Monday, February 27, 2012


Unlike the negative connotations when chickens are involved…having your buzzards come home to roost is a good thing. At least from my admittedly critter-centric viewpoint. When I looked across the river and saw the multiple dark forms of more than dozen turkey vultures sitting, like a troop of black-robed Lammergeier throughout the top of a large hackberry, I took them as an omen of good fortune.

In normal years turkey vultures seldom show up hereabouts before mid-March. In fact, the legend of the Hinkley buzzards and their annual March 15 return to the ledges above the Rocky River, near Cleveland, is nowadays an offbeat news story of international fame. Buzzard Sunday, held the first Sunday after March 15, attracts tens of thousands of visitors. And just like clockwork, you can expect the big birds to be winging about overhead, visible stars in the celebration.

Though I live in the southwestern corner of the Buckeye State, which is a long way from Cleveland, the vulture's yearly vernal reappearance locally generally comes surprisingly close to mirroring the March 15 date of their more acclaimed Hinkley kinfolk. This year, however—which has proven an unseasonable anomaly from the get-go—the buzzards made it back early. Real early. I saw several vultures wheeling around over a nearby field nearly three weeks ago—which, at a month before, is the earliest date ever in my experience.

Still, buzzards over a field a mile from here and buzzards at roost across from the cottage are two different matters. I was absolutely delighted to see them back along the river once again. I've enjoyed roosting vultures on the island every year since moving here. The somber scavengers are now more than trustworthy spring harbingers—I'd like to think we've become old friends. 

So from one old riverbank resident to another…welcome home!

Friday, February 24, 2012


The sky is gunmetal gray, the light flat and dim. The weather service predicts snow this evening and throughout the night, though without expectations of accumulation. From the looks of things, they could be right. 

I know it is colder than when I got up at 5:15 this morning…45˚F then, 37˚F now. I also know I've been shivering and felt chilled to the bone all day, though that's probably not related to the weather.

At the beginning of the week, I had to attend an out-of-town conference. I hadn't been feeling all that well during the latter part of last week and over the weekend, and suspected that whatever had laid Myladylove low for a few days early last week had been passed along. But reservations had been made, fees paid, and people were counting on me to be there…so sick or not, I went.

This is a serious conferences. Seminars begin right after a very early breakfast and continue pretty much nonstop for the next dozen or more hours. Lunch and dinner are "working" meals. Your time is well spent and the meeting informative, productive, inspiring, occasionally fun, but even when you're in tip-top shape, exhausting. If you start out halfway sick, however, with what might have been a mild dose of the flu, such a demanding schedule and days-long energy-drain can prove a brutal ordeal.

The drive there, the conference itself, and the trip home on Wednesday afternoon became one of those increasing struggles to simply survive long enough to die in your own bed. 

I spent all yesterday down for the count, finally making it as far as the living room and my recliner about 8:00 p.m. Today has been modestly better in that I've remained upright for an hour at a time on several occasions. I might even manage supper.

Between bouts of snoozing, I have been reading various blogs via my iPod. This is the first time I've actually made it down the hall to my desk. With luck, I hope to be out and about the next day or two. The weather is supposed to be sunny and back in the 50s˚F. I noticed a few blooms as I drove home Wednesday, and want to see what going on here. Of course, given my fevered state, those visions might have been nothing more than wishful hallucinations.    

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Today is my mother's birthday. She was born in 1911 on a farm in the hills of eastern Kentucky, the fourth of seven children. Mom passed away in the summer of 2005; had she lived these six-and-a-half years, she would be 101 years old today—not out of the question given her Williams bloodline, many of whom made it well past the century mark. As it was, with her medical history, it was only by God's grace, good doctors, and sheer force of an incredible will that she survived past her mid-40s.

That's one of the things Mom taught me, to never give up no matter what—that life is to be lived and appreciated, made the best of, and yes, enjoyed, in spite of pain and suffering, troubles, heartbreak, tragedy. Mom was one of God's joyful singers, who never got up a day in her life without a song in her heart…a song which soon made it to her lips. 

Countless times over the years, the first sound I heard on awakening was my mother's voice coming from the kitchen, which was located on the opposite corner of the house from my bedroom. Mom would be singing while she stirred up a pan of biscuits to go with breakfast, or she might be doing the dishes, or waiting for her coffee to perk. Mom sang when she hung wash on the lines in the back yard or worked in her many flowers. She sang when she swept the hall, vacuumed carpets, mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors, or ironed clothes. Often, when she was taking a short break to rest a few minutes in the old metal glider on the front porch, she would sing. And when she really got inspired—at least once or twice a week—she went into the guest bedroom and spent a half-hour or so accompanying herself on the ornate, ceiling-high pump organ which she'd learned to play as a little girl.

Mostly Mom sang hymns and gospel songs, which is what she and my father performed together on various radio shows over the years. But sometimes at home, especially when she was at the organ, Mom would get out her thick book of ballads, their lyrics hand-copied or typed, and sing some of the old tunes popular in her growing up, though much of it was the truly ancient music of the Appalachian hills by way of the English and Irish who settled the land, and traceable across the Atlantic and back centuries. At church or when doing radio programs, Mom played her guitar—one of two guitars Dad built. Guitars which were not only lovely and exquisitely crafted, but of tonal quality good enough that the great Merle Travis played one or the other on his show whenever my parents were in the WLW studios in Cincinnati.               

Mom also instilled in me my love of books—thanks, in part, to my own early medical issues, chiefly chronic and very serious asthma and related bronchial problems. I'm told Mom began reading to me practically at birth. She read hours at a stretch. I learned to read, not in school, but sitting beside my mother in the big, padded living-room rocking chair—listening to her voice and watching the strings of letters on the pages of the book she held in her lap. Well before kindergarten age, those letters had become recognizable as words. 

Because I was housebound for much of my early life, reading was my only escape. Every week, Mom would board the electric trolly, whose route and overhead lines passed by the end of the street, and ride six miles to the big library downtown. There she would fill two shopping bags with books and return home. She did this for years.

It is through Mom that I regularly recognize the way I look and experience so many things. Dad was logical, practical, college educated and grounded; an intellectual force and steady as a rock. Mom was emotional, filled with fun and life and no small amount of mischief. She loved flowers and birds, trees and leaves and seasons, old tales, sea shells, practical jokes…family. And work. Mom truly loved working, being busy. And she loved giving and sharing and caring. Not that my father didn't, or wasn't the kindest, most generous man I've even known; but Mom is the one who'd bake a pie for a neighbor on a whim, or sit by the bedside of whoever was sick. She would feed stray dogs and cats, and the occasional hobo. Mom simply loved to feed folks—and once fed, they were apt to return for a repeat on a regular basis.

Mom lived and loved from her heart, with all her heart.  

I miss my mother—especially today, on her birthday, though there's not a day goes by when I don't think about her and wish we could sit on the deck together, watch the river and birds, tell some of the old stories once again. I'd like to serve her a slice of my cornbread, see what she thought of it in comparison to hers. And I'd give her chocolate. I don't believe anyone has ever loved chocolate more than Mom…not even me. 

I wish I could hear my mother sing again. And pray herself to sleep every night. I miss those songs and prayers more than I can say.

Mom's favorite bird was the cardinal—though she always called them redbirds. Mom was a lot of things, but she wasn't fancy. So here's a redbird for you Mom. Happy birthday. I love you with all my heart.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Today is Valentine's Day. But does it really commemorate love and romance…or just provide merchants a way to guilt us into buying their cards, chocolates, flowers, and countless overpriced gifts?

According to legend, Valentine’s Day takes it name from St. Valentine, a mysterious figure thought to have been martyred in Rome during the third century. It seems Emperor Claudius II wanted a big army and figured single men made better soldiers than men with wives and families. To keep his pool of potential warrior volunteers from being distracted, the emperor outlawed marriage. Naturally, young men of matrimonial intent found the decree both vexing and unjust.

A local priest named Valentine concurred and continued to perform marriages in secret, thereby defying the emperor. Claudius found out, tossed Valentine in prison, and ordered that the insubordinate priest be put to death. 

One version of the tale even has the imprisoned Valentine himself sending out the first love letter which later gave impetus to the holiday’s name. The letter went to a young maiden, possibly the daughter of the jailer, who’d been visiting Valentine during his confinement. The incarcerated priest had fallen in love. He signed the letter, “From your Valentine.” 

The phrase stuck. Or so the story goes… 

At any rate, the unfortunate Valentine was supposedly beheaded on February 14, in 269 A.D. Or perhaps that’s the date of his burial—again depending upon who’s telling the tale. 

Whether or not any of this actually occurred is long beyond the realms of historical documentation. In fact, the Catholic Church has three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. 

It is true that in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14 would honor St. Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. It’s also a fact that Pope Gregory XVI gave an Irish Priest named Father John Spratt the purported bones of St. Valentine during a visit to Rome in 1935. Remains which can be viewed every Valentine’s Day at the Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, Ireland.

However, the bulk of the chronicle is likely pure drivel. Moreover, there are alternatives. The first centers around at least two festivals of ancient Rome. 

In the early days, Romans designated February 14 as a holiday to honor Juno, queen of gods and goddesses. Romans also knew Juno as the goddess of women and marriage. One of the aspects of Juno was Februta, associated with mating and fertility, and which may or may not be an etymological root of the month’s name. More important, perhaps, was that the following day, February 15, marked the beginning of the Feast of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a rowdy fertility festival some claim was based on glorifying the legendary wolf—or lupa—which suckled Romulus and Remus, Rome’s founders, in a cave on Palatine Hill. There also may be a derivative connection with Lupercalia and the Greek god Pan. 

The pertinent fact is that on Lupercalia Eve, teenage girls would write their names on bits of parchment and place the slips in an urn. Unmarried young men would then draw a name from the container and the girl would become his companion for the remainder of the year. 

Many scholars suspect this is where the real exchange of valentines originated—though they weren’t yet called valentines. Centuries later, the early Christian Church, appalled by the concepts of this pagan rite of passage, tried to switch things around a bit—first by banning the name drawing, second by renaming the day to honor a saint. 

Enter St. Valentine and his namesake holiday. Exit the Lupercalian lottery in it’s original earthy form. Roman men still desired Roman women, of course. They were willing to refer to the date as Valentine’s Day. But they loathed the idea of entirely losing what had heretofore been an ideal scenario for match-making. So the old practice was modified to a more decorous exchange of notes expressing admiration. And as the centuries progressed, the young men and women of other countries found the methodology equally appealing, and lustily adopted the procedure. 

Nowadays, I suspect any red-blooded American male who wishes to do Valentine’s Day up right had better come calling with more than a paltry hand-written card. 

There’s still another appealing twist to the Valentine’s Day opus which concerns the odd notion that February 14 marked the beginning of the mating season for birds. This idea seems to have been fairly widespread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, though exactly how it originated remains unclear. Many birds do begin to congregate in flocks around this time of the year. And large migratory flights are often witnessed. Some researchers think the belief can be traced to the courtship flights of crows, which often takes place throughout much of Europe around the middle of February. 
There’s additionally the venerable tradition regarding the first bird a woman sees flying overhead on Valentine’s Day. If the bird’s a robin, she’ll marry a sailor. A sparrow indicates a future mate who’s poor. But if she sees a goldfinch, her prospective husband will be rich. 

The belief that February 14 somehow marked the beginning of the avian mating season also seemed to coincide with many early-European traditions which saw mid-February as the rightful start of spring.And spring, as even those prosaic Middle-Agers could have told you, is unequivocally the season for kicking off a romance.

So there's what I know of Valentine's Day. And my take? Personally, I really don't care whether any of the stories are true…I believe in love, romance, and the power of chocolate. Happy Valentine's Day! 


Monday, February 13, 2012


We've finally had a few days of cold weather to go with the skift of snow which came the end of last week. Wintry? Yes. But winter? No, I don't think so, as it's supposed to get above freezing today and the prediction is for highs in the low-40s˚F the remainder of the week. Maybe a few snowflakes tomorrow. If you insist, call it half a week's worth of winter.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Much as I normally enjoy winter, I've been stood up too long this time around. A dose of seasonal weather now is simply too little too late. Save it for next winter. I've already had flowers blooming. Buds are swelling on trees and shrubs. A few birds are starting to sing. My mindset is focused on spring.

Late yesterday evening, moments before the sun sank from sight in the west, I glanced out at the river which was already dark and indistinct in the gathering twilight. Something gold winked at me from the blue riffle-shadows. Then it winked again…a quick yellow flash of reflected sunlight off the flat surface of a reddish-brown stone, like the blink of a dragon's eye from the midst of a magic pool. 

Just the upper edge of the sun's fiery disk was visible above the horizon. There was a bit of wind, and a few of the taller trees on the island across from the cottage were lightly swaying. When they moved far enough, a single ray of sunlight somehow found its way through their wangles to the river's surface at the riffle, caught the small wet area of stone's downstream face, then bounced off, creating a flash. I grabbed the camera, made three quick shots—and in those few seconds the phenomenon ended. The sun disappeared. No more flirty winks from the river. 

And only one of my three snaps caught the golden wink. Pure luck.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Early-morning, ice forming on the Cottage Pool. (Double-click to enlarge.)

A single degree…no more. A change so subtile you'd scarce feel it against your most sensitive skin. And yet, within this small movement lies a reordering so profound it can rightly be called magic. 

Lower the temperature by just one degree and water is transformed into ice. The most common of elements becomes reshaped. Liquid turns into crystal. That which only a moment before was fluid, flowing, pellucid, yielding to the touch, has suddenly metamorphosed into something now solid, inanimate, with weight and form, hard as a stone. 

An astonishing alteration. A transmogrification of such magnitude it could be a miracle. Amazing, the power of one measly degree. Breathtaking the mystery contained therein. And wondrous the beauty when the day is new and the morning light has just found its way into the pool, carrying hints of sky and sunrise, sparkling, gleaming…revealing. Water becoming ice. Thanks to a single degree of magic. 

Monday, February 6, 2012


Is spring here…six weeks early?

I dunno. The pessimist in me tends to doubt. After all, there's still a lot of February to get through, plus the first three weeks of March.

On the other hand, it's hard to argue with a cheery yellow crocus. In fact, nearly a dozen of them, scattered about near the front door. They popped out yesterday; Super Bowl fans, perhaps? My daffodils have been up for a month-and-a-half, the tulips nearly a month—though neither has deigned to bloom quite this early. Yet up the road, my neighbor's white snowdrops and yellow winter aconites are both blooming. And another neighbor's Lenten rose has also put forth blossoms.

If the crocus have jumped the gun, gotten too excited by the unseasonably warm weather, who can blame them? The heart is always an optimist when it comes to spring.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


The young Cooper's hawk came swooping around the corner of the cottage a few minutes ago. All the feeder birds scatted, in a hundred different directions. As usual, a few elected to dive into the discarded Christmas tree which I place nearby for just such a purpose. I put the tree out on New Year's Day, or whatever day we take down our holiday decorations, and leave it under the feeders until spring's burgeoning leaves provide even better cover for escape,

It seems only fair, giving the sparrows and finches, titmice and chickadees this handy hidy-hole, seeing as how it's my buffet that concentrates their numbers in a small area in the first place and regularly puts them in danger. I don't know how many feathered lives these repurposed trees have saved over the years, but it's certainly worth the effort. Besides, it's fun watching the frustrated hawk play hide-and-seek with whoever makes it into the shelter. 

The feeder birds plunge into the maze of greenery. The Cooper's lands on top, looks down, marks his victims—then goes in for the kill…and his would-be entrées squirt out the sides. Sometimes the hawk tries a side approach, hopping around the horizontal tree. The moment he chooses an entry point and leaps in, the trapped birds make their escape out the opposite side. Unless a bird panics and flies out too soon, or flies the wrong way, or hesitates when the hawk comes in, seldom does anyone who dodges into the tree shelter get caught.

That was again the case a few minutes ago. The hawk tried, several times, to corner a bird within the evergreen's interior, but couldn't outmaneuver his targets. When he emerged from the tangle and hopped back atop the tree to work off his annoyance by glaring at various inanimate objects, I took his portrait, a nice head shot that seems to reveal a bit of the hungry hunter's vexation. You can probably tell it is dark and overcast here today. And just in the last few minutes has started raining. It's colder, too, than it has been for maybe a week, though not all that cold for February. 

*     *     *
You might also notice I've replaced my own head shot, a do-it-yourselfer from earlier this morning, before the clouds moved in. It seemed like the honest thing to do, seeing as how the previous picture was taken six or seven years ago—and I've since grown grayer, fatter, and of course, older. It is what it is, alas, and I do resemble the fellow in the photo.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


A groundhog outside the workroom's window last summer, happily chowing down on my flowers…not only enjoying the good eats, but doubtless insuring himself ample energy stocks that he might awaken on this important date to perform his duty to all mankind by foretelling the beginning of the coming spring.    

Today is Groundhog's Day—also my cousin Nelda's birthday, a fact which amused me no end as a kid, and which I never fail to bring up whenever I get the chance. 

For the long ago Irish, today was Imbolc, which marked the commencement of lambing time and ushered in spring. The day was represented by the mythological goddess Brigid, symbolized as a fair-haired maiden who brings new life and light to the season. A festival was held each Imbolc. During this celebration, one of Brigid's duties was to foretell the shape and mood of the new spring, including weather. 

Prophet animals have been casting the future since ancient times. Brigid depended on emerging snakes. Other cultures employed everything from bears to otters to badgers, wolves to hedgehogs. They theorized that if you watched one of these winter-sleeping critters—usually a hibernator—awaken on Candlemas Day*, whether they subsequently chose to remain awake or go back to sleep would determine winter’s duration.

(*Today is also Candlemas, commemorating Mary’s presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple. According to Mosaic law, this symbolic redemption of the child and the mother’s simultaneous purification, was to occur forty days after a son’s birth. At the Temple gates, an old man, Simeon, recognized the child as Israel’s Messiah, and “a light to lighten the Gentiles.”) 

Our woodchuck of Groundhog Day fame is simply North America’s version. If the awakened groundhog sees his shadow, there’ll be six more weeks of winter; if not, spring is right around the corner.

It has been bright and sunny here all day. Plenty easy for even a squint-eyed rodent to spot their shadow—and a good day for the prognosticating critter to be giving himself a good airing out. Granted, it's not so warm as yesterday or the day before—both of which hit the 60˚F mark; an unseasonable miracle! But we've already made a still not-too-shabby 47˚F, and with any luck at all ought to top 50˚F before the day's rise has ended.

Six more weeks of winter? Maybe. One should never count their chickens before they've hatched—or proclaim winter over until it's run its course. But I believe the worst winter will do is bluster a bit for the next few weeks. 

Who ya gonna believe…me or a drowsy whistlepig?