Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The calendar tells me that it will soon officially be summer. The thermometer says it is here and has been for a week. The refreshing chill of the morning is history, it seems. I miss needing long sleeves first thing in the morning. My world, so drab not too long ago, is now a contest of greens – each plant is trying to out-green the other. This is about as green as it gets – the end of May. It does not take long for the heat of the summer to dry things up, coat the leaves with dust and make folks grateful for their air-conditioners. I have a love/hate relationship with my air conditioner. I am grateful for the comfort it brings, but I hate to have to use it. I long for my Pocono summers and dream of the Maine island summers of my youth. I have been so fortunate to have spent my summers sampling the climates of many different areas. How lucky is that?

The desert areas of Turkey are about to go back to being deserts. They have been blooming like crazy this year, so I have been told. It is a long, long time since I lived in Turkey, a long time since I saw the beauty of the desert in the spring. Interestingly, I did not mind the dry heat at all, so different from the stifling humidity here. The normally dead looking brown earth gets covered in blankets of beautiful colors and delicious fragrances. If you have never had a bit of desert experience, you don’t know what you’ve missed. Ok, backing up – I am not talking about what my father called “the serious desert,” the sand deserts, the huge blowing, shifting dunes, but the miles and miles of “scrub or barren” land, land that looks like it would not grow anything most of the year… land with cactus, sage, the tumbling tumbleweed type of landscape. Oh, but that month in the spring, sometimes it lasts a bit longer, but that month of awesome flowering, of color, is a month of pure magic.

Here, far from the desert, the air is heavy in the morning with fragrances from so many sources. A visitor once said it felt like you had to push your way thru the sweetness in the air just to get to the car. We have magnolias in bloom, honeysuckle, and the locust trees are just finishing. Even holly trees are fragrant during most of May as they pollinate and make new holly berries. The air is also heavy with the sounds of birds, baby birds begging to be fed, parents fighting to protect their nests, robber birds like crows scouting around to steal eggs or even unguarded babies. Then there are the grackles, the noisy, noisy grackles squawking at each other in the mulberry trees, bragging about what ever grackles brag about – or perhaps they are complaining. Is that what it is? Their noise sometimes grates on my nerves; I hate to admit it.

The grass is wet with dew; strings of pearls hang from the bushes as the spiders wait for breakfast to blunder by. My shoes get soaked as I wander thru the yard in the morning looking at all the beauty around me… late peonies, irises, roses. Even the honeysuckle, a truly invasive “weed” in most cases, is beautiful in the early morning light. Delicate. Beyond fragrant.

The Mountain Laurel has been blooming. I am always amazed that it has survived another year. Friends laugh as I have brought rocks from PA to put around them to make them feel more at home. (We have NO naturally occurring rocks here on the shore. But you can now buy them at garden centers!)

The garden is coming along. The bees are having a good time with all the flowers on the squash, zucchini and cucumbers. I spotted my first cukes of the year this morning – about the size of a kosher dill. They will be ready to pick later this week. I have my first tiny tomatoes, not much bigger than a pea, but there they are. I can almost taste them. I ate my first homegrown lettuce the other day. Best salad I ever had! And we cooked MY peas for supper. I wonder why that gives me such a high!

I guess it is good that having this garden does give me a high, because the work is almost too much sometimes. But I keep in mind the fun of going out and picking enough beans for dinner. And then picking beans (or cukes, or tomatoes) to share with others. And folks covet my produce. They know I do not use any chemicals – no pesticides, ever!

This morning, when I opened the back door, can of Tuna in my hand for Punkie and Spook, I was hit with the almost over powering scent of almost summer. I had to walk out into the yard and just breathe the smells in. I thought of folks in cities who breathe in the fumes of vehicles, exhaust, garbage, that tarry smell of black top in the sun… I thought about the sounds that they hear as I listened to my birds fussing, begging, or just singing their morning songs. Are they thanking their idea of god for another day? Did someone just say thanks for the drink in the bird bath out in the yard?

Then I heard another noise… a soft leaf rustling sound and the snapping of tiny branches. I quietly walked out a bit further. There was a doe standing on her hind legs pulling a branch down from the mulberry tree, chomping down as many berries as she could while the birds fussed at her for eating all their berries – like there isn’t a whole tree full? Or maybe even several trees? The mulberry trees are so heavy with berries this year, I actually had to cut some branches off where they were hanging down into my garden. I stood there, barely breathing, glad the wind was blowing in my direction watching the doe eat when I noticed movement closer to the ground. She had her fawn with her. At first I thought it was my cat, Punkin … no wait, it WAS Punkin, oh where is my camera when I need it! Punkin sat there and watched the doe eating from the tree, the fawn eating (?) the berries that had fallen to the ground. deer

The bad news is that this year’s new supply of mosquitoes has arrived. I am SOOOOO allergic to bug bites. I hate using sprays, but I pay a huge price. Yesterday, I tried working out in the yard in long pants and a long sleeved shirt. I didn’t last very long. I had to wait until around 7 to go back and cut grass and finish my chores.

