Friday, September 30, 2005

farewell to gardening season

I'm beginning to realize that my gardening days this year will soon come to an end. We have already had two fairly hard frosts, one over a month ago and one Wednesday night (morning temperature was 24 degrees), but we've been covering everything up. The last frost took my summer squashes and most of one bed of tomatoes, and the rest of the tomato plants are getting nipped on the outer leaves. So although it's been a season of abundance, probably my best garden ever, sooner or later I have to let it go.

I picked all the tomatoes I could last night, even though it didn't freeze. I probably got another 50 pounds or so, including a two gallon bucket full of Brandywines and Roses--the best slicing tomatoes in the world. There are enough Amish Paste and Martino's Roma tomatoes to make a huge batch of salsa this weekend; they work best for salsa because they have less pulp and fewer seeds. I timed the planting of cilantro perfectly, waiting to plant until late July so it didn't all bolt and go to seed before salsa making time. Cilantro is to salsa what hops are to beer--essential.

It was a good year for winter squash; we harvested a whole 50 pound feed sack full. The Waltham butternut squash did amazingly well this year; some of the squashes probably weigh several pounds apiece. I tried a variety called Rainbow, but only got two small squashes. There are also two deep orange turks-cap style squashes from a volunteer plant in our compost pile.

I'm still holding out for eggplant and peppers. With any luck I will harvest two eggplants, from the twelve plants I set out; one white Casper, and one purple streaked Listada de gandia. Just enough for one meal of eggplant parmigiana.

There's still plenty of work to do in the garden: clearing out beds, topping them off with composted horse manure, planting garlic, digging potatoes. I could put hoops and plastic over my greens bed to extend the harvest into November or beyond, ala Eliot Coleman. But part of me is saying it's time to back off, take a break, and give thanks for an abundant harvest.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

flying blind--a dream

Things were getting a bit back to normal around here last night, at least as close to normal as you can get around here. The Hermit and I were discussing maybe getting a female yellow lab puppy some time in the near future. I think the kids would enjoy having a puppy around; when we got Lady she was already 2 years old so they have not experienced watching a puppy grow up.

I actually slept most of the night, and I ended up having a dream that was funny, and pathetic at the same time. I was scheduled to play a set at a bluegrass music festival, alone. It must have been an indoor festival, and I was the first act, Friday at 7:00. Probably not the best time slot in any case. The funny thing was, I knew I was playing, yet I was totally unprepared. I had no set list, I hadn't practiced any songs, I hadn't decided what instruments to play, and they weren't even tuned. Yet I wasn't worried. (note--I've been in a somewhat similar situation, where I've been asked to play music at church, but at least I arrive at church with some ideas!)

When it came time for me to begin, there was no one in the audience yet. Good. But then the emcee showed up, and suddenly there was an audience, which looked surprisingly yuppie for a bluegrass festival. Intimidation set in. I started thinking...what song do I know that would make a good opener? I started playing Kate Wolf's "Across The Great Divide"--on piano. Great way to make a first impression on a bluegrass crowd. (note--I have performed this song several times, even once at an actual bluegrass festival, but I'm not much of a piano player) I even screwed up the first few measures and had to start over.

When that song was over, I saw a friend of mine--I'll call him "Mando Man"--standing at the side of the stage. Having no idea what I was going to do for the rest of the set, I asked him if he would mind coming onstage to help out (more like bail me out). He agreed, and somehow we made it through some songs that even sounded a bit like bluegrass. I was playing mandolin, but I had forgotten all of my chords except D, G, and A--which is enough if you happen to be playing in the key of D. My fingers felt as if they could barely move. My solos sounded hesitant, erratic, and very beginner-ish. (note--in real life, they don't sound that much different) My between-songs banter was...pathetic. One of my comments was "Now this is what you call flying blind!" Which is what we were doing. At least I was able to poke a bit of fun at myself. At some point I saw about half the audience get up and leave.

Finally I glanced at the clock between songs, and saw that there was only time for one more. I chose John Prine's "Paradise", which Mando Man was unfamiliar with. I told him, "It's just three problem!" As if he, and not me, would have a problem with anything more musically complicated. We sounded pretty good on that one, and the audience started coming back. At that point I began to wake up, which was unfortunate because I wanted to see how the dream ended. I kept on going through the verses as I gradually awoke, hoping that would keep the dream going:

When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester Dam
I'll be halfway to heaven with paradise waiting
Just five miles away from wherever I am

And Daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where paradise lay
Well I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in askin'
Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

So what was this dream saying to me? And why am I taking the time to write it down? I don't know. I just thought it was pretty entertaining, when usually my dreams are much more bizarre and abstract. It was pretty close to life; the paralyzing stage fright I felt was not unlike when I am jamming informally with other people, and it's my turn to choose a song or pick a solo. It's something I would like to get over.

Practice. Don't fly blind!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

spirit eagle

These last two days have been harder than I ever imagined. The Hermit buried Lady next to where he buried Annie the day before, the same place where a year ago we buried an old horse, Topper, and where this spring I buried my cat, Lilith. We're going to plant daffodils and wildflowers there.

I've never known grief like this before; I've never lost a close friend or a member of my immediate family, and I never realized how these dogs were such a big part of our family. I didn't sleep well last night either; I kept expecting to hear Lady snoring in her spot on Starflower's bed, to have her get up and go outside with me in the middle of the night. Such emptiness. Being a parent and going through loss is an added responsibility; you have to be present to guide the children through their feelings while allowing yourself to go through the range of emotions. I certainly wasn't a stoic person befitting my Scandinavian ancestry last night.

I did manage to take Togo for a walk, or being the husky that he is, he took me for a walk. As frisky as ever, he took off running on the driveway with such force that I had to let go of his leash. He headed straight for the chickens, some of which were outside the chicken run. Luckily, he did not come back with one in his mouth. I think he's been planning this for some time.

We walked up the road, across Sand Creek and into the field on the north side, with Starflower and Calvin following on their bikes. On the way back, in my clouded state of thinking, I experienced probably the worst scare of my parenting career. The kids had gone ahead on their bikes and stopped at the culverts where the creek passes under the road. Suddenly I heard screaming: "My SHOE fell in!" "His SHOE's in the water!" But to me it sounded like "JOE fell in! JOE's in the water!" Panic gripped me; had Mr. Attitude (Joe) tried to follow us out and fallen in the creek? I sprinted there faster than Togo could pull me, and peered over the edge to see a SHOE floating in the water. I nearly fell over, breathless. Then I calmly tied Togo to a sign post, crossed the road, waded into the creek, and waited patiently for the shoe to float the length of the culvert. It floated pretty well for a shoe.

Earlier in the afternoon, before I came home, Calvin and The Hermit were up on the second floor of the house nailing floor boards. Calvin looked up just in time to see a large bird soaring in from the northeast, over the creek and shrub swamp. At first he thought it was a heron, but it turned out to be a bald eagle. As they watched, it circled three times over the spot where the dogs had been buried, then it soared higher to the south and was gone. I can't help but believe that that eagle somehow was the spirit of Lady or Annie, and that belief gives me great comfort.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why I *hate* dogs

It's 2:30 AM and I am lying awake, thinking of the words I will write later in the morning. I am looking out the window above my bed; the stars on this night are unusually clear and bright. I could use some of that clarity right now.

We lost two of our dogs yesterday. Annie, the brittany, died in the morning, and at 11 pm The Hermit gave me the news that Lady, our yellow Labrador, had just died. I'm not quite sure what they died of; Annie was 13 and Lady was 7.

I could not cry then. Sometimes my heart is like that; like a cabin on a cold winter morning when the fire is not yet lit, it takes a while to warm up and get my emotions flowing.

I am not exactly the "dog person" in the family. I have lived with dogs, inside and out, ever since I've known The Hermit. We have seen several dogs come and go, living out their dog-year lives. But that was his thing. He puts up with my cats, I put up with his dogs. Or I thought that was the way it worked.

Annie was really my oldest stepson's dog. The Hermit brought her home so they could go bird hunting together. But life changed, my stepson grew up and moved out on his own, we've moved around, and mostly Annie's been waiting there for the day when she will go out on a grouse trail once more. She was getting on in years, her limbs stiffened and slow, gray hair among the russet, but she still eagerly ran out when her kennel door was opened.

I hate Brittanys. They always act so excited, and they look like they are smiling all the time.

Lady, the yellow lab, was our family dog, our pet. We adopted her when she was 2 from a family that was moving and could not keep her. She went with us, living in several different places. When we had just been here two months, in the middle of winter, one morning I let her out and she disappeared. We followed her tracks to the road, where someone had stolen her. We all thought we would never see her again. We were gone for the day at a family gathering, but when we arrived home, who was there to greet us but Lady, tired and shivering with sore paws. She must have escaped and walked miles to come home; how she found her way back we can only guess.

