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On the Road Again

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


We take a last look out the narthex window at the hills and stones, and leave this little church. For now. 

Chet checks for spirits in the basement. His shaved patches from the dogbites clearly will remain until the big spring shed. Oh well. Neither of us are perfect any more, if ever we were. 

We'll come back several times this winter. And I want to see it in springtime and summer, too.
The turning of the seasons transforms it all. There is always so much to see. 

By the time we start for home it's snowing pretty good, and the wind is in our faces. Ugh. If there's wind, it seems always to be in our faces.

We get to a dangerous curve that I hate, because cars are always whipping around it and there's no shoulder. As if reading my mind, Chet bounds up the bank to the pasture and rounds the curve in safety on its top. He rejoins me on the straightaway. Good doggie!!

We go up a side lane and perch atop some hayrolls for a different perspective.

Here, I get one of my favorite shots of the winter, a Grandma Moses background with a shivering Boston terrier in the foreground, a few sumac fruit clusters beckoning from stage right. We embrace the season.

But one of us has a warm Dogburger on his mind, and he cracks the whip to get us home.

Fergus' pond isn't frozen yet, but it will be soon. 

The red tower of our house sticks up through the trees, a beacon. But it's still a long ways off.

The little bare pine branch on the left hand tree points right to it.

I like being able to see where I'm headed. I can do that on my runs, at least. Not so much in life any more. 

By the time we make our driveway, Chet's just a determined black dot in the distance. He gets a bit fed up with  my lollygagging and philosophizing when there's snow in his face. I am thankful that he'll come with me at all on such days. He only puts his paw down at cold rain, and more and more, so do I. 

We get home, all rosy and fogged up and freezing. I don't realize until Bill points it out that I'm graying. He snaps a shot, I shake like a dog and call it a run.

Sunday, at Church

Sunday, December 29, 2013

We're inside the Waxler Church, just taking in the spirit of the place. Snowlight floods in the windows and I find myself wishing there were a pot-bellied stove to warm it up. I feel the presence of every person who was baptised, married, eulogized, schooled here. I hear their voices echoing in the wooden walls. It is a place charged with life and love and sadness too.

There's no doubt that Chet feels it too. He sniffs and looks everywhere as if he's following leads. 

He does that everywhere he goes, of course. He's does it because he's a dog.  I find it deeply inspiring to explore such places with someone who is completely in the  moment, in the place where he finds himself. He inhabits his reality, instead of drifting off or wishing it were otherwise or thinking about something else entirely unrelated. Chet is in the now, ever in the moment at hand, awake and aware. I strive to be more animal-like. I am drawn to animals, of course, but also to people who can achieve that state of situational awareness, who don't miss a thing that's going on in their surroundings. It's a vanishing art, one that most aren't even aware can be learned and cultivated. 

Dogs are its best practitioners. Watch your dog, see how he goes through his environment, investigating everything as if it were new. If anyone is ever prepared for the second coming, it will be Chet Baker.

He is so like a toddler in his little coat that even I do a double-take when he stands up and looks out the window. Is that a child from the Waxler School, ca. 1915?

In the corner sits an old upright piano. I pretty much know what it will sound like before I roll back the keyboard cover. There are bird droppings on it. The way the photos and documents are lined up on its top reminds me of the piano in my Gram Ruigh's parlor. Sigh. 

Years of piano lessons at skinny Mrs. Ericson's mothball-smelling house, where the couch was covered with plastic and the avocado green drapes were always drawn against the light, have left me with nothing but an unpleasant memory. I never learned to read music because my ear was too good, and it was far too easy for me just to memorize the tunes. But I try to pick out a tune and play a few chords. The freezing old piano sounds like it's somewhere 20 fathoms under the sea, but I love that wavering tone, that nowhere-near tuning. At least for this application. 

The sound is awesome, reverberating around the wooden walls. I'd love to play a Rain Crows gig here.  It doesn't seem so far out of reach, especially in the summertime.

 Finally I give up trying to summon up anything useful from my lessons and just sing "Realms of the Blest," because I want the spirits to hear a song in this space once again. You can hear a snippet of me singing it here. It's Track #5.

It's time to leave this hallowed space. Chet leads the way, into the light.

In a Country Churchyard

Thursday, December 26, 2013


I'm amused by the shape of a high-hanging white-faced hornet's nest, echoing that of our enormous light blue watertower behind the scrim of trees. I guess they paint them blue to blend with the sky?
Which they sort of do. White would probably work better for most of the year...these white-sky winters seem to last forever.

We approach the Waxler Church, which sits high atop a hill outside Whipple, Ohio.
When the belltower started to fall down, the community's caretakers (a little band of former parishoners and their descendents) put the bell in a plexi box down front.
A way to keep it from falling through the roof, a way to keep it in memoriam.

To me, it looks like the church's head, displaced.

 The only spots of color are from a little American flag and a blue plastic bucket by the front door.

I know what that bucket is for. It's for spent plastic and silk flowers, which are about the only kind you ever see in these seldom-visited country church burial grounds. 

