Monday, May 23, 2016

First word

Towards the end of April:

Beren and I pulled into the parking lot of the only pharmacy in southern Warren County that stocked Tincture of Benzoin.

"What's 'on... ee'?" Beren asked me.

"Did you just read that sign, Beren? Did you just READ a WORD? Wow!"

Beren glowed in his quiet way.

"That's the word 'one'. O-N-E. One way."

Friday, May 6, 2016

Ridge Walks

Along the narrow, cedar section of the ridge
When we first moved to Pohatcong just over two years ago, spring finally came. Prior to spring we'd explored the woods. When the forest became green, so did our nursery. We barely left the confines of the deer fence - the heavily used and long abused farm field and home landscape. 

We saw many ruderal plants, and we celebrated them - lambsquarters, fleabane, dandelion, St. Johnswort. When we did exit the fence, well, when we left via another gate besides the driveway...we were rewarded each time we entered the forest. We tossed a fence around a couple lonely hepaticas and completely alone showy orchis.

This year, a few things have changed. We've taken on more business responsibilities, and our business has grown. Yet, we're more settled. We have better equipment that we've carefully chosen. And, our son is bigger. His own legs can carry him up the ridge and back down, farther than they have in years prior to this one. I also am no longer Beren's shadow. He's a capable woodsman.

Here are some of our rewards - 

Early saxifrage

 Linden - edible (and tasty) young foliage. Always been a favorite tree.
 Wild strawberry

 Columbine, Beren & I call the flowers "nectar pops"

Hearkening back to my art school days, I call this "Untitled #301". Why? Because I don't know what fern or sedge this is.

 Up he goes

 Up he goes

 Jack-in-the-Pulpit, the one and only

Hop hornbeam

Rockcap fern rhizome scrambles across the ridge.

Looking towards the Alpha Grasslands, hidden in the mist

Columbine and untitled #46 sedge

Trees on the ridge have personality and adversity

 Moss phlox - the right timing brings new sights

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Brushpiles and Woodchips

What's left of the Norway maple is a challenging puzzle to leave in place or try to undo with a chainsaw

Life is all right.

We finally ordered a chipper. We've been talking about it for a couple years. Ever since a mysterious man with clicker wheel showed up in our front yard and started asking questions abruptly.

He started in with "How long ya owned this place?" He had Joisy (Jersey) accent. "Excuse me?" I said. He continued with a series of questions. Eventually, he told me he'd been dispatched by the home owners insurance company.

"Gotta trim those branches over the roof. They'll send you a letter," he said and drove off in his city slicker mobile.

After years of renting, I thought I was no longer under anyone's thumb, except for the mortgage company, but I could ignore them until bill paying day. Jack*ss, I thought.

We called a few tree companies, and one called back. They came out, gave us a quote, and put us in line. We waited several months until I got antsy and called my cousin who is a climber. We set a date for him to come a few weeks later.

A few days before he was to do the trimming work, the tree service called, "We're coming on Thursday." "I didn't hear from you for months, so my cousin is coming to do the work." Silence. "We told you we'd come out." "Yeah but that was months ago." "Allright." Click.

We created a wooden cairn in the woodlot next to our driveway. The red maple branches over the roof went first. Then, the thinning, declining Norway spruce that blocked sun from reaching shining into the floor to ceiling windows in the living room. Sorry, gloomy spruce, but like most newcomers to a place...I fell in love with this spot and then began extensive cosmetic surgery. "I love you but you'll have to change."

Jared headed out for work, and by the time he returned my cousin and I had decided to do the ten year prune on the silver maple that hung over the wires to the house. "I had enough power outages at the old place," I said. "Yeah, we'll clean this up. Next time the tree companies go through, they may go easier on it, too," my cousin added.

We asked my cousin to take out a huge Norway maple, non-native invasive. Crapping up the woods with its copious seedlings. Allelopathic, possibly. Had to go. I asked my cousin to take out a fewer smaller ones on the woods edge. Suddenly, an ash came down instead. Miscommunication through the hearing protection. Firewood. Not the ash, the Norway behind it.

Another bunch of brush piles. In fact, the Norway maple lay, intact, in our field for a couple years. I was mortified. Gloomier than the Norway spruce. I was festooned in climbing buckwheat, an untidy, unattractive, annual native vine. I let that go. Mile-a-minute vine joined the climbing buckwheat. Mile-a-minute, also called devil's tearthumb, is a non-native invasive vine. You could likely guess how fast it grows. I spent many, many 'minutes' clambering over the crown of the maple, pulling and bagging up the plant.

