I drive the speed limit and blink even when I’m the only one on the street.

I pay my (one) credit card bill, my taxes, my library fines.

I smile, I make peace, I don’t gossip or speak ill.

But I am no goody two-shoes.

I am the most subversive person I know.

I grow my own food.


husk cherry

brandywine (?)





fava beans

and earth


I enjoy nothing more, in winter, then sitting by the big window with a cup of steaming tea and a good book or chess game, and observing the birds at the well-stocked feeder. We have the usual flock of juncos, who love playing in the snow. They are having it out with a flock (the same size, 6 or 7) of passerines.  Then throw in a couple of titmice and a pair of wrens. Add to that two cardinal pairs, as well as an assortment of downy woodpeckers, among them the one Red-Bellied Woodpecker. And then there’s this fellow:


He (she?) is new: an American goldfinch. Here’s another view. Such gorgeous coverts, and that yellow muffler!



Yesterday I wrote about the warmish weather and watching the rain wash away the snow. Then the rain turned to ice.

It was still sleeting this morning when we woke up to a hoop house dangerously weighed down by that snow that has a bluish tint. Read: high slush content. By the time we had mobilized, the situation was dire.

The moment I touched the structure, the precarious balance gave and the whole thing started caving in. The pvc pipes creaked, something on top cracked, and clips that hold the cover to the pipes were literally flying all over the place as the plastic pulled loose. Luckily DH was there to jump inside and prop the whole thing up while I cleared away the snow. We got away with only one of the connectors on top breaking and a couple of tears in the plastic cover. What do you think: redesign?

Spring is here! The first Robin arrived two days ago, along with a bunch of House Finches, and (I believe) one Pine Siskin (must be part of a flock). The neighborhood is full of bird song: it’s so good to hear! Our garden is home to many  new generations of squirrels but I haven’t seen the chipmunks yet. And the shrubbery is eating the house.

The lettuces spent their first night in the cold frame. It was a mild night, and in the last light of the day I had thrown a blanket and a tarp over the frame. The minimum temperature was 50F: well within their coping abilities. We have some colder nights coming up, let’s see how I do… I mean, how they do. Of course. (*)

Most of the veggie garden action is still in our basement, though. I sowed my 9 last Sweet Bell Pepper seeds. Don’t know if the 24 seeds I sowed over  month ago are bad: they are taking up a lot of real estate on my hotbox doing nothing.

Then there’s this:


Now what could this be? Mm… I sowed it with the Thyme, and it germinated and grew in pace with the Thyme, but it is not Thyme.

This, however:


… this I know is Borage. Big seeds, easy to sow, germinated readily, and grew huge and fat in no time. A great compost crop: I’ll be sowing more, but outside.

And this is a sweet sight:


It’s Sweet Basil, after only 7 days in the hotbox (soil temp 80F). We loves the basil!

But then there’s this:


It’s the one and only Burnet (salad) seedling, out of 24 plugs, 2 seeds per plug. What’s up with that? I now keep it wrapped in cellophane to force the seeds, a trick that worked for many others seeds, like the previously recalcitrant eggplant, but hasn’t so far for the Burnet.

Speaking of disasters…dscf2068


(Back to front: onions, celery, spinach)

(*) You should have seen me, it was like their first day of school!

To follow up on yesterday’s Outdoor Hour Challenge on Squirrels, here are some of today’s nature pictures.

Squirrels, of course. Even though I dug out the snow around the bird feeder, they are still attempting to get up onto the baffle. The prickly bush approach must have been too painful, and it wasn’t working anyway:


Climbing up the pole?


Baffled again… But not for long.


Beautiful animal:


This is a tiny one. It’s the first time I’ve seen it. At first I thought it was a chipmunk, it’s that small. It’s very reddish brown: is it a young Gray Squirrel (do they turn gray as they get older?), or is it another species? It didn’t venture far from the tree.


The Carolina Wren, who was really the hero in this photo and this one.


And later on:


The Moon and Venus below it.

And even later, just now as I am writing this – O my! – I can hear the Great Horned Owls who come here every year, in the coldest of winter, to breed (r have they been here all along?). I hear him, a low “Hoo, hoo-hoo” and her reply, a higher pitched “Hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo”.

So unbelievably beautiful, magical!

I was told about these owls by a neighbor. I wonder, if he hadn’t told me about it, and if I hadn’t been waiting to hear this for the past month (at least)… would I have heard it?

It’s 8 in the morning and everyone is asleep but me. I’m in bed, next to the sleeping bodies, trying to type quietly. They lie so deep, while I’m on the surface, eyes wide open.

I’m looking out of the bedroom window at the trees in our western garden and in the neighbors’ garden: beeches, birches, oaks and many pines. They are covered in the snow that fell during the night. Once in a while they release some of it and the wind picks it up and runs with it.  Narrow columns of snow move sideways, like smoke from a chimney. Tall, billowing veils glide along majestically: snow ghosts. Sometimes the view is a white out. It’s breathtaking, peaceful yet dangerous.

I love living in this country. “This country,” as in: this land, this place. I revel in its biodiversity, which I know is sorely depleted but still so much richer than in Europe. So many animals and flora seem so alien, so new to me: the huge puffball fungi, the foxes, the big beetles, even the deer. I am in awe even of the deer.

My Dad,  when at dusk he got out of the car after we picked him and my mom up from the airport in September, stopped still in his tracks and said: “What is that sound?” I stopped too, listened. What was he hearing that alarmed him? Oh, the crickets! Thousands of them, chirping away, very close and all over, all around us. No more crickets in Antwerp?

And I love this winter, the first in our house. Though I complain of our heating bills, I am grateful for the bitter cold (- 22 Celsius on 1 January , though I missed that), for the snow fall and snow drift. It excites me, a girl from Belgium, where a deep freeze and a snow  storm were events. Even in Brookline, where we lived until June last year and where the snow was cleared immediately by town and condo cleaning crews, I had not done this: walked on top of the snow, on the crust frozen so hard it is like walking – precariously – on stone.


DH took this picture two nights ago. That’s the light of the almost Full Moon, the Full Wolf Moon of January, touching down on our front yard. I have never seen moonlight like this. In Antwerp and Brussels, and Brookline and Alston, too close to Boston, moon and starlight were washed from the night sky.

I stood looking out the window then, at that white-blue glowing snow, the creeping shadows of the tree trunks and branches, and then up, along the stark beams of the towering pines and oaks, rising up, up it was like being lifted, by that light, up into the shimmering sky.

I was in awe, weirded out and attracted. I live in a strange and wild place.

– I’m growing!

That’s what Amie would say if she realized that some months ago she couldn’t tell the difference between a Downy Woodpecker and a Hairy Woodpecker – and that therefore she couldn’t tell which was visiting our bird feeder either – and that now those appellations simply roll off her tongue:

– O yeah, the one on the left, the small one, is the Downy one (female) and the bigger one on the right is the Hairy one (also female).

All it took was seeing the two of them  within a reasonably short span of time and then, for good measure, at the same time.

Downy and Hairy Woodpecker (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, october 2008

The Cornell website – All About Birds – informs me that

The Hairy Woodpecker is attracted to the heavy blows a Pileated Woodpecker makes when it is excavating a tree. The hairy forages in close association with the larger woodpecker, pecking in the deep excavations and taking insects that the pileated missed.

So the Pileated is around somewhere…

Why do I even look at the news – my “consumption” of which is out of spiritual necessity minimized to reading the headlines in Google News? 8-year-old boy shoots himself in the head at a firearms expo, 7-year-old boy kidnapped then shot to death, Neo-Nazi plot to assassinate Obama.

The places where my jawbone fits in its sockets floods with hot anger. My spirit rebels against the hard and cold instances of brutal despair for the individuals and their loved ones, but my mind quickly makes a getaway into the general meaning of such instances. We are supposed to have biophilia, an affinity for the earth, for rivers, for other creatures, for life.

Quickly put on some Bach, open again David Orr’s Earth in Mind on the environment and education – book seem so innocent compare dot the internet, but that’s a illusion – with Amie on my lap “fishing” while she sings about the Whoop-Dee-Dooper Bounce. From the corner of my eye I also stalk the new bird that has been frequenting our feeders, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker. I’ve been wowed by its red hood, its novelty and most of all, I admit, its rarity here in the North-East. I feel shamefully proud that it is here with us and to make things worse I’m intent on stealing its soul with my camera. Why this need to possess its image? Well, here it is anyway:

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I also “caught” the Carolina Wren, who has been around all this time, but whose presence at the feeder is new. Here’s the bird in its box:

Carolina Wren, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I am well aware that the presence of a lens between myself and these birds only distances us further, and that that is an arrogant statement. “Us”, as if the bird cares about how distant I am (as long as it’s at least ten feet). “Further”, as if I can ever bridge even those ten feet. And as if I could feed wildness so I could take a picture for a reward.

Why wasn’t it enough to just see it? The same with the book.  I often find my character has been ruined by my education in general but especially by academics and my “specilisation” in philosophy. It is addicted to sentences and abstractions and  incapable of spontaneously undergoing awe and joy at a natural instance. Such moments of simply being-in-the-moment are too rare, such moments like yesterday, when I cleaned out some of our gutters and marveled at how this wet black soil came to be in them, ten feet away from the ground. Then I thought it’s not soil but decayed leaves and pine needles, and then but that’s what soil is and I nearly fall off the ladder.

Back in the living room I read Orr quoting Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac):

One of the penalties of an ecological eduction is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.

I write “for Amie” in the margin (it is something I need to equip her for), close the book and plot the making of bread and this entry.

Amie and Baba at the Larz Anderson Park, oct 07 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie and Baba at the Park 

Yesterday morning was blustery and a little cloudy, but sunny and quite balmy. The three of us went to the Larz Anderson Park, where Amie ran and ran, up and down the hill, in a field of leaves and dandelions, hemmed in by trees changed to all kinds of colors.

Was she tired afterwards! 

Blue flower at Larz Anderson park, oct 07 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

On our way home we drove past a huge yard sale for a neighborhood school’s extended day program. It was very child-oriented, with heaps of children’s clothes, piles of books, and boxes and boxes of toys. Amie was very happy to delay her nap for an hour.

We bought mainly books, and small plastic bags stuffed with Schleich animals, and two Groovy Girls dolls. Don’t ask me which ones: they’re hard to identify without their clothes on! When we pointed them out to her, Amie piped: “O!” Sold. We also bought a $100 bike trailer for $30! Now I have to get a bike too, and we’re off on adventure at no cost to the earth!

Children’s Yard Sale find (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

One of the books I found was Donald Hall’s Ox-Cart Man. I came home and read it cover to cover. The book’s subject matter fits exactly the other books we’ve been reading, about nature and the turning of the seasons, the joy and worth of manual labor, and family life. I’ve always been a fan of Hall’s brand of “American poetry”. And the illustrations by Barbara Cooney are gorgeous in the “American folk” approach…

To offset the “American” aspect, I also got Laurent de Brunhoff’s Babar Learns to Cook. I love how Babar, the King of the Elephants, does all these domestic things. And how the elephant kids are up to all kinds of mischief all the time. {UPDATE: We now actually read the Babar book and I have to put this straight: Babar doesn’t cook at all! His wife, Celeste does… Sigh.}

Last but not least, while I had eyes only for the books, DH scored this set of handpainted porcelains cups (4), saucers (8), coffeepot (1) and milk pitcher (1). We’re not thrifters – don’t have the time, the money, the room – but when it comes to delicate porcelain cups and saucers… and then it was a pity to break up the set, which only cost us $8!

porcelain Yard Sale find (c) Katrien Vander Straeten