I circle the graveyard, looking for people I know. The longer I live here the more people I know. I see a former town selectman, and remember the three times he came to visit, once to greet us, once to get our vote, and once to investigate when our neighbor set his natural gas line afire. WHOOOOOMP!!!

Irene walks the roads I run on nice days. She usually has her hands behind her back, and never waves, but she might give me a chin throw sometimes. I don't see her in the winter, but I see her out walking most nice days the rest of the year. She lives alone down a dirt road in a tidy white single-wide. Doesn't have a car, has probably never driven. She used to live in a farmhouse after her husband died, but it burned down. The neighbors take care of her every need. This simple fact amazes me. She has no one else, so they bring her food and check on her every day. She's six years younger than my mother. Phoebe and I decide to bring her something on her birthday, which is coming right up. Her stone awaits.

Behind her rests Bessie Morganstern. She used to live in a white farmhouse on the corner of our road. I never knew her, but I knew her grandson Gary. Gary hunted everything, ate everything that walked, crawled or flew through these woods and fields. I wrote about Gary, even recorded an NPR commentary about him. The farmhouse is gone now, but daffodils push up through the smooth haymeadow each spring where it was.

I peer in, and the ghostly outline of the graveyard is overlain on the pews within.
I'm surprised to find the door secured only by a rubber bungee cord. I help myself inside.

These were German immigrants who built and attended this little church, which later became a schoolhouse, as many of them did.

Photos hang on the walls, undisturbed in the frigid cold. My dad would have been three years old when this photo was taken in 1915.

I roll the old-fashioned names around in my mouth. Gertrude, Bessie, Gladys, Luvada, Erma, Elver, Clessent. Names you don't hear any more. I wonder if they will ever come back. I somehow can't see them fighting their way past the Kaylas and Klaceys, the Briannas and Baileys of today. 

We make our way to the front, to what amounts to an altar.

There is a bouquet of silk flowers there, and in the bouquet someone has stuck a dark feather.

I am happy to inform you that it once rode the thermals in the wing of a turkey vulture, my totem bird. 

O person who put it here, thank you, for whoever you are, with your simple gesture you have made my day.
 I wonder if you knew it was a vulture's plume. 

Doubting it, but shivering with the perfection of it all anyway. 

O Holy Night (How Did This Happen?)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I don't blog about my kids much at all any more. This is because the intersection of the two sets is too wide now. Which two sets, you ask? These.

 Set One is "What I Say." Set Two is "What Embarrasses My Kids." When they were little, those sets didn't even touch. But the older they got, the more the two overlapped, until it's pretty much one big blushing red circle full of Embarrass. I know this is the natural order of things, for parents to get progressively more embarrassing, clueless and insensitive as they age. Or maybe it's that our kids get more sensitive to, well, anything. One of us is changing, that's for sure. Probably a bit of each.

Anyway, it slowly dawned on me that just having schlepped them around in my abdomen, squishing my internals for nine months, having done the whole highchair/slop/Cheerios/Tupperwares full of lasagna/ bath in the sink/bedtime story/toddling/diaper/preschool/swimming lessons/school projects/Christmas program/sports events/new shoes/CSS financial profile/college application thing with them doesn't give me the right to talk publicly about them. At all.

However. It is my rare privilege to have been pre-approved to share with you the End Result of Phoebe. There's much more to come, of course, but this is where we have arrived at the moment. And I am as gobsmacked as you will be. Bill and I sat in the audience squeezing each other's hands, wondering how this happened. Oh holy night, oh holy cow, that's our girl up there. That's Phoebe. Merry Christmas!

Cold Sunday Run

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I never know quite where we're going on our Sunday runs. It depends on weather and mud conditions, on how much sleep I've managed to get. But usually I try to do a five miler at least.

This was Sunday, December 10, and it would be the first run Chet had since he got beat up on the preceding Wednesday. He was ready! It was only 21 degrees, so he needed his little letter jacket.

Chet letters in Cute.
And Cross Country.

We got out to the road and took a left. Always the long run on Sunday.
We're going about 2.5 miles out on this road.

It hadn't started to snow yet, and I loved the sere colors of the landscape with Chet's red coat.  He doesn't much like walking in snow, but if he knows I want a picture of him he'll stop and give me several nice poses before he trots on. He absolutely knows what he's doing.

Reds were a theme. Is it any wonder we finally painted our house barn red? We were going for that weathered red. I think we got it.

I like photographing this hill best in summer, when I can shoot the butterfly weed against blue skies and puffy clouds. It's almost painful to look at my photos from August 2013, so sere is it now. But here it is.

This was a rare August day when there were swallowtails afloat, a rare day of towering cumulus and blue, blue skies. Truth is, we simply don't get those clouds or skies here in the winter. I remember upon moving to Cambridge Massachusetts, marveling that there was a place where the winter sky was often searing blue. Here, in the mid-Ohio valley, we wear gray flannel for what seems like the whole dang winter.

