High Summer

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When we first moved to Maine, someone told us that for five months of the year, it has the best weather in the world.  He was right.  I cannot imagine more perfect summer days. Warm, breezy, and sunny with enough afternoon thunderstorms to keep everything watered, followed by mellow, thick, golden evening light and then … fireflies.

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

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Last summer was marred by Zoe’s illness and death, so we were not able to really appreciate how magical summer is here. This year is different. The mixture of sun and rain is producing the most magnificent garden vegetables I have ever grown.

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

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

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They especially like to graze on the peas.

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Our flowers are blooming like mad,  becoming so big and crowded that I am going to have to tackle some serious digging and division this year.

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

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

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

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Our new clematis is doing well.

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

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

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Turns out it is a juvenile Hairy Woodpecker.

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Unfortunately, the aggressive male bluebird continues to plague us and seems to have chased off our beloved swallows. He looks a bit disheveled after hours of window and car attacks but nothing seems to faze him.

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He is a gorgeous but such a bully, I’d like to wring his neck. Bluebirds have now joined chipmunks on my “cute but evil” list.

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

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About five acres of our land is wooded and we want to put in trails so that we can cut firewood, tap maples in the spring, and enjoy the woods all year round.

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

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Original loop

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

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New trail

He is now working on one that will run around the perimeter of the property. There are some amazing, huge old trees back in there and a few impressive giant boulders.

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The bees are thriving this year.

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No bees on this bee balm, but I love the double-decker flowers

On very hot days, the workers line up near the hive entrance, lift their bee butts, and fan their wings to cool the air.

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Hive air conditioning

I have a few vegetable experiments underway. I am growing yellow mustard for seed this year. I will grind some and use some to make our own mustard (I hope).

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Yellow mustard seed pods

I am most excited, though, about my small patch of flax. I hope to process it for spinning. It has been maintenance-free so far, with no pests or disease to worry about. And it is sowed thickly that weeds have not been an issue. It’s in full bloom right now and is exquisite, with lovely blue flowers and curving stems.

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It anticipate that it will be quite a job to process the flax. The seeds need to be removed and then the stalks must be retted–a soaking process that rots the hardest part of the fibrous stem. After retting, the tough fiber must be removed through a process of breaking, scraping, and combing, which is called “dressing” the flax.

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My little patch

I’ve been on the hunt in antique stores for old flax processing tools. They have medieval names–hatchel (or hetchel, hackle, heckle), scutching sword, retting tub, and ripple. Most places don’t have much familiarity with flax tools. So, I was thrilled yesterday to stumble on a small store in which the owner broke into a large grin when I asked if he had any flax processing tools. After moving various items off a tiny set of back stairs, we climbed into an attic room where he had a collection of a dozen hatchels.

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The spikes on this hatchel are fairly close together.  If you look carefully on the left you can see scribe marks  for lining up the spike rows.

They resemble torture devices and are used for the final combing stage of dressing. Ideally, several hatchels should be used, starting with wide spacing of spikes to very fine spacing. I was thrilled to bring home two.

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

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Capp had his first birthday.

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He’s an amazing dog.

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Alewives and After Rain

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The weather remained cloudy and cool for most of our daughter’s visit. But we took advantage of one brilliantly sunny day to watch some alewives run.  A nearby town, Damariscotta, holds an annual festival to celebrate the spring migration of alewives–a type of herring–from the ocean to their spawning ground in fresh water lakes.

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Alewives are about a foot long and were a valuable source of food, bait, and fertilizer for the native Wabanaki and early settlers on Maine’s coast.

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Smoked alewives

As with many Maine rivers, the construction of mills on the Damariscotta River in the 1700s obstructed the area’s alewife run.  In 1807, in response to a request from the state, a fish ladder was constructed in Damariscotta Mills, to allow the fish to move upriver alongside the mill race.  Two hundred years later, in 2007, a much-needed restoration of the fish ladder was undertaken. The Alewife Festival raises money for the restoration project.

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The falls at the old mill site.  The metal contraption on the right is a harvesting pen.

Just the name “alewife” makes me like these fish. But the origin of the name is uncertain. One theory is that the fish have fat bellies and resemble fat-bellied women tavernkeeper alewives. I’m not buying it. Other theories are that the name evolved from Wabanaki or old English names for herring.

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The dark area is all alewives

Our first view of the fish was impressive. As we walked over the bridge leading into Damariscotta Mills, a wide swath of river was darkened by a traffic jam of alewives working their way to a gauntlet of seagulls lining a narrows leading to the fish ladder.

