Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vawter House update

Several readers have asked how the renovation of the Vawter House in McKenzie, Tenn., is coming. I can report that it will be ready by July 4th as planned.

I drove a 26-foot Penske van filled with eight rooms of furniture to McKenzie last week. All the furniture is in place and pictures are up on the wall. I finished the kitchen trim and the kitchen and bathroom are ready for the final painting. Aunt Judy is putting the final touches on the farmhouse in anticipation for the family reunion on July 4th.

The photos show the front of the seven-bedroom house and the dining room.

It's been a lot of work, but enjoyable. The memories just keep multiplying.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Synchronicity in Deerfield

If you know much about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you know that much is made of the synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) that appear every June in the Elkmont region of the park.

Two years ago we journeyed with some friends into the Park to try to catch one of the buses that carried you into Elkmont, supposedly the only place in the Smokies (and the world) to view the lightning bugs. Even though we got there several hours before dark, the parking lot was jammed with bug-watchers. A park ranger waved us away. That left a bad taste in my mouth.

Last night I was walking through my back field to my neighbor's house just before dark and lo and behold I was flashed in unison by hundreds of Deerfield's very own fireflies. I noticed immediately that these fireflies had a brighter luminescence than your average run-of-the-mill firefly. When I looked out across the field, there seemed to be several distinct groups of the fireflies, but there was no doubt that they were timing their flashes.

Here's what the Park literature says about the bugs:

Synchronous fireflies are beetles. They take from one to two years to mature from larvae, but will live as adults for only about 21 days. The males fly and flash and the usually stationary females respond with a flash. Peak flashing for synchronous fireflies in the park is normally within a two-week period in mid-June.

No one is sure why the fireflies flash synchronously. Competition between males may be one reason: they all want to be the first to flash. Or perhaps if the males all flash together they have a better chance of being noticed, and the females can make better comparisons. The fireflies do not always flash in unison. They may flash in waves across hillsides, and at other times will flash randomly. Synchrony occurs in short bursts that end with abrupt periods of darkness.

Skeptic that I am, I always wondered how the fireflies managed to stay cloistered in one little area of the Smokies. Now we know their secret.

Welcome to Deerfield, little lanterns. May your 21 days on this earth be pleasant and bright.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

'Coon's-eye view

Folks often ask us if it isn't a little lonely living in the woods on a one-lane road in the middle of 10 acres. Not so much.
It turns out we have at least one pair of eyes on us most of the time.

A large raccoon has taken up residence in a large poplar tree at the side of our yard. From that perch it can see when we fill our bird-feeders. Give it about a half an hour and its eases down the tree from its 60-foot perch and helps himself to the black-oil sunflower seed.

Feeding techniques are varied. Sometimes it unscrews the top of the rusty bird feeder (with much less difficulty than some of us.) Or it jumps on and jostles the seed to the ground. Or if Mr. Coon is really hungry, it can upend in the feeder in the fork of a branch and just let the seed pour on the ground.

If we happen to interrupt dinner, it slinks back up the tree to its post and watches us until the coast is clear.

We once tried to outsmart the non-birds (raccoons, turkey, squirrel) with ropes, pulleys and fancy feeders. Now we just set a place for everybody. Live and let live. As Betty says, they were here first.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Friends and family beware: SQUASH ATTACK

The wind and hail can batter my berries and strip my fruit trees. The sun and unrelenting heat can cook my tomatoes and boil my corn, but nothing -- absolutely nothing -- will stand in the way of summer squash.

I grew my squash plants from seed this year, thinking most wouldn't make it. They all did. I didn't plant all of them, but everyone that I did plant is bursting forth with yellow squash.

Fair warning. If you see me coming with a sack in my hand, turn and run for your life.

"Jack and the Beanstalk" should be rewritten as "Jack and the Squash Plant." I'm certain that squash is related to kudzu.

Then. Just when you think it's safe to go out in the garden -- ZUCCHINI.