23 January 2012

Fog and freezing fog

The unusual weather continues this winter. For about 36 hours, a freezing fog enveloped much of Floyd county, showering Stratheden's flora with her icy kisses. Mr. Fuzzy finds great visual pleasure in such atmospheric phenomena and took his camera for an ambulation about the grounds mid-day on Sunday.

The presence, or lack thereof, of icy crystals on trees, weeds and wires demonstrated the fickle nature of freezing condensation. The air nearest the ground was warmed by heat emanating from it, thus, no icy attachments near to the surface. A few feet above, however, the conditions were quite different; ice formed on anything hanging on this barbed wire fence (in the case of the image above, a Black Angus hair) but not the fence - yet barely one hundred feet away and slightly lower in elevation, ice formed on the east side of the wire.

Further back on the farm, towards Long Man creek, the moisture in the air was far greater and ice was forming madly - but only up in the clouds, about twenty feet above the ground. It demonstrated clearly that the grey veil which hung over the farm was a cloud descending from the heavens rather than ground fog attempting to rise above its station.

Mr. Fuzzy has all of his life been attracted to such days, which he attributes to his Scottish genes. Except for the plethora of trees, Stratheden Farm could have been anywhere in Fife yesterday.

15 January 2012

Real winter

How should winter be defined? Is it simply a date on a calendar, a state of mind, a meteorological event? What say you, good reader?
Mr. Fuzzy would hazard that below freezing temperatures and snow constitutes a useful definition... and at long last, we have real snow (i.e., not a dusting). Last night a light powder snow fell heavily for several hours, accumulating nearly an inch in the first hour. The total accumulation was less than two inches but the visual effect this morning was "cold" (it was just 22F). Here is a photograph taken shortly after daybreak...

And yet, despite being positioned squarely in the depths of winter, already the hope for the joy of spring is nearby; Mr. Fuzzy's aunt sent a Williamsburg teacup planted with miniature daffodils which are in the midst of their showy display of that most spring-like colour, yellow. They emanate cheer personified, a proven tonic for the winter blues.

08 January 2012

Passing the Torch

New Year and new beginnings may also mean old endings. Such is the case here. If you will, rewind to the year 2001; the Fuzzies were living in Scotland and our dear friend Jim Robertson suggested that we might enjoy attending a nearby antique car show at Scone Palace near Perth. Jim never steered us wrong on anything, so off we went, not anticipating the  path we would follow subsequently.

Mind you, these were all classic cars and all from United Kingdom manufacturers. The Fuzzies were overwhelmed, having never seen most of these types of cars or so much as heard their names: British Small Arms, Riley, Hillman, Humber, Reliant Robin, Wolseley, Morris Minor and other marques . There were relatively few MGs (except for some pre-war models that were to die for), Minis, Triumphs, Spitfires, Sprites, Jags, Austin Healeys or other familiar names. My goodness, there were some real beauties there on those ancient grounds. Mrs. Fuzzy realized that Mr. Magoo's car had been an English Austin Six. Mr. Fuzzy was obsessed with the Morgan Super Sport, a three wheeled car from 1932... and he still dreams of  them. We stayed until nearly closing, seeking to educate our ignorant selves about these venerable automobiles.

As we drove home, our heads were swimming with the formerly unfamiliar and beautiful shapes and colours of those cars. It was striking how many were markedly smaller than American cars but nonetheless had comfortable interiors, were very petrol efficient and reportedly were very responsive on the road. Oh, and they were gorgeous... at least some of them. Probably the Austin Six was leading the pack in our minds.

This may seem like a digression but it is not: On fair weather Sundays, the Fuzzies often hiked the old drove road between their toon and the village of Ceres, working off the calories they expected to acquire at their favourite pub, the 1721 Ceres Inn (Ceres has the oldest Scottish Games in Scotland, dating to 1314). Often on a seat at the end of the bar was a distinguished older gentleman, Andrew, always of good cheer but parsimonious. He heard us discussing the Austin Six one Sunday and in the typical, gentle, indirect Scottish manner, saved us from making a terrible decision - purchasing one. He had owned one and his hair-raising tales of motoring in one (especially regarding the braking system - the pedal worked only the front wheels - to engage the rear wheels, you had to pull on the parking brake). Thank you Andrew (he died of cancer within a few months of dispensing his sage advice, bless him).

Our ignorance was revealed and we know not where to turn, given its depth. Divine providence brought us Harry Topping, a braw Geordie brother Mason with more experience in the mechanical arts than most could acquire in two life times. Harry had recently restored a Morris Minor shooting brake to a glory greater than the factory could have dreamt. He took Mr. Fuzzy for a drive in the hills of Fife and, well, the rest is history. The Fuzzies began a  quest for a Morris and as there are so many still road-worthy, soon found one in marginal condition but within their budget. Morag had probably lived all of her life in Dundee, beginning with her delivery in 1968 and had not been treated kindly of recent. She needed some serious surgery but came through with flying colours.

Morag delighted the Fuzzies in her straightforward simplicity and service. She motored them about Fife with ease and dignity and great petrol economy. They loved her so much, that a couple of years later, they discovered her sister, Flora, in Canterbury - but that's another tale. Both came back to the states in the same container as the household goods; as antique vehicles, there were no import issues whatsoever.

Flora was towed to Stratheden Farm behind the Penske truck driven by Mr. Fuzzy and Miss Lily (alright, technically, Miss Lily cannot drive as she can neither reach the pedals nor see over the dashboard...) but poor Morag was stranded in a friend's garage for three years whilst Mr. Fuzzy sought an inexpensive option to transport her to Stratheden. In the end, time ran out and a rather expensive professional auto transport delivered her here - but a month ago. Ah, it was good to have Morag and Flora back together again.

If history was linear and straightforward, there would be little need to study it. For better or worse, the interactions and seeming chance coincidences, weave and warp events into complex and unpredictable mats which may never be totally understandable. Even in one human life in one year, the realized events are almost impossible to even list, no less analyze. Such is the case here. ever since our friend Bluebird directed us to the Blue Ridge Folk Life Festival at Ferrum College, Mr. Fuzzy has been smitten by the aesthetics of American automobiles between c. 1927-1940 (once the war began, the availability of material and labor dictated car design, not beauty and function. 1941 was the end of much the was wonderful in the world, including many lives). You have seen posts on this very blog featuring those wonders of American design and craft observed at Ferrum...

Mr. Fuzzy had his eye out for a good U.S. car of that vintage but not many were known in Virginia. The Fuzzies examined the stock of two major classic car dealers in Charlotte, but learned that anything they really fancied was beyond their means. The search broadened and perhaps due to Divine Providence once more, Betty Boop came into the fold.

The Fuzzies had always thought that the Morris Minors would always be a part of their lives, but with the purchase of Betty Boop, monies needed to be raised. The Minors would, with great reluctance, be placed on the sale block. Mr. Fuzzy deeply believes in Divine Providence as there is little other explanation for much of his life and once more, the Creator clearly intervened. Morag rolled off of the auto transport truck at the mechanic's shop; having not been driven in almost precisely three years, a professional examination was in order. As she dejectedly sat there, away from her owners and Flora, a lovely lady saw her, and, exactly like the Fuzzies, fell in love at first sight. As this story has rambled on for far too many words already, let it be said she has found another loving and devoted owner as of 3:30 p.m. today.

Mr. Fuzzy cannot adequately express his relief that she has gone to such a good home, hopefully to be loved and treasured for decades. Good-bye, dear Morag, we will never forget you.

05 January 2012

Making Plans

Despite it being roughly the same size as our old house or, perhaps, because we've consolidated the contents of the "wee hoosie" in Scotland and of two storage sheds with what we had in that Other House, this farmhouse feels like 15 pounds of potatoes stuffed into a ten pound sack. We are, slowly, weeding out unloved and irrelevant possessions (books, even!) and creating better organizational systems in our limited storage spaces.

All that work, however, will not give Mr. Fuzzy a proper photographic workspace so we committed ourselves to building a teaching studio and guest house last spring. Our plan to have it serviceable by a September 2011 workshop disintegrated under the poor care of our first architect.

We selected a new architect in October and gave him a three page list of design criteria, our overall budget, and a size limitation that would create a good fit with our "existing built landscape." The third attempt at a plan arrived just before Christmas and few of our criteria have been met. This is the current plan:

Look at all that wasted space! Behold the weirdly shaped bedroom! The designers of No. 18 Trump Place in NYC would be proud but the Fuzzys are not cool with odd shapes. I, especially, am terribly old fashioned that way. I like rectangles. And... it's still longer than the site can comfortably handle.

So, we've taken the matter upon ourselves and I have added architectural design to my "homesteading skill set." We've been playing cut-and-paste (above) with the drawings for several days now. Mr. Fuzzy is working through some ideas for the studio but I think I have a good plan drawn up for the appartmento, greenhouse, and cellars. The idea is to have a "cottage" that guests can enjoy but which we could comfortably live in if downsizing is required due to mobility or resource concerns. Having our own Cosco In The Ground is another priority project for me and connecting it to the cottage seemed ideal.

That's my much-revised plan. It's about 9 feet shorter than the original with cellars accessible from outside and the kitchen. Visually, it's completely bermed on the cellar side and graded along the big bedroom wall to allow for a code-required exterior escape route. From the driveway it simply doesn't exist. Many ideas were borrowed from traditional houses I saw in Sighnaghi including the placement of the cellars and windows inside the living space. Perhaps I should enquire about the requirements for a Georgian wine cellar? At any rate, I'm rather proud of my hobbit-hole "back" entry, the second bedroom / office, and proper kitchen.

Once Mr. Fuzzy has determined the studio layout we will meet with our architect to discuss what structural issues we may have created for ourselves. If all goes well, I remain hopeful that our friend Lailae (and her humans) will be able to enjoy this private space when she visits us this autumn.

04 January 2012

Winter has arrived - and departed

Veteran readers, as you have read here, winter has only made cursory probes into the farm this winter, in stark contrast to the severe cold and snow of the previous two winters. Until Saturday, the lowest temperature recorded on the farm was a night low of 23F. That all changed when a huge, deep Canadian cold front blew its way in beginning Sunday night, dropping the temperatures by more than 20 degrees. The Monday high temperature was 19F accompanied by gusty winds and brief periods of blowing snow. Brrrrrrrrr. The fireplace was on constant duty with both felines and canines sprinkled about the floor and chairs in front of it.

Mr. Fuzzy admits to the preconception that chickens have no range of facial expressions other than stark terror but on Monday, he was able to perceive a distinct expression of "miserable" of most of the chicken faces.

Unlike the prior winters, this dangerously cold weather was not destined to last, with a warmer air mass arriving unheralded today, boosting the high right the the very point of freezing; the next few days are due to continue the warming trend until the highs are near 50F (10C) once more - and the various and assorted denizens of Stratheden Farm return to a less stressful and hazardous existence.

As a proof of this bold and positive change, the sky lit up dramatically at sunset tonight, as shown below. Less than fifteen minutes before, Mr. Fuzzy was motoring back from the village and saw the most spectacular sun dog of his many years. It was larger, brighter and more contrasty than any beheld by his ocular organs; alas, like that six pound trout, there is no photographic proof.

Happy New Year to all.