Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bluebirds

We were delighted to discover shortly after our move in late March that this is an area where the Eastern Bluebird thrives.
Bluebirds were seriously threatened during the years that DDT was in regular use.

Bluebirds were not rare during my Vermont childhood, but sightings of them were infrequent enough to be remarked upon.

A regular feature on our breakfast table when I was a child was a can of Bluebird Orange Juice.
The paper label had a chirpy line-up of cartoon bluebirds: Papa [with a necktie] Mama bird [apron] a Sister and Brother bird with appropriate props and Baby Bird with bonnet and bib.
Each morning I stared at the juice can birds, sounding out the words printed below each little picture.
I sipped at the orange juice, wishing that the taste could live up to the attractive packaging.
{Not that I could have articulated this thought at age 4, but I knew I was hoping for anything that would make the juice go down smoothly, since my Mother was determined that it was necessary for the health and well-being of her family.}
The fact is, orange juice, regardless of the brand or variety doesn't agree with me--nasty, burpy, acid stuff--and not improved by living on the refridgerator shelf overnite in the opened tin can!

Our dooryard bluebirds kept to themselves during the long hot summer.
It has been a pleasant surprise these past two weeks to find that a whole family of them is still very much a presence.  They have seemed interested in the birdhouse which J. installed in the unidentified tree in the front yard [the one occupied by a tree swallow during the summer.]
The birds have clear sweet voices and their trills follow me as I walk to the barn to visit the kittens, or work in the garden.

Bluebird sunning on the electric wire near the magnolia tree.
I don't know how long they will stay with us as cold weather comes.
A quick internet search suggests that bluebirds feed largely on insects, a diet which can be supplemented in winter with soaked and softened raisins, and "mealworms" available from on-line suppliers.
The variety of shrubs planted around our house suggests that the previous owner was a bird-lover who chose many plants producing winter berries and seeds.
Does it stand to reason that birds who accept plumped raisins might adapt to the fruits on offer?
We have rose hips, nandina berries, poke berries, grapes which dried on the vines---what more might a bluebird want?




Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wind

The weather has been restless since Sunday. Sweeping winds, blowing leaves, grey clouds
rushing across the sky and then parting to let in an almost feverish sun.

Although the snap of the camera's shutter freezes a view in place, the leaves are anything but a quiet carpet of gold. The wind lifts them in swirls and they rise to spin with those being swooshed from the branches of the maples.

Drifts of leaves lie in front of the porch as the wind is blowing from the south.

One yellow leaf.

Caught a second later as it lifts in the wind.

These stems of cornflower were whisking in the wind, swaying and bobbing.

The stiff stems of the monarda are unbowed.

Leaves dance across the back yard.  I have swept them out of the outside cellarway for there is a storm drain at the bottom which needs to remain clog-free in the event of rain with the wind.

Leaves caught in the box hedge outside the bedroom window.
Chester, the skittery cat, watches the effects of the wind from a safe windowsill.

A rugosa leans away from the wind.

Willis chases leaves--there are too many and he is distracted by the possibilities.


                                                      Sally, an autumn-colored kitten.

Leaves are caught in all the border plants.
While we slept through the gusty night, pears dropped from the old tree.
I am headed down the field to pick up such as have not been smashed beyond use.
The sky is darkening.
J. has been keeping watch of the Dopler weather map via his computer.
We've had phone calls this morning from family in WY wondering if we are in the path of the very fierce winds and torrential rains which have thus far stayed north of our area.
The wind draws me outside where I bend into it, my face whipped by hair that cannot be secured even with two elastic bands and two barrettes.
Elemental. Way beyond our knowing, let alone our control.
Wind---restless, portentious, dramatic, just on the edge of fear.

I've just pulled out a favorite old book, the first of the "Eliot Trilogy" [A Bird in the Tree] by English author, Elizabeth Goudge.
An autumnal storm sweeps in at the climax of the story, set in Hampshire, a place I have never been, but the portrayal of the storm is almost universal in feeling.

"The warm, still blue days, and the quiet nights bright with the harvest moon, had left them.  There was a fresh south-west wind today and brilliant masses of sunlit cloud passed like a pageant before it, their shadows sweeping the earth beneath them. Far up, beyond and between their mighty shapes, stretches of sky shone like aquamarine and crystal, cold and tranquil.  The distance was hard and clear, a brilliant royal blue, and the nearer landscape a flung quilt of colour with the bright emerald of the well-watered pasture lands, the pale buff squares of the shorn cornfields, the dark swaying masses of the trees and the cottage gardens blazing with their dahlias and hydrangeas."
And a few pages on: "He got up and went outside and wandered up and down the grass verge of the steep little road between the cottages.  The wind had risen a good deal and the sky was packed with hurrying grey clouds.  The smoke from the cottage chimneys was tossed and torn as soon as it emerged and the donkey's fur was blown up edgeways.  David noticed that the sun, seen now and again between the hurrying clouds, had a halo or wheel around it.  At Little Village they had a saying,
The bigger the wheal,
The stronger the geal.
"There's a gale coming, " thought David.  "Curse it. The end of our fine weather."

The sky to the south just moments before noon CDT.

I'm heading outside in a few minutes into this strange, warm, windy afternoon of mystery and restless movement.
Since I plan to pickup the wind-fall pears, a hard-hat might be advisable.
I'd love to know if some of my readers have favorite passages of prose or poetry which capture the portents of stormy weather.

Later: gathering the windfall pears will have to wait.  As we prepared lunch, rain rushed in and within less than a half hour the temperature had dropped nearly 20 degrees. The wind switched right around to the north. The air is still now, the trees have stopped flailing and beyond the streaming windowpanes a misty dark afternoon hovers.
It has been time for a mug of tea, the familiar old book with its gentle family story. My lap has been crowded with Maisie and Charlie contending for space.
In lieu of picking up pears I think I need to make something richly chocolate.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Images of Autumn in Kentucky

On the 10th of October we drove to Falmouth, Kentucky, where J. bought a vintage John Deere crawler.
Our route took us through an area of wealthy bluegrass landowners--horse people with legendary
 thorough-bred stables.

The horse properties are surrounded with miles of fencing--often double-fenced as in this view of stone wall backed by plank fencing.
Some of the homes are lovely old mansions, meticulously kept; others are modern monstrosities with oddly jutting gables, crenelated bits sprouting from a roofline, gothic windows, lacking in any beauty of line or symmetry.

It has been even drier in the northern part of the state than here.
Many lawns were brown and crisp, leaves had colored and fallen early.

At home the barn kittens thrive. Willis presents a hazard underfoot, appearing as soon as I step outside the house in the morning.
He wanted praise for this mouse, which in true cat fashion he tossed and batted.
{It was very dead by the time it was displayed for my admiration.}

The window above the kitchen sink looks directly into this maple tree.
When the sun shone through the colored leaves the effect was dazzling.

The glory of the colored leaves lasted only a few days.
Wind has stripped the leaves from the tree and they lie curled and dry, scattered over the back lawn.
Willis seems to enjoy appearing at the dining area sliding door.
Charlie's reaction is dramatic--he hisses and puffs, flattens his ears.
Willis is quite undaunted.


No one has been able to identify this shrub for me.
Its spring flowers were tiny and insignificant.
As the leaves have turned to this bright scarlet I've concluded that the shrub must be valued mainly for its fall color.

Rose--Double Red Knock-Out.
This is a popular landscape rose in this area.
With the cooler weather roses are reviving for late bloom.
I think these may need to be moved to a spot that gets sun for more of the day.
I planted them along the east-facing wall of the old garage.
They were in competition with the sunflowers for much of the summer.

These Michaelmas daisies have come into bloom in the perennial border as the several earlier varieties have faded.


Broccoli and cabbage planted at the end of August are thriving.
I gave them one powdering of sevin dust and there has been no damage from cabbage "loopers."

I look at this spill of leaves and remember raking huge piles of maple leaves as a child.
We heaped them into high drifts, ran and jumped into them--endlessly. I  recall reclining in maple leaves up to my neck, dreaming the hours away, looking up at a bright October sky seen through the mesh of dark bare branches.

Nandina berries.
The nandina appears to have appreciated the severe pruning I administered in the late spring.

The pods [or cones?] on the magnolia tree.
A last glistening blossom graced the top of the tree this week.

That nameless yellow flower in what remains of a hedgerow.


The dried stems of blue vervain.

We've not identified the few straggly trees which were left when the hedgerow was bulldozed last year.
Sycamore?

Seedheads of that yellow mystery flower.
The flower looks like the illustration for tickseed in my wildflower book, but the seeds don't seem as barbed.

Evening primrose growing along the ditch behind the barn


A harvest of kale being inspected by Teasel who announced that it smells odd.
We decided that we should have cut it when the leaves were smaller.

White snakeroot [?]
We are grateful for the mild autumn after the seemingly interminable heat of July and August.
Mornings and evenings are cool, warmed indoors by a blaze in the fireplace.
Afternoons are mellow, muted, too quickly chased into twilight as the sun slinks off behind the woods which deliniate our western boundary.

