Thursday, December 25, 2014


A Christmas Prayer

Loving Father,
Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift
and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing 
which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning 
make us happy to be thy children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds
with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven, 
for Jesus' sake. Amen.

—Robert Louis Stevenson


To each and every one of you, my wonderful Riverdaze readers and friends, I wish you the merriest Christmas ever. I pray the year ahead is filled with good health and much happiness, and hope with all my heart you enjoy daily the gifts of beauty and love. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014


The rising sun varnished the tops of the sycamores across from the cottage this morning. Which hasn't been the case for at least the past couple of weeks with skies remained dimly, darkly, resolutely gray. I don't mind successive days of overcast, but the bright and cheerful sunlight will surely perk up and please Myladylove, a mild sufferer of seasonal affective disorder.

Of course, even during the dreariest of mornings, a jaunty old redbird can cheer things by merely appearing at your window in his flaming scarlet attire.

Today is not only our first sunny morning in a while, but the day of the winter solstice. The shortest, darkest day of the year…and the official start of winter. 

However, some of us view this latter new season business as nothing more than another failure of vacuous governmental meddling. An example of what happens when those ignorant in their grasp of what's happening, oblivious to both history and logic, and blinded by the self-perpetuated fantasy of their own importance, attempt to control by bureaucratic decree what was never their's to control in the first place, and over which their bluster and mandate have absolutely no power.

Don't get me wrong—we agree with the science of the solstice. But we're bemused how some foolishly think they can schedule in a season like they would a visit with a cash-carrying lobbyist seeking to buy votes.

Seasons keep their own schedules—coming and going as they will. So far as most of us are concerned, it's been winter hereabouts for well over a month. 

In the old days, the winter solstice would have marked midwinter. Logical, seeing as how from this point onward, daylight begins lengthening, the sun heads our way as spring's promise creeps resolutely toward becoming a fact. That makes sense. And seeing as how our journey to spring starts here, it would also make perfectly reasonable sense to start the new year here, today, with this passing of the solstice. That seems logical, keeping in tune with nature and natural events and rhythms.

But then civilization and progress are about distancing ourselves from the natural world and separating our lives from nature.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


It was cold—9˚F (-12˚C) by the deckside thermometer—when I got up at 6:00 a.m., added a fresh log to the fire, and let Moon-the-dog out for her pre-sunrise constitutional. And though the day since proved sunny and very bright, thanks to all the snow on the ground, even now—at what would typically be midafternoon's temperature high-point—we've still barely reached 17˚F (-8˚C); not much of a warming-up.  

Frankly, I'm glad I needed to stay in and work at my desk. Inside is a good place to be. The woodstove has a nice fire burning and is pumping out heat. And if I'd somehow have managed to not be so regularly distracted, my work would now be done.

Alas, I'm a sucker for distractions.  

Sometimes I was purely bewitched by the beauty of sunlight streaming through honey-brown box elder samaras, which still cling in multitudes to the branches of riverside trees. 

Alternately, I'd find my thoughts interrupted by the gabbing and honking of Canada geese, who decided to spend the day lolling about the pool and riffle directly in front of the cottage—and my window view.
But worst of all has been the kettle of sausage-and-potato soup bubbling on top of the woodstove. Garlic, onions, and fresh-chopped herbs add to the fragrant meld, as everything slow-cooks toward savory perfection. A streaming pot of strong coffee, on the ledge behind, is holding just shy of a simmer, its rich aroma another note to the mix. 

Predictably, these heady cooking smells now have me positively convinced I'm on the brink of starvation. A false notion, I admit, but one I'm unwilling to ignore much longer. Not that I ever ignore good eats. Still, I had hoped to get my work finished, then take the time to bake a skillet of spicy corn bread, before succumbing.

I may not be capable of such self-discipline. 

Ah, well…it won't be the first time I've been delightfully victimized by irresistible temptation.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Today's mid-morning view upstream.
When I exited the eye doc's office this past Wednesday morning, snowflakes were swirling about in the chill November sky. And they continued to fall and blow about for most of the day, waxing and waning as a series of modest squalls passed through. But they didn't stick. An all-in-the-air but none-on-the-ground event.

Technically speaking, I suppose you still have to give it credit as our first snow of 2014's autumn/winter season. However, to someone who loves the beauty of a snowy landscape, it was as unfulfilling as those tasteless red spheres the grocery stores keep insisting are actual tomatoes.

Last night, however, we got ourselves a genuine cover-the-ground-and-turn-the-world-white snow! The real thing, which piled up to a depth of perhaps four inches. And I couldn't be happier…though I know many friends and neighbors are dismayed, angered, and personally offended that the weather should presume to play such a dirty trick on them so early in the season.

I say, "Get over it! You live in Ohio, the Upper Midwest. A Great Lakes State. I look out my window and see sycamores and blue herons, not palm trees and flamingos. This is not the Deep South!"

Well, actually I don't say that, not usually…but I think it, because it's true. November snows are nothing new. Not if you've been around awhile, or read much Buckeye history. Snow is part of the package hereabouts.

A part I sincerely love. And like all loves, those which come first are special.

Friday, November 14, 2014


"Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." —Ansel Adams

Let's get two things straight from the get-go: I'm certainly not implying my photographic prowess ranks me anywhere close to Ansel Adams. And I have no doubt the above eagle photo is significant only to me. 

None the less, capturing such a shot, on the stretch of river flowing directly past my modest stone cottage home, is—in my scheme of things—a momentous event. I'm thrilled to have managed such a feat, and rank the image among the dozen best I've captured over the past year.

Eagles have been a rarity throughout Ohio practically all my life. Statewide, our historic bald eagle population began dwindling long before I was born, in fact, well before WWII, starting at least from the turn of the century; and the widespread post-war usage of the pesticide DDT, with its impact on fish and wildlife such as nesting birds, proved the final devastating blow. I never saw a single wild eagle during my entire growing up, or hear a report of one being spotted. It was rumored one or two eagles still nested along the shores of Lake Erie, but here in the southern portion of the state, eagles were simply long gone. Practically mythological birds.  

It wasn't until my early-twenties that I saw my first eagle—a distinctive shape, way up in the sky, winging southward during the autumnal migration. Not much of a sighting; more a glimpse of a sky-high traveler. I spotted another migrating eagle a year or two later. Then one day a year or so after that, while deep in the genuine wilderness of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as I fished my way down a remote, jackpine-lined  brook trout creek a few miles inland from where it dumped its tannin-stained waters into Lake Superior, a magnificent bald eagle soared overhead, so low I could almost have touched it with the tip of my fly rod. An eagle sighting truly worth mentioning!

However, several years ago, a few bald eagles began slowly moving back into the Buckeye State. Their reappearance in an area where an eagle hadn't been seen in a hundred years was such a noteworthy event it almost always got covered by local newspapers and television. A few years back, a pair of eagles finally appeared here, on my home river. They built a nest a mile or so upstream, but were unsuccessful in hatching or at least rearing any young. And to my knowledge, the nest hasn't been used since.

I have, however, since spotted eagles on several occasions at various locations, near and far, throughout this southwestern quadrant of the state. So Ohio's eagle population is obviously still on the upswing. And I couldn't be more pleased.

Still, seeing an eagle wheel over a distant lake corner, wing across a field, or disappear around a far upstream bend, isn't quite the same experience as having one come swooping in, snatch a foot-long sucker from your "front yard" pool, then sit on a rock fifty feet away for several minutes while you frantically snap it portrait. 

Now that's a thrilling Ohio eagle sighting! 

Serendipitous, too, because I just happened to be looking out the front window. And lucky, because the day was very dark and drizzly, I was shooting through the window, and had to hand hold my 300mm (effective 450mm with the crop factor) lens and shoot at 1/125 second, hoping for the best. 

That it all worked out so well is a pure wonder…and in my photographic experience, wonder doesn't come waltzing in all that often and hand you such a gift. And you know what, I'll bet Ansel Adams would say the same thing.    

Monday, October 27, 2014


Every morning, when I step outside the cottage for a closer look at the river, it's generally the upstream view that first garners my attention.

Why? What prompts such preferential behavior?

After all, I have a choice—upstream or downstream. Both directions afford similar, quarter-mile stretches to scan before the stream disappears from sight around a bend. And I'd be hard pressed to choose one setting over the other as being more visually interesting—or think it any more likely to be frequented by the usual array of birds and riverine critters I such delight in watching.

Moreover, I'm already facing downstream as I exit the door, which is located on the building's side end nearest the river. Before I can gaze all the way upstream, I must first take a couple of paces to the right and swing around the corner of the house. 

Yet when I go out, I'm nonetheless apt, initially, to do little more than give the downstream water a brief and passing glance—unless something interesting catches my eye.

Again…why? If the two river views are physically equal, photogenically comparable, and uniform in their potential attraction to wildlife, shouldn't my daily first views be fairly evenly divided?

Having mused over this seeming conundrum a while, I've come to suspect the answer lies tangled somewhere amid a murky mix of history, philosophy, and metaphor.

As a lifelong stream fisherman who's cast his flies and ultralight lures on creeks, rivers, and purling brooks all over North America, and who admittedly seldom met a piece of running water he didn't long to explore—from ultimate merging with other waters to birthing source as a bubbling spring or mountain rill—I've almost always done my angling and investigating in an upstream direction. I'm doubtless programmed by personal history to gravitate to the upstream view.

Philosophically, in spite of my regular whining, I'm more optimist than pessimist, a glass-is-half-full fellow who tries to look ahead. The upstream view is, in physical fact, an early look at whatever is traveling along with the flow. Bobbing and swirling in the eddies. Slowing through the pools. Sparkling as it tumbles and chatters down the riffles. Moving water, heading my way, bringing all sorts of interesting gifts.  

And finally, moving waters all possess an honest and beautiful capacity, metaphorically, for poignantly illustrating and illuminating that restless earthly passage we call our life. I hope a day's first look is made upstream because the joy I find in being blessed with another morning somehow sparks the courage to face my immediate future.                   

Monday, October 6, 2014


There's an old country saying that "seasons go floating downstream." That's certainly the case for autumn, or at least the early, multicolored leaf portion, as anyone who lives beside a Midwestern creek or river can readily attest.

While our annual patchwork pageantry presentation of changing leaves has only recently begun—I don't expect our local color peak to occur for at least a couple more weeks—many leaves have already done their thing, flown their colors, and subsequently losened their grip on limb and twig. All it takes is a little puff of wind to bring them spinning down…or sometimes no wind at all.

That's now starting to happen here along the river, though the number of leaves on the water varies. Yesterday the channel exiting the pool in front of the cottage was fairly full; today, there's hardly a leaf to be seen. The difference? Wind. Yesterday was gusty, bringing down lots of ready-to-fall leaves. Today is damp, cloudy, but calm…not many leaves are being displaced from the trees.

However, these are early days so far as leaf fall is concerned. In the days and weeks to come, the number of leaves coming down will increase dramatically, until finally almost every tree in the woods and along the banks of the river will be stripped bare. Only the occasional stubborn oak will hang onto their now-brown leaves—many of which will remain on the tree until the start of spring's new growth. 

Of course, not all the leaves from the trees in my yard fall into the river. Not even all the leaves on the dozen or so big sycamores which lean over the dark, moving currents like thoughtful white-robed druids peering into a magic pool. As much as I appreciate the soil-enriching nutrients and moisture-holding fiber of the load after load after load of leaves which we rake up each autumn, heave into the wheelbarrow, and subsequently dump in great heaps onto the compost pile, I wouldn't be upset if a lot more of them took it upon themselves to find their way onto the water instead of my flower beds and struggling lawn. 

Still, I rather enjoy sweeping my way from the front door, across the deck, and along the graveled walkway—if for no other reason than it's good practice for winter's coming snows. Plus there are always countless "found" still life images to possibly photograph, or at least admire momentarily before I sweep them into oblivion. 

Friday, October 3, 2014


I awakened a bit past 2:00 a.m. this morning. Shoulders and forearms ached, my back throbbed, and my hands were swollen and stiff. All attributable to having spent part of yesterday in the self-abusing joy of maneuvering several ash logs around in order to saw them into 18-inch lengths so they can then be split into proper firewood. Some of these logs are 5 or 6 feet long, better than 20-inches in diameter, and hundreds of pounds in weight; heavy and recalcitrant.

