Sunday, January 31, 2010

More snow, more birds, more prunus mume

Today dawned bright, sunny and cold and we headed out for more sledding. The hill we had primed yesterday was packed and slick today. We sanded and oiled the runners of the flexible flyer and put it to the test, it worked great and is much easier to steer than the plastic toboggan.
Neighbors and kids were out in force and we had 11 people out there at one point hooting and hollering and having a general all around good time. To quote my man “There is magic in the world and it’s called snow.” After a couple of hours of fun we headed home for a hearty lunch of minestrone from the freezer and grilled cheese sandwiches after which I took a very delish nap on the couch.

The birds were still dashing in and out to the feeders all day; I got these great shots of a pine warbler dipping in for some suet. 

The prunus mume continues to brighten the house and I also found a couple of camellias the other day when it was warm that weren’t frostbit and brought those in as well. It’s hard to believe it was in the 60’s just a few days ago!
Late this afternoon we were back at it, checking out another hill that had been primed by folks from outside our hood, not as curvy as where we had been, but a good, long straight ride. After a few runs there, we headed through the woods back to hill number one and took a couple more slides there before coming home at sunset. What a day. We are pondering going out for a ride under the full moon, we’ll see if our energy holds up, a long hot bath and some ibuprofen before hitting the bed may win out as the thermometer is crashing towards a projected low of 10 degrees tonight.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow Outside, Flowers In

I cut this vase of prunus mume on Thursday before the weather changed and they’ve been popping out further each day. The blossoms smell like cinnamon, what a marvelous breath of spring on a cold day with snow outside.

Snow it did, all night and much of the morning and it never warmed above 26 degrees today so it piled up pretty nicely, 5-6 inches, enough to bring things pretty much to a halt. We bundled up this afternoon and went out looking for a spot to sled. Our neighbor with the steepest driveway is out of town so we worked getting a good run packed down over there with the plastic toboggan, hoping tomorrow we can try it with the flexible flyer since we got the base established. Had some pretty good rides, Dave on bottom, me on top, face first, trying to avoid flying off into the ditch or creek. There’s nothing like a snow day to bring out the kid in me. With lows in the teens and a high of 33 tomorrow it’s doubtful much will melt before Monday afternoon. Yippee!!
The feeders were grand central all day, I had to refill the two seed feeders midday there was so much action. A yellow-rumped warbler was among many to get their fill of suet. 

You can see the snow/sleet falling around this little guy.

Saw most of the sparrows today too, fox, white-throated, chipping and song all made appearances at some point during the day along with downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, white-breasted and brown-headed nuthatches, juncos, cardinals-looking brilliant in the snow- doves, chickadees and tits.  I even saw a hermit thrush on the suet, that was a first.  Watch for snow pics tomorrow.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter Landscape

I want to focus on some of my favorite features of the winter landscape over the next few weeks, things in the yard and woods that aren’t as apparent when everything leafs out or that get lost in the shuffle when blooms start to happen again.

I’ve shown this little Japanese maple lots of times on the blog, it’s gorgeous when it leafs out, tiny pale green leaves with red edges, but it’s also a wonderful little brush now in winter. I don’t know its name but it won’t ever get taller than this, just keeps reaching out. David transplanted the moss below it last year and the green has taken nicely and is slowly creeping out and around the tree.

Walking out to hang the laundry yesterday I was struck by how very happy I was feeling, just to have the time and freedom to walk out on a warm and sunny day and hang the wash. Thinking about how since I’m working less, I’m not making as much money but its enough. And instead of money I have time; to do things like hang out the wash, bake fresh bread, grow and cook fresh food and take walks in the woods. And that time and flexibility is more valuable to me than all the money in the world. I’m so lucky to have figured it out, to have had the opportunity to step back and decide how I wanted to live my life more fully, more wholly.

Snow is coming down now, supposed to get close to 8 inches, and we'll be free tomorrow for long walks in the wonderful quiet whiteness.  Amen.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Radish Festival Take 2

It was actually warm and pleasant earlier this week and I ventured into the garden to putter around a bit. Cut down the dead eggplants and peppers and put away their cages. Pulled up the frozen turnips. I tidied up, fertilized and mulched the strawberry bed in hopes of some berries come June. And in my travels, I unearthed a couple of major radishes. I had left these in the ground, partly out of laziness, partly in hopes that David might pull them up on December 23rd and carve them in an act of solidarity with me when I was down in Mexico taking in the Noche de los Rabanos (see blog post Dec 28,2009 ). He didn’t, so here they are.

I don’t know about you, but I thought this guy really needed no carving, sort of reminds me of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland that sat up on that giant mushroom. What does it remind you of?

Check out the size of this dude-knife placed for emphasis- The lower half we’ll be able to eat, the top is hollow from being above ground during such cold weather. This is a variety that is actually grown for its greens.  I discovered last year, that while I don't really care much for the greens accept when quite small, it also produces these spectacular radishes mid-winter that are quite tasty and sweet. Looking at the Johnny’s website I see they say Hong Vit makes small inedible radishes, I’d have to disagree.

Today it’s back to bone-chilling cold and rainy, stick close to the woodstove weather, tomorrow we should see the sun again, just long enough to refill the wood rack before more rain on Sunday.

Must be January.

So to brighten your winter days wherever you are, here are a couple more of my faves from the radish fest in Oaxaca, the real deal.

Sun and Moon?

Asian drumming, singing troupe?

Go Zapotec

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Heavy Rains Bring High Waters

It rained all night and quite a bit today, first rain we've had in several weeks and it raised the creeks right up.  We strolled down through the woods, D finally feeling well enough to venture out for a walk after several days of high fever.  I'm hoping this coming week will bring wellness to both the members of this household for the first time in too long.

Walking in the drizzle may not have been the best medicine but it did us good to see the ice melting in the pond, the mist rising off the creek,

the moss greening up and becoming almost electric. 

The wave and roll of high, albeit muddy water, flowing down Morgan.

The new beaver dam seems to be holding firm. The flat-tailed engineers have figured out that this is the spot, just below where a smaller creek feeds in from one side and trees and brush hang from the opposite bank, these two factors seem to keep the water moving slower. The dam is holding even in high water times.  They've built here before and spring rains eventually washed it out, we'll see if this time they've got some new trick to keep it up.

Beech roots wet and blue from rain. 
A rainy Sunday crawls to a close, dinner in the oven, wine in the glass.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Warm and Sunny with Lots of Water Flowing

Took a long walk today. It was positively balmy after so much cold weather. The pond is still covered with ice and this morning was making some bizarre popping and pinging sounds as the ice expanded and contracted in the sun. Near the dam where the water is still flowing there were these cool starburst formations of ice around stumps and sticks.

Down below the dam there is a small water fall and this fun foamy whipped cream pattern caught my eye.

Down on Morgan, where the water has been flowing so delightfully the past couple of months thanks to fall rains following the big drought of summer, the stream is quite clear and here you can see the many colored stones on the bottom, with the dance of dappled light falling over them.

I walked for a solid hour at a decent pace and had to actually take off my jacket towards the end because I was hot! Whew- it’s been a while since I could say that. I'm looking forward to returning to work at The Forest tomorrow, my first day back since before Thanksgiving, but finally it will be warm enough that we can pack a few plants to ship to points south.  Will be glad to get back to a more normal routine again after so many weeks of travel, holiday, sickness and cold.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sweet Orange Carrots

After weeks of freezing weather I'd about given up on the veggie garden but I needed some carrots for chicken stock and soup I was making so went out to see what I could find.  Lots of carrots!  Beautiful, long, crisp, sweet carrots to boot.  I'll be needing to make some carrot dishes over the next few weeks as there are a lot of these babies still out there waiting to be dug.  I forget how well they keep in the ground during the winter and how truly sweet they become after a frost.  Everything else out there is looking fairly limp but I'm hoping the collards and spinach might bounce back if it gets a little warmer and that the cabbages might also still be good.  It's supposed to hit 50 tomorrow for the first time since I got home from Mexico nearly 3 weeks ago, so I'll pull back the frost cloth and see what it looks like under there.

Friday, January 8, 2010

English Muffin Experiment

Ever since bringing home a set of English muffin rings from the thrift shop 10 or more years ago, I've been threatening to make English muffins.  Not sure why it took so long, but finally today, perhaps in a testament to finally feeling like doing something besides lying on the couch reading or sleeping, which is about all I've done for the past 10 days, I decided to give it a whirl.

Part of the delay was due to the fact that the recipe makes 8 but there were only 4 rings in the box.  Mmhh? how to deal?  I read that you could hold half the dough for later.  Then I looked in the old faithful Joy of Cooking and discovered they could be made without rings.  Eureka! All these years deprived of homemade English muffins unecessarily!

We did, of course, experiment.  Half (ones in the back here) were made with the rings, half formed into circles and allowed to rise, free form.  Two were cooked on a cast iron griddle (the one that is flat on top at back), 6 baked in a 425 degree oven.  I'm here to report, the two tested so far are delicious. I can tell no real difference between the various techniques, but can say, I will be making them again before 10 more years go by.

Call me crazy, but I also felt compelled to hang out laundry today despite the high temperature being 32.  And yes, the clothes were freezing into solid shapes before I even had them all hung out, but after being cooped up inside for so many days, I just thought it would be nice to smell that cold ozony smell on the sheets when I changed them.  Hopefully the air is dry enough that they will thaw and dry by tomorrow.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cold and Quiet

I think it would be safe to say that returning home has been a bit of a shock to my system.  For one thing- it's freezing in North Carolina!  Colder than normal even, we are looking at three days running here with highs in the mid 30's and lows in the teens, I know the northerners will poo-poo that as cold, but compared to Oaxaca where the daytime average was 75-80 degrees, these chilly temps are a little hard to take.  I'm glad we've got a big pile of seasoned firewood, and I wish the cough that lingers from my cold, the one that kicks in just as I'm about to fall asleep and keeps up all night, would go away.

Other than the sound of my coughing it is incredibally quiet here.  I always knew it was quiet, but when I compare to Mexico, where there never seems to be silence, there is a very pronounced stillness here in the woods.  Of course as I write this I hear the bassetts barking next door, but that's just an occasional noise, mostly all we ever hear are owls hooting, crickets and frogs calling in summer, birds in the early morning, occasional squabbles between possums and raccons over some juicy scrap in the compost pile at night.

In Mexico, in the City anyway, it seemed that the noise never ceased.  Cars and buses are expected, sirens too, but then there would be music, either from a radio or often from a live band, playing for a party or fiesta of some kind, I even heard a band one morning at 5:30, I was trying to decide if they were just getting rolling or were winding down from the night before.  The days and nights were punctuated by fireworks, generally bottle rockets (cohetes), I had almost reached a point where I stopped jumping, the whistle that came before the loud boom tipping me off, but they really sounded like bombs going off on a regular basis.  After the blast, the smell of sulphur would drift through the air.

Setting up a fireworks display

This tower was stood upright, covered with fireworks and catherine wheels and lit the night of the Radish festival, the only thing in the history of  Mexico to ever happen EARLY, I missed it.

Mexican's are verbal and loud.  Children have a respected status, they are everywhere all the time, regardless of the hour and can be heard calling plaintively, frequently, ma... maa...  MAAA!  With the non-stop fiestas of the Christmas season, shouts of excitement, singing, the sound of a stick whacking a piƱata and noisy merriment seemed to be happening 24/7.  Dogs barking and roosters crowing are also ubiquitous.
I was actually reaching a point where I was getting used to the noise, I could sleep at night without my earplugs, but it is an aspect of city life that I think adds to the tension of urban living.  I'm glad to be back home in my stillness again.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I did not wake this morning feeling miraculously well, but was up to going out for a birdwalk with my brother Chris and a few birding friends.  I want to give him a shout as today is the first day of his Big Year of Birding.  He is embarking on an adventure to see how many birds he can spot in the lower 48 over the course of 2010.  We saw almost all the usual suspects this morning that one would expect around our place, in mid-winter, in the central Piedmont of NC.

Check out his brand new blog that will be chronicling his travels:
I'm contemplating joining him in March in Colorado to search for grouses and prairie chickens on their mating grounds called leks.  Stay tuned.

2009 was a banner year in many ways, I had much more free time to explore my passions, to write and garden and spend time traveling with friends and family and alone.  I discovered new career possibilities for my future and enjoyed the work I was doing for the first time in a long time.  I'm hoping 2010 will continue in this positive vein and that all my readers out there will experience positive and prosperous years as well.  Thanks for reading in 2009 and I hope you'll continue following the Morgan Creek Chronicles in 2010.
Happy New Year!