Category Archives: Nature

Snowy Sunday: Time for Soup and Good Conversation

Yesterday started out as a gray, snowy day. Overnight about four inches of snow fell, which meant Clif had to go out with Little Green to clear the driveway and paths.

Liam, dog of the north, checked out the backyard while Clif worked out front.

Just as Clif finished cleaning the driveway, the sun came out, turning a dull morning into a sparkling day. I have discovered that my bathroom “blind”—where I can open the window and take pictures of birds—also gives me a pleasing vantage point to take shots of the snow and the backyard. As the photos indicate, everything still looks like a winter wonderland, but that is normal for Maine in February.

Here’s a zoom look into the woods, where you can see the snow blowing off the trees.

A snowy day is also a good soup day, and the day before, I had made a white bean soup with chicken sausage, ground turkey, carrots, celery, peppers, and plenty of herbs and spices. That way, all I would need to do was heat the soup when our friend Alice Bolstridge came for lunch.

All right. I also made corn bread, salad, and apple crisp to go with the soup. But the main part of the meal was done and could simmer all morning as I put together the other parts of our lunch.

Alice, a very fine writer, lives in northern Maine, which means we don’t see her very often. But this year, to add some dash to winter, which is even longer up north than it is in central Maine, Alice decided to come to Augusta during the legislative session to acquaint herself with how our state government works. She has rented a room in a lovely old home and goes to various legislative committee meetings, which are open to the public. On occasion, she testifies. Alice even has a blog—Alice on Peace and Justice— where she describes the various sessions she has attended.

No surprise, then, that the afternoon zipped right by as we talked about politics, books, family, and a myriad of other things that cascaded from these subjects. When it was late afternoon, Alice said, “My goodness, I stayed a long time.”

“I’m so glad you did,” I replied.

“There’s no pleasure like good conversation,” Alice said.

“None at all,” I agreed.

Alice is absolutely right. Spring, summer, fall, or winter, there are few pleasures that can compete with having friends over—either for tea or for a meal—and then sit around the dining room table where we talk and eat. It’s a simple pleasure, a respite in a world that is often busy and rushed.

 

 

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Five for Friday: Chinese Food and Blue, Blue Skies

This week brought us Valentine’s Day. (To my way of thinking, a holiday devoted to chocolate should be celebrated by everyone, single folks as well as couples.)  Even though I was fortunate enough to receive a box of See’s chocolates as an early Valentine’s present, I figured, why not guild the lily and go out to lunch, too? When it comes to having fun, I am not a minimalist. So off to Lucky Gardens we went, for their tasty buffet.

The week was warm, warm, warm, even making it up to 50°F on Thursday. After the cold weather we have had this winter, the air felt positively tropical. Grabbing my wee wonder of a camera, I headed into town to see how things looked by Marancook Lake.

The sky was an impossible blue, so deep, so vivid that it almost looked as though it had been computer generated.

Even though it was warm, and there was open water by the shores, there were still plenty of ice-fishing shacks on the mostly frozen lake.

On the road by the lake, there’s a little bridge, plain and nowhere near as lovely as you would find, say, in Scotland. But if you cross the road, stand on the bridge, and look toward town, you will see a pleasing tableau, a classic New England scene.

If you look closer, you will even see some ducks—mallards, I think—swimming in the open water.

We are over half-way through February, and the days are getting longer. Dusk doesn’t come until 5:30 now, a real bonus to Clif and me as we have gotten to the age where we don’t like driving when it’s dark.

I am always sorry to leave beautiful, snowy February behind. Ahead of us lies the dreary month of March, and I’ll try not to whine too much when it comes.

In the meantime…here’s to the rest of February!

 

 

From Sublime to Silly

The other day, when I came home from doing errands, our yard was filled with the beautiful light that comes just before dusk. Time to take some pictures On one side of our driveway is the forest, and it was awash in the golden glow of the setting sun.

On the other side of our driveway is our small front yard. Last fall, I left a few of the sturdier ornaments in the garden, and there they were, just peeking over the deep snow.

From sublime to silly all in the same yard. Sometimes, point of view depends upon which way you look.

Rear Window

I know. The title of this post evokes Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and murder. However my rear window is a lot  different from the one portrayed in the movie. Instead of giving a view of a neighbor’s apartment, my rear window looks out into the backyard and the forest just beyond.

However, I will admit that from time to time there is murder. We have bird feeders in the backyard, and occasionally a hawk or an owl will attack one of the many rodents or birds that come to eat. Not something I care to see or dwell on, but of course predators have to make their living, too.

Mostly, however, aside from some harmless squabbling, there is relative peace at the feeders. The rear window in our bathroom gives me a perfect view of the birds and animals, and it serves as a sort of blind. If I raise the windows ever so slowly, I don’t scare any of the creatures, and I am able to get some pretty good shots with my wee wonder of a camera.

Here is a picture of a nuthatch and a goldfinch. The nuthatch appears to have a seed in its beak, and I love the black dot of the eye set in white. If you look closely, you will notice a fizz of snow going across the feeder.  Yes, it was spitting snow again, but it is after all February in Maine, which means that we are only halfway through winter.

Squirrels, of course, come to our feeders as well, and we even throw a bit of seed on the ground for them and for the other animals that feed on the ground. I know squirrels are not universally loved by those who feed birds, but as long as they don’t raid the feeders, then I don’t mind them at all. In fact, I enjoy watching them. On the feeder by the squirrels, there is a baffle on the pole that does a fine job of ensuring that the seed goes to the birds.

I’m always tickled with the way the stalks of bee balm look against the snow. They remind me of the legs of some skittering animal that perhaps comes to life at night, when no humans are looking. Then, at dawn, it returns to its snow nest, and only the spindly legs are visible.

Finally, here is a shot of the cool, green, mysterious forest that begins at the edge of our yard.  While I love the colors of spring, summer, and fall, I also am taken with the muted colors of winter. I find them restful, soothing even. To me, winter is a welcome respite from the joyous burst of life—birth, growth, and preparation—that the other seasons bring.

 

Five for Friday: Frozen River, Thawed River

Let me come right to the point. This has been one of the weirdest winters that I can remember, and as I turned sixty in September, I can remember quite a few of them. At the end of December and creeping into January, the temperature dipped to twenty below zero, and barely budged above zero all day. Mainers are used to cold spells in the winter, but never for that long, usually only for a few days rather than for two weeks.

Then, in mid-January, the temperature spiked to nearly fifty degrees, and we had lashing rain, the kind we usually see in summer or fall but never in the winter.

As the saying goes, it’s an ill wind that blows no good, and the rain and warm weather did remove all the snow and ice from our roof. We were grateful for this as too much ice on a roof inevitable leads to leaks.

However, on the bad side of the ledger, the rain and the spike in temperature caused rivers to thaw and flood. In central Maine, where I live, the closest river is the Kennebec, and it’s about ten miles from us, flowing through the nearby cities of Augusta and Hallowell and the small town of Farmingdale.  The Kennebec is a storied river that played a role in the Revolutionary War and was a major waterway before the advent of automobiles.

In the spring, in March and early April, the Kennebec occasionally floods the many cities and towns that grew up along the river.  Not unusual at all, and it’s something the river towns and cities are prepared for. However, because of the sudden, extreme thaw this January, the Kennebec did something that no one expected would happen in deep winter. The river flooded, and it flooded fast, within a span of minutes.  As Jason Pafundi from the Kennebec Journal wrote, “Sometime early Sunday morning [January 14], ice accumulated near Farmingdale and created a dam in the river. In the course of a few minutes the water rose about 8 feet in downtown Hallowell and Augusta.”

Businesses were flooded, and residents who parked in lots by the river lost their cars. On Tuesday (January 16) Clif and I had errands to do in Augusta, and we decided to drive into Hallowell to see what the Kennebec looked like. The flooded cars had all been removed, but there were ice chunks aplenty, something we don’t normally see this time of year.

This is a rather long preamble for my Five for Friday. For readers who live in a warmer climate, none of the pictures would make any sense without an introduction.

As this post indicates, there should be no doubt that climate change is real, and it is here. The flooding river in January is but one change this aging Mainer has seen in her lifetime.

Here is a sign at a turnout between Hallowell and Farmingdale. The Kennebec River is the waterway that starts on the right about halfway down the sign and heads directly to the ocean at the bottom. To get a better view, click on the picture.

This is an upriver view of the river heading toward Augusta, the state’s capital city. If you look closely, you can see the white dome of the state house complex. It’s center left along the skyline.

A smelt shack, carried by the ice from the edge of the river to the middle. Unlike those who ice fish on lakes, people who ice fish on the Kennebec set up their shacks on the edge of the river, where the ice is thickest and therefore usually safe.

A close up of ice chunks.

More ice chunks. With their Arctic look, I find them fascinating.

 

 

 

Back to a Winter Wonderland

Yesterday, we got about four inches of snow, enough to cover the hard, dirty mess left behind by the lashing rain we had last weekend. The rain and the warm weather have played havoc with the rivers in Maine, and tomorrow’s post will feature the Kennebec River, which runs about ten miles from where we live.

But for now, I want to bask in the beauty of a new snowfall, where everything looks so dazzling and clean. I also want to add that for Mainers, four inches of snow is just the merest dusting. School is not canceled, state work goes on as usual, and last night in Winthrop, nine hardy readers ventured to the library’s book group to discuss The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Yes, the roads were a little greasy, as we Mainers put it, but we all took our time getting to the library and then driving home again. We had a lively discussion, as always, and it was well worth the trip.

Here are some pictures of our snowy backyard and road.

Winter, winter!

The Bomb Cyclone Cometh

Here we go again. Miserable weather is coming to Maine. This time it’s a blizzard, a northeaster, a big, bad storm that has been tagged as a “bomb cyclone” by the meteorologists. (According to the New York Times, a bomb cyclone is a storm that has a sharp drop in barometric pressure.) But as Nestor Ramas from the Boston Globe put it, this term “seems designed to evoke maximum terror.”

“Terror” might be too strong a word to describe our reaction, but bomb cyclone, with its potential high wind and resultant destruction, certainly got our attention. We have sprung into action. Pots of water sit on our stove, we bought extra lamp oil, and we have canned soup in the cupboard. For the third time in three weeks, we are ready for a power outage. And, yes, readers, this is getting old.

I love the natural world, and I love living in the woods, but I also love heat and power and movies and other gifts that technology brings. A pioneer woman I am not. As it so happens, I am reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. Let’s just say that Pa and the pioneers were not the exemplary citizens portrayed in the Little House books. For me, this makes Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story richer and more interesting, and I am not bitterly disappointed by these revelations. But I digress, and I will write more about this book in another post.

Back to the weather. In central Maine, the forecast is for twelve to sixteen inches of snow, nothing we can’t handle. The wind is projected to peak at 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph. This is more worrying as the high winds might cause power outages.

But for now anyway, we are warm and snug. We had our big meal—turkey burritos with corn—at noon, which gave us plenty of time to wash up the dirty dishes. (No power means no water.)

Midafternoon, Clif will go out with Little Green to clear the snow from the driveway, the area around the woodpile, and the paths to the bird feeders. For readers new to this blog, here is a picture of Clif and Little Green from the last storm on Christmas Day. (Little Green is electrically run, so when the power is out, we must shovel by hand.)

Onward ho, Clif and Little Green!