Wednesday, May 31, 2006
I took today off work because a) Mr. Attitude goes to daycare on Wednesdays, just to get a little social interaction with his peers and a break from the brother/sister hierarchy, and b) the weather was good for gardening, a little hot but not like the last weekend. First The Hermit hauled old horse manure and dirt from the horse pasture to the garden beds with the tractor, then I arranged everything, weeded, and planted. There are still four raised beds to fill, and tomatoes, beans, peppers, eggplant, and a few other things to plant, but I think we're well past halfway planting.
No pictures today. No more vivid descriptions or lists of what was planted. I'm just too tired.
Oh, The Hermit saw a wolf yesterday, less than a mile from our house. A real, honest to God timberwolf, running across the road. Good thing we have the sheep fortress.
Monday, May 29, 2006
But now it's kitten season, and I've decided most of these cats do not have any inborn mothering ability, either that or they are responding to some unseen population check. Two litters earlier this year have died within a day after birth. And two days ago, I witnessed what was perhaps the most casual birth I'd ever seen; a small calico was walking along the path, and when the kitten, placenta and all, dropped from it it didn't even stop walking. I picked up the kitten and put it in a somewhat protected area. Later I found the other kitten, abandoned in the woodpile. I put it with the other, thinking maybe the mother would have a change of heart and start caring for them. Wishful thinking.
And a lot of mixed emotions ensued. I could try to care for the abandoned kittens, feeding them milk every hour or so. But we have so many cats here, and there is so much else I need to focus my attention upon. Or I could kill them instantly, drowning them in a bucket. But what if...just what if the mother decided to come back? And I didn't have the heart to do it either. I'm not God, and I don't pretend to be. So I had to listen to their pitiful meowing yesterday and today, struggling, clinging on to life, while their mother casually lounged around, oblivious. I didn't imagine they would last long. I think the first one is finally dead, the second soon to follow.
So why do I feel all messed up emotionally about this? I was hoping they would die, so we would not have any more cats to deal with. And I was hoping they would live, because...well, just because. And in the end I decided I would not be the one to decide.
On the other hand, there is a litter of four kittens in the canvas garage, two weeks old and perfectly healthy. I'm prejudiced; I'm pulling for them because their mother is a Siamese mix, with blue eyes, and I'm convinced Puffball was their father, before I took him to the vet. Puffball is also a Siamese mix, blue eyed and grey pointed. The kittens are all snow white, which suggests they will develop colored Siamese points as they mature. I'm an absolute fool for Siamese cats. I have already decided I will keep one, or more, I'll see.
By the way, there are three of them in the picture. I just noticed the front one looks like it has a head growing out of its butt!
I can now add "shepherd" to my resume. We've been talking about getting sheep for years, thinking they would be quieter than a lawn mower and fresh wool to boot. Well, last week The Hermit found these three lambs who needed a new home; their previous owner had gone to a nursing home and the family was anxious to get rid of them. When The Hermit picked them up they were in a small dirt enclosure, with no access to fresh grass. They won't have that problem here!
This is the "fortress" we built for them yesterday. We added a tarp for shade at one end. When all the grass is grazed down, The Hermit will just hook up the tractor and pull the fortress, sheep and all, to a new patch. Right now they're working on the side yard of the new house.
I'm off to look up carding and spinning equipment on Ebay! Okay, maybe that's a ways off in the future, but it's something to think about!
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Of course, I'm not 100 percent to begin with. I have some undiagnosed illness that is causing loss of voice, coughing up unmentionable stuff, and general stuffiness. I thought it was maybe an allergy to pine pollen, but allergy meds brought me no relief.
I did get a small flower bed weeded, at about 8 AM, before it got too hot. Then, in a frenzy of God-knows-what, I helped The Hermit assemble a portable sheep pen for the "lawnmower" sheep we are getting soon, some day when it's not so hot. It turned out to be more of a sheep fortress. No predator has a chance here, I tell ya. This was at midday, mind you, the peak of the sun. I was already sunburned from the day before. I was not a happy camper.
