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It was 65 yesterday morning, but only 44 this morning, with a raw east wind and drizzle. It is a day where even sixty miles inland you feel like you are on the cold water on the coast of Maine. The “back door cold front” that clobbered us will, like the one last week, push all the way down to Washington DC, and only slowly back off. It is a glorified sea breeze bolstered by the chill imparted to the off shore waters by a nasty winter. (Here is a Dr. Ryan Maue map I lifted from Joseph D’Aleo’s blog at the WeatherBELL “Premium Site,” which costs me the price of a cup of coffee each day, and is well worth it, as long as I still get my coffee. [They offer a one week free trial.] )
(You can click the above map to get a larger, clearer view which can be further enlarged with another click.)
To our north, Hudson Bay is still frozen, and to are west the Great Lakes are very cold. How would you like to be a life guard at this beach on the shores of Lake Superior?
All these factors create a slow spring here in New Hampshire, and a situation where only a fool would have a vegetable garden. I am such a fool, and this post will describe my woe and misery. I’ll add updates to the bottom of this post, until it gets too long.
MAY 29 —FROST!!!—
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It is practically June, but there it was, on the grass by the garden, white and glistening in the early , slanting sunbeams,: Frost. Now I smile, remembering the more laid-back old-timers, who said it was never worth the trouble of planting before Memorial Day, which in the old days was always on May 31. They’d been-there-and-done-that, and seen all the hurry and worry of early planting cut down by a late frost. Their attitude seemed to be, “Why bother?”
I likely lost a few flats I haven’t planted yet, but I’m so far behind with my planting that there’s nothing tender to lose. I’d be a lot more upset if I had my tomatoes planted. (I would have risked planting some early, but my goats ate those flats before I had a chance.)
The sun rose so early and was so brilliant that the wet telephone poles were smoking with steam soon after the sun crested the hills. It’s a glorious day, but cool.
THE MISSING BARN-CAT
Today was like a different planet. Yesterday it never got much above 45, (7 Celsius,) with drifting drizzle off the cold Gulf of Maine, and when the wind gusted the wind chills were in the high thirties (3 Celsius.) The whole world was grey, but today the sky was cloudless blue, with May’s green leaves vivid and lush, after the watering they got.
What grows best is the grass, which is fine for the goats but lousy for me, for I’ve got to cut it. However, before I suffered the deafening growl of my archaic rider-mower, I just stood in the windless quiet amazed by the sheer beauty.
Our old barn cat vanished during the winter, so I’m expecting an invasion of voles in my garden, and mice in the barn. (We already have an amazingly brazen chipmunk stealing the goat’s grain.) So I expect I’ll miss the cat, dubbed “Gnarly.” But not much. He had a nasty habit of arching up to people purring, pressing against their leg, and then, when they reached down to pat him, affectionately biting right down to the bone. I’d only pat him wearing work gloves, and even then he could draw blood. He was not popular among the customers at my Childcare, and “Don’t pat Gnarly” was a strictly enforced rule with the kids. Of course modern children are not well-disciplined, and tend to sneer at the rules of grown-ups. Gnarly, (and also our rooster,) taught the young whippersnappers to listen to me.
Most outdoor-cats around here vanish because they are eaten. Coyotes and Fisher-cats like a meal of cat, and a Great Horned Owl will swoop down to dine at night. However I doubt that was Gnarly’s fate. He was smart, and also very tough. I once watched him deal with a fox out in the pasture. It was winter and the fox was hungry, and bigger than Gnarly, and stalking him, but Gnarly was faster when he needed to be, and then would slow down and become casual, looking over his shoulder in a way I swear was taunting, for the fox would look offended and try a different approach, and again be evaded. After each evasion Gnarly would saunter in a most careless, casual and unhurried manner, home to my barn.
If he could outfox a fox I doubt it was a wild animal that robbed him from my barn. I fear that, rather than a wild animal, it was a tame human, and the hint was due to a change in Gnarly’s dreadlocks.
Gnarly was a long-haired orange cat, and was bred to grace some rich woman’s Persian living-room, and never sneak through briers and burrs, but fate gave him to a daughter’s wild boyfriend, and when they went their separate ways somehow Gnarly got left behind, and rather than fluffy fur had dreadlocks. I’d snip the biggest clumps off, (wearing thick canvas gloves,) from time to time, however such grooming only made the cat look worse: Dreadlocks with bald patches. However looks don’t matter to a barn Tomcat, as long as he catches mice. Therefore it was very noticeable when Gnarly returned from one of his three-day courtship journeys looking remarkably groomed.
This new, smooth, tidy, sleek Gnarly visited the barn less and less often, and I could hardly blame him. Why live in a barn when you can live in a Persian living-room? (Even if it is the living-room of a cat-thief.) And last winter was a cold one. It is little wonder he stopped coming back altogether, though I couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt and rejected, and also that Gnarly turned out to be more of a sissy than I ever dreamed he could be. You’d think a Tomcat would value independence more. I half-expected him to return, once the weather warmed.
He didn’t, nor have the mice, voles, and occasional rat he chowed down on, (so far.) But this morning, as I stood amidst the stunning beauty of blue sky, golden sunshine, and rain-washed May greenery, I suddenly noticed what had returned to our barn.
Barn swallows. What a beautiful bird they are! Few birds fly so adroitly, with such swift swoopings and swerves, with the blue sky shining off their black-blue backs.
However not even a barn swallow’s back catches the blue of the sky like the back of a bluebird. They were nearly extinct, after a terrible ice-storm in my boyhood, but have made a comeback and we’ve had a few of them around recently, but always far from the barn, and never sitting on near fence posts. Because they were so rare for so long, I can never see one alight near without becoming Norse and feeling it is a good omen.
Not only that, but a common American Robin hopped across the lawn, cocking its head, listening for worms. They’d never dare that, with Gnarly in the barn. Then an enormous Oh-My-Gosh-Bird (Pileated Woodpecker) swooped down to slam rippingly at the stump of the maple ruined by Hurricane Irene.
Also a song sparrow, which had sung from the very top of the backyard balsam fir, now sung from a low bough. In fact there seemed to be birds all over the place. A tiny chipping sparrow flitted about the manure pile, and there were titmice and chickadees, goldfinches and warblers, and all seemed to be singing at the top of their lungs, rejoicing that the cruel east wind and drizzle had given away to sunshine and a dead calm.
Softened by the rapture induced by all this beauty, I murmured, “Screw you, Gnarly. Who the heck needs you? You can sit in your Persian living-room and rot, for all I care.”
Of course, I won’t be saying that once the rodents start to proliferate. The bird my barn needs most is a rodent-eating barn owl. Unfortunately such owls are few and far between, because they eat mice and rats that come staggering from barns and out into the open dieing, poisoned by rat poison. Rat poison kills more owls than even Gnarly could.
Farmers face choices, and given the choice between rat poison and a Tomcat that bites, I’d chose neither, and go for more heart-faced barn owls.
MAY 30 —The Cold returns—
Not bad in the morning, with temperatures up near seventy, but then a cold front drifted south with a few brief smatterings of rain; big drops but not all that heavy. Temperatures drifted back down through the sixties. During our entire brief warm-up the clouds never stopped floating down from the north.
Besides the ordinary Childcare duties I got some mowing done and planted nine tomato plants. I’ll never get that garden planted, it seems.
MAY 31 —More ocean air—
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That rogue storm out to sea is creating a northeast wind, so again we have a grey morning with temperatures in the fifties. However when the sun peeks through the purple it is instantly warmer. It looks like the high up in Labrador is going to press south and give us more sunshine. I think it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs when your warm weather comes from Labrador.
Can’t plant first thing, as my granddaughter has a gymnastics event. But I’ll get a lot done later.
JUNE 1 —Finally planting—
Although the high cresting over us has arctic origins up in Labrador, it can’t defeat a June sun. Now that the onshore wind has died temperatures are leaping upwards. When the winds turn south tomorrow it may actually get hot.. Therefore I have no reason to avoid planting, right? Wrong. It’ is Sunday, and I’m “Deacon On Duty” at Church.
(If the food I grow meant the difference between children living or starving, I’d skip church.)
However I did get a lot done yesterday, even without planting seeds.
I spent $800.00 on a new rototiller, which is in some ways ludicrous as the garden isn’t likely to produce $800.00 worth of food. However, because the Childcare I run is all about teaching children about farming, it is a tax-deductible expense.
I used to rent a monster for $70.00 a day, and had to work like crazy to get all the work done in a single day. The machine was a brute, a sort of merciless beast that just about ripped your arms from their sockets each time you hit a big stone, and the soil in New England is full of big stones. It doesn’t matter how long you work to remove them; the frost heaves up a new crop every spring, which is why New England has such lovely stone walls. Stones may be our best crop.
My new tiller is smaller, digs deeper, and when it hits a big stone it politely shuts down. You remove the stone, and then the machine politely is easy to restart. (I’m not used to equipment that is easy to start.) However what is best is that I don’t have to hurry to be done in a day, to avoid a late fee. In fact I can actually dawdle.
At age sixty-one, I find dawdling is more like a necessity than a vice. I need to pace myself. However I also need to avoid being like King Theoden, (in Tolkien’s masterpiece,) when he was under the spell of Wormtongue (who was under the spell of Saruman who was under the the spell of Sauren). Wormtongue was always saying things like, “Oh don’t strain yourself, most venerable one.” Bah! I may need to pace myself, but that doesn’t mean I need to cower.
When I was young I could underbid other landscapers by skipping the expense of a rototiller. All I needed was a stout spading fork, (American-made, not one of those cheap forks with tines that bend at the first root). Spading by hand was tiring, but like long distance running: I’d “hit the wall,” but then get a second wind, and then a third and fourth and fifth wind. Furthermore I could do all sorts of things rototillers can’t, stooping to toss aside roots and stones and weeds, so that the garden’s soil was much cleaner when I was done tilling. I’d do an entire garden in a day, perhaps taking longer than a guy with a rototiller, but doing a better job and doing it a little more cheaply.
The next morning would find me stiff and sore, but I’d just think the stiffness and soreness was a sign I was “getting in shape.”
As you get older you get out of shape more swiftly even as it takes longer to get back in shape. However stiffness and soreness is often the same, as sign you are “getting in shape.” Yet a Wormtongue in the back of the brain does not tell you, “You are getting in shape.” Instead it says, “You are getting to old for this nonsense.”
In any case, I’m stiff and sore this morning, but glad I got some tilling done yesterday. I also got some more seedlings in yesterday, including a number that were topped by hungry goats, and may not even survive. Lastly, before I tilled, I dug up a whole bunch of volunteer Sunflower seedlings and transplanted them around the periphery of the Childcare playground, which hopefully will delight my wife in August, when the grounds are surrounded by the flower’s happy faces. Not bad, for a day I “didn’t plant.any seeds.”
After church today I’ll meet with the young fellow who is helping me become more up-to-date, in terms of my computer, which may lead to a new post in the “Poet’s Plan” series.
After that I’ll plant some corn. However, as this particular post is about “not planting seeds,” I suppose this post is over. The continuation of this series can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/local-view-planting-corn/