with us now, and he’s a happy little barn cat, 14jan01_Cobweb1_cr so it didn’t seem like we needed to take any action in the matter. It wasn’t long, though, before I found him one day,  curled as if in sleep in the soft springtime sun beside the path. He wasn’t asleep really, but had gone on before, leaving Moth to take care of the gophers.

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This one cracked me open a bit. I am, for the most part, stoical about farm losses. When we lost Gollum I was angry, because that was the fault of a careless veterinarian. I was resigned when we lost Gollum’s Precious on the road, but we knew she was a stray when she came, and she had found a good place to have her litter, and then strayed again. I was philosophical when we lost a ewe a while before; she got herself rolled down a little hill next to the fence and couldn’t get upright, and I didn’t find her in time. I was even able to be calm when a dog raided our rabbitry and we lost 2 bucks and a doe.

But now my sweet, happy Cobweb cat had died and, though forewarned, I was tearful.

But we have Moth, who is ready, curious, underfoot, and … hardworking.

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So, at the end of this year of cats, I would like to offer an homage to the lineage of Moth as we know it:

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Gollum, feral visitor.

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Gollum’s Precious, lady traveler.    

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Gollum’s Precious and her kittens, the issue of two wanderers.

So, friends afar, here is at least one little blog post from me. I think, a year ago, I promised to do better. It almost seems superfluous to do so again. But… all right. I’ll try to do better.

 

 

Published in: on January 2, 2016 at 3:07 pm  Comments (16)  

A Winter Day in the Greenhouse

14dec_treelights_cr_smChristmas mail has made it clear to me I am a very bad blogger. “We miss your blog.” “No updates on your blog.” “So sorry you’ve stopped blogging.” OK. Truth is, I haven’t stopped blogging. I just haven’t done it lately. (And I’ve blogged at least as often as I hear from my Christmas correspondents.)

It seemed after a while that the farm things must be getting a little boring to you, dear readers. After all, every year the same plants grow, or don’t. The animal procreate, or don’t. The rain falls, or sometimes doesn’t, and we complain either way.

All right: Here is what I am doing today: I am trimming up the over-wintering geraniums in the greenhouse.

The greenhouse turns out to have been useful for a number of things. Last fall (a year ago), I moved a number of my zonal geraniums into the greenhouse to hold them over. I usually start them from seed in the spring, but I thought I’d see how they did inside. I remember my mother wintering hers over in the garage with little light and hardly any water, so I thought the glassed-in beds would be good for this. It was:

15jan04_geraniums_sm They got a little out of hand. And I didn’t, actually, get them planted out into the garden in the spring. So we have had a forest of happy geraniums in the greenhouse, though there was room for other things until summer advanced and we noticed they had fairly taken over the world.

It was nice in there in the spring and summer with the blooms, the scent of geraniums, and the everlasting nosegay. In April we had a bottle lamb from the sheep flock, one whose mother did her best but died when the lamb was a bare 3 weeks old. So Folly, as we called her since she was born on April 1, moved into the greenhouse where it was more convenient for us to meet her feeding schedule.

14apr_greenhousefolly1_cr_smShe enjoyed the geraniums, too. Folly has since then returned to being a sheep and lives with the other ewes.

In summer we had another blessed event, one we would have avoided if we could’ve. But when you live in the country, Providence brings you cats, and it happened that She brought us both a feral tom and a sweet, fertile queen at the same time. In a longer story than I will tell here, Gollum the tom, is no longer with us. But he left a little bit of himself behind. That’s Gollum’s Precious and her 4 grey-striped kittens.

14jul_kittens1_cr_sm We found a good home for 2 of them, and 2 have stayed with us. For a short time, while their mother was recovering from her female surgery, they all  took up residence in the greenhouse, which had been vacated by Folly, and where they learned essential gardening skills.

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So the greenhouse has been successful for animal husbandry as well as botanical experiments. But really, really, those geraniums need to be taken in hand. Hard as it is to whack something so thriving, if we intend any use of the greenhouse in the spring, we have to do it. So here I am today, whacking:

15jan04_geraniums3_smThe mask is for the clouds (clouds!) of old pollen falling from the dried blooms.

