Soft, Silent Snow

 

Hipsters

Hipsters

A mid-February storm front campaigned across our little world. She visited on a carefree Sunday, allowing me to enjoy every snowflake of the day. There would be drinking of hot coffee, and photographs of birds at the feeder through the kitchen windowpane.

There would be a long walk afield with Sassy June, more photos of the yellow-red dog romping with winter glee. Hour by hour, we shall watch the snow pile up from within the comfort of our rooms, or from the vista atop Widowmaker Hill.

We’ve had enough snow now to justify donning the snowshoes, but halfway through the walk the following day would find temperatures rising, and the snow would stick to the bottom of the snowshoes like muck. Abandoned and carried for the home leg.

I wonder that people who live in more temperate climes never experience the magic of snow. The world at once transformed and renewed, a whitewash on everything.

Out in the magic of a country wood, it’s as though a blanket were thrown over our bubble of atmosphere. Falling from the sky the feather-down stuffing of billowy clouds. Yet, though blanketed and muffled, if one listens closely no silence will be beheld.

Each flake through the air and falling on another emits the most minute, nearly inaudible whisper. In concert with millions, as the snow falls a soft hiss can be heard, the babbling of this vertical brook of temporarily-solidified water.

We watch as the concrete statue of The Virgin slowly disappears, as if sinking in white quicksand. Sasha’s plastic igloo doghouse sports a complete cover of snow, looking like the genuine article. The wren house, vacated until the cacophonous June return, builds up a welcome mat on the doorstep, growing higher with each subsequent viewing, threatening to cover the very portal it serves.

The radio scanner is on, and we listen to the calls for Sheriff’s deputies and State Troopers. “Vehicle off the road, Town of Carlisle. Vehicle in the ditch, Town of Seward.” Return calls for tow trucks, sometimes EMS. We listen to the plow drivers. “Better hit Sharon Hill again before you hit the back roads, Gary.” “10-4.” comes the reply, “Gotta watch that big turn on 145, it keeps drifting in pretty bad.”.

From time to time the big Internationals would rumble up Engleville Road, their giant steel plows scraping, seeking pavement, tire chains clanging. The dump hopper filled with sand & salt sprays out a swath from the spreader. The truck will stop and back up at the stop sign by the school to drop extra sand and salt, climb US 20 East up the hill at ten miles per hour so the de-icing traction aid will lay heavily.

As darkness falls, the snow continues. Solar yard lights buried up to their globes come on, illuminate the snow from within. The flashing orange lights of the snowplows streak up the fields, throw shadows of trees and houses as they crawl past like some iron bison, oblivious of the snow. The television is showing colorful maps. “Blue areas reporting 8 to 10 inches of new snowfall. Here in the purple areas,” Steve the weatherman says, pointing at the map, his finger covering Engleville, “reports are coming in of 18 to 20 inches, and still more to come.”.

I am overcome by a sort of pioneer spirit. The pellet stove will keep us toasty, and we can close the door at the pantry to hog the heat for the living room. If the power goes out, we have gas heaters that will work. The cupboard holds several old oil lamps with oil, just for such an occasion, not uncommon in northeast winters or July thunderstorm seasons. More lanterns are available upstairs amidst the camping gear, including one that will recharge in the car. There is a library full of books we could read to one another when the TV is off and the sparse light gathers us more closely. Soon I am fairly wishing for a power outage.

A chance to evade all these lights from room to room, better to see the moonlit snowfields before us. A time without fans whirring and refrigerators cycling and sump pumps pumping on and off, to listen to Frost’s gentle sweep, to read those words while living them. Alas, deep in the night the snow would cease to fall, and power went uninterrupted. So strange to feel we missed out on something due to the power staying on.

In my childhood, it seems power failures were a bit more common. My mother, always the wide-eyed adventurer, no doubt taught me to look forward to outages. We would not feel forced, yet were compelled, each to gather around the light. My mom would stop cooking supper (on the electric range), my dad would come in from his darkened garage. My sister and I would abandon our chairs, no Family Affair or Man From U.N.C.L.E. tonight.