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The gull gauntlet

It was fascinating to watch the gulls fishing.

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The gulls swallow the alewives whole, creating bizarre distorting lumps on the gulls’ necks and backs as the fish go down.

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Today, harvesting of the alewives continues.

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Harvesting pen

Most of the harvested fish are used as bait for lobster fishermen, but some are smoked for eating.  The fish ladder itself is a series of pools connected with sloping channels for the fish to swim from pool to pool.

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We followed the ladder upstream, taking advantage of activities for kids along the way that the grandchildren really enjoyed.

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Then we turned around and wandered downhill through Damariscotta Mills

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and visited my favorite fabric store named, fittingly, Alewives Fabrics.

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It was a good day.

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Home again.

The rain returned the next day.

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The cool drizzly days brought on a flush of plant growth.

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The cool-weather garden crops have been going nuts and the roadsides were especially beautiful when the sun emerged after the rain.

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Bringing a spectacularly colorful rainbow.

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We did have a Capp-tastrophe this week when Capp took on a young pear tree and won. It wasn’t a contest, really, he shredded that baby in about 10 seconds flat.

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The shredded remains of the pear tree.

Capp loves to pull up vegetation and roots, so I had been surprised and pleased that he had (so far) ignored are little orchard trees. After he destroyed the pear tree, however, we wasted no time in building little fences around all of our young trees.

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George just built this beautiful arbor for our northern kiwis.  We fenced off the kiwis, too!

Fences make for happy Lab owners.

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We are in full nesting season in the yard.

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Our bird houses are full.  Two have swallows, two have wrens, and one has bluebirds.  I love this time of year.

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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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To the Moon in a Blizzard

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The bad news first.

I lost my bees. It is startling how much we miss them.  They are short-lived, fascinating to watch as individuals, but not something you are likely to get attached to on a bee-by-bee basis (although there is an interesting recent study on bee personalities).  As a hive, however, the bees become a community that takes on a presence of its own.  I cannot help but feel that I let them down.

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I had been worried about the bees since late November when there seemed to be an unusual amount of dead bees in front of the hive and–on a few warm days–the continued presence of drones, male bees that generally are kicked out of the hive before winter.  I could hear the bees when I put my ear to side of the hive and they continued sounding strong until early January, when their sound seemed to lessen. They were eating the supplemental sugar I was feeding. But in mid-January–ominous silence. I continued to press my ear to the hive daily, thinking perhaps I could hear a little buzz, but it was just my imagination.

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On a warm day, I took a quick peek inside the lid and confirmed that the bees were dead. I have several theories as to what happened and may know more when it is warm enough to really open up the hive. Or it may be a mystery. I have heard that that losses have been high in our area this winter. I have already ordered bees for next year.

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On to good news. We have a new pack member. Her name is Grampian To the Moon.

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Alice, for short. She is almost three years old, a yellow lab, who just had a litter and is “retiring” from breeding. She loves her walks, will retrieve until the cows come home, and is an extraordinary snuggler.

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Capp trying to worm his way onto the bed with Alice.

She settled in beautifully with Capp, with–fittingly–a sort of Alice and Ralph Kramden relationship.

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He wants to be the boss, but she knows better.

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Capp at seven months

In predicting how Alice would get along with Capp, Alice’s owner said, “bitches always win.”

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In this case, she was right.  It’s been a joy to watch the two of them together.

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We had two days of sun after Alice arrived.

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Then were hit in quick succession with snow, a blizzard, and more snow.

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Our rarely used front door with the snow piled about a foot high.

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George kept a track shoveled in the back yard so the dogs could go to bathroom, but in the high winds it drifted over pretty quickly.

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The dogs were ecstatic in the snow, racing around the track and leaping through the drifts.  IMG_1609.jpgIMG_1621.jpg

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They were wiped out by the time the sun went down.

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Fortunately, we did not lose power and have been warm and cozy.

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The roads are plowed, the foxes are out, and the days are getting longer.

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Several mailboxes on our road were snowplow casualties. Fortunately, ours survived.

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We had a sudden reminder last week that life is fragile and short. So, we are doing our best to slow down and savor it.

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Good Life

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

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

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

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

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

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The Nearings’ stone-built barn at Forest Farm.

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

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The alpine-style home at Forest Farm.

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

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

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

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I fell in love with the walled garden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A form for building the stone walls.

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The stonework up close.

