Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve at Miss Molly's

 It's our usual Saturday morning routine. Mom and I get up, head into town and meet my brother at Miss Molly's Bakery & Cafe in downtown Farmersville. Today, being Christmas Eve, the usual group of farmers were spread across two tables, discussing their week. I suppose today's talk was less about farming and more about their holiday rest. The animals may not wait but the fields, at least, will.

 Here's Rae (l), who usually mans the cash register; Helen (m), who works almost every Saturday and is so used to us she simply comes to the table with cups of coffee and says, "The same?"; and Kim (r), who works throughout the week - and often weekends, too - and serves, at least at Christmas as Chief Elf.

Since we arrived at 8 a.m., only the usual farmers were there but the restaurant quickly filled up with the regulars. One of them is Pastor Todd Smith, as pleasant and happy a man as you'll find anywhere.

 Chief Elf Kim (standing right) gives Pastor Todd Smith's ear a Christmas peck as Miss Molly stands watching in the rear. What a nice, pleasant place to eat, "where everyone knows your name" and where the food is always good.
 Miss Molly's will close for their holiday break after today and reopen on January 3.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gray on Gray

  On Tuesday (12/20/11) we had one of those impressive fogs that obliterates the landscapes, that hides all objects until you are upon them, then allows them to begin a slow materialization, like a ghost, that startles you and sets you to shivering in your tracks.

 This lone tree stands beside a field on Manning Road, straddling German Twp. on the south and Jackson Twp. on the north. It is just west of Valley View Pike. It presents a pretty enough picture when the sun is shining and the sky is summer-bright. But on Tuesday as we approached the tree, I could not see it at all until we were nearly there.
 You sense an outline first, the merest suggestion of a gathering darkness, and then hazy branches begin to appear and darken. As I approached in the car, the tree quickly resolves and is a startling sight. It is as though something has stepped out of the moors, preying on your unsuspecting carcass.
 By noon, after a few drops of rain had fallen, the sky began to clear of the fog and the day returned to normal. Only a few days shy of the winter solstice, it seems unusual to have this summery weather. The next day we hit a high of 60°.
 For a landscape that should be enveloped in white, instead we have this pea-soup gray to contend with. We have had none of winter yet, even though the calendar shows it half over. Rather than look forward to the days head, I approach them with some fear. The weather balances out and we've swung so far in one direction that I worry the next swing will be deadly. We will go from gray to white overnight.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Puddenbag & Chicken Bristle

 There are two roads in our area that come with a quick scratch of the head when out-of-towner's drive by. And frankly, those of us who live here have a few questions of our own.
 In German Twp., just to my south, is Puddenbag Road.

 I shot this picture of myself with the sign at the corner of Moyer Road and Puddenbag Road. The only explanation I have ever read is a handwritten entry in Marcella Henry Miller's "Germantown Notes". She wrote:

 "While Anthony Wayne was fighting the Indians, one of his soldiers stole some stuffed pudding from a farmer which [lived] on the road. Hence, this road was called Puddin Bag Road (sic)."

 That entry she ascribes to a John Schroeder.

 The other road in our area is here in Jackson Twp. and about 1.6 miles north of Pinehaven. It's called, oddly enough, Chicken Bristle.

 As I pulled into the parking lot of Slifer's Presbyterian Church at the corner of Chicken Bristle and S. Clayton Road, their pastor, Karel Hanhart, was getting into this car. I asked if I could park there while I took a picture. I also asked if he knew what "Chicken Bristle" meant. He said that he thought it was a certain food dish and that their church cookbook has a recipe by that name listed. I can find nothing on the Internet to show it to be a standard recipe.
 And yet the name Chicken Bristle isn't uncommon. There are towns in Kentucky and Illinois with that name. As many of our local residents came from Kentucky, it's likely they carried the name with them.

Monday, December 12, 2011


 Saturday morning (12/10) I'd have gotten up a little early to enjoy the total lunar eclipse. Only, after running the numbers, I saw that as the eclipse began (7:45 a.m. local time), the moon would be just disappearing over the western horizon.
 Never one to give up,. I was out in the back yard anyway and found the moon already behind the distant trees and totally invisible. So, the lunar eclipse wasn't visible to me at all. Instead I watched it on Slooh
 Next morning (Sunday, 12/11) I walked into the back yard and found the moon a little higher - just as I expected - but, of course, the eclipse was finished nearly a day before. I enjoyed the just-past-full moon anyway.

