Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The sounds of Sandy

It's been raging around here only since sometime Sunday night, but it's beginning to sound like it will be with us forever.  At 5 a.m. today the wind from extratropical storm Sandy's wake was still screeching around Belcher Mountain.  It has stripped almost every leaf from the trees in our woods, sent the angel trumpet vines to an early end, knocked over heavy pots containing dwarf spruces, scattered deck chairs, turned over rockers and brought down limbs all over the place.  Each day I wait until dawn to see whether trees have come down, too. If this storm had arrived in September, with a summer's full dress of greenery still covering their limbs, I expect we'd have to be cutting more firewood from toppled trees.

The sounds remind me of those lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." He was writing about a ship surrounded by ice, but it serves Sandy's purpose nicely:

It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Old farm in fall

Right on up to about a week ago I heard some low-level grousing about how this autumn wasn't measuring up to last year's, or was it the year before?  Then came last Tuesday and Wednesday, fiery days that set new standards for jaw-dropping splendor. They surely were the peak of the annual riot of color, but every day up here lately is a glorious stroll through sun-dappled tunnels of gold and crimson and amber and I don't know what-all.

Just today I was trying to catch up on some long-delayed garden chores, pulling up the last of the tomato cages, coiling the hoses and rounding up the usual wagonful of hoes and dibbles and tater grubbers and an old chisel we used to get after tough weeds, when I looked around at the color of the light -- and dashed back up to the house for the camera.

If the old folks' calculations are right, this is something like the 112th Fall for the old homestead down by the creek.  A wise old man once told me the house was built around 1900, and the springhouse a few years later.  No telling when the corncrib went up, or the shed next to what was once a small dairy barn but now services the asparagus bed, or the old shed 50 feet away that slumps and slides a little more each year back into the Patrick County clay from which it rose and withstood many hard Belcher Mountain winters.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bill Friday, Virginia's gift to North Carolina

William Clyde "Bill" Friday was born 92 years ago in the Rockbridge County, Va. community of Raphine, but he moved with his family to North Carolina as a child -- a historic event that in time would change North Carolina for the better.  Friday's contributions to the state can be measured in the progress North Carolina made in the second half of the 20th Century, when Friday's sure-handed guidance of the University of North Carolina system  contributed to the state's economic progress, the increase in its college-going rate and especially in his raising the expectations of students from low- and middle-income families that at the 17-campus UNC system, it would always be possible to go to college.

Bill Friday was my friend, though I never could quite bring myself to call him "Bill."  He did not have a doctorate and didn't particularly like to be called Dr. Friday, though many did.  Most of the time it was simply "Mr. Friday," and many was the time when Friday would have some issue on his mind, or a suggestion for an editorial, or a story one of our reporters might tackle, and when I answered the phone, the conversation would start this way: "Hello, old friend. This is Bill Friday...."

I'll miss his friendship and guidance, and his even-handed approach, as will North Carolina, but perhaps our policymakers will keep his approach and his convictions in mind in future as they make tough decisions.

Here's a piece I wrote for today's Charlotte Observer about Mr. Friday:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fogsoon season

Well, it was winter the last few days -- never got out of the mid-30s on our ridge Monday -- and it was fogsoon season as well.  You know fogsoon, don't you?  Wet, raining from all directions ("It even rained upside down," as Forrest Gump once observed), and soaked everything even when it wasn't raining.  Then if neither the sun nor the wind comes out, nothing dries out.  "You cain't do nothing", to paraphrase the late James G. "Squirrel" Garrison.

Today, however, the stars and a sliver of moon were out brightly when I crawled out of the sack at 5 a.m. to grind out my quotidian of 1,000 words. Now the sun is out and bearing down and the wind is howling at 15-20 knots.  There are whitecaps out on the hayfield, and there's a small craft warning for garden tractors and wheelbarrows.  Might be best to stay in the slip, and turn to the traditional make and mend work before splicing the mainbrace sometime in late afternoon. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Decline and fall of the extension ladder

It was a pleasant thing, to wake up to the sound of birds singing and leaves rustling in the gentle Fall breeze, but the pillow felt harder than I recalled.  And then I wondered why I was taking a nap on the deck of my workshop. And why there was an extension ladder leaning at an odd angle nearby.

 Oh, yeah.  Something slipped out from under me while I was on the way up to the shop roof, ladder rung in one hand and a leaf blower in the other, bent on blowing the newly fallen leaves off the tar paper so I could start nailing down the permanent roof on the weather porch I was building over the barn-door end of the shop. There was that strange moment when I realizing the ladder wasn't quite under me anymore, and that hard moment when treated deck board met 66-year-old hip, shoulder and noggin, in that order. So I decided just to stay still a few moments.  What of it?

I've got a few bumps and scars from mishaps along the way -- the Elm Street pavement in Greensboro when I went flying out of a moving car as a child, the Page High School asphalt under my finger nails when a teenage prank went awry, a scary fall when I was working construction during college years and a brief bloody encounter with a woodworking joiner that sent little bits of my finger tips in surprising directions.  Now there's an ugly bruise and an annoying knot on my shoulder, but all I can think of is how lucky I've been in every one of those scrapes: No bones broken, only one concussion, perhaps some animated and colorful cussing from time to time. 

About 40 years ago my father-in-law< Hal Strickland, and I decided to go halves on a 32-foot extension ladder. Neither of us wanted to pay the full price for a ladder we'd use only a few times a year, but sharing the cost made it work.  One day he was up on the ladder in Greensboro trimming some limbs when the upper extension -- which he had failed to securely hook over the rung sides -- started collapsing. He rode it to the ground, breaking his hip in the process. We rushed over to Wesley Long Hospital and when we walked into his room, he looked at me and said, "My half of that ladder is now yours."

The ladder that went out from me the other day was not that same ladder, but I'm thinking about giving at least half of it away. I know how Hal felt.  This may be a lovely Fall, but I've had just about enough fall to last me a long time.