Friday, July 20, 2018

"Gone Up The Flue"


Thursday was a day of intensely blue skies, frothy white clouds, heat that tipped into the edge of the 90's F.  I went out early to water plants on the porch and on the landing at the bottom of the steps, then scuttled back inside.
It seemed a day to tackle the mess of 'stuff' in the basement storage room, a task that I've picked at a few times and then abandoned.

Boxes holding a tumble of books that never made it into the upstairs book shelves;  oddments of crockery, a basket with a broken handle, bins of fabric remnants,  a jumble of bits that should likely have gone away long ago.
I tied on an old apron and began with the books.  I decided on several categories: 'keepers'--those that I would re-read;  books on gardening and home decorating suitable to donate to the local library;  paperbacks in good condition to drop off at the charity shop;  a few foxed and musty volumes destined for the burn pile.
I made the mistake of reading half a paperback, dustcloth trailing from my pocket, before deciding that it belonged in the charity shop pile, then gave myself a mental shake and the stern admonition to get on with the task.

 I carried an armload of items well past their prime out to the area we use as a burn pit and resolutely lit a fire.
By mid-afternoon I was grubby and tiredness was undermining my resolve. There is something sad about sifting through a stash of belongings--finding a box of photos that remind of other times, other places, friends and family no longer with us. 

I uncover a shattered bone china teacup, part of a set received long ago as a gift, but seldom used. Finding a clean bit of rag I carefully wipe the remaining cups and saucers, set them gently with the sugar bowl and creamer in a small box padded with newspaper.  Surely someone will find them pretty enough to carry home from the charity shop.

I have salvaged items which still have enough meaning to keep;  I have steeled myself to add to the smoldering burn pile things which have become clutter, not worthy to be offered to anyone.

I am burning memories, reminders of my own years and times, and notably, a few such that came into my keeping years ago--musty journals with yellowing pages, fading ink, records of  thoughts and happenings experienced well before my time.
Inevitably, I will at some point be gripped by a fleeting pang of yearning for something given away, some item consigned to my bonfire.


As I work I think of my Uncle Bill.  Bill became, by default, the custodian of the family home, taking on in mid-life the housekeeping duties for his widowed father.
Once a week he presided over the Maytag wringer washer, pegged out sheets of startling whiteness to snap on the backyard clothesline.  In springtime he bundled woolens into trunks reeking of mothballs; when the frosts of autumn arrived he took them out again to be aired on a fine day of sunshine and chilly wind. He wielded mops and brooms, sloshed about with buckets of suds. 

Periodically he burned things.

Small items, papers, scraps of this and that went into the kitchen woodstove.  Larger things--a broken chair, a rickety crate, a mouse-bespoiled box of old letters retrieved from the attic--such things were lugged to the edge of the pasture below the kitchen window and set alight.

Bill did have a sense of things that should be saved, hoarded, tucked away. 
He could be crafty about this, whisking treasures upstairs to his clean but increasingly cluttered north bedroom.  Occasionally my grandfather would inquire, testily, where something had gone; my mother might wistfully recall some item that had belonged to her mother or grandmother and would request to know its where-abouts.  Bill's standard response to these quite legitimate queries was a truculent announcement, "It's gone up the flue!"
Although my grandfather sputtered in exasperation and my mother fretted, neither of them seemed to doubt that the item in question had been reduced to ashes.

Uncle Bill survived my grandfather by six years, living alone in the old farmhouse, puttering amongst his belongings--which he referred to collectively as 'my inheritance.' 
In the weeks following his death my mother, my sisters and I tackled the sorting of a house that held the belongings of 4 generations. 
Opening the door to Bill's bedroom we found stacked trunks, piled boxes, small tables groaning under a weight of miscellany.  The trunks held hand-stitched quilts, neatly laundered years ago and folded away.  Tucked down the side of a trunk, in a bundle carefully tied with string, were the letters written home from 'somewhere in France' by the great uncle who had been a casualty of the Second Battle of the Marne.
My mother spread the letters in her lap, handled them in astonishment.
The letters had supposedly 'gone up the flue' in one of her brother's fits of frenetic house cleaning.