It is hard to believe that there is still over 100 inches of snow on the ground in some mountainous areas out west. From my CoCoRaHS coordinator this morning:

As of a few days ago we still had some CoCoRaHS volunteers with snow
left on the ground. Two of our stations in CA, where snowfall had been
so great that it buried residential power lines, still had over 100" of
snow remaining on the ground earlier this week. Here in Colorado we're
waiting for the warm weather to finally arrive and when it does later
this week -- look out. We have huge amounts of snow left in our
mountains -- from 25 to as much as 90 inches of snow water equivalent
(SWE) still up on the slopes in the northern portion of our state --
much, much more than usual. With the sun nearly overhead and the summer
solstice right around the corner, the snow will be melting fast (1-2" of
SWE per day when it gets warm) and the rivers surging.

Friends out in the Midwest can’t even get into their gardens – the land is just too soggy.

Here on the Shore, we are in a state of moderate drought. We don’t need the floods others have been having, but we sure could use some rain. Go figure. How is your garden growing? Still have snow? Is your garden under water? Or do you have to go out there and water every day?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Last week, my neighbor and co-author of http://www.thefrogandpenguinn.blogspot.com/, asked if anyone knew why the distance between the rails was whatever it was. He also said possums were not allowed to answer. Sigh. Maybe because this possum told him this bit of “information” some time ago, and he remembered it. Now whether it is right or wrong, or just a bit of truth or absolute fact doesn’t matter in the telling of a good story. What matters is if people REMEMBER it. Right?

The story I passed along to my neighbor was this one:

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an
exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?

Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads.

Why did the English build them like that?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did "they" use that gauge then?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?

Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old,
long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads?

Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The
roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads?

Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of
destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original
specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. And bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses. Now the twist to the story...

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets
attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass. ... and you thought being a HORSE'S ASS wasn't important!

Now there are more facts than this story mentions, and they can get very tedious, so I won’t bore you with them. But I will say this. The first time I heard any explanation about the ruts in old Roman roads was from an archeologist friend, somewhere in Italy, (or was it in Ephesus?) but she gave the credit to a team of oxen pulling carts for the wagon wheel distance – then the Roman chariot wheel spacing followed. Somehow the horse’s ass has a funnier ring than the ass of an ox. Actually, that sounds confusing, but I won’t go there, either.

Then another friend challenged me with the ‘narrow gauge’ tracks used in this country. That answer is simple, too. The smaller carts were used in mining and were pulled by a single animal, usually a mule. If you wade thru some of the histories of the early coal mines in PA, particularly the biography of Josiah White, you can learn a lot of amazing things – like the very first tracks carrying anthracite to the Lehigh River where it was then carried by barge to the southern cities- were made of wood! It took me a whole summer to wade thru that book, but it really had some fascinating information about the very early destruction of the land, as the Europeans “tamed” the wilderness in Pennsylvania, deforested miles and miles of forest, and began mining anthracite along the Lehigh and Susquehanna rivers. Interesting, but not as entertaining. The wooden rails had to be replaced constantly as the weight of the coal quickly shattered even the hardest wood.

Friday, May 20, 2011


OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT... I have not met too many people who enjoy getting broken in by a new computer. Yeah, I know what I said. The DELL desktop from 2004 finally got to the point it was just not doing what it was supposed to do, and one morning it took an hour and a half to open and respond to one email... Sooooo, I had no choice. TA DA! The new one! Yep, that is a big screen - 23 inches. It is also a touch screen - but I don't know if I will ever get used to that. I tried to remove an ant from the screen and the word yahoo no longer even fit on the screen! It took FOREVER to get the screen back to normal size.

However, a few small(!) problems. It won't accept my camera... it tells me my passwords aren't.... and so I have had to dig out the good old laptop that I hate in order to blog and post any pictures. I had promised a friend some pictures of my irises, but nothing happened... the new one sat blank - almost as bad as the old one that I have had fixed, just have not had the energy to try to hook it up. The new DELL is a 64 bit processor - most old ones are 32 bit. Oh, see the tower? No? That is because it is built in behind the screen. See the wires to the key board (a keyboard is on screen, too) NO? wireless keyboard and mouse. Is a mouse still a mouse if it has no tail? Or is this a hamster?

