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Eagles and Coyotes

Eagles and Coyotes

How cool is this? The iPhone has a setting to determine the best exposure lighting, and it caught this eagle taking flight as three images in one photo —

This was the second eagle I saw this morning driving in from the cabin. It’s that time of year when all the wildlife is on the move. There were two cow elk behind the 2-unit motel building up at the cabin last night — one came out to graze in the full moon at about 10:30. We were peeking out the high window in the bedroom at her, grazing, maybe 10 feet from the wall. Then this morning, the little herd of cows and spikes was just up the hill, hanging out. We watched them while drinking coffee in bed (drinking coffe in bed is a luxury to me, but a necessity to my sweetheart, who does not wake up easily).

There was also a pack of coyotes — probably the same ones we heard hunting behind the motel two weeks ago. Just as I got out of the car, they started up yipping and barking up on the hillside. My poor dogs, it was leashes only for them I’m afraid. Between not wanting them to scare the elk and not wanting the coyotes to eat them, they did not have the most fun overnight excursion. Plus the windows are set high in the wall, so Ray can’t see out easily. I wind up putting him in the car in the morning because at least from there he can watch what’s going on outside, even if he can’t go chase things.

Here’s a photo of eagle #1 keeping watch over East River road. It’s not unusual to see them, but it was nice to have a safe place to pull over to try to get a photo.

Eagle #2, the flying one, was closer to town. Between these two and the Snow Geese I saw feeding on the Yellowstone last week, seems like spring might be on the horizon.

Sometime in May.

Persephone on the Rebound

Persephone on the Rebound

It’s nearly six o’clock and not entirely dark outside. And although the wind blew so hard I had to change course halfway around the dog park, because it was blowing so hard I was stopped in my tracks, it was nearly fifty degrees today. I got the chicken coop cleaned out, the girls had a dust bath in the sunshine, and it’s that moment when you can start to feel the earth tilt back toward the sun.
I’m sure we’ll have more sub-zero weather, and more snow, but I can feel Persephone making her way back to the surface. Such a relief.

Baby Cows

Baby Cows

When I drove down the road from the cabin the other morning, what should I see but new babies! There were six of them hanging out in the shelter of the State section. At this age they seem far less interested in eating hay than in nestling in it — a wee cattle nursery.

I love this time of year in Montana. From now until summer there’ll be field after field filled with baby cows and baby sheep (and sometimes baby goats). We’ll also get to look forward to the bambis — who are beyond cute.

Of course, we were also awakened at three AM by a pack of coyotes chasing something just on the far side of the shed. A deer probably — I can’t imagine the bunnies were out tempting them at that hour, and there were a bunch of them, four or five probably. It brought out something elemental in me and I found myself hiding under the covers!

Spring in the mountains — aside from the fact that we got a foot of snow today, it seems to be on its way …

Snow!

Snow!

Winter has arrived with a bang here in southern Montana. That’s my patio furniture which is suddenly buried.

The storm came in yesterday, but the real snow seems to have fallen overnight. I shoveled yesterday, and it was a only a couple of inches of powdery fluff; this morning, nearly a foot, and a little heavier (but I think that’s because the ground was still warm).

I don’t dare peek in the hoop house, because it’s supposed to go down below zero tonight, and I’m hoping the snow will insulate. We’ll see if anything survives. It’s slated to run a degree or two either side of zero tonight, and to be even colder tomorrow night. The experiment gets an early test.

Time to make soup.

Storm Windows, Already?

Storm Windows, Already?

It’s supposed to go down into the single digits tonight, so this afternoon, despite the fact that it was only 25 degrees out, and snowy, I got the storm windows out of the shed, and put them up.

Every year I forget what a colossal pain in the ass they are. I replaced all the old windows in my house except for those in the living room. They’re really old double-hung windows, so old that the glass is wavy, and I just fell in love with them. So I kept the clunky old wooden storm windows that go with them, and there I was, on a ladder, cursing and banging at them with a hammer to make them fit. Ugh.

But now they’re up, and the storm-door insert is in my screen door, and the house is feeling all cozy and battened down for winter.

It’s supposed to go back up into the 60s next week, so I buried the garden in straw and covered it in plastic. I’m hoping to keep at least the hardy greens alive. I decided this summer that what I really love are the spring and fall crops, I’m not so much for the mid-summer heat crops, and I’d hate to lose all my greens.

We also got the chickens stet up with a (ridiculously expensive!) heated base for their water unit, and a 100 watt light bulb to heat the coop. They sort of hate the light bulb — it goes against their urge to roost someplace dark in the evening, so I ordered a red heat bulb for reptiles. However, tonight they’re going to have to sleep with the lights on — it was 16 degrees outside this morning when I got up, and 28 degrees inside the coop (I’m a little obsessive about remote-control thermometers). So if it goes down to 0 tonight, it’ll only be about 10 degrees in the coop, and that’s too cold. We’ll have to see how they do … I hope I don’t wake up to chicken-sicles tomorrow (or frozen eggs!) …

Gearing up for spring

Gearing up for spring

overwintered herbs in spring rain

It’s raining today — a nice soft spring rain, so I took the poor scraggly herbs from the Winter Herb Garden and put them outside the back door. The rosemary seemed particularly crunchy, but it did it’s job — it didn’t die. The thyme has been remarkably successful — the last few weeks it’s been sending out delicious little soft green shoots.

seed organization

I also got my act together last weekend and organized my seeds. As you can see — my “system” is nothing fancy. A couple of cheap bins from Pamida and a paper bag — but by the end of any garden season they’re a mess — some are in the basket with the cheapo tongue depressor/craft sticks that I use for garden markers (easy to write on with a sharpie, and they compost nicely), some wind up on the seed starting shelves, some sleeves were empty, in general, it was all a mess. So I went through and got everything organized by type — tomatoes, greens, herbs, cucumbers, beans, peppers, etc. Some people organize by planting order, but that’s too daunting and frankly, feels a little constricting. I know the spinach and broccoli rabe will go in first, but I’m never entirely sure beforehand what I’m going to put in next. So there we are — ready to start seeds this weekend or next, and ready to put some early cold crops in the garden beds.

I don’t have a picture of those, but they’re starting to shape up. I loved the straw mulch I used last year, but it had a lot of seeds in it so there’s all sorts of wheat growing in my garden — and it overwintered just fine, so it must be winter wheat. At any rate, I had a lovely half hour or so after work last night turning over the soil in a couple of my raised beds, pulling all those wheaty bits out for the compost. I have two beds now that are all fluffy and ready for seeds. This weekend I’ll clean up the rest, and start with the cool-weather greens. I’m so excited! Another year!

Glorious Day

Glorious Day

Today was like being let out of jail. The sun was shining. There was no wind. The sun, did I mention? It was shining. It was warm outside — 40s up into the 50s.

I cleaned up the yard (dog poop patrol), cut some hollyhock stalks and put them over where I want hollyhocks to grow next year. I turned over a garden bed. I pulled all the dead stuff off the herb bed so the parsley and the chives can start coming back. I pruned a couple of errant branches off the greengage plum tree.

Then I hung out on the outdoor furniture, read a lovely book called Tinkers, and generally just enjoyed the gorgeous weather. My cheeks feel a tiny bit pink.

It’s been kind of an overwhelming couple of weeks — and I had all these things I was going to do today — taxes, housecleaning, writing — but mostly I turned over a nearly-thawed garden bed, read a book, and enjoyed a beautiful beautiful day.

That was fast …

That was fast …

first snow 2008  Here’s what I woke up to this morning — yup, that’s snow. About four inches — and it’s supposed to keep coming down all weekend. Yesterday I woke up to a hard frost — I went to check the tomatoes and they were dead. Dead dead dead dead dead.

So I pulled them up and threw their soggy carcasses into the compost. I salvaged enough late ones to make this big pot of frostbitten-tomato sauce. frostbitten tomato sauce That’s the last of the tomatoes, a couple of carrots, and a sautee’d onion — later I added a can of Muir Glen organic tomato paste and ran it all through the food mill. I don’t always get too worked up about the skins and the seeds, but I’ve found with the late-season ones that if you leave them in the sauce gets really bitter. I left the sauce until this morning because I decided to do a Bolognese and the meat needed to thaw out. I thawed a package of ground antelope, two stray Italian sausages, and a pack of elk Italian sausage I found in the back of the freezer. This morning I sauteed up some more carrots and onions, browned off the meat, and added a quart of my good local Jersey milk. I let that all cook down for a while, then added it into the big red pot of tomato sauce with about a quarter of a bottle of white wine. It’s cooking down on the back burner now — later I’ll can it in the terrifying pressure canner.

