Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Homely House Farewell

After five happy years, circumstances dictated a change and my family left behind "the last homely house" at the outskirts of the village. Finances, an aging old house, and a lot of maintenance featured in the decision, and we are settling in at a newer home in a different part of the island. It will in time become home, but not quite yet.

The last few months in the old place were beautiful, once summer storms let up September ushered in an Indian summer we are still enjoying, with warm sunny days and butterflies & blooms even now in November.

A pair of white-tailed does turned up in late summer, still so young the spots on their flanks hadn't faded, and they became regular visitors to the old apple trees. I never tired of watching them stroll around the yard, at mid-day and often at dusk, with late day sunshine glowing behind them. I hope they survive the hunting season, poor things not as wild and cautious as they should be.

My Sarah Bernhardt peony was, with some effort, dug up and transplanted to the new yard, its third move in the last 14 years it has travelled with me. Turned out some previous tenant had left the remains of a flower bed out front, so it was fairly easy to find it a new home.

My son grew up from boy to young man at the homely house, from 13 to 18, and the place holds echoes of airsoft gun tournaments, boys' late night laughter, music, bicycles, Risk and Middle Earth role play games, a host of growing up times. The years flew by so quickly. Sentimentally, I imagine the old house with its own sleepy memories now that it stands empty and quiet.

I miss the golden light on the garden in the morning, when frost shimmered on the Autumn Joy sedum and sparkled in the early morning sun. The apple trees, the tall hackmatacks, and the crows calling for their morning bread crusts, I will remember the peace most of all, stepping out into the morning light with a hot coffee and no company but the chatter of chickadees. It was just right for us then, now it's time to move on. So a fond farewell to the homely house - it was a wonderful home these past five years and will always be with us in memory, remembered with much love. So the Homely House Journal comes to an end.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dog Days of August

Summer was late arriving, but when the heat wave hit last week it was as if there had never been rain. With a full week of 30plus temps and 100% humidity just ended, even the prospect of hurricane rain on Sunday sounds (almost) welcome. It felt like we'd been transported to the tropics for a while, though some of the garden responded by putting on rapid growth.

The first blackberries are delicious, plumped up by the rain and ripened by a week of sun (probably thought they were in Tuscany). Hummingbirds hover around the scarlet runner flowers when I'm picking the pole beans that grow overnight from tiny to "pick me now!!" size. Bees are delighted with the snow white borage blossoms, bright coloured snapdragons, and soft pink bee balm. I am delighted with the rose pink zinnias and (finally!!) reddening fruit on the cherry tomato plants.
Wet weather gave fungal infections a head start and it's a race between getting tomatoes ripened before the blight affecting much of the leaves takes them out. I've been cutting off yellowing, spotty leaves as fast as I can, but the problem is worse than usual this year.

I've had cedar waxwings, robins, crows, goldfinches, warblers, hummingbirds and a variety of butterflies around for the last month or so - painted lady & fritillaries most common of the butterflies. They enjoyed the milkweed, but almost no monarchs around, hope it's not a bad sign. Last year I had several monarch caterpillars and none this time around. It's done blooming now and the Autumn Joy sedum is just starting to turn blush pink at the tips, still mostly a soft spring green. Crickets have been noisy the last few nights, and I have a small garter snake who persists in wiggling into the crack of the cellar door. I have to check every time I close it for fear of squashing him.

It's not a good year for arachnaphobes - spiders everywhere. Every time I open the side door I have to brush away cobwebs or duck under them to miss the striped legged humbugs. At my sister's home there are gigantic spiders in the screen porch, amazing sized creatures. It's good to have them about to keep pests down, but they just aren't pretty. Fun to observe just the same.

I stayed up late watching for the Perseid meteor showers from my doorstep, got a few mosquito bites for the effort but did see one lovely silvery meteorite streaming across the sky. (I forgot to watch the first night & the second has a lot fewer.)

