Monday, May 30, 2011

Unfair!

I've been away for two days doing Open Studio with a friend, and the garden's gone to hell in a hand basket.  This happened not only because I am indispensable to the smooth running of the world in general, but also because during the weekend the state of Vermont dove headfirst into summer--sultry, hot summer, the very kind we moved from Maryland to escape and for which nobody up here is prepared.

Of course, the unnatural heat catapulted the spring plants into maturity, depriving me of the usual gentle transition into full-blown harvesting and freezing.  Here is this morning's survey of tasks to be done immediately:  harvest and freeze spinach (it's bolting!);  ditto broccoli (the buds are opening!);  do something meaningful with the lettuce (there's only so much we can consume);  plant the vine tomato transplants into pots (they're starting to look peaky in their demi-tasse-sized flats from the nursery).

And then there is the rhubarb.  What can I do with so much rhubarb?  The most obvious thing is to let it go unharvested and enjoy its decorative qualities.  But there are untold quantities of vitamins and other good things in those stalks which it would be a sin to waste.  Thank goodness for the local food bank:  I can give them a couple dozen stalks tomorrow.

I thinned the little apple trees on the patio today, and it doesn't look like we'll have a bumper crop of apples this year.  My theory is that day after day of rain kept the pollinators at home instead of out gathering nectar.  Oh well, we'll always have rhubarb, and roses, and giant hostas and lilacs and cartloads of anti-oxidant-rich veggies.

Still, I think it's a little unfair of the universe to send us straight from an ultra-frigid winter into sticky, sweltering summer.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

More Tales Of The Porcupine

Last night we were visited again by our porcupine.  Maybe the unseasonal heat and humidity had made him irritable, but this time he chewed through the hardware cloth which my husband had wrapped around the post of the garage to protect it.  Through the holes that he ripped in the mesh, our porcupine made significant progress towards his goal of eating the garage post.  Were you under the impression that a porcupine's quills are his only significant weapon?  Apparently he has quite a set of teeth as well, on top of an indomitable will.

At dinner with an herbalist friend, we told her our problem.  She said that wild creatures in general hate the smell and taste of aromatic plant essences, such as mint.  Fortunately, we have enough mint (pepper-, apple-, orange-, and lemon balm) to deter an army of undesirables, so this evening my husband picked a bunch, and threaded it into the remains of the hardware cloth. 

Those herbs attached to the weather beaten post make me think of the wayside shrines you sometimes saw in Europe--located in spots consecrated in turn to nameless earth spirits, Druid divinities, Roman goddesses, and the Virgin Mary--and which the rustic passersby would honor with a handful of aromatic herbs, or a bouquet of wildflowers.

Will the power of mint do the job that the humane trap and the hardware cloth failed at, and keep our porcupine-chewed garage from collapsing?  I'll let you know.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Voice Of The Turtle

Was sitting outside in the gloaming, reading while Bisou and Wolfie pursued their avocations:  Bisou kissing frogs and Wolfie hunting the painted turtles that at this time of year climb up the hill from the swamp and cross our backyard on the way to who knows where.


I looked up and saw Wolfie peering at and circling something in the grass several yards from where I sat.  He circled closer and I heard a loud bird-like squawk.  I went over and saw a foot-long snapping turtle.  Unlike the painted turtles, who hide inside their shell and hope for the best, this one had its scaly tail and all four legs out, and its thick wrinkly head was following every movement Wolfie made.  Before long, Bisou came over to investigate as well.  This time, for a change, I was more concerned for the dogs than for the turtle, so I sent them both inside.


Now I am wondering about that squawk.  The most logical interpretation is that the turtle snapped at Wolfie and he squawked.  But I've never heard him--or any dog--make a sound like that before.  And I keep remembering that strange verse from the Song of Songs:

"For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, 

And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

I always thought that Solomon (or whoever) must have meant the turtledove.  But what if the lover really did hear the voice of a female turtle in spring, coming out of the swamp and migrating to God-knows-where to lay her eggs?


Later my spouse and I went out with a snow shovel to look for the turtle.  We intended to put her in it and transport her to the safety of the front field.  But she was gone without a trace.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Warning To Local Wildlife

If you are a painted turtle:  I can't imagine what impels you every spring to leave the secluded swamp and claw your way uphill, across our backyard, and down the front field.  Surely you know that beyond that lies the paved and deadly road?  But if you must cross the backyard, please do so outside the confines of the invisible fence.  If you don't, you will be crossing Wolfie territory, with tragic outcomes.  I don't know whether reptile beings transmit stories across generations.  If they do, you surely have heard about your ancestors who were seized and crunched between Wolfie's bright white teeth (which I polish every other morning).  With no ill effects, he has on several occasions eaten shell, beak, claws and tail, leaving only a small mound of intestines.  Just today I rescued one of you, the front of the shell just lightly nibbled and with just one canine-shaped hole in the back--I hope I did him/her a mercy, but I am not sure that my rescues don't make things much worse for the victims.  It's far better to avoid Wolfie's domain altogether.  And please pass the word to your descendants.

If you are a frog or a toad:  know that Bisou is obsessed with you.  So far, all she seems to want to do is kiss you, or at most bump you with her nose to make you hop--you are a placid, trusting lot--but she is a dog, despite all appearances, so you never know.  If you must lounge croaking on the patio, do so at night when Bisou is asleep in her crate upstairs, next to my bed.  If you must stick your head out of the water, I advise you to cling to the floating solar fountain in the middle of the pond.  If you hold on to the edges of the pond, Bisou will not hesitate lean and even fall in, hoping for that magic kiss.

If you are a rabbit:  you survived the hard winter through an amazing display of intelligence, eating bird-seed in the front yard, which is off limits to the dogs, during the day time, and preying on the rosebushes and apple trees in the backyard at night, when the dogs are in the house.  Now that it is spring, please keep your children out of the backyard.  Keep them away also from the grass near driveway.  I walk the dogs on the driveway, and the scent of baby bunny carries some distance--you be the judge of how far.  I rescued one of your infants from Wolfie's jaws last year, and I'm not sure I did him/her a favor....

If you are a fox, a fisher, a hawk, a weasel, a coyote or a wolf-hybrid:  have mercy on my hens.  The old ones are tough, and the little ones are barely a mouthful.  I am doing my best to preserve 95% of our land as woods and fields.  There are plenty of mice, moles, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, and porcupines to keep you and yours in good flesh.  But we need organic protein too, and the hens' eggs are our main source of it.  Besides, chickens are so tame and unsuspecting that it's not very sporting to hunt them.

If you are a wolf spider:  I know you like our basement--it's cool in summer and livable in winter.  Just please stay away from me or I may hit you with a broom.  If you are a wasp:  please find alternative homesites to our chicken shed, wren house, or garage.  If you are a black fly:  go ahead and bite me.  The Catholic in me likes to atone and show off the rivulets of blood pouring down my neck.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why I Dread Open Studio Weekend

Back in February, when I committed to participate in it, Open Studio Weekend was just a wisp of a cloud in my otherwise sunny horizon.  As winter melted slowly into spring, the cloud grew larger and greyer.  This week it has ballooned to major thunderstorm dimensions.  It may even be a tornado.

Every year, on Memorial Day weekend, artists and craftspeople throughout Vermont open their studios to curious neighbors, to husbands dragged away from the golf course by their wives, and to devoted friends who don't mind sacrificing a spring weekend to encourage their artist pals.  I have participated in Open Studio in the past, and I remember rejoicing in the number of sales the last time I did it a couple of years ago.  It's not even that much work.  I take my stuff to my friend Dona's (she's an oil painter--click on http://www.artistseyestudio.com/) and we hang out together and walk through the beautiful gardens that she spruces up for the occasion.

But still, I dread it--and not just Open Studio, but craft shows and gallery openings as well.  I'd rather testify before Congress than stand before my work and make conversation with (let alone sell something to) the people who come to look at it.  I can speak before groups large or small, about things I know much or little about, with barely a tremor.  But let some hapless passerby wander over to my sculpture display, and it's all I can do to keep from diving under the tablecloth.

I'm not the only one to feel this way.  I know an artist of advanced years who has been supporting himself with his work for a long time, and who still refuses to be present at the openings of his own shows.  Van Gogh was probably this way too, which would explain why he didn't sell a single painting during his life.  Picasso, on the other hand, was not.

But those two are too far up in the stratosphere to be relevant to most of us.  Alongside the shy, reclusive artists, I have known seemingly ordinary souls who hang their stuff on a wall, hand you a glass of wine, and before you know it you've bought something, without the idea of "pressure" ever entering your mind.  How do they do it?

I'm aware that where talent (I'm talking about the sales, not the artistic, kind) is lacking, practice can fill the gap.  God knows I was nervous the first time that, as an English-challenged 11th grader, I entered an oratorical contest.  But that occasion was followed by interviews survived, courses taught and graduation speeches delivered, until speaking in front of people became as comfortable as chatting with a friend.

The answer, then, lies in aversion therapy--you know, where if you are afraid of spiders you are helped to get closer and closer to one until eventually you find yourself petting its eight hairy legs.  Not only should I be doing Open Studio, but I should join every arts organization that shows members' work, sign up for every crafts fair (and there are a lot of those around here), and enter my pieces in every competition for which they qualify.

My fantasy is that, if I follow this program faithfully, someday before I die I will be able to look the public in the eye, deliver a persuasive spiel, and then allow it to buy something I've made.  In the meantime, because the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single s., I'm girding my loins for Open Studio.  Wish me well.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rhubarb Days

(Blogger doesn't seem to want to do paragraph breaks today, possibly because there's a storm?  I apologize.)  
Several days ago I complained here that heritage breeds of chickens are not very productive. The same, I am pleased to say, does not apply to rhubarb.  
Apparently, the rhubarb transplants that you get in nurseries have been hybridized, and produce just a few meager stalks a season. But “heritage” rhubarb, the kind you find growing around old barns, is another matter.  
Three years ago, a friend gave me some heritage rhubarb plants that were taking over her vegetable garden. It took a sharp shovel and quite a bit of muscle to extract the gnarled roots from the soil. When I got home, too tired to offer them TLC, I stuck them in the ground between the vegetable garden and the back wall of the house. I threw some dirt over them and left them to their own devices. A few days later I noticed that Wolfie, who was entering adolescence at the time, had dug up some of the roots and chewed on them. I shook my finger at him, retrieved the roots, put them back in their holes, and forgot about them.  
Next spring, I noticed some fierce-looking red bulbous growths pushing up through the melting now—it was the rhubarb. All five plants had survived my neglect and the rigors of winter, and went on to give me all the stalks that I needed, and more to give away.  
With each passing year, the harvest grew. This spring, after the third snowiest winter in recorded history, the rhubarb has achieved barbarous proportions. The plants, which I had planted four feet apart, now overlap each other. The bottom leaves are over two-feet wide, their stems as thick as Wolfie's front legs.  
Not only am I freezing and giving away rhubarb as fast as I can cut it, but I have found a new use for those huge, poisonous leaves: after separating them from the stems, I layer them in pairs and slap them down on the perennial garden, to keep the mints and other offenders from choking off the Echinacea and the Black-Eyed Susans. The rhubarb leaves work almost as well as newspaper, and look a lot more natural.  
Today I harvested and froze thirteen quarts of sliced rhubarb. Thanks to the food processor that my daughter gave me for my birthday, the task this time did not take all afternoon, though it did necessitate my wearing ear protectors. 
But the rhubarb had the last word: on the front of my purple t-shirt, against which, as I harvested, I had pressed the leaves and stems, the oxalic acid in the leaves had eaten away the dye in the cloth, and left indelible reddish stains that will forever scream je me souviens.  
(For those of you who are not from around here, je me souviens [I remember] is the motto of nearby Quebec.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Les Verts Monts

It's been raining and raining, and it's supposed to rain some more.  Vermont is living up to its original French name:  les verts monts, the green mountains.  Where just a few weeks ago everything was white, everything now is indescribably green--the trees, the grass, the air itself.  There are green reflections on the puddles and on my winter-white skin.  There are green sprouts in my garden and green frogs--not to mention green algae--in my pond.

There is the deep green of the pastures, the black-green of the evergreens, the yellow-green of the trees that come late into leaf, the curly green of rhubarb and kale.  There is such an aquarium feel to the cool, damp atmosphere that I feel I'm swimming rather than walking when I go outside.  And when Bisou comes in from our outings, she is as drenched as if she'd been in a lake instead of a field.

In all this greenness, I am grateful for the Monet-like swaths of dandelions on pastures and lawns, the pink and white of the apple blossoms, and the orange-red of Bisou, running wetly through the tall grass.  And I'm grateful, too, to Federico Garcia Lorca, who, in a land of olive-drab, dreamed a dark green dream:

Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña.
Con la sombra en la cintura
ella sueña en su baranda,
verde carne, pelo verde,
con ojos de fría plata.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I Give Up On Creeping Thyme

Between our driveway and the main front door of the house, there is a stone walk.  Nobody uses the main front door, which leads into a proper entrance hall.  Instead, they use the second-best front door, which is closer to the driveway, is sheltered by a porch, and leads right into the living room.

The stone walk to the main front door consists of big slabs of local slate laid in a graceful curve across the lawn.  Although nobody uses that walk, everybody sees it, and the spaces between the slabs used to be a breeding ground for dandelions, ground ivy and various other weeds.  Every couple of weeks in the summer I would spend hours crouched over the broiling slate, pulling weeds up by the roots.

Then someone advised me to plant creeping thyme  in the dirt between the slabs.  The thyme would bloom and look pretty, I was assured, and form thick mats that would keep weeds at bay.  This sounded wonderful to me, and I went right out and spent $90 on tiny thyme plants.  Not only did the little plants root right away, but they bloomed--some blue, some pink, some white.  That first year, my never-used stone walk was the most adorable spot on the property.

While the thyme was getting established, it behooved me to keep it free from weeds, and this I did faithfully, working just as hard as I had before I planted it.  Winter came and went, and when the snow melted there was the creeping thyme, thicker and healthier than ever, spreading like spilled gravy over the stone slabs.  And it was forming mats, all right, but through those mats all the old foes--dandelions, ground ivy et al.--were sprouting undeterred.

Figuring that the thyme needed help while it formed the ultimate weed-deterring mats, I weeded it.  But pulling the weeds that came through the mats was entirely different from the kind of weeding I was used to.  Now, if I dug up a weed, I was likely to root up a goodly portion of the precious thyme along with it, so I had to be really careful.  Eyebrow tweezers would have been just the thing, but I have a sense of proportion, so I struggled on with my regular weeder, trying to spare the thyme while making sure I got each weed by the root.

It was a nightmare.  It was fussy and imprecise and impossible, and it took twice as long as when the thyme wasn't there.  But the thyme was lovely when it flowered pink and blue and white again, and one of my friends noticed and admired it.  So I saw it through until the fall.

When the snow melted a couple of weeks ago, there was the thyme, undeterred by the extra-long winter.  But so were the weeds:  the dandelion's yellow blooms, the ground ivy's deep blue dots were all over the supposedly weed-snuffing thyme.  I got out my weeding tool and tried to uproot a few of the invaders.  But it was no use.  The thyme carpet itself was making it impossible to get at the bottom of the weeds.

Reader, I got upset.  I threw down my weeding tool, snapped off my gardening gloves, stomped my left foot.  I looked around.  There was the newly-emerald field, the bright blue sky.  There was the red-winged blackbird, and the honeybee.  I had rhubarb to cut and spinach to pick and dogs to entertain.  What price a pristine thyme-walk?

