I started my walk down the road an hour and 15 minutes after the solstice. An eighth of a mile along the moon was high enough to see. It was as big as I remember seeing a moon (it’s supposed to be 15% bigger). It’s intense glow (it’s supposed to be 30% brighter) made it seem even bigger. A Great horned owl might have spotted it too; unless he was just calling from the tree with the Osprey nest because it was dusk. In fact, lots of birds were calling with their final messages of the day and maybe their bellies full of worms.

This has been a super year for viewing super moons right from my stoop. I reported here on the super moon eclipse in January that took a path that conveniently allowed me to follow it from the mud room landing. I managed only to notice how white the meadow was in February so awash with moon light that I had to go to go outside to make sure it had not snowed. Tonight’s moon followed me up and down the road as it climbed, lost some of it’s yellow and, ironically, both filled out to its fullest and shrank.

My photos will show you that you had to be here to fully experience this and that I don’t know how to take photographs of glowing objects in low light.

Not surprisingly, the National Geographic has better photos than mine — though they aren’t of this Worm moon — and a clear explanation of the moon’s orbit. Two facts about this moon struck me. First, the moon is only 223,309 miles away. I have easily flown that many miles just as an adult. Maybe people are not crazy to think that soon we’ll be invading. Second, the next time a super moon will rise this close to the equinox, 19 years from now, I might not be around to see it just as I hope not to be around for non-astronauts landing on the moon.

The full moon of March apparently is called the Worm moon because the sun has warmed the earth enough for worms to begin moving around, feeding birds including American robins, who dutifully have begun to return. The Farmer’s Almanac says that native Americans called the March full moon the Crow moon. They were on the something: the crows came back about a week ago along with the FOY Red-winged black birds, a New Englander’s real harbinger of spring.

The crocuses and the daffodils also attest to the warming earth and the longer day. These popped out of the ground earlier this month. The skunk cabbage appeared on the 1st. Who needs iCal. Certainly not our orb or the flora and fauna.

 

 

 

 

Since I can’t manage to mount a little hunting camera I bought over a year ago, I have to use fresh snow to record traffic through the yard at night. It works pretty well when the tracks clearly resemble the mud prints in the Animal Tracks of New England book I use, and when I apply Occam’s razor.

We nearly got through the winter without snow, but on 13 February, we had enough to find tracks.

Raccoon tracks

Deer tracks

See the clear tracks of a raccoon and deer in the photos.

The raccoon tracks appeared around the house before heading into the field; the deer tracks were down at the bottom of the field near the blueberry bushes.

Deer tracks, of course, are unmistakable, but I was also catching sightings of a family of three deer nearer the house and even in daylight. They would hang out grazing in the early morning beyond the guest house and around the compost pile before cutting across the field.

I got a photo of each of them but only post two. Not wanting the area around the guest house to become part of their regular route, I sprayed there with Deer Out. That seems to have worked well. I have not seen them there or anywhere of late.

 

Parent deer

Baby deer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 28 February we had more snow. Before I could get out to check for new tracks, I saw what looked like a fisher cat or maybe a mink. He came out of the woods by the pond at the bottom of the field. I grabbed my bins for a closer look and, after a safe interval of time, my boots and camera. This snow was very wet and I did not get a good impression. I also could not match the footprint to either fisher or mink. For one thing, the impression this animal left was smaller.

Fisher really Oscar

Fisher in mud from Animal Tracks

Mid afternoon today, 17 March, I looked out the kitchen window and saw what I realized was the same animal. But this was Oscar, the neighbor’s cat. He not been around for months maybe because his master and mistress have put their house on the market and even, I thought, moved away. Certainly Oscar had retreated from my concerns. Yet today there was no denying that Oscar was back. I could see his white paws even if I could not see his white bib. And yes, he must have been my fisher or mink. Think horses, not zebras.

Just this afternoon I caught a glimpse of an Eastern bluebird and his mate. When they are here in March, there is a chance that they have chosen one of my bird houses as a nesting spot. But they were in the part of the field that Oscar had just been prowling. Please find a buyer for Oscar’s house! The bluebirds join me in this fervent hope.

