The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Long Winter’s Haul February 8, 2015

We’ve had another full week here at the Hillhouse. It’s been relentlessly snowy too, and that’s getting to be a bit tiresome for us. But then it’s tiresome for all of us in snowy territory. At our place in particular the garbage piles up outside our door as roadside bins become covered in great mounds, recycling goes out the window as bottles, cans and paper get tossed along with the trash, and lazy folks like me can just forget about composting altogether. Every last bit of refuse simply gets put in one common bag and tossed on the heap to be dealt with weeks hence when the many feet of snow finally melt towards the end of March. It’s usually about then that Elihu begins to sink into the despair of a never-ending winter, and that’s the time I have to remind us both that by his birthday – April 28th – no evidence of winter will remain. (So far, that’s never been wrong. But hey, never say never. !)

Knowing the snow will be gone in two and a half month’s time helps to keep us sane. Keeping busy, watching birds from our kitchen window, flying rc helicopters and snuggling up on the couch with some good books are the other staples that help us to keep it together as we wait out the long, cold season. There’s also plenty of time to practice our music, and that’s a big bonus of indoor living that I’m always grateful for.

But while it’s fun to hunker down inside and get cozy, I can’t help but feel that getting out in the weather, aside from just an afternoon of sledding, might be good for us. There are two hitches to that goal: one, it’s terribly bright outside and that can discourage Elihu from wanting to go out. I totally get that. Yeah, he could probably use both his contacts and his glasses, and that would offer relief, but at the end of the day he’s still a kid and as such doesn’t really have the patience for the contacts. So for him, mostly he’d rather just stay inside.

The other sticking point is the depth of the snow. I’d like to walk out in the woods to check the loggers’ progress, but I’m not sure it’s possible to walk back there without snowshoes. The snow’s up to my knees already, and with more coming, the going won’t get any easier. So that will likely be the next adventure. (I’m on the lookout for used ones, but ’tis the season. So far I haven’t found any good deals. I must remember to look for snowshoes in the garage sales of July.)

Here are some snowy snapshots from our past week…

IMG_0679The Hillhouse property looks so beautiful by morning’s light.

IMG_0670At the right you can see our garbage pile. Kind of. Hard to believe under all this there’s a pond and a garden, just waiting for Spring…

IMG_0762Things are moving along at the Studio. Snow doesn’t affect these hardy mountain men in the least.

IMG_0765They’re even ready to work at night. !

IMG_0726I’ve been underfoot so much on the job site that the forester got Elihu and me our own safety vests. It was very kind of him – and a very good idea too.

IMG_0759We’re at mom’s house here, which is a couple hundred feet away from the Studio. Here’s the view from her kitchen window. While we ate one of her corn-fed deer last week (roadkill that our neighbor promptly butchered and put in his freezer), she has all but one of her regular flock of turkeys visiting now. She would know; she counts em daily. If that missing bird had ended up on the side of the road, we mighta had turkey for dinner too.

IMG_0733They came so close to becoming our national bird. Goofy birds, but gorgeous plumage.

IMG_0714I’ve cancelled my cable tv (again) in order to save some money. Realizing that the cable person still needs to physically shut off the service at the top of the pole (which would involve carrying a ladder thru very deep drifts), I hope to dissuade the fellow/gal from following through. Never hurts to ask, right?

IMG_1000Back inside we enjoy a quartet of Blue Jays at our feeder.

IMG_0867Our resident Red Bellied Woodpecker glows in the early morning light.

IMG_0708The colors continue inside with our blooming Amaryllis.

IMG_0974Breakfast on a snowy winter’s day.

IMG_1015Later on our friend Larry stopped by with his fiddle and banjo – he’s going to park them here for a bit while he finds a new place to live. A great deal for us! If you leave Elihu in a room with an instrument long enough, he’ll figure it out.

IMG_1019They get it all tuned up.

IMG_1024At first it doesn’t sound too promising…

IMG_1028…but what a few minutes and a little rosin can do! Elihu sounds pretty good.

IMG_0797Elihu’s discovering his inner David Amram

IMG_0808He’s working out parallel harmony parts. Doesn’t sound half bad.

IMG_0827But in the end, it’s really all about the bass…

IMG_0836… and clever new ways to approach the instrument. This is Elihu’s “sleeping man’s technique for lazy players”… Just lie down beside the instrument and play as usual. !

IMG_0887And now for something completely different… Mom has taken us out to dinner. We’re at Istanblue, the local Turkish place. This is the octopus we ‘discovered’ a month or two back. It blew mom away – she concurred, it was the best she’d ever had.

IMG_0889We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

IMG_0893I’m having Iskander (in the foreground). It’s essentially gyros meat on top of a bread stuffing topped with a tomato and yogurt sauce. Pure heaven.

IMG_0906If it weren’t for selfies there’d be no pics of the three of us.

IMG_0937And now, to the theater. We’re at the local middle school’s production of Mary Poppins. Amanda Leske, the gal playing Miss Poppins, was off-the-chain good, from her snappy portrayal of Miss P to her vibrant, in-tune singing. Her talent must be in part due to genetics; her dad’s an award-winning banjo player in town.

IMG_0935The gal in the yellow was in Elihu’s kindergarten and first grade classes. Amazing to see her so grown up. Janie did a fantastic job of playing her character, also named Jane. I had to include this pic because the girl in blue is Alex, a one-time piano student of mine and friend from down the road. Her parents are both Chicagoland ‘expats’ like me. (We share a love of food the likes of which cannot be found here in upstate New York. !)

IMG_0970More amazing still were the aerial feats of the production. Here, Mary Poppins takes flight after her job in the Banks’ household is done. A fitting end to a lovely night for my little aviator and me.

 

The Birds Are Back In Town March 14, 2013

march mid 2013 050

Ok. So maybe not in this picture. (I didn’t want to feel the past half hour spent waiting for the aforementioned birds to have been in vain, so I felt I had to include a photo of some sort. ) But this is the table feeder where we do see em when they visit. And there most definitely were some long-awaited, newly-arrived avian subjects visiting quite recently. (In fact there were a few milling about just a few moments before I pulled out the camera.) Yesterday, in a delightfully Spring-like teaser of a day, with sunshine and temperatures in the low fifties, there was an impressive reunion of birds at our feeder all day long. But today, nearly imperceptible flakes of snow swirl about in the air, and the world is winter-cold again. We all know it won’t last, but it’s a bit disappointing nonetheless. I’m less inspired to do my outdoor chores, and it seems the birds themselves are no more inclined to move about unnecessarily than I.

While Elihu usually hears the new arrivals long before I do, it’s obviously me who’s the one most likely to spot them first. It’s not often that Elihu actually sees a bird in the wild – and not on our kitchen window feeder. Such a small object at such a distance just doesn’t register in his limited vision. But this year – just two days ago – we were able to share a Spring first. My heart was so full of joy that Elihu finally, for the first time ever, in fact, truly saw a Red Winged Blackbird with his own eyes. We had pulled the car over to spend some time watching our neighborhood juvenile Red Tailed Hawk, and were taking turns with the binoculars, when we heard it. That shrill, unmistakeable trilling sound. Instantly a feeling of mid summer washed over us – I almost couldn’t believe my own ears and asked Elihu for confirmation. Yes! That was a Red Winged Blackbird – so he must be very close… I looked to the hedges that ringed the close-by field, and sure enough, there he was, atop a young tree, like a perfectly placed Christmas tree ornament. “I see it!” Elihu exclaimed. So many times Elihu claims to see a bird because he doesn’t want to admit he can’t – but this time there was no mistaking it. I knew he saw it. And I could hear it in his voice. What a glorious moment. Hallelujah, Spring is almost here!

And then there are the Cowbirds. My mother may not feel such warmth for them (they have a nasty practice of laying their oversized eggs in other’s nests, thereby ensuring the success of their offspring and a result, the demise of the hosts’ little ones) but no matter, we are thrilled to see them return each year. The males arrive first and begin to practice their courtship dances. Sometimes we’ll see five males on the feeder at once, all trying to outdo each other. Watching their dances is like watching a piece of hard-won nature footage on a PBS program… We can never quite believe we’re seeing this in real life. They puff up the ruffs around their heads, spread their wings out and appear to grow in size by a good 30%. Then they emit this ultra-high pitched warble which sounds like a computer-generated sound from a video game. They strut about, taking a few steps toward the object of their dance, which may be the competing males or a possible mate. The display lasts all of a few seconds, but they’ll often repeat it a half dozen times in a single trip to the feeder. Absolutely fascinating to watch. We don’t like to think of the predatory way in which they keep the species going, but hey. As Elihu would say, they’re just doing what God made em to do.

I can’t imagine living in a climate where the resident birds never changed. We here at the Hillhouse feel the march of time so much more intimately by seeing the birds that stop by our kitchen window. Spring is a time of both passers-by and return residents; some species stay only a day or two, some stay for a few weeks before leaving again, and sometimes seasonal residents just disappear altogether almost overnight. Lastly, there are those who return to take up permanent residence for the warmer months. All in all, there is a lot of renewed activity on our feeder from March through May.

There are the roadside appearances too. Besides the Red Winged Blackbird, just this week I’ve spotted some newly returned Robins poking around in the short, winter-weary grass. And although I haven’t seen a Bluebird yet, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one swoop past over my car as I wind down the steep hill at the top of Braim Road. And of course, there’s the return of the Hummingbirds sometime around the first week in May near my birthday, and usually the week before – the week of Elihu’s birthday – we begin to hear that unmistakeable buzzing chirp of the male Woodcock from the middle of the big field as he searches for his mate.

Yup, the birds are back in town, and this thin Lizzy (almost, still workin on it) is most certainly happier for it. Ahh, finally. Spring is nigh…