THROUGH THE WOODS: Recovering from the storm

Coyote and its meal. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

THEY WARNED US the coming storm would be bad in our area of Austerlitz and I believed them. The house was stocked with essentials like milk and eggs, jugs of drinking water, cat food, and a working generator with lots of fuel. The tank was full of fuel oil for the furnace and the cat’s litter box was clean. Outside on the porch, I filled the bird feeders, hung extra suet, and had a good stock of corn and seed. Cell phone, laptop and camera batteries were charged. Extra batteries were stocked for flashlights and radios. I was concerned about some of my large pine trees near the house but glad I had the yard and driveway trees trimmed last fall. I am on top of a hill and tend to catch precipitation from all directions. It is nice to have the views; unfortunately, one must also accept the negative aspects. NYSEG warnings were ominous along with updated weather warnings. I hoped it was hype. It was not.

The heavy wet snow broke off numerous pine boughs that formed green skirts around the trees. I could hear them snapping off like gunshots which scared the cat into hiding. Power went off and lights occasionally flickered for several days. Then the wind came. The radio gave updates of thousands without power. My town declared a state of emergency. I was on Facebook with friends from coast to coast. California had torrential rain and New Hampshire looked like our area. My poor plowman had little to no sleep and had extra help with him shoveling when he got stuck. I am retired so am happy to wait while others need him more. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: The blue bicycle

Photo contributed

ST. PATRICK’S DAY is a great time to celebrate, and for me, it is a double celebration because it is also my birthday. I have a drop of Scottish Duncan blood, but my Irish friends let me be Irish and wear some green for the day. There have been many special birthdays, but my ninth birthday was a particularly memorable one because I had been begging my parents for a bicycle. Anticipation and excitement over anything like this are intense at this age. March 17 dawned and the view out the window was shocking. During the night there was a blizzard and five-foot-deep drifts of powdery snow lay behind the house.

Our family home was created from two houses, the original one and another moved and adjoined to it. The resulting house had a large L-shaped porch which was a great roller skating rink. This was fortunate because that day’s gift was my first bicycle. It was so beautiful and who cared if it was secondhand from who knew where, it was found by my father for me. It was shiny and newly painted a favorite shade of blue by my mother, and I loved it. It was one speed with those back-pedaling brakes and had fat balloon tires.

It was a jumping up and down exciting time, and there was no waiting to try it out. The porch was lightly drifting with snow but I got the bike out there and sat on it dreaming of the freedom and status it represented. Wheels are important, from tricycles to roller skates to bikes to cars. Straddling the bike we rolled back and forth to the limits of the porch and learned about brakes, and balance until it was too cold to stay out any longer. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Please love your dog

Cole. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

POST-WORLD WAR II, Columbia County had many rural farming communities, including my area in the Town of Austerlitz. We worked together, knew each other’s pets and livestock, and rarely lost any healthy dogs. Hunting dogs were the ones who liked to roam the most. They might get out of a kennel or during hunting take-off. If a dog was lucky and found its way home, great; another might go to a neighboring farm miles away. Sadly, some were never found.

My grandfather loved cocker spaniels that normally stayed close to us. One loved to hunt birds like pheasants, and another went crazy over rabbits. Multiflora roses were planted all over to be used as natural fencing. Huge masses of them grew and sheltered many rabbits and other wildlife. Ginny the rabbit-loving cocker would charge into a rose bush, get her silky hair totally tangled, and be stuck fast, often deep into the roses. I could imagine a laughing rabbit. Her cries were pitiful, some from frustration and some from pain.

The only way to get her out was to go in on my stomach and cut the thorny rose cane away until I could free her. Once I got bitten and always was scratched and bruised. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Wonders of winter

Iced tree roots over a stream. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

ONE OF THE BEST WAYS to see nature for me was from the back of a horse. A horse was a friend and a source of warmth in winter plus the essence of freedom. Our horses were kept in the barn in winter and turned out during the day to stretch their legs and get a drink out of the creek. The dry cold air caused static electricity in their thick winter coats and they would go racing and bucking around together in play. Once they settled down, they were in a more congenial mood for a ride and I would get mine ready to go out.

I rode nearly every day, even in storms. As children, we wore flannel-lined jeans and lots of wool clothing for warmth, and if you rode bareback there was heat from the horse. Hands could go under a mane and into a furry neck. Out from the barnyard we eagerly headed down the lane between two fenced fields and to the creek. The ten-to fifteen-foot-wide fast water bubbled around rocks and air slid under the ice along the edges. Tree roots hovered over the water and iced into amazing forms often bouncing off the water’s surface. Four hoofs squeaked and crunched in the cold snow and carefully drummed over the strong wooden bridge.

The lane led between two more fields, and a disturbed red-tailed hawk often flew off a tree perch with a loud “kerreeee” of protest. The final field gate was kept open and water seeped under the snow to form sheets of ice along the hedgerow, making it tricky to go up the hill to the giant oak tree. This venerable source of summer shade provided lots of winter acorns for hungry deer and a beautiful branched form against the sky. A wood road went about another quarter of a mile to our dense hemlock ridge. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: The blackbirds are back

WE ARE ENJOYING this current warm winter weather and are pleased not to be shoveling snow, and nature seems to think it is already spring. A few days ago I noticed buds coming out and small leaf tips on some shrubs. Our fast-running brooks have no or little ice at this point. Down at the site of my parent’s old farmhouse, the snowdrops are out and cover the ground in white in imitation of the missing snow.

The sun gets higher and more intense this time of year and it is coaxing life to re-emerge. South-facing flower beds have bulbs sending up green shoots. They stopped growing when the temperature dropped one night and the tips were nipped. The first red-winged blackbird of the year is coming to the feeders, plus a large flock of blackbirds on the ground, including many European starlings and some American robins. I don’t think the poor birds know if they are coming or going. Geese are flying north one day and a few days later they are flying south again. I wish I knew what they were thinking. Our deer have their thicker winter coats but are not as furry-looking as usual for this time of year. They are out in the field today eating more grass because it is exposed, and there are nice green patches. The deer are still looking fat. Read more…