Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A long drink

Two weeks of “stay off your feet and take it easy” have left me parched--thirsty for contact with my yard, trails, fields and its life. And although I’ve done my best to sit and be the observer, so much of what I want to observe requires being out in it.
So, Sunday, my creative, problem-solving husband retrieved the old lawn tractor from the barn, lifted the mowing deck and handed me the key.
Escape was parked just outside the back door.

After dinner, camera hanging around my neck, I turned the key—and took off into the sunset in a blaze of…dust. The very dry ground, peeking through what remains of our crisp, brown grass.
As I neared the pond, 6 deer looked up from the other edge, stealing a drink at the old dam. I slowly stepped onto the dock to settle in; they stepped into the cover of the woods, but I could hear their feet rustling in the dry, fallen leaves. I assumed they’d move on into my neighbor’s field, but they remained, watching me watch.
Soon, a doe stepped forward toward the pond. Looking me in the eye, she stamped her foot. Not once, but several times. Her request of me was clear. In the 96-degree heat, they needed this space and its water more than I did.

I headed back to my little tractor and left the pond to the deer for this evening. There were plenty of other places to see—the goldenrod-covered fields glowing in the September sun, and the milkweed releasing its shimmering silken parachutes in the breeze.

New England Asters, late-season bloomers, provide nectar for butterflies and look like ribbon candies as the blossoms pass. Scattered through the grasses are delicate, lacy, White Heath Asters—a blur of white from a distance, but perfect in every intricate, tiny detail.

I couldn’t help but feel as if I were a cowboy, surveying his land. Across the top of the hill trail, bouncing and rolling in the saddle—over each rut, magnified by the little wheels of the tractor.
The noisy engine scared everything with an ounce of sense far from me.
But it felt good to be out, drinking it in.

Next time, I must remember the bug spray. Something about those anticoagulants made me irresistible!

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Still life

Of all we reap from our garden, I'm always most thrilled with the butternuts. So sweet and golden inside--we'll choose the best ones for Thanksgiving dinner and scatter the rest throughout the coming cooler months.
Everything grew well this year, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, basil, beets and zucchini. And we enjoyed it all--freshly picked.
I've never gotten excited about canning. The idea of tending a steaming pot while the outside temperatures soar, is not for me. If we can't keep up with the ripening fruits, we pass them on to our non-gardening friends.

But the butternut squash will carry us into the winter months well. And with each savory, sun-kissed spoonful, we'll remember the warmth of this summer.
When all outside is frozen, and the skies are gray, there will be, still, life.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Filling the gap

The drought has exposed a new area of earth bordering the pond. Usually covered in at least several inches of water, this newly revealed space now is filling with opportunistic plants.

Where grass had grown to the water’s edge, now a ring of flowers rims the bowl.

Almost without skipping a beat, nature covers herself. She uses every inch for some purpose.
And what, at first glance, seems loss,
in time, and with growth, becomes a beautiful change.

Like the pond, my life usually is so full that little space remains between work and the activities of our lives. When one is cut back, the void seems unnatural—barren and exposed, until something begins to fill in. I’ve wanted this “dry” spell for me to be profitable, yielding something of beauty that I will feel less of a loss for experiencing.

I’m filling the gap with the writings of Opal Whiteley, “America’s forgotten interpreter of nature,” a young girl growing up at the turn of the century in the logging camps of Oregon’s forests.
Her diary, written as a gifted, some say genius child, is full of emotion—a love of nature from being totally immersed within it.

How can this little child’s diary be measured on a scale with works that argue the technical explanations of global warming or statistical accounts of habitat destruction?
It is simple.
Her lesson is not one of intellect,
but of emotion.
Her lesson teaches love.

Nodding Bur Marigold

“In the end we will conserve only what we love.” Baba Dioum

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


This is Franklin.
As I write, leg propped on chair, heating pads engulfing it, Franklin is quiet. Sometimes he rises to rest his head in my lap, big brown eyes from beneath giant schnauzer brows ask, “Mommy not feeling too good?”
He settles in to snooze the day away, knowing he’s in charge of the household. Franklin and I are home alone.

Over the years, he’s grown into a welcome companion in our somewhat isolated old, country house. No one would dare approach me past his hefty growl and large, commanding size. At 107 pounds, he’s all watchdog—on his turf. But gentle and submissive with our small-statured vet, who pries open his jaws to inspect Franklin’s teeth--as if he’ll soon put his head into the lion’s mouth.

Five years ago, after several weeks of trying to get this 8-month-old puppy settled into his third new home, ours, I would’ve gladly given him away. He was a disaster.

He had started life in a breeder’s home, probably not placed as a young puppy in hopes he’d become good breeding stock, but soon growing too large to be that. By that time and having been kept in the yard only, he had had no housebreaking or obedience training. His first placement…and second…were too stressful to the new owners—they ran an ad in the paper, and, almost full-grown, Franklin came home with me.
Unfortunately, moving through three homes was also too much stress for this young dog.