Oh look. Chet photobombs. What a surprise.

I may seem to be complaining, but I'm not. My spirit feeds on the turning of the seasons, on the contrasts between the lush and the stark. And especially on the cusp seasons, spring and fall, when one is surging into the fullness of June or falling into the emptiness of November. I need those changes. I'd probably lose my mind in a seasonless climate, looking for the change anyway. Change is the only constant, said Buddha. 

Same hillside in December. It's a nice hill in winter, too. Just nice in a whole different way, the difference between a country cottage drowning in flowers and an obelisk. There's the water tower that supplies our house with gravity feed water, peeking over a hill.

I like this shed, too, the lattice work roof and the red door. I notice them more in winter, when it's all about lines and graphics and spare shots of color.

I liked the diagonals in this scene. The car reminded me of a polar bear, that ivory white they have.

Snow makes you think about composition. The landscape is more graphic, like a drawing, than when it's all clothed in color.

Our destination is a retired church atop the watertower hill. A good place to go and reflect and worship a little, in our own reflective way, on a frigid gray Sunday in December.

The Kindness of Friends

Thursday, December 19, 2013


More blessings, showering down. My dear friend Donna from Virginia ordered some fragrant, colorful, sexy plants to be sent to me from Logee's Greenhouse.  One is a South American vine called Angel of the Night, Randia ruziana, described by Logee's as

One of the sweetest, most intoxicatingly fragrant flowers we have ever found, the white 8” long, tubular flowers have a 5-pointed petal that naturally bends but when unfolded reaches 5-6” across. The fragrance is very long-lasting. We picked a flower and dried it on a piece of paper. The next morning, after the flower had been discarded, the fragrance lasted for days on the paper. Another bonus: this winter bloomer will flower for two months or more. To bring Randia into bloom you must allow the flower buds to form in late summer and early fall on the old wood; therefore, only prune once flowering is complete. This South American native has an open branching habit and can be grown under moderate light. 

Hey. That works for me!! Fragrance that lasts for days from the imprint of a single flower? Ho-KAY!! Good plant pickin' Donna!!

Here is Angel of the Night, newly arrived, with a little brindle Angel of the Morning for scale and cuteness.

The plants came in subfreezing temperatures, packed in Styrofoam with a chemical heat pack inside. 

In the same box was a hibiscus called The Path. It's a stunning yellow and red monster of a hibiscus, perfect in name and form. It's going to be a huge plant. I cannot wait.

Clearly, Chet Baker can wait. He's waiting anyway.

Randia (who lost some leaves to the too-hot heat pack, ironically) and The Path installed in the greenhouse, bringing it back to life...the freeze alert en garde.

Donna, you fill my heart. You're there every day for me and you send these fantastic plants on top of that. Weep. Thank you seems wholly inadequate, but it's what I've got.

But wait, there's more. A dear blog reader named Laura from California up and ordered me a gardenia. She told Jackson and Perkins she wanted one loaded with buds that would stink up the whole greenhouse. They obliged.

"Hi Julie. May this baby perfume the greenhouse hugely. Thanks for all that you give to the world."
I couldn't wait to open that box.

Got buds? Mmm hmmmm! Oh my gosh!

I assigned Chet to comfort the chilly gardenia, bring it back up to temperature before it went out to the steamy greenhouse. He obliged.

The plant was fairly shouting. HERE TO MAKE YOU HAPPY!!




You betcha!! I promise to love, honor and obey every directive of these three plants as long as we both shall live. For they do speak to me and tell me what they need. And it is my great pleasure to try to satisfy them.

Thank you thank you thank you. 

My sweet neighbor Beth grew four dwarf pomegranates from seed, and she saved the prettiest one for me. I'd never heard of such a thing, never seen a pomegranate, much less a dwarf one. And it's in bloom!

I did a little reading and found out that dwarf pomegranates can get 8' tall, but that they also make excellent subjects for bonsai, having tiny leaves and a tendency to make a woody trunk. Not to mention the cool goldfish-shaped waxy flowers

one of which is now exploding with a crinkly tissue-paper fanfare of orange!

Making a tropical bonsai of this plant is a no-brainer for me.
Amazing how losing most of my plants has introduced me to even more kinds to love. And awakened me to the kindness of friends and neighbors, and people I don't even know who care anyway.

Now to finally decide what I want from Logee's with my gift certificate from Charles from Texas. Got a hibiscus! Got an Angel of the Night! Got a gardenia! That leaves...everything else. Weezy from Texas and Tim from Columbus widen the choices.

Delicious choices.
My friends, you make my life rich in so many ways. I'm humbled by your expressions of love.  Crystal wrote from New York to say that these greenhouse posts have made her decide to make her sunroom into a greenhouse. The thought that someone would decide to bring plants into her life and home because it sounds so nice here makes me warm all over.

And Donna. This photo taken the evening of December 18.  Hibiscus "The Path" has two tiny buds that get bigger every day. 

That little green light is the frost alert, on duty.

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