Almost Summer Camp

In the dead of a New England winter, I can only post about what I see… and it’s all snow or ice. So I am taking a trip back and posting about a warmer time, a time 2 summers ago when I spent a week on Star Island with a friend from Virginia. Star Island is a part of the Isles of Shoals, a group of nine small islands located a few miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine with names like Appledore, Smuttynose, Duck, and White. Groups arrive and leave all summer attending conferences, yoga camps, retreats, marine classes, photography, watercolor classes, or a family having a relaxing day-trip on these craggy shores. For us, it was the closest thing to summer camp for adults.

The largest building on the right is the old wooden Oceanic Hotel from the late 1800’s, the focal point of Star Island where we checked in and dined morning, noon, and night, where we showered, attended lectures, visited the gift shop, met friends, and enjoyed ice cream at the snack bar. Other buildings were guest rooms, guest cottages, the chapel, and lecture halls/classrooms/activity centers. The islands have been inhabited since the early 17th century (or earlier) by fishermen… some working their way up from Virginia colonies. In fact, Captain John Smith visited in 1614 and named the isles for himself, Smyth Isles. I guess it didn’t stick.

IMG_7951-X2Oceanic dining hallroomsYes, it was a lot like summer camp as we were roughing it on the island. We chose to share a miniature room with a bath (toilet/sink) rather than have a room in a cottage or the hotel with a shared bath, an upgrade we think, but showers were limited to certain days for certain hours in the basement of the Oceanic Hotel. Staff, dozens and dozens of young adults (“Pelicans”) of college age for the most part, showered on opposite days.

Watercolor LectureWe were free to wander the island in between activities and lectures. One day I poked around to see what flowers called the island home. The most abundant bloom I saw was the Rosa rugosa, a salt tolerant scrubby rose. It is prolific non-native that made the island look like a monoculture of rose. I searched for the scarlet pimpernel that grew on the rocks but to no avail. Mostly I saw blooms common to all.

Rosa rugosa

The black-backed seagulls outnumbered people by thousands. The breeding season was over but we were still warned about aggressive seagulls. I found the youngest gulls delightful and sometimes posing for the camera. This one went through his entire yoga routine for me.

young black backed gullOver the island, there were a number of grave sites and I couldn’t help but wonder if they brought soil from the mainland to cover the coffins on this thinly earthed rock. At the bottom of Eliza’s stone, it reads:

Death has cut the brittle thread of life
And laid my body in the grave.
Yet my spirit lives in heaven above
To sing the praises of God’s love.

Eliza

We signed on for an outing to another island, Appledore, the site of a Cornell/UNH marine science lab and the home and cutting gardens of Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), famed poet, writer, the daughter of the lightkeeper on White Isle. He eventually built two grand hotels in the mid-1800’s, one on Appledore and one on Smuttynose (both burned down). Celia became his hostess and her cut flowers adorned the hotels. Guests flocked to the island for relaxation and inspiration, among them famous writers and painters like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the artists William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam.

AppledoreWe followed the rocky path upward and across the island to the stone foundation of Celia’s home. This is a popular tour to visit a replica of her cutting gardens planted according to the plan she outlined in her bestselling book, An Island Garden. Our summer visit found only those late-blooming flowers at peak… but it was exciting to be there and catch a few photographs.

Back on Star, we followed paths, rutted roads, climbed boulders and rocks to explore every inch of the small island. Click to enlarge.

And at night we gathered with our cameras on the decks and on the gazebo called the summer house and watched the sun go down.

"                               " IMG_8079-X2Yes, we went to camp that summer….the discomforts of lights out early, limited cell phone use, no television, no cars, few showers paled in comparison to a week of great experiences with lots of new friends on what the locals call The Rock. Hope to go back!

Sandy and me with new friends on Star Island

ICE!

Today the temperature reached 37° and our icicles took on a life of their own. Drip. Drip. Drip. For the next 10 days or so, the temperatures will fluctuate. We may have negative temperatures at night and daytime will be in the teens, the twenties and a couple of thirty degrees here and there. We will have thawing and freezing of the very heavy snow atop everyone’s roofs…. which causes the dreaded ice dams that become leaks in a home. Ice dams are already creating havoc in many homes in New England and we are crossing our fingers that we won’t have a problem this year.iceRoof raking is a big business around these parts. We’ve had our home cleared of ice and snow twice. And we will have it done one more time this week. That should be it for the winter (knock on wood) for us but many others are waiting to have theirs done for the first time and just hoping for no more snowstorms. The weight of snow and ice has caused several major roof collapses in the area and created structural damage to schools, homes and businesses.

ice on cottage It is not an easy job, nor a safe job to clear roofs of snow and ice. Roofs are generally steep in this part of the world. Workers climb tall ladders and cross roofs in frigid temperatures carrying very long snow rakes. We’ve watched numerous homes being done, including our own. It’s a job I would not want!

Huge icesnowThe removal of ice dams is not for the faint of heart. Swinging a sledge hammer overhead like this, you would think it would go through the roof, but I was amazed at how exact these workers were at hitting only ice. They completed the task without causing structural damage to the home.

bang!Even though the ground is beneath about 4′ of snow, I can feel spring. It’s definitely in the air.  I am dreaming about those warmer days ahead and making lots of plans for our garden. Spring officially begins on March 20…. just weeks away (actually 25 days, 34 minutes, and 30 seconds!). Will the snow have melted by then? I rather doubt it…

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

Well, it’s that time of year again…. time for me to become a citizen scientist and count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes a day during this 4-day weekend, February 13 – 16. Then report my findings at birdcount.org. It’s easy, it’s free, and it helps avian researchers have a real-time picture of how birds are doing.

