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.

The Red Badge Of Gardening

Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge Of Courage, a great story about a boy who comes of age and makes some discoveries about himself while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War.  The “red badge” refers to a bullet wound received during a battle.

63df9dab3e7af1dc1379ec62f02a86ebI’ve got a few red badges of my own — from gardening.  Except my red badges don’t reflect bullet wounds, thank goodness!  Instead, they spring from bug bites, nicks, rashes, scratches, welts, thorn punctures, and other minor wounds inflicted while digging in the dirt, pulling weeds, clipping off and carting off dead branches, levering out and lugging off rocks, roots, and tree stumps to clear the ground, and doing the other things that gardeners do.  Oh, yeah . . . and a decent sunburn, too.

I think gardening is fun, but it isn’t the bucolic, pastoral experience you might suppose.  Plants have defense mechanisms, and so do the insects that live on and around them.  Pesky weeds and overgrown wild rose bushes and raspberry bushes are happy to give you a scratch or two while you are removing them from their patch of ground, and Maine is home to some ferocious biting insects.  During this time of year, the biting insect brigade is led by the Maine black fly, as well as the mosquito and horse fly.  The black flies apparently can bite through the hide of a moose, so I’m an easy target.  And after suffering the indignity of a bite, you’ve got several days of itchiness to remind you that you’ve invaded the black fly’s territory.

I look at my arms and survey my backyard battle scars, and realize I’ve probably got more marks than I’ve had at any time since I was a kid and summertime was spent outside all day long.  My red badges of gardening are just the price you pay for a little outdoor activity, but boy — I could do without those maddening black flies.

Tiered Up (Cont.)

I’ve finished with my tiers project — for this weekend, at least — and am reasonably happy with the results. I created the beds, planted some spider plants I picked up at the farmers’ market from the local garden club, and replanted the ferns. Unfortunately, my efforts to replant the wild rose bushes failed. The root systems of the rose bushes are just too difficult to dig out. And speaking of digging, I successfully removed some tree stumps, too, which was satisfying.

After two solid days of yard work, I’m ready for a celebratory beer.

Buried Treasure

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  In our case, that saying is literally true.

On Sunday, when I was digging in the area between the rocks in the down yard to try to loosen the soil to plant our flowers, I came across two totally intact bottles that had been totally buried about six inches deep in the dirt.  One looked like a generic, amber liquor bottle, but the other was a clear glass bottle from the “Fairview Wine Company of Maine.”  The 4/5 quart bottle features some cool raised script lettering and depictions of grapes and grape leaves.  My limited internet research skills found some efforts to sell similar bottles on line that indicate that the bottle dates from the ’30s. 

It’s not unusual for us to find broken glass, old cans, and other debris in what we call the “down yard,” which probably was an overgrown area.  At some point somebody must have sat on the rocks, enjoyed some wine, and then just left the bottle in the crack between the rocks.  The bottle then got buried over time — only to be found 80 years later and viewed not as a commonplace item from a functioning nearby business, but as an antique curiosity from days gone by, produced by a company that apparently no longer exists.

We’ve cleaned up the bottle — the cap crumbled into dust when we tried to remove it — and put it in a place of honor on the shelves in our main room, to connect the present-day cottage to its past.  

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.  

At Quarantine’s End

Some time ago, earlier in the coronavirus crisis, Maine’s Governor imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all “non-essential” people entering the state. We’re deemed non-essential — which delivers a severe blow to my sense of self-worth, incidentally — so we’ve been complying with the order and have kept to the footprint of our little place for the last fortnight. We understand and respect why the Governor issued the order, and we want our neighbors here to see that we do. It’s important for “summer people” like us to acknowledge and abide by the sensitivities of the year-round residents.

Some time last night the quarantine period ended, so this morning I seized the opportunity and took an early walk to experience the newfound freedom and get some fresh air. It’s hard to overstate what a pleasure it is to stretch your legs and get some exercise after two weeks of being cooped up, and to see some different scenery, too. I enjoyed the flowers, the abandoned boats, the deep whiffs of harbor air, and just about everything I saw.

You can’t fully appreciate the simple pleasures of a walk until you’ve been deprived of one for days on end.