pameladean: (Libellula julia)
On Wednesday, Raphael and I went for our first expedition of the year, to see the ephemerals at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. To see the early ones at their peak we ought to have gone last week, but the weather didn't cooperate.

We got a reasonably expeditious start, especially for the first hike of the year, and even though we had to stop at my clinic so I could pick up my medication. We usually get off the freeway at the Northfield exit and go through town to pick up Highway 246, thus giving me a glimpse of Carleton and the Cannon River. But the GPS suggested staying on the freeway til the next exit, going instead through Dundas, and picking up 246 somewhat further along its length. Dundas is not Northfield, but I had fond -- mostly -- recollections of biking there from Carleton for a huge annual used-book sale. I didn't like biking along the shoulder of the road in the dust, but the books were excellent.

I had said to Raphael as I put on my fleece sweater and picked up my raincoat that I expected to be alternately too warm and not warm enough, and this prophecy was amply fulfilled. It was very sunny and intermittently very windy. Up in the picnic ground it was quite chilly. Down by Hidden Falls the air was almost still and the sun really beat down.

One of the pleasant things about Nerstrand is that there are ephemerals even in the picnic grounds and the campground. Anywhere the grass is not mown are trout lilies and false rue anemone and occasional other native wildflowers. You can see the tiny trout lily leaves spreading out through the mown grass. If Nerstrand ceases to be able to afford to mow its lawns, or civilization falls, the trout lilies will fill up all that mown space now occupied by grass, dandelions, and creeping charlie.

The Park Office was closed, so I sat on the bench they have on their west-facing porch and watched for birds while Raphael filled out the form for an annual park pass. One downy woodpecker and three or four little delicate sparrows with a rufous crown and a black eye line, were scratching around in the leaf litter under the bird feeder. And there was one white-throated sparrow, or what I took for one, though we didn't get a good identification until later. We had a sandwich at a very windy picnic table.

Then we walked through the campground, keeping an eye out for red-headed woodpeckers, but we'd arrived at the height of the afternoon and most birds were silent and absent. We went along the short gravel trail pointing out false rue anemone, purple and yellow violets, swamp buttercup, and the leaves of wild geranium to one another. Then we took the very steep path down to Hidden Falls. Larger patches of false rue anemone, clumps of wild ginger, nodding trillium, a few blossoms of cut-leaf toothwort; and as we got down to the damper areas, dark-green horsetail ferns and, below where a stream went down to join Prairie Creek, some marsh marigold blooming away. Things were intensely green and there were many flowers, but it looked strange to me. I finally realized that, while the false rue anemone was more or less on schedule, it would ordinarily bloom in a much emptier landscape where the understory plants were not leafed out, nor the wild geraniums so far along in their own growth. The trees would usually show just a hint, a mist of green, and you could see quite far into the woods because only the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs impeded your view. The view was much shorter and more cluttered this time. In some years there would hardly even be any violets yet, but they were thick along most of the damper trails that we took. And the spring beauty, while we did find some eventually, was not nearly as widespread as you would expect. We had also missed most of the Dutchman's breeches, though we did find a stalk or two here and there.

We went down the wooden steps to the rocky shore below the waterfall, and sat on a bench in the sun for a while. Clouds of tiny insects were dancing in the sun, coming together in a dense ball like a globular cluster and then bursting apart only to coalesce again. I was just about to point out to Raphael that they were a dragonfly's dinner without the dragonfly, when a green darner darted into their midst and started snapping them up. I made sure I had remembered to tell Raphael that Eric and I had seen darners at Eloise Butler, and Raphael told me there had actually been one in the back yard.

Eventually we got up and went back up the other side of the trail, the steeper side with steps. Last year we got to see the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily in bloom, but it was done this year. There was plenty of false rue anemone, newly-opening ferns, early meadow rue with its flowers like little fringed lampshades, more violets, a little spring beauty, one or two blooming wild geraniums, fantastical ash buds, and hundreds of trout lily leaves, with here and there a patch of blossom in a shadier or cooler spot. At one point Raphael asked me what pollinated trout lilies; we thought it was bees but weren't sure. A little further along the trail, Raphael saw a bumblebee taking a good long time inside a trout lily flower, so that seemed to be that. We saw a number of bumblebees zipping around in the course of the day.

