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Fire On The Mountain

Fire Ring

In his song “The Devil went down to Georgia”, Charlie Daniels’ hero Johnny plays the fiddle on a wager, his soul for gold. He plays a medley of folk songs, and begins thusly:

Fire on the mountain!
Run boys! Run!”

The folk song referenced is nested in bygone days, a different time. It doesn’t sing “Call the fire department!”, nor “Dial 911!”. It comes from a time when there was no 911. Here on this mountain, there was no fire department. If there were, telephones do not yet exist, or perhaps have not reached the hills and hollows of sparsely populated rural areas.

It evokes a vision of mother or grandfather, one hand on a porch post, looking across the valley. Smoke is rising, not from a forest or a glen, but from John and Mary’s, or perhaps the Widow Bouck’s. The conflagration is not anonymous. We can imagine Mary’s face buried in her hands, or thankful that the winds are not blowing toward their home. We can see John, the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, face and hands blackened with soot as he beats back the burning bushes to protect his family, his farm, and every irreplaceable thing he has, no one to turn to or call on for help.

The boys arrive, perhaps on foot, perhaps on horseback, perhaps brimming from the bed of a truck we know from episodes of The Waltons, from The Grapes of Wrath.  They are farmers and millhands and pastors and barbers. By twos and threes they race without orders into the fray, disregarding their own safety. With shovels and picks, axes and hoes, these ordinary men confront the beast, shoulder to shoulder. Through the night the battle rages, and at dawn they will kneel together. They will give thanks for all that was saved, or will share tears for their losses.

In the world of 2020, the majority of people live in densely populated communities. Cities and sprawling suburbs and housing developments. Most benefit from full-time, fully-equipped, fully-trained fire departments, whose heroes are no less brave or appreciated than Johnny and his neighbor boys.

According to the 2000 Census, and I doubt it has changed much, the population of the Village of Sharon Springs stood at 547 persons. I live about three miles from the village line, in the larger tract called the Town of Sharon. It is comprised of about 1,900 people, which includes the village populace. When I moved here in 1985, we had a constable. He drove around in an older Plymouth with a big, round gumball machine-looking light on the roof. Once Phil reached retirement age, the position of the constable was dispensed with. The well-equipped county Sheriff’s department would cover the village in his stead.

Our fire department and ambulance squad are all volunteers. So it is for all of our surrounding communities. One would need to drive about fifty miles before reaching a community with paid firefighters and EMT’s. In this past year, my grandson Max began his training to join the Canajoharie Volunteer Fire Department. My sister’s parents-in-law were both on the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps. My dear late friend Jim Bixby was a Lieutenant in the Middelburgh Volunteer Fire Department. He was honored, as was my daughter’s father-in-law, with a “Final Call” via radio dispatcher, at their funerals.

We had a blow-down last week at the ranch. A twenty-foot, twelve hundred pound chunk of Sugar Maple #1 along the road frontage fell across the end of our driveway. Already a miracle, it didn’t fall six feet to the west and end up blocking the road, nor did it blow over due east, the predominant wind, which would have placed its top somewhere around the second shelf of my grandmother’s curved-glass china closet in the parlor. As luck would have it, I was only three miles away, just over the village line, when my wife called me home. Unable to use my own driveway, I parked across the road at Tom & Lynn’s. Before I got across the road, Lynn was out the door calling to me.

“Tom and Matt will be here in a few minutes. They’re setting up for Paul’s funeral.”

“That’s okay,” I replied, “I’ll just hook onto it with the truck and drag it out of the way.”

I didn’t need to inconvenience Tom or their son Matt, who were doing some of the behind-the-scenes things done for funeral services. They had just enough time to come home and change in order to attend the services for the friend and neighbor.

I went into the house to don coveralls, and before I made it back to the end of the driveway, I heard Matt firing up the chainsaw, his father advising him as to the best approach for cutting the huge obstacle. We worked together, and in less than ten minutes had chunked up and removed the fallen trunk, and cleared the driveway. Handshakes and thank-yous, and they were off to get dressed. Neighbors are such a blessing.

Lester plowed my driveway until one year, at the worst of times, his plow truck broke down, and he found himself in no position to repair or replace it. Without inquiry, another neighbor, Mike, began to plow my driveway for me, refusing all offers of compensation. This year I have my own plow truck, and have had occasion in the last two storms to cross the road and plow yet another neighbor’s driveway. Betsy lives alone and is no shrinking violet. If necessary, she would clear her driveway with a shovel. It will not be necessary as long as I am “Lester of the watch”.

It must be nigh on twenty years now since we had the chimney fire. I have no head for time and find memorization of dates and years tedious. But I remember that like yesterday. Weren’t we lucky to be standing in the kitchen when we heard the rush of the draft turn to a grumbling roar, a gut wrenching and unmistakable sound. Barking orders I commanded my wife to grab the two girls, go get in the van and drive it across the road to Tom & Lynn’s. Here they would be safe. Now I called the Schoharie Fire line, there was no 911 yet.

