Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Morning Stroll

The view from the front porch where I sat with my coffee this morning, soaking up lovely sunshine warmth.
It is loud with bee-song beneath the redbuds, a busy humming.

Dogwood bloom against a clear blue sky.
There are fancier hybrids of dogwood.  These were planted by the former owners.
I love the chartreuse-marked creamy white of the petals with the distinctive darker "toothmarks."

The entire dooryard is perfumed by the two straggling viburnams at the north-west corner of the house.
In the autumn I pruned out a strangle of honeysuckle vine that had wound through the bigger viburnum--there is more of it, triumphantly flaunting its leathery green leaves and twisting stems.
I must make time to tackle it before more leaves interfere.

The three apple trees probably date to the time of the earlier house on this property.
They are twisted and over-grown, with grey lichen encrusting the trunks and branches.
The upper branches, long unpruned, overlay one another resembling the clasped arthritic fingers
of an elderly person.
They have set fruit during both of our sumners here, fruit that quickly succumbed to fire blight.
Still, for a week in spring they have a nostalgic sweetness of blossom.

The earliest peonies are displaying plump buds.

This peony, purchased last spring and moved from the lower border to the upper area which Devin created, is showing brave little buds.
There is a possibility of rain this afternoon.  You can see from the look of the soil that it will be welcomed.
I should have worked some peat moss into this spot when we dug it over.

Dogwood with a redbud behind it.

Dogwood--a close-up on the 'macro' setting.

I long to spend every possible moment outside, heedless of housework,
content to stave off starvation with a mug of tea, a handful of crackers, a stout slice of cheese, an apple.
I am grumpy at having to devote myself to preparation of income tax data.
The well-organized person would keep up with ledger entries by the month, smugly producing the totals by mid-January.
[I doubt anyone would categorize me as organized!]
I have sowed a small flat of sweet banana peppers, potted on a cutting from an heirloom geranium, watered the tomato seedlings. 
I have ordered online seeds, as well as flea doses for the cats.
I have visited Pebbles the Horse.
The dooryard entices me with scents and sights. I can walk only a few yards without bending to sniff  a blossom, pluck a weed or two, admire a fresh green shoot poking from the earth.
I have a story or two to write, some genealogy research to pursue.
I have invited Gina and Devin to supper--knowing that will motivate me to prepare 'real food.'
The table is strewed with adding machine, pens, ledger, invoices, receipts--all it needs is for me to
get on with it!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Exhausting Exuberance of Spring

J. is away for a few days, which means I can keep to my own hours, staying up late, making small, spur-of-the-moment meals.
The warm sunny weather has drawn me outside to the gardens which are burgeoning with new growth--of cherished plants and of invasive weeds.
A spring morning is so lovely: birds bursting with song and busyness;
the scent of blossoms freshened by gentle showers of rain;
This time of year is also over-whelming in the demands of yard and garden--so many chores
"want done" at once!

Each day brings perceptible changes:
this photo was taken on Thursday with crabapple and redbud in full bloom.
Now the pink petals float down with every breeze, sifted onto the green grass like confetti.
The blossoms of the pear tree are only a remembrance.
With two days and nights of cooler temperatures, we hope for fruit to set.

I have spent long hours weeding in the upper flower border.
My gardening and my house-keeping have [sadly] much in common;
I work on the 'lick and promise' theory--the most urgent gets done and I need to move on to another pressing task, 'promising' myself that I'll return for the final clean-up.
Where ever I have gardened each springtime brings surprises.  Some plants have gone missing, leaving only dry stumps and shriveled roots.  Others have spread out and crowded their neighbors.
I dig, prune, rake, weed, move plants.
After hours on my knees I creak into the house to scrub at my grubby paws and fall exhausted and aching into my rocking chair.
I love what I'm doing--but the doing of it surely takes a greater physical toll each year.
It is on such days that I wonder what it would be like to have a housekeeper--to stumble in from the garden and find the house spotless and gleaming.

Friday morning was bright and I thought it a good time to tackle the weeds in the
upper flower garden which D. created for me last autumn.
Most of the weeds there are lamium or 'hen-bit' as it is locally called.
It is ironic to note that the local Wal Mart is offering in their garden center pots of a hybrid lamium at nearly 9 dollars per plant.  It is slightly showier than its wild cousin, but very recognizable, and I cringe at the sight!

