Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Making the Cut

I used to spend hours and days outside with these tools saving the property from invasive cedars and Japanese honeysuckle vines, and after about seven years the clippers and weed whip, dulled and unusable, sat in the garage until I realized a while ago, "I can now pay to sharpen these," and, to be honest with you, also thought, "When the apocalypse comes, any day now, I will wish I had sharpened these tools" to cut a clearing in the underbrush and clip and trim branches to build my lean-to, and so on.

Nobody else, I was sure, ever let their tools get so dull. Embarrassed to bring them to the sharpener, I prepared a fib -- "I bought these at a garage sale" -- in case the sharpener said, "Whee doggie. I've never in my life seen garden tools in such a deplorable condition." I wasn't sure whether the weed whip, my favorite, with its double-edged and serrated blade, could even be honed. I never knew anyone who cleaned or sharpened garden tools; Demetrius left his crusted with clay and soil. Also needing treatment were two lopping shears and a very old pair of hedge shears with wooden handles. The hedge shears were already here, rusted stiff, blades blackened with time and handles sticky with dust, when I moved in long ago. I wondered whether they could be salvaged. In the garage when I moved here was also a scythe, an actual scythe, but I think it's gone.

The sharpener sharpened and spiffed up all four and covered the freshly honed edges with paper, a courtesy unexpected and appreciated. Here they are back home, and out I go because I like cold weather for doing the heavy work of cutting.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Country Caulking

On a chilly night the new acrylic indoor storm windows leaked cold, so feeling around the single-pane window frame and catching breezes, I looked carefully and saw all three layers of the window frame needed caulking, right now, in the ever-narrower space in Missouri between hot summer and cold winter, neither of those good for caulking.

In September I spent three days caulking a historic single-pane window real nice (with "antique white"), but this one is 1969 in an aluminum frame and it rained yesterday and it'll rain tomorrow so instead of having fun I got the stepladder and drop cloths, plastic bags, nitrile gloves, wet rags and caulking gun and worked quick and dirty. Nearly every inch of this 85-year-old house needs caulking. Aproned and teetering and reaching overhead and messing up, I do it about every 10 years. This time I noticed caulk technology has changed; now soap and water will get it out of your hair and off your gloves and pants.

Inner critic: Your caulking stinks.
Me: Shut up. It's better than yours.
Inner critic: Should have cut the the tube a narrower tip --
Me: I didn't see you lending a hand.
Inner critic: Slow and steady. Don't smooth beads with your finger; use a craft stick! What a mess! Don't you have a sponge? Don't poke at that, it's almost dry! Now it's worse!
Me: The caulk didn't fill it up the first time.
Inner critic: It would have, if you'd been patient --
Me: Cram it.

The photo is AFTER I caulked and while it's curing. Yes, it's hoosier, but it looks a lot like the art downtown at the Pulitzer. In the right light.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Muscling Up

"You start losing muscle mass in your 30s," the senior-yoga-class instructor told our class, "and lose 10 percent more every year." I called out, "That's not fair."

The instructor ignored me and advised us all to work with weights and to up the poundage every time we got good at it. Don't get old, get strong.

She's right, but strength, I secretly think, is secondary. Priority goes to keeping a somewhat youthful shape, and especially knees not draped with crepe-y flesh. So, telling myself it's about knee strength, I started with the "quad" weight machine and related exercises. The "quads" are the long, tough vertical muscles in front of the thighs.

Two weeks, three weeks: The crepe went away! Now that's motivation!

Coincidentally, this is the season the quite common and ordinary Russula mushrooms, such as the one pictured (about 3" in diameter),  muscle their way out of the soil, displacing it if they have to. It takes Russulas about two days to fight their way to standing and you can watch their progress. They lift with their stems and caps more earth than I can with a shovel from this tough, packed, weed-choked soil. They get scarred. They don't quit. What inspires them? Maybe they wanted to be up in time for the autumn equinox. Happy equinox today!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Elegy for a Shagbark Hickory

Missouri's eastern forests are oak-hickory forests and the trees on occasion die and fall, or get struck by lightning (you'll know that from the charred pieces left). The Divine Yard's mature oaks and hickories are slowly losing their juice and often, during storms, with earth-shaking thumps throwing whole limbs to earth or clubbing my roof. Stripped of all that was graceful about it, once in a while a very dead tree will lose its grip and plunge face first onto the lane -- wham! -- blocking entry and exit until we get it sawn apart.

But ye know not the day and hour a tree will fall. I have learned that trees groan and whine before falling -- the way metal whines when it's fatigued and set to give way. If in the woods if I hear that, I make myself scarce because to be killed in the woods by a falling tree is just too ironic, although Demetrius liked to stand there hoping to see the spectacle.

The shagbark hickory pictured, as long as I've known it, gradually offered up all its limbs to storms and winds. Its indwelling tree nymph moved out, and now the tree is really, really dead. Plenty of dead trees are standing on the property waiting to keel over, but only this shagbark hickory, should it fall, threatens the dwelling. Having its carcass cut down will cost less than being forced to move should the tree -- northwest of the house, where the winter storms come from -- tip over and crush the roof. Arrangements have been made. I took its photo and informed the tree nymph, who has since found a new place.

I hope and believe that the earthly body of this tree will one day sprout delicious mushrooms. Amen.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

August Night, September Morning

About three days ago a stony chill manifested in the atmosphere, day and night, regardless of temperature. It introduces the change of seasons, and normally it arrives around September 20, when summer is truly technically over. That should be the significant date in the "living out here" calendar, but it's August 31, turning at midnight with the flip of a page into September, that erects a whole new defensive rather than celebratory mindset. What kind of winter is coming? How to prepare? What didn't I do this summer that needs doing? (Say "Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits" at midnight for luck.)

This is Late Summer. It won't be autumn until September 21. Yet I've begun having soup at every meal, stockpiling what I "feel" is enough coffee and examined the fleece bathrobe to see if one more year might be wangled out of it. Trees in the understory are faintly yellowing. I don't want to be this way. (And in December, in winter's grip, I always light the firebowl and think, "This isn't so bad after all!") Several work projects require other people to make the next move and I'm waiting. I've waited for a couple of years on some of them. Wish progress were as constant as the changing phases of the moon. Here's the August 2019 full moon. May it be so: September 2019 will be greatest month of our lives.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Warmth. Light. Clarity.

Deciding "how I wanted the rest of my life to go," seeing the chances of remarriage receding and deciding to remain here, certain things had to change, like how I burned last winter three 400-gallon tanks of propane by defiantly keeping the cabin's temp at 70 degrees, like normal people. All year I dreaded winter and winterized the single-pane windows with inch-thick foam insulation cut to fit -- a tradeoff between warmth and light, lasting six months: half the year. Neither pleasant nor healthy, and I didn't want company to see my lightless house either.

With old furniture and a ton of books, scrapbooks, yearbooks, etc. hauled or thrown away and by moving a few pieces, I enjoyed the airiness of a non-furnished living room, but it should have, like, seating. What type? Where to put it? I was getting ahead of myself. I listed on my whiteboard my priorities: Warmth. Light. Clarity. Secondarily: Fun (twice over!), welcome/hospitality, wanting to stay here all year, and consciousness -- meaning setting the room up for gladness and ease.

Choosing according to priorities and not budget, style, or whim, I began to change. I sit erect now (forced to, by a new office chair), wear my hair off my face, have pencils and pens nearby.  Bureau-drawer dividers -- $2! -- and a box for gym clothes saved time. Why had such items never crossed my mind? The gorgeous Divine Fireplace has never worked and never will, a daily disappointment. So why in all these years hadn't I sought an alternative? New windows the landlord wouldn't pay for, and I couldn't pay for, but indoor storm windows could offer light and insulation in winter. Did that meet my priorities? Yes. Should I invest in them, given that the house isn't mine? They're custom-made, so not returnable. But how do I want the rest of my life to go? The Divine Cabin needs five. I bought two, and we shall see.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What I Did on Summer Vacation

Things are different up north.
So my sister and brother-in-law unexpectedly agreed to come with me "up north" -- that's all we've ever called it -- this summer and visit a few childhood sites I wanted to see after 51 years. I said, "To see them one last time," but truly wanted to confirm whether I live exactly here because I was imprinted for life by the landscape and farm in Ashland County, WI, where Mom was born and our family had visited with hers maybe five times, certainly in 1958 and 1959 and a few other times, ending in 1968. Neither had my sister, three years younger than I, seen those places since.
Ashland County, WI

I remembered the place was at a crossroads and we drove 15 miles up the main highway but did not find it. The motel keeper gave directions and we drove four miles out of town on a nearly exact copy of a road not a mile from the Divine Cabin, one I nicknamed "Memory Lane" because it matches my ancient memory. "I am imprinted! I am!" I breathed. My grandfather's tavern, built of stone around 1930, still operates under the original name, "Maple Grove." Contrast this with a bar called "The Ripsaw" we passed in a godforsaken dust-bunny of a town half an hour to the south -- northern WI was once all sawmills and turpentine. Now it's all fishing lakes and taverns. In our grandfather's tavern at a crossroads I drank a beer in the same dark and thickly varnished interior, the stovepipe in the wall gone, though, and two flat TVs tuned to sports.

On this late Sunday afternoon there were three other customers. My very Christian sister and brother-in-law, who never drink, were clearly uncomfortable -- brother-in-law, age 61, ordering Pepsi for them both, confessed he did not know how to sit at a bar or when to pay. So we stayed only the length of my beer -- having driven several hours that day -- and I took a few snaps with my sister. I said to the bartender, a man slightly younger than we who looked as if he'd enjoyed a lot of good rock 'n' roll music, "Our grandfather used to own this place."

"What was his name?"

I told him and said our uncle had later owned and run the tavern, and he said, "I used to work with Dorothy (our aunt, who long survived our uncle) at La Croix," manufacturers of the world's finest fishing rods, its factory and factory store in the next town over. Outside of La Croix a machine vends bait. I said I would take its picture for my blog. My sister, who left the workforce in the 1990s to stay home and be a mother, asked "What's a blog?"

In the pouring rain I did not try to photograph the tavern's unique exterior, but we briefly slowed to look up a gravel drive at the farmhouse where we'd slept a couple of times -- I remember waking to see frost on the window's inside -- and the house, barn, and silo sat as we'd left them a half-century before. Brother-in-law was willing to drive up to the house (because it didn't serve alcohol?) but I told him strangers shouldn't do that. I didn't feel I could ask my sister and brother-in-law to return the next morning, after the rainclouds cleared, to take exterior snaps of the bar, because now I wanted the favor of seeing the local lake I'd never seen, where my mother said she had taken visitors out in a boat to fish. (She'd told my sister that, but I never heard it.) We went. There I took a picture and said to the pretty lake, "Hi, Mom. Thanks. We have not forgotten you."