Long distance relationship Tuesday, Apr 15 2014 

Julie and Morris had, for most of their marriage, a long distance relationship with the only contact through letters.  It wasn’t always easy.  Here is a passage from a letter in 1857:

“Now here I sit scribbling away against time and to what end, I cannot interest you, I cannot amuse you, I cannot comfort you. I need not advise you, and don’t you think I were as well in bed and asleep?

…You are maybe at church, maybe in Mollie’s room, maybe smoking with Mr. Allen, possibly in your room, perhaps writing to me. At any rate, Dear Morris, if there comes a bright dream of home to you tonight and pleasant looks from home faces, I shall be there, and you will see me.

I put your picture under my pillow the other night in the hope that I might dream of you. But instead I dreamed all night of getting a convict out of a prison dungeon and was horribly afraid of him after all, and so awoke dreadfully fatigued and miserably disappointed. I have had some pleasant dreams of you through this winter. I have seen you, talked with you and have waked with such fresh and real impressions of your presence, that I have gone joyfully all the day long.”

Crocus angustifolius Monday, Apr 14 2014 

Alright, I’ll admit it. I have officially crossed the line and become a plant nerd.  I have a certain fascination with crocus at the moment.  A definite favorite right now is C. angustifolius (also known as C. susianus), commonly referred to as ‘Cloth of Gold’.  Native to Crimea and the northern Black Sea coast, it favors grasslands that are dry in the summer.  I figured I’d give it a shot in the tall grass of the northwest lawn under the white birches.  It certainly didn’t object to the winter, since either I can’t count or each corm was willing to send up multiple flowers.  It is supposedly fragrant, but I haven’t stuck my nose into a flower to find out.  A bright yellow crocus with a distinct star shape from above, more like some of the species tulips, rather than the classic cup of a Dutch crocus.  It may be more sensitive to sunlight than others (all crocus close at night or on cloudy days) since in my brief observation of a few days it is only completely open on bright mornings (the photos below were taken in a clear, late afternoon and the flowers had already noticeably closed).  It is a brilliant yellow with the outside feathered in what can only be described as royal purple.  Whether it is the name, the color, the shape, or its original location….I am always reminded of classical myths surrounding the Black Sea, primarily of course Jason and the Argonauts, but also other suggestions of a harsh land of great wealth and beauty.


Spring Sunday, Apr 13 2014 

I think we can safely call winter over…the peepers are finally going hard in Julie’s pond.  They started a few days ago in the pond across the road in East Meadow, but that pond is in nearly full sunlight and is fed by the regular seasonal water table rise.  Today, they have been going consistently all day in Julie’s pond, which is down in the woods and is spring fed.  It is, therefore, significantly colder than any other pond.

There is a wood duck pair down there as well, though I doubt they will nest…too much activity on the road.  The real question is whether I will see any baby salamanders swimming about down there this year.  I did last year, but only by pure chance.

Card Games Saturday, Apr 12 2014 

Circa 1920.  Do note the tea cups, with saucers, and sugar bowls! I am not entirely sure of who the people are; it is possibly Bradford Ellsworth and Juliet Inness.  But that is a guess. Note as well that the house still had the narrow wooden clapboards painted green rather than today’s larger, white asbestos. The change to the perceived size and weight of the house was unfortunate, on the other hand the paint bill is a lot smaller.  If one had unlimited cash….


One for the crow Friday, Apr 11 2014 

or all for the crow….We think that is what went after the newly planted peas anyway.  But, we have more peas we can plant, they didn’t get all of them (probably), and so we will simply have a staggered crop.  It could be worse.  We didn’t Have to have those peas.

Most of the gardening done in the Western world is by choice (farming is different, though arguably still a choice).  I think because it is a choice that the failures can be harder to deal with or at least hard in a different way, and there will be failures.  That may be the hardest part of it.  One does work that is meaningful on a truly fundamental level, work that has embedded within it a great deal of anticipation, of hope, of promise, and has already meant hard labour, time, and likely money.  And then, something entirely outside of your control comes along and destroys it.  But the thing, the really great thing, is that you can plant something else and something will grow.  Maybe not what was originally planned, but something still will grow.

I’ll quit before I wander farther into sloppy metaphors and philosophy.  Still, gardening is good for the soul.  Often because of the beauty it brings, but sometimes in that backhanded fashion called ‘character building’.

Heave ho, it’s off to work Thursday, Apr 10 2014 

We go.  or something.

I finally re-dug the two slope garden beds, I had essentially abandoned them in situ last November after the frost killed the tomatoes and pole beans and the winter squash were collected.  They are now dug and turned down to the clay.  They aren’t weed free of course, but a first pass on bindweed, bedstraw, and witch-grass has been made. There were still a few chunks of frost in there though.  But being on the slope in full sun they dry out very quickly and so were quite workable.   Unlike the main garden, which is flat and therefore still soggy.  New England hilltops: your choice of clay or rock; mud or drought

Now if I can just fix the fences to manage the elderly horse, who has apparently developed a tendency to run blindly back to the barn on the shortest route….which is through that area.  The question is, does one make the fence more solid or does one make the fence very visible but easily breakable.  I’m going to go with the latter.  He isn’t trying to escape or go through the perimeter fence.  And I’d much rather lose vegetables than have a horse tangled in fencing.

But I have to keep the turkeys off of the area, this is best done with netting.  Horse plus netting? Nightmare.  I am thinking it may have to be creatively done.

On sewing machines Tuesday, Apr 8 2014 

From a letter by Morris to Julie, March 1860:

“If you get the sewing machine, get one of Wheeler and Wilson’s, and have Susan (Julie’s maid and general helper) learn how to work it. Dear Julie, though it may be pleasant for you to work on the Sewing Machine, please do not do it very much, as it might make you lame, besides other casualties which I have heard sometimes have come to ladies from the use of the machine. Don’t laugh. I think it will be a good thing and an excellent arrangement for Susan. If she can perfect herself in the use of the machine, she will never come to want and will always have the means of obtaining an excellent living. I trust however, she will never see the necessity of going about for sewing or ever leave the house at 31 Chestnut Street (their home) except when we go to a larger and more pleasant house.”

Crocus Monday, Apr 7 2014 

(the only thing blooming at the moment here, but doing quite well indeed)


Fiddling about with doggerel Saturday, Apr 5 2014 

From something I was working on long ago…A description, perhaps, of the library, the piano, and the books.

On the day I left,

On the cold January morning,

The grand piano’s heartbreak,

I was in love

And left the library

Where the faun still knows

All the secrets

And the voice of man

Dances, unrepentant,

Beyond a classic, pillared frame.

The Tree Shuffle Friday, Apr 4 2014 

Circle to the right, circle to the left, do-si-do, and two steps down.  Or something.  One beech tree moved (again), hopefully this will be its final home.  A young volunteer copper beech, we decided that it would simply be too dark on the northwest lawn.  So it got shuffled to the tennis courts, where it will probably act more like a forest tree than a specimen tree, which is fine.  Then a disappointing Amur maple, having been given a prime location on the north lawn for several years and signally failing to merit the spot got moved.  That took a bit more excavating.  It looks like it ought to work better as an edge tree against some nice dark green confirs.  Of course, I swung it exactly 180 degrees, so it will probably hate me for some time….

Most of the time, one can move trees that are as tall as a person.  But not all.  A prime example of the Do Not move class is my white oak tree, which everyone has laughed at; it is finally beginning to grow on the Northwest lawn. I hope it takes off this year as that is the third try in that location.  The first two were bought trees with poor roots, this one was a volunteer from down under one of the big white oaks in the woods. Its top has good buds this year, and its top is as tall (all of 18 inches) as its taproot was long when I excavated it three springs ago.  At the time, its top was all of four inches tall.   There is a reason white oaks aren’t moved often….

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