Tag Archives: Spring

The Ark: Windows

From My Window

 

All of the windows in my 113 year old farmhouse are original, except for the one new triple-track aluminum deal in the kitchen that looks out onto the driveway. Much of the glass is original, too. “Albany glass” they call it around here, but in other parts of the country it probably has other names, or perhaps the name of the town where the glass factory stood. The old glass has ripples in it, actual wrinkles you can feel with your fingers as they pass over the otherwise smooth glass. And bubbles. In some places, quite a few tiny air bubbles, and in other places, individual larger ones. I’ve had to replace a few panes of glass during my 34-year tenure caring for the Ark. It always makes my heart ache a little when I must break up and throw away this antique glass.

The lifting and latching of the windows brings a mixed bag of the original workings. A single spring-loaded latch is in the center of each lower sash. On some windows, the ancient cast iron pieces within have cracked and broken off, and the latch does nothing at all. These windows get propped open with retired curtain rods. On a few of the windows, the latches still work. Most probably had window weights concealed within the window frame. A rounded length of iron about the diameter of a cigar, usually about a foot long. These were originally attached by sash cord, long since decayed within its wood confines. The window weight would offer a counterbalance, an assist to lift the window as well as a resistance to slow the sash’s descent.

They are as inefficient as one would expect an original 1906 window to be. Pretty sure I have actually seen tiny crystals of snow driven through them in the height of a winter’s blizzard. In the frozen season, condensation on the inside of the windows often freezes on the glass. Whenever we see this, we call it “Zhivago glass”, as it reminds us of the scenes in “Dr. Zhivago”, when he and his charges are holed up in Siberia. Giving it ringing names and associating it with the stark beauty shown in the movies helps distract us from the fact that the window is no better than the one Zhivago looked through in 1890.

 

Juney

 

The windows are large and ornate. Houses don’t have large and ornate windows anymore, just vinyl rectangles. The tops of the windows out front are rounded. 10 round-top double-sash windows frame the coffin doors, with two round-top lights of its own. (“Coffin doors” refer to the main entrance at the front of the house. ((We call that “the dooryard” around here)). One door is used most of the time, the one with the doorknob. The other side of the double door was intended to be opened to bring a coffin into and out of the house. When it was built, this is the way funerals were done in the sticks.)

We had a sales person call on us to pitch us custom vinyl replacement windows. His first shock was the sheer number. For living spaces alone (excluding the “attic” windows) there were 18 of them. He measured and calculated. Were we sure we wanted them the same size? “100 united inches” I think was the term. Surely we would want a standard, smaller vinyl rectangle? Less expensive and more energy efficient. He choked a little when quoting the price (more than twenty years ago) at $18,000!

Okay, last thing, window guy. You know your custom windows that are made-to-order to fit the openings in my home? Well, will the ten out front have the same rounded tops? Well, not exactly, window guy says. We could fashion a mask for the outside that evokes the shape of the round top. Nope. Stop right there.

 

The Coffin Doors

 

There is a tremendous beauty in these windows. Like most things I love, their inherent beauty is the attractant. Not efficiency. In the fall, I make my rounds to each one. A couple of screws jammed in the sides will hold the lower sash tightly against the upper. Then rope caulk is applied to the gap. In the spring, I visit each again, removing the caulk and the screws. Flinging them open, however briefly, symbolically putting winter to bed.

I could have had eighteen modern, efficient vinyl rectangles in these places. A lower heat bill. No need for rope caulk.

In June I will go upstairs and open the front and back windows in the center hall. This is the official start of summer for me. Breezes will move through, and birdsong. And the smell of the rain, and the sound of the neighbor’s birthday party across the road. The rumbling of summer thunderstorms, the voice of the wind in the leaves of the great maple trees which tower over the two-story house. In spring, the sound of the robin leaping from the nest it has built atop the window frame. In August, the smell of the third cutting of hay, drying in the field adjacent. The smell of the diesel tractor crawling up the road with a wagon of hay bales stacked impossibly high. The sound of lawn mowers and dirt bikes and dogs barking.

 

Windows go both ways

 

In the peak of the summer heat I will go upstairs to fetch something. At the top of the stairs I am met with a unique fragrance. It is the smell of a very old house. Century-old wood. Horse-hair plaster over hand-cut lath. Ancient wallpapers. It smells of all the things it has always smelled like, and not unlike the attic of my parents old farmhouse. I can’t know how much longer I will be in this house, or in this world. But I know in the meantime I will delight in that old familiar smell of an old, old house owned by old people. Unchanged but for those few places where it was deemed absolutely necessary. And my kids and grandkids will share this experience. This smell. This old Ark.

And until I go, you will not smell vinyl. You may be a little chilly in the winter. And you can look out at ancient trees which are as old as the wavy, bubble-filled glass you are looking through.

 

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Pazlo

Mud Season

Juney In The Mud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Paz

In The Wonder Woods

This post is a follow-on to “Walk With Me” (10-27-17), wherein we walked our trails from the Great Lawn, and eastwards up to the top of Nishan Hill.

Across the top of the hill on our walk, we arrive at the great forest we call The Wonder Woods.

“Seek not after answers, but after the joy of wonder.” – Chuy The Wonderdog

Breakfast Company

We find so many fascinating and curious things herein, hence the name. It is a breathtaking and beautiful place to dwell and linger, wander and wonder, in all seasons.

It’s a marvelous place to be in Spring, as the days grow longer, the snows recede and vanish. Spring Robins will roost in the pines at sunset. By the hundreds they’ll noisily gather in the grove, settling for their evening’s rest on their migration northward. The earliest tell-tale signs can be found of new growth, the thawing of our world, and nesting season.

