Saturday, January 23, 2016

Five In A Row

We were hoping to view the alignment five planets that is currently happening.  Yesterday 6:00 AM  found us awake looking at dark clear skies.  Jupiter was just rising above our nearby high ridge.  Thin low clouds frequently blocked our view as the bright planet remained for a time below the tree line.  Celestial observations in our area are severely impacted by nearly constant cloud cover or river fog.  We were unwilling to let this opportunity to see the five  planets arranged in a line pass us by.  A short road trip to a hill top with an unobstructed view to the east was necessary.

It was a cold morning with the temperature in the single digits. We quickly bundled up. A light coating of snow crunched under our feet the way it does only in this kind of cold.  By the time we were road ready, the sky was filling with morning light.  When we finally reached the hilltop, only one planet remained visible in the ever brightening light of dawn.  A second factor impacted our chances of finding other planets.  We thought that common sense indicated that the other planets would be found along a nearly vertical line extending from Jupiter to the horizon.  The planets travel an area of sky near the path of the sun and everyone knows that the sun is overhead by noon.  However, at this time of year the sun follows a path well south of overhead.  As it turns out, some of the remaining four planets might have been found had we looked along a nearly horizontal line trailing behind Jupiter.

We were awake early this morning ready to try again using our newly found correct information.  All that we could see today were cloud bottoms.  Despite decades of repeated attempts, we have never seen Mercury.  It never ventures far from the sun and our high horizons limit dark sky near sunrise or sunset.  On the plus side, our location has once again spared us from the fierce winter storm that is now moving up the coast.  We should see only broken clouds and sunshine today as the storm passes far to our east.  Perhaps we will have a chance to try again tomorrow!

Friday, January 15, 2016

January Thaw

Winter in upstate New York displays several different faces.  A warm spell is so common during this month that it has a recognized name.  Most winters snow is so deep by mid January that some melting is much appreciated.  This year there is little snow on the ground now.  My neighbors likely thought me slightly batty when I plowed for only the second time this morning.  Never one to allow public opinion to shape my actions, I thoroughly enjoyed time working outside in mild air.

We are due for a propane delivery soon.  It seems only prudent for me to keep my uphill driveway clear of snow.  In the past my pickup truck has slid backwards down this section of driveway.  That long slide with almost no control remains a memorable experience that should not be repeated.  The gas truck must be guaranteed safe passage.  The picture was taken earlier today.  With bits of gravel exposed to the warming sunlight, there is more open roadway exposed by now.  The softened tire tracks will provide needed traction.

It might appear that I have gone overboard considering the width of the plowed path.  My little lawn tractor equipped with not much of a plow cannot push mountains of snow to the side.  A wide clear area will give me a place to put future snowfall since it will of necessity be deposited inside of the present plow ridges.

For now, we are in good shape.  The lane is clear for the gas truck.  With this next delivery we will have a sufficient supply to carry us through the worst of a typical winter.  It makes us feel secure to know heat will be ours for most of the remaining winter even without another delivery.  Seeing just how low the price of propane has fallen will likely bring a warm smile.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

First Chance To Plow Snow

Our weather forecast called for a possible total of  three inches of snow on the ground by this morning.  Once again we were on the short side of the storm.  With an early doctor's appointment on the day's schedule, plowing began in the dark.  Broken cloud cover revealed stars and a bright planet in the eastern sky.  This scant snowfall was a perfect match for our small plow.  Ready for many weeks, it felt great to be out in the biting cold moving snow with the day nearly ready to reveal itself.

We have seen few signs of the many animals that usually live here.  Apparently the bobcats have diminished some of the population. These marks show that a furry rodent is alive and well.  Mice in the garden is not usually a pleasant situation, but these tracks seem to point to a garden where all is as it should be.

Our habit is to plow widely early in the season.  There must be a clear place to receive future snow.  We also need to allow delivery trucks with ample space to turn around at the top of our hill.  Our reputation for safe passage preparations made no impact on the UPS driver.  Rather than chance our hill, she threw our package on the ground along side of the driveway.  The plow blade rolled the package to the side along with a curl of snow.  After a call to customer service I discovered that UPS has no problem with my package being thrown on the ground as long as their driver was quickly underway.  I'm sorry, we will try to do better would have worked better now I think if I cannot arrange for Fed Ex to deliver future parcels, no more packages will be ordered for winter delivery.

All of the snow is pushed downhill at the top of the driveway.  This keeps our three parking spots open and clears a wide path for propane deliveries.  After several passes were made with the plow, there was sufficient snow to call out the snow blower.  The cleared area is much larger than necessary but the machines have been sitting idle for many weeks.  It felt really good to be out in the crisp clear air actually getting something done.  Had I known a photo was in the works, a high arching plume of snow would have been sent into the oncoming wind.  Both the tractor and I would have been covered with fine stinging snow but the picture would have been impressive.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

No Real Snowfall Yet

As is frequently the case here, our snow on the ground is less than what was forecast.  The snowplow remains covered and unused.  Every now and then the cover is set aside and the engine is started.  When we do need the tractor to start, it must be ready.  With all of this down time the engine discharges a huge plume of smoke when it roars to life.

The first picture shows the current status of the first four arbutus plants that were transplanted here several years ago.  Both visits by a woodchuck and a rabbit made it clear to us that a protective cage is required to allow the wild plants to grow and flower.  The plants are now in contact with the edge of the cage so a new larger cage will be constructed so that we can uncover the planting to smell the flowers and harvest the seed.  This solution will be short lived.  At some point either the cage will be permanently removed or the plants allowed to grow past its protection.

This is our only truly wild arbutus planting.  We have seen it growing here for more than two decades.  Some years we could find no trace of the plants and other years it flowered.  A late winter hungry rabbit ate these plants flush to the ground.  What can be seen now is a single year's regrowth.  Apparently these plants have experienced foraging damage many times in their lifetime.  That they have reappeared speaks to the tenacity of arbutus.  That animals eat them may explain the common difficulty of keeping arbutus in a garden.  We will see one or two flower clusters here this year but another year's regrowth will be necessary for numerous blooms.

The shallow sunken stone well is intended to limit cage removal to those animals with opposable thumbs.  So far no animal has been able to push the cage aside or sneak under it.  We however can lift the cage clear and enjoy arbutus fragrance close up.

Our recent second attempt to transplant arbutus from the wild included a cluster of small plants.  We recently separated two plants but were unwilling to disturb root masses any further than that.  Both plants handled the second move well and have put on new growth.  The nearby remains of a barbed wire fence will be removed and the old fallen stone wall will be carefully rebuilt.  In time a large arbutus planting will grow here into a stone wall.  The close placement of arbutus and wall stones must have occurred naturally some place.  It should be beautiful.


One of the benefits of working with old field stone is the age of the new wall remains secret.  This wall was recently built to protect an arbutus transplanting site from right-of-way traffic.  To date the wall has not been struck and the six transplants are growing unmolested.  Some tidying up will improve our foot access to these plants.  Left over stone needs to be removed as do brier crowns.  Grading with woods soil will smooth the sloped approach to these plants.  Fallen pine needles will be scattered to hide our work from sight.  Now if we could just have snowfall sufficient to cover these plants, all would be right in this small corner of our world.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Finally A Winter Walk

The past two months here have seen unusual weather.  Our ground is generally frozen hard by the end of November but this year it remained soft until just recently.  Two days with temperatures in the twenties now have the driveway solid and ready for the plow.  This is great news as two inches of snow by morning is in the forecast.  My need to plow is strong and we need to discover the capabilities of the new lawn tractor.  It has the same engine as the old one but rides on smaller wheels.  In the up position the plow blade just clears the ground most of the time.  The pictured area receives more snowfall than the rest of the driveway for reasons that elude me.  It is rare that I look forward to clearing the driveway but for now I am really ready to plow.

Today's walk took me to areas that I have not seen in months.  This blowdown continues to expand seriously altering the landscape.  Located near the base of the bedrock ridge, the soil here is thin and usually wet.  Tree roots cannot penetrate to any depth and spread across underlying stone.  A generous water supply supports impressive growth but these factors make trees here easily wind thrown.  Our trees were expected to outlast me but that is not the case.  Many of our trees are falling for a variety of factors and this raises concerns.

As I walked today, the air was still and quiet.  Animal signs were completely absent as has been the case recently.  We see no rabbits or skunks and few deer.  Our hunter did not take a single deer here this year.  Usually he and his family remove several.  Again the cause for the sudden decline in the wild animal population is unknown to us.  We hear rumors that the DEC is working to reintroduce the wolf in suitably wild areas but we see few signs of canine animals as our trails are walked.

This photo was taken as a flock of geese flew overhead.  I heard them before they came into view but the point and shoot camera did not see them against the gray clouds.  The small v formation in the picture is formed by tree branches not migrating geese.  These geese were flying high and heading south.  The sloppy formations typical of their earlier training flights have been refined to an energy efficient flying v.

This quad trail in the woods was made by our only allowed hunter.  He places a blind near a deer trail that has in the past been heavily traveled.  A successful hunt eluded him but I use his tracks for an easy path up and out of the woods.

If wishing made it so, there will be inches of new snow on the ground tomorrow.  Our perennial plants, both wild and cultivated, could really use some protective snow cover soon.

Friday, January 1, 2016

I'm Lichen 2016 So Far

I still have a child like curiosity about lots of things.  Lichens are my latest fascination.   Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski was on my Christmas list.  The librarians in my life came through and I absolutely love the book.  Not only is it fun to read, it opens up a whole new world of plant life for me to explore.  I didn't even have to go outside to play with my new book.  This interesting dead stick with its constricting vines was already collected on a previous walk.

Having been in the warm house for some time, this  lichen was very dry.  I followed the book's directions and sprinkled a little water on it.

In mere minutes the lichen changed from grey to pale green with a slight tinge of pink and a small spot of blue.  How cool is that?  If I spend some time with the book, I might be able to identify this one.  In the meantime this is FUN!

A second stick has a totally different lichen on it.  It also was quite dry and tan with with curled edges.  Again I added a little water.

After just a few minutes amazing  change occurred. The tan color remained, but just a hint of red is visible and the curled edged flattened out completely.  This is like magic.  I have already learned that lichens are made up of a fungus and algae.  I'm just getting started and there are lichens on trees, on rocks and on the ground.  I never really noticed all this going on under my very nose before, but I see it now!

By the way if you want to follow this blog after January 11, 2016 you will have to sign up for a Google account.  I wouldn't want you to miss all this interesting stuff!  Happy New Year !  Here's to a great 2016 in the Stone Wall Garden!