Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Walking on a Wet Morning

Rain overnight brought us a damp morning--not cold, but heavy with moisture and stillness.
Jim had errands, I had checks/bill payments which needed to be posted.
I ate the last slice of pineapple up-side-down cake, pulled on my boots, put my camera over my shoulder and crunched down the lane.
I poked envelopes into the mailbox, noting with resignation that the bane of tiny ants are in residence again. They are impervious to dousings with either bleach or insect spray!

When I reached the creek I was surprised to see that it is not in full spate.

This shrub grows along the creek bank--one whose identity I don't know.

The blossoms cling to the branches in a manner similar to redbud--cheerful on a cloudy day.

We've been noticing that the redbuds are coming into bloom.  They are brittle scraggly trees clinging to the edges of the woods, unremarkable except during their colorful spring moment of glory.
These are also called 'Judas Tree.'

There are several redbuds fringing the edges of the steep hillside which rises behind the retaining wall by the front drive.

A few tulips circle a cedar tree at the edge of the lower drive--legacy of former owners.

Deep purple violets run rampant in the short grass of the front lawn, grow in the verges of the lane and in clumps along the creek bank.
Yellow violets are not as prevalent, seeming to like the moist woods beyond the stable.

I need to look up flower names yet again--although some of them slip out of memory nearly as quickly as I identify them!

Another plant in need of identification--the fern-y leaves do not belong to the flowers.
I also need to experiment with other settings on my camera--using the 'auto' feature doesn't give clear definition to close-up shots.

I fortified myself with tuna salad on a slice of homemade multi-grain bread, then tackled such garden chores as could be conducted without badly disturbing damp soil.
My heirloom clematis, Candida, now in its second season since transplant, has survived frosty nights and more buds have appeared.

The nameless rose came into full leaf before the cold weather and didn't fare well, although several others show little or no frost damage. 
I cut it back which may delay bloom, but makes for a tidier shrub. 
Willis, of course, supervised.
I climbed over the wall to trim some of the stems and found that in trying not to be scratched by thorns [or tread on Willis] I had put my foot squarely on an emerging plump lily bud, breaking it off.

I didn't prune away the fall bloom from the butterfly bush which has grown quite tall. 
It has a messy habit of clinging to last season's dried leaves, even as new leaves are appearing.
I clambered about, snipping, pulling branches down to eye level, feeling tiny bits of dried leaves and florets pelting into my hair and into the neck of my shirt. 

Several weeks ago when the pink tips of peonies were barely breaking through the soil, I weeded and scratched at this portion of the raised bed.
The weeds are unstoppable.
The mulch which I applied to the L-shaped perennial strips last summer did nothing to deter the variety of intruding weeds which remained evergreen through the mild winter.
I am disheartened by the disheveled and weedy mess--and by the unwelcome realization that I'm unlikely to find a workable solution.
 I stomped inside to brush twigs and leaves from my hair, made a hasty supper and cleared up.

I have sneezed throughout the evening--no surprise as Jim has been nursing a head cold.
I'm labeling it 'the church cold'--church services the past two weeks have been punctuated with sneezes and nose-blowings on every side.
Hardly a serious thing, but most annoying!  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Catching Up With Myself

The past week proved uncommonly busy with errands and appointments.
I had a second visit scheduled with the chiropractor [and a third with her today.] Jim needed parts and pieces for his tractor restoration projects and also needed to assemble prices on lumber and hardware with the possibility of building several picnic tables for our church.
Along the way he learned that an acquaintance who has been in poor health had decided to sell one of his classic cars, a 1936 Ford. Jim knew his brother was hoping to buy such an item and so long distance negotiations took place.
There was paperwork to deal with and then the car had to be collected and driven here--only a few miles away, but the whole process took way more time in emails, phone calls, and connections
 than one might imagine. 

 With the transfer of funds accomplished, the next step was title reassignment and bill of sale signed and notarized, which needed to be done at the court house, Jim climbed into the driver's seat.  The car rolled quietly to the end of the driveway and stopped--out of gas.  It couldn't have happened in a more convenient place! 
I was along as the spare driver to eventually follow Jim home in our own car.

A quick trip in our car over the hill to the little store at Hardscratch with a can for gas and this time we were really underway.
It was by then past noon so Jim decided we should stop in town for lunch.
As the week progressed we were out for lunch on three different days.

Another of Ivan's classic automobiles.

