Tag Archives: Seasons

A Time For Rest

To Let

Mid-November brings a unique season-within-a-season here in the northeastern United States. My wife says it is her favorite part of the year.

It arrives long after summer, and summer’s cascading roll into autumn. It’s after the harvest and the fall foliage spectacular, after the hubbub of Halloween.

The trees have thrown down their leaves, (except the oaks) and an almost ghostly grey army now stands silently all around. Even the ever-present evergreens seem more sparse, just a garnish on a washed-out, neutral-colored landscape. And there are glorious, quiet sunsets.

The wind takes a new voice now. No longer playing the millions of green leaves against one another in a chorus of whispers that rise and swell, ebb and wane. Now she whistles through the naked branches, and makes a singular sound striking the pines. A gentler sound. A hushing.

This is a time for rest.

All the hustle and bustle which started last spring (or earlier, browsing seed catalogs) winds down as the first frosts and first freezes blow the final whistle for flower gardens, vegetable gardens, kiddie pools and window screens.

We’ve decorated and raked our way through October, and gathered up the colorful gourds as they begin to go soft. We’ve put the plow on The Black Pearl and folded up the plastic chairs. They bid adieu to the side porch, like migratory birds, to return when the snow melts and these geese above fly in the opposite direction.

Windows are closed, except for the taking advantage of those few surprise days when temperatures rise to the sixties. The house becomes more quiet with portals sealed. The tractors on the road and cars driving down from the pond are more a backdrop than sound effects. Mowers, few but not unheard of in November, are muted.

The summer sounds of passing breezes and barking dogs and children on school vacation are subordinated to the television and the clothes dryer and the blower of the heater fan.

The days rapidly grow shorter, as if the Cosmos itself suggests enough work has been done, that more sleeping may be in order.

In the Wonder Woods, most things are settling in for the winter. Well, except for squirrels. The great shade canopy that cooled us in the Pinnacle Days of summer has been removed. A few slender sticks draw the eye upwards, out of the woods, to the wide open grey November sky. Crunching through leaves sometimes feels noisily intrusive, foreign to the quiet wood. Just a little rustle is okay. Say about the size of three hasty and ambitious squirrels.

Grasses and weeds still stand straight and tall, but all are dried and tan, looking more like stage dressing than formerly-living things. This is their time to rest, too, now. Done with growing and blooming and seeding, now a brief pause to take one last look before snows lay them down and pack them flat.

Between the clamoring flocks of geese, the birds of the season are a bit quieter as well. Less with the “bo-gar-DEE!” of the redwinged blackbird, the raucous cackling of crows. Now Juncos dart about with barely a peep, flocks of cowbirds transit the glens of Engleville with no more sound than the whisper of their wings. The Barred Owl glides silently. (Okay, so we all still stand at attention when the chickadee shouts out his call, but he is the exception.)

There is this brief window now, after the fall and before the holidays begin in just a few weeks. When the world is putting the northern hemisphere down for a long winter’s nap. We’re given a breather now. A chance to relax and enjoy all that we’ve worked for during this circle around the sun that brought us back to this place again. A break in the rolling year to clear our minds, to reflect, to dream of futures. A good time to take stock of all the good in our lives. A perfect prelude to Thanksgiving.

Before all that gets started up, before we hop onto the ride for another circuit around the sun, we have this calm, peaceful, mid-November.

A time for rest.

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

The Game Of Life

Me and Life, we have this game we play. Timing and seasons are incorporated, but it’s not a race. There are no rules at all, really. It has goals, but no specific scores. Curiously, it is not considered a contest, and the winner enjoys winning throughout. I am the winner.

The game play takes place on a huge field. (Several fields, actually, as well as some trails and woods, a lake and a couple of ponds. And a swamp). There are few boundary markers. Mind you, the boundaries are there, and life will let you know if you cross them.

We have been at this a long time, so it’s impossible to describe how the game starts. No doubt it just seemed like life to me as a child and stupid young adult. In a way it’s a bit like chess, in that we each can have several campaigns unfolding simultaneously.

Some of my campaigns have been underway for a great deal of time. Some for years. Maybe some for decades. Something about this time of year that makes me pause ever-so-briefly to look at the tally. There is a sense of turning point in this season. A seventh inning stretch.

My plays involve my hearth and home, my beloved patch of green. Battling the sumacs. Cheering on the pollinator garden. Keeping open the trails, beating back the brush of summer. Basement windows are in frequent play, opening in the spring, closing before the pipes freeze. They are essential in my long-standing feud with the dampness in the hot and damp seasons, the drafty cold in the cold and drafty seasons.

