Archive for the ‘Country Living’ Category

To Bag or Not To Bag?

Monday, August 7th, 2017

The Riding Lawnmower

In our climate, the question of whether to bag the lawn clippings or leave them behind when you mow deserves due consideration.  Some folks say that leaving them on the lawn is actually a good thing, nutrient-wise, and if you mow often, you can’t even see them.  If you can’t mow regularly, though, and the grass is a little (or a lot) long, the browning clippings are quite unsightly.  Plus, walking on the grass in the early, dewy morning hours is a big problem.  Grass clippings cling to your shoes or boots and woe be unto those who forget to leave them outside the door when re-entering the house.

Nyel (Bless him!) has always bagged but it makes the job more onerous and it takes some strength to unfasten the hopper, dump the clippings, re-attach and so forth.  On our big lawn, depending on the time it’s been since the last mowing, there are many, many trips to the back forty to dump.  Lately that process has been eliminated (for health considerations).  So… grassy feet on the journey to the chickens each morning.

Grassy Shoes

This morning I decided (for the umpteenth time) to use the “new” boots that were a Christmas gift a few years back.  The old ones have developed numerous age-related leaky places and really don’t do the trick when it’s wet.  I hate the new ones, though.  They are too small, hard to get on, impossible to get off without help, and hurt my toes (to boot!) but they are (supposedly) my size and the only brand Jack’s carries now.  Ditto Dennis Co.  Plus it’s one of those things that I don’t think about between wearings so I’ve not been serious in my search for a different pair.

It’s been a while since I’ve succumbed to trying those boots once again and, even though they’ve been sitting (or do boots stand?) in the laundry room for many months, I automatically turned each one upside down and gave it a good shake before slipping (read: tugging) it on.  I was only medium-surprised when a half cup or so of chicken scratch spilled forth from one of them.  There’s no way of telling when the stash was put there – I see no other ‘evidence’ of critters in residence — but Nyel is setting mousetraps as we speak.

Boot Stash

Two steps onto the lawn in those owie boots and I vowed to throw them out, ‘new’ or not.  And I thanked my lucky stars that Nyel is once again out of the hospital and home again and feeling better than he has for some months.  Maybe next time he mows, he can bag.  And maybe I’ll expand my quest for comfortable, easily removable boots.  And maybe we’ll trap a mouse.  Lotsa maybes in our lives these days!  I’m glad about that on all counts!

The pleasure is all mine!

Friday, August 4th, 2017

In Carol’s Greenhouse

We were really pleased when Tucker and Carol put us in charge of the birds and plants at their place for a few weeks.  Finally!  We could return just a bit of their many, many caretaking duties with our chickens!  Nyel said he’d scatter birdseed each early morning; I offered to water Carol’s gorgeous potted plants – berries and vegetables and colorful flowers both in and out of her greenhouse.  “Every other day would be fine,” she said.  No one thought “heatwave!”

Things didn’t start well, though.  Nyel was in the hospital the day they left and for most of that first week.  But the gods were smiling on us all.  Tucker and Carol’s son Clark was at their place for exactly the right time period – we couldn’t have planned it better!  So, when we were finally home and could take up our tasks, all was well.  Except Nyel, who is not so spiffy.

Peter Amongst The Lettuces

So, I’ve been doing ‘double duty’ and, I have to say, I am enjoying my experience immensely.  The birds were a bit skittish at first.  I felt them watching me from the trees, but they were shy about showing themselves.  Gradually, they have become braver and this morning I practically had to shoo them away – goldfinches at the thistle feeders, stellar jays and juncos, a robin or two, and a couple of mourning doves, all after their favorites from the wild bird seed Tucker left.

But that wasn’t all the wildlife that greeted me.  In the greenhouse, a bright green tree frog hopped out from behind a tomato plant and we looked at each other for quite a while.  S/he seemed in no hurry to return to protective cover and I enjoyed the early morning company.  And then… a gray squirrel came off the deck as I headed for the hanging basket of fuchsias.  Unlike the frog, though, she didn’t hang around to get fully acquainted.   One quick look at me and she was off, darting behind the big pot of peas next to the boathouse.

Carol’s Fuchsia

I wanted to linger to see who else might arrive but… it’s Nyel’s birthday and we have places to go and people to see (and miles to go before we sleep!).  I almost felt guilty when I got home and described my feeding and watering adventures to him.  It was one time that I really didn’t want to admit that the pleasure was all mine.

About those birds and bees — mostly bees.

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Dale Espy – 1916

I wonder if Jimmy Kemmer knows that we were supposed to be brother and sister.  Our grandparents – mostly the women I think – had it all sorted out that Jim’s father, Roy, would marry my mother, Dale.  I don’t think romance was ever on the horizon for the two of them, though.  When they were growing up in Oysterville in the nineteen teens and twenties, mom was the tag-along tomboy and only girl out of the fourteen youngsters of about the same age.

“Thirteen boys and me!” she used to laugh. “They must have grown very tired of me tagging along!  But mostly I was included in all their adventures.”

Her most vivid memory of trying to keep up was a time when she was six or seven and the last in a long line of kids running through the woods up on the ridge (where Douglas Drive is now.)  “The boys must have disturbed a beehive along the way.  They raced by unscathed but by the time I got there, those bees were mad.  I was stung all over my face!  I ran home but I didn’t cry – not until I looked in the mirror!  I thought my face would stay that way forever!”

Dale with Jim Kemmer on her 95th Birthday – 2006

Of course, it didn’t, thanks to my grandmother’s good nursing skills and mom’s own strong constitution.  I don’t know what the common remedy for beestings was then.  Years later when my own two-year-old son was stung while we were on a picnic, we plopped a handful of cool mud on the sting and that relieved the pain, but I doubt that my grandmother plastered mom’s face with mud.  Or, come to think of it, maybe she did.  My mother grew up to be a great believer in facials.

On the subject of bees – here’s a little bit of folklore to think about from the book, Akenfield, by Ronald Blythe:  Billy was one of the old people.  The old people have gone and have taken a lot of truth out of the world with them.  When Billy died, his wife walked down the garden and told the bees and hung black crêpe on the hive.  My grandfather did this, too.  He said that if you didn’t, the bees would die as well.  Bees are dangerous to some folk and a gift to others.  You’ll get someone who’ll get stung once and perish and another who’ll get stung all over and get cured of all manner of things.  There were a rare lot of bees in the village in those days.  When they swarmed we used to all rush out into the garden with the fire-irons and scuttle and bang away; that brought them down.

Definitely food for thought.

Just a Glimmer

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

Akenfield by Ronald Blythe

The blurb on the back of the book I’m reading says, “You do not hear them talking; you hear them feeling…”  I love that!  And, it’s true.  The book is Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe.  Written in 1967 and published two years later, it is a definitive look at life in an East Anglian village at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century.

The table of contents reveals the scope of this amazing work which catches the memories of those who grew up in the era of horses, before anything in their lives was mechanized.  The Introduction covers Population and Houses, Work in the Village, and Domesday for 1936 and 1966: the Second Agricultural Revolution.  Twenty chapters follow:

1) The Survivors; 2) God; 3) The Ringing Men; 4) To be a Farmer’s Boy?; 5) Good Service; 6) The Forge; 7) The Wheelwright; 8) The Craftsmen; 9) The School; 10) The Agricultural Training Centre; 11) Officers and Gentlemen; 12) The Orchard Men; 13) Four Ladies; 14) The Young Men; 15) The Law; 16) Limitations 17) The Vet; 18) Not By Bread Alone; 19) The Northern Invaders; 20) The Hour of Death.

There are so many unexpected bits of information in the book – probably ‘useless’ information to most but, somehow, satisfying to me who would like nothing better than to step back in time for a few days to get a greater understanding of how life was here in Oysterville long ago, in my grandfather’s childhood.  “The horses were friends and loved like men,” said one of the old Akenfield farmers.  “The ploughmen talked softly to their teams all day long and you could see the horses listening.”

H.A.Espy Children on Danny, 1924

My grandfather would have understood that.  When his last horse, Countess, died in 1944, Willard began his ‘Family Man’ column (in Good Housekeeping Magazine) by quoting Papa’s letter: “It was a relief for her to be gone,” he says (Countess was past thirty), but she wanted to live and so I wanted her to. She was the last animate tie to the old ranch, when you boys were on it with me.” Her death reminds him, he says, that he is lonesome and old.

Willard went on to say that the letter made him see a herd of four-legged ghosts – the horses Empress, Fanny and Prince, Blaze and Lassy and many of the cows as well.  He remembered that when Papa got sick and had to give up the ranch, he had kept the animals that would not sell and they had died one by one.  Countess was the last and only the summer before had become so feeble that she could not pull the harrow across the garden plot so Papa had unhitched her and pulled it himself.

I think I might have read Akenfield before – maybe thirty or forty years ago.  There are phrases and, yes, feelings (as that blurb said) that I remember.  Pleasant glimmers of a book and of a past almost remembered.

