Thursday, April 19, 2018

The road to work in April

Reservoir Hill Road in theoretical April, with knee-deep snow still lurking in the dark hollows of the woods and ice covering most of the Reservoir. This is spring?

The mergansers and buffleheads and wood ducks who showed up a week or so ago have mostly disappeared. The geese are still here but don't know what to think, stalking sulkily around on their cold feet on the ice, although Mrs. Goose is nursing a clutch of eggs in her nest in the usual spot on the stumps marooned in the ice in the cove just past our yard. The ice is piled up on our shore in ragged chunks and still taking up most of the lake in a great big sheet, with patches of slowly widening cold, open water around the edges. The howling wind and snow were so wild a week or so ago that our power was out for a couple of days, and it went out again for a few hours the other day. I'm still wearing my down coat and pashmina scarf to work, and turning on the heated seats in the car. Again I ask you - this is spring?

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018

Three days before the first day of spring at Plymouth Reservoir

 This icicle was at least 8 feet long. 

Yes, there's some green for St. Patrick's Day. But you can barely find it. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Now We Are Six

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now
for ever and ever.
 by A.A. Milne

Happy birthday, Jamie!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018


This blog has been overlooking some of them lately. Today is the 32nd anniversary of the arrival in this world of Laura Mae Murphy Bencze, who could not have been and still could not be more welcome. Other recent birthdays have been Caleb's (36!), mine (64!!) and Luke's (30!!!), not to mention that this blog turned 13 years old two days ago. Another teenager in the family, just when we thought that was all in the past, or at least for another seven years.

Happy birthday to Laura! And happy next year on this planet to all of us. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A poem I stumbled over

You Reading This, Be Ready

 Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life -

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

-- William Stafford

Sunday, October 08, 2017

An Adirondack adventure a mile from home

Just a mile east of us - on the right in the map below - is Round Pond, a smaller, wilder version of our own Reservoir.

There are trails through the woods in the State land nearby, which borders the pond on one side - but as you can see from the map, the open water is surrounded by wetlands that make it impossible to walk to the water's edge.  We were hiking on one of the trails the other day, peering through the reeds and overgrowth to try to get a glimpse of the water, when we discovered a half-built wooden structure at the edge of the wetlands. It turns out that it's going to be an elevated wildlife viewing platform overlooking the wetlands.  Pretty cool! DEC also plans to improve some of the trails in the area so there will be short loop hikes nearby.

We interrupted a bike ride yesterday to check out the building progress (not done yet), poked around and realized that it would be possible to get a canoe into open water in the wetlands and from there, paddle to the pond. We pedaled home, got the canoe (well, Dad dragged it up from the lakeside and loaded it into the truck, with some feeble help from me) and did just that. It turns out that there's a little patch of wild Adirondacks right up the road.

This is the water path through the wetlands near the road.

 If you enlarge the picture below, you can spot the half-built viewing platform - a little pale rectangle on the edge of the woods toward the left edge of the photo. It'll be 14 feet off the ground with what should be a great view of the wetlands and the open water.
The southern edge of the pond, with something like cattails going to seed, and strange skinny evergreens emerging from the marshy (peat-y, maybe?) surrounding wetlands.
The pond itself, much bigger than it looks on the map.

So wild and peaceful under the blue October sky. We saw almost no birds, except for a pair of pale, speckled ducks or rails or something that flew off, startled, before we could quite see what they were. But here and there, almost hidden in the reeds and boggy shrubs, we found wild cranberries! Only a few - they were hard to spot - but if I get a chance I'm going back to see if I can gather enough for Thanksgiving cranberry sauce.  It was a lovely unexpected adventure on a Saturday afternoon, and a treasure to discover so close to home.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A map of the farm (or at least the area) from 1855


This is from a map of Chenango County in the Library of Congress, which can be seen online here. Do enlarge for detail. The house marked "J. Tefft" was ours. The house marked "L. Collins" is the McCrackens' house.  (L. Collins is Levi B. Collins, who was one of a large family of children who grew up in our old house.)  The initials "S.M." by the creek on the other side of the road from our house stand for saw mill. You'll remember the stone foundations of the mill by the bridge, and I believe the Warrens' house was a remnant of the mill buildings.

Look at the little house labeled "T. Brooks" on the hill above the saw mill.  From old history books, I think it was the location where the Collins family who first lived on our farm built a log cabin,  before they built the house that became ours, with planks from their saw mill. When we still lived there I hunted around on the hill a few times trying to find any hint of the location of that cabin, but I never could.

Here's more about the Collins family, who originally settled our farm in 1794. They were the third non-Indian family to settle in Smyrna. Once they arrived, they built a grist mill, a saw mill, and later a fulling factory that made wool fabric in the stream and field across the road:

 Joseph COLLINS and Joseph BILLINGS, the former of whom married the latter's sister Betsey, came from Somers, Tolland county, Conn., in the winter season bringing their families on ox sleds. They settled on 160 acres previously selected in the north part of the town, COLLINS on the farm now owned by Thomas BROOKS, and occupied by Deloss Brooks, and BILLINGS on the place now owned and occupied by his son Harlow Brooks. Both resided where they settled till their death. COLLINS died of a fever in Westfield, Chautauqua county, in 1841, while returning from a visit to his son Alonzo in Michigan; and his wife, on the homestead, June 19, 1848, aged 77. BILLINGS died May 18, 1847, aged 74, and his wife "Aby" POMEROY, of Somers, Conn., Sept. 1, 1851, aged 84.
    Joseph Collins was a clothier, and carried on that business in connection with farming. About 1818 he erected clothing works just below the saw-mill on Collins' creek [This stream is variously known as Collins' and Billings' Creek or Brook.], and carried on the carding and cloth-dressing business till 1840, when he sold to his sons Levi and Warren, who continued it together seven years, when they disposed of the same.
    Joseph Collins and Joseph Billings were interested in the construction of a saw-mill on the same stream. It occupied the site of the saw-mill now owned by Levi Collins. It was built in 1795, and was the first mill erected in the town. A run of stones was soon after put in, and proved a great accommodation to the settlers of that period, who had previously carried their grists to Cooperstown. It was abandoned as a grist-mill about the time the grist-mill in the village was built.
The saw-mill has been continued to the present day, three or four buildings having been erected on the site. Collins & Billings owned the property till about 1835, when the latter sold his interest to Collins and his sons.
The property has since been in the possession of the Collins family.
The mill contains three circular saws-log, wood and splitting saws.
    Joseph COLLINS' children were Betsey, Grace, Joseph, Warren, Myron, Marcia, Loren, Joseph W., Levi B., Alonzo and William W.

I'm pretty sure that the house built by the other brother on the shared 160-acre lot, "now occupied by H. Brooks" must have been McCrackens' house. It makes sense, if you think about the way our lot wrapped around theirs and Portugal.

And here's more from an early history of Smyrna about the arrival of the Collins family. I'm pretty sure that the "log house" is the same cabin marked "T Brooks" on the map.

"John Billings of Somers, Tolland County, Ct., bought one thousand acres of government land for his children in the north part of the town but did not come here in person. His oldest son, Joseph W., was bom in 1773, and when he became of age married Abi Pomeroy of his native town, and during the following winter ( 1794) immigrated to Smyrna with his sister Betsey and her husband Joseph Collins. They came with a yoke of oxen, two cows and a sleigh load of goods. The cows, causing much annoyance by running into the woods, were finally put ahead of the oxen and made to assist in drawing the load. Arriving here they settled on the hill west of the creek, as they feared to locate in the valley on account of fever and ague, a disease in those days much to be dreaded, usually affecting newly settled regions. Billings was said to have been handy with tools, could fix wagons, shoe horses, and do almost any kind of work. At first they built a log house which was superseded by a framed structure in 1812, a portion of which is still standing, and also a small grist mill on the site of the present saw mill, and as the nearest mill was in Oneida County, nearly forty miles away, they did quite a business for their neighbors and friends until a larger mill was built at the village- It is stated that the bolt through which the flour was sifted, was the result of the handiwork of Mrs. Collins, and while no doubt the color of the flour was not the very whitest, nor its quality the finest, we are willing to guarantee its sweetness of taste was never surpassed, by that of any flour made by any modem appliances."

(Apparently cows "causing much annoyance" were a legacy that ran with the land.)

Here's more  about Levi B. Collins, who grew up in our old house in what's described as a "musical" family, later lived in the house that now belongs to Jeremy and Serenity, and became a prominent citizen of Smyrna:

 Joseph Collins and wife settled on the present Brooks farm, a clothier who built 
a cloth dressing establishment on Cold Brook just below the pres- 
ent saw mill. The ruins of the old flume are still discernible. 

They were frugal, industrious people, much interested in church and society affairs,
greatly respected by all. 

Their children were Betsey, Grace, Warren, Myron, Marcia, 
Loren, Levi B., Alonzo and William, each growing up under 
the teachings of parents who firmly believed in the old puritanic 
doctrines and all seemed to profit by their thorough discipline, all 
having a deep regard for all things pertaining to the moral and 
spiritual welfare of the community. 

