Monday, October 31, 2011


Yesterday we spent the entire day loading, hauling, splitting, and stacking firewood. The fact that Myladylove and I are temporarily semi-crippled, beat, battered, sore and aching in places we'd forgot we had—doesn't override the satisfaction of the work completed. Yes, we gimp…but we gimp smugly. 

We're not through with out wood chores, however. There are still several pickup loads of wood remaining to be hauled down from the neighbor's yard. Plus a lot of big stuff yet to split. Nevertheless, yesterday's endeavors made a big and satisfying dent in the project. 

Moon remains on the mend. She seems a bit worn out today—probably from too many hours outside yesterday supervising our labors, along with too much time rolling in the leaves, and several protracted sessions of tail-wagging welcome when Everitt—the neighbor who gave us the great supply of wood—walked down to see how were were doing. 

Autumn continues to advance, of course. Most of the leaves are now down, though a few reluctant sycamore leaves still cling to the trees along the river. Too, there are hackberries whose leaves remain surprisingly green and intact. Frost night before last got my zinnias and canna lilies, but one of the roses is still decorated with bight red blooms and the marigolds gleam a brilliant orange. Sometime during the next couple of days, I'll have to dig those canna lily roots up and store them away until next spring.

Another task, on a list which seems endless. Yesterday morning, before we started on the wood, I rewired one of the baseboard heaters in the great room. Now it looks like I'm going to have to pull up and replace the bathroom floor thanks to a leaky toilet. And I'm hoping to get a woodstove in before the end of the month…though I've have to build a hearth first. Still, things do get done, jobs completed. Progress is somehow managed, in spite of sore backs, aching muscles, and a paucity of available cash. 

Now, I believe I'll crawl down the hall and look for that TO DO list….  


Friday, October 28, 2011


The view upstream from the cottage just before sunset, a few minutes after we got back.

Because so many of you have been genuinely concerned and extraordinarily kind in your comments over the past couple of weeks, I just wanted to quickly share the great news re. Moon-the-Dog.

My fine old dog and I have just returned from the animal hospital in Cincinnati, where she had her 60-plus staples removed, along with follow-up blood work done to make sure the white-cell and liver counts were back where they should be and that no bile was showing up where it shouldn't following her emergency gall-bladder removal two weeks ago. 

The odds originally were not good, but today's news simply couldn't be better! Everything looks great, the staples came out fine, the incision is healing well. Moon can now get out and take walks and do those dog-of-the-manor activities at which she excels. I can quite worrying so much and possibly get a bit more sleep. The E-collar can go into the closet unless she starts excessively licking her still-healing scar.

God knows how we'll pay for all this…but hey, caring for your family and counting dollars does not equate. You do what's necessary and deal with the aftermath. 

Needless to say, I'm happier than I've been in weeks! 

Again, I want to thank you one and all for your many wonderful words and prayers and thoughts; they were most appreciated. I've repeatedly thanked everyone—surgeons and staff—at the C.A.R.E. Center for their wonderful work and personal support—the way they've called and kept in touch, been straight about things from the get-go, and willing to answer my many questions. But finally, I don't want to be remiss and fail to also thank God for taking care of my dog, Myladylove, and myself during this entire crisis. 

I am so truly grateful.   

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I've been at my desk since breakfast, puttering away at a column for the Sunday paper. It's been rather hard going, which I choose to blame on the yet-to-materialize predicted rain. First the National Weather Service said an 80 percent chance of showers. They later dropped to 70 percent, and then to 50 percent. Now they've revised back up to 60 percent.

It's not that I particularly want rain. It's that no rain has meant a day which began as sunny, and though it has since gradually turned cloudy, is still a 68˚F day which looks constantly enticing through my deskside window. I want to chuck this writing task, go outside, and play…or at least kick around the new-fallen leaves, watch the river slip softly along, and breathe deep of the autumn-scented air. 

That's what I want to do—that and take my fine old dog for a walk. Unfortunately, Moon is not supposed to be doing much walking other than whatever brief ambles necessary to manage her business, while I'm on deadline and must have my piece in this evening. 

Any other day, I'd already be done with my work. It seldom takes me more than a couple of hours to write my column. Then, I give it an hour's rest—eat a snack, walk the dog, make a few casts in the Cottage Pool for smallmouth—before returning for a fresh read and edit and afterwards zapping the finished piece off. On a typical day I'd have accomplished that hours ago. Especially if it had rained.

But, as I said, I've been seriously distracted…by gray squirrels scrabbling amongst the leaves, chipmunks dashing along flowerbed rocks, birds at the feeders, and the long, sparkling sweep of moving river I only have to look up to see beyond my deskside window. Who knows when I'll finish!

