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)  

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,


or sit on them,


or drive them.


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


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


overseen by the haughty llamas, superior in every attitude


to the slumbering pigs,


the smiling, slumbering pigs.


Who cannot love a sleeping pig?


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


You can admire the curls of the visitors.


You can buy a thrill,


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


and eat pink stuff until you are ill,


and you can save your soul.


Or you can sleep it all off with your friends.


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


And some of it is lovely and detailed.


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!


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.


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)  

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)  

Workshop Weekend

We are having sizzling temperatures here. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s 106°F was a record-buster, and today promises to beat that. Ugh.


I made a weekend escape to cooler climes over the weekend, heading away to join friends at a 2-day ‘color in wool’ workshop.We drove downriver along the Columbia, and turned north at Westport, Oregon, to take a small ferry across to Puget Island. It was a glorious sunny afternoon by the time we lined up at the ferry landing. For $3 we made the short crossing along with a half dozen other cars. We ate cherries from a roadside stand while we waited at the landing.

The ferry landing

Here’s the friendly ferryman who probably poses regularly for tourist photos:

The cap'n of the ferry

And here is me, catching a knitting break during the transit:

Me, knitting

The crossing is about 15 minutes. I barely had time to find my bag and get out my needles.

Puget Island is a small community in the Columbia River. As you approach, it has that unmistakable scent and feel of a waterine settlement. Often the Columbia is raucous in its windy progress toward the ocean. On this day, with a pleasant breeze, the river lapped gently at the beach.


Approach to Puget Island

You drive briefly over the island, cross to the town of Cathlamet by bridge, and turn onto the highway headed downriver, to Skamokawa. (I had to put these in here: Cath-LAM-et, and (try it your own way first, then say…) Ska-MOK-a-way.)

We arrived enthusiastic, ate and slept well, and were ready to throw ourselves into class the next morning.  I was about to make yarns I would never have undertaken on my own, using the drum carder to blend colors into wool batts that were later drawn out into gaily colored rovings and spun into final yarns.

For readers who have no idea what I’m talking about, here is a quick course in the preparation of wool into yarn.

As it comes from the sheep, a fleece is messy, dirty, and clumpy. To be spun into yarn it must first be sorted and then cleaned (I mean washed, washed in hot water, with detergent), and then made into a fluffy form that can be attenuated into strands. Skipping over  the first business of sorting and washing (called scouring among the conoscenti), let’s move on, to the handling of the cleaned wool.

In this case, we were using small portions of wool already dyed into colors our instructor intended us to begin with.

Raw materials

We had a bag of brightly colored wool, a bag of medium-dark wool, a bag of darker dark wool, and a sack of natural whites, grays, and blacks. In addition, we were each given a paper bag of ‘goodies.’ The goodies were bits of flashy fiber, silk, mohair, wool, and, I must say it though it’s hard for me, holographic plastic.

Bits of color

All these bits and pieces are in a sort of rough jumble. To make them orderly, we first run the plain (dyed) wool though a carding machine like this one:

A drum carder

Below is a close-up view of the drums. The wires sticking from the cloth grab the wool as it passes between the two drums and pulls it open. Here you can see some bits of colored silk added to the wool batt.

Flecks and bits added to the carder

The drum carder is a larger, faster version of the hand carders our grandmothers used to prepare wool for spinning.

'La Cardeuse,' Jean-François Millet

You can imagine this woman never thought of getting together to card wool for fun.

The process separates the strands of wool, fluffs them up, gives them order and body. Actually, it may give them chaos, but it’s open and uniform chaos. The wool as it comes out of the carder is called a batt, and the texture of the batt is lofty. Here are four of them, well-carded:

Carded batts arranged in layers

You can see little pieces of colored material scattered through the batts. This is the goody stuff, which has been carded into the original wool.

Now, these delightful batts were about to be sundered.

We rolled them up like fat jelly rolls. Then, putting our arms and shoulders into it, we began pulling from the middles of the rolls, outward to the ends. This is our instructor, Janis Thompson, demonstrating how to pull the batts into a roving.

Pulling out a roving

A roving, which looks here like a giant woolly worm, is an attenuated rope of carded wool, ready for spinning into yarn. Here’s one of mine, wound up after being pulled thin.

A roving, wound up

The next day we all assembled again to finish up our yarns. We spun the pretty rovings into strands that were gaily textured, thin in some places, thick in others, happily colored and unpredictable. We had, as we’d been instructed, flexed our ‘color muscles.’  We’d come up with some irreproducible results.


Two days of intensive, hands-on education can be a zonking experience. On Saturday morning we were fairly skipping into class. By Sunday afternoon, we were weary from learning. Dazzled by our results, but worn right out.

Class wasn’t all that captured our attention. That inner bell that heralds a nearby yarn store had been clanging in my breast. All day on Saturday, I knew something must be done about it. But there we were, tied to our carding machines, class running until 5 pm. I could hear the door of that yarn shop closing at 5, even at a yet unmeasured distance. What to do?

Over dinner that evening we discussed the problem. Oh, said our friend Rose, that’s no problem. They open at 7:30 because of the cafe serving breakfast.


The yarn shop, you see, shares space with a cafe and the proprietors, being no fools, open the store about when morning coffee is served.

So we leapt from our own breakfast table on Sunday morning, and made a hasty sortie into the fragrant realms of the local yarn store.


It gave us a boost for the second day’s work over the carders.

All in all, it was a delightful weekend in which we enjoyed cooler temperatures, ate good food, found good company, and made yarn. A womanly pursuit all around, from which we came home again in good condition. I recommend such an outing every now and then.

Published in: on July 30, 2009 at 4:16 pm  Comments (2)  

In Which We Catch Up

It seems we have let things lapse here. We see patient readers have been checking in, perhaps only to sigh and move on as there is nothing new to look at. We’ll try to do better.

Summer has come roaring in, full of busy days. The annual rite of bringing in the hay commenced, in mercifully mild wCherries!eather. Most usual haying temperatures reach the F90s or higher. This year we had extended spring rains to delay the process. For weeks, two days of brilliant sun would be bracketed by 3 of rain; and rain, for hay, is early death. As the stems rose in the fields waiting for a forecast of weather fair enough for cutting and drying, barn lofts grew emptier and emptier. Growers worried their grass might lodge over in the rain and refuse to stand upright again. Baling machines stood idle. Shepherds  watched the days pass on the calendar, through June, July coming up.

Haying requires a dry day to cut, a couple of dry days for the fallen grass to give up its dampness in the field, to be raked over and give up some more, and a day to bale and collect the bales out of the field. When it happens, the County roads are busy with trucks and trailers moving hay from one farm to another. Grass is life for livestock. If you are like us, with little field acreage, you buy your hay from someone who has lots of field and few animals. It is a time in which you push back plans because you cannot plan for the schedule of the field.  We assemble some strong arms and backs to help. They come with patient men who know they’ve committed to an uncertain date. Yes, they’ll help with haying. Just call. We borrow trailers and pickup trucks to go with the strong arms and backs. We hope they will all be available when the date finally comes. We wait on the weather.

In the meantime, I knit.

Knitting again.

At last, almost a month later than last year, the call came.

The Venerable Hayhook

A hayhook is a simple tool, so essential to the managing of bales most folks have several. This one is of wrought iron, cut from plain stock long ago and shaped to fit the job. Its handle is polished from long use. It's satisfying to pick up a tool that has served many hands.

We buy our hay straight from the open ground. Our friend, Lloyd, calls when the baler is making his rounds of the field. By evening of that day the hay will be dotting his acres in neat bundles waiting to be collected. They don’t stay there long. If you do not collect your hay promptly, someone else will get it before you. It is an exercise in urgency, this getting in the hay.

It’s far cheaper to buy hay this way, with our own labor in loading and unloading, than to get it from a grower who has stored it (his labor in lifting, lifting again, and stowing), or to have it delivered. We pay the strong arms and backs, certainly, but they are working for us, and it’s not nearly as dear as if we were paying a middle-man.

We ran into difficulties with the labor pool. We don’t need many hands, but we need more than just mine. This year R. has been laid up with a painfully infected leg wound, and found himself disabled in the days running up to, and through, and after, haying. That has been a long and frightening story of the vigor of small organisms. You are spared the details here. It seems all will come well at the end, but we were seriously concerned for quite a few days.

In any case, as haying goes, his was a pair of hands not on the job. I thought I had lined up two likely fellows from the construction crew, but when the call to the field came, they were reminded by their distaff side that it was apartment-moving weekend, and I could nearly hear the scolding they received clear from town. “You agreed to do what?” In the end, our friends Elton and Dan came over the horizon to help. They arrived at the field early on a Sunday morning, pickups and trailers at the ready. The three of us put away about 5 tons of hay in good time. Then Dan drove off to another field and another barn to fill. I think Elton went to find  a steam bath. A city man, he’s unaccustomed to these bursts of labor that come on a farm, and it was a gesture of fine character that he came out to help.

So: hay is in.

Since last I wrote, we found time to till and plant some garden.

Planting garden

Richard calls this my clown suit. They are hand-me-down overalls too small for other likely recipients, a little large on me, but too good to throw away. That anyone thought I might wear them does not speak well for my fashion image.

The garden is slight by our usual standard. The plot lay fallow the last two seasons, awaiting the installation of the new septic system (Two seasons because of… delays. When it was first supposed to come in, it didn’t. When it did, it fully missed the vegetable plot, and we could have planted anyway. Details elsewhere, and probably not worth looking up.), which meant breaking ground all anew this year.

This is the quality of soil we enjoy here. It’s officially called Jory Clay Loam, though the loam proportion is difficult to find. When I say “breaking ground,” I do not speak metaphorically.

Our Soil

But we have some garden, and next year’s will be better.

While the garden grew, I knitted some more.

More knitting.

The tomatoes are setting on.

