Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Putting the Garden to Bed

I am a perennial optimist; I always hope next year’s garden will surpass this year’s. But hope alone won’t make it happen. So, when mornings sport a coat of frost and all but the hardiest crops have died, it’s time to put the garden to bed. I layer on my grungiest clothes and go play in the dirt.

Black twiggy stalks are all that’s left of the string bean plants that produced such abundance in the summer. The pepper stalks look identical. The only way I know what they had produced is by their location in the garden. I pull them all up and shake off the dirt.  Pull up those hardy, opportunistic weeds too. “Out with you,” I tell them. If they stay, they’re apt to reproduce and then I’ll be greeted by a harvest of weeds in the spring.

The kale is still doing well, as is some of the lettuce, so I’m careful to work around them. A plastic dome goes over a patch of lettuce.  We’ll be able to harvest it for a few more weeks.  

Then it’s time to dig. To my happy surprise, I find my composter filled with beautiful black compost. I layer it under the top foot of soil, and try to transfer soil from one corner of a plot to another. I’m not sure why it works but garden wisdom tells us to mix it up.

Then I cover the garden plots with straw. It’s supposed to keep down the weeds and, when it degrades, adds to the nutrients in the soil. The work in the autumn chill tires me out. With a warm cup of cocoa in hand, I look out at the beds neatly topped with straw comforters. We are ready for winter. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Made me Grateful

The real victims of Hurricane Sandy—those who lost loved ones and/or homes, those who remain in shelters—remain in my prayers. Though we were certainly inconvenienced by “Super Storm Sandy,” and though, while experiencing 11 days without power we felt we were living in Colonial times or the Twilight Zone, I’ve found a number of things Sandy reminded me to be grateful for:

       1.       The opportunity to give our refrigerator and freezer a total cleaning

2.       The opportunity to clear stacks of kindling wood from our garage and to finally get rid of the logs from the tree we lost in the Microburst of October 2006

3.       My Girl Scout training that enabled me to consistently build a start-with-one-match fire in our fireplace

4.       The money saved by not using electricity and heating  for 11 days

5.       The money saved on gas for the car—who could take a long trip when gas station lines stretched half a mile?

6.       More time with my husband since he couldn’t watch the Tennis Channel

7.       The free time to patch cracks and paint the upstairs hallway

8.       More time—during the day at least—to read

9.       Missing all the political commercials and robo-calls

10.   The Montclair Library, that provided warmth and Wi-Fi 24 hours a day

11.   Terra Tea Shop that consistently served hot, delicious soups and warm drinks, even delivering them to my “work station” in the library auditorium.

12.   Montclair and all the houses of worship and organizations that opened their doors to support those who were in the dark and cold

13.   More evidence for those who consistently deny climate change, hopefully leading them to rethink their position.

14.   The generosity of neighbors near—those across the street who extended a power line when their electricity came back—and far –the people who drove from their southern states to help NJ neighbors, political differences notwithstanding.

15.   The opportunity to appreciate what I have, and, as we begin National Homeless Awareness Week,  to better understand the plight of our homeless neighbors who must always seek places of warmth, light and the next warm meal.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Early Snow - Nov. 7th

my backyard this morning

               The snow is truly lovely to look at. And sun on snow makes everything look brighter. That’s particularly important to me today, since it’s day 11 that we are without power after Sandy’s roar-through.
                In the 21 years we’ve lived in Montclair, we may have used the gas heater, installed in the basement room, on five or six occasions. But during this power outage, we’ve run it while we’ve been home. It’s managed to bring the heat in the dining room up from 52o this morning to 58 o now. Still cold, but with the outside temperature at 40 something, much more tolerable.  The fireplace in the living room gives us light, some heat, and comfort in the evening.
                I have developed great admiration for both the indigenous Native Americans of the area and the early settlers. I can’t imagine anticipating an entire winter in a poorly-insulated shelter, where the only heat is from wood I’d either chopped or gathered, and the only evening light from candles, previously made, and moonlight. However did they survive?
                This is the second year in a row when we’ve had an unseasonably early snow storm. Prior to last year, I’d almost have bet my bank account that it would not snow before Thanksgiving in this area. I remember how unusual it was that I actually went skiing the weekend following Thanksgiving one November in the late 1960s.
                Yet early as it is, we are not talking an insignificant flurry; yesterday’s snow dropped three packing-perfect inches, the kind of snow that just begs you to build with it. Normally, I’d respond. But today, knowing there was no chance to warm up afterwards, I had to merely take its picture and hope I’ll get another chance to sculpt snow this winter—when I have heat in my home.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Oct 29th 5:00 PM