We climbed the trail and sat down on the bench that the park has kindly put just before the really steep part. The wind was fitful. All the green was fresh as fresh. The sky was almost autumnal in the intensity of its blue -- we thought this might be because the humidity was low, but we didn't know. It was hard to get up and go on up the hill, but we did. We came almost immediately upon a large number of extremely weird plants that we were fairly sure we had looked up before but failed to retain the name of. I think, having poked around online, that they were wood betony.

Once back at the top of the hill, we had a hunt for the yellow lady-slipper orchids we'd seen there just once, and then went back to the picnic ground and had another sandwich and took a different trail that crossed Prairie Creek and then gave us a choice of which way to go. We decided to take the White Oak Trail back downhill to the water, since it was such a dry spring; sometimes it's too wet to take the lower trail by the creek at all. The upper part of the trail was full of trout lilies, violets, and false rue anemone, with the occasional Jack-in-the-Pulpit or trillium. As we came down into lower and damper levels again, the false rue anemone came into its own. Along the creek banks it grew lushly with ferns and reeds and violets and some lovely clumps of blue wood phlox, which I think of as blooming much later. We stood on the bridge admiring the phlox on the other side for a while, and then walked on to the where the Beaver Trail intersects the White Oak, and sat down on yet another bench. The light was starting to mellow out, and everything was still the tenderest green imaginable, starred with flowers and yet-emerging leaves and dancing small insects. Several times we saw the shadow of a butterfly -- or maybe just of a blowing leaf.

At last we began the walk back along the creek to the steep trail with the steps. The flowers were still very lush and intermingled, but there were fewer ferns and grasses or reeds. At some point something in the soil or light changed, and the understory thinned out, and there was a bit of what I'd been missing: mostly bare shrubs arching over patch after patch after patch of false rue anemone. "So many windflowers!" said Raphael, and I looked at them closely. The air seemed quite still, but they were still moving just a little on their flexible stems.

Raphael suggested that we climb the half of the Hidden Falls trail that we had previously come down. The light was much better for seeing small things by then, and that half of the trail isn't quite so steep. The main discovery was a single hepatica blossom still hanging on in its nest of three-lobed leaves. The last third of the trail was a bit of a slog, and we sat on the bench at the top of the hill when we got there. The light was mellower yet. Through the green and gray of the woods a barred owl called, and again, and again, and then after a pause yet again. Eventually we went and sat on the porch of the park office. The tiny sparrows with the rufous caps, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows (we saw the white throat this time), and a single chipmunk, flew down to get seeds or suet, or kicked up the litter on the ground. You could hear the whoosh and ruffle of their wings as the birds came and went, and the scratch and rustle of the chipmunk's feet. There was some squabbling amongst the sparrows, and two nuthatches had a battle over the suet feeder. More distantly, we saw an elusive woodpecker that could have been a flicker or a red-bellied woodpecker; and finally we saw a flash of black and white and red as a red-headed woodpecker appeared briefly and then provided a glimpse, a longer look, another glimpse, always moving around to the other side of the tree or flying across the road to hide in trees with too much foliage. On our walk back to the car, a flash of black and red and white showed amongst the plants by the path. "It's a towhee," breathed Raphael, and it was, kicking up the litter much more violently than the sparrows had.

We had our last sandwich at a now really chilly picnic table, and Raphael got me to take the Sibley out of my backpack, and looked up the sparrows. Like the wood betony, they had been looked up before but we'd forgotten. They were chipping sparrows, and the first elusive woodpecker was indeed a red-bellied one.

