26 October 2015

Halloween (or Samhain)

Midnight in Greyfriar's Cemetery, Edinburgh

 As most readers of this blog know, your humble correspondent spent a few supremely wonderful years in Fife, Scotland; The Forefathers came from that area. This particular post is treading on thin ice as it may over-extend your author's actual knowledge base - input from weel-kenn'd Scottish readers is particularly sought to remedy errors or omissions. Information is derived in the first part from neighbors, friends and Lodge Brothers about both current and earlier 20th century observations of the date. These have been supplemented by a little internet research, mostly to buttress the writer's poor memory but to also resolve apparent conflicts in information (does that sound like a cautious historian?).

The Dictionary of the Scots Language defines Halloween (under the entry for Hallow) as 'the eve of All Saints' Day, i.e. 31st October, in the old Celtic calendar the last day of the year and the first of winter. 

It appears that Halloween, a custom of central and borders Scotland has become confounded and compounded with Samhain of the same date. Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Being Gaelic, this festival would be contained within the area of Scotland north of Edinburgh whereas Halloween was the festival for the remainder of Scotland. Alas, your writer cannot find a definitive answer to this melding. More recently,
a Samhain-based festival has sprung up in Edinburgh, more celebrated by unrestrained revelers than true neopagans.

In Scotland, 'trick or treaters" are denominated "guisers." Guising has been a part of Halloween/Samhain in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man since the 16th century or earlier - which would seem to indicate that it is a 'new' introduction (but from whence?). Guisers go door-to-door in costume and in exchange for edible treats or a small denomination of money such as a farthing or ha-penny (in the old days), they sing or recite or otherwise perform (your author can remember this as a function of Halloweens in Kentucky during the 1950s where treats had to be earned).

The "traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters abroad on the night in some places was provided by turnips, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins".

Their purpose of them is to ward off bogles, haints, wraiths, dunters, habetrots, kelpies, red-caps, spunkies and their ilk said to be about on the night. From hard experience, it can be said that turnips are hard as rocks compared to pumpkins and a common knife is inadequate for the task! A Fife friend used woodworker's chisels and gouges to carve neeps (turnips).

A traditional guising song (and my English translation) is purported to be:
Hallowe'en a nicht o' tine
A can'le in a castock,
A howkit neep wi' glowerin' een 
To fleg baith witch and warlock.

Halloween is a night of fire
a candle in a cabbage stem 
A hollowed turnip wide eyed one
to scare both witch and warlock 

Another guising song and my shaky translation:
 'Canty dame wi kindly looks,
Ye hae fairins in yer neuks,
Aipples reid, or aipples green,
Up, and gie's oor Halloween!' 

Cheerful lady with a kind appearance,
You have presents in your nooks,
apples red or apples green,
Get up give whenever its Halloween

Both of the guising songs shown above are written in broad Scots, not to be confused with Gaelic. A clarification from the Scots Language Centre is in order: "Scots originated with the tongue of the Angles who arrived in Scotland about AD 600, or 1,400 years ago. During the Middle Ages this language developed and grew apart from its sister tongue in England, until a distinct Scots language had evolved.  At one time Scots was the national language of Scotland, spoken by Scottish kings, and was used to write the official records of the country."  Gaelic speakers represent about 1% of the modern population of Scotland whereas most over 60 Scots in the central and borders areas speak some form of Scots (it has major regional dialects). Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott both wrote in Scots language. Mr. Fuzzy understands some bits and bobs of Fifish broad Scots but zero Gaelic.

Besides guising, All Hallow's Eve was also  time for some forms of divination. From Historic UK's web site here are two foms:
(1) "an engaged couple to each put a nut on the fire. If the nuts burned quietly then the marriage would be happy, however if the nuts spat and hissed then the marriage would be stormy. Similarly, if a girl put two nuts on the fire, one for her lover and one for herself, and the nuts spat and hissed, then this was a bad omen for their future together."
(2) The plants mentioned in the first gusing song above "were the stalks of the kale plant or 'castocks'. The stalks were pulled out of the ground after dark with one's eyes shut. The idea was that the length and straightness of the stalk would indicate a future partner's height and figure. Any soil on the stalk would indicate wealth."