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There are benefits to this exercise: I’ll recover planting space, the geraniums will be, I hope, in splendid condition for planting out in the spring when they will have put on new growth to their now compact limbs, and: I find things! (I knew that trowel was in there someplace!)

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It’s raining outside, and I could complain about that, but this is nice way to spend a winter afternoon in the garden. I once had a university professor who said, in regard to plants, “You have to hurt them to make them thrive. Cut them back!”

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 4:12 pm  Comments (7)  

Woods Walking on a Snowy Afternoon

A snow day off from work calls for a walk in the woods. I took two today, one in the early morning, just after feeding the animals, when I could look back at a moment of clear sky in the west.

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And one in the afternoon when, though a certain gloom had fallen over the woods and the snow was just beginning to assert itself, I couldn’t stay inside. Like a little kid on a day out of school, I put on my boots and hat and headed out again.

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I found I wasn’t the only one walking in the woods. The beginning of a snowfall, before it’s deep enough to hide the evidence, offers all kinds of clues to who shares the woods.

Here, in the morning light, are the tracks of a rabbit heading into the brush.

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And nearby, the skittery  footprints of some little rodent making her way across the path.

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Bird feet, two by two, hopping, hopping:

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I have to admit, some of us leave less elegant notes on our passing:

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But now, sound the doom music, the rumbling kettle drums, the minor chord of danger nearby…

A coyote makes his way uphill through the snow. See the marks of his toenails ahead of the pads. Imagine him moving along the trail he knows so well, sniffing the air…

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His tracks run in a straight line, trotting through the woods except for evidence of a moment when he paused… To whiff the scent of prey just missed? To scratch?

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Here, a crossroads: rabbit and coyote. Which passed first? The coyote follows the cleared track. The rabbit keeps to the brush except for a half dozen hops to the other side.

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just like the bird who crossed here:

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The bird has the advantage of flight if caught in the open. It seems that, on this occasion, the two shared ground but not time.

Oh, and back home again, we have Brer Cat, who had emerged from his briar brush to inquire whether meal service had arrived.

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It had.

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Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 3:52 pm  Comments (7)  

Gone in a Gust

13oct_fallcolor_smUsually, it is a gentle slide through September to the chills of October. A bit of briskness in the mornings, an evening when you want the warmth of sweater sleeves, the scent of leaves decaying at the margins of the driveway, and you become aware the season is drifting away from summer into autumn. But this year, on the very day of the Equinox, as if a switch were thrown, September slammed the door on late summer and flung itself into early fall. A friend sent a note saying the first windstorm left two trees down across their driveway. Smoke hangs over the woods and pastures as woodcutters begin to burn their slash piles. Mud lies in the track through the woods.

But, true to the nature of the season, we are just now in a span of gorgeous autumn days with early chill and afternoon sun, and I have to say, as much as I love September, I might love October more. The harvest festivals that come now are a notation in the seasonal round, marking this as the time of plenty when the summer crops are in storage and the autumn ones are about to fill our baskets and barrels. As I write this, a pan on the stove is simmering with pears in wine, and the scent of cloves is drifting through the house. I’ve just dug and brought in most of the geraniums from the garden. We haven’t had anything but a touch of frost yet, but a real one isn’t far away. I’m digging some things out, and putting others in: some roses I started from cuttings last spring, some Berberis I rescued from the “dead and dying” bin at one of the nurseries and that seem to have recovered from their trauma, some tulips for next year’s bloom.

It’s been a helluva year for Chanterelles in the woods. We’ve put them up in the freezer (sautéd in butter with some garlic, then frozen in 1-cup portions for future convenience) (Is it sautéd or sautéed, in English? Or sauté-ed? ). We’ve dried them, for use in stews. We’ve used them fresh in omelets, spaghettis, on toast, with rice, in a scramble, on pork chops, with chicken, with a rabbit… We’ve given them away up and down the road, and in town. It is the Year of the Chanterelle around here. The bag, of course, is the point of it all, but it’s the looking-for that is the very best, that thrashing and clambering into the woods, falling over logs and sliding down banks, the eye peeled for that flash of gold in the duff. 

