Blossoms Bower

Looking like a flock of white doves, the dogwood blossoms now bower over the soon-to-be shaded earth.

We’re blessed with extensive groves of Mountain Dogwoods (Cornus nuttallii) that form a lower canopy under the evergreens each summer. The trees range in size from small 3-4 foot high shrub-like bushes to 40-50 foot high "ancient" trees. An ancient tree is usually 40+ years old. The older trees are uncommon since they are susceptible to anthracnose, battle established trees for light and suffer limb-breaking snows in the winters.

While the trees favor moist areas, we find that the trees with the most blossoms are those that receive a healthy dose of sunshine. Sometimes you’ll see a large tree with only a single side branch with flowers. More than likely, that branch probably receives the only sunlight while the rest of the tree remains shaded by taller trees throughout the day.

The trees provide year-long interest - When summer draws to a close, the seemingly dead flower heads swell into bright red clusters of berries. The Stellar Jays and Flickers go wild over them. After gorging on the fruits, the birds spread the seeds through their droppings. In the autumn, the leaves turn beautiful shades of red, yellow, pink and bronze, proving that the West Coast has fall color too.
(Photo: Dogwood blossoms)


Sunshine Clothes

With the arrival of warmer weather we turn off the very-expensive-to-run electric dryer and exercise our arms by hanging our laundry outdoors.

I wore fresh, air-dried clothes as a kid. My mom never saw the shiny chrome of a dryer until about 1969, and even then it was used sparingly. Hanging laundry, as well as bringing it in, was a family chore. I learned early on how to prepare (wipe) the line, double up on clothes pins and the best way to shake out winkles. I also acquired a knack for hanging items in a specific order, so when taken down, folded and returned to the willow basket, there would be less effort once I was back in the house putting things away.

Today, those experiences continue to be of value. But now, there’s even more thought put into the task:

Line placement – Filtered sun is best as it lessens fading. Turning clothing inside out helps with this problem too.

Heavy loads – I don’t seem to remember my mom using these cool, little, dual-roller, plastic gizmos (the white thing in the photo) that you insert periodically to lift the bottom line to the upper one, thus preventing heavy, wet items from stretching to the the ground. I think we used wire coat hangers crafted in some weird manner to solve this.

Fabric Softener– I’ve never been a fan of anything more than eco-friendly laundry soap and some occasional beach, so I snub fabric softeners. However, if you’ve ever hung your clothes out, you know all too well the stiff and crisp nature laundry takes on. Usually, this can be removed with a quick snap of the item prior to folding, but towels seem to suffer the most. We cheat from time to time and gather the towels, before they turn into plywood, and throw them in the dryer for a couple of minutes. We’re experimenting with natural fabric softeners to reduce this issue and we'll report our findings in the future.

New learning aside, we still use wooden clothespins, a few of which have remained gainfully employed prior to 1969. Sunshine remains the same also, sort of, given all the climate change stuff going on. And, the smell of the finished product, well it’s still the same take-you-back-in-time scent that you just can’t find in a bottle…
(Photo: Drying work clothes)


Three's Company

Each spring, for a few brief days, and in only two secluded locations that we know of, an unusual and uncommon plant bursts into bloom at ShadowWoods. With such a scant and short display, it’s easy to miss this plant and even forget its existence.

Trillium, whose name conjures images of eerie toadstools, forest elves and magic potions, quickly sprouts and unfurls three leaves close to the ground which showcase a creamy-white blossom of three petals.

Its full name, Western Trillium (Trillium ovalum), is usually found in the California Coast Range in the moist redwood forests and is somewhat rare in the Sierra.

We wonder how our two growing areas, about 100 yards apart and sporting maybe half-dozen total plants, got started? How are they able to survive the colder winters here and continue the species? Perhaps there really are forest elves?
(Photo: Trillium ovalum)


Buster Bobo

Part angel and part clown (and a dash of monster!), our newest addition, Mr. Buster Bobo, keeps us on our toes!

Last Christmas Eve, a good friend asked us to foster this little guy. Since he was a stray, all attempts were made to locate his owners. After nothing clicked, this little character easily found a cozy place in our hearts and home.

Bobo, (aka Bolicious, Botron, Boboli, and other “Bo” morphs long before the First Dog came along) is an Affenpinscher. “Affenpinscher” translates from German to mean “monkey terrier” and like most small terrier breeds, he’s always on and ready for a good time. Inquisitive, sensitive, always underfoot, and sometimes selectively deaf, he rouses the other dogs, alerts us to wildlife and dines on a varied menu of leaves, bugs and feathers. Of course, this diet is his choosing, particularly when away from our supervision.

His fur is a bit sparse making him a lover of anything warm. With the nice spring weather, he enjoys standing guard while in a sliver of sunshine. When he seeks the shade it’s difficult to see him and interestingly, it’s when he most likely turns off his hearing aid. He's giving new meaning to the word "Shadow" to say the least...
(Photo: Bobo posing for the paparazzi)


Forest Cafe

It’s interesting how the things we miss most from city living become eager challenges for us to replicate at ShadowWoods. Usually these yearnings revolve around food and eating experiences. Take for example the morning visit to a neighborhood café –
In San Francisco, café life abounds, and with it a multitude of morning treats and crazies, I mean pastries. It’s so easy to satisfy sweet cravings while slugging your caffeine and taking in the awakening street scene.

To mimic what we took for granted when living in San Francisco, I employ my rural upbringing, you know, those things learned from mom, like weekly baking and annual preserving, to whip up our own little Café ShadowWoods experience. This morning, thick, toasted slices of fresh-baked, grain-laden bread with a healthy smear of home-canned jam are our substitute for the City’s doughy concoctions.

Grab a cup of coffee from the French press, head out to the deck or porch and watch the day begin. One big difference though is that our street scene is not of the human kind. We’ve got a different kind of flora and fauna to watch, and pretty crazy too! Come to think of it, with this view, the old street scene seems pretty tame now...
(Photo: 2008 Raspberry Jam )


Easter Turkey

When you think of the classic tom turkey running around in the wild, you might envision something that looks like those brown and orange tissue paper, Hallmark centerpieces that grandma set out annually. You imagine a brisk fall day, with vibrant leaves crunching under foot and a bird that is in full, puffed up regalia. Just add cornucopia, pilgrims and gourds.

Well, sorry to dash your long held icon of autumnal bliss! Around here, tom turkeys are barely to be found in November, and when they are, they’re scrappy, lean birds.

All their splendid costume can be seen now. Yes, springtime is mating season and the toms look like they’re on steroids. They strut, gobble, turn red and blue (legs and snood), fan out their tails and drape their wings all in hopes of attracting a harem of hens.

Often, several gobblers will present their show in unison, like Radio City Rockettes, without fighting or antagonizing each other. Their focus is on the seemingly aloof hens. Apparently, the male pecking order is worked out in advance.

Once the hens hatch their clutch, they ban together to raise the poults. The crash (a group of turkeys) stays together during the spring and summer months, while the toms generally go solo.

A funny sight is when turkeys prepare to roost for the evening. Around dusk, the crash will quickly trot, one by one, lifting off into flight. Even though they’re a large bird, they fly quite well once off the ground and gracefully glide through the trees. At ShadowWoods, they fly into the pines, first landing on lower branches, and then hopping up the tree until they’re high off the ground safe from nighttime predators. They're less graceful during the hopping stage...
(Photo: Three toms near North Road)


Think Fresh

It’s that time again…Time to plant the annual vegetable garden!

The seeds are sleeping in the cool basement. A few seedling starts are crying to be outside. The compost piles are eager to get moved and spread. The barren soil is dry enough for tilling. And, the yet-to-be-installed, cedar/solar fencing is ready to fend off the eager deer.

We photograph and chronicle every summer garden. We take notes on what worked and what failed. This has proven to be the best way to map the next season’s layout, to be smart about rotation and to know what seed to buy/keep.

This year we’ll plant more corn, okra and melons. We could do with fewer tomatoes and string beans, but hey, you can always give away vine-ripened tomatoes and snap-fresh beans. As always, we’ll plant a large area of basil to freeze enough pesto to last through winter. We’ll also increase root crops since we’ve added some rock-free, raised beds.

It’s always a lot of work, but the payoff of fresh, tasty and less-costly food far outweighs the labor. Speaking of weight, one can loose a few pounds gardening too!
(Photo: A snippet of the 2008 garden)