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Life

Found Myself at Washington DC’s Eastern Market

The lobby of the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery

A fresh bouquet in the lobby of the Freer Gallery drew my eyes to a formal courtyard. The Gallery featured works of Asian art.

My wife and I visited our daughter during Georgetown University’s family weekend. On Friday night we had a stimulating dinner at a restaurant called Zaytinya specifically to try authentic Turkish food (it was very good). Then we dropped our daughter at her dorm and we headed to Bowie, MD for a night at my brother’s house—though his family had gone to White Oaks Farm, their spread in West Virginia.

We recovered our daughter from Georgetown on Saturday morning and parked on the south side of the National Mall. After a short walk, we decided to tour the Freer Gallery of Art.

Japanese samurai in the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery

Wooden statues stood at opposite ends of a long hallway in the Freer Gallery. Both statues appeared angry, though this one was clearly the angrier.

The gallery featured Asian works which suited me fine; I’m very fond especially of Japanese paintings. I was impressed by an Indian dagger made from a meteorite, and by how advanced Syrian glassmaking was by the 1,300s. We walked through an exhibit by modern African artists that interpreted Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, and then we drove to the National Arboretum.

The Arboretum deserves its own post. I’ll need to select from, perhaps, 150 photos. It’s a big number considering we visited only the bonsai exhibit, the herb garden, and “the Columns” and were back on the road in under two hours.

We stopped at the Eastern Market which is a large collection of tents in front of and alongside an old market building that includes a dining area and dance floor. I love these markets. There were vendors of jewelry, art, clothing, produce, meat, cheeses, prepared foods… enough to hold your attention for hours if you stroll without a deadline.

The point of the story

And here’s the whole point of the story: We had made our way to the farthest vendor tents and started back to the car. We came to a produce vendor selling several varieties of winter squash, among them: Neck Pumpkin.

Columns at the National Arboretum

Visiting the National Arboretum has been on my mind for more than 30 years; I remember wanting to check it out when I was in college. My wife, my daughter, and I went and it was too short a visit — it also was in the wrong season; I want to return in late spring or early summer.

The columns used to be part of the US Capitol building. Workers removed them years ago to make way for an expansion. The columns are strangely out of place at the arboretum, yet they provided some compelling photographic moments.

Neck Pumpkins are common in central Pennsylvania, and relatively unknown elsewhere in the US. I’ve written a lot about them over the years and was quite surprised to find, there on the neck pumpkin display, a photo of myself holding a neck pumpkin!

I’m probably the only person in the world who would have recognized me in the photo—it shows my legs and my right hand. I had set my camera on a tripod, put the shutter on its timer setting, and posed on our screened porch. The photo appeared in one of my earliest blog posts about Neck Pumpkins—in 2009. In fact, I harvested neck pumpkins just a few days ago that are direct descendents from the one in that photo.

But that’s not the point. The point is: there in a Washington DC produce vendor’s booth, I found myself holding a neck pumpkin.

Footnote about copyright

It is illegal to use a photograph for commercial purposes if you do not have express written permission from its creator (or owner). If you can’t find any statement accompanying a photograph that says the photo is free for you to use; don’t use the photo. If you really, really want to use the photo, don’t. But do contact the owner and ask nicely. There’s a reasonable chance you’ll get permission.

I found myself on a sign holding a neck pumpkin at DC's Eastern Market

Nearing the end of a pleasant stroll at Washington DC’s Eastern Market, I found myself. I’m the legs and the hand holding the neck pumpkin in the sign in this photo. I first published the original photo in a 2009 blog post titled Neck Pumpkin: a Home Kitchen Garden Marvel.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Found Myself at Washington DC’s Eastern Market

The 40: My Cousins’ Garden

Minnesota prairie pond

The pond at The 40 is a fishing hole—perhaps the only place my kids ever tried fishing.

One of my cousins eloped. Months later, he threw a party. In Minnesota. (I live in central Pennsylvania.) I went. I drove. It was a very pleasant escape.

A benefit of making a long road trip alone: None of your passengers complains when you make side trips, stop to take pictures, drive too late into the evening (or next morning), or fail to find cushy lodging for the night.

I stopped often, but not often enough. Captured photos along the way, but not enough. Moved into a cousin’s house in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota and stayed for two nights. Loved seeing him; we was a great host. Loved his dogs: two yellow labs—one old and slow, one the same age as my Nutmeg.

Minnesota prairie fishing pond

Pond at The 40 photographed from the parking area looking down.

The Blooming Prairie branch of our family is my Mother’s sister’s clan. We don’t cross paths often; a thousand miles is quite a barrier for busy families. In fact, I hadn’t seen anyone from the Blooming Prairie gang since the year after my mom died; there was a family reunion out there, and we packed our kids and the camping gear into the minivan and drove west.

On that trip, we caught up just a tad (toting a toddler took attention), we attended a July 4th parade that was an hour longer than the longest July 4th parade ON EARTH, and we went fishing at The 40.

This post is about The 40

Oak tree in early autumn

With a turn to the left, I caught an oak tree announcing autumn by tossing a leaf earthward.

My uncle invested in land. I learned on my recent trip that he bought farmland and leased it to farmers. He also bought a 40 acre parcel for recreation: The 40. I don’t know the history of The 40’s development. Apparently, the pond is bigger now than it was years ago. In several visits—including the one with my family 20+ years ago—I’d never gone farther than the shore of the pond which is at the bottom of a hill near the entrance drive.

This trip, my cousin showed me The 40. We walked trails from one corner to the other, and he pointed out areas planted in walnut trees, in corn and turnips, in prairie grasses, and in garden flowers.

The 40 is gorgeous. I took photos. I hope you enjoy them.

Prairie marshland

We walked around the pond and from a wooded hillside caught this view of some very mushy-looking landscape.

Duckweed-covered pond

If I followed my cousin’s explanation, a big chunk of this duckweed-covered pond is on The 40, and some is on neighboring land. It looked like a great place to put in a canoe and paddle around.

Turnip patch for grazing deer

My cousin planted patches of corn in a corner of The 40. When it was spent, he planted turnips for deer to munch. I enjoyed the visual textures.

Native prairie grasses

While my uncle planted a flower garden that included a whole bunch of equinacea, my cousin has been acquiring native prairie grasses and planting them on The 40. He believes he has varieties that are native to Minnesota; a nice touch considering that state-run reclamation projects often work with prairie grasses from other states.

Staghorn sumac on the prairie

The sumac berry clusters on The 40 tended to hang down and my cousin called them poison sumac. I’m certain these were staghorn sumac—you can harvest the berries, cook them in water, add sugar, and drink the resultant pink liquid as a hot or cold drink. It seemed odd they were too lazy to hold their berry clusters upright, but perhaps that’s a regional variant. I wouldn’t recognize poison sumac if I saw it, but Googling it convinced me that the sumac on The 40 is edible, not poisonous.

Turtle pond on the prairie

At one of my stops during the trip (not at The 40), I found a turtle pond (as opposed to a duck pond). The logs were lined with turtles, but most slipped into the water while I was getting my camera into position.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – The 40: My Cousins’ Garden

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Longwood Gardens: Meadow & Green Roofs

Meadow Garden at Longwood Gardens

Many paths wind in and around Longwood’s Meadow Garden. One crosses a curved, two-level bridge that encourages you to tarry.

My wife suggested we vacation at Longwood Gardens. It was a short trip: Thursday to travel there and enjoy the garden, and Friday to explore the Kennett Square area and travel home.

We killed it. The garden opened at 9AM and, with a “Nightscape” ticket, we could stay until 11PM. Between the two of us we had seen virtually nothing of Longwood. We decided to arrive as the doors opened. The gatekeeper told us it was the earliest anyone had arrived at the garden on a Nightscape ticket.

Nightscape? What’s that?

Nightscape is a laser light show, bits of which you view in different of the many gardens at Longwood. At each venue you hear music, and patterns of light dance on foliage or other garden features.

You can take a relaxed stroll through the gardens after dark, following dimly-lighted paths with docents ready at many intersections to point the way. The “Beer Garden” remains open in a fairly central location where you can buy snacks, beer, and wine.

Nightscape had very much the feeling of a large party with well-mannered revelers. On a mildly warm summer night, it was a very pleasant garden walk.

During a long day of walking, excessive heat, hydrating, violent thunderstorms, eating, and marveling at the history and beauty of Longwood Gardens, we explored nearly every accessible area of the facility. Photos in this post are from the Meadow Garden—a very new feature at Longwood.

Milkweed in the Meadow Garden at Longwood Gardens

Heavily planted with milkweed, the Meadow Garden is a masterpiece of textures. The milkweed alone produced unexpected patterns that changed from area-to-area as I scanned the landscape. Here’s hoping the meadow retains much of its character; it could become an important breeding ground for monarch butterflies.

Birdhouse with green roof at Longwood Gardens

Bird houses in the Meadow Garden at Longwood Gardens had green roofs! A docent explained that Longwood is collecting data to determine whether birds prefer homes with green roofs rather than bare-roofed ones.

Webb farmhouse at Longwood Gardens

The Webbs lived in a farmhouse at the back end of what is now Longwood’s Meadow Garden. You can walk up to the house to learn about its history, but we decided to save that for another day.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Longwood Gardens: Meadow & Green Roofs

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Baby Finch Disaster Averted

Baby house finch after the thud

I heard a spongy thud behind me and turned to find this little bird on the lawn weeds.

I put the last rock in place and leveled soil in my rock garden. As I stepped back to take photos I heard a meaty thud; something, it seemed, had fallen from the sky.

It didn’t take long to find a tiny bird baby on the lawn. I looked up and spotted a nest about 12 feet up in the branches of our blue spruce tree; the same tree that had housed a robin’s nest in a post I wrote in April titled Grubs and Birds.

I’d need a stepladder… and I’d need a camera. How could I not take photos of this adorable blob of birdlet flesh?

As I got my rescue operation in order, I spotted a second bird baby on the lawn. I wondered: Would I find in the nest a fat cowbird baby that was pushing its adoptive siblings to their deaths?

Baby house finch

I tore away weeds to gain a more complete view of the sky-diving house finch baby. The 12 foot fall onto soggy lawn seems to have caused it no harm.

Evaluating the Scene

I had to stand on the rung of the ladder labeled “This is Not a Step.” Once there, I realized Mourning Doves are not the only bad nest builders in the bird kingdom. Mommy and Daddy House Finch had simply built their nest on top of a sloping branch. No component of the nest existed to hold it in place! Given its paucity of safety features, that the nest had lasted long enough for eggs to hatch seemed miraculous (meaning “highly improbable”).

Now the nest was on its side, prevented from falling by an upper branch that had snagged the top edge as the nest tipped and dumped its occupants. I’d need twine.

Extreme Makeover, Bird Nest Edition

Did I build a new nest for the House Finches? No, but I wanted to. What I did was to loop some twine over the branch above the nest and under the branch that was supposed to hold the nest. I pulled the branches together until the lower branch was horizontal where the nest sat. Now little spruce sprigs jutted into the nest from the upper branch, so I trimmed several of those away.

Daniel's butt during the epic baby house finch rescue

I wasn’t kidding. My wife photographed my butt while I was putting the bird puppies back in their nest. She even posted it on Facebook!!!! Here’s the link where there are other photos documenting the event as well, but I can’t promise she set permissions to let just anybody look.

When I finished, the nest certainly wasn’t bomb-proof, but it was in better shape than I’d found it. I climbed down from the ladder’s “Step Here and Die” rung, found an empty plastic container, and lifted the House Finch puppies into it. My wife stabilized the ladder and held the Finch puppies as I climbed back to the “Death Rung.”

My wife handed me the Finch babies and I gently put one and then the other back in the nest while she photographed my butt. The finchlets seemed OK with it.

Epilogue

There’s folklore that if you get human stink all over wild baby animals, the wild animal parents won’t return to them. It’s a lie. House Finch Mom and Dad have come and gone repeatedly since I finished rebuilding their nest and re-installing their babies. In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t notice anything had changed though I hope my modifications provide inspiration for their next nest-building project.

 

Happy Birthday, Bren!

Brenda Haas's front flower bed

The part of our visit that most resembled a formal tour began with the flower bed in front of Bren’s house. It was instantly apparent Bren’s garden plan preserves habitat for felis catus, the domestic cat.

If you spend any time online and you’re serious about gardening, you’re likely to have heard of Brenda Haas. The curator of #gardenchat, Bren is a garden photographer and a social media guru.

I got to visit Brenda at her home earlier this year and I wrote about the experience in a post titled Visit in Brenda Haas’s Garden. There you’ll find information about #gardenchat and how to participate. Here, you’ll learn just a bit more about Brenda.

Garden Tour through the Lens

One great joy of visiting with a fellow gardener is the inevitable garden tour. Bren’s garden didn’t disappoint. We spent several hours, and I captured many, many photos.

To celebrate Brenda’s birthday (December 2), I selected from those photos a set of distinct images that get to the very core of Brenda’s motivation and inspiration.

I hope you’ll have a look and celebrate Brenda’s birthday with me. Happy Birthday, Bren!

Bren's garden attracts cats

A theme quickly emerged during out garden tour. Bren has 70 or 80 cats (she told me a number, but I can’t remember), and the cats have assigned one the job of monitoring humans… or, perhaps on this day a particular semi-rock-colored cat drew the short straw.

Semi rock-colored cat

Semi rock-colored cat? This intended to be a photograph of delightful ground cover… I suppose it does capture ground cover.

Deep-thinking angry cat

We might have stumbled into a part of the garden visitors aren’t supposed to see. If this cat is deep in thought, I’d hazard the thinking is about injustice, spite, revenge, or all three.

Lounge chair cat

When Bren and I reached the pond I was pleased to see our shadow cat inspecting one of the lounge chairs. No way would a cat lie down under a defective lounge chair.

Bird bath cat

Bren’s garden features a strategically-placed bird bath.

Bren and cat

Bren and I were chatting in her vegetable garden. I looked away down a row of tomatoes and when I turned back, there was a cat! Despite much coaxing, the cat refused to look at the camera—or was it turning an evil eye on the horse next door?

Happy Birthday cat

For 10 minutes or so leading up to that photo of Bren and cat (above), there was caterwauling at my feet. These were the loudest meows I’ve ever heard in Ohio. I used my cell phone to record, and I ran the meows through Google translate. Google failed to auto-detect the language. I guess they’re still working on that feature. I’m sure if her cat spoke Human, it would say, “Happy Birthday, Bren!”

 

Cruising Autumn in Pennsylvania Farm Country

Autumn at the farm

Weeds in the foreground provide a glimpse of some crop nearing harvest that stretches back to barns, silos, and storage buildings. Behind all that, a wooded hill shows off in early autumn. About five minutes by car from my home, this scene represents the beauty of Pennsylvania farm country in autumn.

Screamin’! As in, fall colors have been screamin’ for the past five weeks and I’ve enjoyed them more than I remember ever enjoying autumn. I wish you all could have joined me! Because that didn’t happen, I put together a slideshow. I hope you’ll have a look and let it inspire you to come through central Pennsylvania some year in mid October.

Sure, New England is the fabled fall colors capitol of the world, but you can do some rousing leaf-peeping from Pennsylvania’s Nittany Mountain mid-state through the glacial valleys that lead East, and up into the Poconos that tumble down to the Delaware Water Gap at the border with New Jersey. (I’m sure Pennsylvania’s “Grand Canyon” area is impressive as well.)

Colorful hill above a paddock

Autumn leaves provide a dramatic backdrop for what looks like a livestock barn at the end of a paddock. My wife and I used to own 21 acres of the hill that rises in the background of this photo.

Excepting for a few photos I captured in Ithaca, the scenes in the slideshow are within 20 miles of the Cityslipper Ranch (my house). When you decide to visit central PA, give me advance warning and there might be a bed available at the Ranch. Even if we can’t keep you overnight, there most certainly will be food from the garden and enthusiastic conversation to punctuate your trip. And autumn leaves, of course. Please enjoy the scenery:


Created with flickr slideshow.

 

 

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