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Gold has always led men and women into folly, and chanterelling in the woods is no less wild and unseemly in its way than the quest for yellow metal in the hills.

Just writing of it, just writing, starts the bell ringing in my chest, and I grab up my bag and head again into the firs and maples and salal.

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I’m back now, and settled down.  I found a few to put in the sack.

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Other harvests: we have late apples now and pears, potatoes curing on a rack, still some eggplants in the garden, green tomatoes now giving permission to take them for green tomato gravy, red cabbages hoping (I suppose) to become our traditional autumn red cabbage dish (vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, apples, onions, smoked pork of some variety, bit of salt, coarsely shredded red cabbage, and let it cook until it is good).

Did I mention apples? Sometimes we share.

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A thread of geese has just skeined overhead, gabbling and arguing as they go.

You ought to see the load of berries on the hawthorns in the forest.

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There is the other thing that makes October a fine month. It’s a month when the veil begins to thin between this world and another one, the one that makes our hair stand up a little on a dark night. By the end of the month, we will be looking over our shoulders when we go into the woods because, it seems… didn’t I just feel something there, behind me?

Ooo-ooo-ooo!

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Maybe it isn’t too early for my hair to shift a little.

OK, now. Just one more image of my most recent pass-time. I can’t help it. It’s gold.

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Published in: on October 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments (10)  

Autumn.

 13sep_autumn1_smIt’s the Autumnal Equinox here in the northern hemisphere. I cannot tell you how how gladly I welcome the arrival of September when that too-hot sun of August takes a step back and some early rains dampen the woods. The hoses in the garden can rest now. Suddenly the world fills with scents of an old kind again: over-ripe berries in the brambles, apples on the stem, fungus underfoot in the duff. Fairy rings appear where they had not been.

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Deep in our woods, where the very old stumps rest and seem to hold

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a knowledge they wait to share (One day, they say, one day, you’ll see what I meant by that.), the much-awaited Chanterelle mushrooms have emerged:

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Spiders sling their end-of-season webs across the trails. Wooly bears hurry from one side of the road to the other (Broad brown band? Narrow? What will the winter be?). Hornets prepare, in their magnificent chewed paper houses (Papier Mâché: chewed paper), for the arrival of cold weather.

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We shared the picking of plums with them. You probably never saw two such fools as we, stealing from the tree and picking up drops while hornets contested ownership of the fruit. But, despite their insistence that all these plums belonged to them, we filled our buckets without incident. Maybe they were too drunken on the nectar to really bother about us.

We’ve picked blackberries (What good ice cream they make!).

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We’ve made the first two pressings of apple cider (Gravenstein, Hewes crabs, Golden Delicious, and Spartan), and are storing them in the freezer for a season-end press of the Liberty apples. The final blend will include the mellow early Gravensteins and Golden Delicious, the fulsome mid-season Spartans,  the ping! of the crabs and the snap! of the fall Liberties. Here’s a portrait of some of the tart-sweet crab apples before crushing. It always seems a shame to crush them.

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This year we had the most magnificent Harvest Moon only a couple of days before the equinox, rising just after sundown, hanging low and large in the growing darkness.

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It’s not the end of summer. It’s the beginning of autumn.

Published in: Uncategorized on September 22, 2013 at 4:03 pm  Comments (2)  

In Which We Update Many Unrelated Things

This post is a miscellany. And how time does fly! I promised to be more diligent here, and haven’t lived up to my word.

Blowin' in the wind

Hay is just in. We admire the loft and barn floor full of bales, but in the run-up to the job, frankly, I always feel a little nauseated. Every time, it’s a juggling act for the date as you watch for weather and wait for the call from the baling man. And then begins my major sustained physical effort of the year. It is to be expected that when the call comes, the weather will be hot. It had better be, since the hay would spoil in the field if it weren’t good haying weather, but the tax on the aging body is increased by some predictable ratio of effort to temperature.

