Thursday, March 31, 2011


Snow in late March isn't any big news. It always snows this time of year, even if it was 70˚F a few days ago. That said, I was mildly flabbergasted when I looked up from my desk yesterday afternoon and saw a blinding fury of jumbo snowflakes pouring from the pewter sky. A really intense early-spring squall pretending to be a blizzard. 

I might not have been so startled if I'd have witnessed the start. But just glancing up and seeing the storm already in full force, the ground almost covered, and the island across from the cottage obscured behind a swirling curtain of white—well, I didn't know whether to laugh with glee, start praying, or dash outside and began gathering armloads of firewood in hopes of surviving until disaster rescue workers dug me and Moon-the-Dog out at some future date.  

What I did, in fact, was grab my camera and hustle to make a few pictures before the whole shebang fizzled away. Anyone who's lived in Ohio for any length of time knows these early-spring snowstorms are really tempests in a teapot…over as quickly as they began. 

The weeping willow took the flakes in stride, as did the lilac and spirea. But I thought the daffodils looked a little confused, or at least a bit chilled. In the end, however, the snow petered out and soon melted away. The day remained gray and cold. Moon and I went back into the house and I returned to my desk and work.

I guess March simply had to get in a parting shot—one final lick to say…I may be all-but-over for this year, but I'm currently still in charge, and I can snow on you any time I want. 

Okay. I got the message.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I wish I looked and felt as bright-eyed and cheerful as this robin I found practically at my feet this morning. I'd stepped out onto the deck to check on the river and allow Moon-the-dog to make her usual investigation of the cedars over by the board fence, when the bird flew down from a nearby box elder and landed no more than three feet away. After giving me a moment's close scrutiny—Does he look the sort who'd relish robins-on-toast for breakfast?—the bird apparently decided I passed inspection…and in the usual robin fashion, tilted and dashed forward even closer, stopping about a foot from the rock upon which I stood. 

I switched on the autofocus, held the camera at knee-level, and pushed the shutter. The friendly robin didn't flinch.

Robins are the personification of spring, a harbinger of the season itself. Their sudden en masse arrival on local lawns in late-February or early-March is newsworthy—a message of hope and changing times to be related to neighbors you meet at the mailbox, the cashier at the corner market, or the old gent down at feed-and-seed store. And such info will doubtless become the morning's premiere conversation topic among the breakfast bunch down at the local café. 

Even non-birder types incapable of naming a half-dozen common backyard species can usually manage to recognize a robin. They know what the robin's annual return implies, too—though you, being privy to such secrets, know that for many robins, their overwintering destination was often no farther away than the nearest woodland thicket. No matter—the facts and folklore don't have to match. Besides, you're as glad as they are to see robins on the lawn again…even if they've been hiding quite nearby these past months.

As winter turns to spring, robins sing in the season. How many mornings in March and April have I stood in the pre-dawn darkness and listened to a robin belting out his ebullient melody from some nearby treetop? It may not be the most complicated tune in the bird world, but it's catchy and swinging, filled with the bright green joy of spring, and the robin sings loud and clear with the lusty verve of his lark heritage. 

These past few days have been cold and often cloudy. Nothing out of the ordinary; just spring doing its usual seasonal two-step. But I've had enough. I'm weary of gray skies and heavy jackets. The grass is green…but not much else. I want to look through the woods on the islands and see that fine green "mist" among the skeletal limbs and intertwined branches that tells me things are beginning to leaf out. I want to amble a forest hillside and search for wildflowers. I'd like to plant a few bulbs in the garden. Or sit on the bench beside the river and warm my bones in the sun. My back and knee still ache. 

I want to stand by the cottage pool, cast my fly, and again feel the sudden electric weight of a smallmouth bass on the end of my line.

Yes…I know—all this will come in time. Maybe that's why this morning's robin came so near…to reassure me that all I have to do is wait.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


This is shaping into one of those lackadaisical days here along the river. Which is really just a way of saying I'm in a lazy, loafing mood—feckless, sluggardly, indolent, good-for-nothing. Can't get into writing or yard work. Reading doesn't appeal. Taking a walk is out because of the temporarily bothersome knee. I've had three mugs of coffee since breakfast and still feel half-awake. 

I blame my mood on the weather. Currently it's 68 ˚F with scattered clouds—bright sun one minute, dark overcast the next. There's a serious front on the way bringing afternoon showers and thunderstorms, possible large hail, gusty winds. Tomorrow's high is predicted to only reach 39˚F, and we may have sleet and snow tonight. I need to take advantage of this nice weather while I can. 

