Saturday, December 06, 2014

Holiday Haiku

Like early Pilgrims.

the squirrels ate our pumpkins

on Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Not As Nature intended

After several years our Christmas cactus has its first flower – just in time for Thanksgiving. 
It was a gift from Mars’ mother who lives in a nearby assisted living complex.  She started the plant from a cutting brought by an indoor garden lecturer who conducted a workshop at her residence.  The initial stem has expanded into a dozen stalks – one of which now has the beginnings of the familiar red “flower within a flower” look.  The remainder of the stems appear to be waiting for some other holiday to express themselves.
The shrub actually has several names: Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Easter Cactus, Crab Cactus and Holiday Cactus – the first three dependent upon the holiday before which they become available for sale rather than the day on which the flowers are expected to blossom or (depending upon the source) “because these times coincide with the time of year when they will bloom naturally in the Northern hemisphere.”
This is our second Schlumbergera (as it is technically called).  The first one lived with us for many years and, as far as we can remember, never, ever bloomed around the 25th of December.  It did seem to enjoy the 4th of July however.  Then it became old and pot-bound and died of neglect as sometimes happen to things that hang out in the same place for so long that eventually you forget they are even there.
To be perfectly honest I’ve actually never felt “warm and fuzzy” about indoor flora.  For me the idea conjures up images of kudzu infested run-down buildings or, even worse, “Arsenic and Old Lace” stuffy, airtight, badly lit, Victorian homes overcrowded with knickknacks, and overgrown colorless “flowers”.
Ironically one of our two other indoor floral guests is an Aspidistra (aka cast-iron plant or bar room plant) – the threateningly jungle-like greenery shown (in black and white) in Edwin Gorey’s Masterpiece Theater opening credits, and described in George Orwell’s “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”.  “On the windowsill of Gordon's shabby rooming-house room is a sickly but unkillable aspidistra – a plant he abhors as the banner of the sort of ‘mingy, lower-middle-class decency’ he is fleeing in his downward flight.”
Like many of our favorite outdoor perennials which are thriving contentedly al fresco as nature intended, the Aspidistra was given to us by friends – in this case former golf partners who migrated to Arizona for the perpetual warmth and sunshine, conditions which are antithetical to the happiness of this glossy, green-leaved British export.  
Our other indoor flora is a Norfolk pine tree in a pot – the centerpiece from my Men’s Garden Club Winter Holiday Party.  Mars’ plan is to bring it with us to New Mexico when we relocate there.  How this delicate souvenir of Connecticut will make the trip is unclear.  It may – just may – move out of doors when it gets there.  Or at least that is what Mars assures me.
All this is not to say that I don’t take pleasure in seeing our single red cactus flower on a cold, gray November day.  Or that I won’t be excited if and when the gaggle of twelve stems burst forth in coordinated color on some upcoming major holiday – or actually any day.
It’s just that on all those days in between blossoms I do kind of worry that what we have let into the warmth of our humble abode is really nothing more than kudzu in disguise.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Today" Life Lesson from the Health Club

Blue camouflage tights

are not for the purpose of

not being noticed.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


Our magnolia and our oak trees are having their yearly contest to see whose leaves can hold on the longest as the fall season does its annual foliage danse macabre.
The gingko down the road is also in the running.  It is the last vestige of a nursery specializing in rare trees and Japanese Gardens, which did business at that address in the 1920s and 30s.  When Mars and I first moved to Brimfield Road there were a pair of these trees, aka Maidenhairs.  Last year one was taken down.   It’s unclear why.  The only other local place I have seen this species is on the lower level of Constitution Plaza in neighboring Hartford where the fan-shaped gingko leaf design is replicated in the pavers beneath a row of the trees
The Chinese deciduous is apparently the oldest species of tree on earth – “a living fossil that has been essentially unchanged for more than 200 million years.”  However its foliage will be completely out of the running for leaf longevity after the first frost.  I learned this many years ago when I used to go out running early on weekend mornings. 
 It was seven a.m. and just around 32 degrees F. as I started down my driveway – around the bend and out of sight of the persistent pelting noise that disrupted the otherwise almost complete quiet.  When I turned the corner and looked towards the sound I saw a yellow waterfall cascading down into an identically colored pile on the snow shelf beneath the narrow tree.  By the time I returned from my three mile jaunt the gingko was totally devoid of its foliage, which was now all self-stacked and ready for the town’s leaf collectors to vacuum away.
In our own yard I know that the oak will once again be victorious – even though most of the magnolia’s leafage is still largely green.  In fact, some of last year’s winners are probably still hanging around.  Three years ago during the surprise Halloween snowstorm the snow-laden magnolia leaves dragged its branches down onto the electric wires connecting our house to the town grid taking them to the ground.  The anniversary of that event has just passed.  My hope now is that the magnolia self-defoliates in time for me to rake its droppings to the curb for the town to retrieve them.  They are much larger and crunchier than those from the oak and maple trees that I’ve been dragging across the lawn – and thus equally more satisfying.      
More likely though I’ll end up gathering them into a pile and mulching them to tiny pieces during my mower’s last act of work before its seasonal sabbatical.  This is nowhere near as gratifying as raking.   The dried leaflets usually require several passes on what will undoubtedly be a cold, gray November day when all I really want to do is get the whole thing over with, use up all the gas, and swap the positions of the mower and the snow blower in my garage.
 Mars and I have the magnolia professionally trimmed every other year.  As far as I can see the gingko requires no care whatsoever.  Except for the one week of the year when the magnolia’s maroon-and-white petals visually dominate our corner of the world, a gingko would be the arboricultural star of our premises.  Plus Mars and I would have an auditory alert of the year’s first frost.
No wonder the tree has been around forever.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Newer Waters

I am someone who is most at rest when I’m moving.

I prefer the beaten path, and this week I have been walking “The Street” in HistoricDeerfield, Massachusetts where Mars and I took part in a Road Scholar Program on “Stimulating Beverages: The History of Tea, Coffee and Chocolate in Early America”.

“Historic Deerfield Inc., founded in 1952, is an outdoor history museum that focuses on the history and culture of the Connecticut River Valley and early New England.  It has a dual mission of educating the public about the lifestyles of the diverse people who lived here long ago and of preserving antique buildings and collections of regional furniture, silver, textiles, and other decorative arts. First settled in 1669, Deerfield is one of the few towns settled by English colonists along the eastern seaboard that retains its original scale and town plan. Visitors are offered guided and self-guided tours of 12 antique houses ranging in age from 1730 to 1850. Eleven of these houses are on their original sites.”

The antique houses, along with an equal number of private residences from the same era, the Deerfield Inn (where we stayed), and Deerfield Academy Prep School (founded in 1799) are arrayed on a one-mile long roadway called “The Street”.  It would be the quintessential place to walk on a crisp, autumn day – wearing a warm sweater while passing by brown and white 18th century New England houses surrounded by white wooden fences, with tall Hydrangeas drying on the vine, and the red and orange leaves suspended overhead and crunching under your feet.   But that would be a few weeks from now.  This week, while prematurely cool, featured lighter weight clothing and green foliage.  Nonetheless…

The Deerfield Inn is located at the midpoint of “The Street”.  In our three days there Mars and I walked twice to each end.  North to visit two homes of former residents  – one a wealthy farmer and entrepreneur, the other an ultimately unhappy British Sympathizing Congregational Minister – and again to see the museum’s collection of American silverware, including communion metalware from various churches in the area.  The southerly route took us to the Flynt Museum for a material culture discussion about how tea addiction and the lack of Colonial self-sufficiency led to revolution; and a reconstruction of a parlor conversation, with tea, on women’s fashions of the day.  Other classes on the respective histories and making of tea, coffee, and chocolate – with tastings – were held in the visitor center across from the Inn.

(click to enlarge)

The sidewalks were largely deserted except for occasional students heading to or from Deerfield Academy – boys in blue blazers, button downs, ties, chinos slacks (or, in two cases, shorts), and all manner of foot ware – girls dressed in the various non-uniform uniforms of teenage girls, or field hockey gear. 

Mars and I also took a side trip along the Channing Blake Footpath to the Deerfield River.  The dirt pathway led through a small working farm where two large pigs, totally uninterested in their visitors, snorted and wallowed in their mud-filled pen and Holstein cows lay on the sun warmed grass – curious enough to tilt an ear and raise their heads, but no more. 

The river itself was at this point in time not much more than a slow moving brook.  Its waters however, along with those of the Connecticut River on the other side of town, rise enough to totally irrigate the land in between making it one of the most fertile farming areas in the northeast.  Colonial farmers fortunate to happen upon this self-sustaining land needed to go no further to make their wealth.  There is however a down side to waterways’ largesse.  In 2011 Hurricane Irene caused flooding into the village itself that put over half of the Deerfield Inn under water and rendered it inoperable for eighteen months.

On our way back we looked to the north where a clear blue sky tried to meet the green land below but our view of their union was blocked by an intervening shock of row on row-on-row corn rising from the fruitful earth.

I took advantage of our early wake-up habits to also walk “The Street” during the pre-dawn hour.  The temperature was in the fifties and the fog, which had accumulated during the overnight, was beginning to disperse.  As I walked by the Academy one of blazer-and-backpack clad teachers bicycled onto the campus balancing on his left leg as his vehicle coasted to a halt.  While from across the street a male prep, identically clad, and a leggy plaid-skirted clad girl entered the grounds from opposite ends, striding determinedly like a haze-bound Alberto Giacometti walking sculpture.

Further on a startlingly white small dog urged its leash-bound walker to slow down.  And up the road a piece a swarthy, wrinkle-faced man in equally wrinkled black clothes stood motionless at the start of the Channing Bake Footpath exhaling his cigarette smoke into the surrounding mist.  Unlike “Field of Dreams” there were, alas, however no ghosts emerging from the haze – unless, that is, they themselves were the vapor returning to the familiar shelter of their homes for another day of reminiscing.

On our drive up to this session Mars and I stopped at the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory& Gardens in nearby South Deerfield to visit their 8,000-square foot glass conservatory filled with hundreds of butterflies, moths and tropical vegetation.  We spent about an hour strolling through the glass house as the brightly colored insects flapped and floated around us – all of them, the attendant explained, intent on maximizing their five day lifespan on earth by feeding and mating to the max.

The population of the Conservatory is largely self-sustaining with butterfly eggs transferred from the in-house tropical plants to their “nursery” for pupation and birth.  Others are however brought in throughout the year from other parts of the world to add variety and improve the population.  Two sets of entry and exit doors plus a bank of mirrors for self-scanning are intended to ensure that no residents inadvertently leave their protective dome

Historic Deerfield while dedicated to preserving and presenting a particular point in time in a particular place, likewise adapts.  Between the Academy and the Inn is “The Brick Church”, the fifth meetinghouse of a congregation dating back to 1673 – the year that the Deerfield settlement was incorporated.  Originally Congregational, it was the literal, and the figurative center of town.  Today it is used by both Unitarians and Congregationalists – a sign, along with the female and non-Caucasian preppies, that even in this bastion of historical preservation, things do change.

And, like all good historians, the Textile Curator eagerly accepted information that I gave him on Sophia Woodhouse – a 19th century bonnet maker and entrepreneur from our town of Wethersfield, Connecticut – someone unknown in Historic Deerfield.

The Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus said, "Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers."  I would add – and to those who walk the established road with a good guide and a curious eye.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recreating History in Our Own Backyard

This has been a good year for sunflowers (aka Helianthus) at our homestead – both the ones that sprang spontaneously from our fallen feeder birdseed, and those that Mars intentionally sowed for the first time this year.

The unplanned ones have been a regular part of our summer landscape ever since we began enticing feathered passers-by to stop awhile and graze at our all natural, all seeds, all-you-can-eat, hanging buffet – which I guess technically makes them planned every year after the first one.
Anyway this year’s crop, as usual, was high in quantity and, as usual, pretty mediocre in quality – at least from my human perspective.  The flowers were small, the stems were short, and the colors (at the height of their glory) ran somewhere between an amazingly drab mustard hue and the very faded sepia tint of very old photographs.  Finches and some sparrows nonetheless seem to find something to devour from within the flower’s head even as their slight weight bent the plant’s anorexic stalks to the ground.  The seeds from whence these plants developed are residents of the lowest level of Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  And the squirrels and birds that subsist on these ovules ecstatically love them just the way they are. 
Mars and I can get all of the sunflower oil and seeds that we consume at our local Trader Joe’s store.  And as much as we get a kick out of the mini sunflower forest that springs up on our front yard each annum, and have no inclination to curtail its future growth, we now have loftier expectations of the Helianthus that appear on our property.   Which is why Mars planted a few of the more decorative seeds behind our meager tomato patch, in the midst of one of our tall perennial beds. 
We were asking a lot – considering where we put them and how much care we would give them.  But hey, just by itself one sunflower is probably more complicated and harder working than all the perennials combined in our laissez-faire landscape.
“The sunflower is a composite flower; several hundred smaller flowers act together to create the illusion of one massive flower. These smaller flowers are referred to as florets, and they create the head -- or brown center -- of the sunflower. The yellow petals of a sunflower are leaves. These leaves act as protection for the brown center of the sunflower during the growing process. The numerous flowers that make up the brown center grow independently of one another. From this center, new sunflower seeds form.” (
And it definitely has more gardening experience than the two of us – beginning in 3,000 BC when the plant was domesticated into a single-headed flower by the Indians of the southwest United States (Arizona and New Mexico). 
“Seed was ground or pounded into flour for cakes, mush or bread. Some tribes mixed the meal with other vegetables such as beans, squash, and corn. The seed was also cracked and eaten for a snack. There are references of squeezing the oil from the seed and using the oil in making bread.” (
All parts of the sunflower were put to use.  The seeds were grown in a variety of colors – black, white, red, and black/white striped – and were used make dyes for textiles and body painting.  The oil was used medicinally and in baking. And the dried stalk served as a building material.
Spanish explorers brought the plant to Europe in the 1500s. “The plant was initially used as an ornamental, but by 1769 literature mentions sunflower cultivated by oil production. By 1830, the manufacture of sunflower oil was done on a commercial scale. The Russian Orthodox Church increased its popularity by forbidding most oil foods from being consumed during Lent. However, sunflower was not on the prohibited list and therefore gained in immediate popularity as a food.   By the early 19th century, Russian farmers were growing over 2 million acres of sunflower.”
In the late 1800s Russian immigrants brought the sunflower back to the United States where seed companies began advertising “Mammoth Russian” sunflowers in their catalogs.  (In our hometown of Wethersfield, CT Comstock-Ferre Seeds (now a part of Baker’s Creek) offers them.)
Mars and I are not sure what variety we planted, or from where they came.  (It most likely was a thank you gift from one of the non-profits that we support.)  In any event we planted them when we put in the tomatoes – Memorial Day weekend as required by law in New England – and around Labor Day three yellow-headed eight-footers towered over the tomatoes and their perennial playmates along the south side of our garage.  A fourth one is slightly shorter and requires a little help from a plastic stake and some Velcro in order to stand erect.  But all of them have faces that are as close to the Platonic ideal of sunflower beauty as is humanly possible.
Plus the bees love them – as do Mars and I.  Them, walking delicately from stamen to stamen, and then flying off with pollen-laden legs to return again the next day. 
Us from a distance, in a more visual way.
With help from our feathered diners Mars and I have unwittingly created a life-sized diorama of Helianthus history right in our own backyard.
How cool is that?


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Always Room for One More

Okay. So Mars and I are now the proud owners of three, possibly four, teasels, two agastache and a pair of perillae.   And a week ago I didn’t even know what they were.  

It all began when we returned from our week of golfing at Penn State University – a school run by the Women’s Varsity coach and her staff under the auspices of the Road Scholar (nee Elderhostel) Program.  Among the seven messages left on our answering machine was one from F*, a fellow member of my men’s garden club, urgently requesting that I call him ASAP, immediatly followed by a second more insistent communiqué left the following day talking about a “once in a lifetime opportunity’.

Normally I ignore such telephonic entreaties but knowing the caller I overrode my bias and phoned him.  Still I was half expecting to hear a deep male Nigerian accent (which F* is not) telling me in halting English that he was stranded in some European country with his credit cards and passport stolen and needing $350.00 to buy his way home. Instead I got, “The number you have reached is no longer in service”

I checked the online white pages, called again, and got the same message.  Figuring that he might have some sort of electrical or telephonic problem, and having his office phone number I left a message on that machine and went about the business of retuning home.   It was the same story the next day so Mars and I took a ride to his house to investigate.

 F* and his wife were in the throes of changing their home landline service provider and without connectivity for a few days during the cutover – hence the communications blackout.  All was well but F* wanted to go for a short ride with Mars and me to see the source of his great excitement.

We slowly weaved our way through the short, narrow streets of the historic district of our town and pulled up in front of the house belonging to C* – master gardener extraordinaire and widow of a former club member.  Along the way F* told us that C* is moving from her house and the new homeowner planned to bulldoze under all of her plants, mostly perennials, and replace them with a solid grass lawn.  So C* is allowing her friends to come and take what they want in order to save the plants.  

He warned us to expect to see a few cars and trucks parked at the scene – there were four plus a large trailer.  It was ninety degrees and sunny.  And there were a larger number of gardeners armed with thick glove, black plastic pots, and shovels working diligently in the hot August sun – not all of whom were visible among the literally hundreds of plants of various kinds and heights that were growing on pretty much every inch of C*’s property.

A few of the bushes were already reserved with paper tags and yarn much like you might find at a Christmas tree farm in early December – some by horticulturalists from our state university; a couple by savvy landscaping companies; and one or two by other master gardeners.  Many quite rare breeds, still unclaimed, sat hidden in the shadows of more pedestrian strains such as a ten-foot tall purple Butterfly Bush, behind which nestled a type of evergreen that apparently lost its needles every fall and completely regenerated them in the spring ,yet still retained its “evergreen” status.  I personally could identify about half of what I saw in front (and on every side) of me.

You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting an unusual plant.

Well actually there wasn’t enough room to brandish a departed,  or living, feline.  – probably by design.   The garden’s theme was plants that attract birds – a purpose towards which Mars and I decided to work in our own yard a couple of years ago.  In light of that, and under C*’s expert guidance, we selected some teasel – a three to eight foot tall plant with purple, dark pink or lavender flowers that form a head on the end of the stem. 

The seeds mature in mid autumn and can be a winter food resource for Goldfinches and other birds.  (The dried head of the plant was used in the textile industry to provide a natural comb for raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool.)  It is a self-seeding biannual that apparently spreads like crazy.  I am used to that however, already spending a good chunk of my gardening time corralling the tansy, goose-neck loosestrife, Chinese lanterns and other space seeking plants that we have previously adopted.

We also took a pair of agastaches which we mistakenly thought were “just the right size” butterfly bushes.  Pale purple in color these perennials also attract goldfinches – which Mars and I personally can never get enough of.  The small leaves smell like mint – the plant is sometimes called Hummingbird Mint – and like its namesake and our other acquisitions it apparently it also is an inveterate land grabber.


Our final acquisition was perilla – an actual member of the mint family, which can be added to salads.  According to Wikipedia “the plant is self-sowing….has been widely naturalized in parts of the United States and Canada, from Texas and Florida north to Connecticut and into Ontario, and west to Nebraska. It can be weedy or invasive in some of these regions.”


I planted the three varieties in a largely sunny area within a few feet of each other and near to some of the other perennials that provide stalking shelter to the neighborhood cats that hunt on our property.

 I am not trying to crowd out these domesticated predators – there is still more than ample room to twirl one of more of them about should the opportunity present itself.  Nor am I attempting to attract more bright yellow meals for them to prey upon.