Sifting through boxes, sorting, keeping, discarding, I chide myself for having lugged with us to this house, things which I no longer need,  items which have lost their relevance.  Waves of nostalgia threaten and I set aside boxes of photos--keepers--knowing that I cannot take the time just now to handle them one by one, to flounder in memories. 
Trudging to the burn pile with a few stray items I remind myself that I am being sensible, creating some sort of order where clutter has lurked.
Those first forlorn boxes of tattered pages, the splintery wooden shelf, the bedraggled  ornaments, an ancient  and faded stuffed toy--have all settled into a glowing heap, shapes charred to soft ash, no longer recognizable.
I find a rake, spread the remaining coals to die on the cobbled ground.  
The job isn't  finished, but the harder decisions have been made, sensible, irrevocable.

 The storage room doesn't yet look better for my efforts; still, the sorting and categorizing has made a good start. Next week when I can deliver boxes to their planned destinations, I can do a thorough sweeping and dusting, line up the cartons of things I mean to keep.
I tell myself that what remains to be done will be easier. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Snort'n Nort'n Rides Into the Sunset


Yesterday the old Dodge truck, fondly known as 'Snort'n Nort'n' was driven down the lane by a new owner. Over the winter Jim managed to become the owner of three trucks.  [Four if you count the one bought as a 'parts truck.']  Three trucks and a car add up when it comes to registration, insurance and maintenance. 

The 1992 Dodge Cummins Diesel Ram is the 4th year in the series which came to be known as First Generation Dodge Cummins trucks.
The first ones rolled onto show room floors in 1989, and Jim looked them over with a certain longing, but decided, quite sensibly, that buying one was not within our budget.

 Over the years a succession of trucks were parked in our dooryard--first in Vermont and then in Wyoming, a state where pickup trucks are the usual mode of transportation.

We had been living in Wyoming a few years when our son, Howard, learned that a rancher near his workplace was planning to trade his 1992 Dodge for a newer model.
Based on Howard's description of the truck and its good condition, Jim tore over South Pass to the dealership in Big Piney and made arrangements to purchase the truck--before it even arrived on the lot.  A few days later, on a frigid winter morning we were in the familiar Chevy truck chugging over the mountain to collect the blue Dodge. 

Jim led the way back down the mountain and through Red Canyon driving his prize, while I trundled behind in the Chevy.
The truck proved to be the work horse that Jim needed for hauling construction machinery and building supplies.
The diesel engine had an impressive roar, one which Jim's Siamese cat, Raisin, uncannily learned to distinguish from the many other trucks which traversed the road above the house.  As the hour approached each evening for Jim's homecoming, Raisin took up a listening post at the bottom of the stairs. As Jim down-shifted on approach to our drive, Raisin moved to the glass-paneled front door ready to greet her lord and master. 

When our grandson came to Wyoming for a summer visit he fell in love with the blue Dodge and christened him 'Snort'n Nort'n.'
From that day on, the truck was referred to as 'he' or 'Nort'n.'

Nort'n was essentially a man's truck. The driver's seat had stuck far back, a position that was perfect for the long-legged, tall men of the family.  I didn't often have to drive Nort'n, but when I did, after futile wrestling with the seat adjustments, I resorted to hauling an assortment of work jackets from the back cab, rolling them up to stuff behind me and perched on the edge of the seat. 
Driving a 5 speed standard shift truck wasn't usually a challenge for me; driving Nort'n I often felt that I needed to wrap myself around the steering column and hover over the steering wheel!

That being said, if I had to drive the truck I made the most of the noise and smoke, double clutching and letting him roar!
We bought a second-hand clean slide-in camper and Nort'n took us for weekends in the mountains.


The box/bed on the truck became rather battered, so Jim replaced it with a flatbed with 5th wheel 
plate.
Here Nort'n is at one of our building sites.





About a year before we left Wyoming, Nort'n  was refurbished.  Note the sturdy front bumper--meant to save the truck if an unfortunate collision with moose, elk or mule deer should occur.

We drove Nort'n from Wyoming to Kentucky on our search for a retirement home in February, 2010. 
A few weeks later Nort'n was part of the convoy hauling our worldly goods across country in the last fierce blizzard of the season.




Jim's decision to put Nort'n up for sale last month was not lightly taken.  When a vehicle has been part of a family's work and recreation for more than a dozen years, it takes on a personality. 
A great many memories, thousands of miles, and an era has come to its end.

Jim feels that Nort'n  has gone to the best possible new owner.  This man has wanted a first generation Dodge Cummins for years and is enthusiastic about his plans for restoration. 
His parting words as he eased into the driver's seat and switched on the engine, "I'll be taking good care of this truck!"

Monday, July 2, 2018

July Heat





It is worth recording that today [Monday] is our 4th straight day without rain!  I must admit that now, at 6 P.M. the sky has darkened to the north-east and there is a clatter of distant thunder.
The thermometer outside the kitchen window stands at 81--a good drop from the 92 F that has been our lot since mid-morning.


 There was a massing of pewter-grey clouds this morning hovering above the blue.
By 8 A.M. with the housewifely chore of sweeping the porch accomplished and some rooted cuttings of begonia potted up, I was happy to come inside. My fresh cotton shirt had started to cling uncomfortably to my back.   The boy cats had been outside with me 'helping' to sweep down the concrete steps and carry off an armful of weeds and trimmings left from yesterday's labors.


The center of a coneflower, petals tattered by rain and heat.

Saturday evening at near dusk I began rather desultorily to root out sprigs of grass that had taken up residence in cracks along the front sidewalk. This brought me into close encounter with several lavenders near the porch steps; they have been looking bedraggled, stems and leaves going black with too much rain. 
I went out Sunday morning quite early armed with snipers and began a drastic pruning. One of the plants is likely beyond help; another that I pruned down to one or two stems may struggle along.  The third lavender in that area will do, I hope, unless we have another series of heavy deluges.


Coneflower nearly ready to bloom.


From the front steps I moved down to the gravelly herb bed and began trimming the lavender there. Most of these have fared better in the rain due to the gritty soil.  Jim sliced off a drooping branch of the rugosa which hangs over the steps [this done about 10 days ago] but I still managed to catch my fingers on thorns at the base of the bush.  I've not met anything with more bristly canes than a rugosa. 
Working around to the lawn edge of the herb plot [marked by another rugosa--neither of my planting!] I moved slowly up the slope, pulling grass from the tangle of sprawling thyme. Running my hand under the matted clumps, I hauled out old dead stems.  I have both lemon thyme and English thyme bordering the concrete walk; both have thrived there and I  think any gaps will quickly close with new growth.



Pulling away a clump of grass I discovered a toad sheltering in the relatively cool and moist space under one of the concrete slabs.  A few feet down the border I had nearly put my hand on a toad half buried in soil beneath the trailing stems of thyme. 
When I moved the blades of grass hoping for a clearer photo of the toad it objected to my encroachment on its space and shuffled farther into the darkness beneath the step.

I hoped to continue weeding all the way to the end of the concrete walk--several more plants of lavender and thyme to trim, more tuffets of grass beyond the steps.
I had been scrupulous about heaving myself up from my knees about every 20 minutes and going to the kitchen for water.  Reluctantly I had to admit that the rising heat was getting the better of me.  I was hot, sticky, tired. I reckoned I had been working outside for nearly 3 hours--enough in the punishing heat and humidity. 
Time for my second cool shower of the day--clean clothes [again!] from the skin out.
The boy cats had long since retreated to the cool of the house. 
They go outside early in the morning now and are anxious to come inside as the heat of the day increases--although, oddly, they are apt to sprawl in an upstairs bedroom where the A/C is not on except at night.


A few stems of platycodon [balloon flower] have persisted among the weeds near the retaining wall.


One of the two miniature roses which survived the early spring frosts. This one shares its container with a lavender which seeded itself last autumn from an over-reaching spray of  florets.


When I went out the basement door to empty the de-humidifier bucket, this Io moth was clinging to the door molding. I touched it very gently--it didn't move.


 I lifted one wing portion carefully, exposing the distinctive 'eye' marking. 
The moth fluttered to the floor.
The tattered edges on the wings suggest that it was nearing the end of its short life span. 


I lifted the moth carefully to a nearby begonia which summers on the shady porch. 
When I looked for it later, it had gone.

We again had business errands in town this morning--quickly sorted.
I had requested potting soil so Jim drove to the local Wal Mart [sigh] and parked the car near the pallets of gardening supplies at the far end of the lot.
I selected an 'organic garden soil' mixture which had been reduced to half price.
We walked to the garden center check out and I handed the thin sun-browned man minding the register the details that I had copied from the sacks of soil. He searched diligently through his binder of bar codes for soil, mulch and fertilizer, finally concluded that we must have chosen a 'hold-over' from last season.  We were dispatched with a cart to trundle a sack to the counter to be rung up--times 8 as I was pleased with the price. 
Having paid for the 8 bags I asked if we needed to present the register slip to someone over-seeing the lot of garden goods. 
The wiry gentleman smiled, "No, just load your 8 bags--most people don't steal dirt!"

Home again to scrub and boil new Yukon Gold potatoes. Jim decided to begin digging potatoes rather than have them remain in wet soil.  He has declared that he can happily eat potato salad for many hot weather meals.  Tomatoes are starting to ripen in spite of the wet; green peppers are outdoing themselves.  I miss the fresh green beans we usually harvest at this time.  I balked at the thought of picking bush beans this year--bought seed for the climbing variety--but 'someone' didn't construct 'climbers' for beans--so--we are without. 
Beets germinated erratically, Swiss chard not at all. 
Okra is coming on and Jim likes it breaded and added to a stir fry.
We work outside [or Jim in his shop] for awhile, come indoors to drink ice water, rummage out a fresh shirt.
July--not ever my favorite month--a time, where ever we have lived, of relentless heat.
 I am headed to the rocking chair on the porch to watch the green darkness move in--bowl of chocolate gelato in hand.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Weary of the Weather!


A view of lowering, slate-colored skies has become a new 'normal.'
Storms have raged about bringing sudden deluges of rain,  sharp pitchforks of lightning, bellows of thunder that send the cats scurrying to hide under furniture or behind the laundry basket. 

Continuing errands have taken us out in the weather, driving along winding roads that are awash with puddles, bordered by ditches that stream with brown swirling water.
The rain has brought with it no cooler temperatures; brief moments of sunshine cause the air to turn to sticky steam.
Clambering out of a vehicle, having struggled into a slicker, I feel rain sluice down my neck.  Opening the car door results in spatters of rain on the door interior and on the seats of the car. 
A few moments outside, encased in my red slicker, leave me feeling clammy--disheveled. 

It has been impossible to sit on the porch--even when the rain stops briefly, the chair cushions feel slightly soggy although they've not actually been wet.
The boy cats who usually spend daylight hours prowling outdoors, ask to go out, then quickly decide that they would rather be inside, safe from the threat of another cloud burst.


Late last week and through the weekend we watched the young phoebes in their now crowded nest on the shed downspout. They jostled, flexing legs, flapping wings, teetering dangerously on the edge of their nest. We expected to see one or more plummet to the ground. The parents continued to feed them with tasty tidbits, swooping in through wind and wet. 

When we returned late on Monday afternoon, only one baby bird remained in the nest.  I fretted that the others had been snatched on their first halting flight--Willow and Charlie have several times been seen crouched with patient interest below the nest. 

Leaves fluttered on the tulip poplar tree near the shed, and Jim spied three baby birds balancing on a slender branch.  The parents hovered between them and the smaller sibling still in the nest.
Dusk came early, the three-quarter moon was obscured by inky clouds. Baby bird bobbed up and down in the nest which with the departure of his siblings must have seemed suddenly roomy.
In the morning the nest was empty. 
The phoebe family is still nearby, the fledglings growing so rapidly that they are nearly indistinguishable from their parents.
My eyes, accustomed to watching the activities of the birds, still go by habit to the empty nest.


Beyond the wooden fence at the foot of the weedy garden, the sometime brook has surged over its bounds, sweeping gravel into the pasture. Bits of trash--and an old tire--have been carried along and deposited untidily.
Weeding is impossible, the soil squelchy.  Weeds and perennial plants alike have grown over-tall with too much moisture and too little sun.  Phlox has bloomed ahead of time.


The earliest blooming asclepias has formed green pods like tiny lanterns.


The silky petal cups of Rose of Sharon have been pummeled with rain.


Stalks of clary sage near the side porch walk have been beaten down by the excess of rain pouring from the roof.  Lavender planted along the walk is turning to sodden browning clumps--not a plant that loves wet feet.  Drastic pruning may save some of it--if the rain ceases for a few days.


