Author Archives: Pazlo

About Pazlo

Armchair Zen Master, poet, father, husband, fisherman, grandfather, brother, naturalist, son, birdwatcher, uncle, collector of old things, dog person, human.

After The Rush

 

Edge Of Night

The Christmas tree beat a hasty retreat this year, as it had dried out considerably and begun to drop needles by the branchful. The furniture has been restored to its pre-tree positions.  The annual tradition of New Year’s Eve At Pop Pop’s was a grand success, and the kitchen floor became inundated with marvelous sparkling confetti. The ball dropped in Times Square, and just like that another year ended. We started the New Year with another tradition: double-team vacuuming.

Now this weekend, finally, I will catch up to the tide of the paper calendar. I will lovingly yet grudgingly take down the big C-9 lights and their garland from the arches of the front porch. I will carry boxes of remaining decorations upstairs and scratch my head at the condition of the holiday closet, looking like a post-Christmas bargain-basement sale aftermath. I will walk through the house a dozen times scanning for red & green, silver & gold, and I will still miss a few Christmas-y items that will be noticed later in January.

And then—quiet.

Though most of the snow has faded in the past couple of weeks, we don’t doubt that Miss Winter is still encamped. The dog’s water dish remains frozen, and the dog bones frozen to the ground in the driveway. Opening the door to let the cat in or the dog out results in a blast of icy air, making us quickly move the six feet to the front of the wood stove to recover. Windows are dressed in the raiment of the season, heavy drapes drawn closed at sunset. Doors sport draft stoppers, and the down ticks come out for the beds.

Closed windows and doors, drapes and draft stoppers seal us into our winter haven. The steady purr of the motors of the pellet stove provides a background noise, the television playing its counter-melody. And this is the soundtrack of real winter. The balance of days not filled with Jack-o-lanterns, festive pumpkin pies, turkeys and trees and gifts and Times Square. Now, as sunsets hover not long after four o’clock, we may cast our eyes to Siberia, and watch Doctor Zhivago as the ice paints our windowpanes to look like the ones he peers through.

Outside, in the Great Wonder, few sounds disturb Sassy June and I as we traverse our trails, our most familiar and beloved paths. Scrunch-scrunch of snowshoes. The wind in the pines. The sweet and spirited song of the tiny chickadee. We may chance to hear a chainsaw across the glen, or perhaps the sound of a couple of snowmobilers riding up the abandoned rail bed, over the hill, past our Wonder Woods.

In the pine stands now, hundreds of robins will perch at sunset, root around and roost there. We ponder their behavior. Aren’t they supposed to hide until spring? How will we know when spring has truly arrived if the robins remain through the winter? They must be late in their trek. Everything has been a step behind this season, and we all blame it on a late Thanksgiving. I’m not sure how the robins found out about it, but the Canada Geese appear to be taking their time as well. One could hope this would mean the rest of our winter may be mild. Corollaries of previous years indicate, in fact, the birds may anticipate a late spring.

And that would be agreeable to Sassy June and I. This next stretch of time is not metered out for holiday parties and days spent decorating (or undecorating), not punctuated and perforated by dinner at daughter’s or the Christmas Bird Count. These few and precious weeks ahead represent our time to have the Great Wonder, The Magic, the Wonder Woods all to ourselves. No mowing required, nor the time spent doing so. No distractions take from our time. No lazy river and a boat that wants to sail. No summer ponds filled with lunker largemouths. No invitations to pool parties or patios. No bugs.

Just a snow-covered trail, a man, and a dog. Woods we can see through, without those pesky leaves. Icy gusts that keep others at bay. Gold and purple sunsets.

We bask now in the glory of true, quiet winter. After the rush and before the spring. We’ll be out there in it, Sassy and I.

You come, too.

Sassy on the Widowmaker

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Seeing Season

Rolling along into December, we’re less than two weeks from the pivot point, the winter solstice.  Henceforth, days begin to grow longer. Winter walks are often drawn to a close as the sun approaches the horizon, and as we doff our boots and harnesses (depending on species), we note that it is hardly past four o’clock!

