Monday, January 29, 2024

Scraps From The Rag-Bag

The iconic elm. Looking east toward Brandon Gap in the distance.

10 p.m. on Saturday evening and I'm out with my little flashlight, stomping through the winter-tangled grass of the west meadow, calling Robert-cat. 
J. and I took turns poking our heads out the door, trilling his name in winsome tones; it is clearly one of the too frequent nights when Robert feels the urge to patrol the acreage, willfully deaf to our entreaties, preferring to roam the edges of the wooded ravines. It is 50 degrees and a restless wind hums through the bare trees.

Two nights ago the full moon was obscured by heavy fog; now as I stand still, face raised to the sky, clouds shred and part revealing the waning gibbous moon seeming to float above the barn roof.
Words drop into my mind:
"The moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed upon cloudy seas."
How long since I have thought of the romantic Alfred Noyes poem, "The Highway Man" let alone read it?


Ross-Lewis home. Elm Row Farm.

I am of an age to remember that grandmotherly farm women kept a ragbag, sections of fabric torn from old shirts or faded aprons, useful for mopping up a spill or polishing the parlor furniture, sturdy chunks of chambray that might be needed to patch the three-cornered tear in a man's work shirt. 
Grandma Eliza's ragbag lived in the tidy kitchen closet that also housed brooms, dustmop, tins of stove polish and furniture polish on a shelf, the mop bucket with its wringer, a feather duster. 

I've always had what I think of as a 'ragbag mind,' a head stuffed to distressing capacity with words and phrases, sentences from books read years ago, mental pictures, remembered conversations, overheard snippets of opinions, melodies, names, vignettes, old joys and sorrows.
None of this 'stuff' is stored in orderly mental files or neatly labeled cubbies, nor is any of it stashed in chronological order.
Grandson D. chuckling affectionately, tells me, 'Meme, when you die, a lot of useless information will go with you!'

Inspired to tweak some potentially useful bit from the pile I am pummeled by a cascade of discordant rubble that resists being shoved back in place.
As a life-long insomniac, it follows that this endless collection of trivia unfolds its disjointed segments during the wee hours when I would prefer to be sleeping.

Is this a common affliction? Perhaps it is reserved for those of us who have become by default or by nature the keeper of family memories and sagas, the ones who noticed seemingly inconsequential details. 
Perhaps those of us with cluttered minds are the proverbial 'flies on the wall' not quite in the thick of things, but ever alert to the inter-weaving of colors, scents, voices, atmospheres, taking it all in, storing it, never knowing what will turn up later to trouble or delight us.

Wilder Hill

Willis-cat trudged after me in the damp grass, eyes gleaming whenever I turned to scan the the lane with my flashlight. Rounding the back of the house, stepping into the glare of the porch light and motion light activated on the side of the barn, I noted Robert sitting on the damp bricks of the landing. At my approach he tossed his head, sauntered down the drive. 
Jim poked his head out the door and stated crossly, 'He showed up right after you headed down back. He doesn't choose to come in. If that's the way he wants it he can stay out all night!'
I took a few casual steps in Robert's direction. In a flash he had disappeared behind the barn.
The wind was coming up. The galleon moon slid behind a tossing sea of inky clouds. 
I went to bed thinking of the highway man riding the road that looped like 'a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor'--and of so many other things.
The wind thrummed and whined against my west window, the red numerals on my clock moved me through the night hours; sleepless, I resigned myself to turning over the scraps tumbling from my ragbag mind.

And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding,
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door. 

[Stanza X from 'The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes]

Friday, January 26, 2024

January Journal [Quiet Days]

Sunday, January 21. Minus 1 F at 7:30 in the morning. Sunshine on snow and a high of 28 F by mid afternoon.  I managed only 1 loop around the meadow. 
Monday morning was more promising: 25 F at 9 a.m. We had errands in town followed by a drive to Somerset to meet family for a meal to celebrate January birthdays--four of them. 
The drive home late in the afternoon was through quiet farm country once we left the city behind. Fields were still snow covered. Arriving home we noticed that the icicles had loosed their hold on the porch overhang.  46 F when I walked at sunset, the snow breaking down, patches of bare ground appearing in the meadow. 

By Tuesday morning rotting snow and slush made walking unpleasant. A flock of juncos bounced about on the mostly bare slope of the west meadow. 

Temps in the 50's on Wednesday and Thursday, sporadic rain, heavy fogs, general gloom. 
I walked between showers, the ground squelchy underfoot. I startled a grey squirrel foraging under the hickories at the east boundary fence. 
The first racoon we've seen in months paid a visit to the kibble tray on the porch, bumbling off at speed when I opened the door. 

Today we drove to South Fork for a rather lackluster shopping at the two discount food stores there.
Home again I put together a shepherd's pie, one of J's favorite dinners, then created two carrot cakes, one for us, the other for son-in-law Matt. 

I walked two loops of the meadows while the cakes cooled. There was a different feel and smell to the air, not quite springlike but with a sense of soil and grass released from the punishing cold.

Friday's grey morning skies.

Pale sunlight and clearing skies just before sundown.

Green grass along the lane.

The tattered remains of clematis vines. they will need a hard pruning come spring.

The colors of sunset are welcome after a run of grey and foggy days.

A zoom of the same view.

The results of afternoon baking--to remind me that I did accomplish something domestic!

This week: Reading, writing letters, doing a bit of research on The Scottish Psalter as we are studying the Psalms at church.

A creative endeavor. When snow and cold leaves me housebound I look to what I have on hand.
Gina previously admired this length of heavy decorator cotton, the satin lining fabric had languished in my stash for a number of years.

Gina likes a variety of throws for sofa and chairs, and is pleased with this one as a birthday gift.
I tied it with cream-colored embroidery cotton, also discovered in my stash of goods.

Robert was a great help. He insisted that the colors of the throw were a becoming backdrop for his black and white fur.


Sunday, January 21, 2024

Cold Weather Has Lingered

Cold weather moved in during the night of January 13, after two days of rain and wind. The temperature hasn't risen above the freezing mark [32 F.] all week.  Nights have registered  readings in the teens, then sliding down into single digits. 
When Jim checked the reading at 7:30 a.m. this Sunday morning it was minus .8--I think we could safely conclude that it had dipped below zero F. during the predawn hours. 

I have tried to keep to my schedule of walking but have had to shorten my time outdoors as the bitter cold creates facial pain. 
The effort of pushing through snow while lumbered in multiple layers of bulky clothing really has diminished the joy of being outside.
Area churches were cancelled this weekend, many offering a Zoom option. County offices and schools have been closed or on limited hours.
I was pleased that we had only one necessary trip during the week and that over clear roads to the next town. 
We've added our long johns and warm turtleneck tops to our usual indoor clothing.

Red sky at morning.

On the 17th a brilliant half moon balanced in the clear sky like a bowl resting on a table. The temperature hovered at zero F. Snow glittered in the cold wash of moonlight and twinkling starlight. 
In the morning [18 January] the sunrise display was colorful and prolonged, spreading a wash of rose, crimson and deep lavender to encompass the north and south horizons.
By mid-morning the sky had darkened to a pewter color and snowflakes began to swirl down by mid afternoon. 
I washed bedlinens and was thankful for the electric dryer!
Friday was COLD and snow fell relentlessly. 

I didn't walk outside. The water dish for the barn cats has needed to be brought inside many times per day to have ice tunked out in the sink and fresh water set out.  Going out to the porch with fortifying meals for the cats lets a chill blast into the kitchen, leaves me wanting to huddle by the fire.
Jim has improved the cat coops in the greenhouse with wraps of insulation and a tarp to keep out moisture. There are a number of snug bolt holes in the barn wings as well. 

Sunrise as zoomed from the front steps.

I have always enjoyed the tapestry of blue shadows on snow.

Snow crunches under my boots when walking up the lane.

Standing just beyond the lower level porch, camera pointed at the sunroom roof.

Icicles hanging outside the east porch screens.

Our neighbor's beef cattle marching up the slope from the frozen pond.
They have countless times seen me walk past on my way to the mailbox. This time, lumbering along in my quilted bibs, face wound in a scarf, the cattle decided they didn't know me. Apparently I appeared threatening, so they charged up the hill.

Tracks everywhere in the snow. Cat tracks, deer tracks, the hem-stitched prints of birds who have gleaned seeds from every stalk of weed or grass.
Our tracks, criss-crossing the dooryard, imprinted in the snow of the lane.

Robert, who thinks he must be out surveying his kingdom. The roof of the car is warmer than the cold, cold ground.

Fresh bread, with soup and salad, the mainstay of cold weather meals.
A warming trend is projected for mid week.
I anticipate opening windows, shaking out rugs, blowing aways the fusty dusty indoor atmosphere of winter. 


Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Sunny and Cold

12 F. at 7:30 A.M. A cold morning, but it stopped snowing overnight and the wind had died down.

By mid-morning the sky was deep cerulean blue creating a perfect snow scene.
I was fretting that Willis-the-cat didn't appear on the doorstep for his breakfast although his companion Sally was waiting for me as soon as I switched on the kitchen light.  I stuck my head out to call Willis several times, was thinking I must pull on boots and coat and check for him in the greenhouse. Willis is partial to the unheated greenhouse and there are insulated coops to shelter him and Sally on cold nights.
Contrary cat-wise Willis made himself known as I was struggling into layers of bulky outdoor clothing.
I had dressed earlier in silk long johns under jeans, T-shirt under a heavy cotton turtleneck top. 
I added a zip-front hoodie, a cardigan, insulated Carhart bibs, my tallest snow boots, wrapped my face in a soft scarf, pulled on fleece gloves. 

Jim decided to walk with me. His old snowmobiling jacket has been modeled in winter pictures for many years. He headed down the lower meadow loop while I took in the triangular piece bordered by the neighbor's pasture fence.

The landscape was beautiful and I should have found the walk exhilarating after spending most of yesterday indoors.
Instead I found that I was greatly encumbered by my layers of garments and my progress through the snow was annoyingly clumsy. 
The scarf over my face stiffened with my frozen breath, my boots were not getting good traction.
I managed one full loop and started up the hill again, only to turn around and trudge along the fence once more before stomping to the house.

I had my camera case slung over my shoulder. Pulling off my right glove to handle the camera I found that I could see nothing through the viewfinder. 

Willis, having emerged from his lair, joined us on the lower meadow path. 

He rolled in the snow coming up with ears and whiskers powdered in glinting flakes.

Willis made it to the front porch before I did, parking himself on the old rug kept there for the outside cats.

Later Willis moved to the woodshed, the very picture of a warm and well-fed feline.

Robert has continued his demands to be out--and then in.
[I am a doorkeeper in the house of the cats!]

Like his late brother Nellie, Robert considers the roof of a vehicle ideal as a lookout post. 

Coneflowers in the snow.

Plans to celebrate J's birthday [today] and our daughter's [tomorrow] had to be postponed due to the cold weather and icy roads.
I made Jim's favorite pineapple upside down cake.
I think that may have been my only real accomplishment of the day.

Freezing nights and chilly days are predicted for the remainder of the week.
I mustn't think about my plants which are likely victims of the prolonged chill.
Herman, the feral tabby came for his evening meal. I had saved a scoop of tinned cat food for him when the pampered house cats were served their 'tea' at noon.
I set out a small dish of milk which Herman guzzled thirstily, so I put out more and then warm water. He drank all of that between snatched mouthfuls of kibble. He is so wary--I have never been able to touch him. He backs off, eyes wide with apprehension when I open the door to hand out more food.
Although he doesn't trust us Herman finds us reliable. 
The fate of strays is heart-wrenching.

9:30 P.M. and the temperature reader displays 10 F. 


Monday, January 15, 2024

"The More It Snows"

Snow on the west meadow as seen through a window screen.

Sunday was cold, 22F. at 8:30 a.m. with a powdering of snow on the ground. 
When I went out to walk about 2:30 in the afternoon the temperature had risen to 1 degree below the freezing mark [32.F.]  I walked the usual two loops around the track, noticing that the sun was being overtaken by steely clouds. Willis and Shelby walked a few yards with me and turned back. By the time I had peeled off layers of outer clothing and glanced at the device on the living room wall which gives both indoor and outdoor readings, cold was taking over. 
Snow began to fall by early evening.
I had turned on the downstairs heat before I went out so went down to rummage out materials for a sewing project. 
I worked downstairs until 10, assisted by several interested cats.
18 degrees F. at 10:45 p.m. and falling snow had settled in for the night.
I woke this morning to the pale whiteness of a snowy landscape.

I found warm boots, a hoodie and down vest to go out with cat litter--a must-do task whatever the weather.
I had thoughts of walking at least one round of the usual path, but trudging as far as the shed below the meadow convinced me that it wasn't a day for being outside. My face ached with cold from that very brief foray.
A bluebird flew slowly past me, fluttered down into the snow before rising to fly into the trees of the south ravine. I worry about the birds in such weather. I've not put out feeders as our outdoor cats are only too willing to stalk any bird unwitting enough to land on rosebush or magnolia. 
I watched for the usual evening visit of the big feral tabby we call Herman. I think he may be staying in one of the bays of the shop during cold weather. He came to the front porch as I was tidying the kitchen after supper. I put out a bowl of milk and the tinned food saved from the housecats earlier 'tea.'
Herman has been stopping by for nearly two years, but will not allow us to touch him. He doesn't run quite as far now when I step onto the porch with food for him. I speak to him quietly, coaxingly and he gazes at me with big eyes, but humans are not on his list of creatures to be trusted. 

