Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Storm Warning

The wind wuthered about the house during the night, scraping the branches of shrubbery against a corner, waking me several times.
By 5:30 the cats were encouraging me to get up and serve their breakfast.
I lay still for a bit, watching the fuzz of grey light beyond the window.
After 20 minutes of being purred at and tread upon, I resigned myself to the inevitable and tip-toed down the hallway, my pride of felines leading the way.
With the morning treat dished out I opened the sliding door and looked out on swirling clouds.
The thermometer in the carport stood at 70 degrees F.

I showered and dressed quickly and went outside, camera in my pocket.
Wind surged through tree branches.
If you look closely you can see the branches of nandina shrubs and the magnolia tree blown sideways.

Dark skies to the northeast beyond the magnolia tree.

I had on my house shoes, soft, lightweight clogs, not really suitable for a walk across the cornfield, but I was drawn by the strange grey light and the warm wind, so picked my way carefully along the fence line.

A study in shades of grey.
Wouldn't this make an intriguing cover illustration for a brooding gothic mystery?

Pebbles seemed untroubled by the wind, intent on her grazing.

A glimpse of sun so fleeting that it had disappeared behind clouds before I could focus the camera.

Looking across the back pasture toward the old tobacco barn where J. stores hay.

By now thunder was muttering in the distance.
Rain was on the way with the possibility of a power outage.

Crossing the dooryard on my way back to the house I contemplated my weeding efforts of yesterday.
If you enlarge the photo you can see the purple flowers of the formidable creeping weed
locally known as henbit.

J. had left on errands and I contemplated a day of answering letters [emails] and then a retreat downstairs
to the latest quilt project.
I had brought in wood and started a fire to banish the chill that lingers in the basement room.
S-I-L M. phoned to ask if I was aware that a tornado watch was posted.
"Tornado Alley" so-called runs west of Adair County, though of course such storms are unpredictable
and high winds can come roaring through.
When J. is home he follows storm paths on a doplar website.
Certainly there seemed nothing unsual here--just some wind and rain.
As rain began to spatter down I stood in the carport watching the cattle in the field beyond our south boundary fence.
Initially all the cattle were grouped around a large 'roll' of hay.
As the rain increased, several cows headed toward the shelter of the trees, their calves following.

Only moments elapsed between this photo and the one above.
You can see the darkness of the storm closing in as the cattle plod toward the woods.

This group was not about to leave their lunch.
J. arrived suddenly, fired up his laptop and began a commentary on the storm's path.
M. phoned again to give the latest report from the local station issuing the warnings.
Stepping outside J. picked up on the rushing sound of the wind as it howled along several ridges to the west.
"Round up the cats and go downstairs with them," he ordered.
The cats were disinclined to be rounded up!
I nabbed several who had found warm cushioned places to snooze--tired from their morning frenzy of announcing the weather.
A cat at a time I dumped several on the staircase, closing the door.
Alerted to something unusual the others began to skitter along the hallway.
Grabbing another and opening the door I pushed furry beings out of the way.
With all but two herded downstairs I gave up on the untouchable Wilbur and on Mima who had hidden under the bed.
J. stood watching and listening at the sliding door.
'Right," I said, crossly.  'I'm to huddle in the basement room with my cats and if anything happens I come up and try to locate you in the wreckage?'
I stomped downstairs creating a path through the assembled twitchy cats.
I stirred the fire in the wood stove, looked about me, listened to J. wandering about upstairs.
Putting my head round the door I asked if he was coming down.
'The storm's passed by,' he stated.

Rain dripped from the eaves and sparkled on the red leaf buds of the maple nearest the door.
A feeble sun peeked through, as grey clouds scudded northward leaving swaths of blue.

The cattle, unharmed and placid, returned to their roll of hay.

