It’s the 13th of March, and it’s snowing. The snow started at 1:00 am. The forecast says it will stop around dark. I’ll be ready. The weather forecast on my phone calls for 2 more days of snow next week. Imagine that I had a date with a new garden hand to start pulling bittersweet and digging multiflora rose out of the meadow tomorrow.

To while away this unseasonable  snow storm, I’ve been reading Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies. I just reached a section called “A Pause: On Freezeland Street” where the pages turned a light blue. It starts: “Sometimes, in deep winter, life seems to pause. Snow falls silently, and it muffles the usual sounds.”

This is not quite my situation as a northwest wind has been blowing tree detritus against the northern windows making a jarring clatter. And snow plows have been up and down the street way too frequently for the volume of traffic (none). I looked up from the dining room table to see a crew member of a National Grid climbing over the front wall. He was checking my meter to see whether I had power. Apparently at least some of my neighbors are without.

Back in my reading nook with Weatherland, the author, Alexandra Harris, is about to describe several Frost Fairs on the Thames from the 1600s till 1814. The many piers of the Old London Bridge impeded the river’s flow creating “a very pavement of glass” supporting an alternative world on the ice. Harris writes that visitors came in the thousands. Booths were set up in double rows from Temple Stairs to the South Bank. Since I’m about to be right there next month, this “pause” in the Weatherland tale is particularly compelling.

In 1684, poet-playwright John Dryden started work on the libretto for an opera, King Arthur, by Henry Purcell that according to Harris “would contain one of the most brilliant renderings of frost in musical history.” You can hear  a modern interpretation of “The Chorus of Cold People” here. The stuttering staccato mimics their shivering, writes Harris. (Purcell’s version is here.)

I have missed most of the storms in Rhode Island this winter. I have not lost power. i should not complain. But I saw a pair of mourning doves huddled together on the back of a wrought iron chair under the enclosed but not screened section of the porch. They were whispering “we’ve had it” to one another. I’d concur.


Back in the days of extensive house renovations, my family elected a piece of equipment for an exemplary service award each week. The shop vac was a frequent winner. We’d come home from work and school to find, despite all precautions by the crew, a layer of dust that required removal by the shop vac before we could comfortably settle in.

I don’t miss the renovations, but I miss the award practice. Although it’s an exchange with an inanimate object, the awardee benefits — in my experience — from the act of appreciation.

I want to give a lifetime award to my swimming fins.

Claudia somebody, a colleague at the World Bank not known to me to be a swimmer, insisted that I order a certain pair of fins — not the regular, flexible swimming fins but a type more commonly used by divers. She also had me buy a 10-pound weight to put on my kick board. Using both in my swimming routine would help me get a better workout, she argued. That was 1994. The weight did not make the cut as I pared down to move into retirement in 2009, but the fins were too integral to my swim routine to eliminate in this passage of aging.

In May 2016, when the fins were 22 years old, the adjustable heel strap on the right fin had frayed to the point where it threatened to let go on any kick. I had already doctored the casing that prevents the webbing from rubbing against my heel with black electricians tape. Now the needed repair would involve replacing the swiveling pin that holds the strap to the fin — not a Sally homemaker task.

From a magazine file with my most precious documents, I retrieved the literature I’d carefully saved on the fins. The person who answered the phone in Santa Barbara — without the intermediation of a receptionist or a message about listening carefully as our options have changed — was the fin designer, Bob Evans. We arranged the return and repair to coincide with a weekend and minimize my time out of the pool. Swimming without my fins apparently didn’t occur to me. I joked with Bob that I wanted to keep these fins going as long as I could keep swimming, which I hoped might be another 20 years. I silently patted myself on the back for saving the cost of a new pair. In the 90s the fins had cost about $75, now they sold for an additional $100. The repair cost $30 plus shipping.

Back in the pool with my repaired fins, I marveled at how fortunate I was to have taken Claudia’s advice. Faintly and to myself I had cursed Claudia for coercing me to make the purchase, marveling that she held such power to override my usual frugality and preference for equipment-free swimming. I must have had more interest in improving my work-out than I confessed to.

Wherever you are, Claudia, all is forgiven. Maybe even a thank you is due.

Then maybe six months ago, a fin began to split where the ankle cover meets the base (left photo below). I tried sealing the crack with superglue to no avail. The fins are very sturdy so the split progressed slowly. Still, the cracked fin hurt; the force of the water twisted the fin into the sole of my foot. I faced the reality the owner of an old car faces: replacement is the only option.

