Signs of Spring 2015

It’s the first day of spring and… YIPPEE… there are signs that the season of rebirth is here. We still have a foot of snow in the yard but we can see positive signs that spring has arrived.

The “snow squirrels” (red squirrels) don’t live in their vast web of snow tunnels anymore:

"snow" squirrelThe appearance of snowflies (click to see it):

snowflyThe infamous snow truck camouflaged all winter at a shopping center is finally exposed:

snow truckOur bluebirds have arrived:

…and finally, the real estate market that was flat due a severe winter is booming again:

Happy Spring everyone!

Winter Walk-Off 2015

Spring begins on Friday but you’d never know it by the weather in New Hampshire. Today the temperatures were hovering in the upper 20’s with 25 MPH winds and gusting… true winter weather for the Annual Winter Walk-Off 2015.

Fellow blogger, Les, at A Tidewater Gardener, issued the following challenge to be completed by midnight, March 19:  “On your own two feet, leave the house, and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home (if you want to drive to your walk destination that’s OK too). Your post does not have to be about gardening or a travelogue (though I do like both), unless you want it to be. Maybe instead you will find some unusual patterns, interesting shadows, signs of spring, a favorite restaurant or shop, questionable landscaping, or local eyesores. Whatever, just keep your eyes and mind open, be creative, and have fun, but don’t show anything from your own garden.”

With the deadline for the event looming, I charged myself today with the task of completing Les’ challenge. There are no gardens visible beneath the snow in New Hampshire but when I thought of the most interesting shapes, angles, patterns, and shadows indoors, I could think of nothing better than the local Phillips Exeter Academy’s library, the largest secondary school library in the world.

The architect was Louis I. Kahn who was commissioned in 1965 to design a library for the academy. With his love of brick, his design fit right in with the brick Georgian buildings on campus. He was oft quoted saying, “I asked the brick, ‘What do you like, brick?’ And brick said, ‘I like an arch.'” And you see his arch again and again in this library. He is known also for his skillful use of natural light in the library. Groundbreaking was in 1969 and it was open for students in 1971. In 1997, the library was awarded the American Institute of Architect’s Twenty-Five Year Award.  Read more about Louis Kahn and the design process HERE.

The building is all about shapes. Walking up to the library, we see a square brick building that looks as if the outside walls are are detached or floating. Bricked pavilions lead visitors to entries.  Click to enlarge photos.

There are officially 4 floors in the library but in actuality, there are 9 levels. I climbed the stairs to all the floors and tried to capture a piece of the architecture: angles, shapes and shadows  and patterns…. arches, squares, diamonds, rectangles, and circles. Staircases provide curves, sharp angles, rectangles, and triangles:

Views from every floor give great form to function with the use of wood and concrete:
Click to enlarge.

There are 210 study carrels for students, all flooded with natural light and views to the campus below. Although the students are on spring break and nowhere to be seen today, I smiled when I saw that some of the carrels must be claimed domains:

Click to enlarge.

On the upper most floors are reading lounges with fireplaces, long tables group work, great views overlooking the campus and the administration building and a closer view of the circular atrium high above that illuminates the first floor:

Far below, a flurry of activity is evident on the ground floor level preparing for something new, The Library Commons, a place for social interaction. Furniture will arrive any day, furniture that will be flexible for individual or group use and can be arranged in a number of ways. Also in the plans for this area is a much anticipated café.

It looks nothing at all like Virginia’s beloved Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, yet I thought of TJ as I walked through the library.  I have a sense that both architects had similar visions for their buildings. They both possessed imagination and boldness of thought, both ahead of their time, both fashioned a building with a sense of serenity and, finally, this architect positioned his library to overlook this campus as Jefferson positioned his home to overlook his cherished University of Virginia.

Tree Hugging in Thought Only

The decision to remove all the white pine trees in this association was a difficult one for me. But, in the end, I went along with the majority vote to take them all. There were benefits to keeping the trees. They provided life and they provided shade and they gave us privacy. They blocked the frigid winter winds, helped to clean the air, and they certainly helped with soil erosion and water drainage as we live on the lower part of an incline…. but I had to concede the fact these tall trees were planted too close to buildings. There was a fear of what might happen if strong storms struck. It has occurred with other white pines in this neighborhood in year’s past.

White PineAnother reason given for the removal was that the species was not considered desirable. I held my ground on that one. Just ask Doug Tallamy, chairman of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, author of the popular books, Bringing Nature Home and The Living Landscape, who promotes growing natives to help support an area’s ecosystem. Pinus strobus, eastern white pine, is one he recommends for providing food, nuts, insects for a host of wildlife. Besides, I consider it a beautiful soft needled evergreen tree that whispers a song when the breezes come through.

