So, the past few weeks…

[clear throat] Mi Mi Mi… nope, still no voice. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t done and seen things these past few weeks.  It just means that I’m still searching for my elusive voice. It wasn’t to be found in NYC.  I went bridal dress shopping (girls trip) with my friend Florence.  We had success with the first dress – amazing!  But the real highlight for me was dinner at Les Halles (sorry FloCo).  Much to our dismay, we did NOT get to have drinks with the man, the myth, the legend… Anthony Bourdain… but he did speak to us through his escargot and pâté. It wasn’t in Boston.  This was a dual-purpose trip.  First and foremost, to celebrate the loving union of my girlfriend Jules, a friend since my second year of college, to her partner Janet.  I have never known Jules so happy.  Second, for maid of honor dress shopping.  Again, success with the first dress (F has good taste and she knows what she wants).  My husband accompanied me this time and we enjoyed an afternoon of drinks and seafood on the harbor with some of our best Boston buddies.  We aren’t moving back to Boston so quick, but it did make us long for the advantages of city life. I found dead, a turkey, a mole, several birds and a spent snake skin.  One of those birds was a baby bird that I found on the lawn – it had been sucked up by the mower.  Awful, isn’t it?  It made me wonder how many baby birds must die this way, after leaving the nest, learning to fly.  They are so tiny, hidden in the “tall” blades of grass. After several run-ins with (uncommonly) aggressive baby woodchucks, my husband shot  two of them dead.  My father is so proud!  Those suckers moved from the field into our yard, and instead of running away, they have stood their ground, showed their rapidly chattering teeth, and charged at us.  Acadia actually grabbed one by the back and shook it.  I yelled at him to leave it, marched them into the house, threw on my big girl boots (actually, they are quite manly muck boots), grabbed my walking sticks and marched back down the hill to face this critter who had STILL not run away.  It darted at me, I poked it with the (handled) end of my sticks and he STILL would not run away.  I was simply trying to send him a message “LEAVE US ALONE!”  But instead, he latched on to my stick and I lifted him into the air multiple times.  I was finally able to usher him onto his back, into the tall grasses at the bottom of our yard.  This is when we knew we had no choice.  The two deaths did NOT include this particular chuck – he is still on our radar. I killed my sourdough starter – on purpose – because I am tired of feeding that sucker and baking the same kind of bread every day now for four months. I wrangled a big eastern milk snake off the pool cover.  Again, big girl boots and walking stick gave me the courage… that and the fact that I had already been bitten by one last year and I knew that I wouldn’t die. My mother-in-law came to visit for a week.  It was one of our best visits.  She even came to work with me one day and spent the day at the Spa – very jealous that I couldn’t join her.  I can’t wait for our next visit. Scotty donated to the local PBS station and surprised me with two tickets to go see Aussie Pink Floyd in October.  So good are these guys that David Gilmore hired them to play at his own 50th birthday party. I was convinced that I would be inspired to write something funny, poetic, prophetic or satirical on the one year anniversary of my blog, but that day came and went this past Thursday, June 21, the Summer Solstice.  (Also the 3 year anniversary of my friends Jen & Dion… go go go!!  I love you guys together.) Friday the 22nd was my dogs’ sixth birthday.  And you know what?  In dog years, that makes me and my “children” the same age.  How many parents can say that?  I really feel like we are on the same wavelength these past few days.  🙂 I have also been facing a bit of a health scare.  There is nothing to report at this time, other than an enlarged thyroid (aka, goiter… ugh… makes me feel bad for laughing so hard at the goiter episode on Seinfeld).  This could be anything from a temporary flare up due to pre-menopausal hormones, or related to an autoimmune disorder called lupus (family history), or hyperthyroidism, or even cancer.  So far I have only had bloodwork, and I’m no doctor, so I would be remiss if I tried to interpret the results.  I met with a surgeon for all of five aggravating minutes.  I have an ultrasound scheduled for Wednesday.  And I am going to make an appointment with an endocrinologist for a more in-depth analysis, perhaps through more blood work and a biopsy.  We all feel invincible until one day, something happens, and although  I’m sure this is nothing, the unknown is scary.

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Evening Walk, January 24, 2012.

Winding my way on back roads
through woods I’ve seldom seen.
Black fingers of fog hold fast the night
and wrap it around me.

Anti-sky.
Anti-sound.
Anti-reality.

