Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve at Pinehaven

 Those of you who follow my posts - yet alone know me personally - know that we don't celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense, Even so, Mom insists on a small (artificial) tree, though last year we managed to discourage her putting it up at all.. Dad was ill and it seemed like too much so she dispensed with it. But not this year. I can tell you this: on Sunday she'll be putting everything away.
 That's not to say my attitude is entirely humbug. I enjoy a good light show as much as the next guy, just not so much of it and not so long. With decorations in full swing by Thanksgiving, I'm quite burnt out on the whole idea by the time Christmas arrives.
 On Tuesday evening I attended a New Lebanon council meeting for the DDN and I'll admit to standing outside my car admiring the lights beside the municipal pond. Their gazebo was lit with tiny white lights that glowed nicely in the cold night air.

 All alone there, I stood and enjoyed the lights as few minutes after the meeting concluded. Simplicity is the answer, isn't it? Had there been many colors and more lights they'd have not gained my attention at all.

 The community Christmas tree could not be more simple. Rather than wrap the strings of lights around the tree, a number of strands were dropped from the top. With the light snow reflecting the tiny bulbs, I couldn't help but enjoy the scene.
 We have no outdoor lights at all. Our few neighbors each seem to have marvelous displays but our house shines with three tiny candle lights placed in the living room windows. We'll keep two of them up throughout the year; only the one that is decorated with a Christmas theme will be put away in the trunk until next year.
 And so that is my meager celebration of Christmas comes to an end. I can acknowledge it briefly but no more.
 On to a new year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Icy Fog

 Early this morning we left the house for breakfast at Miss Molly's Bakery & Cafe in Farmersville. I had not looked at the weather to any degree and was astounded by an icy fog that hung just above ground level. I didn't have my camera with me. Driving home from breakfast, traveling into the sunlight, I saw that the fog had not only lifted somewhat but was becoming lighter.
 Then, leaving for the grocery in Miamisburg, I made sure I had my camera along just in case.

 As we drove east on Farmersville-West Carrollton Road, still in Jackson Twp., I marveled at the wispy fog, rising off the snowy fields. It was still early enough that the sun had not completely destroyed its delicate nature. I looked for traffic and stopped in the middle of the road, rolled my window down and took this picture of a barn and its trailing fog.
 Had I time (I didn't) I'd have stopped and taken many more pictures, particularly of the weeds resplendent with hoarfrost. They gleamed in the rising sun like jagged diamonds. I figured as I approached the Great Miami River and Miamisburg, the fog would have thickened and offered more photographic opportunities. But no! The sky was nearly clear of fog.
 Last night's low was 5 degrees here at Pinehaven and our daily average a mere 16. Normal for today is 30.
 A week until Christmas and we already have the proper atmosphere for a very old fashioned one.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Downy Woodpeckers

 Each fall, we watch for the return of the downy woodpeckers to our suet feeder. We've found suet is the best attractant for this bird. There is a few day's delay after we hang the first cake of suet until a downy finds it. But from that point on, they are constant visitors throughout the winter.

 This downy (Picoides pubescens) is a male, obvious from the red patch on his nape. In his earliest visits to the feeder (such as this one), he's nervous and shy. The feeder is just outside the bay window at our kitchen sink, a place we spend a lot of time. Eventually the birds know we are there and cease to care. The food is much of a priority.

 This female came soon after the male. As the snow flew, she pecked at the fat and covered her beak with it. The female seems to remain more shy than the male, stays a little more skittish throughout the season.

The birds are small - about 6" tall and generally a sparrow-sized bird - and make a constant peep as they feed. Audubon describes the sound as "pik" but whatever it is, it continues between every bite. These are, by the way, the most abundant eastern woodpecker.

 Even on a dark day, when the wind is whistling from the west, the woodpeckers come for the easy handout. When this shot was taken, snow had filled the background and the temperature was quite cold (well down into the teens). As often as they visit, I am amazed that we are still on our first cake of suet.
 Other birds visit, too: common sparrows, titmice, nuthatches and the like. But they seldom stay when the woodpeckers arrive. It is then usually dining alone.

