Sunday, September 30, 2012


This evening, I watched from my deck rocking chair as the sun sank in the west and twilight stole across the river. The sky slowly dimmed, sycamores leaning over the water grew somber, the riffle went from azure to indigo—while two-hundred yards upstream, a final surge of direct light found an opening in the blocking hills, blazed onto the eastern bank, and the first of the turning leaves glowed boldly in hues of  red and yellow. 

September, I thought, was quickly slipping away, bidding me fare-thee-well even as a bright Harvest Moon—a day past full—began it's evening climb into the sky. The next full moon will be the Hunter's Moon, and after that comes the Beaver Moon.

I love this time of year, love watching autumn assert its rule, claiming and transforming the land; it always catches me in its spell. Still, I also wonder—how many more times will I have the privilege of witnessing this change? How many more times will any of us? Time is a precious gift, never to be wasted. It's taken me a while to learn that—but I'm always cognizant of that singular inescapable fact, and never more so than during these weeks of turning leaves. Autumn is nature's vivid metaphor for our allotted time. We too, have our season.

So, in this final bow of glory another September bids adieu. I wish it well and thank it for the this evening's show…even as I whisper a silent prayer that we'll meet again.                  

Friday, September 28, 2012


You have to give poison ivy points for autumn color…but better not give Miss Ivy a congratulatory pat for donning such a dazzling red dress. If you do, she'll likely respond by thanking you with an itchy, blistering rash. Photo taking is perfectly safe, however, so long as you keep your hands off the leaves and don't brush against the plant with your clothing—which could pick up some of the chemical irritant and later get transferred to your skin. 

It doesn't take much. 

The problematic substance is an oily resin called urushiol. Something like 90% of the population is susceptible to the stuff, through their reactions vary—from so mild as to be scarcely felt or noticed, to scary-awful, possibly requiring hospitalization. For most folks it's usually just a patch of itchy red rash, maybe a few blisters, which torments for a couple of weeks. However, urushiol is so potent that only a few molecules of the toxic oil will do you in—a mere quarter-once would be sufficient to cause an allergic skin reaction in every human on earth! 

I'm not much bothered by poison ivy. I've regularly waded through half-acre patches—it's prevalent along streams and the edges of fields and woods—and now and then will react with a dime-sized itchy rash. But as is the case with most allergic reactions, personal sensitivity can change dramatically—so I may not always remain immune.

Here in this corner of Ohio we have three urushiol-laden plants—poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. The latter is pretty much restricted to bogs, swamps, marshes, and fens and most people never come close to exposure…a good thing, since the urushiol in poison sumac is said to be far more potent than in either poison ivy or poison oak

Like most outdoorsy kids, I learned to recognize the distinctive leaf patterns early on, and just pay attention (sorta) when rambling afield. I made the photo above yesterday when, after finishing grocery shopping, I decided to take the roundabout way home and see how autumn was coming along away from the riverbank. I saw the scarlet clump blazing along a fence. 

It's practically impossible to resist a pretty lass in a red dress!  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Today was mostly cloudy, filled with soft light and late in the afternoon a bit of rain. A good day for working at my desk, which is how I spent the majority of the time. A carbon copy of yesterday—desk work, cloudy skies, light rain. Neither day very cool.

Not very autumn-like yet, the weather. Not very autumn-looking hereabouts, either. The river's water is olive green, about at normal level, and most of the leaves on trees along the banks are still dressed in their various shades of chlorophyll green, with just a hint of yellow. Only the woodbine twining up the sycamores has started to add daubs of crimson to it five-leaf clusters. Fall has yet to start working much magic here at the streamside.

But it was probably that merest hint of autumn, along with the cloudy day and the patter of rain on the roof, that made me think of doing fried cabbage for supper. Or maybe it was the huge, bright-green homegrown cabbage head I bought yesterday at the orchard market up the road where I stopped to sample their latest batch of cider (too sweet, I decided, needing more tart in the mix) and picked up a peck of my favorite first-of-the-season honeycrisp apples. 

First I fried up some good hickory-smoked sausage, cut into small chunks, along with about a teaspoon of fresh garlic and a tablespoon of onion, both finely diced, adding maybe a teaspoon of olive oil. I removed the sausage and aromatics from the oil and set them aside in a small dish. Then I sautéd the cabbage. I used half the head, chopped into inch-square bits—adding kosher salt, paprika, and a few red pepper flakes—tossing regularly until tender but not overcooked. At that point the sausage mix went back in, another toss or two, a teaspoon of brown sugar and a good dollop of apple cider vinegar, toss again, and it was finished…and delicious!

In case you're wondering—the carpentry part of my front door project got finished Sunday…well, most of it, the hard, critical work. I still have to add some new trim along the edges of the jambs. And I'm waiting for a warm, sunny day to paint the exterior side; the inside will get new stain and varnish. 

The job proved a real bear, I can tell you. Nothing was plumb or square, and given the way it was originally installed, I couldn't change that without getting into a major renovation. All I could do was make adjustments. Not the way it should be done, but the only way it could be done, given my options and the current state of my finances. However, there were times when I thought the only solution was to chuck the whole thing, rip out the wall, charge the cost of brand new everything to whatever piece of plastic worked, and call in the experts with the proper tools to fix my mess.

I quickly got over that notion. Irish stubbornness and frugality won. They were aided by Myladylove's misplaced faith that I was smart enough and sufficiently competent to overcome any situation…a belief I, shamefully, did nothing to discourage. But it was certainly the motivating factor, and likely the reason I fretted and worried and puzzled over the imbroglio long enough that I finally came up with a scheme that worked. Now, to all but the most critically-discerning eye the door's fit appears perfect—certainly more than good enough to pass inspection by any eyes of those likely to do such examining.

My previously right-hand door now opens from the left—swinging against the wall, out of the way, while keeping with common sense design. Unfortunately, Moon-the-Dog, bless her heart, still goes to the old—now the hinge—side when she's ready to be let out. But she's a smart pooch, and will soon learn to not repeat her error—which is doubtless better than I ought to expect of myself.  

Monday, September 24, 2012


Today is the third day of autumn. What a sublime autumn sky we have here along the riverbank this afternoon! Crisp and gleaming, in a deep, impossible blue—with not a puff of cloud to mar it anywhere from horizon to horizon.

Nothing is impossible under such a sky. Not peace or health or endless happy tomorrows. Love and kindness can rule; heaven can be glimpsed up there—or down here, beneath its incredible blue canopy. Faith and hope and all the goods of human charity reside in such impossible blue skies, and stir us to thrive by their light.  

Such a sky—such a day!—is a gift, a benefaction of the season. And anyone lucky enough to find himself allotted such a moment of time and place must count themselves blessed, indeed. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Another autumn is here
and though the seasons
have barely changed,
already I feel a sweet frisson,
a certain blood quickening
that tingles deep inside
like on those childhood nights
when mother would awaken me
in the dark room, and we'd
leave the house and go outside
where my father would have the
big Oldsmobile already packed,
engine running, heater on.

Hop in back, Sonny, he'd say,
and I'd clamber across the seat,
dragging a spare pillow
and Mom's patchwork quilt,
to arranged my comfortable nest.
Sleep. We'll be driving for hours.

But I never did—couldn't,
because as the big car swayed
over winding blacktopped miles,
our night travels promised
those steep Appalachian hills,
a landscape magically transformed
by time and distance,
waiting for me at first light.

And now, another journey begins
and awakens the familiar sensation—
a delicious inkling of adventure
that always comes when setting out
to revisit one of the beloved places
which can still stir my wary heart.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Today is the first day of autumn…which, interestingly, is the earliest date for the season's arrival since 1896. The change of seasons, of course, came with the passage of the equinox, which the old countrymen always knew, generally marked a change in weather.

True to form, it stormed here last night—several long bouts of hard, almost tropical rains, which began about dark and were still going at midnight. Lots of thunder and lightening, to boot. Our first equinoctial weather, I thought, as I listened to rain pounding on the roof.

I also figured such a session of downpours would have the river dark with mud and up by several feet come morning. But I was wrong, and quite surprised when I looked out at dawn and saw the water only slightly discolored and only a few inches higher. This tells me the storms—or at least the heavy rains—were localized, reiterating the fact it really doesn't matter what happens along this stretch of the stream, but rather it's the rains which fall upon the watershed upstream that affects our water conditions here.

The minimal change in water level and clarity certain didn't seem to hamper the great blue heron stalking it's breakfast just above the island across from the cottage. During the time it took me to drink my first cup of coffee, the gangly feathered fisherman caught and downed three small fish, while pretty much standing in the same spot. That's probably the the old bird's fast-food equivalent of a Saugage McMuffin and a double order of hash browns at Mickey D's. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Today's project is to change the front door around…as you stand inside, reversing it from a right-side opener to one where the handle, latch, and security lock are on the left. This means turning the door around—possible because the outside and inside are identical—and switching the outside hardware to the inside and vice versa; the hinges on the door only need to be moved from old inside to new inside, which is the same edge—though the flap of the hinges which fasten to the jamb must be relocated to the opposite side of the frame, and new holes cut on the opposite jamb for the latch, deadbolt lock, and their strike plates. So holes must be filled in the former and cut out in the latter.