This winter we finally cut the Norway (maple, we called it "The Norway") for firewood. In the late winter, we got to the crown and created huge brush piles. In the last month, we spread the branches out into future planting beds. Recently, our neighbor pulled up in his truck, "You got the brush cleaned up in the field, huh?"

Then, in the winds of 2016 an old box elder came down on our fence. Box elders are maples, though they hardly look like a maple. They're tough in that they an germinate and grow quickly in adverse situations like floodplains. No box elder has a straight trunk. All box elder have many, ragged branches that go in every directions.

Our woodlot brush pile grew. I tossed human-sized tumbleweed-like box elder branches on top. They rolled off.

The winds of 2016 continued. We watched another box elder split and fall. This one bounced off our truck's soft top (no damage) as I talked to my dad on the phone. "Uh, gotta go, Dad." We had wanted to lay this tree down for a couple years, but it leaned both towards the shed and away from the shed in a box elder kind of way. In a very unsafe kind of way.

More box elder for the brush pile. Might was well take down the scraggly mulberry while we're at it. All mulberries are scraggly and are perfect pairing for box elder brush piles.

So, we got our chipper, and we started on the the spruce and box elder and mulberry pile. It's a awesome machine. We made a dent, a small one, but a dent, and then I got the chipper jammed. With a 4' piece of rebar and a 3 pound hammer, we got in unjammed. No cursing.

The next day we moved to an easier brush pile - mock orange. Last year, we thinned the mock orange that was ready to engulf the 1930s era addition to our house. The brush pile sat next to our septic field since then.

Let's say, I was very pleased to get this chipper. I woke up thinking about it each morning since it arrived late last week. It's not just a man's toy. Imagine coming home each day...ascending the ridge along our road, driving through a little patch of beautiful rocky woods, which opens up on the left. Our deer fence. Inside the deer fence, our brush piles. The Norway maple festooned in vines. The Douglas fir pile. The ash ensnared in grape vine pile. Invasive thorn bush piles. The fallen black cherry and limbed up mulberry pile. 'Round the bend to the mock orange pile. Turn into the driveway for the full view of the shuddering mammoth of box elder, Norway spruce, mulberry, silver maple, and red maple. Yes, I was ready for the chipper.

It's not just vanity or American tidy yard mania. Wood chips are really or our land's soil. I'd called numerous tree companies: "Do you drop chips at farms?" I'd left my number with any tree company that I could chase down along the road. No calls. No chips.

Today, a tree company arrived at our neighbor's property. "Do you need a place to drop chips?" Yes, yes, they did. We got three loads of chips. One load included a crow's partially built nest. I know that because I watched the crow fly to the tree with branches. Hopefully, our compost pile is enough to keep them local.

They chipped three mature trees in one afternoon. "I knew we'd get chips as soon as we bought a chipper," Jared said. "Me, too," I agreed.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bedtime Talk

"Momma, did you become friends with Craig?" The names have been changed to protect the guilty, here. "Craig" is a former classmate who I did not get along with, to keep the story short. I mentioned how I had a classmate long ago who I had trouble with because Beren had had difficulties with another child at his school.

"No, I didn't."

"Why not?"

"I didn't have the chance to. Maybe if I met him now we could be friends."

"Momma, I'm friends with X now. We became friends."

"I know." [And that's one of the reasons I like your school, little one.]

"Momma, was there anything very bad when you were at school?"

Pause. [Me thinking, depends on what era.]

"No, there was nothing very bad at school."


"Is there anything very bad at your school, Beren?"

"No, because it got all fixed up."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


"Momma, did your school have a 'gathering'?"

No, most certainly not.

"Momma, I wish there were two Miss B*s." 

Yes, your teacher is very, very cool.

To Jared: "Chakal [comic book character] is probably having a baby because her nummies are very big."

Could be.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


"Three generations of Mackows, Rosenbaums, and Pasztors are shitting their pants. Vigyázz," Jared said smiling, but nervous. I felt nervous, too, as Beren practiced his "Mountain Kitten" skills. Parents often rue when another child introduces their own child to some undesirable activity. Vigyázz, by the way, translates to "Be careful", a well used word of Jared's Hungarian grandfather.

In our case, the introduction to heights was our cat, Mountain Kitten, who remains true to his name, accompanying us on our woodland walks. Mountain traversed a fallen tree suspended about six feet from the ground.

Beren followed down the length of the tree. He followed again back up. All the while, wearing his sloppy rain boots. He was practically trotting, glancing over his shoulder, occasionally pressing through enmeshed branches. Again, six feet off the ground.

Jared and I remained mostly silent, and when we chatted, Beren asked us to be quiet.

Once he got comfortable, Beren chatted, too. But really, I never detected a moment of hesitation, not in Beren anyway.

I pulled off my boots while sitting on the fallen tree. Beren watched me. Balancing one one foot, then the other, he pulled off his boots. Again, I could hardly call it balancing. He could have been standing in the midst of a flat Ohio cornfield on a still day, considering is nonchalance.

I couldn't get across walking. Downhill, I shimmied. Uphill, I crawled. Back at the top, I watched Jared walk very slowly along the log. I stood calming my mind, feeling comforting witch hazel branches at my ankles. I took a few shuffles forward. The last branch held my right ankle. How would I feel once only my twig spotters let me go. Nervous shudder. Calm mind. Shuffle forward and the last twig slipped. Just me and the tree.

In the meantime, Jared made it across. I'd been careful to not fall, if only to keep everyone else's spell in balance. I anticipated Jared's hop off the tree and its reverberation up the tree trunk. I didn't think I'd last after that.

And, I didn't. I could have calmed my mind, I guess. Maybe next time. In the meantime, I confronted a few fears including "what if my socks get wet?" They did, and guess what, we're all ok.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Ring Bearer

For months, Jared and I had subtly prepared Beren for my brother's wedding. The long drive to Florida where they live, his ring bearer role, the white button down shirt, brown (his least favorite color) shoes, dress pants, and so on.

Beren, the only boy for miles in our family, was selected as ring bearer. The only girl of walking age was the lovely 4 year old niece of my brother's fiancee. She was a perfect fit for the flower girl role - effervescent and cute, inside and out. To her family's amusement, she'd been practicing her bit by spontaneously putting her hand on her hip and strutting.

Beren, who I'm sometimes told should be a child model (my personal hell on earth - dragging a kid who likes to sleep late, be outside/dirty, and hates photographs to a photo shoot), had no such resume nor inclination.

During the rehearsal, the flower girl took Beren by the hand, put her hand on her hip, and strut down the "aisle". It was something. Shortly, Beren returned to my side and told me, "that was the worst time of my life."

Later, we attended the rehearsal dinner at a barbecue place just off the beach. Beren ate heartily and his internal light began to shine. Jared and I commented, "It's like he had a couple drinks."

He told my brother he had bigger muscles. My brother replied that he knew someone who had bigger muscles - his friend and boss, a quietly serious but not unfriendly seeming fellow my brother's age. Beren and my brother marched over. "I have bigger muscles than you," Beren told him.

From that moment, Beren responded positively to all requests for high fives, especially from his beloved and soon-to-be-aunt who got him giggling over the "slap me high, slap me low, you're too slow" game. Beren did donuts around the inside of the restaurant and charmed the bridesmaids. 

On the wedding day, we arrived 15 minutes late for photos which were scheduled prior to the wedding. I was sweating as we sat in traffic and I answered a call from my brother. "Where are you?" "We'll be there in 5." After ten minutes passed, I ignored a call from my parents cell (sorry, Mom!).

Once there, Beren refused to participate in photographs, at first. We had a second chance with the flower girl's help. Again, Beren returned to my side, "Momma, that was terrible."

There was another hour or so to wait during which Beren ate the bridal party's lunch leftovers. Jared and I nibbled, too. Lunch had long worn off for all of us. We wandered the grounds of the wedding - an incredible series of outdoor gardens and large ponds.

My brother found me and asked, "Do you want Beren to carry the rings, or do you want a groomsman to?" "Ummm..., how about the groomsman. Is that ok?" "Yeah, apparently that's what they do at most weddings. In case the kids runs off," he replied.

After all, the wedding planners and the grandparents all had been repeating, "Whatever the kids are up to, that's what they'll do."

By the time, the bridal party lined up to make an entrance, Beren was done. My brother and the groomsmen entered first. Beren and I were sandwiched between the bridesmaids and my brother's fiancee and her father. The flower girl stubbornly tried to hold Beren's hand. "I want to be first," Beren exclaimed. "Stay with me, Beren," my brother's fiancee said. "Yes, be by the beautiful bride," I added. "No! I want to be first."

Once the bridesmaids cleared the stone pathway and arching palms, Beren ran to Jared. I followed with the empty box of "rings".

The ceremony shone with all the love and and a touch of humor that my brother and fiancee have for each other. What joy to seem them on this day, especially since the thunderstorm passed 1/2 hour before their vows.

Once we were fed an outstanding meal (this was not typical wedding food...), we proceeded to the dance floor and as a family we cut a rug solidly until 10:30pm. The cookie dessert, glow sticks and glow glasses were all a big help.

The following day on our long drive home, Beren asked me, "Momma, did we give what we were supposed to give Uncle Adam?" "Yes, Beren, we did good." Then, at bedtime, "Momma, did Uncle Adam and Kristin get their rings?" "Yes, Beren. Yes, they did."