Tag Archives: kids

Oh, Deere

Deere Girls

I love to mow, and mow a lot. This could be a conflict with my alter-ego, Pazlo the Philosopher, who would think that cutting the grass is egregious to the Earth. That may be true, but the lawn was there before I came along, and there’s a certain social pressure to keep your dwelling space from looking abandoned or condemned. So, I cave to fashion, and slash away at the defenseless grass, often with zeal. I must admit I apologize to the grass sometimes, and when Pazlo sneaks into my brain I still consider the grass’s point of view, though I don’t take my foot off the Go pedal while doing so. Technically, I guess I could quit the world and go live under a bridge, which is where my wife would send me if I didn’t mow the lawn. So mow I must.

As a new homeowner, in 1986, my first summer at the Ark, I had the vigor of a 26-year-old, and thought I could mow three acres with a push mower. I quickly came to the conclusion that my sons would need to learn to push the mower. They were home all day anyway in the summer, right? Okay, so that didn’t go so well either, maybe because the oldest was 10. I began a search for a riding mower.

By search, I mean I had to first start saving some money. (Only rich people had credit cards back then. Diner’s Club mostly. You had to put the card on a thingy that would scrape over the top and grab the card numbers on carbon paper ((google it if you need to)). That’s why some credit cards still have embossed numbers, although I bet there isn’t a cashier alive that knows where the machine is or how to use it if the internet card reader goes down. But I digress.)

After pooling some dough over the course of half a dozen paychecks, I was on a keen lookout for a used riding mower that could be had for $280. I’d go $300, but didn’t have it yet. I was lucky at the time to be a cable television technician, and therefore drove around the service area for installations and trouble calls and outages. One fine June day, I saw it. Parked on the lawn of a farm on Barnerville Road down in Howe’s Cave. A very used Cub Cadet 105.

I stopped right away, fisted the $280 dollars at the guy before asking if it ran or listening to him introduce himself. He said I didn’t need to come back next week with the $20, he’d accept $280 (which was close to two weeks’ pay at the time). We (the sons and I) ran the daylights out of that thing. It couldn’t be stopped, even when the grass was a foot tall. It was big for a riding mower. Tall, big tires, a wide mowing deck. Ah, but good things never last.

Finally, after a few years of growing up and earning money, I appropriated a tax return to go buy our first brand new riding mower. It came from the Farm And Family store, which is now a Tractor Supply Company store. If I recall, it took a whopping $599 plus tax to procure the shiny, single-cylinder, 32″- decked machine of our dreams. Life was good for a while with the little green tractor. It wasn’t the most ergonomic I’ve driven, and was an entry level mower with a manual transmission. Still it cut right along for a few years until the shifter started acting funny and sticky. One good yank and it broke right off.

By now, I’d had enough years to come to know something about such machinery. Tractors, mowers. The real difference between an entry-level Monkey Wards kinda riding mower and a mid-sized, two-cylinder garden tractor like the old 105. So this time I set out to look for a good tractor with a big deck and a hydrostatic transmission, enabling one to simply press the pedal, forward or reverse, no clutches or breaking shift levers required.

I went right to the dealer. No retail store mower for me. A place that could service and repair my machine. And deliver it, since it wouldn’t fit in the cable van. Being from farm country, there are a few names that mean real. Allis-Chalmers, Deutz-Allis, International Harvester, Case, Ford, White, McCormick, Massey-Harris and Massey-Ferguson. And between the reds, whites and blues of the competition, populating nearly every farm one passed, was the singularly green of the green John Deere. That’s what I would have. A real John Deere.

I selected the LA120. A 22 horsepower twin-cylinder engine, a 42″ wide mowing deck, a hydrostatic transmission, a manual PTO, and available attachments. I would save a little and buy the snowblower attachment, and ditch the walk-behind snowthrower.  This green and yellow beauty was delivered to my driveway, dealer-prepped, and we were off on a ten year love affair. We mowed more lawn than the Ark had known previously. Stretched the south lawn another 50 yards to the east. We made and maintained a trail system that encompassed a mile of pathways, a rifle range, and two R/C Airplane runways.

It toted around, in its little garden wagon, my own kinder garten consisting of all six grandchildren born during its tenure. It was driven (and perhaps borrowed) by one of the sons originally slated to grow into a pushmower job, as he toted his own children around the heaping pile at our annual Leaf Pile Party. It was a go cart for tween girls and teen boys, and raced about at top speed, even in the snow.

Tires were flattened frequently, cavorting over old farmland, trails to the woods, fields previously tilled for corn, and places where there once stood chicken coops and sheds. I bought “Slime” inner tubes for her. These are tubes filled with a self-sealing gunk (or Slime, if you prefer). Never had a flat after that. After six or seven years of hard service, the anchor points for the spindles began to rust through on the deck. I bought a new replacement deck (something you won’t find for your Farm & Family mower). Ran that for a couple years. This machine is serviceable. Picked up blades right in the Home Depot. Deck belts, too. Ordered a replacement steering gear from GreenPartsDirect online. (Yes, we drove it so much we wore the teeth off the steering gear) One day, I went to start it and heard a snap, a decidedly metallic one, and the engine wouldn’t run. Luckily, I have my own certified small engine mechanic in son-in-law Matt. I bought two new heads and some pushrods, and Matt brought my Deere back to life!

There gets to be a tipping point between a man and his machine. Like a cowboy and his faithful steed, knowing the day will come when we can no longer gallop and rope and ride, and we each of us must go out to pasture. On a fine June Saturday, no doubt a day not dissimilar to when I first laid eyes on the old 105, I pressed the Reverse Implement Operation button to back up, and when I stepped on the Go pedal, she shut right down. I surmised it was a safety switch somewhere in the wiring harness. Maybe the one related to the RIO button, designed to help prevent you from backing over rocks and dogs and children and the like. Well, after a good cry, I realized Old Green had reached the end of her trail. She’d worked tirelessly, long and hard hours, for about every member of our family. I think her clock was approaching 800 hours.

I purchased a new lawn tractor the next week. I called Mr. Jackson, the Mower Man, who also drove the school bus for my children, and subsequently grandchildren that would board the bus at Mam & Pop’s house. I had, “on the lawn”, also Ryan’s old White rider whose wiring was fried, and a little red Craftsman riding mower I had purchased used to cover for the Deere while Matt rebuilt the engine. Would Mr. Jackson be interested in my mower collection, Ryan asked him a few weeks ago. Why yes, of course, he said, and made his way to the ranch with his own son to load up. I wasn’t there when he did so, and when next I arrived home I saw the White and Craftsman gone, but Old Green still sat, looking forlornly toward her former home, the cabana, and wondering about the shiny new machine under the cover.

The next Saturday, Mr. Jackson pulled into the driveway. He had to come back and ask. Ryan had said “Dad wants all those old mowers gone.”, but Mr. Jackson needed to hear it from me for himself; did I really mean the John Deere, too? Yes, I replied, wiping a tear on my sleeve, pretending a gnat had flown into my eye. He insisted on giving me something for it. No, no, I declined, I appreciate your clearing them away for me. Well, I like to feel I gave something, he repeated, looking at Old Green, and I could hear the undertone, “for Heaven’s sake man, are you in your right mind? It’s a John Deere!” Okay, I said, for his peace of mind, and grudgingly pocketed what strangely felt like thirty pieces of silver. I watched as they loaded her on the truck. I watched from the seat of my new mower as I returned to my lawn work, I watched long and fixedly, and spoke to her under my breath, a bon voyage.

In a couple of days, as I drove down Chestnut street, a familiar bright green machine called out to me from Mr. Jackson’s lawn. Probably an easy fix, I thought, just a switch. For a moment I was tempted, now that she was up and running again, to stop in and buy her back. I resisted the temptation, repeating my mantra about getting older and not leaving a whole pile of junk for your children to clean up when you die. I would not be tormented long. As you might guess, that green machine was gone in two days. I can feel good about part of the saga. I can hope some poor young guy who took on too much lawn but didn’t have too much money went driving down the road one fine June day, and saw her. A real John Deere. And I can hope, and will choose to believe, that Mr. Jackson put a price on it of $280.

Into The Sunset

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

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

 

Cold Season

A Summer Place

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

The Golden Autumn

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

Sparrow with Apple Blossoms

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

 

Am I supposed to feel my fingers?

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

Winter Sunrise

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

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

Buffeted Crest

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will feign joy for their benefit.

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

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Pazlo

 

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

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

 

 

Perfect Day #3

Bow Boots

Journal entry 6/14/17

Perfect Day #3

Wednesday is Fish Taco Day in camp. Today, you fish for your supper.

Went up the northeast inlet quite a ways, and grounded the AquaMarie on weedy clumps of sediment in the shallows. Lifted the outboard and revved it a bit, and thankfully we were able to pull her free from the grounding. Twice! The motor ran poorly off and on, fouling one cylinder occasionally. 

Ryan pulled the first fish, a 14″ rock bass, which we placed in the live well. “One fish each and one for the pot will be plenty” I said, observing our Forked Lake Rule. We went fishless for a couple of hours as we worked the north shore just off the main channel, fished the holes between islands. By 2 o’clock, we still had just one fish. “Well,” Ryan says, “if we don’t have more fish by three o’clock, we might as well throw this one back.”

We decided we would force ourselves to eat the dehydrated “survivor” foods if we failed to catch fish. Oh ye of little Lake faith. About then I hit a nice rock bass, about 15″, and I assured Ryan it would be enough to make fish tacos for two. “I wouldn’t mind having a third fish, just to be sure.” came Ryan’s reply, as we returned to camp to prep for dinner.

I walked to the south point of our island and hammered it, fishing alongside a pair of loons. A couple nibbles I thought were short (there were Bluegills), then whack, and BANG! Fish on! Set the hook and landed another 15-incher. I walked back to the table where Ryan was filleting the fish. “Did you order a delivery?” I asked, holding up the rock bass. “Sweet!” was his reply, “You come through again!”

Ryan whipped up a beer batter and fried small pieces of the day’s catch. Flour tortillas, avocado, limes and a little sauce, and a delicious Fish Taco Shore Dinner was had. “Well, that was a great dinner.” Ryan summed up, “Eating fish my dad caught for me!”

My battery had died on my camera, and I decided to live the last day actually seeing everything. From time to time I would gaze at the beautiful vista or some tiny subject and would declare “I wish I had a camera so I wouldn’t actually have to look at this with just my eyes.”

It cooled off a bit, the last evening in camp, and we stretched out the hours around the fire pit. We laughed so much, we both complained our faces were hurting. We headed for the tent reluctantly, and laid down our heads, listening to the call of loons.

When I awoke in the midst of the night and walked down to the water, I looked north and there was an entire cloud, just sitting on the lake. It was probably 100-150 feet tall, as wide as that part of the lake, and it just sat there. So curious. Not much of fog about, and not a cloud in the sky.

The sky had, indeed, fallen.

Good thing Chicken Little is not here. 

Third Eye

As the journal stated, my camera battery ran out Tuesday evening. I had made no provision for a spare. I intended to make a run back to civilization and the Fun Bus, and charge the battery, but this didn’t happen.

Whenever I am out in the world, and I mean always, the camera is part of me. Practically a body extension, a bionic eye. I love to document our lives, events, our growing family. I love the art of photography, compelled to capture mood, light, moments in abstract. And, of course, I love to shoot our outdoor adventures in all their aspects.

I missed my niece’s wedding and reception, even though I was there for all of it. I was the official wedding videographer, and was no hack. We got every second from early morning hair and makeup to the mother-of-the-bride after the reception, complete with B-roll. Of course, I spent the day inside a three-quarter inch viewfinder, and felt the next day as if I wasn’t even there.

This was not my only lesson on the subject, and so I embraced the idea of having a good excuse to leave the camera in the bag.

We traveled quite a ways up the northeast inlet, winding our way slowly up the channels, often shallow enough for the prop to churn up the fine sediment. As we twisted and wended our way back out, she ran aground on a clump of weedy soil deposit. I tried reverse, but the bottom fin of the outboard dug in and refused to let her back. I lifted the motor halfway and powered on in forward, and she rooster-tailed her way over the impasse. For a moment, I thought we’d have to jump into the muck and push her out, but again, the little outboard saw us through.

We saw a whitetail deer on the west side channel, a rare sighting at the lake. Backed up to hundreds of thousands of acres of Adirondack wilderness, the wildlife has plenty of places to go without approaching areas of human activity. Of course the black bears follow their noses. The loons, too, will tolerate our encroachments on their lake, share their fish. To date, at this lake I’d seen just one bald eagle, practically the icon of wild places. Oddly enough, I’ve seen more bald eagles around my home town, and even in the big city along the mighty Hudson River.

Throughout the day I’d make tongue-in-cheek comments about not having a camera, being forced to see things with my eyes. My only regret was I was unable to document the preparation and presentation of the Fabulous Famous Fish Tacos of Forked Lake. Luckily, Ryan had enough reserve charge on his phone to get a snapshot for me.

Fabulous Fish Tacos

Last evening in camp is always dichotomous. There’s a whisper in the back of your mind, calling you home. Yet there is a quiet gentle voice of this place compelling us to linger longer. The timeless days pass quickly, and before we know they are drawing to a close. Last day in camp is my least favorite. Striking the tents is undeniable testimony that this dream must end.

This particular evening I saw the whole sunset, the rose-tinted wisps of clouds flying above me. This evening I saw the laugh lines in my son’s face, the warm fluttering glow of the campfire in his blue eyes. At the twilight of this day, I saw the aquamarine sky light up with the evening star, the delicate diamonds of giants, shining brightly across the incomprehensible distance. This evening I smelled the smoke of camp, the humus of pine and hemlock, the very water of the lake as it hung suspended in the cool night air. I tasted the cold and bitter coffee, scented of wood fire, ashes floating on its surface. I listened intently to the creatures of the night, the owl’s “who cooks for you?”, the maniacal laughter of loons swimming in the dark. I felt the wet breeze on my face, the chilly dew setting on mossy rocks, the warming embrace of favorite company.

“The best pictures I have are right here”, I say, tapping my temple with an index finger.

 

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

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