I called Bob back to order a new pair. Fortunately, I did not get him so he could not lsay “I told you so.” In fact, he had not urged me to replace the fins at the time I made the repair. The fins are manufactured in Pennsylvania, I learned, and I’d have to place my order online. My original fins were a dark, matte blue. When the new fins arrived they were black — very black and very shinny. I was shocked. How could I have ordered black, and how could I ever wear what I’d received?

I sent word of my disappointment. They sent a copy of my online order. I’d checked black as the color. For a couple of weeks I debated whether to waste the postage times 2 or suck it up and use the new fins. The shine disappeared in the first swim, and now I love the black.

Here’s why my swim fins get an award. My kick is even; my ankles flex; I stay on the surface of the water; I swivel along a central axis imitating a torpedo. But with the fins and likely because of them, each of those attributes is heightened. (See Slim Fin literature in bubbles from 1990s.) I get more power out of my kick even when using the fins upside down as in the back stroke because the extra load from the increased surface area of the fins. They force my ankles to extend. They help keep me level. They demand more effort from my quadriceps, increasing the cardiovascular workout I get.  And I swim a bit faster. Not that swimming is a race for me — I never swam competitively —  but completing my 3 times a week, 1 and almost 2/10s miles routine in 50 minutes is a plus.

I give an exemplary service award to my slim fins for their long contribution to my comfort and happiness while swimming. May we still be in the pool lapping together in 20 years.


A flock of birds, likely robins, devoured the winterberries. I missed the feeding frenzy this year. with its loud, chaotic soundtrack. The berries are said to have a higher nutrient value after a hard freeze. We’ve had plenty of those, so I assume the birds got a big boost from the berries. They certainly stripped the bushes clean.

Small-waisted red cedar

Deer have browsed an even smaller waist into the red cedar at the edge of the meadow. The “Deer Out” I sprayed in the fall apparently was not a deterrent or maybe the deer have been especially hungry this season. I am grateful they have left the rhodies along the road intact.

A great horned owl called all night on Valentine’s eve. I heard him while I was snuggled up in my reading nook before bed, the couple of times I awoke during the night and again in the light of early dawn. If he was calling a mate, he got no answer. He’s moved out of hearing distance the past few nights, but I know I’m living in his territory.

I love the rufous hue of little bluestem in winter. Its fuzzy flowers catch the sunlight in a magical way. The tan switchgrass is a blah color, although its inflorescence–the highest in the field now as in summer–is majestic. The broome sedge has more red than switchgrass and less little bluestem, but it’s feathery stalks make up for the fact that its a lousy forage plant. Unlike the winterberries and the cedar, no one’s eating it anyway.

Finally, the days are getting longer. The sun rose today at 6:32 and set at 17:22. The arc it takes through the sky is still low to the horizon making long shadows, even at noon.

Five years and one day ago, Sandy ravaged the East Coast. New England was on the outer edges of the storm’s violence but suffered profoundly nonetheless. My participation in the event required five days without power. I was totally undone by the experience. One of my kids remarked that he thought I was more of a pioneer woman than my behavior indicated.

Last night on returning from a weekend in NYC, I drove from the train station – bright lights on – in the middle of the road to avoid splaying the water pooled in the small floods that edged the roads. Enormous raindrops caught my headlights before angling horizontally into the windshield. I was happy to have new tires but worried they might be damaged by all the tree litter strewn across the road.

Fortunately, no deer leapt from the woods and few cars came in the opposite direction. I took note as I passed the driveways of the few people I know along the route in case I needed emergency road service – which I didn’t.

Later as I turned off the light to start what’s for me a fairly involved fall-asleep process, I tried to ignore the wind. But from time to time, there’d be a thump – something falling in the yard, on the roof, off the benches beside the mudroom door, on the porch. I had not brought in the tray of White goldenrod seedlings awaiting repotting or the watering can. Maybe the watering can had taken in enough water to be too heavy to fly off the bench and maybe not. Surely the seedlings would be knocked to the ground. I’d left a bucket with a scrub brush and a rag to dry on the porch after washing the rugs. Were those things blowing around? It was too wet to check and getting up while in the fall-sleep process is always a bad idea. But when I remembered that the hourly weather prediction used the high winds symbol till the middle of the next morning, I got up to take an Ibuprofen pm bill to get some sleep.

I was slow to realize in the morning that the power was out. I did not have Internet service, but when I could flush the toilet and get water from the sink I presumed the problem was router related. Usually that’s a problem that can be fixed in the front house but not today. So I went to the back house to reset the FIOS router. Ah ha, no power there. The phone battery pack was beeping, about to die. Refilling the bird feeders in shed #1, I switched on light – not because I needed it but as a test: power there.

Finally it dawned on me that I was experiencing my first real use of my battery powered solar generator! The electric clock in the front wall showed the correct time. The fridge was on. The kitchen lights worked. I had to move the coffee pot and grinder to different outlets but water, even hot water, flowed from the faucets.

It’s miraculous! In four years (?), this is the first long-term blackout. The batteries are working noiselessly, apparently reliably. Today’s sun is generating more electricity; I can monitor the output on the inverter. Does this mean I’ll be able to keep powering the house for the coming days? Could I be so lucky?

On a walk down the road, I found at least part of the problem: a large Norway maple limb lies across the electrical wires half way down the road. Maple on Post

I have not seen a National Grid truck drive down the road. The word is that it could be several days before everyone has power again. (I can’t complain when I think about Puerto Rico!) I trust that we will not be powerless as long as we were after Sandy. And as long as the generator works, I can reestablish my credentials as a pioneer woman — not in tolerance for the hardships of blackouts but in alternative power.

A light bulb icon appeared on the dashboard of my Jetta alerting me to a burned out bulb somewhere unspecified. A house guest and I were about to drive across the Jamestown and Newport bridges and along various highways monitored by state and local police for some ecotourism and socializing with other friends. Servicing the car was not part of the plan.

After two more days of traipsing around the state with a burned out light bulb, I took the car to the dealer. An hour later as I settled the bill ($4.51 for a left brake light bulb and a few dollars more for labor to install it), I said to the agreeable, young, white man in the service department — a person who knows me as a regular customer just as I know him as the young man in the service department, as a “person in my neighborhood” according to Mr. Rogers, “Good thing I am not a black man. Instead of settling this transaction with you, I might be dead.”

My comment did not fit the circumstances. The young man chuckled hesitantly. No doubt he was thinking, “What did she say?” But he quickly processed what I meant, switched from any light-hearted tone to seriousness and said, “You’re right.”

Suppose I had still been driving my previous car — a 1993 Nissan named Minima. She was an excellent car but not as communicative as the Jetta. When a turn signal went out, the blinking noise the signal made changed from slow to fast. Aha, you’d say, turn signal is out. But I recall no other warnings of burned out bulbs. It could have taken me a very long time to realize a bulb was not working.

If I were a dark-skinned male driving an uncommunicative car would I have to do an inspection of all the lights every time I drove the car in order to stay alive?

I rattled the VW service department man. But we both will likely survive routine burned out car bulbs. In that moment, we both knew it.





The Monarchs are back. I spotted the first on Flag Day (14 June) — a full 11 days later than my first spotting last year. It was in the lower meadow and took me by surprise when I flushed it. In fact, while it certainly seemed the right size and coloration for a Monarch, I did not get a good look. Then two days later a pair of Monarchs were aloft above their more traditional portion of the meadow near the evergreen hedgerow.

Common Ravens, an uncommon sight here, are disturbing the Common Grackles who do a top-rate job of devouring whatever seed or suet I put out for target birds making them my least favorite feeder. Three Ravens at least are back and forth between the Norway Spruce and the evergreen hedgerow making their distinctive call as the Grackles — uncharacteristically silent — chase them. Who am I rooting for in this contest?

Today’s Espresso email from The Economist included a story they titled “Art of the deal: clever corvids.”The corvid family includes crows, ravens, rooks and magpies but not the lowly Common Grackle which is a member of the icterid family. But the Grackle is one wily bird and, as I hinted above, eats me out of house and home. The ravenous Grackles at the Kennel House have learned to feed upside down so as the polish off the suet intended for the Woodpeckers and Nuthatches. They have developed an insatiable appetite for the grape jelly on the Baltimore Oriole feeder, maybe because they are both icterids. The Cowbird — also in this family — has not developed a taste for grape jelly, although it too is around. Restocking that feeder could be done twice a day, if I chose to keep it full. All this is to say that the Common Grackle is not without its own form of smarts.

The herb garden with four bird feeders, including the station for the Orioles

And speaking of the “Art of the Deal,” I had been planning to post the Song of Sixpence nursery rhyme to offer our American king a disgusting desert. Wishing even such a vile person as our king anything unseemly would no doubt have meant that I’d been the maid in the garden hanging out the clothes of the final verse when down would come a blackbird and peck off my nose.

Eastern Phoebes nested again this year in the rafters of the folly, though I never caught a glimpse of them. Tree Swallows have nested in two bird boxes. A pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrived last week. The Gray Catbirds came back last month; I do love its slaty gray with a little black scull cap and rufous undertail coverts. A friend from Princeton and the 70s was visiting last week. She remarked that she’d dress like the female Northern Cardinal; I’d choose the Catbird for my sartorial model.

Phoebe nest in the folly’s rafters

The Downy Woodpeckers are showing their offspring how to eat the suet.

Downy parent feeding baby atop the suet feeder

Remarkably few House Sparrows have elected to feed and nest here. Writing that no doubt will produce an influx.

It’s June so the lightening bugs are flashing in the meadow at night. And the heat ans sun of an early summer afternoon bring on the Dragonflies. Look hard to see them. One’s in the upper left-hand corner but you can see others as well.

Dragonflies, upper left and upper center

Finally, belying the title of this blog, is this only tangentially related photo of an uncommonly marked White-tail Deer in the meadow. Photographing through the porch screens creates that double image. With its distinctive patterning, we’ll be able to keep tabs on this meadow visitor even if s/he arrives on foot.

April 3rd: A male Eastern Bluebird sat atop a bird nesting box in the meadow causing my heart to skip a beat especially since I knew that a House Sparrow had begun to build a nest in the box. Would that I could speak Bluebird to let him know that I’d do everything I could to keep the House Sparrows at bay. Just before the Bluebird arrived, I had been debating which of the several practices I have tried in the past to follow this year to make the House Sparrow feel unwelcome or, better yet, to go elsewhere far away. Given my success rate, the Bluebird might well have decided not to accept any offer of protection from me. After all for all my schemes, I still have a population of House Sparrows. This Bluebird sighting was therefore both a FOY (first of year) and a last of year. Indeed, he has not returned.

April 15: A male Wild Turkey nibbled insects in the herb garden and the adjacent lawn. I have not seen Turkeys again since then but, unlike the Bluebird, I know he and his relatives will be around into the fall.

April 16: A ground hog munched on the grass in front of the back house. I watched hoping to see whether he would lead me to his burrow. Something finally spooked him, and he dashed in the direction of the canoe, where he has resided in past seasons. Time to review my neighbor, Marilyn’s, trap setting technique. I’d like this to be among the last-of-year sightings but, like warding off House Sparrows, that could be a pipe dream.

May 2: I harvested the first asparagus stems. Every dinner for the next 6 weeks will include asparagus. Towards the end of the season, the mailman may find offerings of the veggie in the mail box. A friend reminded me I could drop off extra stalks at the Welcome House or the Jonnycake kitchen.

May 2: The Sugar Maple beside the porch leafed out. I submit a blurry photograph as proof. The wind was blowing — that’s my excuse. The other Maples will be a week or so slower in leafing out. I should report the dates to the New England Leaf Out (NELO)  project.

May 3: A male Tiger Swallowtail sat on a branch of the wisteria bush. Don’t tell my native plant colleagues who argue that natives attract and support wildlife better than non natives. Two immature but native Lindera benzoin or northern spice bushes are growing out immediately next to the forsythia but they seem too twiggy to have hosted the Swallowtail caterpillar, although spice bushes are said to be the larval host. On May 3rd last year, I saw the first Monarch butterfly in the meadow fluttering near the ground as though it could not fly. It was, in fact, laying eggs. The Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, is popping through the ground in the meadow. I hope the butterflies return in the coming days.

May 4: A pair of House Sparrows are the only birds to have completed a nest in a bird box. I removed 5 eggs. Tree Swallows are noisily starting a nest in a newly sited bird box — now in the middle of the meadow. They have used this box in its previous locations for years.

May 5: Other Rhode Islanders have reported the return of Baltimore Orioles so I hung my Oriole feeder with an orange and Concord grape jelly. Within a couple of hours, both a male and a female were feeding.

May 6: Lilacs first in the doooryard bloomed. Seven years after transplanting these Lilacs from the southern dooryard to the northern one, the plants have bloomed in abundance! The old stand never produced as many blooms; all the blossoms are white.

May 6: A male Hummingbird arrived at the feeder I put out yesterday!

On ticks: I removed what I think was a black-legged tick from my inner elbow about 2 weeks ago. The next day, I found a full grown dog tick climbing the porch door jamb. I found another dog tick (I hope) on the frame of the northern door to the living room. All three are taped to the fridge. A warm winter, and for my money more importantly a wet April, seems to have provided excellent growing conditions for these nasty pests.

On ants: The carpenter ants invaded the kitchen again at the beginning of April. But after a visit from Narragansett Pest and time. As of today (June 10), I don;t seem to have any more ants. The fruit flies have arrived at the compost bucket, however.

On rodents: The Grey Squirrel population is growing. The Red Squirrel appears to remain a bachelor and is as neurotic as ever. The Chipmunks were out in force starting in April. Mice have not been very willing to take the peanut butter from the basement traps. The groundhog (is he a rodent?) is looking very well fed although I have battened down the garden perimeter fence and Scott and I built a special fence around the raised bed with lettuces and other leafy greens.

The news here is all more than a month old but I’m posting it anyway since this blog is my way of record keeping.