Birds of a Feather


December started with a show-off of a full moon, rising just behind our big oak to illuminate a rough lace of branches.



Then, as winter showed its intention to stay, I headed to Florida for a week.


Any visions I had of fun in the sun were abruptly quashed.


After a first busy morning when I was unable to get outside to enjoy the warmth, the wind whipped up, a front moved in, and the temperature plummeted.


Even the hibiscus flowers were tattered at the edges by the cold and wind.


The rest of the week, until the morning I left (of course) remained unusually frigid for Florida.


Pelican ornaments.  The most mature ones are highest in the tree.

Whether weather-related or not, the underwater dock light was packed with feeding fish all week, but they weren’t the usual snook, who lurked sluggishly around the edges. The snook were displaced by raucous hordes of ladyfish, darting about as if on vacation, eating everything at the buffet. Our friend who has been fishing at the dock for decades, said he’d never seen anything like such masses of ladyfish before. They are too bony for good eating, but were fun to watch.


There are compensations to cold weather in Florida.


Almost empty beach.


One bird.


And plenty of shells.

Mostly, everyone (but a few loony Northerners) stays inside.


Well-insulated surfers.

Since Florida’s population is booming to the point of congested agitation to me, I enjoyed an almost empty jetty and beach.


On the other hand, the birds also made themselves scarce. With the exception of an osprey couple nesting at the marina, which seemed to be everywhere, eep-eep-eeping as they patrolled for fish and did whatever else ospreys do.


But at the jetty, there were only one or two anhingas and a few pelicans.


Fortunately for me, I love anhingas and pelicans.


They fascinate me and photographs reveal the details of feather, feet, and beak that can’t be properly appreciated with normal eyesight.




The week of cold was accompanied by high, cutting winds.


Those winds whipped up feathers, drawing my attention to the different feather types and patterns of these birds.




Brown pelicans are common as dirt in Florida and from a distance they are attractively prehistoric looking.


But with the camera’s lens, their feathers are transformed into things of subtle textured stunning beauty.



As for the anhingas, these ordinary looking birds likewise transform into feathery splendor when they spread their wings to dry, looking like birdy sentinels until they start grooming.




Then their long necks perform sinuous gymnastics, reaching every part of their bodies in seemingly impossible contortions.


Anhingas swim underwater for long stretches and, curiously, some of their feathers remind me of otter fur.


A few years ago, I took photos of a male anhinga in mating season in late January, when they develop green circles around its eyes.



Apparently December is too early for mating because the only anhinga braving the cold on this trip had brilliantly red eyes, with no green circles. I believe this one was a female.



For the first few days, I saw no egrets at the jetty, but on my last morning, a whole line of them were fishing.


Their feathers used to be used to adorn hats.  Gorgeous they are, but much better on the bird.



Sky and Wind, With a Little Mustard


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


Storm coming in.


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.


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.


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


We had a small birch come down on our woodpiles.


Hydrangeas were ripped off of their stalks …


… 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


Unseasonable with a McIntosh


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.


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.


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.


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.


Fall be damned, the flowers just keep on blooming.


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



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

We even have stray butterflies hanging about.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


There’s beauty under that grime.


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.


Removing decades of grime.


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.


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


Revealing the beauty of the wood.


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


Cutting new leather bearings for the flyer.



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


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.


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

This wheel intrigues me because of her condition.


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.


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






We have been busy, busy, busy.


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



I’ve had little time or inclination for blogging,


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


The glossy locks of the Leicester Longwool.

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


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



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


Looking down from the lighthouse over the breakwater to shore.


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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



High Summer


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.


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


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.


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


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


They especially like to graze on the peas.


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.


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


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



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



Our new clematis is doing well.

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


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


Turns out it is a juvenile Hairy Woodpecker.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


Original loop

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


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.


The bees are thriving this year.



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.



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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Capp had his first birthday.


He’s an amazing dog.


Yardbirds and Going Undercover


We stopped feeding the birds sunflower seeds this spring after a chipmunk (or red squirrel) had an air-filter-and-hood-insulation feeding frenzy in our car. We hoped that the rodents that normally forage for sunflower seed debris under our feeders would move on down the road and, so far, it seems to be helping. We see very few squirrels now and our chipmunk population is down to two.


The goldfinches survey the garden but haven’t eaten the chard yet this year.  Perhaps they did so last year to get moisture during the drought.  

I dragged myself kicking and screaming into the decision to stop feeding the birds. George and I love watching the birds at our feeders. But now, several months later, I have found an unexpected boon to taking down the seed feeder. We seem to have a greater variety of birds in the yard now and an increase in the nesting population. It’s possible that I am simply more observant of bird behavior around the yard now that the bird feeder playground has been closed. But I think it is more than that and we actually have had a change in the resident bird dynamics.


A robin nesting in an apple tree in the middle of our yard.  

We still feed suet and added two more birdbaths, so continue to see most of the usual suspects. We see far fewer chickadees and cardinals, but now the more elusive warblers–which I usually hear but don’t see–have been putting in appearances in trees near the house. The biggest change, however, has been the increase in nesting couples.


Robin eggshells?

Aside from the bluebirds, swallows and wrens nesting in our boxes, I believe we have bluejays, robins (at least two pairs), mourning doves, catbirds, sparrows, nuthatches, and phoebes nesting in trees in and around our yard.


This past week, the late-nesting goldfinches and cedar waxwings have been gathering string and wool for their nests. I don’t know why we have become such a bird nursery this year. Perhaps there are less predators with our large fenced area and without the attraction of a feeder. In any case, I am glad that we took the feeders down.


Mourning dove nesting in the apple tree behind our compost bin.  The male sits on it during the day and the female takes the night shift.  

We were fortunate again this year to see the first flights of some of the swallow nestlings. They don’t fool around with little short flights to a neighboring tree.  They carve a wide arc into the sky, trying out all the swooping, gliding, turning, fluttering swallow acrobatics in that first amazing flight. It’s looks like utter exhilaration in motion. Imagine how it must feel to go from a crowded nest box to dancing on the wind like that.



Getting ready for the first flight with a meal of dragonfly.  The swallows are feeding constantly in the days before they leave the nest.  

The increased bird population has not been without its problems. Our male bluebird became crazed after the birth of his brood and starting attacking our house windows with mind-numbing (his and ours) zealous hits–boom, flutter, boom. Over and over and over. It looked as if it would hurt, but he persisted–for hours–then days. We leaned a piece of plywood against his favorite window to cut down on the reflection.


But he simply moved to our vehicles’ side mirrors,



becoming so enraged at his reflection that he couldn’t contain his poop, leaving us with cascades of lovely fecal matter down both sides of the car and truck.


I finally had to cover the mirrors.


The babes have flown and I suspect he thinks he’s warding off competition for a second brood.


Our other bird issue was not unexpected. We had our first real crop of strawberries this year and as they started to ripen, it was apparent that something was eating them. I didn’t know if it was birds, chipmunks, or mice until I caught a cedar waxwing redhanded. We quickly cobbled together a funky netting system to cover them, which has worked beautifully. Except for the fact that I have to crawl around to pick the berries and weed.


The netting is hard to see but so far it has kept the birds out.

We also covered our brassicas this year with agribon fabric.


They were devastated by cabbage moth caterpillars last year. So far, the plants are thriving under the fabric.  The agribon does raise the temperature, so may end up being too hot for the cool-loving brassicas.


We’ll see.



The wet weather last month may have contributed to the shoot blight we’re seeing on young poplars in the woods

Weatherwise, the past weeks have been perfect, with lots of gorgeous sun and warmth punctuated with afternoon and evening thunder storms.


George put in a water line to the vegetable gardens, but we haven’t had to use it yet, there has been such a nice mix of sun and rain.


Trench for the water line.

The bees are thriving,


flowers blooming,


and the dogs are doing their doggy things.



It’s been a good June.


First peach.


May and a Walking Wheel


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


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



Trees are blooming, leaves popping out, and a few flowers are showing their colors. Our lawn is so green it feels more like Ireland than Maine.





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


It looks as if something chewed this and spit it out.  But it’s just the rotting apple with its seeds sprouting.  A perfect medium for growing.  I planted these in a pot.  It will be fun to see if I can bring some apples up from seeds at the same time we raise them from grafts.

In May, the birds and the bees are back.


Rose Breasted Grosbeak


Our bluebirds and swallows have been jousting over the most select bird houses, but seem to be settling into the same ones they chose last year. Several birds have checked out the new houses we put up, but last year’s houses seem to be the preferred real estate.


When I cleaned out last year’s nests, I found the bluebirds had lined their nest of grass, twigs, and assorted vegetative matter with about an inch of compacted but soft, downy, white something. At first I thought it was sheep’s wool, but then realized it was Zoe’s fur. I like to brush dogs outside in the spring and summer and throw their fur to wind. It’s an easy way to dispose of the fur and I thought some birds might use it. Little did I think that I would find a lovely reminder of Zoe in a bird’s nest almost a year after she died. I hope Capp and Alice’s fur will line nests this year.


As for Alice, we have discovered that she is a beast in the water. Her father was a hunting retriever and she obviously has his genes. I suspect she would retrieve to her last breath. When Alice is happy every bit of her being exudes pure joy in doing what she is doing.


Capp, in the water, prefers retrieving sticks to bumpers. So far, he is an enthusiastic farmer boy, inspecting (and eating) all we do in the yard. A gorgeous bundle of swagger and sweetness, he is full of adolescent male curiosity and loving intelligence. We are fortunate to have two dogs packed with personality and love.

Both dogs are garden marauders, though. George had to dog proof our raised beds to keep pups from cavorting in them. They love to eat every kind of green and brassica, charcoal bits, weeds, sticks, and Capp eats tulips (not good for dogs!).


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


Cold frame is filling up.

The strawberry patch is doing well, the asparagus shoots are poking up, our orchard trees are swelling with buds and we are putting in new beds for flax and more vegetables.


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


Even our mushroom logs look like they might produce something.


The white is mycelium growing (so they tell us).

We are tearing out almost all of the rugosa roses that lined our parking area and the front of the house in a scraggly hedge want-to-be.


I hate to destroy someone else’s vision for the property, but after two years, both George and I came to harbor a sort of hatred for the spiny invasive devils. Allowed to grow wild in a hedge, they might be wonderful. But they were not planted in wild-hedge territory. They sucker up huge unwieldy shoots and creep everywhere underground, through lawn, gravel, wood–persistent little spiny monsters. And for much of the year they are really very ugly.


So, we dug most of them out and righted their severely listing retaining wall. We are planting a variety of sweet-smelling pollinator-attracting shrubs instead. RIP prickly invaders. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of you.


We have installed a new package of bees in the hive and, on our few sunny days, they have been bringing in loads of yellow pollen.


I did a post mortem (I wish–what do I know, really?) on the hive and concluded that I killed the bees through my worrying and ineptness. The hive was loaded with honey and I could find no obvious signs of disease. Without getting into too much detail, I believe that I should have insulated the hives and should not have opened them for what turned out to be totally unnecessary winter feedings of sugar cakes. I had large bee die-offs both times I opened the hives, so there clearly was a connection. The good news is that it doesn’t look like the bees died from mite infestations or other diseases. The bad news is that I probably killed them. Live and learn. In any case, I harvested one frame of delicious honey and the bees this year have a good head start.


May also brought me a walking wheel.


I am having a sort of love affair with antique spinning wheels. I now have three wheels. Mudd Sharrigan did a beautiful job in restoring the flyer and bobbin for my Connecticut wheel.


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



Mudd retained the original flyer as much as possible, while rebuilding the arms and filling in the chipped areas.  

I took the ancient flax off of the distaff–it has been on there longer than I have been alive–and found that the distaff was made of a sapling, stripped of bark, with the branches curved upwards.


The distaff on a flax wheel holds the prepared flax to be spun. 