You're doubtless confused. I understand. I'm almost confused doing the writing, and I know precisely what I'm describing. It one of those things that's easier to show than tell.

Why would smart people elect to subject themselves to such a mess? Well, our main entryway door—what we call the "front" door, though it's really located on the side corner, near the river end of the cottage—was hung wrong when we bought the place. The door opens into the great room. There's about a 4x6 ft. sunken entry, a 6 in. down-step from the main floor level. 

As you face the door, the end wall of the cottage is at your right shoulder. Logically, and logistically from a good design standpoint, this door ought to swing open against the end wall. Instead, it swings to your left, smack in the way, so you have to back up to give the door room to swing…at which point you bump your heels on the step-up to the main floor. So you have to unlatch the door, and swing it open while stepping back and up at the same time.

Some folks can operate a screwdriver…they just don't have the I.Q. of a screwdriver.  

As a carpenter's son, I find the door clumsy, dangerous, and gratingly inelegant. Hence today's long-needed project. I'll post a pic whenever I get the thing done—reversed, new hardware installed, painted on the outside and stained and varnished inside. 

Friday, September 14, 2012


It's been a busy week. Lots of chores and running around to various stores. Minor repairs on the ol' green pickup to fumble my way through. Appointments to keep. Work projects to get out. And every so often, whenever I had an hour or two, time afield to make some photos and check the progress of the seasonal transformation.   

Yesterday I spent about three hours at the optometrist's, getting my annual, and quite thorough, eye examine. The bad news is I need new contact lenses—nearly four hundred bucks. The good news is that my glaucoma status hasn't changed. 

For the past few years, my intraocular pressures have been on the high end of the average range. Alone, this wouldn't be much to worry about. But I also have thin corneas, a fair degree of myopia, and some "cupping" of the optic disc—three additional risk factors that point to the probability of glaucoma in the future. Plus my mother had glaucoma, as did at least one of her aunts—a fifth and significant risk, which increases my chances of developing glaucoma sevenfold over the general population. 

At the least, I'm currently a "glaucoma suspect." The reality, however, is that I likely already have glaucoma. The optic disc cupping is probably indicative, and sufficient for an early-stage diagnosis—even though my visual field tests are still excellent, above normal for my age and show no loss of vision, my intraocular pressures remain within the normal range, and the amount optic disc cupping hasn't changed over the last few years. 

Still, I watched my mother go slowly blind—in spite of all the eye drops and surgeries and top-notch specialists who tried everything to halt the disease's relentless destruction of her eyesight. Science and medicine doesn't always have the answer—though I absolutely sure the excellent care Mom received did help slow the disease's progression. 

But the fact was, during the final years of her life, Mom could see only "shadows." Not colors, not details; light and dark…and shadows. 

It was awful to witness. This kind and gentle and wonderful lady who so loved looking at flowers and watching birds and animals, loved taking rides in the country, seeing the landscape and tracking the seasons; the woman whose quick brown eyes were always filled with laughter and no small bit of wild mischief, who loved her family and friends with all her heart, loved to cook and feed anyone who sat at her table; who hand-stitched exquisite quilts, crocheted gorgeous afghans, and could sew up anything—from a dress to a patchwork handbag—on her ancient treadle machine; this person who enjoyed reading and had taught me to read before I started kindergarten, who nursed me though serious illnesses and kept me alive for so many years when the doctors said there was no hope—the mother whom I loved and admired and cherished, who shaped and influenced me in so many ways and helped instill a sense of wonder in my appreciation of nature. I watched helplessly as glaucoma narrowed Mom's vision and dimmed her sight. Until finally, she could no longer do any of those things she loved, could not make out the details of my face, though I turned every lamp in the room to high, knelt at eye-level, and leaned within inches.

Watching that happen to her was beyond heartbreaking. And frightening. I want to do whatever I can to avoid such a fate—though in spite of some advances in treatment, glaucoma still can't always be controlled. As I too well know. Nevertheless, after talking with my eye doc, as a possible prophylactic measure, to do what I can before any damage occurs, and to give myself the best vision possible for a long as possible, I've decided to start an every-other-day régime of eye drops to help lower my intraocular pressures. Lower pressures don't necessarily prevent glaucoma, but they may slow the progress. 

I hope so, because I don't think I have Mom's grace or courage.                        

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Black Swallowtail

It's been a while since I've posted a bunch of what I think of as "theme photos," images which share something in common—place, species, type, season, or some other particular of subject matter. These shots were all taken recently, and are all of butterflies I found fluttering around and posing on the zinnias bordering our graveled walkway.