First tomato fruits

The Runner Beans are blooming.

Bean Bloom

Baby squashes are appearing on the bush.

Tiny Squashes

Since last I wrote, the cherries have come ripe.

Cherries waiting to be picked.

Odd as it seems, the birds have let us have most of them this year. We have a riotous population of crows in residence, and the usual assortment of small brown birds. All of these happy to beat us to a good portion of the crop, and I can’t figure out what they are thinking, to have left all those beautiful, sweet gems hang there until I came for them. Most of the fruit has gone into the freezer, about 20 quarts. It’s a small tree still, and this seems a handsome harvest.

The wild strawberries are appearing in the woods.

Wild strawberry

And, oh, I knitted.

A knitting break in the day's tasks.

That’s our still unfinished house at my back. By the time we’re allowed to live in it, who knows, I may be tired, but I’ll probably still be knitting.


Published in: on July 12, 2009 at 4:26 pm  Comments (5)  


This is a special request post. A friend of mine keeps asking how one makes wreaths, and though I have given answers like, “You just wire the stuff onto a form until it’s done,” that hasn’t seemed to be answer enough. So here you go:

1. Get your stuff.

Snip! Snip!

“What kind of stuff?” I am asked. Well, shoot. Any kind of stuff. This is a cheap project. Look around. Some folks buy their materials (shudder!), but, really, is that necessary? When we lived in town, I made wreaths from the old fir tree in the back yard, the boxwood shrub, and the arbor vitae hedge. If you don’t have your own, it’s not too hard to find someone who will share. Everyone who has a hedge wants it pruned. Landscape evergreens make great wreath materials.  Take a drive in the country, stop someplace that looks friendly, and ask to cut enough for a wreath. Just seek out evergreen foliage, berries, cones, and things that look like they will last a while.

Avoid: Holly. I mean it. If you have body armor and can work in gloves, then go ahead and make holly wreaths. They will be beautiful, and I will kneel before you in  homage. Holly is the most awful thing to work with I have ever imagined. You cannot hold onto it anywhere without it sticking you, and if you get some built into a wreath, then you can’t pick up the wreath to show it off. And you bleed. You bleed out of a hundred tiny wounds. Saints used to bleed like this.

If you want to bleed just a little, perhaps to make yourself feel like the princess in a fairy tale? The stems of the wild roses (see below for my list of ingredients) will work fine.

Prick your finger here.

But you can also de-thorn them and work safely in the world of real things. If you make this wreath, you won’t have to be a fairy-tale princess; people will think you are a Queen!

Maybe avoid: Juniper.  Garden beds around offices and schools are full of juniper plants. Juniper has attack spines on the ends of its lovely fronds. They stick you and leave itchy welts. It’s not as bad as holly, but you really want to be prepared to have a good rash for the rest of the weekend if you use it in wreathmaking.

My stuff presently is Douglas Fir, native Salal (Gaultheria shallon), Scotch Broom — or Common Broom, to those across the pond — (Cytisus scoparius), and wild rose hips. But the recipe changes from time to time. I just look around for what might be had.

Buy some wire. You do have to lay out something for the wire. I buy 24 gauge “paddle wire” at the craft shop: $1.49 gets you enough for a couple of wreaths on forms about 12 inches in diameter.

2. Make your form. No! don’t buy one!


When I was young and foolish, I did buy them. And then one year I came up short on forms, so I twisted a couple of limber branches into hoops, wired them up, and went to town. It may not be perfectly round when you start, but by the time you’ve worked all the way around it with your greens, it will be.

I ask you to use a little restraint here. A 12-inch hoop will make into a finished wreath of about 24 inches in diameter. That’s big enough for a door wreath. I’m warning you: if you start out with a form the size you have in mind for the final product, you will be really surprised at the end. You will be able to hoola-hoop it around your hips. You will be able to jump through it on horseback.

3. Make some greenery into small pieces.

Pick it apart

Pull or snip off pieces that can become little bouquets, and…

4. Wire them onto the form.

Wind them on.

You already have wire going around the form to hold the branches together. Just keep on spiraling the wire around the form, catching the ends of the fronds or other branches under the wire.

5. Add new ingredients in layers.

Add stuff in layers.

Don’t skimp on material. Make your wreath thick and bushy. You can always trim later, but it’s a real pain in the butt to add stuff in after you’ve finished and realize, too late, your wreath is skinny.

Some things can be added on the back of the wreath. Here I’ve put on some Scotch Broom that will stick out in swishes off the sides of the wreath:

Work the back as well as the front.

6. When you get to the end, fold back the material you laid in first and find space to tuck the last few stems of foliage.

Look for a place to finish up.

Work the wire back and forth between leaves to keep them perky and undamaged while you find a place to wrap.

7. Sew in the end of the wire someplace on the back, and there you have it. Hang your wreath someplace and stand back to admire it.

Now, wasn't that easy?

(Click any images for bigger display.)

Published in: on November 29, 2008 at 8:12 pm  Comments (3)