High Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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They especially like to graze on the peas.

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

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

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

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

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Our new clematis is doing well.

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

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

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Turns out it is a juvenile Hairy Woodpecker.

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

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

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

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

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

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Original loop

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

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New trail

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

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The bees are thriving this year.

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

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

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Hive air conditioning

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

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Yellow mustard seed pods

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

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

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My little patch

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

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

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

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

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Capp had his first birthday.

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He’s an amazing dog.

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Wood, Fabric, and Water

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

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Four way split for big logs

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

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Wild cherry (pin and black)

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Apple

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

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The green elfcup fungus produces an intense blue-green color

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

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

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

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

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Before unrolling

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Opening up the fabric

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

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

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

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The seat is a first class upgrade on our previous kayak

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

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

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A loon …

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snorkeling …

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for baby eels

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

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Pollen alert

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Oriole nest?

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Someone else’s woodpile