Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bird Crazy

I'm getting a little bit excited about the fact that I'm heading to Mexico in about 10 days to go birdwatching with my bird crazy oldest brother and friends. Flying to Tucson and then driving south through Sonora to Hermosillo and on to the Sea of Cortez and then up into the Sierra Madres to the town of Alamos. I'll be sure to post after I get back and I know that I am going to see amazing birds I would never see north o' the border.

In preparation I've been updating my life list into a groovy little book I bought specifically for tracking birdwatching forays and its got the life list in the back. I got to thinking about all the birds that I've seen right in my own backyard and decided to share those with my readers so you'll now see a series of lists on the right of my blog page. The first two lists; birds that are here all the time and those that nest in summer, actually all nest in summer, but some are here in winter too. Then there are some that only come in winter and others that only pass through in spring and fall during the migration period.

So all you birdwatchers out there can be jealous of just how birdy my backyard actually is. I count 95 birds seen right here on the property. My life list isn't super long for those who are serious birders out there, I'm up to 330, nothing compared to the bro who is around 650 I think, but he really works at it and if it wasn't for him taking me to far out birding hotspots, my list wouldn't be half as long as it is now. Thanks Bro.

The craziest thing I've ever seen here was a juvenile white ibis that roosted in our yard one night last summer, we were amazed and took a photo of it for proof.

This winter has been different with Pine Siskins more frequent and Red-breasted Nuthatches which we haven't had before but they have apparently irrupted down from the north and are being seen in many parts of the south.

Whats normally here that I am not seeing are Chipping Sparrows and Pine Warblers. If you are a bird watcher in NC, are you seeing those two birds in your birdwatching adventures? Let me know.

Winter Finally

It’s great for it to be cold at last. The folks up north might not agree but around here, nights in the teens and days in the thirties are about the coldest cold we see. And the snow was a really welcome sight. Not the covering white blanket I had hoped for but still it was lovely to wake up the other morning and look out into the woods lit white and gray by snow covered branches, hear the sound of dripping water coming down. The tops of the big pines with globby white hats sitting on top of their bows, catching the first rays of morning sunlight, the green and bright white against the clear blue sky, just stunning.

I love the cold because it forces me inside most of the day to concentrate and work on indoor pleasures, reading, writing, and cooking. But I also relish walking outside when the air is so crisp and clear, everything is sharp against that bluest of blue skies, the winter air invigorates me, 360 from the thick hazy air of summer, when the heat and humidity make me want to die.

Down at the creek the other day I could hear the sound of chain saws and chickens clucking, dogs barking and distant traffic. They just logged 100 acres or more between the creek and Calvander so it is only a matter of time before they fill that space with houses just like every other space around Chapel Hill and Carrboro and not long after that more and more people will begin to appear along the creek paths, desperately eager for a taste of nature- a moment in the wild. I hope the creek keeps flowing for all our sakes. And that the traffic of people and dogs and kids won’t get so heavy that it begins to take a toll on the creek banks and woods.

Another day last week I sat for a long time staring out at the pond, watching the light and patterns change on the surface of the water from the wind, clouds floating by, the sun getting low, the clouds in the west were starting to pinken, then go peachy, blue sky between them reflecting in the rippling water.

I thought wow- just to stop, just stop, stop moving, stop thinking, just meditate on that water and sky, you don’t need anything else. Why can’t I just take this time to be? 8 months of freedom and I still can’t let a pretty day go by and not get out in it, just like I still sleep late sometimes 9 or 10 hours in bed, because I can, because I spent so many years inside when I wanted to be outside, sleep deprived and hungry for the rest.

Kahlil Gibran said “Forget not that the earth likes to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair” Forget not indeed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Family Archeology

My apologies faithful readers for the long dry spell. I’ve been buried in a project that had my room so full of memorabilia, photos and other family history that I could barely swing a cat in here. Finally last night I got it sorted and put into plastic bins and away in a fashion that I can come back to it when I’m ready, section by section for the next phase. What it was, were the last couple of boxes from my fathers’ house. When he died two years ago and we subsequently had to clear out the house to sell it, I was nominated “family historian” being the only one among us with any real interest in that sort of thing.

What that meant was home to my tiny house with about 20 boxes of letters, photos and other stuff from a life of 84 years. I made great progress in the winter of 2006-2007 on processing all these things and getting them organized in some way that made sense to me, this meant by family – mothers or fathers ancestors? By era, 1800’s, early 1900’s, or later. By place of residence, was this the Missouri period, Connecticut or North Carolina? And on, and on, and on it went. I got to a point where I just could not take another minute of it, I got things put away and my room back into some kind of decent order so I could think in here again and then there were just a couple of more boxes left….

Well those boxes sat in the corner and other things were added to the pile over the course of the year until I had another fairly large stack that needed to be dealt with. Thing was, when I opened the last box of pictures it was a really old box and there I found photos of my father as a boy wearing knickers, as a young man wearing a suit and tie, of his parents holding him as a baby, of his twin brothers as toddlers, kissing each other on the steps of the front porch of the house where they grew up, none of these had I ever seen before.

I dug deeper and found pictures of my great grandmother. Lula Tamplin, you may recall the story from the southern roots tour of the autograph books from my great grandmother circa 1886, this was her, all these beautiful pictures of her as a young woman I had never seen. In our family the history line tends to go back through the men on my grandmothers side, no info about her mother, no info about my fathers father, his family being from the wrong side of the tracks, we didn’t delve there.

Inquiring minds want to know, I want to know- who was my great grandmother- where did she come from, who was her family? And my paternal grandfather too- what about him?

Deeper still into an earlier generation, I find the letters written by my great-great grandfather to his wife before and during the civil war. They are hard to read, written with a quill pen and ink, fancy script, but I’m learning to decipher it, transcribing the letters into the computer, slowly but surely, the story is unfolding. This is fascinating and like reading a mystery novel, what will come next? From his obituary I know he was a captain in the confederate army, that he spent all 4 years in the war, 15 months in a prison camp, later became a merchant in Arkansas. I can’t wait to find out more. Here is a taste:

"My nature would have to undergo a change, both physical and mental or else I would not be satisfied in Heaven unless you were there, Dear Wife your temperament is not so orderly and impetuous as mine, and you cannot comprehend nor conceive whenever the fountains of your affection are stirred up of the devotion, love, and even idolatry with which I worship you, if husband ever doted on wife more than me, [he would] almost forget his creator in the worship of the creature, Wife you must and I know you will excuse this effusion, if for no other reason than that it is the first of the kind I ever wrote to you, if it was from the pen of an unmarried lover you might question and doubt the protestations, but coming from your husband, who has I trust, always manifested the truth of what is stated, it is different, for Mollie you know I commenced my courtship after our marriage and kept it up ever since, and expect to act out the true character of a lover till death separates us which God grant may not be till we are both prepared to be resurrected in Heaven”

This was written in 1859, 10 days before the birth of their third child, the first letter in the stack. Wow. Now maybe I can get back to some normal state of things with my room back in order. I’ve scanned and placed in protective archival sleeves all of the pictures that are 80 plus years old from my father’s side- I still need to do that for the box from my mothers side but they are waiting and can be more easily handled as they are already sorted. Then I plan to begin retouching and printing copies of the old pictures and putting them in albums that will tell the story of the families from as far back as I am able to go. Here is a favorite shot of everybody eating watermelon circa 1925.

That's my great grandfather on the far right and my grandfather in the middle of the windows and my papa sitting on the left side of the stairs.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

More Warm Southern Winter Days

The global warming trend continues with two days in a row in the 70's. It's crazy. I feel compelled to go outside and work though I have lots of things to do inside too. Yesterday our buddy J came by and together we cut back our 75 asparagus plants and weeded, fertilized and mulched the two 40 foot rows. We will be so glad when those babies start popping up in April.

Back when we first started the garden in 1998 our best friends J&M asked would we please plant extra asparagus for them? They live in a mill house in Carrboro with a postage stamp cottage garden. It's a lovely garden with sun in front and shade in back but no space for asparagus.

So we got together, dug the deep trenches, amended the soil and ordered the 75 asparagus crowns to plant. Each year J&M help with the maintenance and get as much 'grass as they can eat in return. When you first plant asparagus you don't cut them in the first year. Second year you cut for two weeks, third year for 4, after that, 6 weeks or as long as they keep putting up decent sized spears. Now we harvest a pound or so a day for about a month in the peak season and we eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner and give lots away to friends. At any rate, one more chore taken care of and you will hear more about asparagus in April.

I also raked leaves and shredded leaves to make mulch for the asparagus beds. I am using an ancient leaf shredder that belonged to my father, I have no idea how old it is and am sure its blade is as dull as a spoon, but it makes this lovely light chopped leaf mulch. Combined with the heavy aged leaf that we bring by the truckload from the Carrboro public works pile, it makes the perfect covering to block out weeds, hold in moisture, and adds organic matter to the soil as it breaks down.

Last night we made a yard fire and grilled some chicken wings from the freezer and I cooked up a skillet of fried rice with lots o'veggies in it, the "eating from what's here" campaign has been going fairly well, only buying dairy and fruit for the past couple of weeks. We are not going hungry. The veggies that I picked on January 1st should last at least another couple of weeks counting the cabbages which have good storage capacity. What's really amazing is that even after three nights in the teens and 20's, the broccoli still looks pretty good and the spinach and swiss chard and radicchio, which I covered with floating row fabric, survived and are enjoying the warm weather! Life in the South, can't beat it this time of year.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Day Harvest?!

Hello 2008. I'm excited about the year to come. I had new found energy today that did not exist last week. I spent a chunk of the day cleaning the house and doing laundry, seemed right to start the new year with a clean scene.

With cold weather predicted for the next few days including a night in the teens, I decided it was time to do a major harvest from the garden. It's hard to imagine that we could have so much still growing strong out there, I mean its January first for goodness sake. But here is what I picked today clockwise from the top:
3 heads of cabbage
4 heads of bok choy
a bowl of lettuce
3 heads of rad
about a dozen turnips-with greens
1 head of tatsoi
a handful of brussel sprouts
some red russian kale
a big bowl of arugula
2 bunches of cilantro
a bunch of dill
a gallon bag of broccoli side shoots and two small heads of broccoli

I made a pot of greens and peas soup for dinner, a tradition for the past few years. A recipe my father found by Mark Bittman in the New York Times, super flexible, easy and delicious. It combines the traditional New Years Day good luck foods in one dish. I browned a link of local hot italian pork sausage, sauteed onions, celery and garlic in the sausage grease, added a couple of cups of frozen purple hull peas from the summer garden, water to cover, a bay leaf and some thyme and rosemary- simmered about 30 minutes, then added about 6 cups of chopped turnip greens and kale and the sausage and simmered another 15 minutes, delish with a skillet of cornbread, MMM! You can use ham or bacon and any kind of greens you have on hand, get creative.

We are trying out our own version of locavore for the next month or so. Going to see how few groceries we can buy and just eat out of the garden, pantry and freezer.
(Close up of veggies, aren't they beautiful? I'm still trying to figure out how to get the words with the pictures-sorry)
It won't all be local but the house is full of food and I thought it would be cool to see how far we could stretch what is here. We'll still buy dairy and staples like flour for the bodacious whole grain bread Mr. D has been baking a couple of times a week, but will plan to bring as little as possible home and get creative with what's on hand.

Other big news is that after the inch+ of rain on the 30th, not only was Morgan Creek perking right along but so was our little creek which hadn't even had a puddle in it for almost 6 months. What a delight to walk yesterday and today and hear the sound of water burbling over rocks. Hooray. See below, this is the same spot that was just a trickle a few days earlier.