Monday, November 26, 2012


Sunset with duck…

Well, another Thanksgiving has passed and the leftovers are dwindling. That isn't, by the way, a complaint regarding leftovers, which I love…possibly more than the actual feast. I'm simply thinking about how the month of November is winding down, autumn is having its last hurrah, and this particular day has come and gone—twilight having given way to starlit darkness more than an hour ago.

But then, oh, what a glorious day it has been! Nearly 50˚F, no wind, with vast blue skies and brilliant sunshine. The sort of day that could too easily become habit-forming, and which at the very least, you'd like to see repeats of hanging around until the seasons officially change. 

Here along the river, these post-Thanksgiving days have been busy. Myladylove and I have been constructing a cobblestone hearth in the great room for a woodstove, which at the moment is parked in its cardboard carton and shipping shrink-wrap, in front of one of the bookcases. There are also a couple of red-cedar 4x4x8s stacked along one wall, boxes of nails, tubes of construction adhesive, and various tools scatted about, all of which gives the room a rather industrial warehousey under-construction ambience—not the sort of place we need to be starting to decorate for Christmas. Not to mention we have no idea where we'll put the tree. 

Finally, here's a recently acquired piece of friendly advice: If, during the middle of a dark November night, you should submit to the urge to toddle through your own living room on some now-forgotten errand—a room in which a similar cast-iron stove is sitting in the way…DO NOT, in your sleepy stupidity, look upon said cast-iron lump and give it a careless bump with your hip, as if it were an overstuffed chair you might shove out of the way. Cast iron woodstoves cannot be pushed around and intimidated. Cast iron stoves are heavy, solid, and more durable than bodily flesh. And until you have the thing seated safely on its hearth, give it a wide berth. Neither pooch nor spouse will appreciate being startled awake by your wounded howls. Nor will the cast-iron woodstove care.      

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Earlier this evening I stood on the deck overlooking the river. A sliver of moon, like a pale ivory scimitar, sought its way through tangles of bare branches in the tall sycamores on the island across from the cottage. Soon it would sink over the western horizon, leaving only the light from scattered stars to punctuate the crisp darkness.

A dozen feet away water purled over riffle stones. A good sound—the murmur of a stream at peace, neither rushing nor resting, but flowing steadily along, finding its way one bend at a time to a destination already set at birth, down a pathway as ancient as surface geography. You might even call it a happy river.

I feel small when I look at the night sky. And I feel foolish when I listen to rivers. If you want to know your real worth, look up at the stars and listen to streams. Both rearrange my personal perspective while administering a dose of humility. Oddly, I find the experience reassuring, refreshing. I can't grasp one, and I don't understand the other. But I know those stars will still be out there twinkling in night skies a thousand years from now—and I know rivers will be whispering their way from source to sea. 

With me, or without me. I don't really matter; I'm not responsible.

That's comforting. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Sunrise with buzzard…

Well, yes—I have been busy, with more tasks and chores than time, energy, or nice weather for the outside stuff that needing doing, allowed. Last week I wrote five articles, finished painting, staining, and varnishing the front door (nope, haven't forgotten those promised photos) split wood, redid a kitchen light, bought and laid out paving cobbles for a hearth we're putting in the great room for a new wood stove, and ran around to endless stores and a dozen appointments. 

I still have a bit of wood to split—mostly logs which have to first be chainsawed to a shorter length so's to fit in the splitter. The wood stove has to be picked up from the farm supply store and wrangled into the house—and, of course, the hearth must be set and finished beforehand. Then, everything in place to measure accurately, the fireplace opening needs to be tightly sealed off so the stovepipe can be vented through the former opening and into the chimney.

My daughter and son-in-law will be in Florida for Thanksgiving. So we'd planned a sort of pre-Thanksgiving meal here, Sunday. I had my menue all sorted out, everything bought and ready. Dinner, I said would be at 6:00 p.m. sharp. They were going to come over a couple of hours earlier. I had various appetizers and hors d'oeuvres covered, and intended to to make this one of those leisurely get-togethers where much of the meal-prep work was accomplished early, and I could spend time with guests instead of fussing in the kitchen.

The day couldn't have been lovelier—sunny and warm enough that had it been a more midday meal, we could have been enjoyed al fresco.

Well, it was a tad windy. Gusty. Boisterous. Tempestuous. Blustery. Okay, if truth be told, at times howlin' and roarin' like a banshee. The big wind-chime which hangs near the front door and almost never feels wind sufficient to move its heavy clapper, was clanging like the tolling bells of a sinking ship. 

I'd planned to get the appetizers and hors d'oeuvres done in the morning—ready the bowls of red-bean hummus, sour-cream and fresh chives, and minted blueberry salsa, and cut my dipping veggies up. I'd fine chop several cloves of garlic and an equal amount of ginger root for later. I'd also do the salad and make a cruet of fresh dressing. Slice cheeses. Fill the relish trays.  Cut up my beef and start it marinating in the spices and orange zest. Prep and parboil green beans. And maybe bake a couple of loaves of banana walnut bread. 

About 11:00 a.m. I'd put my spiced beef with orange sauce in the oven to slowly braise. At 4:30 p.m. I'd make a quick sauce of honey, brown sugar, butter, allspice, salt, pepper, and bay leaves, simmer that for a few minutes, and pour the mix over sliced sweet potatoes wedges which would bake for about an hour. 

I could then spend time visiting and we'd munch appetizers and hors d'oeuvres.  

About twenty minutes before time to eat, I'd start a pot of water boiling. I'd also heat up a wok, add olive oil, fry the green beans, garlic, and ginger. Drop some extra-wide egg noodles into the boiling water. Finish off the stir-fried green beans with a splash of sesame oil and a good sprinkle of sea salt and parmesan cheese. Drain the noodles. Pull the braised beef from the oven to dish atop the noodles. The sweet potatoes would be ready. I could add dressing to the salad. And Myladylove would have her apple pie which she bakes for an hour inside a paper bag in the oven, ready to start. 

A good meal, all planned, tasks clicking off like clockwork, with no fuss and last-minute rushing and dithering. Just twenty minutes kitchen time after they arrived. Not time frantically spent, but leisurely man-in-control minutes, with space for thoughtful words, kidding, calm chatter. 

The power went out sometime after 10:00 a.m. Given the gale-force windy conditions, I shouldn't have been so surprised. But I have an electric stove. And while I knew I could push things until considerably later and still get dinner done…seeing as how it was a Sunday, and a holiday weekend—plus the unlikelihood we were the only area without power—I didn't want to guess how long repairs might take. After an hour or so, I called my daughter. No answer. I left a "call me" message. Five minutes after making that call, the power came back on. An hour after that my daughter called. "I thought dinner might be late, or even cancelled," I said, after telling them what happened, "but looks like everything's now a go." 

I'd barely hung up from that conversation when the power went out for the second time. I called back. Got voicemail again. "Dinner is back on standby status," I reported to an uncaring answering machine. 

The second blackout lasted longer. My great meal prep plans went out the window. Now it was a case of could we even manage a meal. Ninety minutes before dinner the power returned. Lacy and Dave arrived. The cooking schedule was impossible. No slow braise time for the beef. No veggie chopping or banana bread baking. No sitting around munching appetizers and hors d'oeuvres and chatting with the family. I sautéd the beef, added the marinating mix, and set it to a quick braise. Cut sweet potatoes, made the sauce, put the dish in the oven alongside the braising beef. Parboiled and then stir-fried the green beans. Boiled water and cooked the noodles. Salad was deemed unnecessary. Myladlylove's apple pie was bagged and started in the oven. I had to finish the sweet potatoes in the microwave.

In spite of all the uncertainly, fretting, regrouping, revising, and dishes which didn't get fixed…the meal was good and the pie excellent. A fine evening and family get together. 

I think there's a lesson in there, maybe two or three. Or perhaps the final observation is that it takes more than high wind, a couple of power outages, and hastily prepared food to keep this family from eating when we're hungry. 

Monday, November 5, 2012


We've had our frost here along the riverbank. Though my neighbor, who lives maybe seventy yards up the hill, reported a light frost in his yard a couple of weeks ago, this is our first one—probably due to the ameliorating effect of the river.

The frost's icy touch, and a temperature low of 26˚F, finally put the quietus on the zinnias and several other plants which had heretofore still been managing to serve up a bloom or two following recent nights in the lower 30s. The big, leathery leaves on the canna lilies, which were green yesterday, are a curling olive-brown this morning…meaning sometime this week I'll have to shear their stalks and dig up the roots for winter storage in the cool laundry room.

We worked on our woodpile over the weekend, splitting some larger chunks we missed last fall—though several need cutting to a shorter length, and others were too long to fit into the splitter and will have to be cut in half before we can split them. I'm probably going to have to buy a new chainsaw this year. My old one is in excellent overall shape, but is getting hard to start—at least hard for me. My aptitude for successful tinkering with any infernal combustion engine is pretty much on par with my retention of high-school calculus. It may not be cheaper to buy new, but it's less wearing on my nerves and sanity.

Moon-the-Dog got sick last night, throwing up several times until there was just nothing more left to come out. The most recent episode was about 4:00 a.m. I've been up most of the night, sitting in the front room with her so Myladylove could get some sleep and be able to manage work. I don't know whether Moon ate something she shouldn't have while outdoors yesterday, or if this is another, more serious problem.

She's been okay so far this morning—no additional episode—but I've only fed her a bit of a scrambled egg and maybe a teaspoon of canned dog food. Her appetite seems good. Had I given it to her, she would have eaten her usual bowl-full—but I figured it best to go slow and see how she did with just a bite or two.

I'm worried and feeling pretty awful from my own lack of sleep.  I love my faithful dog dearly. She's been there with me through some of the worst and best times of my life. But to everything there is a season…and Moon is 15 years old. Time always wins.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Another week is winding down and another day—the first of a new month—has all but slipped away. More to the point, this has definitely not been last week's version of autumn, a distinction that felt quite apparent when I got my macho going, though perhaps not all of my brain, and accompanied Moon-the-Dog outdoors…shirtless. 

The temperature was a nippy 47˚F. I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that it felt cold and I could see my breath. Then I glanced around. Sunset was cranking up in the west. The sky gone all orange and blue. A stunning farewell gift. In spite of being woefully underdressed for a protracted pause, I still manage to lose myself watching the way the river caught and held the colors, blending, intensifying, giving them the magic of life and movement as the current rippled and swirled along.     

I don't know why I haven't written a post lately. General ennui, maybe. Or perhaps distraction. Like most folks, I've spent a lot of time throughout the week watching Hurricane Sandy stalk its way ashore and chew up the East coast. Even now, I expect the latest aftermath coverage has yet to reveal the full extent of that super-storm's powerful destruction. Every so often, it seems, least we become convinced of our mastery of water and land, nature must show us otherwise.  

I feel so bad for those folks who've just lost everything. It's easy to say that so long as you have your life, the rest is just stuff and doesn't matter…but really, while stuff may not be the most important thing, it's important, nevertheless. When you're down to the shirt on your back and everything you've worked for is suddenly reduced to a ripped-apart, waterlogged mess, it's mighty hard to feel optimistic. Perspective takes time, and some things can honestly never be replaced. Dreams and hearts have been broken, and lives shattered.  

While some of the news maps showed all of Ohio as being affected by power outages, damaging winds, and snow, that really wasn't case here in the southwest corner. We received a couple of windy days, lingering colder temperatures, and a bit of rain. Power and cable service held. I did once, and only briefly, see a few snowflakes mixed in with the raindrops. Small limbs fell from a few trees. Otherwise, I still have flowers blooming, and on the island across from the cottage, lots of trees retain their leaves; most of mine were bare before the storm. 

I'd like to believe I've been silent because, living beside a river, in tornado country, I well know—but for the grace of God and a turn of winds and rain, it could just as easily have been my little corner of the world on the news. And for that I'm very thankful.