The markets might be crashing still, but thanks to my anxiety habit of hoarding dry pasta — with six or seven quarts of nice Bolognese on the shelf, I should be fine all winter.

Closing the Windows

Closing the Windows

Sigh. It’s that time of year again. My house has been wide open since the middle of June and in the last week it’s become clear that it’s time to close the windows and, double sigh, turn the heat on again. It’s time to come inside. It’s cold out there — in the low 40s at night, and we’ve had rain so it’s damp. No more sitting in the backyard under the Coleman lantern reading novels into the night. Even with the firepit going, it’s just too cold, and too damp, and unpleasant.

Part of me loves this back-to-school feeling. I was in Target the other day and it was all I could do to tear myself away from the school supplies aisle — there’s a reason I went all the way to a PhD — I loved school. The chill in the air has come far too soon — I mean, it only stopped snowing on June 17 — but that turn of the planet always feels to me like a hopeful new start. And I have work to do — I need to get back to this blog after a slacker summer, and there’s a novel manuscript that is three chapters long that has been languishing since spring.

And there is still work to do in the garden — the tomatoes are tucked away under a tent of six-mil plastic with jugs of water tucked in there to store heat overnight. The Galician kale is three feet high and will need to be harvested. There are three more cabbages and the mystery broccoli that is also three feet tall with nary a head in sight. We lopped off the apical buds hoping to spur the growth of side shoots — and there are a few shooty-looking things going on, but we’ll just have to see. If nothing else, we’re looking at a lot of fodder for the compost heap. The brussels sprouts are starting to get tall, the chard is finally firm and green and lovely, and the onion tops have flopped over. The carrots are also looking good and I’m trying not to let the cool weather fool me into pulling them too soon.

But I’m sad to see the summer go. We got snow up high this weekend, and it’s just over. Morning dog walks require long pants, socks, and a jacket now. And my windows are closed. My house has an inside and outside again, and this weekend I found myself at Lowes looking at storm doors. Winter’s on it’s way, and it’s supposed to be a cold one, with high energy prices. I’m battening down the hatches and filling my larder.

Hail and Voting

Hail and Voting

So, here we are, the last primary in the nation. Although I’ve been an Obama supporter for months, I’ve been lying to the campaign. They (quite rightly) have been encouraging people to vote early, especially since here in Montana you can register any time, including on election day, and you can vote right when you register. The Bozeman Chronicle had a photo on the front page this morning of a line of early voters snaking out the door of the courthouse over there yesterday. But I’ve written on this blog before about how I love to go to the polls and so, although I told the Obama folks that I voted early (so they could move on and call people who really were undecided) I didn’t. I waited until today so I could go to the polls. And it turns out I’m not the only one who likes to go vote in person. My friend Scott McMillion did a piece on the Lehrer News Hour (which I still think of as McNeil-Lehrer) last Friday about how he loves going to the polls here because he sees all the older ladies who knew him when he was a little kid. It’s a great piece about how the town has changed both for the better and for the not so better. You can watch the streaming video here. So, off I went on my bike a while ago to go vote, and although I don’t know all the older ladies, I saw several of my friends, and it felt like a civic event.

smashed lettuce In garden news, we had a little hail yesterday afternoon, along with several bouts of pelting rain. While the 2 kales (Gallego and Laccinato) seem to be okay, and the chard looks a little battered, and even the broccoli transplants held up fairly well, the Regina di Maggio lettuce didn’t fare so well. I’m giving it a couple of days to see if it will recover, but poor things, they just look beat to death. The spinach is finally coming in, as is the broccoli rabe, and my other oddball favorite from Seeds of Italy, the Rapa da Foglia senza Testa. The description says that this is a turnip green — all I know is that I love it. It’s bitter, without being too bitter, and grows like mad, and is absolutely delicious sauteed with a little olive oil, garlic, and lemon.