Steve was clearing some photos from a memory card today and found this. Different season, much smaller and younger Carlton…same Mister Bill in his orange winter coat.
There was a chair in my grandparents’ house. It was a nondescript stool with a square burgundy seat mounted on four iron legs. It was the kind that you could spin in circles. You could push off with your feet or lay face down across it and turn, walking the circle with fingertips to the floor.
I spent a lot of childhood in that house. One warm summer evening, while Grandpa was in the milkhouse and Gran was making Jersey milkshakes for after chores, I sat on that stool and watched Silent Running, a 1972 environmentally-themed American post-apocalyptic science fiction film starring Bruce Dern. I sobbed as Earth’s last forest traveled out of reach.
As a teen, I sat in Gran’s kitchen and bit my nails while she talked with a caller at the back door. The visitor wanted to buy the property located a mile east of the farm, the 50 acres of woods and stream where Grandpa pastured senior calves in summer. I knew they could use the funds from a sale. I was so afraid that this last forest would be gone.
“No thank you. We don’t wish to sell it,” she said to this offer and to many others.
Carl and Joyce Seitz were my grandparents. My grandfather was a dreamer; a handsome rake who was a lover of books. He was a college graduate, but the farm fell to him while the country was dealing with depression and world war. He would drive a tractor and whistle. My grandmother, a college grad, too, was a stylish beauty who became a farmer’s wife. They raised eight children in that farmhouse. In the warm months, the family sometimes picnicked along the creek that flowed through that 50 acres to the east. In winter, they skated on the old flooded stone quarry there.
For as long as I can remember, that place has been called “The Quarry Farm.”
We lost Grandpa 25 years ago. Today, we lost Gran. Because they both valued the black walnut, maple and oak trees that grow here, the dogtooth violets, mayapples, bloodroot and spring beauties on the ridge and in the floodplain–because they were educators and dreamers–The Quarry Farm is still here.
During a trip home from university, one of my uncles looked out the kitchen window in time to see Gran hand-feeding a skunk. Two weeks ago, I took Sebastian the Skunk to visit her. Gran would have celebrated 101 years in November, but she was sharp as a tack and delighted in ‘Bastian as well as what we do here.
Chryssy the Cat climbs on my lap now. She shared that farmhouse, the one where we all climbed trees, made mud pies, collected fireflies in a jar, photographed migrating monarchs in the trees, and where our Gran worked art in her kitchen while teaching us to reach for the whole world outside.
Thanks to Board Member Erin Fitch for launching this fundraiser to support the care and feeding of the farm animal sanctuary residents.
I’m pretty sure that I’m right about this.
For example, people in the South speak with a drawl because the climate is hot. The further southeast you go, the slower the mouth moves because the lips have to from shapes against increased humidity. Move west past the Rockies and the load lightens, but it’s still hot enough for slow, lilting conversation.
The Great White North is famous for words like ‘about’ being pronounced as ‘aboot’. Frozen facial muscles can only stretch wide enough to form a small, round shape. Making an ‘oo’ sound retains more warm air inside, too, than a full blown ‘ow’.
I blame my Midwest nasal twang on the Great Lakes effect. Try as I might not to sound like badly-tuned violin, my sinuses are in such a constant state of flux that most words sound like mosquito in August. This year’s pitch and fall from cold dry wind to warm rain (thunderstorms this early February morning) make it especially difficult to round the tones.
Even the animals that graze on wintering roots and buried grubs in the floodplain run for higher ground when any door is opened. They are conditioned to sudden rainfall. We leave the outbuilding doors open, even on high blue sky days like yesterday.
Jimmy Toskr has no reason to speak at all. He snoozes comfortably in his hammock, stretching just enough to give the camera an eye that communicates well enough. There’s even an accent in there somewhere, one that will be quite vocal as squirrel hormones build outside in the treetops.
When the morning window trees are coated with a light sugar frost;
when the bird calls are muffled in the treeline below a fog so light that it’s as if someone lightly brushed the color from the top third of the tallest sycamore;
when the turkeys standing on the front porch, each with one eye peering through the halflight, have an icy dusting across their feathered backs;
Six-foot mullein stands along the roadside, the downy green leaves and yellow flowers freeze-dried by winter just like their tame cousins in the cabin gardens behind. In spring, the stalks with melt away and new plants will grow to feed bees, butterflies and birds. You can find encapsulated mullein on drugstore shelves and in teas as a remedy for diseases of the lung, as an expectorant and for skin problems.
This mullein is rigid husk with a melting white cap. Red cardinals, rosy house and goldfinches will peck at them through the coldish months.
The woods beyond the cabin and the floodplain below are free of frost. The warm breath of the trees still keeps the colder air high. Slate-colored juncos blend in with the gray and brown tree trunks, but you can hear them cheer to one another above the old quarry. The quarry itself holds water again. It had been dry for five months, except for a spring pool in the southeast corner.
The little creek nearby is also full, bubbling and churning its way to Riley Creek a quarter of a mile away. There at its mouth, Cranberry Run, buffered on either side for the latter length of its flow by trees, grasses and wetland sponges, hits the sediment-laden Riley. Even with this week’s high water, the divide is prominent.
The flood was brief, here and gone. The mush is frozen and the flattened grass is crisp and crunchy with the frost and a layer of surface ice left suspended by receding river. Fresh fungi grow up and down the length of washed up log. It looks like fringe on a sleeve or some kind of elaborate hors d’oeuvres on a bed of straw noodles.
“Which of these things is not like the other?” The Sesame Street song comes to mind.
A five-gallon bucket has washed up in the floodplain, too, so I wade through the ice to collect the bottle. Beneath the frosted plates I find cans, bottles, and fruit snacks wrappers. Some of the bottles are big brown plastic specimens that I’ve seen quite a few of late, discarded at least twice a week along the roadside here.
Breakfast of champions.
By the time the bank intersects the historic Mallaham, a rare wrought iron arch truss bridge, the bucket is full. The human condition is one of waste and despair, I think, at least until I look up and see a bald eagle, returned in my lifetime; flip one of the bottles over and see the ‘recycle’ symbol.
I pick up my bucket and run back home to sort paper, metal and plastic.
Many consider the ideal Christmas morning to be filled with snow and soft lights. I myself would love another three to four feet of snow, as I love winter. We have a few sheets of snow interspersed with cold, sodden earth. Here on the Quarry Farm, we have a rather muddy Christmas.
The pigs started knocking on the door at 6 am. The donkeys brayed when the lights flipped on. The goats burped softly and shuffled around in their coats. The chickens quietly werked in the predawn, nestled in their coop.
Everyone has been fed and the mid-afternoon snooze is setting in. Lolly and Beretta are curled up in their respective beds, slightly snoring, quiet after I tried to get them to wear bows (I thought Lolly was going to eat it). Even Jimmy is quiet, stretched luxuriously in his hammock, waiting for me to clean his cage.
The wind is coming quietly from the east, and I hope we have a nice winter coming in. Some snow, with mild temperatures would be nice. But for today, we’re all quiet and enjoying a nice holiday.
I plan on eating a nice meal with the family soon. Whatever you wish to celebrate today, if it be just that there is a new day, we all wish you well.
Overheard in a local check-out line: “We just didn’t have a fall this year.”
Oh, but we did. It was an autumn rich with analogous pigments running up and down the warm side of the color wheel. Northwest Ohio had a Fall on fire. Fortunately, the fire wasn’t a consuming inferno like the one raging through the Great Smokey Mountains and points around, though it is dry here. Cranberry Run doesn’t run and the old quarry bed is hollow with one soft, spring-fed spot near its center. Chewed bits of osage orange are scattered on the east bank.
Those bits are a concern, not because they’ll harm the chewer but because quite a few have been chewed and it’s not even half way through December. Osage oranges (also called hedge apples) aren’t a menu choice for native mammals around here, according to tropical ecologist Dan Janzen of the University of Pennsylvania and Paul Martin, a paleoecologist at the University of Arizona, scientists who teamed up to develop the concept of ecological anachronisms.
Those honeylocust pods and osage oranges that still cling to their mothers stand out as deep purple and chartreuse highlights among bare branches. At night, tree branches spiderweb toward the stars, or as is the case tonight, into heavy clouds pushed by wind so strong that it’s snowing sideways. This morning, stars shown in that sky. As I ran down the road before dawn, Orion was still trying to grab the handle of the Big Dipper as the Hunter’s legs slipped below the horizon line to the other side of the world. This weekend, the white reflected blaze of the Cold Moon will hide all but both of these constellations brightest stars.
If you join us in the back tallgrass field for the December 10 Cold Moon hike, you’ll appreciate the brilliance of this, unless partly cloudy predictions turn to mostly cloudy. Cloud cover seems likely, but we may venture out anyhow.
But before the clouds move in, we can appreciate the cold fire that builds most evenings of late, in full view of Red Fox Cabin’s front porch.