Nesting Instinct

The days bend shorter, the dahlias put on a show (my friend Barbara and I make a pilgrimage to the Dahlia Festival each September, just to fill ourselves with the glory of the changing season),(my fingers just typed “flory,” and I almost left it there as a happy portmanteau word for the glory of flowers each autumn),


The flory of the Swan Island Dahlia Festival

and it’s this time of year again when vegetables are rolling in from the garden at a pace faster than they can be consumed. The canners are boiling in the kitchen where the temperature is around 100 degrees, and something inside a woman wants to start putting things by for winter.

It’s apple-picking and saucing time:


It’s pickling time, too, and we have

Dilly Beans on their shelf,


Bread and Butter Pickles,










Mexican style hot carrot pickles,


and pickled eggs in a giant bottle.16aug_eggs2_cr_sm

The tomatoes in excess of any possible fresh

consumption are jarred and stored in their ranks,


and there are still more to be eaten, so many we have tomato sores in our mouths, but we keep on adding them to salads and plates, and making tomato sandwiches and tomato gravy and fried tomatoes. And there are peppers, too, waiting for their pickling piper to show up.


These are a pretty little pepper called Biquinho, from Brazil, and just coming ripe now. They are intended for pickling, to be used in salads. We first found them at a Brazilian restaurant in Portland where they are part of the “market table” salad bar. Pretty soon we will have to bring them into the greenhouse if they are to finish their season.


Deeper in the garden, the frost isn’t yet on the pumpkins, but they are ready for it. Ours are Rouge vif d’Etampes. It’s a beautiful French heirloom, once common in the markets there. It deserves to be kept in gardens. It grows easily and large, is sweet inside and beautiful outside.


I can’t stop taking pictures of them!


The summer squash are at last beginning to fail while the winter ones are ready for taking. The one below is Thelma Sanders’ Sweet Potato Acorn squash. It’s much like the more familiar dark-skinned acorns (we called those Danish Squash in our house when we were kids). As we know to be the case in other things, the skin color makes no difference. The meat inside is golden and sweet.


The hay is in the barn, so that culinary detail is taken care of.


Pears are still hanging on, waiting for their moment. These are Comice:


Oh, and…

murder1_cr_sm there was an unfortunate day for some chickens. They are now resting peacefully in the freezer. They are not fryers but stewing hens waiting for their day in the winter pot. Chicken butchering day is also custard dessert day for us. Old hens still have a supply of egg yolks inside, and it would be a terrible thing to waste them.


Having a satisfied feeling about the larder now, I feel it’s time to settle in for an evening of knitting, and to finish up a nice sweater project.


The nest is feathered and it’s time to sigh and be content.





Published in: on September 26, 2016 at 7:51 am  Comments (8)  

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. 


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.


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


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.


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.


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?



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.


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

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.


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!


… 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…


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:


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:


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.


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.


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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) …


… to sorting before washing …


… 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!

12nov_cidering7_sm Nothing sweeter!

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,


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.


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:


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.


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)  

An Autumn Congeries

Ah, the foul weather has come, and we are shuddering and building fires in the stove. We had our first snow last week, gone now and turned to mud in the yards.

But there are fine things going on anyway. The young ram is courting his ladies. And courting. And courting. Being he’s just a youngster, he seems assiduous enough in his amours. He’s fairly polite about it all. When the mood for love strikes, he sniffs the air for confirmation, and trots toward the lady of his desires. He bumps her gently on the hips. She steps away demurely. He’s sure by now, so he turns toward the action end of things. At first she may walk away from him. He follows. He reminds her he is there with an additional few nudges. By the time he decides to consummate things, they are in agreement over the matter, and she pauses, presents herself to him, and… it’s done. It takes longer to work out the deal than to perform the act.

Our woods are damp and chill. Across the road and along the path up the Butte, Fall is as good as its name, with foliage littering the way. The scent of autumn in the woods is earthy, moldy, tannic and fungal. It’s a good scent.

