Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Winter Doldrums

Semi-evergreen leaves of my new tree: a Mountain Gordlinia called Sweet Tea.

We struggle in winter. After the easy routine of breakfast, we falter. We walk from window to window, looking for inspiration for the day. We watch the birds pick through our seed offerings. We scan the woods for deer. We strain to see the sun, shuffle over to the battery gauge, then shuffle back to a window. I put down the smartphone after scanning every fresh recipe I find; Mason picks it up for every fresh Trump news he can rant about. We bump into one another nestling up to the woodstove. If it weren't for Nick demanding his twice-daily walks, we would likely go days without leaving the warmth of our little cabin.

We struggle in Winter, and it's hardly been winter here yet. Today we hit 61 degrees. It was a gray 61 degrees, but still, how can we complain? We mustered the energy to play outside for a few hours. I planted a new tree and replanted a mess of tangled irises that deer had yanked out of the dirt before realizing they weren't tasty. Mason changed the propane generator's spark plug; that thing eats spark plugs.

But after lunch, the sky turned grayer still, and we couldn't pull our ourselves outside again. We fell back into winter habits; we went upstairs to read. Then nap. Then procrastinate about going back outside.

We will regret it, because it's 60 degrees out. And the real cold is coming later this week. Snow may even fall. How far will we fall then? More books, more naps, more recipes and rants.  I'm not sure how much more we can take.

Last year, Spring started sometime in February. In between our shuffling, we keep that happy thought.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Tears on the Mountain (And Black Helicopters)

Wow. Trust us, this helicopter was very close to our cabin.
Luckily, the nearby fire is at least a couple of miles away.

Emotions have been running high here on Flat Top ever since The Tuesday Our Nation Went Bat-Shit Crazy.  But politics aren’t the only reason for our tears. (And no, Mason didn’t really cry; Mason rants, and oh, how it has been nonstop.)

Our eyes are also watery because wildfires keep popping up nearby and we’ve been under a cloud of acrid smoke for nearly a week now. (Hmmm, ever since That Tuesday – coincidence?)  Today a military helicopter zoomed just 200-300 feet over our cabin with a bucket loaded with water that it fetched out of our little lake. Two minutes later it was circling back for more water. It must have made about 10-12 trips in a matter of an hour.

Just to remind those who aren’t familiar with our living situation: We live in a wood cabin, in the woods, with only one long road in and out, where we haven’t had rain in months and where the nearest fire station is NOT near and relies on volunteers.

To no surprise, I had a nightmare last night about the cabin catching fire.

Mason feels like a man again.
The other reason for my tears?  I have become a truck widow. A few days after That Tuesday, we finally found a used pickup we really liked, and we really needed a pickup Pick-Me-Up, so we spent a tad more than we wanted; Mason has been “playing with it” every day since. OK, OK, I guess new brakes, a full tune-up and changing all the lubrication fluids (it's four-wheel-drive; there are a LOT of fluids) isn’t really playing. But it's made a dramatic improvement in his mood.

She’s a lovely 1988 Ford F150 Lariat XLT. Cream with a fat red stripe and black trim – my old high school colors. And she’s got big fat tires, and I have to climb up just to get in the seat. Oh, and get this: It has a cassette player. Anyone out there still own any mixed tapes? We got rid of ours just a few years ago. Damn.

I haven’t asked Mason yet, but I’m just gonna start calling her Hillary. (After all, she was the actual winner, yet the Electoral College is going to give the job to the second-place finisher, i.e. Loser.)


Monday, November 7, 2016

The Sky Ain't Gonna Rain Any More, Methinks

Our hickory trees turn a great yellow.
 Two months later, and still no measurable rain. We have been taunted by exactly two brief showers. The rain gauge crept up to 1/8 of an inch after one of them.

 I feel as if this drought is sucking me dry of my personality, or at least the better parts of it.

So what’s a garden girl to do in what’s now been labeled an extreme drought by the weather guy?  I reseeded my dead lawns. Brilliant. For 10 days, I was a slave to the water hose, moistening the seeds every two hours in unseasonably warm 85-degree heat. When I’m not watering the lawns, I’m trying to sustain the plants. The arugula and lettuce have fared better than some of the shrubs.

Gardening is hard on the soul. And the increasing masses of hungry deer only aggravate the situation. Every morning I wake soon after sunrise to count how many there are. I watched them chew on this and that for a while, but when they start feasting on my new lawns, I rap on the window and send them on down the road. Then I climb back into bed to wait for a more decent hour to rise.

Mason put up this sign a few months ago. He likes to think it keeps out the lookie-loos.
A cool front came through two days ago and finally we dropped back down into the 70s. In a normal year, I’d be celebrating the extra warm fall; but in a normal year, we would have had 6 inches of rain last month.

Adding to our gloom, the other day we noticed the screen atop one of our rain barrels had fallen into the barrel, and something furry -- and clearly dead -- was floating in it. A squirrel. Mason was quickly called in for burial rites. A few days later, after a trip to town to get some new screen, Mason emptied out the barrel to clean it up a bit before the new screen installation. It quickly drained of water, but not of squirrels. Three more drownings. Felt bad for the poor fellas.

The only thing that’s coming easy on the mountain these days is drowning our sorrows in Mason’s homebrew beer. A new one called Fresh Squished is all the rage with all two resident imbibers. We’ll be sure to have plenty on ice for Tuesday.

Nick, on an evening walk.

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.