Underfoot Dog

image copyright Fred First
“Will want to be involved in all family activities” is the way Labs were described to us when we researched the possibility of getting our first one back in the early eighties. Oh how terribly right that species description was.

Sometimes, the togetherness is inspired by the hope of a dropped crumb or offered morsel from the kitchen counter (favorites: broccoli “trunks”, cabbage wedges and plain old dry dog biscuits). But more often than not, these dogs just must be whereever you are. And doing whatever it is that you are doing.

Yesterday, on a cold, blustery, not-so-good-for-photography kind of day, I worked for a while on the woodpile near the house, bringing armloads to store in the woodring and box on the back porch. The dog matched me one for one, each of my trips resulting in another odd piece that he selected for his own wood pile in the grass by the walkway.

At the end of the day, I had an armload of Tsuga-wood–smaller pieces, mostly (but he sometimes selects uncut lengths six or more feet long!) for the small stove in the family room.

If I could just teach him how to use that chain saw…


image copyright Fred First

This picture featuring frosty pasture grasses against the barn is from a couple of weeks ago when we had a run of cold mornings–unlike the balmy ones we’ve had the past few. We could comfortably have worn shorts while working outside yesterday. We threw a few sticks of wood in the woodstove before noon on Friday, and didn’t crank it up again til this morning (and for my money, we don’t need it now, but…)

If pictures of ice on the creek was my hope for winter photography, I think I am going to be disappointed. The jonquils are coming up, so maybe I can look forward to wildflower photography in February this year?

January thaw? There’s nothing to un-freeze. Found a tick on the dog yesterday–cold blooded creatures quite active in mid-winter bodes ill for spring and summer vermin.

And yet, I’ll have to say that freedom from icy travel has made our coming and going far more casual than it usually is this time of year. Still, I’d kinda like to have winter this trip around the sun.

But it’s not your father’s planet, Bucko, and those old expectations may just be a thing of the past. Could be, the frost and wood heat in January will be the exception, balmy shirt-sleeve weather and a sheet for cover at night the rule.

Keeping Watch

image copyright Fred First
I was lost in thought, my hands occupied with gathering the wood I’d just cut for kindling at the top of the drive. The sun was warm, the earth smelled of spring on a January day, altogether a very peaceful and satisfying time on a country afternoon.

And I happened to glance down toward the pasture and found that the dog, too, was lost in revery, even as he surveyed the pasture along Nameless Creek for marauding ground hogs, squirrels or the odd mid-day deer.

I ran inside for the camera, and walked back out nonchalantly, knowing that if Tsuga had any idea he was my intended subject, he would immediately be at my feet, wagging his tail, thinking I wanted to be close. No, my lens focal length is not that short, fella. Go back and sit down facing south, and look casual.

I did have to reposition him (which amazingly he allowed) although I didn’t capture fully the wistfulness and tranquility I first saw, with him sitting there, on guard, in command, and fully at rest and lost in his puppy-thoughts.

Close to Home

image copyright Fred First

“There is nothing ordinary” I said in the author’s note to the book. And yet, I realize I’ve let our close-at-hand human habitat become just that: nothing but the background canvas on which the more immediate and seemingly-relevant events (most of them indoors and by way of a computer monitor) take place.

One of my New Year’s goals is to reverse this relative numbness and indifference to those fragments of ordinary life here that, four years ago, became new to me because they were new to you, the readers of this blog. Of course, that readership has been replaced by fresh batches of visitors several times over, and so I hope to recover a sense of newness in this new year, see the familiar through new eyes as if waking from a long sleep. And I’ll take the risk of showing or telling you something I’ve shown or told before.

Here’s an example: in all my archives of images, until yesterday, I had never taken one from just off the back porch facing the pasture, the barn and the valley of Nameless Creek. I guess I just thought since it was not ten feet from the house, it wasn’t image-worthy. It is the view we see when we put the dog’s bowl out on the back porch in the mornings.

And yet, it is the still-life tableau before us far more often than quick glimpses of the back reaches of the creek in the gorge at the far end of our property. This is a look out our window, so to speak–the beauty we can touch with our eyes. This is the light that comes to us in early January facing south as the sun rises over a frosty field while we are still in our slippers.

There is the barn–again, and I will stop apologizing for showing you yet another image of it. And the little bridge over the branch flows under the bridge, still babbling with the rains of New Year’s Day. You can see the mailbox–the one near the right margin of the cover of the book, and the maple tree, also on the book cover and seen again up closer, backlit on the blog a few days back. The road and creek pass just front and back of the tree.

And look: the tiny HeresHome sign that faces the road. I remember what a wonderful day it was in November, 1999, to plant that aluminum “flag” and claim this place for our family. And–I didn’t know it then–to share our ordinary with readers and viewers all over the world.

Morning Comes to Nameless Creek

image copyright Fred First
Nameless Creek and the “New Road”–the old horse-traveled postal road–converge about a quarter mile south of the house. They travel side by side, the road often high above the little stream that plunges and riffles its music audibly below. In this image, the roadbed forms the boundary between light and shadow.

Here, the rocky fingers of old mountains form a ravine of rhododendron and jumbled boulders, a secluded and special place for us. This far corner of this piece of earth is what won my heart, back this time of year in 1999. Yes, I thought when we first found this “fortress of solitude”, this might be the place after all, it whispered to me. Someday, you will come here often in early mornings. Someday, you and Ann will spend an hour late in the evening just watching the day become night. Here, night is becoming day. Morning comes slowly to this deep cleft in the hills.

The pine tree beside the lawn chairs–that we could never bring ourselves to put back in the barn–was only head high when we saw it there on our first walk down this way. Things are different now. And things there are just the way they’ve been since the first settlers found this valley in the early 1800s. The seclusion and peace is unchanged since both Confederate and Union deserters took refuge in this wonderfully-forsaken place. It is the same as yesterday, even on days we don’t go there.

The Christmas ferns grow ever-green along the banks. The squirrels chatter from the tops of White Pines, shedding fragments of their morning meal like crumbs from the table. The creek sings whether we are there to listen or not.

And so this is more to me than just a picture of two chairs lost in the woods. These are my woods, and by the possessive I mean so much more than legal ownership. This place has been ours to become part of. It has grown into us. I feel it most here in this spot, a quarter mile from the house, and in the very heart of home.