Saturday, February 26, 2011


Sorry I haven't posted for a few days…but things have been a little hectic here.

First off, the bathroom redo is still ongoing, though the end is now in sight. I'll apply the last of the spackle today, sand lightly tomorrow morning, then Rich will be over in the afternoon and we'll install the surround around the tub/shower area. And to think this week's worth of work all comes from simply wanting to fix a dripping faucet! As they say…no good deed (or home maintenance notion) goes unpunished.

As you can see from the post pix, we again have snow. This latest storm arrived around dawn yesterday. A real humdinger of a min-blizzard while it lasted—though only an inch or two in accumulation. Still, at the height of the passing front's downpour, the flakes were whirling and swirling so furiously they dimmed the early light and blotted out trees on the island across from the cottage. That's Ohio for you—60˚F and green crocus and daffodil shoots one week, snow and mid-20s˚F temps the next; our typical pre-spring smorgasbord.

The storm did temporarily knock out the Internet lines for our immediate area. I have a Friday deadline for one of my columns, and like to get it zapped off first thing. Considering the weather, I was a rather worried that such outages could be widespread and thus repairs might be slow.  

While I was fretting, watching the snow come down, and fixing breakfast, my daughter, Lacy, called to say Dave—the son-in-law—had slid sideways down an icy freeway ramp on the way to work and banged into the rear of a stopped truck. Luckily, only the car's passenger-side sheet metal and Dave's driver-pride were damaged. Time, a trip to the body shop, and a bit of paint will heal all. 

Lacy was also bummed out because the local metro airport had closed operations. "No flights in or out, Dad," she said, exasperated. "What do you think?"

She was concerned because she and Dave were set to leave on a three-day getaway to Jacksonville, Florida in the evening. I reassured her that the airport's closure would only be temporary. "Don't worry, your plane will take off as scheduled."

In fact, the airport reopened a couple of hours later. And when I checked after breakfast, I found the Internet was again working. But when Lacy and Dave arrived in late afternoon to drop off their car along with Will and Gwen, the granddogs—who, much to Moon-the-Dog's disapprobation will be bunking with us—they told me that while packing, they noticed water stains on the ceiling of their condo's master bedroom. The spots were dry, which means they didn't happen as result of yesterday's storm, but most likely occurred sometime during the huge ice-storm three weeks back. Another issue, however, that will have to be addressed after returning home from their vacation.

As I drove the beleaguered pair to the nearby airport, my blue-eyed blond offspring sighed. "If it isn't one thing it's another."

"Yes," I said. "But, Dave's accident was minor and no one got hurt, the airport is open and your trip is on, the Internet is working…so you just need to thank God you don't have a leaky bath faucet!"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Not looking any too comfortable…or happy…a cardinal hunkers
against this morning spitting snow, awaiting his turn at the feeder. 

We knew they couldn't last, those unseasonable days hovering near the 60˚F mark we'd lately been enjoying. They were simply February's unseasonable gift, a foretaste of what we might—might!—more reasonably expect toward the end of March. So when yesterday's cold rain turned to a hard-driving sleet, and later still to a bit of icy snow, only the hopelessly optimistic were surprised. This morning it's 22˚F with the day's expected high around 30˚F; obviously, winter is back to being winter, at least for a few more weeks.

Yesterday morning, fellow father-in-law Rich came over to redo the shower/bathtub plumbing, replacing a mixing unit that had lately picked up speed in its leaking. I'm useless when it comes to plumbing, as I am in many things of a practical nature. Rich is a first-rate engineer, who'd just returned Friday from months of government-contract work in Florida, building and calibrating a platform for testing jet engine fuel systems. 

As it often does with these "little' home maintenance chores, the job turned out to be  bigger, more difficult, and costlier than first thought. Walls hide many secrets, and one thing always leads to another. Not quite to the point where we have to remodel the entire bathroom—but close. Rich worked until almost midnight, when I made him quite and go home. It will take at least a few more days to finish the not-little-at-all repair.

I now feel bad about roping Rich into a family-favor job almost before he'd unpacked his suitcases—though I thank God for a friend and family member with a generous heart who knows how to sweat-solder a joint in copper tubing. Still, from Rich's point of view, getting ensnared in such a plumbing nightmare, plus snowed and sleeted on after months in warm and sunny Florida, couldn't be the sort of "welcome home" he expected. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Yesterday's warm late-afternoon sun bathes the upper half of the big
sycamore near my drive. And just look at that gorgeous blue sky!  

You couldn't have asked for a nicer afternoon yesterday. Certainly not in Ohio in mid-February! This is, after all, barely past the midpoint of winter. Yes, we're over the hump and now on the downhill slide towards spring, picking up speed every day; but we've still got more than month to go until we reach official spring—that is, spring according to the calendar. Any Buckeye with a lick of sense or experience knows better than to think such man-made devices have the slightest influence whatsoever on our seasons…especially that demarcation between winter and spring.

Which is why yesterday's latter half was all the more appreciated. Though the morning was unseasonably warm, the sky was thickly overcast. But by mid-afternoon, gray skies had given way to clear blue—a rich, deep, saturated blue, with nary a cloud to be seen. A sky which might have come straight from mid-October. Along with the 58˚F temperature, a sky that had me out scanning the wooded banks for any green hint of an early wildflower.

I didn't find much—a few green shoots, the occasional tiny leaf. Maybe the precursor to a bloom, maybe not. No matter. I had the afternoon and the sunlight varnishing the big sycamore in the yard, the gabble of geese on the river, the fecund smell of warming earth and rotting leaves and vernal awakenings. And later that evening when I took Moon-the-Dog out for her final mosey before heading to bed, a glittering treasure of stars in the crisp night sky and a big full moon in gleaming platinum watching me and the dog, its scintillating highlights catching and shimmering in the river.

*   *   * 

A fellow I've known and occasionally worked with for more than thirty years passed away at his home last Saturday and was buried yesterday. Roger was a lifelong farmer for all his 87 years, a man of the tilled land who could tell you everything you'd ever want to know about growing corn and soybeans, winter wheat, raising cattle or hogs. He knew the intricacies of plowing and planting, fertilizing, harvesting, storing—even selling your produce and livestock. He could talk about grass waterways and wire fences, barns and tractors and all the fancy high-tech machinery modern farmers employ to work their vast fields. But Roger's depth of rural skills stretched all the way back to the days when men worked their fields with teams of horses, and later to steam-powered implements. He'd been there when farmers shocked their cut corn, cut their long rows of golden hay with a scythe, and butchered their own meat. And for many years, working for the county Soil & Water Conservation District, he passed this valuable store of knowledge along to countless others. 

He was "one of the old boys," as my dearly departed friend Frank—an old boy, himself—would have put it. Frank knew Roger, too. By their standards I'll have to live a few more decades before I'm entitled to be an "old boy." But I'll never live long enough to know all they knew. Men like Frank and Roger, whose experience stretches from today's world of digital all the way back to the horse and buggy days, were historical bridges, the closest thing we'll ever have to time travel. It's one thing to read about a bygone era—and quite another to talk with those who lived in it. 

Sadly, with each passing year, fewer and fewer of these wonderful and valuable "old boys" remain.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


That's what I said to Myladylove immediately upon my return from a brief amble with Moon-the-Dog around the mostly snow and ice-covered yard Sunday: "Hocus-pocus…crocus!"

"What are you going on about?" she asked, not unreasonably. "And why are you grinning like the Cheshire Cat?"

"Vernal magic,"I replied, "afoot in the yard!"

This time she didn't say anything, just fixed me with a stare that was one part vexation, two parts frustration, plus the familiar recurrent realization that this was the babbling fool she loved and had married, so she'd just have to put up with me until my cryptic dramatics became intelligible—which might take awhile.

"Crocus," I said, sparing her. "Green crocus shoots poking up through the leaves in a patch of bare ground alongside the wall. They weren't there yesterday…now, overnight, they're up—like magic! Spring is really on the way!"