Except…I'm all but useless, devoid of inspiration or energy, about as inert as one of the mid-river boulders. The day is washing over me and I'm just sitting here dull and dysfunctional. 

An hour ago I sauntered around the backside of the cottage, looking to see if I could spot one of the small queen snakes that have been appearing about the yard during the past week. I turned one up here yesterday, beneath a windrow of old sycamore leaves. No doubt these are members of the queen-snake clan who like to sun themselves on my riverside deck. I suspect recent high water displaced them from their winter hibernaculum in the rocky rubble of the streambank, forcing them to seek temporary shelter wherever they could find sufficient refuge—including nearby fluffy leafpiles. 

I saw no snakes, but I did take a few shots of the white crocus blooming nearby—delicate, several lightly veined in purple, almost seeming to glow with their own luminosity in the soft, dim light. 

So far, I confess—that pix and this post are the closest I've come to an accomplishment for the day….

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


My first daffodils bloomed yesterday—though they could have been jonquils. Daffodils?Jonquils? I've never quite grasped the difference. I know that all jonquils are daffodils—that is to say they are both narcissus—but not all daffodils are jonquils. Which is which, I dunno. But my mother did. She always said her daffodils bloomed first. The ones she called jonquils sported smaller blooms than the flowers she identified as daffodils—and were very fragrant.

Whichever these are, they're located on the steep, rock-strewn hillside between the cottage and the road—a sort of tangled border, almost a thicket, with lots of trees, which I allow to remain wild and do nothing to maintain other than lop out some of the honeysuckle. A few bloodroots grow here, and even fewer jack-in-the-pulpits, along with the ubiquitous blue violets. But I wouldn't have expected these daffodils to bloom first. Instead, my money would have been on a small planting of the same species near the south side of the cottage. Usually it's these bulbs, protected from winter's winds and warmed by heat radiated from the cottage's stone wall, that poke up the first green shoots—sometimes amid patches of snow—and later, unfurl the first butter-yellow blooms.

This year, however, for whatever reason, the rowdy hillside bunch took the honors, gleaming like shards of sunlight come mid-morning. The laggardly cottage patch didn't show their yellow blooms until late afternoon.

We've had a a bit of rain before dawn, as well as a few light showers throughout the morning—though none in the last hour. In fact the sun is now out. I don't think we'll make it above 60˚F today; certainly we'll not enjoy a repeat of yesterday's 72˚F high. However, after a long winter—with rain expected for tomorrow and snow flurries predicted for Thursday—none of us riverbankers are keen on wasting such outside time. A song sparrow is whistling merrily. The squirrels are busy chasing about and squabbling over sunflower seeds. A couple of kingfishers are working the river. And just a few minutes ago a pair of Canada geese plucked their way through the corner of the yard visible from my workroom window.

I need to get out there and take advantage of whatever good weather the day serves up—doing more raking and clean-up in the back yard or in the small patch beyond where the drive slants down the hill, and which has been sorely neglected for too long. It's part of this year's yard plans to get this landscaped and planted. Who know? It might even happen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Spring has sprung, 
the sun has riz,
the grass is green
…and I'm glad I is!
——Bubba Shakespeare
                             Drivel Scribbler Extraordinaire 

Spring is here! Hip, hip, hooray! 

And you of little faith said we'd never get here! Ha! Got outsmarted by time and season again, didn't you? 

Yeah, I know…belief was tough back in February when snow and ice threatened to take over forever and bury us in winter. The power went out, roads were closed, and we had to huddle by the fireplace for several days with no Internet or cable. Couldn't even make a decent cup of cappuccino. Why, we were practically reduced to becoming Neanderthals—evolution in reverse. How could anyone possibly believe in spring's inevitability?

But come it did, just like always. The old earth spun its way merrily along the familiar path through the dark heavens. That 23.45 degrees of tilt began to work in our favor. The ice and snow melted. Temperatures climbed from single to double digits. February gave way to March. And once more, our little corner of the world began to reawaken from another long sleep.

The turkey vultures returned to their roost on the island across from the cottage. Robins started singing their morning song amid velvet dawns. Skunk cabbage stuck their mottled gnome-hat spathes up from the boggy muck, yellow crocus appeared along the stone wall, and bees somehow found their way to the blooms. Even the river seems to be burbling with excitement.

Is there any wonder more marvelous than spring's resurrection? 

Yes, officially speaking, if you insist on being a stickler for details, spring doesn't arrive hereabouts until approximately 7:30 p.m. when all the astronomical alignments are in their place and you can scientifically say the vernal equinox has passed. But I say spring is more a matter of the heart than of science. Like love, spring can never be quantified or reduced to a mere formula. Spring is deeper, more meaningful than a notation in an almanac or a few words at the bottom of a calendar's date box.

Spring is hope and faith and belief personified into reality. It's a journey fulfilled, a destination reached…a longing in the soul satisfied. No wonder birds sing so sweetly in the spring! 

What a wonderful day! Spring is here. And I'm so very grateful to bid it welcome!


Saturday, March 19, 2011


I got up early this morning—5:41 a.m. according to the bedside clock. Why? I have no good excuse except that I'd awakened a minute or two before and knew instantly that—like it or not—I was done sleeping for the night. So I figured I might as well haul it out. Moreover, a cup of coffee sounded mighty good.

We keep our coffee maker in the great room, atop a low, hundred-year-old chest-of-drawers that acts as a sort of buffet. The chest belonged to Myladylove's grandparents, and isn't so much a valuable antique as it is simply an old piece is handmade furniture with a family history. Moon-the-Dog chewed one of the lower drawer knobs soon after we brought it here. This was totally out of character for her, because one of the things she doesn't ever do is gnaw on the furniture. Apparently it was her way of welcoming the chest home, since she's never shown the slightest inclination to chew it again.

The great room takes up the entire riverside end of the cottage. The cathedral ceiling is about 15-feet high and the wall which faces the stream is mostly windows. The lower windows have blinds, but a pair of triangular-shaped windows up near the peak are uncovered. When I shuffled into the great room on my way to the coffee maker, the first thing I saw was a big fat moon shining in through those high windows. It's silvery light was bright enough that I didn't have to turn any other light on while making my coffee.

I've recently read news reports which call this a "super moon," as it will look bigger and brighter than other full moons. That's because this time around, the full moon—which occurs tonight—will be closer to earth than at any time since March 1993. Astronomers say tonight the moon will look 30-percent brighter and 15-percent larger than it normally does. It looked pretty bright this morning shining through my windows.   

A few minutes later, steaming mug of fresh-ground coffee in hand, I stepped onto the deck for a look around. Not that there was much to see, it still being dark. Too early, even, for a pre-dawn robin to be singing. But the rotund moon was still shining like a platinum beacon in the west as it slipped toward the horizon. Its waning light played in the waves and swirls of the riffle. 

I retrieved my camera and made a couple of shots. Moon shots are rather easy since a proper moon exposure is calculated off the brightness of sunlight and the ISO. Remember, the moon is being lit by the sun. (At ISO 400, a 500th at f/8 is about right.) But capturing the moonlight in the riffle was more problematic, even with the ISO cranked to 1400. I knew it would at least require an exposure of several seconds. There wasn't time to set up a tripod so I put the camera on automatic, braced it against the cottage's stone wall…and hoped. Not a crisp or particularly interesting shot, but maybe good enough to give you an idea of my view. And about the best I could manage on a partial cup of coffee.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Yesterday I walked through a nearby woods a'dazzle with winter anconites. The bright yellow blooms gleamed everywhere on the loamy ground, like bits of fallen sunshine. I took my time—making a few photos, breathing deep the soft, rich air heady with vernal perfumes. It was as fine a way as I knew to enjoy the 68˚F temperatures and to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

I've been visiting this same patch of wild-growing anconites for decades. Winter anconites are naturalized plants rather than natives. Their original range was Europe and parts of Asia. Members of the buttercup family, they are among the earliest plants to bloom—unfurling their cadmium yellow petals about the same time as skunk cabbage or snow trillium in the wild, or snowdrops and crocus in the garden. Some years this particular bunch blooms in late-February amid patches of snow; other years—such as this time around—they don't show themselves until the second week of March.       

Unfortunately, my bummed-up knee and hip limited my amble to perhaps a hundred yards before I was forced to drape my backside over a convenient log and take a rest. 

I still haven't figured out whether this painful malady is a bout of arthritis, an injury sustained from clambering up and down the stepladder carrying boxes of books into the attic in anticipation of the recent looming flood, or is simply nothing more than the latest manifestation of creeping geezerhood. All I know is that it hurts—a lot. Walking, sitting, even when I'm stretched out on the bed. The pain is sharp and white-hot, like an inserted knife. And intermittent—sometimes it lasts a couple of hours, or until the pills kick in, or it might be bad for a few minutes and then just disappear for awhile. Hot water, heating pads, and sports creams do little. Yesterday I couldn't manage five minutes straight at the desk; today I've sat in relative comfort for several hours already. 

After I'd rested awhile, and the throbbing in my knee had lessened from that of sledge-hammer whacks to mere tack-hammer taps, I tried to resume my foray…but the pain started to flare up again so I had to turn around and gimp my way back to the pickup. It was all I could do to get there.

Still, as I said, the pain is much less today. Plus there's more sunshine to enjoy. So I believe I'll see what the ol' joints do in reaction to a little yard raking. The worst that can happen is I'll have to sit in the rocking chair on the deck and watch the river slip sparkling and murmuring along…

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Before you can "wear the green,'" you must first "find the green"—and that's often rather problematic hereabouts this time of year. I may not be able to locate a shamrock today, but no matter the season, if I want to see some lush Irish green, all I have to do is visit this watercress-lined spring just up the road

Long before "going green" became a marketing mantra, we Irish folk have been participating in the "wearin’ of the green” every March 17th. But like a lot of things which once held a deeper meaning, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has lately gotten rather silly. I’d like to think it’s the wannabe Irish who’ve messed this up. Surely no true son or daughter of Erin—even those several generations removed—would disgrace the Emerald Isle by eating green spaghetti or swilling beer the color of bile. 

However, for me the final insult occurred the other day when I saw a merchandise display of St. Paddy's Day buttons, banners, and green plastic derby hats—all sporting four-leafed shamrocks! 

Enough is enough! No wonder banshees wail! 

The shamrock is the national emblem of Ireland. It is a trifoliate plant, which means it has three leaves—not four, as some botanically illiterate hack artists apparently envision. As a symbol the shamrock is revered because of a British bishop named Patrick, who came to Ireland early in the Fourth Century. When it comes to action-packed slam-bang exploits, St. Patrick would give today’s superheroes a run for their money. 

The adventurous St. Patrick is credited with, among other things, converting the Irish to Christianity—in the process overcoming the influence of the Druids and driving all snakes into the sea. Because it had three leaves, St. Patrick used the shamrock during his teachings to illustrate the Doctrine of the Trinity. 

The shamrock gets its name from the Irish word “seamrog” or trefoil, which again translates into “three-leaved plant.” Though there is some question as to the original true shamrock, most candidates mentioned are either clovers or cloverlike plants. The vote is about equally divided among woodsorrel, common white clover, black medic, and a trailing hopclover. All these plants, as well as the occasionally considered red clover, are similar in appearance. 

When I was a kid, I remember stores in my neighborhood often sold little packets of imported shamrocks just prior to St. Patricks’s Day. No offspring of an Irishman would dare go to school or work on the blessed day lacking this traditional adornment. I could have easily picked a sprig of sorrel from my mother’s flower bed. Her plantings grew along the south side of the house, against the warm, protected lee of the foundation. There was almost always a clump of sorrel available—and I’d have been reasonably authentic in my selection. Instead, I took a few coins—earned by collecting pop bottles from roadside ditches and cashing them in at two cents apiece—down to the local variety store and shelled out for the genuine article, whatever it was. This shamrock was proudly affixed to my coat or sweater, and I could feel my kinship stretching back through misty time to a land I’d never seen but loved dearly nonetheless. 

Alas, I haven’t seen imported shamrocks offered for sale in years. Today, if I can't find a handy patch of sorrel, I may indeed have to resort to some lifeless imitation shamrock. In this techno-homogenized era, the genuine symbolic gesture is becoming harder to accomplish with each passing decade. 

So, just for today, we Irish will allow the rest of you to pretend your veins contain a wee drop of Celtic blood. You can don your funny green hats, drink your green beer, even surprise your mate with a pair of dancing-leprechaun undershorts. But I beg you to draw the line somewhere this side of botanical authenticity…please don’t go wearing any four-leaf shamrocks.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The days of high water, which covered most of this island across from the cottage, left piles of sand in their wake. It will take several additional high-water periods—please, God, not quite so high—to wash the bulk of it away.

I've been trying to get this post up for the last two days as I wanted to update readers on our situation, reassure everyone that we're okay, and thank one and all for their concern, well-wishes, and prayers. I appreciated them—and you!—more than you might possibly imagine. 

The river is now almost back to its normal spring pool level, having dropped another few feet since Sunday. For the first time in several weeks, I can hear the big riffle in front of the cottage roaring—a counterintuitively reassuring sound. High water silences this riffle. I sometimes awake in the night, stirred by an unexpected lack of sound, yet certain before I ever push the curtain aside for a quick look, that rain locally or perhaps many miles upstream, has brought the river up by several feet…high enough to smooth out the churning riffle.

The nine stone steps leading down to a stone platform a couple of feet above the water's usual level are also visible in their entirety for the first time in days. As the river comes up, I mark its rise progress by these steps…one, two, three, four, five, nothing to be concerned about, six, seven, hummmm, apparently more rain fell than I thought, eight, better keep a close eye on things. When the water tops the ninth step, I begin to worry. From that point to the threshold of the cottage's doorway is less than a foot of vertical rise. Should rising water breach the threshold, I have a final three inches of leeway from the entryway level to the main floor. And at some point during those 12–13 inches, I have to make the decision to start moving things like the piano and furniture. 

This is the head end of the same island. The boulder pile isn't new, but before the flooding, only about half was visible—the rest was covered by earth and vegetation. It's now like land with it's bones showing. And you have to wonder about the floodtime (1913?) that piled all these big stones on the upstream end of the island originally.
During this latest flood, the water came within a few inches of getting inside. The highest it's been since I've lived here, and too close for comfort. The worst part, from my perspective, was that last Tuesday, while the river was still slowly but steadily rising, I had to leave for an overnight conference in Columbus. I serve on the Board of Directors of the local community health center. Various registration and membership fees—to the tune of several hundred dollars—had already been paid on my behalf, from a limited budget that is carefully administered. Fellow members were counting on me and I took this mission seriously. However, heavy rains of 3–5 inches throughout the region were predicted for that evening and throughout Wednesday, with additional water to be added to a system already bordering on maximum flood capacity. Enough to bring the river up well past the critical point. I wanted to be there to do whatever I could. Yet I had to ask Myladlove to deal with things…and to make matters worse, she was in the midst of switching jobs, and had promised to train her replacement a bit before her final day on Thursday.

Somehow…a miracle…the predicted heavy rains failed to materialize—not only here, but anywhere within the 70 or so miles of upstream watershed. I got back late Wednesday. The river crested last Thursday, inches from the threshold. The only damage we incurred was minor—a bit of bank washed away, the stone platform at the bottom of the steps near the river tilted away from its foundation. Considering the ongoing tragedy in Japan, I shouldn't even be mentioning what a week ago loomed so large in my trivial and banal riverbank world. By any standard whatsoever, my life is blessed beyond measure.   

Again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you all for being concerned about our welfare—for sending comments, e-mails, words of encouragement, for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers…for being the best blog readers imaginable, and more than that, friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Time is short and the water rises. Should things get critical over the next couple of days, I wanted to zap off this quick report and update beforehand. 

First off, the shower project has been completed! Thanks to fellow-father-in-law Rich, without whose plumbing expertise we'd have been at a total loss. Rich worked tirelessly, cheerfully, and regularly to do what had to be done. I mostly stood around, occasionally held this or that, and practiced the art of idle chatter and shoot-from-the-lip quips as entertainment. Plus I fed him well. The finished shower looks great and works wonderfully. We are so grateful…

Second, the orange-yellow crocus seen above are the first blooms of the season to appear in my yard. They poked their colorful heads up Tuesday, and actually bloomed yesterday. I have hundreds of other crocus scattered around the yard, hillside, and amongst the planter beds alongside the house—but these are always the first ones to put up green shoots and the first to bloom. You know it's spring when the crocus blooms!

Third, below is a recent shot of the river. The first thing anyone asks when they see the stream's proximity to the cottage is, "How high does the water get?" Here's the answer. This is the upstream view. You can see most of the narrow deck which spans the front end of the house, the little landing which is at the top of the steps—now invisible—which normally lead about 12 feet down to the water, a bench, some of the stone patio I put in last fall, and a tiny bit of the wider side deck plus a small portion of the stone corner wall of the cottage; the front door is about two feet to the right, just out of the image. From where you see the water now, to get to the cottage's threshold is perhaps an additional 10-12 inches of rise. Not much leeway. Once inside, there's another 6 inches of rise needed to get above the level of the small entryway and actually onto the great room's floor. So as the situation appears in this photo, I have approximately another 18 inches to go before I'm in trouble.

In the past, that has always been enough. In fact, the water has never been any higher than what you see in this picture—and that has only occurred three or four times since moving here six years ago. This time, however, we could be in trouble. Snowmelt and days of heavy rain over that past week or two have left area fields saturated. There's no cushion of absorption. All and new water can do is remain on the surface and run off. The forecast is for heavy rains Friday and Saturday. Flood alerts have been issued. Many area homes and roads are already underwater. The river here is currently going down—and is, in fact, a foot lower than in this shot which was taken yesterday afternoon. But I'm afraid it won't fall fast enough to give us the necessary "freeboard" to make it through the weekend unscathed. I hope I'm wrong…but time will tell.

I'll post as I can. Your prayers and thoughts would be appreciated.