They were said to be a musical family and William became 
a preacher. 

The name of Levi B. Collins stands out most prominently to 
the people of our time, as his whole life was spent among us, a
christian man of sterling character, faithful to his church and 
community, a musician of rare ability and a most excellent 
citizen, a deacon and choir leader in the Congregational Church 
for many years and a very successful teacher of music in this 
and adjoining towns for more than sixty years. 
I can't believe I never posted any of this before - I started gathering historical records of the farm shortly after we moved there. I apologize if I'm repeating myself. But I keep searching the blog for words like "Collins" and "Smyrna" and "Brooks" and finding nothing. Anyway, it's here now! Sometime I'll add a scan of the earliest deed to our farm, all hand-written in copperplate. And some other time I'll post about the Oneidas who lived in the area before any white settlers got there.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Jamie's first day of school

Wow, am I behind in blog posts or what? I haven't posted anything yet about our Brigantine vacation, or about finally selling Newton, or several other significant summer events -- but I can't miss this landmark occasion.  Here's Margot walking Jamie to the bus for his first day of kindergarten.

This reminded Dad of another picture, taken so long ago that it's faded from spending too much time in a frame. That time it was Luke, escorting Caleb and Laura to the bus stop on Laura's first day of kindergarten. Right after the picture was taken, he burst into tears because he was afraid that when the bus arrived, he'd have to get on in his bare feet.

Yes, it's a cliche to ask where the time goes. But where does the time go?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Storm Damage: or, The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

The good news is, Newton Avenue is under contract, closing date 8/15, contingent on an inspection. That's a huge relief. But sadly, that's the end of the good news for now. Anticipating the sale, we asked Frontier eight days ago to transfer our 8912 phone number from down there up here to the lake. Oh sure, we can do that, yup yup yup! Except they couldn't. As of today, after a series of repeated calls from me in increasing frustration and stupid errors and idiotic failures and miscommunications on the part of four or five separate Frontier employees, BOTH of our old phone numbers (8912 and 2723) have been disconnected and are irretrievably gone. We never told them to do that. They did it to us, without our consent, and they say that nothing can be done about it. Frankly they don't care much and they act as if it's our fault.  The supervisor who was supposed to call me this afternoon to discuss it didn't, of course. And they wouldn't tell me his last name or phone number, so I can't call him.  We have a new landline phone number now, that we didn't want, but we seem to be stuck with. We'll email it to you.

We were just beginning to calm down from that, late this afternoon, when a storm blew in. It was the second or third storm of the day with wild winds blowing across the lake straight at us. I looked out the window just in time to see all the lawn furniture fly into the air and the two big trees by the water almost blow down. Fortunately, they didn't.  Here's what it looked like afterwards:

The screen house is totaled, and in the trash now.

 This is the pole that holds up the roof over our bed in the popup. The wind bent it out of shape so the roof sagged down. There's a small hole in the canvas above it and water poured in on the bed and couch cushion. Also, the pole UNDER the bed that holds it in place from the outside was knocked out of place and driven into the ground.

This is the slideout with the dinette table and chairs. As you can see, the wind pushed the whole thing into the main body of the popup about a foot. I can't even imagine what wind speed it must have taken to push that thing in. It's very heavy.

The sagging roof over our bed from outside. Dad bent the pole more or less back into shape and we'll see about patching the hole and replacing it. You can see the support pole driven into the ground on the left.

More pix of the murdered screen house.

And worst of all, my mother's pretty wooden swing that we gave her for her 80th birthday. We don't understand how the wind blew it INTO the lake; it was blowing exactly the other way, across the water toward the house. Maybe it was a microburst blowing downward. You can also see a table and chair that got blown around the tree and halfway out into the lake.  We probably can't get the swing out of the lake without pulling it to pieces. That's probably the end of it. It was so pretty between the trees. I loved it.

Random lawn chairs and a ladder tossed around the yard.  Several pieces of furniture ended up in the lake. We fished most of them out, and very fortunately, none of them blew through any windows, but there's still a little glass table underwater in the lake that I'll rescue tomorrow with the kayak, and a missing metal chair that may be underwater someplace too. Or maybe it's in Kansas.

Taken right afterwards. At least the trees didn't come down.

Everything that really matters is fine. We are fine, the house is fine, the cars are fine. People's whole houses blow down in storms like this. That didn't happen. Really, we were lucky. But geez, what a crummy day.