We are amazed how little we are really â€œawareâ€ of all the life going on around us on this little place that sits halfway between the equator and the Arctic, that rises to 1100 feet above the valley/river bottom land, on hilltops that just begin to curve a little northward with the riverâ€™s path and catches so many Gorge Westbound breezes, enough so that this little patch of forest seems to have a unique life of its own. Sure, its part of all life that moves and migrates in and around it, but itâ€™s not exactly like the Willamette River Valley Farm Land climates, not like the Gorge Climates, and not like the Coast Range climates either.
Each year these big exciting NW Spring Seasons sneak in and stay and stay and stay. Once again, I emphasize in 8 spring seasons living at this same spot, none have been just alike, or, maybe, just maybe, weâ€™re just beginning to tune into the micro-world we are part of. Each spring we seem to â€œget itâ€ just a little more in detail than before, and in each time, itâ€™s with awe and wonder.
For the first time, we really heard the Great Horned Owls hooting at night to call territory, but learned that their early â€˜hootingâ€™ (in February â€“ early March) was this predatorâ€™s call to mate and nest. The Owlâ€™s want their young hatched, and ready for the baby birds that will be born later as well of course, as chipmunks & squirrels. It never occurred to me that the predatorâ€™s young are best served getting raised earlier than the herbivores.
This spring has been a complete surprise because of its dry warmth. Easter weekend daytime highs here are normally just hitting 60 degrees but this year are forecast to hit 80 with bright sunny gorgeous balmy slow breezes wafting across the hills. Because of that, we have begun to get some things done that in the last 8 years here havenâ€™t finished until middle or late May.
This bright warm weather just might be the reason weâ€™re tuning into life here just a notch deeper than before since weâ€™re out in it earlier. For example, just yesterday, I was planting some Viburnum on the front slope of the property facing the roadway, plants kindly given to us by great friend and neighbors, Baird & Karen, and out of the ground in one shovel of cool damp dirt comes a small pink salamander just as confused as could be about the sudden bright light. I carefully placed him back into the earth, gently covered him, and moved over a footâ€¦.and was just amazed this little creature was living there bothering no one, and quietly living, breathing, as though no one else existed. We KNEW there were salamanders/newts around but just thought theyâ€™d be closer to water, so didnâ€™t expected to find them, but no, eight years into this, here he was. I relished the little moment, such a tender fragile little creature. Or maybe the NEXT thing I learn is that this wasnâ€™t a newt at all but a salamander?
A picture of a work-day this week with the last of the wood-to-be-split, work equipment, woodshed open, all within the umbrella scene of our exploding flowering tree just may be able to tell the reader must more easily just why itâ€™s powerful magic to be outdoors on days like these when in truth, weâ€™re enjoying days that usually donâ€™t happen until last of May or in June here:
Itâ€™s been a relief to have the winter ice storm cleanup get finished upâ€¦â€¦â€¦except for getting rid of Cork Screw Willow branches anyway. AT least those are now piled up in one corner awaiting someone to give them a designer home. All the branches are gone, wood piles picked up and stacked in the back, some burned, and then some spots raked up to begin life anew. We HAD mentioned these willows before so now weâ€™ll put in the picture of the branches that have been in the house for 6 weeks in waterâ€¦.just in a vase:
Actual size â€“ theyâ€™re about 4 feet tallâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦
Next winterâ€™s wood supply is almost complete and stored in the woodshed â€¦â€¦. The wood splitting has been mentioned before, but we have NEVER had the next seasons wood split and stored by the end of March! Now we can begin to plan the wood supply for 2005â€™s winter!