Here we are already wrapping up another summer and school opens again in a couple of weeks. The teens around here spent a lot of our hot days swimming in an outdoor lake that has a newly installed pontoon, which my son & his friends really appreciate. He's become a big fan of the German band Rammstein, so I'm hearing a lot of "industrial"rock. Sounds very dramatic and has a heavy beat, kind of catchy when you're in the right mood, interesting lyrics (in translation.)

Best book this month - The Savage Garden by Mark Mills, a good summer story, set in a villa near Florence, with a mystery of long ago alongside a more recent murder to solve, and the garden is almost like a character. Now reading an interesting history of honey and bees -Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop.

Nine years this summer since my oldest son died, and this year again rosemary and moss roses are planted in his memory. Many of Millay's poems bring him to mind, like this one:

You go no more on your exultant feet
Up paths that only mist and morning knew;
Or watch the wind, or listen to the beat
Of a bird's wings too high in air to view, --
But you were something more than young and sweet
And fair,--and the long year remembers you.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Raindrops keep Falling

Here we are beginning the month of July, after the wettest June I can remember in recent years. For two weeks now it has rained almost every day - variations on heavy rain, thunder showers, drizzle and fog. Yesterday morning started with a spectacular crack of thunder, too close for comfort, and pouring rain that lasted about an hour. The phone began to jingle when lightning flashed, so I pulled out the connecting jack. Seemed like the whole house lit up with the wild flashes of lightning. Very relieved when it ended.

Despite the wet weather, we do get the odd few hours of sun here and there, and the container tomato plants are growing rapidly, as are the summer squash, scarlet runners and peas in the vegetable bed. I dare not touch the scarlet runners, as they are easily ruined if handled when wet. They're just beginning to latch on and vine around the bamboo poles. Unfortunately, the slugs love the wet and they are flourishing. Ants seem to be developing new hills all over the yard, very widespread this year.

The wildflowers are abundant, and swaths of daisies, red and gold Devil's Paintbrush, white blackberry blossoms and pink clover brighten the yard and the roadsides. My milkweed plant is growing gigantic, but so far have seen no Monarch caterpillars on it. Usually they turn up early in the season. The butterfly spotted most often has been the lovely Tiger Swallowtail, they've been around ever since lilac time. Autumn Joy sedum is huge, all green as yet and very striking. Right now the Sarah Bernhardt peony I've moved around with for years is in full bloom and though a bit bent by the rain it's still a beauty.

I noticed today while out walking that the foggy days have a beauty of their own, with delicate spiderwebs laced in dewdrops and birds singing, trilling and chirping all around. Great forests of ferns along the roadside ditches look prehistoric, like grazing ground for one of the vegetarian dinosaurs. Hedges of wild pink roses cascade along the rocky slopes above the ditch, fragrant in the damp air. The steady rain has resulted in jungle-like growth of grass, leaves, lush shades of green all around, overgrown of course, too wet to mow, so the yard blends with the trees and wild background shrubbery. It has a wild if somewhat unkempt beauty.

Wildlife spotted this last few weeks has included a mouse (trapped behind the bathroom door by the cat) and a very tiny ringneck snake, rescued from the cat (both were liberated outside). It's the second time I've had ringneck snakes turn up in the house, luckily they are quite harmless and don't even bite in self-defense like garter snakes will on occasion. Have also had a friendly stray cat visiting all week, obviously not a wild one, very affectionate, quite young, poor dear. I hope he's all right as I haven't seen him since yesterday and he's been pretty regular at suppertime. A few days ago I glanced out the window at dusk and a young buck was grazing in the thick grass that's grown up around my herb bed. He had two very small nubs of antlers showing, a handsome creature. Hope he stays away from my tomatoes.

Since gardening time is limited by rain, I've been reading more than usual. Recently finished The Sisters Mortland, a novel about three sisters made famous by a portrait artist. Told mostly in flashback, it was quite interesting, although the ending was not as conclusive as I would have liked. I'm not a fan of loose ends or unsolved mysteries, though I don't mind having some things left to the imagination. I also enjoyed The Other Queen, by Philippa Gregory. It's about Mary, Queen of Scots, and like all the royal series by Gregory is historically accurate and well written.

