Monday, July 29, 2013

Desultory Days

Desultory:  lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful.

Luna moth, clinging to the trunk of the sweet gum tree.

I like the adjective, 'desultory.'
Its not a word I commonly utter in conversation; it is one that frequently pops into my mind as a way to describe a string of days in which weather and activities conspire to create a rather blurred backward glance of unjournaled time.
[Did we drive to Casey County's whole foods store on Tuesday--or was it Thursday? Which of several days were marked by afternoon showers which halted our outdoor tasks? Did I really spend every evening in my downstairs sewing room--or does it only seem that way?]
We've had visits from family and friends over the past month or so, jolting us from our fairly predictable routines of 'active retirement.'

The weather of this summer season--our 4th in Kentucky--surely deserves to be noted as 'fitful.'
Grass, weeds, flowers and garden plants have grown rankly, stems watery and soft with the frequent rains;  temperatures have hovered in the humid mid 80's F rather than the more usual mid to high 90's expected in July.
I have crawled about on soggy ground, cutting back flopping clumps of achillea, daisies and veronica, noting in frustration that areas weeded three weeks ago have been invaded yet again with grassy roots which defy the layers of bark mulch.

Frequent rain showers have dictated puttering with plants on the front porch 
The three large rosemarys which had become shabby and root-bound have responded to larger quarters and fresh soil lightened with the addition of some coarse builders' sand.
I trimmed several inches from the tips of the prostrate rosemary and it rewarded me by producing a cloud of tiny blue-white flowers.

The herb plot by the carport is the one garden where I put down landscaping fabric.
The main exposure is toward the west, with sunlight filtering through the trees from the south. 
The herbs are not as happy this year--even this sheltered spot has caught more moisture than woody sage and lavender enjoy.
I've several times trimmed wilting lower stems from the three sage plants--have pruned away some of the twiggy mat of stems underlying the thyme. 
The back corner of the herb garden has been dominated by an invasive marjoram cultivar--very lacking in flavor and aroma. I discovered it, along with several clumps of lemon balm, just beyond the box hedge on the south side of the carport and unwittingly encouraged it to flourish.
I don't mind that lemon balm sprawls about, dropping seeds which sprout into tiny plantlets.
It responds cheerfully to severe cutbacks, raising fresh crinkly leaves until blackened by a severe frost.
The marjoram, however, needed to go.
This left me with a bare corner which tends to go dry. I've tried achillea there--it flops over the retaining wall not minding the dry soil, but quickly growing scraggly.  I moved it after one season.
I could simply allow a rampage of ajuga to cover that area.
At the moment a lone foxglove is struggling there, its companion uprooted by a naughty cat.
While 'digitalis' fits with the theme of a herb garden, I'm sure if it survives the winter it should have a home in moist shade.
The spring was so prolonged and chilly that I didn't plant up the wooden tub to basil and cilantro.
I have a collection of lavender seedlings on the porch, too fragile yet to put in the ground.
Is any garden ever finished?

July is the month when the cicadas emerge, leaving their bronzed crackly carapaces caught in the bark of the dooryard trees.
The 'shells' are complete with legs and eye sockets giving the appearance of empty armor. 
Their scraping sound is loud in the evening dusk.

I stepped outside early on Friday morning and noticed an adult turkey eyeing me warily from behind the garage.  The flock had gathered and was trundling determinedly toward the woods when I returned with my camera.

Turkeys are not at all cooperative subjects for photos.
These are two of my better zoom shots.
In one photo I counted 17 turkeys, there may have been several more.
The youngsters scudded along, heads close to the grass.

The 'bully boys' were underfoot as I walked across the back yard, although they were wary of accompanying me as I paced up the field for a closer view of the turkeys.
Bobby scrambled up the sweet gum tree and maintained a watchful surveillance until the turkeys disappeared into the cover of the woods.

