Saturday, September 15, 2007

New House in the Country

It's about 4:30 in the morning. I woke up about an hour ago. I was laying in bed wondering why I woke up. I thought maybe I was cold. It's down around freezing tonight outside and we haven't turned the furnace on yet. As I wake up more I know I have plenty of covers and it is something else that woke me. I realize it is an unfamiliar sound that has reached through sleep to wake me.
At first I have a slight panic. The sound is muffled. It could be a voice or music. Maybe it is coming from downstairs where the boy's rooms are. Instinct makes me wonder if one of them is hurt. No, maybe one of them is talking loudly or something in his sleep.

Now fully awake, I wait for the sound again. There it is again, hard to distinguish, it has rhythm. I can't really here it so I get up. There it goes again. It must be outside so I go open a window. It's a familiar sound now, though not common for me. It must be two owls in the trees about twenty yards from the house. The first one starts with a low Hoo Hoo and is joined by a second slightly higher voice HOO Hoo... Hoo Hoo Hoo.

I think this is a horned owl. The night is lovely , clear and crisp, no wind now. The stars are out .


All day it was chilly and windy. The radio is talking about our first frost. We built a house this summer and moved in a little more than a month ago. We have 17 acres of hills woods and field surrounded by state hardwood forest.

We haven't run the furnace yet. We are still impressed by the possible energy efficiency of this new place. Our old four square in town would adjust to the outside temperature in a matter of a few hours. It was 70 degrees in here when we went to bed. Outside its about freezing. We've lost about three degrees during the night.

I didn't feel like we had to move to the country. Our old place was just fine. We already owned the land and the idea got started and just wouldn't go away. Se here we are.

I was working hard to get the yard graded and seeded managing to get that done last week. Just before I seeded one morning I was admiring some raccoon tracks in the soft dirt of the front yard. I started following his path forward from where I noticed his trail. After a few feet I stopped to look at a new track. I haven't seen this before and I'm trying to make some sense of it. It's a big paw. the track is about the size of my hand, the five toes are a little thick than my thumb. There is just one track immediately visible. I'm trying to register what this is. It's in the mud. Could it be a malformed dog track? I circle outwards and find more tracks all around the house and just outside the bedroom windows. Some tracks are shaped more like a human foot with claws.

I realize it's a black bear. Most folks don't think we have bears around here. I guess we don now, at the moment.


The stars are much better out here. I don't know a lot about the stars, but I do have to stare at them when they are out. When people lived out in the elements everyone must have been experts. I recognize Orion and I love the Fall, so I have been waiting for him to make his appearance.

Tonight as I lay in bed with my glasses off listening to the owl duet, I look out our east bedroom window. My eyes are pretty bad. If you asked I would say I couldn't even see a star without my glasses. Well, I guess I can see stars, kind of, and can definitely make out a bright shape framed perfectly in my window sky.

It is the hunter, making his appearance on this night of the first freeze.


I tend to be a hard facts person. I tend not to go to church. Most mystical touchy feely stuff turns me off. I am not a scientist, but that is an accident. I am drawn to science stuff like a fly to fly paper.

I have noticed in this world that if an idea is worth stating, if it is viable enough to have life, it's opposite must exist as well. The opposite is required for existence. If nothing was bad, there would be no such thing as good. To be recognized, pure goodness must be thrown into relief by evil or pain.

Well I am no cave man or ancient Greek. I live in a house and type away on my computer. Today I came home from work for lunch. I walked around the yard looking for little grass sprouts in the uniform blackness of our bare yard. I stepped around the corner of the garage and saw a white bird standing on the ground in the middle of all that black soil, a dove?

It was perfectly white. So white it was striking. It was just 15 feet away. It didn't fly, but it looked at me and walked around. Now if I were an Ancient I would know exactly what this meant. I sensed importance. I stopped in my tracks. Before this white bird in a field of black could turn into some fickle Greek god, I turned quietly around and walked away so as not to disturb it.

It was a pigeon. I wouldn't give it ten seconds in front of a farm boy with a shot gun.


I want oak trees in our yard. I know they will never be big trees in my day, but I would sooner live with the anticipation than bow down to my mortality. I could plant soft maples or basswood or some other fast growing perfectly good tree, but now I want oaks.

A long time ago I was mowing a yard and noticed hundreds of young soft maples sprouting. I took a hand trowel and replanted as many as possible in rows in what was supposed to be a vegetable garden. They got pretty big over the summer. In the fall they got transplanted all over the place and a few still live today as big trees.

But I want oaks. In nature acorns are saved like money. Everything eats them or hoards them. My dogs even eat them when we go out.

Several weeks ago I could hear the acorns falling through the leaves and hitting the ground at night. Now they have lain in the rain and mud. I notice little splits in some of them. If I pick one up it is stuck to the ground by a tap root making ready to put up a small tree in the spring. There will be thousands of new trees!

I have tried planting acorns before. If you take them right when they fall it seems like they won't grow. They need to lay awhile in the weather. I have picked up these acorns that are just putting down roots in a repeat of my maple endeavor. I discovered that the stem that sprouts in the spring is not just a small tree with a leaf or two. In nature it is a billboard that says FOOD!

My little oaks were rooted up and eaten by squirrels. I trust other things eat them as well. Out of millions of acorns, very few become old oaks.

Maybe its best to rely on natural selection. With my shovel I went looking for little oaks around the field edges - they grow in fields, not in the woods. I found several trees only a foot tall. I pushed my shovel into the ground all around the tree and pried the chunk of dirt upward.

My clod of dirt wast at least twelve inches deep yet the dirt came up and the tree stayed put with the sod and dirt pulling up and over the branches like a t-shirt coming off. The tap root on these trees was deeper than I could go with a shovel.

So I borrowed a little tractor with a front end loader and found a slightly larger sapling growing on eroded overhang. I managed to scoop out the tree with about a ton of dirt. Turns out I still broke the tap root. I planted something that looks like a healthy young red oak, but I fear it is just a stick with leaves that will shrivel and fall off. Spring will tell all.

The light is coming. I will say good bye to Orion for now and greet the first cool fall day!