Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Morning Walk


Mornings have crept in quietly since the rain of Saturday evening, sounds and colors subdued by the grey fog that rolls through the valley.
The cats are awake early--by 5--and are less than subtle in urging me to arise and acknowledge them.
The layout of the hallway and master bedroom [altered during our renovation] is ideal for cat games with its circular route down one side of the double hallway, through the bathroom, into the bedroom and back into the hall.  There is always opportunity to reverse the direction of the chase, skidding on scatter rugs, charging across the bed.
When the digital clock shows a bright red 6:00 A.M. I creak out of bed, feeling about for my slippers.  My progress down the 14 stairs is accompanied by thumps and bumps as furry bodies plummet down to mill about in the dimness of the kitchen.


It is still misty when I go out at 7. Sounds are muffled. The first tentative rays of the sun are striking the lower farmhouse while up the lane we are still shrouded in the remnants of night.


I pull on boots, a sweatshirt and vest, sling the strap of my camera case over my shoulder.
I have a 'snack pack' in my pocket to see me through to our usual late breakfast.
"I'm walking to the tobacco barn," I tell Jim as he heads out to his workshop.



I crunch along the lane, nibbling the almonds, dried cranberries and squares of cheddar from the snack pack.  
The dry goats are lying close together under the willows, the milking goats and the kids are still in the stable. The barn cats are not in sight.
On the road I meet our Amish neighbor and his son carrying an assortment of tools.
We exchange 'good morning' and I learn that they are headed to a neighbor's to finish construction of a hen house.


Morning glories have seeded along a portion of the fence that separates the tobacco barn from the big pond. These are not the wild convolvulus, with small white flowers, which tangles along ditches and hedgerows.  I suspect that one of my neighbors planted the originals years ago and the ripened seeds were carried to a new location--perhaps by birds, or even caught in the hay fed to the team of Halflingers who were at one time lodged in the barn.
Whatever their source, I find delight in viewing the clear pink blooms mounded on a fence post and trailing through the rough grass.


The night's dew was heavy, still beaded on grass and hedgerow plants.

Goldenrod leans over the fence.

Sunlight, strengthening by 8 o'clock, creates a fragile prism of color over the field of soybeans.


I said only that I was walking to the old barn. I find it nearly impossible to limit my walks to a designated route. 


Jim used the bush hog last week to mow a swath around the field and the path, sun-spackled, 
beckons me.


In the tree-shade which borders the creek tiny mushrooms are growing, encouraged by the damp.
Shaggy heads of Joe Pye weed lean into the path, the vibrant purple of ironweed is a shout of color in the green dimness. 



Water in the creek is still shallow, making for an easy crossing into the back field. The morning's sun has not yet touched the rows of soybeans planted close to the tree line. Green leaves and small brown pods are furred with dew.


A clump of blue flowers huddles against the outer row of soybeans. I ponder the identification: skullcap hyssop--or spike lobelia. 


Rounding the far corner of the soybean planting I note a feather lying in the rough grass.
It is so heavily saturated with dew as to resemble a grey leaf. In the next few steps I find several more, pinching them into a tiny wet bouquet to carry home. 
I am walking now into the sun, feeling its rising heat beat through my layered clothing.
A small pricker has worked itself past the folds of my jeans where they are tucked into my boots, and has lodged, irritatingly in my sock. 
I don't wear a watch, but guess that I've been gone for more than an hour. 
Jim will be wondering if I have keeled over with an unexpected heart attack [after a certain age anything can happen!] or if, more likely, I might have tripped on a fallen branch in my clumsy boots. causing me to limp slowly homeward.
Reluctantly I unzip my now too warm vest, stow my camera in its case, slog along the edge of the field till I reach the lower ford over the creek. I consider taking the track that leads up to the road, but turn to walk parallel to the creek, shaded by the overhanging maple and sycamore. 
The morning glories are still bright on the fence post, but I give them a passing nod and continue, past the barn, out onto the road and the turn into the lane.
The heat of the day is coming on strong, the grass has lost its silver sheen of dew.
Breakfast beckons.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Beauty Shared


Our friends who rent the lower house, [along with the barn and pasture for their goats] have an interesting collection of plants summering on their front porch.
 On Friday I was alerted that a Night-blooming Cereus was in bud and might open as darkness arrived.
The bud remained closed--but I had a pleasant evening sitting in the dusk, hearing the hoot of a distant owl and the rusty chirping of crickets.


