Tag Archives: Wonder Woods

Pa’s Lunch

I appreciate the simplest things. Shadows on snow. Dew on grass. The calls of the birds in the trees or passing overhead. The smell of pines and rain on the wind. Sunrise. I cherish these things, constant and enduring. Faithful as fate.

Shadow Art

I’m not certain how I arrived at this place. Perhaps I convinced myself this was the way I wanted to be, for I have not always been so. Perhaps I should not be so typically human, and take a conceited credit for learning these lessons. Some credit should be given, perhaps, to the living of a modest life, one without the extravagances monetary wealth seems to attract. Due should be given also to my interspecies soulmate, my late Chuy The Wonderdog, for the many silent happy hours we spent together on the trails and in our Wonder Woods. Without a doubt, it was he that truly taught me. Not only to look, but to see. And to smell and hear. To stop talking and start listening. To slow down, and smell the bunnies.

View from The Top

I like old things. My mom was old and I really liked her a lot. The Earth is old. The sky, too. I like old trees that remind me of myself. Feeling grand and stately, yet exhibiting a few signs of wear and tear. I like old forests that have huge deadfalls carpeted with green moss, and tiny pink sorrels that grow between the shadows of Hemlocks. Don’t get me wrong, some new things are good. New socks. And babies. Although they also get old eventually.

I like old movies, TV shows and radio series’. Folks often talk about how “times were simpler back then”. There’s a lot of truth to that, but unfortunately an egregious dichotomy. To put it simply, sometimes things were great for healthy white men while at the same time things were not good for women or the infirm or people of color or children. You can imagine this list could go on a bit. I grieve for those sorely affected by the narrow-minded and short-sighted people that came before me. Hope remains high that we are well on our way to a welcoming world.

I like to watch old shows because of what is not in them. I see wooden crates and burlap sacks and I say “no cardboard back then”. The phone is wired to the floor. All one needs to do is exit the room to be liberated from it. I see characters in crisp cotton clothing and think there was no wash-and-wear. Every garment worn would require pressing, except the wool and fur. There are no power tools or machines as we think of them. The kinetic energy of water was used to turn the mill wheel, to grind grain. Or to turn a leather belt that turned more leather belts and the cogs and gears and blades needed for a sawmill. Beasts of burden turned such wheels where water was unavailable, and they further pulled plows to till the land, and the wagon to go to town or church. Life In Engleville takes its name from this tiny hamlet, named for Engle, who built Engleville Pond a half mile from here, to power Engle’s Mills. Perhaps living in the shadow of the mill pond and the namesake endears those olden days to me.

Engleville Pond

In cowboy movies there are no vapor trails across the sky (except that one scene in that John Ford film, a famous blooper). In pirate movies, the wind propels the Black Pearl, without the black soot of the diesel engine, nor the trail of toxic wastes left in the ocean. In Egypt, we marvel at the great pyramids, built solely with human muscle, the sweat of the brow, the unfortunate slaves. In Yucatan we are amazed at the accuracy of cosmic clockworks, calculating calendars out twenty thousand years without the aid of Newton, Einstein a slide rule or a scientific calculator. We can watch Hillary summit Everest in a jacket and a pair of leather shoes. We can watch Shackelton stranded in the Antarctic for two years without a single death of the 28-man crew. People were tough back in the when. People were resourceful and did with what they had, whether in Antarctica or the Great Plains of the American West.

When my kids were growing up, Michael Landon did a television series bringing Laura Ingalls and her beloved book Little House On The Prairie to life. She would be known as Laura Ingalls Wilder when she wrote the series that chronicled her childhood as her family went westward with the frontier. It was a moment in an episode of this series that cemented my desire to “live simply” as Thoreau would put it. To be the kind of person that could make do with what he had, get along without machines, to embrace Yankee ingenuity,  and the Pioneer spirit. And to be happy and content with such simple things. Pa, as he would be called by Laura, worked at the saw mill with Mr. Edwards.

(Sidebar: Okay, so Ingalls is almost Engle, isn’t it? And Pa works at a mill, for which my road and Hamlet are named. We used to have a neighbor that used the hayloft of our barn. His name was Roger Edwards. Coincidences, I suppose.)

Barn At Sunrise

I’m watching Pa break for lunch. Pa and Mr. Edwards don’t go over to the diner or drive up to the Burger Queen. Pa brings a lunch pail. It’s a rectangular tin box, and the lid has a chamber and a screw cap. One would put cold water, or ice if you’re lucky, into the chamber in the top to keep food cool. In the winter, a scuttle full of hot coals would keep a warm meal so until lunchtime. (I have one upstairs).

Big buildup. Here it is. Remember how we’re talking about simplicity?

Pa reaches into his lunch pail (now you know why it’s called a “pail” before “lunchbox” came along), and pulls out a thick slice of homemade bread, wrapped in cheesecloth. There is also in the pail a ripe apple and a small piece of cheese. He washes this down with water from a tin cup. I can still see Landon’s engaging trademark smile, as he imagined himself to be this simple man. “That was a good lunch.” he says to Mr. Edwards, and they go back to work.

