The Grass it Isn’t...

Walk, ride, or drive along country roads out here in the Illinois prairie lands and you will see something that looks like this:

Grassy ditch

These scenes get punctuated periodically by bits of color, usually from lilies ("ditch lilies") or clover, or sometimes from phlox and a variety of flowering plans. But usually it’s a sea of green. It can be easy to look at something like this and say "it’s just grass".

And it is. But I was trying to name a particular type of grass for a post a week or two ago, and I’d originally written that it was oat grass. This because, to me, it looked a little like oats at the top. This is the grass in question, along the Hennepin Feeder Canal Trail:

"Oat grass"

I was not correct.

In trying to verify the name I was using, I found the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes, & Non-flowering Plants in Illinois page at Illinois Wildflowers.

Now, I am a (very) amateur and intermittent gardener, but I thought I knew a thing or two about grass. We all know about Kentucky bluegrass and crab grass, but I’ve heard of others - big bluestem, little bluestem, turkey grass, red fescue. I know my grasses, right?

I had no idea.

Follow that link above. I’ll wait.

...

What you found, when you went there, was links to something in the neighborhood of 100 different types of grass and similar plants, right? I thought about counting the number of links, but honestly, life is too short. Plus, I’d already lost a ton of time following many, many, many of those links.

What I realized, as I looked at link after link, was that I really don’t know that much about the grasses growing around me. And there are a lot of them. Let’s look back at that picture from before:

Grassy ditch

If you look closely at this, and start checking out the links on the wildflowers site, you’ll soon realize that what looks like a sea of green is really a varied ecosystem of multiple species:

Grassy ditch annotated

the width of the grass, it’s height and rigidity, and the presentation of the seeds at the top all mark differences between the species. And different areas yield different species still.

Another ditch

I’m often seeing these things while cycling, and then usually on a recumbent trike, which puts me at eye level with the grasses. I might not have taken notice otherwise, but now that I know it’s hard not to see it.

The really hard part with all of this is that there are so many varieties listed on the Illinois Wildflowers site that it quickly becomes dizzying. I clicked probably a third of the links there before I finally gave up, fatigued by the volume and the staggering degree of my apparent grass-related ignorance.

And I still don’t know what variety of grass it is that was growing along the Hennepin Canal Feeder Trail, but I can tell you for sure it’s not oat grass. Not Poverty Oat Grass, not actual oats, not side oats grama, not inland oats, not...

...I finally just gave up and called it "wild grass".

(Seriously - if anyone knows what the grass in the Hennepin Canal picture is, let me know)

Big Bureau Creek - High Water

It’s no secret that we’ve had an unusually wet spring here in the Midwest. Out on our part of the prairie we’ve been more fortunate than others - we aren’t positioned near a large water source, and the Homestead itself is on a hill. That’s not a great thing in the middle of winter, when the west wind is beating mercilessly on the front door, but it is decidedly a benefit when it comes to the rain.

As I sit and write this rolling into a new week the weather seems to have shifted towards the drier end of the spectrum, at least for the next couple of days. But this past week, particularly very early Thursday morning, the ground was not just wet, it was saturated. Yes, there was water on the grass from rain the night before, and low areas in the yard held the expected puddles. But walking through the grass everywhere - including higher spots in the yard - found the ground sopping, squishing beneath the feet. It’s like the water table was announcing that she was full-up.

A major waterway here in western Lee County is Big Bureau Creek. Bureau Creek is a meandering affair that winds its way through Lee and Bureau counties until it ultimately empties into the Illinois River. There are areas on the creek that are wide enough to canoe down, given the right season, but up here, for the most part, it’s a smaller (if lovely) affair. This is Bureau Creek last December:

Bureau Creek in December 2018

And this is the Creek a mile downstream very early in the AM this past Thursday:

Bureau Creek swollen

To be clear, the Creek is bit wider at the location of the second picture - naturally so, given that it’s downstream - but not this wide. She’s out of her banks in parts, and the amount of water being moved is, frankly, astonishing. The channel you see to the left in the picture flowing into the main Creek isn’t really a channel. I mean, it was then, but it’s simply, typically not there. It’s water feeding in from the flooded fields alongside. I was able to get a short video of it:

As I said, we’ve been fortunate out our way, relatively speaking. Everything is wet, but we’re not underwater, and my cousin has been able to get the fields around us planted. Others have not been as fortunate. But wherever you are at, if you are in the Midwest, it is wet, and wetter than we’ve seen for quite some time.

