All posts by Laurie Graves

I write about nature, food, the environment, home, family, community, and people.

Five Below on Saturday

Last weekend, we had another stretch of brisk weather. Five below on Saturday.

In the morning, my bare feet stung as I walked across the cold tiles in the kitchen. I could hear the house snap in response to the weather. On the north side of the house, ice rimmed the inside edge of one of our least insulated windows.

We haven’t had a deep freeze like this for a long time. It reminds me of childhood winters when the snow was piled high enough to make snow caves, and the temperature would dip below zero for a week or two. I am hoping that the frigid temperature keeps the tick population down.

I am very glad we have a blanket of insulating snow on the ground. Without the snow, the below zero weather would kill many of the perennials in my gardens. Years ago, this happened one extremely cold winter without snow. Half the perennials in the backyard didn’t make it and had to be replaced. That spring was an expensive one.

About a week ago we had rain on top of snow—what weird weather!—and our driveway became icy and treacherous as everything froze. Clif, however, has a solution that he only employs as a last resort: wood ash from our furnace. The ash is messy when we track it in, as we always do, but we both figure this is a lot better than falling. And by taking off our boots as soon as we come in, we keep the mess to a minimum.

The ash is in a metal can by the cellar. (You can see the walkway already has a layer of ash.)

After collecting the ash, Clif heads to the front, where he spreads it  on the driveway.

Winter in Maine requires thinking ahead as we deal with snow and ice. But as Clif and I are Mainers, this seems normal to us. For now, anyway, we are up to the task.

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Nifty Posts from Some of the Lovely Blogs I Read

On a recent post on his blog Now I’m 64, Platypus Man wrote something that should be emblazoned in everyone’s heart: “All living things are intrinsically valuable, worthy of our respect and protection regardless of their looks or lifestyle.” Imagine what kind of world we might have if this were the case. The post is about warty pigs, but Platypus Man’s words apply to all creatures great and small, including us.

From warty pigs, I moved to musings about science with Frank of Beach Walk Reflections. He laments that today too many people think science is an opinion. Instead, he writes, it is the search for an explanation of what we observe in nature. Amen, Frank!

Science, of course, is not the only way to observe nature, and in his post “Atmospheric,” Derrick, of the blog Derrick J. Knight, presents an enchanting series of pictures he and his wife Jackie took of their garden and the countryside.

From Thistles and Kiwis: Summer, beautiful summer, and a Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

From Touring My Backyard, fabulous public art.

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Last week, Clif, Dee, and I finished—all right, binged—a snappy Netflix series called Archive 81, a supernatural thriller with a tinge of horror.  I tend to be a little wimpy when it comes to horror, and this one passed the “Laurie Test” with flying colors. We’re really hoping there will be a Season 2.

Farewell, Little Green

The day Clif and I had been dreading came to pass: After searching the Internet, Clif was not able to find a belt to fit Little Green, our trusty electric snow thrower. (Readers might recall that a rodent, probably a mouse, chewed through the old belt.) To write that we were disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how we felt.

First, we have become fond of Little Green. (Bound to happen, I suppose, when you have a propensity for naming inanimate objects.) For eight winters, plucky Little Green has been clearing our driveway and the paths to our bird feeders and compost bins. He has been a stalwart buddy.

Second, we hate, hate, hate to get rid of anything for want of a simple part. This goes completely against our philosophy of fixing things—with duct tape, when applicable—until they have fallen apart and can no longer be used.

But the time had come, we decided, to buy a replacement for Little Green. Winter is here, and neither Clif nor I relish the thought of hand shoveling the whole driveway after a good-sized storm. We did this when we were younger, but in our senior years the chore seems more daunting. So we ordered a new electric snow thrower that even comes with its own name: Snow Joe.

And just in time, too. A few days after Snow Joe arrived, we had a wet, heavy storm dumping snow that would have been a bear to hand shovel. With a minimum of fuss, Snow Joe did a fantastic job of taking care of that snow.

But still, we are sorry to lose Little Green. As a farewell, I took this picture of Clif between Little Green and Snow Joe.

Good-bye, Little Green. We will miss you very much.

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Nifty Posts from Some of the Lovely Blogs I Read

I am absolutely smitten by this picture of a cardinal featured in Change Is Hard.

When Tanja Britton dreams of butterflies, her thoughts range as far and wide as the beautiful creatures she features on her blog.

Eliza Waters, with her wonderful photographs, illustrates just how enchanting a frozen landscape can be.

In Touring my Backyard, Ju-Lyn features a light show I would love to see.

From Thistles and Kiwis: Summer, beautiful summer in New Zealand.

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I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one of my favorites is On Being. The show is more than a little woo-woo, but Krista Tippett, the host, often interviews guests who explore big questions and topics, some that are of our time and some that have been with us for ages.

Last week’s guest was Oliver Burkeman, a journalist who has written about the problem of time management. As the blurb on the On Being website puts it, “He [Burkeman] invites us into a new relationship with time, our technologies, and the power of limits — and thus with our mortality and with life itself.”

Well worth listening to, and Burkeman confirmed what I have been thinking: We can’t do it all, especially as we age. We have to pick and choose how we spend our time, which means saying no to some things that we might love. For me, focusing on my writing has meant saying no to having a dog, which takes a lot of time and energy. Alas, as I am someone who loves dogs. Also, to volunteering, which I have done since I was a young woman.

But if I don’t focus on my writing right now, when will I focus on it?

Have any of you made similar choices?

 

Dead Calm and Zero Degrees

This morning when I got up, it was dead calm and zero degrees. Actually, a little below zero.

The top window over the sink was so frosty that I couldn’t even see outside. (Fortunately, the frost is on the outside storm window.)

And here is the view from the window by my desk.

With the wood furnace going, it’s a balmy 65°F inside. We might have to turn on the electric heat tonight as the temperature drops further.

The title of this post comes from one of my favorite documentaries, Alone in the Wilderness, in which one man, Dick Proenneke, filmed his experience of living by himself for one year in Alaska. (The documentary is narrated by Bob Swerer Jr.)  During that year—1968—he used hand tools to build his own cabin as well as many other things he needed for daily living. Proenneke’s skill, ingenuity, and creativity are nothing short of astonishing.

Here is a short clip that gives a sense of this extraordinary documentary.

During his time in the wilderness, Proenneke recorded the temperature every morning, and often it was “Dead calm and zero degrees,” just as it was this morning in Maine.

A little brisk, as my Yankee husband would say in his understated way.

Scenes from a Recent Snowstorm

Northern woman that I am, I love the look of the landscape during a snowstorm, the way it is pared down to its essence in color, not quite monochrome but certainly muted. When there is a snowstorm—and to a certain extent in the winter in general—the landscape has a soothing quality that provides me with a much-needed rest from the exuberance of spring, summer, and fall. Yes, by the time dreary March rolls around, I am more than ready for the glorious burst of spring. However, from somber November through frozen February, I am grateful for the quiet that comes in late fall and winter.

Here are scenes from a recent snowstorm:

On a less soothing note…COVID is ripping through Maine, and the positivity rate is 18 percent, the highest it has ever been. (And to think that last June the rate was below 1 percent. Those halcyon days.) The hospitals are overwhelmed, and I’ve heard that beds with patients are lining the halls.

Clif, Dee, and I are hunkering down, grateful we’re in a position to do so. We are well aware not everyone is as lucky as we are. Also, we’re aware there is a high likelihood that we’ll all eventually come down with COVID, which probably will be circulating around the world pretty much forever.

However, we want to give the hospitals time to recover from the onslaught of patients. If I’m unlucky enough to have to go to the hospital because of COVID, I want a bed in a room. I do not want to be in the hall, tended by folks who are completely frazzled. I’m also hoping that sometime soon antiviral drugs will be readily available for an effective treatment. Finally, I am hoping that COVID will mutate to something that is more like a cold, unpleasant but not an unpredictable killer. In the meantime, I’m sticking close to home and wearing my KN95 mask when I go out.

Despite the nastiness of COVID, things could be worse. On a recent episode of the podcast Radiolab, I learned about the year 536 AD, when there was “A supervolcano. The disappearance of shadows. A failure of bread. Plague rats.” Holy cats, that’s a lot of bad things to deal with all together.

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Now, on to something more upbeatNifty posts from some of the lovely blogs I follow:

What could be better than a winter scene? How about one with a sunset and the red splash of a cardinal? On Cimple, a fabulous photo provides all three. 

From Whippet Wisdom, different kinds of listening and music. This post certainly made me smile.

