Thursday, May 30, 2019

Whir, Whiz, Zoom!

When I first hung out the hummingbird feeders during a warm spell of late April weather I began to fear that none would find us.
A solitary male flew past the feeder without stopping to drink and I saw no other hummers for nearly a month.
About two and a half weeks ago we became aware of a hummingbird presence--a male and sometimes a female circling the feeder and then darting off as though humans in their space were too intimidating.

Slowly the birds became accustomed to us. 
I could sit quietly on the east porch while the birds whirred in to the feeder, perched and sipped, then flashed across the lane to sit in a tree.  The birds are so tiny that only by watching their swift flight would one discern their spot on a leafy branch.

As I have worked on the east side of the house during several evenings--potting plants for the entry deck, grubbing weeds along the retaining wall--I have heard the whir of wings above my head as the birds swooped down on the feeder.

This evening Jim and I witnessed a most astonishing display of hummingbird interaction which extended for an hour and a half.
There were five birds involved; three ruby-throated males and two, as we think, females.
I have read that juvenile birds of either sex can resemble the mature female, but given the earliness of the season, we suspect these were females.

We have observed hummingbirds at close range before, so their swift dives and pugnacious territorial maneuvers are no surprise.
Given the fierce dispositions of these tiny birds I have often remarked that it is a good thing they are not the size of robins--or crows--or bluejays!
This evening's performance was above and beyond any we have witnessed both in duration and fierceness.
Two males were interacting at all times, more often three males, diving, circling, reversing, hovering, all the while darting aggressively at each other.
Several times they came so near that I ducked, thinking one might fly into my face.

There was a very dramatic moment when one male rode the other to the floor of the porch, inches from my feet and proceeded to peck and flail his rival.
From time to time the females flew in, squeaking excitedly.
 As though needing to refuel for the fray, a bird would try for a sip of syrup only to be knocked from the perch by the flying tackle of another.
The females when they joined the trio of males were as fierce, spreading their tail feathers in a hovering dance as though urging on the combatants.

Several cloudbursts of rain swept through during the hour and a half.
Torrents of water streaming from the roof did nothing to dampen the fighting spirits of the hummers.

Water sluiced from the barn roof, thunder banged in the distance.

When the rain briefly ceased a pale rainbow arched over the east field.

Storms come most often from the northwest, as did this one. The view from the west porch was a perfect setting for a gothic tale--grey skies and swirling mist.

Between showers the setting sun high-lighted every shade of green in the dripping trees across the lane.

The shower passed, the long battle of the hummingbirds began to lose intensity.
The weary birds landed to drink deeply with a minimum of hostility.
The air held a chill of coming night.

Coming inside at last, pottering in the kitchen I happened to glance out the east windows.
I always marvel how the sun setting in the west can throw such glorious color toward the east.

The thunderhead hung, scarcely moving, a great billow of fiery gold, topaz, melting into mauve and lavender.
As darkness settled damply outside the house Jim and I agreed it had been an entertaining and memorable evening.

Monday, May 27, 2019

It Rained!

Much needed rain moved in late on Sunday, a brief pounding of water which subsided to a more moderate pattering before the storm moved past leaving a shimmering and cooler evening.
The ground could have used a gentle overnight soaking, but the shower has freshened the landscape.

The main entry has been finished, the door painted [by Howard] and the space begged for the embellishment of plants.

I learned that my favorite garden nursery was having a sale on Friday, so off I went along the narrow winding roads.
Bedding plants and container plants had been sold off since I was there at the beginning of the week, but I was able to gather what I needed.
Many of the container plants are colorful and rather short-lived things with which I'm not too familiar.  They look stunning for awhile spilling from hanging baskets or tubs, but tend to get bedraggled by the end of summer.
I'm happier spending my money on plants that will winter over either in the house or in situ.

I bought begonias, bronze and green leaved varieties.

I tucked my big thyme plant into the tiny space at the edge of the walk way and two lavenders closer to the house.  This is experimental; will they thrive there?

Peonies are long since past their bloom, the foxgloves are leggy.  I plan to harvest seeds before I cut them back in hope of a later blooming.

Poppies grew alongside the porch at the farmhouse and some of the seeds fell into the containers planted to dwarf daylilies.
I'm pleased to have these [Lauren's Grape] and will save seeds.

 Poppies that are fresh in the morning fade as the day grows hot.
The petals fall and lie on the grass like wrinkled taffeta.

Bee balm has come into bloom and has attracted clusters of bumble bees.

Weeds have popped up behind the roses on the retaining wall. The newly seeded grass is showing a green veil, but the weeds have grown far more robustly.
I dug out some of the weeds before the rain when the soil was hard and dry. I moved daylilies [wintered in containers] into the area between the wall and the 'Jane' magnolia.

The knockout roses [birthday gift from Howard and Dawn] were pruned back when I set them out. There is healthy new growth and emerging bloom.

David Austin roses were on sale and three came home with me. The photo doesn't do justice to the colors.  One is apricot in color, one pale yellow and the other a creamy pink.  I hoped to buy one in a darker rose shade, but was concerned that those were showing mildewed leaves and straggling branches.  The plants at the nursery are watered by hand with a wand attached to a hose, the water falling from overhead--efficient, but rough on anything prone to mildew.
These roses will become the foundation of the landscaping on the west retaining wall.

I garden with determination, frustrated that I can't 'keep at it' as in decades past.
I am impatient with aching knees and shoulders!
I hope that 'maintenance' will be physically less demanding than the work of establishing new plantings.
Meanwhile, I totter off to bed earlier than usual or fall asleep at my desk!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Continuing Progress

Jim cleared out enough of the barn last fall to get his tractors and some tools under cover. 
The right wing of the structure still had the animal stalls and rubble left from the former tenants.
Although he has considered building a garage/workshop, that plan has evidently been postponed, and the alternative was to clean out and refurbish the south side of the barn.

Oddments have been lugged out, some lumber salvaged, a good deal of 'junk' consigned 
to the burn pit. With trash and stall partitions removed, layers of ancient bedding and mud have been scraped out in preparation for a load of gravel which is meant to arrive tomorrow.

Later in the afternoon work began to remove the temporary steps and construct a small deck at the entry door.

By evening the deck was floored and I gather there will be new steps made.
This may not be the final solution for the main entry; Jim's plans seem to evolve over time.

Monday was the day of installing a combination heat and A/C unit which is referred to as a mini-split.  My only contribution to this effort was to straddle a step ladder at the back of the house and catch lengths of heavy wiring cable as it was pushed through the exterior wall.
Cool mornings have given Jim the opportunity to try out the heat, then enjoy the cooling system after working outside in the sun.

Late on Monday David Beachy trundled in with his tractor and mowing machine to cut the hay in our meadow. His younger brother, Mark loves to 'make hay' so he was delegated to return on Tuesday to 'turn' the swaths of drying grass with the crimper/tedder.  David followed in the farm truck to oversee that all went well.
Tagging along with his older brothers was the youngest boy, Mahlon.  
I was outside when this entourage arrived, considering whether the ground was dry enough to pick stones and sod out of the space which Jim had tilled up to extend my flower garden.
'I'll help you,' offered Mahlon.
He chatted companionably as we worked, picking rocks and clattering them into a bucket to be emptied along the edge of the ravine.
Leaning back on his heels as the tractor swept past us in the meadow, he declared, 
'Fresh cut hay is the best smell of all!'
By the time Mark finished raking the hay, Mahlon and I had cleared the flower bed ready to be smoothed and planted.

The large downstairs bedroom was finished last week in time for a visit from Jim's cousin.
The closet rail and shelves are not in place, and curtains hastily unearthed from a storage bin were hung over windows that are still dusty.

Eventually a king size bed will be set up, and furniture rearranged, proper curtains sorted.
[And the windows washed!]

The downstairs bath is finished.
I tried out the new shower this morning.

The downstairs living area is likewise finished; Again, furniture hasn't been allocated to proper places, merely brought in from the storage trailer and placed here and there.
Note the cat enjoying the sofa!

Jim constructed this handsome door. It is worthy of the entrance to someplace rather important: 
a wine cellar--an underground tunnel, a hiding place for treasure [?]

In reality, behind the door is the storage space beneath the stairs.  It has been crammed with loaded boxes and bins which I must, at some point, haul out, sort and deal with the contents.

SIL Matt created this Corian top for the lowered kitchen counter where I knead bread or roll out pastry.  Early on I considered having all the counter work tops made with Corian, but decided it was too pricey. Instead they are made from a high-end laminate.  Matt found a remnant of Corian left from another job--just enough for my work top.

While the men have accomplished wonders, I often feel that I don't contribute much to this house-building process. 
I have painted when asked, stained siding; last week I poly-sealed the wood for the staircase and trim.
I keep up with basic housework, laundry, prepare rather mundane meals that can be served whenever the men can take a break.
I hem curtains, rummage through storage boxes, run errands.
I have set out the second little magnolia tree and the lilacs which were a Mother's Day gift.
I have not answered letters and emails, nor tidied my desk.
Sometimes I wonder if I will remember how to 'keep house' or establish some sort of schedule when we are finally finished, unpacked, rooms set to rights.

Meanwhile, I escape to my small garden.
This evening I weeded peacefully, watched by faithful Willis. I knelt with my slender pointy trowel, loosening the earth around small and sturdy coneflowers. The weeds lifted easily.  I set out phlox--a white variety new to me called 'Peacock.'
I found larger pots for a new rosemary, 'Huntington,' and for a lavender, 'Big Blue.'
Tomorrow I intend to sow seeds of foxglove and lady's mantle and a pale prairie coneflower.
Perhaps I will make another visit to the garden nursery!

Evening skies were paling to shades of mauve-grey when I came inside.  How strange to think that in little more than a month we will reach mid-summer!

Monday, May 6, 2019

May Monday

A beautiful day, beginning with dense white fog, then warming to a blue sky embellished with fluffy white clouds.
There were spells of chilly rain over the weekend which means mud in the still to be landscaped areas of disturbed dirt around the house.

The foxgloves stood stalwart through the storms, although the rain dashed some of the lower blossoms to the ground.

The peonies are in opening mode, and I must get some mulch down to protect the blooms. Remember, it always rains on the peonies!

I was drafted to apply poly-sealer to what seemed to be dozens of lengths of lumber that the men have been creating using the planer and sander.  Much of this will be used to finish the stairway.
It is easier to work on flat pieces laid out on trestles and sawhorses--less drip and not [quite] as hard on the shoulders.
I made a quick trip to the South Fork shops on Friday [a huge bag of potting soil from the garden nursery, bulk foods from Sunny Valley, a few items from Discount Foods.]
I was gone long enough for the men to move furniture from the storage trailer into the nearly finished lower level of the house.
I suspect that this might have been accomplished in my absence so that chairs and tables and dressers could be landed without my suggestions as to their where-abouts.
No matter, we haven't come to permanent arrangements or the unpacking of many smaller items.
Since the bookcases have come in, I must figure out a way to bring in the many boxes of books without doing myself an injury.

The cats are quite thrilled with the reappearance of favorite chairs, the leather sofa [which they have scratched] and various other convenient perches.
Looking into the big room several times Friday evening I found they were playing a feline version of 'musical chairs,' taking turns to try out the newly furnished space.

The guest bedroom--without a bed! 

It was nearly 9 in the evening when I remembered that no one had been to the mailbox.
I finished cleaning my paintbrush and stepped out the front door.  The sun had disappeared behind the western ridge, leaving a faint blush of coral pink; the dimming sky was dappled with soft grey, the air cooling. I walked slowly up the drive and along the lane toward the road.
There was the scent of freshly cut grass along the verges, and the meadow scent of white clover, buttercups, green leaves and ripening hay.
Kildeers flew up in front of me, screaming their frantic "Peent, peeeent," swooping down to stagger on stilt-like legs, then lift to fly low over the edges of the pasture.
In the dip of the lane near the pond the air was sharply cooler.
The mailbox held nothing of interest, but the sounds, smells, soft colors of my evening stroll were a peaceful wrap for a day that has left me with both a sense of accomplishment--and aching shoulders.
My comfortable bed beckons!