I marshal a team for the season of light, rain and grass; lawn tractor, string trimmer, lopping shears and bow saw. A separate team, an offensive detail of sorts, tackles the bulkhead door, the screen door hinges, the crooked cupboard doors. The mice, the chipmunks, moles and voles that would delight in sharing our Victorian home crafted by masters. This team includes our tallest, the 28-foot ladder to reach the end zone of the roof to patch those cracks and realign the TV antenna. They fill lockers with hammers, drills, levels, screwdrivers, tin snips, glass cutters, putty knives and paint brushes, chisels and awls.

On defense, we train against the elements. Cold and snow and wind. Our captain is a four-wheel-drive plow truck, our co-captain the pellet stove. Plays include the sealing of 114-year-old windows and a foundation sill that has drifted in the five generations since those Scotsman cut and laid the toppling limestone. A squad of draftstopper chearleaders greets us at the door to the parlor, the coffin doors out front, the side door to the porch which will see the return of the bird feeders, and welcome the juncos, and say goodbye to the porch swing for a little while.

And herein lies our game. I make plans. Paint the house. Dismantle the toppled barn. Reclaim the back part of the property from the brush and weeds. On the playlist are many intentions. Replace the cracked glass in the round-top window out front. Paint the walls of the spare room. Get a load of gravel to fill and level the driveway, last treated twenty years ago. A fence to guard the corner garden, where the concrete Virgin keeps watch and welcomes visitors, to keep the dog from uprooting the hydrangeas.

In the meantime, I must keep the plates spinning on the stage as I try to dash off to these accomplishments between mowing the constantly-growing grass and feeding the dog and taking the trash and cooking on the barbecue. Somehow there is always a way to squeeze in a few days in a tent at a lake, quiet sunrises in the cabana, pulling sweet bass from the pond, hiking through the Wonder Woods with Sassy June.

Occasionally, someone will call a time out. A day spent with the boys in pursuit of white-tailed deer or turkeys. A day at daughter’s farm to help host Family Farm Day. A birthday party for dear friends. Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Then, back to the game. What wins do I count for this season? What plays remain on the board? Where did I lose a pawn or perhaps a knight? Where have I broken the lines of my opponent?

Like fencers, we pause for a moment in September, and face one another honorably and cordially. We bow to one another.

An autumn leaf falls. Frost on the window.

En garde!

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

The Pinnacle Days Of Summer

Bow View

We’re right smack dab in the middle of it now, this summer thing. Hot weather, T-shirts and shorts, long days with the sun setting at 8 o’clock. Misty, humid mornings. Hazy humid afternoons. Passing thunderstorms. Welcome trips to the lake or the ice cream stand.

Spring’s constant is change. Each day nature reveals something new. A flower, migrating birds, trees leafing in. The days grow longer and the temperatures milder. Away with coats and hats.

Then we roll into June. Busy as can be with grade ceremonies and graduations and weddings. The fields are getting greener, the pumpkin plants can be seen now, starting their march to Autumn. By the end of June, we’ve pretty much accepted summer weather as the status quo.

Too often, our senses are so calmed to summer that the slightest change will awaken them. A particularly chilly night, when we are shocked to find ourselves lighting the heater on a June morning. A hot day, which is what we would expect from summer, becomes the topic of whining conversations. “It’s oppressive today.” “It must be the humidity.” “Looks like rain all weekend.” “My air conditioner never stops.”

It takes focus to remember these are unique days. The brain purposely makes you forget February and snow and down comforters, and lulls you into thinking that life will be like this from now on. But the clock is ticking, the Earth is tilting, and these days we dreamed of in the depths of winter are numbered.

Now we arise each day and move through it without noticing the outdoors and the subtle changes in the flora and fauna. The lilies are blooming and the hummingbird regularly visits the foxglove. It’s just another summer day for us, but for the wildlife, the clock is ticking, too. Babies must be raised, taught foraging and camouflage and self-defense, and fattened up for the next set of seasons. Fledglings fledge and leave the nest, often under the watchful eyes of parents.

And so what looks like just another summer day is anything but. Thick leaves on trees hide the squirrels, thick underbrush hides the mink until she scurries across the road with lunch in her jaws. In tall grasses, Common Yellowthroats and Skippers and Crickets disappear, save the occasional glimpse of movement, the flash of a wing.

Now I am on watch each day. Every day I remind myself (and the dog, when she’s listening) that these are our pinnacle days. I must remind myself to look and to see and to treasure these moments. Lush, full trees. Red-winged Blackbirds. Summer storms. Each and every day counts, and I am bound and determined not to simply let them pass by without notice. Every evening I stand outside and marvel at the mild air, the starfield above, the calls of creatures of the night, the owl and the coyote.

When I awaken in my armchair at 1 a.m., and Juney wants to go out, I follow her. I note the position of the Big Dipper, off to her summer place, and far from her winter home. I note the morning sun rising over the Sumacs instead of the south side of the barn. On my commute she rides quartering-off to my left, a welcome relief from the dead-ahead of the equinoxes.

“Remember these lilies,
These misty mornings,
This thick underbrush,
This Pinnacle Day.”

And now I am off for the weekend to my favorite lake way up north in the High peaks Region of the Adirondack Mountains. Here I will commune with loons, lure some fishes. Sleep on the ground with the sounds of night things rustling beside my tent. I will rise with the sun and smell the air, scented with water and perfumes of pines. I will gaze out on the glass-smooth water under the stars. I will be in touch intimately with these Pinnacle Days, and will relish every moment before my return to civilization.

Keep watch now.
These days seem to pass so quickly, and I wouldn’t want you to miss a minute of it.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Budding Season

The four seasons called out on calendars are but a repository, a filing cabinet of sorts, for the thousand seasons-within-seasons that we observe during one trip around our sun. Within each quarter-year drawer are dozens of files, arranged chronologically of course. Once in a while, a file will be out of place, and some reference others. The paper calendar and the imaginary filing cabinet lend an air of order, of regimentation. If we look more closely it is sometimes more random, almost haphazard, sometimes chaos in defiance of logic. If you’ve ever had a late freeze, a simple cold snap on one solitary morning in April or May, you will understand. How this will echo and follow you daily, all the way around our planet’s course until next year.

No lilacs. Frozen apple blossoms results in a full year without apples. No little green starters in midsummer. No fruit on which to watch the blush of summer grow redder on its cheek, until it hints at the next season. No piles of apples amid the autumn leaves for deer to nosh on. No soft brown blobs left when the snow recedes, their presence welcomed by those who’ve toughed out a long, frozen winter. Of all the things a late freeze steals from me, I feel the greatest sense of longing for the apples. Fingers cramp from crossing until June.

After a long winter with rather little snow, we have now seen in this second week of April a number of flurries, even a few inches of accumulation which usually lasts only a day. We have a few tulips that have opened on the south lawn, where they bask in full sun beside the stone foundation. Tulips doused with snow somehow look entirely natural, perfectly contented. An April snow is easy to love, as one is keenly aware that it will not stay and pile up and need to be shoveled. It’s especially welcomed this year, to bring up the water table. Spring snowmelt fills our reservoirs and water towers, and starting the year in the hole brings trepidation.

April also brings a breathtaking and captivating burst of growth in nearly every tree and shrub. It is a tiny season-within-the season of spring, and if you’re not watching, you could easily miss the Budding Season among the trees. It’s easy to spot the pussy willows, their fuzzy catkins begging to be petted. So, too, the “Tulip Tree” magnolias will start to show bulges at their fingertips, gently unfolding into pink blossoms. Cherry trees catch the eye with their white flowers, and dogwood glows red in anticipation of leafing out. But if you look up, if you look into the woods, you will see giants in bloom.

 

 

“Redbud!” I declare when first I see them. As if it is a scientific name for this exciting taste of the day-by-day changes spring gifts to me. Red is the most popular color for the earliest leaf buds as they sprout from twigs, just babies. Not yet old enough to produce the chlorophyll that will paint them their trademark green. Some are yellowish, and some are indeed green when first they appear. Some trees will produce catkins, mossy-looking or fuzzy or string-of-pearl tendrils dangling like elegant earrings.  Ready to greet the turkeys for their spring cotillion, a festive display for the dancers in the fields, the bachelors sporting their finest.

It is a feast for the eyes as well as good food for the soul. Even one who embraces winter, and feels woe at spring’s arrival, such as myself, must delight in the colorful profusion on those naked sticks one has viewed since October. Winter is quite monotone, with a few splashy highlights. It’s mostly grey bark and white snow and a trim of almost-drab evergreen, dotted with a blue jay, a red-bellied woodpecker or a northern cardinal. Now these giants are dotted with colors, pale yellow and deep burgundy, and adorned with kinetic energy. Herein is a trusted source and undeniable sign that winter is fading behind us. Not an observant groundhog or college-educated meteorologist’s best guesses, not the reading of signs and recollections of years past. Here is solid proof from the authority.

Flowers, flowers, flowers. From Mother’s Day to the mums of Thanksgiving we love flowers, flowers, flowers. But how many are waiting for that May day to relish in the beauty of blooms? How many are ordering seeds and starting morning glories on windowsills and cleaning out the greenhouse on a mild April day without looking up, looking out, and beholding the biggest display of the present season? Sure, we’ll have fields of wildflowers if you want to wait three months. Sure, we have yet to smell the lilacs and peonies, to be wowed by the locusts, and mesmerized by the honeysuckle. You’ll have all summer for that.

For Budding Season is one of those rare and brief moments in nature, when she’s on the move and swinging into action. Like the nesting birds and calving cows and lambs that dot the farmyards, it is soon to be overwhelmed by all the life and living that summer brings.

It comes along at just the time we need to be reminded that these cosmic clockworks never fail us.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Built To Last

South Lawn And Barn

March and April are the best time to shop for a home. You really get to see it at it’s worst. By summer all the winter’s mess has been raked, flowers are growing, Hostas skirt foundations. The mud room is swept, the gentle breeze wafts through window screens, and the paint on the porches may have seen a touch-up. September is the worst time to shop for a house, because you’re already inebriated with fall and everything looks prettier. Not to mention the present owners have had all season to spit-shine the place. By October, trees are starting to get bare and you remember to think about things like heat and drafts, and sellers may be anxious to escape before the onset of winter.

I first saw The Ark in July or August. We closed on September 11th, before it meant anything else, in 1985. Jake was a farmer. His wife Joanna had passed and it was down to him and the turkeys. It was a big house, and an old one. I was twenty-six, and optimistic as well as capable and ambitious. It was a tough winter, and we lived paycheck-to-paycheck, sometimes buying five gallon cans of kerosene to keep the furnace on ’til payday. Between seasons, heating with those catalytic kerosene heaters that were really popular then.

So, the first spring in The Ark was as welcome as the surprise daffodils on the south side. Who knew they were there? Shortly after, the lilacs bloomed. When I say the lilacs bloomed, you must imagine hundred-year-old lilacs, lining the road frontage and growing in great hedges around the shed. Fifteen feet tall, full and lush with flowers that perfumed the whole yard. Only the peonies of June would out-smell them.

I didn’t know the water table was about a foot higher than the cellar floor. I didn’t know much about wet cellars, as my parents’ house was dry as a bone. What a shock to discover the water so deep it flooded the burner for the boiler and the water heater was submerged by a foot. I was broke, and still weaning from my folks, so I drove up to their house and grabbed the sump pump my dad had in the basement. Not entirely sure why, as there was never as much as a drop of water in the basement of that house. I grabbed the pump and flew home, stuck a pool hose out through the basement window, and began the 34-year battle with the water.

I’ll tell you a story about how things were made in the old days. I may sound like an old man talking about bygone times, but then I’m an old man talking about bygone times. I ran my dad’s pump for a couple of years until one spring when I spent some of the tax return money and bought my first, very own, brand new sump pump. It even had a float so we didn’t have to flip the cellar light switch to turn it on and off, as was the case hitherto. I chucked dad’s pump on the cellar shelf.

Within two years, the pump made some funny noises but wouldn’t move any water. I pulled it up out of the cellar and dismantled the bottom part and found where it was plugged up and jammed with sediment. Cleaned that out and put it back to work for another year. One day, I opened the cellar door to check, and there was a foot of water down there, flooding over the bottom step of the wooden stairs that led from the pantry. The pump had failed. All the tinkering could not make it come back to life, and so I threw my dad’s pump into the sump, crossed my fingers, and plugged it in.

Vzzzzzz- Whoosh! That pump came on sounding like it was brand new, and it cleared hundreds of gallons out of the cellar in a matter of hours. I cobbled together a float switch and ran the pump’s power through it so we didn’t need to control the pump with the light switch. I suppose I should try again for a modern update before this ancient pump fails. Let’s see, my dad already had the pump, and had lived in Broadalbin for twenty years or so. Let’s guess it was ten years old when I “borrowed” it. Now add the 34 years I’ve been at the Ark, and we can guess this pump must be 45 years old or more. Maybe I should wait ’til it dies, if ever.

I ran the pellet stove for about eight years, during which I replaced a couple of components. Routine failures one might expect. An igniter (or two), the room blower fan, which failed around the five-year mark. Inside a pellet stove is a nasty environment for electronics and motors. High temperatures and a lot of dust. Clingy acidic dust. So at the beginning of year eight I did one of those decidedly-unlike-me things, and I replaced the working convection blower with a new one as a form of anticipatory maintenance. Year nine I fired it up, and within a few weeks, the one-year-old combustion blower failed. It would not surprise you, I’m sure, to hear I cleaned up and stowed the “old” working combustion blower as a backup. It’s still running.

There was a time when people wanted to build things that last. Like L.L.Bean and his original guaranteed-for-life policy. Even that has changed. Like Craftsman tools which were guaranteed for life. I had a Craftsman router fail (a long, long time ago), and when presented at the store it was summarily replaced with a brand new one. Now Craftsman is just another brand, sold at Home Depot.

The Town Of Sharon has a few snowplows. We still have the big Oshgosh plows. I don’t think Oshgosh is in business any more. But their trucks are still going. Still plowing Engleville Road each winter. Some things were built to last.

Oshgosh B’gosh

The Oshgosh #13V is from 1959. So am I.
I guess I was built to last, too.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

A Changing World

March Sunset On The Ranch

As the spring equinox arrives, it brings to a close one season of changes, and escorts in yet another. Winter is not boring. One day is filled with sunshine and crisp, clear air, the next is dark and gray and blowing and ever-so-cold. Like snowflakes, no two winter days are identical.

Snow falls and piles up, mounded by the plow, piled by the shovel. We embrace its uniqueness, especially when new, as it is each year, each snowstorm, each blizzard. We frolic in it, throw it at one another, photograph it as if we’d never seen it before. We lace up boots and strap on snow shoes and skis, harness the dog and don the jorring belt. We marvel at the way it paints the trees, the hillsides and meadows, the mountains in the distance.

In between, the snow will fade. It gets thinner and thinner, some bare patches may be seen. Just when you think it’s safe to put away the snow shovel, a late March blizzard will dump 30 inches of snow on us. There will be in there somewhere an ice storm, which coats everything in our natural world with a glaze of glass.

The ponds evolve daily, our visual barometer of the season and calendar of change. First a small opening appears in the center of the ice. The next day it is twice the size. A week later, ice rims the edges of ponds, and creeks cascade over ice-covered rocks.

Now spring brings another season of change. Here the tulips are popping up through the snow-matted south lawn. We spy red-winged blackbirds and grackles, harbingers of summer. Each day is a guessing game. Do I wear the longjohns? Do I bring the “winter” coat? One day we swear winter is still upon us, and the next we revel in temperatures that call to mind days in May, lilacs and dandelions. Regulating the heat in the Ark can be a challenge. The pellet stove drives off the 34 degree F chill driven by the wind. Then by noon it is 82 degrees F in the kitchen. Pellet stove off. Doors flung open. Other days seem mild, and we’ll leave the wood stove on standby, use the gas heaters, and in the evening we flip a coin to decide if it’s cold enough to warrant a fire.

The driveway goes from a solid sheet of glacier to a massive mud bog, complete with a sinkhole in the middle big enough to swallow small pets. The lawn changes from a pristine field of white carpet to a mess of sticks and leaves and such, previously hidden beneath snow. The sump pump in the basement works tirelessly, pretends it’s a bilge pump on the Titanic.

There will be one more round of big changes as spring barrels its way into our world. Leaf buds on trees, crocuses on the ground, orioles in the air. The first tulips, the first hummingbird.

By comparison, summer can be a bit boring. A little monotonous. Sure, we can watch the peas growing in, we can start cutting hay in June and watch for the next round. We can look forward to three days at the lake. But besides that, it’s pretty much the same each day. Green grass and green leaves and flowers of every color and profusions of growth in all directions. Birds of every kind. Well, I may not see a dark-eyed Junco again until November.

I will bear it only because I know, like all things in this universe, it is fleeting and temporary.

Soon enough, with some patience, my dear friend August will start the first hints. Hints of change. Pumpkins getting large, morning glories climbing.

And I will be glad the boring sunshiny summer is behind us, and I can again be entertained by a changing world.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

 

Three-In-One Mornings

The depth of winter is one of my favorite parts of the year.

Sure, it can be cold and there can be plenty of snow. Both those things are great assets of the winter. The former keeps bugs at bay, and the latter paints the world in pristine white.

Some folks shoot river rapids in a kayak for the thrill of it. Some folks climb huge mountains past the timberline in grueling conditions. Some folks will jump out of a helicopter to ski and snowboard in the most isolated places. For me, there is the challenge of winter. Not just surviving, but thriving. To scoff at temperatures in single digits, and equally dismiss double-digit winds. To wrap in layer upon layer then don snowshoes for a leisurely walk. To stand atop Nishan Hill and be shaken like a sapling by the winds of winter.

Snowy Sunrise

One of my favorite things about winter is the morning commute. In winter, it’s dark when I rise. There’s something about moving about a kitchen quietly, letting the dog out, putting on the pot of coffee when it is still night outside. It’s a special time of night, too. Early night still sees traffic and lights on in living rooms. Late night has its own feel. Third-shifters bound for work, folks at The Snack Store mopping up to close. At this pre-dawn hour, it is much quieter. Only the snow plow rumbles down Engleville Road, and The Snack Store hasn’t turned on the lights yet.

Sassy June wants to go on the long dog run beside the woods, and I cross the driveway to fulfill her wishes. The only illumination is the soft incandescent glow of the cabana lights, casting a yellow hue on the snow. I turn to go in and I am stopped in my tracks by the Milky Way, stretching from the southwest to the northeast across a crystal-clear frozen sky. I stand and stare and marvel at this beauty until the snow creeps into my slippers and I’m reminded I am not wearing a coat.

