Saturday, January 21, 2012


The morning sounds that first hit my ears were rain drops hitting the leaves on the ground just outside my bedroom window. The window was open a bit and my German Shepherd, Heidi, lay with her long nose resting on the window sill, watching and sniffing. It had been a very clear sky last night, and having not consulted the hand held oracle about the weather, I had assumed another gorgeous day was on tap, but this was not the case I found out as I listened to the pattering rain drops.
Heidi does not like pattern breakers and has always been a faithful and regular alarm clock of sorts. She prefers my awakening on her time schedule and will come to the side of my bed and sometimes just stare at me, her eyes eye level with mine and a large black nose inches from my face. If I give no reaction, she will sometimes take her long snoot and pull the covers back, but mostly she does as she did this morning and just lays there impatiently, moaning like Lassie when Timmy fell in the well again. It has its effect eventually, and I get up and start the day.

A few mornings ago Mark got up early to sit in a blind by our pond to try to catch a photograph or two or three of the now in residence, group of Buffleheads,  the males being a rather flashy duck with a striking black and white head. Together the group patrols our pond running first one way and then the other, enjoying whatever small fish, grubs and crustaceans they find as they dive under the water as they cruise along. 
They are in pairs and are mostly monogamous, unlike most ducks, and nest in the abandoned nest cavities of Northern Flickers. They cruise as a group, and can be called a brace, a flush, a paddling, a raft, and the traveling group can also be a team of ducks. They have come to our pond several winters and repeat this continuous, back and forth pattern but will leave soon for northern breeding grounds. For now, though they provide nice entertainment from my kitchen window, and from Mark’s blind. 
Another of the patterns that happen on the farm is actually a useful one, and also involves the big pond in front of the house. We have a pair of boats afloat in this piece of water. One is an old john boat, a flat light weight small pond fishing vessel. The other is an antique deck boat with blue vinyl covered seats and a blue plastic carpet covering a plywood deck which sits upon two aluminum pontoons. Neither have a motor on them and neither are beached or tethered, and so they drift. It is in their drifting that they are useful, providing a sort of large scale weather vane.
Our weather in the winter is variable to say the least, and in our weekly collision of frontal air masses, strong winds blow, and move these two boats up and down the length of the pond. The approach of a cold front brings winds from the south and so the boats will nestle up to the pond dam shore. Then when the front has passed the wind blows from the north, the skies clear, and the boats return to the south end of the pond. It is their ability to do the rough weather predictions for us that keep them from being caught and tied up to something, that, and some general laziness on our part.
A friend, my long time farrier, the keeper of my horses feet, remarked the other day when out here, that as a young man he could never understand visiting someone’s older farm and seeing so many things that need to be done, like fences mended, gates hung, grass cut, driveways dragged, and the list of farm maintenance is endless. He added that now as an older person, he understood it totally.
There is only a certain amount of energy to one’s day and one’s life to spend, and some things just don’t take precedence over others, like catching wayward, drifting boats upon the pond. Some things just have to wait, and wait, and probably won’t ever get done unless a horse gets loose, or whatever it is becomes a mini-crisis. The boats are not in that category yet, but as our pond dam has a spillway that you drive over that lets excess rainfall flow out, a good solid rain could see those two boats doing a little traveling outside of their present little pond into the field below the dam. The little john boat would not be much of a problem, but the big boat, would pose a real Ark of a problem if it goes over with no Noah at the helm, so I guess at some point their bows will find a secure mooring, but probably not today.    
The other stuff, the stuff on the farm that should be getting done, like fixing fences and riding my horses is still on hold. A new round of xrays and a cat scan of my still painful ribs have told me that they are still fractured and my doctor’s sage advice was to take it easy and relax. Is he kidding? I do not do relax and take it easy very well, and certainly not for months. I am beginning to feel a bit like a sloth with sludge in my veins. Ugh, I am not good at twiddling my thumbs for entertainment, but this present impairment does at least give me excuse not to have all the things done on the farm that should have been done. And so I wait, and the other stuff will too.   
I am quickly getting used to this new gig of being a grandparent though, and it is all its cracked up to be so far. I get to go over to my daughter’s house and baby sit little Margaret for a while, holding this ridiculously adorable, baby girl, rocking her, and watching her coo and wave her tiny arms in the air and make silly faces. She is a very easy baby so far, well at least for me, and she is content to be there awake and being cute, or after sucking for a while on the pacifier, makes it clear that she really does want milk, NOW. Once fed, and subsequently has a clean diaper change, she is again content and usually falls back to sleep. And then, I get to go home and let her parents stay up all night with her. 

It is easy.

And so another January is drifting along. The rain falling today has made a pleasant background noise, as I have sat on the back porch to write today.  On top of this there has been a symphony of the songs and calls of many birds flying to and fro, and horses whinnying in the fields next door. A distant thunder rumbles to my left, southward, and to my right I hear the whistle and the rumbling of freight train as it heads away from town. A squirrel is fussing somewhere up in the tree tops in front of me and my shepherd is snoring peacefully behind me, her job for the day done. 

The rain fall is slowing and it is time for horse feeding and so off to the barn world I will go, another day, adrift, in this wonderful thing called life.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Study in Blues

January’s entrance has been typical to form with days of high humidity and sultry warm, followed by storms which bring rain and cold winds. It is an amazing thing that anyone living in this ridiculously fickle climate doesn’t stay perpetually ill, but it is with this volatile weather pattern that there comes a beauty to my world that doesn’t come any other time of year, especially in the late afternoons of these early winter days.
January is a study of blues. The range of hues within the realm of what we think of as blue is almost an endless parade of variations on the theme. Today is a cold clear wash of pure cobalt, cloudless and seamless. The past week, though, was hung with an occluded front which brought a continual trail of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, and with it came many clouds of varying sizes and shapes, and also at varying altitudes. This moisture and its clouds then brought out other tubes of color to mix with this background base of cobalt.
The heaviest of these clouds were a deep periwinkle sometimes topped with an icing of bright white. This periwinkle is a cobalt mixed with a deep burnt umber and a slight touch of rose madder. They drifted by, brooding and ominous. There were some that were mixed with cerulean, some of Prussian blue, and some with ultramarine,  all rich and lovely, a perpetual watercolorist’s dream sky all day long. It has been the afternoons though this past week which have been almost boring in their predictable repetition of amazing beauty, a wild explosion of color and drama to the fading sunsets.
We live on a small, barely two lane, barely paved, dead end rural road which hits the county road at its beginning. At this beginning is our neighbors‘ cow farm. It is a large farm with many paddocks and large fields dotted with cows of different colors, mostly all black, and as with most cow farms there are ponds for them to drink from and stand in during the hot summer months. Since cows don’t sweat they need these refuges to chill out in and take in hydration and the little ponds fill both jobs. There is such a pond on the west side of our little road, just after one turns from the county highway onto our road.
By being on the west side of the road, this pond unwittingly lends itself to some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen or could have imagined. An ugly cow pond by day, in the late sinking sunsets of January, this pond turns into a magic array of colors one can not believe unless one sees it first hand, or sees Mark’s photographs of it which truly and accurately mirror this phenomenon. My simple cell phone shots do no justice to it at all. When the sun finally gets almost below the cloud cover on the distant horizon is when it all starts.    

There is a sudden blast of surreal color as the warm beams of the casting sunlight hit the undersides of these floating periwinkle clouds, and they burst into flames of oranges and pinks that scream against the backdrop of the vast arrays of blue hues surrounding them. 
The winter grasses on the opposite side of the pond are equally extreme with shades of electric chartreuse that are divided by the vertical stands of the bare black trees whose limbs reach wide into this sky on fire above them.
There are usually a few black cows grazing on the lush winter pasture on the slow rise of the hill behind the pond, just to finish off this scene. The heifers are now in calving season and are steadily dropping small calves and these babies lay on the chartreuse blanket like a scattering of black confetti. The scene is both equally bucolic and serene, and dramatically surreal.  
Mark has beautifully and masterfully photographed this reoccurring scene for several seasons now and each photograph from each changing sunset is widely different in mood, but each still retains a continuing prominent theme. 
There is always, the pond. It is in its quiet reflective nature that makes the gift of this scene and, that is the kiss on the photograph. It is in the mercurial silver mirror of its still water that one gets to see the blaze in the sky twice, a perfect equal reflection of the blues, pinks, and oranges, until the big orb slides below the horizon and the scene turns back to blue, then fades to black. 
Today, as I said earlier,  the sky is a dome of an unmarred cobalt wash. There is not going to be a dramatic sky over the pond this afternoon so we will have wait for another one when the next frontal system slides into our area and pulls up more humidity from the south. Clear skies of January have their own magic too though. Theirs’ is the revelation of the stars and planets that grace the cold black nights. No longer obscured by the passing moisture and clouds, Orion rises early and stays late followed closely by a sparkling Sirius, the Dog star and brightest star in the sky. Together always they rise and fall across the ecliptic of the winter nights, shining, twinkling, and hang there as reliable markers of the, once more, changing seasons around us. 
Below is just one of the many gifts that Mark has captured, with his amazing gift of catching light