Ryan and I struck out Saturday for a snow shoe hike around a short trail not far from home. I related to him how I call this stretch of winter “The Seeing Season”. While pine stands remain impenetrable, deciduous trees ditch their leaves, and we can see so much that is blocked from view for half the year. We had a fresh snowfall recently, and this gave us many interesting and beautiful sights to behold. The sun danced in and out of sight between falling snowflakes. We stopped at the lean-to for coffee.

“Oh, I have coffee!” I said, realizing I left the full Thermos in the truck.

Ryan produced two ceramic mugs from his pack, and poured steaming black coffee in each.

“It’s not about having coffee, Dad.” he said as he brushed a foot of snow off the picnic table, and stepped up onto the floor of the lean-to. “It’s about doing this.”

I let the this of this moment engulf me, appreciative of the reminder from my fellow outdoorsman and armchair philosopher. The coffee was good, too.

Back at the ranch, I plowed the snow from the driveway. Not half-way through December and the snow banks are five feet high already. A warm spell forecast will knock them down a bit.

The big C-9 lights are up on the arches of the front porch, and the little Lantern Bear has donned a Santa hat. Inside, rooms become inundated with reds and greens. Table runners and tablecloths and place mats in themes of Christmas. The stockings are hung in the parlor. On Monday, son-in-law Kenyon would deliver the tree, and our late start on the holiday is well underway.

Merry Christmas!

Here’s hoping you get a chance to get out in the seeing season. If you don’t have snow, come on up. We have more than enough to spare.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Falling

 

Autumn Glow

It begins quite subtly, this big show. Starts way back in late August, when the Swamp Maples are first to conclude the end of the growing season draws near. They fly their red flags in swamps and bogs, and some folks probably just think they are dying trees, drowning in the muck.

As days pass, each one growing incrementally shorter, the tide begins to turn. Sumacs begin to turn the color of red wine, Sugar Maples will begin to show yellow, then reds, then burst into gold and orange. The demure Cottonwoods eschew the attention, quickly going from light green to tan, then brown as dirt. “No pictures, please.”

Sometime in September I begin to be on the lookout for the curious fungi of fall. One day they are not there, then suddenly they are. Some simple toadstools in colors of yellow and orange and red. Some in unusual shapes and deep brown. As I mow the lawn I discover them, and I scold myself for running them over. I stop to look, though they are the same as last year and the fifty years before, and they aren’t exactly what one defines as pretty. Still, they are regular visitors, part of the whole rolling year that comes around just once. I am glad to see these reliable friends again. As quickly as they arrived, on the next round of mowing, they are gone.

The big Maples that line the road frontage are our main source for leaves. We need leaves. We stockpile and hoard leaves right up to the big day of the Leaf Pile Party. We’ll gather all we can, hopefully with plenty of children. We’ll put out cider and eat donuts. Maybe chili if it’s cold. Then we will pile the leaves, higher and higher. As tall as granddaughter Maddie, twice as tall as grandson Evan. We’ll use the big steel ruler to determine the height. Have we set a new record? I believe it is 56 1/2 inches.

Then the throwing begins. First we throw bushel-sized armfuls of leaves at and on one another. Then we grab up children of throwable size, and pitch them into the pile to squeals of laughter. Then we’ll burrow deep within, hide ourselves, make the dog a little crazy wondering where we went (or in Chuy’s case, he would come to save me). We’ll have leaves in our hair, leaves in our mouths, leaves down our shirts.

These simple pleasures will occupy much of a day for us. A day to be outdoors, seeing and smelling all that makes fall. A day to join together for a party without a cake. It is not without a guest of honor, nor gifts. Our Guests of Honor are the leaves themselves, and they bear the wondrous gift of gathering and joy. Joining hands and hearts with nature.

Mother Earth laughs with us as we celebrate the closing of the growing season in North America. She will shine her warm sun on us, or perhaps cool us with a breeze. She will drop one by one and two by two the few remaining leaves of the ancient Sugar Maple, falling like confetti on our festivities. She will paint the sky gold and orange and red to match her trees. She will thank us for appreciating the million or two leaves with which we play for a day. She is glad someone does not see them as litter to be removed, but as playthings to be enjoyed.

