THROUGH THE WOODS: Our 1950s Christmas wreath

THIS IS THE PROGRESSIVELY DARK and gloomy time of year of cold and shortening days. It is a time to welcome the Holidays and many faith traditions of light as part of the festivities; the torches, lamps, candles and bonfires, and now modern electric lights that help dispel the darkness.

There are new lights for my house this year, something my spirit needs. It was in some ancient places an appeal to the sun to return for another year, and it did, as after the winter solstice the days lengthened again. Many of the celebrations included gathering and decorating with the greens of winter, like mistletoe which represents life in winter and the hope that spring will return. Our woods had pines, spruce, and hemlock trees, and we could find some greens on the ground or under the snow.

My mother’s favorite, particularly for wreaths, was ground pine. On the higher, southeast corner of our woods was an area covered with it. Sometimes there was so much you could tangle your feet in it. It was an exciting and anticipated excursion to go gather it each year, and you had to be old enough to walk well over half a mile to get to it. I felt important to be included. I wore my buckle-up arctic boots, snowsuit, and red mittens with a matching knit hat. Mom picked as sunny a day as possible, so that helped. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: The cutter sleigh

THIS RECENT SNOWFALL reminded me of a day on our farm when I was about 13. My saddle horse, once owned by my aunt, was trained for the harness as well as under saddle. Stormy was black with a few white markings and was quite amiable. The Taconic State Parkway roadbed had been established and there was a beautiful snow-covered gravel surface calling us to travel. My two younger sisters and I had been taking our saddle horses on it for months.

Looking around in our old barn one day I saw the cutter sleigh stored up on top of the second-floor oats-filled granary bin. I asked my father if he could take it down and I would hook up Stormy. He did and got out an appropriate harness from the harness room downstairs and went back to work with our dairy cows. The cutter was surprisingly light in weight and easily moved to the barn floor and all was ready for Stormy. With my sisters standing by to help, the harness went on with no problem outdoors, so we backed Stormy into the cutter shafts and attached the harness to it. I led him out of the barn to the snow-covered ground and the snow squeaked and crunched under the sleigh and all hell let loose. Stormy was wild-eyed and bucking, kicking up behind at the curved dash of the cutter. I was able to hold him from running and got him calmed down and he gingerly walked for a way.

My sisters and I wanted to travel so I got on his back over the harness to better control him and my sisters got in the cutter. Stormy settled down and we had a wonderful ride on the TSP. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Not a creature was stirring…

A mouse at rest? Photo contributed

“TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.

Anyone who has lived in the country knows this would be a miracle. Once I went to Albany for a car repair. On arrival at the service center, a frazzled young woman named Robyn greeted me. I was surprised and asked her what was wrong. She had just spent twenty minutes on the phone with an irate customer. He was very upset because there was a mouse in his car’s air filter, he had spent a lot of money on cleaning and a new air filter in May, and why didn’t they remove the mouse?

I cracked up and said you have to be kidding! Eventually, she was laughing with me at the ridiculousness of it. Throughout the stay of several hours, we traded mouse stories. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: The waning sunlight

Downy woodpecker on the empty suet feeder. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

THE NUMBER OF HOURS OF SUNLIGHT per day is decreasing this time of year in our Earth’s northern hemisphere. If the weather outdoors remains tolerable, I like to be out to see what is happening and get some of those remaining good rays. In summer it is nice to be out in the morning and now it is more pleasant after lunch when things have warmed up.

A cake of suet is hanging on the porch in a dollar store feeder as a test to see if the bear is finally hibernating. I could afford to have that feeder stolen but not my expensive squirrel-proof feeders. Nothing has happened to it for several weeks; when the cold finally comes, the switch can be made.

Today was gloomy and rainy, with a noon temperature of 41 F. The birds finished the seed and suet on the porch, so I went out to restock. With a warm jacket and a cup of hot coffee, it wasn’t bad by 3 p.m. The sun came out and I watched and listened. Deer hunter gunshots were heard coming from different distant locations. A flock of crows began mobbing something or someone. A raven joined in followed by blue jays. Gunshots draw these birds to where they anticipate a meal, or they come to warn everyone in the vicinity. The usually numerous deer at my place are in hiding. Read more…


An oyster in half its shell. Photo contributed

A FEW YEARS AGO, I read The Big Oyster: A Molluscular History of New York by Mark Kurlansky and found it a wonderful book, easy to read, with so much history of our colonial beginnings in this state and information about one of my favorite foods. An older friend of mine who lived in Manhattan for years told me about one of their school trips to the American Museum of Natural History, where a giant model of an oyster (Crassostrea virginicas) and its detailed anatomy was on exhibit. She took one look at it and vowed never to eat one.

She probably blocked out the real importance of the exhibit. When Peter Minuit bought Manhattan for $24 in 1626, he showed his intelligence by also buying the oyster beds off nearby Oyster Island, later renamed Ellis Island in 1770. Oysters were cheap and abundant food found around areas of Long Island (such as Oyster Bay), Staten Island and up the Hudson River where they thrived in pristine, unpolluted waters.

The early settlers learned from the Native Americans like the Lenape to relish the oyster and archaeologists have found huge, ancient piles of oyster shells in excavations showing how important oysters were as a food source. Of course the Dutch, being good businessmen and traders, shipped them to Europe. I go back to these early Dutch; our family has always eaten oysters and included them in our Thanksgiving dinners. Read more…