Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mind Over Matter

I watched Larry in my rear view mirror, making a counterclockwise motion with his hand. 

Since I was looking at him in a mirror, I turned the wheel clockwise.

He immediately began shaking his head, then started making clockwise circles.  Did he want me to turn the wheel clockwise, or swing the back of the truck clockwise, which would move the trailer counterclockwise…?  Wait a minute… 

It seemed that no matter which way I turned the wheel, as soon as I started to back up, he shook his head more vigorously than the last time.  Finally I stuck my head out the window and yelled, “Which way do you want me to turn?” 

“You want to move the end of the trailer that way,” he said, pointing to the left, “So move the end of the truck this way.”  “But I did that,” I said, “and it went way over in the wrong direction!”  “That’s because you were too far over this way,” he said.  I did not see how that was possible, considering I was backing up a path about eight feet wide with pine trees lining one side and rocks the size of Volkswagons on the other. 

There are few things that test a relationship more than one party directing the other in backing up a trailer.  (For the record, they include:  renovating a kitchen or bathroom, teenage stepchildren and towing a vehicle with a chain.  The latter should be illegal for married couples to do together; it would probably lower the divorce rate.)   My friend Judy simply stated, “Remember, just point the back of the vehicle in the opposite direction you want the trailer to go.”  That advice went out the window, though, as I tried to follow Larry’s directions and this time came within a hair’s width of kissing a tree with the front of the truck. 

I don’t blame Larry and, in fact, I don’t even blame myself.  I blame the whole dynamic of “backing up.”  In a perfect world, if it’s pointed in a direction, that’s the direction it should go, whether you’re going backwards or forwards.  The fact that it doesn’t work that way shows a major fault with physics. 

I was beginning to feel like a bit of a loser.  Here I had this awesome truck, and Larry had just refurbished a 16’ foot utility trailer.  I took it for a few spins around Charley Hill Road and practiced backing it up -  a little.  But when it came to getting hay or really maneuvering it around, I always hopped out and let Larry do it.  The path from the road to the barn is not straight.  It’s lined with rocks and trees, has some slope, has a funky curve right before the barn that requires pivoting around a tree, and is generally a poorly designed arcade game.  We are often in a “get-r-done” mode, so instead of my taking hours trying to back it up, it is vastly easier to jump out and let Larry do it.  He hauled his J24 sailboat on a trailer with his Blazer for years, and apparently it’s like riding a bicycle.  The first time I saw him back the trailer down that path my jaw hit the ground.  He made it look like the simplest thing in the world.  Each occasion made me feel a little more inferior.

The F-700 in its "hay day"
The worst backing up was not with the trailer, however.  The F-700, when loaded with hay, was a great grassy behemoth.  It looked, and felt, like it could easily tip over.  Even with the side mirrors, it was nearly impossible to see around with a load of hay.  To his great credit, Larry backed that beast all the way from the road to the barn, with no power steering.  Larry counted on me, on the ground, to tell him how he had to turn to navigate the driveway.  I did my best, and eventually we worked out a series of hand signals the equivalent of landing a fighter on an aircraft carrier.   It was not pretty, however, and very stressful, and I would have paid anyone anything to do it for me.   

This year, when getting hay with the trailer, it worked out that we could just drive straight up to the barn as far as we could go, unload onto the hay elevator, and then Larry would back the whole caravan back out to the road.   One Saturday, we got our second load in late, and it was totally dark by the time we were done, plus the elevator chain broke with five bales to go.  We called it a day and left everything where it sat. 

Larry had weekend duty, so in the morning he left for work until noon.  I was homebound until he came home and backed the truck and trailer out.  This was not acceptable.  This was just stupid, really.  This was my opportunity to figure it out on my own and Just Do It, or crash and burn trying.  I took a deep breath and thought only of Judy saying “point the back of the vehicle the opposite direction of where you want the trailer to go.” 

Twenty minutes later, I had successfully backed the whole shebang out onto the road, turned it around, and then backed the trailer into its storage spot (conveniently wedged between a pile of rocks and a cherry tree that is getting cut down at my next opportunity).  I took my time, had to get out and look around a few times, had broken a sweat and needed a spinal adjustment at the end of it all, but I Just Did It.  Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Year in Review

Here we are in the beginning of November and, as usual, we have a laundry list of things that we didn’t get to/need to do before things freeze.  By the same token, it’s good to look back at the things that we did accomplish this year.  This is the 6th official year of The 30 Acre Wood and it’s nice to no longer be in the life-or-death gotta-get-things-done mode of the first several years.

As far as accomplishments, I’d have to say getting the riding ring in was one of the biggies.  We’d been talking about it and planning it for the last several years, but this was the year we finally corralled Bill and his trackhoe and turned him loose in the ring.  Like most things here, it didn’t turn out quite like we thought.  It turned out much more fabulous.  The rocks, prolific as they are here, ended up forming a beautiful wall/edging around the entire ring, thanks to Bill’s skilled placement, and there were some big honkers.  That damn pine that Larry just had to keep (“You never should have brought me to the St. Clement’s horse show!” was his defense) stands between the two house-sized boulders that are permanent ride-arounds.  It’s a true Adirondack riding ring.  Next year we hope to start bringing in fill for footing.  In the meantime, it’s quite useable and a joy to have.

The second biggest accomplishment was getting the center beam of the house replaced.  Well, it couldn’t quite be replaced (for reasons that I’ll elaborate on in a future post), but once again, Bill and his trackhoe and team of Doug and Bill Jr. brought in a 26’ beam through a hole in the back of the house, slid it through the exterior and an interior wall, secured it underneath the old beam, and jacked up the 1st floor ceiling/2nd floor floor.  The goal wasn’t to get it perfectly level, but to get it shored up and more stable, and in that regard it turned out great.  Again, it wasn’t quite what we envisioned, but even better.  We were able to take the cob-job supports off the exposed beams in the living room that we like so much, Bill did a great job framing in the new beam, and we gained an extra support in the living room, which blends in perfectly and the cats love to claw and climb on (it’s rough cut wood, so who cares).  Just to have the ceiling not quite so swayed – you could see the polite, unspoken fear in the eyes of people who walked into the house for the first time – made the whole thing worthwhile.  Bill, Doug and Bill Jr. did a fantastic job on what had to be a challenging project.  If you look at the back of the house, you can’t even tell where they went in, and Doug skillfully replaced the sheetrock with my beloved ancient wallpaper in the kitchen.  A little red paint and her scars were well hidden.

Our biggest setback ended with a big capital purchase.  The 1950 8N tractor, which served us well and was used for applications it was never intended for, gave Larry fits all year.  He was spending more time working on it than using it, and as a result we got way behind the curve on getting in our firewood (the wet spring didn’t help, either).  Antique farm equipment is fun when you aren’t counting on it.  Unfortunately, it just wasn’t working for us anymore.  After much consideration, swearing and wrench throwing, we decided to sell it and find a new tractor.  We were fortunate to find a Ford enthusiast who was thrilled with his purchase, and the 8N went to its new home in Jay.  Two weeks later, we bought our 2004 John Deere 790 with bucket, backhoe, york rake and flail mower (that last one sounds good and dangerous, doesn’t it?).  It drives like a dream, starts right up (what a concept), and I can’t wait to go popping stumps with it in the spring.  We have started scraping the mud out behind the barn in anticipation of putting down a new surface soon, and while it’s still hard work it would be a nightmare without the tractor attachments.  We are very excited about having this new piece of hard working equipment in our arsenal.

I also bought a woodsplitter this year, and it’s probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever bought in my life.  Nothing against my industrious and hardworking husband, who has been uncharacteristically stubborn about his insistence on splitting wood by hand.  That’s all fine and good, when you have the time for that kind of crap.  Normally Larry skids the logs out, we stage them, he cuts them into lengths, then splits, and I stack.  My point was, I could be splitting the wood myself, saving him lots of effort and time so he could concentrate on other things, and I wouldn’t have to be waiting for him to split a huge pile of logs to get the job done.  I had been making this argument for the last couple of years, to no avail.  This summer our friend Bob bought a splitter and showed it to us at his camp, extolling its virtues.  I told Bob my quandary with my husband and his good friend.  Out of the blue Bob brought the splitter over to our house and left it with us for a few weeks.  Sheer brilliance.  I had a field day with it and it didn’t take long to sell Larry on the idea.  Within a week of Bob picking his splitter up, I bought ours, a good used model.   Another excellent, hard-working piece of equipment.

