22 February 2015

record lows

This morning's low was 37F; compare that to two and three days prior when the low was -4F. Unbelievably it rained hard last night. The ground is still hard frozen hence the rain and snow-melt all ran off. This is truly a strange winter.

Here are graphics created by the local branch of the National Weather Service showing record low temperatures set in the last few days. They noted that virtually every reporting station in their venue had set record lows. What seems so unusual to these old eyes is the extent to which the old records were broken. As a rule, new record temperatures, whether high or low, are within two or three degrees of the old record. Note that on the 20th, Lynchburg's record was broken by 18 degrees and Bluefield's by 15 degrees. Those, readers, are numbers to conjure with. Friends in coastal Maine, Juneau, Alaska, and Finland have enjoyed warmer days and nights than here in southern Virginia.

A refreshing cold front is blowing over Stratheden Farm as this is written and presages a return to seasonal temperatures is anticipated by tomorrow night, with a forecast low of 10F. Who can say that God does not possess humor?

17 February 2015


After dodging the ice, snow and cold demons almost all winter, Stratheden's luck has come to an end; arctic winter has descended upon the land.

Virtually every cold front this season has come roaring into the Blue Ridge with winds up to 55 miles per hour. The house has moaned, groaned, popped and snapped whilst buffeted by these brutal assaults. The last one blew in on Valentine's evening through the next day, unceasing in battering anything standing before it and driving a light snow before it. The wind howling through the forest sounded like you were standing a few feet from a track as a train sped past - for about 20 hours.

Sunday afternoon, a new frontal assault struck with a forecast for a foot or more of snow. The high temperature was 18F, high wind warnings, and the snow was ultra-fine and light. Accumulations varied wildly even within Floyd county. A friend in Willis reported 11 inches before 10:00 p.m. but the farm had only received 5 inches when the storm broke in the wee hours of the morning thankfully.

It warmed to 26F today, seemingly balmy, and 90 minutes with the tractor opened up the 1,700 foot driveway; thank goodness for tractors, coveralls and sun glasses!  With luck, the brilliant sun will melt the snow cover to bare gravel before it sets tonight. Much of the driveway runs through the forest where little sun penetrates - and those stretches are always problematic in the winter.

The wood heat has been keeping the house warm; yes, there is also propane, but on a windy night and temperatures in the single digits, the propane is strained to keep the house comfortable. The interior humidity has been around 4% for a week now... on the really cold nights, the cats sit in the chairs facing the wood heat and soak up the radiant warmth as they dream of fat spring time mice. Mr. Fuzzy did not cut enough firewood last summer and had to rely on the generous nature of a neighbor for a small load of locust yesterday (loaded just as the new snow struck). Although the wood was cut in the summer, it isn't totally dry and burns long but without as much heat as might be desired. Nonetheless, the dogs, cats and Mr. Fuzzy are deeply grateful for the gift.

Today the stove is without fire, cooling so the ashes can be cleared before refiring it tonight.Tomorrow and the the next day are expected to be brutally cold (see graphic below). The sole experience Mr. Fuzzy has had with such a cold daytime high temperature was New year's Day of either 1978 or 1989 in Leadville, Colorado, elevation 10,000 feet when water in the loos froze solid. With good fortune, the electric power will stay on and the wood heat will allow comfort within the dwelling. We wish that you may be in comfort throughout the remaining wintertime.

05 February 2015

What a difference a year (or two) makes-

This has been a more than fair season, especially as compared to past winters. The pendulum stays in motion, neither cold nor heat, wet nor dry, retain supremacy for more than a  few days at a time. This graphic is from the National Weather Service. The Blacksburg data closely reflects Stratheden Farm' experiences.

 Thus far, there have been three snows, all before Thanksgiving and they melted or sublimated quickly. This is called a good winter!!!

02 February 2015

Back in the saddle again, out where a friend is a friend...

There has been little news hence no posts. About ten days ago, as the big snow storm was gathering strength to bury parts of the NorthEast, the consequence here was ice. It rained for a day with the temperature bouncing around 31 degrees. It was so close to the freezing mark that accumulations varied wildly because of one or two degree differences caused by elevation or micro-climate. Stratheden was fortunate to only receive about 1/4 inch, enough to dislodge dead wood from trees but little else. Miraculously the electricity never wavered. The trees were absolutely resplendent in their radiant glassine robes.

