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A Musical Thanksgiving

Monday, November 30, 2015

We picked the girl up and headed south, met up with Corey in Cambridge, and kept going. 
There was  a slight hitch in our plans, and it wasn't the traffic. I'd spent a couple of fruitless weeks worrying about how we were going to negotiate the traffic from Boston to Maine, back to Boston to Harvard MA to Rhode Island during Thanksgiving week. As it turned out, traveling on Monday night, Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning was no problem at all. We managed to miss the crowds. I'm pretty proud of our logisticizing. We prevailed. Never sat in a jam at all. 

We sat in on a jam, at 11, below!

But one absolutely terrible thing happened. Phoebe forgot her mascara. Harrible! And her mother doesn't wear it so she could borrow some! Even harribler! What to do? What to do? Put a bag over her head? No, that would be bad. 


We began a quest for a store that was open on Thanksgiving morning. Nothing doing. 
Massachusetts was a mascara desert. Durn blue laws. Cain't buy booze, makeup,  nuffin' there on a holiday!

Rhode Island was devoid of black eyegoop, too. We checked every Wal-Mart and Target, every Rite-Aid and CVS. All locked up tighter than Jack Benny's wallet. It became a vision quest. Phoebe had long rolled her white-lashed eyes and given up, but we were still on it. ON IT. We would find mascara on Thanksgiving day!! Mascara jokes flew. Finally, only four minutes from our final destination in Barrington, RI, we found a CVS that was open! Liam and Corey skipped down the aisle after poor Phoebs, who took all the ribbing in good humor. She was getting her mascara after all. And a headband, too.

Everyone knows CVS has the best mascara. Bill tries a little blonde fall on Corey.

Phoebe finds the right headband at last.

Mascara obtained, we jumped back in the car. Not ten minutes after we got to my niece's house along the Rhode Island coast, Bill whipped out his guitar and Corey got out his fiddle and the music began. 

My nephew Evan, a brilliant engineer who also juggles fire, played along. 

Max was enchanted by the fiddle tunes. He wasn't alone. 

There was a lot of musical power in that room. David on guitar, Tera enjoying it all.

There was magic in the air. Everyone stepped lighter, worked faster, laughed more spontaneously.

Then there was a break, with outdoor dodgeball and everybody getting booped with plastic kickballs.

Finally it was time to serve the dinner, a team effort by most of the 21 Zickefoose/Dorsky/Salter/Kemp/Thompson people in attendance.

Some of the food was warmed up at the neighbor's house, and came over in a procession of hotmitts up the sidewalk. I loved that.

My niece, Karen and her husband Jason and their terrific boys Max and Will; their wonderful spacious house, the gracious hosts of the gathering. 

The food was amazing and abundant. Max and Will made the nametags and chose where everyone would sit.

And because the main course wasn't enough, pies and real whipped cream, homemade cookies and biscotti.

Sweet little girls, better than real whipped cream. Maddie arranges magnetic letters.

Her sister, raven-haired Clara, rides a mighty tall horse. 

After dinner, the obligatory walk. But this one had wigeon, black ducks, an Atlantic brant and a common loon, and enough optics to pass around for all to appreciate them! It doesn't get any better than that!

Phoebe and Liam walk along the inlet to the brackish marsh.

Liam pauses to to consider the sky in the water. 

 I'm so grateful to have had this time with my family, after so many years away on this holiday. It made sense to come East, pick up our girl and her guy, and head to the coast. Phoebe's choosing Maine for college has had some very beautiful, if rawther expensive, repercussions. Each time we visit I feel like I've been on a mini-vacation. Talk about a change of channel from southeast Ohio!
Seeing them together fills my heart.

I made an iPhone video of Corey and Bill and assorted others playing "Cotton-eyed Joe" to share with you. I can't describe how profoundly their music transformed the gathering. Better for you to see it yourself. People float in and out of the circle, bouncing to the beat, dancing, playing, smiling.  Liam picks up a Baby Dear doll and goofs around. Yes, it IS a doll! Sweet little kids drift in, pick up an instrument, join in and play along as best they can. That's the whole idea.


My sisters Barbara, Nancy and Micky. All salt of the earth, all formidable cooks and, if I may say so, exemplary mothers. So, so good to see them again. Barb and I, in a dead heat for who looks more like our mom, Ida.

As we were taking these last photos, a pair of red-tailed hawks flapped up and landed in the tippy-top of a nearby fir, watching the whole procedure and the good-byes. We all knew who sent them. Come on. A wooded suburb right on the coast? Is that typical redtail habitat? They were dispatched to watch over us. This iPhone photo looks like nothing, of course, but the pair sat in the smaller fir, looking right at us, for as long as we were gathered and taking photos in the front yard.

Music has always been a part of our family gatherings, on both the Zickefoose and Thompson sides. This Thanksgiving was one to remember.  I am so grateful to have these wonderful people in my life. This truly was a thanks-giving.