There are pleasures in haying: the world smells wonderful. The scene is beautiful with either flowing windrows of raked grass or beaded lines of finished bales strewn across the fields. The afternoon or morning sun casts patterns of shadow over the landscape. The sound of field machinery is on the air, intermittent as tractors run over a hill and out of range, and then back again, or a baler stops for adjustment, or the crew just stops, for water or lunch. Hawks balance on the wing over shorn fields, looking for that now-exposed rodent who only yesterday sheltered in the stems. Crows stalk back and forth across the acres, picking at whatever can be found in the newly revealed world of cuttings. Haying time is beautiful.

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Haying time is filled with challenges, too. Last year our clutch failed as we labored uphill in the evening with our trailer load of bales. This year, we suffered a flat tire on the trailer when it was loaded with two tons of hay. This year we found the trailer wiring ripped apart in crossing a field, and made repairs before hitting the road for home. This year the pulley belt on the hay elevator required loving attention before it consented to drive the chain and raise the bales. This year we mired the pick-up in the mud where a spring rises in the pasture, and spent 45 minutes or so digging it out and shoving boards beneath the wheels. It seems it’s the normal thing in farm work, to lose time to trips for parts or tools, to break-downs, and repairs. The halt to the music of work and progress is always anticipated, though unknown until its moment.

But we got it in. It’s like appreciating a pantry full of jars of peaches, when we look at the barn loft full of sweet-smelling, square-baled grass. And I admit to some self admiration when I reflect: One more year. I can still do it.

This year, last spring, we rolled out the old potato barrel from storage. I’m not sure why we put it away. It’s given us loads of potatoes in the past. Here it is on planting day, back in April:

The potato barrel

This is a food-grade barrel. You don’t want to do this with a chemical barrel, so shop well. Sometimes you can get such things from bakeries or food-preparation companies, or restaurants. Or you can find them at container re-sale outfits.

We put in a good bed of rotting hay and manure from the sheep pens. See the worm? Earthworms are good news!

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… and then a layer of seed potatoes:

Seed spuds going in

to be lovingly covered with more good compost. “Compost” of course is the polite word for rotted barnyard manures and bedding, as well as household scraps and garden waste. If you don’t have a ready source of sheep bedding and rabbit pellets, you can make excellent compost from your kitchen. As the potato plants grow, we add more bedding material, carefully arranging it among the emerging stems and leaves, as if we were heaping soil along the rows in a conventional potato bed. We keep doing that until the barrel is heavy with soils and growing plants. I like to use small, whole potatoes with several eyes for seed instead of cutting up larger ones. It saves having to treat the cut surfaces against rots and infections. The skins of the little potatoes do a good job all by themselves. And, since you buy seed potatoes by weight, it’s my theory that you get more eyes (sprouts) for the weight this way.

In time, the growing potatoes push themselves out through the holes in the barrel, and set flowers…

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and eventually, when the plants die back, we will tip the barrel over and retrieve our potatoes. We’re not quite there yet. Here is the barrel last week:

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It seems to be doing well. Anybody with space for a 55-gallon barrel can grow a long row of potatoes this way.

Look who stopped by for a look-see while I was out feeding one morning:

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We each stood still and looked at the other for quite a while. Then the little cottontail decided that if she couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see her, either.

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Last fall I put in bulbs of the beautiful Angelique tulips. I had quite a drift of them years ago when we lived in Portland. Last fall I saw some in the bulbs bins and suddenly remembered how much I had enjoyed them. Seems I am not alone. Look at this stunning pale green spider making a home in the bloom. We chased each other around and around a few times before I could get a good photo; the spider must have been wondering what that lumbering giant had in mind with its one eye flashing a red light every now and then.

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By now, of course, in July, the tulips have passed on. The seed pod of the Angelique is beautiful all on its own, though:

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One of the hens has gone broody. All she wants to do is sit on the nest. So I’ve marked the eggs she’s collecting and will let her have her little family if she wishes. You can see these are not all the eggs of one hen. As the offspring of tulip seeds, these chicks will be a mix of the characteristics of their parents. The likely father of this brood is a Maran rooster. In the nest I see Maran eggs, Americana eggs, and Barred Plymouth Rock eggs. Chickens are without prejudice. She will accept any chick that emerges as her own.  How much easier to let her bring them up than to raise a batch of chicks under lights in the attic, move them out to the barn when they grow too big and stinky for indoors, and then grow them to a suitable age and finally let them loose with the rest of the flock. After all, chickens know how to raise chicks!

