28 January 2016

Jonas' Threats

It seems that just about everyone not in a coma heard about winter storm Jonas, both the threat and the reality. The National Weather Service was very accurate with their prognostication for Floyd County and should be commended. The news media, however, seemed to fear this was going to become the gateway to the next Ice Age. The truth: 12-14 inches, mostly falling on Friday, dead calm so almost no drifting, and dry enough that it did not adhere to conifers (thus no downed power lines).

The day before the storm was a beautiful day, cloudless until about 3:00 p.m., dead still, and about 50F. In the afternoon, thick cirrus clouds appeared without notice, the humidity soared and you could feel a major change was in the air. This was an ideal day to make last minute preparations, including: bringing firewood up to the porch, drawing 10 gallons of water in case the power went out, checking the tractors see they had full tanks of diesel and were covered, double checking the backup supplies for the felines and canines, loading the cameras with film/charging batteries in digital cameras, etc. Robust human foods were also laid in so large quantities of beans, meat, etc., were available, with an eye to foodstuffs that could be cooked in the fireplace if required.

 Snowfall began about 4:30 a.m. Friday and continued until Saturday mid-morning without ceasing. It was a very heavy snowfall, the sky was dark all day, but despite the length and density of snow, there was not as much accumulation as you would expect. The snow had an unusual texture, nearly crystalline, like Graupel or Snow Pellets and stayed in that form during the entire event. There were some on-and-off waves of snow on Saturday afternoon but they did little to add to the depth on the ground. By Sunday, the skies were a beautiful blue once more.

the car on Saturday morning

The birds were desperate for food and feeders remained buzzing with birds all through the weather event. They were consuming more than seven pounds a day! Blue jays, cardinals, juncos, doves, a pair of starlings (!), and numerous small birds.

The worst of the snowfall passed by about noon on Saturday but the sky failed to brighten one tiny iota. It was literally dark all day. Then the winds came up from the west, swinging to the north. Sounds terrible, eh? So your humble author suited up and with two cameras, one film, one digital, in deep protective pockets, trudged off to seek interesting compositions.

Mr. Fuzzy cooked up a storm during the storm, it just seemed like the thing to do. Not the most elaborate but favorite meal was buttermilk, cornbread with sorghum and a pot full of mixed beans and pig knuckles. Oh, and a dark Scottish beer for desert.

Sunday was largely cloudless and beautiful, the storm had passed. Here are two views of that sunset, one looking east and one west. All in all, this snow was less than a number of events in the winters of 2008-09 and 2009-10, and unlike those storms, this has been followed by warm days. At this point, most of the snow has melted away and the forecast for Monday is 59F. This was a perfect storm, beautiful, and then gone!

Turkeys looking for food just below the house

17 January 2016

First snow

Beginning before day light and lasting about four hours, a light snow fell on Stratheden Farms. There had been light flurries twice before this season but not enough flakes to cover the ground. Although the temperature was barely below freezing, about an inch accumulated this morning. It has warmed since and most of the white has removed itself. Tonight the forecast is for a low of 14F and a much colder night to follow. Winter has definitely come to stay.

09 January 2016

Wendell Berry poem

The Man Born to Farming

The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
descending into the dark?

- Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is unquestionably my favorite Kentucky author of all times. I've been fortunate to meet him and hear him speak several times.

07 January 2016

Ghost Towns and Red Chile

The huge winter storm, Goliath, which swept the West and Great Plains had little precipitation effect on Stratheden but how the temperatures have dropped since. After a record warm December, the last three mornings temperatures at sun rise have been 12, 10, 14. The fireplace/furnace has been burning steadily over that time with a semicircle of felines napping about six feet away.

Glenrio, New Mexico, on the old Route 66
 It impacted Mr. Fuzzy in another way, causing a hasty exit from Goliath's path as he returned from New Mexico. Yes, indeed, Mr. Fuzzy made a short-notice trip back to the old home place just before Christmas. Fourteen days and 4,000 miles of driving - the first serious test of the Nissan Rogue purchased last May. The GPS system performed quite well except in one remote area of New Mexico where, although it knew the auto's position and direction, it wasn't as certain it was driving on a road. On leaving Oklahoma City, the disembodied female voice in the dashboard spoke: "Go straight for 267 miles" (to Amarillo). Mr. Fuzzy had forgotten how very little traffic is on the interstate once past OKC and how easy the driving became due to lack of traffic, flat and straight highways. He also forgot that Texans regularly drive at 90 mph and greater.

Driving the 500 or so miles from OKC to Albuquerque would have been a total no-brainer had it not been for the 45-60 mph headwind straight out of the west. The Rogue made 35 mpg at some point on the trip but only 19 mpg into that hellish headwind. Combined with an automobile speed of 75 mph, the car's hood was experiencing a 125 mile per hour wind - and constantly deforming from the air pressure. It looked more like a pool of liquid mercury being poked than a hard metal surface.

Argos Gallery
The main goal of the trip was to reconnect with dear old friends and if possible, take a few photographs. Most nights were spent with old friends, some from the 1970s, a long, long time ago; usually we picked up right where left off seven years ago, before the Floyd relocation. Many thanks to Olee & Sharon, David & Debbie, Charlie & Susan, Ted & SuAnne, Terry, who fed, housed and entertained me. There were also visits with Argus & Janet, Rixon, Jon, Eric, and Bill. Thank you all for your time and love.

Hitting Santa Fe near lunchtime, it seemed more than appropriate to have lunch at La Choza with SuAnne. The meal was its usual - magnificent and bolstered into the stratosphere by Sarah remembering me after all those years. Dining there was like receiving a huge enveloping hug from your granny.

 Tea time was with a new friend, Jon, whose photographs I have admired on Flickr for some time. Its always a thrill to have a face to associate with the art. What a great guy and talented artist. He was an early adopter of coffee-based film developer and generously shared some of his experience and personal refinements.

Rixon informed me that the exhibition, POETICS OF LIGHT, was still on display at The Palace of the Governors Museum. Since it contained three of Mr. Fuzzy's prints, he trotted right over to see how they looked on the wall. What a fabulously designed and hung show - was unduly proud to be hanging with some very talented folks from around the globe.

 After visiting Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the car turned straight south, down I-25 for a night in the hot springs town of Truth or Consequences. I soaked that night and the next morning in the Pelican Motel's private hot springs and felt all the better for it. Pre-departure breakfast was at a funky little coffee shop/bakery, Passion Pies. It came in the form of a waffle bent into sandwich form stuffed with nuts, goat cheese and fruit. Indescribably delicious. Oh, did I mention gourmet teas? No, not in a bag, they weigh it and place it in a large open bag in your cup which brews wonderfully... oh my goodness. It was worth consuming three huge mugs full...

Lonely grave, Hillsboro Cemetery
 Thence via the thriving ghost town of Hillsboro to the dead ghost town of Lake Valley, the non-town of Nutt and finally Deming, a lively town full of ghosts. It was another day of uniquely western winds, gusting to 45 mph and full of sand, grit, tumbleweeds and general detritus. I had to hold the tripod & camera down to keep it from blowing over or away. This was a situation where digital image stabilization really makes sense.

Lake Valley

Goliath was now forming in Canada - with a three day drive to Floyd ahead, it was time to hop in the car and beat it Eastward. Coming through Portales, New Mexico, it was 70F - a few days later, the same spot had ten foot snow drifts and thousands of dead cattle. (http://www.pntonline.com/2016/01/01/terry-snow-storm-lesson-meaning-blizzard/)

Swooping through northern Arkansas to pick up a friend, we dodged tornadoes in the northeastern corner of the state, apparently passing through two tiny towns just struck... yes, indeed, time for home. Quite a trip.

04 January 2016

Weather - what else?

Flowering Quince in Floyd, taken three days  ago
 Grandpa used to say that "normal weather" was the delusional construct of a ivory tower statistician who didn't go outside very often. 2015 proved him correct once more. November was off-the-charts warm in the entire region:

In fact, the entire year was weird. February was the third coldest ever in Roanoke and December the warmest ever (Floyd has not had a weather reporting station since 1940 when the local weather observer enlisted in the Army). Note, too, that the first five months of the year had below average rainfall and since then, well above average, especially the final quarter of the year. [It was not precisely the same here in Floyd where June was also very dry].

After this amazing prolonged autumnal spell, winter finally closes in today. The low tonight is forecast at 17F, and that would be the coldest night of the winter thus far. The fireplace will be in steady use and the cats will be queued up for lap time. Mr. Fuzzy will be comfortably ensconced in a Windsor writing chair (made by George Matthews), reading through the 1822 thriller, The Three Perils of Man, by favorite author James Hogg, a horn beaker of Talisker within easy reach.

Stay warm and healthy my friends. Another post will follow shortly...