Monday, November 23, 2009

Resetting the feeders

Back in the spring when I started this blog, one of my buddies commented on my ‘whining’ here about bad golf play. He’s a guy who loves the game, but due to his brutal work schedule, seldom gets a chance to play.

So I suppose the entries here about the coming of winter and the loss of fall in southwest Ohio could be interpreted as ‘whining’ again. Maybe. On the other hand, it does get pretty grey in these parts and spending much time outside is a testimony to layering one’s clothes. It’s not the place for shorts, tee shirts, golf, or balmy-weather biking. Still, getting out for a brisk walk has it’s seasonal benefits.

As does setting out the birdfeeders again.

Just yesterday the back porch, the namesake of this blog and a great place to sit for three seasons of the year, was transformed into winter mode: the lichen-encrusted canopy was cut down, brushed off, and stowed for winter. And in its absence, the birdfeeders will be reinstalled today just outside our big dining room windows -- looking north into a second story of maple, walnut, and spruce.

True, we see the trees all summer, too, but in winter they are transformed into staging areas for birds coming to the feeders. I installed a battery of eye-screws into the soffit just outside those big windows years ago, and after I get done posting this entry (it’s still before 8 am here), I am heading to the garage to collect, wash, and then hang feeders. I am hopeful that by the end of the day, chickadees and tufted titmice will have figured out what’s offered, and come partake of a daily banquet early this Thanksgiving week.

If you have never put a birdfeeder right outside a window, you should consider it. True, we get the occasional bird flying into the window, but usually that’s when there is no feeder hanging there. When the feeders are destination, the flying brethren seem to know where to stop. And I have to tell you, I have never seen a bird so up-close-and-personal as when it comes into the feeder. Cindy Lou and I can sit at the dining room table and observe the feathered folks no more than six feet away. It is truly amazing. When the thistle feeder is full, we might have eight goldfinches at a time. It is a sight to behold -- and truly something that brightens our winter days.

So if you haven’t hung a feeder yet, now is the time. This is what we provide at our back window:

niger thistle: This stuff I sometimes call ‘black gold,’ both because it’s pretty expensive and draws the most colorful birds to the window: goldfinches. This time of year, the ‘goldies’ have molted pretty olive. The males look much like the females. But by spring, hold on! We will watch the males ‘yellow up’ right before our eyes. Exceptionally cool. House finches feed here, too. This tube feeder has very small holes that only thistle seeds pass through.

suet: It is possible to find suet at the grocery, and perhaps that’s a little better for birds, but we usually buy prepared suet cakes filled with seeds. The small basket feeder will invite woodpeckers and other bug eaters. Honest to goodness, we’ve even had a pileated woodpecker hanging on our suet basket before. For those of you who remember Walter Lantz’s cartoon ‘Woody Woodpecker’ character, you’ve been introduced to a pileated. These guys are every bit two-feet tall from talons to top-knot. They don’t stay long, but when that bird hangs just outside your window, it’s a sight you don’t soon forget! Our suet also draws downy and red-bellied woodpeckers.

sunflower seeds: This is the most popular seed we provide. We’ll get titmice, chickadees, cardinals (on occasion: Don’t tell our cardinals they are exclusively ground feeders), and nuthatches, among others. Earlier this fall I hung a sunflower feeder on the front porch, filled with mammoth sunflower seeds we grew in our garden. That gallon-supply of sunflowers is almost gone already. And another cool thing: When birds get sloppy and drop seeds, porches populates with groundfeeders like juncos, cardinals, and squirrels.

peanuts: The fourth feeder I’ll hang today will be filled with Spanish peanuts. No shells, but au naturel. No salt, that’s for sure. Bug eaters love peanut protein. Sure to draw acrobatic squirrels, too.

One other thing we did last year for the first time was heat the bird bath. Very nice! From our window, we not only watch birds at the feeder, but also can see some non-feeder birds come into the non-frozen water. We even had a hermit thrush last winter. I think I saw her again a few weeks ago. I’ll keep you posted who we see as winter grinds on. If you see something cool at your feeders, report back here. I’d love to know what’s happening in your neighborhood.

Today’s elder idea: Several of Nature’s People / I know and they know me / I feel for them a transport / Of Cordiality

Emily Dickinson

photo credit: Grandson Alex Bryant’s ‘cone feeder’ with Carolina chickadee aboard. (2003)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Waffle Shop

As you might know if you are one of my 80+ Facebook Friends, the 80th Waffle Shop is being held this week at Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Dayton. This event marks the 8th year yours truly has served as general chair. I was asked to speak on Waffle Shop as part of parish stewardship last Sunday. As this week’s blog, I thought I’d share some thoughts on this rich and beautiful event. Below is an excerpt from that address.