The long range forecast for this summer in southwest NB is for more rain than normal, so here's hoping we get enough sun to mature a few tomatoes and keep the spirits up. Lovely local strawberries, freshly cooked lobsters, tarragon & basil for salads - a few of the nice things that have come my way this week. Small pleasures much appreciated, of such things most of our days are made.

I am not bound for any public place,

but for ground of my own

where I have planted vines

and orchard trees.

And in the heat of the day climbed up

into the healing shadow

of the woods.

Better than any argument

is to rise at dawn and pick

dew-wet red berries in a cup.

"A Standing Ground"

by Wendell Berry

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Drifting into Summer

So, here it is June and I skipped May altogether, too busy enjoying it to write about it. It was lovely, apple blossoms, wild pears in bloom, golden forsythias, birds flocking in, warblers, finches, woodpeckers, and lately hummingbirds. The world this last month has turned so green it reminds me of the tales of Ireland and 1000 shades of green.

Finally having warmer days, though the nights can still get chilly. As soon as it warmed up a bit, the blackflies emerged from wherever they lurk, so garden planting has been a challenge. I just put in most of my vegetable garden seeds yesterday, which is a bit late. Planted Swiss chard, Sugar Ann peas, gai lon (a sort of Chinese broccoli), golden beets, Scarlet Runner pole beans, Sunburst scallop squash, some dill and a few calendula and sweet peas for colour. I've had poor success with beets so hope these ones do better. My runner bean tipi is a little crooked so here's hoping it stays up, can't seem to get it quite straight.

Today I put two cherry tomato plants (Sweet Baby Girl) in an old lobster crate that I have filled with soil and compost. I tucked them in behind some zinnias started a while back that are still tiny but coming along. In the herb garden, the chives are blossoming out already and the bee balm is spreading madly. I have a big tarragon plant in the veg. garden - lovely herb, tastes wonderful with eggs, scrambled or whatever. Makes a nice vinegar too.

Soaked my one and only terracotta pot in water for several hours, then planted it with some new annuals I'm trying this year. My sister sells plants from her bookshop in spring, so I picked up a bright yellow suntunia (a lot like the Million Bells small petunias), a pink snapdragon with a yellow centre and a new (to me at least) plant called a Cascade Centradenia. It has lovely bronze tinged leaves and a small bright pink blossom, somewhat trailing. Put those three together in the terracotta planter & they look pretty happy together. Also got one of my favourite mints, the chocolate, which has a delicious fragrance and makes a great herb tea, especially combined with lemon flavour herbs.

On a walk the other day I noticed the roadsides are full of bunchberries, like carpets of white stars in the grassy side of the ditches. Forget-me-nots are in bloom and my neighbour's bridal wreath spirea is beautiful now. The lilacs are just beginning to open, and we're having a sunny week so they may last a while. Several homes along the road have old lilacs that are as big as trees, but still blooming well. If heaven has a perfume, I think it might be lilac.

One more week of school, the dreaded (especially math) exams and then summer vacation begins. Lovely to turn off the alarm clock and wake up when you wish (or when the cat wants breakfast, which is likely to be earlier).

Wishing everyone a safe and happy start to this summer and gardening season, this year of our Lord two thousand and nine.
If you would be happy for a week take a wife;
if you would be happy for a month kill a pig;
but if you would be happy all your life
plant a garden.
(mid-17th century)
with apologies for the sexism & to pigs,
there is wisdom to this.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring & April Showers

Spring has arrived on the Fundy coast, at least by the calendar. After days and days of heavy rains, including a night-time thunder shower, yesterday was like summer. The temperature went up to 20c, the sun shone, and a balmy breeze wafted through open windows. I was able to dry T-shirts on the clothesline, love that fresh outdoorsy scent. An interlude, as today it's back to 6c, gray overcast and drizzling rain, but it was a wonderful day.

