Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

If I Had a Hammer…

The House that Would be BuiltI heard a rumor the other day, a rumor that grew out of fact: the fact being Kelly Bolles had a “For Sale” sign on his green pickup truck. Those who frequent the Valley recognize Kelly’s truck, usually with trailer in tow, as a Valley regular. More often than not both vehicles pass me when I’m afoot or cruising along on Gladys. When I saw the truck parked roadside of the fruit stand at the corner of Tualco with a “For Sale” sign conspicuously displayed on a window, I thought I’d ask Michael at Tropical Blends Espresso if he knew what was going on. “Yeah,” I’m told, “Kelly’s going to North Dakota.” “What’s up with that?” I asked. “I don’t know…guess he’s going there to drive truck.” The Ripple, of course, does not give voice to rumor, so I set out to learn more.

Just the next day I was wheeling by Kelly’s perpetual renovation high rise and there was his truck, trailer attached, and Kelly himself hauling stuff from his airy basement to the trailer. Here’s the opportunity to do some rumor busting, I thought, and headed up Kelly’s driveway toward the truth.

I wait until the Truffle King reappears from his vaulted basement carrying the odds and ends to be trailered away. “So you’re selling the truck?” I ask, pointing to the sign on the canopy window. “Yes,” Kelly replies. “I have an apartment rented in North Dakota and need to raise the money to travel there.” “It’s difficult to spread the word when you’re still using the rig, isn’t it?”I joke. Kelly laughs and says he needed to haul some stuff, do a little cleaning up around the place. I laugh,“I guess you do get a wider audience driving around the area than you would leaving it parked on the corner.” So the rumor is true: Kelly Bolles is off to North Dakota. “I have to do something,” he says and nods towards the lofty house. “It’s pretty much tapped me out.” I’ve discussed Kelly’s perpetual renovation with him before, learned the remodel and proprietor are caught up in an inescapable snare. As is the case with many serious home upgrades, the homeowner does one project at a time and then waits for the bank account to recover before he tackles the next. Just when Kelly has set aside the money to move forward, his County permits expire or the codes change and he has to use his reserves to acquire new permits. Kelly’s household seems mired in the classic Catch-22 conundrum.

“So are you selling out, then?” I asked, thinking about the mycological experiment Kelly began last spring (“Trifling with Truffles or There’s Fungus Among Us in the Valley,” 5/29/2011). Kelly shakes his head. “Who’ll be watching after the berries—and those truffles?” I learn Paul Bischoff will be superintending the place while Kelly browses the greener pastures of North Dakota. Besides, the first truffle is three years distant. Why North Dakota, I wonder. “There’s plenty of work there,” Kelly’s replies. I guess “work” means driving truck. I don’t know if I could tolerate those harsh North Dakota winters myself and share my concern with Kelly. As so often happens in idle conversation, at this point the topics leapfrog, turn random. “Mexico,” laughs Kelly. “I wouldn’t go there for anything,”referencing the drug cartels that have turned many areas of siesta land into war zones. My rebuttal surprises Kelly. “Alaska,” I reply. “Wouldn’t want to go there.” That puzzles him and he wants to know why. “Bears,” I tell him, “I’m afraid of the bears.” He replies, “Bears?…I’m more afraid of the Rottweilers and German Shepherds I meet than bears.” He has a point. If you’ve read The Ripple, you know I’ve posted a few Valley dog stories myself. But I’m always up for another good dog story—especially if I’m not personally involved in the storyline. At this point we leave North Dakota, Mexico and Alaska for the geography class, and courtesy of Kelly’s caninophobia I’ll share this story he told me.     Kelly B., future truffle king

One of Kelly’s contractors in the perpetual renovation loop was a cement finisher. Noting that Kelly’s farm had plenty of open space, the contractor asked him if he could bring his dog to work with him during the day while he went about his work. “What kind of a dog is it?” Kelly asked cautiously. A mastiff was the answer. Now a mastiff is no small animal and right away Kelly was apprehensive. “Is it friendly…like people?” The answer predictably was “yes,”(Have you ever met a dog owner whose dog wasn’t?) “Does it like cats?” Kelly asked, thinking of the numerous felines that call Bolles’ Organic Farms their home. “Oh, he kills cats,” was the candid answer. Now as far as I’m concerned, that should have been a red flag, but Kelly Bolles is the easiest going type of character you’ll ever meet and after some hesitation gave the cement man permission, stipulating, “Ok, but you’ll have to keep him tied up then.” 

So to work the mastiff came and spent the days tethered to his master’s truck by a stout rope. Then came a day when the contractor decided he was going to knock off and head to town for lunch. Perhaps he didn’t want to share his meal with the mastiff--I not sure--but riddle me this: how many Happy Meals could a mastiff put away? Whatever his reason, the contractor re-tethered the dog, left it behind, and drove off to seek his lunch.

I’ll take a break from the story myself in order to relate some mastiff facts guaranteed to add more punch to Kelly’s story. When I think of “mastiff,” the word immediately associates with “massive.”A pack of chihuahuas could loll comfortably in the shade of one mastiff—if each weren’t afraid of becoming a doggie snack. Although there are different varieties of mastiff, the English mastiff is touted as being “the world’s largest dog.” Bred to be a guard dog, (the Romans called the mastiff a “war dog”), this canine behemoth has a set of jaws that could crush a Smart Car. Come to think of it, I wonder if Kelly asked the cement guy just how his dog “liked” people….

While the mastiff’s master was in town sampling the local fast food fare, Kelly had some visitors. Dog people, too, it turned out. The visitors exited their vehicle and brought their dog with them. The visitors’ breed of choice, according to Kelly, was a whippet style dog. If you’re not up on your dog breeds or a fancier of dog racing, the whippet is a medium-sized dog, a smaller version of the greyhound, and like the larger dog, genetically engineered for speed, especially bred to run things down, not grind them up. The shorthaired whippet’s streamlined body is held aloft by small-boned, ballerina type legs. Apparently, too, the visiting whippet had an amiable nature, and spotting its mountain-sized cousin tethered nearby, sauntered over for a friendly “Howja do.” The mastiff responded to the offer of friendship by grabbing a mouthful of whippet, chomping down hard, and locking its jaws on the unfortunate well-wisher. Yips and howls of distress quickly brought Kelly and the whippet’s masters to the rescue. However, nothing seemed to phase the giant and try as the rescuers might, every attempt to free the whippet from the jaws of death failed; all frantic efforts to relax the canine vice-grip were to no avail.

It so happened that also in the loop of perpetual renovation and on site for the day was a carpenter. Hearing the ruckus below, he ran to the nearest window, and assessing the gravity of the situation, quickly rushed to the scene shouting, “I know what to do!” To Kelly’s surprise, the carpenter, wielding the tool of his trade, bypassed the massive jaws, ran to the stern of the brute and…. At this point Kelly demonstrated what happened next. In a smooth, sideways motion as if he were using both hands to chunk a stick of wood into a woodstove, Kelly mimed what the carpenter did next with his hammer. Either surprised by the assault on its backside or the sensation it caused, the mastiff’s jaws sprung open as if someone pushed a magic button. Released from those champing jaws, the freed whippet quickly used its graceful legs to distance itself from the slobbering massive maw. As he finished his story, a gleeful grin flashed across Kelly’s face.

Unless they’re a carpenter, not many go about their daily lives carrying a tool belt or a hammer, nor would it be practical for me to carry either while out in the Valley astride Gladys. I’ll continue to pack the much lighter pepper spray canister when I venture out there. The Ripple relates Kelly’s story as a public service, a tip or helpful hint, if you will, that should a reader some day find himself in a similar circumstance, there’s a very good way to get a handle on—or in--the situation.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Another Valley Birthday: The Ripple Leaves the Terrible Twos Behind…

The Valley in midwinterFebruary 27. The Ripple is two years old today. No one is more surprised than I. “One year,” I told myself, “is sufficient time to cover the Valley happenings; there’ll be no need to recycle old news, so I’ll give it a year.”And I was ready to quiet the presses, too, had the final post all written and ready to print. I don’t know what happened, whether it was breaking news or what, but here we are one a year later and The Ripple is still bringing it.

Two years ago I posted The Ripple’s mission statement including the following comments about the Valley: “There is always something new, something changed, something else to see if you look closely.” Nothing’s changed in this regard, thus The Ripple’s staying power. Just about the time you think the well’s run dry, once more the Valley delivers. And then either when I’m afoot or touring on Gladys, there’s that random thought, a cyber text message from the Valley’s muse that blossoms into a full blown post. Look closely… there’s a story; think closely…there’s a story, too.

Let me share, though, that for me this blogging business is a lonely, time consuming task. A post doesn’t just happen. Once the idea’s conceived, the post takes on a life of its own. It is a restless muse that nags you—sometimes even at night—to see it through to conclusion; however, it shares the effort by suggesting more appropriate turns of phrase, better word choices here and there, and even tossing you the occasional bone of inspiration from time to time. Then there’s pictorial content to be gathered, previewed and formatted. Some writers are able to translate thoughts into words as easily as they speak, but not this writer. My jumble of thoughts has to be composed, revised again and again, then edited…and edited some more. Also, thirty-one years teaching English in the public schools hold me to the same standards of language precision to which I held my students.

Being a “bloggrapher” is to know performance anxiety, too; one feels pressured to come up with regular posts (I heard most blogs don’t survive the first year; many last only a month or two, if that). If I don’t post at least once a week, I start feeling guilty—as if The Ripple is grumbling behind my back. The pressure is on, as well, to create one quality post after another, insure each is on par with its predecessor. So why do it, you say? Blogging keeps me writing for one thing, something I’ve always wanted to do, and whenever I sit down to work on a post, I set myself a goal of 250 words per day minimum. Good discipline…good routine…good for me…?

Unless you are a “diarist,” you write for an audience, but in the case of The Ripple, each post is launched into cyberspace to fend for itself. You take an idea, build on it word by word, tweak it here, revise it there, reread it a half dozen times, click a certain icon and off it goes into the void. Unless someone comments on the post, for all you know no one reads it. I realize The Ripple is far from a cosmopolitan blog, unlike one that covers the celebrity scene, posts an opinion about a certain celeb’s dress, hair, makeup, and so forth and elicits four thousand comments. I try to keep things in perspective, though, the ego in check; in the words of one seasoned blogger: “Your blog is about you. You write it for yourself. You do it for your own satisfaction, not glorification.” Still, a comment or two once in a while wouldn’t hurt….

Some time ago I had a chance to give The Ripple a larger audience after I sent my post “Sense of Community…Going, Going…” (1/2/2011)  to Polly Keary, editor of The Monroe Monitor. (When the Monroe City Council voted to allow the construction of a Wal-Mart on North Kelsey Street, I stepped out of the Valley to share my opinion of Sam’s Club’s intrusion on small town Monroe.) Ms. Keary responded with a “Maybe  The Monitor could use the post as a guest editorial” and would I be interested in doing any freelance stuff? I sent her the link to my blog with an invitation to read a few posts to see if any of the Valley news might be suitable for the newspaper. Polly thought the Valley deserved coverage and requested I send her something from The Ripple: “Six hundred words or so,” she said. “Just email it to me.” 600 words? What about the REST of the post, I wondered? 600 words? If you’ve read The Ripple, you know that at 600 words a Ripple post is just gathering steam. I responded to her invitation—politely, of course—by telling her that word count is a concern only in the conventional world of the press, not the blogosphere. The fact of it is The Ripple likes the freedom to roam about, and the spaciousness of the cyber world gives it free rein to ramble. That’s where our dialogue ended; I haven’t heard from Ms. Keary since, but the clarion words of The Ripple still give voice to the Valley news.

