Thursday, November 30, 2017

Turning The Page On November


I awoke before 5 this morning when the bedroom was still swathed in darkness relieved only by the glow of the night light in the hallway. It was too early to go downstairs, too early to create the clatter that accompanies refilling the wood stove.  I stirred cautiously, feeling the heavy warmth of Chester-cat who sleeps on my feet.  The cats know when I am awake, no matter that I am quiet. They plod in from the guest bedroom across the hall, bounce onto the bed, bounce down again.  I hear them milling about in the gloom beyond the bed--they would like me to get up, trudge downstairs, turn on lights, open the porch door onto the morning.



There was no frost last night, the morning dawned with only a faint wash of pink staining pearl grey clouds.


For more than a week we have enjoyed sunny, nearly windless days following on frosty nights. 
The afternoon landscape has been gold-washed, mellow.  Trees, fence posts, buildings, cast long shadows.  Days are short with the sun sliding behind the western ridge around 4 o'clock. 
We live only a mile from the invisible line dividing eastern and central time zones. Although our home is on the central side of the line, at this time of year we are very aware of the early darkness, regardless of the clocks.


On Saturday after  a lunch assembled from holiday left-overs, I announced my intention to climb the steep trail that follows the spine of the western ridge. 


The rough trail lies beyond the leaning gate. Climbing, one can turn and view the lower house, the barn and the goat pastures.


The trail viewed in a zoom shot from the back door of the barn.


I was surprised that Jim was willing to walk with me.
The ground flattens out at the top of the ridge after a steep climb. 
I didn't 'puff' as much as I expected.  Jim brought along his very sharp garden pruners to snip off brambles that had trailed into the path. While he attacked stray runners of wild rose and honeysuckle I had a chance to lean momentarily on my walking stick and catch my breath.


I am intrigued by the persimmon trees which grow on top of the ridge.


With most of the leaves gone treetops become sculpture against a blue sky.
I look up with my camera until I become slightly dizzy!




By the time we plunged back down the ridge trail the last slanting rays of sun washed the trees along the creek in a splash of red-gold, in brilliant contrast to the shadowed slopes beyond and the shorn and stubbled field along the road.


Renny--who knows he is handsome.

I have made every excuse to be outside during the warmer noontime hours.
The barn cats find sunny places to lounge once the frost and dew have 'burned off.'

Nosy teeters on the edge of the goats' water tub.


The yearling does gaze up the length of their pasture. 
The bottom of the ridge trail is visible, cutting its winding way through leafless trees.



Jim and our neighbor/renter F. made good use of the sunny days to continue stocking our respective wood sheds.
Last spring Jim moved the small shed which once served the leather shop near the lower house, hauling it up the lane and settling it outside the overhead doors which he installed in the former back entry/washroom.  The shed is stuffed full of seasoned firewood within easy reach.

Still more wood stacked against the wall of the stable.
Rather than housing an Amish horse and buggy the stable now provides parking spaces for Jim's ever changing collection of farm tractors.


Shadow-cat, who visits from next door, is familiarizing himself with the scent of creatures who might once have been at home in this wood while it was still standing.


Charlie has decided that Shadow is an intruder, so he crouches menacingly at the base of the wood stack.



The wood pile in black and white.


Several times today the sun scrambled from under shifting layers of clouds, only to be quickly  blanketed again by lowering billows of grey. Rain has mizzled down in a fine mist. The boy cats have dashed outside and returned disgruntled with damp fur.  I walked up the lane at dusk after a visit to the barn cats;  the air clung softly, the smell of wet leaves, dying gardens, wood smoke , all harbingers of  the countryside shifting into the somnolence of approaching winter.
For me winter arrives, not with the solstice, but with the turning of the calendar page to December.




Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Week



There has been a pleasant sameness in the weather this week, after the previous onslaughts of rain and wind.
Mornings have been silver-frosted-- grass, fence posts, roofs glittering as the sun rises slowly over the eastern ridge. 
Walking down the lane in mid-morning I note that the sheen of wet grass is over-laid with stripes of white where the shadow of a tree or power pole slows the strengthening warmth of the sun.


The boy cats clamor to go outside when I come downstairs a bit after 6 a.m.
The edge of the retaining wall offers a spot to warm and dry off furry paws that have gotten chilled in the first explorations of the day.
It was 22 F at 6:15 on this Thanksgiving morn. The 'boys' seemed disgruntled, surprised by the cold, almost expecting me to instantly fix temperatures more to their liking. 


With nearly all the leaves blown to the ground, morning light has a different quality, flowing over objects that have been previously lurking in shade.  Branches are sharply etched against  clear skies. Plumes of wood smoke announce that someone is stirring, greeting the day.


