26 December 2012

Winter has arrived!

Dear Reader,

Mr. Fuzzy hopes this find you enjoying the warmth of friends, family and fireplace here at the end of the calendar year. Apologies for the long delay since the last post but since the world was due to end on the 21st, there hardly seemed a hurry. Now that date has come and gone - and by all appearances, existence continues to exist, well, its back to the blog.

Last Sunday, I shared a table with Mike & Rebecca at the ritual weekend breakfast at the cafe. Rebecca had brought home baked gifts for all of the usual suspects in attendance. Shown below are Mr. Fuzzy's polar bear and ice skate. Never have such detailed holiday cookies ever graced his table. Be sure to click on them to enlarge, otherwise the fineness of the detailing will escape your eyes.

Winter still seemed out of sight until the Winter Solstice - perfectly timed to coincide with the first major winter front to strike here. The drought mentioned in the previous post had continued unabated until a few days ago when nearly an inch of rain fell on Stratheden. Not nearly enough to close the precipitation gap opened by the drought but a beginning. In the wee hours of this morning a snow began and before first light, rain mixed with freezing rain. The forecast is for this to continue all day. Spectacular beauty is all about.

12 December 2012


The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued this declaration today:

"A new Drought Watch Advisory has been issued for the New River Drought Evaluation Region and for the Upper James River Drought Evaluation Region. 

The New River Drought Evaluation Region includes the counties of Bland, Carroll, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe, the cities of Galax and Radford, and the towns of Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Dublin, Floyd, Fries, Glen Lyn, Hillsville, Independence, Narrows, Pearisburg, Pembroke, Pulaski, Rural Retreat, Rich Creek, Troutdale and Wytheville."

As much as eight weeks may have passed without significant precipitation at Stratheden. Even the backside of Hurricane Sandy produced little more than high winds and cold temperatures here. Although the temperatures have been favorable to grass growth, and sunlight has been abundant, the blades of grass are the same height as three months ago. The trees will soon, if not already, be suffering for want of water. So very odd at this time of year.

Today was totally gray and dull, at least until sunset when the sky became a brilliant yellow. Most striking. This photograph fails to reproduce the brilliance and depth of the yellow but may give the reader some slight impression of the event.

06 December 2012

The Arts & Crafts Movement in America

Devoted reader (or two), you may or may not know that Mr. Fuzzy's favorite art movement of all times was the Arts & Crafts Movement, alternatively called American Craftsman Movement in America.

It began in England spurred on by the luminary figure, William Morris, aided and abetted by the writings of John Ruskin. Morris began it in 1860 but it was not well recognized until perhaps 1880. Its tenants began to spread worldwide and by 1897, it had a firm foothold in America and Canada.  It was promoted by numerous magazines in Britain, Europe and America; the most noted in America was easily Gustav Stickley's The Craftsman. Stickley was a design genius; "mission furniture style" is a modern misnomer for his main development but he also designed homes (plans were sold by mail). Mr. Fuzzy once marveled at a neighborhood in Tacoma, Washington, where about every fourth home was a Stickley design.

Unlike any prior art philosophy/movement, fully half of the artisans were women, the philosophy was accepted widely and it promoted the need for art among all classes, not just the richest.

Stickley wrote in the January, 1911, issue of The Craftsman:

 The reason why I believe that the country is such a fine training-school for character and experience, is because farm work, as compared to the routine and one-sidedness of office work, offers to the boy the best possible opportunities for the development of self-reliance, of initiative and the creative faculty... In the business life of our cities, the city man who begins as a clerk rarely goes much further; he may be promoted to some higher position on the department in which he started but the career usually ends in the grove in which it began. Young people who enter routine occupations with no other experience back of them have no equipment for anything else, and they are apt to have little capacity for meeting new problems and forging ahead. Whereas the boy who has been brought up on an American farm and who has been trained in all the variety of experience that makes up farm life has acquired independence, ingenuity and the ability to think for himself. Every day on a farm brings some new problem that has to be met and solved. I have so often said, contact with Nature gives us a certain breadth of vision on which depends our capacity for further development. We cannot go forward beyond the limit of our vision. A mind crushed by dull detail of routine labor and a physique depleted by unwholesome indoor occupation cannot lift a man out of the narrow sphere of drudgery. But a mind lit by the vision of a larger purpose in daily work and of something greater beyond that, a body vibrant with health and ready for action --- these make a man, while loyal to his work, at the same time independent of it, because his thought and his capability are larger than the routine of the occupation.