Anyway, here are a few of this year's irises.

And one more shot - a bad one to be sure, but it is the only one I have been able to get - this little Orchard Oriole does not hold still for long.... (this shot did not make it from one computer to the other. Rats!

OK, now lets see if this will publish!
Answer - it did, BUT, I had to go in on the new computer and respace everything. HUGE empty spaces between pictures. sigh. Nuts, weird spacing keeps coming back! Sorry.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain”

“Thinking Like a Mountain”
By Aldo Leopold

"For I have learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth,

but hearing oftentimes the still, sad music of humanity."
- William Wordsworth

“A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf. Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.
My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.
In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks. We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.
I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf's job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.
We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men."

Sunday, May 08, 2011



Each season, as I walk around my yard, I look at all the beauty out there... most of my plants came from somebody - well, half of them, anyway. As I look at this or that camellia, clump of daffodils, even some of my trees, I think about the people that gave them to me - most of those folks are gone now - but as the beauty of their loving gift lives on - they live on.  I treasure each bloom, and my heart talks to the one who gave it to me. I send them a little prayer of thanks, be they here or moved on, and pray for their peace and comfort, wherever they are, and that they may have beauty in their current or new life. DSC_1031

        peony1 This morning, my grandfather's favorite peony opened. He died in 1954. At the time, I was his only grandchild. Our house in the Poconos has a tenth of a mile of road frontage, most of it planted in now very old peony bushes, all planted by Grandpop. My dad dug this one (and a few others) and brought them here. It’s like a Memorial garden, my place. Old friends and lovers, relatives and acquaintances, former students, neighbors, are all represented in my yard. Each plant, each bloom, is a token of love.DSC_1058

Just yesterday, an old pick-up pulled in the yard, with a middle aged guy and an elderly woman. I did not know them. The gentleman apologized for bothering me… but explained how his mother always made him slow down when they drove past my place. She sat there and just grinned the biggest grin. “Mama’s eye sight ain’t what it used t’ be,” he said, “But she can still see the bright colors of yer ‘zalyers and camalyers, and, what’s them things?” he said pointing to the peonies just opening. “Funny, ain’t it how the camelyers bloom in the winter time? Mama loves to see the red ones in the snow. Made me drive out in that snow last winter just to see your bushes.” The old lady was nodding her head up and down.

“Well, I prob’ly shun’da stopped an’ bothered ye, but mama seen ya out in the yard and wanted to say Thank ye fer bringing a bit of beauty to her world.” (Ye is not part of a religious group speak – it is just part of the old Eastern Shore dialect spoken by many of the old farmers and watermen.)

“Thank ya!” the old woman said as he backed the truck back out onto the road. She waved a little wave with gnarled, tanned fingers, aged by years of hard work. I could just see those hands plucking chickens, pickin’ crabs, canning tomatoes and preserves. She would have recipes in her head for the best pickled watermelon rind, and know exactly how long to cook soft-shelled crabs. I wondered how many diapers those hands had changed and washed and hung on the line to dry. How many little shoes had she tied? How hard had her life been? But how much joy had been there also? How many children did she have? Had she had to bury any of them? And how lucky she was to have a son to take her out on a nasty winter’s day to see my red camellias in the snow, or pull in my yard to thank me for bringing a bit of beauty to the world. That is love. And that is why I work so hard out there.

But sometimes beauty comes in different packages… not always flowers. Living here in a rural area, I get to see a lot of critters people in cities just never get to see. (Although we DID have a MOOSE walk up the street in front of our house in Portland, Maine!) Some critters are all too obvious, the deer running across the road or nibbling on the shrubbery, the coons getting into the left over cat food… but, some of them are not obvious at all, just a chance sighting every now and then. Possum sightings are few, as are seeing foxes, both gray and red, but they are there. Looking up as a shadow passes over, one might see the local bald eagle or a red-tailed hawk. Looking down, there is a world of little critters, blue tailed skinks being the most obvious, and on to the tiny critters with 6 legs.

As I type this, there is an orchard oriole in the ground level birdbath. But he seems to notice any movement at the window, so the pictures come up empty. They are rare around here. Yet cardinals are common as are the bright, flashy little goldfinches that hangout in my yard. Might it be all the thistle feeders I have? Let it be said, I do not take them for granted. I do ply them with feeders filled of their favorite snacks! Of my 4 pairs of cardinals that have spent the winter here, I have found the nesting places of 3 of the couples and their babies. One family is in the huge Acuba outside the bathroom window, the other 2 families are in camellias. I am not sure about couple #4.

Once in a while, looking straight ahead holds some amazing surprises. I almost leaned my shovel against this tree trunk – caught it just in time – and came inside to grab the camera. This happy couple were fortunately still there resting on the tree trunk. Even driving by on the tractor and loading tons of mulch a couple feet away did not disturb them. But then, they are Luna moths, and they only fly around at night. DSC_1057

If you know me at all, you know how difficult it is to walk and do things, but staying as active as possible helps my serenity. Working out in the yard and having my little veggie garden “does something” for me. There is a sense of peace playing in the dirt, and a sense of comfort from being surrounded by so much beauty and the gifts from those who love and have loved me. And there is always the 4 legged company I have whenever out in the yard, the little yellow cat that rolls over to get his tummy rubbed.DSC_0681 He, too, was a gift… a gift that blew in on a hurricane, Hurricane Isabel. I wonder who loved him before I did. This is his home now, and he guards it fiercely. I don’t know for sure what happened to him to make him leave his first home all those years ago, but he, too, has found peace here.DSC_0234

Life is good.

Friday, May 06, 2011


A FRIEND (A MAN!) sent me this email this morning. He is a dear friend, a neighbor, one of the world’s GOOD GUYS. Fer real! Here is the email he sent… followed by my answer.

What I Want in a Man.......Original List

1. Handsome
2. Charming
3. Financially successful
4. A caring listener
5. Witty
6. In good shape
7. Dresses with style
8. Appreciates finer things
9. Full of thoughtful surprises
10. Loves surprising me on weekends
What  I Want in a Man, Revised List (age  32)
1. Nice looking
2. Opens car doors, holds chairs
3. Has enough money for a nice dinner
4. Listens more than talks
5. Laughs at my jokes
6. Carries bags of groceries with ease
7. Owns at least one tie
8. Appreciates a  good home-cooked meal
9. Remembers birthdays and anniversaries
10. Plans together time on weekends

What  I Want in a Man, Revised List (age  42)
1. Not too ugly
2. Doesn't drive off until I'm in the car
3. Works steady - splurges on dinner out occasionally
4. Nods head when I'm talking
5. Usually remembers punch lines of jokes
6. Is in good enough shape to rearrange the furniture
7. Wears a shirt that covers his stomach
8. Knows not to buy champagne with screw-top lids
9. Remembers to put the toilet seat down
10. Shaves most weekends
What  I Want in a Man, Revised List (age  52)
1. Keeps hair in nose and ears trimmed
2. Doesn't belch or scratch in public
3. Doesn't borrow money too often
4. Doesn't nod off to sleep when I'm venting
5. Doesn't re-tell the same joke too many times
6. Is in good enough shape to get off the couch on weekends
7. Usually wears matching socks and fresh underwear
8. Appreciates a good TV dinner
9. Remembers your name on occasion
10. Shaves some weekends
What  I Want in a Man, Revised List (age  62)
1. Doesn't scare small children
2. Remembers where bathroom is
3. Doesn't require much money for upkeep
4. Only snores lightly when asleep
5. Remembers why he's laughing
6. Is in good enough shape to stand up by himself
7. Usually wears some clothes
8. Likes soft foods
9. Remembers where he left his teeth
10. Remembers that it's the weekend
What I Want in a Man, Revised List (age  72)
1. Breathing.
2. Doesn't miss the toilet.

WELL, THAT is someone else’s list… here is my response:

AH, yes... I remember these...

But, lets see, what do I want in a man at age 67? Hmmmmmmm

  1. Has his own car. (even better, a pick-up!)
  2. Can still drive after dark (in case he wants me to be somewhere at 8 PM)
  3. Has a weed-whacker that works. (maybe a chain saw)
  4. Can still open the occasional jar.
  5. VOLUNTEERS to do little chores around my yard or to drive me places.
  6. Can carry my old Adirondack chair out to the yard in the spring and back in the fall.
  7. Yells at me when I don't ask him to help. (Imagine!)
  8. All he asks of me is to listen to him, give him a little praise (He IS a GREAT guy), show up to vote, or to take the minutes at the next meeting. (or write a check...) AND THAT IS ALL!
  9. And then he goes home to his wife who has to feed him, do his laundry, and listen to him snore at night.

I have several of these guys.

I have been so blessed!

Life is good.

If you are one of these guys mentioned above - Please know how much you are appreciated!