Transformations

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As usual, summer whirled by.  We took on too much, but are feeling the sweet satisfaction of transforming our slice of hillside into our long-dreamed-of ultimate home.  It feels good.

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George capped off a summer of building projects by finishing the sauna.  He put an amazing amount of time, thought, and work into it.  And it’s a beautiful creation, with gorgeous wood inside and out, nestled in the trees, promising hours of bliss—soaking in heat, hot cedar fragrance, and the flickering light of the woodfire.

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To accompany the sauna, George also built a deluxe outdoor shower.

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Beginnings of the shower (with the dye garden and fleece washing station behind)

There’s nothing like watching eagles soaring overhead while showering.  Getting clean has never been so sweet.

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While George was busy building, the butterflies moved in.

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The Eastern Tiger Swallowtails appeared first

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar–the only time I’ve seen one–the “eyes” and swaying head were a bit creepy

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Black Swallowtail caterpillar

We were besieged by monarchs.  In their caterpillar incarnation they ate our milkweed to desolate skeletons, every tender bit devoured.

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We were fortunate to catch the moment of metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis while the grandchildren were here.

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Attaching to form a chrysalis

I hope it didn’t give them nightmares of alien transformations.

IMG_3205Lots of writhing and pulsing, as a massive chrysalis (where did that incredible hulk come from?) shed the vivid caterpillar skin, leaving a shriveled bit of tissue-paper debris in a matter of minutes.

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Ouch.

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By August, Monarch chrysalises were hanging everywhere—from perennial stalks, siding, windowsills, and even a wheelbarrow.

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As good hosts, we left them alone—no cutting back of perennials or bumpy wheelbarrow rides during chrysalis-hood.  On the final day before butterfly emergence, the chrysalis becomes a deep blue, with wings and colors visible.

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But the actual emergence is very fast—it’s over in minutes.  Although I kept on eye on ripe ones, I kept missing the magic moment.  I finally camped out on our deck steps shelling tiger beans, next to a chrysalis looking about to burst, determined to wait until the moment of emergence.

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After about an hour, there was a sudden twitch and the chrysalis listed to one side.

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Then, in an eerie similarity to the caterpillar-chrysalis transformation, in minutes the butterfly shed the chrysalis and burst out—BOOM—into a crumbled color of wings with an outsized body.

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After a few hours drying, it was off, feasting on nectar for the migration south.

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Some evenings more than a dozen would be dancing over our Joe Pye Weed.

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They stayed well into October.  I hope they made it to Mexico.

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It was a good summer for growing—monarchs, flowers, and vegetables.

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The gardens produced wonderfully and I swear the vegetables get tastier every year.

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Flax

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In the summer, we filled the greenhouse with tomatoes, cotton, a fig tree, passion fruit vines, bay laurel, herbs, turmeric and ginger.

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Passionfruit flower

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Curing sweet potatoes in greenhouse

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Hoping for tomatoes into November

Now it’s also planted with greens for fall, winter, and spring.  I’m looking forward to seeing how much it extends the season for us.

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Sweet Alice

The dogs and bees are thriving, too.  Capp appears to have recovered completely from his mystery illness last year, which is such a relief.

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Capp sunbathing

He and Alice are our best buddies, making us rich in love and dog hair.

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My adopted bees settled in beautifully and are going into fall as the strongest hive I’ve ever had.  I’ll wrap the hive next month and hope they make it through the winter.

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Samuel Morison great wheel

Much of my summer was textile-related—most of it outdoors.

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Gotland fleece ready to wash

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Dew retting flax

I went to two natural dyeing workshops, washed fleeces, spun a lot of wool for dyeing, worked on wheels, grew and retted flax, and taught a class on antique wheels.  In late summer, I set up my outdoor dye kitchen for two dyeing sessions, using plants from my dye garden and our land.

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Simmering goldenrod

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Japanese Indigo–notice the blue tinge to the water

What a range of colors emerged: blues from Japanese Indigo and Woad; yellows from Weld, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne’s Lace; gold and orange from Dyer’s Coreopsis; and green from overdyeing the yellows with the blues.

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Dye day one, Woad, Japanese Indigo, Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace and overdyeing for greens

There’s a wonderful sense of witchy-ness in hovering over a brew of plants transforming them to potions of color.

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Dyer’s Coreopsis

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Dye day two–Japanese Indigo, Dyer’s Coreopsis, with overdyeing and afterbaths of washing soda and iron

I was so busy with outside activities that I had little time for weaving.  In September, however, an antique wheel friend offered to sell me her Leksand loom, a beautiful 19th century Swedish loom for weaving bands.  I was thrilled.

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Beautiful old Leksand–I’m very fortunate to have this loom

They are very hard to find and really fun to use.  It took some time to figure out how to set it up and weave on it–all the helpful books were in Swedish.  I also rescued an old Maine tape loom that had been covered with 70s-era painted flowers and have a line-up of spinning wheels waiting for my repairs.