Another real big thing Iâ€™m just learning in more detail is about the little birds and squirrels lives this early in the year. For some reason I just didnâ€™t think their lives got any more complicated than ours before the damp cool weather began to dry out in May/Juneâ€¦. But no, that was completely wrong. Birds lives are directed more by the number hours of daylight than the temperatures, as Nancy remembers teaching me in the â€œpastâ€ but not internalized here. Since it was bright and dry, I kept looking for some birds to already have arrived back here in groups, but now realize they ARE coming, just not all at once. The ones that are here now have already paired up, are singing bright and beautiful in the mornings, and believe it or not, are nesting already. AT the feeders daily now, we have at least one or more pairs of: Purple Finch, House Finch, Evening Grosbeaks, Mourning Doves, and then single or groups of the other usual residents: Bewicks Wrens, Song Sparrows, Towhees, Woodpeckers, Robins, Chickadees, Nutchatches, ALL of whom are being irritated daily by Chipmunks, Douglas and Fox Squirrels and the Stellar Jays.
Here is a â€œbirds-eye-viewâ€ looking from the tray feeder back into the Family Room where we in turn, give them the â€œhuman-eye-viewâ€ back:
My Dadâ€™s old Birdbath no one else wanted when Dad died was brought here and has been a faithful servant to hundreds of birds but none more elegantly than the daily bath robins take. The bath almost needs refilling every day or two because Robins take full wing-flapping, dipping, active baths, which makes sense since they spend so much time on the ground. Itâ€™s great to watch them take a â€˜manlyâ€™ dip. Sadly enough, I see this old birdbath now has a big crack in it (probably from the frozen temps we had in the winter) so may following Dad to rest soon. Another reason Iâ€™ve enjoyed it so much is that Iâ€™m sure Dad just picked it up because it was cheap at a garage sale or was free. He never filled it that I sawâ€¦â€¦it never showed a sign of use when it first came here. But, Dad, Thanks for picking it up along your way, we put it to good use.
Our new Dirt Berm at the front of the property has had to take a round of Poison after we found big doses of a primitive plant coming up in abundance, the Horsetail Ferns. These relics of long ago had sat around Daveâ€™s house for eons probably just waiting for a chance for air exposure. When moved here, up they came, and we can see that Dave has the same stuff coming up too. Well, so our landscaping project for the berm just waits a month or soâ€¦â€¦.no big deal. That was more learning, about this ancient plant that only moves in and chokes things out when itâ€™s finally disturbedâ€¦..after perhaps hundreds of years. Whew! I sprayed the berm the first time around with a combination of roundup and brush killer, dilutedâ€¦..it killed everything but the ferns. Last Saturday, I returned to finish them off (there will no doubt be round 3-4 before theyâ€™re gone) with full-strength roundup and brush killer simply painted on with a small brushâ€¦.so that ONLY these plants are targeted and not the entire soil area. I had just enough left to paint some of the horsetails growing along Skyline just at our border.
The vegetable garden spot has been roto-tilled once, and a couple rows planted in lettuce, potatoes, a few onion, we split the rhubarb, and are also watching last yearâ€™s herb plants reviving: Oregano, Sage, Chives, Onion, and Shallots. To those weâ€™ve added a new Thyme plantâ€¦that was a GREAT spice to use over the winter and I was glad Iâ€™d learned what it really does. Great in Fish and Chickenâ€¦â€¦â€¦.and Salad Dressings. My experiment with the green onion worked. Last fallâ€™s planting is now up and blooming. I intend to let it go to seedâ€¦.and watch the sproutsâ€¦.Iâ€™m planning on a summer availability of green onion coming up in a few spots for no effortâ€¦â€¦ hereâ€™s the onion bloom, actually very nice:
Now, weâ€™re not going out on a limb recklessly and plant other stuffâ€¦.we still do not believe this weather trend will last. So the last soil conditioning treatment will happen in mid-may: Adding composted manure, compressed alfalfa pellets ($6 for 50 lbs of this cheap slow-release horse food), and the other secret ingredients to magic garden soilâ€¦..till it all in and begin planting everything except the cornâ€¦.the corn will go into seed pots in the garage for another 3 weeks and get out there about June. The Tomatoes too will be set out only with those insulating thick plastic water jackets â€¦. An exciting part of the late spring.
Mark got to see an exciting event (in some opinions)â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦
While typing something at the office computer Wednesday morning, he noticed in the window some flurry of something under a fir tree just about 20 feet awayâ€¦.looking up , he saw the Cooperâ€™s Hawk just letting go of â€œsomethingâ€â€¦..that something wasnâ€™t dead, and took off into the tree aboveâ€¦..only about 3 feet up. That Hawk just watched and watched him, moved himself around into other positions until he felt just right, and simply jumped upâ€¦.wrestled for at least 10 seconds in that tree while I watched some feathers fly all around, and then all get quiet. Without a blink, the Hawk took off with a ROBIN carried in his claws! I felt like I was on an African safari! The predator Hawks are simply beautiful.
We also went back to Sauvie Island last weekend, but got down there a little late to see the morning feeding behaviors but were rewarded with the Bald Eagle sightings - - 3 just off the roadway up in trees. They were so close when viewed through the binoculars, youâ€™d have sworn they were giants. What a beautiful spectacular bird these Eagles are.
Easter! While the saved are rejoicing indoors, we heathens celebrated the joyous weather by attending the semi-annual Hardy Plant Sale. The â€œHardyâ€ simply represents how â€œhardyâ€ plants are, i.e., they are either native to the NW, or they are from similar climes so that they do well in our cool damp climate. We went with Nancy, Carol, Julie, Bob & Rhonda. . . . . .at the Washington County Fairgrounds, itâ€™s always an interesting place to see unusual plants brought in by many specialty nurseries and growers around the area. We all shopped, put plants in boxes, shopped, then cashed outâ€¦..and I think WE got the most eye catching tree. A Chinese weeping elmâ€¦â€¦just sprouting for spring caught a LOT of peopleâ€™s attention and remarks. It was quite unusual. But the big surprise was walking it to the car when we passed a Chinese coupleâ€¦.she gasped, mouth open, and I had to ask â€œWhat?â€â€¦.she explained she hadnâ€™t seen one since growing up in China where, this time of year, as theyâ€™re sprouting their blooms/seeds, those parts were edible and eaten regularly by her family.
SO. That was fun, but not as fun as all of us then traveling to Carolâ€™s place for lunch, where we were served an elegant Corn Salad, everything in it freshâ€”except the black beansâ€¦.itâ€™s SO GOOD, Iâ€™m adding the recipe at the end of this note. Nancy served some great Nan bread with a garlic cheese sauce, and Rhonda & Julie combined to make a fabulous spring strawberry shortcake. Nothing says SPRING like Strawberry Shortcake, eh?
From there, now pleasantly plump, er, full, and full of caffeinated Iced Tea, we came home to work and plant. We did get some things done. Rodger cleaned out flower bedsâ€¦.they now look great. Mark tilled, smoothed, raked, mulched, and re-seeded the lawn space that had been torn up when we had the crane pull out the tree stump last year by the garageâ€¦..now if he can just remember to keep it damp for a couple of weeks.
We wonder how everyoneâ€™s doing at this busy time of year. Aunt Paulaâ€™s home for some â€˜weeksâ€™ recovering from shoulder surgery, Niece Shaunaâ€™s just about to go through her second childbirthâ€¦..amidst completing all her doctoral requirements in Santa Barbara (whew), Marilee is on a an â€œelder hostel tourâ€ of Greeceâ€”sounds interesting. So whatâ€™s going on around this planet for your spring?
Mark & Rodger.
File: Black Bean & Corn Salad â€“ I guarantee you will LOVE THIS.
BLACK BEAN AND CORN SALAD (from Nancy Grossenbacher)
Mix together in large bowl:
2 15 oz. Cans black beans
1 10 ounce package frozen white corn
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
1 avocado, cubed (add right before serving salad)
Mix together in blender:
Â½ cup olive oil
1/3 cup (generous) lime juiceâ€¦.2 whole limes
1-2 gloves garlic, minced
3-5 serrano chilies, chopped (I used 3)
Â½ cup cilantro, minced (or more)
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
Salt to taste
Pour dressing over salad and allow to cool for several hours. Add avocado right before serving.