Saturday, September 19, 2020

Mosaic Monday #97: Gone to Seed

I am feeling a little under the weather.  Maybe it's a side effect from the second part of the shingles vaccine that I took yesterday.  Or perhaps it's a type of seasonal affective disorder, brought on by the ongoing smoky environment and the shortening days.  As I thought about writing a blog post this week, it took some effort to screw up the energy to do it.  I decided I would take an easy route, and stroll the back forty for some inspiration.  Do you suppose it is just a coincidence that most of the pictures are plants that have gone to seed? Gone to seed: showing signs of advanced wear and tear and neglect.  (Merriam Webster)

Despite ongoing spraying, thistles are abundant in our lower prairie.  A plant can produce up to 6,000 seeds that can persist in the soil for over 9 years.  As the saying goes, it's a marathon, not a sprint.  I have taken to cutting off the heads to at least halt the seed production.

The Labor Day wind storm brought down a couple of our aged aspen trees, with collateral damage on the younger aspens nearby.  A close look at the stump shows that it was becoming hollow; sawdust would suggest that termites were hard at work.  In the end, it was no contest for the 40+ mile an hour winds that day.  I used to put my trail cam near here, since the deer have worn a path through this grove of aspens.  They will have to adjust their route!  For now, they have been continuing to frequent the area to eat the aspen leaves that are suddenly within reach.


Shorter days and lower night-time temperatures are wielding Nature's paintbrush, revealing yellows, oranges and reds that have been hidden by abundant chlorophyll.



Not everything in my world of Nature is rolling up the carpets for the winter.  I can't tell you how many of these ant hills we have around our property, but I can tell you that they are still very active, as you can see in the video below.  I could spend hours watching this activity and trying to make some sense of it.  How tall does the hill need to be for it to be done?  Are any of the sticks food?  If not, who is focusing on the food part of the equation?  

I have written before about the beaver family that occupies the lake at the bottom of our property.  When the beavers moved in, they applied their superior engineering skills and very effectively dammed the creek and raised the water level.  While this is a boon for the wetland ecosystem around the lake, it had the undesirable consequence of dramatically reducing water flow to several of our neighbors, some of whom rely on the water for their cattle.  The battle of the brains began, man versus rodent.  How to restore some water flow without impacting the beaver, and in a way that the beavers would ignore?  Initially, every solution the team created was thwarted by the beaver; ditches were filled in overnight, pipes with holes were plugged with mud, strategically placed boards were removed and added to the dam.  It was equal parts funny and frustrating.  At this point, it seems the latest man-made engineering feat has worked, but only time will tell.  On my last visit to the dam, I observed that the beaver has begun constructing a secondary dam, 15 feet below the original dam.  It has not stopped the water flowing into the creek, but I am not sure the critters are done yet!  Watch this space!


If you look hard enough, you can also find some plants with blooms. 

I try to ignore for the moment that the daisies and knapweed are considered invasive here.  If I get too focused on them, this walk would turn into a weed-pulling exercise rather than the diversion it is meant to be!

Update: it has been a couple of days since I started this post, and I am glad to report that, physically, I am back to myself.  I do think it was the vaccine; no regrets about taking it, but it just reminds me that I do not make a good patient!  Mentally, I am still working on my attitude.  The forecasted rain for last night and today has not materialized; the skies are gray and the smoke lingers.  Logically, I know I should count my blessings and find myself a rich woman.  Thinking that music often helps bring me around, I went looking for "autumn" songs, and came across "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire.  I hope this post finds you well, but if you need a little pick-me-up, maybe this will lift your spirits and send your toes tapping!

Welcome to Mosaic Monday, a weekly meme where we get together to share our photo mosaics and collages.
Please include at least one photo mosaic/collage in your post.
The link will be open from 1 p.m. Sunday until 11 p.m. Tuesday (U.S. Mountain time). 
Remember to add the link to your Mosaic Monday post and not the one to your blog. 
Please link back to this post so that your readers will be able to visit and enjoy more wonderful mosaics; taking the MM blog button from my sidebar is an easy way to link back. 
As host I will visit every participant and leave a comment so that you know I stopped by. 
Please try and visit as many other blogs as you can, especially those that join in later, so that everyone's creativity can be appreciated fully. 
Thank you for joining in today and sharing your mosaics with us. 