                Mother Nature reminded us that humans are not running the world, that we are, after all, just another species of animal living off her bounty.  Today she’s telling us in no uncertain terms that she is in charge.
                The fiercest hurricane I've experienced is raging outside as I write. I watch branches of a tall oak—twice as tall as my neighbors’ house—wave over their roof like a giant hand about to rip it off. I pray that the tree holds strong in its roots and leaves our friends’ in safety. They were kind enough to give us C batteries a little while ago se we could use a battery-operated radio to hear occasional news. We lost power two hours ago and with it, our heat that triggers from the electrically-controlled thermostat.
                The radio says the worst is yet to come. At least the rain is not heavy. If the ground becomes saturated, our basement will likely flood, since the sump pump, of course, runs on electricity.
                I find myself thinking of all those Jane Austin books I’ve read, wondering how they managed with no electricity. Maybe it was easier. You shoveled coal into the burner to keep the place warm and made sure you had enough candles and/or kerosene for the cold months. How many candles must they have burned to light up the evening balls they attended—or even to play piano by? I try to read by the light of five candles, backed with an aluminum tray for reflected light. It’s daunting.

Oct. 31st—Halloween
                We can finally drive off our block. The power line was down at the corner was removed. Being at a dead end, we were cut off.  We drive carefully through town. We encounter no school buses or crossing guards. Schools must be closed for a third day. I wonder how people were informed. Most people’s cell phones have run down by now. The YMCA has power! And heat! The warm pool is wonderful, ditto the shower and sauna. But we return to a 59 degree home.
                The radio says not to expect power until Monday. Burrrr.  My daughter tries to call on our cell phone—we recharged at the Y, but I hear only every other word. Seems some transmitting towers are down. She doesn’t have power in Newark either. No surprise, Sandy knocked out the power station on Raymond Boulevard, not so far from her place, I couldn't hear if she has heat. I hope they get Newark back on line soon.

Nov. 1st  1:00 PM
                No trick-or-treaters last night. All was dark and cold on our block. Seems the Governor postponed All Hallows Eve until Monday. And school has been cancelled all week. Unprecedented!
                We drove to the library—it stayed open late to accommodate those out of power—and discovered that most of the town was either walking about downtown or there.  Returned home to build a fire in our fireplace. It added a little warmth and much comfort.
                Thank goodness it hasn't rained since Sandy—and our basement hasn't flooded. So many people in New Jersey have been flooded out. Whereas, though incredibly inconvenient—and cold—this lost week is tolerable. And, thanks to our wonderful Montclair library, I’m able to use my computer.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Autumn Hike

September 30th
Autumn is here in the wind, the temperature—54o at dawn, the scattered clusters of blush and yellow leaves among the green. The lake is too cold to consider a swim and the wind-driven waves are stronger than I want to fight in my canoe.

But it’s a perfect day for a hike in the woods. I locate a trail on my map–“Parker”—on the north-east side of Sussex State Park.  As predicted, the trail enters the forest near the area where we park the car.  The path descends rapidly to a stream about 15 feet wide, then parallels the water.  A pleasant gurgling accompanies us as water flows and we stumble over rocks. Soon pine trees skirt the brook and the path opens up. The rocks are replaces by a soft blanket of pine needles.  It’s a pleasure to walk here. The spongy ground welcomes our feet and springs back. We are enveloped in quiet.

As a child, wandering in the woods behind my aunt’s home in Ronkonkoma, I often tried to walk “like an Indian” –silently. I never succeeded. Dry leaves and twigs always betrayed me. Now I imagine that Native Americans may have chosen paths through the piney areas.

The map shows the trail crossing another stream which flows into ours. I expect to find a small bridge, or at least a log, but instead there is only a chain of rocks, breaking the surface of the water from our side to the opposite bank.

“The water’s too cold to cross now,” says my husband. “We’ll have to come back here in the summer.”
I agree. I wouldn't want to fall in and ride home chilled and wet.

Reluctantly we turn around and retrace our steps through the pine-scented woods.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Butterfly Tragedy

On Monday I brought three fat caterpillars with milkweed to teachers in Nishuane School. By now they should have formed chrysalises and, if all goes well, will emerge within 14 days to be joyously released by second-graders to begin flights to Mexico.

That left me with only one chrysalis yet to open in my butterfly box. Last night it appeared almost black—a sure sign that there would be a butterfly in the morning. Often they take their time, emerging after 9 AM. But my glance at the top of my box this morning at 6:30 showed nothing, neither black chrysalis nor butterfly. Something was wrong.

At the bottom of the box, a partially developed Monarch female lay struggling—legs kicking in the air, wings about half filled out.  I hurriedly found narrow objects—a pencil, a thin candle—and tried to get her to grab onto them. She clutched but let go repeatedly, seeming not to have strength to hold on.

When butterflies first emerge, their wings are no longer than the length of the chrysalis case, about 5/8 inch. Their abdomens are full of liquid. They must cling to the top of the empty case and pump the liquid into their wings to fill them out, then let the wings dry out, before they can fly. If the butterfly releases its grip and falls at that critical time, the wings will not properly open and it’ll be crippled.

The wings of my poor butterfly were creased. I tried, very gently, to straighten them, but it was too late. All that time she had spent stuffing herself with milkweed as a caterpillar, shedding skin and turning inside out, then waiting for the promise of flight. And now she is doomed to be a crawling insect.

I carried her outside and placed her on a flower. She fell. I tried again and again, several times, until she managed to cling on. Then sadly, I left her.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tomato Attack!

I looked up three times from the book I was reading before my brain registered that something was amiss.  Four tomato plants grow in nearby pots. Some held tomatoes in shades of green turning to red. Yesterday, all had had lush foliage and blossoms.  Now, it was all but one; the left-most plant was almost denuded.

I stared at the plant, wondering if the groundhog had attacked it. I doubted that. Broccoli and cabbage leaves, yes—he devoured them –but tomato leaves? Never before. Besides, the groundhog usually eats top down. This plant was empty from the bottom up. Two sprigs of leaves were left on top.

As I watched, one of the leaves moved—continually, rhythmically, up and down. Weird. And that leaf was a more apple green than the others. It was segmented too. Putting my book aside I approached the plant. It wasn’t a leaf. It was an ugly green bug masquerading as a leaf! Its relatively large head was actively— continually— chomping on one of the few remaining tomato leaves.

I am not unfriendly to insects. I raise Monarch caterpillars. I smile benevolently at spiders. When I find an ant in my kitchen I carefully capture him and let him go outdoors. But this creature was ruining my chance of eating fresh tomatoes. At the rate it was eating, I was certain it was just a short matter of time before it moved on to the next tomato plant.  But I couldn’t touch it. It horrified me. Its busy mouth appeared full of huge teeth. I needed backup.

I called my son out to look. “Yuck, that’s ugly,” he said. “What is it?”

“I don’t know but we have to stop it.”

“You stop it,” he said. “I’m not touching it.”

Joe retreated to his computer to look up the bug, Googling on “worm” and “tomato.” Seems our marauder is a Horned Tomato Worm.  This picture came from

Meanwhile, I called my husband, who saved the day—and the tomato plant. He removed the twig on which the segmented green monstrosity feasted, plunged it into the bird bath, and held it down. I admit to feeling a twinge of guilt about our taking a life. But at the same time, I hope the deceased has no relatives nearby.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Raider of the Lost Pears

Gazing out our kitchen window, my husband and I watch the resident groundhog approach our pear tree. The tree is just three yards from the window and abundantly laden with not-quite-ripe fruit.

But the neighborhood squirrels haven’t waited for ripe. They’ve been raiding the tree for three weeks. It’s infuriating that each time we step foot out back, there’s a squirrel in the tree. He chooses a pear, takes a few bites, and drops it to the ground.

Now beneath the tree, the groundhog finds a second-hand pear. He sits up on his haunches, holding the pear in his front paws and delicately takes a bite. I know he’s a garden pest but he looks adorable.  And perhaps he’s heard that our yard is a certified wildlife habitat; he looks totally relaxed. We watch as he takes a nibble and carefully chews, turning the fruit in his tiny paws. He obviously enjoys the pear for five minutes, then drops the core and moves closer to choose another partially eaten fruit. Nice of him to neaten up our yard. Nice cooperation between our wildlife.