We drove home in sunset and twilight. Then we had to come back to earth and do the year's first tick check, but that's just part of going hiking.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Eric and I visited the garden briefly last weekend; we were having a discussion of different driving routes for his old and new apartments, and he mentioned that we hadn't taken this bit of 394 in quite some time, but used to use it as a fast way to get to Eloise Butler from my house. "Eloise Butler," I said reflectively, meaning, hey, the garden is open and it's not a horrible day in terms of weather. So we dropped by quickly, postponing our grocery shopping.

It was classic very early spring in the garden. No overall mist of greening leaves, but the occasional fantastical bud, sticky-tight, or half-open, or frothing out its small leaves in unrecognizable shapes. We heard red-bellied woodpeckers saying Quirrrr quirrr quirrr. Here and there the little white candles of bloodroot stood about, wrapped in their gray-green fringed leaves. On the slope where they surprise us every time, clump after clump of sharp-lobed hepatica bloomed in pink and blue and white, bowing and shaking on their thin stems in the spring breeze. Trout lily leaves were up in abundance. The false rue anemone was up here and there, many of its leaves still reddish. Skunk cabbage was red and redolent in the marsh.

The little snow trillium was blooming furiously just up the hill from the swamp boardwalk.

So that was our first visit, and we were very glad to have made it. We went back with forethought yesterday. It was a hot day. I resent hot days in April more than I can say. It should not be hot before the leaves are out. It should not be hot in April at all.

That said, by the time we had left the steep driveway and taken the little gravel trail that leads down the hill to the front gate of the garden, I had become resigned to the weather. Before we were halfway up the drive, Eric pointed out a deer crossing it, in a very leisurely manner. We were able to spot her again, standing in the brush on the righthand side of the drive and looking at us, ears alert. She was mostly able to blend into the thin wavery brush, but the ears gave her away.

We were hearing a lot of red-bellied woodpeckers, and one flew past and gave us a couple of good quick views in between its trips behind whatever tree we were looking at it in. Then we heard a Woody the Woodpecker laugh, and Eric said, "That's not quite big enough to be a pileated -- no, wait, it is a pileated." Sure enough, that crazy hammer-head with its stripes, and the remarkably huge body of the woodpecker showed briefly before this one too, in the manner of all woodpeckers, moved around behind the tree so that we couldn't see it any longer. We were enormously pleased, feeling that anything after this would just be extra-fancy icing.

We decided to go up to the meadow first. We had left it unvisited the last time because not much in terms of flora happens there early in the year; but I'd recalled that there is a little prairie smoke and some pasque flower up there and we thought we would look for them. There were some nice clumps of bloodroot along the trail under the white pines, and then many leaves of Virginia waterleaf, and some thistle and aster rosettes, pushing up through the few remaining fallen stems of last year's prairie. When we came around the bend and saw the first part of the meadow, everything seemed very open and empty; in summer and fall, the plants and grasses are shoulder-high on me, but now nothing more than a few inches high was visible. It looked as if they might have burned the slope of meadow visible from the approach, not recently but maybe last fall sometime: the thick layers of fallen grasses and prairie flowers were missing. We'd seen plum trees blooming in people's yards as we rode the bus to the park, but the little arch of wild plum that leads to the meadow proper was just coming into bud.

We went down the slope and onto the path that goes around the central meadow hill, where we were intercepted by a tall dark-haired young man with a walking staff. He asked if we wanted to see the owlet. Well, yes, we did. He pointed it out to us, but we couldn't see it -- he was much taller than I am, and there was a screen of brush that confused the eye. "I'll walk you down to it," he said, so we followed him down to the lowest part of the meadow, where finally, just the other side of the garden fence, we saw a big cream-colored ball of fluff with an owl's face, clinging very firmly to a short stub of a branch not very far from the ground, blinking from time to time, and looking like any fledgling simultaneously terrified, winsome, and bewildered. We had encountered one of the staff on our way down, and she and the young man were discussing the mother owl, which after quite a lot of work Eric and I managed to see high up in a white pine behind the owlet's tree. "Look for her little white bib and the horns," the young man urged, and they were there, but she was very well camouflaged. So they were great horned owls, which we've hard hooting many times and seen silhouetted against the sky on the other side of the garden. But we had never seen an owlet before, or had a glimpse of an adult that showed the white bib.

After a while we thanked the young man and went on up the next hill, stopping to look down at a little loop path that is packed with ferns during the garden's proper season. The ferns weren't up yet, but there was a good patch of bloodroot down at the bottom of the loop. A cardinal was tuning up from the evergreens, and a few more red-bellied woodpeckers quirred somewhere hidden. We went along the edge of the hill and sat on a bench, marvelling at the view when there were no leaves to block it. The clump of birches at the other end of the meadow had new pale green leaves. The meadow was still brown, but Eric noticed a dragonfly, a migrating green darner; and then another; and then the sun came out from behind the clouds and backlit six or eight darners and the cloud of tiny insects they were hunting.

We finally tore ourselves away and went back to the bottom of the central hill to check for asparagus spears, but it was too early. We went down the steep trail through the woods with its sheets of emerging trout lily leaves, and I saw a single plant of Dutchman's breeches, fine frilly leaves and ridiculous white and pink flowers on their tiny stalk. Further down were more hepatica, a number of clumps of actual rue anemone in pink form for easier identification; and, increasingly as we went downhill, big patches of false rue anemone, in bud and blooming shining white, according to the light they were getting. We decided that we'd see the most flowers if we bypassed the marsh and went along the far side of the woods, so we did that, noting in passing that the marsh marigolds, which had been up last week, now had minute yellow buds. The skunk cabbages had put up bright green leaves and were somewhat less stinky. Eric noticed that the patch of Virginia bluebells on the left side of the path had buds, some still pink and some blue already. The snow trillium was still blooming ferociously, and we started to see first individual trout lily buds and flowers, and then, as we went up the far slope of the woods above the marsh, a patch of yellow trout lily, and another, and another, and then sheets of white ones interrupted by clumps of yellow. I remarked that another name for the yellow trout lily is the dog's-tooth violet.

We passed some people who told us that they had seen four deer and three wild turkeys. We felt smug about our owlet, but when we saw the first wild turkey hen poking around under a fallen tree trunk, we stopped and gaped at her anyway. At some point we sat down on a bench overlooking the marsh, and Eric checked the time and the bus schedule and we realized that we'd have to hurry. We didn't do very well at that, however. There were other hen turkeys; there were flowers and fantastical shrubs budding, the trillium leaves we had seen last week, had their pointy buds well out, and it's a bit of a hilly slog back up towards the Martha Crone Shelter. When we got there, a nice man told us there was a tom turkey displaying, and he was, right on the path that goes past the periwinkle further on; so we watched him for a while. He was missing a tail feather, but still a splendid sight. I've seen a tom turkey displaying his feathers once before, but hadn't really noticed how the rick black feathers of the back get into the act as well, so that he looks as if he is part very upset cat. The hen turkeys stalked stolidly through the dead leaves, poking with their beaks for insects, and at least pretended to ignore him. We got our best view when a woman with a camera made him decide that he should turn back and go into the woods just below the shelter.

We had missed our intended bus by then, but they were about to close the shelter, so we dawdled up the hill and, when one of the staff came to lock up, out the gate and up to the parking lot, where we sat on a bench under the beautiful river birch they have there and watched the quintessential common animals disport themselves in the grass: a robin, a gray squirrel, and an Eastern chipmunk. The disparate birdsong that we'd had as background had changed to chickadees saying, "Cheeseburger," over and over, establishing their nesting territories. Wee went slowly back down the driveway, now lined with robins about twenty feet apart, and found our bus stop, and went home.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
I want to put down at least a few brief notes about things I had hoped to write about at length when my memory was fresh.

