Friday, January 20, 2023

Variable Weather: Journal, 20th January

Wild daffodils, a clump rescued from beside the old shed.

Thursday morning, 19th January and the outside temp reading at 56 F. 
The sun was stabilized in a cloud-mottled blue sky by late morning, and I felt the pull of the outdoors.
With a great effort of self-discipline I stayed inside, whisking a dustmop around to collect cat hair before hauling out the vacuum cleaner. [Given the exorbitant price of vac bags, the preliminary collection of fluff is a frugal measure.]
The warmth of the sun on the south windows brought out a pestilence of Asian lady beetles. They can rest in semi-dormancy in the tiniest crevasses or cracks around windows, emerging to trundle up and down the windowpanes, across woodwork, even taking refuge in curtain folds. 
The most determined sweeps of the vacuum wand never get them all; glancing back into the sunroom and west sunporch between other cleaning efforts there were still more beetles to pursue.

As I cleaned I noted that a wind was rising, agitating the treetops in the depth of the ravine.

By the time I gave up cleaning, served the cats their 'tea,' the temperature had risen to 64 F. The wind had also risen in velocity; when I stepped away from the shelter of the house, headed for the west wall garden, clippers in hand, I was surprised to feel the strength of the gusts.

I began by cutting back the frost-browned tangle of red valerian [centranthus ruber] grasping the long stems, hacking them back to about 8 inches from the ground. Close to the cold soil there were a few small green leaves. 
Tending the foxgloves was a slower chore, tugging gently to remove dead stalks and mounds of blackened leaves. Only one clump appears to have been badly damaged by the December freeze. I left it in place, hoping there may be some tentative new growth later,  In late autumn most of the foxgloves set new growth  attached to the original crowns. Barring a long spell of cold and wet conditions those should be fine.

By now the wind had increased, booming through bare treetops, swooping down to stir up fallen leaves. My hair was whipping loose from its clip, an increasing chill was stabbing through my light velour jacket.
I moved up to the plantings beyond the wall, hastily shearing off stems of nepeta, poking warily at the sad looking sprawl of thyme. Fresh leaves of lemon catnip curled tightly at the base of those plants nearest the house wall. I pocketed a few sprigs to bring inside, wondering if the cats would discern between the standard variety and the lemon scented.
Off to tip the collection of dead plant material out of my bucket at the edge of the ravine, I watched as dried stems were whisked away before they touched the ground. 
The sky had darkened. I was feeling chilled but knew that if I went in for my down vest I wouldn't likely come back outside.

The east garden is ugly with dead-looking mats of nepeta along the wall, the Knock-Out roses cut back in October crouching like prickly sentinels over the wind-flayed heads of coneflower, the lank yellowed foliage of daylilies. 
The nepeta clumps endured a rough pruning; something in the dried stems immediately 'stuffs up' my head and sets my nose to running. 
Returning my empty bucket to the greenhouse I discovered Willis-cat still stretched on the back bench, lolling in the lingering warmth rather than accompanying me as supervisor. 
I considered walking to the mailbox at the head of the lane, but was tired of being pummeled by the wind, so gave up and clumped indoors.

Jim had come in from his workshop and was stirring up the woodfire which had been allowed to go out during the day. 
I raked a brush through my tangled hair, picked up a new book and headed out to the sunporch. 
I should have stopped in the kitchen for a restorative mug of hot tea. Instead I pulled a fleece throw from the back of the basket chair, wrapped it around my shoulders and opened my book, a lovely photographic collection of northern Vermont farms, the photos taken in the 1960's and 70's when so many such farm enterprises were succumbing to economic failure.

From my chair I could look into nearly the tops of the trees in the south ravine. The wind roared and moaned, branches swayed and flailed. The sun flashed through swiftly moving clouds as it scudded in a shallow arc toward its westerly setting place.
I must have dozed for a few moments; snatching at my book before it slid to the floor I realized  daylight was fading, the sun was now an orange glob behind the trees. 

I sliced bread for sandwiches, opened a tin of Campbells Tomato Soup. 
Jim retreated to his big chair in front of his TV after supper; I turned on the heat downstairs and assembled another quilt block. 

A restless night--my head stuffy from handling nepeta stems; the boom and snarl of the wind, as always, unsettling me.

Jim was off early this morning to help friend Ruben with a problem at his place. I consumed a bowl of oatmeal, sat down to deal with paying bills, immediately discovered a charge on the credit card which shouldn't have been posted to our account. 
I considered paying it without question, balking at the thought of being 'on hold' with raspy music assaulting my ears. 
The process was typical: 15 minutes on hold, then a human voice so distorted by a bad connection that we continually had to repeat questions and answers. Finally through the static the 'operator' announced that he was connecting me with another department. Ten minute hold this time, the same invasive 'music' interspersed with the recorded assurance that my business was important but that all the 'representatives' were currently with other customers. Arrgh!
The connection to the second customer service person was clear--but English was obviously not his first language!

Son Howard appeared with his dogs moments after I finished dealing with the credit card issue.
The dogs bounded in wagging greetings. H. shuttling between his current remodeling job and his own house, had stopped to talk with J. and decided to await his return.

I began chopping onions, celery, carrots to add to the lentils which had been quietly simmering.
Outside the day was grey and dark, but the wind not as deafening. 

I was glad of the company, glad of the fire smoldering away in the woodstove, comforted by the homely smell of soup.
Jim returned an hour later, bringing in a large box which proved to hold beautiful hothouse tomatoes and two net bags of small firm onions.
He announced that he had sorted an issue with the electrical breaker box at Ruben's place and since R. and family needed to be away unexpectedly for several days he was gifting us with the bounty of tomatoes.

Having divested himself of his heavy jacket and insulated 'bib's J. informed me that he had thus far had only a cup of coffee and an English muffin for sustenance.
I pointed smugly at the kettle of thick hot soup, speedily assembled a sandwich.

As usual a cold dreary day inspires me to create hearty sustaining food.
After briefly slumping in my desk chair I returned to the kitchen. We are now well provided for the weekend with, in addition to the lentil stew, roasted butternut squash, parmesan potato slices, a lemonade icebox pie, to be supplemented with the beautiful tomatoes.

The wind has subsided; the cats are indoors; the house is not dreadfully untidy.
I've practiced the music to provide accompaniment at church for Ruben's flute.
Tomorrow promises to be another day of clouds and chilly weather. 
So be it!
I intend to be in bed by 10 p.m. comforted with the sense that the most important tasks of the day are done. 

Daffodils unwisely in bud.

Blackberry lilies in the front raised bed.

Lauren's Grape poppies have self-sowed in profusion.

Michaelmas daisies.

Curried lentil stew.

Roasted butternut squash and parmesan potato slices.



  1. Ooh, that food looks so tasty. Well done as that is quite a full-on day with everything you achieved.

    No chance of gardening here, with everything still under a blanket of snow. I wish it wouldn't linger like this. Your daffodils are so early - I hope they manage to bloom without being beaten down by the weather.

  2. I enjoyed coming along with you during your day and seeing the new growth and all the hearty food. I love the sound of wind, but it's also something to be respected around trees. It's always nice to get outside on a mild day and see how the garden is faring. Your home sounds cozy and inviting with soup on the stove and the woodstove to warm things up. Having company is an unexpected pleasure, too. We have had stink-bugs this year for the first time after an unusually hot and dry summer. Every now and then one flies around a lamp in the evening and inevitably hits me in the face!