Friday, June 30, 2006

Attack of the Tyrannus tyrannus

It started out as a perfectly ordinary day at work. I had two inspections to make for aquatic plant control permits, so I headed out in the morning before the weekenders started taking to the roads. The first permit took me to one of the more gorgeous lake homes I had ever seen; it was good-sized but not a huge screaming look-at-me deal; the cedar siding and green roof on the Cape Cod style house fit in nicely with the site. My job there was to look for three rare species of plants; I may have found one.

The second stop took me to this beautiful site:

It was a long downhill walk to the shore. Little did I know what danger awaited me down by the dock.

An Eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) was perched on one of the dock posts, scolding me with a persistent chirping call as I stepped onto the dock. As I walked out, noting the thick beds of water lily and trying to get a look at submerged species, the kingbird was getting more and more agitated. It flew to an overhanging tree, scolding, and by then I knew it must have a nest close by. Suddenly, as I approached the pontoon boat moored to one side of the dock, all hell broke loose.

The fearless Tyrannus started dive-bombing me. At first it circled threateningly overhead, during which time I managed to capture a photo after two failed attempts. Then one swoop, and I felt its wings brush against the back of my head. Okay, I get the message, I'm outta here! If there had been an onlooker in a passing boat, I would have looked hilarious as I ran up the dock, a bird swooping after me.

Time for Plan B. The owners wanted to clear an area about 50 feet away from the dock for swimming, so I put on my waders and went out to have a look around. The kingbirds (by now the mate was scolding me as well) were still agitated, but I thought they might realize that I was now a safe distance away and that I was not out to steal their young. But as I waded waist deep among the yellow water lilies (Nuphar variegatum), one of the kingbirds started circling again. Suddenly it dove at me, and I don't think I've ever moved so fast wearing waders before. I scribbled a few quick notes and headed back up the hill. I think I heard a catbird laughing at me.

Don't mess with us!

I didn't even get a chance to see where the nest was; I didn't see anything in the overhanging tree so it may have been right in the pontoon boat. Those folks are in for a big surprise if they want to go for a boat ride this weekend...

Thursday, June 29, 2006

new profile photo

Okay, so some of you may have noticed that I changed my profile photo. I thought the old one looked, well, obnoxious in a way so I finally took a self portrait that I didn't hit the "erase" button on the camera right away. I'm strange that way, I guess I haven't quite accepted my "late 30's look" the way I should. When I was in college, I would have given anything to have hair that color (it was much lighter then, kind of a honey blonde).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

it's really the middle of summer now

Fireweed is blooming. A sure sign of July. How does time slip by so quickly?

Never mind. Pohanginapete said it better than I could have. As usual.

It's called wabi sabi.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

my secret walk

This is where I go when I can't stand to sit indoors at the messy lunchroom table making idle chitchat. There's no time for that nonsense in the middle of the summer, not when a place like this beckons!

This mowed path runs along the top of a berm with a fish rearing pond on one side and a river on the other. Thickets of honeysuckle, grapevine, staghorn sumac, and other shrubs line the pond side, while tall willows and other trees shade the path from the river side. Through these trees I can hear the water rushing over rocks.

The pond now contains young muskies and minnows, plus crayfish, turtles, frogs, and other critters. A family of geese was lounging on the other side of the pond in the sun. Red winged blackbirds called from the cattails and bulrushes at the far end. Sometimes I will startle a great blue heron or green heron from the shore. Today's bird sightings included a male cardinal, catbird, red breasted nuthatch, and a male redstart, which kept calling to me until I located his flashy presence.

I don't know if many other people know that this area is considered open to the public, or have the idea to go walking there, because I never have seen anyone else there at noon. I'm happy about that, though; this is my place to disappear for ten or fifteen minutes in the middle of the day.

Monday, June 26, 2006

more marmots

The Hermit found these while mowing behind the garage today. I think Puffball is the daddy. His reproductive ability has since been altered.

It should be illegal for kittens to be so cute.

more rock moving

Here is my new and improved blueberry patch. Note the "D" shape--D for Deb.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

nice marmot

Okay, this picture definitely deserves some explanation. First, it was taken and posted at the request of Starflower. This is Puffball, our one year old, semi Siamese obnoxious cat.

"Nice marmot" comes from a family favorite movie. If you can guess the movie, you'll win, well...we have a nice new crop of "marmots" here and you can have your choice...

So how did Puffball get to be known as a "marmot"? I had a dream the other night that I was wearing none other than a live marmot around my neck, and I went to a meeting for work and everyone was saying "Nice marmot!" I woke up to Puffball curled up on my neck. Puffball weighs about ten pounds, a significant thing to have curled around one's neck at 4 in the morning.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

finished planting...I think

This was the project du jour, and I think it is one of the lovelier things we have done here. The Hermit built this rock garden a week and a half ago, from the abundance of boulders we have lying just beneath the surface of our soil. Today we filled it with horse pasture dirt, and I proceeded to plant the miscellaneous plants I had left over from our greenhouse shopping spree last Friday. There are perennials, annuals, herbs, and a few vegetables, but all in all it looks nice. I even planted a few morning glory seeds that hopefully will still have time to grow up and twine around the rain gauge post. This garden is about twenty feet from the patio door that leads from the future family room in the new house, so it will look nice from indoors. As if it didn't before; look at that great view looking east over the swamp!

Sometimes the rocks can be a real pain; when you try to dig anything you end up hitting at least one no matter where you go. But I have visions of more and more rock gardens, rock walls, walkways inlaid with flat slabs and creeping thyme, maybe even a rock garden shed. Our new hearth will feature a back wall faced with smaller pieces of sandstone, granite, and greenstone that the glaciers left here. We are rich with rocks.

That pretty much completes planting this year, save for the blueberries, elder and serviceberries that are still sitting in their big pots. And the rhubarb and asparagus roots I never got around to preparing a bed for. And the succession plantings of lettuce. I guess I never really am done.

Friday, June 23, 2006

the calendar says it's summer

...but the thermometer says 39 degrees F this morning! I just dug out my wool socks; glad I didn't stash them away too far! I have mentioned before about how I live in The Coldest Spot in Minnesota; I'm beginning to believe that deep down by the bedrock (Hinckley Sandstone) right underneath this place, there lies a giant ice block that never melted after the last Ice Age.

But really, I much prefer this to heat and humidity. My peas, Swiss chard, lettuce, and spinach like it too. The tomatoes and peppers, however, are going to get their plastic hoophouse covers put on today, to give them a little boost. Maybe "Sub Arctic Plenty" will be my best new tomato variety of the year. I'm not joking; that is a real name of a real open-pollinated tomato developed in the 1940's for the US Air Force base in Greenland. If it works in Greenland, it just might have a chance here.

I took a day off work today, so I get to play in my garden! That is, after I finish mowing the foot-tall grass in the back yard. I should just let the sheep graze back there, if we had a way to keep them fenced in. Of course, I do have a nine year old boy with no plans for the day.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

solstice blessings

and long live baseball. That's Calvin, looking the most ready of all.

Here's to the shortest dark night of the year. When I go to bed the northwestern sky will still turn the trees into silhouettes, and when I wake the northeastern sky will long have been light. We have maybe five hours of total darkness these days. But, believe me, the winter more than makes up for it!

The sounds I hear these days are tree frogs, with an occasional green frog chiming in with its banjo twang. Calvin found an enormous green frog yesterday; I had to remind him of the "no frogs in the house, I don't want to find them in the middle of the night" rule. I also hear birds; ethereal veeries, squeaky black and white warblers, insistent phoebes, and teasing red eyed vireos are the main singers now, more often heard than seen. I saw my first yellow-billed cuckoo today, and I probably convinced my coworker I was insane. I eyed it from a moving truck, and as soon as I saw it I was so sure of my identification I practically yelled out "Wow! A yellow billed cuckoo!" We birders are so oft misunderstood... Later, it was butterfly weed blooming, but I was much more restrained in my delight at the observation.

Although I'm still technically planting, the garden is bursting forth into an oasis of life. The sugar snap peas are absolutely thriving, and I should be enjoying the first harvest of them within a week. I have lots of lettuce at a time when, curiously, I am not especially craving lettuce. What's up with that? Have I lost my inner rabbit?

I offered my own song up into the twilight, out on the back step before the mosquitoes got too thick. I played a few random strings of notes on my flute, then broke into my medley of "The Maid Behind The Bar" and "Sheehan's Reel". Not having played much lately my tone was terrible, breath control nonexistent, and coordination sloppy. Hope I didn't offend the birds or the frogs.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Calvin's birthday

My oldest child is now nine years old. On this day that many years ago my life changed in so many ways. Today we celebrated with a small ceremony at home, a new video game, and a special hug when no one was looking. His best friend is spending the night; they plan to sleep in the tent but it's been raining so we'll see.

