Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Locket

 It is a quiet introspective day, a good, dark day to stay inside and think. While sitting on the sofa, my mind jumped to our bookcase with its long row of cup-hooks. On one, I have my grandfather's antique compass ... brass, I'd say, with the delicately balanced needle that swings forever north. I can imagine him using it in northern Michigan, deep in the springtime woods, immersed in mushroom hunting and pulling the compass out of his vest pocket to find the way back to his car. I remember him showing it to me as a child. I now own it as an adult. I do not mean to be coy when I say that I think it gives me direction. It is a golden link to my grandfather, gone now 41 years.

 Beside the compass hangs another golden object, hanging from its own cup-hook: a locket from the Civil War. There is a story held within its hinge that I can only dream upon.

 It is likely brass, too, and engraved with a circular arrow motif, three swirling clockwise arrows which must also give a direction of sorts. Six equal quadrants, like rays from the sun, shine engraved from the middle to the edge. The locket is identical on the front and the back. It has not been kept in a drawer these 150 years, but worn - carried in a pocket, perhaps, or palmed where a finger worked back and forth across the surface.
 There is a story in this locket which I can only guess upon. Open it with me.

Placing your fingernail in a slight depression on one edge causes it to unfold naturally, like a pocket watch, and you are met with the face of a young man - perhaps late teens, perhaps even early twenties. It is beneath glass, carefully cut to fit and slightly chipped along the edges from years of use. The photo is tintype, cut with scissors, made to fit the one and a half inch opening. I have never taken it out: I would love to know if there is something beneath ... a name, a place, a date?
 Have a closer look at this boy:

 He's probably wearing a Union uniform. Was the photo taken in some city that he was passing through on the way to a battle? His cheeks have a blush of rose; someone added a hint of life. He stares straight ahead, knowing where this photo will be sent. His hair is a little greasy. He looks tired and worn and proud.
 When I bought the locket (many years ago) I was told it was from an Ohio estate auction. Could the man be an Ohio Union soldier? If so, he may have lived close to where I now live. But it is too long ago; there is no way to know.
 At some time, the photo arrived in the mail. I imagine some young woman cried when she first saw it.
 But there was something else with the photograph: a lock of hair. I envision her handling it with care, tying it with a small piece of blue yarn, carefully saving it.
 But did things go wrong? Did the man die in the war. Did she ever see him again? I have a feeling that this is how the story went. She took a lock of her own hair - lighter and longer and tied it with a white thread. She wound the two together, intertwined them in another compartment of the locket. A part of she and he together forever, locked under glass, safe for the ages.

 These two locks of hair lie on a bed of silken blue fabric, cut as the tintype, to one and a half inches.
 I can hope for a happy ending. She saved the picture and the hair in the locket until the war was over, when he returned safe and sound. They married, had children, grew old together.
 But I think not. This locket holds a sad story, I believe. I can feel it. It is the more reasonable to think that I now hold a broken heart, encased in bronze, forever nameless as it made it's way to Pinehaven.

Friday, February 25, 2011

When it rains ...

 Morton has it right, whether describing their salt's ability to still pour in humid weather and whether they're describing Farmersville's weather this winter.
 Again last night it poured. Throughout the late day, the rain came down. Then the weathermen decided that it might turn to snow and began issuing warning, especially to the north of here. When I went to bed it was merely raining. The last thing I heard was the sump pump in the basement.

 Even before last night's additional rainfall, we were saturated. As I walked back and forth in Sam's driveway, I became interested in the reflection of Pinehaven in a puddle on the south lawn. It seemed strange seeing it there on the ground upside-down. You cannot walk through the yard without sinking in mud. And this is February, not April.
 I woke at nearly 2 a.m. when a particular gust of wind got my attention. I not only heard it, I felt it. The window at the head of my bed faces east and a gust in the mid-40's (mph) actually moved my curtains. Now I'd say we have good storm windows, well-sealed against the elements. And yet that wind, placed as it was, made it through and into my bedroom. It almost parted my hair. I lay there for a while listening to the sleet and rain pelt the glass pane and then an odd silence return. I knew that the rain was changing to snow.
 I pulled the electric blanket over my head, hunkered deep beneath the covers and fell quickly back to sleep. This morning we had 1.42" in the rain gauge (surely a record for this date and perhaps for any day in February) and an inch and a half of snow on the ground. One of the two hoses I placed on our downspouts had blown halfway across the yard (anchored there with two bricks).
 Today is a nice respite. There have been some breaks in the clouds and some sunshine has made it through; it's nearly 35° at 2 p.m.
 That puddle on the south lawn? Grown larger still. It connects with others and gives us a continuous waterway from barn to road.

