Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Colder Still

 September's temperatures have been drifting ever lower and now we've had a second frost. It's unusual to have a frost in September at all, even less likely to have one while it's still summer (09/19). And now we've had a repeat performance (09/24).

 The lid of our metal burn barrel, a 55 gallon oil drum, serves me not only as a place to burn paper and yard debris, but as a place to easily examine the morning frost without so much as stooping. When I first walked outside to dump compost in the garden, the sun had just risen and bathed the edge of the lid in an orange glow. The frost stood in fuzzy crystals, lining the lip with ice. The air temperature was 34°.
 The yard wasn't covered with frost as I expected for so cold a night. I had mowed the grass just the day before and it should have provided a smooth, level surface to see the frost. But there was little there. Instead, again the garden, where I piled grass I had raked earlier, served as a better indicator.
 But the burn barrel is my best and most accessible "ground truth".

 The fill cap was also white with frost. It cannot hide from me with a large metal object serving as collector.
 My walk, too, was cold, though I wore no more than a light jacket. The risen sun seemed to promise heat even though the air was still frigid. When I walked back the lane and neared Sam's, I saw off to my right, a coyote walking gingerly toward me. He had his head turned, had spotted me before I saw him, and continued on his path, eying me with some suspicion but never altering his course.
 He had a long, shaggy gray coat and looked a bit disheveled. Stepping through the long, frosty grass beside the corn, he melted into the stalks as softly as a fog. In contrast, my own steps on the gravel drive were the only sounds to disturb the early morning air.
 I thought for a moment that he might see me as a sort of rump roast on hoof. But I also saw at the same time a wary fear in his eyes as he threaded his way beneath the corn. Thus we crossed paths merely, eyed one another with brief suspicion and then exited each other's world.
 I seldom see coyotes. Foxes are much more commonly viewed. And yet coyotes are heard many nights, howling by the creeks ... or so I am told. I count myself lucky when I have a close encounter with any of the local wildlife.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Shooting the Moon

 It was International Observe the Moon Night so I was outside last evening to enjoy some quiet time and share a view of the moon with others scattered around the planet. This is actually an international effort, organized each year. Perhaps it's more important this year with the recent death of Neil Armstrong. For details of the event, click here.

 As I stepped out the back door, the air was already chilly. The sky was clear, the air temperature was sinking into the 40's but the high winds (45 mph locally) of earlier in the day had abated. It was a perfect evening to enjoy the first quarter moon.

 I rounded the house to the front and saw the moon hanging in the south. Insects had quieted from the chill and even the area dogs were silent. The house windows gave a warm glow.

 There were no "moon parties" at Pinehaven, just myself. Mom was in the bathroom getting ready for bed. I seemed to have the countryside to myself.
 The moon, with 20x punched into the camera, shows a nice variety of craters when it is at this phase.

 I have a "wink to Neil" and headed back inside after a few shots.
 One odd note: When I came back inside (I left the back door unlocked), Mom's first words to me were, "What did you come back inside for? Did you forget something?" I asked her what she meant. "You came in a few minutes ago and went upstairs. You made a strange noise." Trouble was, I had not come back inside. I got the 38, loaded it and went upstairs. No one. We've both been a little in edge since that happened. When Mom went to bed she said, "Who was it that Dad said he used to talk to?" It was The Milkman, Pinehaven's supposed ghost. So now I'm sitting here alone wondering what in the world is going on. One thing is for sure: we are not alone.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Germantown Pretzel Festival - 2012

  Last evening I wasn't so sure that the weather was going to cooperate for the opening of this year's Germantown Pretzel Festival. By late evening, thunderstorms gathered across Indiana and began drifting towards the Miami Valley. At 9:15 pm (I was already in bed), the storms arrived here at Pinehaven with a deafening downpour and hail which threatened to break the window.
 But when morning broke, only low gray clouds remained. By the time the festival opened (9 am) the sky was breaking and by 10 am it had wholly cleared. With temperatures in the low 60's, it couldn't have been more perfect weather.

The festival runs 9 am - 9 pm today (Saturday, 09/22/12) and noon to 6 pm tomorrow (Sunday, 09/23/12). For full details, check out the Germantown Pretzel Festival website.

 Already at 10 am, the narrow aisles of Veteran's Memorial Park were busy with festival-goers. Even last night's heavy rain (well over an inch) didn't leave many puddles.

