Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring in Marcellus Country

This past week (or more...I've lost track by now) has been COLD! We're talking, night temps in the teens, days edging just past freezing kind of cold.

The deer nibbled off most of my crocuses, and everything else went dormant again. The only color these days (I'm not counting grey as a color) is from the many colored flags tied on bushes and stakes which make trails snaking all over these hills.

I am not privy to the meaning of the color coded flags. I simply know that they are related to the imminent drilling for natural gas hiding in the Marcellus shale beneath the ground here. I get to feeling a bit queasy every time I drive past a new area that has been cleared of forest to make room for vents or wells or who-knows-what. I also get irritated every time one of the convoys of tank trucks coming out of one of these new, secret roads pulls out in front of me. Twice in the past 6 months, trucks containing gas well drilling equipment have attempted to drive under overpasses or bridges that were not tall enough, causing damage to the structures.

I am beginning to feel personally violated. Unknown people hike through our property, leaving behind the colored flags. Helicopters drop packages in our yard during hunting season. There are bulldozers crawling all over these hills, knocking down trees and pushing great piles of earth around. Tank trucks carrying mysterious liquids swarm the roads. The local hotel parking lots are filled with out of state trucks, all with drilling logos on their sides. This area is changing because of the discovery of natural gas here, and not necessarily for the better. We were informed by gas companies seeking to lease our gas rights that even if we did not do so, they would get "our" gas any way.

A few weeks ago, we received a map from one of the coal mining operations, which highlighted our property as part of an area they are planning to mine under in the near future. The coal mines have destroyed water wells and houses of several of my friends and acquaintances around here...but that is just the immediate result. What will be the long term consequences of this manic drilling and digging?

I will be the first to admit that I am addicted to nonrenewable energy. We try to be environmentally conscious in many areas. Living in the country, however, means that I have to drive to do anything. Although I try to limit my trips in the van, and combine errands when ever possible, I could not do without my mode of transportation. My efforts feel futile many days, when I feel like we are headed for a human made disaster of our own. It may not be of the severity of the nuclear disaster in Japan right now, but I can't begin to imagine that the end results will be good.

I realize this rant sounds overly pessimistic. I'm simply...well...scared. I'll close with this bit from an article in Time magazine, Fear Goes Nuclear, by Jeffrey Kluger:

"One answer, of course, is to tax carbon, raising its cost to make alternatives such as wind and solar power competitive with fossil fuels, thus obviating the need for so much nuclear power.

But that possibility brings the discussion full circle to an argument that seems to flare up every time there's a Three Mile Island or a blown BP oil well or a group of 33 Chilean miners who get trapped under ground. And it's an argument we'll keep having until the species that was clever enough to tame fire, harness steam and pry unthinkable power from a lump of uranium ore become smart enough to take the next step forward."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Good News

Hooray! My baby brother is moving to PA!

We are looking forward to seeing them more frequently!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

More Garden Dreams

JP and I have been trying to price lumber for building raised beds in our garden. We are hoping that in the future, we can practice no-till gardening, and also have an easier time planting, keeping things weed free, and harvesting. The first order of business was to sketch out plans in order to estimate how much lumber we will be needing.

I finished up the sketch yesterday evening. Look at all the boxes in neat little rows!

Hopefully it will be somewhat close to being that neat and least for the first year! The bigger ones are 16 ft x 4 ft, and the smaller ones are 8 ft x 4 ft. We are planning to craft a tiered bed for the strawberries near the center. The size of that is actually unknown. We want to recycle the "dually" wheel rims from the old tractor for the center tier.

Last night, the girls and I constructed these other little garden beds in the kitchen. You can find directions for them here.

Gotta plant, gotta plant, gotta plant!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Peas Are In!

Not even a week after St. Patrick's Day, we have the peas planted...way ahead of last year.

Dad spent several hours this afternoon rototilling the bottom 10 feet of the garden in preparation. I love the velvety look of the soil after it's been tilled. Mom, the girls and I haphazardly dropped seeds into the rows until dinner time, nearly giddy with the scent of Sassafras.

We have some radishes and lettuce seeded in as well. The winter squash and cucumbers are curiously peeking out of the downstairs windows. They need to sit tight for another month or so before they can play outside.

The girls have been spending hours out in the fresh air and sunshine lately. They are both cultivating "families" of sticks, stuck into the ground around the base of the big Hickory tree.

I am thrilled with the success of my plantings from last year. Almost everything in the flower bed is coming back, along with 4 of the 8 ornamental pears. Even the daffodils that I roughly dug out of the ground down by the mailboxes are fringing the trees in the yard.

Three cheers for Spring Planting!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ole Hickory

We have a big Hickory tree in the back yard. It is wonderfully shady during the summer, and supports one side of our hammock. Last Fall, however, it went a little nuts. It became hazardous to walk out there unless you wanted to risk a 3 Stooges style slip and fall.

They remained out there over the winter. That was in part because I wanted to leave them for animals to eat, but mostly because I didn't get around to cleaning them up before the first snow fell.

This weekend, I tackled the clean up. I raked and collected 4 wheelbarrows full of husks and nuts from the back, and 3 from the smaller Hickory tree out front by the girl's sandbox.

It was obvious that the squirrels enjoyed the buffet!

My crocuses finally started to bloom on the first day of Spring. There is finally Spring color up on Poplar Ridge!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Yesterday, the laundry on my clothes line was struggling to free itself from the pins and fly away to Neverland. It is a lovely place to be! The laundry there, once washed, remains clean forever. In Neverland, toys never break, and siblings always get along.

I spent Thursday night in Neverland. It was wonderfully peaceful. 8 inches of heavy, wet snow that threatened power lines were not forecast to fall overnight. I was promised a complete night of slumber, without being woken pre-dawn by eldest child.

Unfortunately, the laundry never made it to Neverland. It couldn't fly farther than the muddy front yard, where I slogged out to rescue it. And although I fell asleep in Neverland, I was woken on Poplar Ridge at dawn by eldest child who had a stomach bug on Thursday and awoke early Friday morning extremely hungry.

"Why the alternate reality?" you may ask. It works for me. Oh, and I may have been watching too many X-Files episodes lately. The friendly alien in my ice cream carton can attest to that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


My Dad has been teaching the girls about making Maple Syrup this year. J especially, is thrilled with the whole process. I am thrilled that they are able to learn to do this!

We started by marking several Maple trees in the Fall before all of the leaves were gone. All of the trees are bare this time of year, and it would have been difficult to distinguish the Maples from everything else otherwise.

Early in February, the girls went out with my Dad and helped to pound the taps in...

...and hang buckets on them. On most of the days since then, they have helped with collecting the sap daily. We collect the most on days where it was freezing or below overnight and warmer during the day.

Dad dumps all of the sap (after picking various insects out) into the canner and starts cooking it down on the camp stove out under his deck. The ratio of sap to syrup is about 40 to 1, so there is a lot of cooking to do!

So far, he has made this much syrup (minus some for various meals)!

We brought a couple of bottles home this weekend, and ate home made pancakes with home made Maple Syrup on them for breakfast yesterday! Deee-licious!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


After approximately 6 weeks of "observing" at my new job, I finally got word today that my paperwork was all in order to really WORK for the first time! I actually got to scrub in and assist on a case in the Operating Room...the first time in about 13 years or so! Can you believe I actually remembered my sterile glove size? (Probably just a lucky guess!)

Luckily, my job pays the same for observing as for actually working, so the only negative to the 6 weeks of limbo was boredom.

J received new materials last week for cyber school. It has been taking us almost twice as long to get the work done since then. I spent about an hour last night, prepping materials for today. My Mom worked with J in the morning while I was at work, and we finished up this afternoon in much better time than before...even with an extra hour of on-line classes, and ample time to play outside in the sunshine! Perhaps I should do this on a regular basis??

I'm feeling Spring in my blood these days. The unexpected snow yesterday afternoon did not diminish it for a moment. I cleaned out my flower beds last weekend...trimmed the old, dead stuff, pulled out leaves and scooped out cat poo (nice). This afternoon, I dug my planting trays out of the garage to start winter squash, pumpkin and cucumber seeds indoors. The sunshine makes me anxious to DIG in the dirt!

The sap is running in our Maple trees. My Dad and the girls have tapped 9 or 10 trees, and have collected gallons and gallons of sap. Dad has boiled down the sap to get several pints of Maple Syrup...the ratio is roughly 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. I have only had the chance to taste a spoonful here and there, but I'm hoping to try our own Maple Syrup on pancakes this weekend.

Time and seasons continue to flow by. Now the time has arrived to fix dinner. Happy Almost-Spring!