May and a Walking Wheel


Our drought is officially over. April did it in. We have had a soggy, misty, cold-footed, gray-skied, sodden-lawn spring.


April’s wet and chill delayed the emergence of new growth, but in May, we are greening up.



Trees are blooming, leaves popping out, and a few flowers are showing their colors. Our lawn is so green it feels more like Ireland than Maine.





As I raked up the “mummies,” old apple drops from last year, I found that some were germinating the seeds within.


It looks as if something chewed this and spit it out.  But it’s just the rotting apple with its seeds sprouting.  A perfect medium for growing.  I planted these in a pot.  It will be fun to see if I can bring some apples up from seeds at the same time we raise them from grafts.

In May, the birds and the bees are back.


Rose Breasted Grosbeak


Our bluebirds and swallows have been jousting over the most select bird houses, but seem to be settling into the same ones they chose last year. Several birds have checked out the new houses we put up, but last year’s houses seem to be the preferred real estate.


When I cleaned out last year’s nests, I found the bluebirds had lined their nest of grass, twigs, and assorted vegetative matter with about an inch of compacted but soft, downy, white something. At first I thought it was sheep’s wool, but then realized it was Zoe’s fur. I like to brush dogs outside in the spring and summer and throw their fur to wind. It’s an easy way to dispose of the fur and I thought some birds might use it. Little did I think that I would find a lovely reminder of Zoe in a bird’s nest almost a year after she died. I hope Capp and Alice’s fur will line nests this year.


As for Alice, we have discovered that she is a beast in the water. Her father was a hunting retriever and she obviously has his genes. I suspect she would retrieve to her last breath. When Alice is happy every bit of her being exudes pure joy in doing what she is doing.


Capp, in the water, prefers retrieving sticks to bumpers. So far, he is an enthusiastic farmer boy, inspecting (and eating) all we do in the yard. A gorgeous bundle of swagger and sweetness, he is full of adolescent male curiosity and loving intelligence. We are fortunate to have two dogs packed with personality and love.

Both dogs are garden marauders, though. George had to dog proof our raised beds to keep pups from cavorting in them. They love to eat every kind of green and brassica, charcoal bits, weeds, sticks, and Capp eats tulips (not good for dogs!).


Our hillside is starting to look a bit like a little farm.


Cold frame is filling up.

The strawberry patch is doing well, the asparagus shoots are poking up, our orchard trees are swelling with buds and we are putting in new beds for flax and more vegetables.


George built a holder for the tractor’s shank ripper.  Looks like a throne or an electric chair.


Even our mushroom logs look like they might produce something.


The white is mycelium growing (so they tell us).

We are tearing out almost all of the rugosa roses that lined our parking area and the front of the house in a scraggly hedge want-to-be.


I hate to destroy someone else’s vision for the property, but after two years, both George and I came to harbor a sort of hatred for the spiny invasive devils. Allowed to grow wild in a hedge, they might be wonderful. But they were not planted in wild-hedge territory. They sucker up huge unwieldy shoots and creep everywhere underground, through lawn, gravel, wood–persistent little spiny monsters. And for much of the year they are really very ugly.


So, we dug most of them out and righted their severely listing retaining wall. We are planting a variety of sweet-smelling pollinator-attracting shrubs instead. RIP prickly invaders. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of you.


We have installed a new package of bees in the hive and, on our few sunny days, they have been bringing in loads of yellow pollen.


I did a post mortem (I wish–what do I know, really?) on the hive and concluded that I killed the bees through my worrying and ineptness. The hive was loaded with honey and I could find no obvious signs of disease. Without getting into too much detail, I believe that I should have insulated the hives and should not have opened them for what turned out to be totally unnecessary winter feedings of sugar cakes. I had large bee die-offs both times I opened the hives, so there clearly was a connection. The good news is that it doesn’t look like the bees died from mite infestations or other diseases. The bad news is that I probably killed them. Live and learn. In any case, I harvested one frame of delicious honey and the bees this year have a good head start.


May also brought me a walking wheel.


I am having a sort of love affair with antique spinning wheels. I now have three wheels. Mudd Sharrigan did a beautiful job in restoring the flyer and bobbin for my Connecticut wheel.


The flyer, bobbin, and whorl, broken and chipped.



Mudd retained the original flyer as much as possible, while rebuilding the arms and filling in the chipped areas.  

I took the ancient flax off of the distaff–it has been on there longer than I have been alive–and found that the distaff was made of a sapling, stripped of bark, with the branches curved upwards.


The distaff on a flax wheel holds the prepared flax to be spun. 

Such distaffs are not uncommon, but just think of someone going out in the woods and picking out a young tree and shaping it so long ago. I love the history of these old wheels.


A comparison, of the size of the Connecticut flax wheel with the New Hampshire Walking Wheel.

My new/old wheel probably dates from the 1800s in New Hampshire. Walking wheels–also called great wheels–were used for spinning wool and are huge compared to the Saxony style flax wheels.  My new wheel is as tall as I am.  What a beauty.


She has a spindle–the Sleeping Beauty prick your finger kind of spindle– with an accelerating head (also called a Minor’s or Miner’s head) patented in the early 1800s.


I am just learning the ins and outs of spinning on her. It will take a while.  When I hit the sweet spot, it clicks, literally, with a tick-tick-tick sound of the spindle and wool. I can see that it is a dance of wheel, wool, and spinner.


More on this wheel later.

40 thoughts on “May and a Walking Wheel

  1. Lovely photos and I enjoyed a tour of life in Maine in spring. My heart always melts seeing Alice & Capp other breed of dog smiles quite like a retrevier I think. Interesting that Capp eats tulips … So do the Cockatoos in our garden .. ( most annoying!) Your spinning wheels are wonderful .. I have never seen a distaff made from a sapling like that …what stories those spinning wheels could tell! Good luck with the bees .. This year should bring plenty of that delicious looking honey..
    PS What a sweet story about the birds are finding comfort & warmth from Zoe’s fur.

    • Retrievers live life with gusto, don’t they? Alice is the most joyous dog I have ever known. I thought she was going to have a doggy heart attack, she was so thrilled to see the water for retrieving. And every time we come home, she trots around with a big smile on her face.
      I also wonder what stories the spinning wheels could tell. They intrigue me. And they are surprisingly inexpensive here . For the amount I have spent to buy and restore these three wheels, I might have been able to buy one new wheel. These are much more fun.

  2. So nice to see spring moving northward. Your garden beds look amazing and ready to produce plentiful veggies. In fact everything looks lovely, including your spinning wheels. I love the story of Zoe’s fur lining a nest. And of course your pups are fabulous photo subjects. Glad to see them swimming and retrieving.

  3. Wow, spring is coming on like gangbusters in your part of the world. How moving to find Zoe’s fur lining the bird’s nest. As you said, Alice and Capp will provide the fur this year, but maybe some of Zoe’s will be mixed in too. Lovely post.

    • When I first found the nest, I thought it was the most beautiful thing for the babies to be raised in such comfort. But I didn’t realize it was Zoe’s fur at that point. When I did, my heart melted. I wish I had taken a photograph. I left the nest where the birds can get at it and it was gone the next day.

  4. I love hearing about your life in Maine, Brenda. It must be so thrilling to see everywhere greening and all your crops and flowers, after the long winter. The seeds sprouting in the fallen apple are amazing and it will be interesting to see how they grow when potted up. How lovely to find Zoe’s fur inside the nestbox (although I imagine it was also a little sad for you); gorgeous Alice and Capp seem to be enjoying the spring. I’m sure that bee-keeping is a learning curve and this year’s clutch will benefit from your experience. I’d love to see your spinning wheel in action. I hope you have many hours of pleasure spinning and creating.

    • Thank you Sam. There is no doubt that the long, teasing, tentative approach of spring makes it glorious when everything finally explodes with life. All the work we did last year is paying off, including fencing in such a large area. It gives the dogs a wonderful playground and has helped to keep other animals (and the ticks they carry) out. As for the spinning, I’m still learning how to use this wheel. When I bought it, the seller had taken the small drive band off to tighten it, and then couldn’t get it to grip properly. So, I’ve never actually seen someone spin on one of these. Thank goodness for youtube videos! I will post photos of the spinning process. It’s quite beautiful to watch–and even better to actually do it.

  5. My goodness, you pack a lot into one blog post–I don’t even know where to start! Seeing your dogs makes me want dogs so much–but the cats have vetoed that idea. I wonder if you could spin Zoe’s fur with that of the other two dogs? Just for sentiment’s sake . . . I was interested in hearing about digging up the rugosa. We have been doing the same with ornamental hops vines that we enjoyed for the first few years but that have now threatened to take over the whole entire world. I suspect we’ll never get rid of them fully. Your world looks marvelous–so lush and verdant. Imagine how things will jump when the sun starts shining!

    • I could have packed in even more! This blog, for me, is a rough journal of our months, so I try to cover those things that I really want to capture to remember. I did spin a little of Zoe’s fur in with some brown merino cross. Not enough of it to do anything with the yarn, but it’s still a bit of Zoe. Unfortunately for the rugosa, they were in an unsuitable place. They needed to be able to grow into a big sprawling hedge and that wasn’t possible where they were. Good luck with the hops. I will avoid them! I don’t like dealing with plants that are so invasive. Things will explode here IF the sun starts shining. It’s pouring again today.

  6. Well, now, you have certainly been one busy couple. 🙂 Everything looks wonderful, and it sure does look like a farm. I wish I could borrow your equipment for a day and get rid of wild raspberries on the perimeter of the property. It made me smile reading about Zoe’s fur because I emptied out my compost bin this week and found remnants of our beloved bunny, Herbert Menninger, who passed this past winter. The pets who invade our heart with their kind personalities may leave us but they are never forgotten. 🙂

    • We have front loaded our work projects into these first years here because we are not getting any younger. Each year finds us creakier and with less energy. So we wanted to tackle the heaviest and most important projects first. We are hoping to ease down gradually, with enough dreams for this place to give us 10 years of projects, at least. Without the tractor, though, we wouldn’t have been able to make a dent in what we’ve accomplished. It has paid for itself already. Although we couldn’t use it to pull out those rugosas because of the tilting retaining wall and a french drain underneath. We burned a few calories digging that day.

