Saturday, November 29, 2008
It's been an exhausting couple of days. First there was Thanksgiving—the Roasting of the Bird, all twenty-two pounds of his fat, stuffed carcass, plus making oyster and non-oyster dressing (gotta please everyone), pumpkin pies, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries (open can, dump contents, stir up so they don't look like the can) and everything else that goes onto our particular "classic feast" table. This year, we interrupted our cooking to partake of a medium-sized kitchen fire, when too much dressing overflowed too little baking dish and a sheet of flames four-feet high and oven-wide lashed out like an infuriated dragon, trying its best to burn the cottage down. While others in our midst leaped frantically about shrieking like lunatics, I calmly threw about two pounds of kosher salt on the base of the flames until the blaze was out, whereupon we all set to opening windows to allow the thick black smoke to exit the house and puzzle our neighbors. Moon the dog actually sat in the hall and sobbed—I've never in my life heard anything like it come from a dog. Obviously, we all handle distress in our own peculiar way. There is, however, nothing like a good kitchen fire to whet the appetite...and once the residual soot and salt aftermath had been cleaned up, we sat down to our groaning table, said a heartfelt grace, and ate with uncommon gusto. Guilt and blame for the fire, along with certain recriminations and threats, denials, and brief tantrums, and not a few smart-alec remarks peppered our mealtime conversation. All in all, a fine day of modest infamy and tasty turkey. Yesterday was, by comparison, quiet and more relaxed. A tiny amount of work gathering a stick or two of driftwood from the river's edge near the cottage; tossing a few stones up onto the bank for later building projects; dragging the first of the Christmas decorations from the attic; a bit of writing and puttering in my work room. Breakfast, which didn't occur until midmorning, and took place before the fireplace and a crackling blaze, was leftovers (better the second time around than the first!) as was a late-afternoon lunch (thirds tasting just as good!); supper was late and light, a bit of cheese and a glass of wine. Okay, two glasses of wine. Today I have crashed... No energy. No desire to do anything more than read, snooze, and emulate a member of the vegetable kingdom. And no, it wasn't all that turkey and leftovers, and those two glasses of wine...or maybe it was. But I'm content in my lassitude, at one with my torpor. Sometimes rest is as good a way to spend a day as any requiring busy vigor. On the other hand, my morning shower has taught me a necessary lesson—I herewith promise I'm never again going to doubt or make fun of those folks who claim see religious images in the most mundane objects and places. Indeed...I have joined their ranks. This very morning, as I finished my shower and, in my soapy, dripping nudity just happened to look down, I saw something—gremlin, imp, brownie, leprechaun, or soggy sprite, looking back at me from the wadded washcloth I'd tossed casually and with no artistic forethought, into the corner of the bathtub. Egads! After recovering from my initial shock, I plucked my cell phone from the nearby counter and took a shot. You tell me...is this Our Lady of the Washrag? The Terrycloth Troll? Divine, secular, good, evil, imagined, or pure kismet? Or have I simply been holed up in my riverbank cottage too long. I await your thoughtful replies. Meanwhile...a slice of pumpkin pie beckons.
Friday, November 28, 2008
A few weeks ago I wrote a column on black walnuts for a small-town newspaper. Just before Thanksgiving, I received an email from the paper’s editorial offices saying some lady had called and said that if I wanted them, she had some black walnuts she’s like to give me. I thought she meant whole walnuts. Several years ago, after writing another walnut piece for a different newspaper, a lady wrote in saying she had twenty-three 5-gallon buckets of walnuts still in the hull—mine if I’d drive up and collect them. Which I did…though that’s another story. But this recent caller had actually shelled, cracked, and picked out the tasty nutmeats already. When I called her back she said she had about three cups worth—a lot of work, in case you’ve never picked walnuts yourself. I was, to put it mildly, flabbergasted. “Why would want to give them to me?” I asked. She was one of the newspaper’s subscribers, but we’d never met. “I just figured with the holidays and all, you’d like to have some walnuts to put in cakes or cookies. I know from reading your nature columns that you cook and bake.” That afternoon I drove out to the farm she and her husband have near the edge of the county. A huge, sprawling brick home with several barns and outbuildings, all neat as a pen. The dooryard was graveled, all fallen leaves from the century-old maples sheltering the house had been raked and likely carted off to a hidden compost pile, nearby gates and fences were whitewashed and in perfect repair. And the wide side porch held a cute little doghouse—well, cathouse, as it turned out, though not THAT kind of cathouse—from which a cute black-and-white cat emerged, stretched, and began rubbing against my leg. I could see a thick pad inside the little building, which was doubtless a snug escape from the cold November wind blowing across the half-mile expanse of open field. The lady of the house answered the door with a smile. “My husband built that a couple of months ago,” she said, nodding at the cat’s shelter. “It has a little heat strip in it that’s on a thermostat and the walls are foam insulated. The cat has it made!” Turned out she and her husband—German Baptists, or what most folks in these parts called “Dunkars”, from their faith’s baptismal practices—had recently moved her mother from West Virginia and installed her in a new mobile home just behind the main house. It was actually the mother who’d plucked out the big ziplock bag full of nutmeats which I was handed, and for which I thanked my benefactor profusely. “Don’t worry,” she said, laughing, “I have plenty more. Mom likes to spend her evenings working through a bucket of walnuts. You’re most welcome to them—and beside, we all like to read your columns.” Driving home a few minutes later, I kept thinking of the effort it took to accumulate those nuts, idle time busy-work or not. I was humbled by the gift, surprised by such an unexpected act of kindness. We live in a cynical world, a world ruled by pessimism and fear. There are, indeed, people and cultures out there who’d like nothing better than to see us obliterated because they disagree with us. We can be hated for our faith…or lack. Killed over sex, money, boundaries, politics, or a parking space. No one and no place is entirely safe. And yet…and yet there are those moments of unexpected kindness which ought to say to each and every one of us that much human goodness still remains. Amidst all the war and hate and death there’s also joy and hope and love. Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly “relied on the kindness of strangers.” To me, that’s philosophically too much like expecting someone to do something good to you, or depending on being bailed out of a mess. Not that strangers haven’t bailed me out of plenty of messes over the years. Sill, it isn’t quiet the same. A fellow I know often goes into a fast-food restaurant and buys a meal for someone in a nearby line—a stranger. No strings. He doesn’t expect them to talk with him, or even thank him. If they ask why he’s doing such a crazy thing, he says simply that it makes him feel good. And it does. “Hey, it the best five bucks I can spend at McDonald’s,” he says. It certainly gives the term “Happy Meal” new meaning. The sad part about this is that it’s even worth writing about—that kindness should ever be unexpected and amazing. Strangers ought to be able to do nice things for one another without us questioning their motives. That ancient verse from Luke, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” is still a valid way to live our lives. Practicing the “Golden Rule” could go a long way toward ameliorating the world’s wrongs, on all levels from global to personal. The place to begin this is at home, with our own behavior, through our own acts of unexpected kindness. It can be as simple as taking a container of homemade soup next door to a neighbor…or calling up some writer after reading his piece on walnuts and offering to him a supply of precious nutmeats sufficient to last through the holidays. The lady who gave me that bag of walnuts knew the power and grace of this already. The rest of us need to learn it for ourselves.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
“I was just thinking how good a trout would taste, Sonny,” my father said, smiling at me from the other end of the laden kitchen table. We’d just finished our Thanksgiving meal—a huge, turkey-and-all-the-trimmings feast which could easily have accommodated three times as many people and still filled the refrigerator with leftovers afterwards. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the last Thanksgiving I’d get to share with this wise and quirky man who loved the outdoors with thoughtful passion, and had spent countless hours rambling woods and fields, on lakes and streams, passing this love along to his only child. Dad loved God, family, nature, books, music, and shaping bits of wood into everything from guitars to benches to custom details in fine homes such as fitted cabinets or an exquisite spiral staircase. I’ve tried to embrace his values wholeheartedly, though I’m sadly deficient when it comes to woodworking skills; the best I can do is hammer together a deck or garden shed. A couple of years earlier, Dad had suffered a mild stroke. There didn’t seem to be any permanent damage afterwards, but he’d then begun having mini-strokes, and each one took a slight toll. During the last twenty-some months I’d watched my father age twenty years. From a robust seventy-three year old he’d become a faltering seventy-five…and the change was swift and heartbreaking. Several times during our holiday meal the talk had turned, as it often did, to fishing—fishing for bass, bluegill, walleye, catfish, crappie, and then when we got to reminiscing about fishing in Michigan, salmon and trout. I guess that’s what started my father to thinking—remembering those skillets of fresh-caught trout, fried in butter over an open campfire, the chill morning air redolent with woodsmoke and pines, rose-breasted grosbeaks whistling from nearby thickets and the tannin-stained stream burbling merrily along a dozen yards away. I remembered such times, too—and I knew we’d never get to reprise those wonderful adventures together. But I also knew I could give him a small part—literally a taste—by supplying a trout or two. And so, on that bittersweet Thanksgiving Day twenty-six years ago, I abruptly left the table and drove an hour north to one of the only genuine trout streams in Ohio. It was sunny, but cold and windy, a wintry November afternoon. But after I’d parked by the bridge, layered up in warm clothes and waders, rigged my fly rod, and begun following the faint streamside trail to the pool I intended to fish, I thought I just might have a chance. This isn’t a fishing tale, so I won’t go into details—except to say that after a half-hour of casting practice, I suddenly saw a trout swirl on the surface. Then another began to feed…and a third. I made my presentations, floated my flies past the hungry fish, and summarily caught two. I didn’t try for the third. Never take more than you need…and always leave something behind. My father taught me that, and it’s the cornerstone principal of good outdoor stewardship. I was back home in time for the supper encore of our dinner’s leftovers. In some ways, I enjoy these secondary meals more than the primary event. One feeds your hunger, though it comes with the excitement and pressure of having fussed about getting everything on the table just so and on time; the other is leisurely, laid-back, with ample time to savor—feeding both body and soul. Dad was pleased with the trout—a pair of silver-phase browns, plump and solid, fat from feeding on the stream’s prolific caddis. I promised I’d fix them for his lunch the following day—and he grinned at me and nodded. “I’d like that, Sonny.” I’m sorry I didn’t get to spend every moment of that long-ago last Thanksgiving Day with my father. But I tried to make up for it by spending every day with him thereafter I could…until that early June afternoon of the following spring when Dad suddenly passed away. In a way, though, Dad went with me on that Thanksgiving Day trout trip—just as he has accompanied me on every fishing trip of my life, and every outdoor ramble I make, whether it’s to gather mushrooms or pawpaws, explore a hill-country woods, watch birds, or pick up a sack of walnuts to feed backyard squirrels. My father taught me how to do all those things, and a thousand more. I miss him still. But his love and guidance remain as fresh in me today as if he were still sitting at the other end of that old kitchen table, smiling sweetly at me and telling me about the birds he saw at the feeder that morning, or a wildflower he’d recently spotted beside the road, or maybe reciting a line or two from James Whitcomb Riley about things a country boy understood. When I bow my head and say grace on Thanksgiving, my father is always one of the things I’m most grateful for…a blessing worth remembering. Happy Thanksgiving!