Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's all about Kerouac today.

Kerouac, taken a few years ago when we lived on Inca Street, in Denver.

Really, it's almost as if Kerouac read Friday's blog entry, and though, "He thinks I'm a good boy. So I can push the limits. He trusts me, right?" So this morning starts out like many mornings: the dogs are eager to go outside, so they can come back inside so they can eat so they can go back to sleep. And I'm a little excited because it's already 47 degrees at 8:30 and despite the wind I'm certain it's going to feel warm. Out the three dogs and I go, and I walk over to drop a movie into the mailbox and fetch the newspaper, and expect to see Happy at my feet, which he is. And I see Chiquita, wandering over near the barn, and I expect to see Kerouac lingering at the edge of the woods, which I don't. I call for him, and nothing. I'm in pajama bottoms and slippers, so decide to take the other two dogs inside and get dressed properly for a dog search.

Minutes later, I am outside in the woods, where it is much warmer because the wind can't penetrate the thick bramble of branches. I am still amazed at these woods, coming from Colorado where a forest means trees spaced at a healthy distance apart. Once you step beyond the part of the yard that is mown, you walk into a wild world of native (and probably non-native) plants, most of which I still don't know the names of. I pass under the osage orange tree, ringed as it is by its rotting fruit: hedge apples. I go down a slight slope past the huge oak tree with the forlorn deer stand. I pass the empty dog house. Below me, I see the creek, reflecting the still-blue sky, its water barely moving. Periodically, I call for Kerouac. But the woods are silent this morning, save the noise I make walking: breaking branches, the soft crunch of the leaves on the floor, the slurp of my boots in the mud underneath those leaves. I emerge from the woods, amazed at how thick the undergrowth is, how the blackberry brambles seem to penetrate surprisingly deep into the woods, and how far away I feel. As I emerge from the woods, I see my neighbor's son, Alvin, walking down our driveway, away from our house, and I just know that Kerouac is home, safe and sound.

As it turns out, while I was initially looking for Kerouac in the woods with the other two dogs, he was walking the perimeter of the garden. This is a walk I took him & Happy on a lot over the spring and summer, in an effort to let them let their presence be known to any wildlife thinking about free food. Alvin saw Kerouac stop and watch him drive down the road, and once Alvin got out of his truck and get his mom's newspaper, Kerouac ran down the road to say "hi." I did raise Kerouac to be a sociable dog. So Alvin said good morning to the dog, and picked him up and walked him back to our house, depositing him inside. A few minutes earlier, I had been thinking, hoping that Kerouac must have picked up the scent of something, and hopefully had the good sense not to jump into the creek, and not to get swept into the culvert that goes underneath the road, and didn't wander into a pack of sleeping coyotes, or met one of the elusive bobcats the paper said are more numerous than folks think. I was prepared to have to drive him to the emergency vet. But no, he tried to stay within the confines of his yard, until the urge to see a friend overpowered all... I thanked Alvin, and got a chance to chat with him a while. So that was good. I told Alvin I was going to plant some tulip bulbs I'd forgotten about, and since the ground still hasn't frozen, figured it couldn't hurt. He agreed, and later this morning, I planted about 50 tulip bulbs in a few places in the yard, surprised by how thick and moist the ground is, and how unfrozen for it being the last day of January.

As the day went on, it seemed something did happen to Kerouac in the woods. His right eye was swollen. My guess is he walked into a stick while looking at something else. I couldn't find any puncture wounds, so figured he hadn't woken a barely-hibernating snake. He got a little allergy medicine, and that seems to have helped him. The swelling went down, and he got a little groggy for a Jack Russell Terrier... Until he saw another neighbor pushing her granddaughter in a stroller. Now Kerouac loves children, but he goes into ecstasies around babies. He was thrilled to visit with a toddler in a stroller, unable to get away from his kisses. She didn't mind, luckily, and after a short visit, I stupidly put him down. And he was off like a shot. Happy kept up with him, and first they ran down the road west a bit to their favorite pee spot. There's always coyote scat right there, and they like to mark it. Then Kerouac took off at an even faster pace east, toward my neighbor's house. Was he going to see if Alvin was still there? I don't know. But I hate running. Especially in slippers. I eventually caught him and carried him back home. So he's on the leash again. At least until he gets over this crazy spell he seems to be under...

Monday, January 30, 2012

The first shoots of the year!

It's January, right?
 In further proof that we're having a very odd winter, I noticed plants coming up in the front yard... I'm gonna let them do their thing, especially since I'm planting some more bulbs this week (I'm hoping the phrase "better late than never" works in this case!)  and at least I'll be able to see where things have already been planted! If we ever get a real cold snap, I'll cover them up with mulch, and hope for the best. Looking at the weather forecast, we've got warm weather and rain predicted until the weekend, when they are calling for snow. But that's a long way out, and much could change... As I type this, the thermometer says 55, but with the very strong southerly wind blowing, it feels much colder, which was actually rather disappointing. I'm thinking that if we're not going to have a real winter, it may as get warm so I can get back into the garden, right?
Even more shoots...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Our woofers

Kerouac is certain there's something worth getting in there...
The three happiest dogs in the world right then.
Before we moved here, we worried how the dogs would fare living in the country... Not so much Chiquita, our Dachshund-Chihuahua mix. She lived out in the country in North Carolina... but Happy & Kerouac were the ones we were a little worried about. Okay, mostly Kerouac, the Jack Russell.. He's a little wild, and had been raised on leashes. Prior to moving here, we'd thought about fencing in a portion of the yard to let the dogs run around in. Once we got here, though, we found that it would be rather inconvenient to put in a fence, so we left it alone. For the first year we were diligent about taking Kerouac out on a leash. The other two are fine without leashes. We keep Chiquita on leash at night out of fear of owls and coyotes and the fact that she's black, and easily disappears in the pitch dark of the yard at night.  The first weekend we were here, I let Kerouac outside without a leash. I had been experimenting with seeing how he'd do during the day time. And he was doing great. Rich's sister, Casey, & I were sitting in chairs in the front yard, watching him explore. And then all of the sudden, he was gone. He wandered into the corn field, and just disappeared. He was gone for two hours. Rich, his Dad, his sister, and I spent time wandering through cornfields, driving down the roads. I had just gotten to the point where I was going to seriously begin grieving his loss when Rich & I see him walking down the road, back towards the house. We'd only been here for a few days, and he hadn't walked around beyond the yard much, so we were a little doubtful he'd find his way back home. And every night we'd been hearing packs of coyotes nearby, and I kept picturing him coming across a pack of sleeping coyotes in a cornfield someplace. But there he was, and when he saw us in the car, he stopped, wagged and ran over to us, seemingly grateful for the ride. After that we kept him on a leash pretty much all the time. Until around Christmas last year, when it was obvious that he & Happy enjoyed running and frolicking in the deep snow. Check out my blog entry from last Christmas to see how that ended up.

Chiquita with a persimmon this past fall.
 But all-in-all, these three dogs have adjusted to life out here in the country just fine. Sometimes at night, the dogs react to the proximity of the coyotes by keeping their tails and ears down. And I don't think Kerouac & Chiquita will ever get used to the house-shaking thunderstorms we get. Even Happy is becoming afraid of them. I'm writing of the dogs today because just a while ago I was watching them. During the day we almost never put any of them on a leash. Kerouac seems to understand what the limits of his exploring are (although he has been pushing further into the woods every day). Kerouac has been obsessed with one room in the barn (see the picture above). I don't know if it's because there's a critter living in there (likely) or just because the door's shut (also just as likely). Chiquita's been obsessed with the compost bin. If you don't keep an eye on her, you'll see her little butt & tail sticking out of the slats of the wall surrounding the bin. Then see her lying in the yard, eating on some half-rotten morsel. Happy & Kerouac are obsessed with bird poop. All normal things for dogs, I suppose. This summer, Kerouac showed the other dogs how to pick ripe tomatoes from the vine. And all three of them routinely check underneath the persimmon trees for any fallen fruit.
Happy & Kerouac still harvesting the garden even in January...

In the end, though, it wasn't the new surroundings, the miles of open space, the new smells that mattered to these dogs. It was that Rich & I are here with them. That there are rays of sunshine in which to warm oneself in, that there are blankets and food and treats and their humans to snuggle up with. And honestly, just as we probably made our dogs' transition to country life relatively seamless, they made ours just as easy...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Another Ice Storm

In a winter that hasn't brought much snow, ice storms seem to be a regular event. A rather steady freezing rain is falling outside right now, quickly turning to ice once it touches anything. It's rather mesmerizing watching raindrops explode as they hit my coat. But I worry how long we'll have power if it keeps up. So I'll get up a few pictures, and do things that require electricity first!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Picture of the Day

It was another dreary day. And Happy was excited when he saw me sitting on the couch in my office. But he quickly lost interest.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pictures of the Day

The garden in freezing fog.
 One of my favorite weather phenomena occurred this morning: freezing fog. We woke (late) to a world of white. Outside, it was windy & foggy and everything was coated with a layer of ice... So wonderful. I spent quite a while outside with the dogs, taking pictures. They all look like variations on the one above.

All day, it's been foggy. And windy. Until I moved here, I had no idea that it could be both windy and foggy. But apparently, it can. Around sunset, it started to get even foggier than it had been all day, as warm and very humid air moved into East Central Illinois. Below is a picture of the fog rolling in. We're due to have severe thunderstorms tonight, as this crazy winter weather continues!
Fog rolling in at sunset... the firepit in the foreground, Kerouac eating bird poop in the middle ground...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Picture (s) of the Day

Our road, looking east... nothing but ice.

Our driveway. You can see the ice a little better here.
As predicted, we got a miniature ice storm last night. Only about an eighth of an inch, or a bit more, fell... mostly as freezing rain and then sleet, last night. We were in town when it started, but made it home just fine. No falling power lines or branches, luckily. Not much traffic on the road, either, although we heard that once it started, the highways nearby turned into skating rinks and that there were numerous accidents. It's warmed up a bit, almost to freezing, and it looks like the roads are no longer solid ice. After last winter's very snowy season, it seems we are being treated to a rather more typical East Central Illinois winter: with lots of cold, wind and ice, but not too much snow.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Picture of the Day

It's been a dark and dreary day. Just waiting for the freezing rain to start falling...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Winter has finally arrived.

It's been snowing all day. When I woke, I could see huge, puffy snowflakes lingering outside the bedroom windows. Now, eight hours later, I look out my office windows to see great billows of wind-blown snow fly across the open fields, turning the whole world, briefly, blindingly, white. Despite the fact that it's snowed all day, perhaps only an inch or two has fallen so far. The brown tops of grass break up what would be a yard of white. Birds are fighting, diving, being blown about at the birdfeeder underneath the maple in the front yard. A bluejay just gave way to a cardinal, and now to what looks like a woodpecker, but can't be... I still want to learn the names of all these birds! Great roars of wind seem to silence everything but the windchimes. In the distance, over the neighbor's shed, unending snow seems to fall.

Dreaming of this...
This is our first proper snowstorm of the winter. And it's already January 12. It's been a mild winter so far. Not only for us, but for much of the country. Now, it seems, winter has arrived. And just in time, really. Last week I worked in the garden for the first time since harvest. Last Friday was a warmish, sunny day. Gloves were necessary against the chill, but I soon broke out in to a sweat, working. I pulled up the stakes and wire fencing that held beans and peas and tomatoes. I pulled up the stones and rocks that held down the newspaper I used as mulch. I pulled out the broken bucket I was gathering grape tomatoes in one evening last September. Its off-white pieces were even more brittle after the months outside. I marveled at the garden. How it seems simultaneously huge and small. I walked my well-worn paths in the garden... how many times did I walk back and forth, weeding, harvesting, watering, picture-taking? And then I walked the paths around the failed melon patch. All that work for nought. All the weeding only to get sick with allergies for a week. All the work with Kate & Sam, planting seeds with such hope and precision. Only to harvest one meager watermelon and four small, yet absolutely delicious, Jenny Lind melons. Instead of feeling sad all the loss, though, I began to grow excited for the new garden. The second garden, I suppose. As in many ways, this year's garden will be totally different from last year's. A different garden plan. Some new crops. Some returning ones. Some from seed I saved. Some from seeds I've yet to purchase. On that bright winter's day, it was hard to remind myself that it was not time to hoe and plough and plant. That the ground has yet to hibernate. That winter has yet to arrive.

And here winter is. And it is beautiful.

While looking at this today...
As I mentioned in my last post, I have been working in town. Since September. I took a job at a call center. I told them when I interviewed that I didn't want to do sales. That I couldn't. That I think some types of selling are completely unethical. Yet they hired me. And it was a sales job. And I stuck to it, as best as I could. Not making offers when I didn't think I should. Thinking it is better to live at ease with my own karma than to try to make money for a huge corporation. Finally, last week, I couldn't take it anymore. The pressure to sell was rising, and I knew I wouldn't last long. So now I am looking for work again. While I look for work, I am planning the garden for the next year. I hope to make it bigger, better, somehow more profitable. When I talk of profits, though, I don't necessarily mean money. Although that is important, especially if the garden can sustain itself, financially. But profitable in that it can provide food all year long... We are still eating food I canned this summer and fall: jellies, pickles, relish, barbeque sauce and salsa. But we are nearly out of canned tomatoes. And if we want pizza sauce, we have to buy it at the store. Next year at this time, if I make pizza, I want the sauce to be from the garden. I hope to stretch the productivity of the garden into the winter... earlier in spring... I've got plans! I've got dreams! I've got to find a better way of making them realities!

And with the wind still howling outside as the storm begins to pull away, I am looking forward to the challenges, the excitement, the lessons of this new year... And looking forward to sharing them with all of you...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy 2012!

The view from my office this afternoon.
Welcome, everyone, to 2012! The numbers alone feel futuristic. Life here on Three Persimmons Farm feels anything but futuristic. That's not to say we're not connected... we've got the internet. And cell phone service. And TV. But being here, life does seem to go at a somewhat slower pace. I notice that I'm more able to take in the silence of the world, the night skies. The changing of the seasons... And speaking of seasons: it seems that winter has arrived today. The wind is blowing steadily from the north and northwest, periods of snow, heavy at times, are pushed through the air, slowly turning the roads and roofs white. And it is cold. 22 degrees right now, with a windchill below 10.

Pile of carrots...
We just got back home after a quick seven-day trip to Denver. Parts of four of those days were spent driving, which made it seem even a quicker trip. I didn't get to see or do everything I had hoped, but what I did was fantastic. It was wonderful to see my family again. My niece and nephews are growing up so quickly. My sisters look fantastic, and I got to spend some long-missed time playing games with my parents, & staying up late drinking whiskey with my dad. I know I'm a lucky guy to have such a great family. And I got to see friends and the Tattered Cover again... not long enough... but what is enough? Going back to Denver for the first time since moving out to Illinois was both shocking and anti-climatic. Anti-climatic because it seemed as if it had just been a few days since we were last there. Shocking in that we had to deal with traffic. And the lights took forever to change over. And there were restaurants everywhere. I mean, it seemed to us that there were restaurants at every corner and two thick in between. And not just fast food. But food from around the world! It was almost too much to take in. And the movie choices... heavenly! But as we drove the smaller highways back home, pushed along by a wicked wind and a dust storm, we were both so glad to be back in East Central Illinois. As we approached Lake Shelbyville, things began once again to grow familiar, even in the dark... and by the time we stepped out into the bitter cold of our driveway, it was a relief to be back home.

Dirty carrots!
It's been a long while since I have posted, but the garden is still producing! On Christmas Eve, I picked parley from the herb garden for our mussels dinner. And on Christmas morning, we made an herb rub for our 22-pound pork roast with parsley and sage just picked outside. This morning, though, I noticed that the herb garden is done. The parsley lies wilted and darkening, collapsed on itself. And the sage and rosemary just look cold. On Christmas Day, I pulled up fresh carrots to take to my family. I got about five pounds of carrots out of the raised beds. My family was amazed at how sweet they tasted. Their flavor is so much more layered than the carrots you get from the store, which now taste like orange cardboard to me. Having a garden really ruins you on store-bought produce. I can't eat a tomato from the store: wet red cardboard. I won't go on...

There is still work to do in the garden: the stakes need to be pulled out, as do the large rocks I used to hold down newspaper mulch and the twine I used for peas and beans. The garden didn't get tilled in the fall because I didn't get these things done, since I've been working in town since September. It seemed that every weekend it either rained or I was too busy to get it done. And hopefully it won't delay my work in the spring.

As I write, the snow continues to fall. The sky is light and dark gray, moving and swirling around the farm. The fields and roads are white and the grass is beginning to turn white as well... It's a lovely beginning of year here, and I wish you all the best of luck in 2012!