  7. You two are so incredibly productive – this post has so much wonderful information! And what a sweet present to find Zoe’s fur in the bluebird nest.

    I never thought about looking inside our apple mummies…too late for this year here, as everything has been in full bloom in Northern California for a month or so. Wonderful photos and information, as always. Thank you for sharing.

    • We are having fun. It is such a pleasure to wake up in the morning and not have to go to work. I pity people who don’t know what to do with themselves in retirement. We don’t have nearly enough time to do everything we want! I have never seen little seedlings in the apple mummies before. The timing was just right for these. The seedlings are doing well in a pot so far. Lots were sprouting in the lawn too.

    • The organization is coming along. Our yard will never look like yours! So far, the bees are happy. They will be in bee heaven when our apples bloom. I’m happy to see that you have plenty of bees early on this year.

  8. Nice to get an update of your Spring in Maine, Brenda. Lots of activity between the dogs, garden and yard work. Your spinning wheel looks wonderful – I’m so impressed you know how to use it! As usual, your photos are beautiful. I particularly loved the fiddleheads– the look like a sheltering family, a sweet capture.

    • It’s a busy time of year–I love getting out and playing in the dirt again. I wish I had an old auntie to give me helpful hints on the walking wheel. I am learning by watching videos and trial and error. It seems such a shame that so much collective knowledge and skill on the great wheel has been lost. It’s a marvelous machine.

  9. Your trees are at about the same stage of leafing out as mine. At this time of year, I walk around the garden, peering at the ground for signs of new growth and peering into the new growth that has come up for flower buds. Such anticipation!

    • I know, every day is an adventure. I can’t go for a regular walk, I get so distracted taking photos of everything that it takes me twice as long to get anywhere.

  10. What a good life you have….dogs, spinning wheels, gardening, and nature all around you! You’re going to need some fleece to put those spinning wheels to work ( ha, ha)! Yes, soggy here as well, but we’re not going to complain…that drought is still fresh in our minds!
    Have fun!

    • I feel rich. I love waking up every morning and anticipating what I’m going to do that day. We are very fortunate to be able to do all this in retirement. Put my name on one of those fleeces!

      • Will do , Brenda….and it is so good to hear of people content and happy…a new day every day worth waking up to and engaging in. The best!

    • The cool crops in my vegetable garden are thriving in this weather. But my tomatoes and peppers are growing slowly even though they are in the cold frame. Some people put a cork on the spindle.

      • A cork on the spindle is an excellent idea. Let’s hope that warmer weather will be coming soon. Then, we can complain about the heat 😉

  11. It’s good to see Spring returning to your surroundings too! It must have been special to discover the nest with Zoe’s hair. You have been so busy in the garden it looks very well organised. Your new spinning wheel looks lovely. Sarah x

    • Spring is still tip-toeing into our surroundings! Still cold and chilly, so the leaves are slowly, oh-so-slowly, emerging. My new spinning wheel and I are still learning our way around each other. A bit of tip-toeing there too.

  12. So much to love in this post! I don’t even know where to start. In the end I’m left with a calm feeling, that experiences like this are what humans are supposed to be having, we just tend to spend centuries doing awful things to each other first. May your warm home-growth continue and spread, and thank you for extending its wavelength on here (if that makes any sense)!

    • Sweet. I will do my best to extend our home-loving, slow-living wavelength your way and will continue to enjoy your globe-trotting, experience-expanding wavelength from my porch rocking chair. We can all use a little of both.

  13. You really do take some extraordinarily good photos. Love the close-ups, in particular. I am no gardener, but know what you mean about rugosa – our neighbour has the damn stuff growing next to our fence, along with bamboo and raspberries! Another insidious plant we constantly need to battle is called snowberry – awful stuff. Love that wheel – beautiful workmanship.

    • Ah, that’s a sweet compliment coming from such a fine photographer. Thank you. I hope your neighbor is extraordinarily special because anyone who would inflict rugosa, raspberries, AND bamboo (the evil triumvirate) on an innocent fence-sharer has a lot to answer for. As for the wheel, it is a gorgeous creature–a work of art (to me) that culminated from years of tweaking utility and beauty–and it still spins beautifully. It makes me happy.

  14. Nice to see that spring has really taken hold for you. I associate Rugosa roses with New England, especially growing in thick hedges on high ground near the ocean. However, I can understand why you would want to replace them.

    • We are in the glorious apple blossom, lilac days right now. I love a big untidy hedge of rugosas (especially near the ocean), but they need room. Ours were planted in what apparently was meant to be a small neat row directly in front of the front door and narrowly edging a bit of lawn by a retaining wall. Nightmare. I hate to rip out anything, but these had to go.

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