Should the reader think the concept of spirits and witches is a far-fetched, outdated concept, a bit of British legal history from Wikipedia might provide illumination. "The Witchcraft Act (9 Geo. II c. 5) was a law passed by the Parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1735 which made it a crime for a person to claim that any human being had magical powers or was guilty of practising witchcraft. The maximum penalty set out by the Act was a year's imprisonment." "In September 1944, Helen Duncan was jailed under the Witchcraft Act on the grounds that she had claimed to summon spirits. It is often contended, by her followers that her imprisonment was in fact at the behest of superstitious military intelligence officers who feared she would reveal the secret plans for D-Day. She came to the attention of the authorities after supposedly contacting the spirit of a sailor of the HMS Barham," when that sinking was still a classified secret. Duncan spent nine months in dire prison conditions for her crime. The Witchcraft Act was not repealed in Britain until 1951.

Hopefully you will now understand where many American Halloween customs originated.

You might really enjoy Fiona Ritchie's special program of Scottish All Hallow's Eve music:

I leave you with Robert Burns' 1785 epic poem, written in the Scots language, best read with a wee dram of single malt and Fiona's program ambient in the background. Note his reference to castocks and casting nuts into the fire in the second verse:


Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans2dance,
Orowre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the rout is ta'en,
Beneath the moon's pale beams;
There, up the Cove,3to stray an' rove,
Amang the rocks and streams
To sport that night;

Amang the bonie winding banks,
Where Doon rins , wimplin , clear;
Where Bruce4ance rul'd the martial ranks,
An' shook his Carrick spear;
Some merry, friendly, countra-folks
Together did convene,
To burn their nits , an'pou their stocks ,
An'haud their Halloween
Fu' blythe that night.

The lasses feat , an' cleanly neat,
Mairbraw than when they're fine;
Their faces blythe, fu' sweetly kythe ,
Hearts leal , an' warm, an'kin' :
The lads saetrig , wi'wooer-babs
Weel-knotted on their garten ;
Some uncoblate , an' some wi'gabs
Gar lasses' hearts gang startin
Whiles fast at night.

Then, first an' foremost, thro' the kail ,
Their stocks5mauna' be sought ance ;
They steek their een , and grapean'wale
For muckleanes , an'straughtanes .
Poor hav'rel Will fellaff the drift ,
An' wandered thro' the bow-kail ,
An' pou't for want o' better shift
A runt was like a sow-tail
Saebow't that night.

Then, straughtor crooked, yirdornane ,
They roar an' cry a' throu'ther;
The verawee-things , toddlin, rin ,
Wi'stocks out owre their shouther :
An'gif the custock's sweet or sour,
Wi'joctelegs they taste them;
Syne coziely, aboon the door,
Wi'cannie care, they've plac'd them
To lie that night.

The lassies stawfrae 'mang them a' ,
To pou their stalks o' corn;6
ButRab slips out, an'jinks about,
Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippit Nelly hard and fast:
Loud skirl'd a' the lasses;
But her tap-picklemaist was lost,
Whankiutlin in the fause-house7
Wi' him that night.

The auldguid-wife'sweel-hoorditnits8
Are round an' round dividend,
An'mony lads an' lasses' fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle couthie side by side,
And burnthegither trimly;
Some start awawi' saucy pride,
An' jump out owre the chimlie
Fu' high that night.

Jean slips in twa , wi'tentiee'e ;
Wha 'twas, she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, an' this is me,
She says in to hersel':
He bleez'd owre her, an' she owre him,
As they wad never mair part:
Till fuff! he started up the lum ,
An' Jean had e'en a sair heart
To see't that night.

Poor Willie, wi' his bow-kailrunt ,
Was bruntwi'primsie Mallie;
An' Mary, nae doubt, took the drunt ,
To be compar'd to Willie:
Mall's nitlap out, wi' pridefu' fling,
An' her ainfit , it brunt it;
While Willie lap , and swore by jing,
'Twas just the way he wanted
To be that night.

Nell had the fause-house in her min' ,
She pitsherselan' Rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
Till white in ase they're sobbin:
Nell's heart was dancin at the view;
She whisper'd Rob to leuk for't:
Rob, stownlins , prie'd her boniemou' ,
Fu' cozie in the neuk for't,
Unseen that night.

ButMerran sat behint their backs,
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell:
She lea'es them gashin at their cracks ,
An' slips out-by hersel';
She thro' the yard the nearest taks ,
An' for the kiln she goes then,
An'darklinsgrapit for the bauks ,
And in the blue-clue9throws then,
Right fear't that night.

An' ay she win't , an' ay she swat --
I wat she made naejaukin ;
Till something held within the pat ,
Good Lord! but she was quaukin!
But whether 'twas the deilhimsel ,
Or whether 'twas a bauk-en' ,
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She did na wait on talkin
To spier that night.

Wee Jenny to her graunie says,
"Will ye go wi' me, graunie?
I'll eat the apple at the glass,10
I gatfrae uncle Johnie:"
She fuff't her pipe wi'sic a lunt ,
In wrath she was sae vap'rin,
She notic't naanaizlebrunt
Her braw , new, worset apron
Out thro' that night.

"Ye little skelpie-limmer's face!
I daur you try sic sportin,
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune:
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
An' liv'd an' died deleerit ,
On sic a night.

" Aehairstafore the Sherra-moor ,
I mind't as weel's yestreen --
I was a gilpey then, I'm sure
I was na past fyfteen:
The simmer had been cauldan'wat ,
An'stuff was unco green;
An' eye a rantin kirn we gat ,
An' just on Halloween
It fell that night.

"Our stibble-rig was Rab M'Graen,
A clever, sturdy fallow ;
His singat Eppie Sim wi' wean,
That lived in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed,11I mind it weel ,
An'he made unco light o't ;
Butmony a day was by himsel',
He was saesairly frighted
That vera night."

Then up gat fechtin Jamie Fleck,
An' he swoorby his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;
For it was a'but nonsense:
The auld guidman raught down the pock ,
An' out a handfu' gied him;
Syne bad him slip frae' mang the folk,
Sometime when naeanesee'd him,
An' try't that night.

He marches thro' amang the stacks ,
Tho' he was something sturtin ;
The graip he for a harrow taks ,
An'haurls at his curpin :
And ev'ry now an' then, he says,
"Hemp-seed I saw thee,
An' her that is to be my lass
Come after me, an' draw thee
As fast this night."

He wistl'd up Lord Lennox' March
To keep his courage cherry;
Altho' his hair began to arch,
He was saefley'dan'eerie :
Till presently he hears a squeak,
An' then a granean'gruntle ;
He by his shouthergae a keek ,
An' tumbled wi' a wintle
Out-owre that night.

He roar'd a horrid murder-shout,
In dreadfu' desperation!
An' young an'auld come rinnin out,
An' hear the sad narration:
He swoor 'twas hilchin Jean M'Craw,
OrcrouchieMerran Humphie --
Till stop! she trotted thro' them a' ;
And wha was it butgrumphie
Asteer that night!

Meg fainwad to the barn gaen ,
To winn three wechtso'naething ;12
But for to meet the deil her lane ,
She patbut little faith in:
She gies the herd a picklenits ,
An'twared cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets ,
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That vera night.

She turns the keywi'canniethraw ,
An'owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawniegies a ca' ,
Syne baudly in she enters:
A ratton rattl'd up the wa' ,
An' she cry'd Lord preserve her!
An' ran thro' midden-holean'a' ,
An' pray'd wi' zeal and fervour,
Fu' fast that night.

They hoy't out Will, wi'sair advice;
They hecht him some fine brawane ;
It chanc'd the stack he faddom't thrice13
Was timmer-propt for thrawin :
He taks a swirlieauldmoss-oak
For some black, grousome carlin ;
An'loot a winze , an' drew a stroke,
Till skin in blypescamhaurlin
Aff's nieves that night.

A wanton widow Leezie was,
As cantie as a kittlen;
But och! that night, amang the shaws ,
She gat a fearfu' settlin!
She thro' the whins , an'by the cairn,
An'owre the hill gaedscrievin ;
Whare three lairds' lan's met at a burn ,14
To dip her left sark-sleeve in,
Was bent that night.

Whilesowre a linn the burnie plays,
As thro' the glen it wimpl't ;
Whiles round a rocky scar it strays,
Whiles in a wiel it dimpl't;
Whiles glitter'd to the nightly rays,
Wi' bickerin', dancin' dazzle;
Whilescookit undeneath the braes ,
Below the spreading hazel
Unseen that night.

Amang the brachens , on the brae ,
Between her an' the moon,
The deil , or else anoutlerquey ,
Gat up an' ga'e a croon :
Poor Leezie's heart maistlap the hool ;
Near lav'rock-height she jumpit ,
Butmist a fit , an' in the pool
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit ,
Wi' a plunge that night.

