Monday, May 31, 2010

Oh, no.....What did you get into?

Border Collies are among the most expressive of animals. And, I know….everyone has a pet that can be counted among “the most expressive.” But here’s one of ours:

This image is the “picture” of a Border Collie’s conscience. There’s no serious infraction of this household’s “rules,” but Jessie had been off the porch for quite awhile, doing what we call “rabbiting” when she returned and tried to sneak (as in slinking unnoticed) past us to lounge on her usual spot. As she went by, heading for her dog bed, MM said….”Oh, no…..what did you get into?”

And this was her answer. “Guilty—whatever it was!”

I’m being a bit lazy, if you will. Taking a holiday break, out here JOTOLR. The garden is caught up; our muscles—after putting up a few bales of hay a couple of days ago--are resuming their usual shape after having been stretched to capacity. We put up what are called square bales. In a couple of days, when I have images to share, I will add depth to the “haying process” on another post.

For the moment, suffice it to say that when the farmer puts up square bales, the handling is considerably more physically challenging than those big round bales that decorate fields. For each bale we put into our barn, it’s been handled three times…once as it is picked up and put on the trailer; once when it is off-loaded from the trailer into the barn; and finally, once when it is stacked, in the barn. So, at the end of 90 bales of hay—we’ve actually processed 270! On a hot day, (always) pouring rivers of perspiration. And yes, Debbi, we did: Make hay while the sun shone!  More about that in a few days. I’ll be working on my Comments on Comments later on today.

Meanwhile, here’s a pretty image for no particular reason, except the entire picnic shelter is COVERED with these Clematis. And it is gorgeous! Can anyone tell me: is it pronounced CleMATis or CLEMatis? 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Win Some, Lose Some

It’s been a very busy week out here, JOTOLR! And we’ve won some and we’ve lost some in the gamble of farming and growing veggies.
To give you a sense of our activities for this past week (not to bore you, promise!)
here’s a choronology of successes: set out 133 tomato plants (some for sale, some for us)(and, they’ve survived the transition from a shady porch to a full sun residence); set out 40 Brussels spouts plants which have also survived a similar transition); add to that similar numbers of broccoli, cabbage for sauerkraut (two kinds—red and green); planted two rows of Provider green beans, plus direct-seeded New Zealand spinach (lasts during hot weather); also direct planted okra, hilled the three rows of potatoes—Red Pontiac, German Butterball, and Russets; weeded all three rows of that darned Devil-in-the-Garden out of the potatoes; weeded three rows of beets and one row of Swiss Chard; weeded 100 feet of strawberries; direct planted another short row of lettuce and Olympia Spinach (also does better in hot weather0 to replace what will expire from first crop; weeded peas— these are all 60-foot rows…and so it goes…The Buckwheat and the Millet are both vigorously up (for the chickens and turkeys that will be arriving June 15th); the chick peas are up about two inches and growing enthusiastically.

Now, as to the “lose some” category: poor seed quality has resulted in large gaps in our sweet corn, so we have to travel to the farm store and buy new seed and re-plant; our corn rows are spotty at best; another loss--it rained on our first little patch of hay down on the ground last night; no matter, though. It might dry out today before we get into this cycle of fog in the a.m. and thunderstorms in the p.m.—our normal summer squall pattern. The northern end of one potato row appears drowned which was the only affect of our heavy rains a week ago. We feel lucky to have made it through that little anomaly without more damage.  So far, successes far outweigh losses! 

When I ask people if they garden and they tell me, “No, it just isn’t worth it,” I know they are referring to all the physical work and the constant fight against all those critters with nibbly mouths that like to share in the produce, but which help themselves a little more than we’d like.

But, truly, nothing's free…it IS worth it to grow the food you eat, even in a city, in your back yard, even if it's small. Of course, growing our own food, IS work-intensive. Healthfully so, though—both in the working and the eating. Better yet, the safety and the quality are incomparable. We’re on a first-name basis with our personally tended food. It doesn’t speak to us in a foreign language. We are assured by the efforts of our own hand, that what we are eating has the Good Gardening Seal of Approval.

Besides, it is hard to imagine a more peaceful togetherness, than side by side, cultivating and nuturing seedlings to fruition, talking of subjects far and wide, solving the world’s problems….right here JOTOLR.

I have a comment on comment post which I’ll put up sometime this weekend. So many of you had such interesting remarks on the words “home” and “homestead” and “homeplace.” The comments made me re-think my words. And, several of you had some lovely comments on other posts, which I want to acknowledge. (Ruta, Barbara, Beth, Julia, Kat, Debbi, Marlene) So, stay tuned! And thank you for the lively conversation!

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

If you haven't read Emily Dickenson's poem, A Narrow Fellow in the Grass, or haven't done so for a long time....please take time to study each of her lines.  This has always been one of my favorite poems.  It speaks for itself!

