Friday, January 05, 2007

Wet Snow, Rising River

Friday, January 5, 2007

A different kind of day in Vermont, with country store talk including thoughts of "where's winter?" vocalizing from the gas pumps to the meat counter. Everyone agrees that it's been fine on the heating bill but so very un-Vermont that folks are almost looking for someone or something to blame. A high of 60 in Burlington today and mid fifties here in Marshfield really does make one wonder when the real cold will come. At Vermont Flower Farm we don't think we've made it for yet another year until April first arrives. To us, every warm day is a day closer to when our gardening lives are reborn.

I returned home to an empty house this afternoon as Gail and Alex were at a home schooling program at the Fairbanks Museum in St Johnsbury There is a great home school group up that way and the crew at the Fairbanks offers some courses which are just unforgettable. Today's course included Endangering Species, how man interferes with some great Vermont species, and Vermont Snakes, a slithering course introducing snakes we should know but perhaps don't. Alex was happy the instructor brought up the Eastern Ring-necked Snake which we spotted one summer day atop Owl's Head. At the time I thought I knew all Vermont's snakes but this was a mystery requiring some research.

The house wasn't really empty as Karl the wonder dog greeted me proudly and after our quick walk I decided to take him downtown to pick up another load of brush. Karl is like my other dogs in that he loves to ride in the truck and almost gets depressed if he knows it's not a work day and I'm leaving without him.

We got to the property and parked on the hill so I could look down on the progress I was making with the brush and dead trees. Progress is sometimes slow but the end product is very rewarding. Karl leaped out of the truck and immediately picked up a large coyote track from the night before. It was a sizeable animal judging from the track and it walked along the high bank, parallel to the Winooski River. It was either looking for food or maybe just plain coyote trouble. I can't tell from the tracks as I haven't studied coyotes enough.

When I got tired of being led towards Plainfield, I pulled tight on Karl and he reversed himself. Still on the lead, he looked up at me when he passed and he snorted as if to suggest my rudeness for cutting short a good trailing mission. The expression on his face could have been a great cartoon.

We stopped at the corner marker by the river and I noticed how the viburnums still held tightly to clumps of bright red berries. I looked around for waxwings as they seem to like any fruit with good seeds such as the viburnums. No waxwings today. For some reason though, the red fruit reminded me of arisaemas, jack-in-the-pulpits, a wildflower I haven't noticed on the property yet. This time of year my wildflower mind works in reverse and I think of the plants I should be seeing but obviously do not.

Arisaemas are an interesting wildflower and a plant I spent too many hours looking at when I was a kid. Pulling back on the hood uncovers the spadix, like a preacher in a church pulpit offering discourse to the congregation. At Vermont Flower Farm there are hundreds of these amongst the ferns and hostas in the lower foundation garden. My guess is that come spring I'll find a bunch here under the trees along the river.

As summer days begin to shorten, the seeds turn red and flesh out to the point of bending the flower stem over towards the ground. By Labor Day the seeds are ripe enough that the mice and chipmunks begin to harvest them and drag them to secret hiding places for winter consumption. When I come upon half plucked stems, I always welcome a glance at the symmetry

of the seed pods, each filled with many small seeds. Often I think about one of Tasha Tudor's mice friends busy harvesting winter's food. Mice and voles do a lot of damage in some situations but they are also good gardeners and they always help with the planting.

I let Karl get back in the truck cab and I went about dragging brush and stacking it into the bed. In short order the load was finished and we were heading back home. No cedar waxwing birds to see, only warm temperatures and thoughts of arisaemas. If you like the thought of this plant, take a look at George Schmid's book An Encyclopedia of Shade Perennials. It doesn't stay on your lap too well but it sure has a wealth of gardening info.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature is 42 degrees and there is an uncommon fog about.

Winter (?) gardening wishes,

George Africa

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