Monday, September 29, 2008

Okay, just one more

I found not one, but two saddleback caterpillars (Acharia stimulea) munching happily on a dogwood sapling underneath the pear tree the other day. Is it not the most crazy looking caterpillar you've ever seen?

Back in the '80s, I would have so wanted a pair of earrings in their likeness.
They turn into this moth, which I've never seen. Notice the weird little circle on the body of the moth. I wonder if it is left over from the "saddle" on the back of the 'pillar?
I felt a small triumph at spotting these guys. I felt primed to see them because I've been flipping through all the glossy pictures in my identification book, going, "Ooh, ahh," and "I'd like to see that one in real life!" The saddleback was one of the latter. I was fiddling with the hose out by the new trees one evening and happened to glance over and spot them. It was an example, I feel, of that maxim by Louis Pasteur: "In the field of observation, chance favors a prepared mind."
So, I am prepared to spot caterpillars. Woo hoo!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Current Moment

I'll close out history week by taking us up to the moment on the progress of the new house. Here is the view of it that I get all the time, walking from the cabin...You'll notice the lounge chairs on the star-gazing deck. I climbed up there and read my book yesterday evening, looking out on the future garden, imagining the best routes for pathways and placement of beds. Instead of a ladder, I was able to use the NEW STAIRS to get to the second storey.John will work his magic on the wood, sanding and staining until the lustre of the oak is restored to a rich, chocolatey hue. This is the same wood that he used for the front of the gift shop at Franklin Park Conservatory, a picture of which I will shamelessly post here. This was just after installation. It looks even better with all the earthy, organic merchandise they place around it.

And here is our bedroom--notice the floor almost done.

And here is the study--will I be able to concentrate with the doors to the deck right there, beckoning?
Who knows when we'll get in. I hope before the really cold weather hits. My friends at Living the Rural Dream have got me thinking about cozying up to the fire. I would love to have the choice of doing so at the new place. Having this stout little cabin for shelter, though, is a comforting thought.

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Abandoned House

In keeping with this week’s history theme, I am featuring the Abandoned House. That’s the name we gave to a once marvelous, Queen Anne style, two-story-with-an-attic house that is melting back into the woods about a quarter mile up Township Road 166 past the cabin. The township road is also abandoned. It turns into grass after our driveway and disappears into the woods altogether after it passes the Abandoned House.

As late afternoon was turning into evening yesterday, I put on jeans and a hat and found a branch to carry in front of me for the trek up the hill. The branch is for the cobwebs that hang like fishing net up the relatively open trail. Even with the branch, I took a few across the face—blech! Here is the road as you head up the trail:

And here it is looking back down: I made a huge racket crunching through the dry leaves. I thought of those frontiersmen I’m reading about and wondered how they managed to move silently through the woods in fall. Every so often, I stopped so that I could hear the sounds around me. There was an eerie feeling in the woods despite the warm glow of the early autumn sunlight. A breeze moved high up in the trees. I shivered a little and looked right and left. I felt the ghosts of the people and animals who traveled this defunct road long ago moving through the trees. I could hear the wagon wheels crunching gravel, the jingle of harness, and the calls of men. I could see children playing and dogs looking for scraps. All these ghosts of the past were busy once with worldly concerns just like me.

The path that cuts off the old road to the Abandoned House is always farther than I think it is. Deer trails scattered up the hill fake me out, too. With the autumn wilt of the vegetation, though, I found the trail easily last night. It isn’t long before you duck under some saplings and the house comes into view.
She's an old, late Victorian lady defiant in her finery. Miss Havisham with a bedraggled lace scarf framing her haggard face.

She is the witch who caught Rapunzel and now the twisted braid of her jealous soul is pulling her down into the earth.

She's an old beauty queen...

with an alchoholic past.

I don't know anything about the Abandoned House except that it was liveable in the 1970s when the Neff's bought the cabin. Wouldn't it be something to live in a "painted lady" tucked up in the middle of the woods at the end of an old township road? Too late for that, obviously. We did get permission from the woman who owns the land that it sits on, however, to harvest pieces of the house, and so a little of it can live on with us. We've got some of the decorative moulding and slate from the roof to make something pretty with in our new house. I know that John is still coveting the beautifully weathered wood off the carriage barn that is falling down in the woods next to the house.

