Just when you thought it was safe….

….to think about spring, you receive a stern message from nature that you have never been in charge! We’ve had a few days that have teased us into beliving we were all about spring. Neighbors rushed into their yards. I could hear blowers, I could see folks leaning into borders and those with rakes and wheelbarrows, filling them with sticks and leaf debris, and finally our landscape company spent two days mulching much of our neighborhood “common ground” and “living fence” area.

But today we are back indoors wondering whether our outdoor garden frenzy was just an illusion. It feels bitterly cold again… back to the 20’s and we’re hunkered down in our fleeces with a fire in the fireplace. Sigh….

These tulips bloomed indoors and I thought they would look better in the garden…. the only thing in bloom.  The bunny loves the leaves!

tulips

Our fabulous, rich 50/50 mix of fine mulch and organic compost was applied to sections of the garden. Fingers crossed for this new Russian sage/Allium border. Right now the tulips are beginning to unfurl and the tips of the daffodils are breaking through the ground. I didn’t pick up the Russian sage snippings because the robins are doing that for me!

April 13, 2018

robins with Russian sage 2018

I loved having the three days  in the garden… cutting back ornamental grasses, lightly pruning woody plants, especially our borders of paniculata limelight hydrangeas, thatching the lawn, edging borders, planting pansies, transplanting shrubs..including one to a neighbor’s home. The first early days of spring in the garden are such a charge.

Now we wait. Soon a truckload of mulch should be delivered to a central spot in the neighborhood and homeowners and their wheelbarrows will rush to retrieve what we need for the rest of our gardens. It’s a good plan and I’m primed for more garden jollies whether it’s in snow, rain or sleet!

The last one bit the dust…

With our late March snowstorms, the lone Bradford pear tree in the neighborhood could no longer bear the snow weight and lost 90% of its limbs. The tree was removed and thank goodness!  If Michael Dirr, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia and my go-to expert on woody plants, says the tree is a ‘scourge,’ then it is. Once the darling of the nursery industry in the 1950’s, we now know what a mistake it is to plant a Callery pear.

The trees are probably a true harbinger of spring with their very early beautiful, white blossoms (that come with a stench!). The Callery pear was brought from China and found to be fast growing, disease resistant, adaptable to numerous climates, soil types, sun or shade and pollution.

As the Bradford tree grew in popularity, nurseries began developing several cultivars, Chanticleer pear, Aristocrat pear, Cleveland Select pear…. as the Bradford was soon to be found to have major flaws in the branches that grew at weak V-shaped angles from the tree. Trees began to split or lose branches. New cultivars somewhat improved the problem but the Bradford continued to reign in landscapes and as a urban street tree.

Bradford 2018

In many areas of the country today, the tree has spread into wild areas choking out natives. Cultivars themselves aren’t invasive but the combination of different cultivars hybridize and produce fertile fruit. Several states have listed the tree as invasive and in many areas, it is forbidden to plant one. I poked around online but didn’t see any information about the tree being invasive in New Hampshire.

Virginia, my home state, is one area that lists the tree as an invasive plant…. and I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Ohio and Kentucky where landscapes and woodland edges were white from pear tree blooms. It’s listed as invasive in Ohio. Beautiful to behold but who knows what the impact of escaped trees is to our ecosystem.

A little past bloom peak, I photographed this pear tree lined avenue in Louisville KY as we drove by last week. I wouldn’t park my car beneath those branches!

Louisville

As for me, I’m sticking with the serviceberry tree that is an equally beautiful spring bloomer, a native that provides year round interest… fluffy white flowers in early spring and just full of bees, followed by edible berries that the birds adore, then we enjoy lovely orange-red leaves in the fall.  You can’t go wrong with this one…

 