On Friday morning I took advantage of blue skies and sunshine to peg a load of laundry on the back porch lines. I had thoughts of housework and baking, but became aware that Jim was up to something. When I noticed him at his desk carefully counting out cash I inquired resignedly, 'What have you bought now?'
A neighbor a mile away on the crossroad has had this truck advertised for sale for some time. Jim looked it over and decided it would be ideal for the upcoming trip to haul the vintage Ford out west to his brother. I was initially not enthused, until I realized that other than being 2 wheel drive, the truck has the same instrument panel and interior as one I frequently drove when we lived in Wyoming. 
I was asked to go with Jim while he collected the truck, again so that I could drive our car home.
There ensued one of those ridiculous situations that soak up time .
The owner of the truck couldn't locate the title and other paperwork in the place where it should have been kept.
[We have been there and done that, as the saying goes.]
While we waited the man and his son tore apart desk drawers and rummaged through file folders.
At last, sweating and apologetic, he suggested that Jim take the truck home and he would continue to search for the title.
Arriving home I had the feeling that it wouldn't be wise to start my baking!
10 minutes later the gentleman roared up the lane and triumphantly brandished the title and with considerable relief signed the bill of sale which I had printed.
Another trip to town--to the insurance agency first and then to the courthouse;  a short wait in line, but then a longer wait while the clerk sorted things before we had all 'signed, sealed and delivered!' 
We had lunch at the sandwich shop and Jim decided to pay in impromptu visit on our daughter and son-in-law!

The first of the 'kid-crop, twin bucks.

At home, a message from our neighbor/renters that another of the goats had given birth.
I walked down the lane in the gathering dusk to visit the newest babies.
The second born of the twins was a bit lethargic, not  interested in taking the bottle with her mother's rich  colostsrum.
I was given the little doeling to hold, bundled in a soft towel. I massaged gently behind her long soft ears, stroked her sleek back, talked all sorts of nonsense to her.
Earlier in the week I was present when one of my favorite goats produced triplets!
I am not much help with the urgent details of goat mid-wifery, but I can fetch towels, I can hold a new baby goat, provide an extra pair of hands and an encouraging voice.

Baby Goats grow so fast!

While Jim priced lumber at Lowes, I foraged in the garden center, coming home with two unusual lavenders and a rosemary, Tuscan Blue.
I am quite determined to be successful again with rosemary after the failures of the past several years.

The miniature rose, birthday gift from my son and his lovely wife, was in need of a larger pot.
When I teased it free of the soil I discovered it was three separate plants.
They are in the west window of the upstairs hall until I can decide where they should live outdoors.
I'm considering that they should be treated as container plants.

So--a strangely busy week--vehicles, plants, endless errands, phone conversations, baby goats.

This evening I have built a fire while rain pounded down, thunder rattled and darkness came early.
It will be too wet tomorrow to tackle the garden tasks I had in mind, but I can sow seeds indoors, set the trays in the sunroom windows. 
I can tidy my neglected kitchen, have a look at the sewing projects which have been languishing for several weeks.
I can pull on my boots and wander along the lane, camera in hand, to delight in the changes which daily announce the progress of springtime.
Life is good!

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Capful of Violets

I bundled up warmly at noon today, winding a fleecy scarf around my head, pulling on my old down jacket and my work boots.  The sun was bright in a blue sky, but the air had a chilly bite.
The path at the edge of the meadow was lined with lush green grass despite the recent frosts, a bit squelchy underfoot. 
I paused for a few moments to watch the clear waters of Spruce Pine Creek splashing over the cobbled creek bed, noted a robin bouncing cheerfully from branch to branch of a small sycamore.

I got myself rather clumsily across the wet ditch that divides two fields, strolled on a few yards and saw them: the first wild violets of springtime, short-stemmed, sprawling on the damp earth.
Kneeling there, camera in hand, I was swept back in time to another March day, another place.

It was warm in Grampa Mac's dining room, cozier than in the north facing rooms where my younger sister and I were living with our parents before they built the little house along the road.
Mother had pulled a chair close to the edge of the metal register which let heat billow into the room from the wood furnace in the cellar. I leaned against her knees while she gently combed the tangles from my long, freshly shampooed hair. 
The window behind us looked onto the back porch; from the metal roof icicle melt dripped onto a steadily shrinking bank of snow. Now and then a long spear of ice let go of the overhanging roof, shattering with a high brittle shiver of sound.

From beyond the kitchen the woodshed door was opened and quickly shut again with a muffled clang, followed by the heavy tread of booted feet up the three steps to the kitchen door.
Grampa Mac crossed the narrow kitchen, paused a moment on the threshold of the dining room to pull off his heavy mittens. 
The collar of his blanket-lined denim 'barn frock' was turned up to meet the 'earlappers' of his woolen cap, his face was ruddy from the cold; he brought with him the fresh scent of sun and snow and March wind, mingled with his usual aura of cows, hay, and wood smoke.

