Tuesday, February 26, 2008

IT Really Is Happening ...

© Joan Z. Rough, 2008

I think spring is here already. This morning I heard and then saw a red wing blackbird down by the dock
for the first time in '08. He was being chased by the mockingbird who has lived in the nearby willow tree for several seasons. If anyone, including myself, goes near that tree he gets very angry!! He doesn't dive bomb me but he does the cats and other birds.

It is still February, just barely, and I've never seen a red wing here this early. Also the red maples are blooming, dropping their tiny red flowers all over the ground. Yikes, IT really is happening. The IT that so many don't like to think about or even recognize. That big IT that is melting the icecaps and glaciers all over the world. The IT that is responsible for the early tornado season in the midwest and the severe snows that have covered much of the west, east and northern sections of our country. The IT that our current and soon to be gone head-of-state can't fit into his brain and refuses to acknowledge!

UPDATE: That mountain lion that was spotted next door not too long ago has been sighted again, twice ... not right in this area but within the county. They apparently have a range of some 85 miles. I won't blame IT for this new neighbor. I think it has more to do with the human population in the mountains and our huge deer herd. There is plenty of food to be had in the area!!

I'm leaving town tomorrow until next week. It's time for a break. I wonder what I'll find when I return?? Have a great week!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

February Garden ....

Hellebore, © Joan Z. Rough, 2008

When I moved to Virginia in 1979 I wasn't much of a gardener.
Having lived in northern climes for most of my life, I never would have guessed that the garden could be a thing of beauty in February .... in the winter! In Vermont my time was taken up with two children and a bit of farming. We had sheep and angora goats whose wool and mohair I learned to spin and then to weave and knit into useful bits of clothing and household items. We also had hens whose eggs we used ourselves and sold to neighbors. The only gardening I did back then was a huge vegetable garden which we enjoyed throughout the year in the form of canned and frozen goods still brimming with summer goodness. In February, the garden was covered with many feet of snow and the first sign of spring was mud season, followed by daffodils in late April or early May. I spent so much time in the vegetable garden that I had little or no time for flowers. Yes, I was a hippie, but I guess not a flower child!!

Hellebore, © Joan Z. Rough, 2008

But then we landed in Virginia. I sold my animals, the kids grew up, moved out and I fell in love with flowers, especially if they bloomed with snow on the ground. Because of our massive deer population, it's hard to keep vegetables growing. Last summer I planted tomatoes and sweet peppers and maybe harvested a half dozen red tomatoes and maybe 4 lovely green peppers before the deer found them. Though the deer also love flowers and shrubs, I'm learning what they don't like and am filling my yard with those things ... like the hellebores which also happen to bloom at this time of year along with camellias and yellow jasmine, often mistaken for forsythia. The daffodils are several weeks off. That the hellebores are drough tolerant is also a plus and I am envisioning planting many more. They are green most of the year with a drooping brown period in August, when most gardens in this hot climate are looking kind of ragged anyway.

Hellebore, © Joan Z. Rough, 2008

I think I may try a few more tomato plants this year, but will plant them very close to my front door where hopefully the deer won't want to approach. Can you tell that as the weather warms I'm getting all excited about working out doors? I don't think I've ever lost that urge to work with plants and even having animals. I still dream of having a few chickens again, but I don't know how they'd do with all the preditors that hang out around here. My son, Mark, has about 20 hens at the moment and is losing a few here and there to hawks. I think I'll stick with plants!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The First Camellias Of 2008 ....

These are just the first two blooms and already fading. There are many more to come.

Photos © Joan z. Rough, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Persistence ...

Daffodils, © Joan Z. Rough, 2008

My brother's cancer has not spread. On Tuesday, he will begin a 5 week course of radiation treatments 5 days a week and chemo once a week. After a rest of 3 or 4 weeks he will then undergo surgery to remove the mass and the part of the esophagus that is involved. The risk of the cancer returning after all of this is high and if it does, the treatment is palliative, to keep him as comfortable as possible.

I have my up days and my down days. I cannot imagine what this time must be like for him. But no matter what, we seem to persist. The sun rises and sets, the moon and stars appear to guide us through the dark. We all do the best we can through this crazy adventure called

I have not had time to get back to the riverside jungle that also persists, but I'm itching to have at it some more. No matter what I do, most likely I will not stop the kudzu from trying to take over the river bank, as long as time and planetary conditions allow. However, in my own laughable, controlling way, I will persist, as will we all.

Friday, February 15, 2008

All Of The Good News ...

Hellebore, © Joan Z. Rough, 2008

This is a beautiful time of the year. Things are beginning to happen in the garden ... the hellebores are beginning to bloom, daffodils are poking through crusty earth, camellia's pink buds are swelling and of course the weeds are thriving! Spring is making promises ... warmth, flowers, rebirth. If I didn't love the fall most, this would be my favorite time of year. There may still be cold, blustery days ahead ... even some ice or snow. But there are no doubts as to where we are heading! It is evident in every ray of sunshine, in every breath of sweet, fresh air.

It's the same at the primaries. Virginia in all of her glory is chanting "Change," along with all of the other citizens of this country who are finally saying, "enough is enough! Out with the old, In with the new." It is all within reach now! No more politics of fear!! We are breathing the essence of hope and optimism!

Zoe with her Science Trophy, February, 2008, photo by Lisa Rough

This is one of the little people of the world we need the change for. My sweet grandchild, Zoe, was one of three in her school to win a trophy for her science project. This is the first time a second grader has won this award. The winners have always been in the upper grades. Her project was to discover which animal, a dog or a cat, is easiest to train. Bravo, for Zoe and all of the other young people of this world who hold so much potential!! We must leave them a world full of hope and promise!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Kill The Kudzu Day ...

all photos © Joan Z. Rough, 2008

Oh, what a magnificent day it's been! With a high near 55 degrees, I spent almost 3 hours outside this morning tending to my compost heap and beginning to cut back the invasive plant species that make the river bank a dense thicket of kudzu, honeysuckle, bittersweet and blackberry canes. No, I can't actually kill it. Because the river is a source of water for the city of Charlottesville, I cannot and wouldn't anyway, use pesticides to control the growth. Although a good barrier for any runoff to the river and a wonderful place to watch birds nesting and feeding in the spring and summer, I cut this tangle back every few years so that some of the native species can continue to grow where they like to best ... like the Elderberry, which provides the birds with nourishing food. Elderberries also make an awesome cough syrup for people with winter colds but I'm never fast enough to harvest them, so must get them elsewhere.

I know this doesn't look too threatening, but in reality some of this mess and the blackberry canes are taller than I am and all of those nasty vines wrap around each other making it very difficult to remove. Even wearing long sleeves the thorns on the blackberry canes scratch my arms and long pants don't prevent my legs from being gored by those tiny spears.

Up close, you can understand why the birds and small creatures like to nest in this hedge from hell. You have to be one brave preditor and armored in leather to get yourself tangled up in this mess for a few fresh eggs.

Because these plants are mostly dormant at this time of year I love to do this work on days like today. It makes it a bit easier to identify what it is you are cutting back and there are no birds nesting. Once the spring migration begins in just a few weeks and the birds begin to nest, I'll quit until next year when I'm antsy to be outdoors enjoying the sun and wind.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Neighborhood Sighting ...

My Big Garden Bug

We live in a small neighborhood of 8 houses, only a few miles from busy roads, honking horns, Whole Foods, the veterinarian and a host of other merchants and service oriented places. So it isn't always peaceful and quiet. We hear sirens from fire trucks, ambulances and the police from time to time. When that happens the dogs in the house across the river start howling off key and
often carry on for a good five minutes after the screaming vehicle has passed. It's really quite funny and I'm surprised that my two don't join in.

It isn't like this is the wilderness. However we do have more deer than we need, skunks, opossums, racoons, river otters, beavers, rabbits, squirrels and a miriad of birds including ospreys and bald eagles. We occasionally see a fox and one night a couple of years ago a bear made mincemeat out of one of my bird feeders. A coyote has
also been spotted. I have not actually seen the last two critters myself but they are often seen in the area so I have no doubt that they slip through my radar very easily.

But it's the latest sighting that really intrigues me. Reports this morning were of a large animal at my neighbor's dock and was said to be either a mountain lion or a bob cat. Bob cats are usually very shy creatures and difficult to see. The sighting of a mountain lion would be quite fantastic but in reality I'm not sure I believe it. But then on the other hand land development in this area, like the rest of the east coast, has been intensifying at a rapid rate as the population expands. More and more people want a piece of the countryside for their homes, especially in a scenic area as this one, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. So it may not be terribly surprising that a mountain lion might be driven from its territory and end up in a crowded suburban area. As homes encroach up the mountain sides, the native inhabitants need to go somewhere. And soon there will be few places for them to escape to without running into humans.

So whatever it was that was sighted, I wish it well and hope that it will soon find a new home in a less congested area. In the meantime, I'll keep a sharp eye on my three kitties who like to spend their days hunting in the tall grass in the meadow.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Back In The Sunny South ...

Pansies in February, © Joan Z. Rough, 2008

When we left last Wednesday to see my brother in New Hampshire, the river was frozen over and the poor robins looked very chilly indeed. Yesterday we arrived home to find the river running a muddy brown after over 1 1/4 inches of rain in the morning. Today it is sunny and it will be near 70 degrees. It was fairly warm in New Hampshire (mid to upper 30's). We were stuck in our hotel most of the day on Friday because of a nasty ice storm. When I lived in Vermont some 29 years ago, ice storms were almost unheard of. The precipitation was always snow in the winter and lots of it, lasting sometimes until May. There is much brown ground beginning to show now in the northern climes.

Though it was wonderful to see my brother, his son and wife and my lovely little grandniece, Anya, the circumstances were not happy. Reid, my brother, does have esophageal cancer. We still don't know at what stage the cancer is ... his PET scan hasn't been done yet for one reason or another ... so we wait, wonder and pray for the best ... that his life can be lived a bit longer and in as little pain as possible.

The teachings of the Buddha, tell us that nothing is permanent ... like the weather patterns, everything changes from day to day, moment to moment and no matter how much we believe we have control over life, we really don't.
The pansies that looked dead before we left are now looking full of life. Little Anya grows and now has two teeth. Before long she will be a year old and will rush across the room to see her grandfather, Reid. My hair is growing greyer. My memory doesn't work as well as it used to and my brother's cancer grows as it consumes him. I hate the process, yet it is life ... every moment is wonderous and to be lived as if it were our last. I find myself feeling sad, then being able to gradually let go and to feel happy taking in the warmth and sunshine of this moment, this day.