Crabapple Blossoms

A faint but heady perfume from the crabapple tree drifted in the moonlit air as I was taking laundry off the clothesline. The summerlike heat of the day had melted away into the clearest, freshest evening cool, and the cloudless blue of the day had darkened into velvety, diamond-studded black of night. The tree stood silent and ghostly next to the Miner’s Cabin, bathed in moonlight, but earlier today it was singing with hundreds of bees, the busy little pollinators.

It wasn’t until today that I fully noticed the crabapple tree. I had seen the blossoms coming out over the last week or so, and hoped that the snows we had last week wouldn’t blight the buds, but today it was blooming in radiant glory, more abundant than I’ve seen in the three springtimes we have been here. The tree doesn’t at this point receive any kind of pruning, so I am guessing this year is its year of plenty. Hopefully it will mean a stunning harvest of crabapples later this summer!
IMG_6979eIMG_6976eIMG_6957eSpring is a time of delightful surprises – Flowers blooming in the snow, finding volunteer poppy plants, new birds, new flowers, new life of all sorts…and the heady perfume of springtime, hanging around the moonlit crabapple tree.

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Ghost towns

After our short trek to the unnamed ghost town or homestead site on Sunday, and having our visit shortened by rain, we knew we wanted to spend some more time looking around there. We picked Tuesday as the day of choice, little knowing that we would end up enjoying all the variety of Black Hills weather in one day! Not that that would have deterred us, of course! Living in the Hills, one really does get used to very rapid changes in weather, sometimes rapid changes in one area, other times rapid changes due to, for instance, driving over the mountains. IMG_5178Sarah and I took Playhouse Road into Custer, partly for the scenery, partly because it actually is quicker than going over Mt. Rushmore, and the higher the elevation, the snowier it got. Boy, were the trees lovely to see! We met up with a friend in Custer, and drove down towards Pringle, seemingly leaving the snow behind. We poked around in the ruins for an hour or so, turning up pieces of a child’s skate, the top deal of a hand-cranked ice cream maker, the lid of a pressure canner, and lots of blue glass insulators. As much as I would have loved to “collect” them, we dutifully left them behind. I love blue insulators. But a $20,000 fine is a pretty good deterrent. However, it is too bad that cows and elk and weather don’t leave the artifacts alone, evidenced by the shards of glass everywhere. In another ten years of cows, elk, and weather, the artifacts will be all but gone.IMG_5261eWe examined the root cellar more closely, and realized that glass jars and bottles were built into the walls. Some of the bottles were identical to ones I found in our junk piles. Not sure the purpose of building bottles into the walls, but that is something we want to learn about. IMG_5239eWhen rummaging in the remnants of long-gone ghost towns and homes, it can be easy to compartmentalize those locations as being purely “historical.” As if the historical artifacts just planted themselves there, and weren’t put there by a living person. It is so easy to forget that these were places that were bubbling with life. These were homes, busy homes, built by people who knew the meaning of the word “work.” Whether dating to the first gold rush or the homestead and mining years of the early to mid 1900s, these people were true pioneers and adventurers, in ways we can’t even comprehend now.
IMG_5213eWe stayed for about an hour, findings other odds and ends, guessing what the structures might have been, marveling at a giant spreading aspen, so wizened that the bark on the lower trunk looked like an oak or cottonwood. I wonder how much smaller that tree was, when the homestead was being lived on.  The trees down the valley turned grey with approaching snow, and the squall blew in. Rain on Sunday, snow on Tuesday.
IMG_5280eIMG_5282eAs we drove down to our family property south of Pringle, near Argyle, it was still snowing in quite a winterly fashion, but cleared up when we headed west to the property. How variable the weather can be, from place to place and hour to hour! The following two pictures were taken the same afternoon, the first on our hike in to the Box Canyon, and the second on the hike back out, just a couple hours apart.
IMG_5313eIMG_5552eWe enjoyed the scenery, the history, the warm sun, the pasque flowers (well, I did, anyway), and Jake flew his drone over the Box Canyon and Spring-on-Hills Stage Stop. The stage stop dates back to the gold rush days, and was only in use for 2-3 years. IMG_5434eIMG_5336eThis stop would have fallen out of use as a regular stage stop when the entire route was re-routed west of Custer, due to dangerous conditions in this area. It probably continued to be used by immigrants and adventurers who chose to pass this way, but the stage itself was routed further west. All that is left are some foundations and a caving-in dugout. I remember the dugout being intact when I was a kid, but the heavy rain we had a couple of summers ago in particular brought the roof down. There are still old jars inside – Perhaps someone at sometime lived in the dugout, or maybe it was only ever used as a cellar. Who knows.
IMG_5334eThe clouds cleared off and the wind picked up a bit as well, making the drone flying some tricky business. On our hike back out, we saw a herd of antelope in the distance, which for me is always fun, since we don’t have antelope in the Hills. There was also a crazy coyote running around, and lots of bluebirds. I was also fortunate enough to find a patch of Easter daisies, one of the flowers I was hoping to see, since now is their time of year!
IMG_5518eIMG_5573eWe made one last stop on our way back to Custer, to explore some old cabins near the side of the road. We hit the valley right as the sun was getting low in the sky. Furniture and shoes still mouldered in the houses, and swallows had taken up residence. The pump still pumped water. Coat hooks still hung on the walls. A bedframe gleamed in the light from a window. How the past lingers, even as time marches on.
IMG_5595eIMG_5619eIt is rare that we are able to slate a whole day for hiking and exploration. Time marches on. But sometimes you just have to take a whole day to enjoy it.

Happy April!

How suddenly the winter retreats peacefully into the shadows, places where the snow lingers a little longer and the chill hovers, while springtime appears with vigor and color and sweetness. Everywhere, new life is appearing. Tiny calves speckle the pastures, birds are singing lustily, and branches and twigs are showing green. Underfoot, flower life is waking, spreading their petals to the sunlight, drinking in the rain, little gems in the layers of pine needles and dead grass. First is the pasque, and then the rest follow.
IMG_5006eI’m reminded of these verses from Song of Solomon:

The flowers appear in the earth: the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

The signs of spring are plainly written. We smell the clean, rain-washed air, hear the droplets pattering on the roof, feel them on our faces, hear the birds singing in the trees. We have the pasque flowers on the sunlit hills. Flocks of sandhill cranes in the sky mark the beginning of April, a new sight for me. Spring is here.

Happy April!

The First Day of Spring

With snow in the forecast, we welcome the first day of spring!
IMG_4213The glory of springtime is the promise of things to come. The springtime frosts will continue, eventually giving way to the warmth of May and June. The buds begin to leaf out on the trees and the lilac shrubs, poppies and daffodils and tulips push their way above the soil, and beneath the layer of last year’s grass, a new world of green is springing up. Springtime is the season of anticipation – Anticipation of new life, baby creatures in nests and dens, delicate flower life, fresh rain on the earth, new birdsongs, new color to the landscape. We can begin to imagine the fruitful garden we hope to enjoy in the summer, the hopeful harvests of wild fruits, the putting up of produce. We can begin to imagine the heat on our backs, cool dirt between our toes, sunburnt noses, ice-cold tea, picnics, hikes, warm evenings and cool nights. Springtime is a time of promise.
IMG_8716I’m looking forward to prowling around in search of flowers, or stopping in awe at the sight of speckled fawns, or feeling rain on my face and hearing the sound of thunder in the distance. I’m already savoring the longer days, the warmer temperatures, the fragrant mornings.

Winter has left us, but she will return in season. For now, we welcome spring.

The Singing Tree

A low droning caught my ear, as I was working outside today. It sounded like a whole swarm of wasps, of which we have plenty during the summer, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I don’t like wasps. As I listened, I realized the humming was coming from the large tree by the old chicken coop. I thought there must be a wasp nest in the tree, or perhaps in the old tractor sitting out by the coop.
IMG_3905bIMG_3883bIMG_3880bUpon closer inspection, I saw that the tree was in bud, the spreading boughs covered with delicate mahogany flowers, and flitting daintily from flower to flower were the little glinting bodies and sparkling wings of honeybees. The source of the song. I have no idea how many were working, but they were creating quite the chorus of springtime music. What a harbinger of blessings to come!

May Day Blue

Yesterday I mused wistfully that Harney Peak frosted white would have been stunning under a clear blue sky. The drive to church this morning didn’t disappoint! We’ve hardly seen the sun in the last week or so, but this morning it finally decided to come out and wake everything up! Amazingly enough, we had left sufficiently early for church this morning so that we actually had time to pull over on Palmer Creek Road on Hwy 244 so I could snap a few pictures.
IMG_0194Other than on Harney Peak and the rest of the high-elevation hills which were glazed with frost, everything has greened up, refreshed by the rain and snow we’ve had over the last couple of weeks. Over the next few weeks, spring will truly come rushing in!
IMG_0561Twitterpated birds are busy nesting, making a racket in every tree. Goldfinches have gotten their summer plumage and no longer look scruffy, and bluebirds flicker brightly in pastures and from fence post to tree to shrub. Meadowlarks are back to sitting on fence wires, singing their little hearts out – What a life!

This really is a glorious time of the year. What other time of the year can one enjoy the serene beauty of winter and all the fire and life of springtime, all in the same day? And I’m really so glad we live in a world with color.  God didn’t need to create color. But He did.

Laura Elizabeth