19 January 2015

A day out (or two)

As much as Mr. Fuzzy loves Stratheden and Floyd, he can get stale on occasion and a short change of pace is often the perfect tonic. A brief trip to visit an old, old friend in Baltimore fell through at the last moment and a quick trip to Charlottesville was substituted. Calling on friends who venture there often for advice resulted in an invitation to stay with them and have Jeff act as my tour guide/chauffeur/shopping adviser.

Leaving the farm on Thursday afternoon, it was a quick trip to north of Lynchburg to the ancestral homelands of Jeff. A delectable and healthy dinner followed arrival and to bed early for an active day in Charlottesville all day Friday. What a rare pleasure to have someone else do the driving so Mr. Fuzzy could rubber neck and enjoy the fine scenery.

Jeff has been regaling Mr. Fuzzy with tales of the local camera store, PRO CAMERA. It was on the side of Charlottesville where the highway entered and thus was the first stop. It is in a very unassuming building and would be very easy to miss but inside was a different story. A full range of darkroom supplies, digital supplies, of course, new cameras of all stripes, a magnificent machine shop for fabricating repair parts - but the crown jewels were the used equipment; its been years since seeing so much medium and large format equipment for sale. Bill Moretz is a true connoisseur of lenses and a well practiced photographer. It was a severe test of will to keep the credit card from leaping out of the wallet.In the end, a bag of darkroom supplies left with us... but those Ektar lenses from the 1950s and 1960s are still dancing in Mr. Fuzzy's little brain. There will be a return trip... maybe with hay money in pocket in the autumn.

As in any town or city, fine cuisine is an almighty inducement for further pleasure. Our lunch was just off of the Mall at Revolutionary Soups which serves locally raised, sustainable foods. Their menu is inventive, diverse and huge: http://revolutionarysoup.com/menus/downtown/   Mr. Fuzzy's sandwich was Virginia ham, brie and homemade 'grainy' bread, the flavors simply exploded in your mouth. The ham was superb, equal to the finest Parma ham ever to hit these old taste buds, the brie was as good as the farm fresh brie in Scotland, and the bread was a meal in itself. Absolutely the best sandwich in the last five years. Oh, my.

Highly satiated in one appetite, we went off in search of antiques, real antiques, not eh broken bits & bobs passed off as 'collectibles' these days... they seemed to be everywhere. Unlike the camera store, a bit o'change did slip out in one of the antique dens.

After an active day of walking/driving Charlottesville, it was a return to the homestead via Covesville Antique Store where Mr. Fuzzy purchased perhaps a 18th century cream separating crock which carried the finger prints (two thumbs, two forefingers) of the potter who made it when it was removed from the wheel still damp. Once home, a leisurely dog walk in the fading golden winter light over the old farm lands below Tobacco Row Mountain (well marked on Peter Jefferson's Fry-Jefferson 1751 map of Virginia with another home cooked dinner and much entertaining and illuminating conversation afterward. Again to bed early for another stimulating day.

The weather both days was excellent, crisp and sunny, a treat given the time of year. Saturday was perhaps even more active that Friday, in downtown Lynchburg. A fine cup of tea at The White Hart Cafe and Coffee Shop began the tour. A quick look inside of the store where Mr. Fuzzy found a marvelous bit of stained glass on a  prior trip, then around the corner to a large and very reasonably priced antique furniture store. Never have seen so much Eastlake furniture under one roof. Out of the corner of his shifty eyes, Mr. Fuzzy spied something hiding behind a c. 1860 divan, a delicate oval small table, cherry wood, with fine architecture. The single drawer was instinctively removed, the perfect dove tail joints noted then flipped over where the Gustave Stickley mark was found. This was a survivor of their 1960s "Cherry Valley" line and priced at a bargain $60 - but wait - it was a 30% off sale that day - it went into the Honda trunk for $42. As grand daddy Field used to say, "even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while."