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides—
You may have met Him—did you not
His notice sudden is—

The Grass divides as with a Comb—
A spotted shaft is seen—
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on—

He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot—
I more than once at Noon

Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone

Several of Nature’s People
I know, and they know me—
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality—

But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone

         Emily Dickenson

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Homeplace Is Where the Heart Is

There are many words for the concept of  "domicile,"  the place one calls their permanent--or even, semi-permanent--locale.  I've enjoyed many types of homes over the years.  They include a 52-foot sailboat which MM and I lived on for three years; a Volkswagon "Combi" van which we called home for several months in Australia as we camped down Queensland's coast in the years when Cairns was still a good and wild place. In fact, we owned a house in Stratford, Australia, for seven months where we enjoyed the benefits of a garden planted by an elderly couple. We lived in a little grainery right here, JOTOLR for several years as we worked all week long so we could return "home" on weekends.  An old Pontiac station wagon was home for us during our 36,000 mile meander of this incredible country called the United States.  And now....home is the two story, porch-encircled homeplace that MM built from the ground up. 

Our rich vocabulary has a whole collection of words for naming the place we live, and each has its own resonance. 

A "dwelling,"  for example, seems to be more accidental, less intentioned, something that is more hammer-and-nail or circumstance than choice, somehow held at arms' length.

A "residence" smacks of officialdom, of numbered categorization, something the government needs in order to keep track of its citizenry. 

The word "abode" is just too stuffy.

"The farm" confers a sense of old-fashionedness, quaintness, and returning to "the farm" implies a return to the old-timey values that fed our spiritual --as well as our physical selves.
The word "home" is a gentle word that conveys peacefulness, safety, security, even rest.  Then there are the words that describe the building such as "house" and "apartment."  These are more "construction"terms than "heart" terms.

The word "homestead" --for me--carries an embedded snippet of adventure.  It's not as restful as "home," but more on the order of setting out, seeking, discovering, and after all is said and done, having wrought from the earth a hard-earned living space. 

Put the word "down" in front of home, and the combination implies a connectedness and a longing to return.

 My favorite among all the choices is the word "homeplace."  I'd never heard the term until I came East in the early 1970's. In this word resides the love of generations, of family,  passing things on.  I can smell the bower of roses over the doorway, the cookies in the oven, see the blooms from flowers planted generations ago.  The welcome mat is out, the hearth is still there regardless of how long I've been gone.  This word--homeplace-- beckons with arms wide.  It has an unconditional lock on the heart, never lets go.  Homeplace is where the heart is.   

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jiminy Crickets!

No, it’s not what we would think of as a typical pet. But, in China, with a population of over 1.3 billion people, understandably, space is an issue. Even with the one-child policy, elbow room—especially in cities-- is simply not available.  Enter, the cricket.

Since the Tang Dynasty, the Chinese have kept crickets as pets, for both their singing ability and for fighting. For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese have listened to the songs of these insects and written about them.
The various tones of different species are highly prized.  Prices vary based on rarity. Crickets are carried in the pocket, housed in cricket quarters.

Many cricket-keeping accessories surround the care and feeding of these insects. Some are kept in teapots. Others are housed in expensive ceramic cylinders molded with auspicious symbols to help bring victory in a cricket match. After being goaded with a feathery wand or a rat’s whisker, the first cricket to roll onto its back, or run away, loses the fight..

Today, in China, keeping crickets is a pastime well-suited in scale to the small living spaces of most ordinary Chinese and there’s a strong market for the myriad accessories that go with cricket-keeping. These include miniature feeding bowls, tools for catching crickets, for transporting them, and for goading them to fight—all available alongside spoons with which to feed them, and ornate cages made from carved gourds, bamboo, sandalwood and even silver.

What a different perspective on keeping a pet, don’t you think?

Monday, May 24, 2010


This past weekend, it was all clouds, out here JOTOLR.  Not just any old clouds....these were CLOUDS...big, fluffy, rounded, bold, spectacular-- clouds, that kept saying, "Notice me!"  And I did.  It was as if I'd dipped my index finger--the right one I use for the camera's shutter--in Crazy Glue and it was stuck on the button.  I couldn't let go.  And, more to the point, I could not stop shooting!  Worse were the voices of the clouds trapped inside the camera, clammering to get out!  So, this morning, finally,  I gave in and decided to let them out of the box.  Without further comment or embellishment--they need none--here they are!

Doesn't it make you want to sing, "The hills are alive....with the Sound of Music.".....?
Happy Monday!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Reaching for the Light

It is positively amazing to me. The energy of plants is imperceptible and yet so powerful. A willowy blade of grass pushes upward through hard packed soil and finds the sun. A wild garlic defies my landscape cloth and pokes right through it to the light. And a potato sprout travels clear across the basement floor to find a tiny splash of sunny reward for its efforts.

On my hands and knees this past week, I was musing on whether plants have intelligence. Scary thought. Pulling weeds in the Swiss Chard and beet rows, though, it often looked as if certain weeds which resembled the coloring of both these “wanted” vegetables had settled in their midst, hoping, by their similar coloring, to escape being weeded out. I know that’s unrealistic, but it was uncanny how often I found Red Roots starting right next to a red-stemmed Swiss Chard…and nowhere else.

Please don’t tease me about my slack-jawed awe in the “Ain’t Nature grand,” vein. It IS grand! It IS amazing!  But, it seems as if the human race spends most of its time trying to destroy it,  by--as only one example--creating what I believe will come to be a cliché for all unconscionable and more to the point, totally preventable disasters: “a BP.”

When will we realize and begin to protect Nature’s grandeur ? What does it take to get people off the couch to care?

On that rather pessimistic note (sorry!) here’s hoping your weekend will be what you need for rest and relaxation! If you get a chance, email the White House and let them know that people not connected with the disaster, care, too. 

