LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 33

These past two days back home at Red Oak House found us back to fall chores, and Jim catching walleye on the Missouri River, supper tonight.

Wednesday night, with the gorgeous tiger’s-eye beans we’d brought home from Seed Savers Exchange and grass-fed beef from the Striefels, I cooked up a huge pot of chili, making enough so that Jim and Jeff can eat it later this winter in the ice-fishing house.

Today, I put away all of the lawn furniture, and between the two of us, we have most of the leaves picked up. The strawberries are now nicely mulched for the winter. We agreed that the brussel sprouts were an epic fail this season, probably due to being planted in too much shade.Thus it is that today was the last of the growing season here. The only growing thing we will still harvest is the pot of rosemary that survives under the eaves on the back patio.

The daylilies, irises and mums are all cut back, however, I’ve left the seed heads of the coneflowers for the birds to feed upon all winter.

Wednesday, Jim cooked up the very last of the tomatoes that had ripened wrapped in newspaper while we were traveling, making a rich red sauce that he will use all winter for stuffed peppers.

The temperature has dropped enough now that I put the first block of my homemade suet in the feeder just outside my kitchen office window.

And I brought in a stack of wood for the living room stove. The World Series is over, and soon it will be time for cozy fires.

The only major outdoor chore we now have to do is to clean the leaves out of the gutters since the trees in our neighborhood are mostly bare. There is snow in the forecast, and we are gradually hunkering down for winter and indoor life.

“There is no wealth but life.” —  John Ruskin

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Thousands Of Tomatoes

Well, on Thursday I said it to Jim. That statement that comes around every year:

“I don’t want to see another tomato again for quite awhile.”

By this point, we’ve converted thousands of tomatoes (Jim says over 1,700, plus my sister gave us some of hers) into salsa, juice, marinara — and Thursday, I canned 14 quarts of tomato basil soup. Oh, and all of those BLTs we ate for several months.

Peeling all of these takes hours, on my feet, nine gallon bags worth this morning.  I started to whine that I feel like a canning factory worker rather than a retiree. But … but … but …

This will all be mighty tasty all the long North Dakota winterlong, and I finished in time to take in this afternoon’s Cinema 100 matinee. It was, in my humble opinion, a boring movie, and I wish I had instead gone for a bike ride on such a beautiful day.

On Wednesday, I converted all the bacon fat we’d accumulated for the last year into suet for our feeder. Thank heavens for this beast, my trusty KitchenAid mixer.

It had been our plan to have tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for supper, but we got a better offer, a night out with some of the best friends we could hope for in our revolutions around the sun. We are richly blessed.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 32

Tuesday morning, I worked in the cool autumn sunshine on yard chores, getting things done before the snow flies. First, I tackled the pile of limbs we had accumulated over the summer in our trailer, breaking and sawing up the branches to add to our kindling pile. Lizzie the springer spaniel happily nosed around in the fallen leaves and disappeared somewhere in the back returning with some strange thing she had found to eat.

Next, while admiring the colorful leaves on the trees and shrubs in our yard, I finished the garden cleanup and spread the straw on the garlic bed.

Liz found this somewhat interesting. I’m looking forward to fewer muddy paw prints in the house.

The leaves on the juneberry bushes are striking as are the red-osier dogwoods. We need rain. Loads of snow would be acceptable. Yes, I did say that.

The red oak tree is looking glorious today, as are the hosta. The tree is a champion.

The quaking aspen have begun to turn in the past few days. Frost has killed the impatiens, but the butterflies continue to visit the asters and the ladybugs are present here and there, with an occasional renegade in the house. The late-blooming clematis also persists.

The slate-covered juncos have made their appearance in the yard, Junco hyemalis, hyemalis being New Latin for “wintery.” According to my book, “Words for Birds,” “the Latin comes from the Greek cheimon, ‘winter’, which is related to Sanskrit hima, ‘snow.’ The Junco is often called the ‘snow bird,’ as its arrival foretells the coming of winter to its southern range. Slate-colored refers to the sooty black upper-parts and the central part of the tail.”

Last up for outdoor chores was to pick raspberries. We are completely delighted that we are still picking raspberries — in North Dakota! I converted some of these to raspberry crisp, and Jim loves raspberry pancakes above all breakfast foods.

Here’s an interesting autumn development: the arrival of dozens of mayflies on our kitchen window. I notice oddities such as these.

A big bonus to the day was the arrival of Jim’s sister, Jill, with a batch of her freshly made lefse, converted from the potatoes Jim gave to her. If you are interested, she takes orders and ships this Norwegian delicacy. Get in touch, I’ll connect you with her.

Meanwhile, this is the soundtrack of our lives this time of year.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — ‘Finding Beauty In A Broken World’

“A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken.” — “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” a book by Terry Tempest Williams

In what has been described by many as a “soul-crushing week” in the United States, I’m trying my damnest to focus on the blessings and gifts in my life.

One of the finest gifts of friendship in my life has been that with the writer and deep thinker, Terry Tempest Williams. In the years since I first discovered her books, I have absorbed so much of her wisdom. My own aging, I hope, has brought on my own wisdom, through pain and joy and sorrow and mistakes, and that wisdom includes embracing the cycle of seasons here on the northern Plains and simplifying my life inasmuch as is possible.

I’m also deeply committed to learning something new every day.  It is my hope that in the upcoming year or so, I can learn the creation of mosaics from my friend Molly McLain. Every day I can listen online or to Prairie Public Radio and choose carefully what I watch on television or read, to achieve that goal of enlightenment.

In the afternoon sunshine of Saturday, we walked over to a friend’s house, for treats and delightful conversation. Our path took us by one of the best trees in our Highland Acres neighborhood.

As I write this, I’m munching on a homemade apricot kolache baked by our friend, Tasha Carvell, who sent home with us. Yummy!

I strive to pay attention to the tiny joys in life, such as the perfect red oak leaf I found on my front patio yesterday. Rather than feel frustrated that I will have to pick up all of these fallen leaves, I try to see the beauty in the leaf and approach these leaves as a substance that will enrich our soil and protect our strawberries and garlic from the upcoming harsh winter.

In another example of finding a silver lining, earlier this week I dropped and lost an earring and could not find it anywhere on the floor or bed. As a last resort, this morning, I tore that room apart and completely cleaned it, on hands and knees. I did not find the earring and had given up but looked in one last place, and there it was. It was a trifle, but a triumph nonetheless, and the room is now clean for the winter.

On Saturday, I attended the North Dakota Yoga Conference, learning new things from masters, a blessing. I told Jim he’d be surprised by how many people in North Dakota have a yoga business.

 The rooms bustled with people (yes, mostly women) who were eager to deepen their practices. My friend, Debi, experienced a wonderful epiphany at a session we attended together, Yoga Nidra and she generously shared those insights with me after the class.

I’ve also incorporated essential oils into my daily routine.Although we open wide our windows during the temperate months and live in the glory of fresh air in our house, there are many months in which the windows must be closed (although we have many large windows that we have left uncovered in order to bath the interior in light year-round). Now that autumn has arrived, in our bedroom, I use an infuser and apply three fragrant oils that enhance sleep: lavender, geranium, and sweet marjoram.

In my landscaping of our yard, I have striven to create beauty for every stage of the year. It has taken years to achieve this goal, helped by the fact that I started with a good palette, a large and private backyard bordered by mature trees.

Today, the firewood is stacked, the kindling box is full, the garlic is planted, and a hard frost is in the forecast. Jim brought in the last of the bell peppers, and these are now in brown paper bags for a final ripening.

In the night sky this week, the harvest moon has been bright. Jim has been busy in the kitchen today making 11 pints of salsa, from my sister Beckie’s recipe, with the last of the tomatoes and jalapenos. I took Lizzie for an afternoon walk through the coulee and while she went swimming, I stood completely still and watched a flock of the sandhill cranes migrating over the Missouri River Valley, the first I’ve seen this fall. I did not move until the flock had disappeared on the horizon, into the blue.

From the book “Words for Birds ,” crane is an English word derived from the bird’s cry, which has its origins in the root for “calling” or “crying out.” The sandhill crane is grus canadensis. Grus refers to the bird’s call and canadensis is a Latinism for “of Canada.”

The coup de grace for the day will be my homemade apple crisp.

Rather than bemoaning that summer is over, I try to focus on all of the projects I will be able to tackle inside during the winter. Bring it on!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Frost Forecast

Frost is in the forecast for Red Oak House.

It was inevitable and is an integral part of the life cycle.  On this chilly and breezy Tuesday morning, Jim and I harvested the last of the vegetables — that is everything but the Brussels sprouts, which are left out until they produce. We’ll see.

Together we dug the parsnips, the leeks and the meager sweet potato crop. On his own, he picked the jalapenos, the peppers and the last of the green tomatoes. On Monday, he tilled the garlic bed, and it is now ready for planting, as soon as our order from The Garlic Store arrives.

In the afternoon he tilled much of the rest of the vegetable beds. He has tested the soil, and all is in good shape after years of countless wheelbarrow loads of compost from a huge pile at the city landfill. Jim’s rototiller is a prized possession, purchased by his father at the Hettinger (N.D.) Coast to Coast store many decades ago.

All I will have left to do outside is pick up the fallen leaves. These we will use to cover the garlic and strawberry bed before deep winter arrives.

Our larders and freezers are full. All we have to go to the store for is milk, eggs, butter, seafood and fruit — oh and chocolate!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 31

Jim took a break Saturday from fishing and hunting in order to work on his garlic bed. He also cultivated an area in the vegetable garden for me. Now that we have a chicken-wire fence around the vegetable garden, I can plant tulips and the rascally rabbits won’t gnaw them down to nubs.

I planted 80 bulbs — yellow and red — and they will be bright spots next spring when most of the plants are just getting started. It was a windy fall day, but the sun was shining. While we worked, we could hear the loudspeaker from the Bismarck State College Bowl and the people cheering on their football and soccer teams.

On Friday, I picked more than a quart of our fall raspberries, and we delivered some to my mother.

Indoors, the folding table is full of green tomatoes, ripening in the sun from the dining room windows.

From now on, we’ll both be tracking in lots of leaf debris when we go in and out the doors.

Our next-door neighbors’ tree has left a lovely carpet on their lawn this morning.

Across the street from us at Tom O’Leary Golf Course, a couple of young guys were getting in some of the last days on the links before the season ends. The colors in the trees there are just starting to turn, I think because these trees get so much water.

Friday night, I attended the local Unitarian Universalist’s Gandhi Peace Indian Dinner, with the tastiest (and spicy) feast prepared by my friends, Aruna and Vinod Seth, and I resolved to make this an annual event.

When we were both ready to quit for the day, we wandered over to Barnes & Noble, where John Bluemle was signing his book “North Dakota’s Geologic Legacy.” Good book, great gentleman, one of ND’s treasures.

Then, we took a walk through the Food Truck Festival for a late lunch, passing by the Bismarck Community Garden, where the zinnias are lovely.

The variety of food and creativity of vendors was fun to see. Yummy.

I indulged in potato dumplings from The Czech Wagon, and we both bought Mud Pie ice cream from Hot Cookie Mama. We live in a great city, and life is good.

“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they’d live a lot differently. When you look into infinity, you realize there are more important things than what people do all day.”Bill Watterson

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 30

Autumn beauty continues to emerge in my yard, including peak hydrangea color, hinting at the frost that is nigh. Jim complains that he has about 500 green tomatoes still on the vine, and the folding table is back in the dining room in preparation for bringing those in for ripening, ending the cycle that began with the seedlings in that same spot last spring.

The other day, he smoked some of the duck breasts, the bounty of his hunt of last week. Today I started cutting back the perennials, composting the greenery, leaving only the mums, asters, coneflowers and Dark Towers Penstemon for the winter, to catch the snow on the beds. Who knows how many days I have left to accomplish this. I have to steel myself to do this as the beds will look so bare, armed with the knowledge that the foliage will be mushy to deal with in the spring if I postpone. I have five backyard beds, and so I work my way slowly through these. Not long after I started, I had to shed my hoodie as the temperature climbed. It is so satisfying to work in the autumn sunlight on this beautiful, still day.

The Painted Lady butterflies were swarming on the Purple Palace aster today, and there is russet in the vine that covers the boundary fence. Soon I hope we will be eating Brussels sprouts, but for now, they are a very lovely color in the vegetable garden. The broccoli and basil have gone to seed.

Midafternoon, Jim arrived home with four more ducks, and he patiently plucked one for roasting. Lizzie the Springer Spaniel got to accompany him this time. She settled in and napped away the remainder of the day in the sun.

By the end of the afternoon, the perennial beds in back looked like this. I will leave the front yard hosta garden alone, as it needs the yellow color the leaves will turn as the fall progresses or it would look too barren.

In other news of the cycles of our lives, during the predawn hours this morning, I put our daughter, Chelsea, on a flight to Colorado, where she will be attending dog grooming school for the next three months. In the car, I played this song for her to make her smile. Then, we switched to “Morning Edition” because we are NPR folks.

It was great fun to watch her go through security and leave her in the company of all of the others bound for Denver, the first time she has ever flown without me. This is a big step for her, a dream she’s had for years, coming true. We know she will fly high! Bon voyage, dear one.

Later I got the text that she was safely at her destination and with her new mentor, and the prayers and good wishes of many good people in our lives are with her.

While I worked in the yard, I listened to the squirrels gamboling about in the crabapple trees, and I am grateful that I have the blessings of a quiet day, while so many others bustle about. I made mental notes about garden chores I will add to the spring list, such as moving plants to different locations or dividing perennials or making new purchases. I listened to a nearby blue jay’s raucous call.

A month ago, I took a very hard fall, landing on my knees on a concrete curb with full force. Today, I am grateful that after a few weeks of physical therapy, I can again bend and stoop and kneel. Many of the things on my late summer gardening chore list got pushed to next summer, but, so it goes. Mostly I scoot around on my derriere, dragging my garbage can behind me.

I also fertilized our strawberry bed, while golden ash leaves fell upon my head.  There is a hint of color this morning in the red oak tree, and the backyard burr oak is beginning to turn. I look forward to the bright yellow leaves of our aspens trees, a tree that my daughter saw in full color as she flew over the Colorado Rockies today.

Now are the days when we will eat hearty stews and chili and lasagna and soups. The young man who delivers our firewood will bring two loads and Curt, the nice man who maintains our sprinkler system, has come and blown it out for the season. I’ve even staged the snow shovels in the garage and stored away the patio umbrella.

Can you tell that my siblings and I were Scouts and my mother a den mother, when we lived in El Paso, Texas, while my father was stationed at Fort Bliss? This photo was taken in the late fall of 1969. For some reason, my younger brother did not wear his Cub Scout uniform that day but rather his miniature Army uniform, unaware that someday he would serve a career in the U.S. Navy. I was envious that my older sister got to wear nylon stockings. What a happy crew we were.

On Monday, I saw a large flock of pelicans migrating. Soon there will be sandhill cranes. True story, while I watched the pelicans, I was listening to this Joni Mitchell song on the car stereo.  I’ll be playing it on repeat in the coming days.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Autumnal Equinox and Dakota Trails

With the arrival of the autumnal equinox, my writing will begin to shift away from the garden returning to the topic of Dakota Trails, among other topics.

My two favorite days on the calendar are the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, when the light of the world is equal, in complete harmony between day and night. Although autumn is my favorite season, living here at Red Oak House at such a northern latitude makes the vernal, or spring, equinox my favorite of the two. Finally, after months of long and cold winter nights, the light returns. Jim and I even chose the vernal equinox for our wedding day all those years ago.

Now it is autumn, and the days will begin to grow short. Monday, we dug the last of our abundant potato crop, which tickled Jim to no end. I found one shaped like Mickey Mouse. Jim’s sister, Jill, will convert some of these into lefse for the holidays, a Norwegian tradition that endures in our families. He also pulled the bean plants and reports that hundreds of green tomatoes are slow to ripen in the cool weather. Wednesday, he picked a crazy bunch of raspberries, and we dined on Napoleon sausage and raspberry waffles, breakfast for supper. He has frozen the surplus raspberries, which I call “nuggets of January happiness.”

This week I bit the bullet and tossed this year’s petunias from the patio pots, hanging on to the basil and rosemary. Frost is nigh. Jim has pulled the cucumber plants, too.

On Wednesday we washed and put away the window screens. And Thursday, while I washed the windows and listened to nuthatches, Jim busily prepped the garlic bed because he plants garlic in the fall. The yard was full of butterflies.

My siblings were all over last night for a bonfire, lacking just my younger brother, who lives in Virginia. We reminisced and laughed into the night.

On Saturday, my husband will be out on the trail with his buddies, hunting ducks, with pheasants and geese soon to follow, another fall ritual at our house. Our springer spaniel, Lizzie, seems to know this. Her joy when she spots him taking out his hunting boots is infectious. Right now, the song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” is on my mind as it is every fall.

I’m going to join Jim on the trail this year as my time permits, dovetailing my interest in North Dakota places with our mutual enjoyment of being outdoors. I’m ready to tackle the pile of research I’ve compiled on the topic of North Dakota trails, to get my desk cleared off and prepared for winter projects of all kinds.

The kind folks at the State Historical Society of North Dakota have shared with me a map they prepared, which I think is a beautiful overview of the state’s historical trails. With their generous permission, I reproduce it here as a preview of what’s to come, gentle reader. This will be fun!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Marinara

On Wednesday, I commandeered the canner from Jim so that I could make the season’s first batch of marinara at Red Oak House.

He grows a variety of tomatoes, including paste type, starting these from seed in the basement in the early spring. As I’ve previously written, he has harvested more than a thousand tomatoes and cans many jars of his specialty — juice. For marinara, he freezes the paste tomatoes, cuts off the tops and places them in Ziploc bags.

Tuesday night, he carried up the bags and placed them in the kitchen sink to thaw. The skins slip off easily, and I peel a total of 81, which will make a nice thick sauce. While I work, I listen to Prairie Public Radio and watch the world from my kitchen window.

Jim peels a couple of big heads of garlic, and I chop and saute the garlic in about 2 cups of olive oil.The garlic is fresh, a gift from our friend, Mike, who has a huge garden at his home near Gilby, N.D. (Our crop was paltry.)

I roughly follow the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” with my own variations. Making the marinara at this time is ideal for several reasons, including that I have an ample supply of fresh basil and oregano from my garden.

After I have the tomatoes in the pots, I wash the bags and dry with one of the hand-embroidered dish towels that my mother stitches for us. I do this because we are thrifty and as environmentally conscious as possible. The tomato skins get dumped into our compost pile.

While the sauce simmers, I wash the quart jars in hot, soapy water. As the tomatoes “cook down,” I mash with my old-fashioned masher.

To stir the sauce, I use my favorite spoon, the one that was my mother’s all of her years raising children. It fits in my hand perfectly and is sturdy. If that spoon could tell stories…

The smoke from forest fires in the western U.S. is so thick today in North Dakota it is as if it is foggy. The amber light, although beautiful, is unsettling. In contrast to the smell of smoke outdoors, the aroma in my kitchen is divine. This makes us both happy, and we savor the thought of how delicious the marinara will be when the winter snow is deep.

After several hours of simmering, I add the chopped herbs and my secret ingredient, and ladle the marinara into the jars for processing, according to the Ball canning guide.

Five hours and six quarts down, along with a half-quart fresh on pasta for supper, with shrimp. I tuck my apron away in the drawer, a good day’s work done.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 29

Something is puzzling me this year in the garden. In the front yard, the impatiens are insipid, but in the backyard perennial beds, these bright shade annuals are robust.

What could possibly be the explanation? My first instinct was the hot, dry weather and the lack of rain water, but this would be true both in front and back.  Naturally, I cannot remember if I bought these from two different suppliers, but that is possible. I know this because I’ve compared photographs from last year to this year.

We finished a project we’d been talking about for a while, the letters I purchased and stained, declaring to the world that this is Red Oak House, and I think we are both pleased with the result. Now, we can only hope that our Red Oak, the oldest mature Red Oak in Bismarck, continues to thrive. Soon enough its leaves will turn brown. Yup, brown, not red. I’m not really certain why it gets the name “red oak.” I guess I can research that on a slow day. We know this factoid about our tree because the city forester told us.

The monarch butterflies and other pollinators are busily visiting our plants, and the hummingbirds seem to have moved on.

For his birthday, Jim received the gift of a handmade gazing ball. No doubt, we’ll move it around in the perennial bed as it suits our fancy.

Reporting on my experiment with harvesting and planting seeds from my hosta: So far, a failure, but I’ve not given up hope. Perhaps these will emerge in the spring? Just in case, I’ve mapped the area of the garden, knowing that snowbanks will crush the flimsy plastic markers I’ve used.

The crabapple trees are full of fruit, and my husband has a big smile on his face every day, coming in with armloads of tomatoes. That and he is back in the boat catching walleyes on the Missouri River. His tomato count Saturday morning was 1,062 and he made six more jars of tomato juice, bringing his total count for the year to 65 quarts. Can you say licopene?

As if this wasn’t enough, his raspberry patch is producing fruit. He says “if there could only be one fruit, raspberries it would be.

Friday night was what we call “Nothing From the Store” supper. Walleye, beans, baked potatoes, and fresh tomatoes.