Category Archives: Nature

Late Summer

Notes from the Hinterland

In New England, is there a time more bittersweet than late August or early September? Summer is not quite gone, and fall hasn’t really arrived. Often, the days are warm, but the nights are cool. The gardens are producing abundantly, and there is a glorious outburst of tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and corn. Dinner still revolves around fresh vegetables, and how sorry I will be when that is over. I love soup, but nothing can take the place of those succulent vegetables, picked just hours before they are eaten.

The humming birds are still here, but I know they will be gone in the next week or so. I am always amazed to think about how these ethereal creatures can migrate so far. Such strength, despite its diminutive size.

My gardens always look their best in July and are more than a little ragged this time of year. But, the coleus look fine, and they will for another month or so, until the frost nips them. And the orange cat always looks fine as he stretches out by the coleus.

September. A time of endings and beginnings. Beautiful but a little sad.

IN MY BACKYARD: CRITTERS, VEGGIES, AND A FLOWER

In spring, summer, and fall, our backyard is one of my favorite places to be. It is not large—only a half-acre or so—but it is surrounded by trees, there are flowers and birds, and there is always something to notice. Here are some photos from yesterday—Wednesday, July 11th.

Ms. Watson on her favorite perch---the compost bin

 

An unexpected visitor

 

The fair Juliet

 

Infant cucumbers

 

Beautiful bee balm

WOODS WALK—MAY 9TH, 2012

Another week of rain, and there is so much gardening to do. Knowing the rain was coming, I worked like a fiend on Monday, the only nice day of the week so far, and got most of my perennial beds uncovered from the brown winter leaves that blew into them last fall.

The thing about Maine, and perhaps northern New England, is this: Once it starts raining, it doesn’t have enough sense to stop. Yes, we need rain, and one rainy day is always welcome, especially this time of year. Two days are all right as well, but when the damp weather stretches on to three, four, or five days, then enough is enough. I know. I should be counting my blessings that I live in a state that has plenty of water. And mostly I do. But two weeks of rainy days, punctuated by a day or two of sun, can wear on a person.

Yesterday the rain stopped long enough—for the whole afternoon!—for the dog and I to go on a woods walk. It felt good to get out of the house, and the route I like best involves two long, steep hills. By the time I get to the top of the hills, my heart is beating fast, and I am slightly out of breath. Another bonus. Nature’s gym, as I like to say.

Even on a gray day, a woods walk is a sensory delight of sound and color. First, I was struck by the amazing bright green of the new leaves—color-crayon green, I call it—and the woods seemed lit from within. On one side of me, the Upper Narrows Pond was gray and placid yet slightly mysterious, a cool punctuation to that riot of green. All around came various sounds—the raucous, jungle bleat of the pileated woodpecker; the lonely yet lovely “where are you?” call of a loon; and the rushing sound of the streams as they bounded over rocks. I felt totally immersed in these sights and sounds. I was certainly in the moment.

Ahead and behind me, my dog, Liam, sniffed and left his mark. If I stopped too long to take pictures, he would bark at me. “Come on, let’s go.” But he was patient when I sat on a stump to just look and listen. I guess sitting, unlike standing, implies no movement.

Across from where I sat was a huge dark cavern made by the upended roots of a fallen tree. I started imagining what could be lurking beneath, an underground community of woodland sprites, with their own little busy lives and society. Or perhaps something more sinister, some kind of beast in its lair, a creature with red eyes and sharp teeth.

Time to go, I decided, and Liam concurred. We went up one of the big hills, out of the woods, and back to our snug, cluttered home. It was also time for tea—Earl Grey—and a snack—a few pretzels and an apple, bits of which I shared with Liam, who lay beside me on the couch. The orange cat was stretched out on my blanket-covered legs, and everything felt cozy and warm.

Gray days have their consolations, but I am certainly ready for a stretch of sunny days.

Liam on the path
Water, water everywhere
A lone but lovely violet
What lurks beneath?

WALKING IN THE WOODS ON A GRAY DAY

After a spell of very warm weather, which made everything green and hopeful, central Maine has had a stretch of gray, drizzly weather. Very discouraging for dogs and humans and disastrous for birds trying to feed their young. The flying insects lie low during chilly weather, and this means no food for baby birds. My friend Barbara Johnson often mentioned how hard this weather was on the young birds and how many of them didn’t make it if the gray drizzle continued too long.

My gardens desperately need tending, but I am reluctant to work in them when they are so damp, where I might run the risk of spreading disease. So what to do? Put on some sturdy shoes—I wish I had some wellies—and take to the woods.

Our house is surrounded by woods that are part of my town’s watershed. Those woods could never be called a deep forest, but they are lovely and green and have trails going through them. The trails edge the Upper and Lower Narrows Ponds, which, in fact, look more like lakes than ponds. The trails are far enough from the road so that my dog, Liam, can go off-leash and sniff and mark territory to his heart’s content.

Yesterday, we went on a woods walk, and even though the day was gray, there were things to see.

Ferns unfolding
White violets
Stone walls. Once these woods were fields.

Everywhere there was water, and we had to cross several streams. Liam is not a water dog, and he always hesitates before getting his paws wet.

We were both happy when we came to a stream with a plank.

Into the forest we went, up a ridge that overlooked a ravine with a stream rushing through it. We tramped the woods for over an hour, and by the end, my feet were wet, and I was ready to head home for a cup of Earl Grey. But before we left the woods, there was one final treat—the ethereal song of a hermit thrush, a song I have not heard since last summer.

Spring is here, and despite the drizzle and the gray, it is most welcome.

 

THE NEW YORK TRIP: PART I—The Highline

"Ma" & "Pa" resting on the High Line

On Monday, Clif and I returned home from our weekend trip to New York City, where we had visited with our daughter Dee. Over the weekend, the weather was perfect—sunny and warm—and we did plenty of walking. Good thing, because we did plenty of eating, too. What a great city! Of all the cities I’ve visited, New York is my favorite. (All right, maybe it ties with Paris for first place.) The vitality and the tremendous diversity never fail to impress me, and although I’m a “country girl,” I really do love New York City.

I have decided to write about the New York trip in two parts, so that I could post plenty of pictures. The first part is what you might call a digression and really isn’t about food at all. But since this is a blog, I feel as though I have the right to digress now and then.

On Saturday, Clif, Dee, and I walked the High Line, which I’ve wanted to do for some time now. According to their website, “The High Line was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan’s largest industrial district.” However, in 1980, trains stopped being used on the High Line, and in 1999, when the High Line was slated to be demolished, a group formed to save the High Line and to turn it into a public park. That group—the Friends of the High Line—works in partnership with New York City.

The High Line is about a mile-and-a-half long, and to say that it gives pedestrians a bird’s eye view of the city doesn’t begin to capture the appeal of this unique use of an existing space that allows city dwellers a chance to walk and linger outside. The following is from the FAQ section of the High Line’s website, and it beautifully sums up the value of the High Line: “The High Line is a monument to the industrial history of New York’s West Side. It offers an opportunity to create an innovative new public space, raised above the city streets, with views of the Hudson River and the city skyline. It also offers a hopeful model for industrial reuse for other cities around the world.”(The emphasis is mine.)

In the United States, we place a high premium on wilderness, and it is entirely appropriate to work hard at preserving large tracts of land for wild plants and animals. What we are not so good at is creating public places—parks—where everyone can enjoy the sun and the sky and trees and flowers and, yes, even the grass. In some environmental circles, the notion of a park is even looked down on, and in my opinion this is a very misguided attitude. In the not too distant future, our planet will have 9 billion people on it, and millions of these people will be living in small apartments in big cities. These people will need a place where they can get outside and feel the wind on their faces, where they can walk or have a picnic or just sit in the sun. In a city, horizontal space at ground level is at a premium, but when you go up, there are many more possibilities, and the High Line illustrates how such a space can be well loved and well used.