Mother laid aside the comb as Grampa Mac leaned down and commanded, "Take off my cap!"
Puzzled by this strange request I did nothing. Grampa's head was at eye level, covered by the faded buffalo plaid cap, squares of blue and black, brim twisted by seasons of outdoor work in all weather.
The felted wool had picked up a few cow hairs, a powdering of chaff.

Grampa Mac raised his head enough to smile at my bewilderment. "Go on," he urged, 'Pull off my cap!"  I tugged at the cap which came off leaving his thick grey-white hair standing in shaggy peaks.
Lying neatly in the crown of the cap, warm against the dingy flannel lining, lay a bunch of purple violets. I gathered them gently, looked up inquiringly into Grampa Mac's blue eyes.

It was the end of maple sugaring season and Grampa Mac had hitched the team of work horses, Dick and Babe to the work sled to bring sap buckets down from the sugar house to be washed and stacked away for another year.
In a sheltered hollow along the woods road, he noted a patch of bare ground where the first violets  made a brave stand.  Halting the team, he clambered from the sled and knelt to pick a bouquet. Needing both hands to drive, he considered a moment how to bring the delicate flowers home undamaged, then removed his cap and laid them safely there.

 I have picked spring violets in many places; the long-stemmed deep purple ones that appeared in a patch along the road from my parents' house; I've walked up Knox Hill to search out white ones on the slope where the painted trillium flourish.
I have found violets growing among the sagebrush in Wyoming.
Violets-- purple, yellow, white--thrive in Kentucky's springtime, popping up at the edge of my herb garden, clinging to the creek banks, thrusting up along the paths through the woods.

I delight in them, and cherish the memory of Grampa Mac who paused in his work to bring home a capful of violets for a little girl.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Aggravations of Weather

Sweet Autumn Clematis in the sunshine of last Thursday afternoon.
Several nights just below freezing have shriveled the leaves somewhat.
I suppose it was a given that our unnaturally warm winter would slide into a 'cold spell' that threatens premature growth.
In town many of the pink-flowered shrubs and small trees that might be expected to bloom late in March burst into glorious color nearly three weeks ago.  The glory was short-lived, as frosty nights turned blossoms to brown mush.

The is Clematis Candida transplanted from a seedling brought from our first Kentucky home.
It had only one blossom last spring, but that one identified the plant for me.
Nellie Moser and Candida had grown together for years, clambering over a make-shift trellis of chicken wire.  When I carefully potted up a small plant dug from the starts at the bottom of the new trellis which I installed there, I didn't know which variety I had.
The stems of my three clematis plants seem very fragile, almost brittle.
Candida has started to trail along the rough boards of the garden fence.

This was the largest of several buds discovered on Thursday.
The cold may have seared them enough to prevent opening.
I went out before dark this evening and tucked an old tablecloth and a bath towel over the trellises.
It may be 'too little, too late.'

Lady's Mantle emerging from a tangle of dead stems--hopefully it survives the cold weather.

These 'girls' are within a few days of being a year old.
They have enjoyed the sunshine and fresh green grass in spite of the blustery winds of 
the past few days.
As for me, I have somehow put my back 'out'--rather painful and with the added distress of vertigo.
I am annoyed with this unexpected down time, although the cats are delighted that I am spending hours tucked up in one rocking chair or the other.
I rarely watch TV, but Jim discovered the BBC series 'Escape to the Country' which we have been binge-watching for several evenings.
I have always hoped to see England and Scotland in person---something that I can safely say at this point in our lives is not going to happen.
We are enjoying the virtual tours of various English locations familiar from reading; having had some experience in buying and selling houses it is interesting to see what has been on the market in another setting.  Interior spaces seem smaller, especially the bedrooms, but there have been some lovely kitchens on display.
The gardens are so lush and beautiful, even when the outdoor property is very small.

Several more chilly days and frosty nights are in our forecast.
I've no wish to be outside in cold weather, but hoping that my back won't prevent me much longer from puttering at my usual projects. 
We are out of sorts with the time change--does anyone really like setting the clocks ahead?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Hobbling Home

It is a month today since Willis went missing.
I was mildly surprised, but not concerned when Willis was not on the front doorstep when I came downstairs. I've sometimes wondered if he has an internal clock which has him waiting for me each morning, or if perhaps he hears my measured tread on the 14 stairs to the main floor and hurries from one of the blanket-lined 'beds' on the side porch to pose on the doormat, face up-tilted to the window in a beguiling reminder that he needs his breakfast served before any other concern can claim my attention.

It was a sunny morning, but with a hint of chilly wind. We needed to leave shortly after nine, but took turns poking our heads out the door to call, "Willis, Willis!" He might have noticed something behind the stable or down at the curve of the lane, some matter that required his urgent supervision, causing him a delay in appearing for breakfast.

We were home shortly after 1 p.m.--and no tweedy-coated cat came to meet the car when we drove in. No Willis strolling up from the shop or rounding the corner by the side porch. The wind had picked up, moving clouds across the sun.  We dressed warmly and went out to search, quartering the dooryard, plodding along the lane, shouting his name into the windy afternoon.  Jim looked in the shop--Willis might have whisked through the door when Jim was shutting up the night before.  I prowled through the stable, back around the garden.  Willis was nowhere to be found.
Late on the previous afternoon a battered pickup had trundled up the lane, bringing two men who were interested in one of Jim's restored tractors. They decided early on to buy the tractor but stayed endlessly [as men do] sharing fond memories of the tractors they had known, stories of crops planted and harvested in years gone by.  Passing the pantry window I looked out to see Willis taking it all in, listening and observing from his post on a stack of lumber. Now, I turned to Jim and asked, already dreading his reply, "Did you see Willis after the men left?"

It had been nearly dark when the men finally drove off, the headlights of their elderly pickup receding slowly down the lane.  "No," Jim reflected. "He was there underfoot the whole time we were talking, but, come to think of it, I didn't see him when I turned off the shop lights."
We realized, with heavy hearts, what had likely happened.  Willis, from kittenhood, has had a fascination with vehicles.  We have many times had to extract him from a visitor's car or truck. He once slipped into our van when Jim was loading building supplies, hunkered down, invisible and unnoticed beneath a length of insulation batting, then popped out between the front seats after he had ridden with us several miles down the road. He stowed away in the tool compartment when an acquaintance came by to install a water purifying system. He was discovered at the next stop in Columbia and returned home by the kindly man and his sons in time for supper.

Jim was to deliver the purchased tractor on Monday. When he phoned to confirm the details he inquired if, by chance, the men had found a cat in the back of their truck.  Of course they had not.

I visualized several scenarios in grim detail. Willis had vaulted from the pickup bed at a busy intersection, only to be flattened as he darted wildly between moving vehicles. He had been thrown from the truck on a lonely stretch of road, lost, hungry, cold.

The weather had turned dismal by Sunday morning, bursts of icy rain slanted in on a harsh wind, the temperature plummeted. I couldn't choose between the two endings I had devised--a quick death beneath the wheels of a car, or the slow sad misery of cold and hunger.  We told ourselves we would never know for certain what had happened to Willis.

I didn't share the news of Willis's disappearance with our daughter until the third day of his absence. Her response was one of grief for the loss of 'the greatest blue-grey bear cat in Kentucky."

I told myself sternly that the era of Willis was over, but a dozen times a day I found myself looking for him--in the snug basket on the back porch, on the lumber stack by the shop door.

Wednesday, four days past Willis's disappearance, the early morning was grey and unpromising. I plodded down the stairs accompanied by a retinue of the cats who have house privileges.  Unthinkingly reverting to habit, I stopped to peer out the glass of the front door before continuing into the kitchen.

He was there!  Willis was sitting on the shabby doormat, face tilted up in greeting. I opened the door, scooped him up, burying my face in his stripy fur. I felt the first tentative stirrings of his purr. By the time I was halfway up the stairs with him clutched against my sweatshirt, the purr was approaching full throttle.
Jim was only half awake when I dumped Willis on his pillow. "See who has come home!"  Jim, startled, rolled over to find himself nose to nose with Willis who was fairly vibrating with enthusiastic purring and excited meows.

It wasn't until he had eaten, washed his face and settled his whiskers that we noticed the injury to his right hind leg. Willis started off the porch on three legs: hop-hop-rest.  Hop, hop, rest. We felt carefully for broken bones.  There were none. No cuts, no visible swelling, but a very definite limp as though his hip was slightly out of place.
We think we've reconstructed the 'rest of the story.'  Willis, overcome by curiosity, jumped into the back of the visiting men's truck, sniffed about, poked through the assortment of things I recall being there, curled up comfortably for a snooze and rode off into the sunset.  We suspect that he was awake and rather alarmed by the time the truck stopped at the junction of Sanders Ridge Road and Rt 206.  Looking for a way out of the truck bed he likely was pitched abruptly onto the blacktop landing heavily and wrenching his hip. His homing device was working well, but it took him 4 slow and painful days and nights to hobble home. Did he shelter in a shed or under a porch, burrow into a leafy ditch while the rain pelted down?
The details we'll never know.  Willis stayed close to the front porch during those first days at home.  He ate well, hopped along the drive, stretched on the sun-warmed concrete of the south porch floor. He managed limited patrol duties bouncing along with the injured leg tucked up. By his second week at home he was putting all four feet on the ground, but using only three legs when he wanted to put on speed. The first few attempts at leaping to sit on the retaining wall ended in an undignified fumble.