All our complaints through the long wet summer have given way to joy: the yield of mushrooms in the woods has been good this year. Here is the beautiful Chanterelle in its native home.

And here it is in my home:

In several collecting days we bagged around 15 pounds live weight. Done in the skillet, in their own nectar, packaged and frozen into serving-size portions, they will come out for later use as fresh as fresh.

The scattering of fungi all through the woods is a wonder to the eye. Here are puffballs, spent of their puffs and looking like chimney pots.

And here, you see, the fairies are back in the woods. This is where they have been a-dancing overnight in the woodlot.


In the barn we have two litters of rabbits all warm in their nests. The doe pulls hair from her coat to make the softest nursery you can imagine. There are seven little ones in here, snuggled next to each another. Mom hops in and out with what seems like careless disregard for the babes in her way, but none seem to get smashed.

Here’s proof: that’s a tiny black rabbit in there.

They’re not into petting at this age. The little buggers are so wiggly and reluctant, it’s impossible to get a good photo of them.

Here are some 3 week-olds. Eyes open, they’ve come to the cute stage. Really, really cute. They fall over one another as if no one had bones or nerves.

They’ve trampled that beautiful nest into nothing, but by this age they snuggle for shared warmth, and that’s enough. Those rabbit skin coats they wear are remarkably warm. In summer, when they don’t want the insulation, their big ears serve as radiators.

These little ears require some growing before then.

And as I speak of warmth and weather, what better time is there to sit by the fire and work wool into garments? Here’s a beautiful batt of blended wool and silk, carded into color layers, ready to spin.

By selecting gobs (that’s a technical term of art) from different parts of the batt, spinning the varied colors, and then making a 2-ply yarn, the hues come and go through the yarn in partly intentional, partly unpredictable changes.

The passages of color are long enough to create broad bands in the knitted garment. Five balls like those above, make this:

Warm as a bunny’s butt.

Published in: on November 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm  Comments (2)  

One Very Fine Bean

After meaning to for years, this spring I planted a patch of Fava beans in the garden.

It’s a bean with much in favor of its cultivation. A cool weather plant, it’s often used as a winter cover crop or green manure. They can also be sown in earliest spring for a summer harvest. In this, our wettest and coldest spring in decades, the Fava Beans sown in March seemed to be all happy all the time. Favas are an Old World bean, thought to have originated in North Africa or the Mediterranean region. All other beans come from Central and South America. When my New World bean seeds rotted in the ground this year (they are, at last, now in July, emerging from a third sowing), the Favas shot up early and fast. And tall!

I’m used to beans which, if they are not climbers, nestle at the level of ankles. These beans, perhaps the beans that carried Jack into the clouds, have become a breast-high jungle. (There’s a nice looking cabbage coming on, too, though with some perforations from the visitations of slugs; and I see some grass to pull.)

I’ve had Fava beans at their “horse bean” stage, that is, when they are mature and dried. They are flat and broad and pale brown. They’re known as Broad Beans in Britain where, as in much of the world, they are the common table bean. We New Worlders aren’t as savvy about this useful Old World bean.

To an eye accustomed to our usual beans, these plants are a surprise. Not only are they tall on a single stalk, the beans set upward on their stems

like erect little… hm… unlike the beans I have grown in the past.

Their leaves aren’t what I expect from a bean plant, either.  I am told the young leaves can be eaten like spinach, but we’re past the young leaf stage right now. It’s information I’ll save for next time.

They have a beautiful blossom of white and black,

which does look like a bean flower to me. They’re quite a lush and lovely plant, nearly a hedge in the vegetable garden.

Because they are rarely found fresh in the markets here, we haven’t enjoyed them in their youngster stage. But yesterday I brought in a mess of tender young pods, and we sliced them up and treated them like string beans (no strings here, by the way). Done in the sauté pan in a certain amount of butter, they cook very quickly. These are fast food, and they came out tender, sweet, and slightly nutty.

