Keith Ferrell's Landlessons

Saturday, September 29, 2012

First Hints




Fall by the calendar for a full week now, but not yet by this farm.

Most of the leaves remain on the trees, and most of them remain green.

But there are hints by the sides of the road, and before long there will be portents, and not long after that the trees and the weather and the rest of it will know that it is autumn, and none involved will be able to deny it.

So much still to do in preparation but in other ways I am ready, and have been.

And can't wait.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Shear Secateurs

In her fine biography, John Fowles : A Life in Two Worlds, Eileen Warburton writes of the great novelist and naturalist's frequent walks, during which he often "plunged into the woods, cutting his way off the path, secateurs in hand. He led friends out along the cliffs, and left them bewildered, as as he charged off to examine some new discovery, moving quickly out of sight."


Fowles's approach to the territory he explored with his typewriter was much the same as the terrain he entered with his secateurs -- off the known paths, in search of discoveries.

 The right tool, as it were, for the particular job.

And the right name -- le nom juste! -- for the right tool.

When I slide the latch open and use mine near the house they are pruning shears, and reliable ones that have served me well for years. They take and hold an edge well, and other than sharpening have required very little in the way of maintenance.Good pruning shears.

But when I leave the vicinity of the house and yard, the same tool magically becomes my secateurs, a lovely word for a lovely tool. With "secateurs in hand" I can press deep into the woods, and do so in at least occasional, if unworthy,  company with the great naturalists of the past.

I carry my secatuers with me almost everywhere and have used them on everything from vines and branches to rusted strands of ancient barbed wire discovered deep in the woods, far removed in space and time from any clearing that would need to be fenced..

I have many tools that I love, but this may be the tool I love the very best.

I wonder, now that John Fowles's personal library is being sold, what became of his no doubt equally cherished secateurs. I hope that they found a good and appreciative -- and an owner who carries them, and a bit of John Fowles with them, at least occasionally off the easy path.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Tomato I Love The Best

Carmello!

The photo doesn't do it justice, especially with the flash spots, but by the time I realized that, the subject of the photograph had been consumed.


Reported to be Europe's most popular market tomato, Carmello doesn't ship well, hence its rarity here.

Nor is Carmello one of the lobed whopper/Big Boy/Mortgage Lifter behemoths that many gardeners favor.

Rather, this is a smallish, round tomato whose flavor I find rich yet subtler than its larger relatives. There's a fruitiness, an undertone or resonance that I find unique to Carmello, and that I adore.

This one was grown from seeds ordered from John Scheeper's Kitchen Kitchen Garden, and this particular Carmello, the most delicious of the season, benefited, I think, from a hot summer, not to mention care and attention from its hot gardener.

A delicious, delicate -- in terms of shipping, not growth -- tomato, deeply loved in the garden and on the tongue.   

Monday, September 24, 2012

Last Seen Bearing

I've been long-accustomed to various animals crossing the drive as I go up when headed out, or come down upon my return. Deer, rabbits, wild turkey, a particularly daredevil squirrel and his or her siblings or cousins, the occasional snake, a couple of turtles. I've seen fox a few times. Brownie, my neighbor's cow, made an appearance on the drive during his one and only jailbreak.

The woods are thick on either side of the drive, and the creatures disappear quickly into the cover offered there.

Today, for the first time, it was a bear that crossed my drive as I drove home.

The black bear, not fully grown but not a cub either,  came out of the woods to the right of me, not far ahead of the car, moving fast. Very fast. I braked and stared hard but the bear was already gone, to my eyes at least, nor did I hear any sounds of his passage into the deeper woods.

Even startled and at high speed, the bear moved as gracefully and even elegantly as any wild animal I have ever seen.

The bear was gone long before I could grab my camera, but I still got out and took a few steps into those woods -- the same woods I have walked so often without ever seeing any indication of a bear, much less the real thing.


But I wasn't dressed for moving through the woods, not quickly anyway, and the bear was. Besides, I'd already startled him -- or her -- once today, and that was enough.


Hatching An Eggplant Plan


I had been wondering until just a few days ago whether or not the late eggplants I had started were going to flower and fruit at all. Now, following the first really cool, though frostless here, night of the season, I'm wondering just how long the frost will hold off -- and how long these little guys will hold on.




I knew it was late, and probably way late, when I started them after the deer took the first planting. But foolishly or at least giddily I did so anyway, knowing full well how much eggplant dislike chilly weather, much less frost, but curious as to how close I could cut it and still get fruit of enough size to use in the kitchen.

Too close is clearly looking like the answer to that question, though I haven't completely given up hope. The next few nights, perhaps even the next whole week's worth, will be warmer than last night, when we got down into the mid-forties.Days will continue to be fine.

While the upcoming warmer nights may still be cool enough to stunt or even stop the eggplants' growth, they may also be warm enough to spare the plants, and give me time to devise an experiment in protection. Time for a cloche!

I have never built a cloche, nor am I likely to get one of any sophistication built this year.

But sophistication isn't what's needed for these little guys. I have a couple of improvisational ideas that I'll be trying, and I'll be using the next few days, with their warmer nights, to get them put together and ready for the inevitable temperature drops these creatures of summer days and nights so abhor.

Have any of you built cloches, or improvised them for eggplant -- or anything else?



Friday, September 21, 2012

Quick Getaway


There are spots, many of them, around this little farm, where I can go for a few minutes and recharge myself before returning to whatever task or duty or obligation is at hand.

This is one of them, a favorite among favorites, just a little island of quiet in the woods, a spot where the light makes magic and mischief at the same time.

A place where I can be alone . . .

until I become aware of the birds, the squirrels, the spiders in their elaborate webs,insects buzzing, a snake seeking someplace.else, more.

These woods, and even the most secret spots among them, contain multitudes, and I am honored to be among their number.

There is plenty of alone here for all of us.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Roof of My Early Morning World

Steady soft rain tapping on tin overhead.

A pleasant sound to work by -- although every tap reminds me, however fruitlessly, that it's an even better sound to sleep by.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Please Don't Photograph Me While I Dine







My eye continues to be captured by butterflies and thistle.

But after interrupting this particular thistle-appreciator with my camera, I was reminded of my own annoyance with people talking on cell phones in restaurants.

The last of the thistle will be gone soon, and the butterflies not too far behind. No real hints of fall in the air yet, at least not during the day, but it's coming.




Friday, September 14, 2012

Warm Day, Bright Sun, Older Dog

A year and half after I watched our old, good dog Ivy taking her leisure in the sun, she's still at it.





This afternoon, as most clear afternoons, she curled in a spot near the house, which is about as far this once bounding, exploring, irrepressible farm dog goes any more. This year's sleeping spots are closer to the house than were last year's.

She's earned this sunny rest of hers, and I hope that she has many more sunny afternoons in which to drowse and remember equally sunny though far more active days.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Flock, Feeding

Some days you feel like part of the flock, some days you don't.

My neighbor's sheep, enjoying a communal afternoon in the sun, happily munching away together.

Or nearly together, as the close of the video shows




My sympathies and sensibilities are with the solo sheep, at least on a day like today. This day, as far as I'm concerned, that sheep has the right idea:

Put a little distance between you and the rest of the flock. Find a nice spot in the sun with something good to chew on. Dig in to the afternoon meal alone with your thoughts, no interruptions or questions or commentary, no competition for the tastiest tidbits. If somebody wants to talk, let them come to you.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Change In Temperature

Over 90 yesterday, and mid-to-upper eighties today according to the forecasts, and maybe that's it for awhile.

Maybe, even, that's it for the season, the last time we see 90 this year, although after this summer I don't intend to hold out hope until, oh, January or so.

But the prospect of at least a few days ahead with highs in the 70s and nights in the 50s both energizes and prompts a pause.

"Why did summer go so quickly?" Dusty Springfield sang decades ago, and the question returns every year, as it has returned now.

Yet even as the question rises and, I hope, the humidity drops along with the temperature, I find myself wondering just how quickly the summer of 2012 really passed. In some ways, all of them subjective of course, this one seemed to last forever, or at least be on track toward doing so. Days were long hot thick endless blankets -- and most nights the same, one after another after another.

The Long Summer, Faulkner called one that he wrote of. When the movies, an industry that rarely misses an opportunity to gild already well-gilded lilies (or anything else), made a (bad) stab at an adaptation, the word Hot was added, but Faulkner knew best. The Hot was implied, in every word of his story, and the rest of  The Hamlet, as the Hot has been implicit here all summer and now on past Labor Day.


Nor did the summer's biggest and most damaging storm offer much relief, in the way that a summer thunderstorm can drop temperatures as well as providing a sound and light show.

When the derecho blew its way through in late June, spreading damage and power outages in its straight-line wake, I opened the door, and felt just how hot as well as intense that wind was.

The days following the derecho were hot, too, no cool air blew in on that wind. The dumpsters, filling quickly with food gone bad during the power outage, just as quickly produced a funk, a phantasmagoria of a funk, layered and redolent of all the aromatics of decay, all the sours of spoil, every richness of rot. The sense of smell itself could be curdled just driving past a dumpster site. Closer in, flinging a bag of trash into the dumpster became a test of holding the breath, as well as the heave, if that's an appropriate word in this context, of the sack itself.

My distrust of air conditioning, and what it does to our sense of weather among other things., as  well as my less particularized dislike of it as an idea, proved a blessing of a sort -- air conditioning was one thing I didn't miss when the power was out, any more than when I am out of it (which is most of the time) on even the hottest days.My office isn't air conditioned, and I don't use air conditioning in the car. A resolve that rests upon open windows as well as core, or whatever, values, no matter how strongly held, can find itself well-tested by a few tons of meat and milk thawed and dumpstered in hundred degree weather.  

But the trash got landfilled, and the power came back -- after a few days for us; longer for so many others -- and the funk dwindled, or dissipated, or burned itself out.

The heat was matched by the lack of rain, locally worse in this part of the county than others; and far milder here than in so many parts of the country., The passage of Isaac's remnants over the past week has done a little to alleviate the shortfall, though too late to help some of the garden.

Now as I write, the wind is beginning to pick up once more, no derecho this time, but a cold front coming through, with more rain, to be followed by cooler days and nights.

About time, probably -- past time, to the tastes of many -- but the thing about seasons of memorable weather is that they disrupt time's routines and rhythms. As true of this summer's heat as of the heavy winter a couple of years back. Severe seasons such as these, however unwanted, are gifts -- of perspective and perseverance if nothing else, and they are gifts that need no mitigation from me, nor would I offer any. This piece is intended as commentary, not complaint, up to this point anyway..

The weather, day to day, and the climate, season to season, will be what they well be, and that is likely to remain the case.The climate is changing -- what isn't is our nature.

On one side, the foolish insistence that humans can't dramatically affect the climate or the planet, is borne on wings of willful and, I often suspect, gleeful and contemptuous ignorance of what science is, much less what the scientific community has been trying to show us..

On the other side, at least on that part of the other side that possesses at least some power and influence, we get the paying of lip service and no more than that. Certainly no more than the minimum needed to get the lip service on record as mildly as possible, without tipping the pollster's needles an iota in any undesired direction. This is as much of a guarantee that nothing will be done as are the derisive chortles and mocks of the gleefully ignorant, not to mention the venal.

Whatever aspects of the changing nature of nature we have brought upon ourselves, and there are many,. most of them dire, we are at the point where adaptation is becoming the watchword among even the most activist and angry, with acceptance tinged with weariness not far behind, and resignation, weariness in full if dessicated bloom, playing a gathering role in the mix as well.

We'll get used to it, the saying goes, whatever it is when it comes to what we have done and are doing to our planet. We have before.

But the real thing about seasons of severe weather, and what they do to the sense of time in the course of their duration, is that they remind us of what we are missing.

There have been a lot of reminders in recent seasons, and there are more, many more, on the way.   


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bartleby the Boulder

An old joke:

The first time I stood on the edge of the meadow where I planned my garden, I tossed a rock as far as I could.

When I began to prepare the garden I was amazed at how quickly that little rock had sprouted, and how productive it had been!

I have been long-accustomed to the rock piles that accumulate as I open up new beds or planting areas. And I've developed a a familiar, even practiced approach to extricating the rocks and stones I encounter. My "new ground kit" includes two shovels (wide blade, and narrow, angled, and pointed trenching shovel), a mattock, a pick, a pry bar (that's only rarely been needed.

The kit and I have dealt with everything from run-of-the-mill(stone), palm-sized rocks, to grapefruit sized stones. Some offer more resistance than others, but few resist for long.

But we may have met our match.



When my shovel blade, about two inches into the ground,  first encountered what I have come to think of as "Bartleby the Boulder," I dropped into what I assumed would be my familiar pattern --


  • find the edges 
  • find the depth 
  • excavate until a bottom edge is located 
  • pry out
  • add to pile

Still working on the first three, and am doubtful of the fourth, have abandoned the fifth. Bartleby will have higher purpose than just being part of a pile, or even a pile unto himself, once I remove him from his lodgings.

But I may leave him there, expose as much of him to the sun as possible, and work around him. My garden stone, Bartleby.

The more I think about it, the more I think that Batrtleby stays in place. I have (next to) no doubt that I could move him. But, as his namesake said more than once, "I would prefer not to."




Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hawk's Eyes

Robert Heinlein once noted that the high point of any freelance writer's day is checking the mail -- "the low point is usually  immediately thereafter.".

True enough, but sometimes the trip home can be the best part, even when the post office box is empty.

Today was one of those days. Nothing in the PO box. But once I left the state-maintained blacktop and turned onto the stretch of private, unpaved road that we share with only four other households, I saw:

  • A neighbor's flock, the spring's lambs now large and  independent.
  • Another neighbor's fine garden, best in the area, now shifting to toward fall production; earlier this summer they had the best stand of sunflowers I've seen in ages.
  • A startled deer moving so fast across the road and into the trees that I was convinced that this one, this time, was going to drive herself headfirst into a tree and knock herself unconscious. Didn't, of course.
  • A brace of decidedly unstartled wild turkeys who actually stopped at the lip of the forest that borders the road, cocked their heads, and stared at me until I was nearly upon them. Even when they did move into the woods they did so nonchalantly, at their own pace. Neither I nor my car was going to ruffle their feathers.Not today, anyway.
  • A hawk, a beauty, slicing fast through open air in pursuit of something, and disappearing into the woods.
  • Four pools of standing water on our road. I had noticed them on the drive out, I;m sure, but they hadn't quite registered. It's been so long -- two months at least -- since we've had enough rain to saturate the ground sufficiently to allow a puddle to stand. Even the heaviest of the very few rains we've had since spring disappeared into the ground as soon as they fell. But the remnants of Isaac, here for the last three or so days, has dropped enough rain slowly enough that we have puddles again. Not so much, thankfully, to was out any of my steep driveway, nor to super-saturate the two boggy spots down here at the farm that are the bane of delivery trucks during rainier seasons.
  • Green -- everywhere green: another gift from Isaac.
  • More butterflies of more varieties than I can recall in recent years.
And at the bottom of the drive, the first glimpse of this old barn which is our home --  and I saw as well, as always, ten thousand things that need to get done and that I need to get to doing.

