Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Scattered Hours

I plodded down the stairs this morning in the early coolness of the day, mentally 
lining up 'things to do.'
As late spring tips into the heat of summer, morning is the best time to go into the garden, to peg out laundry, to make plans for the day.
There are the usual chores that must be done: meals, clean-up, the 'reward' of time at my desk.
I contemplated my on-going genealogy project, thought of selecting fabric for the quilting class I have registered for on Thursday.
Dirty laundry chugging in the washer downstairs, bed made, bathrooms tided.
A knock on the door.
It was Lizzie, wondering if there was more kibble on hand for the Pyrenees dogs.
I picked up my key and walked with her down the lane.
In the washroom of the lower house we wrestled with a 50# bag of dog food scooping it into the covered bins that are kept in the barn. 

 Mary had finished milking and was shepherding the goats toward their enclosure.  I carried milk in to the kitchen fridge and returned to the stable to find Mary on her knees by the old supply cupboard, portable phone in one hand.  
"The kittens are chewing up the phone cord," she announced.
She tugged the cupboard away from the wall, while kittens darted in all directions.
I offered to take the phone to the house, realized I had locked the door and set the key down--somewhere.  Lizzie located the key, I trudged from barn to house and back again.
Mary was still  fretting over the kittens, Lizzie had finished feeding goats.
They are competent young women, working quietly each morning to care for the animals while their owners are away. 

Heading down the drive I noticed evidence of scouring in one of the small goats, knew that I would need to check on her in a few hours.
Washing pegged on the lines, time to make the mid-morning breakfast that Jim prefers.

Glancing out the kitchen window I noted the billy goats were on the wrong side of the gate--again.
Dandelion, the white goat, is a wizard at finding ways to escape the pasture.
Once he is 'out,' Caraway, the spotted goat, sets up a piteous bleating while he decides whether to follow his companion.
Jim has gone around stopping up any gaps he can find in the fence.
Wily Dandelion is able to find more gaps!
Breakfast consumed, potato salad in the fridge to cool. 
Jim has returned the goats to the pasture.
Astonishingly, it is nearly noon!
From that point, the day unraveled.
I read at my desk for a bit, made a cool drink for Jim when he came in from the workshop.
Jim off on an errand and the now familiar 'halloo' of Dandelion the Billy Goat as he crossed 
the back yard.
Irritated, I stomped out, grumbling at the goats.  Caraway rested placidly in the shade of the stable, the gate seemingly in place, while Dandelion strode past me into the bay where Jim parks a tractor.
I rested my hand against the gate, considering what to do.
A hot stab of pain in my forearm, the whir of a wasp.
I yelped, located another wasp peering from a hole in the lower bar of the gate.
I felt a compelling need to sit on the ground and wail; instead I ran to the house for calamine lotion and an aerosol bug bomb.
I located a lead rope, hooked it into Dandelion's collar. 
He lumbered along pleasantly enough.
At the bend in the lane a large black snake whipped across the gravel.
I found I didn't have energy to waste in screaming.
Caraway, not wanting to be left behind, plodded down the lane inside the fence.
I turned Dandelion into the pasture at the lower gate, hoping he would stay there long enough for me to think how best to deal with him.
[He didn't!]
A check on the young goats to discover that four of them were now presenting scours.
Back home to anxiously contact the owner family for advice.
I fed the cats their 'tea', rinsed the tin and carried it to the rubbish bin in the washroom--in time to watch Dandelion come round the back of the barn and down over the retaining wall.
Aha!  So that's where he's been getting out! 
I stomped toward him.
'You blardy, useless goat!' I bellowed.
He stared at me--and belched loudly.
I realized that I was completely out of patience with his goatly shenanigans. 
I also realized the lead ropes were all in the goat barn--down the lane.
I huffed down the lane, collected the leads, started back up to find that Dandelion was strolling into my garden.
Furious, I stormed up to him, clipped on the lead and began towing him as fast as I could go without breaking into a run. 
He protested, snorting and blowing.
Halfway down the lane he dropped to his knees.
I hauled him up, tugged on the lead. A few more yards and he balked again.
Dandelion out-weighs me by a good bit, but I daresay I can match him in stubborness.
I got him into the barn, into the stall, went back for Caraway.
True to form, Caraway had trotted down to the lower gate--I had only to clip on the lead and coax him up the drive. 
The baby goats were to have a gatorade/water mix instead of their evening milk.
They didn't relish it, but most of it went down.
I put hay in the rack, leaned against the gate, patting the bony small heads thrust up for attention.

It should be a simple job--a few days of helping to tend these animals.
Jim has pitched in, assisting with the evening feeding, corralling the billys.
I had time one evening to brush and clip Munchkin-dog, removing matted clumps of winter hair.
I've enjoyed the greetings of the does each time I walk down the lane.

Today concerns for the baby goats, frustrations with the escaping billies, a sense of my own incompetence, of hours wasted.
Sitting here at a few minutes til midnight, I attempt to gather calm and courage for tomorrow.
I have confined the billy goats to their quarters in the barn.
I have implemented the changes in feeding which will hopefully put the little goats right.
I can't replace the scattered hours of this day.
Tomorrow?  There are a few hours until I must tackle tomorrow!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Catching-up Post

 So many days of rain! Sunshine early in the week and the garden starting to dry out, with a 'crust' of soil, weeds that have had a field day while it was too wet to work.
On Tuesday I labored with my garden fork to loosen clumps of dirt, then scratched away with a hand 'digger' to tweak out weeds.

There is always a cat or two for company.
Nellie settled himself in the scented depths of the catnip.
Although I had planned to put down mulch I left my labors late in the afternoon to travel with Jim to deliver a tractor he had refurbished and sold. 

Wednesday's forecast called for rain to move in by evening.
I worked through the day with an eye on the sky.
Jim broke up the weedy ground between rows of veg with the big tiller and I followed behind sifting out the churned up weeds. I work on my aging knees, clearing a row to right and left.
I managed to weed the hills of cucumber and melon, then green beans on one hand and 4 tomato plants and a planting of beets on the left before rain began to spatter down.
The photo above was taken Thursday morning after a night of rain and prior to a thunderstorm that rolled in at breakfast time.

A corner of the flower garden with an Impressionistic blur of rain.

Fog rose from the creek across the road, the sky was grey after the thunderstorm.

I slogged down the lane to check on the goats.
All were safe, though protesting the wet.
Their 'keepers,' the three Pyrenees dogs, bounced, barking, along their separate fence lines, their coats clotted with damp. 
Each pasture has a shelter should goats and dogs be inclined to get out of the wind and rain.

For a few minutes a patch of pale blue showed in the sky.

The billy goats have realized [after nearly three months!] that there is as yet no upper fence to separate their long narrow pasture from the area directly below our garden.
They discovered this during Tuesday night.
Jim escorted them back down the lane where they settled for a companionable snooze in a favorite spot in the willows.

About noon I looked out the kitchen window to see that the pair had taken up residence in the end stall of our three-sided stable.
Our renters [who own the goats] have been called away for awhile, so we are sharing goat care with the two young Amish women who arrive promptly each morning to milk and  feed the goats.
We keep an eye on things and feed the baby goats in the evening.

The garden is so muddy after a second deluge today that I can only take photos from below the retaining wall. 
I have more to share, hopefully tomorrow.
Sometimes life becomes too busy to document day by day.

Monday, May 16, 2016


The old apricot tree at the edge of the garden.
The apricot tree had weathered many seasons--planted before my birth, before my mother's birth.
Its uneven form, leaning from the tidy rectangle of a picket fence, frames the edge of a vintage photo, taken in the latter 1800's.
Behind it in springtime a peony thrust through the sparse grass, unfolding glossy leaves and tight round buds destined to burst into bouffant spheres of dark red petals.  
At the foot of the tree pale lavender iris appeared, season after season, undivided, untended. A tangle of slender rose briars spilled onto the grassy slope of the lawn, a wildling with tiny white blossoms, perhaps transplanted from a pasture hedgerow.

I have no decent photo of the small garden. 
It is a part of my earliest memories, and the rest of layout--in full color--is vivid in my mind's eye.
The garden lay a few yards beyond the formal front door of the white farmhouse--an entrance seldom used, as the semi-circle of the gravel drive swung past a welcoming side porch with a 
south-facing door.
The garden was bounded on the other end by a shrub which we called the honeysuckle bush.
Its tiny pale flowers scented the air in June, followed by small dark orange berries in late summer.
I like to think that some woman of the 1800's planned the garden, near enough to the house to be enjoyed on a summer afternoon, a pleasant and peaceful area to view from the parlor window.

The garden's creator placed a second red peony near the honeysuckle bush, and a clump of lemon lilies at the center of the narrow strip. 
Lily of the Valley flowed softly from under the lowest branches of the honeysuckle, ebbed outward toward the yellow lilies. 
At the edge nearest the house my great-grandmother planted a rambling rose.  My mother recalled the cereal boxtops saved and sent off with an order form, and the eagerly awaited arrival of the tiny slip of a rose.  It was a petite rose, well behaved, with flowers like small pink pompoms.
It may have been the variety named 'The Fairy.'

 My world prior to the age of five didn't range far beyond the immediate 'dooryard' of the farmhouse;  I spent contented hours pottering near the apricot tree, with the hum of bees for company.
No one fussed over the little garden.
Grass grew thinly around the base of the apricot tree, the perennials seemed scarcely to spread.
Perhaps the shade of the huge sugar maple just below kept all in bounds.
The garden was cool and quiet on summer mornings; its position on the west side of the house made for golden autumn afternoons when the scarlet leaves of the nearby maple drifted down leaving the dark fretwork of branches etched across a blue sky.

My parents, my younger sister and I, shared the farmhouse with Grampa Mac, Great Grandmother Eliza and Uncle Bill, until our small house was built within hollering distance along the dirt road. We soon created a 'short cut' between the two dwellings, trotting along the road then skirting the prickly hedge of Cinnamon Roses which divided the farmhouse lawn from the area where my uncle's hens and geese had their coops.
Our footpath wound past an old sweet rose [probably Maiden's Blush] at the north corner of the house, along a rampage of common orange lilies and so to the 'back yard' and the door into the kitchen ell.

Years later, after living in several New England states, Jim and I built a modest log home on the two acres which had once served as night pasture for Grampa Mac's dairy cows.

I was by then a dedicated gardener. 
The vegetable garden was prepared first--a practicality--then I embarked on what became an 18 year adventure with heirloom roses, peonies, lilies, delphinium--every sort of cottage garden treasure which had a chance of surviving a zone 3 winter. 
Some of my plants were shared from the gardens of friends, some I coaxed along from seeds.
I shopped at garden centers and nurseries for miles around, ordered special treasures from the catalogs that piled into the mailbox while snow lay deep on the ground.

In the autumn of our 18th year in that place we knew that we would move in the spring to Wyoming.

We left as my garden was putting on its spring show.

My grand daughter posed in the garden for my sister's photo later in the summer.
It would take several seasons for me to realize the difficulties of gardening in Wyoming.
In the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, there are less than 3 full months of frost-free weather.
Drought and searing winds prevail.
Grasshoppers arrive in the brittle heat of July, in a plague of biblical proportions.
At our final Wyoming home I managed a sparse hedge of hardy shrub roses. The resident group of mule deer nibbled them down in June--which seemed to inspire a vigorous re-blooming 
just before the first snow!