Such distaffs are not uncommon, but just think of someone going out in the woods and picking out a young tree and shaping it so long ago. I love the history of these old wheels.


A comparison, of the size of the Connecticut flax wheel with the New Hampshire Walking Wheel.

My new/old wheel probably dates from the 1800s in New Hampshire. Walking wheels–also called great wheels–were used for spinning wool and are huge compared to the Saxony style flax wheels.  My new wheel is as tall as I am.  What a beauty.


She has a spindle–the Sleeping Beauty prick your finger kind of spindle– with an accelerating head (also called a Minor’s or Miner’s head) patented in the early 1800s.


I am just learning the ins and outs of spinning on her. It will take a while.  When I hit the sweet spot, it clicks, literally, with a tick-tick-tick sound of the spindle and wool. I can see that it is a dance of wheel, wool, and spinner.


More on this wheel later.

Good Life


Unexpected events caused a hiccup in my blogging. First, the election addled my brain. Fueled by middle-of-the-night insomnia, it has been struggling to reconcile our good life with twilight-zone flashes of disbelief and helplessness over an increasingly bizarre new reality. I had no heart to blog about puppies and bees.


While I grappled with strategies for moving forward (hunker down? become militant? Rip Van Winkle?) my camera gave up the ghost. It just died. No photos, no blog. I had not realized how much a part of my life my camera had become. I felt as though I had lost an appendage.


I have a new camera and am trying to develop a new perspective. As I imagine the parade of horribles challenging our more-fragile-than-I-thought system of goverment, I remind myself that we have been through dark periods before.

I have been thinking particularly of Scott Nearing, likely because this summer we visited his final home, Forest Farm, about an hour-and-a-half drive from here on Cape Rosier. I have been meaning to write about that trip, which we took in August after Zoe died. Now is as good a time as any.


Scott Nearing was a pot-stirrer extraordinaire–a radical, outspoken pacifist and socialist from the time he was a young man until his death in 1983 at the age of 100. Interestingly, like Trump, he attended Wharton School of Business. The similarities end there. If you imagine Donald Trump and then imagine his polar opposite, you might come up with someone like Nearing.


The Nearings’ stone-built barn at Forest Farm.

There was no flip-flopping with Nearing. He was passionate and uncompromising–believing that the wealth of the rich was founded on the misery of the poor. After graduation with a PhD, Nearing was hired as an assistant professor of Economics at Wharton. But, in 1915, the school abruptly dismissed him for his outspoken activism and stance against child labor. He fared no better in his next teaching position, fired for his active opposition to WWI, in a fiercely nationalistic climate. Nearing’s 1917 pamphlet, “The Great Madness,” criticized the war as arising from commercial interests, rather than idealism. As a result, he was indicted under the Espionage Act for alleged interference with troop recruitment. He won at trial, but was blackballed from any further university teaching. He eventually joined the Communist Party, and apparently was ejected from it, as well. Non-conformist to the core.


The alpine-style home at Forest Farm.

In the 1920s, after separating from his wife and children, he became involved with Helen Knothe, a woman some twenty years his junior (maybe he had something else in common with Trump). Helen was a non-conformist in her own right, with theosophist (some sort of mystical philosophy) leanings, and a previous romance with another strong personality–philosopher Krishnamurti.


A view of the walled garden, fruit trees, and the back of the house.

Scott and Helen moved to rural Vermont during the Depression in an attempt to build a self-sufficient, “simple” life. They gardened, built stone buildings, wrote, and produced maple syrup as a cash crop. In the 1950s, as ski areas increasingly encroached, in search of a more remote area, they moved to coastal Maine–beautiful Cape Rosier off of the Blue Hill Peninsula.


I fell in love with the walled garden.


The caretakers had the garden in immaculate shape, despite the drought.


By the 1970s, the Nearings had became guru-like parent figures to many in the back-to-the-land movement. Their books, especially “Living the Good Life,” inspired mostly youthful baby boomers to attempt (some successfully, some not) to live a simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyle.