182 posts later, two years to the day, this day, February 27, The Ripple, the Valley’s only Free Press—blathers on. Those of you who continue to wave when the press is on the prowl in the Valley, thank you; those who have patiently tolerated the musings of an old man on a bicycle, thanks; to those of you who have stopped to talk, share your news, thanks, too--please continue to do so; and for those out there in the void who read The Ripple, thanks for your support. Post a comment now and then when you have a moment. The Ripple thanks you again.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Missile-aires Come to the Valley…

Rocket familyToday a bit of spring sunshine has managed to seep through the cracks of winter. As Gladys and I glide past the Decks’ Dairy, we notice a fresh batch of cats—a fat half dozen--jockeying for the sunniest spot on the porch overhang of the old house. Cats are phototropic (or should that be “thermotropic?”) and stalk the sun much the same way as sunflowers.

Earlier as I pedaled the ‘tween curves stretch of road east of Swiss Hall, I noticed a trio of people in the middle of the field guarded by the two ancient maples. They were engaged in activity of some sort, and like those sunbathing cats I was to see later, The Ripple is likewise curious. “If those folks are there when I return,” I promised, “I’ll just have to see what they’re up to.”

Upon my return, as luck would have it, they were still in the field but had apparently finished what they’d been doing, were done for the day and making their way back through the field to the road. I reined in Gladys in order to roll up on them just as they reached the shoulder. A young man with a boy and girl in tow stop in surprise as I roll up on them. “What are you up to?” I asked in the best journalistic tone I could muster. Finding himself suddenly confronted by an old fellow on a girl’s bicycle immediately puts the young man on the defensive and as if I’m some sort of a threat, the children edge closer to his side. The young man gestures toward Decks’ compound and in near apology answers my question with: “I asked the fellow over there if he’d mind if we used his field, and he said it was ok.” To put them at ease, I smile and say I’m not the Valley police, just a reporter out gathering the news. When the fellow learns I’m not a bicycle cop, his guard drops immediately. The kids relax, too, and stop looking around for weapons.

Father Bill, son Austin, and daughter Hallee  (“Is that Haley with an EY?” Of course not, I learn…make that a double EE if you please; these days no young lady would settle for the commonplace) have come to the Valley to launch Austin’s Christmas present, a miniature Redstone rocket. That’s what the three were up to way out in the middle of that wide open field on this sunny day.Rocketry “We need lots of open space to fly this thing,” Bill laughs.Three countdowns later they were finished with rocketry for the day. When I asked if the flights were successful, Bill grinned and replied that on one flight the missile “went way up there nearly out of sight.” But something went awry during reentry I’m told. The rocket was so engineered that at the end of the engine burn, a small explosion was supposed to pop the nose cone from the rocket tube and release a small parachute. Then both components would float gently back to earth where they could easily be retrieved and readied for the next flight. A glitch in the system, however, caused the tether connecting the nose cone to the rocket to pop loose from the tube: the nose cone drifted down gracefully according to plan, but the tube went into free fall and had to be searched for. With a little ingenuity from Mission Control (Dad) and a couple drops of glue, the problem was solved. On the third launch both nose cone and rocket returned to earth in tandem.troubleshooting

Kids love things that explode and fly into the air. Dads, who after all were once kids themselves, love things that explode and fly into the air. (If it weren’t for dads and dads-to-be, there would be no fireworks stands in the middle of the summer. ) I asked Bill if he and his kids had seen the movie October Sky (they hadn’t). The film was based on a true story about an Appalachian boy named Homer Hickam and friends growing up in a coalmining town in the 1950s. Hickam, inspired by the Russians’ launch of Sputnik, studied trajectories, rocket fuels and nozzles from a book about rocket engineering brought to his attention by his high school science teacher. Three friends, one a math whiz, and Hickam built their own rockets, launching pad, and firing system, and after many failed attempts, finally succeeded in launching a rocket that reached an altitude of 30,000 feet. “There’s a bit more to the plot than that,” I explain, “but I think you and the kids would enjoy the film.”

I, too, as a boy loved things that exploded and flew into the air. I remember, also, standing on the boss’s lawn on a clear October night, my neck craned skyward until I finally saw it: a speck of light tracking resolutely in a straight line across the sky among the stationary night stars until it was swallowed up by the sable void. “Ever make a matchbook rocket?”I asked Bill. Austin, bored with this adult chit chat and the while has been fiddling with his box of rocket parts, suddenly becomes attentive. “No, how’s that work?” All you need, I tell him, is a book of matches, a paper clip, and some aluminum foil. Note: At this point if your ‘tween or teenage son is reading this post, you’re well advised to have him skip the next paragraph.

Yes, matchbook rockets—or ICBMs—we called them: Inner Cafeteria Ballistic Missiles. Why cafeteria? Because that’s where we put our matchbook rocketry to the test: the high school cafeteria. Our window of time: lunch hour. Because we launched indoors, the vagaries of weather were not an issue; however, certain conditions had to exist before lunch time countdown. Our rocket fuel and igniter contained a certain amount of sulfur, so it was best to choose a school day when the lunchroom cookery was especially pungent. Barbecued hamburgers on the day’s menu, for example, was excellent cover for indoor rocketry. (Heavy on the onions….) We’d make short work of lunch and then from our pockets fetch out the rocket components we’d brought from the home missile silo: a fully loaded matchbook (the kind that states above the strike strip “Keep out of the hands of children,”a regular paperclip (the launch ramp), and a square of folded aluminum foil (combustion chamber). Then one of us would prepare the match for launch while another kept a weather eye out for the teacher assigned lunchroom duty. We’d tear a strip of foil from the square, detach a match stick from the pack, place the head and half the shaft in the middle of the foil square and wrap the foil round and round the shaft as tightly as possible, folding the excess over the match head. The launch ramp we prepared by bending the inner curve of a standard paperclip upwards, leaving the larger outer curve for the ramp base. A forty-five degree bend was sufficient for most flights; however, if downrange included the adjoining lunchroom table where Jimmy Schrable, the tallest kid in class, took his lunch, an angle of fifty-three degrees, twenty minutes, and 18 seconds was necessary to clear his Brylcreemed hair.ICMB on launch pad

Once the missile was cradled on the launch ramp and the nose cone pointed downrange, it was countdown time and Mission Control took over. A nod from Control tells me the lunchroom supervisor is chatting up the teacher’s pet. It’s time to “light this candle.” I strike a match, hold it under the match head, a brief whiff of sulfur and then“ignition”: pffttt…the gas from the exploding match escapes down the shaft of the match. “We have liftoff.” A light plume of smoke trails from the missile as it sails downrange, ten maybe fifteen feet and lands in the aisle beyond the next table. It was a textbook flight. No spectators hurt and none the wiser even though the rocket’s downward trajectory barely cleared their heads. Another successful launch under the nose of the enemy and better yet, undetected. And there you have it, school cafeteria rocketry—in a capsule.

The U.S. space program has stalled. The tired space shuttles are moldering in museums, but because of Bill, Austin, and Hallee the Tualco Valley has its own space program. I thank them for their time and tolerance and allow the three to wander off toward the Swiss Hall parking lot, Austin, the young rocket engineer, carrying his box of rocket dreams, sister Hallee toting the launch tower.

I spur Gladys into motion and as I wheel past the rocketeers, I call out to Bill, “I like to see dads spending time with their kids.” Bill turns, gives me a smile, and replies, “They grow up so fast.” So true…I know…I’ve been there myself.Missile-aires

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Coming of Age in the Valley: the Barrell Man Rolls on into Another Year…

Rolling stockI only met my maternal Great Uncle Newt once that I recall. He was very old; I was very young. So young, I’m sure, I had no concept of old people or even what old meant. It’s only when one grows older that he has some understanding of age; one has to notch a few years himself before “old,” "older,” “very old” have any context. Strange it is what a child hides away in the attic of his youthful memory. Stranger, yet when that onetime child discovers what he’s hidden there in the dust of time. I blew the dust off Uncle Newt and uncovered two things. The first memory is a vivid one and concerns a handheld electric massager Uncle used to stimulate or encourage better circulation in his limbs. Uncle would slide his hand through a strap loop on the back of the device, turn it on, and guide the thing up and down his opposite arm like a toy car. I still remember the humming sound the massager made as it slowly moved back and forth across his skin.

My second Uncle Newt memory is less substantial: whether it’s something I observed or was told, I’m not sure. Uncle loved gardening and it was gardening that gave him purpose in his advanced years--so much that he would crawl out to his vegetable patch daily, give it the attention it needed, and slowly return to the house on all fours. And it’s this memory of my Great Uncle that is the reason for this post.

Today the Barrell Man turns ninety. Like Great Uncle Newt he loves his garden. Last summer I stopped by on the chance he might be willing to exchange a jar of honey for some pie cherries. The Barrell Man was on his hands and knees in his corn patch methodically removing weeds from around the newly sprouted corn. We talked about gardening for a while. I mentioned the nearby pie cherry tree and suggested the trade. The Barrell Man’s sight has dimmed and he showed me how he picked the cherries. He waved his hand and arm back and forth through imaginary branches. “Like this,” he said, “I feel them.” (The season’s cherry crop looked meager, so the trade didn’t occur). “I’ll be ninety next February,” the Barrell Man smiled. When we left off talking, he returned to his weeding, crawling slowly through the garden between the rows.

Ninety years old today.The Barrell Man’s a nonagenarian. I think about the Simon and Garfunkel song “Old Friends,”one of the lyrics which states: “How terribly strange to be seventy.”I feel that strangeness coming on myself as I creep ever closer to my Biblical “Three Score and Ten.” The fact that at any moment I’m about to enter grandparenthood only adds a stranger dimension to “strange.” As I enter my proverbial second childhood, I just hope I’ll be up for my grandchild’s first.When I visit my doctor these days, he always greets me with “How are we doing?”—physician/patient protocol that initiates my next fifteen minutes of fame. I say “protocol” because if I were ok, would I be sitting in the exam cubicle instead of at home doing chores around the place? These days my response to this courtesy is, “I’m trying to grow old gracefully.” Dr. just nods and smiles, but I know what he’s thinking… “How’s that working for you?”

Ninety years old today, the Barrell Man is, and still splitting wood and gardening. I found him cutting lids from some new rolling stock he’d just received and stopped to visit. His breath comes harder for him these days, he tells me. “My daughter can remove one of these without stopping. I have to stop two, three times to catch my breath.” “It doesn’t matter how often you stop,” I told him. “As long as you have more starts than stops, regardless how long it takes, you’ll always finish the job. It’s when you can’t start up again that you have cause to worry.”

I read the other day if you can do thirty pushups, you’re in pretty good physical shape. Workdays I used to do twenty-five as part of my morning’s exercise routine. Thirty? Down and up only thirty times? That should be a breeze, I thought. “Drop, and give me thirty,” I ordered myself. I managed ten reps but that last one was a struggle; I don’t remember it being so hard to return to the up position.The floor seemed to pull me back. Four days and several ibuprofen later my arms still throb, and my pectoral muscles feel like I’ve just endured a Sioux brave’s Sun Dance ritual.

As if the ageing process isn’t hard enough on you physically, you must suffer being “old” in the eyes of others, especially those “younger” others. You fade away into the background of life as it continues to move along at a brisk pace, zooming by you on the left, whizzing by you on the right as you shuffle along in the slow lane. Again I’m reminded of a bluegrass song lyric by a group formed by, believe it or not, Jerry Garcia—he of the Grateful Dead. The song, written by the mandolin player David Grisman, is titled “Old and in The Way,”and a sobering lyric states: “Old and in the way, that’s what I heard him say; they used to heed the words I said but that was yesterday….” In a recent piece for The New Yorker Magazine the poet Donald Hall talks about his life at eighty-three (“Out the Window: the View in Winter,” January 23, 2012). “When we are eighty,” Hall explains, “we understand we are extraterrestrial. If we forget for a moment we are old, we are reminded when we try to stand up, or when we encounter someone young, who appears to observe green skin, extra heads, and protuberances.” Hall recounts a family gathering where “A grandchild’s college roommate, encountered for the first time, pulls a chair to sit with her back directly in front of me, cutting me off from the family circle: I don’t exist.” The poet further laments the humiliating condescension with which the young sometimes, perhaps unintentionally, treat the old. After sharing a restaurant meal with his aide Linda, the waiter asked her if she enjoyed her meal and as an afterthought, turned to Hall as if he were a highchair seated, bib wearing toddler: “Did we have a nice din-din?” I think, too, of Dickens’ character Wemmick in Great Expectations who refers to his father as the “Aged P,” a parent so depersonalized by age he no longer has a name. Aging is debilitating enough to the old—it’s further insult their bodies can’t do what they used to—at least leave their dignity intact, please.

I may be wrong, but I believe ninety is that official milestone on the longevity scale where the nonagenarian is approached for advice on the secrets of his long life. Perhaps I jumped the gun a few days, but that’s the question I put to the Barrell Man over the rim of his barrell. He rested his hands on the rim, thought for a moment, and said something to the effect one should take better care of his health on the road to one hundred. Good advice, I’d say, for anyone wishing to live long and prosper. And whether the Barrell Man knows it or not, he gives advice by example: “Plant your garden; keep moving; keep busy; slow down but don’t stop”…and in the words of that great baseball legend Satchel Paige, “Don’t look back…something might be gaining on you.”birthday boy

February 7, 2012,…today…the day the Barrell Man turns ninety. A heartfelt “Happy Birthday”to you, sir, from The Ripple and the Valley. And don’t worry about those candles either. Like the barrell lids, just take them one at a time. No hurry. Remember, you have all year.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Sunny Winter Day in the Valley…

GroundhogThat rodent of prognostication, that marmot of meteorology, that whistle pig of weather, that sage of spring, Punxsutawney Phil scurried back into his burrow today, shivered, pulled his shadow back in after him, and curled up in it. If you believe such East Coast nonsense, better wait six more weeks before you switch out that union suit.

February 2, 2012: Groundhog’s Day, and a beautiful day it is, too. So, you ask, why aren’t you outdoors enjoying it instead of pecking away at the keyboard? I was. I did. And here’s my report. The first crocus of the new year blooms a tentative yellow in the backyard. early crocus

As Gladys and I wobbled along the upper Loop Road we spied the Cambodian flower man at work in his field and were given the first friendly wave of the year. He must anticipate an early spring else he wouldn’t be afield this time of the year. I had some business to discuss with Jeff Miller at Willie Green’s Organic Farm, and as I was looking for him, I couldn’t help notice flats of vigorous seedlings sunning themselves in one of the  greenhouses. Seedlings—a harbinger of spring, certainly.

The bees were flying today, too. A week and a half ago the hives had eight inches of snow piled on top and the outside temperature registered in the high 20’s; yet this afternoon the entrance of the colony was a flurry of activity. That a hive of bees can survive the ordeal of winter has never ceased to amaze me.bees seeking the sun

I have my hopes set on this one hive, was told it most likely wouldn’t survive the winter in a single box (a standard colony should have an extra box of stores to sustain it during a West Coast winter), but in fact it may be the only one of my overwintered colonies that does survive. A summer swarm, a gift from Mother Nature, these little gray bees hung thirty feet up in the neighbor’s fir tree for almost a month. That little ball of bees seemed to grow smaller by the week until they finally tired of hanging around and moved into an empty hive I had set out. I nurtured them along all summer, fed the colony two gallons of sugar syrup last fall, and they took it in to the last drop. To see them looking healthy and flying out and about on this midwinter’s day is encouraging to this struggling beekeeper. If this spring-like weather continues, these little survivors will soon be gathering the first pollen of the year. I noticed, to my surprise, the hazelnut tree next door has already sprouted its catkins, yellow pollen pendants, protein packed, just waiting for those little gray pollinators to work their magic.pollen pendants

I know my spring thoughts are most likely wishful thinking, so slumber away the next six weeks, Phil. We may be shoveling snow here next week, but we’re living in the sunny moment for now.