Over Icy If Not Troubled Waters

Slippery Slope of Winter

CLICK TO ENLARGE AT SMUGMUG

It was a three-dog night. We came up one short. But there will be other opportunities yet to get up after midnight and throw an extra piece of oak on a fire that, despite its good intentions, is not quite equal to the task of keeping Herself warm til morning.

This weekend’s cold will be a glancing blow compared to the persistent “polar vortices” of the past two winters. There is that.

But it sets the stage for Monday’s sour-grapes smack on the cheek to love-dovey snuggles of Valentines. Check it out on the Weather Channel. This one looks likely to bring our first significant threat of ice. Doh!

Weather Underground is calling for 8-12 inches Monday–of ice pellets. Hunker down, homies.

And reminder to self: pull the board Sunday afternoon before it gets frozen in place with melt-flood waters flowing over it. How many times have we retrieved this plank from some distance closer than our creek crossing to the Atlantic? We’ve been lucky.

Currier and Ivy-er

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Every winter, I hear it: “Take some pictures of the house.”

She says it lightly, as if doing the Dr. Zivago across the whited planes, putting face and hands at frost-bite risk, standing stark still in the single-digit morning light was the most casual touristy snapshot.

So here’s the image from Winter ’15-16. Currier and Ives, eat your heart out. Here is our “Old Farm House.” Click the image above to enlarge; detail matters.

Adult Day Care and Seasonal Affective Disorder Clinic

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Honestly, it has been sort of nice being home-bound for a few days, with any travel obligations cancelled and not much that could be done outdoors after shoveling out the cars on Saturday and having both porches heaped high with firewood.

Today marks the end of our sequester as we’re having lunch in town with other humans, to try to regain our ability to speak in complete sentences in a social setting.

But I have been quite the tickles-my-fancy butterfly these past snow-bound days, flitting from one adult toybox to the next. [No, not THAT kind of adult toy.]

In one, the iPad and various drawing and photography apps to play with. I downloaded a new sketching app called Concepts. It is quite sophisticated but unfortunately  assumes that you have artistic ability. Same goes for Procreate, and I’ve come back to that fantastic art app after months of neglect. You can peruse those “art-like” images which I’ve cleared from the ipad to make room by moving them to a SmugMug gallery. Some of these I have shared here over the past couple of years; others (for obvious reasons) I have withheld until now. Lucky you.

Ah, and over in another corner of the play room, the old classical guitar I have had since 1966 and restrung only last fall. It gathered dust for the years of wrist and thumb dysfunction and the ones following surgeries to both hands. Then it sat for another year or two when I had the deluded notion that  I would be able to play a steel string again and bought a Fender that promptly ate my fingers for lunch.

So I am back trying to remember old tunes and learn a few new ones–from John Denver, James Taylor, Glenn Campbell, Harry Nilsson, Kris Kristofferson and such. I purchased Guitar Tabs Pro for the iPhone and am copying song chords and lyrics like crazy using OneNote clipper.

And there’s always the book corner, where at least four books are now stacked with bookmarks at various places in the first chapters of all: Thinking Fast and Slow; Dark Matter and Dinosaurs; the Invention of Nature; and Field Notes from a Catastrophe.

I am also working on a longish personal-ruminative essay that explains to me the relationship and importance of the terms well-being, ecology, economy, story and sustainability. There’s an ultimate purpose for this, and  might be I’ll share that at some point, but don’t find a great deal of resonance anymore for “serious” topics on the blog. So maybe not.

Meanwhile, we’re babysitting some chickens and a dog for a week that seems destined to end in mud–with temps predicted to be in the MID-FIFTIES!  At least some of the snow on south slopes will melt. And refreeze–through March. And so it goes.

Having Arrived: Winter Took Its Sweet Time

Ice Falls on Goose Creek

Not that I’m complaining. The wood pile has only recently begun to take a very serious daily (and especially nightly) hit. Now the season is making up for a slow start-up.

There is a mixed excitement and dread facing the imminent “potentially extraordinary El Nino-fueled winter storm.” [what are they calling this one, btw?]

Three feet of snow (which some predict as possible) will make life nigh impossible for many farmers in Floyd County. It will prevent emergency travel for all, especially those of us on the very back of the back roads.

Some folks will have failed to appreciate the potential severity and duration of such a storm and will run out of milk and bread, of course, because we all know a body needs far more of these grocery items when it snows. But running out of fuel or having pipes frozen or the power being out [a very likely expectation] can be severely quality-of- life-threatening at the least for the elderly and ill.

Snows of 30 or more inches will crush some old outbuildings and barns. The good news is that, cold as it will be during this event, a heavy wet snow is not likely in the NRV.  But three feet of powder would be heavy enough. Just shoveling a path to the wood pile here would be done a foot of shoveling followed by a half hour thaw inside.

You might have noticed: My cameras are gathering dust in the absence of the usual snow and ice shots that dominate the typical frozen-water features from early December until Mud Month.

Three feet of snow is a photographic subject I’ll be shooting from the relative comfort of the front porch–hoping that the roof over me holds firm.

To Us a Child is Born

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“The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars and used the Lord’s name in vain. They hit little kids and cussed their teachers and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken down tool house.”

The year our daughter turned twelve, she was the narrator for the community college performance of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”. The very next year, we moved to the country. To our dismay, our new home was just down the hill from that community’s own Herdman kids.

Our little farm bordered the cemetery of a tiny church. On a good Sunday, forty souls warmed the sanctuary—all of them from five families. They had lived in the farming community and gone to the little brick church for generations. We were the rare newcomers, and they warmly took us in.

Across the gravel road from the church, the shell of a one room school house decayed on the crest of the hill. Socks and overalls hung from clotheslines strung from its corners. Chickens found shade under the stone foundation during the days and spent the nights perched in pine trees growing where the school’s playground last heard the laughter of children so long ago. Rusting appliances framed the front door.

In the ramshackle school house, a man and woman lived on very little, and yet, the county had placed little Janie and Silas in the home to live with their aunt and uncle. We wondered if the children were anything more to them than a source of income. Mostly, the support money quenched their Uncle Johnny’s thirst. The brother and sister lived impoverished lives, deprived of more than groceries or new shoes.

It came time at the little church for the annual children’s Christmas Drama. The nice thing, my wife said, would be to ask Janie and Silas to come and take part, even though they were like wild creatures, furtive and distrustful. Everybody knew what would happen that night.

Like the unholy Herdman kids, these two waifs would grab fistfuls of cookies and cake. They’d stuff as much as they could into their mouths and pockets, and off they’d run. They would not behave and never participate. Still, the caring thing would be to ask them, especially now when the other children in the community were so excited and full of anticipation.

It seemed a miracle. When asked, they came—and they joined in! Janie was even chosen to play the starring role.  She sat silently beside the manger, holding the Baby Jesus doll in her arms, lost in her own reveries. Silas played a rumpled shepherd, dressed in my long white bathrobe, a towel wrapped around his head and a broomstick for a staff. He marched triumphantly up the center aisle toward the manger, his sister and the baby. In his eyes that night for the first time, we saw joy and hope.

On that cold December night, two small outcasts were welcomed in. They played parts in a story far greater than the sad script of their own bleak lives—a story of wonder and expectation and the promise of unconditional love.

And in my family’s favorite memories of the season, that was the best Christmas Pageant Ever.

NOTE: A couple of you who would know that this is a piece from Slow Road Home that I tend to bring out most Christmases now for almost a decade since the publication of the book. Where have the years gone? 

 

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Not.

Usually by this time we’ve had a skiff of snow or two; the upper pass is off limits because of the infamous Blue IceDome of Death; and I’ve gotten a few dozen images from frozen formations on the creek.

This year so far, none of that.

winterIcons250We still have lots of greens growing in the garden and the curly mustard is even starting to bolt. What’s up with that? Will we (or those who come after us) someday be having a year-round garden here in the upper South?

Meanwhile, will anything of value to those someday-people on Goose Creek happen in Paris or any other major city? But maybe there are weak rays of hope in this warmer-than-usual December of the warmest year since humankind has left its large and larger footprint on the planet:

“Perhaps, when 10 of the largest oil and gas companies sign a letter calling on world leaders to sign an effective deal at the international climate negotiations in Paris in December, progress is being made. In a statement that will likely surprise many, the CEOs of these 10 giant fossil fuel corporations state that, “we will continue in our efforts to help lower the current global emissions trajectory,” as they apparently commit themselves to ensuring a “2°C future.”

I am hopeful at times, briefly. I imagine but probably won’t be around long enough to see a true turning point, much less the passing of a millennium during which seasons settle back to something like what our generation used to know, to be able to predict, to change wardrobes according to calendars, and plant our gardens, May through October.

Last Call for Wildflowers

Verbena Hastata--blue vervain
Verbena Hastata–pink vervain –often seen with Joe Pye Weed and Ironweed.

The spring flowering plants tend to get way more of the attention than those in any other season. And there is no great surprise in this.

In spring we have waited across the dull, dreary monochrome months from November to April for some sign of life and color. Bloodroot, Hepatica, Trout Lily and all the usual early spring emergings are the stuff for which Wildflower Pilgrimages and Naturalist Rallies are convened for eager botanists.

Fall wildflowers, not so much. They are the swan song of the season that precedes Winter. We don’t care so much to acknowledge them as their transience hints of our own, perhaps, and why bother fawning over less dainty blooms after a lush summer’s overgrowth?

So I offer a couple of currently blooming lesser players in the wildflower gallery of the Southern Appalachians, just to remind you to keep your eyes open —AND as another reminder to tell your friends about the Goose Creek Afield nature walk here just out our front door–on September 13.

Jumpseed: Persicaria virginiana
Jumpseed: Persicaria virginiana of shaded forest margins.

I am ashamed to say that I have never explored the cause of the common name for this plant but will do so today–to observe the seeds exploding several feet from a ripe seed pod. This plant (also called Virginia Knotweed) is everywhere along our pasture margin now. Have you seen it where you live?