Monthly Archives: April 2020

Pa’s Lunch

I appreciate the simplest things. Shadows on snow. Dew on grass. The calls of the birds in the trees or passing overhead. The smell of pines and rain on the wind. Sunrise. I cherish these things, constant and enduring. Faithful as fate.

Shadow Art

I’m not certain how I arrived at this place. Perhaps I convinced myself this was the way I wanted to be, for I have not always been so. Perhaps I should not be so typically human, and take a conceited credit for learning these lessons. Some credit should be given, perhaps, to the living of a modest life, one without the extravagances monetary wealth seems to attract. Due should be given also to my interspecies soulmate, my late Chuy The Wonderdog, for the many silent happy hours we spent together on the trails and in our Wonder Woods. Without a doubt, it was he that truly taught me. Not only to look, but to see. And to smell and hear. To stop talking and start listening. To slow down, and smell the bunnies.

View from The Top

I like old things. My mom was old and I really liked her a lot. The Earth is old. The sky, too. I like old trees that remind me of myself. Feeling grand and stately, yet exhibiting a few signs of wear and tear. I like old forests that have huge deadfalls carpeted with green moss, and tiny pink sorrels that grow between the shadows of Hemlocks. Don’t get me wrong, some new things are good. New socks. And babies. Although they also get old eventually.

I like old movies, TV shows and radio series’. Folks often talk about how “times were simpler back then”. There’s a lot of truth to that, but unfortunately an egregious dichotomy. To put it simply, sometimes things were great for healthy white men while at the same time things were not good for women or the infirm or people of color or children. You can imagine this list could go on a bit. I grieve for those sorely affected by the narrow-minded and short-sighted people that came before me. Hope remains high that we are well on our way to a welcoming world.

I like to watch old shows because of what is not in them. I see wooden crates and burlap sacks and I say “no cardboard back then”. The phone is wired to the floor. All one needs to do is exit the room to be liberated from it. I see characters in crisp cotton clothing and think there was no wash-and-wear. Every garment worn would require pressing, except the wool and fur. There are no power tools or machines as we think of them. The kinetic energy of water was used to turn the mill wheel, to grind grain. Or to turn a leather belt that turned more leather belts and the cogs and gears and blades needed for a sawmill. Beasts of burden turned such wheels where water was unavailable, and they further pulled plows to till the land, and the wagon to go to town or church. Life In Engleville takes its name from this tiny hamlet, named for Engle, who built Engleville Pond a half mile from here, to power Engle’s Mills. Perhaps living in the shadow of the mill pond and the namesake endears those olden days to me.

Engleville Pond

In cowboy movies there are no vapor trails across the sky (except that one scene in that John Ford film, a famous blooper). In pirate movies, the wind propels the Black Pearl, without the black soot of the diesel engine, nor the trail of toxic wastes left in the ocean. In Egypt, we marvel at the great pyramids, built solely with human muscle, the sweat of the brow, the unfortunate slaves. In Yucatan we are amazed at the accuracy of cosmic clockworks, calculating calendars out twenty thousand years without the aid of Newton, Einstein a slide rule or a scientific calculator. We can watch Hillary summit Everest in a jacket and a pair of leather shoes. We can watch Shackelton stranded in the Antarctic for two years without a single death of the 28-man crew. People were tough back in the when. People were resourceful and did with what they had, whether in Antarctica or the Great Plains of the American West.

When my kids were growing up, Michael Landon did a television series bringing Laura Ingalls and her beloved book Little House On The Prairie to life. She would be known as Laura Ingalls Wilder when she wrote the series that chronicled her childhood as her family went westward with the frontier. It was a moment in an episode of this series that cemented my desire to “live simply” as Thoreau would put it. To be the kind of person that could make do with what he had, get along without machines, to embrace Yankee ingenuity,  and the Pioneer spirit. And to be happy and content with such simple things. Pa, as he would be called by Laura, worked at the saw mill with Mr. Edwards.

(Sidebar: Okay, so Ingalls is almost Engle, isn’t it? And Pa works at a mill, for which my road and Hamlet are named. We used to have a neighbor that used the hayloft of our barn. His name was Roger Edwards. Coincidences, I suppose.)

Barn At Sunrise

I’m watching Pa break for lunch. Pa and Mr. Edwards don’t go over to the diner or drive up to the Burger Queen. Pa brings a lunch pail. It’s a rectangular tin box, and the lid has a chamber and a screw cap. One would put cold water, or ice if you’re lucky, into the chamber in the top to keep food cool. In the winter, a scuttle full of hot coals would keep a warm meal so until lunchtime. (I have one upstairs).

Big buildup. Here it is. Remember how we’re talking about simplicity?

Pa reaches into his lunch pail (now you know why it’s called a “pail” before “lunchbox” came along), and pulls out a thick slice of homemade bread, wrapped in cheesecloth. There is also in the pail a ripe apple and a small piece of cheese. He washes this down with water from a tin cup. I can still see Landon’s engaging trademark smile, as he imagined himself to be this simple man. “That was a good lunch.” he says to Mr. Edwards, and they go back to work.

I have not viewed a meal the same since. Balanced diet and three places on the plate and sides and sauces and salad and dessert. Breakfast lunch and dinner. Three thousand calories a day. Where did all that come from? Maybe folks in Pa’s day did not have a well-balanced diet or what we would describe as healthy nutrition. Yet even without modern medicine, folks still lived to be seventy and eighty and who-knows-how old?

I was particularly lucky at lunch today. I am fortunate every day, of course, inundated with more offerings than Pa Ingalls could ever have imagined. Still, lunch is PB & J most days, on wheat bread. Sometimes a hard roll. How extravagant, Mrs. Ingalls would think. I’m not sure they even had much of peanut butter yet. Plenty of jelly though, because you had to make do with what you had. You had to be self-sufficient. You had to live simply.

Today’s lunch was a hot cross bun, warmed by the sun, accompanied by delicious black coffee from the green steel thermos. Icing and dried fruit were a delight.

“That was a good lunch.” I said, to the sparrows and starlings enjoying the wheat bread, a few feet from me and the Funbus. I thought of Pa again.

And who is “better off” I wonder?

Is it the man who enjoys the wealth of the world, jet-setting lifestyles, exciting once-in-a-lifetime highs, a balanced diet and three places on the plate and dessert?

Or could it be the man who can derive great joy from a quiet wood and canine companion, a peanut butter sandwich, the memory of a man who is long dead, and shadows on snow?

To The Wood!

Take care, and keep in touch.

Paz

Earth Life

I’m talking to YOU!

“Rome was not built in a day.” they say.

“All in a day’s work.”

“An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”

We’re talking to you, too.

“Tomorrow is another day.”

“Let’s call it a day.”

Enter Scarlett O’Hara, Margaret Mitchell’s beautiful, selfish, mesmerizing heroine of Gone With The Wind.
“Fiddle dee dee.” Scarlett says, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

Hello?

“The Day The Earth Stood Still”

“Day Of The Jackal”

“Dog Day Afternoon”

What does a day mean to you?

I’m talking to you, as well.

Do you wait for one day each year to eat?

We’re asking YOU.

Do you take only one day each year to sleep?

I’m just listening.

Do you take care of your home just once each year? Make the beds, clean the windows, rake the lawn and then what? You’re done for another year?

Every day is critical to me.

Every day counts for us.

We embrace the Earth every day.

We’re talking to you, too.

It’s our Earth, too.

I’m trying hard to think of something special, something extra to do for Earth Day.
It seems everything I think of are the things I do every day.
For water, for air, for birds, for animals, for terra firma.
She is my mother, and I love her every day.
Not more on better days and less on lesser days.
I don’t live Earth Day or even Earth Year.

For me, for mother, I live an Earth Life.

Down here. We’re talking to you, too.

We’re in this together.

Trees and water calling, too.

We all share the same planet.

Don’t forget us.

A big thanks from me!

 

Love always,

Paz, Sasha, and Mother Earth

Budding Season

The four seasons called out on calendars are but a repository, a filing cabinet of sorts, for the thousand seasons-within-seasons that we observe during one trip around our sun. Within each quarter-year drawer are dozens of files, arranged chronologically of course. Once in a while, a file will be out of place, and some reference others. The paper calendar and the imaginary filing cabinet lend an air of order, of regimentation. If we look more closely it is sometimes more random, almost haphazard, sometimes chaos in defiance of logic. If you’ve ever had a late freeze, a simple cold snap on one solitary morning in April or May, you will understand. How this will echo and follow you daily, all the way around our planet’s course until next year.

