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May 1
It was more like March than May today, with strong cold winds and a hard frost predicted tonight.   The early garden I planted last week is still in the ground, so hopefully the frost won't kill it...  Some of our cherries are in bloom though, so they may take a hit...
We sold nearly $350 in pots today from our kiosk, so I'm happy to revise my grumbling from last week about slow sales.
And although I still can't sleep comfortably on my side yet, I found I can do pushups again with my morning back exercises, so my ribs recuperation continues well.
So Happy May Day, whatever that may mean to you.

May 2
Frost last night, frost for the next two nights predicted.  In the spring, frost seems less dire than the fall, when you know it's the last chance for the tomatoes...  In fact, everything seems less dire in the spring, except perhaps the whine of mosquitoes (haven't heard any yet).
I've made contact with a Spokane doumbek (Middle eastern drum) player interested in expanding his musical experience, and may soon expand my own horizons as well.  Most of the music I make is not traditionally played with percussion, but the times I've played with hand drums have been fun...

May 3

After pottery and garden work, I fit in an hour walk to the lake, and it was the highlight of my day.  The calypso orchids and camas were blooming, and there were beavers again in the mill pond.  I stood about 20 feet from this one as it munched on some willows submerged by the high spring waters.  Previously in the blog I've shown a similar picture of a muskrat, but this one had the flat tail characteristic of the beaver.
Years ago there were beavers in the mill pond, with a large lodge, and a long series of canals dug to keep water in when the mill pond empties out in the summer.  Either they were trapped, or they ran out of willows, for they disappeared.  The willows have regrown, including a large clump were their lodge was.  Today I saw 3 or more of them.
It's easy to see why property owners might bemoan beavers--they can cut a lot of decorative trees down in a hurry.  But that's Somebody Else's Problem, so I can just enjoy their rapaciousness as part of the Balance of Nature...

Camas. The bulbs were a staple food of local native tribes.

May 4
I went back to the beaver area today, but there were none. There was a boatload of people fishing nearby that might have been the reason.  I also went back to take another picture of my favorite wildflower (since it's delicate and scarce).  It always grows in the deep woods where it's shaded.  Any picture I take could always be better, but this one from today is nice:


Even though I focused manually, it's hard to catch the snapdragon part clearly.  I guess I should have used a 3/4 profile... Another day...

May 5
I glazed two kilnloads of pots today, and was hoping to go get 3000 lbs of clay and glaze materials, but the truck didn't arrive on time.  There's still some question if the load made it on the truck, so I'll await Monday eagerly, since I've only 50 lbs of clay left, which lasts me about an hour on the wheel...

May 8
A classic N. Idaho spring day today--it started off all cloudy, went to clear, then puffy clouds, at which point I drove off to Sandpoint to get 3000 lbs. of clay, figuring it wouldn't rain today.  It's a sign of how recovered I am that I loaded the whole 3000 lbs. into my van and trailer singlehanded.  (At home my son helped get it in the pottery).  Anyway I was talking about a classic N. Idaho spring day.  It includes most of the basic elements of weather--those already mentioned plus rain, snow, and hail.  Okay, we didn't have any hail, but a bit of wet snow on the windshield while driving back with the clay.
Also today my wife started on the new sales patio area--making the area smooth before laying bricks in the sand to make a cobblestone effect...

May 9

While baking some peanut butter cookies, I thought I'd reflect on how photos can lie.  I took this photo last week, of a house about a block from ours in Spirit Lake.  Wow, what an idyllic location, you might think,  a lone quaint house in the woods by the mountains.  The thing is, I took this photo from a ridge a mile away using the wonderful telephoto lense which allows me to photograph birds and other wildlife (far better than I can actually see them, in fact.)  This ridge, with a telescope, is the only place near the city of Spirit Lake where you could see these mountains, which are 30 or more miles away...  If all the trees were stripped away, some of the many houses which you can't see in the photo might have the mountain view...  (The taller trees, on the right edge in back, are actually on our property.)
What got me thinking about this is how I often have to screen out the detritus of our society when photographing nature.  A bird might perch near a plastic bag stuck in a tree limb, or all kinds of garbage might be floating in the lovely lake scene...  There's a major mining superfund site nearby which attracts migrating cranes, and if they stop to feed much there they may never make the whole journey.  But a photo of them just says, "beautiful birds."
But if I only took pictures of trashed out campsites and garbage in streams, even I wouldn't want to look at them.  We all prefer the lovely lies...

