Monday, June 08, 2020

Bloom update: Stokes’ aster, hoary skullcap, Queen Anne’s lace, and a bumblebee

I took a walk with the dogs today and grabbed a few quick photos along the way. If I focus my phone on a plant, they come running to see what I’m aiming at, so I have to be quick when they’re with me!

We have a lone volunteer Queen Anne’s lace plant on the side strip along the driveway. It’s over four feet tall and I got this close up of the flower but then the male dogs came and lifted their legs on it, so I moved on without getting the quite beautiful leaves below. I’ve grown up seeing these flowers along roadsides and it’s nice to have one right here at home.

The hoary skullcap I planted is just starting to bloom and oh, how lovely it is. It will be wonderful when these spread a bit and create a larger patch of color.

More Stokes’ aster (Peachie’s Pick) in the garden. This plant has flowers that are opening much wider and flatter than the others are doing, and as always, it’s interesting to see how in the same patch of ground things just grow differently. The beauty of a garden! If I were a bee I think I would snuggle into the soft center of this one for a nap.

And down at the other grouping of asters, I captured a bee going from one to the other. The sun drops, the butterfly weed, and these asters are all abuzz with activity today, as are the coneflowers.

In other news, something is eating the original shade bed plant leaves (except for the ginger) and also ate the leaves off the baby dogwood tree. Bunnies? The turtle? I don’t know. I may have to put a little fencing around that bed if it keeps going. 

Sunday, June 07, 2020

November Hill kit-meows

I ended up with some fun photos this week of the curiosity of cats who live with us on November Hill. It’s been a long time since I highlighted them here, so let me introduce you (again, if you’ve read here for awhile) to them.

Here’s Mystic, our senior cat, on the table taking a late afternoon siesta. Mystic is our death-defying sweet pea. He survived cytauxzoonosis, a tick-borne disease vectored by bobcats; congestive heart failure; and panleukopenia. Each of those things resulted in ICU stays at our local vet school hospital, and he was incredibly sick each time. Thankfully he’s a survivor and with great care he’s very healthy today at age 13.

Underneath the table, exposing her belly, is Isobel. She’s one of two kittens we got from the local animal shelter. We weren’t told that the shelter had recently had a huge panleukopenia break out with many cats and kittens dying. Isobel was likely the carrier who brought it into our home. Our cats had been vaccinated as kittens, but only one out of four remained healthy after exposure to Isobel and  Violet. Pippin, Mystic, and sweet Osage all became critically ill and Osage died. Lesson learned - if bringing kittens into the home, make sure you update panleukopenia first for your other cats.

This is Pixie. (Thanks to my daughter for this lovely photo!) Pixie contracted cytaux at the same time Mystic did and was in the ICU “bed” right next to him. Thankfully she too survived that! She’s also the one cat who did NOT get panleukopenia. She’s Pippin’s full sister and she’s a petite calico sweetheart.

Here are, from left to right, Isobel, Pippin, and Pixie. As you can see, Isobel grew up to be quite a fluff-budget. She is the one cat of our current five who gets along well with all. She adores Pippin, is best friends with Pixie, likes Mystic, and remains a close playmate with Violet, her nearly same aged pal from the shelter.

Here you see Violet on the floor, and Isobel has cozied up to Pippin. Violet is such a sweetie. She’s the cat who gets picked on by Pippin and Pixie, is not well liked by Mystic, but plays daily with her pal Isobel. Violet is also completely unconcerned about the dogs and their wild play, especially one large golden retriever who can be a bit, shall we say, invasive of space.

The cats used to be allowed to go outside the back yard onto the entire farm. After we lost our beloved cat Dickens to what we think was a coyote, and when we learned the hard way that our county is a hot spot for cytauxzoonosis in the US, we cat-proofed our back yard, our front porch, and had a tunnel built so the cats can go around from one to the other. They use the same pet door the dogs use and have the entire upstairs of our house gated from the dogs, so while they had to give up the greater outdoors, they can still enjoy the porch, the back yard, and the back deck.

They’re safer now, as is the wildlife on November Hill, but even contained as they are, they manage to capture insects, lizards, small snakes, the occasional bird, and once, regrettably, an adorable flying squirrel. Cats are definitely predators!

I’ve had cats since I can remember, the first a big orange tomcat named Freckles. Over the years I’ve lived with and loved a series of cats - all beloved, all bring memories of love and joy. It’s a pleasure living with this particularly group.

Friday, June 05, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 102

It’s been a stressful week for me. I haven’t been able to get to sleep, not usually a problem, and find myself up at 3 a.m. reading reports of police brutality and seeing the video footage that illustrates it clearly. I’ve had neck pain radiating into my shoulder blades all week, and while my morning stretching and yoga help keep it from getting too bad, I haven’t been able to get it to completely resolve.

Yesterday we took one of our cats and one of our dogs to the vet to get rabies updates and routine exam. The vet office is open, but instead of going inside with your pets, they come out and get them at their appointed time, take them in for the exam, and consult with you by telephone. All are wearing masks, and overall I felt like this is right way for them to be doing business right now. But the appointment was early enough that I felt rushed getting off the farm, and stressed sitting in the car waiting. All went well, Pippin, our cat, is doing great in general, probably needs to be monitored for a little weight gain, and while he yowled on the way to the vet, when he came out he was calm and seemed relieved. He’s a sweet, sociable cat and they love him at the vet.

Clem got her rabies shot in the car at the beginning of the appointment. She’ll go in for an exam in the fall.

It was a relief to get them home and take some time to relax. But I still had neck and shoulder pain and was tired from the extreme lack of sleep from the night before.

In the late afternoon I went to the barn to give some cooling baths to horses. I think by the time I got halfway through Keil Bay’s bath my neck and shoulders were totally relaxed. The barn, and the horses, are good for settling down my frenzied mind.

The potager is booming. I picked a head of lettuce, 3 cucumbers, and a zucchini for dinner and we had a salad with them. While the bunnies and possibly squirrels definitely eat the lettuces and greens, they have grown back over and over again to the point that we get what we need as well. We still haven’t put chicken wire up and maybe we don’t need to.

We put in tomatoes and basil - the tomatoes are slow I think because we’ve had a lot of very cool weather in April and May, but the basil is doing well and we’ll make pesto soon. I also planted bronze fennel for the pollinators and it’s tripled in size. I haven’t planted this before so I’m eager to see what it looks like when it fully matures.

I was so excited coming in without neck and shoulder pain I leaped at the email from the NC Botanical Garden saying they are back in business with plant sales. You email your order and they notify when you can pick it up, usually a week or so. I said I wasn’t going to plant anything else until fall, but since I’m watering the vegetables in the potager anyway, I decided I can plant some native pollinators there and keep them happy through this season. I’m going to put a grouping in the center of the potager using these native NC plants:

Appalachian bergamot
Foxglove beardtongue
Narrow-leaf mountain mint
Atlantic blue-eyed grass

And along the fenceline at the back of the potager I’m going to build a long trellis between the two hazelnut trees and put in climbing aster. It will make a nice screen there and it tends to flower here almost the entire year, so a great option for the honey bees.

It will be nice to get some perennial flowers in the potager.

Lots of the plants in the pollinator beds are nearing bloom. The sun drops, milkweed, and Stokes’ asters are still going strong, and the narrow-leaf mountain mint, coneflowers, and rattlesnake masters are gearing up to really pop out. I’ll keep an eye out and post photos when they do.

At least for this coming week I’ve deleted Twitter off my ipad and phone. I’m going to limit my news to NPR. I need a break from the videos. I made a donation to the ACLU, have work with our local food council board members to put up a statement, and am supporting black-owned bookstores and authors this week with purchases. I hope you find your own actions to take. It’s time to make big changes. Finding small actions and voting will add up to a lot if we all do it.

After dinner last night I had the last of my 6-week Writing In The Dark workshop meetings. It’s been a pleasure and so inspiring I’ve signed on for another six weeks. I’ve already submitted a piece written during this one, and have several seedlings for more essays. A friend is taking a portrait sketch class online, and she says it’s equally delightful for her as this workshop has been for me. She also reminded me of a poem by Denise Levertov that I used to actually have taped to my refrigerator. I’d forgotten it was titled Writing In The Dark! I shared it with the class last night and will share it here as well:

Writing In the Dark
Denise Levertov

It's not difficult
Anway it's necessary.
Wait till morning, and you'll forget.
And who knows if morning will come.

Fumble for the light, and you'll be
stark awake, but the vision
will be fading, slipping
out of reach.

You must have paper at hand,
a felt-tip pen - ballpoints don't always flow,
pencil points tend to break. There's nothing
shameful in that much prudence: those are your tools.

Never mind about crossing your t's, dotting your i's -
but take care not to cover
one word with the next. Practice will reveal
how one hand instinctively comes to the aid of the other
to keep each line
clear of the next.

Keep writing in the dark:
a record of the night, or
words that pulled you from depths of unknowing,
worrds that flew through your mind, strange birds
crying their urgency with human voices.

or opened
as flowers of a tree that blooms
only once in a lifetime:

words that may have the power
to make the sun rise again.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

A couple of requests: ACLU and your congresspeople

If you read here regularly or are a one-time visitor, I would like to ask you to consider taking a couple of actions today to take care of all of us who live in the United States.

First, make a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union. They do much good and your dollars will go to good use.


Second, pick up your telephone and call your congressperson. Whether you get a live person or are directed into voicemail, leave a message asking them to stand up for our constitution, for our rights as citizens, and for all those who experience inequity in our country. Ask them to tell you what they are doing to address these things. You don’t have to be a great public speaker to get your message across. They need to hear that you care, that you’re willing to call them, and that you plan to vote in November.

These are small actions but I feel they can have mighty impact, especially when many of us do them.

Thanks for reading. I hope you’re safe and healthy and that you come back to visit me here.