Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ernie Thomas's Gloves

 This pair of wool gloves was knitted eighty or so years ago by Ernie Thomas, famous in my family, but dead before i was born:   a lumber jack, camp carpenter, and trapper, who (with his son Harlan, a Harisville area school teacher whom I actually did meet at my father’s funeral)  had, along with  my Grandfather) built a camp in the late nineteen twenties on the island people used to call Failing’s Island but we call Loon Island, close to  the North Shore of Lake Bonaparte. The camp has a big central fireplace to which they connected a big box stove for heating during the hunting and trapping seasons.
     One winter in the thirties or forties, Ernie Thomas fell through the ice as he was returning from running a trap line in the Bonaparte outlet to Mud Lake.  His body was never recovered.
 But we have the mittens and, for some reason, the moths have spared them completely.  Georgia says it is because we have not put them away.  I never use them.  Don’t want to wear them out. If we ever find Ernie Thomas, he will need them.

William's Way of Appearing

I will illustrate this post with an inappropriate photo because ... you will understand why:

       One dim morning as I came down from the loft, I thought I saw one of our yard cats curled up  on the deck just in front of the sliding door:  it was about cat size and grey-brown, but when I slid the door open, the cat did not jump up to get out of the way or into the house, as you would expect a cat to do;  it just lay there like a giant turd. Because that is what it was. A tightly curled, well-formed  sausage-cat of poop …   implying an animal big enough to eat a German Shepard.
           But I was  more or less  sure there was no such animal, at least not in my  neighborhood.  I was sure that the giant turd was  the work of my imaginary brother William. 
 Who else would go from yard to yard collecting dog shit, just to make a joke?
     So, by this sign  I knew William was back around again and that I would be seeing him soon, though not soon enough to clean the shit off the porch. The last I knew …I don’t know how long back … he was on the west coast wrangling animals, mostly  chickens, for those  period dramas where the streets are dirt and  ducks and chickens all in f flurry.
      I wonder what became of the Hollywood gig, or if his email about that was just another pile of shit.  Guess we will all find out when he shows his face here presently.     The Giant Turd happened two or three days ago.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Return to Wallnut Farm

I return to Wallnut Farm tomorrow. 
We built the house up on the hill in nineteen ninety .  This way up:

   You get a kind of a fish eye view up here.  Flying fish:
Lower Wallnut Farm, as seen from Upper Wallnut Farm:
From up here you can't see that there is at least one  cedar shingle missing from the roof I framed and shingled over the silo back then.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hunting the Little Chicken mushroom.

 You have to speak their languages: 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Getting Dry

Getting Dry

Our little house is cantilevered over the foundation of an early nineteenth century home on Pumpkin Hill, several hundred feet above Cayuga Lake.  The original farm extended from the lake over the hill to Payne Gulf, but the flat top of the hill at the center of it all has never had enough available water for a family with thirsty crops and livestock. During the early twentieth century, the hand-dug house-well was drilled down a hundred feet, but it  recharges slowly. The  fieldstone cistern in the old basement has tumbled and we now use it as a compost bin.

The single piece of slate that had covered the barn well was broken and tipped when we moved to the property, so we pulled it aside. I cleaned the well out and chipped a foot  deeper into the shale with a digging bar.

We built a deck over the well and installed a fountainhead over a six foot diameter basin excavated in the shale below it, and over a spillway below it, a somewhat larger and longer dug pond with a meandering outlet channel leading to a larger pond, then to larger one, long like a fingerlake.

I installed pumps in each pond, with hoses to circulate  water through the system. I figured that this would raise the moisture level of the surrounding soil for the Blueberries planted along the  banks.

I stocked the larger pond with native aquatic weeds that thrived, then with Crayfish that ate all the pond weed, then with Largemouth Bass which  ate all the Crayfish. I introduced Fathead minnows, which also thrived and  on which  the Bass grew large, spawning and spreading through the flowing brook to the lower pond..

Except for the high cost of pumping the system, this worked well enough during the normally wet years, Unfortunately, erratic is the new normal, and here on this glacier scraped hill, we don’t have the thick layer of clay needed to line a pond and hold water.  Ponds dug into shale loose water the same way they gain it: by trickle down.

A few years ago we had a very  dry summer  during which we lost most of the water and all the fish from our ponds. And this year we just enough water in the main pond for a few frogs. We frequently run the well dry watering our Tomato and Squash plots.

So this year I haven’t run the pumps at all. We do not take a lot of showers, or have a lawn.  I mulch heavily with straw. And this summer we installed  a five hundred fifty five gallon plastic water tank on the old front porch pad, where it is high enough so we can use it to water our upper level crop mounds by gravity feed. I am lining the  basin below the fountainhead with sheet plastic to prevent trickle down, and will eventually also line the next larger basin below that, giving us another thousand gallons that I can pump to the gravity feed tank.

Other than by increasing our water gathering and storage capacity, our most important adaptation to the dry conditions has been to concentrate on cultivating drought tolerant crops, especially volunteer Pears. Pears  are not native here, but they are tolerant of weather extremes, and of our thin, poorly drained, clay-laden soil, and after the Cayuga orchards were cut down by General Sullivan’s men, the Pears sprouted from the stumps, and invaded the landscape, coming up now through the Buckthorn which at first dominates abandoned farmland here. We have hundreds of naturalized Pear trees on our four acres, and I have grafted a dozen different varieties of cultivated Pears onto a hundred or more of them. I never water these trees.

Garlic is our favorite, our largest, and our most drought-resistant vegetable crop. We grow it (and Sunchokes and Asparagus) in mounds on orchard wet spots. Without mounding, there isn’t much soil at all, and the mounding both holds moisture and drains off the excess. Garlic does most of its growing in Spring and Fall when it needs no supplemental watering. This year, despite the dry summer and the fact that we didn’t irrigate the Garlic, we  have our best crop ever. We plant more and eat more Garlic every year. Maybe the Garlic diet protects us from dehydration, if not also from vampires. 

Despite their hardiness, his been a very bad one for our dear Pears, `not because of the drought, but because  of the violent hot and cold flashes this Spring. But given next year’s bumper Pear crop,  I plan to make a lot of Pear cider and drink it when I’m dry, even if it has gotten a bit hard. These are hard times.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Poor Orchard's Almanak: Companion Trees.


    My  poor orchard!  last year most of the fruiting was aborted  by heavy a  freeze shortly after pollination.  This year, most of it (other than the few Cherries we have) has already  been nipped in the bud by a heavy freeze just before the flowering began.  Only one in ten of my hundred or so trees that  are of bearing age on the grafted parts, have flowered this season.  The two or three that have flowered fully are on the slightly higher part of the orchard, probably because cold air flows down and the lower part of the orchard. Though well near the top of Pumpkin Hill,  our acres are mostly flat and poorly drained, whether of air, or of water.
  The wooded slopes of Pumpkin Hill are full of wild Pears and this year even there on the wild trees,the bloom , normally very intense along the edges of fields… has also  been about ten percent of normal. Hardly a festival.
          There are one or two trees on our lower section that  have bloomed well, including my favorite tree, flowering as lushly this year as any so far,  I suppose its companion Pine shields it on the North   When the seed Pears have grown up under the Pines, I don’t interfere too much with the pines.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Finger Farming

Finger Farming

   My old friend Alan Pike, no longer finger-farming with us, was the originator of that term; and as a matter of fact, I never heard   anyone else use it.   The closet to finger farming  I get with an internet search using that term,  is the Finger family farm on Facebook,  where you will find some monster tractor pics, and the possible impression that they are a family of seven or eight burly men who have gotten together to raise a small child and several thousand cows.  I don’t think the milking is done by hand on the Finger Family farm. but it is worth a visit for the picture of a cow trying to lick the person taking the picture.
    Finger-Farming in the better sense of the Alan Pike usage,  is farming with  one’s fingers, although Alan did of course use ordinary tools, and even used a borrowed tractor for a while,  but often did with his fingers what might have better done with an easily  available tool, often put more of his back and arms into the work than his fingers, and often used the term “finger-farming” in a general or analagos sense, as in “that’s just fucking finger-farming!” when some one tries to remove lug nuts with a bare hand and a rag, or  shovels snow off the deck with a spading fork. Not that anyone ever tried such a thing.

