Tag Archives: Christmas

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

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

 

January Journal

Closed For The Season

Well, we’ve flipped the calendar page and now it’s January. Now it’s 2018. From here, it looks a lot like 2017, only with different calendar pages.

Here we are at Perihelion, the point in our blue globe’s orbit when we are closest to the sun. It seems ironic, but only for the northern hemisphere. Right now it’s blazing hot in the deserts of Australia and Africa and maybe South America, too. We’re something like four million miles closer to the sun than we are at Aphelion, in July.

It’s been quite cold, plenty of below-zero days and nights with the wood stove cranked up and draft stoppers stuffed at the bottoms of doors. Last weekend, when Sassy June and I took our Wonder Walk on our trails, it was 13 degrees F, but it was sunny and without wind. The pristine beauty of the freshly iced world and the new snow was gleaming bright and filled with fascinating formations.

At work, I found a number of ice “stalagmites” on the ground beneath the drip edge of the roof. It appears splashing droplets of water froze to tiny sprigs of grass, and successive splashes added to the girth. I took some pictures with the low morning winter sun lighting them.

We also had a day of freezing rain, which glazed everything with a thin coat of ice. Bushes and berries, grapevines and winter berries, rose hips and skeletons of Queen Anne’s Lace were transformed into nature’s holiday decorations. A Celebration of The Solstice.

On December thirtieth, we loaded the FunBus with daughter Kerry and her beau Kenyon, and we set out to participate in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. This is an annual “census” of our avian friends. We drive out a specified parcel and note the number and species of birds we can find. We saw three bald eagles, certainly the highlight, and a wide variety of the usual characters.

There was a steady light snow falling throughout the day, which made photography difficult. Aside from adding a haze to anything at a distance, it also messed with the autofocus, so most of my shots from the day are washed out or not quite crisply focused.

Had a lot of fun with Christmas this year. Being the grandparents, with children that have their own homes and children, we did a big themed gift for all three described households. Each opened a small gift while these big ones (they’re about six feet tall, you can’t quite tell by the photo) waited, standing against a wall.

The Theme Gifts

Each child opened a package containing gloves. Each man-of-the-household opened a package to find a box of paraffin canning wax. Each lady-of-the-house opened a package containing hot chocolate and popcorn. Finally, the big reveal, as the kids shredded the labor-intensive package decorations, the labels “Batteries Not Required” and “Snow Shipped Separately”, to reveal an old-fashioned six-foot wood toboggan that the whole family will fit on!

Unfortunately, we haven’t yet had a good weekend of sledding weather (much to the chagrin of grandson Max, who saved all of his working-at-the-farm earnings from summer and bought a snowmobile). When it wasn’t five below zero F, it rained.

Ice on the ponds has formed well, with colder-than-average temperatures in December and early January. We hope to drill some holes in the pond next weekend, and see what we can discover beneath.

And so January is half gone already. Our winter half over, really. Winter can be tough in some ways, but it’s also beautiful and exciting. I’m in no hurry to see spring arrive.

Toboggans are terrible on grass.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

 

 

Merry Christmas Mr.Potter!

Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is one of my favorite Christmas movies.

It’s all about connectedness, about one person’s effect on others in this life. To some folks it’s a nostalgic return to a time when much of America was dotted with small towns like Bedford Falls, the fictional setting of the movie.

For me, it’s a reminder that I live in a place like  Bedford Falls. A place like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry.

Our Courthouse

Our Courthouse

Like George Bailey in the movie, when I walked into our humble little post office on Saturday, Maria called out “Good Morning, Scott!”. As I left I bade her “Merry Christmas, Maria!”, and she returned the greeting.

Our Post Office

Our Post Office

In the Stewart’s Shop, the regional convenience store chain, I’m served by Stacey, whom I’ve watched grow and mature since before school age. To her, I’m “Mr. O’Connor”.

Also to the many children I coached at Youth Baseball. More kids than I remember, and I must admit I don’t always recognize them twenty years later. To them, sometimes I’m “Mr. McGuire”, (some of my kids have alternate last names), or even simply “Coach”.

Down at Sunnycrest, browsing the greenhouses for flowers or buying wood pellets, they even recognize Chuy the Wonderdog, welcome to walk around the place with the owner’s dog.

Taking the trash to the Transfer Station, I see Carl every week. A classmate of my son’s, he also took up flying radio-controlled planes with us for a while.

The Transfer Station

The Transfer Station

One of my favorite small town moments was when I met one of our neighbors, Tony, as I was exiting the Stewart’s shop. My daughter dated his son in high school. A chance you don’t get every day, I greeted him with “Good morning, Sheriff!”. It felt like I was in a Gunsmoke episode.

Our Firehouse

Our Firehouse

Sure, lots of people know the Sheriff or have coached youth sports. Folks far and wide are known by name in their local haunts, from Starbucks to Subway. You don’t need to live in a small town to be surrounded by friends and neighbors.

Big town or small town, it’s being with those we cherish that really matters.

Merry Christmas!

Paz