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It is not easy to leave our home and garden after thirty years.

View from South Deck

Our home is located in the Hudson Valley and our garden is on a long and steep slope that eventually ends up at the Hudson River, facing the Palisades. When we walk to the train station to go to the city for work, we walk 0.7 miles straight down the steep slope to the river, using a sidewalk, of course, and not by rappelling in our backyard.

Backyard

Our garden is a small tamed area sitting on a slope in rather wild and natural surroundings.  It is a place to enjoy for all seasons and has a character all its own in spring, summer, fall and winter. For as long as we have lived here, we have worked on taming it, just a bit.

When we sell our home, we leave the garden behind, but we will take our gardening ideas to our next location  and will design and experiment in a new context.  We have several principles that we use in our garden that will no doubt apply to the next:  

  1. The fun never stops; 
  2. Our legs and back always ache and we are on our knees a lot; and
  3. If you water the lawn very heavily, it will rain.

We practically have no lawn on our property.  What lawn that we do have is set on a terrace and is surrounded by flowers and bushes that mingle and match in their own ways. As the years have moved along it has become quite unpredictable what flowers we will find in the spring that have settled into our lawn.

Our North Deck in Summer

The north deck overlooks the small lawn and peers out into the terraced garden.  The deck is low and faces the Palisades.  We have spent many a summer dining out here on this deck with the children.

North Deck in Spring
South Deck in Winter

The south deck overlooks the Palisades and the Hudson River and sits much higher.

South Deck in Summer

 In any season, this deck is a great spot to watch the sun set.

Our garden is sloped and terraced. 

 There are stairs to help us get from one level to the other.


  The garden shifts from tame to wild as it heads toward the woods.

We get an interesting perspective on our garden from our attic window.

The circle of bricks surrounding the bird bath out front was built by my husband as a gift to me, some ten years ago.

The plants that we have put in in the garden are not treated in any way with chemicals.  These roses are neither fertilized nor treated with chemicals, nor are they watered regularly.  Yet, for thirty years, they have grown multiplied and thrived on the slope.  At the top of the garden slope, we compost leaves, all our cuttings and vegetable scraps from our kitchen.  The result has been wonderful. 

In the autumn, the Palisades are in full view from the North Deck, as is the Hudson River, from the South Deck. 

THere is a patch of flowers left  as a gift for me in the middle of the lawn by my son when he went to college. 
He mowed around them and said to me, “Here Mom, a present, something to remember me by.”  Fifteen years later, in the spring, they are still popping up in the center of the lawn.  
 It makes me smile.

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The work is begun.

We are renovating our seasonal cottage so that we can live in it comfortably in spring, summer and fall. That sounds rather simple, doesn’t it?  But our goal has resulted in a pile of old materials heaped up in our yard that used to be our old interior kitchen and bathroom walls.  We will soon have new walls, freshly painted and tiled and all this rubble will be removed.  But for now, it looks pretty messy. 

We are removing old appliances such as our 1952 Frigidaire made by General Motors and still running beautifully even though it eats a generous amount of electricity and has no defrosting capabilities.  But at least it still runs after 60 years.  We have put it up for sale and I am sure someone will give it a good home. We talked about keeping this wonderful old fridge, but decided to get a new one that has a freezer on the bottom to reduce the amount of time that we spend kneeling in front of our refrigerator as though it were a sacred relic or famous religious leader.

If there is an interested buyer who is on a diet, I might add that one asset of this refrigerator is that it takes two hands (and sometimes two people) to get the door open and if you are a little kid at least one foot as well.  This reduces the amount of time spent snacking on unnecessary food items and it is also good exercise for people who need their arms (and perhaps their legs) strengthened.

If we get depressed from looking at this heap of rubble, all we do is go around the front of the cottage and look at the lake instead.  It reminds us why we are doing this.

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Steve Knowles

One of our neighbors down the road, Steve Knowles,has a hobby of woodturning in native Bahamian wood.  Beautiful bowls and other artifacts that he turns are then sold at local art fairs.  His workshop has become a popular stopping place for Abaco Nature Tours to visit when they bring bird watchers to Bahama Palm Shores to observe the Abaco parrots  and other birds. 

I often stop by to see what Steve is making.  Our out of town guests ask whether they might visit Steve’s workshop and see what he is turning out.  They like to take Bahamian arts and crafts home with them.

Steve works with wood from a number of native trees including mahogany (Swietenia mahogany), mahoe (Hibiscus tiliaceus L. Malvaceae), tamerind (Tamarindus indica), red cedar (Juniperus bermudiana) and poison wood (Metopium toxiferum), among others.

Workshop
Wood stock
Light is focused on the bowl Steve is turning.
Toy top

His workshop is filled with all kinds of equipment and tools for turning wood. Wood shavings are piled in the corners and logs are on the floor. It is a very productive and active place.

Lantern bases

There are examples of wood that he has turned into bowls, lanterns, trivets,  and tops for children, among other things.

Street signs

Lately, Steve has been making up road signs to help people figure out where they are on the way to Hole in the Wall and other places nearby, where signs are scarce. He asked whether we saw some of the signs he had put up when we went down on our tour to Hole in the Wall last week, and I told him we had seen them along the way.  It helped us to know where we were in the national forest.

He has a whole set of billy clubs that he has prepared for use by local fishermen, that are made out of a variety of woods. Of course, we always joke around about the many uses that we might find for such an item.

Then he showed us the trivets he was working on. We have  trivets that Steve made hanging in our kitchen.  They are also pretty to see on a decorated table, and are great for placing hot bowls of food.

Many of the trivets that he makes are shaped like various kinds of fish.  Sometimes he adds color to their eyes to jazz them up a bit.  Some trivets are beautifully plain and show off the grain of wood that he has used to make them.

The trivets can also be used as cutting boards and are very functional and look good when placed around the kitchen workspace.

We looked at a number of bowls that he made.  They are all so beautiful that it is difficult to decide which one is our favorite.  Here are some recent examples of his work.

Madeira Wood 2008
Fig wood 2012
Tamarind Wood 2012

Mahoe wood 2009
Fig Wood 2012

Some bowls were still poised to be turned and completed. 

Steve is also a conservationist who is concerned about native trees and protecting the local environment.  When we talk, he encourages us to be knowledgeable of and to respect native trees.  He emphasizes that the wood he gets is from trees that were felled by storms or branches that have fallen. Steve encourages the planting of native trees so that others will have the pleasure in the future of viewing them in the forests of Abaco and in our yards.

Steve Knowles is one of the many talented and interesting people living in the Bahama Palm Shores community, which makes it a very nice place to live as well as visit.

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We knew it was going to be interesting.  We heard that it was  beautiful.  But we were still not prepared for what we found. Hole in the Wall is a jaw dropping beautiful slice of wild, raw nature. 

There isn’t much man-made entertainment there.  In fact there are no coffee shops, no restaurants, no stores, no shops, no tourists, no roads.  We didn’t see another person on the entire trip, other then ourselves.  When we arrived, we looked up the two-track dirt path and saw an abandoned light house, three ruined buildings and an old sidewalk ambling to the beach.  Yet we were completely entertained by the natural site, it’s beauty, its solace, its grace, its  solitude, its immensity.

Our trip to Hole in the Wall started when six of us were picked up at 8:30 in the morning by Abaco Nature Tours.  Ricky Johnson, our tour guide, had previously taken us on a kayaking tour and now we were headed out with him for an all day excursion of a part of South Abaco that is  largely inaccessible without a jeep or other off-road vehicle.

Four of us had never been to Hole in the Wall. Two had visited there many times over the past 30 years.  We were all excited to be going.

It was a beautiful sunny day, actually a great day for swimming and fishing, but we had other plans.  We were picked up right on time, we piled into the car with our packed lunches, sunscreen, bug repellant, walking shoes and long pants, which is unusual down here.  We are more likely to be found in t-shirts and shorts or swim suits, but this was going to be a hike and we were all dressed for the occasion.

We started our trip by taking a paved road going south until we hit the big fork in the road.  To the right, one headed to Sandy Point continuing on the paved road.  To the left, we headed off the highway onto a two track dirt road for the next 14 miles.  It took us almost an hour and a half to traverse those 14 miles as the car turned right and left, bouncing and bumping while missing big ditches, potholes, scrub brush and some muddy waters.  Then, finally, we arrived.  We hiked the last half-mile as it was too difficult for the car to go any further.  We were all happy to start walking. It felt good after all those bumps.

Mahogany Tree (Swietenia Mahagoni)

Ricky shows us the browned mahogany tree fruit with seeds ready to scatter.

While heading toward the lighthouse, we identified some very pretty mahogany trees by looking at their fruit, looking like tennis balls attached to the branches.  Eventually the fruit turns brown, then splits at the bottom sending out numerous one-winged seeds to scatter.

Hairy Wild Coffee (Psychotria Pubescens)

We also found some wild coffee bushes sitting along the edge of the road.   

We turned off the dirt road after a bit and headed on a footpath through the bush to find a bat cave with a ladder stuck in it.  We saw footpaths surrounding the cave and realized that it was a system of caves.  My husband remarked that he saw no evidence of Batman living there.  But we could smell evidence of bats living there!  After checking out the cave a bit, we returned back to the dirt road and headed for the abandoned lighthouse.

Looking back
Looking toward the Hole in the Wall
Photo by Beth Stevens

Periodically we looked back at the vast expanse, then headed on until we reached the foot of the lighthouse.  It really didn’t matter which way we looked.  The view was unbelievable.  We were overpowered by the immensity and color of the ocean.

Hiking down to the Hole in the Wall

Far off in the distance we could see the beautiful birds called  White-Tailed Tropic Bird  or “Long Tail” soaring above us with their exceptionally beautiful tails. Out in ocean, in the distance, we saw huge cargo ships.

“Where is the Hole in the Wall?” I asked.  Ricky suggested that we hike down to see it, so four of us took off with him down toward the ocean. Two stayed behind and rested in the shade of the massive lighthouse.  For those of you who are interested, additional information about historical maps of Hole in the Wall, look here .

Arriving at the beach

At first the hike was easy as we followed a cement path through a maze of sea grapes and then hiked further down until we reached the beach.  We took a left at the beach and started hiking across limestone that was full of potholes and sharp edges.  We walked carefully through the maze until we reached a point where we could finally see the Hole in the Wall.  

Hole in the Wall

The sea was calm that day, so there was no frenzy of water shooting through the hole.  However, it was still magnificent and awesome.  One could feel a sense of power emanating from the place even  when the ocean is calm.  Looking down at the ocean, we saw an incredible aqua blue that is hard to describe, even with photos.

Tough walking, but the view is worth it

We then headed back across the limestone craters and up the hill to the lighthouse. 
One suggestion I have to any beach comber who takes this hike.  Wear your walking shoes! 

Returning to the lighthouse

The meadows were also beautiful on the way back and the hike through the sea grapes was special. Without their fragile shade, we would have been wilting from the sun. The views of the lighthouse throughout were stunning.

The lesson that I learned  from this tour is that the Hole in the Wall is a place where one could spend many a day, just appreciating the sense of nature’s power and enormity.  I can’t wait to return.

  

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She is now officially Little Miss Irene and is downgraded to a tropical storm and is no longer “Hurricane Irene”.

Ironically, the minute the announcement went out that she was downgraded, the wind picked up at our place and two big trees came down on our property.  The first big drop was our neighbor’s tree and a huge branch dropped on our fence.  The second big tree was on our property and fell across the road, stopping traffic until our village emergency trucks came and removed it.

The winds whipped for quite some time.  In fact, these were the first really bad gusts of wind that we encountered from her of any significance.  Fancy that.

TROPICAL STORM IRENE SHOWS HER STUFF

Let me entertain you.  Sit back and relax.  Put on Willy Nelson, and listen to his song while you scroll down through the rest of the photos showing our transition through Little Miss Irene’s visit to Hastings on Hudson.

Our story

We patiently waited for her  tantrum to subside so we could take a walk or get out of the house without worrying about a tree falling on us.  Below, is the transition that I photographed from humid, wet Irene, to dry cranky Irene, to bye bye, Irene.

HUMID,WET

SHE OFFERED US DRY, PROMISING, BUT CRANKY WINDS

BYE, BYE, IRENE

This morning, the 29th of August 2011, the morning after Irene, there were a few “hangovers” to take care of.  Take a look at our Saw Mill Parkway, that is now the “Saw Mill Canal”.  Our neighbor photographed people kayaking on it yesterday.  This morning I got shots of it just languishing in the beauty of our sunny, bright, windless early autumn morning.

Anyone want to go kayaking with me? Here is a photo that our neighbor Ron Hollander took of the Saw Mill Canal yesterday. 

Just for the record, we are aware that this is not a happy story for everybody.  They are saying on the news that there were 20 deaths from her, and most of it sounds like people injured and killed from high waters.  We are sorry for what happened.

We have relatives in Connecticut who have no electricity and probably won’t have any for days. We have friends in Vermont who are this morning, trying to find their way through a lot of damaged trees.

Before we moved to Hastings on Hudson, we lived on Roosevelt Island on the East River of Manhattan and their tree damage and flooding is considerable. Take a look at their Roosevelt Island Blog. to see the tree damage.    

We have friends in the Bahamas who are wishing for some light in the evening, phone service and some running water.

We are sorry for the damage and injuries that did occur.

These storms appear to be increasing in magnitude.  I hope all of us will start taking note of the scientific evidence we have that these storms, these environmental disasters, are partly caused by human activity over which we have some control.

It was impressive to see the way that a strong mayor and city management affects urban behavior.  Our New Yorkers proved yet again, that  they move quickly when they have to. They efficiently evacuate their homes when deemed dangerous.  They use public transport a lot and walk when they cannot ride.  They may be famously cranky like Irene, from time to time, but they are efficient and quick and full of good spirit.

No doubt, part of this story is just plain mother nature overwhelming us, as she is prone to do.

Bye, Bye, Irene

By the way,  a friend of mine in Australia recommends that we move from Willy Nelson to Leadbelly to get a really good orchestration for the storm. I have to admit.  It really does sound good.  You can listen to it here:  FRANMART BLOGSPOT
 

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It is now one hour into the time when we are supposed to feel the presence of Little Miss Irene.  What we experience thus far is lots of water, lots of rain,.  It has been raining steady for at least five hours now.  Every once in awhile a big gust of wind goes by, but I think wind storms are not going to necessarily be our problem.  Our problem is WATER!  Everything already looks pretty waterlogged. 

Thus far, our house is both high and dry.  We are up on some cliffs, high above the Hudson River.  Here is what it looks like out our window.

From our attic window, the skyline looks like this with  LOTS OF RAIN, LOW VISIBILITY..

Our deck is truly wet now, and the flowers are bowing from the weight of the rain.

That’s all for now. 

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We Plan for Irene

Just south of us, some 7 miles from here, is the northern border of New York City.  We hear through the news that New York City is evacuating some 300,000 people who reside in areas where flooding might occur from the storm  This is what their evacuation zones looks like that they have put into place:

NEW YORK CITY EVACUATION ZONES

We are up the Hudson River some seven miles beyond the map at Hastings on Hudson. Up here, we do not have evacuation plans,  But many of us work in New York City in areas that are zoned for evacuation, like our son who works near Battery Park, or our friend who owns a business down near the water on the East Side of Manhattan.. 

The Hudson River could flood here in Hastings on Hudson.  But our home is up on the cliffs overlooking the river and facing the Palisades. We do not expect to have problem with flooding like the lowlands might.

It is possible that we might get strong gusts of hurricane winds that topple trees because the tree roots have lost their hold owing to heavy rains. It is also possible that we could have wind damage, considering our height above the river.  But as of now, this is all speculation.

In any case, most of us are hunkered down and are following instructions to get to safe quarters and stay there until the hurricane passes by.

We can forget about public transport in NYC this afternoon because they are shutting down the subway system, stopping the buses and also the Metro rail lines.  That is really amazing.  New Yorkers are big public transport users. I cannot imagine what people will do if they want to get around.  New Yorkers are also good walkers and bikers, which they might do as a last resort.

When all transportation pretty much stopped on September 11, 2001, many of us put on our shoes and walked out of the city.  So it wouldn’t be the first time that walking would become the “transport of choice”.  However, given the size of the storm expected, I imagine that people won’t walk around much either.

I just went up to our attic and took a video of how our skyline looks this afternoon.  When the film starts, we are looking Northwest toward Nyack and the Tappanzee Bridge on the Hudson River.  when the film ends, it is aimed south toward New York City, almost to the George Washington Bridge.Tomorrow, I will try to photograph this same scene again to see how it changes.  Here is a video of our skyline at 3:30pm today taken from our attic..

 
SKY LINE AT HASTINGS ON HUDSON

 Our public library is on the river, next to our train station into the city, a 32 minute train ride from here. One looks down at the Hudson River.  I noticed that big ships had come down the Hudson River to get away from the potential violence of the ocean these next few days. 

Big ships were coasting into the river, and just hanging out there, for the moment.  You can see them through the trees from the Hastings Library.

Hastings Train Station with New York City in the Background
The sign says SERVICES SUSPENDED at the train station.

Although not deserted, our village is almost completely empty of people.  Few cars are in the area.

And the library is closed on Saturday, which is most unusual.

Photo of library taken through the window.

This is how we look today, the day before Hurricane Irene is supposed to hit us.  She is due here in our backyard at 8am.  So when we get up in the morning, I will try to re photograph a number of these places so that you can see the difference.  Until then, pleasant evening!

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