 

Each type of bird feeder had a different way of becoming frozen shut after the heavy rains of yesterday and the single digit (that’s right 1) degree of temperature this morning.

Rhode Island birders have reported sightings of the Baltimore Oriole in the past few days. I will put out a new feeder Charlotte gave me for my birthday that dangles a piece of fruit to see whether any are around here after we get back to higher temperatures.

The Evening Grosbeak never honored my feeders this fall with a visit — at least not that I spied. in other places this fall, they were almost common. This would be a life bird for me, so I am disappointed.

More disappointment may be in store if the Eastern bluebirds again decide not to nest in my boxes. January is the month when a male will venture by on a house hunting expedition. Scott hung a nesting box on each of the poles in the meadow, so our houses are open. They won’t go empty: Tree Swallows, Carolina Wrens and the dreaded House Sparrows will use them no matter what.

My only disappointment with the lunar eclipse last night was my inability to capture it in a photo. It was spectacular and easy to monitor from the mud room deck. Despite the rapidly falling temperature, I could step outside in my nightgown and slippers every 15 minutes till the Earth’s shadow turned it red at 23;45, and coppery at 00:15. The speck about in the middle of the photo is the moon. You can see how good my viewing spot was.

lunar eclipse

Super Blood Wolf Moon from the mud room deck. A prize to anyone who can find it

 

 

So far this season has been hurricane free. But a week ago Saturday at the grocery store I thought I must have missed the warning about an advancing storm. The checkout lanes were uncustomarily long; people’s shopping carts were pilled with containers of water.

The water buying was not in advance of a storm but to counter a water crisis: much of the community’s public water system had become compromised by the presence of E. Coli.

I bought my few groceries but no water. I still have several gallons of water from last year that I’d love to use up. It was also possible I would not be afflicted since I draw water from my own well.

In the early days of this nuisance, information about the extent and instructions on the required reaction was hard to find. An emergency robo call from some authority garbled the name of the  website to check. Nothing was mentioned about private wells. The internet was more helpful. It offered 2 suggestions:  boil water for one minute before drinking, and take a shower without ingesting any water.

I boiled some water. But soon it was clear my well was not implicated. A week and a day later, I poured the boiled water on the plants.

The messages of subsequent robo calls, of which there have been at least 2, have been audibly clearer. The boiling of water for those on the public water system is to continue until further notice. And we are advised not to take water into our mouths when showering.

A notice that the Y posted about showering.

The showering practice reminded me of traveling in developing countries and of Georgiana.

Georgiana was a regular in the commuters’ locker room in the main complex building of the World Bank. We commuter locker room users were a traipse of globe trotters familiar with the practice of showering with one’s mouth closed.

Georgiana’s participation in the locker room community was interrupted at one point when she was assigned to the country office in New Delhi for a multi-month stint. Upon her return she called out from a shower stall: “Remember you’re showering in drinking water.” Her message became a rallying cry in the locker room even for the shortest showers.

I often think of Georgiana when I shower, especially when I stay in for too long. And I’ve told plenty of people beyond that Bank locker room to consider the quality of the water they’re using when showering.

Of course, I hope my fellow citizens on the public water system get potable water again very soon. But I also wish Georgiana could call out so everyone in America could hear. It’s a message we need: natural disasters such as big storms aren’t the only events that threaten our access to what we’ve come to see as basic entitlements.

 

 

 

It’s a busy day today — the second full day of Passover, Easter and April Fool’s Day — to start the first full month of spring. Looking ahead, on the 4th, Martin Luther King will have been dead 50 years. On the 15th, Abe Lincoln will have been dead 153 years. And on the 11th, Edward Wightman will have been dead 406 years. Not one of them died of natural causes. Assassins bullets, I need not say, took the first two. The last burning at the stake in England for heresy took the last, my ancestor.

The cruelest month opened with a brief shower that finished before I could get through the Times. My Easter bonnet for my daily walk down the road was not a rain hood but a grey fleece ear warmer. It may be 50 degrees, however a wind was lowering the feels-like factor quite a bit. The general direction of the wind has shifted, as is appropriate for the season, to originate in the south(west) causing a pattern of cold out, warm home that is the reverse of winter walks — a harbinger of hot out, hot home.

But before leapfrogging to summer, here’s some record keeping of late winter. On 5 March, the Red-winged Blackbirds announced their return with their welcome but harsh gurgle. Two weeks later, migratory American Robins were doing their run-run-run-stop-cock the head-peck the ground routine all over the yard. About the same time I had my first conversation of the year with a White-throated Sparrow:”Oh Sam pee peebody peebody” we took turns saying to each other several times. Down the road at 800 in a stand of spruces with an understory of green briar bramble, an Eastern Towhee scolds me whenever I pass to “drink my tea, tea, tea.” I trust my Towhee will return soon.

The Eastern Phoebes should be back, but I haven’t heard or seen them yet. The male will arrive first. When his mate gets here, they’ll take up residence somewhere in the electricity-producing infrastructure, either between the rafters and the PV panels in the folly or between the meter-that-runs-backwards and the north wall of the guest house. I don’t remove the nest I can reach because they seem willing to reuse it. The House Sparrows are here again. Is that why the Eastern Bluebird has not taken up residence in a nest box? Bluebirds have been reported elsewhere nearby for several weeks so I fear they just don’t find Kennel House homey enough.

Last season I had five pairs of Northern Cardinals but a female died (was eaten maybe but was not burned at the stake) in the fall. I have seen four males together at the feeders but not five. I might be down a pair going into the mating season.

The spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are chirping from the pond as of Wednesday. (Is crucifer related to crucifixion?) The ground hog seems to have moved house from under the canoe to under the large brush compost pile. The entrance to the new house is easily accessible for a have-a-heart trap. But suppose I caught him, what then (the assassin’s bullet)?

Ground Hog hole

The crocuses and the daffodils in the lee of the house are in bloom. An Italian honey bee was taking pollen from the crocuses as I was trying to take a photo only to realize that my battery had just died. That’s likely a honey bee of mine from a generation that escaped my careless beekeeping. I popped the inner cover off one of my hives (no tool needed); the smell of honey wafted up. Clearly my hives didn’t starve, but no bees emerged to check on what I was doing. Maybe they could not rotate to the honey in the long cold.

For the record, I pruned the blueberry bushes — the cultivars — today before it SNOWS later this evening! Historical records say it can snow here until the 10th.

We abide by the laws of nature around here so come May Day, there will be other deaths, timely and otherwise, more first-of-year (FOY) bird sightings and early season plant awakenings to recount from this first full month of spring. There is the fate of the ground hog to consider as well. But if past years predict, I’ll be counting how many pups were in the litter and survived the first moth of spring.

Dear Da,

Happy one hundredth birthday! I know I’m late, but the actual day did not go unnoticed. I was birding in Colombia with 3 others. We were in an expansive wetlands watching waterbirds. “Today would have been my father’s 100th birthday had he not died at 95,” I told them — maybe somewhat out of the blue!

Last summer when preparing for a public walk through the Kennel House meadow, I came upon this picture of us. Too bad, I thought then, that it does not show the plants in the meadow except as a haze of greenery. I wanted a before-and-after kind of photo so people could see the progress in restoring the meadow. You will remember how ruthlessly we tore up the bittersweet by its roots, how relentlessly we hacked away at the stems of Japanese bamboo. We look pretty clean and relaxed in the photo. It must have been snapped as we were on our way into the field. We’d be wringing wet by the time we finished.

Now I look at the picture and I see something else: we are both wearing second-hand gardening clothes. Well, you’re hat is a Dunes Club — i.e., first hand — item. Everything else is sourced from the Jonny Cake Shop or other second-hand store. Do you remember those pink pants of mine? I had a matching pair in an equally as WASPy-golf-club-color of green. I don’t know what happened to the green pants, but after 20 or 25 years, the pink ones disintegrated.

Thank you for passing on to me that practice of buying second-hand clothes. I don’t use it for all my clothing (as Mother will be glad to hear), but it is handy for gardening wear. Since the pink pants — which more or less fit — and an awareness of the hazards of Lyme-disease-bearing ticks, I’ve been buying second-hand garden wear that pulls over regular clothing so that I can shed a top layer when I come out of the field.

I know that at age 90 or so you wanted to live to 100 You should be glad you did not. You would be horrified with the state of American politics. You often told me that the Senate was not worthy of the respectable image it tried to project. Brawling, even fist fights, were not unusual at least in the 19th century you said. Today a fist fight would look civilized next to the unfathomable cruelty and callousness of Senators. And that’s just that start of the despicable behavior of our elected officials.

You would be pleased, however, with the state of the old field. It would be folly to say that the bittersweet (note the piece wrapping it’s way along the rail of the fence) is gone. But it is no longer the dominant plant species. The same can be said of the Japanese bamboo. The two hedgerows of evergreens that I planted from pencil-sized seedlings — one along the driveway to the houses behind and the other up the rise to the road — have grown in. They work well to choke out invasives and establish the boundaries of the field. The fence I lean on in the photo rotted away years ago. The edge between the field and the lawn is now defined by garden beds and the vegetable garden fence. A rose of Sharon that Winkie dug up for me from the Great House garden serves as a post between the lawn and the meadow in the south western corner.

Thank you for your gardening tutelage while I was growing up not to mention your physical labor at the Kennel House. Shed #1 is still stocked with your tools, by the way. You live on around here.

Happy birthday! usnan salguod

It’s the 13th of March, and it’s snowing. The snow started at 1:00 am. The forecast says it will stop around dark. I’ll be ready. The weather forecast on my phone calls for 2 more days of snow next week. Imagine that I had a date with a new garden hand to start pulling bittersweet and digging multiflora rose out of the meadow tomorrow.

To while away this unseasonable  snow storm, I’ve been reading Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies. I just reached a section called “A Pause: On Freezeland Street” where the pages turned a light blue. It starts: “Sometimes, in deep winter, life seems to pause. Snow falls silently, and it muffles the usual sounds.”

This is not quite my situation as a northwest wind has been blowing tree detritus against the northern windows making a jarring clatter. And snow plows have been up and down the street way too frequently for the volume of traffic (none). I looked up from the dining room table to see a crew member of a National Grid climbing over the front wall. He was checking my meter to see whether I had power. Apparently at least some of my neighbors are without.

Back in my reading nook with Weatherland, the author, Alexandra Harris, is about to describe several Frost Fairs on the Thames from the 1600s till 1814. The many piers of the Old London Bridge impeded the river’s flow creating “a very pavement of glass” supporting an alternative world on the ice. Harris writes that visitors came in the thousands. Booths were set up in double rows from Temple Stairs to the South Bank. Since I’m about to be right there next month, this “pause” in the Weatherland tale is particularly compelling.

In 1684, poet-playwright John Dryden started work on the libretto for an opera, King Arthur, by Henry Purcell that according to Harris “would contain one of the most brilliant renderings of frost in musical history.” You can hear  a modern interpretation of “The Chorus of Cold People” here. The stuttering staccato mimics their shivering, writes Harris. (Purcell’s version is here.)

I have missed most of the storms in Rhode Island this winter. I have not lost power. i should not complain. But I saw a pair of mourning doves huddled together on the back of a wrought iron chair under the enclosed but not screened section of the porch. They were whispering “we’ve had it” to one another. I’d concur.

Back in the days of extensive house renovations, my family elected a piece of equipment for an exemplary service award each week. The shop vac was a frequent winner. We’d come home from work and school to find, despite all precautions by the crew, a layer of dust that required removal by the shop vac before we could comfortably settle in.

