Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Which a Winter Storm Hits...

...and leaves us encased in an opal. Blue, pink, orange and yellow flicker behind a screen of creamy white.
The ice-covered trees clack in the breeze like castanets.

A thistle clings to its spot.

The old lilac bush spreads like sea coral.

The barn looks like an abstract painting.

Sunset comes on the tail end of the front and glints on the icicles hanging from the eaves.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Where Have You Been?

Apologies, gentle reader, for the lack of posts. I have no excuse except that things were busy and I didn't have much to say. I still don't have anything approaching a theme, but I can ramble with the best of them.

I don't spend a lot of time outdoors right now, because cold air hurts. I braved a walk to the bottom of the front pasture with John last evening, though, and the colors were amazing. I had just been looking at a Better Homes & Garden magazine and studying the palettes they used in a room I liked. Walking outside was like walking into the biggest, most color-inspired, coordinated, complementary room ever created anywhere. The sky was grey blue, the snow was white, the grasses in the fields were purple and gold, and the branches of the bare trees were black. But to say they were blue, purple and gold is not saying enough. The saturation of the colors, the way they melted into one another, or stood out in relief--it was so beautiful as to make me cry. Winter is cold and I prefer the other three seasons, but I can't deny its beauty. And living out here lets me see the beauty of winter more clearly.
These are pictures of another winter moment--when the trees were covered with ice one morning last week (taken from inside the front windows--no fingers were frozen in the making of these images):

Grandgirl Maria spent the weekend with us and she and I bundled up and took a walk up to the cabin just to get out a bit. The windchill was shocking. We quickly turned around and headed back to the main house where the fire was burning. "Oh, I can't wait till spring," I said. "And summer!" she added. And then, "It's freezing cold out here!" She had her hands tucked into her pockets and looked like a little pink gnome heading down the path.

We played princesses a lot. I had to hold two of them and make them be mean to the third, which she held. The mean step-sisters got to go to the ball and dance with the princes while Maria's victim stayed home and cleaned. At least we rotated out the princess who got the short end of stick. I tried to put in some "stand up for yourself" lessons in there, but she wasn't having it. If it was your turn to play the Cinderella role, then tough luck, sister.
She found my reading glasses and put them on. I said, "Oh, let me take your picture!" And here's what she did--she put her hand up. Like the smart girl in class.

LeRoy was in heaven with his playmate, Maria, here. He lets her pick him up and drag him around the whole house, over and over. And then he crashes nearby. Here he is on the new living room chair:
He is a handsome devil, I think.

And here is a detail of the new couch that goes with the new chair. It is heaven to sit on a couch again! And yes, Maria and I snuggled up and read books on it, just like I promised we would.

So, while it hasn't been a full-fledged funk, a bit of winter "Where am I?" "Who am I?" has settled over me like a fine dust. Here's hoping that you, reader, are making it through your own winter doldrums in the best way you know how.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Winter Waiting

I've been known to say: "If it's winter and cold, there might as well be snow on the ground."

Well, darn right. There is snow on the ground and it isn't going anywhere soon with temperatures in the teens and twenties for the foreseeable future. I do like it. I'm not sure if I'd like it where my niece lives in Minneapolis. We've got about three to four inches covering the rolling hills in a most picturesque way. I'm not sure how many inches she has to dig through to get to her car, but I'm sure it's more.

John and I are pleased that the house is passing the test of its first winter. We stay warm and snug in here, even when the wind is howling and the temperatures are at zero or below. (And we still have some caulking to do!) Sunny days help. The big, south-facing windows catch all the warmth and light available. Everywhere you go in this house, you look out a window. When the snow falls straight down at a steady speed, it looks like we have moving curtains--some kind of groovy thing you might buy at Ikea.

All that said, I looked at seed catalogs yesterday and became giddy at the prospect of my garden. I bundled up and went outside to pace off my potager plots in the snow. I think I have it figured out. Gardens are funny things. The distance between your dreams and reality is huge. The garden in my mind is gigantic and lush and varied with surprises around every corner--well established in other words. I know from past experience that I need to start small and build it slowly over several years. If I try for gigantic the first year, I'll be overwhelmed and disappointed. That probably won't stop me from overreaching, though. Gardeners are a hopeful lot.