Videos for the Techinically Challenged




I went outside late this afternoon to empty the vacuum cleaner resevoir which was clogged with [any guesses?]  CAT HAIR!
I looked up to see Pebbles thundering around the pasture, tail in the air, hooves flying.
She circled the barn, reversed, ran down to the garden fence, and with a great flourish and snorting like a steam engine, spun on her hooves and roared back toward the barn.
By the second turn around I had found the camera, but darned if I had ever used the video function on the thing.
I got it into the correct mode, but didn't realize that every time I touched the shutter I turned off the recording. It was working exactly the opposite of how I imagined.
So here we have a few seconds of utter silliness as demonstrated by an aging horse.
Neither J. nor I have any idea what set her off.
To view the videos from the blog it appears that one must click on the "read more" option.
I daresay I should confine my efforts to something less challenging than uploading a video.
Yes, I know--my grandkids can do it!
video

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Made with Milk!

Dory's milk has been accumulating at an alarming rate.
J. delivered a gallon of milk to Yoders on Monday morning and on Monday afternoon he and Joseph installed Dory in their pasture.
This morning Delilah phoned to announce that we needed to bring home more milk!
We fetched home about 7 qts.
I skimmed cream from the glass gallon jars which have been sitting in our fridge and set the cream to ripen in our new hand-cranked churn.
I tried to recall the procedure used years ago when I regularly made yogurt.
Browsing the web I learned that the latest thing is to make yogurt in a crock pot.
I've just taken the trial batch from under its nest of heavy towels--you can see where we spooned a taste.
Good stuff--cooling in the fridge to serve with fruit in the morning.

J. volunteered to crank the churn--while watching Fox News on his laptop.
I like the juxtapostion of the old and new technology.
J.'s Grammie H. demonstrated the art of making cottage cheese when we stayed with her as newly weds--so many years ago.
Tomorrow I'll see if I can produce an edible batch.
I hope J. and I are not about to turn into "butterballs" with all this milk and cream!


The Amish School Benefit Fish Fry

Last Wednesday evening Joseph Yoder phoned to ask if J. could convey him to Glasgow on Friday morning to fetch the bent-hickory rocking chair which was being raffled to benefit the little Amish school.
J. decided he could do that.  Joe was planning to work a half day at the furniture factory and made arrangements for J. to pick him up at 10:15.
If you've read my previous posts you may recall that on Friday morning we were transporting [and then chasing] Dory the Cow.
With Dory secured J. flung himself into the car, headed down the road to Yoders, expecting that the round trip to Glasgow would take about two hours.
He returned in less time than that and reported that he had been carting Joseph back and forth to the so-called "Sportsman's Club" building a few miles away--with loads of miscellaneous chairs which Joe had rounded up.
There was a Harvest Festival in town that afternoon and our favorite southern gospel group would be featured between 3:30 and 4: 30.
J. felt sure that he could still make the trip to Glasgow and be back in time to go into town.
While he was eating lunch, Delilah phoned to say they were waiting on him for transport!
J. replied patiently that he would be there as soon as he finished eating.
There had been a delivery of fresh apples to the Amish sawmill just above the clubhouse and we decided that we could drop our passengers at the clubhouse, pick up apples, bring me and the apples back home before J. and Joseph headed to Glasgow.
It was with a smidgen of dismay that I realized we were moving all the Yoders except Joseph to the clubhouse!
Delilah emerged laden with bags and bundles. 
Elizabeth and Caroline came down the steps carefully holding boxes and the three little boys followed arrayed in identical clean shirts [green] and wearing miniature straw hats.
The girls arranged themselves on the back seat of the car beside their mother, the two older boys climbed into the hatch area of our Rav 4 and hung over the back of the seat.  Toddler Ephraim was hoisted into his mother's lap.
"We have to drop the baby off to be watched," said Delilah, "I can't get anything done with him underfoot at the clubhouse."
She directed J. to an Amish home a few miles down the main road.
Ephraim, along with a brown paper bag of toys and diapers was unceremoniously handed in.
"Did he cry?" I asked Delilah when she returned to the car.
"Oh yes, but he'll get right over it."
Pulling up at the clubhouse we recognized vehicles belonging to several of the locals who regularly ferry the Amish about on their errands.  Joseph was striding about directing the unloading of various bits of equipment.
We discovered that one of the rear doors of the car would only open from outside.
"I think there are childproof locks", I told J.
Not having children, we've never fussed with them.
Joseph marched over and dealt masterfully with the child locks while I chuckled inwardly at the irony of the situation.
Delilah beamed proudly, "It takes Joe to figure out things like this, " she stated.
Joseph seemed in no hurry to depart for Glasgow and I began to sense that our own plans for the day were slipping away.
After 20 minutes of everyone milling about, Joseph suddenly announced his readiness to be underway---with the two older boys.
I decided I wasn't up for a two hour ride with two bouncy boys.
"Is there time for you to take me home?" I asked J.
J. doesn't like dawdling, unless he is the one doing it.
He suggested I stay at the clubhouse.
This proved to be rather entertaining.
As J. drove out, a double buggy pulled in at a smart clip.
This proved to be Eli Hershberger with his wife and a daughter.
Mrs. H. clambered down carefully holding a tiered wire stand filled with pies. Eli delved behind the seat and began handing out packages: boxes of gently thawing fish fillets, covered bowls, bags containing paper plates and plastic cutlery, then he was off again with a flourish.
As if on cue several more vehicles pulled in and spilled out parcel laden women and girls.
All around me was a soft chatter of German.
Girl-children milled about ranging in age from bonneted toddlers to young teenagers who were set to minding the babies.
There was an air of mild excitement among the ladies as they bustled about, working together with a quiet, practiced efficiency to cut pies, slice cakes.  I held one end of the plastic wrap while another woman stretched a length of it to cover the dessert offerings.
Another family arrived with a bevy of young women dressed variously in brown, navy blue, grey. Huge bowls of coleslaw and pans of baked beans were lined up on a serving table.
I was called upon to give advice as the ladies studied the unfamiliar electric stove--where should the oven be set for warming rolls?
Elizabeth, Delilah and Joseph's second daughter swooped at me, grabbing my arm with sticky warm hands.
"How old are you?" she demanded.
[I am in my 60's and admitted to that.]
"That's awfully old!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," I agreed, "Much too old to be chasing the cow!"
[The Yoder children had been much amused at the tale of Dory's arrival.]
A few munutes later Elizabeth was at my side again.
"You don't look that old, " she assured me.
"Oh good," I replied courteously, "I'm pretty busy, maybe that keeps me young."
Elizabeth pondered this, looking across the room at one of the men who had been transporting people.
"Mr. P. doesn't do anything and he's very old and fat.  You're not fat!"
More folks of the Amish community were arriving. Eli reappeared with a hand operated cash register, a box for raffle tickets. Another gentleman, pushing his straw hat back from his home-barbered fringe demanded, "Where is that rocking chair for the raffle?"
Since no one else seemed to be paying attention, I stated that my husband had taken Joseph to fetch the chair. He gawked at me in surprise and I wondered if women, Amish and Englishers alike, were not meant to pipe up unless requested to do so.
A glance at the wall clock confirmed my suspicion that we were not going to make it into town to hear the gospel concert.
When J. finally returned with Joseph, two little boys and the chair, I said to him that we might as well run home, check on the cow and put on clean clothes to attend the fish fry.
Elizabeth and Caroline were instantly at our side, begging to go with us "to see the cow."



At home we took turns hastily changing into fresh clothes.  Elizabeth and Caroline asked for drinks of water.
They were rather shocked to find that we had cats in the house.
The Amish do not keep cats and dogs as pets and they are not tolerated indoors.
"Take a picture of the cow," the girls clamoured.
Dory, calm after her morning exertions, obliged.
[When we returned to the clubhouse the little girls, bustling with importance, towed me off to display Dory's photo to their father and brothers.]

Bringing up the rear on the way to the car, I snapped the above photo.
Caroline is in the green frock, Elizabeth in brown.
Serving was in full swing when we returned to the clubhouse.
Teenage girls piled food on each plate as we passed down the line.  The small building swelled with noise and heat.
We made our way with heaped plates to where several long tables had been set up outside under awnings.
These were apparently the "childrens' tables" but no one seemed to mind that we were there.
I noted with interest that among the attending Amish families girls far out-numbered the males of any age.


Several neighborhood couples we have met were also at the fish fry.
It was one of the simplest gatherings I have enjoyed in years, with overtones of old-fashioned church suppers
or village fairs.
The display of baked goods for sale was so impressive, such a tribute to the women's talents and industry that I dragged J. over to help choose what we would bring home.
A loaf of white bread, carrot cupcakes decorated with orange sugar, a plate of oatmeal chocolate cookies.
As Delilah commented, it was "an upside down day"--a memorable day.