Friday, October 31, 2008

The Lion, The Ditch, and The Dirt Road

The mystery deepens.
While having a conversation with his sister this summer overlooking her lake, my husband caught movement out of the corner of his eye. His sister caught it too and they focused their attention to the sight that was unfolding some 300 feet away. The neighboring farm's three Golden Retrievers were chasing a fast moving animal out of the lake retaining ditch and across the fields towards our dirt road. They were losing the chase by a landslide. They watched it for some seconds before the animal disappeared into the trees. My husband mentioned the incident when he arrived home a few minutes later and I questioned him about what he saw. The animal was as large as a deer on shorter legs. It was tawny in color. I wasn't alarmed as of yet. I had seen pretty large coyotes out here plenty of times. It had at least a three foot long tail. Bushy is what I assumed he would say. No, he said it was more cat tail like but thicker. The brain does odd things at moments like these and mine was searching every major animal I could think would be naturally present in Ohio. But my subconscious already had the answer because my hairs on my neck were standing up. Mountain lion. But how? A few hours later after an exhaustive search on the Internet for disproving my theory I phoned a man in Pennsylvania who is a mountain lion expert. I explained what both my husband and his sister saw, and also mentioned an article I had found that seemed to collaborate their story. A large cat had been seen quite near to our property along the woods at Fort Ancient. A person had been driving along the quiet road when a huge cat leaped and cleared the road in front of them. My expert politely listened to my story and then unhesitatingly said no lion had ever been positively recorded in my area thus making it virtually impossible. He explained that surely a car accident or hunter would have proved their existence here in southwest Ohio. I felt a little relieved, but not much. While the thought of big cats on our property is exciting, I was just beginning to realize how nice it was to let our children roam a little freer than had been possible in Florida where there were so many natural hazards. Sharks, alligators, poisonous snakes, panthers, bobcats, and bears had been a constant worry in the wilds of Florida- and we had seen them all. A quick survey of surrounding neighbors confirmed my feeling that maybe my lion expert was incorrect. The neighbors to our back had seen a large mountain lion drinking from their lake. They had a clear and close view. Troubling was that their sightings had been going on for nearly three years. People had thought they were seeing things. I remembered a tale my husband had told me about him and his sisters walking down a wooded road as kids while dusk was approaching. They stopped dead in their tracks as they had heard what sounded like a combination of a loud animal roar and a woman shrieking. They ran as fast as they could back home. When he had first told me the story I had shrugged it off as wild kid imaginations. The tales were now getting more difficult to shrug off. Last week my Labrador Vishla was barking like mad from his fenced yard at something off in the distance. I went to window just in time to see something bounding off towards the huge natural reserve that adjoins our land. I had a bad view directly to the back end of the animal. It was amazingly fast, low to the ground, with a huge spread. There was something about the tail as it was too long for a dog. My denial was receding as the animal disappeared into the trees.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Winter Residents at Hawk's Run

Last winter when walking past a window I wondered why there were red leaves left on the branches from fall.

Taking a second glance, I realized that these were no leaves. They were cardinals, perhaps a hundred of them when I counted the less visible females. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. There were as many cardinals on the ground near the feeder as there were perched up in the branches of the tree. I wondered if this was a fleeting image, and why I had never noticed them before. Days passed, and the cardinals remained. I felt a surge of happiness, and a little pride too, that our property was defeating the sad bird count reports that were coming in from all over the country. For months now I had been reading with alarm that backyards birds were dwindling in numbers all over America. I come from a family of bird lovers, on both sides. My husband's paternal grandfather and both my maternal grandfather and mother passed a love of birdwatching to both of us. My husband and I set up birdfeeders along with bird supporting vegetation all over the eleven acre property known as Hawk's Run. Almost any time of day or night, bird sound fills the air. From the smallest of hummingbirds to the largest of owls, feathered friends are always within sight. We have purposely left many areas wild on the margins of our land to help keep wildlife corridors open and useful to all kinds of animals that roam the land and sky. Feathers, nests, and eggshells become lessons of the day for three year old Wren, and notes are made in the Lifetime Bird Journal. Along the back of our saltbox hangs four different colored simple feeders that mark each year as we pass our time on this wonderful land. The closeness of these colored feeders allow us to see birds up close that we would never be able to approach in the wild. Twice a day, Canadian geese are seen and heard coming from one of the numerous lakes that dot the landscape of neighboring acreage. Many of these lakes were dug by Grandpa Ray, and it's difficult to look upon their beauty and not say a profound thank you for his foresight. Hawk's Run is defying the downturn in backyard bird numbers, and this gives us courage to plow forward with a plan for the land to remain as natural as possible. I hope to see the red "leaves" on the trees this winter, and each winter after. Hopefully, someday, long after we are gone, there will be enough colored feeders down the back of the house that each cardinal will have it's own perch.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Remembering Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor would have been ninety three years young on August 28th of this year.

Sadly, we lost Tasha on June 18 after she had suffered a stroke earlier in the year. For some years now, I have made it a point to stop on August 28 and remember how thankful I am to have had Tasha in my life. This last birthday was bittersweet. It had always been so nice to know that nestled in a quiet spot in Vermont, Tasha was going about her day working in the garden, cooking at the old stove, or as she used to say, "keeping the wolf from the door" with her art. So many people knew her because of her art, but there were an equal number of people who knew her because of the life she created at Corgi Cottage. Tasha was one of those rare people who knew with certainty who she was right from the start. Avoiding all forms of public media, she stepped back in time to the 1830's and lived as if the world around her did not exist. Tasha never had to explain why she wore old 19th century styled frocks as those who knew her knew her only in this way. She was very private, and despite how very much I had wanted to meet her in person, and know people who knew her well, the respect I had for her way of life never permitted me to ask for an introduction. At times I deeply regret this, and at others I realize with certainty that a mere introduction would have probably driven me mad. Her wit, wisdom, and hearty homecooking made Tasha the kind of person you would like to have in your family of dearest friends. No, a mere introduction would never have done. At Hawk's Run, we cherish the lessons Tasha Tudor has given us through her beautifully illustrated books. Tasha has taught me to honor childhood, and even more so to honor being a mother. She has taught me that a good meal on the stove can drive out the darkest of days, and a nuzzle from a furry friend can ease the worries of the world. We raised our cups of tea to the memory of one of America's greatest National Treasures on August 28. Tasha's cup was placed in the herb garden as the afternoon gave way to dusk. It is nearly impossible to think of Tasha without hearing the words of Fra Giovanni, early 16th century Italian Renaissance painter of religious subjects.

"I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take Peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet, within our reach, is joy. Take Joy.
And so . . . I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away."

Tasha had both Joy and Peace in a world that is far too troubled. She found Heaven at Corgi Cottage. God rest her soul.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Enchanted Places

I remember being amazed as a child when I discovered
Christopher Robin to be an actual person.

Some of my earliest memories are those of my mother reading from the four part series of Winnie-the-Pooh books by A. A. Milne. The friendships forged in the Hundred Acre Wood resonated so deeply within me as a child that I at times wonder just to what extent Christopher Robin's world influenced my social ideologies. As a young adult while browsing for something to read in my mother's vast collection of books the title "The Enchanted Places" and Author Christopher Milne leaped out at me. It would forever change the way I viewed Christopher Robin's world. From a very imperfect father came a dedication of stories to a son written entirely from the heart. The life A. A. Milne so wanted to give his son Christopher was not to be in real life but was given in the pages of his stories about a boy and his Bear. The Enchanted Places touches me even more so now that I am a mother of two. We are all imperfect parents in our own way. We may not ever go to the extreme of Milne in creating a perfect world for our children as he did through Winnie-the-Pooh, but I believe that we are able to create perfect moments in our children's memories. My mother reading to me are such perfect moments, and in my mind those memories are My Enchanted Place. To celebrate my daughter Wren's third birthday this year, we held a Winnie-the-Pooh Party. Many ideas came from The Winnie-the-Pooh Party Book published in 1971. Nearly everything for the day was handmade including the food, games, and decorations. This was necessary as much for cost as it was for the lack of true Winnie-the-Pooh items in the marketplace. When I think of all the hours involved in creating the honey bee pinata and how fast it was broken open, I marvel at the foolishness of not buying one premade. But then I quickly remember Wren helping me glue bits of paper over the balloon and watching with bright eyes as the paints made the bee come to life. It was more work than it could have been, but it was An Enchanted Place in Time for Wren and her mom.

The Importance of Handcraft

It used to be that every child learned some kind of handcraft at the knees of an elder.

Even as far back as two generations, this was the norm. When modernization took such a stronghold at the end of the World Wars, this interaction of teaching a handcraft seemed to disappear almost overnight. With that disappearance, I believe we also lost a valuable link to our ancestors and our common history. It wasn't until I met my husband that I learned just how valuable this passing of a handcraft really was. His grandfather had taught him basic woodcarving as a young boy of five. They started with simple fish decoys to use on the lakes of their family property. This simple gesture from a loving grandfather seeded my husband's passion for all things made of wood and endures to this day. Grandpa Ray has since passed many years ago, and was a man I never had the honor of meeting face to face. But when I see my husband in his woodshop revealing an object in a piece of wood, I know that Grandpa Ray is present. Now with two children of my own, I have been thinking about what handcrafts we will teach our children. My love of farm animals and textiles deemed that I should learn to knit, and teach my daughter Wren when she is ready. It is my sincere hope that she will someday pass along this skill to her children. Of all the gifts we give to our children, perhaps one of the most special is that which can be remembered by the movement of our hands.