Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cloud Bottoms And New Snow

One of the natural features that makes our home site special is the bedrock ridge to our East.  Similar in profile to Hawaii's familiar Diamond Head, it forms a perfect frame for celestial events.  A full moon rising is frequently located so that a huge white pine tree appears to be supporting the moon between its trunk and a massive side branch as the moon clears the ridge.  This morning Venus and the crescent moon were scheduled to appear here very close to each other at 5am.

The alarm was needlessly set as I was awake one half hour early.  A quick check of conditions found new snow in the air and solid cloud cover.  Later the clouds thinned enough to show just how close together the planet and the moon actually were.  The distance between them is unusually small and their appearance would have been breathtaking had the sky been clear.

Yesterday morning the sky was clear and their combined light shining in the bedroom window smacked me in the face for a predawn wake up.  Venus was close, perfectly circular and bright.  What little that was illuminated on the moon cast distinct shadows.  The two bodies were rather close to each other in the sky but nothing like this morning.  Someone will likely post their photo of this special morning under clear skies.  At least I will be able to say that I was up in time to see it.

Two days ago the weather was seasonably warm and I was drawn outside for a walk about.  Deep wet snow made walking a physical strain but slow determined steps took me up the lane as far as our back meadow.  These remains of a fallen tree caught my eye.  The combination of green moss covering blackened rotting wood and the two horns creates an unusual image.  When the snow is finally gone and the frost leaves the ground, I shall return to this spot looking to see if this natural sculpture can be moved to a garden.  Placement in the shade garden would allow the moss to continue to grow.  If memory serves, the trunk of this fallen giant is massive.  Hacking out a suitably sized piece for the garden may be more of a job than I am willing to tackle.  That would explain why this tree lies undisturbed exactly where it fell.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Trunk Circles And Spring Tails

Winter has been harsh this year but today the temperature may have hit 50 F.  Smooth slick ice formed everywhere overnight.  By afternoon the lane was clear and a walk about was in order.  Not knowing how I would fare walking in the deep wet snow, a short walk to the gravel bank seemed a good choice.  Here the sun is beginning to expose the horizontal surface of the temporary stone pile.  The depth of the accumulated snow is more than we usually see here.  Small stones of visual interest are gathered together on top of the wall.  Repeated cold cycles and melting snow have polished them clean.

A wide variety of small stones have been dropped here by glacial meltwater.  Fossil bearing sandstone formed nearby is found with limestone that came here from the North.  The striped egg was brought to us all the way from the Adirondack Mountains.  A new crack has opened in the stone in the upper right corner of the photo.  A peek at the interior of that stone is needed.  It would have already happened but the crack was not seen until the picture was examined.

These black specks are the first from of insect life that we encounter here at this time of year.  Spring tails is their name.  It refers to the method of their movement not the impending season.  A snap of their posterior hurls them into the air.  Topography and wind control their destination.  A depression formed by a sleeping deer and a West wind have combined to deposit numerous insects in a small space.  We need to learn something of their life cycle.  Where they came from, what they are eating and why now are unknown to us.  Still it is good to see some signs of life after this brutal winter.

Another puzzle is shown here.  Snow has melted around the base of this tree.  At first glance, it seems that the dark colored tree has absorbed heat from the sunlight causing snow melt.  If that were the only factor, then one would expect a greater open area where the tree faces the sun.  The side of the tree that remains in shadow has melted as much snow as the side in bright sunlight.  There must be another factor at work here.

We have failed to have a wild blueberry harvest for the past three consecutive years.  Late frost or early drought have worked together to take the fruit.  These swollen buds are promise of things to come.  If we do have a harvest this year, it could be a big one.  There is always hope.

Our first seed order arrived here in today's mail.  Finding that package in the mail box just made me feel hopeful.  We need to send out another order soon.  I will be putting lettuce seed to soil in less than three weeks.  Of course the seeds will be in pots in the basement and they will be planted way too early but I will do it despite rational reasons to wait for a more appropriate time.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


On Monday, while I was driving near the mighty muddy Unadilla River, a sizable group of Canada Geese were spotted flying fairly low over the ice choked water.  It seemed that they are here early as much of the river is presently still frozen solid.  Where fast current flows in the shallows no ice is found but any goose in that water will have to paddle furiously just to hold its position. The need to claim a good nesting site has clouded their better judgement but food is in generous supply since the farmers have begun to spread their brown gold on the fields.  Seeing the geese made me feel better because the season must be heading for a change. 

My two pots of Easter Lilies require twice daily turning to keep the stems straight.  Little is expected in the way of flowers since the planted bulbs were all rather small.  Growing plants at this time of year are a much needed promise of things soon to come.  What to do when these forced plants finish their growth cycle wildly out of season remains a question looking for an answer.  Perhaps a second growing season can be activated if the bulbs get some time in the refrigerator.

My initial plan was to purchase new bulbs this spring.  McClure and Zimmerman have listed L.Longiflorum bulbs in their catalog for the past several years.  The current catalog does not feature these bulbs and I can find no source for the uncrossed natural bulbs.  If new plants are purchased at the grocery store around Easter, then we can begin again.

This morning a mature bald eagle was spotted flying above our other muddy river the Susquehanna.  At this time of year nesting eagles should be close to having eggs in their nest.  Here is another unmistakable sign that this winter will soon end.  Time to place another seed order.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Snow, Shadows, Sunshine, Serenity

A muffled silence and quiet calm surrounds the garden after a snowstorm.  I never tire of the morning view out of our living room window.  The pristine white snow, Ed's stone walls and the sun coming up from behind the ridge make a picture too beautiful for words!

A little later in the day I ventured outside.  The air was crisp and cold.  Beautiful deep blue sky began to show through the clouds. So far only Ed's tracks have disturbed the smooth surface of the snow. I carefully made my way walking on the areas where Ed had plowed.

The white snow on ground, the spruce trees frosted with white, and the feathery white clouds against the blue sky made quite an impression.  I might have stayed out longer since it was so beautiful, but I was cold and the snow under foot was slippery.  I find that gravity has always had a stronger than normal pull on me. It seems to  get stronger every year.  Especially when it is slippery underfoot, I can find myself on the ground looking up at the blue sky before I even know it.  It was definitely time for me to head back inside to make a nice hot lunch.

By late afternoon  the deep blue of the sky was extraordinary.  Ed went out to take a few more pictures of this glorious day. Long blue shadows fell across the garden.  As the sun dropped in the west the blue shadows advanced. Without the warmth of the winter sun, the garden turned colder.

Not much of Ed's curved stone wall shows from beneath the pale blue snow.

I'm glad I'm inside a nice warm house and not out there with Ed's stone wall surrounded by the icy blue snow.  Even the picture seems cold!

The shadows have nearly engulfed the garden.  Only the shade garden and the hills in the east still have the warmth of the sun.  Time to enjoy these beautiful sights from inside the warm house until darkness fades the view to black.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Long Driveway

This photo requires an explanation as few clues about its subject are obvious.  The S curve of our lane passes between a hedgerow and a thicket of wild berry bushes.  A white arching plume of snow can be seen but the machine moving the snow is hidden from view.  When our move here was in the planning stage, I intended to live here happily until I was found face down in the garden.  Actively working right to the end was the plan.  Absolutely no thought was given to the possibility that a long slow decline might precede my final exit.  Now some things that were once taken for granted are presenting a challenge.

In the beginning of our time here, a hand snow pusher was the only tool used to remove modest snowfalls from the driveway.  A hired plow was called in for deeper storms.  After he stalled at the top of the hill leaving a mountain of snow blocking our road, a better solution needed to be found.  A small lawn tractor with plow served us well for years until the transmission failed while pushing snow up that same hill.  The repaired tractor still serves for small snowfalls but a tougher tractor equipped with a snow blower handles larger storms.  This picture would be more impressive if the snow plume was in a higher arch. Cold windblown snow stinging my face would be the result of a more impressive  snow discharge.  A close look at the volume of snow leaving the chute is worth an audible "wow".

Siting the house at a considerable distance from the road seemed like the logical choice at the time. We own only a tiny amount of road frontage so there was really no other choice.  The first gap in the snowbank is the shared lane that marks the spot where our land opens up.  The town road is near the top of the photo.  Sometimes I lure delivery drivers in by sanding this slope.  If they think that they can drive all the way to the house, they are committed once they crest this hill.  Now the dark gravel is beginning to peek through the snow.  It will warm with trapped sunlight and the lane will soon be clear of snow here.

Our S curve cannot be seen from the road but to date every driver that has reached this point has made it all the way to the top.  I clear enough width so that two vehicles can squeeze by each other here. When we leave the house we cannot see if someone else is driving up the lane.  If conditions warrant it, sand is also spread here but I tend to be miserly guarding the sixty gallon sand stash stored in the basement.  It must last until the spring thaw.

This final curve leads to the meadow that we call home.  Two days and two machines were required to handle the recent storm of unusual size.  The snow blower  can move an impressive amount of snow but it seems to be always on the verge of getting stuck.  Its rear wheels move downhill into untouched deep snow whenever the going gets hard.  One pass was made during the middle of the storm so that the tractor could move snow without becoming stuck.  A second effort followed the end of the snowfall.  We only almost became mired several times as learning how to operate this machine is ongoing.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the tasks that must be completed in order to live here are tending toward becoming beyond my ability to complete them.  If my customary good luck continues, I will leave here just before nature overwhelms me.  The two decades that this land has been ours have been filled with a lifetime of encounters with the natural world.  When we do leave, we will take this blog with us so that we can revisit the happy years spent here.