Friday, October 16, 2009

Painting the House

'Trailblazer Red' on black birch, which is beginning to turn yellow-rumped warbler this week.

I prefer 'Pinesap Red in Afternoon Light.'

Tomorrow we'll look for paint for the living room, a small room with a low, angled ceiling, a woodstove in the corner, a doorway on three of the four walls, a purplish-burgundy couch that harbors a keyboard, Scrabble and Chinese checkers below, a white rocking chair, a sea foam green wooden chair, a homemade Shaker candleholder, a banged up nightstand with small pink roses painted on the handles, a selection of trim, many nail holes, and grey office carpet. Did I mention the walls are dark wood paneling that has been painted off-white?

No paint, not Ralph Lauren Lifestyle Colors, not even the jewel-like tones of The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait under museum lights, can look like the colors in nature.

Sassafras and tupelo leaves amongst last autumn's chestnut oak and beech leaves.

Why? Because the things of nature are many colors. A fresh coat of paint hides all the nail holes (if you know how to spackle well), but it is baldly one color. If you hate it, there's nowhere to look that is not that color. I hate every color I have ever painted any room.

The first room I rented during college was a beautiful yellow (I didn't paint it, my roommate, a fine arts painter did). I have been trying to find that color since then, but I wonder if it was simply that I didn't choose the color and the room had beautiful wood trim and floors.

When we talk about painting rooms, Jared suggests "Wren stomach, let's paint this room the color of Carolina wren stomach." Golden-yellow. Possibly the color of my bedroom in college.

Or was the bedroom painted 'Hayscented fern in autumn'? I think I may buy the wrong color tomorrow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Wood, wood, wood, wood

The lunch of a irrational person.

"I had no idea you had wood lust. You were so cranky."

Wood lust. It is something many couples have. The weather starts cooling off. The down blanket warms the bed, lengthening each morning's wake up. The sun sets early, sending you to bed early.

"You had wood lust," he repeats.

I pursed my lips to hide a smile. "Hm."

"Can I have some pecans?"

"OK. I've got a granola bar. We can split it."

"Hmm. Nah, I'll have the pecans. You were so cranky, but then when you started down the driveway at ten miles per hour...I had to resist the urge to tell you to hurry up. I started thinking, 'Rachel, the wood will be gone if you don't hurry up.'"

I got a phone call from a friend while I was at the office. "Good wood. Oh wow, look at this burl," he said. "I might come back with my chainsaw."

We said goodbyes, and I thought, "Let me call Jared. Better check in, see how he's feeling." Jared had been knocked out with a dreadful cold. When I left for work in the morning, he was wrapped in blankets. His pale face was edged by an atypical 5 o'clock shadow. Tissues littered the floor. He hadn't even gotten out of bed to wave goodbye when I drove away. Bad sign.

The phone rang a few times, "Hello?" Jared mumbled. "Hi, how are you feeling?" I asked.

Wood, wood, wood, wood.

"Oh, really, that's too bad. You'll feel better soon. I wanted to mention that I heard there was some wood along the road..."

"Uhhh, I'm not really feeling that great."

Wood, wood, wood, wood.

"Oh. It might be there in a couple days. You should rest."

Wood, wood, wood, wood.

The following day Jared collapsed back into bed after breakfast.

"So there's that wood," I mention casually.

"So long as you don't mind doing more than 50% of the work, Rachel, we can get it. I'm still feeling really sick. And, by the time we finish, it will be long after lunchtime." (I get terrible headaches if I skip meals.)

We change into work clothes, grab the chainsaw, gloves, safety glasses, ear plugs, water, leftover hamburger.

I look at the back tire - it was very low. "We need gas and air in the tires."

"Oh, we can wait until we get the wood."

"No, we should get air." I was not aware that wood lust had affected Jared so quickly.

I was certain that the wood would be gone, but we arrive, and it is still there. I am unable to think properly. I start pacing. We have to fit it all in the truck.
We have to fit it all in the truck. We have to fit it all in the truck.

Jared gases the chainsaw, "Well, while you make plans, I'm going to get the saw ready. Damn, who makes these damn things?" Gas shot out of the canister. "Oh, what the hell." Bar oil dribbled on the bar and handle. He tosses his gloves and grabs a rag from the chainsaw case. I recognize it as a sleeves from an H&M shirt that a friend's washer chewed up in Milwaukee.

I continued to pace. Gloves on, gloves off. Poison ivy on the tree. Can we fit it all? Pacing.

Despite the chain's dullness we made a good haul. The work made Jared animated after a couple days in bed.

We chatted as he cruised down the country roads. "Feel better?" "I feel great. I was so sick of being inside." Jared dips his hand into the pecans, "This is lunch. I didn't understand that you had wood lust. What a great haul," he smiles as I take a picture of our sagging truck bed.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fall Flowers

Woodland sunflower at Harry's

There are two places in the region where I know I can see fall flowers, more or less as they're supposed to be. One is a little country road near Frenchtown NJ with very steep banks. The other is at my friend Harry's-- he has about a dozen acres of woods inside a deer fence.

Wreath goldenrod, white wood aster, heart-leaved blue wood aster, turtleheads, woodland sunflowers - I miss the New Jersey I've never seen, where these plants lined every shady roadside, where joe pye weed and sneezeweed and New York ironweed earned their names.

Typical Sourlands Road

Sometimes our roadsides and woods edges are as bland as our lawns, between the depredations of the deer and the erratic mowing of municipal road crews. Slowly the flowers have disappeared from our lives, slowly enough that few people seem to have noticed. Instead, we've taken for granted the impoverished monotony of our surroundings.

Land without flowers: A potentially beautiful dry oak woods at the Somerset Sourland Mountain Preserve, which shamefully has no deer management in its entire 2500 acres

I took an interesting walk the other day, at Woodfield Reservation, in Princeton. Along the trails in the mature woods, I was thrilled to see long stems of wreath goldenrood, and the tenacious bright blooms of white wood aster. Looking closer, I saw that the native shrubs and trees had put on good growth during the season as well. Princeton's bold deer management initiative seems to be working.

Wreath goldenrod

Woodfield Reservation has its share of invasive plants - even species barely seen elsewhere have a strong presence here, like oriental photinia, and linden viburnum. Yet, looking around, these non-native shrubs were frequently surrounded by native spicebush thickets. Young invasives were at the same height as recovering maple-leaf viburnum and sapling dogwoods. And everywhere in between, the goldenrod and aster bloomed.

Recovery amidst invasion: shrub layer at Woodfield Reservation

I thought to myself-- maybe this is what recovery looks like. We'll never have "perfect", uninvaded woods again. But, I think I can live with the occasional winged euonymus or linden viburnum if it's flanked by forty spicebush. The multiflora rose and barberry largely get shaded out by a thriving native shrub layer, and the dinky annual japanese stiltgrass is nowhere in sight. Ecological restoration work undertaken in concert with natural recovery will be more effective at healing.

After that walk, I've started to think of white wood aster and wreath goldenrod as "indicator species". If I may be so bold: When our flowers come back, we'll know that the recovery of our natural world is underway.


New England Aster

Heart-leaved blue wood aster, shielded by boulder, Ridge Road

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Year of the Arrow-Leaved Tearthumb

Polygonum sagittatum

Sometimes we say to each other "Last year, weren't there more New England asters?" or "Isn't it much snowier this year than last?" or "Gosh, I don't remember seeing mosquitoes in February before, maybe it's global warming..."

Just for the records, this was the year in which every modestly wet spot with a dab or two of sun was overrun with... Arrow-Leaved Tearthumb.

Slope (!) near greenhouse, tearthumb higher than blackberry canes

A wave consisting of carpgrass, stiltgrass, and, above them all, tearthumb.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Indian cucumber root, Minnewaska State Park, New York

The black birch is turning red at the wooded corridor of Rock Brook. Wind in the canopy of a red oak sent acorn cannonballs down on us as we ate lunch. The ash tree is decorated with a red boa of Virginia creeper. Red-orange pills hide under spicebush leaves. The white oak began to turn burgundy last night.