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Cape Breton wheel needing work

Last week I finally warped up my big loom.

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It’s still too beautiful, though, to spend much time inside.  The leaf colors are spectacular this fall.

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But, winter is coming.

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And I plan to be a recluse—home with George, dogs, snow, wheels, spinning, sewing, and weaving.  And the sauna, of course.

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Pemaquid, Waxwings, and the February Garden

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

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

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

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

October to November

IMG_2871Fall lingers. We had expected a more abrupt transition to wintry weather. Instead, our weather has been entertainingly variable–frosty and winter-like for a day or two, followed by stretches of balmy weather, then slow drizzle, with two wild days of high winds that stripped most leaves from the trees.IMG_3240

Except for the oaks. IMG_3208Their leaves turned well after the maples and, even though it’s November, continue to glow with yellow, rust, and reddish brown. IMG_2878Likewise, the blueberry fields remain brilliant, startling flashes of red on the hillsides.

Blueberry fields and stonewalls.  Iconic Maine.

Blueberry fields and stonewalls. Iconic Maine.

October gave us spectacular sunrises, with cold night air creating dense fog over the lakes and river below us. IMG_3078The fog beautifully dissipated into rising mist as the morning air warmed. IMG_3081Moonrises and sunsets were equally dramatic. IMG_2924IMG_3098As the leaves have fallen, we have even more sky to watch.IMG_3431Our normal quiet has been broken by the seasonal sounds of chainsaws, gunshots, and coyotes. Hunting season is underway and this past week we have woken to middle-of-the-night frenzied coyote howls. We have not seen our fox family in several months and suspect that the coyotes have moved in on their territory. I hope not. We miss the foxes.

Our local wild turkey flock seems to be dodging the hunters and coyotes. We have watched the young birds grow up this summer. Here they are in late August, when they first started coming by. IMG_1384By September 18, the young ones were about three-quarters grown.  IMG_1620Now, they are adult-sized (and still shy and hard to photograph).  IMG_3269Over time the flock gradually decreased in numbers but they have survived pretty well and make quite an impressive crew now that they are all full grown.

Our other bird visitors have increased as fall berries have ripened.IMG_3131 IMG_3235Berries, wild and domestic, abound here–currants, cranberries, honeysuckle, winterberries … the list goes on.

This cotoneaster isn't wild, but planted in our yard.

This cotoneaster isn’t wild, but adds color to the rocks along our yard.

To the dismay of our regular bird visitors, the berries attract flocks of robins, starlings, and grackles that noisily descend, feed, and leave.IMG_3115IMG_3142IMG_3156_edited-1I love the berry colors, especially bittersweet, which is an invasive, strangling vine, hated by many. IMG_3170I also am transfixed by milkweed seeds emerging from the pods and drifting on the wind. IMG_3351I even picked a pod I especially liked that was at an angle I couldn’t photograph and propped it up on a stump to get a shot.

Milkweed posing on stump.

Milkweed posing on stump.

I’m sure the local driving by thought I was raving mad.

Here's the same stump, lower down, with an old electric fence insulator embedded like an eye.

Here’s the same stump, lower down, with an old electric fence insulator embedded like an eye.

Aside from appreciating our first Maine October, we’ve been busy putting the garden to bed and clearing land for our spring orchard and garden plantings. Fortunately, we have our new tractor!IMG_2764

More on the fall work in a later post.

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Nutmegging it

We have been in Connecticut visiting my family for the past week and only now am I finding time for the blog.  It was a bit of a culture shock to be in New England again.  We both grew up here, but have not lived here in a long time.

New England’s towns are old and densely populated, as are those in other parts of the country.  But New England seems to be slower to change than other areas—which is both good and bad.  It has retained regional accents and words (subs are grinders, liquor is bought at a package store, aka a “packy”), and it has its own grocery chains, restaurants, and products.

Grinders

Grinders

On the other hand, it has resisted development more than many other areas and, as a result, does not have a good variety of groceries, restaurants, and retail stores.  And it has crazy-ass drivers on a confusing rural road system that evolved from cow paths.  It’s a unique corner of the country, with a very distinctive look and feel.

We stayed in northeastern Connecticut, which is now called “The Quiet Corner” in tourist descriptions—an uninspiring but apt name.  There isn’t much excitement there–something that has not changed from my childhood.

Very quiet, lots of trees

Very quiet, lots of trees

Connecticut itself is referred to as the “Nutmeg State” because its Yankee peddlers had a reputation for selling phony nutmegs made out of wood.  Apparently the name is a tribute to the peddlers’ “ingenuity” and “thriftiness.”  As someone born and raised in Connecticut, I have always been at a loss to explain how cheating customers was something of which to be proud.  I’ve read another explanation that addresses that concern, which contends that the nutmegs were real but the Southerners who bought them were too ignorant to realize what a nutmeg looked like and thought they were made of wood.  I don’t buy that version. In any case, it strikes me that even for reticent and understated Yankees, no one could think that calling an area the Quiet Corner of the Nutmeg State is going to attract visitors.  Probably just the way they like it.