At night now the spring peepers are loud, and mornings are alive with birdsong. Woodpeckers are pecking away at the old trees that surround the property, and the white-throated sparrow calls its three notes from the field. Purple finches, goldfinches, nuthatches and chickadees gather at the feeder, along with crows and mourning doves gobbling up what gets tossed on the ground. In the afternoons you hear the soft whoo-whoo call from the mourning doves, so haunting that Appalachian people said the spirits of deceased loved ones were calling.

On one of our sunnier days, I walked down an old woods road nearby, and was cheered greatly by the sight of yellow wildflowers clustered here and there by the ditches. Not sure what they are, they look a bit like marguerites. Also saw a mourning cloak butterfly wandering around the woods, a pretty thing.

One day last week, I saw two bald eagles soaring over the yard, an adult pair most likely. I also had a visit from a small deer herd, looked out the window in late afternoon to see six white-tailed deer grazing on the grass and under the apple trees. They took their time, eventually crossing the road off into the woods. They are lovely, but will be less welcome once the garden is underway.

A few perennials are coming up in my raised beds, bee balm, sedum, milkweed, Maltese Cross and chives. Tarragon seems to be spreading madly in the vegetable garden, may have to be cut back. It makes a tasty vinegar, as do the chive blossoms. The earth is still soggy or I could plant peas right away, may chance it soon. A few breezy dry days will help, doesn't take long for soil to dry if it just stops raining long enough.

The best book I've read this month has been a poetry collection, "The Unhinging of Wings" by Margo Button. Since she was from St. Andrews, NB originally, I was interested in the regional connection, though she's lived in B.C. for years. The poems are personal, a heartbreaking record of her son's journey into schizophrenia. He finally died by suicide, and the poems follow his illness and the aftermath. Beautifully written and painfully raw, the book will touch anyone who has lost a loved one or is dealing with mental illness.

These Poems
(from the introductory poem)

read the unwrinkled palms
of your silence while you
shift, fade, vanish.
These poems, imprecise asides, I hide from you....
I offer them instead of engravings on granite,
forgotten in a graveyard.

by Margo Button

Here's wishing all happy planting and time to be thankful for the world around us and our loved ones.
"Oh, world, I cannot hold thee close enough" (credit to Edna St. Vincent Millay) and doesn't that nicely sum up the feeling of a spring morning.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring Contemplations

After a long winter, it is lovely to see the earth emerging from the mountains of snow that have buried us for weeks. Even though the remaining snow is dirty, the ground sodden, and the thawing ground begins to smell, the somewhat rotting scent of earliest spring earth. The robins have returned, woodpeckers are becoming active, and squirrels chatter around the apple trees. The morning light is bright and earlier every day and I love the longer days after the time change.

Unfortunately, smaller rodents are also on the move in spring. Last night - actually this morning at 2:30 a.m - I woke to find the cat leaping around my bed, chasing the very much alive mouse he'd brought into bed. It ducked under the bolster on one side of the bed while I did some leaping of my own. Then the silly cat lost track of it altogether and so did I, so I ended up moving downstairs to the couch until time for the 6:00 a.m alarm. To top it off, he caught it again!! Since it was still very much alive, I tossed the creature into a plastic container and evicted it outside. The joys of rural living! I really have to get some mousetraps though I dislike using them.

Our area got hit fairly hard by the recent CBC budget cuts and layoffs, hoping none of my former J-school classmates end up getting hit by it. Many of my journalism class (King's College, 1989) went on to work with the CBC. Must confess I'll miss Steven & Chris, enjoy wasting time watching their show when I have free afternoon time during the week, a guilty pleasure I'll have to give up.
We've had so many deer around the region it's been a road hazard at times. Large herds are moving around together near the highways and it's hard to avoid the poor things, a lot of casualties. No serious human injuries, but I certainly wish it were easier for wildlife and humans to co-exist.
For readers who enjoy nature and gardening, the Birds & Blooms magazine is a real find. Their photos are wonderful. You can get free wallpapers from It's part of a "family" of magazines, Country Woman & others, distinguished by few or no ads and beautiful landscape, nature and animal photos.

I'm enjoying a 2008 Joan Baez CD produced by Steve Earle, Day after Tomorrow. Her voice hasn't quite the range it used to but is still very melodic - the title song, written by Tom Waits, made me cry the first time I listened to it. It's from the point of view of a young soldier, and heaven knows we're losing too many of them almost every week lately. My prayers and thoughts are with them often, a hard, hard road for the ones left behind. Blessings on them all this spring, and the rest of us too as we head into the Easter season.

Just looking out the window now, I see the gray skies have cleared, I'm looking at bright sunshine and clear blue sky, and it's Friday too!! No 6:00 a.m alarm tomorrow. Think I'll take a walk before the school bus gets here, warmer days are too good to resist. Happy spring to everyone out there.

"A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King."
-Emily Dickinson

Friday, February 20, 2009

February-The Shortest Month?

It may be that February is indeed a short month, one more week and it's over. But in our region we've been battered by storm after storm, the latest just yesterday. Somehow after storm number ten this year, the month seems endless. Today the sun is shining on snow laden evergreens and bare branched trees sparkle with a glistening coat of ice. It is beautiful in the afternoon light, but less so when shovelling the mailbox out (again) only to have the snowplow make another pass and undo the job. Oh, well, it's the Maritimes and it's winter, so it goes. I know a couple who've been vacationing in Hawaii this past fortnight, lucky souls. Last night the wind positively howled, snow drifted and spattered until there was no visibility at all out the windows. Perhaps spring will be early - one can dream.

Had a bit of excitement last week when a mouse climbed up behind the fusebox & hopped into the kitchen, only to be grabbed by the cat in a wild rush (broke a stem off my foxtail rosemary in his haste, the bugger)! The chase took place under the window & on top of the wash machine. Thinking to get the "body"away from him, I tossed the cat into the bathtub & a Mexican standoff ensued. Shaking, dripping water, holding his jaws, nothing worked - finally my son arrived home just in time. He separated cat from mouse, returned to the tub to find a revived rodent trying to creep up the bathtub chain! Popped it into a plastic pitcher & dropped it outside off the steps onto the crusty snow. You should have seen the little thing run, hale & hearty (except for cat slobber), made it to the birdbath & off to the woods like a greyhound. Country life, eh?
One day about suppertime, my son looked out toward the woods and three deer were daintily picking their way around the clearing, nibbling bark and downed limbs. They lingered a while and he took pictures that came out fairly well, given the window glass in the way. The biggest doe stared at us a while, decided we were no danger, and carried on with grazing. They are such lovely, graceful creatures. The birds - nuthatches & chickadees, as well as crows - are happy that I've restocked my bird feeder, have a glass one up as well as a seed bell in netting under the apple trees. The squirrels are also been enjoying them, of course.

I'm currently rereading some of Miss Read's stories, can't find anything new I like better. Right now I'm on "Winter at Thrush Green". Love the fine illustrations that brighten the stories. I don't know why pictures are thought by some critics to be something only for children.

Not long ago I finished an interesting novel called "Suite Francaise", which is about life in France during the Nazi occupation in World War II. It really brings that time to life without romanticizing or dehumanizing any of the characters. The story behind the novel is quite dramatic in itself, as the author, Irene Nemirovsky, was a noted Jewish writer until the Nazi invasion and the manuscript was only discovered recently by her daughter.

Sadly, Nemirovsky and her husband both died in concentration camps. One thing that stands out in the novel and the author's notes is a refusal to hate any individual as a representative of their people. She finds humanity even in the German soldiers occupying a French village. Sad that she didn't complete the trilogy it was meant to begin, but it stands alone without feeling unfinished.
That's about all my news worth sharing for now. I'm off to bake some chocolate chip-oatmeal quick bread, as my son's having friends over Saturday night. I figure they can always use something to eat aside from chips and pop. Just between you and me, the cooking starts with a mix, not from scratch, but they're tasty enough.

"A sad tale's best for winter. I have one of
sprites and goblins."

The Winter's Tale by Shakespeare