Weather

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One of the reasons we moved to Maine was because it had “weather.” No monotonous parade of days, one just like another. Instead, here we are treated to wildly careening weather moods, a bipolar medley, where an afternoon can seem to change seasons in just a few hours. These past weeks have been weather-filled, shaping our days around the world outside.

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We had too many days with low-ceiling clouds, reminding me of Anchorage winters, dark and gray. It’s my least favorite weather, making me feel a bit gray myself. Even the starlings looked a bit depressed.

img_0819Of course, being Maine, the gray didn’t last long.  The skies cleared, with brilliant sunrises, acting like rose-colored glasses on the morning.

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On winter solstice, the sunrise was particularly spectacular, with a light pillar, created by ice crystals in the air.

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It started smallish and very red.  Soon the pillar grew much taller and turned golden, with the ice making a partial rainbow over to the left.

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Then a jet, with its contrail, appeared to fly right through the pillar.  A nice way to mark the return of light.

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The clear days brought frigid temperatures.  Too cold for photographs. I tried in vain to get pictures of the cardinals, brilliant on the snow and all fluffed up red against the cold. But my fingers gave out before the camera-shy birds ventured close.

img_0909We had several heavy snow dumps, silencing and softening, challenging our snowblower, and making lace of our fence.

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One night brought a nor’easter, a stormy turmoil of warm Atlantic and cold polar winds, making the house creak and groan through the dark hours and leaving, mysteriously, caterpillars on the pristine morning snow.

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Where they came from, I don’t know. But some were still alive and crawling futilely across the frigid crust. Capp was fascinated. He may have eaten one. **Update** the caterpillar mystery was solved by arlingwoman.  They are Noctua pronuba, or winter cutworms–a nasty garden and agricultural pest.  Yuck.

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The snow was followed by rain, then a quick temperature plunge, which transformed twigs and berries into icy works of art.

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More gray days, more frigid days, and then–boom (the winds actually were somewhat booming) –today we had a January thaw. In Alaska, we called the warm southern winter-melting winds Chinooks. I don’t think the thawing winds have a specific name here, but they feel like Chinooks, transforming winter into a brief spring in a blink.

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My walk today was warm, blue and blustery overhead, mud-filled at feet level, and lichen-filled at eye level.

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Somehow the warm weather and sun seemed to make the lichens and moss pop with map-like landscapes and fractal faces.

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As we roll with the weather outside, we remain busy–too busy actually–with hunting for another dog, pup-training, quilting, spinning, tree and seed ordering, library volunteering, spring planning, snow-clearing, fire-wood gathering, cooking, and winter maintenance.  Maybe, just maybe, we will slow down for a month in February.

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Bees, Buds, Birds

IMG_9395The beginning of May has alternated between work and distractions.  We are in the midst of what may be our busiest time in retirement–our first planting season at our new home.  We picked up a good-sized order of orchard trees, companion perennials, berries, asparagus, hazelnuts, seed potatoes and more on the last weekend in April at Fedco–our Maine source of all things growing (in the plant world).  So we pushed hard to get our newly cleared land ready for planting. IMG_8480

But, every day, while I shoveled, planted, and watered, the utter exuberance of the life around me hit me upside the head.  It was a distraction.  But one that I didn’t fight.

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A bumblebee, not one of our honeys.

I had my camera with me while planting, so when I heard the Towhee’s “drink your tea-eeeeee” in the sumac, I tried to get a photo as he hopped, maddeningly, deeper into the brush.  I never got a good shot of the Towhee but then was distracted by the blooming maples.  IMG_9378.jpgI spent a lot of time this past week just looking up and listening.  Fortunately, in retirement, I have no deadlines and can indulge in these lovely distractions. IMG_8510IMG_8958IMG_8993

The bees may be my biggest distraction, requiring detours multiple times a day to linger and watch.  I just can’t keep away from them.  We checked on our queen four days after installing the package and the diligent little ladies had properly released her from her cage.  They were building lovely waxy white comb and bringing in pollen, which generally indicates that the queen is laying.

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Like planes stacked up to land at Hartsfield Airport.

Our trees have just barely started to leaf out and green up, so our woods remain austere and wintry looking.  But the bees are bringing in fat legfuls of psychedelic orange pollen and a more subdued yellowish stash.  IMG_9173I imagine the orange is from the maples.  IMG_9320IMG_9324The yellow likely comes from dandelion, coltsfoot, birch and willow.  IMG_9331IMG_8831IMG_9359IMG_9424I picked up our tree order on Arbor Day (a fact of which I was unaware at the time) and, that afternoon, planted three apples, two pears, two cherries, two peaches, two persimmons, and a giant medlar (no idea, really, what it is).  IMG_9163The birds were out in full force.  It’s mating season, after all, and the calling, squabbling, and acrobatics are at their peak. 

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This Bluejay was drinking from the hose when I watered in a transplanted blueberry.

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Here he’s puffing out his feathers at Bluejay on the neighboring branch. Attracting a female or intimidating a rival?

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We have hordes of berserker goldfinches.

So, I would dig a bit, pause a bit, watch a bit, take a picture or two, and then dig, plant and water some more. 

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This Northern Flicker blends in so well he’s hard to see.  The Flickers just migrated from their winter grounds.

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The next day I planted blueberries, haskaps (honeyberries and new to me), an elderberry, a Carolina allspice, and made a nursery for some chestnut whips and my grafted apples (it looks like some of the grafts have taken).  Once I was done, I wandered off in search of the white throated sparrow that had been mournfully singing first on one side, then on the other.  I couldn’t spot the sparrow, but kept happily wandering, fully distracted by the buds and blooms in the exquisite afternoon light.IMG_9432IMG_8599

IMG_9328.jpgIMG_9375IMG_9440IMG_9436.jpgWe spent Mother’s Day weekend in Connecticut visiting my mom and now are looking forward to a week of warmer, sunnier weather.  Bring on the bloom.IMG_9499IMG_9237IMG_9471

 

Sow. Snow. Sew.

IMG_7223We took one lazy day after our roadtrip and then headed outside. It felt like spring and we were itching to get to work.

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Poplar catkins

We have been here almost a year now and have spent that time assessing the sun, wind, and drainage to plan the layout for our gardens.

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Alders

We decided to move the raised vegetable beds that we installed when we moved in last May. That area–at the side of the house–will be our little orchard, with fruit trees and berries.IMG_7146 Our first project was to start a drainage ditch down one side. We will get the area ready to plant by the end of April. IMG_7202.jpg
The raised beds are moving to the area we cleared below the house. Once we remove some stumps, and finish burning brush, we will lay down the frames and finish moving the soil. We are putting in additional raised beds and will have regular beds for potatoes, corn, asparagus, strawberries, herbs, squash, and melons. Perhaps we’re too ambitious, but it’s so much fun.IMG_7178
Along with outside work, I started seedlings indoors. Lots and lots of seedlings. We are fortunate to have triple-paned southern-facing windows that act like passive solar powerhouses, generating enough heat on sunny winter days to warm the house. Because the windows act so much like a greenhouse, I decided to go without heat mat for germination and without supplemental grow lights. A risk, I know.

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These water jugs as seed beds act like mini-greenhouses.

So far, I’ve been pleased. The kale germinated within 48 hours and all the seeds were up within a week.

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Do you think we’re growing enough lettuce varieties?

Most of my seeds are from Fedco, a wonderful Maine co-op. They have by far the best germination rate of any I’ve ever used.  I have had no damping off (sometimes older seeds are more prone to it) except for in two little peat pots of a seed from a company other than Fedco. Interesting. My recently planted pepper plants will be the real germination test, though. They require good warmth to germinate, so we’ll see how they do without a heat mat.

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Water-jug marigolds.

As the plants have been emerging, inside and out, the birdsongs have become increasingly competitive–me, me, pick me!  After I saw a male bluebird in full throat at the top of a maple down the street, George quickly put up bluebird and wren houses. I started pruning the lilacs and apples and then … snow.
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IMG_7298.jpgLots of snow. About eight inches. It brought the wild turkeys, searching for windfall apples at the edge of the yard.

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Turkey tracks are huge. My boot is in the lower left for comparison.

Then it got cold. The snow has lingered on. IMG_7326

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The snow makes Zoes feisty.  She’s trying to kill her ball.

IMG_7302I’m not sure yet how much damage we will see to emerging buds and sprouts.

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Poppies emerging before the snow.

Today we are housebound by a coat of ice and mizzle of freezing rain. IMG_7407.jpgOn the bright side, the snow and ice have given me time to finish sewing projects. In January, I was making great progress on a quilt for a granddaughter when my sewing machine started to act oddly. The motor belt seemed to be slipping–something it had never done before. The band was old, brittle, and cracked. I decided that it was time for a tune up anyway, so dropped off the machine at a local fabric store to be picked up by the local sewing machine repairman. His normal two-week turn around time stretched three because, on delivery day, the fabric store was closed due to heavy snow. Three weeks without my machine during prime sewing season. IMG_6556
Finally, the machine came home with a new belt, all greased and lubed, and, for the first few nights, smoothly humming away. The next afternoon, however, I sat down to sew and the new motor band started slipping a bit. I let it sit for a few hours, tried it again that night, and it was fine. But the next day, it started slipping badly. Really badly. Odd that it slipped during the day, but not at night. Then a light went off–actually a lot of light. The machine was sitting right in front in one of our greenhouse-like southern windows, awash in sunlight. That sunlight was HOT and the heat was expanding the band so much as to cause it to slip. Duh. Problem solved.

The quilt is finished and ready to be shipped out west. My quilting style is best described as low-stress or wabi sabi. No seam is too crooked, no corner too awry. I put it together, hope it will come out approximately square , and enjoy the process. A real quilter would roll her eyes and tut disapprovingly. But it works for me.

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An exuberant, one-of-a-kind quilt for an exuberant, one-of-a-kind granddaughter.  This quilt was made of about 60 different fabrics that my daughter collected when they lived in Okinawa and traveled through Asia and Australia.  

While the machine was away, I worked on the spinning wheel. When I treadled the wheel without spinning any yarn, all moved sweetly along. But when I started spinning yarn, the drive band tended to fall off the wheel. Eventually I realized that the mother-of-all (wonderful name) was wobbling back and forth when I put tension on the yarn, causing the band to jump off the wheel tracks. I shimmed it up and all went smoothly. My lovely old wheel is now spinning.

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The white shim steadies the mother-of-all crossbar. The mother-of-all holds the end supports, called the maidens, the u-shaped flyer and the bobbin of spun yarn.

Spring goes on.

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Our neighbor uses old-style buckets for gathering maple sap. The cold spell keeps the sap flowing. The piece of scraggly wood in the hole in this tree looks like an old man’s face.

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Stoves, Barbies, and a Hurdy Gurdy

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You know those senseless dreams in which, for some unknown reason, you are in a strange place quietly admiring a row of gleaming old stoves and then you step through a door and are surrounded by a frantic buzzing and whirring of hundreds of toys and creepy dolls come alive, and you escape down a hallway to find a room with a billowy roof, full of old cars being driven by stuffed animals and music machines blowing bubbles?  Well, there’s a museum in Maine that kind of feels like that.

IMG_2173It’s called Bryant Stove and Music in Thorndike, a small town just a few miles from Unity, home to the Common Ground Fair.  Bryant’s sells beautifully restored antique wood cooking and coal heating stoves and for those alone it’s worth a visit.  But it also houses a quirky, amazing collection of stuff, from button collections, to dancing Barbie dolls, to gorgeous working gramophones and player pianos.  It is a little hard to describe, actually.

IMG_2248There are three sections in this small museum: the stoves; the toys; and everything else.  The entry section belongs to the stoves, with rows of ornately decorated coal stoves on the right and many vintages of wood burning cook stoves on the left.  IMG_2261IMG_2250They were for sale but sadly we don’t have room for one.   IMG_2257The next attraction was the toy room.  It was an experience.  A switch on the wall brought the room alive from floor to high ceiling. 20150728_103134It was a mechanical toy fantasy land–a frenzy of movement, sound, color, and details–too many to take in–unlike anything I’ve ever seen.IMG_2183IMG_2208 To the accompaniment of carnival music, airplanes whirled, a bear teetered on a tightrope, toys rode on a moving ferris wheel, stuffed animals danced, and–my favorite–Barbie dolls jerkily emerged from a curtain in a fashion show.  20150728_103253

Not your typical Barbie dolls. This was a tap dancing show.

Not your typical Barbie dolls. This was a tap dancing show.

There was way too much to take in.  Every bit of space was stuffed with toys, moving or posed.  IMG_2207IMG_2186It was dusty, kind of weird, very random, and oddly wonderful.   IMG_2191

IMG_2180My favorite part of the museum, however, was the third section, a quonset hut with a billowy roof.

When printing photos, odd details jumped out, such as the feet on the left.

When printing photos, odd details jumped out, such as the feet on the left.

Is that a sausage grinder in the corner?

Is that a sausage grinder in the corner?

It was brimming with a fascinating hodgepodge of machines, from a whimsical collection of air-powered motors, to an amazing evolution of working music-making machines, flanked by old buggies and cars, all interspersed with miscellaneous odd and quirky things.  And stuffed animals were propped in the oddest places.IMG_2219

A working hurdy gurdy

A working hurdy gurdy

There were informative signs throughout and, if he’s there, Mr. Bryant provides a personal perspective on his treasures.  IMG_2240We unfortunately only caught him for a short time.

IMG_2239It takes time to see everything at Bryant’s.  IMG_2246It’s like digging through some amazing person’s attic, or brain. IMG_2217 We didn’t even scratch the surface.  The museum was dog-friendly, but Zoe was nonplussed.   20150728_104122Next time, we’ll leave Zoe home, and have a leisurely browse through this creation of a brilliant, unique imagination. IMG_2243

 

Partially chilling in Maine

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We are relaxing in Maine.  We intended to head farther north to the Canadian Maritimes, but changed plans after our refrigerator’s death.  It had been ailing for months.  When we tried to get it fixed in Bend, Oregon, the truly unhelpful folks there dismissed its struggle to keep a healthy temperature as just the nature of RV refrigerators.  Their solution was to sell us a little plastic fan for its interior.  Thanks.  Soon after, the refrigerator died altogether.

Our efforts to get the fridge fixed in Massachusetts did not run smoothly, but it looks like we are making progress.  Once they finally looked at it, the service people agreed that the fridge is dead and we now are waiting for parts.  In the meantime, we are enjoying a few weeks of down time in Maine. After our frenetic month of visiting and traveling in July, we needed to slow down.

And slow down we have.  We have been doing lots of cooking and eating.  Everywhere you turn here there are organic farms, farmers’ markets, and aging back-to-the-land baby boomers.  We fit right in.

The seafood is spectacular.  We had fresh lobster, steamers, and mussels at Miller’s Lobster in Spruce Head for George’s birthday.  It is lobster molting season, which means that those with new, or soft, shells are available.  They have less meat but are supposed to be tastier.  Ours was exquisitely delicious. The view was not bad either.

Miller's is right at the dock.

Miller’s is right at the dock.

We watched the lobstermen unload their catches as we ate.

We watched the lobstermen unload their catches as we ate.

We have been staying near Camden and exploring the Penobscot Bay area.  Camden is a picture-perfect old seaport town, full of money, tourists, and quaint shops and restaurants.  It is backed by rocky bluffs—Mounts Battie and Megunticook—and faces the low islands of the Bay.

View of Mount Battie from town.

View of Mount Battie from town.

View of Camden Harbor from Mt. Battie

View of town from Mt. Battie–it was hot and hazy

Another view from Battie

Another view from Battie–not much privacy in that yard

There are meticulously-kept houses of all architectural styles, mostly from the 1800s, many with huge perennial gardens.

One of the many old inns in town

One of the many old inns in town

I loved this stone wall, with huge perfectly egg-shaped rocks lining the top

I loved this stone wall, with huge perfectly egg-shaped rocks lining the top

It's a good climate for perennials

It’s a good climate for perennials

It is molting season for the ducks and geese, as well as the lobsters.  They were gathered in the harbor, flapping their wings in the water and preening, producing clumps of down that drifted along the water.

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The harbor was full of sailboats and a mega yacht named “Grumpy.”

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View from the library lawn

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A beauty

Grumpy

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A lovely old library sits above the harbor, with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s statue on the lawn behind. One of my favorite poets–she lived her early years here and in neighboring Rockland.

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We are buttoning down for a thunderstorm and may have to change our grilling plans for dinner.  It is a tough life.

As long as I can roll with my stick, I'm happy

As long as I can roll with my stick, I’m happy