 One last thought: how does the picture I began this blog entry with look if I flip it, bring Pinehaven right side-up? Here it is:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Deer-ly Beloved

 On February 20, I was upstairs when Mom came to the door and told me to hurry down. A deer was by the hen house and looked like she was going to begin grazing in the yard. By the time I got my camera she had stepped into the open and was scanning the area for any danger.

 It is not at all unusual to have deer in the yard - we've seen as many as five at a time - but rare to see just one. This was a beautiful young animal, wet from the recent rain. All she wanted was an opening to stand in and some dried winter grass to nibble upon.

 And that's precisely what she started to do as I stood at the north dining room window and watched. How could animals of this sort be hunted? I am happy to provide them with a safe place to roam. At length she walked behind the garden and then behind the garage where we could no longer watch her. Actually, most of the time deer come into our yard it is much later, certainly dusk. They are generally afraid to be in well-lighted open spaces.
 I wish I had more time to stand and watch. What wonders are there at all hours of the night?
 I once came upon an opossum eating a discarded tomato at our compost pile. He didn't seem much concerned that I was there. As I got closer and closer, he began to think the better of it and began to leave slowly. He never ran, just ambled across the yard and back into the meadow as though his lunch was done.
 Next to these, raccoons and rabbits are most common. A rare fox or coyote is seen hereabouts, though never in our yard.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Hunter & The Moon

 I am outside this evening [02/19] not for Orion but for the moon. But as I stand in the cold and damp night air, it is Orion over my right shoulder that commands my attention. I didn't expect it to be quite this clear but the air is apparently washed clean by a recent cold front. There, above the pines that line our driveway, Orion hangs motionless and brilliant.

 "I rode home at 11:30 tonight, forcing great gulps of frosty air into my lungs, looking up at the stars, up behind the black bare trees, and gasping at Orion. How long, how long since I noticed stars; no longer, now, mere inane pinpricks on a smothering sky of  cheap cloth - but symbols, islands of light, soft, mysterious, hard cold ..." Sylvia Plath - Journal

 Look even at the Orion Nebula, the midpoint of the three vertical "stars" at the bottom of the image. It is clearly seen with no more than a camera on such a night as this. And yet my eyes do not see it, see only the shape of the constellation, the four brilliant corner stars that frame the belt.

 From my spot here in front of the chimney (I'm using the house itself as a windbreak), Orion fairly commands the sky. For this shot I purposely included an edge of Pinehaven for perspective, for scale. That's my bedroom window.
 Betelgeuse, that red giant at the upper left, if perhaps no longer a star at all. It's 640 light years away (or so the most recent estimates say) so if it blew itself to smithereens - went supernova - we'd not yet know about it if it happened any time since 1371. Columbus wouldn't set sail on that "ocean blue" for another 121 years.
 There, too, nestled among the branches of a pine (left), I can see Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest object in the night sky. It is just about to emerge into full view.
 But I'm not really out here for Orion ... I'm here for the moon. I've calculated where it will rise (94°) and when (8:22 p.m.) and so I have my tripod set up, camera's setting made and I am waiting for the first glimpse.
 At the appointed time there is ... nothing. A few minutes more and the glow of the top of the moon begins to affect the distant horizon. It is lined with trees - an actual fence row between two fields - and probably half a mile distant.
 As the moon rises behind the trees, I'm taking pictures but I'm not happy with any of them. It is only when the moon begins to clear the trees that the picture becomes the one I'm looking for:

 I am focused (manually) on infinity because the trees and the moon are both distant. I have played with a few shutter speeds and apertures (I'm running the camera in manual mode) and find this setting best approximates what I am viewing ... an orange moon, a newly minted golden coin, inching up from the cut corn field.
 The trees seem to reach for the moon in this eerie shot.
 The moon is a day past full and is no longer circular. It is flattened by both the light falling upon it and by its proximity to the horizon. The depth of the atmosphere gives the moon a softer focus; and the trees, enveloped in the night, are lit by the moon itself and no more. They lose definition by the subtle back-lighting.
 I can imagine a coyote sitting there, baying and howling at this bright apparition. I feel a little of that same inclination myself.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gentle Hints

 Other years, it has been March 9 or later that I've seen much sign of life with our pussy willow. Yesterday while I was walking in the neighbor's lane, I noticed that catkins towards the top of the plant were swollen and a few had already begun to open. This is spring's surest, yet subtle, sign.

 For the past three days we've reached into the 60's each afternoon. Yesterday we had a spring breeze blowing strongly from the south. It is the pussy willow that notices this first and reports it with a soft, white flag of truce to winter's final days..
 In the late day sun, the branches were alive with orange and the scene became warmer still. I walked to the garage, pulled out our stepladder so that I could photograph some of the higher branches. While low down on the plant the catkins are snug and tight, those at the top are emerging. The ruddy shell which encloses the cottony center is splitting and the catkin slide out ready-formed.

 There, below, is Sam''s lane, still cold but softening and muddy with winter's melt. Where a couple of weeks ago, branches broke under the weight of ice, they are now warming in the sunset's glow.
 It will not last. This is no more than an early tease. Soon the snow will fly again and the wind will whip the flakes about. It is too early to talk of spring. And yet the pussy willow looks ahead, telling us that winter is nearing its end, that all will be well and warm ... soon.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pinehaven Coffee Ring

 If you're on a diet, turn away now. Save yourself. I have nothing to say to you today that will be of any interest. In fact, it will be positively harmful and damaging to your well being. Forewarned. Proceed at your own risk.
 A few days ago, Mom and I were both wanting to make a breakfast roll of some sort. Our favorite, a Coffee Ring, requires a long day of work: making the dough alone takes a few hours. Then we had a thought: might we make a traditional dough in our automatic bread maker, remove it when it's finished and then proceed with the breakfast roll at our own pace.
 So while I worked (I had a newspaper story due), we poured the ingredients for the dough into the bread maker and both left to do our own work. In 2-1/2 hours we came back, worked the dough on a floured pastry cloth (you might have to flour the dough a little, too, to make it less sticky to handle), let it raise one last time, added the rest of the ingredients and placed it in the oven. Here's the result:

 Because our bread maker is on the small size, we can't make much dough at a time. We opt for what is commonly called a "regular loaf"  (as opposed to a "large loaf"). The basic dough recipe is this:

3/4 cup water (place in the bottom of the bread maker)
2 cups white flour
1-1/2 tablespoon dry milk
2 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon margarine (butter if you prefer)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast

 On our dough setting, it takes about 2.5 hours to make the dough. After we take it out, we knead it gently (too long and it will toughen). Then it is rolled into a rectangular shape (about 12" x 8") and the topside coated with about 2 tablespoons of Crisco (lightly apply it with the back of a spoon).  Now you'll apply these ingredients:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

 These are sprinkled as evenly as possible onto the surface of the dough which has been coated with Crisco. Then the dough is rolled into a tube and arranged into a circle in a 13" x 9" pan (coat the pan lightly with Crisco first). Seal the open ends together by pinching them slightly.
 Now cut the dough at regular intervals with scissors. Cut much of the way through. This will expose the sugar/cinnamon mixture (see the picture for how ours was cut). Now let it raise in a warm spot for 30 - 45 minutes. It's best to cover it with a light cloth (to prevent drying).
 Bake it at 375° for 20 - 25 minutes
 Take out. Let it cool to lukewarm. Make the icing:

1/2 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
2 teaspoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Drizzle this on the coffee ring with  a spoon. Then add chopped walnuts (or pecans) and maraschino cherries to taste.

 This could be modified for a great Christmas roll by using both red and green maraschino cherries.
 The recipe I've noted is a combination of three sources, intermingled to make a wonderful, yeasty breakfast treat.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Long Time Gone

 I was out watching the sun set last evening, enjoying the barking of Canada Geese as they circled and landed at a nearby pond on Hemple. After the sky extinguished itself and the air began again to grow cold and dark, I walked back to the house.
 High overhead the moon shone brilliantly. I looked up at it from beneath the flagpole, thought of how long it had been since the first lunar landing: 15,183 days. How could those 41 and a half years have passed so quickly?

 Think back to those six missions - Apollo 11 through Apollo 17 (minus Apollo 13 which did not land) - and the dozen men who walked there. Those were the days of living science! I cannot remember a more exciting time. After the first moon landing, I drove to Wapakoneta, Ohio to help welcome Neil Armstrong home. It was a magic day, listening to the first man on the moon speak to us.
 Why have we not gone back since 1972? Why, for that matter, have we not gone anywhere?