Willis picked his way daintily down the path from the barn, stepping carefully around puddles, coming to find J. in the garage.
An hour's drive north of us and an hour to the west there was damage.
There was severe damage and loss of life in Ohio, in Missouri and Illinois.
Tornado season has come early this year with the warm weather.
Nestled here in the folds of hollows and ridges we hope we are safe.
Still, when there is a storm on the move, we watch, we wait--and we pray.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunshine, Blue Sky, A Frivolous Wind

Frost glinted on the tawny grass of the front fields and shimmered  on the garage roof as the strengthening sun became a cheerful morning presence.
Stepping out to the carport with food for the barn cats I noted that the temperature stood at only a degree or two above freezing.
I doled out the morning treat of tinned fish-smelling stuff for the clamouring house cats,
scooped coffee into the pot.
Clad in flannel-lined jeans, a light long-sleeved top and fleecy pullover, I stood watching the birds at the feeder while I waited for the coffee maker to go through its ritual of burbling and hissing.
[I acquired the taste for coffee rather late in life and allow myself only the one cup, anticipated more for its sugared and creamed warmth than for any imagined morning boost.]
It was the usual sort of morning for our "retired" lifestyle--leisurely breakfast, a token tidying of the kitchen and bathroom, laundry set to chugging in the washer downstairs.
I ambled down the hall, sat at my desk, intending to have a quiet hour reading blogs.
It seemed chilly in this small room which has a north-west exposure.
I considered adding a layer of clothes, but decided that going outdoors would be theraputic.
I've noted that the swath of naturalized daffodils just down the road are in full bloom.
I swung briskly down the drive, heading south into the climbing sun.
Sure enough, within moments I had opened the snap front of my down vest and lowered the zip on the fleece pullover.
 A light dancing wind pulled strands of hair from my loose braid and sang in my ears.
I gathered daffs, holding the soft yellow petals to my face, sniffing the cool sweet scent.
I marvel at the proliferation of daffodils here, flowing in yellow tides along the roadside, rippling down an embankment, marching along a shallow ditch.
I understand how wild flowers spread; seeds are carried on the wind, scattered by birds;  how have these bulb plants increased by the thousands?

Back home, I reached down a jug from the cupboard and plunked the daffodils in water with no effort made at 'arrangement.'  The jug was taller than needed, but I couldn't reach a better one without climbing on a chair--and I wanted to be back outside in the windy sunshine.
I found my snippers and cut a few of the suckers from the base of the goat willow in the front yard, poked them in with the daffs.
Teasel [aka 'Mamma's Darling] immediately landed on the buffet to snuffle the flowers and
do her own bit of re-arranging.

By the time we had harvested the late garden crops it was too constantly wet to do a fall
tilling of the garden.
I have fretted about that!
Daughter G. and grandson D. rolled into the yard just as J. decided that it was
time now  to "turn" the lower veg strips.
[We quickly learned that "turning the garden" is the correct terminology here!]
J. has a collection of  3 tractors at the moment, in various stages of rehabillitation.
This blue monster seemed a bit over-large for the job!

No matter the wearying labor of the previous season, no matter that some crops were disappointing or the weather uncooperative: this is a scene to inspire the gardener--sunshine on newly turned rich soil, the pungent smell of wild onion and green weeds churned by the tiller, the scent of cool, damp earth.

D. removed wooden stakes and oddments that had been languishing in the planting strips over the winter.
He is part of a select group in his AG class who have been involved in 'land judging,' learning to assess the lay of a field and the qualities of the soil.
He stooped to pick up a handful of soil in the time-honored manner, making sage considerations.

J. walks along the east edge of the upper fenced garden, decides that it is still too wet to till.
G. rescues a clump of parsley and a hibiscus shrub to transplant at home, just down the road.

Sunshine and blue sky, a wind that nipped down our necks, billowed the laundry on the lines,
and dried the turned soil.
Sunshine--and a cat who takes his role of overseer very seriously.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Day of Mixed Feelings

Maisie came to us in January, 2009, part of a 'package deal' from the Pet Connection, a shelter for abandoned or otherwise homeless cats and dogs.
She had been brought in with her mate, Charlie [whom we suspect may also have been her brother or even her son] and three nearly-starved kittens.
These exotic cats had been noted by a kindly woman on the Wind River Indian Reservation--cats who had been abused and neglected by the owners, her neighbors.
The story goes that she simply collected the family of cats, brought them to the shelter and placed them--with a token $20 dollar bill--at the mercy of the volunteer care givers.
I was in the habit of donating to the shelter when I could--modest amounts of money or sacks of cat kibble and litter.
I tried not to go often into the room where the cats were housed--in the back of a local veterinary clinic.
I know my weakness for homeless cats!
Son-in-law M. was indignant that I hadn't visited to see the kittens, whose photos, now that they were clean and decently fed, adorned posters at the grocery store's bulletin board.
When he prodded a second time, I stopped at the shelter one afternoon after work.
To shorten the outcome of a too familiar tale, I came home with two kittens who became known as Jemima and Chester. The third kitten had some special medical needs that I felt I couldn't cope with financially.
He was later adopted by a couple from Colorado, pledged to care for the eye infection that was a legacy of mal-nutrition and deplorable conditions.
Charlie [called 'Otis' at the shelter] was impossible to ignore.  He too showed the benefits of a few weeks on a good diet, had been neutered and placed in a roomy two-story cage with Maisie who
had been spayed.
Charlie was/is a clown--a show-off, only too happy to interact with people.
Maisie, though gentle, had an air of great weariness, content to lie in the bottom of the cage.
I took the kittens home in November, and though I stopped at the shelter at Christmas time with a gift, I didn't inquire about the parent cats.
A month later I learned that they were still at the shelter--and running out of time to find homes.
I was by then on friendly terms with one of the head volunteers, who told me that they had stipulated  the two cats be adopted as a pair.
Several people had expressed interest in happy-go-lucky 'Otis' but didn't want 'Sassy'--as she was known.
I offered 'foster care' with the understanding that the two cats would still be featured on the shelter website for adoption.
After several more weeks when no prospective takers offered a home, Charlie and Maisie became mine by default, with the usual adoption fees waived.
Both cats settled in, seeming to recognize their offspring.  Charlie zoomed about the house, noisy and bombastic.  Maisie sought out quiet warm places during the day.
At night she often roamed the house wailing like the proverbial lost soul.
It was evident that neglect and near starvation through pregnancy had taken a harsh toll on her.
Her tail had been broken. Her strangely formed jaw suggested some genetic weaknesses.
Her teeth were poor and increasingly the odor that eminated from her mouth was unpleasant.
Our vet sent me home with a bottle of an oral cleanser to be swabbed in her mouth to ease her often swollen gums.  [Anyone who has tried to perform a dental maneuver several times per week on a cat knows how that went!]
Still--she was well fed, warm, clean.  Life for her was compromised, but not, I thought, unpleasant.
Not unpleasant til recently.
I've watched her become more and more lethargic.  I've noted that the oral treatment was having small effect.  Sores had developed at the base of her tail.
I delayed making a decision for several days, then phoned our vet on Wednesday.
There are those who would argue that I should have gone to greater effort--and greater expense-- for more agressive treatment. 
Still, I made the appointment for Maisie to be put down on Friday morning.
Our vet here in Kentucky had not seen Maisie before, but he had her records from Wyoming.
On examining Maisie he agreed that euthanasia was an appropriate and merciful choice.
I stayed with Maisie, stroking her head while a sedative was administered prior to the lethal injection.
Her discomfort and weariness were ended.
Maisie was a shadow cat, almost without personality, not inspiring affection, perhaps too diminished by her initial ill treatment and malnutrition to summon the energy for more than basic survival.
I felt no sadness at her passing, only relief at a decision finally made--relief and the residue of anger at those who ill-treat animals; I tell myself that I did what I could for her--and it wasn't enough.
I had prepared a bury-hole for Maisie on Thursday when I worked in the sunny dooryard.
We have always had an area to bury our pets.
I would have liked to create this under the maple at the corner of the upper garden, but found it impossible to dig there due to the tangle of tree roots.
I chose instead the area alongside the 'bamboo' hedge which separates the back lawn from the
path to the barns.
By the time I returned home from the vet clinic, the sky was black.  The temperature had dropped 10 degrees since early morning and the wind bit coldly.
I was glad I hadn't to struggle in the chill to prepare a final place for my cat.