So we continue to move forward towards self-sufficiency (of sorts).  It’s satisfying to look back at the end of each year and see what we’ve accomplished.  We’ve also done other things like get the gardens going, I built an adorable little “pioneer fence” in the front yard and did some perennial planting, Larry built a bridge out back for the tractor to cross the stream, and we fine tuned the pasture fencing.  We put a gate in next to the barn, acquired and rehabbed a 16’ utility trailer, and did some major hauling with it.  Out of sheer necessity, I managed to back the truck and trailer away from the barn and all the way out to the road, then backed the trailer into its storage spot (despite Larry’s attempts at coaching me on this whole process, in the end I had to do it my own and by myself, and I was pleased as punch when, 20 minutes later, I had successfully navigated about 70 feet of truck and trailer backwards down a path lined with trees and rocks, then back it back up the same path and got the trailer in its spot between two trees and a pile of rocks.  Talk about empowering!).

I can only imagine what the winter brings.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nawlins Bound!

Greetings, Readers!
I realize I've been gone for a while - sorry about that - as usual on the homestead, work became all consuming and now that it was actually snowing this morning, we realize how behind the eight ball we are with all that needs to be done.  But none of that matters right now, because I am writing this from the Albany Airport awaiting our flight to New Orleans!

We had snow this morning, as we left for the airport
For those of you that don't know, Hubby and I were married six years ago on Halloween in post-Katrina New Orleans.  At that time, almost two months to the day of the storm, the city was limping along and working hard towards recovery.  Places in the French Quarter were reopening sporadically, while other areas were seriously decimated and would not be reopening for years.  It was an amazing experience, and an incredible testament to the spirit of the city.  This will be our first time back, and we are psyched to see what has changed and, naturally, to eat and drink to excess.  We will also be visiting with daughter Bonnie, a grad student at Tulane.

I want to give a shout-out/thank you to Debbie Philp of True North Yoga who hosted a Blogapalooza for me and Annie Gregson in which she helped us less cyber-saavy folks tweak our blogs, explain how some things work, and introduced me to some new software that will help me with pictures and whatnot.  The only problem was that Philps have wireless DSL, and both me and my computer became addicted in a short period of time to the speed you can actually work.  I may have to move in with them.

See you soon!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Turning Katie's Page

"Free to Good Home: Aged mini-mare, great for companion horse, personality plus, no health issues."

We had acquired Katie as a freebie in 2009 for a companion for Cass after Ginger had been put down. Now that we had Thunder, we had to remind ourselves that we had really wanted to be a two-horse homestead.  Katie has always struck me as the type who would benefit from a job to do.  In other words - she thought too much.  Katie was all of 38" high, older than mud (our best guess was 28, although ponies live forever), and all attitude.  Her personality from the get-go was "I am not here to be your friend," and she made it clear that it was our privilege to have her.

I put an ad on Craigslist and and then proceeded to say all the good things about her while leaving out anything negative, but I was honest about her cough.  I felt like I was selling a used car, trying to paint the best possible picture of her.  Larry said, "We’ll have that pony for another year."

I immediately began getting numerous emails of interest. Keeping track of them was like doing the on-line dating thing – keeping track of whom I had told what, who seemed serious, who had potential, who sounded like a bit of a nut job, who was interested in a date.

Katie knew that something was up. She was spending too much time in her stall (where she was held prisoner until potential owners came to look at her), and the boys were wondering what was up. People came and looked, poked and prodded, led and petted.

In the end she was adopted by Shannon of Plattsburgh, sight unseen other than the photos I had emailed her. She had a small horse that her eight year old daughter was a bit intimidated by. She was looking for something she would be more comfortable with and thought Katie would fit the bill. We emailed back and forth all week; she didn’t have transportation, so I asked a favor of an acquaintance who had minis and had actually looked at Katie. I knew she had a truck and trailer – would she be interested in making some quick money for a road trip? Fortunately for all of us, Jan said sure.

We made final arrangements to bring Katie to her new home yesterday, about an hour and a half away. Jan came with truck and trailer; she asked how Katie would trailer. I said I had no idea, but I bet we’re gonna find out. Like all equines labeled "pony" and not "horse," Katie walked on the trailer without a moment’s hesitation. When she saw there was nothing to eat inside, she began to have second thoughts. By then the butt-chain was up (which made no difference, because she could walk right under it) and the door was closed and off we trundled down the road. She squealed on occasion, but otherwise traveled well.

Halfway up the Northway we stopped at a rest stop to check on how she was doing. I opened the side door and she whinnied and strained to look out the door. She seemed fine, not breaking a sweat, comfortable within the space. As she stuck her nose out the door and made some Katie noises, an older couple with (presumably) their grandson, who was maybe five years old with thick glasses and perhaps some cognitive limitations, said "Oh, maybe the nice lady will let us look at the horse!" They came over and Katie was all eyes and ears, as was the little boy. "Her name is Katie," I said to him. "She’s going to her new home in Plattsburgh." Everyone was very impressed with her. I remember being a little kid traveling on the Northway to Lake George and craning my neck every time we came across any type of horse trailer. Every glance was magic, to see a head! A tail! I have never forgotten the people who took the time to let me see, pet or visit with their horses when I was a horse-crazy little brat. I try to do the same now for any interested kid.

A half hour later we parked in the road in front of a modest home situated at the top of a little crest, where I could see a shed-like structure and wire fencing to the side. Katie, who had had quite enough of the trailer by now, thank you, hopped out, and looked around. At that moment I saw, at the top of the drive, a little blonde-haired girl, in a tee shirt, shorts, and cowboy boots, who began waving frantically. I waved back and walked Katie around to the driveway.

Suddenly the little girl squealed "WOW!! Is that her?" We walked to the top of the driveway and were met by Shannon. Her husband, an amicable sort who was holding the halter of their large pony, a lovely Appaloosa mare who was unimpressed by all the goings on, smiled and said "My wife’s the one with the horses. I just do what I’m told." A sullen teenager picked manure out of the paddock ("He’s grounded," Shannon said. "That’s why he’s on manure duty.") and a little boy about the age of the one at the rest stop was busy with a Tonka truck in a mud puddle, completely ignoring us.

"What’s your name?" I asked the little blondie. "Isabelle," she said. "Is Katie for you?" "Yes!!" "I guess I should give the reins to you then," I said, and handed the lead to her. Katie, who hadn’t given me a second glance once she started digging into their lawn, was happily led away by Isabelle, who chattered away. "Oh! You are so cute! You’re so shiny! But you’re kinda dirty, I’ll brush you off!"

I gave Shannon all the pertinent health and feeding info for Katie, and we made horsey small-talk. She said that ponies and minis had become all the rage in their area, and she was hoping that Isabelle would get interested in 4-H and maybe do a little showing with Katie next year. At any rate, the goal was for Isabelle to gain confidence and experience with Katie, since she found the Appaloosa a bit much. I think once she gets older and bigger, the Appaloosa will be a great fit for her.

I gave Katie a last scratch behind the ears. "Be a good girl," I said, but Katie just kept ripping the grass out by the roots. So much for a sentimental send-off. Really, what did I expect?

I watched Isabelle practice leading Katie. "Have fun with her," I said as I turned to leave. "Oh, I will!" Isabelle said, and I have no doubt that will be the case.

I had run the gamut of emotions all week – sadness, hopefulness, frustration, concern, more than a little guilt – but as Jan and I walked back to her truck I could hear Isabelle chirping away to her new pony. I said, "You know, I don’t think I could have asked for anything better." "Nope," Jan agreed, and we headed home.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Price of God's Country

I was enjoying the company of two good friends last night, overlooking Schroon Lake, swatting at the black flies and feeling the warm breeze on my face, watching the mountains on the east side of the lake illuminate with the setting sun.  One friend is a former Schroon resident, now living in Florida but spending most summers up here working.  He made a comment about how the people up here are different in that they have a toughness and resiliency to them, more so than people in other places (he was referring specifically to Florida), where social services and welfare is looked on as income by a large part of the population, and that we as a demographic tend to “take care of business” and not look for handouts quite so much.

The people of this area (specifically the towns within the Adirondack Park) are a resilient bunch, to be sure.  Even between the short distance of, say, Schroon and Glens Falls or Saratoga, the vibe around here is different.  Unless you are well-off and/or a second homeowner, you do what you can to make it work.  We watch our neighbors/friends/business people work hard all year long, trying their best to capitalize on whichever season primes the pump best for their particular business.  For most of downtown, it is summer with the hard-driving tourist season from 4th of July through Labor Day.  (I used to say Memorial Day, but once I started paying attention, I realized people aren’t really up here until school is done at the end of June.)  Doug King of Flanagans comments how they are a business in the summer and go into hobby mode the rest of the year.  Winter can bring a certain amount of skiers and snowmobilers, but that is contingent on the cooperation of snowfall.  I’ve seen the annual snowmobile races cancelled due to a lack of snow and/or the lake not freezing sufficiently.  Places like Witherbees Restaurant, which is right on the snowmobile trail, need a decent early snowpack to enable the riders to get there. 

Which leads me to my point.  People around here make it work, many working more than one job.  Lots of folks scrape and scrabble doing this job or that.  The Park is full of communities of multi-taskers, out of a sense of survival.  That is due, in large part, to the severely depressed economies of these small communities.  Yes, I’m going to point fingers here – New York State and particularly the Adirondack Park Agency make it extremely difficult for our towns to have any sort of sustainable industry.  I don’t know why they don’t get it – it is nearly impossible to float a town solely as a tourist destination.  It sounds nice, but it is no longer the 1940’s when places like Scaroon Manor flourished.  Times have changed, tastes have changed, society and culture and what constitutes a summer vacation have changed.  As to our residents, our school districts have consistently declining enrollment and young adults don’t stick around.  Oh, they’ll come back to climb a high peak and go out to dinner, but that’s hardly going to help our tax base.

To be fair, we do have some political folks who are trying to get things moving within the blue line, but it’s an uphill battle.  And before you start throwing eggs at my truck, of course I realize that this area is a geographic gem and you don’t want wildly uncontrolled development turning the area into Clifton Park.  But we need to strike a happy medium.  I don’t have a cell phone so I could care less about cell service, but I have to say Verizon has done a great job of blending towers in with the landscape.  The environmental idiots who freak out over them should just get over themselves.  I think the towers as designed are an excellent compromise. And making broadband available to all areas of the park – that seems like a no-brainer.  You have to enable businesses to keep up with the rest of the world.  Have you worked on dial-up lately?  If the environs had their way, there would be NO people in the Adirondack Park to spoil their view.  Oh, nirvana! they’d say.  When there are no gas stations or stores or drivable roads anywhere in the park, let me know how that’s working out for you.  News flash:  you need communities to provide services, but you can’t expect them to live year round on 60 days worth of moderate income.

So while we wait for the wheels of progress to slowly turn, people get things done.  They manage to pay their bills and buy food and put gas in the car.  We watch new businesses come in and watch some go.  We try to be good neighbors and help each other out.  It doesn’t mean that everyone works that way, but I think it’s true of the vast majority.  It is part of what makes living in a small town like this bearable in a state that is not.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Faucet Snake Update

Just as I was starting to let my guard down (isn't that always the way), I reached for my second cup of coffee this morning and Faucet Snake was stretched out in the dish drain.

I promptly started my pep talk, directed half to myself, half to Faucet Snake.  I told him I wasn't afraid of him, and he flicked his tongue at me.  I put on a thick pair of winter gloves, then stood in front of the dish drain and tried to talk myself into picking him up.  I also readied my plastic container if he went into the sink, although naturally I couldn't find the top.

Did I mention that hubby was at work for weekend duty while this was going on?

We looked at each other.  I babbled.  He listened.  Finally he turned and slithered behind the sugar bowl, behind the coffee maker (although at least this time I did make a half-hearted grab for him), and behind the counter, exactly where I didn't want him to go.  Again.

So, at this point, we know:

1)  He is not interested in finding a way out of the house;
2)  He seems to be staying in the same place;
3)  I am a complete weenie for not grabbing him this time.

Now I'm MAD.  Not at him, at myself.  And being mad at myself is often what fuels me into action.

I say that now.  Let's see if I can actually grab him next time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different

Okay, so I had half a dozen ideas for posts to write, but something just happened that moved all of them to the back burner.

Did he think the faucet was a lady snake?
Ten minutes ago I came inside to fill a watering can in the kitchen sink AND THERE WAS A SNAKE WRAPPED AROUND THE FAUCET!! 

Allow me to back up for a minute.  We have our fair share of critters pass through the house, including a very occasional snake, usually courtesy of our cat Bella.  (Both cats adhere to the “catch and release” philosophy – catch them, then bring them inside alive and release them.  In general, they are poor hunters, rarely kill what they catch unless they torment it to death, and lose interest quickly.  Hence, I have gotten very good at catching mice, chippies, and snakes who all have the same goal as I – to get them the hell out of my house.)

When I was around 11 or 12 years old, I saw a program on television along Little House on the Prairie lines, where the pioneer family claimed an abandoned homestead out west.   One of the first scenes was of Stalwart Mom in the sod-roofed house, reaching up to take a python-sized snake out of the rafters and nonchalantly toss it outside.  I remember thinking, “Oh, how utterly bad ass!!! 

While dealing with snakes is not one of my favorite parts of rural life, there are not a lot of them around here.  I have to admit most of the ones I have come across here are small and unintimidating and I don’t mind handling them.  When I lived in Argyle, now, that was a different story.  There was a sizeable snake under every bale of hay you moved out there.  In Corinth, we had plenty on our property when I was a kid.  My mother was Stalwart Mom, finding them beautiful and interesting.  My father, who hated snakes, would walk through the tall grass with a long branch brandished in front of him.  My mother said he looked like St. Patrick banishing the snakes from Ireland.

So back to my faucet snake.  After giving myself CPR, I took a picture of it so you can all look at it and say “You have got to be kidding me.”  The correct way to deal with it would have been to pick it up with authority and remove it from the premises.  But for some reason, I just could not make myself grab it.  It may not look it in the picture, but this sucker was sizeable!!  I was suddenly afraid of getting bit or having it make sudden defensive moves which would totally freak me out.  Did I mention that hubby was at a planning board meeting at the time all of this was happening?

I opened the back door and cleared the decks for a quick grab-and-toss exit.  I tried to use the barbeque tongs to pick it up but it started to move and I was afraid it would get behind the counter.  So I put on the woodstove gloves, figuring I could just pick it up that way and it wouldn’t matter if it bit me.  But the gloves that work well with red hot pieces of wood seemed clumsy and bulky for having to pick something up between thumb and forefinger.   I tried the tongs again but then it was just annoyed and slithered along the back of backsplash, behind the sugar bowl and coffee maker, and behind the counter to exactly where I didn’t want it to go.  I now have absolutely no way to access where it may be, and it has the run of the kitchen behind and under the cabinets along the wall.

In retrospect, I should have used the same tried-and-true trapping technique I use with the many little mammals that end up in the house – a rectangular plastic container, such as Zip-Lock or Glad brand.  They have good edges for covering your prey in a corner (especially useful with mice) and then it’s easy to slip the cover underneath to secure the subject for removal.  I could have pushed the snake into the sink and at least gotten a handle on it that way.  Instead, it capitalized on my stupid fear and now is somewhere in my kitchen.  Still.

There are oh so many nooks and crannies and openings in this house, I have no doubt it brought itself in and, I hope to God, will let itself out when it realizes there’s nothing in here even remotely interesting to a snake.  If nothing else, it will probably keep the cats entertained for a short period of time. 

 I will not be thoughtlessly putting my hand anywhere in the kitchen for a long, long time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Of Peeps and Peepers

This winter has seemed endless.  On Saturday, we woke to sleet, snow and slush (the trifecta from hell) which dissolved into a day-long drizzle fest.  Naturally, we had things to do that entailed our being outside all day – namely driving to Ticonderoga to cut some trees and pick up a 16-foot utility trailer, and then spending the afternoon reworking fencing.  By the end of day, we were soggy and chilly – but I heard a few tentative frogs in the wetlands to the east of the house. 

Sunday was drier and warmer, and while it was hardly a sunny Easter Sunday, it was pleasant to be outside.  We finished 90% of the fence rehab, played with the trailer, and played with the horses.  Around 7:00 p.m., after eating dinner and heading outside one last time to put animals in, I heard it – the sound I long for all winter long and relish with squealing delight – the full-throated enmasse voice of the peepers in the wetlands both east and west of the house.

One of the great things about having wetlands is that you have the serenade of peepers in the spring.  And our chorus doesn’t just peep.  They roar.  Their window of opportunity is a relatively short one.  Depending on the weather, they only keep this joyful sound up for a month or so, to be replaced by the more sultry summer sounds of crickets when things really warm up.

We sleep with the head of our bed directly in front of a window, which has been open for a month or so now.  The sound of the peepers mingles with the smell of wet, warming soil and that, my friends, is what I want my last memory on this earth to be.  I have often said to hubby that when I die I hope it is in the spring, with warm weather and those wonderful sounds and scents around me, and not in the winter, curled up in a spastic ball of cold muscles and frozen hands.

(I can, however, do without the sound of the sump pump expelling gallons upon gallons of water out of the basement all night long – also right under our bedroom window.  We jokingly say that the house has bladder control problems, but then I’m the one up twice a night to go to the bathroom.  Think water fountain effect.)

Sunday also brought those Easter staples – peeps.  Yes, I know they aren’t just for Easter anymore, as I’ve seen orange pumpkin peeps and green Christmas tree peeps, but come on, people.  You can’t mess with a tried and true thing.  The Lawyer Lady (my boss Cherie) indulged me in a couple of packages in the weeks leading up to Easter.  It’s amazing the variety of ways people enjoy peeps.  My personal philosophy is that they have to be eaten within 90 seconds of the cellophane being broken.  Any staler and don’t bother, just give them to the horses.  But that’s just me.

On Monday Cherie and I spotted some peeps being used as outdoor decorations.  A couple of cars parked by the post office had peeps on the tips of their antennas.  They looked a little bedraggled, like they had been drizzled on, but they were definitely pink and yellow peeps.  Then we saw some peeps stuck on the ends of bare tree branches, and more adorning a shrub in front of the church.  While it seemed a bit sacrilegious to be impaling peeps around town, it was nonetheless amusing and I would dare say a good way to deal with extra Easter candy.

They were probably stale to begin with.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Wildflower By Any Other Name...

I recently finished a three-Wednesday course in perennial gardening. I have to keep reminding myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and to resist the urge to attempt a massive overhaul of our yard.

We at the 30 Acre Wood do our best to keep things easy, natural and low maintenance. This seems to fly right in the face of our homestead motto, "We Take the Path of Most Resistance." If a project might be difficult, let’s see how much harder we can make it to get the same results.

My beloved husband hates, hates, HATES to mow grass. So in his inaugural year at the house, he rototilled the entire yard - front, back and sides - and threw down wildflower seed. I need to have some law and order, so I mowed one-pass wide paths from the back door to the barn, to the compost pile, to the garden, etc., something that took me a total of 10 minutes to do every couple of weeks and looked way cool.

The first couple of years, the flowers were outstanding. The three blooming seasons each had their own color pallette and scheme, and an abundance of flowers and species that I tried hard to identify. Unfortunately for me, this is one area that my brain just doesn’t seem to retain information. I could I.D. a few - foxglove, sweet william, coneflower. With each year, we had a few different things - the annuals from the first year came back a little from their own reseeding schedule, and the perennials did their thing for the most part. The grass that really didn’t make much of an effort to be a part of the scene when Larry first bought the house now suddenly wanted to stake claim to the yard. We retilled and reseeded a few areas.

Then last year, a lot of the same looking type of plant started coming up - EVERYWHERE. I am forever worried about pulling up a suspect weed - what is it, really? is it a flower? is it a weed? they all look alike! should I pull it? should I leave it? AARRGGHH!! - so I left things alone and keep an eye on it.
It was goldenrod. Tall, invasive, flash in the pan goldenrod. Everywhere. This was not the look we were going for.

What the wildflower seed companies dont tell you (and geesh, I wish they would) is that to keep this idea going strong, you need to retill and reseed every three years or so. Now, to me, this goes against the whole point of doing this in the first place. It is not maintenance free. And unless you live in a flat, rock-free environment (and our 30 acres are neither), rototilling an entire yard with a elderly and cranky rototiller is, as Larry puts it, like riding a bucking bronco.

So last year I started thinking about sticking some perennials in strategic places. I checked out some brightly colored and promising looking books from the library to educate myself. Unfortunately, I suffer from "analysis paralysis" in several areas of my life and this proved no different. When I saw the perennial class, taught by local perennial guru Kerry Mendez, offered in the local college flyer, I jumped on it. Her approach to flower beds is low maintenance, easy, and if it’s a fussy plant, out it goes. I could relate to that philosophy. I gained a wealth of information and, while I still feel a little overwhelmed, I am no longer catatonic. On Saturday I mapped and graphed and colored and put sticky notes in catalogs. I stood in my yard and looked at where the sun was at various points in the day. I plotted and planned.

The goal will be to still do quite a bit with a renewed wildflower seeding, but I have a few areas where I'll attempt to bring some rustic class and style to the yard, a little bit at a time. The goldenrod will never see it coming.