Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Turning of the Year

Tree Relatives

Outside my window
bare bones of maples
stretching in seven-degree air
the same as yesterday,
alive still
despite cold and drought,
my honored companions
standing like sentinels,
stalwart brown angels
seen through glass,
easing my spirit,
these dark days of winter.

My greenhouse is standing open and empty, gathering all the cold weather to itself. For several months it has grown me a wealth of greens: lettuce, spinach, arugula, beets, and kale, as well as the bonus of chickweed when I want a vitamin-rich volunteer. But it is important to let the greenhouse rest and get purged with deep cold for several weeks before I fill it with spring starts. So now my refrigerator is full of bulging bags of harvested greens that should last me until the end of March, and the greenhouse is exposed to Iowa cold. Already there have been several nights with single digit temperatures, and that's just what I was hoping for. Eggs from the aphids that started to get a hold in there last fall should succumb to the deep freeze.

During a warm spell in January, I planted 21 kinds of perennial medicinal seeds, plants that need a period of cold to germinate. More than a hundred large gallon pots are lined up in a sheltered place behind the garage, full of soil and an exciting variety of seeds. Some of the pots are planted with tree and shrub seeds: Elderberry, Witch Hazel, Spicebush, Hawthorne, Tree Angelica, Paw Paw, all offering valuable medicinal qualities. And then there is Agrimony (from which I hope to make one of my favorite flower remedies), Black Cohosh (such a powerful healer), Myrrh (I can't wait to see what this looks like!), Bearsfoot (a new giant plant that promises to be a good salve-making ingredient), and three kinds of Rhodiola - Scandinavian, Russian and Alps (loaded with immune boosting qualities).

I sit here with cold and snow outside and imagine some morning in April when I will go out to check on the planted pots and catch the first sprouts venturing into the sun and warm air. Patience is hard in February, letting nature take its time as the year turns toward spring.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Foggy Morning

Here's what it looked like from my front window this morning, mysterious and beautiful. It drew me outside with my camera. Even the smallest, finest fibers were coated with frost crystals, old spider webs suddenly alive with beauty, dead weed stalks taking on grace. The chickens stood quietly among the white-coated brush, the horse motionless in the mist-filled barnyard. Everything seemed in slow-motion, meditative, hushed amidst such a whitened landscape. Here are some more pictures:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February 1st - A New Calendar Page

When your life is primarily defined by the growing season, winter can be a time of waiting. But indoors begins to feel cramped and isolating by the end of January. So I am turning a page and beginning to focus again on the outdoors. The first real month of deep winter is over, and even though we have had some exceptionally mild days, thanks no doubt to climate change, the gradual lengthening of daylight hours has  not changed from one decade to the next. We are coming into a lighter season, and I am glad.

Because of a sore knee today, I could not take my usual vigorous walk on the road. Instead, I decided to slowly amble through the old pasture to the east of my house. At first it seemed drab and lifeless, the tan hummocks of dead grass and the bare tree trunks dominating the landscape. But with the slow pace, I finally began noticing things. I remember playing an environmental game, Signs of Life, with my students years ago, and this morning I was playing that game again. Although I saw no birds, insects or animals, all around me and under my feet were signs of life. First there were animal paths curving through the grass, easier to see in the winter than the summer, leading sometimes to the creek, sometimes to a hole in a fallen tree. And on these paths were piles of various scat: deer, rabbit, raccoon, and some unidentifiable scat (wildcat? beaver?). The only footprints I saw were on top of the scat, and were of raccoon and deer. There was a tuft of absolutely white fur lying on the dark earth, and nearby were the feathered remains of a bird who made someone's lunch.

As I walked through the valley beside the stream (Wapsinonoc Creek), I was surrounded by nature run wild, old fallen trees covering the ground in some places while strong giant oaks ruled the near-sky. I found that someone long ago had protected several trees by a squared off wooden fence, and these trees are thriving now, having survived the pasture years when grazing cows might have damaged their bark and branches. There is a stand of sumac at the far corner of the pasture, the dark seedheads from last fall still clinging to the branches. And several rows of hardwoods planted ten years ago are thriving, hundreds of young trees forming a riparian zone to protect the creek from run-off farming chemicals.

At the far edge of the old pasture, I turned and walked to the top of the hill, going back toward the house along the perimeter of the cornfield. Obviously the deer and raccoon like this route as well, and our tracks made a real thoroughfare across the land. On my right were big trees, low-growing brush, and nature taking its own course; on my left a harvested field with cornstalks mixed into the black earth. I had a rush of gratitude that this old pasture land has been allowed to remain as it is, unplowed, ungrazed, having a life of its own with little intrusion. These animal paths have not felt human footsteps for months. But now that I have taken inventory on this first day of February, I intend to walk there often and watch the changes manifesting as the light grows and as the end of winter finally ushers in warmer winds.