Tag Archives: fall

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

Autumn In Engleville

Yes, indeed, Autumn has arrived.

You can know by the colors of the trees, the honking Canada geese, the fog-laced mornings.

October Sunrise

Misty Morning

We can know it by the heavy dew that clings til afternoon. By the honey bees, hurriedly trying to build a hive in the siding of the old house. We can know it by the visits of neighbors from nearby states. What I call home every day of the year is a destination for them. Camp. The woods. Far from Boston or Springfield or Framingham.

Morning Trail

We can know it from the noisy School Bus so early in the morning, orange as a pumpkin and lit with Halloween lights. From the darkness that arrives in time for supper now, no longer the farmer, stretching the day to nine o’clock.

Bus Stop

We can know it by the murmurings of Starlings, Blackbirds, Cowbirds, as they fly over the house in columns a mile long. They stretch as far as the eye can see, from the horse farm at Hanson’s Crossing, over Engleville Pond and the Corporation land, up the face of Victory Mountain and on over the hill into Cherry Valley.

Starling Sunset

We can know by the ag trucks with their fat tires, hauling open loads of silage from the cornfields, the bits blowing all about, drifting and floating in the air and on the road, a premonition of that famous winter precipitation. (We can’t use the “S” word yet.) By the stripped and bare fields, devoid of green and crops, an occasional corn stalk standing silent, lonely vigil for the passing of comrades.

Last Corn Standing

Now the pickup trucks will line the back roads. Every man, woman and child embracing the fall fashions; boots, hunter orange, vests, fluorescent hats.  After bow season, these woods will once again roar and rumble to the sound of gunfire. Close your eyes and imagine the Revolutionary War battle of Cedar Swamp, fought just three miles from here.

Huntsmen

Everything that is leaving is on its way now. Everything that is staying is feverishly preparing for the next season. Birds will migrate south from here, a thousand miles, or two, or three, to their winter homes in Mexico, the Yucatan and Patagonia. Lemmings will make their way across the Canadian border unimpeded, seeking the “warmer” climate of the Maine Seacoast.

Saying Goodbye

Around the ranch, many annual chores, duties and traditions repeat themselves. Time for lawn mowers to slow down, the wheelbarrow to rest. Time to decorate for Harvest and Halloween and on into the “big holiday season”. Time for pointed shovels and iron rakes to trade places with leaf rakes and those big, plastic shovels to move you-know-what.

There are no defined stops and starts for me and my Earth. No delineation; here is summer, and- across this line- here is autumn. The days and seasons follow on one another and blend as they pass. Like the water feeding the creek, it is always arriving and yet simultaneously always leaving.

Ellie and the leaf pile

Like the grandchildren who will not stop growing up despite my pleading, the blue ball turns at her own pace. And I ride along it like a child on a roller coaster. My hands gripping, white-knuckled, wind sweeping through my hair. A mile-wide smile, and sometimes a whoop or squeal of delight. Up, up, up clatters the chain drive, propelling me on. And then…

Harbinger

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz

 

Deer Season

Huntsmen

New York State has a long deer hunting season, that starts with bow and muzzleloader seasons, after which comes the regular firearms season.

Son-in-law Matt and Grandson Maximus are avid hunters, going back several generations in the hamlet of Buel, five miles north of Engleville. It’s been quite a while since I stalked deer with a gun, and I’ve moved on to a new hunt. With my camera.

I’m a catch-and-release fisherman. Except for a couple of shore dinners while camping up north at Forked Lake, I measure, photograph and release the fish I catch. I decided that since I’m past the game-taking stage in my life, I’d start a new thing: “Shoot and release”.  It’s unlawful for members of a hunting party to be unlicensed, so I have my big game tags on my back as we pursue our quarry. However, my Nikon is the only thing I shoot with.

Opening day I joined the lads and a couple other hunting buddies, Mike and Jeff, and we went on a couple of deer drives in Buel. Push-hunting, or driving, is a method that calls for a couple of members of the party to take a stand at advantageous spots, while the “drivers” start along the opposite side of the area (typically woods, swamps, marshes and the like) and we make noise and hoot as we drive the deer out towards the shooters.

After a couple drives in Buel, we headed to daughter Kerry’s farm, where Matt and Max have box blinds. These are raised stands enclosed by walls. We spent a few hours in the blind, until dark, without seeing any deer. Max got himself a good nap, though.

The day after opening day, Max got his buck. He and his Dad were at Kerry’s, and Matt drove the swamp towards Max. A fine 6-point buck was Max’s reward. It was a beautiful deer, in good health, with no sign of ticks.

 

Max’s buck

As the only unarmed member of the hunting party, I’m always a driver, or “pusher”. I get some great exercise and see some trails and terrain that’s new to me. The hunting party is actually glad to have me, as fewer and fewer folks pursue hunting these days. Back in the when, there would be a dozen guys assembled for some big drives. Sometimes the group would take more than one deer in a single drive.

I’m a little conflicted in the sense that I myself don’t kill things, and also I love all of nature and all its creatures. Thanks to Disney and The Yearling, many of us get emotional over seeing a deer killed. Thankfully, my over-sized human brain is able to understand the concept of overcrowding. There was a time when predators would take their fair share of deer, and there were no fields full of corn or pumpkins to feed them. Nowadays, deer get plenty to eat, and have power line right-of-ways and rear easements to wander through safely. If we don’t take responsibility for reducing the deer overpopulation, they’ll all suffer with starvation and rampant spread of diseases. They’ll also run out in front of your car or even occasionally crash through a picture window into someone’s living room.

For me, I’ve taken to joining the hunt to spend time with my grandson and favorite son-in-law (okay, so he’s my only son-in-law, but still…) in the great outdoors in all weather. It’s a fine adventure for an old Armchair Zen grandfather, and I am easily mesmerized by the many photo opportunities that present themselves. Alas, I’ve yet to “shoot” a good deer on a hunt.

Mostly it’s about taking game, but nearly as important is the camaraderie of the hunt. Jeff arrives with “tomato pie”, very popular in Utica, from which he hails. Between drives we’ll talk about the deer we saw or didn’t see, yesterday’s drive, tomorrow’s plan. We recall names of those that hunted before us and have since passed on. Max’s grandfather Mert, Mike’s cousin Ken (they say don’t mention Ken Jones locally, he was a real character. Loved or hated, no in-betweens). A neighbor stopped to ask where we were hunting and if we had permission, and after a couple of well-timed name-drops, the neighbor was glad to have us nearby. And “Yes!”, she said, she’d be glad to get some venison if we were successful.

So, another year of trucks lining the roads on weekend mornings, guys walking around armed like soldiers, and the sound of shotguns and rifles ringing out through the hills. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a good respectable sport, and we are responsible sportsmen, and we have some great times out in the snow and mud of November.

Until next year!

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

In The Wonder Woods

This post is a follow-on to “Walk With Me” (10-27-17), wherein we walked our trails from the Great Lawn, and eastwards up to the top of Nishan Hill.

Across the top of the hill on our walk, we arrive at the great forest we call The Wonder Woods.

“Seek not after answers, but after the joy of wonder.” – Chuy The Wonderdog

Breakfast Company

We find so many fascinating and curious things herein, hence the name. It is a breathtaking and beautiful place to dwell and linger, wander and wonder, in all seasons.

It’s a marvelous place to be in Spring, as the days grow longer, the snows recede and vanish. Spring Robins will roost in the pines at sunset. By the hundreds they’ll noisily gather in the grove, settling for their evening’s rest on their migration northward. The earliest tell-tale signs can be found of new growth, the thawing of our world, and nesting season.

Throughout the long summer, the woods grow thicker with vegetation and undergrowth. Squirrels rule the day, and they will begin barking at you as you walk through their domain. Summer bird visitors are seen now. Woodpeckers love the aged wood. From time to time we’ll see the huge Pileated Woodpecker, looking like Woody himself. An indigo bunting is an eye-catching sight, and after the Goldfinches come their near-lookalike, the Common Yellowthroat. Catbirds will follow us on our walk, albeit at a safe distance, and the Cedar Waxwings will work at gleaning the wintered-over seeds of the Sumacs.

Turkeys scratch and dig in the forest floor for grubs and worms. They walk the same heavily-trod path followed by deer, coyotes and even the occasional black bear. To some, the wood may look untrammeled, but those with a keen eye, the trail can be seen. A few kicked-up leaves here, a snapped twig there. It’s easier to see if you get down to coyote level. 

Of course our wood is beautiful year-round, but few seasons are as striking as autumn. Granted, the landscape is dramatic and captivating in the snow, and we find as much to see therein. There’s no competing with fall color, and the activities that accompany the season. Deer will begin scraping the velvet off of their antlers in August. Squirrels and Chipmunks are running marathons to gather and store food for the coming winter. Deer are consuming everything they can while it’s available, before being trapped in their winter yards. Overhead, Canada Geese wave long goodbyes, and mile-long flocks of Starlings will transit the drumlins of Engleville.

Winter is a wonder unto itself. The landscape seems almost alien. Frozen and packed with snow, it is far from devoid of life and activity. Winter is the most visceral season, with winds whipping up snow devils and piling drifts. Like the sand of a beach, the surface tracks activity among forest friends. Big turkey footprints, tiny mouse footprints, trails leading every which way, some burrowing beneath the snow. It’s a season of light, even though the days are shorter. With the canopy devoid of leaves and clear frigid air, light finds all corners of the woods.

In all seasons and the seasons-between-seasons, the Wonder Woods is my ever-present friend and guardian. There is never a trip into the forest that does not bear some gift for you.

Look us up if you’re out our way, and we’d be glad to take you along.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Leaf Pile Party 2016

 

Maple Merriment

Maple Merriment

We have an annual tradition here at the Ark of Engleville, and that’s our yearly Leaf Pile Party!

Each year we gather as many kids, grandchildren and friends as we can, and invite them to help build the pile, shoot for a new height record, and “throw or be thrown” into the mass of dried maple leaves.

Five big sugar maples out front produce most of the leaves, and the wind brings us some from the neighbor’s across the road. This year was a great crop, and a late “fall”, the time the leaves actually fall from the tree. We had some huge winds, over twenty miles an hour, for several days the week of the party, and I worried much of our prized quarry would end up in the woods. As luck would have it, the leaves clung to the great lawn and eagerly anticipated our gathering as much as we did!

We combined the event with a gathering to honor Mam’s birthday, so we had a cake with candles, ice cream and some gifts to open.

Back outside, the work began in earnest to set a new record. The old one was fifty-six and-a-half inches. (Last year the wind blew 15 miles an hour, and we couldn’t build a pile over four feet high without the top getting blown away).

Of course, some people raked (or ran son-in-law Matt’s leaf blower), and some people just jumped in the pile. Some were buried, some did the burying, some ran and chased with armfuls of leaves, then BAM! Aren’t you glad it isn’t snow? Time to let the pictures tell the story.

Come join us in the mayhem!

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When I reviewed my photos of the day, I found a few sequences that brought back the moment, it was like re-living the day. Come along, you’ll virtually feel the leaves down your neck.

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Maddie and Lizzy did most of the running and throwing, then were ready to move on to tractor rides. Okay, so it’s a lawn tractor, but it’s still a tractor. The girls took turns driving maniacally around the trails, pulling the wagon. Well, as maniacal as one can get with a top speed of eight miles per hour. The rest of us raked, threw Evan in the pile, and otherwise enjoyed the crisp, clear air of November, the smell of the leaves, the squeals of laughter.

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A little cider, some free leaves, a few kids, and you have yourself a formula for a great afternoon of family fun! Looking forward to next year’s Leaf Pile Party, and another new record!

That is, unless the wind blows the top off.

See you next year!

See you next year!

Take care, and keep in touch,

 

Paz