Against the Wind

Guess we didn’t want to sit outside anyway...

It’s always a crapshoot as to when to bring out the lawn furniture here on prairie. The warmer temps tempt its retrieval from the shed, but the wind of spring frequently laughs at my optomism.

These chairs sit at the back of the house, hypothetically having a buffer from the predominantly west wind. But "predominant" is not synonymous with "always", and for fun the wind likes to change things up sometimes and come from, say, the south.

The gentleman who completed our roofing project made note of this as well. After the project was finished he said "you know, the wind out here just comes from every direction". And given that they were not only out here, but high up on the roof, I’m sure they became intimately familiar with the peculiarities of our air movement patterns.

So the picture represents a not-uncommon sight for us. You look out the window, or come up the walk after arriving home, and find the chairs face down (I guess - do chairs have faces? If so, would they be on the backs?). The miracle in this picture is that the table is still in position, and not, say, halfway across the yard.

It all works out, I guess. If one is wondering if it’s too windy to sit outside, and cannot tell for sure by, say, the sound of the wind slamming against the house or the erratic movement of the trees, the chairs being in this position can pretty much answer the question for you.

Prairie Yard...

This past Sunday I mowed my lawn for the first time of the season.

Now I realize there will be a subset of you out there who, upon realizing that last Sunday was the middle of May, will pronounce me a monster.

Fine. You’re right. While I desperately love that we have a substantial yard, I do not aspire to the tightly manicured green-striped lawn of suburbia. In fact, that’s part of the reason I do not live in suburbia. But beyond that, there is a school of thought that says that it’s better for bees - which are struggling - if we give some time to let the lawn grow.

Of course, that presumes that you are also letting things that flower grow in your yard as well.

Which we do. Trigger alert here for those for whom a yard means an extended stretch of Kentucky bluegrass and nothing else...

Dandelions

The other benefit to letting the yard grow is the view. It’s not strictly a prairie - the grass and flowers certainly aren’t that high - but you do get a crop of at least the ubiquitous dandelions and violets to pose for pictures before the lawn gets sheared.

Violets and dandelions

But there are limits. I waited long enough that Rosie seemed to be a little perplexed at what I was up to...

Rosie, watchful

Of course, by this point, Calamity could also be in the picture - with her short little cattledog legs, I’m not sure she can see out over the standing grass.

And ultimately, as you are working your way through the taller portions you realize why people started cutting grass. In addition to the occasional opportunistic tree that tries to take root, there are also a small assortment of rodents that scurry away as the mower approaches. There are actual, practical purposes to this activity besides ensuring that your dog doesn’t get lost.

I think we’d reached that limit.

Yeah - it’s a little long...

Oh Come On!

This was my thought as I looked out the window yesterday afternoon to see this:

snow at the end of April

Yes, those tinges of white that you see in the spring emerald of grass is snow. The date: April 27th. It continued, providing a light dusting that, by this morning, offered this view:

snow at the end of April

This isn’t breaking news to anyone in the upper Midwest. People further north than us, up at the Wisconsin border and beyond, got significantly more snowfall to contend with. And it will be gone by afternoon, most likely, with a High today projected to climb into the 50°’s.

But it’s there now, nonetheless. And it really should not be here - it should not be about. It should not continue snowing once true spring is out.

This was projected and expected by the weather service, so the only people surprised by it were those who were really not paying attention. But it seems reasonable to chronicle it for posterity simply because it is so out of character for this time of year. The day began with rain, and that rain persisted through late afternoon here at our latitude (the snow arrived sooner further north). A day - or two, or three - of ongoing rain is far from unusual in April (those showers bring May flowers, as I recall).

