Snakes, Swiss Chard & Automobiles

Rattlesnake decoy among the Swiss Chard to deter the White Tail Deer
Rattlesnake decoy among the Swiss Chard to deter the White Tail Deer

A week ago today was a day for snakes. Though – sadly, I must add – it was not a day for living snakes…

Rattlesnakes and White Tail Deer

Let’s start with the good news. Or at least the benign-if-slightly-amusing news. To set the stage, imagine yourself walking across the still dewy lawn south of the carriage barn. A light morning mist still hangs in the air adding a slightly bluish, fuzzy aspect to the vegetable garden, orchard, and meadows beyond.

Your eyes would suddenly, inevitably notice a coiled rattlesnake in the middle of the Swiss chard!

Approaching the southeast corner of the vegetable garden your eyes would be drawn to the delicious, spicy radicchio growing in the cedar raised bed at the corner. Next your eyes would dart to the bright orange nasturtium sprawling alongside. Perhaps you would bend over and pick a succulent, young leaf to munch on. The flavor drifts somewhere between the subtlest peppercorn and cinnamon stick.

As you wander along past two varieties of beets interspersed with a fresh crop of radishes your eyes would suddenly, inevitably notice a coiled rattlesnake in the middle of the Swiss chard!

But don’t panic. It’s not real. More precisely, it’s not a live rattlesnake. It is a lifelike rubber decoy. Before I explain to you why this rubber rattlesnake is coiled, rattle raised and head drawn up and back with fangs bared, here’s a quick backstory.

Rattlesnake decoy among the Swiss Chard to deter the White Tail Deer
Rattlesnake decoy among the Swiss Chard to deter the White Tail Deer

Duck Doodoo

Back in May Lake Champlain water levels were low and dropping. But June brought rain, rain, rain. The lake level went up, up, up.

Doug called to say that two ducks were cuddled up asleep with the rubber rattlesnake…

The shoreline shrank, so the mallards decided that our dock was the perfect place for snoozing, eating, and… evacuating the rather rich byproduct of their rather rich diet. This stinky mess created an undesirable obstacle course for accessing the boat. So we hosed and scrubbed. But within a few hours the situation repeated itself.

After many weeks of duck waste remediation (DWR) I suffered a small stroke of genius. We needed a decoy predator! I researched and discovered that others had found that a coiled rubber rattlesnake deterred ducks, geese, seagulls, even pelicans. Perfect.

I placed the order and chuckled my way down to the dock on deployment day. An hour or two later Doug called to say that two ducks were cuddled up asleep with the rubber rattlesnake…

White Tail Deer Decoy

What to do with a worthless rubber rattlesnake? A few silly pranks came to mind, but before I could regroup and execute, I discovered that Doug had transferred the rubber rattlesnake to one of the Swiss chard patches in our vegetable garden that the white tail deer have been devouring. Good idea!

It’s too early to determine for certain whether or not the rattler is going to dissuade the deer, but I’ll update you if there’s any news.

Corn Snake Roadkill

In sorrier stories, this unfortunate sight caused me to pause during a recent bike ride.

Is this unfortunate snake spotted on Willsboro point at the end of July 2015 an anerythristic corn snake?
Is this unfortunate snake spotted on Willsboro point at the end of July 2015 an anerythristic corn snake?

I pedaled past this exotic roadkill on a Willsboro Point bike ride, and circled back to try and identify the unfortunate fellow. Aside from the always disturbing sight of roadkill, this snake instantly reminded me of the mystery snake I spied in the rhubarb a few years ago. In fact, I’m almost 100% certain now that is the same species I failed to identify then.

A quick search online suggests to me that it might be an anerythristic corn snake. Check out the photograph below and decide for yourself.

An anerythristic corn snake (Source: Wikipedia)
An anerythristic corn snake (Source: Wikipedia)
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Broccoli Bonanza

Broccoli Head, July 2015
Broccoli Head, July 2015

For the first time in my gardening life I am enjoying homegrown broccoli from our vegetable garden. Better yet? It’s totally organic and totally pest free! That’s a broccoli bonanza!

Our friend, neighbor and gardening guru Catherine asked me back in May why we weren’t planting broccoli. She had just agreed to join “Team Rosslyn” for the summer, and she was sorting through my garden geek database, seed orders, and seedlings.

“I’ve always heard and read that it’s too difficult to grow broccoli without using some sort of pesticide,” I explained.

She told me that she was confident we could grow broccoli without pesticide if we used plant covering to keep creepy crawley critters away from the tender plants. I was wary, but she seemed convinced me that we should give it a shot.

Catherine with Broccoli, July 2015
Catherine with Broccoli, July 2015

We planted broccoli and kept it covered until about a week ago. The pet plants grew quickly, and the heads formed faultlessly. The heads were large but anemic-looking, pale yellow in color, more like cauliflower than broccoli. But a week ago Catherine removed the row covering and allowed the plants to absorb sunlight The heads quickly darkened, and last night we harvested two of the biggest and healthiest broccoli heads I’ve ever seen. And they were delicious!

It’s worth noting that we soaked both heads for well over an hour in salty water to remove bugs/worms/etc. We found nothing. The broccoli was clean, healthy, tender and super tasty. Thank you, Catherine.

Garden Fresh Broccoli, July 2015
Garden Fresh Broccoli, July 2015
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Essex Regatta 1950s?

Essex Regatta 1950s?
Essex Regatta 1950s? (Source: Christine Herrmann)

It’s always a treat to discover Rosslyn artifacts. Can you just barely spy our boathouse beyond the moored boats?

This intriguing photograph was received from part-time Essex neighbor, Christine Herrmann. This generous Sandy Beach friend has allowed us to traverse her Lake Champlain waterfront with our tractor to rebuild and maintain our seawall during autumn’s low-water levels. And – as if that weren’t enough to qualify her for neighbor superstardom — she periodically shares patinaed glimpses into the sometimes recent, sometimes distant history of our home, waterfront, and village.

“Here’s another photo I found of a long ago summer. Not sure what year but probably early 1950’s. I’m pretty sure it’s of the Essex Regatta, but I do not know any of the boats. Maybe someone will know more.” ~ Christine Herrmann

I am long fond of vintage boats and especially keen on vintage photographs of the summer celebrations that drew boaters and spectators from many miles away to the north shore of Essex Village half a century ago. Although I never experienced the Essex Regattas, I can almost summon up the excited cheers, the starting horns, the healing sailboats, the grinning water skiers, and the roaring speedboats from photographs and newsclippings. I keep hoping that I will stumble across an old home movie if the Essex Regattas, but until then imagination and the generosity of others will serve me well.

Thank you, Christine!

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Plum Premature Fruit Drop

Plum Premature Fruit Drop: Rosslyn orchard, July 15, 2015
Plum Premature Fruit Drop: Rosslyn, July 15, 2015 (Photo: virtualDavis)

For weeks I’ve been anticipating our first crop of plums. A small crop, but proof that the last few years nurturing our plum trees to health despite hail storms and severe Adirondack winters, Japanese beetles and a zero pesticide regimen was worth it. And then this! Plum premature fruit drop…

Today is July 15, 2015 and of the only two plum trees that successfully fruited this year in Rosslyn orchard, only about a half dozen small plums still remain on the trees. The rest were on the ground beneath the trees when I made my daily rounds.

Yes, daily rounds. I’m that eager. Or anal?

I grabbed the two ripest fruit for a taste test. A quick spit shine and “Aaahhh…”

Despite the fact that a nutritionalist would likely discourage me from eating fruit off the ground (parasites? evil spirits?) I grabbed the two ripest fruit for a taste test. A quick spit shine and “Aaahhh…”


Actually, that’s a twinge hyperbolic. Promising, perhaps. Still start, but distinctly plum-flavored. Not 100% sweet yet, but encouraging.

Encouraging, that is, except for the fact that they’d all fallen from the tree. Why did we suffer plum premature fruit drop?

The verdict’s still out, but I’m thinking that yesterday’s (and today’s) heavy winds are responsible. And the fact that these tress are not properly tethered, allowing far too much movement in heavy wind.

Supporting your young tree with tree stakes help prevent damage to the tree during windstorms.  (Source: Shedding Light on Fruit Drop)

Plum Premature Fruit Drop: Rosslyn orchard, July 15, 2015
Plum Premature Fruit Drop: Rosslyn orchard, July 15, 2015 (Photo: virtualDavis)

Needless to say, I’ve quickly staked one of the trees, and I’ll tackle the second tomorrow. It’s worth noting that all of these fruit trees were originally staked, but I’ve eliminated some of the stakes as they gotten larger. I’ve been meaning to retake the plums since they have so much windage and still somewhat slender trunks. Also because I’ve read that the plums will actually become healthier and more productive if I can train the branches to open up into more of a “goblet” form. Better late than never!

I would like to find some suitable steel stakes that will not rot quickly, but for now I’m using wood. Maybe two foot lengths of steel REBAR could be bent into large staples that would work well? I’ll experiment and post and update anon.

And one last good bit of news about our plum premature fruit drop. It may be due to the age of the trees.

Premature fruit fall usually occurs in trees less than five years old. (Source: Plum Fruit Drop)

I’ll check my notes, but I think that these plums were planted three to four years ago. Good news?

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Eve Ticknor’s Meditative Mirages

Rosslyn Boathouse and Hammock Reflections (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
Rosslyn Boathouse and Hammock Reflections (Photo: Eve Ticknor)

Every once in a while I get lucky. A dramatic sunrise falling on mist. Gluten free, dairy free chocolate desert on a restaurant menu. A quick smile or pleasantries from a stranger. A dogeared but otherwise forgotten poem resurfacing, reconnecting, re-enchanting after many years…

Many of Eve Ticknor’s ( watery photographs — especially when hinting of Essex, Lake Champlain, and even Rosslyn — belong in my ever burgeoning catalog of lucky  experiences. I have shared Ticknor’s photographs before (Hammock Days of Indian Summer on September 18, 2013 and Eve Ticknor’s Boathouse Photos on June 23, 2014)

Eve’s photographs capture dreamy abstractions that don’t easily reveal their source. (Source: Rosslyn Redux)

The photograph above is a perfect example. It moves before your eyes like a mirage. What is it? A second photograph of the same scene helps demystify the subject.

Rosslyn Boathouse and Hammock Reflections (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
Rosslyn Boathouse and Hammock Reflections (Photo: Eve Ticknor)

Still stumped? That hypnotic labyrinth of squiggly lines is the key, but the two vertical, shaded columns are helpful too. If you’re still stumped, here’s a third photograph that will decipher the abstract beauty in the previous two photographs.

Rosslyn Boathouse and Hammock Reflections (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
Rosslyn Boathouse and Hammock Reflections (Photo: Eve Ticknor)

Eve explores refracted and reflected images on the surface of water, never using Photoshop or filters to alter her images. What we see is what she saw. And yet she succeeds in capturing all sorts of whimsical illusions on the water surface. (Rosslyn Redux)

In addition to the mysteries woven into Eve Ticknor’s photographs, I’m also drawn to her “earthy” palette. She often captures rich, nuanced colors in her work, but there’s a muted, organic hue that I find refreshing in today’s super-saturated world of digital photography and pumped up filters. That third image above is especially rich in color and tone, so many putties and heavy contrasts. It strikes me as painterly and meditative in a way that so many crisp, high definition, copies of reality are not.

I’ll conclude with one last hauntingly beautiful images from friend and photographer Eve Ticknor. It is a glimpse over the shoulder of Rosslyn’s boathouse toward the Essex ferry docks pilings, the entire scene veiled in gossamer moodiness. Thank you, Eve!

Rosslyn Boathouse and Essex Ferry Dock Pilings (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
Rosslyn Boathouse and Essex Ferry Dock Pilings (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
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Sherwood Inn Landing on Lake Champlain

Vintage postcard of Rosslyn. Caption reads: Sherwood Inn, Landing, on Lake Champlain.
Vintage postcard of Rosslyn. Caption reads: Sherwood Inn, Landing, on Lake Champlain.
Rear of vintage Rosslyn postcard addressed to Mrs. Ethel Alvey.
Rear of vintage Rosslyn postcard addressed to Mrs. Ethel Alvey.

This morning I share with you a seasonally in-sync Rosslyn artifact that I acquired last week on eBay. This vintage postcard postmarked July 24, 1959 depicts the waterfront in front of Rosslyn and Sunnyside. The caption reads: Sherwood Inn, Landing, on Lake Champlain.

Although I remain somewhat conflicted whether or not it’s appropriate to share the messages from vintage and antique postcards, I tend toward a quasi-archeological justification (unless the content is obviously sensitive or inappropriate). And I am always happy to remove anything if requested by a family member, etc.

In the case of this postcard addressed to Mrs. Ethel Alvey on Muncie, Indiana from Edith, I consider the message quirky and innocuous enough to share, though it hasn’t anything at all to do with Rosslyn!

We drove to Keene, N.Y. yesterday after making a phone call. We are paid guests of Mrs. Walter Beesmeyer at Mt. House. She, her husband (now deceased) & small son came to U.S. 20 years ago from Germany. We are on top of Mt. surrounded by Mts. I wish you & Herman had a million $ so you could fly here and enjoy N.Y. State. I’m writing on a ferry crossing Lake Champlain going to a museum in Vermont.

I’m fascinated with how a simple artifact can offer a bridge across time.

I suspect that Edith was referring to Marion Biesemeyer who passed away three years ago.

Marion Hempel Biesemeyer, 101, of Keene, was born in Berlin, Germany, Feb. 22, 1911. She died peacefully at the Meadowbrook Healthcare facility on Thursday, May 31, 2012 (Source: Lake Placid News)

As World War II engulfed their country and continent, Marion and her husband Walter emigrated to the United States. They worked as caretakers for Putnam Camp and then moved to Keene where they established Mountain House.

Originally built in 1890, the Mountain House is located on top of East Hill with spectacular views of the Adirondack’s highest peaks. The Biesemeyer Family has offered guests food and lodging since 1945. (Source: Welcome to The Mountain House)

I’m fascinated with how a simple artifact can offer a bridge across time. When Edith penned her postcard to Ethel, Walter had been dead for about six years and Marion was operating Mountain House on her own. She continued to receive guests as sole proprietor until 2000. And today Mountain House is owned and operated by Bob Biesemeyer, a curious tidbit that filtered across my radar recently when my bride and I learned about Hamilton College’s soon-to-launch Academic Program in the Adirondack Program.

Nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks, the beautiful, historic Mountain House in Keene, NY is the site of our program. The Main House, and the adjacent Gulf Brook Lodge and Alpine Lodge house students, professors in residence, and serve as the academic home base for a semester of hands-on, experiential study. It was the family home of owner Bob Biesemeyer, who also owns and operates the contracting company of Biesmeyer’s Adirondack Building, Inc. (Source: Hamilton College)

Uncanny, right? And if you’ve read this far, and you’re still not totally flummoxed, then you just might want to learn about Hamilton’s Academic Program in the Adirondack Program.

The Academic Program in the Adirondacks at Hamilton College is a place-based, semester long learning experience that combines rigorous academic study with the skills and understanding gained through field experience in the Adirondack Park with local organizations and in wilderness contexts. The focus is on local, interdisciplinary environmental issues with global implications. (Source: Hamilton College)

As a Hamilton alumna and evangelist, my bride is thrilled that her alma mater is introducing a program in our neck of the woods. She visited the Biesemeyer’s Mountain House with the program’s founder and director, Professor Janelle A Schwartz. Glowing review!

Now for that museum in Vermont…

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Protecting Strawberries from Squirrels

Of all the ways that gardeners try protecting strawberries from birds, bird netting offers the best solution. Learn how to safely protect your strawberries. (Source: Bonnie Plants)

I mentioned to Catherine recently that strawberry bandits persistently steal/damage our ripe strawberries. The first couple of years after we established our strawberry patch, we produced an excess of strawberries.

No; correction. There’s no such thing as “an excess of strawberries”.

But we literally had to give strawberries away to keep up with the volume of delicious, ever-ripening strawberries. We couldn’t eat them all, even when our two still-tiny-but-strawberry-loving nieces visited. In hindsight, that was our “strawberry honeymoon”. Bliss. Worry-free. Decadent…

Abundance philosophy: grow enough strawberries that people and critters can feast.

And then the squirrels (and chipmunks and birds) discovered our strawberry patch. They eat the ripest fruit. And, honestly, I’m okay with that. Abundance philosophy: grow enough strawberries that people and critters can feast. Everyone’s happy.

Except that it doesn’t work out that way. The squirrels take a bite out of a ripe strawberry and move onto the next one. From fruit to fruit, taking a toothy swipe and then moving on,  spoiling far more strawberries than they could ever manage to eat. The result is lots of rotten strawberries, and fewer and fewer fruit for us to eat.

Catherine suggested row covers and sent me a link to “Protecting Strawberries from Birds“.

Undoubtedly the most effective way to protect strawberries from birds is to drape the strawberry patch with bird netting… Supported on a frame like a floating row cover… (Source: Bonnie Plants)

I’ve ordered 100′ of Reemay Garden Blanket that should arrive later this week. Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to use for hoops…

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Mid-May Grafting Update

Almost a month after grafting three of Rosslyn's old apple trees, none of the grafted buds/scions look like they have taken.
Almost a month after grafting three of Rosslyn’s old apple trees, none of the grafted buds/scions look like they have taken.

Some discouraging grafting news this morning: all three apple trees that I grafted with my father a little less than a month ago appear to be rejecting the grafts. No, that’s a bit presumptuous. The trees probably aren’t responsible for the failed grafts, I am.

I found no indication that any of our grafts have taken. Most of the grafted scions/buds look desiccated. Not a single hint of life…

I’ll check again in another week or two. Until then I’ll cultivate a positive mindset since optimism can’t hurt.

Here are a few more photos from today’s inspection.

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Frozen Lake Photos of Essex

Photograph of Essex artist Bill Amadon (and his dog) walking/photographing on frozen Lake Champlain.
Photograph of Essex artist Bill Amadon (and his dog) walking/photographing on frozen Lake Champlain.

I spied Bill Amadon,( an Essex artist and good friend, walking around on the frozen lake in front of our boathouse a few days ago. The lighting and distance made identification a little dodgy but the dog was hint #1 and a conversation with Bill the day prior (at the Essex Post Office where so many mid-winter encounters occur) was hint #2.

Bill mentioned that he was working on a series of three commissioned paintings, and that he was hoping to make it out onto Lake Champlain early the following morning to capture the waterfront in early morning light. He needed the photos to research the third and final painting in the series.

My suspicions were confirmed when a short while later Bill Amadon posted the following images to his Facebook page. He generously permitted me to showcase the photographs here. Enjoy!

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De-Icing the Duck Pond

Let me start by saying that we don’t have a duck pond. We have a lake. Lake Champlain.

And although it pains me slightly to say it, we also don’t have any ducks. Not personally, at least. Lake Champlain, on the other hand, has plenty of ducks. And when the lake freezes and the ducks run out of water to swim and eat, we offer them a small “duck pond” in front of Rosslyn boathouse to tide them over until spring. Or at least that’s our current practice.

In the Beginning…

The origin of our “duck pond” is less duck-centric. When we purchased Rosslyn in the summer of 2006 the boathouse perilously teetering on a failing timber and stone crib. The whole peninsular folly was one ice flow away from the grave. In fact, all four buildings were suffering the advanced stages of disrepair. We had to prioritize our attentions that first winter, and the house won out. In the hopes of preserving the boathouse until we could begin rehabilitation, we purchased an Ice Eater to reduce ice damage. It was a long shot. But it worked. The Ice Eater agitated the water at the end of Rosslyn boathouse, preventing ice from forming. It also created a perfect refugee for the ducks. (And the hawks and eagles, but that story for another day…)

The following winter my bride (and many of our new neighbors) insisted that we install the Ice Eater again to ensure that the ducks would have open water. I obliged. Despite the fact that the boathouse now how a solid foundation and is [hopefully] less likely to succumb to ice damage, we continue to maintain a winter “duck pond” each year.

2015 Ice Eater Foibles

Unfortunately in late January pack ice was blown into shore clogging the Ice Eater and eventually sheering both of the propeller blades that agitate the water to prevent freezing. Temperatures were bitterly cold and the lake froze sans “duck pond”. My bride and I were out of town at the time, but concerned messages began to fill my email account.

“Since George has not installed his bubbler this year the Essex ducks are cooperating to keep a pond churned with 100 constantly circling webbed feet. Their pond is a few hundred feet north of George’s boathouse…” ~ S. B.

“Greetings from ‘cool’ Essex. All those mallards are hoping you will turn on your bubbler as the ice is closing in on them and they really don’t want to leave. I was surprised to find them in my yard under the oak tree eating acorns a couple of afternoons. Never knew that could be part of their diet…” ~ D. L.

Reopening the Duck Pond

2015 Duck Pond
2015 Duck Pond

I ordered a replacement propeller for the Ice Eater and hustled home to make repairs. By the time I arrived the lake had tightened up (regional expression for frozen solidly) except for the ferry channel where the ducks were congregating, flying up with the comings and goings of the ferry, and then settling back down into the frigid water.

Doug assisted me in repairing the Ice Eater and breaking a small hole in the ice, not much larger than those used by ice fishermen. We suspended the Ice Eater in the hole and plugged it it. It whirred to life, pumping a steady stream of warmer water from the bottom up onto the ice. Within hours the hole had grown large enough to attract some of the ducks. Over the next few days the churning water swelled the hole larger and larger, finally expanding the open water enough to once again qualify as our “duck pond”. As I write this post, literally hundreds of ducks are bobbing wing to wing, beaks into the wind.

That’s the good news.

Can you anticipate the bad news?

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