Why ever is this bean not used here in the States? It’s nutritious, and a good source of folic acid, potassium, and magnesium. They contain vitamins A, B, C, iron, and, that specialty of all beans, dietary fiber.

We have ahead of us beans at several steps toward maturity: to be used as freshly shelled ones, as dried, broad ones, and  as treat fodder for the sheep when the plants begin to fade. (They are not so good for chickens, however, for whom they can reduce egg production and enlarge livers. This is information of interest to a limited audience, I realize, but feeding the left-over plants to chickens is something I would have thought of doing. They are notably good for ruminants, though, and the sheep always line up at the garden fence when I’m working. Who says sheep are stupid? Mine know where a green treat comes from.)

I would suggest this bean is a worthy addition to any American garden where they haven’t yet grown. Admirable as a cover crop (like all beans, the tilled-in plants enrich the soil), they come happily to the table as well. My next crop will be sown in the cool days leading into winter, because in mild-winter areas like ours they will hold over in the ground for an early spring harvest. The Fava does not crave or enjoy hot weather. But it thrives in the chill and damp.

Here is Yellowcat, enjoying the feeble warmth of this summer’s beginning, with a view of Favas in the foreground.


Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

New Things and Old Things, and the Weather

In March, fair weather deluded us into thinking it was time to work the vegetable patch, and we did it with enthusiasm. And then came the rains, back in buckets. The bean seeds rotted in the soil. Poor little zucchini plants tried nobly to get things started…

… and then retired again into the mud.

Through weeks of rains coming in, storm after storm,  long past their scheduled allotment, some things struggle forward in seasonal progress. The cottonwoods put on their cottonfall. The garden weeds have leaped forth. The crows arrived in noisy chorus, and the the goldfinches and towhees. The slugs ate the iris blooms before they could contemplate opening to the sun. The sun? Not making much of an appearance this spring.

But here is a sign of the time. The newest crop of the year, trotting beside the road, was swift to get back to it’s mother’s side when I stopped with the camera. It’s so hard to get photos of these little gems. It was like a fairy deer, as petite as they come. Mother was watching from above.

The House is advancing. So many diverse things need completion, it seems the list goes on forever. It’s been such a long project.  Now, when I look at this wholly modern structure, I see something of its place in time and technology.

A house must meet our most primitive need: comfort. We find that in regulated temperature, light, and sound.  Except that we have made choices among modern and, when we could, local materials, our house is only that. It’s a box holding warmth and coolness as we wish it, providing light when we call for it, and containing noise. Nothing special. It has systems that allow it to perform these tasks in efficient ways, which is what we strive for here, but when it comes down to it, creating a dwelling of most  effective, most available materials is not new. In the Mesa Verde area of Colorado, the Hisatsinom people built their homes into the sheltering cliffs, giving themselves advantageous views, protection from the heat of day, and access to horticultural sites that were not, therefore, taken up by dwellings. In their time, the use of the cliffs was a modern advance in housing.

In any case, as our  sun-loving house nears completion, we begin to realize how you cannot build such a house without becoming philosophical about past and future. Goodness knows, our future needs some attention to our past. And though this is very much a 21st Century house, we’ve grabbed a few good things from other centuries.

Look here for instance:

What a nice pile of boards. These will be interior window facings, and they are a piece of good fortune. This lumber is very old wood, held for years in deep, deep storage. There was a time, not so long ago, when loggers pulled gigantic trees from the forests, skidded them down Corduroy roads to the river, and tied them into booms to be floated downstream. Weather and circumstance sometimes delivered these logs to the bottom of the river. where they lay, preserved in their bark coats, awaiting the day when someone found them of sufficient value to invest in their recovery.

Our tree fell in the forest about 250 years ago.

It’s grain is vertical, fine and true. It smells like old fir, resinous and faintly dusty. We think of it as treasure, brought back from that era when we were so wickedly disrespectful of our forest resources.

In other projects, we spent a weekend staining cork tiles for the kitchen floor.