One of the dwarf lilies has bloomed. Those planted in tubs on the porch have a healthier environment than those trying to anchor themselves in the sodden garden.


Begonias on the porch are a bright spot.  The red-flowered one is a survivor of five or six seasons--I bought the yellow this spring to replace one that languished and died in winter quarters.


Willis--faithful friend--accompanies me on my brief slogs around the dooryard, stepping with dainty distaste, coming back to the porch to shake his paws dry and sprawl on the rug-covered settee.


Even Crumple, the half wild visitor, has taken to sheltering on the porch.  I've learned that he is dividing his time between our dooryard and the goat barn down the lane.

We fret--uselessly--over the state of the garden; we have an ongoing harvest of cucumbers and green peppers, a few tomatoes brought in half ripe.  We fear for the Yukon Gold potatoes--so much wet and the tubers will rot before they can mature. 

At the Beachy's produce farm up the road, corn has formed ears on strangely dwarfed stalks. 
We bought several rounds of fresh blueberries from the local berry farm; lack of rain earlier meant smaller berries--too much rain has shortened the time of harvest.
This is our 9th summer in Kentucky.  Each season has been different: several brought us near drought in mid-summer; this is perhaps the 3rd one when June has been a disheartening month of constant rain.  Last summer was so temperately lovely that we marveled.

Our two houses here have sound roofs, water-tight basements.  We grumble about the unpleasant weather but we are 'high and dry.'
Many homes in the area--built too near the network of creeks--have taken on water in the basements--a sorry plight. 

The vagaries of weather reduce humankind to a humble status--unable to do anything but endure, hoping for favorable change. 
I note the 5-day forecast; Jim tracks storms on doplar;  we mutter complaints, fret over the garden, worry a bit about friends and family who may be in the path of an on-coming storm.

We slog about tending to rather more errands than usual, returning home to seek out dry shoes.
With outdoor work at a standstill, we distract ourselves by planning future projects. 
I read--familiar well-loved books;  Jim watches TV--nature programs, wild noisy westerns. 
When the rain lets up Jim roars to the lower garden on the 4-wheeler--comes back to deposit muddy cucumbers on the counter by the sink.
Someday the rainy season will abate--and we will go out, with resignation, to see what we can salvage. 


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Showery Mid-Summer


Time has moved along since I loaded and saved these photos a week ago. 
The day before the summer solstice was clear with a brilliant blue sky, light wind driving puffy white clouds across the sky.  Since then, the weather has deteriorated into steamy heat, thunderstorms and rain. 
Gardens have been lashed by a series of pounding storms; creeks are swollen to overflowing with muddy rushing water.

The sometimes dry brook along our lane is noisy with the flow of water that has brought from somewhere a collection of trash including a discarded car tire. 
The sun comes out briefly, then disappears as another bank of black clouds ushers in more rain and lashing wind.
We have been unusually busy--a variety of people in and out--errands, meals at odd times.
Sleep has eluded me during nights disturbed by crackling lightning and thunder that booms and echos up and down the ridges and hollows.
I share these photos--now out-of date--even as more rain assaults us, drumming on the metal roof of the house as we prepare for bed. 



















Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Chasing Myself


The ten days since my last post have been busy, and yet I find it difficult to list any grand accomplishments of my own.
Jim launched himself into a late spring cleaning out doors, using the power washer and a long handled brush to scrub down the siding of both houses and his workshop.  A few summers of muggy heat and patches of greenish mold accumulate especially on the shady side of a building. He used a ladder, managed to soak numerous shirts and his shoes, coming indoors for a break squelching and dripping. 

Poppies, 'Lauren's Grape.'

With the scrubbing finished, Jim roared about with the lawn mower, tractor and bush-hog to cut the pastures and the verges of the lane.  He obligingly ran the weed-whacker over a tangle of mugwort which made it slightly easier for me to continue the herculean task of forking the noxious stuff out of the perennial strips. 
While Jim labored with power tools and machinery, I divided my time between gardening and doing much needed sorting and tidying in the house. 
When it has seemed that I could do no more I have collapsed into a rocking chair on the porch, mug of tea or a glass of icy lemonade at hand, and enjoyed the company of the hummingbirds who zoom and dart on a near collision course with each other.