Before the light faded too far and things got downright scary instead of just creepy, I headed back. At the bottom of the hill, I viewed my cabin from the old road--the same vantage point as all those ghosts from years past. I was cheered to know that my cabin is still happily inhabited by flesh and blood people.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

History Lessons

When we arrived here in June, I kept lots of stuff packed away in boxes with the idea that I would get it out once we were in the new house. We already had dishes and pots and pans here, although they were all my castoffs from home—the cheaper, worn out things that you use at a cabin on vacation. Slowly, and because it is taking longer than expected to get into the new house, I’ve been unpacking all my better stuff and using it now in the cabin. I needed a cake pan, then the hand mixer, then a muffin tin, and oh, hell why not bring down the blender while I’m at it…

Today, I hooked up the HP Photo-smart printer/scanner—something that was waiting for the office in the new house. I had to, though, because I can’t wait any longer to write this post about the history of the cabin and our little patch of land. My eagerness comes from the book I’m reading: The Frontiersmen by Allan Eckert. I knew about Eckert from his book That Dark and Bloody River, a history of the Ohio River Valley. I had no idea what a prolific writer he is, though, as well as a “noted American naturalist” according to his website. He was nominated seven times for the Pulitzer Prize—one of those times was for The Frontiersmen. It is a historical narrative about the opening of Kentucky and the Northwest Territory (including my patch of Ohio) from 1755 – 1836. Our cabin was built in 1828. It is fascinating to read about what it was like back then, and a joy to have it written so well. Eckert writes with respect and admiration for both sides of the conflict—American Indian and white settler, in particular the frontiersmen Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone. Though it was inevitable that North America was invaded by Europeans, I wish that they would have done it with a lot more respect and tolerance. What a shame that we’ve lost the rich culture of the indigenous people of this part of the world. I think about them when I walk around our woods and meadows. I wonder what they did here—whether any villages sat here, or if it was a hunting ground, or an important trailway.

I also wonder often about the people who built this cabin, Abner and Jane Williams.

The cabin and differing portions of the land was in Abner’s family until we purchased it in 2001 from his great, great granddaughter, Mary Lou Neff and her husband, Bill. Bill and Mary Lou bought the property in the 1970s and worked hard to get it listed on the National Register of Historical Places. They were successful…
The Neffs were so friendly and shared a lot of information about the property. Mary Lou made color copies of the two original land deeds for the farm, signed by presidents James Madison and James Monroe. They were too big to scan, but I’m planning on framing them and hanging them in the cabin for visitors. She also gave us copies of pictures—of Abner and Jane above, and a long view of the land from sometime in the past. Lots of deforestation, for sure! The above is a shot from our neighbor's land across County Rd. 761 which doesn't exist in this picture. The old Township Rd 166 follows the tree line you see going past the cabin on the far left. Below is a closer view of the cabin and the barn from the picture above.Mary Lou also gave us copies of the application for the National Register designation. From that I learned the following:
“According to family records and Noble Co. History, Abner Williams (a Quaker) acquired the land in 1827, so presumably the house was built in 1827 or 1828. Abner was one of the first two Justices of the Peace for Wayne Twp (1851). Abner and his wife, Jane, had nine children who were raised in the house. One daughter died at age 16. A son, Aaron, died in the Civil War (Co. G., 78th Ohio Vol. Inf.). Another son, Thomas, represented Noble County in the State Legislature in the 1880s.

“The house is a fine specimen of the log architecture of the period. The foundation has been repaired (with logs from an old log building nearby). Some of the original hardware remains on doors. There is original flooring on the second floor, and doors and two of the windows appear to be original. Planned restoration includes removing additions of a kitchen and lean-to, also restoring original fireplace which was converted to a smaller parlor fireplace when kitchen was added (probably mid-1800s).”

When I read about the people who built this place that I’m sitting in 180 years later, I think several things. First I think: Nine children. Wow. At least Jane had a parlor fireplace. That was nice. And then I simply marvel at the passing of time and generations and cultures. What would those people say if they could visit their home today? They’d see me typing at my computer, scanning a worn picture of them on my Photo-smart, and drinking an espresso made on the electric range. And I’d have to tell them that my husband is off making a living for us in the nearby city. And that, oh yeah, I’ll be getting around to shelling those walnuts in just a few days. Jeez, give me a break, Abner! This land has been here for a long time. I presume that the Indians knew it intimately. The settlers came and got to know it in a different way. One family lived on it for generations. And now I live here. I feel a responsibility to learn more about the history of this place—not only about the people who have lived here, but of the land itself. History is as big as you want it to be, I guess. I don’t have any detailed plans on learning all the things I want to know, but I delight in finding tidbits here and there and pondering them while I sit listening to the late summer crickets and watching the colors turn yet again to those of another season.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Another Moth Moment, brought to you by a local sponsor

I was so happy to have my caterpillar identification book on hand when I found this creature struggling along in the mud down by the new house the other day:

I was able to identify it as this moth that we found several weeks ago:
It is a Pandorus Sphinx moth (Eumorpha pandorus). My book says that the caterpillar (about 3.5 inches long!) is "frequently encountered while it is wandering in search of a pupaton site." It also says that grape is a common host plant for it, so I left it by the grapevine in front of the cabin in the hopes that it would find that a suitable site for its metamorphosis.
Pretty cool, huh?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stormy Weather

I was in the basement of my old parish church in Cincinnati, Ohio when the big wind storm, the fallout from Hurricane Ike, hit the Midwest on Sunday. I’m tempted to give that coincidence some meaning…old ways uprooted, the past turned over for examination, the danger of life’s flying debris. I was celebrating the 90th birthday of my best friend Colette’s father. The party was in the undercroft (basement) of St. Antoninus, the church I attended all through childhood. When I was a kid, the undercroft was the church. There were always plans to build the fancy new church on top, but that didn’t happen until many years after I left the area.

Because we were in the basement, we didn’t hear the storm at all. When we left the party at 3:00 in the afternoon, we were stunned. The wind was tearing at the pansies in the centerpiece I took home with me and uplifting the skirt of my dress. Fully grown trees were uprooted and lying on the ground across roads and driveways, cars and electrical wires. Smaller branches were scattered everywhere, green against the browned grass of late summer. What had we missed while eating ham sandwiches and laughing over pictures from the Whitaker family’s archives?

My own Dad had accompanied me to the party and the two of us got in the car and began to make our way back to his house, north of Cincy. We took a detour before leaving the area, though, and drove past our old home on Beechmeadow Lane. As is often the case when you visit childhood landmarks, everything looked tiny. The giant hill that my friends and I flew down on our bikes and huffed and puffed back up was a mild slope. The mansions on Ralph Avenue behind our house looked like regular houses, a little worse for the wear. Dad suggested we drive past Seton High School, the scene of many crimes by (and against) me and Colette. The area around the school looked pretty much the same, but the school itself must have had a very successful fund drive. The lawn where we practiced archery is taken up by a big new addition. I assume it is a new gym and cafeteria and something else besides.

I dropped Dad off successfully, though his house had no power. I got back in my car and headed up I-71 to Columbus. Counter-intuitively, everyone was speeding along at 80 mph. I guess the wind speeds were setting the pace. Plenty of trees were down along the sides of the highway, and corn shucks were flying through the air, Wizard of Oz-like. Yellowed sheaves swirled off the fields to the right and left of the road, flying past the windshield against a backdrop of bruise-colored sky. It was ominous, a melancholy reminder of the coming season.

No power at the apartment in Columbus either. Mary and Jon had some, though, so we had a farewell pizza party for Sarah at their house. We dropped Sarah off at the airport at 5:00 the next morning, with a hope and a kiss that her flights were all a go. Jack and I went back to bed and by the time we woke up, we had power again, as did Stauf’s. Whoopee! After cappuccinos and a bagel, I was back on the road towards home.

My quiet little farm, how I miss you when I’m gone. I took a walk to survey the damage. It was much less intense here, but there was evidence of the storm. The gnome homes were swept away—yikes, poor gnomes!—and lots of branches were down in the yard around the cabin and along the woods trail. There were a few trees, tall skinny ones that were uprooted or snapped off near the base, lying across the trail. And walnuts everywhere! I thought about how the settlers might have appreciated that effect of the storm. I twisted my ankle on one yesterday while walking through the yard, so I’ll be picking them up today. I’m going to try cracking them open. I hear it is a lot of work, but worth it for the freshest walnuts you’ll ever taste.

I found this stick while on my walk.
You can look at it this way:
And this way: The camera doesn't quite capture the lovely mauve color of the underside of the fungus. It is quietly beautiful—another small gift from a big storm.

So, we’re safe out here in the country. Many of my friends and family are still without power in Columbus. And of course, the people in Texas are suffering greatly. After seeing the destruction from the aftermath of Ike, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be hit by it directly. I only hope that the victims of the storm will find small gifts somewhere, left unexpectedly in their path.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Vacation by Proxy

Don't you love it when someone visits you, and though you are not technically on vacation, you feel as if you are? That's what this week has been like with Sarah here. We've gone out to eat, taken hikes, played Scrabble. I've felt entitled to purchase souvenirs, put off chores, and sleep in late.

John actually did take two days off and the three of us had some adventures. We took a hike up the now dry stream bed.
Some beautiful blue flower was blooming on the banks. I can't identify it with the one book of wildflowers that I have, so we'll just have to enjoy it with a Beginner's Mind.
X marked a good spot!

Hints of fall were everywhere.

Yesterday we took to Seneca Lake. It was a gorgeous Indian summer day with clear blue skies after a cleansing rain, warm sun, and cool shade. We saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers in the pines when we were unloading the canoe. A great blue heron was wading in the lake and we chased him down the shoreline as we struck out. He squawked in irritation after being rousted out of his fourth put-down. (Sorry, heron. If you would stay still, I'd take a picture of you, that's all.) Kingfishers swooped by several times, skimming the surface of the lake like small planes. It was altogether glorious.
I scored the Queen's seat in the middle of the canoe.We're heading to the city today for a long weekend of visiting before Sarah flies back to Mexico on Monday morning. Ah, vacation! Wish it would never end.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Our Wayfaring Stranger

Posting could be extra light this week, because Sarah is in town! After a 10-month teaching stint in Beijing, she is back in Oaxaca, Mexico, which is what she calls home these days. She came "home" to us last Friday for a 10-day visit. We haven't seen her in beautiful Ohio for more than a year, so we're soaking her up. As I write this, she is napping in the hammock, and Jack is snoozing on the porch after we all took a walk through the woods and the hot sunny meadows. I made us grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches before we left, while they played frisbee. I feel like a mom again : )

In the meantime, click here to read the article that Sarah published recently on the webzine, Global Human.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Some Splainin'

Gosh. If there are any entomologists reading this blog, I'm sorry. I've misnamed a few insects and made wrong assumptions about others. Not a huge crime, thankfully.
Yes, my insect identification books came in the mail and I've been flipping through the pages, marveling at all the amazing caterpillars that are apparently chomping happily through the vegetation right under my nose. (How do people learn to see these things?) Here are a few things I've learned:

This guy is not a butterfly at all, but a day-flying moth. An Eight-spotted Forester (Alypia octomaculata) to be exact.
Do you remember my little experiment with feeding the caterpillar many posts ago? Well, the caterpillar was languishing in the makeshift home I gave him, despite fresh walnut leaves everyday. I set him free rather than have him go the way of my childhood experiments--moldy messes of food-colored concoctions. But, I believe I've identified him as a Hickory Tussock Moth (Lophocampa caryae). And it is no wonder the birds didn't eat him--those little hairs can cause rashes and itching. Speaking of tussock moths, check out the cleverly named White Marked Tussock Moth caterpillar (Orgyia leucostigma) I found on the screen door to the cabin just this evening.
And then there is the Ailanthus Webworm Moth (Atteva punctella)

And the Painted Lichen Moth (Hypopepia fucosa)
It is endless, folks. So many pretty things right in front of me. I'll leave you with some images from my walk in the back pasture this morning. The light was gorgeous and the spider webs were sparkling. The thistle was blooming and the butterflies were warming up for one more day of nectaring. That's what I want to have always--just one more day of nectaring.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Busy as Bees (or Squirrels)

As the summer winds down, John and I are joining all the other creatures busily going about their fall chores. I'm not going to be outdone by the squirrel who is storing walnuts between the bricks of the chimney and the wall of the cabin. Whenever I hear his scritching and scratching from inside the bedroom, I run outside to shoo him away. He sticks his head out from around the chimney and looks at me curiously. In my head, he has a New York accent and he is saying, Whaddya want? These here are my nuts, lady. Go get your own.

I'm not gathering nuts, but I'm getting some other things done while the getting is good. I spent the larger part of today canning grape juice under the guidance of my neighbor, Sharon. She was over the other day and drew my attention to the falling down grapevine in front of the cabin. I said I didn't think the grapes were ripening, but boy was I wrong. I casually said that I should make grape jelly, and Sharon gently suggested I start with something simpler like grape juice. She described an easy sounding recipe and said she would help me make some if I wanted to try. Later that day, her youngest daughter, Sarah, ran a jar of their homemade grape juice over so that I could taste it. I poured a glass a few hours later after getting hot and sweaty helping John plant trees, and I'm telling you that the heavens opened up and angel music sounded. It was the best grape juice I've ever had in my life. In fact, after tasting this stuff, I hestitate to say that I've ever had grape juice before.

So, the next day I picked a large tupperware bowl full of grapes.
And today, Sharon taught me how to turn them into grape juice.

The juice will turn a dark purple and the grapes will sink to the bottom over time. I had some grapes left over and I'm going to try to make raisins with them. If I'm successful, you'll see the results posted here.

As for the trees that John and I planted, ta da:

Aren't they cute? One day they will grow up to become a large, green, and "firry" screen to hide the new buildings from the cabin, and shield the cabin from the road.

We also planted a spruce tree which looks pretty pathetic from this angle...

But look at it this way...
Very impressive!

And that is the report from a tuckered out farm girl, soaking up the last of summer.