17 November 2016

50 Years ago on a Cold Dark Night

The Leonid meteor shower that rained down in the wee hours of November 17th, 1966, was the greatest meteor shower the world has seen since 1833. On grandfather’s farm, the skies were dark, the wind still and a bitter cold soaked into three bodies. Local photographer Charles W. Manion had loaned a camera & tripod to record whatever Tri-X film could capture of the meteors; he had intended to be present but flu laid him low the day prior.

A merry band consisting of your author and couple of high school friends lay shivering on aluminum reclining chairs purloined from our parents’ porches, staring upwards into the infinity of the night heavens from naval twilight until dawn. The shower was steady after midnight, with a brilliant meteor every few minutes - none present had seen, or expected, anything so dramatic. Frame after frame of film was exposed in Mr. Manion’s “Ciroflex” twin lens reflex camera, all the while praying  his instructions were being properly executed; young Mr. Fuzzy having never even touched a real camera before this night.

And then, as the sky began to evince luminosity of the impending daybreak, the pace of the shower accelerated astronomically. In the half hour from 4:00 to 4:30, over 400 meteors, fireballs, and bolides were witnessed. Some were as brilliant as flash bulbs, some whistled or roared, others fragmented into multiple meteorites. Eventually, even the most brilliant meteors were vanquished by morning light. Of course, all rolls of film were exposed prior to this explosive display of cosmic brilliance, the last frame having been opened to the sky about thirty minutes before the peak activity began…

The amateur astronomers dragged themselves home that morning, unable to articulate to  parents or friends the magnitude of what had befallen/fallen in the dark hours. Needless to say, after no sleep and that mind bending experience, the efforts of the high school teachers were wasted on wandering/drowsy minds that day. After a school day that seemed to last slightly longer than forever, it was a fifteen minute ride on the Schwinn downtown to Mr. Manion’s photography studio on Frederica Street, on the second floor above Thompson Homes. He was over the flu symptoms but devoid of energy.

 Nonetheless, he shuffled into the darkroom and therein Mr. Fuzzy observed in awe as he developed the rolls of 120 Tri-X exposed the night before. After the film dried, and an examination of the negatives on a light table,  he pointed out the streaked images of meteors amongst the star trails on the 6x6 cm negatives. He chose a frame, made an 8x10 black & white print and then a scurry to the local newspaper office - who instantly bought the print and ran it in the next edition. The Associated Press picked it up and it ran nationally - with no attribution line! So much for fifteen minutes of fame.

Mr. Manion invited me to return to his studio a few days after when he would be back to his normal self. He would teach me how to develop film and make a print, should that be Mr. Fuzzy‘s desire. His generosity inalterably redirected a youthful life. Almost every day after school ended (and to be totally honest, some days before school was over), it was a short bicycle ride into another world, the world of photography.

A career path had been predetermined for years: science. It was the era of the space race - beat those horrible godless Communists into space and preserve World Peace via scientific dominance. Mr. Fuzzy’s university degree program began in that direction but photography, the art and the science of it, lurked in the recesses of the mind, never out of reach. The tiny closet in his first dorm room was devoid of clothes (all folded/wadded under the iron frame bed) but held a Durst 35mm enlarger and a tiny, compact darkroom, the bare minimum to develop 35mm film and make a 8x10 print. Time and money for photography caused an ebb & flow of activity but always, always, a camera was nearby.

After a premature midlife crisis at age 30, a moment of extreme clarity struck, revealing that not being a photographer was denying a true identity … and thus back to university for a Master‘s Degree. Definitely one of the other pivotal moments of nearly seven decades, never regretted. New influences, all good and strong, indirectly directed the growth of art, science and craft. Professor (now Emeritus) J B Colson, photographer and philosopher Dennis Darling, historian Larry J. Schaaf (present in absentia), curator and scholar Roy Flukinger, all made, and continue to make, significant contributions to the fullness and rewards of Mr. Fuzzy’s very being.

Charlie Manion passed away at his home in 2001, missed by many but especially your author. He was a second father and that chance meeting precipitated by a meteor shower, shaped the next 50 years of my life. He always carried a little folding magnifier in his trouser pocket, hand for inspecting negatives, prints, camera parts, whatever his curiosity required. When executing difficult photographic exercises, that magnifier is in Mr. Fuzzy’s  trouser pocket, for the good luck and good memories it brings.