Jack Frost's Touch

 With the recent cold weather - twenty and more degrees below normal - and some moisture added at regular intervals, certain windows on the house traditionally receive Jack Frost's delicate touch. The window in Mom's second floor bedroom, which faces north, has the prettiest structures I've ever seen.

 These delicate icy flowers blossomed on the left side of the pane. They look like a white dove's feathers stuck to the glass. The structure is lacy and complicated. Have a closer look:

 What pattern was followed for this artist? Can't you imagine a fern's leaf? Certainly the structure uses mathematical fractals. If I could zoom further, I'd expect the pattern to reduce and yet always be the same. It is a crystalline structure, built upon some unseen seed, mere moisture at its heart. It repeats endlessly.

 And yet move but 18" to the right (staying on the same pane of glass) and that very same moisture has grown into vertical lines. The feathery whorls are gone, replaced by lacy lines. Why, so close, is the structure so far away? The artist scribbles, sketches, practices.
 These examples form, of course, on the outside of the glass. We are warm and snug inside. Only one other windows - a south-facing second floor bathroom window - exhibits similar icing. Perhaps these windows leak a little and the moisture I see is not so much from snow as from our very breath? In any case, I may watch Jack Frost work nightly, painting new patterns with his unseen icy brush. Who would have thought that mere water could be so pretty?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

First Snow

 Sunday [12/12] our first snow of the season began arriving with cold temperatures and a northwest wind that was bitter. Looking down from our second floor window at the top of the stairs is a favorite vantage point of mine. I can see the wood pile and the old hen house in the distance and gauge the depth of the snow by the way the pines droop.

Here (below) is another view as the snow was falling. The wind did a fairly good job of clearing the trees but between gusts the snow built up very nicely and gave my view a Christmas card feel.

 The following morning [12/13] the local schools were closed. Even so, the snow quit and the sun came out for awhile. Beneath the pines to our south, the long early morning shadows were cast across the pristine snow. It wasn't deep - perhaps no more than 4" on average - but it was enough to cause concern for the school buses.

 And finally, looking out our front window (facing east), the corn stubble across from us easily pierced the blanket of snow. S. Clayton Road was already scraped clean by the plows.

 Even today [12/14] the schools are on a two hour delay. I suppose many of the country roads are snow covered and dangerous. Much of the terrain west of here is hilly, too. I woke at 6 a.m. and turned on WHIO and heard that Valley View was delayed.
 Perhaps another reason is the temperature. It was 2 degrees this morning. The furnace runs non-stop but we are snug and comfortable.
 More snow late on Wednesday? I thought our winter was supposed to be more moderate than most and yet the first half of the month has proven to be colder and snowier than normal. Who can predict this ahead of time? We must always wait and see.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas Flowers

 When we visit Stockslager's Greenhouse & Garden Center just west of New Lebanon on U.S. 35, we can't help but get a little more into the Christmas spirit. Once we open the door we're met with the moist scent of flowers. The greenhouse itself is an ocean of color, waves of reds and pinks as poinsettias are now ready for the holiday season.
 They even have blue ones this year. How is it done? I suspect white ones are dyed?

 Here's a close-up of the delicate center of a single poinsettia. How intricate the structure!
 As I stood there focusing for this macro shot, a sales person came by and said, "May I help you?" but she was probably checking on what I was up to. Indeed I "took" something, though no more than a photograph and lovely memories.

 The cyclamens, too, are blooming in a profuse rainbow wave. There are reds and brilliant pinks so bright they almost blind. This one seems almost too pink for photography! This is a delicate plant, somewhat hard to get to bloom again. And yet Mom had luck with one, year after year.
 This weekend (12/04) is Stockslager's annual Open House. We generally check them out before the crowds arrive. This year only us and one other customer were admiring the sights.
 I have a bit of a withdrawal this time of year as there's nothing blooming hereabouts and I must get my fix which must last until spring. Stockslager's give me a bit of a recharge.