Flash floods


Flood waters wash across the base of our driveway. This photo was taken after the worst of the flash flood had abated.

Our rain gauge showed 2.6 inches of precipitation overnight. Most of it fell in a two-hour period. The National Weather Service reported 50-plus miles-per-hour winds. The strongest  gusts came during that two-hour torrential thunderstorm.

When the worst of the rain abated, I took a camera to the base of our driveway to capture some photos of the flooding I knew would be horrendous. This was the second major flash flood of the summer. More are forecast.

The culvert pipe at the end of our driveway is blocked, filled with runoff muck and debris from the previous flash flood. A day before the latest storm I foolishly climbed down into the 15-foot-deep catch pool where the “dry run” of our south draw meets the driveway’s culvert embankment. The dry run has been small creek all summer. When flood waters fill the catch pool, it overflows across the embankment and the dead end road’s cul-de-sac.

To drain the catch pool I wanted to open the culvert’s corrugated steel pipe, but its mouth is somewhere beneath two feet of mud that clings to boots like wet concrete. Using a steel rod for a probe, I search for it 20 minutes and never found it. It appears to be under a jumble of rip-rap stones that rains washed down the face of the embankment. A half hour later, I had given up any hope of opening the pipe and was feeling fortunate to have gotten out of the catch pool’s quick-muck without suffering a coronary collapse.

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Sasha 17 months 2.

Sasha, 17 months old, her first three-rooster day. This is one of the moments I will remember when I look back on our 15 years together. Thank you for all the years we spent together, Sasha, all the hunts, all the companionship. I miss you, and I will remember you until my own end of days comes to pass.

A few months ago the light in her eyes began to dim. Some of the fog that darkened her world was the hazy veil of cataracts that obscured more and more of her vision, but most of the clouds that were blotting out the light and warmth of her sunshine were the bleak weather of life’s late winter, Her body and her mind were slipping away, day by day. There was so little she could do, Sasha, this French spaniel who could once do so much, and she was often lost and confused by her dementia.

There were moments when those dim eyes of hers flashed brightly again as I held her head in my lap. Those were the fleeting seconds of self-awareness when she asked me: “What’s happening to me? What’s wrong with me? Help me! Fix me!”

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New boots


NEW BOOTS are a pain in the foot.

Buying boots has always been a challenge, an existential battle I often lose. I dream of acquiring boots that are an extension of my corporeal and metaphysical self, boots that are a comfortable, protective sheath for my feet, that allow me to hike miles and miles over rough terrain with a deer’s sprightly tread. The nightmare boots I usually get cinch my foot in the chiropodist’s version of the iron maiden, clumsy hobnails that encumber each elephantine step, trip on every obstacle, and mock my aching soles and arches at the end of a day’s hunt.

At its core, this is a struggle between the knobs, depressions, and protrusions of my oddly shaped feet against the one-size-fits-all production techniques of the modern footwear industry. Work boots, hiking boots, hunting boots – in any of a dozen different styles – are apparently designed and manufactured for the foot of “average” shape and conformation. My feet are in no way average. Neither are yours, probably. We all have our podiatric peculiarities.

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Lizzie May 29

Lizzie is a welcome visitor to the farm, full of life and happiness and excitement and wonder. Boisterous and hyperactive, she charges into the wild of weedy fields, ready and willing to meet and master new adventures. Her youthful enthusiasm triggers the release of some combination of endorphins in my own body, lightening my step on a cool spring morning in the North Country at a time when my tread has become labored and heavy.

Lizzie is pure fun. A four-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, she is joyful, beautiful, strong, and well-built – and she smells nice. She is bold, but she is also eager to please and quick to comprehend and abide by the new rules of proper behavior she is learning. This most pleasant combination of personality traits in a hunting dog is more rare than you might think. Lizzie is aggressive but not stubborn, sensitive but not soft, clever but not cunning, attentive but not fixated, obedient but not submissive, affectionate but not doting. She has the makings of an outstanding bird dog.

She reveals these character traits all though our morning walk as she charges forth, explores, hunts, examines, reacts, seeks affirmation, responds, and remembers. Her steep learning curve afield is partly due to the instruction she is receiving from Abbey, my six-year-old French spaniel who is leading the morning walk and (reluctantly) teaching Lizzie the basic skills of the bird dog trade. But mostly Lizzie’s talents can be attributed to her good breeding and the affection she received in the first few weeks of her life.

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Dog door

Dog Door

The chore was two years overdue, maybe three. One late winter afternoon that was sunny if not warm, I dismounted the right half of the garage double-door, laid it across a pair of sawhorses, measured and marked it with yardstick and stencil and pencil, and attacked it with drill and jigsaw.

My home improvement projects do not always go well, but installing a dog door took less than an hour’s time and the finished product was darn near perfect, if I do say so myself. Maybe because, contrary to my usual procedure, I read the manufacturer’s instructions twice before I started and followed them step-by-step without any “improvements.” Well, I did caulk and weather-strip the dog door frame, which the instructions did not call for, but that weatherizing is de rigueur for a west-facing window or door in the North Country. Doesn’t really count as an alteration.

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Beulah Fern hated smearcase.
Hated it worse than fried mush, worse than turnip greens,
hated everything about it:
the way it tastes, smells, looks, feels in her mouth.
Schmeirkase, the Germans call it.
Scotch-Irish Appalachia white trash called it smearcase,
maybe to spite the rich Germans
up in Fairfield County, the thick-skulled boche pig farmers.
Beulah wouldn’t eat it. Not a bite.
She’d seen it made. She’d made it herself too many times,
ninety years past on a hard-scrabble farm
with three cows, four Belgian workhorses, ewes, hens, a dog,
all more important than her.
A rocky field of corn, two big gardens, a kitchen garden
that she had to weed and hoe.
Four-room clapboard shack, roof that leaked by the chimney.
Sagging barn with milking stanchions,
equipment patched with wire and sheet metal, broken tools.
Carrying two milk pails to the house
each Thursday morning before school, cream already turning
and smelling of manure and rotten straw,
for Ma to pour into baking pans on the wood-fired cookstove
to bring to a boil but not scald the whey
clotting and clabbering into soft curds of warm cheesy slush
that had to be cooled in the wellhouse
with a piece of cheesecloth over the pans to keep out the flies.
Worse than head cheese, blood sausage, pickled pigs’ feet,
hush puppies, oatmeal gruel,
pork cracklin’s, mountain oysters, boiled dandelion greens –
all of it salt poured into
her open sore of longing, covered with a bandage of dreams.
The War saved her, she says.
Van Dyne Crotty uniforms in Dayton advertised for women
who could sew and iron
and then DELCO hired her away to make electric motors
at three times the money.
Four girls packed into one room in a widow’s boarding house
with shared cold-water bathroom
who kept in touch for fifty years and even had a reunion once
but the other three are dead now.
Beulah married an Army Air Corps mechanic from Wright Field
and they moved to Cincinnati
after the War where she still lives with her granddaughter Edie
who takes her to seniors’ lunch.
“They call it cottage cheese,” Beulah said, pointing at the bowl.
She doesn’t eat it. They can’t make her go back. That’s all past.



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My very own 25-ton wood splitter

Regan splitting firewood

My daughter is much better, and safer, than I when operating  motorized equipment.

LATE WINTER of 2018-19 was a terrorist with an atomic weapon. Fifty inches of new snow, six weeks of continuous sub-zero temperatures – some days as low as -40 Fahrenheit, ice-coated driveways, 30-40 mile-per-hour winds that snapped brittle-frozen limbs from trees, and day-after-day-after-day of dark skies clotted with roiling gray storm clouds.

Is it any wonder that we burned the last of our winter supply of firewood before the end of January? Or that the LP gas delivery truck got stuck in the snowbank at the top curve of our driveway?

No, it was not a pioneer-era hardship to survive three days in an old farm house with the thermostat turned down to 55 to stretch the last of the LP gas supply while I hacked and shoveled rock-hard ice walls to widen the path for the LP gas truck, but it wasn’t exactly a day at the beach for an arthritic old body either.

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