New Beds In The Downyard

It was a glorious weekend in Stonington, with sunshine and temperatures in the low 60s — perfect weather for yard work and gardening.  We seized the opportunity to do some gardening work in the down yard that we’ve been wanting to do for some time. 

Our outdoor work began on Saturday, with some weeding and clean-up work in the areas that we were going to tackle, followed by a trip to the Mainescape garden store in Blue Hill.  We donned our masks, headed into the store’s extensive outside plant display areas, and were immediately overwhelmed with the choices. 

As Kish aptly observed, for a novice like us, going to a garden store is like a non-gearhead going to buy a car.  You’ve got only the most superficial sense of what you want, without any real insight into which options would best serve your needs.  Mainescape takes a decidedly low-key approach, so we spent a lot of time wandering around looking at the potted plants and trying to figure out which ones would work best in the spaces we identified for some new beds. 

We had decided, in advance, that we wanted to get perennials, rather than annuals, and would try to focus on hardy native plants that would be best suited to surviving the rugged Maine weather.  We settled on some Goldsturm black eyed susans, some purple Phlox — which has to be the greatest name for a flower, ever — some Husker red beardtongue (also a great, and curiously evocative, name for a flower), which is supposed to produce a tall array of small white flowers, and a white lupine.  There’s lots of green in the down yard already, between the grass and the ferns and the shrubs and the trees, so we figured white, purple, and yellow would stand out well.  We also bought some gardening soil and cow manure mixture to provide the most welcome setting possible for the new plants.

Yesterday was spent spreading the garden soil and cow manure and doing the planting.  Between carrying bags of soil and manure and then lugging and repositioning rocks to outline the new flower beds and also display some of the rocks we dug out of our yard — not to mention lots of stooping and digging — gardening gives you a pretty good workout.  It’s also a fun, creative outlet, as you figure out which flowers to put where and also think about whether you can add some little flourishes to make your garden areas special.

For me, a big part of the whole gardening experience is trying to make the garden and flower beds fit into your intended space in a natural way.  I admire the Japanese approach of trying to make your garden an extension of nature and the natural, physical surroundings.  In the down yard, the principal physical characteristic is rock — lots and lots of rocks, large and small.  Using rocks as a key feature of the flower beds therefore wasn’t a difficult decision.

I decided to use some of our rocks to edge the new flower beds, but also use the beds to frame and display some of the more interesting granite rocks we’ve found in the yard, in terms of their different shapes — like the round rocks shown in the photo above — and their different and often striking colors and patterns.  The whiter rocks show up very well against the green grass and provide a nice contrast with the black garden soil. 

I also like symmetry, so we positioned the plants we put into the crack between the two gigantic granite rocks so that the flowers would be a kind of mirror image from the middle out, with the two tall beardtongues in the middle, one of the phloxes to each side of the beardtongues, and then the black eyed susans at the two ends of the bed.  We’re hoping that we’ll be able to enjoy the mix of colors and the symmetry when we look at this particular flower bed from the vantage point of our deck.

It was a full weekend of yard work and gardening.  I endured a lot of bug bites, but it was a lot of fun and quite satisfying, too.  I’ve posted some before and after photos of two of the areas to give an idea of what we did.  Now, we’ll need to work on watering.  

F and F vs. S and S

If you’re ever going to visit Maine during the summer, especially if you’re going to head up north of the southern coastal areas, plan on checking your smartphone weather app regularly.

5e217fada5253478210383b5395ca68d-thermometer-vintage-sIn fact, plan on consciously rooting for specific weather developments — like increases in the daily high and low temperatures — even though you are well aware that puny humans have no ability to change the weather that’s heading your way.  You’ll be hoping to see temperatures in the sixties and seventies (S and S) rather than temperatures in the forties and fifties (F and F).

You would think that, by the middle of June, the F and F squad would have been chased off the field, but you would be wrong.  Even now, when the Midwest is getting slapped with temperatures that are in the upper 80s and even hitting 90, the low temperatures in Stonington on many days stubbornly remain in the 40s, and it’s a desperate, furious battle to get the high temperature out of the 50s.  Even now, looking at the weather app and its forecast for the next 10 days, we still see only one day where the high temperature is in the upper 60s.  (Brace yourself: a week from tomorrow the temperature is supposed to reach a scalding 66.)  And days in the 70s in June in Stonington are apparently as rare as hen’s teeth.

It’s weird to pay so much attention to your weather app, but there’s a significant difference between temperatures in the 40s and 50s versus 60s and 70s.  In the 40s and 50s, you’re still donning coats and sweaters.  When you reach the upper 60s and — God forbid! — the 70s, the air has that sultry, summer feel that is simply absent when the F and F squad is in command.

None of this is a surprise.  In fact, many people come to Maine specifically to escape the broiling summer heat — and Maine doesn’t disappoint in that regard.  The temperature will warm up, and we’ll be in the toasty 70s when the rest of the country is groaning about the intense heat.  It will be nice to the S and S team prevail.

A World Very Far Away

It’s been foggy the last few days.  This morning the fog is so thick that the rising sun is about as bright as a street lamp looming over the harbor, as the picture above shows.  When it comes to fog, Maine could give Sherlock Holmes’ London a run for its money.

As this morning’s sun shows, fog is a natural shield of sorts.  It obviously blocks your view of things that, on a clear day, you could see distinctly, and narrows your universe to the small realm that you can see.  It swallows and engulfs sound, too.  Sound waves fight to get through the legions of water droplets in the air, then just give up and fade away.  The silence of a foggy day is about as silent as the busy modern world can get.  Your ears will search diligently for any scrap of noise, simply not believing that it can be so quiet.  Even the sharp barking of a neighbor’s dog become muffled and softened.

It’s odd to be encased in fog as the country slowly emerges from a global pandemic.  On a foggy Maine hilltop, the coronavirus, and the harms and divisions it has caused, seem very far away.

Last Of The 30s

It’s obviously stupid and pointless to get mad about the weather, because there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it.  We’re human, though, and we just can’t help ourselves, can we?

max-min-font-b-vintage-b-font-brass-font-b-thermometer-b-font-multifunctional-humidity-hygrometerI try not to let the weather bother me, and appreciate the crispness of a cold morning.  But when the cold morning is temperatures in the 30s in May, such that people have to put throw rugs and garbage bags and towels over their planters and window boxes to avoid the untimely demise of their flowers due to freezing temperatures, I admit that it does bug me a little.

Today, though, I celebrate.  Today, I will glory in yet another in an interminable series of unseasonably cold, clear spring mornings.  I will bundle up and don my oft-used stocking cap and gloves.  I will walk with head held high, breathe in deep gulps of frigid air, and note, again, how the chill tends to sharpen the smells as I clean up after Betty on our walk.

Because today is the last of the 30s temperature days.  It’s 34 right now, and once the thermometer rises past 40 we won’t see the 30s again for months.  In fact, the weather apps suggest that we’re going to pretty much go straight from November weather to mid-June, with temperatures getting up into the 80s by next week.

We know it’s silly to let the weather get to us, but since it’s part of the human condition, why not embrace that fact?  If you live in the Midwest, join me!  Take this opportunity to celebrate the turn and the final, long-overdue departure of the 30s temperatures.  Let’s give them a really good send-off, bid them a happy adieu, and let them know that we want them to stay away for a long, long time.

Thinking Beach Thoughts

It’s a ridiculous 39 degrees as I prepare to take my walk this morning. It was cold and blustery yesterday, and it’s supposed to be cold through this weekend. It’s kind of a dirty trick to combine working at home and sheltering in place with an unseasonably cold spring.

So today, I’m going to do my part to warm things up — at least mentally — and think beach thoughts. And when it warms up, as it inevitably will, I’ll gladly accept at least partial credit.

In Or Out?

I grew up as one of five kids in a family that lived in a house without air conditioning.  When the summer months came, my siblings and I would race in and out of the house repeatedly, through a battered screen door that would burst open and then close with a loud metallic bang.

After hearing the screen door knocked open and then clatter shut in hinge-rattling fashion for one dozen, two dozen, or one hundred times, my mother — normally the most mild-mannered person you can imagine — would say, with a decided exasperation in her voice:  “Bob!  In or out?”  That meant that you had to either come inside and stay inside, or go outside and stay outside, period.  A line in the sand had been drawn.  You could no longer have a foot in the inside camp and a foot in the outside camp.  A decision had to be made, and you had to stick with it or run the risk of Mom’s wrath — and no one wanted to risk that.

snow_tulip3_nga

This year, I’d like to ask spring:  “In or out?”

In 2020, we’ve had the most yo-yo spring I can remember.  We’ve had beautiful days where the temperature has touched the 70s, including one glorious day where I dared to wear shorts and expose my bone-white legs to the appalled world.  But for each really nice day, there have been multiple brutally cold ones.  Like, say, today, where the temperature as I prepare to take my walk this morning is a bracing 27 degrees and I’ll be bundling up like a contestant in the Iditarod.  And yesterday, as the temperature plunged downward again, it actually snowed, which was a decidedly unwelcome sight.  Few things are more dispiriting than an accumulation of snowflakes on brightly colored tulips.

Spring is normally a fickle season, but this spring has been ridiculous.  And the rank indecision has been particularly unfair this year, where countless cooped up people are yearning to get out of their houses and really experience balmy spring weather in their backyards and neighborhood parks as a much-needed break from shelter-in-place restrictions.  But spring, bless its capricious heart, can’t make up its mind on whether to arrive for good.  It comes, and goes, and makes a cameo appearance, and then flees like a prisoner on a jailbreak.  And I’ve had enough, already.

So, spring!  In or out?

A Spring Bonus

Sometimes the coronavirus social distancing rules can work in your favor. On this morning’s walk, to avoid an approaching cluster of walkers, joggers, and people with a baby carriage, I veered right rather than left, as I normally would, and was treated to this pretty tree, in full flower, with the Stars and Stripes in the background.

Spring is a gorgeous time in German Village, with lots of flowering trees, tulips, daffodils, and other brightly colored blooms in sidewalk gardens, and a perfume-like fragrance in the air. it’s a great time to get out of your house and walk — while strictly maintaining that six-foot buffer zone, of course.

Spring Break 2020

Our spring break destination this year is pretty sweet. It’s got a nice patio, a fire pit and supply of firewood, a cool sculpture, and a brightly colored umbrella to shade us from any sun that might appear. According to the proprietor, you’re permitted to take a beer or glass of wine out there, too.

Spring break 2020 is going to be the best spring break yet!

Certain Spring

Spring is taking its time this year, arriving at an amble and not at a sprint. Although there is still a decided chill to the air, you can see certain signs of spring if you look carefully. Green shoots and soon to burst petals can be found in many of the sidewalk flower beds.

But our welcome floral friends aren’t the only indicators that spring is upon us. Spring is traditionally a time for cleaning, so discard traffic is also an indicator — like this impressively dead Christmas tree a neighbor put out yesterday. It’s the brownest, deadest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen, and looks like it would burst into flame at the slightest suggestion of heat.

If Christmas is finally over, and spring cleaning impulses are at work, can spring — warm, bright, glorious spring — be far behind?

Lion/Lamb

My grandmother used to say that the month of March would come “in like a lamb and out like a lion” or, alternatively, come “in like a lion and out like a lamb.”

clements-20181003-lion-and-lambThe idea was that you could predict the end of March — unpredictable, blustery, weird, perverse March — by looking at the weather at the beginning of the month.  If it was cold and dismal when the calendar page turned to March, you could count on a nice end to the month; but if it was warm and pleasant on March 1, March was certain to jump up and bite you in the behind with some crappy, cold, snowy, “oh-no-will-spring-never-get here?” weather come March 31.

This March 1 morning it was a very brisk 22 degrees, with a stiff breeze driving down the wind chill even lower, when I took Betty for a walk.  I’d say by any measure that means that March has come in like a roaring lion, and we can look forward to some warm, meek, lamb-like spring weather in a few weeks.

The lamb/lion issue raises the issue of your choice.  After the traditionally dismal, gray month of February, would you rather get a respite from the gloomy chill with a brief period of warm weather come March 1, knowing that you will inevitably be hammered with some more cold weather in the near future, or would you rather batten down the hatches, deal with the ongoing cold on March 1, and feel warmed by the prospect that spring will be here to stay in short order?

Me, I’m a lion/lamb kind of person, rather than a lamb/lion type.  Of course, that’s assuming that my grandmother was right in her saying.  I feel confident that that is so, because grandmothers are never wrong.

Weather (App) Envy

In Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan wrote:  “You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows.”

65a72fb0c878e2aa7a8bf93b385b6a9aIf The Voice of His Generation were writing that song in today’s smartphone era, he would have said you don’t need a weather app, either.  You can always stick your hand out the window to see if its raining, or open the door and receive an arctic blast to assess just how freaking cold it is.  And if you live in Columbus, Ohio in the winter months, you don’t really need to check the weather at all — you can just presume that it’s in the 30s, totally overcast, and drizzling a “wintry mix,” and you’ll be right more than 90 percent of the time.

I’m convinced that the real use of weather apps isn’t checking the weather or getting the forecast for your present location.  If that were the case, the apps would just trigger a GPS function, determine where you are, and then tell you the weather . . . but that’s not how they work.  Instead, you can input lots of different locations.  And therein lies the true purpose of weather apps.  They’re not an electronic Wally Kinnan the Weather Man, they’re designed to allow you to provoke your sense of weather envy and then adjust your reaction to the weather in your area by comparing it to other locations.

Check your phone’s weather app, and see how many locations are currently shown on it.  My app has about eight, so if I go to the app home page I immediately get a smorgasbord of different weather realities.  I can see that it’s a lot warmer in Florida, Texas and Arizona, and if I really want to torture myself I can click on one of the locations and get appalling details about just how bright and sunny and warm it is in comparison to damp, cold, gray Columbus.  And then I’ll inevitably go in the opposite direction and see just how cold it is up in Stonington, with maybe a brisk wind blowing in off the bay and some leaden, snow-laden fog to chill the bones even more, which helps to get me back to a state of reluctant Columbus weather acceptance.  And once I’ve achieved an acceptable weather equilibrium, I’m ready to bundle up and face the music.

It works in the opposite direction in the summer, of course.  If it’s hot and sticky and miserable here, it’s always going to be hotter and even more miserable in Florida or Texas — while in Stonington the weather is a delightful 76 degrees with lots of sunshine.

The real purpose of weather apps is to tell you that the weather is always better somewhere else.

Looking Colder Than It Feels

St. Mary Catholic Church in German Village installed a new “Peace Garden” area along Third Street when it underwent renovation work recently.  Among the items in the Peace Garden is a statue of a seated lady waiting patiently on a bench.  According to the plaque at her feet, it’s a representation of Mrs. Plank, who I suspect was a faithful member of the congregation.

I pass St. Mary every morning on my walk, and I really like the Peace Garden and the statue — except on winter days when it snows.  Because when it snows, as it has for the past few days, the placid Mrs. Plank becomes utterly snow-covered, and seeing her in that condition always makes the snowy day feel a few degrees colder.  Brrrr!  I want to help Mrs. Plank up so she could shed that blanket of snow, brush off her snowbound pillbox hat, and go someplace warm.  Heck, I’d even spring for a cup of coffee at the Starbuck’s next door.

Hitting The Double Nickel

There’s a reason the nuns in The Sound Of Music sang that Maria was “unpredictable as weather.” The only thing predictable about Midwestern winters is that they are gray, wet, and cold — but the precise combination of those qualities varies.

Every once in a while, however, the fates align and a flukey day happens — like today. Sunny, and a high of 55? It’s a day to sit outside and bank some of that warmth and sunshine before tomorrow’s gray chill closes in.

Indoor Day

Today will be a quintessential indoor day. It’s 33 degrees outside, freezing rain has coated the steps and trees and bushes in the backyard, like the one shown above, in a coat of wet, dripping ice, and a hard rain is still pelting down under flat gray skies — and is supposed to continue all day. It’s the kind of day when walking on frozen brick is especially treacherous, when an umbrella will quickly become heavy with ice, and you’re likely to find yourself taking an unwelcome pratfall that leaves you bruised and soaked.

So why risk the elements? Why not accept nature’s wintry verdict, do a few chores inside, and find a good book to read or a TV show to binge watch? Sometimes surviving the bleakness of winter requires acceptance — and savvy avoidance.