First Frog! and other firsts

First frog in the pond sighted today!

I saw the first frog in the pond this morning! I came to sit quietly earlier, saw nothing, and then when I came back a while later, there she was, sunning herself on a stone. I almost missed seeing her. She’s a darker color than the ones from last year, but still in the green frog species. Later, I saw her in the water, with her eyes just above the surface, sitting still, as they do. Welcome little frog!

It was a day of firsts. The first cherry blossom opened on our Lapins sweet cherry.

White cherry blossom with maroon leaf edges.

As we sat at the patio table, Margy saw the first hummingbird–darting to where the feeder used to be–(there is a hanging folded paper peace dove there now). It was too quick for us to get a picture. But after lunch, I put out the feeder–not there, but on the other side of the deck, so as not to disturb the robin, who is nesting again. Yesterday morning, she was sitting with her beak open, and she kept it open for quite a long time. We wondered if by any chance that meant she was laying an egg. (It reminded me of women in labor, taking shallow breaths as they prepared to birth the baby.) They say she will lay one egg per day until she has her brood of 3 or 4. If all goes well, she will incubate them for 2 weeks, and feed babies for 2 weeks. She still comes and goes during the day. I hope she tolerates our presence. We’re trying to be quiet as we go in and out.

It feels like, with the arrival of May, all the creatures are joining us in our wonderful little back yard. My heart is smiling.

Robin with beak parted, on nest in beam.

Pond Tending

Marsh Marigolds and Blue Flag Irises in the pond, with pad for tending on the side

After several chilly windy days, we finally had a sunny warmer day today, and I worked on tending the pond. I rinsed off the soil from the two potted Marsh Marigolds I purchased last weekend, and “planted” them in the stones of the plant shelf in the pond. The blue flag irises nearby are shooting up their spikes with great vigor, and they have multiplied. The ferns on the other side have new shoots, as well as the sweet flag. But several of my other plants aren’t doing anything yet–we’ll see. If they can’t survive Maine winters, I’ll abandon those species and use other plants. But this is our first spring, so I don’t know their patterns yet.

Also arriving yesterday, a pond lily plant! After last year’s attempt to grow one in pebbles didn’t work, I tried another option this year. I put it in a pot with clayish soil, per the directions, with a layer of pebbles on top of the soil. I looked all over to find a native water lily, but didn’t have much success with that. I finally ordered one on Amazon of all places. It is from Chalily.com and is the variety Virginalis, which is a hardy variety with prolific white flowers, they say, and good for small to medium size ponds. It arrived as a tuber with several leaves already growing on it. I have high hopes that it will flourish.

Water lily underwater.

After taking care of these three plants, I positioned myself lying flat on the ground, with a little pad over the stones near the pond, and I went around the pond reaching in to fish out dead leaves. I also reassembled any areas where stones had become dislodged over the winter-thankfully not too many of those, though I did notice that several of the white stones I bought from a big box store have cracked apart. I wonder if they were stones at all? And one extra promising note–when I was using the skimmer to see if I could take out some deeper leaves, I saw the movement of some small critter swimming quickly away–I think there might be a frog under there already. I also saw several dragonfly nymphs. I am so happy that now the pond is ready for the season!

I also feel really thankful that I had the energy to do all these tasks. I even transplanted some violets out from the asparagus bed, over to the area around the pond. It is always a mystery, what my energy will be with chronic illness. It is touch and go, and then, when I run out of energy, I can’t do another thing. My mind goes on with what it wants to do next, but my body demands rest. I seem to do worse on colder days and better on warmer ones.

Despite the chilly days we’ve been having, the yard has been waking up nonetheless. The cherry and peach trees have buds almost ready to open. I’ve harvested my first asparagus. The chives are exuberant. And there are pansies all over the paths in the orchard. So cheerful. I decided to keep them all as a ground cover. I was feeling discouraged about the thuggishness of the oregano growing under the trees, but now I’ve decided that oregano can be a ground cover too. If you can’t beat it, welcome it? Doing a bit of research, I discovered that some people even plant oregano to be a ground cover. So if it really wants to spread, that is what it will be. Finally today, when I ran out of energy, I laid in the hammock and just listened to the cardinal singing. It has been a glorious day.

One of the many patches of pansies in the orchard.

Spring Beauty

Photo: Cardinal seen from our yard this morning

I have started to take short walks in the neighborhood–just 10-15 minutes each morning. It feels good to be moving again and hopefully building my strength. I especially get energy from the birds singing so exuberantly. There are cardinals all over the neighborhood.

This morning, from our backyard I saw several cardinals chasing each other through some tangled branches. They especially like the plot of undeveloped land next to the back of our yard, that we call the “fairy field.” Sadly, it is filled with invasive bittersweet and multi-flora rose that Margy is trying to curb, but it does make for lots of brush up to higher branches, and the cardinals seem happy there. Perhaps they are young males trying to establish their own territory.

Or perhaps they, too, are merely feeling the exuberance of warmer air and brighter days, and can’t keep from singing.

More beauty: some of the pond plants are starting to green up. Especially the blue flag iris. No frogs yet, but I go back and check each day just to see when they might arrive. Only a few of the stones were dislodged during the ice of winter. When it rained the last couple days, there was flooding all along the back yard area beyond the pond, and an overflowing “drain.” But it didn’t seem to be a problem. I hope all of the plants from last year will come back. I am also hoping to add some Marsh Marigold when it comes in to our local nursery. This will be our first spring with the pond, and so it is all an adventure, a slow, curious, waiting kind of adventure.

Blue flag iris beginning to grow at the edge of the pond.

Mysterious Illness and Melting Ice

Ice slowing melting & refreezing in our pond (March 22, 2022)

I recently read Sarah Ramey’s memoir, The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness. Published just last year, it is described this way:

“In her harrowing, darkly funny, and unforgettable memoir, Sarah Ramey recounts the decade-long saga of how a seemingly minor illness in her senior year of college turned into a prolonged and elusive condition that destroyed her health but that doctors couldn’t diagnose or treat. Worse, as they failed to cure her, they hinted that her devastating symptoms were psychological. …Ramey’s pursuit of a diagnosis and cure for her own mysterious illness becomes a page-turning medical mystery that reveals a new understanding of today’s chronic illnesses as ecological in nature, driven by modern changes to the basic foundations of health, from the quality of our sleep, diet, and social connections to the state of our microbiomes.”

Book Jacket Cover

I haven’t experienced the horrifying stories she recounts with medical personnel, but I know others who have. I think it helped that I was usually drawn to alternative practitioners, though Sarah had her own horror stories with alternative practitioners. She finally found help with practitioners of Functional Medicine, and my own primary care nurse practitioner is aligned with that field. For that I am grateful.

I identified with the mysterious nature of auto-immune chronic conditions–when I reflected on it, I realized that they have been a part of my life for many years–most recently, Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, SIBO, adrenal fatigue, and borderline diabetes, but earlier in my life there was endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and gradually developing multiple chemical sensitivities, and multiple food sensitivities. For most of my life, I managed to work and keep my balance, but it became more and more difficult. Finally, when I turned 65, and could access Social Security and Medicare, I retired from my work as a full-time minister.

I wondered at the time if being released from the stress of full-time work might bring me relief from the illnesses, but that was not to be the case. Instead, I was better able to manage living with the illnesses. But it is a delicate balance. If I eat well (for me that means no refined sugar, no gluten, low carb, lots of vegetables, and meat, while avoiding the list of specific foods that give me problems), if I rest when I am weary (which is spending some variable part of every day lying on the couch), if I take certain natural supplements (for example, I take Berberine, which has been shown to be as effective as Metformin for helping blood sugar balance), and if I don’t overdo it anywhere, well then, I have some energy to do things I love, to write, to garden a bit, to learn new things, even the miracle of building our little pond last year.

Sometimes, I can forget that I have these illnesses. Some days I wake in the morning rested and glad to greet a new day. I might have several hours to work on projects. I tend to get more weary and achy as the day goes by. And during these two years so far of COVID, I have been glad for the many opportunities that the world on Zoom provided. But then, something happens that upsets the balance, and I am sunk into a lower level of functioning, just barely able to cook my meals and take care of the basics. Most recently, I think that my body might have reacted badly to my second Shingrix vaccine. The last four weeks have been mostly couch weeks: reading books and watching British mysteries on Roku. I hope that I am emerging from that now. It is not easy to know what upsets the balance–all I can do is respond to it.

Because I am always asking questions about meaning, I appreciated the connection that Sarah Ramey made between our chronically ill bodies, and the larger ecology of the earth. I think about that too. I wonder if my own body is mirroring the afflictions of the earth I love, is somehow sensitive to the larger web–global warming, the prevalence of forever poisons, the loss of communal connections, the ecological balance which human beings have undermined. If that is the case, can I love my body as I love the earth? Can I grant her that self-care that has been neglected for too long?

One aspect that Sarah Ramey sees as critical is our need for human connection. I was reflecting on how for much of my life I made connection through activism, through shared work. I still feel the impulse to act for justice, in small ways, but there are less opportunities now for the connection that used to be a part of it. I have also felt more isolated since retiring, and, of course, since COVID. Maybe I need to learn something new–to nurture connection that is not at all about work or social justice, but about something more elementary. Can I be cherished, not for what I do, but for my being? Can I cherish others in this way? Can I also cherish myself in just this way? Perhaps it will require a kind of spring melting of some other kind of hidden ice. May it be so.

Hard to see, but there is a thin clear layer of ice on the surface of the pond this morning, but more of the winter ice is melting each day. March 26, 2022

All Hallow’s Eve/Samhain

Fresh cedar sprigs under a pair of cardinals welcome sign on our white front door.

Today we welcome the ancestors with special foods, with herbal incense, and with a fire in our fire circle! For herbal incense I use cedar–I’ll use a dried bundle I made before, and burn it in our fire circle. Cedar was widely used by my Innu ancestors, and so I think their spirits will especially appreciate it. We also have a cedar tree right on the edge of our own yard, so I ask the cedar tree for permission to cut some sprigs to make more cedar bundles, and also to put cedar on our front and back doors for protection from harm, and welcome to benevolent spirits.

The special food I made is bannock, a traditional Innu bread, called ińnu-pakueshikan, which they adapted from the Scottish. Since I can’t eat wheat bread, I used 1/2 oatmeal flour (which is actually what the Scottish used) and 1/2 almond flour. Here is my recipe, adapted from several I found online. It is a very simple bread with many variations. Mix all ingredients together.

  • 1 1/2 cup oat flour (made in a blender from GF rolled oats)
  • 1 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cup water (this might have been more than I needed)
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries.

I put it in a greased skillet, and let it bake in a 375 degree oven for 55 minutes. After about 40 minutes, I cut it in four, and turned the sections over in the pan. A small dish is all set to go outside for the spirits, for when we have our fire. It is crusty on the outside, and a bit mushy on the inside. Tasty with butter.

Blueberry bannock in cast iron pan, cut.

I have been continuing my search for my Innu ancestor Marie Madeleine’s family. Lately this has been by hunting for as many details as I can about Marie Madeleine Katshisheskueit, which means “hard-working-woman”, who was born 11/11/1795, and baptised in Portneuf 6/28/1796. I was finally able to see an actual image of her baptism record, and discovered her actual parents, Jean-Pierre Utshinitsiu (Utshinishkushu=whirlpool?) and Veronique Kaskanieshtshist. (Kashkanatshish=rock ptarmigan) (The earlier source had directed me to another set of parents entirely.) So I began hunting for the rest of their family and found a few more generations, and many cousins.

This was a relief to me because I also discovered that Marie Madeleine Katshisheskueit’s mother died in 1797, when she was only two years old. I was filled with grief for this toddler, and wondered how she would be able to survive such a loss. Then I remembered that my Passamaquoddy teacher Roger Paul said that the whole community always cared for all the children. They didn’t divide into small nuclear families, but rather in extended families. I saw that her godmother, Marie Madeleine Iskuamiskuskueu, was the cousin of her father (and also the mother of another Marie Madeleine that is not my ancestor). So she was likely taken care of and loved by all these relatives.

I haven’t been able to find other records of her life after 1800, so far, which means there is nothing to rule her out. It might mean that she disappeared somewhere, or it might possibly mean that she is my own ancestor, showing up in 1830 without any surname or Innu name that would clarify her identity to me. The hunt continues, only now I am looking at her family members, to get a picture of their relatedness.

Finally, another update: I had been wondering what to do about the frogs in the pond, as winter approaches. Well, it turns out they are doing it for themselves. The last time we saw frogs in the pond was a week ago, and just two small ones remaining. We don’t know where they went, but they must know how to take care of themselves, perhaps find some mud to bury in, or someplace protected for the winter. Our pond is probably too shallow, with too little mud for that purpose, I assume. So the pond is getting colder, and the frogs are gone. Hopefully, we’ll see them again in the spring.

May the blessings of this season be with you, may your ancestors bring you blessings when you open your heart to them, and may we survive the coming cold with grace and peace! Blessed Samhain! Now I’m going outside to the fire circle.

Two small frogs on a rock near iris stalks, with fallen leaves in the water.

Pond Flowers and more

The cardinal flower is starting to bloom, bright red against the dark of the water.

Two of the pond plants are starting to flower: the cardinal flower, and the arrowhead plant. The cardinal flower is supposed to be a favorite for hummingbirds. I hope they find it. The frogs continue to bring delight by their patient sitting poses, or quick jumping into the depths when startled. One day I counted a total of 13 frogs–usually I can find 3 big ones, and from 5 to 10 small ones, depending on the day and time of day. My little Zoom camera stopped working, so I am using the iPhone camera, which doesn’t work well for close-ups. But check out the flowers on the arrowhead plant. And, can you find the hidden frog in this photo?

Arrowhead plant with tiny white and yellow flowers.

If you are still looking for the frog, here is a clue: her eyes and head are hidden by green plant leaves, and only her legs and body are barely visible against the stones. At first I thought her legs were dead plant leaves. With all of the pain and sorrow in the world, these simple beauties bring nurture to my spirit.

Margy and I were delighted to be part of the Resilience Hub‘s Permaculture Open House last Saturday, and welcomed about a dozen people to our yard to share the highs and lows of permaculture gardening. Including, of course, sitting by the pond and talking about pond building. Everyone was careful about our COVID protocols, and we met some really great people.

Since then we have harvested our elderberries–Margy cut the berry clusters one evening, and then the next morning I read online that they should be processed or frozen within twelve hours. So my morning was spent gently separating the berries from of their clusters, rinsing them in a big pot, and then freezing them until I had time to make elderberry syrup. This was our first harvest from the bush, which grew huge this season.

Elderberry clusters in a brown bag
Separating the berries from the cluster branches.

My other big harvesting job this week has been processing more kale. Because of the netting I put over the raised bed, I am cutting the lower leaves of all the plants at once, rather than bit by bit as I have done in prior years. I put them into this blue plastic bushel basket. Then, one by one, I cut them up, rinse a batch in a salad spinner, and then sauté them batch by batch before freezing in quart freezer bags. I’ve only finished about half this bunch–and there will of course be more to harvest later.

A huge plastic bushel basket filled with kale, on the floor next to the stove.

Finally, I will say that our zucchini harvests have been just the right amount so far for us to be eating as we go, but our cucumbers are going wild! We don’t pickle them, but just eat them raw–if you live nearby, please come and get some from us! They are really delicious, but we’ll never keep up. The photo below is only some of them!

Cucumbers and zucchini in a wooden bowl.

Frogs and More Frogs!

Today I saw four frogs in the pond! When I went outside before breakfast, there was plenty of weeding to do in the orchard, but I was drawn instead to bring my camera and just sit by the pond. When I first walk back to the pond, the frogs often jump from where they’ve been sitting, and swim down into the deeper water. Two of them went under with a little squeak. But there were three plops both yesterday and today, so I knew there were at least three frogs.

Tiny frog #1 floating under reflected ferns yesterday
Tiny frog #1 sitting on a stone at the edge of the pond yesterday.

If I sit quietly next to the pond, eventually they come back to a sitting spot. So I wait. Today I was able to take pictures of three of them while I sat. But I find myself favoring the tiny little frog that was the first to come to the pond. Soon I imagine we will give them names, but for now, I am identifying them by number. This one is so very tiny. At most an inch and a half head to backside, and skinny. Also very friendly. She often perches near where I sit.

Tiny frog #1 swimming closer to where I sit today. You can see her feet clearly against the white of the rocks below.
Tiny frog #1 looks like she is watching me over the edge today.

Yesterday, I was also able to take photos of frog #2, who was a little bigger than frog #1. But today, I saw both #2 and #3 after they re-emerged, and came to sit/float near each other by the little beach. #3 looked so much fatter/bigger than the other two, but then I realized depending on the angle, frog #2 could also be somewhat fat. I think they were about 2 1/2 inches long.

Frogs #2 and #3 on the rocks near the beach.
Close up of Frog #2 from yesterday
Close up from behind of Frog #2 yesterday

So Frog #3 is the largest, and seemingly the shyest. Quickest to jump back into the water, so far. But I got several shots of #3 today. And then, just as I was about to leave, I saw another tiny little frog floating nearby, between me and the beach. So Frog #4. More like #1 in size.

Frog #4 floating near the pickerel weed.

It is just so amazing to watch the wildlife in the pond. I can sit and sit. I also saw dragonfly nymphs again. But eventually I got hungry so I came inside for breakfast. I feel so grateful.

Pond Frog Sitting

Photo: Tiny frog sitting on a large stone at the edge of the pond

Today the frog in the pond let me take its picture! I came outside this morning and just sat for a while at the edge of the pond, writing in my journal and being quiet under a cloudy sky. It felt a little bit peculiar to be done with the work of building the pond. To let go of the strange obsession for finding stones that has filled the last several weeks. I have been working on the pond since April! I didn’t see the frog at first. I was glancing around at the yard, and all the ways that Margy and I get overwhelmed trying to care for the land. We are old, we are disabled, we are ignorant of the many needs of plants, just beginners. It is hard to be good stewards of the land. There is always more to do than we can do. So I make a decision to let go: let go of the burden of it, let go of the overwhelm, let go of trying to do more than we can. Here I am, it’s a new day: be amazed at life!

At some point, I decided to walk around the edge of the pond to look at how the plants are doing. And then I suddenly saw the frog, sitting quietly. No plops into the water, no jumping away. Just sitting quietly, paying no mind to me while I was also sitting quietly, and now walking quietly. (Perhaps it has figured out that we people who come to this pond are no threat–we can share the pond?) It was on a big stone at the bottom of the beach, with its eyes out of the water and its very tiny body in the water. Its head maybe a half inch long, its body another inch, long folded legs. It let me take its picture many times. When I walked back to my chair, this is how it looked from over there, almost invisible, but now visible to me:

Photo: Can you see the tiny frog on the mottled stone near the deeper water, five stones to the right of the red stone?

When I came back inside, I did more research, and this frog seems to be of the species called the green frog–the most common frog in our region-it can be green, olive, brown. (One site joked–close your eyes and think of a frog–that is the green frog.) It is likely a female, because the tympanum–the round “ear” circles behind its eyes–are the same size as its eyes. In males, they are larger.

UPDATE: I’VE GONE ROUND AND ROUND ON THE IDENTIFICATION OF THIS FROG. I WONDERED IF IT COULD BE A FEMALE BULLFROG, BECAUSE THE DORSAL-LATERAL RIDGES GO BEHIND THE EARS, RATHER THAN DOWN THE BACK. BUT THEN I REALIZED IT WAS MUCH TOO SMALL FOR A BULLFROG. I AM BACK TO THINKING IT IS A GREEN FROG. SEE THIS CAN YOU ID THE FROG SITE.

I sat with the frog for quite a bit longer, until some raindrops started falling on the water, on me, on the frog. I stood and looked away for a moment, and when I looked back she was gone without a sound. What a lovely teacher she was for the practice of sitting quietly, for letting go, and being amazed by life.

Pond: a little frog

Photo: The pond sides are now covered with stones.

This morning, when I approached the pond, I heard a distinctive plop! And later, approaching again, I saw a tiny frog leap quickly from the beach rocks into the water. Another plop! It is our first frog. (Or maybe it is a toad–still not sure). No chance to catch it in a photo. But I am sure it was the best sound all day! And in more good news, most other pond projects are now complete.

The other day I used up the rest of the half-yard of stones I had gotten delivered early in the process–I added more to the planting ledge so that the plants were better anchored, and then I planned to use the rest of the stones in an upgraded overflow channel spill hole.

We had two inches of rain from tropical storm Elsa, and I was out there in my raincoat in the rain with a shovel, digging the spill hole bigger so muddy water wouldn’t flow back into the pond. Yesterday, I took a leaky five gallon bucket and drilled lots of holes all over it, so water would flow through it easily, but it could hold stones. Then I dug the spill hole deep enough to put the bucket down below the level of the spillway. I filled the bucket with small stones, and also put stones underneath and around the outside of it, finishing up with it today. Another rain is coming tomorrow so I will see if it works.

Photo: white plastic bucket, after drilling holes in the sides and bottom
It is hard to show the slope, which goes down from the spillway on the right gently down to the hole on the left. The bucket is completely buried with more stones on top. I also repurposed some painted shells that had been made for me by the kids in my old church when I retired.

I have gone on many adventures looking for stones on the side of country roads, but I finally succumbed to the temptation to buy a few more bags of stones at the big box store. (I had tried that once before but the quality was terrible.) I needed more small stones to fill up the spill hole, and I needed larger ones for one small section of pond siding under the little deck. The small ones enabled me to complete the spill hole. The larger ones were a weird cream color, that left a creamy residue when washed. I don’t know what they do to them. But I put them in place, along with a few bricks, under the little deck, and now it is complete.

Since my last posting, I was also delighted to receive some blue flag iris from our friend Lisa Fernandes, who gleaned it from her pond. They are already growing new shoots! You can see them in the upper photo, the largest plants on the other side of the pond. I also transplanted my little pond lily tubers into a larger basket filled with stones, and placed them on the lower shelf.

It is so lovely to sit by the side of the pond and watch the reflections on the water… may you have such loveliness in your life.

Pond: Little Deck

Photo: Pond with deck

Yesterday, I installed a little deck on the edge of the pond! This idea was an evolving process–at first I was going to put a large slate stone at the spot on the surface that leads into the steps inside the pond. But working on the pond during the last several weeks, I discovered that slate gets really, really hot in the sun. So then I was trying to come up with something that could serve as a top step that wouldn’t get hot.

Happily, I found an upcycling solution! In our garage, there were six wooden decking boards from the previous owners that were stored on rafters above the cars. They were very heavy, about six feet long, and some of them were attached to each other, but I was able to get two of them down. The boards were painted brown, and they too got very hot in the sun. But then I found some older paint cans in the basement. I did a prime coat of white on one day, and then a coat of light gray concrete paint, which has some waterproof qualities, two days later. Yesterday, I drilled holes and screwed them together with small boards I had also painted.

Everything was a bit off level–the boards, the ground–so I installed them using small stones underneath to stabilize things. Voila! We now have a top step, which is also a little deck where we can sit on the very edge of the pond, with our feet in the water. And after positioning a few more stones, and slate rocks, I can now say that the surface level of the pond is virtually complete. I still need to find some more five inch stones to line the rest of the vertical sides under that area, but if you look at it from this side, you can’t see any liner showing.

The tiny plants are starting to grow a bit, the pond lily rhizome that I positioned on a lower level sent up a tiny leaf all the way to the surface. I’ve topped up the water level with water from the rain barrel once. I plan to add more small stones to the planting ledge to give plants more to hang onto. This morning it looked like someone had messed around with the pickerel rush plants. I still have to finish the overflow channel. It will all continue to grow and develop as the summer goes on… hopefully the plants will start to take over half the surface of the water. But what a happy moment today!

Photo: Pond lily leaf, about one inch in diameter