Saturday afternoon brought early nightfall after fierce intermittent rain.
I contemplated pulling on my boots and crunching down the lane to check on the plant, although I knew my friends would be out early in the evening.
I had about decided I didn't want to brave the drizzle when B. phoned to report they had returned home and found the cereus opening her petals.


I collected jacket, camera and flashlight, made my way down the lane and across the wet grass of the front lawn.
F. was setting up a floor lamp with a heavy extension cord running from a plug inside the front door.
I had been anticipating something lovely--the beauty of the opening flower in the pool of lamplight was astonishing.


B. and I settled on the porch swing, facing the plant which was now enthroned on a rustic bench.
Small moths blundered against the light bulb releasing tiny clouds of 'fur' from their wings.
Deep-toned wind chimes responded to the breeze with a gentle melody.
Rain dripped from the porch roof, plonking onto an overturned bucket which lay in the grass below the steps. 
Several of the barn kittens visited, swiping at low-flying moths, pouncing on errant crickets.


Almost we could discern the expanding of the petals--or so we imagined.
The throat of the flower widened, pushing the delicate star-shaped pistol and the pale yellow stamens into better view. 
The blossom has an exotic fragrance--sweet, but not cloying--elusive rather than heavy.
It was nearly 11 P.M. when we realized that we must abandon the blossom and call it a day.
I walked up the lane, a train of barn cats escorting me.
Rain dripped from the trees beyond the brook; there was a scent of autumn in the damp night air--a scent of earth and of the fallen leaves blown onto the floor of the porch.
I went to bed full of wonder at the beauty of the rare flower we had enjoyed.
Lovely in itself and the more to be treasured for the unpredictability of its blooming.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Sentimental Gathering of Wildflowers

Coreopsis/Tickseed

Early morning finds the wildflowers along our lane at their freshest and most appealing, before the heat of the day causes the big-root morning glory [Ipomoea pandurata] to crumple into limp folds of spent petals. Many of the wildflowers are old familiars: goldenrod, the dusty harbinger of early autumn in New England; Joe Pye weed, boneset and ironweed which edged the strip of marshy ground in Grampa Mac's west pasture even as they line the fence-rows of our Pellyton acres.

Tickseed

My delight in wildflowers is a direct legacy from Grampa Mac who often paused while walking the short stretch of dirt road between my parents' small house and the farm to cut a rough bouquet with his Barlow knife, binding the whole together with a long stem of timothy. When one of my own earlier efforts at flower arrangement included a stem or two of wild chicory, Grampa removed these with the caution that it was a weed he hated to see invading his hay meadow.

Partridge Pea

Long before leaving Vermont for the move to Wyoming in 1998 I had learned at least the common names of area wildflowers and where to find them in season: the Dutchman's breeches and painted trillium which grew at the shaded bend of Knox Hill Road in late April, the delicate hepatica rising from a cover of winter-sodden maple and beech leaves on the slope beyond the dilapidated sugar house; the autumnal sprawl of purple New England asters leaning over the verge of every back road, tangling with their cousins the small, pale lavender frost asters.

Ironweed, tickseed, 

 During my first summer in Wyoming I purchased a guide specializing in the flowers of the interior west--plants which rush into bloom as the late snows recede slowly from mountain pastures in June.  In the short, high altitude summers wildflowers stage a brave show, starting with frail pasqueflowers and short-stemmed violets which flourish briefly on  sagebrush covered high plains, followed by brilliant balsam root flowing in a yellow tide down a high-meadow slope. In the final frost-free weeks of summer blue lupine and scarlet Indian paintbrush border the roads that climb through the Tetons and the Wind River Mountains.
Spiked Lobelia

Relocation to Kentucky has added new species of wildflowers to enjoy and identify. Sometimes I return from a roadside ramble or a trek through our creek-side pasture with photos that are inconclusive when compared to those in my Audubon guide to eastern wildflowers. Other times I have guessed correctly the broader classification but struggle over the botanical terminology meant to differentiate the placement of leaves on a stem.  I may miss the finer points which should help me discern whether I have collected a 'greater' or 'lesser' variety. 

Ironweed

Big-root morning glory

Ironweed, Joye Pye weed, Boneset

I find joy in each clump of orange butterfly weed, the billowing swaths of tickseed coreopsis.  I pull on my boots to squelch into the woods beyond the stable when wild blue phlox sways beside the rain-fueled freshets of April, cherish the dried cups of Queen Anne's lace standing stiffly above the frosted grass of late November. 


Joe Pye weed


Jim grumbles over the tangles of bindweed and giant morning glory which, along with the ubiquitous honeysuckle, threaten to engulf the fences bordering the lane. While he roars off with the bush-hog rumbling behind the tractor, intent on keeping us tidy, I stroll with my camera, our faithful Willis marching behind. I try to capture the fuzzy lavender- blue ageratum, totter up the steep bank behind the retaining wall hoping for a clearer shot of the recently identified spiked lobelia. I prowl through internet photos wanting to confirm my identification of the partridge pea plants that lurk at the edge of the goat pasture. 


Ironweed

Ironweed closeup

Where ever we have traveled, in each of the diverse places we have called home, I draw upon the qualities of appreciative observation so subtly instilled by Grampa Mac's example. I remember his small bouquets--red clover, yellow or white melilot, an incongruous stem of bluebell, wide-eyed daisies, centered around a single bloom of the old-fashioned cinnamon roses which tangled along the path to the hen house, thorny stem carefully scraped free of prickles before being tucked into the sweet-scented handful.

Wild blue ageratum

Goldenrod

Age will limit the woodland trails I can hike; I am not likely to conquer the complexities of my camera or commit to memory the Latin names of the plants I bring in from my meanderings. I hope I will never grow too diminished to enjoy the abundance of natural treasures that flourish in the seasons of country living.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Cat-ly


The cats have been busy this week.  Bobby Mac decided that there is something living in the woodpile which requires his nearly constant surveillance--especially first thing in the morning. He has parked himself for hours on the concrete pad facing the wall, then after several days took to stomping along the edge. 


Willis has decided that maybe the scene is worth his expert viewpoint.


Nellie joins the detective force, concealing himself in the weeds behind the wall.


We wonder what is hiding in the stacked wood; Jim suggests one or more of the small lizards called 'skinks'.  I suspect mice or squirrels may be checking out a possible winter residence and storehouse.


Perhaps by stomping about Bobby asserts his superior claims to the property!


Keeping watch, staking out a territory is demanding work--sometimes a cat needs a break!


I took my camera when I visited the goat barn during milking on Wednesday.
This kitten is wary of humans.  The few times I've gotten my hands on her, she explodes with frightened hissing. She does join the other cats when B. is milking.  B. talks to her softly, coaxes her with a few squirts of goat's milk put down in a dish.


B. arrived in late winter with 3 female barn cats and one neutered male.
The ladies all attracted local Toms and shortly supplied the farm with kittens.
They have just been fed and are enjoying 'time out' in the sunny main aisle of the stable.


The 4 newest babies are apt to get under foot in the milking area, so B. has provided a large carrier.  If the kittens seem in danger of being trod upon, she scoops them into the cage and latches the door.


Kitten on a mission!


Waiting for more milk.


Getting in the way.


Never mind the goats' feet--we are playing hide and seek.


I am a big boy--I've learned to eat kibble!


A rare quiet moment for Bobby and Nellie.
Our cats have been what my late mother would have termed 'inspired'--boisterous, noisy.
They unearthed a catnip mouse which had been lurking under the fridge and took turns batting it about the kitchen, squabbling over ownership.
Early Friday morning they larruped through the bedroom, circled the hallway at speed, hurtled down the stairs and back up again. 
I wonder sometimes what goes through their collective minds.
I was so misguided as to bring home a small oval rug which I put down in front of the vanity in the master bath.  The rug has been mauled, skittered, repeatedly thrashed into a heap. 
Bobby has draped himself around the edge of the dining table, Teasel takes my chair.
I'm waiting to see if all this wild activity ushers in a change in the weather!


Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Flurry of Small Accomplishments


We had a few days when the high temps registered in the 80's--a welcome change from the searing 90's that have been the norm for many weeks.
Mornings were relatively cool, a time to walk about outdoors.


I tackled the sprawling growth of the lavenders--which should have been pruned back weeks ago.
Several plants have suffered badly from so much moist heat; those I cut nearly to stubs hoping they will revive.
The rugosas along the steps have been clutching at me whenever I walked by. I put on gloves and attacked them with the clippers.
Edward was interested in my labors and kept me company.



You can see the most damaged lavender in front of the little fence.
The rugosas were encouraged by the cooler weather and produced a few clusters of fragrant blooms--which were quickly spoiled by Japanese beetles. 


I knew last spring that I should have culled more of the cockscomb seedlings.
It requires fortitude to uproot anything lustily growing.
The variegated vinca was totally out of bounds--and I did prune that severely in June.
It had clambered out onto the walk, trailed along the base of the porch, rampaged over cranesbill, attempted to throttle the garish petunias which are determined to seed themselves by the 
corner of the wall.
I hacked it off by yard-long streamers.

Cockscomb


It has been pleasant to be out before breakfast, to walk down the lane before the heat of the day swallows up the morning freshness.

Contrails against a blue sky.

The waning moon.


A sparkling web festooning the fence by the dry goats' pasture.


The four nasturtium plants I settled in a big pot in May provided a climbing, tumbling mass of bloom through the sweltering weeks of July. I clipped back the long tired stems hoping to encourage new growth, but the stems went lank and wispy.
Last week I pulled most of them out, leaving a few infant seedlings that have generated from the parent plants.
Nasturtiums give up the ghost at the first hint of frost, so, while cold weather seems far away at the moment, there may not be time for the tiny plants to reach blooming size.

Indoors, during the hot hours of mid-day [and with the A/C blasting cooler air] I have canned a box of tomatoes purchased from the Beachy Amish produce farm nearby. We have usually bought tomatoes at the Mennonite produce auction in the next county, with Jim bidding in 8 or 9 boxes--an over-whelming amount to process at once.
My thought this year is to buy a box or two at a time and make the project a bit easier.

I swept down the walls and shelves of the basement pantry/root cellar and rearranged the canned goods from several years past. 
When sorted into regimented rows I found I had 48 qts of tomatoes on hand.  I would like to put up that many more.
I am reluctant to give up growing and preserving much of our own food, but several factors are forcing me to reevaluate. We don't have a good garden spot on this property, and thus far Jim has not made a priority of the raised beds which would make it more comfortable for me to continue gardening. He is balking at putting more effort into the shady plot at the south end of his workshop.

We have been considering which veg crops are more labor-intensive for what they yield [as in sweet corn enough to freeze]  the green beans [badly damaged this year by Mexican bean beetles]  which must be pressure-canned. 
I will buy locally grown tomatoes [we have been unsuccessful in controlling tomato blight] to can as I have never found commercially canned tomatoes that have anything like the quality of those which I process myself.  Beets, okra, Swiss chard, cantaloupe grow reasonably well 
in our rather heavy soil. 

Working around the tomato canning, riding along with Jim on several outings to collect tractor parts, I still managed to finish two skirts for myself. 
A perennial bugbear of my busy and productive spells is that my mind refuses to turn off at bedtime!
Creative endeavors have a way of sparking my imagination, reminding me of projects still to be finished, shifting my brain into an over-drive that refuses to quit!
Midnight [or later] finds me awake in my comfortable bed, body tired, mind busy with intriguing possibilities. 
I have been tired today--inwardly cross, my only creative accomplishment the four loaves of oatmeal bread now cooled and bagged for the freezer. 

Our extended forecast is for yet another week of  hot weather--too hot for outdoor work.
I have put in my order for 2 more boxes of canning tomatoes. 
There are several sewing/quilting projects in the 'to be finished' pile.
I need to finish transcribing my notes for a genealogy report undertaken for friends, need to continue with work on my own family tree.

I have been fairly successful at restricting time spent reading online about our deplorable election year battles--this does leave me more focused and with more time to work.

I wonder how the coming week will unfold.
Surely I will not be bored!