A blog about a first-time house owner learning to maintain his backyard, and thoughts about nature, science, history, and life.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


One of the advantages of having a dock is that you can launch boats from it (or bring them in from the creek on it).  In fact, that's about the only advantage of having a dock.  This afternoon, I was out moving some branches in the yard - literally moving them from a small pile on one side of the yard to a bigger pile on the other side of the yard - when I heard voices floating down the creek.  I looked up and saw four fellow Freevilleites (Freevillians?) kayaking down the creek.  They had put in about a half-mile upstream, by the big intersection in town, and rowed for a leisurely 45 minutes down the creek (the creek winds quite a bit, so their traveling distance was probably closer to 2 miles).  I watched them get out of their kayaks - I have to learn how to do these things - and helped haul a kayak up to the post office parking lot.  It was quite the pleasant surprise, and a nice ending to a beautiful afternoon in Freeville.  The man said that he has "a whole garage full of kayaks" and said that I could try out some different sizes before I buy my own.  Maybe next time I'll be out there with them.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Cleaning Up Some Branches

As I pointed out during Looking Ahead Week, the first task of spring is cleaning up the fallen branches and unwanted plants from around the yard.  As you can see in the above photo, there are plenty of dead branches on, leaning against, and fallen below the trees.  In some places, especially around the area where I started the clean-up - that I'm discussing in this post - it was particularly ugly.

The simplest task was simply rounding up the branches that had fallen to the ground and piling them in another part of the yard so I can eventually take them to the county's yard waste collection center.  They accept branches up to 4" in diameter, so most of the branches in my yard can go, even some of the longer, larger ones.

I started this clean-up a couple of Sundays ago, when there was still plenty of snow on the ground.  In some places, it was hard to tell which branches were part of which organism, and whether it was living or dead.  Further complicating things, there were fallen branches sitting on top of or leaning over living ones.  It made for a rather jumbled situation:

The biggest pest seemed to be some vines that I had started to clear out back in the fall.  They're annoying buggers to get out of the ground, with long, straight roots.  The root of the vine below is the approximately foot-long dark brown segment in the center of the photo.

And amid the snow, grass and weeds below, you can see the thin, ropey, tangled vine that I had pulled off of the tree.  The vine grows right next to the tree, intertwining its branches with those of the tree.  As the vine gets thicker, it pulls the tree's branches down.

Here's a look at the trunks of a vine plant (left) and a tree (right) whose trunk is curved to avoid the vine's many branches.

And here's a view from farther out of the two plants.  Now you can see the many branches of the vine, low to the ground on the left, and the curved trunk of the tree on the right.  In the background is a thin, straight-trunked tree.

To end the post, here are a couple of before-and-after shots of the tree showing how much junk I was able to clear out around its base.  Of course, there's still more to clean up...there's a dangling branch that has mostly broken off, and there's the thick vine leaning up against the tree to remove.  But at least much of the rest of the mess is out of the way.

Since this initial clean-up effort, I've gotten back to the yard a couple more times to clear out some other sections.  More on that in the coming days.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Opening Up!

I guess we can say that spring has arrived.  The front yard was the place to be this morning, with birds feasting on bird seed, and in the flowerbed right in front of the house, the crocuses finally opened up this morning.  Now they just need some insects to do the pollinating...but it's still maybe a bit too cold for that.

One of these days - maybe this weekend - I'll have to get out there and pull out the weeds.  But it's good to see the yard slowly returning to life after a long winter.  Before long, the trees will be turning green, the wildflowers will start growing in, and the yard will be awash with color again.

Customers at the Birdfeeder

It's been an exciting morning in Freeville.  I got inordinately excited yesterday when a squirrel (above) tried to climb on the birdfeeder.  Finally, something out there had noticed it.

But the awareness of the feeder - which has been hanging in the same spot for two-and-a-half weeks - quickly spread beyond that one squirrel.  I opened my dining room curtains this morning to the spectacle of lots of small birds in the trees, testing out a new food source.

The first customer that I saw was a blue jay, sampling the seed that I had tossed on the ground, then flying up to the feeder and trying to snag some of the seed. He seemed a little too big for the feeder, though.

Other birds were a little more cautious, flitting over to the branch and taking a peek to see what was on offer.

The feeder is far enough away from the window that I had no idea what types of birds - like the goldfinch above - were out there.  It wasn't until I started going through these photos that I realized that there was such a variety!

The feeder makes a better perch for these smaller birds...I hope that they liked the mixed seed and come back for more, because I bought a 50 lb. bag!

These pictures don't really do justice to all of the activity that was going on...lots of chirping...lots of birds taking turns at the feeder, snagging a bite or two, and then quickly returning to the safety of the tree.

With the success of this bird feeder with its generic mixed bird seed today, I decided to move the thistle feeder to the front yard as well.  Now I just hope that I have company out my front window as I eat my breakfast every morning.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moonrise Over Freeville

Midnight Deer

I was late one night last week and I was finally winding down for the night.  I happened to glance out the window to see two deer grazing in the snow-covered grass by the post office.  I've seen them late at night before wandering around downtown Freeville as if they too, are citizens of our little town, but this is the first time I've managed to capture this in action.  I turned off my flash so as not to startle them (and to avoid a big flash in the window), so you can probably just barely make out their silhouettes.  The two deer are standing in the foreground in front of the church, facing away from each other.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The First Flowers of Spring

The flowers in the flowerbed in front of the house don't seem to mind the cold temperatures and snow as much as we humans seem to. 

The flowers are popping up and hanging in there.  I don't know how many insects are around at this point to do their pollinating thing.

Not only are the leaves and stems coming up, but the crocuses are getting close to blooming.

I thought this guy might have opened up by the time I got home, but it looks like it will take another day or two.  Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ithaca Falls Video

Well, I spent a big chunk of my day working on a video project.  Take a stunning piece of music, some stark images, and throw in a punchline at the end, and you've got a pretty powerful video.  Or so it seems to me.  I hope you enjoy this one!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Some New Tools

Though winter is refusing to go away - another 2" or so of snow fell last night - before long, it will start to warm up, and I'll have a lot of work to do in the yard.  And now I have more equipment with which to that work.  My parents got me a couple of gifts for my birthday, including a bucket to wheel around the yard.  My grandfather passed away a couple of months ago, and he's handed down to me some of the tools with which he lovingly tended his own yards and gardens over the years.  This includes some leaf-blowing equipment that will be really helpful next fall, a hose on a cart that he had for decades, a tool that will be great for chopping ice on the sidewalk in winter, a big rake thingy to break up the soil in the garden, a pair of loppers to trim smaller branches, and a long pole with a sharp end - whatever it's called - to take care of higher, longer branches.  As you can tell, I'm not really up to speed on the names of all these things, but I know they'll all come in handy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chasing the Sun

Running a blog is a funny thing. Sometimes, there's lots of energy and lots of ideas, and sometimes, pickings seem a bit slim.  And then sometimes, an idea comes at just the right time.

Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, the day when night and day are equal.  It also happens to be one of two days a year when the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west.  A teacher whom I used to work with once told me a story.  He was driving to school early on the morning of the equinox, and the stretch of road that he was driving on happened to be straight, east-to-west.  Darkness lifted, and the sun rose...directly in front of him...right over the road.  I recalled this little story as I walked out of my office today.  My building sits on a road that runs almost directly east-west, and the sun was within an hour of fading behind the hills.  The sun wasn't quite aligned with the road, but it was close.

It then occurred to me that ever since I moved in, I've been confused about exactly where the four cardinal compass directions - north, south, east, west - align with my yard. Sure, I have a general idea, west is towards the dam and east is towards the post office, but today would be a great day to pin them down a little more accurately.  But here I was, standing on campus, staring in the general direction of the sun, and there the sun was, going away for the night, preparing to return just a little earlier tomorrow.  The race was on.

I walked, shall we say, purposefully, toward my car, hopped in, and drove even more purposefully back to my house.  On this trip, I viewed speed limits as a guideline, a suggestion, rather than a law.  Not that I was driving that fast, but the accelerator got a little more use than on a typical commute.  I kept sneaking glances to make sure the sun was still hovering above the horizon.  And then, about two-thirds of the way home, I had more than the sun to worry about.  A pickup truck in front of me didn't seem to share my concern about getting home before sunset.    I had no choice but to slow down...the world was telling me that I had time.  And so slow down I did, and even though I had a couple of passing zones where I could have zoomed ahead, I decide to follow the driver's cue and bide my time.  After all, the sun was still up, and I was now almost home.

I turned into the driveway and raced out of the car and around to the backyard.  There was no time to stop inside and grab my camera...my iPhone would have to do.  Phew, the sun was still up, resting just above the horizon.  I caught my breath and took a few moments to snap a couple of photos and take in the scene myself.  But some tree branches provided a point of reference to show just how quickly it was dropping.  So I literally sprinted to the back of the yard, to the creek bank's edge, to snap a couple more shots.

For just a few seconds, I was in a race against time.  And I won.  I managed to sneak in two more photos, then exhaled as I saw the last brilliant orange speck fade from view (there it is, in the photo above).  I went back to the original spot where I had taken the first two photos - it was recorded by my footprints in the snow - and took a few moments to take stock...west is through the tree branches, north runs through the park, east goes over the front of the post office and over the church, and south runs through the neighbor's garage.  Now I know.

And, as I said at the beginning of this post, that the funny thing about running a blog.  Would I have had this same experience if I didn't know I was going to write about it?  No, probably not.  Oh, the crazy things I do sometimes, just for fun.

Last Snowfall of the Winter

Mother Nature managed to sneak in one last snowfall before the end of winter, dropping about an inch and a half of snow on Monday night that quickly melted under the peeks of sunshine that Tuesday brought us.  Wednesday - today - is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring.  Light lasts longer than darkness for the next six months in the Northern Hemisphere...day is now longer than night.  Warmer weather, more sunlight, more birds, more wildlife, the emergence of the leaves, and the blossoming of flowers are sure to follow.

But for now, I want to offer one last glimpse back at winter.  I shot a video of the snow falling along Fall Creek in my backyard and put together some music to accompany it.  This time, the music isn't completely original, but it interweaves and develops two wintry themes written by Russian composers: Prokofiev's Troika and Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Snowflakes from The Nutcracker.  The result, I think, is an appropriate accompaniment to this wintry scene.  There are two versions...if you've stumbled on this page somehow without knowing me, one of them is as close as you'll come to hearing my voice!

The all-electronic version:

The electronic-plus-acoustic version (twenty-some takes later...):

Monday, March 18, 2013

Come And Get It: Part 2

As I type this post, the snow is falling, with at least half an inch of fresh dendrites on the ground and somewhere around 4" (or possibly a bit more) on the way.  It's falling fast enough, and the ground is cold enough, that there's a slick coating on the roads.  But I'm safely ensconced in my house for the evening, where I can watch the snow fall.  Before the storm got going, I picked up some nyjer seed and filled the newly-cleaned thistle feeder. Placing it somewhat closer to the birds' habitat than the feeder in the front yard, I hung it from a screw on a tree in the backyard.  I'll be able to keep an eye on it from the living room.  My new birdfeeder filled with conventional mixed seed is still hanging patiently in the front yard, waiting for its first customers.  I'm hoping that with the coming of spring and the warm-up that is sure to follow, the birds will venture a little farther from home and find the food I'm offering them.  Until then, I'll keep waiting.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Come and Get It!

My nice, new birdfeeder is still full!  It's been over a week since I put out seed to attract birds to my front yard, but I've still had no luck.  After a couple more days, I'm going to move this feeder to the backyard, and I might try filling my thistle feeder with nyjer seed and see if that works.  I guess there's really nothing more I can do besides put the food out and wait.  Hey birds, come and get it!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Finding - and Sharing - Our Talents

As this blog pretty readily attests, I'm a pretty terrible gardener, and my judgment (some might say "common sense") is occasionally a bit lacking when it comes to decisions I make around the yard (and elsewhere...), but this comes at the expense of other abilities.

I've been involved with music for most of my life, but I've never fully explored the process of creating my own music.  I guess you could say that the muse never quite struck.  But it gave me a pretty good blow last night.

I was driving around Ithaca yesterday afternoon and had a few minutes to spare, so I stopped at Stewart Park, which sits at the southern end of Cayuga Lake.  As I drove around and down the hill approaching the park, I saw what appeared to be small blocks of ice on the lake.  But once I parked and got out of the car, it was pretty apparent that it wasn't ice - they were waves.  To have so many waves on the lake, especially this far offshore, is a pretty rare occurrence.

I happened to have my camera with me, and rather than snap a few photos, I figured that a video would capture the experience more fully.  The wind was blowing right down the throat of the lake - violently! - pushing the water toward the southern shore and churning up the water.  The video wouldn't load directly to the blog, so I've created a YouTube channel for the blog where I'll probably be posting other videos in the future. 

I decided to set my raw video of the whitecaps on Cayuga Lake to music.  The idea was to capture the constant but unsettled nature of the waves, express the nautical nature of the scene with a bit of a rolling sea shanty feel, some Morse Code, and sprinkle a few splashes on top.  I could spend hours tweaking things - and the quality of the recording is only as good as my computer's puny sound card - but I can't help but be pleased with the end result.  It leaves me with a completely different impression than the original video, with only the howling wind.

The new YouTube channel opens a lot of potential, but we'll see what develops.  For now, it's just a place to plop some videos...added music or not.  Sorry for the shaky camera - the wind had just a little to do with that!

I hope you'll take a minute (literally) to check it out.  And in the long run, I hope you'll find your own talents (like how to arrange the flowers in your garden) and find ways to share them (like telling me how to arrange the flowers in my garden).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spring Has Sprung!

You wouldn't know it by the coating of snow on the ground this morning (which had melted a bit by the time I got around to taking the above photo), and the cold, windy day we had today, but spring is well on its way here in Freeville. 

The weeds are growing in the flowerbeds in front of the house, just as they were from the time I moved in last summer, but they're now being joined by their long-hidden colleagues: flowers that I didn't know were there.  It may just be a sign of how truly unaware I've been of the world around me - though I try to stay alert to nature - but it was a pleasant surprise to look out my dining room window one day and see flowers well on their way!

I think at least a couple of varieties have been planted.  I'm no good at identifying flowers, but if I had to guess, I would say there are some tulips and a couple of crocuses slowly rising from the soil and wood chips.  Spring doesn't officially start until the vernal equinox next Wednesday, and we're looking at a cold few days up until then, but don't tell that to these guys!

I have no idea what's in store for me.  How big will they get?  What color will they be?  How long until they open up?  With the appearance of just a little bit of green, my life suddenly became just a little more fraught with anticipation and expectation.

Spring is a time for new beginnings, for fresh starts, and to me, it makes more sense as a time to make resolutions than New Year's.  I've recently been putting together project proposals for work, I've started to plan my overhaul of the garden and the yard, and the spring has me re-evaluating the blog as well.  How can I best capture, express, and share all of the wonders that my first year of caring for my own yard will bring, and all of the thoughts that go with it?

Like the flowers springing up in the flowerbed, I'm sure the yard will have plenty more surprises for me in the months to come, as this beautiful life-covered rock that I'm privileged to stand on responds to the growing sunlight and longer days, and like the leaves that will soon be unfolding on the branches all around me, I want to soak it all in.  I'm setting out to make my own little plot of the world, and my own little corner of the web, the best they can be over the coming months.  What about you?

Found: My Lost Snowboard

While I was fixing dinner tonight, I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed a white board lying on the grass.  I had a hunch, but went outside to confirm: it's my long-lost snowboard (for measuring snow, not coasting over it).  It had blown away during high winds a month or two ago, and now it had re-surfaced from where ever it was hiding.  The hiding place was apparently a bit muddy, because the board was dirtier than the last time I saw it.  In any event, I think, given the inability of the old snowboard to resist the stronger winds, it's time to retire it and put it out of its misery.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Bird-less Feeder

When I was growing up, I had a keen interest in birds.  I learned how to recognize the birds common to my neighborhood and learned some of the more familiar bird calls.  Even though the interest faded a bit through my college and grad student years, I've always kept an eye out for birds when I'm outdoors.  But now that I have my own property, that interest is coming back, and although I can do some hiking and bird observing at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other parks across the area, I want to attract birds to my own yard.  I've seen and heard them around the neighborhood, but as my miserable results in the Great Backyard Bird Count showed, I don't see them coming to my property very often.  The solution seemed very simple: clean the bird feeder that had been abandoned on my front yard (above), keep filling it with seed, and wait for the birds to come.

But as with seemingly everything in my yard, the solution wasn't quite as simple as I thought.  My first step was to procure some mixed four-season birdseed...just some relatively cheap stuff to get started and attract some birds to the yard.  Then it was time to retrieve the feeder from the front yard, clean it, and fill it with fresh seed.  But here came the first problem.  I discovered that the holes in the feeder were extra-small (see photo above), and that the bird seed that I'd purchased wouldn't fit through these holes, for the most part.  The feeder was designed exclusively for thistle, or nyjer seed (see below photo), and I didn't have any on hand, but I did have a huge bag of mixed seed.

So on Saturday morning it was off to the nearby Agway to find a bird feeder that could accommodate my mixed seed.  I bought a nice, large feeder, filled it with seed, and hung it out in the front yard.  I spent most of the rest of the day keeping an eye on it as I worked in the dining room, wondering how many hours it would take for the birds to discover it.  Well, it's now Wednesday, and my view of the bird feeder from the dining room is exactly the same:

In four-plus days, the level of bird seed in the feeder hasn't changed at all.  I haven't seen a single bird land on the feeder, or even on the tree that it's hanging from.  I still hear the birds in the neighborhood, but I don't see them anywhere near the front yard.  I wonder why....wouldn't this look inviting to you if you were a small bird?

Operation: BirdFeed is going into the next phase.   I saw a crow in the front yard this morning.  Of course, crows will eat pretty much anything, so I figure they'll eat seed if they see it.  And maybe somehow or another their awareness of food in my front yard can be communicated to their smaller feathered friends.  So I've scattered some seed on the ground beneath the feeder:

I'm hoping that if I keep the feeder and seed out there, the smaller birds will happen upon it sooner or later.  Maybe they can see it more easily on the ground (although with snow showers in the area, that's getting more difficult right now), and they can look up and see an even bigger reservoir of seed above them.

If this fails...well, I still have the thistle feeder, and I can hang that out, too.   I can buy some pure black oil sunflower seed, which the birds apparently like better, and try that instead (or mix it in with the mixed seed).  And there's always the backyard.  The original idea was to hang one feeder out front and one out back, but at least to start with, I might have to attract them to the backyard, which is closer to their hangouts.  But eventually, I hope to have plenty of regular avian visitors to keep me company in the yard.  And if things always went the way we want them to the first time, it wouldn't be as much fun...right???