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Two words for this spring—cold and wet.

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Late snows, hard frosts, frigid mud, and a miserly portion of sunshine delayed our yard work and gardening, again and again.  When the weather finally began to warm up a bit (only a handful of days have teasingly felt like summer), we were in catch-up mode, trying to get everything done at once.

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Preparing the greenhouse pad.

Although I held off on planting, the ground remains unseasonably cold and wet.  My potatoes and flax have stunted patches and the warm weather crops are struggling to get established.  New growth for deer browse was late and some deer—looking for spring nutrition—girdled several of the apple trees that I planted last fall in the lower orchard.

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They didn’t touch any other saplings—that sweet young apple bark must be especially tasty.  I tried to do some cleft grafting to save them, but it doesn’t appear to have taken. So, we will plant more in the spring and fence them well.

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I was hoping the grafts would take, but it doesn’t look good.

I also had another fail with my bees this winter.  They had swarmed last June and the remaining bees in the hive never seemed to get up to full strength.  I was happy that they made it into January, but then I lost them in a long, deep freeze.  I reluctantly decided to take a year off from beekeeping for several reasons:  I would be out-of-state when the bee packages arrive; we want to move the hive to a new area that won’t be ready until later in the year; and we want to do perimeter work around our fence (near the hive) to keep our tick population down.

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There are other hives in our area, and plenty of bees came to pollinate our wild apples, but I really missed having our own.  I put off cleaning out and storing the hive and in a wild, unlikely hope that maybe a swarm would take up residence.  And, sure enough, that’s what happened.  One morning in mid-June, I noticed some bees at the hive.  I could not tell if they were robbing the little honey left or if they might be scouts for a swarm.

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A few hours later I heard a massive buzzing sound and the air was filled with a bee swarm descending on the hive.

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It was pretty exciting.  They now are happily established.  So much for moving the hive—I’m so happy to have these new arrivals, it’s staying where it is.

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The other insects of note this spring are the brown tail moths that are invading midcoast Maine.  They make ticks seem like pleasant little nuisances.  The moth caterpillars have toxic, barbed hairs that become airborne and can create a nasty itchy rash and a cough if breathed.  They favor oaks and apples, of which we have plenty.  Up until this year, they weren’t a problem for us and we did extensive pruning this year on our old apples—not worried about moths.

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Early spring pruning on the wild apples in the yard.

Unbeknownst to George, though, one of the trees was moth-infested and when he was cleaning up the downed branches, he developed a horrible rash.  To finish up the job, he has had to hose down all the wood and wear a moth hazmat outfit.  Yuck.

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Despite the cold and toxic moth hairs, we have never had so many nesting birds.

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Sparrow nest I stumbled on when clearing orchard weeds. Fortunately, I didn’t scare the mother, she’s still sitting on the nest.

The birdsong has been amazing—it goes on from earliest pre-dawn until the evening.  We have nesting wrens, cardinals, sparrows, phoebes, chickadees, mourning doves, yellowthroats, thrushes, catbirds, vireos, towhees, various unidentified warblers, woodpeckers, robins, goldfinches, waxwings, evening grosbeaks, and a a very vocal melodious Baltimore Oriole for the first time this year.

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We put up two nesting boxes with trepidation, hoping that our pugnacious bluebird wouldn’t return.  He didn’t.

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Bluebird fledgling about a minute before his first flight.

We had a friendly bluebird couple take up residence and a gorgeous pair of swallows.

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George has been going non-stop all spring with pruning, putting up next winter’s wood, improving the drainage down the driveway and around the new garage, building beds for my new dye garden,

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Dye garden and fleece washing tubs.

building screen houses for the brassicas,

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The screen enclosure in the background has been wonderful to protect the brassicas from cabbage moth caterpillars.

working on the sauna, planting trees and shrubs, preparing foundations for a new shed and green house, on top of the usual yard, trail, and house maintenance.

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I’m in love with our new greenhouse.

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While George has been giving the tractor a workout, I’ve had a textile-rich spring.  With help from a friend, I put together an exhibit highlighting weaving, spinning, flax production, and antique textile tools for the local library, which recently acquired a trove of new books on these subjects for its craftsmanship collection.

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I didn’t take photos of the exhibit, but we had antique wheels and a tape loom.

In late April, Jan and I also did an evening presentation on antique spinning wheels at the same library, hoping to gain converts to rehabilitate the old wheels and get them spinning again.

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Current herd of great wheels.

Soon after, I went to Vavstuga weaving school in western Massachusetts for a course in Swedish Classics.

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Learning rosepath.

It was wonderful to be back there, immersed in a week of nothing but weaving.

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Monksbelt variation.

When I returned, I got going on taking and collecting photos for a presentation on Connecticut wheelmakers for an Antique Spinning Wheel Symposium at Marshfield School of Weaving in Vermont in early June.

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The presentation also involved countless hours of genealogy research and deciphering probate records and inventories from the 1700s, to try to track down the identity of wheelmaker J. Platt.  I still don’t know who he is.

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But, we had magical weather for the symposium and what a treat to get together with a bunch of antique wheel nerds.  The talking was non-stop, it was such a rare opportunity to all be speaking the same language of scribe lines, double-flyers, hub shapes, spindle supports, chip carving, maidens, mother-of-alls (mothers-of-all?), and, on and on …

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At Lone Rock Farm in Marshfield.

I stayed over the next day for a flax workshop with Norman Kennedy, the 86-year-old grand master of weaving, flax, stories of textiles in Scotland, and song (among other things).

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Norman dressing a distaff.

And I stayed at a wonderful farm B&B, where I got to enjoy morning visits with the cows, pigs, chickens, and kittens.

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Marshfield was beautiful, I loved being with “my people,” and enjoyed an amazing three days, but—as always—it was so sweet to get home—with flowers and dogs to greet me.

IMG_2536IMG_2221Capp is doing wonderfully now.  It’s such a relief to have him back to normal.

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Throughout the spring, I’ve been spinning and weaving,

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and finished up processing last year’s flax.

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Bottom batch was dew retted (twice) last fall and the top batch was retted on snow this winter.

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I bought this wonderful flax break at auction last month for $10. The auctioneer had no idea what it was.

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Snow retted flax being hackled. It’s a lovely color.

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From left to right: early dew retted (under retted), tub retted, double dew retted, snow retted.

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I was engulfed by lilac fragrance while processing the flax. We had a bumper crop of lilacs this year.

Now that summer is officially here, I’m just about caught up on spring chores and hope to have a less busy, more relaxing summer.  We’ll see.

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Spinning on the porch, watching thunderstorms and rainbows.

Digging In and Looking Back

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We had an anniversary this week. We moved to this tiny paradise on a hill two years ago. It was a marriage of sorts, of people and place, and deserves anniversary recognition. We celebrated by digging, planting, and constructing, and generally reveling in the explosion of spring in this lovely spot of earth.

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The day we moved in, the apple trees were in full bee-buzzing bloom. We had never thought to find a place with dozens of ancient apple trees and were amazed at our luck in landing here. We couldn’t have arrived at a more beautiful time of year. Aside from the apples, the lilacs and wild honeysuckle were just starting to bloom. It is a peak time for fragrance and birdsong. Intoxicating.

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That first year, we could just see the blossomy tops of what appeared to be a ring of old apple trees through the brush and small trees behind the house.

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Zoe in the yard the day after we moved in.  The blossoming tops of the ring of old apple trees are barely visible.

We decided to clear back to those trees and open things up for vegetable gardening and a small orchard and sitting area.

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The big oak when we moved in, surrounded by small trees and brush.  

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The first lawn mowing.

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We quickly cleared high grass for raised beds within a week of moving in.  The next summer, we moved the raised beds to the area below the house and turned this into our little orchard area.

It will be a work in progress for years, but has been incredibly satisfying to work on this beautiful property.

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The big oak and ring of old apple trees revealed.  

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Little orchard with swale and companion plants.

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First cherry blossom

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Now that we’ve been here through three blooms, we’ve seen the fruiting cycle of these old trees. We had heard that the wild trees often bloom and bear fruit every other year. And sure enough, the trees that bloomed that first year didn’t bloom the second year and now are blooming again.

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Last May.  Only two trees blooming and a branch here and there on the other trees.

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This  May.  All the trees are blooming, except for the two that bloomed last year.

This is the bloomiest year in the cycle.  Depending on where in the yard we are working, we can hear the buzzing of bees in different apple trees.

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This beautiful tree has little yellow apples that stay all through the winter–at least until the Waxwings visit for a mid-winter gorge.  

It is quite loud and makes me happy. Good for the bees and good for the trees.

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The past few weeks finally brought us some warmth and sun.

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Before the sun.  A little greening up on the hillside.

Green growing things, which had been patiently waiting through cold, rainy April, apparently decided to make up for lost time.

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From this …

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… to this …

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… to this in a few days.

A plant orgy of sorts.

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Maples just budding, with teensy developing seeds.

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Soon after, the leaves are popping out and the seeds developing their wings. 

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This chipmunk looks like he was indulging in excessive spring celebration–cheeks stuffed to overflowing with something.  At least it wasn’t parts of our car.  

Now that the weather has improved and the soil is warming, we have been working like mad to get things planted. George also has been busy making fences. Both pups are gourmands, LOVING veggies, flowers, herbs, grass, soil, fertilizer–if we plant it, they will eat it. And they have generously shared their personal fertilizer on a few choice perennials.

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So, we are putting up small fences, at least while they are young.

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We have eight raised beds this year (with little dog-proofing additions), two large beds for corn, tomatoes, potatoes, melons, and squash, and a separate bed for growing flax (which I’m going to try to process for spinning). Our little orchard trees are thriving. I will transplant the apples I grafted last year to the gaps in our ring of old trees.

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Last year’s grafted trees are ready to transplant.

And my herb garden is flourishing. We are rich.

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Aside from all our work outside, we’ve had visitors. Our son and daughter-in-law were here early in the month while the weather was a little iffy. But we had glorious weather and crashing waves on our trip to Pemaquid Point.

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Last week, we had doggy guests. Capp’s brother, Henry, and a sweet female, Quinn, came for two days.

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Capp and Henry.

One day was freakishly hot, so we had dog summer camp, complete with a pool.

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Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren will be here in a few days so we are madly trying to get everything planted before they arrive. I think we are going to make it.

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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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Old Dog Days

IMG_2053.jpgJune put us through the wringer. It started out all flowers and bees. And then, as the world drama escalated with violence, Brexit, and the everpresent Donald, our world contracted to one sweet old dog–Zoe. IMG_2121.jpg
She had been showing her age this spring. Her arthritis was worsening and she became increasingly unwilling to do much of anything in the hot weather (Alaskan to the core, she has never liked the heat). The vet thought it was laryngeal paralysis, related neuropathy, and some aspiration pneumonia.

Zoe went on antibiotics and we drove to Portland, an hour-and-a-half away, for an assessment as to Zoe’s suitability for surgery for the laryngeal paralysis. Before we could even schedule surgery, however, Zoe’s condition precipitously declined. A cliff-dive of hurt. She ran a continuous fever, was in pain, and was becoming increasingly lame. It got so bad that she could barely stand up and when she did, she tented her legs and looked at us pleading “please help me” in her eyes. Eventually, she refused breakfast. Not good. Zoe always eats.

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Last month

Throughout this we had several veterinarians, here and in Portland, trying to figure out what was going on. Even in her wiped-out condition, she charmed them all. After multiple trips to Portland, a stay in the doggy hospital, rounds of antibiotics, IVs, and numerous tests, it looked as if she had a fast-moving and incurable cancer. We tried to be resigned for the worst when, happily, her bone marrow test came back negative for cancer.  When Zoe then responded  well to steroids, the prime suspect became an immune-mediated condition.IMG_2052.jpg
We brought her home and she’s been gradually, but steadily, improving. Not quite the old Zoe, but good, nonetheless. Her blood tests today–a week later–showed improvement, so we are cautiously optimistic.

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Smiling again

Zoe was always what you would call a good eater and the steroids have made her even more enthusiastic. She is sleeping lots but still enjoying the pleasures of food and lying in the sun. She’s been reluctant to leave the house, even for a survey of the yard. But the past few days, she has seemed more like her old self. Whatever happens, to be honest, we did not think she was going to live past last week. So, for now, we are simply enjoying her wonderful presence. IMG_2188.jpg
In the meantime, life goes on around us. IMG_2221.jpgOur swallows have a second brood hatched and we sit with Zoe on the porch to watch the parents feeding their ravenous chicks.

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I took this photo for the clouds but caught a swallow parent swooping toward the nest box with food.

The poor parents are going continuously and I’m hoping that our cabbage worm population is going right in the mouths of those chicks.

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Checking out the world

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Feed me

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The blur at the right is an insect in the parent bird’s bill.  It doesn’t look like one of my bees (although I’m sure there have been some casualties).

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Our bluebirds may have a second brood, we’re not sure. Whatever they are up to baby-wise, they are still hanging around and wonderful to watch.

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Anchoring himself in a strong wind

The garden is dry. We are woefully short of rain. But we are harvesting our early vegetables, the corn was on track with “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” green tomatoes are forming, and the potatoes are going nuts. IMG_2071.jpgI’ve neglected the perennials. IMG_2167But, of course, they continue with their lovely blooms, despite whatever else happens in the world.IMG_2063.jpg
So July starts as June did with more flowers, bugs, birds, and summer skies.

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Gorgeous hummingbird moth

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Cedar waxwing

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Face in the cloud

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Something has twice wound the suet feeder up into the tree for easier access (maybe?). IMG_2054.jpgWe suspect the brown thrasher, who seems to find the suet and the hanging rope to be a personal challenge. IMG_0806Our birdbath has an evening line of birds waiting to enjoy a little cool-down.IMG_1703.jpgIMG_1705.jpgIMG_1656.jpg
Zoe enjoys a little cool down too.IMG_2253.jpg

Sow. Snow. Sew.

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

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Poplar catkins

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

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Alders

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

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

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

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Do you think we’re growing enough lettuce varieties?

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

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Water-jug marigolds.

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

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

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

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

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

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Poppies emerging before the snow.

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

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

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

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

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

Spring goes on.

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

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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.

Ongoing Thanks, But Not So Much For The Mouse

IMG_3634Thanksgiving this year felt redundant.  We did not need a special day to pause and reflect on our good fortune.  We have done it every day for the past six months.  Maybe it is because we have time to reflect, now that we are retired.  But, somehow, we can’t seem to fully grasp that we stumbled on this place, so perfectly suited to us, and with such exquisite beauty.

IMG_3587Our house is on a hill, with a view to the east and south.  A small river and a series of rolling hills separate us from the ocean.  The sun and moon rise over those hills.  They don’t sneak up over the horizon quietly and unnoticed.  Because there is little man-made light nearby and the coast produces constantly changing skies, sun and moon rises tend to be dramatic and colorful.

Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

Moonrise Thanksgiving Eve. The moon's color was much redder. Like that next photo.

Moonrise Thanksgiving Eve. The moon’s color was much redder, as in the next photo.

I have never lived in a place where I have been able to really see the sunrise.  And moonrises were not even on my radar.  Now they are part of our daily rhythms.

This was the actual color of the moon when it first rose and was low on the horizon, seen through the oak branches.

This was the actual color of the moon when it first rose and was low on the horizon, seen through the oak branches.

Here, the sunrise usually gets me out of bed the morning.  Our bedroom faces west and north so we can only tell the sun is rising by the quality and color of the light outside the windows.  A certain rosiness catapults me out of bed so that I won’t miss the morning show.  George is usually already up, with coffee freshly brewed and waiting.

IMG_3058Every single time I watch that sun emerge over the hills, a little farther south each morning as we head into winter–or watch the moon, which comes up at all different times, often taking us by surprise—I am so grateful that we found this particular place at this time in our lives.  In fact, I sound like a broken record, “I love it here … I can’t believe this place … yada, yada, yada …”  I’m sure the sense wonder will wear off over time, but it hasn’t yet.

In the meantime, Thanksgiving week brought our first snow.

We had some skimmings of ice, but no snow.

We had some skimmings of ice, but no snow.

It was a little unexpected.  We spent the day before, which was soggy and windless, burning brush from the area we are clearing for a little orchard.

Burning brush.

Zoe supervised.

Zoe supervised.

During the night, the wind started screaming, the temperature dropped, and the evening’s rain turned to snow.  It did not accumulate much, but when the sun came out mid-morning, everything was transformed.IMG_3698

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The snow highlighted the giant limbs on this white pine.

The snow highlighted the giant limbs on this white pine.

IMG_3808Zoe was wildly happy.  Water is her element, and frozen water—in the form of snow—is best of all.  When we were on our RV trip across country, we would try to find patches of snow at high elevations so that she could run and roll in it.  She was thrilled to find an endless supply here in her own backyard.IMG_3794

George has cut some trails through our woods.  But it was treacherous going when the snow covered the fallen wild apples.  They acted like greased ball bearings.

IMG_3746IMG_3732IMG_3719Even through the snow, we continue to harvest vegetables.  We still have leeks, carrots, and spinach in the raised beds, and they just become sweeter, the colder it gets.

Snowy leeks.

Snowy leeks.

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Our little cold frame, which I planted with greens back in August, is starting to produce nicely.

For some reason, Zoe is intrigued by the cold frame and visits it every morning on her rounds.

For some reason, Zoe is intrigued by the cold frame and visits it every morning on her rounds.

The frame's middle panel has a hinged opener that opens automatically for ventilation based on the temperature.

The frame’s middle panel opens automatically for ventilation based on the temperature.  It’s nice not to have to do it ourselves.

Some things were a bust.  One of the leaf lettuce varieties bolted, the broccoli raab did not do well, the mache’s growth is glacially slow, and the arugula was decimated by cabbage moth caterpillars (I had to spray it with BT).

The mache is growing, but very, very slowly.

The mache is growing, but very, very slowly.

Arugula stripped to the ribs. Voracious little buggers.

Arugula stripped to the ribs. Voracious little buggers.

But the mustard, tatsoi, kale, red winter lettuce, and claytonia are thriving and we are harvesting beautiful salad greens.IMG_3856

IMG_3814Not everything is rainbows and chickadees, however.

This recent rainbow ended in our back woods.

The inner arc of this recent double rainbow ended in our back woods.

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Just a gratuitous chickadee shot.

When George took the truck in this morning for an oil change, the mechanics found a mouse living under the hood.  In retrospect, George thought he heard some unusual noises as he drove all over the state yesterday.  I can only imagine what that mouse thought when his new home went zooming down the interstate.  Apparently, the experience was not too traumatic, because the mouse stayed tucked up there overnight only to have the further excitement today of freaking out the mechanics.  Of course, it got away.  We will not have to deal with it anymore because it’s now hiding somewhere in the Toyota dealership.

I wanted to make a wreath without using any wire or frame. This is the funky result--a mullet wreath, business on one side, party on the other. Maybe I should hang it on the truck's grille to scare away the mice.

I wanted to make a wreath without using any wire or frame. This is the funky result–a mullet wreath, business on one side, party on the other. Maybe I should hang it on the truck’s grille to scare away the mice.

Dog days

Zoe experienced two firsts in one day–90 degrees and 100 degrees.  Tough temperatures for our Alaskan girl.  As we left Pennsylvania for upstate New York, the thermometer and the humidity kept climbing.  Sweaty for us, panting-inducing for Zoe.  A fan and wet paper towels on Zoe’s head helped keep her heat level down.  It’s time for Zoe to shed some of her beautiful coat to adapt to this sauna weather.

Trying to chill

Trying to chill.

We stayed for two nights at Keuka Lake State Park on one of the Finger Lakes.  The campsites were huge and very pretty, but there weren’t any good sticks for Zoe’s ritual exploratory strut, so she had to make do with a chunk of firewood.  We did a little exploring of the region, which has beautiful old houses, some nice farmland, and huge lakes.  But it was really crowded.

We also were looking forward to trying some Finger Lake wines.  The ones we sampled were . . . how do I put this?  Notes of turpentine?  Aroma of dirt?  One was described as a “bold, brooding” red.  I don’t know what a brooding wine is, but I would have described it as “feels like it will take the enamel off of your teeth.”  We must have missed the good ones.

We now are in the no-eye-contact zone of New York and New England.  In contrast with most of the country, where people greet you, smile, and chat when you walk around a campground, most people here pretend that they don’t see you, doing anything to avoid possible eye contact or acknowledgement of your existence. We grew up in New England and understand that it’s just the regional culture, but it still feels weird and unfriendly. Zoe expects everyone to respond to her, so doesn’t understand these Easterners at all.

After two nights in Keuka, we moved down the road a bit to an RV park at a casino complex.  It was a meticulously groomed, spacious park that was eerily empty of people, because they were all in the casino.  We aren’t big gamblers, so we enjoyed our privacy at the park while everyone else was losing their money.

Enjoying the grill and watching the weather.

Grilling dinner and watching the weather–all by ourselves.

Gone gambling.

Many in the casino crowd were noticeably unhealthy-looking.  Maybe that’s why they were gambling.  It didn’t look like much fun, though, based on their grim expressions hunched over the slots.  On the other hand, they were cool in the air conditioning, while we were sweltering outside.  A thunderstorm cooled things off, but not for long.

Zoe smells rain.

Zoe smells rain.

Thunderstorm through the bedroom window.

Thunderstorm through the trailer bedroom window.

Zoe was not too impressed with the casino campground.  It was far too carefully landscaped to have good sticks lying around for play and it was too hot for more than short walks.  Most egregious was the lake.  An inviting expanse of water in which she could not swim—no dogs allowed.  Stupid rules.  To cool Zoe off in 96 degree heat, I gave her a solar shower.  Better than nothing.

The shower water got too hot in the sun.

The shower water got too hot in the sun.

About to park in the shade with Zoe after her shower.

About to park in the shade with Zoe after her shower.

Connecticut Ho!  Happy Independence Day.

This one's for you, Aileen.

This one’s for you, Aileen.

Devil’s Dream

IMG_1848I popped into the IGA in Buffalo, Wyoming for a few groceries.  I paused in the produce section to let an elderly man pass with his cart.  He gently laid his hand on my arm and looked at me.  “Isn’t the weather beautiful today? So nice after all that rain, but you know it slowed the lilacs, they are just blooming and usually they are way past their prime by now.”

When I checked out, a talkative, middle-aged cashier asked, “Do you like country music?”  She tucked two copies of her band’s CDs in my grocery bag, “I play the fiddle and share lead vocals, hope you enjoy, they’re free.”  What wonders lurk in the IGA.  I will remember those encounters.

Buffalo was full of friendly people.  And, like Dubois and so many other western towns, it has a beautiful setting.  Flanked by the Bighorn Mountains on one side, it rolls into grasslands on the other, and the downtown is full of historic buildings and classic bungalow-lined streets.  We stayed at Deer Park, a sweet little oasis of an RV park, staffed by funny, charming people. There must be some real jerks in Buffalo, but we didn’t meet any.

After a nice interlude in Buffalo, we continued on to the Devil’s Tower, the unreal-looking monolith featured in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

It's not all gorgeous mountains.  Flatlands on the way to Devil's Tower.

It’s not all gorgeous mountains. Flat land on the way to Devil’s Tower.

The entrance to the Devil’s Tower Monument was filled with the usual stores and crowded private campgrounds that proliferate near national parks and monuments.   We bypassed them and stayed at an amazing public campground, Belle Fourche, within the park.  It did not have hookups, which isn’t a problem for us because, with a little sunshine, our solar panels provide enough electricity for days.  At $12 a night, we had an almost unbelievable campsite, with a private lawn looking out on a stream, mountain meadow, red cliffs, and the Devil’s Tower looming as a dramatic backdrop.

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Zoe always finds a stick to play with at every new campsite.  She went nuts at this one.

Zoe always finds a stick at every new campsite. She went nuts at this one.

There are a wide variety of campground types, each with their own distinct flavor.  Campgrounds without hookups tend to attract people with tents, pop-ups, or small trailers, rather than those with behemoth RVs. As a result, the crowd is generally a bit more quirky and interesting and this place was no different.  There were people from several different countries, climbers, and young (very polite) families.  It reminded us of a backpacking crowd—independent and diverse.

The serene campground was a nice escape from the crowds at the Tower parking lot–it was a madhouse.  I can’t imagine what it is like on weekends in full summer. But it was worth enduring the crowds for the up-close view because the rock formation is so striking and unusual.

View from the visitor's parking lot.

View from the visitors’ parking lot.

Looking at the backside.

From the backside

The tower looked like a tree trunk to me.

The tower looked like a tree trunk to me.  View from the campground.  It looks photoshopped.

We had a warm, sunny afternoon, a period of thunderstorms—which we miss in Alaska—followed by rainbows, and an almost full moon that night.  I am running out of superlatives, but it was quite a show.

Our campsite during the rainstorm. Our fire went out.

Our campsite when the sun came out during the thunderstorm.

 

After the storm.  Amazing light.

After the storm–amazing light.

Rainbows.

Rainbows.

Sunset.

Sunset.

First day out

Actually, it was only a partial day out–we didn’t leave Anchorage until about three this afternoon. But we did manage to leave, after feeling like we were never, ever going to get out of town. The last-minute details kept multiplying until it felt like the Twilight Zone, where no matter what we did, we could not escape and get on the road.

After the final house cleaning, and storage and dump runs, we hit the bank.  I took a picture of the Chugach while I was waiting with Zoe in the truck. I managed to capture some unique Anchorage business signs also.

Lovely Anchorage morning.

Lovely Anchorage morning. Will we ever get out of here?

Then we finished loading the trailer and headed to the scales to see how much weight we are carrying. Another picture while waiting, but now the Chugach are in the rear view mirror.

Sopranos shot.

Sopranos shot.

Then we needed to get a few final hiccups checked out.  Thanks to Tim and all the folks at Alaska Performance RV & Marine (who installed our solar setup) for their continued help and interest in our trip.

We left Anchorage mid-afternoon to spend our first night in Palmer–essentially a suburb of Anchorage, but a gorgeous commute.

On our way.

On our way.

George's new office?

George’s new office?

We chose to stay at a real RV park tonight and, fortunately, it’s almost empty and very quiet except for birdsong.

Lovely setting with without the crowds.

Lovely setting without the crowds.

Here’s the view out our window.

The leaves are exploding.

The leaves are exploding.

Zoe is bewildered by all the change.  When we got to the campground, she did not want to leave the truck.  After dinner, a walk, and a good stick, she felt much better.

 

This may not be so bad.

This may not be so bad.