P.S. I made the sparrow and downy shots earlier, which shows how long I've been suffering…

Monday, October 24, 2011


Last week was a sort of time-warped paradox—both numbingly tedious, and flying past like a highballin' freight train in one headlong rush. I suppose that's a result of worry and the pressure from the enforced routine of staying in taking care of Moon-the-Dog. 

I'm hoping this week will see things getting back to some semblance of normalcy, though even during the best of times, "normal" is a hard-to-define term hereabouts.

As an update, Moon is doing much better. The weekend turned out nice, and as one of our neighbors had generously loaned a hydraulic splitter, Myladylove and I spent quite a bit of time turning huge log "rounds" into manageable chunks of firewood.  Moon got to come outside with us on several occasions—generally for a "meet and greet" with the neighbors, whom she loves seeing. For the past couple of days she's been eating on her own, and is much perked up in her behavior. She's now taken all the medications the vets sent home with her following surgery. I'll have to take her to Cincinnati on Friday to have the 60 or so staples removed and some blood work done to make sure liver and white cell counts are back to normal, and that there's no sign of bile in the stomach since her "replumbing." But my beloved old dog seems to be doing really well, and I'm optimistic the news will be good.

I'm also hoping I'll be able to get out in the woods and fields before the final autumn leaf comes down. I've missed almost two weeks of photo-rambling time. However, in truth, this hasn't been much of year for fall color. Here along the river the tans and golds have finally dominated the greens…though plenty of green is still out there. 

The barred owl photo is from an earlier excursion to a small patch of woods up the road.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Moon on the side deck the day before her surgery; you can tell she's not feeling good.

First off, Moon-the-Dog is back home, resting, and (I hope) slowly improving—though not yet out of danger from post surgical complications. Nor have we yet heard back from all the tests. 

Here's the story…

Moon has not been doing well for some time. After a visit to the family vet's on Wednesday, and no clue as to what was going on from the blood work she ran following that check-up, last Friday afternoon I had to rush Moon to an emergency care center in northern Cincinnati (a bit over an hour from the cottage) for an ultrasound. This is a huge and absolutely remarkable, state-of-the-art facility serving the tri-state. Dozens of general veterinary doctors, surgeons, therapists, oncologists, and various specialists on staff, along with nurses, assistants, service staff and secondary caregivers—all available or on-call for 24/7 service. 

The ultrasound revealed that Moon's gall bladder was enlarged, blocked with congealed bile, and either about-to rupture, or already doing so. This required immediate emergency surgery to remove the gall bladder, as it was an acute condition and life threatening…hours, vs. days. So I left her there and drove home; they did the workup followed by the two-hour surgery, finishing just after midnight. 

This is a serious condition, major surgery, and comes with a 50 percent post-op survival risk. I was mighty relieved when the surgeon called to tell me Moon came through the operation.  

One of the many wonderful things about this place is that you can call any time, day or night, to check on your dog. I called about daylight on Saturday, and was told she had made the night, and was at least holding her own if not improving slightly—though it was still a bit early to tell. I also talked to the surgeon later, after she'd completed her rounds, and she thought Moon was doing okay, but reiterated that we were still in the critical period. Later that afternoon, Myladylove and I went down to see her. She looked awful, of course, given what she'd been through only a few hours before, how sick she'd been prior to the surgery, all the meds she was now on, plus the shaved belly and 50–60 staples holding the incision closed. She wouldn't eat, but was at least still alive.

The worst of the post-surgical risk comes during the first 3-4 days. Moon continued to improve Sunday—an improvement we could see when we again went down to vist; this time we managed to get some some baby food in her via a syringe. They syringe fed her again that evening, and also Monday morning. After talking with the vet, and it was decided I could bring her home yesterday afternoon…which I did. She looked noticeably better than she had on Sunday. She rode well in the makeshift bed I fixed for her, seemed glad to be home, though is weak, sore, and still much in the midst of having had such a serious gall bladder issue and surgery. 

Today she seems about the same as yesterday. Sleeping on a padded bed in my writing room most of the time, with the occasional brief outside potty break. I'm hand-feeding her and giving her her meds at the appointed hour. She's not out of the woods yet, but her odds are certainly improving—barring infections and a half-dozen other complications, and any unforeseen news from the tests. Maybe in the next day or two I'll get her to begin eating on her own. I have to take her back next week to check on various organ functions and replumbing matters. Then a week after that to have the staples removed. 

Time will tell, as it always does…but I sure feel better than I have in days, though I could use a nap. 