“O’Connor’s, Box 66A, Engleville Road,” I related the data, followed by the reassurance “They all know where I live.” It seemed I had just hung up the phone and grabbed the fire extinguisher, mere seconds later, Tony (the Sheriff) pulled into my driveway, followed closely by Lester (yes, the same Lester). Then Ray, who delivered our heating oil when we had a furnace. Then Scott, the plumber son of plumber Ruben, whose family built their modest fortune maintaining the famous bath houses of the village. One after another familiar faces arrived, threw a ladder, advised one another on the safest approach, tossed a chain down into a chimney inferno from which flames were shooting fifteen feet into the air. They knocked down the creosote, eliminating the fuel, it’s flakes ironically smothering the fires at the base of the chimney liner.

They laughed with one another as they stowed their gear, called me by name as they bade good night, drove home as if it were just another day. An hour ago I was facing the utter destruction of my home, and in minutes these ordinary heroes saved it all without a drop of water.

 

Blue Light Flashing

The rising wail of the whistle is heard three miles hence,

It quickens one’s pulse,

fills the hills and valleys, an echoing plea,

“Help!” it’s crescendo cries “Help!”.

 

Leaving us to wonder and worry for whom the alarm is raised. 

 

In an instant we see them.

Family sedans, compact cars, and pickup trucks from the farm hasten past,

Blue Light Flashing.

 

We see neighbors racing headlong into danger without thought

Of reward or return, offering up their own safety,

To help neighbors in the grip of calamity.

 

With great gratitude for one and solemn sympathy for the other,

We pray for both.

 

 

Bless you, all you boys (and now girls, too!) who respond to the call: “Fire on the mountain!”

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

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

Mud Season

Juney In The Mud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Paz

Deadbeat’s Journal

Deadbeat. That’s what I’ve been for Life In Engleville.

I’ll tell you. Starting in January I took up sort of a new phase in my writing. I inadvertently started  a novel. Yes, inadvertently. I thought I’d write a sort of serial story in blog posts, but it quickly took on a life of its own, and has since occupied much of my precious and finite creative time. Look for “Blogroll” on the main page, and you’ll find Sasha of The Chukchi Sea. Now into its second “book”, Lodge. The story starts in Homestead (the first book) if you’re interested in reading and starting at the beginning.

Around the ranch, we’ve come quite a ways since the last post in March. We had a great blizzard going, and it did not disappoint us. About thirty inches of snow. It was too deep to snowmobile in, and the sled sank and bogged down. By the next weekend, riding was nice. Plenty of snow and the milder, sunny April days were welcome. Alas, by the following weekend, there was not enough snow on the trails to use the sled. Well, we’re set for this winter!

Sledding Thursday Trail

Elsewhere, we got the AquaMarie dry-docked in the cabana for some reworking from stem to stern. On the trailer, repairs were needed to the bunks (wooden glides covered with carpet) which were replaced, as well as the bow stop. Additionally, we upgraded the old steel cable winch to one that uses a web strap. No more wire stabs! Lastly, I finally replaced the lights. Went with submersible LED’s, and now she’s up to date (and I won’t go through 4 light bulbs a year). Took the motor down to Andersen Boats for a tune-up and once-over, bought a new gas tank, and a pair of new tires for the trailer. Additionally, we replaced the bow and stern lights, reworked the electrical a bit (new box, moved the light switch), replaced the single horn with a twin, and at long last added Old Glory, a U.S. flag. She made the trip to our beloved Forked Lake in the Adirondacks the first week in June for the father & son trip with Ryan. We brought our dear friend Carl with us this trip, and had a great time (and delicious fish). That trip, and the annual Camporee in July, will no doubt fill their own post!

AquaMarie at Forked lake

At the ranch, we’re doing a little work on the Ark. Replaced the south-facing side porch and posts, added new stairs and railings. Recarpeted the living room, and weekend before last I repapered the kitchen walls. Some painting projects were executed by grandson Kacey, turning 19 in October. How that time has flown!

In June, near-disaster struck. One beautiful, sunny Saturday I went out to my John Deere to mow the ranch. Turned the key and heard a “snap”. Knew it was all over. Partly a panic, you can’t skip a week of mowing or you might as well bring a baler. Also heartbreak. I’m not really certain why, but I love the JD almost as much as a dog. We’ve been together a number of years, shared nearly 700 hours together, gleefully mowing yards and trails. Well, a number of those hours are logged by grandkids who love the JD, too. They use it more as a go-kart. Max has actually driven it around in the snow. Typically, granddaughters Lizzy and Maddie will tie a snow sled to the tractor, and Max will drive around trying to dump them. (This they also did with the Ski-doo!) Or they’ll hook up the garden cart and go for wagon rides.

So this past week, my son-in-law, a certified mechanic, delivered my Deere to me, all fixed and running better than new! Simple pleasures, eh? It doesn’t take much to make my day! I spent yesterday grinning like a fool as I mowed the lawn with the Deere for the first time since June.

It’s been a strange summer in a few ways. Weather has been almost bizarre. Record high temperatures, rain every other day, oppressive humidity. Now we are in the waning of the pinnacle days of summer. I’ve been a deadbeat for the blogs, but not for the world, as I’ve filled every waking moment with some activity or another all summer. Glad I carved out enough time to drop an entry, though it’s really not much.

Things are settling down a little now, as things do about this time of year. I’ll be back in the blogosphere real soon, and tell you some stories about the places I’ve been.

Some without ever leaving home.

 

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

 

 

The Cottonwoods

Barn & Cottonwood

See that big Cottonwood tree on the left? I planted that tree. When I did so, it was a little twig no longer than my arm. Now, about 25 or 30 years later, it stands about sixty feet tall, as you can see in reference to the barn.

Everyone should plant a tree. Somewhere, sometime, whether on your own piece of land or in a park or wild forest. The thrill of climbing a tree you planted!

Originally, there were 7 or eight. Forming a line along the north edge of our property. Two did not make it past the critical “wonder years” for trees, and died off rather young. In their places we tried a little maple one of the kids brought home from school, and in another spot some blueberry bushes given to us by neighbor friends. The little maple also failed to thrive (or was cut down in its “childhood” by a careless mower.) The blueberry bushes are doing fairly well. Who knew it took ten years for a blueberry bush to mature?

When I ordered the Cottonwoods from Gurney’s, I selected “Cottonless Cottonwoods”. The same as other Cottonwoods, but bred to be sterile, and not produce the cotton. If you’ve ever known or encountered a mature Cottonwood, say, in June, you would be amazed and bedazzled and maybe overwhelmed in a literal sense by the bushels and bushels of tiny floating seeds, each wafting about on their own cotton pillow.

I remember going to the Utica Zoo on Kerry’s class trip, Kindergarten or First grade. The zoo was great, but everywhere we went there were foot-deep piles of cotton dander drifting along the walkways, settling into corners. It was a mess, but a magical mess. I knew I didn’t want this all over my yard (and in the house). So “Cottonless” was for me.

One of them did not get the memo. Of all the trees I planted, this one, now big and strong and tall, with graceful sweeping branches that reach nearly to the ground, goes into molting season with all of its little Cottonwood friends. And, it just so happens, it would be the Cottonwood that is perched twenty feet from the only place in the yard where we can put a pool (level ground and not too far from a power outlet for the filter).

So every year we have a pool, I spend eight weeks skimming Cottonwood catkins and dander from the top and bottom of the pool. It will clog the filter basket in a single day. The Cotton blows all over the yard, and when you mow, the cotton invariably flies at your face, goes up your nose, chokes the air intake of the John Deere.

Chuy & the Cottonwoods

A few years ago, the power company came along and said they were putting in lines for the neighbor. My Cottonwood, “Number One”, the first I planted, was in the right-of-way, and had to be removed. Killed. Chopped down. Felled. It wasn’t exactly like losing a pet or an heirloom, but there was a little twinge when I first saw that broad stump at the corner of the yard, that patch of blue sky where yesterday there were thousands of dancing green leaves. Not just a tree, but my tree.

We went to Newport, Rhode Island one year, visiting family between Plymouth and Providence. We toured the “Mansions of Newport”, former denizens of the last century’s American Royalty. They’d hop on their launches on the docks of Manhattan, and motor up the coast to the boathouse at Newport. Check these out on line, or go visit if you can. They are truly remarkable, real mansions to equal those in Europe. Imported marble, dozens of rooms, huge verandas, views of the sea.

At one such mansion, in the side yard, I spotted a familiar-looking tree. It was indeed a Cottonwood, probably near a hundred years old by then. Its branches draped outward and downward, as if it were resting so peacefully, and the tips of the branches reached all the way to the ground. So curious, this tree, like my own, would spend all those years growing, growing, taller and taller, ultimately to reach back down to the Earth from which it grew.

It was at that moment that I fell hard for the lowly Cottonwood tree.

When the summer breeze wafts down the lee side of Victory Mountain, and comes to call at the Crescent Moon Farm, our Holiday House, tens of thousands of leaves rustle a little golf clap for the beautiful weather. When storms roll through, the trees wave their arms, swing low their branches, as if to protect me. After Hurricane Irene, bits of Cottonwood tree were scattered throughout the yard.

Irene at Engleville- flooded road and neighbors.The felled Cottonwood #1 lies at the base of the new power pole.

Hurricane Irene-Bits of my Cottonwoods

On a quiet morning, as the sun throws its light over the barn, the trees are filled with birds. This morning I listened to an Oriole call out. The trunks are dotted with the neat, even rows of drill holes from the Northern Flickers.

Our Cottonwoods provide lovely shade in the yard where there once was none (save the front dooryard under the massive Maples).

Number two sports a wild-growing climbing rose, now reaching up through its host to a height of twenty feet or more. The main cane has a diameter of about four inches. As big around as a coffee mug. From number four hangs a tire swing, going on nearly twenty years, probably. It has swung my children, their friends and their children.

And that old number three, the one with all the catkins?

She’s still going. And this year, it looks like, and I hope, that slow-growing, graceful sweeping drooping branch will reach its goal. It’s only inches away now, and we are kindred, as we ready ourselves for the time we will reach down to our Mother Earth, and touch her once again.

And to be welcomed in a way only a Mother can.

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