Through my open window time flows
into the misty world of trees.
– Heather Coton, 2000

Maybe I Should Walk the Streets Instead?

On July 5, 2011 I posted “There’s Something in the Woods,” referencing, perhaps, a black bear that has been spotted around here.  Well last night at 7:00 PM, 1/2 mile from our house, a black bear crossed the road right in front of my husband.  He tried to grab his iPhone to take a picture… but he wasn’t quick enough.  He said “It was nearly the size of one lane!”  Wow!  So I looked it up and they average 4-6 ft in length, Males average 250 lbs. (range from 125 lbs. to over 600 lbs.) and Females average 150 lbs. (range from 90 lbs. to over 300 lbs.).  This didn’t stop me from going back into the woods this morning – into the belly of the beast – to pick more berries.

Internet Image - Black Bear

Internet Image - Black Bear

January 8, 2011, I think we had a Mountain Lion pass through our property.  Can you see how deep those scratches are?  I sent a picture to the DEC… and they say they can’t confirm (it’s more like they don’t want to confirm), but I believe it was sometime in 2010, a Mountain Lion crossed the road right in front of Scott, about 5 miles from our house.  (My dad, who lives in Berne, also had a mountain lion cross the road in front of him.)

What I believe is Mountain Lion Scratches.

Mountain Lion Scratches from January 8, 2011.

Again, Scott is the one who came outside the morning of May 31, 2010 and saw a Moose in our upper field.  He yelled for me to come see… Holy @#*?! So I ran back inside, grabbed my camera and I got a picture of him/her… but not a good one – too far away. (You can see a little better if you click on the images to enlarge.)

Moose in the Distance.

Moose in the Distance.

The Moose was in our field, but maybe I should start walking the streets to see the really good stuff??

Country Lifestyle – July 11, 2011.

Overgrowth.

There is something about weeding and brush cutting that really gets me fired up.  I love making a mess!  Put a pair of loppers in my hands and I’m armed and dangerous.  And so yesterday, I created at least 10 massive piles of weeds and clipped branches that I now need to clean up and haul away.  I don’t love this part of the process; just like in the kitchen, I love the prep and the cooking, but I wish I had someone to come in and do the cleanup.

We shortened our morning walk today so I could get to the cleanup before the heat, but I did manage to collect a few things along the way:

Field Finds.

wild asparagus which I will turn into a delicious soup;

Asparagus Soup.

bee balm flowers that will become tea;

Bee Balm Flowers for Tea.

wild oregano or mint (the jury is still out), but it makes a great addition to the soup; black raspberries; and st. john’s wort, which I may try pulverizing because it looks like the oils aid wound healing.

St. John's Wort

Two hours of cleanup – miserable, hot & sweaty… ‘this ain’t no beauty contest!’

Miserable Hot & Sweaty.

Relief.

Zen and the Art of Berry Picking

Battle stains.

Berry picking is hard work, but the payoff is worth it.  On berry picking days I head out, pack loaded with containers, bug spray, water, cameras…  It’s hot but you have to wear long gear, otherwise the thicket of thorns will tear you up.  My hands are berry stained and feel like sandpaper from being snagged so many times.  I wear a jacket with a hood to keep the bugs out of my ears, but they still go for my eyes.  And now, after my mom got poison oak last weekend picking berries with me, I also wear my tall rubber muck boots.  You can feel the sweat dripping under the extra layers.

I will mention again that the berries are so abundant because the woods were logged a few years ago, and so the canopy opened up, allowing for undergrowth. 

The slope is steep and you have to navigate around all these downed and dead trees, because that is where the berries grow.  My picking method is like Tai Chi – it’s a whole balance and flow thing.  Squat, look left, look right, stand, lean, balance on one leg and hiking poles, stretch to reeeeach all those perfect berries… “got ’em!!”… back up, careful not to trip over the dogs because guaranteed, they are right there (repeat).

The dogs only want to eat the berries that I am picking, and at one point this morning, I looked down and there was Acadia between my legs, eating berries.  Of course I snapped a pic.

Wild Edibles & Medicinals

I am adding Wild Edibles and Medicinals to my fascination list.

Our neighbor who owns the land on the back side of our hill stopped by last night.  We got to talking about Hogweed that is invading New York – it was on the news the other day [http://albany.wnyt.com/news/environment/agency-warns-ny-beware-giant-hogweed/67816].  Hogweed is a giant weed that looks similar to Queen Anne’s Lace, but this thing grows 8 ft.+ tall and its sap can burn you.  So far, we haven’t seen any around here.