We Went to Maine to Get a Girl

Saturday, November 28, 2015

We went to Maine to pick up a girl who wasn't quite done with her classes. 

We got there on the Monday before Thanksgiving quite late, after my bedtime, but she had people she wanted us to meet.

It made us happy that she wanted anyone to meet us, so we pulled ourselves together and ran around in the freezing night with her, from building to building, meeting her friends. We kept going back to the car and our suitcases for more coats. 

The first thing Phoebe showed us was the effort made by the first year students under her care as a student advisor. They'd been working for several nights on "Fantasy Flock," and had gotten this far. They were trying to get it done before we arrived. I was impressed! The blues are ever the hardest part.

I was thrilled to pieces to see my new friend Merlin Tuttle's photograph of a lesser long-nosed bat feeding at a saguaro flower. It graces the cover of a biology textbook used at Bowdoin. What a lovely convergence of beautiful things. 

The students who'd been knocking themselves out trying to finish this puzzle paid tribute to the artist who was causing them so much agony with her dang sky washes.

It was quite humbling and very sweet. Mingo's laughing in the middle. 

When we'd finished meeting everyone, we finally got to bed at our dear friends Dede and Dave's house, about a half hour away. Bill, Liam and I were tuckered out, having flown from Ohio and driven to Maine from Boston that evening. Phoebe wanted us to accompany her to her BioGeoChem class the next morning, to get a little taste of a Bowdoin class. It was fascinating, relevant, well taught and accessible. Phoebe wants to understand what's happening to the earth, so she's planning to declare an Oceanography and Earth Sciences major, with a minor in Spanish. 

What a wonderful place to do that!

On our way to class I spied a big fatbottom campus gray squirrel and knelt to make his picture. I called my little family over and gave a short lecture on Bergmann's Rule, which says that the colder the climate, the larger and bulkier a species becomes. Bodies become burly and tanklike. Extremities may get shorter; ears, which radiate heat, will shrink; fur thickens, of course. This squirrel looks only superficially like our southern Ohio squirrels. Sort of the polar equivalent. Phoebe needled me, saying that the only genetic difference is that this squirrel lives near Moulton (a dining hall). So FAT. I begged to differ, and went all Science Chimp on her with the Bergmann's Rule stuff.

We found some cheap storm windows on a building across the alley from it reflecting most magically on an old brick wall. WOW.

Although I hadn't had much sleep, I got up early that morning (not hard in Maine, where even in late November, it's getting light at 5:30 AM). I ran for a couple of hours before we were to meet Phoebe for class, exploring some new marsh and woodland in Freeport. I have to explore when I'm in a new place, on foot, as far out as I can go in the time that I have. I'm compelled to do this, and I'm so glad that I do. I meet people and see things and get a feeling for the land under my feet, for the birds that live there, for the trees and the earth, too.

 I find that my hosts, rather than being put out by my disappearing for a couple of hours, seem to understand and appreciate this. I figure as a guest that getting out of their hair in the morning is the least I can do.

The best stuff happens then. The best light happens then.

I approached these fallen apples with high hopes for a nomad's breakfast, but subfreezing temperatures had turned them to rocksweet mush. There were apples everywhere. It was as if winter had caught the trees unawares. 

I missed my running buddy something awful, but he was back home, staying with Wally for a few nights. He was happy there, but I could feel him missing me as he woke and wondered where I was running. I felt sure he could see this sandy coastal road in my mind's eye, as I envisioned him nosing through the cold brush. I think he gets my pictures. Sometimes I get his, too.

Not far from here I heard waxwings calling, but they weren't cedar waxwings, whose every whistle, burp and ahem I know by heart, having been mama to three of them. The trill was about an octave too low-pitched and throaty to be made by a little cedar waxwing. They had to be Bohemians. I searched and searched the pine tops, but I couldn't find them. There were two, and I didn't see them. It would have been only the second time in my life to see them. Western Newfoundland, 1983, I believe, was the last time. Sigh. But I heard them, I was near them, and that is something. Better than not hearing them and being hundreds of miles away from them.

I stood dumbfounded at the light and the sky in the marsh. The mirrors were ringed with ice.

I tried to imagine seeing this every day, watching the marsh turn from green to molten gold as the ice came in. 

 And then to see it all go to white. I'm not sure I'd want to see that, color junkie that I am. Oh, Maine. You're breaking my heart. So beautiful, but so cold!

A Gathering In

Sunday, November 22, 2015


This fall has been a long, slow, luxurious time for harvest. Mostly, it's been a gathering in of beauty. I really appreciate Japanese maples for their form and the beauty of their tiny baby-hand leaves. But I love them most in November, when they start coming into color as all the other trees lose their last leaves. Thank you, Japanese maples.

