Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hunting for Violets

When I was 2 (my mom used to tell me), I announced that lavender was my favourite colour.
This was in the 60s, long before the pink-and-purple tidal wave of girly paraphernalia had swamped the shores of commercialism. In my violet-starved Southern California youth, there were very few lavender clothes to be had; even our garden sported only a small pop of purple here and there from a few Johnny-Jump-Ups (violas) planted by my rose-preferring mom. On our rare visits to Disneyland I would feast my eyes on the giant beds of bluey-lavendar ageratum, bordered with vivid yellow marigolds, that lay at the entrance of Torrowland. Lavendar and yellow remain a favourite colour combo to this day, thanks to those long-ago landscape designers of the Magic Kingdom.

Eventually I grew old enough to sew my own clothes, and could finally seek out the colour I loved. By then I loved all shades of purple, though lavender continued to hold center stage (even my wedding dress was trimmed with lavender ribbon, and I wore lavender shoes underneath). The purple-and-teal boom of the late 80s brought mixed feelings - it was delightful to have so many plummy-tinted things available, but a little frustrating that what had always been "my" colour had become so common. We humans are a discontented lot.

Now I'm old enough not to care about trends. I like what I like, and if other people happen to be liking it too, great. If not, no problem. It helps that I now live in Wisconsin, which turns all kinds of delightful shades of purple* every spring.

First to come are the violets. They show up just a few days after the dandelions appear (purple and yellow again!) to delight the heart of purple-lovers everywhere for a few precious weeks.

It's violet time right now, and last Sunday I went out on my bike to find some.

*For the purists out there: "violet" is a true colour with a place on the visible spectrum of light, while "purple" is a composite colour made by combining red and blue (thanks, Wikipedia). They are not identical, but they're close enough that many use the collective terms interchangeably, as do I.

~

It's a great day for a ride: sunny, mild, and as nearly windless as our part of Wisconsin can be. Today I am visiting my favourite wild-violet patches - the roadside spots where in past years they've bloomed most thickly. After months of grey-and-white winter, I'm ready for an orgy of purple.

So is Tallulah:


First unintentional bug photo of the year (bugs are always photo-bombing my wildflower photos):


The wild violets here come in all shades: medium to deep blue violet, rich reddish-purple, delicate lavender, bright white with streaks of violet at their hearts. I love them all.


It's a glorious day. The sun is warm on my back, and it feels great to be tooling around the countryside, stopping for photos whenever I like, peering into the marshes in search of watercress (no luck), and generally poking my nose into spring.

Birches shine white in the sun:


Wild honeysuckle is thinking about blossoming:


A field that has lain uncultivated for years has been unexpectedly plowed:


(What will be planted there? Enquiring minds want to know.)

Hardwood trees are shedding their blossom:


A favourite wild apple tree blushes, entertaining daring thoughts of an early bloom:


Another favourite tree, oak this time:


Iris gets parked against a handy gate...


...while prowl the verge snapping meadow anemone (A. canadensis), another of the earliest wildflowers.


What a treat to be out, both on bike and on foot, in the spring.

~

Four days later it snowed. The violets in the lawn shivered and hugged themselves, trying to stay warm while melting snowflakes clung to their curled-up petals. This too is spring in Wisconsin.


And the weather has stayed chilly and rainy ever since. This weekend I took only one short ride, to look for wild plum blossom. I think I'll save that for another post.

Are there violets blooming where you are?

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Monday, April 24, 2017

While I Was Coughing

At the end of March I caught the flu. Ten days or so later, I staggered outside on wobbly legs to find that while I'd been indoors coughing and sleeping, leaves had appeared on the lilac bushes. Around the corner, in someone's shady yard, rivers of scilla flowed in impossible blue, and daffodils were beginning to open. Forsythia bushes which had lain low all winter had suddenly burst into yellow flame. It was like the bit in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls asleep in a whirling grey-and-white world and wakes up to glorious Technicolor.


Lovage was sprouting in the kitchen bed, and a small forest of tarragon had appeared in the doorstep planter. The chives were marching out reinforcements, ready to contest the tarragon for garden domination.


And I found a tiny clump of scilla in the bit of wasteland behind the house, in a space normally home to only daylilies, nettles, and burdock. I don't know how the scilla came there, but finding it was like stumbling on hidden treasure.



~

The week before Easter, some spring storms rolled through, dropping a goodly amount of rain and turning the grass overnight from hesitant green to a vivid, flaming emerald. (Can emeralds flame? I don't know how else to describe such an intensity of greenness.) The first dandelion bloomed a few days later - and when the dandelions come, can violets be far behind? :)

~

Easter Sunday was so beautifully sunny and warm that I had to take a ride, wobbly legs notwithstanding. (Wait. Is that a pun?)

I saw trees waving delicately-clad branches against the sky:


Fascinating new leaves and catkins (and a rather mysterious conelike object):


Verges glowing green:


A fencepost decorated with a barbed-wire wreath:


And red-twig dogwood caught in the act of slipping into its new spring outfit:



I was hoping for wildflowers, but didn't find any on this ride. Perhaps on the next one....

A belated Happy Easter to you all!

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Spring Already?

How was March for you?

I'd like to say that it flew by here, but in reality it felt more like a marathon of work, magazine commissions, struggles with pattern-writing, health issues, and unfinished blog posts. (It's a little scary how easy it is to fall away from blogging. And blog-reading.)

Big things have been happening on the crochet front here, but as usual (dang it) I can't talk about them until about five months from now! Stay tuned....

~

Spring and the birds arrived early this year, but "spring" in Wisconsin is a relative term. For each sunny day in March, it seemed we had three damp or rainy or icy or foggy days. But the earth and the trees took full advantage of those few warm days, sending out bud and shoot and grass with quiet abandon, reminding us all that yes, it will get warmer. And the birds sing a little louder every morning, no matter what the temperature.

~

One of the warm days came on a Sunday - which also happened to be the last day of winter. Of course this called for a bike ride....





Tallulah has finally exchanged her winter hat for her cycling helmet - which I take to be a sign of good weather to come.

~

In other March news: the chives came up much earlier than usual! (What can I say? I get excited about fresh herbs.)

We had just finished the last of our frozen 2016 chives the day before I looked down and noticed these growing by the doorstep:


Perfect timing. I love having fresh chives on my breakfast eggs.

~

That's it for my March news. What's been happening with you?

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

February Thaw

The first half of February brought a strange softening of the weather, a slow but steady warming-up and drying-out. This peaked over the last six days, with temps hitting the 50s and 60s.

I have mixed feelings about this. It's great to have a break from the cold, but weather like this, at this time of year, just feels wrong. It creates a sensation of limbo, a kind of displaced out-of-season-ness that confuses the senses and woos us into thinking that winter might actually be over. Trees are budding out, geese and sandhill cranes have returned, and there have been rumours of robin sightings. This is not a normal Wisconsin February, folks.

The environmentalist in me is uneasy, but the cyclist in me is thrilled....

Saturday Morning

Back on the bike for the first time since November. The air is mild and the ground mostly dry, but the sky retains the deep blue of winter:


I'm riding one of my favourite circuits, and checking up on all my favourite views. Here the willow trees have been putting out golden-green fronds:


It's strange to see so much open water about. The wild geese are loving it:


It's good to see my porcine friends again. They seem to have thrived over the winter:


What a sky!



What a treat to take a comfortable ride at this time of year. If the weather holds, I'll do it again tomorrow.

Sunday Afternoon

Though most of the snow has melted off, there is still some to be found on north-facing banks:


Can't seem to stop taking pictures of the water:



Not all the ice has melted yet:



While taking the above photos, I can hear sandhill cranes calling. What do they know that we don't? Can we really be going to have an early spring?

It's good to see my shadow on the bike again:


Wednesday Evening

The weather has held for several days now, allowing me to squeeze in another ride before temps begin to fall.

Tallulah is still wearing her winter hat (shame on me for not putting her helmet back on):


First blackbird sighting of the year:


Turkeys crossing the road:


What a treat to know that the sun won't go down until after 5:30. I can stay out a little longer and watch it getting ready to set....


A satisfying ride.

~

Today (Thursday) the temps began to drop. The forecast is for freezing rain and several inches of snow. February's back!

How's your weather?

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Quietest Walk of the Year

Hello, everyone! Tallulah the Turtle here. It's so long since I had a say on this blog, you've probably forgotten my very existence. I nearly forgot it myself until the other day, when I was rudely woken from my happy hibernation by the hand of Mrs. M.

There was I, all tucked up in my crochet handlebar basket, lost in pleasant dreams of cycling seasons past. The next thing I know, I'm being ruthlessly hauled out, and my cherished cycling helmet is being replaced with my (admittedly stylish) winter hat.

"Wake up, Tallulah," says the dulcet voice of Mrs. M. (It's not really dulcet. She made me put that word in.)

"Whassappenin?" say I, yawning like a cave. "Is it spring already?"

"No," says Mrs. M. "It's still winter. But it's time we got off our patooties and took a little exercise."

(Mrs. M would be loath to admit to anyone but me that she has been slacking off shamefully in terms of exercise, preferring instead to sit inside where it's warm and dry and non-icy and there's lots of yarn to play with. But the days, she tells me, are getting longer, and the great outdoors are calling. If you ask me, it's got nothing to do with the great outdoors, and everything to do with what happens to humans who do nothing but sleep and eat and crochet. They turn funny shapes and their clothes don't fit any more. But you didn't hear it from me.)

Minutes later, we're heading out the door.

~

It's awfully quiet outside. There are no cars on the street, and no people - just me and Mrs. M alone under the great winter sky. Even the dogs have stopped barking. It's kind of creepy.

"Where is everybody?" I ask.

Mrs. M says they're all inside, "watching the Superb Ohl".

"Ohl? Who's Ohl? And why is he superb?" I ask.

"Well, it's kind of hard to explain to a non-human," says Mrs. M, "but.... Wait a minute. What did you just say?"

"Never mind," I say kindly. "Don't strain yourself. I'll just Gurgle it."

So I pull out my T-phone. ("Where'd that come from? I don't remember crocheting you a phone," says Mrs. M. "I ordered it from The Amazon, of course," I say. "You mean Amazon?" she says. "THE Amazon," I say. "You know, the river? South America? It's where all the reptiles shop for devices.")

Then I open the Turtle Wiki app to see what it says about "Superb Ohl". Here's what I find:
The Superb Ohl is generally considered to be chief in the pantheon of American "sporting" deities. According to popular legend, he appears one Sunday every winter at a chosen temple (or "stadium") to preside over rites of celebration and receive the praise of his worshippers ("fans"). During the sacred ceremonies, two groups of acolytes (called "teams"), who have striven for months to be judged worthy of attending, enact a fierce mock battle which includes the passing about of a holy object ("the pigskin"), while the assembled worshippers shout their approval.
These celebrations are not limited to the "stadium" and its environs; worshippers may bow from afar at one of the many electronic altars erected in houses, feeding places, and watering holes across the nation. Indeed, the annual appearance of Superb Ohl is an occasion of national rejoicing, and American humans generally honor his presence by devoting an entire day to the consumption of ritual food and drink (such as chicken wings, pizza, and beer). This feasting is often accompanied by lively discussion and/or dispute regarding the comparative worthiness of the acolytes partaking in the ceremony.
There's plenty more where that came from, but I've seen enough.

"Wow," I say. "Humans are weird."

"Yes," says Mrs M. "Yes. We are."

~

We reach the end of the street, turn a corner, climb over a snowbank, and we're on the trail. I don't know why Mrs. M likes this view so much - it just looks like snow and tree branches to me - but she does. So she takes a picture of it:


Aaand more snow - Mrs. M says it reminds her of mountain ranges seen from an airplane window:


Speaking of airplane journeys: "How far are we going?" I ask.

"A good long ways," she says. ("And I thought this would be a quiet walk," she mutters to herself. "Hey! I heard that!" I say.)

Here's a group of tree trunks she seems to find fascinating:


And here's a nice muddy section of trail:


"Why are you taking a picture of a muddy trail?" I say.

"It's not about the mud," she says. "It's about the way the trail curves through the woods, beckoning us on to places unknown."

(I know what's on the other side of that wood. A field. A big, empty field. But I try not to burst her bubble.)

She looks up and catches a glimpse of the moon, and stares at it like she's never seen it before. Then (you guessed it) out comes the camera:


On we trudge, for hours it seems. ("That's because you run on turtle time," says Mrs. M.)

"How about a photo of ME for a change?" I say. "You might let me climb that branch over there."

I strike a noble pose:


"Now let me take your photo," I say.

"No offense, Tallulah," she says, "but how can you hold the camera? It's bigger than you are, and kind of heavy...."

Turns out she's right. But I give it my best shot (photography pun!):


(Okay, so it's not an award-winning photo. What can I say? The sun was in my eyes.) And onwards we go.

One thing about Mrs. M - she knows what she likes. And she really likes this line of trees, especially with the sun going down behind them:


Which is why she takes their photo for about the thousandth time.

We cross the last field, turn right at the fence, walk under the bare branches and over the snowbank, and find ourselves back on the neighborhood streets. Then (finally) we're home, where I resolve to stay awake long enough to write this blog post before turning in for some well-deserved shuteye.

And that's it for the Quietest Walk of the Year.

~

P.S. Yes, it did take me two days to write this post. Tiny turtle + human size keyboard = very slow writing.

P.P.S. The walk didn't seem all that quiet to me (apart from the first few minutes or so), and I said as much to Mrs. M when she tucked me into my basket this evening. "I thought it would be quiet," she said. "Superb Ohl Sunday walks usually are. But for some reason this year was different." Then she gave me kind of a funny look, but I was yawning too hard to care. Goodnight, everyb....

(sound of turtle snoring)

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