And my mom would adventurize the experience. There would be Tee Pees of blankets, or they might become Conestoga wagons, prairie schooners. There would be foods that didn’t require cooking, like peanut butter and crackers which would become K-rations for the troops at the front. Baloney sandwiches became “chuck wagons”. And there would be reading.

Here’s hoping the next storm packs just a little more wallop!

Off Season

Off Season

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

The Hunkering Down

Buffeted Crest

Buffeted Crest

The sound of Christmas music fades into the distance, the peals of New Years’ bells fall silent. The festive decorations, the electric lights, and the strings of greeting cards will be put away. Old calendars removed and new ones hung. Retire last year’s Farmer’s Almanac to the shelf in the library, beside the previous twenty volumes.

January is here, and the time for hunkering down. Shuttering windows, stoking fires. The winds sweep down Victory Mountain from the west, shaking our little vale, blowing up snow devils that dance across frozen hay fields.  They twist and race across the roads, piling drifts against the hedgerows, beleaguering the geese camping in the corn stubble, their heads bowed, backs to the wind.

Pray for Snow

Pray for Snow

February Snows

February Friends

Snow Shovel

Snow Shovel

The smell of wood smoke hangs in the air, and the singularly magical scent of snow. Sounds are muffled; footsteps, passing cars, yelps of excited children up on the hill, sledding their cares away.

Make no mistake, we may guard ourselves against winter’s onslaught, but we shall not be hermits! Into the wild white and wind we boldly step, to ski the slopes, to drill holes through the ice from which we’ll pull some fish. We’ll ride snowmobiles and toboggans, we’ll don boots and snowshoes. We’ll throw snow balls at one another, and build snowmen and ice forts and igloos and snow sculptures. We’ll get soaking wet and rosy-cheeked and we’ll retire to a fire-filled cast iron stove and a bucket of hot chocolate.

Cathedral Summit

Cathedral Summit

Fishing Duane Lake

Fishing Duane Lake

Dad's Jag

Dad’s Jag

The best is yet to come. When the windows are frosted over like in Doctor Zhivago, and we make a game of checking the thermometer. Minus two. Minus twelve. Minus eighteen.

The wind will howl over our heads, and the fields will be vast seas of blowing white dust. Now it’s time for hot tea and warm hands. Time to close the drapes, put the fir-needle-filled draft stopper in front of the cellar door. Time for double socks and electric blankets, down ticks and cold noses.

Then one day we will find ourselves in the center of a white wonderland, bright sun shining, not a stir in the air. There will be friends and laughter, or perhaps solitude and the rapture of nature. The sun and the snow and the smell and even the cold itself will fill us with the thrill of the season, the bravado of those that brave the elements, the simple wonder of a world transformed.

Winter Sun

Winter Sun

December 30 First

All around lie the remnants of summer and fall.

These dry brown grasses, the tall and the small.

Each conifer stretches, the low and the high,

Each stretches, in vain, its limbs to the sky.

The sun hangs low in its arc, nonchalant.

Neglecting her Earthbound petites enfants.

The Cold comes to slumber, and lumber around,

Packing the earth to hard frozen ground.

The Smoke of Chimneys dances and twirls,

Having never seen the Summer World.

I’ll shutter the window, put a log on the fire,

And patiently wait for the Year to expire.

As into the pink night sky sets the sun,

Another year’s ended

As another’s begun.

Snowscape

Snowscape

Let the peace of the season follow you throughout the year.

Take care and keep in touch.

 

Paz

 

 

 

The Game

Where my niece Michele went to high school, she was in a class of 1,300.

Family had reservations, appointments for commencement. An hour’s window during which our progeny were scheduled to cross the stage in a mass-production graduation machine. I believe the entire commencement took something like eight hours.

In my little school (yes I know I’m old and we’re talking about the last century, but it was 1977, not 1877) we had a graduating class of about 65 students. We all knew each other quite well.

