Friday, December 30, 2011

Raspberry Sunset

What December has going for it: Christmas cookies with friends and neighbors, and great sunsets. Here's a raspberry-colored one from night before last. Tonight's was purple and gold, just like high-school colors. This has been a snowless winter in eastern Missouri and in fact the whole Midwest so far except for a single "dusting" that didn't last the morning. This morning it was 55 degrees and I put a chair outside the kitchen door and enjoyed my morning tea there. Who knows what it means, but it saves lives when the roads and bridges aren't icy.

What 2011 had going for it: The world got rid of several murderous dictators. The U.S. has stopped warring on Iraq. That is plenty.

Selecting a new wall calendar for a new year is always fun. My 2012 finalist calendars were "Hunks" and "The Missouri House Rabbit Society Calendar." I will let you guess which one I chose. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brown Eggs with Value Added

Saw this pickup today where Bald Pate Road meets the highway. Never saw it before. Turned around, pulled over and trotted up saying, “How much for brown eggs?”

The tall thin older man, wearing flannel and a farm cap (more squarish than a ball cap), extended a very dry, cold and toughened hand. “H'are you today?” he asked. (In the country you don’t run up and demand to do business right away. You greet the person. You look into their eyes and get to know them. And you give value-added. City habits still plague me.)

I said, “Your hens laying already?” (I know they start laying in earnest very early in the year.)

“Mine do year round,” he said. “These eggs yesterday morning and the day before. Three dollars for one dozen.” His egg cartons were a miscellany from all sorts of places and there weren’t many left. He opened a carton and showed me the eggs. I wanted only one carton. But I got my value-added. “What you do with these,” said the farmer, holding the carton and demonstrating, “is turn ‘em upside down and leave ‘em that way every seven days, if you remember to do it, and the eggs stay fresh for 30 days same as now.”

“I never heard that,” I said, appreciatively.

 “I grew up on a farm,” he said, “and my mother and me went to seminars, and if you listen,” he said, tapping an ear, “you learn somethin. Don’t hard-boil these. You’ll never get the shell off.” (That’s true when an egg is too fresh.)

He thanked me for my $3 and wished a Merry Christmas to me and my family, and I wished him a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


My perfect solution to the "Merry Christmas, uh, happy holidays, uh, happy solstice," social-intercourse problem is to call it "Yule." Formerly a moveable feast, Yule has been celebrated by Germanic/Saxon/English peoples since at least the 4th century. They say that in the early days it used to be the "mother's festival." It got Christianized and pinned to December 25, when Christians all worship a mother and her baby, with a stepdad on the side. Nothing wrong with that as long as there's still decorations, parties, visiting, no work, and feasting. Come over for tea or coffee or hot chocolate and I'll share my famous Christmas cut-out cookies from my mother's recipe, which is better than any other Christmas -- er, Yule -- cookie recipe ever.

The one holiday decoration that is always politically and socially okay: the evergreen wreath. Here you see it on the gate of the nearby horse farm, along with a gravel road, wooden fence posts, and two cedars, photo taken today. You'll notice the scene is snowless. It hasn't snowed here at all. That -- no ice to drive on or snow to shovel -- is the best Christmas -- er, Yule -- present ever.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Won't See This Again 'til 2024

Saw several of these strange burrows ringed with cairns of mud balls, a good three inches high, this past summer. They are called "chimneys." Like nothing I'd seen before, but remarkable, very noticeable, and today I find out it's no wonder I hadn't seen them before or since, because they are the homes of the nymphs of the 13-year cicada, whose year it was in 2011. (In late May and June you couldn't take a step outdoors here without feeling them crunch beneath your feet.) Some people confuse these mounds with crayfish "chimneys," but these were located on a hill, under trees, far from any creek beds. When it rains, the cicada nymphs house-clean by pushing mud and mud balls up and out of their dwelling -- pretty good considering they haven't any arms -- and leave them right outside. Good housekeeping. Now I will know what these little mounds of mud balls are when I see them again in 2024.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Hiding...and Smiling

North of "my" property line is Missouri Conservation land, designated as such only about a year ago. So I'd never explored it until this winter, and here I found beneath a sandstone cliff along a shallow run of the LaBarque a nice sandy place to sit and rest. That pure white isn't snow but silica sand. It doesn't stick to your clothes; its grains are more spherical than crystalline. It's similar to the sand at the Great Salt Lake. It makes beautiful white sand bars and beaches and little beds as you see here. And it's all from the sandstone cliffs just like the one you see. I hid and rested under this overhang, perfectly happy; it'd make a nice place for a picnic or romantic encounter. Even in December, the determined sort of people could manage. The trees? The old creek banks are eroding (severe drought/flood cycles don't help) and we are losing lots of old trees, oaks and sycamores. It's nature.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Who Goes There?

I took a beautiful Sunday slog down LaBarque creek when the water was low, and along the creek edges and wet sand bars I saw evidence of wildlife traffic, come to the creek for a drink. Traces of ice were in the water that had been left in shadow; I broke it up like plate glass and pushed it downstream so more creatures could come to the creek edge and drink. What we have here  is raccoon tracks stylized in wet sand and a three-toed footprint of a very large and heavy bird (each toe the length of my ring finger). Wondered what it was -- the LaBarque hosts herons and egrets,  but it looks most like the track of a turkey. If it had been a heron the footprint would have had a less splayed, more slender profile and have a lighter fourth toeprint in back. So it could be an egret, but the fact is we've got more turkeys. Actually we are fortunate to have plenty of both.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The End of a Cedar Tree

Two full-grown trees in front of the old boys' camp bathhouse got sawn down, for no reason except they might have been growing too near the electrical wires -- but there's been no electricity running through them for 30 years. For love of the trees I counted the rings: 54. The camp buildings, now abandoned, were erected in 1957. It's a perfect match. Clearly these trees were planted to screen the bathhouse doors, and kept growing although the camp closed in 1971.The camp and trees are my exact contemporaries. With God's help I will not be abandoned to the elements or cut down at 54.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mistress of the Flames

Demetrius used to share with me the heavy work of winterizing. Today while I taped plastic sheets over the windows and whipped weeds and moved bags of birdseed and cat litter (not salt; I have a creek to take care of) and put snow shovels onto the porch and sprayed the locks with graphite, I grieved because he didn't like living, finding humanity grossly corrupt and offensive. He wanted to turn back time to 1956 when he was a child and all was perfect. After he died I cried only once: When the radio played the musical children's tale "Tubby the Tuba" and I knew he would have loved it.

Well, now I am single so I do it all. Single is fine. I do what I want, go where I want, and spend all my money on myself. But it's not like you can ask friends to help you winterize. So I covered the plant beds in drifts of fallen leaves, and cleared the roof, lawn and walkways of fallen and broken limbs and branches, chopped and sawed them if they were too heavy to drag, then dragged them into a pile near the fire bowl. Oh yeah, and I got the stepladder and sprayed the satellite dish with Pam because HughesNet told me it keeps ice from sticking on it. Fortunately it was 56 degrees F, my kind of December 3, and I decided to make my first fire on my own. Before today I'd never had the urge or the heart. Kept bringing it fallen branches and raked-up leaves; it was ravenous for them and the larger the fire the more I was cheered, and began to hear in my mind the lyrics "See the blazing Yule before us," and "heedless of the wind and weather."