Out here JOTOLR, we’re supposed to be getting rain again, but the coming week, we are told, should offer a little respite from the moisture. Perfect for transplanting the tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peppers and onions to the big garden. The Wabbit is finally fenced out, and the peas are starting to re-grow!

And, thank you so much everyone, for your lovely comments…

Julia, I hope the new town clock keeps accurate time, despite its more functional appearance!. (See Ruta’s comment for the wonderfully quirky personality of a public timepiece! Thank you, Ruta!!) Barbara, thank you for all your comments, plus your delightful blog! I love stiles. Marlene, thank you for your lovely comments! Your quilt descriptions are beautiful! I, too, love wool! Thomas! Good to hear from you, again!! Thank you for your always insightful comments! Carla, you’re an inspiration. Beth, I so enjoy your thoughtful conversation! Thank you.  Hope I didn't leave anyone out! Forgive me if I did!

Have a delightful weekend! See you Monday! (Where did this week go??!!)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fatal Attraction

Taking my pasture hike a couple of days ago, I caught sight of something bright red about ten feet away. Approaching carefully, I could see right away there was nothing alive, but…sadly there had been.

All the male cardinals in the vicinity recently, had been singing their hearts out, trying madly to attract a mate with their color and their voices.. Last year, we’d had what seemed to be an overload of males and a paucity of females. It went without saying that loud singing inevitably had to be a large part of this season’s mating game.

I believe this particular pile of lovely red feathers, was a result of one male’s attracting the wrong kind of attention! Some hungry raptor got a meal.

As I was walking away, a loud muffler on a white convertible ROARED by on the road below me as it sped by, in a blur, going at least 45 mph on what is no more than a 25 mph road. The top was down, the boom box was in full throat, there was no one in the adjacent seat, and it was pretty obvious that the driver was oblivious to any possible oncoming traffic, as he tried to attract attention (a mate?)  by his noise, his speed, and his flashy vehicle. It was a mating dance in full display.

I couldn’t help comparing the pile of feathers to the heedless youthful driver. Unfortunately, in the latter case, the unfolding Fatal Attraction being cultivated by the young man might just take some unwitting traveler coming from the opposite direction into the evolutionary mix.

I truly wish people would not treat one-lane roads as their personal speedways.

Slow down, please….or someone is going to wind up being nothing more than a pile of brightly colored....."feathers!"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Life's Markers

For me, seasons are the things that mark time’s passage rather than a watch.

Since I relinquished my hold on “gainful employment” I’ve learned to tell time by the sun. I'm getting good at it, too!  Surprisingly, I’m usually within ten minutes of the time I estimate. I don’t ever wear a watch anymore, nor do I pay much attention to the date or the day of the week. If you haven’t gone without a watch, try it some day. Out of habit, you might find yourself looking at your naked wrist occasionally, but you’ll also discover a bit of freedom from schedules, which I’ve found to be refreshing.

That sounds a little “elderly” doesn’t it! But out here JOTOLR, it’s easy to become a “shut-in” in the best sense of the word. Our society seems to think that being a “shut-in” is something dangerous, lonely, helpless and dreary. After all, when you're shut in, you don't have access to Walmart.  Something that it needs remediation--at least for the sake of the consumer-based economy, anyway.

I sail on another tack: I love being “shut in.” In fact, most of the time, MM and I try to figure out ways to avoid going out. Whoever gets the short straw gets to go to town!  It goes without saying, we prefer saying home.

In the dusk, as evening approaches, I feel safely wrapped in the muffled silence the big old trees in our yard provide, with only the rustle of the wind in their leaves, the tree frogs declaring territory and the songbirds nesting overhead, talking to one another just before dark..

Life slows down for a “shut-in,” offering time to notice life’s markers along the way. We celebrate the “first” whatever….be it a wild Rhododendron bud, the first strawberry and raspberry, the Hollyhock coming into bloom--the markers of the season every year.

We’ve had two apricots for well over fifteen years, and this year, for the first time, (along with a nectarine as well)…they have fruit! That’s a REAL marker!

Right now, the wild azaleas are in bloom. Soon (if not already) the Mountain Laurel will burst into blossom and cover the hillsides with pink. The seasons and the accompanying markers of them, are the stepping stones of each year

Perhaps best of all….we had our first salad from the garden of the year last night(we eat only in season)—a combination of fresh, harvested-in-the-rain spinach leaves, Black-seeded Simpson lettuce, Misapoona and zippy radishes. With some of my from-the-cow aged (crumbly) cheddar drizzled over the top, along with a few homemade croutons, a hard-cooked egg, and a light topping of a dressing I made with Balsamic vinegar, freshly chopped garlic and some lightly applied homegrown basil….it was a feast. MM and I couldn’t stop crowing about how good it was.

Another marker along the pathway of the year and more to come!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

We'll Meet Under the Town Clock

“What is the history of the clock?” I asked of the distinguished-looking gentleman in the crisp suit. I judged him to be at least close to the level of octogenarian, and was expecting a discourse on the timepiece that would…well… reach back in time…

I was talking to Bank of Monroe president and CEO, Ralph Mann, a man, who, as I understand it, still shows up for work every day.

“It came from Boston via Ohio,” he said.

I’m expecting the tale of the clock to unfold, and involve, perhaps, a mule over many miles, of difficult terrain, taking weeks, maybe a little rain, sleet, snow or wind thrown in for good measure…? Wrong!

“I’d always wanted an outside clock in front of the bank." he said. “In times past, when a meeting was to take place, the participants always declared, ‘We’ll meet under the Town Clock’. So I got a town clock.”

“How old is the clock?” I asked reverentially…

“Oh, maybe ten years…?”

O.K. So it’s not old. In fact, it’s rather new! Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful clock. According to Mann, and despite its classic appearance, it’s completely automatic. It even resets itself for daylight savings time without anyone’s having to touch a single dial. It keeps time flawlessly and adds its own touch of character to this sweet little country village.

In my mind, the clock seems perfectly emblematic of the tiny town of Union, the county seat of Monroe County, not far from where we live, JOTOLR. To me, it is reflective of the way things “used to be.” The Bank of Monroe opened for business on January 28, 1904. Obviously, it’s weathered a lot of storms through the years. Today, the clock -–modern as it is—stands in front of a venerable institution which has been around a long time, and it reinforces the sturdy values, the spirit of community, and deep-in-the-land roots that go back over a century.

Monday, May 17, 2010

You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille...

"…with four hungry children and a crop in the field!" Thank you, Kenny Rogers (and MM) for the title of this post!

Yesterday as I was weeding the beet row (an arduous task that bends my back to the task—which I call tweezer weeding)..I heard overhead the liquid trilling of what I knew to be a tree swallow. Having accepted the fact that we’d not deployed the Purple Martin house at the correct time, and had gotten a pair of tree swallows to reside in our PM house, instead, I was good with that. The tree swallows are beautiful and delightful to watch, even though I would have preferred to lease the birdhouse to the four Purple Martins that arrived later and flew over us with great fanfare, and that would have occupied the apartment building in growing numbers as they annually returned to our garden.

I learned too late that I should not have put up the Purple Martin house until one month AFTER I’d seen the first Purple Martin pair. That’s because the Martins that arrive first (from their long migration) are the previous year’s nesters, making that group return to the nesting cavity they used last year. On the other hand, it is the youngest males that will be attracted to new housing, who will begin their own colony and be most likely to nest in a new location.

Purple Martins ONLY nest in human-made facilities. Over the years, they have apparently (largely) lost their ability to nest in tree cavities. After many generations they have come to depend upon human intervention as a key to propogation. But there is no shortage of humans willing to fill that need. Being a “landlord” for Purple Martins, and growing colonies of these pest-eating, beautiful birds, is a very popular hobby across the U. S.

Despite the fact that Purple Martins prefer a colony of neighbors for nesting, they do prefer small divisions between their town houses, and are quite fussy about their dimensional choices in house compartments. A lot of ready-to-nest houses sold have incorrect dimensions which can result in year after year of rejection by the PM's, should the prospective landlord put up a Martin house that is not properly designed. The dimensions for each cubicle –specifically for Purple Martins—should be 6 inches wide, by 12 inches deep, by 6 inches long. (Our current house is the wrong size.)  Many plans design more for the convenience of the lumber/plastic requirements rather than the needs of the bird. If the birdbox isn’t deep enough, owls will reach in and grab nestlings. And, PM's feel cramped in 6X6X6 apartments.  They want more space.  Most purchased houses are simply wrong-sized. You also have to watch out for snakes (check out Beth’s comment on my Friday post). Several “free” plans available on the Internet are simply not suited for Purple Martins (despite being advertised as such) and the unwary hopeful landlord will put up purchased housing, only to be disappointed by other species taking over. (Such as has happened to us.) So, be careful and proceed knowledgably. Don't get suckered into buying a dud of a house! 

Of course, on the Internet, there are all kinds of choices. You can purchase a ready made Purple Martin house at ONLY $400+ (by golly it had better be “ready made” at that price! How about fifteen houses for that amount??!!) There are other houses less pricey, but most without adequate dimensions for the nesting cavity. Then, once you have a house, you need a pole that can raise and lower the house so it can be cleaned out of nests from the previous nesting season. If you're handy with woodworking, the best option is to build your own.

I guess my overall message here is that if you want to cultivate Purple Martins, (and there are plenty of reasons why you'd want to, as I do) there’s a lot more than meets the eye, than just putting up a house. If you’re contemplating erecting a PM house, read up on what these lovely birds require before spending a lot of money on facilities that are destined to be empty or worse, become nesting holes for starlings, English sparrows, and….tree swallows.  Timing and nest dimensions, height...are all important considerations.  We're going to plan a year ahead and try again next May, having written down the arrival time, this year of the PM's.

Now, what about Lucille? Well…..the warbly chirping was coming from the house. Looking carefully, upward, I saw this male (as you see in the photo) with head poking out of the hole. He kept up a steady cadence of rather demanding chirps. I was just about to take a second (camera) shot of him, when “Lucille” arrived, offered the male a couple of sharp squeaks, told him she was back and to get out. At which point, he flew out and she flew in. He headed over to the neighbors, and I never saw the female (dark brown) again. I would say that she had gone for water and a quick break, (I’ll have to put up a bird bath in the veggie garden this week) while he was assigned the task of looking after the eggs. As far as I could tell, he hadn’t sat on the first egg, but rather –in a bit of a panic--clung to the threshold the whole time, crying for….Lucille. I believe I’ll name them Lucille and Kenny. Kenny, I think, is a new dad.  And though they aren’t Purple Martins, they are a winsome couple with perhaps (forgive my anthropomorphizing) similar spats as humans have. Whose turn is it now to look after the kids out here JOTOLR?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gratefully Yours

Today is gratitude day. So many of you have taken time from your busy lives to comment, and I am always nurtured by the generosity and kindness of your sharing. In two words…thank you!

Ruta -- Ruta's Ramblings– I am following your cement work avidly! And your beautiful spring parallels ours. (Noting your photo yesterday of the currants, which I could have taken off our front porch—having the same currants here as you have!  Do you make jam/jelly with them?) Your photos are so lovely, Ruta! Lately your pond shot particularly caught my eye. We have somehow lost our waterlillies and will have to add some back. It has been such an enriching experience, corresponding with you, dear lady, as we share our respective environments—yours in the UK, mine here in the U. S.. Thank you for your dedication and commentary. (and your dedicated work on your lovely garden). I so enjoy you!

Marlene-- Stitchin' By The Lake thank you so much for your compliments and also for sharing your herb garden with us this past week. For years, I have enjoyed Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, available for around $16 from Amazon or even cheaper from other vendors listed on Amazon. What I’ve always liked about this book is that there are hundreds of ideas (with directions for each project) of what to do with herbs, as well as growing instructions, different species, how to make tinctures, etc. The history all by itself (included with each herb) is fascinating! I highly recommend the book. It’s timeless, too. Thank you again for your sweet commentaries! I love your baby birds photos!

Barbara—Folkways Notebook How I love your Folkways Notebook blog, Barbara. I think you enjoy putting it together, just as much as we enjoy reading and viewing it! I picture your driving along, and stopping JOTOLR, to explore your subject and, perhaps, grab an interview or two! How much fun you must have doing this! And, I know exactly what you mean about missing those ziss-boom-bah thunderstorms! It was one of the (many) things I welcomed when we returned from three years in Alaska! And your generous comments on my blog are so lovely and ratifying. Thank you, both for your “work” in putting the blog together, and for your comments on mine.!

Beth—Thank you for your oh-so-sweet words, too! I know you, like me, like Barbara, live in the hardwood forest area of the East, so your observations parallel ours. I enjoyed your comment on black snakes! As I mentioned in my post, I am not a “snake-person” but respect what these animals do. Live and let live! It’s a heart-stopper, though, when you’re walking along and nearly step on one! Same with the dogs. Through their eyes, I can see a snake from miles away! (have you ever watched a dog –from a distance—encountering a snake? Their reaction is just about like mine! Instant elevation!) Thank you much for all your kind words!

JuliaIsland Home What a pleasure to have an online friend in New Zealand. Your blog is “simply beautiful.” You share with us a vision of domestic harmony and attention to details we might otherwise overlook. Your choice of topics is always enticing and I feel as though I have stumbled on a treasure hunt. And the scenes from your island reverie reach across the globe and brighten our days. I’m so glad to have found you! Thank you for your comments and your friendship!

Carla--Sacred Witness What a delightful and enriching blog you have, Carla.  It goes without saying, your photos are incredible, and your message always resonates.  Today, when I began reading your blog, I said to myself,(before I finished it)  "that's got to be John Muir."  (Smiling, here...) So glad you've made it safely to your new home, and thank you for your love and also for your comments.  Finally, thank you for your bridge to our inner selves.

Elora—A Canadian in Italy My Italian namesake, it is enriching to have a friend in Italy, too. It seems I am bounded by the geography I seem to love. I wonder if it’s by accident or by design. I feel through these online friendships that I am “anchored” to chosen parts of the world, though I don’t recall searching them out. Perhaps you have found me! Italy, NZ, Devon, Canada….Hmmmmm. I love the “rootedness” of all these connections outside the boundaries of my own country. Thank you, dear girl, for “adopting” me! (or did I adopt --kidnap?--you???) I know you are busily preparing for the addition of a “Mrs.” in front of your name, soon approaching! So, the time you’ve taken to comment is doubly appreciated, knowing you’re busy as can be! Thank you! Love you much!

Linda, I hope you’ve solved the “wabbit” problem! Thank you for sending me a note. I do enjoy hearing from you.

Finally…summer has arrived and we’re all busy, if not gardening, than in welcoming friends and relatives to our “homeplaces.” The charm of summer, I believe, is that it is the “open door” season: whether it’s to let in the cool of the morning or to beckon our loved ones return. So, it’s time to enjoy this particularly loving time of year! I send you my love, my friendship and my gratitude throughout the next several months. Let’s talk along the way! (And BTW, many of us seem to be trying to pare off a few pounds--I've dumped 13 so far--yea!  So, here's wishing everyone who has undertaken that arduous task, success in that department, too!  Ruta's got me beat so far; same with Marlene!  But I've re-doubled my efforts to keep inching down!

I'll leave you with last evening's sunset...

Have a lovely weekend everyone!  See you Monday!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Night of Fireworks

Yesterday was one of those cloudy, warmish days that promises much-needed rain and finally delivers. For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been threatened with deluges and, since we’ve been rain-poor, have pined for the forecasts to materialize. We’ve gotten none. And the old adage, “Don’t wish for anything too hard, you may get it…” was always looming. But finally, we wished and we got!

Around 9:00 p.m. the thunder began in the distance.  We'd been watching a PBS program on the artist Kent Rockwell, but decided, instead, to turn the TV off and watch the drama unfolding in the north. I wanted to go outside to try to grab some lightning shots, but the rain had begun in earnest, and with no underwater housing for my camera, I had to be content with simply enjoying the show. No guilt! Just inspired viewing!

And what a show it was!  Rain, now bolstered with a few stronger gusts, lashed the window.  Lightning took jagged paths horizontally as it skipped across the mountain north of us. The thunder absolutely roared. It was the deep-in-the-bowels-of-the-earth kind of thunder that sounds like it’s emanating from a huge pipe, amplifying the growl by a thousand percent and sounding like a wildly angry lion.

With the lights out, there was still constant daylight, with each flash bounding over the yard and pasture as if some light-eating beast were grabbing the scene and consuming it. This was waaaay better than TV! This was high drama.

When we get one of these storms, I mentally review the situations of all our animals: the cows have safe places they can go; the Great Pyrenees –even though he has a very safe place in the barn, is a pussycat in the face of thunder, and will probably be in the garden trying to get as close to MM as possible—lap preferred; the Border Collies each have a good house. The chickens are safe in their coop. The new heifer-mother has a shelter and with her calf will be safe….and we will be safe, in the shelter of this sturdy, built-by-hand-by-MM house.

There was very little wind. Mainly fireworks and loud noises. BLAM! GROWL! SMACK! BLAM!

And this morning? It’s all quiet. Fog and mist are rising and the sun is poking through, reassuring us that all is well.

And indeed it is: ONE FULL INCH of rain has quenched the thirst of the ground!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An Old Homeplace

Our original farm was composed of 700 acres. It wasn’t “a” farm, but rather 15 small farms that had been gathered over the years by a land baron, under one umbrella, into a single unit of ownership. Our farm today has many fewer acres but retains remnants of the smaller homesteads, many of which were created during the early history of the United States.

Our deed, for example, goes back to the Revolutionary War. I came here from the Pacific Northwest --a “new” land by comparison to this relatively “ancient” ground. The mountains in Washington State are positively youthful compared to the Appalachians.

All throughout these hills and hollers, there are the artifacts of previous owners’ lives, scattered across the land. Here, we have several “middens” where old china, old bottles, old farm machinery –the historical detritus of the homesteading life—still poke through the leaf litter and invite yet another sort-through by the current owner! Our picnic shelter is built on the hand-cut native stone foundation of the old house which was torn down long before we arrived. The stairs to that home, also native stone and hand cut, are with us, still, intact, but leading nowhere.

But most of the markers of previous occupations here are floral. I, myself, have gathered flower starts from these places on the farm where blooms are the only visible sign of long-ago habitation. There’s the odd house foundation, the remnants of a springhouse, a single gravestone…but mainly it’s the flowers, planted beside a doorway, by some dear lady, who looked forward each spring, to seeing the flowers bloom and spread. The flowers gave comfort and a sense of permanence, stability, to families. The flowers I’ve gathered now give that same sense of permanence to MM and me.

Among these are Irises—the pale lavender blue ones (not the newer hybrids); red climber roses which bloom with such profusion and abandon; Trumpet Vine--an annual orange surprise-- which every year climbs the Bartlett pear tree, itself a lasting legacy of another time when folks planted fruit trees as part of what they wanted in order to make their residence bountiful (which we have done as well). Of course, there are the daffodils, but these are the oh-so-fragrant, double daffies —not the anemic, scents-less variety found in grocery store refrigerators. There is a small flower we call an Eidelweiss, along with Narcissus, Dame’s Rocket, English Ivy, Autumn Joy sedum, Peonies, and, of course, apple trees, peach trees and pear trees that all bloom every year without a trace of a house nearby and--perhaps more to the point--without a trace of nurturing from anyone.

It’s fun when we’re gathering firewood on the farm in the fall to find the tiny apples that cling to a old gnarly tree, kissed by the frost, and sweet as sugar. I know that someone long ago lived not far away from that tree, and looked forward to the bounty it shared with the family, so many years ago.

It is the Iris, though, that I particularly favor. It pops up every-where, every spring resilient, perennial. It’s faded lavender-blue takes the light and makes jewelry of it. Change the angle a bit and the flower becomes a sunrise. How heartening, how restorative, reassuring—especially after a winter such as we have just passed through—to welcome these marks of independence, rebirth and continuity!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shedding Not Just For Dogs

OK, people…get a grip. Yes, it’s a snake skin. Gives us cause for pause…right?

As wildlife biologist John S. Powers, of Alabama put it, “ Few creatures inspire a thrill or, for many, a chill more readily than snakes. The snake's public relations woes are well documented in the writings of many early civilizations, most prominently in the Christian Bible.

He continues:  "Though more common worldwide than most people realize, snakes tend to be secretive by nature and are relatively rarely seen. This "out of sight, out of mind" arrangement works out well for the majority of people (and the snakes) the majority of the time. However, it can intensify the shock when "out of sight" is brought sharply to mind by indisputable evidence that snakes are among us and are often closer than we think.”

Right on, Mr. Powers!

Now, I am not a “snake person." Thankfully I have a husband who does not suffer from herpetophobia and who doesn’t berate me for mine, and who, with the sound of my screaming “ssssnnnnnaaaake!!!” will come to my rescue and cart the critter off.  My point, here is that despite my dread, I still can appreciate the elegant design of the snake’s exterior. Sans snake, it’s safe to hold the shed skin in your hand and marvel at its beauty.

Living out here JOTOLR, we have a good partnership with Black snakes.   Some say Black snakes and Copperheads won't occupy the same territory.  I've not found any evidence to support that claim other than the fact that we've never had a copperhead on our farm here, after 35 years of living a mostly outdoor life on it.

I found this medium-sized snake skin on one of our oak lumber piles day before yesterday. It was obviously a Black Snake—non-poisonous, and consumer of vast quantities of mice and other pesky rodents that annoy and anger a farmer. Shorthand for the fact that a Black snake is one of the "good guys.” The flipside is that it is also a consumer of chicken eggs and baby chicks if one isn’t watchful, and a heart stopper if one isn't particularly fond of snakes. In fact, MM had just removed one from the chicken coop which I discovered about a week prior to my finding this skin.  Back to skin-shedding:

Animals all “shed” their skins. Just differently. In snakes, it’s called ecdysis. It's shed all at one time.   Humans, on the other hand, shed approximately 1.5 MILLION dead skin cells every HOUR, and at the end of 28 days, we’ve shed our entire skin! Snakes shed their skin four to eight times during each year in response to their need to grow.

Back to John Powers: “Shed snake skins turn up in the darnedest places. Often, people are unsettled by finding an abandoned snake skin in the woods, field, garden or yard. Though unnerved, most are simply being reminded of an unpleasant fact. They know snakes are around, whether they like it or not, but they are comforted to know that the one that shed the skin in question is probably where it belongs--outside. Unnerved does not begin to describe the effect the discovery of that same dry, empty skin can have when it is found in the basement, in the attic, or, Heaven help us, in the closet, under the bed, or in the back of the sock drawer.”

Back to Elora: I had a friend whose husband when getting into bed one night in their old farmhouse, thought her feet were especially cold at the foot of the bed, under the covers. You guessed it, and I won’t go any further! Gives me the shudders every time I think about it.

But take a moment to observe the elegant design of the papery covering. It’s quite beautiful if you can free yourself from the shivers racing up and down your spine. I also was drawn to the fact that even the eyes shed! And the teeth!  What an amazing feat! Several days prior the snake isn’t able to see clearly and can become, understandably more aggressive (dangerously so in the case of poisonous snakes).

The snake will do a head-shed first, freeing its nostrils so it can breathe and then the eyes come next. Once the head is basically free, the snake finds some rough object against which to rub “out of” the rest of its soon-to-be-discarded exterior. When done, it leaves behind the odd calling card, letting us know, its been here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Timberdoodle

Cute name, don’t you think?! Bogsucker isn’t as appealing. Both apply to the illusive American Woodcock sometimes inaccurately called a “snipe.” I had to borrow today’s photo. As a casual, wander-about photographer, it would be nearly impossible for me to capture an image of this secretive little member of the sandpiper family of birds. I would have to “stumble across” one and at the exact moment of its terrified eruptive flight I would have to have been prepared to grab a shot “on the fly.”

Well…yesterday on my pasture hike, I did, in fact, accomplish half of that prescription: I did “stumble” across an American Woodcock, but as for being prepared to take its way. Practically underfoot, the poor astonished bird exploded from the ground just six feet from my foot, and both of us were way too surprised for artful images! I had just enough time to catch a glimpse of that distinctive long probing beak and a blur of rusty white wings, as it made haste toward protection afforded by multi-flora rose and Russian olives.

The majority of sandpipers inhabit environs closer to the sea. But one, the American Woodcock lives in moist thickets and woodland undergrowth rather than close to the shorelines. It ranges over most of Eastern North America. Usually they can be seen close to dawn or dusk. But this one, was simply hunting for worms (presumably) in a boggy valley between two segments of pastureland. Earthworms are the Woodcock’s food of choice, using their long beak like a sewing needle to probe the wet ground. They are stubby little creatures, almost comical with short tails and big eyes. (night vision!)

They make a soft “Peent, peent” sound. It’s quite distinctive. I’ve heard it several times, and I can remember a pair that flew past our porch every evening for a couple of weeks, several years back. But, alas! The American Woodcock population has been declining (habitat loss) by about 1.2 percent each year. So, it’s especially rare –not to mention heartwarming—that we out here JOTOLR—have been honored by the bird’s presence. And, though I’ve never seen their mating ritual, it’s said to be “entertaining” as the male climbs upward in a spiraling flight as his wings make a twittering sound. He chirps as he returns to earth, trying to entice a female with whom they’ll make a household

A snipe (yes, Virginia…there is such a thing as a snipe!) and a wood cock are about the same size. The snipe is apparently thinner with an even longer bill.

So, were you ever sent out on a “snipe hunt?” I was! Gullible Elora!  That’s the old camping game in which the poor unsuspecting tenderfoot camper is sent out with a burlap sack and a stick and told to make weird noises, in order to find and capture as many (obviously non-existent) snipes as possible in a certain time frame.

Actually, the snipe is difficult to catch or to shoot. So much so that the word “sniper” is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot it.

I love the woodcock. And I’m elated that we rated a five-star for their choice of places to stay for this spring’s nesting season! I only hope it comes a bit closer to the house so we can hear it’s “peent, peent” and watch it swoop overhead as it takes a tour of the farm as evening falls.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Score One For Elmer Fudd

Remember poor Elmer? Always on the prowl for that Dwatted Wabbit? The cartoon always portrayed poor Elmer as a villain, but if you had planted those carrots and lettuce and peas……Well, call me Mrs. Fudd. A Dwatted Wabbit has been helping itself to my newly planted peas and spinach lately. One day I was proudly looking at two lush rows of green pea shoots and the next day those pretty green shoots had vanished. Overnight! Inexpicably, there were heartbreaking—now brown-- gaps in the row of gween shoots! There was only one possible conclusion: WABBIT.

And, no, I didn’t have to get out my trusty shotgun. Something beat me to it and I couldn’t be more pleased! This is a piece of Wabbit fur. You should have seen the garden. There were tufts of Wabbit fur all over it. I’ve never seen so much Wabbit fur in one place—except ON a Wabbit!

Explanation: overnight an owl had gotten a meal. One of our treasured raptors had zapped the blankety-blank, pea-eating Wabbit, and obviously had had a late dinner or early breakfast. . The carnage was evident.

And, yesterday? The remaining peas and spinach were undisturbed. I’ve replanted the rest.

Treasure your raptors! They consume vast amounts of pests that frustrate your gardening efforts.

Festival of Fragrance

Ahhhhhhh….it’s a feast! Out here, JOTOLR, we are enveloped with multi-layers of fragrances. We’ve passed out of the gluttony of splashy colors, and into a whiter, calmer selection of eye candy. On the other hand, though we’ve entered a phase of intoxicating fragrances as the locusts are in full bloom, as are the wild cherries! What an experience! This year’s fragrant blooms are simply beyond compare. A demure white they may be, but they are not shy. The trees are loaded with nose-inspiring blooms! I find myself, throughout the day, hovering close to these huge bouquets, and I give thanks for the lush generosity of these majestic offerings! What a gift!

Crop Circles

The Mayapples in our west pasture grow in a circle. Every year the circle grows larger, but never changes shape. I’m not certain it’s unusual, but the circle is – for all intents and purposes—always perfectly round.  It just gets bigger every year. Maybe we are inadvertently communicating with those aliens Stephen Hawking was talking about…without even knowing it…! I wonder what this crop circle out here JOTOLR is actually saying…a good place to land?

Here's wishing you a lovely weekend.  Here in West Virginia, it's going to be absolutely perfect! Thank you, dear readers, for all your comments this past week.  May your gardens  all be growing with vigor!  See you next week!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mother's Day's Coming Up

May 9th is Mother’s Day here in the U. S. (UK also celebrates a day for mothers, as do many countries the world over.)

Did you know the founder of our Mother’s Day was a West Virginian? We here in the U. S. were among the last to designate a special day for moms. But, I can’t think of a state wherein the emblem of family could be more prominent. To West Virginians, mother and family are central to all communities. Moms are tops.

Here’s the short version of the story of the origin from

“In the United States, Mother's Day did not become an official holiday until 1915. Its establishment was due largely to the perseverance and love of one daughter, Anna Jarvis. Anna's mother had provided strength and support as the family made their home in West Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where her father served as a minister. As a girl, Anna had helped her mother take care of her garden, mostly filled with white carnations, her mother's favorite flower. When Mrs. Jarvis died on May 5, 1905, Anna was determined to honor her. She asked the minister at her church in West Virginia to give a sermon in her mother's memory. On the same Sunday in Philadelphia, their minister honored Mrs. Jarvis and all mothers with a special Mother's Day service. Anna Jarvis began writing to congressmen, asking them to set aside a day to honor mothers. In 1910, the governor of West Virginia proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day and a year later every state celebrated it.”

Over the decades, motherhood has changed considerably. Here are some notable aspects taken from an article in this morning’s news, by Rachael Rettner of Life Science:

“Today’s moms are older and more educated. In fact, motherhood statistics have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. Births to teen mothers are on the decline, while the opposite is true for women over 35. A growing percentage of mothers are not married, and single moms tend to be younger.

Other interesting notes:

• The percentage of teen moms and moms over 35 has just about flipped. In 1990, 13 percent of births were to teens while 9 percent were to women over 35. In 2008, the percentages were 10 percent to teens and 14 percent to women over 35.

• The percentage of single moms grew from 28 percent in 1990 to a record 41 percent in 2008.

• More than half of moms, 54 percent, had at least some college-level education in 2006, up from 41 percent in 1990.

• Birth rates for women aged 35 to 39 increased by 47 percent, and rates for women aged 40 to 44 increased by 80 percent over the time period.

• The overall number of babies born has remained relatively stable, rising from 4.2 million in 1990 to 4.3 million in 2008. The country saw a dip in the total number of births coinciding with the recent recession.

The changing demographics are likely influenced by a number of factors, the researchers write. For instance, the higher percentage of single moms could result from a rise in births to this group as well as a drop in overall marriages in the country and the fact that women are marrying later."

I am not a mom.  The closest I've been to motherhood, was teaching school.  As a teacher, though,  I cherished not just working with students, but more to the point, working with parents--mothers mostly--who took the time and the effort to be the bridge between school and home.  Parenting--mothering--is key to a child's success. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all this coming Sunday!