A baby rabbit, and baby figs

I see the baby rabbit every day. It likes to hang out near the front steps and eat clover. Each year the fig crop gets better and better. I have to fight the squirrels for the apples, but it’s the birds that I have to fight for the figs. I have three Rose of Sharon trees. Each is a different color and blooms at a different time. This one grows at the edge of the woods in the backyard and seems to like it there.

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A lightning bug

A firely on a basil leaf

It has taken more than ten years for the abbey’s one-acre clearing in the woods to become a suitable habitat for lightning bugs. There are far fewer fireflies than there used to be because of pesticides and loss of habitat. When I was a child, there were fireflies virtually everywhere in rural places. That is no longer the case.

One of the things I have learned about fireflies is that even an acre of suitable habitat helps them to thrive. As I read up on fireflies, I was not surprised to learn that light pollution is a part of what threatens them. That makes sense. Through the 1950s, rural areas were actually dark at night. Now those horrible so-called security lights blare their ugly light all night long and cannot be turned off.

Firefly larvae (glow worms!) like to live in moist (but well drained) grassland and leaf litter. The abbey yard with its surrounding woods is the perfect environment for the larval stage. As for light pollution, the fact that the yard is 98 percent surrounded by tall trees means that light pollution from the horizon is blocked. The only light comes from directly overhead — the stars and the moon.

There are many species of fireflies, but the lightning bugs we have here in the North Carolina Piedmont and Appalachian foothills are easily recognized because of their black wing covers and the orange carapace at their heads. Starting in May, when I close my book and turn off the reading light in the bedroom, I can see the lightning bugs blinking through the bedroom window. What a privilege, to have lightning bugs in the yard!

Not exactly the High Hay

The entrance into the woods in the abbey’s front yard. The deer use it as a doorway. Click here for high-resolution version.

One of the most memorable bits of landscape in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is The Hedge, or “High Hay,” that protected the Hobbits of Buckland from the scary creatures of the Old Forest. The Hedge was very dense, and to get into the forest there was a tunnel lined with brick under the hedge, blocked with iron bars.

Fifteen years ago, I made a rough trail into the woods that leads to a huge rock that overhangs a small stream — a picturesque and magical spot where a huge beech tree grows amongst the other hardwoods, with its roots near the stream and its upper branches at the top of the canopy. I planted small arbor vitae trees on either side of the opening to decorate the trailhead, though the arbor vitaes are now being overcome by woodsy things.

The woods that adjoin the abbey are very dark, dense, moist, and cool, a place where hardly a single photon of sunlight goes to waste. Where there’s light, a leaf will grow to try to catch it. I’ve learned that, left alone, the edges of a woods are a special kind of ecosystem. At the edges of a woods, light comes from the side as well as above, so growth is exuberant. There are certain species of trees that particularly like to grow at the edge of a woods, wild persimmon trees in particular … not to mention poison oak. The edge of a woods can be very dense. Birds love it there. Here at the abbey, the deer have a door into the woods in the backyard as well as the front.

The critter birth rate is high this spring

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Mama Deer was having lunch on my day lilies while Baby Deer was having lunch on Mama. The baby’s walk was very wobbly. I’d guess that the baby is not many days old.

I’m seeing lots of wildlife babies this year. There are a great many baby rabbits, baby birds, and young squirrels to be seen in the yard. A turtle comes each morning and hides at the bottom of the front steps hoping to catch a porch lizard warming itself on the steps in the morning sun. This morning, during a walk in the woods, I saw a tiny black snake no more than four inches long. I have not seen any baby foxes or baby possums, but they’ve got to be around somewhere. A neighbor says that Mama Bear up on the ridge has some cubs. I don’t think I’ll go up there to look.

The first box of 2024 produce

Bok choi, snap peas, green onions, cone cabbage, lettuce, and broccolini

It’s only the 3rd of May, and I just picked up my first box of 2024 vegetables. Again this year, I’m outsourcing the gardening. A young couple who live about two miles away, who moved here from Chicago, are making a living from their little farm. This year they’ll have three seasons of community sourced agriculture boxes each week — spring, summer, and fall.

They are superb gardeners. Over the winter they added a second greenhouse (for starting their vegetables from seeds). They do organic, no-till gardening on remarkably little land. None of the space they have is wasted, with some room left over for blooming things that feed the birds and bees. They sell most of their produce at a high-end farmer’s market in Greensboro, which is open on Saturday mornings. I believe I’m their only local customer who picks up at the farm, which is a bit sad. Most rural people just don’t care about fresh vegetables anymore. Very few people garden, and based on what I see local people buying in the grocery store, their diets are terrible. As much as rural people complain about grocery prices, you’d think they’d get a clue.

I have a standing appointment for pickups on Fridays at 11. They pick my things early in the morning, wash it, and put it in their chiller. When I pick it up it’s fresh from their garden.

Again this year I’ll grow tomatoes and herbs (especially basil) in my own garden plot. But I’ll get everything else from Brittany and Richard.

At last, a whipporwill

When I was a young’un in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley, I often heard whipporwills. But in the 16 years I’ve been living in the Blue Ridge foothills, I had never heard a whipporwill until last night. It was very close — in my front yard, or in the edge of the woods that adjoin the yard. The video is terrible — it was almost dark. But you’ll be able to hear the whipporwill.

