wake robin

Category : Nature
Date : May 2, 2013

This morning I glimpsed a grouping of wake robins, or trillium, out of the corner of my eye on my morning walk, and my mind jumped back to another walk.

One May day, we were invited to Emily Ramey’s for a wild flower walk and luncheon.  She led us across her beautiful spring green field and into the woods. It was magical, with the hillsides covered with trilliums–white, pink, red–high lit by the dappled sun coming through the new leaves. We walked amongst may apples and lady slippers.  Now I realize that this was virgin forest, as there were hundreds of trilliums on the land that she watched and tended.

vintage wildflower card foraged from the 25 cent table at my favorite thrift store

vintage wildflower card foraged from the 25 cent table at my favorite thrift store

After the walk, we were treated to a spring lunch–biscuits, corn pudding, country cured ham, peas and iced tea with lime-juice as a sweetener. To me, the lime-juice was exotic.

Mrs. Ramey knew the land like the back of her hand.  She was petite, not more than five fee tall, and wore skirts with sensible shoes.  She mowed the fields on the large tractor, cared for her cattle and raised the crops to feed them.

dandelions, part 2

Category : Nature
Date : April 29, 2013

Lawns are greening and yellowing up.  The hated dandelion has arrived.  Today, I watched bumblebees hum over the lawn seeking the needed pollen.

In his book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Euell Gibbons discusses the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) at length.  He speaks of its ability to give the body much needed iron in the spring months.  Dandelions—the entire plant: buds, leaves, roots—can be used.  One can roast the roots for a coffee-type beverage; sauté the early spring leaves; and make wine from the yellow flowers.

When I was a teenager we moved from the suburbs of Washington, DC, to a very small town with a tractor repair shop, post office and general store, and a population of 100 people.  Our home was at the end of two-mile dirt road.  Our next- door neighbor–if there is such a thing on a rural route–Mrs. Williams, gave us divine fudge and dandelion wine bottled in re-used ‘White House’ vinegar 8 0z. bottles at every Christmas.  I recall tasting the dandelion wine and found it sweet and fragrant, reminiscent of the beloved flowers and of spring.

Taraxacum officinale

Taraxacum officinale

This year marks our fifth year here and the soil is finally free of the chemicals that made the lawn ultra green, sans the worms and microbes so important to the chain of life. It is time to make the wine, to remember Mrs. Williams, and we’re using Euell’s recipe.


Category : Nature
Date : April 27, 2013

When did the dandelion become so evil?

the evil dandelion

the evil dandelion

Emily Dickinson so loved her dandelions that she transplanted one into a pot and tenderly tended it in her conservatory.  She “pressed a dandelion and tied a ribbon around it, enclosing it with a poem.”

The Dandelion’s pallid Tube
Astonishes the Grass,
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas —
The Tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower, —
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is over—


Now most people despise the valiant dandelions and spend hours trying to eradicate them from their lawns.  Instead, we rejoice in hopes that many bees derive their first nectar and pollen from them. Honeybees are having a rough go of it these years and many beekeepers are losing half their hives each winter. We lost our two hives in one winter and now we are eagerly awaiting the delivery of two nucs in early May.


[Marta McDowell, Emily Dickinson’s Gardens, (McGraw-Hill, New York, 2005), p. 38]

double duty

Category : Nature
Date : April 20, 2013

Perhaps it was the hours spent pulling weeds and invasive vines that led me to natural dyeing and foraging.  As we worked, I wondered what can be done with these weeds?  It seemed a shame to ‘gather’ these plants and essentially throw them away, and quite ‘un-colonial’ not to use everything.

Coincidentally, I happened upon a copy of Euell Gibbons’, Stalking the Wild Asparagus.  Do you remember the Grape Nut commercials in the 1970s, with Gibbons talking about eating a pine tree?  He poetically outlines uses for many so-called weeds (more on the dandelion in a later post), but he does not mention the now-prevalent garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and maybe that is because it was not as invasive then.  My research tells me that the deer won’t eat the garlic mustard, promoting its overtaking of the forest floor, and to add insult to injury, the scattered seed lasts for five years.

new season garlic mustard

new season garlic mustard

On the new book shelf at the Library sat a copy of Urban Foraging by Ellen Zachos, a perfect guide for modern foragers with color photos and recipes.  She adores the garlic mustard plant, for “it’s insanely nutritious, higher in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc than either spinach or kale. It’s also very high in calcium, iron and omega-3 fatty acids.”  She recommends making pesto from the foraged new season leaves and so we did.  Put your foraged garlic mustard leaves, salt, pepper, olive oil, Parmesan, and I added a dribble of honey, into the Cuisinart and voilà, yummy pesto.

[Ellen Zachos, Backyard Foraging, (Storey Publishing, 2013), pgs. 42-43]


Category : Nature
Date : April 11, 2013

At the moment, we have peepers inside & out.  The swamps are coming alive with the spring peeper. At night as you drive home with your windows rolled down, the noise is down right boisterous. When one hears the peepers, it is a sure sign that we have passed into the next season. However, we have a forecast for more winter weather on the way.

I continue to ponder about the inhabitants of this home—of what signs did they take notice? Did they mark the chorus of peepers as the coming of spring?

Two days ago, a small box arrived at the post office and M came home with 8 chicks. They are very active and when racing around their circular pen, they make peeping sounds—peeppeeppeep.  And then they sleep.

We heard that our kitchen was formerly a chicken coop, in the late 1800s. In the area above the kitchen, the floor used to yield corn kernels, for that area was the barn loft. A few years ago, we found corn cobs in the walls!


Two day old chicks

april fools

Category : Nature
Date : April 1, 2013

60 degrees at high noon. Hail at 1pm and snow showers at 3pm. Mother Nature’s April fool day joke, I wondered.


Martha Ballard diary page from Maine State Library

So I turned to see what the day brought in another year and picked up my well-worn copy of A Midwife’s Tale The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by the brilliant historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ballard, a midwife, lived on the river in Hallowell, Maine and thankfully Ulrich found her diary and brought it to us.

April 1806, Ballard writes:

1 3 At home

Clear and spring like. Grew cold at Evening. Snowed some. I have been at home. Irond my clothes &C.

2 4 At home
Clear and very Cold……. got up some wood for us. I have wound 3 skeins hoes yarn, wound & double 3 ditto

As the first of each entry, the weather is a constant character.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher, A Midwife’s Tale The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (Vintage Books, New York, 1991), p.286.


Category : Nature
Date : March 31, 2013

The New England Cottontail is becoming extinct, losing 86% of its young forest habitat in the last fifty years due to man’s development and succession forest. Ironic, on this Easter Sunday, to ponder the fact that Peter Rabbit might not be a threat to one’s garden anymore.

What would Beatrix Potter think about this? Not only did she write and illustrate captivating  books, but she also saved over 4,000 acres of land in England’s Lake District. Her sketchbooks and letters were recently on view at The Morgan Library—a feast for the eyes. Her letters to young Noel are filled with charming illustrations and one can see Peter Rabbit hopping across the page.


From the Coast to Coast Ramble in the Lake District

We need more people like Potter to save valuable land and leave it to the animals that roam.


Category : Nature
Date : March 27, 2013

As the snow unthaws and the swamps come alive, a harbinger of spring arrives.  Skunk cabbage.  The puce shoots jut from the ground.

skunk cabbage

skunk cabbage

Before the weather channel, homesteaders must have used signs to know when to trim the apple trees, when to clear away the leaves from the garden beds, when to look for the bears.  Indeed, on my morning walk, I discovered the prongs of the skunk cabbage in the swamps and late last night, I heard a black bear slurping birdseed from the feeder.

Harbingers both.

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