Last year the squirrels and groundhog left only one untouched pear for us. We don’t mind sharing but that was insulting.  This year we are being proactive. We’re bringing not-quite-ripe pears into the house so we’ll get to eat some ourselves. The wildlife will have to learn to share.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chance of Passing Thunderstorms

               Just as my husband cast out a line, a deep rumble sounded in the east. We looked east to see masses of blue-gray cumulus clouds. Thus far, it had been a hot, sunny day. There was just enough wind to make it pleasant on the dock where we sat.
                “Looks like Culver Lake is in for a storm,” I said. That larger lake lies east of us, across route 206, and, after all, most weather comes from the west. I figured the storm had bypassed us.
                Within minutes we felt rain drops. My husband reeled in his line and began gathering things—towels, glasses, the newspaper—to leave the dock.
                “We’re in bathing suits. Are you afraid you’ll get wet?” I asked.
                He didn’t have to answer. I got my answer from the lightening streaked sky. Then huge drops of rain splattered everywhere. We ran for shelter and watched the trees bow and shake, the lake churn, and our neighbor’s house disappear in the mist and gloom.
                Ten minutes later—again from the east—sunshine lit the treetops. The lake, suddenly back into view, calmed down to reflect a clear blue sky.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Curious Fish – Majestic Birds

I lower my toes to test the water. It is comfortably warm, so I step in up to my calves. Immediately three fish—the largest about five inches long—come to check me out. I can’t identify most fish, but I think they must be sunnies. Sunfish are curious and will nibble at almost anything. Hoping they won’t try to nibble my feet, I check them out.

Bluegill - Wikipedia Image
These may be Bluegills.  I get a net, hoping to catch one and put it in a bucket so I can compare it to pictures in my fish book.

My feet and the net go back into the water. A bigger brother to the small fry shows up. He’s got to be eight inches long. I make a swoop with the net and he’s gone. I forgot that water refracts an image. I must have aimed for the wrong spot. Besides, my reflexes are much slower than his.

Great Blue Heron - US Fish & Wildlife Photo
Later, when both my husband and I are swimming, we look up to see two large, majestic birds flying slowly and gracefully toward us. Each with a wingspan of more than five feet, they dominate the sky. We hear the wind in their wings as they pass overhead and watch as they touch down at the near end of the lake. Now we can see the blue-gray feathers, long legs and necks of this Blue Heron pair. Just as there is only one swan couple on the lake, this is the only pair of herons. But I’d not seen the two together before. I consider it a lucky event whenever either makes an appearance.  After their brief visit in the shallows, we get an encore performance as the pair take to the skies, winging back up the lake.

Monday, July 2, 2012


“Look at this creature on my arm,” said my husband. He was floating in the lake, upheld by a purple noodle, a few feet from the dock. “It looks like a tiny dragon or a lobster.”
I swam over. The bug on his arm—yes, definitely a bug—was tan, had six legs, and an incredible thin tail (or other body part?). It was no more than an inch long. I couldn’t identify it for certain. The bug soon jumped ship –or arm.

Later, we found another of those bugs on the dock. “But it’s dead,” said my husband.

I saw a couple of empty exoskeletons of dragonflies attached to the edge of the dock. I had researched them the previous year. Their bodies are also tan, but wider, shorter and shield-shaped. 
I began to wonder. Perhaps this “bug” is the nymph form of a damselfly? Although the damselflies look much like dragonflies in flight, the damselfly has a narrower tail and folds its wings when it settles. The dragonfly keeps its double wings open. But could the nymph stage of these related insects—both of order Odonata—be so different?

The next day I found two dozen empty exoskeletons clinging to the edge of the dock. And four pairs of delicate, electric blue damselflies flew in tandem, just skirting the water. “Those MUST be the empty shells of the damselflies’ nymph stage,” I told my husband.