Willis the Cat takes his duties as guardian of the dooryard very seriously.
He watched the turkeys stroll past, then claimed occupancy of a comfortable folding chair in the carport for most of the day.  He was present while I ate a lunch time sandwich on the front porch and noted the pair of goldfinches bouncing and pecking on the head of a dwarf sunflower only a few feet away.
He strolled behind Jim on his rounds of the garden, bringing up the rear, keeping an avuncular eye on the antics of the boy cats, administering a disciplinary swat as needed.

It would seem that a fellow could have a few moments peace on his favorite rock without the farm threatening to go to hell in a hand basket!
Arrivals and departures of neighbors demanded supervision; 
Jim's trip to the upper garden to pick sweet corn for supper prompted Willis to tag along, diving into the rows of corn, popping out between the stalks, making sure that no beast, bird or insect lurked undiscovered in the rustling green leaves.

Edward [who can no longer be designated as 'Little Edward'] takes no responsibility for the welfare of the farm or its occupants.
He is lazy, very stout, companionable and utterly charming.

I intended to cut down the toppled sunflowers, but didn't accomplish that between the frequent showers that pelted down last week.
Oddly, although the bent stalks are cracked and split, several of the damaged plants are opening blossoms even as they sprawl prostrate across the neighboring cosmos and zinnias.

Sunflowers are intriguing in bud, in full bloom or as the tightly packed seed heads mature.

As the hours of Friday dwindled into evening, we declared our work week done.
I sank gratefully into the chair in the carport, my lap immediately appropriated by Edward who landed there in a weighty, purring sprawl.
Jim let down the tailgate of his vintage pickup and sat there, feet swinging.
In the back field Edward's brothers, Nellie and Bobby, trolled through the rough grass, pouncing on fireflies, turning to chase each other madly.
Nearer the dark line of the woods, Charlie-cat prowled recklessly, his pale-furred shape unmistakable in the growing dusk.
Thinking to avoid the usual late evening round-up of cats, I called them.
All three turned and raced, pell-mell, down the field toward the carport.
Low overhead a cronking call brought us all to attention.  Willis rose on his tweedy haunches, ears pricked. The call came again, accompanied by a soft beat of wings as the blue heron who lives across the creek cleared the sweet gum tree and flapped homeward, long neck stretched in front, slender legs under-lining his tail fathers. 
In the darkening field a rusty brown shape slid into view, ambled along the shallow ditch, pausing to sniff.
I handed Jim the binoculars which we keep on the porch.
'A coyote,' he announced, confirming my thought.
I looked at my cats who had so recently been in the field, surely vulnerable to the wiles of the coyote.
I rose and bundled the boy cats hastily through the kitchen door.
Willis sat alert and watchful, yellow eyed, lean, wise with his seniority of three previous summers.
As though satisfied that the dooryard was, for a time secure, safe from prowling coyotes, low-flying birds and invading turkeys, Willis landed gracefully in my vacated chair, rested his pointy face on his tweedy paws. Beyond the circle of the dooryard light fireflies danced, tiny lamps flashing, and the rasping whir of the cicadas welcomed the night.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer Storms

The pink hibiscus at the edge of the east facing garage wall doesn't seem to mind the heat.
The leaves may droop but each morning brings fresh bloom.
The plant dies back with hard frost and I cut the dry papery stalks to the ground.
The leaves begin to emerge in spring only when the days and nights are well warmed.

The Double-Red Knock-Out roses have resumed their bloom after a brief exhausted rest.
I meant to shear them back, but there were more pressing garden tasks.
A mid-August pruning should give us a late flush of September blossom--the 'last rose of summer' effect.

One plants the vegetable garden in spring, longing for the taste of freshness.
Suddenly there is a glut of cucumbers; we've tired of green beans for every dinner.
I picked the last of the green beans on Tuesday morning, uprooting the spent bushes as I went along the row.
I was out before 8 A.M. to do this--but was exhausted and dizzy from the heat before I finished an hour later. Temps this week have been in the high 80's F.--climbing to 90 by afternoon.
I don't flourish in the height of summer heat--feeling heavy-limbed, light-headed, generally out of sorts.
Much of G. and M.'s garden has fallen victim to the heavy rains.  [They are on lower ground a mile away.]
Gina, with a resurgence of energy after her 'event planning,' has wanted to make pickles.
She went home with a basketful of our excess cukes to make refrigerator pickles.

Between showers J. 'turned' the hay and it dried enough to roll into bales.

The north field, finally shorn of the wheat crop
Tidying the kitchen after Tuesday's supper, I went out with peelings and tidbits for the trash heap.
Hearing an unfamiliar growl of machinery, I crossed the dooryard to have a view of the north field.
'The combiners are here,' I announced to J. when I went inside.
He thumped out of his recliner, abandoning the evening news, and went outside to take in the welcome sight.
[The wheat was ready for harvest at least three weeks ago, but with the incessant rains the farmer who does the combining on shares has been behind. Watching crops 'go by,' immobilized by the whims of weather, is frustrating to farmers of any degree.]
J. was whizzing around on the riding lawn mower, cutting the grass of the front lawn an hour later when I haled him, cordless phone in hand. Turning to go inside I stopped as a mud-encrusted, elderly pickup lumbered up the drive.
The two men who emerged were sweat-stained, their faces weary; bits of straw clung to their pants legs, their shirts were plastered to chests and backs with damp.
In response to my inquiry, one of them announced that they must talk with Jim about the sale of the grain.
I gestured to where J. sat astride the mower, phone to his ear. 
We made desultory conversation, about the unfavorable weather.
One man lit a cigarette, seeming grateful for a few moments respite from work.
Typical of area men, their responses to my remarks were dotted with the respectful term 'ma'am.' 
'We're finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel,' one said, pulling a crumpled bandanna from his pocket to mop his warm face.  
I left them waiting under the maple, made my way inside to put the kitchen to bed.
J. came in later to replace the phone and pass on the news that due to the rain and the late harvest, none of the area grain was of 'food quality.' Our wheat will go to a milling plant in Tennessee to be converted to chicken feed.
On Thursday J. raked and baled the straw. Joe Yoder appeared to help load the 50 straw bales that he needs for his family's venture into truck gardening. I handed out cookies and lemonade, retreated again to my basement sewing room.
Grandson D. appeared wanting to know the where-abouts of J.
'In the field still, I think.  I can hear a tractor.'
D. clattered down the stairs a few moments later.
'Grampy's not out there. Its a man planting soybeans!'
The phone rang repeatedly. The air conditioner chugged. 
Cats sprawled near the air ducts or lay about limply in my cool sewing room.
G. phoned to announce that she'd had a cooking binge and would bring supper.
I pared cucumbers, sliced fresh green peppers for salad.
Going outside in the stifling heat to dump peelings I was startled by a tremendous roll of thunder 
directly overhead.
As we assembled  for supper the sky darkened and  an angry wind began to stir.
Rain drops spattered as G. and her family gathered themselves to return home.
Washing up at the kitchen sink, I gazed through the window at the trees lashing about. 
Rain broke in a torrent. The electricity wavered, steadied, faltered again.
'Are we having hail?' I asked J., startled by the drumming on the east windows.
It was 'only' rain, blown in force across the front porch, soaking the cushions on the wicker bench, drenching the potted plants.
It was full dark before the storm moved on.

Stepping outside in the relative coolness of Friday morning, the first thing that caught my eye was my shattered row of sunflowers.
As I walked toward them, I noted that branches from the sweet gum tree were flung across the drive. Smaller branches and twigs littered the back lawn under the maples.
The pink hibiscus by the garage was a welter of thrashed stalks.
I went back inside to tell J. of my sunflower woes.
'What about the sweet corn?' he demanded.
'I don't know,' I said.  'I didn't look in that direction.'

Much of the sweet corn had been blown sideways.
J. went through the rows, righting stalks, firming soil around the roots.
This is the second time this corn has needed to be propped up after a storm.

Turning from the upper garden my eyes took in another change, although it took a few seconds to process what I saw.
The ancient apple tree at the edge of the back lawn had toppled.
Close inspection showed that the roots had been in a bad way, the inner stump of the tree riddled with a punky rot.

More than half of my sunflower row crashed, blown over into the zinnias and cosmos.
The sunflowers have been a joy in past seasons, their bright faces turning with the sun, the seed heads luring goldfinches and the last butterflies of autumn.
I miss them already.

I dragged fallen limbs and slender branches to the trash heap while J. labored over his rows of battered corn.
The sweet gum tree seems particularly vulnerable to wind--several good sized limbs were down.
It is the only one on the property, treasured for the rich colors of its leaves in autumn.
Willis and the three 'bully boys' trudged about the yard in my wake, pausing to pant in the rising heat.
Willis flopped in the cool gravel of the upper drive--sprawled amongst the leaves left behind from the fallen sweet gum branches.
Sweat trickled in tiny trails down my back as I worked.
I thought of the many generations who have endured the toils of summer without the solace of air conditioning, without the refreshment of holding a glass under the ice cube dispenser.
I thought of women who have cooked each meal over a wood or coal fired range, heated water to wash the family linens and laundry, while their menfolk tended crops, put up hay, spending the days under the scorching sun.
Summer is an intense season--days and nights of heat, weeks of tending crops and fretting over the weather.
Some crops flourish, others fail miserably to thrive or are caught at their peak by blight or drought or insect invasion.  By mid July, the anticipation of summer has been smothered in humidity, become something of an endurance test.
I do what I can outdoors, return to the house, to a cool shower, to fresh cotton garments, to tall glasses of iced tea or lemonade.
I think about autumn, when the hoped for harvest will be realized--or not--when the front porch is again a welcoming spot to read and the glow of the sun is a blessing rather than a force which prompts retreat.

Monday, July 15, 2013

With Hands and Heart

30 x 30 wall hanging created with Kansas Troubles /Moda fabrics.
Machine pieced, hand quilted.

A photo-laden post on the merits of crafting is likely redundant when it comes to my little gang of 'followers.'
Most of us who hover around a particular list of favorite bloggers are already crafters, creators, 
makers, doers.
We've tried, tested, rejected, out-grown or refined a number of different mediums before settling on the several which bring us joy. 
I well remember my frustration during Friday afternoon 'art classes' in grade school.
[We're talking 1950's here, and having rather publicly celebrated 50 years of marriage, some of you will recognize the era of which I speak!]
Art class in our one room rural school consisted of teacher choosing a season appropriate colored picture from the illustrated 'Teacher's Guide'--which contained everything from poems, skits, Christmas plays, to a variety of 'busy work' projects.
A 'pattern' was included for the art picture and this was passed from desk to desk to be traced off.
The colored page was then pinned up in sight of all and crayons or colored pencils were chosen.
I remember one such project in particular.
The picture of the day was a blue basket filled with daisies.
Simple--or so one would think.
I hadn't met up with a blue basket, but I knew several vintage baskets at my grandfather's farmhouse--all in weathered tones of brown or grey.
I colored my basket brown, shading the edges carefully--and I made yellow-petaled brown-eyed Susan's instead of white daisies.
The teacher was unimpressed with my creativity--to the point up waving my finished picture aloft in disgust and stating to the class at large, "Who would want an old brown basket?"
I fared a bit better when the traveling art teacher showed us how to make paper mache' bowls. 
We slopped cheerfully about with sodden bits of newspaper and some globbery gluey substance--but at least my bowl dried to a neat shape which was then finished with poster paint in my choice of white with terra cotta bands.
I couldn't draw--or sketch--or paint--and for years I felt regret that my appreciation of natural beauty had no creative outlet.
I honed my skills with a sewing machine during many years of making clothing for my extended 
family and friends.
Quilt making in America surged into renewed popularity following the 1976 Bi-Centennial--beautiful cotton fabrics, time-saving methods and new tools for measuring and cutting appeared for a growing market trend and caught my attention.

Detail of the wall quilt--my hand quilting is far from museum quality!

This quilt was made for J.'s cousin Gloria, to commemorate the life and death of her son, a member of the US Special Forces. Ironically, after several tours of duty to the Middle East, Glenn died in a traffic accident a few miles from his off-base apartment in Florida.
Making this quilt for Gloria, herself an accomplished crafter, was a way that I could express my sorrow. Since her son's death, Gloria has produced a number of colorful baby quilts and taken on the previously planned redecorating of her vintage New England home.
The choosing of fabrics, sewing, striping off old paint and wallpaper, rolling on fresh colors has been a creative outlet at a time when she felt that sanity might leave her.

Here are two little scented pillows of Gloria's making, such as she has sold in her gift shop.
She also carves distinctive Santa's and creates patterns for primitive dolls.

My Amish neighbor, Delila, makes quilts in the tradition of solid color fabrics.
She phoned two weeks ago to tell me that she had finished one, and would I like to see it--and bring 
my camera.
While the Old Order Amish do not approve of personal photos, Delila enjoys having a pictorial record of her quilting, so I print photos and present them to her in a clear plastic sleeve.
This quilt, pieced in "Log Cabin' type strips, mimics the popular [and difficult to make correctly ] Lone Star pattern. When I worked in the Wyoming quilt shop women from the nearby Wind River Indian Reservation brought their version which they called "Native American Star" to be finished at the shop.
The bias points of the 'stars' tend to stretch creating a tented effect in the center 
which is a quilter's nightmare. 
Linda, the shop owner, became adept at taking tiny tucks around the quilt centers as she finished the quilts with her long-arm machine. 
Delila states that she had to 'quilt out' some fullness in the center of her quilt.
Delila does the piecing on a vintage treadle sewing machine, then the  layers of the quilt, batting and lining are stretched on her wooden quilt frame.
This is the third large quilt which Delila has hand-quilted since the turn of the year.
She is casual about housework--passionate about her quilting and gardening.

Detail from the center of Delila's quilt.

Delila's quilting stitch is neater than mine.
Amish girls begin to learn quilting skills well before their teens.

I usually have several quilts in progress.
This one, a New York Beauty, is pieced over a foundation of paper which is marked with the stitching lines.
I've only made the one block which took me an entire evening of sewing time.
I doubt that I will produce sufficient of these blocks to make a bed sized quilt.
The pattern is wasteful of materials, which is a consideration.

My quilt making is hampered to a degree by the interest of my cats in 'helping'
This is Nellie, looking innocent.

My friend Gracie creates beautiful scrapbooks.
She saves maps, small items picked up on family trips, programs from events, newspaper clippings.
These, with carefully edited photos, become themed collections, cleverly presented.
When Gracie phoned last month to ask if I had scraps of fabric from my latest quilt, she mentioned that she was working on a 'project.'
I had no idea that the 'project' was a gift scrapbook for our wedding anniversary.

 Our daughter Gina, gathering photos for her own purposes, was stealthily sharing them with Gracie, who did fanciful things with them using her Photo-Shop skills.
The book was presented to us when we arrived at our anniversary celebration.
Note the tiny pieces of fabric secured to the page and anchored with appropriate embellishments.
I was with Gracie last summer when she shopped for scrap-booking supplies.
The background papers, the stamps, the tools for designing cards and memory books are very enticing.
Those who create in this medium have wonderful choices of supplies, but like any other form of crafting, the maker learns to put the mark of individuality on their creation.

A page created to show some of J.'s special interests. 
The background paper is a grassy meadow--just waiting for his tractor and mowing machine!

The book is a treasure--and was much admired at the gathering.

This photo shows quilt blocks made during the recent spell of gloomy wet weather.
I collected a number of fabrics with pansy motifs when I was in Wyoming.
The cheerful colors called to me on a rainy afternoon.
This quilt will likely become my main project for summer afternoons when the cool of my basement workroom is more inspiring than the heat of the garden.

I had the opportunity to take classes in tole painting during the three years we spent in Massachusetts--1977-1980.
Tole Painting is described as a 'method painting'--one traces the outline from a pattern book, perhaps adjusting or changing a few elements. I learned to blend artists' oils, to create dimension and shading.
It was a wonderful experience for a person who had longed to paint!
Many of the pieces I made were given as gifts, a few were sold.
These two were special favorites.

Our niece Susan created these paper-pieced potholders as a gift for me. 
You can be sure that a greasy casserole will never touch this lovely fabric art!
I plan to hang them where I can enjoy Susan's work.

Detail of one of the pieced flowers.
Susan is an expert needlewoman, my mentor, who encourages me to continue hand-quilting.
Susan has stitched her way through tragedy, ill health, many a stressful situation.
She rises early in the morning to sit quietly with her hand sewing.
Neatly organized totes travel with her to keep a current project at hand.
Susan says, "Creating is a big part of who I am."

My daughter, Gina, doesn't sew--she merely threatens to do so at some future time.
Gina's gifts of creativity are expressed in her baked goods, appealingly presented.
She has a keen eye for balance and harmony in arranging a room, decorating a mantle, for serving a meal in the various bowls and platters which her knowing eye has spotted at charity shops and yard sales.

Gina has a love affair with glue.
[I can't get near glue without creating a disaster!]
This is one of three large photo collages she put together to share our family memories.
They were displayed at the anniversary party.

A current hand-quilting project in the oval hoop/stand which Susan gave me.
I labor away at it, not becoming as skillful as I would like, but finding that the act of stitching can have a restful effect.
Hand work is calming when I must be tethered to a chair while making 'polite conversation' or waiting somewhere while J. transacts his wheeling and dealing. I can transfer this wall quilt [made with extra blocks from a king-sized quilt] to a smaller hoop as a take-along project.
There are other skills I wish I could learn: weaving, spinning, basketry, calligraphy, knitting, to name only a few.  I have worked with dried flowers, crocheted a hideous afghan or two, decorated sets of storage boxes with fabric or paper. I have refinished vintage furniture. 
There is great satisfaction in learning a craft, in gathering the 'tools and tackle and trim.'
I enjoy giving gifts that I have made with a special person in mind.
I've observed that those who 'make things' seem to have a greater degree of contentment than those who are easily bored or need the stimulation of endless shopping or outings.
When we create an item of beauty and/or usefulness, something of the delights we have accumulated, something from the 'heart' or essence of each of us, joins with the skill of our hands to produce a treasure that may be cherished well beyond our own time.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Slogging Through Summer

After the thunderstorm on Thursday evening.
I picked green beans in the morning, a back-aching sort of job.
J. dug more potatoes, then left to deliver a tractor to a buyer below the Tennessee state line.
My mid-afternoon black clouds covered the sky, thunder crashed and rain came down in torrents.

I planted sunflowers very thickly. Some have come crashing down in the
frequent rains.
This bronze-y gold one has attracted bees.

A sunflower about to be.

Cosmos, from seed saved last year, have grown to frothy greenness.
Viewed closely some have distorted stalks--again from the abuse of rain and wind.

Zinnia's also from saved seed.  These flowers prefer sunny drier weather.
The flowers and smaller and less colorful than other seasons.

Elderberries forming.

Queen Anne's Lace in meadow grass.

Stargazer lily which has blossomed today.
Friday was clear and warm--dry enough to work along the edges of the flower strips.
I sheared back the mass of leaning spent flowers--achillea, daisies, veronica--all with extra tall lanky stems.
The southernwood in the background had a tangle of spindly branches dragging on the ground--those are now clipped away.

Edward watched from the box elder tree as I clipped and snipped, restoring order to the herb garden by the back door.
The cats came close to wallow in the pile of fragrant clippings: lavender, lemon balm, long straggling stems of thyme.
I ruthlessly lopped the stand of catnip just across the gravel from the herbs and tossed those stems on the pile.
The cats' fur smells deliciously of sun-warmed herbs.
The wet weather has continued so long that as farmer/gardeners we are discouraged.
It is too wet for haying.
The wheat could not be harvested.
M. and G.'s garden, so promising in early June, is soggy, the plants going yellow.
Many of the potatoes we harvested are rotting just days after being brought inside.
Dealing with adverse weather is a humbling thing--no amount of clever husbandry can compensate for a bad growing season!