Myladylove arose from the table where she'd been fashioning bits of turquoise and red coral into a necklace, grabbed a jacket, and headed for the door. Not because she didn't believe my report, but because the gift of such seasonal harbingers are always best experienced firsthand whenever possible. The dog and I accompanied her and I pointed out the small green spears. "Wow!" she said. "Oh, wow!"

I suppose I have several hundred crocus bulbs planted around the yard. Purple, yellow, white, lavender. I love them one and all—not only for their bright colors, but also for their cheery message that spring has come. It may be cold and gray, with fresh snow on the ground, but a crocus in bloom is not to be doubted.

Some of the crocus bulbs won't bloom before mid-April. A few will even wait for May. The majority will get going in March. But a very few—the hardy vanguard now appearing—always want to be the first to deliver the news: "Spring is coming!"

*  *  *

My mother also loved crocus, and always had a few planted beside the front porch steps and walk, and alongside the south foundation wall of the house my dad built, where I grew up and where she continued living after my father's passing in 1983, until her own death in 2005 at age 94. Of course, Mom never saw a flower she didn't like, and would invariably pause and bend close for a better look of anything in bloom—from humble dandelion or violet to the most exquisite rose. "Ohh-h-h," she'd say, "isn't that so pretty."      

I share Mom's love of flowers, wild and tame. And I'm so thankful she taught me to see the beauty in blooms…and to always be willing to take the time to savor their gift.

Today would have been Mom's 100th birthday. I miss her all the time, but especially when I see a flower in bloom…or even a few green crocus shoots finding their way up from the frozen earth in a snow-coverd yard. How I wish I could call her up and deliver the news. 

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.

*  *  *

(FYI: This is the shot of daffodil shoots—not crocus!—I mistakenly posted earlier, which came up yesterday, a day later than the crocus I wrote about. Thank's to Julie Baumlisberger [see second comment and reply] who pointed this out…and thus limited my public stupidity to a couple of hours.)  

Monday, February 14, 2011


Happy Valentine's Day!

We were given: 
Two hands to hold. 
Two legs to walk. 
Two eyes to see. 
Two ears to listen. 
But why only one heart? 
Because the other was given 
to someone else…
…for us to find.


One look
One smile
One touch
One embrace
One kiss
One love
Two people
Two minds
Two souls
Two destinies
One road
One journey
One ending


Love is when you look into someone's eyes
and see their heart.


A heart that loves is always young.


Sunday, February 13, 2011


Rare Ohio white-bearded sparrow…AKA a messy white-throated with snow on his mug.

We're currently in the midst of a warming trend here along the river. As I write, the temperature outside is a balmy 42˚F—the warmest it's been for weeks. The prognosticators say we'll reach 49 degrees by day's end and the upper-50s by the middle of the coming week. Moreover, the sky is blue and the sun is shining bright, sparkling like diamonds in the river.

It doesn't feel all the warm out, however. Breezy gusts blowing across all the ice and snow make the air surprisingly cold. But things are melting, drip-drip-dripping everywhere you look or listen—and while the ground is still covered in white, with no patches of brown earth yet showing, the ice and snow can't last forever under the warming onslaught. Another day, or two at the latest, should fundamentally change the look of things hereabouts. 

Birdsong is also noticeably on the increase, as it has been for at least a couple of weeks. Song sparrows, white-throated sparrows, tree sparrows, field sparrows, and swamp sparrows are all singing with intensifying fervor. So are my beloved Carolina wrens. Even the chickadees are picking up the pace. And not more than twenty minutes ago, a robin perched on the corner of the picnic table and cut loose with a lilting, swinging chorus that raised my heart and outlook by at least a dozen notches. 

Spring is coming. The sun daily scribes an ever-higher arc in the sky. Daylight lengthens; we've already gained more than an hour over a month ago. Photoperiod matters when it comes to seasonal change, especially in regards to spring's coming. More so, in fact, than temperature. Increased light stirs the sap in the root, awakens the sleeping larva and comatose bud, and prompts the birds to sing. It's no mystery why God's first act upon the new-formed earth was the creation of light…light equals life. 

And so, on this thirteenth day of February, the burgeoning light is steadily changing my riverbank world—widening the days, melting snow and ice, stirring the birds to sing, and invigorating my faith of better times soon to arrive. I don't know about you…but I'm getting excited!

Friday, February 11, 2011


Yesterday morning began seriously cold. Three degrees below zero when I got up. A new low for the season. The snow underfoot creaked as I walked the few paces to the bird feeders and back—a sound that only happens when the temperature is in the minus range. I felt the sharp-edged cold the instant I stepped from the warm house. The birds were waiting for breakfast. Not having bothered putting on a jacket, gloves, toboggan, or any outdoor clothing other than exchanging my house slippers for rubber-bottomed moccasins, the cold penetrated my sweat pants and tee-shirt in an instant, first burning, then numbing my skin. I didn't tarry. 

This morning t was 14˚F when I made the same hasty trek. (Nope, no better dressed; the older I get, the steeper the learning curve.) No snow creak, just a crunch of icy crust. Again, a breakfast of seeds and grain and suet speedily delivered…and just as speedily tucked into—I heard the descending flutter of multiple wings behind my back even as I lunged the dozen feet to the cottage door. It's always nice to know your sacrifices and services are appreciated.

The good news is that Sunday it's supposed to soar into the low-40s. The talking head on the TV said so. I'm even inclined to believe him…though not so gullible that I'd put money on his proclamation. I may be a fool about how I dress for my morning bird-feeding dash, but I'm not foolish enough that believe a weather prediction for two days hence. Two hours, maybe—but never two days. 

Now, here's a confession…

I took a little drive yesterday. Checked out a couple of tangled old corners, a snowy field or two, a nearby woods. Just a brief, cursory reconnoiter of the local bailiwick with a few photo stops along the way—including one a few miles upstream, where the river in that particular section looks a bit smaller. As I said, the day was cold; still only in single digits. Yet even so—and here's the confession part—I felt or perhaps sensed a springishness to the air. 

Yes, I know it doesn't make good sense. Maybe it was just a trick of the bright sunlight. Or my imagination. Possibly misplaced hope. Or just maybe, like the countless big sugar maples in yards of the old farmsteads I'd passed along the way, the sunny February morning had my own sap rising…a coursing in the veins that whispered visions of spring.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Morning arrived with a striped sky—bright bands of gold and pink, salmon and mauve that lent a festive start to the new day. I welcomed the cheery beginning, seeing as how the thermometer was, at the time, registering a measly 4˚F. The coldest temperature so far this year. 

Burrr! No…make that double-burrrrr! 

Though it has now climbed to a balmy 11˚F, there's still not much chance of the ice under the snow softening anytime soon. Which means I'll have to keep slipping, sliding, plodding, crunching—and about every third step, breaking through the thick crust. All of which makes walking around both insecure and tiring. 

In order to keep my butt from making frequent and painful impacts with the iron-hard, ice-topped earth, I've taken to employing an old sucker spear—with a trio of sharp tines, like Neptune's trident—as a makeshift walking stick. This dandy tool has proven especially useful when negotiating the small-but-steep hill up to the mailbox. And should sasquatch be lurking amid the cedars and honeysuckle, I'll simply brandish my fearsome weapon in his direction and try to not scream like a girl.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Male pileated on the suet feeder this morning.

When it comes to the feeding hierarchy among my dooryard birds, the humongous pileated woodpecker is like the 500-pound gorilla looking to select a seat in the living room. Where does he sit? Anywhere he wants! So it goes with this yellow-eyed, chisel-beaked, feathered pterodactyl. When does he get a turn at the suet block? Anytime he wishes!

Flickers, starlings, red-bellied woodpeckers—everyone gives way when Mister Big comes to dine. Frankly, I don't blame 'em. A woodpecker the size of a crow is scary, especially when you see what can only be described as a malevolent, and slightly deranged glint in those lizzardy-looking eyes. Don't let the feathers fool ya…this is one potentially mean customer! One whack from that broadsword beak and you'd have a wound requiring stitching. Don't think so? Just watch the chips fly when a pileated goes to work on a tree. He might as well be wielding an axe. 

