Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Joy of Accomplishment

32 F at 7:30 a.m. The sun rising in a pastel sky.

I was awakened from a half sleep on Wednesday morning by cats squabbling beneath my bed. As they shot from the room I identified the pugilists: Robert and Shelby [aka Crabby Cat.] 
Muttered growls and hissings followed their dash through the great room. Elmo exploded from the foot of the bed in apprehension, Rosie bounced across my pillow in interested pursuit.
I creaked from bed, cornered Shelby in the grey dimness of the living room, lifted her gently by her scrawny scruff and deposited her quietly out the front door. 

Back in bed I piled pillows so that I had a comfortable view through the west window. A milky haze covered the descent of the full moon. Sorting through a mental lexicon of descriptive phrases I decided that the sky resembled the soft opal sheen inside a shell.

Pondering my options for the day I thought that it was high time to finish the construction of a skirt begun weeks ago, then on to laying out a stack of quilt blocks. 
As it happened another task took precedence. 


It was nearly noon when I walked up the lane to the mailbox. J's laundry was churning away in the washer, three small butternut squash quartered, seeded and put in the over to roast for cream of squash soup.
The temperature was easing toward 50 F, there was no wind. I returned to the house long enough to pull on a pair of gardening gloves, then back out with the clippers. 

It took nearly an hour to trim back the mounds of nepeta which have straggled dankly over the south/east retaining wall since being blackened by frost. In other years I've done that bit of pruning in mid-autumn, but found that handling the plants while still green left me sneezing and snuffling the rest of the day. 

Various mat-forming weeds thrive every winter in the garden beds. I disinterred a few clumps, along with the wiry stems of polygonum. I snapped off dry stalks of coneflower, noted that some of the roses have already sent out tentative tiny leaves during the recent warm spell.

My energy was holding up, so I moved up the slope to tackle the sprawling sage and dead stems of yarrow in  what was originally meant to be a herb bed. 
The mushy remains of iris leaves, a straggle of unwanted vinca were pulled away under the ground level window of the downstairs living room.

The raised bed beneath the kitchen window needs a thorough overhaul; blackberry lilies and Michaelmas daisies planted there 3 years ago have proven too tall and floppy for the space.
For now, the only thing to do was some severe cutting back. This done, for the sake of tidiness I snipped off the dead stalks of plants that spent the summer in the black raised bins near the greenhouse.

The sun had moved in its low arc across the south ravine, lowering the temperature of the front dooryard. On the west end of the house it was still warm and sunny.

Many attempts to weed and mulch the west garden have been defeated by the persistence of a coarse bunching pasture grass.  I yanked some of this, now shriveled and bleached, from around the roses and several clumps of dwarf nepeta. 
I clipped dry stems of monarda/bee balm, delighting as always in the Earl Grey tea scent that clings to the plants. 

Three hours of work, much left to be done, but I was noticing the ache in my shoulders; the sun was sliding along the south-western edge of the horizon. 
Willis-the-cat, who had trudged resolutely up and down the slope as I carried bundles of cut stalks to scatter around the foundation of the old shed, had now parked himself on the retaining wall, a reminder that neither of us has the staying power of former years. 

J. left his workshop and appeared as I was making my last trip with garden refuse. We walked two loops of the meadow track before coming inside for the day.

I am fascinated by the look of winter trees. The beeches produced a heavy crop of nuts this year, some still clinging to bare branches.

Seed balls on a sycamore.

Beech nuts.

A twisted hickory on the eastern boundary fence line.

I marvel at the twisted branches of the hickory.  A large old oak which stood nearby went down in a gale of wind several years ago. I wonder if the two trees growing closely together forced the hickory to take on these contortions.

Tulip poplar.

A bristle of coneflower heads in the rough strip along the lane.

The youngest under-story beeches still hold papery leaves.

Willis, ever faithful companion.

It was slightly above the freezing mark when I looked at the temp gauge this morning. The early sun disappeared by noon, but was still shining when I washed the insides of several sun-facing windows.
Going outside with veg parings for the waste heap, then taking out cat litter I felt the cold bite of the wind. 
Jim's requested meal of baked corned beef with veg is almost ready.
After we eat I must bundle into warm clothes and trudge to the mailbox and at least once around the meadow loop.
Then--finally--downstairs for a bit of sewing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

At the End of December

Reviewing the jottings on my calendar I count less than half of December's days with sun. Mornings come slowly, and after a clear night stars and moon linger in the western sky even while the digital clock's red numerals announce that day has arrived. 

Cloud-dappled skies greeted the solstice, with the wintery sun obscured by mid-afternoon. 
Several frosty nights have bleached the meadow grass; there is still underlying green but the overall color is yellowed and subdued.

Late sunrise on the solstice.
 'Mid-winter' seems a more realistic designation than 'first day of winter', the label on most calendars.  In our native New England and in Wyoming where we spent a dozen years, winter weather arrives long before December. 
Here in south-central Kentucky a run of days such as we've just had with afternoon temps in the mid 50's F. the wind often skirls out of the west with a bitter bite.
I've needed a sweatshirt hood drawn around my face or a fluffy scarf into which I can burrow as I've plodded my rounds of the tracks which loop the upper and lower meadows. I've missed only two days of walking this month. On a day of sharp wind or persistent misty rain walking is a discipline. On milder days it is more of a pleasure.
Jim usually walks at least one round with me. 

If Willis-cat notes our departure he stumps along behind. We stop part way up the path that skirts the north ravine encouraging him to 'come along.' He rarely makes the entire loop, usually pausing to rest before catching us up somewhere on the slope below the house. 

Slate colored clouds, wind-driven across the sun.

In honor of the season I put this wildly colorful quilt on my bed. I began constructing the blocks last winter thinking to make only a few as an experiment with a 'flying geese' tool. The plastic cutting guide gives options for several sizes of 'geese' units which suggested the larger block design. Intrigued, I pulled out a collection of fabrics by Robyn Pandolph, some from her early 'Folk Art Christmas' lines, others that coordinated. My quilts have a way of growing; this one is a super queen size that reaches the floor at the foot and sides of the bed.

 When a quilt is finished I am often reluctant to spread it on the bed subjecting the fabrics to wear and washing, the inevitable cat hair.
But why not? Surely it makes more sense to enjoy the quilts, turn about through the seasons. 
Rosie-cat loves to make beds and adds a decorative touch to my handiwork.

My only remit for Christmas dinner--held on Sunday--was to produce pies. 
Lemon Meringue is a family favorite.


J's preference was blueberry.

I felt that I was being efficient: blueberry pie and the baked pastry shell for the lemon were prepared on Tuesday and carefully stashed in the freezer.

A smaller blueberry pie was baked on the spot for J. to enjoy, and the remaining pastry prepared for a quiche. I measured the ingredients for the quiche in a rather general way: 2 cups of half and half; 3 large eggs; a mound of grated cheddar, half a tub of small gourmet tomatoes that needed to be used, a bit of chopped onion, a slice or 2 of turkey bacon, diced, a can of sliced mushrooms. I could see that the filling was more than the pastry shell could accommodate, but not wanting to waste the cream/egg mixture I kept pouring it in. I opened the oven door, carefully lifted the quiche, where-upon the filling splashed over the front of my apron, sluiced down the oven door, splattered onto cupboard doors and the floor. 

Clumsy! And quite un-necessary! 

I managed not to waste energy on bad words. I had laboriously cleaned up splashes on the stove, cupboards and was mopping the floor when J. appeared. He countered my tale of woe with the comment that he is not overly fond of quiche. He did meekly eat his share for lunch, and the extra milk/egg mixture went out in a bowl on the porch for Willis and Sally.

So, a review of December doesn't furnish a great list of accomplishments.

Two Friday night trips to church in town to thump out the piano accompaniment for friend Ruben's amateur orchestra and playing with them as part of the Christmas program. 

Walking daily; keeping house in desultory fashion; reading late every evening; keeping J. company on a number of his errands. 

Each year my pace slows a bit more. There are the under-lying private concerns of family matters; there are the foreboding issues of wars, elections, flagrantly corrupt politicians, weather disasters--so many problems for which I can contribute no solution or even comprehension. 

Yet, "underneath are the everlasting arms," the turning of the seasons in a timely way.

Tonight the sky has cleared, layered in shades of deepest indigo. The gibbous moon gleams surrounded by scarcely moving fleecy clouds. The heavens are studded with starshine. The temperature has dropped 10 degrees. 

There is a certain comfort that whatever happens in our familiar realm or in the larger scheme of things, the eternal verities remain.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

White Mornings

Early December mornings have been bleak with clinging fog and intermittent drizzle, giving way around noon to pallid sunshine chased by slate-colored clouds.
The wind has been sharp, blowing from the west.
I have walked the meadow loop each day, darting out between showers, bundled in down jacket, scarf and boots. On such days I walk with a brisk determination, not lingering to look up into the bare trees.

The lingering sunset Wednesday evening promised better weather.
It was still dark at 6 this morning, but the sky beyond my west bedroom window was sprinkled with stars. I propped my pillows so that I could watch the slow awakening of the day. The west meadow showed a slight skim of frost; by 7 the eastern sky was flushed with pink and the temperature gauge registered 33 F--a degree above freezing.

Sunshine and a brilliantly blue sky prevailed throughout the day.
We went out early in the afternoon to walk twice around the meadow loop--approximately a mile.
I trudged out again with my camera to admire the trees that mark the edge of the north ravine. 

Hickory, tulip poplar, oak along the ravine edge, with some variety of softwood maple surrounding the small barn we refer to as 'the snake shed.'
The dead tree trunk has been drilled from bottom to tip by woodpeckers.
A highlight of Tuesday's walk was the sighting of a pair of yellow-bellied woodpeckers alighting in one of the oaks in the east boundary hedgerow.

The sycamores cling to their seed balls.

The cover crop sown on the garden plot has germinated and grown vigorously during the days of cold rain. You can see the mowed path that loops along the north ravine and across the east boundary line to connect with the lane that leads down hill, passing the house and continuing to the western end of the property.

Here and there a dandelion braves the cold weather.

Beech nuts discovered under one of the trees. 
All the nut-bearing trees have produced heavily this season; there is a bounty of acorns, black walnuts, hickory nuts. The beech nuts are tiny and harder to find in the tussocky grass. 

Nigella has sown itself prolifically around a straggling thyme and two sturdy germanders in the raised bed by the front gravel walk.

Violas shrink in response to a frosty night, then flourish again when the wintery sun warms them.
Another vivid sunset splashing shades of vermilion, crimson and deep rose behind the stark tracery of black branches.
49 F. at 10 p.m. The sky is star spangled and the wind is still.
Tomorrow's prediction is for sunny skies and a high of 63 F--before clouds, showers and below freezing nights move in.