A little research on the Internet proved the hypothesis. I remain amazed that those beautiful blue insects emerged from such an unattractive, wingless, and tinier shell. I have watched a Monarch Butterfly emerge from its chrysalis and then pump up its wings from two centimeters to their full length—truly an ordinary miracle. I hope someday to be lucky enough to see a damselfly emerge from its exoskeleton. Till then, I can’t do better than this You Tube Video:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In Search of Water Lilies


         I want to do a detailed drawing of lily pads. The people who’ve assigned flowers to each month attributed the lily for July—my birth month. Maybe that’s why those flowers fascinate me. It’s kismet.
          I load up the canoe—my glasses, a Bristol pad, two pencils, a canteen of water, two paddles—“for insurance” I tell my husband, and an anchor, so I can sit relatively still among the lilies.  I fasten on my required life preserver and cast off.
          Immediately the canoe’s prow turns north, exactly opposite to where I want to go. I paddle as hard as I can to turn the boat against the strong wind and current from the south end of the lake. After 50 yards in the wrong direction, I manage to face the canoe into the wind. It’s a fight just to keep it straight and bring it back to our own dock. The wind insists it will only let me progress if I go north.
          Guess the lilies will have to wait till the wind changes its mind.

                A steady wind blew all Monday and Tuesday. Today it seems to have died down a bit. I stow my gear on the canoe and set out again. This time I’m able to paddle upwind — south.  I get half way down the lake, almost to the lily pads when the wind picks up and with it, the waves. They force the canoe broadside and I’m pushed back 100 yards. In spite of my best efforts to turn the prow south, all I turn is circles. I see no one on the lake or shore, but if anyone is watching, they must be laughing.

          I waited two days to get this close to the water lilies. I refuse to give up. I paddle as hard as I can, switching quickly from side to side and make slow progress south. Fighting the wind all the way, I finally arrive amidst the lily pads and drop anchor.

          If I thought the lily pads would lie still and pose for my sketch, I was very mistaken. Of course each grouping I concentrate on ripples with the water and too often I spin right over the lilies. After forty-five minutes I decide I have enough of a drawing to work on back home. Besides, I fear I’ll become seasick if I spin around much more.

          I yank on the anchor but it doesn’t budge. I settle into the bottom of the canoe and pull again. Nothing. The anchor is twisted about a grouping of lilies. I certainly don’t want to destroy my subject by uprooting them—but that doesn’t seem possible anyway. I consider leaving the anchor. Without a knife I can’t cut the thick rope and hate to leave anchor and eight yards of good rope—most of which sits coiled in the canoe, the lake’s no more than eight feet deep here—at the bottom of the lake. I pull the canoe directly over the tangled lilies and unwind the rope in the direction opposite the tangle. Then, after the third tug, I feel the anchor begin to lift. What a relief!

          There’s little need to paddle now; I merely have to keep the canoe facing north to let the wind and current bring me home. Someday, when the lake is like glass, I’ll try again. Maybe the water lilies will hold a pose then.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rainbow Weather

A family across the street generously invited everyone on the block to a potluck pool party last Sunday to welcome two new families who moved onto our block this spring. The party began at 3:00.  At 3:15 it began to rain. Adults rushed to get the food from the exposed table to one on the patio, under an awning. Children reluctantly left the pool at the insistence of parents when thunder accompanied a harder rain.

Our spirits were not the least bit dampened. If anything, the party was a bit more cozy for all the neighbors packed onto the patio.

Then the sun returned—sort of, because it kept on drizzling. I jumped off the patio to get an eastward view. One neighbor, Mara, was already standing in the sunlight.

“You’re another rainbow chaser,” I said to her. “This is rainbow weather.”
“It is!” she agreed.

Two years ago, when the sun had burst through clouds during a shower, both Mara and I had rushed into the street looking for a rainbow. And we had found it at the east end of the block, arching over the park. But now there was no rainbow in sight.

“There should be,” said Mara.

The party over, I returned home and kicked off my wet sandals. The phone rang almost immediately.
“There’s a rainbow,” said Mara’s voice.
“Wow! See you outside.”
We met in the middle of the street—both of us barefoot. And there, at the eastern end of the block was a rainbow, arching over the park.
Definitely rainbow weather.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Growing Wild

I need a good recipe for weeds.  They are growing better than the vegetables in my garden. Using weeds for food would be sustainable and easier than digging them all up repeatedly. In truth, I do have a terrific recipe for one weed, dill; it’s cucumber soup with dill weed.  But if I let the dill grow everywhere it chooses there won’t be any room for the cucumbers. And dill is far from the only offender.  There’s a small succulent weed that has returned to may garden every year in spite of my never allowing it to flower or go to seed.
                Other unwelcome things are growing rapidly. I have frightening thoughts that if I neglected my garden one year, we’d need a bush whacker to enter the backyard. Suddenly there’s a hedge plant growing up—ten feet high—through the middle of a rosa multiflora bush. That bush itself has branched out in every direction. I spent 45 minutes trimming back only half of it and have numerous scratches to prove it.  
                The flowering quince, which had behaved itself for 20 years, tripled in size this spring.  That’s another recipe I need—some way to use quince.  My neighbor tried to make jam with them a few years ago and reported that she had to use so much sugar that it wasn’t worth it. That plant is the first to blossom each spring. Its short-lived beauty is worth it.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lake Weather

        Weather at the lake changes so rapidly one can’t assume how it will be from one hour to the next. On Saturday, it was warm and sunny. Luckily, I got in a swim at 11:00. My husband decided he’d wait till it warmed up, but before noon it began to drizzle and within an hour the drizzle grew to a downpour which continued till evening.
        “If it’s like this tomorrow,” said my spouse, “we might as well go home.”

        But Sunday—in spite of dire predictions of “possible thundershowers” –remained lovely till twilight. True, overnight there were thundershowers, but those did not put a damper on gardening, swimming, or canoeing.

        So this morning, Memorial Day, fog obscures most of the mountain across the lake. Campers on the Appalachian Trail that passes over that mountain will have to wait to see the vast vistas for which the trail is famous.  But mountain weather is changeable. It’s likely the fog will burn off in a couple of hours. I hope so. It would be nice to swim under a sunny sky again.

        At least the cycle of nature here is predictable, though a bit early by the calendar. The resident swan couple sails regally about, reminding us of their ownership of the south end of the lake.  The lily pads have begun to make an appearance, as have some very few dragonflies and the foliage—including weeds—is lush.

        Ah! The sky is lightening. There are patches of blue. It will be another lovely day—or at least, a lovely morning.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Deep into Spring

I had forgotten how beautiful the lake is. We had stayed away from the lake for almost a month to nurse our cat, MishMish, following her surgery. The lake flashed its smile, almost laughed in the brilliant sunlight. The water was almost warm. The foliage, last time so sparse, was now filled out in many shades of green.  

And the weeds!  Our parking area was embarrassingly over-grown with them. I hate to think what the neighbors say over our neglectful landscaping.  So my husband got out the lawnmower and I put on my gloves and attacked the weeds. Two and a half hours and five buckets-full of weeds later we quit for the day at eight o’clock. The grass is trimmed, but there are still more weeds to remove from the parking area.

“There’s always tomorrow,” I told myself, thinking I’d finish weeding in the morning and clean off with a swim in the lake.

Wrong. We woke up to a drizzle. I pulled two plants of lettuce look-alikes from the garden, added from my compost pile, and planted new seeds—lettuce, zucchini, bush and soy beans. Then the rain came in earnest.  It will, no doubt, help the weeds I hadn’t gotten to to grow taller. More work to look forward to for our next visit.

Monday, May 14, 2012

April Flowers/May Showers

April flowers bring May showers. At least that seems to be what happened this year. I, for one, celebrated the perfusion of blooms this April, and I also celebrate the May rain. 

April had left my newly overturned garden plot bone dry. I was certainly not looking forward to having to continually irrigate in order to plant and nurture my vegetables. And I found myself wondering about the volume of water in our reservoirs. Most winters lay down a blanket of white which slowly melts with spring to fill the streams, rivers, and the reservoirs. But the only real snow came not in winter, but last fall—in October—with a vengeance. Everyone predicted an impossibly brutal winter, but their crystal balls were faulty. And we mercifully, had the mildest winter ever.

But what about the water? With no snow melt to fill the rivers I feared, in April, that we’d have a drought by July. But it seems my crystal ball, too, is faulty. Thank goodness!