Birds may have bird brains, but they not so dumb as to challenge Mister Big. Even the feisty Carolina wren, a regular David-vs-Goliath at the feeders, knows when to exercise discretion over valor. However, the little wren has also learned that when a pileated feeds, ample crumbs follow. That was the case this morning. The pileated flapped in, momentarily landed on the nearby tree before transferring to the suet feeder, and once in place, settled in for a messy breakfast. Crumbs showered onto the snow below—where the little wren waited, happy to eat away and let Mister Big do the serving.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


I'm finally back to blogland…but, unfortunately, can only hang around long enough to give you a quick riverbank update. However, first off, I want to say thank you to everyone who worried about last Tuesday's predicted ice storm and, in my ensuing silence, wrote asking if things were okay. Myladylove, Moon-the-Dog, and yours truly are fine. A bit worse for wear, perhaps, but nothing a little rest won't cure. I appreciate each and every inquiry, though.

The ice storm arrived right on schedule midday Tuesday. At first freezing rain, then sleet and freezing rain, then sleet…and sometimes mostly snow. When the situation on the roads became almost impassable, and tens of thousands of businesses had already closed long ago, Myladylove's boss finally capitulated to the weather and sent everyone home—way later than he should have for safety's sake, but greed invariably trumps common sense in such decisions. Thankfully, she made it home.

About 8:30 p.m. the cable went out, followed at 9:00 p.m. by the power. We were suddenly in the dark with only candles, oil lamps, and flashlights for light, and the fireplace for heat and cooking—though I have several camp stoves and could have easily gotten fancier on the meals. Anyway, the power remained off from Tuesday until mid-afternoon Thursday. We "camped out" in the great room. Intrepid adventures or neo-Neanderthals, depending on how you view such primitive reversions. Mostly, we just read, talked, cooked, huddled/snuggled, and just had fun while taking things in stride. I'm not sure how many of the 80,000-plus nearby households who were also without power would say the same.     

It was both frightening and amazing that first night, as ice continued to fall and form on the trees. Trees and limbs and small branches were breaking off under the weight and crashing or clattering earthward constantly. And I do mean constantly. When we went outside to the woodpile, there was never more than a moment or two when something—big or small—wasn't coming down. We tried, as best we could, to not be directly underneath a tree any longer than necessary—though seeing as how there are well over a hundred trees in our yard, plus the fact that the woodpile is just below a steep bank covered with fairly large trees, such considerations were more theoretical than practical. At some point you just have to listen close and take your chances. 

After the power came back on (for us, nearly a thousand families are still without), there were cable issues which only just got resolved—hence the explanation my continued silent hiatus. Plus three day's worth of missed schedules and deadlines to somehow make up. An incredible amount of clothes and bedding to laundry. Groceries to be bought. Lots of dishes to wash. Etcetera, etcetera. Not to mention a long night's sleep in a real bed, and even longer blissful hot showers beforehand.

But I did take a few (1100 and something) photos during the period—of which the above house finch in the falling snow is one. I will post only a fraction of those—I promise!—in the days to come. And I'm looking forward to reading all the posts from fellow bloggers that I've missed. I do hope everyone is okay and doing well.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Last night's predicted and anxiously feared (or for a few of us, anticipated) ice storm did not materialize…well, it did come, but not to any degree worthy of all the hoopla. Maybe an eighth of an inch on limbs, walks, and the surface of the lingering snow. Enough to make going out on the deck dangerous if we didn't pay attention, and make even Moon-the-Dog's meanderings a noisy affair—but that's about the extent of the danger. 

Of course for the small ground-feeding birds, even this thin coating of ice meant they couldn't scratch through to the remaining cracked corn and sunflower seeds I put out yesterday—so I scattered a fresh supply on top of the glaze this morning. The food was immediately appreciated and I'm going to have to put  out more before Myladylove and I make a quick run to the library. 

We have to hustle because the real brunt of the storm should begin arriving here within the next hour—and continue dumping freezing rain overnight and into the early morning, at which point it should change to snow. The amount of snow probably won't amount to more than an inch or so, but falling on top of a thick underlayer of ice means roads will be supper slick.