Tuesday, May 31, 2005

What I planted

I was so tired last night I realize I forgot to tell any details of what I planted! Or maybe it was brain fog caused by the beers I had in celebration. The hops in Two Hearted Ale certainly have been known to do that before.

I have two potato bins planted, one with Red Gold and one with Viking Purple. I still have several other varieties that need a home: Yukon Gold, Desiree, Garnet Chile and French fingerling.

The tomatoes in the hoophouse bed, which apparently were shielded well enough against cutworms last night, include Amish Paste, Brandywine, Rose, and Cherokee Purple.

In the next bed over I planted broccoli (Packman, plants purchased from the local nursery), cabbage seeds (Some hybrid red kind from Johnny's and a white heirloom called Danish Ballhead), Chinese (Napa) cabbage, and kohlrabi.

The next bed over is kind of a mixture: tomatillo verde plants, Diva cucumber plants, pickling cucumber seeds, and rutabagas.

In the next bed I have three kinds of eggplant that I started indoors from seed: Casper, Rosita, and Listada de Gandia. There are also jalapeno pepper transplants and space enough to plant some of my own pepper seedlings that are still too small to plant out: Sheepnose pimento, Fish, and Healthy, all interesting names from the Seed Savers Exchange catalog. Or was it Baker Creek?

The first bed in the next row contains one zucchini plant, plus several hills of seeds including yellow zucchini, crookneck squash, pumpkin, and Rainbow winter squash. I mentioned the next bed in my previous post, where I planted butternut squash beneath two bean tepees planted with Kentucky Wonder and Ohio Cutshort beans. The next bed over is the lettuce and other greens that I first planted April 9th. The lettuce, arugula, orach, and spinach are ready for fresh salads!

The last bed that was ready to plant contains garlic (planted last fall), red onion sets, carrots, parsnips, and radishes. There are three more raised beds that still need soil, and Russ is going to make a couple more beds this week; all of these I think will get planted with tomatoes, and I still won't have enough space for all of my tomato plants!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Planting time

I am absolutely exhausted.

We were blessed with two days of beautiful weather, so I seized the moment and planted our gardens. There are still tomatoes and potatoes to plant, but everything else is in the ground. We are planting in raised beds, because our soil is so rocky that the tiller jams up about every ten seconds if we try to till. And we have two years' worth of composted horse manure that fills the beds very nicely.

I was thinking today as I planted, "What if we were real homesteaders?" I mean, what if our lives depended upon what I was planting today, what if there were no Plan B? I would be totally scared. I don't think my gardening skills are that great. And there are the unexpected things, like cutworms...I planted eight tomato plants in a raised bed, covered with a tunnel of plastic, only to find this morning that four of them were cut off at soil level. I consulted my gardening books, and cutworms were the only thing that matched the symptoms. So dh and I spent a lot of time making "cutworm collars" to try to keep these fiends away.

I am especially proud of my bean tepees that I made this morning, out of hazel stems I cut myself. I planted butternut squashes beneath each one. I am not that artistically inclined, but I think the tepees add something visually to the garden.

Too tired to write more.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


The starflowers are in bloom. I just saw them for the first time today. Starflowers are one of the wildflowers that line the path, the original path, not the new driveway, to our cabin. They are, like their name, star-shaped, although every one I have seen has had seven points. How unique. You don't see seven of much in nature, or in music. New Grass Revival has a tune called "Seven by Seven" which is the only somewhat-popular song to be written in that meter.

I would have posted a picture, if I had had enough money left over from our tax refund to purchase the 250 dollar digital camera I have on my wish list. But alas, that money got spent on frivolous things like car repairs and getting our driveway in driveable condition. I do have a picture of a starflower, the one I took just after graduating from high school (20 years ago--aaack!!!) when I went on a Boundary Waters canoe trip with my church group. My appreciation of the small things hasn't changed much I guess. Or has it. I think that picture 20 years ago was only a beginning on the journey to the person I am now. I still see starflowers, but now I see so much more. Maybe that starflower, that I thought enough of to photograph, was speaking to me, foretelling of the wondrous discoveries in store for me. Who would have thunk it. Life just keeps getting better!

My latest band name: A Quorum of Losers (Thanks Dan for the post that started it all!)

Night noises

One advantage to having no indoor plumbing is that I have a reason to go outside in the middle of the night. I see the stars and hear all of the nocturnal creatures. The night this time of year is not dead quiet like it is in the middle of winter; the frogs never seem to quit singing, and if there is any moonlight, certain birds will be calling all night. Even woodcock and ruffed grouse will call (or drum) in moonlight. One bird I have not seen here yet, but have come to know through its nighttime calls, is the sedge wren. It doesn't have a very musical call; it's more like buzzing and clicking. Why does it sing by night? I don't know. The other night I heard at least one, and possibly two, barred owls giving their loud, rhythmic hooting.