With his adventure now a month behind him, Willis is almost back to normal. His gait is slower than in the past, but his balance is good, he can land fairly gracefully on the garden wall to supervise and get in the way as I prod at emerging perennials.  He ambles behind me down the lane to wait crouching at the bend, camouflaged in his tweed coat, popping out of a tangle of dried weeds and dusty leaves with his familiar "Aha!  Gotcha!"
Mindful that this painful experience was unlikely to teach Willis what he ought to know, we are more diligent than ever to locate his where-abouts when a vehicle leaves the dooryard. The UPS truck is suspect, as is a neighbor's vehicle left unattended with the window down or the door partly open. When one of Jim's tractor customers rolls in I round up Willis and shut him into the back entry where he lurks with flattened ears showing his annoyance.
We scold Willis and remind him of the trouble he has caused. 
We tell him that his recent escapade may have permanently impaired his agility, taken a few cat years off his life.  We note when a damp morning chill seems to stiffen his hip joint; we see him carefully calculating a leap that until a month ago would have been smoothly automatic.
Mostly we are relieved and happy to have Willis back home, nosing into our business, over-seeing our work, providing companionship, secure in his job as head cat and farm manager.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Restless Weather

Photos taken over the past week are a record of our unsettled weather.
This was Friday at noon, warm sunshine, but a strong wind that sent dry leaves skirling along the lane and sang in my ears as I worked at clipping and pruning the sage, thyme and lavender in the small plot near the side porch steps.

Afternoon clouds moved in, churning across the sun, bringing evening rain.

Several mornings have been dark and misty.
Today a storm surged in at about 8 a.m.--thunder, lashing wind, rain that drummed on the metal roof.
Bobby Mac, who had been outside for his usual morning explorations, streaked inside and flung himself behind the laundry basket in the downstairs bathroom, his usual place of refuge during noisy storms.  We called Nellie, but he didn't appear until I stood on the back porch during a lull in the downpour.  He dashed out of the lean-to at the side of the shop, ran to the back door, flung himself inside, muddy-footed, tail wet and bedraggled. 

At times the sun breaks through.

I was late in trimming the lavender last spring.  All the plants in the herb bed have now been given a preliminary pruning. Several lavender plants suffered in the prolonged rainy heat of July and early August.  I have trimmed them back severely and will watch to see if they revive.  The purple sage wintered well; common sage had gotten leggy and needed the encouragement of a clipping.

Variegated vinca knows no restraint. Unfazed by winter frosts it trailed over the wall by the side steps, ran along the edge of the porch.
I trimmed it brutally--which will likely only serve to encourage more rampant growth.
Usually self-seeded violas [johnny-jump-ups] are blooming by late winter.
I have looked for them and today noticed what may be several very tiny seedlings.

Phlox "David" is alive and establishing a small clump of plantlets in the east leg of my struggling perennial border.

The clematis makes progress.
Temperatures are predicted to drop to a few degrees below the frost point before morning--I hope the clematis can deal with the abrupt change. 

Water rushes through the culvert at the bend in the lane.

The seasonal brook along the lane has been running for several weeks.
The deluge this morning has caused it to overflow.

Churned up froth and a sweep of dry leaves have caught in downed limbs of the willows.

The brook originates somewhere back in the woods beyond the stable. A few hours of heavy rain bring it to rushing life, surging noisily through the pasture. 

By mid-afternoon today the temperature was falling and the wind had a chilly bite.
We let the fire die down last evening. but as dusk came on the house began to seem a bit bleak.
Jim was away on an errand and I knew I would be attending a meeting at church.
I gathered an armful of twigs for kindling, added a handful of the lavender clippings --saved for such a purpose--and soon had a cheerful fire sending scented warmth into the room.
Gusts of wind buffeted the van as I drove into town, but had quieted by the time I made my careful way home on the winding road.
I did not linger on my way into the house, pausing just long enough to notice the sickle moon set like a shallow bowl in the black sky; brilliant stars, a tang of wood smoke on cool damp air; inside, light, warmth, cats stretched on the rug by the big black range. 
At 11 p.m. the thermometer outside the kitchen window stands at 44 F--20 plus degrees cooler than this morning.
Perhaps the wind and rain are over for a bit and a March frost will creep in quietly.