Friday, September 9, 2016

Sick Of This Hot-and-Dry Summer

Drooping leaves of my Shasta viburnum.
See those leaves up there? They look more like clothes drying on the line. They look how I feel: defeated. August came and went with barely an inch of rain and a whole lot of 90-degree days. We're now well into September and rarely have we seen even a cloud in the sky.

The average high for this day in Chattanooga? Mid-80s. I could handle mid-80s. Hell, I'd have a bonfire to celebrate mid-80s. But today? Back up to 91 -- again. Wait, hold on: The digital thermometer just hit 92. And that's up here on the mountain; Chattanooga runs about 5-8 degrees warmer. Poor Mom, down in the valley -- with her TWO air conditioners!

I have about a half-acre of landscaping that I must water by hand. In a normal year, Chattanooga's annual rainfall of 54 inches makes it all wet pretty easy. But not this year. I've only lost one thing so far, unless you count my sanity. Every morning and night, I must water two of the yard's six sections. Drag hose, turn on generator to top up well, turn off generator when the tank is full. About 6 minutes later, I'm out of water and back at the generator. In the winter, a tankful of water will last us 24 hours. In this drought, we must fill that tank maybe seven or eight times a day. At least it keeps on filling; we've heard some folks' wells are drying up.

The routine gets old. I'm getting old. Good god, when will we get rain? The forecast says maybe next Wednesday. Or maybe not.

The grass crunches under my feet. Like I'm back in Minnesota, except it's not the ice crunching. It's just the grass, dying off into dormacy. I don't water the grass; this ain't no suburb.

A few days ago Mason and I worked all day digging ditches on the side of our road for water drainage management. So if it does ever rain again, we'll hopefully watch rivers of runoff on either side of the drive, rather than right down the middle, which tore up our road last winter.

Yesterday I worked again all day in the heat, dethatching the lawn to get ready for overseeding. I'm paying for it today. I'm listless. As listless as those viburnum leaves up there. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sticky August Eve

Just some photos from a sticky August evening...

The front garden is finally coming together... Just give me a few more years.

This Japanese Forest Grass has been a real success, even during our dry spells.

Remember all those annual seeds I planted? The deer ate most of them...

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hummingbirds Are Bitches

My begonias, which I overwintered inside last winter. Love 'em!
When the humidity is on a mission to match the summer heat, we spend hours simply marveling at the unbearableness of it all. And when we get tired of that, we turn on NPR to hear the latest in the Presidential Election From Hell. It doesn't take long to tire of that nonsense. So the final source of entertainment on Flat Top in August is watching our hummingbirds. And lemme tell you, if you think presidential elections are vicious, you should watch hummingbirds in action.

We have your basic red-and-yellow feeder hanging from the underside of the upper deck, so I can watch these amazing birds whenever I cook. (Which is three times a day, if not more if you count pesto-making and tomato roasting, but I digress.) We have a staple of about six hummingbirds who frequent our sugary waters -- one day I swear there were at least 10 of them --  and apparently there is a clear pecking order in the hummingbird world of who has a right to belly-up to the feeder. The problem is that every bird seems to think that she or he is at the top of the pecking order and we witness fierce, ugly battles among the birds as they dive-bomb one another and chase each other away from the feeder.

Crappy photo quality, but ...
Then there's this one bird, let's call her Miss Bitchy, that hangs out in a dwarf tree I have planted nearby. Whenever a rival lands on the feeder, Miss Bitchy buzzes over and chases the rival off.  Or when two rivals chase one another away from the feeder, Miss Bitchy swoops in to get a good long uninterrupted drink.

Maybe it's because I grew up in L.A., but I never knew hummingbirds' true nature. It's worse than human nature, I tell ya! And the hummingbirds do this all day long. And we waste hours, OK maybe just many minutes at a time, watching them. Yes, this is what our lives have come to.

OK, we HAVE been busy doing a few other things, too. Mason has been up to his eyeballs in car repairs. The sunroof died on the Jeep, and because it died in an unlocked position, he had to do something about it. So off for a 2-hour ride to the junkyard, then a 6-hour operation where Mason had to completely dismantle the Jeep's headliner to install the new/used sunroof. The day that got fixed, the driver side window motor died. Then the passenger side window fell into the door. Mason's chores never end.

How cool are these Calypso dry beans? Can't wait to eat them!
Me? The dry bush bean harvest has begun. My Juliet tomato bush continues to produce. I'm up to my eyeballs in squash, and squash bugs. Two dozen jalapenos are awaiting pickling. And the fall seeds have been sown.

Nick? He loves that we've been running the ceiling fan all day long.

Spores on the underside of my new fern, a Japanese holly fern that the deer supposedly won't eat.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Produce and Sweat

My tomato ripening table has overflowed.
Our goal on Flat Top these days is staying cool, or at least properly timing our sweatier activities. But for the most part, any activity is sweaty. Too much information? Let's just say. ... Nope, anything I say will be too much information. Let's just confirm that it's been damn hot here.