Cork production is renewable and sustainable from the beginning. Cork for flooring is a secondary product, made from the left-overs of wine cork production. Believe it or not, wine corks are more valuable than kitchen floors. Cork oaks live long, and cork floors do likewise. Installed now, but covered up,

Honest, there is a lovely kitchen here...

ours looks great, and should make a floor that is easy to stand on, warm underfoot, and easy to maintain.

In latest developments, iron workers have spent the last two weeks crawling over the greenhouse face, welding up the matrix for the glass panes.

If ever there were a spring in which we could have used the greenhouse (and in which we remember we had thought to be using it last spring), this is it. With a new series of barometer collapses headed in this week, we really do not see any relief from the Spring it Rained.

Salad, at least has been a success in the garden this year. Lettuce doesn’t seem to mind the rain, and if you plant enough of it, you can stay ahead of the slugs making their own harvest. And from back in the woods, Miner’s Lettuce perked up the bowl:

Claytonia perfoliata

It gives a person respect for the weather, this dank spring.

If you’ll excuse me now, I’ll go put my fleecy boots on again, and feed the fire.

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 4:24 pm  Comments (2)  

As the World Turns

It was Clear-the-weeds-in-the-vegetable-patch Day on Sunday. Things were at such a point, unless you knew them as a mother does her children, you might not find the vegetables among the upstart thistles and other weeds. On my knees, rummaging among desired and undesired stems, I looked into the heart of the summer squash thicket and saw this beautiful spiral.

Zucchini bloom on a cool morning

Who could find such a thing and not stop in their labor, sigh a sigh, and feel for a moment the perfection of being?

Here is another, the vine of the runner bean making its way up. It finds its own means of taking hold, reaching rightwards around any support it chances to find.

Runner beans running

Compare its right-winding direction with the squash blossom above. The squash goes left. The bean goes right.

In the lyrics of Flanders and Swann ,

The fragrant honeysuckle spirals clockwise to the sun,
And many other creepers do the same.
But some climb anti-clockwise, the bindweed does, for one,
Or Convolvulus, to give her proper name.

In this song, the honeysuckle and the bindweed find themselves tragically star-crossed lovers who can never come together because they vine in opposite directions. Their plan is to,

“…run away for a honeymoon and hope that our luck’ll
Take a turn for the better” said the bindweed to the honeysuckle.


Together, they found them, the very next day,
They had pulled up their roots and just shrivelled away.
Deprived of that freedom for which we must fight,
To veer to the left or to veer to the right!

Here’s another right-ward spiral, though within it you can see a left-hand turn as well. This bi-partisan approach might have solved the problem for the bindweed and the honeysuckle, if they had had a composite flower like the daisy.

A common composite

Much more is going on in this flower than its spiral. Those little spiraling ‘beads’ in the center of the flower are mathematical genius growing wild. If you were to take the flower apart, down to its center, called the Capitulum, and count the ‘beads,’ you’d find this sequence of numbers growing in the turns:


It’s a series known as a Fibonacci sequence: each sequential number is the sum of the preceding two. I take it on faith. Enough other people have counted them.

Look here to see the wonder of this sequence.

Now I’m looking at the brow of our Mule, and wondering if William is more perfect than I might have thought.

Brow of the mule

Does he know what a miracle might lie between his ears?

Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm  Comments (2)  

Oh! Truffles!

Looka here!

Tuber gibbosum

Those lumpish little white things are Tuber gibbosum, the Oregon White Truffle. Subterranean and very special, truffles have a long history in fine cookery, medicine, and — ahem — sexual enticement. And these truffles, these particular truffles which are said to rival in flavor the costly and desirable White Italian truffles, grow here in Western Oregon, in the duff beneath fir trees. In the duff, I should expand, beneath fir trees such as grow in our own woods. The mycelia of truffles form symbiotic relationships with the roots of Douglas Firs, among other tree species. The short form of the relationship is this: the fungus, living in contact with the tree roots, creates an underground structure called a mycorrhiza. The fungus takes up certain minerals from the soil that the tree would not be able to on its own, and permits transfer of the nutrients into the tree. Good for everyone.

