Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fired Up

Orange Tamaracks
Stacking Wood
Wood Shed
Splitting Wood
Cozy Wood Heat
Tamaracks (Western larch) turn as orange as pumpkins in October. It's an amazing sight to see the forests of northern Idaho fired up with pines that glow brighter than the gold of aspens. Pines are known as evergreens, but not tamaracks. Once they shed their needles, they will stand bare for the remainder of winter.

October is a cusp month; a time of transition. It's cold and surprisingly dry. After the deluge of last autumn, I thought I'd be mucking my way to the barns for firewood. The path is dry, yet green with grass still willing to thrive.

Yes, it's time to fire up the wood stove. Thus a shift in chores. Gone are the days of watering, and now comes the warming wood. How many times does wood provide heat? Well, that depends on how many wood chores you have--gathering, hauling, cutting, chopping, stacking, building a fire, cleaning out ashes, gathering fire-starter. On and on the list seems to go.

How sweet are the fires in urban townhouses and suburban split-levels. Some fireplaces you plug in and turn on; others use gas to simulate flames. Neither require wood and all the work that goes with it. A country wood-stove is what builds biceps. Or at least make mine scream...and my wrists and hands. I can feel strained muscles in my upper limbs where I had forgotten I have muscle.

Yet, I'm darn proud of my stacks. On one side of the porch we have dry rounds; on the other side we have split pine and birch. They are separate piles as each one burns differently. As I write, I have burned down several pieces of pine into glowing orange coal upon which I have placed a huge log that blue-orange flames will dance around for most of the night.

In the morning I'll chatter my teeth as I brew coffee and start the next day's fire. But once I get to hauling and stacking wood, I'll be warm. As I sit and watch orange flames build in heat, I'll be warm, yet. And once night falls and that wood-stove is burning at maximum efficiency, I'll be downright cozy. Perfect time to read by the fire.

On a final note, it is the end of October and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins tomorrow. I've committed to 50,000 words to craft my next novel. You can follow my progress on my Carrot Ranch Communications blog and the updates I'll post here. Yep--I am all fired up to write!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gratitude For What's to Come

Green Pastures and Still Waters
Invitation for the New Mummy
Birthing New Creativity (404 Pages)
Hope for Tomorrow
Expressing gratitude grounds us in the moment like smelling that aroma of the morning's first mug of dark-brewed coffee. We feel grateful, and we sigh.

Yet, gratitude can also bring us hope, something to look forward to in the future even when the future is as uncertain as the path of a retreating glacier full of rocks and debris that we seem to collect slogging through tough times. Gratitude lets us release the rocks and see the beauty of life unfolding.

Joining other grateful bloggers in a weekly activation of the gratitude attitude, Tuesday is reserved for cultivating universal "thank yous" of life, living and loving. If you blog, join us in this community expression and link your post in the comments. If not, simply write what you are grateful for today...if you have one, you can find seven!

Gratitude for what's to come:
  1. More green pastures and quiet waters. Psalm 23 reminds us of where God will lead us. And then I look out my window and see the horses lying down in green pastures along Elmira Pond. I am grateful for the good peace to come.
  2. A phone call from Nae. Funny thing about being grateful for this is that she called while I was writing! I'm so grateful that she is my lift-me-up and that I can always look forward to joy when we giggle about what our eyebrows are doing as we age gracefully. And yes, the secret to graceful aging is giggling like a child.
  3. A new crop of family babies. Like rich soil, the Mills heritage is yielding a new generation. I am so grateful to have two young grand-nephews and and to more in mommy-pods. My nieces remind me my sisters-in-law (can I just drop the in-law?) and how we had showers and babies and toddlers together with such hope and expectation. I am grateful that hope yet lives.
  4. Birthing a new kind of creativity. It's not all about babies, and I'm grateful for the expectancy of raising books like they were my new brood. My first manuscript is headed to beta-readers and I am thinking of this as kindergarten. I am grateful for what I will learn from this new path in life as a full-time writer.
  5. While I am grateful for babies and new creations, I am equally grateful not to be a grandparent. It may sound counterintuitive, but that choice is such a personal one and no longer my own. I am grateful for daughters and a son who have the independence to carve out their own lives and the strength to say to the older generations, not now. I am grateful for free-range, grown children and the future moments we still have to share.
  6. Traveling friends. Sounds like a circus act, and maybe it will be just as exciting. I am like a little kid waiting for the parade of elephants and lion tamers to train through town. My friend gets on Amtrak tonight and will be at Elmira Pond tomorrow night! I am excitedly grateful.
  7. Venison pasties. The rutabagas are balls ready to be plucked from my fall garden in time for that deer or elk I know my husband will harvest soon. He's hunting as I write. I am grateful for having harvests yet to look forward to and old recipes to renew.
Don't let the sun set without being grateful for something to look forward to tomorrow! Keep hope ever lifted high and gratitude tucked in your pocket.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

For the Love of Dirt

Pointing South
Time to Dig Again
Water Like Diamonds
Digging Up Gold
Another Digger at Heart
Squash Robber
Harvested Dirt Holes
Curing Potatoes
Over-Wintering Carrot Tape
Crying like coyotes in the distance, I hear geese yipping in flight high above Elmira Pond. The flock flies in formation, pointing south. I watch momentarily before returning to my dirt.

The air is cool, not yet cold, but lacking any warmth, like a cabin without a blazing fire in the hearth. Gone are the sunbeams that once drove me to shower beneath the garden hose. The cloud cover is high, holding back both the rain and the sun. It's time to harvest the fingerling potatoes.

For the love of dirt, I plowed ten seed tubers into potato hills back in early June. I cannot deny that digging in dirt is my favorite act of gardening. What a joy to see seeds sprout, plants grow and harvest fruit. But it is the silky richness of soil that draws me into this relationship with the land. And now I get to dig into those hills of dirt to see what treasure is hidden in the dark clods.

Even after the recent rainfall, the garden is not muddy. Water pools like tiny diamonds on the leaves of Brussels Sprouts. Each day the plants deepen into purple. The leaves are yet robust , but I'm not certain that the plants will fruit. This was a winter crop trial that may or may not succeed.

Estimating the depth of the first potato hill, I gently press the shovel blade deep into the dirt. Lifting to the left, then the right, I upend the mound of dirt as the potato plant topples. A mass of dirty roots reveal globes of creamy potatoes. Gold! My dirt yields a fortune in potatoes.

Each mound is like an open gift on Christmas morning. The soil is soft and cool as I run my hands through the dirt seeking potatoes. This dirt is why I garden--for the luxurious feeling of hands buried in soil, like the pampering of a spa-treatment. I feel beneath the cluster of roots for tubers and pluck the globes yet hidden.

The dogs are with me, scratching around the edges of what is left of my garden. They can't harm anything, although I had to holler at Grendel when he lifted his leg over my crown of perfect kale. He found the remains of the crook-necked squash plant not yet uprooted for the compost pile. He thrusts his head into the limp mass of leaves and eats the softened fruit of the squash ruined by frost.

Bobo is more like me--a dirt digger. She discovers the hole left in the ground from where I pulled out the dead pumpkin vines. In no time she is digging a bigger hole, snout in the dirt as deep as paws. She's got it right--the dirt smells divine and I lean forward to sniff its earthy essence.

Ten hills of plants equals at least 40 pound of potatoes. While not muddy, the soil is yet damp and clings to the harvest. Before I can wash the tender tubers, they must cure for at least two weeks. Using my largest nylon cooler, I gather up all the potatoes and take them to the entrance of my cellar. Since I rarely go into the dank depths, this entryway is large enough for me to cure potatoes in cool, humid dark.

Returning to my freshly dug holes, I easily spade a row in preparation for winter carrots. This time, I've purchased "tape" seeds from Territorial Seeds of Oregon. The idea is to over winter the seeds for early spring germination. The tape allows for uniformity for such tiny seeds. The deep spading will allow the roots to grow straight and deep. I also plant a cluster of chive seeds and a pea patch. Spring will determine success or failure of my over-wintering efforts.

But for now, it's just a good excuse to dig in the dirt.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Grateful Sigh of Relief!

Friends Spread Sunshine
Friends Share Grandchildren
Friends Send Hot Gifts
Grown Daughters (Maybe...) Make Great Friends
After two days of not being able to access my own blog posts--talk about the proverbial blank page that strikes fear into the heart of every writer--I am back online!

I've missed the Tuesday round of gratitudes for whatever bug ailed Blogger, but I'll start with being grateful over being grumpy. Such things happen in life. This post is dedicated to friends.

Seven good reasons I am grateful for friends:
  1. Laughter! In the midst of frustration, I can rely on a friend to remind me that I'm far from being virtuous, and that it's okay. Jokes, designs and witty words do get me through.
  2. Help! Even from afar my friends are always helpful. Reaching out to my tech-savvy friend about my Blogger woes, she gave me the advice of one of her youngsters...and somehow, magically, it worked. As if merely knowing a tech-savvy friend with two wise daughters in elementary school was enough to chase the Blogger bug away.
  3. Recipes! How is it that I know so many people with such good taste? I'm grateful for endless possibilities for my crockpot and kitchen.
  4. Visits! Only a true-blue friend would dare to venture to northern Idaho in so remote of a place just to visit. Some even bless me by bringing grandchildren to share. Thank you friends, for past and future visits.
  5. Gifts! Friends give great gifts. I mean, what can be greater than fresh Bhut Jolokia Ghost Peppers in the mail--seriously! I have a talented friend who grows them in Minnesota--of all places--and she carefully packed a bundle in priority mail...with aged Chinese tea and Spam Macadamia nuts from her native Hawaii. What a friend!
  6. Inspiration! My friends are mothers, poets, grandmothers, writers, song-catchers, word-crafters, teachers, kitchen-cooks, back-yard gardeners, activists, needle-point artists, painters and incredible, inspirational women with hearts of gold and sharp minds.
  7. Love! Hugs, virtual and real-time, are life-savers. You can hear love in a voice, see it in eyes and feel it in a touch. Friends spread love like thick jam on homemade bread.
Thank you my friends, my writing buddies, my muddy buddy, my daughters, my walking angels online!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Orchardists in My Bones

Apple Harvest
Fried Apples
Simple Batter
In the Oven
Puff Pancake
Ham in Apple Butter
Breakfast at Elmira Pond
Rain on a metal roof tells me I did good to get the ranch mowed within three days of sunshine. Maybe it was the lure of being out in the full sun, or maybe it was the old DNA of orchardists rummaging about my bones that whispered intuitions to carry out chores in good timing.

Recently I bought a novel called, "The Orchardist," simply for its title. An orchardist is a person engaged in the cultivation of orchards--such as oranges, apples and walnuts. It's a quaint reference, not often used in modern times. But my Bumpa was an orchardist, as was his brother and sister and their father before them.

Bumpa was my great-grandfather, Marcus Bundeson, born in San Benito County, California in 1884. It amazes me that I once played bingo with this man born so long ago. He told me about riding on wagons pulled by horses when he was a child. It captivated my imagination. So does the orchard.

The Bundesons grew apricots in Hollister, California, where I was born. Marcus Bundeson, Sr., my Bumpa's father, came to America from Bodum, Denmark sometime before 1870 when he first turns up in a US Federal Census record, working as a farmer in Watsonville. He was 30 years old by then and living with other immigrants, California being a grand melting pot.

By 1892 the elder Bundeson died of pneumonia, leaving behind a wife (Mette Sanholt who was also born in Denmark), three sons and a daughter. And an apricot orchard. The eldest son, Peter, was only 18-years old when his father died. He too, died young at the age of 43 when his eldest son contracted the Spanish Flu while working the shipyards in San Fransisco. The city, in its questionable wisdom, sought to keep influenza death counts low by sending home any out-of-city workers who got ill. In doing so, Peter got the flu from his son and both died in Hollister in 1917.

That left the three remaining siblings to run the orchard. Christina and her brother Peter never married. Perhaps it was apricots that won their hearts and filled their lives. Bumpa, married though, my great-grandmother, Mayme Ferraira. In 1940 they are listed in the US Federal Census record as "orchardists." In the newspaper account of their son's tragic car accident, they are referenced as "prominent Hollister orchardists."

The next generation did not carry on the family tradition. Blossoms would continue to kiss the apricot trees of Hollister, but my family watched from afar. My mother tells childhood stories of stealing apricots and eating them green until her tummy hurt, perhaps answering the orchardsists call in her own bones.

So, I suppose, plucking three apples from my tree felt familiar in an old family way. I've destined each apple to a meal--one will be sliced and paired with cheddar cheese; another chopped for dinner with brats, potatoes, apples and dill seed; and another baked into a "puff pancake."

And here is another genealogical coincidence--the puff pancake. It is one made in the oven, very simple. First, fry the apple slices in butter, cinnamon and brown sugar (and then follow up with frying the ham in the apple butter). Next,  pour a batter of three eggs, 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of milk over the apples in a pie dish to bake it at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. The coincidence is that this recipe has always had a "familiar" feel to it though it comes from my husband's family. Turns out, it's Danish.

On a hunch, I dug out my wedding gift, a cookbook called, "Vi Koger med de Danske." It means, cook with the Danes. And in it, an exact match for the puff pancake recipe. Like my orchardists DNA, my recipe has a Danish heritage too.

What a perfect end to summer on Elmira Pond. Something old, something new.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What the Duck?

Dill Like Fireworks
Full-Time Mowers
View From the Apple Tree
Duck and Turtles
Drowning Fish?
Gobbling Fish
My fingers smell like dill pickles. It's another true-blue day on Elmira Pond, as if the sky has decided to be my best friend. Knowing such days are rare, I stay outside to accept the gift of friendship. Under skies of Idaho sapphire, I'm harvesting dill seeds.

Each head of the dill plant bursts like fireworks frozen in time. With one hand I gather the stems, bend them into a sandwich bag and rub the seeds between finger and thumb until they fall into my bag. Because dill grows so tall, there's no awkward stooping. It's an easy chore in company with Lady Bugs.

Again, I mow. It seems that three days is what it takes to completely mow the ranch. Well, not the entire place. Thank the horses for their part, although they are quite lazy in the sun today. I have tackled a huge portion of knapweed, mowed around the out buildings, the gardening places, yards and apple tree.

And what a validation of faith--I knew it was an apple tree! Hanging high in the old tree are three deep red apples. Three, like the holy trinity of fruit. My love for this tree expands. How gracious of it to lend me a canopy of shade all summer and now in its old age it even offers me three perfect apples.

While I pause for a breather I see the two ducks from yesterday. One dives. Diving ducks--are they the mergansers? I watch and can't seem to make out merganser qualities--no feathered crests or hoods, no long thin sawbills. One duck floats amicably around what is now the turtle log. Four turtles sun bathe as the mystery duck floats.

The second duck is now causing a stir on the south end of the pond. Where it has been diving it is now fighting to hold onto a fish. Many times this summer I've watched the mergansers fish and gulp their meals in a similar fashion. But I'm fairly, almost certain these are not mergansers. Their beaks are too broad, and they seem bigger.

As I watch, the duck with a fish dives with it briefly and hold it under water. My first thought is that it's trying to drown its prey when I realize, this is a fish. Whoever this duck is, he or she is putting up a magnificent struggle for a meal. I'm pleased that these two are resting here, but wish I knew what the duck they are.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Killing Frost

First Frost
Golden Eagle Pays a Visit
Mystery Pond Guest
Dagnabit Deer
The Garden Continues
Pumpkin Survives, But Not the Vines
Wilting Tower of Tomatoes
Harvesting Sage
Green Tomatoes
Ice clings to grass, glistening like crystalline tubes in the 7 a.m. sunshine. It's not what I expect, but the sky is so blue and clear this morning there remains no mist or low clouds to protect Elmira Pond from the cold air that accompanies blue skies. It's beautiful, yet deadly. How deadly, the day will tell as I walk my garden, patrolling for damage.

For now, the sun is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, these words from Psalm 19. It feels sultry, sending down heat despite crisp air. I bask in this honeymoon warmth with a cup of coffee. I have missed the full sun in my face and I hope it revives some of my garden. Maybe winter gardening was an impossible dream. And like a dream, I catch a flicker of wing disappearing into the pasture grass.

What dives down will rise. But this surprises me. A golden eagle burst up from the tall weeds to fly behind the horse barn and land atop a tall pine. I must have merely caught the tip of his wing or tail. After birdless days, I'm excited to see the eagle. I drink my coffee and watch him watch me from the tree.

