Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The four elements. In every place in the earth, it seems one prevails. At the heart of Havenwood lives the spirit of water.

When we first walked our southern woods, it was dry. We knew this was a wetland area, but in Indiana that can mean any place that gets muddy sometimes. The degree to which our lower woods would flood and the persistence of standing water have come as a surprise.

I had envisioned this forest floor planted with native ferns and wildflowers, a charming and green undergrowth providing beautiful views from the driveway. It seems we need to rethink the plan.

I don't know much about marshes or what, if anything, grows well in one. Most of the trees in these woods don't do well, toppling over before they reach maturity. Their roots probably rot over time. There is a kind of native pine that likes swamps, though we are just above its northern range. I'm looking into those.

Draining the place is not an option. There's nowhere lower to send the water to. And besides, wetlands are an important part of the ecosystem. I do want to preserve it.

If anyone has any suggestions for plantings or management of an area that floods and is often wet, please let me know? I imagine somebody out there knows what to do with a swamp of one's own. I'm all ears.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Our first Christmas tree in the new house is, appropriately enough, made up of some of our family ornaments and empty spaces where more of them would be if we could find the other box.

It pretty much represents our current state, partly settled in and partly still stumbling around, with an overall spirit of good cheer.

This is the first room since we had kids where we could actually fit a tree and the furniture into the same room. In the old place, we had to draw straws to see who got a chair and who had to sit on the floor when we wanted to watch TV during the holidays. I can't say as I'll miss that particular tradition.

Our tree doesn't go up until the weekend before Christmas, and the lights are lit until midnight on New Year's Eve. There is an ornament for each year for each kid, reflecting some milestone or special interest they had in each year. We collect a few from each vacation as keepsakes. Others have special meaning for my husband and me; those generally are from before the kids came along, and some came from our own childhood homes.

Trimming the tree becomes a trip down memory lane, with everyone sharing stories of the places and times we've shared. (Oddly enough, nobody seems to feel particularly nostalgic about taking the ornaments off again. Good old Mom and Dad always end up with that job.)

It took some doing to whip the place into shape in time for the holidays, and it's a long way from Martha Stewart perfection. But with the familiar decorations and goodies, and with family all around, it finally feels like home.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and that you're enjoying a peaceful, happy holiday season.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Souls on Ice

It takes a lot of faith to step out onto a frozen pond: faith in your own strength; faith in the universe; and most of all, faith in the people who will have to save your soggy, freezing butt if you fall through.

But if you dare, and if you trust, the earth reveals hidden wonders and delights.

This weekend the hubby announced the pond ice was thick enough for skating. He's the only one of us who actually owns a pair of ice skates, though, so for the rest of us it was thick enough for scooting.

The boys and I were timid at first, stepping gingerly on the frosty crust and listening for cracking sounds. There were none. The snow, ice storm, and arctic temperatures of the last two weeks have turned the water to stone--and the ice turned all of us into kids for the day.

Hubby tried out his old moves, zipping between us and racing circles around the edges. I scuffled off to explore the many shrubs and plants I had admired from the bank. To my surprise, the thicket behind the pond is covered in lovely red berries, and the bush that forms a little island has wonderful, spiky seed pods that hang like Christmas tree ornaments, glittering within the ice.

Ice seeds2IMG_3884

Beneath the ice itself were more surprises. There is a small circle of thinner, clear ice, like a portal into the world below. Up from the impossibly cold water, tiny creatures swam up toward the light. The guys here are examining what may be an insect nymph, no more than half an inch long, its fins beating fast as hummingbird wings.

Ice Fishing

Could this adventure have ended badly? Sure. But it didn't. It ended in great memories, a warm fire, and hot cocoa. Sometimes, faith is rewarded. Sometimes, you just have to step out onto the ice.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Protect Your Nuts

I love trees, and I love oaks best of all. I'm not sure why I feel such an affinity for them, but I think it's mainly because they get so big, and that it takes so long for them to grow to their full maturity. An old oak represents a century or two of time's passing. It stands steady and unmoved while the tides of history ebb and flow around its roots. I never gave much thought, though, to the seedlings.

Back in the fall, while roaming around in the woods, I remarked to the hubby that we had all these oak trees and yet there wasn't a single acorn in sight. It seemed weird. Even a little creepy.

Then I read an article somewhere about how deer eat so many acorns that they are changing the balance of the forests from predominantly oak to maple. There are areas where conservationists are fencing off areas so that the nuts have a chance to sprout and mature, to try to preserve the species. With so many deer around here, I figured that solved the mystery of the missing acorns.

Not so. It seems there is a worrisome absence of acorns in general this year: Acorn Shortage Drives Scientists Nutty. Aside from the lack of new oak trees, this means trouble for deer, squirrels, turkeys, and other wildlife that depend on acorns to survive the winter.

Nobody knows yet if this is just an unusually light year following an unusually heavy one, or whether it signals a more deeply rooted environmental problem.

At the old house, there used to be dozens of ancient oaks around us, and the ground was littered with acorns in the fall. In spring, we'd pull up loads of oak seedlings as weeds in the flower beds and lawn. I wish now that I had potted some of them up to transplant into the woods.

I know it's late in the year to gather and plant acorns, but if you're lucky enough to have seedlings next spring, please treat them kindly. They may be among the last, precious few.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Walking on Water

Time for a cheerful post, don't you think?

It's been cold enough to freeze the many small ponds in the neighborhood, but the wild residents keep showing up anyway.

I believe these are Chinese geese, the first I've ever seen. They are often at this particular pond, down the road from us a bit. Click on the photo to enlarge; doesn't the one on the far left look like he's conducting an orchestra?

I've been a bit jealous that they always choose that pond and not ours. But considering the noise they were making when I stopped to snap a shot, maybe I'd better be careful what I wish for.

These are my own strange ducks, checking out the ice on our pond to see if it's thick enough for ice skating.

Some areas were fine, like the one they're walking on, but the muddier parts weren't safe yet. We're still hoping for a freeze long and hard enough to turn it into a backyard rink.

I'm way behind on Christmas preparations this year, so blogging may have to take a back seat for a bit. Hope you're all having a wonderful holiday season!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Beginning to Say Goodbye

I don't know how to write this post. I've been thinking it over for quite a while now, and I'm no closer to knowing what I want to say. I just know I need to say something. So here goes.

My father in law has Alzheimer's disease.

There. I finally put that in writing. Since his diagnosis a few months ago, I've been trying not to believe it, or to push it into the future; I've tried to think it's no big deal right now, just something that might be an issue in a few years. But it isn't.

We hadn't seen Dad for six months or so when we went out for the summer wedding. Already, it was clear that he wasn't quite himself. Once twinkly-eyed, engaged, and eager to laugh, he seemed distant and quiet. He'd respond if spoken to, but wasn't really able to carry on a conversation. He still did his woodworking, but the craftsmanship was gone. He would overeat, by several platefuls if not stopped, apparently forgetting the meal he had just had.

Dad and Mom came to us for Thanksgiving this year, as always, but for the first time their kids drove them here. Dad protested at first, but in the end he said he enjoyed being driven and watching the scenery from the passenger seat.

All of us knew this would probably be the last Thanksgiving where he would understand what was going on. Of course, I wanted it to be perfect. And of course, it wasn't. In fact, it was the worst turkey I ever served. Maybe the Alzheimer's was a mercy in that particular instance, because he ate like a farmhand and seemed to enjoy every bite, flaws and all.

He seemed his old self sometimes, exploring the house and property with Mom and my husband, congratulating us on the place and taking the new tractor out for a spin whenever he could. Then, there would be moments ... when he couldn't recall how to shake up a cruet of salad dressing; couldn't find the drinking glasses, though he'd been shown several times where they were; when he slipped on my coat instead of his own, though they look nothing alike, and didn't notice; when he couldn't play his favorite card game without help.

Mom has changed, too. Her naturally controlling tendencies have gone into overdrive. She is never more than a few feet away from Dad, watching his every move, commenting on or "correcting" most of them. She is exhausting herself already with his care.

Most disconcerting for me is Dad's blank passivity in the face of all this. Time was, he'd have put up quite a fuss at being bossed around. No more.

My husband's family is a practical, unsentimental lot. They seem to be taking this in stride, adapting to and accommodating Dad's needs without missing a beat. I envy them their resilience.

Maybe it's partly having lost my own mother this year, and missing my own Dad still, but I'm afraid I'm not handling this nearly as well. I'm trying to find some way to be at peace with this inevitable loss, but the process of the disease is so cruel.

It's like watching him fade, going transparent at the edges, like an old horror movie come frighteningly to life. The Invisible Man. And it isn't out there, up ahead. It's now. It's really happening. Right now.