I confess here, I’ve been looking for these little fungi for 3 winters now, and they had me beat. I took a class called Truffles in Your Forest. I went out and scraped around under trees with a gardening fork thing. I pushed  my nose into the dirt and inhaled, hoping for that distinctive whiff of bleach and fungus that is said to betray the presence of truffles in the ground. I wondered what it would take to train a pig to find them for me. (First off, I imagined you’d have to have found some to show to the pig. But today I learned that it is the distinct smell of the truffle that attracts the pig all on its own: it reminds the sow of her beau… boar… it smells like his saliva to her. How romantic. I can see why truffles would be thought an aphrodisiac.*)

I went out today under the kind tutelage of a neighbor, to find truffles. Deborah lives a short way up the road. We met today for the first time, and only because she came across this blog one web-surfing day, and then invited me to come learn from her about truffles in the forest.  While we were rummaging around the tree roots, we chatted about sheep and poultry and common acquaintances, fleeces and eggs, heritage livestock breeds and rescue flocks. It was a charming way to spend part of an afternoon before haring off to town after a pair of insulated overalls.

Here is Deborah demonstrating truffling technique:

The Oregon Truffler

She generously showed me how and kept handing me pale nodules to put in my bag.

Along the way we saw indications that others have been working the truffle grounds, too. Truffles are clearly a favorite all around the forest. The ground beneath the trees is pocked with little excavations like this one:

Signs of other connoiseurs

The white flecks inside the hole are bits of truffle left behind by the eat-and-run lifestyle of small rodents. Careless rodents! I left no pieces of truffle behind.

So, I drove off toward town with woodland treasure on the car seat beside me. I acquired the insulated overalls and came on home to hand over my bag of booty. “You got some? You got some. I can tell, you got some!”

Wild truffles on the chopping blockI presented a handful of dirty little marbles.

What did we do with them?

Grated, slicedWe sniffed around. We grated some and tasted. Grated, it was slightly damp in feel, smelled of fungus, and was not profoundly strong. But they were tiny little nibbles. We were tentative. We sliced some, and marveled at the inner pattern of shapes and color:

A sliced white truffle

Then we cooked. That is, Richard cooked.

First course: we tried some in a cup of tomato soup. Good, but very subtle.

Then we had small omelets

Omelet with Oregon White Truffles and shallotsstuffed with truffles and shallots. That was pretty good. We felt less tentative.

Third course: Grated truffles blended into butter, over simple pasta. All the rest of them.

Pasta with truffle butter

And that was really good. The aroma of the truffles traveled upstream from the tongue into the nose and hung around in the sinuses for a while. The taste on the tongue lingered, sent little sensory delights all down the throat. The next forkful awaited, fragrant, nutty, fungal, slightly musky, slightly… bleachy. This was the flavor we had read of. This, not subtle at all, was the gold ring of mushroom collecting.

We ate them all. They’re gone. We carefully set aside the remains of the truffled butter and will have it at breakfast with scrambled eggs.

What a day! What a treat! One more thing off the Bucket List!


*About the aphrodisiac: Look up the aphrodisiacal properties of truffles and you will find results like, “The evidence is unclear…” and, “There is no scientific verification of this.” But, every wonderful, mysterious and rare ingredient has its secrets. If we knew for sure, wouldn’t it lose some of its attraction?

Here is the science, as taken from Wikipedia:

Androstenol is a sex pheromone, possessing a musk-like odor. It is found in large quantities in boar saliva, but also in smaller quantities in human sweat glands. It is analogous to sex hormones yet has minimal or no androgenic activity. Androstenol is secreted by the adrenal gland into systemic circulation in humans: Systemic effects have not been well studied.

Androstenol, or a chemical derivative, is found in truffles, and is offered as an explanation for how pigs locate them deep in the ground.

Both isomers have a weak, characteristic odor; however alpha-androstenol is often associated with a sandalwood-like aroma due to residual solvents (alkyl acetates).


So, go have fun.

Published in: on January 24, 2009 at 11:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Murder Most Fowl, and Other Miscellaneous Fall Events

The Cook in the Barnyard with the KnifeVegetarians and tender souls, avert your eyes.

Sometimes, when you live on a farm, you become an angel of mercy.

Friends of ours, who also have a small acreage, are far too sympathetic to the members of their chicken flock to dispatch them when they are in need of it. A couple of times now we’ve had to respond to emergency medical matters by delivering the coup de grâce for them. This afternoon we had a distressed phone call. Would we take their fine, though obnoxious, Wyandotte cock, and kill him? He’d been found flopping about in the morning with a broken leg.

Naturally, we are only too happy to help out. Though Richard usually ends up doing the killing around here, even I can put down an animal in distress. In this case, the lovely 7-month bird was also to be ours to keep for the table. He arrived nicely settled into grass in a ventilated box. We visited briefly with his parents, and then excused ourselves to take him away to the back of behind. The stroke was swift. Since we’d had advance notice of his arrival, a pot of hot water was ready for his dunking. He plucked beautifully and very shortly was ready to be cleaned inside.

Picked clean

Now he looks less like a bird to engage your heart and more like what comes from the market. He had a very good life, however, unlike the chickens wrapped and displayed in that supermarket cooler, and he’ll make a far healthier several dinners for us, too.  We’ll let him rest for a couple of days in the refrigerator, “hanging” used to be term for it, and then we’ll bring him in for preparation.

The gift rooster was the wrap-up of a fine weekend. The weather has been autumnally gorgeous: sunshine, mild air, foliage in color. I drove off across the valley with a friend on Saturday and came home with another beautiful Jacob sheep for the flock. This is Bide a Wee Ida:

Bide a Wee Ida

Ida is a yearling ewe, and arrived just in time to step into the breeding paddock with Eldon the ram and the other women. Ordinarily I would quarantine a new ewe for a period before introducing her to the flock. But Ida has effectively been in quarantine at Bide a Wee Farm since the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival in September, so I wasn’t concerned about her.

Eldon seemed quite pleased to make her acquaintance, and Ida, too, appeared receptive to the matter. A ram follows an interesting ewe closely, sniffs her personal cologne at intervals, and curls his lips in delight. He licks his nose, and advances for another whiff. He bumps her hips lightly, and speaks, I am quite sure, French into her ear: You are so beautiful, my sweet. I do very much adore you. Your scent causes me rapture. Come close again, don’t go, my dear. Am I not handsome to you? Meanwhile, the ewe plays a coy game. If she is not in the mood yet (meaning, not ready to breed), she trots ahead of him, turns irritably away, and keeps him running along behind. If she is open to the moment, however, she will pause now and then to let him come close. She’ll squat ahead of him, and maybe pee a little. He raises his front leg and rests his chin on her rump. Oh, dear, she thinks, and sets off again for another pass around the paddock, but not so fast he might lose interest. This little dance goes on for a while, until they come to an agreement about one another. Then he steps up to the job, commits the act in a trice, and walks off to investigate some other woman in sight. To judge from the indications given last night, Ida was no longer a virgin by dawn.

Ida had an adventure in arriving here.  When I brought Jenna home in the back of the car last December I was a little unnerved by the clacking of her horns against the windows. So this time we thought about the matter a little, and decided that, since you hood a hawk to calm it, and blinder a horse, why not cover the eyes of a sheep to keep her from trying to get out the windows? We took along a pillowcase and, once Ida was loaded into the car, slipped it over her head. We cut a corner off the case to make a breathing hole. Ida seemed to be all OK with the matter. She stood quietly all the way down the hills from the farm, through Newberg (where we stopped for coffee at a little coffee shack and amazed the server who looked in the window and asked if we wanted a dog biscuit. “I think she’d love it,” I said, “but it’s a sheep.” “No way!” said the girl. “Way! It is!”, and withdrew the offer of the doggie biscuit), across the valley, and up into the east-side hills to home.  Except for the loss of the dog biscuit, Ida was untroubled. One wonders in passing, did she notice we had a pillowcase over our dog’s head?

