Wednesday Vignette: Curve of Snake


I mean, the Wednesday Vignette this week has to be the first snake of the year, right? Not seen in my garden so far (but a shrew was, so can a snake be far behind?), but nearby, on a hike this past Saturday at the Lyme Hill Conservation Area in Lyme, NH. There was still snow and ice on the trail but with temps in the high 50s, this garter snake was ready to feel the air on its back.

I wrote this poem several years ago for another trail system nearby but as it’s an April poem, and snakes are included, I thought I’d share it here.

Walking at Low Plains in April

Some day when you don't know what to do,
where to go,
who to be,
what in the world you're doing on this only earth,
you might just take a walk near the pond.

You might want to hear the sounds of
growing grasses, stonecrop, humming bees,
white pines dropping soft needles,
the rustling and calling of heron, duck, or grebe,
the crawl of ticks and the mad flurry of gnats.

You might want to catch the scent of skunk,
glimpse the curve of snake,
be overshadowed by the flight of hawk or falcon,
be undone by the slightest movement of your own heart.

And perhaps you'll notice or imagine that imperceptibility
of rhythm, restlessness, readiness
that waits for you, that longs for you
to rest easy in this welcoming spaciousness,
that waits for you to find yourself, to lose yourself,
in this water, these grasses, this expectant spring air.

You may have made your way here alone,
or in the company of others who
could and will love you, and you them,
if they knew you, if you knew them,
if you caught their rhythm,
if you caught your breath,
if you did nothing at all.

You may wonder, at the pond's very edge,
hooked by the cheerful geometry of lily pads,
what it is that swims and swishes below the surface,
what life swirls in the muck below,
below the lilies, below the water striders, below the dive of ducks and beavers.
You may consider the life that never comes to the surface
but thrives in the murky deep.
Or maybe you know already.

Maybe you've walked here before, in a dream,
on a day like this, and imagined it all, held it all in your hands,
and let it go, and walked on.



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Wednesday Vignette: (s)no(w) peas


This is where my peas are meant to be planted now, traditionally here in northern New England on Patriot’s Day, the third Monday in April, which was 2 days ago.

I went outside this morning and wrested the pea trellis bits from the frozen ice-slushy snow (and took this photo), but the ground is really too hard — after being workable a few weeks ago — to insert seeds.

Looking ahead, we’re expecting an inch of snow tomorrow, plus rain, with highs the rest of the week no more than 44F and lows in the 20s. Sunday’s supposed to climb all the way to 50F, so right now that’s the day I’m aiming for for pea planting, assuming my soil thermometer shows that the soil temperature is at least 40. Arugula and salad burnet will follow about two to three weeks later, fingers crossed.

Past year’s pea-plantings, for hope:

peas planted, 20 April 2017 (garlic under straw also shown)
peas, arugula, radish planted, 21 April 2016
peas and chives in bloom, 14 June 2013


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April Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day

Ha ha ha ha ha.

There are no blooms whatsoever in my yard yet. In fact, today our high temperature was 25F (“feels like 15F”) and we’ve had snow, sleet, and freezing rain. Highs have been in the 30s and 40s lately; looking ahead at the 15-day, there’s no temp above 58F forecast for us here in mid-NH.

Here’s a peek at our wintery April so far.

some of the front yard today
the fruit guild today – hang on, peach trees!
sad sad hellebores today
yesterday, before the ice, some bulbs poking up where the ground was snow-free in the back yard (tulips, I think)
also, yesterday, chives emerging in the kitchen garden
last week, some birch catkins on a large branch that fell off a tree in the rock wall
last week, daffodils emerging in the front yard
and a few garlic shoots!
This is a hyacinth from Easter 2017 that was thrown outside before winter — I meant to plant them but never did, and here they are shooting up again anyway in their microclimate of a pot
9 days ago, the fox in the side yard
this is where my peas will be planted on Wednesday (photo from 9 days ago)
12 days ago, we had a visit from a bear, probably looking for the feeders we took in two weeks before
today, this cold white-throated sparrow sat sheltered a bit up in a tree


I’ve been rather desperately looking for signs of spring in places other than my own yard; I found a couple this past week:

chionodoxa (glory of the snow) snuggled into a microclimate – yard near Kezar Lake, Sutton, NH, on Friday
lone chionodoxa (glory of the snow) in alpine garden at The Fells, Newbury, NH, yesterday
sambuca racemosa (red elderberry) buds, at The Fells, Newbury, NH, yesterday
closer view of the elderberry buds
acer pensylvanicum (striped maple) stem and buds, Kezar Lake, Sutton, NH on Friday
furry buds of pulsatilla vulgaris (pasque flower) at The Fells, Newbury, NH, yesterday
the great blue heron has returned to Kezar Lake, Sutton, NH (Friday), though it’s still a distance from me and my camera


Hopefully, the cruel month of April will give way to the generous month of May.

Meanwhile, for lots of instant-gratification colour & flowers, here’s more GBBD, hosted at May Dreams Gardens (central Indiana, 6a):
… Late to the Garden Party  (south coastal California, where spring has already peaked)
Led Up the Garden Path (Devon, England)
… Rusty Duck, with so many gorgeous flowers (also in Devon, England)
A Guide to Northeast Gardening in Long Island notes that spring has been “long awaited” there but nevertheless has hyacinth, crocus, hellebore, daffodils … and a photogenic bunny rabbit!
… Dirt Therapy in Vancouver, WA has rhododendron, anemone, veronica, clematis, flowering currant, quince, corydalis, and more!

Wednesday Vignette: Testifying to the Flame

… She knew
things aren’t always
and neither are they never …
– Chris Everson


Last year’s azalea
lives on, or dies on,
in its seed heads,
corpse of the very body that
drew attention,
still drawing attention,
now more form than colour,
but still colour,
and now more edges than curves,
now more crisp than plump,
but still full,
fully real and defiant,
testifying to the flame it was.


June 2017


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Race Point: The Surf Lines of the Continents

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.” ― Rachel Carson



common tern colony

Race Point Beach in Provincetown, MA, on the tip of Cape Cod, is very much at the edge of the sea. The day I visited, last September, a hurricane was coming up the coast and expected to cause big weather the next day;

shorebirds and planes alike were scurrying, the planes taking off one after another from the small Provincetown airport —


— the birds, many in flocks of hundreds and thousands, flapping just offshore or making a feast of the many small dead fish washed up on the beach …

Thousands of shearwaters — a bird I’d never seen before — flew south in a super-flock that persisted for a half hour
more shearwaters
colonies of terns and gulls
gathered gulls grooming



There were birds that most likely wouldn’t have been here had not the storm been brewing, like ruddy turnstones:

ruddy turnstone
ruddy turnstone
ruddy turnstone with sanderlings

Not sure whether this is a juvenile sanderling or juvenile red knot — the folks at Birds of the Eastern US thought perhaps a red knot:

juvenile sanderling or possibly juvenile red knot

These are the poor fish washed up by the thousands:


Just saw scads of shorebirds here! So many sanderlings, gobs of gulls, tons of terns, plenty of plovers —

a bunch of black and white sanderlings
sanderlings in loose formation
even more sanderlings in a row
the gull is big, the sanderlings are small
gulls … one with its head upside down
quite a beautiful gull (maybe a juvenile great-backed)
three common terns of different ages
semipalmated plover


A few other beach sights:

crab claw
motor homes on the beach with gulls — you can get a Self-Contained Vehicle permit to park here
walking out to the beach


The visitors’ center is simple, and remote.

Race Point Visitors’ Center
dressing rooms at Race Point
where Race Point is on Cape Cod
You can head to the beaches or walk or bike on the Beech Forest Trail


But if you decide to bike, bike slow and safe!

Part of the Beech Forest Trail, which we didn’t have much time to explore this trip:



Even in mid-September, there were flowers, fruits, and fungi to see:

cranberry foliage and berries
Scotch broom (Cysisus scoparius) with pods
sumac foliage and fruits (maybe Rhus glabra)
bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) with berries and reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.)
goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
beach plum (Prunus maritima) hanging
yellow amanita mushroom


But the shorebirds were really the show today, as the storm began to blow in. That’s one of the reasons beaches are endlessly fascinating: every day is noticeably different from another. That’s true, of course, anywhere, but it’s so obvious on the shore, on the edge.

I wonder where all those birds are now.

more shearwaters













Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Case Study D

Here are my highly personal notes on the last of the four case studies, Case Study D: Radical Roots Farm, Harrisonburg, VA, USA, in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“[Mad botanist Alan]  Kapuler took a global view of plant diversity and advocated assembling gardens that brought together representatives of as many plant families as possible. … ‘The legume family is very old,’ Dave told me, ‘and these gardens [based on Kapuler’s ideas] showed plants from the oldest layers of the family in a continuum to the most recently evolved. You could stand there in the middle of millions of years of evolutionary biology and read the story with your eyes, seeing the emergence of new structures, new flower forms. It was a remarkable education.’” — Dave O’Neill and Peter Bane 


This small rural property — less than 5 acres — lies five miles east of Harrisonburg, near Massanutten Mountain in Virginia’s Shendandoah Valley, in climate zone 6b-7a, with an elevation of 1,450 feet. The soil originally was eroded clay with rock outcroppings. A couple — husband Dave and wife Lee — with two young children work the land with a few interns in the growing season. They sell vegetables, salad greens, eggs, chicken, and nursery plants at weekly farmers’ markets; Dave consults and teaches permaculture design.

When they bought the property in 2003, the “place was an open slate — grass and a few walnut trees along the road. We began by doing a one-foot contour map with an urgent need to determine how to place the [bought] greenhouse.”

Elements of the property include:

  • a 16-by-28-foot straw bale and pole farm center building with apartment, an enameled metal roof for collecting rainwater, and radiant floor heating; an energy-efficient solar home;
  • “the packout,” an open area under roof for processing harvested vegetables for delivery to markets and CSA customers;
  • a barn, which has tool storage and a small open-air loft;
  • a pond and swales;
  • a forest garden with over 200 trees;
  • chickens;
  • pigs (at times)
farm center building and pack-out space (photos: Keith Johnson)

Dave talks about the orchard and the interplanting of nitrogen fixers and mulch material:

“‘[A]pples are interplanted with goumi, Siberian pea shrub and baptisia, which are all nitrogen-fixers that will support the fruits. We can coppice the fertility plants to pump nitrogen into the soil. I am all about design for management,’ he explained. ‘For example, those apples over there are next to alders (a nitrogen-fixing tree). We can mow the alders and rake the resulting mulch onto the apples. That releases nitrogen from the roots of the alders to fertilize the apples, and at the same time gives us a mulch that breaks down in about a year to make very black soil.'”

The walkability of the property is a plus, Dave says, noting that their choice of power systems was influences by Eliot Coleman, who gardens with Barbara Damrosch at Four Season Farm in coastal Harborside, Maine:

“‘Of course we have a pickup truck and use it for trips to town and to move large volumes of material around the farm sometimes, but our main power source is a BCS walk-behind tractor. … The BCS is a beautiful machine, rugged and well-built, and it comes with a range of implements including a rototiller (which we use only sparingly), a rotary plow and even a subsoiler. The rotary plow will fold in a waist-high cover crop, and I have discovered that it works like a dream to prepare terrace beds in between the swales. The machine even has a pull-behind cart that will carry half a yard of material (about three wheelbarrows worth), and you can ride it around.'”

BCS tractor (photo: Peter Bane}

Plans include transitioning “‘the market garden into permanent “synergistic,” deep-mulch raised beds, the way Emilia Hazelip demonstrated,'” as well as moving away from selling at farmers’ markets and toward more CSA customers to cut down on travel costs and time, and also producing some “value-added” products such as applesauce, sun-dried tomatoes, salsa, sauerkraut, etc.


Featured image: overview of Radical Roots farm. (Photo: Norm Shafer; all photos from Bane’s book.)

Wednesday Vignette: GA –> ME

north beach, Jekyll Island, GA, 30 Dec. 2016
Drakes Island Beach, Wells, 24 March 2018

Wouldn’t it be great if there were an Appalachian Trail from coastal Georgia to coastal Maine?


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