Persistence, Thy Name is Swallow!

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

In the Kitchen Garden

Back in early April, nearly three months ago, the first barn swallows made their annual appearance at our house.  They headed for the area behind the garage known as ‘the kitchen garden,’ which has been their building area of choice for at least forty years – they and their parents and grandparents and, undoubtedly great-grandparents and great-greats, too.  The life expectancy of a barn swallow is four years so we’re talkin’ ten generations here!  How many greats is that?

Maybe in my grandparent’s day that little area was a functional garden, but for the past twenty years it has been the home of the outdoor heat pump unit.  And weeds.  To say nothing of swallow guano.  We sometimes refer to the area as “The Pit.”  The walls of the house more-or-less surround it and, over the years, they have become increasingly yucky.  Peeling paint, mildew, and sad.

So, when a friend who has recently left the painting biz offered his services, we happily asked him to have at it in his free time.  Between the weather and his schedule, the work was completed day before yesterday.  It looks fabulous but the final result didn’t come easily.

On the South Porch

For two-plus months, Farmer Nyel and the Painting Master used every trick at their disposal to discourage our swallow friends from building nests in the targeted area.  But, talk about persistence!  It was a daily argument with three pairs of indignant, fast-flying, feathered bits of determination.  With all the other nooks and crannies and nest-building possibilities around this old house, you’d think they could settle on another bit of real estate.  But no.  Other amorous pairs built in other areas, but not the Kitchen Garden crowd.  Painting project be damned, they were going to carry out the family tradition no matter what.

The day before the final topcoat was to go on, we were away.  It rained so the painter didn’t come by, after all.  The swallows, though, were apparently working overtime, never mind the wet sheen on the pristine-and-pure primer coat.  By the next morning they had built three complete nests!  And they were seriously dive-bombing anyone who approached.

Nevertheless, when the painting job was finally finished, it looked perfect! “Sorry you had to take the nests down again,” I told our always cheerful painter.  “No problem,” he said. “But the birds were pretty aggressive.  They were buzzing right by my ears!”

On the East Porch

“At least there weren’t any babies yet,” I said.  “They probably were all ready to lay those eggs today.”  Did his eyes do a shifty thing?  “There weren’t any eggs in the nests yet, were there?” I ventured.

“Sydney, let’s just have a policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  YIKES!

Yesterday, though, the swallows were back.  One nest was complete and another on the way.  I’m staying far away.  I seriously doubt that they’ll forget this summer for a long, long time.  Maybe not for the next ten generations.

Lest We Think Otherwise

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Nest at our Front Door

No matter how vigilant we are, our ‘feathered’ friends seem to be having their way with us.  Much like our current ‘leaders’ in the Other Washington?  Well, the comparison is probably a stretch – a flight of fancy you might say –  but the thought occurs all too frequently.

Take our local visiting barn swallows.  They have been trying for a month or more to build nests on our house.  Usually, we have allowed them to do so in the back-forty just outside the kitchen window.  But this year that area is scheduled to be painted, so every day Nyel hoses down the first nest-building efforts.  And every day, the swallows – three pair and three nests – go back to work within minutes.  Cheeky little critters.  And they don’t get it that they are not welcome.  Not at all.  Public opinion means nothing to them.

Nest Close-up — Hurriedly done?

They’ve also been trying to build on the lintel directly above our front door.  Ditto all the above concerning Nyel and his Garden Hose Discouragement Program.  On Sunday when we were gone for the afternoon doing necessary new car business, those Front Door Swallows managed to build their entire nest.  By the time we got home it was a “done deal” and they were sitting proudly (and threateningly) nearby.  Persistent (if a bit stupid) to the max.

There is some dissention in the main household about taking down a completed nest – it’s a Venus vs Mars thing.  I think that once the nest is complete and the eggs about to be placed within, we humans have to let nature take its course.  Nyel… not so much.  We’ll see how it plays out.  I keep mentioning that the swallow couple have actually made a few compromises – the nest is not exactly over the main in-an-out traffic area.  So far, I don’t think I’m being heard.

Svetlana Checking Out Compost Area

Then there are the chickens.  We have been keeping them in their run, locked away from the rest of the garden during this tender-new-plant part of the year.  But yesterday, here came the Russian Orloff, bold as bold.  An inspection of the run revealed a big hole in the hog wire, probably the accomplishment of our local henhouse hacker, Rocky Raccoon.  The other three girls (perhaps not quite as bright as Svetlana) had not noticed and were still where they belonged.