In many ways, the area looks bizarrely the same as it did fifty years ago.  Some streets have not changed a bit, but have the same houses, painted the same colors (!), and the same small businesses, wearing the same family names out front.  Very déjà vu.  But some things have changed.  There are more people.  And the land has become reforested.

When I was growing up, Connecticut was a schizophrenic mix of aging mill towns—remnants of the industrial revolution’s heyday—and bucolic towns, with white-steepled Congregational churches and town greens, surrounded by rural farmland.  A lot of the farmland had already returned to forest, but there was still a significant amount of open land.  Now the forest has taken over.  Areas that were fields when I was young are unrecognizable–completely covered with mature trees.  Meadowood Road now is meadow-less.  I feel like a geezer–“these woods used to be an open field with bayberries and sweet fern when I was a youngun.”  It is such in-your-face evidence of my age to see that a mature forest has grown up since I left.  Old dog indeed.

Our drive to Connecticut from upstate New York was uneventful.  Once again, we were outrunning storms and it was overcast and windy, but we had some glimpses of the Erie Canal and Hudson River.

Passing over the Hudson with a train going the other way

Passing over the Hudson with a train going in the other direction

We arrived on July 3 and woke up to rain on the Fourth.  Despite the rain, we went to a neighboring town, Willimantic, to see the annual Fourth of July boombox parade, a tradition dating from 1986 when the town couldn’t find a marching band for the parade and they cranked up the boomboxes with band music instead.

It was an entertaining small-town parade, with kids, floats, and fire engines.

A good crowd for the parade even though the rain was coming down

A good crowd for the parade even though the rain was coming down

"Save our wild fish" could be a float from Alaska, although we have more wild fish left to save

It says “Save our wild fish,” which could be a float from Alaska, although we have more wild fish left to save

After the parade, we dried off and enjoyed independence by eating lots of lobsters.

Aaah New England, not wild fish exactly, but worth saving.

Not wild fish exactly, but worth saving and eating.

In the week after the Fourth, we celebrated my mother’s ninety-first birthday and took several day trips.  One day, after giving my mother a tour of our trailer, we headed out for a walk along the Natchaug River and came upon two beautiful restored cars–a 1912 Buick and a rare 1929 LaSalle. The owners had driven them from Manchester, about 20 miles away, at a maximum speed of thirty miles an hour, to enjoy a streamside picnic.  They had restored the cars with great care and attention to detail.  It was a real treat to see and hear about them.

Mom was six years old when this car was built

Mom was six years old when this car was built

Exquisite flying lady hood ornament

Exquisite hood ornament and headlights

I have never been able to come close to my mother’s superhuman energy level. Now that she is ninety-one, we are finally about even.  I am not kidding.  She was gung ho to tackle Gillette Castle on a hot, humid day mid-week.  The “castle” is a retirement estate built by William Gillette (no razor connection) in the early 1900’s.  He was an eccentric actor most well-known for portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage.  His castle vision was weirdly entertaining and had a beautiful view of the wide Connecticut River.  My mother pointed out to the tour guide that the plants in the conservatory were greatly in need of watering.  She was right, and they were soon watered.

One man's vision of retirement

One man’s vision of retirement

As you may suspect from Gillette Castle, stones are one of Connecticut’s most abundant resources.  Fields seem to grow them (one of the reasons the farmers left).  Nutmeggers, being the ingenious and thrifty people that they are, used the stones to build lots of walls and buildings.  The stone walls in the woods are lasting reminders of the fields that used to be there.

Rounded stones in the town hall for the small town of Ashford

Rounded stones in the town hall for the small town of Ashford

One of the Willimantic thread mills--all stone

One of the Willimantic thread mills–all stone

Willimantic has restored the old thread mills for new businesses and brought out the beauty of the stone buildings, which formerly were full of broken windows and always made me think of the miserable working conditions that they likely housed.  In seeking to revitalize the town, Willimantic also brought in an architect for a new bridge in 2000, who designed this thread and frog motif.

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The frogs are a stretch but I like the whimsy

While in Connecticut, we moved from strawberry season to blueberries.  We intend to pick our way through every fruit harvest and did a good job at a pick-your-own farm session with my mother.  It was the first time in very many years that we have not had to keep an eye out for bears while blueberry picking.

A lapful of blueberries

A lapful of blueberries

It continues to be very hot and muggy and there are lots of bugs here—whizzing, attacking, attaching, and crawling varieties.  Zoe took her first swim in a swimming pool, but was a little confused about the steps.

Zoe's cousin dogs are introducing her to new things, including chickens

Zoe’s cousin dogs are introducing her to new things, including chickens