And this morning, although it was cool and wet, was filled with bird song. At any given time I could hear red eyed vireo, goldfinch, chestnut sided warbler, black and white warbler, rose breasted grosbeak, chickadee, yellow warbler, ovenbird, veery, song sparrow, and several more I might not know yet. And, oh yes, a wild turkey gobbling! Ten years ago the wildlife managers were saying turkeys would not survive the winter here. Now we know better, although I am questioning whether the resident ruffed grouse, who have not lived with wild turkeys for many years, if ever, are adapted to handle the competition, if there is any.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The war has hit close to home

I just heard the news that Matthew Lourey, son of state Senator Becky Lourey, who represents my district, was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq.

I know some of the Loureys. Becky and her husband Gene had twelve children, many of them adopted. I got to know Becky, Gene, and some of the family while working for a short time at their family business two years ago. I don't think I had met Matthew.

Becky is a liberal Democrat who counted among her friends the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

My heart goes out to the family for their loss.

Thanks, George W. How many more will it take?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Real butter from a family cow

We have been enjoying a treat this week. When we visited Tom and Sal on Friday, they gave us some homemade butter from their cow, Annabelle. (What a name--it doesn't get any better than that!) It is the creamiest, richest, smoothest butter I have ever tasted. Even the kids can taste the difference between it and store-bought butter.

I grew up on margarine, mainly because it was cheaper than butter. When I started getting interested in dietary issues, the "experts" were still promoting margarine as healthier, and I believed it. But when I was married, my husband refused to eat anything but the real thing, so I gradually became a convert to butter. I also began finding out that what the "experts" say isn't always true, especially when the "experts" are supported by the corporations that produce our so-called food. Now I am convinced that butter, being a substance that can be processed by anyone with a cow, or even a pint of cream from the store, is naturally superior to anything that has to be processed in a factory, never mind the fact that it just plain tastes better.

Russ told his mother about how good the fresh butter was, and she instantly understood what he was talking about. She grew up in rural South Carolina and still has an appreciation for the simple, good things that life had to offer. I have a feeling, however, that if I told my mother or grandmother about it, they would only tell about how much work it was to milk the cow and make butter. Some things are worth the effort.

I want a cow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The fishing report from Sand Creek

I'm still fighting off this miserable cold. Last night after dinner (king salmon on the grill-yum!) I took Togo for a walk along the creek. Well, actually it was more like Togo took me for a walk, and would have taken me for a run if I hadn't felt so sluggish. He's very strong, and he likes to run. He would make a good sled dog.

I like walking along the north side of the creek. Our property extends a hundred feet or so beyond the creek, and it is part of a larger hay field that the neighbors mow. The creek is straight as an arrow there; it was ditched in 1918 and for some reason is still listed as a county ditch even though to my knowledge there is no agriculture except maybe pasture upstream. Even though it is a ditch, it is also a designated trout stream, and a pretty good one for this area. Pretty good meaning that it actually has a brook trout or two in it. Numerous springs keep the water temperatures cool enough, and the bottom is clean sand and gravel. I have seen redds there, the round nests in which brook trout spawn in the fall. I would like to eventually do some habitat work on the stream, restoring some of the natural meanders and thus providing more variety, more pools and riffles, more cover and feeding areas for trout.

For all of the eleven years we've been coming here, and the 2 1/2 years we've lived here, however, I have yet to go fishing on Sand Creek! Even though I work in fisheries management, I really don't know a lot about fishing, particularly trout fishing. But last night after I got back from my walk, Russ took the kids fishing for the first time. Unfortunately I was too exhausted to come along, but I was thrilled that they were actually going out. I just sat in the back yard and watched chickadees flit among the new birch leaves. I identified one new warbler for the year, a Nashville warbler. Twenty minutes later I heard them coming back. "Mom! We caught a FISH! Come and see!" Nina was running up the path with a coffee can sloshing water. Inside was a six inch creek chub (Semotilus atromaculatus). The kids were so excited, you would have thought they had caught the new world record brook trout.

Ah, the simple pleasures.

Monday, May 23, 2005

My home, my refuge

First of all, I wanted to thank Erich and Sylvia for stopping by, and welcome to Sand Creek! Sylvia, I'll work on that challenge.

I'm staying home from work today; somehow I caught a nasty cold bug over the weekend. I called in, and John, my coworker thanked me for not coming in to infect everyone else. I was disappointed though; someone had called from church and asked me to play music Sunday morning. I thought I was okay to do it, but on sunday I woke up with no voice and not feeling like playing flute either.

I should try to relax today; the weekend was hectic. Friday was hectic in a fun sort of way; Tom, a new friend, called up and invited us to dinner at his house. He and Sal, his partner, have a beautiful farm. I would call them true homesteaders; they raise pigs, chickens, and one cow for milk, and he does some very artistic woodwork for extra income. Their children, Red and Ada, are the same ages as Vincent and Nina and they have a great time together. Fred and Missy were there so of course after dinner Fred and I played some music while Russ and Tom and Charlie plotted how to overthrow the system through peaceful self sufficiency.

Saturday we had a family obligation in the Twin Cities. Going to the cities for me lately is like having teeth pulled. I hate the traffic, the noise, the speed. It's almost as if I'm living at a totally different pace out here. I can handle Duluth, I love Duluth, but I would be very happy if I never had to set foot (tire) in Minneapolis or St. Paul again. Not to mention I was starting to feel under the weather, and as usual my family wasn't much for conversation. I did have to laugh at the irony though; my parents brought Lilith's body to me, double bagged, frozen, and in a small Styrofoam cooler on which my mom had written "Lilith, 1991-May 10, 2005". All the way home I kept thinking "I have a dead cat in the car...I have a dead cat in the car..." Well, to me it was kind of funny. I buried her yesterday.

I was so frazzled by being in the cities that I could not wait to get home, to the peace and quiet of our home place. I realize now how much I need this place. I need to be out in the country, to have some space, and to be able to appreciate things like the first red eyed vireo I heard yesterday. Even though I was moving kind of slow, I worked on my garden beds a bit on Sunday morning. It's been difficult for me to get in gardening mode this year for some reason; maybe it's the weather. But it was wonderful to get my hands in the dirt, and now I'm inspired. My greens bed is doing well; maybe we'll have baby lettuce, spinach and orach leaves in a week or so. We will have twelve 4x8 raised beds this year plus a few potatos in bins; that's more garden space than I've ever had. We will need to get some black dirt from a farmer we know from church, but we also have lots of great composted horse manure to mix in.

Our afternoon work was interrupted while we chased a steam engine train. Russ heard the distinctive whistle, and remembered someone had told him a steam engine would be passing through Sunday afternoon. So we hopped in the van to find it. We barely missed it at Askov and Sandstone, so we got on the freeway and sped towards Hinckley. I saw the smoke so I figured the best thing would be to drive on to Brook Park and catch it there. We managed to get there with time to spare, and we stood in a great spot by the tracks as the mighty engine roared by. The kids had never seen a steam engine in motion before; there's something so much more beautiful and romantic about a steam engine than a diesel. As I was holding Joey up on my shoulders to see it I was reminded of the Greg Brown song "The Train Carrying Jimmie Rodgers Home".

Thursday, May 19, 2005

One more great gray sighting

Russ just called to tell me he saw another great gray owl this afternoon at about 1 pm. This was in an entirely different location, along the road between Kerrick and Sturgeon Lake. Something tells me there are more of them here than meets the eye.

Off topic: Just for fun, go to Google and type in "Persistent Timberdoodles", and look at the top result. Google is watching me!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Recreation, land ethic, and choice

Disclaimer (cover my arse): The following statements are my personal views alone, and do not necessarily represent the position of any employer, past or present.

In any activity in one's life, from providing the basic necessities to seeking fulfillment and pleasure, one has a moral responsibility to question whether one's methods and choices are adversely affecting others in the land community, and to make choices that prevent undue harm. By the land community I mean all who dwell in and on the land and waters, human and nonhuman alike, living and non living. Aldo Leopold in his essay "The Land Ethic" describes this type of community:

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land...A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these 'resources', but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow members, and also respect for the community as such.
Jesus had a command: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Wiccans have a similar code: As it harm none, do as ye will.

We cannot avoid doing some harm while meeting our basic needs for survival, although we can and must make choices that are the least harmful. Our recreation, however, is a complete matter of choice, and we can choose, in fact if we believe in a land ethic we have the moral obligation to choose, forms of recreation that have the least impact on the land community. It is arrogant and self centered to do otherwise.