The good news is my snazzy new chainsaw and cant hook both worked like champs, making the task easier—which is not to say easy. The bad news is I barely made a dent in the five truckloads of similar logs the tree-cutter has so far dumped in the parking area—with a sixth load yet to be delivered.

The conclusion I reached amid the pain and darkness was that while I may not survive to see the winter—if I do, I'll be toasty warm all the way to next spring.

After mulling this mixed thought awhile, I got up and shuffled into the front room, figuring to spend the remainder of the night in the recliner. Possibly a less horizontal repositioning would allow sleep. At least I wouldn't disturb Myladylove by tossing and turning. 

First, though, Moon-the-Dog, awakened by the room change and having followed my wandering, let me know she needed to have a few minutes outdoors. I went along.

The sky was overcast, intensifying the darkness. It was surprisingly warm—almost cloying. For a quarter hour I stood quite while Moon snuffled about the yard, stirring through the day's augmentation of new-fallen leaves. Off to my right the river purled softly along. And from all sides, a loud chorus of crickets and katydids, chirruped and whirred, buzzed and clicked. The seldom seen night fiddlers, those singing insects who so audibly define our summer evenings.

Alas, their days are numbered. Local weather forecasts are currently warning that tonight may drop as low as 37˚F. Not quite a killing frost night, but probably cold enough to thin the ranks of these nocturnal musicians. 

I'll miss them. And I can't help but wonder when the end will come for the fine little green meadow katydid I found sitting atop the handle of my mitre-box saw this weekend, and whose portrait heads this post.  

The katydid shot is one of only a few photos I've managed these past several weeks. And I've done even worse writing blog posts. Yet I kept meaning to do both.

Instead, I ("we" really, since the same holds true for Myladylove) have concentrated on trying to get as many "To Do" list tasks completed as possible before foul weather sets in—to the point that every spare minute has been commandeered. And now, of course, there's all that wood!

I may turn green myself…

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Chicory, or blue sailor.

Jewelweed, or touch-me-not.

The images you see here were taken around the cottage, within a few hundred feet of the front door. None are what you'd call stunning, not even close. Just shots of common wildflowers—or in some cases, weeds, if you prefer—I liked well enough to keep. A sort of botanical/photographic version of "when you're not with the one you love…love the one you're with."

Alas, I've managed only a couple of very brief photo rambles lately—one to a favorite prairie where I'd hoped to photograph butterflies, various blooms, and maybe a few birds, and the other to a nearby pond for dragonflies. Both were total busts. 

The 100-acre prairie—and another, slightly smaller prairie patch a few miles away—proved all but devoid of butterflies; I saw only one monarch and a rather bedraggled tiger swallowtail fluttering over the bluestem and coneflowers. Yet the morning was sunny, warm, and windless. To my way of thinking, there should have been dozens of different butterflies about busily nectaring.

A few mornings later, the usually reliable pond turned out equally lacking in dragonflies. Normally, the airspace above the cattail fringes, boggy corners, and stands of marsh grass is working alive with these incredible aerial hunters, their whirring wings glittering, shimmering like jewels in the bright light. Again the day was sultry, sunlit, calm. What should have been perfect weather. But I saw no more than a handful of dragonflies, mostly blue dashers, during a full circuit of the 2-acre pond.

Self-heal, or heal-all.
What was going on? The only explanation I can think of would be the fact that until three or so weeks ago, our "summer" weather was more like mid-spring—daytime highs in the upper 60s˚F, nights low-50s˚. Not ideal butterfly or dragonfly weather. But that's only a guess. 

All I know is they weren't there…why remains a mystery.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Summer has finally decided to act like summer here along the river, serving up southwestern-Ohio's usual seasonal fare of 90˚F heat and 90% humidity. Hot, sticky, and decidedly unpleasant. Coincidentally, work on the cottage's rooms redo has slowed considerably—though heat and personal lethargy are only partly to blame. Unexpected events have played their part.

"Life has its ups and downs," my Aunt Grace liked  to say. And so it does.

DOWN: About three weeks ago, during or just after a meal at a local restaurant, my cell phone disappeared. Lost? Stolen? I'm not sure. What I do know is that nowadays cell phones are more than mere convenient and unobtrusively portable electronic devices for making and receiving calls. They've become a key part of our daily routines—a depended-upon tool for doing everything from checking and sending e-mail and text messages, to keeping up on news, weather, and daily schedules. Plus much, much more!

Losing your phone is like losing a highly informed and dependably helpful assistant. You immediately feel violated, isolated, and handicapped, not to mention alarmed by those security issues which must be implemented ASAP, and thoroughly hacked off at the time, frustration, and dollars any fix is bound to entail. There's also the nagging suspicion your current situation is due, in very large part, to stupidity, senility, or negligence…possibly all three.

UP: I've replaced my iPhone 5 with the iPhone 5s, and dressed it out with a new protective case—both of which are even better than the versions they replaced.

DOWN: Just over two weeks ago, Moon-the-Dog suffered some sort of problem during the night, likely either a stroke or heart incident. I've watched and worried for some time as my beloved companion's health and energy gradually failed—and understood that inevitably, our time together was drawing to its mortal close. She is 16 years old. Time catches all of us in the end.

But such head knowledge does nothing to ease the pain and burden of your breaking heart. And awaking to see her in bad shape—hurting, dazed, frightened—was almost more than I could bear.

Love always comes with responsibility. Always. In making decisions for those we love, we want to do the right thing. To be compassionate, courageous, honorable. To avoid acting from a stance of selfishness and cowardice. But how to know which is which? My father used to tell me that whenever I was faced with multiple choices, I should always look closely at the most difficult one of the lot. "The hardest choice is usually the right one, Sonny," he'd say—advice I've found to be true time and time again. Making the right choice is sometimes so very, very hard it tears us apart. But our pain does not negate that moral obligation, love's responsibility.

Myladylove and I talked. And later that morning, I made the arrangements. Set an appointment that afternoon at a veterinarian's office just down the road. Called a friend to come over and help me make my precious old dog's final ride as easy and comfortable as possible.

But as we went out the door to his van, I had a change of heart. I simply couldn't do it, couldn't go through with what, by all signs, was the responsible thing to do.

Was I being selfish? Cowardly? Maybe. I honestly don't know. But it just didn't feel right. Not the right time. So ten minutes from that final irreversible act, I called the vet and told them I was canceling my appointment. At least for that day. Then I called Myladylove and said I'd decided to give Moon the night.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "I am," because my sense of relief was far greater than any feelings of guilt. 

UP: We fed Moon by hand. She had real problems trying to get up. Walking was slow, shaky, obviously painful. She panted and gasped with every breath. But we've regularly coaxed, praised, and encouraged her out regularly to do her business. And though it's been slow, she's gradually improved. Almost miraculously so! She's now back to her old self, eating well, possibly walking and acting better than she has in a month. And I thank God I listened to that still, soft voice inside whispering to wait, to not give up, that time and season had not yet reached their end point.

At her age and given whatever occurred, I know this will only be a temporary reprieve. Time will eventually win. Today, tomorrow, next week, next month. But I'll take whatever extension we're granted…and I believe Moon will, too. Our reality is here and now. And words simply can't convey my heartfelt gratitude for such a blessing.

Friday, August 8, 2014


A couple of days ago I spotted a queen snake twined among the grapevines atop the rail of the narrow deck which overlooks the river. While some folks probably wouldn't view a snake on their porch with much joy, for me this was both a pleasure as well as a welcome bit of good news.

Queen snakes are small members of the water snake family, quite docile in nature, and similar in appearance to garter snakes, to which they're closely related. They feed almost exclusively on crayfish, and are found only along rocky or graveled-bottom streams boasting very clean water. So having queen snakes around means your river or creek is in good shape, waterwise. Alas, in some states, an ever-increasing lack of this necessary high-quality watershed habitat has now caused queen snakes to be added to their "threatened" or "endangered" species lists.

I feel honored to have these little snakes as fellow riverbank residents. Yet better still, soon after moving here, I realized the local queen snakes's winter hibernaculum was apparently within the jumble of limestone rocks upon which the cottage is built. I know this because come the first warm days of early spring, upwards of two dozen queen snakes of all sizes suddenly appear on this southwest-facing deck, basking in the sun of the burgeoning season. After a few weeks of this group sunning, they begin to disperse—though on any given morning throughout the summer I can usually spot two or three queens ensconced amid the now-leafed-out grapevine.

Like clockwork this spring, as the weather warmed back in April, they reappeared—a dozen queens, from small to large, reveling in the welcome sun. 

Then…disaster! A huge winter front moved in. Within a few hours, temperatures in the low-70s˚F plummeted to well below freezing. Plus rain, sleet, snow—followed by a hard, freeze-up which endured for several weeks. I worried about my resident queen snakes. Had they made it back to their shelter in time? Would the population be wiped out? And as the arctic weather continued to linger, the ground remaining hard as iron, would they be able to survive such a long and unseasonable turn-around?

I feared the worst. And I didn't see a queen snake again until a few weeks ago when I found a single, foot-long, pencil-thin individual atop the vine-shaded rail. I've spotted what I'm certain is the same small snake on two subsequent occasions. But the snake in the photo above is considerably larger—in fact, at something like two feet long, about as big as queen snakes get. 

So, two survivors. Not enough to keep a population viable, but enough to give me hope that maybe a few others also escaped the killing cold.   

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Ahh-h, summer. Those lazy, crazy, hazy days of sunshine and cicadas whirring amid yonder treetops, when sweet corn, half-runner beans, and genuine tomatoes grace the table…and come early morn, when only the foolhardy venture outside without first donning sufficient outerwear to ward off frostbite!

Yup. I've checked both calendar and almanac. It is indeed officially summer here in Ohio. Except it feels more like early spring or late winter. At least when I first get up. This morning the wall thermometer in the hallway read 60˚F! Brr-r-r-r-r! And that was the highest reading of any morning in several weeks. On more than one occasion the temperature has been as low as 51˚F! Cold enough to put frosting on your cornflakes!

Now I'm admittedly no lover of hot weather. Summer is usually my least favorite of the four seasons. But I do look forward to taking my mug of coffee and whatever I'm having for breakfast and enjoying my meal outside, on the deck, where I can bask in the rising sun, watch hummingbirds fuss over the bergamot, and listen to the nearby river murmur its way down the riffle. This is a wonderful time of day—the best time, I think, and certainly my favorite. A quiet, gentle period, filled with interesting sights and sounds and small dramas, yet sweet and relaxing—the perfect way to begin a new day.

Usually. But a summer morning loses much of its seasonal ambiance when you're bundled in multiple layers, still shivering, and trying to remember where you stored your gloves. Moreover, I've not yet heard a single ratchety cicada.   

How can you have a proper Buckeye summer without singing cicadas? And really, should parkas be de rigueur seasonal attire for summer in Ohio? I think not. And so, I make what, for me, is a heretofore unheard complaint: this summer is just too cold!   

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Growing up, I often watched my father at his woodworking in the basement. He might be fashioning a piano bench, cabinet drawer, birdhouse, or picture frame. Sometimes it was a piece of fine furniture, though it might just as easily be a more utilitarian item such as a kitchen stool, bookcase, storage box—or occasionally a toy for his wide-eyed offspring.  

Before I was born, he'd turned bowls and dishes on a lathe, and built a pair of exquisite guitars which the legendary Merle Travis played several times on his live radio show from Cincinnati. He also built our house.

Dad could make anything out of wood. An artist rather than craftsman, wood seemed to respond to his master's touch. Though he began his working career as a teacher, about the time I came along he chucked the classroom for carpentry and became a freelance "finish carpenter." His reputation for quality work quickly grew, and he was soon in demand to finish the finest new homes and remodels around. 

In case you don't know, there are two sorts of carpenters. "Rough" carpenters do the basic understructure work—things like framing, sheathing, sub-flooring. When the house is up and basically built, the "finish" carpenter comes in and, well, finishes the job—building jambs and hanging doors, sometimes building and hanging kitchen cabinets, building stairs and installing rails and banisters, running casings and moldings and trim. All the visible wood details that help to showcase a home. 

Nowadays a lot of this work from both camps has been subdivided into specialities—framers, roofers, floorers, cabinet installers, etc. But in Dad's time—and still on the "best of the best" custom homes where details matter and nothing is stock or store-bought, but handcrafted from the the finest materials, usually on site—talented woodworking was appreciated and demanded. Artisan carpenters were called on to apply their skills.

I possess none of those skills. Competent mediocrity is the best I can manage. But I am my father's son…and I didn't watch him at his workbench, or later, under his watchful eye, work occasionally as his assistant on various jobs, and fail to learn at least a few tricks of the woodworking trade. By osmosis, if not actually paying attention. 

Now, as I'm working on the different aspects of this whole-cottage remodel, a few of those nearly-forgotten tricks have suddenly rematerialized. Old, almost forgotten friends, again come a'knocking at the door. Like how, when working with oak trim, in order to prevent splitting, you first moisten or otherwise lubricate the nail before driving it in. I've also remembered how to lift a bit of wainscoting to the snap-line for nailing when working single-handed. Or the way to properly back-cut crown moulding, make mitre cuts align perfectly, scribe a board to a wall, or drop a plumbline from ceiling to floor. 

These and other handy little carpentry tidbits have been floating up from the dark recesses of my mental files like bobbing apples at an old-fashioned Thanksgiving party. And I appreciate their help and worth, for they're just as valid and useful today as ever—plus I'm rather pleased to know they weren't forgotten completely, but only temporarily mislaid. 

Yet they've also done something more than merely make my work easier and better…they've transported me back in time—given me brief, but astonishingly real moments with my father. Flashbacks so tangible and true that I not only see him in the finest detail, but hear his voice and even catch his scent. For a few heartfelt seconds we're palpably reunited—a gift, a blessing, inexplicable, absolute.

I wouldn't trade these moments for anything.   

Monday, July 21, 2014


After a week-and-a-half of deliciously cool, naturally air-conditioned weather, courtesy of what local meteorologists called a "polar vortex," temps are heading back up to a more seasonable range. Today's high should reach the upper 80s˚F. I'll miss the lows for sleeping (several nights of 51˚F tied old records for the date) and I'm really not looking forward to tomorrow's predicted high of 90˚F, either. 

Ahhh, well…Ohio's weather has always been fickle, no matter what the season. Change is our only constant. But it gives us something to gripe about. Which can be important when you're trying to decided whether to wear a heavy sweater or sleeveless tee in late-July.

The turtle clan will certainly enjoy the warmer weather. When daytime temperatures struggled to rise above the low 60s˚F, the larger rocks in the Cottage Pool were conspicuously vacant. But yesterday, the first day we've hit the 80˚F mark in a while, they were back out in force—painted, softshells, snappers—basking in the sun.

One man's swelter is a turtle's bliss.


Friday, July 18, 2014


For some of us, observing nature is a way of life—something we do without thought, as automatically as taking our next breath. It doesn't matter whether we're ambling along a sidewalk, driving along a city street, walking across a parking lot, downtown, uptown, in the suburbs, or sitting in the neighbor's back yard. We don't even have to be outside! I've watched plenty of birds and mice and a few other critters while pushing a cart around the snazziest supermarket, trekking about one of the big-box home improvement retailers, or sitting in the middle of a crowded mall, watching the endless passing of bag-laden shoppers.

Wildlife and wild things are everywhere—from sparrows flitting about ceiling gridwork, to a sprig of chamomile growing through a sidewalk crack. You don't have to hike into wilderness, stroll about a city park, or even take a drive in the country in order to see nature-in-motion.  

I'm still in the midst of our whole-house remodel, a long-term job that consumes practically every free minute when I'm not working on my columns. Free time to ramble woods and prairies has been nonexistent. I haven't been for even a brief a walk in two months, unless you count visits to Lowe's and Home Depot. Photographically, I've managed barely a handful of shots, mostly taken while accompanying Moon-the-Dog around on her peregrinations. 

But I've still noticed a few things I'd like to report. 

The first is a dandy little song sparrow [see pix above] who's been keeping me company while I prepare my materials. My outdoor work area is at the rear of the cottage. The pickup truck—loaded with sheets of plywood, 2x4s, various boards and trim pieces—is parked near the back door. My sawhorses are set up a few feet away—handy for offloading, as well as carting whatever I'm working on down the hallway.

As you might imagine, what with all the power sawing, drilling, sanding, routing, and hammering, it's a pretty noisy area. But the song sparrow doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he's gotten so tame he now sits within 5 or 6 feet of where I'm working, hopping about, rearing back to sing at the top of his lungs whenever the mood strikes. He's not even put off by the extended piercing howl of the circular saw. I find his company delightful.

Another workday companion is the large toad who apparently lives under the back door's 4x4 foot entryway deck. One minute I'll look and the deck is empty—the next, ol' toad will be sitting there, a nobby brown lump, benign and oddly Buddha-like, with alert gold eyes. This small wooden platform is located about 6 feet from where I'm working. I must step on it—and over the toad!—every time I enter and exit the hallway…a dozen or more times an hour, depending on what I'm measuring and fitting inside.

The third observation came inside, in the middle of the night. I'd finished building our new platform bed with storage underneath. We'd opened our king-sized memory-foam mattress from Bed-In-a-Box and were pleased by how it looked and fit. And now we were giving it the sleep test…well, Myladylove was, and I had been, until back pains drew me from my slumbers. Remodeling, with all its lifting, carrying, twisting, bending, and general body abuse is not the ideal activity for a man with a long history of severe back issues. But, if you want things to get done, you have to suck it up and push through the discomfort.

Sometimes, though, the pain wins. I'd gotten up with the intention of sitting in the recliner a while, and maybe popping a couple of extra-strength Tylenol—which is about as heavy duty as I go on pain meds, and that only rarely. 

Anyway, I was up, 3:00 a.m., shuffling down the hall, past the kitchen toward the great room…when I see these flashes. Multiple flashes, coming from every corner of the kitchen—ceiling,  walls, and atop the refrigerator. Lightening bugs! Maybe twenty or so, all intermittently winking their yellow-green tail-lamps.

How extraordinarily weird! Not weird because a few fireflies had found their way inside. We always seem to have at least one or two lightening bugs blinking around. They appear to be drawn to the cottage—though maybe it's just due to easy access. Because I generally keep the door open while I'm working outside so Moon can come and go as she pleases. 

And to tell you the truth, I enjoy seeing fireflies indoors. Especially when I'm hurting and can't sleep, I'm mildly comforted by their friendly flickering in the long darkness.

Still, it was weird how they'd all gathered in the kitchen. Why? 

After a moment's observation, I had the answer—though within it lies a bigger question along with a statement of how our evolving modern world can prove increasingly confusing to the love-life of such humble creatures as the lowly lightening bug. 

Myladylove had recently bought a small ice-maker to keep up with summer's hot-weather demands for cubes to cool our iced tea. She'd placed the little stainless steel unit on the corner of the kitchen counter. And the ice-maker's tiny, blinking ready light was a perfect match in size, brightness, and yellow-green hue, of a firefly's built-in signal lantern. 

Fireflies, as you probably know, do their courting via a series of flashed messages. Males query, females respond. A love-matching lightshow played out above the tall grass. Or in a cottage kitchen, when flummoxed by digital technology. 

Whatever come-hither tease line that blinking ice-maker was feeding to her suitors, she had them locked on point and flashing like the neon marquee above a Vegas casino! 

Can a lightening bug blow a fuse?

Worried, I did everyone a favor and unplugged the ice-maker. 

Monday, July 7, 2014


Spider by porchlight…handheld at 1/4 sec., taken about midnight a couple of evenings ago, from inside looking out when I let Moon-the-Dog out for her pre-bedtime ramble. 
As some of you may have guessed, my laggardly blogging is due to the fact Myladylove and I are still consumed by our whole-house remodeling project. At least during every free minute we can find. Morning, evening, midday, after work, weekends, holidays…if we can find a bit of time—hours or minutes—we try and get one more task completed. Even if it's nothing more than painting a piece of trim or sawing some 2X4s for framing. And you'd be surprised—it's these little things that keep the job moving along. In fact, building a house is merely a bunch of little tasks done one after another. 

The good news is that we're making progress. The downside—or at least daunting view—is that while one room is almost done, four or possibly five or maybe six remain, not counting the hallway, and depending or whether our fervor is strengthened or weakened by the time we get around to the laundry/pantry/storage room which we may divide into two separate rooms.

I haven't been out for a photo ramble in weeks. Haven't stream fished for smallmouth bass, either. I've not even taken the time to make the rounds of nearby garage sales! But I'm ordering a new memory foam mattress from Bed-in-a-Box this morning, which should be here before the week's end. By that time the bedroom will be finished except for some possible built-in bedside tables and bookshelves. And at that point, before starting on the kitchen—or perhaps the bathroom—I intend to steal a day and enjoy a bit of outdoor time. 

As soon as I make my mattress-ordering call, I'm heading to the lumber yard for some pieces of oak to use for trimming the edge of the platform bed's top, and casing the door opening on Myladylove's new closet—the interior of which she painted robin's egg blue, yesterday—so's I can hang the louvered bi-fold doors this afternoon.

I'll write again when I resurface for another breath.         

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Well, officially speaking, spring has all but taken its final bow, as summer waits impatiently in the wings—though if you proclaim your seasons based on the practicalities of looks and feel, and not some invisible astronomical milestone, summer displaced spring some time ago here in the pastoral hinterlands of southwestern Ohio. Temperatures the last few days have exceeded 90˚F, and we've had mid-80s˚F and above for weeks. 

That's summer in my book and I don't care what the almanacs claim about when seasons come and go!

The past week has passed by in a heated rush, like a highballing freight train zooming across a Badlands prairie. And I've sweltered and sweated and stewed my way from one job to another like a cantankerous old buffalo because between writing tasks and post-flood cottage repairs, there's a mountain of work to do and only so much time and energy in which to get'r done. Time for cooking and eating is problematic; fishing and photography nigh impossible. At least not without feeling guilty. 


I'm still head-over-heels thrilled and in love with my sweet and delightful and beautiful granddaughter. She's gained upward of a pound already, and is doing just dandy. And yes, I insist on photo updates daily.

The leg is pretty much healed. The rest of me is seriously sore and battered from all the carpentry and lifting, the bending and banging around—and my masculine psyche has been so discomposed that I now dream about things like building closets and laying subfloor. But otherwise, all is well with me, Myladylove, and Moon-the-Dog.

I did make a brief photographic expedition onto the deck yesterday, where I made the two shots of one of the orange summer lilies that grow by the steps leading down to the river. Same flower…one with a darker foliage background, the other with the river at midday beyond. I couldn't decide which I liked best so I posted both.

And FYI, these two images constitute the creative sum of my photographic output for the week. Sheeeeesh!


Friday, June 6, 2014


The world changed recently. This grizzled-but-still-incorrigible-scribe is now an official grandpa! Anya Grace Blann was born Tuesday afternoon, at 1:05 p.m. She weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces, and measured 20 inches long. 

Yet babies can’t really be measured in pounds and inches. You have to start with a heart’s desire—two longing hearts of the would-be parents, plus many equally empathetic hearts belonging to family and friends. Then count the words—wishes and prayers and whispered thoughts of encouragement and support. Add in the sleepless nights, lost dreams, and secret wishes. Don’t forget all the worries and fears and what-ifs that can make such hopes seem impossible. When you’ve tallied it up and reached your bottom line, then, and only then, do you have a newborn’s measurements. 

Miracles happen every day. I held one Tuesday morning—a blue-eyed, blond-headed granddaughter, so innocent, so beautiful, so amazingly precious…between the joy and love, my proud ol’ heart nearly exploded! A sweet little blessing that has already enriched my life beyond measure. 

And I can assure you—no baby ever arrived into this world more loved and welcomed than my beloved Anya Grace.


Sunday, June 1, 2014


Laziness is doubtless partly to blame for my longest-ever blogosphere hiatus. Plus the excitement of impending (any day now!) first-time grandfatherhood. Also work—both writing and the start of the cottage's every-room-from-the-floor-up renovations, necessitated by our pre-Christmas flood. 

Then, too, some portion of fault surely lies in the general torpidity I annually seem to go through at the onset of hot weather, which happened hereabouts when, in a couple of weeks, we went from spring's last snowfall to temps in the mid-80˚s F. 

And finally, if I'm being fully honest, some measure of this temporary silence comes from the introspection occasioned by the May 10 passage of yet another birthday, and the dispiriting summing up of my life's genuine worth. Do I really, ever, have anything to say?

All contributed to my blogging interlude…as least for the first half-dozen days. 

But my absence beyond those initial few days has been due to accidentally having taken a rather sizable (3-1/2" x 3-1/2") chunk out of my left lower leg—a flesh-bared, skin-flapping, bleeding, oozing, owie severe enough to prompt quick trips to an Urgent Care facility and an After Hours unit in the hospital across the river from the cottage.   

In case you're wondering, I can be so specific about the injury's shape because it came from the rough-sawn end of a 4" x 4" which, as any carpenter will tell, has a finished dimension of 3-1/2" x 3-1/2". Actually a rather handy size for an injury, since a 4" x 4" non-stick absorbent pad fits nicely, making for a neat bandage. I highly recommend taking this into consideration when planning your own future gashes, gouges, and lacerations.

Because healing has required me to keep my damaged leg elevated to the horizontal, I've spent every day—and night!—in the recliner. Walking/hobbling has been kept to an absolute minimum. No sitting upright with both feet on the ground or floor. I can't do the bed because the injury is on the outside of the leg, between ankle and calf; the first night, when turning over in my sleep, I scraped off the bandage and completely reopened the wound—awakening to pain and blood. Can't sleep all that well in my recliner, either. A choice of the lesser of two evils. 

I haven't been at my desk or on my computer for nearly two weeks. Moreover, I'm technically incapable of writing much beyond a dozen or so words via my iPhone. Siri, faithful helpmate though she can be, fails when it comes to extended dictation. Thus, no desktop Mac, no chance of blogging. 

Yesterday afternoon, however, I hobbled out to the front deck and spent a few wonderful hours in the chaise lounge. That's when I made the from-a-distance backlit photo (above) of a few fading irises along the edge of my driveway. And in just a few minutes I'll check my wound, which is very slowly beginning to heal, to see what amount of drainage/bleeding this first sitting-at-my-desk session has instigated.

It's really, really good to be back.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Consider today's post a sort of photographic corollary to yesterday's confession regarding the challenge of trying to capture decent images of fast-moving northern rough-winged swallows as they erratically swooped and twisty-turned while feeding above the pool near the cottage. I made much of the difficulty of the task involved, given the decided limitations of my bird-in-flight capturing skills.

Gail, bless her heart, dear friend and faithful Riverdaze reader, thought I was merely being humble. Alas, I was not. I wish that were indeed the case. Modesty would have been an easier path than truth. But I know I'm technically capable only to a point. 

So here's visible, irrefutable proof of my admission's genuine honesty—two shots of the same turkey vulture as it recently circled over the yard. Notice how nice and crisp the images are—subject's eyes sharp, detail in the feathers? Should one desire a poster-sized print of either, suitable to mat and frame and hang on the living-room wall for friends and family to admire, they'd easily enlarge with no loss in quality…though why anyone would be possessed to do such a thing is beyond me.       

Still, their image quality corroborates my point: if the subject-in-flight is big enough, close enough, and sufficiently slow-moving, I'm a "get'r done" camera-totin' whizz! Should refrigerators or school buses sprout wings and take to the sky, I'll nail those shots. Guaranteed!

Zippy little swallows? Luck and dogged persistence are my only real hope. A man must recognize his limitations…


Friday, May 9, 2014


I don't claim to be a hot-shot bird photographer—or an expert photographer of any sort. I get by, but I'd classify my overall abilities as generally adequate and occasionally lucky. What might be mistaken for talent is more often the result of perseverance and a blithe willingness to shoot a hundred images of something in order to get one that looks half-way pleasing. Being a perfectionist doesn't help, but shooting digital allows me to indulge such a personality quirk for no additional cost other than time…which was not the case when I used to shoot film.

Birds-in-flight photos are, generally speaking, harder to achieve than more static shots of, say, a titmouse perched on a maple branch. The really skilled action shooters smirkingly refer to such images as "birds-on-a-stick." In my photo files, respectable pix in this latter category probably outnumber acceptable images of the former sort fifty-to-one, and that might be an optimistic estimate.

I mention this because I've decided to try and come up with some decent images of northern rough-winged swallows feeding over the pool in front of the cottage. The two shots I've posted are the best of my first-round efforts. I shot nearly a hundred exposures to get these—and while they are okay, they're certainly not great, especially given that they simply show the birds in flight, and not in one of their obvious contortionist feeding positions as they swoop and dive, zig and zag, zooming about gleefully snatching emerging aquatic insects.
Northern rough-winged swallows in action are a tough capture—at least for me. Not quite as challenging as bats, but challenging enough—fast and erratic. I think I can do better, but it may take awhile, like a year or two. So I figured I'd stick these up for now, in case my idealized swallow image proves to be a will-o'-the-wisp.    


Sunday, May 4, 2014


According to the National Weather Service's website, currently hereabouts it's 56˚F and raining. I'm looking almost due west…at a near-cloudless blue sky all aglow with a bright and shining setting sun. Nary a drop of rain in evidence anywhere. I know it's probably the weekend crew holding down the office—but bless them, I do wish that instead of relying entirely on their instruments and various space-age technologies, someone would take a look out the window before they post their latest report. 

On the other hand, I'll not quibble about the temperature. It is cool, has been both yesterday and today, and 56˚F sounds about right. 

I've been fiddling with my computer most of the day. It started acting up a week or so ago—and while it isn't getting any worse, it isn't getting any better, either. Nothing I do seems to matter. So I'm afraid a service call is likely in the near future, and maybe a new computer. 

As usual, I'm conflicted. I love technology and I hate technology. It's great when it works, frustrating and sometimes almost crippling when it doesn't. Maybe those folks at the National Weather Service are having computer glitches of their own. 

I think I'll go eat a piece of dark chocolate. Maybe two.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


"For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May."
—Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur         

What a marvelous day for beginning a new month!

There are multihued warblers flitting among the treetops, tree swallows wheeling and swooping above the Cottage Pool, and a rowdy gaggle of mallards and Canada geese up from the river and keeping a wary eye on one another as they share the scoops of cracked corn I tossed out earlier.

The sky, a dazzling oceanic-blue, is spattered with puffy white clouds, and a king's ransom of honey-gold sunshine is streaming down. 

Who cares if the temperature is only 55˚F? 

Not me…and not the Carolina wren who's been filling my morning with song from his perch on the deck rail. Or the young groundhog, recently waddled forth from his snug burrow on the driveway bank, to sort through the latest scraps of leafy greenery, vegetable peelings, and bits of fruit I've left for him on the compost heap.

It's been years since I've seen a decorated Maypole; decades since I've witnessed a group of boys and girls actually weaving those bright ribbon streamers as they circled one. And about the same length of time since I've heard about anyone having gone a'mayin'—though when I was growing up, on this first day of the month, it wasn't at all uncommon for country folks to head for the woods and fields with a basket under their arm for "bringin' in the May."

Given the schedule, work, issues, and general nonsense I've endure these last couple of weeks—chilly temps or not, going for leisurely tramp in the woods this afternoon sounds like a pretty dandy idea.         

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Christ has risen! 
He has risen, indeed!

Happy Easter from Riverdaze!

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Today is my father's birthday. He was born in 1908, on a humble farm in the rugged and hauntingly beautiful mountains of eastern Kentucky. 

Dad would have enjoyed this day…it's sunny and warm, and everywhere spring is bursting at the seams with birdsong, dozens of wildflowers, and the vernal season's emerging greenery. The river is full and a bit discolored, but I'll bet my father would be thinking about us going bullhead fishing, and perhaps gathering a mess of dandelion greens to cook with our supper fillets afterwards.

God, how I'd love to do that with him one more time…. 

I fear to imagine where my life be without Dad's unstinting love and wise guidance. He taught me to value and live with courage, honor, and compassion; he introduced me to the beauty of nature and the delight of outdoor adventures; he gave me the freedom and encouragement to follow my calling; and he led me to realize that a worthwhile life needs a spiritual center.

The older I get, the more I treasure his hand in my raising. 

Dad loved me with all his heart. I never doubted that fact for a single moment, even when we were at odds over something. And I always did my level best to love him back.   

It has been nearly thirty-one years since my father passed away. Time has barely dulled that pain's sharp edges; the aching void remains. There's not a day goes by during which I fail to think of him—to wish I could show him something or ask a question.

Yet more than anything, I'd like to be able to simply put my arms around my father, give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and tell him how very much he meant to me.

To say, "Happy birthday, Dad! I love you, always. And I know, too, that God never blessed anyone with a better father…a gift for which I'm so very thankful. "

Friday, March 28, 2014


Last week, after months of contradictory but mostly just plain wrong banking-required compliance information, we finally managed to deposit our flood insurance refund check, while at the same time freeing up the funds so that we could actually use the money to buy materials and pay labor costs in order to begin repairs on the cottage resulting from its December 23 flooding.

It has been an arduous, angering, fatiguing, and needlessly frustrating trek through an inane maze of bureaucratic ignorance and laziness. And like so many such ordeals, was eventually solved by finally managing to talk to the right person who not only was willing to take on the responsibility of the issue and getting it completely and correctly resolved, but knew just were to look for the appropriate procedural guidelines information. In fifteen minutes, from start to finish, the cash was in our account and available, with no strings attached.

Myladylove, currently a branch manager with another financial institution—and having spent most of her professional career involved in money matters—was giddily overjoyed. I was greatly relieved to know that in the not-very-distant future, I wouldn't have to choose between committing a variety of felonies, or seeking brain-numbing asylum through the liberal consumption of alcohol. Trust me, it was coming down to one or the other.

Now, of course, the redo work can begin…that is, it can begin just as soon as the weather breaks and spring finally makes up its mind to settle in for the long haul. 

Yes, we've had a couple of nice days since the equinox made the season official—including one last week in the low-70˚s F. But not lately. A couple of mornings ago the thermometer read 14˚F at breakfast time, when Moon and I stepped out for a look-see around the riverbank after I gave the dooryard pair of Canada geese their morning scoop of cracked corn. The day before that it snowed a pure blizzard—flakes swirling and blowing so thick I couldn't see the island across from the cottage. True, none of the snow stuck…but it didn't look or feel much like spring out there either. And the truth is, even our recent sunny days—few and far between as they've been—have not felt spring-like. Early crocus remain tightly furled, and hints of vernal green remain elusive.

When spring will truly come remains a mystery—just as when we'll finally be able to start setting out the sawhorses outside for cutting and painting, is anyone's guess. 

Soon I hope. I have lots of work to do.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Spring is here! At least officially, as an astronomical moment according to calendar and almanac. When it will actually arrive as a season, weatherwise, is another matter entirely, given how THE WINTER WHICH REFUSES TO LEAVE is still having its way with some parts of the country. 

Here along the river, we've had snow within the last week. We've also been treated to rain, wind, clouds, and a sunny day that made it into the upper-60˚s F. I'm still keeping a fire in the woodstove more often than not.

To look outside right now you'd sure think it was spring. The sun is shining bright, gleaming off the white-barked sycamores; the sky is oceanic blue with only a few puffy white clouds like scattered cotton balls. But those vernal looks are deceiving…in fact it's only a degree or so above freezing with a rather cutting wind. Spring-like in appearance only. 

On the positive side, several small clumps of orange crocus are in bloom along the south-facing side of the cottage. At least they've poked up above the soil, though their petals still remain tightly wrapped like tiny umbrellas. But I have no doubt they'll unfurl their blooms later today once the sun warms things up a tad. 

One of these patches actually began blooming a couple of days ago—my first yard flowers of the year. I have lots of other crocus planted around the cottage, in a variety of hues—purple, lavender, white, yellow—but the orange ones always lead the pack when it comes to showing welcome color. 

Up the road, deep yellow winter aconites are beginning to carpet a certain woodsy glade amid a few patches of lingering snow. They, too, have been blooming—a few, anyway—for about a week. Aconites come early and are one of my favorite harbingers. 

Leaf buds on my lilacs are swelling, though they're certainly not nearly as advanced in development as they were this time last year. But then, no two years are ever truly alike.

Seasons set their own reality, following their own agenda, coming and going by their own timeline. Nevertheless, spring is definitely on the way…or definitely here, if you prefer the encouraging sanction of today's decree.