Friday, October 11, 2019

A Long-Overdue Wild Badlands Day

My family journeyed west earlier this week for a long-overdue wild Badlands day.

If you look closely, you can see Chelsea, my hiking companion

Our first stop was to view the ongoing bison round-up at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The corrals were full of bison and, from outside the fence, we watched the trailers being loaded, and we could hear the racket those massive beasts make when their bodies meet steel.

In the heart of the park, we were delighted to see the saffron cottonwoods in our beloved Little Missouri River valley and observed that the water was unusually deep for this time of the year, a reflection of the wet cycle we've been experiencing.

My daughter and I went for a hike, a bushwack really, making our own trail, a couple of hours of bliss on a 75-degree sunny day, with a gentle Zephyr wind, no ticks, and the knowledge that a blizzard was coming the very next day. (See photo at top) Chelsea told me her favorite was the shades of red in the chokecherry bushes and little bluestem grasses. We savored every moment.

It turned out to be a pretty snake-y day, one small rattler and two blue racers, and Chelsea, of Wild By Nature Photography (my daughter), got some good photos with her telephoto lens. I have exceptional "snake radar," having honed it growing up in Slope County, where snakes are abundant.

Rattler (Wild by Nature Photography, Chelsea Sorenson)

Blue Racer (Wild by Nature Photograph, Chelsea Sorenson) 

The day ended with a stint at Peaceful Valley Ranch where a team of young scientists is banding Northern Saw-whet Owls, an annual ritual. While we didn't have the fortune of catching any owls this particular night, it was a thrill to stand under the stars listening to the Sandhill Cranes fly over. "Hurry up," we shouted.

After a good night's sleep at the Rough Riders Hotel, we rushed home to wrap up the last of the gardening work before the blizzard. I dug out the snow shovels from storage and hurriedly picked raspberries with cold fingers and Jim planted and mulched next year's garlic.

If you need me, I'll be happily watching it snow on our lovely new metal roof at Red Oak House. Since we bought the house, the roof has leaked. This will be the best winter in our ten years here, no doubt.

Monday, September 30, 2019

My Country Music Memories

The Ellis Family of Attala County, Mississippi, with their instruments

Although we have greatly anticipated its airing, at Red Oak House we mostly watched "Country Music" in delay, recording it for playback at our convenience, and we finished it Sunday afternoon. Every moment took me back to my many days in my father's homeland, Mississippi, and my time in Nashville when I was attending graduate school at Vanderbilt University, where we drove by the Mother Church most every day. We thought nothing of seeing music stars in the restaurants we frequented. That was just Nashville life. One of our classmates worked in the Country Music Hall and Fame library and came home with terrific stories. Our path on occasional walks took us to Music Row past the studios in which creative magic was happening. When we needed to blow off steam, we spent a day at Opryland riding the roller-coaster and enjoying the Grand Old Opry.

It is challenging to pinpoint what I loved most about the Burns series, but I am thrilled that the spotlight shined on two of my favorite performers, Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash. That, and the final, perfect frame on Mother Maybelle Carter, as it should be. Will the Circle Be Unbroken, indeed.

Much of what I know of country music was from my time in Slope County when I would drive the pickup to the field where my father was fixing fence, to take him "coffee". He would always be listening to the country AM station out of Baker, Montana. That memory and the recollection that my Mama Crook (my father's mother) went into mourning when Patsy Cline died, she who loved every single word sung by Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. My mother remembers a very hot summer day at the Ryman Auditorium in the early 1950s when everyone tried to keep cool with paper fans and ticket holders were encouraged to relinquish their seats to those standing in line outside.

My Mama Crook herself had grown up singing and playing what they called "Old Timey" music with her siblings, their father a Civil War veteran of the Confederate Army (shown with their instruments in the photo at top, my great-grandfather center back row). It has been fun to witness my father's stories of listening to WSM on the family radio when he was a youngun'. He also learned to sing with shape notes at the nearby Friendship country church - what they called "lining out."

Years later, I took my husband to Nashville to see these places again. On our first night there, we went to a club. As the musicians were setting up their own instruments on stage for the show, I said to him, "That's Vince Gill!" "Nah," said my skeptical husband. When he admitted I was right, he was thunderstruck and sat back to soak in a quintessential Nashville moment. 

These stories and the stories told in country songs are the fabric of my life. It is no wonder that my favorite of all music genres is Americana. I regularly stream the radio show American Routes, listening in my office/kitchen. Wouldn't that technology just amaze my Mama Crook? God bless Burns and his entire team for their heartfelt work. We are better people for their contribution to our rich heritage.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 54: Time to Pay the Piper

You may have noticed that WildDakotaWoman has been quiet of late. I've been to England, Scotland, & Wales for that time. Yup, a whole month. It was just as wonderful as I thought it would be and I'll write about it when I have time.

I don't have time because I came home to at least a month worth of yard work and it is autumn, with the many tasks to accomplish before the snow. I was delighted to discover upon my return that I had not entirely missed the Washington peach crop at our local fruit stand, and I eat one or two a day.

The tomato crop has been a big disappointment, with too little of the vital ingredients: sunshine and hot temperatures. A meager number of jars in the pantry to proves. Jim begged for just one more tomato pie and I capitulated the other day. The garlic harvest was good and there is the promise for abundant carrots when the time comes to dig those in a few weeks. Jim brings in a bowl full of raspberries each day and the pollinators are busy in the asters and chrysanthemums. While I was gone, the slugs did some real damage to some of my hostas. We are going to have to take the gloves off and control those buggers next year. 

We've had more than 4" of rain in September, but between showers I've been cutting back perennial vegetation these past few days with blisters to show for it. While I work I listen to nuthatches and jays calling in the trees overhead, and an occasional migrating Red-tailed Hawk passing. Time to get my yearly batch of suet made and hung outside my office window -- and to think about projects for the long winter to come.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Red Oak House Garden Notes no. 53

Wide Wide World daylily
I'm awake before dawn this morning at Red Oak House with a long task list which includes an overdue Garden Notes post. Between painting the house, ailing elderly parents, a trip to Yellowstone, and preparations for my upcoming adventure, I have fallen behind in my writing. Yet, I write for pleasure and have no deadline so it is "all good."

Abundant rains and mostly cool temperatures have made for robust growth, both in the perennial beds and the vegetable garden. The garlic has been harvested and Jim has begun to harvest the potatoes. The garlic crop is in the basement and it is a fine crop indeed!

Last weekend, I divided and moved a few irises that I had flagged in need of new sunnier locations. We had a downpour and hail the next day and I haven't been back there to check if the newly divided plants are still covered in dirt. It is just dawn here and raining, so that will have to wait.

Speaking of dividing, the hostas I divided in June are thriving, surprising me by even putting up blossoms in late July. Here is a current photo with the recently divided hostas in the foreground, in front of the Red Oak Tree.

When I've had a spare moment, I've documented how other hostas I divided last year are doing and I delight in the fruits of my labor. I bought War Party (pictured below) in 2013 from an acquaintance in Bismarck who grew designer hosta and was selling her house. She dug a small shovelful and cautioned me that while hostas will "sulk" the first few years, this one would get huge. I have placed a blue ruler next to the boulder for perspective. I adore its turquoise hue and ribbed texture. Clearly, it is thriving.

War Party Hosta

Gold Drop Hosta
This gal specialized in miniature designer hostas so I bought a number of those from her as well, tiny plants in 1" pots. Gold Drop hosta (pictured above) was small in 2013, but I divided the healthy plant last year and now I have three robust plants.

Sunlight Child Hosta
It is the same story with Sunlight Child Hosta (pictured above), I divided last year and have eight plants! At some point this fall I need to make some notes about other plants I need to divide next spring.

Right now the daylilies are glorious and each day I have a new favorite. Next week I will fly to England for a month, a dream I've had for forty years, and while I know I will miss the pleasure of my garden this time of year, I will be visiting some spectacular gardens there, along with castles and museums and more. I hope your life is as full of color and happiness as is mine.

Mom's Pink Divinity daylily

Baja daylily

Alabama Jubilee daylily

Yellow Titan daylily is like a beacon in the gloaming before a thunderstorm

Primal Scream daylily

Stella's Ruffled Fingers daylily

Patio pot lantana, butterfly heaven

Dakota Sunshine daylily

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Wild By Nature: Guest Blog by my daughter, Chelsea Sorenson, with her photographs

A guest blog by my daughter, photographer Chelsea Sorenson, Wild By Nature Photography, including a small selection of the thousands of photographs she took on our visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks last week.

Chelsea at the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River (photo by WildDakotaWoman)
Last Christmas, I asked my mom to take me to Yellowstone National Park for my upcoming vacation, because when you're a kid, being 'dragged around' Yellowstone National Park multiple times, you don't appreciate it, and you have to go back as an adult. Especially when you enjoy photography as much as me. Thus it was that we spent the past week there.

I'm normally a night-owl, but it was worth going to bed early and getting up early to beat the crowds. I was rewarded with multiple grizzly bear sightings, lots of yellow-bellied marmots, Trumpeter Swans (new bird for me), an American Three-toed Woodpecker (another new bird for me), and lots of other wildlife, including wolves, elk, Canada Geese, pikas, mountain goats, and more. Another highlight was the busy Great Blue Heron rookery we located on the banks of the Yellowstone River in the Hayden Valley.

Although I wasn't much interested in seeing the thermal features on this trip, a special treat was getting to see Steamboat Geyser spouting (it erupted at 2 a.m. the day we were in the area of the Norris Geyser Basin so we stopped). Steamboat is the largest geyser in the park and "when it erupts, it can rocket a column of scalding water 90-120 meters in the air--two to three times the average height of Old Faithful. Odds are against witnessing this drama, however, since Steamboat's major eruptions occur 4 days to 50 years apart," according to the NPS signage at the geyser. We made the obligatory stop at Old Faithful on the day someone was thrown by a bison and were not the least bit surprised at this news given the amount of stupid behavior we witnessed especially around the wildlife.

We also made a day trip to Grand Teton National Park, where I spent a week years ago when I was in grade school attending Teton Science School. Although both parks are crowded this time of year, we found many places of relative solitude for picnics and hikes.

The long drive was well worth it and I already miss the cool temperatures of the mountains.

High-res versions of my photographs are available for purchase. You can also follow my work on Facebook at Wild By Nature Photography.

My first mountain goat sighting, on the Beartooth Pass

Yellow-bellied marmot


Trumpeter Swans, Hayden Valley

Hayden Valley at dawn

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Three sleepy bachelor elk

Grizzly at Dawn near Fishing Bridge

Canada Goslings, Yellowstone Lake