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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Midsummer

IMG_3126We received bad news on Zoe this week. She initially rallied on steroids but then did not continue to improve. After further tests, it appears that she does have a fast-moving cancer. So, we are staying close to home to keep our sweet girl company, just as she has kept us company throughout her life. She remains happy, although she is getting weaker and less mobile.  IMG_3188As we come to grips with the bad news, our whole property is pulsing with midsummer life. The bees were coming in so laden with deep yellow pollen last week that they looked as though they would miss their landings. IMG_2649I traced the bees to the staghorn sumac, which was in full bloom and bursting with pollen. IMG_2730We have several varieties of sumac on our hillside, but the bees were ignoring all but the male staghorn blossoms.

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Close up of red sumac blossom, with no bees in sight.

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The plentiful hairs on this bee indicate that she is relatively young. The hairs will wear off as the bee ages.  She’s in the staghorn blossoms here and has pollen even on her rear hairs.

After the sumac flow slowed, the bees were driven to a frenzy by our Flemish Antique poppies. Each poppy only lasts a day and every morning they were mobbed with wild and honey bees frantically gathering nectar and stripping the pollen. I have never seen anything like it.IMG_3066Our borage, in comparison, was almost deserted. IMG_3110.jpgIMG_2939.jpgAnd the bees were much less interested in our small jelly bean poppies. IMG_2896All the pollinators have been on the wild milkweed, however, which has been spectacularly lush and sweetly fragrant this year.IMG_3172IMG_2841.jpg

IMG_3138.jpgOur yard has been alive with butterflies, moths, bumblebees, sweat bees, unidentified wild bees, wasps, and moths. IMG_2785.jpgIMG_3145.jpg

IMG_2877IMG_2936IMG_2988IMG_3029IMG_2812But, our baby swallows are gone.  After entertaining us for days, we watched them leave the nest one by one. It was such a thrill to see their first flights.  We still have swallows and bluebirds in the yard, so apparently they like it here.IMG_2446.jpgIMG_2463

Although the weather has been extremely dry, we have had enough rain to keep most of our vegetables coming along nicely. We are harvesting peas, lettuce, early potatoes, baby onions, collards, kale, carrots, and lots of herbs. IMG_3112

I had to pull out some cabbage being chewed by pesky cabbage worms. The cabbage moths continue to hover over all the brassicas, so I will harvest them soon and then put in a new, unmolested, bed for fall harvest and cover it with agribon fabric to keep the moths out.

Our goldfinches turned out to be unexpected garden marauders.  They have been dining on the rainbow chard. They are not eating bugs or worms, but the chard itself. Goldfinches generally eat seeds, so I’m wondering if they sought moisture from the chard leaves in our recent dry spell.IMG_3025.jpg

Our wild apples are plumping up and looking less disease and pest-ridden than last year. We did some pruning in the spring to cull out branches and let in more light and air. It appears to have improved the apples.IMG_2766

And so, life goes on.IMG_2516.jpgIMG_2567.jpg

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Lupine pods.

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One Full Circle

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It has been a year since we moved to Maine. Four seasons on our hillside–a busy, satisfying time, learning about our new home and making it ours.  Our largest project was clearing a patch of land below our lawn, opening it up to a ring of gnarly wild apple trees that had been concealed by brush and saplings.

It looked like this when we moved in:

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You can just see the blossoming tops of the apple trees, obscured by brush and small trees.

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Now garden beds.

A year later:IMG_0297

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Two of the beautiful old apples in the ring revealed by the clearing.

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Looking across the newly-planted gardens from the hive area.

The cleared space is a work in progress. We still have brush to burn and stumps to pull. But we have put in eight raised beds, an asparagus patch,

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Our first asparagus shoot.

strawberries, two separate rows of tomatoes, a compost bin and a potato patch. Still to come this year are a corn patch, and hills of squash and melons.

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I love strawberries.

The area between the beds has been planted with grass and clover, which is just coming up.

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This jack-in-the-pulpit sprung up near the end of the herb garden.

We have three stone rings planted with annuals. They weren’t planned exactly, but rather grew up around stones too large to remove. Eventually we will build them up into real stone-walled planters and will put in a stone-flagged seating area and firepit.  There’s no shortage of stones.  But, that’s for later.

Perhaps my favorite area is the bee yard.

Here it was last year:IMG_0414

And now:

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The hive and herb garden in the afternoon sun.

We plan to add another hive next year. There is more than enough forage to sustain several hives, if I can just ferry the bees through mites and other bee hazards and keep them alive over the winter. IMG_0396Right now the apple blossoms are in full bloom and the bees seem to be ignoring everything else. IMG_0383IMG_0385IMG_0419IMG_0388.jpgIMG_0392A quick hive check last week showed that the hive is progressing well, despite cold and wet weather at the start. IMG_0111The bees have drawn comb in most of the top box and the queen appears to be laying plenty of brood.

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This shows how the bees draw out the comb–from flat foundation on the lower right gradually building to drawn comb on the upper left.

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Still drawing comb in this frame.

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The comb that you can see in this frame is fully drawn and we could see eggs, larvae and some capped brood–all the phases of the brood cycle.  You can see a squished bee at the edge of the box that I must have mashed when we were last in the hive, checking to see that the queen had been released.  And I was so careful!

Even though we don’t have farm animals (unless the bees count) it’s starting to feel like the little farm we long envisioned. Our neighboring cows provide the farm fragrance, along with the lilacs. IMG_0044.jpgIMG_0535.jpg

And like gardeners and farmers everywhere, we keep an eye on the weather.  We need rain.

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It looks lush, but it’s very dry.

 

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In the dry weather, I’ve been having to clean and fill the birdbath at least once a day. The big  bluejays are messy bathers.  This cardinal looks like he’s telling me that it’s time for a refill.

Despite our lack of rain, our vegetables are coming along.  Radishes and lettuce should be ready for harvest this week.  The chives are flourishing.IMG_0472
Our little orchard is doing beautifully. Except for one hazelnut (which may or may not be dead), all of the fruit trees and berries that we planting are thriving. And I am ridiculously proud that all of the apple grafts that I muddled together at the workshop this spring were successful! IMG_0578At first I thought that only two grafts took, which would have meant that I was a dismal grafting failure. But, slowly, one tree at a time, buds swelled on the grafted scions and then little leaves popped out. If I can keep deer and other critters from munching on them, we will have nine more old heritage varieties to add to our orchard. IMG_0504
Our bluebirds are vigilantly protecting their nest.   They successfully fended off the swallows and chased away a house wren that set up phony nests in two of other bird houses.

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It took the wren a while to figure out how to get this stick inside.

I like the wrens (tail wagging and singing), IMG_0146but apparently they sometimes rob other nests and the bluebirds and goldfinches were quite aggressive in going after them. IMG_0359

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Although I suspect the tea cup flowers are roses, I’ve always thought of them as apple blossoms.  The finch in the apple is as close as I’ll likely get to reproducing this tea cup scene.

George built a beautiful cedar table to go with our outside bench IMG_0601.jpgand he’s about to build a ramp for Zoe, who turned twelve this spring. She has some neuropathy and arthritis that is making it hard for her to climb stairs. She’s slowing down, sweet girl, but loves it here. It’s a good place to grow old.IMG_0639

A Bidding War

IMG_8748George and I have sold five houses and, every time, we go through the same dance.  We work like mad to make it more attractive to the (likely not as quirky as us) buyer.  Once we put it on the market, we obsessively track every development.  Each time someone looks at the house we gauge their interest.  A quick look or long?  Was there any feedback?  What can we do to attract more buyers?  When will we get an offer?  And on and on.

Selling a house to a bird is much the same.  We put up three birdhouses in during the third week in March.  They sat empty and unwanted.  Not even a nibble.  We thought that perhaps we had put them up too late and missed the prime spring house rush

Until a week ago when all hell broke loose.  Tree swallows showed the first interest.  After much flying around (they are lovely acrobats) and musical gurgling conversations, they appeared to settle right in. IMG_8745 It’s a largish house, so big enough for the swallows.  Apparently another swallow thought so too, because once the first pair established itself, he started to show an interest.IMG_8787  IMG_8788After an afternoon of warding off the dive-bombing interloper, the swallow pair left. IMG_8796And who should appear but a bluebird?  IMG_9061He checked the box in and out and staked a claim. After some wing flapping atop the house, a female joined him. IMG_9087IMG_9128IMG_9131I put out mealworms hoping to entice them to stay.  They were dried worms, not live ones, and the bluebirds were decidedly unimpressed.  Fortunately, they overlooked my gaffe and after lots of going in and coming out, the female started gathering nest material.  IMG_9085IMG_9080.jpgThe male stood guard.  IMG_9588He needed to, because the tree swallows still had an eye on the place, watching from a nearby dead tree. IMG_9135And so began the bidding war.  The bluebirds and swallows have been squabbling for days.IMG_9108IMG_9111First one pair takes up residence, then the other.  IMG_9226IMG_9210IMG_9586As of today, the bluebirds seem to have won. IMG_9546 IMG_9548All this fuss and there’s a perfectly good empty nest box in our front yard.  Apparently the neighborhood isn’t as attractive as the back yard.

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The tree swallow even checked out the wren box. 

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I swear the goldfinches were egging on the house hunters.

In the meantime, our fox family absconded last week.  Watching them had been such a treat.  Fox stuff-127.jpgIt turns out there were six kits and they had expanded their territory to include our yard.

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Playing keepaway with a piece of surveyor’s tape.

The little alpha kit dragged a gray squirrel outside our front door one morning and enjoyed a good meal of squirrel head before exploring the other side of the house.  IMG_8482We may have prompted their leaving by our nearby tractor activity, although it didn’t seem to faze them.  Fox stuff-132Apparently, they often leave the birth den at this age and move to a different den with more territory.  We miss them.  I hope we’ll have a new litter there next year.Fox stuff-107

 

 

The Vixen and The Queen

IMG_8241_edited-1Our resident fox has five kits. Their den is in an acre of woods abutting our land and is visible from our southern windows. At first we saw the vixen–a gorgeous creature–going regularly to a spot by a stone wall. Eventually we started to see other movement in there–small gray animals, looking rather squirrel-like. Out came the binoculars, which revealed some kits.

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This isn’t the den, it’s in our orchard-to-be

We’ve been spying on them since. The vixen spies on us, too, keeping a careful watch when we are working in the yard. IMG_7933
She seems to be gone for hours sometimes, presumably hunting, and when she returns the kits all come running. She nurses, grooms them, and lets them explore the surroundings, herding them back if they go too far. IMG_8080One morning, we watched her hunt in the long grass where our orchard will be. IMG_8089She caught a squirrel and some smaller rodents–voles, I suspect. IMG_8012Foxes are considered beneficial here for tick reduction because they kill many of the tick-carrying rodents. No one in the immediate neighborhood has any chickens, so the fox is quite welcome. Apparently this acre of woods has had a fox den for at least a few years. The kits, of course, are ridiculously adorable. They are turning from gray to red and getting bolder. IMG_8256
Lucky for me, they’ve been providing entertainment because I twisted my ankle a few days ago. I was in apple mode at the time, focusing on learning all I can for rehabilitating our old apple trees and creating a new orchard. I had just been to a grafting workshop where we learned whip & tongue grafting.

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This was our example of a proper cut. You can see the cut back “tongue” if you look carefully.

Apple seeds, like people, are unique and different from their parent trees, so grafting is necessary to reproduce specific apple varieties. Whip grafting involves attaching an apple root stock to a scion–last year’s branch growth from the desired variety–by cutting both quite precisely with a very, very sharp knife. IMG_8450Needless to say, learning was messy. 20160409_124420.jpgI was pretty good at making the initial cut, but had a terrible time cutting the tongue properly. It got a little bloody. Nevertheless, I went home with eight newly grafted old apple varieties, with wonderful names such as Blue Permain, Yellow Transparent, Rhode Island Greening, Northern Spy, and Cox’s Orange Pippin. If half of them make it, I’ll be lucky.20160409_132501
My other orcharding activity, pruning, resulted in the sprained ankle. Nothing exciting, I just hopped off the apple ladder into a hole and the damage was done. I have a tendency to sprain my ankle at really bad times (twice while on vacation in Hawaii). This time was no exception because the bees were arriving in two days. Fortunately, I know the sprained ankle routine. I iced it, wrapped it, elevated it, watched the foxes, and recovered remarkably quickly (which I attribute to yoga). IMG_8068
That brings us to the queen. She is here, along with the rest of the bees, although she likely is still caged. I ordered a package of bees from a wonderful local apiary, where I had taken beekeeping classes. They picked up a trailer load of packaged bees in Georgia and arrived in Maine with them on Saturday. Each package had 3 pounds of bees and a caged queen.  George had been working on the hive area and it was ready for bees.

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We took down a low-hanging branch from a cherry that was shading the hive too much. The flies and a moth gorged on the sap.

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IMG_7858We picked up our bees and brought them home.  There are many ways to hive bees, depending on the hives and personal preference. IMG_8145We’re newbies (or newbeeks, in beekeeper slang), so don’t even pretend to be knowledgeable.  But, here’s what we did.  I lightly sprayed the bees with sugar syrup. IMG_8147I removed the can of feeding syrup from the package and then the queen’s cage. She is surrounded by bees here, so you can’t see her. IMG_8162There is a bit of “candy” in the lower third of the queen cage, which the bees are supposed to eat through to get to the queen and release her. That process gives them time to get used to the queen (so they won’t kill her). I gently poked a hole in the candy with a nail (easier said than done) and placed the cage on a frame in the hive. IMG_8158Then I thumped the package on the ground to get the bees in one corner and dumped them in the hive. IMG_8166A bit more thumping, shaking, and dumping and most were out. IMG_8171Then I very gently, without squishing any bees (I think) put the remaining frames in the hive. IMG_8174IMG_8179We gently brushed the bees off the top and, with George’s help (thus, no photos) slid the feeder on and put the quilt and roof on. Success! IMG_8195Blooms have barely started here, so the bees will need to be fed sugar syrup for the next few weeks. I will check the hive on Tuesday to see if the queen has made it out of her cage. In the meantime, the bees appear to be doing well. IMG_8268I find them mesmerizing.
IMG_7887.jpgFinally, the Tom turkey put on quite a display last week, presenting his rear to us from every angleIMG_7900IMG_7898

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Zoe presented her belly.

Interlude

IMG_7687After March’s spring tease, April was a reality check. My dreams of early gardening died a nasty death. The ground froze. It snowed. More than once. It iced. It rained. The wind blew from the north, the west, and now the southeast, a ferocious force here on our hillside. We now are under a high wind and flood warning. Fortunately, we are too high for floods, but the wind is making the house talk.  I’m hoping we don’t lose power before I finish this post.

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A goldfinch transitioning from winter to summer plumage.

Although we have not been able to do much work outside, we have been well-occupied. I’ve been taking beekeeping and orcharding classes and keep starting seeds (they are taking over).  George built a hive stand, tung-oiled the bee hive, and moved compost over to our new raised bed sites. We just started pruning when the frigid weather hit. IMG_7743
As the weather forced us inside, the wildlife came out to play. Our wild turkey crew, hugely adult now, have been regularly cruising the yard and back woods. They scratched, scratched for what was left of the shriveled apples on the ground and were herded around like a harem by the Tom turkey. IMG_7707He strutted and puffed along behind his ladies.IMG_7712.jpg Until the truck distracted him.  He did not know what to make of the other Tom he saw in the bumper. IMG_7678.jpgPuzzled at first, he peered from below, above, and to the side. When it didn’t go away, he started attacking his reflection. Silly boy.IMG_7699.jpg
One afternoon when flocks of robins were wheeling around the house, we heard a massive thump as a bird hit our sliding glass doors. We don’t get many bird hits on our windows, perhaps because we don’t have many trees or feeders close against the house. This one, though, was a doozy. It was a Hairy Woodpecker, his body lying nearby on the lawn with a wing awkwardly outstretched. He appeared to be very dead. George and I gave him up for gone, agreeing that we would put the body in the woods as soon as we went outside.
Surprisingly, about fifteen minutes later, the given-up-for-dead one was sitting up and looking around. In another ten minutes or so, he flew up to the nearby pine that has our bird feeders and suet.

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He looks a little roughed up, but not bad for one who looked grave-ready ten minutes earlier.

And this was the really fascinating thing–he rubbed his head thoroughly, up, down, and sideways on the branch in front of him, as if giving himself a head massage or trying to ease the pain. I’ve never seen a bird do that before. Then he stopped, sat quietly for a time, flew to the suet, had a good feed, and flew off. He’s been fine since. I suspect that any bird other than a woodpecker wouldn’t have survived such a hard hit. Woodpeckers skulls have evolved to cushion the pounding that their brains take when they drill away at trees. Apparently hardheadedness has some advantages. I’m glad this one made it.

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Our tulips are suffering with the crazy weather. This one looks okay.

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But many look worse for the wear.

During our tempestuous weather, we had one good cool, windless day for burning. George, with Zoe’s company, burned several huge brush piles in preparation for stump and rock clearing. IMG_7431George has been busy since fall clearing brush and cutting trees in the area below our lawn. He is clearing back to a curve of ancient apple trees. IMG_7783We will have our garden beds and a sitting area in the cleared space. We don’t have the equipment to pull the stumps and big rocks, however, so hired someone to bring in a little backhoe to do the job. Maine’s glacial hills are rock strewn and ours is no exception.IMG_7720
A day and half with the backhoe and the big rocks and stumps were out.

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Looks a bit moonscape-ish.

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The rocks are endless.  Dig some out, and the frost brings new ones up.  IMG_7790And we’re talking rocks of substance, not little nubbly things.  IMG_7792We have some new stone walls in the making. I am in awe of the early settlers who cleared these Maine woods.

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This old stone wall is the back border of our property. No back hoes used for this one.

How they got those rocks and stumps pulled without modern machinery, is mind-boggling to me. IMG_7786So much work to clear fields. And when farmers moved West after the Civil War, the fields grew up so quickly again.IMG_7528
Our land was pasture not too many years ago, but has grown up again. I took a walk around it last week to see if we had any skunk cabbage in our low area, or any other surprises–I was hoping for lady slippers. I didn’t find either, but found plenty of interesting fungi and bark. IMG_7531IMG_7456IMG_7606IMG_7590IMG_7535.jpgIMG_7616.jpg
Aside from the turkeys, the foxes also have become very active again. We suspect they may have a den near our side yard. They come and go over to an old stone wall at all times of the day. Zoe sniffs with great interest and barks in that direction. She’s not a barker, so something has her attention. Perhaps we’ll see fox kits again this spring.IMG_7797.jpg

Hodgepodge

IMG_6535February has been a motley month. Outside, the days swing from winter snow, to pelting rain, to a golden, sun-infused, warm calm in a few hours. Back-and-forth, keeping us on our toes. IMG_6354.jpg
Sunrises are working their way north across our hill horizon, but the transition to spring is erratic. IMG_6151We have ice on puddles some mornings, while in the background we are starting to hear the birds’ spring mating calls.

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This bell-shaped piece of ice was hanging over a stream at the edge of a small waterfall.

IMG_6747Perhaps the best harbinger of spring, though, is the maple sap, which has started to flow.

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In modern sap collection for maple syrup, tubes carry the sap out of the tree, to the sugar house. Ugly but efficient.

The Bohemian Waxwings have hung around for weeks, dwindling from enormous flocks to smaller groups of thirty or forty. IMG_6271IMG_6215At first, they were spooked if I even opened a door, but eventually they grew more comfortable with us and I was able to get closer for photos.
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We took a road trip last week to the FEDCO warehouse, a little more than an hour away. FEDCO is a seed, tree, and garden supply cooperative that is one of Maine’s treasures. On the way home, we swung over to Unity, the little farm town that hosts the Common Ground fair, is next to Bryant’s museum, and has a sizable traditional Amish population (previous Unity posts, Finding Common Ground, and Bryant’s).

Now it has another attraction. A world-class chef, formerly at Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s restaurant, left the high-pressure restaurant life, became Amish, and set up a charcuterie in the woods of Unity, with no-electricity, in the Amish way. His story has received considerable publicity lately (here’s a link to a great NPR piece amish deli) and, after driving down a rutted dirt lane, we found a long line inside the little store. People from all over were patiently waiting to buy sausage and cured meats, while watching what was kind of a show. This former chef, with a long beard and traditional Amish clothing, talked everyone up while he cut meat on fascinating non-electric slicers that looked like hundred-year-old relics. He was always moving, efficiently wrapping the meat and cheese in butcher paper with string pulled from overhead, while his young Amish assistant rang up purchases on an old-style cash register. We went home with some bacon, smoked pork loin, and smoked cheese. I can attest to its deliciousness. I am continually amazed by what Maine has to offer.

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Smoked provolone.

February has been spring-planning time. Our (massively over-ambitious?) seed orders have arrived, we are gauging drainage and soil moisture to plan our orchard and garden bed lay outs. Likewise, we have been paying careful attention to winter sun and wind for locating our bee hive. We ordered the hive early and I happily spent two mornings constructed the frames that will hold the wax foundation for the bees to build their comb.

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We will not be locating the hive in the spare bedroom.

Much more to come on the hive when we set it up for the bees’ arrival near the end of April.

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Building the frames.  I have mise en place for nails.

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Our winter garden revealed a new side this month. It sprouted rocks and shells. IMG_6417When we moved here late last May, we could see some shells and unusual rocks peeking out from under the perennials. But only now, with the snow melted and last year’s greenery gone or flattened, is their loveliness revealed. IMG_6510IMG_6631_edited-1Oyster, clam, mussel, and scallop shells are flanked by small collections of rocks with garnets, mica, rings, striations, and unusual shapes. IMG_6618IMG_6616They are beautiful against the dead winter leaves and stalks. Another unexpected treat from the former owners of this garden. IMG_6611Among the shells and rocks, some sprouts are emerging. Soon we will complete the final first year in this garden, seeing what bulbs will emerge.IMG_6247

Pemaquid, Waxwings, and the February Garden

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We live in the hills and look out on more hills. When the light is just right, a shimmering sliver of water is illuminated on the far edge of our view, letting us know that the ocean is not far away. We decided recently to take a short road trip to the ocean at Pemaquid Point. It lies south of us, on one of a series of irregular peninsulas, formed by glaciers, and extending into the Atlantic between Rockland and Bath. IMG_5729
At Pemaquid, the land ends with a series of striated ledges extending into the water. IMG_5670A small lighthouse and bellhouse perch above. IMG_5665A woman was swept into the sea from these rocks the week before our visit. IMG_5676.jpgIt was during a swell arising from the storm that dumped snow on most of the east coast, but swerved out to sea below Maine. The swell produced some towering waves and one of them took the woman right in. IMG_5693.jpgFortunately, she was fished out with some injuries and hypothermia, but alive. IMG_5678.jpg
Although the sea was less lively during our visit, I stayed high on the rocks. Where I stood, when I looked inland, the sky was brilliantly blue IMG_5712.jpgIMG_5715and, when I turned to the water, there was a bank of shore clouds in beautiful, almost tubular row formations. IMG_5745Unfortunately, my picture-taking was cut short when I found my extra battery was dead. We’ll be back. IMG_5714
Soon after our Pemaquid trip, a flock of Bohemian Waxwings invaded. They have been here off-and-on for over a week.  They fly in over the valley and first settle on one of the larger trees, all facing in the same direction. IMG_6090IMG_6106After some time, with a great swoosh of wings, they all descend on a tree still covered with apples, where they noisily gorge on the likely fermented fruit and then wheel off again. IMG_5776.jpgIMG_5774Their post-feeding frenzy flights appear somewhat haphazard. Perhaps they are a little drunk. IMG_5783But they settle on a large tree again, compose themselves, and fly away in a neat formation again.  IMG_5778At first I thought they were cedar waxwings and there may be a few in the flock. But most seem to be Bohemians. IMG_5780

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This distance shot is blown up, with poor resolution, but you can see the beautiful wing markings.

In any case, they are gorgeous birds and extremely entertaining.

Finally, inspired by bloggers in England, Ireland, and Australia, showing a lovely array of colorful February blooms, I thought I’d share our February garden. After unseasonably warm weather on Thursday, we were unexpectedly blanketed by almost 12″ of snow on Friday. IMG_5865.jpgAs a result, our February garden consists of empty seed pods,IMG_5995.jpg
rocks in snow,IMG_5944
berries in snow, IMG_6003.jpg
spruce in snow,IMG_6057
shriveled rosehips in snow,IMG_6016
a few baby cones,IMG_6044.jpg
and Zoe.IMG_5881IMG_5887

Wildlife

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We did not know what kind of local wildlife to expect in Maine. We were spoiled, animal-wise, having lived in Alaska for many years. Our home in Anchorage was in an area called “Hillside,” a gradual rise to the mountains of Chugach State Park, a vast and wild protected area just a ten-minute drive from our house.

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Powerline Pass trail in the Chugach. If you look carefully you’ll see a moose blocking the trail–a not uncommon occurrence.

Every spring, moose mothers-to-be migrated down the hills into populated areas to have their babies, in an attempt to avoid predation during birth and the newborns’ most helpless first weeks. Moose Babies.jpgOne scarred cow moose chose our neighborhood for her maternity ward several years running, giving us a succession of knobble-kneed moose calves to admire each spring. 129_2947Moose Mom w BabiesIn the fall, the adolescents returned to stock up for the winter on whatever was left in our garden and to strip our delectable lilac bush down to two bare nubs.Moose in the Paddock.jpg

Bears also came down from the mountains, looking for moose babies, garbage, and bird and dog food. Bird feeders, especially, seemed to be bear magnets. As a result, we could only feed birds when the bears were in hibernation–a period that became shorter in recent years with Anchorage’s increasingly warm winters. One year, our next-door neighbor ignored the bird feeder ban and this black bear knocked the food out of the feeder, pressed its paws into the seeds on the ground and then rolled on its back and licked the seed off its paws. He appeared to be relishing the easy feast.Yard Bear
We had an occasional lynx in the neighborhood and wolves nearby. Bald eagles were so common that we called them flying rats. Eagles in Kachemak Bay.jpgEagles
Alaska was a hard act to follow. But Maine is doing a pretty good job. On our first evening in our new house, we were treated to a fox family, running along the edge of the lawn to eat a pile of sunflower seeds left under the big white pine where the previous owners had hung their bird feeder (they emptied out the feeder and took it with them).IMG_0422.jpg Apparently foxes like bird food as much as bears do. IMG_0513.jpgThe three kits wrestled and tore around the lawn while the adults looked on. IMG_0518We continued to see the foxes in the early morning and evening for a few weeks and then they disappeared. IMG_0502
A wild turkey flock comes and goes, we have heard (but not seen) coyotes, and we once saw a deer running across the driveway. We were curious as to what we weren’t seeing and mounted a game camera on a driveway tree a few weeks ago.

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The game camera caught the turkeys strutting down the drive

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Game camera again–I could never have gotten this shot. 

We were thrilled to see that the foxes are still around.

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And not so thrilled to see that we have several deer hanging about.

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We didn’t have any deer in the garden last year and are hoping that these won’t be tempted this year.

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A recent snowfall showed that they have been bedding down in our woods and we have had tracks across our lawn.

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There were seven or eight of these spots in the snow where it looked like deer had bedded down.

So, it looks like a garden fence may be in our future.

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Rabbit (hare, actually) tracks

Of all of our Maine wildlife, the birds have given me the most pleasure. Because we could only feed birds in the dead of winter in Alaska, our feeder birds were mostly chickadees and redpolls. We have a much wider variety at our Maine feeder–chickadees, juncos, goldfinches, purple finches, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, and mourning doves. IMG_5509Unfortunately, aside from the chickadees–nothing fazes them–the birds here are the most camera-shy of any I’ve ever encountered. IMG_5644I have had a terrible time getting any decent photos this winter. IMG_5494I could do a whole post of bird bum photos. IMG_5490
I did manage to capture, however, bluebirds that swooped in last week to eat sumac berries and some suet from our feeder. IMG_5258They took me by surprise. I had no idea that bluebirds overwintered in Maine. Nor had I ever seen so many together. There were at least eight or ten of them, maybe more. They hung around for a few days and were gone. IMG_5267Perhaps we’ll put up some houses for them before spring.

Finally, Zoe is our perpetual wild life. The game camera caught her racing down the driveway with all four paws in the air.

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She thinks she’s a sled dog.

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Zoe can only dream. These are what real Alaskan sprint dogs look like.

She adores the snow-blower and follows it everywhere, occasionally stopping to attack the spumes of blowing snow, trying to capture it in her mouth.IMG_5430IMG_5440

We moved the game camera to deeper woods and will report back on what we find.

So Far, So Good

IMG_5014So far, in this new year, we have been

up before sunrise,

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sewing (me, not George),

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This petite Singer Featherweight is the only sewing machine I’ve ever owned. It is older than I am, easy to use and maintain, and pleasing to the eye.

building a bookcase (George, not me),

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Before even tackling the bookcase, George had to set up a workshop.  He put a lot of time and care into this beauty.  I love it.

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and getting acquainted with a spinning wheel.

We found this beauty black with grime at an antique store. She seemed to have all her parts and the price was right, so we took her home.

We found this lovely old wheel at an antique store, black with lanolin-infused grime.  Likely she had been sitting in an attic or barn for years.  She seemed to have all her essential parts and the price was very right, so we took her home.  Unfortunately, when we bought her last summer, I wasn’t blogging and didn’t think to take any photos of her original state.  Wish I had.

After several weeks of cleaning and more cleaning, beautiful wood emerged.

In the fall, I started cleaning her up.  It took several weeks and a lot of elbow grease but eventually beautiful wood–at least three different kinds–emerged.

The workmanship on these old wheels fascinates me.

The workmanship on these old wheels fascinates me.

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I'm still learning her quirks and feel. When the yarn properly uptakes to the bobbin the band tends to fall off and vice versa. With some more time, I hope work it out.

I’m still learning her quirks and feel. When the yarn properly uptakes to this bobbin, the band to the wheel tends to fall off and when the band stays on, the yarn doesn’t feed.  I hope we’ll work it out.

If not, she makes delightful shadows

If not, she makes delightful shadows

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Zoe likes January.IMG_4871IMG_4872

George has been hauling wood,IMG_5051

we have been doing a lot of cooking,

My wooden spoons, more than 15 years old, hand carved by Don Duncan in North Carolina.

My favorite cooking utensils, 15 to 20 years old, hand carved by Don Duncan in North Carolina.

This one's hickory.

This one’s hickory.

a little wildlife viewing,

I gave George a game camera for Christmas to check out the wildlife on our property. So far, all we've seen are these fat raccoons heading down the driveway in the middle of the night.

I gave George a game camera for Christmas to check out the wildlife on our property. So far, all we’ve seen are these fat raccoons heading down the driveway in the middle of the night.

The local turkeys seemed to have survived hunting season. There were more than 30 turkeys in this snowy group.

Our local roving wild turkeys seemed to have survived hunting season. There were more than 30 turkeys in this flock.

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going for daily walks,IMG_5052IMG_5071IMG_5119IMG_5090IMG_5146

and watching this amaryllis bloom.IMG_4842IMG_4918IMG_5171