Throughout the long summer, the woods grow thicker with vegetation and undergrowth. Squirrels rule the day, and they will begin barking at you as you walk through their domain. Summer bird visitors are seen now. Woodpeckers love the aged wood. From time to time we’ll see the huge Pileated Woodpecker, looking like Woody himself. An indigo bunting is an eye-catching sight, and after the Goldfinches come their near-lookalike, the Common Yellowthroat. Catbirds will follow us on our walk, albeit at a safe distance, and the Cedar Waxwings will work at gleaning the wintered-over seeds of the Sumacs.

Turkeys scratch and dig in the forest floor for grubs and worms. They walk the same heavily-trod path followed by deer, coyotes and even the occasional black bear. To some, the wood may look untrammeled, but those with a keen eye, the trail can be seen. A few kicked-up leaves here, a snapped twig there. It’s easier to see if you get down to coyote level. 

Of course our wood is beautiful year-round, but few seasons are as striking as autumn. Granted, the landscape is dramatic and captivating in the snow, and we find as much to see therein. There’s no competing with fall color, and the activities that accompany the season. Deer will begin scraping the velvet off of their antlers in August. Squirrels and Chipmunks are running marathons to gather and store food for the coming winter. Deer are consuming everything they can while it’s available, before being trapped in their winter yards. Overhead, Canada Geese wave long goodbyes, and mile-long flocks of Starlings will transit the drumlins of Engleville.

Winter is a wonder unto itself. The landscape seems almost alien. Frozen and packed with snow, it is far from devoid of life and activity. Winter is the most visceral season, with winds whipping up snow devils and piling drifts. Like the sand of a beach, the surface tracks activity among forest friends. Big turkey footprints, tiny mouse footprints, trails leading every which way, some burrowing beneath the snow. It’s a season of light, even though the days are shorter. With the canopy devoid of leaves and clear frigid air, light finds all corners of the woods.

In all seasons and the seasons-between-seasons, the Wonder Woods is my ever-present friend and guardian. There is never a trip into the forest that does not bear some gift for you.

Look us up if you’re out our way, and we’d be glad to take you along.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

March Journal

Sugaring Season

Sugaring Season

March is all about sugaring, the collection of sap from sugar maples, and the boiling down of the same, to produce that sweet prize of nature, pure maple syrup.

Over the hill, past Leesville, the Everett family augments their dairy operations with maple product production at Stone House Farm. They built a sap house, sometimes called a sugar shack, across the road from the house, and filled it not only with a huge evaporator for making syrup, but also a kitchen and dining area for serving pancakes during sugaring season.

Daughter Kerry and her beau Kenyon joined me, my wife, and grandkids Madison, Elizabeth and Max for a great pancake & waffle breakfast in the sap house. A classmate of son Ryan, (Madison’s dad), Amy Everett, served our table. All you can eat!

We left the sap house full and inspired.

“Can we try tapping your trees?” asked ever-industrious Max. It’s not hard to guess what my answer was! Back at the Engleville homestead, Max and I set forth with a bit & brace, a few pieces of copper pipe, and a mish-mash of whatever containers we could find.

We bored some holes in the big Sugar Maples that line the road frontage, five trees total, studded with seven taps. We proceeded to hang a couple plastic pails, an iced tea jug, and a soda bottle, among others, below the copper pipes, and eagerly awaited the outcome.

 

We impatiently awaited the sap. Max checked the taps every couple of hours. We dipped our fingers into the sap in the pail. You could taste the sugar and the mild maple flavor. (Maple sap contains about 2% maple sugar, the balance is clear water.)

By 3 o’clock there was a half-gallon of maple sap collected, and Max was eager to move forward through the process. We put the kettle on the stove and boiled the sap down, and in fact didn’t finish before Max had to go home. He took the sap and finished it off at home, made enough for him and his dad Matt to have a yummy breakfast treat!

Well, the taps were in and the sap was flowing, so for the next week I walked the sap line each day and collected the sap. Put a kettle on the stove a couple of times to boil down a batch. (And fall asleep in the chair completely burning one batch!!)

Fast-flowing Sap

Fast-flowing Sap

Over Capacity!

Over Capacity!

Stovetop method

Stovetop method

The following weekend, Max returned for sugaring operations, and we borrowed Ryan’s giant outdoor gas burner (which he bought for his own sugaring last year). We had about sixty gallons of sap to boil, and it took all day, and well into the night!

We put up some tarps for a wind break, and set up the burner in the Cabana at the Engleville Tick Ranch. (Some folks call it the wood shed. I like the sound of cabana.) We boiled off the sweet syrup until after 9:30, finishing barely in time to catch Svengoolie at 10 on MeTV.

We had a great time in the Sugar Shack, and the sap is still flowing. We bottled our wares in Mason jars as Max tried to figure out how to sell syrup on Ebay. We all caught maple fever, and in just a week we had purchased real sap buckets and started making plans for next year.

Max’s dad Matt wants to get an evaporator, and we’re keen on asking Mr. Nishan if we can tap the maples in his woods. Plans abound for next year. All told, we’ve made about a gallon and a half of mostly-pure maple syrup (it has some sediment in the bottom). It was an interesting and informative venture, seeing how much sap is produced by a tree, the length of time it takes to reduce it to syrup, and the curious way the syrup gets darker and stronger as the season wears on.

Late Night, Sugar Shack

Late Night, Sugar Shack

Yummy Production!

Yummy Production!

Max plans to become a maple syrup tycoon, and has built his own web site for Max’s Sugar Shack. Ah, the sweet smell of success!

It sure smells like maple.

Max's Sugar Shack

Max’s Sugar Shack

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz