Saturday, December 29, 2012


A good snow usually doubles the traffic at our bird feeders and this morning was no exception. The winter wonderland brought a steady stream of blue jays, cardinals, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, and the red-bellied and downey woodpeckers. Our usual visitors. And to our delight this pileated woodpecker also joined the fray. In the thirty plus years we have lived here sightings of this bird have been several times a year in the woods behind our house but only last year did one come to the suet feeder just 15 feet from dining room windows.

The pileated is the largest woodpecker in North America but is surprisingly shy instead of bold as one might expect. She seemed ever alert as she crept around the tree for a bite or two and would take flight at any movement inside the house. This is a female, distinguished from the male by the black stripe from bill across her cheek. On males this stripe is red.

Woody Woodpecker, of Warner Brothers cartoon fame, was inspired by a pileated after the cartoonist was annoyed with a noisy one outside his honeymoon suite.

Here is a link to the distinctive sounds they make:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Walnut Vase

Walnut, Inlace
10"h X 6"

Recently completed but started months ago. I decided the original inlay design would not work and was stuck trying to decide what else to do.  The design is cut freehand and filled with the epoxy based Inlace.

I made a glass insert from a wine bottle so that it could be used for flowers. Turns out the diameter of wine bottles varies slightly depending on varietal. Had to drink several Pinot Noir or Bordeaux before I cut one successfully. Someone had to do it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Grandma Dietrich's Ginger Cookies

This is an old family recipe handed down from my father's grandmother. At 97 Dad says he still remembers her making them. It is one of my favorite cookies. Good flavor but its soft chewy texture is why I like them so much. A great treat in the Fall with a glass of fresh cold cider.

Grandma Dietrich's Ginger Cookies
1  c. sugar
1/2  c. butter
1 egg
1 c. molasses
1 tsp. in 1/2 c. hot water
3 1/2  c. flour
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 c. raisins

Bake 325 deg. 10-12 minutes. Yield 3 doz.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I'm Trying to Write You a Letter

I'm trying to write you a letter. I chose a good quality paper and my favorite quill. For better or worse, it will be in my own hand so just seeing it you will think of me, know that I was thinking of you and had something I wanted to say just to you.

I'm giving it a lot of thought in hopes that you will find it meaningful in some way. It would be great if I had a secret to tell you but I've never been one to keep them. Maybe I'll include an invitation to meet for breakfast at the cafe. Maybe if I just do it as carefully as I can you will decide it's worth keeping and put it in that small box with your other keepsakes and someday, maybe when you are old and I'm not here, you will find it again and be reminded that as it was written I was thinking of you fondly.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Guarding the Estate

I'm guarding the estate. Sort of. They pay me to stand here year after year. Truth be told I don't really like these people and if a band of terrorists showed up in a van I'd hide behind this post and wish them well. Mean spirited of me I know, the landed gentry are just doing what they were taught. But I can't help thinking they could use some kind of wake up call, some kind of reality check.

I used to be handsome, cut a figure as they say, muscular and proud, the mighty lion with his shield. But now I'm worried and scared. You can see it in my face. The wife, she's sick a lot. The kids, drifting, in and out of love, in and out of jobs, in and out of trouble.

You know that country song, how does it go? Take this job and shove it, oh yeah, I would love to sing that song. But I can't do it. I'll keep doing this because I don't know what else to do.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Camera Shop

The Camera Shop closed its doors on July 31st, another fatality of  big box stores and radical changes in the photo industry. We knew it was coming, just wondered when. I am a fan of long-lived small local businesses and this was a favorite. Owned and operated by Bill Ammerman since the mid '70's, with Bill Beseker as his trusty store manager most of that time, they served this community well. Bill and Bill, the Camera Shop guys.

In its hey-day it saw good business providing cameras, film, darkroom supplies, and good advice to local photo enthusiasts, working pros, and university photography students. In these times there was usually some young part-time counter help as well.

And the place was always a mess. Every flat surface was covered with something. An overflowing trash can often stood in the center aisle. Leaves, blown in from the street, scattered over the dirty carpet.  There were stacks of empty boxes and counters laden with shipping and receiving. Now and then an attempt at tidying up was made, likely the new young gal recently hired, but eventually the effort was abandoned, overwhelmed by the ruling chaos.

But from this scene they were ever helpful, willing to spend time with you and your needs. I repaired cameras for twenty years and the Camera Shop was a significant source of my work. I would stop in once or twice a week to pick up and deliver cameras. Although I would guess more than one customer left the store wondering what would happen to their beloved old camera left for repair amidst the debris, as far as I know they never lost track of a camera. More than once one of them made the 1 hour round trip to my place to facilitate getting a repair done for a customer in a hurry and I'm sure it was at no extra cost. And not once was a bill overdue. It was a pleasure to do business with them.

So long Bill and Bill. I wish you well.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Drive-in Theater

The drive-in theater, a short lived phenomenon, will primarily be an experience of my generation. Begun in the 30's, peaking in the 50's and early 60's with  more than 4000 venues, and now faded to less than 400 still in operation. In the hey-day the family piled into the big station wagon for a summer evening of concession stand food, cartoons, and Disney flicks. In their decline, desperate for revenue, the movies changed to sci-fi, horror and porn, appealing to their primary clientele, horny teens. I regret I never got laid in the back seat of a big finned Buick at the local drive-in.

This theater is on Route 220 just south of Williamsport, PA. It closed a few years ago.  A strange beauty to this space being reclaimed.

Friday, June 15, 2012


In 1987 I put a large addition on my house and did the roofing myself. Including the old part of the house it was about 1600 square feet at three levels. When you put down 25 year shingles you don't think about redoing the job. You know they don't last forever but it's hard to imagine that you will be involved in their replacement.

Well here we are 25 years later and though there are no leaks that we know of the roof is pretty funky in places, covered with moss and lichen. So this summer we determined it was time to do the job. I briefly considered hiring it out but decided I had one more roofing job in me.

It's interesting revisiting this task. Same job, different body. Two long weekends and I am maybe 1/3 of the way. Each part takes longer than expected though I can't say I remember how long it took the first time. I'm holding up OK though Advil is my friend at the end of the day. I bought a "fall kit', OSHA approved body harness and ropes, to be on the safe side. I'm doing this to save money and that just doesn't hold up if I go and hurt myself.

With good luck I will be here the next time this needs to be done. I hope someone will roll me out where I have a good view and the crew will humor me as an honorary supervisor. I will scoff as they levitate their materials to the roof and tell them how it used to be, how we would hoist an 80 pound bundle (aww hell I'll tell 'em 100 pounds) on our shoulder and muscle them up a ladder to the peak. And how we'd nail them down one at a time with something called a hammer. They'll smile and shake their heads. And I'll marvel at the lightweight, eco-friendly, seamless roofing they'll fuse in place with microwaves with little effort in half the time.

And if I'm feeling spry that day, if I've eaten well and my meds have kicked in, I'll say with a smile, "Say son, do you know what dog-tired is? Well, I'll tell you it's a lot like bone tired. It's when you have done physical work for a very long day in blazing hot sun and when you are done all you can do is sit there with your tongue hanging out, just like a dog. Yeah roofing will do that to you. At least it used to."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Today's Find

a Cecropia Silkmoth, or Hyalophora cecropia. I don't know squat about moths - I looked it up. Found during a very pleasant Memorial Day picnic at Black Moshannon State Park. I love the clown pants.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Why did the turtle cross the road?

Who knows? A better question might be will he make it. The Eastern Box turtle is not on the endangered list yet but every survey shows rapid decline in their populations. Being killed crossing the road is one of the main reasons. Harvesting as pets is another.

I spotted this one on a country road on Friday and stopped to move him as I usually do with turtles when possible. Carrying him across as he was heading put him on the edge of a vast newly plowed field, pretty inhospitable to turtles, so I carried him back into the woods from where he came. This may not have been the thing to do, I learned later, as they tend to stick with whatever directional input they are receiving. It could be a half hour later he was crossing the road again.

I hadn't seen a box turtle in years. What a beautiful creature. I think this one is a male  about 22 years old. Males have reddish eyes and their underside, called the plastron, is slightly concave to fit better over the female shell when mating (ain't nature grand?). Age can be roughly determined by counting the "scutes" which form rings on the shell, one each year. Box turtles can live 100 years and their home range is just a little over an acre. Both these facts surprised me.

With all our maps, local and global, and now, GPS devices it is hard to imagine navigating your path given just the visual input of the next three feet. How does a turtle stay within his "home zone"? How does he have any sense of his acre?

I think they have an endearing thoughtful look so it's no wonder that every kid who finds one wants to take it home. This is not a good idea. Most wild turtles brought into captivity die well before their time even if released later.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Predator Pets

Some mornings all that's left is just a leg, or the head, or an internal organ.

This evening from the kitchen window I see Simon sauntering towards the cat door with a mouthful, a baby bunny. I step outside to intercept him with a gruff, "Simon!" and he drops his prey and meows with an air of boredom. He lets me pick him up and dump him in the house. I go back to inspect the quarry and it moves to flee but drags its hind leg, surely a death knell for one dependent on speed to live. He seems otherwise unharmed. I pick him up without a squeal or struggle and carry him out to the woods and let him go beneath a thorny bush. I'm doubtful he will live long but who knows. Here's hoping.

I once rescued a pretty moth from what seemed a dire situation and set it to flight from our porch. The warm glow of the good Samaritan was quickly iced as a phoebe swooped from the eve and picked it clean mid air, landing on a branch with hearty gulp. Bird didn't seem to care that I didn't use the good silver or light the candles.

The dog killed a groundhog last Sunday.

What do we think of this natural instinct to kill in the food chain, the instinct of these pets we feed so well?  I live with a vegetarian who feels ill at the sight of the carnage. I work with a vegan who tries to convince me to be one too. I have been a vegetarian but am now an omnivore like most of our species. I have never hunted or fished. I have only intentionally killed an animal once or twice out of mercy. I cringe at the thought of doing it, but have no doubt I would do so if I was hungry.

If I have a food philosophy, and I am wary of philosophies, (spoken as truth but subject to change at the slightest duress) it is simply to be grateful for food. Any food. Eat what is offered.

We who have been well fed all our lives can not imagine otherwise. The thought of pawing through a dumpster, of eating garbage, is unthinkable. But the unthinkable happens to people every day.

A simple twist of fate and this evening I might have said, "Here Simon, c'mere boy. That's a good kitty. What a good hunter you are. Thank you for this food."

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Omen is defined as,  "anything perceived or happening that is believed to portend a good or evil event or circumstance in the future".

I can never point to something in hindsight and say that was an omen that foresaw such and such event that occurred. But fairly often I witness something that makes me ask, "Is this an omen?". It's when things feel strangely aligned, a sequence of happenings that could not have been predicted, something that momentarily makes you question what you thought you knew. Something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?

I try to be responsive to these things, to be more willing to go with the flow, to be a little more attentive to what might happen next.

My son graduates from college tomorrow. After work I shop for a party planned for Saturday night. I remember my father had agreed to giving a cash gift and get a card for him to sign. I stop at the retirement community where my parents live so he can sign the card. I find them sitting in the dining area with a few others, my father asleep in his chair, his mostly untouched dinner before him. I rub his back to wake him and say a greeting and do the same for Mom. He looks at me with bleary eyes and says, "Did I ask you to send a check to Dylan for graduation?" This is a 97 year old man with short term memory loss. I had mentioned the gift idea weeks ago. He tells me the amount of the check I am to write. How is it that he so lucidly has this on the tip of his tongue as I walk in with the card?

It just makes me wonder.

Driving home the sky is full of big cumulus clouds, storms in the area but the sun is shining. Then it starts to rain, quite hard but the sun still shines. Gotta be a rainbow, gotta be a rainbow, ah there it is!

And several hours later this big cloud and moon as the sun sets. Never seen that before.

So I got the word and the word is pay attention. Something's brewing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Invasive Plants

Garlic Mustard Weed
This spring as I watch our woods become green I have some mixed feelings. Much of the greenery is what has been labeled invasive; alien plants imported from far away lands, turned loose on fertile ground and spreading like wildfire, dominating all that grew before. I have lived here 30 years and witnessed the change in flora. It's hard for me to not feel some animosity toward these plants. They seem as bullies, pushing and shoving, subduing those that are not the same, no sharing here, just more, more, more.

I keep some areas clear, the small places where we have planted our own imports, but beyond the perimeter it's futile. I am out numbered by a staggering majority.

What to do, what to do? In looking into this a bit I found an excellent article entitled, "Mistaken Identity". It clearly states the problem and gives help in identification and then methods of control. It states, "You Can Make a Difference.  Many battles in the war against invasive plants are being won by small orginizations, volunteer “weed warrior” groups, local land managers, and private conservation landowners."