Early spring at our first Kentucky property was a time of intense gardening.
The former owners had been plant lovers.
We 'inherited' two sprawling pink peonies, a variety of iris, hydrangeas along the west wall of the house, a hibiscus by the garage, a magnificent clump of Michaelmas daisies near the clothesline. 
The iris at some point had been divided and dotted about the dooryard--some poking up through the fading spikes of daffodils, a few competing with the honeysuckle that tangled around a lamp post.

 My grandson helped prepare an extended rock-edged 'bed' near the peonies and I painstakingly separated tangled iris rhizomes, tucked them into the new space, added more peonies.

I had coveted clematis for years, never quite dared to plant them in my zone 3 Vermont garden.
I was delighted to recognize two varieties growing against the brick wall of the carport.
Haskell Rogers [the previous owner] had frugally rigged a support of metal fence stakes and chicken wire. During our second season there I bought a new trellis for the white clematis--an heirloom variety called Candida.

My son-in-law contributed an elegant tower for Nellie Moser to climb.

Nellie Moser clambered over the rocks at the base of the trellis and climbed a nearby nandina bush.

Both plants set seedlings, a few of which I pried gently out and set into a large pot.

The potted seedlings moved with me to the Pellyton farm where they sulked in their planter until early autumn when I had time to set up a trellis and tuck them into the ground of a new garden.
I was pleased to see that the seedlings wintered and thrust up fresh tendrils to begin the climb up the trellis.  I didn't know if I had managed to move starts from both varieties.
Nellie Moser, the striped rose variety is readily available both at local nurseries and through mail order. Candida is harder to find.

Only one bud appeared--from the vine growing on the right hand side of the support.


It will likely be another season before a full flowering. 
I hope to find that I saved starts of both varieties.

I have been out daily with my camera, enjoying this blossom from plump bud, through a slow unfolding of green-tinged petals, to full blown beauty and then fading to a feathery seed head.
I could have searched out a tiny start of this increasingly rare old clematis, had it shipped in, nurtured and fussed over it.
There is a special value in having an offspring of the vine that Haskell Rogers and his wife tended at the place we called home for several years.

In memory I often revisit that first Vermont garden I knew as a child, a garden that had its beginnings more than a century ago.
I can imagine a young woman bringing a peony or an iris root from the home of her parents or grandparents. Perhaps as a young matron she visited a neighbor when lily of the valley was in bloom and was given a clump wrapped in damp newspaper to carry home.
Could the lemon lilies have come from the weedy dooryard of a long-abandoned homestead?

Wherever I have lived in a home previously owned by another family I have discovered a legacy of plants and flowering shrubs.
When I have left the homes which we built from the ground up I have left behind a gardener's labor of love, hoping it would be enjoyed and nurtured.

There are two houses on our Pellyton farm.
At each house there is an inheritance of roses chosen by the Amish women who lived here. I discovered Four o'Clocks growing beside the doorstep of the larger workshop.

Already I have the beginnings of a new garden; there are clove pinks moved from my Gradyville plantings; there are divisions of the bouffant pink peonies, a Therese Bugnet rose salvaged from a runner thrust out onto the lawn.
My daughter brought bundles of iris and tiger lilies from the wild edges of her property.
I moved Canterbury bells and a straggle of Stella d'Oro lilies from the property we refurbished in Cane Valley. I have coneflowers started last year in crowded plastic trays, fragrant lavender which first saw life on my pantry windowsill.
Plants have arrived, neatly packaged from mail order nurseries and I have come home well laden from the Mennonite garden centers in the next county.
Our renter has brought lilacs from his property in Michigan and set them out along a fence 
near the stable.
On cold winter afternoons I sit by the fire turning the pages of my garden books--books with photos of famous formal English gardens; books about raising and using herbs; books with plans for elegant borders or tiny cottage plots.
I linger over a cup of tea, a nursery catalog spread open on the table, a pen ready to boldly mark a coveted offering.
Oh, to have the funds--the space--the stamina--to indulge in all the plants that take my fancy!

I can't know how many years I have to garden in this place, nor have I fully learned what will flourish in our stony soil, or what plants will languish in a hot and  humid summer.
I can only trust that whatever I accomplish in my gardening endeavors I will be leaving yet another legacy for a future owner to enjoy and enlarge.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Rain, Thunder and Lightning, Mud, More Rain

One can do nothing about the weather; it must be endured.  We grumble, complain, fret about drowning gardens, crops unplanted, the dreariness of seemingly endless storms.
As I write, at 10:45 PM on Wednesday evening, rain pounds on the metal roof of the house, streams down darkened windows. Thunder has boomed, subsided, rumbled around again.

I pulled on my boots this morning and went out to take stock of the damage of Tuesday evening's torrential storm. We didn't have the hail which clattered down in other parts of the county.  We simply had too much water pelting on us in too short a space of time.
Half open peonies sprawled, heads down; late-blooming iris lay horizontally over the edge of the raised bed which is partially sheltered by the over-hanging roof of the shop.

I had been weeding Tuesday when it began to rain just before dark.
Two weeks ago the ground was too dry for weeds to be neatly extracted. Stalks snapped, roots had to be pried loose.
Once it began to rain [was it 10 days ago?] intermittent hours of sunlight haven't been enough to wick away moisture before more fell.

Ridges rise steeply on either side of our house. When there is hard rain, freshets form and course down the hillsides, converging to swell the brook that normally putters along in its gravel bed, emptying into a culvert at the foot of the lane, gurgling out on the far side of the road.

Another lesser brook trickles along the pasture hedgerow, gushes under the lane and angles along the stand of willows that border the lane.

Nellie, who enjoys water, has discovered an opening in the ground--a burrow or tunnel made by some small creature. He prods at the hole, stops to listen, swirls a paw through the muddy water.

Nellie doesn't mind wet feet. He splashes and stirs until his white stockings are a mess.

The goats don't like the wet in their pasture.
There are shelters for them, but they plod about disconsolately.
I watched this brown 'girl'--a favorite of the current crop of kids--as she maneuvered until all four feet were on the cement block.

She was still on her perch when I crossed the drive to visit the 'babies.'

The three goatlets in the foreground are sisters--triplets.

At least we can keep our front feet dry!

Willis and Charlie are high and dry on the lumber stacked on the shop porch.

I slogged along the road to our fields which lie along the creek.
The long grass was nearly waist high, the ground soggy.
I felt restless, dis-inclined to be inside, yet unwilling to wallow my way to the creek which runs below the far edge of the field.

I zig-zagged slowly up the lane, pausing to record my green and dripping world.
The hedge/fence, over-grown again with a welter of wild rose, blackberry bramble, honeysuckle.

I clambered about on the side hill above the drive, admiring the pale flowers of lyre-leaved sage.

Spider wort [perhaps] near the little brook

I haven't seen this tiny plant before, growing in the shade where scrubby trees fringe the edge of the woods.
I slithered down the wet grass of the bank, trudged past the nearly flattened clove pinks at the edge of the side porch.
Indoors, to finish the laundry, bake a pound cake, hull the strawberries purchased from the Beachy Amish produce farm farther up the ridge road.
A day of small accomplishments and now an evening of fretting over the weather!
The rain has quit for the moment, thunder is a sullen mutter, although storm warnings continue for another hour or two, and lightning still zips across the dark sky.
The morning will dawn to reveal more mud--dripping trees, bedraggled flowers.
Que sera, sera.

Sunday, May 8, 2016


The phone rang at 8:30 Saturday evening.  A glance at the tiny screen identified the nightly call from my son.
"Hello," I answered in the cheery tone reserved for family members and friends.
Without preamble, the responding voice queried, "Aren't you glad you have Dawn?"
I chuckled, knowing that the remark referenced the beautiful bouquet delivered on Friday afternoon, an example of my daughter-in-law's generous thoughtfulness. [I had posted a photo on Face Book so that she and Howard could see the bouquet taking pride of place on the living room table.]
"I'm grateful for Dawn--and for you--every day!"

 The delivery of the flowers was good timing.
A trip to the produce market in Casey County had ended with me phoning Jim for rescue when the brake caliper on the van I prefer to drive stuck and refused to release.  Jim appeared, tunked on something inside the wheel and offered me the Nissan to bring home while he took the recalcitrant mini-van.
Waiting on the front doorstep,  presented by a loving feline, was a small ring-necked snake, still showing signs of life. Jim to the rescue again.
I put away the groceries and walked out to my flower garden as a way of settling rather ruffled feathers;  tires crunched on gravel and I  turned to see an unfamiliar vehicle trundling up the lane.  The driver, a smiling woman, emerged holding out the vase of flowers--an instant balm for my stress.

I had noted earlier in the week that Mother's Day would be observed on the 8th of May.
Jim's Mom died in 2003 and mine in 2007. I spent a few moments nostalgically remembering--I usually chose a garden-related gift for my Mother-in-Law and a new book--or book shop gift certificate - for my Mother.

Both women today would be termed as 'professionals.'
My mother completed the required two years of 'teacher's training' shortly after her 18th birthday and until marriage in her early 20's and my arrival three years later she taught in the one-room schoolhouses of her hometown.
Jim's Mom, at that age, was still in nurses training.
Both women put their careers on hold to raise their children. Both returned to college to refresh their credentials and work again in mid-life.
On my birth certificate and on Jim's [both of us born in Vermont] in the space for listing Occupation of Mother, both women are designated 'house wife.' Like many women of their generation, family and homemaking became their primary focus.

I've heard it said that we must become mothers in our turn before we can appreciate the sacrifices, the emotional and physical endurance required to keep a home and bring up our children 'in the way they should go.'
A Mother is not endowed with wisdom and patience at the moment when that tiny bundle of life is placed in her arms. Looking back, most of us will mourn the times when we lacked understanding, punished a child too severely, felt too busy, too burdened to listen or to play.

This weekend in churches across the land, time has been set aside to honor mothers.  The women of each congregation bring home a long-stemmed rose or carnation, the stalk already bent from the too tight clasp of small warm hands.  We smile at the procession of children, each proudly carrying a flower to mother, to grandmother, and then to those 'Mothers in Israel' who have long been the backbone of children's programs.

I am mildly astonished to find that I am now the matriarch of my family!  I have been pampered this weekend.
The gift of flowers on Friday was followed by the arrival on Saturday afternoon of my daughter and son-in-law presenting a bucket of freshly picked local strawberries--and enough whipping cream for several shortcakes!

I was an honored dinner guest at their Gradyville home today along with the friend whom daughter Gina fondly calls her 'second mother.'

I miss my own Mother.  Though I often felt she didn't understand the adult I became, there were deep bonds. When a piece of music delighted me,  I could share that with her. We could enjoy together the word-craft of a writer we admired, pore over vintage family photos on a companionable afternoon. She passed on to me a penchant for proper grammar, and the ability to transpose a hymn tune 'by ear.'
I miss Jim's Mom--her store of practical wisdom, her love of nature.  She had a contagious enthusiasm for impromtu outings--rounding up her available adult children and grandchildren, packing a lunch and heading us all to the blueberry patch, or to harvest 'fiddleheads' along 
Otter Creek in the spring. 

With the inevitable passing of generations we lose our mothers and grandmothers, along with those beloved women unrelated by blood who have nurtured and encouraged us. 

'Mothers' have been lauded through sentimental songs and florid poetry; the observance of 'Mother's Day' with its attendant air of commercialism is perhaps a far cry from earlier tokens of appreciation that might have included a hand made card, a bouquet of wildflowers. 
I have enjoyed the gifts chosen and presented by my son and daughter and their spouses. Even more, I cherish the on-going affirmation of their affection.