I’m certainly no meteorologist, but the variation and change in what we are getting in the weather is pretty easy to detect at this point - one doesn’t need to measure subtle changes in worldwide high temperatures to see it.

And ultimately, the "oh come on!" to this is because it’s time to be done. I am on the record as a cold kid - I enjoy the winter and everything it has to offer. But winter has had its turn, and it should find its way gracefully into temporary retirement, going into training for the next competition season. This type of thing is just spiteful and pointless. It’s not really snow, after all. It looks like it, but ultimately it’s just fluffy rain. Or, if you like, rain delayed.

I do not like it. I do not like here, or there. Not in a box. Not with a bagel and lox...

Spring Mist

Winter is Coming...

My first thought, looking out the bathroom window this morning, was winter is coming...

But no white walkers came out of the mist, so it appears it was just a foggy spring morning.

I am sometimes a little bitter about being up so early in the morning. Up until a decade or so ago I was a night owl - 1 AM was a familiar companion. Nowadays, given the pressures of schedule old 1 AM and I don’t speak much, and when we do see each other it’s in passing as I transition from sleeping on the couch to sleeping in the bed. But it’s still a tenuous change - my body would rather go back, and mornings are not a delight.

Morning views like this, however, would be absent and inaccessible without early morning rising out here at our country home. It almost makes up for the need to wake at ungodly hours.

Almost.

window mist

Limbs Down

Now that spring is officially underway - Punxsutawney Phil’s dubious predictions aside, spring officially started with the vernal equinox on March 20th - temperatures have started to rise, melting back the snow cover. The uncovering of the ground reveals the consequences of this winter of repeated ice and wind storms, backed by a polar vortex - our trees have shed what looks to be an unprecedented volume of material.

Limbs down

There are a lot of nice things about having a country yard full of mature trees, and there are many things to look forward to about spring. The yard cleanup is not one of them.

Every spring involves some degree of impending yard cleanup, to be sure, but the area around all of our trees looks like some sort of lost elephant graveyard. It’s like all of the trees coordinated on an extreme weight loss program, and came to the conclusion that they really had only one way to achieve their goals - radical shedding.

The ice storms probably are to blame for much of this. Few things will take a toll on a tree like being first encased in thick, heavy ice, being made brittle by the cold, and then being buffeted by 30-50mph winds. Honestly, in the big picture, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more damage in general (though I haven’t done a comprehensive overview of the yard, so I may be speaking too soon).

Each year we end up with a large pile of yard material - mostly downed limbs of various and sundry sizes and composition - that provides an opportunity for a bonfire. This year’s pile is likely to be epic tho, likely we’ll want to burn it in sessions rather than all at once.

I started doing a bit of cleanup earlier this weekend to get the ball rolling. Just the bigger stuff, not the heavy-duty raking to pick up the smaller sticks that are hard (and tedious) to get by hand. Those I’ll leave until the remaining autumn leaf cover blows off (one of the bonuses to living on the prairie - the wind does the leaf raking if you let it). One of multiple such piles is shown below.

Pile

And - of course - this is just the beginning. As we go rolling towards spring we will also be moving into thunderstorm season. Looking up in the trees, still bereft of their leaves, one can see additional limbs which are either damaged or completely broken, but caught partway down. They will fall as well. And while spring does remove the effects of the ice from the equation, one can count on more arboreal detritus before it’s all over.

Whoopee?

Yuck

People talk a lot about how they hate winter. What they mean, mostly, is the cold and the snow that accompanies the presence of January and February on the calendar.

And then they herald the changes that roll in with early March - the higher temperatures, the rain coming down in place of snow.

People are nuts - this is the absolute worst time of year, weather-wise, as far as I’m concerned.

This weekend the rain falls.

It falls because the temperature has risen. It’s risen just above that critical freezing line, and so it remains liquid, not solid.

It falls on ground that is reacting to those warmer temperatures, and so is defrosting itself.

But just on top.

yuck

So what this leaves is a layer of thoroughly saturated muck that slides about atop a still-frozen substrate, like oatmeal on top of glass. And thoroughly saturated means that the water that falls ultimately just sits on the surface - no where to go, absorption impossible.

yuck

In short, it’s gross. And it sucks. Would not recommend, zero stars.

In the winter - in the real winter, with the frozen ground, sometimes covered with lovely snow, it is possible to go out and enjoy the out of doors, the countryside. But what does one do with weather like this.

Sit. Inside.

Sit inside and resent the weather.

First Spears of Spring

You know that spring really has sprung when the fruit trees start to bud, when the Cherry Tree flowers, and you can bring the first harvest of asparaguys.

The asparagus sprouted late this year, probably due to the chillier than typical weather for our region. The first batch is usually ready to go by the last week or so of April, but this year we are bringing them in towards the end of the first week of May. To be fair, a few of the stalks were past their prime, but this is pretty much always the case for us - it just grows too fast for us to catch every single one.

The patch we have is a legacy of our homestead - it was here when we moved in, left behind by my grandmother. This is a bonus and a benefit in and of itself, but when you research asparagus online, there are many words spent on just how hard it is to get a patch started, the care needed - it makes it clear just how lucky we are to have an existing, productive patch. The other benefit to Grandma’s hard work is the size - many of the spears we pull out are a half inch or larger in diameter at the base - these are not the little shoots you see in the grocery store.

We went with an "old" recipe for this first batch. We roasted them in the oven in olive oil, with garlic, diced tomatoes, Italian bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. I say "old" here because it’s a recipe we learned - or perhaps it would be more accurate to say borrowed - from a favorite restaurant. There used to be a little Italian restaurant called Cannova’s in Rockford, set in a converted house on Riverside Blvd just to the east side of the Rock River. It was gone long before we moved away from Rockford, but while it was there it was a place we very much enjoyed. They had a delightful fettuccini alfredo, and it was there I first discovered spaghetti aglio e olio - a dish I initially ordered simply because it was fun to say (ala Moons Over My Hammy ), but found that I very much enjoyed.

They also had the asparagus dish that I’m describing here, served as an appetizer, and we ordered it virtually every time we ate or ordered out from there. Ultimately, MLW reverse-engineered the recipe (a rare and delightful talent she has), and we continue to make it to this day. And we make it just as I described above: we roast them in the oven in olive oil, with garlic, diced tomatoes, Italian bread crumbs, and Parmesan cheese.

You see there are no proportions or measurements, nor cooking times. I can say that we set the oven at 400°, but sometimes we turn it up a bit. Otherwise, you put the asparaguys in the baking dish and you put the other ingredients over them in a volume that looks like enough of each item. Then you cook it until it is, you know, done. In essence, that means that the cheese has begun to brown a bit, and the asparagus is tender.

So that first batch is gone now, asparagus being the ephemeral spring treat that it is. Given its nature, though, we should have another batch in a day or two. Those will find a different fate, almost certainly. In fact, the emergence of the asparaguys makes me remember that it’s also time to clean up the grill...

Spring!

Is it Spring?

It’s been weeks of oddball spring weather that briefly promises the season will begin, then, at the last second, pulls the ice cream cone of warmth away, shouts "psych!", and dumps an inch of snow on us. It’s the 22nd of April, and three days ago there was an inch of snow on the ground.

But this morning it’s already 53°, working it’s way up to a high somewhere in the low 60’s. And a look at the week ahead on the weather app suggests that it’s for real this time, tho that’s difficult to trust.

Could it be true?

While there is always some aspect of the feeling of final relief from the grips of winter when spring comes, the weirdness of this season makes that more acutely felt this year. There are things to be done that can only be done outside. Some of these include the usual stuff, like yard cleanup - the combined ice and wind of the winter always yield a fine supply of fallen branches and sticks that have to be gathered - to garden prep (the asparaguys need their patch cleaned out so they can grow freely). But there are also things that need to be done that don’t involve the yard and the house, but do involve being outside - for example, cleaning out the cars. In an unheated garage this is an activity easy to set aside when the temps are in the 30’s or 40’s.

So - I’m going to try to lean forward and lick this ice cream cone. I hope Mother Nature doesn’t pull it away this time...

Simple Pleasures

The final day of a long weekend out here on the prairie, particularly when the weather cooperates as it has been, offers some opportunity to appreciate the simpler things.

62895D64-6653-43B1-9501-1E41C02C47DD.jpg

The sun and the wind of the open prairie present an option that we don't take advantage of often enough. It's a little more work to haul the clothes out to the line than it is to simply toss them in the dryer, I suppose, but it requires 100% less electricity as well. Besides, there is something nostalgic about seeing the clothes on the line, and something rather therapeutic about hanging them there. This is an activity I watched, and helped, both my mother and my grandmother with many times as a child. Something feels right about it.

Working around the yard yesterday I was greeted multiple times by the peonies in bloom:

FF0A8916-2757-47F3-85AC-4D04C5CC5CE7.JPG

59DC5DFF-26B7-4700-AC05-686B30CB9242.JPG

While all of this is happening, we also have sun tea brewing in a gallon jar on the sidewalk.

tea a-brewin'

This will provide many delightful glasses over the next week or so. I add a few orange tea bags to the mix for mine - just a hint of extra flavor. No sugar or sweetener here tho - those seeking "sweet tea" will have to take that up with the McDonalds in town.

Lilacs in Bloom

Lilac Up Close

The beginning of this second week of May finds the lilacs in bloom. One can see the lovely purple or white flowers swaying in the breeze, and can smell the sweet aroma wafting by. For myself, and for many of us, these bushes in bloom bring out happy childhood memories of time outside in the warming weather of spring - a harbinger of the end of the truly cold season.

These bushes are, and have been, very popular throughout our region. One can find them - and often in profusion - in many, if not most, of the yards of the older farmhouses in the region. A smaller house down the road from us actually has hedgerow covering its fence line consisting entirely of lilac bushes. While the lilac is not native to North America, it's apparently been here nearly as long as European settlers have been coming to stay in earnest.

Our old house has three lilac bushes - one white, two purple. They have been here as long as I can remember, and based on their size, likely considerably longer still. They bloom every year, reliably, about this time. And they offer this gift despite the apparent neglect I've been engaging in towards them, as one should purportedly prune them every year. Next month will mark the beginning of our eighth year in the homestead, and it will also mark the eight straight year in which exactly zero pruning of the sort described in the link has occured.

White Lilac

My Grandma Marie spent a considerable time working on things in the yard - in her garden and otherwise. It is certainly possible - tho I don't recall it - that she diligently pruned these bushes each year. But in more recent seasons benign neglect has been the law of the land.

Back yard purple lilac

Which isn't to say they've had no attention at all, despite the rough condition of the bush above. The nature of how they grow allows for things to take seed and root inside the bushes, and we do spend time each season removing those interlopers. And given the age of our lilacs, each season I do spend time extracting dead material. Lilacs can apparently live a couple of hundred years, depending on the variety, so it's possible that these have been here nearly as long as the house itself. I say nearly because, in the case of at least one of the bushes...:

No lilacs yet...

Whether it was John Foulk and his immediate family who planted them sometime after taking that picture, or a later generation, it's clear that these bushes have been here for many decades at least, and each year blooming to herald the coming of the warm season.

The... What? Is Leaking?

Around 8:30 last night LB comes up to me and says: "that thing over the stove is leaking".

Me: ”The thing... what?"

LB: "That thing over the stove - you know - the thing."

Me: "The vent hood?"

LB: "... sure".

I followed LB into the kitchen to find, sure enough, it was.

Drip

This would seem somewhat perplexing, given that there is no water run anywhere in the house higher than the kitchen and bathroom sinks, both on the first floor, both lower than the stove vent hood.