On the day we went, the High Line was packed. There were tourists aplenty—like me and Clif—snapping away with their little cameras. And why not? How often, surrounded by flowers and trees and grass, do you get to walk up high among the buildings? My guess is, not very often. But along with the tourists there were also lots of local folks—some having picnics in the many spots set out with benches and some pushing enormous baby carriages. As Clif observed, “They didn’t bring those carriages on the plane.” No, they didn’t. There were also plenty of families out with small, running children who could sprint safely, with high walls to keep them safe and no traffic to worry about.

Again, there was that wonderful diversity—young, old, American, foreign, white, black, male, female.

So if you ever find yourself in New York on a nice sunny day, talk a walk on the High Line. We’re certainly glad that we did.

Walking down the High Line
A place for flowers and trees
A place for flowers and trees
A place for birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

PICTURES FROM A BIKE RIDE

Spring has come very, very fast this year. The ice is nearly gone from the little swamp up the road. Soon there will be peepers. And Maranacook Lake, which last weekend was solid enough for ice fishing, is nearly clear. There is just a cold layer of slush icing up the blue, blue water, and when I ride along the lake, I periodically get blasts of cold that mingle with this freakishly warm weather we’ve been having.

Here are some pictures from yesterday’s bike ride:

The little swamp up the road
Maranacook Lake
Another view of Maranacook
Another view of Maranacook

I wonder what the swamp and lake will look like on my next bike ride.

 

 

 

MEAT BALLS IN 60 MINUTES

Yesterday, when I took my dog, Liam, for a walk, the weather was so warm I could hardly believe it. A quick look at the thermometer told me that I should wear fleece rather than wool and that no hat would be necessary.

Not far from our house, the little swamp is still iced-up, and recently a neighborhood boy threw big rocks onto the ice, where the stones sit like sentinels, waiting to be submerged by the spring melt. On the sides of the road, the snow has pulled back so much that not only are the shoulders bare, but the ditches are free of snow as well.

Up the road we went. Finches frisked in the big forsythia bush by the Stebbins’s house. A bird feeder has been placed strategically close to the bush so that between beak-fulls, the birds can dart to safety should they need to do so. As we turned on to the Holmes Road, I thought about maple syrup and Mike’s Sugar House, which is just down the road. Mike should be boiling pretty soon, and I decided the sugar house could be no more than 2 miles from our home.

“We could walk to the sugar house,” I said to the dog, and he gave me his usual perky look. “We will walk to the sugar house when the sap is boiling,” I decided. On the weekends during maple syrup season, the dirt road leading to the sugar house is so clogged with customers’ cars that it’s hard to find a place to park. Walking would be much easier, we would get exercise, and it would be a low-carbon method of transportation. Three pluses. And if I brought one of my trusty backpacks, then carrying the syrup home would be easy.

But yesterday, Liam and I went for our usual walk of a mile or so down the Holmes Road, after which we turned around. By then I was so warm that I stuffed my mittens in my pocket and tied my fleece jacket around my waist. When have I ever done this in February? Never, in my memory.

As we approached the end of the road, I saw Jeff pull his van into the driveway of his house. Jeff is a trim, energetic man, who, as it turns out, is the homemaker of the family. Jumping out of the van, he waved, and his children bounded after him.

“Hello!” I called.

“Hi, there!” he called back. “Do you think I can make meat balls in 60 minutes?”

“Have you ever made this recipe?”

“No.”

“Well, you better get cracking, then.”

Jeff laughed. “These meatballs have both mozzarella and Parmesan cheese in them.”

“Sounds great! Good luck.”

Jeff and his children sped into the house, and the dog and I rounded the corner onto Narrows Pond Road. I was thinking of meat balls and stir-fries using maple syrup.

By the time I reached home, I was definitely ready for my tea and my late afternoon snack of a small bowl of pretzels and an orange. The dog, of course, had hoped for a better snack, but he resigned himself to the pretzels and orange and lay beside me on the couch.