No lilacs. Frozen apple blossoms results in a full year without apples. No little green starters in midsummer. No fruit on which to watch the blush of summer grow redder on its cheek, until it hints at the next season. No piles of apples amid the autumn leaves for deer to nosh on. No soft brown blobs left when the snow recedes, their presence welcomed by those who’ve toughed out a long, frozen winter. Of all the things a late freeze steals from me, I feel the greatest sense of longing for the apples. Fingers cramp from crossing until June.

After a long winter with rather little snow, we have now seen in this second week of April a number of flurries, even a few inches of accumulation which usually lasts only a day. We have a few tulips that have opened on the south lawn, where they bask in full sun beside the stone foundation. Tulips doused with snow somehow look entirely natural, perfectly contented. An April snow is easy to love, as one is keenly aware that it will not stay and pile up and need to be shoveled. It’s especially welcomed this year, to bring up the water table. Spring snowmelt fills our reservoirs and water towers, and starting the year in the hole brings trepidation.

April also brings a breathtaking and captivating burst of growth in nearly every tree and shrub. It is a tiny season-within-the season of spring, and if you’re not watching, you could easily miss the Budding Season among the trees. It’s easy to spot the pussy willows, their fuzzy catkins begging to be petted. So, too, the “Tulip Tree” magnolias will start to show bulges at their fingertips, gently unfolding into pink blossoms. Cherry trees catch the eye with their white flowers, and dogwood glows red in anticipation of leafing out. But if you look up, if you look into the woods, you will see giants in bloom.

 

 

“Redbud!” I declare when first I see them. As if it is a scientific name for this exciting taste of the day-by-day changes spring gifts to me. Red is the most popular color for the earliest leaf buds as they sprout from twigs, just babies. Not yet old enough to produce the chlorophyll that will paint them their trademark green. Some are yellowish, and some are indeed green when first they appear. Some trees will produce catkins, mossy-looking or fuzzy or string-of-pearl tendrils dangling like elegant earrings.  Ready to greet the turkeys for their spring cotillion, a festive display for the dancers in the fields, the bachelors sporting their finest.

It is a feast for the eyes as well as good food for the soul. Even one who embraces winter, and feels woe at spring’s arrival, such as myself, must delight in the colorful profusion on those naked sticks one has viewed since October. Winter is quite monotone, with a few splashy highlights. It’s mostly grey bark and white snow and a trim of almost-drab evergreen, dotted with a blue jay, a red-bellied woodpecker or a northern cardinal. Now these giants are dotted with colors, pale yellow and deep burgundy, and adorned with kinetic energy. Herein is a trusted source and undeniable sign that winter is fading behind us. Not an observant groundhog or college-educated meteorologist’s best guesses, not the reading of signs and recollections of years past. Here is solid proof from the authority.

Flowers, flowers, flowers. From Mother’s Day to the mums of Thanksgiving we love flowers, flowers, flowers. But how many are waiting for that May day to relish in the beauty of blooms? How many are ordering seeds and starting morning glories on windowsills and cleaning out the greenhouse on a mild April day without looking up, looking out, and beholding the biggest display of the present season? Sure, we’ll have fields of wildflowers if you want to wait three months. Sure, we have yet to smell the lilacs and peonies, to be wowed by the locusts, and mesmerized by the honeysuckle. You’ll have all summer for that.

For Budding Season is one of those rare and brief moments in nature, when she’s on the move and swinging into action. Like the nesting birds and calving cows and lambs that dot the farmyards, it is soon to be overwhelmed by all the life and living that summer brings.

It comes along at just the time we need to be reminded that these cosmic clockworks never fail us.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Built To Last

South Lawn And Barn

March and April are the best time to shop for a home. You really get to see it at it’s worst. By summer all the winter’s mess has been raked, flowers are growing, Hostas skirt foundations. The mud room is swept, the gentle breeze wafts through window screens, and the paint on the porches may have seen a touch-up. September is the worst time to shop for a house, because you’re already inebriated with fall and everything looks prettier. Not to mention the present owners have had all season to spit-shine the place. By October, trees are starting to get bare and you remember to think about things like heat and drafts, and sellers may be anxious to escape before the onset of winter.

I first saw The Ark in July or August. We closed on September 11th, before it meant anything else, in 1985. Jake was a farmer. His wife Joanna had passed and it was down to him and the turkeys. It was a big house, and an old one. I was twenty-six, and optimistic as well as capable and ambitious. It was a tough winter, and we lived paycheck-to-paycheck, sometimes buying five gallon cans of kerosene to keep the furnace on ’til payday. Between seasons, heating with those catalytic kerosene heaters that were really popular then.

So, the first spring in The Ark was as welcome as the surprise daffodils on the south side. Who knew they were there? Shortly after, the lilacs bloomed. When I say the lilacs bloomed, you must imagine hundred-year-old lilacs, lining the road frontage and growing in great hedges around the shed. Fifteen feet tall, full and lush with flowers that perfumed the whole yard. Only the peonies of June would out-smell them.

I didn’t know the water table was about a foot higher than the cellar floor. I didn’t know much about wet cellars, as my parents’ house was dry as a bone. What a shock to discover the water so deep it flooded the burner for the boiler and the water heater was submerged by a foot. I was broke, and still weaning from my folks, so I drove up to their house and grabbed the sump pump my dad had in the basement. Not entirely sure why, as there was never as much as a drop of water in the basement of that house. I grabbed the pump and flew home, stuck a pool hose out through the basement window, and began the 34-year battle with the water.

I’ll tell you a story about how things were made in the old days. I may sound like an old man talking about bygone times, but then I’m an old man talking about bygone times. I ran my dad’s pump for a couple of years until one spring when I spent some of the tax return money and bought my first, very own, brand new sump pump. It even had a float so we didn’t have to flip the cellar light switch to turn it on and off, as was the case hitherto. I chucked dad’s pump on the cellar shelf.

Within two years, the pump made some funny noises but wouldn’t move any water. I pulled it up out of the cellar and dismantled the bottom part and found where it was plugged up and jammed with sediment. Cleaned that out and put it back to work for another year. One day, I opened the cellar door to check, and there was a foot of water down there, flooding over the bottom step of the wooden stairs that led from the pantry. The pump had failed. All the tinkering could not make it come back to life, and so I threw my dad’s pump into the sump, crossed my fingers, and plugged it in.

Vzzzzzz- Whoosh! That pump came on sounding like it was brand new, and it cleared hundreds of gallons out of the cellar in a matter of hours. I cobbled together a float switch and ran the pump’s power through it so we didn’t need to control the pump with the light switch. I suppose I should try again for a modern update before this ancient pump fails. Let’s see, my dad already had the pump, and had lived in Broadalbin for twenty years or so. Let’s guess it was ten years old when I “borrowed” it. Now add the 34 years I’ve been at the Ark, and we can guess this pump must be 45 years old or more. Maybe I should wait ’til it dies, if ever.

I ran the pellet stove for about eight years, during which I replaced a couple of components. Routine failures one might expect. An igniter (or two), the room blower fan, which failed around the five-year mark. Inside a pellet stove is a nasty environment for electronics and motors. High temperatures and a lot of dust. Clingy acidic dust. So at the beginning of year eight I did one of those decidedly-unlike-me things, and I replaced the working convection blower with a new one as a form of anticipatory maintenance. Year nine I fired it up, and within a few weeks, the one-year-old combustion blower failed. It would not surprise you, I’m sure, to hear I cleaned up and stowed the “old” working combustion blower as a backup. It’s still running.

There was a time when people wanted to build things that last. Like L.L.Bean and his original guaranteed-for-life policy. Even that has changed. Like Craftsman tools which were guaranteed for life. I had a Craftsman router fail (a long, long time ago), and when presented at the store it was summarily replaced with a brand new one. Now Craftsman is just another brand, sold at Home Depot.

The Town Of Sharon has a few snowplows. We still have the big Oshgosh plows. I don’t think Oshgosh is in business any more. But their trucks are still going. Still plowing Engleville Road each winter. Some things were built to last.

Oshgosh B’gosh

The Oshgosh #13V is from 1959. So am I.
I guess I was built to last, too.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz