Category Archives: Sticks Life

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

Winter Diary

 

 

Wild Flamingos of Engleville

A little snow, then it warmed up. I wish the weather would decide what it wants to do. It’s really getting in the way of my activities. We get some snow, but it’s not deep enough for snowmobiling. Then the temperatures rise above freezing, and it’s too warm for my Hok skis. We get a good cold spell and I’m thinking we’re forming some good ice for fishing, then it warms up again for three days. We want cold, cold, cold for ten days or so, with no snow, and we’ll be off to a good start. If we can’t have ice without snow, then how about snow? Not an inch which melts in two days. How about a foot of snow and some temperatures in the 20’s. Then we can ski and toboggan and scoot around on the Ski-Doo. But this, these in-betweens. All this is good for is teaching patience.

Ready To Run

I did get the Ski-Doo out and fired up after a snow storm in November. Drove it around on the inch of snow with grass showing through. Well, she’s ready to run if we ever get any white stuff. The photo is from March of ’18.

Daughter Kerry and her husband joined me for the annual Christmas Bird Count for the National Audubon Society. Each year, we ride out a predetermined route and count species and quantity of all the avian friends we see in a day. It was very windy all day, and we noted that a few species were missing from the count. We saw only two Dark-Eyed Juncos, usually prevalent at feeders particularly. We saw no Horned Larks, which was quite a surprise. Horned Larks love winter roads, and hang out on the shoulders eating salt between scavenging flights to the fields of corn stubble. No bald Eagles either. Our count borders the mighty Mohawk River, a favorite hangout for eagles, so that was another surprise. On the plus side, we spotted (and photographed!) a Pileated Woodpecker. The Pileated is a giant, about as big as a crow, and sports a huge, gaudy red tuft atop his head. The bird is unmistakable in flight, and a thrill to see perched. (Click any image for a full-size carousel)

 

Last weekend, we all gathered at Stone House Farm’s sugar house for breakfast. Breakfast at Stone House is served boarding house style. A platter comes to the table overflowing with pancakes, waffles and sausages and is passed. Whenever it’s empty, one of the Everett girls will ask “Need another round?” It was good to have almost everyone together. The only missing elements of our core were son Terence and his son, grandson Kacey. The waffles are shaped like maple leaves, and of course the real, genuine, fresh maple syrup is unlimited in supply.

 

Grandson Max has become quite the star his first year in varsity basketball. He’s been high-scorer for more than one game, and has been distinguished in the local papers. The team has lost just one game this season, and they are now in the sectional playoffs. He had a bit of a dilemma moving up from JV, in that there was only room for one player. His dear friend Sasha was the only other candidate, and according to Max, plays as well as he does. (To be clear, Sasha is a boy, named in the European tradition). The coach was shocked when both boys declined the move to varsity. “If I don’t go, he’ll move Sasha up.” Max reasoned. Sasha and his family have had a challenging year of personal losses, and Max cried to think of how disappointed he would be. Sasha believed Max was more worthy of the move, and declined on that premise. The boys finally decided that one of them had to move up, for the sake of the varsity team. I’m not certain how they determined which it would be, but this noble and heartfelt gesture brought tears to the eyes of many grownups surrounding the debate. It was very touching to see them unabashedly root for the other.

Varsity Max, #23

The fields and forests of Engleville continue to call to me constantly. The trails beg for the company of me and my little yellow dog. And I am more than happy to indulge them. Our winter treks are among my favorites. Deciduous trees devoid of leaves do not impede our views. No pesky bugs will ask to share our blood. She is reticent, and often in the woods, I am as well. Sometimes I must speak aloud. Sometimes I call out to the trees and the snow and the pines and the sky.  We have been together many years, these trails and I, and we have grown close. We watch the seasons pass together.

Last week I caught the slightest whiff of spring, borne to me on the rainy wind. She is behind the proscenium, she is in the wings. “Pay no attention to the season behind the curtain!” Oz’s wizard calls to me. Let’s not hasten the passing of winter. Frozen sunrises and golden sunsets, boots and gloves, a hot fire and warm hearth.

Here’s to that wonderful white world of snow, the season of ice. Like all things in this life, we must appreciate and enjoy it in the here and now. Like all things in this life, it seems, gone before you know it.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

 

Cold Season

A Summer Place

Snow bears the most wonderful scent. Particularly after a long, hot summer, a warm and wet autumn, when composting grass and molds perfume the air. The tiniest, shortest season-within-a-season is the Foliage Peak, around the first and second week of October. It’s easy to miss this one if you are not out in it, raking leafpiles or sneaking in the last fishing trips to the pond before it is sealed beneath a foot of ice. There will be just a few days when the tons of dried leaves create some of my favorite, delicate aromatic nuances.

The Golden Autumn

Then one morning, arising in the darkness, I open the door to let Sassy June out, and the smell wafts to me through the open door. It smells exactly like that of which it is made, cold and water. It is snow on the way, and this is the harbinger of Cold Season. In my book, there are a hundred subtle changes throughout the year which I identify as seasons-within-seasons. The Standard Four are just too long and vague. Spring has snow, then crocuses, then mud, then tulips, then American Robins and before you know it, the dozen springs move on into the multiple summers.

Sparrow with Apple Blossoms

And after the dozen autumns, the many parts of Cold Season approach. First there is just coldness. No longer do we revel in the luxury of stepping out the door without consideration of our garments. Slowly we add sweatshirts. Then gloves, and maybe a hat. As the season commences, we’ll get out our barn coat and snow boots. By the time we are deep within the middle of this odyssey, we will don long-johns and “base layers”. Wrap our faces with scarves, pull on the big Berne snowsuit, and the felt-lined Ranger Boots.

 

Am I supposed to feel my fingers?

Cold Season sports some of the most beautiful sunrises of the year. Or perhaps it is more related to timing. In the long, easy days of summer, Sun is up way before Sassy and me. In the evenings, it still hangs in the sky after the end of Jeapordy. During winter, Sun seems to seek my companionship. The morning commute is greeted with frozen sunrises. Crystals hanging in red skies. Delicate flakes fluttering Earthward, backlighted by  gold and pink and bright cerulean blue.

Winter Sunrise

The challenges of the season come along at a steady pace. Finding the ice scrapers for the car, closing the storm windows. Firing the pellet stove and gas heaters, the smell of hot dust as the heat machines slowly wind up. Oh, surprise! Forgot to shut off the water to the outdoor faucet, the ice freezing in the spray head, cracking the plastic. “You know your hose is on out here?” son Ryan asks on a visit.

We’ll have a little snow by Thanksgiving most years. We almost always have white Christmases, though I have known a year or two when the day was devoid of snow. For me and my ilk, snow is a requirement for a fully-enjoyable holiday. This year threatened to be green, but we were granted reprieve as the snow fell gently on Christmas Eve. Just enough for a pretty dusting, everything painted new and white. Just when some old guy says something to the effect of “We just don’t have winters like the old days.”, along comes a blizzard to suggest he may be mistaken. Somehow, these are every bit as exciting as when I was a child, and the prospect of a “snow day” off from school was most welcome. A double bonus; no school, and three feet of snow to play in!

Buffeted Crest

On the trails of Engleville, I can venture forth under the most challenging circumstances. Twelve degrees below zero and a ten-mile-per-hour wind. I can imagine myself on a Coast Guard Cutter in the Bering Sea, Sergeant Preston of the Northwest Mounted Police in the days of the Yukon Gold Rush. I’ll stand again atop Nishan Hill for the thousandth time, and feel the wind pounding against me, making me sway like a sapling. It is here I feel closest to this Great Cosmos. This must be what it’s like in space, on the surface of Pluto, the asteroids of the Kuyper belt. Of course, I have the back-of-my-mind assurance that I am only a twenty-minute walk to a hot fire and a cup of steaming coffee.

Now I will count the tiny handful of weekends we’ll have to immerse ourselves in all that is Cold Season. Ice fishing and snowmobiling, ski-joring with Sassy June, snowshoe walks past snow-covered pines, the birds of winter, the long, moonlit nights, gray days veiled in flurries.

This is a quieter season for the most part. No neighbor lawn mowers grazing, no clamoring combines rolling up and down Engleville Road. (Though the Town of Sharon’s big Oshgosh V-plow will rumble past a couple of times a day in bad weather, son-in-law Kenyon waving from the window.) On a sunny, snowy day, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear the kids from the farm and the “Blue House Boys” next door, sledding down the hills, building snow forts, engaging in snowball fights, the laughter of children filling the frozen air.

On another bright winter day, the whining sounds of snowmobiles will be heard from all directions as they ride the abandoned rail bed north to the village, cross the carefully marked trail lanes over the hayfields, climbing to the Corporation Land, Engleville Pond, and the State Forest beyond. And here on the ranch, my grandchildren will tear up the neatly groomed trails, carefully conditioned for an old man and his old dog, riding the Ski-Doo, pulling siblings and cousins on a plastic sled, arguing over whose turn it is to drive.

There will be walks in the woods, down to the Little Beaver Creek. There will be rabbit- hunting in the hedgerows. There will be warm nights in the high school gym watching basketball games. There will be frigid days when we fish through the ice and debate our sanity for doing so. There will be frozen moments alone on a trail, with silent steady snowfall and an evasive sun. And I will be filled with reverence for this place, this time, this planet, this cosmos, this simple, beautiful life.

Then one day, the rest of the world will smell a smell, note the steadily fading snowdrifts, perhaps see a tiny purple flower shoving its way through the snow. A tiny giant, driven by tenacity, unphased by the cold. And they will begin to decry and declare “We’re nearing the end of winter! Look, signs of spring!”

I will feign joy for their benefit.

Though inside, I will shed a tiny frozen tear for the passing of the Cold Season.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Pazlo

 

Marching Into February (An Addendum)

Thought I’d drop an update on the snow. It’s over six inches now, and will continue to fall for maybe another 36 hours. We’ll have probably 20 inches or more when it’s done.

I meant to share more about the hok ski concept, specifically their origin and history. The concept originated in Northern China, where the Altai people (and no doubt other indigenous people) made skis then covered them with animal skins. The skins provided the same climbing/gliding action as the modern fabric skins. The fur would act as a grip when ascending, but would allow gliding when descending hills and trails. Here’s a photo gleaned from the web.

Altai man with hoks

I also forgot to include the photos of the hard-core football fan neighbors on Superbowl Sunday. Tom & Lynn always have a gathering for the game, and, like many Americans, they assemble a football game of their own to play before the big show. It’s quite a big event across the road, and the cars are crowded in their driveway and mine. The dogs (mine and Betsy’s) go nuts at all the traffic, and we get to witness the annual event, ready to call the ambulance when someone slips on the snow and breaks a wrist. Okay, so the worrisome patriarch takes over a bit. Of course snow, football, big guys and beer are a good combination for some potential injuries. Fortunately, there were no incidents (besides heated debates about where the line of scrimmage should be).

 

And I thought I was a winter die-hard!

Porch Pals

The American Robins are returning to their northwoods homes. They gather to roost in the pine stands by the hundreds, perhaps thousands at times. It’s quite a cacophony, and a sure sign that spring is right around the corner, however hard I may resist!

Lastly, I meant to mention that our winters, our snow cover, can actually linger long. I may have painted a softened picture of winter’s real potential. Of course, I wouldn’t be an old patriarch if I didn’t say “winter’s aren’t what they used to be.”, but I can back it up. With witnesses! One year I took son Ryan and daughter Kerry up to Cherry Valley to see the crevasses. These are large fissures in the top of the sedimentary ridge the Niagara River laid down, when it used to pass right through here a few hundred million years ago. A great upheaval caused a change to what would one day be New York State. That tectonic shift formed the Niagara Escarpment, and from thence forth the the great river turned northward, to its present-day track. Now “The Mighty Mohawk”, though dwarfed by the Great Niagara, follows the same 2-billion-year-old valley the Great One once did. Good thing, too, as Engleville was under a few hundred feet of water hitherto!

So, we had a “good” winter that year. Plenty of snow and late in the year, maybe a blizzard in March like the one I’m looking at right now outside my window. It was the first week of June when we went to Cherry Valley, and climbed around in the crevices that were perhaps ten feet deep on average. There, ten feet below the forest floor, in a north corner of this solid rock sanctuary, was a little remnant pile of the winter’s snow. We marveled at it. We handled it. We picked it up. And that was the year we will always remember.

The year we made snowballs in June!

 

Mind you, Ryan is now 36, and “the baby”, Kerry, is now 33.  A special bonus, a 25-year-old photo of Kerry throwing snow at me. A “good” old-fashioned winter!

Well, have to run. That snowmobile isn’t going to ride itself!

 

Take care, and keep in touch,

 

Paz

February Journal

Gosh, here it is the end of February already! Two twelfths of our year gone!

Gosh, here it is the beginning of March already! And I missed my deadline for the February Journal! Well, we’ll write about February in March. Here we go…

It’s been kind of a whacky winter this year, with temperatures oscillating wildly from fifteen below zero F to sixty degrees F in a two-week period. We set a record last Wednesday, with a high temperature of 73 degrees F. In February? What goes on?

Well, this is the first year that I’ve actually heard myself complain that it was not cold enough, and there was not enough snow!  I think it’s good (and fun) to embrace winter activities. Too many people live in this climate just hiding in winter, running from the cold and snow, and wishing for an early spring. Don’t get me wrong, I like spring as well as the next guy. Still, we live in a place that’s frozen and snowy at least 3 or 4 months out of the year. Sometimes it stretches out a little. A “good” long winter will set in around mid-November, and the landscape can be covered in snow until March or later. Most winters don’t quite string out that long.

When kids were little, I’d be out a lot building snowmen, snow sculptures and snow forts. There would be sledding down hills and generally playing in the snow many days. I’ve been an avid fisherman since I was a kid, but didn’t take up ice fishing until I was nearly fifty years old. Not sure why, though there was a time I was not so eager to expose myself to sub-freezing temperatures.

This year I took up yet another new winter activity, namely Ski-joring. Joring refers to being pulled by an animal, usually dogs. (There’s also Cani-Cross, motocross with canines!) Some ski-joring is done with horses, mostly in the midwest. In 1926, ski-joring was an Olympic event! Most folks have never heard of it. Anyway, this year I bought these things called Ski-shoes or Climbing skis, and they have a few other names. Invented and still used by the Altai people in Northern China, they’re called hoks (“hawks”) in the native language.

Altai Hoks

Hoks skin detail

So hoks, or climbing skis, have a “skin” on much of the bottom surface of the ski. A velour-like fabric, it’s like sharkskin; smooth in one direction and grippy in the other. So you can walk up hills like you’re wearing snowshoes, but on the backtrail or downhills, you can glide a bit. They’re not as fast as cross-country skis owing to the large fabric patch being a bit less slick than an all-ski underside.

Of course there’s more to it. I also picked up a trekking belt which goes around your waist, and attaches via a bungee lead to the dog. This way she pulls the belt, leaving hands free for ski poles. I did some water skiing as a youngster, but never skied on snow, so I’m learning the skiing part before strapping myself to a Husky that can run 25 miles an hour! The trail camera got a pretty good snapshot of the joring rig. You can see the Hoks yourself (or buy them) at Altai Ski. I think the whole address would be: http://www.us-store.altaiskis.com. The trekking belt and bungee lead come from Nooksack Racing in New Hampshire. (www.nooksackracing.com) Sasha’s custom-made dogsled harness comes from Alpine Outfitters of Bend, Oregon. (www.alpineoutfitters.net) (That’s grandson Kacey in the green hoodie).

Of course the temps were too warm (around or above freezing) for hok skiing, and even caused the snow to stick to the snowshoes. Then the snow melted and it rained. Boo hoo! In spite of all that we keep on hiking the trails and visiting our Wonder Woods. It’s always great to be out here, even if the weather doesn’t spoil us with perfect climes!

Snowmobiling, also, rose on the popularity list, became the buzz of the season, then was similarly hobbled by less-than-desirable weather for snowmachines. Max saved his money from working on the dairy farm all summer (and winter on Sundays only), and bought himself a shiny used Ski-Doo. His father, son-in-law Matt, went out after him and bought a sled, too. Not to be left behind (should snow ever fall) I also added a new Ski-Doo to my inventory. Well, not a new one, but a good used sled that will serve me for years. Of course we still have the Arctic Cat Jag my father handed down to me almost ten years ago, which is now painted orange with a “REVENGE” stencil in black on the sides of the cowl. Max had an idea we could take the Jag to the grass drags in Bouckville. Maybe we will, yet. Grass Drags are summer competitions for snowmobiles, where, as the name implies, they drag race on the grass. I guess someone is even more obsessed with winter sports than I am, and couldn’t let the whole summer go by without an excuse to ride his snowmobile!

Any excuse. My Ski-Doo on the two inches of snow we’ve had since I bought it.

We did manage to get a little ice fishing in before the temps warmed up and the rains came. Grandson Max and I plied Engleville Pond for half of a Sunday. It was quite cold, in the upper teens, and a bit of wind was blowing, so it was easy to keep moving out on the ice! All I had for bait was mealworms, which are okay, but not nearly as effective as shiners (or redheads). We drilled holes, we set tip-ups. We jigged with the short poles and made the rounds checking baits. Alas, our cold and wet quarry eluded us. It was cold and blowy, and in that visceral way it was a beautiful day to be out there. A steady snow fell all the while, and we had the whole pond and the little hollow all to ourselves.

Folks often think we’re out of winter when February ends. March sounds so spring-like. Many forget that the biggest blizzards we get are in March. (29 inches of snow last year!) So it’s no surprise, after all my lamenting, that another whopper of a storm is forecast for this weekend, with teens and twenties being quoted as snowfall predictions. Probably too late for the pond, and temperatures are forecast around both sides of freezing, so it’ll be too warm for snowshoes and hoks again.

I’m not getting my hopes up, but I hear there’s a new-ish Ski-Doo that wants to get itself buried in the snow on the trails of Engleville! Come on, winter. One last hurrah.

See you in that altogether in-between season, the season whose only claim to fame is Colt’s Foot and mud. Okay, so some folks actually look forward to Spring!

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Wonders in the Woods

Rerun- This post was originally published in January, 2016 on Armchair Zen.

To the Woods!

To the Woods!

Headed out into the Magic on this New Year’s Day with two of my favorite beings.

Of course my canine companion Chuy was the catalyst, and my grandson Max joined us in the 28-degree air. In my super-eager, always-ready grownup fashion, we were striding past the barn before I realized Max hadn’t any gloves, and was rather underdressed for an hour or two of outdoor play. Back to the house, and he donned my spare “jumpsuit”, some gloves, hat & scarf. Now we were ready. We headed up the runway to the rifle range, and at the crest of the hill Chuy crossed through the hedgerow to “The Widowmaker”, a big hayfield which has seen many radio-controlled airplane crashes, and has claimed the scale pretend lives of many scale pretend pilots.

“Can we go to the woods?” Max asked.

Inside my forced-order grownup brain, the responses line up:”Well, your dad is on the way over to pick up you and your sister. He might be here soon, and we don’t want to keep him waiting. It’s a bit of a hike over the hill, and I hadn’t planned on it. And it’s pretty cold.”

What came out of my mouth: “Sure we can!

As we walked the treeline atop the Widowmaker, a sudden thunder exploded nearby on our left. In a flurry of wingbeats, a ruffed grouse made its escape, placing trees and distance between it and us. “Partridge!”, Max declared. “Never saw him.”, I replied.  As we entered the hardwood stand, the ground before us was free of snow, a blanket of tan, brown and bleached leaves carpeted the forest floor, ankle-deep and noisy.

“Which do you like better, winter or summer?” Max inquired.

This was met with a lengthy response about all the things there are to love about summer, followed by all the things to love about winter, a circling and recircling diatribe that ended where we started, without a real direct answer to the direct question. The summary was a vague “there are so many things to enjoy in both seasons, one precluded from the other, resulting in sort of a tie.”

As we walked through the woods, the ground seemed to crumble beneath our feet often. The sensation was one of walking on foot-deep piles of saltine crackers. A crunching sound followed by our boots sinking 3 or four inches into the humus. We stooped for a closer look. Upon examination, we found most of the ground to yield crystal structures rising six inches out of the soil.

“Crystals.”, I marveled, to which my companion replied “Are they valuable?”

Crystals of the Forest

Crystals of the Forest

This lead to a dissertation about the definition of crystals, crystalline structures, common types of crystals, and their definitions as common, semi-precious and precious gems. I theorized about the formation of these dirty glass ice crystal structures. We had a warm spell, and some rain, followed by a dip into temperatures well below freezing. Water evaporating from the ground met freezing air, and the crystals formed.

Dirt Diamonds

Dirt Diamonds

“Can we go look at the creek?” was Max’s next request.

Again, my brain tickled through a file of grownup reasons why we might not, followed by the exclamation “Sure!”.On the way we saw some interesting tree-ear formations, and I stopped to take a photo.

“They look more like tree noses.” said Max, and I agreed.

Tree Noses

Tree Noses

At the Little Beaver Creek, ice rimmed both sides of the frigid, flowing water. We stepped on the ice at the bank and it crunched underfoot. Then we had to throw rocks onto the ice on the opposite shore, trying to break through. The rocks were frozen into the ground on the creek banks, and we had to kick them to free them from their resting places. Three million years it took that rock to get there, and suddenly in one day it moves 20 feet. Changing the course of geological history, we pelted the ice to no avail.

Max vs. Ice

Max vs. Ice

Along the North Loop trail we came across a shotshell wad, and Max narrated last weekend’s rabbit hunting.

“I was here,” he began, taking his position and holding his arms in shotgun-wielding formation, “and Pierce was over there.” Max gestured to the other side of a tangle of brush. “He called ‘Are you ready, Max?’, and kicked the brush. The rabbit went right through here,” a sweeping arc of the arm, indicating the bunny’s course, “and BAM! BAM! I shot twice, but missed him.”

Conservation of angular momentum is the cosmic force brought to bear on objects circling other objects in space, the push & pull, the yin and yan of gravity versus centrifugal force resulting in an orbit. Some orbits are close, such as that of our moon. Some orbits are millions and millions of miles long, often ellipses, hanging a tight turn around their gravitational anchor, then sling-shotting off into the far reaches of solar systems and galaxies. Objects moving through space are affected by the pull of the objects they pass. Sometimes ever-so-slightly altering their course by degrees over millennia. In other cases, objects are drawn close, and the cosmic dance begins between host and satellite, and the once-free and boundless travelers become residents, orbiting moons or rings of debris.

My days and times with my grandchildren affect me in similar ways. I am pulled from the ultra-ordered, prepared-for-retirement, insured-for-everything, time-honored traditions of middle-aged American patriarchs, and drawn back into the world of wonder, the endless hours of childhood. To walk almost aimlessly, to stop and identify every type of scat. To play at edges from which grownups recoil. Throwing rocks onto ice, skirting the near-freezing water without cares, without worries of “what would happen if…?”

What would happen if we fell into the swiftly-moving current, plunging muscles and lungs into 34-degree water wearing 10 pounds of clothes?

“It would be a bad thing if Chuy went into the creek and couldn’t get back out.” Max observed, as the old dog approached the banks of the Little Beaver Creek. It was a parallel of too-grownup thought, the same things I am thinking about the boy. The boy on the brink of becoming a man. Let’s not hurry that, okay? Let’s have another year, another winter, another walk in the woods, where you are a child of Neverland, and worries are unwelcome. A place and time before you set out on that endless highway of adulthood. Before you fall into the traps, reading the road signs “What would happen if…?

“He’ll be fine.” I answer casually, carefully concealing the legitimacy of his concern. “Not likely to happen.”

Max the meteor streaks past Grandfather planet. I am pulled toward him by the unseen forces, trying to hold him.

He pulls back, as a glorious tail stretches out across the cosmos, hurtling by me at phenomenal speed.

My orbit affected, I reach out with my own unseen force, and try to grab that tail.

Max Meteor

Max Meteor

Be at peace,

 

Paz