Tapping In and Warping Up


We are waiting for our third snowstorm in two weeks. Even so, the air, light, and birdsong feel like spring. Our earliest seedlings–onions and leeks–are lined up in front of the upstairs southern window, with kale, chard, lettuce, and peppers soon to follow. And this year, we were even more aware of signs of spring because we tapped maples for syrup.


The sap has been running for several weeks and there’s such a good flow this year that we actually have too much to use. We only tapped three trees and one–the big house-side maple that turns brilliant crimson in the fall–had such thick bark that we didn’t drill deep enough and gave about a third of the amount of sap of the other two. But, even so, we are drowning in sap.


The dogs love to go gather the sap.

On our first boil, we used our lobster pot on the grill-side burner outside. It is supposed to take about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so it has to boil for a long time. A very long time.


We finished it off on our kitchen stove indoors.


We ended up with about a quart and a half of syrup on the first boil.


We decided to do all of the second boil on our kitchen stove. It was much faster and we can use the added moisture in the air.


Our trees are red maple rather than sugar maple and the syrup has a distinctive vanilla-like flavor different than commercial syrup. Since we have so much sap, I’ve been drinking it. Delicious.


Right from the bucket with its own ice.

Aside from gathering sap, gathering wood, and our usual walks, we have been enjoying the last of winter’s snowbound inside days. As soon as the snow melts, we’ll be out pruning , readying the gardens, and starting building projects.


I have loved the inside time.  I made a small quilt to cover the couch for the dogs.


Note the wine for basting.

But I spent most of my winter blissfully spinning, restoring wheels, and weaving–for the first time in decades.


George resurrected my old loom.


The poor thing has been stored for about 40 years.



He made a new square beam, tightened up joints and glued a break, and made new dowel pieces for the sectional beam.


I made a new apron and replaced the old cords and tie ups with texsolv, a wonderful easy system using eye-looped cords and plastic pegs.


It’s a unique and wonderful little loom. The woman I bought it from in the 1970s said that her grandfather made it for her grandmother early in the 1900s.


The loom was thoughtfully made, and includes lights conveniently placed front and back. When George brought the lights in to have the wiring brought up to code, we found that one of the lightbulbs had a tungsten filament and dated from the 1920s. It’s still working.



Even the light clamp looks like it’s from the 20s

I had forgotten how much I love to weave.


Unlike some weavers, I enjoy all of the preparation steps–


winding the warp,


threading the reed and heddles,


and seeing the neat warp all wound on, miraculously untangled and ready to weave.


For this first weave, I made twill dish towels, without any set color or treadling pattern, just experimenting with both.


Ready to hem and clip the strays


I also took some Soay yarn that I have been spinning and did a quick sample, thinking I might use it in my next project. But I liked it so much that I wove enough to cover the seat in my spinning chair. Soay sheep shed their wool in lumps rather than being shorn, and the wool is fine and crimpy but with lots of short strands and little clumps.


I spun it nubbly, thinking it might look interesting in a traditional twill, and was surprised at how much I liked it in this rosepath twill.


My wheel herd continues to grow bigger and I have all of them spinning. Now to find new homes for some of the rescues.


Our aggressive male bluebird continues to plague us daily. He continued to attack the windows even on the most frigid winter days. I wish we could have him neutered.


Unseasonable with a McIntosh


October is winding down. But the weather remains crazily mild.  We bask in the late-year sunshine, even though it comes with a canary-in-the-coal-mine quality. Our dry, warm weather has resulted in leaf colors more muted than last year, turning later and lingering longer.


As the leaves turn, we have been marking maples along our new woods trail for tapping next spring. The biggest ones are impressive multi-trunked red maples, which, along with a few huge oaks, are the senior generation in our woodlot.


Red maple leaves–three major lobes and, mostly, red.

We have some young sugar maples (the best for syrup) coming along that we will nurture into adulthood.


The sugar maples have a distinctive Canadian-flag shape with five major lobes and turn more yellow and orange-ish than red.

Both work for syrup, although the sugars are queen.


Fall be damned, the flowers just keep on blooming.


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



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

We even have stray butterflies hanging about.


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


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


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


Fortunately, winecaps dry well, so I had the oven on low all day, permeating the house with intense mushroom odor as I dried a winter store for risotto and soups.


