victory garden

it has been many years since i planned and planted a vegetable garden. we have always had something in the way of a garden, even if it was just small one. a few years ago, we had a wet, rainy summer that rotted almost everything. mildews and invertebrates and plain old standing water put the kibosh on the whole thing. that was after several summers of putting up increasingly vicious fences to keep the hens from poking holes in the tomatoes and gutting the eggplants. at the beginning of july, which is the height of the growing season, only a few weedy stragglers remained and we called the garden a wash (no pun intended). without constant weeding and tending, the nasty things took over and went wild. crabgrass, horse thistle, smartweed, pigweed, and any other ghastly garden invader you can imagine threw a big party in my carefully amended garden soil. by fall, there was sod. in the spring, i went out and looked at the garden plot with its thick, meaty sod and just threw in the towel. since then, it has only gotten worse. there is milkweed in there now. comfrey. so many things that will not go quietly into that good night. a season under black plastic is the only hope for reclamation.

but this year? i am determined. i am happily perusing the seed catalogs. i will have fresh green beans, bush and pole! i will know the joy of fresh zucchini! only death will keep me from the hedonistic pleasure of a fresh tomato, still warm from the sun! if i have to plant the perennial beds full of veg, i will overcome. and in between weeding and tending those, i will finally put down that black plastic i bought in 2015, because a life without a vegetable garden just isn’t one that i’m interested in living.

haiku 1.16.17

battalions of twigs
standing stalwart, wreath’d in frost
like smoke in sunlight.


i am not a good listener. it’s not that i’m not interested or sympathetic; it’s because i can’t really do two things at once and my brain never stops working (just ask my insomnia). so, as someone is talking to me, i’m having rapid-fire reactions that makes me a. lose the train of the story and b. think of something that i absolutely must say. i’m also pretty terrible at being observant and reading body language and doing lots of things that other people don’t really have to think about. as a result, i have a terrible memory and lose a lot of experiences. i go for long walks, get home, and realize i can’t remember anything that i did or saw along the way. i often have to remind myself to look around, pay attention, soak something up in the moment.

we had a quick, warm thaw this week: two days of temperatures around 50ºF. snow melted, roads turned to mud, manure – oh, god! the manure! a thaw in january is usual in the northeast. it’s difficult to smell warmth on the wind, fight through muck and soft ground, have all the bad things about spring without any hope of the good things to come. not for a while yet. we’re now having a hard refreeze. everything is either bare ground or iron-hard ice.

tonight, as i did chores, i was in my usual groove. everything is done by muscle memory: hang the goat feed buckets on the wall, unstack the horse feed buckets, scoop feed into the buckets from four different feed bins, get the rubber pans for the horses, dump grain from bucket to pan, hang goat buckets on the fence, take down the goats’ hay net, etc., etc., etc. i don’t have to think about any of this. i do exactly the same things every evening every day of the year and the arms know what to do. my brain goes off on its own and does whatever it feels like doing in the meantime. once i’ve hayed the horses and rehung the goat net, checked the water tanks, and raked up the ground, i go and sit to wait for the horses to finish eating. i have to take their dishes away when they’re done or they’ll drag them off into the pasture in the night.

this waiting game is something that is nice when the weather is fine. it’s forced downtime, time to just sit and think or not think and just listen to horses and goats chewing. when it’s cold and blustery (and dark, since it’s always dark for evening chores in winter), it’s a penance. i often don’t sit at all on the bad nights; i jump up and down, run in place, anything to stay warm. tonight was somewhere in the middle: bitterly cold, but calm and quiet. i sat for a bit, but i got cold and bored and had to look around for things to occupy myself with. i grabbed a bucket and went to the faucet to fill the goats up. the faucet was frozen, so my task was in vain, but as i turned back, i was absolutely spellbound by the soft yellow light pouring out of the shed onto the munching horses, glancing off the hard, icy ground and creating a beautiful golden haze. i didn’t even have to scold myself to stop and enjoy it; i had no choice. i stood with my face to the rosy yellow glow and just watched happy, smug horses munching and sighing, they as content as i.

the spell did slowly dissolve as the horses finished their dinner and went carefully to their hay, across the icy pasture: pick pick pick. my spotted gelding chose the wrong line and ended up bunny hopping up a small, icy hill to keep from losing his footing. the mare and the bay gelding picked a better, longer line. none of them have had a good trot in days. they navigate carefully, slowly, circumspectly when the ground is this treacherous. the reflective patches on their blankets disappeared in the darkness, i flicked the light switch, and the magic was over.


the feeder report

the birds have been sparse this winter. not that there aren’t a metric tonne of chickadees at the feeders every day, but there isn’t a lot of variety out there. a half dozen blue jays, the occasional nuthatch (white bellied and red), two sizes of woodpecker (hairy and downy), a few too many mourning doves, and, of course, chickadees. every once in a while i see a tufted titmouse or a couple of juncos, but not often. usually just before a big storm or during an extended cold snap. last weekend there was a squeaking susurrus of cedar waxwings in the big pine tree out back. but there are no finches (either purple or gold), no crossbills or grosbeaks or cardinals or redpolls or anything different at all. normally we have all of these things (the cardinal was a new arrival last winter) with some regularity, but this year, it’s all chickadees, all the time.

we have a handful of squirrels, both red and gray. the squirrels here are country squirrels, cagey and frenetic. they run for the woods if you step out the door. the grays come in the early mornings, after the dogs have been out for their first pee of the day. the reds come later. well, i say “reds”, but we have a strange trio of red squirrels: one red, one gray, one black. i have mistaken the black squirrel for a weasel more than once, but it is, indeed, a squirrel. of all the squirrels, it is the most feral, the most nervous. i’ve yet to get a photo of the thing, because any movement from the house sends it dashing away. i suppose when you’re a midnight black animal in a world of white, that’s probably a good plan.

the deer, which were raiding the feeders a bit earlier in the winter, seem to have dried up. they move down into the valleys by midwinter and i think we’ve seen the last of them until spring.

the feeders attract rodents at night and a barred owl was hanging out in the maple tree, lurking for mice, but i haven’t seen her lately. perhaps she depopulated the rodent population enough that she put herself out of a feed source.

other than escaped horses, the only other thing to frequent the feeders is my min pin, who gulps down seed like she has never eaten anything before in her life. i haven’t been broadcasting seed for the ground feeding birds as a result: they can clean up what the jays and chickadees drop and that’s less black oil seed for my obese little doggie to gobble. she also enjoys a nice evening round of “eatta mouse!”, but that’s less fun since the owl did her damage. she still goes out and noses around the rocks and rose canes, but gives up sooner. it mustn’t smell as mouse-y down there as it once did.

i wonder if this relative quiet in the bird department is a harbinger of climate change or just a fluke. perhaps it’s a reprieve from the record diversity of spring and summer, which kept us hopping trying to keep the feeders full. i’m not asking for a pine grosbeak or a northern shrike, although we’ve had both in the past. i’m not even asking for the plagues of redpolls we had two winters ago. but please, perhaps, the occasional purple finch to break up the monotony of chickadees?