February

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february squirrel

Illustration for A Sand County Almanac by Charles W. Schwartz

Aldo Leopold begins his chapter on February this way:

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

Wendell Berry would agree.

He continues, “To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue.

“To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside. If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own good oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where the heat comes from, and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the week end in town astride a radiator.”

february clouds

A mackerel-scaled February sky signals an impending winter storm.

I was fortunate enough to have lived on a very small-scale farm during a few of my teenage years. Although we had a garden, our cows (and at one point, pigs) accounted for more of our diet than vegetables. Having helped slaughter, clean, and grind meat, I am now always keenly aware from whence my meat comes (which is one reason I am attempting to eat less of it).

The house we lived in at the time (Briarpatch) was heated by wood stoves. That meant a large portion of the year, after school and on weekends, was dedicated to cutting and hauling wood to be later burned in those stoves. It was never easy but it was particularly difficult when it was cold and my numbed fingers could barely feel the logs I was hoisting into my arms.

Following college, I was once again reminded about heat when my husband and I spent a winter either crouched before the fire place or locked in a room with a space heater when the gas company refused to turn on our heater because they didn’t want to be responsible for a possible leak. Although we were both employed by a daily newspaper, we were still too poor to have the heater fixed and had to suffer through a colder than normal mid-Georgia winter, in which the temperatures plummeted more than 6º below 0º Fahrenheit.

february daffin

A view from a February morning walk around Daffin Park.

In A Sand County Almanac, Leopold takes us back in time as he discusses the history of the oak that is burning in his fire place. When the tree was cut, he calculated that it was a seedling about 1865, at the end of the Civil War. But, he writes, the acorn that produced it most likely fell during the preceding decade “when covered wagons were still passing over my road into the Great Northwest.”

A bolt of lightning put an end to the 80-year-old tree during a July thunderstorm. Leopold and his family let the wood season for a year “in the sun it could no longer use” and eventually felled it on a crisp winter’s day.

“Fragrant little chips of history spewed from the saw cut,” he wrote, noting that the saw was carving its way “into the chronology of a lifetime, written in concentric annual rings of good oak.”

The from the reign of the bootlegger who had previously owned his farm in the 1930s, forced out by the Dustbowl droughts of that era, Leopold takes us back to the 1920s. From 1929 when the stock markets crumpled to 1925 when Wisconsin saw the demise of the last marten to 1922 and the “Big Sleet” of March, that tore the limbs from the surrounding elms.

Further back, from 1910 to 1920, the oak continued to grow despite even as the Supreme Court abolished state forests in 1915. In 1910, “a great university president published a book on conservation (Charles Van Hise, University of Wisconsin-Madison), and then 4 years earlier (1906) when the first state forester took office not knowing state forests would be abolished not even a decade later. That same year, fires burned 17,000 acres of the sand counties.

The ring from 1899 was mute about the last passenger pigeon, which had “collided with a charge of shot near Babcock”, two counties to the north of Leopold. 1893 saw the year of “The Bluebird Storm” when a March blizzard killed nearly all of the migrating bluebirds.

february chickadee

Chickadee illustration by Charles W. Schwartz.

Then further back–1890–and the year of the Babcock Milk Tester and why Wisconsin is known as “America’s Dairyland” today. The previous year, a drought year in Wisconsin, was the year Arbor Day was first proclaimed. At the beginning of that decade, in 1881, the Wisconsin Agricultural Society debated the question: How do you account for the second growth of black oak timber that has sprung up all over the county in the last thirty years?

“My oak was one of these,” Leopold writes.

The decade of the 1870’s saw Wisconsin’s “carousal in wheat”. By the end of the decade, farmers realized that they had lost the game of “wheating the land to death.”

“I suspect that this farm played its share in the game,” Leopold writes, “and that the sand blow just north of my oak had its origin in over-wheating.”

1874 saw the arrival of the now ubiquitous factory-made barbed wire. Finally the rings have reached the center of the tree:

“Our saw now cuts the 1860’s,” writes Leopold, “when thousands died to settle the question: Is the man-man community lightly to be dismembered? They settled it, but they did not see, nor do we yet see, that the same question applies to the man-land community.”

The pith of the oak, 1865, is the year that John Muir offered to buy the home farm from his brother. Thirty miles east of Leopold’s oak, this land was a sanctuary for the wild flowers that had gladdened Muir’s youth. While his brother refused to sell the farm John, the dream remained, and as Leopold notes, “1865 still stands in Wisconsin history as the birthyear of mercy for things natural, wild, and free.”

february honey creek

A February day at Honey Creek on the Georgia salt marshes.

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January

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The first section of A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold is devoted to a month-by-month description of the natural world as the year passes in Wisconsin, a state located in the north-central part of the United States. Before I go more into that, though, I would like to draw your attention to a fellow writer’s blog, which captured what Aldo Leopold writes about in A Sand County Almanac.

The author of the Lif4Gd blog used a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that captured this concept beautifully. See more here: Lif4Gd

I particularly liked this stanza:

What would the world be, once bereft    

Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,              

O let them be left, wildness and wet;               

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Back to January . . .

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Illustration from A Sand County Almanac by Charles W. Schwartz.

“Each year,” Leopold writes, “after the midwinter blizzards, there comes a night of thaw when the tinkle of dripping water is heard in the land. It brings strange stirrings, not only to creatures abed for the night, but to some who have been asleep for the winter. The hibernating skunk, curled up in his deep den, uncurls himself and ventures forth to prowl the wet world, dragging his belly in the snow. His track marks one of the earliest datable events in that cycle of beginnings and ceasings which we call a year.”

Living in the South, as I do, it is not the tinkle of melting snow that we hear, but the drip, drip, drop of a steady rain. Gone are the torrential downpours that have pelted us from May through October.

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Winter rains keep the bird bath filled.

Winter in the Savannah, particularly as the weather becomes more tropical by the year, is marked by three types of weather. It is either clear and cold, warm and wet, or grey and what I think of as Raynaud’s weather–neither warm enough not to worry about keeping my fingers warm nor cold enough that I have to wear my mittens. That means it is somewhere in the 50s (Fahrenheit) and I may or may not lose the feeling in my fingers.

Because we live in the south, we also experience things that only happen during warm winters–Painted Buntings perched on the bird feeder, Camellias about to burst into bloom, and the slow swelling of the Loquat fruit.

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Camellia buds

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Macro Camellia bud

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Loquats, which may or may not ripen this year because of our unusually cold November and December.

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A macro shot of a clathrus columnatus mushroom about to burst forth.

 

Next week: February

A Sand County Almanac

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Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free.

Those words are as true today as they were when Aldo Leopold wrote them on March 4, 1948, just 48 days before his death on April 21st of that year. A Sand County Almanac was published posthumously by Leopold’s son, Luna, in 1949. Later, in 1953, Leopold’s unpublished essays were put together in a book called Round River.

In 1966, A Sand County Almanac and Round River were combined to form this edition:

ASandCountyAlmanac

More than seventy years later we are still struggling to maintain the balance between progress and keeping things “natural, wild, and free”.

“These wild things, I admit, had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live,” Leopold wrote. “The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress; our opponents do not.”

In his foreword to A Sand County Almanac, Leopold also wrote, “Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.

“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.”

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Aldo Leopold

Leopold also wrote, “our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. . . . Nothing could be more salutary as this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.

“Perhaps such a shift in values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined terms of things natural, wild, and free.”

Over the course of the next weeks, I will be working my way through A Sand County Almanac. I hope to convey that what Leopold saw as important, or even imperative, in 1948 is just as important in 2019.

#AdventWord: Week 3

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The challenge continues . . .

AdventWord17

December 17–Sing My favorite Advent hymn from which I found the titles for the three books in my fantasy series, The Hallowed Treasures Saga.

AdventWord18

December 18–Ancestor The grave of an ancestor in rural Georgia.

AdventWord19

December 19–Wash Baptism is “the heavenly washing”.

December 20–Ablaze. This site doesn’t support video, but on this day I posted a short video of a fire blazing in the hearth.

AdventWord21

December 21–Sign

AdventWord22

December 22–Expect. Expectation of the harvest: an olive tree about to bloom.

#AdventWord: Week 2

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And the challenge continues:

AdventWord10Cry

December 10–Cry

 

AdventWord11Grow

December 11–Grow

AdventWord12Rough

December 12–Rough. Macro shot of rose quartz.

AdventWord13Smooth

December 13–Smooth Macro shot of polished quartz.

AdventWord14Prune

December 14–Prune

AdventWord15Prepare

December 15–Prepare 1928 Book of Common Prayer

AdventWord16Rejoice

December 16–Rejoice St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine in St. Augustine, Florida.