On the Move

Colorado sunsetThanks for visiting the Between Urban and Wild blog at its original location.

Although Between Urban and Wild is all about place, location is data in this virtual universe, and I’ve transferred hosting for the site.

New posts will no longer be appearing at the betweenurbanandwild.wordpress.com site address, but you can still find me at www.betweenurbanandwild.com.

If you’ve signed up as a WordPress or email follower in the past, you can continue to get notifications of new posts by clicking on the link above and then subscribing as an email follower.

New posts typically appear every other week, unless life as I know it has gone berserk, as it does once in a while, especially in the summer months.

 

 

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In Praise of Perennials

lovage

An abundance of lovage, which I haven’t figured out how to use.

I regularly lose control of the clock. Hours and even days seep away through pinholes and hairline cracks somewhere in my spacetime continuum.

Lately though, I appear to have lost control not only of the clock but also of the calendar. Whole months are getting away from me. On the Fourth of July weekend, I found myself finally transplanting petunias, pansies, and dianthus into the ceramic pots I keep on the decks in the summer—a chore I normally complete around Memorial Day.

I did manage to get some garden seeds in the ground before I left for an eight-day trip in early June, but the effort was rushed and I planted leftover seeds from old vintages because I hadn’t gotten around to ordering fresh seed in late winter or early spring. No calculated phased planting of cold-hardy crops, not this year. Six weeks later, I’m replanting rows of lettuce and carrots that failed to come up, and filling in other bald spots in the garden with leggy plants from the local nursery, top-heavy in their now-undersized plastic pots.

chive blossoms

Chive blossoms ready to open.

What’s funny, or odd, or interesting—or perhaps all three—is that in this early part of the summer, none of that matters. The first crops have come out of the garden right on schedule.

The chives poked up through the tangle of dead strands from last year right on time, starting in late April. I’ve been sprinkling little green hoops of minced leaves and the lavender florets from the blossoms over salads, sandwiches, and eggy scrambles ever since.

asparagus

Spring asparagus, which keeps popping up all summer.

Spears of asparagus appeared in May. As with everything else in the garden (except the alpine strawberries, on which more in a moment), the asparagus bed is neither large nor prolific, but I pick a few spears every couple of days and either slice them raw on salads or store them until there’s enough to cook up a batch. The mix of skinny and fat stalks looks a little haphazard on the plate, but the asparagus is tender and delicious.

cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms.

They won’t be ripening for a few weeks yet, but little green cherry beads have replaced the white blossoms of spring, and are dangling thick on the tree that’s been in the garden for years. The fruit is more scattered among the dense leaves of the new tree I planted two years ago, but there’s certainly more of it than last summer, when the tree yielded exactly three cherries. The birds got two of them; I plucked the third before it was quite ripe and ate it there in the garden with a defiant flourish, determined to get my share of the crop. Barring hail—and assuming I won’t be too distracted to get bird netting wrapped over the trees’ branches in time—we’ll soon be enjoying our annual tart cherry fix; between the two trees I should have a little fruit to stash in the freezer.

white alpine strawberries

White alpine strawberries, blooming in abundance.

As to those strawberries: I started picking white alpine strawberries a handful at a time in mid-June, and now I’m picking them by the pint. The plants usually bear all summer, but I’m not seeing lots of new blossoms, so I wonder if the harvest will peter out early this year. I’ll be at peace if that’s the case, grateful that the early surge of strawberries has helped compensate for my delayed action in other parts of the garden.

I also started picking rhubarb weeks ago. Like the asparagus, the bundles I bring back to the house are anything but uniform; the stalks are long and short, thin and thick. Chopped up and simmered with a little brown sugar, however, the flavor is exactly as it should be: teetering from sweet to tart, the stalks creating a distinct category of fruitiness. Served warm with chilled yogurt, the compote is fit for dessert and breakfasts both, and I also substitute it for the mashed bananas in my Mom’s reliable banana bread recipe. When I started making rhubarb bread this way a couple of years ago, it promptly became my favorite quick bread. This weekend, the abundant strawberries joined the rhubarb in a flavorful crisp for dessert. With plenty left over for breakfast.

rhubarb

The rhubarb in April, edible stalks still just a promise.

That the perennials in the garden provide, regardless of whether I have my act together or not, is a matter of immense relief. I fully appreciate the seasonal rituals gardening imposes on my life, and it’s not that I’m trying to find a way to cheat the system. But when I lose control of time the way I have this year, it’s nice to have a scattering of the “homegrown” for the table.