Clary sage in bud.
 The front door was needing a touch-up coat of paint.  I found the can of dark red paint and offered to take on that task. Jim, unstoppable, did the job while I was making lunch--and went on to paint the side door from the porch into the Amish 'washroom' which has become our garage and back entry. 
[Amish houses are built with many exterior doors--Jim thinks it may be for cross-ventilation.]
We have remarked that all the exterior doors on the lower house needed paint--the former owners painted them in an odd shade of muddy pink--a most unusual color for an Amish house.
Consulted as to an appropriate color I chose a mossy green.

Clary sage in exotic bloom.



Hours of labor involved in grubbing up mugwort--a 5-gallon bucket filled several times with stringy roots and such stalks as grew too close to salvageable plants for lopping with the weed whacker.
I set in three starts of asclepias incarnata [a relative of milkweed much loved by butterflies] and two achillia which I hope may be self-sown starts of the variety 'Moonshine'--should it prove to be the common white wildling at least it may hold its own with the mugwort.

Two veronicas, purchased more than a month ago at a local nursery, went into the space left when two monardas vanished over the winter. 
Willis, as usual, has been a constant companion while I labored in the garden.
Sadly, I must report that he has been digging in my freshly turned earth--not for the expected purpose of creating a latrine, but seemingly in a frenzy of flinging dirt about--just because he can!

The surviving monarda [bee balm]

Autumn clematis 'Sweet Summer Love'


Last year this clematis scrambled along the board fence but didn't produce flowers.
I was delighted to note the dainty buds.

This is not a showy clematis, the blossoms being small and delicate, but I am pleased to have it extending the clematis season. 
Heavy rain last night left the flowers a bit bedraggled.


Along the roadsides the ubiquitous orange daylilies are already in bloom.
Mine, planted in the shallow coarse soil below the concrete landing, are all in bud.
These are a double-flowered 'sport' transplanted from the roadside near our first Kentucky home.

Achillea  raised last year from seed--a welcome change from the native variety in muddy white.

Lysimachia clethroides/white gooseneck loosestrife.

This is also flourishing in the gritty soil of the landing patch.
This was shared by a friend who also brought me spiderwort. 
This is a plant which may grow wild in the edges of a pasture, but also available as a nursery plant.


The name of the plant escaped me for awhile this evening. 
I couldn't recall the proper spelling of 'lysimachia' and finally in frustration googled 'white gooseneck.'  My brain is stuffed with odd bits of information--too often the bit needed is elusive!


I lost one of the miniature roses to late frost in spite of swaddling them in covers.
So exasperating--all three wintered against the outside wall of the washroom, but broke dormancy in the first days of March--the false spring that immediately regressed into freezing temperatures.

'Hawkeye Belle' in full bloom before the rain--and one day before I discovered the vanguard of the Japanese beetle arrivals.

Nellie, who thinks he is invisible.


There were five cucumbers ready in the lower veg garden [Jim ate one before I thought to record the moment.]

Today the first blueberries from the local berry farm!


Willis, appearing most innocent.

So, two weeks of being very busy, trying in vain to keep up with Jim.  The results of his labors are very visible: buildings gleaming in clean whiteness, weeds subdued, grass cut, pastures mowed.

I seem to have gone in circles--here a little, then on to another small area tidied; mounds of wet or muddy clothes laundered, errands done, meals prepared.

I've struggled with Windows 10 on the laptop, not getting down to the typing of notes for the current genealogy project.  Time that might have been spent to read online, post a blog, type a comment, has been wasted in attempts to work around this newer system and fine tune the laptop to my preferences.  The 'address book' for my email program has gone missing, not transferring in the download . I've been able only to use a 'reply to sender' mode. 
The laptop has been parked on my desk, an awkward height for prolonged use of the keyboard. 
A light-bulb moment on Sunday when I thought to plug in the regular keyboard on its comfortable pull-out tray--why-ever didn't I think of that earlier?
I've been notified that my big PC has been revived and is ready for pick-up at the electronics shop in town.  Perhaps there will be time tomorrow to retrieve it.

I'm thankful for the rocking chair on the porch, the hummingbirds, the nasturtiums in their pots, the company of the cats--all there for the moments when I quit going in circles.