Monthly Archives: April 2012

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Today is an overcast, drizzly day here on Beaver Island.

This is exactly what I need!

I’ve been putting  many hours into getting my garden ready for Spring. My hands are dry and wrinkled from spending so much time in the soil. My joints are achy and my back is complaining, too, from shoveling dirt, forking compost and moving rocks.

There is progress. I have given away raspberry plants and strawberry plants that were taking over pathways. I thinned poppy beds and iris beds, and sent the extras home with happy visitors. Day-lilies left with everyone who would take them.

I have staked out my central flower bed, and am working my way down the row.

I first dig out the soil, to a depth of about twelve inches. I sift the weeds out as I’m digging, and have a bucket standing by for them. The next step is to rake the surface smooth, then roll out the weed shield and cover that with a thin layer of soil mixed with compost. Now I’m ready to move some plants. I dig up a clump of day-lilies, pull all grasses and weeds away, separate the plants, then settle arrange them randomly in the new bed. I want them to have distance between them so that they have room to grow, and enough nourishment to make the move without trauma. I do not want them to look  like I’ve placed them in regular rows. I want the tallest specimens mainly down the center of the bed, and the shorter  varieties nearer the stone border. I  cover them over with the rest of the dirt that I dug out, and border that section with rocks.Image

It’s coming along, but is still  only about one-third of the way done. This new bed runs right through space that last year had a 4’x5′ strawberry bed and – at the very front – a peony bed. Before I called it a day yesterday, I finished digging up the rest of the strawberry plants that were in my way. They seem fine, this morning, in their temporary home: a tub lined with soil and stored under the picnic table, out of the sun.Image

Today! Today, with the dampness outside, I will concentrate inside.

There is the usual, of course: rugs to vacuum, floors to sweep and sinks to clean. Every single horizontal surface in the house needs to be cleared of what doesn’t belong on it. Laundry to be done, houseplants to water.

In my studio, should I find time to spend there, I have twenty metal frames to assemble and fill with twenty sheets of plexiglass and twenty finished collages. I have four small paintings to frame and three others to order frames for. I have two large paintings underway and a dozen collages in various stages of completion. The studio could use a good cleaning, too!

I have committed to teaching an after-school art class to high-school students through five weeks in May. Today I need to complete that class plan to turn in to the program director here, and a materials list to send  to the Arts Council for dispensation.

Tomorrow I’ll be back at my regular job, so today I want to make a pot of soup so that I’ll have it to pack for my lunches, or to warm up for dinner if I don’t feel like cooking. As long as it’s drizzly, as long as I’m going to have soup bubbling on the stove, I’d might as well make bread, too! That sounds like it will warm the house up,  doesn’t it?

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Tender-Hearted Tommy Turns Ten Tomorrow!

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My old dog, Maggie, had an aversion to flies, and really fast, snappy jaws. The man who left her with me told me her Indian name was “Death to Bugs”. My grandchildren got a kick out of that, and we’ve speculated over the years what our Native American names would be, based on our interests or personality.

I can’t remember what all the possibilities were. They were often funny, sometimes insulting, and now and then spot-on. If my grandson, Tommy, had a name based on his disposition, he would be called Tender-Heart.

When he was a baby, the youngest of four children, my daughter said something  to the effect that Tommy was finding  his  place in the  household by having the best nature of everyone in the family. She was right!

Tommy tries hard  to get along. He’s always got a smile; he’s always  ready with a hug.

His feelings get hurt easily, and he really cares about  the feelings  of others. Tommy hasn’t had his  growth spurt yet, so he’s often mistakenly thought to be younger than he is. Sometimes it results in him being talked down to or insulted. I’ve seen how he  deals with it. A direct look with his bright eyes and a  calm smile.”I’m  nine,” he says…then – afraid he might have been too abrupt – gives a little shrug, turns a hand palm up, shakes his head and grins, “I’m  just short.”

Tommy makes me so proud with his big heart, generosity of spirit, and ready smile. Tomorrow,  he turns ten.

Happy Birthday, Tommy.

In the Garden

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Okay, here’s the plan.

Drawing up the plan is always the first step, and the most difficult for me: figuring out what needs to be where. I have to consider convenience of care and harvest, amount of sunshine and where the water pools after a rain. I think about what things look like as they’re growing and after they’ve finished growing for the season. I have to think about my path to the compost bin, and the trail of the hose for watering.I like to instill symmetry, beauty and a sense of order. I certainly don’t do this every year!

Since the early ’90s, when I started gardening in this location, I have changed the orientation of my raised beds, to take better advantage of the sun. I doubled, then tripled the size of my garden space. When deer became a big problem, I fenced in an even larger area, and moved day-lilies and other edible flowers into the fenced area with the vegetables. Because it had now grown beyond what I needed for vegetables, I added small fruits to my inventory. Still, most years it’s just a matter of maintenance, not a full-blown reorganization.

Two years ago, the garden was in this design:Image

It doesn’t show on this diagram, but the front and two sides of the inside fenced area are bordered with flowers. The back border is a combination of flowers, horseradish and rhubarb. It looked nice on paper, and was okay in real life, as long as I had time and energy to maintain it. Last year, I didn’t.

Knowing I would be away most of the season, I didn’t even plant a vegetable garden. I didn’t spend my evenings pulling weeds. Though I harvested my berries when I was able to, I did not train the runners on the strawberry plants, or edge the raspberry patch to keep them in control. I didn’t  add wood chips to my pathways, to keep the weeds from coming through. Left to fend for itself, several problems became evident.

Without supervision, the sod from my yard quickly took over the flower bed borders. Even the nearly wild orange day-lilies could not hold their place against my weedy grasses. The raspberry plants sent out roots in every direction, taking over the entire northeast corner with their canes. Strawberries laid claim on the southwest, spreading wildly through the pathways and every garden bed. My tart cherry trees had grown just enough to crowd my path to the compost bin. Weeds made themselves right at home everywhere.

Big changes are in order!

I’m moving all flowers into a large, rock-bordered bed that will run right down the center, between two rows of raised beds. I won’t be fighting with that fence to try to take care of my flowers! I’ll be able to get all the way around the area for weeding, dead-heading and otherwise tending them. The perennials will be far enough from the lawn that I should never again have such a snarl of quack grass roots and crab grass runners in amongst my flower bulbs and roots and corms. I’ll be able to mulch next to the fence on both sides, or trim, weed-whack or even mow if necessary. For now, I’m leaving the day-lilies in the front border, and the poppies, rhubarb and horseradish in the back.

My vegetable beds are going to be closer to the house, this year. The back beds will be for the berries, and for the asparagus. All of the beds are going to be boxed in, rather than just mounded. I’m building the frames out of 1″x6″ cedar, with 2″x2″ posts in each corner. That should help to keep the beds clear of the wood chips I use in the pathways. I’m hoping it also cuts down on the amount of time I have to spend weeding.

This has to happen in a particular order, though, and it all has to happen in quick progression.

Warm weather brings “black fly season” here in these north woods, followed closely by “mosquito season”. I like to be finished with the most time-consuming outdoor jobs before the insects arrive. Then there is “growing season” to consider. I’m as far from the water as I could possibly be on this island, so don’t benefit from the tempering effects that Lake Michigan provides. I usually have the latest frost in the spring, and the earliest frost in the fall. Tender crops have to be in as soon as the ground is warm enough, so they will have time to mature. Transplanting – of berries and fruits – is best done when the plants are dormant. This year, an extremely mild winter has caused many things to start their annual growth early. Everything has to be rushed!

For a month now, I’ve been working at clearing out the flower beds. Last week, I dug up and carefully moved one cherry tree. It was as traumatic for me as it was for the tree, but we both seem to have survived. Yesterday was spent digging up and moving raspberries and strawberries for give-away. It was hard work, but fun, with people stopping by to take away a few plants.That has cleared most of the center area, so that today I can start moving rocks to border my new flower bed.

The next time I write about my garden, I’ll have a real photograph!

Quote

I lead my life.
I have not changed;
I am still the same girl
I was 50 years ago,
and the same young woman
I was in the 1970s.
I still lust for life
I am still ferociously independent.
I still crave justice,
and I fall madly in love easily.

~Isabelle Allende

…for national poetry month

I lead my life.
I have no…

My Dreary Day

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This is my life on Beaver Island, as illustrated by my seven year old grandson, Brandon.

There’s my little house, and car, the grape arbor (Brandon used to call it the “Gray Barber”) with a child inside, the big maple tree with two swings and two rope swings hanging from its branches…it’s all here.

In the background, then, you can see the Beaver Island ferry, filled with smiling and waving passengers. In the sky above is the Island airplane (note the shamrocks on the wings) also filled with grinning passengers.

It is being escorted in by an Army plane, that is dropping some pretty scary fire bombs all over the landscape. What?!

Well, perhaps to a seven year old boy, that element of dangerous excitement is the only thing this island is missing…so he put it in. A little bit of fiery wings on our island plane would make for a more thrilling ride, I guess.

Brandon is older now. Though he continues to amaze me with his artwork, this drawing perfectly suited my mood yesterday.

I woke up with a feeling of dread and depression that could neither be explained nor wished away. I had lots to do, and I kept plugging away at my list, but felt that I was fighting my way through thick sludge…waiting for the bombs to drop. I once heard depression described as a feeling of being covered with a heavy, wet wool blanket; that person knows depression. It covers you over…it is not a choice. There’s always the fear that it won’t go away.

Of course, I know all the things to do. Get out in the fresh air, get exercise. Don’t dwell on it. Keep working at everyday activities. Keep a list of accomplishments; keep marking things off the list as they are completed. Go easy.

So, I took long walks with the dogs, morning and evening. I spent several hours in fairly mindless but worthwhile activity in the garden, and several more hours in the studio. I did not vacuum the rugs, do my exercise video or write. I ate only leftovers. I went to bed early.

Today, the sun is shining here on Beaver Island. We got a rain shower overnight, and everything looks fresh. My clouds have lifted, too.

On to another day!

 

Happy Easter!

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I’m doing quite a bit of juggling today, to get everything done that I want to do.

I started the day with a very pleasant, early phone call from my grandson, Tommy. Before I got off the phone, I had also spoke to Madeline, Brandon, and my daughter, Kate. The younger ones were wide awake and enthusiastic;Brandon and Kate a little less so.

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By the time our very entertaining conversations ended, the dogs were more than ready for their first walk, so we headed out. We got a bit of rain last night, so everything is looking fresh. The trout lilies, spring beauties and Dutchman’s breeches are showing their leaves in the woods…no flowers yet, though. The wild leeks are the brightest green; they will be ready soon.

I’m trying to get some garden clean up done every single day, no matter what, so that was next. I made good progress clearing grass, leaves and roots from the beds where I’ll put my tomato plants. Clover relaxed…

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in the back flower bed, while little Rosa Parks…

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dug this gigantic hole:

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Almost eighteen inches deep, no kidding!

I’d saved last night’s dishes, because nothing cleans the garden grime out from under the fingernails like a sink of soapy water, and that was my next job.

Remembering Easters with my Mom and Dad, I decided to do up a small batch of onion-skin dyed eggs. I only had a few onions (as kids, we used to save the onion skins for months ahead, to be ready for Easter!), so I used a small pan and did only six eggs. I put the onion skins in first – just the brown, papery covering – and covered them with cold water, then nestled the raw eggs into the pan, and hard-boiled them as usual.

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The finished results are quite pretty, I think.

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Now, I’m making dinner rolls and dessert to bring to Aunt Katie’s house at dinnertime. The milk is scalded, butter and sugar have been added, and it should be just about cool enough now to combine with flour, salt and yeast. While my dough is rising, I’ll be peeling apples for pie.

Happy Easter!

Looking Up

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I look down when I walk.

I like the patterns of leaves and pine needles strewn across the path.

I enjoy seeing the way my footprints and the paw-prints of my two dogs mingle with the heart-shaped hoof prints left by deer, and the large twiggy prints left by ranging flocks of wild turkeys, on the road created by the logging trucks that cuts through the woods behind my house.

I like to watch the dogs as they, by turns, walk purposefully forward as if headed for a specific destination, meander – nose to the ground – investigating what went this way before us, and run, full out, after a chipmunk or robin or squirrel.

Out of necessity, I watch the ground for safety’s sake. In the winter, ice; this time of year, it’s holes in the road or wind-fall branches or frost-heaved rocks that could trip me up.

So it happened that I was almost a mile from home this morning, before I noticed the sky. Such a beautiful, intense blue! How could I have missed it?

More important, what if I had missed it?

How many things go unnoticed because I’m looking down when I should be looking up? And what a metaphor for life!

It’s a fine thing to be well-grounded, but I intend to spend more time looking up!

 

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