Monday, March 31, 2008

25 mph

There's a new speed limit sign on the dirt road. I just noticed it last Friday. I think it's the first speed limit sign on this road at all. It will definitely make things easier if people actually obey it. One of the worst offenders is the man who delivers the mail. He zips along this road trailed by a huge cloud of dust each afternoon. Repeated calls to the county are ineffective.

This little sign might make our trot sets easier, too. A speeding pickup truck can be a powerful distraction to a fresh horse. Years ago, our friend George would yell and make wild hand motions trying to get motorists to slow down on this stretch of road. Usually the drivers would just wave back and smile, misunderstanding, thinking that we were wishing them a pleasant day. But one day a man got the gist of George's not-so-subtle message and gave him the finger, started to speed up. George was so angry he raced that man's car on horseback, whipping his little thoroughbred down the verge as the man sped down the road. Kept up with him, too. But it didn't make any difference, and boy was his wife (the little thoroughbred's other trainer) angry when he trotted back to our little group.

Maybe this sign will make a difference, but probably not. Too bad most of the worst offenders are driving in the opposite direction and won't see the sign. My guess is that the county is just getting tired of re-grading this stretch of road, and they're hoping that slower driving will mean less braking and therefore less washboarding. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hills and Valleys

I definitely do not need another crafty hobby. But this week these ripple stitch crochet blankets have been calling my name, so I've taken up a crochet hook. I'm adding another blanket to the blogosphere, about a year behind the others. This pattern, number 8 'Soft Waves', from Jan Eaton's 200 Ripple Stitch Patterns book, is pretty soothing. And addictive. I sit and crochet and I'm always excited about getting to the next color.

The hills and valleys in the crochet remind me a little of the hills and valleys of Virginia. The last day for the season of foxhunting was Saturday, and despite a little mix-up about the time of the meet, Joshua and I made it there in time. Maybe only you other riders will know what I'm talking about, but it was one of those 'zen' days on horseback. Without thinking about anything, I melted into a kind of meditation of movement and it was just my huntin' horse and me, up and down hills in harmony with the world, for an indeterminate amount of time.

That's not to say it wasn't an eventful day. One woman's horse fell on the blacktopped road and she broke her arm (better at the end of the season than the beginning), and though we asked the ambulance to come without the siren, it wailed and echoed toward us, scaring each of the assembled horses. After the ambulance it began to sleet a little as we moved back into the woods, and I had that winter fort feeling as the sleet fell (c-c-clickclickclick) on millions of leaves and branches overhead. I don't really know where I'm going here. Here's a photo of springtime hills and mountains taken last April. Doesn't it look a little like the crocheted ripples?

Sometimes when I'm riding out, I remember a little passage that I wrote in my journal the first time I went hunting, about 'things I learned'. I was probably about 14. I wrote, "sometimes it's okay to go galloping full-speed down a hill when there's another hill going up to catch you on the other side". It seems like there always is another hill in this part of the world.

PS: I don't know why my posts have seemed a little morose (and perhaps overly philosophical) lately. I'm hoping spring will bring the happy.

Friday, March 21, 2008


There are few things prettier than the stark beauty of spring. The new colors and clean lines. The white-trunked sycamores really shine now, before they've got their new leaves. This photo was taken in February, but things look pretty much the same in that field, maybe slightly greener.

As we rode today the wind was like another character in our story. It sounded just like a car coming down the road, and it wouldn't let me be alone.
These tiny tiny crocus-type flowers are popping up on the protected side of one of the barnyard trees. It's hard to overstate how small these are. The flowers are less than half an inch in diameter. The even tinier blue flowers in the grass that were open to the sun last week are now closed tightly to the wind. And we wait for the warm still summer. Happy Easter (and Equinox) everyone!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Quilty Saturday

This morning, the puppy jumped in a mud puddle and temporarily rendered himself grey, head-to-toe. I wish I had had a camera. Then he jumped into the lake to 'wash himself off'. It must finally be spring, because the lake water's warming up and beginning to produce algae, which makes certain puppies smell like swamp. If he'd stayed muddy at least he'd have just smelled like dirt. There's been a lot of quilting going on this weekend. Last night I had my first go with the Bernina free-motion quilting foot (#29) for my older-model machine. I quilted this blue and almost-white block that I made back in the winter of 2003 when I was so bored at night after work that I decided to make every star block in my 1000 Great Quilt Blocks book. (Lots of those blocks had to be modified to take out extraneous seams, by the way.)