Gorgeous set of gills.

The weather also nurtured bumper crops of fruit flies and lady bugs–all of which want to invade our house.  Right now the fruit flies are dive-bombing my glass of wine.  We are besieged.

Our yard and wood trail are covered with fallen wild apples.


Both dogs love them. The dogs have an apple-eating posture, with feet planted wide and heads lifted with a look of concentration as they munch away. It’s a constant battle to keep them from eating too many.  Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any deer lured by the apples. Our game camera shows the usual suspects wandering down the trail–raccoons, skunks, foxes and … a cat.

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Every few nights, the same cat would show up on the camera, although we’ve never seen it ourselves.

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When “missing cat” posters went up in the neighborhood, we called the number and, sure enough, our little prowler was the cat on the poster. The owner set live traps for the cat on our trail for about a week.   I mentioned to George, let’s hope she doesn’t catch a skunk.  Of course, the only thing she caught was a skunk.

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The camera also captures grouse, woodcocks, squirrels and ….

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… Capp inspecting a golf ball long lost from our neighbors hooking it into our woods.

Unfortunately, last week a rabid fox attacked a man out cutting wood less than a mile away from us. So now, when we set out on walks with the dogs, they wear orange tick-vests as protection from hunters and the fall ticks. And we carry bear spray as protection against rabid beasties.  Oddly well-armed.


Aside from putting the gardens to bed and other fall chores, I took on another spinning wheel rescue. I am afraid I have become happily addicted to this activity. I first saw a desolate looking wheel several months ago at an antique store. But the wheel itself had a worrying, drunken wobble and I was pressed for time, so I reluctantly left it after taking some photos. The wheel was filthy with grime, but had a maker’s name–I S McIntosh–and date–1857–stamped on the end.


After a little research, I found that McIntosh wheels were made in Nova Scotia by Alexander and I S and the two likely were father and son, although I S is a bit of a mystery as those initials don’t show on any census records for the area. The wheels are well-made and good spinners.

Although intrigued, I already have three wheels, so had put the wheel out of my mind. But when my facebook feed showed that the antique store was discounting everything to move in new (well, antique-new) stock and their photo showed the wheel was still there–what else could I do? I drove over first thing in the morning and pulled the wheel outside to get a good thorough look. It appeared that she was missing several parts, but that wheel itself wasn’t warped–the wobble likely was due to a bent axle, something I thought was fixable. And so, after negotiating a good discount, she was mine.


Gouges, paint drips, and grime.

These old battered, neglected wheels are strangely like dogs in pound to me, crying out to be taken to a loving home.


There’s beauty under that grime.


Feed me!!

Over the next weeks, I cleaned her up–my favorite task–made new leather bearings for the “mother of all” that holds the flyer, and shimmed the uprights to better align the wheel.


Removing decades of grime.


The uprights that support the wheel were black from more than a hundred years of who-knows-what-grease was used to lubricate the axle.


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


Revealing the beauty of the wood.


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


Cutting new leather bearings for the flyer.



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


The flyer, whorl, and bobbin, with some beautifully spun wool that had clearly been there for decades.

George made a new footman–the wooden piece that connects the treadle to the wheel–and straightened the axle.


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

This wheel intrigues me because of her condition.


Aside from the wear on the treadle, which shows a lot of use, she has unusual wear marks on the spokes and lots of hammer marks.


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




Digging In and Looking Back


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


The first lawn mowing.


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.


The big oak and ring of old apple trees revealed.  


Little orchard with swale and companion plants.


First cherry blossom


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


From this …


… to this …


… to this in a few days.

A plant orgy of sorts.


Maples just budding, with teensy developing seeds.


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.


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


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.


Last year’s grafted trees are ready to transplant.

And my herb garden is flourishing. We are rich.


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.


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



Capp and Henry.

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


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.



May and a Walking Wheel


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


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



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





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


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

In May, the birds and the bees are back.


Rose Breasted Grosbeak


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


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


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


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

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


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


Cold frame is filling up.

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


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


Even our mushroom logs look like they might produce something.


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

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


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


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


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


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


May also brought me a walking wheel.


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


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



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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


More on this wheel later.