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The all-too-familiar thump came just as we finished breakfast. The muffled whap of another bird hitting a windowpane—this time the window two feet beyond the table. I only missed witnessing the collision because I was busy getting up and gathering my breakfast clutter. When I hurried outside, the victim was crumpled upside-down on the deck…a junco. I gently picked up the bird and saw it was injured but still alive—though thoroughly addled from its head-on encounter with the plate glass. I felt bad because I’d just refilled the seed feeders and scattered some cracked corn on the ground an hour or so earlier. Naturally, the birds flocked to the replenished eats like gangbusters—cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, doves, titmice, and others; the usual post-dawn contingent. Downy and red-bellied woodpeckers were eagerly working the nearby suet cakes. Now, the little slate-backed, or dark-eyed junco, to give its proper name, was knocked out cold, and possibly wouldn’t. All I could do was hold it in my hand and hope that some warmth and time would help. The downside to having a cottage situated on a wooded riverbank is that there are always birds around—birds which regularly mistake a reflective window for a hole through the trees. Sometimes this error proves deadly. Of course, being lucky to live in an old stone cottage on a tree-lined riverbank, with a variety of birds coming and going, is a constant joy. Still, there’s no denying the cottage windows account for at least a half-dozen fatalities each year—though this represents only a fraction of the number of birds which slam against the window, often to the tune of several during a given day. Fortunately, most window-bird crashes aren’t serious—little more than a nasty surprise and lost feather or two. Then there are those which collide harder, enough so the impact stuns them for several moments, a few minutes, even an hour. Most of these casualties do seem to make it, given sufficient time. It required about half an hour for this morning’s junco to feel perky enough to fly away. I usually hold the stunned bird until I see some sign of it coming around, then place it on a windowsill where it can continue its recovery—sheltered a bit and handy for me to keep an eye on things in case a cat comes around. That’s what I did for a nuthatch back in the spring, and a white-throated sparrow last winter. What I truly hate to find are birds which are DOA by the time I retrieve them. Worse, fate always seems to dictate such fatalities either come from the ranks of my favorite species or those of uncommon visitors. During the past twelve months, for example, the window traps claimed a cardinal, a Carolina wren, a tree sparrow, and a cedar waxwing; the two atypical birds were a Swainson’s thrush and a northern waterthrush. If I could do anything about this ongoing situation I would. Changing the lighting inside the cottage doesn’t help. Neither does hanging stuff around the windows themselves. I could relocate the feeders farther away from the cottage, but besides making it impossible to birdwatch without resorting to the binoculars, I’m not really convinced it would make much difference. The reason for this conclusion is that during the summer, when the feeders are empty or only seldom visited, the muffled windowpane thumps continue unabated—as does the percentage of injured or deceased birds I find. Moreover, feeders at most nature centers, including an Audubon Center I frequent, are typically placed about the same distance from their buildings as mine are from the cottage. Alas, I’ve about decided a few dead birds are simply unavoidable collateral damage to multiple windows and a riverside cottage. Though I occasionally feel like one of those looter pirates who made a living luring ships onto the rocks by means of displaying false lights, I somewhat placate this guilt by reminding myself the Cooper’s hawk which swoops through the yard daily accounts for far more victims. And I do whatever I can to nurse the injured back to health so they can fly again another day…though hopefully, they’ll have learned their lesson about taking that shortcut through the window.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Well, here it is less than a month since I began this blog, and already I’m remiss in my self-made promise to post something—even if only a few lines—daily. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, there’s been an unusual spate of grocery shopping and other holiday-related tasks to get done—and, of course, not enough time, energy, or money to accomplish everything in one fell swoop. But that’s no excuse. And neither is the fact that from well before daylight until long after dark, I’ve been working, dashing about, fretting or sulking…and at the end of it too exhausted to do more than tumble into bed somewhere close to midnight. Even today, I ate lunch standing at the kitchen counter. Yet it wouldn’t be honest to claim I wrote nothing because there was nothing of interest to report. The world beyond the windowpane didn’t pack up and leave town for the weekend. The past few days might have been unusually harried, but the lack of material more accurately reflects on my failure to observe—and really, to simply see what was always before my eyes, in plain sight, had I taken time to look. Instead, I got caught up in the mundane to the point of being unaware of, and therefore unresponsive to, the world around me. I certainly couldn’t have asked for more varied weather, since the past few days have given us a bit of everything here along the river. Snow one day—though nothing ever actually stuck for long, even when flakes came down thick and furious and the ground turned temporarily white. The following day was one of brilliant sun. Cold though, with an overnight low of 13 measly degrees…the lowest temperature of this fall-heading-to-winter. Then a day of clouds, and some wind. And finally today, which began in light rain, which became light fog and heavy overcast, before again turning back to rain. About noon, before making run to Sam’s to pick up a turkey and oysters for the dressing, I took a shot or two of the light fog—really, almost a heavy mist—upstream from the cottage. An hour later, having successfully bagged my final ingredients for Thursday’s feast and returned home—I looked out at the same upriver stretch, now without the misty fog, and saw a small flock of mallards feeding in the riffle. Fifteen in all, seven pairs plus an additional drake. Was this odd male a bachelor, widower, or just an unlucky ol’ duck who couldn’t fill his dance card and is doomed to spending the holidays alone? Or perhaps part of a waterfowl ménage à trios? Actually, mallards aren’t to common along this particular stretch of river—at least not during the three years we’ve lived here. More likely to be seen are woodies. And a male wood duck, in full feathered regalia is, in my humble opinion, one of the most astonishingly magnificent birds around. Though the first year we lived here, smack in the middle of winter when the river banks were arctic white and the pool and riffle area directly in front of the cottage was filled pale green water and rimmed with ice, six goldeneyes appeared one afternoon and hung around in the pool for the next couple of days, giving me ample opportunity to watch the three pairs, diving and feeding, for long periods at really close range. And I thought then they were perhaps even prettier than the wood ducks. We also have some semi-resident Canada geese—and several flocks of Canadas which pass over the cottage daily on the way to and from their chosen feeding areas and the shallow pond in the nearby park which they call home. I expect today's mallards might be travelers—for their behavior during the time I watched them certainly struck me as that of wild birds. I do hope they stick around a while. And I'll try and be more faithful to watching and writing...
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
There’s something about a cold November day that whispers to my inner child how this would a perfect occasion for baking oatmeal cookies. Not that there’s actually a bad day for oatmeal cookie baking, mind you. But you know what I mean.…certain foods seem particularly well suited to particular times. Never one to stand in the way of gastronomical/seasonal destiny, I complied. To the tune of several dozen cookies, made with old-fashioned rolled oats, brown sugar, butter and vegetable shortening, baking soda, salt, vanilla, a dash of cinnamon, and unbleached flour. I figured if the food police came around, I’d buy them off with a really good cookie. Between shuffling batches of cookies in and out of the oven, I kept an eye outdoors—at the river, the mallards feeding in the riffle, a red-tailed hawk loafing in one of the big sycamores on the island across from the cottage, at birds visiting the feeder and squirrels scrabbling through the leaves and chasing about in the yard. When the final batch of cookies was done and set out to cool, I poured a glass of real cider from the orchard up the road, and sat at the table by window in the front room, where I ate more oatmeal cookies than I care to admit, and watched the sun slip behind the low hill to the west across the river. Late-autumn, it seems to me, is a necessary interregnum between that first half of the season—which can almost seem like an extension of late-summer except with colored leaves—and genuine winter, when stars hover close and trees creak and pop with the deep cold. The last half of November helps us begin to get in the mood for things ahead. We humans need this—or at least I do. Maybe it keeps my circadian rhythm in proper alignment or something. Or maybe it just gives me time hunker low and brace for winter. Whatever, I’ve come to think of it the same way I do any journey—that the in-between part is at least half the fun. Which is also why I’d rather drive to, say, Florida, than fly. Sure, the airlines do it quicker—a few hours for them versus twelve hours for me…and that’s if I hustle and don’t stop much along the way; or two days if I can take the time to dawdle a bit. But either way, by driving I get the sense of going somewhere, of the distance covered and the way the landscape changes. By contrast there’s a sort of unreality when I step into a jetliner in Ohio and step out in Florida a couple of hours later. I feel disconnected—not jet lagged—but missing the miles of landscape separating me from where I now stand and where I came from. Maybe a little robbed, too, that I didn’t get to see and touch and smell and hear it—if only from an opened window as I tooled down the highway. That’s how I feel about these days of late-November—a sense of seasonal journey to be quietly enjoyed. And best savored with a handful of fresh-baked oatmeal cookies!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Today we enjoyed plenty of sun and a slightly lower temperature. What? The man is a masochist saying colder is more comfortable! Nope. Tiz the true gen, as a friend of mine used to say. When I took Moon-the-Dog out for her morning ramble, the thermometer read a bracing 24 degrees—ten degrees colder than yesterday. But—and this is the important “but”— therefore not nearly as damp. What would have been dampness was now frost, coating the leaves and limestone walls of the cottage, shimmering in honeyed early sunlight, and setting off my aging canine into a fit of puppy-like snarffling and rolling and wallowing, interspersed with bouts of racing about the yard. When we came back inside a few minutes later we were both breathless—Moon from her shenanigans, me from laughing…especially when she tried to make a high-speed power turn worthy of a barrel-racing quarter horse and found out sycamore leaves silvered with frost are too slippery for a pooch with clipped toenails. Anyway, that little ten-degree temperature drop, which freeze-dried the dampness, had the effect of making it feel more comfortable outside, even though it was actually colder. Which, I’m bound to admit, always surprises me a little, though at my age, I should well know better. Still, there it is—why colder felt better, and was thus more enjoyable. Of course, the gleaming sunlight, sparkling off the leaves, dancing like jewels in the riffles of the stream, and backlighting the hanging bankside boxelder keys might have had something to do with lifting my mood….
Monday, November 17, 2008
Friday it was cold but partially sunny early, then rain during the afternoon and throughout the night. Saturday was dark and cloudy and colder still, with a weather oddity in mid-afternoon of huge snowflakes—some nearly hand-size—mixed in for a few minutes before going back strictly to rain. Yesterday morning began with streaks of clear sky in the west, which soon disappeared to be followed by a few minutes of hominy snow. After that the day was simply cold and cloudy. This morning the overcast sky is thicker, darker, with falling moisture that alternates from minute-to-minute between the lightest of drizzles and periods where the rain is replaced by snowflakes. The reason for this back-and-forth weather-business which can't seem to make up its mind whether to rain or snow, is temperature. Since the end of last week, we've been hovering right around that mid-to-low thirties range, never varying more than two or three degrees either way day or night. The big, slow-moving system is coming from the north and west—the Dakotas and Great Lakes, bringing moisture and clouds, and of course, colder temperatures. In point of fact, this is typical November weather. We're never pleased about such a turn of things after those crisp blue days of October. But we ought not to act so surprised about its annual arrival. Because it is a damp cold, it always seems worse than it is so far as comfort goes. Which is why we shiver and complain so much, I guess. Plus, in my case, I need to give the yard a final raking, there's wood to split and stack, caulking around the house to do, and a lot of general tidying up and light repairs I still need to have done before genuine winter sets in. But the news isn't all negative. These first cold, damp November days are why a hearth fire and a mug of hot tea seems so cozy. Why, too, I suspect, a batch of oatmeal cookies baking in the oven smells so wonderful. Why that pot of beef-and-noodles you've slow-cooked all afternoon tastes so good. November days such as these may not be the best for going outdoors...but they have their compensations inside.
* * *UPDATE: It is now nine hours since I wrote the above portion of this piece. Most of the day, or at least the daylight hours. Twilight is setting in here along the river. It will be dark in another half hour. The news is that the snow which has sputtered off and on all day is finally sticking to the ground. So maybe this makes it our official "First Snow." To celebrate, I took a quick photo...can't remember the name of the flower, but I stuck a few into my marigold bed at the end of spring and while the marigolds have given up weeks ago, these sprightly little plants have kept right on blooming. It will be interesting to see how long they last after being snowed on.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Yesterday we marked a milestone of sorts here along the river. The occasion was the season's first snow—a snow made all the more memorable by it's unusual nature and setting. The day began in rain—carried over and continued throughout the night from the day before. I'd spent most of the morning and afternoon in my work room, unboxing and adding books to a big wall unit of shelving I built a couple of weeks ago. Occasionally I'd glance out the window near my desk at the yard and river beyond. From time to time I'd see one of the resident blue herons fishing or flapping up or down the stream, or maybe a gray squirrel or two chasing about in the fallen leaves. For a while I watched a red-bellied woodpecker working the big seed feeder that hangs from the soffit just beyond the glass. Throughout the morning and during the first half of the afternoon, the rain came down unremittingly if not particularly hard—though the showers were hard enough to get you wet in a minute or two, and far more than Moon-the-Dog likes if she has to go out for a doggie break. The day's temperature had started off in the low-40s, and had been steadily dropping. However, it never quite got down to freezing. The snow began in mid-afternoon, and commenced with an increase in the rain. One moment it was rain only, the next you could see big flakes of snow mixed in. The rain-snow combination never did get to the fifty-fifty ratio—there was always more rain coming down, though once or twice it might have gotten to a sixty-forty mix. And rain mixed with snow isn't in itself all that unusual. What was unusual, though, was the size of the snowflakes—huge, many a big as a silver dollar and quite a few the diameter of a coffee cup. I could visually track some of these enormous falling flakes as they came down between the house and the sycamores on the far side of the river, or looking directly downstream, upwards of a hundred yards! Unbelievable! The fall of monster flakes only lasted a few minutes. After that it was back to rain and the occasional bit of slush. Of course none of the flakes—big or small—stuck to the ground. Still, they were quite the biggest snowflakes I've ever seen.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Today has been one of those late-fall days that sneak past without leaving much more than a smudge on your memory banks. We've had a heavy overcast from dawn to dusk. In late afternoon it began to drizzle, and it is still raining at nearly 8:00 pm. A dark, dank, drizzly, dreary, damp, cold day, to pile on the adjectives. And I've spent most of it working at the desk, kicking around words and sentences and paragraphs, trying to make something readable out of an idea that, to make it work, seemed to need three times as many words as I could allot. For me, writing "short" is seldom as easy as writing "long." Usually, though, it doesn't take this much effort...thank God!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Even though it has been more than a week since we made the switch from Daylight Savings Time back to Eastern Daylight Time, I’m still not used to the early twilights. It seems like I have lunch, do a bit of work, and suddenly it’s getting dark! Of course, as time’s great pendulum completes it’s swing from equinox to solstice, we do lose an eventual total of a bit over three hours of light per day. Almost half this daylight loss occurred in October alone; and another full hour will be lost in November. Nevertheless, oncoming dusk always catches me unprepared. As I write this, at a couple minutes past 5:00 p.m., it is already almost too dark to see across the river. Just a minute or two ago I looked up from the keyboard and watched a great blue heron sail in for a landing in the shallows downstream from the cottage. It’s one of the big bird’s favorite fishing spots whenever the water is low, as it has been hereabouts for weeks. But now I have to strain to see the stalking heron through the rapidly dimming light…and in another minute or two, hampered by the gathering gloom, I won’t be able to make out the pale-gray shape at all. The leaves come down and we fiddle with the clocks. Meanwhile, autumn treks steadily onward along its journey to winter, while our days abruptly seem shorter and darker—as if the turning of the season precipitated a headlong rush into darkness.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Today is really a good example of the “other autumn,” which is how I’ve come to think about the season’s second half. When someone says the word “autumn” we mentally conjure up an image straight off October’s calendar, of multicolored leaves and bright blue skies. In fact, there's an old proverb, a sort of palindrome, that says, 'fall leaves after leaves fall.' This, of course, ignores the truth by overlooking that autumn officially begins the last part of September and continues until the winter solstice in late December. Autumn is more more enduring than a few weeks of patchwork leaves. The season in its entirety must be given it's due. Looking out the window, I now see a yard carpeted in rather monotone brown leaves. Too, the sky is thick with woolly clouds as gray as old socks. The river runs dark and sullen. Yet this too is a face of autumn. Less picturesque, perhaps, but no less a part of the season. It’s also cold out—currently 30 degrees, with the day’s high predicted in the low-40s. Last night, about 9:30, I heard an odd sound of something rattling against the windows. It didn’t quite sound like wind-blown leaves, and I thought it was too cold for rain. Curious, I got up, looked out, and in the yellowish porch light saw sleet pellets scattered across the front deck. Our first wintry intimation. Pretty much on schedule, too; a November foretaste of things to come. During the past week, by contrast, we enjoyed a spell of Indian Summer—days in the 70s, cloudless skies the color of just-starting-to-fade denim. I spent much of my time gathering wood for next year’s fires—loading log chunks into the wheelbarrow from a neighbor’s two huge hackberries which toppled several weeks ago as aftermath winds from Hurricane Ike roared through the area. One of the big trees landed partially across the top of his garage, so he had to wait for the busy tree trimmers sent by his insurance company to clear and cut them. I’ve now hauled all the sections I can heave into the wheelbarrow. Those remaining are simply too heavy, being two feet long and thirty inches and more in diameter. More than my bad back can handle. I may be able to roll a few more of these crossections to my woodpile, seeing as how we’re only talking a few hundred feet, and most of that at least slightly downhill. Otherwise, these enormous rounds will have to wait until I can scare up ample help or else rent a power splitter. In the meantime, I have plenty of wood splitting with maul, axe, and wedge to keep me busy. As a rough estimate, I’d say I have perhaps four or five cords, of which, maybe two-thirds will require at least one split. Lots of work…but I look at it as money—and heat—in the bank.
I begin this blog with a confession... I’ve never been much good at keeping a journal or diary.
Should I ever need a reminder of this fact, an hour's worth of digging through desk drawers and file boxes would easily unearth a fair stack of partially-filled notebooks constituting ample proof of my many past failures. Some date back decades.
While the spirit has always been willing, in practice the flesh has proven lazy and easily distracted. Time after time, when the gap between entries seemed too great to justify, the project was quietly abandoned.
Still, I love the idea of such endeavors and love reading the regular chronicles of others who do manage what I—so far—haven’t.
So I'm going to try again, this time as a blogger. Of course, whether I'll be any more successful with this latest attempt remains to be seen. Hope may spring eternal…but I know who I'm dealing with. As a wise Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
As to motive—well it's certainly not because I labor under the fantasy that I possess great insight or personal wisdom worth sharing, or think I lead a life of entertaining adventure. Nope, I’m regularly as bored, bewildered, and bummed-out as anyone.
I’m doing this simply because I suspect I would, at some future point, like having at least a cursory account of the seasons and times here along the river. A few lines to jog what’s already proving to be a fickle memory, recording dates and thoughts of various events. And probably just as often, to write about whatever interests me at the moment—though more from the wellspring of sharing a passion than a repressed need to rant.
Anyway, that's the deal. By keeping this record as a blog, out there for others to read, I’m hoping the responsibility will naggle me to stay with it when I might otherwise succumb to distraction or procrastination. Perhaps this time, thanks to the blog format, I can trick myself into sticking with the task of regular journal keeping long enough that some psychological divide is crossed and it evolves into a comfortable habit.
If you enjoy this blog, let me know. I can always use the encouragement.