And since I didn’t miss the planting window for the garden completely, the time-slip has meant that some of the quick growing crops are—Hey! Presto!—now ready. Tonight’s menu will feature homegrown rapini, sautéed with a little garlic and dressed with good olive oil. The last of the lettuce from the grocery store will be joined by leaves cut fresh from the garden in a salad that will, no doubt, be sprinkled with a generous handful of homegrown chives.

chives_2

Chive blossoms for spring; chive leaves all summer.

Posted in gardening, procrastination | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seeing Voices

IMG_3365

Vermont marble walkway, leading to the Bread Loaf Inn.

Back in early June, I packed my too-heavy suitcase (too many books, too much paperwork) and left the horses and the garden and the weeds and the house in care of my husband. I was off to Vermont, to the verdant roll of hills thick with maple and birch, to woods skirted with hay-scented fern and incised with carefully mowed meadows.

I went “Back East,” as we say here Out West, to attend the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ conference, a gathering of essayists, poets, and fiction writers sharing time in the neighborhood where Robert Frost summered for decades. Navigating groups of people I don’t know brings surges of anxiety, but that subsided as the days went on and I practically wallowed in the luxury of being surrounded by scores of individuals who prize the written word.

IMG_3367

Visiting Robert Frost’s summer cabin.

The pragmatic gear turning at the center of my days was a writing workshop led by Scott Russell Sanders. In our hours together, members of the group discussed one another’s work, the writing process, and the craft of personal essay. My newly-met colleagues are all smart, funny, and generous; I learned a lot and was—am—grateful for the workshop experience.

When I think back on that week, though, it isn’t the nuts and bolts of writing that stands out, but the alchemy of it.

Writing casts a spell. Reading, we fall under it, defying the laws of time and space to journey beyond the confines of physical location and personal moment. That this happens even in my chosen genre of nonfiction, where the contract between author and reader specifies real-life truthfulness, only adds to the sense of enchantment.

This conjuring is a do-it-yourself project, an interior passage—usually. At the conference, our days were bookended with faculty presentations: lectures in the morning and readings to close the day (or, depending on your point of view, as a prelude to the opening of the Barn Pub). As each author took his or her turn at the lectern and began to speak, their words were layered with the sensory details of the place: the angular shadows of the Little Theater’s dark wooden beams, soft air and the chitter of chimney swifts drifting through the open double doors in the mornings, the incense of woodsmoke and the snap of flame in the open fireplace on chilly evenings at mid-week, the laughter and small murmurs of agreement—and occasional outbursts of whooping and applause—from the audience of compatriots. Like cloisonné, or a lacquering technique, the overlay of voice and space and scent and language created occasions gleaming with unexpected depth.

The power of writing doesn’t require an in-person reading, of course. Listening to a writer is an embellishment on an exchange of ideas that benefits from but does not require the flourish. But hearing an author read aloud wrinkles time a little, invoking the ancestral oral tradition from which written technology sprang eons ago.

IMG_3409Those readings and talks at Bread Loaf were temporal, too, in their transience and in the steady accumulation of days between then and now. I carried their echoes home in memory, though, and packed as books in my then-still-heavier suitcase, their substance captive on paper. Now, whenever I start to read the work of Jane Brox or Robert Michael Pyle or David James Duncan or Scott Sanders, I’ll hear the cadence and rhythm of their voices in my mind’s ear.

Even more wonderful is that I have sensory snapshots to draw on as I explore poetry and fiction by writers I wasn’t familiar with before—Rubén Martínez, Belle Boggs, Maurice Manning, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil. These voices, new to me, rang in from the periphery of my nonfiction perspective, gently suggesting that what I think of as focus might just as easily be tunnel vision.

And, because Scott Sanders had each participant read a passage from our work-in-progress before the group discussed it, I’ll also be able to hear the voices and see the faces of the women from my workshop group, writers I’ll no doubt be reading more from in the future.

IMG_3388

The Bread Loaf Campus.

Posted in reading, travel, writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Still Learning from Horses

Moondo Pikes Peak 2004

Moondo, in fall 2004, just before he moved from the east side of Pikes Peak (background, left) to the west side.

Moondo, my little red horse, is a complicated character. I wrote about his personality and opinions in the “Horse Lessons” chapter of Between Urban and Wild the book.

A number of years have passed since then, and I can report that Moondo still has very clear views on how the day’s schedule should unfold (according to his agenda), which water source is best (automatic waterer, not stock tank), where he should be scratched (varies by season: at the base of the ears, where icicles collect in his forelock on snowy days, in winter; on the belly, where the flies pester him, in summer), and whether ATV-riding and target-shooting are acceptable activities for neighbors to engage in (NO, and DEFINITELY NOT).

