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.