As I knelt in the dirt teasing weeds from the clumps of peonies, the wind came up and the sun scuttled behind grey clouds. I turned up the collar of my down vest and worked on until raindrops began to fall.
The rain came heavier, driving me, shivering, into the house.
I made tea and stood at the kitchen window, watching as sheets of rain slanted down.
It was over in 15 minutes.  The sun reappeared, pillowy white clouds rode a blue sky.
I have to finish weeding in front of the stone edging.  I'm thinking that thyme would be a good choice to plant where it can spread and creep along the rocks.

Looking east beyond Big Creek as the sun goes down.

Devin conveyed me to Wal Mart this forenoon to wrestle bales of peat moss and
bags of mulch into the back of his truck.
He ran the small tiller over the strips where I decided to plant the six blueberry plants which
arrived on Friday.
He dug huge holes for each plant and shoveled in peat to acidfy the soil.
When J. returns I'm hoping he can get a load of sawdust at the Amish sawmill, so that we can  mulch heavily around the plants.
D. went home for supper, while I scratched out two short trenches for planting potatoes.
The potatoes were the last of a large sackfull that J. bought in January.  I left them in the basement to sprout, which they did rather grudgingly.
We are trying to recall where we bought Yukon Gold seed potatoes last spring as they
made the most impressive crop.
It was dusk when I put away the garden tools, collected the cardboard and plastic wrap which had protected the berry plants.
Willis the Cat trailed me and as usual had to be retreived from the garage.
The above photo doesn't do justice to the delicate sickle moon as seen through the branches of a
dooryard maple.  Jupiter and Venus are still flanking the moon, an awe-inspiring display in the evening sky.
I had thoughts of creative writing for this evening, plans to visit my favorite bloggers and leave comments.
Instead I scrubbed my nails, warmed up the supper offering supplied by G. and then folded myself into the old rocking chair, drowsing over a book while awaiting J.'s phone call.
I have ordered two long-coveted yellow peonies.
Where shall I plant them?
More digging!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rushing Spring

Springtime in Kentucky has been with us for days, a hasty harbinger of the official vernal equinox which will occur a few hours from now.
Daffodils [called March lilies by the locals] began trying to bloom in January.
Fruit trees have burst forth with fragrant blossoms, causing us to shake our heads and fret about the possibility of late frosts.
The ground is moist from night time showers, and the moisture combined with balmy days has forced plant life into over-drive--including the weeds that got a head start during the green and open winter.

Color is everywhere--along roadsides, in woodlots, yards and gardens.
Last week the county was awash in the foamy white of Bradford Pears, planted here to border driveways or the boundaries of a lawn.  The blossoms have faded now and the pale green leaves have taken over.
Forsythia blazes golden yellow and the bright pink of Redbuds dots the landscape.
This is the flowering crabapple at the edge of our back yard.
The fruits of this tree are so tiny and useless that I suspect it is only meant to be ornamental, not a source of fruit for crabapple jelly.

The gaunt Old-Timey Pear in the pasture reveals its great age.
It has graced the pasture for more than a century.

Several strawberry plants have blossomed in the upper garden.
The original plants set in two years ago have produced a crowd of new plants.
My determined weeding of them last September all needs to be done again.

Somewhere I have a rough diagram  of the dwarf fruit trees.
I think the label is off this one.
I'm calling it a peach.
I don't consider this patch of garden one of my successes.
I have battled an invasion of 'Sweet Annie'--sown at one time by the former owners.
For every plant that I yank out several go to seed somewhere nearby.
Mint has rampaged happily here, enjoying the shade.
There are pinks, a somewhat dimished clump of columbine, lemon balm and several thriving catnip plants.
Willis flung himself through the catnip, and emboldened by its fumes, made a nuisance of himself.
The ground is really too wet to 'work'--but the weeds have such a headstart I think I must
gouge them out before my cherished plants are swallowed up!
I've ordered 6 blueberry bushes which should arrive by the weekend.
I think I could use a full time gardener; imagine directing the gardening from a comfortable lawn chair: 'dig there; weed this border;

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A New Blogger in the Family

Cousin Tom has started a blog here:
I didn't really know Tom growing up, as he was born when I was 10 years old.  His Mom is my late Dad's younger sister--she is the "Lizzie' of my family stories. We've connected in recent years and Tom has cheered on my family history project and contributed wonderful tidbits--giving me the missing pieces to puzzles I had pondered.
I had a bad case of camera envy when I read Tom's first post!  I'm realizing that although I could upgrade my camera I don't have Tom's expertise.
He is interested in wild life and nature--knows how to spin a pleasant narrative to explain his great photos.
He says 'written English' isn't his forte, but I'll put up with his unique spelling any day, just to read along.
Do give this guy a visit!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Playing in Puddles

Sitting at the table by the open sliding door on Thursday my attention was caught by Willow's activities in the cat yard.. She was intent on something--body tensed, nose to the ground.
My first thought was that she had spied some beetle-bug lumbering through the patchy grass.
She began pawing determinedly, flinging soil and blades of new grass aside.
Several times when gardening I have disturbed moles who were living in a warren of tunnels just beneath the soil.  It seemed likely that Willow was hearing and feeling the subterrainean perambulations of a mole.
Rain showers overnight left the yard a bit soggy, and the small depression which Willow had created had become a puddle by Friday morning.
While several of the cats reclined on the step or stretched out on the heat pump to bird-watch, Willow hurried to check out her sand pit.
As I watched, she dabbled first one paw then the other in the water.
Rearing up, she came down with both front paws, splat--squarely into the puddle.
Wilbur, attracted by his sister's intensity, lumbered over to inspect.

Willow's white front feet are dark with mud.

Wilbur jostles his sister aside and has a good rootle in the puddle--up to his catly elbow in muddy water.

I wonder if the puddle is situated directly above the mole's best bedroom and is the 'roof' leaking from all this poking?

Both cats now had muddy feet and moved into the damp grass where they had a bit of a
foot-washing ceremony.

Red boots were a staple of my country childhood.
Puddles were likewise a common after effect of New England weather.
Walking during a shower the puddles ahead dimple and ripple with the plash of falling rain.
When the sun comes out suddenly the blue sky and the trees overhead are reflected, lop-sided and out of kilter in the brown water.
Something about a puddle beckons--if one's boots are sturdy, why detour around that alluring temporary body of water?
Thinking today of puddles, I was reminded of a woman I knew more than thirty years ago.
Merle was a southern gal--born and raised in the deep south.
During the three years that our family lived in Massachusetts, we attended the church where Merle was a long time member.  Several times she invited us home with her for dinner.
Merle's cooking was as southern as her manner of speech; slices of potato crisped in a deep fryer, regal cakes dripping with frosting.
Nearing 70, she was bouncy and talkative, her dark eyes merry behind her thick spectacles.
Over time, I learned bits of her story.
A country girl, Merle had married young--the first time.
She told of picnics and impromptu parties, good times with other young couples of the neighborhood.
Merle loved her boyish husband, loved making a home.
Several years went by and most of their friends produced a baby or two.
Merle had no child and doctors were vague as to the reason.
Her husband, as though needing to prove the fault was not his, 'took up' with a younger girl who promptly became pregnant.
A Merle, put it, remembering wryly, "She and her baby needed him and his name more than I did!"
She moved north after the divorce, acquired some practical nursing skills. Eventually she married again, a widower and was drawn into his large family.
By the time I met her, the second husband had passed away and she had found herself a third companion, another widower, again older than herself.
Their household was a strange one.
Her husband, Rich, had a middle-aged son, who had been struck down by a passing automobile as a small boy. The resulting head injury had left him 'simple'--able to converse and work at undemanding tasks, but unable to live on his own.
As well, Merle had taken on the care of her late second husband's grand-daughter--a girl now13 or 14, born into a family of perfectly normal siblings; a girl who was both mentally and physically impaired.
"Her parents couldn't care for her," stated Merle, with some indignation.  "They were going to put her in a 'home'. I've had her since she was a toddler."
The poor girl was a constant care, messy, mischevious, non-verbal, but given to noisy cawing outbursts.
Rich was 'hard of hearing' and had grown testy with it. His son had to be directed in each small task.
Merle took it all in stride, cheerful, funny, chipper as a sparrow.
Once when we were at her home in the springtime there had been an overnight rain.
After lunch, with the  girl put in bed, Rich and his son tucked up in the livingroom, Merle kicked off her houseshoes, and waving a dimissive hand at the sink piled with dishes, thrust her feet into a pair of boots that stood by the back door.
"Come and see my flowers," she ordered, and led the way through the woodshed and out to the yard which shimmered, green and damp in afternoon sunshine.
We walked past clumps of iris, a peony, bowed with the weight of raindrops. An astilbe, in full bloom was her pride. 
I picked my way carefully through the damp grass.  Merle set her booted feet down with deliberate splats, apparently relishing each squelchy footstep.
She was, as usual, talking non-stop, her bright eyes sparkling.
At the edge of the gravel drive, puddles shone.
Without missing a beat in her story, Merle strode into the deepest one, stood stomping her feet up and down, sending water flying.
Her tale coming to an end, she grinned engagingly and gave a couple of energetic hops through the puddle.
"I've always loved to come out after a rain," she said. "I love puddles.  Maybe I've just never grown up!"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Favorite Things