Let it rain!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Groundhog Apartment—No longer available for lease

                We no longer want the “apartment”—the crawl space beneath our sunroom—to be available to groundhogs.
                “I don’t care if they live under the old stump in the back,” said my husband, “but I don’t want them under the house. They’ll ruin the foundation.”
                So, last month, after we had trapped and released a young groundhog, my husband made a platform of long planks with which he covered the foot-wide plot of earth on the side of the house.  I thought the hosta would push it up as it grew, but I was wrong. It’s just growing between the slats and no groundhog could dig through that.
                The wall under the sunroom on the south side of the house is interrupted by a short staircase and ends at the chimney. So there is only about a yard before the stair and half a yard on the other side where a groundhog could dig.  But dig they did. So we blocked those holes with bricks.
                But we didn’t count on the determination of these creatures.
                Two days ago we discovered fresh dirt on the walkway and a new, smallish hole tunneling right under the stairs. I set the trap and, yesterday, found a very wet groundhog sitting dejectedly in it. We read him his rights and convinced him to relocate.
                But before we could block up the hole—it’s still raining—on saw a groundhog—I’m certain it’s a different one—race across the back of the house and down the hole.
                Ah ha! I know where you are, I thought. So I set the trap again.
                And now there is another young groundhog sitting dejectedly in it.
                We will cement this hole. I do believe in affordable housing but the apartment under our sunroom is not available for squatters.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Just Dandy-lions

I like dandelions, really I do.  Seeing their sunny wildness against a background of green lawn makes me smile. But I also want to be a good neighbor.  Good neighbors don’t raise a crop of flowers that release hundreds of floating seeds to infiltrate nearby manicured lawns.

When I was a child, we called their delicate white seed carriers, which floated on the breeze, “fairies.” We would catch them, make a wish and blow them off our hands. I can’t remember if any of my wishes came true. But each year we chased after the “fairies” so we could wish.

A few years after we moved to Montclair, we had a bumper crop of those cheerful yellow flowers scattered over our front and back lawns. Though I enjoyed the sight, I knew that the following year there would be exponentially more, both in our yard and our neighbors. So I paid my then-young children to dig them out at five cents a plant. When they had filled a small bucket, they complained that it was hard work. So I doubled their wages. They actually removed almost every dandelion.

Each year since then I’ve only had to remove a few dozen dandelions from our lawn.

Last Friday I spent over an hour digging out every lion-headed flower I could find on our property. Today, ten more of the sinister little plants reared their golden heads. I dug out nine. The children on our block should have “fairies” to chase. I want to be a good neighbor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Unwelcome Tenants

            They’re back! Three weeks ago we discovered, in spite of what seemed a successful eviction in the fall, that a groundhog had over-wintered under our sunroom. There were five(!) new holes dug into the patches of grass along the side and back of the house, abutting the sunroom.
            “He’s got to go!” my husband declared. He rooted around in the garage for 40 minutes and dragged out four long planks and a few shorter ones. Soon he had constructed a long platform that he planted over the narrow area along the side of the house.
            “But the hosta is under there!” I protested. “It will push up the planks.”
            “Maybe. Maybe not,” he said. “Meanwhile, it will stop him.”
            He placed a series of bricks along the shorter area in back of the house.
            Last week, on two separate days, I saw two groundhogs—one large, and one quite young. In each case, when they saw me, they ran under my neighbor’s Jacuzzi.
            “At least they’ve left us,” my husband said.
            I wish!
            Yesterday there was a freshly dug hole right through the emerging iris foliage and under the bricks. It’s small—seems we have a new, young tenant.
            It’s time to serve another eviction notice! 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Day for the Birds

            Wednesday was a day for the birds. It was a beautifully warm day—too warm for the first week of March. Certainly the month did not come in like a lion. As we drove out to Sussex, everywhere red hawks swooped low over the roads. They are so graceful. Whenever I see a hawk I find myself singing the line from Oklahoma—“Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin' lazy circles in the sky.”

            At the lake we were greeted, serenaded by bird song. Everywhere there were tweets and warbles, chirps and trills. I sat at the edge of the dock, just enjoying the symphony. The hawks were showing off here too. Suddenly there were seven of them all making large, slow counterclockwise circles over our end of the lake. I don’t think hawks eat fish. Were they simply enjoying the thrill of riding the wind? My husband and I watched in fascination. They defined similar, but non-intersecting circles at different heights. What flight controller had planned their paths?
           One hawk came low enough to brush the bare branches of a nearby tree. Then he angled his right wing and, continuing his circle, caught an updraft. How I wished I could soar with him.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spring Signs

            There was ice on the bird bath this morning. And a frosty breeze met my face as I biked. But the crocuses are out and daffodil buds are beginning to show.
            Another sign that spring will soon be here is The Groundhog. I say “The Groundhog” because we all suspect it is the same one we chased out from the crawl space under our sunroom last October. We blocked up all the holes he had dug and thought he must have found another home. However, it seems some groundhog has overwintered under the sunroom because we found five entrance or exit holes along the back and side of the house.

            So my husband got creative. He found some long, old boards in the garage which he fashioned into a platform the length of the side of the house. He laid the platform over the foot-wide sward of dirt alongside the house where four of the holes were. We blocked the hole in the back of the house with stones. There is no way this groundhog can get under the sunroom now. I’m certain he’ll remain nearby. He so enjoys my garden greens.

            I have warned my husband that the hosta he has covered up with his platform is a determined plant. There are openings in the platform, but I still think the hosta will push it up. We’ll soon see as we watch spring take over the yard.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

January Lake

The lake is beautiful on a somewhat-warm Tuesday—a glistening coat of ice making its surface totally placid.  Ice begins about three inches out from the liquid shoreline. I sit at the end of the dock and place a foot on the surface. It feels thick, but I don’t stand up. Being in ice-water up to my thighs is not on my to-do list today.

We walk around the lake—we haven’t been here since before Christmas. Forsythia branches are covered with buds—a promise of spring. Now only the pachysandra and pines sport a deep green. Grass is yellow-tinted and dotted with tan. Red hawks seem to be flying lower than usual. I’m surprised. Isn’t it easier to spot prey now that the oaks and sycamores have dropped their leaves?

Two mallard ducks swim in a tiny, iceless pool where the shore bells out slightly. At the shallow south end of the lake, where water lilies crowded last summer, the two resident swans swim.  A neighbor tells us that they had seven cygnets last summer but he thinks most were grabbed by snapping turtles. Graceful as ever, the parent couple seems perfectly content in the frigid water. I hope to see this year’s nestlings in the summer.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blame it on Global Warming

            Blame it on global warming—the volatile changes in temperature. Saturday was sunny and warm. It was the tenth anniversary/protest of prisoners brought to Guantanamo Prison and detained without trial. I was able to wear a sleeveless orange jump suit (representing the prison garb) over just a cotton, long-sleeved T for our Montclair vigil—and I was comfortably warm. Sunday morning was warm enough for just a raincoat over a light sweater. But by the afternoon, the wind picked up, the clouds rolled in, and I put on my winter coat, earmuffs and gloves to take a walk in the local park.  Ditto for this morning.

            I can use my orange cat as a bellwether. Days when she lies on the radiator moping, or watches the birds from the window, are days when I need to bundle up. It’s either too cold, too windy, wet, or all three. Otherwise, her favorite pastime is to sit in a patch of sunlight in the backyard.

            After that strange October snowstorm, everyone feared we were in for a tough winter. Now—not that I’m hoping for snow—I’m surprised that we’ve gotten to January 9th without seeing the white stuff. And mustard greens, kale, and beets are still growing in my garden. There’s lettuce too, under a plastic dome. Definitely unusual!  But we haven’t even reached mid-winter. Who can guess how the weather might turn?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Warm New Year!

            What an incredible day it is for January 1st! Temperature in the high forties and yesterday was even warmer.  After that insane snowstorm in October, everyone was certain we had to hunker down and be ready for the worst winter ever.  Yes, I know winter is only 32 days old.  And it may yet show itself to be a chilling horror. But so far, it’s come in like a lamb.

            Lettuce, kale, pak choi, carrots and beets are still growing in my garden—along with copious weeds. So, with the surface soil melted enough to cultivate, I spent two hours yesterday and one today pulling out all the uninvited greens.  I figure, if I get them out now, there’s more chance there’ll be fewer of them when it’s time for spring planting.

            I’m not the only one taking advantage of the mild temperatures. Many people were walking and jogging in the park. Neighbors across the street were trimming bushes and raking away leaves.
            “It’s spring!” the man called to me.

            While I know it can’t be spring, humans aren’t the only ones confused. The snow drops have blossomed—a bit ahead of schedule, and I saw a cherry tree blooming in Manhattan yesterday.  

            But, though I love our Mother Nature, I don’t think we can trust her to not throw us another curve before the spring equinox.  After all, she is asserting her independence from the changes humans have wrought on her domain.