  On the other hand:  We have, and  Alan appreciated, the appropriate application of finger-farming: hand-breaking dirt-balls ( get them when they are exactly ripe and prime with moisture for busting), pulling weeds (after rain), pinching off suckers(cultivate typical guitar-picker’s thumb and index finger-nails for this, and  using the same fingers for flipping off Stink Bugs, and  flicking spiny little Mother-Buggers.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Boy Builders of Natural Bone

        On the north side of the road in Natural Bridge, the back yards slope down to  a spring hole  where  the Indian River, exits the  caverns and wanders off  through a sandy plane with occasional Pine-topped outcrops.  Naturally, boys  build forts, camps, and shacks back there,  often making  an updated hide-out  every  year or two,  each a little further away.  Some boys   take apart and move the whole thing.  A person closely related to me, hustling with  his friends, took some unattended lumber from the  saw mill  in town, and  tossed it into the river below the dam. The lumber   made it through the caverns without getting caught up in the low overhead sections,  and the  boys collected  it a good way  downstream.  The best fort I saw was an anteroom to a small cave on the river.  I suppose that, since then, that cave has seen   many generations of  Natural Bridge boy-builders.

   Dicky Bray  and I, aged five or six,   built a fort together just behind the old Bonaparte house foundation near my family home. 
  We used some half-rotted boards from inside the foundation hole, but relied heavily  on a blanket. One day we discovered that someone had taken a few of our boards .
     Later, when we found our boards on new wood and canvas fort further out back,  we slashed the canvas with Dicky’s jack knife.

      Many years later, I partnered in a  building business, with Ed Franqueentont who had spent many of his young summers, staying with his uncle Moe Morgan and family in Natural Bridge Moe owned the caverns and the adjoining store.
     We met and  worked mostly around Ithaca, but Ed pretty much designed the camp for us to build on Round Island, in Lake Bonaparte. The main support is two massive beams, fabricated on site from two-by-tens  and three feet up on piers of local stone, laid up on the bedrock.   I had green wood sawed for it a year ahead, so it would have time to cure.  After a few months the wood disappeared,  reappearing again as a shack way out back of the mill.
      We eventually got another batch and put up the carry beams up on Round Island.

          Then somebody knocked them down.  So I put them up again and framed for a floor across them.  Brother Herb, whose camp it was to be, helped me nail up the floor. Ed Franquemont didn’t work on the job, because he was running our office in Ithaca and the big barn moving/house-building project at the time.   Four other N.B. workers , including my daughter Mnetha and my Niece Liz Morse both  worked on the barn house , with me on Round Island …and with Natural Bone Builders for a lot of years.

        One morning we had the roof rafters half up, but poorly braced …. when they fell off.  They fell mostly on the second floor, and David Morgan was the only one standing right there, but the rafters just fell around him.   Not much was said at the time, and we had them  back up before lunch time.  I wrote about that rough building project and sold the article to the Mother Earth magazine, but they edited out the part where the roof fell in. 
         So this should right that wrong.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The First of Nowella

The Origin of Nowella

  Each year at this time we feel obliged to tell the Nowella Nativity story from its very begnings, in what some may feel to be an unholy union .. and in fact, it didn't last; but what was, was, and young people just want to know everything.
  We know of only one  Man/Bear hybrid  ever:  the individual we call  Nowella,  whose constitutional rights  are currently being challenged in court by certain people who will not be allowed into this story.

      In the winter of 1965, somewhere between the Fort Drum Wilderness and the Bonaparte Cave State Forest of Northern New York, a young female Black Bear in the  early stages of hibernation was stirred to waking by the warm wind of a  January thaw that had melted the snow cap of the brush pile where she lodged.
     This particular bear had red-blond fur of a shade you might call "cinnamon" :  lighter than usual for Black Bears  - which are generally not very black either, but most commonly a dark brown.  So  this  light-brown Black Bear crawled out from under a  brush pile, and out into a patch of sun where she shook her bones, her slabs of fat, and her thick  pelt;  then  arched her back, bowed like a dog,  burped like a man,  and yawned like a cave as she shambled into the ferns to finish doing what everybody knows bears routinely do in the woods upon rising.  
   After all that,  she  sniffed off looking for a  rotted log to claw apart for snack-grubs before  -  had it not been for what she will discover in the next paragraph  -  she would have returned to the  brush pile for her deep-winter dream time.

       Because as she was wallowing across a  deep drifted swale,  her nose entered a  current of  smells:    wet wool … old smoke … peanut butter … artificial barbecue flavor …  carbon-dioxide and carbon monoxide … detergent … urine … gasoline … blood , sweat,  and beer.
  She followed her nose up the draw a few hundred yards, and there she found  a snowmobile on its side in the  snow beside a man who lay on his back with  his arms out and his forehead bleeding.  
     She licked the blood off his forehead …  and she might have proceeded to eat his face;   but her inquiring nose found the  beef  jerky in his pocket, still in the  torn wrapper, but half-eaten.  She ate the Slim Jim AND the wrapper.
   What happened next has many explanations and refuses them all.
          Did she at least INTEND to drag him to her lair and eat him there?
 Did she fool herself into thinking that the Slim Jim in the pocket was something that grew on him like fish on a tree? 
When she took the hood of his snowmobile suit in her teeth, was she just trying to skin the guy? Was this going to be one of those  inter species adoption things, like where the German Shepard accepts a fawn in with her nursing pups? 
        Be that as it may (and history may never tell), our bear took the  unconscious man's hood in her teeth and dragged over the wet snow, down the draw and to her brushy den, where she wrapped herself around him like a rug around an Slim Jim (except he was not what anyone would call thin… but anyway, she DID NOT kill and eat the man.  (  Note: A few  years before the publication of this article the same man was killed in another snowmobile accident, but his family has asked not to be named, so, from here on, we will refer to him as "Jim.") 
 By the third day of his confinement,  "Jim" was alert,   over-heated,  antsy, and very hungry, but afraid to move.
     The she bear brought in a leg of something  rotten enough to have been pulled off the body of whatever it used to be part of.  
      Jim  was accustomed to eating several times a day and hated to go without, and was REALLY in need,   so he ate SOME of what was offered, wishing he had   rum to kill his taste buds.  But Captain Morgan had stayed with the snowmobile.

 When her Man  was able to sit up,  the Bear went to pull some more haunch off the whatever,  but the Man was just  lively enough at that point to get to  his snowmobile,  start it up, and buzz off back to the hunting cabin (where he was spending the winter because his wife had kicked him out of the house. Which was O.K. because the cabin was electrified,  had a Satelite T.V., and an extra large refrigerator already stocked with beer and bacon.)
          The  cabin was several miles off through the woods,    but it was very easy  for our bear to follow the snowmobile track and the river of smells to that  cabin in the pines.
     The cabin was  made of two units brought  there in two trips on the back of a pick up truck.  He had built the modules in his barn where he lived in a trailer under the loft after his wife exiled him from the house, and he had brought them to his campsite one at a time in his pick up truck  The two halves were held together by C clamps and then sided with slab-sawed pine.  The   clamps were still in place, waiting for lag bolts.    The Man had previously piled firewood up against the side of the cabin under a   cheap awning-type window "Jim" had scrounged   from a junked trailer, so he could just open the window and pull in the wood without going out, or leaving it unlatched, go outside and push the wood in.  Most of the time he LEFT it unlatched, as it was this day. The bear arrived a few hours after the man.

          Drawn by a rivulet of scents flowing  from the window ledge,  the bear climbed up onto the woodpile. 
       From there, she tipped up the unlatched window, and  entered onto the kitchen counter. 
  The man, not quite fully awakened by her entrance  lay, still in his snowmobile pants, sprawled across his bed in the center of the  cabin.    
   And the bear, again demonstrating just how powerful is the Bear sense of scent, was able, from right there on the kitchen counter,  to  smell clear through the knotty pine cupboard doors, and through the g: canned beans, canned hash, canned soup, and canned pears in syrup.
   The man, though not nearly recovered from his ordeal and the three beers with chasers he had consumed upon getting back to the cabin, came mostly to waking, if not to living fully, when the bear had opened the cupboards and began tumbling the cans out onto the counter and the floor. The bear  bit into each can and sucked out what contents could be sucked, giving the last of each can to the man, who stayed in bed, still afraid for his life.  Fear woke him some more, until he sat up against the bedboard and began to hope that the bear wouldn't. 

When the man had  recovered and gained confidence and need enough to get up and out of bed,  he squatted over a spackle bucket  and did into it what a bear does in the woods, then put the bucket in the mudroom,
      And THEN the man opened the refrigerator.
      The open Refrigerator was a revelation to   cinnamon bear and it may be what ultimately determined whether she would be eating him or eating with him.
   She put her nose in  and, without taking it out,    ate the  styrofoam cup of worms he had bought at the quick stop, and stored for an ice fishing expedition,  which now, was never going to happen. 
       She then bit into a can of beer.  It was messy. She licked it up quicker than a maid with a mop.
    The man pulled the top of another and handed it to her.   The beer was not so sweet as honey, but stung less like bees, and a stung a lot nicer.
 She would never use a can opener or pull a zip top,  because he would be doing it for her.  And  she would not be biting cans and losing half the beans in this cabin either.   The ma
   "Jim"  had heard that bears stink … but to  HIM anyway;  Cinnabear did not  to stink at all, but smelled kind of good in a strong sort of way .  A little like food,  something like footwear ... with a hint of carmalised onion and Dining Room Rug.       
           When Jim   was well enough he switched on the T.V.,  which, until then, our bear had, understandablly taken for another refrigerator.
     The dancing foods and and talking heads buffuddeled her.    Our bear  flopped on the floor to watch, entranced   by the furious visions in the box and also by the new smells that she at first thought were coming from it  as our man fired up the stove for their first real breakfast together. 
  Jim admired the range of colors in the lush rug of the she-bear's pelt. He admired even the smell of her fur as it warmed in the heat of the stove, and was surprised that, whatever people may say about bears, THIS one didn't smell bad at all.  This bear smelled good!
       " Here you go my Cinnamon", the man  said, as he served her pancakes, bacon, Sausage, and Maple Syrup. 
             Not only did our bear  not return to hibernation;  she hardly even slept all the rest of that winter.  She didn't leave the cabin at all, except  to urinate and defecate in the woods.
  She would never understand how a man could defecate in his own den.  As time passed,  that became one of the more important differences between them. 
     Generally speaking, she would not have preferred to live in a house, as opposed to part of the time in a brush pile, part in a tree, part in as dug-out, and so on, but with easy access to houses.  Houses should be more like refrigerators, and above all, you should be able to come and go easily .
  So she  HATED door knobs:  they made her dependent  because she could not manipulate them.  She had to grunt and bang on the door with her head to go out;  and and to do the same to get back in.  Her waking hours, which as I have said, were all her hours,  besides eating and rolling around, she mostly  watched T.V. through the whole rest of the winter, and that was all very entertainiing but it WAS   a strain for a bear, and anyway , in spring, a bear has to go over the mountain, so she went out to the bathroom one day in April, and did not return. 

    Although bears typically give birth in mid hibernation, almost always to multiple cubs…. and of course, generally have cubs that are all bear,    "Cinnabear" , "Cindy" or "Cin" ,   as "Jim"  sometimes called her,  gave birth  that Spring to a single child - the mixed species individual we know as Nowella.      .

   But our Cinnamon would later tell this child  NOT that her father had  been been a white MAN, but instead, that he had been a white BEAR.   With intense questioning, and over time, it developed that said bear was named   Rudy,  had  red eyes and several gold teeth,  and had been performing  with Missy Hoolihan's Tall Animal   Revue, wearing a red vest  and balancing  on a large ball while smoking cloves in a meerschaum pipe.
 They were briefly married  and had planned to honeymoon at Pipestone National Park in Minnesota, but it never happened … or so Mother Bear said, lying about all but the  "it never happened" part.
           According to Mother Bear,  before they could have had any kind of Honeymoon trip, Rudy the Polar Bear  had left her without notice and for no stated reason, without even a note of goodbye.  He   had gone  back home to the SOUTH POLE,  she claimed, compounding and confusing the lie; because, as everyone knows or else should know, Polar bears are native only to the NORTH pole.

   Being mostly a normal bear (except for her mixed parentage, her farsightedness, her  vivid and usetteling dreams,  plus a significant   directional-disability,  and a few small cognitive quirks … all of which worked as a kind of stimulus to her curiosity) Nowella grew full of questions and ripe to wander by the age of sixteen  in bear years (three or four human years)  so she set off for the South Pole;   to search at the wrong end of the world for a non-existent bear who was not her father.