Last week was the icy, snowy, cold week for tree removal. The operation was reminiscent of scenes from the movies Fern Gully or Avatar as heavy machinery, trucks, cranes, cables, and saws advanced around the area. One by one I watched these trees fall. I watched two squirrels jump from the tip top of one tree to the snow covered ground. I watched as birds flew around the tops of trees but not landing.

Click to enlarge:

I will collect some of the cones left behind and toss them into the woods that surround the neighborhood. Let’s hope a few of the offspring take root.

For every negative, I look for the positive. 1. With the tall pines gone, we now have morning sun at the breakfast table, a totally unanticipated perk that puts a smile on our faces. 2. The herbs on the window sill are responding very favorably to sunlight and we have removed the grow light that kept them happy all winter. 3. Facing an easterly direction, we’re finding the passive solar energy is keeping the home warmer. That’s a very good thing for the heating bill.  Sigh…

A Little Springtime in a Cookie!

Our garden club held a board meeting recently in a member’s home that had all of us whistling springtime tunes as we left even though snow is still knee high in New Hampshire. You see, she added little spring with the goodies she and her co-host served.

We are always well-fed at these meetings. Nothing like quiche… both crab AND vegetable… breakfast breads, blueberry muffins (local blueberries!), fruit, drinks…..

…. but the pièce de résistance was the host’s cookie that got us all excited for spring. At first glance, the basket appeared to be full of seed packets for members to take home, but, no, these were actual cookies….

….Vintage Seed Packet Sugar Cookies!

vintage seed packet sugar cookieHave you ever seen anything so cute? Yes, these are edible sugar cookies with a thin seed packet wafer of potato starch, veggie oil, and water ‘glued’ over the top. She made the cookies and ordered the seed packets on the web from a company named Fancy Flours.

The recipe for the cookie and icing, the cookie cutter, and a host of wafers for every holiday or occasion in a multitude of colors can be found on the website. Check it out.

And, yes, they were melt-in-your-mouth yummy.
Welcome Spring!

Survival of the Fittest

Our population of neighborhood turkeys has dwindled. I’m sure some turkeys didn’t make it through the worst of winter weather but, also, about this time of year, late winter or early spring, the flocks divide into smaller groups… one of hens, one of young males, and older males in another group.  It’s been a tough winter for all wildlife and we’ve tried to help out our birding population as much as we can… and that includes our posse of turkeys.

Snow has drifted to just below the window in the kitchen, which has allowed us to be eye to eye with these noble creatures as they feast on seed that we scatter. They are wary of us but hunger trumps caution.

Tom TurkeyThe dominate male gobbler, above, keeps a sharp eye on us at the breakfast table and when he feels he’s had enough, he gives a silent sign and the flock slowly follows him through the shrubbery. We’re not sure how he does that. We think he watches us and the rest watch him.

We’re visited by 8 turkeys now, we think young males, from about 18 turkeys that visited us all fall. We watch this small group appear at dawn each morning, quickly devour the food we scatter the night before. They take the exact path each morning through a neighbor’s yard and across the road, then disappear up another neighbor’s driveway to their backyard.  I’m sure our small posse takes the same route because a generous soul has a laid out another breakfast course for them.

Turkey hunting season approaches in New Hampshire in May. We hope you fare well, young gobblers!

A Warm Day at Last!

Temperatures rose to 45° yesterday… almost a heat wave in New England. Icicles hanging from the roof began to thin and several large ones fell to the snow below. Instead of staying home and watch the icicles melt, mister gardener and I decided to venture out for a walk and lunch.

If we wanted to trudge through ice, deep snow and slush, we would have taken the woodland walk. We decided to journey down town and use the cleared sidewalks. Once there, we found that others had the same great idea and we walked behind, in front of, and passed happy, friendly folks getting a small-ish workout and enjoying the fresh air along the sidewalks of Exeter.

Afterwards, we had worked up a little appetite for a cup of soup at The Green Bean restaurant… and despite the warm temperatures, we decided that eating lunch on the terrace at one of our favorite restaurants in Exeter is still several weeks away. But look how clean the sidewalk is! It’s that way everywhere here and amazing to me just how the city and the businesses accomplish this feat with the endless snow this season.

Following lunch, we drove home the back way to see how a few neighbors’ mailboxes fared after perhaps a record amount of snow accumulation. Snow plows have no choice but to blast snow to the side of the roads and very often the mailboxes are the victims.  This year was no exception.

And finally, we laughed when we saw in astonishment that the mail is still being delivered to all of them.

A warming trend is in the forecast and we will be happy to say goodbye to these mountains of white, however, the next big threat in New England is water from the big melt. Most homes have basements around here… including us.  We’ve been warned that the threat of a flooded basement is a big one.  We are keeping our fingers VERY tightly crossed.