Tonight, fortified by several cups of strong java, Mr. Fuzzy will lay supine on an aluminum lawn chair, under the cold coal black skies of rural Virginia, camera ready on a tripod, awaiting the annual Leonid meteor shower, not predicted to be highly visible due to a bright waning gibbous moon. It would be immensely gratifying if the Creator saw fit send one or two great fireballs earthward to electrify dimming, old eyes. Regardless, his mind will be rerunning memories of a chance meeting, a kind, generous and immensely talented man and half a century of two lives lived through photography, with a well spring of gratitude for those blessings.

This landmark anniversary seems like an appropriate moment to end this blog. Mrs. Fuzzy, who wrote many of the best posts, left the room four years past. Chetworth is semi-retired, currently more interested in gourmet free range Peromyscus leucopus and organic Nepeta cataria than expository essays. Mr. Fuzzy is unsure of what to say as America enters The New Dark Ages. It may be time to hunker down.

The blog has, alas, been hijacked by Russian opportunists as a sort of click-bait. Most of the readers have been redirected here by scammers’ binary magic. To those friends who have read these 650 posts since 2008, thanks for coming along with Mr. Fuzzy on what has been a wild ride. It is my sincerest wish that your moments occupied by perusing this blog has not been a waste of your time.


Mr. Fuzzy, Esq.

19 October 2016

Going Topless

thanks to Jeff Liverman for the photo!

Its almost late October. Seven mornings ago, the low temperature was 35 degrees. The leaves are changing into their autumn hues rapidly (and falling). Here on the farm, the temperature at 4:00 p.m. today was 81F. According to the Blacksburg office of the National Weather Service, the temperature there was the hottest on today's date since they began keeping records in 1952.

Tomorrow is scheduled to be in the high seventies and then a severe cool off with high temperatures dropping 30 degrees by Saturday. Back to fleece jackets...

Mr. Fuzzy looked at all that information and, believing this to be the final warm day of the season, put the top down on the Morris Minor and enjoyed the balmy conditions today. Great fun. Especially when shared with a friend.

11 October 2016

That was fast- - -

The transition from summer to autumn was rather abrupt this year. It was in the high 70s not long ago, now seeming like ages ago; when stepping out to welcome the sun this morning and discovering it was 37F, there was a minor chock to the system. Then a large, beatific smile developed.There was scattered frost on the rolling lands and roof tops along Falling Branch Road, unusually early in the month.

As regular as the motion of the heavens, certain trees on the farm are always the first to evince their recognition of the changing seasons. Perhaps they are more sensitive than their neighbors.

On the whole, the leaves are still decidedly green without a hint of yellows or reds. Its due to be another chilly night and the ten day forecast is very autumnal. Perhaps the colors will cascade towards the warm portion of the spectrum this week.

I hope your world is filled with beauty and wonder, regardless of the type.

26 September 2016

At Long Last-

Chrysanthemums on the patio

Ah, but first a little (very little) closure from the prior post about Betty Boop. There was little mechanical damage and the knowing mechanics placed the new battery in a "marine box" which should absolutely prevent any reoccurence of the problem. That's the good news. The claim was filed with State Farm Insurance 28 days ago and nothing has been received at this end. Not good. The last time I filed a claim (1983?), it took a manly lawyer named Ted to get a check written. Perhaps business practices never change.

At long last, summer's stranglehold on Floyd county seems to be relaxing. After a summer of temperatures ten to twenty degrees above normal, a cool front has blown into the county, soon to be augmented by a second cool front. It was 82F on Saturday, ridiculous for the mountains at this time of year. Yesterday was largely foggy, the result of a temperature inversion. As you already know, Mr. Fuzzy thinks there is no better time to photograph than in the fog. For your visual delectation, Here's an image from yesterday, taken with a 196os Russian Iskra camera.

The prolonged summer has caused odd effects on plants. Cosmos and some zinnias have re-seeded; the second crop of the cosmos will bloom in a few days. Remarkable. The food garden went heavy on peppers this year, planting four varieties. Despite the lack of water since mid-summer, they have prospered, keeping the kitchen steadily supplied. One variety is still blooming and all four are still growing peppers.

Several years ago, a common variety of yellow calendula was grown from seed and has done well and perpetuated itself. As a result, this year a second variety was started, a little unusual one. Both are still in bloom as if it was mid-summer.

Another plant begun from seed were the portulacas - in pots on the patio. They, too, have outdone themselves and although past their prime (with which Mr Fuzzy can empathize), still are blooming madly.
 An absolutely wild success has been a particular marigold (must find that seed packet!). Marigolds always are decent but this variety has been outstanding. They've not received any watering other than from the sky and yet the plants are huge. Here is a portion of ONE plant:

 Last but surely not least, the zinnia patch:

 As this is closed, it is raining gently and the temperatures declining. Perhaps autumn will come soon.

28 August 2016

A Real Eye Opener

   As at least some of the readership is aware, Mr Fuzzy motors into town many Sunday mornings to meet friends for breakfast at The Blue Ridge Cafe, in bucolic, scenic downtown Floyd. Today was no exception.
   Climbing into the 1940 Ford DeLuxe Coupe about 7:45 a.m. the trip began as every other, down the dirt driveway, on to the dirt county road thence turning onto the state highway. About 400 yards down the highway, the ampere gauge pegged to the positive side, indicating the alternator was charging at its absolute maximum. Hmmm, what could cause that? Before ten brain cells could engage fully, there was a distinct odor of smoke. Then wisps of smoke. Then smoke beginning to fill the passenger compartment.
   It was a long 300-400 yards into a large pullout...
   Once stopped and the ignition turned off, the next move was to grab the fire extinguisher in the trunk... which was locked... back into the now smokier car... finally unlocked, the trunk hood raised and - - -  the battery was on fire (the battery is in the trunk on many hot rods) and the upholstery behind the back seat had ignited. Step #1 was to pull the large spare tire away from the battery so the rubber would not catch fire, step #2 was pull the fire extinguisher pin and douse the fire. Given the amount of flame, it was surprising that one quick release of fire powder completely stopped the fire. Oh my.
   Next, call the fire department & police on the cell phone in case of a flare up... that would have been a good plan but not with a dead phone... fortunately a good Samaritan pulled up and asked if I needed help - she phoned the authorities for me. A county deputy arrived in a couple of minutes, then a second and then a fireman.
   The deputy called a tow truck, and now Betty Boop is parked in front of her mechanic's shop awaiting his expert eyes on the morrow.
   The damage from fire, smoke and battery acid appears to be relatively confined - it was maybe a minute or less from catching the (full) gas tank on fire, which would have been very interesting.
   It seems to often be the case in Mr Fuzzy's life that things could always have been worse. The car could have burned up - and its driver. Ye old lungs still can feel the hot battery acid infused smoke and after two washings, beard & moustache still reek of it, gentle reminders of the unusual beginning of the day.

25 August 2016

Contemporary Longrifle Association

rifle by Judd Brennan of Alaska, perhaps the greatest living gun maker

Willy Frankfort, artist on horn
a new gun by Ken Gahagan, master of aging firearms

Ken Gahagan educating a newbie
The annual meeting of the CLA has come and gone. It was much better attended than last year and mot of my friends report selling more, although there were some notable exceptions. Its what Mr Fuzzy wishes his high school reunions were: lots of old friends, warm & fuzzy feelings, new friends to be established, great art to peruse, and a few new things in the house that are extravagances...

Remember you may click on any image to enlarge it. In particular, the Brennan gun is worth a careful examination.
Brian Anderson with his traditionally forged tomahawks

Plains Indian style hide painting

Delft style ceramics by Lisa Crew

purportedly an original 18th century Native American horn

12 August 2016

Two complete Orbits around the Sun

Rain and humidity have been the norm for the last few weeks, accompanied by higher than normal temperatures. Some nights have barely descended into the sixties. Oddly, there has not been a typical amount of fog this year - until dear friends from New Mexico came to visit. The Fog God ended his vacation time and returned with renewed vigor. Just when it behooved me to show old friends some of the 60-mile panoramas of Virginia, visibility dropped to near zero.

Its been nearly a month since conditions were ideal for driving or washing the cars - but now that the New Mexicans have moved onward, the sun and lower humidity have returned, perfect for bathing the Morris Minor and the Ford Coupe this morning. These cars have a particular poignancy today, the second anniversary of The Divorce Settlement, since the ex had declared she wanted (and would get) the Morris and probably the Ford. Not, mind you, that she could drive a stick shift - or see over the hood of the coupe... My faith in the legal system is very circumscribed but after adequate time for being  tortured, it finally came through for me.

Life is now peaceful, rewarding, and very, very full; as good as its ever been. I am so fortunate.

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” Lao Tzu

06 August 2016

Much belated

On Sunday nights, a local wood fired pizza joint and beer parlor (with about a dozen craft beers on tap) host an open mic. You never know what will show up, sometimes it blows your socks off and sometimes it just blows. The only way to know is to go to the show. This particular night was heavy with locals and given the depth of the talent pool here, that guarantees some good tunes. Stage photography is on of those subjects were digital photography is hands-down superior to film. Despite half a century of experience, I would not be able to equal these results with film. The opening image is Jeff Liverman and his red-hot harmonica player.
 The guitar player to the left is Will Norton, a singer song writer who often tickles my fancy with his lyrics. The gentleman picking the banjo, Phil Woddail, is an old time musician with great talent and authenticity.

On open mic night, each musician may play three songs. Perhaps it is my imagination but it seems the least talented play the longest tunes...

Instruments this summer have run the gamut from dulcimer to bagpipe.

Another reward to Floyd life.

26 June 2016


Even after more than seven years, friends, both old and new, politely inquire as to whether Mr Fuzzy misses his old digs in New Mexico. Except for dear friends, green chile, and the wonderful home designed by Malcolm Worby, the answer is simple: not at all. My home here is nestled into  the forest like a babe in its mother's arms but my open view southward is to the horizon. In the winter, when the forest is without leaves, Buffalo Mountain, about 20 miles away, is easily seen. The clouds are every bit as beautiful here, and the iconic flower of the Southwest, the yucca, naturalizes here very nicely.

Wildlife abounds on the farm, especially deer and turkeys, both sometimes making themselves pests. Eagles are seen every once in a while, saw one riding the currents yesterday. The sound of frogs and forest insecta are literally music to my ears at night. Here is a photo of a doe and her twins, taken by my old friend, Gary, who is visiting.

No desire to return to New Mexico whatsoever. I love it here.

18 June 2016


After a cool and wet spring, lasting into mid-June, the rains suddenly halted and old Sol reigned supreme. The days were clear, hot, and relatively low humidity. This break in the weather came just in time for haying- the grasses were mature, dry, ready to harvest. A high wind might have laid them down, ruining all.

   With a lot of assistance from my neighbor, we worked on both his hay and mine. My role was kicking the hay, the process after the mowing and before raking into wind rows. The kicking scatters the hay so it dries well. The days were hot and windy so the drying process proceeded very quickly. It looks like the week long heat spell allowed almost everyone to bale their hay. My yields were very good, maybe a record, we'll see when the bales are counted.
Kicker at work behind me
   After baling, the grass is tender, its leaves shredded makes for moisture loss and with no cover, the roots become hot and dehydrate readily. The heat hung on days after the last bales were tied, causing some amount of worry. Then two days ago, an unforecast large storm cell drifted over the county and dropped 1.25" here at Stratheden Farms (over three inches in Roanoke, enough to cause flooding). The thirsty ground absorbed nearly all.
   Then yesterday, another quarter of an inch fell and about the same today. The pasture, garden and farmer are all content.
view from the Blue Ridge Parkway today

01 June 2016

Yard (sale) & Gardens

One of the major cultural landmarks of this region is the huge flea market held down the road thirty miles in Hillsville on Memorial Day weekend. Purported to draw 500,000 potential buyers, the effect of the sale radiates outward through adjoining counties. Along State Highway 221, from Roanoke to Hillsville, for 70 miles, every farm house and parking lot has folks trying to dispose of junk without making the trip to the dump- by making it someone else's junk. Just a walking distance away from the farm, the Falling Branch Methodist church has a good flea market; Stratheden Farm doesn't need anymore junque but there are always a few cakes and pies for sale, made by ladies old enough to know how to make them from scratch. Mrs. Sower's German Chocolate Coconut Pound Cake (for $6.00 - the ingredients cost more than that!) went back to Stratheden to be destroyed at leisure.

This is gardening season, The little garden, although having been tilled twice already, was about to be overtaken by weeds/grasses and needed another turning before more seedlings could be transplanted.

Much of the garden is still vacant, most seedlings still not yet of adequate size to go into the ground. The flea beetles have already attacked tomato seedlings as they sit on the patio. A Japanese beetle was also spied - and destroyed. It seems several weeks too early for these destructive pests.

Writing must cease and weeding must begin. Until the next post, best wishes to you.

27 May 2016

Its Summer!

How do you know its summer in Floyd? Three dramatic additions to the landscape:
1. daylilies in bloom (Stella d'Oro here)
2, peonies in bloom
3. Fireflies (or lightning bugs, depending on where in the South you grew up) are dancing all evening in the pastures.

It has rained twelve of the last fourteen days and of course, the skies have been gray. Mostly unseasonable cool temperatures, with morning lows about 50F.

Tuesday and Wednesday were delightfully sunny, stimulating the peonies and early daylilies to explode into bloom after two weeks of holding their buds closed, awaiting just the right ray of sunlight.

Mr. Fuzzy spent two weekends ago with good 18th century friends participating in The Raid at Martin's Station, a recreation of the devastating Cherokee raids on the frontier in the 1770s. The weather was clear and dry, always good since dragging wet canvas tents home in the back of the car ceases to be fun very quickly. The temperatures were surprisingly cold, with the Sunday morning reading being 37F.

The entire event was a fine example of "I get by with a little help from my friends." Having only packed one thin blanket (the three day forecast was terribly wrong), the only way the nights were passable was thanks to loans of blankets from Bill B., Bill C. and George M. Thank you so much my friends, it would have been miserable for my old bones without your kindness.

Due to a single narcissistic personality, the hunters' camp crew found other places to lay their bed rolls, thus dispersing a long standing community of talented re-enactors. One feature of the old camp was gourmet meals, sadly lacking now. Mr. Comer provided your humble correspondent with a much needed black and tan one evening at the new camp and a communal dinner of no mean quality was devoured. Lisa C's strawberry desert was delectable in the extreme. Walking back to my tent, Dolly inquired if I might like a bite of rhubarb pie. Well, do bears have ticks? REAL rhubarb pie, no other fruits. Oh my, the ecstasy after each bite! Thank you so much.

The cultural life in tiny Floyd is always a source for amazement. A few nights ago, The Jacksonville Arts Center hosted two Irish musicians for some wonderful traditional music. Its fair to say everyone present had a fine time listening to the fiddle and accordion duo. He was also a great storyteller in the Irish tradition.

12 May 2016


Despite the odd winter which cycled from frigid to warm throughout the season, it appears that relatively few plants were seriously damaged. A prolonged and very warm spell in December caused some iris to break dormancy and send up leaves. Despite nights in the low single digits, the leaves endured and now have produced some spectacular blooms, both in size and number. Its difficult to appreciate from the image but the deep purple/blue iris blooms are the size of my hand.

The wild iris have also prospered this year. The common blue iris (Iris Virginica) is opening all over the farm, adding those intense touches of blue here and there.

A farm buddy down the road gave me a five gallon bucket load of yellow bog iris (Iris pseudacorus) from his field two years ago. Considered an invasive pest in many areas, these were planted in the "it won't hold water pond" fro whence they are unlikely to escape. Bless his heart, Warren has since died after a valiant battle with cancer - his iris will remind me of our friendship year after year. 

The grasses and attendant weeds are also thriving. After lubricating every grease fitting on the riding mower, it is back in service for the season. Although carrying the Sears brand, it was made by Husqvarna and has been a durable performer under difficult conditions here on the steep landscape. Its main use is around the house, under trees, and on slopes too steep to safely take the big tractor. The wee spreader is handy for applying lime and fertilizer in spot applications.

The Yanmar continues to exceed expectations. The underbelly mower was lubricated, belt checked and remounted tot he tractor (you cannot plow snow with it mounted). Theoretically it is a mower, not a bush hog, but it will whack a fair sized locust with aplomb.

The seedlings are rocketing upward. About five hours were spent yesterday in transplanting wee seedlings i their Jiffy-Pots into 4" pots.

Summer is just around the corner - what will it bring? Wet? Dry? Hot or cold? Or a real surprise, might it be normal?