(?) Skipper 
I'm pretty sure on the IDs of the ones I've named.

But I'm not sure about the elfin…even whether it is, in fact, an elfin. And when it comes to skippers, other than the Silver-Spotted and Fiery, I'm thoroughly confused—and I may be confused about those two as well—particularly the Fiery—and just too dumb to realize my mistake.

However, I have tried to sort things out. I've compared all my "unidentified" skipper images to a selection of online images of every one of the 47 species of skippers which appears on an up-to-date checklist of Ohio butterflies and skippers.

Orange Sulphur
Frankly, nothing looked right. At least to me. Which certainly does not mean these are rare species for my neck of woods.

Instead, it most likely indicates I'm being led astray by the lighting. Or possibly a bit of crossbreeding—say, between an Orange Sulphur and a Clouded Sulphur. It could also be a variant-marked individual. Though honestly, the best bet would be my overall ignorance of butterflies and skippers in general, and an inability from inexperience to understand what to look for and how to distinguish correct key field marks.

Someone who knows their butterflies can doubtless name—at a glance—what I couldn't.

Cabbage White
Therefore, seeking to hide my shortcomings behind a literary defense, I'll appropriate a line from Shakespeare, who said: "A rose by any other name would smell a sweet."

I say a butterfly unnamed is just as pretty.

Clouded Sulphur
[Should you wish to view them a bit larger, all images can, of course, be enlarged by double-clicking.]

Elfin (?)

Fiery Skipper 
Painted Lady
Pipevine Swallowtail

Silver-Spotted Skipper

(?) Skipper

(?) Skipper

(?) Skipper

(?) Skipper

(?) Skipper

(?) Skipper
Clouded Sulphur

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Great sunsets aren't all that common along the river. I've said that before—but it's true, and I feel better if I whine about it a bit every so often. We're tucked low, behind a fairly high hill to the west. It's all but dark down here long before sunset up there. 

Sometimes, though, the late-in-the-day sky colors up—blazing orange or pink, lavender, magenta, turquoise, gold. Gaudy great swathes of incredible hues which change by the moment and seem determined to make up for some of those sunsets we don't see.

Yesterday's evening sky delivered such a show. We were just about to sit down, share a bowl of popcorn, and watch TV. Then I saw the sky beyond the high, great-room windows, and grabbed my Nikon. What you see is straight from the camera, point and shoot, full-frame, no manipulation other than removing a couple of dust spots. 

Spectacular, huh? However, 90 seconds after I recorded this image, the color washed out into a sort of pastel rosy-yellow. Sunsets and painted skies wait for no one. 

I got lucky…though I lost out on the first round of popcorn. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


There's fog on the river this morning—a pale, ethereal veil that as I look upstream, gradually swallows both color and detail until all I can see is a mysterious luminous wall, beyond which could lie anything from Gollum's lair to Shangri-La. 

The thought occurs that a man of derring-do who'd had his coffee might immediately take it upon himself to venture yonder way and investigate…instead of merely snapping a photo and heading back inside once Moon-the-Dog had conducted her own peregrinations. However, like most such notions not acted quickly upon, the thought soon becomes as diaphanous as the fog itself and fades away.

Ahh, well…it isn't the dense all-enveloping fog the weather service predicted—the sort of fog which offers photo opportunities at every turn; a transfiguring September fog I'd hoped to spend the morning recording. But perhaps it would thicken sufficiently later on, metamorphose from the feeble into the substantial—become a real pea-souper. 

Maybe I ought to pour that second cup of coffee and be patient.         

Sunday, September 2, 2012


It happens each and every year
as August fades away like smoke
on restless winds and September begins
to slip in place and settle down—
a moment of contemplative disquiet
when I look about and see those first
cottonwoods glowing softly golden,
quiet flames refracting the pellucid light.

A startling flash of yellow
among the usual green of wooded
edge, an incandescent framing
to meadows where whitetails
feed in brittle watchfulness
as twilight wanes and katydids
proclaim their measured refrain.

So soon? I always think, transfixed by
both beauty and its implications.
But in truth this annual path is
long familiar, the cottonwoods
simply doing what should now
be expected. Why become taken
aback by a few precocious trees?

Perhaps because of what we share.
Successive autumns annually arriving
to claim their due, one bright-colored
leaf after another. Man and leaf both
have their season, eternally ordained
by heaven and earth. Fellow travelers
on a set path along time's journey—
each bound toward their certain end.

A fact which becomes clearer every year,
when I witness those turning cottonwoods.
Until I also remember what I learned
so long ago…that nothing could be better,
for either of us, than to culminate our
earthly portion swaddled in a golden glow.