I have found that through the many cares and perplexities of life, the habit of noticing small things in nature or in my home or garden often lifts my spirits.
There is so much to admire, to marvel over, to ponder.
Spring is such a wonderful time to enjoy the renewal of life and hope.
Above, the swelling buds of the sweet gum tree [liquidambar] against a blue sky.
Shy heads of narsissus.

Blossoms on the dwarf white peach.

A close up of peach blossom.

These were taken as the sun was sliding away behind the woods.

The Old-Timey Pear tree is more than a century old.
The sprawling lop-sided shape is typical of these trees.
I've learned to spot them standing in a distant field or in the dooryard of an old farm.

Pear blossoms--cool and fragrant.

Cats are always a wonder--as well as mischievous companions.
When I opened the curtains on Wednesday morning, there was his majesty, Willis, catching the morning rays from the roof of the tractor canopy.

Eggs have the most satisfyingly smooth shapes.
During spring and summer we buy eggs from a friend at our church.
Each time I open the carton I enjoy the colors of the shells: the usual white or pale beige, the shades of blue-green, reddish and deep brown.
What small joys have lightened your days this week?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Afternoon in A Springtime Garden

A beautiful warm day on Tuesday, with soil still too wet to work in the main gardens.
I was content to snip away dead stalks in the herb garden, enjoying the scents of sage, lavender and lemon thyme.  Many of the 'gum balls' which fell from the sweet gum tree have spent the winter rolling amongst the herb plants.  I plan to rake lightly over the area today, but suspect the spikey 'balls' will need to be removed one by one--by hand.

Tri-color sage.
It would be tidier if I sheared back the longer stems, but just now its a joy to see, with fresh, distinctively marked leaves.

Salvia officianalis.
This variety often oever-wintered in my Vermont garden, although it took weeks for signs of life to show on the grey stems. Here it has been ever-green. 
A plant survived, albeit feebly, in the strip of border which I labored over in Wyoming--where I was mostly defeated by the climate.

The common variety of purple coneflower, which I started from seed two years ago.
I bought plants of more exotic modern hybrids--which have not proved thrifty.
One, labeled 'Summer Sky' is at least showing signs of life in the upper border.

In September I moved lily bulbs which I had planted along the east facing garage wall. [Folks here refer to them as 'tree lilies.'] That small strip of garden has proved rather shady and is now crowded with the mints which have rampaged around the Double-Red Knock-out roses.
I disnterred the bulbs--which had produced offspring, and stuck them in a group in the upper border.

You can see the green strap-like leaves of the plants which have sprung up from the smallest of the corms.
It will be interesting to watch how many seasons it takes for these little starts to reach blooming size.

I washed some plastic trays [the kind in which thin-sliced sandwich meat is sold]
and brought them, along with packaged soil mix and seed packets to work on the concrete pad of the carport. I planted three varieties of tomato seeds, lavender, foxglove and achilliea.
All are on the south-facing shelf in the garage. If the nights turn cold, the tomatoes will need to
move indoors.
I was watched at all times by the cats.
Here, at the end of the afternoon when I was putting away my tools, are
Teasel, Charlie and Chester.

Willis is always involved in whatever we do outside.
I was checking the spring progress of the roses in the lower border.
This rugosa, 'Hansa', didn't flourish last season and I cut it severely back.
I was interested that Willis was rubbing along the thorny trunk--maybe he is itchy?

Willow and her elusive brother Wilbur watch from the sliding door.
Wilbur--after many months in our house--still does not like humans.
He cannot be touched unless I am quiet and quick enough to nab him when he is sleeping.
He has become a hugely ponderous cat--about 20 pounds.
J. thinks this is because he hides and sleeps away the days, then ventures out at night to stuff himself at the cat feeders.

I intended to have this post up early on Tuesday evening, then devote some time to responding to comments and touring my favorite blogs.
Blogger had another of its inexplicable fits and it took over an hour and three attempts to load photos.
So much for my plans!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shades of Grey Rain

It was  not raining when I woke before daylight.
Outside in the greyness of not quite day, the wind blew, a low sighing that rose and ebbed, rose and ebbed like the breathing of a large slumbering animal.
Raising cautiously on one elbow I peered through the window, toward the yellow glow of the yard light, noticed the tossing of tree limbs, squirmed back down into the warmth of my cat-cluttered nest.
Within moments I knew that sleep had fled, not to return.
I keep a warm pullover, a pair of jeans or sweatpants stuffed in the bathroom hallway.
If I can make it that far without stepping on a cat, I can dress [after a fashion] quietly and proceed to the other end of the house without waking J.
Once it becomes obvious that I am kitchen-bound, the cats set up a clamour.
I have become fairly adept at setting out their bowls and snapping open a tin of treat food to be doled out in dollops without creating much noise. There are cats who inhale the revolting gobs of fishy food in one gulp and push rudely into the space of a neighbor who prefers to savor each gelatinous mouthful. There are those who want to indulge in a little think before deciding to eat.
The greedy ones win, even though I try to referee.
I slide open the door into the yard, rinse cat dishes, turn on the kettle or the coffee maker.

I made tea this morning in a chipped white mug, added honey; I zipped a fleece jacket as high as it would go and shrugged into my favorite old down vest--the one with four pockets. One of the deep ones with a snapped flap holds my camera safely.
The carport thermometer--the old yellowed plastic one left by the former owner--stood at 60 degrees.
Gold and apricot light bathed the edges of the sky as the sun tried to rise beyond the creek.

Willis trailed at my heels while the tortie sisters, Sally and Sadie dashed in zigs and zags along the path to the barn.  The heavy air rang with bird song: two robins chortling madly in one of the maples, the pure sweet notes of a cardinal singing love songs from an old apple tree.
The racous conversation of crows floated up from the front pasture.
Pebbles trumpeted and hurried toward the barn annex where her grain is served, her hooves clomping on the soft ground along the fence.

Walking slowly back from the barn, hands wrapped around the mug of tea. I was startled by the explosive shriek of a bluejay landing in the tangled tracery of crabapple boughs.

I stashed the empty mug on a stand in the carport, pulled on my old gloves and made for the line fence along the back pasture--the place where I can always find downed branches to break into stove lengths for kindling.  This gathering of slender dry sticks has become an almost daily ritual, a reason to be outdoors, to walk, to see and smell the weather.
Willis skittered through the fence, reared up to hone his claws on a tree trunk.  As he turned the sun broke over him in a warm golden wash.

It was the only sunshine we would see all day!
I brought in my armload of twigs, let them slide gently into the box near the fireplace.
Rising wind billowed the heavy curtains at the sliding door, the cats fidgited in and out, pouncing on tattered old leaves that the wind whisked about their enclosure.
The pink and gold of dawn disappeared, over-taken by swaths of racing grey clouds.
J. roared off in old Snort'n Nort'n--on an errand--and by the time I had washed up mugs and spoons and cat dishes the first drops of rain were falling.

The turkeys have been feeding in the field beyond the creek for several weeks.
They are most often there at the beginning and the end of the days, hunched black shapes strung through the grass.  They elude my efforts to get close enough for a really good photo, alert to my stealthy progress down the drive and across the road.
I stood on the front porch, trying various camera zoom settings, then slogged through the wet grass and tangled weeds at the verge of the road. 
Most of my efforts produced photos that appeared drenched in a wash of dull grey.
I was unpleasantly wet, rain dripping from my long hair and drizzling down my collar. 

Showered and properly dressed in dry warm clothes I stood at the open sliding door and watched the busyness of the birds. Instead of taking refuge from the steady deluge they thronged and
quarreled  at the feeders.
This cardinal glowed through grey raindrops, barely distinguishable from the red of maple blossom.
He was only yards away.
His sweet song rose above the plash of rain pelting on the cement basement stairs, and
whispering wetly into green grass.
With each burst of song I could see the black gorget on his chest rise and fall.
I had letters to email--the dull business sort, some documents to locate in the filing cabinet; stodgy necessary tasks that soaked up the quiet hours while grey rain fell from the grey sky and the cats curled themselves into soft dreaming shapes in snug corners.