 The sun is just rising behind me and even the eastern sky has taken on a bit of a rosy glow. It was a cold morning (11°) and not a time to stand outside too long.

 Through the pines the moon descended. dropping through the limbs at such a pace that I could watch it play among the branches.

 This shot (above) is my favorite of the group. From my vantage, the moon is nestled in a clearing and the mares show dark and smooth on the moon's surface, all with no more than a camera. Twenty-four hours before, looking back towards me from the moon, a solar eclipse would have been underway, the Earth blocking the light of the sun.
 So what did the lunar eclipse look like at totality? Here was my view on the computer at 9:08 a.m., two minutes into totality.


 This shot is taken from the computer feed and the Mauna Kea, Hawaii telescope. I always figured I wanted a telescope - and that would still be best - but it's wonderful that some of these spectacular sights are made available to the public via the Internet.
 Last night as I crawled into bed the moon had risen even later and was flooding the front of our house with its white light. I enjoy these days around the full moon when I can look out the windows at night and see the silhouette of Pinehaven etched on the cold ground.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Change is Underway

 I drove by the pond today because the air was nearly calm and I hoped to shoot some reflections. I parked the car at the south side of the park and began walking towards the water. It was a surprise to find a thin skim of ice across the whole of the pond. Two nights in the teens began to give the pond its winter wear.

 Saturday morning we dipped to 15°. Last night we plunged to 11° and the pond responded in kind. I think of the fish beneath there, under that crystalline surface, trapped now for months, insulated from air. I think of the frogs and snakes, too, carefully drawn into winter mud, somewhere along the edges, impervious to cold, already deep in winter sleep.
 The sky is winter-blue today though the calm air and temperatures into the mid-30's made the day fairly pleasant. But where I hoped to see a surface of calm water, there is now thin, rough-cut ice.

 As with the ice in the field, this ice is punctuated by triangles. My late day visit placed the sun low and behind me and brought the surface into deeper relief. I do not remember so many geometrics in the past. It is an artifact of the freezing process, I am sure, and yet I don't remember it quite this same way. Surely it depends on the day I visit, how deeply the ice has formed?
 As I walk, the grass sinks into the wet soil. I cannot stand long at one spot or I would sink into water. The top surface is frozen but to very little depth and it will not hold my weight. So I step gingerly along, not spending too much time in any spot, advancing forward before the water pulls me down.
 This first freeze is not so noisy as the first thaw but it is equally startling. The view changes almost overnight. If we thought winter comes slowly this year, that rain stands in for snow, we are also reminded of the inexorable flow of the seasons. The sun is bright but low. The calendar merely teases us. Both tell me it is almost winter. Get used to it.

Added 12/12/11: Just a day later and there's a few breaks in the ice. The water again reflects a few cedars as the temperature today made it up to 42°.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Paperweight

 As a child, I remember visiting my Aunt Belle's house in Miamisburg and being endlessly intrigued by a paperweight. She'd dutifully take it down from the shelf and place it on the floor for me to examine. I was most impressed by it's weight, that something so small could be so heavy. I could roll it on the floor - and she exhibited little fear that I might break it - or hold it in my hands on the sofa. It seemed to weigh down on me at such times that I worried I might not be able to breathe.

 I was too young then to ask questions about the paperweight. It was enough that I had a lovely and unique toy. But when she died in 1962 the object was passed along to me. Even then, I was but 13 years old.
 I remember sitting on my bed and contemplating this orb: the elongated bubbles of air trapped within glass (especially the one in the middle that serves as a stigma), the milky and turquoise shades therein that formed the shape of a lily, the perfectly clear sphere itself.

 I have seen real lilies such as this but for the odd color. I'd look at the air bubbles, wondered when they had been trapped there, think of them as little time capsules of an era passed. I'd run my finger along the rough pontil scar, where the punt was broken as the glass blower finished his work.

 The pontil, of course, also served as a semi-flat surface to sit the paperweight upon. A bit rough, I imagine my aunt placed it on one of her delicate doilies so as to not scratch the shiny wood of one of her antique stands.
 How old is the paperweight? My guess is that it's Victorian. What is it's value? I suppose it is one of those mass-produced objects of little intrinsic value. But it holds for me a world of memories, trapped forever in glass.
 As nowhere else, time stands still for me here. The paperweight is unchanged since I first laid eyes on it in the early 1950's. While my wrinkles deepen, the paperweight's lily stands forever fresh and new. It is as close as we come to immortality, trapping beauty in molten glass.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Butternut Squash

 There is a subtle beauty in everything nature produces. When Marie Eby gave us a stack of various gourds some time back, we carefully kept them cold so that we could use them for meals, one after the other. We've already dined on the lovely spaghetti squash, as interesting a vegetable as I've ever seen. Then we followed up with a cushaw pie and enough leftover filling to make another.
 We still have three varied acorn squashes; they'll be the last of the fall bounty we convert into a meal. For now they are decorative, as pretty colors and shapes as any field could be expected to produce. Today, however, it is the butternut squash's turn to go into the oven.

 The exterior is of a soft tan, variegated with delicate green lines; the stem, cut so long ago, is dry and prickly. It sits odd and bulbous beside our sink, waiting for me to find the "large knife", the same one I use to clean corn, and slice off the top of bottom and cut the squash in half longitudinally.
 I lay it in the sink for this exercise, a confined spot to keep the squash in place and perhaps save the seeds from spilling onto the carpeted floor. As I make my first cut, the interior flesh is a surprising orange, - even though I know exactly what to expect - the color of sunrise beside the drain.

 A butternut is mostly flesh. Towards the bottom there is this small pocket of seeds, strung together with fibers of orange. I dip a large spoon into this mass, cut slightly into the edible flesh and lift the whole seed mass out in nearly one piece. Mom immediately begins salvaging a few seeds. She'll wash them, dry them on a paper towel, pocket them in a labeled envelope and these will find their way to a spot in our own garden next spring.

 Now free of the seeds, the butternut is ready for baking. We'll brush the raw side with olive oil to keep it moist, turn that side down onto a no-stick cookie sheet and slide it into the oven. It is a cold day (only 32° at 9 a.m.) and the kitchen will be made warm and pleasant through this creation of lunch.
 Commonly butternuts are served with maple syrup. I doubt we'll have this that way, instead opting for something remarkably plain. No more than  a sprinkling of salt with make a meal out of just one half.
 The other half will go into the refrigerator, awaiting another day. Maybe we'll dice it up, toss it into spaghetti?
 In any case, today's lunch considered, we'll enjoy these spoonfuls of warm sunshine while snow flurries threaten.

A Night on the Town

 Well, perhaps not a very long "night" - more of a later afternoon-into-evening - but a rare time away from the house. I met my brother, Bob, and our mutual friend, Sam, at El Rancho Grande in Germantown where we had a nice Mexican meal.
 I am in love with vegetarian burritos so I had one of those which filled half a plate along with rice and various grilled vegetables. Though I ordered only a glass of water, Bob and Sam ordered their usual "pitcher of margarita" and we opted for three salt-rimmed glasses so I could have a taste.

 El Rancho Grande is located in a historic building on Main Street. We ate, sipped margaritas (myself no more than two "tastes") and enjoyed watching other families come and go. Arriving at 5 p.m., I was on the road home by 6:30 p.m. That's about as late as I stay out nowadays.
 Even at that hour, the sun was long set and the city was already lit with its sodium vapor lights which give off an unnaturally warm yellow-orange glow. They are better, at least, than that unholy purple-blue light of mercury vapors, as cold and, haunting a light as I think possible..
 The shot above is on Center Street, facing west, and just west of Main. Christmas decorations such as this wreath are hung about town. But a quiet place it is, even with the holiday season well underway. This same scene, a century and a half before, would have been bustling, I'll bet.

 Even Main Street itself is empty. There wasn't another person on foot but for myself. This shot, just south of Center, faces south at the very heart of Germantown. The restaurant we ate at is left of where I stood to take the picture.
 I had parked at the Germantown Public Library and it was still open when I walked through their lot. It was quiet and empty. I drove home on Germantown-Farmersville Pike, making a last pass through sleepy Farmersville. A few Christmas lights hang there, too, though the streets are as empty as those pictured above.
 I am not much of a night person. I prefer to be in no later than 5 p.m. "You'd have your pajamas on by now," Bob laughed as we began our meal. Indeed I would, and pulling my favorite quilt across my lap and opening a good book, too.
 And from the looks of downtown Germantown, 17 days before Christmas, there are others who feel the same as I.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Art in Ice

 As I watched TV last evening, the water which had collected in the field behind our house was undergoing an amazing transformation. Between programs I'd look up at the thermometer and see it lazily sliding towards freezing. Finally, as I readied for the bed, it broke through that magical line where water changes from liquid to solid. It was a quiet transformation from where I sat and yet it is sheer magic.