At last, daffodils

iPhone photo. Click here for high resolution version.

The winter seemed long and cold, and February brought no early spring. And yet, for the first time in my 16 years here in the Appalachian foothills, I didn’t see a snowflake all winter. A few days of warmish rain in early February brought up flocks and flocks of tiny red clover sprouts from the seed I spread last fall. But the return of colder weather caused the clover leaves to shrink and wait for the next warm rain before they start growing again.

For months, I didn’t look at the National Weather Service’s long-range forecasts, knowing that they’d forecast nothing but more winter. But just now I took a peek. All the long-range forecasts — 10-day, 14-day, 30-day, and 90-day — are for warmer and wetter than normal. If those forecasts hold, then we should have a beautiful spring here and a good start for the vegetable gardens.

And there’s the fox…

Foxes aren’t uncommon here. But I’m flattered that a fox is now hanging out in my yard. I got my old game camera working again and got a shot of the fox last night. I’ve also seen it on my security camera, and once I’ve seen it from an upstairs window.

During the past 48 hours, the camera caught lots of deer, two happy rabbits that are frequently seen, one possum, one raccoon, and the fox. Three or four wildlife trails lead out of the woods into the yard. There is plenty of cover in the yard, and, even in winter, lots to eat. Some critter, probably the raccoon, has been making little holes while digging for grubs. The fox, no doubt, catches voles. Ten years ago, a fox raised two pups in the woods just behind the house. I would love to have fox puppies in the yard again.

There are coyotes in the woods, but they never come close to any houses. I understand, and it seems plausible, that foxes sometimes stay close to human houses because they’re safer from the coyotes. As for the deer, they’re so well known here that most of them have names. We have bears, but they stay up on the ridge and down in the branch bottom. A year or so a neighbor saw a bobcat down at the footbridge that crosses a branch on my land.

It’s good to live where the wild things live.

Nothing could be finer?

A neighbor’s horse, Pete

Yep, I live in Carolina, and it was a very nice Sunday morning — the sun just above the treetops, temperature 42F with a few spots of light frost. For the past couple of weeks, the weather has been cool enough to work on re-establishing the habit of morning walks.

But I’m not sure that nothing could be finah than to be in Carolina. I think I might prefer to be sneaking into the McDonald’s at Paddington Station for coffee and an Egg McMuffin before catching a train to Edinburgh. Or, better yet, having a ridiculously huge Scottish breakfast in one of those cafes on Cockburn Street above Waverley Station. October is the very best month for travel. But October also is a very good month to stay at home and be content.


I’m following the Trump trials very closely, but I’ve had nothing to say about the trials here because the trails are going very well — as long as you’re not Donald Trump. And then there’s the circus in the U.S. House of Representatives. It seems to me that Democrats are handling that very well and have all the right contingency plans for whichever way Republicans try to go. As always, the stupidity of Republicans is astonishing — gaining absolutely nothing politically while generating millions of dollars worth of bad publicity for themselves. I think it’s important to keep in mind, though, that so-called moderate Republicans in the House, though they are too afraid of Trump to say anything in public, are working hard behind the scenes to get out of the trap that MAGA bomb-throwers have caught them in. It’s not impossible, if all-Republican tactics fail, that moderate Republicans will have to make some kind of deal with Democrats to elect a speaker. If they do, Republicans will have to pay heavily for it.

Speaking of Waverley…

I’m about two-thirds through Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley. No Walter Scott novels are well-read these days, and Waverley is hardly ever mentioned. This surprises me, because of the nine or ten Walter Scott novels I’ve read, Waverley seems like one of the best candidates to be made into a movie. The Edward Waverley character reminds me a great deal of the Edmond Dant├Ęs character in Le Comte de Monte Cristo. We get Gothic scenes in the Highlands, castles, hovels, full-dress balls at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and a wide range of characters from eccentric earls to outlaws to the charismatic Flora MacDonald, who is famous for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from government troops. (In the novel, the Flora MacDonald character is named Flora MacIvor.)

Leather-bound books

I could easily develop a fetish for leather-bound books. However, the uncommon ones would be very expensive. As for the common ones, the titles available are very limited. There is a good eBay market for the more common editions of leather-bound books from publishers such as the Franklin Library and Easton Press. The titles available for these so-called collectible editions are usually classics in the public domain. Easton Press is still in business. A five-book set of Tolkien’s books including the trilogy plus The Hobbit and The Silmarillion will cost you $395. Maybe someday. But it is a pleasure to actually read these nice editions. Many people buy them for display and never actually read them, which improves the secondhand market on eBay.

I found a major source of proper pumpkins — eatin’ pumpkins, as they’re called here. This pumpkin, after a week or two as a decoration, will become soup and pie.

Some neighbors recently acquired four goats. I wonder if they know what they’re in for.

On my morning walks, I pass an abandoned house with this abandoned old school bus. The bus is one of the short versions used for special-needs students. It breaks my heart to see fine old machines decaying. I fantasize about fixing it up and turning it into a tiny house on wheels.

Lily loves her Saturday afternoon live-streamed concerts from the Berlin Philharmonic. This is Evgeny Kissin playing the Mozart piano concerto No. 23.