Sunday dawned as beautiful as Saturday had. I took advantage of the weather to clean out the chicken nests. This might not sound like a pleasing task, but it doesn’t take long, and doing it in sunshine is so much more pleasant than doing it in the rain, that, yes, I enjoyed it.

I went into the loft and tossed bales of hay to the floor, and watched the bits and flecks of hay dust drift in the sunlight. I tied the ladder to the roof truss, too. Why? Indeed.

Tie your ladderLet me tell a small story. A couple of weeks ago I went up to throw down bales. It was my first trip up the ladder this year. I’ve just now used up the hay stacked on the floor of the barn, and had to move upstairs for more. The first bales to come down are always a little scary to deal with. They’re stacked to the very edge of the loft floor, so must be hooked from the stack by clinging to the ladder and coaxing them out. Then, once a bale-sized rectangle of floor is exposed, I can step off the ladder and, by turning smally in the rectangle, shove the next  bales off into space. The first part of this worked fine. I’ve done it before and have a pretty good method worked out. I didn’t worry too much about the second part. By then I’m standing on the floor. No problem. Except… the second bale down elegantly takes the ladder with it.

I consider the matter. I am upstairs with a lot of hay and not a lot of room to move around. The ladder is downstairs. I try to think like McIver. I have tools. I have: a hay hook. I have: clothes. I have: a very, very small Swiss Army knife with a nail file and a scissors in addition to the manicure-sized blade. I can think of no way to use any of these things to get the ladder back.

So I start tossing bales onto the floor. I’m thinking, if I stack up enough of them down there, I can hop down onto them. The first couple land neatly where I intend. The next few bounce, fly, roll, and cannonball everywhere. They are scattered all over the floor, not even one on top of another very exactly. This is not working. I have more bales on the floor than I really want down there, and I am still up in the loft with no good way to join them. But I do have enough space cleared on the edge of the loft now that I can lie down there. I lean wa-a-ay out with the hay hook, and just snag the top of the aluminum ladder, and pull gratefully on it.

This is an extension ladder. Pulling on the top only makes it longer and longer and doesn’t really put it anywhere I want it. By this time I am sweating as in August, have shucked off my chore coat, am not admiring the motes in the sun anymore, and might even have said the “F” word: “Fooey!

As I am writing this in comfort, and at a computer, you must know I did in the end get out of the loft. I struggled with that ladder for a good 20 minutes, making it “walk” from side to side and trying to find a place among all the shattered bales below to set its feet. I hugged the center post of the barn as I slithered down the wobbly rungs. I stamped about a little, restacked the bales, picked up my coat and hat, and snarled at the sheep who were watching it all in fascination.

Thinking it over

So, y’know, tie your ladder.

The sun was still up, and I needed to make a gathering of greens for holiday wreaths. One of the things about having almost everything in storage is, you can’t easily remember if you were smart enough to save out things like hand nippers and branch loppers. I was, and was able to find them even, so set out to gather some leafy things into buckets. I’ll be making gift wreaths for the next few weekends. I started with one this afternoon, working in the sun on the back steps.

When I came in, Richard took one look and me and said, as he has quite a few times lately, “You really need a new coat.”


I don’t see the problem myself. It’s hardly broken in. It still has two working buttons. What? It’s the coat that held new-born lambs. It goes over fence wires to protect me. It has good pockets for apples and bottles of animal medicines.  It’s softened up. It fits over sweaters. It’s taken me a good 10 years to make this coat what it is. You mean, I have to start again at the beginning?

Well, I’ll give that some thought.

Meanwhile, this is the kind of weekend that makes me love autumn most.


Published in: on November 16, 2008 at 10:48 pm  Comments (2)