Which I believe I will, right now, with the sun out late in the afternoon for the first time since last week.

I love this little farm.

I love living here.

Especially when my eyes are opened.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rachel Carson Revisited (And About Time, Too)

Diane Rehm this morning had a lovely, thoughtful hour with William Souder, whose new biography of Rachel Carson,On a Farther Shore, is just out today.




The hour went quickly, and covered lots of ground, articulately and insightfully, but not so quickly as to avoid the ongoing lies told  about Rachel Carson being a mass-murderer, with Silent Spring her weapon.

 I wrote a bit about this lunacy a couple of years ago.

In a current Slate piece, Souder addresses addresses the persistence of these charges -- and both the corporate interests and scientific ignorance that cause them to persist-- and does so with admirable clarity and documentation.

If environmental degradation becomes an issue this fall -- and I don't hold out a lot of hope for it to -- you can bet that sane, sensible, scientific, pragmatic (she never called for an overall ban on pesticides, only an increased awareness of the consequences of their use), Rachel Carson will once more be vilified as a mass-murderer.

It doesn't even have to become a campaign issue -- Rush Limbaugh hit her hard during the off-year.

A mass-murderer! This woman who wrote beautifully, who loved life, and living things, and above all wanted to remind us to think rationally about what we and our technologies are doing -- and can do -- to our planet.

Her reputation can take it, of course, and more than that her work can take it, and has, and will continue to.Rachel Carson wrote with clear eyes and clean hands, honestly and truthfully, and without any agenda other than opening our eyes.Her concern can be found in all of her books. Her letters, many collected in Always, Rachel, give a glimpse into the size of her concern as well as her personality.
 
Based on the hour's conversation this morning, I suspect that Souder's biography does the same. I am eager to read it.

Souder's new book is, in fact, one of the two biographies I'm most looking forward to this season -- the other is Don Scott's biography of George R. Stewart (another clear-eyed writer who loved the earth and its inhabitants, and remains too often misunderstood).A good season for biographies of planetary caretakers (and, in a way, caregivers) -- high time, too.

  It is, after all, the writers who speak most clearly about what we do to the world who are most easily misunderstood -- and, dammit, attacked.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I'm Not the Only Thistle Fan

This particular thistle fan, though, proved awfully camera-shy:



I felt bad, actually, about intruding upon the commune between the butterfly and the thistle.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hood Ornament

Back at the farm after a brief trip up the hill for the newspaper, I discovered this passenger on the hood:


Orgyia leucostigma  --  the taxonomic designation given it in 1797 by no less distinguished a naturalist than James Edward Smith, founder of the Linnean Society (and, as if he wasn't already impressive enough, the man who bought Linnaeus's personal collection -- books and specimens-- after the father of taxonomy died).

The caterpillar -- also identified as Hemerocampa leucostigma -- was a stunner and I was happy simply to watch it explore the Geo's hood for awhile. During that while, the vague bell going off in my head about yellow and tufted caterpillars kept me from touching it, which was a sound decision. Evidently its fine "nettling hairs" can cause allergic reactions. 


Energetic, fast, and beautiful:


video


I took its measure:






And wondered if I would encounter -- and doubtless be far less captivated by -- any of its offspring when they emerge as White-marked Tussock Moths:


 

At present the moths are not a serious pest -- according to one site, while their population can explode to epidemic proportions, such explosions are rare.They do more aesthetic damage to shade trees and ornamentals than anything else, and the aesthetics of the larva I spent part of this humid Sunday afternoon with seem to me to outweigh the risks.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Thistle ahead

Watching this summer's thistle draw toward a close, I thought of a favorite poem -- and of next summer's growth:


Are flower and seed the same?
What do the great dead say?
Sweet Phoebe, she's my theme:
She sways whenever I sways whenever I sway.
"O love me while I am.
You green thing in my way"
I cried, and the birds came down
And made my song their own.
                   Theodore Roethke, Words for the Wind, 1958