No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.
There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.
~ Thomas Jefferson ~
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
~ Martin Luther ~
An old friend gave a sigh of surrender and gave up Thursday afternoon – on the eve of Summer Solstice. Gravity, a deep wound, and a hollowing heart proved to be more than she could bear. She laid herself down in a swirling storm of wind and torrential rain.
Our neighbor often tells the story of how the tree leaned over, many years ago, in a severe storm. The man who had planted and cared for her enlisted the help of the neighbor’s husband. Together, they lifted her up and placed her roots back in to the earth. We would have done the same for her. However, that is not an option this time.
We will miss her…….
The pollinators will miss the profusion of food her blossoms offered up each Spring. The sparrows and the nuthatches and the tufted titmice will miss the protection of her densely interwoven branches. A whole host of wildlife, and our family dogs, will miss her imperfect, pocked, and wormy apples. The dogwood, the pecans, the crape myrtle, and the holly – her neighbors for 40-some years – will no doubt miss her presence.
I will miss her for all of the above and more……
But I will never forget the night, in late summer, about 5 or 6 years ago, looking out of the bedroom window and seeing a group of white-tailed deer, silhouetted against the silvery moonlit grass, dining upon her apples. I don’t know what it was that awakened me that night, and compelled me to rise and look out of the window. Maybe it was her, saying “Look! I have something to show you! Please don’t gather up my fallen apples and put them in the trash. For I have worked hard to produce them, and they are a bountiful feast for the deer and the opossum and the squirrel and the coyote.” I never raked up and disposed of a single fallen apple after that night.
Nor will I forget the sight of Ricky, a rescued German Shepherd Dog whom we had recently adopted, thoroughly enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures – snacking. I smile when I remember the sight of that sweet old arthritic German Shepherd – with worn down teeth – quietly sashaying through the dappled shade of the pecan tree, making his way to the apple tree, browsing through the fallen apples, selecting the perfect one, trotting back up into the shady front yard, and lying down to enjoy his selection – core, seeds, stem and all. A heartwarming simple pleasure for a sweet gentle boy who, a year earlier, had been left to starve by cruel stupid people who left him chained to the mobile home they had been evicted from – out in the middle of nowhere – without food or water.
And there is this…..
Thursday morning, hours before the storm arrived, I stood in the shade of the apple tree’s branches, somewhat reluctantly obliging our youngest dog while he rolled around and tossed and played with two small green apples he found lying in the grass. As I stood there, the words “Tell my story” presented themselves very clearly to me. And I thought “Yes, I should………I will.” Standing in that same spot on Friday morning, next to her snapped and broken trunk, I felt sad – my heart was heavy – and I felt like I too gave up, gave in, surrendered a little bit. I gave in to some things that have been weighing heavy on my mind and in my heart. And I gave up trying to figure it all out – fix it – see the positive – find the best solution. I reached out and rested my hand on her fine cool bark and told her, “We will miss you. And I surrendered a little bit today too.”
A little over a year ago, during a writing retreat, I wrote about my friend and our connection. I’ll locate that notebook and post the story here….soon. For, it seems, now is the time to tell the story of The Apple Tree and Me.
The empty chicken coop, with its door propped open and its aged red metal exterior, whispered to me. The sight of unbroken deep snow at the back edge of the yard, along the stream buffer, brought a little flutter of sadness, a soft tug in my heart. No deer tracks, as there had been in prior years. No feral kitty tracks. No rabbit tracks. No flock of frustrated Rhode Island Reds clustered in the doorway of the coop, yacking and complaining about the white stuff on the ground.
The chickens brought so much life to the “Back 40”. In my Grandpa’s lingo, the “Back 40” referred to the 40 acres of field behind his barn. In my slice of the world, the “Back 40” refers to the 40 yard depth of natural wooded area at the back of our property. Not only did the chickens bring their big personalities and their industriousness, but with their presence there was food, and a little food chain flourished in their area of the Back 40:
~ The mice that, no doubt, helped themselves to a bit of the chicken feed that spilled on to the floor of the coop ~
~ The feral yellow Mama Cat (named Dinner by our 3-legged Border Collie Mix – but that’s another story) and her many kittens who lived in, around, and under the neighbor’s outbuildings, dining on a steady supply of mice, well-fed and plump from chicken feed ~
~ The black snakes who had quite a racket going with fresh eggs offered up daily ~
~ The Red Shouldered Hawk family, nesting at the top of a tall pine across the road, soaring in ever-widening circles high in the sky, no doubt dining on the snakes and the mice who had been so well-fed by the chicken’s presence ~
As I stood just outside the back door of the house, admiring the beauty of the snow, missing my beautiful chickens, my thoughts turned to the hawk family. I had not heard their piercing calls recently, nor noticed them circling in the sky. I had not recently noticed the hawks perched in their usual vantage points, hunting along the stream. The unusual and frequent summer & fall flooding of that stream had very likely drowned or swept away many of the frogs, toads, snakes, etc. who lived in the nooks and crannies along the steep bank. I wondered if the hawks had moved elsewhere to find food, or, if they too had been swept away or injured in the tropical force winds or torrential downpours.
I stood there in the snow, wondering about them. Thinking back to our first winter here, noticing them daily, watching through binoculars as they took turns flying food up to their nestlings in the tall pine across the road. In that moment, I realized how much delight their continued presence had brought to our lives. And, how, as with many neighborly relationships, there were “complications”. For, on more than one occasion (and far more than I was aware of, I’m sure), the hawks set their sights on my chickens. There was no delight in those moments.
Those were moments in which the normally docile grey haired woman morphed into a screaming banshee – running to the rescue, waiving her arms or whatever towel, rake, or walking stick that might be handy, clapping, hooting and hollering all the way. Those were moments in which the Mother Hen in me switched in to high gear. Those were moments in which both the hawk and my neighbors undoubtedly thought I had lost my mind. Thankfully, although the hawks traumatized the flock on a fairly regular basis, and tore up a couple of the girls pretty badly, none of the chickens perished due to hawk inflicted injuries.
The girls (and I) learned to tune in to the warning calls and behaviors of the wild birds, the neighborhood gang of crows, and the squirrels. We learned that the hawks usually hunted along the creek and from the trees near the chicken yard twice a day – at about 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. and again about an hour or two before dusk. The girls developed a morning routine of fanning out and foraging near cover and in close proximity to the coop. Late in the day, toward dusk, the hawks seemed disinterested in the chickens, and by that time of the day the girls were usually hanging out under the huge Japanese Holly bush that we called The Chicken Bush, or they were already in the coop, getting settled and ready to roost for the night.
It worked out. We all co-existed.
As I stood in the snow, late in the day on Thursday, the chicken coop whispering to me, my head and my heart full of memories of Rhode Island Reds and Red Shouldered Hawks, I felt that unbroken snow along the stream buffer beckoning me, enticing me to break through the ice encrusted top layer, leave some footprints of my own.
I made my way to the earthen bridge, each step crunching as my boot broke through the icy crust. The water in the creek was gurgling happily as it swirled around and over the rocks and exposed tree roots along the bank. There was twittering and the sound of wings flapping as songbirds rose out of the cover along the stream bank and into the tree branches above.
I stopped at The Chicken Bush, near the gate, its branches laid low and sprawling under the weight of the wet snow. A large rabbit broke from her cover, popped through the fence, and headed for overgrowth behind the neighbor’s tractor shed. I walked to the grapevine arbor and looked all around for signs of wild neighbors – paw prints, hoof prints – there were none. I turned toward the chicken coop, stopping to free a couple of Redbud saplings from their heavy snow burden. As I approached the door of the coop I expected a couple of little wrens or nuthatches to drop down from the roost above the door and zoom past my head. Nope. Nobody.
The coop stood silent and dim inside, only the sound of a slow drip from snow melting above the entry. Standing there, looking in, I wondered why the coop had whispered to me. Was there something I was missing? I stood there for a moment, listening to the drip drip in the dim entry, and then turned and crunch, crunched my way back past The Chicken Bush and to the earthen bridge.
And then, there she was! Swooping and banking along the creek and through the tree branches. I could hear the sound of the air in her wings as she pulled up and landed on the lowest branch of a young oak, not more than 15 feet from where I was crunching along. I froze, drew in my breath sharply. I had seen her dark eye as she steered toward her landing spot. But now her head and her view of me was blocked by the trunk of the young tree. I could see her fluttering her striped tail feathers – shaking them from side to side as she sat there, focusing on the creek bank, waiting for some small prey to move. I remained absolutely still, a knot forming in my throat. Never having been so close, I literally felt her presence.
For some reason, I wanted to let my presence be known as well. So I slowly leaned to my right and peaked around the tree trunk. She caught sight of me, I saw the flash of recognition in her beautiful dark eye, and with a surprised little muffled squawk/gurgle, she rose from the branch, spread her wings, and disappeared among the trees lining the creek bank.
I stood there a moment longer, exhaled, and a smile started to form. I chuckled as I started my crunch, crunching back to the house. For I’m sure I heard her say “Eek!! It’s YOU!! The crazy grey-haired banshee woman!” (wink)
My hand on the door latch, I turned toward the creek, wished her successful hunting, and thanked that little red chicken shed for whispering me back to the chicken yard, late in that snowy grey day, about an hour before dusk.
– Ruth Ann Schabacker –
Holiday Greetings to You!
Is there Someone in Your Life who could use a good excuse to slow down & snuggle up with a good book on a Winter’s afternoon?
Could that Someone even be You?
Do you have a favorite book by a local author? Perhaps you have a treasured book on your shelf that you would like to share with a loved one?
Inscribe a dated personal message inside. Include a hand-made bookmark, or a length of beautiful ribbon. Pair with a soft throw or a small quilt and wrap both in a lovely bow. Include a message in your best handwriting – “Untie the ribbon and enjoy the Gift in The Day!”
If you are interested in finding / reading “local”, independent bookstores usually have a section devoted to writers from the area. Art & craft galleries often sell self-published books by regional writers. And gift shops / visitor’s centers at state & national parks in the U.S. sell books written by regional folks as well. Many of these locations have special holiday events with author signings, food, wine, or music. Shopping with small businesses and shopping local not only supports your local economy, but the experience of it is also a gift to yourself!
So, if shopping in an Indie bookstore with a really catchy name appeals to you (as it does to me!), here are a few of my favorites. Although nothing can really compare to browsing through the stacks & taking in the ambience of the space, I believe most sell books on-line as well. (Just to be clear, NO kickbacks, commissions, or credits for me here! These are simply independent booksellers that I personally enjoy shopping with.)
Battenkill Books – Cambridge, NY
Flyleaf Books – Chapel Hill, NC
McIntyre’s Books @ Fearrington Village – Pittsboro, NC
Persnickety Books – Burlington, NC
Purple Crow Books – Hillsborough, NC
Scuppernong Books – Greensboro, NC
It twas a wee bit frosty here this morning – alright, downright cold – but the clear blue sky and the golden light beckoned to me and encouraged me to bring my camera!
I continue to be amazed by the abundant seasonal beauty that reveals itself on this little patch of ground. It was the chickens and the dogs who drew me in to it initially. And I thank them for it.
As a child, I was an avid observer of nature – the environment surrounding a space, the sounds, the smells, the light. I would spend hours wandering about my grandparent’s farm, observing the sheep from a perch on the pasture gate, exploring the barn, the edges of field, the garden…..swinging endlessly on the old wooden swing beneath the branches of a stout maple tree….dozing on the porch swing, enveloped in the crisp clean scent of the bridal wreath blossoms, listening to the bees busily collecting pollen and nectar.
Early and mid adulthood took me in other directions, and while I still always enjoyed my time outdoors in nature – in my yard, on walks, during vacation trips – I became more of a traveler through it, most of the time with a destination in mind or a task to be completed.
And then, at about age 50, the chickens and the dogs brought me back to nature; encouraged me to linger there – to just be.
Look up, look down, look closely.
Be aware of the sounds, the songs, and the warning calls of the wild birds.
Feel the curve of the dogwood tree that perfectly cradles my back when I lean against it.
Notice the abundance all around.
I began to take note of how the tension in my neck and shoulders eased upon arrival. How it was easier to straighten my spine, pull my shoulders back, and take a deep breath. How the sounds of the hens cooing and clucking, scratching and pecking, soothed my frayed edges. How observing the dogs using all of their senses – to communicate with one another and to detect the environmental details of their surroundings – reminds me that there is wisdom far greater than ours all around us, each day, each minute, each second.
This morning I spent some time resting back against the dogwood tree.
Listening to the wild birds and the squirrels going about their business.
Drinking in the golden light.
Remembering the hens and the pups who gently pulled me back to linger awhile with Mother Nature.
And I thanked them for it.
I am blessed to live where fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers are grown locally and readily available. This is blueberry, blackberry, and peach season in North Carolina, and for me, there is nothing quite like fresh picked berries and peaches. Early in the morning, about every week or two during mid-summer, I treat myself to a 20-minute drive through lovely North Carolina countryside to Blueberry Thrill Farm. If I can beat the heat, berry picking is a joy. Seeing families and friends enjoying their time together and hearing the kids announcing their conquest of the “Biggest One EVER!” or “Dad, you’re not gonna believe how many berries I just picked” makes me smile. Women chat about what they will make when they get home – cobblers, pies, salads, cakes, ice cream – old family recipes or something new they want to try. Dads and grand-dads hold the kids up to reach the high ones, and help to referee contests between siblings. Honestly, it’s a slice of Americana, a great learning experience for young and old alike, and generally a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a summer morning. I think it’s the berries and the flowers – I think they make people happy!
Blueberries have been folded in to pancakes for Sunday brunch, sprinkled on sweet kale salads, and combined with sweet corn in a delightful summer salad. I’ll be freezing some from this picking. And I think I have enough left for a cobbler!
I made cinnamon applesauce from the summer apples – some for enjoying now and some is in the freezer waiting to brighten a winter day!
And the flowers, oh the flowers! Beautiful! Zinnias, Ageratum, Cosmos, Globe Amaranth, Lemon Balm. Picked a 5-gallon bucket full and arranged some Mason jar bouquets for the kind vet clinic staff who take such good care of our canine kids (and us too). We appreciate them!
So, here are a couple of my favorite fresh blueberry recipes. I’ll be sharing some more in future posts.
Mix all dressing ingredients in a bowl, except for oil, and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Slowly add canola oil and continue to whisk until dressing thickens. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine blueberries, corn, pepper, & onion. Add dressing and toss gently. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.
Makes a great light side dish to grilled chicken or pork chops. Or, enjoy on a bed of fresh salad greens or as a salsa with salty tortilla chips.
Makes 4 – 6 servings.
Prepare topping. In small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in flour, pecans, sugar and lemon peel to form a soft dough. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9”x13” baking pan.
Prepare batter. Cream butter and sugar. Reduce speed to low, add flour, baking powder, lemon peel, salt and eggs. Increase speed, beat until smooth and creamy. Smooth evenly in to greased baking pan. Top with blueberries and crumbled pecan topping. Bake 45 minutes or until golden. Lovely when served warm. Serves 16.
Musings of an obsessive gardener
Observations about the wondrous world of wildlife
Quilts, potholders and handbags out of recycled clothes and fabric
Food Photography & Recipes
Recipes showing step by step directions with pictures and gadget reviews
Tiny Seeds of Goodness
Colette O'Neill... Environmentalist, Author, Publisher, Photographer. Creator of Goddess Permaculture.
Celebrating food and all the joy that comes from creating and eating it.
Thoughts on books, movies, food and assorted stuff by Madison Taylor
Batik Artist | Farmscapes, Fantasy, Landscapes, Equine
Seeing Life Through Lenses
"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most dazzling view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds." – Edward Abbey