Thursday, September 25, 2008

Little Lizards

It seems our place is loaded with little lizards lately, they are scuttling and scurrying across the walkways, the garden paths, everywhere I look they are looking for a warm spot to sun themselves or a bug to eat. They are mostly fence lizards, really quite precious, only about 1.5 inches long. You can see the one below is next to some rebar which is about a half inch wide. I have to watch out to keep from stepping on them. At one point yesterday I could see eight of them at once in a 10- square foot area! Sometimes they go into a little trance and I can pick them up.
I've also been seeing a multitude of baby toads everywhere, red, black, brown, I think they are all American Toads from looking at the knobs on their heads and believe they change colors based on their surroundings. I don't ever remember seeing so many baby toads. Perhaps the amphibians are trying to make up for time lost during our drought of the past two years, once the rains came on, so did the egg laying and hatching.
We also have these swallowtail caterpillars eating up the dill but I will let them because there were fewer butterflies this summer than ever and I think that must also be linked to the drought. But who knows- could be some other environmental factor that's got their numbers down. Whatever- I'm hoping these last ones will have enough time to form a butterfly before cold weather sets in.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fall Has Arrived

I was wrong in my last post when I said sweater weather wouldn't be here till November. It's been in the 50's every morning this week and I just went in to put on socks and a sweatshirt because I was chilly sitting here at the desk. Of course it doesn't help that I keep leaving the windows open at night and they are open now, the cool breeze rippling the curtains and sounding the wind chimes in the yard.

I can't help it- I want to feel that cool dry air. All I can really say about it is Woo Hoo!!

I love fall almost as much as I love spring. The changing angle of the light, shortening of the days, slow shutting down of plants and trees. Soon all will be a blaze of color as the trees begin to turn and then the light will change again and as it drops to the southern horizon it will beam through the house in the morning- tempting me to relax on the couch with a book and another cup of coffee.


We did our quarterly streamwatch snap shot last Sunday. Our contribution to citizen science for the Haw River Assembly. The water levels are back down after the big flood but the debris left behind shows just how high the water went.

The stream bed was literally scoured, I haven't seen it so clean in years. And so there were fewer critters in the rocks and riffles. We still scored an excellent water quality rating for the diversity of macro invertebrates that we found. Translucent crawdads just a half an inch long, tiny brown salamanders with their gills still on, damselflies, the most delicate of all the critters we see in the creek, long legs hiked up to their sides like war of the world spiders and long feathery triple tails that float up in the water behind them like a scorpions' stinger.

The skeeters were ferocious and took a bit of the pleasure out of being down there. The water was 64 degrees, the air 68. My feet were numb after standing in it for a couple of hours and when I got home, I went straight to the shower where I let the warm water run over my puppies to thaw them out before slipping into some long pants and cozy socks.

In a bit I'll head out to water the fall seedlings, things sprouted well and are growing slowly, with the cool weather we might not get the long fall growing season that we've grown accustomed to. But I gotta say, the tender salads of mixed lettuces and arugula we've been eating are making me pretty glad to be alive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Last Days of the Hummers

The first official day of fall is next week and though I long for sweater weather, I know it won’t be here until November. Yet today we have the first real taste of autumn, cool and rainy, the windows are opened up, AC turned off, maybe for the rest of the season? The week promises cooler drier air once this front moves through and I'm ready.

Every morning for months as I've stood at the sink to get water or wash dishes I've been greeted by the hummingbirds visiting the crimson flowers on a cluster of 8 foot tall purple leaved cannas that are growing outside the kitchen window. On still mornings the breeze generated by the blur of their wings actually moves the surrounding foliage of plants they are visiting.

The hummingbirds are now busy dipping their bills into the last of the salvia, zinnias and cannas, looking for any drop of nectar they can find. They need to get as fat as possible for their miraculous journey south. The young hummers buzz about the yard testing their fighting and flying skills. Swooping up and down and strafing one another -- and us if we are sitting in the yard near the feeder. Sometimes they fly right up to the window and just hover there, seeing their reflections, but it feels like they are checking me out. One day soon it will dawn on me sadly that they’re gone.

Our flowerbeds are overgrown and need deadheading, but goldfinches busily eating seeds from the spent coneflowers and sunflowers give me an excuse to postpone that task. Once this rain has passed, I'll get out there to tackle the late weeds and tidy up a bit. D. pulled down the last of the summer tomato vines yesterday, what a wonderful surprise to come home to, I've done that onerous task the last few years and wasn't looking forward to facing the soupy tomatoes hanging on dying brown vines.

We pulled out the rotting squash, snap beans and okra and got the fall vegetables planted just before the big rain from Hurricane Hannah came through. Young plants of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards and cabbage are nestled in and the seeds for a myriad of fall greens are all sprouting thanks to the wet warm days of the past couple of weeks. Beets and carrots planted in July are getting some size on them now and lettuce and arugula planted in early August are ready to harvest, the fall veggie season has begun and my mouth is ready.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Full O'Beans

Have I mentioned that we are growing 9 kinds of beans this year?

This is just part of the selection. Center row from left to right: Borlotto beans (also shelled in the bowl at top left), Flageolet, Purple Hull Black Eyed peas (also shelled in freezer bag at top right), Garden of Eden, and at the bottom, Yard Long beans which are really more like 12-16 inches.

I always plant a trio of bush snap beans. Blue Lake because for some reason I ordered a pound of seeds about 15 years ago- they still germinate every time, I'm looking forward to using them up and ordering something new, D wants to try try the french filet beans next year. Roc D'Or, a heavy producing long yellow wax bean, and Romanette a flat, meaty one that I can no longer get seed for so will have to try something new.

We finally pulled up all the snap beans last week to make way for fall crops, they had lots of big beans on them which are on a newspaper in my office drying to see if we can make shell beans out of them. We ate a ton, gave lots away, canned dilly beans and froze a bunch to toss in winter veggie soups and still there were more on the vines that got huge while we were away.

Now we are shelling beans too. Borlotto has a flashy pod with red flames and fat beans that are also red and white, I shell and freeze these, they're great in soups and we cooked a big pot the other day and they were reminiscent of pinto beans.

Flageolet are just starting to come in, never grew these before, they are small, I guess that is one of the reasons they are special and expensive, more shelling for fewer beans, they are a minty green color and I look forward to tasting them.

An heirloom variety, Garden of Eden, are also new this year, a broad green bean that looks like its going to be tough and stringy but cooks quickly and is tender yet meaty and no strings!

What are not really beans, are purple hulls, a black-eyed pea that freeze really well and make a fabulous soup with greens and some pork product come winter. The perfect dish to dip some cornbread into.

The yard long bean, also truly in the pea family is from southeast Asia. They are bodacious in stir fries and udon noodle dishes.

Last but not least are the Turkey Craw. Somebody gave D these seeds with the story that they were discovered in the craw of a turkey someone butchered. They've got a vine like Jack's that grows to the top of the 8 foot trellis and then all over itself until it makes a big gnarly mop on top and then it starts to set the beans. They are brown when dried, darker on one end of the bean than the other. They have set good fruit this year, better than previous attempts and we are awaiting their maturation so we can harvest and shell them.

The trick with these shell beans is to get them when their shells are starting to dry and feel a bit leathery but before they start to get moldy, a challenge with all the wet weather we've been having. If you aren't planting beans in your garden then you are missing out.

Shelling them is pretty easy, gives you something to do while watching mindless TV, like the Republican National Convention.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hurricane Hannah

We woke to rain and high winds that continued through the early morning, the edge of Hurricane Hannah as it passed through North Carolina. We had 5 inches of rain in that many hours. We managed to make coffee just before the power went out and sat in the shadowy house watching the rain and wind whipping through the trees. By 9:30 the power was back on and we made blueberry pancakes from the last handful of berries off our bushes.

The rain stopped so we headed down to check out how high the water was. Wow. We considered the idea of pumping up the inner tubes and taking a ride, the water was so high it was clearing all known rocks and obstacles but we came to our senses and decided the creek side view was exciting enough.

We were lucky here, to get only 5 inches of rain and only have the power out for about an hour. As I waded into the water to see how close to the edge of the raging creek I could get, I thought of an image of a woman in Haiti- standing in front of a tiny shack, the water up to her knees, with her few belongings in a plastic bag. That whole poor island is going to wash into the sea as they have cut down all the trees. As water swirled all around me, I had one brief moment of thinking I could feel what that woman might have felt. I can only imagine the devastation and the frightening prospect of having no idea what might happen next.

We are so lucky to have a high and dry safe house to live in.
Some scenes from here today.
A path disappearing into the water
Morgan Creek raging
The bridge floating over the pond creek, good thing it's tied to a tree
Me "surfing" on the bridge, Morgan Creek ripping along to my left.
The sun is out here now and the waters are subsiding, hope folks faired all right closer to the eye of the storm.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New England Travelogue

We're back from the big adventure and glad to be home. It was as we had imagined, cool, dry and clear, I felt like I was walking into a postcard most of the time we were gone. From Rickett's Glen in Pennsylvania where we hiked a loop that follows 2 streams that flow through two gorges to form a Y. You pass more than 20 waterfalls ranging from 15- 90 feet high. It was a Saturday and packed, one of PA's most popular parks but I could see why, breathtaking. I didn't even mind seeing so many people there- it was good to see old and young taking on the challenging 3 mile, up and down rock stairs trail that was required.

From there on to Vermont where I sprained my ankle stepping out of the lean-to in the early morning and was forced to spend a day with my foot up reading a book- message from the universe to slow down for sure. It was one of the best days of the whole trip, breezy cool air made the green leaves dance and dapple the campsite where I took a couple of naps, finished a book and wrote in my journal.

Meanwhile D. built this Andy Goldsworthy-esque sculpture of the juicy, sappy pine they sold us at inflated prices at the Park. If split into small pieces it would actually burn and burn well. He took a walk with his camera around the glacial stream fed lake and was back in time to help me fix supper and get all this wood up into the lean-to before a big rain came in. We were high and dry in the shelter and enjoyed our supper with a nice bottle of red. Once the rain had passed D. got the fire rolling and we were able to sit out by it and toast a marshmallow or two.
From there we drove through New Hampshire to Maine where we stayed with our friend B Lou, ate lobster, went kayaking, visited a fascinating Georgia O'Keefe exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, a very hip town, great bakeries and coffee shops, stunning ocean views such as these.

On to Cape Cod for giant sand dunes, more kayaking, more great fish and lobster and wine to drink, more time with good friends. We paddled our boats among seals and sea birds, swam in the chilly water and basked in the phenomenal weather. I completely understand why millions of people flock to New England in the summer, the climate is perfection, at least it was the two weeks that we were there.

The rain from Hurricane Fay forced us home in 2 days without any campouts. Now we're home; cleaning, gardening and unpacking. Yesterday back to work. Writing for me and art making for D. Hot weather and hurricanes. Bean shelling, pulling out summer veggies and planting for fall. Waiting to see what Hurricane Hannah will deliver later this week.