Tuesday, January 31, 2012


It's a mild, almost spring-like day here along the river. The temperature is already 60˚F with a possibility of reaching the mid-60s˚ by late-afternoon. Quite amazing for the final day of January—though I've given up being surprised by this strange and unseasonable winter.

I've spent my day so far fiddling about with a couple of writing chores in my workroom. Whenever I've glanced out the window, there's usually been a pair of yellow-shafted flickers taking turns on a nearby suet block feeder. Again and again I've paused to pick up the binoculars and spend a few minutes just looking closely at one of the birds. 

Flickers are, to my mind, far more lovely than generally credited. Gray head, reddish-beige face, a black moustachial stripe at the base of the beak; there's a black bandanna under the chin, the breast is reddish-beige-fading-to-pale-tan with black spots spattered throughout and into the underbelly; the back is a light olive-brown patterned with black crescents, the tail is dark on top fading lighter underneath, with a white rump that's conspicuous in flight. The namesake feathers, on both tail and wings and best seen from underneath, are a brilliant mustard yellow. I'm always amazed by the varied colors these woodpeckers sport. Just incredible!

Southern hill-country folks often refer to the flicker as a Yallerhammer. Under the slightly edited title, Yellowhammer, it is designated the state bird of Alabama. One of the most famous trout flies indigenous to the Appalachian Mountains, a pattern used throughout the brook trout streams of the Southern Highlands for nearly a century, is also called a Yellerhammer, because the tying recipe incorporates yellow flicker feathers in the lure's construction.

Whatever you call them—Yellerhammers, flickers, or one of their more than 100 other common names—they are always worth watching.

Friday, January 27, 2012


The sun is not long from sinking below the horizon-line to the west. Dusk will begin as shadows steal across the water, swallowing the light. Darkness comes to the river valley bottom to top, beginning at the lowest points and moving upward, from stream surface to the stark crowns of the tallest sycamores. That's night's way, to pour in slowly like black oil into a long trough.

A few minutes ago everything was gold—light, sky, moving water. I made a photo. What the image doesn't show is that the water is high, up maybe eight feet from its normal level. High and running fast. A fool's gold river.

Earlier today, while I was working at my desk, I looked up and out the window at the moving river fifty feet from where I sat. As I was watching, a cow floated past. I've watched lots of things float by over the years—countless huge logs and fresh-toppled trees; barrels and buckets; bottles by the gazillion; bright plastic toys of all sorts and every type of ball imaginable; washers and dryers; a car or two; sheds, dog houses, chunks of porches and decks; a red canoe; several dead deer; one dead pig; small dead animals of all sorts, especially dogs and raccoons. One dead person. 

But today's cow was a first. I watched it bobbing along, close to the bank, one front leg stuck into the air as if waving a greeting to anyone on shore. In less than a minute the fast current of the fool's gold river had carried the waving cow three hundred yards downstream and around the bend, and I returned to my work.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Yesterday, a lady in the Midwest whose blog I've followed and enjoyed for a couple of years, announced she was quitting blogging. She pointed out how she'd noticed posts on many blogs were coming ever farther apart, and wondered if the "craze" for blogging wasn't winding down. Time had become an issue for her. So had having something to say—or at least she felt she'd wish to say on her blog. Finally, she admitted she'd lost her joy in blogging, and felt she needed friends with "real skin" to relate to in person rather than online.

Please understand, I'm not taking her to task. She has every right to make such a decision, though I'm truly sorry to see her go. Still, I understand her reasoning because I've mulled over several of the same points, and asked myself the logical end question: Keep blogging…or not?

The answer, I found, centered on three things—motivation, goal, and personality.

First, why did I begin blogging? My first post pretty much summed it up…I'd failed repeatedly at keeping a journal, diary, daybook, or other form of written record, but for a number of reasons wanted to do so—and thought the online format of a blog, along with the feeling of responsibility to any readers I happened to garner, might supply that extra impetus to keep going. 

I did not begin because I thought I had anything particularly newsworthy, insightful, or entertaining to relate. I wasn't looking to convert the world, or make folks love me. And didn't need a platform for regular ranting.

Second, my goal was, as the welcome to Riverdaze states, "simply to report, as regular as I can manage, on life and the seasons from my home perspective of a modest stone cottage beside a small, sycamore-lined Ohio river."

That hasn't changed.

Third, the part personality plays cannot, I think, be ignored. As many of you know, I'm a professional writer. I'm comfortable sitting down writing as a form of communication. I'm also an inveterate reader. I've had my "head in a book," as my mother used to say, since before I began kindergarten. I was also an only child, and chronically ill. For years, I regularly spent more time inside the house—and inside my head—than out. Alone but rarely lonely. 

Paradoxically, I love people, gatherings, parties, crowds, and don't mind mixing with strangers. I'm definitely a "people person." Yet I can toss a sleeping bag into the pickup and go off into the north woods for a couple of weeks of fishing, hiking, camping, and just poking along overgrown two-tracks, never speak to a soul, and have a perfectly delightful time.

However, the fact is, a blog reader, someone I'm talking to on the telephone, or that living, breathing "in the flesh" visitor in my home or at a meeting in a café over a meal, are equally real to me. Sure, I'd like to get to know in person everyone who reads these posts. But we're truly scattered all around the globe—so there's not much likelihood of that ever happening. Yet you're nonetheless real, I'm still real, and we can read each other's blogs, look at each other's photos, and be genuine friends. 

Yeah, I know I've been slacking lately on posts. And really slacking on comments on other blogs, though I do usually visit. Time is partially to blame. So is the fact that I often read other blogs on my iPod…which is an abomination for me when it comes to leaving a comment. But at the heart of the slacking is mostly just procrastination and laziness—which I'm constantly trying to counteract. Honest.  

I still don't think I have anything earth-shattering to say. But I've realized that several blogs I regularly read are no more or less chronicles of their rather equally boring life (no, not yours…don't go all paranoid on me), and yet there's something about this ordinary minutiae that is oddly interesting and very enjoyable. So I guess it follows that you could consider this admission fair warning. 

I've been humbly surprised by many of your comments over the years, and so very grateful for your words of encouragement and understanding. Moreover, I've been astonished by the pleasure occasionally expressed over a certain post or photo, and the fact that you often get a kick out of my shared small adventures. To me, life's greatest joy is all about sharing. The fact that I now have 114 followers is also an astonishing mystery—but I do treasure each and every one. While the number varies from time to time, when I lose someone, I always worry that it was because of something I said, some thoughtless remark which struck them as unkind. I hope not, for everything else aside, I want you enjoy your visits to the riverbank.

Bottom line…to blog, or not? For me, blogging is not a fad. I promise, I'm here for the long haul.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


One of this first things you notice here on the riverbank is the silence. Well, not true silence, but a soft, natural quiet—the purling of water over gravel, the murmur of wind in the sycamores, the constant music of countless birds. Nature sounds. Soothing sounds. Sounds which don't grate upon the ear or disturb the peace.

City folks often find this silence unsettling, even disturbing. It makes them anxious, all this space in time without noise. Perhaps its because without sound's distractions, they're forced to think, reflect, listen to their own inner voices; come to personally know themselves. 

But live here awhile and just the opposite occurs…you find such quietude a balm to the incessant clang and clatter of modern urban life with its bleating horns, wailing sirens, traffic roar, and persistant shouting. Soon you come to realize that silence is a treasure. A place of silence is a gift, a blessing, a refuge and retreat that comforts and heals, and you vow to never ever move anywhere that lacks genuine natural silence.
The exterior walls of our modest cottage are built of limestone, 17-inches thick, which act as a formidable sound barrier. It's practically impossible to hold a conversation between rooms, even when you yell. While it may be a natural silence outdoors, it's an anomalous silence inside. You can easily hear the fire burning on the hearth, or water for tea boiling in the kettle on the stove. A dripping faucet is like a jackhammer. A summer mosquito keening in flight, can be heard all the way across the great room, a distance of almost thirty feet.   

About three-quarters of a mile upstream from the house, an interstate highway bridge crosses the river; the road carries constant traffic. In summer, when the leaves are full in the riparian woods along the stream, you can barely hear the cars and trucks crossing—a mere whisper. But come autumn, as leaves start pouring down, that sound multiplies daily, though in truth the volume probably doesn't go up by more than a few decibles. However it always takes us weeks to get used to the increase.

One final observation. Perhaps you remember the famous exchange in A. Conan Doyle's mystery, Silver Blaze, between Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Gregory of Scotland Yard.

     Gregory: "Is the any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
     Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
     Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
     Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Due to the big riffle directly in front of the cottage, the sound of the river is a constant, a dull shhhhoooossssh, always there, audible from anywhere outside, or inside providing we have a window open. Except during the coldest weather, we often keep a bedroom window up, and the sound through the screen is the perfect background to falling asleep. But when it rains a fair amount, and the river rises a few feet, the water no longer churns through the riffle. At which point the river's voice is quelled, an unnatural silence that's immediately missed. 

More than once I've awakened into the darkness, alert, wondering what drew me from my slumbers. I listen, and hear the silence…and can then relax because I know that all is well. The curious incident of the silence in the night-time has been solved.
[I was inspired to write this because I read Pat's wonderful post on silence earlier today. If you're not a regular Weaver of Grass reader, you should be, for it's one of the most interesting and readable blogs around if you like rural life, quiet matters, and excellent writing. I've been a fan since I discovered blogs on the Web, and I urge you to make her a stop on your daily rounds.]    


Friday, January 20, 2012


It has been cold here today—a measly 4˚F when I got up at 5:30 a.m., a balmy 16˚F now in mid-afternoon. Certainly the coldest day we've had so far, though not a cold predicted to linger. According to the forecasts, it will warm up a dozen degrees tomorrow, and make it almost to 50˚F by Monday, remaining in the 40s˚F throughout the rest of the week.

We also got a bit of snow yesterday, plus an additional dusting this morning. Again, less than an inch total, which won't, of course, last beyond tomorrow. We've had three snows so far this winter, none of them deep enough to cover the grass completely. No need yet to break out the salt and shovels. 

I've spent most of the day at my desk. There was work to get out, and a backup hard drive that decided to go on the blink yesterday and which I've been fiddling with intermittently since. With computers, their hardware and software, it's always something. Considering how big a part they play in my life—personal and professional—I'm reaching the point where I no longer think of them as mere machines, but sort of android-like members of the family, chip-equipped children who never manage to stay out of trouble for long.

At one point earlier, when I was digging through various files and sub-directories, well out of my depths of technical competency, I looked up and saw a Cooper's hawk sitting on a nearby limb. It's piercing yellow eyes were staring directly my way—the bird probably trying to figure out if that big indistinct blob on the other side of the window was something good to eat. If I were a mouse or chickadee, I'd have gone into cardiac arrest. Instead, I sat still and when the hawk looked the other way, plucked my camera from the desktop and made the above image. 

The hawk kept looking around, watching, and I kept watching the hawk. Nothing moved outside, neither bird nor squirrel; everyone knew Doctor Death was in attendance. 

I admit that in a moment of fantasy, I thought about tossing the Cooper's my  recalcitrant backup drive. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Well, the dawn sky this morning was certainly red…and pink and magenta and orange and violet and lavender and—well, colors and hues they haven't yet gotten around to giving a name. Moreover, the whole kaleidoscopic sky-swirl of shades changed every instant, a constant process, evolving, metamorphosing, so that any photo was already outdated before the completion of the shutter's wink. 

Some moments simply can never be captured—not with digital images or carefully-chosen words. The beauty of nature is regularly too powerful for such paltry human restrictions. The world's greatest painters, with their finest brushes and oils, will forever lack the talent to render even a mediocre sunrise onto a canvas.

Which doesn't keep any of us from trying, and shouldn't, in spite of it being an unachievable goal. So here's a shot of this morning's sky, a mere blink of a moment, as seen looking east from the front yard. I know it's inadequate…and I'm glad. For some things, you really need to be there.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Today was the coldest one yet here along the river. When I got up the temperature was in the single digits, somewhere between 7-9˚F, depending on which weather report you believe. Certainly cold enough to put frost on your pumpkin regardless of who was right. Real winter temperatures…but not bad at all seeing as how there was no wind. Plus, the sun was bright and the sky a crisp, clean blue. Light shimmered in the slushy pools and sparkled through the riffles.

We've been working in the house most of the day—getting some winter wear from the attic which we hadn't bothered with heretofore, since winter had failed to materialize. Also putting some things away from the fall, plus leftover Christmas decorations which turned up after we'd already stored the bulk of our items. I'm readying several boxes of books to go up, as well. Seeing as how we've had a nice hearthfire going all the time, music playing, and the river and feeder birds and a gleaming January sky to glance out at whenever we liked, it wasn't exactly hard labor.

Earlier, when I stepped out with the dog, I made a shot of ice on the big boulder in the riffle in front of the cottage. I like the juxtaposition of sun-warmed stone, snow and ice, and clear water reflecting the blue sky overhead.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012


We spent the latter half of today out and about, picking up prescriptions and running errands. When we pulled down the drive to the back of the cottage, I noticed the sun going down across the river and the way the bronze-gold light gleamed off the water…so I went inside, grabbed a camera, and made this shot.    

Another cold day here along the river—but mostly clear. As it's also the weekend when Myladylove has Saturday off, we got to sleep in a bit—which is to say I got up an hour later than usual and she slept an extra five; something like a solid fourteen hours, depending on when she fell asleep on the couch before we went to bed. 

I don't begrudge her such a long sleep; if anything, I envy it. But I haven't managed that much snooze time in decades…and never then unless I was exhausted or sick. Five to seven hours is my usual; I can make do on less, but seldom manage more. 

Once, however, when I was in college, I spent about five days more-or-less awake taking finals, then I got on a train at midnight in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which took twelve hours to reach Cincinnati, Ohio, and managed to miss the connection to Dayton—at which point I and a couple of other unfortunate passengers had to pile on a Greyhound bus for the 50-mile ride north. At the bus terminal, I called home and learned there was no one available to come pick me up because my Aunt Grace's husband, Howard, had suffered a massive heart attack that morning, was in the hospital struggling to survive, and everyone except my mother was gathered at his bedside. So I grabbed my multiple pieces of luggage and, uh, lugged myself and my stuff a few blocks to a stop where I could catch the trolly which ran from downtown to the semi-rural township beyond the city limits where we lived. By the time I'd caught that bus, rode to the end of the line, and lugged my suitcases and self to the front door of the family home, I was desperately beat. 

Mom had fried two chickens, mashed potatoes and made gravy, and baked a chocolate pie. I ate all the chicken, a lot of the potatoes and gravy, three-quarters of the chocolate pie, and drank a half-gallon of milk. Then I crawled into bed and slept twenty-two hours, barely moving…and would have slept longer, except Dad got worried and woke me up to make sure I was okay. 

My Uncle Howard eventually recovered, though it was along time before he could work again, and I don't think he was ever quite the same. Mom had fixed lots more of my favorites foods while I was asleep, including another chocolate pie. And I've never slept so long or so deeply since. But to this day, I don't know where I put all that food.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Winter finally arrived last night here along the riverbank.

Of course yesterday's high was an unseasonable 43˚F, with sporadic light rain throughout most of the day. But the rain changed to snow an hour before dusk as temperatures dropped. And when I got up this morning, the thermometer read a brisk 14˚F, and we've only gained three degrees since. Burrrrr! 

The snow didn't amount to much, maybe half an inch. But still enough to whiten the ground and give the squirrels an excuse to chase each other around when they finally roused themselves from their snug bed in the hollow sycamore, and followed the tree-top trail over to the cottage to check out what sort of breakfast I'd provided.

Now, the feeders are busier than they have been for months—possibly as far back as late-February or early-March of last year. Our lack of winter—or what might prove to be a late-starting winter, though I think we'd better give it a week or two before proclaiming it officially in session—has kept the usual feathered crowds thinned considerably. 

Today, however, the birds are coming in. Still not as many as I'd expect, nor do they seem as frantically hungry, practically mobbing the suet, sunflowers seeds, and cracked corn. Maybe it takes a day or two for word to get out. Or it could be today's wintry intimation is as suspect to the birds as it is to me, and they're also adopting a wait-and-see attitude. 

The snow continued all morning, and is going still, though it's mostly just the same flakes blowing around in white swirls. I don't think there a millimeter of additional accumulation. The weather service claims some of these gusts will reach 40 MPH—which should certainly make for a nasty windchill. I'm going to dig my parka out of the closet and go for a tramp along a nearby trail, just to enjoy this tardy bit of seasonally-appropriate weather. There's nothing like a cutting wind and some ice in the eyes to make you delightfully miserable.

Maybe a short winter walk will also cure the ennui which seems to have afflicted me recently. Since the first of the year I've been tired, lazy, and, for no good reason I can discern, bored by most of the usual pleasures—given instead to staring out the window at the river, or sitting by the fireside scribbling at poems and listening to darkly complicated stuff by Hovhaness, Orff, and Glass on the CD player. I haven't written because I didn't think I had anything worthwhile to say. This post doubtless proves that point.  

Yup, a breath of winter may be just what I need…

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


We had our first stick-to-the-ground snowfall yesterday. Not that it amounted to much—a few tenths of an inch of ragged white frosting. Not enough to completely cover the grass and leaves, or count as a "tracking snow"…but enough that we heretofore snow-free southern Ohioans could look out our windows and see a landscape which finally looked wintry.

Actually, the snow began long after dark on New Year's Day, arriving in the form of tiny rounded pellets, or graupels, which some folks refer to as "hominy snow," because it looks like uncooked white grits. When I stepped out with Moon-the-Dog just before midnight, this granular hominy snow was peppering down like gangbusters. You could hear it pinging through the branches of the big hackberry near the door. In the yellow glow from the porch light, I watched as the gusting wind swirled it around the eaves and across the deck's planking.

Along with the snow came our first fairly cold temperatures—17˚F (-8˚C)  last night and a time or two today, with only a couple of degrees rise at the high-point. Not cold by northcountry standards, I know, but cold enough when you've been used to daytime highs in the upp-50s and above. 

Oddly, the bird feeders weren't as busy yesterday as they usually are when it's snowing. Typically, when snow begins falling, the birds crowd in like grocery shoppers at the supermarket right before a blizzard. It's often all I can do to keep the feeders stocked for the noisy hordes.

Feeder traffic was up somewhat today. Busy, but still not the mob scene I've come to expect. Why? Could be the immediate neighborhood has a surfeit of well-stocked feeders out. My best guess would be that given the unseasonably mild weather, many birds simply haven't needed to depend so heavily on feeder offerings to keep them fed; maybe a fair amount of natural foods have remained available in nearby fields and forests.

The morning's arrivals did include the first group of juncos I've seen this winter. And even before the sun came up, as Myladylove and I were having breakfast, cardinals by the dozens began appearing. My best count was 47 males and females visible at once in the dim light, and I didn't get to those birds in the cedars over by the fence. Conservatively, I'd say there were 75 cardinals within a 50-foot radius of the front door…a sight which never fails to amaze me, though our riverbank corner has always seemed like Redbird Central, even if I don't quite understand exactly why; I nevertheless appreciate the gift.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


While it's been unseasonably warm here along the riverbank…it certainly hasn't been this warm! I made this indigo bunting image back in the latter part of the summer—and I think it's one the better shots I managed all year. I thought I'd save it to share on a special occasion. What could be more special than the start of a brand new year?

Well, here we are…the first day of the first month of a brand new year. Are you excited? Apprehensive? Or simply indifferent to the whole business of having just embarked again on the great circular journey? 

After all, if it weren't for calendars, almanacs, and all the media hoopla, none of us could tell any difference between yesterday and today. Nature doesn't give anything away by celebrating. The raccoons and owls don't spend the evening together drinking excessively. Squirrels never ring bells or toot on noisemakers. Cats don't blow their car horns, nor do police dogs wail sirens. Possums, thank God, never mess with fireworks or firearms. And though you might think otherwise, rabbits aren't prone to kissing any stranger they can latch onto come the stroke of midnight.

Nope, that's just purely human behavior. We are the party animals.

Some of us. Others—after a low-key but delicious late supper of shrimp sautéed in olive oil with garlic, scallions, salt and a few flakes of red pepper, plus some excellent blue cheeses, toast squares, clementines, and mint chocolate chip ice cream—fall asleep on the couch or sitting in the rocking chair before the fire, and barely awaken in time to stumble out onto the deck and stand wrapped in blankets, listening to all the firecrackers, gunfire, and small ordinance explosives the neighbors are setting off. 

It was clear and mild here on the riverbank when the new year arrived. Stars glittered in the darkness and a waxing moon dangled above the western horizon. This morning it is bright-cloudy and, currently, 48˚F (8.8˚C)—though the temperature is supposed to start dropping by afternoon and the prognosticators claim the possibility of snow flurries throughout the next few days. Maybe winter is going to start acting and looking more like winter.

I would like to wish each and every one a happy New Year! May the coming year be one of health, happiness, prosperity and peace…and may at least a few of your wishes and desires come true.