A Cold May Night in Maine

Day 3 of 21

It’s been cold here today. It sleeted or snowed or something for a little bit earlier. I had to wear a coat and hat on our walk with the dogs today. Thankfully, we just have our cold-hardy vegetables in the ground, but I’m worried about my flower pots. Maybe I should bring them in. I had better.

It was a lovely day overall though. I am in love with Maine in the late spring.

When I first moved to Maine, my officemate at the university told me, when I was complaining about Maine winters, to “just wait” that the springs and summers were so beautiful that it would make the long winters worth it. I told him I thought that was just because the winters were so terrible that, by comparison, everybody thinks the springs and summers are awesome.

And then May came, and I understood.

There are apple blossoms literally everywhere, in the trees, floating across country roads, on the cars in town. The greens are so vibrant. We have so many magnificent trees here in Maine that it feels a little wild, like Maine still keeps some of its wildness and just will not be tamed by humans.

It’s beautiful here.

On our walk today, I took pictures of some of the apple and pear blossoms, and when I got home, I got this picture of Rooster under one of our pear trees that is maybe my favorite picture of him. Isn’t he so regal? He has a regal personality, and the coolest thing is that, after all of these years, he trusts me. He is like me and trusts almost no one. I rarely “show my soul.” Rooster is the same.

He also worries like me. Today, Ron was trying to cut down an infested branch in our neighbor’s tree. He was up way too high on the ladder, and I was holding it but was very scared. It was not a wise thing to be doing, and Rooster was letting Ron know. He kept clucking at him the way he does when he’s trying to tell the flock to behave better, to be safer.

I told Ron that Rooster is my people. Ron laughed and agreed. I am so glad Rooster is still here. He’s so old, but he seems determined to hang in there. I am grateful to have him.

Ruby is doing well at Day 3 of her journey. Every day, I feed her some breakfast scraps because she’s so devoted to her eggs that she won’t get up to eat and drink much. I’ll have to write more about that tomorrow, but I made her eat a little, though was not able to get her to drink. I’ll try again in the morning. I did pull her out of her crate to get her to walk around a little because I haven’t seen her off the eggs for two days. She squawked about it and went right back to her eggs, but at least she moved around a little.

PS I just have to add one more sweet Rooster story. If he hears you sneeze, he makes this worried sound and checks on you. Every_single_time.

Magic in the Maine Woods

Day 339 of 365

I have many farm stories to tell but no time to tell them tonight. I was busy being in the stories all day and now have to work very hard to get my Thursday grading completed on time.

It was a very good day overall, but I have a chicken coop story to tell for sure.

I also went for a walk with Ron in the woods while our son was in chamber group rehearsal tonight. It was lovely.

When I lived in Oregon, I walked and walked in those Oregon woods. I loved them so. I miss them so.

But, truly, there is something about the Maine woods. There’s something magical, some feeling, some force. I don’t know what it is, but I love it.

Footprints in Snow

Day 280 of 365

Over the last two years, I have been collecting photographs of footprints in snow around our little farmstead. I love seeing the footprints of all of the animals who live here with us or just come visit us and share this space with us. I admire all of these creatures.

The other day, I finally landed footprints I have been coveting–crow footprints! I decided then and there I was going to share my collection in the blog. I hope you enjoy, as these are magnificent to me!

duck prints
chicken print
squirrel prints
Great Pyrenees print (This was from Gus. I treasure this.)
deer prints
These are chicken prints (Ruby) and Blue Jay prints. The Blue Jays love to share Ruby’s food I leave for her. Aren’t those Blue Jay prints precious?
And these are crow prints! I saw these prints before I let the chickens out in the morning, and they were so big I panicked. I thought one of the chickens was out, but then I saw the crows and was so pleased!
I love these prints. These are my boot prints, and chicken footprints, and wild bird footprints–all together.

Ruby gets her way…again

270 of 365

This is Ruby tonight at bed time, all snuggled into her straw. I know she’s thinking, “I’m just gonna stay here from now on.”

Last night, I had a dream Ruby died, that she was bullied to death by the rest of the flock. I have no idea why I had that particular dream, but I have been having a variety of anxiety dreams all week. In this dream about Ruby, I went outside, and the chickens were all in the snow and had killed Ruby. Rooster was standing back watching it all, and I was like, “Rooster, why didn’t you help?” And then I woke up.

This morning, Ron and I did final rounds of prep for the chickens and ducks. He lined the walls of the duck house with straw, and I picked up any spots of chicken poop, made sure the coop was super clean and dry, and then added nearly a whole extra bale of straw. That coop was fluffy.

When I first went out to put in the food, Ruby tried to escape through the front door as she usually does in the mornings. But I wouldn’t let her out. “Not today, Ruby,” I said. “It’s too cold today.”

She tried again when I went to get the water. I stopped her with my boot, and I could tell she was quite upset over this. I figured she was just going to have to be tough today, and I dismissed my dream, deciding I could not let an anxiety dream dictate my decision making. It was hard though when I saw her try to eat and get pecked on the head by Circe, who is Ruby’s exact age but clearly above her in the pecking order. Poor Ruby is so low on that pecking order, and I just don’t know why. Some people just never fit in, I guess.

When I finished spreading and fluffing the straw, I saw a hen with her head so far in the corner I couldn’t recognize her. She had her head down so low and cornered and was trembling. When I went to pick her up, she didn’t fuss a bit, so I was surprised to find it was poor little Ruby.

I feel this is an important side story to tell: Normally, when I pick up Ruby, she acts like she is going to certainly die. She screams and fusses. I am always and forever just trying to help her or get her put up, and I know she knows me well because she will follow me around for treats. But as soon as I touch her, she acts like it is the end of the world. I feel terrible because I am sure everyone within a mile thinks I am abusing my chickens.

Today, when I picked her up from that corner, she just put her little head on my arm and went along for the ride. She didn’t make a peep.

I took her to the garage, but even the garage was cold. I had to go back out into the cold, get a dog crate, go get more straw, fill it up, and then get it into the garage between our cars. I got her fresh food, water, scratch, and even brought her cornbread several times today. Each time, the temperature in the garage seemed okay, as did Ruby. My original plan was to put her back into the coop tonight to sleep with the flock, but Ron said, “why don’t you just let her stay in the garage tonight.” And then I told him about my dream, and we agreed that Ruby could stay in the garage for a few days until this cold spell breaks. Plus, she is just finishing her molt, so she just barely has all of her feathers back.

When I went out to check on her at bedtime to make sure she was snuggled up in her straw, she was there. So content. She talked to me in a such a sweet voice. I love that chicken. I am honestly not sure how much she is playing me or if she is just a deep feeler, which makes her seem kind of dramatic. Some people just feel everything so deeply that they come across as being melodramatic. Maybe that’s just who Ruby is. Either way, she has my heart, and I am glad to give her her way.

PS Right now, it is -16 but feels like -40. When I went out to give the ducks their bedtime peas, I couldn’t get the door latched with my gloves on. So, for just a second, I took off my glove and touched the metal latch. I have apparently been frost nipped. It hurts quite a bit, but I read it will stop hurting in a day or so. I can’t believe it happened that fast. If you’re in Maine and reading this, be safe out there. Don’t take off your gloves. And stay as cozy as you can.

A Perfect Ride

Day 153 of 365

Today, we managed a bike ride in the city forest. In the past month, our schedules have been so busy that we barely have time for bike rides, but we keep managing to sneak to the forest every chance we get. I still love riding my bike. I am getting better at it, too. I don’t feel so scared I’m going to crash and die all of the time. I am definitely the weakest link in our little trio, but Ron and our son stop every time there is a turn and wait for me, so I won’t take a wrong turn. Ron, forever the motivator, tells me what a good job I am doing. Our son, so completely a teenager, sometimes seems annoyed with my slowness–but only sometimes.

Today, he seemed tired, so while Ron did an extra lap around the forest, our son stayed with me until Ron came back around to us. While Ron was making the extra lap, my son went slowly the whole time, so I could keep up. We stopped for a while and talked about the trees. We saw a magnificent rabbit. We met a little porcupine. We had a great time, and because we were traveling more slowly than usual, I stopped quite a few times to take pictures.

It was the best bike ride of my life, and I am thankful for these pictures. I hope my son will remember this day, somewhere down deep–the bike ride with his mama in the beautiful city forest with the fantastic foliage and the little rabbit and porcupine. He’ll remember that, right?

It was just this perfect afternoon being with my family and the trees. One time, we stopped in a clearing for a break, and looked up to see like 50 beautiful birds flying high, right over our heads.

“I wonder that kind of birds they are,” Ron asked.

“I think they are crows, but they are so quiet. I’m not sure.” I responded.

And, then, as soon as I finished that sentence, as if just to let me know, we heard the “caw, caw, caw.”

I love crows more than I can say.

The pines were so tall I couldn’t get their tip tops in the picture, but aren’t they magnificent?
I am not sure, but I think the trees are extra beautiful this year. Usually, there is this kind of sequencing to the colors I notice, but this year, it’s like the trees coordinated. Some of them look like they are just on fire. Oh, how I love Maine.
This is one of the back trails we often take. This is where we met the bunny and the porcupine.
More of the trail–with magnificent color. Of course, the pictures cannot do it justice. Everyone says that because it’s true.
I think I could have gotten a closer picture of the bunny, as we were being very still and quiet, but some people came up behind us fairly loudly. The bunny hopped into the trees, but this is still a pretty good picture. The bunny was so incredibly beautiful.
I wish you could see his little face better in this picture. I could see his little face so well. I loved seeing this beautiful animal because our son, who is usually such a grumpy teen, was talking so sweetly to the little porcupine. That kiddo rebels agains my hippie ways, but I can see he has some hippie in there down deep.
And this is now my favorite picture ever.
And, when we got home, we had a pear-cranberry crisp I had made while the guys were doing homeschool math today. That was a little bit of perfection too, and I will definitely share the recipe tomorrow.

Fall Colors

Day 144 of 365

Today, for the first time in more than a week, we went for a bike ride. It was so beautiful and good for me. I smiled a lot. Ron and our son rode more than I did today, so I just decided to take pictures for awhile. These are some scenes of the beautiful foliage in Belfast, Maine today. I hope you enjoy these. I loved some of the yellows.

Apples: Part II

Day 143 of 365

photo credit: Robson Melo, Unsplash

In a round about way, apples changed my life–made it better–well, helped me make it better. It was Michael Pollan’s chapter on the apple, “Desire: Sweetness / Plant: The Apple” that made me fall in love both with apples and Michael Pollan’s writing. I had always been a fan the apple. I even tried to like the poor Red Delicious growing up. But, after reading that chapter, I developed a deep respect and love for the apple.

I also started reading anything and everything that Michael Pollan wrote. Through his work, I learned a lot about our food system that I had not fully understood before. I really wanted to start eating “real food,” and that led to Ron and I starting a garden and getting chickens. We wanted to be able to grow the best, healthiest food possible, and we wanted our children to eat very well. When I went and picked up the chickens from the post office and met those little girls, I was a changed human. I have never looked back, and thankfully, Ron is truly a master gardener.

We eat well. We live fairly frugally. We work hard to live sustainably. In a way, it all started with the apple.

Today, apples symbolize all that is good to me. They symbolize a change in my life. The symbolize my move to Maine, where apples, especially heirloom apples (which are just another level of magnificent to me) are grown so abundantly. They symbolize the harvest season and the comforts of things like apple pie, apple muffins, and apple cider. I never had hot apple cider until I moved to Maine. No wonder I love Maine.

It’s really a miracle I love apples so much. I do remember loving them as a small child. We were poorer growing up and didn’t usually have fresh fruits in our home, but my mom bought a bag of apples one time when I must have been about 7 or 8. She told me not to eat too many apples while she was at work. I ate too many apples. She scolded me when she found out and told me not to eat any more apples. But that evening was Friday night, which meant it was my weekend to spend at my dad’s house. Sometimes, though I do not know why, we would go stay at my step-mom’s parents’ house instead. That was the best ever! They were so kind and like my grandparents. They were very nurturing humans; plus they had a pool! Have I mentioned I grew up in Texas? Anyway, my mom told my step grandmother, “Nana” to me, to not let me eat any more apples that day, that I would be sick.

I resented my mom for this, as I wanted more apples. And my Nana was a softie. When we got to her house, I asked her for another apple. She had these beautiful green apples on her counter. She relented, and I ate the apple with great satisfaction. A little while later, as I was so sick that I threw up in poor Nana’s bathroom. I remember thinking about my mom: How did she know? I couldn’t eat green apples for nearly ten years, and it took me about a year before I could eat the red ones again. Still, they were apples, so they eventually won me back.

I also grew up in a religion where the apple was forbidden. Ironically, as I mentioned in my Apples: Part I post, in the Biblical story, Eve just ate some random fruit until Milton made it into an apple in his epic poem. But I was always hearing about how terrible Eve was, eating that darn apple, so apples were associated with women being bad in my understanding of my religion as a child. What a tragedy. Of course, I have to tell you, that, even though I was a people pleaser when I was a kid, there was a part of me that always loved that apple because it represented the knowledge Eve was after. On more than one occasion, my questions in Sunday school led to church leaders having an “intervention” to “save my soul.” Clearly, I was asking some great questions and must have had some kind of understanding of Eve just needing to eat that apple to get that knowledge.

Thankfully, as an adult, I have learned that many other religions and cultural traditions treasure the apple like I do. In Norse mythology, there is a goddess who is the keeper of a box of apples that are eaten by the gods to give them youth when they start to grow old. How fantastic is this story? The Romans associated apples with Venus, the goddess of love. My son and I have been learning about Jewish holidays and just learned about Rosh Hashanah and the tradition of eating apples dipped in honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year. Apples and honey seems like the most magnificent tradition to me.

This weekend, we are finally going to have time to head to the apple orchard, and I am so thankful for this. We have had a tough few weeks as a little family. A trip to the apple orchard is exactly what we need, and I know my heart will be joyful.

Uncommon at the Common Ground Fair

Day 140 of 365

Tonight, I have a special blog post from a guest blogger—my husband. He has observed my process of writing every day and seems to admire my dedication. I was hoping, at some point, he would offer a guest blog or two. I have written about him often in my posts. Ron is also the poet and author from the journal, only he writes under “James,” his middle name. I’m excited to have him offer some insights into and, for the purposes of my little blog, a final word of sorts on our experiences at the Common Ground Fair. Truly, I was impressed by my husband’s ability to “people,” and to my surprise, I found he was better than I was most of the time. Ron always has a fantastic perspective on the events of our lives. I am happy to share that perspective with you for tonight’s post. 

A notable variety of surprisingly non-similar footwear—this was, in part, my Common Ground experience. Tilting at windmills—metaphorically of course—from the Farmer-ish “booth”— I use the word booth, but it felt more like a synthetic desert dweller’s pop-up in a hastily erected, gold-inspired, pseudo-nineteenth century future ghost town—I had ample opportunity to watch the passers by.

Normally, I initially glance at faces. After a time, however, I decided to start at the shoes, then, if inspired by a particularly interesting pair, pilot my gaze upward to glimpse the features that went with the feet. I was amazed at the diversity—in both features and feet. Seemingly, humans have an inherent need to distinguish themselves from the group while being simultaneously firmly ensconced in it.

photo credit: Steady Hand Co., Unsplash

It was a great circular migration. There was rain the night before and on the day we arrived to set up the 10 x 10 nylon nomad. Our Subaru navigated through sodden ground, widening puddles, endless mud, and ever-deepening ruts to get to our predesignated plot of hallowed vendor ground. The fair opened Friday morning; by Saturday morning, all of the ruts had been compacted and packed into fairly convincing pretend pavement. According to the Bangor Daily News, 60,000 people passed through the gates. The herd was relentless; its shoes were extremely effective pavers.

Where were they all going and what was leading or driving them? In some measure, I suppose, it was a seasonal migration—the Common Ground Fair being an annual event that occurs every fall, except when it doesn’t. To a certain degree, it also appeared to be a migration for food. On Saturday afternoon, I ventured from the safety of the nylon nomad for a bit and saw lines at the food vendors longer than the packed dirt avenues, which served as their arteries.

Perhaps defiance also stood as partial inspiration. 2020 rendered the ground in Unity, Maine uncommon and kept it that way for two consecutive years. Maybe this was humanity trying to take back its freedom. Even so, I did see the occasional “masker” quickly skirting the margins of the crowd. It did seem everyone I saw wearing a mask walked faster than those who were without masks, which, irrational though it may be, I understood.

I interacted or came close to interacting with maybe one percent of the 60,000. It was enough. I met some kind, friendly people—down-to-earth souls both generous and encouraging. I had some great conversations—even without sales. I discussed philosophy with professors and lawyers, farming and gardening practices with farmers and gardeners—both those experienced with as well as those new to the soil, and environmentalism with all who cared to. I heard a variety of stories—some more unusual than others.

There were lonely people who just wanted to talk; though introverted, I generally obliged them. One man claimed to have the secret to unlimited energy. After some in-depth engineering conversation bordering on late-night infomercial sales pitch—which seemed to go the entire thirty—he informed me he was just waiting for the right moment to reveal his miraculous technology so he could bring down the oil conglomeration and save the planet.

One harried-looking woman stopped by in a lull and told me she was a nomad who lived on the road and had done so for thirteen years. A couple minutes into the conversation she apologized for being sad and told me she was tired and hadn’t slept the previous night. She also told me she was a “targeted” individual, then blurted a couple hasty sentences about what being “targeted” meant, after which, she looked around worriedly and said, “I better go,” and walked quickly away.

Another girl handed me a small card as she walked by. “Some alternative information,” was all she said. This was early on the first day before the crowds formed, so I read her alternative information. I discovered Covid-19 is not contagious and not spread by individuals who have it. In fact, it is not a virus at all; rather, it is a type of radiation poisoning contracted from exposure to 5G. I thought about maybe trying to catch a few of the maskers, so I could give them and their features some freedom, but they were too fast. Instead, I walked next door to the trash tent, which was sedentary and deposited the card into the recycling bin. It seemed like a good alternative for the information.

I ate a lot of imported Canadian scones, drank a lot of well water brought from home, and put a fine edge on two of my pocket knives. Though not my customary mode, I learned I can be gregarious—maybe even charming—if needed. I learned I can sell journals, books, t-shirts, and bags—maybe not like a carney—but I do alright. And, after three long people-filled days punctuated by too short nights and, either white knuckle morning or nodding out night, drives, I also, like Dorothy, but without the benefit of red shoes, learned there really is no place like home. Though I do not regret the experience, next year, the ground in Unity likely will not be quite so common for me.

505 Blueberries Per Quart

Day 84 of 365

After my second quart, I announce “There are 505 blueberries in this quart!”

“Is that all?” Ron hollers from across the field. I don’t know why that man is never impressed. I thought he might say, “Wow! That’s amazing!” He never says things like that. I don’t know why I imagine such things in my mind.

“Yeah, well, I got lucky with some bigger blueberries early on and filled up the bottom of the quart super fast!” I holler back.

I suppose counting blueberries is what one does on a hot day in August when your kiddo, who is usually with you to complain about the heat and the wasps, is at summer camp. Today, it was just me and Ron and the heat and the blueberries that were three sizes smaller than last year. I felt a little lonely. I felt a little bored, I suppose. So I counted blueberries.

We pick blueberries at a farm that lets things be all natural. It’s in the middle of nowhere. You have to watch for bears. And they don’t/can’t water their berries. The berries we picked today were so much work, so much smaller than in years past. Apparently, our county in Maine is not officially in drought, but we are not far away from one. Ron is starting to worry about the well. But, for today, we just focused on the blueberries.

We eat a lot of blueberries all winter–in oatmeal, muffins, and I am determined to try them with quinoa this year–so we stock up on local blueberries every summer. But today’s picking was tough. The berries were so small that it took at least twice as long to fill up a quart as it did last year. I take that back, I would say three times as long.

And some of the bushes just had no berries at all. I was a little panicked at first, worried we wouldn’t get our quota of berries, which are extra important since the birds ate all of ours, though truly, our bushes did not make a lot of berries this year either. But I found a few generous bushes. I was so thankful to them as I picked. Sometimes, I just said it out loud to myself as I plucked the berries. “Thank you for this one and this one and this one. Oh, and especially this big one.”

I also learned to follow the wasps to the good berries, though not too closely. I have been stung before. Miraculously, though I had a few close calls, I did not get sting today.

Somehow, we managed to pick ten quarts, which will go a long way toward our quota but will not quite make it for us. I have a friend who sells wild blueberries though, so I am going to write to her and see if she has any boxes of the wild ones left. My fingers are crossed.

Just as I was about to start my last quart, an older couple (of course, I realize as I write this that my husband and I are pretty much an “older couple”) pulled up next to the car as I was heading toward the car to leave a quart in the trunk and pick up one more empty carton. They were kind.

“Did you leave us any berries?” the man asked. I told him it was a tough year, but I told him the spots that were better. His wife was disappointed.

“It’s the lack of rain,” I said. “It’s been a tough year.”

“And I guess they can’t water way out here,” she said.

“Right, right,” I said.

“Last year, the berries were jumping into our cartons,” the man said.

“I know. It’s a lot more work this year, but they’re there.” We all reminisced about last year’s berries. Last year, we started the growing season short on water. It was looking like another drought, but then the rains came and came and came. We had so much rain late last year, after begging the rain gods for it for months, that we had carrots rot in the ground from all of the water. The blueberries loved it though. Oh, how I wish for that rain again.

Every single day, Ron checks the weather hoping for rain. Every single day, he complains it’s not coming.

Right as we had to go pick up our son from camp, I came upon two great bushes of berries. As we walked toward the car, I saw the woman.

“Right here, there are two great bushes with good berries, kind of middle of this row and then another right across from it,” I told her.

“Thank you! I’ll check it out,” she said.

When you just need some nature…

Day 65 of 365

All this week, I have been taking our son to a small town on the coast of Maine for music camp. The little town is beautiful and so very coastal Maine. There are gift shops and little outdoor restaurants and a fantastic bakery. But it’s very busy because, of course, it’s peak tourist season here in Maine, and there’s a lot of traffic.

I decided this morning that, one way or another, I was walking down the road until I found some nature. I couldn’t believe how much I missed nature after just three days away from home.

So I started walking, and I walked and walked and walked. Every time I thought I found a spot on the water, I would see a “private property” sign. Sigh. This is the one thing I think I love least about Maine–the coast is very much owned by the very much wealthy. I lived in Oregon for six years, and I was spoiled by the coast there. It’s all public land. You can just walk up to the water any place you like.

But I learned a long time ago that, if you just keep looking, you can find a little bit of public land here in Maine. I made it about a mile and half when I saw it–a park with loads of beautiful flowers and a view of the water! There were flowers and butterflies everywhere. It was magnificent.

Then, I saw the water. I made my way to a bench overlooking the water, took my shoes off, put my feet in the grass, and just soaked it all in. I love going barefoot in the grass. I have such dirty feet all summer because I just have to walk around and have my feet touching the Earth.

I read that there is something to do this, that there really is some benefit to people, maybe some more than others, to connect directly to the Earth like that. I am definitely an empath and have no doubt that I am one of those people who needs feet on the Earth. I swear, the grass on my feet while I sat and looked out at the water felt like little bit of heaven.

I love Maine in the summer. It makes you work a little bit sometimes, but my goodness, it’s so worth it.