Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Towering Cumulus at Sunset

 For here, at least, none of the predicted storms materialized. But some came tantalizingly close, just as evening descended.
 I happened to go outside at about 9 p.m. because I noticed, out the front window, some of the cumulus were taking on a strange pink/orange glow and thought I'd better have a look at what was going on. Overhead the sky was a beautiful blue, calm and serene.

 This shot was taken facing ESE. As I walked outside, the TV was reporting that a tornado warning had been issued for Clinton County. I would suspect it was this storm that prompted the warning. I was looking at it from the west as it receded from our area and it was lit by the setting sun.
 The colors were startling. There in the baby blue sky was this mushroom, capped in ruddy hues and commanding my attention. I heard no thunder, saw no lightning.

 If I walked into the backyard and shot more in a southerly direction (actually SE), other clouds were similarly lit and the effect was as beautiful as it was terrible for those living in Clinton County. The sky seemed on fire.

 Another generally SE view, though moving more easterly. You can see the top edge of the storm which is in the first picture I posted here. We received not a drop from this storm. It either passed south of us, else formed to our east.

 To our west, the sun now set, and contrails fired in the late light. There would be no more storms here this night.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Red Rose

 Thursday evening it rained, a nice shower that didn't amount to much in the gauge, but gave the yard and garden a refreshing drink. Lately I've been dragging a hose around but I only manage to water the high points. I'm trying my best to give the lilac John gave me on the death of my father a good start so I carry a bucket of water to it most days. I'm keeping the eight plants in the garden (just four each of tomato and pepper; I'm trying to keep it manageable) healthy and so I water them individually.
 But the light shower, coming as it did just before the sun broke through, had the promise of rainbow written all over it. It was a promise never kept. But promises come in other forms.
 In the morning I happened to walk about the yard and came upon Mom's Abraham, Lincoln rose, now in full bloom and looking like a red beacon beside the garage. It was startling to come upon it. But up close, glistening with rain drops on its petals, it was breathtaking.

 While roses are lots of work, it is a bloom such as this that makes the work worthwhile. It is not even the usual circular center but stretched in the horizontal direction. It is a special sight.
 The past few days I've moved more hosta to the north side of the garage, making it a bed with a single type of plant. I've done the same with the north side of the house, spreading out the ferns to take the place of two hostas which I divided and moved. And to the west of the garage it is almost entirely roses. Rather than a mixture, Mom prefers a single theme. We have the room to do this and so we did.
 While variety has its place - it is clearly a spice of life - so, too, do single themes have a loving character. When I want the cool, greenness of ferns, I'll walk here. When I want the hint of purple blooms held high above broad leaves, I'll walk here. When I want shocking color, I'll walk here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Let me tell you a story ...

 First, look at this bird:

 This is the view you'd have many evenings if you sat where I sat on the end of the sofa. I can look up through the window pane from that location and stare at the very top of the largest pine in our yard. This shot was taken through two panes of glass, at a healthy angle and is certainly not a clear picture.
 But this time, it isn't the picture that matters so much. It's the story.
 First, a question: do animals appreciate beauty?
 Now for the story: Throughout the last several years, I'd often be sitting at my usual spot on the sofa and look up about sunset from either my book or the TV. My eyes would always land at the top of the pine. It is a natural spot to see. In fact, from where I sit, it is the only spot that I can see.
 Many of those times, as the sun was setting in the west, I'd comment on a bird sitting atop a branch, facing west towards the sun. I'd often mention it to Dad. "The bird's there again," I'd say. "He's enjoying the end of the day," Dad would reply. "He's watching the sun set."
 And so the bird would sit there, oftentimes for half an hour or more. How often to you find a bird sitting on the same branch for that long, seemingly transfixed by a sight? It is not his nightly roost; he always moves on before dark.
 There have been countless times when a bird (this bird?) has been sitting there as the sun sets and I remember mentioning it countless times to Dad. He'd always smile when I told him the bird was back.
 I've never seen a bird sit there at other times of the day. Nor have I seen one sit there when the sunset was masked by clouds. But on those precious evenings when the sun sets clear and fires brilliant hues through our back door, I'd look up and see the bird. He is usually motionless, almost always facing west.
 Is this just a prelude to finding his roost? Is it an end-of-day ritual? Or does the bird relish the sunset as much as I?
 I write these words on Father's Day, the first time in 60 years when I've not had my father to share the scene with. Gone for only 25 days, I, of course, thought of Dad when I saw the bird sitting there last evening at sunset.
 "Dad, he's back," I'd like to say.
 But I can only share it with you this year.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Tiger's Flame

 There is nothing so brightly colored as our Tiger Lilies, just now coming into bloom. I remember when we first moved to Pinehaven how the property was literally inundated with them. The front flower bed was tiger lilies and nothing else; they grew across the road at the telephone junction box; they grew beneath both power poles. To say the least, we had enough of them the first year.
 And so ... we dug them all up.
 I carried them by the shovelful to the meadow and dumped them there. And a miraculous thing happened. They reached down to the soil and took root again. They are a tenacious lot; they cannot be easily stopped.
 And so as I stood at the kitchen window yesterday, I saw that the meadow was again afire. The brilliant orange is a nice contrast to the dark green of the pines. And so I walked up to have a look. To look down the throat of a just-opened tiger lily is to look into an open flame. You must squint.

When one sees these growing in many open rural ditches, one is inclined to think "weed". And so, I suppose, they have become. But such a gorgeous flower, once controlled with the spade, becomes a reminder that weeds are merely unwanted flowers and will submit to being moved. These, at least, I am happy with where they now reside.

 These six-sided orange stars are at the peak of their season and command many a country view. I trust they'll expand in the meadow until, some spring in the far future, there will be an orange blanket north of Pinehaven that tugs at the soil there far and wide. Without any water but the summer rain, these plants deserve any space they so naturally grab.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ice-box Cookies

 As a child, I remember my Grandma Schmidt often baking "Ice-box cookies". Of course many people nowadays have probably never heard of an "ice-box" but it predates our refrigerator, truly no more than a wooden box into which a cake of ice was placed to keep food cold.
 The idea behind the "ice-box" cookie is that the dough needs to be chilled before it can be sliced.
 Last evening Mom mentioned that she was going to make a batch. Now that I've had one for dessert, I want to share my grandmother's original recipe with all of you. First, here is what the finished cookies look like.

 Now for the recipe. My grandmother hand-wrote all of her recipes on small scraps of paper. Mom has added notes and modified many of the older recipes to our taste. For instance, my grandma noted "nut meats chopped" and we always use pecans. As far as I'm concerned, nothing else will do as well. The taste in this cookie must be pecans.
 Mom also modified the baking temperature to 375°. The resultant cookie is probably a little softer than the ones my grandma made. But in my memory and even now, the cookie is substantially unchanged. It is a wonderful treat to make, not sickeningly sweet and an easy dessert to whip up.
 My grandmother, by the way, lived from 1902 to 1995 and probably fostered my father's sweet tooth and mine, too. She loved to cook and loved to bake and showed great pride in her creations. Here, then, is the original recipe for her Ice-Box Cookie:

 I've scanned the recipe in hi-resolution so click on it to expand the view.

 Here is my grandmother (Helen Schmidt) in 1966 at age 63. My brother, Bob (10) and my grandfather (Elwood Schmidt) at age 67. Those were the years the cookie baking peaked. How well I remember having Saturday lunch at their house. Now, I'm nearly 62 and almost the same age as my grandmother in this picture.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hummingbird sips

 Who is not forever fascinated by a hummingbird? Such aerial stunts! I can sit and watch this returning female hover up and down, left and right as a gentle breeze gently swings the feeder. It is as though she is weightless. She tracks the feeder with such precision that she surely knows the mathematical arc it traces.

 This is a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird ((Archilochus colubris) since the throat is not ruby but white. After Mom told me the hummer was returning regularly while she did the lunch dishes, I pulled up a stool and took camera in hand and waited. I didn't have to wait long.

 Her wings beat with such speed that my camera, even on a bright day (though cloudy) and with 400 ISO, will not freeze the movement of her tiny wings. Yet look at how still her precise beak is thrust into the feeder nozzle.
 Occasionally I will hear a hummingbird pass me in the yard. It is truly a memorable hum and one I've never forgotten since first hearing it. Since we have hummers about, I will see them dart about and even land on a tree branch to rest. The first I ever saw, as a child in Miamisburg and darting about our flowers, impressed me at first as a large bumblebee.
 When the sun is shining, this bird's feathers take on a metallic green shine. It is like an emerald taken to flight.

Bluebird ... uh, huh

 We are always pleased when we see the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) about our property. Several weeks ago (May 26, in fact) we woke in the morning after a terrific nighttime storm to find the pole with the barn-lot light lying down and preventing our exit from the garage. Bob stopped by and helped me slowly lower the pole to the ground (using a step ladder as a support) and move it from in front of the door.

 Notice our wisteria, finally preparing to bloom for the first time. We had to cut it off and let it sprout anew from the ground. Notice also, about a third of the way up the pole, a bluebird box. I removed it and later I attached it to a pine tree directly across from our kitchen window.
 It wasn't an hour later that we saw a bluebird investigating the house.

 Here she is having an initial look. I found fresh nesting material inside when I moved the box and cleaned it out before attaching it to this tree. Perhaps this same bird had already moved in?

 I placed the box immediately above an old branch, thinking it would make an attractive perch. I must have thought right!
 Is there a more lovely bird that visits Pinehaven? The blue is a sky blue, as pure and light as the air above. And the breast, a sunset apricot fading to dusty white. A jay has nothing on this tiny bird; its purple-blue is almost boring by comparison.
 So we're hoping for a family. Life springs anew even as we mourn my beloved father.

 Enjoy Paul McCarney's Bluebird ...


William H. Schmidt
June 6, 1924 - May 25, 2011

 It is hard to believe, and harder still to write about, seventeen days after losing Dad. The final two weeks were difficult enough: two trips to the emergency room and then the slow slide that ended in his death. He was, I have no trouble saying, the love of my life.
 Those final weeks presented us with three falls. Two were when he was unattended (rare times, those) and once was during the night when I was helping him onto the portable toilet. He began to fall and pulled me with him. As he fell, I swung him around so that he would, at the very least, land on the soft bed. Instead, not quite able to complete the arc, his face hit the bed post instead. He was unhurt.
 I was out mowing when I saw Mom approach, leaning on her cane, motioning me to come. The visiting nurse has talked with our family doctor who advised - because Dad's potassium levels were low - to get him to the emergency room as quickly as we could. After hours there, Dad was admitted at Sycamore Medical Center in Miamisburg, for the final time.
 It was a slow and steady decline from that point forward, six days of pure hell. Mom, Bob and I would sit by the bed while Dad half-slept, was half-comatose. His eyes were usually partly open. He'd talk to us at times. Sometimes he made perfect sense; at others times he was in a dream-world. Once he said, "Oh, I'm hallucinating".
 On the evening of May 24 he was moved to Hospice of Dayton. It was late before the move was made, probably 9 p.m. Rather than ride along (Dad was no longer conscious), we opted to wait for the next morning. Bob was working while Mom and I visited from about 10:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Bob was to come after work, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
 As Mom and I sat there, Dad seemed more peaceful than ever. He breathed slowly. Towards the end of our stay his breathing changed, a little noisier, but it was never labored. A doctor (Dr. Schmitz of all names) and assistant came in and examined him. Dad was limp, made no response to their touch. They looked at his arthritic hands, his emaciated stomach. There was nothing more to do but wait.
 I left the room on purpose so that Mom could be with him alone. A nurse showed me where the snack bar was and I returned perhaps ten minutes later. Mom told me later that she told Dad it was OK to go, his suffering was over. She does not know if she said it out loud or merely thought the words.
 When we left, she hesitated. "Do you think we should stay?" she asked. "I don't think he'll last much longer."
 But we left because I didn't think death was imminent and because I would not have wanted to be there anyway. I would not want someone there with me; neither would Mom. We got home about 3 p.m.
 As I was eating a quick lunch, the phone rang at 3:15 p.m. Dad died at 3 p.m. We both broke down sobbing. I cannot think about it even now without having tears pour down my face.

 We had Dad cremated per his request. Mom and I will follow in the same way. We have a grave and a tombstone at Hill-Grove Cemetery in Miamisburg but, for now, the cremains will remain here. We had no visitation, no service, again in accordance with Dad's wishes and the choice of all of us.

On Memorial Day, I cut a small rose, still in the bud, and placed it atop Dad's wooden box. We have him on the dresser that Mom and he got for a wedding gift in 1945. They had been married 65 years last November. I kissed the edge of the box and said simply: "I love you, Dad."
 I can hear his response in my mind, as clearly as I heard it every night when I put him to bed.
 "I love you, too," he would say, always emphasizing the "too".
 Those were the last words he said to me at the hospital, at about 7 p.m. on May 24, 2011. They will echo in my mind forever. How can I go on without this sweet soul beside me?