Category Archives: Nature

THE TEMPEST

Yesterday, the storm clouds came in, making the afternoon dark as night. Then the rain came down so hard that it fell in torrents off the roof of the house, and I felt as though I were under a waterfall. In the ditches, the water rushed fast and high, flattening the grass along both sides. In all my years of living on Narrows Pond Road—27 years—never have I seen it rain with such ferocity.

Naturally, we lost our power, and for our supper, my husband, Clif, and I had to go into town for roast beef sandwiches at Pete’s, where the power was on. At home, the power was still out when we went to bed, by torch light, as the British would say, and about 1:30 A.M. I woke up as everything switched to life—the beeping computers, the rumbling refrigerator, the lights that were left on. Oh, happy night! This meant that Clif could have his coffee, toast, and shower before going to work and that I wouldn’t have to scrounge around for a shower at a friend’s house.

This morning, I went to Longfellow’s Greenhouse to buy some perennials and annuals and to replace a cucumber that had decided to wilt. While I was there, I talked to a worker about the storm.

“What a downpour,” she said and then motioned to a man and a woman who were loading flats of tomatoes onto a huge cart. “The have a farm stand, and they lost everything to hail.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” I said.

“The world is changing,” she agreed.

“Even though some people don’t want to admit it.”

She nodded. “That’s right.”

Today is cooler and calm. My gardens pulled through without any significant damage. However, I heard from my friend Esther that she had “much plant damage” but that she will wait for a few days before “yanking.”

Summer isn’t even officially here, but the season is sure getting off to a bang. I hope we’ve seen the worst, but I can’t help wondering what’s going to come next.

The patio table and chairs
After the storm—sunny and bright.

LOBSTER SALAD AT ESTHER’S HOUSE

Esther's tableOn Saturday, I went to my friend Esther’s house for lunch. She wouldn’t tell me what she was serving. “It’s a surprise,” she wrote by email early last week.

A surprise! All week long I wondered what the surprise would be. The fish dish for which she is so famous? (Pieces of fried haddock smothered with a cheese sauce.) Sounded very good to me, and I was all set for the fish dish. My only concern was that I would go overboard, the way I so often do, and eat too much. Alas, the pitfalls of being a good eater.

But Esther didn’t serve me her fish dish. Instead, she had prepared lobster salad, a huge glorious bowl full, and the lobster was mixed with a little bit of celery and just enough mayonnaise to hold it together. In other words, exactly the way lobster salad should be made. Now, I love all kinds of fish and seafood, but I must admit that lobster is right at the top. Maybe at the very top.

Lobster salad“It’s a little chilly for lobster salad,” Esther said somewhat apologetically when I arrived, and indeed it was a cool June day, albeit a sunny, clear one.

“It is never too chilly for lobster salad,” I said firmly. “It could be a frigid January day, and lobster salad would be just right.”

Besides, Esther’s cozy kitchen was sunny and warm—the way it always is—and with its large wood table and old chairs, her kitchen is one of the places I love best. All around are pictures of her children and grandchildren, and Esther has decorated with lots of miniature kitchen things—little teapots, little cups, a little sifter. “I love small things,” she said.

We started out with cheese, crackers, wine, and some Mediterranean nibbles. Then came the lobster salad, a huge scoop on a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I don’t think I have ever had so much lobster salad at one time.

“Do you want dressing for the salad?” Esther asked.

“No, thank you,” I replied, not wanting anything to interfere with the taste of the lobster. Simply put, I don’t have lobster enough to be complacent about it.

“Did you buy the lobster meat?” I asked dreamily as I ate.

“No, no,” Esther answered. “I got the lobsters and shelled them myself.

That’s the best way of doing it, but also the messiest. Still, the results are worth it—you get more meat for your bucks.

We had our usual good chat, and I caught up on all things Vassalboro, the town where I grew up and where Esther lives. After lunch, we walked around Esther’s yard so that I could admire her flowers. Admire them I did, as well as take a few pictures. I am as crazy about flowers as I am about food.

For our grand finale, we went to Fashions, a consignment shop in Waterville. I get many of my clothes at Fashions, gently used clothes at prices that can’t be beat. Plus, as I tell myself, when I buy clothes from Fashions, I am doing my bit to recycle and save these clothes from going into the landfill. (As I’ve noted before, how we love to justify.) As usual, I found clothes that I wanted, and I bought a top and some slacks for the princely sum of $15.

All in all, a lovely day with a lovely person.

 

 

MY MAY GARDEN

I took these pictures about a week or so ago. In gardening time, a week is equivalent to a year. Flowers come and go with such speed that it makes this gardener wonder if maybe those small purple irises were, in fact, a figment of her imagination. But no, here’s the photo to prove that they did have their time of glory.

Irises
Those Irises!

Now I am waiting for the tall irises to bloom. These lovelies must be supported. They are fine until the inevitable June thunderstorm comes and knocks them this way and that. So support them I did, with help from my husband, Clif.

At our little house in the big woods, it is not easy to grow vegetables. (Thus our decision to join Farmer Kev’s CSA program.) Simply put, we have too much shade and not enough sun. Our backyard gets the most, but even then only about six hours a day. I have found a tomato—Juliet—that does well with my part sun/part shade backyard.

Tomatoes
The fair Juliet

Also, for some reason, cucumbers really thrive. I have one little raised bed, where I have planted cucumbers and Juliet tomatoes.

The little raised bed
The little raised bed with tomatoes and cucumbers

Herbs also do quite well, and soon I will be planting, in pots, parsley, basil, rosemary, and sage. I have a thyme oregano that wintered over as well as a mint.

This is as good a time as any to make a confession. Notice that I started this post with flowers rather than with vegetables. This is because somewhat ironically—even though I am certainly a good eater, one might even say an obsessed eater—I am also obsessed with flowers. While I am normally a quite frugal person, my willpower is practically nonexistent when I go to our local nurseries, where I pile annuals and perennials in my cart in a way I would never, say, pile clothes or shoes or pocketbooks. I gulp, a little, when the nice man or woman at the cash register announces the total, but I justify the expense by reflecting on how lovely our yard is and how much we enjoy the flowers. Then, if the bill is really high, I remind myself that the flowers are not just for Clif and me. No, indeed. They are also for passersby, who can take in the beauty. Therefore, I am providing a public service, of sorts, by supplying beauty in a world that is often unbeautiful. (Oh, how we justify!)

So in my backyard, in the long, rectangular bed that could conceivably grow vegetables, I have planted flowers. Once in a while, the thought flickers through my mind that I could replace the flowers with vegetables, but then I recoil in horror from the idea. No small purple irises to begin the gardening season? No tall ones, with their sweet but not cloying sent, to soon follow? No red lilies? No sweet William? No humming birds whirring in and out of the flowers? And what about the phlox?

Clearly, the flowers must stay. I have Farmer Kev and the many other farmers who sell their vegetables at the Farmers’ Market in town.

 

 

MARY AND TOM’S GARDENS

I love looking at other people’s gardens, at their flowers, vegetables, shrubs, trees, and garden ornaments. Every garden has a distinct look, created by the gardener who literally plots then toils and worries. There are triumphs, and there are failures. Some years the tulips are outstanding. Other years blight gets the tomatoes. Seasoned gardeners are all too aware of the vagaries of nature, and they plant a wide range of flowers and vegetables, thus assuring that something will bloom or bear fruit.

Yesterday, my husband, Clif, and I delivered a loaf of bread to Mary and Tom Sturtevant. Their house is just off our bike route, so we tucked the loaf in Clif’s bike pack and rode to Mary and Tom’s. They live in a lovely old house that once had an attached barn, as so many Maine houses did. Unfortunately, the barn had to be torn down, but in its place, Mary and Tom have put stonework and benches and gardens. As a result, their half acre—in town—is abloom with flowers and bursting with vegetable seedlings, a wonderful example of what can be done with a small amount of land that gets full sun.

“May we see your gardens?” I asked Mary. (Tom was out.)

“Oh, yes,” Mary said.

“May I take pictures of your flowers?”

“Anytime,” she replied.

Here are a few pictures of Mary’s flowers. As the season progresses, I might go back for more photos. After all, her place is just off our bike route, and my little Cannon—my stealth camera—pops right into my bike pack.

Tulips

 

Bee in flowers

 

Lily of the Valley

 

PHOTOS ON A GRAY MAY DAY

Another gray day in the neighborhood. Too wet to work in the gardens, even though they really need attention. What to do but take photos of the wet beauty in the backyard?

The irises are just starting to bloom. I love their vibrant purple.

Purple Iris

Some Jack-in-the-pulpits seeded themselves—with a little bird help, perhaps?—in the way back. I’m amazed that our dog, Liam, hasn’t trampled them, and I’m hoping he doesn’t.

Ms. Watson is inspecting the garden. I try to discourage her from taking a bite out of the plants, but you know how it is with cats. They pretty much do as they please.

Everyone at the little house in the big woods is hoping the sun will soon come out!

TEA AND COOKIES ON A RAINY APRIL DAY

Yesterday was a day of April showers. Actually, it poured. But all the better to take away the last bit of stubborn snow that clings here and there in our yard. Living in the woods is great during the summer, and we are protected from the worst of the winter winds, but it also means that on Narrows Pond Road, our yard is one of the last to lose all its snow.

cookies on plateMy friend Sybil came over for tea and chocolate chip cookies, and nobody can brighten up a gray day like Sybil. She had just returned from a trip to Chicago, where she had visited with her son and her daughter-in-law, who is a choreographer. Indeed, Sybil went to Chicago especially to see her daughter-in-law’s show, and Sybil said it was marvelous. Apparently, even the Chicago Tribune agreed, giving it a very good review.

In May, Sybil will be going to Cornwall, to visit a friend and stay (I think!) for 16 days. “I’m going to bring the Joy of Cooking so that I cook some meals while I’m there,” Sybil said. “That’s a long time to stay with someone. My friend will help me convert the measurements.”

“What a lovely time to be going to England,” I said.

“Yes, the bluebells will be in bloom.”

“Listen for the cuckoos,” I said.

“Don’t you think they sound a lot like our mourning doves?” Sybil asked.

“Maybe a little,” I said. “But it seems to me that cuckoos have a crisper call.”

“I’ll listen for them,” she promised.

From there, we moved on to discuss BBC, specifically Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. Sybil recalled how during the 1970s, when Upstairs, Downstairs premiered, her children used to come running as soon as they heard the theme for Masterpiece Theatre. “Even my husband, Ray, eventually came to like the show,” Sybil said.

Good for Ray! Let’s just say that not all men like period pieces, and leave it at that.

From Upstairs, Downstairs, which I also loved in the ’70s, it was on to the current remake of Jane Eyre, which is playing at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville.

“We must go see it before I go to England,” Sybil said.

“Yes,” I replied. An unsurprising note: Clif is not at all keen on seeing Jane Eyre.

All too soon, it was time for Sybil to leave. I packed some chocolate chip cookies for her. “Just give me four!” she instructed. “I have no self-control with those cookies.”

Well, my daughter Dee has said they are my specialty, and I have to admit those cookies are not too bad.

I gave Sybil five. “One for the road,” I said.

Sybil laughed. “One for the road.”