Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Bit Random

I suspect I have become tedious lately--life has been dominated by the garden and its proliferation of green beans, corn and tomatoes.
The drought of July has been broken, and now we deal with frequent bursts of heavy rain.
We went early to the other place this morning, Jim hoping to run the tiller through burgeoning weeds and then mow the grass before the predicted rain reached us.
As has been usual lately, the rain came on before we had finished our work.
Jim dug the first of the sweet potatoes and cut an over-whelming quantity of okra which has suddenly shifted into high production.I set myself to picking green beans [sigh] and peppers, then wallowed in to pull the weeds which have taken over in my cosmos and sunflowers.
[I hate to admit that Jim warned me I wouldn't be able to manage that long strip of flowers!]

 Thursday was one of the nicest days weather-wise that anyone could imagine.
I sat on the porch for a few minutes after J. left for work--enjoying the freshness of the morning, the busy swoops and darts of the hummingbirds, the wisps of fog over the creek burning away as the 
sun climbed higher.
The loud voice of a bird in the maple tree to the right of the porch summoned Willis who immediately took up a vigil, staring up into the branches.

It was an odd sound, a bit like the call of a mourning dove, but louder, more strident.
I fetched my camera, peered intently into the leafy canopy, but could detect no movement. 
Whatever bird landed there apparently didn't choose to linger and come under the scrutiny of Willis.

Since I had the camera in hand I walked around the yard looking for a pleasant scene.
The old barns are just shabby enough to be picturesque.

The ghost of the moon still hung in the blue sky.

I decided to tackle the much neglected perennial strip nearest the drive.
The phlox and coneflowers faded early with the drought. I cut everything back about 10 days ago and with the rain there is now the promise of some September bloom.
In the lower left of the photo you can see the Michaelmas daisies [aka New England asters] ready to put on a show. 
There are some shabby spots in the strip--in part because I have divided plants; my heavy pruning has resulted in a very diminished look also.
The earth was moist enough that the weeds came up with relative ease.
Still, I worked there through most of the day.
This kind of intensive gardening labor is not kind to an aging body!
The lower strip needs to be cleared as well; it has always been a rougher area.
Both strips need a new application of mulch. 

The nandina recovered valiantly from the January freeze; the decorative berries are just starting to show a red tint.

Since Eggnog's passing Edward has been practicing at being a lap cat.
He is so large that he doesn't fit well in my lap and aggravates this by a great deal of turning and shuffling, so that I have to support him to prevent his slithering to the floor in a heap.
When I am at my desk he often installs himself in the bathroom sink, the half-bath being just off this 
small room.
Better there than landing on my desk or overflowing from my lap onto the keyboard.

Nellie has a very mellow personality.
He can sleep for hours on the bed or sofa in positions of utter relaxation.

On the way outside with veg parings after lunch I noticed that 'Wise Portia' had a half-opened bloom held up to the onslaughts of the rain.
The rose hadn't been savaged by Japanese beetles, so I snipped it and brought it inside to enjoy its 
color and perfume.
The ground will be too wet to garden tomorrow.
There are today's garden gleanings to be dealt with.
How contrary of me to be anxious each spring to plant a garden, only to grumble in late summer that I am over-whelmed by its success!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hours Swiftly Passing

I saw Jim off to work this morning, tended the cats, tidied the kitchen.
A quick tour of the front porch showed yesterday's transplants to be in good order--needing only
a gentle watering.
I loaded buckets and baskets into my van, added a change of clothes, and drove to the other place.
There was no sign of the feral cats, but the kibble dish was, as usual, empty.
The water bowl was dry, and has been the case lately, there were crumbs of dirt in the bottom.
I suspect that the resident raccoon is enjoying the cat food as well as whatever dainties it chooses 
from the garden.

I lined the pots of small roses along the back patio, noting as I did so, how well the Double-Red-Knockout roses are doing in their new situation.
One of them was hosting a gathering of Japanese beetles, so I marched back around to the garage to slosh some varnish remover into an empty paint can--I use a trowel to knock the beetles into this deadly solution. 
The Rose Queen cleome by the drive was showing damage from tiny green caterpillars. They are essentially the same shape and color as the seed pods which dangle from the bristly cleome.
The plants are not pleasant to touch or smell--I wonder why the caterpillars brave them.
I located 5 of the nasty little 'worms' after gingerly lifting stems and leaves and squinting intently.

In the vegetable garden both weeds and veggies have lurched into fast growth mode since the 
rains of the weekend.  
The okra which has been languishing suddenly realized what it is meant to be doing, and has thrust up a quantity of green pods.
The pepper plants have taken a new lease on life, each little bush loaded with dark green peppers in all stages of development. 
Blight has finally discouraged the tomatoes, the earliest cucumber and melon vines are spent and 
mottled with yellow.

I snaked the tired vines out into a heap at the edge of the garden, picked the green beans dangling from the latest sown bushes--noting that I missed a few while picking in the twilight of Monday evening.
I yanked up the oldest bean plants, now riddled by beetles and producing only thick misshapen beans.
The garden is still wet enough to coat my boot soles with a thick clumping of reddish mud.
We couldn't get at the long row of beans during the heavy rains.  In consequence many had grown thick and tough.  I leaned over the plants, removing the overgrown pods and tossing them on the ground.
Halfway up the row, back aching, I rebelled.

Collecting my containers of produce I stomped around to the back entry, pried off my muddy boots and headed in to take a much needed shower in the newly refurbished bathroom.
Emerging, clean and freshly garbed, I looked longingly at the wing chair by the open living room window. A glance at the clock startled me:  I had already been working here more than 4 hours--what?
No time to loll in the comfy chair!

It is a strange thing to work alone in the big garden, to trudge in and out of the house which is familiar from our weeks of refurbishing, a space which holds oddments of our possessions, yet is a place where we have not lived.
It is odd to be in a house without the cats!
No furry shapes curled in a chair or lounging on the kitchen counter, nonchalantly eyeing the birds that fly past the window.

I bundled the containers of veg into the van, tossed in my muddy clothing, a routine that has become ridiculously familiar during the past month.
A detour to the shop at the edge of town where Jim is working--to hand over his cell phone which he had forgotten; a stop at Wal Mart [groan] for a few necessities, a quick word with an elderly friend waiting for her ride home.
3 PM by the clock in my own kitchen.  Veggies to haul in and wash;
supper to start for Jim.
At sundown I made yet another trek with peelings and such to tip onto the refuse heap behind the shop.
The boy cats skittered along the drive; at the edge of the freshly mown front field Willis hunkered, intent on some small prey. 
In the pasture across the fence, cows munched, placid in the gathering dusk.
A light breeze stirred my long hair, nipped at the back of my neck.
Behind the barns the sky glowed orange and dusky mauve.

I have a strange unsettled sense of having lost part of the day.
I know where I was, I have the evidence of my labors.
I feel fragmented, in need of gathering myself and my belongings into one place.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

August Days

July blessed us with unusually cool  weather...temps hovering in the mid to upper 80's rather than the expected 10 degrees warmer.
That it was also dry made for comfort--but brought us perilously close to drought conditions.
This weather pattern changed during the first week of August--heat and humidity have since prevailed.
Jim's photo above was taken one morning at sunrise--you can see the shimmer of heat against the trees which border Big Creek.

The nandina along the front of the house was killed nearly to the ground by the harsh cold of January.
I loped it back and hoped for the best.
The shrubs all rallied, putting forth lush new growth.
Here one bush shows a single branch of shiny red leaves.

Finally the rain moved in, beginning with showers on Thursday evening.
The sky grew steely dark, pewter clouds billowed, the wind came up.
It seemed that the over night rain hadn't been enough to deal with browned lawns and drooping gardens.

By Friday night the rains had settled in for a real soaking.
Rain fell in pounding wind-driven gusts.
Tired grass began to green, leaves trembled with their burden of water.
By Sunday there were puddles!
Throughout this spell of rainy weather we continued our treks to the garden at the other house, squelching in mud that clung to our boots, getting drenched by sudden fierce showers as we labored to pick corn and green beans, to rescue ripe cantaloupes from the tangle of sodden vines.
The air was heavy, indoors and out--to step outside was to feel that one had been wrapped in a smotheringly  hot, wet blanket. 
The carport entry and kitchen took on the look of a produce market--baskets, buckets and boxes overflowing with bounty that must be dealt with while in prime condition.
Ranks of filled canning jars--green beans, tomatoes--crowded the table awaiting transport to the basement shelves of the 'other house.'
I find this sort of weather draining.
I am grateful for the A/C which makes the house a refuge after working outside in the thick humidity, thankful for the ceiling fan which whirs in the next room as I stand over a kettle of simmering tomatoes.

As we ate supper on Monday the heavens were rent by lightning, thunder slammed and rattled, rain was loosed in pounding torrents.
When the deluge slackened we headed for the garden, driving through a gloom of green.
We gathered melons, Jim picked sweet corn, I bent over the bean bushes, plucking the best of them.
Jim tucked green peppers, okra, tomatoes glistening with wet, into the containers he was stacking in the wheel barrow. He dug carrots and potatoes.
Still I picked beans in the twilight, seeing them now as dark dangling shapes rather then green.
At home Jim dragged the hose around and in the glow of the yard light sluiced the clinging earth from the vegetables.
Feeling damp, tired and a bit cantankerous, I headed into the basement to store the sweet corn 
where it is cooler. 
To my dismay I noticed water oozing under the door to the back cellar entry--a not uncommon happening when rain comes down in a furious deluge.
The drain outside the door at the foot of the bulkhead steps clogs easily--and I hadn't thought to check it.
Jim had already removed his wet shoes and settled in front of the TV.
I was still clomping about in my wellies so decided I was elected to do at least a preliminary examination of the offending drain.
I bailed muddy water into the mop bucket---lugged two buckets full up the steps and spilled the water down the driveway.
I scooped up a bloated and unsightly dead mouse---a 'gift' which I had noted and neglected to deal with earlier in the day.
Removing the drain cover, I cautiously plunged my hand within, meeting with silt and wet leaves.
At this point I stumped upstairs and demanded help!

Jim resignedly stuck his feet into dry shoes, collected the plunger.  When this proved ineffective, he poked the hose into the drain and ran water until it gave a 'glug' and began to make its way underground to the outlet on the far edge of the front lawn.
There is an inside drain as well, so I fetched an old broom and began coaxing the invasive water in that direction.
I was wet, tired, and grubby--and felt quite ill-used!
A quick shower, a fresh nightgown and a session in my rocking chair, with a book, restored my sanity.

Tuesday dawned with sunshine and a drop in both temperature and humidity.
Still very much 'summer' but bearable once again.
I eyed the buckets of tomatoes with a jaundiced eye, tidied the bedroom and leaving the kitchen to fend for itself, decided to tend the long-overdue transplanting of the herb seedlings languishing on the front porch.
I mixed potting soil, sand and perlite, dragged out a motley assortment of pots.
I lost some of my rosemary seedlings to neglect earlier in the season--when our days were spent refurbishing the other house.
I now have 15 sturdy transplants in various stages of growth.  All are exhibiting the prostrate habit of the parent plant which succumbed to a February frost. 
I still regret my carelessness, forgetting to bring that cherished large rosemary inside on a particularly cold night. It had flowered profusely and from those tiny blue blossoms I have this wealth of seedlings.
[What I may do with 15 rosemarys, I have yet to determine!]

Four of the biggest rosemarys in their new pots.
Gina came up trumps with pots she gleaned from a yard sale.

I started thyme by the simple expedient of dumping a whole packet of the tiny seeds onto the soil mix in a smallish pot.  I think every one germinated.  They have been over-hanging the pot for several weeks, crying for attention. When I have bought thyme plants I noted they are usually poked into the sales 'cubes' in wiry clusters of three or four.  The stems are so thin that I decided on this method. I expect that I will lose a few, but there will likely be more than I need--to plant at the edge of an herb garden which at present exists only in my dreams!

Lavender also was bursting from small '4-packs' and a collection of flimsy plastic pots.
[Can you tell we recycle every possible nursery container?]
I ended with 15 rosemarys, 10 lavenders, and a gaggle of potted thyme which I did not count.

I tided away buckets of soil, rearranged geraniums and begonias; shook out the damp rug at the edge of the porch, bundled the throw on the wicker loveseat downstairs to the wash.
I swept and tweaked, stood back to admire the tidy porch.

I nibbled a cherry tomato or two as a reward for my labors,
and set off with spade and pots to rescue several Therese Bugnet roses which have popped up in the path of the lawn mower, running out from the parent plant.
It was noon and the sun was hot.
I dug up two of the rose babies and was carrying them to the shelter of the carport when I heard 
the phone shrilling.
I ducked into the house, snatched the receiver with a muddy paw.
The caller identified himself as an assistant to our real estate agent.
He had received a request for a viewing of our property 'in about 2 hours!'
A realtor from a firm in the next county had been asked to view on behalf of an out of state client who had seen our listing.
I managed not to squawk in dismay!
With a bit less than my usual coherence I spluttered that the kitchen was a mad jumble of garden produce
and the carport lined with a clutter of containers holding yet more veggies waiting their turn for attention.
The young man was soothing, assuring me that everyone's kitchen looked the same in August.
"Do you want to postpone the viewing?"
I collected myself, managed to sound coherent.
'No," I replied, with what I hoped was a tone of calm optimism.
" I doubt I can have the house as tidy as I like for a showing, but if you will warn your client of that, I'll do my best to have it presentable."
I hung up and stared for a long moment at the messy kitchen, mentally assessing what needed done in the rest of the house.
I decided to phone Jim at work and let him know that someone was coming.
He was on his noon break.
"Do you want me to come home and help?"
I left that decision for him to make, and tackled the mounds of produce.
I had assembled the various containers more neatly in the carport and was wiping down kitchen counters when Jim arrived.
[He has for the past three weeks been assisting a friend who has a backlog of tractors to repair.] 
He had managed to bush-hog the tall grass of the front field between showers on Sunday.
Now he roared about mowing the lawn.
I bundled things away in rather desperate haste: an over-flowing pile of papers crammed into a buffet drawer; a tipple of books by my rocking chair quickly straightened; bathroom floor and fixtures quickly swabbed.  I raced downstairs and stuffed a load of laundry into the washer, giving thanks that I had dealt with cat litter boxes early in the day.
I flicked a clean checked cloth over the dining table, set the small vase of rosebuds in the center.
Jim wielded a broom through the kitchen and hallway, then descended to do the same in the now seldom used downstairs room.
I pegged out the wash, scurried about hiding away small oddments.
I dared not risk a shower on borrowed time, so settled for washing my face, brushing my hair and whipping on a clean shirt. 
We surveyed the house, decided it would pass muster [as long as no one opened drawers!] went outside to admire the tidy front porch and gloat over the newly trimmed green lawns.
I made a pitcher of iced tea--and we sat down to wait.
We had begun to think that our efforts had been for naught [this has happened before!]
when a smart Mercedes coupe stopped in the lower drive.
A man emerged, pointed a camera at the front of the house, then drove slowly up.
He shook hands, gave us his business card, explained that he was viewing several properties in the area for his out of state clients--who wanted a retirement 'hobby farm' in a warmer climate than their native Minnesota.
He was a personable fellow who trekked eagerly up the path to exclaim over the lofty structure of the barns, the beauty of the surrounding quiet fields.
When he came inside the cats all decided they liked him and formed a bustling escort as we went from room to room.
The realtor spent perhaps 45 minutes with us; he was gracious and complimentary.
A showing that goes well does not, of course, guarantee a sale!
We have learned from past transactions that a potential buyer usually makes contact in less than a week.
We have done our part---the timing of an eventual sale is not in our hands.
We looked about after the realtor's departure, noting with satisfaction that the place looked both 
tidy and homey.
I felt suddenly tired and rather unwilling to immediately disrupt the clean kitchen by making supper.
Our buckets of produce not-with-standing, we decided to go out to eat!
It has been a long--and productive--day.
Tomorrow Jim will return to work at the tractor shop.
I will deal with the buckets of tomatoes.
I will likely trek over to the garden to haul home yet more produce!

Friday, August 1, 2014

This Garden May be the Death of Me!

Daughter Gina and I have been trekking to the 'other house' every other day to pick whatever produce is ready. This was our haul on Tuesday.
With two of us working this takes 2-3 hours.
Then there are beans to snip and can, tomatoes to stew and can.
In between I seem to be reduced to witlessness!

First picked of the watermelons weighted in at 27.4 lbs!

Every counter in my small kitchen groans with heaped up produce.
Ripening tomatoes need to be set on trays or with newspaper underneath. The odd one turns weepy and smelly when I'm not looking.

Thursday morning's garden gleanings.

I hoisted this watermelon and staggered with it to the shed where Gina helped me lower into a wheelbarrow.
W have been giving away produce--handing out canteloupes, offering tomatoes and cucumbers, pleading with friends to have a few green beans.
I'm aware of the truth we reiterate--that it is lovely come winter to browse the basement shelves and bring up all manner of canned goods to make a meal--but at the moment I am more impressed with my creaking back as I pick the long rows of green beans.
Surely next year we must plant in moderation!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Long Distance Hugs

The kind messages and 'virtual hugs' from my blog friends and Face Book friends have warmed my heart today.
As I have written before, there is a kinship amongst those who love animals, who delight in having pets to share their space.
When we post the amusing [or exasperating] stories and photos of our cats or dogs or horses, we know that others are relating-- chuckling over acts of mischief which we recognize all too well, delighting in the cleverness of an animal we will never meet in real time.

And when a friend loses a dear one we grieve with them. Tears well up and we are quick to send words of sympathy, because we have been in that painful place and know that we will be 
there again.

I have noticed previously that when one of my cats dies, the other felines in the household are aware.
They cannot articulate in words and perhaps their feelings of loss or change vanish far more quickly than ours.

In most cases they notice that one of their number has been taken away in the cat carrier--and that the carrier returns empty.

Teasel Cat was solicitously concerned for Eggnog in the days of her decline.  She spent much time hovering nearby, often staying beside her for hours in the bed atop the storage bin.
After we buried Eggnog I removed the towels and old blanket from the top of the bin, put them into the wash.
I swept the floor, wiped down the bin and folded a fresh piece of fleece material on top.

It was after 11 PM when I finished canning the green bean harvest of the day. I had tidied the kitchen and was headed along the hall to the bedroom when I realized that the light was on downstairs. For the 18 days of Eggnog's residence downstairs I had left on a florescent light--day and night.
Having the light on made my frequent forays downstairs safer and simpler. Also, perhaps unreasonably, I didn't want to leave my cat in the dark.
Teasel followed me down the stairs.
She walked to the bin, sniffed the clean blanket, prowled about, returned to the bin where she had so recently kept vigil over Eggnog.
As she paced back and forth, she'talked' to me--seeming to ask, 'Where is she?'
Several times today I have found her sitting half way down the stairs. Was she waiting for her friend to return?
I think that by tomorrow the feline ranks will have closed, their skittishness will subside.

My own sadness reaches out today to encircle my older grand daughter who lives in Colorado.
Her rescue cat, Captain Eugene Breakfast, keeled over dead this afternoon while being chased through the house by his jealous housemate, Smokey.
We support each other--with our tears, our words, our hugs, we who are 'foolish' about our animals.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eggnog, April, 1998-27 July, 2014

More than 2 weeks have passed since the strange episode which marked the downward spiral of Eggnog's health.  I have been in awe of that vital spark which has kept her alive and alert seemingly with no nourishment.  She accepted strained meat [baby food] from me, a teaspoon or two at a time, during the last week.  She was less interested in it on Friday evening, and when I went downstairs on Saturday morning I saw that she had vomited. 
I sat by her for more than an hour on Saturday evening, lightly combed her matted fur. Her eyes had a bit of gummy residue at the corners; she objected slightly when I used a tissue to dab it away.

Each morning I have gone downstairs as my first duty of the new day.  Each day I have been braced to find a still form on the well-padded storage bin which Eggnog chose as her special place when she became feeble.  Incredibly, my little cat continued to greet me, indicating that she would welcome my attentions.
This morning I noted immediately the change which I have both anticipated and dreaded.
Eggnog raised her head when I spoke to her; her 'merouw' of acknowledgement was faint.
I lifted her and held her with one arm against my chest while I straightened the layers of soft towels and blankets on her bed.
Perching on my makeshift stool by the bin I cradled her in my lap.
After a moment she turned to curl up on her bed.
Her eyes were dull. For the first time she seemed not to enjoy even the lightest touch of the fine-tooth comb on her shabby fur, so I laid it aside.
Sitting there, touching her gently, crooning to her, I felt that the vital essence of her was gone.
Her eyes were closed, her breathing uneven.
She didn't seem to need me.
Jim came downstairs to tell me that we must go to the 'other house.'  Storms were moving in and there was garden produce to pick.
He bent to pet Eggnog's head.
Alone with her for a last few moments, I curved my hand around her fragile sides.
"Go to sleep," I told her. "I love you, Eggnog--go to sleep."

We were away about 2 hours--the downpour caught us as Jim attempted to mow the lawn.
I stayed in the garden, drenched to the skin, picking green beans.
Jim had managed to gather cantaloupe and tomatoes before the deluge.
I changed into dry clothing while Jim loaded buckets and baskets of produce into the trunk of his car.
The trip from one house to the other is about 15 minutes.

It has become my routine in the past two weeks that when ever I have been out of the house for a bit, on returning I go directly downstairs to check on Eggnog.
I was not surprised to find that she had died while I was away.
I was distressed to see that she had slipped off her bed and was lying on the floor.
Common sense tells me that she could have fallen even had I been in the house--unless I had been sitting beside her.
 I wish I had been there. 
I can only hope that the final struggle for breath was quickly over.
Her little body had started to stiffen, but I was able to gently tuck her feet into the folds of the soft old T-shirt of Jim's which I used to wrap her.
I began to fall apart a bit when I realized that the 'grave' I had readied two weeks ago now held water from the night's rain.
'Where can I put her?" I asked Jim, feeling frantic.
He suggested the edge of the garden, but then went off to look at my spot behind the hay barn--the same place that I buried Mrs. Beasley two years ago.
Jim came back to assure me that he had dug the hole deeper, into dry soil.
I laid in the bunch of mint and nepeta that I had ready and returned to the house to carry my cat for the last time. Thunder muttered in the distance, the sky was lowering and a hot fretful wind fanned my 
tear-streaked face.
I could hear Jim walking behind me, but didn't turn.
I laid Eggnog in her soft wrappings on the layer of fragrant herbs.
Jim put his shovel into the pile of earth.
I turned away, voice breaking.
"I'll bring stones to cover the dirt."
I chose several of the large flat rocks that once edged Mr. Rogers' flower bed behind the garage.
I met Jim crossing the back yard, shovel over his shoulder, looking bleak.
"Imagine," I croaked, 'Those pioneers on the westward journey--a child or family member dead on the way and they could do no more than we have done for our cat!"

My heart is sore tonight.  I know that the loss of a pet in no way compares with the death of a loved person.
It is a particular kind of sorrow, a loss of companionship, the breaking of a deep and special bond.
I ache with unshed tears.
I know from past painful experience that to open the floodgates of grief--any grief--is apt to have a devastating effect--that old sorrows, other loses, other partings, may all roll in compounding the 
present misery.  
In time I will adjust to the knowledge that Eggnog's cherry "Merouw" will not greet me in the morning.
I won't be making room in my lap for her, moving my book to one side as she settles, purring, to keep me company.  Winter will not find her stretched in blissful warmth on the hearthrug.
We were blessed to make a home for her for 16 years.
"Sleep well, my Eggnog, sleep well."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Beetles, Be Gone!

CM editor Ed Waggoner's tongue-in cheek intro says it all.
Jim's better beetle buster went a bit viral on Face Book last evening with family and friends eager to try his remedy.  I'm off to concoct one for the 'other house' garden.

Columbia Magazine