SEPTEMBER

September 1st WOODLAND ASTER
As usual, after a brisk hint of fall, the summer resumed. The temperature had risen back up into the mid-eighties, the sun was still shining, tomatoes still ripening, green beans still growing, and so on. We've become comfortable with feeding the kittens, who in turn are growing (some notably more than the others, and this is worrisome). Their eyes are fully opened now. In addition to feeding them several times a day, each kitten needed to be massaged to stimulate their bowels, or at least encourage them to pee. Their bedding had to be changed twice a day and washed. The kittens themselves needed to be washed, but the book advised against this. Normally of course the mother would lick them clean. We weren't about to do this; changing the bedding was the best we could do.

In between feedings and the hand laundry I found that short walks along the creek, or better yet in the cool woods, were the most relaxing thing to do. Because we had to tend the kittens every three or four hours, these walks were necessarily brief. But the pleasure that I derived from them was lasting. When exploring a new trail, I can't wait to see what's around each turn, but even here, in my own familiar forest, new surprises sprout with each new day. Today the white woodland asters are blooming.

Asters (Aster spp.) are a huge group of flowers with many distinctive (and some not so distinctive) species. They hybridize easily and intermediate variations occur. All have alternate leaves which are variously shaped. The composite flower heads made up of disk and ray flowers vary in color and size from the tiny white blossoms of the wild heath asters to the large showy purple blooms of the New England aster. The white woodland or whorled wood aster (Aster acuminatus) is often the earliest to bloom, and is one of the few woodland species. Most asters prefer the sunshine of roadsides, fields and river banks. The flowerhead of the whorled aster is made up of white ray flowers surrounding yellow disk flowers that turn red to purplish once pollinated. It is a short plant compared to the other asters, perhaps a foot or two tall at best. Its leaves are crowded near the top of the plant, and although arranged alternately or rather spirally around the stem they appear as if in a whorl. The four to twelve more or less terminal blossoms are scraggly and about an inch across.

September 2nd SMOKE
The well remains dry so we have been in the habit of taking turns to get water from the creek. Pete usually makes a trip in the morning while the coffee water is boiling. I make a trip after the kittens have been fed and the laundry and breakfast dishes are done. I am prone to dawdling for quite some time down there on the sun drenched rocks and along the bank.

I noticed today that the Joe-Pye weeds are pretty well spent. They have been replaced for the most part by the tall gangly flat-topped white aster (A. umbellatus). These asters are four to seven feet tall with narrow dull green leaves and dirty white flower heads, not nearly as pretty as the petite woodland aster. Mixed in amongst the white asters are a few tall blue New York asters (A. novae-belgii). These asters have large blue blossoms sparsely arranged along the uppermost branches. The deep blue ray flowers encircle yellow disk flowers which turn purplish with age. The dark green leaves are long, thin and shiny. They are a handsome species.

Returning to the garden, the pale blue asters, both the large-leaved (A. macrophyllus) and heart-leaved (A. cordifolius) varieties have begun to bloom. In both of these species the flowers are smaller and paler than the New York asters, but there are many more of them on each plant. They make up in quantity for what they lack in size. Looking like weeds in the garden for most of the summer, in September they finally erupt into great clouds or puffs of blue “smoke.”

We brought the kittens outside for a while this afternoon for a bit of fresh air and exercise. The smallest of the litter always ended up at the bottom of the heap and was almost always damp. The food he was getting didn't seem to have any effect and today he had lost his appetite as well. We separated him from the others, tried to feed him smaller quantities of food more often, and tried to keep him warm and dry. Unfortunately it was too late to make any difference, and even though Pete kept him in his breast pocket all afternoon (when he wasn't feeding him) by evening when we laid him down in order to feed the others he quietly died. We buried him next to the mom. I transplanted a puff of blue smoke atop the tiny grave.

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