 Walking by the barn, I looked through the branches of the sycamore, full of fruit, and watched as the moon's light threaded through the bare branches. It will not be full until Saturday, but already the moon is painting shadows on the ground each evening. I can see the branches overhead without walking outside.
 Later, at 8:14 p.m., I'm back outside, setting my camera up on a tripod, using the garage as a windbreak. It is a pleasant spot: sheltered and private and yet open to the whole sky overhead,. The moon, soft beneath slight clouds, is so bright that I cannot look at it without losing some of my night vision. I snap a few shots and step back into the kitchen, still not particularly cold.
 Though it was a dozen Americans who set foot on the moon, I worry that, four decades later, we could not do it again. It is a marvel that it happened at all. My grandfather, who died in 1970, said he was a member of a generation that saw more change in their lifetimes than any other ever had before or would since. I think he was right. From the horse to the moon, all sandwiched between birth and death.
 Each time the moon rises it reminds me of what we have done, suggests what we might do again. Dreams die hard.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What here lurks?

Footprint of the Schmidtopithicus billiamosaurus, a creature known to lurk on the Pinehaven lowlands of western Ohio.

As I walked out the driveway to get our mail, I followed my own footprints to the mailbox. How deeply there were impressed in the ice. I thought of the dinosaur who left his prints in mud. Mine will be more temporal and will fade as quickly as the temperature climbs above freezing. That should happen Sunday. So my attempt at immortality will exist only through this picture.

 Or, will I leave behind something more? I walked by a shelf at the Germantown Library this afternoon and there stood Pinehaven among the local history books. It's sharing space with Carl Becker's The Village, the definitive history of that village. They have four copies of his book, though.
 In any case, Pinehaven is my letter to the world. I trust that it will continue to speak long after I am gone.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ice Storm!

 Here's what a forlorn squirrel looks like after an ice storm. He ambled about beneath our oak, trying to find missed or buried acorns, I suppose. But the ice storm had sealed the ground from him and there was nothing to show for his efforts.
 For ourselves it wasn't much better. When I read the rain gauge on Monday morning [02/01/11] we had a healthy 0.59" of precipitation. About 1/4" of ice clung to tree branches. The next morning [02/03/11] the gauge read another 0.70" of melt-down but it took lots of coaxing to get all the ice to melt. The ice on the branches was easily 3/4" thick.
 The bulk of the one-two punch arrived Tuesday evening. Throughout the day, freezing rain had been falling and I kept an eye on the thermometer hoping the temperature would rise above freezing. Instead, throughout the late afternoon, it fell. By mid-evening, the freezing rain was pelting the window. At about 7:45 p.m. we lost power.
 We know a loss of power here in the country is often long-lasting and even fatal to sensitive water pipes buried thinly in century-old walls. And so I set up three kerosene heaters: one in the kitchen (near the bathroom); one in the living room (near us); and one on the enclosed porch. There I popped out two ceiling tiles so that the stove could warm the second floor bathroom pipes from below.

 Throughout the evening, sitting in the dark, we listened as tree limbs began to fall under the weight of accumulating ice. One terrific thud, perhaps on the main house roof, perhaps on the kitchen roof, caused all of us to jump when it hit. It was such a terrific blow that I went upstairs to make sure nothing had punctured our main roof. All was well.
 As I stood at the south window in the living room, admiring (and being jealous of) the lights of Germantown, the sky lit white and blue, as though a terrific thunderstorm was on our doorstep. But, no, it was Germantown's power fail in one brilliant flash. When my eyes regained their night vision, I saw that my jaundiced view to the south now returned only darkness. Everywhere I looked - in every direction - there was darkness.
 What is there to do without power? No TV. No computer. No light beyond a single candle and a coal oil lamp. So, by 9 p.m. we all went to bed. Mom went up to her second floor bed but I gathered blankets and made a bed on the living room floor. Dad crawled into his bed in the living room, too, and we lay down and tried to sleep.
 Throughout the early night, I kept getting up and checking the outside temperature. By 1 a.m. is was 34° and as the trees began to drip with renewed enthusiasm, the wind began to blow, too. Such a racket I have not before heard. Ice blew against the window. The roof crackled as ice hit, broke into pieces and rained down around us. I thought at any minute a nearby tree would split and crush us, house and all.
 I slept little. Between the noise the weather brought, Dad would occasionally break into a wearisome snore. I'd wake him and it would stop, only to begin again in a few minutes.
 At length the temperature again fell and the wind buffeted the house. Perhaps 40 mph gusts tore more limbs down, split whole trees from top to bottom, caused pine boughs to snap and fall.

