Saturday, April 14, 2018

Stillmeadow - April

"And a song sparrow woke me at dawn with a cool, liquid note. It sounded like spring itself." So Gladys Taber writes in her April entry in The Book of Stillmeadow, and just this morning I heard the song sparrow for the first time this year! I've written about the song sparrow before in my letters here and here and really a few other places, too. It is one of my favorites. I love thinking about hearing the same bird at Windy Poplars Farm that Gladys heard all those years ago at Stillmeadow.

She writes of seeing a "whole flock of robins". I've not seen a flock, but the robins have definitely come. This year they showed up earlier than ever before. We heard them on February 21, and saw them two days later. That month was very warm, but even when the snow came again and the temperature dropped, we would occasionally hear them. Now they are singing and bobbing all day long.

I wonder if any of you live in an old house with old-fashioned storm windows. We had them for many years after we moved here, but have now replaced them with double-paned, insulated windows. We don't have to do anything except take the screens off in winter, an incredibly easy process compared to what we used to do. Gladys writes about those old windows.
At last the storm windows are off. I usually begin thinking about taking them off the first nice warm day in February. But the more sane members of the family point out that in New England there are blizzards even in March, and the old glass in the little-paned windows may be beautiful, but doesn't keep out the wind very well.
Last fall when the windows went on, they had been freshly painted and all the identifying numbers painted over. Every window in the house is a different size, but not different enough for the naked eye to measure. So, on a day when it was below zero, one of those sudden drops to remind us of winter, Jill and George and I ran round and round the house with windows, none of which ever fitted anywhere. It was like one of those maddening puzzles enlarged to life size. I dare say most families don't have difficulties like this. Further, the windows hook inside as well as out, and all the inner hooks are at differing levels. This involves someone's running in and out of the house and rabbiting around and back, hooking and unhooking again.
But now it's spring again, and the storm windows are a problem of the past. I must remember this year to have them all numbered.
We have a shed kind of room that still has one of these storms so I can show you, if you've never heard of such a thing!




 It made me a little sentimental for the old windows as I read Gladys' words, but honestly they were a lot of work, and didn't keep the winds out particularly well.

Gladys writes about a subject I thought was new thinking.
And then, one clear morning, George comes in with a smile to say, "I'll plow the garden today; I'm doing the upper meadow anyhow. Ground's all right."
We stop whatever we are doing and rush outside to watch the great plow ride along, turning the rich soil. It is a tie between us and our forefathers; it is something we inherit from the land itself. It is always new and always old. The blades of the plow are silver in the sun as the earth breaks from the sterile grasp of winter and folds back. ...
 We have been all over Mr. Faulkner's book about not plowing, and Mr. Bromfield's and Mr. Ed Robinson's too. Jill is a fiend for Keeping Up with Modern Trends. And I fear it is really due to my romantic feelings that we go on in the old-fashioned way, plowing the garden. But I point out to the family that we have crops out of this world, anyway; carrots a foot long and tender as butter, elegant crisp celery, rich tight lettuce. So why not go on plowing?
There has been a lot written in the past few years about not tilling, not plowing gardens. That it isn't good for the soil to tear it all up like that. That's one of the reasons for so many raised beds everywhere. You don't have to till them. Well, we did go to raised beds for a few years, and I had many pictures of them on the blog, and now we've gone back to a regular garden. For two years we've tried cultivating it with various tools, but when we had a rainy spring last year the weeds took over. We couldn't keep up with them, and I was very discouraged. Years ago we had a heavy tiller. It was a big thing that I couldn't use, but it did a terrific job of cleaning up the garden and tilling in the manure in the fall.

1982. Tom tilling first garden at Windy Poplars Farm.

 
After a lot of thought, this year we bought a Mantis. It is much smaller and easier to use. 



It should be just right for our little patio vegetable garden. I'll keep you informed as the season goes on.


When we first bought this old house, there was a storage area in the cellar. It hadn't been used in 25 years, since the mother and daughter who lived here began moving to an apartment in town for the winter. It was, to use Gladys' word "romantic". Just being there made me think of growing a year's supply of food and having a cellar full of potatoes and carrots. It was, however, decrepit and not worth trying to fix up. Also, all that food would draw mice, or worse. But I still feel a yearning when I read of root cellars. 

Gladys writes:
The cellar at Stillmeadow is very romantic and pleasing, and entirely impractical. But I like to look at the heavy, hand-hewn beams and the great stones of the the fourteen-foot-square chimney, and the old rough wall stones as I work at clearing out and rearranging the fruit shelves, even if I sometimes wish I had enough shelves and cupboard space to keep the place neat and tidy.
One of the many blog posts I have had in my head is about the stones in our cellar. They must have been pulled out of the fields in the 1800s, by what? Oxen, probably, or very big draft horses. How I would love to time travel and see that happening. Because this may indeed be my stones posting, I'll show you what they look like.



You can see in the first picture one of the house supports, a vertical log with the bark still on it. We don't have many of these left, but there are still a few in the ceiling.



They used what was around - the trees in the woods and the stones in the fields.

Forty some years ago, there was a lot of press about old farmhouses, and country living in general. I loved being part of that lifestyle, and I still do love it, though you sure don't read much about it anymore. Once in a while, I see an article about a young couple going off to live in the country, and I hope the movement becomes popular again.

Gladys talks about the importance of nature in such a moving way. Her words are just as meaningful today, and I will close this month's report with her dream. "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
I had a strange wish yesterday. I wish the men who are going to form the peace for the world would all have to come to this spot, and jump across the free-running brook where the sand lies golden under the amber water, and climb this little obscure country hill and just stand awhile on the violet-covered slope. I would ask them not to say any fine brave words about peace and the new world, nor to make those glittering promises I hear over the radio from them all, that have no real bones under the oratory.
None of them, for a little time, would be politicians or dictators, or world rulers. I would ask them to smell the quiet air and listen to the tranquil country sounds; the dog after a rabbit, the first birds pricking the stillness with sweet voices, the thunder of a horse in his stall at the next farm, the bark of a fox near Kettletown.
I would ask them to remember when they were children and believed in life. Power and expansion and new territories and national glory would mean nothing at all. They would be just a group of middle-aged men

28 comments:

  1. I like to read your stories about living in your old house with so much character. I would love to live in the country again. It will probably not happen. Maybe that is why I so look forward to these posts. I can remember my Grandmothers house had these storm windows. I have not been in this kind of cellar before but something similar. It was almost too scary to enter. ha.. I was very young.

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    1. I'm so happy you 'look forward to these posts.' Means the world to me. Margaret was (is) always afraid of the cellar. It has a dirt floor with some wood boards and cobwebs and spiders. Whereas her daughter loves the cellar and goes down every chance she gets! Isn't that funny!

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  2. World Leaders, they call them. Well, none of them will lead me anywhere, and I'd like to take them to your world Nan too, and tell them they had to stay until they had sorted it for good! I am going to read today the "Spring "chapters of Gladys Taber's Country Chronicle..... I know why you love her books! We live in a 200+ cottage on the edge of a small town but we don't need storm windows, thank goodness. We don't have a cellar either, although I do love them.

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    1. Imagine not needing storms! She really was such a good writer, and person. Funny, when I first wrote the last sentence I used "is" and realized that "was" is the right word. She is just so alive in her books, isn't she?

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  3. I, too, love these posts that you write and also the lovely pictures you share. The stones in your area of the world were most apparent in the houses and rock walls when we visited last year. I remember commenting to my husband about it. Your rock is different from the type in our part of the world - ours is white limestone. The storm windows - my paternal grandmother used to talk about 'storm windows' and she also would refer to the 'storm door', a screen door at the front that had a window that could be raised in the summer and the front door left open for the breeze. They didn't have A/C and in the Texas Panhandle, you needed it. I wouldn't have liked the cellar either. Funny that Margaret didn't and Hazel does. She's a brave little girl. My grandparents and my great-grandparents had 'storm cellars' to use for storage and also to retreat to when the big storms came and the tornadoes.

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    1. We have storm doors, too. Glass in the winter and screens in the summer, and the main doors are open all the time. I have seen newer storms that have a window like that but I didn't know they were around in older times. I'd love to see her door. Funny to think about all the things we never take pictures. No one would ever think someone would want to see their door decades later! My cellar growing up was "finished" with a floor and furniture though the water pipes were still visible. It wasn't like a rec room. We have put boards down on the dirt floor of this cellar, but it is still very rustic. haha.

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  4. Nan, If you wish to time-travel, can I recommend 'Domestic Manners of the Americans' by Fanny Trollope. She was an Englishwoman who visited America in the early 1800s. She was not very flattering, but she came from an old established country to a new raw one, and as an outsider she saw things that locals would not think to mention, such as tobacco chewing, which led men to spit on the floor, where the spittle stained the hems of the ladies dresses! What reminded me of her though was that she did not see log cabins as romantic pioneer dwellings, but as isolated shacks in the middle of a sea of tree stumps. The locals understandably cut down all the nearest trees to build the cabins, but this is something you don't see on TV or read in normal history books. I wonder if that was what your farm was originally like.

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    1. If it was all woods when the house was built, there were certainly no stumps! Probably those oxen or horses pulled them out, too! There were big old maples out on the lawn. When the people who bought the place in 1919, they turned it into a real farm. There were barns attached to the house as you still see sometimes. When we bought it, all the barns were gone, and we had to have our barn built.

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  5. Our house in Lincoln had storm windows. They didn't look exactly like yours and we never took ours off, as they had screens and opened up (after you opened the interior casement window first) to allow the fresh air to come through. We thought about replacing all of the windows with modern windows, but the cost was insane so we kept what we had. I have to say I don't miss our basement! No more worries about any flooding or seepage during heavy rainstorms!

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    1. We get some water in the cellar sometimes, but it kind of sinks through the boards into the dirt. I have always thought a "basement" is what a finished cellar was called. Is that right? But maybe cellar and basement are regional terms. We always say "going down cellar" - never "to" the cellar.

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  6. This was the most delightful post! I love the tour and the old pieces of your house, even the cellar (which takes me a bit of getting used to, as I grew up here in sandy Florida where 99% of the houses have no such thing). And Oh My Goodness, that picture of Tom and the old tiller! That's priceless!

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    1. Yeah, that old tiller was on its last legs, and we bought a Troy-Bilt soon after. It was also way too heavy for me to use. I am hoping I can use the mantis myself. My cousin has one and she can run it, so I think I'll be able to. Does "sandy" mean you have a lot of ants?

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  7. I am reminded of my grandfather's Vermont farmhouse [lost to fire on a windy March afternoon a few years after his death.] The cellar was under the oldest part of the house and extended beneath the kitchen ell, dirt-floored, stone-walled, with bins for storing potatoes, plank shelves that had settled and gone a bit crooked. I loved the smell of it--damp earth, years of firewood storage in the area that housed the furnace, the homely lingering odor of potatoes and onions.
    I bought a Troybilt tiller for our Vermont garden--could never manage the thing. It has been revived for use in our Kentucky gardens, but Jim prefers an early spring 'turning' of the soil with the big tiller that goes behind a tractor, then maintenance with hoe and Mantis. I've thought of raised beds as kinder to aging knees--but they haven't appeared!

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    1. Thank you for telling me about his house. It sounds very like this one. And I'm so sorry it burned.
      In terms of your knees, this is what Tom uses, both to kneel and to sit. https://www.gardeners.com/buy/garden-kneelers/40-008.html
      I don't kneel or sit, I bend over and will probably freeze that way someday!

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  8. Love this post, Nan! We have a flock of robins here in our yard each February. There were at least 30 last year, it was hard to count as they kept moving on me. An old friend of mine back in Ohio had a House over a hundred years old and had these old storm windows he wrestled with each spring and fall. He finally relented to get new storms in as he was getting to old to handle these old heavy windows on a ladder for the second story. But habit won out when he discovered they still fit with the new ones on and he insisted on still putting them on until the day he died.

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    1. Thanks, Peggy! This winter our 'flocks' have been goldfinches and juncos. I love your story. Love that man!

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  9. How fascinating! I love your beam with the bark still on. Our house is 110 years old, a large brick terrace. We don't have many original features but I cherish the ones we have. I do like your Mantis - we don't have many flowerbeds here and I have to admit to not ever turning them over. We debated doing a veg garden a while ago but as I work from home, the work would mainly fall to me, and in the end we decided to buy local from farmers and suppliers instead.

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    1. Oh, good - someone I can ask. What is a 'terrace'? I hear it on tv shows and read it in books, but can't figure out just what it means. That is why our garden is so small now. I'm only growing tomatoes, basil, peas, parsley, spinach. When we first had our big garden there was no local produce. Now we can get organic, fresh food everywhere in the spring, summer, and fall. Such a good, good change.

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    2. Oh! How funny! It's just a load of full houses all joined together, so we share both side walls with our neighbours. Most terraces are square with a longer bit at the back with a kitchen below and bedroom or bathroom above, so you share more of a long wall with one side. If you look at photos of old industrial towns etc., you will see rows and rows of red brick houses all stuck to one another. Oh, we have what I would call alleys between every few or every other house to get to the back garden. They are called snickets or ginnels or all sorts of things, still, depending on where in the country you are.

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    3. Thanks so much! I can't tell you how long I have wondered about this. I love the names for the alleys.

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    4. I should just add that sometimes, at least in the UK, a terrace is a flat paved area, either brick or flagstones, near to the house, often with garden furniture on it, and in grander houses, with a good view. A smaller one of these would be a patio.

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    5. That is the way terrace is used in the US and is the only usage I've ever heard except for the British books and tv shows. I'm really so happy to know. I have both a terrace off the front door and a small patio which is the entrance to the terrace and thus the house.

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  10. We haven't had a basement since our first home in Eastern Washington State, which is desert-like country. It is too wet in Oregon and I don't think 'real' houses in Florida have them either, for the same reason (ours here of course is a manufactured home that sits on a slab). In Washington, both our parents and our home had finished basements that were used as rec rooms, extra bedrooms etc..... Up there 'cellar' meant a root cellar, which some of our farm friends had.

    We put up hurricane shutters when we leave Florida for the summer. Each shutter is numbered as Gladys describes her storm shutters should be -- and for the same reason! Some homes have newer glass that is certified safe under hurricane-strength winds, which we would install if we lived here all year round, although that glass is quite expensive. But the hurricane shutters completely shut your home into a cave. (We usually spend one night in those conditions, except for the very last glass door, which we put up on the way out of town). Of course, people who live here during hurricane season don't put those shutters up until the weather report says a hurricane is coming. That's why you see those reports on TV about everybody running around crazy getting their homes hurricane proofed at the last minute.

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    1. I still am wondering if basement is a regionalism, or is it a finished cellar? That is really funny about people waiting till the last minute! Thank you for all that info - I didn't know about the glass. I had seen shutters in the tv show The Finder.

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  11. Thanks, Nan. I ordered the kneeler--a few negative reviews, but mostly good. 15% discount! Now if the head gardener will install a fence for beans to climb, I might make it another few years!

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    1. Yay! I'm delighted. Tom loves it. Uses it inside for painting, too. And I bought something there for beans! May be pricey, but is fantastic. https://www.gardeners.com/buy/pole-bean-trellis-tower/8587060.html I love that thing. This year we are going to use it for cukes.

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  12. I enjoyed reading your post about beams and stones being pulled from the countryside around, basements and root cellars, the cry to come back and live in the country, to renovate the old. Our house is almost hundred years old and the bottom half is sandstone, but built as a house in town. I do think about those early settlers and how they worked so hard to make a field to plant their crops. Felling trees and moving boulders and stones. My husbands family come from Barton, Vermont, and originally came to the States as early as the 1630's, very early.

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    1. Yes, there are so many trees and rocks to clear, even now. All that hard work the farmers did has grown over. The sheep business declined, and they all went west where the fields were flat.
      Gosh, that's amazing. 1630s! We are about an hour from Barton.

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