17. Meanderings at Apple Hill

The birds have flown, the kitty is skittish, and the lazy days of summer are almost gone. Work on the cottage will continue, I know, but probably not with the same freedom of coming here each weekend, working, dreaming, and sitting on the porch.

20120806-075740.jpgOne of our favorite things to do in the mornings and evenings is to sit on the porch watching and listening to the birds. Our identification skills have improved greatly, thanks to my well-thumbed bird book, Birds of North America . We have seen bluebirds, orioles, finches, wrens, woodpeckers, thrushes — we have watched a mockingbird do a song and dance routine on the nearest telephone pole — we watched baby robins get pushed out of their nest one morning and soon they were hopping around the yard looking for their own worms — and we’ve watched the barn swallows soar and dip, eating insects at dusk. Learning to identify their songs has been such a pleasure. This weekend the bird songs have been replaced by the constant hum of cicadas, and the birds are missing. Not a single robin in the grass; no flash of cardinal red; no wood thrush calling its haunting song from deep in the woods; not even any mournful dove songs. All weekend the only birds we saw were two fat crows walking on the grass, and three unidentifiable birds sitting on the wire. I hope they are all just enjoying a week at the beach…

Friend Beth came to visit on Saturday evening and brought another suggestion for a kitty name — Moe. We’ll have to see if this one sticks… He seems very skittish, especially in the dark. Last night we were looking at the stars, and the shadow of a fox ran across the yard beyond the apple trees. “Look, there’s the fox!” I said excitedly to Michael, and the very same second the kitty took off running for the safety of the porch. There was fear in his eyes. He stays very close to us when we are outside, and he won’t go out on the back porch after dark by himself. He sleeps on the bed all night and snores! All this is most unusual behavior for an independent (ex)tomcat! The wounds on his face have almost healed, but he doesn’t seem to have forgotten. Now we are feeling very responsible for him, and it no longer feels okay to just enjoy him when we’re here. We are thinking he will be our indoor house cat in Pittsburgh this winter…


A face only a mother could love…

We picked and ate our first apples this weekend:


The red ones are Red Delicious — which is disappointing as they are no one’s favorite! The green one is as yet unknown; it wasn’t quite ripe and was a bit sour, but definitely edible. We’re thinking a yellow cooking apple — maybe Grimes Golden.

We went out later today and picked a few more.


They don’t look or taste too bad for an old, unpruned tree.

We aren’t the only ones who think they aren’t too bad…These are two twin fawns we’ve been watching for a month or so; they’ve only recently started losing their spots. There is a groundhog who comes around also, but he’s too fast for my unskilled photography. As long as they don’t start climbing the trees…


Sorry for the blurry shot–I guess National Geographic won’t be calling me for a wildlife photo shoot anytime soon!

We also have about a dozen pears on the young trees we planted this spring. Yes, this is gratification!!!

There were just small projects done this weekend. (It was just too hot for Michael to work in the attic!) I sanded and painted the back porch steps:

I kept thinking of my grandfather’s phrase — like trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Oh well…the entry to the back porch isn’t high on the priority list; I was just trying to keep the steps from decomposing over the winter. (Notice that I only showed you a picture of the nicely painted steps — the rest of the entry is just too horrible to photograph.)

And we now have numbers on our mailbox post — can’t have the pizza guy passing us by!


Michael sanded and hung the door we found at the ReStore for ten dollars. This is the door that goes down four steps into the pantry/laundry room. (Clara’s pantry sign will hang at the top of it–see 10. Clara’s Kitsch.) I primed it, and now it will have to wait for its color until we choose red or green. I’m seeing this door as Red Delicious red. Somehow, I just can’t picture this door in Lime Twist… Anyone have thoughts?

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer everyone. I hope the birds get back safely from their vacations, and everyone gets to enjoy a sunset like this one in these last precious days of August…

3. More Circles

Joe and Clara named the road, and hand lettered the signs. Now it’s on Google Maps…

I don’t want to deceive my readers; this is a close up and the apples look much bigger than they really are! They are really about the size of small walnuts.

There haven’t been any new fruit trees planted at Apple Hill Cottage for many, many years. Two old apple trees that really need to be pruned overlook the hillside. This spring we were too late to prune them–they had already bloomed by the time we got to thinking about pruning. Our neighbors have many fruit trees dotted over their yard, and he told Michael that those old trees still get apples on them. So one morning about 6 weeks ago we cleaned them up. Cut out the dead limbs and the branches that had tent worms; cut off the extra long suckers that we could reach and then burned the tent worm cocoons in kerosene. Michael cut up the limbs into little pieces and now he has an endless supply of apple wood chips for grilling. We dragged the rest of the limbs over to our fire circle and had a lovely bonfire that early spring night. Now, six weeks later, they both do have apples on them–very small, but we’re hopeful.

We’ve been working very hard on the house, but every once in awhile, one of us would say wistfully, maybe we should plant some fruit trees this spring. And the other would agree–it takes so long for fruit to get started–yes, we need to, but there are so many things that need doing…

Over Memorial Day weekend, on our way out the road and back to Pittsburgh, we stopped at the new business where the main barns of the orchard used to be. First it was Longanecker’s Fruit Farm, then it was Little Greene Apples; now it is Mother Earth Farm and Greenhouse Outlet. We spent awhile poking around in the barns and talking to the nice folks who run it. They have all sorts of nursery plants, veggies, flowers, and they sell antiques and pottery also. The potter was at her wheel making lovely little vases. And they sell fruit trees! How wonderful to be able to buy fruit trees in the place that used to sell apples. How could we resist? We bought two apple trees–an Ida Red and a Honey Crisp–and two pear trees–a Bartlett and a variety called Luscious. Then, of course, we had to have a cart for the tractor to pull them home. (We’d been planning to get a garden cart anyway, for gardening and pulling around grandkids!) And we planned to spend a whole day the next weekend planting them.

The next Saturday was a beautiful day. Sunny and in the sixties–more like a day in April than June, but it was perfect for planting trees. Michael found wood to make the cart taller, hooked up the cart to the tractor, and went driving down the road to get the trees.

Michael fretted a bit about not having a big orange triangle for the back of the cart, but I told him he didn’t need one, his tractor was very visible! Clara would have loved the color.

We were admiring the cart and discussing the hitch (well, Michael was talking about the hitch, and I was listening) and we discovered this sign on the back of the tractor:

The tractor originally came from Apple Tractor, Inc. in Zelienople. Very perfect!

Even though the temperature was in the high sixties, the sweatshirts came off very soon.

While Michael was having fun on the tractor, I started digging holes. There are no pictures of me working at all, but believe me, I did. The holes for an apple tree have to be twice as wide as the root ball and 10 inches deeper. They were big holes. Michael dug perfect holes. Mine were less than perfect, but we sweated the same amount!

One of Michael’s perfectly dug holes.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are the fruits of our labor:

Planted, watered, mulched and…

Had to cage them so they wouldn’t try to escape…


It was a full day’s work planting these four little trees! Up at 6 AM and in bed before dark—with red necks, aching backs, and a lovely sense of the circles of life. There are new apple trees again at Apple Hill.

Even the kitty was tired, and he didn’t help at all.