Cats always notice when one of their number goes missing.
All of the cats were twitchy yesterday in response to the blustery weather.
They were also flustered by the appearance of the hated cat carrier.
Charlie has roamed the house, calling uneasily.
Maisie's kittens, now full grown, have stayed close to me.
There are signs already that they will have dental issues to deal with, a genetic legacy from indiscriminate breeding and lack of care.
I hope I have the means to provide better intervention for them than I was able to give their mother.

I spent the rest of the day feeling unsettled by my unhappy morning errand, chilled by even the short time out in the searing wind; tired.
I laundered everything that had been on my bed where Maisie had spent the last two days.
I pinned sheets and quilts on the line, hair whipping into my eyes.
Within 20 minutes the heavy quilt had been tugged loose from the clothespins and was billowing wildly.
I retrieved it and felt icy drops of rain flung against my cheeks.
Bundling the linens into my arms I lugged them downstairs to the laundry area, glad for the
option of the dryer.
I made a pot of soup, told the cranky cats that I wasn't opening the door to the cat yard, told them they wouldn't want to be out there in the wind.
J. arrived home to clean floors and the smell of beef/vegetable soup.
He had stopped at a bakery for an assorment of yeast donuts which he produced with a flourish.
I took a mug of tea and a jam-filled sugary donut, retreated gratefully to my rocking chair.
It was a long day.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Capricious Spring Weather

The week has brought us rainy nights, misty mornings, hesitant sunshine, 
quickly swallowed by billowing clouds.
On Monday afternoon it was clear with a biting wind.
I bundled up and tackled the pruning of fruit trees and blackberry canes.
I was wearing a ragged but warm 'hoodie' under my coat, with the hood pulled up and snugly tied--a good thing as the blackberry branches snatched at me relentlessly as I crawled along the row.

Sally and Sadie, the tortie barn cats wove in and out of the blackberries, getting in my way. Sadie created a nest in this length of black tarp, warmed in the afternoon sun.

The visiting Marmalade Tom kept watch from a respectful distance.
Later, he allowed me to stroke him as he wolfed kibble from a dish in the carport.
His demeanor, wary, but not unfriendly, suggests that he has interacted with human-kind before.

The sun slid down in the west leaving the garden suddenly chilled.
Golden after-glow warmed the woods east of the creek across the road.

Tuesday brought more clouds and sunshine, more blustery wind.
In the sky over the cornfield crows wheeled, calling in hoarse tones.

Rain again on Wednesday night.  I woke and heard the whoosh of wind and the scratching of shrubby branches against the sides of the house.
At 7 a.m. when I opened the curtains a chilly mist swirled about the dooryard and whitened the
more distant view.

The view south with pasture, old barn and neighbor's cattle invisible in the white shroud.

The sun rose beyond the creek, bird voices rang in the thick warming air.

On the front porch Willis the barn cat was still curled sleepily in his sheepskin rug.

The mist burned off to a blue sky day, temperatures warmed to over 70 F.
This maple tree in the back yard is more forward than the others.

Although I know it is still too wet for real gardening, the cold soil clutching at the roots of weeds and precious plants alike, I wanted to be at work outside.
I brought out a garden fork, three-fingered digger and snippers,
and tackled the tangle of creeping weeds which have invaded the flower strips during this mild winter.
Above me the wind sang; across the road by the creek 'peepers' trilled their spring chorus.
During a lull in the gale I heard the cronking voices of sandhill cranes and lumbering to my feet went in search of them, wondering if a flock had perhaps lighted down to glean in the corn patch.
I didn't see them, not on the ground, nor in the sky, but stood listening as their cries faded.

Pulling away matted weeds, I sought two clumps of columbine.
This strip of garden, backed by the garage and facing east, has altered since it was made in the spring of 2010.  In laying it out I didn't leave adequate room for the lawn mower to pass between this strip and the two which run perpendicular to it. Sod has been allowed to grow back narrowing the strip.  The three Double-Red Knock -Out Roses have grown and spread.  Mint planted beneath them has sprawled and tangled.  The clumps of spice pinks have established.  I found one columbine,
nearly over-taken by the pinks.
Although I worked through weeds below the third rose, I didn't find the other columbine.

By that time the sun had disappeared behind the garage and the damp of the ground was making itself felt.
I was delighted to find this clump of catnip, fragrant and thriving near one of the roses.
The catnip I dried last September for the resident felines is nearly gone.

The daffodils which have held their buds tight since January are at last daring to unfold!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Forgotten Faces

In my childhood a box of  photos and a lumpy black photo album lived in the parlour cupboard of my Grampa Mac's house.
It was taken down infrequently. Possibly Grampa Mac found it difficult to visually recall the days before his wife Helen's too early death.  Grandma Helen's penciled scrawl captioned many of the photos precariously tethered to the pages with black 'corners' which were loosing their gummed adhesive allowing the fading snapshots to curl.
When my Uncle Bill died suddenly in 1984, the family treasures reverted to my Mother's keeping.
Mother made an attempt to sort the photos, transcribing her mother's labels directly onto the backs of the photos which had floated free of the pages.
She went on to label, in her neat school teacher's hand, any of the remaining studio portraits or snaps she recognized.
She made 3 albums, apportioning vintage photos and those from more recent times--an album for me and for each of my two younger sisters.
We were left with a number of photos unidentified.
My nephew the history teacher, my middle sister's daughter-in-law and various maternal cousins have made good use of current technology to scan and share these photos in the hopes
that identification could be made.
The pleasant looking gentleman above is one of those who remains nameless.
On the back of the portrait, apparently sent with a Christmas card, he noted his age in that year [late 1890's--I can't find my notes of that transcription!] but didn't add his name.
When I received the scanned photo I delved into possibilities--seeking a relative or close connection born in the designated year. 
The location of the photo studio, Rutland, Vermont, doesn't convince me that he was a Vermonter.
Most of my Mother's extended family were still "across the lake" in Ticonderoga or Hague, NY.
Snippets of news from the archives of the "Ti Sentinel" indicate that it was common for whole families to make a day trip to Rutland, particularly at Fair time.

There is no clue to the identity of this young man.
I've noted his curly dark hair and bold dark eyes, his plaid suit so casually worn.
Something about him suggests that he wasn't accustomed to sitting still for long!
Although the photo isn't dated, I'm guessing this is also from the last decade of the 1800's.

This lovely lady appears to be "past her first youth" as old novels delicately put it.
It was common for a bride to be photographed alone in her wedding finery.
The material of her gown is likely a dainty white lawn fabric, tucked, gathered and lace-trimmed.
The flowers pinned at her shoulder suggest a formal and special occasion.
Her pose, with hands behind the edges of her skirt, though relaxed, is rather unusual.
I love her serenity of expression and the elegance of her softly piled dark hair.
I have wondered if she might be Arabella Rising, sister of my g-g-grandfather.
Arabella was in her mid 30's, a spinster school teacher, when about 1872 she married
a man 12 years her senior.
I can invent stories around these 'unknowns"--how I would love to know their names!

There is some suggestion that this is a portrait of my g-grandfather Eddie Ross.
I have many photos of Eddie, several as a boy, others, both studio portraits and candid photos were taken through-out his life.
I look at this man, at rest with his dog for a moment at the edge of a wooded clearing.
There is a similarity to Eddie in the deep-set eyes, the fine straight nose.
Eddie wore a mustache from early manhood.
Man and dog eye the photographer with a quizical familiarity.
I am drawn to the man, wanting it to be my great-grandfather, that man of gentle humor and
a fine tenor voice.
It could be him---and yet?

Only One Sunny Day

Friday dawned sunny and
I hurried to do several loads of laundry and pegged jeans and shirts and a huge quilt on the lines.
It was a day for opening windows to fresh air and for attacking the accumulation of ashy dust which is the down side of cozy wood fires.

Will accompanied me as I fed  horse, emptied litter boxes and prowled the dooryard for signs of spring.
Here he is walking along the edge of J.'s plastic-shrouded boat.
Willis had been splotting in the pool of rain water caught and held in the center of the tarp.

The pampered darlings had been inside for several days--too cold to have the sliding door open into the cat yard.  Teasel and Chester sniff at each other like wary strangers.

Teasel dabs through the wire fence--I didn't see anything moving on the concrete wall of the basement bulkhead.  Perhaps she was experimenting with a different texture after the smoothness of wood floors indoors and the cool damp grass of the cat yard.

These daffodils are really invincible. Since the relative warmth of January they alternately languished in cold windy days, nearly flattened last weekend by a sleety rain, then reviving with any hint of sun.

I found this tiny johnny-jump-up nestled in the weedy grass at the bottom of one of the flower strips.
Wild onion, invasive lamium, called hen-bit here--and a host of other evergreen weeds have thrived over the winter in the ground that I laboriously cleared in September.

Several of the roses are showing crimson leaf buds--I couldn't get as sharp a focus as I wanted.

More poppy seedlings have emerged, much too close together.
I'll likely attempt to move a few although my success in transplanting them last year was not impressive.
 Each bloom is fleeting, but a much anticipated joy.

One healthy clump of lupine, where there should be several.

I pulled back the heavy curtains over the sliding doors early on Saturday morning, having stayed quietly in bed while watching the grey of night turn to the soft colors of dawn.
We have seen this marmalade and white Tom lurking about the yard and barns.
Here he was, eyeing me from the curbing just outside the cat play yard while at my feet Charlie and tribe rumbled warning growls from their safe place behind the glass.
Sigh. Stray, feral cats have been a bane where ever we have lived.

Raising my eyes from the Marmalade Tom I saw several deer in the upper field.
I crept out in fleecy robe and slippers, but they heard me and fled toward the woods, blurs of tan and white.
Notice the lead deer vaulting over the fence.

The morning was chilly and the faint promise of sun was not fulfilled.
Still, the air had an unmistakable scent of freshness that comes in early spring.
Robins called from the maples and old apple trees near the garden.
Retreating to the house, I stood warming my hands on a mug of coffee and watched the bluebirds swirl about the wooden nest box at the far end of the dooryard, while goldfinches, chickadees and tufted titmice thronged the birdfeeders.
In spite of increasing chill as night drew in the 'peepers' were chanting their shrill mating chorus along the banks of the creek across the road.  We stood with neighbors on the porch to listen, encouraging each other at yet one more sign of winters' soon passing.

The only sun today was a faint wash of light slanting in the sliding doors just before sundown.
I didn't linger outside when I dealt with cat litter.
J. brought in extra wood for the evening with Willis standing watch at the shed door.

Like Willis, we have stayed close to the livingroom fire today.
I thought of starting a fire downstairs and sewing, but didn't get motivated past mere thinking.
A Maisie Dobbs mystery, mugs of tea, and the attentions of several cats who coveted my rocking chair claimed much of this quiet grey day.

Cardinals and finches shared the seeds which litter the ground under the feeders.
The sense of hunkering down and waiting out the foul weather has affected both humans and the birds and beasties who share our space, indoors and out.