Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Keeping civilization alive

The day after Donald Trump's election, I could barely speak. I am not exaggerating for effect here. I was numb, shocked to my core. I didn't turn on the TV, didn't read, didn't listen to anything on the radio. I just came to a standstill.

As I sat quietly and reflected on what had just occurred, I made some decisions. There are things I can control and there are things I cannot control. 

I have made a vow to do better, to be better, to fill my head with better stuff. 

In this regard, I intend to seek out more beauty, more art, more knowledge, better music, to be more generous, kinder, more useful. I have decided to work at doing my part to keep civilization alive.

So this past Monday, I drove down to Union College in Schenectady for a talk at the Nott Memorial. The lecture by Robin Wall Kimmerer was about culturally significant plants of the Adirondack region and renewing a respectful relationship with the natural world. 

The Nott Memorial is a very appealing space in which to hold an event like this. The sound system was great, the chairs comfortable, the free refreshments were delightful, the audience was attentive and respectful. Thank you, Union College and its Kelly Adirondack Center, for this free event. It was a lovely evening. In fact, it was downright ... civilized. I will go again.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Light in Winter

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. 

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This Friday, I will be leaving my home in Saratoga County to drive south to Washington, DC. I will be travelling with a group from church and we will be participating in the Women's March on Saturday, January 21. I hope to take a lot of photos and to share my experiences at the march on this blog when we return.

Wish me luck and a peaceful experience, please.

Thank you.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Black and white and red all over

Yesterday, Saturday, was a pretty low-key day for me. Still nursing a sore knee and the tail end of a cold I feel I have had forever, I decided to just plain take a day off. The most ambitious things I did were to refill the bird feeders and to walk down the driveway to get the mail. 

Although the temperature wasn't so terribly low for this time of year and for this neck of the woods, the feel of the day was sharp, damp, and chilling. I enjoyed making some exotic hot tea with the aid of my new infuser. I didn't used to drink much tea and when I did, I just used grocery store tea bags.  This loose tea was fun. The interesting flavor helps to fend off snack attacks in the late afternoon.

When I went outside to fill the feeders, I saw a large raptor-like bird fly slowly in and settle on a tree near the edge of our woods (see photo # 4). We are used to seeing red-tailed hawks come around, looking for careless rabbits or slow-moving mourning doves, but I was pretty sure this wasn't one of those. I quickly snapped a photo but the bird was really too far away to get a good look. By the time I grabbed my binoculars, it had moved on. After checking the bird guides, I am pretty certain it was a goshawk.  It is interesting to see a new-to-me bird. I just hope he doesn't prey on the smaller birds I lure here with feed all winter. I enjoy the life and color they bring to the back yard. Throughout the winter, we will have regular visits from about twenty varieties of birds. 

In my experience, there are two types of knitters: those who knit socks and those who don't. I am not yet sure which category I will end up in. I knit a pair of socks a couple of years ago and they came out a bit funky and misshapen. But I had bought some sock yarn on sale back then and still have an ample supply. So, I thought I would try it again. Alas, these socks are not going all that well, either. But for now, I will keep plugging along. Maybe I will eventually figure out how to get a more pleasing result.

Happy January to you. I hope you are keeping warm and happily busy, indoors or out.

Not required reading, but here below is a list of the 17 birds that I saw in our yard yesterday, January 7, 2017:

Finches: gold, house, and purple
Woodpeckers: Northern flicker, downy, and red-bellied

tufted titmouse
blue jay
mourning dove
slate-colored junco
Carolina wren
White-throated sparrow



Saturday, December 17, 2016

No such thing as bad weather: Showing off my northern woodswoman skills

My plans for this morning were somewhat altered by the weather, which brought us a good bit of snowfall and warnings about possible freezing rain to come. So we stuck close to home and and waited for the snow to let up.

 I decided to make some homemade bread, since we happened to be out of any store-bought. I had planned to buy some at the farmers market, but that was off the agenda for today.  I fished around in the cupboards and came up with everything I needed and got down to it.

By the time I had the dough mixed up and set to rise, the snow had let up a bit and the Handsome Husband went out to start snow-blowing the driveway out in front.

So, with an hour to kill while the dough was rising, I grabbed my beloved Sorel boots to go out back and start shoveling the deck there. 

 I liked Sorel boots better when they were actually made in Canada, but I am pretty sure they aren't made there anymore. Still, they are good toasty boots. They have thick felt liners that are awesome in cold weather. They work so well in this part of the world that they make me think of that expression: There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. 

Which got me wondering who first said that. It turns out that it is a bit of folk wisdom from either Sweden or Norway. No one seems to know for sure. In both languages, the word for "clothes" rhymes with the word for "weather".

Swedish: Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder.

Norwegian Bokmål: Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær.

So I guess it works as a little rhyming ditty of wisdom in either language.

Anyway, I did my share of shoveling (with very warm, dry feet) and then wielded the roof rake to clear snow from that pesky overhang that is prone to ice dams.

And by then, it was time to bake the risen bread. 

I am pretty proud of my north country winter survival skills. Who needs a Florida condo when you can have an hour of useful exercise in the bracing winter air and then come inside to warm, yeasty bread, right from the oven.

PS The recipe for this whole wheat bread came from my late former mother-in-law, Marjorie Machell (for whom my granddaughter is named.) Marge got the recipe from her Home Bureau days. I don't know if Home Bureau chapters still exist, but they were great for teaching all kinds of useful skills. It was kind of like 4H or Girl Scouts for adult women. We should bring this back. When the entire world's cyber systems collapse, knowing how to bake bread will come in handy.

PPS and update:  
My friend Gretchen emailed this picture of the Home Bureau Creed. Gretchen tells me that her street had an active Home Bureau in the 70's and 80's. I, too, remember belonging to a Home Bureau chapter in Warren County, NY, for a brief time in the early 1980's. It really is too bad that Home Bureau has faded away. Their meetings were both fun and useful. Thank you, Gretchen, for the photo. 


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Good weather for reading and knitting

The weather here in upstate New York has been typically November-ish: lots of gray, sometimes cold, sometimes wet. In between, when it's bright, we dash out to squeeze in a woods walk. My Handsome Husband is a more faithful walker than I and does not let the weather deter him. I need to toughen up or it is going to feel like a much longer winter.

While I am indoors, knitting regains its appeal at this time of year. We are blessed to have a gas fireplace, where a simple click! produces a pleasant warmth to sit near.

I have been trying to use up some yarn from my out-of-control stash. I had a bunch of miscellaneous cotton yarn, leftover from this and that. I turned to a favorite source, Mason-Dixon Knitting, for inspiration. They have lots of easy ideas that can work as stash-busters.

I adapted their idea for "Absorba, The Great Bathmat" , but did an even simpler version.

 I just cast on about 80 stitches, held the cotton yarn doubled, and knit simple garter stitches until I ran out of cotton yarn.  I used a size 10.5 circular needle, knitting back and forth, not in the round. Poof! Four-plus balls of cotton yarn are gone from the stash and a usable, if not very elegant, bathmat has been created.

Next up: finishing some other projects on the needles:  a hat for myself and ...

...this sweater I started (ahem) last year.

Because I am linking up with Small Things yarn along today, where bloggers share what they are knitting and reading, I am adding a little about recent and current books here, too. I just finished Lila, which I enjoyed very much. It's the third in a Marilynne Robinson trilogy that includes Home and Gilead.

I have just started Purity and continue to pick my way through The Old Ways.

Having time to knit and read indoors while staying cozy on dreary days are very nice perks of being retired.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thursday's walk through Malta woods, while there still are some.

I once thought that I had a pretty good accumulation of knowledge about the woods of the Northeast. I certainly played in them as a child, and enjoyed hiking and occasionally camping in them as an adult. 

But a few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet and link up with a venerable group of experts who call themselves the Thursday Naturalists (or TNs, for short). Ed Miller, who recently turned 92, still leads this group most Thursdays. Spending time in the outdoors with Ed and folks like Jackie Donnelly and her friend Sue is always a joy, as they are able to share so much collective knowledge. Ruth Schottman was not with us on this particular outing, but she is one of the founders of this group and a learned lady who has amassed decades of woodland knowledge. 

Our outing this day was a woodland trail along the Ballston Creek. The trail starts at the back of a playground area in Malta's Shenantaha Creek Park, off Eastline Road, and runs roughly parallel to the Malta section of Saratoga County's Zim Smith Trail

Ed pointed out lots of native yews, " ... all low enough to have survived browsing (it is deer candy)".

We saw evergreen woodferns, like this one, an intermediate fern.

While so much looks brown in the November woods, there is always a surprising amount of color when you look for it. I like the pale green of this lichen.

Along the creek, this tree was well-decorated for the season with turkey tail fungus.

The colors are so rich and earthy. It is easy to see where it gets its common name.

Someone pointed out this tree stump and how it looks like an eerie human hand.

Some of the under-story shrubs had caught falling pine needles, making them look purposely decorated, as if with nature's tinsel.

We speculated about the habit of native shadblow shrubs putting out tiny leaves at this time of year. Is it hope? Is it an attempt to gather just a tad more energy for the winter, now that the shade of the tree canopy is gone?
Here and there, we saw lots of yellow jelly mold fungus, spots of impossibly bright yellow.

I looked for one of my favorite winter woodland plants, partridgeberry, but didn't find any in fruit. We did find this wintergreen with some fruits, however.

The real surprise Thursday was finding this spotted salamander. Although they are supposedly common, I have never seen one in the woods before. We wondered why this one was out and about on this chilly morning. It was alive and moving, but we wondered why it wasn't hibernating. This one looked healthy; it was about six inches long. What disturbed it?

Native witch hazel was in bloom, as it should be at this time of year. 

There is something wonderful about old stone walls in the woods. They make one think of Robert Frost.

There is so much to appreciate and learn from a walk in the woods at any time of the year. I am so grateful to open space advocates who work to preserve such places for public use.

The Town of Malta is growing rapidly, which I guess was inevitable. First the Northway, Interstate Route 87, was built straight through it several decades ago. Then the powers-that-be brought in a computer chip plant. What did we think was going to happen here? Development is what happened, is STILL happening.

Two recent headlines in the Albany Business Review tell the continuing tale:

 Apartment developer preparing to buy 16 acres in Malta 

 ~ Real estate developer acquires 71 acres in Malta

I hope that elected officials and open space advocates at both the Saratoga County level and in the Town of Malta will start to recognize that creating more parks and trails and preserving open space through PDRs (purchase of development rights) is an urgent priority. I worry that we're quickly running out of time. And space.