Our Lupine Seed Harvest

In Maine, we love our lupine flowers, which seem to grow everywhere — even by the side of the road, without any tending.  We have three beautiful lupines right in front of our house, and I’m interested in trying to grow lupines elsewhere on our property.  But if you want to harvest lupine seeds and grow lupines, you need to work at it.

Later in the summer, the lupine flowers are replaced by lupine seed pods, which look like hairy pea pods.  (This is not surprising, because lupines are a part of the bean family of plants.)  If you want to harvest the seeds, you need to wait until the seed pods dry out and you can hear the seeds rattling around in the pod.  Then you patiently open the pods one by one, free the seeds from the pod, drop the seeds into a storage container — in our case, a coffee cup — and then wait to plant the seeds until the end of the season.  If you plant them too early, they’ll be found and consumed by birds and the other hungry critters of Maine.  The lupine seeds then need to experience multiple weeks of cold weather before they germinate and new plants can grow.

Unfortunately, I waited too long to do the seed harvest from the plants in the front of the house.  By the time I checked them, most of the pods had already burst open and dropped their seeds — and lupine seeds are incredibly tiny and heavy, so I wasn’t going to be able to find and retrieve them from the ground.  However, I found some unopened pods, and we retrieved some additional pods from plants along the roadway.  With the help of Dr. Science and the GV Jogger, who pitched in with us and enjoyed the simple pleasures of pod opening and seed retrieval, we’ve now collected several hundred of the small black seeds, which I will try to plant this fall. 

According to the Mainers, you should try to position the lupine seeds in areas where there isn’t much competition from other plants.  In addition, lupines seem to prefer rocky soil — and we’ve got plenty of that.  I’ve got several locations in mind where I would love to see some lupine plants take root.  I’ll be hoping that some of the seeds avoid the foraging of our neighborhood birds and animals, so that next spring we’ve got a serious lupine bloom on our hands.

It Could Always Be Worse

2020 has been an exceptionally challenging year, so far, and we’ve still got nearly five full months of it to go.  But your perspective informs your view, doesn’t it?  My grandmother, for example, frequently said:  “Nothing’s so bad that couldn’t be worse, from the day you were born ’til you ride in a hearse.”  Drawing upon her wise counsel, I’ve adopted a world view that says we shouldn’t complain too much, because things could always be worse than they are.

And even in 2020, there’s no doubt that things could be worse than they are.  Much, much worse, in fact.

e0b8a5e0b8b4e0b887e0b887-2-1-copy-696x392-1Consider the plight of Lopburi, a city of 750,000 people in central Thailand.  It’s now being overrun by thousands of famished, libidinous monkeys who rampage through the city, gorging themselves on fast food, having sex on the streets, and attacking whoever stands in their way.

Interestingly, Lopburi has always been associated with the monkeys, a species called macaques.  For years, the monkeys have hung around the Khmer temple and Khmer shrine in the city, and have been fed by the locals.  And in November, the people of Lopburi put on the “Monkey Festival” to celebrate their crab-eating primate pals.

But now the monkey population has exploded.  Gangs of angry monkeys, with no fear of humans, roam through the city, taking what they want and terrifying the locals, who have barricaded themselves in their homes.  The monkeys live on a diet of sugary fast food that makes them even more unpredictable; one official made the terrifying observation that “[t]he monkeys are never hungry, just like children who eat too much KFC.”  (Anyone who has experienced a kid on a post-fast food sugar rush knows just how frightening that comment actually is.)  The number of monkey babies seen in the city indicates that an even bigger monkey population bomb may be getting ready to explode.  Police estimate that thousands of monkeys have established a base in an abandoned cinema, where they attack any human that tries to enter.  The police apparently believe that trying to disperse or deal with the monkeys is “hopeless.”

So yes, 2020 could be a lot worse than it is.  Until we open our front doors and are confronted by hundreds of ravaging angry monkeys eating cheeseburgers and eager to take a bite out of your skull, we haven’t really hit rock bottom.

The Watering Circuit

It’s been blistering hot up here.  Of course, “hot” is a relative term.  “Hot,” by Stonington standards, means any temperatures above 70 degrees, and “blistering” means the thermometer touches 80.  (Given their sensitivity to heat, I don’t know what the good people of Stonington would do if confronted by a true Midwestern or southern summer, where temperatures in the 90s and above are commonplace.  Probably, they would be grateful they live up here, nod and say ayuh, and then stolidly retreat to these rockbound shores.)

But I digress.  On the days that promise to be hot and dry, I try to give our plants a good watering.  Because of the configuration of our yard and flower beds, that means using different watering devices and following a circuit.

I begin with the beds by our front door, where I can use a hose.  We don’t have a spray nozzle, so I use the thumb-over-the-water-flow method to achieve a sprinkle, and give the beds a good dousing.  They are on the western side of the house and won’t get sun for a while, so the water will get a chance to really sink in and do some good before the day heats up.  The hose water gets very cold against my thumb and helps me to wake up, and I do the watering while I’m making coffee so I can get a hot cup of joe when the watering is done and the hose is rolled up.

The next stop on the watering circuit comes later, after I’ve taken a walk and given the ever-hungry neighborhood deer a reasonable opportunity to eat more of the down yard flowers.  Because the down yard is in deep shadow in the morning, it can wait.  There’s no hose, so I need to use a watering can that I fill to the brim in our basement sink.  I carry the can down the steps and hillside and water three areas:  next to the outside stairs, where I’ve tried to transplant a lupine and set up a little flower bed, the flowers I planted in the crack between our two big rocks and next to the creek, and finally the vegetables we got from Russell.  It usually takes three trips and helps me to get my daily stair climbing in.  I also inevitably fill my daily quotient of obscenities when I survey the damage the deer have done to the flowers in the crack between the rocks, where we’ll probably never get the black-eyed susan blossoms — they always get neatly clipped off by deer teeth just as they are ready to bloom.  As I trudge back up the hill, cursing inwardly and trying to figure out some new, actually effective way to discourage the rapacious deer, I’ve become mentally ready to face the work day.

The last step in the watering circuit comes in the early evening, where I use a different hose to water the beds in the side yard and a little tree that has always struggled.  The side yard is starting to get shade by then, and the hose water feels cool and crisp after a hot day.  Watering, with its mindless back and forth motions to try to fully cover the relevant territory, is a good way to wind down after work and let the brain wander a bit.  The side yard beds also are a bit more uplifting to water, because the yard is fenced and deer don’t bother it, so the flowers are actually blooming rather than being consumed.  At the end of the day, it’s nice to see some fruits from your labors.

That’s my hot day watering circuit.  The deer appreciate my efforts, I’m sure.

The 5 O’Clock Wake Up Call

There are a number of reasons why you would wake up at 5 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in Stonington:

(1)  It was warmer than normal last night, so you slept with the windows wide open to get some of that cool seaside air;

(2)  At 5 a.m., the pick-up trucks carrying the sternmen are racing to the piers, and some of the early moving captains have their lobster boats revved up and moving out to the open water;

(3)  With the sun peeking over the eastern horizon, the birds decide it’s a good time to call out to each other to make sure that all of the other birds in the neighborhood made it through the night okay; and

(4)  When you get up to shut the windows and look outside, you see a sunrise that looks like a painting and you decide the better course would be to enjoy it for a while.  

What Is Missing?

This is an interesting and surprising photograph I took today at Sand Beach Park. It’s surprising because something is clearly missing in this picture of three little kids playing on the rocks at the corner of the beach.

Can you see what is absent?

It’s parents, of course. The parents were about 50 yards away — close enough to keep an eye on the kids and get over there quickly in case of a mishap, but otherwise content to let the kids explore on their own and have some fun. In the current time of helicopter parents, such long-distance, trusting parenting is as rare as a handshake — and as surprising.

Of course, what these parents were doing used to be the norm. My parents let us run free in our neighborhood — and take risks, and skin our knees, and have fun, and hopefully learn something from our experiences in the process. Shockingly, we survived . . . because kids actually are pretty savvy about risks and learn quickly. That’s what childhood used to be about.

Kudos to these parents! I bet these kids thought their trip to Sand Beach Park was great fun. — more fun than if Mom and Dad were holding them tightly by the hand and telling them to stay away from the rocks.

My Morning Hills

Stonington is a town built on hills, like a San Francisco writ small.  There are hills everywhere.  In fact, you can’t walk 30 yards from our front door without encountering a hill.  But on my morning walk, two hills in particular loom large.

I’m a creature of habit, and I always take the same path on my 6:30 a.m. strolls.  I follow Main Street to reach the downtown area, then turn right to head down to the mail boat dock and the east end of the harbor — encountering a few mild hills on the way.  But after I enjoy the smell of the ocean air and sight of the boats on the water, I turn left and head up Granite Street — and I do mean “up.”

Granite Street (pictured above) is aptly named, because the Granite Street Hill is hard and brutal — like the stone that gives the street its name.  The hill rises like a massive fist from the harbor, heading directly up at a constant 45-degree angle, so abruptly that you need to lean forward into the hill to keep your balance.  The only redeeming quality of the Granite Street hill is that it is short in length.  By the time I reach the top my legs are groaning and I’m breathing hard, gulping down big mouthfuls of that seaside breeze but feeling good that the first hill is behind me.

Then it’s down a gentle slope that heads back into town, past the coffee shop and library, where the second hill challenge is found.  Pink Street (pictured below) heads north from town, past the motel cabins, and then winds to the left in a giant arc that skirts a stream that runs down to the harbor.  The slope of the Pink Street hill is blessedly more gradual than its Granite Street counterpart, but the path is much longer, running about a quarter mile, at a constant 30 degree uphill slope, past houses, lobster traps, and the old high school turned community center.  Every morning, I wonder if the Pink Street path will ever end.

Of course, it does, and when I reach the end I’m far above town and sea level, ready to head down a few more hills rising from the west end of the harbor to get back to our place.  I’ve got one last little hill to climb, just before turning onto our street, but it’s puny compared to what I’ve done already.  With Granite Street and Pink Street behind me, I’m ready to face the day. 

That Old Wooden Floor

Our kitchen up here has a hardwood floor that is likely original to the house.  It’s one of the features of our little cottage that I like the most.

A wooden floor typically tells a story.  This one certainly does, even though we can’t know all of the details.  It’s been burnished to a warm glow by the tread of thousands of footprints.  It bears some visible scars that attest to its hardiness and longevity.  You notice them when you sweep and have to adjust the broom and angle the dustpan to make sure you extricate the sweepings from those little nicks and marks.  Something was dropped long ago that left that gouge, and something was dragged to leave that scratch, but the floor carries on.  In time the fresh marks have been softened and assimilated into its appealing patina.

We know that other parts of the house were carpeted at some time or another; we pulled up some of that carpeting after we bought the place because we like the hardwood floors better.  I suspect the kitchen has always featured these same, plain floorboards, however. 

Wooden floor and carpeting have a different vibe.  Carpets are softer on the feet, and more luxurious, and reflect a decorator’s touch.  Hardwood floor are straightforward and no-nonsense.  Carpets cover things up.  When a carpet gets old and worn and discolored, it is removed and replaced.  The old story of a place is thrown out, and when the new carpet is laid a new story begins to be written — until that carpet, too, gets pulled up and discarded, and the cycle starts over again. 

The hardwood floor, meanwhile, endures.     

The Maskfog Factor

Eyeglasses and masks really don’t go together.  The masks cause warm, moist air — i.e., the air that just was exhaled from your warm, moist mouth and lungs — up onto the lenses of your glasses.  The result?  Fogged glasses, and the familiar embarrassing, blinded, stumbling sensation that the bespectacled among us really hate.

jimmyBefore anyone jumps down my throat, I’m not suggesting that fogging is a reason not to wear a mask.  Masks are a basic precaution when you’re going into an enclosed area during the global pandemic, and people should wear them in public places.

But I am saying that foggy glasses are unpleasant and a pain in the rear.  And there doesn’t seem to be a good response to the maskfog factor.  When I donned my first mask and experienced my first maskfog, I checked the internet for suggestions on how to deal with the issue.  I found pages like this one.  I tried the suggested approaches, I really did.  I pinched the nose of my mask until it felt like a binder clip on the bridge of my nose.  I tried using my glasses to “seal” my mask.  Neither of those approaches worked.  I admittedly didn’t try taping the mask down, because I don’t know how to do that, and in any case it doesn’t seem like a practical solution for the instances where you put on a mask to enter a commercial establishment and remove it when you leave the place.  And “soap and water” typically isn’t readily available in that scenario, either, unless you’re supposed to keep a supply with you at all times.

So I appeal to the glasses wearers out there.  Have you found a way to solve the maskfog dilemma?  If so, I’d definitely be interested in hearing it.

Pathfinding

My latest project is the classic definition of a “yard project.”  It is absolutely not necessary.  In fact, some people would undoubtedly consider it to be pointless “busy work.”  Life could go on quite easily without it, and no one — not the birds, or the trees, or the insects that call the down yard home, or the folks who live in the neighboring homes — would care.  But it’s something I have pictured in my head, I want to see if I can bring it to fruition, and I like having a project to work on during my leisure time.  How many “yard projects” start in that way?

Basically, the project is focused on doing something interesting and hopefully attractive with the area shown in this photo, which is at the bottom of a very steep, rocky outcropping.  The first step happened several years ago, when Russell and I chopped down the scrubby trees that had overgrown this area between the rocks.  Last year I tried to keep the remaining tree roots from sprouting new trees, and this year I’ve dug out all of the stumps and tree roots of the scrub trees — about 20 stumps and root systems in all — to create an area for some planting.  Most recently, I’ve been building stone paths that will allow us to readily reach the little garden plot where we have planted Russell’s vegetables, and in the process make some productive use of the abundant supply of rocks we’ve got around here.  The next step will be to figure out what kind of ground cover, consisting of hardy, and hopefully somewhat colorful, native plants, can be planted in the areas between the paths and on some of the rocky slopes around the areas.

Digging out the stumps was hard work that left me as dirty as an adult can reasonably get, but each day I made some progress, and each stump that was successfully removed was satisfying.  The pathbuilding was challenging, but also interesting because it involved trying to find routes for the paths that made use of the existing boulders that are found in the area and also worked around the root systems of the two large birch trees that are immediately overhead.  So, perhaps “pathfinding” is a better word for the work.  And trying to find the right rocks to fit in the right spaces has been a nice creative exercise.  

I’ve enjoyed working on my utterly gratuitous “yard project,” and at night I look down on the area, compare it to the mental image that got this whole process started in the first place, and look forward to the next step. 

The Deer Factor

During our unseasonably cool Fourth of July weekend, I noticed that many of our flowers were just getting ready to bloom.  Having planted a number of them and watered all of them, I was eager to see the splash of colorful blossoms and how the flowers looked in our setting.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.  When I left yesterday morning to take my walk, I saw a flash of a white tail in the distance and a deer bounding away through the underbrush.  And then when I checked on our flowers, I was disappointed to discover that something had neatly clipped off, and presumably happily consumed, the flower buds that were just ready to burst, leaving only the bristling stalks behind. 

I’m guessing that the deer is the culprit.  And when I checked on other flowers we’ve planted, I saw that some had also been trimmed of their tender and delectable buds — although some had been left alone.  Apparently, the deer of Stonington have discriminating tastes.  Only the flowers that are in the fenced-in part of the yard, and the thorny wild roses that grow from the rocks next to the house, were totally safe from the scourge of deer teeth.

I’ve checked into what you can do to discourage deer from eating your flowertops, and frankly the cure sounds worse than the disease.  The Better Homes and Gardens website notes that smelly things might work, at least temporarily, and suggests placing odorous objects like mothballs, fishheads, and “processed sewage” that might repel the deer.  The problem is that they would no doubt also repel us.  The other alternative is to try to create physical barriers like rigging hidden fishing lines, putting up netting or fencing, or hanging shiny objects like aluminum pie plates.  Again, this seems like it would interfere with our enjoyment of the grounds, and in any case is unworkable due to the size and nature of the area that needs to be addressed.

The last option is to go for “deer-resistant plants.”  But the BHG website page on “deer-resistant plants of the northeast” cautions: “There aren’t really any plants you can truly say are deer proof. And the animals are smart and unpredictable — so the deer in your yard may love a particular plant, but avoid it in a garden down the block.”  And it seems like planting presumably deer-resistant plants that hungry deer might decide to eat anyway isn’t going to keep them from devouring the other tasty perennials that I’ve already planted.  

So it looks like we’re stuck.  I guess I’m just going to have to start appreciating the rare beauty of denuded flowerstalks.

Coronavirus Dreams

My theory about dreams is straightforward:  while your conscious brain is sleeping, your subconscious brain is still at work, sifting through what you’ve read or heard or seen or otherwise experienced recently and trying to organize it into some kind of story — because our brains crave order and are hard-wired to try to put things into patterns.  Dreams are strange and disconnected because it’s hard to turn random incidents into a coherent story, but the subconscious brain does its best.

I think the operative plot elements of your dreams all come from the recent brain input, but ancillary characters, background settings, and other details that fill in the inevitable, yawning gaps in the story line are drawn from your vast repository of memories.  That’s why you might see a former work colleague who has been dead for years suddenly turn up, sharply etched from memory, as the boatyard attendant in a dream that involves some weird effort to take a boat to meet a friend.  And because the settings seem to be based on decades of collective memories, they tend to involve, in some murky, dream-like sense, the world of the past.

That’s why it’s interesting to me that, four months after the coronavirus hit and the world tilted on its axis, I’m starting to have dreams that have some kind of COVID-19 element.  Last night I had a dream in which one of the people in the background was wearing a blue paper coronavirus mask — certainly something that would not have been part of any dream I would have before March 2020 — and I’ve also had a dream where my dream self was troubled to see that there were discarded coronavirus masks on a roadway as I walked past.

So far, at least, I haven’t had any coronavirus embarrassment or anxiety-type dreams, where I’ve humiliatingly shown up for some important event without a mask, or in my dream I’m horribly late for something because I stupidly put off getting a mask and now I can’t find one anywhere.  I imagine it’s just a matter of time before those kinds of dreams get worked into the nightly mix.  

And that’s probably the most disturbing part of all of this.  The coronavirus period has gone on long enough to work its way into our subconscious brains.  If, like me, you still have dreams from time to time about missing an important exam — decades after your last exam ever occurred — you have to wonder:  are we going to be haunted by periodic COVID-19 dreams for the rest of our lives?  We may sincerely hope that a successful vaccine is developed, “herd immunity” is achieved, and the world returns to “normal” — but come night-time our subconscious brains may continue to give us a dose of the topsy-turvy coronavirus world of 2020 whether we like it or not.   

A Good Soaking

It’s been dry up here — so dry that even the most taciturn Mainers have actually remarked on it.  We might get the light spritz from the morning fog, or a very heavy dew, but real rain has been rare over the past weeks.

Until yesterday, that is.  Yesterday, we got one of those long, soaking rains, where the clouds seem to be especially low to the ground and just hover overhead, content to drop their watery contents onto the ground below.  It was the kind of incessant, day-long rain that knocks a few leaves from the trees and produces big puddles on rocks and gravel driveways.  And today and tomorrow we are supposed to get more of the same.  

You can’t overstate the value of a good soaking for the plants.  Watering is nice, and even essential when it has been especially dry, but it is a limited form of relief from the dryness.  The best thing about a good soak is the continuous nature of the rainfall, with the earlier rain moistening the soil and making it more receptive to the raindrops to come.  That’s why a good soak always leaves the plants looking better than a passing thunderstorm that might deposit a lot of rain that simply sluices off the hard-baked ground.  With a good soak, you know the rain is really reaching the deeper ground and plant roots.

And another good thing about a good soak is that it means there’s no need for repeatedly filling up the watering can and hauling it to those remote places that are beyond the reach of your hose.

As a kid, I hated the good soak days, which seemed to unfairly cut into summer vacation.  Now, as somebody who’s just working from home anyway and is interested in seeing some plants do well, I welcome the good soaking days.  I’ll be interested in seeing how the plants have fared when the rainfalls end and the sun comes out again.

Grow Your Own

Russell has the proverbial green thumb. He’s been growing his own vegetables up in Detroit for some time, and before we came up to Maine he gave us some plants to bring along.

We’ve replanted the vegetables into a little bed I’ve created among the rocks, with some garden soil and cow manure mixture added to the native Stonington soil to give them a kick start. I’ve been attentive to watering as do weeding, and I’m happy to report that our Detroit transplants are thriving in the cooler Maine climate and are growing like crazy. They are pretty to look at, too.

Our little garden plot includes broccoli, celery, kale, lettuce, and Brussels sprouts. We’ve already eaten some of the kale, which was quite good — but I suppose it’s natural to think that when the food is fresh and something you have grown yourself. Now, if only I liked broccoli . . . .

Our Blue Feathered Friend

Our cottage in Maine is built into a steep granite hillside that tumbles down into the western end of the Stonington Harbor.  As a result, our deck is at the treetop level of the pine trees, birch trees, and even a buckeye tree planted on the the hillside down below.

59859171-480pxThat means that we get a bird’s-eye view (pun intended) of the birds that call Greenhead peninsula home.  And because we are on a coastline, there are lots of birds, and an interesting mix of different species at that.  We get seagulls coasting in on the ocean breezes that land nimbly on our tiny chimney, cawing crows and ravens that add a touch of noise to the foggy mornings, an occasional hawk, wrens and sparrows and chimney swifts, robins forever hunting for insects and worms in the downyard area, and gray doves that like to take a dip in the waters of the little creek that runs down the hillside.

But our favorite feathered friends are the brilliant blue jays that swoop in on the updrafts and like to perch in the trees right at our deck level, so we can get a good look at them.  They are beautiful birds, with their bright blue plumage standing out from the green leaves of the trees, and instantly recognizable both for their color and for their distinctive tuft of feathers on the crown of their heads.  The blue jays move briskly from tree to tree, apparently scouting for something with their lightning quick, quirky nods and other head movements, and then they are gone in a flash of blue across the landscape.

An elevated deck that allows you to do some casual bird-watching is a nice feature at the end of a warm summer day.