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

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Every farm needs a yurt.

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

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

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

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Sunrise, Sunset

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As if to compensate for the fading leaves, our late October skies exploded with color. Morning temperatures drew gauzy mists up from the lakes or created fog banks hunkering over the shore.

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The sky became a brilliant contrasting backdrop to the mist and fog, as the sun rolled up over the blue Camden hills.

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We have an unobstructed view of sunrise, but being on the southeast side of a ridge, do not see the sun drop under the horizon at sunset. No matter. We get a show just the same. As the old day heads toward nightfall, colors so extreme as to best be described as lurid or garish light up the western, then southern, then eastern skies. Honestly, this photo looks muted in comparison to the real thing.

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October’s variable weather, golden light, and temperature inversions contribute to these remarkable bookends on the day.

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Typical for this time of year, the weather has been fickle–summery one day, scudding clouds and rain the next, followed by a bit of frost and wintry air.

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The poor honey bees do not know whether to hunker down or get out and forage.

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There are still a few lingering flowers, but the bees go quickly from one to another, finding little on offer.

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Some are still bringing in pollen, however. I fed them sugar water for a few weeks to help them shore up their winter honey supply. I likely will slip in a fondant patty in a week or two, strap the hive down, build a straw-bale windbreak, and the bees will be on their own until early spring.

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Whether it is due to the bees’ pollination, the summer drought, or something else altogether, the fall berries are especially abundant this year.

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The milkweed is bursting out of its pods.

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The geese are migrating so high overhead that we can hear them well before they become visible.

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All kinds of mushrooms are springing up in the lawn after it rains, making me paranoid that Capp will eat some (he eats everything), vomit profusely, twitch a little, and promptly die.

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We continue to put the gardens to bed, and ready the orchard for winter.

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Capp helps cover the strawberries.

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The last of the carrots and beets.

I am absurdly proud of my little orchard nursery. All of the apple grafts that I clumsily attempted at the spring grafting workshop were successful and grew into impressive little apple trees.

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The grafted apples in May.

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The same grafted trees in October.

Next spring we will replant them in various places on the property. We will have more area cleared and ready for fruit trees, flowering shrubs, another vegetable bed, and a sitting area with some scattered perennial and annual flowers.

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Thanks to George’s hard work, the fence is almost finished. It looks like arms enfolding our garden and orchard.

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We still need to do some post leveling, attach the screen, and hang the gates. Once the fence is done, we will start looking for another dog to keep Capp company.

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It has been a busy fall, tempered and bounded by very bad and very good news from loved ones. Grief, happiness, and change all mixed up together. Bring on winter.

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From Capp to Cardoon

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

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

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Capp loves cabbage, beets, and brussel sprouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The hive was surrounded by asters and goldenrod in September

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

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

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

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

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Some flowers linger in the gorgeous fall light.

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

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

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

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

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

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After the spine removal, I peeled them,

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

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

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

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Aaaahh, September

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Until the day dementia hits, I will remember this summer. It was infused with grief over Zoe’s illness and death, while packed with activity and visitors–an odd mix of sorrow and happiness.  It was wonderful to have our scattered family members come here to spend time with us.  We miss them.  So all through August’s hot and sunny weather, we played, ate, and explored midcoast Maine.

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The past six weeks were such a whirlwind, that I was far too busy to do more than take an occasional peek at other blogs. Perhaps it’s a good gauge for me–when I’m too busy for any blogging, I’m just too busy.  It is definitely time to slow down.

Now, as the visiting winds down, we are looking forward to September’s serenity and chill.

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Here’s a taste of August and early September:

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Opening the hive with a granddaughter apprentice (thanks to my daughter for this shot)

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Our other granddaughter looked like a scarlet apparition among these plein air painters

We took full advantage of the Union Fair’s free rides with admission policy.  And the animals were lovely, as always.

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The two smallest on this ride belonged to us.  Fearless.

We explored a few of Maine’s forts and lighthouses.

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Thanks to my daughter for this shot.

We even went to the beach.

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We feasted on garden veggies.

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And took a ferry trip to Vinalhaven.

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We watched butterflies, bees, and birds.

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Our first monarch

 

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A butterfly and hummingbird moth on the same blossom

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It’s almost hard to see the honeybees on these sunflowers, the bees were so packed with pollen

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Everywhere we went on the ocean, we saw sails.  Someday I want to sail on one of these beauties.

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And finally, on the first weekend of September, we brought home a pup.