Jim requested French toast topped with sauce made from the last of a tray of blueberries and raspberries; The toast used the remainder of a loaf of homemade bread. I fried a few rounds of beef summer sausage to go with. 
Robert-the-cat doesn't care for French toast or maple syrup but was insistent that he needed tidbits of sausage to fortify his innards for the cold.
He and Shelby-cat have pestered day-long--back and forth from one door to the other--in and out; The reasoning of cats seems to be that the weather should be different on each side of the house.
Robert likes to sit on the gravel path beyond the brick landing. He did so after Jim's first sweep of the path and came in with bits of gravel frozen to his furry bloomers.

Jim has used the leaf blower to blow snow out of the path and off the car. 
It would seem that his collection of vehicles and tractors have nudged the 'everyday' car out into the cold!

At 1 a.m. I thought of my Thanksgiving cactus out in the unheated sunroom.
I should have gotten out of bed and moved it to the inner room. 
Several straggling begonias also lodged out there did not fare well--note the one on the right.
The begonias were salvaged from summer planters two years ago, not thrifty and thus no great loss. 
The cactus is definitely chilled but I think not unto death.
With temps projected in the single numbers for the next several nights I am concerned for my butterfly bushes and hibiscus. Frigid weather during the final days of December '22 killed my huge magenta buddleia though the smaller white one was spared to flourish during the past summer. They are fragile things--I've lost three mature ones to Kentucky winters--but so appealing in bloom and covered in butterflies that I continue to replace those lost.

Sewing project finished.
Comfort food produced: beef/veg soup and rolls.
We don't eat much meat; it is more of an ingredient in a dish than an entree.
I have a source for organic lean ground beef in frozen 1 lb packages, and keep several in the freezer for soup or a casserole. 

Wood brought in by Jim to feed the stove. On these cold nights we set the mini-split to come on if the temperature in the main living area drops below 70. 

Plans to celebrate two birthdays tomorrow [Jim's January 16, Gina's January 17] weather permitting.
Jim scoffs at driving in snow.
Having lived most of our lives in New England and then 12 years in Wyoming before retiring in Kentucky, we think snowy roads can be handled--with caution.

Winnie-the-Pooh's winter chant has been in my head today; I grew up with 'Pooh' before Disney corrupted him!

The more it
The more it
The more it

And nobody
How cold my
How cold my


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Sunshine, Heavenly Sunshine

The red numbers on my digital clock were clicking away toward 6 a.m. when, firmly wedged about with cats, I fell into what passed for sleep. Jolted back to consciousness I discovered it was after 8 and the sky visible through the window was bright blue. 
Waking to sunshine does make a difference!

Showered, dressed, a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, morning chores done.
With a relatively late start it was nearly noon when I headed up the lane toward our mailbox on the main road. I had missed the mailman, but no matter. 
The packed dirt of the lane had a bouncy feel, still soft from yesterday's rain.
A neighboring field wearing a subdued winter green spreads to the east. 

I walked my first loop of the upper meadow, bare hand clutching the mail, hood pushed back.

Shelby walks ahead of me.

With the mail dumped in the house I made a 2nd pass of the upper meadow and took in the lop-sided triangle bordered by a sturdy boundary fence.
Shelby stands on her own shadow, alert to the movements of the beef cattle in their pasture across the lane.

A long view of the fence and its shadow.

Before walking the lower meadow path I poked about in the west wall garden. A sere tulip poplar leaf nestled amongst pinks and foxglove cups yesterday's rainwater.

Frothy seed heads, a reminder of clematis 'Dr. Ruppel.'  Has anyone raised a clematis from seed? 
Several seasons ago I saved seeds from my vintage clematis, 'Candida' but none germinated.

I admire the way lemon balm hunkers down for the winter, tight rosettes of leaves clustered around last season's brittle stems. The clean lemon fragrance is released at the lightest touch.
I was reluctant to leave the brilliant day outside, but had run out of excuses. 
My painting project beckoned; the sunroom doors had been open since 9 a.m. allowing heat from the woodstove to flow in; now the south and west-facing windows were filled with light. 

I gave the first coat of paint a light sanding, tacked off the residue, ushered Rosie-Cat away from my paint cans and brushes. I'm liking the dark colonial red paint. Do I proceed with my plan to overpaint with black--or do I apply a 3rd coat for a red bookcase
All things being equal, the first of next week should see the bookcase ready to install in the big downstairs living area. 
Perhaps there will be a rainy day--perfect for the task of sorting and arranging books.