Tag Archives: Neighbors

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

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

 

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

Family Farm Day 2016

August 13th was Family Farm Day in Schoharie County, and we headed for daughter Kerry’s farm, about 3 miles from home. She and beau Kenyon operate the Parsons flower and vegetable farm, selling both at their farm stand and at local Farmers’ Markets.

Mom & Dad’s main job on Family Farm Day is to bring the Cooler Corn, for serving Corn-on-a-stick! It’s called Cooler Corn because of the easy prep, using your picnic cooler. Shuck the corn and toss it in the cooler, boil enough water to cover the corn, pour it in the cooler and close the lid. Twenty minutes later, you have perfectly-cooked hot corn on the cob!

Corn-on-a-stick

Corn-on-a-stick

Kerry & Kenyon are very fun people, and aside from promoting Healthy & Local, Family Farm Day is a bit of a circus atmosphere, with games, activities, prizes and food sampling. The most popular by far is the Corn Toss, where contestants throw whole ears of corn and try to land them in bushel baskets. Inside each basket is a label (actually a paper plate) that indicates the prize you’ve won (if any; last year Kenyon labeled one “Loser”. It was funny, and most folks got prizes anyway).

This is the day you’re encouraged to play with your food! For youngsters (and wanna be youngsters), there’s the Vegetable Art Table. Most popular this year was the construction of Zucchini Cars, closely followed by creation of Vegetable People.

Of course food is a big part of Family Farm Day. There were tastings and samplings, and even the Pampered Chef representative on hand. The peach salsa was a big hit, and everyone got corn on a stick.

Carrying contests were arranged, whereby the contestant needed to carry as much as possible. First there was the Pickle Carry (pre-pickled cucumbers to be exact). The winner managed to carry 64 pickles over the course. Not bad for six-year-old arms!

The Corn Carry was a different matter, and attracted older attendees (like teenagers). We didn’t count the number of ears carried, we were too busy laughing at the contestants!

Surrounded by beautiful flowers, fresh vegetables and lots of friends and family, what could be a better way to spend a day?

Check with your Farm Bureau or Cooperative Extension to see if your county has a Family Farm Day! We’re already looking forward to next year!

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz

Merry Christmas Mr.Potter!

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

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

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

Our Courthouse

Our Courthouse

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

Our Post Office

Our Post Office

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

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

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

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

The Transfer Station

The Transfer Station

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

Our Firehouse

Our Firehouse

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

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

Merry Christmas!

Paz