Tag Archives: spring

End of Quarantine, Spring Re-Opening

Spring has now arrived with full force, and it matters not if human-kind has re-opened or not, the world of wildlife is ready for business. Oscar, the largest of the resident snapping turtles, returned to the lake in our back yard this week to spend the summer as he always has. He comes up the driveway in the muddy ditch line, then crosses the side yard and climbs up and over the bank around the water. It’s only by luck that we ever witness this silent quest, and in our 20+ years here, we’ve caught the crossing maybe three or four times. I believe the local goslings are perhaps now big enough to avoid becoming his dinner, but that remains to be seen. The parental geese still are keeping the young ones off the water for the most part, so perhaps all eight young (five from one nest, three from another) will survive the season.

Some who read this column will remember that our last hen went missing in December as we were visiting family in Virginia. Winter is not a good time to start chickens, but the moment the quarantine hit, I ordered more hens. Nothing like a pandemic to make you feel like you need your own supply of eggs. I know some people order chicks by the hundred, but I selected four hens of select breeds and paid extra for them to be sent at 6 weeks of age. I’ve named them Sassy (Buff Orpington), Lacey (Silver-lace Wyandot), Coco (Easter Egger), and Simone (Australorp). Frank has been working to increase the fortitude of our chicken pen against ground and sky predators. We also purchased a battery back-up for our automatic chicken door, having realized that there are enough power outages here to skew the timer on the door and cost chicken lives.

Our beehive caught us off guard this week, producing three swarms in three days. Two swarms gathered low in a raspberry thicket along the garden fence and were captured. The third swarm took to the air and very quickly moved across the field, around the barn, and off into the wilds of Bear Fork. Keeping bees is more challenging even than keeping chickens. Some predators and diseases can wipe out a hive in just a few hours, and the warm-cold-warm-cold tendencies of West Virginia early springs can be tough on a hive. We thought we had lost our last hive in March, but now we have three hives in place again.

We are starting the garden late this year, but I have peas and lettuce in pots on the porches and have been harvesting asparagus for a few weeks now. Once “serious” gardeners who worked from home, we now do the best we can in the spring and wish the garden luck. Our jobs prevent us from winning most of the battles against weeds and invasive insects, and typically by late July, we have lost the war. As long as we get to have a few tomato sandwiches, I’m happy. I notice the asparagus patch is thinner this year, and also that my patch of chives is thin this season as well. Perhaps the winter was too wet? Either way, I will attempt to place some new plants in each of the patches. We love asparagus, and I am accustomed to constantly harvesting fresh chives throughout the growing season.

A deer came through one night and nipped the buds off of most of my Asiatic lilies, my most prized and beautiful spring blossoms. I typically spray them with a mixture of dish soap and water a few times in the spring (along with my hostas) but I got sidetracked by other quarantine projects and was too late. I will have to be satisfied with the more fragrant blossoms of the peonies which will bloom soon, but the sweetness of their flowers draw ants, and I have to shake out the insects before bringing cut blossoms inside to place in a vase.

I am glad to have these diversions from national and worldwide current events. The chickens do not care if I’m wearing a mask, and the bees are not out to murder or infect anyone. Even seeing the snapping turtle, Oscar, as grouchy as he is, was like a reunion with an old friend. I can sit and watch the chicks for hours, mesmerized, like watching a fire, a lava lamp, or a fish tank. I’m so grateful to be in rural West Virginia, especially now. I feel protected from “the outside world” here, and the world outside my door offers entertainment, distractions, and opportunities for restoration and calm.

Next week, the world re-opens even more, to a new normal, a world that requires safety measures and sanitization. But today, this weekend with the sun shining warmly on my shoulders, it feels so good to get my hands in the soil, to scrub afterward to wash away poison ivy oil and not some infectious disease. I can almost feel my body absorbing Vitamin D from the sun, my immune system building a defense against the stressors of life. Somehow, I find myself believing that everything, at some point, will be all right.

Normantown News – March Week 4

Frank and I have now been home and off work for two weeks. Early in the second week, I started taking naps in the afternoon around three o’clock, that time of day when I get drowsy. On my third day of napping, I slept until almost 8 p.m., and now my sleep schedule is all wonky. I get up at my usual time, nap in the afternoons, and then I’m up again until one or two in the morning. About the same time the napping started, I lost track of what day it is. Not that it really matters, since I have nowhere to go.

I am so grateful that this quarantine hit during a time when the weather permits comfortable time outdoors. I have cleared all the flower beds and the herb beds, and Frank brought out and serviced the riding mower. I’ve been spending more and more time sitting on the back porch overlooking the lake. This is my Zen time, my calming space… My reprieve from the world, the news, the life that happens inside the house.

Spring is the return of light. In my heart, I celebrate the time change more than any other holiday. Suddenly time makes sense again, and the days adorn their evening accessories for the season. Evening walks are no longer dim adventures in the darkness, morning sunrises include sun rays that shine from the hilltops down into the valley. The gray of winter is gone, and I am glad. The coronavirus was confirmed in West Virginia the day before spring’s official arrival. COVID-19 may have dampened spring plans for humankind, but the West Virginia hills are unaffected and are bursting forth with life and color.

Spring is the return of sound. The peepers sing first, a nice change from the winter cawing of crows. Then slowly, different bird songs sing out to join them. Robins, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, thrushes, finches. Somehow, I feel as though I can breathe better when the birds are singing. The birds bring activity back to the hills, flitting from hither to yon. I know the sound of the finch landing on the rim of the gutter, of the blackbird fluttering into the air to snatch a bug in flight. I know the sound of a duck coming in for a landing, the splash of their successful set-down upon the water.

Wild ducks come and go on the water all winter, and the geese joined them for a few weeks, until the regular pair chose their nesting spot on the island. After that, the spring turf wars began, and all geese but those two are forbidden at this body of water. The pair doesn’t mind the presence of the ducks, or the gray heron, the kingfisher, or the muskrats. But if another goose tries to stop by for a visit? Oh, the ruckus. Frank and I have observed this spring rite now for 21 years.

Spring is the return of color. My forsythia bushes are just glorious this year. They’re like botanical suns glowing at each end of the porch. The undergrowth in the forest glows light green at the base of the trees all in various stages of budding. After a day of rain, the hayfields were suddenly green again, no longer that faded beige they wear during winter. I see hues of pink here and there on the hillsides and in my yard—the redbud getting ready in the woods, the quince blooming along the fence.

The lake out back is a stopping point for white egrets on their spring migration, and two of them appeared two days ago. Their stark white was such a contrast to the background that their presence in the scenery as I passed the back door window stopped me in my tracks. Their purity almost glowed. The same day, I read about egret sightings on the Ohio River, and in Tucker County. The pair stayed for one afternoon, and moved on. In previous years, they have stayed up to a week. I have not seen Mr. Holiday, the eagle, in weeks but I have seen a hawk fishing—dive bombing the water like the kingfisher, from the branches of the ancient hickory tree on the far edge of the water.

My daffodils are blooming, daylilies and what I call Easter lilies are all up and growing, the hostas are peeking through and the sedum looks strong and steady. When I take Daisy (beagle) and Dandelion (yellow tabby) for our walks, I make sure to stop and check on the asparagus patch. A peeking sprout today could be a harvestable stalk tomorrow.

A friend and I recently discussed how painful and unfair it can be that life goes on following tragic events. We’re given no time to recover, no time to grieve, process, and adapt to the drastic change. But at the same time, how comforting that when the world of humankind screeches to a halt (individually or worldwide), the redbud will keep on blooming. Egrets continue to migrate, geese continue to nest and lay eggs. The robins and finches are not social distancing, the hawk is not afraid. How blessed we are to be quarantined amongst the spring beauty of these West Virginia hills.

Social distancing does not mean “stay inside.” Unlike those in urban areas, we have the space to wander and walk. This year, spring seems especially magnificent. Don’t let current events cause you to miss it.

While all other events have been canceled at this time, the Food Pantry at Normantown Historical Community Center will still be held the 2nd Friday of April. They are working on the guidelines for doing the pantry on April 10, which will include traffic control, taped boxes, etc. If you aren’t aware, the National Guard is helping Mountaineer Food Bank continue serving these community food banks, and how thankful everyone is for their assistance in keeping folks safe and fed. Keep an eye out for the new guidelines. Last month’s pantry fed 87 families with 217 people included in those families.

Vendors who paid for tables for the to-be-rescheduled Spring Vendor Event at NHCC will have their payments returned to them. Donkey Basketball has been rescheduled for

Thanks to Rose Beall for the freezer moved to NHCC, and thanks to George Rose for purchasing another freezer and refrigerator. Donations to NHCC can be made online at https://nhccwv.com/donation, or mailed to: NHCC, 3031 Hackers Creek Road, Jane Lew 26378, c/o Margaret.

If you have any 25267 area news you would like to share with community readers or any personal messages you want shared in local media, by Sunday morning for the upcoming week, send an email to hayesminney@gmail.com or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132. I also have a seasonal email newsletter that includes links to this column online. You can subscribe at tinyurl.com/two-2020.

The Sounds of Spring

(Published in the May 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

Oh, how I enjoy the sounds of spring. After months of winter silence that was interrupted only by the rumble of traffic or the caw of crows, the cacophony of spring is truly a celebration of song. First, of course, the spring peepers started. Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are tan or brown with a dark cross that roughly forms an X on their back (thus the Latin name crucifer, meaning cross-bearer).

I cannot see the frogs, much less their x, without my glasses on, but no one can miss their insistent peeps. Just a few at first, those who awaken too early, the ones who are subdued by the early spring nights that dipped below freezing. Then, as evening temperatures warmed, more and more join the spring call, until their voices are beyond counting, beyond the individual, morphed into an amphibious chorus that lasts all night long. Here, beside the lake, the peepers get so loud they could keep you up at night. For me though, the sound is so soothing, they help me fall right to sleep.

Then, the ducks return. Wood Ducks, Mallards, Bufflehead, Coots, Mergansers. They have little to say during the day, too busy diving and dipping and puttering about. But when they gather on the lake around dusk, zip-lining from the sky to the darkening water’s surface, their coos are comforting, yearning, soulful, and serene. Once they return, I begin timing my days so I can wander out onto the back porch at dusk, just to eavesdrop on their conversations and enjoy. Languishing calls in the darkness from one feathered family member to another, coddling calls that seem like sounds of settling, of ruffling off the trials of the day.

German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “A birdsong can even, for a moment, make the whole world into a sky within us, because we feel that the bird does not distinguish between its heart and the world’s.” On the porch glider in the dark, listening to the quibbling ducks, I feel I am a part of their conversation, unable to distinguish between their hearts, the world’s, and my own.

The Canada Geese calls are different. Their honks are loud, caustic, annoying. They argue and fight with great frequency, especially when they gather on the water at night. They WILL keep you awake at night, fussing and shouting at each other. Chattering. By the time the matriarch of the flock sets her nest on the island, the bull frogs are out of hibernation and add their bass barking to the blend of the spring music. Their voices push from their throats against the water into the sunlight of the day, into the stillness of the night. Pushing, throbbing, again and again, seeking their mates for the season. Next, the turkeys start mating in the fields, their sporadic gobbles echoing through the valley intermittently throughout the day.

And as if these sounds weren’t enough, come May, the spring birdsong truly flourishes. We are in a prime location-near water, in the fields, but not far from the edge of the woods. I celebrate the return of each spring bird as thought my friends: the robin, the bluebirds, the red-winged blackbirds. The woodpeckers (red-headed and red-bellied), the American Bittern, the Belted Kingfisher. Shrike, nuthatches, killdeer, titmice.

I sat down one afternoon to simply listen to the song of the catbird, and am always listening for the seldom-heard call of the Bob White or the Whippoorwill. Rumi, Persian poet and Sufi master, once wrote, “Birdsong brings relief to my longing. I am just as ecstatic as they are, but with nothing to say.” For me I feel I have too much to say, but cannot find the words. Birds don’t need words; they have their songs.

The birdsong at my friend’s house in the forest is made up of different songs. The towhee, the vireo, the thrush. She learned the birds and their songs as she grew up here in West Virginia, and she knows them well. I have my grandfather’s binoculars, a field guide to birds, the lessons she has taught me, and I try to spy the singers in order to match them in my book. Slowly I learn the birds who tweet, those who warble, those who chit, those who sing.

The last to arrive are the ones who hum, the hummingbirds who come to dive into my iris and spring lilies. They rest briefly in the sassafras tree, shimmering green and aquamarine. As long as I have flowers blooming in my gardens continuously all summer, I have no need to put out a feeder. The hummingbirds visit all season long.

Autumn, I think, is West Virginia’s most beautiful time of year visually, but Spring is the most lovely, musically.

Buzzing will come and carry us through summer. The buzzing of wood boring bees, determined to hollow out the beams of our back porch roof. The buzzing of flies, of gnats, of mowers and weed-eaters. The buzzing of fans, air conditioners, the rumbling of tractors and tillers, the rip-roaring of ATVs. But, for now the world is filled with song, glorious music, from brisk mornings into the earthy night. I lie in the lounge chair on the porch in the evenings and just listen, remembering to be still, to be grateful, to breathe.

Food from the Farm

Spring has arrived, and daily checks are now required at the chicken house, the asparagus bed, the shiitake shack. I have spent way too much time indoors this winter (as I do every winter), and feeling the sun on my skin, the wind on my face, is so wonderful.

I also have lettuce planted, tiny sprouts that still need protection.

Our favorite way to fix the mushrooms is to saute’ them in butter, and with the asparagus, a quick saute’ then a drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar, and we’re good to go.  I found a recipe for mushroom and asparagus quiche’ I will be trying soon.

The forsythia is in bloom, and the tulips will open soon. They were rescues, thrown over a hill after their first year of bloom. I’m happy to report they will bloom again this year, though not in as pristine gardens as they had their first year.

The world around us is coming back to life, and indoor time is over.

Garden Dreaming In Spite of Spring Snow

Some people plant according to the moon, some plant in raised beds, some in rows. Some people garden with a plan, others garden by the season.

Frank and I garden by the seat of our pants.

This will be our fourth year garden. We’re still trying to find some kind of groove, some kind of system. We have our little planting guides and calendars, and we try to keep close — but weather, schedules, spring colds, seed availability — all work against it.  We still have that “throw it in the soil and see what happens” approach.

But for the past three years, we’ve been improving our soil. Loads and loads of sand mixed with our red clay for the carrot, radish and beet beds. Loads of horse manure for the hot beds, loads of rotten leaves for the main beds.

We’ve also perfected (and expanded) the fence. The first year we made adjustments for deer, last year we battled a rabbit. This year, the challenge so far, before much has even sprouted, is keeping the chickens out.

We’ve also gotten a little more experienced with tomato stakes and cages, and this year I was happy to find some heirloom “bush” varieties after last year’s tomato vine takeover. (Determinate varieties grow bushy, then work on producing fruit. Indeterminate varieties — the vine just keeps growing, and growing, and growing.)

This year, we start the season with enough hose to reach from the spigot to the far end of the garden, and enough jars to put up six months’ worth of tomato creations & green beans. Apparently, you can never have enough jars.

We learned to label our seed trays, because even though you think you can recognize a plant, when you have nine different varieties of tomato, you really need to be specific. We’ve learned to give seed trays 16 hours of light and only 8 hours of dark, and we’ve learned to fend of dampening by watering the just planted trays one time with Chamomile tea.

It seems each year, our expectations get even higher. It could be that we’ve become addicted to gardening.

We feel confident enough to try some new things this year; eggplant, more annual herbs, broccoli. We have high hopes. Even more tomatoes, more beans, more peppers than last year — and last year, I felt buried in them.

But this year, we hope to establish our outdoor canning area, where jars can be cold packed and hot bathed in a washtub over an open fire, and much of the mess of cleaning the harvest can be kept outside, closer to the compost pile, and where the chickens can help themselves to unintentional spills.

This year, I face vegetable processing season with my beloved Squeezo, vintage, all metal, that I got for a heck of a deal on ebay. Oh the hours I would have saved if I had only purchased one sooner. With a Squeezo (aka Victorio Strainer) you can juice tomatoes whole, make applesauce from whole boiled apples. No seeding, no peeling. And, if you get a good one, you can hook the cordless drill up to it and don’t have to crank by hand. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

The more we garden, the more we know. The more we know, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more we have to share and eat! At some point, I’m sure we’ll over do it. I thought we’d reached that point last fall, but it’s hard to remember that feeling in the spring. When Frank first told me he was expanding the garden plot again, I thought he was crazy. But that’s before I came across those eggplant and acorn squash seeds.

This year, we planted early crops early (perhaps too early) because we’ve seen how peas hate heat. We’ve planned for two rounds of short season crops instead of just one. We understand the potential of a winter garden now that we’ve seen how forgotten potatoes and carrots fare over winter.

