Wood, Fabric, and Water

IMG_1605.jpg
Waking up this morning, I felt as if I had been pounded all over by a baseball bat.  I was aware of most every muscle, including those in my fingers and feet. George’s elbows were trashed. The aches and stiffness were brought on by age and our previous day’s activity–splitting our winter wood supply. IMG_1484.jpgAs we hobbled about today, we were mocked by images our younger selves, splitting all of our winter fire wood with an ax (mostly George), with no discernible physical after-effects. Not any more. Yesterday we rented an industrial strength log splitter. IMG_1487.jpgEven with the splitter doing most of the work, after five hours of heaving logs about, it was a good workout.

IMG_1496

Four way split for big logs

IMG_1501IMG_1502.jpg

We are fortunate to have about five acres of woodland, with some aging trees that need to be culled. A wood stove supplies most of our heat and our smoke this winter will be a fragrant combination of cherry, apple, poplar, and oak. The cherry and apple wood was so beautiful when we split it, it seems a shame to burn it.

IMG_1488.jpg

Wild cherry (pin and black)

IMG_1521.jpg

Apple

We did have boards cut from one cherry tree to use eventually for new kitchen cabinets. The beauty of the wood is a constant.  But you also never know what you will find when you split wood.  Colors, insects, rot, fungus–all exposed.  IMG_1493

IMG_1505

The green elfcup fungus produces an intense blue-green color

IMG_1511.jpg

George had been felling trees and chainsawing them into stove lengths over the previous months and, to give the wood enough time to season before winter, we needed to get it split. IMG_1483.jpgIt was an enjoyable, rewarding job on a gorgeous cool day. There’s a hypnotic rhythm to working the splitter and the smell of the split wood–especially the cherry–was almost intoxicating. It was a good day.IMG_1529.jpg

Earlier this week, I had another good day that also involved harvested tree and plant products, but in a very different way. Last fall, at the Common Ground Fair, I was gobsmacked by a booth selling fabric imprinted with the shapes, shadows, and colors of real plant parts–leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds.  IMG_1601.jpg

I had never seen anything like it. The incredible fabrics were created by a Maine textile artist, Amelia Poole, who graciously explained the process for imbuing the fabric with the patterns of living plant parts and allowed me to paw through her wares. IMG_1599.jpg

I had a hard time choosing, but eventually brought home four fabric pieces, two of which I made into a dress yoke. IMG_1609.jpg06071609490607160949b.jpg
Happily for me, Amelia gave a presentation this week at a local nature center on her eco-textiles. Her process is called eco-printing, or botanical contact printing, and involves first treating unprocessed natural fabrics with alum, ferrous sulfate, and copper sulfate–a process called mordanting. Then fresh botanicals are arranged on the fabric, wrapped up, and steamed to fix the colors and patterns on the fabric. Amelia brought recently steamed fabrics for us to unroll.

0607161308_Burst01.jpg

Before unrolling

0607161308a_Burst02.jpg

Opening up the fabric

Because the colors, clarity, and design are all affected by the particular qualities of the plants when harvested, the colors and shapes transferred have endless permutations. So there is an anticipatory wonder in what will unfold with each piece. 0607161311a_Burst02.jpgSeeing the imprint of the plants to fabric felt a bit magical. 0607161311.jpgAnd it evoked a sort of timeless, ancient feel, perhaps because the ephemeral plants will be long imprinted in the fabric in a fossil-like way. 0607161311a.jpgAmelia’s website link is at: Ecouture Textile.

As someone long in love with plants and fabric both, I’m hoping to take one of her workshops. I don’t really need more interests, but this is one that I cannot resist. 0607161328_Burst01.jpg

Finally, in all our spring activity, we have had some watery relaxing downtime. IMG_8284We wanted in retirement to spend time on the water messing about in boats. So, for starters, we bought a lightweight kayak this spring. I can easily lift and carry it and it’s short enough to fit on our truck bed with just a strap to hold it.

IMG_1043.jpg

The seat is a first class upgrade on our previous kayak

We have a lake below our home that is about an eight minute drive to the boat ramp. IMG_8314.jpg

IMG_8359.jpg

IMG_8331.jpgThat lake is part of the St. George River system, allowing us to paddle upstream to another lake and then slow-moving, meandering river. IMG_1015IMG_1012IMG_0980.jpgEagles, beavers, loons, and lots that escaped my camera.    The current, you know, really.IMG_0988IMG_1005.jpg

IMG_8404

A loon …

IMG_8401.jpg

snorkeling …

IMG_8414.jpg

IMG_8370

for baby eels

I did fry my cell phone after several hours in the greenhouse-like waterproof pouch.IMG_0974.jpg  It died.  Stupid.  But, nevertheless, our new boat has been a sweet diversion, with much more kayaking to come.

IMG_1020.jpg

Pollen alert

IMG_1034.jpg

Oriole nest?

IMG_1044

Someone else’s woodpile

 

A Bidding War

IMG_8748George and I have sold five houses and, every time, we go through the same dance.  We work like mad to make it more attractive to the (likely not as quirky as us) buyer.  Once we put it on the market, we obsessively track every development.  Each time someone looks at the house we gauge their interest.  A quick look or long?  Was there any feedback?  What can we do to attract more buyers?  When will we get an offer?  And on and on.

Selling a house to a bird is much the same.  We put up three birdhouses in during the third week in March.  They sat empty and unwanted.  Not even a nibble.  We thought that perhaps we had put them up too late and missed the prime spring house rush

Until a week ago when all hell broke loose.  Tree swallows showed the first interest.  After much flying around (they are lovely acrobats) and musical gurgling conversations, they appeared to settle right in. IMG_8745 It’s a largish house, so big enough for the swallows.  Apparently another swallow thought so too, because once the first pair established itself, he started to show an interest.IMG_8787  IMG_8788After an afternoon of warding off the dive-bombing interloper, the swallow pair left. IMG_8796And who should appear but a bluebird?  IMG_9061He checked the box in and out and staked a claim. After some wing flapping atop the house, a female joined him. IMG_9087IMG_9128IMG_9131I put out mealworms hoping to entice them to stay.  They were dried worms, not live ones, and the bluebirds were decidedly unimpressed.  Fortunately, they overlooked my gaffe and after lots of going in and coming out, the female started gathering nest material.  IMG_9085IMG_9080.jpgThe male stood guard.  IMG_9588He needed to, because the tree swallows still had an eye on the place, watching from a nearby dead tree. IMG_9135And so began the bidding war.  The bluebirds and swallows have been squabbling for days.IMG_9108IMG_9111First one pair takes up residence, then the other.  IMG_9226IMG_9210IMG_9586As of today, the bluebirds seem to have won. IMG_9546 IMG_9548All this fuss and there’s a perfectly good empty nest box in our front yard.  Apparently the neighborhood isn’t as attractive as the back yard.

IMG_9123

The tree swallow even checked out the wren box. 

IMG_8560

I swear the goldfinches were egging on the house hunters.

In the meantime, our fox family absconded last week.  Watching them had been such a treat.  Fox stuff-127.jpgIt turns out there were six kits and they had expanded their territory to include our yard.

Fox stuff-121

Playing keepaway with a piece of surveyor’s tape.

The little alpha kit dragged a gray squirrel outside our front door one morning and enjoyed a good meal of squirrel head before exploring the other side of the house.  IMG_8482We may have prompted their leaving by our nearby tractor activity, although it didn’t seem to faze them.  Fox stuff-132Apparently, they often leave the birth den at this age and move to a different den with more territory.  We miss them.  I hope we’ll have a new litter there next year.Fox stuff-107

 

 

The Vixen and The Queen

IMG_8241_edited-1Our resident fox has five kits. Their den is in an acre of woods abutting our land and is visible from our southern windows. At first we saw the vixen–a gorgeous creature–going regularly to a spot by a stone wall. Eventually we started to see other movement in there–small gray animals, looking rather squirrel-like. Out came the binoculars, which revealed some kits.

IMG_8079

This isn’t the den, it’s in our orchard-to-be

We’ve been spying on them since. The vixen spies on us, too, keeping a careful watch when we are working in the yard. IMG_7933
She seems to be gone for hours sometimes, presumably hunting, and when she returns the kits all come running. She nurses, grooms them, and lets them explore the surroundings, herding them back if they go too far. IMG_8080One morning, we watched her hunt in the long grass where our orchard will be. IMG_8089She caught a squirrel and some smaller rodents–voles, I suspect. IMG_8012Foxes are considered beneficial here for tick reduction because they kill many of the tick-carrying rodents. No one in the immediate neighborhood has any chickens, so the fox is quite welcome. Apparently this acre of woods has had a fox den for at least a few years. The kits, of course, are ridiculously adorable. They are turning from gray to red and getting bolder. IMG_8256
Lucky for me, they’ve been providing entertainment because I twisted my ankle a few days ago. I was in apple mode at the time, focusing on learning all I can for rehabilitating our old apple trees and creating a new orchard. I had just been to a grafting workshop where we learned whip & tongue grafting.

20160409_105437

This was our example of a proper cut. You can see the cut back “tongue” if you look carefully.

Apple seeds, like people, are unique and different from their parent trees, so grafting is necessary to reproduce specific apple varieties. Whip grafting involves attaching an apple root stock to a scion–last year’s branch growth from the desired variety–by cutting both quite precisely with a very, very sharp knife. IMG_8450Needless to say, learning was messy. 20160409_124420.jpgI was pretty good at making the initial cut, but had a terrible time cutting the tongue properly. It got a little bloody. Nevertheless, I went home with eight newly grafted old apple varieties, with wonderful names such as Blue Permain, Yellow Transparent, Rhode Island Greening, Northern Spy, and Cox’s Orange Pippin. If half of them make it, I’ll be lucky.20160409_132501
My other orcharding activity, pruning, resulted in the sprained ankle. Nothing exciting, I just hopped off the apple ladder into a hole and the damage was done. I have a tendency to sprain my ankle at really bad times (twice while on vacation in Hawaii). This time was no exception because the bees were arriving in two days. Fortunately, I know the sprained ankle routine. I iced it, wrapped it, elevated it, watched the foxes, and recovered remarkably quickly (which I attribute to yoga). IMG_8068
That brings us to the queen. She is here, along with the rest of the bees, although she likely is still caged. I ordered a package of bees from a wonderful local apiary, where I had taken beekeeping classes. They picked up a trailer load of packaged bees in Georgia and arrived in Maine with them on Saturday. Each package had 3 pounds of bees and a caged queen.  George had been working on the hive area and it was ready for bees.

IMG_8144_edited-1

We took down a low-hanging branch from a cherry that was shading the hive too much. The flies and a moth gorged on the sap.

IMG_7854

IMG_7858We picked up our bees and brought them home.  There are many ways to hive bees, depending on the hives and personal preference. IMG_8145We’re newbies (or newbeeks, in beekeeper slang), so don’t even pretend to be knowledgeable.  But, here’s what we did.  I lightly sprayed the bees with sugar syrup. IMG_8147I removed the can of feeding syrup from the package and then the queen’s cage. She is surrounded by bees here, so you can’t see her. IMG_8162There is a bit of “candy” in the lower third of the queen cage, which the bees are supposed to eat through to get to the queen and release her. That process gives them time to get used to the queen (so they won’t kill her). I gently poked a hole in the candy with a nail (easier said than done) and placed the cage on a frame in the hive. IMG_8158Then I thumped the package on the ground to get the bees in one corner and dumped them in the hive. IMG_8166A bit more thumping, shaking, and dumping and most were out. IMG_8171Then I very gently, without squishing any bees (I think) put the remaining frames in the hive. IMG_8174IMG_8179We gently brushed the bees off the top and, with George’s help (thus, no photos) slid the feeder on and put the quilt and roof on. Success! IMG_8195Blooms have barely started here, so the bees will need to be fed sugar syrup for the next few weeks. I will check the hive on Tuesday to see if the queen has made it out of her cage. In the meantime, the bees appear to be doing well. IMG_8268I find them mesmerizing.
IMG_7887.jpgFinally, the Tom turkey put on quite a display last week, presenting his rear to us from every angleIMG_7900IMG_7898

IMG_8230

Zoe presented her belly.

Interlude

IMG_7687After March’s spring tease, April was a reality check. My dreams of early gardening died a nasty death. The ground froze. It snowed. More than once. It iced. It rained. The wind blew from the north, the west, and now the southeast, a ferocious force here on our hillside. We now are under a high wind and flood warning. Fortunately, we are too high for floods, but the wind is making the house talk.  I’m hoping we don’t lose power before I finish this post.

IMG_7459

A goldfinch transitioning from winter to summer plumage.

Although we have not been able to do much work outside, we have been well-occupied. I’ve been taking beekeeping and orcharding classes and keep starting seeds (they are taking over).  George built a hive stand, tung-oiled the bee hive, and moved compost over to our new raised bed sites. We just started pruning when the frigid weather hit. IMG_7743
As the weather forced us inside, the wildlife came out to play. Our wild turkey crew, hugely adult now, have been regularly cruising the yard and back woods. They scratched, scratched for what was left of the shriveled apples on the ground and were herded around like a harem by the Tom turkey. IMG_7707He strutted and puffed along behind his ladies.IMG_7712.jpg Until the truck distracted him.  He did not know what to make of the other Tom he saw in the bumper. IMG_7678.jpgPuzzled at first, he peered from below, above, and to the side. When it didn’t go away, he started attacking his reflection. Silly boy.IMG_7699.jpg
One afternoon when flocks of robins were wheeling around the house, we heard a massive thump as a bird hit our sliding glass doors. We don’t get many bird hits on our windows, perhaps because we don’t have many trees or feeders close against the house. This one, though, was a doozy. It was a Hairy Woodpecker, his body lying nearby on the lawn with a wing awkwardly outstretched. He appeared to be very dead. George and I gave him up for gone, agreeing that we would put the body in the woods as soon as we went outside.
Surprisingly, about fifteen minutes later, the given-up-for-dead one was sitting up and looking around. In another ten minutes or so, he flew up to the nearby pine that has our bird feeders and suet.

IMG_7654.jpg

He looks a little roughed up, but not bad for one who looked grave-ready ten minutes earlier.

And this was the really fascinating thing–he rubbed his head thoroughly, up, down, and sideways on the branch in front of him, as if giving himself a head massage or trying to ease the pain. I’ve never seen a bird do that before. Then he stopped, sat quietly for a time, flew to the suet, had a good feed, and flew off. He’s been fine since. I suspect that any bird other than a woodpecker wouldn’t have survived such a hard hit. Woodpeckers skulls have evolved to cushion the pounding that their brains take when they drill away at trees. Apparently hardheadedness has some advantages. I’m glad this one made it.

IMG_7751

Our tulips are suffering with the crazy weather. This one looks okay.

IMG_7752

But many look worse for the wear.

During our tempestuous weather, we had one good cool, windless day for burning. George, with Zoe’s company, burned several huge brush piles in preparation for stump and rock clearing. IMG_7431George has been busy since fall clearing brush and cutting trees in the area below our lawn. He is clearing back to a curve of ancient apple trees. IMG_7783We will have our garden beds and a sitting area in the cleared space. We don’t have the equipment to pull the stumps and big rocks, however, so hired someone to bring in a little backhoe to do the job. Maine’s glacial hills are rock strewn and ours is no exception.IMG_7720
A day and half with the backhoe and the big rocks and stumps were out.

IMG_7727

Looks a bit moonscape-ish.

IMG_7775

The rocks are endless.  Dig some out, and the frost brings new ones up.  IMG_7790And we’re talking rocks of substance, not little nubbly things.  IMG_7792We have some new stone walls in the making. I am in awe of the early settlers who cleared these Maine woods.

IMG_7520

This old stone wall is the back border of our property. No back hoes used for this one.

How they got those rocks and stumps pulled without modern machinery, is mind-boggling to me. IMG_7786So much work to clear fields. And when farmers moved West after the Civil War, the fields grew up so quickly again.IMG_7528
Our land was pasture not too many years ago, but has grown up again. I took a walk around it last week to see if we had any skunk cabbage in our low area, or any other surprises–I was hoping for lady slippers. I didn’t find either, but found plenty of interesting fungi and bark. IMG_7531IMG_7456IMG_7606IMG_7590IMG_7535.jpgIMG_7616.jpg
Aside from the turkeys, the foxes also have become very active again. We suspect they may have a den near our side yard. They come and go over to an old stone wall at all times of the day. Zoe sniffs with great interest and barks in that direction. She’s not a barker, so something has her attention. Perhaps we’ll see fox kits again this spring.IMG_7797.jpg

Wildlife

IMG_5252
We did not know what kind of local wildlife to expect in Maine. We were spoiled, animal-wise, having lived in Alaska for many years. Our home in Anchorage was in an area called “Hillside,” a gradual rise to the mountains of Chugach State Park, a vast and wild protected area just a ten-minute drive from our house.

112_1227

Powerline Pass trail in the Chugach. If you look carefully you’ll see a moose blocking the trail–a not uncommon occurrence.

Every spring, moose mothers-to-be migrated down the hills into populated areas to have their babies, in an attempt to avoid predation during birth and the newborns’ most helpless first weeks. Moose Babies.jpgOne scarred cow moose chose our neighborhood for her maternity ward several years running, giving us a succession of knobble-kneed moose calves to admire each spring. 129_2947Moose Mom w BabiesIn the fall, the adolescents returned to stock up for the winter on whatever was left in our garden and to strip our delectable lilac bush down to two bare nubs.Moose in the Paddock.jpg

Bears also came down from the mountains, looking for moose babies, garbage, and bird and dog food. Bird feeders, especially, seemed to be bear magnets. As a result, we could only feed birds when the bears were in hibernation–a period that became shorter in recent years with Anchorage’s increasingly warm winters. One year, our next-door neighbor ignored the bird feeder ban and this black bear knocked the food out of the feeder, pressed its paws into the seeds on the ground and then rolled on its back and licked the seed off its paws. He appeared to be relishing the easy feast.Yard Bear
We had an occasional lynx in the neighborhood and wolves nearby. Bald eagles were so common that we called them flying rats. Eagles in Kachemak Bay.jpgEagles
Alaska was a hard act to follow. But Maine is doing a pretty good job. On our first evening in our new house, we were treated to a fox family, running along the edge of the lawn to eat a pile of sunflower seeds left under the big white pine where the previous owners had hung their bird feeder (they emptied out the feeder and took it with them).IMG_0422.jpg Apparently foxes like bird food as much as bears do. IMG_0513.jpgThe three kits wrestled and tore around the lawn while the adults looked on. IMG_0518We continued to see the foxes in the early morning and evening for a few weeks and then they disappeared. IMG_0502
A wild turkey flock comes and goes, we have heard (but not seen) coyotes, and we once saw a deer running across the driveway. We were curious as to what we weren’t seeing and mounted a game camera on a driveway tree a few weeks ago.

1306:010816:43F:0000:CAMERA1:7

The game camera caught the turkeys strutting down the drive

1306:010816:43F:0000:CAMERA1:7

Game camera again–I could never have gotten this shot. 

We were thrilled to see that the foxes are still around.

0650:011416:05F:0000:CAMERA1:10650:011416:05F:0000:CAMERA1:1

And not so thrilled to see that we have several deer hanging about.

0216:012116:05F:0000:CAMERA1:3
We didn’t have any deer in the garden last year and are hoping that these won’t be tempted this year.

1859:012116:11F:0000:CAMERA1:3

A recent snowfall showed that they have been bedding down in our woods and we have had tracks across our lawn.

IMG_5318

There were seven or eight of these spots in the snow where it looked like deer had bedded down.

So, it looks like a garden fence may be in our future.

IMG_5295

Rabbit (hare, actually) tracks

Of all of our Maine wildlife, the birds have given me the most pleasure. Because we could only feed birds in the dead of winter in Alaska, our feeder birds were mostly chickadees and redpolls. We have a much wider variety at our Maine feeder–chickadees, juncos, goldfinches, purple finches, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, and mourning doves. IMG_5509Unfortunately, aside from the chickadees–nothing fazes them–the birds here are the most camera-shy of any I’ve ever encountered. IMG_5644I have had a terrible time getting any decent photos this winter. IMG_5494I could do a whole post of bird bum photos. IMG_5490
I did manage to capture, however, bluebirds that swooped in last week to eat sumac berries and some suet from our feeder. IMG_5258They took me by surprise. I had no idea that bluebirds overwintered in Maine. Nor had I ever seen so many together. There were at least eight or ten of them, maybe more. They hung around for a few days and were gone. IMG_5267Perhaps we’ll put up some houses for them before spring.

Finally, Zoe is our perpetual wild life. The game camera caught her racing down the driveway with all four paws in the air.

0749:012116:11F:0000:CAMERA1:3

She thinks she’s a sled dog.

107_0720_edited-1

Zoe can only dream. These are what real Alaskan sprint dogs look like.

She adores the snow-blower and follows it everywhere, occasionally stopping to attack the spumes of blowing snow, trying to capture it in her mouth.IMG_5430IMG_5440

We moved the game camera to deeper woods and will report back on what we find.