Friday, December 31, 2010

One Year Ago

Outside today in temperatures that were above 60 degrees F, I thought of the many changes in our lives since last New Years' Eve.  During 2009, living in Wyoming, we talked of 'retirement', discussed the options we felt made sense economically.  We researched properties online. In the end, the offer on our house in Wyoming, the quick wrap up of the sale, took us a bit by surprise.
The process of packing, of finding our new home in Kentucky, the move, settling in, still seem to have happened in an exhausting whirlwind of activity.
We miss family and friends in Wyoming--we likely always will.
Yet, we are where we need to be and feeling at home on this rural acreage.
It has been hard work to renovate a house [while living in it] to start the process of fertilizing and seeding fields which had been a bit neglected.  Our first huge garden in this climate was nearly too much for us during the long spell of hot and humid weather.  The harvest and the shelves of stored fruit and vegetables are the reward for our perseverance.
The little house has a new kitchen, new flooring. Fresh paint has brought color into the rooms. There is a cozy, warm, and clean space in the basement that wasn't there before J.'s skills created it.
Even as we cherish old friends, new ones have been added to enrich our lives.
God willing, we will have the energy to create, to work, to take joy in another year.
I wish the same blessings for my readers.

The foothills of Lander, WY, December, 2009

Dooryard looking toward the mountains, 12-22-09

Snow mobiling in Wyoming!

Guest cabin in the snow, December, 2009

The home in Kentucky, March, 2010

The old hay barn with the new garden in the foreground, May, 2010.

Peony in bloom, May 11, 2010.

The first cut of hay, May 2010.

May 22, Pebbles and J.

July 11, 2010; produce from the garden.

August 15, 2010
Home in Kentucky.

Christmas Day in Kentucky, 2010.

Kentucky Home
New Years' Eve, 2010.


Its not that Willis really wants to come inside.
He has popped through the kitchen door a number of times and then seemed rather daunted at being in unfamiliar territory.
He is a plucky little cat, but faced with several spitting, combative householders, he hastily  asks to be allowed back outside.
The girl kittens, Sadie and Sally, sometimes hop onto the stone step outside the dining room glass door, but their curiosity is brief.
We suspect that Willis likes to aggitate.
J. opened the sliding door a few inches this afternoon to let in the fresh sunny air.
Willis poked his face close to the crack from the ouside; Teasel mounted guard on the inside.

Teasel has been poking a deft stripey paw around the edge of the door.
Willis responds by smacking the screen, claws out.

Teasel is a very intelligent cat who takes her household responsibilities seriously.
She clearly feels that Willis is an upstart!

Both cats have their ears at the alert.
Teasel is emitting a simmering noise, rather like a teakettle coming to the boil.

The poking continues.
J. summoned to watch, says, "Stop those cats before they tear the screen!"
I close the door and Teasel stalks away, muttering, with tail inflated.
Willis, with the feline equivalent of a shrug, strolls off to monitor the bird feeder.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Almost Balmy Day

When we woke this morning and opened the curtains we realized there had been rain in the night.
Lingering traces of roadside snow were washed away.
This was the temperature [F.] at about 11 a.m.
J. took the photo as the old thermometer is fastened high on the side wall in the carport.

There was a boisterously playful wind for much of the day.
The bird feeder bounced on its wire hanger.

Much of the remaining seed landed on the ground.
The juncos will enjoy picking it up.

Goldfinches found the mesh cylinder which holds niger seed.
They are beautiful birds, even in their winter olive-drab.

New growth of catnip flourishing at the edge of the wooden barrel planter.
The cats relished some, fresh-picked.

Is it our imagination, or has the lawn greened up from the snow and rain?
There is mildly squelchy mud in places and that earthy scent which I have before associated with early spring in New England.

I don't know the name of this wiry shrub which grows in the corner of the garden fence.
There are abundant crimson berries but the birds seem to take no notice.

It was so pleasant outside that I couldn't settle to inside chores [in spite of 'dust kitties' floating about]
so put on my wellies and tramped along the boundary fence and about the dooryard.
These twisted vines caught my eye. Not sure what they are as the honeysuckle is usually evergreen.  I'll have to remember to look when there are green leaves again.

This may be a dead cedar--there is white cedar scattered through the adjoining woodlot.
I was looking out today for interesting textures and shapes.

Goldenrod seed fluff.

This dooryard maple still has clinging leaves.
Their texture is not crisp, more like a stiffened fabric.

Sun slanting across the yard to the north.

Honeysuckle rampaging over a dormant shrub.

The ground under the magnolia tree is thick with fallen cones.

Pods on the redbud, black shapes against late afternoon sky.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Neighborhood

Wild turkeys foraging near the boundary fence.

One of the feral cats has become much bolder recently. He had his face in the kibble dish along with our 'barn kittens' the other day when I stepped into the car port.  I was able to pet him a bit before he realized he was being touched.
The kittens like to peer in the sliding door--I suspect they enjoy tormenting the pampered insiders.
I heard Mrs. Beasley intoning the feline war chant and discovered that ginger cat inches away outside the glass.

Being fresh out of inspiration for a real story and with the landscape remaining a soggy expanse of neutral shades, I'll try to present a sense of our small rural neighborhood.
I haven't mentioned our "Englisher" neighbors as often as I have written about the Amish of the area.
The contradictions of the Amish lifestyle are interesting, not least for the ways in which we find them inter-acting with other area families.
Kentucky has a number of Amish and Mennonite enclaves scattered around the state.  Indiana and Ohio, nearby states, are also know for bustling Amish communities. Pennsylvania is still the place which first comes to mind when we think of settlements of the "Plain People."
A good friend from our church has interacted with the Amish and isn't afraid to ask questions or spark discussions.  From listening to him and from reading I gather that the Amish way of life has much to do with honoring tradition.  The traditions are supposedly grounded in an interpretation of scripture which suggests that simplicity is a safeguard against many evils. It would seem to be a case of 'salvation by lifestyle.'
The degree of strictness with which certain 'doctrines' are carried out can vary according to interpretation by the ruling 'bishop' of an area, thus when the bishop is replaced, certain practices can be modified.
J. has counted up about a dozen Amish households within less than 10 miles of us.  We've been told  that a decade ago there were at least twice that number.
These families are far more mobile than I would have guessed.
They move I suppose, for some of the same reasons that the rest of us do: better accomodations, to be near family, better opportunites to support their large families.
Observing them as neighbors, I can admire their commitment to hard work and their sense of tradition.
However, as their communities have become less agrarian, many of them are becoming more in need of 'outside' assistance, even if only transportation to do their shopping and banking at a distance too great to be easily done by horse and buggy.  Many of the Amish men of the area pay someone to convey them to and from work at a local furniture factory.  The families pay 'drivers' to shuttle the children to the small Amish school.
The Amish believe that an 8th grade education is sufficient for anything that life will demand of them.
Thus a girl of 16 or so, having completed 8 grades of schooling is considered well enough educated to teach younger children.
Most of the families are large.  Sitting ahead of us at the Christmas program was a young man, perhaps not more than 30, who has 7 children--the oldest being 7 years of age [yes, there are twins in the family, but there it is!]
Because the Amish ask nothing of the "state" for the most part they have been left alone by state and federal government.
I find much of the Amish logic perplexing.  They are not allowed to have telephones installed in their homes [a worldly  instrument which would encourage idle gossiping? wasted time?] but they have phones in an outbuilding!
We've found that a number of our neighbors interact with the Amish in the same ways that we do, providing transportation, coming to know one or two families quite well.  One lady has an freezer in one of her out-buildings which the Amish across the road use to make ice blocks to keep their own perishables cold.

We've found this area of Kentucky to be a welcoming one.  Greetings and small kindnesses are exchanged.  Folks are busy, but will stop to chat for a moment in decent weather when we are working outside.  The lower reach of J.'s hayfield runs across the road from neighbor D. H.'s home.  If  D. was home when J. was loading hay, he loped across to swing bales onto the wagon, then with a wave of the hand, returned to his own yard.
Being church goers we've made friends there. We're invited to participate and told "We're glad you're here."
We chose for our retirement years a place where we have no kin, no background, other than the commonality of rural heritage.  We feel nothing short of blessed by our reception here.
D.H. talking with us in the dooryard one evening in the summer, while fireflies sparked across the lawn and cicadas chirped overhead, took his leave with the remark, "We knowed from the first that you was going to fit in, be good neighbors."
Welcomes don't get much better than that!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Week Reviewed

Both December 23rd and Christmas Eve were mild days, not bright with sunshine, but not clouded with gloom.
Our neighbors, Joe and Delila Yoder, invited us to attend the Amish School Christmas party held on the evening of the 23rd. . Their two older children, Elizabeth and Caroline are students at the school.
We picked up Joe, Delila and the little boys about 6:15. The schoolhouse is only a few miles away located on a side road. On arriving we wished we had thought to bring flashlights as the only illumination in the school yard was the yellow glow which spilled from the windows.  The school room was lit by two lanterns of the type which have mantles and a pump device. We stumbled up steep wooden steps into a dark entry and then into the warmth of the school room. The space was very warm with heat radiating from a large wood stove. Rough wooden benches were ranged on both sides of the room---one side for the children, who were separated by sex as well as age. The Amish women took seats in the front rows of benches reserved for the "audience", the men filed into the back rows. Small children and babies were held by mothers and older sisters; occasionally one was passed back to be dandled by father.
The teacher, a young Amish girl of 15 or 16, sat nearly out of sight at a large desk burdened with wrapped packages.
A table in the corner held a large insulated carafe of coffee and a stack of styrofoam cups. We noted that several of the men entered the school carrying mugs of coffee.
After a certain amount of noise, scuffling in the entry, jostling for seats, the program suddenly began.
Children popped up and came to the front of the room for recitations.  Without exception these were delivered in a monotone, scarcely above a whisper, while the performer gazed steadfastly at the floor.
There was unaccompanied singing of familiar carols and secular holiday songs. The songs were pitched quite low and while not untuneful, were sung with a strange sliding effect between notes.  The last several words of each line were completely swallowed.
We were surprised to note that throughout the program, the men helped themselves to more coffee, consumed "black," and continually smoked the thin short cigars which seem to be their preference.
J. and I were seated in the back row but one, surrounded by a haze of smoke.
The children had drawn names for gift giving and when the songs and recitations were finished, apparently at some quiet signal from the teacher, one by one the children collected the gift they had brought and proudly presented it to the recipient. When the last gift had been handed out, pandimonium ensued. Paper was torn off, boxes wrenched open, treasures displayed.  At this moment, the women produced huge trays of homemade sweets and buckets of popcorn which were passed up and down the rows of children and guests. There were no plates so the sugary treats were held in our warm hands.
And warm it was by then! Two of the windows were pushed open, but the warmth of wood stove and jostling bodies was intense. [It also became evident in the heat that the Amish sense of personal hygiene doesn't include the use of deodorant!]
The sweets circulated again and again, children slid through the debris of paper, the men smoked, babies began to fuss. I picked my way to the door where it was cooler.
Delila sailing by said to me, "Will you want to do this again?"
Perhaps we will--only another time I will take a flashlight and I will not wear layers of wooly tights and sweaters!

Looking to the east from the carport on December 24.

Willis the kitten helps to get in wood.

I had been outside to give the kittens a treat at about 8 p.m.  All was quiet, a small wind sighing through bare branches.
At 9:30 I turned on the light outside the dining room glass door and called J. to come and see the snowfall.
This is the "burning bush" snow-covered and glowing in the light.

Christmas Morning.

The nandina bends under its burden of snow.

Taken from the front window--an Amish buggy carries a family through the falling snow to a neighbor's house.

Birds at the feeder.

The juncos are appealing, plump and tidy in their charcoal grey and white suits.
The tiny red berries of the burning bush lure them close to the glass door.
Their presence provides day long interest for the pampered house cats.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Shortest Day

Yesterday was dull and overcast, though not cold.
I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the lunar eclipse but the sky was too cloudy for it to be visible.
I lay awake as light filtered through the bedroom shutters slowly turning the darkness from grey to discernable colors.  I've always loved to watch for the moment when daylight arrives.
Yesterday I lay quietly noticing the deep reds, golds and greens of the quilt hung by my bed as they became colors rather than dim patches.
All day the cats were alternately restless--as above with Charlie glaring out at Willis--and then retreated to cushions in the dusky rooms, curled up tightly with tails over their faces.


J. had an errand at a nearby lumber supplier, so while he was gone I put on my wellies, a hooded jacket, and went out along the road with my camera.
There is almost no verge to the narrow black-top road which loops to follow the creek.  No really safe place to get out of the way of traffic in a hurry. I walked beneath several oak trees which over-hang the road.
Acorns lay in shiny heaps on the damp ground.

More acorns, which should provide food for some sort of foraging creature--although the proximity to the road would make for dangerous feasting.

An old tobacco barn on a neighboring propery.
I beleive this is the time of year when the cured tobacco has to be stripped and bundled, taken to the tobacco broker.

The creek below the road.  This is the same waterway which over-flowed its banks at the beginning of May.

Knotty branches of a redbud tree.

Can you see the bulky nest built in the crotch of the tree?
In early summer both robins and cardinals were busy round that tree.
I wonder which bird family built the nest.

Whenever I walk about in the yard I trip over the kittens--who are really half-grown cats.
Sally sitting on my boot and attempting a hike up my leg.
Good thing those are heavy jeans.

In the perennial border the foliage of spice pinks is still crisp and appealing.

As neighborhood trees shed their leaves we wondered about these evergreen clumps clinging to the branches.
I've learned this is mistletoe.
Driving home from the local post office this morning I pulled into the drive of a vacant house and took these photos from the car window.

Close-up of a mistletoe clump.

Beyond the mistletoe laden tree is a bare field which surrounds the historic
Gradyville Baptist church.
The church, built near the path of the 1907 flood, is not regularly used.

A few words about the poem below:
High O'er the Lonely Hills
Jan Struthers

I found this years ago tucked in the section of Christmas hymns in the Pilgrim's Hymnal.
I've never heard it sung although it has a lovely plaintive melody.
Several of the phrases "speak" to me as they describe simply and beautifully those moments of dawn when light seeps into the spaces that have been dark, bringing back warmth and color.
There is the familiar Christian allusion to Christ's birth as a light-giver but the imagery is solidly that of a keen observer of nature.
Since I was too lazy to laboriously type the verses from the faded hymnal I did an internet search and found the poem.
I also learned that the poet, Jan Struthers, was none other than the author of the tales of Mrs. Miniver.
I remember my Mother reading those.
Of interest to me was the biographical note that Jan Struthers though considered an agnostc, penned a number of hymn-poems.
I hope that whatever your spiritual persuasion you'll skim the verses--the word-pictures are particularly descriptive of early winter.

High o'er the lonely hills

Black turns to grey,

Birdsong the valley fills,

Mists fold away;

Grey wakes to green again,

Beauty is seen again–

Gold and serene again

Dawneth the day.

So, o'er the hills of life,

Stormy, forlorn,

Out of the cloud and strife

Sunrise is born;

Swift grows the light for us;

Ended is night for us;

Soundless and bright for us

Breaketh God's morn.

Hear we no beat of drums,

Fanfare nor cry,

When Christ the herald comes

Quietly nigh;

Splendour he makes on earth;

Colour awakes on earth;

Suddenly breaks on earth

Light from the sky.

Bid then farewell to sleep:

Rise up and run!

What though the hill be steep?

Strength's in the sun.

Now shall you find at last

Night's left behind at last,

And for mankind at last

Day has begun!