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July is seeping into August now. It’s dry here, and hot. I remember when summers lasted forever, and the hot days were of no real bother. I remember when the chief concern of summer was skinned knees. Just now I look down at the scab on a shin I barked against a gate yesterday, and I think, very little changes as the seasons unroll in order. Very little changes, but it’s all new again every time.

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Published in: on July 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm  Comments (4)  

Things To Be Done in Autumn

Good readers: Ahead of this post, let me say I am not very happy with the new WordPress image handling routine, and it’s been a struggle to get these into the post and oriented properly and not all skewed in aspect. If, when you load the page, the images on your monitor are tiny, tiny and stretched out, it seems that if you refresh the screen (F5 on a PC), they sort themselves and appear properly. I think if you click on the individual images, they will appear as well, but that seems like a bother and takes them out of context. Maybe everything will look good to you and you won’t have to do anything at all.

And so, we begin:

It’s Christmas tree time in these hills. The sky has been a-buzz with the sound of helicopters transporting cut trees to trucks, and the roads are heavy with the trucks moving trees to their destinations.

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It starts in early October when the trees are going overseas, and continues into November, for the domestic market. Instantly after Thanksgiving dinner is off the tables, every open corner space becomes a Christmas tree lot.

In the orchard, it’s the best time. If there is any sound better than the snap! of an apple stem twisted from its branch on a fall day, then it’s the sound of the apple dropping into the bucket. The air smells like apples and leaves on the ground. My fingers are cold and damp, and the skins of the apples squeak when I handle them.

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This little tree of Liberties filled 3 wheelbarrows. It never seems to take a year off. They’re tart and firm, and they make a wonderful cider.

While I pick, the ewes are ever-hopeful, ever-watchful. They have a pretty good idea treats are likely to come over the fence in their direction.

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And they’re not the only ones hoping to share in the apple crop. I haven’t caught them at it, but here is the evidence of Visitors in the orchard:

.12nov_cidering5_smI’m thinking it’s the little brown rabbit I see hopping for cover when I pass through to feed the the llamas. I really can’t say I mind. Who can begrudge a little rabbit her taste of apple in the fall? But back to work … Here’s the last load on its way through the gate (see them there, down the path, in the wheelbarrow) …

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… to sorting before washing …

Sorting

… then loading into the crusher …

12nov_cidering2 … and the crushed result …12nov_cidering_crush_cr_sm

… ready for pressing: 12nov_cidering8_cr_sm

and then, oh! joy!

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That’s cidering. We freeze it now and have the freshest-tasting varietal cider all year.

Fall is spider time in the woods and field. 12nov_woodsspider_sm It’s a good time to get a faceful of web as you pass. But they’re beautiful on their houses of silk. This one,

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clinging to grass and apples, is so pregnant she looks about to burst. I set her aside to safety. Spiders are beneficial in the landscape. Still and all, I like them out there, not inside with me.

Fall is time to divide dahlias in the garden. Here’s a nice hand, the offspring of the one, roundish one you can see beneath them. Dahlias can be a little expensive to buy in quantity. With patience, you can start with a single tuber and finish the season with… let’s see… more. I’ll plant them out again next spring.

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Speaking of plant propagation, does anyone remember the rosemary cuttings I set last fall, in  in post Make More Plants? They were tiny little sticks with a couple of leaves on top. Here they are now, ready to go into the garden:

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Of two dozen cuttings, I got 23 to strike. I don’t know what I did wrong on the other one.

Aside from that, it’s time to make holiday wreaths again. Here is my pile of stuff, ready for the genius of the season to arrive. They’ll look better in a week or so.

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For a review of my wreath-making routine, here is an older post on the subject: Wreathery.

I always do enjoy this time of year when there’s not much to do. They say.

Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm  Comments (2)