Friday, September 26, 2008

Moving Wall Brings Back Memories

The Moving Wall, a half size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, is now on display in Miamisburg (my hometown from 1949-1980). I've written two pieces for the Dayton Daily News in recent weeks about the wall, one advancing the visit, another profiling one of the individuals responsible for bringing it here.

This afternoon, Mom (below) and I made a visit. As it was a Friday afternoon, it was only moderately busy but I was touched by the people taking rubbings by pressing crayons to paper and by the mementos laid at the foot of the wall. It was a pleasant sunny day and this helped buoy the atmosphere in Library Park.

My only personal connection to the Vietnam era - besides being a college student at the time - was having a friend who would go to the Asian country and not return. Gary McKiddy was the one most on my mind as I walked along the wall. Who would not be touched by the 58,256 names inscribed there, all that potential lost?

Gary McKiddy (4/1/1950 - 5/6/1970) and I never had a chance to develop a very close friendship but it was one I cherished just the same. I first met him at his father's Shell station in Miamisburg (Central & Lawrence). I had known his Dad for some years, buying gas there every now and then. Eventually, when Gary began pumping gas (for you young readers, gasoline once came from a service station), we met and hit it off pretty quickly. He was interested in attending Miami University-Middletown which I had attended my first two years of college. One day we drove there together, toured the campus and had a memorably afternoon together.

It wasn't long thereafter - maybe a year -that I heard he had been killed in Cambodia. I didn't even know he had joined the Army rather than going to college.

Though I knew Gary for only a short while, he had one of those spectacular personalities, one that you can never forget. His loss is my loss as it is a loss for everyone who knew him.

To read more about Gary, go to:

The Moving Wall is in Miamisburg 09/25 - 09/29.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cleaning up after Ike

It is a week since the storm (see previous post) and the area is still cleaning up. I was amazed to find what I suspect to be the oldest pine at the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Joint Park broken off near the top. Already a trimmer has been by and reduced some of the fallen branches to workable loads.

I also suspect that this very tree was standing here when Winter Zero Swartsel still lived (he died 55 years ago). Perhaps he planted it? In any case, it was a stately tree, a bit gnarled with age but grown more lovely with the passing years. Can it live in this shape, effectively topped if not toppled? When I walked this path yesterday, a branch covered the walkway and we had to detour through a nearby shelter.

Below is a picture taken this afternoon on Farmersville-West Carrollton Road, maybe two miles southeast of Pinehaven. This power pole was tilted by the southern wind a week ago and nearby power lines still touch the ground. We saw homeowners standing in their yard hoping for a Dayton Power & Light crew to stop by. Surely this section has had dark nights for the past week.

Yesterday we drove over to my brother's house west of Germantown and helped him rake and pick up limbs in his front yard. They have a 10 acre plot that is mostly wooded (thank goodness!) but Bob has a large lawn in front of (where this picture was taken) and a small one behind his house. By the time I took this picture, much of the work had been done and Bob was beginning to burn the limbs and leaves.

A closer view of the burn pile, in the background works my mother (Mary, 82) and my step-nephew (Michael, 11).

A little closer view shows how dry the leaves are. In fact, Bob wouldn't have had to light the pile. It had already begun to smolder from previous day's burnings.

Mom's taking a rest; and so is Michael.

Pictured below is my brother (Bob, 52), Mom and Michael.

And while Dad can't help with the work any longer, he's happy to supervise. At first he sat on the east side of the house in the shade but decided that a better spot would be near the front porch, shade close enough for comfort if needed and a spot where he could watch the clean-up work underway.

So now, with a week behind us, we've cleaned about as much as we plan to. The limbs are picked up, the leaves raked and burnt and the scattered damage repaired. We lost no more than skylights in the barn. Bob had a tree fall on one of their cars and dent the roof about 6". Who can afford to turn this sort of thing in to our homeowner's insurance? One claim and the premiums rocket. So we stay insured for more major catastrophes and hope we don't see them.

But who would have expected hurricane-related damage in southwestern Ohio?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hurricane Ike (remnants)

We don't expect hurricanes here in southwest Ohio but having the remnants of one blow through happens fairly regularly. Usually we just get lots of rain. This time, the heavy rain passed to our west, drenching Indiana and Illinois. What we got was the wind - lots of it.

My weather station recorded a peak gust on Sunday (09/14) of about 65 mph (some stations recorded actual hurricane force winds of 80 mph). That's about when the power went out (2 p.m.).

This first shot is of our back porch area as the wind began whipping and sending corn plants - ripped right out of the fields - across the concrete and piling them in windrows against the pines.
You can see I managed to prop our two wooden rockers against the house. One had already been toppled. I've found this configuration just perfect; when laid against the house in this way, they seem not to budge. By the way, I've found corn up in the tops of the highest trees.

Along the south side of Pinehaven, maple leaves and branches began collecting. In the background, you can see we've already lost two limbs from the catalpas that line Clayton Road. At this point they're still partly in the roadway. Thanks to the Jackson Twp. Service Department who came by with a bulldozer and pushed them back into the yard. I wasn't sure how I was going to handle it.

A closer view of the catalpa damage. After the wind died down, I was out front with a hand saw trying to section the heavy limbs so that I could drag them to the field. That's when our neighbor, Rick Cornett, pulled into our driveway and asked, "Do you have a saw?" I held up my small saw. "I mean a chain saw," he said. "Nope." So Rick spent a few minutes sectioning the heavy limbs so that I could move them. That's neighborliness! I gave him the largest logs as kindling for when the winter winds are whipping.

Standing in Clayton Road, facing south, here's a close-up view of the damage. That's our mailbox buried in the leaves. From the picture, it doesn't look too bad but it was beyond my moving.

Turning around and shooting this picture northward, there's plenty of corn debris lying about but no trees were lost. Note the lack of any traffic. And this was the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

Here's (below) a better view of one of the limbs split off from the catalpa. The old tree just couldn't stand the strain. And while standing there taking this picture, nor could I. I had to keep covering my eyes to protect them from flying debris.

A day or so later, I took a walk over at the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Joint Park. They lost some trees, too. One (not shown) was girdled by twine which was left on when the tree was planted. The tree just snapped off above the root ball. There's a good moral there about proper planting techniques.

I'm including the next two pictures as an "after" and "before" shot of the cornfield across from our house. This shot (below) shows that the corn was pretty effectively mowed down by the wind. It seems the greenest corn was all that managed to stand; the mature, dried corn was laid down flat! Now, the million dollar (literally) question: can it be harvested from on the ground? I don't know. I wouldn't expect the pickers to be able to get that low. I'll have to watch and see what happens but I'm thinking "total crop loss" and "silage' here.

So you can compare, here's the "before" shot - nice, thick rows of mature corn as far as the eye can see. It's virtually all gone, thanks to Ike.

How have we been living the past three days? Carefully and painfully. Without electricity, we not only lost my livelihood (journalism) - the computer and electronic phones were dead - but we also lost any ability to heat (or refrigerate) our food. We also couldn't run water since we're on a well. No power = no water. And no water means no toilet!

Mother nature continues to call, does she not? For myself, a carefully dug latrine worked fine. A high fence of weeds was more than enough privacy. It's harder for my elderly parents: they managed with buckets. I kept getting large plastic buckets of water, too, and we managed to flush the toilets manually at least once a day.

How could our power company not get our electricity reconnected for three days (actually 75.5 hours)? It seems crews were dispatched to the Texas area because of - you got it - Hurricane Ike. So when the storm moved through here, there was no one to help.

Even after the power came back, it lasted only two hours and then went off for another few hours. Finally, after dark last evening it came back on and - so far - we still have juice.

But we're lucky to have not suffered any real damage. Sure, we lost every bit of food in our refrigerator but we have a solid roof and we didn't get enough rain to pose any threat at all. No storm surge here in the Midwest, either. So, all in all, we came through it just fine.

But had you asked me two days ago when I needed a shower and a shave, when I was itchy and irritated beyond belief, my answer wouldn't have been the same.

So, if anyone ever asks you whether Ohio ever gets hurricanes, tell them "Yes! They sure do!"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Enough with the moon already?

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a little taken with the night sky. It doesn't require a telescope and fancy gear to take my fancy. I get along fine with just the moon overhead.

Last night, figuring that the moon was somewhere just past first quarter, I went outside at about 9 p.m., camera and tripod in hand. The moon hung high in the southern sky, framed by pines. Just to the west of the moon and above, Jupiter punched through the darkness.

I walked to the mid-point of the backyard, set up my tripod, adjusted the camera and began shooting. Here's one of the first pictures I took.

When the moon is in its waxing and waning phases, the light is coming from the side and the craters stand out in high relief (compare this to the shots I posted last month).

Now, pulling the moon in a little closer with the zoom, the craters begin to stand out even more. A telescope would be fun, to be sure, but it isn't at all necessary for great shots of the moon. In fact, a cheap pair of binoculars is equally enjoyable.

Can you believe we went there in the late 1960's and early 1970's? How our vision has faded!

Finally, I walked into the shadow of a maple and turned my camera around to the northwest. The Big Dipper was gorgeous, spread out across a large sweep of celestial real estate. I've cropped just the Big Dipper from the frame. In high resolution time exposures, stars show their colors. Off this frame to the bottom right, one particular star is a beautiful red.

While enjoying the night sky, a Great Horned Owl began calling from the woods to our north. It is an eerie enough sound, but standing there in the dark, clad in a bath robe in the chilly night air, the sound stood some of my neck hairs on end.

Hooooo! Hooooo! Hoo, hoo, hoo!

It was time to come back inside and enjoy the warmth of the house for a few minutes before bed.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Summer's Fading Fast

This Monarch Buttery was enjoying goldenrod along Clayton Road as I walked to Hemple Road this morning. The day was young enough that the dew was still heavy and he seemed reluctant to open his wings very far. His favorite plant - milkweed - is plentiful just now. We are only about four weeks away from the first frost so a sight such as this butterfly will soon be but a fond memory.

With the early morning sun beginning to bake the bricks at the front of our house, I thought some of you might enjoy seeing Pinehaven as it looks right now. About the only change from recent years is the heat pump on the lower left and the new shingle roof (not very visible from this low angle). Of course the south chimney - which served the old fuel oil furnace - is gone, too.

Finally, I noticed last evening that my allergies were much worse than usual and I suppose I have goldenrod to blame (ragweed, too). This goldenrod (below) was just at the budding stage three days ago but today it is in full bloom, bright and yellow. It, too, will fall victim to the upcoming frost. It will be haggard and dead in a single night.

Cooler weather has finally moved in after a little rain. Yesterday (09/05) morning I awoke at 5:15 a.m. to a thunderstorm booming just to our northeast. I lay there and listened for the rain and soon I had quite a downpour to enjoy. We've had less than half an inch of rain in the past 30 days so every drop was welcome.

When I think of how the seasons are changing - getting later, are they not? - I still anticipate each one with joy. I enjoy the change and could never survive in a place without seasons. How boring that would be.

My weather book shows that September began with an average temperature of 70 degrees but it will end with 62. September, then, drops by 2 degrees each week. By the end of October we'll be down to 49.

Tonight we'll drop into the mid 50's and I'll enjoy every minute of it. The heat pump has been quiet for a full day and the second floor a/c also becomes dormant. Our electric bills will fall for the next six weeks ... and then blossom beyond all imagining.

But isn't that a fair trade for such variety?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hummingbird season ending

It seems we have to fill the hummingbird feeder almost daily now that the spot has become so popular. This female Ruby-throated Hummingbird is having a late-day drink at the feeder in the shot below. Only the female has the white throat; the male is darker, too.

The season ends here about October 1 and so we are in our final weeks with the tiny birds. While we anticipate them each April, there comes a point (just about now, in fact) when the constant work with the feeder begins to get a bit much. Mom makes the red sweet liquid in bulk and keeps it in the refrigerator. We have two feeders which we alternate.
It's fun to watch when we exchange the nearly-empty feeders. I'll usually come in the back door and walk to the kitchen window and already one of the tiny birds will be sipping. They must sit in the maple tree and watch.
This shot was taken late yesterday when the light level was dropping. The shutter speed, by necessity, was too slow to freeze the beating wings. For those interested, I set my camera up on a tripod, framed the shot, manually focused on the feeder, and just waited. When I saw the bird arrive, I tripped the shutter.
We'll miss these little fellows (and gals) in the cold months ahead. I have other hummingbird shots here on the blog that you might enjoy: 6/15/08 - feeding babies; 5/22/08 - nesting.