Tag Archives: Family

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

The Hunkering Down

Buffeted Crest

Buffeted Crest

The sound of Christmas music fades into the distance, the peals of New Years’ bells fall silent. The festive decorations, the electric lights, and the strings of greeting cards will be put away. Old calendars removed and new ones hung. Retire last year’s Farmer’s Almanac to the shelf in the library, beside the previous twenty volumes.

January is here, and the time for hunkering down. Shuttering windows, stoking fires. The winds sweep down Victory Mountain from the west, shaking our little vale, blowing up snow devils that dance across frozen hay fields.  They twist and race across the roads, piling drifts against the hedgerows, beleaguering the geese camping in the corn stubble, their heads bowed, backs to the wind.

Pray for Snow

Pray for Snow

February Snows

February Friends

Snow Shovel

Snow Shovel

The smell of wood smoke hangs in the air, and the singularly magical scent of snow. Sounds are muffled; footsteps, passing cars, yelps of excited children up on the hill, sledding their cares away.

Make no mistake, we may guard ourselves against winter’s onslaught, but we shall not be hermits! Into the wild white and wind we boldly step, to ski the slopes, to drill holes through the ice from which we’ll pull some fish. We’ll ride snowmobiles and toboggans, we’ll don boots and snowshoes. We’ll throw snow balls at one another, and build snowmen and ice forts and igloos and snow sculptures. We’ll get soaking wet and rosy-cheeked and we’ll retire to a fire-filled cast iron stove and a bucket of hot chocolate.

Cathedral Summit

Cathedral Summit

Fishing Duane Lake

Fishing Duane Lake

Dad's Jag

Dad’s Jag

The best is yet to come. When the windows are frosted over like in Doctor Zhivago, and we make a game of checking the thermometer. Minus two. Minus twelve. Minus eighteen.

The wind will howl over our heads, and the fields will be vast seas of blowing white dust. Now it’s time for hot tea and warm hands. Time to close the drapes, put the fir-needle-filled draft stopper in front of the cellar door. Time for double socks and electric blankets, down ticks and cold noses.

Then one day we will find ourselves in the center of a white wonderland, bright sun shining, not a stir in the air. There will be friends and laughter, or perhaps solitude and the rapture of nature. The sun and the snow and the smell and even the cold itself will fill us with the thrill of the season, the bravado of those that brave the elements, the simple wonder of a world transformed.

Winter Sun

Winter Sun

December 30 First

All around lie the remnants of summer and fall.

These dry brown grasses, the tall and the small.

Each conifer stretches, the low and the high,

Each stretches, in vain, its limbs to the sky.

The sun hangs low in its arc, nonchalant.

Neglecting her Earthbound petites enfants.

The Cold comes to slumber, and lumber around,

Packing the earth to hard frozen ground.

The Smoke of Chimneys dances and twirls,

Having never seen the Summer World.

I’ll shutter the window, put a log on the fire,

And patiently wait for the Year to expire.

As into the pink night sky sets the sun,

Another year’s ended

As another’s begun.

Snowscape

Snowscape

Let the peace of the season follow you throughout the year.

Take care and keep in touch.

 

Paz

 

 

 

The Game

Where my niece Michele went to high school, she was in a class of 1,300.

Family had reservations, appointments for commencement. An hour’s window during which our progeny were scheduled to cross the stage in a mass-production graduation machine. I believe the entire commencement took something like eight hours.

In my little school (yes I know I’m old and we’re talking about the last century, but it was 1977, not 1877) we had a graduating class of about 65 students. We all knew each other quite well.

When we were shopping for The Ark, one of my criteria was that the school needed to be fairly small, like mine was. My wife’s class was bout 300 kids, if I recall. I liked the idea that a kid, especially if a kid had a little trouble, could not be lost in anonymity.

In Sharon Springs, the graduating classes had an average of slightly less than 30, until Ryan’s class came along. All of a sudden there was a mini baby boom, and there were 45 students starting that year! The school had to scramble to get another teacher, and establish a second classroom for the grade.

Fast forward about 20 years, and now daughter Miranda and her family live just north of us, in the big town of Canajoharie. Canjo is a bigger school, by my standards, and I think the classes are a bit larger than a hundred students.

Grandson Max plays for Canjo’s basketball team, which meets each Saturday for intramural games with neighboring schools of similar size. I had a good time on a recent Saturday, taking some photos at the game, trying for a Sports Illustrated shot. Number 32 is Max.

The game was against Mayfield, the school across the lake from my own alma mater. The gym where the game was held has the kind of bleachers that fold flat against the wall. Attendance is good at basketball, and there were probably more than a hundred spectators from the two schools. Still on the small side, you’ll notice the benches of Mayfield and Canjo hold barely enough students to make a second string.

Max drew a few fouls, and made some baskets. I don’t have the stats. It was a great thrill to watch them play. I played a little hoop in school and loved it, and all three sons played for Sharon Springs. (Daughters preferred soccer and softball). There’s something a bit timeless in school sports. At least basketball. How much can change, really? The game looks the same now as when I played, though I’m sure our uniforms were better looking.

 

dsc_0934

The Crowd Rises

Alas, after an all-out effort and a lobbed shot at the buzzer, The Cougars could not rally against Mayfield, and the game was lost. The teams lined up and passed one another, shaking hands and declaring “good game”.

So close.

So close.

Until they meet again.

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz