Big week

I was working in my home office last Tuesday, when my eye was drawn outside, to a spot of blue. Too dark for a bluebird, and anyway, our neighborhood isn’t bluebird habitat. It could only be one bird: an Indigo Bunting.

This wasn’t a first for me. I saw one several years ago while visiting friends on the north shore of Lake Superior, but this was the first time I’d seen one in Rhode Island. I went back to my work and when I was done, I went into the living room and glanced at the back deck and there he was.

The bunting has returned every day, feeding on sunflower seed and suet.

But wait. There’s more! The same day the bunting arrived, I also had several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, females and males.

Maybe it was because we’d had a storm the day before, (or it was kismet) but my feeding station looked like a photo on a bag of bird seed. The bright yellow goldfinches, the red house finches and even redder cardinals, the bunting, grosbeaks, red-breasted, hairy and downy woodpeckers, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, a PAIR of flickers and mourning doves. It was amazing.

I will be taking down my feeders very soon, but what a way to end the season.

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Quirk of nature

I have been watching this line of white birch trees for years. Most people would probably never give them a second look, but to a tree geek like me they are a marvel, because they shouldn’t be doing so well in a narrow strip, sandwiched between a car dealer and a gas station.

Like so many trees, they are buried in mulch, which has been applied right up to their trunks. (If you are going to use mulch, please keep it away from the trunk. Tree roots need to breathe.) But to me, the interesting thing is that despite this terrible location and poor care, they are doing quite well.

White birches are everywhere in Quebec where I grew up, but in Rhode Island, they are not liking the hotter, dry summers and we are urged to plant river birches instead. For some reason, though, these trees are happy in their unlikely gas station habitat and I always enjoy looking at them when I stop here.

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Enough already

This has been the view from my office during the four nor’easters we have had so far in March. The first one was the worst for us, because we lost power. The second brought about a foot of snow. The third and fourth brought varying degrees of snow, wind, ice, rain and annoyance.

Here are my first crocuses, the day before one of the storms – I can’t remember which.

Here are the same crocuses 24 hours later, as the storm was beginning. I know they can survive these storms, but they do get mushy.

The first storm was very windy. This large pine came down across the road, inches from my husband’s car as he was driving home. Those are his car’s headlights in the photo, after he quickly reversed. It really was quite scary, because we weren’t sure if more trees were going to fall.

Dog-owners have to venture outside, no matter what. This was the scene that greeted me on one outing. It was during that brief period when the plows were waiting before clearing the roads, and everything was still white. When I was a kid back in Quebec, we’d all be out playing in this until our mothers yelled at us to come inside.

With her thick double coat, my dog really enjoyed just lying in the snow, wearing a blissful expression.

I made sure to get out the next morning as the sun was coming up. I knew the light would be optimal, and it was.

All that snow has melted, of course. It’s amazing how quickly weather can transform the landscape.

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I bought this plant yesterday from an orchid-grower who was speaking at my club. I have no idea why he was selling these in addition to the orchids, but I thought it was a cool plant. It is a Pinguicula, commonly known as Butterwort. (The name alone was enough to hook me.)

The more I learned about butterworts, the more interested I became. The best part is, this is a carnivorous plant that will capture and slowly devour fungus gnats, those nasty little flying pests that plague indoor gardeners.

No one could tell me which cultivar my plant is, (which I always find annoying) but after doing some research, I’m pretty sure it’s a tropical butterwort, that unlike the temperate species, will not go dormant. Native to Haiti, Central America, Cuba and southern Florida, tropical butterworts produce a sticky substance on their leaves that traps insects, which are then slowly digested. They are said to be particularly fond of gnats.

Like other carnivorous plants, butterwort grows in a relatively nutrient-free medium, hence its need for supplemental nutrition from insects. No potting soil or fertilizer required – in fact, those will kill the plant. Mine came potted in Sphagnum moss which, I understand, should be kept moist.

I like this plant’s almost cartoonish appearance, and I can’t wait for it to start eating.

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My new Witch Hazel is in bloom! I planted it last May to add some structure to the front garden and I made sure to keep it watered through the dry days of last summer. This cultivar is “Purpurea,” but I think it should be called “Burgundia,” because the little flowers are more burgundy than purple. But niggling aside, what else flowers in Rhode Island in February?

The flowers are very pretty and most welcome at this time of year. They are also supposed to be fragrant, although I haven’t detected a fragrance. Maybe you have to stick your nose right up against them.

This shrub, whose correct botanical name is Hamamelis vernalis, or Ozark Witch Hazel, will grow to about 10 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 6-a to 9-b. I have read that it likes moist growing conditions, so I will water it faithfully when necessary. Other than that, it’s deer-resistant and generally care free. It even has lovely foliage in the fall.

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Creatures of the night

Do you ever wonder who visits your yard at night? We now live in a much wilder place than our previous home near the ocean, and in addition to a larger more wooded property, our neighborhood has a protected wooded buffer, offering even more wildlife habitat so there’s lots going on almost every night.

The above photo was taken with our relatively new wildlife camera, the Reconyx Microfire, which was recommended to us by a friend. We have it mounted on a fence, facing the back of the property. It’s pricey, but so far anyway, worth it.

This game camera is automatic, so anything within its range that moves it photographs or videos. I am hoping that when our resident black bear emerges from hibernation, it’ll get a few shots of him, too.

Here are a couple of other visitors. This fox, (or maybe it’s several, who knows?) swings by almost every night. Nice bushy tail!

And here’s one of those big, burly Rhode Island coyotes, looking like he or she is just hanging out. The camera downloads images to my iPhone, so I can view and edit them easily.

I’ll be sure to post new and interesting photos as they happen. So far, it’s been a lot of fun to see what’s going on while we’re sleeping.


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A chance encounter with mushroom hunters

I was walking my dog (and shivering because it was wicked windy and cold ) at the Charlestown Breachway this afternoon and ran into this interesting couple, who gave me a copy of their intriguing 2019 calendar/book, “Gourmet Mushrooms of the Northeast.” They were in search of snowy owls, so we chatted a bit about birds and then they  produced the 48-page calendar from their car and handed it to me through the open window. Serendipity at its most serendipitous.

“They” turned out to be Ryan Bouchard and Emily Schmidt, founders of the Mushroom Hunting Foundation, an organization devoted to the study and safe consumption of wild mushrooms. The couple also conducts workshops and seminars on finding and identifying wild mushrooms. I wish I had thought to ask them how they fell so deeply into this passion, but my fingers were too cold to hold a pen.

In addition to detailed color photos of mushrooms, there’s a wealth of information, including an interesting piece on the history of wild mushroom-hunting in Rhode Island. Here’s a cool page showing everything you need for a hunting expedition.

Each month features gorgeous photos of a particular species, a calendar and a detailed description of the mushroom. Here is October’s mushroom of the month: Hen of the woods.

The authors do not encourage people to just head into the woods, find mushrooms and eat them. There is a clear warning about consuming species you are not familiar with and even possible allergies to mushrooms which are normally considered safe to eat.

Here’s the May mushroom, a lovely species called “Pheasant Polypore.” Even if you never harvest a single one of the mushrooms in this calendar/book, it’s still a lovely thing to hang on a wall.

More information on the calendar and the foundation is available here:

Editor’s note: The mushroom hunters responded to my musing about how they became so passionate about wild mushrooms. Here’s the comment:

“It was a pleasure meeting you and thank you for featuring us in your blog!,” Emily Schmidt wrote. ” To answer your question, we fell so deeply into this passion because after sampling the flavor of our first wild mushroom, we were utterly hooked. The flavor of the wild varieties are so much different (and in my opinion much better and more complex) than store bought varieties. We knew we had to learn how to collect more of them.”





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A little green inside

This sprig of hemlock is the last remnant of my Christmas decorations. It looked so cute in its tiny vase that I couldn’t bear to put it on the compost pile. Then I got to thinking about how plants brighten my home indoors at this time of year and how much they enhance my daily life.

Another way to brighten up your indoor environment is with cut flowers. I know they are not environmentally sustainable, but once in a while, I can’t help myself.

I brighten my home all year long by growing orchids. This tiny, beautiful flower is Sophronitis cernua and it’s open now. It grows on my kitchen windowsill and I love its tropical color.

This orchid is Dendrobium “Snow King.” The flowers are now opening. That’s a humidity tray it’s sitting on. I keep my windowsill orchids on them all year long, but I fill the trays with water in the winter. The plants seem to appreciate it.

Another indoor gardening activity I enjoy is listening to podcasts about plants and gardening.

My favorite houseplant podcast is from the U.K. and the host, Jane Perrone, is knowledgeable and witty.

Here’s a link to her  website, and from there you can click on her podcast “On the Ledge.”

Another more general gardening podcast I enjoy is “A Way to Garden,” hosted by Margaret Roach.

Here’s the link to her website:

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Weather woes

This restaurant window sums up our Christmas holiday. We spent it in Quebec visiting my family and it was below zero every single day. I am one of those rare creatures who enjoys a good cold winter, but this really put a damper on our fun.

This was one of the warmer mornings. Our dog loves the snow and the cold, but it was too much and really hurt her paws. We brought her to be fitted with dog boots. A total failure.

None of the boots fit her stumpy legs and big, pudgy paws. In this photo, she was patiently letting the sales person put on a fourth pair, without success.

Oh, and on the first morning after we arrived, she made the mistake of licking a metal doorstop. I recounted this story to colleagues at work and they begged me to stop, so I will just leave it there.

Another fun thing that happened was that our windshield washer fluid, the one I buy in Canada that’s good to 40 degrees below zero, froze solid in the car, so we were unable to clean our windshield at all, and neither could anyone else.

There were no walks in the woods and no skiing. We sat around inside, eating too much and trying not to get on each other’s nerves. I had a good novel, which probably kept me sane.

So it was with some relief that we headed south after the holiday, back to Rhode Island where winters are balmy by comparison – until a blizzard hit just a couple of days after we returned, followed by sub zero temperatures.

This was the view from my office during the storm. But we made it through unscathed, and we are cozy in our house despite the cold outside. It’s been a challenging couple of weeks, though.

Happy New Year!

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More New York Christmas

Photo dump from my recent trip to New York City. Times Square was crazy as always.

People were shopping for Christmas trees. Many of the trees were tiny little things for tiny little apartments. These were about 3 feet tall.

The weather was absolutely perfect. This is the outdoor eating area next to the Union Square Christmas market. We stopped for a bite and took in the atmosphere.

This man was walking six dogs. I asked him if I could take a photo and he said it was fine, as long as I didn’t try and talk to the dogs. There was a cute corgi in the group, but he/she hid under the bench. Note the extreme stink-eye coming from the little dog with the muzzle. Yikes!

This is the Met Breuer museum, where I saw the Edvard Munch exhibit: Between the Clock and the Bed. Most people know Munch for a version of this:

But my friends and I were very moved by his other work, which, I must add, was wonderfully curated.

This is a self-portrait of the artist in Hell. There were several self-portraits in this show, which I appreciated for their  honesty. I know that Munch has been endlessly described as a “dark” and “tortured,” but look at this:  “Starry Night 1.”

I will end on a superficial note. This is  “soca,” a chickpea flour pancake adorned with fresh sage leaves and parmesan cheese. It is a specialty of southern France – Nice to be specific, and it is served at one of our new favorite restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen.

I wish all of my readers a fun and relaxing holiday. I’ll be back at it in January.

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