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The Colorful Time

Friday, October 12, 2018


It was such a hot and weird October. Until it wasn't. I've never seen an autumn like this one. I had to get out before it was light to get my run in before it got too hot. The flowers loved it, blooming there was no tomorrow.

86 degrees on October 8. The wind was like a blast furnace, the sun’s hand heavy. Yet it was oddly cool in the shade. Meadows and trees go about their business of coloring up, as the shortening days demand. I weary of the sweat that rolls down my back. Nothing seems right in a hot October. It’s grabbing a cold glass of Coke and getting hot coffee. And then this meadow at dusk, with the crickets and katydids going full bore, a screech-owl quavering, the sound of ripe pears clunking to earth.

It's all been so beautiful, so odd, so overwhelming. 
  If only we could take a bit of this color and spread it out through the gray months. There's ever so much out there right now. More than anyone needs.

The fuchsias are ringing their coral and pink bells.

Fuchsia Gartenmeister Bonstadt

Fuchsia Trandshen Bonnstadt

  I managed to get a few cuttings rooted of this pink beauty. I'll have it in the greenhouse over the winter. This plant stands 4' high in the garden, and the hummingbirds were all over it until they left October 9.

 The red Knockout rose squeaks a few flowers past the Japanese beetles. I love this rose, and the shell-pink zinnia behind it. Who says pink and red don't work well together?

 The zinnias are almost never without monarchs as the insects feed frantically before flying south.
My Garden Way cart is in constant use this time of year, hauling potted plants to the greenhouse, pots to the garage.

 I go around the yard, seeing things. Morning, Mrs. Neoscona. Is your husband available? Or is he tied up at the moment?

It's a banner year for Neoscona crucifera, the arboreal orbweaver. There are so many of them their webs overlap, and then things like this happen.

I mentioned color. Pineapple sage has been giving up its leaves for my cooling iced tea all summer long. It never blooms until it's sure all the hummingbirds have left. And then it bursts forth with this. Well, joke's on you, sage, because I saw a very late hummingbird sipping from your flowers on October 9.

 I love this plant. I just wish it'd get its act together before mid-October. Clearly, it's on Mexico time.

Everywhere I turn, I think of my kids lately. I saw something in the back of the mailbox, covered with dust. It was an ancient little foam letter that had been Phoebe's. Who knows how many years it's been in there.

I walked back to the house thinking about my 5'9" redhead. This zinnia is exactly that tall.
 And totally by chance, the next zinnia over is a blonde. And it's wicked tall, too. Phoebe and Liam, growing right in the front garden bed.

Wonderfully enough, there are still three stalks of tuberoses sending their perfume out into the bedroom each night. It was a fabulous year for them. They love rain. 
 I had to do one more cleaning of the pond before winter, and I had to do it soon, because the Sheffield Pink mums are in bud. Now why would that be? Well, once they start opening, there will be so many honey and bumble bees on those flowers, I won't be able to sprawl around on the rocks as I shovel up the muck. I'll get stang. So I had to clean it now!

Just look at all those buds!

Me, wearing a bell hat, looking at a mountain of glory.

My old iPhone 6 captured the blue a lot better than this one. This new 6 makes it too red. It's weird how individual the cameras are on these little miracles. Ah well, it's closer than my film camera ever came.

 Morning shadows.

Strangled by its own ambition.

 And the ungodly thick and strong underpinning of it all, the morning glory vines I started in the greenhouse in early April, and had to protect from the rabbits. These were the only ones that made it. Rabbits got all the others. I fought hard for every one of these flowers. And by gum I'm enjoying the heck out of them now.

 This never happens. Question marks aren't flower fans. They're looking for fermented fruit or coon poop. Total fluke to have one land on any flower, much less a morning glory. Maybe she thought it was beautiful.

In back, my path past the pond to the morning glory altar is completely blocked by flowers. What are you gonna do? Whack blooming crape myrtle back? And what's it doing, blooming now? Isn't it supposed to bloom in July? I'm not arguing with any of it. Y'all can just do what you do. Everything is beautiful. When I tried to right some of the zinnias that had flopped over across the sidewalk, whole sections of them just broke off at the main stem. Don't mess with us! they screeched. And so I haven't. And I can't use the sidewalk at all now. But I  love it, this having too many flowers. This is a wet year. Everything just went haywire.

 Beautifully, crazily, perfectly haywire. Just like I like it.

 Impatiens lava flows in slow motion down the steps, seeding itself all the way. All the seed babies seem to be orange. How does that work, I wonder? I like orange. It's nice to have abundance like this. Soon enough the frost will get it all and I'll wish it back even as the flowers collapse. That's what the greenhouse is all about.

 In a delicious bit of irony, the morning glory is smothering the hardy kiwi to the left of it. Under all that biomass used to be a raised deck. I haven't seen it in some months.

The plants are in charge here. I'm just their servant.
I doted on this standard gardenia since I bought it half-price in August. It bloomed like mad, and then it made a bunch more fat buds that looked like Christmas tree lights, and dropped all of them but one. This one. 

It was as if that plant wanted to make the perfect flower, and kept throwing away the prototypes. Well, it did. And I thanked it by bringing it into the greenhouse yesterday, where it is perfuming the whole space. There are no more buds on it after this. I just gave it a big load of manure and acid stuff. We'll see what happens. Probably good things.

Thank you for walking around the yard with me. Wish you could see it in person, but this will have to do.

xo jz

A Boy and His Calf

Friday, October 5, 2018


This one lucky shot has had me watching the skies at dawn, sent me back on a four-mile jog again and again, trying to replicate it. I have so far failed. One of the funny things about this photo is that while I was composing it, the Great Pyrenees who guards this farm spotted me, and began to bark. I get barked at a lot, since you very rarely see a person out walking or running on these roads, and as a result I am an object of much discourse among the dogs. Being barked at makes me nervous, so I began counting her thunderous borfs. One hundred forty-seven, until I was out of earshot. 

This visit was in the afternoon, and the light was completely different. I took another shot, and saw Rusty and his son Riley out and about. Luckily, Stella hadn't spotted me.

As I rounded the curve I grinned to see the UPS truck pull up. I began humming, "Wells Fargo Wagon" from The Music Man. The driver backed into the driveway, hopped out and instead of delivering a box, he popped the hood of the truck and asked Rusty to take a look at it. It was such a homey scene. Rusty's mighty handy with engines.

The driver had pulled away by the time I got there, and Rusty told me they'd gone to high school together. We got to talking. His boy Riley shyly asked me if I'd like to meet his fair calf, Tucker. "I would LOVE to meet Tucker! I thought you'd never ask!" I answered. Rusty and Missy laughed and off Riley and I went to the barn. First though, I asked if I might meet Stella, the Great Pyrenees I'd admired from afar. I thought maybe if she knew my voice I could calm her jets going forward.

She wasn't so sure about me. I looked a little sketchy in her opinion. GP's are superb guard dogs, always on alert and very barky.


She took a big whiff of my scent and checked me out thoroughly with startlingly beautiful bright nut-brown eyes.


I must've checked out all right, because her trepidation turned to unbridled joy. Wow! What an unexpected boost, to have a gigantic guard dog make a snap decision that you're not just OK, but fabulous!!

You haven't been smiled at until you've been smiled at by Stella.
 What a doll! What a good girl! I wanted to roll around on the ground with her, but there was a calf to meet.

 Riley slipped a rope halter over Tucker's head and led him up to the gate. It was best I stay behind it.

He put his little manatee snoot through the wire to check me out.


It was clear this little steer had been very well treated.
No fear there.

I began asking Riley questions about what it takes to prepare a calf for the county fair competition, and was so captivated by his pride in the little beef that I knew I had to make a video.

We were in the barn so long that Rusty came out to see what might be going on. Just talking cattle, that's all, happy as clams.

Riley and I talked about the elephant in the barn: the fact that, this coming Saturday, he would show Tucker at the Barlow Fair, and that would surely result in his sale.  In the video, Riley says he hopes someone will buy him so they can show him next year. But he knows deep down that's unlikely.

I like to get the whole story, and that takes time: that's why I cook these blogposts for so long. I would have been at the Barlow Fair with bells on, watching and shooting as Riley showed this beautiful onyx block of a calf, but Parents' Weekend at WVU beckoned, and I had to go see my boy. I came back refreshed and happy from spending a couple of days with sweet Liam, and I wondered how Riley and Tucker had fared in Barlow.

There were a few ways to find out, but I lucked into the best. I trotted back out the ridge the next time we had a sunrise, and lo and behold if I didn't find Riley's grampa Dale out sweeping his driveway. I'd never really had a conversation with him; just waved at him and his lovely wife as the kids and I would ride by on our bikes, grinning like fools and deliriously happy that we'd finally made it up Campbell Run's grueling hill to the ridgetop where Riley's grandparents live, just a half-mile from the beautiful farm.

We talked about many, many things. Cattle and weather and life on the ridge; responsibility and crime and fidelity and marriage and changing times. It was really cool. My favorite thing Dale said was when he talked about Riley and his big sister McKenzie. "They're my lights, my bright spots. They really are."

I felt so lucky to hear that, so lucky to have heard Riley talk about raising his calf.  Lucky to be able to share it with you.

 This is my Fitbit's hi-tech witnessing of the run I did that day. There's a green spike, which means a lot of footsteps, and then some red and yellow lines.  Green: Fitbit approves. Red and yellow: Caution. You're not getting enough steps in! Well, pooh. Those red and yellow lines are me taking photos of mushrooms in people's yards. Ha ha!!

 Now:  See that hour and twenty-minute hole in the middle of all the green activity? That's me, finding out how Riley did at the Barlow Fair. Ha ha ha!! I like the way I fidget a bit at the start  (tiny red lines); settle in for the long yak (flatlining); and then fidget a lot (more red lines) before I take off for home. Dale kept apologizing for "taking a bite out of my day." Perish the thought!

 I loved every minute of our chat, which became a conversation, which became another treasured connection. Long story short: Tucker brought the third-highest price of any calf sold: $2100. Now, that has to be amortized for the feed and equipment that is purchased for readying such a calf for show. And that's darned expensive. But still. I wouldn't have known what a check for $2100 looks like at Riley's age.  That's a powerful lesson in work, preparation and reward right there.

Dale said that Tucker acted up quite a bit on the way out of the ring, and it was clear to me that the calf was right at the point where he was getting too big and strong and opinionated for Riley to handle. A fractious 600-pound Angus calf tossing his head around is a battering ram with a big bony sledgehammer at one end. I pushed away thoughts about why Tucker might have acted up, and thought of Riley, saying goodbye to a calf he'd cared for every day for the last six months.

If 4H teaches a child anything, it's that he* must let go.  He must push away thoughts. He must put all that love and care into an animal and then, when the time comes, walk away. It's a relationship he enters willingly, knowing all along that it's going to end. Knowing that this calf who loves treats and eats shirts and likes to have his soft brisket rubbed is destined, in a few too-short months, for the human food chain. He's not a dog, not a horse. He's a steer. And steers don't get to hang around. A few lucky bulls do (witness Buck the Bull), but it takes only one bull to service a herd. So all the males get cut and sold for beef. A lucky few of those get the deluxe treatment, the relationship with a human that enriches both their lives. In cattle terms, Tucker was a lucky steer, if a steer can be lucky.

*of course girls participate in 4H; I just don't want to clutter up the wording with (s)he. 

The rest of the herd (in part). Lone bull to upper left. Big cow getting up. I felt bad about that. I try not to make them get up.

I never talk with a 4H-er without picturing myself in their boots. I chuckle just thinking about it. I, who as a kid wept torrents and held funerals for every fishie that went belly-up in my 5-gallon aquarium.  I, who, grown up but no better at letting go, stared fixedly out the window for seven months while I recorded every move a hand-raised blue jay made. Who still watches for her, every day.  If there is anything I am horrible at, it's letting go when I should.

And yet as I look back on 2017, the lesson the Universe kept hurling at me was: Let Go or Be Dragged. From my beautiful kids, who were bound to leave and make their own way no matter how good the food, loving the mama, or soft the bed; to my sweet Chet Baker, who had to leave too soon; to Jemima, who went when she got the call; to my husband, who finally made the long-awaited move away just over a year ago. 2017 was all about letting them go. All of them. And I have come out of it, and I'm looking back on it all now, and I never thought I'd be able to say that. And not only am I still alive, but I'm actually feeling happy again. I knew that I would be, eventually, but it's still such a nice surprise to be level. I get out of bed in the pitch-dark morning thinking, "Well, what am I going to paint today? Where will I run? Will there be a sunrise?"


And the answer is: Sometimes. Get dressed and be ready for it. Get out and savor it when it happens.


After the enduring connection with my family and friends, it's the savoring, the land and the sky, the flowers and the birds and the insects and animals and clouds that keep me going. 


That, and the light.

The lights.

Riley's going to raise a heifer next year. That way, when he falls in love with her, he gets to keep her, watch her raise her own calves.

For more on cattle:

Buck the Bull

My NPR commentary on Buck's greatest moment

Goats and Mushrooms

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


These goats tug at my heart. They're kind of doglike.  I walk up and talk to this billy, and I can smell him from about 300' away. The milky, funky, pungent scent of a billy goat on a damp morning is something you can't miss. I had to use my best Google-fu to dig up the name of the compounds that go into that smell, and that taste, in goat cheese. They are 4-ethyl octanoic acid, 4-methyl octanoic acid, caproic acid, and caprylic acid, to name a few.
This young feller is pumpin' it out.


He's really a magnificent beast, locked and loaded and always ready to do his job. He wanted to make sure I noted that, adopting a show stance with all the hair on his spine standing up. For all that posturing, he has the sweetest little bleat, more like a soft nicker, which he voices in a come-hither way whenever he spots me. The thing about goats is that I can't tell what they're thinking from their body language, much less from their expressionless eyes. There's something about that horizontal pupil that totally bamboozles me. So with goats, I err on the side of caution.  I haven't given him a chance to knock me down, and I don't plan to.

Another of the houses I love, this one still inhabited, and surrounded by goats, staked out and chewing away at everything that grows.

As I got into the swing of my ridgetop run, I ran across a fairy ring of mushrooms on a lawn surrounding a pin oak tree.

Made up of boletes, or perhaps Leccinum mushrooms, it was a bigun', and a charming sight.

 Magical, as the rest of this run would be.

Among the boletes, which may be edible, but which I'd never try because I'm no expert, grew another.

 Satiny, cloud-white, with a big veil hanging down its rapidly growing stem.

This mushroom, which I believe is a Destroying Angel, always makes me think of my dad, and puts a shudder in my spine and a smile on my face. I remember the moment. Me, small, down on all fours peering under the cap of a graceful white mushroom growing in our Richmond,VA backyard. Dad, standing over the scene, knowing his little daughter is both curious and fearless to a maladaptive fault.

"Eat that," he warned solemnly, "and you'll never make it to the back door."

With the remove of years, I know that wasn't entirely true. It'd probably take about 12 hours for the amatoxin in this Destroying Angel to do me in.  I'd make it to the back door. But do me in it would. My DOD had a way of phrasing things that made you stop, consider, and remember for life. Ahh I love him.

Don't worry, DOD. I'm not gonna try it. This photo, taken three days later, of another Angel coming on at dawn on the same lawn!

Under some pines grew some fly agarics. Not as toxic as a Destroying Angel, but enough to put you in a coma-like state for many hours. This is just a ridiculous autumn for mushrooms in Ohio, raining every couple of days. Mushrooms are coming up everywhere: under the bird feeders, on the lilac trunks. I like looking at them and trying to identify them because mushrooms assert that there are things in nature that are big and dangerous, but much more prevalent are the small and dangerous. With mushrooms, you need to know something. You can't just go out mushrooming willy nilly, not knowing anything. I like pursuits where you need to know something. I'm weak on mushrooms, geology, trees, fish, dragonflies, just to name a few. There's so much more to learn.

The best way to learn, I've found, is to ask the questions. Naming the thing you're looking at is first; it's like getting its address and phone number. If you have its name, you can go from there, and the lights come on all the way down the hall.

Speaking of learning and goats, I found a post about making goat cheese from 2007, back when I was blogging like my life depended on it; as if I were working for 60 Minutes; as if I would still be hard at it 11 years hence (!) It's worth a read for the nerdy splendor of it, and for the photos of a tiny Oona enjoying fresh goat cheese. Life is rich. So rich!

Nothing better to do? Click on the goat cheese post.

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