But here lies the problem. I don't like being a warrior. I don't want to be at war with my woods. It's a lovely spring evening, birds sing, the last rays of day make the greens glow and the shadows long. It's paradise on earth and I feel what - surrounded by the enemy, a relentless advancing army? This is an exaggeration for sure but still this view needs some adjustment.

It turns out that one of my favorite woodland plants, Dames Rocket, one that seemed to be diminishing in recent years, is listed as an invasive. So is it just a question of looks?

What's the most invasive species you can think of? Well, that would be us wouldn't it? Where we have gathered en masse there are square miles where literally nothing else grows. Almost everywhere we go the earth is begging for mercy. So if you're going take this get rid of invasives plan to heart you oughta … ah well geez I'm not gonna do that.

And when we are done strip mining Ohio what comes to the rescue? When we are done with our scorched earth program and departed what will begin again? It will be the hearty plants that thrive in all conditions, the ones that grow despite all efforts to exterminate them, the ones that cast their seeds by the millions, the weeds, the ones we call invasive. They will make a place inhabitable for others once again.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bleeding Heart

I love this plant. I probably take its picture every spring. It speaks to my condition, liberal that I am.

I've got something hid behind my back
Something nice for you that's a fact
Flowers from the wooded trail
Bleeding heart and lizards tail
Put this one behind your ear
I'm so glad you're here

-Right Here With You, 1996

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Modern Handy Book for Boys

A weekend with siblings brought a wave of reminiscing and lots of laughs over our different versions of shared events. It's a long story, the one you have with your brothers and sisters. It includes the houses you grew up in, the extended family, the pets, the neighborhoods, the family cars, the food, the schools and, of course, the parents.

One story that came up was this book and the activities it generated, mostly for my older brother. A quick trip to the tucked away books produced it, much to my delight. I must have picked it from the shelf in the dissemination of parental possessions in one of the transitions, thinking my kids might enjoy it one day.

What's fun about this book, apart from reliving the things we did, is that in this era of lawsuits and foam rubber playgrounds it might very well be banned. I can see it now, after Justin has shot Geoffrey in the eye with "the whip bow", the briefcases are banging on the author's door claiming "egregious malfeasance and irresponsible disregard for the safety of the citizenry and their offspring." Hell yeah, that's why we liked this book.

A sampling of chapter titles - How to make stone hatchets and spears, how to make nets and traps, how to build a camp fire, make a swinging target operated by a phonograph, collecting - killing and mounting specimens. One chapter titled "Amateur Vagabonds" might well be called "How to Run Away from Home".

But the most influential chapter was "The Zarabatan or blowgun". Brother Larry and his friend took this idea and ran with it, making it a part of their activities for probably a year or so. From the book:

"The force and accuracy of a blowgun astonishes anybody who tries one for the first time. It is nothing but a straight, hollow tube into which small darts fit; but let the dart be a sliver of steel such as a sail maker's needle or horseshoe nail, and a puff of breath will sink it quivering a half inch deep into a plank. Yes, and even at a distance of a hundred feet."

Larry and Albert worked at it, perfecting the darts made with finishing nails and glue coated paper cones, or needles inserted into the end of wooden match sticks. They practiced their marksmanship and indeed they were astonishingly accurate.

And little brother had to try it too though I never developed their level of expertise.

An internet search does not say much about the author, Jack Bechdolt(1884-1954). He was a short story writer, novelist, and journalist. Only one or two works were for the juvenile audience. Much of his work was serialized in magazines. Our copy of The Handy Book for Boys is a revised edition published in 1958. It was first published in 1933.

Some sample pages - the contents show there were many civilized activities as well.

Click image to view slideshow.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ridgway's 13th Annual Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous

Friday I went  to Ridgway, Pennsylvania to see the 13th Annual Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous, which claims to be the largest gathering of its kind. 199 registered carvers from all over the U.S. and 9  countries gather for demonstrations and an auction at the end of the week long event. Despite a chilly wet day visitors walked the designated streets and parking areas in downtown Ridgway to view carvers at work. A friendly atmosphere with a sountrack of buzzing chainsaws.

I hope to return to Ridgway another time. Located on the Clarion river, it is the county seat of Elk County, an area of vast forests. Once a thriving town with a large tannery and lumber industries, its population peaked in the 40's but is now fading. Like so many small towns, storefronts go empty and once grand buildings fall into disrepair. There appears to be efforts to promote their beautiful surroundings. A 20 mile rails to trails bike path begins downtown and winds along the river. The river looks perfect for canoeing.