 I could not go out when daylight came - it was too icy and too raw - but I looked out the kitchen window and saw debris of this sort everywhere. The largest branches, the split trees, were farther away. So in that sense we were spared.
 But we spent most of Wednesday without power. I called Sherry Wallace, the wife our our fire chief, Tom Wallace, to see if she knew when the power might be restored. Her power was already back on. She had Tom call me; he said we were third in line: first a power repair was underway on Mackinaw, then another would begin in a village alley. Our power loss required a pole replacement on Hemple Road. Then, in the early evening, Tom stopped by in person to tell of the progress and to make sure we were OK. He suggested we might want to come over to the fire station if we needed to stay warm. But with our space heaters we were all right ... for a while longer, anyway. Personally visiting us speaks highly of the caliber of public service personnel we have here in Jackson Twp. Where else would you find this? Thanks, Tom, you put Dad and Mom's nervousness to rest. Mine, too.
 Then, about 23 hours after we lost power, it came back on. Later in the evening it briefly went out again but was quickly restored. While I caught some shuteye, Sherry Lummis called twice from Shenyang, China to make sure were were OK. Ah, to know people like these is the greatest blessing any of us can have.
 By 10 p.m. I was abed again, this time under an electric blanket. Unlike the night before, this was a warm bed. I fell to sleep quickly and slept till 1 a.m. when the security system, thinking it was morning, beeped four times, asking me what time it was? I punched a button, acknowledged its concern and went back to bed. The answer waited till this morning when, with programming manual in hand, I re-set the clock.
 Now (2 p.m. 02/03) the sun is shining, the temperature has risen to nearly 26° and even some ice has begun to melt. The storm is over.
 When I see pictures of Chicago's snowfall, I feel embarrassed to write about mere ice. And yet of the two, ice can do more damage. The yard full of debris, the limbs still hanging from trees, the pine boughs littering the ground - these will wait for warmer weather still. Right now each is glued where it fell by unbreakable ice.
 So we have returned again into modern times, taken out of our Third World status by the resumption of power, by the application of a little sunshine. I walked to the street and heard a bird sing a spring song. Perhaps he sees farther ahead than I.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Nature ... not so nice

 On Sunday [01/30], we had a lovely evening. The sky was clear and jet contrails stitched the sky with their widening plumes. Pinehaven stood silhouetted against the darkening sky.

 Above the barn, three jets formed a perfect triangle with their exhaust; or perhaps it is the letter "A" as a friend suggested.

 From our backyard, where the view is more open, the sun was just setting as the few wispy clouds came alive with a fleshy glow. I stepped through soft snow to find a spot to take this photo. It is, though, more than anything else, a prelude to a series of two serious storms.
 Today [02/01] one has hit as another prepares to slide in silently from the south.

 This was how a maple looked this morning. There's 0.2" of ice on everything. I awoke at 1 a.m. last night and heard the freezing rain tapping at the windows. I turned on the clock radio just so I wouldn't have to hear it. Later I pulled the covers over my head. Every moment I worried about the power failing; but it did not.

 This similar shot is of a maple in the back yard. That's a similar position as the third picture on this page. What a change a couple of days can make.

 At the rear of our property, this Austrian Pine is thick with ice. Each tiny needle looks like a dangerous dark green dagger. The weight the trees are carrying must already be enormous. Now add another round of freezing rain tonight - as much as 0.75" - to what we have, and things will come tumbling down. I'm worried about whether we'll get through this night with power.

 And yet the silvery shimmer of deciduous trees against a backdrop of pines is enticing. Where I am standing for this picture is about the very spot I fell this morning. I was walking across the icy concrete with baby steps, trash in one hand, compost in the other, and weeeee .... down I went, flat on my back. I am not hurt, but for my pride.
 Walking in the snow is easy. Each step breaks through a crunchy coating and holds your shoe in place. You are held upright, saved by the ice itself. Our driveway is a spectacle. Each pebble is coated in ice. Every tiny grade leads you down. It is simply a day to stay inside and enjoy nature better through a window.