What You Will Not Find Here

You will find no advertising, no pop-ups, no tweets. Not even photographs, let alone a slide show. Nothing here will be moving fast. It will hardly be moving at all. Visit when you want a break from frenzy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Day 34 Outdoors: Young Pines

Monday, December 3, 2012, 4:15-5 p.m.

Earlier today Canada geese in ragged Vs were flying northwest instead of south, and now in late afternoon the breeze is still from the south. Light is muted, colors dull, edges soft. The wind sets a brisk pace, but remains gentle and almost warm. Up on Claudia’s hill, the lilac buds are swelling green, as if they think spring has arrived. Winter is off to a strange beginning.

In an uncultivated edge of field between the old chicken house and the new orchard, trees begin to emerge from the grasses and weeds, amid brambles and small, wild shrubs also proliferating. For the past several years, a chance-sown pine has been growing on the property line. Its pointed tip was lost to a March blizzard, but the rest of the tree—that which remains--is dark, full, and healthy. Closer to the chicken house, a second pine has more recently emerged. It is the same species as the first--red pine--but so much younger that it looks like a different kind of tree altogether. The pines are undeterred by spotted knapweed and don’t mind competing with red twig dogwood and wild blackberries.

Except for the wind, the countryside is quiet and still this afternoon until a shot rings out. It's muzzle-loader season.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 33 Outdoors: Next Door to the Happy Hour

 Monday, November 19, 2012, 4-5 p.m.

The farmhouse that once stood on this land vanished years ago, and of the large dairy barn only silos and magnificent stone foundation remain, but other buildings, in various states of disrepair, stand precariously among the trees that have crowded in on them during the many untenanted years that have passed here, reclaiming the land. The air is warm and still, full of the clean smell of freshly fallen leaves. A squirrel darts nervously and disappears into a collapsing barn. Chickadees flit among the shrubs of the tavern parking lot.

One small building looks like a cabin. Oddly, mysteriously, the more open face of the cabin, with windows and doors, looks north, while the longer, more deeply sloping roof minimizes what would once have been sunshine (before the trees recaptured the land) from the south. One door is completely gone, frame askew, sill missing. Wide boards form the cabin walls (no doubt uninsulated), narrower wood siding nailed over them. The siding on the front wall still holds much of its dark red paint; on the east no paint remains, and much of the siding has rotted away, exposing boards beneath.

The cabin was originally roofed with more wide boards and then covered with rows of overlapping wood shingles. On the western end the shingles themselves are covered over by corrugated metal roofing, but the entire roof, rusting metal and rotting wood, is weighed down with dead leaves and vines. Vines also hang and twist about the eastern end of the cabin and form a wild tangle on the ground with odd bits of human refuse.

The building in best repair is the old granary, standing straight and true on its solid stone foundation built into a slope of ground. The granary’s exterior walls are covered with pressed tin, and this metal siding still holds tight to the boards it covers.

Although the ground is deep in leaf litter all around, several trees have been recently cut and logs stacked and brush neatly raked and piled by a new owner. As the delicate crescent of a waxing moon grows brighter in the sky behind the granary, a crow flaps by, flying north. High over the old farmyard treetops stir gently in the breeze. There is something melancholy about an abandoned farm, its buildings falling into ruin, and the scene is most poignant in autumn, but signs here point to some kind of new life taking shape.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 32 Outdoors: Old Garage at Centennial Farm

Friday, November 9, 2012, 9-10 a.m.

It is a still morning, fairly warm, without a breath of breeze. A crow flaps overhead. Crows work hard to stay aloft, beating their wings steadily, never coasting.

On Kolarik Road, just down the hill from St. Wenceslaus Church, what would otherwise be silence is broken by the sounds of men’s voices. Up in the orchard corner closer to the church, a tractor or some other piece of heavy machinery is idling.

At the Centennial Farm on the north side of the road stands a weatherbeaten garage, sided with wood planks like a barn and roofed with rusting but no doubt serviceable corrugated metal, the car that never quite fit into the building sticking out the open door as it has for decades. This old garage with its long-immobile car, like the church just up the hill, is a kind of neighborhood landmark.

In front of the building a maple, mature but still young, raises bare branches to the grey November sky, a few dark, shriveled leaves clinging to the tops of its branches looking like motionless birds. A smaller tree nearby holds an untenanted nest, its summer family gone before snowfall.

A large piece of heavy machinery has begun serious work in the orchard here on the south side of the road. One man guides this machine to push down trees, while another works with a chainsaw. One farmer walks over to the edge of the road and speaks across the ditch between orchard and road.

“Good morning. Yes, it’s a nice day. Too still to burn, though. Need a breeze to fan a fire.” Are they taking out a block? “Part of it, yeah. One variety turned out disappointing, so we’re taking those trees out sooner than we’d planned. Oh, yeah, we’ll replant.” 

Somehow the men’s voices and the sounds of farm machinery add to the morning’s peacefulness. Things are well in the neighborhood.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 31 Outdoors: Among the Pioneers

Thursday, October 25, 2012, 8-9 a.m.

Came the wind in the night and blew the leaves off maple trees and lindens. (Ash and walnut were already bare; catalpa yet in leaf.) Wind continued as the sky grew light, glowing rose in both east and west. Ribbons of cloud over the eastern woods now turn from pink to pewter grey.

A band of hardy little popples venture out from the bank above the stream, seeking to colonize the meadow, along with a few small cottonwoods and two or three autumn olives that escaped the spring purge. Among the grasses, purple asters, milkweed, and Queen Anne’s-lace are also the much-less-welcome spotted knapweed. This is how it is with any invasion of pioneers: all sorts pour in.

The wind arrives in a series of gusty, irregular waves. Each wave begins first as a far-off drone, rising to a dull roar, and then becoming at last a whispering and rattling and clattering in the closest leaves and grasses. The air feels as soft and fresh as early summer, but its perfume is that of fall, dense with mould and rich with decay. Milkweed seeds escape their pods and chase about, catching on other weeds like bits of wool at the edge of a sheep pasture, fluttering incessantly.

Is that a bird in the willows? A quarrelsome squirrel? The sound goes on and on. Perhaps it is the rubbing of wind-tossed branches. The willows, their heights gradually lighted by the rising sun, toss heavy-leafed branches about like wild horses nodding and shaking heavy-maned heads.

Somewhere out of sight a flock of Canada geese passes overhead. The old farmhouse and barns watch over the meadow with stoic calm. They have seen many autumns.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Day 30 Outdoors: Edge of Cornfield

Wednesday, October 3, 1:30-2:40 p.m.

Field corn harvest has begun around the township, but many fields still hold standing corn, since the drier it is when harvested, the less energy will be required to dry it later. It’s a lovely sight, these tall plants of domestic gargantuan grass with giant, graceful leaves that turn from deep green to bright gold and then gradually become more and more pale as their moisture evaporates in autumn wind and sun. This field is bordered on the south and west by woods, on the east by newly tilled ground, and it faces cherry orchard rows to the south across the road. On a clear, blue-sky day with no farm machinery at work in the fields nearby and no RVs interrupting the stillness, a day with the barest breeze stirring the paper-dry leaves, the cornfield is a peaceful place. A few flies, a distant crow....

Many ears of corn along the outer edges of the field are missing kernels. The work of deer? Raccoons? Crows? Bright yellow kernels contrast sharply with their dark, dry red cradle, colorful botanical teeth in a richly painted but dessicated jaw.

Two uprooted stalks lie akimbo in the dust of the road, golden teeth spilled onto dirt. How long will it take for scavengers to find and devour these easy pickings?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day 29 Outdoors: Another Sunrise Over the Meadow

Tuesday, September 25, 7:30-8:45 a.m.

After several chilly days of rain, yesterday was clear and sunny with gale-force winds. At last, this morning, both clear sky and calm stillness came together. Before sunrise there was hardly a breeze stirring and only a few fleecy, small clouds near the horizon.

This time of year the meadow is a dessicated miniature jungle, a tangle of drying stalks and leaves and seeds. Queen-Anne’s lace has curled up to shape itself into brittle bird’s-nest cages, and the little grey-headed coneflowers have dropped their petals, leaving heavy, dark seedheads that bow the tall stems. Grasses rustle, their heads also heavy with seed, leaves beginning to curl.

A little bird throws its voice like a ventriloquist, sounding first here, then there, but always just out of sight. There are crows in the middle distance, calling to each other on crow business. Canada geese wing by overhead. One unbalanced V flies south, its left leg longer than its right, and half an hour later a ragged line of more geese crosses the sky from east to west, their voices audible long before they come into sight.

As the sun comes up over the dark trees of the eastern woods, it creates a band of light on the meadow, leaving the intermediate orchard trees in shade. Higher and higher climbs the sun, and as it climbs a breeze starts up and keeps pace, stirring the leaves of maple, popple, and catalpa more vigorously as the light increases. Finally the sun is blazing through the weeds. It lights up strands of spiderweb that tremble and gleam and dance. Morning has broken.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Day 28 Outdoors: Away from Home--Old Birch on Lake Superior Shore

Tuesday midday, Grand Marais, Michigan

At home on Lake Michigan, sunrise comes from behind a walker on the beach, and sunset streams from over the opposite shore, far from sight, at day’s end. On Lake Superior’s southern shore, the sun comes up on the right hand of a walker facing the water and sets on the left. Only midday light is at all comparable.

On Lake Superior beaches one finds different stones, too—notably, at Grand Marais, agates rather than the Petoskey stones sought by vacationers at home—but trees along the shores of these two Great Lakes are not very different: pines and firs, birch, maple, beech, and the ubiquitous quaking aspen (‘popple’), Populus tremuloides, always edging out beyond the older, larger species, a shy but determined pioneer, finding courage in numbers as it ventures nervously past each battle-scarred veteran, say an old birch, that stands firm and stoical until its life’s last great storm shall at last bring it down.