The hydrogen bond between individual water molecules obeyed a natural rule: they stopped sliding randomly around and fell into lock-step. All the while the water literally expanded, pushing up and out. As I walked this morning, I could see where the receding water, still liquid below the crust of ice, left contour designs, as though a topographical map were being etched in the dark on this barren field.

 A closer look and we see an intricate pattern left behind, now hollowed where the water has flowed away. This thin crust would snap like glass if I placed my shoes anywhere near it.

 And now a wider view where the texture of the ice, reflecting blue sky, seems no more than waves frozen on an Arctic ocean.

 Why these straight lines, perfect-sided triangles? What experiment is nature conducting here? Here's the reason behind the lines:

 Where weed stubble rises above the ice, it leaves straight lines in its wake. Lines seem to radiate out in all directions from some stubble and yet other lines follow a similar, singular path. The wind might have something to do with this? This morning, though, the air is 22° and the air is perfectly calm. But freezing took place many hours ago and the current conditions have nothing to do with it, besides how tightly I snug my coat.
 My walk was punctuated by sights such as these. I stayed warm by stopping and looking every few steps. It is not a way to get exercise. But I like better to see nature's art, driven by hydrogen and oxygen's desire to slide into a comfortable, familiar  slot when the temperature is right.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Spring House

 I can't be quite sure what it is - spring house, smoke house, brick s--t house, but I know it's old and becomes increasingly lovely with every passing year. Of course those who built in, probably in the mid-19th century, would see it as derelict and falling down and probably would be shedding a tear for its demise. But isn't that the way of the world?

 Situated not far from Sam's house, itself a 19th century structure, this old brick edifice is cracked from top to bottom. It will eventually crumble into a pile of ruddy rubble so I thought now would be a good time to capture it with photographs.
 It's old wooden roof is rotten, the bricks spall with a 150 winters' onslaughts and even the few repairs are coming loose. Sitting at a slight angle, relentless gravity is pulling it aside.

 Its location near a small stream which feeds Little Twin Creek leads me to believe it is a spring house.

 A closer view of the south-facing window shows the condition of the wood. The bricks, even where they are in good shape, need re-pointing. This is a structure of the past, without current use but for storage, and it will not survive another century.
 Even in its condition, I love the look. I'd probably not give it a passing glance if it was pristine, but broken-down as it is, I suppose I feel some sorrow for it. Every day as I walk in Sam's lane, I never fail to look at it and smile. It stands up to the weather, even now, even when I stay indoors.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lake Clayton

 Dad and I always used to laugh about it. We'd look out the window during a heavy rain storm and watch the drenched fields fill and the expanse of water form. "Lake Clayton is back," we'd say. Dan Miller, who lives about five miles north of us, also on Clayton Road, has a similar pond form only he calls it "Lake Miller".

 This is how it looked yesterday (11/30/11) morning as I walked in Sam's lane. We've had nearly 2.5" of rain in the past few days and there's just nowhere for it to go. So it sits there, atop where the soybeans grew just two months ago.

 At sunset, I walked back out to see whether the water had receded. It hadn't.

 Though the scene looks warm, even tropical, it was cold as could be. Already at 5:30 p.m., the temperature was dipping into the upper 30's.

 Then, with the sun wholly set, the fading pink hue gave Lake Clayton another look entirely.
 It is a winter sky to be sure. The reflected trees stand bare and prepared for the cold. Last night the temperature fell to the lowest of the season (20°) and the 'lake' froze nearly solid. I was not out early enough to photograph it; this is the day I do the laundry.
 In a few days, Lake Clayton will dissolve before our eyes. Sunday the weatherman predicts a return to rain and the cycle will begin anew.

Two days later ...

 Our overnight low of 24° froze the water trapped in the field nearly solid. I stood there and listened to the peculiar sounds rising from it ... as though a key had been tapped on an expansive glass pane, else a steely-hard rapping sound that made me think it was about to break in a kind of icy explosion. Though the sounds continued - some metallic and loud, others silky-soft - I saw not a single crack develop.