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A Gathering In

Sunday, November 22, 2015


This fall has been a long, slow, luxurious time for harvest. Mostly, it's been a gathering in of beauty. I really appreciate Japanese maples for their form and the beauty of their tiny baby-hand leaves. But I love them most in November, when they start coming into color as all the other trees lose their last leaves. Thank you, Japanese maples.

 These are the two liberated bonsais now living in the yard.

I enjoy imagining them back in their tiny pots, twenty-three years ago. They've always been full-grown trees. It's just that being in the ground lets them realize their full potential of growth.

Here's to being planted in good ground.

I keep the bonsais out on display until they're pretty much leafless. Then it's time to put them to bed for the winter.

I've been thankful every minute for the mild, sunny weather this fall. It makes everything so much easier. 
As many of you know, I've been wintering these trees in a pit in the backyard. When they got too tall for the pit, I started heeling them in on their sides. Then I'd cover the pit with glass for the winter. I had to take it off and water them every couple of weeks. 
When they got too big for that, I built the pit higher with cinder blocks. 
And then they got too big for that.

This fall I'd finally had it with trying  to shoehorn them into the pit. They were losing branches from being half-buried on their sides.  And I realized I had been fighting this for more than a decade, and decided to change the program.
I decided to ask Bill to dig a hole in the nice loose loam of our vegetable garden, and bury the unpotted trees halfway up their trunks. This would put them about 8" underground, far enough, I think, to keep the roots from freezing.  They'd be in a deer-proof enclosure as well in Jurassic Garden.

Bonsais awaiting burial. At this point, my back was still buggin' me and I couldn't do it myself. I was very grateful for the boys' help.

 I was there in a supervisory capacity, helping bury the trees. I hope this works. It's got to be better for the trees than being half-buried in soil. If it gets wickedly cold, I may heap fresh straw over them to help insulate the tops from the cold. But they should be just as hardy as the big trees in the yard.

While the boys dug, I harvested the sweet potatoes. Last spring I found a sprouty sweet potato in the cupboard and lopped off the top third and stuck it right in the garden soil.

The fork turned up the most marvelous treasure!

A dozen red yams from 1/3 of one--that's math I understand. And the coolest thing, to me, was the way the yam fragment I'd planted in May stayed intact. It didn't rot or wither away. It simply sent out a fountain of roots that then made a headdress of tubers. That we are now eating. 
Being a tropical plant, I wonder if this old yam piece would keep on going, throwing out tubers, but for November cold. I guess I'll never know.

As I worked around the yard, I took stock of all the lovely things still clinging to life after one frost.
My old tea rose "Rio Samba" is on its way out. It sent up only two blooms this year, off one thin stalk.  How fitting that it should push forth a flower in November.

I watched the bud swell, while the zinnia hung in there, waiting.

The rose seemed to find strength from the red zinnia that found itself in similar straits: blooming in November, the last leaf on the tree. 

I found myself going out at dawn, dusk and other times to photograph them together. I liked the way they clung together.

By and by the rose opened full, and the sweet sunny days wore on and on. 

All told, they had more than two weeks together, rain and shine, watching the winter come on. For flowers, that's an eternity. Something was keeping them fresh. Maybe the cold nights.

 I found myself visiting those two flowers at all times of the day. 

My favorite shot of them together conjured a Sheryl Crow lyric from "Home."

I want to watch the sun come up
In a stranger's arms

That same morning, looking the other can see the Groanhouse twinkling with lights and flowers. I'm already looking inward, building my fortress against the dreary winter.
What's my choice? Killing frost and snow are coming soon. Get those twinkly lights up, girl. Bring in everything blooming, cheat winter as much as you can.

And the rose and zinnia bloom on.

 I think this will be the last blossom we see from Rio Samba. There's no way it's going to send up another shoot next spring. It's 20 years, and goodbye. You were the best rose of all.

And then I walked out to see them on November 21, and a deer had come in the night and nipped off the rose, leaving the classic angled snip of a white-tail's tooth. 

A single petal lay on the patio. And the zinnia bloomed on.  If she mourned her sweet fragrant friend she wasn't going to show it. She was going to trudge on, into winter.

But I thought she looked a little puffy under the eyes.

And just behind them, what was left of the great morning glory tower bloomed on, taking warmth from the cement patio.

I had cut the frost-bitten top off the vine, and carted it over to my brush dump. While taking another load days later, I found Zombie Glories still blooming on the pile. Rootless but hopeful.

 I kept shooting the morning glories that were left, this miniature landscape of ethereal color, withered balloons of flowers past and the twirled buds of flowers yet to come, frost permitting.

 I'm pretty sure this is my last photo of morning glories. November 21. That's darn late, and I'm thankful to have had their beauty, however tattered, for this long.

Fall rituals: the hoisting of the Halloween jack-o-lantern to the top of the tower for tossing off. Liam's up top, cranking the dumbwaiter to raise the pumpkin, which is in a laundry basket. It was so far gone that when tossed 42' to the ground, it vaporized on impact, which made us laugh for a long time.

And the dog warms his old bones by Liam's birthday fire. Like a cat, he jumps up, finds the warmth wherever it will be found.

Bird Messengers, Wading Dog, November Sun

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Beauty lives at the same farm as the mini's, but she's in a different pasture. Every time I post a photo of her people chide me on her grooming. Walp, sorry, but I don't run with currycombs, and don't plan to. I shoots 'em as I sees 'em. Besides, Beauty's shy. I'm very lucky to be able to stroke her nose. Most of the time we just talk. I try to shoot photos over the fence.  It's easier said than done. This one came out well, made me laugh.

Chet and I forge on. The green is unreal. So vibrant, it's almost fake. I pull out my little pad and write a haiku couplet about it.

November's sharp green
Lies false on the bottomland
Like so much spilled paint
All around is gray
And the dry russet leaves who
Knew when to let go

We decide to go up a road that's flanked by a little run, as they call the creeks around here. It's very warm, 70's, and Chet wants to wade. I absolutely adore sitting on a sun-warmed rock and watching him walk spraddle-legged through the pools. Ker-plink, ker-plank, ker-plonk.

He's not much for swimming, but he sure likes to wade.

He goes up and down the streambed, obviously enjoying the different depths, lapping a taste from each pool.

He goes under the bridge, and rainbows spill over the abutment.

That's about how I feel right now--bathed in rainbows. In a tee-shirt on a 70 degree day in November in the Mid-Ohio Valley, infamous for its dreary cloudbound winters.

Such a magnificent doggeh. The lower I crouch, the more magnificent he becomes.

He enjoys being photographed. Good thing, that. I swear he smiles for me.

On our way back to the car I am musing that I haven't heard from my Dear Old Dad in a little while. I figure he's busy with Mom, who joined him last January. I am thinking about them and it suddenly hits me that Mom, Dad and their first child Donny are together at last. Tears of joy start in my eyes at the thought. I can feel their joy. I don't know why I'm thinking about this now, but when I'm moving for hours, I get a free-associative thought process that I can't attain sitting at a desk. I just empty my skull out of all the trivia and noise and let better things take precedence. I'm thinking about their reunion when a red-shouldered hawk silently launches from a dead stub just off my left shoulder. It flies on a long oblique angle right across the road in front of me, and I have time to get my binoculars on it. I trace it well into the woods, where it flares its beautiful zebra-striped tail and lands again, obscured. I see it settle its wings and can tell it's going to sit there for awhile.

I'm absolutely breathless with the synchrony, wiping my eyes so I can see better. Couldn't have a better message from Dad than that spontaneous thought, followed by a hawk messenger--the first species he ever used to contact me. I lower the binoculars and in my sightline in the creek just ahead are some heavy ripples. They could only come from a mammal, swimming. Will it be muskrat, beaver, otter? An enormous black mink loops out from the cut bank, swimming, its furry tail floating atop the water. I haven't seen a mink in years. And this is such a fine big animal. Its fur is espresso brown shading to black, and so shiny! I watch it through binoculars as it swims upstream, climbs out on a log, shakes like a small, lithe dog, and bounds through the dying vegetation on the streambank. I don't follow, because I don't want to disturb it, or introduce Chet Baker to a new animal, a tussle with whom he is likely to lose.

This is the creek where the mink swam by. It looks pretty tamed down, surrounded by hayfields, but a mink lives there, and I saw it.

I come home full of stories like this and it's so hard to tell them. The words just tumble out and I don't make sense even to myself, much less to Liam and Bill. All these random animal sightings, these unbidden thoughts about loved ones long gone. It all makes sense to me while it's happening, but it doesn't translate well into conversation.

"So how was your day?"

"Great! I saw some clouded sulfurs that made me think of Mom and Dad and Donny all being together again, and then this red-shoulder came shooting across right in front of me, and I'm sure it was Dad, and then there was this mink that he must have wanted to show me!"

I can say, "I saw a tree that looked like a magic hand shooting cloud webs!" but without a photo, what would that mean?

So it's nice to sit down, throw a lasso around all that, and write it for you, in a way someone might understand. Maybe even me.

80 Minutes of Sun, Sky, Dog and Tiny Pony

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I have a friend, also an artist, who lives on Cape Cod. Every day, she spends an hour or two on the beach, day in, day out. She posts photos on her Instagram feed. I like every one of them. When I think of Mary, I think of her on the beach. I love that she gives herself and her followers this gift of going to the beach with her, if only in our minds.

It's not that hard to do, to take a little time for ourselves. I work like a demon all day, saving the gift of beauty for a couple of hours in the afternoon before I pick Liam up at the bus. I work toward it. It's my carrot, my ice cream. I look at my watch and say, OK. I can run 40 minutes out, and 40 minutes back.
I pick a beautiful dirt road, drive well past the German shepherd who'd happily shred cheeky Chet Baker, park and off we go. Oh, what Chet and I can do with those 80 minutes in the sun!

We visit Nostrils and the minidonks. I don't know their real names, but that's OK. Nostrils just got a fabulous hair and tail cut. She also got her hooves done. She looks so cute with short bangs I can hardly stand it. Soon it will be a year since I discovered these sweet little animals. They are a major destination for me and Chet.

I love the way the sun plays on her Chincoteaguey hide. Here is an earlier photo of her right after her grooming session. She is about the cutest thing I have ever seen.

 I don't know if Nostrils is a mini-horse or a tiny pony, but she's about the right size for a squirrel monkey to ride. 

She's become so much friendlier since I can reach over the tiny electric fence to pet her.
 Why do I call her Nostrils, you ask?

That horsie. She kills me. This is for Em. Em, here is a big kiss from a tiny tiny horse. Once or twice I have managed to smooch her right on the velour. A very loud smooch. This is perhaps why she doesn't come close any more. Maybe. Next time I'm putting some carrots in my pockets. If I have to buy her kisses, I will. She's that sweet.

 The minidonks are friendlier, though. They adore me and hurry up to get kisses. Their muzzles are 100% velvet.

When you pat them great clouds of yellow dust rise out of their long hair. Whew, what a mess minidonks are, always rolling in the mud. Nostrils isn't much better about that.

Speaking of electric fences, Chet Baker wanted a closer smell at the minidonks and ducked under the innocuous looking wire last week. I called him right back out.

"That is an ELECTRIC fence, Chet Baker, and if you hit that wire you will be VERY sorry. Not only that, but those minidonks might just plant a hoof in your ribs. You do not know them. You stay on THIS SIDE. (This Side is a command he knows very well from 5 years of road running. THIS SIDE Chet Baker. And he crosses immediately.).

I went on petting the animules and by and by I heard a BAROWMP?? from Chet Baker. Who had sneaked back under the fence a little ways back down the road and gotten himself zapped. I couldn't help but chuckle. He was all doubled up and bug-eyed. "I TOLD YOU you'd get zapped, Chet Baker!!"

Now he was in a terrible dilemma. That hot wire was between him and Mether! He ran toward me, on the wrong side of the fence.

"Oh Bacon just duck back under, and give yourself plenty of clearance. I hope you've learned your lesson!"
He stood there hunch-backed for a few seconds, then pasted his ears back and dove under the wire. Safe with Mether. He had to sit on my lap for a little while and get a long, tight hug until he stopped trembling.

Now when we park and start our run on that road he sits in the car and has to be told to get out and come along.
I laugh and laugh. "You are NOT going to get a complex about this road. It is one of my favorite roads and you are coming along!"

  So this is what he does while I pet the critters now. He stands on the far side of the road, looking away. He will not even look at the horses and minidonks. I think he thinks they have something to do with the zapping.

As soon as we're past the grave danger of the zapfence, he's happy-go-lucky Chet again.

Really, this November. I cannot remember a November so beautiful, so mild, so glorious. We've had one hard frost and the rest haven't been enough to kill all the zinnias and morning glories. I still have flowers blooming in the yard. Sigh. It's so, so beautiful. Well do I know what most Ohio Valley Novembers are like. So I'm rolling around in this one.

And so is The Bacon. What a lucky doggeh he is, to have places like this to run free as a bird, every single day. What a lucky dog I am, to be able to do this, too.
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