Yesterday I made a quick trip to Dumbarton Oaks to see whether the snowdrops were out. I thought they might be earlier this year, as it has been so warm with the exception of the deep freeze around Christmas. The guard at the entrance told me that snowdrops were indeed out near the kitchen gardens.
I looked first on the south lawn where they often bloom, but there were only a few single blossoms. My next investigation was the flowering quince, which is so magical when it blooms that I rarely get a good picture of it. It was starting flower buds, so I’ll go back in a few weeks to check on it.
From there, I made my way toward the kitchen gardens. I knew the meadow the guard had referred to. And there were indeed snowdrops, winter aconite, and a few early crocuses. It was a lovely late afternoon and a relief to see these midwinter portents of change.
From them, I wandered to cherry hill, where I could see small buds on the cherry trees and eyed the forsythia thicket for signs of developing bloom.
It was a quick visit, but I also ran by the back lawn, where there was an installation called The Brier Patch. Like many of the art installations I have seen here, it was thought provoking and perfectly suited to the site. It was intended to reflect the briar patch in American culture, where one might get in trouble or find safety, drawing a connection to schools as a similar place. A link to information on the artist and the exhibit can tell you more. You can also search Dumbarton Oaks on this blog to see other art installations.
The Brier Patch references racial inequality and made me think of Horse by Geraldine Brooks, which I had recently read. It is the story of the most successful race horse in history, told through modern fictional characters and historical characters from the 1850’s to the 1870’s. It shows modern and historical racism and illuminates the history of enslaved horse trainers and jockeys in US racing. It is well-researched and well structured, told through the different voices in different chapters. It’s also just a rip roaring good read and I recommend it for the complexity of its characters and the richness of the story.
Cheers to everyone! I hope you’re having a good week!
Last week, I stopped by the garden. I wanted to check the cold frame after the Christmas freeze when it dropped into single digits. Also, I wanted to get more turnips. I was pretty sure the arugula and kale were dead. Right before the freeze up last month, I went out and got more arugula and harvested the broccoli. Good thing, as they were reduced for the most part to compost. The arugula will come back in the spring, but the broccoli is gone.
Last time, I got some nice greens on the turnips, but after the extreme cold, there were only a few small inner greens left.
The greens in the cold frame had been nipped a little, but for the most part, I don’t think I’ll be needing to buy any lettuce for a while.
Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of winter kill on the rosemary bush, which I had neglected to wrap. It’s hard to know whether to wrap each fall because for the most part we don’t get temperatures lower than the 20s F at night. It’s a large plant, so I think it has a pretty good chance of recovery.
On my last trip, I discovered I had left my tool tub open and the torrential rains we got as part of the storm that blew across the country had filled it half full of water. I did my best in the falling temperatures to salvage what I could, set things out to dry, and toss things that were no longer useable. This week, I brought my hand tools home and cleaned, sharpened and oiled them, which they needed after being soaked, frozen and set out to dry. Yesterday, I went through the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog. Next step is to check seeds I have on hand, check their dates, and whittle the order down a bit. It’s still early, but I like to start thinking well in advance.
Yesterday, I went to the garden to drop off some compost I’ll dig in after Christmas. I wanted to pick some arugula and turnips.
I also wanted to check on the lettuces in the cold frame and the broccoli. Both are doing well.
While I was there having a look at some of the kale, I noticed a carrot that was ready and pulled it. I’m thinking of a carrot and kale sauté sometime in the next couple days.
Later this winter, I’ll sharpen some of the garden tools and oil them up so they’ll be ready for the spring onslaught. In the meantime, I have some sewing projects and craft ideas to fill out the short down time between winter gardening and spring planting.
Holiday cheer to everyone and best wishes for the coming year!
Every once in a while someone says they’re taking a break from blogging and disappears for a while. I disappeared with no notice in March. My first year of retirement was full. I did a lot of gardening, traveled for the first time in more than two years, and found out what it’s like to make my own schedule. I’ve got a lot of news stored up but will start with the most recent, a visit to my friend Leanne, who lives in a little town south of Lake George. What an amazingly gorgeous place. And because it was so gorgeous and thoughts of moving there kept popping into my head, I’m going to tell about the whole trip…
Leanne loves hiking, kayaking, the mountains, camping and in general the great outdoors, so are we a good match or what? I drove up and could see the change in fall color as I went north. It was at peak in the Adirondacks. Leanne had bought a house but hadn’t closed on it yet, so we walked over to see it and walked around the town, which has a pretty downtown full of small local businesses and also has a nice arts community. That allowed me to recover from the drive. While there, we went to the Shirt Factory, which houses area artists, and then drove up to Lake George, where Leanne’s family has a lake house.
The next day, we headed to the town of Ticonderoga up on Lake Champlain and had lunch in a little park there on the La Chute River.
After that we went to see Fort Ticonderoga. The fort was built by the French in the 1750s and changed hands numerous times. By the 1940s, not much of it was left and as with many historic sites, a group of people saved what remained, did some archeology and research, and set about reconstructing it. Today it has some really well informed interns dressed as colonials, a lot of different kinds of cannon, and some commanding views of Lake Champlain.
At that point we were close to the Lake Champlain bridge and Leanne drove across it into Vermont, where we parked and walked back across into New York, looking at the lake and the turning trees and geese flying south.
It was the evening before the full Hunter’s Moon and we took advantage of its brightness to climb up to the parapet of a lighthouse memorial where the view was also spectacular.
The next day, we planned to go to a place called Jabe Pond to kayak. It’s only a ten minute drive from the lake house, but pretty much needs a four wheel drive for access when the road is open. Leanne’s friend Tom came with a flatbed truck to strap three kayaks to and drove us up. I could write a whole blog on this place.
First, I wondered who calls 160+ acres of water a pond? I guess if Lake George and Lake Champlain are the reference, it would be considered small. But I did a little research and learned that ponds are considered bodies of standing water, shallow enough that sunlight can reach the bottom. Lakes are deeper and have zones the sunlight never reaches. They also have more inflow and outflow of water and more varied temperatures. In spite of the fifty-something degree air temperatures on Jabe Pond, when I dipped my hand into the water, it felt around seventy. I imagine with a rock bottom warmed over the summer it holds warmth for a while.
There are camp sites around the pond and little islands. One of them had the remains of a large hearth on it and we landed there and ate our packed lunch with a thermos of tea.
The pond had loons on it and what I think were lesser scaups. These look like ducks, but are smaller. I can’t be sure because I couldn’t see them that well. A nice thing about this trip was seeing and hearing the loons. They have a variety of calls, ranging from screams to hound-like bays, to trills, all with different purposes and all of them haunting. Seeing them is always magical to me. Leanne and I heard one of the trills our first night at Lake George.
The neighbors and a few people in town had told us that the Gore Mountain ski area had a craft fair going on and was giving gondola rides up to the ski summit. The foliage was supposed to be spectacular and we figured viewing it from a height would be good. I’d never been in a ski gondola and the only skiing I’ve ever done is cross country. It was an experience to imagine the inclines with snow on them and skiers hurtling down.
On the way back from the craft fair, we stopped a couple places, once for a view and once to walk down to the Hudson, which like the Mississippi, is a different river in its northern reaches. The Hudson here is a mix of swift current and still pools, with a rock bottom. Tom and Leanne swim here in the summer and I can see its appeal—clear water, rocks to swim to, mild current. Every time I glimpsed the Hudson up here, I thought how lovely it was and how fun it could be to kayak.
Our final trips before heading back to our regular lives included a visit to the Adirondack Experience Museum and a trip up Mt. Defiance. The Adirondack Experience Museum was interesting for its collection of historic structures and buildings displayed around the grounds. There was a one-room school with McGuffey Readers; a hunting lodge; a lean-to with plans for how to build one; a summer sleeping house with intricate outside decorations; an artist’s cabin; and a log hotel. They also had two trains: one that people who owned their own train cars rode in and one that transported people up to resorts. I did not take pictures there because the documentation was fabulous and we were absorbed in reading and looking (I guess that’s the experience part).
The museum was closing for the season the day we went, so one of the things I was interested in was not available. They have Adirondack guide boats you can row on a pond in warmer weather, but they also had a model inside that you could climb into that simulated the rowing experience. Leanne and I both tried it out. The nice thing about these is that you can go out in them with someone else and face each other, as opposed to kayaks and canoes. They were designed to be light for portages, skim the top of the water and yet be able to hold three people, cargo, and oh, say, a dead deer and some bear pelts. I imagine with all that cargo they’d be a little lower in the water, but apparently they remain stable.
Before heading back, we went to Mt. Defiance, the lookout point above Fort Ticonderoga (the last picture in the Ft. Ticonderoga gallery shows it) and the reason the Continental Army had to abandon the fort at one point (but they took cannon with them to free Boston, so it wasn’t a total loss). We had tried a couple times to go up to the lookout, but we kept getting there after the gate was locked. This time we went early and there was a bus of tourists having lunch in the pavilion at the top. That didn’t deter us, though we did consider passing ourselves off as tour members and having a snack.
Views of Lake Champlain and Fort Ticonderoga were amazing from here. We could see Vermont’s Green Mountains across the lake and it turns out they’re another hiking destination for locals. Maybe skiing, too, for all I know.
So, this exceedingly long blog is just a small update. I’ll write soon on other things, including the garden, our donations, and the new cold frame! Apologies to everyone for dropping off the face of the earth. I’ll be around to visit your blogs and catch up soon!
I’ve been digging kitchen compost into the garden periodically over the winter. Mostly it’s coffee grounds, eggshells, and vegetable trimmings. It’s been fun to go there with a purpose, dig a trench and dump what would otherwise go out in the garbage or down the disposal (yes, cringe). I’ve found that it works well when I systematically cover the whole garden.
Yesterday when I went, there was a crow with nesting material in its mouth perched on a fencepost. I couldn’t get a photo, but the crow made me alert and I noticed what had to be a whole flock of robins pecking around the dormant gardens and periodically coming up with a worm or a grub. I couldn’t get good pictures of them, either, having only the phone with me. Other birds making appearances were song sparrows, blue jays, and a mockingbird that thinks it is king of the garden…
I checked things while I was there. The peas have not come up yet. Jane gave me some water jugs she had cut the bottoms off and they make fabulous cloches for larger plants.
She also gave me the bottoms, figuring I’d find some use for them. Currently, what with days varying from upper forties (F) to the low seventies, I’ve propped the cold frame open with them as I continue to enjoy the lettuce.
Other signs of spring were the garlic planted late last fall, that came up and suffered through three snows,
I’ve had three good walks recently at local parks, two of them on relatively warm days between blasts of cold and the last one on a brisker, more wintry day. My friend Jane emailed about a walk and suggested Turkey Run, which I’ve written about before. I hadn’t been there for a couple years, so I was glad to go.
I suggested we stay on the upland paths because between the snow, rain and some flooding, the river paths I’ve walked recently have been worthy of wellies or at the very least, waterproof hiking boots.
Ultimately, we decided to go toward the river down a feeder stream to get a better photo of the white sycamores, the green water, and the blue sky. The path, however, got narrow, precipitous, and slippery. Jane, being younger, and a former Marine, was willing to have a go, but I was not willing to fall into a rocky stream if I slipped in mud. (I’ve got a whole tale for another time about a recent tumble doing something injudicious.)
Still, our explorations brought us upon an old fence line with odd concrete posts and what we could only think was some sort of survey activity in the park. Or treasure hunting. Who knows?
Next my friend Paul emailed, back from a road trip and asked if I was up for a walk. I suggested the Maryland side of Great Falls for a walk on the upland paths in the woods, which are far less peopled than the river paths, and which I don’t hike alone. He was game, and when we got out there, he said he’d never been on the Maryland side. So I had to show him the falls, which look different from the Virginia side.
The Potomac River Gorge is one of the most geologically diverse places on earth because of its position along the Fall Line between the Piedmont Plateau and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The park contains at least 60 rare plant and animal species and explodes with wildflowers in the spring. What we and others noticed right away was an extraordinary number of Black Vultures. They are always here, soaring on thermals, but this was … a lot of vultures…
The vultures were sitting in trees and on rocks as well as soaring above in groups. Once we reached my favorite little beach area, we were able to conclude that it was breeding season, or as Paul quipped, the vultures were speed dating.
We enjoyed the calm of the little beach and then headed into the woods, which gave us another view from the bluffs. I can never be at Great Falls without experiencing the sense of a river “cut by the world’s great flood [that] runs over rocks from the basement of time.” [Norman Maclean, in A River Runs Through It]
The third walk was with my friend Carolyn at Roosevelt Island, which is within walking distance of my house. One of the clergy at my church started offering a service there on Sunday at noon during the worst of the pandemic so a few people could get together in person safely outside. Today was the first day people could actually go back to the church in person since Omicron swept in, but Carolyn drove over to my neighborhood and we walked down and met up with the wilderness church crew.
It was lovely, as nature is really the best cathedral. Afterward, we walked the boardwalk through the marsh, coming upon a group of Mallards going about their ducky business.
We circled around, back to the bridge to the Virginia shore and admired the beautiful day and the sparkling water.
And now I’m back home, hoping to catch up with you all through your latest posts. Best of late February to everyone!
I’ve been doing a lot of spring planning. Some of it has been for my own garden and some of it has been for the Plot Against Hunger. I’ve ordered seeds and some supplies (stakes, fencing, tomato insulators, cloches for young plants, etc.) and will start tomatoes, peppers and eggplants inside. I think all my seeds are coming from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. If you live in Zone 7 or below, this is one of the best sources of seeds bred for heat, humidity, and the pests that frequent the Mid-Atlantic and south.
Today I went to the garden (it was sunny and mid-40s) and finished off some things I hadn’t been able to get to in the fall and cleared out the broccoli and cauliflower plants. In a winter where it’s cold but we don’t have snow or freezing rain, these plants will keep making new heads and florets after the initial cutting. This year, as you know, we’ve had three separate snows.
I cleared some zinnias that were dried up, dead, and dark brown, some Jerusalem artichokes I’d left for their lovely late flowers, and did a little weeding. Then I tidied up all the fencing for reuse in the spring. I’ll get an early crop of resurgent parsley and cilantro once it starts to warm, and there should be some really early carrots. Meanwhile, I have lettuces in my cold frame.
In the Plot gardens, I trimmed the asparagus plants back, as they were green late into the fall and need to be cut back after they brown. I pulled the cauliflower and broccoli plants from the enclosure in the larger Plot, did a little weeding and trimmed up the blackberry canes a bit. Now I have a better idea of the kind of support I need to add for them as well.
I’ve been helping a Plot committee do some focus groups to help plan the coming year. It’s a big operation, starting with giving seeds to some gardens, having some volunteer gardeners start seeds for in-demand produce, organizing a spring kick-off with tool exchanges, panels of expert gardeners, and assorted other things. Plot basically has gardeners who donate produce, volunteers who bag produce for local food pantries, and a cadre of tough people who harvest farm crops, primarily from USDA’s experimental farms and a few local orchards. This can be hot, hard work in the summer and also involves bulk deliveries to warehouses that then get the word out to pantries to come get what they need.
I’ve been doing other things as well—walking with friends among nearby parks and trails, seeing signs of impending spring. There are more birds and some migraters coming through and the squirrels are chasing each other madly around tree trunks. All in good time.
Seed catalogs are coming in fast. They’re fat and colorful and full of tempting things, and they make me realize I need to start planning my garden tout de suite. I don’t need much, as I save seeds, but there are always surprises when I look at my seed stores and the garden plan.
Having spare time has opened again the possibility of writing more extensively. Back in 2011, I decided the blog would be my creative outlet and I stopped writing poetry and fiction. Mostly, I did this because my paid work and volunteer activities around food access crowded out the creative spark. Also, if you write fiction and want to publish it, the shopping around process takes a certain kind of energy and mindset I didn’t have at the time.
I’d been feeling I might have the creative mental space back, so I looked at my work. There are 15 poems, one of them published; five short stories, two published; two short stories in process; one novel, complete, but likely in need of rewriting; and one novel in its second draft.
I have always thought one of the short stories could be a screenplay but have never learned what is entailed in that process. The completed novel would likely be more marketable if I killed off one of the characters and changed the arc of the story. And the novel started and in the second draft reveals a problem I have with focus.
Most of my fictional characters come to me in a particular situation or with a particular attitude. I write things that illuminate them, not always in the order of the story and not always pertinent to the story. As a result, I wind up with excess, off-point scenes and a LOT of words in novels. Two writer friends, recognizing this problem, gave me books that addressed it years back. One is called Structuring Your Novel and the other is called The Moral Premise. The latter is about screenwriting, but just as applicable to story arc in a novel. I’ve decided to read them both, do the exercises and proceed, if possible, with the newer novel. With all the distance from the creative writing, I was able to see and accept what I was doing wrong when I dipped again into Structuring Your Novel.
As I write today, it’s snowing again and I’m enjoying it. Overnight it will turn into wintry mix, ice, and then rain. Tomorrow is supposed to be well above freezing, so I hope people stay in tonight and the stuff melts fast. Earlier, I took some video of it, but it’s relatively silent.
I’ll stay in and have a few shortbread and some hot tea…
Yesterday, I was harvesting cilantro, broccoli, cauliflower, and parsley from the garden. It was over 60 degrees, and I wasn’t even wearing a jacket.
Today, I woke up to this.
It was snowing crazily, almost a whiteout without wind. The predictions had changed over the course of the day from 2-5 inches to 4-7 inches to 6-10. In my neighborhood, we seem to have received somewhere between 6 and 6 ¼ inches.
I love seeing snow. Especially this wet heavy stuff that makes branches look like a fairy world.
Unfortunately, it’s also caused a few branches to fall. I noticed one from a white pine, one from a holly and one from the redbud down the courtyard.
I cleaned my car off but did no shoveling, as I think I can just drive out of 6 inches. And this stuff is heavy and very wet, which is mostly what we get here. The last time I shoveled the car out I had to remind myself that I was no longer 35. It’s likely that with temps well above freezing in the next few days that it will melt soon. If I’d believed the forecast last night, I might have moved the car into the County garage, but…
It’s so nice to see, and so rare (it’s been a few years since we had anything much in the way of a snowstorm) that I’ll likely have another walk in it today.
Wishing you your own early-year magic, whatever that might be!
One of the things I like about my neighborhood is that wildlife presents itself for the alert passer-by. I was in my living room when I noticed some people walking up the steps toward the shops. The man looked up and then turned back to look up again. I walked to the window, curious, and saw this perched on a limb above what is often a squirrel playground…
The funny thing is that several other people walked by and never looked up. I have seen foxes, coyotes, deer, raccoons, opossums, and all manner of birds I never expected to see in town (pileated woodpeckers, for instance) just by looking around.
I love seeing the big hunters because I know they will keep the rodent population down. That seems to be what this little guy was looking for—some chipmunks or mice in the ivy. I hope he or she (I can’t sex juvenile hawks) finds something tasty before the afternoon is over. What a treat for a grey day—and thanks to the alert neighbor for sending me a clue to look out.