What does Spring look like?

When I signed up in January to take two online writing classes back-to-back, 10 weeks straight of weekly reading and writing deadlines, I thought, “This will take me right through Winter and into Spring!” The last due date was yesterday, and here’s this morning’s view of the path through the backfield. Blog_March 26 2018 Snowy walk

That black dog in the first photo is Gudgeon. He doesn’t much like the very cold temperatures, but this version of snow is a favorite. It has softened during the sunny days, then firmed up over night: he can walk on top of it and flop for a good back rub.

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Then he’s ready for a walk . . .

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The Meadow

DSC_1031The quarry man bought the old house and its acreage, scraped the topsoil off the meadow, and sold off the house with two acres of the meadow and its partial border of trees and shrub. In the house, a bathroom went in, and in a child’s room, a fat rainbow – floor to ceiling to floor – was sketched out and painted.

For thirty years, owners kept the meadow mowed. Between mowings, grasses grew, and golden rod, oyster plants, milkweed, and asters. Each late fall the meadow’s summer growth lay itself down, and in that flattened landscape the old disc harrow, stranded in its long-gone farmer’s field, reappeared.

Twenty years ago the clothes line, built with sturdy wooden posts and cross beams, stood on the far side of the cedar tree. Now its northern post is engulfed in branches. The outhouse, still visible in its pile of moldered lumber when I arrived, has long since joined the remains of the wildflowers that grew up between the boards, fell over, and decomposed. It is almost twelve years since the meadow was cut, and it is only in the last two that wild cherry bushes have spread from individuals to patches of isolated mini-woodlands that shelter bird and spider nurseries.

Each winter I cover the rain barrels and shovel the long driveway; each spring I listen for the voice of the wood frog and try to avoid the black flies’ bite. Every other summer or so I get to the task of clearing the meadow, cutting all the box elders’ sprouts to the ground. In the fall I greet the disc harrow and Orion on their return to my view, and wonder which Turkey Vulture sighting will be my last of the year.

Eventually, I will leave this place. The meadow will give way to box elder trees, or not. As I sleep beneath the child’s rainbow, my window open to the night, what is sure for me is the Little Dipper, pinned at its tail by the North Star, circling overhead. What is almost as sure is the topsoil, building. Slowly, slowly.

 

Goldenrod Feast

DSC_0374 painted lady not cropped

My backfield takes on a yellow hue when the Goldenrod comes into bloom, and having learned to blame the correct pollen  – ragweed – for my hay fever, I am unreserved in my welcome of it. Many others are unreserved as well. The yellow that catches my eye catches the attention of many species, and while I do the Goldenrod the good of simply leaving it alone, others do it the good of flying in for a meal and flying out with pollen they’ll spread to other Goldenrod plants.

On a sunny September day, Painted Lady Butterflies, bees, and wasps showed up to feast on the golden plumes.

Farewell

The geese have been restive. All summer I’ve see them occasionally. They head from the swamp next door to the wetlands across the street and beyond the woods. Or they cross in the other direction, over the back field to settle somewhere past those woods. On the last few mornings I’ve noted them more often flying low over the house in pairs or threes. They’ve remained casual in their few calls and in their seemingly random direction of flight. From one day to the next there was no change in urgency, no sense of real departure. Yesterday, on the last of a run of days in the 80s – a heat wave even by a summer measure here – they crossed the sky high up, in formation.

Geese formationThey have shifted into travelers; their calls have become what they become each fall for those they leave behind – the final, genuine, farewell to late summer, the earliest of the signs that will, in sum, lead us to what we will slowly, slowly come to accept: fall is taking its place in the rotation of seasons; winter will follow.

Of Raspberries and Bees

DSC_0563 Bee raspberry nice for web

These hot September days are ripening the fall-bearing raspberries. Their canes arch and nod, and many clusters of fruit are partially hidden by leaves. When I’m out picking berries, I have often held a cane at its tip to lift it up for a look underneath – checking for fruit and for bees that might be feeding there. The berry patch has been especially active with bees these sunny days, and I’ve been picking raspberries early in the morning to keep out of the bees’ way.

Today I got a late start: the sun was well up, and the bees were in full swing of feeding. I moved slowly as I picked, and often stopped to photograph the insects I saw. That unhurriedness gave me time to observe where the bees actually do settle on the plants. I learned that our foraging territories don’t overlap at all – they are after a far different harvest. I am looking for the ripest raspberries, they are only interested in the earliest stages of that fruit, just when the blossom has started to turn in on itself in preparation of creating a berry. In the company of these bees, a few hours later in the day makes no difference: there is nothing to fear.