I got out my weed whacker and decapitated the yellow dandelions and the blue ground ivy and the blades of grass.  The thyme was too close to the ground to be affected much, and if that enables it to win against the taller weeds, great.  If not, too bad.  You know what Emerson said about a foolish consistency.  My mind may be half gone, but it is not little.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

News Of Fin And Feather

There is pathetically little to say on the fin front.  About ten days ago, I bought two shubunkin (a kind of multicolored Japanese gold fish that looks like a small koi).  I let them float in their plastic bags on the surface of my pond for an hour, to get them used to the water temperature.  Then I cut open the bags and they swam out and disappeared into the murk.  I have seen neither fin nor scale of them since.  I don't think they've been eaten by a bird, since anything that would go fishing would be pretty big, and the dogs would have noticed.  And if they'd died, they would have floated to the surface.  So I can only conclude that they're lurking in the depths, indifferent to the fact that I bought them so I could rejoice in their flash and sparkle.

The feather news is more exciting.  A couple of days ago, worried that their mental development was being stifled by their close quarters, I moved the chicks out of their metal tub in the basement and into the chicken house.  Not, however, in the same space with the hens, who would have pecked them to death in two minutes. 

Fortunately the shed has three separate rooms, one where I store feed and tools, and two which are occupied by the chickens.  I moved the hens to the end room, where they have access to the outside, and carried the chick paraphernalia into the middle room, shutting all the doors.  I set up the mother hen/heat lamp, filled the chick waterer and feeder, and sprinkled clean wood shavings on top of the hay bedding.  Then I  gently decanted the chicks into their new home.

There was much bewildered cheeping at first.  And no wonder--how would you feel if you'd been living all your life in a studio apartment with seven other people and were suddenly dropped into the middle of the Astrodome?   A couple of the chicks went to sleep right away, they were so overwhelmed.  Pretty soon, however, they all started moving around, finding the waterer, pecking at the feeder.  Although during their tub days they had only seen my head and shoulders, they seemed to take the rest of me in stride, and the boldest one came over and gave my shoe a tentative peck.

Two days later, they are masters of their domain.  They roam all over, and every now and then they take off running and flapping their tiny wings, just for fun.  Their feathers are coming in fast, so in the middle of the day I have started turning off the heat lamp.  They look a little scruffy, with their mix of down and feathers, kind of like second graders who are losing their baby teeth and growing big ones.

When the chicks are fully feathered, I will retire the heat lamp and open the wooden doors so they can get plenty of air and natural light.  But before they can go outside, we'll have to undergo a lengthy process of chicken acculturation.  For each wooden door there is also a door made of livestock wire, which I will keep closed but which will allow the chicks to see and be seen by the hens.  After about a week, I will open these doors...and hope for the best.

On the wilder side of things, yesterday my husband saw, from the kitchen window, not one, not two, but three pileated woodpeckers making a big racket at the edge of the woods.

Friday, May 13, 2011

In Which I Resurrect The Comments That Blogger Lost

As you may know, Blogger has been on the blink, but is now running again.  In the process, Blogger lost the comments to my last post, "Long Books."  The comments from Paul and jaimieb, however, were so substantial and full of good suggestions that I have retrieved them from my files and copied them below: 

 "Hello Eulalia, I've been following your blog for a bit now ('lurking' as they call it). But I'll let myself be drawn out by your last post. If it's trilogies you're after, then I do think you would enjoy the Border Triology (McArthy)if you have not already. Camus and Faulkner seldom disapoint. My favorite author is Saramago. If you have not already read him (I would imagine someone as well read as you has) then you are truely missing out. Finally, for those long winter-time books, you just can't beat the Russian, so stock up on some Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy.
I wonder though why a female blogger laments the lack of female authors? It seems that the answer is obvious. Your writing is hypnotic and all that you create is beautiful. So take up your pen and write.
Let us know what you find at the library and please keep blogging.
-Paul"

"OH, my list won't be quite as literary as what you and Paul mentioned, but I think "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" is destined to be an american classic, and I really enjoyed the poetic feel of Gil Adamson's "Outlander" and then I found out she was a poet! I resisted "The Help" for the longest time and found myself laughing out loud and also in tears at times. Schiff's "Cleopatra, a life" was also wonderful.

In non fiction there is "The big burn" and "The Worst Hard Time" and "The Children's Blizzard" all captivating. Erik Larson's "Devil in the White City" was also good, and I am embarking on his "River of Doubt" starting last night. I love Krakauer's books: Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven - I did not read the latest one though.

For a very light read with some classical elements "Gods Behaving Badly" was very entertaining, as the classical gods are now living in a broke down victorian house in London as no one believes in them anymore. They get into a lot of mischief!

I read "The Reliable Wife" when it first came out long before it hit the best seller list, and felt like I was reading an Edward Gorey cartoon in word form!

Anything my Malcolm Gladwell is always educating and interesting.

I am on a Kindle now, but still have a copy of The Worst Hard Time in paper back and would be happy to lend it to you. 
jaimieb"

I had composed some fairly lengthy responses to each comment, but they are gone forever.  I will try to recapture their essence as follows:

Paul, you talked me into it--Saramago is now at the top of my list.  And jaimieb, I too loved Edgar Sawtelle, and I'm a huge fan of Edward Gorey--a signed print of one of his drawings, left to me by a now-deceased painter friend, hangs in my living room.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Long Books

There is nothing I like better than a long book these days.  Don't you?  I am currently immersed in Robertson Davies's The Deptford Trilogy.  Davies is (was--alas, he died in 1995) witty, cultured, ironic, tender and smart, and, bless him, he wrote in trilogies (Salterton, Deptford ,Cornish, and Toronto), which ensures for me many hours in his company.  Elizabeth's loan of the Salterton got me through the third-snowiest-recorded winter in these parts.  Now Deptford  is getting me through those hours when I am too weary to pull another weed, but it's still light outside and I cannot go to bed.

When I find a book I like, I immediately look for more from that author.  Often, as I wander in a daze through the stacks of a local library (nothing puts me in a daze like wandering through library stacks--I can never think of a writer or a title to look for) I use as a criterion, in addition to New Yorker reviews, whether there is more than one book by that author on the shelf. My hermit-like existence prompts me to look for sustained company wherever I find it.

In my long-ago grad studies in French Lit, there were only a couple of women on the reading lists.  Since then, I have read lots and lots of women writers.  Unfortunately, in sheer output they do not compare to the men.  Why didn't Jane Austen write sixty novels, instead of six?  Because she was  busy making blancmange puddings for her father, which I hope he enjoyed.

As I await for the female equivalent of Dickens (whom I can't stand--such namby-pamby women characters), I revel in the likes of Trollope, Proust, P.G. Wodehouse, Robertson Davies.  And now that I'm grown up, I intend to give Balzac another try.

This need for a long-term immersion in another mind means that, try as I might, I cannot really get into contemporary media.  I hate magazines that make you hunt pages ahead for the ending to the (inevitably short) article you're reading.  I miss the almost-book-length essays in the old black-and-white New Yorker.  I detest "side bars," and advertisements that take up text space.  I'll leave you to imagine how I feel about web pages with pop-up adds, not to mention Facebook, even-less-to-mention Twitter (though I have accounts in both).

Fortunately, books--big, fat, full-of-print ones with no advertisements--remain.  I'm due for another trip to the library soon.  What do you recommend?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Spring Day's Thoughts About Death

Today I accompanied my spouse to have one of those tests that, according to the medical establishment, ensures that adults of a certain age will stave off death until...whenever.

In the waiting room, I thought about the situation.  Here I was, sitting comfortably and assuming that after the procedure we would drive home and have lunch and a nap and then get on with our lives.  But what if the procedure took longer than expected, and then I was called into another room, and had to wait for the doctor, and he finally came and made sure I was sitting down before he said the unthinkable?  It was entirely possible.  After all, that is what these tests on asymptomatic people are for.

Year after year, as I tie on the soft cotton gown in preparation for my regular mammogram, the same thoughts run through my head:  this is no big deal;  on the other hand....

We carry the seeds of our own death inside our body.  They are waiting for the right combination of light, temperature, hormones and whatever else to put out their malignant rootlets and cotyledons and eventually bloom and destroy us.  And all that doctors can do is to try their best to uproot these sprouts before they do us in, the way I pull up garden weeds in the spring before they get big.

Meditations on mortality are not new to me.  Decades before I qualified for a mammogram I would kneel at the altar rail once a year to hear the priest mutter "pulvus eris, et pulvus reverteris" ("thou art dust...") as he traced an ashen cross on my forehead.  In school, beginning at age twelve, we had annual spiritual retreats whose purpose was to remind us that, despite our surging hormones, we were vowed to death.  And before that, shortly after I learned to speak, I was taught to ask the Mother of God morning and night to pray for me now, and at the hour of my death, amen.

In this secular age, it is up to the medical establishment to remind us, through their choreography of blood tests, colonoscopies, EEGs, mammograms and sonograms, that we are dust.  They don't put it that way, of course, it being their purpose to stave off as long as possible the dwindling into dust.  But as we sit in waiting rooms reading cheery articles about eating healthy and staying young through exercise, the hour of dust grows closer every day.

The problem with the medical approach is that it doesn't tell us what to do about the eventual turning into dust--it just tries to postpone it for as long as possible.  But we all know that one day, no matter how carefully we have exercised, eaten anti-oxidants, and gone for check-ups, the doctor will call us in and make sure we're sitting down before he speaks.

The approach I knew in my early years, on the other hand, was full of helpful hints.  No matter how young you were, you became aware of the inevitability of death.  Having done that, you could devote yourself to ensuring that what came after death would be as good as possible (and it could, you were told, be very good).  And at any moment you could pray for assistance, as in "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and in the hour of our death.  Amen."

We  are in such an in-between era.  The old solutions are gone, for the most part, and what do we have in their stead?  Tests and more tests, and an anti-oxidant-rich diet, and lots of exercise....

BTW, my spouse is fine.  Or I wouldn't be writing this.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Blessings At Evening

Coming back from dinner with friends, I went straight to the chicken house to shut the hens in for the night.  As I changed from my dressy clogs (in Vermont this is not an oxymoron) into my barn clogs, my heart was full of dread.

This is a dangerous season for chickens.  Foxes, raccoons, coyotes, hawks and fisher cats are all looking for chicken dinners to take home to their growing families .  And a roosterless flock such as mine is especially vulnerable (I have never lost a chicken during the times that I've had a rooster).

All day long the red-tailed hawks had been wheeling overhead, giving their mating whistles.  I noticed that the hens were not tempted by the emerald expanse of grass inside the moveable fence, but were sticking close to their house.  In the afternoon, I went to give them a spotty apple and they came running--all but one of the New Hampshire Reds.  I called and called, squatted and peered under the shed, looked for feathers on the grass...nothing.
I gathered the eggs and went into the house.  I knew that if the missing hen didn't come to roost at sundown, I'd never see her again.  If she hadn't been eaten during the day, there was no way she would survive a night in the woods.

Imagine my delight, then, when I went to shut the hen house door after dinner and there she was, on the roost with her sisters.  I stood at the door for a moment while Biblical parables of lost lambs returned to the fold ran through my mind and then, at the edge of the woods, a thrush began to sing.  It was answered by one farther in, then another.  The three of them went on and on, piping their otherworldly tunes as the light dimmed, and I thought "In all the world, this is the place I'd rather be, at the threshold of the shed, with the hens safe inside, and thrushes singing in the woods."

On the way back to the house I saw that the porcupine has been chewing on our garage post through the hardware mesh that my husband nailed up.

Monday, May 2, 2011

First Salad

Tonight, for the first time since last fall, we're having a fresh salad:  lettuce from the transplants I put in a mere two weeks ago, augmented by a bunch of ramps a friend picked and gave me.  Walking the dogs in the woods this morning, found a small ramp plantation of our very own down by the swamp.  Won't be getting many from there this year, but it has promise.

The rhubarb is looking positively threatening.  Must harvest some in self-defense.  I tear those huge leaves off the stems and plunk them on top of whatever weeds I want to kill--they make a splendid mulch, green, local, organic, etc.

The baby hens in the basement are getting livelier by the minute.   I'm afraid any day now they'll hop out of their tub, fall to the floor and die of cold/stress/loneliness.  Must put some wire mesh over the tub.

Speaking of which, husband repainted garage post after last night's porcupine depredations and put on yet another swath of wire mesh (how high can this critter reach anyway?).  The trap is still out there, salted apples still untouched.  We're trying not to resort to staying up all night with a gun.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

In Which I Wade In the Water

Do you know the Honey In The Rock rendition of the spiritual:

"Wade in the water,
Wade in the water,
Wade in the water, children
My God's gonna trouble the water..."?

Today, sunny and bright before a spate of rainy days, was my chance to deal with the garden pond.  All the advice about ponds maintains that, to keep algae at a minimum, you must cover the surface of the water with at least 40% plants.  Right after the pond was built last summer, I went to the nearest nursery and bought six pots of aquatic plants:  two water lilies, one miniature cattail, and three others whose names I forget.

When I got home, I took one dripping pot out of its plastic bag and dropped it slowly onto the submerged shelf that runs around the perimeter of the pond.  Imagine my shock when the pot, after spewing a large amount of dirt into the water, wavered off and sank into the murky depths.  Before submerging the next pot, I gathered some pieces of slate and put them on top of the dirt, then lowered the pot into the water.  The slate floated away and the pot sank, but not before shedding half its cargo of dirt into the H2O.
 
This depressing scenario continued until I ran out of plants and rushed into the house in despair, buried my nose in a book, and tried to forget the whole thing.

Now here it was spring again, and the pond was full of algae, and I needed plants to cover the surface if I was ever to have the hope of fish in there and water that looked merely like broth instead of pea soup.  Plus, aquatic plants are expensive.  So I knew I had to retrieve my six pots from the depths.

This morning, my husband rigged up a syphon system with hoses, then left for other pursuits.  While the water level lowered ever so slowly, I got my newly-purchased supplies ready.  I soaked a special aquatic planting medium in water, and set out six nylon mesh planting bags.  I also skimmed off the leaf debris that surfaced as the water went down.  There was an entire autumn's worth of leaves in that pond, as well as some dead salamanders, half a dozen drowned earthworms, and several frog skeletons. 

At one point, the tips of the rotted spears of the cattail became visible.  I gave them a tug, and the entire pot came up...along with a powerful stench of decay.  But when I upended the pot, there were white, turgid shoots emerging from the rotten mess.  I trimmed off the slimy bits, placed the plant in one of the nylon planting bags, filled it in with the planting medium, which consisted of hard clay pellets, and lowered it into the pond.

I held my breath.  Would the bag and its contents float away?  Would the planting medium drift off into the water?  Not a bit.  The wet clay weighed everything down, and the planting bag and its contents settled exactly where I placed it.

There remained five plants to retrieve and repot.  I checked the far end of the syphon hose and saw that it was vomiting dead salamanders and the outflow was growing slower.  I stared at that stinking green soup, hoping that somehow the pots would surface, or I could reach them and somehow avoid having to go in.

I kept skimming off rotten leaves and a frog cadavers and flinging them onto the grass.  You'll know how foul the smell was when I tell you that the dogs, all three of them, not only ate the stuff, but rolled in it ecstatically.
Finally, the words of the spiritual came to me, "you got to wade/in de waater/waaade/in de waaaater..."
So I did, removing glasses and relevant clothing first, terrified that I would slip and dive headlong into the murk.

All I can say is, ugh.

I was grateful for my prehensile toes, which allowed me to locate and lift the pots out of the depths and thus avoid immersing my upper body.  But still, ugh!  At one point, a large dead frog floated up.  I should have picked it up and saved it for the chickens, but my heart failed me, and I let it sink back down.  When I crawled out of the primeval slime, my feet left green prints on the patio slate.  I hosed myself down and repotted the plants.

There was only one live frog in the pond.  I suspect that the dozens that inhabited it last fall died of asphyxiation when the ice closed in.  Next winter, we'll put in a de-icer to keep the pond denizens alive.

Tuesday the two shubunkin fish I ordered will arrive.