Parenting, the act of discerning when the time is to let a child test his/her wings, is naturally fraught with anxiety. Lately I've been simultaneously trying to let my children know that I trust them to be responsible for more things, and then feeling concern for every fledgling bird around here. There is a family of young ravens nearby, and sometimes I can't discern their raucous calls from human cries of "Mom! Hey Mom!" Which I hear often enough.

Then there are the moments such as this morning, when I awoke briefly, stretched, and my youngest son, feeling my movement in his sleep next to me, rolled over to put his arms around me. I stayed in that position, that innocent embrace, as long as I could (well, until my cat started intervening...)

Sometimes they can't mature fast enough, but most of the time you just want to hold them a little longer.

Friday, June 16, 2006

closeout sale day at the greenhouse

Lord help us.

But, we needed all this stuff, really. We needed a reason to make one more, gigantic raised bed. We needed a few perennials for the rock garden The Hermit just made yesterday. We needed three more blueberry plants, and we could not afford to pass up the "buy two, get one free" deal.

And, we saved over fifty dollars off the regular prices. Which means we spent...well, never mind.

By the way, a '91 Honda Accord makes a nice greenhouse. It would be even better with a sunroof.

first flight

This little downy woodpecker found out the hard way this morning that windows should be avoided. We don't have a large picture window, but occasionally a bird will hit one of our regular-sized windows, especially if it is inexperienced at flight. I was out in the garden watering when The Hermit brought the woodpecker to me. We debated about where to put it, because we wanted to keep it safe from cats. First we tried the ledge of the bird feeder; no luck, the woodpecker flew right into the window again. We decided to put it on top of the shower, where it would have a clear line of flight in three directions. When I checked a half hour later, it had flown. I hope it learned its lesson, and that I will see it again this winter at the feeder.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Laura Bird, Canadian singer/songwriter

In 1996, BK (before kids), The Hermit and I traveled to the Merle Watson music festival in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, for the second time. We flew, packing all of our camping essentials into two giant duffel bags that we checked through. We rented a small car and stayed at a nice US Army Corps of Engineers campground nearby, in nearly the same site we had camped at the year before, when we had met Firewalker (who deserves a post of his own).

My memories of the festival are limited to the Sam Bush set, and I think John Prine was there that year. Otherwise, we hung out at the campground drinking gin & tonic or Merlot, picking tunes, and meeting fellow campers. There was a contingent of Canadians camped next to us, some South Carolinians whom we knew from the year before camped across from us, and we sat and drank and played music with Firewalker and hid our drinks from the park ranger whenever he came around. Alcohol is not allowed at USACOE campgrounds.

I remember in particular one woman named Laura Bird from Canada. She played and sang a couple of Cheryl Wheeler tunes before totally blowing me away with an original song. I just found a journal from that trip today, and I had written down her name and how her music left me inspired. So today I did a Google search, and voila: Laura Bird.

Check it out, listen to the songs, buy her music, she is good. And I remember the ultimate compliment, when they were leaving, and she asked "Who was singing 'The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore' last night? That was good!"

That was me. I am beaming again with the memory.

all we are saying, is give peas a chance

These are the best looking pea plants I have ever grown. They are Sugar Snaps, which make the most sense to me to grow because there's no waste with the pods. And they like cool weather, which we've had no shortage of, at least in June. Late May was a scorcher. The peas are just starting to flower.

This is bunchberry, the "chihuahua" of the dogwood family. They are a low-growing woodland plant, and they bear clusters of red berries later in the summer. They grow wild here along the path to the cabin.

My bedroom phoebes have fledged. Let the building resume, I intend to be in there by September!

And, as long as I'm rambling, this is a good chance to let you know about my alter ego blog, Songs from Sky Blue Waters. SBW is a chance to let the writer in me come out, without distracting from the content and theme of Sand Creek Almanac. I will still continue to post here as usual, and even take some creative license, I just felt it was time to start another venture where I could experiment more with poetry, songwriting, and prose. I consider it a work in progress, very experimental in nature, so be warned. But feel free to offer constructive criticism as well!

forget-me-nots revisited

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

news from the garden

The raised beds, all 21 of them, are filled now, and all but two are planted. I decided to hold off on planting the last two on Sunday because...well, notice the tarps laying here and there? On Saturday and Sunday nights, tomatoes, peppers, and other tender stuff had to be covered up because of FROST. Yes, I've learned around here there's no such thing as a "last frost" date. I have also learned that even if the local forecast on the National Weather Service website does not mention a frost advisory or freeze warning, if the predicted low temperature is in the low forties, I might as well count on frost here.

Why is the low temperature here consistently ten degrees cooler than the surrounding area? I don't know, but I have a couple of theories. One, Lake Superior, fifty miles to the northeast, has a moderating effect; the thermal mass of the water might push cold air to the south, and we may be just far enough away to be on the receiving end. Another theory, actually more physical fact, is that even though Sand Creek's "valley" is hardly a deep ravine, there is enough difference in elevation that cold air settles in along the creek.

Because of the tarps, and the motivation of The Hermit Sunday night when I was too tired to trot out to the garden after dark, most of the garden escaped with little damage.

Artistic cutworm collar

Colorful- and ready to eat

We also planted three apple trees just south of the garden area; we bought all hardy Northern varieties developed by the University of Minnesota ag experiment station.

And just as I thought I had the remaining garden beds all spoken for, The Hermit went to the closeout sale at the garden center yesterday and bought more tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, and even okra. I'm going to be planting in buckets pretty soon!

Monday, June 12, 2006

life is precious

Yeah, I know, how trite. But sometimes it hits home. Times like tonight.

While filling my tank at the gas station today, I ran in to a man I knew from the church we attend occasionally. We exchanged the usual "how's it going?" stuff, then he asked if I'd heard that Wendy, a church member, had passed away yesterday from cancer.

That hit me like a bullet. Wendy was the same age as me. She left behind a husband and kids.

I knew Wendy had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had seen her on and off for the last year. Wendy was a nice woman, shy but sweet, and she had worked at the local grocery store. Whenever Mr. Attitude was in there, she would have special smiles for him. Because of that, when we went to church he would always seek her out to say hello. And now she won't be there anymore.

Even the guy I talked to, a devout Christian who says he submits to God's plan, seemed at a loss with this one. His words: "It just isn't supposed to happen this way..."

It sure isn't. My prayers are with her family.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

first occupants of the new house

This is the ceiling of The Hermit's and my new bedroom.

This is what's living there already (click on photo for a larger image)

Early this spring, a pair of Eastern phoebes decided these timbers looked like a nice, protected nest spot. They were right, as long as we humans were not too anxious to close it in with windows, roof, etc. At the rate construction is going (which will pick up here shortly!) these little featherballs will be fledged and eating mosquitoes long before they would have to worry about finding a way out.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

tomorrow's m.v.p.

I think I may have major league baseball's next big star right here...that is, if his first Little League outing is any predictor. According to Calvin (I wasn't there to see it, sorry) he went 3 for 3 at bat (3 homeruns, that is!) and fielded a triple play. (!) This from a boy who has more hours with a video game controller in his hand than a baseball glove.

I'm not holding my breath, of course, and I keep telling him that there's always room for improvement, but with the salaries of major league ballplayers nowadays, this is looking good...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

it's that time of year

This is what was there to greet me in the driveway yesterday afternoon:

Snapping turtles are out and about, leaving the water to lay eggs in gravel nests. When this female, with about a 12" diameter shell, was finished, she made her way towards the pond. I knew we had a few painted turtles in the pond, but...she better leave the kids alone when they're swimming!

Everything is flowering, mating, reproducing...ths morning just down the road I saw a doe and her fawn at the roadside, running and disappearing into the woods as I drove by. Then on the main road, just where I saw them the day before, was a hen wild turkey with a brood of chicks. They had to have been a week old or more, and they can fly already! Ten years ago that would have been a rare sight in those woods.

And the other evening, as The Hermit and I were sitting on the back steps, we heard a hummingbird chattering in the gray dogwood bushes. Through the leaves we could see the male flying back and forth in a U-shaped pattern, then landed next to where we saw a moment later there was a female hummingbird. What energy, what drive and purpose these tiny creatures have!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I have always loved these little flowers. Even when I wasn't "into" flowers, which now seems unimaginable, I knew what these were and loved them. Perhaps it was the simplicity--this is the typical flower form a 5 year old might draw--or the sky blue that is not often seen in the flower world.

This species, genus Myosotis, is not native here, but it has naturalized along some lake and river banks. I'm not hearing anyone clamoring to exterminate it as an invasive, however, and I'm not going to lead the cause. I have had some success growing it in rock gardens before, and if I remember in a few weeks I will return to this riverbank for some seeds.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

this is what it's all about, really

I am the richest woman in the world.

This photo would not have happened if our life had gone the way it was "supposed to". If I'd had it my way seven years ago, we'd still be living in a small house in an outer suburban development too near the freeway, and nothing would have changed in seven years. Or we could have been at any one of the steps along the journey that led us back here, afraid to make yet another change.

Stress, yeah. Second-guessing? Yup, done it a lot. Regrets? Just look at the faces in that picture. NO.

We didn't have to go anywhere to do this. Our pond, our beach, is right there, and the water is always cool and inviting. By the way, it really isn't that green, otherwise I could not have survived the dip I took in it. I have the biggest garden I have ever had, we are working on a beautiful dream house, we eat some of the best home-cooked meals to be found anywhere, and we even have SHEEP! :)

I just could not be happy living in the city, or the suburbs. Some people could, but not me. I need my space, I need the bird songs, I need the frogs, I need quiet, I need my white pines, I need my garden. Sure, I need some of the things we cannot grow here once in a while, but an occasional trip to a city is okay.

The furthest I went today was out to the pond. Life is good.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

garden of dreams

Almost all planted! Now, GROW!!!

I really thought today would be pure torture. Yesterday while I was still at work I started feeling really achy, and by the time I came home I had full-blown "flu-like symptoms". I spent a feverish, aching night wedged between Mr. Attitude and the wall, with Sally preventing me from stretching my legs. She's decided that since she's getting too big to sleep under the bed, the logical place to sleep is on top of the bed. And what Sally wants, Sally gets. :) Oh yeah, and Puffball started doing "cat adoration time" at the usual 4 AM. I awoke feeling groggy and miserable. This did not bode well for the day, THE DAY that I intended to get the rest of the garden planted.

But, amazingly, after a few cups of coffee and a couple ibuprofen, I started to feel better. I headed out to the garden thinking, okay, I'll do the bare minimum if I have to. Planting beans isn't that strenuous, is it?

I planted beans. And squash. And peppers. And tomatoes. I cut weeds and mowed a little. I hauled horse manure to a little flower bed on the south side of the cabin. And when The Hermit came home with a new 200 feet of hose, I hooked it up and watered the garden. Yes, it is that far from the well pump to the garden, and last year we were hauling jugs of water with the garden tractor. I'm getting soft these days, demanding such luxuries.

Speaking of luxuries, how about 4 new lounge chairs from K Mart, to replace the ones by the pond that had brittle, broken plastic and rusty ratchets so it was hard to position them just right. Ahh, I'm living like a queen now!

And at 8:30 PM, still no sign of recurring flulike symptoms! Strange, but I'll take it.

Friday, June 02, 2006

things noticed

For the past two days, a flock of cliff swallows has been converging on a tiny mud puddle in the parking lot of the building where I work. There is a river just a few hundred feet away, where I'm sure they could find as much mud as they wanted, but apparently the mud in this puddle is just the right texture or something. I was going to try to photograph the swallows when I went for a walk at noon, but I could not get close enough without them scattering suddenly, like seeds in the wind, and disappearing. Then I looked down, and right at my feet was this:

I can't remember the name of this moth, but I was fascinated by the eye spots. It was dead, probably fallen off the front of a car.

As I walked on downtown, I passed a lilac bush where--was it a week ago already? Two weeks? --I had deliberately stopped to bury my nose in the clusters of pale purple blooms, inhaling the sweet, earthy fragrance. The flowers were gone now, just shriveled brown petals. When did they go? When did the first buds of spring give way to full summer? Where have I been? Sometimes it seems each flower, each marker along the continuum of the season, blooms for only a precious day before it is gone. Sometimes you don't even see the petals fall.

Across the street, at the senior apartment building, I glanced at the flower garden that someone takes the time to tend beautifully, and saw among the usual annuals a lupine in full bloom, with a color just on the raspberry side of purple. I had not seen a lupine that color before. It, too, will be gone like each passing day.

The streets seem quiet and deserted; yesterday was the last day of school. My own children are home, spending their first day of freedom from the classroom. The summer stretches out endlessly before them, while I just want to grasp and hold on to each moment, each petal as it falls.