His pasture-mate, Jake, bears the brunt of Moondo’s conceit, and while I sympathize, I can’t help but be amused, most of the time. Jake outweighs Moondo by a couple of hundred pounds. He’s ten years younger, and he’s a dominant personality in the equine pecking order. Yet Moondo regularly manipulates Jake to get his way.

Jake Moondo

Jake: “Got any food?” Moondo: “Did I authorize this visit?”

Moondo prefers the Big Pasture to anyplace else. Jake cares about food, in quantity, wherever it’s located. If Jake heads toward the barn to eat hay when that activity is not on Moondo’s agenda, diversionary tactics are called for. I’ve seen Moondo trot briskly past Jake to take the lead, as if concurring that going to the barn is a very fine idea. Once Jake is plodding mindlessly behind him, Moondo will gently veer gently off course and lead the way to the central basin of the pasture.

A related technique also involves hustling to get in front of Jake, but this one exploits appetite rather than herd mentality. Out in front, Moondo will stop abruptly to chomp grass, as if he’s just stumbled across the tastiest patch that’s ever sprung in the pasture. Jake cannot resist investigating gustatory enthusiasm, and once his head drops to begin eating, his brain apparently forgets where it was headed just moments ago.

The horses’ relationship isn’t entirely brains versus brawn. After he got bit on the nose by a rattlesnake a few months after he arrived here in early 2012, Jake acquired a fresh respect for Moondo’s opinions. I wasn’t there to witness the strike, but I’m pretty sure Moondo was jumping around behind him urging Jake to Leave that thing alone!! Nowadays, if Moondo gets anxious about something, Jake responds to the mood even if he doesn’t comprehend the threat. They both retreat to the center of the Big Pasture, where they stand close together, on high alert.

observant horses colorado

Moondo and Jake watching an Army helicopter flying over the area.

I’m happy about Jake’s reciprocal vigilance, particularly since Moondo is starting to get up in years, having turned twenty-two on May 27. There are different ways of calculating horse age in human years, but if Moondo were a person he’d be in his late sixties to early seventies. He remains mentally sharp, physically tough, persnickety, and generally healthy, but he suffers from a nerve disorder that’s slowly getting worse. I’m glad he has a younger companion to help keep him moving and active, although I do wish Jake wouldn’t shoulder-block the old guy around quite so much. Then again, when Jake got too pushy the other night, I watched Moondo execute a double-barrel kick that nearly connected with Jake’s chin, so I guess he can still take care of himself.

Moondo and I have known one another since 2004. I’m pretty sure he came to the conclusion early on that I’m a little simple and in need of guidance. His expression is both earnest and sincere when he twangs the top line of the electric fence and then looks pointedly at me: You know this think isn’t on, right? He’s clearly exasperated when I don’t promptly respond to his rolling the hay tank over with a bang: You know this thing is empty, right? (he might not be food motivated, but when the appointed time comes a horse has gotta eat).

I’ve watched Moondo negotiate the terms of his relationship with the three different horses he’s shared the pastures with over the years. He’s not a dominant personality, but he has a talent for waiting out clashes and hammering out power-sharing agreements.

Like his other companions, I find him exasperating at times, but also smart and steadfast. I know a little bit about how his mind works, but don’t pretend a horse whisperer’s insight into his soul. I admire him, as a member of the equine tribe, as a life-long resident of the outdoors, and as a keen observer of this place. He’s annoying and funny, but also a wise guide, pointing me toward different ways of looking at and seeing the environment we both call home.

Posted in animal communication, horses, observation | Tagged , ,

Winterspring

Colorado Western Bluebirds

The winners of this box, this year: Western bluebirds.

From a distance, not much has changed. Almost-mid-May from the house looks pretty much like just-past-mid-March. The difference, as it so often is, is in the details. The expanses of grass, passive and still eight weeks ago, are now host to fluttering, creeping, scurrying. The birds are back, the bugs are getting busy, and the rodents are out and about again.

After a few weeks of fierce squabbles, with males wing-beating one another to the ground, pairs of bluebirds have claimed the local nest boxes: Western bluebirds up near the house, Mountain bluebirds down by the barn. The couples are busy setting up the summer’s household and gleaning insects from the bunchgrasses.

Chipmunks, voles, and pocket gophers are on the move, a development less charming to me since they eat plants I want instead of insects I don’t. I’m not the only one who’s noticed them, however. I’ve seen as many as three red-tailed hawks at a time contemplatively soaring over the pastures south and west of the barn. I’m sorry to report to the soft-hearted among you that the gophers squeaking in alarm fills my heart with glee.

pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens)The pasqueflowers have popped up, running a little late. I don’t know what to read from the timing of their bloom, whether it’s a report on conditions from the passing winter, or a prediction about the coming summer, but I do know the fuzzy lavender cups elicit a surge of fondness out of proportion to their subtle color and modest stature.

Inside the garden walls, the snippets of color I was so desperately seeking two months ago have emerged in extravagant displays—concentrated and contained, to be sure, islands of green and purple and red and yellow scattered in the seas of brown that are the unplanted vegetable beds—but reassuringly bright. No worries, the tulips and chives and muscari and rhubarb seem to say, We’re back.

garden chives    muscari    species tulips

This is the Rocky Mountains, though, and even if springtime arrives with the heavy symbolism of renewal it carries throughout the temperate zones, this is perhaps the most fickle time of year in a region notable for its fickleness of weather. Sunshine one day is followed by gloom or fog or snow flurries the next. The temperature wanders up and down so fast I step outside to assess before I go for a walk: jacket and sun hat, or coat and woolly cap? Optimistic plans for washing blizzard-flung sludge off the windows or puttering in the garden, formed of a sunny dawn, are blown flat by a cold gale before I’ve finished my morning tea.

April snow

Ready for dinner, April 29.

And at this elevation, of course, April showers arrive in solid form.

As I prowled the garden happily in the waning days of April, framing pictures of the color I’d been craving for weeks, I knew change was in store. I’d been watching the forecast.

The snow started on Wednesday night, disintegrating to slush against the warm ground. The pace of accumulation was faster than the melting, and insulating batts thickened atop the slush. By dark on Friday we had more than twelve inches of wet spring snow on the ground, the biggest snowfall of the winter. Thanks to that one storm, we collected more snow in April than in January, February, and March combined.

rhubarb

The rhubarb patch, late April.

The snow never stopped melting from underneath, and didn’t last long. Within a few days, the splashes of color in the garden were back on display, even if the foliage was a bit flatter and bore some kinks and crimps.

I’m glad of the speedy re-emergence of color, whether it’s the blare of daffodils or the blue flash of a Mountain bluebird’s breeding plumage or the rhubarb’s red and green umbrellas slowly uncrinkling. Yet I find myself—fickle me!—also plotting how to hang on to the last vestiges of winter. This sounds ludicrous, given how long I’ve been itching for signs the season will end. But winter here is also water and, satisfied the world will not remain monochrome forever, my thoughts have now turned toward mulch. Dead, yes. Brown, also yes. But effective, too, at holding moisture, protecting the surface soils from the high-altitude solar intensity that’s on its way and the winds that never, really, stop. Those winds will slow down a little now, though, relaxing from their mulch-stripping pace. The blank spaces of the vegetable beds and the now-exposed flowerbeds around the house are crying out for a spring-weight blanket, a covering layer that will help them preserve the wet of snowmelt mud as long as possible.

Posted in birds, change of seasons, color, gardening, precipitation, rodents, snow, weather | Tagged ,

Good News Follow-up

IMG_3318On Friday, May 6, the Colorado Authors’ League (CAL)  announced the  winners of their 2016 Writing Awards, and I was honored to be recognized for this blog.

My sincere thanks to CAL for all the work the organization does to support and recognize Colorado Authors, and big congratulations to all the other finalists and winners!

 

Posted in writing | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

A Little Good News

https://i2.wp.com/coloradoauthors.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/CAL-logo-250px-high.jpgIn early April, I learned that my project here has been named a finalist in blog category of the 2016 Writing Awards sponsored by the Colorado Authors’ League (CAL).

There will be a reading event at BookBar in Denver, Colorado (click here for details), on Saturday, April 30, 2016 . Finalists in the the Feature ArticleBUW cover art, Blog, and Essay categories will be reading and discussing their work. The event runs from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m., and authors who have also written books will have them available for sale and signing (that includes me, with  Between Urban and Wild the book). This will be a fun celebration of Colorado writers, so if you’re in Denver, stop by!

Founded in 1931 to “foster the art and craft of authorship,” the Colorado Authors’ League is celebrating its 85th Anniversary this year. The organization fosters networking and learning opportunities for its members and works to and develop creative writing through education and events.

The 2016 Awards recognize work published the previous calendar year. The 2015 blog posts included in my “Between Urban and Wild” (the blog) entry were:

IMG_2329The January Plan

IMG_2298The Conundrum of Cute

DCP_0379The Slowest Season

IMG_2699The Hazy Days of Summer

IMG_3017On the Theme of Running Late

CAL Writing Award Winners will be announced at the annual CAL banquet in Denver on May 6, 2016.

Posted in writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment