Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Climbing the Bell Tower

My freelancing work for the local newspaper often gets me into places I wouldn't otherwise see. That was the case today. I've covered St. John's United Church of Christ in Germantown's plans for their bicentennial this summer. When I attended a meeting a couple of weeks ago, Dr. Noel Watson asked if I'd like to see the bell tower?
When I was a kid, Dad often suggested he could get me access to the tower at St. Jacob Lutheran Church in Miamisburg. It never happened, the years passed and with it the dream of ever scaling those heights.
But now I had a chance to see a bell tower, albeit not so high. No matter!
So on this hot summer afternoon (lower 90's) we walked into the air conditioned church, stepped into a space no larger than a closet and watched a metal ladder disappear up into the darkness. Dr. Watson led the group including Keith Groach (who mows his lawn), Benjamin Mersch, editor of the Germantown Press, Chris Meinke and myself.

The bell tower is, of course, the structure shown at the front of the church, on the front northeast corner.

Upon climbing the first metal ladder affixed to the wall, you come upon an opening and step out above the church's ceiling. This is a view to the south across that first opening. The timbers from the 1907 construction are visible here. The church, by the way, was first formed in 1809 by a group of German Reformed settlers who came to Germantown from Pennsylvania. They built their first church after 1830 and a fancier one in the 1860's. That one was destroyed by a tornado in 1907. Construction was begun then on the church we see today.

This brick opening leads from the first platform to another opening, this on the east side of the building (this picture was taken, however, facing west). Why this doorway is irregularly cut, who knows? It looks as though it was originally the size noted near the top and later expanded. Perhaps the bell didn't fit through? Or, more likely, the bell was hoisted up from outside.

Coming through that opening, there's this high area with tightly-packed steps which lead ever higher. See the windows? You can see them in the picture taken of the outside of the church part way up to the belfry. At top is Dr. Watson; below him is Mersch.
At the top you walk through another opening and step carefully on boards laid across the floor. Watch your step! If you step anywhere near the end of a long board, it teeters!

This shot (above) is of Watson (l) and Keith examining the bell. It's dated 1916 when it was recast; it weighs 1200 pounds. The bell will ring three times the actual date of their bicentennial: July 30, 2009 at 9 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. Watson rang it while we were there - once! - and it is deafening when standing so close.

Looking down from a perch on an aluminum ladder placed there, I wanted to give you a look at how the bell is mounted and how the floor is constructed. The rope that rings it (there are actually two) go through the floor beside Watson where the floor color is rusty (probably sawdust).

Bats in the belfry? Indeed! When we walked through the first landing, bats glided through the air like falling leaves. We hurried on. Here they're "stuck" behind poultry netting placed over the sound opening. Presumably the purpose of the fencing is to keep birds - and bats! - out. I believe the two bats are dead but they might have been spending a warm summer afternoon in upside-down slumber.
What's the risk with all the bat guano, I asked Watson. "Histoplamosis," he answered. I just sputtered a little and said if he found my name on his appointment book, he'd know why I wanted to see him.
A great afternoon. Finally, I've made it to the top of a bell tower.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer's Here!

I said the raspberries wouldn't go to waste and they haven't. Here's my breakfast this morning of buttermilk waffles topped with the fresh raspberries, orange juice, coffee and toast. What could be better? Come, have a seat with me, and lets talk over the newspaper.

My aunt has a plant (a vine?) which she calls a "lipstick plant". Several years ago she saw one of these blooming at Kettering Hospital when she was in for heart surgery and she took a sample, placed it in a glass of water and planted it when it took root. Now, perhaps three years later, this is the result. No doubt, it looks like red lipstick being pushed up from a dark tube (particularly before the bloom is entirely open as shown in this picture).

To the south of our garage we have a small flower bed (maybe three feet square) and Mom planted several packets of seed in the spring. We see mostly zinnias with a few similarly-colored marigolds sharing the tight space. Two zinnias have opened and both are a lovely shade of deep gold.

I always like getting in tight to see the intricate structure of flowers and the lowly zinnia is no different. Compare the picture above to the one below. They're identical except for the detail.

Look at that gorgeous, complicated center! The simple orange flower is now alive with shades that include rusty reds and sunny yellows. The tiny filaments of gold are wound around the petals in exquisite detail. Never fail to look at a flower closely! Nature is alive with complication to its very depths! A chance glance is never enough ... dig!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Raspberry Pickin' Time!

There is both pain and pleasure in this annual event: raspberry pickin' time!
They grow wild hereabouts and I've picked them every year we've lived here ... since 1987.
But take a look at these wild berries as they begin to ripen: golden yellow, orange, red and finally a lovely shade of deep purple.

It is now - the third week of June - when I usually don an additional layer of clothing and carry a plastic bucket around as I gather up the sweet fruit. I am accosted by mosquitoes and flies above and poison ivy and chiggers below. So I make sure I've slathered on some insect repellent and pulled on long pants (heavy jeans are best) as I wade into the already-deep weeds to collect this annual wild harvest.

The ripe berries hide among the undergrowth and I must find them before the birds. It is a challenge each year, this harvesting contest. The birds see the bounty as theirs - and the fruit being wild and buried in weeds I suppose they are convinced correctly - but I figure I am the owner and taxpayer of the property and thus have some secondary right, too.

I do not gather many at a time. They are protected too much by the weeds and the insects. But I gather the best, the ripest of all, and leave those less than perfect for a next time. Eventually I will tire (before the birds do) and leave the rest of the crop to them. But I tire from the discomfort and never from the berries themselves. They are perfect liberally added to a bowl of cereal in the morning with no sugar necessary when the berries are glistening atop the corn flakes.
The picture (below) is of my plastic butter container as I'm collecting a day's worth. They are not many but they are the better for their dearth.

While I am standing knee-deep in the weeds, I can't help but admire the tiger lily which I excavated almost a quarter century ago, threw them atop a compost pile in the meadow and left them to die. But somehow they dug their roots down and in time have replanted the bulbs as though they were carefully placed there.

They expand their area too quickly in a flower bed but in the meadow they are perfect. Cover this acre with your orange blooms, will you? Let me look upon a golden sea from my kitchen window. If not the beauty of their blooms, let me appreciate their tenacity. Every country road attests to that.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pinehaven - Ten Years Later

It's been ten years since I published Pinehaven. I started writing it about 1997 and sent it off for printing in early 1999. So, here we are a decade later. Want to learn more about the book? Click here.

I have a few - very few - copies of the book still available. Contact me at my e-mail if you're interested in an original signed copy. Or, if you'd like a used copy, places such as usually stock them.

I have tried to keep the story updated with this blog and with plenty of pictures. I hope you'll all continue to read along as the story unfolds ...

Stormy Evening

Tuesday (06/02/09) the storms rolled back into the area with angry black clouds, hail and even a few reports of tornadoes. This cloud (below) was to our southwest and was approaching Germantown as I shot this at about 5:45 p.m.

I'd call that a wall cloud though meteorologists might differ. It hung down from the main cloud deck and could be seen scooting along with the trees in the foreground for reference. I was standing in Sam's lane when I shot this, at the southern edge of our property.

As I stood there shooting video, the thunder crashed and I noticed odd "thunks" on the open ground before me. Then I heard a distinctive ricochet on the metal barn roof and realized what it was: hail! I ran for the garage so I could stand beneath the overhang.
And there I stood till almost 6 p.m. watching 3/8" hail fall in such quantity that it began collecting on the driveway apron. I posted a video of the event on WHIO-TV's weather page and it quickly logged almost 200 views. Have a look by clicking here.
Even with the seriousness of the weather, we lucked out. Eaton had 2.5" hail that looked like icy crabs. There were actually claws hanging down from the hail stones. I've never seen anything quite like it before. In Wilmington - at the National Weather Service office - they watched a tornado touch down. I've not heard of any damage.
Now, on Friday, we've had a couple of very cool nights. Last night we plunged to 46 degrees. This is early June?