I don’t miss the renovations, but I miss the award practice. Although it’s an exchange with an inanimate object, the awardee benefits — in my experience — from the act of appreciation.

I want to give a lifetime award to my swimming fins.

Claudia somebody, a colleague at the World Bank not known to me to be a swimmer, insisted that I order a certain pair of fins — not the regular, flexible swimming fins but a type more commonly used by divers. She also had me buy a 10-pound weight to put on my kick board. Using both in my swimming routine would help me get a better workout, she argued. That was 1994. The weight did not make the cut as I pared down to move into retirement in 2009, but the fins were too integral to my swim routine to eliminate in this passage of aging.

In May 2016, when the fins were 22 years old, the adjustable heel strap on the right fin had frayed to the point where it threatened to let go on any kick. I had already doctored the casing that prevents the webbing from rubbing against my heel with black electricians tape. Now the needed repair would involve replacing the swiveling pin that holds the strap to the fin — not a Sally homemaker task.

From a magazine file with my most precious documents, I retrieved the literature I’d carefully saved on the fins. The person who answered the phone in Santa Barbara — without the intermediation of a receptionist or a message about listening carefully as our options have changed — was the fin designer, Bob Evans. We arranged the return and repair to coincide with a weekend and minimize my time out of the pool. Swimming without my fins apparently didn’t occur to me. I joked with Bob that I wanted to keep these fins going as long as I could keep swimming, which I hoped might be another 20 years. I silently patted myself on the back for saving the cost of a new pair. In the 90s the fins had cost about $75, now they sold for an additional $100. The repair cost $30 plus shipping.

Back in the pool with my repaired fins, I marveled at how fortunate I was to have taken Claudia’s advice. Faintly and to myself I had cursed Claudia for coercing me to make the purchase, marveling that she held such power to override my usual frugality and preference for equipment-free swimming. I must have had more interest in improving my work-out than I confessed to.

Wherever you are, Claudia, all is forgiven. Maybe even a thank you is due.

Then maybe six months ago, a fin began to split where the ankle cover meets the base (left photo below). I tried sealing the crack with superglue to no avail. The fins are very sturdy so the split progressed slowly. Still, the cracked fin hurt; the force of the water twisted the fin into the sole of my foot. I faced the reality the owner of an old car faces: replacement is the only option.

I called Bob back to order a new pair. Fortunately, I did not get him so he could not lsay “I told you so.” In fact, he had not urged me to replace the fins at the time I made the repair. The fins are manufactured in Pennsylvania, I learned, and I’d have to place my order online. My original fins were a dark, matte blue. When the new fins arrived they were black — very black and very shinny. I was shocked. How could I have ordered black, and how could I ever wear what I’d received?

I sent word of my disappointment. They sent a copy of my online order. I’d checked black as the color. For a couple of weeks I debated whether to waste the postage times 2 or suck it up and use the new fins. The shine disappeared in the first swim, and now I love the black.

Here’s why my swim fins get an award. My kick is even; my ankles flex; I stay on the surface of the water; I swivel along a central axis imitating a torpedo. But with the fins and likely because of them, each of those attributes is heightened. (See Slim Fin literature in bubbles from 1990s.) I get more power out of my kick even when using the fins upside down as in the back stroke because the extra load from the increased surface area of the fins. They force my ankles to extend. They help keep me level. They demand more effort from my quadriceps, increasing the cardiovascular workout I get.  And I swim a bit faster. Not that swimming is a race for me — I never swam competitively —  but completing my 3 times a week, 1 and almost 2/10s miles routine in 50 minutes is a plus.

I give an exemplary service award to my slim fins for their long contribution to my comfort and happiness while swimming. May we still be in the pool lapping together in 20 years.

 

A flock of birds, likely robins, devoured the winterberries. I missed the feeding frenzy this year. with its loud, chaotic soundtrack. The berries are said to have a higher nutrient value after a hard freeze. We’ve had plenty of those, so I assume the birds got a big boost from the berries. They certainly stripped the bushes clean.

Small-waisted red cedar

Deer have browsed an even smaller waist into the red cedar at the edge of the meadow. The “Deer Out” I sprayed in the fall apparently was not a deterrent or maybe the deer have been especially hungry this season. I am grateful they have left the rhodies along the road intact.

A great horned owl called all night on Valentine’s eve. I heard him while I was snuggled up in my reading nook before bed, the couple of times I awoke during the night and again in the light of early dawn. If he was calling a mate, he got no answer. He’s moved out of hearing distance the past few nights, but I know I’m living in his territory.

I love the rufous hue of little bluestem in winter. Its fuzzy flowers catch the sunlight in a magical way. The tan switchgrass is a blah color, although its inflorescence–the highest in the field now as in summer–is majestic. The broome sedge has more red than switchgrass and less little bluestem, but it’s feathery stalks make up for the fact that its a lousy forage plant. Unlike the winterberries and the cedar, no one’s eating it anyway.

Finally, the days are getting longer. The sun rose today at 6:32 and set at 17:22. The arc it takes through the sky is still low to the horizon making long shadows, even at noon.

Five years and one day ago, Sandy ravaged the East Coast. New England was on the outer edges of the storm’s violence but suffered profoundly nonetheless. My participation in the event required five days without power. I was totally undone by the experience. One of my kids remarked that he thought I was more of a pioneer woman than my behavior indicated.

Last night on returning from a weekend in NYC, I drove from the train station – bright lights on – in the middle of the road to avoid splaying the water pooled in the small floods that edged the roads. Enormous raindrops caught my headlights before angling horizontally into the windshield. I was happy to have new tires but worried they might be damaged by all the tree litter strewn across the road.

Fortunately, no deer leapt from the woods and few cars came in the opposite direction. I took note as I passed the driveways of the few people I know along the route in case I needed emergency road service – which I didn’t.

Later as I turned off the light to start what’s for me a fairly involved fall-asleep process, I tried to ignore the wind. But from time to time, there’d be a thump – something falling in the yard, on the roof, off the benches beside the mudroom door, on the porch. I had not brought in the tray of White goldenrod seedlings awaiting repotting or the watering can. Maybe the watering can had taken in enough water to be too heavy to fly off the bench and maybe not. Surely the seedlings would be knocked to the ground. I’d left a bucket with a scrub brush and a rag to dry on the porch after washing the rugs. Were those things blowing around? It was too wet to check and getting up while in the fall-sleep process is always a bad idea. But when I remembered that the hourly weather prediction used the high winds symbol till the middle of the next morning, I got up to take an Ibuprofen pm bill to get some sleep.

I was slow to realize in the morning that the power was out. I did not have Internet service, but when I could flush the toilet and get water from the sink I presumed the problem was router related. Usually that’s a problem that can be fixed in the front house but not today. So I went to the back house to reset the FIOS router. Ah ha, no power there. The phone battery pack was beeping, about to die. Refilling the bird feeders in shed #1, I switched on light – not because I needed it but as a test: power there.

Finally it dawned on me that I was experiencing my first real use of my battery powered solar generator! The electric clock in the front wall showed the correct time. The fridge was on. The kitchen lights worked. I had to move the coffee pot and grinder to different outlets but water, even hot water, flowed from the faucets.

It’s miraculous! In four years (?), this is the first long-term blackout. The batteries are working noiselessly, apparently reliably. Today’s sun is generating more electricity; I can monitor the output on the inverter. Does this mean I’ll be able to keep powering the house for the coming days? Could I be so lucky?

On a walk down the road, I found at least part of the problem: a large Norway maple limb lies across the electrical wires half way down the road. Maple on Post

I have not seen a National Grid truck drive down the road. The word is that it could be several days before everyone has power again. (I can’t complain when I think about Puerto Rico!) I trust that we will not be powerless as long as we were after Sandy. And as long as the generator works, I can reestablish my credentials as a pioneer woman — not in tolerance for the hardships of blackouts but in alternative power.