First, Minicon 50. As [livejournal.com profile] mle292 so clearly explained at Opening Ceremonies, Minicon 50 did not mark the fiftieth year of there being Minicons, and nor was it actually the fiftieth Minicon. However, we were celebrating anyway. The three co-chairs had worked very hard to build up membership and guest-of-honor goodwill, all to culminate in this convention. I complained a lot about how it was a day longer than most recent Minicons. In the days of the huge Minicons, were you so inclined, you could attend a party every night for eight or nine days, beginning on the weekend before the convention and spilling over at least onto the Tuesday following it. I've become sufficiently hermitic that I don't even go to the work party or the first party at the hotel, so that my usual Minicon runs from Friday afternoon through, if you count post-convention sushi and ice cream, Monday afternoon. This year we checked into the hotel on Thursday. I still skipped the Tuesday work party and the Wednesday party at the hotel.

Eric was the at con head of the Volunteers Department and a responder for the Code of Conduct Committee, so he got talked into coming to the Wednesday party, which he said was great, but it made him feel anti-social on Thursday. We ended up borrowing Lydy's car and slipping off for dinner on our own. We went, somewhat at random, to the Malt Shop, and got caught up on one another's news. We ordinarily have a date on Friday or Saturday, but of course at a convention it all has to be fitted around other events. We had one other meal together because our timing didn't suit anybody else's. Other meals were properly conventional: sheerly by accident, we ran into Lois who is not on LJ and Jon Singer, and had lunch with them in the hotel restaurant, with very pleasant and wide-ranging conversation.

On Sunday after Closing Ceremonies we slipped away to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden for an hour or so. The weather was threatening rain, but we did manage a walk around. There were snow trillium. All the tamaracks were still buttoned up as tightly as could be; of the understory, only a few dogwoods showed the fantastical beginnings of leaves, but there were recognizable rosettes of thistle, false rue anemone, wild ginger, and trillium

We came back to a dinner with Ctein and Jon again. We went to Peninsula and had excellent food. I also ate one Dairy Queen meal in the room on the day that I had my reading; and Eric and I had a lovely meal both for food and conversation with [livejournal.com profile] eileenlufkin, [livejournal.com profile] mrissa, and [livejournal.com profile] alecaustin at whatever the Sofitel has become -- maybe a Sheraton. I refuse to keep track. They were remodelling their actual restaurant, so they guided us through wide shadowy spaces to their temporary restaurant. It was a bit like eating in a spaceport, but the menu, while limited, had very good things on it. No blue food, however.

I usually get in at least one meal with David, but he was busy with the Cats Laughing concert on Friday night and with hosting room parties other nights. He does sometimes complain about going out for meals at conventions with people he lives with, so I trust this was more satisfactory in any case.

The dreaded 11:30 a.m. panels were both extremely good. I believe that the Scribblies (minus, sadly, Kara Dalkey) managed to keep Jane Yolen entertained while we interviewed her; and the Fairy Tale panel was by far the best one I've ever been on. Everybody was very insightful and intelligent, and there was also a running joke from I have no idea where, in which one put up one's hand if one felt uncomfortable. This came in very handy when people began complimenting one another and when Jane Yolen told family anecdotes about Adam Stemple.

On Saturday afternoon before and after my reading I spent most of my time listening to a really fine lineup of other people read -- Naomi Kritzer, Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, Marissa Lingen and Alec Austin, Michael Merriam.

I had never heard Naomi read and, though I like her writing very much and already knew that she is funny, I didn't realize how much theatrical skill she put into reading her work aloud. She read a time-travel story that was a lot like an anxiety dream in its repetitive failures, but much funnier and better structured.

Marissa and Alec are a very good team both for writing and reading, with a nice contrast in manner and in particular flavor of humor; Marissa also read a work of her own that did what most of her short work tends to do to me, which is to proceed stealthily towards a point that perhaps should not be surprising but generally is. (If not surprising, or sometimes while also being surprising, this moment tends to knock the metaphorical breath out of you for other reasons, mostly the logical coming-together of disparate and intense elements.)

Jane and Adam also did a mix of collaborative and individual reading, passing scenes back and forth like, um, some kind of ball in some kind of sport I'd think of if I knew any sports. Jane's poems are often not unlike Marissa's short stories, only more compressed -- one moment you are laughing, the next your eyes sting with tears. I mostly hate war stories, but Adam read a very good one.

Michael has done a lot of spoken-word work and it informs his reading very pleasantly, insofar as that's a good word to use about rather grim subject matter. But I liked the touches of humor and the local settings.

I missed Scott Lynch and Bear reading, again, and will need to put that at the top of my list for next year because this is getting ridiculous.

My own reading went well enough, but I need to find some better solution to the fact that I always overrun a half-hour slot but cannot really fill an hour before my voice gives out. Pat Wrede came in just as I'd finished and was somewhat frustrated, since she knew I would be reading a few passages from our joint story in Points of Departure. The "print ARCs" had arrived over the weekend, and she kindly handed me hers (she commutes to the convention, we don't) to show off and read from. My own was awaiting me when I got home.

I didn't get to as much other programming as I would have liked, but I got to hear [livejournal.com profile] matociquala and other fine people talk about artistic bravery.

And of course there was the Cats Laughing concert. A spreading fear that the room provided would not be large enough caused a lot of people to line up well in advance of the starting time. I myself got in line maybe half an hour before then and had good conversation with [livejournal.com profile] laurel, Jon, and Mike Pins, who I think is not on LJ. We ended up sitting in a row with [livejournal.com profile] ckd and [livejournal.com profile] aedifica, which was pleasing. Eric didn't stand in line because he didn't want to be trapped in the middle of a crowd rather than being able to come and go. As it turned out, there was room and a little to spare, and he came and sat behind us about two-thirds of the way through the concert, having been in and out and sometimes dancing before that.

The opening act was Sister Tree, whom I had not heard before; but David had, and told me they were very good. They are, and in a way that I particularly like. They did a number of traditional folk songs in their American versions, and each of them did a version of "Cruel Sister" that arrived from and ended up at a very different place from the other's -- with footnotes. I have seldom had such a rollicking academic time.

The Cats opened with "See How the Sparrow Flies," which I had been playing a lot because of the Kickstarter extras. I loved it but remained fairly calm. However, the next song they did was Mike Ford's "Black Knight's Work," and I immediately got extremely teary and felt profoundly moved and nostalgic for the rest of the evening. The Cats sounded excellent. I kept flashing on an alternate history where they had stayed together and evolved into this form -- "So yeah, Steven decided to ditch the trap set because... " and "Scott came in about five years ago when... " They didn't sound the same any more than any of us really looks the same after 25 years -- but they sounded like themselves.

I missed far too many concerts, some because of scheduling conflicts and some because I was too scatterbrained to organize myself. But I did get to attend a room party or two with music, and also to listen to the music circle on Sunday night.

This is far from a full account. I was very happy to see Star and Pooch, as well as everybody mentioned above and quite a few I do not at all mean to leave out.

I think this will have to do, though I'm hoping that having recalled so much will shake up my brains so that I start out of bed at four a.m. remembering entire events that must be committed to writing at once.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
When I tried to get the photos off my phone, the laptop told me that my old device didn't work with USB 3.0, try a USB 2 port. David, applied to for a sanity check, said that was nonsense. When he tried to get the photos off my phone, they came right off meekly. The phone used to be his; perhaps it has some attachment issues.

It's the time of year when one wants to visit the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden as often as possible. Photos below the cut.

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pameladean: (Default)
I am so smug. I am always excessively, obnoxiously smug when my failure to do something that everybody else does and that I've been beating myself up for not doing turns out to have been beneficial.

The tree on our boulevard is a Norway maple. All Norway maples are on a schedule that may be Norwegian but may be from some alternate dimension. They stay green late, late in the fall; if there is a hard freeze they shrug off their green leaves and look insouciant; and if allowed, they turn a glorious gold in mid- to late November. Then they like to preen themselves a little. I'm sure that, whatever timestream they hail from, they know exactly when Minneapolis has decided to send in street sweepers to get the leaves out of the gutters. Then they drop about half their leaves the day afterwards, and hold onto the rest until their local human companions have raked their yards clean.

The maple on our boulevard is always the last one to drop its leaves, and the one on the boulevard of our neighbor to the north is the next-to-last to do so.

The entire public sidewalk and a good portion of the walk leading from that sidewalk to our front porch were solid with maple leaves. In a wet autumn, I'd have had to deal with them because wet leaves can become as slippery as ice. But these were dry and crisp. I did try to prevent the leaves from utterly concealing the one step down from our walk to the public sidewalk, but it was so windy that in as little as half an hour after I cleared the leaves, more leaves would gather and obscure the step again.

On Saturday, it snowed, first ice pellets, then big fluffy flakes, then pellets again, for a total of maybe two inches. I had actually planned to just let the stuff melt, since it will be fifty during the day by Thursday. But then I remembered that the person delivering the groceries would have a bit of a struggle if I didn't shovel. The mixture of ice and snow, dyed a delicate yellow by the underlying leaves, looked pretty grim. But it peeled right up from that glory of glories, a perfectly dry sidewalk. The sidewalks of my obsessive raking neighbors aren't nearly so clear.

I am so smug.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
I don't know why I'm so thoroughly out of the habit of posting. One of the things I like about reading my friends-list is the combination of homely everyday detail and really chewy intellectual posts. I am not very good at making the latter -- I start them, revise them, get bogged down in some detail of nuance or research, and eventually lose them somewhere. But I can do daily life.

The juncoes are here. I was concerned for a week or two that the Norway maples would not get a chance to turn yellow, instead dropping their leaves madly while still green; but they have managed, and if I walk to the end of my block and look back, there is the proper tunnel of gold, leaves drifting down onto the black asphalt of the street. They are not mallorns, and there is certainly no asphalt in Lothlorien, but the effect seems Tolkienesque in any case.

It was a peculiar summer in many ways. As I mentioned at the time, I cracked or bruised a rib at the end of April, and just when that was healing up nicely I got the Wiscon Death Cold and coughed for five or six weeks. While I put in basil, mint, thyme, and two tomato plants much earlier than I had managed in 2010, only the herbs thrived. I forgot about the thyme and have not used it for anything. David and Lydy kept the mint well pruned by harvesting it for their drinks, and it is probably going to take over the world next year. Eric and I were going to make spring rolls using the fresh mint and basil, but we never did. The basil is unhappy with the frost or near-freezes we've been having at night, but the mint and thyme are still looking fresh and happy. I should put some thyme in the soup this evening. We had a pot of rosemary on the front porch, too, and I did make good use of that; but I failed to bring it inside the first night temperatures threatened to go below freezing, and it gave up and died.

Raphael and I did fairly well with hiking, under the circumstances -- my rib injury and the horrible virus from Wiscon weren't the half of it. June was cold and rainy; then Minnesota Republicans forced the shut-down of the government because they have an insane desire to control women and oppress poor people, so the state parks closed on July 1. Raphael and I were up on the North Shore at the time, at Temperance River State Park. The park, I think like most of the parks thereabouts, is divided by Highway 61. We started with the lake side. When we went out to the lake, there were no notices. When we came back, all over were simple printed pages saying that the park was closed. We went across the highway and up the river anyway. We were there because somebody in the 1990's had seen boreal snaketails in the powerline clearance. They did not appear, but the river and its rocky surrounds were spectacular. The powerline clearance runs over a tilted slab of basalt, broken up by water, scattered with patches of thin sand shading to soil in which hawkweed and other wildflowers grow, with here and there a juniper or an aspen sapling. A young deer with just the velvet stubs of antlers wandered out of the woods beyond the clearance and set about grazing. He knew we were there, but he did not give us any wide-eyed paranoid looks, did not freeze and think about running. He looked us in the eye, swaggered, and ignored us. His dignity was upset, however, by the fact that his antlers obviously itched. He had to stop from time to time and scratch them with a hind leg, which was both impressive and hilarious.

We had planned to stop at Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock on our way back south, on the grounds that the parks would still be in perfectly good order even though officially close. However, both parks include rest areas that had been blocked off with barricades, so we had to give up, cursing the Republicans in the legislature. Even if they had behaved like reasonable beings, the closure of St. Croix State Park would have distorted our hiking year. We did have several excellent visits to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.

Eric was working night shift until July, and then a classic mid-continental heat wave moved in, so we didn't do any hiking until much later in the year. We made one road trip to look at fall color, staying in LaCrosse but spending much of our time at Great River Bluffs State Park. We did also visit Perrot, avoiding any bluffs this year but hiking along the Riverview trail, where we saw an egret sitting atop a muskrat lodge; and also along the Black Walnut Trail, which was more hilly than we expected but full of goodness, including the biggest black walnut tree either of us had ever seen.

Writing has been frankly terrible. I don't even want to try to come up with the number of words I've written. I certainly don't need even the fingers of one hand to do so. I'm feeling a little cheerier since I did a reading of the new second chapter of the Amazing Expanding and Shrinking Novel at Conjecture -- many thanks to Laura Krentz for asking me. It was useful to see that the new structure actually worked rather than being a heap of disassembled incidents bunged together with semi-colons. I'm looking at my present projects with somewhat more equanimity, at least.

Aristophanes, although bony, seems to be thriving. A failed attempt to remove a mat from his belly us to the emergency vet late on the day before I was to go to Wisconsin with Eric. They were very nice to us, calling the wound a grooming injury, as if he had done it himself; I guess some cats do damage themselves yanking out mats. The vet tech who brought him back to us also exclaimed, "You guys, he's in such good shape for his age! You must take very good care of him!" He had to have ten days' worth of antibiotics, which Raphael heroically put down his throat; and he had to wear a blue cone, which he bore with great insouciance, much to my surprise. He did have epic grooming sessions when it was taken off though. He seems fine now. When I take him out for walks, he mostly patrols his yard, sniffing carefully, and then goes back in. But a few days ago he tore across the front yard to the maple on the boulevard, ran six or seven feet up its trunk, dropped down, tore through the side yard to the back and all the way to the garage, tore back to his favorite mulberry and ran up that, and then tore to the back door and pawed at it to be let in. I must have been a very funny sight, lumbering after him fast enough that the leash was never taut but quietly enough that he wouldn't take fright at the MONSTER FOLLOWING HIM.

I'm rereading the Aubrey/Maturin books, finding all much better than I remember. This is especially gratifying for the volumes after The Thirteen-Gun Salute, though I still expect to be very annoyed with O'Brien for one or two things nearer the end.

I am reading all of you, but I tend to forget that I actually can comment now, Opera's update having apparently fixed my problem with LJ. I'll try to provide more blather soon.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
Well, that's a rather grim subject line, but on its own it feels like what I'm doing with the book. After a long hiatus and a lot of hair-tearing, I opened up one of the files and revised Chapter 2 to have more tension in it. I have not yet attempted to gaze into the abyss that is the fallen middle of the narrative, but I hope to do that tomorrow.

In other news, Raphael and I have been thwarted two weeks in a row in our plans to go to Itasca, because the weather has been impossible. We will try again after Fourth Street. In the jungle of the yard and garden, the dame's rocket is almost done, the spiderwort and daisy fleabane and Shasta daisies are blooming, the rudbeckia is thinking things over, and the phlox is growing very tall but not budding yet. The volunteer milkweed is in bud, as are the true and the day- lilies. The peonies were slain quickly by heat followed by rain, but there were certainly a lot of them while they did bloom.

The snow peas are blooming, and the sugar snap peas are thinking about it. The snow peas are supposed to be bush peas and to need no support, but they are climbing the dame's rocket at the edge of the raised bed just the same. I have lots of lettuce. The spinach bolted while I was at Wiscon (see aforementioned heat), but remaining leaves are not bitter. My mother and I are going to Mother Earth Gardens tomorrow to get some tomato plants.

Pamela

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