It occurred to me just as I wrote that sentence that the whole Dear Jane quilt is a little like my quest to make all the stars. One of each, hundreds of tiny little blocks. That said, here are a couple more. These are the ones that were up this week for Anina's Dear Baby Jane quilt-along.
D-13 Field of Dreams: Pretty straightforward.
A-7 Dad's Plaids: I still suck at the applique, but I guess I'm getting better. Also love how this one doesn't even line up. I guess it will be *another* humility block for this quilt.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Seventy-five quilt

Today is my Virginia grandmother's seventy-fifth birthday. I sent her this little spring quilt in celebration. The blocks were all foundation pieced (templates at Piece By Number), and the whole thing is about twelve inches square. The results with paper piecing are so fantastic that I almost don't mind that this thing took me all day Sunday to make. But seventy-five? It had to be something special. More photos on flickr.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Back on the Dear Jane bandwagon

A lovely new addition to my Dear Jane quest, this is block C-9, Jane's tears. I did this one in reverse applique, and it looks at least a little better than my last attempt at teeny-tiny applique. It was actually really enjoyable to do the whole thing by hand.

I've gotten back on the right track with this quilt thanks to Anina's Dear Baby Jane quilt-along. This block and B-13, Four Corner Press, were the blocks for this first week.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Green week: 4

Today has been rainy and dark, but things will be noticeably greener tomorrow, after this day-long drink. We don't have any daffodils in our yard, but my husband sent me these cut ones today, and I can't wait until they open up on my kitchen windowsill.
I've really enjoyed Shining Egg's Green Week; it has helped me to convince myself that Spring will actually be here in full force one day very soon.

The second photo represents another way of being green--recycling. We're big on that around here. This is a detail of one of two bathroom rugs that I crocheted this week from old t-shirts, using Amanda Jean's tutorial. The acid green stripe in the photo was made from a Big Rock Blue Marlin Fishing Tournament shirt that I bought during spring break in high school. In the days before the Internet, we used to make a point of buying "good" t-shirts when we were at the beach in North Carolina. Most of these shirts had paintings of sport fish on them. I've had a pile of these worn-out shirts in my basement for the better part of a year, so it feels good to finally do something with them, since I couldn't make myself throw them away. I could probably still tell you which shirt each stripe was made of-- I wish I weren't so sentimental about things that really don't matter.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Green week: 3

Green lunch: kale sauteed with chickpeas, onions, garlic and red pepper, with a side of (slightly) gratineed butternut squash with sage. This is a fairly common lunch for me, leftover veggies from last night. We've been largely vegetarian for about a year now and it feels great. But we do eat a lot of greens-- that took some getting used to.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Green week: 2

Today a little indoor green. This is the beginning of the Tangled Yoke Cardigan, from the Fall 2007 issue of Interweave Knits. It has been languishing on the needles for most of the winter. I just love this shade of green, and the stitch definition of this yarn (Classic Elite 150). I've been working on it a little harder for the past couple of weeks, knowing that spring will probably be the best opportunity to wear the finished product.

And another sign of spring. New fence posts mean that the ground is thawed enough that deep post holes can be dug. In time, these will mellow out to the same silver-grey of the ones behind them. Although the posts and poles themselves may look green, too, they're not. The fences at the farm are mostly made from locust, a very strong wood, and one that's hard to find these days. Locust poles must dry out for at least a year before you use them, but then they're almost too hard to drive a nail into, so these fences are also built mostly without nails.

When my uncle Howard died almost four years ago, my grandfather bought the big stack of locust poles that Howard had saved in his barn and had them piled in his own hay loft, all the way to the rafters. The fences at the farm are old and almost continually falling down, so we've blown through the big stack pretty quickly, between wayward bulls and insolent horses*. Now we're down to the huge, thick poles at the bottom of the pile. These must be split and shortened (exposing the yellow "green" wood inside) so they don't pull down the fences they're meant to patch.

Man, looking at those fields is a little depressing-- I'm so ready for more green!

*There was also a little pony named Me Pony (as in, "This is me dog, an' me cat, an' me pony; I own them all.") who didn't know his own size. He constantly tried to jump out of his field over the fence, but aside from one memorable incident in which he jumped two fences in one run, he only succeeded in jumping straight into the fences and knocking them over. His head wasn't much higher than my shoulder.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Green week: 1

Whenever I think of green, one of my favorite colors (and forces), I think of this e.e. cummings poem, number 41 from his 1940 book 50 Poems:

up into the silence the green
silence with a white earth in it

you will(kiss me) go

out into the morning the young
morning with a warm world in it

(kiss me)you will go

on into the sunlight the fine
sunlight with a firm day in it
you will go(kiss me

down into your memory and
a memory and memory

i)kiss me(will go)

It's almost like a meditation, isn't it? All of the words so simply apt. I'm participating in shining egg's green week this week, so this morning after we rode I went tromping up the 'mountain' to look for signs of spring. We haven't quite reached the spring moment where everything is suddenly green and new all 'round, as in the poem. That green cathedral moment happens for Virginia sometime in late March or early April.

But I love the little green orb of plant life above, pushing bravely through the dead mulchy field. And even though they're green for much of the year in this part of the world, I love the way the twining honeysuckle vines below seemed to be climbing and greening at the very moment that I took the photo. I actually saw this vine on our ride this morning, from the back of a horse. It took no small amount of climbing to snap a photo minus the horse. We also saw another sign of spring on our ride this morning. Not my favorite (green) kind. A mama coyote sat on top of a little hill just below us and followed our little pack (2 horses, 2 women, one dog) with her eyes. The spring is the worst time for coyotes around here. They're a fairly new phenomenon this far east and north, but I guess that's what global warming will bring us. The horses seemed unfazed, but I was worried about my completely docile dog. Gillian said that she had read that coyotes usually have very large litters, sometimes as many as 11 or 12 pups, so I guess Mama Coyote had a lot to protect. More green tomorrow.

PS: Thanks to all of you who left kind comments on my post about my grandmother a couple of weeks ago. They were much appreciated.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What the heck?

Warning: the following post is probably not for the faint-of-heart. But it's a puzzling thing. Read on, if you're interested.

Behold, two cell phone photos of a funny thing we saw today on our farm walk. This completely cleaned-out *huge* fish skeleton was lying on its back about three feet from the edge of the lake. My glove in the photo for scale measures about 9 inches from cuff to fingertip. I couldn't get the colors quite right but look for the tip of the tail in the upper right hand corner of the top photograph. We figure the fish was about 30 inches long. Ick.

I had no idea that there were such large fish in the lake. And I can't figure out how the perfectly stripped skeleton got there. Going through the list of predators that we have seen on the farm: coyote (no), vultures/hawks/eagle (I don't think they fish in lakes), fox (no), maybe a bear? SB and Scott had a bear in their yard a couple of years ago, but wouldn't bears have a hard time fishing in lakes, too? It's not human refuse, I don't think, because not a single bone is broken.

The only thing that makes any sense is the beavers. This fall they completely decimated all of the small trees and shrubs on either side of the dam and cut down a huge tree by the dock. But would they have left such a completely intact skeleton? Maybe so. Could a predator have had an easier time catching a fish like this if the edges of the lake were frozen and the fish got stuck or something? Anybody have any other ideas? Anyone know what kind of fish this is? (I know they're terrible photos...) Are we being punked?

To his credit, Grady left the fish skeleton alone. It must be noted that this was probably only because the bones were picked so clean.

*Edited to add: After much conversation with one of our farriers today, it was decided that this is probably a huge old carp. Gillian spotted him earlier last week with all of his flesh intact. She said his scales were shiny peach and silver.

Vic the farrier told the following story: the last time that he hunted at the farm, he and his companion killed a deer in the bottomland. They field dressed it and left it where it fell in order to do a little more hunting. When they returned less than an hour later, the carcass was covered thickly with crows, who had eaten away the deer's entire hindquarters, leaving every bone intact, in just the way that we found this fish. So the current theory on the fish is that he either died of old age (again, huge!) and was hauled out of the water by a raccoon or the beaver or was killed by one of those two animals. And then the skeleton was picked clean by birds. 'It's the ciiiircle of life---' I guess.