Saturday, January 30, 2010


Calamatous cooties,
my housewifely duties,
make wiping up dust a bothersome chore.
Abracadabra, I wave my rag wand
and the dust disappears
but tomorrow there's more.

It’s that time of year. The woodstove is humping as we beat back the bitter cold of this endless winter. But, in the process of heating my house, it deposits a fine layer of dust daily on every surface. My philosophy in the winter is to dust only on the weekends or when we’re expecting company, whichever occurs the least often. This philosophy keeps me from running stark naked through the snow screaming in frustration.

Heating a house with a woodstove is definitely the toastiest way to go. My dad loves to come see me in the winter and cozy up to the stove. He backs up to it, heats his pants, pulls them against his legs and sighs with a happy grin on his face. I like to do that with my flannel nightgown and then run and jump into bed before it cools. This is a technique I learned when I was about nine and my family spent “40 days and nights in the wilderness” as my mom likes to refer to it.

In actuality we were living at Rosebower Farm in Dinwiddie, Virginia. The house was breezy (a great attribute in those southern latitudes, but not so nice in January) and the furnace, when it wheezed on, didn’t do much more than occasionally cough some tepid air through the vents. So, at night, mom and dad would build a cozy fire in the fireplace of the only interior room. The den would get about ten degrees warmer than the forty degree house, and we would gather to shiver, do homework, and read. When our homework was finished, Meg and I scurried up the winding staircase to the little nursery tucked in the eaves, threw our clothes off and jumped into our nightgowns . Our breath left cold little ghosts floating in the air. When we’d pulled on our matching flannel gowns, we’d pound down the steps and jostle for a position close to the fire, heating our backsides until we were in danger of igniting. Then, we’d warm our front-sides by hugging our parents and dash madly up the steps so we could jump under our icy covers before we cooled.

Mom says her memories of that time are of having to put breakfast plates in the oven so they could warm up before she placed our hot eggs on them, or the eggs would be cold before they reached the table. It’s no wonder I don’t like cold weather. My bones were frozen at a very impressionable age and never fully thawed out again. So, in spite of the dust and the wood bark decorating my front room, I am grateful for my woodstove. As my husband likes to say, “A woodstove heats you twice. Once when you cut the wood and once when you burn it.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sleeping Beauties

Just when I’ve had enough of winter weather and snow and ice, the sun pops out and turns it all into a big bowl of sticky chocolate pudding which I wade through on my way to and from the house. For the first time in over a month, I can see more brown than white. The glots of dirt that drip off my boots onto the floor are proof that the sun still shines.

Since I’m feeling hopeful, and the thermometer is above freezing, I decide to bring some sleeping beauties into my house. All I need is a pair of garden shears and an overgrown yard. Dogwoods, forsythia, flowering quince, redbud, witch hazel, hawthorn, honeysuckle, saucer magnolia, star magnolia, crabapple, flowering almond, pussy willow, spirea, lilac and viburnum –any of these will work. After cutting off several branches, I lay them on the sidewalk and pound the cut ends with a hammer. Then I bring them inside and put them in vases all around the house. In a week or two I will have swelling buds and then riotous flowers. I will create a new bouquet each week until the middle of March.
Spring may be several months away, but I can hang on as long as I have the promise of warmer weather blooming in a Mason jar on my kitchen window sill.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Four Wacky Wonders

Visitors rave about the gentle beauty of the place I’m privileged to call home, and I have to agree with them. But it’s been cold and snowy lately and hard to travel. Thus, I’ve been forced to create my own fun. I hope you’ll enjoy my list of Highland’s four wacky wonders.

Wonder #1 Fly Art: Highland County would be perfect if it weren’t for the pesky cluster flies. They congregate by the hundreds on the sides of houses and many manage to sneak inside where they spend the winter spinning aimlessly on their backs until they die of exhaustion. About two miles north of McDowell there’s an abandoned store building. The store has a huge plate glass window in front and the window is double-paned for insulation. Sometime in the last ten years, the pane on the inside broke, leaving a gaping hole. The outside pane is intact. This window is the perfect cluster fly trap. When you drive by you might be fooled into thinking it’s a large piece of sand art, but the five foot black and white parabola is actually ten year’s worth of preserved flies. Their little bodies create a layered effect. Fly art at its finest. And of course the best part is that they are dead.

Wonder #2 The Coyote Tree: The meadows in Highland are dotted with ewes and lambs and not too long ago there were more sheep in the county than people. Not so anymore. Coyotes have forced many farmers to give up their flocks. However, one farmer is doing something about that. Travel down a dirt road tucked between two steep hills and you will see his warning to all toothy lamb-eating outlaws: an ancient sugar maple decorated with the mummified remains of sixteen coyotes. They hang from the limbs like furry Christmas ornaments and in the right light and a soft breeze they possess a bizarre beauty, but maybe I think that because I’ve seen a lamb with his belly ripped open and his tongue eaten out. The last time I saw the tree, I was on a horseback ride with neighbors. We stopped to admire it and give a silent salute to this vigilante farmer. He makes us and our flocks feel a whole lot safer.

Wonder #3: The Ice Tower: Travel four miles west of McDowell and look south about 100 yards beyond the road. If it’s cold, you’ll catch a glimpse of the ice tower. Created for the first time about ten years ago, it appears each year when winter weather pushes the mercury consistently below twenty degrees. The fellow who creates it told me that the overflow to his spring kept icing up and he needed a way to prevent the blockage. He draped a hose in a tree and let the water flow down. The top of the tower is about twenty feet above the ground and it grows all winter long. At Christmas it is draped with colored lights--a fun testament to the cold weather around here.

Wonder #4: The Rubber Tree: Rumors persist about this tree, and twenty odd years ago when I moved to Highland, it was legendary. I have never actually visited it, but residents chuckle as they recall their own escapades beneath its branches. Like the Coyote Tree it is decorated, but not with something I can mention in polite company. Prophylactics dangling from every twig are evidence of hundreds of close encounters. In my opinion, no lover’s lane or make out spot in the world can match the romance of this highly decorated tree at the end of a steep dirt road.

So there you have it. Next time you have a yen to see something a little bit out of the ordinary, forget the plane tickets. Just hop in your car and traverse four friendly mountains. I promise it’s worth the drive.