Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Who is Uncle Sol?

 Out of our dusty genealogical material comes a question we cannot answer:
Who is Uncle Sol?

 I believe I have heard the name mentioned before. What long-dead relative said this name to me? My guess is that this is a man who worked on, perhaps, my grandfather's farm when he was a young boy. My own father remembers nothing of this. If the picture was taken in 1914, my grandfather would have been just 16.
Or does this picture have nothing to do with him at all?

 The man's name was what? Soloman Cairles? That doesn't make sense. Can it be Soloman Charles? The picture was taken at the Palace Studio, 34 E. 5th St. in Dayton, Ohio and is placed on a postcard as was often the case.
 This man meant something to someone in my family. His image surfaced among our most precious family photos.

 Here's a close-up of the name. Anyone care to venture a guess?
 The Schmidt family (George and Amelia Schmidt) lived in Alexandria, Ohio (Moraine) near the Dwyer's Mill. I understand that is near where the West Carrollton exit off I-75 is now located.
 This will probably be a mystery given over to time. The answer has likely long faded.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cushaw Pie

 I've heard of the cushaw squash (also called kershaw) a number of times in my life but I've never had the opportunity of trying one. Thanks to Marie Eby, we were given this beauty on August 27.

 Saturday I cut it on a sheet of newspaper in the garage and began scooping the cold "cushaw guts" out with my hands. It reminds me of the days as a child when I cleaned pumpkins for Jack-O-Lanterns. We washed the seed, toasting most of it on a baking sheet after tossing it with olive oil and salt. We saved six seeds for next year's garden. The melon was so large that we baked it on two different days. It seems easier to bake the squash when cut into pieces and placed on a baking sheet. Instead of three hours (at 350 degrees) we were able to bake the melon for just an hour or so (though twice).
The filling, after spicing, is mildly sweet and pumpkin-like and can be used the same way. The recipe we used for Spiced Cushaw Squash Pie is linked here.
The pictured melon produced 10 cups of filling, enough for five pies!

Here is Mom testing the pie to see if it's done. It is! And the aroma is perfect ... the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg predominates.

 And the pie, once it is taken from the oven is almost too much to wait for!

 And here's the finished product. Dad called it "the best pie I've ever eaten" and I'd agree.
 So Thanks, Marie! Your gift has turned into a delightful dessert.

Apple Pickin' Time

 There's nothing like the earliest hint of fall ... a chill in the air some mornings and grass and leaves which take on a worn out, drier look. The corn is drying, the soybeans are yellowing, the growing season is coming to a close.
 But as one thing ends, another begins. Now it's time for apples and the trees are hanging thick with them.

 This shot was taken at Crossroad Orchard, on SR 725 near Jamaica Road in Miamisburg. What gorgeous apples! Each seems the picture of perfection.
 I remember my grandparents going to Bear Lake, Michigan each fall and they'd come home with bushel baskets of fragrant apples. My grandfather would finger them, find the perfect one and offer it to me just to see my reaction. I can still remember the smell in the car when they opened the door after the 450 mile trip. He was as proud of those apples as if he'd picked them himself (maybe he did).

 Here's Mom at Crossroad Orchard picking a bag of Jonathan apples. I love the varieties that are a little on the tart side. They're better, too, for baking. How we love making apple pies and apple dumplings. The scent of baking apples along with cinnamon and nutmeg is enough to make me a little dizzy ... even just thinking about it.

 As our tomatoes weren't that good this year, Mom bought a couple of these beauties to bring home for sandwiches and salads. What's prettier than a bright red ripe tomato?
 So, our fall season is already underway, even if the calendar hasn't yet caught up. Before you know it, the first flakes of snow will be falling and we'll be thinking back to these wonderful warm days of fall.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Butterflies & Bumblebees

 Mom and I took a nice hike at the Germantown MetroPark, just a few miles from Pinehaven, this afternoon. It was a pleasant and sunny afternoon with a hint of fall already in the air. Last night's low of 53 degrees certainly triggered many insects to increase their foraging for nectar as we found thistles, in particular, covered with butterflies and bumblebees.

 Is there any shade of lavender more beautiful than this? From a distance you first think pink - and it is - but from a closer view, the pink seems tinged with purple, a truly royal color for the field. This bumblebee was not in the least concerned with my efforts to photograph him. He was too intent on his mission, pushing the petals aside, enjoying a late summer repast.

 This shot (above) shows an equally industrious butterfly, nipping the nectar, unconcerned by my close approach. There were bees and butterflies on the same flower head, sharing the space, working the final days of summer.

 Mom was along with me today. Though she will be 85 in a month and a half, she is willing to get out and enjoy the park with me. On the paths where gravel is loose, else where the grade is a little steep, she will take my arm to help her balance. Together we move slowly along the trail, stopping to enjoy every bit of nature. Many patches of club moss are blooming now, too, and we stopped and admired the lush greenery and their pine-tree-like blooms. Hanging onto the fertile soil, they carpet the edge of the trail in places.
 What a luxurious afternoon. Upper 70's, a warm sun shining upon us and no wind to speak of. What could be finer than the two of us walking along together, open to natural suggestions on all sides. It is days like this that I will remember longest.
 Thistles! Think not of the thorns but of the softest shade of royal.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Those Glorious Summer Nights

 After 9 p.m. on August 18 I carried my camera and tripod out to the backyard to enjoy the stars. For the past several nights, the moon had been shining in my south window and I couldn't avoid its attraction any longer.
 Even at this early hour, the stars had begun to punch through the afterglow of sunset. As I walked across the backyard, a small animal skittered away. A skunk, perhaps? We each went about our appointed task, not paying any further attention to one another.

 This is a view to the southwest where Venus rules the sky. How brilliant it is, able to compete already with the recent sunset. It commands the sky when it is present.

 And here, in the south, is the first quarter moon which has disturbed my sleep by casting long, white shadows through the curtains as it falls across my legs. How pretty it is there all alone in the sky. The craters jump out even to the naked eye. There is Tycho, just left of center at the bottom edge. At 12X, as this photo was taken, more craters begin to appear. They exceed my vision now.

 And here, if you look closely, is the moon above the pines at the rear of our property. What a majestic summer sight, when the air is still warm enough to linger, when hurry is not yet part of the vocabulary.
 I love standing there in the night air, listening to far off dogs bark and an occasional car thread its way along Clayton Road. I might hear an engine start and a neighbor leave even at this late hour. Why now? Why not to bed? Or why not to enjoy this very view?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Heat & The Storm

 This may well be remembered as the first summer where global warming had a noticeable affect on the average citizen. Today we peaked at 95 degrees, the hottest we have been in many years. Add to that the fact that this was the 29th time this summer that we've made it to 90 or beyond. Last summer that number for the entire season was 12.
 Along with the heat, in recent weeks we've been quite dry. Other than two rainfalls of about half an inch - on the 1st and on the 5th - we've had no more than a few very light showers.
 Today was different:

 This shot was cropped from a video I took about 4:30 PM looking west through the back door. Oh, did it rain! In fact, the bulk of the rain may have lasted ten minutes (though it rained about 20 total). We had 0.85".
 I'd say the wind peaked at about 30 MPH or so but we didn't have any damage or hail.
 Of course we always have summer thunderstorms and I certainly remember times of excessive heat when I was a child (without air conditioning, yet). But somehow, something seems different, as though we're on the brink of a disaster. Hasn't a tipping point in the delicate balance of this planet been reached?
 At the moment I'm reveling in the cooler air (74 at 5:45 PM) brought down by the thunderstorm. But I know it won't last. It also makes me think of winter. Will it be above average? Will we actually save something on our electrical bills?
 Earlier Mom and I walked at the pond. Two young teens were fishing but began gathering their gear when we heard thunder gathering in the west. So, too, the swimming pool must have cleared (today was "dollar day" with free ice cream provided by the Jackson Twp. Police). Finally, a sand volleyball tournament was underway. It was nice getting home before the rain.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Frog

  Most summer days when I take my walk at the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Park, I enjoy the trump of a distant frog as I make my turn around the pond. Though there are now several (at least), I seldom have the opportunity to see one. They are a shy race.

 But as I walked along the west side of the pond, this fellow was lounging contentedly on a mass of moss and weedy aquatic debris. As I approached, he held his ground and I took this picture while still several paces away so at least I might have something to show for it.

 Walking closer and closer, he sat there motionless. I aimed the camera, held it steady and clicked off a few shots (aided by the telephoto). This picture is the best of the lot. Such a vivid green! If you look into the water you can see his olive-tan legs, too.
 After taking the shot, I continued on my walk. When I came back around, I again walked toward him, thinking I might shoot a few more pictures. But, no! He would have no more of that and quickly dove from view.
 The trumping I hear most days is disembodied, a hollow return from some hidden recess of the pond. But I was lucky to at least catch a brief glimpse of one of the introverted frogs. I am happy that their numbers are increasing. The year will come when I do not have to hunt for them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Shot by a Chair?

 Whoever heard of getting shot by a chair?
  Let me explain: a few days ago I was sitting at my desk, busily typing away and I began to stand up from the chair. I heard a loud snap - almost like a gunshot - and felt a rather serious blow to my lower right leg. A spring beneath the seat had broken and the jagged metal shot right into my leg like an arrow.

 I went outside to photograph the injury in daylight and this is how it looked. The actual injury is on the left side of this photograph and blood has begun to run down my leg as I walked.

 Here's a vertical view. Note the drop of blood at the top of my white sock.
 The chair, I should say, is one of those portable, fold-up chairs that are so popular at church gatherings. These chairs (we've had several) were from Gebhart & Schmidt Funeral Home in Miamisburg and came home with my grandfather when he left the business (probably in the early 1940's). Thus the chair is older than I.
  A good soapy washing followed by an application of an antibiotic ointment was my solution to the injury. I was asked if I've had a recent tetanus shot? The last I remember was in elementary school in the 1950's. I suppose its protection has worn off.
 Never mind. A few days later, I'm almost as good as new. My jaws haven't locked and the wound is fading.
Leave it to me to get shot by a chair.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Ever Faithful Dog

 I love a good story and this is one to warm the heart. When I was interviewing Virginia Stoltz yesterday, we were talking about the many hours she's spent in cemeteries cataloging the stones. Finally, I asked her, "What discovery do you remember most?" She told me of a monument to a dog in Miamisburg's Hillgrove Cemetery and how that little white bulldog had affected her.
 Today I went looking for it.
 It was a hot day to climb the hills there but I had some idea where the monument was located. Stoltz said it was on the high hill near the cemeteries entrance, in what I've always called the "Treon section" (named after a founder of Miamisburg). Mom tried to climb the hill with me but it was too hot and too steep and she chose to go back to the car and wait.
 I did not find the monument at the highest point where I expected it but rather down on the north side of the hill. As I came down, I saw the "little white bulldog", facing north where he has lain for over a century. Here's what the inscription says: 

My ever faithful dog
That guarded me in life
Still guards my grave.

I can't be sure which grave is the master's but I'd say it's the one with the large stone in front of the dog (wouldn't you set this up so the dog was actually watching the stone?). If so, the dog belonged to Frederick C. Fox, b. 2/25/1809 d. 4/30/1887. Ah, in the ground already for 123 years!

And so Mr. Fox and his beloved dog lie side-by-side on a pleasant hill above Miamisburg. What a lovely monument to a companion! Like Virginia Stoltz, I am touched by the delightful monument to a forever friend.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

On a Wing & a Prayer

Walking around the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Pond today I came upon what I thought was a dead dragonfly ensnarled by a spider web. It hung between the rungs of the fence nearest the platform on the east side of the water. I kneeled down and thanked my lucky stars. Because the insect was dead, I could examine it at length and take photographs as slowly. A stuff breeze swayed it back and forth but I saw no movement to the dragonfly itself.
These three shots are actually just one at various stages of cropping and magnification. Look at the details of the insects body! It is truly amazing to be able to get so close.

A close-up of the wing itself shows the intricate structure in detail. It would seem that the left edge shows a rip, probably where the bug tried to extricate himself from the web.

 After I finished taking photographs, I took my finger and touched the insect. He buzzed to life! Mom suggested I take the top of a grassy weed and try to help the insect escape from the web. With a little prodding, I was able to wrap the web onto the weed and the dragonfly broke free. He landed on the wooden fence, spent a moment gathering his senses and then flew off.
 I feel honored to have been able to examine a dragonfly at such close range. Though we've saved this bug, I suppose we have left the spider - which was assured of a large meal - hungry. Thus is the way of life: help one, harm another. There is no easy answer.

A Darwin Dilemma?

As I was mowing the other day I looked up and saw this bird's nest, still held askance by a pine bough, ready to tip an old clutch of eggs to the ground. I thought of Charles Darwin as I cut the next long row of grass.

 What of the bird that lay them there? Because the nest was not well made, not placed deeply enough on the pine, the nest was at risk of the weather tumbling it down. And so, I believe, it did. There were therefor no offspring. Isn't this a case of natural selection? Survival of the fittest?
 The next bird, better adapted to building nests, fledged her brood which will then fly on to have offspring of their own. So the better bird was chosen.
 Or was this a chance mistake? Will the next nest be better built? Even if that case, there will be fewer offspring.
 Perhaps this is an example of nothing at all, just a gust of wind which brought down this one well-built nest? It is hard to read too much into a couple of rotten eggs ready to tumble to the ground.
 But I will try.