Long after the guests have gone and fall cedes the stage for the next set of seasons, I will find on the Great Lawn a large circle of crushed-leaf carpet. Until the snow covers it, and sometimes still in spring, as I mow I am reminded of the day and the season by this memory quilt.

I will see smiles and hear laughter. I will smell all that Fall Air brings to me. I will revel in the memory of a chilly day filled with warm hearts.

And two million of our closest friends.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

 

Harvest Season

Farm Stand

 

Personally, I don’t set much stock in calendars. Clocks, too, are something I would rather live without. I am enslaved to the clock only when it is for the purpose of being considerate to others. To arrive at work or a party or dinner when expected.

The calendar, in humankind’s inimitable fashion, seeks to quantify and organize and lull us into some illusion of control. Earth laughs. I can’t abide by the declarations that this or that date is “the first day of…”. Spring, summer, winter, whatever, is not going to be corralled so. Now maybe these dates are correct for someplace that is exactly centered between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle, and longitudinally centered from seacoasts. So, somewhere in the middle of Missouri, I would guess, these dates might be close. For anyone that lives anywhere but the center of Missouri, these shift a smidge.

As any regular reader may know, I can’t pigeon-hole the seasons of my world down into four categories. There are a thousand seasons in any given transit of our orbit, and they overlap and blend, coincide, peacefully cohabitate, and usher one another in and out.

Season’s End

Now, we thrill to Harvest Season. This is one of the longest and finest of seasons, and literally bares for us the fruits and bounty of our world. Really it begins way back in June. The earliest harvests are June-bearing strawberries, horseradish, bouquets of peony. Production cranks up during the period declared “July”, and every manner of food and flower fills the stand at Parson’s Farm, while the farmers themselves continue their frenzied scurrying from field to field. In August, the longest-awaited treasures are pulled from the rich soil, picked from their heavy vines, plucked from their thorny canes, all to a steady chorus of buzzing bees, celebrating their own harvest.

There is an inherent beauty in this cycle, this work. Of bending one’s back to commune with the soil, to nurture and care for these tender shoots with the love of a mother and the patience of Job. To trust and to dream that these fragments will grow and mature, that our efforts will yield their worth. And each year, Mother Earth grants these humble wishes. For thousands of years, humankind has marveled at this feat, thanked the good green Earth, languished in the beauty and scent of her floral raiment. There is something timeless, something unbreakable about these acts, this farm life. The Cosmos doesn’t give two shakes of a thistle down about your TV and your internet and your cell phone. That little seed is following its own program, recorded millennia ago, evolving and changing only when necessary. You can high-tech the living daylights out of stuff, including your farm machinery and your milk houses, but that seed is entirely unimpressed. Nothing you can do will hasten its march toward maturity.

Harbinger

There was a time when nearly everyone was a farmer. Even in the stifling crowded cities, homes had a “kitchen garden”, sometimes wedged into the tiniest slice of terra firma, a remote landlocked island at the bottom of brick and glass and steel canyons. Here would grow thyme and garlic, carrots and sweet peas. Rosemary and rose hips, rosy red radishes, Swiss chard and kale, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and green beans. Every child knew how to weed. I suspect if you asked children these days, I mean big enough to know, like ten years old, which fruits or vegetables grow in the ground, which on stalks, which on vines, which on trees, they’d be hard pressed for answers. It occurs to me that this might also apply, in these techno-modern times, to many adults. Occasionally it will occur to someone to ask “Do you know where your food comes from?”

Nature’s Candy

September the first. There. Just the words conjure an image, don’t they? Our overly organized, over-sized and overly analytical brain connects dots on a fuzzy-logic web in our minds, and a signal flare is launched: SUMMER HAS ENDED. Back-to-school, starting college, Labor Day.

Such hogwash. Summer is in full bloom in September, and in fact it is the very essence of Harvest Season. It comes to all the land, not just humans and their farm stands and their grocer’s produce section. Bracketing the explosion of spring birthing, trees now finish the last movement of their long, slow opera of procreation, as mature nuts, seed pods, fruits and cones fall to the fertile ground. Harvest Season now for squirrels and bears and birds. Whole lifetimes and life cycles are lived at a frenetic pace for the curious seasonal fungi of fall.

Beneath The Pines

We knew all this more intimately in the old days. Before Clarence Birdseye flash-froze every edible imaginable. Before refrigerated boxcars and freezer trucks. Harvest took time to bring in, to process, to can and store in the root cellar. And after all the preserving was done came the slaughter of farm animals. Some to be smoked or salted, some to be pickled.

Becker’s Babies

By the time all that work was done, Harvest would have given way to the next overlapping and concentric backdrop of seasons. And we decided this was now a time to rest a bit. To enjoy and celebrate all that Harvest brings to our hearths and homes. To eat some of those wonderful prizes, and in particular, a bird that would not be overwintered. Surrounding the turkey would be the great and generous bounty from Mother Earth. We will sit together and give thanks for the full cornucopia.

Festive Table

We’ll call it Thanksgiving.

 

Take care, and keep in touch.

Paz

The Ark: Windows

From My Window

 

All of the windows in my 113 year old farmhouse are original, except for the one new triple-track aluminum deal in the kitchen that looks out onto the driveway. Much of the glass is original, too. “Albany glass” they call it around here, but in other parts of the country it probably has other names, or perhaps the name of the town where the glass factory stood. The old glass has ripples in it, actual wrinkles you can feel with your fingers as they pass over the otherwise smooth glass. And bubbles. In some places, quite a few tiny air bubbles, and in other places, individual larger ones. I’ve had to replace a few panes of glass during my 34-year tenure caring for the Ark. It always makes my heart ache a little when I must break up and throw away this antique glass.

The lifting and latching of the windows brings a mixed bag of the original workings. A single spring-loaded latch is in the center of each lower sash. On some windows, the ancient cast iron pieces within have cracked and broken off, and the latch does nothing at all. These windows get propped open with retired curtain rods. On a few of the windows, the latches still work. Most probably had window weights concealed within the window frame. A rounded length of iron about the diameter of a cigar, usually about a foot long. These were originally attached by sash cord, long since decayed within its wood confines. The window weight would offer a counterbalance, an assist to lift the window as well as a resistance to slow the sash’s descent.

They are as inefficient as one would expect an original 1906 window to be. Pretty sure I have actually seen tiny crystals of snow driven through them in the height of a winter’s blizzard. In the frozen season, condensation on the inside of the windows often freezes on the glass. Whenever we see this, we call it “Zhivago glass”, as it reminds us of the scenes in “Dr. Zhivago”, when he and his charges are holed up in Siberia. Giving it ringing names and associating it with the stark beauty shown in the movies helps distract us from the fact that the window is no better than the one Zhivago looked through in 1890.

 

Juney

 

The windows are large and ornate. Houses don’t have large and ornate windows anymore, just vinyl rectangles. The tops of the windows out front are rounded. 10 round-top double-sash windows frame the coffin doors, with two round-top lights of its own. (“Coffin doors” refer to the main entrance at the front of the house. ((We call that “the dooryard” around here)). One door is used most of the time, the one with the doorknob. The other side of the double door was intended to be opened to bring a coffin into and out of the house. When it was built, this is the way funerals were done in the sticks.)

We had a sales person call on us to pitch us custom vinyl replacement windows. His first shock was the sheer number. For living spaces alone (excluding the “attic” windows) there were 18 of them. He measured and calculated. Were we sure we wanted them the same size? “100 united inches” I think was the term. Surely we would want a standard, smaller vinyl rectangle? Less expensive and more energy efficient. He choked a little when quoting the price (more than twenty years ago) at $18,000!

Okay, last thing, window guy. You know your custom windows that are made-to-order to fit the openings in my home? Well, will the ten out front have the same rounded tops? Well, not exactly, window guy says. We could fashion a mask for the outside that evokes the shape of the round top. Nope. Stop right there.

 

The Coffin Doors

 

There is a tremendous beauty in these windows. Like most things I love, their inherent beauty is the attractant. Not efficiency. In the fall, I make my rounds to each one. A couple of screws jammed in the sides will hold the lower sash tightly against the upper. Then rope caulk is applied to the gap. In the spring, I visit each again, removing the caulk and the screws. Flinging them open, however briefly, symbolically putting winter to bed.

I could have had eighteen modern, efficient vinyl rectangles in these places. A lower heat bill. No need for rope caulk.

In June I will go upstairs and open the front and back windows in the center hall. This is the official start of summer for me. Breezes will move through, and birdsong. And the smell of the rain, and the sound of the neighbor’s birthday party across the road. The rumbling of summer thunderstorms, the voice of the wind in the leaves of the great maple trees which tower over the two-story house. In spring, the sound of the robin leaping from the nest it has built atop the window frame. In August, the smell of the third cutting of hay, drying in the field adjacent. The smell of the diesel tractor crawling up the road with a wagon of hay bales stacked impossibly high. The sound of lawn mowers and dirt bikes and dogs barking.

 

Windows go both ways

 

In the peak of the summer heat I will go upstairs to fetch something. At the top of the stairs I am met with a unique fragrance. It is the smell of a very old house. Century-old wood. Horse-hair plaster over hand-cut lath. Ancient wallpapers. It smells of all the things it has always smelled like, and not unlike the attic of my parents old farmhouse. I can’t know how much longer I will be in this house, or in this world. But I know in the meantime I will delight in that old familiar smell of an old, old house owned by old people. Unchanged but for those few places where it was deemed absolutely necessary. And my kids and grandkids will share this experience. This smell. This old Ark.

And until I go, you will not smell vinyl. You may be a little chilly in the winter. And you can look out at ancient trees which are as old as the wavy, bubble-filled glass you are looking through.

 

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Pazlo

April’s Fool

Last Of The Snow?

 

Yep. Fooled again.

Why would I put away snow shovels prior to…say, June?

And the pellet stove. Was I really down to my last bag of pellets on April the 20th, when the temps dropped well below freezing? Yes, yes I was.

April is a trickster. One day the sun is shining and daffodils are blooming. The next, the wind is blowing at eighteen miles an hour, and with the wind chill, it feels like 24 degrees.

Every year we are fooled in this way. Lulled into believing winter is over, until- BAM!- a spring snow. Then we think it’s cold and the heaters are on, and next thing you know it’s ninety degrees in the house. Heaters off, doors and windows open.

So I left the snowmobile on the lawn, hoping for one last ride. I parked it on six inches of snow, and it looked pretty normal. Now all the snow has melted away, and the Ski-Doo looks like some abandoned machinery. A steel and fiberglass lawn ornament. Now, before I have the sled put away, the grass is already six inches tall and it’s time to get the Deere out.

Maybe I should just put skis on the John Deere! Then I wouldn’t need to switch back and forth between machines. (And it would be easier than putting a mowing deck on the snowmobile.)

That’s what I need. A universal all-season machine. A mower deck on the bottom, a brush hog on the back and a snow plow on the front! Now if I can figure out a way to pull the boat behind it…

Grandson Max and I went last weekend for some spring fishing. We headed to Cobleskill Reservoir just after sunrise, and worked our way down the bank and toward the lower holding pond. I pulled three nice bass from the water, fifteen-inchers, while Max went fishless. At the second pond, the upper Holding Pond, Max met with success in the form of some feisty yellow perch. The lower holding pond is stocked with trout from New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The Van Hornsville fish hatchery is just twenty minutes from home.

Spring On The Pond

At the lower pond, we had company. A couple on one side, a guy on the other, and a small group of kids throwing spin casts while dad plied the fly rod. At first, I said “follow the crowd” to Max. “Maybe they know something we don’t.” Local folks usually know the best spots. We fished this water for a short time while I made some observations. No fish. No minnows or fry swimming at the rocky shore. No crayfish (often in the form of retired exoskeletons). There were no plants growing in the water. No green slime growing on submerged rocks. I watched the other eight or ten people, all fishing simultaneously without result.

“There are a lot of lines in the water, but I haven’t seen anybody catching fish.” I said to my partner. A wood newt slowly swam by, and I pointed it out to Max. I wet my hand and reached down, scooped up the little salamander, and told Max to wet his hand before I placed the little brown newt in it. He looked it over and released it to the water.

“That’s the first living thing I’ve seen in here.” I observed. “This water is too clean. Lifeless. Sterile.” We headed back over to the Perch pond. While sitting there, a baby beaver swam the length of the shore before us. We’d make a move to grab a camera or call to one another, and it would submerge, to surface again fifteen or twenty feet away. It was a little thing, about the size of a cat. (Beaver can grow quite large, in the 60-pound range, as big as a medium-sized dog).

We watched a squabble between two male Canada Geese, vying for a mate. We saw an Osprey fly over and drop to the water after a fish. A Bald eagle soared high above, and wandered south toward the ridges of the hilltops. We saw a Killdeer walking on the grass before us, and watched closely where we stepped to avoid its nest.

Killdeer In The Grass

My first fishing outing of the year, a success all around. Fish for both of us, beautiful scenery, some interesting wild friends, and no one fell in the water.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Mud Season

Juney In The Mud

St.Patrick and the Easter Bunny have their work cut out for them if they want to reach the door of our house. Better be wearing some muck boots.

My house is around 1130 feet above sea level, and up around 1200 feet is Engleville Pond, and a few feet higher is the Corporation Pond. They are situated right across the road, perhaps a half mile away. Well, water runs down hill, you know. The main water line from Engleville Pond, which is actually a reservoir for the village drinking water, runs right past my house and on to the water tower another mile and a half away.

When I first moved here, there was a faucet sticking out of the ground out by the shed. One day when I was enjoying the thrill of home ownership, in this case replacing my deep well pump 70 feet below us, I noticed the trickling, leaking faucet was still running. Well, it turns out that it was a tap from the big water supply line. I guess when they put it through here and tore up Mr. Baker’s property, they offered folks a tap from the line. Mr. Baker raised pigeons and kept a couple of farm animals such as a cow and turkey, so the water supply was welcomed.

About ten years ago, the guys from the village came by and asked if I still used the spigot out back. Turns out they were looking to reduce leaks in the mainline between the pond and the water tower. I assured them I could get by without it, and civic-mindedly agreed they could shut it off and remove it.

Ever since then, especially in the spring, we have quicksand in the driveway. I don’t mean mud, I mean quicksand. Real quicksand like in the movies where it sucks people in to their imminent demise. One year I thought I’d fill the “soft spot” with some solids, to build it up. I sank about a half-dozen bricks into the muck, and they disappeared out of sight. Haven’t seen them since. A few more rocks and wheelbarrows full of gravel all met with the same fate.

Over the weekend, I was out in the driveway, trying to squish flat all the ridges and ruts in the quicksand before May comes along and dries them out and turns them into curbs. A long time ago, almost twenty years now, I guess, I had Pomella Brothers come over with their backhoe and dump trucks to work on the driveway. I had them sink drain tiles in it, from the center, draining out to the ditch at Engleville Road. This seemed to help a bit when there was four inches of stone on the driveway. By now, it’s difficult to pick out the areas where the stone laid. In a few places it’s still gravely, but there’s a sort of swirl shape that leads to the quicksand hole, like gravel circling slowly down Earth’s drain.

When we first moved here, I presumed this was just a brief spring melt-off thing. We’d place planks at the top of the driveway so one could proceed to the back door over a boardwalk. After the boardwalk sank into the quicksand, I realized the problem was a bit bigger.

Finally, I called the village and asked if there was anything they could do. My cellar looks more like a koi pond, and has frogs living in it. I almost reported my daughter missing, thinking she sank into the mud, until she showed up later in the day. We were missing a couple of cats, too.

Well, digging up the main line to prevent the mud in my driveway was not something the village was enthusiastic about. More accurately, it took several minutes for the guys (I was on speakerphone) to stop laughing enough to talk to me.

No, they really had no way to check for leaks underground. If interested, I myself could personally buy the $38,000 ground-penetrating radar system used by large municipalities for just such occasions. Otherwise, they suggested, perhaps I should relocate the driveway to the other side of the house.

Oh, and by the way, I was reminded, I would need to call Pete, the local codes enforcer.

I am required to have a permit to build a boardwalk or a koi pond.

Quicksand holes, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, are not regulated by the local authority.

 

Stay dry, and wipe those feet (and paws)!

 

Paz