Monday, May 29, 2006

Ode to the barbecue

There is nothing more satisfying than to finish planting the garden, cleaning up the yard, and mowing the grass. Well nothing except a good old fashioned eat-until-you-explode BBQ, especially if you can invite friends and co-workers over to help you eat the 20 lbs. of beef, 10 lbs. pork, and 5 lbs. of wieners that will inevitably be purchased and added to the grill as the day progresses.

Yep, you guessed it. We finally finished the spring chores, with the exception of late spring planting, and were able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the yard. It was especially lovely yesterday with the Chestnut tree in full bloom, the grass was freshly cut, and the landscaping we did earlier in the spring really adding a splash to the yard. The bird feeders were in full swing much to the delight of our guests. We even had a surprise visit from an Oriole as he chased a Grackle through the yard.

The dogs enjoyed the BBQ as much as the rest of us as guests "accidentally" dropped a piece of steak or hotdog on the ground. The delight of the day was when a coworker of PeterC's brought his two year old son over. Even though the dogs has been eating all afternoon, they quickly learned that an active two year old will drop more food on the ground than they could comfortably eat.

"No worries", I told the mother. "The raccoons and skunks will clean up whatever the dogs leave behind." Her eyes glazed over and she looked slightly embarrassed before Keegan was off and running again, mercifully taking her mind off the idea of wild animals in the yard.

When the guests finally left, the sun was sliding peacefully behind the horizon. With much chatter and thanks they left to find a comfy chair to fall asleep in, like lions fat on the antelope. It's a shame they couldn't stay long enough to see the Faerie lights come out.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Rain, Rain, Go Away...

Come back another day. I've had this little childhood rhyme running through my head for the last few days. It started raining the second week in May, just after we planted the majority of our garden. Three days ago we were blessed with sun for half the day. Today, Victoria Day, it is still raining and it has gotten cold enough to fire up the wood stove again.

Last year the wood stove was closed up by mid-April. This year has been a different story altogether. March this year was unseasonably warm as was April. April was also very dry. We didn't use the wood stove in April with the exception of one or two days when it was damp and cool later in the evening. We even congratulated ourselves on having enough wood set away for all of next winter, even if it turned out to be much harsher than this winter.

Today I took a restock of our wood pile and was dismayed to see that we are now a cord short of our minimum winter allotment. A cord of wood is measured by the full or face. A full cord is 4ft high by 4ft wide by 8ft long. A face cord is 4ft by 8ft by 14-16 inches, which is the length that most wood stoves and fireplaces can take easily.

Since Sparrow Haven isn't blessed with a large woodlot we have to order our wood in from people in the community who sell split firewood for a living during the fall months. There are several people in the area who cut and sell firewood, but our favorite by far has declared retirement this year due to health. So we will start making phone calls this week pre-ordering wood not only for this year but for next year as well.

Good firewood is a hardwood that has been allowed to dry by sun and air for a minimum of one year, two years being ideal. We prefer a cord of wood that is mixed Maple, Red Oak, Ash, and Birch. It burns well, providing a higher BTU per cord than the softer wood mixes of Pine, Spruce, Basswood, and Aspen. Most firewood is advertised as hardwood mixes but experience has taught us that some firewood providers will pull a fast one if given the chance, and make all kinds of excuses when caught red handed.

After one such incident last fall, we decided to be a little more proactive in our firewood acquisition. We will be keeping two winters supply on hand at all times. The oldest wood will be used for the current year and the newer wood stacked and rotated as needed to ensure proper curing. In general, we use 8 face cords of firewood each winter to heat our home and cook our food. That means that from Spring to Fall we have to collect and purchase as much as 16 cords of wood each year. Hopefully the future will see 20 or more acres of woodlot available so that we can cut and collect our own wood rather than purchasing it from local suppliers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Muffet the Peanut Fiend

We share our home with many pets, the least of which is Little Miss Muffet, whom we adopted from the OSPCA around Christmas. Like most Shiztu dogs Muffet has a rather unique personality. She is needy yet independent. We have also recently discovered that she loves peanuts and can become quite sneaky when she wants them.

We finally got a bit of a break, from the constant rain we've been getting, on Sunday afternoon. It was still overcast and dreary out but at least for a few hours the rain stopped falling. Since we like to feed the birds and squirrels we decided this was as good a time as any to refill the various feeders much to the delight of our feathered tenants.

Each species of bird prefers a different kind of feeder and feed. Doves are ground feeders and they prefer seeds that have been knocked to the ground by the larger birds, but they dislike cracked corn. Titmouses, Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Woodpeckers prefer a tube feeder filled with a selection of dried fruit, shelled peanuts, walnut halves, and sunflower seeds. Grackles will eat anything from anywhere. Cardinals prefer platform feeders filled with safflower seeds, sunflower seeds, and shelled peanuts. Goldfinches like smaller seeds like Niger and millet, feeding while clinging to a sock or tube feeder. Blue Jays love whole peanuts in the shell and don't care if they are in a platform feeder, basin feeder, or the squirrel feeder.

It was while filling the feeders with peanuts that we discovered Muffet's love of peanuts. She is quite the spoiled little dog and goes nuts when she hears the crinkle of any plastic bag. She'll sit up and beg, run around in circles, and stand up bouncing around you until you finally give her whatever it is in your hand, even if it isn't a dog treat. Usually she'll sniff it, chew on it a bit, and then walk away from it.

True to form, as soon as I picked up the peanut bag, she began her begging. I held the peanut down for her to sniff and as suspected she took it and lay down to chew. A few minutes later, as I returned the bag to its spot on the shelf, she started begging again. I looked to where she had been laying and sure enough the peanut was gone. I handed her another and watched as she delicately chewed off the shell and ate the nut inside. She was actually quite adept at getting to the meat of the problem.

Declaring her cut off I ignored her begging and continued with my chores. As I looked up I saw PeterC hand her a peanut he had taken out of the basin feeder. She happily devoured it as quickly as she had the others. I informed him that she couldn't have anymore. But, she now knew where the peanuts were and as soon as she finished her third she headed straight to the basin feeder. Our basin feeder is a small rosin bird bath which only stand a little over one foot tall. Little Miss Muffet could see into the feeder if she stood on her hind legs but she couldn't quite figure out how to get the peanuts out of the bowl. After laughing at her antics we shoed her away from the feeder.

By the time the feeders had all been filled it had begun raining again and we had to shoo Muffet from the peanut basin another half dozen times. It's amazing the things a dog can remember when she truly wants something.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Gardening for Fun and Food

I grew up on a small homestead in Florida. We cleared the land ourselves, sometimes with the use of a tractor but more often than not by hand. We had the standard farm animals for the first few years until they became to expensive to feed and care for. No matter how desperate the times became we always had a large garden, the wild fruits and berries, and chickens and ducks.

I suspect that I was really no different than most children. I lived as happily as I could under the circumstances. When my parents finally divorced I adapted and continued living but wished that I could be away from the city my Mother had moved us to. Even as a teenager I wanted to be on a mountain top in a cabin but fate took a left turn and my dreams of owning a farm were placed on the back burner of my mind. That was until I met PeterC.

PeterC and I share a similar desire to live on a farm with animals and gardens. While Sparrow Haven isn't a farm, or anywhere near one, it affords us some of the pleasures of rural life. Since we moved here we have been able to plant a garden that has grown from 100 square feet at ground level to over 160 square feet of raised garden beds, containers, and berry patches.

Some years ago I came to realize that not only did I miss working the land and growing at least some of my own food, but that we as a society are quickly reaching the point where it is becoming a necessity. We plant to connect to the Earth, the Mother of us all. But, we also plant for independence and self sufficiency.

Each year we plant our garden with an eye to preserving what we don't eat fresh. We are re-learning how to use a canner. We own a small dehydrator and dry several types of fruits and vegetables. Once the shelves are all stocked we will share our harvest with coworkers and friends. There is a great deal of pride in the knowledge that from our small garden we have produced enough to feed our family and obtain some small independence.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Wild Garden: Invasion of the Garden Gnomes

There is a wild area along the fence that separates our yard from the neighbours behind us. There is a Maple tree that is quite old and very large, a small Horse Chestnut tree, and several small Birch and Basswood trees. Amongst the trees, the ground is covered with ferns that grow quite thick and tall as Spring advances to Summer. When we purchased this home we decided we would keep the area a bit wild to give habitat to the various birds and furry creature that we wanted to attract.

Over time, my ideas for this wild area have taken many forms. At one time I thought to build a rock walkway through the ferns with small private areas set aside for sitting and meditating. Hordes of hungry mosquitoes quickly abused me of that notion. I did decide to create a planned wild space by creating a short irregular rock wall around the area that not only defined the space but also kept the wild in check. At some point the idea of creating a mystical forest was discussed but never very seriously, until now.

Saturday PeterC and I went to the Walmart in the next town over, ostensibly to buy food for the various pets we have. As I always do in spring, we made the tour of the garden centre after we had picked up our purchases. And, as I almost always do, I stumbled upon an idea for defining our wild space. It also just happened to lend itself to the Mystical Woods idea. The idea revolved around Solar Lanterns and Garden Gnomes.

Solar lanterns are not only the current fad but also, in my mind, a good source of cheap lighting for outdoor spaces. The bright white LED solar lanterns can also double as reasonable indoor emergency lighting during power failures. Let them charge outside during the day and bring them inside after dark. The newest technologies allow for a bright white LED to be used for six to ten hours on a single charge, and those LEDs put off quite a bit of light. Solar Lanterns are also the perfect symbol for the Sun and Fire.

Garden Gnomes have enjoyed numerous, though brief, periods as the latest greatest fad. They have ranged from the classic Mythological European style Gnomes to the more cutesy, artsy, crafty style Gnome. They could be found in all shapes, sizes, and demeanors; some small and wizened, others large and hideously ugly, bright and cheerful, or dark and brooding. In mythology and folk tales, Gnomes are the Earth's spiritual children; born of dirt and stone. Garden Gnomes make good representatives of Earth in any elemental garden. Our Gnomes are small, wizened, and cheerful. Just what we need to lift our spirits on dreary days.

So now the idea for what to do with our wild space has taken full form and the work has begun. Stones of mixed sizes will be placed along the outer edges of the fern growth, touching and overlapping to creating a rough wall between the lawn and the ferns. The solar lanterns will be spaced amongst the stones to provide a soft, subtle, Faerie lighting while delineating the wild area at night. The Garden Gnomes will be placed along the border, some within and some without, near the lanterns so that during the day we see the Gnomes going about their business but at night they disappear as the Fae come out to play.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Through the Kitchen Window

The kitchen window faces East and overlooks the neighbour's yard. I can see their flower garden which makes me smile but oh so envious. Our neighbour has the best looking flower gardens in the whole community. If I turn my head slightly south I can see the large Blue Spruce that our neighbour has so lovingly tended for many years.

While washing dishes it is my habit to look out my window and watch the comings and goings of the Morning Doves, who have taken up residence deep inside the branches of the spruce tree. Morning Doves have a special place in my heart and in my memories and I had missed their quiet, unassuming presence while I lived in Alberta.

After my divorce, from my first husband, I went through a period of deep depression. Negative thoughts about my looks, personality, and emotions permeated my entire waking and a good portion of my sleeping thoughts. I was convinced that I would never find love of any kind again.

My thoughts became darker, and more foreboding until I finally reached rock bottom. At that point Death himself could have come for me and I would have gone willingly. In anguish I called out to The Lady asking, begging tearfully, to give me a sign that she still cared and heard my cries. I ranted, begged, cried, and in the end just sat in the darkness of my yard and sobbed uncontrollably.

As the sun rose the next morning, lighting the area where I still sat, eyes sore and puffy from crying, I heard a soft call nearby. Something like a cat's purr but more song like, and yet so sad, so lonely. I moved my head stiffly from side to side until I finally spied a small dove. He was pacing a few feet away making these little sad noises to himself. He was plain, blending so well with his surroundings that he was difficult to see at first. Soon a second, smaller dove joined him in his morning forage.

I must have moved just right because suddenly the doves took off with a whir of wings and a trill of alarm. It was only as I watched them flutter into the sky I noticed that the bird I had assumed was so unimportant was actually very beautiful. Their wing tips were marked with darker feathers. Their tails which fanned out as they flew flashed brilliant white in the morning sun.

I don't know what kind of a sign I was looking for the night before, but I knew this was the sign I had been seeking. Here was a bird that upon first sight looks plain and unimportant. So very small in the great big world. But on closer examination you could see that he was beautiful in a quiet, subtle way. And, most importantly, he had a mate. He had found love.