Tuesday, August 30, 2022

November Hill farm journal, 164

 I finally got a few photos this weekend and can share a bit of what is happening on November Hill this late August. 

First, the little passionflower that is so delicate and pretty growing along the branches of one of the button bushes:

The long view of the larger species of passionflower that has grown from the ground to the roof in the corner in one season!

The quite extravagant flowers I can now enjoy from the front porch.I didn’t capture it in this photo, but the tendrils of the vine match the curled wire, a fun surprise.

Many gardeners planting native plants such as common milkweed get upset when they see something like this. It’s a common milkweed stalk that has been completely devoured by caterpillars. This is its job! It’s how milkweed plants support butterflies like the Monarch. When I see this I think, wow, I hope all those caterpillars make it into butterflies! 

My most favorite native, Monarda punctata, aka spotted horse mint. The garden is full of them now and I absolutely love seeing them. This is younger bloom. 

Back to the passionflower with its very happy visitor.

A more mature bloom here:

This is not a native plant! Even though her name is Violet and she seems to have planted herself on the back deck to enjoy the day.

The bee balm in the terraced bed is done blooming but look at how lovely the seed heads are. Perfect for fall decor, perfect for feeding birds and a few insects. I’ll leave these be on through the winter. 

The first bloom of the turtleheads I planted in the side bed last fall. The color makes my heart sing.

The very mature spotted horse mint in full sun, with a visiting bee who loves it as much as I do. 

Pixie guarding the entrance to the cat tunnel on a late summer day. 

A camouflaged visitor on a spent spotted horse mint bloom.

I only made it through a very small area of the gardens. There is so much happening in every square foot. A small part of what is going on here this week. 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 84: Chelone glabra, white turtlehead

 The first turtlehead blooms! 

A little info from NC State’s plant database:

This plant attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Also supports Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) which has one brood from May-June in the south and June-August in the north. It also supports Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) which has two to three broods from May-October except in the deep south where it can be seen all year. Common Buckeye rarely uses this host plant in North Carolina.

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 83: Passiflora lutea, or eastern yellow passionflower

 I’ve been seeing these around the farm for years and only last year realized they are a native plant, and actually a passionflower. They die back each winter so it’s perfectly fine to let them climb onto other plants. This year I have let them go, and this is the lovely result! This one is climbing along a branch of the button bush. 

Here’s more info from NC State’s plant database:


Eastern yellow passion flower is a native herbaceous vine in the Passifloraceae family.  The hardiest of the passion flower vine, it maintains its foilage in mild winters through zone 8b.  Fing it statewide in woodlands, forests, thickets, and maritime forests.  Tendrils along the stem allow the vine to climb to 20 feet in height without damaging any trellises or structures.

Plant this vine in fertile, moist, well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade.  To encourage robust root growth and ensure its return the following spring plants should be added to the ground as early in the growing season as possible.  

The bright green leaves are wider than they are long and softly lobed in three parts. The flowers are small, about 1 inch or less across, pale greenish-yellow to off-white, blooming in late summer to fall. The flowers are followed by small black berries that that are eaten by birds and mammals.

This vine is an important wildlife plant, attracting bees, butterflies, birds, and mammals while being resistant to damage by deer. It is happy in a container, will grow on a trellis or fence or sprawl on the ground, and is at home in a butterfly or pollinator garden.  In cold areas, containers may need to be brought indoors over the winter.  This plant is much better behaved in the garden than P. incarnata.

Louise Erdrich’s Advice To Myself

 Leave the dishes.

Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

“Advice to Myself” by Louise Erdrich from Original Fire. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2003.

I’m drawn to this today, and letting its message sift in to my consciousness as I woke up thinking of how many things there are To Be Done and how I might Get Them Done.  

The poem came to my attention in a newsletter I signed up for this week, by the author Sharon Blackie, who my old friend Kathleen put onto my radar and whose book she recommended, If Women Rose Rooted, is now on my side table book stack. Thank you, Kathleen! I am certain this author is going to enrich my life and what a treat to have her work waiting for me as we move from summer to fall and on into winter. The very best time for this kind of deep work. 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Good Thoughts For Clementine

Update: Clem sailed through her surgery and came home yesterday afternoon. She had a restful night and I woke up to her nose touching my face and her tail wagging, as I always do. She has some healing to do but this is her enjoying her morning today:

 Our sweetheart golden retriever Clementine is having surgery today to remove the local lymph node to the previous mast cell tumor she had. We are hoping this is it for surgery for her, and that with diet, supplementation, homeopathic protocol, and any recommended treatment by her oncology team once they get the pathology report on this lymph node, she will have many more happy and healthy years with us.

Clem is a brilliant and loving dog. After living with Corgis for so many years, it’s been fascinating to learn the behaviors of a whole different breed. Retrievers are so much different than herding dogs! Clem comes from many generations of service dogs and along with her retriever characteristics, she is totally tuned in to her people. More so than any dog I’ve ever known, Clem does something I call soul gazing, where she comes and stands so she can gaze deeply into my eyes. It feels like she is sending healing eyebeams of love into my total being.

Send some good thoughts her way today for a successful surgery. 

Here’s a recent video of her harvesting a fig. She is almost too good at harvesting things and after 20-some years with Corgis we have had to curtail our habits of leaving various and sundry things on counter tops and kitchen island!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Happy to report…

 That my flash nonfiction piece titled To The Grassy Bald We Named Sweet Bay has been accepted for publication by The Hopper literary journal. I’ll share a link when it’s live. 


Sunday, August 21, 2022

November Hill farm journal, 163

 Wonderful writing weekend here that started on Thursday evening with my virtual writing workshop (this one started in March 2020 in response to the pandemic and has continued in six-week sessions ever since) and moving on to the monthly virtual writing weekends I have with two old and dear writer friends. We have gone on writing retreats several times a year together for many years, so when Covid hit, we started the monthly weekends via Zoom to keep our work and our friendship growing. It’s always a huge boost to my work to write with these two women, and this one has been no exception. 

I’ve been coughing a lot the past few days, still testing negative for Covid, and assuming at this point that this is a regular cold, probably exacerbated by allergies. I’m scheduled for allergy testing this week and if I end up with positive results, will try an immunotherapy treatment that is customized to my allergens. I’m  ready to be done with whatever this is!

I’m getting little parts of things done - mucking the larger areas to spread along the front where I’m creating a new and very long bed for planting more natives, keeping the barn tidy - but procrastinating on some of the bigger parts - deep cleaning the feed/tack room in the barn, weed-eating several areas, bigger housekeeping chores. I am trying to keep to my summer plan to do a couple of outside things and a couple of inside things in a day. And it’s okay if the things are little. But my to do list brain keeps chugging along. 

Keil Bay had chiro last weekend and his chiro vet says she really thinks he can go 8 weeks between adjustments instead of 4. We’re splitting the difference and making it 6. I’m happy he’s staying so clear between adjustments. But he loves getting them! So we’ll see how he does with the increased interval and I’ll call her if he needs her sooner.

Clem has her lymph node surgery this Thursday and we’re hoping for the very best outcome. If we’re lucky this will be the end of mast cell tumors for her. But either way, she’s happy and loving her life right now and that’s the most important thing. She is very busy harvesting figs for herself from our loaded fig tree in the back yard. It is pretty hilarious!

This week every time I’ve been outside I see goldfinches flying about, which is such a delight, and the spotted horse mint is beginning to bloom. I haven’t been taking my phone out with me as much and so have zero photos to share, but will hope to remedy that this coming week. 

This morning we had a thunderstorm to wake us up. The horses and pony and donkeys were waiting to come in, and we have had a very nice rainfall to water everything on the farm. We weren’t exactly dry, but have had a break from the more frequent waterings, so this was needed and means I do not need to water the hollies this week. 

A couple of weeks ago I went with my children and my grandson to the museum of life and science in the neighboring town we lived in when my son was born. We had a membership that allowed free visits for the year and there were times we went with him every day because he loved it so much, and if we ended our visit with the meandering train ride they have, he would fall asleep and nap until we got home. It was such a pleasure to be there with my grandson, his dad and mom, and my daughter all together. Such a layering of memory and the present to be walking up the path from the indoor part of the museum to the outdoor exhibits and turn to see my son, now taller than me, carrying his own son. There is such pleasure in these reflections and while it’s hard to describe the way they feel in words, the best I can manage is to say it’s visceral memory - the sensation of back then blended with now, in my body’s muscle memory. I persist in calling this time travel because for me that’s exactly what it feels like. 

From the window I’m seeing goldfinches darting across the front pasture from one tree to another, and then darting down like a bright yellow missile from high in the dogwood tree by the front porch down to the coneflowers in the garden beds. The sun is trying to come out and they’re back to their busy days out there. Time for me to do the same. 

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Foreshadowing Fall

 It’s early and quiet, just the sound of distant bird song coming through the open doors, which I opened to let in the 56 degree air. I’m a little chilly and oh, how welcome that sensation is at the waning of a long, hot summer. 

We still have more hot days to go, of course, but this is an early glimpse of what is to come. The horses and pony and donkeys know I’m awake but instead of heading to the barn to come in from the growing heat, they’re lingering in the pasture, enjoying the relief. I noticed yesterday that the shedding of summer coats has begun, yet another foreshadowing of autumn.

Even the cats and dogs, usually ready for breakfast the moment anyone’s feet hit the floor, are drowsing and I think enjoying the cool air not born of an HVAC. It feels different when the farm itself cools down.

In the garden beds goldenrod is coming out, and the deep fuchsia of ironweed. The spotted horsemint is starting to bloom, and asters lie in wait. The dogwood trees are just beginning their tonal shift from bright green to red. The figs are ripening, the wild muscadines readying, and the days are slightly shorter. 

It’s too soon to celebrate, if, like me, the turning of this season is cause, but the glimpse is reason for pause,  to think about the party to come, a reminder that each season has its joys and that life is cyclic. With the change in climate that we know is happening, I am treasuring these seasons even more. 

For me, autumn is a time of deepening colors, crisp air that allows for the easier completion of chores, ideas of big projects on the page becoming more appealing, as if the longer nights fuel creativity and the shorter days add a bit of urgency to the work. 

It’s a time when the horses thrive. The biting insects die out, the horses grow thicker coats, and they seem to love life best when the nights are in the mid-forties. They are more playful, they prefer to be out than in the barn with fans blowing, they lie down in the early morning curled like cats, muzzles resting on the ground. 

I have learned since moving to November Hill that blacks and bays, chestnuts and grays, and one painted little pony look stunning with autumn colors as their backdrop. 

The moment that defines November Hill, a moment when I felt the first impact of our having moved here and claimed this little piece of land, was an early morning in the beginning of November, the first year here, when I walked out to a chilly landscape and saw Keil Bay and Apache Moon cantering down the hill in the front pasture. Between an oak and a cedar tree was a tree trunk that had fallen perfectly, like a cross-country jump, and Keil sailed over it, looking like a mythological horse leaping headfirst into autumn. 

These days he is not doing that kind of leaping, but yesterday, as I brushed him in the barnyard while waiting for his chiropractor to arrive, the lush and perfect color of ripe figs and green leaves behind him made me think of that first year, though the fig tree wasn’t planted yet, and the white hairs on Keil’s face were years away still. 

Every autumn has its perfect moments. Every season has them, but for me the ones in autumn stay with me, markers of the years. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Opossum in the cat tunnel

 In the years since we had the back yard, front porch, and cat tunnel set up so our cats have a safe and expansive area in which to go outside the house, we’ve never had this happen! 

Yesterday morning when I opened the front door to the porch to clean water bowls and litter boxes out there, I was greeted by a very obviously non-feline pile of scat front and center on the porch floor. It was full of fig seeds. I figured raccoon or opossum, and was super surprised to see it in the cat safe haven, but made a mental note to close the back yard side of the tunnel before dark to deter this becoming a nightly habit for the intruder.

I visited my mom yesterday evening and just plain forgot to pass this on to my husband. When I got home from my mom’s it was after 9 p.m. and I was in the bathroom when I heard a huge ruckus through the wall where the tunnel runs. My husband closed the dogs inside, went out with a flashlight to check the tunnel, and I went to the porch where Pixie came out of the tunnel and then Mystic hovered in the porch-side tunnel entrance until my daughter came and lured him out. We got them inside with the other three cats and I blocked the tunnel entrance on the porch.

Meanwhile the opossum would not leave the tunnel and husband noted it had blood on its ears and face, clearly from the scrap with Pixie and Mystic. Mystic had a scratch on his nose and Pixie had some ruffled fur above her eye and what looked like a pre-existing scab torn off. I cleaned their little wounds and used triple antibiotic ointment as a precaution, and emailed our vet so they could let me know today if we need to do anything else. 

Both cats seem fine this morning. The opossum left in the night. We kept the dogs inside to give it a chance to get out of the tunnel and out of the yard. My guess is the opossum came up the fence and got over the cat-proof wire into the fig tree, then came down the tree into the yard. And I guess after one night doing that, came back for a repeat visit.

I’m hoping the encounter last night is enough to deter the opossum from future visits!

We’re going to block the tunnel tonight just in case. 

The fig tree is full of ripening figs right now after years of having huge numbers of them later in the season, usually so late we’re looking at first frost which stops the fig harvest in one night. This year the figs formed early and are ripening at the much more usual time for fig trees in our area. We’re enjoying them daily and so, apparently, is this opossum! 

On another note, I tend to keep an eye on what posts get the most hits each day, and it always leads me to click on an old post that suddenly is getting noticed. I’ve been posting here for many years and it’s always a treat to click on a post title that is popping and read it. This morning I read the post I wrote after Moomintroll’s death. He was a polydactyl cat who showed up in his elderly years and just absolutely made himself at home with us, in a home full of other cats and Corgis who weren’t all that sure they wanted him here. He had been declawed in front and had seizures, and we took care of him and quickly came to love him dearly. When he died at what the vet thought was around 21 years of age, it wasn’t totally unexpected but it was both sad and interesting. I really think when he died that his spirit immediately went to find that of his previous person. Reading the post I wrote in 2012 made me think of many Moomin moments. He was such an interesting and loving cat. He’s buried in our back yard along with Chase, Kyra, Keats, River, and Osage. Quite the circle of love and many beloved memories in our back yard. 

Saturday, August 06, 2022

November Hill farm journal, 162

 Busy week, but feeling better and my brother and mom are both now testing negative for Covid, so I’ll see them tomorrow and let my brother get back to the gym!

Not sure if I’ve shared this here, but I’ve also come out of semi-retirement and am seeing psychotherapy clients part-time again. I’m doing a 100% virtual practice and have made a few changes in my garret so that it works well for these virtual sessions. It’s been a number of years since I saw more than a few returning clients off and on as they requested time with me. I’m finding it interesting that the work I did full time for years, and then part-time after I had my children, is still as rewarding as it ever was. 

The farm remains jungle-like in its summer foliage. We’ve now had several days with no rain so things are drying out a bit. The horses have transitioned fully to the front pasture now after over a week turning out for several hours a day there and then moving to other areas of the farm for their remaining pasture time. 

Cody is into his final week of treatment for Lyme disease and I’m definitely seeing some improvement. He’s also on Prascend during the seasonal rise and we’ll evaluate him in December with an ACTH test to see if he should remain on it or not. 

Keil Bay is doing well, the donka boys are good, and Little Man is his regular self. Since my last post, Rafer Johnson has celebrated his 15th birthday. Oh my gosh, there is no way I can even contemplate he has been with us for that many years! Every year a gift and we remain as enamored of him as we were the day we met him. He continues to be a sweetheart and these days he sticks close to Little Man and spends some quality time each day playing donkey-go-round with Redford. Happiest of birthdays, sweet Rafer! We love you.

Yesterday afternoon I had some barn chores to catch up with and some horse stuff to do, so I let the herd graze in the big barnyard for easy access to each of them as needed and easy access to get in and out with muck barrow and water buckets. 

First they went into the crowded corner I wish they would stay out of. 

Then the best buddies came back up.

Then they all ate their way back up. 

This ended with Rafer joining me for an ear scratching session in which he rested his muzzle in my lap and was so close I couldn’t get a photo of him. 

This herd gets along so well together, and each of them has special relationships with each of the other ones. I don’t know how common this is, but we feel fortunate that this crew is so bonded and that their lives are full with equine companionship. 

Everyone can use a little therapy and this is mine. Group therapy but with five therapists and me the client! You can believe I soaked it up like a sponge.

The bees are hanging in there through our forage drought - July and early August in our area tends to be a time when there isn’t much blooming for the bees. Soon the asters and spotted horse mint and goldenrod will be bursting forth and offer the native and the honey bees much-needed fall foraging so they can build up their supplies of honey for the winter. 

Winter! But first we get to live through my favorite season. FALL. I’m ready!