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Lady, Corky and her son Lucky, another Lucky, Lill, Mitzi, Rags, another Lill, Molly, Sidney, Honey, Sadie, May, Ned, Tim, another Mitzi: a litany of dogs that have dashed through my life. Pepper, Polly, Smudge, Suzy: pups that barely put in an appearance before they were gone. Hunting dogs and herding dogs, farm dogs all, allowing us to work with them.
There is a stack of garden journals and handmade books at my left elbow. The oldest is from1996 and contains notes and stories about the beginnings of the gardens here. It wanders through three springs, skips summers all together and stops in 1999. There’s a newer one that starts in 1999 and has a few entries as far as 2002. Another has four entries in an unnoted year and yet another has only a watercolor of evergreens covered in snow.
The air is full of snowflakes and so cold that the rhododendron leaves outside the window have folded in on themselves. I sit at the dining room table as dusk draws in with a pile of seed catalogs at my elbow and a cup of vanilla tea to hand.
The air is filled with frost crystals and the snow crunches under my boots. I have walked out into a fairyland. As I step away from the house, an immature bald eagle flies around the farm yard. I get a blurry picture of him as he lites for just a blink on the top of a tree below the pasture.
Several years ago when our two daughters were becoming involved in activities outside the family, we decided to institute Cookie Night on the first Saturday night of December. The four of us would make, bake, frost and sample several batches of cookies, the bulk of which would be distributed to friends and family. We’d play Christmas records, make home made ice cream and spend at least this one evening together as a family.
Cows, contrary to popular belief, do not give milk, but rather, you have to take it. They do not strike cunning poses for photographers in green grassy pastures, they are all about the eating. They are not playful creatures with rakish senses of humor. And when a cow ruminates, it is all in the stomach, there is no thought. As a group, cows are slow-witted creatures of habit who don’t take kindly to having their routine interrupted in any way. There are, of course, exceptions.
The October sun rises with a clarity unlike that of any other month, picking out the reds and oranges shading to yellow in the woods. The colors have been slow come this year, but what a passing cold front didn’t blow down yesterday are now at their full blown glory.
A quiet morning in early September, crickets chirping, sparrows discussing the weather, the crows back in the woods having their morning kaffeeklatch. The traffic is light and, for the time being, the tractors are all silent while the neighboring farmers finish morning chores and go in to breakfast. There is a general slowing, like a breath drawn in deeply and expelled slowly with a bit of a sigh at the end. Fall is here, starting with just a hint of a chill in the breeze wandering under sunny skies, and a touch of rusty red in the green of the distant wood.
Traveling down a side road that runs through wetlands, I suddenly notice that the swamp milkweed and the swamp roses have begun to bloom, sure signs that summer is progressing quickly towards its climax. Before the summer gets away from us, here are some poems for a summer afternoon - grab a lemonade, find some shade and enjoy.
Ephermera, from the Greek for “things lasting only a day” as in the May Fly of the order Ephemeroptera. In the plant kingdom, ephemerals are a bit longer lived, but once their flowers have set seed, they too may disappear in a day. The fleeting days of late April and May bring them forth on the hills and in the wooded valleys, but seek them early, for when June warms up to summer, all trace will be but a memory
We are having a slushy, icy, snowy, drizzly January thaw this week. It has been a winter of big snow falls, often feet at a time. Stan had to clear the barnyard with the snowblower last week so he could get one of the outdoor heifers in for a pregnancy check and the rest of them have taken advantage of the clearing, keeping any new snow that falls stomped down. They wander back and forth between the bale ring in the lane behind the sheds and the barnyard.
Winter is a long season here in the hills to the east of Lake Erie. It sometimes starts in October and lasts until May, but it always takes all of December and January and February, filling the shortest days and then the lengthening days with cold and snow. It gives me time to consider the season.
My wreaths begin in the late summer when the cones drop. I pick up red pine cones down along the cedar break and while I’m there, pick some of the tiny white cedar cones. I wander down to the fence line at the bottom of the little orchard and pick the Japanese larch cones that swing on the lower branches. I harvest hemlock cones in the swampy little wood on Stan’s brother’s land and red spruce cones down by our little creek. I add them to my growing collection kept in old laundry baskets and cardboard boxes and wait.
The southwestern corner of New York State is a place of rolling hills. Worn down from ancient mountains, ground by ice age glaciers, these hills that rise east of Lake Erie support a decreasing number of small family dairy farms.
One Sunday morning when I was three and still an only child, my mother and grandmother stopped at my Aunt Dode’s for a moment after church. I, in my church dress and sunbonnet, was turned loose into the backyard and the ladies went into the house. Five minutes later, when they came out to collect me, I stood there with a big grin and my little hands full of every blossom budding, blooming and dying that had been decorating my aunt’s pansy patch. It was my first foray into the fine art of deadheading and it left a lasting impression.
The January thaw has come and gone. Where there was greening grass that the outdoor heifers browsed beneath the summer’s dried stalks, there is now again snow that the heifers scuff through in a token sort of way before visiting the hay ring.
Flower Pounding, gardener’s stress relief or dyeing with your garden’s bounty? Ah, perhaps a bit of both. The natural pigments pounded into properly prepared fabric can make a lovely piece of art, and allow you to let off a little steam at the same time.
While grazing has been the standard way to feed cows for centuries, in the late 1950s and early ‘60s a new kind of conventional farming was instituted in the confinement barn. All the cows’ feed is brought to them, a more controlled diet is supposed to make milk production more abundant and increase desirable components (butterfat, proteins and other solids). There are arguments both for and against this particular kind of dairying, and I will make no judgment here, but we went in a different direction.
This farm had a lot of treasures when we bought it, among them a large hedge of blueberry bushes out behind the machinery shed. Unfortunately, while they were tall and full of very healthy leaves, they had stopped producing blueberries.
You should know from the outset that I am not a bee keeper. If you’re looking for information about honey and hives, this is not the article you want. My bees are not honey bees. They are mostly large bumblebees that buzz around sipping from my gardens and amusing me.
I have a children’s story that begins: “Grandma doesn’t like roses, they have thorns that prick her, a sweet smell that makes her sneeze, and their blossoms often harbor bees, maybe just one, scarlet red, out of the way by the back yard door...”