After pacing off the garden, I took a walk to the back pasture to fetch a winter bouquet for the table. There was a hush in the fields as dusk fell and a few snowflakes blew eastward. The air was moist and fresh. I was content to rest in winter waiting, but I felt the flame of spring flickering deep down--deep inside both me and the world. It is a warm and delightful feeling.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


LeRoy ate a mouse this morning. A whole mouse. I was happy he caught it (in the mudroom) because I don't want mice in the house if we can help it, but also horrified at the spectacle and the suffering.

About three weeks ago, I started putting LeRoy into the mudroom at night. Well, to be truthful, I put him in there several times throughout the day. He is full of kitten-powered energy and Clare and I get tired of him. He rarely sits still, hardly ever naps, and mostly prowls around looking for trouble. He jumps Clare and attempts to eat her head. Clare yowls and screams and hisses and then the two of them gallop across the floors and crash into all the stuff that is still laying around. If he isn't pestering Clare he is pawing at my necklaces that hang artfully from the old planter, or he is up on the bathroom sink looking for something to bat around--maybe a bottle of medicine that he can knock under the dresser. You get the idea.

For the past two days when I opened the mudroom door to get more wood for the fire, instead of finding him asleep in his pile of old sweaters on top of the potting bench I've found him crouching by an old box that sits in the corner. Uh oh. Mouse alert.

This morning when I opened the door he was playing with a terrorized and injured mouse. He seemed tentative about biting down hard on the moving mouse, but of course he wasn't letting it go, either. I thought I would take the poor thing outside and let it die quietly behind the woodpile--they say freezing to death is not a bad way to go. When I went to pick it up, however, LeRoy was having none of it. It was his mouse. He became resolute and took a good hold of it with his mouth. I opened the door to the outside and he took it out there.

It was a clear, cold morning with a good covering of snow on the ground. The cold air and the expanse of Outside seemed to trigger a more serious response from LeRoy toward his prey. He trotted off with the mouse and I let him. Of course he didn't go far--he took it around to the side porch onto the scrap of rug in front of the glass doors. And there he proceeded to eat that mouse. I watched for a brief moment, just to be sure that it was really happening, and then I turned away. Jeez, all this before coffee.

Next time I looked there was no mouse. And no blood. Nothing. Except a cute little kitten begging to come inside.

You know how you feel when you watch Nature on PBS and the hawk or the fox hasn't eaten in a week and really needs to catch something, so you root for it while it chases the bunny, but when it catches the bunny you feel terrible about the suffering that ensues? But the predator finally got a meal so you are happy...but the bunny had baby bunnies so you are sad...
Finally you end up sighing with the realization that life is hard here. Existence is a rough game. No getting around it.

LeRoy wasn't starving, but he did what predators do. I guess I was glad that he actually ate the mouse instead of killing it and letting it go to "waste." I don't mind that he keeps the mouse population down, but this spring I hope I don't find bird remains. Someone asked me once if we were going to put up bird feeders near the house. I said No. No we are not. Binoculars work just fine, thank you.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gittin' 'er done

I don't have many words today. We did a lot of work over the weekend. Here are some images of what we got done:

We purchased a kitchen table and chairs at the Antique Mall in Barnesville. Yay! I wanted a pedestal table real bad, and we found one...
John put up the pot rack in the kitchen and changed some of the wacky light switch placements while he was at it. Thank you, John!

I washed down the old sliding barn doors that we use on the bathrooms and polyurethaned them so that they won't flake paint everywhere (John did the second coat).