It’s hard to say how many moved to Maine because of the Nearings, but the back-to-the landers’ influence can still be felt here in Maine’s rich culture of small organic farms, small support businesses, food co-ops, seed co-ops, and farm-to-table restaurants. Eliot Coleman, now well-known for his books on four season and small-scale organic farming, was a Nearing disciple, buying land from and working with them. His daughter Melissa’s memoir of her childhood growing up in the Nearings’ sphere, poked some serious holes in the picture of the Nearings’ idyllic simple life.


We took a long look at the greenhouse.  We intend to build something similar (only better).


I attended two small college-campus talks that the Nearings gave in the 1970s.  Scott was about 90 years old then. He seemed small, spry, deeply wrinkled, and utterly committed to his beliefs–a hard knot of a man. I remember Helen as having spiky gray hair, baggy clothes, a lapful of knitting, and a sharp tongue. I was drawn to the idea of having a small somewhat self-sufficient farm, but was not particularly attracted by the Nearings themselves. I am wary of anything approaching zealotry, and found the Nearing’s strict (and, to me, bland) vegetarian diet, structured hours, ascetic approach, and unyielding ideology off-putting. And the lifestyle they promoted was not realistic for most people, especially those with children.


Scott died in 1983 and Helen in 1995, but the non-profit Good Life Center keeps their house and garden alive and open to visitors. I wanted to go there primarily to see the stonework in their buildings. The Nearings used a slipform method of building with concrete and stone that can be done by hand and we are thinking of doing something similar for a greenhouse wall.


A form for building the stone walls.


The stonework up close.

Forest Farm was the Nearings’ last house. They lived in an old wooden farmhouse during their first decades in Maine. The stone-built Forest Farm was their retirement home–so to speak–with a smallish walled-in garden, a few fruit trees, a greenhouse, and an incredible view over the water. The farm’s caretakers were a young, earnest couple who answered our questions and then let us wander around and take pictures.


Every farm needs a yurt.

After we returned from the trip to Forest Farm, I read “Loving and Leaving the Good Life,” a book Helen wrote after Scott’s death. My view of the Nearings remained unchanged after reading the book–admiration, undermined by a nagging feeling that I did not really like them very much. Nevertheless, Scott’s life is a good reminder of some very ugly truths about this country’s history. We have recurrent cycles of nationalism, scapegoating, increasing economic inequality, and a dismal record when it comes to protecting dissent and free speech. Perhaps the cycles are inevitable. If so, the question is how to best react to keep them from becoming permanent.


Nearing paid dearly for his activist reactions and eventually chose to refuse to participate in the larger economic system by living on a small, relatively self-sufficient scale. A solution for him, but not helpful on a larger scale. I do not have any neat lessons learned from Nearing’s life. But I am working on it.


Meanwhile, back at our little farm, Capp is blissfully unfazed by politics, growing at an alarming rate, and immeasurably sweetening our good life. Back to writing about puppies.


Picture Perfect Days


I love this time of year in Maine. No sadness for me over the passing of summer. I am ready for the cool wood-smokey air, the thick golden afternoon sunlight, and the magical color explosion that is fall in New England.


The color in the perennial garden pales next to the maples.

When we lived in Alaska, I always became depressed in the fall. The season there was so brief–a week or so of glorious yellow aspens, soon stripped by strong winds.


It was a jarring transition from the wonder of an Alaskan summer to a very long stretch of winter darkness and cold.


Fall in Maine, on the other hand, gradually unfolds in a lovely progression of harvest and colors so exquisite they almost hurt.


And the colors change day by day, as one tree fades, others peak, making every walk and drive a changing palette of brilliance.


Photographs do not adequately convey the way the sun illuminates the trees, transforming them into glowing, blazing living sculptures.


The colors this year are the most vivid I have ever seen.



Out kayaking when the leaves were just starting to turn, the reflections were so clear that they created kaleidoscope-like patterns.



Reflection of a log turned on its side.

The water was very low and I had to carefully work my way over the shallows from lake to river–just an inch to spare.



This sand bar was a foot underwater in the spring.

But I was rewarded by basking turtles and a heron unfazed as I slowly drifting nearby.


No frost yet, so I am slowly–very slowly–putting the vegetable gardens to bed.


The sunflowers continue to feed the birds and one acrobatic red squirrel.



George has been working hard putting in our back fence.


And Capp is enjoying our picture perfect days.



The door is open and I’m not sneaking outside. Good boy.


From Capp to Cardoon


I was looking forward to a serene September. What was I thinking? A new puppy smacks serenity upside the head.


The whirlwind of Capp’s puppiness descended on us full force–morning wake-up leg attacks, outside-inside-outside-inside-do-it-all-over-again, chew-chew-chew, bite fingers, nibble toes, tug-of-war with dress hems, cabbage kamikaze, eat-who-knows-what in the back yard, water slobbers down the hall.


Capp loves cabbage, beets, and brussel sprouts

A messy, sometimes frantic, onslaught of new life–questing, exuberant, beautiful, excited, adorable, and a sponge for learning.


Having a pup again has been tiring, but it’s such a sweet privilege to watch the development of this wonderful, intelligent new creature.


Capp is an amazing bundle of loving dogginess and wasted no time in working his way firmly into our hearts.


So, our September days were focused on pup training and preparing for fence installation for our back garden and orchard area.



We are fencing almost an acre and George has been clearing along the fence line and putting in portions of the fence, over drains and our septic system, by hand.


We will have help in digging most of the holes and hope to have it completed later this month.


We are slowly getting things ready for winter. The bee season is wrapping up with a hive loaded with honey that I hope will bring the bees through the winter.


The hive was surrounded by asters and goldenrod in September

We had a heavier Varroa mite infestation than I would have liked, but treatment seems to have brought the mite levels under control.


The bees have thrived despite my clumsy mistakes. I actually dumped a hive body on the ground during the last inspection–I thought we had properly separated the middle body from the lower, but the sticky bee propolis brought the lower body along as we lifted the middle one and then as we moved it–crash–the lower body dumped on the ground. It was pretty exciting for a while as the bees let us know they were not at all happy. But aside from two stings on George’s pants, they let us put things back together and we all went about our business. This hive has the gentlest bees that I’ve ever seen.



I let some of my vegetables flower for the bees.  This is wild bee on a purple carrot flower.

The fall has been warm so far, so I am just starting to ready the garden beds for winter.


Some flowers linger in the gorgeous fall light.



We still are picking cherry tomatoes and the cool weather crops, such as carrots, beets, kale, cabbage, and parsnips become sweeter as the temperatures cool. We had an odd summer for eggplants and peppers. They had such a slow start that I almost pulled them to replant with late summer crops.


Then, suddenly in late July, they took off. Finally, in September, we had a wonderful crop of eggplants and peppers, that I’ve roasted and frozen. And, now, in October, they are still producing.


We did not have any problems with deer this summer but, unfortunately, the raccoons got to our corn. We had about a week-and-a-half of daily fresh corn before they discovered the corn patch and then one morning–corn devastation. I managed to salvage some of the popcorn, but that was it.


We tried growing a few exotics (for us) this year, including okra and cardoon. I thoughtlessly planted the okra in the shadiest part of the garden, which was a mistake. Two small plants each proudly produced one pod apiece. They were sort of sweetly pitiful. I will try it again next year in a really sunny spot and I think it will do better. The cardoons started slowly–just like the peppers and eggplants. And then they suddenly grew like weeds. They are related to artichokes, with similar flowers, but ours never made it to the flowering stage.


Still, I was growing them for the stems, which have an artichoke-like flavor. The leaves are lovely and serrated, but have nasty little spines that need to be removed.


After the spine removal, I peeled them,


boiled them, baked them with parmesan, seasoning, and butter, and dotted with cherry tomatoes. They looked promising, but we weren’t very impressed with the flavor or the texture.


They were not bad, but not great. Considering how much room they take in the garden, I doubt that I will grow them again. Or maybe, with all those spines, I could plant them around the corn to keep the raccoons away.


September also brought wonderful skies, which promise to get even better in October. I’m looking forward to some serenity this winter. Ha.