When we were shopping for The Ark, one of my criteria was that the school needed to be fairly small, like mine was. My wife’s class was bout 300 kids, if I recall. I liked the idea that a kid, especially if a kid had a little trouble, could not be lost in anonymity.

In Sharon Springs, the graduating classes had an average of slightly less than 30, until Ryan’s class came along. All of a sudden there was a mini baby boom, and there were 45 students starting that year! The school had to scramble to get another teacher, and establish a second classroom for the grade.

Fast forward about 20 years, and now daughter Miranda and her family live just north of us, in the big town of Canajoharie. Canjo is a bigger school, by my standards, and I think the classes are a bit larger than a hundred students.

Grandson Max plays for Canjo’s basketball team, which meets each Saturday for intramural games with neighboring schools of similar size. I had a good time on a recent Saturday, taking some photos at the game, trying for a Sports Illustrated shot. Number 32 is Max.

The game was against Mayfield, the school across the lake from my own alma mater. The gym where the game was held has the kind of bleachers that fold flat against the wall. Attendance is good at basketball, and there were probably more than a hundred spectators from the two schools. Still on the small side, you’ll notice the benches of Mayfield and Canjo hold barely enough students to make a second string.

Max drew a few fouls, and made some baskets. I don’t have the stats. It was a great thrill to watch them play. I played a little hoop in school and loved it, and all three sons played for Sharon Springs. (Daughters preferred soccer and softball). There’s something a bit timeless in school sports. At least basketball. How much can change, really? The game looks the same now as when I played, though I’m sure our uniforms were better looking.

 

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The Crowd Rises

Alas, after an all-out effort and a lobbed shot at the buzzer, The Cougars could not rally against Mayfield, and the game was lost. The teams lined up and passed one another, shaking hands and declaring “good game”.

So close.

So close.

Until they meet again.

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Leaf Pile Party 2016

 

Maple Merriment

Maple Merriment

We have an annual tradition here at the Ark of Engleville, and that’s our yearly Leaf Pile Party!

Each year we gather as many kids, grandchildren and friends as we can, and invite them to help build the pile, shoot for a new height record, and “throw or be thrown” into the mass of dried maple leaves.

Five big sugar maples out front produce most of the leaves, and the wind brings us some from the neighbor’s across the road. This year was a great crop, and a late “fall”, the time the leaves actually fall from the tree. We had some huge winds, over twenty miles an hour, for several days the week of the party, and I worried much of our prized quarry would end up in the woods. As luck would have it, the leaves clung to the great lawn and eagerly anticipated our gathering as much as we did!

We combined the event with a gathering to honor Mam’s birthday, so we had a cake with candles, ice cream and some gifts to open.

Back outside, the work began in earnest to set a new record. The old one was fifty-six and-a-half inches. (Last year the wind blew 15 miles an hour, and we couldn’t build a pile over four feet high without the top getting blown away).

Of course, some people raked (or ran son-in-law Matt’s leaf blower), and some people just jumped in the pile. Some were buried, some did the burying, some ran and chased with armfuls of leaves, then BAM! Aren’t you glad it isn’t snow? Time to let the pictures tell the story.

Come join us in the mayhem!

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When I reviewed my photos of the day, I found a few sequences that brought back the moment, it was like re-living the day. Come along, you’ll virtually feel the leaves down your neck.

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Maddie and Lizzy did most of the running and throwing, then were ready to move on to tractor rides. Okay, so it’s a lawn tractor, but it’s still a tractor. The girls took turns driving maniacally around the trails, pulling the wagon. Well, as maniacal as one can get with a top speed of eight miles per hour. The rest of us raked, threw Evan in the pile, and otherwise enjoyed the crisp, clear air of November, the smell of the leaves, the squeals of laughter.

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A little cider, some free leaves, a few kids, and you have yourself a formula for a great afternoon of family fun! Looking forward to next year’s Leaf Pile Party, and another new record!

That is, unless the wind blows the top off.

See you next year!

See you next year!

