Wreaking Havoc

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No half measures this summer—everything has hit with ferocity.  A normality-ending disease, human wrecking hammers smashing every aspect of our system of government, life-sucking heat and drought, and new garden pests have all been wreaking havoc.  Even George has created a little havoc with massive tree clearing.  It’s exhausting.

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All summer, it has felt as if we are existing on two levels.  On the one hand, we have been enormously productive, working on things we love, which brings deeply satisfying contentment.

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On the other hand, there is an underlying current of tension, anger, and disbelief over the state of the world that never really leaves.  I have never felt so powerless in my life.

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So, we do what we can to improve the world where we do have some power—our little hillside domain.

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Staying home, with no visitors, has given us ample time to really dig in and do things right.  In previous years, I had so many things going on in the summer, that I was always playing catch up in the gardens.

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Flax in July

This year, with George’s help, I finally managed to get enough mulch in the walkways to keep the weeds under control.

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Most everything has been thriving, despite the crazy weather.

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June started with weeks of wet, dripping fog, leaving things feeling sticky and smelling moldy.  When the fog lifted, the heat settled in.

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My experimental peanuts like the heat

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The peanuts grow underground off of these pegs extending down from the stems

Week after week of brutally hot sun and high humidity.

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It is not weather we are used to in Maine.  We soldiered on, working outside through the heat, dripping sweat and fending off black flies and deer flies.

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It finally got so bad that the heat was making me feel slightly sick and I ended up retreating inside in the air-conditioned sanctuary of our garage loft.  The dogs were uncomfortable, too, parking themselves in front of their personal fans.

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We were not the only ones to notice that the gardens are thriving.

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The chipmunks and mice discovered them, too, this year.

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Tunneling their way under everything, they decimated my brassica seedlings, ate bean plants down to nubs, and nibbled and gnawed their way down every bed.

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Tunnels everywhere

They aren’t picky eaters—peas, strawberries, melons, flax seeds, carrots, beets—I even found a wee mouse with huge feet nesting among the potatoes when I dug them up.

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Fortunately, they can’t climb up the corn and we now have a small solar electric fence to keep the raccoons out.  So far, so good.

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Aside from the rodent mayhem, insects have created some havoc, as well.  Seemingly overnight, plum curculios descended on my cherry trees, leaving not one cherry unmolested.  I had never had a problem with them before, so wasn’t prepared.  I will be next year.  Since I only have a few fruit trees that are mature enough to bear fruit, I decided to bag some of the fruit against pests this year as experiment.

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Plastic bags on the apples, cloth on the peaches.

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It looks weird but seems to be working.  While it has been a record year for Japanese beetles, we only saw one monarch butterfly all summer.

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Japanese beetles made lace of the soybeans

We had so many last year, I don’t know how this year’s migration got waylaid, but something must have happened.  I miss them.

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Our birds and bees have been thriving, though.

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Every year we have more birds nesting on the property.  They seem to like it here.

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House finch hatchlings in the hanging basket

The robin that had been nesting in the sauna wood box, moved her subsequent nests to under our deck, much safer from predators, and raised two broods there.

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Baby robin under our deck, ready to take the leap

I harvested my first honey this year.

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Tastes like home.

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Birds aren’t the only creatures who like it here.

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All sorts of animals have discovered our trails—deer,

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We are hoping the coyotes don’t get this fawn

coyotes,

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Coyotes (sometimes called coywolves) appear on the camera day and night

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domestic cats, a bobcat,

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porcupines, raccoons, foxes, skunks,

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Young skunks

rabbits—all right behind our house.

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Young porcupines jousting

We rarely see the larger animals—only their tracks—but the game camera gives us a glimpse into what is going on when we aren’t around.

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George has been a whirlwind all summer, mostly clearing out highly overgrown areas,

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to give space and light to our screens of evergreens, wild apples, the new orchard trees we are planting, and to maintain our view and that of our neighbors.

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When our neighbor moved into his house in the early 70s, the hillside was almost entirely cleared, with blueberry fields and pasture.

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In the years since, trees have grown up at an amazing rate and much of the hillside now is heavily wooded. The growth rings on this large maple show that it is about 45 years old.

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George hasn’t just been taking down trees, he put in a welcoming light and new sign at the head of our driveway,

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built me a grape trellis, stacked and split four years’ worth of firewood, and created what we’ve named our “industrial drive” along one of our trails, where he processes wood and parks equipment.

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It feels good to be getting so organized.

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Aside from the gardens, I have continued to focus on my flax and spinning two fleeces for natural dyeing.

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Drying flax

I processed most of last year’s flax and will finish it and this year’s harvest in September.

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Flax tub retting

I should have enough to actually weave some fabric this year.

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Some of last year’s crop, ready to spin

My dye gardens are thriving

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Harvesting Japanese indigo

and I’ve had two dyeing days,

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one with weld and indigo and one with madder.

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Yellow from weld, blue from Japanese indigo and green overdyeing weld with indigo

Because this was the first year the madder bed was old enough to harvest,

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I wasn’t sure what to expect for color.  It wasn’t exactly what I was aiming at, but I love it.

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We have not stayed home all the time.  I’ve picked up a couple of spinning wheels,

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we socialize with neighbors,

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I’ve been kayaking and swimming,

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and George and I went to the coast for our wedding anniversary, enjoying a walk on the beach and some fried clams.

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We’ve been fortunate to have very few Covid-19 cases here in Maine, so far.  Let’s hope it doesn’t escalate too much in the fall.

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Figs in the greenhouse

I’m looking forward to cooler fall weather and inside weaving time but dreading the upcoming months until the election.   It is going to be ugly.

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I will try to focus on the beauty here and hope we make it out the other side with our sanity, health, and government intact.

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Sweet Alice

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Are we there yet?

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Often these days, the news–and social media–make me feel like a powerless child on an endless car ride through hell, crowded into the middle of the backseat with quarrelsome, nasty little brats fighting on either side of me (“I know you are, but what am I?”), scenes of suffering flashing by the windows, while the car careens all over the road, the adults up front bickering over directions–the driver a nearsighted incompetent, who never took driver training, constantly checking his hair in the rear-view mirror, while driving along a cliff’s edge, with fewer and fewer guardrails, an increasingly bumpy road, and ominous thunderheads ahead.

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I alternate between outrage, disbelief, profound cynicism, anger, and, occasional glimmers of hope.  It’s probably just that I’m getting old, but I feel as if we fight the same battles over and over, only now things are taking on weird and frightening new twists, and it makes me weary.

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But we are fortunate personally, because the reality of our day-to-day life has stayed much the same, despite the craziness in the larger world.  In May, we reached our five-year mark of living on our beautiful hillside.

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We have worked hard these years, front-loading our projects, knowing that our fitness and stamina would be declining and that it would takes years for some things to reach fruition.

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At this five-year point, we are really starting to reap the benefits of that early planning and work.  Lazy composter that I am, I finally have a working rotation of compost bins providing much of what I need for the gardens. George has firewood drying according to species, so that it will be properly seasoned when it’s time to burn.

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Our slow-to-mature crops are bearing now.

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We have rhubarb, asparagus, blueberries, blackberries, honeyberries, elderberries, cherries, and peaches, and are only a year away from pears and apples.

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We’re still waiting on the hazelnuts, figs, and northern kiwi—but are getting closer.   My dye gardens are mature—madder (for red dye) should grow for three years before harvesting the roots.

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The yellow flowers are woad (for blue) and the plants in the front are madder (for red)

I have planted madder beds every year for the past three years, so will be able to harvest it annually from now on.  The bees are thriving.  We are hoping for honey this year.

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We are getting close to our vision for this place—but that vision is always evolving, so will always be a work in progress.

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Our spring weather was almost as crazy as the outside world.

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April 10th storm

We had two very late snowstorms.

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After the snow, the temperatures soared and new growth exploded.   Then we had a hard frost on June 1.

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Now, it changes day-to-day, hot, cold, dry, wet, fog—all over the place.

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We lost a lot of big branches in one of the late storms, mostly where bittersweet had grown up into the trees and became weighted down with the heavy spring snow.  So, George has been cutting down the bittersweet and opening up areas around many of the old wild apples to allow more light and air circulation.

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The bluebirds were peaceful this year—thank goodness—successfully raising a brood.

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And the swallows are back in their usual box, babies born, but we haven’t seen their hungry heads peeking out yet.

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We had a robin build a lovely, mud-lined nest in our sauna wood box.

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We were afraid that it would be within reach of some nestling-eating animals,

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but she appears to have raised her brood to fledglings.

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A phoebe is nesting under the eaves of a dormer window

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and the house finches decided to nest in a hanging basket on our porch.

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The male finch.

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Female finch checking out the hanging basked from the nearby apple tree.

I didn’t know the nest was there until I used the hose to water it a few days ago and a very agitated bird flew out.

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As usual, George is working on building projects,

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George enclosed the area under the deck–a huge improvement.

the lower orchard,

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the lawns, and maintaining the trails, while helping me finally get the paths in the vegetable garden covered with enough chips to keep the weeds under control.

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I’ve been gardening like mad, spinning for summer dyeing, doing a little weaving, sewing clothes from my woven fabric,

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and continuing to rescue old wheels.

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We have really missed visits from our kids, grandkids, and friends.  On the other hand, the gardens have never looked better and I’m finding time to blog.

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I started another blog as a way to document my antique spinning wheels and textile tools and have been enjoying digging into research for it.  If you’re interested, the link is here: exquisitemachinery. I also finally got started on processing last year’s flax crop and hope to have enough after this batch to spin and weave fabric for a shirt.

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All in all, we are hanging in here quite happily, keeping our home fires burning, and hoping the world doesn’t melt down in the coming months.

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It feels as if our country may be reaching several tipping points and anything could happen.

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One thing that is certain, however, is that our votes have never been more important. Make your voices heard through voting—at every level, local to national.  It’s the most effective way to turn collective grief, anger, outrage, and approval into tangible change.

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And continue to find solace and joy where you can.

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Time keeps ticking by.

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Transformations

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As usual, summer whirled by.  We took on too much, but are feeling the sweet satisfaction of transforming our slice of hillside into our long-dreamed-of ultimate home.  It feels good.

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George capped off a summer of building projects by finishing the sauna.  He put an amazing amount of time, thought, and work into it.  And it’s a beautiful creation, with gorgeous wood inside and out, nestled in the trees, promising hours of bliss—soaking in heat, hot cedar fragrance, and the flickering light of the woodfire.

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To accompany the sauna, George also built a deluxe outdoor shower.

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Beginnings of the shower (with the dye garden and fleece washing station behind)

There’s nothing like watching eagles soaring overhead while showering.  Getting clean has never been so sweet.

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While George was busy building, the butterflies moved in.

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The Eastern Tiger Swallowtails appeared first

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar–the only time I’ve seen one–the “eyes” and swaying head were a bit creepy

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Black Swallowtail caterpillar

We were besieged by monarchs.  In their caterpillar incarnation they ate our milkweed to desolate skeletons, every tender bit devoured.

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We were fortunate to catch the moment of metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis while the grandchildren were here.

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Attaching to form a chrysalis

I hope it didn’t give them nightmares of alien transformations.

IMG_3205Lots of writhing and pulsing, as a massive chrysalis (where did that incredible hulk come from?) shed the vivid caterpillar skin, leaving a shriveled bit of tissue-paper debris in a matter of minutes.

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Ouch.

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By August, Monarch chrysalises were hanging everywhere—from perennial stalks, siding, windowsills, and even a wheelbarrow.

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As good hosts, we left them alone—no cutting back of perennials or bumpy wheelbarrow rides during chrysalis-hood.  On the final day before butterfly emergence, the chrysalis becomes a deep blue, with wings and colors visible.

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But the actual emergence is very fast—it’s over in minutes.  Although I kept on eye on ripe ones, I kept missing the magic moment.  I finally camped out on our deck steps shelling tiger beans, next to a chrysalis looking about to burst, determined to wait until the moment of emergence.

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After about an hour, there was a sudden twitch and the chrysalis listed to one side.

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Then, in an eerie similarity to the caterpillar-chrysalis transformation, in minutes the butterfly shed the chrysalis and burst out—BOOM—into a crumbled color of wings with an outsized body.

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After a few hours drying, it was off, feasting on nectar for the migration south.

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Some evenings more than a dozen would be dancing over our Joe Pye Weed.

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They stayed well into October.  I hope they made it to Mexico.

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It was a good summer for growing—monarchs, flowers, and vegetables.

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The gardens produced wonderfully and I swear the vegetables get tastier every year.

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Flax

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In the summer, we filled the greenhouse with tomatoes, cotton, a fig tree, passion fruit vines, bay laurel, herbs, turmeric and ginger.

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Passionfruit flower

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Curing sweet potatoes in greenhouse

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Hoping for tomatoes into November

Now it’s also planted with greens for fall, winter, and spring.  I’m looking forward to seeing how much it extends the season for us.

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Sweet Alice

The dogs and bees are thriving, too.  Capp appears to have recovered completely from his mystery illness last year, which is such a relief.

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Capp sunbathing

He and Alice are our best buddies, making us rich in love and dog hair.

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My adopted bees settled in beautifully and are going into fall as the strongest hive I’ve ever had.  I’ll wrap the hive next month and hope they make it through the winter.

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Samuel Morison great wheel

Much of my summer was textile-related—most of it outdoors.

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Gotland fleece ready to wash

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Dew retting flax

I went to two natural dyeing workshops, washed fleeces, spun a lot of wool for dyeing, worked on wheels, grew and retted flax, and taught a class on antique wheels.  In late summer, I set up my outdoor dye kitchen for two dyeing sessions, using plants from my dye garden and our land.

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Simmering goldenrod

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Japanese Indigo–notice the blue tinge to the water

What a range of colors emerged: blues from Japanese Indigo and Woad; yellows from Weld, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne’s Lace; gold and orange from Dyer’s Coreopsis; and green from overdyeing the yellows with the blues.

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Dye day one, Woad, Japanese Indigo, Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace and overdyeing for greens

There’s a wonderful sense of witchy-ness in hovering over a brew of plants transforming them to potions of color.

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Dyer’s Coreopsis

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Dye day two–Japanese Indigo, Dyer’s Coreopsis, with overdyeing and afterbaths of washing soda and iron

I was so busy with outside activities that I had little time for weaving.  In September, however, an antique wheel friend offered to sell me her Leksand loom, a beautiful 19th century Swedish loom for weaving bands.  I was thrilled.

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Beautiful old Leksand–I’m very fortunate to have this loom

They are very hard to find and really fun to use.  It took some time to figure out how to set it up and weave on it–all the helpful books were in Swedish.  I also rescued an old Maine tape loom that had been covered with 70s-era painted flowers and have a line-up of spinning wheels waiting for my repairs.

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Cape Breton wheel needing work

Last week I finally warped up my big loom.

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It’s still too beautiful, though, to spend much time inside.  The leaf colors are spectacular this fall.

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But, winter is coming.

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And I plan to be a recluse—home with George, dogs, snow, wheels, spinning, sewing, and weaving.  And the sauna, of course.

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Busy

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Two words for this spring—cold and wet.

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Late snows, hard frosts, frigid mud, and a miserly portion of sunshine delayed our yard work and gardening, again and again.  When the weather finally began to warm up a bit (only a handful of days have teasingly felt like summer), we were in catch-up mode, trying to get everything done at once.

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Preparing the greenhouse pad.

Although I held off on planting, the ground remains unseasonably cold and wet.  My potatoes and flax have stunted patches and the warm weather crops are struggling to get established.  New growth for deer browse was late and some deer—looking for spring nutrition—girdled several of the apple trees that I planted last fall in the lower orchard.

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They didn’t touch any other saplings—that sweet young apple bark must be especially tasty.  I tried to do some cleft grafting to save them, but it doesn’t appear to have taken. So, we will plant more in the spring and fence them well.

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I was hoping the grafts would take, but it doesn’t look good.

I also had another fail with my bees this winter.  They had swarmed last June and the remaining bees in the hive never seemed to get up to full strength.  I was happy that they made it into January, but then I lost them in a long, deep freeze.  I reluctantly decided to take a year off from beekeeping for several reasons:  I would be out-of-state when the bee packages arrive; we want to move the hive to a new area that won’t be ready until later in the year; and we want to do perimeter work around our fence (near the hive) to keep our tick population down.

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There are other hives in our area, and plenty of bees came to pollinate our wild apples, but I really missed having our own.  I put off cleaning out and storing the hive and in a wild, unlikely hope that maybe a swarm would take up residence.  And, sure enough, that’s what happened.  One morning in mid-June, I noticed some bees at the hive.  I could not tell if they were robbing the little honey left or if they might be scouts for a swarm.

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A few hours later I heard a massive buzzing sound and the air was filled with a bee swarm descending on the hive.

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It was pretty exciting.  They now are happily established.  So much for moving the hive—I’m so happy to have these new arrivals, it’s staying where it is.

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The other insects of note this spring are the brown tail moths that are invading midcoast Maine.  They make ticks seem like pleasant little nuisances.  The moth caterpillars have toxic, barbed hairs that become airborne and can create a nasty itchy rash and a cough if breathed.  They favor oaks and apples, of which we have plenty.  Up until this year, they weren’t a problem for us and we did extensive pruning this year on our old apples—not worried about moths.

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Early spring pruning on the wild apples in the yard.

Unbeknownst to George, though, one of the trees was moth-infested and when he was cleaning up the downed branches, he developed a horrible rash.  To finish up the job, he has had to hose down all the wood and wear a moth hazmat outfit.  Yuck.

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Despite the cold and toxic moth hairs, we have never had so many nesting birds.

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Sparrow nest I stumbled on when clearing orchard weeds. Fortunately, I didn’t scare the mother, she’s still sitting on the nest.

The birdsong has been amazing—it goes on from earliest pre-dawn until the evening.  We have nesting wrens, cardinals, sparrows, phoebes, chickadees, mourning doves, yellowthroats, thrushes, catbirds, vireos, towhees, various unidentified warblers, woodpeckers, robins, goldfinches, waxwings, evening grosbeaks, and a a very vocal melodious Baltimore Oriole for the first time this year.

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We put up two nesting boxes with trepidation, hoping that our pugnacious bluebird wouldn’t return.  He didn’t.

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Bluebird fledgling about a minute before his first flight.

We had a friendly bluebird couple take up residence and a gorgeous pair of swallows.

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George has been going non-stop all spring with pruning, putting up next winter’s wood, improving the drainage down the driveway and around the new garage, building beds for my new dye garden,

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Dye garden and fleece washing tubs.

building screen houses for the brassicas,

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The screen enclosure in the background has been wonderful to protect the brassicas from cabbage moth caterpillars.

working on the sauna, planting trees and shrubs, preparing foundations for a new shed and green house, on top of the usual yard, trail, and house maintenance.

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I’m in love with our new greenhouse.

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While George has been giving the tractor a workout, I’ve had a textile-rich spring.  With help from a friend, I put together an exhibit highlighting weaving, spinning, flax production, and antique textile tools for the local library, which recently acquired a trove of new books on these subjects for its craftsmanship collection.

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I didn’t take photos of the exhibit, but we had antique wheels and a tape loom.

In late April, Jan and I also did an evening presentation on antique spinning wheels at the same library, hoping to gain converts to rehabilitate the old wheels and get them spinning again.

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Current herd of great wheels.

Soon after, I went to Vavstuga weaving school in western Massachusetts for a course in Swedish Classics.

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Learning rosepath.

It was wonderful to be back there, immersed in a week of nothing but weaving.

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Monksbelt variation.

When I returned, I got going on taking and collecting photos for a presentation on Connecticut wheelmakers for an Antique Spinning Wheel Symposium at Marshfield School of Weaving in Vermont in early June.

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The presentation also involved countless hours of genealogy research and deciphering probate records and inventories from the 1700s, to try to track down the identity of wheelmaker J. Platt.  I still don’t know who he is.

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But, we had magical weather for the symposium and what a treat to get together with a bunch of antique wheel nerds.  The talking was non-stop, it was such a rare opportunity to all be speaking the same language of scribe lines, double-flyers, hub shapes, spindle supports, chip carving, maidens, mother-of-alls (mothers-of-all?), and, on and on …

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At Lone Rock Farm in Marshfield.

I stayed over the next day for a flax workshop with Norman Kennedy, the 86-year-old grand master of weaving, flax, stories of textiles in Scotland, and song (among other things).

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Norman dressing a distaff.

And I stayed at a wonderful farm B&B, where I got to enjoy morning visits with the cows, pigs, chickens, and kittens.

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Marshfield was beautiful, I loved being with “my people,” and enjoyed an amazing three days, but—as always—it was so sweet to get home—with flowers and dogs to greet me.

IMG_2536IMG_2221Capp is doing wonderfully now.  It’s such a relief to have him back to normal.

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Throughout the spring, I’ve been spinning and weaving,

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and finished up processing last year’s flax.

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Bottom batch was dew retted (twice) last fall and the top batch was retted on snow this winter.

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I bought this wonderful flax break at auction last month for $10. The auctioneer had no idea what it was.

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Snow retted flax being hackled. It’s a lovely color.

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From left to right: early dew retted (under retted), tub retted, double dew retted, snow retted.

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I was engulfed by lilac fragrance while processing the flax. We had a bumper crop of lilacs this year.

Now that summer is officially here, I’m just about caught up on spring chores and hope to have a less busy, more relaxing summer.  We’ll see.

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Spinning on the porch, watching thunderstorms and rainbows.

Spring Ahead

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I have not died or otherwise disappeared off the face of the earth. I simply have been engrossed in worlds other than blogging. Now my challenge is to condense nine months packed with living into one blog post.  We have gone from spring mists

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to fall mists

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to this

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since I last wrote.  Here goes …

One reason I dropped out of the blogosphere was because Capp became terribly ill in July. Seemingly overnight, he went from a happy-go-lucky, just-turning-two-year-old lab, full of mischief and swagger, to a ball of misery who didn’t want to leave his crate.

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After time at the local dog emergency clinic and with our local vet, his mystery condition was bumped up to the veterinary specialists in Portland, an hour-and-a-half from home. He almost died.

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Home after tests with lots of shaved spots.

He spent three days at the Portland vet on an IV and undergoing a battery of tests. At first the fear was cancer, but it turned out that he had immune-mediated neutropenia, which was causing his white blood cells to drop to treacherously low levels. After six months on prednisone, and other drugs, he is finally back to our old Capp.

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We still don’t know exactly what caused his condition. The theories are a reaction to immunizations or perhaps a tick-borne disease (although he tested negative for all the common ones). He remains on a low dose of pred and must have regular blood tests, but we are so relieved that we didn’t lose him. He has become quite popular with the wonderful vets and technicians caring for him. One tech calls him “Cute Adorable Puppy Prince,” and it has stuck. Amazingly, we had pet insurance–the first we’ve ever had for a dog–and they really came through for us, too.

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Throughout Capp’s illness, Alice has remained her sweet affectionate self.

Because of Capp’s illness, we have been sticking pretty close to home. In the spring, we consolidated our vegetable beds into two fenced-in gardens. “We” meaning George–he did all the fencing and leveling.

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The gardens were lush and productive this year.

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Flax.

We were eating our garden potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and onions well into February. I tried growing cotton this year, and it did well, but frost hit before the cotton fully developed.

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Cotton blossom.

Next year, I will try hanging the bolls inside to continue to mature.

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The vegetable beds. Much neater than last year.

George is getting really good at putting in trails.

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We have a whole system that now reaches each corner of the property.

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The first set of trails were named after the grandchildren. The next will be named after the dogs.

He also is building an outdoor, wood-fired sauna–something that I became enamored with during our years in Alaska.

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Preparing for the sauna.

But the biggest project this year was building a garage.

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We hired contractors to do most of the work, but George did much of the prep and finish work himself (he’s still doing finish work) and oversaw everything–not an easy task. The upstairs is an open space that will be half guest room and half an area for sewing, my small loom, and my really big spinning wheels. I inaugurated the space two weeks ago with a gathering of nine great wheel spinners from around mid-coast Maine. It was wonderful.

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I have fallen deep into the spinning and weaving world. Old wheels just seem to follow me home and it gives me a thrill to work on them and get them spinning again.

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Amazing wood on Shaker wheel from Alfred Lake, Maine.

They fascinate me with their beautiful wood, colors, craftsmanship, and history.

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This European wheel, likely from Austria, was singed by being too close to the fire.

I am planning on doing a few presentations and classes on antique wheels with another friend this year.

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Canadian Bisson wheel.

We’re hoping to convince lots of spinner to rescue these lovely wheels, so that they won’t be lost to future generations.

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It’s amazing how beautifully the old wheels spin. I have continued to buy local fleeces–this year Romney/Finn, Gotland, and Cormo–because I enjoy the whole process of scouring, processing, dyeing, spinning, and weaving.  It’s so satisfying to do it from start to finish.

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Beautiful Cormo fleece.  I will spin with this on the great wheels

And flax, well, I’m just in love with flax.

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About a third of my line flax this year, all processed and ready to spin.

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Home grown and dyed flax woven into tape on an antique tape loom.

In the spring, before Capp’s illness, I took an amazing flax course at Snow Farm in western Massachusetts with Cassie Dickson–a flax guru, coverlet weaver extraordinaire, and all-around wonderful person.

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The flax Cassie brought was retted in various ways so that we could compare them.

The course was for five days and covered everything–planting, processing, spinning, dyeing, and weaving.

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Classmate Victoria, an amazing textile artist.   A link to her site: victoriamanganiello

I felt so fortunate to learn from Cassie, she usually teaches in the South, closer to her North Carolina home.  Here’s a link to Cassie’s site: CassieDickson.  People in other Snow Farm classes were fascinated by the flax.

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Flax that we processed, spun, and dyed at class.

There was in class in welding sculptures out of all sorts of found objects, aka junk, and the instructor and one of his students kindly made us stands to keep our cups of water for flax spinning.

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I treasure mine.

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In the fall, weaving took the spotlight.

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I wove these on my small loom in the summer.  Destined to be chair cushions.

I again traveled to western Massachusetts–this time to Vavstuga in Shelburne Falls for the introductory weaving course. What a treat. Having been–until recently–totally self-taught in weaving, I just soaked up all the years of knowledge shared through this wonderful weaving school.

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A tablecloth being woven by a returning student.

The focus there is on Swedish weaving styles and looms, so it was especially timely for me because I had decided to buy a Swedish Oxaback loom. I was able to bring one home with me from Vavstuga and get right to work with it. Bliss.

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Putting the first warp on my new loom.

I also really enjoyed Shelburne Falls. Every morning I went out early to the Bridge of Flowers, which spans the river right in front of the school, and chatted with the head gardener.

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Every evening I walked down to the Falls, which were swollen with water after torrential downpours that we had on the second day.

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I’m returning for another course in May. Can’t wait.

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Current project on the loom.  Overshot with handspun and  naturally dyed wool and handspun linen tabby.

We have been rich in guests these past months, which has also kept us busy. We had family reunions in Connecticut and Massachusetts in July and both of our children, with their spouses, and the grandchildren were here for Thanksgiving. We had a big dump of snow, to the delight of the grandkids, who have never lived with snowy winters

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Soap Sally, our creepy Thanksgiving snowperson, freaked out the dogs.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I really savored having the whole family here.  The granddaughters took to weaving like fish to water.

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Our daughter returned again in December with the grandkids and, while George stayed home with the dogs, we took a two night trip to Quebec City right before Christmas.  It was magical.

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And, of course, I brought home a beautiful Quebec wheel.

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This post is starting to sound an awful lot like one of my mother’s holiday letters. But rather than edit it, I’m going to post it, as is. Or I may never get it done. I will try not to go so long between posts again.  I have been posting pictures on Instagram under “olddogsnewtruck.”  It’s more my speed these days.  Happy Spring.

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May Hap

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Maine in May. A morning walk brings a full-on explosion of plant and bird procreation in all its colorful, musical, hustling glory.

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No sinful secretive New England Puritan sex here, but an unabashed in-your-face sensory overload of fecundity–mating calls, mating chases, seed-flaunting,

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and the perfection of miniature leaves unrolling from their womb buds, still perfect and unmarred by disease or insects.

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Birdsong wakes us in the morning and peepers put us to sleep at night.

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I love the catbirds, because of their incredible vocal gymnastics and the mourning doves–who travel everywhere as a couple.

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Our swooping, gurgling swallows are back.   We weren’t sure they would be because our aggressive male bluebird chased them all off last year. After he harassed us all winter, we took down the nesting boxes in hopes that he would move on. He did.  But not far.  He is now harassing our across-the-street neighbors and launching himself at their windows. He thoughtfully finds time to visit us periodically to attack our cars and windows, just so we know he hasn’t forgotten us.

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The female bluebird with the injured foot is back.

We still have lingering cold and the flowers are late to bloom, so the poor hummingbirds have been lining up at our nectar feeder.

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The soil has been so cold that I’ve only planted a few vegetables, but we have overwintered parsnips, and green onions and spinach in the cold frame.

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Our asparagus is up and in its third year, so we can harvest a decent amount. What a treat to have it fresh out of the garden. We are consolidating our scattered vegetable gardens this year into two big gardens. I’m ridiculously excited about it.

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This 1950s tractor has its original engine, without even a rebuild.  It will be drilling our fence post holes.  It’s not ours, but we get to admire it.

There’s something about having fenced-in vegetable beds, with wide walkways–and plenty of room for flowers–that makes my heart happy. I’m growing more flax this year, a dye garden, and trying cotton–a wild experiment. This spring, we planted paw-paws, persimmons, more pears, hazelnuts, goji berries, maypops (passionflower), and mulberries (for silkworms). All of last year’s bushes and fruit trees survived the winter and appear to be thriving.

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The peaches are covered with blossoms.

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Spreading apple branches.

This is the time of year for morning fog and gathering, cutting and splitting next year’s firewood.

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George is constructing an impressive fort of firewood, which we hope will get us through next winter.  We ran out of wood this past winter, with its prolonged cold spells, and had to buy a cord.

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We are finally having a garage built this year. We are NOT building it ourselves, thank goodness–we have enough on our plate without a major construction project. George is designing an outdoor sauna to build this summer, which is something I’ve been wanting for years. And he’s continuing with trail building, which makes the dogs very happy. Things are taking shape around here.

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I have been spinning and weaving in the evenings and on rainy days and continue to grow my flock of wheels. My latest find was another dusty antique store treasure imprinted with the “Thomson” in the table.

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I was thrilled. There was a Thomson family of wheel makers in Massachusetts in the 18th and 19th centuries, headed by the patriarch Archibald, who is reputed to have made the first treadle spinning wheel in this country. They were Scots-Irish from Ulster and, interestingly, George has Thomson ancestors who settled in the same area of Massachusetts a few decades after these Thomsons. An “H” Thomson migrated to Maine at some point, likely around the time of the Revolutionary War, and made beautiful wheels, with simple Shaker-style lines. This wheel looks like one of his, although the “H” is worn off.

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Amazingly, the flyer assembly was all intact, although the wooden tension screw was totally frozen. I cleaned her up and finally got the screw unbound.

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She is one my sweetest spinners and her wood is exquisite.

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There are some gorgeous modern wheels with beautiful wood (that cost a small fortune), but–to me–they just don’t compare to the glowing wood on these old beauties (which go for a song), that has been mellowed by time and the touch of so many hands over hundreds of years.

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I also bought a little 19th century tape loom. It’s amazing to think that just a few hundred years ago, every imaginable kind of tie and strap was woven at home on these little looms–often by the youngest and oldest family members.

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The loom I bought has a foot pedal that raises and lowers two shafts and has a small beater for fast, efficient weaving. The two shafts are only designed for eight warp threads, which means it was used to weave a very simple straightforward tape.

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In fact, the loom likely was used to make lamp wicks, with no design at all. I have been experimenting with putting multiple threads in each heddle and some warps between the heddles, to create a middle shed that I can manipulate with my fingers to make some simple designs. I’m quite enjoying it.

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Happy May … and June … and July. At the rate I’m going, it will probably be midsummer before I post again!

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Tapping In and Warping Up

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We are waiting for our third snowstorm in two weeks. Even so, the air, light, and birdsong feel like spring. Our earliest seedlings–onions and leeks–are lined up in front of the upstairs southern window, with kale, chard, lettuce, and peppers soon to follow. And this year, we were even more aware of signs of spring because we tapped maples for syrup.

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The sap has been running for several weeks and there’s such a good flow this year that we actually have too much to use. We only tapped three trees and one–the big house-side maple that turns brilliant crimson in the fall–had such thick bark that we didn’t drill deep enough and gave about a third of the amount of sap of the other two. But, even so, we are drowning in sap.

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The dogs love to go gather the sap.

On our first boil, we used our lobster pot on the grill-side burner outside. It is supposed to take about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so it has to boil for a long time. A very long time.

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We finished it off on our kitchen stove indoors.

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We ended up with about a quart and a half of syrup on the first boil.

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We decided to do all of the second boil on our kitchen stove. It was much faster and we can use the added moisture in the air.

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Our trees are red maple rather than sugar maple and the syrup has a distinctive vanilla-like flavor different than commercial syrup. Since we have so much sap, I’ve been drinking it. Delicious.

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Right from the bucket with its own ice.

Aside from gathering sap, gathering wood, and our usual walks, we have been enjoying the last of winter’s snowbound inside days. As soon as the snow melts, we’ll be out pruning , readying the gardens, and starting building projects.

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I have loved the inside time.  I made a small quilt to cover the couch for the dogs.

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Note the wine for basting.

But I spent most of my winter blissfully spinning, restoring wheels, and weaving–for the first time in decades.

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George resurrected my old loom.

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The poor thing has been stored for about 40 years.

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Before.

He made a new square beam, tightened up joints and glued a break, and made new dowel pieces for the sectional beam.

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I made a new apron and replaced the old cords and tie ups with texsolv, a wonderful easy system using eye-looped cords and plastic pegs.

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It’s a unique and wonderful little loom. The woman I bought it from in the 1970s said that her grandfather made it for her grandmother early in the 1900s.

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The loom was thoughtfully made, and includes lights conveniently placed front and back. When George brought the lights in to have the wiring brought up to code, we found that one of the lightbulbs had a tungsten filament and dated from the 1920s. It’s still working.

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Even the light clamp looks like it’s from the 20s

I had forgotten how much I love to weave.

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Unlike some weavers, I enjoy all of the preparation steps–

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winding the warp,

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threading the reed and heddles,

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and seeing the neat warp all wound on, miraculously untangled and ready to weave.

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For this first weave, I made twill dish towels, without any set color or treadling pattern, just experimenting with both.

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Ready to hem and clip the strays

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I also took some Soay yarn that I have been spinning and did a quick sample, thinking I might use it in my next project. But I liked it so much that I wove enough to cover the seat in my spinning chair. Soay sheep shed their wool in lumps rather than being shorn, and the wool is fine and crimpy but with lots of short strands and little clumps.

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I spun it nubbly, thinking it might look interesting in a traditional twill, and was surprised at how much I liked it in this rosepath twill.

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My wheel herd continues to grow bigger and I have all of them spinning. Now to find new homes for some of the rescues.

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Our aggressive male bluebird continues to plague us daily. He continued to attack the windows even on the most frigid winter days. I wish we could have him neutered.

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Elsewhere

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Blogging has fallen by the wayside for me this winter as I’ve been so happily engrossed in other activities. My spinning wheels seem to be breeding.

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I now have nine rescued antique wheels and three reels/swifts in varying states of restoration.

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Sadly neglected and needing some time in the spinning wheel spa.

I am immersed in bringing them back to life and in trying to determine their history.

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George and I are getting my old loom working so I will soon be weaving, and I am spinning different fibers on each of my working wheels–linen, alpaca, Soay, and California Variegated Mutant (sounds weird, but so lovely).

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My first attempt at spinning my homegrown flax into linen is on the right and some linen off of one of the old wheels on the left.  Both pretty hairy looking.

I am also working on two quilts and sewing clothes.

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And, of course, we are delighting in our dogs and the large turkeys and eagles that have been perched in our backyard trees.

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Unfortunately, my bees did not survive our below-zero cold spell, but I’ve ordered more for the spring, sent my seed and tree orders off, and spring pruning and maple sugaring will be here soon.

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It’s been a cozy, busy, creative, productive winter and I’ve enjoyed my time away from the computer.

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I suspect I’ll be back to blogging at some point but, in the meantime, I hope everyone is likewise enjoying their winter (or summer) wherever you are.

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Sky and Wind, With a Little Mustard

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Many New Englanders dread winter and muddle through it with a sort of grudging resignation, mixed with stir-crazy frustration and patches of downright hatred.  Others leave.  But we love winter in Maine.  After years of living in Anchorage, where days are short, sunlight scarce, and glum gray skies the norm, the constantly changing, brilliant winter skies here are a continual–and still unexpected–delight.

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Soon after the leaf colors fade, the skies come alive.  October and November seem to produce the year’s most brilliant sunrises and sunsets.

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They linger with changing colors, highlighting the gorgeous filigree of our leafless oaks and maples.

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October’s morning fog settles in the valleys below us, revealing folds in the hills that are otherwise obscured.

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These months also bring wind–and weather–from all directions.

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Massive fronts move over us, the edges of which are often visible as a line on the horizon.

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Hills on the bottom, clouds on top, with a sliver of light in between.  This was a particularly ominous looking front that ended just at the edge of the ocean over our hills.  The smudge in the middle is rain.

The end of October treated us to a massive wind storm.  Fortunately, we had enough warning to prepare and cover our equipment and bring in outdoor furniture.

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Alice knew something was going on when the deck furniture disappeared.

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There were lots of bluejays seed-gathering before the storm came in.

It was quite a dramatic show on hillside, with whipping winds and sideways rain.

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Storm coming in.

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The oak leaves were blown horizontal.  And then stripped.

Unfortunately, along with much of the state’s population, we lost our electrical power early on.  We have a wood stove for heat, propane for cooking, and candles and battery lamps for lighting.  Our water is from a well on our property, pumped by electrical power, so we have no water when the power goes out.  But the town provides water from a tap at the fire station, so it’s not too much of an inconvenience.

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Our real worry was our two freezers, packed to their brims with garden produce, sauces, and meat for the winter.  George pulled out the portable generator that we had from our RV days, which managed to keep the two freezers going and to charge our phones and computers.  We went four days without power.  Not bad compared to others in the state, and nothing compared to Puerto Rico, but enough time, nevertheless, to remind us to appreciate all the little luxuries that power brings.

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On the day after the storm–Halloween–the bees were bringing in huge loads of orange pollen.

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We had a small birch come down on our woodpiles.

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Hydrangeas were ripped off of their stalks …

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… where they gathered in an eddy by the porch.  Otherwise, we had little damage.

Our street lost power because of a beautiful old maple that fell across the power lines.

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It was a magnificent old tree, turning brilliant red in the fall.  I always wanted to get a good photo of it for the blog, but couldn’t because the power lines ran right across the tree, ruining any chance of a good shot.

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Now most of the tree is gone, taking the lines with it—temporarily—but leaving one beautiful back portion as a reminder of is previous glory.

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Soon after the power returned, and we were getting back to normal, I was excited to learn of an antique flax break for sale.  I have been looking for one since spring, with no luck at all.  This one came up at an auction in Massachusetts, where they were selling pieces from the American Textile History Museum, which sadly closed last year.  I wasn’t able to attend the auction, but a fellow spinner and wheel collector from the online group, Ravelry, was there and offered to bid for me and the bring the wheel home with her.  I couldn’t believe it when I had the winning bid of less than half of what I was willing to pay for it.

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Aside from a few worm holes, the break is in good condition and nice manageable size.  

It’s rather depressing to the see the museum collection scattered all over the place at auction, but nice to know that many of the pieces are going to spinners who will use and appreciate them.

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George has been making me peg boards for hanging yarn.  It’s beginning to look like my own museum.

To make room for my new flax break, I took down the drying rack that had been full up with mustard pods.

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The first batch.  I ended up with about five times this amount.

I grew two very small rows of mustard this summer, for a mustard-making experiment.

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Mustard’s on the left.

The pods had been drying for months and it was easy to crush them with a rolling pin, leaving the seeds.

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The difficult part was separating the pod chaff from the seeds.  I winnowed them in the wind outside and then handpicked pieces out.

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I got most of the chaff out by sifting through colanders.

It wasn’t too tedious because I only had about 2/3 of a cup of seeds when all was said and done.

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But the pods are spiny little devils.  Next year, I will have to find a more efficient and less prickly way of cleanly separating the seeds from the mess of pod bits.

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I tried two different mustard recipes—one with white wine and vinegar and maple syrup, and the other with apple cider, cider vinegar, honey and coriander.  The initial tasting was pretty good.  They are now “working” in the refrigerator, where the flavor is supposed to develop and mature.  If they turn out as well as I think they will, I am going to grow more mustard next year.  We don’t use it as a condiment, but do cook with it, and it’s fun to be able to experiment with exotic mustard flavors.  I will have horseradish ready to harvest next year.  Horseradish mustard—yum.

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The dogs enjoyed Thanksgiving, with a fat Turkey and all the trimmings.

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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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