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Three Alarm Zick Alert

Friday, December 2, 2016

I'm in New England again! I've come here to give three talks. It only took 700 miles and 12 hours in my faithful Subaru.

File under: Arrested Development

 I got lost on the very last part of the trip. I took a detour to sign some books for an old friend, who has a cat named Bitsy with her own chair. 

 I got back in the car to drive to my sister's house, about ten miles away, and Siri routed me to the right street name in the wrong town. But I got magnificently lost. I found this place.

And this place. (Canton, CT).

It was a lights on-lights off kind of afternoon, the heavenly switches being thrown regularly.

I was arrested by the lichens. I'd never seen Cladonia like this growing on a stone. I'm told that lichens are indicators of good air quality.

I loved these lichens.

Then I looked closely at the inscription. Oh my. How can I decipher this?  I could get the first line. 
Praises on tombs are trifles
something spent
A man's good name is his
something something ent

So I'm playing with contrast and definition, eking out one letter after another, trying to see through the scrim of distractingly beautiful lichen colonies, and my brilliant sister Micky says, "Why don't you type in the first line in Google and see what comes up?" Which was an inscription on a stone at St. Botolph Aldersgate, London that read:

Praises on tombs are trifles
Vainly spent
A man's good name is his
Best monument.

She's not slow.

Basalt towers are a pretty good monument, too.

Talcott Mountain.

I needed that little climb, after two solid days of car. The fresh air was bracing.  The views were freeing.

All of which is to set off a Three Alarm Zick Alert . I will be at White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, Connecticut tomorrow, Saturday, December 3, at 3 pm, speaking about Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest.  

On Tuesday, December 6, I'll give the same talk at the Westerly Land Trust , 10 High Street in Westerly, Rhode Island, at 6 pm. Bonus there: Original art from the Baby Birds book in a pop-up show! Tickets are available at  this link.

On Friday, December 9,  at 7:45 pm, I'll be at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, Morse Auditorium, East India Square (161 Essex St) Salem, Massachusetts 01970.  We'll have original paintings on display there as well. 

I always put this stuff in the left sidebar of the blog, but I'm never sure people check it, so I'm presenting it here. I'd love to see you! 

Stretchy Beauty

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hibiscus sinensis "Creole Lady," a Logee's "Cajun" hybrid.

After such an extravagantly beautiful fall, I'm trying to land softly. I retreat to the greenhouse a lot, several times a day, to coo to my plants and see who's having a party, or planning one soon. 

Clearly, Jasminum sambac is up for a good time. Buds about to pop!
 There's nothing quite like opening the door to a little greenhouse full of jasmine, in grayest November.

All my geranium cuttings and slips are bursting forth with growth and blossoms.  Happy Thought Red is even sending up flowers! You may remember the enormous plant I had last year.  In this picture, it's at least 4' across. Well, its cutting children are racing to catch up with Mama, who I left to the frost. Too big to haul in again.

From back: Happy Thought Red, Vesuvius and Vancouver Centennial, summer of 2016.

The rightmost geranium is all that's left of my enormous Vancouver Centennial plant, that I grew for three years, summer and winter. (See the summer shot, above). Unlike any other Vancouver Centennial I've had, it bloomed nonstop. But it got old and rickety, then died back to just a couple of shoots in the very center. That's OK. I hacked the dead part off, along with most of the roots, plopped what was still alive in a small pot, and off she goes again. Is it any wonder I adore this plant, and geraniums in general? I'm anxious to keep the genetic material of this individual, though, because it blooms so freely.

Here's an individual I had some years ago. Chestnut leaves, edged chartreuse. But no scarlet flowers. It's borrowed some from a fuchsia. Durn thing never bloomed. I loved it for its foliage, but I love the one I've got now more. 

The tiny green geranium in the foreground, in the smallest pot, is all that's left of the stellar geranium "Grafitti," which I call "Scarlet Tanager." I got it May 1, 2006, a day I'll never forget, and that geranium has lived through two total greenhouse freezes. This is how close I came to losing it--down to one unhealthy cutting. 
 And it's tiny, but it's making buds, and beginning to show a little vigor.  Grafitti, don't fail me now. If you'll just grow, I'll make a bunch of cuttings so I don't lose you, ever.

All this burgeoning joy offsets what's going on outside, which is the natural death and resultant cleanup of my summer gardens. Whap!! I slash the dead morning glory vines off their trellises and throw them on the compost pile. I take joy in the cleanup. Who wants to look at dead flowers? I like 'em alive. And I've got the greenhouse to scurry to when I need it.

I was extremely bummed to find the cause of the sudden death of one of my carefully cultivated birch seedlings--a bronze birch borer. @#$$#@$#@!!! I was able to snap the dead trunk off and found this awful creature inside. Now I'm dreading seeing the adult borers' D-shaped exit holes on my big trees. I'm afraid I'll lose all my birches. I haven't looked, on purpose. Too much loss lately. Either they're gonna die, or they're gonna live. I'll look for the exit holes tomorrow, if I'm feeling strong. And if they're all infested, I'll replant with river birches, which are resistant to the freakin' beetle. I must have birches. 

Ugly little sucker. I put him in the sunflower heart feeder for the titmice to find. At least it's a native insect, unlike the emerald ash borer that's killing all our ash trees.

Chicago Peace's last blossom struggles like hell to open in the cold winds of November. I know just how she feels. Someone suggested I cut it and bring it inside. But that would end its story.  I'd put it in a vase and forget about it. Leaving it on the plant, I love watching it, checking on it every day. It threw out one lower petal since I took this shot. A bud that would open in a couple of days is taking weeks. And I love it. Clearly, she's still alive, but not fully alive. She's hanging in there.

A fox sparrow appeared on Nov. 21, a prince among paupers. And then he was gone. 

And on the 15th, a small juvenile male sharp-shinned hawk came rocketing through the feeder area, landing on the ground under my studio window. I was puzzled to see him hop a few steps, then pounce on a female cardinal who was frozen in terror right in front of him.

I hadn't even seen her in the brown fallen leaves until he nabbed her. 

 God, what a beauty he was, like a raw nerve. I kept shooting. It looked like he wasn't doing much, but I knew he was gripping like hell, slowly squeezing the life out of her. Every once in awhile he'd shift his grip and squeeze someplace else. The idea being to weaken her before he takes off, so she won't struggle free or start flapping and work out of his grip.

 My last shot. Good-bye, cardinal. You're sharpie fuel now.

Yes, there's beauty at every turn, as long as your definition of beauty is stretchy enough to include death, decay, destruction and rebirth. Thank God, mine is. 

Watching Pinky

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving night, 10 pm. I'm feeling very thankful. I got a chance to cook for my little family today, and cook I did. Just me, Bill and Liam,  and we were missing Miss Phoebe badly, but oh it was so nice to be able to make a whole Thanksgiving meal. Bill made his signature mashed potatoes, and I did the turkey, stuffing, gravy, creamed limas and pearl onions, and Ida's Corn Custard.

Liam begged for corn pudding, so I riffled through my mom's recipe boxes until I found her Corn Custard. Because I know many of my readers love recipes, here 'tis, in Ida Lucile's signature backslant, on a slightly stained and yellowed card with quirky 1960's graphics. (I'm not sure what the big brownish thing is..some kind of cheese?) She was a lefty, and back in the 1920's, they forced left-handed kids to write with their right hands. Arrgh. How I love her handwriting. It's so antique, slightly tortured, and beautiful.

I used only 1 T sugar, and I had to use frozen corn, because I loathe creamed corn. Probably because my dad told me they make creamed corn from the late-season ears that have so many borers there's no other choice but to cream it. He said the ramp leading up to the processing plant would be slick with squashed borers, so much so the horses would slip and fall. OK, so this is many years ago. Horses and all that. (DOD was born in 1912).  But still. No creamed corn for me, ever. Yecccch. 

I used my fabbo stick blender, a gift from my friend Annie, to sort of grind up the frozen corn in the mix. And I baked it at 325 for an hour and it was fine. Ida was smiling down, I felt her in the kitchen with me. Ida's Corn Custard was faaaaantastic, my favorite thing on the plate. Thanks MOM!!

Lest you feel sorry for Phoebe, here's what she had while waiting out Hurricane Otto at Bocas Del Toro in Panama:

Poor lil' baby.

I put that 12-pound turkey in the oven and got the cornbread stuffing started and went outside and cut the morning glory vines, all blackened with frost, down from their trellises. I was not sad, not one bit, any more than I'm sad to take the Christmas tree down each year. They had had their season, and it was fabulous, and now they were dead and it was time for them to go, every last depressing limp bit of them. Buh-bye! I am using my deadly Soil Knife, a gift from my gardening friend Vicki, to saw and thwack them down in a matter of minutes. LOVE that tool. I gave it to Liam to cut some high vines I couldn't reach and he was so thrilled with its power, he wouldn't give it back. Now THAT's a KNIFE.
photo by Liam Thompson. Phoebe says it's BADASS and she's using it as her phone home screen. :)
Well, I can't have a buncha dead plants on the house when she comes home in 17 days, now can I??

I was so psyched to get rid of the dead vines so quickly and easily that I did all the hanging baskets and all the planters and zinnias and hostas and daylilies... I moved all the way around the house and cleaned out every bed. I've never cleaned my gardens up like this in November, but I'll be so glad I did come spring when I'm too busy to do it. That Soil Knife.  Just a sawin' off those hostas and fuchsias and salvias...seconds to level them, instead of hours of laborious hand-clipping. Wow. Thanks, Vicki, you Garden Weasel you!

But wait! this post was supposed to be about deer. Two mornings ago I peeked out the bedroom window and saw a little form sneaking through the frost-whitened goldenrod. I raced soundlessly through the house to get my camera, threw a coat over my PJ's, and went shivering out onto the deck to shoot. I had a feeling something good would happen. 

I think I know who that is. Yep, there are the little buttonbumps on his forehead. It's Pinky!

Who's a good boy?

Pinky heard someone coming through the frozen meadow. He turned and watched.

I followed his gaze to see two more deer, both does, one big and one small, picking their way through the rattling weeds.

I didn't recognize the closer one, but the big one in back looked familiar to me. She was a very handsome animal, with a pronounced high forehead.

She looked like Boss Doe, an old comrade of Ellen's, who almost always traveled with her. It made sense to me that she'd keep company with Pinky, Ellen's slightly crooked son. 

Look at her face and tell me if she doesn't look like this photo of Boss Doe from 
February 16, 2015. 

And a closeup from last February: 

This individual deer ID is pretty subtle stuff, I know, but I felt pretty sure I was seeing Boss Doe again. And that made me happy, to see her coming to meet Pinky.

She approached Pinky, and he went into full submissive posture, head down, ears back, tail fluffed, his back hunched. 

Any doubts that the big doe was Boss vanished. I'd seen this kind of interaction many times before. She always pushed Ellen and her fawns around! By now I was shivering hard but grinning like a fool, clicking away, enjoying documenting the continuum of whitetail life in our meadow.  Look at that ugly face on Boss Doe! Coiled to strike! Does lord it over young bucks, perhaps to discourage any possible teen-age notions of their trying to mate with them. Spotty's Mom has got it goin' on...

It's a standoff, then exit, stage left!
Pinky dodges by, hoping to escape a bap from Boss Doe's sharp hoof. 

He stands a moment, considering his options. 

And, being a herd animal, opts to join. He circles back to feed peacefully beside his mama's bossy friend. I heave a happy sigh that he's not alone.  Mean attention is better than nothing at all. And whitetail aggression usually looks a lot worse than it is. 

But who is the other, smaller doe? I focus in on her, searching in the hard backlighting for any clue to her identity.

She lifts a back hoof to scratch her neck, and I see the clean white stripes running down the backs of her forelegs. It's Flag! Just one more small bit of evidence that Pinky and Flag may be brother and sister, perhaps the twin fawns I saw with Ellen in mid-summer, in the same hayfield where their mother was killed.

I am filled with happiness at being able to identify my three neighbors, one I've known for years, and two others I've only just met. I'm glad the fawns are keeping company with Boss Doe. She'll push them around, tell them what to do and what not to do. These wee innocents don't know what's coming Nov. 28-Dec. 4, and can only copy the behavior of deer who do.  I envision old Boss Doe sending pictures to Pinky and Flag, that something evil this way comes.

 Pinky and Flag: stay scrawny, like your mama. Stay safe, stay here. Lay low, and I will, too. Along with your No. 1 Fan and Interpreter, there's a whole lot of people who'd love to hear from you again.

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