02 December 2012

Farmers Supply

Every small village needs an anchor business or two, at a minimum. Downtown Floyd is really only four or five blocks but there are several of these anchor stores. Right at the stoplight (the only stoplight in the county) is Farmers Supply, the hardware and gift store. It has four display windows, more than any other building in Floyd, and sits in a prominent location. Fortunately the manager, Janice, creates wonderful windows, which reflects well on the town.

Although this is December 2nd, the temperature at 7:00 a.m. this morning was a remarkable 50F. Yesterday's plans were redirected when the postman delivered the order placed with the Arbor Day Foundation many months ago. They cannot ship trees until they become dormant and obviously that depends on the weather conditions where they are grown. This was perhaps a month later than normal and to be honest, Mr. Fuzzy had forgotten about the order. The afternoon was spent planting ten Colorado blue spruce trees around the farm. All of this mild Sunday will be spent planting the remaining trees, crab apples, Japanese cherries, willow, Nanking cherries, etc.

Between the destructive deer and weather conditions, only about half of the trees planted will survive two years, even with regular watering during dry spells.

It remains dry here with no rain in the five day forecast.

28 November 2012

Floyd County Christmas Parade

Last Sunday was the much awaited Christmas parade. It reflects the community spirit that is prevalent here and the cultural values of the community. The floats are all home made, usually mounted on farm trailers. Many are pulled by farm trucks although the more modest ones are pushed/pulled by human power - or horses and mules.

Every year, members of the community are honored by being the Grand Marshal or the Parade Marshal. That is a significant form of recognition here in rural America.

 The Humane Society with human motivators.

 A lot of creativity lurks in these woods.

 Maybe the smallest float?

 The Snow Queen and her attendants. They must have been frozen solid by the end of the parade as my ears were hurting from the cold wind gusts.

 Around here, old tractors and old cars are major passions.

 The end of the parade is a huge line of emergency vehicles, all blaring their warning systems. Its ahrd to believe how many there are in this county of only 13,500 souls.

The tiniest fireman.

Mr. Fuzzy hopes that you enjoyed the parade as much as the community did!

27 November 2012

Sunrise Sunday

Devoted readers, as usual, the blog runs a bit behind real time. Here, I submit for your viewing pleasure, the sunrise on Sunday, the 25th. It was even finer in tone and breadth in person.

The next post will be on the Floyd Holiday parade, held on Sunday. The weather was fine although the breeze had an edge to it.

24 November 2012


A substantial cold front blew in last night and after two very comfortable days, the high today was 34F with a sharp, cutting wind, despite a nearly cloudless sky and sun pouring down. A definite foreshadowing of what is to come. It is also bone dry, it has been at least a month with no rain (not counting the little wet snow from Sandy's back side).

The sun now sets considerably further south than at the summer solstice and a few rays of sun burst into the living room for less than ten minutes before the sun slides beneath the horizon. Here is how it appeared tonight. Brian A., you might notice that I have, after nearly four years, found your snake damper handle; you cannot imagine how much I have missed it. [remember that you may click on the image to enlarge it]

23 November 2012

Wood Pirates

Dear reader, I may have lived long enough to see everything - now wood pirates.

Do you recall this image from the last post? This is where I left the tree. It was in the same condition four days ago.

Today, Mr. Chainsaw and I sauntered over to cut a little more wood. Lo and behold, no tree. There was the sound of a chainsaw on Thanksgiving morn but Mr. Fuzzy assumed it was some distance away but apparently not so. Here is what Rocky the dog and Mr. Fuzzy beheld:

 This being Floyd, where the people are kinder and more gentle, the Pirates did leave the wood I had cut and not yet loaded... but otherwise all they left was the unusable small branches.

That oak was already dry and ready to burn - and Mr. Fuzzy might add he was counting on it to fill out his woodpile for the winter. A hard blow indeed.

14 November 2012


The weather forecasters missed the mark widely last night. They predicted a low of 28F. At sunrise, the mercury barely hovered at 21F, the coldest low temperature since probably last March. At least it is dead still. The air was unusually clear and steady last night, the stars seemed just out of reach.

Between this being rut season and the beginning of hunting, the deer are moving all over the place it seems. You see them at night along the roads (two crossed right in front of me last night about 8:30), in the yard, just everywhere. 'Tis the season.

Stay warm and healthy, dear readers.

12 November 2012

Busy, busy, busy

Mr. Fuzzy was out of town on business much of last week - more on that in a subsequent post.

He returned Saturday evening right after dark, narrowly missing three deer trying to commit suicide in the last thirty miles of the drive homeward. Sunday saw a myriad of activities including (but not limited to): transplanting iris from underneath two apples trees (they never have received enough solar embraces to bloom so the color is unknown), washing and waxing Miss Betty, the 1940 Ford coupe, washing the front and side of the garage (removing some of the algae and mold which grows on the north side of buildings here), etc. In short, all out of doors activities performed on a glorious, sunny, 68F (20C) day. That may have been the last opportunity for such activities this season as a cold front now draws down upon the farm, threatening to drop the high temperatures by at least ten degrees and bringing the nights back to sub-freezing conditions. Most likely the woodpile will soon be consulted.

Today was the transition perhaps from a mild autumn into a more seasonable pre-winter condition. It also saw Mr. Fuzzy in transition, being dragged yelling and screaming into the 21st century. Whilst away last week, his simple four year old cell became severely unreliable, seizing up or discharging the battery in a matter of less than three hours. He had already noted that everyone else (about 400 souls) at the meeting wielded an iPhone or its equivalent and that the meeting had its own apps and Twitter hastags.

As of 1:35 p.m. this afternoon, Mr. Fuzzy began the long journey of learning to use an Apple 4S phone.

Should you have any favorite apps - or warnings about bad apps, he would be most grateful for your illuminating criticisms.

Modern times, brace yourself for Mr. Fuzzy's impending arrival.

04 November 2012

More fire wood

Yesterday the chainsaw and I went back to  the downed oak and cut another 1,000 pounds or so of prime fire wood. And just how does Mr. Fuzzy gauge the weight? By observing the distance betwixt the tyre and the fender well which closes as weight is applied. The trailer is used to bring gravel for driveway repair and the gravel is purchased one thousand pounds at a time; thus, when the tyre-fender well gap is equal that when hauling gravel, then that weight has been reached (it is also the safe limit of the trailer's structural capacity).

Most of the easy wood has now been removed. Study this photograph and note that most or all of the remaining branches hold the tree up from the ground and the others are above Mr. Fuzzy's head (never, ever, cut wood that is above you). Unless the sawyer wishes to be crushed to death under several tons of 'dead weight' oak, these must be removed stategically. Mr. Fuzzy is going to deliberate a few days before making any new cuts. At least it lays on relatively level ground.

Chickens prefer to roost in elevated positions with nothing of equal elevation nearby. As the trailer load of wood was being positioned next tot he woodpile for unloading, Mr. Fuzzy caught the chickens on the little hand cart, taking in a brief late afternoon sun beam.

02 November 2012

An Interesting Day

The night was long - Rocky, the smaller dog, was sick. He and his bigger buddy, Rufus, ran loose yesterday and at least Rocky ate something he should have passed. All night long he was sick as a dog, passing rancid gas (although the sound effects were sometimes amusing), burping a true stench, whining because of his belly ache. Difficult to tell if Mr. Fuzzy slept any better than Rocky. As Mr. Fuzzy arose at 6:15 a.m., Rocky was no better. Not one iota. When 7:30 rolled around, the veterinarian was duly telephoned and a 10:00 a.m. appointment made, not just for Rocky but also Beatrice Tweedle, one of the feline Tweedles who were born here three and a half years ago. Bea (as she prefers) had a swelling at the base of her tail for the last several days which seemed not to trouble her but after three days, it troubled Mr. Fuzzy.