Waffle Shop, I am proud to say, is a dynamic act of hospitality that has been offered by the Christ Church congregation to our neighbors for many years. I’ve had an enlightening week reading over the fine History of Waffle Shop written and assembled by parishioner Phyllis Risner five years ago for our 75th anniversary event. As Phyllis reports, even though we count 1929 as the first official Waffle Shop, funds were raised by the women of the church starting in 1883 at an Annual Lunch and Sale. So in a way you could say this is a 125th anniversary.

By 1928, the one day event was called the Annual Bazaar, Luncheon and Dinner. On the menu? You could get a turkey dinner for $1 a plate. Or you could get a bread and butter sandwich for a nickel. Mince and pumpkin pie? 15 cents. And I might add the parish women sold a cook book that year. Special thanks to Penny Nixon and her crew for the two-year effort bringing the newest Christ Church cookbook into fruition, The Great Lady Cooks, available for sale as we speak.

In 1929, during another tough economic time, the women of Christ Church gave birth to Waffle Shop. As Dayton Newspapers columnist and Christ Church parishioner Roz Young reported in 1961, the idea of a waffle meal/fundraiser came from an Episcopal parish in Memphis -- Calvary Episcopal. One of our parishioners, Mrs. Rowan Greer, heard about the waffle event from her sister in Tennessee, and the Annual Lunch and Sale was changed forever. In 1929, that first Waffle Shop served 1,635 meals -- not too far off from what we do today -- but they did it over twelve days. We do it these days in four. Back then, by the way, you could get ‘Waffles with Pig Meat Sausage or Creamed Chicken’ for 40 cents. The women made just over $290 in 1929. All of it went to keep the Parish House in good order.

Since that time Waffle Shop has seen some changes. Back in the day when downtown was the commercial center of the region, Waffle Shop served not only lunch, but dinner, too, on Monday and Thursday, the nights the stores stayed open ‘til 9. In 1959, Waffle Shop set the record of serving downtown workers and Christmas shoppers with 751 meals in one day.

It is the deep historical connection of Waffle Shop to past parishioners of Christ Church that still lights me up, in this, my eighth year as general chair. Every time I see Mary Dahlberg laughing in her waffle apron, or Lisa Loftin explaining a new craft offered in the bazaar, or Maureen Boyles pouring batter into the carry-out waffle iron, or Ann Pettee wrapping up a breakable treasure for the trip home from Elsie’s Attic, or Donna Boensch directing a new server where to find decaf coffee in the dining room -- I sense a deep connection to Christ Church folk who did these same things so often for so many years. We are connected to Mrs. Lamar Fluhart, the first Waffle Shop chair; Rev. Phil Porter; Mary Kerr; Mrs. William Jarrett; Mrs. James Stuart; Clara Eberly; Ruthanna Austin; Elsie Hall. It was these Christ Church folk along with so many others who contributed to making Christ Church downtown Dayton’s own church. So many people have felt welcome here.

It is an amazing thing to see this building, The Great Lady of First Street, fill up with neighbors. I know that’s how I felt back in 2002 for my first real, full-time Waffle Shop. Seeing city and county commissioners, downtown workers, attorneys with their whole office, the mayor, the paper’s Dale Huffman, channel 2‘s Jim Bucher, and oh, so many friends, come through the lunch line -- all feeling welcome -- many with smiles on their faces -- has given me the sense that we are doing God’s work right here in God’s house. A house that we are commissioned to care for during our tenure. Back in the 1930s, Waffle Shop profits went for parish needs. Now we are proud to tell our visitors that 80% of proceeds -- over $7,000 last year and over $50,000 since 2003 -- go to the likes of Daybreak, The Other Place, The International Peace Museum, an after-school program in Russia, The Society for the Advancement of Culture and Welfare in Sierra Leone, and CARE House over by Children’s Medical, among others. It makes me proud.

Every day before we open Waffle Shop, the staff gathers for announcements and a prayer. At the end of that prayer, I like to remind everybody of a note I saw pinned to a door in a social service agency in Appalachia some years ago. It said, ‘If you can’t see the face of Christ in the next person who comes through the door, you might as well quit looking.’ Christ Church folk have opened that door many times, from the Annual Lunch and Sale in 1883 through so many Waffle Shops starting in 1929. We’ll be on the outlook for Christ coming through our door again this week. I sure hope you can join us. It’s a beautiful thing.

Today’s elder idea: Great food, quick service -- a happy place to meet friends.

Waffle Shop catch phrase c. 1930

Monday, November 9, 2009

Impending winter: Notes from Ohio

I hate to admit it, but I’ve felt a little depressed already by the advent of winter. Winter in southwest Ohio surely isn’t as bad as some of the world has to deal with. I mean, if the grey and cold get to us, what must it be like for the folks in Canada: the source of the frigid Alberta Clippers we have come to respect in these parts?

For me, it began back in October when every weekend was either cold or wet or both. I have come to rely on high blue skies and mild temperatures in the tenth month to celebrate the color that is at the heart of this amazing planet on which we live. I missed it. I’ve talked with others who feel the same. And now we enter into November, the real beginning of the season when the weather cools enough to keep us inside most of the time, the days are shorter with darkness impending by 5:30, and skies seem grey way too often, even if the sun comes out for an hour or so now and then.

And so I picked up Rick Bass’s Winter: Notes from Montana again the other day. It has become a personal favorite. The first half of the book is a beautiful testimonal to preparing for winter. Bass, a nature loving native of the South, finds himself and his girlfriend winter house-sitting a remote compound of buildings in the wild Yaak Valley as far north in Montana as one can go. The place is non-electrified and, as you might imagine, has no utilities. The only heat Bass and his partner will have is what he provides via cutting, splitting, and stacking cords and cords of wood. He never quite hits his goal of 30 cords, but he manages to gather enough to keep the wolf away from the door. Literally.

Bass journals from the beginning of his Yaak adventure, picking up his story from the beginning of their drive, a search to find the best place for a young couple to create. Elizabeth is an artist. Rick a writer. They think they might like the Southwest, but it just doesn’t click for them. Through a circuitous journey, they end up at Fix Ranch in the Yaak by late summer, early fall -- just in time for a frenetic effort to prepare for the numbing cold to come.

No, we won’t get a winter like that here. But the preparation idea is what I find so hopeful. The very concept of preparing for a natural season change by personally gathering resources to sustain life is wonderfully basic and connects us to legions of folks who had to take winter seriously to survive. Sadly, we have lost this need in our culture today. All we have to do is turn up the thermostat and when the blower kicks in, we are safe.

Still, I’ve done my share of splitting and stacking over the last couple of months. It’s not near what Bass needed, but it will be enough to enjoy some fires in the downstairs stove on some chilly days. Again I have found purpose this fall.

The coming of the grey season can be hard. Studies tell us we have a need for sunlight. We in Ohio, in community with the rest of the Northland, simply don’t get enough. And I’ve been through enough winters in my life by now to know precisely what is coming and how it is going to feel. Even amid the hope, it does get me down a little bit.

But I also know that following Cindy & my anniversary on winter solstice, the sun begins its journey back north. And following that will be a wet and chilly spring followed by majestic flowering that, likewise, defines this amazing planet on which we live. I thank the Spirit of the Universe every night for blessing me with experiencing another day on planet. Still, I ain’t big on grey.

Today’s elder idea: Everything’s going on, back in the woods behind the house. I found mountain lion tracks in a puddle. When I look at the trees, they’re standing the same way, waiting for winter. They’re ready.

Rick Bass

from Winter: Notes from Montana

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Music for the journey

My friend and writers’ group colleague Jim Hughes uses original photographs as a springboard to some of his writing. He has encouraged me to do the same. I have and will again, but more often I am interested in engaging the earth itself -- and recorded music -- for muse.

For most of my life I have done academic work listening to music. Somewhere in the process over thirty years ago, I found Windham Hill Records and the advent of the New Age genre. I listened to album after album, then CD after CD, while correcting papers, typing up a project, reading whatever, working in the darkroom, sometimes even trying to go to sleep. New Age became a constant companion. Early New Age offerings like Chiaroscuro by Mike Marshall and Darol Anger became a kind of personal soundtrack.

But most of all there was the enchanting sound of Brian Eno’s ambient collections, most importantly, Music for Airports. My introverted personality blended well with these minimalist collections of electronic sound waves, many themes voiced believably human. Some listeners, like my lovely wife -- a classically trained violinist -- become bored to tears by the redundancy. Not me. I find the seemingly unending repetition of aural ideas comforting.

And sometimes therein lies a distinct memory. Music for Airports occasionally evokes a quiet rainy afternoon long ago with kids in the backseat asleep, with me driving the curvy roads of a small town along the coast of northern Maine. The mother of my children and best friend sits beside me in the front seat. Hearing “2/1” can take me to that quiet drive along the hills of Bar Harbor any time. It’s worked for many, many years. Still does. Kind of wants to make me write about stuff, you know?

Today’s elder idea: What better thing to share with friends than music you love?