 These are the two liberated bonsais now living in the yard.

I enjoy imagining them back in their tiny pots, twenty-three years ago. They've always been full-grown trees. It's just that being in the ground lets them realize their full potential of growth.

Here's to being planted in good ground.

I keep the bonsais out on display until they're pretty much leafless. Then it's time to put them to bed for the winter.

I've been thankful every minute for the mild, sunny weather this fall. It makes everything so much easier. 
As many of you know, I've been wintering these trees in a pit in the backyard. When they got too tall for the pit, I started heeling them in on their sides. Then I'd cover the pit with glass for the winter. I had to take it off and water them every couple of weeks. 
When they got too big for that, I built the pit higher with cinder blocks. 
And then they got too big for that.

This fall I'd finally had it with trying  to shoehorn them into the pit. They were losing branches from being half-buried on their sides.  And I realized I had been fighting this for more than a decade, and decided to change the program.
I decided to ask Bill to dig a hole in the nice loose loam of our vegetable garden, and bury the unpotted trees halfway up their trunks. This would put them about 8" underground, far enough, I think, to keep the roots from freezing.  They'd be in a deer-proof enclosure as well in Jurassic Garden.

Bonsais awaiting burial. At this point, my back was still buggin' me and I couldn't do it myself. I was very grateful for the boys' help.

 I was there in a supervisory capacity, helping bury the trees. I hope this works. It's got to be better for the trees than being half-buried in soil. If it gets wickedly cold, I may heap fresh straw over them to help insulate the tops from the cold. But they should be just as hardy as the big trees in the yard.

While the boys dug, I harvested the sweet potatoes. Last spring I found a sprouty sweet potato in the cupboard and lopped off the top third and stuck it right in the garden soil.

The fork turned up the most marvelous treasure!

A dozen red yams from 1/3 of one--that's math I understand. And the coolest thing, to me, was the way the yam fragment I'd planted in May stayed intact. It didn't rot or wither away. It simply sent out a fountain of roots that then made a headdress of tubers. That we are now eating. 
Being a tropical plant, I wonder if this old yam piece would keep on going, throwing out tubers, but for November cold. I guess I'll never know.

As I worked around the yard, I took stock of all the lovely things still clinging to life after one frost.
My old tea rose "Rio Samba" is on its way out. It sent up only two blooms this year, off one thin stalk.  How fitting that it should push forth a flower in November.

I watched the bud swell, while the zinnia hung in there, waiting.

The rose seemed to find strength from the red zinnia that found itself in similar straits: blooming in November, the last leaf on the tree. 

I found myself going out at dawn, dusk and other times to photograph them together. I liked the way they clung together.

By and by the rose opened full, and the sweet sunny days wore on and on. 

All told, they had more than two weeks together, rain and shine, watching the winter come on. For flowers, that's an eternity. Something was keeping them fresh. Maybe the cold nights.

 I found myself visiting those two flowers at all times of the day. 

My favorite shot of them together conjured a Sheryl Crow lyric from "Home."

I want to watch the sun come up
In a stranger's arms

That same morning, looking the other can see the Groanhouse twinkling with lights and flowers. I'm already looking inward, building my fortress against the dreary winter.
What's my choice? Killing frost and snow are coming soon. Get those twinkly lights up, girl. Bring in everything blooming, cheat winter as much as you can.

And the rose and zinnia bloom on.

 I think this will be the last blossom we see from Rio Samba. There's no way it's going to send up another shoot next spring. It's 20 years, and goodbye. You were the best rose of all.

And then I walked out to see them on November 21, and a deer had come in the night and nipped off the rose, leaving the classic angled snip of a white-tail's tooth. 

A single petal lay on the patio. And the zinnia bloomed on.  If she mourned her sweet fragrant friend she wasn't going to show it. She was going to trudge on, into winter.

But I thought she looked a little puffy under the eyes.

And just behind them, what was left of the great morning glory tower bloomed on, taking warmth from the cement patio.

I had cut the frost-bitten top off the vine, and carted it over to my brush dump. While taking another load days later, I found Zombie Glories still blooming on the pile. Rootless but hopeful.

 I kept shooting the morning glories that were left, this miniature landscape of ethereal color, withered balloons of flowers past and the twirled buds of flowers yet to come, frost permitting.

 I'm pretty sure this is my last photo of morning glories. November 21. That's darn late, and I'm thankful to have had their beauty, however tattered, for this long.

Fall rituals: the hoisting of the Halloween jack-o-lantern to the top of the tower for tossing off. Liam's up top, cranking the dumbwaiter to raise the pumpkin, which is in a laundry basket. It was so far gone that when tossed 42' to the ground, it vaporized on impact, which made us laugh for a long time.

And the dog warms his old bones by Liam's birthday fire. Like a cat, he jumps up, finds the warmth wherever it will be found.

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