Spring Approaches Summer (June 11)

Here I sit, looking out over the sunny water…

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…listening to the sounds of the gently rolling waves, the calls of the seabirds, and the chattering of 3 children digging 1 large hole in the sand…

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…reflecting on the fact that over a month has passed since I last sat down to write…Over a month of springtime, and here we are, fast approaching summer…The spring season has continued to be an alternation, a week of warm sun followed by a week of cool rain, the coming summer held back by the reminder that this is, after all, a northern land…And the Lord has gently and perfectly mirrored the rhythm of the weather with the rhythm of our work…A cool, misty week for cleaning up the mobile home; a warm, sunny week for planting in the farm; a cool, misty week for hauling loads of garbage and taking the kids’ annual grade-level testing; a warm, sunny week for more planting in the farm…No matter the weather, there is alway something to do, and we find each thing coming to its proper pausing-point just as the weather shifts and a new activity comes to the forefront. And everywhere, there is the beauty of the season unfolding around us!

This was the old mobile home, right off the front corner of the house. It had been abandoned for many years, even for many years before the house was abandoned 6 years ago, but had been left standing with all of its old contents still inside, to which had been added assorted bags of things to be “stored”. It was not only old and abandoned, but falling apart, with holes in various areas of the walls and flooring, and one section of the roof caved in. It looked to me like a monumental effort, and one that had been waiting for some warm and dry spring days to make it more manageable…

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As it turned out, one week of focused attention made a significant difference! We began by tearing off siding and pulling out what was left of the insulation, having tarped over the hole in the roof to give some of that soggy trash a chance to dry out. As always, we pulled out everything and sorted it into trash, recycling, metal, and burn piles.

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As we worked our way down, we opened up new walls, and then we could reach even more garbage, lol!

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By the end of the week, and several trips to the dump, all that was left was a frame, a huge burn pile, and a huge metal pile!

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It was hard work, and often gross work, pulling out rain-soaked piles of the lifetime accumulations of a household: clothes, books, magazines, dishes, medicines, toiletries, christmas decorations, paperwork, rugs, and piles-and-piles-and-piles of porcupine-poo…

I was super-grateful that this week was cool and misty, never quite raining, but always a little breezy and on the edge of a sprinkle…And I thought how very-much-more-unpleasant this task would be during a sunny week, on warm days full of aromas and bugs, yikes!

Some things inspired laughter, like an issue of “Your Healthy Home” buried in the porcupine-poo…

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…and some things inspired delight, like when we accidentally uncovered a mouse nest with 5 sleeping babies, and happily watched their mama relocate them all to a safe place!

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Most things were just old and moldy and waterlogged and gross…Asher kept asking me, “Mom, what’s wrong?” until he got used to seeing my “mobile-home-face”, as I gingerly pulled out soggy garbage and stuffed it into bags.

Some things were interesting, though too dilapidated to actually make use of, like an old spy-glass, a machine that you used to make your own records, scuba gear, a hand-held harpoon for fishing…

One thing, a baseball bat, was set aside for later use on the final stages of the mobile home demolition…

Most things were simply loaded into the trailer, bound for the dump, bringing our tally of tons-of-garbage up near 10.

But one thing, one magical thing, was inside of a box, inside of a bag, inside of a filing cabinet, so that it was actually clean, and the kids were allowed to use it…Sparklers!

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What a fun way to wrap up a week of demolition and disposal!

After a week or so of moving dirt and planting seeds in the farm, we returned to the mobile home to finish the job. We brought out the baseball bat and took turns knocking out the 2 x 4 framing until we were able to pull the whole thing down! The future holds more dismantling and more trailer-fulls of sheet metal and plywood to the dump, but I would say that the worst is behind us on this project!

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Sometime during our farming activities, around the middle of May, black fly season arrived. We didn’t recognize it at first. We just kept saying, “These gnats are pests! And I think they bite, too…They definitely keep trying to get in my nose and mouth.” And then, after a couple of days under the pestilence of gnats, I said to Joe, “Can you check the difference between gnats and black flies? Maybe they’re the same. I hope they’re the same, because I really don’t like to think that we still have a pestilence of black flies to come after this pestilence of gnats!” Sure enough, the two are one, and there is only the one pestilence to endure! They are a pain, to be sure, swarming around your head any moment you stand still, even crawling into sleeves and pants legs to deliver their bites, which swell overnight into hard, red, sore, itchy bumps that last for a couple of weeks…But there are a couple of things I like about them! One is that a breeze drives them away instantly, and a brisk walk outdistances them. Also, as soon as the sun dips over the horizon, they’re gone for the day. And, when they get into the house, they don’t chase you anymore, but are irrestistibly drawn to the windows where they can be mopped up efficiently. The silly things don’t even pay any attention to the fate of the flies being demolished right next to them, but patiently await their turn with the wet-wipe! They say they’re active for about a month until they’re gone for the year, and also that this year is quite severe, so it’s nice to know that we’re almost through with them, and that this was kind of a worst-case scenario.

And after several warm-spells of work on the farm, we’re basically finished planting! Each of those little stakes along the rows and mounds names something that we’ve planted, from lettuces and greens and cabbages and broccoli, to beets and radishes and turnips and rutabagas and parsnips, to corn and beans and peas, to onions and garlic and leeks and scallions, to tomatoes and celery and peppers and basil and dill, to a herb garden full of chamomile and thyme and chicory and parsley and mint and cilantro and nasturtiums and chives and wintergreen and sorrel and sweet woodruff, to wildflowers and sunflowers…So very many things to try out this year, all snugly in the ground with prayers, and seedlings in various stages of sprouting!

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The spring days have many more benefits than draw-backs…The bees are buzzing in the trees, quite literally! The apple trees are heavy with their fragrant white blossoms, promising future apples…

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…and the hum of the bees is a constant background to outdoor activities, much more pleasant than the busy-street-drone or neighbor’s-lawnmower-drone that I’ve more often experienced…The birds are forever singing, and each new song sends us scrambling for binoculars and our Audubon app, trying to figure out who’s who! Some of our little songbirds, like the White-throated Sparrow and the Winter Wren, are frequently heard and almost never seen, while the Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees remain friendly and familiar companions. The Broad-winged Hawk often soars by overhead with its piercing cry. And some, like the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the Magnolia Warbler…

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…the Blackburnian Warbler, and the Northern Parula, seem to spend just a little time here on their way to somewhere else. Some friends are frequent visitors…The feeders attract Chipping Sparrows and Nuthatches and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (so far a juvenile male and two females)…

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…as well as one pesky little fluffy rascal…

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A diseased poplar tree draws a Yellow-breasted Sapsucker…

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…and our window frame is attracting the nesting efforts of a pair of Eastern Phoebes! They build a mud nest, and I’m still not sure they’re really going to do it, but they’ve been working at it on-and-off for three days now. It’s pretty amazing to watch one come in under the eaves, and hover right at the window to dab mud onto the window frame!

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There’s no better music than the song of the birds with the buzzing of the bees, and it makes the farmwork days super-pleasant until the bugs drive us inside behind the comfort of screened windows!

The springtime forest is gracefully carpeted in the pale green and sparkling white of Starflower, Dwarf Dogwood, and Wild Lily-of-the-Valley…

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…and the promise of future blueberries hangs from low branches…

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Springtime bouquets from serviceberry and apple branch make their way inside to keep me company in the kitchen…

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…even as we begin to enjoy the first proceeds from our garden, radishes and greens that started inside in our farm table!

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And I am still continually surprised as the kids discover bugs that I have never seen, heard of, or imagined before!

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We enjoyed a beautiful super-low-tide outing to Acadia, on the Schoodic Peninsula side, with much splashing and turning-over-of-rocks…

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There’s something very grounding about watching my wee-children explore vast landscapes, and I always enjoy seeing them, and capturing them, as the tiny bright dots that they are in their surroundings! As I walk along, I feel about medium-sized, and sometimes I feel kind of vast as I look closely at all the tiny pebbles and critters around my feet…but then I look up and I see my kiddos ranging far and wide along a tidal river under a stretch of forest and an expansive sky, and I remember how tiny we all are in this wonderfully wide world!

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Out at the point of the peninsula, with the tide coming back in, we enjoyed the view of the open ocean…

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The surf was crashing, and you could sit and feel like you were right in the middle of the sea…

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But still, the little mussel nurseries were tucked snug away in crevices undisturbed by the noisy waves…

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…and the barnacles calmly wisped the micronutrients out of the plentiful waters. It was mesmerizing!

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We made our way down to a quieter cobble-beach-cove where, like good little shorebirds, they built a nest of rocks…

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And then on the way out of the park, we stopped for a meal at The Pickled Wrinkle, which I had always looked at and said, “What in the world?” It was sunny but slightly chilly out on the deck, as we browsed the menu and tried to figure out where the bizarre name came from!

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Turns out to be a nice little restaurant, named after a historical staple of the lobster villagers’ diet. Wrinkles are sea snails that often get pulled up in the traps with the lobster. Whenever caught, the fishermen would set them aside and pickle them, storing them as an excellent source of nutrition in case of a hard year. Our family was divided, 2 for and 3 against, on the issue of yumminess :), but the rest of the food was very good, and inspired Asher to want to return the following weekend for a birthday meal!

On another day, we happened to cross the Pleasant River near our home at low-tide, and enjoyed the experience of walking right out into the middle of the river!

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For his birthday, Asher had some very specific plans – that kid knows what he wants! His day began, as always, with a rousing “Happy Birthday” chorus, after which, per request, I served up fried eggs and bacon and biscuits for breakfast! Next, Asher was ready to blow out 10 candles on 10 birthday cookies, and open his presents, which he received with great surprise and joy.

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His next request was a day of bird-watching at Acadia, culminating in birthday lunch at the Pickled Wrinkle, which he had so-greatly-enjoyed the week before, and so we set off on a lovely forest and shoreline wander!

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After a late and delicious lunch, Asher was ready for his next treat – a couple of games of pool with Daddy!

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And then we were homeward bound, for the next activity on Asher’s birthday schedule – playtime at our stream! Armed with a couple of sifters, the small stream was a wonderland of pebbles and water spiders…

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…and frogs!

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What a wonderful way to turn 10!

And today, in summer fashion, it’s a Sunday at the beach! Though still a little chilly in the breeze, and a little chilly in the water, it is still decidedly a glorious summer day!

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Good-bye mud season, hello sand season!

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Spring Cleaning (May 8)

At this house, spring cleaning is at a whole different level this year!

We have a few different projects going on at the same time. One is the ever-ongoing trash removal, as we continue clearing the space in front of our house that will be used for gardening this year, combing carefully over the land, up through the forest edge, removing every little bit-and-piece of styrofoam, plastic, old carpet, miscellaneous car parts, food containers, etc. 🙂 Spencer says, “Finding trash is my favorite! It lifts my spirits! Because every piece of trash that I find, I know that’s one less piece of trash that’s on our property!” He’s so right.

Another project is the leveling and grading of the land around the cabin. When they made the site for the cabin, they scraped the ground level, and pushed the dirt up into a berm around the rear corner. Unfortunately, it channels a lot of water under and along the foundation, eroding away the ground underneath, so that needs to be corrected. On the up side, all the dirt that we take from the berm goes over onto the farm, to even out the slope of the land, and get some looser soil up on top of the compacted ground.

It certainly takes all-hands-on-deck! Here, you see the dirt-removal-crew in full swing….

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Joe and I run the cart, which we have since (thankfully!) upgraded to a very nice wheelbarrow.

And here, the operator-in-charge-of-rows is removing strips of grass for planting. On the left side of the path, the land is level and grassy, so for now, we just pulled out the grass and planted directly. But on the right side of the path, the land slopes away and is very compacted, so that’s where we decided it would be easier to put in raised rows and mounds to plant into. Over time, as we continue to add dirt and compost and all that, the whole area will basically become one level.

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One morning, upon looking out the window at the cleared land, at the rows and mounds and the beginnings of our farm, Vivi exclaimed: “How beautiful!” I agreed whole-heartedly, of course, but others may be thinking, “Ummmm….” 

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In a way it doesn’t look like much, but consider its history…First, it was completely overgrown with thorns and scrub-brush and alder saplings, from the forest line right up to the walls of the house. Then, it was cleared and filled with all the piles of rubble from the demolished rotting decks and the sorted garbage and recycling from emptying the house. Now, it’s clean and clear, with a dry path to the front door, and beginning to produce the seedlings of all kinds of yummy vegetables – so, you can kinda see what she means, lol!

And then, of course, there’s the demolition of the mobile home, but that’s a story for another day!

A Sunday outing to the Petit Manan Reserve introduced us to a beautiful forest trail…

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And a wonderful boulder-and-sand beach!

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We watched a pair of Greater Yellow Legs perched on nearby boulders, listening to their unique trill before they flew out across the waves…

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…and admired the beauty of a squirrel in bright sunshine, lively and glowing – just look at that tail!

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On my birthday, we continued our tradition of birthday breakfast at Helen’s!

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And then, since we were in the area, we went out to explore Jasper Beach in Machiasport.

It turned out to be a really cool rocky beach, with huge cobble-dunes! The kids ran up-and-down the hills, rolled down the hills, jumped-and-slid down the hills…

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The rocks were really beautiful, so smooth, and so many different types and colors…We did a little research and discovered that this is actually a rare location geologically, being predominately rhyolite, a lovely smooth, pink mineral that is only found in a handful of other locations in the U.S. 

Plus, it’s just simply lovely 🙂

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I was excited to see a Loon in breeding plumage, fishing off the shoreline…I was kinda thinking I might have missed the breeding plumage, as they leave the coastal waters and head for freshwater lakes to breed, so this was really exciting for me! They are so strikingly beautiful and graceful!

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And a whole flock of Eiders paddled about.

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We explored down to the end of the beach where a stream outlet creates a brackish pond and a sandy delta beside high cliffs.

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As always, a day at the beach reduces the borders of my vision down to the small space of pebbles immediately surrounding my feet 🙂 Snailshells and quartzite and seaglass, oh my!

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But there was a bit more to explore than that! The cliffs were full of hollows and clefts and arches and bridges…

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Some were dry, some were full of teeny dripping cascades and clear fairy-pools for humble inhabitants…

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All in all, a great place for an outing, with the measure-of-success always being kids-crashing-in-the-car!

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We returned again on Sunday, a different sort of day, with bright sunshine, strong breezes, and very tall crashing surf!

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This time we meandered over to the other end of the beach, where there were boulders and tide pools and a sand beach.

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On the way, Asher discovered a sweet little urchin among the cobbles (and actually trying to eat one of the cobbles!), and we carried him along with us to the tide pools to release him.

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There, we got to see the wonderful magic of all of his little feelers or feeders or whatever-they-are, coming out of the spines and waving about in the cool water. Whatever is in the water has gotta be yummier than pebbles!

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Back at home, Vivi’s sweet little bench finished drying. You can tell it’s dried when the legs begin to fall out. 🙂 Then, it’s time to give the legs a final wedge (which you can see by the darker stripe within the circles), and finish the surface. Joe carved these little grasses, which he then colored with a pencil and burnished with beeswax.

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A sweet little bench for a sweet little princess!

Throughout our work and play, the springtime awakening of nature is all around us! The frogs are singing, the birds are nesting…

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…the endless variety of insects are beginning to stir…

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We constantly hear new birdsongs, identifying new little visitors that are coming for the summer, or just passing through. We often hear their songs long before we’re able to find them, cute little warblers and sparrows and wrens, so small and quick and difficult-to-spot in the budding brush. Beneath roots and leaves the salamanders are beginning to stir. The small clear leaf-bottomed ponds in our forest, called vernal pools, are full of clusters of frog and salamander eggs.

Seedlings are sprouting slowly in the farm, and inch-by-inch we are making our way along in our new Maine life!

Prepare Your Fields (April)

Proverbs 24:27 Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.

With our snug-little-cabin all in working order, though far from finished, the Lord has put it in our hearts to put first-things-first, according to His Word! I really enjoy how He reveals His order and methods for how to live life, which always make so much sense, and keep things from getting overwhelming!

And so, on those warm winter days, and now that spring has sprung, we have concentrated our efforts on clearing all trash from the perimeter of the house, preparing the area where we will be planting our garden and establishing our firewood storage for next year. Where initially we thought that there was one trash pile on one side, recent excavations have uncovered trash piles on three sides of the house, lol! Carpets and shingles and sofas, oh my! And oh-so-many plastic bags and tin cans and nails-upon-nails-upon-nails…

And then, too, we finally were able to tackle the pile of appliances that came out of the house, dismantling them for recycling. In one small house, there was a washer and a dryer, a water-heater, an enormous microwave, and four various-sized refrigerators! It has sometimes been hot and dirty work but, working together, we have sorted and shifted all the debris down to the end of the mobile home, ready to be hauled off in loads for disposal. 

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The next order of business is to complete a couple of burn piles, and then to rake out our planting areas. From the front of the house, we have an area of about 70 x 40 feet that we can dedicate to farming first off. We have a single pathway down the middle (made of log-slices from timber that we’ve cleared, and following the septic line where we don’t want to do any digging or planting anyway), and we’ll be planting row crops like onions and cabbage and broccoli and beets and such on both sides, where we have the most sun.

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We’ll have one long line of sunflowers down one side, separating our farm area from the mobile home, with the added benefit that the sunflowers will also hide the eyesore from view, while still allowing access for us to dismantle and haul out, and will also begin to clean the soil there from the years of whatever-has-been-leaching-out-into-it. Along the other side, we border the forest, and we’ve left several tall saplings that we hope will be good poles for growing beans, and we’ll plan to intersperse most of our tall crops there.

And, of course, as we work, I am sometimes inspired to clear a shady spot or two where we can enjoy a drink of cold water and sit and watch the garden grow! 

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We have a local wildflower mix, which we’ll sprinkle over the top of the septic tank on one corner of the farm, as well as over a previous-trash-pile-that-we-cleaned-out on the opposite corner, to make things pretty and attract all the wonderful pollinators to our farm 🙂 We also picked several seeds to scatter in the forest itself, things like wild onions and mountains spinach and sweet woodruff and wintergreen that will begin to fill the forest with good grazing for us and our woodland neighbors! There will be an herb garden somewhere, and we have some grain crops like flax and wheat and oats that we want to sow in small patches near our driveway so that we can start to learn how to grow and harvest and use them…We have a compost pile to establish, and we’ll be moving dirt around from high spots to low spots, to level some places and to get more nutrients into our planting areas, and we’ll be setting up stakes and poles and trellises as needed…

Besides farming, we also have a wood-shed of some sort to build, so that as we work on our land, we can be putting our winter firewood aside and drying, and we have work to do around our foundation, to grade the land properly from the house and reinforce some spots where erosion has occurred.

It will be a year of great experimentation, and this month, our primary focus is getting it all started! 

There are still small inside projects from time to time, like when Asher asked for a slate top on their work desk, for note-taking and sketching…

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Or when we hung our two hammocks inside, dramatically increasing our seating capacity, haha!

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But any major household projects will have to wait, and most of our work these days is outside, with an eye towards putting our outdoor work in order and getting our fields ready.

As always, it’s a work-play mix, and one Sunday found us exploring a new trail system about 20 minutes from home, called the Pigeon Hill Reserve down the coast in Steuben. 

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It was a thirsty walk…

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And the kids were worn out by the end!

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Of course, there’s always bread to bake…

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…and sometimes there are logs to balance on…

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…and a new spinny-dress to enjoy…

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and nature to admire! Asher has taken up an interest in photography, and trades off with his brother capturing those little wonders of the world that catch his eye…

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On Joe’s birthday, we continued our tradition of birthday-breakfast at Helen’s, and then went on a treasure hunt around our property, which Asher organized. Each stop yielded a treat and a puzzle piece, which came together at the end to reveal a mystery animal that Asher had drawn – a weasel!

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 Followed by birthday cake and lunch, and then a trek out to the stream where we watched a nuthatch that seemed to be making its nest in a dead tree-top, and then sat on the shore and watched the water flow by, it was a great way to spend a warm and sunny day!

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Easter took us out into the forest again, hunting eggs dyed with orange peels and onion skins and berries, as well as snacks and treats, and a special series of things to help us remember the Easter story – 30 pieces of silver, crosses, and one empty “tomb”! Praise the Lord, He has overcome death and the grave, drawing all of us to Him!

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Spring is a magical time when things are awakening, migrating, arriving, nesting and breeding…We’ve begun to hear the little frogs called Peepers (though we haven’t found one yet), and to see new birds, like an Eastern Phoebe, singing all around our property to defend his territory!

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We seem to have a nesting pair, though I’m not sure where their nest is – I hope they are successful!

The kids asked to use some of their own money to buy some birdseed, and we set up a few rocks and logs outside the window at their learning area, where we’ve begun to see some new visitors, like this Pine Warbler…

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…the Hermit Thrush…

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…the female American Goldfinch…

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…a female Purple Finch…

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Each new arrival is greeted with a flurry of excited shouts, “Look, something new, something new!”, followed by a series of “ssshhh, ssshhh, ssshhh”-es, as we grab cameras and binoculars and gently slide the window open to get a good look, and then a quiet patter of footsteps as Asher goes to get the bird book and starts identifying 🙂

Familiar visitors like the squirrels and the nuthatches are equally as delightful to watch, and the kids are often distracted from their schoolwork to sketch them or take photos or videos…

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Nothing’s leafing-out yet, so you can still see a long ways into the forest, but everywhere the mosses are puffing up as the snow melts away, and pink maple buds are growing. We see a lot of water on our land – lovely clear pools, but it does make one think that the potential is high for mosquito and black-fly season…We shall see what’s in store for us there. I hope we also have lots of critters around to eat them all before they eat us!

So, here we go, time to work outside and plant and prepare…Mud season, here we come!

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Spring is in the Air… (March 31)

Spring seems to be a very back-and-forth event here in Maine, and the month of March has greatly alternated between snow-storms and sunny days, between warm spring previews and freezing it-aint-springtime-yet reminders! The time has gone by quickly, and we’ve been undertaking a wide variety of activities, and learning a lot. Each day remains an exercise in asking, “What should we do today, Lord?” and following His plan to the best of our ability!

The work is always pleasant, though it sometimes seems slow-going. It’s not always what we expect, but it’s always exactly what’s needed. For example, on one particular sunny day, we felt we were supposed to do some clean-up. We segregated a large metal pile and dismantled a fallen-in shed, loading up our trailer with almost 1,000 pounds of metal to take over to the recycler the next day. As soon as we dropped off our recycling, it began to snow, and promptly re-buried the spots that we had just cleaned out! If we hadn’t done the work that day, it would have had to wait for another few weeks, and I could just feel the Lord scheduling our activities, better than we could do it even if we did pay attention to the weather forecast, lol!

So, let’s see, what have we been up to this March?

We enjoyed an outing in the last of the deep snowfall…

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…where the kids built a snow-man along the ATV trail, complete with a bowl of salad and a cup of coffee!!

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One cool, gray day, we took a drive through the bright winter blueberry fields, and saw the snow-buntings wheeling and swirling across the hills, almost too fast to follow, definitely too fast for me to get a picture of, with their beautiful white bodies and black wingtips…This is the southern end of their range (strange to think), and they will soon be on their way further north for the summer!

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We visited Acadia again on a lovely sunny day, which was, however, not warm! This beautiful, still pond is actually frozen solid. At our last visit, it was covered in snow, and covered with the distinct pitter-patter of river otter tracks, but today, it was a sheet of glass!

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Along the coast, the water was brilliantly bright in the winter sunshine, but we did all of our bird-watching from the warmth of the car!

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The sap has been running, and we’ve taken our first steps into making our own maple syrup…We started with a few trees close to the house to see how it would work. We collected the sap…

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…and poured it into a big pot on the wood stove, just letting it simmer away throughout the day, filtering it a couple of times as it boiled down.

It’s said to take about 30-40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Our first gallon of syrup yielded this little spoonful of amazing golden sweetness! It was like a combination between maple syrup and honey, very bright and almost flowery-tasting, and it smelled exactly like cotton candy! It was just enough for each of us to have a dollop on a pancake. 

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So, we decided the maple-syrup thing was worthwhile, and put out a few more taps for the year. We’ll venture further into our forest to tap some more trees next year, but at this point, it’s just a nice treat that we’ll finish out the season with. We’ve already enjoyed a second batch, which we happy-accidentally overcooked until it reached the sugar stage! Maple sugar was delicious on buttered toast! It’s hard to imagine doing this in really large quantities, but for now, it’s just easy to pour sap into a pot on the stove, which is busily heating our house anyway, and wait for the magic to happen!

We also set up a sawmill so that we can begin making planks for future use. A downed cedar made a great work surface, after Joe cut a v-groove in it to hold the logs. Then, with an attachment that fits on his chainsaw, he can slice down the length of a log to make planks.

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It’s a neat combination of modern power-tools and old-fashioned hand-tools. The chainsaw makes it much quicker to take down trees (only dead ones right now), and the attachment makes it much quicker to make a board, but it’s still just as fast for us to haul the logs with a pair of logging tongs, and flatten the surfaces with an adze, and de-bark the planks with a draw-knife. 

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Some of the planks have been set aside to dry for future furniture projects, like chairs and tables, but some went right into our garden table, a quick way to get some vegetables growing inside while it’s still too early to plant outside.

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And some wood is used green, right away, to make simple stools and benches…

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Bringing in wood from the forest has the added benefit of the occasional surprise-science-project! I don’t know what this was, maybe some kind of little spider egg-sac, but it was amazing to see, and we spent a lot of time being impressed by it under the microscope!

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A spider spinning filaments of gold? That sounds like the mark of a glorious Creator, right there!

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Joe found that he can make his own tools right here at home, cutting and shaping blades in the workshop, tempering them in the wood stove, and making handles from the beautiful applewood that we brought with us all the way from our house in Bellingham!

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We’ve gotten pretty good at cooking on our wood stove and little propane campstove, and we can even make our own bread now! Asher is taking more and more interest in cooking (though, really, he takes interest in pretty much everything), and especially likes to take over any chopping duties.

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Oh, my happy little chef!

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And on those wonderful, warm, sunny days, we keep moving forward with clean-up and trash removal, having hauled two more trailer-fulls of debris off for disposal…

And we enjoy the forest! The forest, which continues in all seasons to be a source of beauty and wonder!

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The sunny spring-like days bring out the liveliness in all the little forest creatures, with squirrels and chipmunks running and chattering and birds chirping and fluttering, and the occasional porcupine sun-bathing in the upper branches!

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Oh, this cute little guy…We really threw him for a loop when we demolished the fallen-down shed behind the house. We caught sight of him the next morning as he made a round of our property, and he just paced back and forth where the shed had been, thoroughly confused, and finally sat up on his hind paws to consider the mystery,  before ambling off to one of his favorite snooze-holes under the mobile home. I hope we get to see his reaction after we demolish that thing!

One morning, Joe caught sight of a Bohemian Wax-wing out of our window. They winter here, and leave in the spring, and we had the good fortune of watching a flock get all fueled-up for their journey, munching on last year’s apples that were still hanging on the branches. 

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They were amazing to watch, and to listen to, inspiring a full-fledged nature observation outing, right in our driveway, armed with notebooks and pencils and binoculars and cameras for these wonderful little birds!

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Although sometimes the observer was nowhere to be seen…

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…and sometimes we were the ones under observation! This squirrel spent half of his time chasing the waxwings away and grabbing apples, the other half balancing an apple the size of his head in his mouth as he made his way down to the ground to eat it…And when he was done, he wandered over to check out Joe and his camera equipment!

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Wonderful!

One day, we took a walk on a sunny day to see how the stream was flowing – only to find that it was still under snow and ice…Yay, still a winter wonderland! Spencer had the idea to give the stream-bank a try as a sled run, and soon we all joined in, on what must be the last sled-run of our season (I….think….)!

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It does, of course, tend to get a little snow in your boots…

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But it was well worth it!

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So, to take stock of the month of March, we’ve got a snug little house that saw us through the winter, we have ordered all of our seeds for this year’s planting, we have starts growing in the garden table, we’ve made some maple syrup, we’re baking our own bread, we’ve got an operational workshop, and a functional small sawmill, we can temper steel, we can harvest all our own firewood, we can make lumber, we can make green-wood projects like utensils, bowls, and stools, and we’ve got lumber drying for future furniture, we’ve completed third- and fourth-grade curriculum for the boys, and Vivi’s progressing through Kindergarten, and we’re well underway with our outdoor clean-up efforts! Every day, we read the Bible, every day, our school lessons are brought back to God, every day we see Him in His creation all around us, and we thank Him for his provision, for our food, for His strength and grace and mercy and love…It’s a good life!

 

Genevieve Turns 5! (February 20, March 7)

Oh, my sweet little girl, turning 5 years old!

Her day began, as birthdays always do in the Michalski house, with everyone singing “Happy Birthday to you!” when she woke up. There would continue to be spontaneous choruses of “Happy Birthday to you!” throughout the day!

Then, I snuggled my little girl into my lap, and everyone gathered around to hear the story of the special day when she was born! You know, “So there I was, with an enormous belly, praying that the Lord would please make things go smoothly for this delivery, and help us make sure that Asher and Spencer were well taken care of, since the hospital said they really shouldn’t come with us, but we didn’t know who would be able to stay with them on short notice. It was a Monday morning, and everyone had just gotten up, and we were all getting ready for a normal workday, when I turned to Joe and said, “I think it’s time to go to the hospital…” and so on, and so forth, until everything fell smoothly into place, and the brothers returned from the hospital play-room and said hello to their brand-new baby sister, and Mommy’s prayer for a smooth delivery was perfectly answered! 

We continued on to birthday-breakfast at Helen’s, chocolate chip pancakes, please! This makes for two birthdays in a row (Spencer’s and now Genevieve’s), and this may just be a birthday tradition.

About a week ago, in preparation for the birthday girl’s big day, Asher helped me do a little shopping. We stopped at a cute little store called River Lily in nearby Milbridge, a boutique shop in a historic building, and Asher helped me pick out a great assortment of special treasures: a beautifully illustrated Bird Bingo game; a picture book called The Secret Bay with watercolor drawings, poems, and information about all the estuary creatures; a fishy soap-dish and seashell soaps; a sparkly magic wand; a pretty paper ornament to add to her Christmas collection; a tiny colorful hummingbird; and a wee-coffee-cup-and-teeny-pewter-bird-spoon. The idea behind the coffee cup and spoon was that Genevieve could join us for a little-girl version of morning coffee, so we took that special present with us for her to open at the restaurant.

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Oh, and she knew just what to do with them!

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She stirred a whopping spoonful of honey into a little watered-down-coffee…

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And drank it up!

At home, there were balloons and candles and presents to open…

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…greatly enjoyed with brothers!

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After a slight delay, we also enjoyed Genevieve’s birthday-party-day in Bangor at the Maine Discovery Museum, a great little children’s museum in historic downtown with several floors of exploration and play, including big magnets and nano-particles…

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…molecular building blocks…

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…a great nature play-zone with bird, bat, reptile and amphibian displays…

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…a water-play river system…

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…some historic transportation displays…

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…and oh-so-many-other-things to try out and learn about and dance to and play with and draw on and anything else you can imagine! 

What a fabulous, wonderful, way to turn 5! Happy birthday, little one!

The Winter Cabin (February 14)

Back home, it wasn’t long until the snows came again, and this was a big one, the biggest one of the season, and some say the biggest they’ve seen in a long while! Through our windows on Thursday, we watched the snow falling fast, small cold flakes, thick and whirling, and in the morning, we had a solid 18-inches, at least, with wonderful drifts and piles everywhere!

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Friday was sunny, and the snow was thick and fluffy and fun, great for snow angels, but too light for packing…

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We could see that our resident porcupine was undeterred by the snow, plowing his methodical way from the forest to our house to make his rounds and sniff about…

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Vivi has his methods pretty much figured out 🙂

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And, we set about our first shoveling efforts, each of us armed with a shovel…or something 🙂

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We have a lovely long driveway, and there was no place we absolutely had to be, so our main effort was to dig out the mailbox so that we could receive any deliveries. The deep furrow from the snowplows made it a large job, but it was a beautiful day for shoveling, and we soon had a shoveled walkway and a cleared pull-in, and the kids were free to tunnel and burrow and play again, until they wore themselves out and wandered inside rosy-cheeked and soaking wet!

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Oh, no, what happened here? It looks like a case of the dreaded shrinks! The dreaded shrinks are a Roald Dahl creation, a terrible, incurable disease, in which you shrink day-by-day until all that remains of you are a pile of clothes and a pair of shoes…And it looks like Vivi caught it! 🙂

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On Saturday, the snow came again, light but steady, and we ventured out in the afternoon to re-clear and widen our paths…This was an especially beautiful snow, coming down in individual, perfectly-formed flakes, which were too light to settle into the mounds, but stacked on-edge, one atop another, in intricate formations along the drifts, too beautiful to imagine, and a wonder to observe!

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These snowy days are a balance of work and play, shoveling (which is hard work) followed by digging (which, somehow, is just fun!) Snow caves…

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…snow burrows…

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…snow tunnels…

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…snow messages…

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…snow couches!

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We also realized that we better tap a few maple trees, so that we would be ready when the weather changes and the temperatures rise and the sap starts to flow!

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Of course, Saturday night, another storm came in, and on Sunday morning, our buckets were full – of snow!

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Sunday was lovely, and we relaxed and played and enjoyed the snow…And in the afternoon, Joe and I wandered out and decided to shovel for as long as we felt like it…We ended up finishing the driveway, and it was a great feeling to know that we could just get in the truck and head out now, whenever we were ready. We figured Monday would be a good day to drive into town and pick up some groceries and such, and we were glad to be ready for it!

Of course, Monday dawned with a blizzard, and as we watched through breakfast, it didn’t let up one bit! We realized that, if we were going to get out at all, we better get to shoveling! It was a fast-falling snow, but not uncomfortable to work in, not too cold, and not too windy, and we steadfastly plowed the fluffy snow back out of the driveway that we had just-yesterday completely cleared…As we worked, we decided that this would be the last time we would shovel the whole driveway this winter – once we got the truck out once, we would park near the road-end, and have a long walkway with a short driveway! 🙂 I kept hearing an “ancient proverb” in my head – It’s easier to shovel a walkway than a driveway. It’s easier to shovel a walkway than a driveway. Too funny.

We methodically worked down the drive, and every so often, Joe would pull the truck up the cleared space, inching down the driveway. We soon realized that it was coming down about as fast as we were shoveling. After clearing a foot of snow halfway down the driveway, we could see that about 2 inches had accumulated where we started! Yikes! And then, as we neared the end of the driveway, we faced the most daunting task of all – the plow-mountain!

Shoveling the snow on your driveway is one thing – it’s light and fluffy, and you scoop it off to each side, and with five people working, it goes along at a good pace. At the end, though, you face the 5-foot-high pile created by a plow portioning the road’s-worth of snow into your entrance, and it’s a heavy wall, sandy and compacted and thick, and you have to throw it up and over the 5-foot-high pile on each side. It’s daunting. When you start, you think you’ll never be able to do it, but the mountain does eventually yield to the steady efforts of five shovels…Of course, knowing that it will return with the next round of the plow is one of the most mentally taxing parts, and I did have to keep reminding myself that the plow drivers are just doing their jobs keeping the roads clear, and don’t actually bring snow from other counties just to pile it up in our driveway, as it might sometimes seem! 🙂

In my head, as I set about this large task with my sore muscles, I said to the Lord, “I’m not sure how many times I can shovel this driveway.” And He said, “As many times as you need to.” Ha! It’s so simple, isn’t it? What a great reminder! We don’t shovel because we have to go somewhere, we shovel because that’s the work that the Lord has for us at this moment. On God’s schedule, there are days to work and days to rest, there are tasks for each day, and they unfold precisely when He means for them to unfold. It doesn’t matter how long the driveway or how high the pile, if we’re doing the Lord’s work, the Lord’s work will get done, and we will always be able to do it! Shoveling is very good spiritual training 🙂

So, after three hours of shoveling, we did break through in time to get on the road to the grocery store……and it was still a blizzard! The two stores nearest us were closed for the weather, and so we continued on into the grocery store in Machias. 

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There were only a handful of us on the road, but everything went smoothly, and we enjoyed the triumphant feeling of having achieved our objective, through hard work and perseverance, returning with lots of yummy groceries and the delicious privilege of curling up by a warm fire after a good day’s work! 

Monday morning was crystal clear…

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…and crystal-sparkly everywhere!

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The porcupine, undeterred as always, had made his way in from the forest once again…One of these days, we will get the timing right, and have the chance to watch him from our windows as he blazes this adorable trail!

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It was another day of shoveling and playing, (shoveling a long walkway and a short driveway!), always a bit easier when the sun is shining and heavy clouds and snow-plows are not busily erasing the evidence of your great efforts!

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And soon enough, it was time to tell the kids, “Well done!”, and take them inside and hang them up to dry 🙂

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…and arrange them by the fire, after a good day’s work and play!

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Winter in Acadia (February 5th)

When the time came for a Sunday drive, I was very excited to go and see Acadia National Park again, with its beautiful snow-covered rocky shores stretched out against a restless winter ocean…It oughta be amazing!

Acadia National Park largely shuts down in the winter. They don’t maintain the Park Loop Road, so at the season’s first snowfall, driving access to most of the park closes. You can still walk-in and ski-in and such, I think, but for a short-ranging family like ours, there is just one narrow little stretch of road that is still accessible, which follows a very nice stretch of the coastline, including the Sandy Beach. 

We arrived in Bar Harbor around lunchtime, and it was…deserted! Picturesque and colorful and…empty! Gone were the lines of cars parked on each side of every road, gone were the sidewalks full of passers-by, gone were the lines of drivers inching around in search of parking…

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…so that now, there was no one in sight!

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There’s a very small year-round population associated with a few local businesses and a college, and there are a couple of hotels open year-round that must support visitors that are captured by the winter beauty of this wonderful place, but a winter visit is wonderfully quiet and still…
 
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It’s a great time to see the Common Loons fishing…
 
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As well as winter-visiting Buffleheads and Grebes…
 
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After lunch, where we joined the rest of the dozen people in town at a cute little Mexican restaurant, (and where we couldn’t figure out why people were dressed up in Patriots gear, having never even realized that this was Super Bowl Sunday!), we piled in to drive the short stretch of Acadia’s park road, and see what we could see…
 
And here was the snowy coastline, stretching out against the winter ocean!
 
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The trail down to the rocky shore was open, and we wandered down to check things out.
 
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The combination of melt-freeze cycle and freezing ocean spray makes for spectacular ice-falls all along the water’s edge…
 
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…and throughout the ice-scape, we still found lots of little pools to explore. In fact, the tide pool ecosystem seems to continue as though nothing at all has changed, with seaweed and mussels and snails and limpets all piled in to the little pools, unimpressed by the ice gathering around them, and even forming over the surfaces of their little worlds!
 
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We watched the magnificent Common Eiders paddling offshore, equally as oblivious to the chilly winds and numbing waters and icy shores!
 
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After clambering about on the rocks for a while, we headed slowly down the road, peering out through binoculars at the gulls and loons and cormorants and eiders, until we arrived at Sandy Beach, a wonderful stretch of golden-sand that is rare in our area.
 
Doesn’t it look just like a summer day at the beach?
 
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Except for the 8-foot icicles hanging over the water!
 
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It was beautiful, but windy!
 
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So windy that a line of foam whipped up at the edges of the waves, and then blew across the sand like snow balls, giving the kids something to chase and stomp!
 
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We made our way all the way out to gaze admiringly at the enormous icicles…
 
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And then turned into the wind and began to make our slow way back home after a delightful day!
 
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The Winter Beach (January 29)

Since moving in to our little work-in-progress, we’ve been fairly focused. We haven’t ventured very far from our own property, because there continues to be so very much to explore and discover and enjoy right outside the back door!

But, a Sunday came when we thought that it was time to visit the beach again! Only 20 minutes away, we haven’t seen it since our late-summer days, and I was curious to see if the winter scene was much different. There wouldn’t be any snow, as a week of above-freezing temperatures and sunshine had melted away the evidence of the last snow-storm, but I wondered if it would be different, somehow…

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Not much! The breeze was chilly, but the water was blue and sparkling and the sand and the stones and the seaglass were all there, just the same!

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Of course, in a few places, the evidence of winter still remained, and everyone got to pick a fresh icicle-pop right off the cliff…

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How exactly do kids enjoy chewing on ice on a cold day outside? I don’t know…but they do…

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A winter evening over the water is quite beautiful, and nice and early, as the sun still starts going down around 4:30…

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And, on the way home, we followed the sunset past country churches…

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…and old farmhouses…

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…and fields and forests…

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…and back to our little house in the woods, with a handful of seaglass to add to our collection, and a reminder of what a treat it is to be able to spend a day at the beach!

The Other Winter Forest (January 17)

Even in these Maine winters, the forest doesn’t always stay frozen! It can, of course – just a couple of years ago, the snow came early in December, and storm followed storm, and they didn’t see the ground again until March…But most winters here near the coast here meander back and forth, freezing and thawing, so that winter’s magic is interrupted by what almost feels like spring…

The temperatures soar up into the 40’s :), warm enough to melt the snow and ice, but not quite warm enough to thaw the frozen ground…The bright sunshine makes its way down to the forest floor…And sunny woodland days are forestry days! A chance to split and stack firewood for days ahead, a chance to step out among the trees and see what’s what, and what you can do with it. Like a straight section of pine could become a special type of workbench called a shaving horse, in the future – but because it’s too heavy to drag, it will only be useful if it can be split where it fell…

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The tools are simple, and very much the same as those that were probably used by the first homesteaders on this land – a canthook, axe, sledge, and a series of wedges. We did add a chainsaw to this mix, which is a great time-savings in getting the tree down and into sections! 

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Still, most of the work for turning a tree into useable planks is by hand, and it’s amazing what these few tools can do, right there in the middle of the woods!

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There it is, right in half, and now we can carry each half up to the house and see about putting them to good use 🙂

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Smaller sections can be split down into a few planks, which we’ll stack under the eaves to dry, and hopefully use for shelving or small tabletops later.

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Every now and again, as we’re splitting firewood, something catches Joe’s eye – and suddenly, something that was headed for the wood stove began its transition into a really lovely bowl!

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Bowls like this are worked when the wood is green, with all the initial shaping completed before drying out the wood at all. This is different from furniture, where you cut and split out planks that will dry for a year or more before you assemble them into a piece of finished work.

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And there it is, from firewood to bowl in a couple of hours, and now there will be a few weeks of drying in the house before final smoothing, and finishing with beeswax for daily use!

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It seems likely that I’ll pile some fruit in it, but we’ll see 🙂 I am most grateful for God’s timing in these kinds of days – we only set out to chop firewood, but He knew there was a bowl lurking in that pile, and Joe had all the time he needed to be able to make it!

It’s certainly not all work and no play in a sunny winter forest!

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It’s a great time for tree-climbing…

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…and for fort-building…

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Asher was especially proud of this fort, built from logs and branches that he dragged and stacked from the surrounding forest…He burst into the house, exclaiming “Mom, Mom, you’ve gotta come see what I built! I never would have thought I could do it if I didn’t have a father like Dad!”

Though there are no springtime blossoms, this seems to be the glory-season for lichens and fungi, which are ever-surprising in their variety, and always a special delight because they spruce up the places that are often-overlooked and under-appreciated, those rotting logs, the undersides of branches, little damp hollows in stumps. the space beneath a piece of peeling bark…

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We’ve seen the barred owl several times lately, even right along the roadways, perched on powerlines and posts and treetops to hunt, always exhilarating when they glide out after a meal or wing away to a new vantage point.

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This little cutie is a Northern Saw-Whet owl, and I wish you could see him in person, instead of in this grainy shot out our back window at night! He’s only 8 inches tall, a night-hunter, who perches low to the ground and pounces on unsuspecting small rodents. I think we quite puzzled him with our flashlight, and he alternated between scanning the ground for prey and scanning our direction for danger, until he’d had enough, and swooped off into the forest.

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It’s only January, and there will be plenty more winter to enjoy, both the freezing kind and the melting kind…I can’t wait!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Winter Forest (January 9)

It’s pretty astonishing to watch the world freeze over!

The fast-running tidal streams, busily flowing one direction, and then the other, begin to slow, and then to busily carry floating ice one direction, and then the other…

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…and finally to become still and white, piled on each bank with broken platelets that have been gradually marooned along the way…

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…and sometimes piled in the middle with boats that have been gradually marooned, for now at least!

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In some places, the ice is so still and smooth that a warm day melts the slightest surface-layer and turns the whole thing into a reflecting pool!

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In other places, there’s just a bit too much activity for a total freeze, like where this tannin-rich water tumbles over a waterfall, maintaining a single open pool, and churning up the icebergs that settle upon the shore.

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It was a great fishing-spot…not so much for us, but for two bald eagles that we watched, stationed in the nearby treetops, until one swooped in, made a clean catch, and retired to his perch for a well-earned meal!

Our own little forest is quite magical in the snow, of course, billowy and bright…

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…and tasty!

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Yum!

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A short walk in the snowy forest is a completely new adventure.

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Every tree…and I mean every tree…is an opportunity to create an impromptu blizzard for all who shelter underneath!

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Out on the ATV trail, there hasn’t really been enough snow for the snowmobiles, but too much for the 4-wheelers, so human traffic has been light. When we wandered out onto it, we found that there was enough snow to make a little portable snowman…

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…and the only tracks were ours, a coyote’s, some rabbits’, and one unidentified set that looked like half-dollar sized circles, all in a line, loping casually along the center of the trail. The coyote tracks ran alongside, occasionally crossing, and I imagined that the mystery-critter probably came first, and the coyote came sniffing after, but who knows? Asher thought they might be bobcat tracks, based on something he remembered from a field guide, but upon further research, we decided they had to be red fox – the picture of the tracks matched exactly, and they seem to be the only ones who have that straight-line foot placement, instead of the normal left-and-right. It was delightful to think of the red fox jogging along, right down the ATV trail in the moonlight, like he owned the place, snowshoe hares scattering to each side as he came, and a coyote sniffing along behind! 🙂

And the ice, oh the magical, mystical, glorious ice! How can ice, frozen in forest puddles, be so constantly varied? How is it possible that no two puddles are alike, when they all begin as a simple low spot in the forest, where water has collected and grown still, and slowly frozen, over the course of many chilly evenings? How can one puddle form into snowflake patterns…

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…and one be captured in the middle of some sort of tidal wave? 

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I understand how gently flowing water can carve out incredible crystal-caverns…

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…but how can a still puddle still be decorated with ribbons of movement, as though the freezing water was remembering its free-flowing days?!

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Sometimes it’s crystal-clear, and you can see every sweet little leaf and fern and lichen frozen in its midst…

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…and sometimes it’s frosty and white, and everything within is hidden until the next thaw, and you can only enjoy what’s on the surface!

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However they freeze, the winter puddles form a magical patchwork of ice-skating arenas throughout our woodland, always greeted with delight, with skating and skidding and spinning, and the occasional landing-on-the-backside-and-squealing!

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Our winter days are full of work and play, full of things to do and things to learn and things to figure out, full of things we have to do and things we want to do and things we look forward to doing, and though it’s simple, and though it doesn’t look like it, I continue to consider it a life of luxury!

We are in that curious cycle of mess-up-clean-up that goes along with any fix-up project of significant scope….It’s never a matter of starting on one side and methodically working through to the other…It’s always a matter of tackling one mess, dragging it out into the open, dismantling it, and sorting it out for proper disposal…And then everything looks much improved for a bit…and then the next mess is trotted out, dismantled, sorted into piles, etc. Or one household project is started, and tools and supplies are gathered and become a great flurry of activity, and kind of a mess, and then the project is completed and everything is straightened up and put away and everything looks much improved…and then the next project is assembled! 

But during these simple days, I am thankful for so many amazing luxuries, like the luxury of a hot shower, the luxury of combing my hair dry in front of a wood fire, the luxury of curling into a down comforter at night with the sound of the wind in the trees outside the window, the luxury of a steaming cup of coffee by the fire in the morning, the luxury of crystalline stars twinkling in a silent night sky, the luxury of stepping right out the door and walking in the forest, the luxury of hearing my oldest son say, “Mom, I found the most delightful new pond out in the forest, totally surrounded by springy moss – it’s perfect!” 

And few things have been as satisfying as the simple joy of figuring out that I could bake cookies on a stovetop! Honestly, I never would have thought of it, but the Lord knows that I do enjoy baking cookies, and He led me to read this article in which a couple moved into a cabin without electricity for a while…She described how she had a wood stove, much like ours, and how she figured out she could make biscuits on top by letting them brown on one side, and then just flipping them! Brilliant! It was so simple, I couldn’t believe I never thought of it, and I was ready to try it right away! Biscuits, peanut butter cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, honey cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oh my! It’s a funny thing, but I can’t do it on the propane stove – it simply gets too hot too fast, even on the lowest setting. But the gentle heat of a woodfire does the trick perfectly, and so now we can even enjoy the luxury of something homemade to dunk in our morning coffee!

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The greatest luxury of all is time…the time to do each day what the Lord sets in front of us, without any time promised to anyone else but Him…And I can tell that He is in the time, because of the glorious balance of it all…Gathering firewood, clearing the forest, cleaning up trash, installing the bathroom, reading Roald Dahl stories, finishing homeschool lessons, putting up shelving, wiring outlets, playing with RC cars, climbing trees, cooking and cleaning, movie time, mending and knitting, hikes in the woods…each day full to the brim and yet as gentle and easy as a lazy summer afternoon…

And each night, with three kids tucked in, I take a little time to thank God, again 🙂

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