In order, on the clean hearth-stane ,
The luggies15three are ranged;
An' ev'ry time great care is ta'en
To see them duly changed:
Auld uncle John, wha wedlock's joys
Sin' Mar's-year did desire,
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,
He heav'd them on the fire
In wrath that night.

Wi' merry sangs , an' friendly cracks ,
I wat they did na weary;
And unco tales, an' funnie jokes --
Their sports were cheap an' cheery:
Till butter'd sowens ,16wi' fragrant lunt ,
Seta' their gabs a-steerin;
Syne , wi' a social glass o'strunt ,
They parted aff careerin
Fu' blythe that night.

[Footnote 1: Is thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other
mischief-making beings are abroad on their baneful midnight errands;
particularly those aerial people, the fairies, are said on that night to hold
a grand anniversary,. -- R.B.
2: Certain little, romantic, rocky, green hills, in the
neighbourhood of the ancient seat of the Earls of Cassilis. -- R.B.
3: A noted cavern near Colean house, called the Cove of Colean;
which, as well as Cassilis Downans, is famed, in country story, for being a
favorite haunt of fairies. -- R.B.
4: The famous family of that name, the ancestors of Robert, the
great deliverer of his country, were Earls of Carrick. -- R.B.
5: The first ceremony of Halloween is pulling each a "stock," or
plant of kail. They must go out, hand in hand, with eyes shut, and pull the
first they meet with: its being big or little, straight or crooked, is
prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells -- the
husband or wife. If any "yird," or earth, stick to the root, that is "tocher,"
or fortune; and the taste of the "custock," that is, the heart of the stem, is
indicative of the natural temper and disposition. Lastly, the stems, or, to
give them their ordinary appellation, the "runts," are placed somewhere above
the head of the door; and the Christian names of the people whom chance brings
into the house are, according to the priority of placing the "runts," the
names in question. -- R. B.
6: They go to the barnyard, and pull each, at three different times,
a stalk of oats. If the third stalk wants the "top-pickle," that is, the grain
at the top of the stalk, the party in question will come to the marriage-bed
anything but a maid.-R.B.
7: When the corn is in a doubtful state, by being too green or wet,
the stack-builder, by means of old timber, etc., makes a large apartment in
his stack, with an opening in the side which is fairest exposed to the wind:
this he calls a "fause-house." -- R.B.
8: Burning the nuts is a favorite charm. They name the lad and lass
to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and according as they
burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue
of the courtship will be. -- R.B.
9: Whoever would, with success, try this spell, must strictly
observe these directions: Steal out, all alone, to the kiln, and darkling,
throw into the "pot" a clue of blue yarn; wind it in a new clue off the old
one; and, toward the latter end, something will hold the thread: demand, "Wha
hauds?" i.e., who holds? and answer will be returned from the kiln-pot, by
naming the Christian and surname of your future spouse. -- R.B.
10: Take a candle and go alone to a looking-glass; eat an apple
before it, and some traditions say you should comb your hair all the time; the
face of your conjungal companion, to be, will be seen in the glass, as if
peeping over your shoulder. -- R.B.
11: Steal out, unperceived, and sow a handful of hemp-seed,
harrowing it with anything you can conveniently draw after you. Repeat now and
then: "Hemp-seed, I saw thee, hemp-seed, I saw thee; and him (or her) that is
to be my true love, come after me and pou thee." Look over your left shoulder,
and you will see the appearance of the person invoked, in the attitude of
pulling hemp. Some traditions say, "Come after me and shaw thee," that is,
show thyself; in which case, it simply appears. Others omit the harrowing, and
say: "Come after me and harrow thee." -- R.B.
12: This charm must likewise be performed unperceived and alone. You
go to the barn, and open both doors, taking them off the hinges, if possible;
for there is danger that the being about to appear may shut the doors, and do
you some mischief. Then take that instrument used in winnowing the corn, which
in our country dialect we call a "wecht," and go through all the attitudes of
letting down corn against the wind. Repeat it three times, and the third time
an apparition will pass through the barn, in at the windy door and out at the
other, having both the figure in question, and the appearance or retinue,
marking the employment or station in life. -- R.B.
13: Take an opportunity of going unnoticed to a "bear-stack," and
fathom it three times round. The last fathom of the last time you will catch
in your arms the appearance of your future conjugal yoke-fellow. -- R.B.
14: You go out, one or more (for this is a social spell), to a south
running spring, or rivulet, where "three lairds' lands meet," and dip your
left shirt sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a fire, and hang your wet sleeve
before it to dry. Lie awake, and, some time near midnight, an apparition,
having the exact figure of the grand object in question, will come and turn
the sleeve, as if to dry the other side of it. -- R.B.
15: Take three dishes, put clean water in one, foul water in
another, and leave the third empty; blindfold a person and lead him to the
hearth where the dishes are ranged; he (or she) dips the left hand; if by
chance in the clean water, the future (husband or) wife will come to the bar
of matrimony a maid; if in the foul, a widow; if in the empty dish, it
foretells, with equal certainty, no marriage at all. It is repeated three
times, and every time the arrangement of the dishes is altered. -- R.B.
16: Sowens, with butter instead of milk to them, is always the
Halloween Supper. -- R.B.

22 October 2015

The mercury is confounded...

Sunday night brought the first killing frost of the autumn. The atmosphere was dead still and crystal clear, yielding a sunrise temperature of 28F; some county locations reported as low as 24F. Nothing in the garden was able to survive the conditions. The cold sensitive potted plants had been hustled into the solarium, their home for the winter.

Four days later (today), the high temperature was at least 74F under brilliant sun and a navy blue sky and no freezing temperatures are indicated in the ten day forecast. Alas, that freeze was just a blip - which could have been done without.

Some trees are already totally devoid of leaves; some are at the climax of color such as this maple, and many others have yet to display even a hint of any color other than green. A confusing autumn for all.

The house plants are totally confused. Two Christmas Cacti are in full bloom and a third is about to explode into a riot of colors and forms.

Some outdoor flora are a tad off balance as well. The Forsythias are blooming with more vigor than they displayed last spring - even as their leaves become a beautiful bronze for the fall.

At least the chrysanthemums know what date is on the calendar and are brightening the patio amidst the skeletons of their long bloomed out companions.

May your autumn be beautiful and bring much delight to you, dear reader.

15 October 2015


There are several game cameras in use at all times on Stratheden Farms. It is edifying and sometimes amusing to see all of the wild animals who walk through the farm - and humans who should not be there. Game cameras have come a long way; if you ever want to buy one, please consult first! The megapixel rating is moot and mostly irrelevant. What counts is how fast it can trip and is the image sharp. The ones worth having are no cheap.

Here are three images from this summer for your amusement: a turkey hen, a young buck and a doe with her fawn. Enjoy this glorious autumnal season.

13 October 2015


Sunrise from the bedroom this morning

Dear Reader,
   You might find it helpful to prepare a cup of tea to sip whilst reading the blog - it is longer than usual as there has been more to cover than typically. Let it be said that all images may be enlarged by clicking on them; some benefit considerably by a larger display size.

It is unmistakably autumn. The nights are cooler, the humidity has dropped, no rain of consequence mentioned in the ten day forecast; National Weather Service has predicted the first frost will coat the farm this very weekend, which seems early. The fireplace shall soon be the source of warmth and solace for animal and man alike.

The trees have peaked in presenting their marvelous new mantles, indeed, many are already naked, their leaves scattered about their roots. Summer drought stressed the trees and some began shedding without transitioning to color, just brown and dry as they zig-zag toward terra firma.

Ken Scott ink & watercolor painting on the inside of an antiques book cover, www.americanfrontierart.blogspot.com:
 Scott's inimitable frontier art, which Stratheden visitors may recognize.
 Mr. Fuzzy fulfilled a long held desire last week and motored to Conner Prairie Interactive History Museum near Indianapolis to be a student. Frontier artist par excellance, Ken Scott, taught a to and a half day class on constructing 18th and 19th century hunting bags. He had taught two classes earlier in the session on making hunting bag from a boot top and Back country Southern Arts. Your humble correspondent desperately wanted to participate in the Southern class but the floods (see the earlier blog post) delayed my departure and it was missed, sigh. Sigh again. Ken is the absolute Master at American Frakturs, be they Pennsylvania or Southern and it was a sore disappointment to miss the course.

Ken Scott Pouches. Skull pouch.:
one of Ken's striking hunting bags
   Despite the disappointment of missing one class, the bag making class was more fun than a barrel of monkeys and much was gleaned from it. Ken is no Johnny-come-lately, having pursued this niche in the art world for decades. More importantly, he has carved out a special position by his unique style and flawless execution. Specifically, his art is very folky, inspired by what the uncommon common man might have created on a remote frontier farm with the barest of materials and no training - but imbued with pure God-given genius. Not all great artists are good teachers - Ken is as good an instructor as they can be, giving encouragement, guidance, technique and the most gentle corrections imaginable in his unique manner.

Mr. Fuzzy's bag made during the workshop

Ken is free with what he has learned by decades of experience. He demonstrated his techniques and shared his sources of inspiration and materials. One fabulous result was a trip to downtown Indianapolis tot he site of a 108 year old leather supply store, Landwerlen Leather Company. Their store was a 100 year trip backwards in time. Mr. Fuzzy was stunned by not only the selection but the quality of materials - and wrung his wallet dry at the clerk's counter. Although the store caters to "the trade," as a courtesy to Ken, his students are treated as if they were lifelong customers. They are happy to conduct their trade by telephone and I, for one, will not ever purchase leather or supplies anywhere else.

Landwerlen Leather Company, Indianapolis

 The Jacksonville Arts Center, a regional power house located here in Floyd, opened an exhibition last weekend on the subject of barns. Artists could submit three art works to be juried. Mr. Fuzzy is delighted to note that all three photographs submitted were accepted. Despite cold and damp weather the crowd was excellent and enthusiastic. It was heart warming to have total strangers saunter over and explain why they appreciated your art. Mr. Fuzzy rarely enters shows; his art is for himself, but this could be a defining experience.

two of Mr Fuzzy's photographs, left and centre

03 October 2015

rain, rain, go away, come again some other day

As the astute readers will have deduced from the title, it is still raining eight days later. It is 10:00 p.m. and the rain gauge was just consulted: 3.9 inches more precipitation in the last 36 hours. That brings the total from this eight-day storm to about 18 inches.To be fair, it did not rain last Thursday for several hours -

The rain on Tuesday the 30th was the most damaging since it fell in a torrent, over six inches in under six hours. The ground was fully saturated from the Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday rains and they downpour could only run off. Falling Branch Road could not be traversed as part of it was under swift running water so your narrator never personally witnessed the destruction in town - or photographed it. In over 600 Stratheden Farm posts, all the photos have been mine or the ex-wife's but here is one by the Higgs family, posted on FaceBook, taken from their business in Floyd, T & E Small Engines (a misnomer - that's where I purchased my Yanmar tractor last year). It summarizes Tuesday better than any one single image to pass before my eyes.

Its impossible to determine if this set any records because Floyd county has lacked an official weather observer since the last one was drafted in 1941. Nonetheless, my 85 year old neighbor with an enviously perfect recall, says that August, 1940, was the last time there was such widespread flooding and destruction. Hurricane Hugo caused a great amount of flood damage in September, 1989, but judging by people's memories, not this bad.

Jack Tar and myself have hand shoveled over 6,000 pounds of fresh gravel into the driveway ruts, repairing perhaps 80 feet of over 1,000 feet of damage in the 1,700' drive. We also dug, pulled and cajoled a pickup truck worth of leaves out of two clogged culverts and began to relocate several thousand pounds of gravel swept from the drive and into the drainage ditch, thereby rendering the ditch ineffective. The gravel is brought in the small trailer, 1,000-1,200 pounds per load, its maximum GVW. A loaded five tonne gravel truck could not make it up Falling Branch without chewing up the road and would sink to its axles in the driveway, damaging it fatally (i.e., D6 Catepillar level of repair). The drive is likely to remain too tender for an 8 tonne gravel truck for weeks. The likely scenario will be to have five tonnes of gravel delivered to the head of the driveway and then via front-loader on the tractor plus shovel & rake, repair the pathway.

 In spite of the continual rainfall, Falling Branch Creek has returned to its normal course. Compare these two images taken from the road.

The NOAA forecast prognosticates a wetter than normal October-December. Hmmm. More to come? Probably. Do your utmost to keep your powder dry.

29 September 2015

A Record

The rain came to a sudden and unforeseen halt about 7:00 p.m. tonight, going from downpour to none in just a few minutes. Here is a view to the southwest from the veranda.

The rain gauge was just now read and emptied. It had been emptied last night about the same hour. The marks stop at 5.5 inches but the gauge was full and overflowed. Therefore, the heavens must have loosed at least 6.25 inches of water in 24 hours, probably more - and five more days of rain are forecast. Culverts have been washed away and bridges damaged or washed away all over the county. If a wind arises, the trees, their roots in unsound and soft anchorages, will tumble, taking power and telephone lines to the muddy ground. Let us hope for a miracle.

By all accounts, the local telephone coop, Citizen's, has performed an exemplary job of repairing washed away buried lines. Good on them.

Noah, Noah, where are you?

As soon as I complain about drought, it floods. God has such a sense of humor.

The rains began early Friday morning and released water continuously until Monday noon for a total of 5.5 inches here at Stratheden Farm. The ground was so dry that it sucked up the water for most of that time with relatively little run off. There was a moderate to dense fog the entire 72 hours, all done just to make my English visitors feel right at home (alright, the cats also helped welcome them. here is Grover, chief of the Hospitality Committee, making a guest feel right at home). Precipitation ceased about noon Monday.

 Right to the top of the measure: five and a half inches.

Then it came back last night with a vengeance, beginning a little after midnight, pouring for 13 hours. Unlike a few days ago, this has been an unrelenting HARD rain, torrential in nature. The power went out briefly during the night and it is amazing it is still on. Water is flowing like streams on the hill tops of my big pasture. One of the great assets of Floyd county is the rugged terrain and the general slope from the Blue Ridge northward into the next county; this usually flushes water out very quickly but adds to the flood woes of the county to the north. But now the rain is falling so hard that even the steep hills cannot drain fast enough to prevent streams from forming. There will certainly be serious erosion damage all over the farm. Howell Creek is surely out of its bounds and eating away at the lower meadow - it can be heard roaring over the hill and forest from half a mile away.

The pond-which-will-not-hold-water is almost up to the overflow drain pipe; its not had this much water in it during its five year dry life.

The 1,700 foot driveway has sustained severe erosion damage. My guess is it needs 3,000 pounds of hand shoveled gravel to repair it. Will be on the telephone at 8:00 tomorrow to source gravel. There is one quarry in the county but the county and state road departments, which have a massive job ahead, will probably have priority.

The county gravel road which connects Stratheden Farm to the outside world also has severe erosion. Here you can see the original 18th century base course revealed  underneath the modern gravel.

 Falling Branch Road at it low crossing at Falling Branch Creek is under rapidly flowing water. Here is the view downstream from the road; the normal three foot wide stream bed is the thin line to the far right of the watercourse.

 From the Roanoke TV station web page a few hours ago:

The rain continues to come down, and road conditions are worsening after several hours of heavy, continual downpours. Town businesses are being flooded. Streets are overflowing with water.

There is a one lane road on East Main Street; 221 South, between the NAPA store and Slaughters' Supermarket, is closed due to water over the road. [this means I cannot get into town]

The asphalt on a section of Barberry Road (near the Conner dairy farm) is washing away.

Earlier this morning, a mudslide was reported on Route 8, near I-81 in Christiansburg. Route 8 is closed from Whitetail Outfitters to Christiansburg. [this is the only state highway leading northward out of the county]

Drivers traveling from Floyd County to Christiansburg report road conditions on Route 8 are bad. Water is across the road in several places. "Rivers" of water from driveways are coming onto Route 8, said one driver. "There were ponds in the road longer than my truck."

Also on Riner’s Meadow Creek Road, known as “Pig Path”, the water swept a van off the road into a field. Emergency personnel responded, and the driver, a college student from Floyd County, is now out of the vehicle. Her van is still in the water and will stay there until the water recedes. The road is closed.

Here is a video made from the library looking across the street to the Food Lion parking lot:

Patrick County, just on the other side of the Blue Ridge, has had the same flooding and the historic Bob White covered bridge was knocked from its buttresses and washed away. It was built in 1921 and survived all rains until now; that should give a sense of the magnitude of today's situation. And the forecast is like a broken record (who remembers 33 rpm vinyl skipping?) The worst may be yet to come.
The ground is so super-saturated the little springs are bubbling up from the ground.

When I planted lettuce & radishes last week I hoped for enough rain to germinate the seeds. Now I pray the garden has not been washed away.

This is one of those times a small $1500 drone would be very handy to overfly the farm and determine what is damaged and prioritize repairs, beginning with the driveway. Oh well, no drone so pull on the wading boots...