The first night, we kept him in a large cage in the kitchen, not having any other way to confine the unruly newcomer within our house. We thought we’d given him a wonderfully cozy place to sleep—a large, (expensive) cushy mat covering the base. What more could he need?
The next morning, we discovered why the initial whimpers of the previous night had abruptly stopped. The lovely mat—torn into shreds the size of golf balls.
Oh, Franklin.

The next few weeks began the process of undoing his “separation anxiety”.
Sleeping in my sleeping bag on the kitchen floor, Franklin eagerly curled right up on top of me. Persuaded that beside me was as good as on me, we gradually gained more separation each night.
Soon, he was on one side of the kitchen gate; I, visible but untouchable, on the other.
I moved upstairs, to the second floor landing. Now unseen, but still, my voice his comfort until morning.
Then, after weeks of calculated inching, I casually disappeared behind the bedroom door.
No sight, no sound—and it was alright.

You’d never know now that this dapper dog had a rough start. He’s become confident, caring and trustworthy. His glossy coat defies a year-long treatment for demodectic mange. He’s an animal that is admired. His proud head and pointed ears give him the appearance of being in control—and, usually he is.

We’ve failed in obedience training. This very intelligent animal knows all the rules—he just chooses when to obey them.
And, as frustrating as it can be to have him show his high-spiritedness, he’s affectionately called, “the son I never had." His puddle-splashing, snow-diving, Dennis the Menace personality makes us laugh, so full of life he is.
Yet minutes later, his head resting on your chest as if he understands how exhausting a long day of work can be, says faithfully, “It’s okay if we don’t play today, as long as we’re together.”
Oh, Franklin.

These photos had to be taken outdoors in his run.
Franklin is afraid of cameras and I was unable to get him to pose for this photo shoot inside because of the flash!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Visit from a friend

The last week has been beautiful--nights that dip into the 50s and breezy days peaking in the 70s. My kind of weather to be out, even if out is only as far as the bench on the patio. I can make myself quite a comfortable nest there, leg propped on a stack of pillows, everything I might need within arm's reach. I sit and watch the woods.
The birds are again active. Titmice, chickadees and nuthatches empty the nearby feeders. A catbird calls, unseen, from the still very leafy woods. A Black-throated green warbler is feeding in the hickory tree above me. Carolina wrens glean insects from the cobwebs on the patio furniture. And a cricket sings loudly from behind the stone step.
It's easy to get "lost" in these woods, to let your mind wander off and recall the many treasures hidden within. The screech owl that often rested here several years ago and the barred owl that watched me from a branch a few feet away last spring.
This summer it was the Wood Thrush, whose clear, melodious calls lured me each evening to the woods' edge hoping to catch a glimpse. For weeks, the woods resounded with the call of the bird never seen. Her presence was a special gift to me, if only in song.
This afternoon, she visited again. I helped her get back on her feet.

She is helping me get back on mine, too.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Making hay

I've remarked often, while driving past this field at the end of our road, that I should capture it in pictures. Its beauty with each season is stunning. Corn, wheat or soybeans--very likely, soon it will be gone.
So much of our surrounding rural landscape is being transformed into subdivisions. Clusters of clay-colored houses with slate-colored roofs mushroom each spring, as farmland generates more cash from developers, than crops. One day, I will arrive at this intersection and see it planted in grass--a sure sign that it is no longer a farmer's field. And it will be too late.

This morning the wagons and tractor will finish taking in the corn, and soon, reveal the farm hidden in the distance. The glossy stalks glow in the September sun. The air has finally turned cool and crisp, hinting color in the adjacent trees.

There's a satisfaction for me, that comes with starting a long-promised project. A comfort in knowing it won't slip past, undone, with regrets. So many things in life are lost, put off for a later date that never comes.
Naively we think there will be another chance next year. We wait for a more "perfect" time to act. Sometimes we are fortunate. Sometimes we are not.

My plans for tackling yard projects and exploring new hiking sites in the long-awaited cooler temperatures are canceled. A trip to the ER this week found a DVT in my leg.
So, I'm off my feet, and on heparin. Anticoagulant therapy should help, but it's a slow process. And, although I may get just about back to where I'd like to be in 12-24 weeks...all I can think about is how much I'll miss.

One of the hardest lessons to learn, is that there are no guarantees in life. If there's a chance to do something, do it while you can.
Make hay when the sun shines, tomorrow it may rain.

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Have a slice...

I love books.
I'm not "a reader", meaning I'm seldom in the middle of a good novel. But, I love the visual experience of browsing a beautifully illustrated or photographed piece, and the escape it offers by just cracking open the cover.
I'm fortunate to have the job I do--ordering and processing books for our local public library. Almost every book on the shelf has passed through my hands or over my desk.
And every once in a while, an especially attractive one comes home with me for a closer look, because "just browsing" is not enough.

Right now I'm enjoying
A Slice of Organic Life by Sheherazade Goldsmith. It's published by Dorling Kindersley, and like all their publications, is jam-packed with colorful sidebars, great photos, and easy-to-digest information.
Not surprisingly, I'm drawn to explore it because it addresses "learning to live within nature's limits".
It offers real suggestions for ways to "shift our lifestyles, so that we're living more naturally. The good news is that there are many solutions, and contrary to what we have often been led to believe, they don't involve us living deprived and boring lives where our greatest pleasures are forbidden. They are simple, affordable and effortless."

What I especially like about her ideas, is that she has organized them into three levels.
1. No Need for a Yard
2. Roof Terrace, Patio, or Tiny Yard
3. Yard, Community Garden, or Field

Regardless of where you live or what your situation is, there's something everyone could easily try--from recipes for fresh juices and natural home-made pest controls to honey bees, cut flowers and goat's cheese, all beautifully described in photos.

It's so easy in this blazing heat to feel like mother nature is screaming, "WAKE UP!" And, to feel that the difference one person's choices would make wouldn't amount to enough help, globally, to bother. But, by doing my part, at least I know I'm trying to minimize the harm my life adds.
Your public library probably has a copy, or should.
Check it's a great way to spend a hot day!

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Broken record

I almost hate to mention it again--hate to repeatedly complain about how miserably hot it is. I've never been patient with those that continually complain about its being cold in the wintertime--after all, isn't it supposed to be that way?
How is this any different?
Certainly, there must be something more newsworthy than the weather?
I feel like a broken record.

But in actuality, the weather in SW Ohio (and many other locations) is news. In fact, for the last two days, the summary of August's weather statistics has been front page news.
The hottest August on record, ever, combined with the 12 inches below average rainfall for the year, has caused what is now considered an "extreme drought".
It's not supposed to be this way.
My complaints are not the only "broken record."

The pond which was so lovely to look at in early May,

is now low enough to reveal the remnants of the previous dam. The glossy surface, replaced by the thick green growth of late summer. And the edges no longer covered in water have filled in with tall grasses. I see many deer tracks in the exposed mud of the old dam, and hope they don't get mired attempting to reach some water they must thirst for. Their grazing fields are dry and brown, bushes dropping their leaves early.

The grapes we'd eagerly watched and hoped for have suffered, too. First the Japanese beetles, then the drought, now caterpillars. Not a grape remains--hopefully the vines will pull through.
We use our land for enjoyment and plantings for amusement. I can only imagine how helpless the neighboring farmers must feel--their livelihoods hanging by a thin thread.

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Monday, September 3, 2007

International Rock Flipping Day

September 2, 2007 found me at Lake Cumberland, Kentucky. An Army Corps of Engineers project from the 1950s, Lake Cumberland has 55,000 surface acres of water and over 1200 miles of shoreline. What a place to flip a rock!

Because of much needed repairs to the dam, the water level this year has been drastically dropped (about 40 feet) revealing beautiful rocky ledges and colorful expanses hidden beneath the lake for years.

For me, though, red, rocky ledges can also mean unfamiliar hidden reptiles--I was a little out of my comfort zone on these more southern Kentucky slopes. So, I decided to play it safe and seek my rocks by canoe, along the edges.

The layering is beautiful,
from fragile shale that disintegrates into flakes like jigsaw pieces,

to chunky limestone blocks.

And, if you look very closely, some large, round, crystal-lined balls are within the layers--


I was able to glide right up to this one at the water's edge.

And many are still buried within the layers--
looking like little cannonballs embedded in the walls of the canyon.

Can you see this one? (Look 18" beneath the weathered stump)

So, technically, I didn't look under a rock, more actually, between rocks.
Does that count?

To see what others have found on IRFD, take a look:
Windywillow (Ireland)
Heraclitean Fire (London, England)
Sheep Days (Illinois, USA)
Earth, Wind & Water (somewhere in the Caribbean)
Pocahontas County Fare (West Virginia, USA)
chatoyance (Austin, Texas)
Fragments from Floyd (Virginia, USA) - GRAND PRIZE WINNER
Watermark (Montana, USA)
pohanginapete (Aotearoa/New Zealand)
Fate, Felicity, or Fluke (Oregon, USA)
Thomasburg Walks (Ontario, Canada)
Idle Thoughts of an Idle Woman (Queensland, Australia)
The Transplantable Rose (Austin, Texas)
Nature Woman (New York state, USA)
Marja-Leena Rathje (British Columbia, Canada)
A Blog Around the Clock (North Carolina, USA)
Busy Dingbat’s Sphere (West Virginia, USA)
Hoarded Ordinaries (New Hampshire, USA)
Congo Days (Kinshasa, Congo)
this too (London, England)
Roundrock Journal (Missouri, USA)
Wanderin’ Weeta (British Columbia, Canada)
Blaugustine (London, England)
A Honey of an Anklet (Virginia, USA)
Looking Up (Ohio, USA)
Ontario Wanderer (Ontario, Canada)
Bug Safari (California, USA)
Riverside Rambles (Missouri, USA)
Pure Florida (Florida, USA)
Burning Silo (Ontario, Canada)
Musings from Myopia (Texas, USA)
Cicero Sings (British Columbia, Canada)
Joan (Missouri, USA)

My IRFD escort, a Green Heron who stayed just ahead of the canoe, waiting for a juicy tidbit to crawl out from under a rock.

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