All terrain vehicles have known impacts to the land. One rider, driving once through previously undisturbed vegetated land, will at the minimum:
  • Injure and uproot vegetation
  • Compact soil, disrupting aeration and habitat of microflora and fauna
  • Create noise enough to disturb wildlife
  • Leave a trail of gas fumes
  • By discretionary consumption of gasoline , give tacit support to the military machine and domestic habitat destruction necessary to support our nation's level of fossil fuel consumption
With more riders, and there certainly more of them everywhere you look these days, these effects multiply. From the Sierra Club website:

Off-road use of vehicles can present serious and special problems of impact on the environment and incompatibility with other users of the land. Experience has shown that off-road use of vehicles may result in one or more of the following effects:

All vehicles:

  1. Physical soil damage, often readily visible, resulting in:
    a. Erosion, causing soil loss and damage to stream banks, streams, and fish habitat;
    b. Soil compaction and serious adverse impact on flora and its regeneration; and
    c. Degradation of trails, including rutting and breakdown of trail edges.
  2. Disruption of wildlife breeding and nesting habitats, especially of vulnerable species, resulting in loss of young;
  3. Disturbance of wildlife, leading to weakened physical condition, death, and possible extinction of some species;
  4. Damage to archaeological, scientific, historical and other significant sites, and damage to natural features, sometimes with irreversible effects, especially on rare features of interest for scientific study;
  5. Facilitation of illegal hunting fishing and the talking of game and non-game wildlife;
  6. Danger to the safety of other land users because of vehicle speed, steep terrain, sharp curves, slippery or unstable trail surfaces, and/or limited visibility; and
  7. Competition with other land users: vehicle operators, with their increased mobility, generally use a greater quantity of scarce land per recreational user.

Motorized vehicles:

  1. Introduction of air and water pollution to areas presently removed from any such sources;
  2. Excessive noise, which, in close proximity, may result in physiological effects on animals and humans, or may induce anxiety, altering animal behavior patterns, and which, in most circumstances, seriously degrades the solitude of wild areas for other users;
  3. Litter: by virtue of mechanization, operators of vehicles carry more gear, with potential to leave more litter;
  4. Vandalism: motorized ease of access is often coupled with increase of acts of vandalism on public and private property; and
  5. Fire: illegally or improperly operated vehicles can often create a fire hazard on public or private lands.

I have nothing against the responsible use of all terrain vehicles as part of farm or land management work, or by those who have a genuine disability who need to access certain areas and have considered the ramifications thoughtfully. But these are by far the exception to the use patterns you see today. Most use is purely recreational.

Does this sound like a form of recreation that is compatible with a land ethic?

Follow the money. It's just industrialized, corporate sponsored, mechanized, mass marketed land rape, catering to the irresponsible, self centered "me first" generation.

Homestead happenings

We now have a driveway that isn't completely mud and one foot deep ruts! We got two loads of sand/gravel yesterday morning, and in the evening a neighbor brought his skid loader and smoothed it all out. Needless to say, Joey had a good time watching the dump truck and the skid loader work. And, much as I deplore the misuse of heavy equipment in shaping landscapes to human ideals of perfection, I am thankful for the hours of manual labor that were saved. It was fun to watch this neighbor work the skid loader; he moved quickly and with great agility, almost like a dance. Kind of odd, though, I don't even know this guy; Russ was referred to him by another neighbor. He arrived, drove up in the loader, and went right to work, and I was watching, expecting him to stop and talk at the end, and I was ready to pay him. But as soon as he was finished, he took off at high speed down the driveway, loaded up the skid loader, and disappeared down the road. Not much for conversation I guess.

Speaking of heavy equipment, the guy who brought the gravel said he had a large backhoe and could double the size of our pond and dig it down to 20 feet in depth. We might take him up on it; if fish rearing is to be part of our food production, we could use the extra space. The area we want dug is an old gravel pit anyway; it would not be changing or destroying a pristine piece of land.

The muffler finally fell off my Honda Accord wagon yesterday as I was leaving work, so after I got home we brought that and the other Honda Accord, which needs some kind of ball joint replaced, in to the garage and picked up the Astro van, which was having an alternator transplant. When it rains, it pours! Thank goodness we have a dependable local mechanic who charges a fair price. A necessary evil of country living, this dependence on automobiles.

We got a new member of the family yesterday, a 5 month old male Siberian husky puppy named Togo. He seems pretty well behaved and good with the kids. I wasn't thinking about getting another dog, but a friend was giving him away and I've always liked huskies. He needs to run, though, and I need the exercise, so he may be my new inline skating partner.

Russ is getting some fencing ready for the three sheep we are getting soon. Sheep are something new to me; who would have thought ten years ago I'd be raising sheep and chickens? Who knows, I may even take up spinning and knitting; I'll take a good pair of wool socks over cotton athletic socks any day.

We won't be getting the chickens until next month; with all that's going on, and the cold weather, the chicken coop wasn't quite ready for them and neither were we.

I am hoping to take the day off on Friday to get some serious gardening done. The weather is finally supposed to cooperate.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

How do I do this, anyway?

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. Even when I was five or six, I kept little journals, started writing stories, and wrote some poems. My grandma, bless her heart, even sent in a series of my nature Haiku poems to The Lutheran Digest, and they actually published them!

It was so easy then. I wrote about my world, the things that I thought were important and how I felt about them, and I had an adoring audience in my mom and grandmas. I thought I was well on the way to becoming a famous author, the next Laura Ingalls Wilder or Maud Hart Lovelace. After all, they wrote about their worlds and what was important to them. The trouble was, I began to realize that Laura Ingalls Wilder's world was a lot more interesting and eventful than mine. What could a fifth grader living in the suburbs and going to grandma and grandpa's lake cabin on weekends in the 1970's possibly have to say that would be interesting? As I approached the teen years and felt the incredible pressure to look and act like everyone else, I gradually gave up writing my stories and poems. I did keep diaries, full of inane drivel about the boys I liked, the girl in seventh grade homeroom who made that school year hell for me, and how I felt about the songs in that week's Top 40. The stuff teenage girls were supposed to write. Blech.

I hate to admit, I didn't read much during that time either. What a waste. There, at the prime of my life when the world was full of possibilities, I resigned myself to thinking my greatest potential was to find the perfect boyfriend. My career aspirations at the time included being a radio deejay. I even was a *gulp* cheerleader my sophomore year in high school. No, I did not fit in and it was hell.

Luckily I realized that a National Merit scholar and class salutatorian was not supposed to be on the track to go to deejay school, and I chose to attend a small Lutheran liberal arts college in southern Minnesota (that narrows it down to 2, and I wasn't an Ole!) and major in biology. The biology major was a fortunate choice; it got me back into appreciation of wildlife and the outdoors, another early childhood pastime that got squelched at the onset of puberty. But for the most part I did not take advantage of all the opportunities for intellectual and spiritual growth that the college had to offer. I rarely spoke up in class, and continued to write inane drivel in my diaries. I did not even consider majoring in English or doing something related to writing, although I was told by more than one professor that I was a talented writer.

I still keep telling myself I'll be a writer some day. I read more than I ever have in my life, and I have an outlet to whomever reads this. But I noticed the other day, in the brief description of my blog, I mentioned something about "environmental philosophy". So where, you may ask, is my writing on environmental philosophy? What are my core views, my beliefs?

Maybe I don't really know. Maybe I really don't have anything to say on the subject. Maybe I am just a shallow "enviro-lite". And that scares the heck out of me. In the words of Babs, the knitting, ignorantly optimistic chicken in the movie Chicken Run, "My life flashed before my eyes...and it was really boring!" Maybe I don't live a life that shows what I care about. Am I passionate enough to be a writer? How do I do this, anyway?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Great gray in May!

Last night Russ took Joey and Nina for an impromptu pickup truck ride. It was so spur of the moment that Nina went wearing her nightgown, which she had put on early. I declined to come along because it was a little chilly for me to ride in the open back, and Vincent was off somewhere doing his own thing. I was surprised when not ten minutes later they were back, parked out front, and Nina came running up the trail. "Mom! Bring the camera! We saw a great gray owl!" So Vincent and I jumped in the back after all, and headed up the road. Just about a mile from our house, as the (owl) flies, there it was, perched quietly and very inconspicuously in a dead gray snag. I may have missed it had Russ not pointed it out. We stopped the truck and I was able to snap a couple pictures, although unfortunately I didn't have film in my good camera. The owl was very cooperative; it had not been disturbed by the truck driving by twice before, and it was still there when we drove by and stopped again on the way back.

I had not seen a great gray owl since late March, and was wondering if a few of them would stay around here for the summer. After seeing ten or twelve of them per day for weeks (see the archives, January-March 2005), I missed them even though I had the thrill of seeing new spring arrivals. I think a few of them did stay around, just during that time period they became more secretive in their habits, not perching out by open roads looking for food. And with the absence of snow they became more difficult to spot. I'm hoping to see this one again, or maybe even see some of its offspring. There are some large tracts of spruce and alder bog around here where a pair of owls could nest relatively undisturbed.

This sighting overshadows, but does not diminish, the joy I felt in finally seeing the first hummingbird of the season arrive at the feeder. I had filled the feeder Friday night, and Sunday morning a ruby-throated male came by several times. How does a hummingbird even survive these freezing temperatures we've had? The weather is supposed to turn milder this week, but I'm still shivering (30 degrees) this morning.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Updates, and blogging musings

I heard my first rose breasted grosbeak of the season this morning. They have a song somewhat like that of a robin, but much faster. It's as if you played a 33 rpm record of a robin singing at 45 rpm. (No one under 30 will know what I'm talking about there!) I hope I can spend some time in my woods tomorrow morning with the binoculars, looking for warblers. It's supposed to be rainy/snowy and cold, though. Ah, the joys of springtime in Minnesota!

Speaking of birds, I've added a couple of links to some birding resources on the Web. Just for you, Dan!

It is nice to know that someone out there is reading this and getting something out of it. I started blogging a few months ago, mainly for myself, as a way to get in the habit of writing regularly. This having an unseen audience out there is an intriguing concept; it makes me more conscious of how I write, so instead of just rambling on to myself in a private journal I make an effort to be coherent to others. Its kind of like cleaning the house because company is coming over.

I've noticed in some other people's blogs, it's like a popularity contest, to see how many people are out there reading. There seem to be all kinds of unwritten rules and behaviors involved in the blogging world. I'm out of the loop on a lot of that, and I don't care if I stay that way. I do this because I like doing it, and I'm glad there's at least one person reading, but I'm not screaming "LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!"

I occasionally go profile searching, hoping to add to my bookmarks of blogs I like. What really gets my goat, however, are people who take the time to set up a blog, put all kinds of neat things in their profile that make me want to get to know them, and then they DISAPPEAR! They post once, saying hi, welcome to my blog, and that's it. What's the point?

Okay, rant over.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Ode to Lilith

My mom called last night to inform me that my Siamese cat, Lilith, had passed away. Lilith was 13 years old. Lilith had been living, along with my blue point Siamese, Lucy, at my parents' house because when we moved here we didn't have room for the cats inside and they are not outside cats. I regret that we had not brought them here yet; I might bring Lucy here soon.

Lilith was the first cat I had in my adult life. A couple months after Russ and I moved into our new house in 1991, and a few months before we were married, I saw an ad for Siamese kittens for $35 on the grocery store bulletin board. Not purebred, classic skinny pointy Siamese of course, but chubby seal point kittens that reminded me of Mittens, the Siamese I had while growing up. I named her Lilith after the character on Cheers, not even knowing there was a mythological Lilith who shared more than a few qualities with the cat.

Lilith was a one-person cat. I was that person with whom she shared her affection. One of my favorite photographs is of me taking a nap, very pregnant at the time, and Lilith curled up next to me. Lilith could hide and disappear from everyone else, but when I came home she was right there. Of course, I was the one who fed her, so that may have made a difference.

I regret the two major insults that I wrought upon Lilith. The first was getting Lucy. Lilith was always a shy, solitary cat, and I should have known she would prefer to be the only feline of the house. But that long haired blue pointed kitten was so darn cute, and I thought they would get used to each other. Lucy was used to being the smallest of a house full of cats, and she learned to be more aggressive and demanding.

The second was moving, several times, and ending up with no room for Lilith or Lucy. So they lived with my parents, and were well cared for, but poor Lilith hid in the basement for the greater part of her last three years. I was hoping we would get our new house done, with room and sunny windows for cats, so I could bring her here. Now I will bring her here to rest in a beautiful place with Leo and Hope, the dogs, and Topper the horse.

Dang, I miss Siamese cats. They are so much more intelligent than the mix of barn cats we have around here.

Wow...great look at an American Bittern

As I was driving down our gravel road this morning, late as usual, I saw something standing on the side of the road, about a quarter mile from our driveway. The road crosses a cattail/sedge marsh there; sometimes in the spring the frost pushes up some of the old logs from when it was a corduroy road. I knew right away it was a bird, bigger than a grouse, and as I was thinking "bittern?" it flew up. It crossed the road about thirty feet in front of my car, close enough so I could see the brown and white striping along its underside. The only other thing it could have been was a green heron, but this was much bigger. It flew parallel to the car, about 30 miles per hour, for several hundred yards before it landed in the marsh. I have heard bitterns in the marsh behind the house many times, but never seen one, especially this close. And never have I seen a bird like that standing on the side of the road!

The white trilliums are starting to bloom; I first noticed them this morning on the slope of the west bank of the Kettle River near the kids' school. I forgot to mention I saw some wood anemone blooming in our woods Sunday morning. We don't have any white trillium near our house, but we do have nodding trillium, which produces a much more inconspicuous flower.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Band names

In reading over some of my recent posts, I've noticed certain phrases that would make good names for the eclectic folk acoustic bluegrass Newgrass kickass Celtic Scandinavian roots band I dream of playing in some day. For example:

Persistent Timberdoodles
Sapsucker Moon
Technicolor Warblers
Hermit Party
Seize the Carp
Rogue Woodpeckers
Early Sturgeon

Okay, in case you're looking, the last one isn't from this blog, it's work-related.

The hermits have a party

We had a party at our place on Saturday to celebrate my husband's 50th birthday. We haven't been the most social of creatures lately; it's easy to just retreat into our little world in the woods and muse on how we're too weird for the rest of the world to understand. And our home is not quite set up for entertaining. But maybe it was the season, the greening up of spring, the emergence from a long winter holed up looking at each other, maybe it was the well known implications of turning 50, and the desire to keep that day from turning into a crisis of self reflection and eventual despair. Whatever it was, I was ready to party, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable evenings we have known.

Being the hermit I am, I'm not compared with Martha Stewart too often. I like good food, especially when someone else is doing all the work. But Saturday morning the spirit got a hold of me, and I cleaned the whole house then took over the cookshed preparing the feast. We had chicken flautas with guacamole, shrimp and avocado dip with chips, veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, bratwurst, grilled vegetables, and black bean salsa. We had a watermelon in the cooler for dessert, but that was forgotten when Missy brought a fabulous homemade cheesecake with dark chocolate. I surprised myself; I really enjoyed serving and seeing everyone enjoy the food.

Of course we had music, but that began fairly late in the evening as we were waiting for my guitar playing friend Bob to show up. He didn't get my email directions and ended up getting lost somewhere near the Wisconsin border, but somehow managed to find us; it had been years since he was here. Bob and Fred and I played until about midnight on guitars and mandolins. Then after Fred and Missy left, Bob and Russ and I stayed up talking and finishing off the beers until about 2 in the morning. Bob's an old friend of ours we hadn't seen in years, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

It was so wonderful to be among old friends, new friends, good neighbors, good food and drink, and great music.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Kate Wolf quotes

I'm sitting here listening to Kate's album, Lines On The Paper. I have not listened to this album as much as some of her others; although Kate can't write or sing a bad song, these songs just take a bit more time to grow on me. The only song on this album that I have played is Lay Me Down Easy In My Mind. An excerpt:

Now the seasons of my life
They go turning through the days
I've seen bitter winters come and go
And here I am in sunny times
Not feeling like I should
And wondering when the winds will start to blow

From The Trumpet Vine, which I'm going to work on tonight when I seize the moment:

Now as we come and go, in sunshine and in rain,
Some years are seen more clearly than the rest,
And if it weren't for kitchen songs and mornings spent with friends
We all might lose the things we love the best

And from You're Not Standing Like You Used To, some great timely advice:

And I wish I could make you happy some way
But that would be a lie and you know it
Find what you really care about
Then live a life that shows it

Kate left us way too early in her life. For more information visit Kate's website . Or better yet, head on out to northern California for the Kate Wolf memorial festival in late June. Great lineup this year as usual!

Return of the ovenbird

It is not hard to tell when the ovenbirds have returned to our woods. Their loud, shrill "tea-CHER tea-CHER tea-CHER" call is distincitive and is part of the repertoire of sounds that I have come to associate with this place, this season. I heard it yesterday morning for the first time this year as I slowly, reluctantly emerged from a short nights' sleep. (It's been a long time since I stayed up partying until 2 AM!)

My first positive identification of an ovenbird here, before I knew their call, was from a dead one that had crashed into a porch window. Since ovenbirds tend to stay near the forest floor and away from open areas, they are far more often heard than seen. I have not yet found an ovenbird nest, the quaint on-ground covered structure that gives the bird its name. The opportunity abounds here, I just have to go looking for one some day. I really should do a survey of nesting birds in our woods this summer.

In addition to ovenbirds, warblers are here. In a morning walk in the woods with Joey I located one black and white warbler (as opposed to a Technicolor warbler!) and heard the call of one other species I could not identify. I am still in a learning stage with warblers; I'm sure for every species I've positively identified, there are five others I have only seen for sure in field guides.

Other new arrivals this weekend were brown thrasher, house wren, and American bittern. I'm sure there were more, but I was too busy cooking and cleaning to notice. More on that later.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Carpe diem, carpe momentum

Carpe Cyprinus carpio. (Seize the carp)
Feel free to correct my Latin if "momentum" is not the correct term for "moment". I have learned that if I'm going to play music at home, it will not come in long, preplanned blocks of time during which I can work out all of the musical ideas that have been going through my head as well as run through some fundamental exercises. On all 4 instruments. Dream on! Instead, I have to be ready, like I was last night. It was after dinner, the sun was going down, the kids were playing out in front, and I certainly wasn't in the mood to start washing dishes, not on the first pleasant weather evening in over a week! So I grabbed my mandolin, sat out on the back deck, and picked a few tunes. Nothing fancy, just basic fiddle tunes I had learned years ago. A few spring peepers and chorus frogs joined in, as well as the woodcock. This probably lasted all of fifteen minutes before the kids came back, looking for me, but for just a short time I felt I was living in the moment, and I was at peace.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

the early bird

I've forgotten one of the things I like best about May; it starts getting light so early! I was awake at 4:30 and the first light was coming through the window. I love these windows; I'm so glad I let Russ talk me into getting new, energy efficient, BIG windows for the new bedroom addition instead of just moving some of the smaller windows. The window right above my side of the bed faces east/southeast, so I can see the first light of day, or the rising crescent moon as I did this morning. I went outside when I woke up (call me crazy, I ENJOY peeing outside in the wee hours! :) ) and the woodcock was already peenting and twittering. Persistent little timberdoodle.
Now if the weather would only catch up with the calendar; it was 18 degrees this morning!

I'm not the earliest riser in the world, and I did manage to get back to sleep briefly after my outdoor encounter, but this time of year is an exception. It would be even more of an exception if it weren't so darn cold that even the songbirds are frozen out! I love hearing the birds and frogs in the morning. When I was in my last month of pregnancy with Vincent, who was a June baby, I would wake up every morning at about 4:30. It turned out he was born at 4:30 AM, and even in the intensity of labor and pushing I remarked that I could hear robins and cardinals starting to sing outside the open window.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Crazy weather, alders, more music

It's the second of May, and the thermometer read 25 this morning, with expected highs in the 40's. Yesterday, May Day, was windy, with skies alternating between cold sunlight and dark clouds laden with sleet and snow. We did get outside for a while; Russ has been clearing alders behind the horse pasture and the kids and I worked on stacking the branches in brush piles. I can't find much good to say about alder. They grow low and brushy, their narrow trunks slumping low to the ground, creating an impassable mess. When cut, they leave uneven stumps that can chew up truck tires if you back over one while unloading hay. Ask me how I know. The wood rots too fast to be much good as firewood, although I've heard it's good for smoking meat.

Russ has cleared back to a small pond, about 50 x 20 feet, that was surrounded by alders. The pond was probably excavated when this land was mined for gravel; I found a depth of 2 feet close to one edge, and it's probably even deeper in the middle. The pond is between the horse pasture and the creek. Previously it has been difficult if not impossible to walk to the creek without going out to the road. Now with a little more clearing we'll have a nice trail to the creek. The kids and I discovered a nice spot along the south bank yesterday, where the old logging railroad crossed. The trestle is gone, but the mounds of earth are still there, grown over with birches and spruces. The creek narrows at this spot before opening up into a wide, deep pool that probably holds more than a few brook trout. The sound of the water rushing over rocks there is very soothing. I've been coming to this land for ten years now, and we still haven't discovered all of the magic places like this. Joe asked me this morning if we could go to the stream again; to a three year old boy that was a big adventure!

I planted another flat of tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos yesterday. My first flat of tomatoes has been doing the darndest things lately. At first I thought nearly all seedlings were lost to damping off disease; they were so spindly with tiny little leaves. Some varieties sprouted only one or two plants, and some none at all. Then some of the plants started looking more robust, and they are now doing quite well. And now, a month after I first planted, some of the seeds are beginning to sprout! I've never seen such variability in tomato seedlings.

I can't get enough of playing music lately, and I feel like I've never sounded better. I went to Fred and Missy's house for a while Saturday afternoon while Nina was at a birthday party in town. Fred and I played a few songs, then Joel, the banjo player in their band, showed up. It turns out Joel and I are college classmates; we were even in concert band together. Small world. With Fred on mandolin and Joel on banjo, I ended up playing guitar a lot more than I have in a while. I've never really tried any flatpicking solos, but when it was my turn for a break I picked a few notes, some of which started to sound like the right ones. And I sang a few songs; for some reason my voice just flowed smoothly, not shaky or tense at all. I was given the ultimate compliment when Joel said it reminded him of Iris DeMent, then later Fred told me Missy thought I sounded like Emmylou Harris. Wow! Russ has told me I sound like Emmylou before, and let's face it...I secretly want to be Emmylou! But seriously, I feel like there's a reason I'm going through this musical awakening and finding people to play with. It's a part of me that has been in the dark too long, that I've ignored or downplayed. I feel like I have a gift, and I need to use it to the best of my ability.