The “theme” of our garden, if any, is that there is always room for one more plant – especially if otherwise its next stop would be the compost pile, or even worse the hostile blade of a maleficent bulldozer.

 Thanks C*.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stopping at the Wild Carrot for a Nightcap on the Way Home

Drunken drones searching

for a queen stumble over

white lacy clusters.

(Daucus carota (common names include wild carrot, (UK) bird's nest, bishop's lace, and Queen Anne's lace (North America)) is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native to temperate regions of Europe, southwest Asia and naturalised to North America and Australia. Domesticated carrots are cultivars of a subspecies, Daucus carota subsp. sativus.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

L’ombre et Lumiere - Deux

First there was one.  Then there were two.  Then one again.  Then none.  And somewhere between the second one, and none – the golf balls got rearranged.
I’ve already reported on our first black and white visitor whose arrival just preceded Mars and my culinary L’ombre et Lumiere adventure.  For several days he (we assume) returned to the scene of his original trespass and dutifully trundled away when one or both of us announced our approaching presence with slammed car doors, honking horns, or clapping hands.
 It was becoming a normal part of our lives until we returned at dusk from an evening of Carillon music and conversation at our most local college to discover that (a) he did not react as expected to our loudly announced arrival, and (b) there was a second black and white ball of fur slinking through the flowerbed that guards our family room door and normal entrance.
Mars and I loudened our requests for the newly formed couple to leave – or at least step aside for a minute or so.  She (we assume) exited stage left into the thicker shrubbery of our quince bush.  And he (again assumed) trundled to the spot on our walkway immediately in front of the portal to which we were seeking admittance – whereat he looked toward us as if he was also expecting entry.  After being clapped at and verbally threatened by the two of us he reluctantly sidled into the bed of phlox abutting the living space whose doorway we desperately sought to traverse.
We could see the moonlit pink flowers atop their tall stalks swaying in sequence – tracing his earth-bound movements.  Moving rapidly and carefully watching his telltale trail Mars and I slipped quietly into our house and closed the doors behind us.
For the next few dusks only one (who knew which) of the skunks appeared beneath our bird feeders. 
Then one morning I found two golf balls, which Mars apparently dropped while restocking her bag, placed in locations on our front lawn that could not be explained by Mars’ activities.  She immediately gathered them up and placed them on the periphery of the aforementioned flowerbed hoping to see if our uninvited bi-colored weasels happen to play their own version of the ancient Scottish game. 
And a few houses up the street we smelled, then saw, a crushed black and white and red road kill carcass.  Since that time neither skunk has been seen in our yard.  Nor have the golf balls moved.
Last evening we went out, and returned home at just about the same time as our previous doorway confrontation with the furry duo.   There was no sign of any skunks  –and the golf balls were still in situ.
It looks likely that the roadside corpse was “our skunk”.  Still I wondered about the second one.  “Did we interrupt an unsuccessful first date?”  “Did our unwelcome presence contribute to the failed romance?”  Or, worst case, was “he” killed while out foraging for food for “her” who is resting back at the den “in a family way”?  And where is that hiding place?
As Mars and I learned in our college philosophy classes: not all questions have black and white answers; and you cannot prove a negative.
So what we saw, or didn’t see at 9:05 last night means nothing.  And as with so many other things, only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

L’ombre et Lumiere

So, Mars and I have another skunk residing on our property – or at least frequenting it.  This is not an unusual occurrence – there has probably been at least one onsite sighting every year that we’ve been at this location. 
One time Nicole Marie – the Labrador Retriever who lived with us at that time – got sprayed as the four of us were enjoying a sundown saunter around the premises.  Another time I walked into my backyard early one weekend morning and found a black and white swarm of Kits competing for breakfast around a long-suffering looking mom. I called the Human Society who offered me some Have-a-Heart traps with which I could encage the little critters and then drive them myself to another location.   Or I could hope that the experience was more terrifying for them than it was for me and thus they would relocate to a different den.  I chose the latter option.
None of our other encounters have been of the “close kind”. 
I should explain that our place of residence is in a 1940s suburban neighborhood with basically no open land immediately in the area except for a public park about one quarter mile away and the beginnings of a bicycle trail diagonally across the street – i.e., not exactly the wilderness. 
We do however, oddly enough, have a functioning storm drain in the innermost corner of our acreage.  It came with the house when we bought it and we didn’t really discover its presence until a year or so into our residency when I happened to be pruning the bushes in that section which also came with the land.  We now are considered to be living in a flood plain as a result a 2007 reclassification of wetlands that FEMA performed throughout the country after Hurricane Katrina’s attack on New Orleans revealed a significant dearth of flood insurance in most areas.  This sewer however probably predates that storm by at least sixty years.
Anyway this time of year the bushes are quite thick and the drain offers a quick underground escape hatch so it is not surprising that a nocturnal creature who finds such a set up appealing would be hanging around here.
We first saw the black-and-white weasel rummaging around our bird feeders which are also located near a less dense but relatively sheltered perennial bed anchored by a hydrangea of significant size.  The shrubbery provides shelter for the bird and squirrel hunting cats of the neighborhood one of whom caught a totally unawares tree rodent in this spot a few months back – the first such cat-versus-squirrel carnage that we have actually witnessed in our thirty-six years of watching out the family room window.
Each time we’ve seen it we’ve been pulling into the driveway in the dark of night and our car’s headlights highlit the almost pure white undulations in the underbrush.  Sometimes it stopped and stared at us and then waddled away towards the aforementioned section of our property.  Other times its has immediately turned tail and ran in the opposite direction.
But my most recent confrontation occurred in the portion of our backyard leading to the skunk’s presumed lodging place – on one corner of which I store my birdseed in aluminum barrels.  I was making my nightly trip to fill the feeders when the skunk and I startled each other.  It was exploring the space between three white pine trees that I am nurturing for indeterminate reasons in small plastic buckets.  The skunk looked up at the exact same moment that I looked down. Startled, we both recoiled and froze in place.   

Unconsciously I must have remembered the “Four S’s” for survival should you meet a rattlesnake that Mars and I learned on an Elderhostel trip to Arizona: stop, scan the area for other predators, step back, and scram.  Apparently the skunk had been taught exactly the same survival strategies.
After a rest period, during which I brought Mars out to see (from a distance) who I had run into on my little backyard walk I continued my trip to the metal birdseed containers next to the skunk’s departure point where, with much noise and commotion, I retrieved the necessary comestibles for our other yard pets – some of which probably also ends up in the stomach of the uninvited skunk.
Since that evening I’ve moved up my feeder filling time by about thirty minutes in hopes of completing my tasks before our odorous guest begins it’s nightly food quest.  And I make as much metallic and other noise as I can without (hopefully) disturbing my next-door neighbors peace and quiet.
We have not met again but I imagine seeing our black-and-white yard pet every time I look at our flowerbeds and bushes.
Apropos of which, two nights ago Mars and I went to "foodie" event at a local contemporary arts organization.  Real ArtWays food-as-art inspired “Taste” series featured an episode from the French-made film collection “Inventing Cuisine” followed by tasting plates prepared by one of the area’s most popular local chefs. 
Our repast included the vegetable mosaic “gargouillou”, and the monk fish and black olive oil “l’ombre et lumiere” (“light and dark”) dishes made famous by food legend Michel Bras, and recreated here by On20 executive chef Jeffrey Lizotte and his staff.
The movie focused on the creative process of Chef Bras who attempts to recreate the look of his local landscape in the dishes he prepares.  L’ombre et lumiere was the result of his musings on the shadows of the clouds.
Since our current backyard scenery also has a light and dark component to it I am thinking maybe I should try a similar culinary feat on my own Weber charcoal grill.  And because my cooking philosophy is based more on Danish Existentialist Soren Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” than the tenets of any Epicurean thinker – I am absolutely certain that I can pull it off.
I’ll just arrange an assortment of local greens on a white dinner plate for the background.  Then I will open up a beer – and put another skunk on the barbie.