The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Full Fall October 27, 2014

Last night Elihu had a hard time getting to sleep, in spite of having just weathered a full weekend. Bleary-eyed, he panicked slightly at the thought of school starting up again the very next morning. “Wait, was that a whole weekend just now? Are you sure tomorrow’s a school day?” he asked me, with a genuinely puzzled look on his face. He shook his head. “Honestly, that felt like five minutes just now. I guess it’s just because we did a lot”. He waited for a moment and sighed. “It just feels like we really need another day. You know what I mean?” He was right. Not only the weekend, but the past several weeks had been full. In his words, we’d experienced “a lot of life” recently. Indeed. Death, too. We lost our friend Cecil a few weeks back, but no matter, things just kept on going. Projects and homework and teaching and all manner of life’s tasks have filled the space in between then and now (plus a rare night out in downtown Albany to see comedian Steven Wright – a really big deal for us), and today we find ourselves looking to Halloween, this coming Friday, as the informal conclusion to a full fall.

Here’s a photographic digest of the past few weeks…

 IMG_0011These colors, from just a few weeks ago, are now gone. So much changes in such little time in this season of transition.

IMG_0009I hung these guys in the small woods across from our house, and it’s made Elihu’s long walk down the driveway after he gets off of the bus a little spooky. He lobbied for me to take them down, but I’ve waited long enough to pull out the scary decorations. Up they’ll stay. (They continue to give me a start now and again; either when shutting the birds in at night or casually looking out of the window, even when I first come down the driveway, my mind off in another place.)

IMG_0015Just scary enough.

IMG_0028These are our hungry birds up in the burning bush. The bugs aren’t as plentiful now, so they’re eating the berries off of whatever they can.

IMG_0281The view is modest, and certainly doesn’t come off very impressive in this shot, but in person it’s nice to see Saratoga Lake again now that the leaves are off the trees.

IMG_0299Neighbor boys Ryan and Brandon came over for a visit, and Elihu led them on a quest to find all the gourds that emerged from our compost pile.

IMG_0338Big sister Ava helps count the take.

IMG_0329The children’s father Chad pats our favorite resident roo, Bald Mountain. (Chad saved our rooster last summer after a nasty raccoon attack. Baldy had run through the woods and towards the light of their front door in a heroic effort to find safety. Covered in blood, Baldy perched on Chad’s lap as he drove the rooster back home on his four-wheeler. We were out so didn’t know – it’s such a blessing to have neighbors like this when bad things happen. It’s a profoundly good feeling to know someone’s got your back.)

IMG_0270The young brothers are more than a little freaked out at the skeletons, so we had the boys introduce themselves.

IMG_0317They didn’t turn out to be terribly edible, but they’re pretty. And they were a fun surprise.

IMG_0343This wasp’s nest was also something of a surprise; it hung from our cellar door and grew from the size of a fist to this giant ball in about a week’s time. It’s gorgeous up close, with its delicately spun paper in layer upon layer. Glad to have this specimen to examine up close. (That’s a 30 pound pumpkin next to it, just for a little better perspective on its size.)

IMG_0257Here too was another surprise from the skies. Mom found it near her house, likely it had flown into a window and broken its neck. For years she’s adamantly professed her hatred for Starlings, but had now changed her mind. When I asked her why, she told me it was because she hadn’t known before how beautiful they were. ! I did’t bother to tell her I thought that was a pretty lame reason.

IMG_0264Elihu must always admire the wing.

IMG_0262I admire the interesting claw; three sickle-shaped claws face one direction with the fourth claw facing the other way.

IMG_0325This new gal reminds us a lot of our dear late hen, Madeline, whom we lost earlier this year, so we’ve ended up just calling this one “Madeline Two”. We might be onto round two of many previously used hen names. I suppose it’s just as well when they end up in the freezer eventually.

IMG_0667Thumbs Up is molting now. So are many of the wild birds. They’re getting ready to grow in a brand-new, more robust set of feathers for the long winter ahead. Up close they can look pretty bedraggled and pathetic while mid-molt.

IMG_0675A close up of the pin feathers coming in on her neck. They feel like plastic are made of basically the same stuff as your nails.

IMG_0400Appropriate.

IMG_0411Inappropriate. !

IMG_0137Elihu joins George and Peter as they play music for Waldorf’s annual Autumn Festival.

IMG_0108Then Elihu helps turn the hand crank as Vermont farmer Fred DePaul demonstrates some sheep shearing techniques. (Fred used to do work for our octogenarian friend Martha Carver many years ago.)

IMG_0125Here Fred shows how yarn is made from wool.

IMG_0200Look!! It’s Phoenix! A former classmate and much-missed friend, we haven’t seen him in months. This is a happy reunion.

IMG_0431Our friend Ken came to stay for a visit! Here he shows Elihu how he begins to paint a small landscape.

IMG_0436It’s interesting for us non-painters to see the whole process.

IMG_0444Elihu can’t see any color at all, but he can see values and can understand what Ken is doing and why.

IMG_0440There’s usually a lot of laughing going on when Ken visits.

IMG_0649And guess what? This visit Ken brought his eleven year old son! Our kids were yapping nonstop and getting along from the moment they met.

IMG_0659The boys roamed around the property in pursuit of the chickens.

IMG_0666At home with the flock already.

IMG_0419Mom came over to see our progress on Elihu’s Halloween costume. Here she shows him a photo of him on his first Halloween at the age of six months. He went as Dom Delouise as chef – and this year I’m going as the chef, he as my creation. Full circle.

IMG_0414Ken and mom always enjoy a visit.

IMG_0459Here we are, at our local costume contest!

IMG_0458The middle school girls think his costume is awesome.

IMG_0508And finally, after years of not even placing (??), Elihu wins for most original costume. Yay!

IMG_0481Cute!

IMG_0523We ran into two ninth graders from Waldorf!

IMG_0472And we ran into this creepy guy outside on the way to the haunted hayride.

IMG_0476Kind of a surreal shot…

IMG_0636On we go to our last stop, a party our friends hold every year. Elihu’s gone to it nearly all of his life.

IMG_0562Here’s our hostess, Bairbre McCarthy, as Sherlock Holmes.

IMG_0609Finally, the plate of spaghetti helps himself to a little snack as host Hank, as Robin Hood, chats with Grandma.

IMG_0579Another kid Elihu’s age. Cute costume!

IMG_0575A little fly buzzes around the table, and in Elihu’s own words “Ahh! This is going to bring my rating down to three stars!” (Elihu was a spider when he was this tiny guy’s size, and I had gone as Little Miss Muffet, you know, as in ‘the spider who sat down beside her.’)

IMG_0630Goodbye, and thank you! We had a great time as always!

IMG_0646When Elihu I and got home a couple hours later – look what Ken had done!

IMG_0702The next morning we’re off to do a little creating of our own as Elihu’s classmates begin to make their costumes for the school Halloween parade.

IMG_0713The students are required to go as something from their studies; the boys are going as Roman soldiers. They’re going to hide behind their shields.

IMG_0727This is what we’re going for… Not enough time or material for all the details, but we’ll get as close as we’re able.

IMG_0725Pretty good, huh?

IMG_0745And here’s the final result a few hours later. Good thing I had some paint leftover after doing my kitchen hallway. It was the perfect color red!

IMG_0378Back at home Elihu keeps on creating and builds the tallest tower yet from his Keva blocks – sixteen stories, all the way to the ceiling…

IMG_0375…a view from the inside looking up.

IMG_0249We love our adventures, but in the end, we both really enjoy staying home more than anything else. Here Elihu is surrounded by his very favorite things; his bass, some paper airplanes, and those silly Pokemon cards. After a full fall schedule, there’s no place like home.

 

June Interim June 22, 2013

As usual, there’s too much to do, too much to post about. But the tiny moments are what give our life its shape and color, so whether it’s newsworthy or not, I’m going to post an assortment of photos from the past week. From busking on Broadway in Saratoga to loading up on grain at the feed store and much in between, we keep ourselves busy.

Thursday was the first day of summer, and thankfully, after incredible amounts of rain lately, the weather was classic summer – with a bright blue sky decorated by random wisps of cloud, all at a perfectly comfortable 75 degrees. Elihu and I made the pilgrimage to Arnold’s Feed and Grain in an effort to both cut our costs and use locally grown grain to feed our flock. We had a lovely drive and stopped several times to admire our surroundings. On the way, we also stopped at the nursing home to visit Ace, the sculptor of the beautiful pieces that live in our garden. On the way home we found our road dead-ended at the local airport! This was too good to pass up, so we paid them a little visit too. When we got home we worked some more on our garden, then passed the evening watching the lightening bugs and jumping on the trampoline in the moonlight.

June 2013 end of school 305Elihu absolutely adores Austin.

June 2013 end of school 310Grandma says hello

June 2013 end of school 248A quiet moment with Maximus

June 2013 end of school 245Skin and feathers, all so soft

June 2013 end of school 332Later on Elihu plays recorder for Max

June 2013 end of school 271And then plays a game of tag with Austin. (See where Austin went?)

June 2013 end of school 181The Zen process of dishes. Must spend an hour and a half in dish-related labor each day. !

June 2013 Interim 103The blooming Locust tree branches pretty up our kitchen

June 2013 Summer Begins 030A spent bottle of shampoo? Huh? Well, it’s only after five years here that we’ve finally used it up. (Yes, Elihu does wash his hair regularly.) A few years ago I took some comfort in this bottle having come from…

June 2013 Summer Begins 029Skokie, Illinois!!   I’m over it now.

June 2013 end of school 205Boy’s play – outdoors

June 2013 end of school 237 Boy’s play – indoors

June 2013 Interim 069And boy’s play – on the street

June 2013 Interim 0724:20 somewhere…

June 2013 Interim 004One of those ‘quality of life upgrades’ – a bolt cutter. Everyone should have a pair.

June 2013 end of school 279The garden at first, with landscape fabric (a week away and I’ll lose the place to weeds if I don’t use it)

June 2013 Interim 025And now draped with Remay – a miracle poly cloth that protects against critters. It doesn’t look as romantic as a natural garden, but it works as a fence and is our greatest hope this year. The bolt cutter was used to cut the wire hoop frame underneath.

June 2013 Interim 026Sank up to my knees several times – actually panicked for a moment. Sticky stuff!

June 2013 Interim 059What resort is this?

June 2013 Interim 061It’s the private rooftop club at the Hillhouse! And here’s the rest of the view… garden, trampoline, apple tree to left. Note how our yard descends down the hill; it has three different terraced levels – including more yard below the garden.

June 2013 Summer Begins 020Elihu loves Irik a lot, but we need to find him another home soon… Three roosters is two too many.

June 2013 Summer Begins 035Peek a boo! This guy is part Jersey Giant, and he is the biggest chicken we’ve had yet. And he’s got feathered feet too. Cool.

June 2013 Summer Begins 053Ace’s bird…

June 2013 Summer Begins 068And Ace himself!

June 2013 Summer Begins 065Love that Ace was wearing an ace, too.

June 2013 Summer Begins 071Off to the countryside to the feed store. This is a magnificent view looking west across the mighty Mohawk River valley to the other side. Elihu can’t see well or far, of course, but somehow this vista got him – he really understood the distance it represented. He even saw that tiny puff of a tree on the ridge! Made me SO happy. This is not an average occurrence.

June 2013 Summer Begins 074I got some binocs that work particularly well with one’s glasses on – and BINGO! Now he can see birds and views…

June 2013 Summer Begins 081Mecca!

June 2013 Summer Begins 086A good third less than at the commercial Tractor Supply. Plus it supports a local, family-operated business. Even with the gas, it was a big savings. Now we’re all stocked up.

June 2013 Summer Begins 087Jim’s telling Elihu he thinks with a little leverage he might actually be able to handle a 50 pound bag. ! Mom’s not so sure…

June 2013 Summer Begins 094Thanks, Arnolds! Very pretty place you got.

June 2013 Summer Begins 099The nearest ‘city’ of Amsterdam, and its bustling downtown.

June 2013 Summer Begins 101Loved this sign since I was a kid. It’s the city library.

June 2013 Summer Begins 167It’s the Saratoga County airport! Woo hoo!

June 2013 Summer Begins 112Ok, so my legally blind kid recognized the profile – and correctly identified – this plane as it taxied in on the tarmac. Crazy.

June 2013 Summer Begins 153Mama loves vintage

June 2013 Summer Begins 156mmm

June 2013 Summer Begins 133Talk about the wind in your hair. !

June 2013 Summer Begins 136Can you imagine??

June 2013 Summer Begins 139Check out the word ‘experimental’ on the side. ?! Yeeps.

June 2013 Summer Begins 118Something’s coming in

June 2013 Summer Begins 124Beautiful in blue

June 2013 Summer Begins 150Not a very glamorous job, but necessary. !

June 2013 Summer Begins 149And a helicopter, too! That’s my dream – one day I have to know that feeling…

June 2013 Summer Begins 178Back at home, Elihu surprises Mama! He himself only weighs 58 pounds, after all!

June 2013 Summer Begins 175Chicken approved.

 

Iron Bird May 21, 2013

Those who live in my neck of the woods and are familiar with the main north-south commute from Saratoga to Schenectady may know of the old garage on route 50 which is surrounded by large abstract sculptures and painted over in bizarre icons. I myself had remembered passing this strange landmark upon occasion over the past two decades, and in the past few years as I began to pass it even more frequently (as Elihu and his father went back and forth to the train station) I’d begun to wonder more deeply about the place. I’d stopped a few times to take photographs, and as I examined the whole menagerie more closely I became increasingly  intrigued with the place, the paintings, the sculptures… Who’d made them? Why were they all just sitting there? And where was this person now? What were the stories behind the pieces? I’d loved this art for years, and now with the place for sale by owner, they sat, rusting, languishing. At first it was just a small hunch, a wisp of an idea… could I possibly own one?  There was one piece in particular that called to me… a lovely bird… and I knew exactly where it would go in my garden… Then months would pass, nothing would change. There they still sat. My vision remained, too. I loved that bird. I could find a way to take it home with me, right? Why not? But how? I can’t just take em. That’s not right. Gotta find out who owns them and go from there. And money, oh, yeah. I’ll have to set some aside. Gotta make a plan here…

About a year ago I finally took down the number on the sign and called. After a bit of Googling to equip myself with some preliminary backstory on the place, I called the family who was selling the property and spoke to the artist’s brother. The artist himself was named Allan – known better to friends as ‘Ace’ – and had made the sculptures several decades back. Ace had been in Viet Nam, had returned a changed man, had discovered relief in the bottle, in the Bible, and finally in his artistic creations. At one time in his life he lived all across the country, hitching rides and taking odd jobs where he could. But finally he ended up here, in his grandfather’s old auto shop, using bits and pieces from the junk pile and welding them into large, free-standing organic shapes. He was still living, his brother told me (to my great relief!) and in fact he was in a nursing home not terribly far from my home. Within a day of that call I was off to meet Ace.

Since that first meeting, I’ve stopped in a handful of times to visit. Although I understand he has his off days, whenever I’ve seen him he’s been pretty together. Recalling stories, tidbits of this, tidbits of that. He’d had a stroke about eight years ago, and that’s when he moved out of the property. His brother’s been taking care of the place ever since. When I told his brother I’d like to acquire some of Ace’s pieces – in particular that delicate bird which had so captivated me – he expressly told me that it was business between me and his brother alone. Told me to take it up with Ace. As this man was a tremendous fan of Ayn Rand and put great value on respecting the rights of the individual (and would therefore not intercede in the sale of something that was not his to sell), I realized my hoped-for pieces were safe for now. No one had expressed interest before, and I had a direct line to the artist. Perfect!

For my 50th birthday I bought myself two pieces of sculpture. I visited Ace, wrote up a little contract, put the money in his account at the home, kissed him in thanks and left. Life got busy, and while I’d intended to pick them up sooner, a week had passed and they still sat waiting for me. One morning the phone rang. It was Ace’s brother. He had my ‘bird’. My heart pounded with the thrill of knowing it would soon be here, in its new home. We made plans for the next day. Elihu and I met the brother at the garage, but when we pulled in I felt something might not be right. There were only two pieces left of the dozen or more that had sat there for years… and none my bird. These pieces had sat virtually ignored for decades, and now they were nearly all gone? Just like that??  Ace and I had agreed on two pieces, so Elihu and I looked over the mere three remaining and had just chosen the small one (which he titled “Mayfly”) when Bill pulled up and told me the bird was in the locked garage. I held my breath as he opened the door… and then – I’m ashamed to say I reacted so strongly – when an entirely different bird appeared my heart sank and my body went cold. Oh no… I’d waited. And I’d trusted this man. Thought he had let the deal be mine and Ace’s alone. “That’s not the one” I said, trying not to cry. Really. Cry? Oh, but I’d had this vision for so many months now… So much anticipation. This piece really had that ‘look’; it was Ace’s for sure – and it was a nice piece, just not the one I’d held in my mind’s eye for so long. Fifty year old women don’t cry about things like this, I’m thinking to myself. Suck it up. You’re lucky you got anything at all. But still. This feels wrong. He sold my bird to someone else – knowing full well which one it was I wanted! And you know what else? Although Ace and I had agreed upon two pieces of sculpture for the price, his brother told me that was unacceptable. !! The small piece already in our van would cost extra. Extra? I thought this was between Ace and me! I hadn’t any extra with me – Elihu and I had hoped to have a celebratory lunch out. (Maybe I didn’t need extra money for eating out – there was less to celebrate than I’d thought.) I made him an offer of the remaining cash I had on me, and as I went to find it in my purse he agreed to take ten less. So at least we could swing lunch. Thanks. Sigh.

Always one to try and preserve relationships as best I can, I smiled my way through some small talk as we looked around Ace’s old shop together. We even had some friends in common – the folks at Elihu Farm! But that didn’t help us here and now. As Elihu admired the stuff all around, and even as the brother gave us a couple of Ace’s things as mementos, a sick feeling still hung in my gut. I was stunned and in disbelief. Something so simple. A man proclaims his principals, proselytizes about them to me (an earlier visit had him and his wife urgently encouraging me to seriously begin to study Ayn Rand and learn about the importance of individuals acting on their own behalf), then doesn’t even live by them in the end. Ugh. My tummy wasn’t much better even by the time we got home.

I’d thought some time, some perspective might lighten my heart. And yes, it has. A little. And yes, this still might be a ‘best mistake ever’. Cuz I’ve told myself that I’m just going to have to learn how to weld a bird of a similar shape on my friggin own if I can’t have Ace’s bird in my garden. We’re a bird family, after all! There is a woman not far from here who is a sculptor of large pieces. Already considering calling her up. Can one just up and learn to weld? Really? Secretly, this missing bird has got me going… been collecting interesting looking pieces of metal from abandoned farms, from trash piles in the woods… all with the hope of doing what Ace has… Can I? Not convinced I’ll take it that far. I just miss that little shape, that gentle turn of iron… and still wish she were here with us.

For now I’m going to enjoy the pieces we have. They animate our little perennial forest garden so delightfully. They just add a certain charm, humor and extra presence which seems to bring the space alive. Since I’ve lived here I’ve secretly held a vision of this property with footpaths running throughout, a flowing creek under the bridge, terraced land held back with lovely stone walls, perennials at every turn, trees that will one day make a glorious canopy overhead, walls of lilacs that will burst each spring….

iron bird may 13 083

Here is the ‘wrong’ bird. He’s growing on me, though.

(Maximus hissed at it like crazy when I took it out of the van and stood it up. !)

iron bird may 13 081

and now from the other side (looking toward the driveway from the woods)

iron bird may 13 088

Here’s little Mayfly

iron bird may 13 080

and up close..

iron bird may 13 091

Elihu smooching rooster Irik on the bridge

iron bird may 13 093

Tall Bird, Mayfly, Irik and Elihu

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A handmade leather vest Ace made for himself.

A part of this guy will always live on here at the Hillhouse.