Jim has firewood harvest privileges at the Amish farm up the road. He and our neighbor/renter have spent several mornings this week pulling out 'tops' left from a logging operation, cutting them into stove lengths and then using the wood splitter to make more manageable chunks.
Both men enjoy the work, carried on in the crisp sunny weather.  They roar in with old Snort'n Nort'n loaded to capacity and stash the wood, turn about, at our place or the lower one.


On Monday, I kept Dazee Belle while our friends made a routine trip to Nashville.  Dazee has outgrown some of her puppy ways and is a more docile visitor than she was a year ago.  I take her out on her lead, let her rootle about in the fallen leaves, sniff along the fence.
She hears her owners' car chugging up the lane early in the evening and welcomes their return, wriggling with delight, bouncing about the front door as they pull to a stop.


Tuesday I drove to the South Fork community, wanting salad makings for Thanksgiving dinner. 
Bins and baskets of apples line the outer entry; the scent of apples is heady-sweet on the cool air.


A grocery cart has been heaped a variety of pumpkins.  A hand-lettered sign announces that they are 'pie pumpkins' for those purists who don't buy pumpkin tidily processed and packed. 

[Making pumpkin puree is a fairly lengthy task--cutting up the pumpkin, scraping out seeds and their stringy surrounding pulp, roasting the chunks of pumpkin, then finally scooping the cooked flesh from the rind and putting it through a food mill.  I buy mine in cans.]

This was our first Thanksgiving at home in several years. Daughter and her husband are in Vermont for the week, so grandson joined us for dinner.
I felt I was being quite organized. I didn't want to fuss with a whole turkey, so bought a hickory smoked turkey breast which was gently thawing after a week's incarceration in the freezer.  By Wednesday evening the kitchen was fragrant with pumpkin pudding just out of the oven, a pastry shell was ready to pop in, fruited jello settled in a glass bowl in the fridge, two extra pies tucked in the freezer for future reference. 


I nipped out early to record our  holiday morning weather, fed the outdoor cats, prodded the fire into renewed life.


 I squeezed fresh lemons for pie filling, whipped egg whites to glossy peaks. 


It was a temptation to be outside in the sun as the temperature climbed.
Instead I peeled potatoes and butternut squash, decided to cook them on the wood stove. 



Glancing out the window I noticed that Willis, his morning rounds completed, had settled for a nap in the buggy.


Jim acquired the Amish buggy along with the farm swap.  It has been stored at various places, and has now been lodged for the winter on a corner of the long front porch.
The cats were immediately interested, so Jim provided a thick old quilt for their comfort.



Our porch chairs and settee remain on the south facing side of the wrap-around porch and are layered with old rugs and throws for the cats. Two blanket-lined baskets on the  lower back porch offer another choice of snug cat beds.
If Willis has chosen the buggy as his preferred shelter I expect the other cats will need his approval to share the space.


To borrow a phrase from  Garrison Keillor, "It has been a quiet week"--one of beneficent weather, of unhurried accomplishments. 
I won't need to cook tomorrow--the fridge is stocked with appealing left-overs.
I can think of no urgent tasks to demand my attention.
A sunny day--and warmer--is forecast.
There should be time to meander outdoors with my camera, to visit the goats and the barn cats next door, time perhaps in the afternoon for a book and a mug of tea.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Moody Weather


Second week of the reversion to 'standard time' and I've not accomplished the reset of my internal clock. Evenings seem to begin shortly after noon and drag on for hours, while I tell myself that I am not sleepy.  I'm doing better with mornings--downstairs not long after six the past two mornings.
Jim has battled a cold/cough and is content to sleep in.
The cats have likewise not adjusted and begin begging for their 'tea' at the usual time. I could humor them, but I tell them 'soon' knowing they will accept the winter hours after a few more days have passed.
Morning temperatures have hovered around the freezing mark; most days have had a sunless start.
A hint of blue sky is worth recording.



Jim, bundled up against drizzling rain, tackled a dead tree at the edge of the woods. 



He brought it round to the wood shed and ran the chunks through the wood splitter.


Rain and wind have swept down the russet leaves of oak and hickory leaving the lane a bleak prospect on a gloomy day.


The view beyond the stable into the woods is now one of nearly bare branches rearing tipsily against the sky.


There was sunshine much of today.  The cats popped in and out whenever a door was opened.
The concrete retaining wall which faces the front of the house becomes a favorite vantage point for them--dry and sun-warmed when the long grass and weeds are damp and chilly.


Willis, mindful of his responsibilities, waits at the bend of the lane to escort me when I return from  walking to the mailbox.


When rain threatens or the wind blows cold, Willis appreciates his blanket lined basket on the sheltered back porch.


Bonny has been sorting the goats into winter pastures. 
These three girls are keeping company with Dandelion the senior buck.
When I walked past this afternoon he hooted loudly, asserting lordly dominance over the little group. 
The young does [born in the spring of 2016] are enjoying the companionship of a younger buck in a pasture behind the barn.


Seed heads still cling to the clematis vine, a collage of muted color.


In the sheltered corner near the side porch self-sown petunias straggle over the wall. 


One brave nasturtium, a remnant of summer, has thus far survived the frosty nights.

Being much indoors during the moody weather I've been sewing, reading.  The piano tuner  was here last week prompting me to spend a bit more time going over music--nothing very challenging.

Dashing outside on some errand means finding a jacket--soon I will want a scarf, gloves.

I am somewhat astonished to realize that this will be our 4th winter in the farmhouse.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Days of Sunshine, Days of Rain


Golden days and chilly nights ushered out the last full week of October.
I spent as much time outside as possible once the sun crept over the eastward ridge, burning off the dew and warming the air. 
It was cool enough to warrant a fire first thing in the morning and again in the evening.


As I look out the kitchen window above the sink, each day a bit more sky has become visible as the leaves drift down to litter the track that follows the narrow ravine.


Frost warnings were posted for our area, and for several mornings I came downstairs a bit after 6 to find that the red needle on the thermometer stood at 30 degrees F--a mere 2 notches below freezing.  Strangely, we hadn't yet been touched by frost here on the hill, although our garden at the bottom of the lane showed a few traces of limp and shriveled leaves.
Trees and buildings stood out sharply against the burning blue of the sky.  White cloud puffs drifted gently above  burnished hills and fields of corn and soybeans bleached dry and awaiting harvest.




We spent the sunny afternoon of October 22nd harvesting our sweet potato crop.


My job was to crawl along the rows with a pair of utility shears, lopping off the thickly tangled vines so that Jim could determine where to carefully dig into each hill.


Jim heaped the potatoes into large plastic trays which he stacked in the tractor's bucket to be trundled up the lane.


The young goats watched us from their nearby pasture.
As we finished work in the garden the afternoon grew colder.
I hurried to bring in the flowering plants which summer on the porch, trimming leggy begonias and geraniums, finding places for a few on the pantry shelf in front of the window, lining others on old tables where they can catch pale winter light through the basement windows.
Jim came to the rescue as I was staggering in with my Norfolk Island Pine in its heavy pot; it spends each winter in the cool 'sun room.'



We woke next morning to find that a killing frost had altered the landscape.
Frosted mornings, biting wind, scudding grey clouds replaced blue skies and golden sunshine.


The gardens took on a bleak and wasted look, only the late planting of kale and broccoli are still crisp and green.



Lavender sprawls over the side porch steps, the low creeping foliage of spice pinks holds its grey green color, as yet unchallenged by the frost, but the brilliant heads of the self-seeded cockscomb are shriveled and drooping.


J's nephew and family arrived from Wyoming to work on land they own at the other end of the county. Seemingly they brought with them fitful, often heavy rain which has hampered their intentions to install a small stove in their camp, improve the rough road into the property.
Jim has roared back and forth hauling over tractors and bush hog.

I've had the delightful company of our nephew's wife and little daughter; I offered to prepare the main dish for a hot meal each day--the sort of food I cooked decades ago on the farm when we had extra mouths to feed. While the men pitted themselves and their machinery against rain and mud, my kitchen was warm and fragrant with lentil soup, onions and green peppers frying in olive oil, ready to be mixed with home-canned tomatoes, rice, a sprinkling of herbs.  
A huge pot of chili mac simmered on the back of the wood stove nearly all of one day; 
I made bread for the sandwiches that went to the work site, bread for morning toast, bread to dip into the curried veg and barley soup which made itself in the slow cooker while we made a leisurely round of the Amish/Mennonite shops at the South Fork community.


I brought home a stainless steel food mill to replace an ancient one.
I was up early next morning to stew up apples and put them through my shiny new unit, pleased with the big bowl of warm applesauce to add to our breakfast.


Bread to share with family and neighbors.
[The divided loaves are what I make when there are only two of us at home.  The halves can be frozen and brought out as needed so that a whole loaf doesn't go stale.]


It has been a busy several weeks. As I work thoughts and phrases chase through my mind, wanting expression, if only to create a record of my days.
Yet, when I sit at my desk, my brain is fuzzed with tiredness, my eyes droop as I read, comments aren't posted, nor words typed to join the photos languishing in several drafts. 
[I may yet edit those posts although the contents will hardly be 'breaking news.']

Today has been cloudy, mild and damp, afternoon melding seamlessly with early darkness. 
It is time to set the clocks back an hour [why must we attempt to meddle!] It is time to experience again this season of in between--the weeks that here in Kentucky are no longer brilliant autumn, not yet winter.