Unseasonable with a McIntosh

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October is winding down. But the weather remains crazily mild.  We bask in the late-year sunshine, even though it comes with a canary-in-the-coal-mine quality. Our dry, warm weather has resulted in leaf colors more muted than last year, turning later and lingering longer.

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As the leaves turn, we have been marking maples along our new woods trail for tapping next spring. The biggest ones are impressive multi-trunked red maples, which, along with a few huge oaks, are the senior generation in our woodlot.

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Red maple leaves–three major lobes and, mostly, red.

We have some young sugar maples (the best for syrup) coming along that we will nurture into adulthood.

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The sugar maples have a distinctive Canadian-flag shape with five major lobes and turn more yellow and orange-ish than red.

Both work for syrup, although the sugars are queen.

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Fall be damned, the flowers just keep on blooming.

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Most are covered with groggy bees and wasps bellying up to bar for last call.

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Sticky hollyhock pollen on this bumble bee.  The yellow patch is rust on the hollyhock leaf.

We even have stray butterflies hanging about.

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I have done a “final” clearing of the veggies several times now. Yesterday’s haul was a shiny mash of peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.

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Eggplant on October 20th? And we still don’t have a killing frost in sight.

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The weirdly warm prelude to winter seems to have invigorated our winecap mushroom bed, which had a major eruption over the past two days.

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Fortunately, winecaps dry well, so I had the oven on low all day, permeating the house with intense mushroom odor as I dried a winter store for risotto and soups.

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Gorgeous set of gills.

The weather also nurtured bumper crops of fruit flies and lady bugs–all of which want to invade our house.  Right now the fruit flies are dive-bombing my glass of wine.  We are besieged.

Our yard and wood trail are covered with fallen wild apples.

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Both dogs love them. The dogs have an apple-eating posture, with feet planted wide and heads lifted with a look of concentration as they munch away. It’s a constant battle to keep them from eating too many.  Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any deer lured by the apples. Our game camera shows the usual suspects wandering down the trail–raccoons, skunks, foxes and … a cat.

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Every few nights, the same cat would show up on the camera, although we’ve never seen it ourselves.

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When “missing cat” posters went up in the neighborhood, we called the number and, sure enough, our little prowler was the cat on the poster. The owner set live traps for the cat on our trail for about a week.   I mentioned to George, let’s hope she doesn’t catch a skunk.  Of course, the only thing she caught was a skunk.

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The camera also captures grouse, woodcocks, squirrels and ….

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… Capp inspecting a golf ball long lost from our neighbors hooking it into our woods.

Unfortunately, last week a rabid fox attacked a man out cutting wood less than a mile away from us. So now, when we set out on walks with the dogs, they wear orange tick-vests as protection from hunters and the fall ticks. And we carry bear spray as protection against rabid beasties.  Oddly well-armed.

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Aside from putting the gardens to bed and other fall chores, I took on another spinning wheel rescue. I am afraid I have become happily addicted to this activity. I first saw a desolate looking wheel several months ago at an antique store. But the wheel itself had a worrying, drunken wobble and I was pressed for time, so I reluctantly left it after taking some photos. The wheel was filthy with grime, but had a maker’s name–I S McIntosh–and date–1857–stamped on the end.

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After a little research, I found that McIntosh wheels were made in Nova Scotia by Alexander and I S and the two likely were father and son, although I S is a bit of a mystery as those initials don’t show on any census records for the area. The wheels are well-made and good spinners.

Although intrigued, I already have three wheels, so had put the wheel out of my mind. But when my facebook feed showed that the antique store was discounting everything to move in new (well, antique-new) stock and their photo showed the wheel was still there–what else could I do? I drove over first thing in the morning and pulled the wheel outside to get a good thorough look. It appeared that she was missing several parts, but that wheel itself wasn’t warped–the wobble likely was due to a bent axle, something I thought was fixable. And so, after negotiating a good discount, she was mine.

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Gouges, paint drips, and grime.

These old battered, neglected wheels are strangely like dogs in pound to me, crying out to be taken to a loving home.

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There’s beauty under that grime.

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Feed me!!

Over the next weeks, I cleaned her up–my favorite task–made new leather bearings for the “mother of all” that holds the flyer, and shimmed the uprights to better align the wheel.

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Removing decades of grime.

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The uprights that support the wheel were black from more than a hundred years of who-knows-what-grease was used to lubricate the axle.

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Slowly scraping off the accumulation of crud to reveal the original markings.

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Revealing the beauty of the wood.

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The “mother of all” which holds the flyer supported by two leather bearings, both of which are broken or damaged.

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Cutting new leather bearings for the flyer.

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I made this new leather bearing from a worn-out sandal.  It’s blue, so not so traditional.  Do I care?  Not at all.

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The flyer, whorl, and bobbin, with some beautifully spun wool that had clearly been there for decades.

George made a new footman–the wooden piece that connects the treadle to the wheel–and straightened the axle.

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The new oak footman had nice grain and matched the wheel beautifully.

This wheel intrigues me because of her condition.

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Aside from the wear on the treadle, which shows a lot of use, she has unusual wear marks on the spokes and lots of hammer marks.

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Perhaps she was not gently used. But she will be now. She spins beautifully, and responsively, like the veteran she is.

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Scutching, Hackling, and Bee Graveyards

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Our string of sunny days continues, but the afternoon light is dense and golden enough to let us know that that the season is changing. Fall is breathing down our neck and we feel the need to finish up outdoor chores. George has been working on a drainage trench and rain garden to siphon the spring sogginess from our little orchard.

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I have been processing the flax from my small patch so that I can spin it this winter.
After harvesting, retting, and rippling–removing the seeds–I bundled and stored the flax.

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I had searched antique stores and barn sales for months this summer to try to find antique flax tools.

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I found three hackles and bought a scutching knife on ebay.

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But I was not able to find a flax break or scutching board, so George made them for me.

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A flax break uses leverage to smash and break the woody portion of the flax stalk into pieces–the boon, while leaving the fibrous strands intact.

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The top half of the stalks have been broken here.  The stalks are then turned to do the other  half.

George made a table-top break, which I initially set up on plywood. I later moved it to sit directly on sawhorses (which was what George had in mind).

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That allowed the boon to fall to the ground rather than getting re-tangled in the flax bundles.

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After breaking.

The next step was scutching. The term apparently derives from an obsolete French word “escoucher,” meaning to “shake out.” The process requires an upright board–slightly angled worked well for me–and a wooden scutching knife to whack and scrape at the flax to remove the woody bits.

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I did a great deal of shaking out, feeling as if I was grooming bits of chaff out of some lovely horse’s tail.

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Close up of the bits off boon being broken up by the flax break.

For me, scutching was the real test for whether I had retted the flax properly.  Too much retting time, and the spinnable fibers start to break down, too little retting and the fibers remain ribbony, rather than thready, and the hard boon doesn’t easily separate.

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Over-retted, with broken frizzled fibers before any processing.

The retting process uses soaking or nightly dew to break down the pectin in the fibers. I retted the flax in three different batches. One was submerged under water in a kiddie pool, the second was dew-retted on the ground where it was grown, and the third was dew-retted on our front lawn. I suspected that I had over-retted the kiddie pool batch by about a day and that proved to be right. The fiber was more fragile and broke up more than the other batches.

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The batch that was dew-retted where it was grown, was slightly under-retted, with more ribbon-y strands. It also included the largest plants, at the outer edges of the plot, which tend to produce coarser fibers.

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Under-retted, with ribbon-like strands.

The front yard dew-retted flax was the Goldilocks “just-right” batch. It was in a sunnier and drier spot than the other dew-retted batch and I let it sit for about a week longer.

Each batch had a different color. The water-soaked batch was white and looks like gorgeous shining platinum-blonde hair (with lots of split ends). The batch from where the flax was grown received more overnight dew and was quite yellow (tow-headed) with some silver. The front-lawn was a gleaming silver.

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All of the colors were beautifully lustrous.

I like the silver, but traditionally it would have considered undesirable and bleached out. Apparently, to have avoided the dark spots on the flax that resulted in the silver coloration, I should have waited until cooler weather for retting.

George made a perfect scutching board and I whacked, scraped, and shook. I don’t usually buy things on ebay, but I couldn’t find any scutching knives locally. The knife I bought is from Sweden and is supposed to be from the 1800s.  It looks to be old, perhaps with a newer paint job. I didn’t buy it for authenticity, but as something I could use, and was delighted to find that it felt perfectly weighted in my hand and worked beautifully. It’s nice to look at, too.

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After scutching out most of the woody bits, the final step was hackling. Hackles are metal combs of varying degrees of fine-ness that cull out remaining boon, rat’s-nesty stuff, and short bits.

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What is left after hackling, are long strands of shiny line flax–the most desirable end product–and lots of tow flax–the combed out portions of fiber that are shorter, but also spinnable.

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Tow flax–what’s left on the hackles.

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Tow flax ready to spin.

From my small flax patch, which was about 6 X 12 feet, I ended up with 5 ounces of line flax and lots of tow flax. I didn’t expect to get this much, so I’m delighted. Now I have to learn how to spin the stuff.

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Line flax

Now that I have finished with the flax, I need to put the gardens to bed. Our tomatoes are still producing, we have parsnips, leeks, and carrots to pull, and we have fresh greens in our cold frame.

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My bees seem to be doing well. We still have lots of flowers blooming and I’ve stumbled on several bees that died in the performance of their duties–while gathering nectar from Queen Anne’s Lace or pollen-dusted in a cup of hollyhock.

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Not a bad place to die.

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This bumble bee died in a hollyhock.

In the cool mornings, my honey bees sleep late, but the bumble bees are out early, scouting the remaining flowers.

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Covered with pollen.

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In the dry afternoons, the honey bees congregate at the bird baths, sucking up water.

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Our red October moonrises have returned.

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And the dogs are happy.

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Bookmark

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We have been busy, busy, busy.

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With our usual exuberance of planning and ideas, we again find ourselves scrambling to get everything done this summer while still fitting in some mellow relaxation time.

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I’ve had little time or inclination for blogging,

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but things are starting to slow down a bit. I think.

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In the meantime, this post is a bit of a bookmark–a place-holding glimpse into a part of what we’ve been doing.

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Our winter wood is in. The gardens are bursting with more than we can eat and promise of much more.

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We have been drying herbs, digging potatoes, freezing beans, corn, and squash, and planting fall vegetables.

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My new herb drying rack.  I think it’s designed for marijuana growers.

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I have been washing fleeces, obsessively searching for antique flax processing tools, and had a lovely visit with a local farmer and spinner on Maine’s Open Farm Day. I brought home two beautiful fleeces, a bag of interesting wool from a Soay sheep, and some Woad seeds for planting a dye garden next year.

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The small sheep is a Soay and the large curly one is a Leicester Longwool

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The Soay’s wool is pulled off in clumps rather than sheared.

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The glossy locks of the Leicester Longwool.

I finally made it to the the Windjammer parade on Rockland’s breakwater this year.

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In the 1800s, sailboats owned this coast–whalers, traders, fishing schooners.  Maine was a sailing hub–sending its boats and captains to every ocean and building some of the fastest clipper ships in the world.

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Now the windjammers primarily provide entertainment for tourists, but it gives me an ache to watch them.

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Looking down from the lighthouse over the breakwater to shore.

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If I had a bucket list–which I don’t–it would include time-travel back to sailing ship days.  IMG_5219.jpg

Since that will never happen–I really enjoyed the parade.

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Back home, in our yard, the aggressive male bluebird continues to harass us while his mate sits on her birdbox nest looking as if she wants someone to rescue her.

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A noisy nest in the apple tree by the side porch turned out to have baby waxwings.

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Our gardens are full of insects and the hive has the summer smell of honey and brood.

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The ant is moving towards this waspish creature on the tansy …

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as the ant approaches, the waspish creature lifts his leg and then brings it down.  I’m not sure what happened to the ant.

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I had thought that the hive might be ready for honey harvest this week, but it needs a few more weeks.

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These past weeks we’ve celebrated an anniversary, a birthday, and have had several visitors, including blog friend, Eliza, at Eliza Waters.

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She patiently endured a (very complete) tour of our little property, down to and including the compost bin, and we fit in a short hike.  I neglected to take any pictures, but she kindly brought us this begonia,

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which for now adorns the table on the porch where I rock, flick wool, and look at the view.

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High Summer

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When we first moved to Maine, someone told us that for five months of the year, it has the best weather in the world.  He was right.  I cannot imagine more perfect summer days. Warm, breezy, and sunny with enough afternoon thunderstorms to keep everything watered, followed by mellow, thick, golden evening light and then … fireflies.

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True water dog that she is, Alice adores playing in the sprinkler at the end of a hot day.  

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Last summer was marred by Zoe’s illness and death, so we were not able to really appreciate how magical summer is here. This year is different. The mixture of sun and rain is producing the most magnificent garden vegetables I have ever grown.

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This fennel self-seeded and is growing out the sides of the raised beds.

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The only challenge has been keeping the dogs from chowing down on them.

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They especially like to graze on the peas.

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Our flowers are blooming like mad,  becoming so big and crowded that I am going to have to tackle some serious digging and division this year.

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But, right now, I’m enjoying the riotous mish-mash of flowers, including the milkweed that sprung up on its own last year.

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I love its fragrance, beauty, and butterfly-value, so it is welcome to stay.

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I have never been a big fan of yarrow, but grew this as an orchard companion and love the subtle colors.

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Our new clematis is doing well.

We still have some nestlings, although most of the young birds have flown.

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I thought that I spotted some unusual woodpecker with a brilliant orange “W” or “M” mark on its crown.

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Turns out it is a juvenile Hairy Woodpecker.

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Unfortunately, the aggressive male bluebird continues to plague us and seems to have chased off our beloved swallows. He looks a bit disheveled after hours of window and car attacks but nothing seems to faze him.

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He is a gorgeous but such a bully, I’d like to wring his neck. Bluebirds have now joined chipmunks on my “cute but evil” list.

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George has been  working on the trail system through our woods.

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About five acres of our land is wooded and we want to put in trails so that we can cut firewood, tap maples in the spring, and enjoy the woods all year round.

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In our first year, George built a loop trail from our front drive to the back garden.

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Original loop

This spring we mapped out several other trails leading off of that one.

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New trail

He is now working on one that will run around the perimeter of the property. There are some amazing, huge old trees back in there and a few impressive giant boulders.

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The bees are thriving this year.

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No bees on this bee balm, but I love the double-decker flowers

On very hot days, the workers line up near the hive entrance, lift their bee butts, and fan their wings to cool the air.

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Hive air conditioning

I have a few vegetable experiments underway. I am growing yellow mustard for seed this year. I will grind some and use some to make our own mustard (I hope).

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Yellow mustard seed pods

I am most excited, though, about my small patch of flax. I hope to process it for spinning. It has been maintenance-free so far, with no pests or disease to worry about. And it is sowed thickly that weeds have not been an issue. It’s in full bloom right now and is exquisite, with lovely blue flowers and curving stems.

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It anticipate that it will be quite a job to process the flax. The seeds need to be removed and then the stalks must be retted–a soaking process that rots the hardest part of the fibrous stem. After retting, the tough fiber must be removed through a process of breaking, scraping, and combing, which is called “dressing” the flax.

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My little patch

I’ve been on the hunt in antique stores for old flax processing tools. They have medieval names–hatchel (or hetchel, hackle, heckle), scutching sword, retting tub, and ripple. Most places don’t have much familiarity with flax tools. So, I was thrilled yesterday to stumble on a small store in which the owner broke into a large grin when I asked if he had any flax processing tools. After moving various items off a tiny set of back stairs, we climbed into an attic room where he had a collection of a dozen hatchels.

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The spikes on this hatchel are fairly close together.  If you look carefully on the left you can see scribe marks  for lining up the spike rows.

They resemble torture devices and are used for the final combing stage of dressing. Ideally, several hatchels should be used, starting with wide spacing of spikes to very fine spacing. I was thrilled to bring home two.

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I fell in love with this hatchel made of striped maple, with a cover, and initial stamps.  It’s likely about 200 years old.

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Capp had his first birthday.

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He’s an amazing dog.

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Alewives and After Rain

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The weather remained cloudy and cool for most of our daughter’s visit. But we took advantage of one brilliantly sunny day to watch some alewives run.  A nearby town, Damariscotta, holds an annual festival to celebrate the spring migration of alewives–a type of herring–from the ocean to their spawning ground in fresh water lakes.

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Alewives are about a foot long and were a valuable source of food, bait, and fertilizer for the native Wabanaki and early settlers on Maine’s coast.

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Smoked alewives

As with many Maine rivers, the construction of mills on the Damariscotta River in the 1700s obstructed the area’s alewife run.  In 1807, in response to a request from the state, a fish ladder was constructed in Damariscotta Mills, to allow the fish to move upriver alongside the mill race.  Two hundred years later, in 2007, a much-needed restoration of the fish ladder was undertaken. The Alewife Festival raises money for the restoration project.

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The falls at the old mill site.  The metal contraption on the right is a harvesting pen.

Just the name “alewife” makes me like these fish. But the origin of the name is uncertain. One theory is that the fish have fat bellies and resemble fat-bellied women tavernkeeper alewives. I’m not buying it. Other theories are that the name evolved from Wabanaki or old English names for herring.

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The dark area is all alewives

Our first view of the fish was impressive. As we walked over the bridge leading into Damariscotta Mills, a wide swath of river was darkened by a traffic jam of alewives working their way to a gauntlet of seagulls lining a narrows leading to the fish ladder.

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The gull gauntlet

It was fascinating to watch the gulls fishing.

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The gulls swallow the alewives whole, creating bizarre distorting lumps on the gulls’ necks and backs as the fish go down.

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Today, harvesting of the alewives continues.

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Harvesting pen

Most of the harvested fish are used as bait for lobster fishermen, but some are smoked for eating.  The fish ladder itself is a series of pools connected with sloping channels for the fish to swim from pool to pool.

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We followed the ladder upstream, taking advantage of activities for kids along the way that the grandchildren really enjoyed.

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Then we turned around and wandered downhill through Damariscotta Mills

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and visited my favorite fabric store named, fittingly, Alewives Fabrics.

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It was a good day.

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Home again.

The rain returned the next day.

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The cool drizzly days brought on a flush of plant growth.

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The cool-weather garden crops have been going nuts and the roadsides were especially beautiful when the sun emerged after the rain.

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Bringing a spectacularly colorful rainbow.

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We did have a Capp-tastrophe this week when Capp took on a young pear tree and won. It wasn’t a contest, really, he shredded that baby in about 10 seconds flat.

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The shredded remains of the pear tree.

Capp loves to pull up vegetation and roots, so I had been surprised and pleased that he had (so far) ignored are little orchard trees. After he destroyed the pear tree, however, we wasted no time in building little fences around all of our young trees.

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George just built this beautiful arbor for our northern kiwis.  We fenced off the kiwis, too!

Fences make for happy Lab owners.

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We are in full nesting season in the yard.

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Our bird houses are full.  Two have swallows, two have wrens, and one has bluebirds.  I love this time of year.

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Digging In and Looking Back

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We had an anniversary this week. We moved to this tiny paradise on a hill two years ago. It was a marriage of sorts, of people and place, and deserves anniversary recognition. We celebrated by digging, planting, and constructing, and generally reveling in the explosion of spring in this lovely spot of earth.

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The day we moved in, the apple trees were in full bee-buzzing bloom. We had never thought to find a place with dozens of ancient apple trees and were amazed at our luck in landing here. We couldn’t have arrived at a more beautiful time of year. Aside from the apples, the lilacs and wild honeysuckle were just starting to bloom. It is a peak time for fragrance and birdsong. Intoxicating.

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That first year, we could just see the blossomy tops of what appeared to be a ring of old apple trees through the brush and small trees behind the house.

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Zoe in the yard the day after we moved in.  The blossoming tops of the ring of old apple trees are barely visible.

We decided to clear back to those trees and open things up for vegetable gardening and a small orchard and sitting area.

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The big oak when we moved in, surrounded by small trees and brush.  

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The first lawn mowing.

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We quickly cleared high grass for raised beds within a week of moving in.  The next summer, we moved the raised beds to the area below the house and turned this into our little orchard area.

It will be a work in progress for years, but has been incredibly satisfying to work on this beautiful property.

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The big oak and ring of old apple trees revealed.  

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Little orchard with swale and companion plants.

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First cherry blossom

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Now that we’ve been here through three blooms, we’ve seen the fruiting cycle of these old trees. We had heard that the wild trees often bloom and bear fruit every other year. And sure enough, the trees that bloomed that first year didn’t bloom the second year and now are blooming again.

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Last May.  Only two trees blooming and a branch here and there on the other trees.

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This  May.  All the trees are blooming, except for the two that bloomed last year.

This is the bloomiest year in the cycle.  Depending on where in the yard we are working, we can hear the buzzing of bees in different apple trees.

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This beautiful tree has little yellow apples that stay all through the winter–at least until the Waxwings visit for a mid-winter gorge.  

It is quite loud and makes me happy. Good for the bees and good for the trees.

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The past few weeks finally brought us some warmth and sun.

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Before the sun.  A little greening up on the hillside.

Green growing things, which had been patiently waiting through cold, rainy April, apparently decided to make up for lost time.

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From this …

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… to this …

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… to this in a few days.

A plant orgy of sorts.

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Maples just budding, with teensy developing seeds.

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Soon after, the leaves are popping out and the seeds developing their wings. 

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This chipmunk looks like he was indulging in excessive spring celebration–cheeks stuffed to overflowing with something.  At least it wasn’t parts of our car.  

Now that the weather has improved and the soil is warming, we have been working like mad to get things planted. George also has been busy making fences. Both pups are gourmands, LOVING veggies, flowers, herbs, grass, soil, fertilizer–if we plant it, they will eat it. And they have generously shared their personal fertilizer on a few choice perennials.

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So, we are putting up small fences, at least while they are young.

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We have eight raised beds this year (with little dog-proofing additions), two large beds for corn, tomatoes, potatoes, melons, and squash, and a separate bed for growing flax (which I’m going to try to process for spinning). Our little orchard trees are thriving. I will transplant the apples I grafted last year to the gaps in our ring of old trees.

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Last year’s grafted trees are ready to transplant.

And my herb garden is flourishing. We are rich.

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Aside from all our work outside, we’ve had visitors. Our son and daughter-in-law were here early in the month while the weather was a little iffy. But we had glorious weather and crashing waves on our trip to Pemaquid Point.

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Last week, we had doggy guests. Capp’s brother, Henry, and a sweet female, Quinn, came for two days.

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Capp and Henry.

One day was freakishly hot, so we had dog summer camp, complete with a pool.

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Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren will be here in a few days so we are madly trying to get everything planted before they arrive. I think we are going to make it.

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May and a Walking Wheel

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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Rose Breasted Grosbeak

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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

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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.

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

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Even our mushroom logs look like they might produce something.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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May also brought me a walking wheel.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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More on this wheel later.

Practicing Patience and Waging War

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I am tired of March. The weather has been properly capricious, with spring advancing, receding, advancing, and disappearing altogether. More than anything, it is the unvarying black and white landscape that is wearing me down. Gray skies, soggy snow, black trees, sleet, ice, fog–all color has been leached away.

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We had a couple of days with brilliant blue skies and robin song.

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I took a delightful, leisurely walk comparing birch and poplar bark and admiring pussy willows.

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This birch bark had Frankenstein-like stitches

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This birch’s bark looked like petroglyphs or Roman numerals

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Delicate peels

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Golden peels

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The poplar looks like it’s bursting out of its bark

It seemed as if we might be on the brink of spring.

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Poplar

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Willow

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But another cold front moved in, coating everything in ice.

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Ice-coated pussy willows

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Pussy willow-cicles 

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Apple buds

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Azaleas

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Queen Anne’s Lace

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I should be grateful for all this precipitation after last summer’s drought, but I am starved for color and a few flowers.

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While we tried to become resigned to out-waiting winter’s siege, we faced a sneak attack on another front. Some wily chipmunk decided to have a vacation under the hood of our car.  This was not the first time we have had rodents in our vehicles. It is a hazard of rural life in Maine. We don’t have a garage and our parking area is bounded by stone walls and a wood pile, which provide perfect cover for mice and chipmunks.

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We have tried every kind of deterrent, from peppermint oil, to dryer sheets, to fox urine.
Our previous damage, including chewed wires for our car’s moon roof, was from mice. After setting some traps, we thought we had it under control.

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The chipmunk was another story. Exactly one week ago, last Wednesday, our car’s heater fan started making an alarming noise. It is still cold and icy here, and we need that heater and defroster to get around. So, I brought the car in immediately and found that some little critter had torn out most of the cabin air filter for nesting material and the filter debris had been sucked into the heater fan. The mechanic cleared out the material and put in a new filter. All good, we thought.

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The second destroyed filter.  One day’s damage.  There were maple seeds and pine needles stashed in it.  

Not so. By the next afternoon, same noise. Another trip to the mechanic on Friday, another eaten filter, and this time, there were bits of hood liner added to the mix. Another clean out, another new filter, more smelly deterrents, traps set. The mechanics all surmised that it was a chipmunk, not a mouse, that was the causing the damage.

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Hood liner.  Lovely, soft nesting material.

Now, I hate to trap a chipmunk. They peg the adorable meter for rodents. Charming, fun to watch–I LOVE chipmunks. But this little rodent was costing us a lot of time and money. We had tried to peacefully coexist, but we cannot provide our car as chipmunk housing.

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It burrowed under the hood liner here.  Again, one day’s damage.

The traps seemed to work. Not in actually catching anything, but they must have made the chipmunks wary. We saw no signs of them.

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Until Monday. A third trip to the mechanic, a third filter destroyed, more hood liner gone. This time the mechanic installed wire screening across the entire opening for the heating ductwork. We have our fingers crossed that it will work. So far, so good. In the meantime, the car smells like a balsam-scented laundromat (we may add mothballs to the mix). We will move our woodpile and stop feeding the birds for a while in hopes that will clear out some of the chipmunks. The war continues.

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Maybe we should have gotten Terriers

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Something Other Than Dogs

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This past year was dog-dominated.  Zoe’s illness and death, building a dog fence, searching for a pup and adult dog—we had eleven months straight of thinking about dogs.  But now our little pack is complete again.

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Our house feels satisfyingly full of life and just right.  We can finally can turn our full attention to other things—and bring the dogs along.

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So, here we are, heads full of outside projects and bodies eager for physical work–primed and ready to go.  Only to be thwarted by weather.  Last year, March found us pruning, moving our raised beds, digging drainage, and preparing for planting.

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Last March

Not this year.

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This March

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Closer up, the little swale is solid ice.

March has been kind of a brat.  The deep snow from our February storms lingered for weeks.

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By the time March pranced in, all lamb-like and sweet, it was mostly melted.  The soft air, smelling of new growth, lasted for two brief days before we descended into an icebox.

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Lilac buds before the cold

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Sticky pine buds

Not a surprise.  March in Maine is notorious for weather extremes.  And, sure enough, after the first cold, mild weather returned, which combined with longer daylight teased us for a few days into thinking that spring might be approaching.  I walked the property looking for the emergence of some of the bulbs that I planted last fall.  Not a one.  I was disappointed, but not for long, because temperatures plummeted again giving us the coldest weather that we’ve experienced since we moved to Maine.

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New poppy growth on the south side of the house had emerged and then got zapped by the cold.

The temperature kept dropping  after we got up yesterday until it hit 4 below zero (Fahrenheit) mid-morning, with screeching winds, driving wind-chills to about 25 below.

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Perhaps the bulbs knew better than to poke their delicate stems into an impending arctic blast.   If my bees were still alive, I would be very worried about them surviving these extreme variations in temperature.

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Unhappy rhododendrons

This late deep chill cannot be easy on our local wildlife.  The ground is frozen solid and any emerging shoots have had all succulence stripped by the cold.  We have seen a few signs of the fox near last year’s den, but our fenced-in area comes much closer to the den now, so I suspect the fox will not be raising its kits there this year.  We have had plenty of rabbit tracks in our woods, but very little sign of deer this winter.

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Therefore, we were surprised when, during the warm spell, we saw a dead deer, lying about twenty feet off of the road in a field on the hillside down our road toward town.  It was a full-sized adult and had already been partially eaten by some largish animal.  We suspected coyotes, but there weren’t evident tracks and little sign of a struggle.

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Lots of deer tracks on the roadside but no coyote tracks

A neighbor had seen a deer the day before that had seemed “not quite right,” so we wonder if it had been grazed and injured by a car and then easily taken down by a coyote or, perhaps just died on its own.  We did hear coyotes howling the next night, for the first time all year, right below our property.  In any case, the deer carcass attracted eagles, which hunkered in the large trees lining the field, overlooking the bolder crows and ravens.  The smaller birds cawed and called at the eagles, flying up to the trees near them, whether to try to warn them off or not, I don’t know, but it was fascinating to watch.

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Immature bald eagle.  He was huge.

The cold is not all bad.  It has given me time to finish up my indoor winter projects.  Spring cleaning—ugh, I hate housework—is underway.  And I finished my kaleidoscope quilt.

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The quilt is made of fabrics that reflect our life here in Maine—foxes, birds, cows, the ocean, the sky, garden flowers and vegetables, wild flowers and plants, apples, bees—all in there, in little triangular pieces, forming larger circle-like kaleidoscope designs.

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New potholders from the quilt scraps.  That’s a stuffed opossum on the floor, not a dead animal.

Now that the quilt is finished, the sewing area–with a bank of southern-facing windows—will be converted to our seedling nursery.

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I started onions and leeks two weeks ago and am planting celery, chard, lettuce, and herbs today.  Last year I used a variety of pots for the seedlings—peat, plastic, and yogurt cups.  The best planters by far were gallon water jugs.  I poked drainage holes with scissors and cut around the middle.  I left a hinged area last year, but probably will cut off the hinges as I plant more this year, because the hinged tops take up too much room.

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Little greenhouses

I left the tops down, cloche-like, when I wanted an extra green-house effect and lifted them up when it got hot and moist.  I had read about this method on-line and decided to give it a try.  They worked brilliantly.  I didn’t need a heat mat or grow lamps.  Granted we get a lot of sun in our windows, but the greenhouse effect of the bottle really made a difference in heating the soil.  When it’s time to harden off, again the tops serve to heat the soil and protect the plants from wind when they are set outside.  They transplant easily and I had no problems with damping off (I did with some of the peat pots).  I was converted and will be using only water jugs this year.

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While it feels like mid-winter outside, the chickadees’ sweet mating calls continue, and we have warm soil and seedlings inside.  Happy March.

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To the Moon in a Blizzard

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The bad news first.

I lost my bees. It is startling how much we miss them.  They are short-lived, fascinating to watch as individuals, but not something you are likely to get attached to on a bee-by-bee basis (although there is an interesting recent study on bee personalities).  As a hive, however, the bees become a community that takes on a presence of its own.  I cannot help but feel that I let them down.

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I had been worried about the bees since late November when there seemed to be an unusual amount of dead bees in front of the hive and–on a few warm days–the continued presence of drones, male bees that generally are kicked out of the hive before winter.  I could hear the bees when I put my ear to side of the hive and they continued sounding strong until early January, when their sound seemed to lessen. They were eating the supplemental sugar I was feeding. But in mid-January–ominous silence. I continued to press my ear to the hive daily, thinking perhaps I could hear a little buzz, but it was just my imagination.

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On a warm day, I took a quick peek inside the lid and confirmed that the bees were dead. I have several theories as to what happened and may know more when it is warm enough to really open up the hive. Or it may be a mystery. I have heard that that losses have been high in our area this winter. I have already ordered bees for next year.

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On to good news. We have a new pack member. Her name is Grampian To the Moon.

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Alice, for short. She is almost three years old, a yellow lab, who just had a litter and is “retiring” from breeding. She loves her walks, will retrieve until the cows come home, and is an extraordinary snuggler.

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Capp trying to worm his way onto the bed with Alice.

She settled in beautifully with Capp, with–fittingly–a sort of Alice and Ralph Kramden relationship.

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He wants to be the boss, but she knows better.

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Capp at seven months

In predicting how Alice would get along with Capp, Alice’s owner said, “bitches always win.”

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In this case, she was right.  It’s been a joy to watch the two of them together.

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We had two days of sun after Alice arrived.

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Then were hit in quick succession with snow, a blizzard, and more snow.

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Our rarely used front door with the snow piled about a foot high.

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George kept a track shoveled in the back yard so the dogs could go to bathroom, but in the high winds it drifted over pretty quickly.

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The dogs were ecstatic in the snow, racing around the track and leaping through the drifts.  IMG_1609.jpgIMG_1621.jpg

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They were wiped out by the time the sun went down.

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Fortunately, we did not lose power and have been warm and cozy.

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The roads are plowed, the foxes are out, and the days are getting longer.

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Several mailboxes on our road were snowplow casualties. Fortunately, ours survived.

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We had a sudden reminder last week that life is fragile and short. So, we are doing our best to slow down and savor it.

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