So as 9:30 came, Mr. Fuzzy walked out the door with Bea in a carrier and Rocky in tow. After an hour of time at the vet's office and $300 lighter, Mr. Fuzzy had a cat with an abscess and a dog who had probably found a dead deer and had a completely filled digestive system from stomach to the, uh,  well, tail end... Rocky's problem seems to be solving itself (much fur in evidence) and Bea needs an antibiotic twice a day for a week.

As this trio rolled to a stop at the the front porch, a huge hawk flew away from the carcass of one of the first chickens on the farm, a Cochin. They are fine chickens, good layers and excellent mommas. The hawk was so bold as to not fly away until Mr. Fuzzy has exited the car and stepped in his direction - from less than twenty feet away. The poor little hen was killed within three feet of the porch. The hawk's wingspan was perhaps five feet - huge.

The good news of the day - sunlight! Mr. Fuzzy thinks the last sun beams were viewed on Saturday. The day broke with scattered clouds but those dissapated by noon and old Sol ruled the day from then until sunset. What a pleasure and relief to feel the warmth and enjoy the visual intensity of a sun raked fall landscape.

Mr. Fuzzy cut and loaded about a thousand pounds of oak fire wood yesterday and so today was reserved for moderate activities. On the morrow, however, as the weather is due to hold well, the chainsaw and Mr. Fuzzy will be tight companions for another thousand pounds of oak firewood from a triplet tree which shed on third of its size in a wind storm last summer. Mr. Fuzzy had hoped to have cut this two months ago but the blasted pneumonia disrupted his plans. It is fairly dry and hopefully will be ready to burn in a month or two of curing. Mr. Fuzzy's woodpile is nowhere near as voluminous as it should be and he fears a rough winter.

31 October 2012

Hurricane Sandy

In the last post, you saw how the farm was squeezed betwixt a hurricane and a strong winter storm. This far inland, hurricane damage is rare although Hugo devastated the area in 1989 (and introduced new weeds, their seeds apparently borne on the winds).

Temperatures plummeted and it was as if the mercury was frozen in place: in almost two full days, the variation was from 32F to 35F. The winds were constant with high gusts; the sound of the winds roaring through the tree tops was akin to standing next to a passing freight train. The house made all sorts of Halloween-appropriate sounds for two nights.Monday the snow began before first light and lasted into evening darkness but due to the warmth of the ground, there was no accumulation.Only a few hundred feet higher in elevation, the ground was covered.

As best Mr. Fuzzy can tell, the damage is limited to downed trees. It can be said with fair certainty that no dead wood remains in the trees. Downed hard wood trees make good fire wood so there is no real loss. Tomorrow may see Mr. Fuzzy waltzing his Husqvarna 440e chain saw about the farm, beginning with this maple right in front of the shop. A shame to lose this tree as it was always one of the first to turn colors in the autumn; a lesson that nothing lasts forever, especially rare beauty.

This day finds a warming trend with today expected to reach 43F and tomorrow 46F. And no gale winds and perhaps a few sun beams.The lack of sun has been nearly total; it has been four days since seeing the solar disk even through the clouds.

Mr. Fuzzy offers his deepest sympathies to readers adversely affected by this mess of a storm  system.

28 October 2012

Mr. Fuzzy apologizes for the long break in posting news from Stratheden. He has been preoccupied with several projects and has been on the road a couple of times as well. As for Mrs. Fuzzy, she has become enamored of her fiddling and sewing, foregoing postings here and many other old activities for them.

If, dear readers, you live east of the Big Muddy, the only topic on most minds is The Weather.

This is what the radar showed about an hour ago: Stratheden Farm wedged between a deep and massive cold front and Sandy, The Her-icane. According to the prognosticators of such things, the cold front will win out here with snow possible in the next few days; the Tuesday high is predicted to be 24 degrees lower than at our dear friends in Vermont...

By comparison, the temperatures at sunset this week were Tuesday=71F, Wednesday=72F, Thursday=69F. Yet the first blast of low 40 degree weather was at least six weeks ago, which seemed to augur an early autumn but such has failed to come to fruition due to wildly fluctuating mercury.

Seasonal colors were erratic. Maples colored well and early, as did gums. Many tree, however, just turned their leaves brown. Three weeks ago saw some species entirely devoid of cover and yet the apples and ginkos (see the photo below taken in an early morning fog this week) are just now changing into autumnal splendor.

and it was hard to complain about the more common native trees:

The driveway was so deep in leaves some days that it was difficult to find the road bed; this is after two pickups and the UPS truck:

And some plants such as the Forsythia, are back in bloom again (this taken today):

18 September 2012

A Sweet Reminder of Friends

This week I harvested our first crop of Sweetgrass. The plants were a gift from our friend S. L. when we saw him at the 18th Century Native conference this spring.

After much pondering of where to put the plants, I decided to coddle them out of fear that these would perish like the others if they weren't close to home. Therefore, I squeezed them all into the biggest pot our local garden center offers and put them next to the garden hose so they could easily experience the drought-and-deluge they are purported to prefer.

The animals thought the pot a great leaping off point, which did some damage until I put a few dozen pieces of coat hanger wire sticking out of the soil. That works extremely well if you have problems with cats and chickens in your pots.

Harvesting and processing is easy and everyone is enjoying the scent. Even Bea, who all but rolled in my stack of bunched grass piled up in preparation for braiding.

15 September 2012

kindness & generousity

Our friends back in New Mexico are still occasionally ask us "don't you miss it here? At least the fabulous sunsets?"

Well, dear readers, we miss our dear old friends and especially at this time of year, the fresh crop of red and green chiles, but that's about it. Really. Seriously.

Here are a couple of fairy recent sunsets from the veranda. Judge for yourself but these seemed like pretty fine displays of color (shades of Gerald Cassidy's paintings) and form to Mr. Fuzzy... and there are hardwood forests in every foreground...

The Fuzzies surely don't miss the drought, forest fires of epic proportions and perpetual blowing dust. And the Fuzzies do rather enjoy walking into the yard (a green yard, lush grass) and gathering walnuts and hickory nuts. The Creator blessed this area with all the food man and beast could ever require.

Admittedly the gardens here have needed to be watered both this summer and last but native flora are abundant and beautiful without and action from the hand of Man.

Drought tolerant plants such as marigolds and nicotiana rustica flourish with no more care than weeding although not native. Mr. Fuzzy has finally recovered enough from his bout of pneumonia to cut and hang this year's crop of rustica.

There are no friends like old friends (and several times SuAnne has bailed out the Fuzzies over the last fifteen years, we couldn't have done without her). Yet there is a wonderful elation in making and cementing new friendships, too.In the last seven days:

Mike brought his peach pie made from a Cook's Illustrated recipe to the Cafe last Sunday and shared with his fiends. Scrumptious. Sort of like a peach upside down cake but upright.

Handsome George dropped off a gallon of his freshly made apple cider. Making cider is labor intensive and a work of love (just in case you've never done it yourself). It was particularly kind this year given a general dearth of apples. The Fuzzies really enjoy it.

Wilma & Glenn had us over for dinner; the main course was her incomparable chicken and dumplings. The chicken is as tasty and tender as any Mr. Fuzzy has ever slid into his gaping maw. That's a real compliment. But wait- the dumplings are without peer. Methinks the mana of the Isrealites must be related to Wilma's dumplings; it seems to fit the description pretty well.

To our old friends, and to our new friends, thank you for all of your positive influences on our lives. We love y'all.

06 September 2012

Quadruped healers

As disclosed in an prior post, Mr. Fuzzy had far too much fun at the CLA show and came home with double pneumonia and possibly the flu as well. Mrs. Fuzzy took this image the day of the diagnosis, shots and pills. Mr. Fuzzy felt pretty poorly that day and for the next sixty hours or so; it seemed like modern medicine's relief was never going to kick in.

That day, nearly all of the domesticated Stratheden quadrupeds came and laid with Mr. Fuzzy; clearly they knew something was awry. Here are the phirst pheline physicians administering to the sick: Buster at left, Fred at right, and the dark spot at Mr. Fuzzy's right is Jack Tar. Before the dawn, all nine of the felines had visited and both canines. Rocky the dog cuddled him all night and never abandoned the patient even though his coughs constantly wracked the bed all night long.

Only in the last couple of days has Mr. Fuzzy had any strength or endurance. Both days he manages to walk to the mailbox and back, about 3,200 feet in total. Today, he spent his frustrations on the weeds along the driveway and harvested yet more bell, banana and chile peppers from his garden. Life is in balance once more, and he is extremely thankful.

03 September 2012

once in a blue moon

There are two definitions of "blue moon" and apparently the more widely used "two full moons in one calendar month" is actually incorrect. Nonetheless, it dominates the popular usage of the term.

The full moon of August 31st was the second full moon of August, and hence, a 'blue moon' in the common definition. Mr. Fuzzy took his Sigma 150mm f/2.8 lens out and captured it rising, the blue moon over the Blue Ridge.

"Blue Moon of Kentucky" is the title of a fabulous 1946 Bill Monroe waltz. Mr. Fuzzy rather enjoys the original 3/4 time recording with Flatt & Scruggs playing and Bill singing.

29 August 2012

Hear, ye! Hear, ye!

Mr. Fuzzy continues the slow post-pneumonia mending process. He is amongst the living for most of a normal day now. God bless antibiotics! The rest of the day finds him exploring screen-based mass culture.

Day 2.5 of crazy ear issues is drawing to a close. The spray our MD gave me is helping keep the pain down to a mere annoyance and the general reduction in inflammation means I don't feel like I have the flu anymore.

"It's just extreme ragweed allergies."

Somebody send me a bottle of Allertonic! Debilitating allergies are outside the scope of my identity, thank you very much.

The good news is that I now feel well enough to concentrate on practicing some new violin tunes. Unfortunately, I'm having a little trouble tuning with these periodic ear throbs. All the off notes sound the same.

Happily, Mike showed me how to use the body of my instrument to evaluate a note. Using my tuner to tell me how off a string is, I am now able to tune up as well as, and faster, than before. Playing is a little more difficult but through the magic of music, I seem to be doing reasonably well learning these lullabies. The proper tones feel good and the off ones feel like a train wreck... so I'm just trying to keep everything on the rails. We will see how I have fared at tomorrow's lesson.

27 August 2012

Flu Update

Mr. Fuzzy's pneumonia seems to have responded to antibiotics and I seem to have contracted the underlying bug from him. Having a lifelong interest in medicinal herbs, I have decided to put a little of this learning to use with plants growing here at Stratheden.

My diet now consists of water, chile-infused foods, and rosemary-coltsfoot tea. The rosemary is from plants we grow on the deck and the coltsfoot leaves were harvested and dried last week from patches of the "invasive weed" growing in slightly open damp spots on the farm.

Coltsfoot is useful as an herbal mucus buster and expectorant. Rosemary helps the body reduce inflammation and open up blood vessels as well as tasting nice. Chiles, as everyone who has lived in New Mexico knows, is a classic cold buster. Not much can survive a good dose of capsicum!

If I still feel poorly after a few doses of super hot posole I'll see the doctor, I promise!

**Warning!** I am NOT a medical herbalist. Do your own research before consuming herbs that are not also foodstuffs. Rosemary Gladstar's books are a reliable place to start.

Wild Bounty

The recent rains have brought enough moisture to the land for my favorite mushrooms to produce fruit. Puffballs are easy to identify so there is no chance of harvesting a poisonous lookalike. They have a solid fruit (no gills or stem) and can be sliced very neatly for sautéing in butter or to dry for use in mid-winter soups.

As you can see, the chickens like a bite of puffball too. (This one came from right outside the basement door.)

24 August 2012

The Babies Are Now Young Adults

While we were away in Kentucky the pullets started laying! My beautiful white Americuna hen laid the lovely turquoise egg and a hatch mate laid the olive one.

As you can see, some are already up to saleable size!