Saturday, December 31, 2005

Thinking About the Year

"What lies behind us
and what lies before us
are tiny matters
compared to what
lieswithin us."
---Ralph Waldo Emerson

The tradition of preparing for the New Year includes reviewing the past year and considering a direction for the coming year. Although many years ago my New Year’s resolution was to never make a New Year’s resolution again and, by the way, that is one resolution I have kept, I still think review and assessment are appropriate.

As I looked back over this year, some of the things I have looked at are the joys and sorrows, the hopes and dreams, as well as some of the problems related to being ill and also some of the benefits. Once I made the effort to collect all this data it seemed to me that I should do something with it. I chose to outline a cluster of grapes with the words I collected in my assessment, turning them into a sketch.

Grapes are among my favorite things. I enjoy them in decoration. I love seeing the rows of grapes in the spring and fall and making grape juice in our steamer. I am drawn to the spiritual concept of John 15, of God being the vine and we as spiritual seekers being grafted to the vine and gaining our nourishment and strength from that connection. Grapes represent this connection which is very important to me.

In my year-end sketch the benefits are the purple grapes; joys are the golden grapes; sorrows and problems are the green and bronze leaves. They work together to make a whole.

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.
-----Mother Teresa

Friday, December 30, 2005


I awoke to a dark gray morning…. It rained yesterday; most of the snow is gone from the clearing. There are dribs and dabs of snow piled in among the trees and ice where we have walked, driven the cars or piled snow while we are cleaning the walkways.

Decided I would take some pictures of drab gray mornings and grabbed my camera, opened the windows and began to snap some photos…. Within minutes I found myself enchanted with the subtle beauty of the morning and my camera chip was filled with images.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Winter Wind and Rain

This is what I have heard
at last the wind in December
lashing the old trees with rain
unseen rain racing along the tiles
under the moonwind rising and falling
wind with many clouds
trees in the night wind
- W. S. Merwin

Rain, Rain and more rain with wind and more wind.

Question: How do I respond to the kind comments that are posted?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Salutation to the Dawn

There is something compelling about these early hours. There is a special aliveness and awareness in the quiet of the dawning hour. I am touched with a feeling of fellowship with all of creation. The Salutation of the Dawn
Listen to the exhortation of the dawn!
Look to this day! For it is life,
The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the
And realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty,
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is but a vision;
But today well lived
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!
Such is the salutation of the dawn.
---- from the Sanskrit As the sun begins to climb, the sky is infused with gold and salmon light.
I am so enthralled with the rapidly changing patterns of light I nearly forget to click the shutter of my camera. In these quiet moments I realize that I am in many ways set free by my illness. I have received a gift of time…. Time to explore the woods and meadow that are visible from my window. The camera draws me into a new dimension. In part it ties me to its lens and in a way it sets me free by opening my mind to see things in a different way. I am beginning to be aware of the same mix of freedom and control in every part of my life. Perhaps it is most important to recognize and be aware of this, to be aware of reality, to open my eyes to beauty and continue to look forward to possibilities.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Seeing the Whole

One of the secrets of the skilled artist is
knowing what to include
and what to leave out.
So it is in my life journey.
It is as important to identify the things
to leave out
as it is to choose what to include.

Sometimes, I can't see the big shapes....
I get caught in small details ---
focusing on a pine or a hemlock needle
instead of the shape of the tree.
It's not that the details aren't important.
--- It only becomes a problem
when I need to see the shape
--- the darks, the lights, the mid-tones.

this focus on details may affect my
personal life as well as my spiritual life
and my artistic journey may help me open
my eyes and see the big picture...

Self awareness, life view, perspective, understanding, comprehension can all be enhanced by my experience in artistic exploration.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Wintertime Trust

Wintertime Trust
Huddled barren branches flank the river banks,
Casting shadows on the grey-green cloud of water . . .
Wintertime desolation.
And from the bridge above in solitude I say,
"The barrenness.
The shadows,
The near - stagnation,
a vision of my soul . . .
Wintertime desolation.
There is no need or energy for denial:
The scene and I are mirrored in stark reality
except for this . . .
I can choose
And with great deliberateness, I do
I choose . . . wintertime trust.
Trust that believes in the process,
in the buried life within those dreary branches.
Trust that foretells the dispelling of shadows into blossoms
and the promise of a flowing river once again.
Trust that proclaims the unseen as different from the unreal
Trust that does not wait to stake its claim.
I will not wait for my soul's spring to say
"I trust"
I say it now.
And even as I do,
the welcome warmth of tears
hints of coming thaw.
© Maridel Bowes 1980

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Holiday

Friday, December 23, 2005

An Adventure With Grandma

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma.
I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been.I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me.I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her world-famous cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus!" she snorted. "Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad. Now, put on your coat, and let's go."

"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous, cinnamon bun.

"Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about every- thing. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days.

'Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.

I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself.

The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten- dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for.

I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.

I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat.I knew that because he never went out or recess during the winter.

His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough, and he didn't have a coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!

I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It lookedreal warm, and he would like that.

"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down.

"Yes," I replied shyly. "It's .... for Bobby." The nice lady smiled at me. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper and ribbons (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) and wrote, "To Bobby, From Santa Claus" on the package -- Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially one of Santa's helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge."All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."

I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his doorbell and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team. I still have the Bible, with the tag tucked inside: $19.95.

Special thanks to my friend Nelly for sharing this story with me. I wish I knew who wrote the story but I have to settle for -Anonymous

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Holiday Preparations

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Time Gets Better With Age

I learned that I like my teacher because she cries when we sing "Silent Night".
Age 5

I learned that our dog doesn't want to eat my broccoli either.
Age 7

I learned that when I wave to people in the country, they stop what they are doing and wave back.
Age 9

I learned that just when I get my room the way I like it, Mom makes me clean it up again.
Age 12

I learned that if you want to cheer yourself up, you should try cheering someone else up.
Age 14

I learned that although it's hard to admit it, I'm secretly glad my parents are strict with me.
Age 15

I learned that silent company is often more healing than words of advice.
Age 24

I learned that brushing my child's hair is one of life's great pleasures.
Age 26

I learned that wherever I go, the world's worst drivers have followed me there.
Age 29

I learned that if someone says something unkind about me, I must live so that no one will believe it.
Age 30

I learned that there are people who love you dearly but just don't know how to show it.
Age 42

I learned that you can make some one's day by simply sending them a little note.
Age 44

I learned that the greater a person's sense of guilt, the greater his or her need to cast blame on others.
Age 46

I learned that children and parents are natural allies.
Age 47

I learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.
Age 48

I learned that singing "Amazing Grace" can lift my spirits for hours.
Age 49

I learned that motel mattresses are better on the side away from the phone.
Age 50

I learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
Age 51

I learned that keeping a vegetable garden is worth a medicine cabinet full of pills.
Age 52

I learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die.
Age 53

I learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.
Age 61

I learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.
Age 62

I learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catchers mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.
Age 64

I learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you. But if you focus on your family, the needs of others, your work, meeting new people, and doing the very best you can, happiness will find you.
Age 65

I learned that whenever I decide something with kindness, I usually make the right decision.
Age 66

I learned that everyone can use a prayer.
Age 72

I learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.
Age 82

I learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love that human touch-holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.
Age 90

I learned that I still have a lot to learn.
Age 92

Thanks to Phyllis for sharing these thoughts with me today. Sometimes it is good to open up and take a good look at what we have learned and what is still to be learned.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


The sun came up this morning but there were no fanfares; no salutes of glorious color; light was simply added to the gray clouds. The day is overcast. I guess dull and dreary best describes the sky.

This is an alone day…. A day for quiet introspection. The journalists; naturalists; historians and other authors have retreated inside the closed covers of their books.

Bird feeders needed to be filled so I braved the cold and discovered that the crust over the snow, which I could tread on with caution yesterday, has become slippery and hard. Instead of filling all the feeders I threw out hands full of seeds and filled those feeders nearest to the house. My husband had filled most of the feeders before he left so it wasn’t a difficult task. Next I filled up the birdbath. It never freezes because we bought one with an electric heater (well, at least it stays warm as long as we have electrical power)

On coming back inside I stopped by the mirror to fasten a hair clip loosened by a tree branch as I, unaware, passed too close. Who is that in the mirror? What happened to the person, so filled with hopes and dreams that came to New York these many years past? The person in the mirror is gray-haired --- All right, I did turn sixty-five last Thanksgiving day but something has changed. This image does not match my driver’s license; there are no business suits and carefully coifed hair. This person is not rushing from meeting to meeting and does not have to be concerned about the transit strike (now ice on the hill… that’s another issue.) Don’t get me wrong… I like retirement! I love living on the hill in the woods, I even enjoy soft comfortable clothing from Lands End, L.L.Bean and similar stores. Somehow, I don’t really know how, I guess I hadn’t really noticed that I am ageing until I took that startled look in the mirror. No, I don’t see my mother or even my father reflected. The person looking back at me is someone I’m not really certain I know. Perhaps we will take time and get acquainted.

Darkness falls early; we turn on outside lights shortly after four in the evening now and it is very dark before five. I welcome the darkness, put on a quiet cd to accompany my reverie and curl up in a comfy chair to renew my acquaintance with an old friend. I am reading again “A Circle of Quiet” by Madeleine L’Engle. One of the reasons I got the book out is that she spent a good deal of her life living in New York. Another reason is that she is writing about exploring and defining her life; attempting to answer a question that is important to me, just now… What am I doing with my life?

“We don’t really know what we look like…” ... “I don’t know what I’m like. I get glimpses of myself in other people’s eyes.” Madeleine L’Engle “A Circle of Quiet.”

My life has changed dramatically --- I no longer see myself so much in terms of “daughter,” “wife,” “mother,” or by my job title. I actually am discovering as I grow older that I am beginning to know more of what I am not than of what I am. Yet, even as I make that statement, I am slowly finding more about my love of writing and art --- notice I do not claim competence, simply love and joy in exploration.
As I explore these changes in my life, I am drawn to remember the creator who can guide and direct me through the confusion and uncertainty.

“For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together
In my mother’s womb.
I praise you because
I am fearfully
and wonderfully made.”
--- Psalm 139: 13, 14

I drew this picture for a page in an illustrated journal I have been working on. It is a combination of acrylic paints and charcoal.

Word for today compliments of Madeleine L’Engle Ontology: the study of existence and of the nature of being.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Phenomena of Nature

Orange and vermilion barely warm the heavy clouds moving rapidly across the sky. A short time ago stars were twinkling through the clouds. As light begins to fill the sky, winds pushing large dark clouds rush in. Before the sun shows fully above the hills soft drifting flakes of snow begin to fall. The contrary wind continues moving clouds to and fro, at times opening up blue sky and the bright light of the sun. A moment later heavy layers of clouds move back in to cover every hint of blue. Another shift of the wind and light kisses the snowflakes setting loose a shimmering icy cloud of crystals from the sky.

None of the snowflakes are building up. Even though it is very cool (seventeen degrees), the flakes seem to nearly evaporate as they come close to the ground.

"Nature chose for a tool, not the earthquake or lightning to rend and split asunder, not the stormy torrent or eroding rain, but the tender snow-flowers
noiselessly falling through unnumbered centuries." - John Muir

High overhead, following along the Mongaup River, a Bald Eagle makes his way toward the Delaware River. Water has been let out of the Rio Dam. The Mongaup River is so low that it has nearly frozen clear across the river in many spots. Although usually a wonderful area for fishing for either man or eagle with an abundance of trout, any self-respecting fish must have made its way downstream to the Delaware to better living conditions. The river drainage arises out of the discovery last spring of a sinkhole thirty feet wide and six feet deep in the Swinging Bridge Reservoir, which is a few miles upstream. That reservoir was drained for safety and repairs and the flow downstream has been affected.
Eagles have come back to the area where they nested last year but instead of seeing fifty to seventy eagles we are now seeing less than a dozen and usually only four to six birds in the nesting area along the Mongaup. Later in the day we spotted two mature Bald Eagles soaring high above the cliffs at Hawks Nest. Gliding and spiraling through the air currents that rise from the river their aerial ballet attracts the attention of tourists and natives alike who stop simply to enjoy the beauty and grace of their exhibition.

"We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song if their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask
why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens... The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment." ---Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Moonlight Dance

The moon continues to paint patterns through the woods and into the clearing; the dark shadow of the house is sharp and distinct against the silvered white of the moonlit snow.

The familiar pines and hemlocks take on a strange enchantment as they partner with their shadows in a moonlit dance choreographed by the late evening breeze.

Standing on the ground in the clearing I am surrounded by the dancing partners. Stars seem to rest in the upper branches in the way that jewels rest on the head and shoulders of dancing matrons.

Climbing upstairs to watch from the skylight,
stars take their places back in the canopy of the heavens seeming like windows from which unseen spectators watch the ball.

How countlessly they congregate
O'er our tumultuous snow,
Which flows in shapes as tall as trees
When wintry winds do blow!--

As if with keenness for our fate,
Our faltering few steps on
To white rest, and a place of rest
Invisible at dawn,--

And yet with neither love nor hate,
Those stars like some snow-white
Minerva's snow-white marble eyes
Without the gift of sight.
---Robert Frost

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Morning Has Broken

Bands of light stream across my desk. The early morning hours are nearly my favorite time. My soul is warmed and nourished when touched with the freshness of the day. Turning to look out the window, I watch an artistic breeze paint cloud patterns across the sky. Lingering to enjoy the moist air touching my cheeks, I revel in the freshness of the morning after the passing storm. The morning songs of the birds filling the loft and the soft breezes drifting into the room bring to mind one of my favorite songs:

Morning has broken,
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird;
Praise for the singing,
Praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing
Fresh from the Word.

Sweet the rain's new fall,
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dewfall
On the first grass;
Praise for the sweetness,
Of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness
Where his feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight,
Mine is the morning,
Born of the one light
Eden saw play;
Praise with elation,
Praise every morning,
God's re-creation
Of the new day.
by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)

As I looked out, contemplating the new day, a sharp, distinctive tapping reached my ears. Searching the woods, I could see nothing that accounted for the sound. Moving to a window at the other end of my loft retreat, I searched again. It seemed that the sound was coming from a large stump at the edge of our yard.

The stump is the remains of an ancient, scarred yet beautiful white pine that dominated the corner of the clearing when we moved in here; a tree that represented resilience, determination and stability. During a storm early this year the ancient tree succumbed to the battering winds when one swift, powerful blast bought it crashing to the ground. Now the stump provides a pantry –and sometimes boarding house - for nuthatches, woodpeckers and small creatures. Well, I have digressed….

Listening carefully to the sounds of tapping, I concluded they were coming from the old stump. Grabbing my binoculars, I began searching for the source of the sound. On silent wings a dark form landed on the side of the trunk. I grabbed for my camera, delighted to see not one but two pileated woodpeckers. They continued to work up and down the stump for nearly an hour. Each member of the family was privileged to have a close view of the birds. We hear the birds most days but are not always granted the opportunity to enjoy watching them at their work.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Snow Hail Sleet Rain

Snow. Hail. Sleet. Rain. Sunshine. Wind --------
From minus two degrees yesterday to forty-two degrees today.
Ice took out power lines.
In this electronic age, we become greatly incapacitated when
we have no power.
First of all we awake in darkness.
Light switches are of no use --- no power.
We have fresh clear well water but --- no power --- no pump.
No pump --- no water.
No heat – because our furnace has an electrical starter as well as an electrical thermostat.
No power --- no hot water.
Now our morning routine is gone.
No alarm clock.
No morning news.
No hot breakfast – not even hot coffee, tea or chocolate and toast.
No computer.
Can’t even check to find out if the weather is going to improve.
No e-mail.
No hot showers.
No flush toilet.
----- No flush toilet?----
Our friend “Cabin Writer” at “Off the Grid” had offered sound advice about alternative toilet options, but, since we had no out-house --- we had not made appropriate preparations.
We can’t leave for warmer climes because the drive is now polished ice.
Water pours off the roof, drenching the poor birds trying to get some breakfast at the feeders. Streams of water are even running down the length of the icicles.

Shortly after the sun arrives, the clouds begin dissipating, cracks of blue sky appear. Ice clad trees shimmer in the sunlight while steam rises from nearly every surface touched by the sun.
The Power Comes Back On!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shopping at Wal-Mart

Christmas shopping is not my favorite activity so I do my best to avoid large stores during the holiday season. Somehow four o’clock on a busy shopping afternoon found me surrounded by shopping carts piled high with Christmas treasures. I simply wanted to rush in, pick up some groceries and get back out as soon as possible. Shopping assistants were wearing cheery hats or buttoners; canned holiday music filled the aisles. Even in a small town or perhaps especially in a small town, Wal-Mart was bustling and filled with holiday cheer.

I had just located my husband with our cart and was reaching out to put in some soup when an announcement came over the loud speakers: “Attention all associates, attention all associates, code red, please go to your posts. Attention all shoppers please evacuate the store through the front doors. Attention all shoppers, please evacuate immediately through the front doors.” Associates moved to the ends of nearly every row and quietly encouraged us, “Please leave your shopping carts and exit through the front door.” Here and there we could hear a rumor that “the store’s on fire” I asked a woman who was wearing some kind of a badge if she knew for certain what was happening and she said “I heard that the store’s on fire.”

What a sight; hundreds of people all moving towards the front of the store. With the exception of a couple of excitable youngsters, all moved in a quiet and orderly manner. The exit doors were open and as people exited other associates encouraged us to “please move away from the front of the store.” Upon exiting the store I looked beyond the crowds of people for any clues that would help me to understand the problem. Stores don’t rush their customers out during peak shopping time without having a compelling reason…
No smoke, no sirens, no emergency vehicles, no signs of response from fire department or local police.

We moved out to our car with probably a thousand other shoppers, drove out of the parking lot, down the hill through two stop lights and out toward the highway before we saw any sign at all of emergency vehicles. A line of police vehicles began passing us; no lights and no sirens but headed in the direction of Wal-mart. A little further on, we saw a hazmat vehicle with lights flashing but couldn’t be certain where it was headed.

Now we are curious!!! I wrote e-mails to the Times Herald-Record and River Reporter asking if they had any information. Now I continue to wait for a response.

We know we were evacuated. We know that there are literally hundreds of carts filled with holiday shopping items that will need to be put back on the shelves of Wal-mart… but…what happened?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Uncommon and the Ordinary

Yesterday’s chill seems warmer already -- Minus six degrees at first light. Air is calm and very still.

Yes, it may be colder in some parts of the country but when steam vapors rise with every respiration of the goldfinches and chickadees, this is cold enough for me! One fluffed up little goldfinch was perched on a ledge above the clothes dryer vent; clearly appreciative of this warmer niche on a very cold morning. Other birds are lining the deck inches apart eagerly gathering seeds to fuel their own internal heaters. In the city our primary visitors were English Sparrows, House Finches and Rock Doves. So far, we have not had a single one of those city residents travel out here to our feeders.
I can think of few places where we have enjoyed so many lovely woodland creatures coming to our front window or door to entertain us. The cold weather simply adds to the numbers of daily birds and animals who come to visit. I am beginning to feel a bit like Sam Campbell with all the birds and animals that came to visit him at the Sanctuary of Wegimind, which was a game preserve in the forests of northern Wisconsin, near the town of Three Lakes.

Some of my best hours as a child were spent immersed in Sam Campbell’s books. If you haven’t yet spent time enjoying the wilderness with him, you can now find many of his books online. Our grandchildren now make a fourth generation of fans who have found joy and inspiration in meeting the animals through his books.

Lots of necessary, but not too glamorous, things happening today. We are waiting for a delivery of fuel this morning. Since there is a severe storm on the way we hope the truck makes it early in the day. Guess we will be selling our house in Texas today – now the question is can we find a notary before the storm keeps everyone home for the next few days.

Wow! Now I know that I am beginning to think like a senior citizen! The “man” came to do the seasonal cleaning of the furnace before our fuel delivery. I have grandchildren older than this young man! Amazingly, he is competent and efficient. I shouldn’t admit it but he seems to know his job better than some of the technicians who are considerably nearer my age and assumedly have more experience.

As a child, our preparations for winter were to get out an umbrella and perhaps a pair of galoshes (which we seldom wore). I never thought about “winter fuel” much less wondered --- “If I wait a week how much will the price of fuel go down?” It is really great to deal with suppliers and service people who treat us as neighbors instead of a number that is almost too much trouble to enter into a computer. One of the many things I like about living in the country is that neighborly sense of community. When the fuel truck left, we gave the thermostat an upward nudge and relaxed knowing that as long as the power stays on, we will be warm and snug during the coming storm.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Frosty Morning

Cold and clear; thermometer read zero degrees when I set seeds out for the birds first thing this morning. The gray squirrels were up on the railing eating before I could even get back inside the door. Their coats are elegantly fluffed as though they had just come out of fur storage and were freshly brushed and cleaned, just the thing to wear to keep out the cold. The squirrel reaches out to pick-up a sunflower seed between his teeth and then transfers the seed to his paws. Peeling away the hull, he nibbles the seed and looks at me, assuming the pose that is so loved by artists and photographers, saying, “am I not cute?”. Stretching out for another seed, the process begins again, devouring a seemingly endless procession of seeds until dusk begins to fall.

Watching the light in the yard, I was itching to get out and take some more photos. I especially wanted to go back along Plank Road to see if I could find some eagles close enough to snap a picture. We bundled up and I thought to myself, “it really isn’t so very cold in our warm down jackets. This will be a great trip and I will get some wonderful photos in the brilliant winter light. The roads have been plowed and most of them are clear and dry so it was easy going until we reached Rio Dam. As we began taking our pictures, the wind danced circles around us nipping our noses, ears and fingers. The lake sparkles, the ice reflecting the sun’s rays as well as the darker colors of the hillsides. My down jacket no longer feels warm. The cold seeps through my leather gloves. I am eager to get back into the sheltered warmth of the car.

The ice-laden wind brings the fresh smell of pine and of wood smoke blowing up river from a cabin tucked under the evergreens. I have frequently admired that cabin as we pass but today I would rather have a cottage in a clearing where I can treasure and soak up every warm ray from the sun. We search the trees along the riverbank for eagles. The many small white clumps of snow still clinging to the hemlocks and pines get our full attention but not a bald eagle to be seen Chickadees call to us from a berry thicket; two male cardinals, “chipping” steadily from their retreat among hemlocks near the river display a splash of crimson against the snow laden dark green trees. Their calls blend with the winds, the icy clatter of water cascading over stones and the cheerful murmur from the calmer currents of the river to bring us a winter symphony.

To the north, up-river from the viewing station, we finally spot our eagles for the day. One magnificent mature Bald Eagle soaking up the sun and in tall snags further up the river, one snag for each, perch two immature eagles.

We finish our loop returning to the house. How wonderful and warm it feels!

Monday, December 12, 2005


The spectacular light show through the heavy storm clouds has kept me busy with my camera much of the day. No sooner would I get going really well on a project than shifting reflections through the skylight would entice me back to the windows for some new glimpse of my ever-changing world.

This is a day when I have been trying to re-organize my work area and get my papers and cd’s organized so I can find things again. Why is it that things seem to pile up so quickly? I am even behind in reading my e-mail this week. Since it was only eight degrees when I started my day, it wasn’t hard to choose tasks that kept me under a warm roof. Nonetheless, with these tasks in front of me it is very easy to be distracted by the changing light outside. “All color seems bleached out of the earth, and what was a few weeks since a glowing landscape has now become a still bas-relief. The hills stand unveiled; the beautiful leaves are gone, and the eye seeks in vain for a trace of the brilliant drapery of autumn- even its discolored shreds lie buried beneath the snow. The fields are all alike: meadow and cornfield and hop-ground, lie shrouded and deserted; neither laborers nor cattle are seen a-field during these months of our year. Gray lines of wooden fences, old stumps, and scattered leafless trees are all that break the broad, white waste, which a while since bore the harvests of summer.” --- Susan Fenimore Cooper, Rural Hours page 284. Since I love reading nature journals, I was delighted to discover the one I quoted above, a voice from one hundred fifty years ago reaches me through the pages of “Rural Hours” by Susan Fenimore Cooper. First published in 1850 her reflections on New York excerpted from her diaries traces the changing seasons in and around Cooperstown in 1848 and 1849. Susan took daily walks in all seasons. She recorded her observations of natural things -- birds, wildflowers, Lake Otsego -- as well as passing events in her diary. Her work touches on my interest in American History; New York History journaling and natural history.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Treasures of the Snow

Clouded morning skies bring flaming color --- as clouds fill in it becomes cold and gray.
Icicles hang from the roof and from the bird feeders. This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere;
the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling;
vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal
dawn and glowing, on sea and continues and islands, each
in its turn, as the round earth rolls.
- John Muir
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge…?
“ Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding…
“Have you entered the treasury of snow,
Or have you seen the treasury of hail…?
From whose womb comes the ice?
And the frost of heaven, who gives it birth?
The waters harden like stone,
And the surface of the deep is frozen.

--- Job 38 New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Winter Tale

As I looked out the kitchen window at two gray squirrels perched on the front deck eating sunflower seeds, one of them, for some reason known only to him, decided he wanted to be on the ground. He made a running dive right through the railing and off the edge of the porch, dropping about 10 feet to the ground, and ran straight across the yard. Actually it would be closer to say he swam across the yard. Churning through a foot of fresh snow, he did not leave footprints but rather a trench like a jet ski or a snowmobile, a roster tail cloud of snow powder spraying up behind him as he went of over the bank and out of sight.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Promised Snow

The long promised snow is falling --- there is no wind. The only sound is a softened roar of the water rushing down the river and an occasional crack as ice breaks loose making its way towards the Delaware and eventually on out to the sea.

As the snow continues to fall in these early morning hours, it muffles the sounds of civilization so completely that I can actually hear the nearly imperceptible sounds of the flakes as they join the rest on the roof. We have about six inches of snow by daybreak as fine flakes continue to race out of the sky. After daylight snowflakes take on size and drift more slowly toward the ground.

By noon we have over a foot of snow, the sun has come out and the wind begins to blow sending showers of snow down from the trees as they free their branches of their heavy burden.

Sing welcome to the Dawn
There is no sound in the forest -
only the phantom murmur
of the far wind
and the wind's shadow drifting
as smoke
through ebon branches; there a single star
glistens in the heart of night....
A star!
Look skyward now...
and see above...INFINITY
Vast and dark and deep
and endless....your heritage:
Silent clouds of stars,
Other worlds uncountable and other suns
beyond numbering
and realms of fire-mist and star-cities
as grains of sand....
Across the void....
Across the gulf of night....
Across the endless rain of years....
Across the ages.
Were you the star-born you should hear
That silent music of which the ancient sages spoke
Though in silent words...
Here then is our quest
and our world
and our Home.
Come with me now, Pilgrim of the stars,
For our time is upon us and our eyes
shall see the far country
and the shining cities of Infinity
which the wise men knew
in ages past, and shall know again
in the ages yet to be.
Look to the east....there shines
the Morning Star...soon shall the sunrise come...
We await the Dawn,
Rise, oh eternal light;
Awaken the World!
With trumpets and cymbals and harp and the sound
of glad song!
And now...
The clouds of night are rolled away;
Of the bright new day!
--- Robert Burnham Jr.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Winter Sky

The lightest covering of snow fell in the early evening hours, then winds blew away the clouds pulling open the curtain that had been hiding the stars.
The night is all stars; a canopy over my head. Even though the high wintry moon is waxing and only about half of full, the snow crystals covering the ground capture the pale light and reflect it back to the sky. The silvered glow catches the trees dancing with the wind casting their moving shadows across the snow.

The air is so clear that lights of early commuters can be seen from far across the hillside moving down toward the river valley. These tiny lights cannot begin to rival the brilliance of the sparkling stars overhead. Dark silhouettes of the mountains, hemlocks and pines stand bold against the brightening sky. The night is filled with hints of something magical in the glimmering stars. The winter sky is ablaze with warm light cloaking the snow and trees with an incandescent glow The day has been clear and beautiful; cloudless bright azure skies. The air is filled with the sounds of birds that fill every possible perch on the feeders. Winter sunshine has not been able to overcome the chill air and melt the snow.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His Heaven;
All's right with the world!
- Robert Browning

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature— the assurancethat dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.- Rachel Carson

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cold North

Cold North
I received an e-mail from a friend wondering how we were surviving in the “cold north”….

“Although in the United States we look on New York as a ‘northern city,’ it is more than 700 miles south of London, more than 500 miles south of Paris --- and some 70 miles south of Rome.” (from John Kieran’s Natural History of New York City)

The Eagle
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
---Alfred Tennyson

Monday, December 05, 2005

Plank Road and Beyond

Snowed yesterday, everything is still frosted white this morning. It is 17 degrees, a bit cool but not unpleasant.

We drove from the house out along Plank Road, which takes us through the Bald Eagle Preserve, out past Rio Dam and back along the Mongaup River. The water is quite low in the dam as well as in the river. A dam at “Swinging Bridge” upstream is unstable since flooding last spring so they are keeping water levels low as a precautionary measure.

The road winds through mixed forest, dominantly hemlocks and maple. Flocks of juncos and pine siskins are gathering bits of salt from the roads edge.

A lone turkey patrolling a clearing scurries into the brush as we pass.

Along a stretch of open water where we usually find eagles several flocks of Mergansers (well over a hundred birds) rise in the air, circling above the trees then returning to settle back down on the river. An ancient wooden flume runs for quite a distance along the river. Not particularly picturesque although the snow and moss cover it with a smidgen of charm. The flume is falling apart from years of neglect. On July 15, 1910, a engineering representative left on a tour of the South to study the possible use of wooden water pipes in the Conway water system. It was felt that wooden pipes made the water taste purer and sweeter than metal and had a life expectancy equal to that of metal. Constructed of staves held together by steel bands and covered with a thick layer of asphalt, wooden pipe was cheaper and was not thought to be effected by acids or minerals in the water.

Back out to the highway. No eagle sightings today.

Stopped at a stationers and art supply shop and bought a new sketch book filled with soft gray paper I love playing with pencil sketches on the gray paper. Also picked up some Prismacolor Lightfast pencils and a wooden box to protect them while out in the field. Then I had to add a kneaded eraser and a small pencil sharpener with some extra blades. Haven’t used the Prismacolor pencils before but some of my favorite things are fresh clean paper and new sharp pencils --- can scarcely wait to try them out…

The medical center (our destination) is on a hill on the far side of the town of Monticello (the county seat of Sullivan County, New York). From the parking lot I look out to the west over hills clad in pines and mixed hardwoods. Although it is overcast and the sky is a somber gray there is a peace and serenity in watching the clouds drift past.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Through the stillness of the falling snow the song of the wind joins the song of the river as it burbles and gushes its way down the hillside. I relish this early morning quiet; not a car passing on the road. But our world cannot rest much in silence… we must be about the business of the day. Shattering the quiet reverie come sounds of winter as the snow plows work to open the road. Once again people begin their rush to and fro picking up the cares and chores of the day.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Frosting of snow during the night. Bright stars give way to dark leaden skies. The sun struggles and finally breaks through the sullen clouds. With the sun’s rising, the air begins to move rushing through the trees. Gusts spin the bird feeders on their hangers scattering goldfinches and chickadees as they dash for cover.

Air remains chill, snow does not melt; it simply evaporates.
The ground and feeders have the appearance of a supermarket on a holiday weekend. Chipmunks, red and gray squirrels, join the birds at the feeders busily gathering sunflower seeds then racing to store them away and scurrying back for more.

I seldom leave these few acres of woodland. It is not that I can’t leave but the leaving has consequences that make it easy to chose retreat in this hillside haven --- a place where I can escape from polluted air, diesel fumes, pesticides, tobacco smoke, scented unguents of all types as well as insulate myself somewhat from the germs that invade the city air. The air in this small part of the world is fragrant with the scents of pine and hemlock rather than these noxious fumes.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Day of the Predators

The day began with a trip into Port Jervis with Claude when he went into physical therapy this morning. A very light frosting of snow fell last night. Clouds are so thick that the day is dark and there is very little color with the rising sun. Our route takes us down the hill along the Mongaup river to the Delaware river where we turn to southeast toward New Jersey and follow along the river canyon through the serpentine twists and turns of the road as it goes along the cliffs of Hawks Nest. We stopped along Hawks Nest to try to catch the morning light above the Delaware and see if we can get a photograph of the twisting curves of the road and river.

Wind is cruel as it comes up through the river gap. The touch of ice that it carries bites any exposed flesh. I wrap my scarf tight around my neck to shut out the wind’s sting. The scene is darkly glowering like an illustration from some gothic Victorian novel.

It was a thrill to discover an eagle directly above the rocky cliff over our heads. He was gliding/resting on a current of air rising from the cliff. A second eagle joined the first then a third. Just as I was getting my camera poised in some vain hope that it might be able to take this type of a picture after a good night’s rest… the crows arrived…. Perhaps one of the reasons why they are such a ubiquitous species is that they just will not tolerate competitors. They are often first to challenge intruders into their territory.

In town, I thought there would be nothing to do but wait in a parking lot surrounded by electrical wires but found the clouds over the hills and a white cupola grist for my camera. Ever changing motion of the clouds across the sky captures my artistic eye. Patterns of light and dark one moment, the next glowing with the slightest touch of sunlight. Our skies are seldom completely clear of clouds but today the clouds rule supreme covering any hint of blue. Layer upon layer of clouds, each layer moving at a differing pace across the sky. A thin layer of clouds momentarily obscuring the sun, then letting it peek through again. Contrasts of dark and light seem to compel the lens to focus their direction in an attempt to record the stark beauty.

Two huge mixed flocks of starlings and crows circle overhead. This is the day of the predators. A Cooper’s Hawk darts like an arrow upward toward the flock, catching an unsuspecting bird. Returning to a grove of trees next to the railroad tracks, he swiftly tears into his catch.