Drat! There goes another House Sparrow

Gimme an A!   Gimme another A!
In late winter with snow still on the ground, house sparrows (Passer domesticus) claimed these letters over a local Walgreens Pharmacy and were busy building nests. These are birds that not only seem to be everywhere you go, they ARE everywhere that people go, chirping loudly and claiming any crack or crevice for nesting.
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House.sparrows
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You won’t see these birds in wooded areas, forests, or on grasslands. So what’s the key to their success? Humans…. yep, you and me. You find these bold invasive birds wherever people have built structures…. on farms, in cities and in the suburbs. Nesting in close association with humans have allowed them to spread just about everywhere on Earth.
house sparrows
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For weeks, several have been seen in our yard gathering nesting materials, getting a head start on migratory birds that have not yet arrived. They are very aggressive toward our bluebirds, fighting for nesting rights in the bluebird house. They eventually claimed the box and the bluebirds left. We had to step in. We removed our bluebird box.
The house sparrows’ incessant chirps are ringing out nearby so I think they’re around the corner in a neighbor’s gutter spout as they were last year. But they are back to check for the box daily…
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walgreens
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This chunky immigrant from Europe was introduced to the North America well over a hundred years ago and it has simply taken over.  Walk into any Home Depot or Lowes or garden store. The loud chirping you hear from the rafters is the house sparrow.
House sparrows are NOT protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Act. Why? Because it is an invasive species and destructive. They are aggressive toward other birds, will kill adults and young, destroy eggs, and are prolific breeders. They eat seeds and a wide variety of other foods, scavenging trash around fast food restaurants, eating vegetables in your garden, grains on farms.
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House_Sparrow_Wikipedia
Some report a decline in numbers of house sparrows due to a rise in numbers of and competition from the invasive house finch. But the house finch doesn’t invade/destroy eggs/kill bluebirds at our house so give me a house finch over a house sparrow any day.

Witches Broom

It was a chilly day back in January, 2015, when my siblings and I received an email from our sister, the Curator of Collections at Historic Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. On this historic stretch of land, she spied a dense mass hanging from a loblolly pine tree (Pinus taeda) on the edge of the James River.

“Can someone please tell me what that almost round ball of living needles in the tree is?” she wrote.

A brother answered, “Mistletoe?”  A sister answered, “Do you think a squirrel is living in there?”

I was fairly certain what it was…. “It’s a witches broom!” And I was excited to see it. A witches broom is an abnormal growth in a tree and can occur on a number of conifers and deciduous trees but seems to be most often spotted in pines. It is caused by numerous stress factors…. fungi, bacteria, viruses, mites, genetic mutations and several other factors and they can originate on different sections of a tree. This one developed on a terminal bud of a lower limb of the pine.

Loblolly

Most people just prune out the infected branches in their landscape but there are a number of folks who search for these genetic mutations in pines to propagate dwarf conifers. These witches broom hunters will harvest the growth by climbing a tree and cutting it out, using a shotgun to snap the limb, or by cutting down the entire tree. With a little luck and expertise, the broom can produce slow-growing and dense dwarf trees either by grafting to rootstock or from seeds.

At the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh North Carolina, dwarf loblolly pines have been successfully grown from seeds in cones from witches brooms. Planted from 1964 to 1967, the dense, slow-growing dwarf loblolly pines have ornamental value. Hard to find, but the ‘Nana’ seedlings are available.

“Can you reach it?” I asked my sister.

“No, it’s too high up and over the river.”

“Well, keep an eye on it…” I said. “If it falls, let me know.”

And so she watched the mass for 3 years and sent me pictorial updates through all the seasons and all weather conditions.

photo 1

In this sunny day photo below, I could see the presence of pine cones in the mass… a good sign as seeds from the cones have a better chance of developing into dwarf plants.

IMG_0184

Last week the witches broom finally fell. A colleague at work, also keeping an eye on the growth, discovered it and reported it to my sister… who called the local cooperative extension agent…. who put the word out.

The broom was happily collected by Bradley Roberts, Curator of Herbaceous Plants at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and a member of the American Conifer Society. He will try to propagate it.

Another fun horticulture adventure ends for us. Now we wish all the best to Bradley as he begins his adventure in propagating Historic Jamestown dwarf loblolly pines!

 

We love it here!

Exeter NH

Moving to New Hampshire from south of the Mason-Dixon Line has been an adventure. The landscape here is gorgeous in all the seasons but seeing our small town completely covered in a white blanket is so…. well, it’s so New England. The beautiful architecture, the rich history, the rolling landscape, and that great Boston dialect is all simply WOW.

So much was new to us but we’ve learned a lot in the few years we’ve lived here, including a few new terms, good and bad… a bad one being ‘ice icedam.’  In our first year, it took a dark dawn morning of towels, buckets and jugs catching water dripping coming through our walls to learn we had an ‘ice dam.’

A what? As soon as we reported the anomaly to our association, teams from a roofing company pulled up, unloaded ladders and sledge hammers and quickly worked their magic over our heads. That icy event was what we now call our ‘New England Baptism by Ice Water.’

Another unusual term I learned my first year in New Hampshire was ‘munchkin.’ When I was asked to bring ‘munchkins’ to a garden club meeting, they didn’t mean for me gather up the crew from the Wizard of Oz. A munchkin is the tiny hole from Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut, a bite size pastry. That was easy. There was a line at the first Dunkin’ Donuts, so I drove to the next one because there’s a Dunkin’ every two blocks in New England. I do not kid….

And don’t go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru and ask for a regular coffee if you drink it black. I learned the hard way. The regular coffee comes loaded with cream and sugar. Explain that one to me….  Also, just yesterday I was in a Verizon store where the employee helping me abruptly interrupted our conversation to tell another employee, “It’s almost 3 o’clock. The iced coffee is 99 cents at Dunkin’!”  Hey, it must be their version of ‘Happy Hour.’

Snow 2018

At first driving in the snow was frightening and difficult for me. For two winters, I hibernated during the snow season, afraid even to back my Prius from the garage. If I was forced to go somewhere, mister gardener either drove or I chugged along slowly in my Prius, white knuckled, holding up traffic. My children pressured me to get a car with all-wheel-drive. So I now drive my Suburu everywhere with a smile. “Love”… right?

Even though it doesn’t feel like spring, the vernal equinox arrives tomorrow at 12:15 pm EST.  The earth in the Northern Hemisphere will tilt toward the sun and days will become longer, warmer and sunnier. When I feed our hungry birds during the day, I call out to our sole winter robin to ‘Hang it there! Spring is on the way!’ I don’t think he believes it and some days not sure I do. He patiently waits for me to to throw food over the snow a few times daily and he’s the first of all the birds to attack the sunflower seeds and mealworms. I hope he’ll pack his suitcase and head south next fall.

Robin (March 2018)

Well, I wouldn’t characterize myself as a New Englander yet. We both still have lots to learn and understand…. the system of government for one.  Exeter operates as a town government with a traditional Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting form of government.  And it can and it does get a bit feisty to watch!

We’re learning more and more each year why this is a “Live Free or Die” state. Yippee!

 

 

 

 

How much snow?

Our garden bench seems to provide us with a pretty accurate snow depth from each winter storm. We haven’t heard the official amount for Exeter but unofficially we received 17″ – 18″ additional snow on top of the last nor’easter. Very beautiful to see at first light but enough….. Where is spring?

bench 2:13:18

Yesterday….

bench 2/14/18

Today….

Frigerific!

Our first glance out of the morning window during this last snowstorm gave us a Dr. Zhivago-like feeling. A foot of heavy, wet, thick snow covered our world. Trees and shrubs bent against the ground, trees down, limbs everywhere…. and no internet.

snow

It was a rude awakening on how much we depend on the internet. I’m not a TV watcher but mistergardener missed his morning news and sports updates. If you can’t use your smartphone at all, can’t venture out on bad roads, can’t communicate with folks, the day seems much longer. How amazing it is to remember that not that many years ago, no one had internet and smart phones.

So how did we spend our day? I took some snow photos, I caught up on reading my book club book, I worked on needlepoint, and I knitted hats for charity….

knitting

mister gardener made vegetable soup…

vegetable soup

I don’t think I mentioned that the storm interrupted the paint and repair job we were in the middle of. Yes, all floors and furniture were covered with tarps, tables were piled high with books, wall hangings, and everything else from shelves, while the entire downstairs was being painted, wallpaper removed, and ice damage finally repaired. Finding a place to sit was a challenge.

paint brushes 2018

The day gave us pause to appreciate. Small inconveniences in the midst of troubles and trauma in the world caused us to temporarily slow down, lighten up, and just ‘be.’

 

 

Another Nor’easter

The East Coast took a beating in the last two days from a fierce nor’easter. The storm left perhaps millions without power and too many people losing lives in several states. Family members in Tidewater Virginia were affected by downed trees, flooding, travel woes, snow, rain, and loss of power, but they’re safe. Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia issued a state of emergency.

Moving up the coast from the mid-Atlantic, the storm pounded the coastal communities of New Hampshire forcing high tides into neighborhoods. Roads became rivers for two days but the nor’easter pulled away from the coast today leaving us with cold, blustery winds and rough seas. We drove to the coastline to survey the damage.

Higher elevations showed evidence of very little damage….

nor'easter 2018

…while waves were still pummeling the seawalls and shoreline.

Nor'easter 2018

We witnessed the power of Mother Nature on seawalls up and down the NH coast. Huge chunks were missing or the walls were simply gone in places.

nor'easter 2018

The sheer force of the storm ripped large holes in parking areas, eroded road edges, and left massive amounts of rocks everywhere. Locals were busy clearing them away from driveways and yards, a monumental job on some properties.

nor'easter 2018

Crews working around the clock cleared roadways of rocks, sand, wood, and rubble.

nor'easter 2018

This sidewalk simply disappeared and was replaced by rocks.

nor'easter 2018People are drawn to the ocean in good weather and bad. Today’s weather brought out many folks who, like us, wanted to be a part of the experience, check out the ocean, or grab some photographs of the waves.

A 5K and Half Marathon scheduled for the Seacoast today was being held in spite of standing water. When the going gets tough…. those New Hampshire runners get going. Hot soup and Smuttynose beer awaited the runners at the finish line.

Local police were bundled up against the cold at the finish line.

Finish Line Half Marathon 3/4/18

Spectators braved the rocks to view the ocean.

nor'easter 2018

A downed barrier offered this photographer the perfect perch for photography.

nor'easter 2018

The downside of the storm was evident but there was an upside for a few. Surfers are always excited to experience the after effects of  a storm. This afternoon, there were about a dozen of them riding massive wave action out in the Atlantic.

nor'easter 2018

Spring might be right around the corner, but we are rudely reminded that winter is not finished with us. Weather forecasts predict that a major winter storm in the northern plains may bring us more snow, heavy rain, and strong winds by next weekend… that while thousands of utility workers are racing right now to restore power to millions. Sigh.

CHOCOLATE!

This area of New Hampshire seems to attract chocolate. Nearby we have the international chocolate company, Lindt & Sprungli, located not more than a mile from me, their retail shop just a mile in the other direction, and we have two other chocolate companies on main street in this town of Exeter.

I’ve been lucky enough to participate in sensory panels for new flavors Lindt is developing and that has been a real treat. Plus I am rewarded with more sweet treats when we finish! It doesn’t get much better….

Then we have The Chocolatier located on the main street in Exeter, also about a mile from me in another direction. Stepping inside and inhaling the aroma and seeing the huge assortment of candy is mind blowing. I stop in occasionally for a truffle or two (or more) or a small box of snowcap nonpareils.

nonpareils

The latest sweet tenant in dowtown Exeter is La Cascade du Chocolate, a handcrafted chocolate company that opened last summer. It is located about a block from The Chocolatier. This new business, co-owned by chocolatier Tom Nash and Master Chocolatier Samantha Brown, made local headlines by being awarded gold medals in four categories and silver and bronze in two other categories by the International Chocolate Salon. I recently made my first visit and I was beyond excited.

Every item is handcrafted right there and they are proud that they source ingredients from local suppliers when possible and explained that their chocolate is responsibly sourced from all over the world, each a very unique flavor.

cocoa map

Bon-bons, chocolate bars, truffles, petit torte au chocolat, chocolate covered cacao beans,  and lots of exotic and creative flavors made my decision a hard one, but….

cacao beans

candy

Signature Bars

….I ended up choosing 8 truffles and a petit torte au chocolat, a tiny cake with dark chocolate, all to be served when I host my book club tonight….. like in 20 minutes!

my choices

I know my little book group will have as much fun sampling the chocolates as I had picking them out. How lucky we are to have all three chocolate companies nearby!

Incredible Incrediball!

Crazy weather. After two days of record setting warmth we have been plunged back to into the depths of winter tonight with a wet snowstorm covering the landscape. Yesterday the temperature reached a toasty 77° on our New Hampshire Seacoast, a record for the books!  Of course, the ground was still frozen solid with piles of snow everywhere, but it was warm enough for mister gardener and me to take our meals outside for two days without coats….or sweaters!

Yesterday was also a good day to do a little yard work. Too soon for cleaning up borders but perfect time for pruning our 3-yr. old hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball’ shrubs. I left the flower heads on the shrub for visual interest in the fall, but they had become frazzled from winter weather.

The ‘Incrediball’ is an improvement of the old favorite ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea or the smooth leaf hydrangea because the stems are sturdier and the white blooms are much larger. (I am withholding judgement for one more season) Because it blooms on new wood, pruning can be done anytime from from the first frost to late winter so now, on this warm winter day, I chose to prune these shrubs.

Incrediball.jpg

I removed sick, dead, and crossed branches and shaped the shrub a little. Some experts advised cutting ‘Incrediball’ to the ground but I chose to leave about 2′. I cut out many of tiny branches, leaving the sturdier branches for support.

pruned

Looking at the same shrub through our screened window this afternoon, a whole different scene greeted us. It’s 27° now and that’s okay because it’s winter in New Hampshire and this is our norm. The unusual 77° we experienced yesterday was an anomaly but a sweet hint of spring, a gift that we greatly appreciated.

incrediball.

 

Just when you thought it was safe….

… Mother Nature’s blast of white let us know who was in charge this morning.

snow

It’s a fairly deep snow but with rising temperatures it should melt quickly. I filled the bird feeders last night and threw out some feed this morning for the ground feeders. The seeds and berries and nuts quickly disappeared deep into the fluff. That’s no problem for the ground feeding juncos, the most numerous of the birds visiting us this winter.

These medium-sized sparrows fly in a flock to feed. They land together and they hop, fly, scratch, dig, and flit in and out of shrubbery. Although they move quickly, one or two have become meals for the neighborhood’s ever-observant Cooper’s hawk. We simply find the telltale pile of grey and white feathers on the ground.

junco

junco

Junco.

The juncos dig for seeds and toss snow, fuss constantly among themselves, and jockey for dominance. Although they primarily dine on our shelled sunflower seed on the ground, they don’t hesitate to feed from any of the feeders…. loving the bluebird’s mealworms, the tube feeders, and the suet cake.

suet

The little juncos are among the most common songbirds at the winter feeders in many areas. In Virginia, they were only winter visitors. However in New Hampshire, we have plenty of preferred coniferous forests with lots of evergreen, so we’re lucky to have them as year-round residents.

 

Great Backyard Bird Count 2018 (GBBC)

Binoculars? Check. Pencil and bird list? Check. It’s the 21st annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) weekend where you’ll find me counting birds for at least 15-minutes a day for four days starting today, February 16 until Monday, February 19.  Last year, over 160,000 folks participated and logged their findings online.

It’s not hard to do and it ends up being a lot of fun for adults and children. Citizen scientists can count birds on any one day or on all four days. Pick the time of day. Pick the same site or different sites. On the website GBBCbirdcount.org, you will post your findings and the accumulated data will help researchers at Cornell and the National Audubon Society find out how the avian population is doing and steps needed to protect birds.

To make it even easier, you can print out a checklist of birds that are in your area from the website. Check out the GBBC site above and to follow the easy directions, then post your findings.

bluebird

“Spring is coming. Spring is coming. Spring is coming.”

From NICE to ICE

“Welcome home,” said Old Man Winter. After a much warmer and dryer stay south of the Mason-Dixon line, we were greeted in New Hampshire by a snowstorm followed by freezing rain, sleet, and a thick coating of ice. It was not much of a warm welcome home.

dragonfly icicle

Multi-car accidents yesterday and pedestrian falls on the ice caused our local emergency room to fill with the injured last night. We can handle the snow. It’s the ice. Always the ice.

ice

bird feeder ice

We’ve decided we will stay home today, fire in the fireplace, music on, and I will start on my needlepoint. I have had the canvas of a Japanese Imari design for a year and finally picked out the wool in a wonderful needlepoint shop on Hilton Head Island. It arrived by post yesterday. How divine….

 

It’s Time

All good things must come to an end and that goes for our winter break to South Carolina. We hoped to escape the cold northeast but cool weather followed us…. at least in the mornings. We enjoyed a few 70° afternoons and lots of 60-something afternoons, but it was brrrrr brisk at dawn. We’re talking temperatures in the 30’s!

We are happy to be home tackling chores like the mountain of mail, pending commitments and greeting the grandchildren. All need immediate attention.

Over morning coffee, we talked about working off the extra padding we both added to our waistline from tempting southern cuisines. Too many BBQ sandwiches and fried hush puppies was my downfall. Lots of seafood and sauces for mister gardener. There was one restaurant all three of us agreed was the best of our gastronomical journey…. The Santa Fe Cafe, billed as Innovative Southwestern Cuisine. And, yes, it was.

Our son enjoyed the BBQ Chicken Taco and mister gardener tackled the Ribeye Burrito….both out of this world, they managed to say between bites. Unique, generous, and tasty.

On the other hand, I had possibly the best soup and definitely the most artistic soup I’ve ever been served. It was almost too pretty to eat. Take a look at the Painted Desert Soup, half red pepper and corn soup with ancho chile cream. We recommend this restaurant and anything served on the menu.

I really do think folks in New England eat a lot healthier than what sustained me in my southern upbringing. Sweet tea, something I had plenty of in SC, is not a thing up here.  Good thing, really. Lots of fried foods, like all those hush puppies or all the calories in those grilled pimiento cheese sandwiches I ordered a few times won’t be served around these parts. Collard greens was generally on the menu in SC, always infused with the tasty grease from bacon. Yep, bacon, butter, salt. Oh, and Hellmann’s REAL mayo. Lordy….

No need to speak French..

…to relax at the Parlez-Vous Lounge with light libation while you wait. Or you can wander over to the Ciné-Café for appetizers, entrees, gourmet coffee, and locally made ice cream. Or maybe put in an order and have it delivered.

Wait for what? Delivered where?

Delivered right to your theater seat in the funkiest, most fun movie theater I’ve ever experienced. And, lucky for us, the amazing south-end Park Plaza Cinema is just minutes from us on Hilton Head…close enough for repeat visits.

Park Plaza Cinema is a boutique theater, independently owned by Lucie and Larry Mann. Their creation, this wonderful theater, plays mainstream new releases and has luxurious reclining seats…. all powered by the touch of a button.

Lucie, an architect designer, and Larry, a builder, and their two adorable mini canines (dressed in their finest) all greet you at the door and welcome you as a guest into their domain. After refreshments you’ll want to order a little popcorn since it’s been voted #1 on the island.

Mann

Park Plaza Cinema makes going to the movies fun and if you go, you will be guaranteed to have a smile when you leave.

Cine-Cafe

According to Cosmopolitan Magazine, Park Plaza is the “coolest movie theater in South Carolina” in a 2017 article naming the coolest theater in every state. I do agree. It’s all thumbs up on this gem.

Stoney-Baynard Ruins

From Paleo-Indians and semi-nomadic Native Americans, to European explorers, and African slaves, to soldiers of several wars… all and more are a part of the history of Hilton Head Island.

During the plantation era, cotton and indigo were the major crops that grew on the island. I visited the site of one early cotton plantation very near me in Sea Pines, the Stoney-Baynard Ruins.

The one and a half story home was built with a fascinating technique called ‘tabby,’ masonry made by mixing burned crushed oyster shells with sand, whole shells and water that was then protected with a coating of stucco.

Tabby

Most plantation owners did not live on the island full-time due to the threat of diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. During this time Hilton Head was mainly populated by slaves who lived in quarters on the property.

Two slave families lived here in the cramped quarters below built on a tabby foundation, a sober reminder of our country’s past.

The tabby chimney below is all that is left of the plantation kitchen outbuilding. What happened to the tabby foundation blocks of the kitchen?

They were moved! Archeologists have found evidence that Union troops moved the kitchen foundation blocks to higher ground to serve as footings for their tent.

The stories I heard about ghosts of previous owners roaming the site or witnessing a funeral procession is overstated. I saw nothing ghostly nor heard a thing but singing birds, but then I might change my tune if I visited after dark, flashlight in hand when you are most likely to encounter them. No thanks…

To learn more about the ruins and the history of the families who owned the plantation, visit this site.

Rain ☔️

It rained off and on today… a lovely light rain. I wouldn’t want rain every day on vacation but today it was a welcome change.

Clouds began to roll in yesterday and I took the opportunity for a beach walk before the heavens opened.

Hilton Head IslandIt was a solitary walk. I had a mile of beach all to myself… well, almost all to myself. There was plenty of bird life on the shore, in the air, and riding waves.

Gull riding waves on Hilton Head Island

But that wasn’t all. There was life from the sea caught on shore at low tide. The beach was littered with keyhole urchins or sand dollars, small animals that can’t live for very long out of water.

Sand dollar

These weren’t the white sand dollar skeletons you see sold in souvenir shops. These dark sand dollars could still be alive and they aren’t for collecting. There is hefty $500 fine for taking any live animal from South Carolina beaches.

sand dollar- Hilton Head Island

To make sure they were alive, I gently turned each over and touched the cilia, the fuzzy hairs beneath. Thankfully, the cilia moved on every one and all the animals I came across were returned to the water. It was a very good day.

sand dollar

At dawn today, a dense fog rolled in before the rain. I could see nothing on the water but could hear motors and foghorns as boat traffic navigated the sound. What a treat it was to sit outside with morning java and watch the condensation change the look of everything in the landscape. It doesn’t have to be sunny to be beautiful!

Fog on Hilton Head Island- 2018

The biggest reptile on the island

It’s been unseasonably cool in South Carolina… some mornings we’re shivering in our lightweight jackets. It’s also been a little cool for the local population of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) that call Hilton Head home. As cold-blooded animals, their body temperature fluctuates with the outside temperature.  They’re slowly beginning to come out of hibernation to bask on the banks of waterways.

We were happy to enjoy several quite warm days when our youngest son visited us…. perfect weather, I thought, for encouraging alligators from hibernation. Driving around we saw only one huge one by a neighborhood pond. But then, while golfing, our son photographed a lot more just basking in the warm sun. They seem to prefer the quiet ponds and lakes and lagoons along fairways.

What surprised me was seeing his photos of alligators in people’s backyards. Residents and visitors alike are schooled in safety around these giants, but, safe or not, I’d definitely not grill outdoors if I spotted that guy below near my patio.

People are warned not to get closer than 60′ to these living relics. Although they don’t consider humans food, they are incredibly quick and unpredictable. There are strict rules against feeding them (big fines/jail time) or fishing with hot dogs, a fav food, and if one takes a fish you’ve hooked, don’t argue with the alligator. Cut your line. Our golfers were warned about retrieving a golf ball that lands too close to water. An alligator may see the golf ball as a delicious egg. They didn’t need to be told twice!

Alligators do see dogs as food. A little over a year ago an escaped 85-pound husky on the island was killed by an alligator when he stopped to have a drink from a pond. In spite of being protected by state and federal law, that alligator was deemed aggressive and had to be put down.

At the golf course pro shop, I found the perfect alligator for me… a safe one that was friendly and would never attack. I’d love to invite him to be a permanent fixture peeking out from beneath the rhododendrons in my garden at home!

Oh, what a tree!

Nothing says ‘Old South’ like the Southern live oak. The magnificent Spanish moss-draped tree grows so well in the soil of Hilton Head. It tolerates salt spray, loves the climate, and we have admired so many of them all over the island.

What makes them so memorable? It’s all in the limbs. Their massive limbs can grow horizontal or downward near the ground before turning upright or they can form great arching tunnels over roadways.

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They are loved and greatly protected on the island with laws governing  pruning, removal or land clearing for construction. One Southern live oak limb we’ve often ducked beneath on a busy sidewalk has a sign warning pedestrians. How cool is that?

From ICE to NICE

Although it was 31° on our first morning in South Carolina, it was a heck of a lot warmer than the 7° we left behind in New Hampshire.

Temperatures are unseasonably brisk here, reaching the high 40s or low 50s under sunny skies so far. Most people are sporting lightweight jackets and warm hats but not everyone. We do a double take when we spot the occasional brave soul in Bermuda shorts! “All are hardy Canadians,” say the locals.

Until the weather warms a little, we are concentrating on good food, especially the southern goodies I’ve missed…like those warm hush puppies I enjoyed at our first meal on Hilton Head.

Coligny Beach Park was a lunch destination yesterday followed by a walk on the beach…something we’d probably never choose to do in the high season due to the popularity of this wonderful beach.

Beach access takes you through the park on a boardwalk where you may stop to lounge on swings, benches or chairs in the sun or beneath gazebos. Outdoor showers, little changing rooms, restrooms, and free WiFi make it a perfect access for a beach day.

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Beach matting allows visitors to cross the wide expanse of soft sand down to the water’s edge where the few walkers and bikers are found.

Great place to work up an appetite for dinner!

Summer Vacay 2017

With small mountains of snow surrounding us this January 9, more pleasant thoughts are carrying us back to the warm days of the past summer. Our seasonal travels have taken us to visit several mountain lakes in the few years that we’ve lived in New England.

And last summer our vacation took us to a new one on our radar, a Maine lake where we enjoyed three generations of family fun with youngster from age 10 months to the really old folks (us!).

summer vacayThe small village is named Lovell, just over the border from New Hampshire, and the body of water is Kezar Lake, a gorgeous, deep, clean lake surrounded by the rural hills of Maine and New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Kezar Lake, ME

Kezar Lake

It is a very quiet lake. Jet-skis are discouraged as well as loud motors on boats. We spotted a good share of kayaks and pontoon boats and early morning fishermen with small motors on john boats. At first glance you might think that you’re the only folks on the lake due to the deeply forested waterfront that hides camps and rental cottages.

After a couple of days, we boated around the 9-mile lake and could make out the modest cabins that blended so well into trees from afar. We weren’t the only people staying on the lake after all.

We were told by locals that this lake community frowns upon showiness and conspicuousness in architecture. Peer pressure seems to prevent the mcmansions from being built for the most part. We boated around the lake a couple of times to check out the real estate and were enchanted by what we saw.

Kezar LakeWe would boat awhile, but it was much more fun to turn off the motor and drift, allowing our able fishermen to have a moment to practice a little casting, then reeling in their (plastic) catch of the day.

Catching a plastic yellow perch

A great many of the camps we saw were rustic and small, very similar in color to the log cabin where we resided, dark brown stain and forest green trim.  Our accommodations were modern and comfortable indoors with the latest conveniences but instead of tv and internet, we were usually found frockling on the waterfront or catching up on summer reads beneath the pines.

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I have to say I fancied everything this lake offered… maybe a little more than other lakes we’ve visited… so far that is. It matched the flavor of my grandparents’ rustic log cabin in Virginia on the shores of the peaceful Chesapeake Bay where I spent seemingly endless summers in my childhood.

Kezar Lake

Kazar Lake Camp

Kazar Lake 2017Locals residents and summer people want to keep the lake and the camps just the way they are… quiet, clean, and rustic with all the local traditions kept in place.  A local proprietor shared the news that the King family, Stephen and Tabitha, the well-known authors who reside part-time somewhere around there, purchased the sole campground on the lake, then closed it down. That took jet-skis and lots of boats from the lake and folks couldn’t be happier. We didn’t go looking for Stephen King but folks said it’s not unusual to run into him at local establishments. I don’t think we went out shopping or eating out enough…. but, hey, I finished two books.

Kazar Lake

Kezar Lake’s water is clean, one of Maine’s cleanest lakes. The sunsets are spectacular over the White Mountains and I can’t say enough about the absolute QUIET… except for the crickets and an occasional duck or two.

Living on the Seacoast of New Hampshire, we feel so lucky that we’re mere minutes from the ocean, yet the mountains of New England are oh-so-close! Salt water? Fresh water? We love ’em both and we can take our pick any week of summer. How divine is that??

Sunset on Kazar 2017

 Only 51 days more days till spring
Oops! Boy, am I wrong. It’s 69 days as of January 10. Sigh….

Our funny little bunny

I have been reminded of all the negatives of these animals. I know they damage plants. I know they eat herbs. I know they girdle woody plants in the winter. I know they multiply…. uh…. like rabbits. But this rabbit, our cute little bunny, was special.

For the most part, we don’t interfere with the natural laws of nature and allow things to take its course around the property. I might chase off a pesky house sparrow trying to move into the bluebird house or save a butterfly caught in a web from becoming a spider’s supper. But then it all changed when we accepted a tiny bunny onto the property.

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It was early spring when I noticed a teacup-sized bunny moving slowly toward a clover patch in the lawn. It looked barely old enough to be weaned and it was beyond cute. It seemed unconcerned that I was standing nearby and I wasn’t going to shoo it away.  Rabbits don’t seem to last long around here since we have hawks and owls, neighborhood dogs, cats, we hear coyotes at night along with foxes, and then there are those elusive fishercats and, of course, the humans.

Bunnykins.

Despite the odds, bunny survived the warm months and grew healthy and plump on our untreated clover. He proved extremely well-behaved and NEVER ate from the garden. All summer long, the little fella kept the lawn’s clover patch in check.

In time, he grew oblivious to having me work nearby and would stretch out in the shade and doze just feet from where I was pulling weeds or digging in the dirt. I moved wheelbarrows, rakes, pruners and hoses around the yard and he would occasionally sit up and watch but went right back to his meal or his nap time with lazy yawns. Once in a while, something would snap and he would go on a tear, darting around in circles, kicking up grass… almost as if he was letting me know this was his yard and was allowing me to visit.

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I have dozens of cute and amusing iPhotos of the little bunny. Each night as we sat down to dinner, mister gardener and I would watch out of the window waiting for him because our dinner schedule was his dinner schedule. He would appear, hop to a clover patch beneath the window where we could watch him dine as we dined… just inches from the parsley and lettuce in the herb garden that he totally ignored. We never knew where his den was or where he went at night.

As cold weather set in, the bunny finally disappeared. We didn’t see him for a couple of months and we assumed he had become a meal for a hungry animal or had snuggled into his den for the winter. Just imagine my surprise when I went out to feed the birds last week and there he was. He had reappeared in a snowstorm in subzero weather. Not for the clover, of course, but to share what the birds are eating. Now that I’m putting out nuts, berries, seeds, and fruits for the birds, I’m guessing some of it has become sustenance for our bunny.

Let’s hope there is enough to sustain him during the harsh months and he does not resort to nibbling on the bark of my shrubs!  Be safe, little one! Hope to see you in the spring!

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