Category Archives: Animals – especially dogs

First Lunch on the Patio

On Saturday, the weather was so fine—at least by Maine standards—that Clif and I had our first lunch on the patio. The temperature was about 65°F with a gentle breeze. For two winter-weary elders, it was warm enough for us to leave our jackets inside as we sat and ate.

Clif made potato pancakes for our lunch. In the picture, they look like regular pancakes, but they had a lovely mashed potato and Parmesan taste. We slathered them with butter and liberally sprinkled them with salt. Very tasty indeed. Especially when eaten on the patio.

As we ate, we were treated to all manner of fluttering birds and their spring songs. The wary goldfinches, cheeping loudly, clustered in a big cedar as they waited for us to leave.

But this bird was a little braver. (I’m thinking it’s a flycatcher. Eliza, what do you think?)

And the mourning dove felt perfectly comfortable patrolling for spilled seeds not far from where we sat.

Watching over everything was the backyard Spirit of the Woods.

I know. It’s really a dead tree that should come down before it falls where we don’t want it to fall. But I will be sorry when the tree no longer stands. Not only will we lose the wood spirit, but the birds will lose a place to hunt for tidbits.

But there. For several years, Clif and I have talked about taking that tree down, and still it stands. I am hoping the tree will be there for several more years.

After lunch, I worked on removing leaves from the beds in the front yard. Why is it that outside work is more satisfying than inside housework? It probably has something to with the sun and the sky and the birds, none of which are as present when you are inside.

Later on during the weekend, thanks to technology, I visited with my daughters and my son-in-law, and much of the talk was about politics and the coronavirus.

I also “attended” Rassemblement, a yearly gathering of Franco-American artists, writers, and creatives. Usually it is held at the University of Maine at Orono, but in this time of the coronavirus, it was held virtually.

The theme of this year’s gathering was legacy. This is from the Franco American Programs website: “The dictionary definition of legacy is, ‘Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past.’ As Franco Americans, what was handed down to us? And how does this gift act as both an impetus to create and as a restriction on our creations? What are we handing down to those who come after us? What was and is our legacy?”

Someone—ahem!—might have brought up that one of the legacies of Franco-Americans is that it was a patriarchal ethnic group, with an unhealthy separation of men and women. A spirited discussion ensued.

But more about that later.

 

 

 

 

 

Saving Soup

In a little swampy swamp just down the road, the peepers have finally started singing their spring song. For those who are unfamiliar with peepers, here is what they look and sound like. Peepers are tiny—one inch according to National Geographic-–but when they sing together, they make a sound and a fury. Clif and I wait for their song every year, and it wouldn’t be spring in Maine without peepers.

A post or two back, I wrote about giving a toy dinosaur to the boy next door for his birthday. Via Facebook messaging, his mother sent me a short video she made of him thanking us for the dinosaur. He was wearing a dinosaur t-shirt and was holding the dinosaur we had given him. Oh, that made us smile. Ingenuity in this time of the coronavirus.

On Facebook I also read some sad news. Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe is closing their sweet little store in Hallowell. Recently, I posted a picture of some of the delectable chocolates that I had ordered online and had come through the mail. Here they are again. After all, who gets tired of looking at pictures of chocolate?

Fortunately, Scrummy’s is not going out of business entirely. They will continue to have an online store and a Scrummy’s van that will go to events when they are allowed to do so. But still, a blow for Hallowell, and I fear a harbinger of things to come for many small businesses.

But I am going to end this post on an upbeat note of how I saved some soup I made at the beginning of the week. It was a white bean soup. I simmered three cups of white beans, and when they were tender, I dumped them into a crock-pot. I added a bay leaf, dried thyme, sage, oregano, a little soy sauce, celery, and carrots. Onion and garlic and more water. When it was done, a half-cup of nutritional yeast.

And how did the soup taste? Well, it was edible, but it was blah. The thought of eating this for the next few days did not excite me. In truth, it filled me with a sort of dread.

But then I remembered something that the cook Samin Nosrat explained in her excellent series Salt Fat Acid Heat. That is, most soups and dishes benefit from a dose of something acidic. Lemon would have been perfect for this Mediterranean-flavored soup, but I did not have lemons.

I did, however, have diced canned tomatoes, which are acidic. I didn’t want the soup’s flavor to be dominated by tomatoes, but what if I added two cups to this big batch of soup? What then?

I’ll tell you what then—those tomatoes saved the soup without overpowering it. It jazzed up the soup in exactly the right way. No longer did I dread eating that soup until it was gone.

Instead, I actually looked forward to it. Clif felt the same way, and we ate every single bit.

I think this falls under the category of an old dog learning a new trick.

Earth Day 2020: In Celebration of Trees

“When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines.”
–Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees

Being a Mainer, I love trees too much to live in a place without them.  All my life I have been surrounded by trees—first in a neighborhood, then in the country, and now in a small forest.

Around our home we have tall dark pines, massive oaks, solid maples that blaze in the fall, and slender beeches that keep their leaves all through the winter. When I sit on my patio and look up through the tree branches, I feel as though the trees are holding me.

Trees tell the story of the seasons. They harbor birds and give shelter to many other creatures. They provide food, oxygen, and shade. According to the writer Peter Wohlleben trees are even able to form a kind of society.

Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.

On a deep, psychological level, trees give us rich material for myths and stories, and  Arthur Rackham’s illustration is a haunting example of this.

And who could forget Tolkien’s ents, sentient creatures that lived in a slow time of their own?

Is it too much to claim that trees embody the life-force of the planet?  Not for this tree lover.

Therefore in honor of Earth Day, here are a few pictures of trees through the seasons, in my yard and around town.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

And now for a complete change of tone. Shannon is our Earth-Day daughter, born on April 22 many years ago. This is a hard time for celebrating much of anything. Therefore I am posting a picture of happier times, when our dear Liam was just a puppy and Shannon was having a jolly trot with him along the public beach in town. Makes me smile just to look at it. Happy, happy birthday, Shannon.

 

Last Night I Dreamed…

Last night, I dreamed I was walking on a steep snowy path in the woods. When I turned, I saw Liam running toward me. He was at his peak—young, beautiful, and energetic. So very sad to wake up and realize it was only a dream. That dog has been gone for two years, and I miss him still.

Maybe it’s because of missing our dog buddy, maybe it’s because of the pandemic, or maybe it’s because I have a daughter living in New York City, the epicenter of Covid-19 in this country, but I have been moping most of the day.

Life is like that sometimes, and I need to follow my own advice and let myself feel what I feel.

Coronavirus News from Maine

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 107 (On Friday it was 56.)

From the Kennebec Journal:

Governors across the country have imposed tough restrictions on public travel and gatherings to combat the spread of coronavirus, but Gov. Janet Mills is not yet ready to order Mainers to shelter in place, the state’s top public health official told reporters on Monday.

From the Portland Press Herald

Most of us have been advised to stay home, but cashiers have to interact with other humans all day long, although many have changed the way they work…In the United States, more than 3.5 million workers are considered cashiers….a cashier’s annual average income of about $22,400, often coupled with limited or no sick leave, make them less likely to be able to afford to take several days off from work, even if they are sick.

My own thoughts: This pandemic has shown everyone how essential cashiers are to our society. Maybe, just maybe, they should start getting better pay and benefits.

 

The Ice Storm Didn’t Cometh

Last weekend, an ice storm was predicted. There was even a weather advisory warning that we might get enough freezing rain to cause power outages.

Whenever there’s the threat of an ice storm, Clif and I think back to 1998 when there was a doozy of an ice storm that knocked out the power to half the state and felled trees with a sickening crack. We live in the woods, and during the worst of the storm, it sounded as though we were surrounded by gunfire as branches broke and fell to the ground.

We were without power for about eleven days, and what a miserable time we had. Every bit of water we used had to be hauled in, and the nights were long and chilly. (Fortunately we have a wood furnace, which meant we didn’t freeze.) It is a time we will never forget, and it certainly made us appreciate modern conveniences such as electricity.

Therefore, when we heard that there might be an ice storm, we sprang into action. Laundry done. Check. Extra bread for peanut butter sandwiches. Check. Plenty of wood in the basement for the furnace. Check. Extra water in big pots on the stove to go with the stored water in our cellar. Check. Check. Check.

We were ready. But to our delight and relief, the ice storm didn’t cometh. Instead, we got rain, which has made everything look miserable, but a dreary landscape is a vast improvement over a frozen, slippery one. And glory be, we didn’t have to worry about losing our power.

Instead of sharing pictures of what everything looks like now, I’ll share pictures I took midweek before the rain washed all the snow away. These were taken in town, about a mile from where we live, of Maranacook Lake.

I hope that we get a bit of snow and that Maine will look wintery again, the way it ought to in January. Not a blizzard mind  you. Instead, five or six inches. We always want things to be just right, don’t we? It seems that most of us are a bunch of Goldilocks yearning for that perfect porridge. All too often, we are disappointed. Still, we yearn, and in that yearning lies hope.

Our cats, I think, have found their perfect sweet spot in our living room. Rain or snow or freezing rain, it doesn’t matter.

May you find your perfect sweet spot this week and every week.

Exit, Destroyed by a Bear

Two days ago we had a visitor in our backyard who was drawn by the sunflower seeds. The visitor, unseen by us, came at night and with a mighty strength broke the pole and knocked over the bird feeder. As far as we know, there is only one animal in our woods that has the power to do this, and that animal is a bear. Black bears live in the woods all over Maine.

We have had an ursine visitor before, with the same results. Clif and I stopped feeding the birds for a while, and that took care of the problem.

We will do the same thing this time. Bears hibernate in the winter, and as soon as the snow and cold come, we’ll start feeding the birds again.

In the meantime, Clif will have to put in a new pole before the ground freezes. The actual feeder is in good shape, but the top was smashed into many pieces. We are hoping to be able to find a new top. Being frugal Mainers, we figure there is no point in replacing the whole thing if we don’t have to.

Living in the woods brings its excitements, and bears are one of them. Fortunately, black bears are rather shy, and we hardly ever see them. But every once in a while one emerges from the woods to snack on sunflower seeds.

And so it goes.

 

 

The Patio Awaits

Somehow, the weather must have known that July has ended and August has begun. At least for the moment, the horrid humidity has gone. We no longer feel as though we are being squeezed and sapped by the heat. Instead, the warmth holds us in a gentle hand, reminding us of how sweet summer can be. And like Augusts of old, the past two nights have been so chilly that we have needed blankets.

A window is by my desk, and a turn of the head is all it takes to look outside and see a hummingbird working the hosta blossoms. In the bush by the window, a bird sings a piping, melodious song. I hear the buzz of grasshoppers, a true sound of summer, reminding me of the fragrant smell of a warm field.

At the end of the day, when the work is done, what awaits me is one of my absolute favorite places to be—our own humble patio.

Here is a side view.

Although you can’t see them in the photo, the Mardi Gras Parade daylilies have begun to bloom. Unfortunately, these daylilies are not thriving, but the colors are so pretty that I have left them there.

While Clif and I have a drink—sometimes cocktails, sometimes beer, sometimes iced tea—visitors come.

And on a fine August evening, caressed by the heat as I watch the birds and the dragonflies, I feel as though I am the luckiest woman in Winthrop.

Heat and Time

Hot, hot. Too hot. It has been 90 in the shade and oh so humid. Time seems to have stretched to the point where it’s hardly moving.

Next door, the dog has stopped barking, and the little boy no longer runs and yells as he plays. But earlier in the week, the chickens scratched and pecked in the yard.

Not wilting, not drooping, the lilies bloom bravely in the heat.

And the hostas look cool and collected as always.

The sun leaves our backyard around 3:30. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for the patio to cool down and for the black and white cat to take her place.

We both drowse as the heat presses against us and a few mosquitoes whine around our head. Sometimes she looks up. Sometimes I look over at her.

Right now, winter seems like a distant country,  a dim memory of white and cold and time spent inside.

 

Little Visitors

The green season—our happy time—has begun. Yesterday was sunny and warm enough for us to wear t-shirts as we worked in the yard. We had tea on the patio, and we will do this every nice day until it gets too cold, probably until the end of September.

We have lots of little visitors in the backyard, and I always bring out my wee camera when we have our tea.

There are the will-o’-the- wisp hummingbirds. (I’ll keep trying for a clearer picture. Unfortunately, the light is always low during tea time.)

Since we live on the edge of the woods, we have lots of woodpeckers. I believe this one is a hairy, but birding friends, please correct me if I’m wrong. After all, how else will I learn? (My other challenge is distinguishing the house finch from the purple finch. Oh, the challenges I face.)

The flash of red of the male cardinal still delights me, and his melodious song is just as enchanting. As I have mentioned in previous posts, cardinals are a relative newcomer to Maine. My mother died eleven years ago, and she never saw one in our backyard. How thrilled Mom would have been to see them here, and I wish she had live long enough to enjoy their beauty.

Because we feed the birds, rodents abound, and as long they stay outside, I don’t have a problem with them. I must admit that I have a soft spot for chipmunks, who stuff their cheeks with seeds and other good things to eat—hence the term chipmunk cheeks for anyone who has puffy cheeks. Chipmunks are a sweet, little rodent, and they never try to come inside.

The same cannot be said for red squirrels. A kindly person might call them saucy. A more critical person might mutter about their noisy, fractious ways. I seen these little animals drive away the larger gray squirrels from the feeder. Ditto for crows and blue jays. Red squirrels don’t hold back. When Clif and I are on the patio, they frequently scold us for being in their territory.

But it’s not all fun and games on the patio. Here is another visitor that’s not quite as welcome as the others I’ve featured.

After the cool, wet spring we’ve had, these biters are out in force. However, thanks to Facebook friends, we have recently discovered All Terrain Herbal Armor Natural Insect RepellentReaders, not only is DEET-free, but it actually works. All right, you will smell like a citronella candle, but that sure beats the chemical smell of DEET. After I sprayed Herbal Armor on my arm, I watched the mosquitoes fly toward my bare arm then veer away. (The above picture was taken before I used Herbal Armor.)

So take that mosquitoes, and welcome, beautiful June. With its low humidity and warm but not hot days, June is the perfect month.

if I had superpowers, I would trade in miserable March for an extra June.

But, I don’t. This means I’ll have to squeeze every bit of pleasure out of this wonderful month.