Early morning raspberry harvest

I lifted a nodding cane of raspberry to check for fruit, and found as well a crab spider crouched there, its light-green, almost translucent coloring a perfect complement to the red of the berries. The spider drew back into the berry, and I let the cane nod back down.

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Last year, to the week, I didn’t see the spider until I had the fruit inside. I took her photograph and released her back into the berry patch.

First Frost

First Frost Grapes

Last night’s light frost held no danger for the gardens; even the dahlias took no notice. By 7:30 in the morning it was only slight water dripping off the roof gutters into the rain barrel, and a puddle of fragile light the shape of the shadow cast by a berm on the far side of the barn. The fall-bearing raspberries, just thinking of coming into ripeness, were untouched, and the grapes offered no signs that they had noticed the chill that in the house had us bringing out blankets and talking about which day we’ll finally turn the heat back on.

Late Summer: The Fifth Season

overcast sky august 19 2019It is a hazy morning, with heavy, indistinct clouds as far as I can see, but I expect that will burn off to another splendid August day. The Chinese calendar has five seasons: Fall, Winter, Spring, Early Summer, and Late Summer. This summer, in particular, I can see the wisdom in that. These August days are nothing like the days of late June and early July. We have shifted to a calmer time, a moment in the year to appreciate the deep glory of late summer.

Winter Poetry: “Whiteout Conditions”

Today I saw the first robin of the year, but she flew from branches dusted with snow and will have to tolerate degrees in the teens before she is done with this week. But her arrival is a sign that spring will win soon, and mornings of waking to a wonderland of snow that brightens the landscape and records the paths of critters that cross the back field are coming to a close. While it is still winter-like I thought I would share this winter poetry, “Whiteout Conditions.” It was selected by poet Maurice Kenny to appear in a collection he edited, On the Quad.    

Whiteout Conditions

Through the country night snow falls
two inches an hour, warp speed at my windshield.

Star Trek star fields have nothing on these
bulleted flakes
accelerating toward the glass.
All speed ahead
All speed mine
To the left, to the right, flakes drift
casual, to the ground.


Winter Deserves Its Own Reading List: A Book Review

It’s odd that summer is the only season to inspire reading lists. Doesn’t winter lend itself just as well, if not better, to a cozy read? Long nights and snow-covered gardens ought to be at least as conducive to losing yourself in a book as long days and inviting weather. And, if summer is for light – even guilty – reading, might not winter lend itself to reading of more heft, more words that will stay with you long after you set the book down?

Gardeners know one sort of winter reading, of course – seed catalogs. They find their way to our mail boxes right about now and parade the lush possibilities of spring and summer. With their bright colors and perfect blooms, they provide a temporary escape from winter, a dreamy state of what might be – a sharp contrast to the no-nonsense realities of long nights, winds whipping with snow, and nose-hair freezing temperatures.

But I don’t want always to escape from winter – where is a book that indulges my love of the stark, uncompromising season in which I will never need to mow the grass or pull a weed? A book that celebrates our long winter season here in Northern New York, that makes our heart glad to look out the window to the riches of life when we might otherwise have seen just a barren blanket of snow?

I discovered just such a book in a drugstore rack of works by local writers: Adirondack Nature Notes. Written by Tom Kalinowski and illustrated by Sheri Amsel, this is a book to keep us company in the winter and beyond: it begins with January and moves through the year from there. What can there be to say about January? Moose, muskrat, shews and moles; the Gray Jay and the Snowy Owl; oxygen levels, tracks, and life beneath the snow and under the ice.

Tom is skilled at anticipating what the reader might be wondering about and presenting information in a logical, understandable way. For example, I was wondering about the occasional dead vole I’ve found on top of the snow. Did it go up there to die? Why hadn’t some wild creature eaten it?  And I was wondering too, why my dog had no more than passing interest: it seemed like something he would pounce on and gulp down before I could stop him. This book has the answer: turns out that the little creature was caught, and then, when the predator identified what it had caught, it was rejected. Why? Because moles and voles have a horrible taste. So, as Tom points out, that little brown corpse on the snow tells me two things – there is a predator around and food is plentiful enough that it didn’t need to eat this unsavory meal. And that bad taste explains why no other creature, including my dog, made a meal of it. Of course, I knew there were predators around – but now I’ll look more carefully for signs of that particular predator when I see this sort of evidence.

I love to fall in love with a book, to find one I know I will read and come back to again and again. Thank you Tom, Sheri, and North Country Books for Adirondack Nature Notes – it’s the first book on my 2017 Winter Reading List.