May 10

I walked along the lake again today, and took this photo since it amused me to find a good example of what I was talking about yesterday--the kind of nature photo you don't usually see.  This is a female mallard trying to sleep on a chunk of bead board stryofoam that probably originated as a dock float and wound up on the mudflats...  Anyone who has sat on a piece of styrofoam knows how warm and comfy it is, in spite of its unnatural origin.
That reminds me that a pine squirrel was trying to build a nest on our porch the other day, and having had to contend with their destructiveness before (including loading one area of my pottery with bushels of pine cones and tunneling through the walls), I decided to remove the nest so it could lead a more natural existence.  I was surprised to see the nesting material was bright white, like polyester pillow stuffing.  I don't want to know what the squirrel got into to get that...  (I always say about rodents--none of them is really your friend...)
Living on the edge of a wild ecosystem is always a balancing act...  Our other house had a post removed from its front porch by a moose trying to remove the velvet from its antlers...
But in spite of my harsh words about squirrels, I believe in leaving parts of your yard natural.  This was brought home to me today talking to a neighbor who owns some lovely native shrubbery and wildflowers, and plans to remove it all and plant tame flowers.   I didn't argue with her, but I do lament...  I've seen it happen many times in our area, and once gone, the wildflowers do not return.

Not to end on a sour note, this was also the first day for the wild clematis--Virgin's bower to bloom...

May 11
I finished the hardwood floor at the new house today.  Althea's working on the brick patio to expand the sales area...  I also delivered 250 mugs a camp had ordered, and fired another glaze kiln.
And everywhere I went today I wished I'd brought my camera.  A yellow warbler and rufous towhee were in the new house yard when I went to move a sprinkler.  Spring is bursting out all over...

May 12
Meanwhile, in Australia, Linda Lander writes:
G'Day Brad,
I like reading about the natural world in your part of the world, we are the opposite to your season here. My apricot tree is losing its leaves and is a pretty yellow, the columbine seeds my friend gave me are shooting nicely, they are special because she cross pollinated them herself by hand and came up with something different to what you could buy in the shops but they have stayed true in the next generation of seeds. I had to pick my capsicums before the frost starts in earnest and kills off  the bushes; and the pumpkins are looking good, most of them should be mature enough to use when the frost kills off the plants.The temperature here was min 02 and max 17 today so its getting pretty cold. On a cold day the temps might be -4 to 12 celcius in the coldest part of winter.So we have a longer growing season than you do if  we can get the rain we need. The drought I said before, that has been here for the last 5 years looked like easing up this year but it does not look like it will now as we have had about a 1/4 of our normal rainfall for this time of the year.
I've just been up to the north of our state where it is green and lush but they are complaining about being dry too, even though they had floods a few months ago. They have not seen what its like around here. The highlight of the trip for me was visiting national parks and seeing dolphins playing around with 2 blokes on surf boards and surfing in the waves along the beach. I think there was about 8 of them. in the shallow water only about 30 foot from shore. I also found some soft sea sponges to bring home and cuttle fish for my cockie (cockatiel), she loves to chew them up and its good for their beaks.  My daughter also had me picking out tiny shells for her to put in her artworks. At the Sydney beaches they have signs up not to take shells from the beach or be fined.
Being a farming area we don't have a great deal of wildlife around here. There is eastern grey kangaroos which come to the edges of town , mostly seen on early foggy mornings and we have blue tongue and bearded dragons which are my favourites and geckos and skinks of different kinds. We have quite a few birds, though, around here. Some of the native birds around here are top knot pigeons and peaceful doves, magpies and currawongs, finches and lovely little wrens and willy wag tails, there are also kookaburras, rosellas and green grass parrots, sulpur crested cockatoos and galahs that get in the almond trees at first light and strip them and wake us up. I love the Galahs they are the flying acrobats of the bird world and when they, walk, run, bob along the ground they are really comical.We have one that someone gave us they did not want anymore. His name is cheeky.  It loves my husband and climbs all over him but he's also naughty and often bites hard without warning. I wanted to let him out because I think he would get with the wild galahs and they would teach him to live in the wild but Pete wouldn't let me. My dad used to call them officer birds, being from an army background, a galah is also slang for a silly or stupid person.
(Brad's note:  For not having a great deal of wildlife, I'd love to see any of those...)