Eagles In Snow

Dog in, pellet stove fed, Thermos filled, and it’s time to leave. Goodbyes and lights out, and The Ark returns to nighttime as Juney climbs onto my reading chair to go back to bed. Headlights on, three rabbits are startled and dash for the hedgerow. Pulling out, I pause to look back, and call to my angel puppy to join me on the drive. He’ll be gone four years this July, but I think of him every day. I say “Good morning, angel puppy.” to his grave, tell him there’s plenty of room in the car for a ghost. The dog’s grave, the silhouetted sugar maples and the sleeping home fade in the rear view mirror as I grudgingly depart my favorite place on the planet.

Driving in the dark. Most of the world is relegated to a cone of light directly in front of the Fun Bus. There is just enough breadth in the headlights’ beam to light the sides of the road, where my eyes keep constant watch for animals of all kinds. Many critters come out only at night, and others will take advantage of the darkness when they can. Whitetail deer are the main threat, as they move quickly and weigh as much as a man. The “Deer Watch” light is always on in my brain whenever we traverse dark roads. Snow illuminated by the headlights is entrancing, magical.

The night sky is not black. It is a deep, glowing blue. Deeper than blue, maybe. Countless stars fill the heavens, and there are often sightings of our cosmic neighbors, the fellow planets of our solar system. I’ve seen quite a few meteors while driving in the night. The moon dances in and out of mornings. Sometimes high, sometimes low, sometimes large and sometimes small, and sometimes none at all. Sometimes it will back light clouds in the sky, and cast warm orange tones on them. Sometimes it is a bright full ball that shines like a beacon, casting deep shadows on the snow like a Hollywood “day for night” shot.

It is an exclusive club this early on the road. Milk tankers haul from dairy farm to dairy farm, heading eventually to the Midland Farms dairy plant, or the Dairylea Co-Op. Farmers are out at all times. I’m likely to see a manure spreader plodding along the side of the road, headed for the entrance to the cornfield. I’ve seen harvesters cutting corn under the lights at seven and eight o’clock at night, but it seems only manure spreaders are allowed before dawn, with the exception of Agway’s huge ag trucks hauling lime to the fields in April and May. Their oversized balloon tires making them bounce as they ply the pavement. We may see a sheriff’s deputy or a State Police cruiser, winding up their shift, heading home to bed soon. Tractor trailers pull out of the distribution center east of the village, bound for stores across the area.

Madrugada

Somewhere along U.S. Highway 20, eastbound, the edge of the night sky begins to brighten. Deep indigo fades to pale blue. In Spanish, the word “madrugada” is used to describe this “time between night and morning”. Birds are waking now, as are people in their homes. Lights come on in houses, and a few more cars join the parade. The first yellow school bus may be seen, heading for the start of the route.

Now we can peer into the fields and see wild turkeys, the occasional coyote may streak past, galloping full speed to the safety of the woods. The monotone world of night begins to see its first hues of the day. The sky becomes brighter blue, displays wisps and ribbons of white clouds. The earliest hints of the sun begin to tone the sky in orange or pink or deep red. Thanks to the snow cover, we can see farm animals silhouetted in fields, cows, horses, goats, sheep.

Somewhere between Carlisle and Sloansville, the big red ball will crest the horizon. Twice a year it sits dead center in the highway as I drive due east. First, the clouds at the edge of the sky will alight, ablaze in red. Then the atomic fireball climbs over the end of the Earth, and I am floodlighted by a blinding beam. Now all the world is red. The sky and the snow, the road and the trees and even the sheep and the goats. Some days, if there’s heavy cloud cover, we will be denied this display. When storm clouds blanket our world, and snowflakes fly.

Dawn Buck

Now we catch the tardy. Those who would be abed by dawn, caught by the sun. A young fisher streaks his way across the corn stubble, dashing for the Schoharie Creek. A possum hastens, as best a possum can hasten, which is not too hasty, and I brake for the wildlife crosswalk. An owl of the night heads for the roosting tree. Birds seem to multiply with the increasing light, and now great flocks of Canada Geese, sometimes Snow Geese, take to the sky with a raucous clatter. After February, after hibernation season, we may smell the skunk even if we don’t see it.

Fisher At Sunrise

I stop just past the bridge over the Schoharie, stunned by the sunrise bleeding through the fog, shadowy arms of trees contrasted against the brilliant light. I have a three minute window to shoot this photo before the Earth moves beneath me and the moment and image pass. Climbing the on-ramp to Interstate 88, beside the field where I shot fifty frames of a mother coyote on the hunt, the rich flatlands stretch out over my right shoulder. The sun is pouring down between ridges, and lights the village of Schoharie with a bright beam. Up, up, up the long draw I climb. Up out of the Schoharie Valley, crossing the ridge, parallel to the Mohawk River Valley, and on into the Hudson River watershed. As I settle onto the flat stretch of highway, the full sun leaps up from the horizon, and the lights come on for a shiny new day.

Sunrise Over Corn

Now it is truly dawn, and the whole world seems to notice. There are more cars on the road, and school buses on the secondaries, red lights flashing. Cawing crows and ravens fly about, and a bald eagle is sighted over the swamp. This is where I saw the bear a number of years ago, trotting out from the edge of the woods, startled to find a road before him. The sky holds one show after another, and I must tell myself I can’t stop and shoot more pictures. I already spent ten minutes by the creek shooting the fisher and the trees in the golden sunrise, and each minute’s delay takes from my employer’s time.

Bus Stop

The light angles steeply into secret holds in the woods, casts a copper glow on everything. In a matter of minutes it will rise up out of the morning show. It will burn off the dramatic fog. It will drive the fishers and possums into their daylight quarters, and rise into the blue sky until this magical time, too, passes, and we are drenched in daylight.

As spring nears, the captivating three-in-one mornings become a thing of the winter past. I’ll rise as the sun knocks at my kitchen window, and in summer the light will stretch out to nine o’clock. Now patience is required. I will have a dozen more three-in-one mornings, stolen in short stints at campsites on a remote lakeshore, or garnered as part of the pre-dawn fishing excursion on Sundays. Then I must wait. For August. Then September. The sun centers itself on U.S. Highway 20 again, and while the rest of the world begins preparing for winter, I drive easterly, a foolish grin on my face, looking like the village idiot.

And I will revel in the darkness that begins my favorite season, and eagerly anticipate another quarter-year immersed in the magic of three-in-one mornings.

 

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

Falling

 

Autumn Glow

It begins quite subtly, this big show. Starts way back in late August, when the Swamp Maples are first to conclude the end of the growing season draws near. They fly their red flags in swamps and bogs, and some folks probably just think they are dying trees, drowning in the muck.

As days pass, each one growing incrementally shorter, the tide begins to turn. Sumacs begin to turn the color of red wine, Sugar Maples will begin to show yellow, then reds, then burst into gold and orange. The demure Cottonwoods eschew the attention, quickly going from light green to tan, then brown as dirt. “No pictures, please.”

Sometime in September I begin to be on the lookout for the curious fungi of fall. One day they are not there, then suddenly they are. Some simple toadstools in colors of yellow and orange and red. Some in unusual shapes and deep brown. As I mow the lawn I discover them, and I scold myself for running them over. I stop to look, though they are the same as last year and the fifty years before, and they aren’t exactly what one defines as pretty. Still, they are regular visitors, part of the whole rolling year that comes around just once. I am glad to see these reliable friends again. As quickly as they arrived, on the next round of mowing, they are gone.

The big Maples that line the road frontage are our main source for leaves. We need leaves. We stockpile and hoard leaves right up to the big day of the Leaf Pile Party. We’ll gather all we can, hopefully with plenty of children. We’ll put out cider and eat donuts. Maybe chili if it’s cold. Then we will pile the leaves, higher and higher. As tall as granddaughter Maddie, twice as tall as grandson Evan. We’ll use the big steel ruler to determine the height. Have we set a new record? I believe it is 56 1/2 inches.

Then the throwing begins. First we throw bushel-sized armfuls of leaves at and on one another. Then we grab up children of throwable size, and pitch them into the pile to squeals of laughter. Then we’ll burrow deep within, hide ourselves, make the dog a little crazy wondering where we went (or in Chuy’s case, he would come to save me). We’ll have leaves in our hair, leaves in our mouths, leaves down our shirts.

These simple pleasures will occupy much of a day for us. A day to be outdoors, seeing and smelling all that makes fall. A day to join together for a party without a cake. It is not without a guest of honor, nor gifts. Our Guests of Honor are the leaves themselves, and they bear the wondrous gift of gathering and joy. Joining hands and hearts with nature.

Mother Earth laughs with us as we celebrate the closing of the growing season in North America. She will shine her warm sun on us, or perhaps cool us with a breeze. She will drop one by one and two by two the few remaining leaves of the ancient Sugar Maple, falling like confetti on our festivities. She will paint the sky gold and orange and red to match her trees. She will thank us for appreciating the million or two leaves with which we play for a day. She is glad someone does not see them as litter to be removed, but as playthings to be enjoyed.

Long after the guests have gone and fall cedes the stage for the next set of seasons, I will find on the Great Lawn a large circle of crushed-leaf carpet. Until the snow covers it, and sometimes still in spring, as I mow I am reminded of the day and the season by this memory quilt.

I will see smiles and hear laughter. I will smell all that Fall Air brings to me. I will revel in the memory of a chilly day filled with warm hearts.

And two million of our closest friends.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

 

Harvest Season

Farm Stand

 

Personally, I don’t set much stock in calendars. Clocks, too, are something I would rather live without. I am enslaved to the clock only when it is for the purpose of being considerate to others. To arrive at work or a party or dinner when expected.

The calendar, in humankind’s inimitable fashion, seeks to quantify and organize and lull us into some illusion of control. Earth laughs. I can’t abide by the declarations that this or that date is “the first day of…”. Spring, summer, winter, whatever, is not going to be corralled so. Now maybe these dates are correct for someplace that is exactly centered between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle, and longitudinally centered from seacoasts. So, somewhere in the middle of Missouri, I would guess, these dates might be close. For anyone that lives anywhere but the center of Missouri, these shift a smidge.

As any regular reader may know, I can’t pigeon-hole the seasons of my world down into four categories. There are a thousand seasons in any given transit of our orbit, and they overlap and blend, coincide, peacefully cohabitate, and usher one another in and out.

Season’s End

Now, we thrill to Harvest Season. This is one of the longest and finest of seasons, and literally bares for us the fruits and bounty of our world. Really it begins way back in June. The earliest harvests are June-bearing strawberries, horseradish, bouquets of peony. Production cranks up during the period declared “July”, and every manner of food and flower fills the stand at Parson’s Farm, while the farmers themselves continue their frenzied scurrying from field to field. In August, the longest-awaited treasures are pulled from the rich soil, picked from their heavy vines, plucked from their thorny canes, all to a steady chorus of buzzing bees, celebrating their own harvest.

There is an inherent beauty in this cycle, this work. Of bending one’s back to commune with the soil, to nurture and care for these tender shoots with the love of a mother and the patience of Job. To trust and to dream that these fragments will grow and mature, that our efforts will yield their worth. And each year, Mother Earth grants these humble wishes. For thousands of years, humankind has marveled at this feat, thanked the good green Earth, languished in the beauty and scent of her floral raiment. There is something timeless, something unbreakable about these acts, this farm life. The Cosmos doesn’t give two shakes of a thistle down about your TV and your internet and your cell phone. That little seed is following its own program, recorded millennia ago, evolving and changing only when necessary. You can high-tech the living daylights out of stuff, including your farm machinery and your milk houses, but that seed is entirely unimpressed. Nothing you can do will hasten its march toward maturity.

Harbinger

There was a time when nearly everyone was a farmer. Even in the stifling crowded cities, homes had a “kitchen garden”, sometimes wedged into the tiniest slice of terra firma, a remote landlocked island at the bottom of brick and glass and steel canyons. Here would grow thyme and garlic, carrots and sweet peas. Rosemary and rose hips, rosy red radishes, Swiss chard and kale, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and green beans. Every child knew how to weed. I suspect if you asked children these days, I mean big enough to know, like ten years old, which fruits or vegetables grow in the ground, which on stalks, which on vines, which on trees, they’d be hard pressed for answers. It occurs to me that this might also apply, in these techno-modern times, to many adults. Occasionally it will occur to someone to ask “Do you know where your food comes from?”

Nature’s Candy

September the first. There. Just the words conjure an image, don’t they? Our overly organized, over-sized and overly analytical brain connects dots on a fuzzy-logic web in our minds, and a signal flare is launched: SUMMER HAS ENDED. Back-to-school, starting college, Labor Day.

Such hogwash. Summer is in full bloom in September, and in fact it is the very essence of Harvest Season. It comes to all the land, not just humans and their farm stands and their grocer’s produce section. Bracketing the explosion of spring birthing, trees now finish the last movement of their long, slow opera of procreation, as mature nuts, seed pods, fruits and cones fall to the fertile ground. Harvest Season now for squirrels and bears and birds. Whole lifetimes and life cycles are lived at a frenetic pace for the curious seasonal fungi of fall.

Beneath The Pines

We knew all this more intimately in the old days. Before Clarence Birdseye flash-froze every edible imaginable. Before refrigerated boxcars and freezer trucks. Harvest took time to bring in, to process, to can and store in the root cellar. And after all the preserving was done came the slaughter of farm animals. Some to be smoked or salted, some to be pickled.

Becker’s Babies

By the time all that work was done, Harvest would have given way to the next overlapping and concentric backdrop of seasons. And we decided this was now a time to rest a bit. To enjoy and celebrate all that Harvest brings to our hearths and homes. To eat some of those wonderful prizes, and in particular, a bird that would not be overwintered. Surrounding the turkey would be the great and generous bounty from Mother Earth. We will sit together and give thanks for the full cornucopia.

Festive Table

We’ll call it Thanksgiving.

 

Take care, and keep in touch.

Paz