While Nyel repaired the damage and made things secure, I tried to entice Ms. Svetlana back to the coop, but she was having none of it.  She successfully evaded me from one area of the yard to the next and it took Farmer Nyel to finally trick her back into the run.  I’m not sure if détente with the Russian will last – she’s a sneaky one.

Hummingbird Vigilante

Meanwhile, the hummingbirds have taken to looking for us when their feeder is empty.  They come to windows all around the house – wherever we are, they show up with their hovering trick.  And, as if that isn’t enough, they sometimes tap their beak against the window pane!  Of course, we drop everything and all but salute and click our heels.  I wonder how much sugar we go through in a season.

Peaceful co-existence is difficult here in the Springtime.  We can only hope that it doesn’t escalate during the long, hot summer.  One thing though… it’s never dull.

A Toss Up For Sure!

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Builders on a Break

I’m not sure who’s winning around here – the plant kingdom or the world of winged creatures.  It’s one realm or the other and, for the present time I doubt that we would even be considered contenders.  Except maybe with the swallows.

Nyel has been persistent in his efforts to discourage their nest building.  We are waiting for a few days of good weather to repaint the very area that has harbored barn swallow nests for at least thirty years.  It’s a generational apartment complex out there under the eaves of the old kitchen porch – four nests that have been refurbished year after year.  But not this year – not if Nyel can help it.

Me?  Not so much, though I do agree that the painting comes first.  Explaining to chattering, dive-bombing swallows that they’ll have to find other quarters for this year has been difficult.  I’ve even told them (but not within my husband’s hearing) that they can come back for their next second go-round this year.  “Just find another spot for your first family this season,” say I.  “Then you can come back here again.”  They are having none of it and the war between Nyel vs. the swallows continues day after day.

Accusatory?

This morning, on the other side of the house – right out our bedroom window – it was another story. An Allen hummingbird – all 3.15 grams of him – hovered around our empty feeder for a few seconds as we sipped our morning coffee.  We talked about rectifying that situation but before we could even register the full thought, he was back.

This time, he paid no attention whatsoever to the feeder.  He turned his back toward it and hovered right at the window, looking at us accusingly.  I was sorely tempted to leap up, click my heels, and salute.  And for sure I felt guilty.  The feeder will be up before tomorrow.  I promise.

Thank goodness we don’t have a starling problem.  Yet, anyway.  We learned last week that a recently deceased friend’s house – empty for six weeks now – is soon to go on the market.  It’s a gorgeous place, right on the bay and should sell in nothing flat.  But… the plan has been held up pending the eviction of a scourge of starlings who have apparently found a way in and have taken over the upper story!

Listening to the Grass Grow

Meanwhile… above the twittering and humming and wing-beating outside our walls, I think I can hear that persistent sound of grass growing.  It’s the high whispery sound, not to be confused with the more boisterous accompaniment of buttercups and dandelions and the twang of the bindweed.  It’s the growing season for sure.  Or is that the groaning season?

“Look around! Look around!”

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Bear in the Tall Grass, Oysterville – Photo by Tucker (2014)

Ever since I’ve arrived at the forgetful stage of life, I rely on Nyel to answer all those where-did-I-leave-my-coffee-cup questions.  He has the amazing ability (or so think I) to know exactly what is where in this big house of ours.  Actually, he knows that about our tool shed and our garden, all of the visible parts of Oysterville, and the Peninsula, too.  It’s a gift!

Fortunately, he doesn’t become annoyed with my constant questions beginning with “Have you seen my…”  The closest he comes to a disparaging remark is to say, “Look around!  Look around!”  But I’m here to tell you that my visual memory is no better or worse than it has been over the last thirty years of our marriage.  And, I’ve come to believe that it’s not just a memory problem.  I’ve decided it’s related to dyslexia of a spatially challenged nature.  In fact, I was cheered recently to learn that educators are beginning to consider adding “spatial literacy” to the elementary school curriculum.

Eagles in the Monterey Cypress, Oysterville – Photo by Tucker (2002)

It’s hard to believe, but as many times as I’ve traveled on the front road – one or two round trips a day for forty years, you do the math – I cannot say with any assurance that Tides West is north or south of Loomis Lake State Park.  Or if the little mall with beachdog.com is north or south of Snap Fitness (in our household just called “the gym.)  If I need to be somewhere and am in a time crunch, I usually ask Nyel for very specific landmarks so as not to waste time hunting.  Thankfully, he is patient.  No eye-rolling or mentions that I was there only a week ago.

Yesterday, we went to CostCo (does it come before or after the turn to Lum’s?) and came across our once-upon-a-time next door neighbors Dobby and Lila Wiegardt.  We clotted up the mayonnaise aisle for a while talking about life along the bay.  They said their newly-mown meadow has been a gathering place lately for the North End Elk Herd – between 20 and 40 of the huge animals enjoying the tender, regenerating grass just beyond their windows.

Elk in the Meadow, Oysterville – Photo by Sydney (2012)

I couldn’t help but wonder if I had missed the herd’s trek along the mudflats as they traveled from Leadbetter Point to Dobby and Lila’s place.  I’ve certainly been out in the garden enough… but it’s probably one of those look-around-look-around things.  I wish I’d thought to ask the Wiegardts for a heads-up call next time they see the herd on the move to the north.  They truly are a sight to see!  And when it’s happening right in front of the house, I don’t have a bit of trouble remembering the where of it!

…and the town’s filling up!

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Headed for the Beach

In Oysterville, it feels a little like it did thirty or forty years ago when most of the part-time residents would show up on holiday weekends.  Nowadays, with our ever-increased mobility, home-owners and their friends and family seem to come and go whenever the spirit moves – not necessarily for special occasions only.  But… yesterday, as the town started filling up, I had a little bit of déjà vu.

            For starters, I think the Accuardi family is planning to be here in force to celebrate Fred and Gail.  They have sold their Red Cottage after twenty years of careful stewardship and their large family is gathering to wish them well and to say ‘arrivederci to Oysterville’ – at least to this chapter.  Martie and Steve at the Captain Stream house will continue the family’s connection with the village with energy, enthusiasm and next generations – “as God intended” as our friend Te would say.

Line-Up at the Dock

In the Red House (not to be confused with the Red Cottage) Cousins Abby and Dan Ronco and kids (the sixth generation of Espys) have arrived with friends.  Their plan is to have an Easter Egg Hunt throughout the town on Sunday.  I hope the weather cooperates, but knowing my intrepid cousins, a little rain and wind won’t slow them down.

Other folks are in town to take advantage of the long overdue clam season.  We haven’t been out but we understand the digging is great.  We’ve already been offered some freshly cleaned clams from neighbors Tucker and Carol!  (Sometimes there are advantages to being old or infirm.)

Beach Driving

And, of course, there are all of the ‘regulars’ –those spirited neighbors who are here every-weekend-no-matter-what. Plus, those who live here full-time but have been away for parts of the winter.  Add us all up and the town seems a-bustle.  As my folks used to say, “It feels like Old Home Week.”  Throw in a bit of intermittent sunshine and we can almost imagine that spring and summer are on their way after all!

Housing Shortage

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Last Year

I’ve heard tell there is a shortage of low-cost housing on the Peninsula – especially rentals.  I’m sure that the reasons for that are complex, but it is a bit disturbing to see all the usually-empty second homes throughout our communities and, at the same time, to know that there are a whole host of people having a hard time filling that most basic of needs.

The last few days, my considerations about housing have become even more confused.  The swallows are returning and we are attempting to let them know that our house is a NO VACANCY neighborhood.  Not because we (probably just I) don’t want them here.  They have been nesting in our Kitchen Garden for at least 20 years.  Last year there were six nests out there, tucked up under the porch roof – a regular colony — and several of the swallow couples raised two broods in their seasonal homes.

Spring Welcome Wreath

But, this year there is a conflict of interest between us and our little feathered friends.  We need to have that part of our house painted.  I wish I could explain to the swallows that we have put off the inevitable for two-score years specifically out of deference to them.  Unfortunately, their nesting season coincides perfectly with our painting season and, once they are settled in, I can’t bear to have the nests knocked down.

Right now, the swallows are just beginning to arrive and they are in house-hunting mode.  Our first ‘inquiry’ for the season began with a knock at our front door.  Well… almost.  Nyel was about to go outside for something and, through the window, he saw a swallow perched on the pussy willow wreath that hangs on the door.  They looked at each other for a minute or so before the swallow took off – long enough for communication to take place.

Swallow: “Season’s greetings!  I’m back!”
Nyel: “No nesting this year.  Go away.”

No Vacancy

Nyel followed up his end of the conversation by taking down all the old nests (while I was off on an errand) and putting up some fluttery hanging things as deterrents against a new building boom.  I was upset by it all – Nyel says it’s a misplaced nesting instinct on my part – but I do recognize our need to have the area painted.  I am resigned.  For now.