May 13
It frosted last night.  Today I saw some of the first corn sticking up.  So I'm hoping that was the last frost.  I also transplanted out about 60 brassicas (cabbage family) today in the garden.  They're frost hardy.

Considering one of our cars has over 200,000 miles, we've had pretty good luck with them being reliable. Until now...  The van which we were recently given (but had to pay for a transmission overhaul) had the transmission go out yesterday (hopefully covered by warranty).  Our older van developed a bad wheel bearing, and is awaiting repair locally.  Our remaining functional car is scheduled to have the air conditioning replaced on Monday in a nearby town (not that the air conditioning is essential, but without doing something some belts were wearing on one another...  So we asked to borrow our relatives' car, but we'll need to get it in Spokane after the time the other car is scheduled for service.  So we'll probably have to borrow a second car to get the first borrowed car, so we have a car to get the third car being repaired...
Then assuming the air conditioning is fixed by Wednesday, my wife is driving across the country (2700 miles each way) later this week.  If I were an oracle studying the entrails, I'd say the auspices are not auguring well...  And if I were reading the last sentence, I'd say oracles use weird words...

May 14

No frost today, record temperatures predicted for tomorrow (86 F or so).  I stayed home with  my mother-in-law while my wife went to guest preach.  Then later I got a nice walk in up to the top of the nearby ridge. This rock penstemon was blooming nicely, in spite of no rain for several weeks, and growing right out of the rocks.  It must have long roots...

May 15

We spent most of the morning jockeying cars to their various repair facilities.  But I stopped at Falls Park in Post Falls and saw cliff swallows building nests in the canyon, a marmot in the rocks, and this yellow warbler, which seems poised to bugle, in the yet to leaf out foliage of a locust tree.  It only got to 80 degrees  here today, but that was hot enough, especially since one repair person talked us out of getting the air conditioning replaced...  Most cars today are not designed with adequate vents for cooling without the AC...

May 16
Some of my favorite juvenile fiction stories are the Homer Price stories by Robert McCloskey.  Tall tales set in Centerburg, Ohio, the illustrations perfectly match the tone of the text.  One of the stories is about Miss Terwilliger competing in a ball of string competition with two suitors, in which it is presumed the winner having the longest yarn skein shall have her as the prize.  Miss Terwilliger wins the contest, by the crafty solution of sneakily unraveling the bottom hem of her knit dress to make hers slightly longer than theirs.
The reason I mention this is that we're adding a brick patio in front for a sales area, and in order to have enough bricks to finish it, we were "robbing" them from an old patio in back, rather like Miss Terwilliger.  The old patio had gotten uneven from tree roots pushing up on it.  The new patio is built on over a foot of sand and gravel, so hopefully tree roots won't be a problem for a long time...
We didn't quite finish the patio yet, but not for lack of bricks...

May 17
A local potter put a notice on Craigslist for free clay.  Since it was the exact type of clay I use, I went and got it today--about 400 lbs of sloppy scrap clay.  300 lbs was in a large plastic garbage can.  This is a typical way potters put off recycling clay--waiting till a large garbage can is full of wet scraps.  It's also unpleasant to have to dig the sloppy clay out all the way to the bottom.  That's one of the reasons why I switched to using 5 gallon buckets.  The other reason is that small buckets, besides being a lot more portable, can have the clay at all stages, whether as dried bits, or soaking covered with water, or drying out to a consistency where it can be spread on boards for drying.  (I know I describe my recycling on my pottery tips page, if you're interested).
With the temperature in the high 80's clay is drying rapidly.  My son had to cancel a trip to hike and ski at Schweitzer, since a mudslide took out the bottom of one of the condo developments in the area where he would usually drive to hike in...

May 18
The wind is blowing for the first time in a week, marking the beginning breakup of our record heat.
About 10 years ago I made up a tune based on the chickadee's two note mating call.  Today I figured out I could make a video combining the original call with the music and some of my bird pictures.  So it's posted at this link.
My wife drove over 800 miles today, to central South Dakota, in 90 degree heat, with no air conditioning (I think using wet towels to keep cool.)  She said she was all going well.

May 19
The earth is like a clock, with every part clicking away the seconds...  I realized this today as I saw the tulips all faded, the wildflowers changing to phlox from balsam root, the apple blossoms already dropping from full bloom earlier this week.  Those of us who live with the seasons feel the clock's tick more than in the more static environment of the always summer, but I don't doubt it happens there as well...  Now  is also the moment of the lilac's blossom.  Only the locust trees have yet to check in with their leaves.  I'm already accustomed to seeing green everywhere I look, so the hour of Spring is nearly past.
All this waxing ebullient on the seasons just means another day of work and play went by, and is gone forever, and nothing more exciting happened than the minute changes observable to the observant...

May 20
We got 3/4 inch of rain today, in typical N. Idaho spring fashion--downpours followed by brief periods of sunshine...  In the respites I transplanted 30 tomato plants, leaving the greenhouse with only a few test subjects to try surviving the summer.  Between the earlier heat and the several weeks without rain, things were beginning to look droopy, so I'm happy for the rain.

May 21

I finished planting the gardens today, except for a last patch of corn that requires a lot of grass removal.  I also took another walk by the lake where I got pictures of two new birds.  The chipping sparrow looks like a lot of other sparrows but goes chip chip, which gave me the clue to identifying it, remembering seeing that name on the sparrow list.
Then there was a robin-like bird with a different song than the robin's, which on looking at the photo, was a fairly bland (but somewhat rare) bird called the Townsend's Solitaire.  I remembered seeing one years ago, which aided also in identifying it...  Everywhere the bird songs are catching my ears these days...

May 22
A blah day, with the high point a brief shower that yielded a quarter inch of rain, good for the seeds I planted yesterday.  I also started attacking the grass plot/corn patch. So here's a nice photo, from the other day, of wild phlox..

May 23

Last week a friend brought us some slabwood that was otherwise destined to be burned in a pile, knowing we'd cut it up for firewood.  Some of the pieces we set aside, though, as possible lumber.  So today I built two long benches, to use in our new display area, and to keep people from falling into the tree well in that area.  The top bench part was the slabwood, with rounded bottoms--the rest was scrap wood we had sitting around.  I sanded the top and linseed oiled the whole thing.
They may remain benches, or become display for planters or sculptural pieces...
In the foreground you can also see some of the paver bricks freshly lain for the new patio display as well.

May 24
Earlier today I was hoeing one of our gardens and thinking about how I can't remember ever seeing my wife hoe in the garden, only weed by hand.  I was feeling a bit haughty, having been a professional hoer in my early days, working summers at the Iowa State University Agronomy farm.
So later I was working on converting a 20 foot diameter circular patch of weeds into a corn patch.
This patch of weeds started as a hawkweed infestation, hawkweed being a particularly spreadable invasive weed, which I controlled last year by covering with newspaper and a thick layer of manure, and planting it to flax (reminding me of the old days in S. Dakota, seeing flax fields on the way to our lake cabin).  I'm still watching like a hawk for hawkweed, which is still popping up in places in the yard...
Meanwhile, last fall the wild grass that seems to grow everywhere you don't want it, by sending out tons of underground runners, took over the patch and made it back into turf.  (I've never known what this grass is called, but a neighbor yesterday referred to it as quackgrass, and a quick Google confirms this is the beast).
Because this grass puts out all the underground runners, hoeing it just upsets it and makes it mad, so the best way to remove it is to dig it up by the shovelful and shake the dirt loose, and remove the grass clump to nether regions (wooden stakes or silver bullets recommended)...  I've been spending a couple hours a day this week, shoveling up row after row of the turf, rather like eating rows off a cob of corn, which is of course the intended result.  Since it's so tediously slow doing this, I have way too much time to reflect on this activity.  Besides the "cob of corn" analogy, I thought about how, when it's done, with luck we'll get about 100 ears of corn out of the patch, assuming I get it planted this week.  All farmers know if you wait to plant too long, you may lose the whole crop to early frost...  Although home grown fresh sweet corn is priceless,  commercial sweet corn is usually about 4 for a dollar around here, so you could figure the crop value at $25.00.   It's looking like 10 hours of labor, at least, so the return is $2.50 an hour, about what I was paid for hoeing when I started my illustrious career.
Looked at another way, gardening is a pastime, and a means to exercise, of which I've been getting a good bit without buying a fitness club membership.
The other thing I finally figured out is anybody who spends 10 hours clearing turf by hand cannot look down on their spouse who doesn't  use a hoe when weeding...

May 25
The corn patch is planted--nearly 300 seeds, so it may produce more than a hundred ears, but the chickens, so to speak, are not yet hatched.  And this evening it is raining, which is always nice when you want seeds to germinate...  Besides that, there's nothing left to do but water, weed, pick, preserve, and enjoy summer.  Sounds like a plan...

May 26
I forgot to get the eggs yesterday.  There are two nests the six hens use, so I took the eggs from the empty nest and waited for the speckled hen to leave the other nest.  She didn't.  Just by forgetting to get the eggs for one day, it felt like enough eggs to her (9), that she went broody and kept sitting.  Since the eggs aren't fertile, and even if they were we don't want more chickens currently, I unburdened her and she can return to eating and laying.  Nature is pretty amazing.  We take advantage of built in responses of bees, cows, and hens to make them produce an excess for us.  But in return each of them requires nurturing on our part.  The chickens cluck suggestively whenever I walk by.  Suggestive, as in, "how about some more food, big boy..."

May 27
The big question tonight is, will it frost?  In the mountains to the east of us up to 18 inches of snow is predicted tonight...
I covered up a good share of the tomatoes and squash hills, but not all.  To go from record heat to record cold in a week is typical of Idaho springs--after all--normal is just the average of the wildly erratic...  It only needs to drop 13 degrees by morning to kill two plantings of corn and damage the cherry crop.  Frost in the Spring is a more depressing possibility than the first frosts of fall, which seem appropriate, if a bit triste.  The low temperature is partially dependent on whether the clouds clear tonight, which allows greater cooling...
Tune in tomorrow for the exciting results...

May 28
The clouds held, so there was no frost.  It's not expected to be cold enough to freeze tonight, and I think that 18 inches of snow they predicted must've evaporated en route...
Meanwhile my wife is stuck in Murdo, South Dakota with a dead alternator.  On account of the holiday Monday, it might be two days before she's rolling again.  She heard the funny noise there while gassing up, and a mechanic was nearby, or she might have been stuck out in the long ways to nowhere...
I may have mentioned we've made this trip back and forth to Minnesota countless times.  I myself have broken down in Murdo, but it was only a loose screw in the distributor so I didn't have to take in the local amenities...  Nearly every town on the route evokes memories of blown tires, overheated engines, and draining batteries.
On this trip she also had to replace the radiator and the power steering.   It was a good car 16 years ago when it was new... And it's getting newer every day with the added parts...
That reminds me one of our other cars is still in for a replacement transmission, and the other needs complete brake service. It's almost as expensive to fix them as to drive them nowadays...

May 29

I bicycled down to the lake and hiked the ridge for a bit of exercise today.  There's a new geese family that hangs around by this old boat (truth be told) filled with artificial flowers.  I haven't seen any rednecked grebes this year, which are a bit more unusual than geese.  Sometimes their ducklings catch a ride on a parent's back.

As I walked, I watched a storm come in across the mill pond.  By the time I started back home it was sprinkling, and now it's raining again in earnest.  I like the way the rain makes the layers of hills stand out in shades of gray...

May 30
My wife is due in around 2 a.m.  She certainly received great car service in Murdo, S. Dakota.  On Memorial Day, the mechanic even went to the home of the parts store owner to try to locate an alternator, but to no avail.  So then the first thing this morning he came and picked up the car, fixed it, and brought it back to the motel...  I wish we had such good service locally...

May 31

Last week I was trying to catch some pictures of yellow swallowtail butterflies, probably our most majestic butterflies.  They're rather flighty, but I got a fairly nice one on some maple leaves.  Then, today, on Maine St. on the way to the post office, I noticed this butterfly sitting on the street, near a parked car.  When I came back from the P.O., it was still there, so I gently picked it up and brought it to our garden.  It stayed there for hours, but is gone now, so it apparently improved, but it made a great artist's model while it was stunned...
A poem:
Mighty flighty butterflies
flutter by
the shutter-flies.

Also this evening I saw my first Mountain Lady Slipper orchids, but didn't get a good photo, so plan to return tomorrow.  In identifying it, the book said finding these flowers will make one's day.  Indeed it did...   



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