But: It started raining at about 11:30 or so yesterday morning, and continued until some time into the wee hours of this morning. There was occasional thunder and lightening, but the real player in yesterday's weather was the wind and rain. The continuous rain paired itself with an unusual East by Northeasterly wind that gusted more or less constantly throughout the day and night, striking the backside of the house where the kitchen sits.

The kitchen itself, as it stands, is not original to the house. Rather, it is relatively modern, a late 1940's remodel initiated by my grandparents, with some updating of appliances since. That 1940's work has held up remarkably well, all things considered, over the last 70 years or so. Still, events like this make one realize that one does not know what one does not know.

The vent hood feeds into a galvanized duct that goes up into the soffit above the cabinets. I believe that it then travels across, thru the soffit, over to the chimney in the wall. And when I investigated the bit of ductwork I can see in the cabinet above the hood, I found that to be the location of the leak.

Galvanized Pipe

The chimney that it goes into is one of four in the house - three original and one added later - and is the only original chimney that still rises above the roof, coming out from the fireplace in the basement (which I suspect was originally used for cooking) and traveling up the back wall of the house. In short, it faced the brunt of last night's wind and rain.

My best guess is that the volume of rain, and gusting of wind, was such that it created an unusual bit of air movement in the chimney, moving some rain back down the chimney and throwing it down the vent. I say best guess because in eight years of living here, and a lifetime of being in and around the house semi-regularly, I have never seen this before.

It's all subsided now. It's still windy this morning, but the rain appears to have mostly let up. Our as-yet still unnamed vernal ponds have returned at greater than usual size, and the wind blew over the garbage can. The dogs discovered this first and thoughtfully addressed it by distributing the contents of the can all over the driveway (there may have been the occasional utterance of foul language as I cleaned that up). But it is another of the periodic reminders that, although we are certainly not pioneers out here, with our electricity and running water and such, the weather continues to have surprises to throw at us.

Time to Mow

grass out of control

Spring has fully sprung, and the rainy season has been out in full force. These April showers do, of course, bring...

Well, I don't know, there are already flowers blooming here - they don't wait for May, so I'm not sure that saying was coined by someone living in the upper Midwest. But what it does bring is the dawn of mowing season.

To be clear, MLW does the bulk of the mowing and seems to enjoy it. What's more, LB is primed to be learning this task as well. This is not about to become a screed about how annoying it is to care for the lawn.

The other thing that Spring brings is the annual realization that I need to get a battery charger, though this would negatively affect what has now become the traditional harbinger of mowing season: the announcement that the mower will not start.

Of course the challenge is that the only time I ever need a battery charger is at the start of mowing season. This means that the only time I ever think about getting a battery charger is at the start of mowing season. And, since we typically need it now, to get the lawn mowed, I've borrowed devices to get the job done in the moment.

And then, of course, forgotten until the following spring.

I am not ahead of the game this year. The mower has already failed to start. But I think, this time, that perhaps I will risk that tradition and actually get a damn battery charger.

Emergency Repairs

Earlier this week we had a pretty severe thunderstorm. Rain, thunder, and lightening, yes, but mostly lots of wind. At times, the blowing was hard enough that we could feel the house tremble even while laying in bed.

Somewhere in there we heard a slam that we assumed was the door in the old barn slamming open (it has a tendency to do that). But when I got up in the morning it was clear that something else had occurred. Out the window of the laundry room I saw the eve vent laying in the yard.

well crap...

What this means, aside from the fact that the wind managed to rip a fairly tightly secured piece of siding material off the side of the house, is that we now had a gaping hole in the north side of the house.

Big Ass Hole

I've had to learn over the years to leave alone - not start - things that I don't have the time to finish around the house. It's key to not letting myself get extremely frustrated about unfinished projects. Still, we had a hole in the side of our home, and spring is approaching. While the landlocked critters probably can't get up that high - it's a tall house - spring approacheth, and the birds have already begun to return.

I had no choice but to leave it for the first day - there was simply no open time in my schedule. This meant that, when I finally did get the stepladder lined up with the scuttle hole and climb my way up into the attic, it was with some trepidation.

In a lot of big, old, Victorian era homes the attic is functionally a third floor. In our homestead there is room to stand up in the attic, and one gets the impression that there may have been a thought, in the original design, that one could have made a small room up there if it was ever needed. In my grandparent's time there was a wooden ladder built-in against the wall and up to the scuttle hole. I don't know who put it there - whether it was part of the original construction, with that thought of using the extra space as an additional worker's bedroom (the scuttle hole is in the back, worker's stairwell), or whether it was just a later addition by someone who was just tired of hauling a stepladder up and down the back stairs. Having done that very task myself multiple times, I can see how one might get to that point.

Scuttle Hole

While it one can see how it could have been a small living space, at the moment it's just a home for insulation and duct work. And, fortunately, it did not appear to become an inopportune home for anything else.

As usual, all my tools are in the basement, so any repair or work in the attic inevitably involves multiple trips up and down two flights of stairs, one stepladder, and pulling oneself up or down through a scuttle hole. I was fortunate to start my repair trip with a bit of daylight outside, but it was still dark enough to require a flashlight. Improbably, the opening in the wall seems to look smaller up close than it does from the ground.

Old Attic

I thought I'd have to patch the hole with a bit of plywood (I don't have a ladder that goes high enough to work from the outside and, besides, the outside is really, you know, high), but I was fortunate enough to be able to fish the old vent out thru the hole from the inside...

...and of course, promptly dropped it.

Out the scuttle hole, down the stepladder, down the steps, out the back door, pick up the vent, back in the door, back up the steps, up the stepladder, through the scuttle hole...

Oh - but I did stop along the way and pick up some string so I could secure the damn thing and refrain from multiple trips. Forty-six years of dropping things can ultimately teach you a thing or two.

A little bit of work with the drill and some wood screws, some careful application of silicon sealant to prevent leaks around the edges, and we have a decent, if temporary, repair.

It all serves as an additional reminder that the wind out here isn't just playing, as well as a testament to the house for continuing to stand against it 150+ years on.

What's He Growing Out There?

Something... different is happening around us this year.

We are surrounded on all sides by farmland, and three of those four sides are owned by my cousin. Most years he plants corn, but sometimes soybeans or a mixture of the two. We never know which until we see things start to sprout, and that's a bit of the adventure of living out here.

Yes, we could probably ask, but one of the joys of country living for this introvert is that I'm not routinely interacting with my neighbors. I suspect most of the people living around me have a similar perspective - it's part of why one chooses to live out here.

At any rate, this year is different.

What's coming up around us looks like clover (and I've learned something new today: apparently there is a dating app called Clover, and it occupies the first four hits on Google). It looks like this up close:

Clover?

And looking across the field:

But really... clover?

A Google image search doesn't help much, since much of it seems to focus on either idealized images or a couple of specific types of clover.

The Wikipedia page on clover suggests good reasons why it might be planted around us - apparently the plant is related to peas, and fixes nitrogen in a similar fashion, refreshing the soil. Its also an important component of hay, which is my cousin's primary crop.

Eventually I'll probably get around to asking him. But for the moment I'm rather enjoying the mystery. What's he growing out there? What the hell is he growing out there...

Warm Weather Approaches

We've had a very cool spring - I could hear the furnace kick on periodically well into April. As we got through May, however, things finally warmed up. Temperatures around these parts have stopped shy of the 90's so far, but we've had some solid mid-80° days.

Temperature control year round is an issue for our old house. We've talked quite a bit here about taking measures - some more successful than others - to manage the cold. Hot weather is also a challenge, though less-so than winter.

We do have central air conditioning. This was something that we had installed by the second year or so that we lived here. My grandparents did not have it, and my uncle will tell sad stories of summer nights in his bedroom just wishing that his sister - my mother - would open up her bedroom door so that the southern breeze entering her room could be shared across the hallway into his.

As I understand the story, she never gave in, selfishly hoarding the refreshing summer breeze to herself; The story, at least, as my uncle tells it.

While we have the central air available, however, we use it sparingly. It gets hot here now, and it also got hot back in the 1860's, when the house was built. With the absence of technological interventions like air conditioning, they employed other strategies to keep the building relatively cool. Those strategies, and the support systems for them, still work today.

Most of this involves keeping the house closed up. Part of this is focused on making sure all windows and doors are sealed during the part of the day in which the outside air is warmer than the inside air. Having it sealed prevents temperature exchange, and the inside will stay much cooler than one would expect without the help of AC.

Another part of being closed up refers to covering windows - particularly those facing south and west. This decreases heat gain from sunlight, keeping rooms that would otherwise be scorching hot from reaching those temperatures and sharing them with the rest of the building. You can see this strategy employed in one of the few very old pictures of the house that we have:

Shutters are Closed

If you look closely you will see that this picture - clearly taken in the daylight in summer - shows that every window has shutters on it, and every shutter is closed. They were external shutters, in this case, which also had the benefit of protecting the glass in high winds. A few of those shutters are still around, incidentally. My grandfather repurposed some of them into use on the enclosed porch windows (the windows were also repurposed from the old bay window that was taken out - the shutters covered the bay windows as well), and into a closet door. Others are out in the shed, far the worse for wear. I'd love someday to be able to use them as a template for new versions, though that's far down the list.

The final part of the strategy for staying cool is something I am thankful my ancestors took care of for me: shade.

We have very large trees to the south and west of the house, planted by enterprising relatives likely both to cool the building and protect it from the wind. It's a gift that just keeps on giving.

To be clear, we still give in and kick the AC on when the weather gets too hot, and particularly when it gets too humid. While I love the care and attention that my ancestors paid to keeping the house cool, that love only goes so far on a 98° day with 95% humidity.

Barn Swallows

If the Red-wing Blackbirds are a sign of early spring, the arrival of the Barn Swallows indicates that Mother Nature is finally confident the season will persist.

These birds are truly amazing - arial gymnasts that pluck insects out of the sky in mid-flight. They are a country phenomenon, needing open space to fly and structures in which to nest. This time of year you may encounter them when driving down a country road; or, if you live out here, mowing the grass will bring them out in droves, which is why you see them flying about in this video:

(Because they are relatively small and move so much, they can be difficult to pick up on a mobile phone camera)

I, personally, embrace any critters that decrease the resident population of insects and vermin, though opinions vary within the Homestead household (LB will not now, nor has she ever seen fit to suffer a spider to live). More than most animals that provide this contribution, though, these birds put on a show that is delightful to see throughout the spring and summer.

Damp

The past week, and the entirety of this weekend (thus far) has been rainy and cool. This is part of spring in this section of the country, of course, but it gets old. It also illustrates one of the limitations of country life: Most of the year, in both sun and snow, there is something attractive about spending time outside. But this type of weather is really just... Damp. The ground is saturated, the moisture clings to you when you are outside. It's not inviting.

Of course, the glass-half-full way of looking at this is to consider it an opportunity to enjoy some quiet time, alone or with family, reading, writing, or catching up on episodes of favorite shows. Our old house offers spaces for each of those activities. With the multiple rooms and amount of space in the home, there's room to gather if you like, but also multiple spaces offering a quiet, secluded nook if that's what you prefer.

The struggle comes when what one would prefer is a space to move around and do something more active. Because of its 19th century design, the house is big, but holds many rooms within that space. There are larger rooms on the main floor, but once furniture is in place there's not a great deal of room for continuous movement (e.g. For something like a martial arts form).

This isn't, of course, much of an issue after a couple of days of rain. After a week of it, though, it is something one becomes more aware of.

Orchard Update

Last summer we planted some fruit trees - a cherry, pear, and cold-hardy peach - to join our loan apple tree on the property. Planting new trees is sometimes a hit or miss proposition. We seem to have been fortunate with this trio:

Blooms

All three trees seem to have made their way through the winter (I was a little worried about the peach tree), and two of the three are flowering. This suggests the potential for a little fruit this season.

Orchard under way!