Take care, and keep in touch,

 

Paz

 

Two Ponds Saturday

South Bank View

South Bank View

My grandson, Maximus James, made a visit to the Engleville Tick Ranch last weekend. He can last only so long without a pilgrimage to the grandparents’ old homestead, the place where he spent his days as a preschooler. Where the school bus picked him up and dropped him off during kindergarten and first grade. Mam & Pop’s place served as daycare for him, and sister Elizabeth for a couple of years. Mam their governess, the Ark their second home.

Nowadays they live far away to the north. Well, okay, they live in the next town over, about fifteen minutes away, but still, a trip to Mam & Pop’s is like a mini-vacation.

So, after Saturday chores; going to the dump, bike-joring with the Chusky dog, mowing the lawns, we headed for Engleville Pond to do some Bullhead fishing. Max has caught a wide variety of fish, but not a bullhead, and that was his intended quarry today. He made up a mess he called dough-balls or stink-balls, wads of bread or dough with smelly attractants. Usually these are made with raw dough and the stuff chum is made of. In this case, Max grabbed a slice of deli turkey and some mayonnaise and made something of a club sandwich ball with English muffins for the bread.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with the honking of geese as they drifted slowly away from us toward the far bank. The air was still, and the water like glass. The colors of fall leaped at us from all sides including below as the oranges and yellows reflected off the mirror surface.

Max had a tough time getting the soggy English muffin to stay on a hook. We grabbed a big hunk of muffin and dipped it into his turkey-club-jumble, and that stayed on long enough for a few casts. I fished for about five minutes before I was overcome with the need to grab the camera and get some snapshots of the beautiful Saturday afternoon. As luck would have it, while I was shooting across the pond a flock of geese flew in from the east. They cackled raucously as the 150-bird formation slowed, with fixed wings, descending towards the smooth surface of the pond. I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot some geese on the wing, so to speak.

We plied the waters of Engleville Pond a while with no luck, and decided to relocate to Bowmaker’s Pond. Back in the when, we called it Bowmaker Swamp. Because it was a swamp. The Department of Environmental Conservation dug out much of the swamp to open the water up a little, I guess, and maybe help with flood control or drainage. Now there’s quite a patch of open water, and the cattails have begun their slow march, spreading year by year. The milfoil and other aquafauna are also vigorously trying to reclaim the territory. Here, too, we found Canada Geese gathered. Resting and feeding as they pass through on their long migration to the Gulf of Mexico.

We had some fair fish action at Bowmaker’s, curiously catching five fish of five different species. First Max caught a Crappie, then a Bass. After a few more casts he caught the ubiquitous Sunfish (Bluegill). Finally I landed one, a nice pickerel about nineteen inches long. The only fish I didn’t get a snapshot of. Lastly, Max caught a little yellow perch.

It was a bit of a last hurrah for shirt-sleeve weather. By the time it neared sundown, a chill was in the air. The geese at Bowmaker’s lined up on the pond for some nice photos. At one point, you could hear their conversation starting. At first just a few honks, then bit-by-bit the rest of the flock joining in until there was a unanimous chatter. This meant they were readying for takeoff, and I got a few pictures of them running across the water, big wings flapping, honking the whole way. Finally they would take to the air, and with another minute of avid honking the birds ascended, circled, and faded off over the eastern horizon along with their noise.

Wherever we went today, the bright sun and golden colors of fall surrounded us. The sky held but a few ribbons of clouds, and the air was mild. Back at the Ranch we’d have a nice dinner, walk the dog around, and settle in for Saturday Night at Pop Pop’s. This means watching Ghost Hunters or Finding Bigfoot, or perhaps a Godzilla movie as we await ten o’clock and the ritual viewing of Svengoolie, and his own mix of monster movies.

There would be recliners and blankets, pretzels and green tea. Falling asleep in the chairs and moving to the bed (or couch) at 2 a.m. Sunday would leave us little time, though we managed another run with the mushing dog and at some point we made a walk around hunting squirrels. Max bagged one Pine Squirrel, which interested Sassy June the Chusky Dog greatly. Max kept the trophy tail, and we gave the carcass to Sassy, who quickly lost interest when she saw the thing wouldn’t run.

Mushing, Fishing, Hunting, Movie-watching, two ponds, trail hikes and chores, it was an action-packed weekend. I savored every moment with my grandson, my little dog, the honking geese and the colorful trees.

Sometimes I ask myself out loud:

“Am I dead? Is this Heaven?”

October Sunrise

October Sunrise

Take care and keep in touch.

 

Paz

 

That Time of Year

Season's End

Season’s End

The words occurred to me, probably spilled aloud out of my mouth. “Well, it’s that time of year again.”. Such a feeling of comfort came over me. There is so much in the phrase and the sentiment. Sentiment, in fact would be one of the attributes, nostalgia. A security of rhythm, a consistency of clockworks, a natural and recurring pace.

The phrase is used throughout the year and yet at each point on the line takes on new variations on a theme. There’s something about coming around to the same place. Something about seeing things, simple things, in that “again” sense of annual events, reunions.

It’s That Time of Year” , again

Here at the Engleville Tick Ranch, the slow roll of the earth begins to be discerned. Sunrise later each morning, sunset earlier each evening. While grasses and pines, asters and chicory seem undeterred, deciduous plants are making their decisions. Time to shut down, shed their summer raiment, begin that long slow ride to the next solstice.

The slightest and subtlest things quickly catch our attention, quicken our pulses with the newness. Cool air on your face, heavy morning dews, the smell of the dried leaves. There’s a thrilling exhilaration to this time of season, a yin and yan to the coming days. Like a plunge into the lake for a swim, there is eagerness to be in the water and simultaneous excited apprehension about the shock of diving into the cold liquid world.

And so it’s that time of year. Time to put away the little enamel-top table in the cabana, having served us since sugaring season (Max’s Sugar Shack) in March. It’s seen silent summer mornings with me, a dog and a cup of coffee as we watch the lazy June sun climb up out of the sumacs. Afternoons babysitting, keeping an eye on naked toddlers as they play in and out of the kiddie pool. Evenings in July, as the skies darken and stars come out, looking for satellites, a meteor.

Time to wrap the little blueberry patch with its chicken wire winter fence. Defending against bunnies and deer who would eat the dormant shoots right to the ground when February rolls around, and food is scarce.

Time to open the Holiday Closet, an entire walk-in devoted to seasonal and holiday decorations. We’ll put away the wreaths adorned with summery flowers, bring out the wreaths with harvest colors and imitation fruits. Break out the ceramic pumpkin-shaped (and colored) serving platter, the tiny lighted ceramic houses showing tiny ceramic people digging out their own tiny ceramic decorations from their tiny Holiday Closet.

Time to spend a day cursing at the aluminum storm windows. Why won’t the top one stay all the way up? Time to jam screws into the gap between the sash and the window frames of the 110-year-old casement windows. Their round tops and rippled Albany glass having seen this time of year many more times than I have. Replace them all with vinyl? Are you crazy? Spend five minutes with one of these finely crafted, ornate antique constructions, and you’ll love drafts and blankets as much as we do.

Time to close the vent window in the basement. To wrap the young tulip tree and hope it survives to grow a third year. Time to chop down the 3-year-old Rose of Sharon that didn’t make it through last year’s harsh winter. Deep cold and no snow cover. A bad combination for so many things that have no where else to go, no means of protection against the deep freeze.

It’s that time of year to Ooh! and Aah! on the average of every thirty seconds while trying to drive somewhere, walk with the dog, mow the grass. To stop to take the photo even though it will make me late. To try desperately to capture the mood, the light, the temperature, the cool air, the smell of leaves and the wonder of it all in a photograph. To take pictures of the same tree donning the same autumn dress—going on thirty years or so.

After the first of October, we’ll get out all the Halloween decorations, the plastic jack-o-lanterns, the 7-foot-tall cartoonish Frankenstein who greets the school bus daily. The ceramic witch and black cat candy dishes. After the first of November we’ll haul out Thanksgiving. Paper turkeys with smiles on their faces. Paper pilgrims, paper natives, gathering for the feast. And then we roll on into the traditional American Christmas. That’s a story unto itself.

It’s the time of year for closing up, shuttering, wrapping, boxing, sealing and putting away. There’s no sense of loss here. It’s a bit like wrapping gifts for ourselves. Away goes the duffel full of camping gear. Won’t need that ’til summer. Away go the kiddie pool and the bicycles. Planters and pots are stacked in the back room. The barbecue parks in the cabana, holding forth the slightest hope that it may see some use on a spontaneous Sunday in January.

Like Christmas Clubs and piggy banks, 401k’s and Certificates of Deposit, we put these things away for our future selves. Until it’s time to revisit these familiar places, to open the gifts whose contents we know well. Soon we’ll open the winter gifts; bring out the down ticks for the beds, the draft stoppers for the doors, the electric heater for the bathroom.

And now? This weekend? Columbus Day? I’ll spend a weekend with good intentions to fix that insulation by the bulkhead door. I’ll ponder about when the last mowing will be. I’ll consider getting on the roof to make sure the drain is cleared. I’ll fret a little over how to take down the falling outhouse before the snow does it for me. In between I’ll walk the dog. Maybe take an extra spin around town in the morning, after the dump run, shoot a few photos.

But mostly, I’ll look up to a blue and gold October sky, listen to Canada Geese saying goodbye again, for the 57th year. I’ll marvel and stare at colored leaves that have marveled me and made me stare for as long as I can remember. I’ll breathe the cool, misty morning air, and smell the molds growing in the thatch, a dichotomy with the smell of dried leaves. I’ll be so distracted by the vibrant beauty and the newness of the season’s attributes that I’ll wonder on Tuesday where the time went. Make a plan to get all those chores done next weekend.

‘Cause, you know,

It’s that time of year again.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

 

 

Rounding The Turn

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September Sunset

The blue globe turns, the axis shifts, time is measured in length-of-days.

Each evening now, the sunset chases me down. Two weeks ago there was an hour after work for walking the dog, tinkering outdoors, putting the sun to bed from atop Nishan Hill. Now we race to see who will arrive first at the Engleville Tick Ranch, me or the sunset.

Yesterday sunset won, and Sassy June and I walked in near-darkness.

I’ll marvel a lot about the crisp, clear air. I’ll ooh and aah on the morning drive, through misty sunrises. I’ll stand stock still and agape as Canada Geese make their annual sojourn, flying so low over our heads that we hear the wingbeats, and the whistle of wingtips.

I’ll shoot hundreds of pictures of colored leaves. Same leaves as last year. Same colors. I’ll bet you have all the same leaves and colors if you live in any temperate climate.

This is the essence of the change of seasons. You’ve waited a full year for this to come around. Between its rarity and your anticipation, how can it help but be exciting? Yes, exciting. Every year for 58 years. Same trees. Same geese. I never tire of it, nor am I ever less-impressed.

This applies to all of our seasons. The Big Four, plus all the mini-seasons in between, all the harbingers of changes coming. All the new and unique things that were not there yesterday. From the first Colt’s Foot of spring to the first snowflake, and back around to ice-off on Engleville Pond. There’s the first Robin of spring, the last sighting of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird for this year, the Snowy Owls of February and the Red-Winged Blackbirds and their soundtrack of summer.

Circles within circles bring these things to me year after year. Like birthdays, I am always looking forward to the next. A dozen birthdays a year.

There is a comfort in the constant, fondness of the familiar. These things which repeat themselves. These clockworks that can be relied upon. No human intervention or invention can stop them, slow them in their tracks or hasten them along. It is as if they come to visit me, like grandparents from Florida, once a year.

And we embrace.

I wish my arms were 32,000 miles across so I could hug the whole world.

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz