Friday, December 30, 2011

Silence at Yule

            The week between Solstice and New Year’s is a huge pause in the northern world—and we are pretty far north here. When the sun does push through the layers of clouds at noon, it’s about forty five degrees up in the sky, creating long, pale slants of light across the wet grey landscape. Everything is holding its breath, waiting for the light to come back. Nothing is happening in the backyard besides one egg a day from Henny, the Young Leghorn, and mud. No bees, no buds, no growth. Even the moss has stalled. The winter woods are silent, except for the rain blowing through branches. At Sunbow, the rows of greens are waiting, barely quivering in anticipation, but not moving, like a well trained dog looking at a treat.  Even the streets are silent; 25,000 students have left town with their cars. We can practically dance in the middle of King’s Boulevard.  I love this pause in my life— no work for two weeks, silence everywhere—and move slowly through the days. Soon, the sun will shift and the world will start again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter Walk

I went hiking by myself today. It felt kind of weird, driving over to the arboretum with no one in the passenger seat. I used to climb mountains alone fairly regularly, but what with gas guilt and always knowing someone who also wants to walk, it has been about fifteen years since I have been in the woods alone. Let me say—it was lovely (no offence to my usual trail partners!).

It was cool and cloudy at the parking lot. As I set off up the logging road to Cronemuller Lake heading for the Powerhouse trail, I snugged into my old red anorak and wooly hat. The road is fairly wide and I pondered the inevitable bag of dog poop by the side of the path. I understand not wanting to carry it around with you, but why even bag it up? Why not kick it into the blackberry bushes, where it will break down, rather than leaving a neat package to forget on the return trip? Maybe I need to make a sign—“”Hey! Remember your POOP!” – and put it on the gate.

At the lake—actually a small manmade pond used by the OSU logging club for Logging Olympics—I turned off the road and began to climb. Forests in Oregon never really stop; all winter, the mosses and lichens swell, mushrooms and coral lichen sprout, ferns grow, small birds rustle in the underbrush, and, by late January, the Oregon plum is blooming. An occasional slug or newt crosses the trail. I paused to admire the drilling patterns of woodpeckers in an ancient Doug Fir, removing my mittens and unzipping the underarms of my jacket to cool down. Over two bridges, up a steep bit, and I arrived at the old Powerhouse. There used to be a sign here explaining how the loggers kept the powder away from the rest of their equipment and that was why the building had such a solid foundation. It’s gone now. But, it is still an excellent pausing place. It was so quiet, that, when a dog bounded out of the woods across from me, we both yelped, startled.

As I was climbing, the clouds thinned. A bit of blue sky shone above—sun hit my face as I reached the clearcut hilltop. I paused, again, sitting on a stump, enjoying the warmth, watching the clouds break over the hills in the distance. There, then gone, then back again—the mist rolled over the forests. Down below was a small golden field and the first settlement in this part of the Willamette Valley. A few tall firs reached for the sky; small alder bushes with tiny winter catkins lined the path; dead grasses and brambles caught at my feet. The last time I was here, the purple brodiaea was blooming. Mist moved in and I stood up, shivering. One more climb…

I crossed several old logging roads and a couple of cross country runners and headed for the last peak. When we first moved here, 15 years ago, the peak had a bench and a view out over the valley. It was a good place to stop for a snack. Now, the view is gone, lost to the fir trees. I climbed into the clouds once more. Cold, damp air pressed against me. I pulled on hat, mittens, zipped up my coat…moisture condensed on the needles and branches and then dripped down my neck. For a moment, I was back in the Redwoods, where the giant trees created showers for morning hikers.

The trail headed downward, dropping into a forest tunnel. Dark branches met overhead and blocked all of the light. Coral lichen and mushrooms sprout here, bits of brightness against the dark soil, dark needles. This is the cold side of the hill and the fog rolled in. I moved quickly downward to get out from under the clouds. Down, down, down. Past the test patches of Ponderosa pines from Carson, New Mexico, Harney, South Dakota, Eldorado, California, all planted in 1928. Past the thinned area from 2007. Past a new trail, heading down.

I’ve hit my famous stride now, walking from my hips, moving right along, thinking about—lunch. There’s always that point on the walk where you have left the forest and moved towards the dinner table; conversation inevitably moves from philosophy to food. I remembered the homemade English Muffins sitting on the kitchen table, the ripe long-keeper tomatoes in the basement, the Ceylon silver striped tea on the shelf, and picked up the pace.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dank December Days

The Dank December Days have settled over Corvallis. It is cold—high 30s during the day, high 20s at night—and the air full of water. The world has disappeared in the low clouds. The ponderosa pines  are vague shapes across the football field; the houses behind them are invisible. The hills which surround town are gone; the clouds sit on the rooftops across the street for school.  The hemlocks and pines are white on top, dark, dark green underneath.  Moisture condenses on all of the twigs. The apparently bare maple branches outside of my classroom window are covered, surprisingly, in spiderwebs, now delicate icicles of frost, growing fatter through the day. It feels like a Christmas Carol when Scrooge could not see the house across the alley because of the dank air. It is the same weather, just not polluted by coal fires. Twilight will fall early tonight. The shortest night is a week and a half away; the cloud cover will not burn off today. Tonight, Christmas lights and streetlights will glow in the frozen air. Perhaps the clouds will break and the almost full moon will shine into my bedroom. Or, perhaps not. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

As I See It...

I attempted to have this published in the local paper, but they refused becaue it was already covered....If you live in Corvallis, or know someone who does, please forward this to them!

As one of the “old curmudgeons” who attended the recent meeting between OSU and the city, I want to respond to the Barometer editorial of November 14th.

It was very clear, listening to testimony and reflecting on my own experience, that the problem in the university neighborhoods is not students per se—but the sheer numbers and the rapid increase in the population. When we moved into our house 15 years ago, six blocks from campus, there were 16,000 students in town. We asked our neighbors about noise and they said “not bad—and we share responsibility for keeping it under control.” Every house on the block was owner occupied and the apartments were a mix of students and other folks. For ten years, there were no problems. Then, the university population exploded and the number of problems exploded with it. We did not deliberately move into a “college neighborhood”—the college moved in on us. We are responding to a problem that none of us foresaw when we bought our homes, five, ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

A house is not just an investment; we do not want to sell our homes and move. When we gather, we talk about how we love the location of our homes, how we can walk everywhere, how our houses are appropriately scaled to our lifestyles, how we enjoy the historic variety of buildings in the area, and even how we like living with a diverse group of people, including college students. I have transformed my little house through paint, plants, and insulation, into a lovely, environmentally sound home. I planted a Macintosh apple tree in my yard; I do not want to move. It is also clear to me that there is no place to move—if the university continues to grow and outsource its housing into the community, there will be no neighborhood that will be quiet and well maintained that I can afford. The frontier, as it were, is closed.

Finally, I do not believe that loud, obnoxious behavior is inherent in student life. There are 25,000 students at OSU. Many of those people are serious students, working and taking classes, trying to balance school and a job with family responsibilities. It is not easy; I remember those years myself. I have to believe that they do not want to be woken up at night by drunken yahoos any more than I do. Everyone deserves to live in a quiet, clean, well-maintained neighborhood, even if it is just a few blocks from campus.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Winter Bees

Bees remain a mystery to me….maybe it is because I can’t see what is going on in the hive without tearing it all apart, maybe it’s the alchemy that happens within, or the unexpectedness of a swarm….but I don’t begin to understand them. There has been a hive in my back yard for three years now and I’ve harvested honey, hunted for the queen, and spent long spring hours watching the bees dance and I still do not have a clue.

Last week it was warm and there were bees. When I was raking, a bee had tangled herself up in my fuzzy jacket, pumping venom into the fabric. When I shook her out, she flew into my hair. I was not stung, but it was a bother to shake her out and I moved away from the area. Today was forty degrees out, so I didn’t expect to see any bees and took advantage of the chill to really clean up the area and snug the hive back against the fence for the winter.

While I was raking the last hazelnut leaves, I found a spill of dead bees—a large one about a foot around— two feet out from the hive entrance. Oh dear! I scurried over to the hive and lifted off the top. There were a few dead bees there, as well. That I expected; bees get trapped between lid and bars regularly. I put my ear to the hive—nothing. A few of the bars had a little mildew growing on them. I laid down on the ground and peered up—dead bees on the screen and the hive was silent. Mark came out to see what the problem was while I lifted a bar from the summer harvest side of the hive. There was some lovely clean comb hanging off it and some honey, but only dead bees. Dead bees on the screen beneath. A few dead bees head in comb, like they had climbed in and died. I pulled out three more bars – cream colored comb all wonky and curved, honey, no bees…Bee crisis.

“Wait,” Mark whispered, as I began to scrape down the side of the hive, so that I could move the end bar closer to the center. “Is that a bee?” Sure enough, staggering out from the winter honey side of the hive was one bee, looking decidedly rumpled and grouchy. Another came out of the entry. “There are still bees,” he said, stepping rapidly back from the hive.

Ok…we gathered up the platter holding the comb and replaced the side board, snugging it against the winter comb. I tucked hay between the end of the hive and the board, folded a burlap sack over the bars for insulation, and replaced the lid. I don’t know if that was the Last Bee, or if the queen and her diminished for the winter court are tucked in the corner with the winter honey. I certainly don’t want to let in any more drafts by moving bars. I guess I’ll just have to wait, and watch, until they emerge—or not—to harvest the pollen from the hazelnut catkins.

Fortunately, that’s only a few weeks away…Meanwhile, I’m draining honey from comb in the kitchen.