Archive for December, 2007

“Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New, Ring Out the False, Ring in the True”

December 30, 2007

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(Sunrise over the Yadkin Valley)

I can’t really say that Lord Alfred Tennyson is one of my favorite poets, but I guess I’d say that this poem really rang a bell with me.  My prayer for our country and our world is that we may “Ring out…The civic slander and the spite” and “ring in the love of truth and right.”  And that we may “Ring out the grief that saps the mind, ring in redress to all mankind…Ring in…the larger heart, the kindlier hand…ring out the darkness of the land.”

May we all know love and light in 2008.

  “Ring Out, Wild Bells” from In Memoriam    

 Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

                                                                  — Lord Alfred Tennyson 

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The Nut Family’s Christmas Adventures

December 22, 2007

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You might remember the Nut family from a previous post back in the fall.  They were climbing a mountain then–they love to hike.  But I don’t think I properly introduced them:   On the top, to the left, is Tom Nut next to his wife, Beth Nut.  On the bottom, to your left is their daughter, Ariel Nut and her brother Benjamin Nut.

Of course, everyone in the community knows them as Nuts and, in fact, their family tree is full of Nuts.   But they are very close and aren’t the type of nuts to stay in their shells–they love to go on roadtrips. 

So they set out one day in their old Chevy to find a Christmas tree.  

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They took some friends along.  The Nut family doesn’t just hang out with nuts–they have a very diverse group of friends.

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Now Ariel Nut loves to take pictures and sometimes gets so distracted, she doesn’t notice what’s going on around her.  So her mama Beth Nut was always cautioning her:   You need to be more aware and careful.  There are squirrels and other animals out there always on the prowl for Nuts, so you must be alert!    But Ariel Nut would just roll her googly eyes.   (You know how teenage Nuts are!)   Now, the Nuts had nothing against rodents–some of their best friends were rodents, but they were aware that the world was full of Rodents of Unusual Size, who didn’t have their best interests at heart.

So  when they got to the Christmas tree farm, Ariel Nut wandered off as usual, snapping away with her camera.    The rest of the Nut family set out with their friends to find a Christmas tree.  Suddenly, they heard a scream.  It was Ariel Nut!  They all ran in the direction of the scream.  Mama Beth Nut got there first.  She gasped in horror when she saw what had happened–Ariel Nut had been snatched by an evil squirrel! 

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Beth Nut immediately began to throw herself at the squirrel, jumping on his feet, trying to get him to let go of Ariel Nut.  She just could not understand why the squirrel had snatched little Ariel Nut when he already had a giant acorn of his own.   Wasn’t that enough?  Why was he picking on little Nuts?   The squirrel was very irritated, but there wasn’t much he could do.  His hands were full.    But pretty soon, the rest of the Nuts and their friends arrived and all began to charge the squirrel, barking and squealing. 

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The squirrel finally had enough of the Nuts and their friends.  He dropped Ariel Nut on her head and scampered off.  Everyone rushed over to see if she was hurt.  But Ariel was a tough Nut to crack–she was fine.  What a relief!  They all started back to find a Christmas tree.  But soon they heard a rustling in the leaves behind them.  It was the squirrel! 

Quickly, they all piled into the Chevy and Tom Nut careened down the road, driving like…well…a Nut.  The squirrel was in hot pursuit, gaining on them by the second.

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Then Beth Nut had a brilliant idea.  She told Tom Nut, and he swerved into the parking lot of the local grocery.   Their canine friends diverted the squirrel’s attention by nipping at his heels long enough for Beth Nut to run in the store.  She emerged with a jar, opened it, and ran up to the squirrel.  His little pointed rodent nose quivered at the delicious aroma, and he screeched greedily.  He snatched it from her hands and scampered away happily.  At last, he had what he really wanted–Jif, the Holy Grail of Nutdom.  Of course, Ariel Nut managed to snap a picture.

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So the Nut family left the grocery, waving goodbye to the squirrel and shouting, “Merry Christmas!”   They drove back to the Christmas tree farm, found the perfect tree, then headed home with their faithful friends, the tree on the top of the Chevy. 

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So Ariel Nut learned a valuable lesson–that she should listen to Mama Nut, who was always right.    And the whole Nut family learned the value of true friends— the ones who stick by you when you’ve gotten yourself in trouble.  And they all learned that sometimes peace can come without violence.

So from all the Nuts and their friends–may you have a peaceful Christmas of goodwill and love.  And a Happy New Year!

Friday Fact: When the Sky Smiles

December 21, 2007

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(Photo from http://www.atoptics.co.uk/.  Check out this site–lovely pictures and descriptions of wondrous atmospheric phenomena.)

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Once again, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I were talking at supper, when he told me about another wonder one of his co-workers had seen.  (There are many advantages to working outside!)  A few weeks ago, it was a huge cloud of dragonflies.  This time, it was an upside down rainbow.

“An upside down rainbow?”  I said.

“Yeah,” said Tom.  “He got a picture with his cell phone.  I saw it, but it was so blurry, you couldn’t really see much. “

I smirked.  “Oh, sure.  And I suppose he also got a shot of Bigfoot walking underneath? But it’s blurry, right?”

But I decided to check it out anyway.  So I googled  “upside down rainbow.”  And, to my surprise, there is such a thing.  Except that it’s not really a rainbow.  It’s called a circumzenithal arc.  And, though it is rare here, it is supposedly more common than rainbows in the far north.

Longtime readers may remember my post on sundogs.  Well, circumzenithal arcs are the result of the same phenomenon—sunlight refracting off the hexagonal ice crystals in cirrus clouds, usually late in the day when the sun is low, especially when it is cold.  The position of the colors in a circumzenithal arc is opposite that of a rainbow, with the red at the bottom and the blue and violet on top. 

So, my apologies to Tom’s co-worker for my skepticism.  He was fortunate indeed to see such a rare sight.  I have definitely put circumzenithal arcs on my list of sights I want to see before I die.  How lovely to see the sky smiling. 

The Year the Messiah Came to Our House

December 15, 2007

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(For those of you who have read my earlier memories of family, this post might be confusing.  It contrasts sharply with my earlier pieces.  But those were about my life after the age of 11 (when my oldest brother and sister left home).  This is about before.  It’s rather long—sorry.  But I decided to just go with whatever came.)

I apologize—I have been remiss in both my own postings and in my comments on others’ postings.  Part of it is that we’ve been so busy.  We’ve just sold our house and are rather suddenly faced with finding both a new home and a new job.  Also, a single violent cough from getting some fiberglass (from insulation) in my throat reawakened my rib injury, which I thought had healed completely.  So I hurt.

But mostly, I think, it’s Christmas.  I just can’t seem to feel the spirit this year.  Partly, I’m sure, because most of the family and friends we used to spend Christmas with have passed away.  And really, except for one of my brothers and a cousin, we wouldn’t even want to spend it with the extended family that is left.  We live in fairly comfortable denial of our estrangement from extended family the rest of the year, but at Christmas, we are bombarded with images of happy families gathered ’round the Christmas tree, which makes it harder to escape certain painful realities. ‘Tis the season to be jolly and all that.  I should say here, I am very close to my husband and children and I am thankful for that.   And we are indeed jolly around our Christmas tree and have some wonderful traditions, but still…my children miss the grandparents they never really got the chance to know and they miss their Aunt Ellen and Aunt Esther and our dear friend Ernie and other loved ones who’ve passed in recent years.  We have lost too many too soon and too often.

I do love Christmas music, and usually, I can get the spirit by doing what my Mama always did—listening to Christmas music while baking cookies.  Especially the Messiah.  Mama loved Handel’s Messiah.  I do, too and have ever since the Christmas I was six years old, and Mama got her heart’s desire.  And so did I…for a little while anyway.

The year I was six had been a difficult year in our family.  My oldest brother and my sister had been in constant trouble for the better part of two years, and our house was a battleground.  My brother had finally overtaxed the patience of the local law enforcement by stealing a car (previously, he had merely engaged in petty larceny and vandalism) and was facing reform school.  My sister was always picking fights at school and would fly into sudden frightening rages at home.  I remember one fight she and my brother had where she hit him on the head with a cast iron skillet.  John let out a terrible moan and fell over, unconscious.  I thought he was dead.  She almost killed me twice by choking me.  I went unconscious before Daddy pulled her off.  So I tip-toed my six-year-old self around, learned to be invisible, and just tried to stay under the radar.  I spent a lot of time outside talking to birds and squirrels and trees.  My other brother Paul escaped into books.

We didn’t have a lot of money, and usually Mama would ask for something practical for Christmas, like a mixer or a robe and slippers.  But that year was different.  She asked for a record player and for one single set of phonograph records—the entire Handel’s Messiah.  Daddy was hesitant—that was pretty expensive.  Wouldn’t she like another robe?

But she was adamant.  She told him that it could be a combination birthday and Christmas gift and she wouldn’t ask for another thing.  Daddy liked the thought of killing two birds with one stone and soon warmed to the idea.  He started making payments on a record player at Sears and Roebuck and finally secretly brought it home just after Thanksgiving and hid it in our attic.  I was terrified that the mice were going to chew on it.  We lived in an old house and had so many mice that our parents gave us a nickel for every mouse we caught.   So I kept pushing Daddy to go ahead and give the stereo to Mama.  He didn’t need much encouragement, as he could barely contain his excitement.  And so it was that Mama got her Christmas present early.

In a rare moment of family togetherness, all six of us were there when Daddy set up the stereo.  For once, my brother and sister weren’t fighting.  Mama’s face was shining as she opened the box containing the three records that made up the Messiah set.   I picked up the front cover of the box and ran my fingers over the pretty picture.  There was a scene of the Holy Family on the front, taken from an old Italian painting.  The Virgin Mary’s face was shining as she looked at her new son, a circle of light glowing about her head.  The infant Jesus was glowing, too.  Joseph looked bewildered, but happy, gazing upon his new radiant baby boy, the Christ Child.  I looked around at my family.  They were all smiling, watching my mother as she tenderly placed the needle of the phonograph on the record.

The music that swelled out from the stereo was the most beautiful I’d ever heard.  I sat down on the floor to listen, transfixed.  A man began to sing:

“Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God…”

My brothers and sister lost interest and drifted off.  Daddy had to leave, but Mama and I stayed there, listening, rapt.  When the record ended, Mama, without a word, got up and turned it over.  A deep voice that I thought sounded like God sang:

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light…”

Then a chorus, like a mighty heavenly host: 

“For unto us a Child is born…and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Mama and I listened to most of the three record set.  I didn’t move the whole time; Mama got up to start supper.  Our supper that night was more peaceful than usual, and I didn’t have a stomachache afterwards.  Over the next two weeks, Mama listened to Messiah over and over again, and it was as though the Prince of Peace had come to our house. 

“And suddenly there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, goodwill towards men.”

John and Mary fought less, and there were no calls from school or the sheriff.  Mary was spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  Though she was only thirteen, she had a knack for cooking, and a counselor had suggested my parents encourage this.  So Mama had asked Mary to cook the turkey for Christmas dinner, as well as some of the other dishes.  My uncles and aunts were coming for Christmas dinner, so Mary pored over cookbooks and tried out different recipes.  I ate everything she cooked enthusiastically and praised it heartily. Mary actually smiled at me once or twice.  Sometimes, during that period, I’d look around the table at mealtime, and my family seemed almost…normal. 

Christmas Day came.  Mama and Mary were up early, cooking, with the Messiah playing in the background.  Mary’s turkey came out perfectly browned and exquisitely tender.  All the aunts and uncles oooed and ahhed over the turkey and other dishes.  After dinner, we all went into the living room, the lights from the Christmas tree making the room glow.   Everyone was laughing and talking and praising Mary.  Mary’s face was shining, and John, for once, was sitting quietly.   Mama and Daddy were sitting together, beaming with pride at their son and daughter.  I stood in the door, looking at the scene and sighed with happiness.  It was almost as though the Christ Child was in our midst, filling our home with light.

Mama had kept the Messiah playing all day, and it was playing then.  My Uncle John, (who had been completely deaf since contracting scarlet fever as a baby) was standing by the record player.  He put his hands on the side of the stereo speaker and closed his eyes, an enraptured look on his face.  I went over and put my hand on his.  He opened his eyes and smiled at my quizzical look.  He pointed at the speaker and then his ears, and I realized he was feeling the heartbeat of the music—hearing with his hands.

“Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped…and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.”

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So, I wish I could say our home was transformed forever and that we lived on in peace and harmony.  But we didn’t.  Mary still flew into violent rages; John kept lying and stealing and finally was sent to reform school by the courts.  Paul kept retreating into books and I kept talking to trees.  But Mama kept playing the Messiah, finding solace in the memory of the peace it brought to our house and its promise of eternal peace.  I’d listen to it like my Uncle John, with my hands on the speaker while the music flowed through my fingers, filling me with an electrifying joy.

I’m listening to the Messiah now.  And in a minute, I’ll walk over and put my hands on the speakers of the boom box.  I’ll close my eyes and think of my Uncle John and of my Mama and Daddy.  I’ll thank God and George Frederick Handel for this musical gift of glory.  Handel wrote Messiah in just 24 days, barely eating or sleeping during that time.  He said that, as he wrote it, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the Great God himself.”

“And we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…and we shall receive wisdom and strength and honor and glory.”

Hallelujah.

Friday Fact: The Wondrous Whirring of Many Small Wings

December 7, 2007

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(All pictures from www.princeton.edu)

Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I were talking at supper last night when he mentioned something he’d heard on NPR, on Fresh Air (with Terry Gross).  “Did you know that dragonflies migrate like birds?” he said.  “And that they fatten up before migrating, just like birds?”

I stopped in mid-chew.  “No…that’s amazing!”  And just like that, as we ate our flounder, my Friday Fact was born.  When Tom mentioned this, I remembered a conversation we’d had at supper about two months earlier. Then, Tom had told me about a friend of his at work, a very masculine tough guy, who had related his experience to Tom with the awe and wonder of a child .  He told Tom that he was driving down his driveway in Linville Falls when, suddenly, he encountered thousands of dragonflies flying in front of his truck in a cloud so thick he had to stop.

Scientists have only recently developed the technology to study the migration patterns of dragonflies.  (The problem was making a transmitter tiny enough not to weigh down the flying insect).   Only about a dozen of the approximately 400 known dragonfly species in the United States and Canada are known to migrate.  The most prevalent of these is the Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius), which is the one they have primarily been studying.

Martin Wikelski, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University is leading the study. He follows the dragonfly migration with the help of tiny transmitters, weighing .01 ounces, glued (with eyelash adhesive!) to the dragonfly’s underside.  He carries a receiver that picks up the transmissions, but because they move around so much, he has to follow and track the dragonflies in his airplane.

dragonfly.jpg    (Dragonfly with transmitter)

What they have found so far is that the migration of dragonflies is very similar to that of birds.  Like birds, they migrate in the fall.  “The dragonflies’ routes have showed distinct stopover and migration days, just as the birds’ did,” said Professor Wikelski.  “Additionally, groups of both birds and butterflies did not migrate on very windy days and only moved after two successive nights of falling temperatures.” [This means a cold front is moving in with a tailwind that will aid their flying]  “We saw other similarities as well, which makes us think that dragonflies find their way south using natural landscape features, such as seacoasts and large rivers.”

And, like migrating monarch butterflies, the dragonflies migrating south will not be the ones making the return trip.  It will be their offspring flying back north in the spring.

Another interesting pattern was discovered by a birdwatcher named Frank Nicoletti who was studying hawk migration when he noticed that the migration of the dragonflies coincided with the migration of juvenile American kestrels.  The thick clouds of migrating dragonflies made it easier for the inexperienced young falcons to catch their dragonfly meals, so the insects are an important food source for the migrating kestrels. 

And, of course, I just had to know where the Green Darner dragonfly got its name.  Just as I suspected, the name came from its resemblance to a darning needle (the big one used to mend holes in sweaters and socks).   In fact, one of its nicknames is “darning needle.”  Apparently, some parents used to tell their children to be careful not to let the dragonfly get near their mouth because it might stitch it closed with its darning needle! 

Hmmm.  So that’s what parents mean when they say, “Darn that kid!” :-)

Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man Takes the Scenic Route

December 5, 2007

One of the things I like best about living here in the mountains is the fact that even the most mundane of tasks, like going to the grocery store or going to work, becomes exciting because no matter which route we take, it’s the scenic route.  And I will never, ever take this for granted.   It’s a good thing that the country road we go into town on is not a busy one because I’m always stopping just to gaze,  slack-jawed with awe, at the beauty of these hills.

In that vein, I present the photographs of Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man–my husband Tom.  All of these, except the sunsets, were taken either on his way to work or at his jobsite.  He is a carpenter, and we get up early, so we get to see every day the wonder of the early-morning light.

About the one below:  Tom said he loved that the fence looked like a music staff and the headlights, like bright notes on the staff.   (Tom’s a poet, too.)

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First of all, the house you see below, behind the corn snake,  is NOT our house.  It’s Tom’s worksite.  As a matter of fact, Tom says that our ENTIRE HOUSE would fit inside the great room of this house.  I guess that’s why they call it a great room.  Anyway, this is a corn snake.  Isn’t it beautiful?  The poor little guy was stuck on some adhesive that they were using in the drainage system.  Tom and his co-workers rescued him and let him go.  He was kind enough to pose for a few pictures before he slithered away.

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This was taken on the same worksite.

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The shot below was taken back in October from the same worksite.  Tom has been working there a long time.  It is a very, very large house, so there’s lots of custom trim to do (he is a trim carpenter).  I think he’s starting to feel at home there.  Very soon, they’ll probably give him his own room.  In fact, the house is so big, he could stay there and they might not even know he was there.  :-)

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These amazing sunset shots (below) were taken when Tom was driving back from taking Ariel to Chapel Hill.  I am somewhat alarmed to know he stopped his car in the dark on the side of a major busy highway (where people drive like maniacs)  just to take a picture, but, golly, these are lovely shots. 

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Thanks, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man!  I’m so glad you have such beauty in your every day life and that you stop to capture it so we can see it too.

When is Enough Fluff Enough?

December 2, 2007

Ariel, my daughter (aka Lucky Pennies), was recently home from college when we took a walk up on the ridge above our house.  Though we’ve taken this walk hundreds of times, I never tire of it because there’s always something new to see, whether it be a new wildflower blooming in summer or the way the winter sun renders trees into silver filigree.  I was breathing hard, trying to keep up with Ariel (she has developed bionic legs, I think, from walking so much in Chapel Hill) when my eyes caught a shimmer in the slanted, late-fall light.
 
Whoa Nelly!  It was a lovely milkweed pod, fully burst and wondrous in its silky glory.  Fortunately, I’d remembered my camera so I clicked and clicked.  Bionic Girl looked a little restless, tapping her Bionic foot.
 
I finished and we walked on.  “I think that picture might be good for my blog,” I said.  Then I remembered that I’d had at least two posts with the radiant feathery seedpods of  bull thistles. “Or would that be too much fluff?” I thought aloud.

 

Ariel thought for a second.  “Yeah, you’ve had a lot of fluff on your blog.”

 

I looked at her sharply. “Are you saying my blog is fluffy?”

 

“Yep, I’m sayin’ you’ve already exceeded your fluff quota.”

 

“But those were bull thistle pods.  These are milkweed…” I whined.

 

“Fluff is fluff.  And you’ve had…enough.  Enough fluff stuff.”

 

Well.  Okay, Miss Lucky Pennies.  Enough fluff stuff, you say?  Gosh, you didn’t have to be so gruff and rough.   I feel rebuffed.  I’m in a huff.  You think you’re so tough.  Well, I’ve had enough of your guff.

 

So there, Bionic Girl.  It’s my blog and I’ll post fluff if I want to.  :-)

 

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Here are a couple of other sights we saw on our walk, which did meet Ariel’s Non-Fluffy Seal of Approval:

The old log cabin up on the ridge:

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A buckeye butterfly in the grass, torpid from the cold.

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So, what do you think?  Enough fluff stuff?  ;-)

 

******Edited to add:  I did want to assure everyone that the above conversation was entirely light-hearted and playful.  Ariel was referring to all my pictures of pod fluff, not my writing.  She and I both love words and playing with words, so our conversations often involve teasing and wordplay.    So I never wanted to give the impression that Ariel was being critical of my blog.  She has actually been very encouraging, so she was just joking about the fluff.   At least I think she was.  Right, Ariel?   :-)  ******


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