The weather this winter has been in cycles, from single digit lows to lows above freezing (yesterday morning). That is a nice change from five and six years ago when it stayed bitterly cold and the snow kept accumulating. Winter depression may be a function of unrelenting meteorology as much as low light.

City slickers wonder what, if anything, Mr. Fuzzy does in the winter time. Some years, not much, but thanks to frequent spells of sun and temperatures in the high forties or low fifties, a lot of spring clean up has been possible months ahead.

The task of controlling the spread of locusts, wild roses, blackberries and other thorny pests is made much safer by the lack of leaves - you can see your opponent. Mr. Fuzzy hacked away one stand which had the largest thorns he has ever seen on a native North American tree.

There are times in a life when it is evident that your guardian angels are too exhausted to function adequately. And other times when it is unequivocal that the Universe smiles upon thee. At the moment, the latter notion prevails.

As noted in The Holiday News Letter (some are still in the mail...), Mr. Fuzzy has reapplied himself to massaging ye olde dissertation into a form perhaps interesting to publishers. Beginning three weeks, ago, Thursdays and Fridays are designated "Photographic History Research Days." Currently the task at hand is to flesh out the biographies of some of the more mysterious founders of Pictorialism. Two of three are almost "in the bag" now, pending queries mailed to England. The third, an American, has proved more evasive but surely cannot conceal his secrets forever.

The UPS man delivered a heavy padded envelope from Spain this very afternoon. As none such was anticipated, it required immediate inspection and behold, a very important new book on the life of American/British photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, whose genius in photography was evident before age ten. He was a Founding Father of the first world wide movement in photography, Pictorialism, and yet has been sadly underestimated and largely forgotten. English photohistorian Pamela Gleeson Roberts has rescued Mr. Coburn from obscurity and places him back into the hagiography of photography where he stands in the highest place. Dear Reader, should you have the least inkling of interest in Photography as Art, you must read this benchmark biography.

 Mr. Coburn was a lynchpin in Mr. Fuzzy's doctoral dissertation and as all scholars should, Mr. Fuzzy shared research material with Ms. Roberts when the task was still new many years ago. He was overwhelmed to find his name enumerated in the thank-yous at the beginning of said tome. Thank you, Pam, for remembering and acknowledging my miniscule contributions. It helps make up for the many times my research has been ripped off without any credit whatsoever.

Indeed, it is time to be back in the fold, digging into the dark recesses of musty archives (and the internet...) which always felt so comforting and rewarding. All right Universe, its time to power up!

19 January 2015

A day out (or two)

As much as Mr. Fuzzy loves Stratheden and Floyd, he can get stale on occasion and a short change of pace is often the perfect tonic. A brief trip to visit an old, old friend in Baltimore fell through at the last moment and a quick trip to Charlottesville was substituted. Calling on friends who venture there often for advice resulted in an invitation to stay with them and have Jeff act as my tour guide/chauffeur/shopping adviser.

Leaving the farm on Thursday afternoon, it was a quick trip to north of Lynchburg to the ancestral homelands of Jeff. A delectable and healthy dinner followed arrival and to bed early for an active day in Charlottesville all day Friday. What a rare pleasure to have someone else do the driving so Mr. Fuzzy could rubber neck and enjoy the fine scenery.

Jeff has been regaling Mr. Fuzzy with tales of the local camera store, PRO CAMERA. It was on the side of Charlottesville where the highway entered and thus was the first stop. It is in a very unassuming building and would be very easy to miss but inside was a different story. A full range of darkroom supplies, digital supplies, of course, new cameras of all stripes, a magnificent machine shop for fabricating repair parts - but the crown jewels were the used equipment; its been years since seeing so much medium and large format equipment for sale. Bill Moretz is a true connoisseur of lenses and a well practiced photographer. It was a severe test of will to keep the credit card from leaping out of the wallet.In the end, a bag of darkroom supplies left with us... but those Ektar lenses from the 1950s and 1960s are still dancing in Mr. Fuzzy's little brain. There will be a return trip... maybe with hay money in pocket in the autumn.

As in any town or city, fine cuisine is an almighty inducement for further pleasure. Our lunch was just off of the Mall at Revolutionary Soups which serves locally raised, sustainable foods. Their menu is inventive, diverse and huge: http://revolutionarysoup.com/menus/downtown/   Mr. Fuzzy's sandwich was Virginia ham, brie and homemade 'grainy' bread, the flavors simply exploded in your mouth. The ham was superb, equal to the finest Parma ham ever to hit these old taste buds, the brie was as good as the farm fresh brie in Scotland, and the bread was a meal in itself. Absolutely the best sandwich in the last five years. Oh, my.

Highly satiated in one appetite, we went off in search of antiques, real antiques, not eh broken bits & bobs passed off as 'collectibles' these days... they seemed to be everywhere. Unlike the camera store, a bit o'change did slip out in one of the antique dens.

After an active day of walking/driving Charlottesville, it was a return to the homestead via Covesville Antique Store where Mr. Fuzzy purchased perhaps a 18th century cream separating crock which carried the finger prints (two thumbs, two forefingers) of the potter who made it when it was removed from the wheel still damp. Once home, a leisurely dog walk in the fading golden winter light over the old farm lands below Tobacco Row Mountain (well marked on Peter Jefferson's Fry-Jefferson 1751 map of Virginia with another home cooked dinner and much entertaining and illuminating conversation afterward. Again to bed early for another stimulating day.

The weather both days was excellent, crisp and sunny, a treat given the time of year. Saturday was perhaps even more active that Friday, in downtown Lynchburg. A fine cup of tea at The White Hart Cafe and Coffee Shop began the tour. A quick look inside of the store where Mr. Fuzzy found a marvelous bit of stained glass on a  prior trip, then around the corner to a large and very reasonably priced antique furniture store. Never have seen so much Eastlake furniture under one roof. Out of the corner of his shifty eyes, Mr. Fuzzy spied something hiding behind a c. 1860 divan, a delicate oval small table, cherry wood, with fine architecture. The single drawer was instinctively removed, the perfect dove tail joints noted then flipped over where the Gustave Stickley mark was found. This was a survivor of their 1960s "Cherry Valley" line and priced at a bargain $60 - but wait - it was a 30% off sale that day - it went into the Honda trunk for $42. As grand daddy Field used to say, "even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while."

Soon thereafter, Jeff introduced Mr. Fuzzy to Tom Burford, dean of American apple experts, the greatest living pomologist and wonderful person. The best part of having great friends is meeting their great friends. Mr. Fuzzy went home with an inscribed copy of Tom's benchmark tome, APPLES OF NORTH AMERICA which elucidates his 192 favorite apples and apple culture. Truly a book for the ages. If you eat or cook apples, you must read it. Tom has designed every cider producer's orchard in Virginia and most in California. he knows his field like no one else. Standing in front of an orchard vendor at the Lynchburg Community Market (begun 1783), he pointed me to Arkansas Black apples... ate one on the way home and have two in keeping, my goodness, they are just superlative eating apples.

It was time for lunch and there were  number of possibilities but Jeff knew the best: Barb's Dreamhut, where Barb herself takes the orders. A warm and gracious lady, she sure knows how to make a barbeque and cole slaw sandwich!
This was the final stop and with a full stomach and full mind, Mr. Fuzzy turned the Honda towards Stratheden.

09 January 2015

Willa Cather

Willa Cather

“Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family; but to a solitary and an exile his friends are everything.”

Willa Cather, Shadows on the Rock

08 January 2015

The Gift is Small, Goodwill is All, Redux

But first a weather bulletin... it was -1F (-18C) at Stratheden this morn, thus far the coldest this winter by 12 degrees. Its not unusual here at 2,500 feet elevation here in the Blue Ridge Mountains for winter temperatures to approach zero. In the six years at (or should I say 'in') Stratheden, twice it has plummeted to -8F, most recently last February. Then, like this episode, it had been unseasonably warm before the plunge. It must be devastatingly brutal to the wild inhabitants of the farm who have not been slowly acclimated to those potentially deathly lows.

This post has been rattling around in a nearly empty head for several weeks now, attempting to determine how to approach it with greatest clarity. Time to give up and just write, right? What follows is not meant as a comprehensive list of lovely gifts but an especial four that seem to best exemplify the notion and illuminate the variety of possibilities of the title of this posting, "The gift is small, goodwill is all."

A very touching gift, because of its traditional nature and the relationship betwixt giver and receiver, cost nothing. It was a bundle of home grown sage and two small bags of home grown orinco tobacco. Touching the spirit always touches the heart.

Totally unexpected gifts are always powerful and often come from unanticipated givers. The day before Christmas Eve found Mr. Fuzzy motoring through town, headed back to the farm from the eastern side of the county; the hour was past 1:30 and the stomach was in contemplation of gnawing on the backbone for sustenance. The Blue Ridge Cafe was serving lunch and a surfeit of open tables meant service would be prompt. The chicken salad sandwich hardly blunted the hunger pangs and atypically, pie & ice cream was ordered - and consumed. Waddling up to the register, the bill was presented - the amount had to be in error, far too little, and this was raised with the waitress (who was also operating the register), to which she replied (in part*), "Merry Christmas, the pie was from me." With certainty, that was not going to qualify as a 'comp' and it would be deducted from her meager earnings. I stumbled for words and could only mumble 'thank you' as I turned for the door so my tears would not be perceived. [*There is more to the quotation regarding another person but not appropriate to note here.]

A third gift was delivered to the farm, a gift basket with a wide assortment of home made delights. It struck a chord of almost lost memory, back into the 1950s when families exchanged home made gift baskets with other families. Sometime these were in the form of crafts but most often they were baskets of foods with individual servings, one for each family member, tied up in bandannas or cloth scraps - which provided color and were reusable, a virtue then in vogue.

The bottom of  Mrs. Herman Baskett's basket always held a pan of rich fudge for me, wrapped in a blue or red bandanna which served as a handkerchief for me through the year (in those days, they were American made and might survive five plus years in steady use by a snotty kid). The last time such a basket was given in our family was about 1990; now all the old folks who practised humble and heartfelt giving have all gone to their eternal reward - but no, a young woman in Floyd county still kept the tradition. With every bite of a sugar cookie or chocolate encrusted pretzel from the basket, not only was the giver honored but all those of Mr. Fuzzy' childhood. This was not only delicious treats but a link to times and friends long gone except from my memory, a double gift, if you will, and one of much power.

Like the first gift, the fourth gift comes from the eighteenth century and cost nothing monetarily; it was a home made 'craft' small enough to hold in your palm, just a chip of wood and two brass tacks. Well, some might describe it that way. Here, not only is the gift extraordinary, but also the presentation, as one might expect from a Master of Arts like Mr. Lalioff. It is unique, too, because the maker/giver knew Mr. Fuzzy has lusted after this master work for more than a decade. The greatness of art comes from neither size nor complexity...

Native Americans in the northeastern colonies made bowls and ladles from wooden burls before contact with Europeans. The replacement of hot coals and beaver tooth scrapers by steel tools changed the forms but little. All objects except for plain bowls (which may not be of Native origin) always refer to a Sacred Being and must have been reserved for ceremonial use exclusively. A fine 18th century burl bowl can bring $40,000 or more - they are very rare and highly sought after. Even with modern tools, burl's irregular gnarly grain structure makes working the medium difficult, but Lalioff has vast empirical knowledge, having created large bowls and intricately detailed pipes.

Mr. Lalioff was inspired by an original artifact at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in Cooperstown, New York. If most burlware was involved with containing a sacred substance, then some device had to be used to fill the bowl with that material and also to empty it, especially a medicine administered to a human being: a spoon.  In all likelihood, some of the ladles performed this action... but a spoon, hmmmmm.

The architecture and difficulty of construction make this an awesome artwork but the patination is the positive mark of a Master, a creator who makes an exhaustive and integrative approach to bringing an artifact into being. Every aspect must be considered and accounted for in the piece. Mr. Fuzzy is hardly able to contemplate an object more complete in execution. And, as a master considering all aspects, the wrapping was a delight to behold and consider, brain tanned hide, natural linen ribbon and an 18th century newspaper article that the giver knew was attached tot he receiver. Sir, I am awe struck by the gift, the presentation and the thought. On the verge of speechless a fortnight later. It is already called out in my will as it must be cherished by an appropriate care taker.

2014 was a difficult year made right by friends and their particular aspects of thoughtfulness. Just the gift is your friendship is enough, without material manifestation. Thank you all. You bring my life to a special level of fulfillment that cannot be reached by one person alone.