So finally we went for the pond, after the oppressive rays of the sun were starting to wane. I brought a pitiful excuse for a beach umbrella, which did not last in the variable wind. I soaked myself, roasted myself, and walked back to the house for cough medicine and Kleenex. I told The Hermit that a simple dinner was the only alternative.
Well guess what? We ended up driving to Cloquet, to that wonderful Mexican restaurant we ate at last week. The kids showed unprecedented manners, the food was as great as before, and it was air conditioned. And they have good margaritas. ;)
Sally is almost four months old now, which I figure is about seven years old in people time (4 x 12/7...I can only do this math after two cups of coffee!) She's starting to settle out of her wild puppy ways, learning the rules of the human pack and eager for approval and acceptance.
And, she likes to swim, which is good since it's going to be in the upper 80's here today (yuk). Looks like another afternoon at the pond.
But, there's gardening to be done! Yesterday I planted broccoli, cauliflower, Swiss chard, carrots, parsnips, daikon radishes, rutabagas, onions, and more lettuce and other greens. A lot done, but still a long way to go. And it doesn't help that I've got some kind of upper respiratory crud that leaves me coughing and short of breath.
Last night, after hamburgers and corn on the cob (and mashed potatoes per Starflower's request) we went to a bonfire at a friend's house. When we got there, it was just getting dark and the fire was blazing strong. So strong that it was just on the verge of spreading beyond the fire ring; this was no wimpy fire. But we got it under control, marshmallows were roasted, s'mores were consumed, as we plotted the constellations of the starry sky. A whippoorwill serenaded us from a distance. I played a couple tunes on the mandolin but I think I was no match for the bird.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Thursday, May 25, 2006
And...as I was driving Starflower home from Girl Scouts we saw a black bear! It was in the road about 3 1/2 miles away from my house. It was the first bear I'd seen in a long time; I know they're around here but usually in the spring one at least makes an attempt at the bird feeder.
So that's my world here, tonight. I may take the day off tomorrow to get a long weekend and do some gardening.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
If there is such a thing as karma, may that deer and her fawn not come northeast to discover my garden.
Not these violets; I'm constantly trimming the grasses from around my raised beds, and occasionally pulling clumps of grass that migrate inside the beds, but I try to spare the violets. They're pretty, and they're not hurting anyone.
I do get some unusual "weeds" surfacing from time to time; I had a few ferns in my squash bed last year, and then there's this one:
I don't know, it sure looks like a trillium to me! How it ended up in a raised bed is beyond me. We have no large white trillium on our land, just a few nodding trillium here and there in the woods. Perhaps, just perhaps, a trillium seed ended up in a hay bale we bought from somewhere else, then was consumed by the horses, then the manure was used to fill this bed?
And I thought trillium were difficult to propagate. Whatever it is, I'm digging it up and putting in a flower bed.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Of course, the beds need to be lined with feed sacks (my half-a$$ attempt at keeping the weeds out) and filled with aged horse manure, but that's the fun part!
And a deer fence...might be needing one of those...
In other news, I learned yesterday that hummingbirds have a lot of nerve. I had just set out a new hummingbird feeder, and was going to empty the other one and replace the nectar, when I heard a high-pitched chattering, buzzing noise coming from up in a tree. There sat Ruby Throat, madder than a hornet, and cussing me out for even thinking of touching his feeder. I backed off; I don't need any hummingbirds mad at me.
Birds seen or heard today include: Sedge wren (all night!) robin, red winged blackbird, raven, crow, chickadee, blue jay, goldfinch, purple finch, baltimore oriole, ruby throated hummingbird, red breasted nuthatch, eastern phoebe, American bittern, common merganser, purple martin, tree swallow, magnolia warbler, black and white warbler, ovenbird, yellowthroat, brown thrasher, and catbird.
We put the tractor to use Sunday morning, scooping up old manure from the horse enclosure and hauling it back to the garden area. From there, I got some good exercise shoveling and filling the raised beds. These are all old beds from last year, but the soil had settled enough that they needed to be refilled.
ready for planting
I got three raised beds filled yesterday, which means I now have four beds ready to plant. However, the temperature dipped to 25 degrees last night, reminding me why it is not good to get too eager to plant here in Minnesota. The average last frost date is just that: an average. I do have peas growing already (middle left edge of the photo), but these should not be harmed by the frost. And I can probably get away with planting seeds any time now. Tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings will wait another week or so before I plant them in the cevered hoophouse beds.
We also lifted the enclosure where we were raising the meat chickens, exposing a rather odiferous pile of chicken manure. I think once it airs out a bit, I'll move most of it to a compost pile, cover the rest with dirt, and plant the squash there.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
It was much needed.
For The Hermit's birthday I had bought tickets to a John Prine concert in Duluth. Although we're huge Prine fans and have seen him several times, I knew The Hermit was equally excited about the opening act, Pieta Brown with Bo Ramsey.
The kids spent the night at their friends' house, friends they don't get to see too often. They live on a small farm about 25 miles away; we buy all our pork from them. The only child who even took time to say goodbye was Mr. Attitude.
From there we traveled up Highway 61 to the town of Cloquet, about fifteen miles west of Duluth. We had heard from the older kids that there was a new Mexican restaurant in town and it was pretty good, so instead of going to a touristy place on Duluth's waterfront and enduring long lines, we decided to give it a try. In a word, it was excellent. Fast, courteous service, good margaritas, and the best Mexican food I have had, anywhere, for a long time. The Hermit and I both ordered seafood dishes.
Then it was on to Duluth, to the auditorium on the waterfront. We were a bit late and missed part of Pieta Brown's set, but were impressed with what we saw.
What can I say about Prine's set? He played just about every song that I would have wanted him to play. He played and sang for about 2 1/2 hours straight, even though his band took a break, I was amazed that he could keep singing for so long. He opened up with "Spanish Pipedream" ("Blow Up Your TV"), which set the tone for the evening; lots of old Prine favorites. His second song was "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore", one he said he resurrected by request of the President. Well, George W. didn't actually make a request, but he was askin' for it, Prine said. During his performance of "Some Humans Ain't Human", from his recent Grammy-winning album "Fair and Square", some human a few rows down from us decided it was his patriotic duty to stand up and shout obscenities when Prine got to the part where he said what he felt about the war in Iraq. I guess I support the right of both to free speech, but Prine had a lot more class. With rights come responsibilities.
It was interesting to note that most of the audience was probably over 40. I guess that's the demographic I identify with the most: a bunch of old hippies. Everyone knew all the words to "Illegal Smile". Pieta Brown was probably the youngest one there as she sang along with Prine on the last song, "Paradise". A fitting way to end the evening, but does the audience demographic say that today's kids have lost any idea of what Paradise might be?
The sound quality was lacking, though, to the point where a mandolin didn't even sound remotely like a mandolin. And my threshold for tolerance for loudness in music was exceeded several painful times. I guess I'm just used to smaller venues and smaller sound systems. Plus I can do without the crowds. But all in all, it was worth it to see Prine. And it was worth it to get some time away from the kids, something I'm convinced now that all marriages would benefit from.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
This scene was just a bonus gift, a case of being in the right place at the right time. I would not have seen this if I had not been driving Starflower and Mr. Attitude home from Starflower's first piano recital.
She has been playing probably the shortest time of anyone on the program, but she did well. She got lost during her first song, one she had played over and over at home, but I understand perfectly well the performance anxiety that was going through her mind! Unexpected things happen, and that's why actual performance experience is so important, not that the anxiety will ever completely go away , but with experience you learn to handle it when it happens. I still start shaking uncontrollably sometimes when I play a solo at church.
There was the usual assortment of students of different ages and abilities, some who hammered on the keys with no inflection, like a robot, and some who nearly took my breath away. One girl in particular, who was maybe ten years old, played with unexpected maturity, with an innate ability to capture the expression of the music. She could have made "Twinkle Little Star" sound wonderful. I hope Starflower was as inspired as I was.
Some people are gifted at music, many have gifts that lie elsewhere. But I think it is important for children to have the opportunity to discover their gifts through experience. Not everyone is going to be Yo-yo Ma or Edgar Meyer, but I think there are great benefits from going through the discipline of learning to play a musical instrument. At the very least, one learns that not all music has to be recorded and prepackaged. And I wish more of us could re-learn to listen to and appreciate homemade music.
I asked Calvin when we got home if he would like to learn piano, but he reminded me that I was going to teach him guitar. I am going to commit to a half hour lesson with him weekly.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I was preparing to remove the purring animal from my neck when a small voice startled me.
"It always amazes me how you humans are preoccupied with that glowing number thing. It tells you when to wake up, when to eat, when to sleep. Ridiculous, if you ask me!"
"Puffball? Am I dreaming or are you talking to me?"
"It most certainly is me. I am here to tell you that it is Cat Adoration Time, and you WILL participate!"
"Hey--since when do you tell me what to do?"
"Listen, that thing you had the vet do to me three weeks ago was just plain unforgivable. But if you will indulge me in this ritual, at times of my own choosing, I won't have to vomit hairballs on the carpet."
"Sheesh...the things I do for you animals..."
"And another thing...what kind of a name is 'Puffball'? Sounds like some kind of fungus!"
"It's the kids' fault...whatever...just let me go back to sleep...well heck, now you've got me awake, I have to pee."
"While you're up, my food bowl is empty. That silly obnoxious dog's been in it again!"
I've been sharing a queen bed with three kids, a 4 month old lab puppy, and at least one cat for the last few nights.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Monday, May 15, 2006
The ruby-throated hummingbirds are back! This is admittedly not the greatest photo, but I could not let the opportunity pass me by. What an amazing creation, the hummingbird. So unlikely.
There is also a pair of yellow bellied sapsuckers causing a commotion in an old aspen tree near the house. Warblers are here, I have seen a Nashville warbler and heard a black-and-white warbler. I'm sure there are more.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Walleye is Minnesota's official state fish. A major part of my job is raising and stocking walleye into lakes, although a large proportion of the walleye caught in Minnesota are not stocked, but from natural reproduction. Still, we are criticized that we don't stock enough.
My Mother's Day dinner consisted of fried walleye, purchased from the local grocery store, and commercially caught in Canada. Two pounds cost about as much as one fishing license. I will purchase a fishing license, when I get around to it, because there are still a lot of crappies and bluegills to catch this summer, and maybe even a walleye.
Accompanying the walleye, which were very tasty, were grilled vegetables and a wild rice blend. A wonderful meal, all in all.
The Hermit is off to Edmonton, Alberta for a week of work. I'm keeping the home fires burning.
Last year, if I remember right, I bought a little pot of lemon balm at the local greenhouse closeout sale, because, after all, what's a garden without lemon balm? I planted it in a flower bed on the southwest side of the cabin, one where I mostly stick in a few annuals to make the place look nice.
As luck would have it, the lemon balm survived the winter and now looks as if it is poised to take over the garden plot. And I'm asking myself, "just why did I need lemon balm in the first place?" Yes, it smells lemony, but it's the kind of lemon scent I associate with aerosol furniture polish.
So what exactly can I do with lemon balm?
Saturday, May 13, 2006
But today when I walked out to the mailbox, on a cold, windy, slightly rainy morning, I opened it and found the weekly advertiser, a form letter from my college asking for money, of course, and a big pink envelope addressed to me. The return address was Lincoln, Nebraska, where my stepdaughter Sarah is in graduate school.
Deb- happy Mother's Day! We love you lots! Thanks for always being there for us and for providing us with love and support. We love you, The Big Kids. :)
I was too young to be much of a mom to kids age 12, 10, and 8 when I married The Hermit, but it was part of the package and I did the best I could. Only Ryan, the oldest, lived with us full time; Sarah and Tom were there some weekends and all summer. But I had it easy; they were all wonderful, so loving and accepting and thankful for every little thing. So thank you, Big Kids, you made my day and even made me shed a tear or two.
According to Starflower, I am supposed to sleep in tomorrow morning and we will have a breakfast of blueberry pancakes in bed. More likely, Puffball will park his recently-neutered self on my neck and shower me with purring, and Sally will jump up on the bed trying to wake Mr. Attitude, until I hear the beep of the coffee maker signaling that my morning salvation is ready. At about 6:15 or so.
I probably read a snippet or two of Emerson in high school or college, but for some reason I wasn't into reading beyond classwork back then and didn't pursue anything outside of class. In fact, I didn't start reading books that I picked out myself, just for fun, until I was in graduate school! I squandered my youth, I tell ya. But lately I've become very interested in Transcendentalist literature, Emerson, Thoreau, and others, because their views on nature, and spirituality, are very similar to mine. They were the original nature lovers and poets in American literature.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Looks like cool, windy, rainy weather for the next few days. I listen for new bird calls every morning, and yesterday I heard the beautiful flutelike Swainson's thrush. No warblers yet, at least not noticeable.
I'm giving a presentation to a high school class today, basically a "this is what a fisheries manager does" type of thing. I used to almost enjoy doing educational programs once in a while, but now I'm looking forward to this one like I'd look forward to a dental appointment.
Now if it were something I was excited about, like how to raise your own food, or birding, I could maybe get into it.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
By the way, my grandma's (maternal side) maiden name was Swan. I think it was by choice of her grandfather, a Swedish immigrant who decided the original surname (Lindroth, I think?) was far too common.
In other news, I heard a house wren at work, and I saw a hermit thrush. White trilliums are blooming, but there are none on my 40 acres. I do have wood anemone, though.
Sunday late afternoon found me in my garden, weeding and breaking up clumps of soil with my bare hands and pausing every so often to watch the harriers in courtship flight. Sedge wrens chattered, hidden, from the willows in the marsh.
Calvin and Mr. Attitude came out to see what I was doing; after seeing a few earthworms come up as I dug weeds, Calvin decided to dig for some worms for fishing. I told him to go to the next raised bed over, and pull a few weeds while he was at it. It was worth a try, anyway. He soon had five or six plump, large worms. "That should be enough for fishing," he said.
Fishing, I thought. Even though we have access to a very nice fishing hole on Sand Creek, and I know there's a brook trout or two in there, we have very rarely taken the time to go fishing. Calvin will be nine years old next month, old enough to rig his own rod and reel and head to the creek whenever he wants. C'mon. Let's go fishing.
We threw rods and reels, tangled from last summer, into the back of the pickup truck, along with the worms, a small dip net, and I'm not sure how or why the wire mesh creel basket got in there. Then a cooler with a jug of peach iced tea, and Sally, and off we went to the fishing hole.
Two rods and reels were detangled and rigged, and we decided that was enough for now. Calvin and Starflower casted, reeled in, got tangled, casted again. The pool has a slight eddy current, so the bobbers were constantly on the move. Sally bounded around, lapping water from the edge of the stream, and finally she could not resist the urge to jump in; surprised, she climbed out, shook herself off, and decided to stay out of the water after that.
We probably did not have the right strategy. The worms had dried out a little during transport and were not too lively. This was more a first-time learning experience. But we did not come up empty-handed.
A creek chub, all of four inches in length, went for the worm. We tried to keep it in the creel basket, but it swam out through the mesh. Oh well, there will be more lazy afternoons fishing, many more, I promise.
Monday, May 08, 2006
2. If a butternut squash keeps all winter in the cook shed, and you decide to make squash fries for dinner, when you cut the squash open many of the seeds will be sprouting inside the squash. I saved the seeds that hadn't sprouted (this is a good keeper!) and gently scooped the rest out and brought them out by the compost bin and threw a little dirt over them. It can't hurt to try.
3. The ovenbirds are definitely back.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
I actually broke down yesterday, broke down because there was so much I wanted to get done but my human self was lagging and wanting to just savor the moment. Guess which side won.
But this morning I awoke, feeling strangely disoriented. Hung over, maybe, if I had drunk more than normal, which I hadn't. I felt as if I had no compass, and the world was spinning wildly, a whirligig of birdsong, sunshine, and strong coffee. Another day of too many possibilities looming before me.
After breakfast, scrambled eggs and ham (all local- woohoo!!!) I wandered out to my garden, trying to put off the inevitable task of washing the dishes. I thought about planting the few potatoes left over from yesterday, the ones I had cut up because I didn't have enough Yukon Golds to plant them whole. Then I saw them. Actually, saw him first, flying overhead, gracefully diving and dipping in a flight I had never seen before, like a visitor from afar, giving a slight chuckle as he swooped on wings that defied gravity.
"What in the hell was THAT!" I found myself exclaiming out loud. The flight pattern, the white and black of the bird, seemed totally foreign to me. It had to be a new bird, a life-lister, something I had never seen before. I found myself wanting to believe that, that it was not just another ordinary bird, as if there is such a thing.
It turned out to be an extraordinary bird, and one I had seen before, a male Northern Harrier, quite common around here. But the way it flew was something I had never seen before, and soon I was to know why. This was no ordinary flight, but a dance. A mating dance. I saw him retun, soaring, with a female harrier, and they soared and swooped around each other like poetry. The dishes waited while I watched as they soared and called together, then landed just across the swamp. I waited and watched.
As I waited, I observed a pair of song sparrows, first calling to each other, then mating in one brief moment.
I saw the harriers several more times throughout the day, each time heralded by the high, thin "Keeeiiir! Keeeiiir!" call of the female. The pair seemed to be enjoying just soaring, flying together.
Springtime is just too much. Everything bursts forth, in flowering, mating, growing, and soon it will be overgrown in the vines of summer. But for now it is just enough, when I open my heart to the dance.
By the way, I am listening to the first toads trilling tonight, and I heard tree frogs today. I think I heard one ovenbird, and I put out the hummingbird feeder but no takers. I will know the moment they arrive, and isn't that knowledge awesome!
Thursday, May 04, 2006
I happened to see this little snapping turtle the other day as I was walking around the fish rearing ponds at work. I could have easily missed seeing it, it blends in so well with dead leaves and mud and rocks. His (her?) shell was about four inches in diameter; I don't think I've ever seen a snapping turtle that size, although I've seen inch-long babies and large adults.
Even at this size, if the turtle decided to latch on to a finger I'm guessing it could be quite painful. So I just thanked it for the photo opportunity and moved on.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Speaking of music, I watched a video tonight that actually had me breathless, in tears at some points. I have admired Bela Fleck as a musician since I first saw him and the Flecktones at Telluride fourteen years ago. I have had the privilege of interviewing him personally; he is at once warm and introspective. He has brought the banjo to places a banjo was forbidden to go before. And this video, "Live At The Quick", shows how his music just keeps evolving, getting better and better just when you thought there was no room for improvement.
Imagine banjo and bassoon trading licks in a musical conversation. Imagine a throat singer from Asia who can sing three notes at the same time, jamming with the Flecktones. Imagine steel drums, soprano saxophone, clarinet, and Synthaxe Drumitar all in rhythm. Imagine Copland's "Hoedown" played on banjo, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone, steel drum, electric bass, and drumitar, and more full of life than ever. Imagine "Amazing Grace" played in harmonics on electric bass...
It's beyond imagination. You have to see it, experience it, to know that this is no ordinary musical show. It was a religious experience for me. Really.
1. Painted bunting- I already wrote about this one at Whorled Leaves.
2. Tree swallow- iridescent green, the joy of motion in flight
3. Wood duck- exquisite
4. Sandhill crane- a pair, alternately flapping and soaring over a bog washed in spring green and red, yesterday's blessing
5. Eastern bluebird- true blue
6. Red-breasted nuthatch- delicate
7. Common loon- wears the stars on its back
8. Great gray owl- I missed you this winter
9. Common (great) egret- serpentine reflection in still waters
10. Tufted titmouse- gray is anything but plain
I'm tagging Gina at Raising Frolic , Melissa at Between Plow and Wood , and whoever else wants to play!