John put together my grandma's wardrobe in the bedroom so that I can get to Narnia when I need to.
And while we're in the bedroom, here are some more recent views...Clarabelle in a familiar pose:
New use for an old planter:
Mmm, yellow beads in a turquoise dish:
Whoops! Time to wake up! The latest addition to the infamous collection of all things rooster:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Something to Think About

In the midst of the move, I came across books I had forgotten about. One of them was Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions. It was one of Sarah's books from her undergrad days at University of Wisconsin. It contains excerpts from many sources, each offering a different perspective on the human relationship to environment. There is a "test" in one of the sections that intrigued me when I first read it called "Where You At?" It intrigued me because not only could I not answer several of the questions, but it hadn't occurred to me to ask them. It caused me to reevaluate my entire relationship to where I live, to perk up and pay attention to different things. And even if I still don't know some of the answers, I am now more aware of my ignorance--which is a step.

Here is the test. See how many questions you can answer about where you live.

1. Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.

2. How many days until the moon is full (plus or minus a couple of days)?

3. Describe the soil around your home.

4. What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture(s) that lived in your area before you?

5. Name five native edible plants in your bioregion and their season(s) of availability.

6. From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?

7. Where does your garbage go?

8. How long is the growing season where you live?

9. On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?

10. Name five trees in your area. Are any of them native? If you can't name names, describe them.

11. Name five resident and any migratory birds in your area.

12. What is the land use history by humans in your bioregion during the past century?

13. What primary geological event/process influenced the land form where you live?

14. What species have become extinct in your area?

15. What are the major plant associations in your region?

16. From where you are while reading this, point north.

17. What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?

18. What kinds of rocks and minerals are found in your bioregion?

19. Were the stars out last night?

20. Name some beings (nonhuman) which share your place.

21. Do you celebrate the turning of the summer and winter solstice? If so, how do you celebrate?

22. How many people live next door to you? What are their names?

23. How much gasoline do you use a week, on the average?

24. What energy costs you the most money? What kind of energy is it?

25. What developed and potential energy resources are in your area?

26. What plans are there for massive development of energy or mineral resources in your bioregion?

27. What is the largest wilderness area in your bioregion?

We had a terrible ice storm in my bioregion about three years ago. Trees were down, roads were closed and electricity was out for weeks across a large swath of the Midwest. John and I went to the grocery store and I was shocked to see the shelves so sparse, the produce picked over, the refrigerated items absent. I felt, for the first time, how dependant I am on an unseen (by me) network. I have no control over my food and heat and water. I take its easy presence for granted.

I am slowly becoming more aware of the systems that keep me alive and healthy. It isn't always fun or easy to learn about them. We put in a composting toilet in the new house. It is a remote system--the composting bin is in a basement of sorts. We have a composting toilet by the same company in an outhouse that John built up by the cabin and have had no trouble with it. Not so, this new system. It vents through a pipe that goes up through the roof and when the winds are right (or wrong), you can, um, smell it. John, dear man, has gone down to the basement to check on things and all I can say is, thank god, because I'm never gonna do that. We're working out the kinks (I won't go into details) and haven't given up yet on this "green" technology, but there is a part of me that just wants it to go away.

Like I want my garbage to go away. Like I want my food to appear on the shelves. Like I want my water to come through the pipes, clean and ready to drink. Like I want to drive my car wherever I want, whenever I want.

Sometimes I feel like a petulant child, arms crossed, and pouting when I'm asked to confront responsibility for my human presence on the planet. But, you know, the time is here. I'm going to work on answering some of those questions in "Where You At," and I'm not going to let a little bit of crap scare me. It happens, right?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rockin' Weekend

After a quiet New Year's Eve with just the two of us, we've had a company-filled few days, and what a blast it was. We had Maria out for a two-night sleepover starting on Friday. She was so excited to be here because some of her favorite people were visiting at the same time. Jack and five of his friends came out for a long weekend in the cabin. They brought their instruments and recording equipment and made a CD, in addition to hiking, eating, photographing, sitting around the bonfire, etc. The eating was done down here at the new house and I have to say that I've never, ever cooked for a more appreciative audience. All at once, I understood how women become addicted to feeding people. There is something satisfying about having a large pot of chili devoured by a group of grateful 20-year olds. I felt like an Italian mama and found myself wanting to offer them more--Here, eat! You need to eat!
Spencer and Tim had their cameras and captured some of the best moments of the weekend. I leave you with their images...
the Band
For the cd insert
During the breaks

The farm through their eyes

That's what I'm talking about, people.