Tag Archives: winter

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

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

Seeing Season

Rolling along into December, we’re less than two weeks from the pivot point, the winter solstice.  Henceforth, days begin to grow longer. Winter walks are often drawn to a close as the sun approaches the horizon, and as we doff our boots and harnesses (depending on species), we note that it is hardly past four o’clock!

Ryan and I struck out Saturday for a snow shoe hike around a short trail not far from home. I related to him how I call this stretch of winter “The Seeing Season”. While pine stands remain impenetrable, deciduous trees ditch their leaves, and we can see so much that is blocked from view for half the year. We had a fresh snowfall recently, and this gave us many interesting and beautiful sights to behold. The sun danced in and out of sight between falling snowflakes. We stopped at the lean-to for coffee.

“Oh, I have coffee!” I said, realizing I left the full Thermos in the truck.

Ryan produced two ceramic mugs from his pack, and poured steaming black coffee in each.

“It’s not about having coffee, Dad.” he said as he brushed a foot of snow off the picnic table, and stepped up onto the floor of the lean-to. “It’s about doing this.”

I let the this of this moment engulf me, appreciative of the reminder from my fellow outdoorsman and armchair philosopher. The coffee was good, too.

Back at the ranch, I plowed the snow from the driveway. Not half-way through December and the snow banks are five feet high already. A warm spell forecast will knock them down a bit.

The big C-9 lights are up on the arches of the front porch, and the little Lantern Bear has donned a Santa hat. Inside, rooms become inundated with reds and greens. Table runners and tablecloths and place mats in themes of Christmas. The stockings are hung in the parlor. On Monday, son-in-law Kenyon would deliver the tree, and our late start on the holiday is well underway.

Merry Christmas!

Here’s hoping you get a chance to get out in the seeing season. If you don’t have snow, come on up. We have more than enough to spare.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

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

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

 

February Journal

Gosh, here it is the end of February already! Two twelfths of our year gone!

Gosh, here it is the beginning of March already! And I missed my deadline for the February Journal! Well, we’ll write about February in March. Here we go…

It’s been kind of a whacky winter this year, with temperatures oscillating wildly from fifteen below zero F to sixty degrees F in a two-week period. We set a record last Wednesday, with a high temperature of 73 degrees F. In February? What goes on?

Well, this is the first year that I’ve actually heard myself complain that it was not cold enough, and there was not enough snow!  I think it’s good (and fun) to embrace winter activities. Too many people live in this climate just hiding in winter, running from the cold and snow, and wishing for an early spring. Don’t get me wrong, I like spring as well as the next guy. Still, we live in a place that’s frozen and snowy at least 3 or 4 months out of the year. Sometimes it stretches out a little. A “good” long winter will set in around mid-November, and the landscape can be covered in snow until March or later. Most winters don’t quite string out that long.

When kids were little, I’d be out a lot building snowmen, snow sculptures and snow forts. There would be sledding down hills and generally playing in the snow many days. I’ve been an avid fisherman since I was a kid, but didn’t take up ice fishing until I was nearly fifty years old. Not sure why, though there was a time I was not so eager to expose myself to sub-freezing temperatures.

This year I took up yet another new winter activity, namely Ski-joring. Joring refers to being pulled by an animal, usually dogs. (There’s also Cani-Cross, motocross with canines!) Some ski-joring is done with horses, mostly in the midwest. In 1926, ski-joring was an Olympic event! Most folks have never heard of it. Anyway, this year I bought these things called Ski-shoes or Climbing skis, and they have a few other names. Invented and still used by the Altai people in Northern China, they’re called hoks (“hawks”) in the native language.

Altai Hoks

Hoks skin detail

So hoks, or climbing skis, have a “skin” on much of the bottom surface of the ski. A velour-like fabric, it’s like sharkskin; smooth in one direction and grippy in the other. So you can walk up hills like you’re wearing snowshoes, but on the backtrail or downhills, you can glide a bit. They’re not as fast as cross-country skis owing to the large fabric patch being a bit less slick than an all-ski underside.

Of course there’s more to it. I also picked up a trekking belt which goes around your waist, and attaches via a bungee lead to the dog. This way she pulls the belt, leaving hands free for ski poles. I did some water skiing as a youngster, but never skied on snow, so I’m learning the skiing part before strapping myself to a Husky that can run 25 miles an hour! The trail camera got a pretty good snapshot of the joring rig. You can see the Hoks yourself (or buy them) at Altai Ski. I think the whole address would be: http://www.us-store.altaiskis.com. The trekking belt and bungee lead come from Nooksack Racing in New Hampshire. (www.nooksackracing.com) Sasha’s custom-made dogsled harness comes from Alpine Outfitters of Bend, Oregon. (www.alpineoutfitters.net) (That’s grandson Kacey in the green hoodie).

Of course the temps were too warm (around or above freezing) for hok skiing, and even caused the snow to stick to the snowshoes. Then the snow melted and it rained. Boo hoo! In spite of all that we keep on hiking the trails and visiting our Wonder Woods. It’s always great to be out here, even if the weather doesn’t spoil us with perfect climes!

Snowmobiling, also, rose on the popularity list, became the buzz of the season, then was similarly hobbled by less-than-desirable weather for snowmachines. Max saved his money from working on the dairy farm all summer (and winter on Sundays only), and bought himself a shiny used Ski-Doo. His father, son-in-law Matt, went out after him and bought a sled, too. Not to be left behind (should snow ever fall) I also added a new Ski-Doo to my inventory. Well, not a new one, but a good used sled that will serve me for years. Of course we still have the Arctic Cat Jag my father handed down to me almost ten years ago, which is now painted orange with a “REVENGE” stencil in black on the sides of the cowl. Max had an idea we could take the Jag to the grass drags in Bouckville. Maybe we will, yet. Grass Drags are summer competitions for snowmobiles, where, as the name implies, they drag race on the grass. I guess someone is even more obsessed with winter sports than I am, and couldn’t let the whole summer go by without an excuse to ride his snowmobile!

Any excuse. My Ski-Doo on the two inches of snow we’ve had since I bought it.

We did manage to get a little ice fishing in before the temps warmed up and the rains came. Grandson Max and I plied Engleville Pond for half of a Sunday. It was quite cold, in the upper teens, and a bit of wind was blowing, so it was easy to keep moving out on the ice! All I had for bait was mealworms, which are okay, but not nearly as effective as shiners (or redheads). We drilled holes, we set tip-ups. We jigged with the short poles and made the rounds checking baits. Alas, our cold and wet quarry eluded us. It was cold and blowy, and in that visceral way it was a beautiful day to be out there. A steady snow fell all the while, and we had the whole pond and the little hollow all to ourselves.

Folks often think we’re out of winter when February ends. March sounds so spring-like. Many forget that the biggest blizzards we get are in March. (29 inches of snow last year!) So it’s no surprise, after all my lamenting, that another whopper of a storm is forecast for this weekend, with teens and twenties being quoted as snowfall predictions. Probably too late for the pond, and temperatures are forecast around both sides of freezing, so it’ll be too warm for snowshoes and hoks again.

I’m not getting my hopes up, but I hear there’s a new-ish Ski-Doo that wants to get itself buried in the snow on the trails of Engleville! Come on, winter. One last hurrah.

See you in that altogether in-between season, the season whose only claim to fame is Colt’s Foot and mud. Okay, so some folks actually look forward to Spring!

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