Perhaps this spring snow was what we needed to hold us back until the time is right, to keep us from sowing too far, too fast. Perhaps the spring snow is what we needed to kill the larvae, bugs and other soil dwelling critters who were turned up when we played in the garden during those warm days weeks ago. I hope so.

I do have this strong feeling though, that when this snow melts, and this chill passes, it will have been winter’s last hoorah. Spring will then arrive in full force, quickly feeling more like summer. It’s just a week, just a few days away.

Surely, just a few days away.

The Peepers Always Freeze Twice

One of the biggest cues that winter is ending is the emergence of the Spring Peepers. When you have a lake in your back yard, sometimes they can be so loud they make it hard to fall asleep at night. Most folks, when they hear that first “peep,” they think that spring has sprung.

But I know — the peepers always freeze twice.

It’s been about a month since we heard the first peep around here, and two weeks ago, there was a spread of snow. Then, we had warm days with rain, hail, thunder — all a small taste of spring. I planted seeds, inside and out. The hens began laying again. Crocus bloomed, forsythia bloomed, daffodils bloomed.

But last night the peepers were silent, and this morning — there’s snow.

As much as I would like to think we’d be delivering the April issue along sunny roadways with the windows down, I realize that’s not the weather predicted for the upcoming week. And though the Vernal Equinox has passed, I know the loading docks at the printer in Parkersburg tomorrow will feel as windy and cold as pick up in January.

<sigh>

The new T-shirts I ordered for Frank and I to wear on delivery sport our logos and a new promotion arrived yesterday. Looks like they’ll be pulled on over thermal shirts and hidden beneath coats all week. Bummer.

The arrival of spring is a month filled with disappointments — because once we start seeing the signs, we have higher expectations of sunshine, warm breezes and open-toed shoes. But I have learned not to get my hopes too high, and to leave the electric blanket on the bed.

I may switch from snow boots to rubber boots for yard work, but I know to keep the wool socks handy.

I clip daffodil blossoms and forsythia branches, and bring them inside to put in water.

Because the peepers always freeze twice.

Don’t Tread on Wet, Tilled Soil

Even as early as February, back-yard gardens across the country are being worked. Beds are cleared, disked, tilled. Hot beds are seeded. Fences are mended, turned up rocks are removed, and the garden is set to go.

And then spring rains come.

Just about the time those seeds you planted too early start sprouting, you can’t step foot in the garden. That fertile soil that we just tilled at 8-12 inches deep is now a layer of mud of the same thickness. One step inside the fence, and you’re likely to loose your rubber boots. (Kiss those garden clogs goodbye.)

So, while it rains, we stand at the eastern windows and peek out at the garden, waiting. Waiting for the rain to stop, waiting for Spring to get here, waiting for a harvest that’s weeks or months away.

When the rain breaks, we walk around the outside of the fence, peeking at tiny sprouts breaking through, marking each puddle within the boundaries as low spots in the garden.

Even after the rain stops, the waiting continues. The ground is saturated and sticky, and until it dries, anything that comes in contact with it will compact it hard as a rock, or carry it out of the garden, across the yard, into the tool shed, into the house.

Things are growing out there; in the garden, in the rain. Things I want to see, watch, nurture and talk to. (Things I want to eat.) But a garden, more than most projects, teaches patience. You cannot make the rain stop, the ground dry, the seed germinate and grow.

And so, on this rainy day, we stand at the eastern windows and wait.

Spring Snuck In

Never mind the calendar, or the true season. As far as I’m concerned, Spring arrived last night.

Yesterday hit temperatures warm enough to throw open the doors and let the air through the house. I went outside, and mulched an entire flower bed with a composted sawdust/horse poop mixture.

I saw the crocus fronds, and the barely showing tips of the daffodil.

And then, last night when I was letting Jazzy out, I heard it.

“Peep?”

The first spring peeper. for the first hour, he was talking to himself, and then another.

Now I realize, spring peepers always get their little butts frozen at least once each spring – but this morning, the crocus bloomed, and the lake was alive again.

Eight deer grazed in the field above the water which, frozen the day before, now rippled and two wood ducks bobbed upon its face. Two herons stood majestically upon the island, and the annual goose-couple had already chosen this year’s nesting site.

Yes, spring snuck in last night, and most folks won’t accept it until the 20th, but tonight, there will be thunder, and I’ll know, spring snuck in.