The vegetable garden has officially won the race to wear me out. After the first few batches of pickles, the cucumbers got away from me. So far, I'm staying on top of the tomatoes and basil. The highlight so far was yesterday's homemade pizza, with kick-ass homemade sauce from my Juliet paste tomatoes and a few Black Krim thrown in for kicks. The Yukon Gold potatoes are like buried treasure; I love digging them up! I've also been a pesto machine; I freeze it and enjoy it all winter. And tomato salads of every kind -- for me, not Mason, of course. Tonight, though, Mason will get a debut of my first attempt at salsa. I expect great accolades!

Mason has been busy rebuilding the front porch, which was slowly rotting away. And now he's tackling the upper deck off the loft. If it involves a saw, he's pretty damn productive. He's also tackling Robert Caro's latest LBJ book, so there are lots of afternoons on the porch. (I just finished Robert Gates' memoir; now onto lighter fare ...)

Meanwhile, my main task every day has been watering. Watering. Watering. And watering some more. (Oh, and pissing and moaning about the deer, which have been exceptionally pesky this summer.) But the past few days have finally brought some relief from our extreme drought. Just now, we had a hell of a storm that dropped 2 inches of rain in about an hour.

What 2 inches in one hour look like.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dog Days of Not Quite Summer

Sometimes, just before sunset, the whole forest glows in a wash of gold. I took this at 9 p.m.

It's become an almost embarrassing routine up here on Flat Top: Water plants, eat breakfast, do dishes, make bed, walk dog, take on the Project of the Day. Lunch, dishes, upstairs to read. OK maybe nap a bit. Then back to the projects till 6 p.m., when we walk Nick again. Shower, dinner, dishes and feet up with a cold beer. OK, maybe the cold beer starts a bit earlier. Never underestimate the value of a cold beer in the shower.

Don't judge too harshly. He was a labor of love.
The latest project was building a 5-foot-tall, moss-stuffed bear. He sits outside the guestroom, welcoming all who come see our corner of the world. As soon as I put his head on, I had great regret that my silly little project was just a bit too over the top. Then he grew on me, so he's here to stay, assuming he can weather the storms.

We broke up the routine the other day just slightly, adding a 3-foot-long rattlesnake to spice things up. I was watering the bear-adjacent plants, back and forth, back and forth over my little wooden "bridge" on my mulched pathway when I noticed something under the bridge. Yup. Mr. Rattler was curled up underneath, and we suspect he was taking a nap with a full belly, because he hardly moved when we gently removed the bridge and shot his ass. We also suspect he had a full belly, because our neighborhood chipmunk who lived nearby has not been seen since. A few days earlier, Mason and I had watched that chipmunk for at least an hour as he ran out to the bird feeder, stuffed his cheeks, and hopped back to his bear-adjacent hole in the ground. It was hot out and watching him for a good hour was the highlight of our day. Damn snake!

Native azalea Gregory Bald.
Well look at that. It's time for that second walk. Nick's staring at me with intent. Not sure where he hides his watch, but that boy knows the schedule. It's a grueling routine, but someone's gotta do it.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Farewell to a Fine Friend

We didn't let her see the sign that said "Cash for Junk Cars."
Pretty certain I saw some glistening in Mason's eyes today when we had to say goodbye to an old friend. Our 1992 Dodge truck hadn't run at all for a month or so. Last week, Mason made one last effort to rescue her, but it failed. So we made the call. On the bright side, we scored $200 for our pain and suffering. So, cheers, old truck! You had a very, very productive 10-year run with us. I suspect we won't replace you anytime soon, unless someone's got a really good deal for us.

In other news, after an exceptionally dry spring, it finally rained here today. All afternoon. Yup, you saw it coming: another nap! When I woke up, I whipped up some homemade beer cheese soup that could break all records for fat content.

I'm still not making any new friends, am I?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Just Hanging

The clematis finally took off this year. Yippee!
 So, over the weekend, we invited my former garden nursery colleagues to brave a full-moon bonfire in the backwoods of Flat Top. Three came. Three really cool people, who brought two more suckers, who are really cool people, too. And we had a lovely time.

While here, one asked us: So how do we spend our days? Under the influence of a few homebrews, I'm not sure I answered properly. But I can't tell you how easy it is to be a bum.

Today, for example: Lie in bed for a hour or so in the morning, reading the news on the smartphone and listening to NPR.  Then, homemade pancakes and breakfast tacos with spinach from the garden. Wash dishes, water the veggie garden and new grass-seed patches. Walk the dog. Then I launched into weeding the veggie garden, while Mason began all the prep work for bottling beer. Then we bottled beer. Made lunch, ate lunch and did lunch dishes. Hmmm, kinda tired by then, so up to the loft to lie down with a book and maybe, OK, yes, catch a little nap. Then it's up again to do some garden pruning and hand-watering plants with collected rainwater, while Mason worked on the tractor motor. Then Dog Walk No. 2, on which we brought loppers and trimmed up some of the trees leaning into our walking paths and roadway. Hot shower, "Jeopardy" -- don't call us at 7:30-8 p.m. -- then make dinner.

See? And we just repeat it the next day, and the next ...  Hmm, I'm not making any new friends with this post, am I?

A Scarlett Something Itoh peony. I need to write these names down.
I'm working on building a 6-foot bear like I had in Minnesota. It's a work in progress. Need more moss.