Something Other Than Dogs

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

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

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

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Last March

Not this year.

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This March

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Closer up, the little swale is solid ice.

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

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

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Lilac buds before the cold

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Sticky pine buds

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

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

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

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

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Unhappy rhododendrons

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

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

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Lots of deer tracks on the roadside but no coyote tracks

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

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Immature bald eagle.  He was huge.

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

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

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

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

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

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Little greenhouses

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

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

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Textiles and Dog Profiles in Two Parts

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Winter is here, our fence is completed, snow is settling in, and we can finally take some deep breaths and relax a little. But we have not been idle. I am immersing myself in textiles and we have been on another dog hunt–navigating the maze of doggy adoption. This is a long post, with two entirely different topics, so it is divided into two parts.

PART ONE:  TEXTILE DREAMS

Winter is the time to indulge my long-simmering love of textiles.   When I was young, I sewed, spun, knitted, and wove, but during the years of child-raising and working, I seldom had time to do more than an odd project here and there.  Now I have all the time in the world.  I wake in the winter-dark mornings, anticipating the pleasure of a day in which I can indulge in making things. It is a seasonal occupation, solitary, soothing, slow-moving, and satisfying a creative itch.

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This year, my preparation for winter textile time started early.  In full summer, when plants were at their most lush,  I learned ecoprinting–the process of transferring plant dyes directly onto fabric to create almost fossil-like impressions of plant materials. I was introduced to ecoprinting through Amelia Poole’s beautiful fabrics at the Common Ground Fair.  The post Wood, Fabric, and Water has a section about ecoprinting and Amelia.

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In July, I attended a day-long workshop at Amelia’s studio, Ecouture, on Cape Rosier (not far from the Nearing’s home in the previous post Good Life).

It was pure pleasure. I gathered plants from home the night before and we spent the day experimenting with different plant and fabric combinations. I drove home a happy woman, with a bundle of fabrics imbued with my own garden.

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Rolled and tied for steaming

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Oak leaves and geranium petals

I decided to buy some mordanted fabric from Amelia to do ecoprinting with our grandchildren on their August visit. So, George and I combined our trip to the Nearings’ home with fabric pick-up at Amelia’s studio. To me the whole process is a kid’s dream–gathering leaves and flowers, laying them out in designs on fabric, rolling it up, steaming it, unrolling it, and magically, your own personal botanical fabric is created.

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After the grandkids made their fabric, we sewed it into doll blankets and sachets with garden lavender.

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Another summer-into-winter textile activity involved my spinning wheel. After stripping layers of crud from the little antique flax wheel that I bought for a song last year, I was able to spin, but still had a few issues to address. I only had one bobbin and it had a broken piece. In addition, many of the hooks on the flyer were missing or badly bent.

Fortunately, I attended Maine’s Fiber Frolic this spring, an event celebrating all things fiber-y, and met Mudd Sharrigan, an 89-year-old competitive swimmer and former hot-rodder, who makes sought-after boat rigging knives, and also, occasionally now, repairs spinning wheels. Mudd’s wife, Esther, is a spinner and she had a collection of antique bobbins. We found one that fit my wheel, and Mudd took home my flyer and broken bobbin for repair. A few weeks later, George and I stopped by their house in Wiscasset and picked up a beautifully repaired flyer and bobbin. Where but in Maine would this have happened? My antique wheel now is as sweet as can be for a winter of spinning.

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The shiny hooks are the new ones that Mudd inserted.  There are more on the other side.

I have been spinning and working on quilts for my niece, who is expecting twins. Later this winter, I will start knitting my spun wool and pull my loom from the basement for some significant repair work before I can start weaving. Enough to keep me busy and contented in the cold and snow.

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PART TWO:  DOG DREAMS

On to dogs. While we continue to enjoy gorgeous sunrises, to watch turkeys and assorted other birds on our walks, and to do some snowy cross-country skiing, we are looking for another dog to add to our little pack.

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Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be so difficult to find a dog. Years of education and rigorous spay and neuter programs apparently have had an impact on reducing the number of dogs in shelters in Maine. Most dog rescue agencies here import dogs from southern states or even from other countries. I am thrilled that the number of unwanted dogs has been greatly reduced, but it makes for a sometimes bewildering process of competing for rescue dogs.

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When we lived in the Atlanta area in the 90s, we adopted two golden retrievers from the Atlanta Golden rescue group. One was 9 years old, with medical issues, and the other a fearful young girl who had been abandoned and living on the street. We had such a good experience with those dogs, that we thought we’d look for another.  Atlanta’s too far, so we applied to a different, local Golden Retriever rescue organization, filling out an extensive application and submitting a $25.00 application fee. Within two days we were informed that our application was denied because our yard fence height did not meet their 4 foot requirement.

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Capp enjoys our totally inadequate fenced yard.

Now, I understand the reasons for the fence requirement and that the group does not want to have to quibble and negotiate these things with every adopter. Nevertheless, the group indicated on their website that they will grant exceptions to fence requirement. So George and I both sent polite emails explaining that our fence is only 4 to 6 inches short of their height requirement (depending on the slope), that we are home all day with our dogs, we don’t leave them alone in the fenced yard, we walk them daily, we are loving, knowledgeable owners, yada yada yada.

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Birdwatching

The response was immediate, negative, and rather rude: “Our fence exception is for experienced owners who may live in apartments or condos and cannot have a physical fence. They have to give us a glowing vet reference and tell how they will exercise their new dog. We cannot grant a fence exception just because someone is unwilling to raise the height of their fencing.”

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Capp and the fence

So, let’s see. We are experienced owners (we have had four Goldens, with two special needs rescues), live in a house (no worries about changing landlords or angry neighbors), have almost seven acres with a fenced area of an acre, can provide glowing vet references, give our dogs daily walks, bring them swimming regularly, hike with them, and are home all day. But because we are “unwilling” to raise the height of our fence, we are summarily dismissed.

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Well, that makes all kind of sense. Actually, I was spitting mad. Some dogs are fence jumpers and climbers and the higher the fence, the better. But our fence height is more than adequate for most dogs. This group obviously has plenty of homes for its dogs, but you would think they would be more careful about alienating potential adopters. Aside from wanting to adopt, we would have donated and volunteered. Now, nothing would induce me to help this group.

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Instead, we found another rescue group here in Maine, with people who really seem to care about finding the best homes for their pups.  They think our fence is just fine.

Capp, of course, enjoys his only-child status and is thriving.

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Capp in the pink light from the sunrise below.

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I am worried about my bees, though. We have had huge temperature fluctuations, with temperatures warm enough for the bees to fly in the day, followed by hard freezes at night. I have quite a few dead bees on the hive bottom board and around the entrance. I suspect that they have been caught out from the winter hive cluster and freezing.

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On sunny days, we have had flocks of bluebirds checking out the bird houses. I love to see the bluebirds in the winter. Next spring, we will put up two more houses in hopes of attracting more bluebirds and swallows.

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We are looking forward to solstice and Christmas this week. Have a wonderful, festive holiday season.

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