Next, I catch movement on Elmira Pond. Figuring it must be turtles, I don't exactly run to see. My next surprise is that a lone migratory duck of an unidentified sort has landed. I feel like a lonely inn keeper, doing the happy dance when unexpected guests arrive to an empty inn. Despite numerous photos and gawking, I can't tell what it is. His beak seems light in contrast to a dark head, but it is bigger than a ring-necked duck.

Time to walk to garden and decide what next. My sunflowers survived the frost but not the deer. Just a few nights ago, Todd stepped outside to hear the clatter of deer hooves on driveway. Scoundrels! Now I realize they were eating the massive leaves of two sunflowers planted at the edge of our garage, overlooking the pond. One is stripped clean. At least they let the flowers heads alone.

In the garden, many plants are robust. The entire row of rutabagas is perk and green. The huge mass of radish pods is hearty and hale. I'm waiting for those pods to dry so I can collect the seeds. All of the Brussels sprout plants and remaining cauliflower are tall and robust. The super-kale continues to be super and even the remaining lettuce is unscathed. Thankfully, my sage survived so I snip it all back, evicting at least five spiders in the process.

Ah, but there are causalities. Was I complaining about prolific zucchini and summer squash? Well, it ends here today. Not only are the plants wilted, the squash on the vine has turned mushy and dark in color. And the tomato plants are toast. The tomatoes are actually good, but green. So I harvest one bucket and two bags of green tomatoes. The cucumbers and all beans are shriveled. Oh, and the flourishing pumpkin vines with their one pumpkin are now doomed to wilt. The pumpkin is good, but yet green. I'll have to cure it in a sunny window, now.

Before I wake up to more endless rain and ultimately snow, I want to mow the yard one last time. I had mowed some of the pasture last month and it actually regenerated grass, so I mow around my raised strawberry beds, green house and as much of the pasture as I can muster strength. The neighbor's dog sneaks up behind me, causing a riot of sorts when my dogs see the occurrence and open the door to let themselves out to they can tell the dog to back off. Startling. I was so into mowing I never even notice until I'm surrounded by three ruffled dogs. My apron serves as a temporary leash and I catch Grendel and call Bobo back. Bob, the dog, goes home.

A killing frost turns out to be a productive day, after all.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dog's Day Out

Riding in the Car
Silver Water Runs Through It
Snow on High
King of the Campfire Ring
Leaping King
The Chase is On
Around and Around
Water Break
River rocks and dog romps are just what we need today. When our energies are all pent up like caged hounds, it's best to let go and play. The Blue Goose has a flat tire, so we load up the dogs, Bobo and Grendel, in the car and head up the Pack River.

Silver water winds through a canyon on the western side of the ridge beyond Elmira Pond. The pines seem at their darkest green, the perfect contrast against the other trees and shrubs turning into autumn metallics of rust, bronze and gold. It's not exactly sunny, but neither is it raining.

While mumbling about the mist hunkering over the mountains and dumping rain all week, it seems that the peaks of the Selkirks have received their first dusting of snow. When I see this, I am thankful to live on the valley floor, beyond the reach of fall snow. But it is coming. Time to haul wood.

As the dogs remind us, this moment is about busting out the play energy. What could be better than a giant sandbox for games of chase? Not only is it too chilly to sit along the water's edge to read, most of my reading rocks are now surrounded by the rain-swollen water that swiftly flows past this long sand bar. So I watch the dog drama unfold.

Fine, pale sand of river-crushed quartz must feel good to Bobo who gallops across it in bounding leaps. We call her gait, frog-hopping. Grendel joins her at the fire ring and they have a stand-off. His massive paw claims a rock and I recognize the game--king of the hill. The two dogs stare out each other until Grendel leaps across the burned log and debris of the cold campfire. Bobo goes in for the chase.

Around and around the ring they go, sand airborne around pounding paws. They snarl and yip like children hollering in the height of an intense game of knights and dragons. Bobo sounds like the dragon, making throaty growls. Play can get serious after a week of being pent up in the house. The dogs like sunshine and snow, but are reluctant to tip-toe outside in the rain. They run as if to say, take that rain clouds!

Slowly, the chase winds down, two dogs low on batteries. Each trots down to the river for a drink and the romp is over. It was what we all needed--a dog's day out!