The New Year, 2018, Begins in Vinegar Hollow

It looks like my New Year’s post from Vinegar Hollow is going to be an annual event. What new is there to say one might ask? I am different, the land is different, the weather is different–more wear and tear in general–not that these are necessarily bad things. Some wear-and-tear is simply polishing. In the hollow I never tire of looking at the trees

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View from apple orchard to old barn (center) at the Big Meadow.

 

and the hills and the play of light, and I always see new designs and colors in the landscape. The snow illuminates the hoof-marked cow trails, while Mike’s tractor, which delivers hay morning and afternoon to the

This, the old locust grove, is where the cows prefer their hay. The little barn is more visible.

 

cows, uncovers grass still green. Yesterday Mike and I had a talk about the cows’ preference for the locust grove  this time of year. He is surprised they are not out in full sun on these cold days and observes that this is their favorite spot. They are reluctant to move around when he delivers hay elsewhere, which is fine with him  because when he leaves hay near the barn, they stomp around and unplug the automatic timer to his tractor. Which is not good, because then on these cold mornings, some below zero, he can’t get the tractor started.  (The timer activates the heating of the engine oil so it is not too sludgy on a bitter cold morning.) He thinks the cows prefer the locust grove because it is their shady home place of summer.

Tractor ready to distribute hay bales for the next feeding.

Cows have memories he says. When it is time for a twice-bred cow to go into the barn to calve, he just opens the door and she heads straight into the stall she had the year before. If there is a cow in there already, there is sure to be a terrible fight. On the other hand, getting first-time mothers into the barn presents a problem. Mike has tender feelings for his cows in the winter when he is out feeding no matter the weather and his bad knee. Cows can withstand the cold if all their several stomachs are full. The gut bacteria create a literal fire in the belly. It’s freezing rain that causes Mike to tighten his lips and shake his head about the suffering of domesticated animals.

On a clear day when the sun reflects off a layer of snow, it’s hard to notice anything but a beautiful dazzle.

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Looking south to Stark’s Ridge.

Farms have a lot of fences and gates that create intersecting shadows. Because of some construction going on at the old house, there is provisional wire fencing adding to the complexity of the design above.

The fence in the center divides the orchard (very few trees left) from the orchard meadow. A few small sinkholes are visible in the ground that rises to the hillside.

On a day when the sun is wan, the colors of a winter landscape become subtle. I notice the soft brown of frozen mud, the pale russet of dried sage grass, and snow poked through with a thousand blades of grass. Tree branches are witchy, twitchy, sometimes ungainly, and always beautiful against the sky.

The side of Stark’s Ridge with tree branches against a wan sky.

I walk around the farm looking at everything, trying to understand placement of objects, natural and unnatural, how a landscape becomes what it is.

Layers of limestone that have heaved and broken apart provide dens for foxes.

 

A cattle chute with rusty chains.

Maybe I have a memory like the cow going into the stall where she has been before. Since brought home to the farm at birth, I always return, amazed at how much more there is to see and think about. When I visit Roy, my neighbor, who will be 94 on January 24 of this new year, we deconstruct  the history of the hollow, no moment or detail too small for discussion.  He lives alone with his cat Big Red, who for the first time deigned to sit in my lap before jumping, somewhat gracefully for a big cat, from the kitchen counter to a perch on top of the refrigerator. Mike checks on Roy every morning and the driver of the woman who cleans his trailer brings two apples each week for his old, long-legged donkey.

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Roy’s mailbox. The road at the upper right winds around to his home. Cow in front of the old barn seen from a distance in the first photo.

Roy only needs one meal a day now he says–two fried eggs, two pieces of toast, a rasher of sausage, and a cup of coffee. He fixes it himself even though his hands are almost curled shut with arthritis. I took him two bite-size mincemeat pies made by my English friend who makes wonderful pie crust. That’ll be dinner he said as I set them by his easy chair. The thing I puzzle about is that Roy even in midwinter, when he can’t sit outside on the top step to his trailer, seems to know what is going on in the hollow. It’s as if he is now not bounded by walls and poor vision (he lost sight in one eye as a child) because he is so attuned to the hollow. “You should see Mike’s dog running after the tractor. Down the road and back up the road these cold mornings. You should see that,” he tells me. I have seen that but I wonder when he has.

A paper wasp nest dangles from the copper beech branches in the foreground; Stark’s Ridge in the background.

On the long drive from Ithaca to Mustoe, we listened to the audio version of La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. As a frontispiece he  quotes a few lines from Irish poet Louis Macneice’s  “Snow” , a poem about how much lays before our view– how “the world is suddener than we fancy it.” The hollow has always looked “sudden” to me. Now it’s time to say good-bye again; I have had my reset for the New Year!

Exploring Country Roads in Highland County, Virginia

Cattle coming up to Vinegar Hollow's End

A traffic jam at Vinegar Hollow’s End

On New Year’s Day, 2012 I begin the year in Mustoe, Highland County, Virginia, tucked back in Vinegar Hollow, invisible from Mustoe proper, invisible from any other habitation for that matter. The day opens glowery, but not too cold, and glints of sunlight cause the landscape to sparkle in places. It will be a good day for a drive once we get past the cattle ambling up to the barn for their morning drink from the water trough near the house. When the cows are ambling, and they rarely do more than amble,  it is best to slow down and amble as well. I wanted to show my husband the road, which I had discovered in the summer, that follows the loops of a lovely river named Wallawatoola by American Indians, but renamed Bullpasture, Cowpasture, and Calfpasture by early settlers. The Bullpasture is big, Cowpasture less big, and the Calfpasture so modest that I always miss it. In McDowell, one takes Bullpasture River Road to Williamsville, following as it curves back on itself to become Cowpasture River Road, and then hopefully one makes the jog to Calfpasture River Road, the last loop of the river. Along the way I am charmed by an historical marker that notes the site of an early fort in a nearby field. The brave little fort was “never attacked directly by Indians” but faced the onslaught of arrows from a ridge across the Bullpasture River! I try to imagine the arrows flying, some falling into the river no doubt, almost 300 years ago. Each flight of arrow is a part of history never to be repeated, except by someone like me romancing over the message from the past found on the marker. Missing the jog to Calfpasture River Road, we take the road to Sugar Grove, in love with our journey among straw-colored stubbley fields and deep purple folds of mountain ridges in the distance. Here and there straw turns to gold as the sun pierces the cloudcover. Habitations, for humans and their livestock, in various stages of repair, catch at the heart.

 

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Somewhere along the road to Sugar Grove we take Crummetts Run Road to head back towards Monterey and Mustoe. Crummetts Run Road presents extraordinary views, especially near an outdoor rustic  amphitheatre situated in a field at the edge of a mountain, a place for people to be moved towards spiritual thoughts, as it seems that this must be the intent of its placement here on a high mountain fold with a view to the west. The empty seats are haunting. What souls have sat there in the past and who will sit there in the future? In that instant, pulled into the distance, I allow myself to feel there for an eternity. We do not need to take such a narrow view of where we are.
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The next day it is time to leave Mustoe and head north to Ithaca. At the border of Highland County, Virginia and Pendleton County, West Virginia, we take Snowy Mountain Road. Snowflakes swirl out of a snowcloud, turning the deep purple of far mountain ridges to lavender. In the valley bottom there is still the bright green of algae and stream-loving vegetation growing yet in winter’s cold. Going over Snowy Mountain comforts my sense of departure, as its windings and views carry us from one kingdom to another, a trip we make more often than we realize–from moment to moment, day to day, year to year and  so on into the unmeasurable.

 

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