Monday, November 25, 2013

Keeping Up With Myself

Last week began quietly. Misty mornings gave way to several bright but chilly days.
We drove to Casey County on Monday, to the whole foods store where I can buy unbleached flour 
in 50 # bags.
The rest of the week, looking back, seems to have been one of mundane tasks--the rounds of caring for pets, meals prepared, laundry and such attended to.

During much of the year I go outside each day in the expectation of some fresh marvel of growth--vegetable seeds sprouted in the garden, a rosebud opening, some new delight in the fields or gardens.

Now, with the approach of winter, there will be little variation in the landscape.
There will be a scarcity of things to photograph as I bundle up and trudge the boundaries of the farm.

This very twiggy nest is lodged in one of our three year old cherry trees.
The tree seems to have no idea that it is meant to blossom and produce fruit for pies.
The nest is so rough and spiny that I can't imagine young birds being comfortably raised there.

A few frozen apples cling desolately to the trees, food for the birds.

Bobby McGee has clambered into the branches of the maple nearest the carport.
He has been inspired by a crowd of bluejays.
I trust the jays can look out for themselves. They are the largest and noisiest of our dooryard birds.

Bobby, down from the tree and wearing a 'what next?' expression.

J. bought [yet] another vintage tractor early in the week.
He and D. went roaring off to bring it home.
[ I declined an invitation to be part of the expedition!]

The tractor is proclaimed to be a desirable model.
I'm not convinced.
It 'runs' but doesn't 'start' which presents rather a conundrum to my mind.
M. called me outside to witness this attempt to get the tractor running. 
D. is in Snort'n Nort'n backing around the field at speed, towing the tractor.

The tractor has 'fired up' with an immense billow of smokey exhaust.
I find I am not at all interested in the details of what must be done to make the tractor a viable and sale-worthy piece of equipment.
The day after this venture J. came down with a bad cold and spent much of his time for the remainder of the week huddled in his big chair by the fire.
I am not the 'ministering angel' type but I did keep him supplied with hot tea and brought home from the market a package of delectable green seedless grapes which I felt were suitable food for one who was ailing.
I had no intention of being vulnerable to this germ, but it caught up with me on Saturday evening.
I decamped to the bedroom across the hall, snuffing and rasping while J. indulged in paroxysms of coughing ensconced in the king size bed of the 'master bedroom.'
The cats, as always at such times, were delighted to have two occupied beds in the house--the better to wander back and forth offering the comfort of their furry presence.
We have been sharing the preparation of light meals.
I've felt justified in keeping to my rocking chair, reading, doing some hand sewing or merely enjoying the warmth of whatever cat chooses to curl in my lap.

J. purchased the fireplace stove second-hand last year.
The built in blower has never worked.
J. decided today that he has sufficiently recovered his health to dismantle the whole thing and tinker it.
He was kind enough to build a fire downstairs and I think I shall shortly retreat there.
I can hear the shop vac roaring, but haven't ventured in to ask if the project resulted in the blower being restored to operation.
I have made a kettle of soup--venison supplied by M., cut into tiny bits with onion, celery and carrot likewise, stewed tomatoes, barley, a bay leaf and a bit of thyme. J. has requested popovers to go with the soup.
[He has also given a lengthy and detailed explanation of why the fireplace blower is still not working.]
It is nearly dark at a few minutes to 4.
I shall gather my furry friends into the safety and warmth of the house and spend the evening in indolent recuperation.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rounding Out My Week

How I wish I could sleep so soundly!
A 'good night's sleep' for me is usually around 5-6 hours.
This week it has been less than that with slumber eluding me til well after midnight.
I daresay my body is staging a not unexpected protest for my perseverance in carrying wood.
C'est la vie!
At this point in life demands are fairly flexible; there are always things I want to do, but as long as laundry is caught up, cats tended and meals prepared, the world doesn't crash to a halt if I need to retreat to my rocking chair with a book and a mug of tea.
With Jim and our grandson beavering away at the wood store I've kept ready the sort of hearty food that can be served on a moment's notice whenever they come roaring in with a truckload of wood.
Thick soups, homemade bread, coleslaw from the crispy garden cabbages, a pan of fudge brownies--these have kept them going. 

I took these photos as the sun was going down--was it on Wednesday.
The air was already chilly and dark was coming on quickly.

I played with various camera settings but none picked up the colors of the sunset.
I love how the leaves of the sweet gum frame this photo.
Another frosty night has left the leaves crumpled and dull.
They didn't attain their glowing colors of gold and deep red this season, and I miss that.

The moon was rising before daylight left the sky.
You can see that the branches on this maple are bare.

This photo did catch some of the lovely apricot shading in the sky over the pasture to the south.

This is the south west corner of the pasture where our property meets the neighboring strip of woods.

The fence corner a few moments after the above zoomed shot was taken.
I put my camera away, took an armful of wood from the stacks in the carport, and made a fire downstairs.
I got out patterns, tracing paper, freezer paper, an assortment of fine-line markers and colored pencils to prepare for an appliqued quilt.
It is far more tedious doing the prep work, than the actual stitching.
I wasn't pleased with any of my pens. I wanted a fairly thin line, but several of my markers went smeary. The freezer paper shapes have to be pressed to the chosen fabrics and I'm concerned that there will be an inky mark transferred.
I had to several times rescue my 'tools' from the boy cats who thought that pens made a nice clatter when pushed from the table onto the tile floor.
I finished tracing and cutting the paper shapes for a quarter of the quilt--by then I had a definite kink in my neck. The pattern calls for a pieced background.  I've scanned and printed the layout guides and the next stage of the project should be more interesting, actually cutting the shapes from fabric.
I have a lovely stash of fabrics by Kansas Troubles/Moda in my favorite homey shades of dark red, gold, butternut brown, weathered green and creamy tan.
I began collecting them when I worked at the Wyoming quilt shop and have since found a few more pieces from subsequent coordinating lines. 

Wooly bears were brought to my attention by Grampa Mac when I was a child.
He shared with me the folklore which insists that the coloring of these caterpillars can be used to predict the severity of the coming winter.
The dark brown ends of the woolys signify cold weather early and late in the season while the comparative width of the orange center suggests the duration of a mid-winter 'thaw.'
The three creatures above were lodged under the bark of a hickory 'log' which I 
picked up to bring in the house last week.
The loose dry sheath of bark slid off exposing the wooly bears whom I tenderly conveyed to the leafy shelter behind the evergreen hedge.
I was asked to present a children's story at church this week and was reminded of the experiments which naturalist/writer Edwin Way Teale carried out with wooly bears.
Teale became fascinated by the insistence of wooly bears rescued from the roadway in heading right back in their original direction after being moved to the side of the road.
With characteristic thoroughness, he made over 100 stops to remove wooly bears in danger of being mashed by passing traffic.
He enclosed them in his large hands, whirled them about and set them down; he shook them gently in a paper bag, he drove them in his car miles from their original territory.
He concluded that something in their 'pinhead' brains was programmed to unflinchingly return to their purposeful crossing of the road in a set direction.

It was raining and chilly, nearly evening when I set out to round up wooly bears for my illustration [having learned that the way to captivate small children is to have a 'show and tell' kind of story.]
I located one wooly trundling slowly along in the wet grass outside the woodshed.
Wooly number two was curled in a tight sleepy ball underneath an old plank in a corner of the hay barn.
On my way back into the house I stopped and lifted several small rocks in the area which was planted decades ago with daffodils.  Under the fourth rock was the third sleeping wooly bear.
I found a small stationery box with a clear cover, poked airholes in it and carefully tipped the woolys in on a layer of dry leaves. 
I told the children a bit about the interests of nature lovers and naturalists, and from my totebag produced in turn a magnifying glass [the better to examine wooly bears!] binoculars, a 'bird book' and a field guide to wildflowers, all as suggested items which might make the study of nature more interesting.
It went over well. 
The wooly bears had waked up in the warmth and obligingly crawled about in their box.
The children touched them with careful delicate fingers.
On my return home I tipped the three caterpillars into the fallen leaves in my herb garden.

This evening has been one when any wild creature, large or small, would need to find shelter.
It was a restless day, windy and too warm for November, grey, misty, humid.
J. suggested that we make a batch of doughnuts--the first of this treat for the winter season.
Rain spattered the windows as we worked. The house filled with the scent of sugar and cinnamon.
The kitchen seemed stuffy. I opened the sliding door to the screens and sat with my mug of green tea and two sugary doughnuts, the sound of the wind swishing through bare branches only a few 
yards from the door.
I spent time at my desk in the afternoon, sorting through saved email folders, deciding what to keep, what to delete. Gusts of wind and spatters of rain swirled outside in varying degrees of intensity.
At about 4 PM the automated storm warning rang in on the phone.
Feeling a bit dazed I went to stand with J. at the sliding doors of the dining area. Our bit of the world was wrapped in that eerie saffron hued light that so often presages a bad storm.
M. and G. drove in and dashed into the house through a swirl of rain, M. with his Blackberry tablet in hand.
Their phone and internet service is out yet again, so of course they hadn't gotten the storm alert.
J. pulled up the doplar weather map which shows 'real time' tracking of storms.
It appeared that the high winds and torrential rains were headed directly for us.
The next two hours were uneasy.
I checked the where-abouts of candles and matches.
I refilled the dispenser of cat crunchies in the basement, took down a clean bowl of water.
J. watched a movie on Netflex, turning to his laptop and the doplar map whenever a particularly robust burst of wind hit the house.
He predicted that the oncoming storm would reach us at about 6:15.
"Do you want supper?" I inquired.
"Of course."
I supposed that if we were forced to retreat to the basement it might be as well to do so without hunger pangs. Supper was hasty fare--Campbells Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. 
As I tidied the kitchen distant thunder rolled along the ridges. The wind wailed and rain drummed on the concrete edge of the carport, lashed against the screen door.
Then the storm was moving on and there was only the drip of rain from the eaves splatting down on the few scarlet leaves which still cling to the burning bush just beyond the step down into the cat's yard.

Willis the Cat, who spent the hours of the storm cozied up on a quilt in the basement, requested 'Out, Please' a few minutes after 9. 
On a whim I picked up my camera and walked out with him into the still night.
No wind rattles the grey branches of the dooryard trees.
The fallen leaves lay in wet drifts along the drive.
The moon, wearing a sheer nimbus of orange light rides the billow of night time clouds.

Willis sits at my feet, ears pricked and night-seeing eyes intent on things that I can't discern.

The air is soft, but no longer humid.
The tension of waiting for a storm has ebbed away, even as the thunder disappeared, muttering, into the distance.
We are blessed in safety, yet knowing that the storm which passed us by has brought damage, destruction and even death to others in its direct path.
Life and safety are capricious qualities.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Not Quite Winter

It was no surprise to find a sugar coating of snow on the ground early on Tuesday morning.
I  heard the wind moaning in the night and knew that the predicted cold front was moving through.
The above photo was taken about an hour after I got out of bed.
[I am rising earlier than I would like most mornings as our cats haven't tumbled to the fact that their resident humans have been on standard time for the past two weeks!]

I shut the bedroom door so that J. could have another hour of rest.
I bundled on a layer of clothes, stoked up the fire, dished out cat food.
When I stepped outside with my camera the wind assaulted me with a fierce blast.

Drifted leaves wore a powdering of icy crystals, as did the plants in the herb garden.

A grey mist clung through the morning, with the sun making tentative peeks before finally coming out in force about noon. The snow quickly melted save in pockets of cold on the north side of the dooryard trees.
The wind continued, biting and unfriendly.

J. brings in wood for the main fire in the living room. I carry some downstairs for my sewing room fire.
I decided to retreat downstairs after a brief tour of the yard with my camera.
There seemed to be no shelter from the wind.
The cold blasts whipped tears from my eyes, sent unwelcome draughts down the neck of my jacket.

I made up my fire, took down a mug of tea.
The cats, lured by my fire, followed me downstairs to sprawl--on the rug in front of the fire, on the old quilt on the daybed, and --unhelpfully--on the table where I needed to lay out quilt blocks.
I finished the quilt late on Tuesday evening and delivered it to a local quilter today.
There are often a few issues to overcome when I am 'creating' with fabric from my stash--there is only so much of each and I have to improvise.
In this instance, I had to piece the vivid directional print for the outer borders of the quilt--something I would have preferred not to do.
I took some pains over it, matching the busy pattern as closely as possible.
I tell myself that most of those who see the finished quilt will take in the general design and only another quilt maker would be likely to spot my contrivings.

J. and D. spent the day getting up more wood--they are like the hardworking ants of the old fable--preparing for winter.
There was no wind today and the sun prevailed, but we have had our warning that winter is hovering close by--ready to pounce.
Bring it on--I have another quilt started--and a goodly supply of wood for my fire!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Weekend Through Monday

Frost overnight on Friday left icy 'stars' on the garden sage.

Edward prowls along the frosted untidy strip of garden where the vintage peonies grow--and where I have moved iris divided from the many existing plants in the dooryard.
The area is full of tree roots and once leaves come out, is quite shaded. 
Efforts to establish other plants there haven't been successful, so a peony and iris strip it will remain, having a few weeks of springtime glory before reverting to a weedy tangle for the remainder of the summer.

Two bright pink flowers linger on a clump of dianthus in the herb garden.

I don't recall violets flowering in previous autumns. There are a few lurking beneath the Knock-Out roses.
The color is more intense than in the photo--I took several, but none of them show the true red-violet color.

The burning bush [euonymous] is rather nondescript for most of the year.  It comes into its own as a last lingering point of autumn color.
During our first season in this house--when our felines residents were strictly indoor personages--the bush was a favorite place of cardinals. They have become rightfully wary with the advent of cats who have access to the dooryard.
We were pleased to watch two females and a male yesterday while eating breakfast--the three birds bounced about in the branches eating the tiny red berries.

A leaf from the sweet gum tree. 
This tree has suffered [we think] from having other trees planted too closely around it.
It has lost several branches during our tenure and is mis-shapen.
It is my favorite tree in the yard--in spite of the spiky 'gum-balls' which it sheds each autumn.
The leaves are beautifully shaped and color to deep gold, red and burgundy, clinging to the branches after the maples are bare.

Sweet gum branches against a blue November sky.

Zoomed view of the seed balls.

Coneflowers on a seedling plant--frost seared.

The dusty purple of the Michaelmas daisies is only a memory.
Soft fuzzy seed heads have replaced the flowers.

I made a fire downstairs early Sunday evening and took out the vividly colored quilt in progress.
My presence downstairs, especially if I have a fire, attracts feline companionship.
Edward and Nellie are sharing the leather ottoman.
All our upholstered furniture has been scared by a generation or two of cats.
Rugs, old quilts and blankets on chairs and sofas give things the look of a rag-tag second-hand shop!

Brothers--loving and peaceful--at the moment.

Fetching Bobby indoors at night can be a challenge.
He appears when I call him, but then darts under the truck--or whisks off into a hedge.
Once I have cornered him and brought him,struggling, into the house, he subsides into
companionable placidity.

Monday warmed into another lovely golden day.
J. was back on firewood detail with grandson D. to help.
[I wasn't disappointed to learn that my labor was dispensable!]
I pottered about outside and noticed a very lush stand of catnip growing in the upper perennial strip--where I had vigorously uprooted catnip in July.
I cut an armload and brought it inside, dumping it on the dining area floor while I got out baking sheets for drying it.

Predictably, Teasel noticed it immediately and came over for a enthusiastic sniff.

Chester and Teasel rootling in the catnip.

Usually when I dry catnip I am rushing back out to garden chores and in the interest of saving time, thrust the whole stalks onto baking sheets and into the oven on its lowest setting.
I took a few minutes this time to strip the leaves from the stalks, filling 3 trays which fit in the oven for one session.

As I worked, I tossed the stalks on the floor--Edward was quite inspired.

I had carried an armload of wood in by way of the basement stairs and was emerging when I caught the faint cries of sandhill cranes overhead.
The cranes have harsh cronking voices, unmistakable.  I first heard them in Wyoming where the birds arrive to nest on the high plains, usually finding a stream or creek where they can raise their young.
In late winter and early spring they, along with Canada geese, are in residence, by the thousands, along the North and South Platte rivers in Nebraska.
Pebbles, who never misses a thing, stood with her ears pricked until the calling of the cranes faded 
down the valley.
I fetched my camera, but none of my attempted shots caught the wedge of birds.  I was shooting directly into the sun, on zoom, and couldn't see the birds in the view finder.

This patch of lavender was at head level as I came up the outside basement stairs.
The red leaf caught my attention and prompted me to cut some lavender to bring inside.
There were few lavender flowers this summer, perhaps because it was too wet.
I cut a nice bunch of fragrant stalks and went back for stems of lemon balm as well.
Lemon balm is usually one of the first herbs to blacken with frost, but thus far most of its shiny crinkled leaves are still green.

I am blessed to have lived always in the country, blessed that I was raised by folks who observed and appreciated the subtle changes of the seasons and instilled that awareness in me.
I may grumble over a long spell of hot and humid summer days or cringe when temperatures drop way below freezing, as in the well-remembered long winters of New England and Wyoming.
Occasional complaining about the weather, is after all, an important and expected aspect of country life.
There could be no golden autumn without the cycle of spring and summer, but I am loath to see my favorite time of year slide away into winter.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Golden Day

A heavy frost last night, but a day of bright blue sky and golden light.
J. split and stacked the remainder of this week's wood haul.
It seems strange to have the carport ringed with stacks of wood.
I can only hope exploring cats don't topple a pile and end up underneath!

Sweeping sawdust, bark and blown-in leaves into the utility cart for disposal.

I got out the last of my tiny plastic bags to hold the seeds I have harvested and dried.
In the foreground are lids which had been holding cleome seeds mailed to me by my sister C.
She had taped a flower petal designating the color to each packet of seed pods she sent.
I kept the labeled bits of paper towel with the appropriate drying seeds.
I discovered that the paws of a naughty cat had stirred the labels hopelessly out of the lids, so--I now have a packet labeled 'Cleome--Mixed."

An hour later and I have neat packets of seeds to put away til spring--as you can see, I have plenty for sharing.

Drawn by the golden sunshine I went out to rake maple leaves on the side lawn.
I was greatly assisted by Nellie the cat.
He chased the rake, swished through the growing pile of leaves, ran dementedly up into the bare branches of the maple, turning to peer owlishly at me before swinging down the tree trunk.

Apparently tired out by his energetic display, Nellie rolled about on the sun-warmed 'big rock' where the cleome and signet marigolds lately flourished.

Wood smoke hung in the air--fragrant, spiced with the scent of the red cedar kindling used to stoke the fire.

Leaves are beginning to drift down from the sweet gum tree.
Such fleeting beauty before the cold of winter settles in.