First Blush of Fall

first blush of fall maple leaves

The first blush of fall has tinged the maple leaves. It is getting cold enough at night for the leaves to start changing. The morning sun rays filtering through the towering cottonwoods are starting to show hints of yellow and orange among the leaves.

first blush of maple leaves
cottonwoods in late September
Japanese snowbell berries

Back when we lived in Seattle, I loved the Japanese Snowbell (Styrax Japonicus) trees that were in our old neighborhood. So they were among the first trees I planted when we moved here in 2005. As lovely as their spring flowers are, so are their fall berries. They look like miniature Christmas tree ornaments.

The Japanese word for them, エゴノキ – ego-no-ki (ego tree), is not so flowery. The first part, ego, comes from the fact that when you put the berries in your mouth, they are very エグい – egui, sometimes pronounced egoi, which means acrid or astringent. So, as beautiful as the berries are, don’t try and eat them. Their skin contains a type of saponin, which can be poisonous. The trees may never have caught on in this part of the world if their English name was Acrid Tree. Someone decided to call them Snowbells instead. But who? Certainly someone who enjoyed seeing the first blush of fall.

The technical name for these berries are drupes, which are “indehiscent fruits in which an outer fleshy part surrounds a single shell of hardened endocarp with a seed inside.” And indehiscent fruits are those which don’t split open as they mature the way dehiscent fruits do.

So could you say that someone who doesn’t reveal themselves is indehiscent as in:

Martha never could tell what her indehiscent child was thinking.

Perhaps not. Few like to read prose or poetry where you have to keep looking up words in a dictionary to figure out what the author meant. Certainly not anyone who enjoys the first blush of fall.

pond in late September

A Perfect Fall Day

september blue

Skies don’t get bluer than this. Today was a perfect day to pick grapes. Six years ago I planted 15 grape vines, varieties of grapes that ripen this far north. Lynden Blue, Venus, and Canadice from the lovely folks at Cloud Mountain Farm Center & Nursery. Six years later the vines are heavy with fruit. For years we should have a bounty of grapes to enjoy each fall.

basket of grapes
grape bunch

I’m happy. The chickens are ecstatic. All the grape bunches on the vine show how generous nature is. A grape vine doesn’t need to make thousands of seeds to reproduce, but it does.

grapes in the kitchen
milo plant

During the summer, a few grains of milo fell out of the chicken scratch and sprouted at the corner of a garage door. When they first sprouted I thought they were corn. But they become something quite different. A few seeds have turned into thousands. This may be worth growing.

milo grain head
ducks feeding on grass

Blue Sky to Rain to Shaggy Parasol

blue skies

Yesterday, the skies over Chuckanut were cobalt blue. Today the rain has been falling since morning. The path through the woods is dripping wet. Which got me to thinking, that about this time last year I discovered treasure in the woods behind the cabin.

rainy woods

I tried keeping diaries when I was young. But I found I dreaded reading them later. I’d read a passage where I poured my heart out a year ago and wonder, what was I thinking? What if someone finds this drivel? Who we are changes as often as the weather. I haven’t kept a diary in years. But I do take pictures. 49,654 photos are in my photo library as of a few minutes ago. If I need to recall what was happening on a certain day in the past, I can look at photos from that day or nearby to remind me. I don’t need to read embarrassing passages about how I was feeling at the time.

last year's shaggy parasol

Last year on this very day, September 26, I discovered where shaggy parasol grow among the cedars behind the cabin. We haven’t had as much rain this September as last year, so I had low expectations when I visited the spot where the shaggy parasol grow.

baby shaggy parasol

There were no big shaggy parasol waiting today. Just the start of a baby, I think. With the steady rain of this week, we should be feasting on plump shaggy parasols soon.

Six Short Weeks

ducklings at tank six short weeks after hatching

Six short weeks is all it takes for a duck to grow. It’s hard to believe that the “ducklings” at the edge of the tank were but little puffs paddling with their mother in mid August. I miss their whistles and chirps. They have full throated quacks now.

Until I had ducks, I had no idea how loud ducks can be. They aren’t as loud as parrots, but not far behind.

ducklings in august - in six short weeks they will be almost grown
ducklings with mother

In late September, the ducklings are nearly as large as their mother. Ducklings are so cute, but if you want to enjoy them, you have to stop what you are doing. Otherwise by the time you pause to enjoy them, they will be grown.

So if you plan on raising ducks, scratch out plenty of free days during the first few weeks after they hatch. You’ll only have a short time to enjoy the wee things. They grow so fast you can practically see them growing with your bare eyes.

mint blossoms

Mint is one of the last flowers to keep blooming well into fall. Their delicate flowers fed many a bee through the summer months.

The apples are ripe. There is a special juiciness to apples still on the tree. Pluck one and eat it right away. That special fresh-off-the-tree taste goes quickly.

ripe apples on the tree
young rooster in the feed

I was filling the feed bins today. While I went to fetch another sack of scratch, one of the Bielevelder roosters decided to go for the mother lode. Why bother with a feeder when you can have the whole bin to yourself?

317 Days for a Miracle

miso in crock 11.13.2019

It takes 317 days for a miracle to happen. November 13, 2019, I put up a crock of miso with barley added to the soybeans, a first for me. 317 days is plenty of time to forget. It came to my mind this week that hey, I’ve got to try that barley miso I put up last year.

miso after 317 days

This morning I went looking for it. I didn’t find it where I thought I’d set it aside. Instead, I found an empty crock in that cupboard. I looked all through the house and garage. I went back to where I was sure I’d placed it, and found it hiding behind the empty crock.

miso in crock 9/23/2020
miso transformation after 317 days

Removing the stone I used for a weight, and the plate I used for the lid, the dark, transformed miso is so warm and inviting. Opening up a crock of miso you put up and seeing the miraculous transformation is so much more fun than buying a tub of miso in the store.

miso in a bowl

The barley miso is slightly sweet and so delicious. It is definitely worth doing again.

Calling it a miracle is maybe not the right word. Dictionaries define miracle as being supernatural. I cringe when I hear reporters use the word when a little investigation would reveal a rational explanation for what they say is miraculous. After a tornado destroys a town, they’ll say it is a miracle that so and so survived when their neighbor did not. But what are they saying? That it is a miracle that the neighbor died?

Aspergillus oryzae, koji fungi, doing their thing over many months is hardly supernatural. As far as the fungi are concerned, I can hear them saying, “What do you expect to happen? Of course we’ll turn that mash of soybeans, barley, and us into something delectable. Just give us 317 days.”

It’s still wondrous. It still fills my heart with joy. It still tastes so good.

We Can Breathe Again

blue skies

We can breathe again. Over the weekend cold fronts rolled through off the Pacific and pushed our smoke out of the valley. Gentle rains washed the air. Just in time for a satisfying equinox. With more rain in the forecast, we should be over with smokey skies this year.

grapes on the vine
grapes in a bowl

The grapes are ripe. Every day until they are gone I can pick a bowl and give the chickens a treat. Chickens love fruit. A bowl of grapes makes for a happy day for them.

chickens eating grapes

You Can’t Help But Be Sad

Before-after image of chuckanuts in smoke

There are no words to describe the sadness we feel. Smoke fills the skies and the lungs of all. On the 11th, the Chuckanut Mountains were smothered with smoke. Usually verdant, forested slopes above green fields, shrouded by a ghastly, choking veil. The smoke lingers today. It’s difficult to be outdoors.

We drove down to Vancouver, Washington, yesterday for a wedding. To drive for hours and hours through smoke leaves you numb. Rains to clear the skies and wash away our sorrows can’t come soon enough. The fires are burning a long way from us, but for how long? With each passing year they get closer and more intense. I wonder how long we have until we are incinerated too.

smokey skies
smokey skies
Smokey skies

Duck Serenity

duck serenity

It never occurred to me that I would find serenity watching ducks. Meditation exercises ask you to sit calmly, close your eyes, and clear your mind of thoughts. Watching ducks swimming, especially if they are caring for ducklings, is just as effective for clearing your mind of thoughts. Dare I call it Duck Serenity?

four ducklings

This morning’s thick fog is almost gone. All summer we have enjoyed the bluest of skies. The past few days, smoke from the fires in California has seeped into the skies. It’s not the acrid smoke we’ve had in summers past. The smoke is high aloft. Not something we can smell. The skies are still blue, only a muted blue.

Pema Chödrön in her Start Where You Are writes:

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves – the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds – never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.

Watching ducks care for ducklings has a way of snapping you out of your delusions. Of awakening you. Of opening your heart. Of clearing your mind of all those cobwebs. Of letting you start afresh.

Therapists charge anywhere from $60 to $400 and up for a session. That buys a lot of duck feed. Spending time with swimming ducks may leave you more content and peaceful and less penniless than blabbing away for an hour with a therapist. Duck serenity comes at a much lower cost.

Friday Creek Road flower stand

Along Friday Creek Road, a flower stand popped up this summer. I bicycle past it whenever I go get coffee beans. The garden next to the flower stand is a paradise of flowers. An hour long bicycle ride also works wonders and clears your mind too.

grapes ripeningblackberries