Finally…to each and every one of you who wrote, let me say you'll never know how much I appreciated your kind words and encouraging comments. Thank you so, so much. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I apologize for my recent lack of posts. Things have been in something of a mess here since Monday, when Moon-the-Dog suddenly became quite ill. I've been worried, distracted, and busy trying to care for her and keep up with my usual work. After a trip to the vet, we still have no idea what's going. We are currently waiting the blood work results to see if they provide any answers. 

Autumn continues to claim the lanscape here along the river, though it's becoming apparent this will not be a banner year for leaf color. Our hot, dry summer which morphed into a warm, dry autumn is not optimum weather when it comes to dazzling leaves.

Anthocyanin  pigments, which gives the reds, purples, scarlets, and crimsons—Virginia creeper, sumac, nannyberry, dogwood, and sweetgum, among others—are best produced by bright, sunny days and crisp nights. Unseasonably warm weather, with daytime highs often exceeding the 80˚F mark, and balmy nights, favors the carotenoids, yielding mostly yellows, golds, and oranges…which is what we have this time around. And the overall lack of ground moisture means many of our leaves are already falling. That brilliant gold walnut I photographed for my previous post dropped all its leaves two days later. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011


If I were a painter of nature and outdoor scenes, I would become thoroughly depressed come fall. For then, above all other times and seasons, I'd be faced with my total inability to render autumn's breathtaking light and colors into a credible likeness by merely daubing pigments on canvas. 

Nature makes a mockery of the greatest artists, the most God-given talents. No painter who ever lived—or ever shall live—comes close to getting it right. No photographer, either, for that matter. 

Yesterday, after we'd finished hauling and stacking firewood, and were gimping our way around the cottage to the deck and rocking chairs where we intended to sit a spell, watch the river, moan and groan from our new aches and pains, and contemplate whether we'd be able to clean and dress ourselves and drag our sorry carcasses out to dinner…I looked up the little hill and was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a little walnut tree by the road. 

The walnut's leaves were a gleaming golden-yellow. The sky a rich azure blue. Two colors; two elements. Magical light. A scene that was simplicity itself, and one which had me standing and gaping. It was incredible, awesome, magnificent! A wonder for the eyes and a blessing for the soul. 

And impossible to paint, photograph…or describe. Mankind in all his cleverness will never create anything so beautiful. All we can do is be thankful such treasures are ours to enjoy. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Saturday morning, going on ten o'clock, the sun is shining bright, it's 58˚F and heading for an 80˚ high. The river is low and clear, a slow-moving mirror that reflects the blue sky overhead and the patchwork progression of autumn along its banks.

Seasonal color has finally started to show its stuff streamside. Mostly yellows, oranges, and golds, and the pale, washed-out reds—almost pinks—of the Virginia creeper which twines up the boles of the big sycamore leaning over the pools. During the next few days I expect their red will darken, intensify, becoming a deep crimson. Unfortunately, there are no red maples hereabouts to punctuate the otherwise warmly burnished landscape with their vivid scarlet flame.

Today's agenda includes several necessary shopping errands, chores around the cottage, and somewhere in there time for a walk in the woods with Myladylove. Maybe we'll put a hunk of rat cheese, some smoked sausage, a few apples, and a bar of dark chocolate in a pack and make it a picnic. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Buckeye butterfly on goldenrod. 
What a day! The temperature outside is a balmy 75˚F.  Bright afternoon sun is gleaming through the lush canopy leaves of the sycamore, hackberry, and box elder trees along the river, turning them an autumnish golden-green. Slowly but surely the new season claims the land, each day bringing a bit more color.

Yesterday, friend and fellow-father-in-law, Rich, and I spent several hours ambling around various prairies and old fields, looking for fall color scenes to photograph. It's still a bit early hereabouts, but the goldenrods and asters were lovely. Given the number of cold nights we've had recently, we were surprised at the number of insects—especially butterflies—we found still active—though as of yesterday morning, I still had a hummingbird at my dooryard feeder. 

I've spent today mostly inside, working at the desk, looking out the window and wishing I could be casting for smallmouth bass in the sparkling pools, or driving some rural backroad in search of that perfect red maple for a photo. A couple of hours from now I'll have to head into the city to attend the monthly board-of-directors meeting of the area's community health centers.

Alas, there's always something needing doing; a necessary bit of work, a task best not put off any longer, a meeting to attend—something which takes time and energy and is important, which nevertheless also gobbles up another small piece of your finite allotment of life. That isn't a complaint, merely an observation—a sort of self-reminder to pick and choose wisely when agreeing to such matters.

I well know I'm luckier than most in the amount of free time I have to spend any way I want. Honest, I don't take such a blessing lightly. But I also must admit that it's never enough…especially not in October, when the days are mild, the river gleams, country byways beckon, and sunlight shines golden-green through riverside leaves.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I took a drive up the road earlier to check on the progression of autumn color. Here along the river, things are still mostly green, with only a few rusty yellow hints. Even the Virginia creeper curling up the trunks of of the sycamores shows barely a blush of pink; it will probably be a week or two before it turns a flaming crimson.

This isn't unusual—the autumn patchwork of yellows and scarlets, oranges, golds, lemons, scarlets, burgundies, and a hundred other hues, always lags behind that of the nearby roadsides and woodlands a few hundred yards away from the stream corridor. Whether it's the mitigating effect of the water, the slightly lower elevation, or the degree of protection afforded by the banks, I'm not certain. All I know is that sometimes, when I've not been beyond the mailbox for a few days in a row, the short jaunt to the grocery can prove a revelation. 

However, this morning's brief recon ramble proved surprising in that there was less color other than the usual green out there than I expected. More color than here…but only a bit. Leaves on a single maple branch that had jumped-the-gun on their neighbors and turned orange or red or yellow. A few twists of crimson woodbine. Here and there a clump of sumac whose long leaves show a mix of scarlet among the green. The most colored-up tree I found was the little sugar maple pictured at the top of this post.

Autumn is definitely making its way into the southwest corner of Ohio, but it's creeping in slowly, taking its time. Which is fine—good things are worth the wait.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


When October rolls around, I always celebrate its arrival by reading a poem I've known and loved since childhood.

“When the Frost is On the Punkin” is, to my mind, James Whitcomb Riley at his evocative homespun best. It was also one of my father’s favorite poems. Each year, when the weather began to cool and leaves commenced to show their paintbox hues, Dad would invariably grin at me across the breakfast table and begin quoting the verses. I could quote half of them back to him by the time I was in grade school.

The rural scenes and situations the poem detailed were of another time and place, plucked from a way of life I knew nothing whatsoever about…at least not firsthand. James Whitcomb Riley was born in a log cabin in rural Indiana in 1849. Both my parents were raised on hill-country farms in eastern Kentucky in the early-1900s. Yet the word pictures Riley so wonderfully painted were almost identical to memories they shared with me daily in song, stories, food, and cultural attitude. I naturally grew up as countrified as if I’d been born to it in actuality.

When Riley talked about the “kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,” I could hear that fantailed bird loud and clear. When he mentioned “fodder in the shock,” or wrote of a “feller leaving the house, bareheaded, as he goes out to feed the stock,” I could, through vicarious history, identify wholeheartedly. What’s more, I knew firsthand about apples “poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps.” Dad always spread several bushels of apples out this way, every autumn, on the cool concrete floor of the basement’s coal bin. They kept well there until at least the end of winter.

I liked the way Riley wrote, the way he used language. The tongue-testing rhythm of such lines as “the husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,” were as sweet to me as a spoonful of sorghum molasses. 

James Whitcomb Riley was a poet of the old school. His poems rhymed, a style now sadly out of vogue in today’s free-verse literary circles. Modern critics often dislike his use of dialect. They call his writing sentimental, proclaim its subject matter superficial, even refer to him a regionalist—as if that were a bad thing. Yet from the 1880s until well into the Twentieth Century, Riley was the nation’s most widely read poet. His books sold millions of copies and are still in print. When he went on tour across the country, tickets for his readings sold out almost overnight; audiences were huge. Newspapers called him “the poet laureate of America.” His writing became the basis for courses at many Ivy League colleges, and he received any number of honorary degrees—including ones from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University, and Wabash College. The National Institute of Arts and Letters made him a member and conferred upon him a special award for his poetry. To this day, the level of popularity he received has not been surpassed by any other poet during their lifetime.  

You can tell James Whitcomb Riley knew and loved October. While the poem’s setting may reflect a bygone era, anyone attuned to nature, the outdoors, the rhythm of the seasons, and is familiar with rural life and country ways, will find the unerring ring of authenticity still remains. I find an absolute seasonal verisimilitude in the way the lines so perfectly capture the month’s marvelous mood.

Yessir, the old Hoosier poet, who looked like anyone's avuncular uncle, could make words dance and sing and sometimes practically jump off the page, into your heart and head. That’s why my father read him, why several of his books graced our hallway bookcase, why I still turn to this particular poem to usher in October. 

When the Frost is On the Punkin'

WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,      
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
(Note: I just found this wonderful recitation of the poem by the late Kent Risley. Moreover, his introductory story is lovely.)