I hate Labradors. They take all of the insults and indignities you give, and yet they look at you, waiting for that glimmer of goodness, however dim, that they know is in your heart. They are stupid to be so loyal.

I knew Lady had been acting sick over the weekend, but she's been sick before and come out fine. I should have comforted her more, held her and been there as she whimpered in pain. But I was too busy with the business of life, taking care of kids, worrying about if I was ever going to get it all done. I hardly noticed her yesterday; when I asked her to get out of the way so I could put dinner on the table, she moved slowly. I kept thinking, she'll get over this. I didn't know she was dying.

How stupid of me. All of us, as we live, are dying. We should live accordingly. Live in the moment. I hate dogs for reminding me of that.

We are left with one dog, Togo, the 9 month old Siberian husky. I hear him barking occasionally in the night, his chain striking his house as he chases after a cat. He is still a puppy, too frisky and strong to be a house dog yet. I need to take him for walks more often. He is the first dog I think of as "mine".

I hate huskies. No matter what the weather, they just keep running, pulling you along with them, wherever you need to go.

Another hour passes. A waning crescent moon rises in the east.

I hate dogs. They find their way even into hearts like mine, and just as you're beginning to know them, they die.

The stars have all blurred together into smudges of light as I close my eyes and rub my wet face in the pillow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I try to forgive people, BUT...

Great gray owl killed by gunshot, January 2005, Pine County, Minnesota

These four men will have a long wait before that happens. Four men fined for shooting owls (Duluth News Tribune, Tuesday September 20th)

From the article:
Four Carlton County men have been fined after separate incidents of shooting owls that migrated into the region during last winter's owl irruption.

In the cases:

Jacob Line admitted to federal agent Brad Merill that he had shot an owl that was feeding near Cromwell in January. Line was fined $850.

Roy Line admitted to shooting and destroying an owl and also was fined $850.

Mlaskoch admitted to shooting four owls and will pay fines and restitution totaling $3,400.

Warner admitted to shooting eight owls with .22 and .22-250 caliber rifles. Warner later pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for his role in killing great gray owls and faces fines and restitution totaling up to $6,800. Warner will be sentenced Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, and his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges could be suspended for two years.

Anyone who has dug through the archives of my blog to its beginning last winter knows that I was utterly in awe of the spectacle of the great gray owl irruption that occurred in 2004-2005 in my county. I kept counts on my daily drive to work, sometimes logging up to fifteen individual owls in 30 miles. I had several near-misses as owls swooped in front of my car; I even came home one day to see an owl sitting on my mailbox. (Insert Harry Potter reference here) I hung onto the hope that some may have stayed around and nested. I never lost my sense of wonder and amazement; it made a long Minnesota winter somewhat more bearable.

So why would anyone willingly take the life of a great gray owl? I believe it is nothing more than ignorance, stupidity, and laziness, pure and simple. All of the shooters listed above made excuses and showed no remorse. They believed that these owls, which primarily feed on small voles and other rodents, posed a serious threat to penned pheasants, domestic chickens, and wild ruffed grouse.

"The owl killed a couple of pheasants; that's why he did it," Jacob Line's father, Roger Line, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "He told that to the DNR, but the DNR wasn't very understanding, I guess."

In an interview Tuesday, Mlaskoch said he knew that the birds were protected but that he shot them because "there's no grouse around here anymore; I took it upon myself to address the problem."

--Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tuesday September 20, 2005
There are plenty of other predators that pose an even more serious threat to medium to large sized birds: great horned owls, goshawks, foxes, and coyotes to name a few. However, predators alone are not the problem nor can they be simply placed in the category of "enemy". They are just doing their jobs, filling their respective niches. As a somewhat novice caretaker of chickens, and having suffered some losses to unkown predators, I believe that some responsibility is mine. If I want to raise livestock such as pheasants or chickens, I should be mindful of the dangers posed by predators and build appropriate shelter. Even then, I can expect to lose a certain percentage of the flock as the "cost of doing business". It is simplistic to believe that the loss of domestic birds is necessarily worth the life of any predator.

That said, there is very little evidence to support the claim that great gray owls will more than very rarely take any prey larger than perhaps a squirrel. I've picked up the carcasses of dead great grays, including the one I photographed above. They are extremely light; mostly fluff and feathers. It is physically impossible for them to fly off with a chicken-sized animal.

As for the self-appointed protector of ruffed grouse, who lives not too far away from me: I suggest before taking things into your own hands, you learn a bit about their life history. Ruffed grouse populations have distinct cycles of abundance, which biologists are only beginning to understand. My husband did some undergraduate research with the late ruffed grouse researcher Gordon Gullion, and some of his work, which remains unpublished, suggests that the cycle is so complex it even involves cycles in the nutritive value of aspen catkins. Forest management practices also play a role in the carrying capacity of the land. So it's not as simple as shoot an owl=save a grouse. And why should any human be so arrogant as to play God and interfere with systems we don't understand? Yes, ruffed grouse populations are at a low point in their cycle. And that is the way it works.

No, these lowlife scum chose to shoot great gray owls for one reason. They are an easy target. You can walk right up to them. They have no innate fear of humans. It does not take a lot of effort to shoot and kill a great gray owl. You can even stay in the comfort of your heated pickup truck and knock off one or two without even spilling beer all over the dashboard or dropping your cigarette, because they often perch in trees next to cleared ditches and road right of ways. No, great gray owls are a lazy idiot's target.

What really bothers me is how this is just a symptom of how our society in general views Nature: as something to be subdued, overcome, controlled. Period. Owls are killed without any thought as to how they fit into the system as a whole; they are the enemy. There is a lot of discussion going on about this topic on the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union listserv, and the consensus is you just cannot reach people like this through punishment or education. So have the conservation and environmental movements (they are two separate entities, although they share more in common that they would like to believe) failed to have any significant impacts on our society's ideas about how we value the land and all of its inhabitants? It would appear we have not come too far since Leopold's time.

I could write out pages and pages of Aldo Leopold quotes right now that would be relevant. Perhaps an edition of "A Sand County Almanac For Dummies" should be written for those who can't get through Leopold's eloquence, and be required reading for these criminals.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The can-a-thon continues

I picked about fifty pounds of tomatoes Saturday morning, and canned seven quarts of cut up tomatoes on Sunday. The remainder I will probably make into juice some time this week. Such anticipation, beginning with the first seeds planted in March, and it all comes down to a short burst of abundance this time of year. I'm still getting lots of Stupice, with some Moskvich, Aztec, Wisconsin 55, Legend, Mother Russia, Martino's Roma, and Amish Paste. And that's just the canners. I'm getting huge, two-fist size Brandywines and Roses to slice for every meal, and I picked two gallons of Black Cherry tomatoes. The Yellow Pears mostly get eaten in the garden, but I bring a bag of them along to snack on at work. This was a source of great amusement the other day as my coworker, who disdains most fruits and vegetables, looked at the golden yellow tomatoes and asked "What the heck ARE those?"

I also broke my vow. Not THAT one, but the one I made last week to not pick any more crabapples. My family made me do it! I opened up a jar of jelly on Saturday to have on toast with breakfast, and they all thought it was the most amazing jelly they had ever tasted. The Hermit was especially impressed, and insisted that I make as much more as possible, since thirteen half pints just isn't enough! So now I have another box of crabapples to cut up, juice, and cook into jelly. I think I'll do some of the cutting at night, in the house, instead of my usual falling asleep with a book open on my chest at 9 pm.

Edited to add: How could I forget about the salsa? While the tomatoes were in the canner I started cutting up Amish Paste, Roma, and other tomatoes for salsa. Five pints.

Fish stories

I haven't had much time for blogging lately. We still haven't picked up our home computer from the repair shop and I've been out of the office just about every day at work. We're electrofishing the Snake River, which means I've been standing on the bow of a boat equipped with a generator and electrodes, dipping up stunned fish while trying to avoid low hanging branches, logs, and rocks. I've seen some nice smallmouth bass, northerns, and walleyes, along with lots of redhorse and suckers, as well as enjoying the autumn river scenery, so it's pretty fun work.

Today we pulled the boat to a shady spot along the bank to measure and weigh the catch and take scale samples for aging. We only had one walleye in the entire run, about twelve inches in length. My coworker measured it quickly and took the scale sample, then tossed it in the river. But instead of one splash, we heard two. I looked over the side of the boat just in time to see a very large northern pike, perhaps ten pounds or more, swimming out from under the boat with the walleye crosswise in its mouth! All three of us were awestruck by the sight. We see our share of big fish in this line of work, but the drama of the moment, and the irony of the unlucky walleye, were amazing. The northern must have been alerted by the splashing of fish as we released them.

In other fish-related news, the kids and I have been watching something, perhaps brook trout, take grasshoppers in Sand Creek. Starflower and I were the first to witness this spectacle. I got home early Friday afternoon and she insisted on going for a walk to the creek with me. The Hermit and the boys were at Calvin's doctor appointment (turns out he has Lyme disease...but that's another post) and she and I hardly ever get any "girl time" together. So we walked, even though I was exhausted from the day's electrofishing, and sat on top of one of the two large concrete culverts that make up the road crossing. We saw a goshawk on the way out there. Starflower sang me a song she made up, her voice echoing in the culvert. We watched the water flow beneath us. We saw a grasshopper that had landed on the water's surface. Suddenly, there was a splash, and it wasn't there any more. A few minutes later, another grasshopper met the same fate. I could not tell what kind of fish it was, but apparently it had learned that grasshoppers make a good meal, and the culvert makes good cover. I may find the time to rig a small hook on my lightweight spinning rod, bait it with a grasshopper, and see what kind of fish it is.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Weekend report

Weather: hot. Well maybe not Floridacracker's idea of hot, but hot for the second weekend of September in Minnesota. 85 degrees and windy, with nighttime lows in the 60's. I'm not a heat person, or a wind person. The former makes me sluggish and miserable, the latter makes me restless and uneasy. So, lots of cold beverages and a dip in the pond were in order.

Garden: It's finally tomato time! Despite what people say about Brandywines being difficult to grow in Minnesota, I'm getting several of these every day for slicing, and they are beautiful. They even beat out Pruden's Purple for days to harvest, and overall condition of the fruit. For production and days to harvest, Stupice is the definite leader. I picked about three gallons of ripe tomatoes, mostly Stupice, for canning. I had a couple of other varieties, including Wisconsin 55, Aztec, and Maskabec, but these were not nearly as productive and some of the fruits had blossom end rot. Amish Paste, another of my all time favorites, is beginning to ripen, and may be my best bet for salsa next weekend. A couple other varieties that are new to me, such as Mother Russia and Black from Tula, are almost ready for fresh eating. I don't know what happened to my so-called Rose; I may well be eating Roses and calling them Brandywines, the vines are so intermingled. Ah, a glorious tomato mess.

In the other parts of the garden, and I do grow things besides tomatoes, the zucchini are coming back after being nipped by frost, and I'm getting a few cucumbers yet. And, finally, there is one Casper eggplant forming. The eggplant have all had lush leaf growth, but few if any flowers.

Canning: Weather notwithstanding, I still turned my cookshed into a sauna in the name of canned goods. From the crabapple juice I put up last weekend, I made ten more half-pints of jelly. If I hadn't left the crabapples cooking in the slow cooker last weekend, and come back to see a stream of juice running down the counter and onto the floor, I may have had a couple more jars. I have taken a vow to not pick any more crabapples, even though I know there are many more on the upper branches of the tree.

Sunday afternoon I canned the three gallons of tomatoes I picked, and ended up with exactly six quarts of tomatoes. I scalded them to remove the skins, then just cut them up and packed them into jars; they make more than enough juice on their own. I did them in the pressure canner to save time and not turn the cook shed into a total steam bath.

Music: The Hermit found out on Friday that I was on the program to play flute in church on Sunday; this was news to me. Saturday night I found out that the worship leader for the day had even picked out a song for me to do: "My Tribute" by Andrae Crouch. I had not played this song before, but fortunately it worked out well. I keep kicking myself for not practicing more; music is a gift I should use to the fullest.

Misc: I fixed the shutter curtain on my non-digital camera, and Saturday morning I rode my bike up the road to where the red-stemmed asters are an explosion of blue and purple. I took photos, which I hope to get developed next weekend and put on a CD to share here. And by next weekend I will once more be able to blog from home; our virus-laden computer is in the shop being reformatted. There goes my spare time...

Friday, September 09, 2005


My youngest child, Mr. Attitude, saved the life of a kitten yesterday.

We have five kittens, about 7-8 weeks old, among the outside cats. The kids have named them Fuzzy, Fluffy #1, Fluffy #2, Fluffy #3, and Tiny Calico. They all bear a resemblance to our sometimes-indoor tomcat, Alexander, with long brownish hair and white paws.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Attitude went outside just in time to see Fluffy #1 hanging by her neck. She had gotten tangled in the frayed ends of a blue tarp that covered a table. Mr. A yelled "Daddy! A kitten is choking!" While The Hermit ran for a knife, Mr. A held the kitten up so it was not hanging anymore. The Hermit cut her free; she was unconscious but still alive. Mr. A gently massaged her and got her to start breathing again, then when she was fully conscious he brought her to her mother, where she nursed gratefully. By the time I got home, Fluffy #1 was playing around like she always did, except whenever she saw Mr. Attitude, she ran to him. She somehow knows. When I heard the story, I picked Fluffy #1 up and held her close. Life is so fragile and precious.

I am amazed that a three year old knew just how to respond and what to do, and at the level of compassion he has for these pets. He is still excited about killing the meat chickens, so I think he has an understanding of how certain animals have certain places in our lives. We are grateful for the chickens who will give us nourishment, and grateful for the cats that take care of flying rodents and teach us compassion.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Because I have this need to post a picture

white pine sunrise

More reasons to eat organic

This article, just posted online by Environmental Health Perspectives, describes a study in which levels of certain commonly used organophosphate pesticides dropped significantly in urine samples from children who switched to a mostly organic diet for just five days.

Of course, the big chemical companies will counter with "but those children were perfectly healthy even when they ate a pesticide-laden diet, weren't they?"

I'm not so sure. With all the immune-related illnesses these days, and the hundreds of thousands of chemicals we are bombarded with which make it virtually impossible to prove cause-and-effect, I'll err on the side of caution. Last night it was broccoli and potatoes from the garden.

Sketches here and there...

I haven't been keeeping up with the nature end of this blog lately, and I apologize. I also apologize for the lack of pictures; I haven't had access to the digital camera from work lately and the extra money to buy one hasn't materialized yet. I have been taking pictures, but they are of the film variety and not developed yet. I'm beginning to really dislike the time lag of film photography, among other aspects of the process. For one thing, if Mr. Attitude opens up the digital camera and pulls out the memory card in broad daylight, there's no harm done.

So in lieu of pictures, some descriptions of what I've been seeing lately:

Asters. They seem to be especially abundant this year. To me, asters symbolize the beginning of autumn, and as such their beauty is bittersweet. We have several varieties around here, ranging from the tiny white-flowered heath asters along the path in the woods and lining the driveway, to the large-leafed asters with their ivory flat-topped clusters of large flowers, to the swamp asters, an explosion of white blooms, to several kinds of purple and blue asters I have not identified yet.

Turning leaves. The birches started early this year, because of the dry summer, and now the maples are following suit with a few scarlet and orange branches beginning to show. Usually dryness means not much color, but they look brilliant to me.

Migrating raptors. I have gotten into the habit of labeling every medium sized raptor I encounter in the woods as a goshawk, but, especially this time of year, perhaps I am wrong. This morning as the kids and I were driving down our gravel road, I saw a burst of large wings from the ground, and had the time to note a mottled brown back and narrow tail banded with one dark row at the end. "Probably a goshawk" I muttered as I made a mental note to consult my field guide as soon as I got to work. "No, Mom," replied Calvin the Naturalist. "It had markings just like a peregrine falcon! I saw the hood on the head!" I have never seen a real peregrine falcon, just pictures. When I got to work, I looked at Peterson's Field Guide, and noted that goshawks most definitely do not have a single dark band on the tail. It could have been an immature sharp-shinned hawk, although it appeared to be a bit bigger. Immature peregrines do have a dark band on the tail, and Calvin has amazed me before with his astute observations.

Fungus. We stopped at the church playground the other day, which is on a beautiful hill surrounded by towering oak trees. On the stump of one of the trees, which had died and was cut about a year ago, on which I remember counting at least eighty annual rings earlier this summer, there was a lush growth of a spongy, white and yellow fungus. It looked like the insulating foam we use to seal up cracks and gaps in the wall. Starflower was fascinated by it, and was probably the only first grader on Tuesday to bring fungus for show and tell.

It is the season of chilly nights, the time to switch from pilsener and hefe weizen to porter and stout, the time to put Greg Brown or Leo Kottke in the CD player and enjoy the warmth of wool socks under my Birkenstocks.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

how I did

  • Laundry (of course) Done. The drying took an extra day, due to intermittent showers.
  • Clean house and vacuum up white dog hairs (never ending job) Done, for now.
  • Make crabapple jelly from juice I prepared last week It turned out perfect! I only got three and a half half-pints, but I only used a quart of the juice. I did it the old-fashioned way, with no added pectin, and it jelled just like it was supposed to.
  • Prepare more crabapple juice Done, and I learned a few things about the whole process. Like a slow cooker works great for cooking the juice from the apples, as long as you don't overfill the thing and leave it cooking in the kitchen while you go for a swim, and come back to find a stream of juice running down on the floor.
  • Find a gallon glass container for crabapple liqueur; start liqueur I ended up using quart jars. I now have four quarts of divine-smelling cordial mellowing on the table.
  • Can or freeze the green beans my neighbor brought over I decided I had too many other things going on in the kitchen, and there weren't enough to justify running the pressure canner. We'll just have them for dinner tonight.
  • Make and can salsa verde and tomato salsa (Yes! finally!) I canned three pints of tomato salsa. Since tomatillos keep very well, I'm going to wait with the salsa verde until I see how many more tomatillos I can harvest. The salsa took a lot longer to make than I expected; I used some juicy tomatoes that had to cook down a long time, and it took a while to get it how I liked it. I don't go by a recipe; I just keep adding peppers, onions, garlic, and cilantro until it tastes right.
  • Water the garden; clean out pole bean vines, which are history Nature took care of most of the watering; the vines are still there. No hurry on that.
  • Take Togo for a long walk/run Poor dog. I was going to wait until evening last night because it was hot during the day, and then before I knew it it was dark outside. As soon as I get home tonight.
  • Play at least one instrument; give Calvin a guitar lesson I thought about it. I really did.
  • Go fishing in Sand Creek No. I need to really have a lot of extra time on my hands to go fishing.
  • Enjoy the Twin Pines spot in the woods Yes! And Calvin, my modern day Thoreau, told me he has taken a vow to go for a walk in the woods every day for the rest of his life. Not a bad plan!
  • Listen to "Folk Migrations" Saturday night on KUMD-Duluth. Last week it was awesome. I caught some of it, but it wasn't my favorite deejay doing the show. I still highly recommend listening if you're in the Duluth area on a Saturday.
  • Visit my neighbor P and compare garden notes I'll do this when I'm done working through the fruits of the garden.
  • Help The Hermit lift floor joists He didn't ask, which is probably a wise choice. Let's just say our working styles are a bit different from each other's.
  • Practice doing Starflower's hair so it isn't a struggle on school mornings I could not keep her in one place long enough!
  • Hug my kids. And my husband. Done. Many times over.
All in all, I fared pretty well, although a few times when I was half way through cutting up the five gallon pail of crabapples I asked myself "And just why am I doing this again?" Because theyre there. Because they are a gift, a sign of abundance, and I have this need to not let the gift go to waste.

Friday, September 02, 2005

My "to-do" list

I'm really suffering from writer's block here. I can't think of anything deep or poetic to say. Maybe it's the whole Katrina catastrophe that has me overwhelmed and speechless. I believe nothing will ever be the same for anyone in this country, for a number of reasons. And the lack of leadership is appalling and inexcusable.

So I'll just post my "to do" list for this three day weekend, and see how much of it actually gets done.

  • Laundry (of course)
  • Clean house and vacuum up white dog hairs (never ending job)
  • Make crabapple jelly from juice I prepared last week
  • Prepare more crabapple juice
  • Find a gallon glass container for crabapple liqueur; start liqueur
  • Can or freeze the green beans my neighbor brought over
  • Make and can salsa verde and tomato salsa (Yes! finally!)
  • Water the garden; clean out pole bean vines, which are history
  • Take Togo for a long walk/run
  • Play at least one instrument; give Calvin a guitar lesson
  • Go fishing in Sand Creek
  • Enjoy the Twin Pines spot in the woods
  • Listen to "Folk Migrations" Saturday night on KUMD-Duluth. Last week it was awesome.
  • Visit my neighbor P and compare garden notes
  • Help The Hermit lift floor joists
  • Practice doing Starflower's hair so it isn't a struggle on school mornings
  • Hug my kids. And my husband.
Have a good weekend, everyone!