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Sunday, September 13, 2020

Mosaic Monday #96: A Short(er) Season

Labor Day in the U.S. conjures memories of warm sunshine and family barbecues, the last hurrah before summer ends.  Labor Day 2020 in Northwest Montana brought high winds, small hail and a night-time frost.  And just like that, our already abbreviated growing season came to an abrupt halt for much of my garden.  As it is impractical to cover an entire landscape as protection from frost, I woke Tuesday morning and approached the garden with one eye open, expecting widespread damage.  Of course, I have been known to imagine the worst, so maybe I should not have been surprised to discover that more than half of the plants were unaffected.  I believe this is another benefit of native species, especially those in Montana.  Like our hardy residents, they don't shrink and wither the first time the temperature gauge dips below 32!

But even so, I got Mother Nature's message, and decided I should show you my garden before it truly goes to sleep for the winter.  Join me for a prance through my prairie!

I discovered Rocky Mountain Bee Plant last year, growing naturally.  Seeds I sowed in the fall sprouted, and the most successful plant loomed to five feet before the frost brought it down.  Aptly named, it is a magnet for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds; you could hear the incessant drone of buzzing from quite a distance.   Overnight, the pollinators have vanished from this plant.  I have already collected seed pods, and will continue to do so as more mature - I can't count on this plant to return since Bee Plant is an annual.  I look forward to continuing my experimentation with this gorgeous member of the caper family.

By mid-August, my driveway baskets were past their prime, so I augmented them with Lamium, Anemone, and Angelface Summer Snapdragon.  Despite covering them the night of the frost, the most delicate plants succumbed.  Sigh.  On the porch, the cold devastated the black susan vines that looked so pretty twining around the railings.  I don't plan to use them again, since their connection to the railing prevents me from moving them in the case of hail (or frost)! 


Aster showed no impact from the frost, and since it is a late bloomer providing welcome splashes of color in the garden right now, I am pleased.  My aster plants (I think the initial landscaping plan had four or five) have spawned innumerable volunteers, and it appears to be a favorite of the deer since many of the seedlings are nibbled before they produce flowers.  I am still occasionally surprised where I find the plants - the seeds are so small, I can only attribute it to the vagaries of the wind.  When I locate one in a particularly desirable location of the garden, I make sure to protect it!  

Speaking of welcome surprises, I have been thrilled to find paintbrush volunteers in at least five places.  Why is this significant?  Paintbrush is a hemiparasitic plant - it seeks out roots of host plants, usually grasses, and taps into them for nutrition.  So, I had concluded that it was just unlikely that my mama paintbrush would reproduce!  As it turns out, the volunteers are growing close to or underneath other plants, but none of them are grasses.  It has emboldened me to attempt planting some seeds this fall! (and the frost did not affect them- yay!)

I was also delighted to discover a coneflower with magenta florets within the boundaries of my "formal" garden.  It first appeared last summer in the prairie, and clearly some seeds found their way into the flower beds.  Its stalks and leaves are remarkably similar to those of the prairie coneflower, so I had mistakenly labeled them as such, until they bloomed.  I have studied my plant books, and perused the web, but I have been unable to make a formal identification.  Can anyone help?  Until then, I am mentally referring to them as magenta coneflower. Update: thanks to MB of Small City Scenes and Pat of Mille Fiori Favoriti for helping me identify this as Mexican Hat/Upright Prairie Coneflower.  (In general, the coneflowers are more droopy following the frost.)


Several other plants have also performed well with self-propagation, including the goldenrod.  I was amazed to locate one among the gilia and blanketflower.  I have also learned that it is easy to confuse goldenrod and fireweed, especially when they are small.  Goldenrod tends to have one stem; fireweed is likely to have multiple branches as it grows.  What they have in common is that the deer love them!   (Fireweed is an important colonizer of burned areas.  It spreads rapidly by seeds and buried rhizomes.  When bombs levelled parts of London in WWII, fireweed appeared in the heart of the city for the first time in generations.)  The goldenrod and fireweed were unfazed by the cold.

As the summer has progressed, I have also marked many spots containing what I believe to be volunteer bee balm.  If I am correct, I will be quite happy since it has been hard for me to harvest seed from this plant - as soon as it is done blooming, the whole plant turns brown, and I have been unable to identify anything that looks like a seed!  

As many of you know, bee balm is another plant that draws pollinators in droves.  Below is a video of butterflies on and around the plant.


As long as we are looking at videos, check out the hummingbird with the scarlet gilia.  For weeks, this female hummer was guarding this section of the garden by sitting on the chicken wire in between feedings. (The gilia showed no reaction to the initial cold snap.)


You may have noticed the blanketflower that is mixed in with the gilia.  This plant has a special corner of my heart - it seems to bloom continuously with that eye-catching yellow/orange combination.  Also, it was unaffected by the frost, its seeds are easy to collect, and I had great results with the seeds that I sowed in the spring.  A keeper!!!


Let's pause for a moment and talk about critters.  Deer continue to be a nuisance.  Other than chicken wire/fencing, all of my methods for deterrence have had very limited success (including the deer repeller I wrote about on 9/8/2019).  As the garden self-propagates, it is more and more impractical to protect individual plants.  I have had some success with placing chicken wire around large sections, such as the gilia and blanket flower you have seen in some of the pictures above.  I think my next plan is to move those large chicken wire enclosures from year to year, allowing a new section to get well-established.  We can only try, right?  

On July 23, I found aphids on the Norway Maple.  I consulted with the experts at Montana State University, and they recommended washing them off with insecticidal soap.  Realizing that I can't reach all the leaves, my contact reassured me that all trees have some aphids, and that there are lady beetles, lacewings and parasitoid wasps that will come in to control the aphids.  I am inclined to take their advice since I have seen a complete recovery for my sand cherries since I pruned them per their guidance (see below).  August 9, I chased a bunny from the front flower bed, and I have not seen it since.  And, as usual, the ground squirrels went into hibernation in the middle of August.  One less thing to worry about!  


Admired for its silvery gray, fragrant foliage as much as its lavender-purple flowers, Russian sage make a bold statement in a garden.  The abundant, spiky clusters of flowers only started blooming in mid-August, so I was a little chagrined to see that some spike tips were affected by the frost.  Also, the wind has weakened some of the branches and spoiled the normally symmetrical look.  Nevertheless, all three of my plants are spectacular, and I love the show.  They have also produced a number of volunteers, and I have learned NOT to water them - Russian sage likes very dry conditions.

Another implication of a short growing season is a lack of time for a second bloom.  For both Catmint and Salvia, it is suggested that shearing/deadheading can produce a second bloom.  I have been watching the Catmint carefully, and as recently as a week ago, it still had blooms frequented by bees, which makes me hesitate to shear it.  At this point in the season, it would be fruitless to try for a second bloom.  In fact, with some plants, you should stop deadheading to allow the plant to focus its resources on preparing for winter.  I deadheaded the Salvia at the beginning of August and one plant out of three has produced a few new blooms.  I think next year I will try trimming it lower on the stalks and supplementing with some additional water. (Neither the catmint or the salvia were harmed by the frost.)

I have been very pleased with the performance of the Black-eyed Susan plants, and it is a direct result of guarding.  I ran my own experiment, and most of the Susans that were not protected were nibbled, especially the flower buds!
Susans are also prolific in the prairie, as a result of the seed mix we planted in the fall of 2018.  It is hard to capture in a photo, but you can see a few of them below, among the naturally-occurring yarrow. (The tallest Susans were hard hit by the frost.  I was able to protect some of the shorter ones with a few strategically placed buckets.  These pictures were all taken before the cold snap.)

