Background Switcher (Hidden)

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.

Seeing Ellen

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I've had to walk a lot lately. I always have to walk just as hunting season comes on. It's the short days, the elusive light, the coming of the long dark. It's everything. 
And everything is so beautiful. 

I've got a talisman tree that, by some incredible stroke of provenance, actually lives on the farthest east corner of our 80 acre property. It's the sister oak to the one who used to mark our driveway. 

And it is magnificent. I stand beneath it and gloat that nobody can cut it down but us, and we aren't going to cut it down, ever. There's a little red barn we don't own right near it, and it makes for some lovely photos, especially at sunrise.

Just north of it are the Three Graces, Auxiliary. They're all tulips, and they do a graceful dance against the rising sun. There's sometimes a redtail we call James perched in the tallest one.

If you click on this to embiggen it you will see the light in his eye.

 I see him as I head for my morning place, where yesterday I watched a seven-point buck taking corn. The way the sun heaves up through the forest soothes me.

The last red maple leaves are leaving their tree-mothers.

And when the sun is just right, I can see our tower top glinting on the return trip. Supermoon riding high. You'll have to click to see the tower, left of the Graces.

I have been missing Ellen, not that I'd be seeing her in the yard yet; she usually came in December and January for the little corn handouts I gave. I just miss knowing she's around, miss her crooked little face and the way she used to run with her head down and tilted over to the right.

On November 14, I saw a wee button buck tiptoeing into the yard who looked awfully familiar. 
I took in his details, smiling widely.

A pinkish nose. Hmm. That's interesting!
White blazes between his toes: check. 
A bit of asymmetry about his face: check.
Odd set to the ears: check.
There was just something about him. And I saw Ellen looking back at me.

He was young, and he was apparently alone, which also argued that he might be Ellen's child. He should still be with his mother, unless his mother has been murdered.

Of course, I didn't know if I'd ever see him again, bow season being in full swing and gun season coming right up. Uch, how I hate that immutable fact of life, that some of my neighbors are going to get gunned down every year. The way Ellen beat the odds for nine years made me love her all the more.

Four days later, I saw him again. I was able to ascertain that yes, his left eye seemed larger, wider and differently set than his right. There's definitely an asymmetry going on in his face. This was something I'd noticed the first time I saw him, but wasn't sure about. 


There were the white flames between his toes. It was Pinky, named for his pink nose.

But this time, he wasn't alone.

Now I had seen Ellen once over the summer of 2016, when fawns were still spotty, and to my amazement my elderly friend had not one but two spotty fawns with her. She'd always had singletons before, but even old eggs divide. Incredible. Say what you want about her, but Ellen was a highly fit individual, reproducing well into her golden years, with twins at 9!

I love this photo from my last live photo session with her in May 2016, with a cardinal singing on the snag overhead; her crooked ears...she, unbeknownst to me, gestating two fawns!

A little doe fawn ducked her head to the right and ran awkwardly a few yards, in a manner so reminiscent of Ellen I laughed out loud.

She stopped, as does will, and looked back over her shoulder at me. 

If this is Pinky's sister, she's a looker. So much white, with big rings around her eyes (Pinky has those, too); a big white bib, and best of all, flashy white backs to her forelegs! I decided to call her Flag, after Jody's pet in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' The Yearling. A formative book if ever there were one.

Am I sentimental about deer? Oh yes. Did reading The Yearling five times as a kid influence how I feel about them? Undoubtedly. I like knowing deer as individuals. I love to notice the little things (white leg linings) that set them apart from the herd. It's a privilege to know them. 

And, having noticed those little things, you can't un-notice them. Look at those eyerings! Those legs!

Flag paused and looked over her shoulder at me, Liam's willow tree making a golden cataract in the foreground. 

Be careful, kids, without your wise and durable little mother to guide you through this hunting season, and next, and next. Flag, watch out for those ten-point bucks. Pinky, I hope I get to see you grow antlers next year. 

Maybe you'll be as beautiful as Beck, Ellen's masterpiece, her son from 2013. 

You don't have Ellen here to tell you where to find a little handout of corn, the way Beck did, but I think you'll figure it out. 

It comforts me, seeing Ellen again, seeing her genes and spirit and slightly crooked face again in her children. I'm leaning into the pain, and being pleasantly surprised at the gifts that come as a result.

Marietta, Ohio-My Beautiful Town

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sometimes it feels to me that my life is nothing more than an unending search for beauty. I don't know anyone else who spends more time at it. It's really too bad my aesthetic quest doesn't pay, because I could be a billionaire. But then I probably wouldn't keep roaming around, searching for beauty. 

A semi-pro aesthetician like me does very well living near Marietta, Ohio. This little-sung brick-streeted town has a lot going for it. More and more I hear people literally go into raptures about Marietta. That didn't used to happen, but a lot of good things have taken place here since I came here in 1992.

I spent a gorgeous golden November afternoon gabbing with friends at the Local Artists' Show and Sale at the Lafayette Hotel. Then I walked down the levee to visit Mr. Lonely. After that, I crossed the Harmar railroad bridge. 

The new railing smelled sweetly of pine, shone in the late low sun, and lured me onward.

I always stop to consider this amazing sycamore limb. It just goes on and on. I take its picture, and always fail to capture its beauty.

I stood, dumbstruck. 

The river was like glass. Our beautiful "new" Putnam Street bridge sent a graceful reflection across the Muskingum.

Looking downriver, the Williamstown bridge crossed into West Virginia, across the mighty

I crossed into Harmar Village and looked back toward town. Man. Beauty everywhere.

There was an InstaMeet last Friday, a tour of historic Marietta for people who like to post photos of Marietta on Instagram. I should have gone. I need to meet some more people in the area. Most of my friends live in my laptop, and I'm alone too much, I know that.

It would be nice to share this magnificent specimen of Magnolia grandiflora, for instance.


How it's survived our northern winters, how it throws dapples on that white house with its huge hard evergreen leaves. All those things. A miracle. It's so old its bark is shaggy and strippy, like a hickory's. And I love the homeowners for putting up with its terrible clattery drifts of fallen leaves, year round, for it has a tropical tree's habit of shedding leaves pretty much all the time. Clack, clack, clack. And they don't rot. I know, because I lived with a southern magnolia as a kid in Richmond, Virginia, and I hated raking those leaves. So much. But far more than that, I adored its huge white blossoms, the soft-winged orange soldier beetles that clambered around and coupled inside them, and I can still reconstruct every molecule of magnolia perfume in the back of memory's throat. Aesthetician from an early age. 

All these things came back to me as I gazed at the magnolia, rara avis among trees.

I walked a bit and came to Found Antiques, now home of Passiflora Studios. Quiet now, because wedding days are past. But soon enough they will start again. Phoebe worked here from time to time, and I loved to visit her. My, that's a nice blue farm table. But I don't need a table.

As I drove slowly home, I stopped at some favorite trees.

A gingko, throwing off her dress, setting the place on fire.

Throwing perfect little fans like gold coins to the ground below. How soon they lose their lustre!

The mighty twin sycamores of Second Street never fail to stop me in my tracks.

I get out to worship and record them here, most every time I pass. 

I wish there weren't a car in this shot, but it does give you some sense of scale. They are mighty, mighty trees. And people drive by them all the time. See, I can't. Stopped by the aesthetics of it all, footloose and frozen, too. Must say it's good of that sugar maple to kick in with the flamethrower, a meet backdrop for such a titanic tree. 

I headed home on the backest back road I could find, a new one for me, but already beloved for its cattle, its colors, its farmsteads.

The initial rollout, so tantalizing. Come along. I have something to show you...

Cattle set afire by the low sun.

The way that cherry-red pickup sits like a ruby in all the weathered wood; the maple dumping its color everywhere; the last sun stroking the gravel ridges.

A silo, such a rare thing anymore. Who has livestock, who needs to store feed? They are all dying out, the small farmers. You have to hit the dirt roads to find them.

Foxtail grass and a landscape straight from Grant Wood, gumdrop trees and perfect valleys.

My father would have slowed down to eye this tractor, that Chevy pickup, that barn. I, his daughter and made more of him than anyone, do it for him. 

A redtail crosses, of course. 

And the Graces stand naked in a row.

[Back to Top]