14 April 2016

Small Miracles

On this day in 2009, one of those small miracles of life on Planet Earth happened in the bedroom, much to the relief of Gypsy Girlie who was at the point of bursting. She was in great discomfort for more than a week before giving birth; she moaned frequently and it was heartbreaking to hear, knowing there was no way to ameliorate her pain.

She had come to the farm late one cold afternoon in February, so scrawny it wasn't clear she would survive. What she knew, and no one else did, was she was pregnant. For weeks she downed kibbles like there was no tomorrow, gaining weight until her figure was normal - but still she chowed down. She grew larger and larger until everyone realized she was soon to be a mother. On April 14th, over about five hours, she gave birth to five kittens, three females and two males, four orange and one dark smoke. They were christened Buster, Fred, Beatrice, Annie and Tadpole. Poor Girlie was thoroughly exhausted.

12 April 2016

A Cents of Community

Floyd takes care of its own, in exemplary ways. Last weekend, there were two good times which raised monies for good causes: the annual Empty Bowls and a special very local dinner.

Empty Bowls is an long standing project by local potters and soup chefs to raise money for a very deserving cause - hungry children in the community. For $20, you select a stoneware bowl made by a local potter and then select a gourmet soup to fill it (I chose West African Peanut Soup). The proceeds allow school kids to be sent home on Friday with a backpack of food so they will not go hungry over the weekend. Hundreds of people attend raising thousands of dollars. There is also a silent auction with locally crafted items. Yours truly was fortunate to be the high bidder on a set of fancy nesting Shaker boxes by local artisan Don George.


The other fund raiser was for a neighbor, right down my road, just eighteen years old, who needs a liver transplant. Various forms of insurance will pay for most of the direct medical costs but the family is below the poverty line and this money will pay for the numerous out of state trips to hospitals and allow the family to stay in a nearby motel while Kaytie has her surgery and recuperates. It was held at the Falling Branch Methodist Church, conveniently located at the end of the road, with singing upstairs in the church and dinner downstairs in the basement. It was a fine opportunity to visit with neighbors, eat some home cooked cuisine and just plain have a old-fashioned sort of good time. There was a silent auction here, too, and Mr. Fuzzy brought home a loaf of sourdough bread and a pecan-caramel cake. Those notoriously tight farmers donated over $5,000 for the family's needs. Charity begins at home and you couldn't get closer to home than this; God bless them all.

06 April 2016

Winter - Spring - Winter - Spring - ?

Eastern Redbud

"And if I belonged in this place it was because I belonged to it. And I began to understand that so long as I did not know this place fully, or even adequately, I belonged to this place only partially. That summer, I began to see, however dimly, that one of my ambitions, perhaps my governing ambition, was to belong fully to this place, to belong as the thrushes and the herons and the muskrats belonged, to be altogether at home here. That is still my ambition. I have made myself entirely willing to be governed by it. But I have now come to see that it proposes an enormous labor. It is a spiritual ambition, like goodness. The wild creatures belong to the place by nature, but as a man I can belong to it only by understanding and by virtue. It is an ambition I cannot hope to succeed in wholly, but I have come to believe it is the most worthy of all."
         Kentucky author Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House, page 169.

From The National Weather Service today: " By the weekend...we will see temperatures 15 to 20 degrees below normal...which equates to a hard freeze. Freezing temperatures are expected each morning Saturday, Sunday, and Monday...and Sunday morning we are looking at lows in the teens in the mountains and 20s elsewhere! That is really cold for April!!! And...there will even be snow showers in the mountains..."

Its hard to speak for the fauna but the farm's flora are certainly confused about timing their flowers and leaves because of the wild swings in the temperatures here. Monday the high was 70F, sixteen hours later, the sunrise temperature was 28F. This morning it was dead still and 29F, which killed the just opened leaves of some trees. The peonies have rocketed up from the ground in the last few days and are certainly very tender. If the forecast is correct, it will plunge to 24F (-4C) Saturday night. Every bucket and empty flower pot on the farm will be inverted to cover peonies, hydrangea, dicentra, day lilies, rudbeckia, columbine, roses, etc., with hopes of no lasting damage. 

The entire winter was a chaotic mix of unusually warm and unusually cold weather, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Nonetheless, there seems to have been relatively little winter damage and some flowering trees, especially the cherries and eastern redbuds, are extraordinary in their floral displays now. There have been winds of sufficient strength to bowl over highway signs but thus far, the flowers and trees have been tenacious enough to retain their glory.

Here are flowers from around the farm, taken this week. Enjoy.


Lilac about to open



23 March 2016

Facts and Fotography

Nota Bene: this is a post with nothing to do with Stratherden Farms but a rant/whine about the current state of photography. You may wish to return to your regular channel now.

Brother of another mother and my photographic mentor, Tillman Crane, passed through Stratheden Farms recently and, as always, there was some amount of lamentation regarding what passes for fine art photography these days, both what hangs on art institution's walls and what is published in magazines and books. My thinking was further sharpened & stimulated that same day by a brief visit from Bill Moretz, Virginia photographer extraordinaire and repository of encyclopedic knowledge about photographic equipment. Their presence reminded me that although learning from the internet is viable alternative, it is a poor substitute for learning from a live expert with decades of priceless experience. Reading a few web sites may impart some facts but not wisdom.

With this in mind, your humble author begs leave to bring your attention to two texts viewed on the internet this week.

On an old student's (who is now a major photo-editor) Facebook page, one of his contacts wrote: "_____, do you know where I can take a photoshop class. I may start teaching a digital photography class with photoshop. All I know is from playing. I think a real class will help me. Thanks." About 35 years ago, my  friend Ted Rice neatly labelled this the "take a class - teach a class" syndrome (in reference to a student who had taken Ted's platinum printing classes and was now advertising his own "Master Class" workshops in Texas a few months later). The temerity of people to believe that taking one class on a complex technology will enable them to know the subject well enough to teach it is far beyond my comprehension but it is a common approach. Further, the gullible nature of their students who believe they are receiving quality instruction for their large outlays of money to charlatans.

From a photographic equipment blog with 19,500 followers, a writer noted his qualifications, "I got into photography because of a camera [duh]. In late 2012, I saw a Yashica Electro 35 ME on a Swiss auction-website and just wanted it. I didn’t know much about cameras, photography or film... Over the next year I bought about ten different cameras." His aspired to someday have a darkroom and learn to develop film & make his own prints. Three years later, he was an expert on cameras made about the time he was born... obviously a much faster learner than your current author. Get real, kid, other people red the same blogs that 'informed' your posts. Exposing a couple of dozen rolls of film makes you a rank amateur with aspirations, not an expert. Talk to me after you shoot three or four hundred rolls or have worn out a camera or two - then I may find your blether worthy of notice.

You are far too many to enumerate but this is the proper place to acknowledge those who, over my 50 years in photography, have freely imparted their hard-won knowledge to a not-always-worthy student. It all began with industrial photographer Charlie Manion, 17 November 1966 [more on that on 17 November 2016's post]. Thank you for your devotion to the art of photography, my friends, and your dedication to perpetuating it.

P.S.: It is edifying to learn that the object formerly termed "film camera" when I used one, is now "analog hardware."

made with a c. 1958 Mamiya Six Automat IV camera

16 March 2016


The toasty temperatures have continued. The table below, from the Blacksburg office of the National Weather Service, illustrates how extraordinary this trend has been. Alas, over the coming weekend, a cold front will overrun the land and perhaps snow will fall on Sunday. Today it hit 75F on the farm under a brilliant, unimpaired sun.

"and in other news..."
Sleep cycles get stranger and stranger as you age and sound, deep sleep seems a bygone concept, at least on a regular basis. Out here in the country, sounds such as coyotes celebrating a kill only 75 yards from the window is scarcely a lullaby. Worse, when the dogs go screaming yellow zonkers at 2;10 a.m., and although you expected to find Freddie Krueger at the door, no cause could be detected. The adrenaline burns off in an hour or so and perhaps a fitful sleep returns. Now, imagine if you will, this happening three consecutive nights. Ghosts? Boggles? A trail camera mounted on a porch post the fourth night revealed the answer:

And other causes of insomnia:
The following night Rufus the Dogge woke me up about 2:00 a.m. (what is it about 2:00?), a little distressed by something, clearly not needing to go to the bathroom... then I heard it, that piercing electronic BEEEEEP from downstairs. Oh crap, the carbon monoxide alarm! Opened a couple of bedroom windows, took a deep breath, skittered down the stairs, threw open two doors then looked at the detector, which has a readout of ppm of CO. But instead of a number, it showed ERR. Error? Alright, punch the reset. ERR. Off to the internet for the solution... or, if my bleary eyes had been more able to focus, the words on the back of the detector: "Seven years after the initial power up, this unit will 'chirp' every 30 seconds to indicate that it is time to replace the alarm."
Kidde KN-COPP-3 Nighthawk Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup and Digital Display

It is my most earnest hope, dear reader, that your nights are spent in deep and restful sleep. I have a vague recollection of that state.

12 March 2016

When you're hot, you're hot!

Here are the official high minimum temperatures for the cities in the local national weather service's area.  Roanoke broke the prior record high by 11 degrees, unreal. This surely has an end but not in the next week. The normal last frost on Stratheden Farm has proven to be in mid-May, eight weeks hence, so some restraint must be applied to budding horticultural ambitions. Despite the odds, however, in a burst of unsupportable optimism, a few zinnia seeds were scattered in a large planter on the patio; when seasonal temperatures return, the large pot may be rolled into the solarium until the cold snap has passed - with any luck, there will be flowers beatifying the deck weeks earlier than any prior year.


The effects of these prolonged unnaturally warm & sunny days (and nights) are easily seen on the farm. Some forsythia are in bloom, the daffodils are just blooming their little heads off, the clematis are showing new leaves, the tulips are rocketing skyward, all but a couple of the day lilies are soaring toward the sun.



Day lilies and a few Rudbeckia

 If the desirable plants are all breaking their long slumber, you know that the weeds are as well. Mr. Fuzzy wrestled the 17" Husqvarna tiller down to the small garden after spending two full days clearing the detritus of prior occupation from it (read: chicken wire, baling wire, cut up pasture panels [missed one and wrapped it around the tiller tines], surveyor's stakes, old windows, old screens, 55 gallon drum, all enough for three trips to the dump and a fourth load of nine bundles of white wooden-wired picket fence ready to go). The purpose of this tilling was two fold: first, to work in the winter's fireplace ashes and second, the discourage the sprouting weeds. The weeds, if left to their own devices, would be so well established by May planting time that they would be very difficult to eliminate. Hopefully they are set back significantly after receiving this thorough thrashing!

 Enough talking dirt - until the next time.

09 March 2016

Its Official - Spring has Sprung

"The Spring advances very rapidly and all Nature will soon be cloathed in her gayest Robes. The green Grass, which begins to shew itself, here, and there, revives in my longing Imagination my little Farm, and its dear Inhabitants.." John Adams to his dear wife, Abigail, Philadelphia, 15 March 1777

Harbingers of Spring have arrived at Stratheden Farm. Crocus can never be trusted - their judgement is too oft flawed as they are hopeless optimists. Native plants, however, are more in tune with a specific location and its eccentricities. The coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, has begun to bloom; a most unusual plant in that is produces flowers before there are any leaves. Most oddly, this year there are a smattering of leaves simultaneous with the blooms. Even the avian world sayeth Spring has  arrived - there were perhaps 15 Robins in a flock on the front of the farm this day scratching for worms and freshly hatched insects.

After an abnormally wet autumn and winter, along with the welcome relief of days in the 60s or 70s, has also been a respite from precipitation. In the parlance of the vernacular, it is 'time to make hay whilst the sun shineth.'

Your humble and aching correspondent has been at labor reducing patches of wild roses, blackberries, wineberries, briars and young locusts, a back bending and shoulder wrenching task. The wild roses are just starting to leaf out - and any attempt to control their wildly invasive natures is predicated on removal - which in turn must be done while the stems are clearly visible, i.e.., before leaves obscure. Mr. Fuzzy awoke so sore and stiff today that the bed cats were making bets as to whether he might rise to serve their needs or not.

A portion of yesterday afternoon was spent engaged with battling the tiller in the small garden. Tillers may be an improvement over the hoe in terms of finely breaking up the soil but they certainly use no less energy on the part of the owner. It is like unto wrestling a small bear who has imbibed too many fermented berries.This preliminary tilling is not so much to prepare the garden for planting in six weeks but to harass the infernal weeds which otherwise would have developed sound root systems by May and be nearly impossible to eradicate as a result.

May your days be filled with the light of the sun, the warmth of the earth and the energy of Spring.