I have not viewed a meal the same since. Balanced diet and three places on the plate and sides and sauces and salad and dessert. Breakfast lunch and dinner. Three thousand calories a day. Where did all that come from? Maybe folks in Pa’s day did not have a well-balanced diet or what we would describe as healthy nutrition. Yet even without modern medicine, folks still lived to be seventy and eighty and who-knows-how old?

I was particularly lucky at lunch today. I am fortunate every day, of course, inundated with more offerings than Pa Ingalls could ever have imagined. Still, lunch is PB & J most days, on wheat bread. Sometimes a hard roll. How extravagant, Mrs. Ingalls would think. I’m not sure they even had much of peanut butter yet. Plenty of jelly though, because you had to make do with what you had. You had to be self-sufficient. You had to live simply.

Today’s lunch was a hot cross bun, warmed by the sun, accompanied by delicious black coffee from the green steel thermos. Icing and dried fruit were a delight.

“That was a good lunch.” I said, to the sparrows and starlings enjoying the wheat bread, a few feet from me and the Funbus. I thought of Pa again.

And who is “better off” I wonder?

Is it the man who enjoys the wealth of the world, jet-setting lifestyles, exciting once-in-a-lifetime highs, a balanced diet and three places on the plate and dessert?

Or could it be the man who can derive great joy from a quiet wood and canine companion, a peanut butter sandwich, the memory of a man who is long dead, and shadows on snow?

To The Wood!

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

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

 

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

 

 

Walk With Me

Let’s Walk!

I so often talk of our Wonder Walks and trails and woods behind our home. It occurred to me that a virtual tour of our beloved space might benefit the reader, put images to the names and places, like Widowmaker Field, Little Beaver Creek, the Rifle Range and the Wonder Woods.

Grab your jacket and join us, won’t you?

Let’s head east, through the Great lawn, reserved for our famous Leaf Pile Party. The lawn was mowed last weekend, and now will not be mowed again until after the party. Don’t want to chop up our leaves!

 

We’ll walk the old R/C Airplane runways, past the Sumac Stand, wherein we will find Jeff’s Rest. Named for my best human friend that gave me the chair. It’s cool and welcoming in summer. It’s a nice place to sit in winter, too, brightly lit when the leaves are gone. Through the sumacs and bear to the south, we’ll go east up the Rifle Range, to the top of the hill.

We walk the trail in all seasons. We walk in the sun, the wind, the snow, even the rain.

A wise dog once taught me:

“I would not let the rain keep me from this walk. It is filled with beauty, and the rain is part of it.”

Past the pine stands, or perhaps on the North Loop, the other side of the Pine Grove. Our course meanders, typically chosen by my canine companion. Walk, wander and wonder, I call it, and we find the grandest things right here in our back yard.

We’ll top Nishan Hill, named for its owner, and have a good long look around. On a clear day, you can see for several miles. Always a breeze, welcome in summer. At other times, we’d call it the blustery wind. If we wander to the south, we’ll cross Widowmaker Field, where the wind whips up snow devils, and dries the mowed hay in June.

 

Through Chuy’s Trail and on to Wonder Woods Trail, we arrive at the forest. Herein we can walk down to Little Beaver Creek. We can cross the Tree Bridge to get to the swampy other side. Just a bit further and we’ll come upon the old rail bed, abandoned in the early seventies. The bridge is still intact, of course. The Wonder Woods see all sorts of activity, from walks with kids in the full summer, to squirrel hunting in the fall. A couple of tree stands dot the woods for deer season, and camouflaged turkey hunters will secret themselves at the cross-trails.

 

We’ll linger long in the summer. Linger more briefly when it’s 12 degrees and a fifteen mile-per-hour wind is rumbling down the lee of Victory Mountain to our west. From atop the hill we’ll “put the sun to bed”, as often as we can be here at just the right time.

Rainbow’s End

I’ve spent many an hour atop this hill, gazing out across the grand landscape. Many long, luxurious moments feeling the sun on my face, listening to the visiting winds that blow, watching as the Earth moves through the thousand seasons I will share with her.

Like a child, I want to stay longer. It always seems too soon to go in. Chuy and I would “be in trouble” in the old days, staying out so long. Well past dark in some seasons. Curiously, I will always feel the same way, even after a long walk in the pouring rain or howling wind.

I feel like I belong when I am out in The Magic, The Wonder of all that is laid before us. When I am all alone (well, except for the company of a canine), I feel most in touch with our blue ball, this spinning rock suspended in space. When the floor beneath me is earth or snow, and the only walls surrounding me are sturdy giants called pines and maples and beech and hemlock. Where everywhere is a window, and the ceiling is twelve miles high. Here the smells and sounds and motions come racing to me. Here, surrounded by light and shadow, green and gray and brown and black.

Here, safely in Mother’s arms.

Shadow Paintings

We’ll explore the Wonder Woods in depth, and follow the trail where it leads us.

Next time on Life In Engleville.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz