Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Winter Solstice; Journal

A promising sunrise doesn't always ensure a sunny day.

Sunrise photos taken from the front steps--too chilly to walk along the drive in my slippers.

The colors change rapidly and my simple camera doesn't do justice.

 As the sun came over the horizon there was blue sky strewn with puffy clouds.

Before long the landscape showed the colors that often forecast rain.

For several hours the sun hid behind grey clouds.

I was too restless to stay inside, so pulled on my boots, shrugged into a heavy zipped hoodie and ventured outdoors.
The two 'Jane' magnolias planted on the front lawn have pale fuzzy catkins.

Speaking of cats: Willis, like his keepers, is a bit slower in this his eleventh year, but he never fails to appear and walk with me.

The carnations in the west wall garden continue to produce flower buds, although the blooms don't fully open in the colder weather.

One of only two lady's mantle raised from a greenhouse planting. I hope for its survival through the winter.

Many of my shrub roses have unwisely put forth new leaves in the weeks since the first hard frost.

Violas tucked in the edge of the raised bed are sheltered by the branches of a dwarf butterfly bush. 
The nigella planted nearby has self-sown vigorously. The tiny plants won't be cold hardy. I hope more seeds stay dormant until spring.

Shortly after noon the sun reappeared. A light wind sang in the treetops. Walking the north/west edges of the property I came upon several stalks of mullein which had fallen to lie among the leaves.

My eye was caught by these seed heads, so similar to those of my cultivated clematis.
I think the plants are likely the wild clematis viginiana. Online articles identify them as common in the south east. The 'flowers' can be insignificant, not large and colorful as their pampered garden relatives.
I tied a strip of cloth on one of the vines so that I will be able to locate and notice the vines in the profusion of weedy wildflowers that take over in the spring.

Close up of the seed heads. 
During several rainy days in the week just past, I hastily did housework, then decamped downstairs to the large 'family room' where I have set up a perhaps temporary sewing station.  I searched out some favorite Christmas CD's [think Celtic Christmas and the like] and began once more to work on a long deferred quilt project. 
A decade ago [in Wyoming] I hatched the plan of making a quilt to replicate one stitched by my great grandmother, Eliza. Eliza pieced her blocks in an unusual pattern which I've rarely seen, called 'Wind-blown Star. The fabrics used were cut from the least worn bits of shirtwaist blouses, aprons, men's shirts. 
In the spirit of making do, I collected shirts and blouses found at charity shops--most cost less than $1.
Taking the shirts apart was tedious and I soon discovered that although I had focused on all cotton fabrics, some were more loosely woven than others making accurate piecing more difficult than with crisp new yardage. 
Time and again I took out this work in progress then put it aside for something more rewarding.
As the shorter days have come upon us, I determined to finish this quilt. I suspect that it is good for my sometimes wandering wits to focus on putting the blocks together. 
The finished quilt will be strictly utilitarian and I plan to experiment with simple machine quilting.
Slightly more than half the blocks are now pieced.
The link below should take you to a post on the original quilt.

Soon after dark on this first day of winter, I went out with the bucket of kitchen scraps and paused to search the sky for the promised conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter.  While the two planets were clearly visible through the bare branches of the trees lining the north west ravine, it wasn't as impressive a display as I had imagined.
The photos published by those who have sophisticated telescopes and cameras do display it as the fabled Star of Bethlehem. 
I'm glad I lingered to look.
As always I wondered how ancient civilizations determined the exact day when the earth begins to slowly turn toward the sun. 
Mid-winter, indeed, and the slow journey to springtime.


Friday, December 11, 2020

December 10-11; 2020: Journal

Late on Wednesday afternoon, a pale sun sent a wash of color over a landscape that had remained resolutely grey and cold since the first of the week. 
Thursday morning brought a sunrise of saffron and ocher streaking the sky; as the sun climbed, a welcome warmth replaced the damp chill of previous days. 

[I have two cameras of the same model, one records the date, the other refuses to do so.  Both, regrettably, have scratches on the lens.]

Jim announced an early errand in town on Thursday--I decided to go along.
Howard had alerted J. to a handsome large toolbox on offer at a discount/salvage store where we like to rummage.  The venue is a metal building, apparently unheated, and after a desultory look around I went out to sit in the truck with a magazine.  J. completed his purchases, came out to move the truck to the loading dock.  
The truck decided not to start. 

J. is a more optimistic soul than I am, so while I sat warning myself not to make comments, J. poked at various things under the hood, tunked at something near the fuel tank, ground away at the starter. 
After half an hour of this, he conceded that the truck [a fairly recent acquisition] really wasn't going to miraculously fire up.

J. has for several years had a primitive 'flip phone' which he sometimes remembers to carry in the truck. The provider regularly 'shuts off' the phone before the prepaid hours have been used.
This happened again last week.

I raised my face from the magazine I was resolutely perusing, and handed J. a piece of paper with Howard's phone number there-on. 
J. eventually conceded the necessity of calling Howard to the rescue and stomped back into the sales barn where one of the proprietors kindly put in a call. 
I felt dismayed to call Howard from his work on the house he and Dawn are renovating, but there seemed no other option.
Howard must have been 'hammer-down' all the way from Dry Creek, as he roared in within the half hour.
 Now two heads under the hood of the truck, more poking, prodding, diagnosing [of course the two men didn't quite agree!] and the truck still refused to start.
Howard produced a tow chain, tugged the truck around to where it could be pulled forward, where-upon the engine came to noisy life.

Finally home to a hastily cobbled meal--was it lunch? a very late breakfast?--and the men off to more work at the Dry Creek property.

I felt mildly out of sorts, unable to settle. 
It was a good afternoon to putter aimlessly outside, enjoying the return to pleasant weather.

Friday has been a day of beautiful weather.
Temperatures climbed to nearly 70F.
In between household chores I've made excuses to be outside: sauntering up the lane mid-morning to put outgoing mail in the box, a quick drive to the Beachy's  for apples, fresh eggs, grapefruit.

Back outdoors with the camera, fascinated by the seed heads of Duchess of Edinburgh clematis.

The dried leaves of Duchess and Candida rattle against the trellis.

Robert frequently appears to be companionable.

Robert is a proper pain about coming in at night.
He can be omni-present, appearing at my elbow, sociable, wanting to be noticed.
He comes inside, naps on a bed by the hour, but if he can escape the house late in the afternoon there is a nightly battle to retrieve him!
I stand on the front steps, call his name in beguiling tones.  He may appear, prance about, roll on the ground, only to dash off when I reach for him.

I've been out several times this evening, trolling about, flashlight in hand, calling him.
The two old 'barn cats' Willis and Sally, loyally follow me across the meadow, down the lane toward the shed. Their eyes gleam like bobbing headlamps when I sweep the light behind or to the side.

It appears to be one of the nights that Robert will spend--somewhere--outside.
He will be sitting on the porch bench at first light, swaggering in, demanding a dish of milk, needing to have burrs combed out of his long fur before he saunters off to crash into bed.

Robert's brother, Nellie, is even more companionable, a most amiable creature, and rather more inclined to respond when he is called.

Late afternoon and the sky tracked with more contrails, evaporating against the blue.

A viola, revived since the cold earlier in the week.

Inside at dusk to slice Rome apples into a kettle where they simmered into a ruby-red applesauce.
The woodfire, allowed to go out this morning, has been built up against the chill that will arrive in the wee hours.
Shelby-kitten has disturbed everything on my desk, nibbled at various papers, and is now engrossed in stalking an Asian ladybug along the top of the divider behind the desk.
The warm day has revived the wretched things!

Somehow it is nearly 11 p.m. and the rest of the household settled for the night.
One last look outside for Robert, then Shelby and I will go to bed.


Friday, December 4, 2020

4 December: Days of Strange Weather: Journal

My camera [the one that records dates] refuses to move ahead first thing in the morning.
I sympathize! 
Color on the horizon on Thursday morning.

Sunrise at this time of year is not due east with the sun appearing around the corner of the barn.
Rather, the sun appears climbing from the corner of the ravine that bounds our property on the south.

Although the day dawned warmer than the two previous, it was still chilly to linger outside. 
I ran in and out, standing for a moment on the front steps, then dashing inside where the dregs of last evening's wood fire still warmed the room.

The sun played games all through Thursday, hiding behind swirls of grey clouds, then breaking through again.  By noon most of the lingering snow was gone, only patches of lacey crystals remaining.
The west garden, viewed through the screening of the west porch.

I was restless, wanting to be outside when the sun was shining, bundled in a velour hoodie and my old down vest, feet in boots.
I determined to examine those puzzling trees again and now think they are beech.

These are not mature beech, somewhat stunted understory trees scrambling for a roothold on the steep sides of the ravines. 
I remember the hardwood stands on my Grampa Mac's Vermont farm. A woods road ran north and south through the sugar bush of maples, with tall, stout beeches lining the track. The trees were lovely at any time of the year, a green canopy in summer, a roof of bronzed gold in autumn.  On a day of sunshine, the bright gold, dotted with the crimson of nearby maples, made a stunning pattern against the deep blue skies of early October.
On a rainy day, a different beauty--silvery trunks streaked dark with wet, the gold leaves creating an illusion of light. 
I had forgotten how a beech can hold those last few leaves, dulled to coppery brown, dry and rustling in the wind.

The nasturtiums brought into the sunroom are predictably straggling, leaves starting to yellow, but here is a cheerful flower.

I took many photos in the sunroom yesterday. I've never found the patience required to fiddle with the manual settings on my simple camera, using mostly the 'auto' feature. I deleted as many photos as I kept.
I like this one taken when the afternoon sun had moved farther to the southwest, making the petals appear translucent.

The amaryllis that had languished too long in its package has come round nicely, showing its true intended coloring.  It is a shorter plant than usual.

The paperwhites have settled into their pot, beginning to grow on the windowsill.

A frayed and frost-bitten coneflower--surely the last of the season.

Tucked under the sprawl of the buddleia, the cheerful face of a viola.

Preparing supper, I glanced through the window over the sink, astonished by the leafless branches of hedgerow trees etched in gold against the backdrop of sky that was morphing from  cloud-strewn blue to a stormy shade of indigo.

Stormy light along the north ravine.

Shadows deepening in the meadow, the sky a portent of storm.

A zoomed shot of the neighbor's barn across the lane.

Slowly the wild vivid colors faded, the sun sank below the south-west edge of the ravine; darkness came on quickly.  Within the hour a slow rain began, continuing through the night.
Today, Friday, has been dark, almost colorless outside, temperatures in the higher 40's F.
I've been out between showers--to bring in firewood, to walk up the lane to the mailbox, out with cat litter and kitchen scraps to be dumped in their respective spots.
The cats have dozed in comfortable places, the two younger ones waking to charge about in frenzied games. 
We ate, the four of us, all at different times, scavenging plates of leftovers to be warmed in the microwave. 
Jim did errands in town, the banking, a consultation with the man who is restoring a truck for him.
Howard worked alone at the house project, sanding his distinctive new staircase and applying the first coat of poly.
Dawn cleaned in the downstairs realm, drove to Tractor Supply to replenish dog food.
I attempted to sweep and dustmop upstairs, greatly hampered by Shelby-the kitten, who clung to the edge of the fuzzy mop, being towed across the floor.

A desultory day of small chores, of reading, exchanging messages with my sister; laughter this evening as Howard decided to brush the dogs and any of the cats who would cooperate.
Thus these days push us gently into winter.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

December 1, 2020: Journal, Winter

A chilly start to the morning, 28F.

Looking into the sun at 9:20 A.M.

Winter, like the other seasons, has no regard for the calendar.
With three weeks to pass before the solstice and the nearly imperceptible increase of daylight, December 1st has always marked, for me, the beginning of winter.

Living in northern New England for most of my life, preparation for cold weather began in October.  Gardens had succumbed to killing frost, the last of the brilliantly colored maple leaves lay in drifts along the dirt roads; a blue sky overhead didn't forestall the need to search out warm jackets, caps, boots and gloves. 
November always seemed a somber month, fields and lawns reduced to brown stubble,  days marked by intervals of freezing rain or slushy snow. The rare afternoons when a pale sun struggled through overcast skies did little to lift the spirits.

Winters in Wyoming, where we spent the years between 1998 and 2010, were ushered in with  September blizzards, coinciding with the fall roundup that brought herds of cattle down from the mountain pastures where they had summered. 
Wyoming's winters are notoriously long and frigidly cold, redeemed only by sunlight reflected on snow.

By 10 A.M. the temperature had not risen from 28 F, the reading at 7: 15.

Wet snow fell through the night hours, obscuring the full moon behind milky clouds.
The white light seeped between my bedroom curtains, opaque and dense; the wind whined beneath the window I raised a mere inch to let in the cold air, wood smoke tinged.

These slender under-story trees still hold bronzed leaves.  I've not made a positive identification.

Ash? Beech? A species I should be knowing?

My contemplation of snow-coated leaves was interrupted when Howard brought out the dogs for a post-breakfast constitutional.
Mudgin, the Great Bernese, has only a month remaining til her first birthday, when she will leave puppyhood behind.
Her exuberance in the snow is a joy to watch. 

Clouds began to thicken  about noon.

With the sun hidden the snowy field is cold.
Robert-cat and his brother, Nellie, have been disgruntled, going out to their familiar haunts, quickly returning to the doorstep, shaking snow from chilled paws.
We let them in, but as soon as their feet are dry and warm they demand to go back outdoors, only to repeat the cycle. Their demeanor suggests that we, their keepers, should be able to melt the snow. and restore the green meadow grass where they love to prowl.

Trudging up the lane at 4 P.M. past our neighbor's pond, out to the mailbox, I am cold, wishing I had worn a winter jacket instead of my usual velour hoodie and down vest.  My feet in colorful rubber boots are chilled, my face tingles.
The temperature has climbed only 4 or 5 degrees during the day, scarcely above the freezing mark.

Neighbor Jackie's beef cattle are clustered around the hay rack, hardly bothering to glance at me as I hurry along.

The west facing bedrooms are warm when the afternoon sun makes a brief appearance.
Intrigued by the snow dappled garden, I plod outside again, camera in hand.

The last-blooming coneflower is a vivid splash of magenta amid the snow-shrouded plants.

Icicles in a pale row against the late afternoon sky.

Sun sliding behind the bare trees along the south-west ravine.
Indoors, the smell of whole wheat bread cooling on the counter, overlaid with the brown sugar/vanilla scent of oatmeal cookies in the oven.
The cats are all inside, sprawled resignedly on beds and cushioned chairs.
"Cold spells'" and snow are short-lived in our Kentucky winters, a mere hint of the long cold months we remember from other places and other years.