For the biggest, most fabulous sticky bun, check out Touring My Backyard.

Thistles and Kiwis features gorgeous beaches and mouthwatering food. Oh, New Zealand!

Judy, at New England Garden and Thread, makes an excellent case for going south for the winter.

 

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I haven’t shared any music videos lately, and here’s a beauty—Yasmin Williams: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

I’m an anxious person who lives in an anxious world. Williams’s soulful, cascading music never fails to make me feel tranquil, and lately I have started my day by listening to her. Also, note how Williams uses tap shoes for percussion. Clever, clever!

A Lovely, Simple Vacation

My holiday vacation is over, and what a lovely, simple one it was.

Clif, Dee, and I started out on Christmas Eve with chocolate peppermint martinis. (We had some on New Year’s Eve, too.)

With the martinis, we had lots of nibble and nuts, which I did not photograph.

For Christmas, I gave Clif a game, Horrified, which we played every afternoon during our vacation. It’s a cooperative game where everyone must work together to save the villagers from various monsters.  Sometimes we won. Sometimes we lost. But win or lose, we had such fun.

During my vacation, each morning—with a mug of tea—I settled on the couch and read until everyone was ready for breakfast. The books I read were The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff; Harlem Shuffle by the fabulous Colson Whitehead; and Wintering by Katherine May. Three very different books but all worth reading and a great way to end the year.

We watched lots of movies, but the standout for me was Pig with Nicolas Cage. Pig is about a man named Rob and his beloved truffle-hunting pig. When the pig is stolen, Rob sets out in search of her. He leaves his seclusion in the woods and travels to the big city, where he encounters obstacles but also receives help. Part fable, part meditation on love, grief, loss, and forgiveness, this movie touched me in a way that only a few films ever have, and it is my favorite of the year. The movie’s slow, indie pacing won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for those with patience, Pig is a must-see

In the middle of the week, we had a little ice storm, but fortunately we did not lose our power. Clif went out and took some pictures.

And now January is here. It’s back to work for me and the rest of the family. Our restful vacation reminded me, once again, that while it’s good to have purpose and to work hard, it’s also good to take a break now and again.

Refreshed, we can approach what we do with vigor and enthusiasm.

Onward to finishing Book Four of my Great Library Series.

 

En Hiver

In the still, in the cold…

Although I love spring and summer and the lengthening of the days, I also cherish this time of year, this time of giving, this time of rest, when I have tea on the couch at 4:00, and out the big window I watch the sky go from blue to black and the bright shine of Venus, which glitters just above the horizon.

I will be taking a blogging break from now until the New Year. Because of Covid, it will definitely be a staycation, but it will be a luxury to read in the mornings, play board games in the afternoon, and watch Oscar nominees at night. And, of course, nibble on treats.

I know many of you are wondering about Little Green, our trusty electric snow thrower. Clif did indeed find the problem—a rascally rodent, probably a mouse, who not only made a nest inside Little Green but chewed the belt in half as well. A new belt is on the way.

Because I am Franco-American, I wish those who celebrate Christmas a joyeux Noël.

And to everyone a Bonne Année.

Whatever you celebrate, have a joyous and safe time. I hope your holidays are filled with warmth, merriment, and good food.

See you all in 2022.

 

A White Christmas

On Saturday we got another small snowstorm that left about four inches, which is enough to give Mainers what they always crave in December—a white Christmas.

The day after the storm was beautiful, as it often is, and out I went to take some pictures.

Here is our backyard, on the edge of the woods, looking very northern with its snow-covered trees.

Next, a side view of Clif cleaning the driveway. (Little Green conked out, and Clif will soon be doing an assessment to see if the snow-thrower can be fixed, or if we need to buy another one.)

Then, a view from the front of our cozy home tucked by the woods.

Finally, a picture I know you’ve all been waiting for—the trusty town plow. Thanks to the diligence of the people who clean our roads, we are never stranded at our homes for more than half a day, no matter how much snow we get. Note how clear the road is a day after the storm.

This is what you  might call a lucky shot. With camera in hand, I happened to be by the mailbox across the street from our home, when I heard the distinctive roar of the plow. I didn’t have to wait long before it came thundering up the road. After exchanging a friendly wave with the driver, I took a picture of the truck with its sand and plow that is so essential to life in the north in the winter.