Category Archives: Nature

Of Hurricanes, Hummingbirds, and Cardinals

For those of us who live on the East Coast of the United States, August has come in with a bang. Hurricane Isaias is ripping its way north. According to ABC, it sideswiped Florida and is now bearing down on North Carolina. (Fortunately my daughter and son-in-law live too far west to be bothered by the hurricane.)

Normally, Maine is too far north to be bothered by hurricanes. However, this one, forecasted to be soon downgraded to a tropical system, might very well come for a visit, bringing heavy rain to our area and the dreaded power outages in some places.

So, this afternoon I’ll be scrubbing buckets with lids and getting water ready should worse come to worst. So far we’ve been lucky with power outages and storms. Will our luck hold? We shall see.

In the meantime, here are Clif’s pictures of a hummingbird and a cardinal that visited our yard not long ago. They sometimes come at the same time, and Clif and I love watching them. The hummingbirds fly with a whir, and the male cardinal has one of the loveliest songs I have ever heard.

The pictures were taken with our not-so-wee camera, but the light was low, and the photos of the hummingbird are not as crisp as we we would like.

Never mind! I knew my blogging friends would enjoy seeing them.

And for those who live along the East Coast, stay safe!

Six for a Blue Monday

As I just wrote to a blogging friend,  although blue is my favorite color, I am feeling blue in the sad sense. It seems as though our country is far, far away from getting covid-19 under control. And yet out everyone goes.

Not coincidentally, cases of covid-19 are rising around the country. To me, feeling safe seems like a distant dream, and the same is true for getting together with family and friends.

To cheer myself up and to remind myself, yet again, how lucky I am to live here, I am sharing six recent pictures that I took around the yard.

A visit from Mrs. Cardinal is always welcome. It’s a pity I couldn’t get a picture of her being fed by her devoted husband, as she often is. When I am on the patio, I’ll keep my camera at the ready. Maybe I’ll be able to capture this sweet exchange.

Shannon and Mike sent me these flowers for Mother’s Day. I had to keep them inside for a while as the beginning of May was decidedly chilly.  However, the weather improved, and into a pot these impatiens went. Perky and bright, they make me smile whenever I go out onto the porch.

In the front garden, I find the colors and textures of the hosta and fern pleasing and soothing.

Unfortunately my irises did poorly this winter. Some pulled through, but there are few blooms.  But here is one for me to marvel over. I certainly hope that 2021 is a better year for my irises. (And for many other things as well.)

Wild daisies have sprung up in various places in my garden. Blown in, perhaps, or dropped by birds. Whatever the case, I leave them where they come up. It seems to me that it would be churlish to pull them just because they are not exactly in the right spot.

For the last one, back to hostas, to Frances Williams, a plant with leaves so large it looks as though it belongs in the Jurassic period. This close-up shows the textures and patterns on this giant of a hosta.

Onward we go. I hope you find at least six things to make you happy this week.

 

How Are We So Lucky?

Is it early summer or late spring? The leaves, fully mature, tell a summer story. The weather—thankfully a little cool after an unprecedented heat wave the end of May—speaks of late spring.

Whatever the case, it is a time of beauty. The biting blackflies are gone, and the mosquitoes are few in numbers. We can sit on the patio until six and not be bothered. Not at all usual for this time of year when the mosquitoes are generally out in force. I expect it’s because May has been dry. While we surely need the rain, I am grateful that this weather is keeping the mosquitoes down. Last year, with a cold, rainy June, it was just the reverse, and the mosquitoes came in hordes, tormenting us until fall.

Therefore, at the end of the day, Clif and I relax on the patio with a snack and a drink, sometimes alcoholic, most times not. In the woods, in the distance, a wood thrush sings its ethereal song. Closer to us on the edge of the yard are the goldfinches, tweeting and quarreling. There are woodpeckers and hummingbirds. Cardinals. Nuthatches. Sometimes, from the nearby Narrows, we hear loons. Dragonflies zoom with astonishing precision. Chipmunks race after each other.

Surrounded by the flutter and dash of life, I ask Clif, “How are we so lucky?”

After a few moments of silence, he replies, “We made the right choice.”

That we did. Not always a given as Clif and I are not known for our practicality. But when we moved to Winthrop, we  were debating between two houses—one in a little development and one in the woods.

We chose the home in the woods.

Here are some pictures taken in the last day or two at our home in the woods:

The flash of red, a cardinal at the feeder.

The bubbling of the blue fountain.

A dandelion poking its head up among the ferns.

And finally, the front yard, green against red, edged by many hostas.

For years and years, I yearned for a cottage garden bursting with color. While this love of color will never go away, my home in the woods, surrounded by green, is the place I want to be.

 

A Shift in Tone

As I sit at my desk, I can hear the summer rustle of the new leaves as a soft wind blows through them. The leaves are nearly full size, and in a month they went from the red fringe of delicate flowers to yellow to a soft green and now to the deeper green of maturity.

Being of a fanciful nature, I usually stop to listen when the leaves rustle. It seems to me that they are talking, and if I listen hard enough, I will understand what they are saying as they tell the story of trees and woods and animals.

There are other stories around the yard in late spring.

Of lilies of the valley,

of dandelions,

of unfurling hosta leaves,

of chives ready to bloom,

of a little kingdom through the metal circle.

But there are other things to think about, too, and nowhere near as pleasant as the beauty of spring. Recently there was yet another brutal murder of a black man in police custody. In response, there have been protests. And riots.  Once more, the lid flies off the pot because the pressure has become unbearable.

2020 seems to be the year that keeps giving. Or taking, depending on your point of view.

Pardon me for the shift in tone, from rustling leaves to the murder of a man.

But there it all is, the sublime and the abominable.

I can’t look away from either.

 

 

Everything Is Waiting…

Despite the coronavirus, here we are at last, in spring, that green, blooming time of year. To paraphrase David Whyte’s moving poem, everything is waiting for me.

The ferns that continue to unfurl,

the tiny white violets on the lawn,

the tender blush of the newly emerging leaves,

and back inside, for our supper, a salad made with Farmer Kev’s greens and radishes, our neighbor’s eggs, and other bits and bobs.

Here is the last stanza of David Whyte’s Everything Is Waiting for You

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Even now.

Always.

 

These Are the Days

This morning Clif said, “My underwear is in the mailbox.”

My first thought: What a place for underwear!

But this is life during the time of the coronavirus: Underwear in the mailbox because we don’t want to go to Target. Instead, we have been ordering online the necessities of life.

In the days before the coronavirus, we ordered online maybe five or six times a year. Now, it’s about five times a fortnight. I wonder how it will be when this is all over. Will we go back to shopping the way we did before?

Or, will this new habit of online ordering become a trend? It’s hard for me to predict. However, after a year or a year and a half of doing something, it could become permanent. We shall see.

In other groundbreaking news…Because Clif is still recovering from his sprained ankle, I hefted the round table up the bulkhead stairs from the cellar and onto the patio. Although my knees did not thank me when I was done, what a sight for sore eyes to see the table on the patio.

Soon it will be warm enough to have a glass of something nice as we sit on the patio.

After cleaning the table and taking pictures to celebrate the arrival of the table on the patio, I poked around a bit and discovered the that the ferns have begun to unfurl.

By the basement, where it’s warm.

But even a little farther away, in the leaves.

Despite having underwear in the mailbox, despite covid-19, despite the isolation and confinement, spring has arrived. The trees are in blossom, the ferns are coming up. As Natalie Merchant so beautifully sings, these are the days.

 

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.

 

I’m Dreaming of a White Easter

Yesterday, Mother Nature brought us a nasty little April surprise: A sizable snowstorm with wet, heavy snow. In central Maine, we got about a foot. The farther north, the higher the snowfall, with foot and a half in some areas.

That much wet, heavy snow can mean only one thing: Power outages. According to Maine Public Radio, 250,000 homes are without power, no small number in a state with a total population of just over a million.  Exactly what we need in this time of the coronavirus.

However, by some miracle, courtesy of the weather gods, we still have our power. We were ready with pots of water on the stove and a well-heated house. (Normally, we keep the temperature a little on the cool side. But it’s best to start out from a warm place if the power goes out.)

The pots of water remain on the stove. The forecast is for high winds this afternoon, which means we might still lose our power.

In the meantime, as I write this, Clif is out there with Little Green, cleaning the driveway yet again. We sure do hope this is the last time until next winter.

Onward and upward!

Coronavirus News from Maine

From Maine Public Radio

Around the state extraordinary efforts are underway to help care for people during the pandemic. One example is in Lewiston where high school students with the Regional Technical Center’s culinary arts program are making and distributing 400 meals a day to those who either can’t get around or who don’t feel safe going out in public. It’s a student-led initiative that’s being supported by donations of all kinds.

It took root in their tip jar. The 60 students in the culinary arts program regularly serve up lunches and sell to-go dinners in the Green Ladle restaurant during the week. They’d saved up $1300 in tips for an annual school trip to Portland for a fancy meal, but when classes were suspended a few weeks ago, their instructor, Chef Dan Caron, says a student came to him with a question.

“’How many community members could we feed with that $1300?’ And at the time it was 500 people. Within seconds we were communicating through text messaging. They all said, ‘Let’s do this chef! Let’s do this, chef!’ and they donated their tips.”

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 586  (Monday’s numbers: 499)

Deaths in Maine from Covid-19:  17   (Monday’s numbers: 10)

The News from All Over

From Dr. Sanjay Gupta

New York state now has more cases than any country in the world except the United States, but there is a glimmer of hope: the number of people hospitalized in the state is going down as deaths have gone up. The nation’s top coronavirus expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says it’s a sign social distancing is working.

The Latest Numbers

Global Cases: 1,612,646    (Monday’s Numbers: 1,280,046)

Global Deaths96,787       (Monday’s Numbers: 69,789)

My Own Take: A tiny sliver of hope for New York, but very small indeed. In Maine, at least, we are holding steady. Perhaps because of all the social distancing? Or the calm before the storm?