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Welcome to our world, little Capp.

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Empty Spaces

IMG_3539Zoe’s death left recurring, sometimes unexpected, often random, but always heart-sad, voids in our life. Her absence permeates our daily routines. Her weight on our feet at night in bed, the expectant face as we stirred in the morning, strings of drool as she politely, patiently waited for her breakfast, the intent eyes and head tilt at the slightest sign of an impending morning walk, her serene pose in the shady grass under the apple tree as she surveyed her domain, her joyous enthusiasm for countless daily pleasures (fetch! ride in the car! snow! popcorn! you’re home!), helicopter tail wags of utter pleasure, twitching tiny-bark dreams, and–to the very end–the thump, thump of her tail when we entered the room–all that love–it’s just gone. All those empty Zoe spaces. IMG_2107.jpg
So, what to do. We have never been of the school of thought that it is disrespectful to soon replace a dog with another dog. In fact, in my experience, the only way to really heal from the loss of a dog is to get another one. But, it’s not so easy. We really want another Lab. Although we have had several rescue dogs over the years, it’s hard to find a rescue Lab in Maine. Labs are in high demand here, being the quintessential Maine dog, posing beside fireplaces and Old Town Canoes in countless L.L.Bean catalogs. The few available rescues are imported from southern states and have only a passing resemblance to actual Labrador-hood. And we are serious about taking in a dog–it’s for life, no matter what. We want a good fit. For us and for the dog.

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I don’t want to keep posting  endless Zoe pictures, so am putting in some random shots.

But litters from reputable breeders are reserved for months in advance. We were desolate at the thought of six months or so without a dog. Noooooo!!!! So we have been hoping that people will drop off litter reservation lists. Zoe came to us that way. She had been promised to the Fire Chief of a coastal Alaskan town, but he was about to be divorced and decided not to take her. His misfortune was our gain. Zoe would have loved being a fire station dog (and living on the ocean) so I always felt that we had a high standard to live up to.

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Pinkish Queen Anne’s Lace

All this leads to the fact that we have spent a great deal of time researching potential dogs. It’s time to fill the house with dogs. We believe that we have found a male pup that we can bring home in September. We are going to look at the litter tomorrow. I’m so excited I likely won’t sleep many winks tonight. IMG_3245In the meantime, we are busy. We have visitors throughout the whole month of August, including our children and grandchildren (and a family reunion in Connecticut). We are so full up with visitors, work on the gardens, and dog research, that I have not had the time to even look at other blogs, let alone leave comments. I doubt that I will have any real blog time until September. Forgive me, blog friends.

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Raised beds, corn, tomatoes, and our growing brush pile.

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The gardens are doing fairly well, despite a prolonged drought.

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We dug this swale this spring and now are filling it with rocks. It diverts the water that had been soggying up our orchard area.

It’s been a month of lilies.  A few survived the lily beetles and others grow by the roadside. IMG_3390.jpgIMG_3306.jpgIMG_3296.jpgIMG_3672.jpgIMG_3294We have more vegetables than we can eat and are about to be hit with an avalanche of tomatoes.

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Baby watermelon

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Tonight’s tomato sauce ingredients

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I found two enormous tomato hornworms and quickly drowned them in a soap bath.

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Voracious and bloated-looking.

My herb garden is flourishing, loving the dry weather.

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Herb garden in mid-July.

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Three weeks later (and looking from the opposite direction).

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I’ve been continually harvesting and drying herbs.

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The bluebirds that had been casually hanging around the bluebird house turned out to have had a second brood. The babes never thrust their hungry beaks out the box opening as did the swallows, but, for about a week, we heard them clamoring for food every time their parents approached the box. The fledglings emerged last week and sat upon the box top before taking small experimental flights.

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One of the fledglings.

It was quite different from the swallow babes, who took off like acrobats at first flight, swooping and confident.

Even though it’s been very dry, we continue to have some nectar flow for the bees and the hummingbirds.

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I guess it’s the pistil of the blue globe thistle that curls as it matures.

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No curling on the younger flower.

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Corn doesn’t need bees for pollination, wind is sufficient, but there were some bees on the corn.

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We had a lovely day at Fort Knox, up the coast, with our son’s in-laws, and enjoyed the dizzying views from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory.  IMG_3504

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I love the shapes, lines, and textures at the fort and the bridge.

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The observatory is at the top.

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Happy August. See you in September.IMG_3541.jpgIMG_3649IMG_3724.jpg

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

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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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