It turns out our neighbor is an herbalist – not by profession, but she’s way into it and has been identifying, collecting, drying, eating and healing with herbs for years.  We walked around the backyard and she identified St. John’s Wort for me.

St. John's Wort.

She told me that if you dry cattails you can burn them to keep bugs away, and that the red berries from the Staghorn Sumac makes a great tea.  I’ve heard that the sumac berries are edible, and some cultures grind them into a spice, and I know that the poison sumac is more bushy with white berries… but I had poison sumac rash as a teenager, so I’m very hesitant to eat anything sumac-related.  We also talked Dwarf Ginseng, Garlic Mustard, Ink Berry, Heals-All…

Heals All

I can’t remember what she said about them.  But my interest was peaked, so I will be buying a guidebook to wildflowers/wild herbs.

There are so many things growing in the fields and woods – it will be fun to figure out which things are edible and what to do with them.  I want to know if this is Wild Oregano (as I believe – it smells like oregano and online pics of the flowers peg it as wild oregano) or Wild Mint (as my neighbor assures me, and I should believe her because she’s been doing this for years – but the skeptic in me wants to be convinced).

Wild Oregano or Wild Mint?

Wild Oregano or Wild Mint?

When my Nan (favorite person on earth) passed away three years ago (on July 6th, and today, July 8th is her birthday), I acquired some of her books, and among those books is a huge volume, Sturtevant’s Notes on Edible Plants, copyright 1919.  I hadn’t been interested in identifying plants until now – the book will make a great companion guide… but as a novice, I need pictures.

My neighbor and I met at 7:00 AM this morning, at the top where our property meets, so that she could show me a few things in her woods.  First you walk through her field, then you see the fabulous view, and then into the woods.

Field, just up and over our hill.

View looking out from the other side of our hill.

We both brought our dogs (me, 2 dogs, she, 3 dogs) and their greeting went well at first… but 3 of the 5 dogs have not been fixed… and so the humping games started and NEVER stopped.  Do you know how annoying that is?  My dogs are not around other dogs very often so they haven’t learned that when the other dog growls at you it means “BACK OFF.”  I was so irritated by my dogs, plus I must have gotten about 100 mosquito bites and every two minutes a black fly would dive right into my eye (I looked in the mirror when I got home… and had dead black flies in my eyelashes!!!)

Dogs meeting (plus there was a beagle)

Still figuring each other out.

Anyway, despite the dog nonsense, we did see a few things:  a Jack-in-the-Pulpit;

Jack-in-the-Pulpit, berries.

Jewel Weed, which is an antidote for poison ivy/oak;

Jewel Weed.

Yarrow is an antiseptic for wounds:

Yarrow is an antiseptic.

this is something we are both going to try to identify:

Need to identify this one?

and she gasped because she found wintergreen and has been looking for it for a long time (it smelled amazing).

I also snapped more fungus pictures, but I will spare you – somehow it has become my thing this summer,  If you want to see more, go to the “OK, I’ll Admit it, I have a Fungus Fetish” post, July 2, 2011.

It was an interesting morning walk, and I’m sure I will call upon my neighbor for her wisdom, but it wasn’t the peaceful morning walk that I am so used to.  I know the horndogs enjoyed themselves.

Horndogs exhausted & muddy.

Blame it on the Rain

Rain is necessary and good.  It sustains life, it makes things grow.  On this morning’s walk I saw these two little love slugs sharing a bit of fungus growing on the forest floor:

Can you feel the love?!

But yesterday’s heavy downpour must have been disorienting for some because I also found Yellow Finch feathers stuck to our bedroom window and a dead chipmunk at the bottom of the pool:

Ouch! Yellow Finch Feathers Stuck to Our Window.

Drowning is no way to go...

In the chipmunk’s case, however, it may just be bad luck, because a few weeks ago (June 16)  I found a chipmunk (perhaps the same one?) stuck in a gutter downspout near the pool.   I saw him, snapped a picture, took the dogs for a walk, and when we got back, the chipmunk was still there.  So I freed him, he did a crazy dance and then proceeded to run across the patio and inside the pool fencing.  I checked on him later that night to make sure he didn’t get stuck in there as well.  He was free, but unfortunately, he is now gone.

Chipmunk stuck in gutter downspout.

 

Chipmunk inside our pool fencing.