Soon thereafter, Jeff introduced Mr. Fuzzy to Tom Burford, dean of American apple experts, the greatest living pomologist and wonderful person. The best part of having great friends is meeting their great friends. Mr. Fuzzy went home with an inscribed copy of Tom's benchmark tome, APPLES OF NORTH AMERICA which elucidates his 192 favorite apples and apple culture. Truly a book for the ages. If you eat or cook apples, you must read it. Tom has designed every cider producer's orchard in Virginia and most in California. he knows his field like no one else. Standing in front of an orchard vendor at the Lynchburg Community Market (begun 1783), he pointed me to Arkansas Black apples... ate one on the way home and have two in keeping, my goodness, they are just superlative eating apples.

It was time for lunch and there were  number of possibilities but Jeff knew the best: Barb's Dreamhut, where Barb herself takes the orders. A warm and gracious lady, she sure knows how to make a barbeque and cole slaw sandwich!
This was the final stop and with a full stomach and full mind, Mr. Fuzzy turned the Honda towards Stratheden.

09 January 2015

Willa Cather

Willa Cather

“Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family; but to a solitary and an exile his friends are everything.”

Willa Cather, Shadows on the Rock

08 January 2015

The Gift is Small, Goodwill is All, Redux

But first a weather bulletin... it was -1F (-18C) at Stratheden this morn, thus far the coldest this winter by 12 degrees. Its not unusual here at 2,500 feet elevation here in the Blue Ridge Mountains for winter temperatures to approach zero. In the six years at (or should I say 'in') Stratheden, twice it has plummeted to -8F, most recently last February. Then, like this episode, it had been unseasonably warm before the plunge. It must be devastatingly brutal to the wild inhabitants of the farm who have not been slowly acclimated to those potentially deathly lows.

This post has been rattling around in a nearly empty head for several weeks now, attempting to determine how to approach it with greatest clarity. Time to give up and just write, right? What follows is not meant as a comprehensive list of lovely gifts but an especial four that seem to best exemplify the notion and illuminate the variety of possibilities of the title of this posting, "The gift is small, goodwill is all."

A very touching gift, because of its traditional nature and the relationship betwixt giver and receiver, cost nothing. It was a bundle of home grown sage and two small bags of home grown orinco tobacco. Touching the spirit always touches the heart.

Totally unexpected gifts are always powerful and often come from unanticipated givers. The day before Christmas Eve found Mr. Fuzzy motoring through town, headed back to the farm from the eastern side of the county; the hour was past 1:30 and the stomach was in contemplation of gnawing on the backbone for sustenance. The Blue Ridge Cafe was serving lunch and a surfeit of open tables meant service would be prompt. The chicken salad sandwich hardly blunted the hunger pangs and atypically, pie & ice cream was ordered - and consumed. Waddling up to the register, the bill was presented - the amount had to be in error, far too little, and this was raised with the waitress (who was also operating the register), to which she replied (in part*), "Merry Christmas, the pie was from me." With certainty, that was not going to qualify as a 'comp' and it would be deducted from her meager earnings. I stumbled for words and could only mumble 'thank you' as I turned for the door so my tears would not be perceived. [*There is more to the quotation regarding another person but not appropriate to note here.]

A third gift was delivered to the farm, a gift basket with a wide assortment of home made delights. It struck a chord of almost lost memory, back into the 1950s when families exchanged home made gift baskets with other families. Sometime these were in the form of crafts but most often they were baskets of foods with individual servings, one for each family member, tied up in bandannas or cloth scraps - which provided color and were reusable, a virtue then in vogue.

The bottom of  Mrs. Herman Baskett's basket always held a pan of rich fudge for me, wrapped in a blue or red bandanna which served as a handkerchief for me through the year (in those days, they were American made and might survive five plus years in steady use by a snotty kid). The last time such a basket was given in our family was about 1990; now all the old folks who practised humble and heartfelt giving have all gone to their eternal reward - but no, a young woman in Floyd county still kept the tradition. With every bite of a sugar cookie or chocolate encrusted pretzel from the basket, not only was the giver honored but all those of Mr. Fuzzy' childhood. This was not only delicious treats but a link to times and friends long gone except from my memory, a double gift, if you will, and one of much power.

Like the first gift, the fourth gift comes from the eighteenth century and cost nothing monetarily; it was a home made 'craft' small enough to hold in your palm, just a chip of wood and two brass tacks. Well, some might describe it that way. Here, not only is the gift extraordinary, but also the presentation, as one might expect from a Master of Arts like Mr. Lalioff. It is unique, too, because the maker/giver knew Mr. Fuzzy has lusted after this master work for more than a decade. The greatness of art comes from neither size nor complexity...

Native Americans in the northeastern colonies made bowls and ladles from wooden burls before contact with Europeans. The replacement of hot coals and beaver tooth scrapers by steel tools changed the forms but little. All objects except for plain bowls (which may not be of Native origin) always refer to a Sacred Being and must have been reserved for ceremonial use exclusively. A fine 18th century burl bowl can bring $40,000 or more - they are very rare and highly sought after. Even with modern tools, burl's irregular gnarly grain structure makes working the medium difficult, but Lalioff has vast empirical knowledge, having created large bowls and intricately detailed pipes.

Mr. Lalioff was inspired by an original artifact at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in Cooperstown, New York. If most burlware was involved with containing a sacred substance, then some device had to be used to fill the bowl with that material and also to empty it, especially a medicine administered to a human being: a spoon.  In all likelihood, some of the ladles performed this action... but a spoon, hmmmmm.

The architecture and difficulty of construction make this an awesome artwork but the patination is the positive mark of a Master, a creator who makes an exhaustive and integrative approach to bringing an artifact into being. Every aspect must be considered and accounted for in the piece. Mr. Fuzzy is hardly able to contemplate an object more complete in execution. And, as a master considering all aspects, the wrapping was a delight to behold and consider, brain tanned hide, natural linen ribbon and an 18th century newspaper article that the giver knew was attached tot he receiver. Sir, I am awe struck by the gift, the presentation and the thought. On the verge of speechless a fortnight later. It is already called out in my will as it must be cherished by an appropriate care taker.

2014 was a difficult year made right by friends and their particular aspects of thoughtfulness. Just the gift is your friendship is enough, without material manifestation. Thank you all. You bring my life to a special level of fulfillment that cannot be reached by one person alone.

30 December 2014

The difference of a day

Mr. Fuzzy prefers dwelling where there is strong seasonal variation in the weather. Tucson was hell for weather in many ways, not the least of which was a month of consecutive cloudless days and the imperceptible change of seasons. How do you know its winter in Tucson? The crab grass is dead. The city paints the dead grass green in the medians. Seriously.

Stratheden Farm is situated at 2,500 feet elevation right near the ridge line of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The altitude moderates summer temperatures to easily bearable degrees and also brings the beauty of snowy mantles in the winter.

Yesterday was transitional, moving from recent unseasonable (but most pleasant) warmth a few notches back toward winter. The collision of the disparate air masses spawned an exquisite dense fog for much of Monday, a photographer's paradise, at least for this one. Ninety six images frozen in perpetuity with the passage of twenty minutes - there was so much more but the creative eye was suffering eye strain. Not to bore you, dear reader, only one will be posted:

The temperature decline began Monday morning and now nearly noon on Tuesday, continues unabated. A light smattering of very fine snow fell not long before first light and serves to highlight the horizontal shapes and forms of creation. Offered here are two views from the office window; the second is a full color image.

May winter bring as many delights to your heart and eyes as it does to Mr. Fuzzy's.

25 December 2014

Merry Christmas to all!

A couple of days ago, the weather was gray and wet - but beautiful. The fogs were in perpetual motion, changing the scene from minute to minute. Had the weather been cold, the 1.5 inches of rain would have lain in drifts...

 Christmas Day was amazing - if you enjoy sun and warmth at this time of year. It was totally sun-drenched and warm, about 45F (but in the radiant sun beams, it felt much warmer).

For me, this day is about friendship and love, not divisive religious beliefs and sparkly kitsch made by wage-slaves in China. To that end, I surrounded myself with friends - in a way, since they were all physically elsewhere! Breakfast was Clay's home-canned sausage with Dova's banana nut bread. It was my first Christmas enjoying Clay's sausage but about my 45th (that is NOT a typo) Christmas devouring Dova's bread to begin the day.

Midday it was so warm and welcoming outdoors that afternoon tea was on the veranda, soaking up the sun's blessings like a lizard on a warm rock. The gourmet tea was from Charles and the sweet was a mouth watering pecan tart from Susanne. With a warm black cat sleeping in my lap, taste buds dancing and a gorgeous landscape to view, it was all heavenly. It was such a lazy day that your author was still in his bathrobe, a Christmas gift from dear Aunt Nancy about six years ago; she passed on to a better world this last May but dwells forever in my memory.

When the tart was demolished, a hand became free and it was time to peruse another gift, a book from master gardener Mike: The Complete Chile Pepper Book, a Gardener's Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving, and Cooking by DeWitt & Bosland. There have been quite a number of chile-oriented tomes in front of these old eyes but none like this one. Its pretty much everything you need to know from seed to eating. The advice seems very well founded and the recipes especially interesting. With internet hat your finger tips, information from books seems less cost effective or time equivalent but this type of book with the entire flow of the plant from history to consumption, cannot be matched by hit and miss information on the internet. If you're a fellow "hot head" or a devoted gardener, this book is required reading.

Hopefully your day was at least as blessed as mine. I treasure you all.

15 December 2014

The gift is small, good will is all

Much like other years, Mr. Fuzzy promised himself to get an early start on gift shopping and writing Christmas cards; as usual, an utter failure. At least this time there is an exogenous parameter to blame rather than procrastination or ADD: the day before Thanksgiving the power was out for about nine hours. The precise cause is not certain but despite being connected to surge protectors, a number of electrical devices were toasted, including but alas not limited to:  refrigerator light bulbs (3), DVD player and this computer.

It seemed like bad form to bother the county's sole computer geek over Thanksgiving so it was Monday before the computer was in his capable hands - and Wednesday before he pronounced that the hard drive was alright, only the power supply was cooked. Then a few more days for the replacement parts to arrive and be installed & tested. Eleven full days before the machine was back on the desk, whirring away. To be honest, Mr. Fuzzy had no concept of the extent to which this machine aided and abetted daily life. The camera is at labor nearly every day, sometimes for a single image, sometimes a series, sometimes dozens of unrelated images. Without the computer, I could not view, permanently save, edit, print or send any of those photographs. It was akin to being adrift.

Enough of that.

The title of this post derives from a small poesy vase made in the form of a book in England, January, 1688. Whether the potter made as a gift to his sweetie or at the request of a customer has been lost to time but the sentiment still rings true today.

Some of Mr. Fuzzy's friends are well ahead of him in holiday preparation and gifts have already been delivered at Stratheden Farms both in person and by post. It is unbecoming to brag, but he has the very best friends imaginable, and this has been proven by the gifts recently received.

Today a wee flat packet arrived from Scotland with an awesome array of stamps (see above) carefully applied; that degree of thoughtfulness was a joy to consider. The packet carried three objects safely across the frigid Atlantic: a contemporary Christmas card (as one might expect), the 2015 Lodge St. Andrew installation programme and a priceless wee treasure, a 101 year old pocket booklet containing the 1913 revision of the Lodge's Bye-Laws (the Lodge itself predates the year 1600 and the formation of The Grand Lodge in 1736). How these fragile nineteen pages have survived more than a century is something of a miracle but its is clear from detritus inbetwixt the pages, it was not secreted away inside a book or other protective element all of its life. It gives cause to wonder if the Brother who was the original owner survived the slaughter of Scottish soldiers in The Great War - and how many Brothers pockets held it (and contributed the seeds and lint between the pages) until the next revision superseded it. Held in the hands, it is almost an act of supernatural conjuring, connecting to those long deceased Brothers, to those living Brothers who brought so much joy and fraternal comfort to Mr. Fuzzy, and especially to Brother Morris who gave this inestimable gem to your undeserving correspondent.

Closer to home, a farmer/historian/mechanical wizard friend came by with two small gifts given with a large heart. He had taken Mr. Fuzzy's wailing and gnashing of teeth to heart and brought small gifts that evinced his Brotherly consideration (yes, a Lodge Brother, again) and generosity. To view them, they are diminutive but to the grateful recipient, they are substantial. The first is a pair of unassuming gloves, high visibility orange and black, which happen to be waterproof, insulated, nonslip grip, nearly abrasion and cut proof. Mr. Fuzzy seems to be experiencing the onset of arthritis in his hands, particularly triggered by being cold & wet. These gloves should go a long way to minimize such pain this winter as well as make labor safer. The second gift is  a small cardboard cube containing 325 rounds of .22 match grade ammunition. Anyone who has attempted to acquire such material in the last few years will appreciate the magnitude of this present. Thank you so much, Brother David.

A couple of days ago. my 85 (or thereabouts, a WWII veteran) year old neighbor dropped by to deliver three two-quart containers of frozen home pressed apple juice made this past October. Talk about mana from heaven! There is so much work involved in its creation, from gathering through pressing and bottling then a major clean up ensues. Truly a gift from the heart. Thank you, John and George.

That's not the end of the story but should become the end of this missive lest you, the reader, become bored or believe Mr. Fuzzy's behavior in writing of his blessings is less than untoward. It should be closed by saying that Mr. Fuzzy fears he is inadequate at being as good a friend to others as they are to him.

13 December 2014

Annual Christmas Parade

 Weather has been extreme already this winter (before it was winter!) with three appreciable snows before Thanksgiving and several nights of 11 degrees. I'm already wondering if I cut enough firewood.

 Parades here are always opened by a Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Guard. Each year one or two less are present. He is not easily visible but the rider in the jeep is 94 year old Lawrence Wood; a life time bachelor, he still lives on his own. He requires neither spectacles nor hearing aids and his mind is perhaps brighter than your correspondent's. God bless these men for their service.

 For the first time in six years, the weather was delightful for the parade, sunny and about 60 degrees. It may be my poor memory but it seems like there were some less entries than earlier years.

 There was an easy winner for "the oddest entry." Can't say why this was in a Christmas parade but must admire someone's mechanical ability in converting a Volkswagen into a tracked vehicle. It appeared to run very nicely, I must add.

As for the most unusual group, it would be the welding society. The Lincoln was fired up and they were actually welding toys as the float slid past onlookers.

Floats may be modest and the virtue of modesty pervades the Brethren's religious beliefs - as does being an active part of the community, This gentleman on his ATV epitomizes these Floyd county attributes.

All parades in this part of the world must have classic cars and old tractors; Floyd county has plenty of both and they always constitute an especially popular genre of the parade.

Any wheeled vehicle can become an entry with some tinsel and other decorations.

Some businesses in Floyd town work hard to decorate and bring a certain sense of nostalgia and beauty. It surprises me each year that those who dedicate so much effort do not shame the non-participants into at least token decor. A realtor occupies a building on the most critical intersection in town and doesn't bother to even place a small tree in one of the windows. Of all the businesses, it would seem to behove his to make the town seasonal and joyful.