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Thursday, December 30, 2021

Red Oak House Winter Notes No. 6

Red Oak House Winter Notes No. 6

Journal entries

20 October 2021 3:15 p.m.

Sunny calm autumn day. A very large & healthy coyote just ran up my street, ahead of my vehicle a full block, and then zipped behind the house next to Red Oak House, in broad daylight (no photo, I was driving). I grew up in Slope County & I know what I saw, although at first, I told myself it must be a loose dog. Hope it makes a dent in the abundant rabbit & feral cat population! Sure enough, I'm seeing more and more reports of urban coyotes in Bismarck. And, yes, I know they will kill our pet dogs and cats, even in fenced yards. And, yes, I know they can be rabid. As my dear Aunt Frances used to say "I didn't just fall off the turnip truck!"

In other news, while I was working in the yard, another neighbor caught my attention because she was standing at the base of her large tree saying "Shoo!" "A cat?" I asked. "No," she replied, "Woodpeckers." That surely piqued my curiosity. The claim is that woodpeckers are killing a mature crab apple tree. They surely are doing some damage to some of the softer wood siding in the area houses. Our siding is rock hard, although I do hear the tentative drilling. I calmly explained to the neighbor that woodpeckers only drill in dead wood, but I don't think she was convinced. And I went about my business, which included filling the suet feeder for the woodpeckers.

This summer a local spray company started up spraying next door early one morning, and, as so frequently happens in North Dakota, the wind came up. Jim was working in the organic vegetable garden and I alerted him. He asked the company to stop, but it was too late. The drift was all the way across our yard. Upon the advice of counsel, I called the ND Ag Dept and filed a complaint. Someone was sent out to investigate and I documented the "incident" with photographs. The wheels of investigation ground on and eventually I received a letter telling me that the company had been cited. All I can hope for is that the word gets out. I do know that my nice neighbors would not want our relationship to be damaged. We co-exist as best we can. Straightaway I ordered (via Etsy, directly from a US-made artist) this sign and staked it in the ground before the hard freeze. I've been contemplating this as our approach to the yard evolves and becomes a little less labor-intensive and more in harmony with nature.

Now there is a blanket of snow and the birds are feasting and we are hunkered down for a winter of indoor projects and reading. The "lists" are long and we are ever so grateful for the precipitation in the midst of a historic drought.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

A Meditation on Yellow: Missouri River Watershed

Autumn in the Missouri River watershed is a yellow time. Goldenrods, Maximilian and other sunflowers, curlycup gumweed, green ash, rubber rabbitbrush, and the plants of the willow family which includes aspen and the ubiquitous cottonwood -- which to me is emblematic of the Little Missouri and Missouri landscape. 

Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) Willow family

The first hints of autumn yellow come from the late summer flowers. 

Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliana) Aster family

Curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa) Aster family 

Rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseous) Aster family

Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) Aster family

There are eleven different goldenrods listed in Handbook to North Dakota Plants by O.A. Stevens

Then, the day comes when the green ash trees turn amber. I savored these on the banks of the Little Missouri River while camping with my daughter at Cottonwood Campground in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and shot this video at sunset, which comes earlier each day now.

Back in the Little Missouri River valley two weeks later to spend time with my sisters and lead a Badlands Conservation Alliance hike to the Petrified Forest, now the ash trees were bare, but the cottonwoods were glorious, glowing yellow in the blue-sky fall days. Our Red Oak House cottonwood sapling lost its last leaf on September 29th, yet as I write this, I can look out my office window at my neighbor's full-sized cottonwoods resplendent in shades of saffron. 

Cottonwood sapling at Red Oak House, Sept. 29, 2021

Ten years ago, a Missouri River flood hit central North Dakota hard and the native cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) stood for many weeks in water. Cottonwoods evolved in flood zones and most of the giant trees did not die, although some were weakened and many blew over in a wind storm later that summer because the ground was so saturated. Then, the autumn arrived and the leaves turned gray, rather than yellow -- a fungus we were told. And every year since. Where once the river valley was aglow in cottonwood yellow every September, now, only a few of the trees here and there would turn yellow, and most of the others shades of brown and gray before the leaves would fall. But now, we are in year two of a terrible drought and I've observed that all of the river valley here in Bismarck has been awash in lemony glory again. I can only conclude that the drought has killed the fungus. 

"One of the largest trees native to the northern Great Plains, cottonwood has been venerated and used throughout history. Fruits and leaves provided hours of imaginative play for Indian and pioneer children. Cottonwood was prized for ceremonial poles, and yellow dye was made from the leaves and gummy buds. Its many medicinal uses included tonic, tea, and salve. Seeds, buds and twigs are eaten by many wildlife species; and these prairie sentinels provide invaluable habitat for nesting birds." Common Plants of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

My friend, Clay, has a wonderful new book out, The Language of Cottonwoods: Essays on the Future of North Dakota. "Part travelogue, part love song to the prairie, and above all, a vision for a cultural renaissance at the heart of the continent...." I read the manuscript in December and made some edits and suggestions, and then eagerly read the newly published book when it arrived at my Bismarck home this summer. In November, Clay will be the annual meeting speaker for Badlands Conservation Alliance when we gather in Bismarck and will be signing his book. You can read more about that event here. I hope you might join us. 

Until then, I will be watching the turning of the season here in the Missouri River watershed, meditating on amber, saffron, lemon, gold, tawny, mustard, yellow. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 66 : the Summer of Smoke

Remember when I said, on June 13th, "Guess I'll just go camping"? Well, we did. We hitched up the travel trailer and headed west, straight into the cauldron, to the historic heatwave in the Pacific Northwest. But, we got lucky and cool weather returned by the time we made it to North Cascades National Park. Highlights were glorious Mount Rainier, where the sub-arctic wildflowers were in full bloom (my favorites were Glacier and Avalanche lilies), where I solo-hiked to 7K' where one could listen to the glacier crunching and get a view of Mount St. Helens; the ferry to Port Townsend; Port Townsend itself; our walking tour of Fort Warden, where my father was posted prior to shipping to the Korean War and where my parents met; quiet time watching the fog and listening to the foghorn on the Strait of Juan de Fuca; and the spectacular wild Oregon coast. Oh, and an entertaining visit to Fort Crook Museum in northern California, where I was treated like royalty. On the move much of the time, I didn't get in much birding, however, I picked up four new species: Brandt's Cormorant, Common Murre, Williamson's Sapsucker, and Glaucous-winged Gull. And we saw Roosevelt Elk. With the heat returning and wildfires increasing (in central Washington we drove by the new fire at Wenatchee and in northern California through the area that is now the Dixie Fire), we zipped over to Lassen Volcanic National Park and bailed out early, driving hard to home in three days, four more national parks added to our life list (Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Olympic, and Redwood). Home, where thousands of weeds awaited us. This is why we very seldom take such a long vacation during the gardening season. 

Nisqually Glacier behind me

Skiers and snowboarders hike up the trail and then whiz down

Port Townsend ferry

Point Wilson Lighthouse, where my mother's love of lighthouses was sparked (she could see it from her bedroom window)

Officer's Quarters, Fort Warden

Salish Sea, Fort Warden. I have photographs my mother took from this very spot of my father's ship sailing to Korea

On a walking tour of historic Port Townsend, I discovered the garage where my mother worked in the early 1950s 

Whiskey Creek Beach

We ate a LOT of fresh seafood

Earthquake and tsunami evacuation signs were everywhere, and put life in perspective. We were at site 22 in this particular campground 

Fort Crook Museum

The historic stone buildings at Lassen Volcanic National Park captivated me

The Dixie Fire

Now we have been home almost a month, where we are forced to hunker down many days indoors because of the heat and poor air quality, and Jim bemoans that the tomato crop is substandard, likely because of the drought and heat and smoke. On the bright side, the Blue Muffin Viburnum I gave up for dead this spring and cut back to the ground has revived. 

On a dark note, yesterday a lawn company was spraying the next-door neighbor's grass and the drift coated my front yard hostas. As soon as I discovered this, I sprayed all the plants down and then ran the sprinklers. I was heartsick and incandescent, but remain hopeful that the damage was minimal. What next?