There are two days are left in the count… today and tomorrow. Just Do It!

Ice-encrusted mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) in Portsmouth NH

Near the feeder, it’s an easy task but in other locations, it can take a bit of concentration. Can you spot the lone chickadee among American goldfinches and a junco in the crab apple tree? Click to enlarge.

American finches and chickadee

 

Protecting Shrubs in Winter

In the milder zone 7b of my former home in Tidewater Virginia, people often tie up their roadside shrubs with burlap to protect them from road salt. Now we’re in New Hampshire. Here it’s done, not only for that reason, but to protect branches and shrubs from the weight of snow. We often see small shrubs and large ones protected with tents of burlap or tied up tight with roping.

Tide Hill Korean BoxwoodWe learned the hard way last year when three new dwarf boxwood (Buxus microphylla “Tide Hill”) were buried under 6′ of snow. In March, when I finally dug them out, the entire crowns were crushed. Multiple stems were completely snapped off (bonus: I rooted them and now have a dozen baby boxes).

The three boxwood were transplanted to a more protected garden and three dwarf Helleri holly (Ilex Crenata “Helleri”) replaced them. More rugged than box, but they have similar small leaves. We will maintain them as a small hedge.

Even though a mild winter was in the forecast for the 2015 winter months, we weren’t taking any chances. We wanted to protect the small Helleri hollies from the elements. So mister gardener made small sandwich boards that he put over the hollies when the first flakes began to fall.

Dwarf Helleri Holly protectionThe next snowstorm covered the boards.

Helleri HollyNow take a look below at our 7-ft. snowdrift over the hollies today. The final snowstorm this week confirmed our suspicions about the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Listen to no one… not the weatherman, not the clerk in the store, not the Farmer’s Almanac, not the mailman, not friends or neighbors. This we know: snow is a given. Take preventive measures to safeguard the garden, the house, the automobiles, and yourself. We are learning….

7-ft drift

For the birds…

It has been an extreme few weeks in New England that has brought us over 40″ of snow in our area of New Hampshire. Today the snow is coming down steady again… enough that the snowplows have cleared our drive 4 times! We always feed the birds but during severe weather we step up our support as natural food supplies are difficult to find. We have trenches and we shovel out to refill feeders twice a day. The snow is as light as ivory flakes so the shoveling isn’t strenuous. And, amazingly, it’s full of tunnels where the squirrels are searching for wayward birdseed. They pop up here and there like Whac-A-Mole game.

trenchThe familiar backyard avian crew frequents our feeders… just in greater numbers in this weather. The black-capped chickadees, the white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, and tons of American goldfinch, pine siskins, and purple finches dine on the tube feeder and the covered bluebird feeder. The noisy finches that number in the twenties also monopolize the nyjer seed feeder.

finches on nyjer sock

American Goldfinches

Northern cardinals, mourning doves, a handful of blue jays, white-throated sparrows and a few other sparrows, a large number of dark-eyed juncos, a common redpoll or two, American finches and pine siskins hop around atop the snow for the seeds we scatter.

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Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

junco..

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpeckers, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, the chickadees and titmice go through the suet in no time.

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chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

 

Female P. Finch

Female Purple Finches

 

Pine Siskin

 

The avian activity provides a lot of excitement and entertainment at our house. Breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime at our table are hives of activity at the window feeder. We enjoy watching the shy, the gregarious, the bullies, the bold, the eat-and-run birds, the noisy, and the birds that like to watch us watching them.

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At least it’s a leisurely hobby that you can enjoy from the comfort and warmth of your home… unlike some of our neighbors who must wait for the snowplow to clear enough snow so their animal friends can have a little recreation. Brrrr….
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Cindy and pup

Soup does a body GOOD!

After running errands trying to beat one of our recent snowstorms, I was greeted at home by rich aromas wafting from the kitchen. mister gardener, who does practically all the cooking in this household, was making his mother’s chicken noodle soup. That means starting with a nutritious stock from scratch using an organic whole chicken from our farmers’ market and his mother’s homemade egg noodles.

He was removing the chicken bones and vegetables from the stock pot when I poked my head around the corner. It had been simmering for an hour and a half with an assortment of vegetables and herbs and smelled heavenly. The dough had been rolled out and drying on a side table.

As a toddler, he remembers climbing up on the kitchen stool up to watch and ‘help’ his mother roll out the dough and cut the noodles. He uses her recipe and her methods to this day… rolling out the dough, letting it dry, dusting the dough with flour, rolling it, and cutting the noodles.

Sliced carrots, sliced celery are added to the stock and it all simmers away until the vegetables are just tender. The reserved cut-up raw chicken is added and, finally, the delicious noodles are tossed in for the last 5 minutes. A little salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and some chopped fresh parsley just before serving, and dinner’s ready. (I’d like to think the parsley is my small contribution since I am tending it in my lovely winter herb garden!)

Dinner is served….

Chicken Noodle SoupChicken Stock: mister gardener makes his stock mostly with chicken bones. He reserves the raw breast and thigh meat, and partially cooks the bones and a few extra chicken parts, sans skin and fat, in water until the fatty foam forms on the surface. He tosses that water and starts a fresh pot of water with the same bones and simmers the stock for 1/ 1/2 to 2 hours with cut up carrots, onions, celery, garlic head, fresh thyme, and parsley. He strains the stock through a colander and he’s ready to make his soup!