As I walk around the prairie, I keep my eyes peeled for other treasures.  I am pretty sure the daisy* and larkspur were in the seed mix, but the harebell is so plentiful in the woods around here that I am sure these seeds were already present.  And the Oceanspray is a shrub that has clearly been here for quite a few years.  It is the only one that I have seen on our 15 acres! *oxeye daisies are considered invasive in Montana, so I pull them up when I see them

I have been doing some reading about prairies, generating some ideas that are part of my garden planning for next season.  But this post is already long enough, so I will start to draw to a close with some photos of the Coreopsis that has exploded on the southeast side of the house.



The soft tissues of the Coreopsis were blackened by the frost, but some of it close to the ground is still alive.  Even before the cold snap, the plants had produced drifts of seeds visible on the stone steps.  Birds, especially pine siskins, perched delicately on the stems to pick out the miniscule morsels, and flew off in a pack when you opened the mud room door.  I suspect I will be plucking hundreds of volunteers next spring!  Before then, these beds will be subject to significant thinning/transplanting; some of these plants may find new homes in the rock garden at the front of the driveway.  By far, that bed has been my biggest disappointment this summer, but you know me -- I have MAJOR plans and HOPE springs eternal!

Dedicating my prayers today to all those suffering the impact of wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding.  

Welcome to Mosaic Monday, a weekly meme where we get together to share our photo mosaics and collages.
Please include at least one photo mosaic/collage in your post.
The link will be open from 1 p.m. Sunday until 11 p.m. Tuesday (U.S. Mountain time). 
Remember to add the link to your Mosaic Monday post and not the one to your blog. 
Please link back to this post so that your readers will be able to visit and enjoy more wonderful mosaics; taking the MM blog button from my sidebar is an easy way to link back. 
As host I will visit every participant and leave a comment so that you know I stopped by. 
Please try and visit as many other blogs as you can, especially those that join in later, so that everyone's creativity can be appreciated fully. 
Thank you for joining in today and sharing your mosaics with us. 


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Saturday, September 5, 2020

Mosaic Monday #95: 2013 Weekend Getaway

The reason for this trip has long faded from my memory, but my old paper travel journal tells me that Spousal Unit and I were in Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) from September 14 - 16, 2013.  Maybe we just needed a short getaway from the environs of Cleveland, Ohio, our home at the time.

My notes don't say where we stayed in Toronto, but clearly we had a front-row view of CN Tower.  A 1,815-foot high concrete communications and observation tower, it was completed in 1976.  Its name "CN" originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower.

In those days, I was not meticulous about taking photos; the only record of our walking tour of downtown is the metal lawn art and this clever advertisement for a news channel.  According to the journal, we took advantage of the Toronto live music scene.  Downtown was also hopping since it was the last weekend of the Toronto Film Festival - I remember we were keeping our eyes peeled for famous people! (but we didn't see any!)

The next day, we drove south to NOTL and checked into the BranCliff Inn Bed and Breakfast, a beautifully restored building that had formerly been the school for NOTL for many years.  My notes show that we had dinner and drinks just down the block from the B&B in a gorgeous Irish pub, and then followed a self-guided walking tour the following day.   Regrettably, I have no pictures of the pub and only a few shots of quaint NOTL.




NOTL is a town in southern Ontario that sits on the shores of Lake Ontario, at the mouth of the Niagara River.  It's known for its wineries and the summer Shaw Festival, a series of theatre productions.  The flower-filled, tree-lined old town features 19th-century buildings, mainly along Queen Street.  An ideal location for romantics everywhere! 

*Short post this week since I just returned from a three-day hiking/camping trip.  If you need more reading material, check out these other posts that have been drawn from my travel journal: BelizeVirgin GordaRoad Trip, and Grand Cayman.

Welcome to Mosaic Monday, a weekly meme where we get together to share our photo mosaics and collages.
Please include at least one photo mosaic/collage in your post.
The link will be open from 1 p.m. Sunday until 11 p.m. Tuesday (U.S. Mountain time). 
Remember to add the link to your Mosaic Monday post and not the one to your blog. 
Please link back to this post so that your readers will be able to visit and enjoy more wonderful mosaics; taking the MM blog button from my sidebar is an easy way to link back. 
As host I will visit every participant and leave a comment so that you know I stopped by. 
Please try and visit as many other blogs as you can, especially those that join in later, so that everyone's creativity can be appreciated fully. 
Thank you for joining in today and sharing your mosaics with us. 

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mosaic Monday #94: Family Fun

Hello everyone - thanks for returning after a week's break from Mosaic Monday! The visit from #1 Daughter and her boyfriend was memorable, and extra special since #1 Son is already here and joined in the frolic when he wasn't occupied with job search activities.  On their first day, it was already mid-afternoon by the time we got home from the airport, so we made no plans other than showing The Boyfriend around the house and property.  Vacation calorie intake began in earnest with a afternoon snack of huckleberry pie and ice cream.  (And of course, Head Chef prepared a dinner fit for kings - ribs, smoked turkey, cornbread, salad.)


As we planned the activities for their visit, the duo asked us to challenge them physically.  "Wear us out," The Boyfriend said.  So, the next day, the Montana workout began.  Kayaking on the river sounds simple enough, but it requires logistics such as dropping off one vehicle at the takeout point, and ensuring that the right gear is in the correct vehicle.  We managed to get all five of us out of the house on time, but the takeout point was not well-marked, and we arrived at our first destination, Polebridge, with 2 rigs.  Oh well.  Not the end of the world.  We snagged some home-made baked goods from the famous Polebridge Mercantile, settled all of us into one vehicle and drove the short six miles to Bowman Lake.  Its spectacular surroundings never get old.

We backtracked to the put-in point near Polebridge, and left the "kids" to inflate the kayaks and pack raft while Spousal Unit and I took his truck to the takeout at Coal Creek.  A Mercantile member of staff gave us directions, and in no time we had returned to inspect the boats and were ready to float nine miles of the North Fork of the Flathead River.  At this time of year, low water means rocks and log jams are nearer to the surface, requiring vigilance and carefully chosen channels.  Early in the trip, Spousal Unit and #1 Daughter collided with a tree and tipped over, but in such shallow water that it was not a major event.  It was a warm, blue-sky day and we made one stop to swim.  
We had hoped for smoke-free skies during their stay, and we got our wish.  Haze can make for interesting sunsets, but I would prefer my air without particulate!  That night we enjoyed tasty lasagne on the deck, with an ever-changing sky for entertainment.

On Day 2, Spousal Unit and The Boyfriend went fishing while #1 Daughter and I engaged in retail therapy followed by a picnic at the beach.  In keeping with the "workout" theme, fishing entailed a 2.5 mile hike (one way) to Lupine Lake, and paddling a pack raft as needed throughout the day.  Lifting a margarita at the beach was a little less strenuous!!!  The Boyfriend caught a half-dozen fish, and perhaps more importantly (from my perspective), he saw a bull moose on the way to the trailhead.  We call that visitor's luck!!!

Now, Day 3 would be the true test.  Destination: the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.   13.4 miles and 2700 feet elevation gain.  I have written about this hike in a previous post, in which I note that we left the house at 6.45 AM in order to secure a parking spot at the Loop and catch a shuttle.  That was 2017 and this is 2020 - departure was advanced to 5.30 AM.  Glacier has become an extremely popular place, and the fact that half of the Park is closed has exacerbated parking issues.  Even with 45 extra minutes, we still experienced parking challenges!  But, as always, it was worth the anxiety. 

It was lightly raining as we began our adventure; later in the day, with the hot sun and dusty trail conditions, we would have welcomed that precipitation!  Immediately, the hike began to deliver on our expectations, with a mountain goat, massive cliffs, and abundant flowers along the Garden Wall.  It had been at least 10 years since #1 Daughter had done this hike, so both members of the duo could be heard exclaiming over the beauty, or shaking their heads at the wonder of the views.

Although this was my fourth time experiencing the Highline, we typically go earlier in the summer.  I was fascinated by the difference in the flowers one month later in the season. 





This hike offered another first for all of us - the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.  After seven miles, intrepid explorers have the "opportunity" to ascend more than 900 feet in less than nine-tenths of a mile.  In keeping with the challenge to "wear us out", it was a no-brainer.  The climb is mostly steady, but there are sections that are very steep.  I am pretty sure that we were pausing to catch our breath rather than letting other people have the right-of-way as they descended the narrow path that pitches straight down if you take a wrong step!  And here is the reward!

You may have already noticed the lack of other people in my photos.  Trust me, that requires some patience and some camera agility.  The Highline Trail is an incredibly popular hike; I would guess that we shared it with at least 250 people that day.  And yet, you can still reliably see wildlife - goats, marmots, bighorn sheep.  And this time, we saw a new animal for me - a pika.  No picture, but so adorable!

Shortly after our descent from the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail, we arrived at the Granite Park Chalet.  The west side of the building offered the only shade, and we sank onto the benches for a well-earned break.  Built 1914-1915 by the Great Northern Railway to provide comfortable back country accommodations, it was the last chalet constructed by the railroad.  Listed as a National Historic Landmark, it is one of only two back country chalets that have survived and it continues to provide lodging to adventurers from around the world.

Are you still with me?  Yep, now you know how the duo felt.  Four miles of down, down, down still remained to close out this hike.  But along the way, you earn fabulous views of the terrain that we had already traversed.  Can you see the faint line in the center of the picture below?  That is the trail to Grinnell Glacier Overlook.

Would a close-up help?

The switchbacks seemed endless and only the thought of the creek at the end kept the team moving.  Upon arrival, all of us threw off our boots and socks and plunged knee-deep into the glacier-cold water.  Aaahhh.  The Boyfriend didn't hesitate to go all the way in - after all, ice baths are de rigueur for athletes!  He was smiling even as he professed that the trail had "kicked his patootie".   Mission accomplished!  
Even pro athletes need rest days, and as master vacation planners, we had the forethought to schedule nothing for Day 4.  Some folks caught up on podcasts, or read a book.  The kids raided the toy closet and we played Scattergories, Sequence and Euchre.  I recently began a new cross-stitch project that will become a throw pillow for #1 Daughter and The Boyfriend.  What a treat to sit on the deck and stitch!  We closed out the evening around the firepit, with s'mores to boot.  
And suddenly, we only had one full day remaining.  Day 5 began with a short (2.7 miles one way) but technical hike to Leigh Lake.  Steep sections and rock scrambles keep your focus sharp!  (Spousal Unit and I completed this trail on May 9 and it was covered with snow.  So watch for a future post with comparison shots.)  For this post, I will just show you the family shot at the lake, courtesy of a fellow hiker.

From there, it's a short ride down the road to Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge.  Once again, it was a warm day and the cool waters of the river were a welcome respite.  We marveled at the falls, once the site of filming for the River Wild.  The water flow seemed higher than normal, and I said the same, reflecting that it is odd for the time of year.  Upon further thought, it must mean that they are releasing more water from the dam upstream.  Check out the video.


#1 Daughter and I enjoyed ice creams as Spousal Unit drove home.  Ah, summer!  The duo treated us to dinner that night at the Kila Pub, and everyone was sleepy by the time we pulled into our driveway.  Sigh, the end of another family visit.  My only consolation is that I am sure the mountains will soon be calling them back!


Welcome to Mosaic Monday, a weekly meme where we get together to share our photo mosaics and collages.
Please include at least one photo mosaic/collage in your post.
The link will be open from 1 p.m. Sunday until 11 p.m. Tuesday (U.S. Mountain time). 
Remember to add the link to your Mosaic Monday post and not the one to your blog. 
Please link back to this post so that your readers will be able to visit and enjoy more wonderful mosaics; taking the MM blog button from my sidebar is an easy way to link back. 
As host I will visit every participant and leave a comment so that you know I stopped by. 
Please try and visit as many other blogs as you can, especially those that join in later, so that everyone's creativity can be appreciated fully. 
Thank you for joining in today and sharing your mosaics with us. 


You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
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