 We always make sure we see either Ann (pictured) or Jack Warner, co-owners of Schenck Furniture. Jack and I worked together for many years. There are just not better people to buy furniture from.

 This is Mom's favorite booth. A church sells fresh-baked bread and Mom usually buys at least two loaves ($4 each this year). Though she doesn't care for "quick breads", she loves those made the old fashioned way with yeast. She bought a loaf of sourdough and another of barley. She'd have bought every yeast loaf they had if she'd have had the money.

 Food is what people come from and that's where the greatest crowds gather the earliest.

 There are pretzels, of course, but every imaginable festival-type food, too. It's just breakfast time and people are eating their lunches.

 Crafts, too, fill the aisles with assorted homespun goodies.

 This booth sells Valley View Spartan wear, the logo of the local school district.

 Booths come in handy to shade vendors from the sun and rain but today was sunny, cool and calm. In a word: perfect.

 These men were assembling bongo drums behind a booth. Jamaican?

 We have a soft spot in our hearts for Miss Molly's Bakery & Cafe, based in Farmersville. They always offers pretzel rolls at the festival. They were voted "Best Mom and Pop Restaurant" by ActiveDayton in 2009. Every year they're top finishers in the contest.

 Two of our Miss Molly's favorites are Rae (l) and Helen (r). The smiles you see are typical of these two.

 Here's the way to enjoy the Pretzel Festival, bundled up against the cool morning air and seated in a stroller.

 Mom is having a tough time getting around this year and walks with a cane. The narrow sidewalks of Veteran's Memorial Park present a bit of a challenge to her even though the park is certainly handicap accessible. It's sometimes difficult to pass crowds. I step off to the side and make sure Mom stays on the pavement.
 On our way back to the car (surely we parked half a mile away), I took a few pictures of beautiful downtown Germantown. The village, established in 1804, had their bicentennial eight years ago. Nowadays, it has a population of over 5500 (2010 census).

 This shot (above) is taken from the intersection of Plum Street and Center Street looking east.

 Another, taken on Center Street (just east of Plum) and looking east.

 Finally, as we near our car, this shot is from Center Street looking south on Main Street.
 While we don't have any pretzels to show for our trip, we have plenty of bread and got some nice exercise in the meantime.

Friday, September 21, 2012


 Skunks have them. A sergeant wears them. Even a road sports various stripes. But soybean fields?

 This isn't the first year I've noticed our local soybeans fields are often striped.There are rows of beans which are a rich rust color and others which look faded to a pale gray. The lines usually follow rows though there are some erratic patterns, too. Usually the change between the two shades is abrupt.
 So, since inquiring minds (mine mostly) want to know, I posted the question and these pictures on my Facebook account. Besides blaming aliens ("plant stripes instead of plant circles"), the answers I got were these:

  •  It's potassium depletion in the soil.
  •  When fertilizer or weed killer was applied, it wasn't done evenly.
  •  The stripes are the result of drainage tiles buried in the fields.
  •  It's caused by the way the beans were planted or the field plowed.
  •  There's a couple different types of beans planted.

 The striped effect is quite noticeable. When the sun is shining especially, some wide rows are richly brown and others are of an almost sickly gray.
 Yesterday I walked into a field and examined the plants up close. I see no difference as to their maturity, the angle of the stalks or where the beans are placed. The plants look identical but for their color.

 The answer I'm leaning to is that this is the difference between species of beans. Is this done purposely for pollination? It is actually a lovely patchwork effect. If I get a definitive answer - or a preponderance of one answer - I'll post the results. In the meantime, I welcome comments from the Internet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Summer Frost

How can it be? We've been experiencing the hottest summer on record - I've had a string of 52 days with highs of 90° and above - and now we have a summer FROST!

 Last night bottomed out at 37.5°. Jerry Harting's station, about two miles west of here, recorded a low of 37.9° and Dan Miller, about four miles due north, showed a low of 38°. That was enough, along with perfectly clear skies and winds which died down, to cause a scattered frost to form.
 The picture above was taken in our garden just before 8 a.m., before the sun had a chance to strike the dried grass I had raked after my last mow and stack there beside the tomatoes. I didn't see any frost on the lawn, only in this one open location. This leaf was fringed with frost and framed by a patch of white.

 To give you a wider - and more honest - view, here's the same scene so that you can see how limited the extent of the frost was. There were other patches, to be sure, but all confined to the garden.
 I looked at my own frost records, back to 1974, and found the next earliest frost to be just a day later - September 20, 1991. That was also a summer date. The average date for the first front here is October 4 (my own 39 years of figures; not the NWS official number).
 Autumn doesn't begin until this Saturday, still three days away.

 So, after taking these pictures of the frost, I went out for my usual early morning walk (I wore a jacket for the first time) and enjoyed the quickly warming sun.  I walked back Sam's lane, enjoying the rising sun shining through the blades of corn. At noon it's already 60°, sunny and pleasantly calm.

 Does this spell an early and harsh winter or does it mean nothing at all? My own thinking is that nature tries always to compensate, to average extremes, to seek the middle ground. And so the extreme early heat is met with a touch of cold, smoothing the numbers, bringing us back in line.
 Whether any of that is true remains to be seen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pinehaven's "Great" Pumpkin

September 17

 Late in the growing season, when the temperature soared above 100° regularly and when the rains didn't visit at all, a volunteer vine sprouted at the southern edge of my garden, defying all odds. I thought perhaps it was a cantaloupe, or even a watermelon, as the leaves grew large and shaded the inner stem, hiding its working from view.
 What was it? I asked Marie Eby. She and her husband operate nearby Tom's Maze & Pumpkin Farm, a corn maze, and Marie sells gourds of great variety. I expected that this plant grew from a seed from one of the quantity of gourds she gave us last year. We enjoyed cushaws, acorn squash, spaghetti squash and an assortment of odd-looking things which surely have a name but which I am ignorant about. Still, we enjoyed each one, baking most, cooking a few and having dish after fall dish.
 But pumpkins were not among them.

August 14

 When the vine formed its first fruit, the sides were deeply grooved. I expected this would develop into one of those large round gourds, flat and bulbous and of a variety of colors: greens, yellows, oranges. I began watering the poor plant with my hose, thinking that anything which attempts to begin its life in August must surely deserve a little help.
 The spot this vine devloped is in the area where I regularly dig my compost holes. So garbage from one of our meals last fall surely provided the seed for this plant.

August 27

 It didn't take long for the fruit to begin to enlarge. Initially they had a light lemon-yellow hue. While large yellow flowers blossomed everywhere, only five of the fruits actually set and began to develop. The rest naturally aborted as the flowers died.

September 2

 Those gourds which remained grew larger and deepened their color to a soft yellow. When they reached a diameter of about 4", growth stopped and the color deepened to orange. Today, as the vine begins to dry (though only around the edges), I picked the first and sat it on the kitchen windowsill.

 It's a "great" Pinehaven miniature pumpkin! And it's arrived just in time for fall festivities and Halloween. Marie tells me that due to the nature of hybrids, the seeds from other gourds can produce surprises, something altogether different from the mother plant. And that, I have to believe, is what happened here.

Added 09/19/12: Last night we had our first frost - summer, yet! - and the poor pumpkin vine is a sorry, wilted mess late this afternoon. I cut the other four miniature pumpkins from the vine and Mom washed them. We'll give one to Bob, one to Mae and Charlie and have three here for a Halloween/Thanksgiving display. And so this year's growing season ends.

The rest of the crop - September 19

September 24
Mom's final autumn windowsill display: mini pumpkins, oak leaves and her kitchen witch

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Last Roof

 I haven't done all that much roofing, five maybe. But this I can call my last.
 At 63 I'm already too old to be working on a roof. My brother, at 56, says the same thing. We agree, at least: no more.
 That said, we thought we'd do the kitchen roof one last time. If this one - a dimensional shingle with at least a 25 year life - I'll be nearly 90 anyway. If I'm living and need another roof, someone else is going to be doing it.
For my own information, we used Owens Corning Oak Ridge Shingles, Onyx Black color with a lifetime warranty. These are the same "dimensional" shingles used on the main house roof.

 Here's Bob cutting a final shingle of a row. We alternated placement every-other row, beginning one run on the north side of the house, the next on the south. That gives the shingles enough of a random look. Patterns repeat, of course, but they can't be easily seen.
 Initially we figured this would be a three day project because we expected to have to remove two existing layers of shingles. Not so. We put the current roof on in about 1988 and I thought we stripped it bare before doing the work; Bob thought we hadn't. We found out I was right. Therefore the existing roof could stay in place and the new shingles placed right on top of them. Removing a roof (or multiple roofs) is the main work. Then there's hauling of all the debris away. It was a task we were glad we could skip.
 Then, too, the weather seemed not to cooperate. The summer was far to hot. We cancelled the project the previous two weekends. Both the weather and other events got in the way. Bob found he had to work half a day on Friday (09/14/12) and we didn't get started until 1:30 pm. Just before we began there was a light shower. But as we were not removing a roof, it didn't matter. Soon it cleared and got cooler. Perfect weather to do roofing work.

 The shingles that were on the kitchen roof were gray and flat. The newer dimensional shingles are black.
 The roof that was already in place actually wasn't in bad shape. Why did we update it? Because of a major leak around the northern plumbing vent, mostly. I sealed it once and it began leaking again, staining the kitchen ceiling an ugly yellow in one spot. I used stain block paint (Kilz) and have not had further leaking but I figured the fix wasn't going to hold in the long term. Plus, we always planned to replace this roof in about 25 years and we wanted it to match the shingles on the main roof.

 Bob has a nail gun (see the orange hose) and we placed the compressor on the back porch. That saves lots of time over manual nailing.

 I'm dressed for job. Suspenders hold my old, "holey" jeans up. My t-shirt is one with a large hole in the back. It's rough working on a roof, hard on every joint. Even my toes hurt as they pressed downward into the end of my shoes. Last night's shower was a luxury though the water and soap caused every small cut to sting. Roofing must be a horrible profession unless one's body toughens up to the job. In the summer, the sun's heat must be unbearable.

 Here's a wider view of our work. We're replacing the lower roof which covers the kitchen and first floor bathroom. Just that size roof took nearly $700 worth of raw materials. I bought all the supplies in the spring before costs could go any higher.

 Bob's carrying up one of the final bundles of shingles. I can manage to get them from the garage (where we've had them in storage since May 28) to the porch but I cannot throw them on my shoulder yet alone get up the ladder with a full bundle. The best I can do is break a pack into thirds and carry that portion at a time.
 Last night we managed to finish the actual shingling. I took a hot shower, drank a beer, took an aspirin and was in bed by 9 pm. I didn't sleep, though. I hurt too much. I was still wide awake at 11:30 pm wondering how I'd ever get comfortable. I did ... eventually.
 Today we returned the unused supplies to Lowe's and bought roofing sealer in tubes to seal where the top row of shingles meet the house. Because the previous shingles were still in place - and didn't leak - the sealing job was more cosmetic than anything. Still, it will stop water from getting between the layers. Ice won't be able to heave them apart.
 So, job done. No more.

Added 09/16/12: A day later and the warm sun has sealed the shingles down already. It's been a pleasant day into the mid-70's (though it got down into the upper 40's last night) ... calm and sunny. Here's how the roof looks after a day of settling down. Compare the two roofs and you'll see that the shingles match perfectly.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Getting Ahead of Myself

 The sun was barely up. It lies low above the corn to our east. And I was already out in Sam's lane, beginning the first of two laps. When I turned into his lane, before me spread my shadow, cast long and lanky, a twenty foot extension of myself.

 With this celestial projector behind me, my shadow was broadcast across a Martian-like landscape (only the grass giving the illusion away), I walked along, the shadow slipping northward as the sun rounded south. I was Farmersville's solitary Yeti, lumbering along, truly larger than life.

 Here's a wider view. The gravel rises in high relief, the grasses and weeds stand wet after a cool night (49°) and I, clad in only a t-shirt and shorts, have no fear of overheating on this morning's walk.
 On the return lap, the sun shines squarely in my eyes but the seedy head of grasses, now backlit, shine with a white exuberance and seem to gain cottony tops. This view is not seen as I walk back Sam's lane, only when I return sunward. Our attitudes are equally influenced by a moment's view, a casual comment.

 A few minutes before, when I first stepped out the door with garbage for the compost, this is the view I saw on our north lawn. Yesterday I mowed the grass and so it was short and cropped even. It served as a green screen for the dark shadows of pine to rest upon. It rippled with dew. Across the road a fog enveloped the corn, lifting like steam nearest the road. It was a dreamworld for the early riser.

 Who cannot feel winter in the air, even before the calendar says autumn? I slept with a window open and relished the throb of insects ... crickets slowly counting off the degrees, katydids bowing a nighttime chorus. I went to sleep listening to this orchestra. Each time I woke, owing to the cooler temperature, the tempo had slowed. Long before the sun rose it played out and stopped.

 I perhaps follow a different beat. As the air cools and a bitter wind bites, I walk the faster. The insects are proportional to temperature; I am inverse. I was never one to follow the usual ways. Every step I take proves it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What a Little Dew Can Do

 When I went to bed last evening, scattered dense fog was predicted by morning. It was already down into the mid-70's and the dew point hovered around 70°. Recent rains from Tropical Depression Isaac soaked the ground and wafted back into the atmosphere, saturating it as I slept.

 I asked Mom to get me up at 6:30 am. I looked out the window at the head of my bed and saw that a layer of fog blanketed the field before me. I hurried down, ate breakfast, pulled on my robe and was outside before the sun rose.

 Spider webs cannot hide in a fog. The numbers of them, large and small, are amazing when they are made visible. Is the entire world strung with this thread unaware? As tiny droplets of moisture condense and adhere to the strands, they become wide white wires and betray their presence on every tree. How do insects ever fly unmolested with these webs?

Just after 7 am, kids are on their way to school (Valley View High School begins at 7:35 am). These cars, enveloped in fog, are hidden both in sight and sound until they approach closely. Then suddenly a flickering headlight pierces the shroud and the sound of tires meeting road rumble in the distance.

 Back Sam's lane, a lone tree stands beside mature corn. Even in the sunlight the tree seems alone but when it's shrouded in fog, an eerie stillness overtakes it. I am wrapped on all sides, cocooned and alone as the tree.

 Also alongside Sam's lane is this spiderweb (Argiope probably), tacked among the thin branches of a pussy willow. Usually hidden, it might as well be a billboard on a morning like this. The cloak is pulled fairly away and some of the simple threads which hold this world together become visible.

 And west of the barn, nestled high amid branches of a blue spruce, another web dangles resplendent with dew. The spider waits dead-center, probably all the while knowing that his lair now signals its true intention. He'll wait for the sun to rise, the dew to dissipate, the world to return to its dry, invisible self. Meanwile, the snare remains set.

[* Thanks and a tip of the hat to Dan Miller for the title of this entry.]

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dragonfly Love

 Sometimes you simply push open a door and there it is, love in all its glory.
 This, however, is not what you think. The "bedroom" is the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Pond and the love, if one can stretch the definition that far, is between two blue-thoraxed insects: dragonflies.
 I have photographed them for years and often see the "green darner" (though decidedly blue in my mind) flying together in an unusual display of sex called tandem linkage. Anyone who has ever spent time beside a pond in the summer has seen this: two large dragonflies connected together and displaying an unusual ability of aerodynamic acrobatics even when entangled.

Green Darner Dragonfly

 While I was watching numerous such displays, one couple decided to rest (though that is not truly the word for what they were doing; ... at the least, they were no longer flying). They landed nearly at my feet.

 Their gossamer wings, shining like cellophane in the muted sunshine, look as though they might snap under pressure. They're quite hardy, actually. Only a few minutes before I walked across the bridge and bent down to extricate a darner from a spiderweb. He fluttered back and forth as I poked the strands of web with a key, slowly breaking those that held him tight and allowing me to lift him - still wrapped like a mummy - onto the top of the wooden rail where I could work more carefully. At last he was free, but spent from his work. He dropped to the ground where he seemed to catch his breath.
 But these two (pictured above) had another breathless activity in mind and I stood there watching them some minutes before venturing closer. Usually they take off at the slightest provocation.

 As close as I got was for this picture. My guess is that is the female in front as her sex organ is at the tip of her abdomen while his is beneath his second body segment. Want full details of how it all works? Read this wonderful essay on dragonfly mating.
 After I took the picture, the pair decided enough was enough, and took off in a flurry. At first it seemed rather uncontrolled flight (for how is one to tell the other which direction to go, especially while still copulating?) but then they settled into a still-erratic but coordinated flight.
 It is a rather hearty sight on such a hot and humid afternoon. The world's aflutter and the shades are left wide open for all to see.