Harvest Home

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Today and part of tomorrow will be family time, so posting will be lighter than usual. Nevertheless, I should have no problem putting up a news feed tonight. Which unfortunately means looking at the news, eventually. I’ve had a break from it so far today, which is nice, but it can’t last indefinitely.

Enjoy your feast, if you’re here in the USA. If not, feast anyway while you can, and then dream when there’s nothing to feast on.

Water, Water Everywhere

I had a little plumbing emergency here at Schloss Bodissey today. There was water all over the bathroom (and probably down in the crawl space, too, but I’ll deal with that later). The problem is ongoing, but at least the leak has stopped. I just have to live without hot water until the plumber gets here.

The situation has slowed down my posting this evening, but I may get a couple of things up before the news feed, if all goes well.

Eyeballing It

I went to the retinal specialist’s office this afternoon to get the latest in a series of periodic injections in my left eye, to treat the chronic condition of wet macular degeneration. As a result, my blogging activities will be somewhat subdued this evening. However, I expect to get at least one additional post up before I do the news feed.

As a matter of interest, my eye seems to be doing very well. It has been stable for the past eighteen months or so, and the horrible splotch that marred the center of my vision has receded. It’s still there, but I don’t notice it very much, and I experience “white-outs” less frequently. The overall acuity in the eye is still quite bad, but as long as it is fairly uniform, the right eye can do all the important work, and I don’t experience significant discomfort.

My condition has made me more aware of the fragility of vision, so that I tend to spend a lot of time just looking at things, soaking up the beauty of the colors and patterns while I still can.

For example, first thing this morning I went out to look at the morning glories growing over the side porch adjacent to the sun room:

I planted them there in honor of Dymphna, who used to grow them in the same location. She put them where they could grow over the lilac, one of the rose bushes, and the Fig Tree o’ Doom.

She always planted Heavenly Blues, but I prefer the multicolored variety.

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Stormy Weather

Yesterday was the third anniversary of my wife Dymphna’s death, and the future Baron came to visit for the occasion. I didn’t expect our activities to interfere with my normal workday, and they didn’t. Instead, Murphy intervened again and shut me down for about eighteen hours.

In the middle of the afternoon, while the fB and I were cutting flowers to take down to the grave, the wind freshened and an ominous rumbling could be heard in the west as the sky darkened. By the time we got into the car the rain was already spattering down. As we drove to the churchyard, the full violence of the storm hit, with heavy rain and gusts of wind ripping branches off the trees and throwing them into the road. We sat in the car in the parking area by the cemetery and waited to see if the rain would abate. It didn’t last very long, and when it was down to a sprinkle we got out and put the flowers in the big mason jar that I keep by Dymphna’s headstone for that purpose. We said a brief prayer and then left, intending to go out for an early dinner.

I noticed that the electricity was out in the little country store near the church, so I diverted to go back home and power down the computers (which are on separate UPS systems) in an orderly fashion. However, back at Schloss Bodissey the electricity was still on. We returned to our original plan and went out for dinner. Non-halal Indian food — curried goat for the fB, lamb bhuna for me, very tasty.

By the time we returned home the weather had cleared completely, and it was cool and pleasant as dozens of fireflies rose from the wet grass all over the yard. The electricity had never gone out, but even modest storms strain the phone company’s decrepit systems, and the Internet was down. It stayed down for the rest of the evening, so the future Baron and I entertained ourselves by watching Firefly episodes on DVD while drinking a bottle of wine. I also prepared several posts to put up when the Internet came back on, but it stayed down until I went to bed. When I woke up this morning it was back on.

That’s why there was no news feed last night. I’ll collect all the items that were sent in and include them a large news feed tonight. And I’ll be putting up those other posts in due course.

Murphy Rears His Ugly Head Yet Again

My phone was out when I woke up this morning. The Internet was still working, so I read the news while I was eating breakfast. Shortly after that the Internet went out, too. At that point there was nothing to do but wait.

The phone is still out, but the Internet came back on a little while ago. I’m hurrying to post this, in case the @#$%$!!?*#$! thing goes out again.

I lost a lot of my workday today, so the news feed may well be the only other post I put up tonight.

Tempus fugit.

Requiem for a Sarvisberry Tree

This post is off-topic. Readers who want to stick to current political trends may safely skip it.

I needed a break from all the horrible topics I have to deal with every day, so I decided to write about something that is important to me, and is only mildly melancholic.

It snowed here at Schloss Bodissey today, the sort of late-winter wet snow that is not worrying because it doesn’t stick to the roads and won’t hang around for very long.

Looking out the back door this morning reminded me of our redcurrant tree, which would normally bloom in a couple of weeks’ time. It won’t be blooming this year, however, because there is no more redcurrant tree, thanks to the blizzard of January 3.

The photo at the top of this post shows the redcurrant tree at its best, blooming in late March of 2007. But “redcurrant” isn’t even its proper name. Dymphna and I called it that for twenty-five or thirty years, because that’s how our neighbor, an old black woman, identified it. Like all poor country black people, she was an expert on anything that grew naturally and could be eaten. She told us that the fruit ripened in June, and could be made into pie or other desserts. She would come over here during the season, and she and Dymphna would pick all the berries they could get. Dymphna would make summer pudding with them, combined with other berries in season.

But it was never a redcurrant tree. Many years later we learned that it was a juneberry, which is what the local nurseries call the tame varieties they sell. It’s also known as a sarvisberry, shadbush, or saskatoon tree.

“Sarvisberry” is my favorite. In the Appalachian Highlands of Virginia, the folk etymology for the word is that the tree got its name because it blooms just after the ground thaws in the early spring, which is when graves can be dug and all the people who died during the winter get a burial service. “Sarvis” is an archaic dialect version of the word “service”, so the association makes sense. However, the word was actually brought to the New World from Europe, where “service tree” can be traced all the way back to the Latin word sorbus, or rowan.

But I prefer the highlanders’ explanation. Besides, the assimilation of words to more familiar terms is a very common process in the English language, so it’s quite possible that those early settlers gave the local tree that name for precisely that reason.

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When I first moved here in 1978, the redcurrant tree was about half the size of what it attained before it met its demise. It was all bent over, as if it had a great weight leaning on it. I found out later why that was when I watched Dymphna and our neighbor pick the fruit: they would pull the lowest branches down so they could more easily pluck the berries from them. After years of such treatment, the tree just bent in that direction, as if offering its fruit to those who came to pick it.

Over the decades the most bent-over branch would eventually die off, and a new, vigorous sprout would appear further back, growing into a second trunk, which would also become bent in turn as its fruit was harvested. I think we saw the process repeated two or three times during the life of the tree. Eventually it got ahead of the fruit-pickers, and the highest berries could not be reached from the ground. In later years Dymphna would send me up the tree with the extension ladder to pick the fruit for her.

It often happened that the tree would fill up with cedar waxwings during berry season: the juneberries are apparently one of their favorite delicacies. Suddenly one morning the tree would be alive with dozens of them, hopping around among the branches to get every possible berry. I never saw them at any other time, just during juneberry season. Dymphna, of course, used to curse at them when they arrived.

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On the morning of January 3, 2022, a major blizzard struck Central Virginia. More than ten inches of wet snow came down in a very short period of time, dropping trees and knocking out the power.

Right after the electricity went out, I thought I ought to take a photo of the storm. I didn’t want to actually venture out into the mess, so I just opened the back storm door, stuck the camera out, and took a picture. I didn’t realize until much later that I had just taken the last photo of the redcurrant while it was still standing:

Three hours later the storm had ended and the sun came out. I went out the front door to assess the situation, and then walked around back, where I was astonished to see the following sight:

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Weathering the Storm

The last of the wintry mix faded out here at Schloss Bodissey a couple of hours ago. The rain changed to sleet early on, and it looks like there may be four or five inches (~12cm) of sleet on top of the snow. There’s no significant coating of ice on the trees, which is why I have electricity and the Internet to put up this post.

I’m not entirely out of the woods yet, so to speak, because sometimes trees uproot themselves and fall down the next day after the ground has thawed a little. But I’m tentatively optimistic.

Tomorrow I’ll go out to clean off the car and shovel sleet, which is like scooping up lead pellets — it’s backbreaking work. Then I’ll hie me down the driveway and see what the pine trees have been up to.

It’s still possible that the power may go out, so if this site appears to go dormant, you’ll know that’s the reason. Unless, of course, the tsunami from the second Tonga eruption somehow finds its way all the way up here into the Piedmont…

Once More With Feeling

Update #2 3:15pm EST: The snow has changed to rain, which is ominous, because it’s still so cold. The wind is blowing harder now, but not alarmingly so. I’ve filled the bathtub and all the big pans with water. All I can do now is wait and see what happens.

If this is all the snow we’re going to get (about 4″ = 10 cm), I may not have any trouble getting out of here, depending on where the trees fall down.

Update 1:20pm EST: Snow is coming down hard now, but there isn’t much on the ground yet, maybe two inches or so. The temperature is below freezing. There is only a light breeze, and no freezing rain so far. All is well for now.

Another blizzard is scheduled for Central Virginia later today. After what happened last time, I decided to get my post up well ahead of time, so that readers will know what’s up if the lights go dark again.

According to the forecast we can expect 7″ (18cm) of snow. It won’t be wet snow this time — the temperature is predicted to remain at or below freezing while the climate change is coming down. However, as of the last time I checked the timeline chart, there is an ominous period late in the day when the snow changes to rain. If it weren’t for that, I would be fairly confident that the lights will remain on. But with freezing rain in the mix, who can tell?

I’d like to think that all the pine trees that were going to fall came down two weeks ago, and that they’re aren’t any left. However, I’ve learned from decades of hard experience that there’s always another pine tree. I never noticed that tree before, and now it’s horizontal, blocking the driveway…

I expect to wake up later this morning to find the ground covered in white, and be able to cook my breakfast, get online, and otherwise engage in normal activities, at least for a while. But we’ll see.

Old Man Winter

I’ve had my share of winter now, and then some.

Up until Monday the weather had been quite mild, and almost spring-like in the past week or ten days. There hadn’t been a flake of snow. On Sunday it was 70°F (21°C) here at Schloss Bodissey.

All that changed late Sunday night and early Monday morning. The temperature had dropped steadily during the night, and the rain changed to snow. When I got up at 8:00 in the morning, there were near-blizzard conditions outside the window. The snow looked like it was wet, and the wind was whipping the pine trees back and forth. The lights flickered a couple of times, then came back on.

After I ate breakfast, I turned the computer on and was about to post a message about a possible outage. Unfortunately, as soon as the machine booted up the lights went off again, and stayed off. The computer is on a UPS, which gave me enough time to close everything and shut it down properly.

And it kept snowing hard. In the afternoon, when it finally quit, I went outside and measured it: 10.5 inches (27cm). So I was snowed in, and without power.

Two modest-sized trees had fallen in the yard. I could see one small tree (a dogwood, as I discovered later) canted over across the driveway a little ways down. Not too bad — I could deal with that one. It wasn’t until the next day (Tuesday), when I walked down the driveway, that I discovered that the way was completely blocked by fallen pine trees, some of them quite large. I don’t have a chainsaw, so I was stuck here until I could round up some help.

The phone was still working on Monday evening. I called one of my stepsons in Richmond to let him know the situation. The next morning, when I picked up the phone, the line was completely dead. So I was without electricity, without a phone, and had no way to get out.

I walked down the driveway — detouring through the woods at one point to avoid a deadfall of little pine trees — to the main road to talk to one of my neighbors. Her electricity and phone were out, too. The poor woman lives in a double-wide with no non-electric heat. Fortunately, she has kin just down the road, and said she could stay with them if it got too bad. I was relieved to hear that, since she’s in her eighties, and there was no way I could have got her back through the woods to get warm in my house.

I was somewhat better off here, because I have Dymphna’s gas cooking stove. She bought it more than ten years ago after we went through several ordeals like this one, and she made sure to get one with no electronics — it doesn’t even have an electric connection. When the power goes out, it works just fine.

I devised a system where I kept three large cooking pots filled with melting snow on the range, set on low heat. That provided nice radiant heat in the kitchen. I was able to keep the room at 64°F (18°C) during the day, but it went down to 57° (14°C) at night. In the bedroom it was somewhat colder — about 56° during the day and maybe 52° (11°C) at night. I put the heavy comforter on the bed. It was chilly, but not unbearable.

I was able to fix myself hot meals, and had tea to drink. I spent a lot of my time during the daylight hours collecting snow in different pans to replenish the supply in the pots on the stove. When dusk came I lit four or five candles in different places, and used a little flashlight to get around.

So that’s how I dealt with situation until today. It was an ordeal, but bearable. The hardest part was the long night — about fourteen hours without meaningful daylight. The condition of my eyes renders me unable to read by flashlight or candlelight, so there was nothing for me to do except tend the heater pans on the stove. It was intensely boring. I slept a lot, but there are only so many hours you can sleep. I spent long hours lying awake in the bed under that comforter.

Just after midnight this morning I was awakened by a banging on the front door. It was my stepson, who had driven all the way from Richmond to check on me — he was worried because he’d been trying to call me, and got no answer. He drove down the driveway as far as he could get, then followed my footprints through the woods around the deadfall, and walked all the way down here. I was totally surprised and gratified that he was looking out for me. But there was nothing he could do to help — if I were to go back with him to Richmond to stay at his house, I would have had to turn off the heater pans, and the water pipes under the house would have frozen. So I had to stay here. He walked back to his car and drove all the way back to Richmond.

This morning I woke up to more of the same. I’d heard from my neighbor that the power company was estimating that our electricity would be restored by Friday — which might have been over-optimistic. I braced myself for a long siege.

At noon I walked down the road about a half a mile to consult with another one of my neighbors, who has a chainsaw and a tractor. He agreed to help me. We worked together clearing out the fallen trees. The chainsaw was indispensable, but the tractor did most of the work. He’d make just enough cuts so that he could move the debris out of the way with the bucket on the front of the tractor. The deadfall was the worst part — it was in a narrow, tight, heavily wooded section, and took a long time to clear.

But it got done — I am officially able to get out, and will do so tomorrow.

When I got back to the house I was amazed to see the lights in the living room back on — the power had come back on a couple of hours previously. The house was already starting to warm up. What a relief!

And the phone was back on, too. My theory is that a major switching box shut down after having its electricity supply cut off for so long. With the phone came the Internet, so here I am, able to tell my story about the Great Blizzard of ’22.

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Being out of action for so long has left me a real backlog. I haven’t even looked at my email yet — I dread to think how much of it there will be. And I have a lot to do here in the house to clear up the filth and detritus of three days without power. I’m running a load in the dishwasher right now. And some of the meat in the freezer has gone soft enough that I’ll have to deal with it. I have a package of pork chops out — they’re the most sensitive, so I’ll cook them tonight.

I’ll keep approving comments, and do my best to put out a news feed before midnight. Bear with me; I should be back on an even keel within a couple of days.

Nun danket alle Gott

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I’m about to depart to visit some of my relatives, who very kindly invited me to eat dinner with them, even though I’m not vaxed.

I’ll be home sometime this evening, so there will be a news feed, but possibly not much else.

I hope y’all have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t forget to social distance at the table, and keep your masks on between bites.

Murphy Rears His Ugly Head

My phone and Internet service just came back on after being out for more than 24 hours.

Yesterday afternoon there was a moderate thunderstorm in the area. A little bit of thunder, a modest amount of rain. When the rumbling started, I thought about putting up a bad weather post, but then said to myself, “Nah — this is hardly anything. Why bother?”

Well. What better way to invoke Murphy’s Law?

After the storm was over, and the rumbling had mostly stopped, the phone and Internet abruptly went out. The phone line was completely dead. Most of the time when that happens, service spontaneously comes back in a few hours. So I decided to wait it out. No luck — bedtime came, and the line was still dead.

When I got up this morning it was still out. Very annoying! I waited for it to come on; if it didn’t, after work hours I was going to drive to see one or more friends and ask to use their phone to call the phone company. There’s no cell coverage here at Schloss Bodissey, but there is some a few miles down the road, so I’d be able to get help even if the landline outage was widespread (but if it was widespread, of course, I wouldn’t need to call the company — I could be certain they were already working it).

Ten minutes before I planned to put my shoes on and go, the phone company, in its infinite wisdom, decided that it was time to restore my service.

I’ll be a while catching up. I have a lot of material backed up, but I spent yesterday evening formatting it for posting, so I should be able to put it up tonight. And I have a gazillion emails to go through, so be patient.

Sturm und Drang

The sky has darkened, and a loud and ominous rumbling may be heard coming from the northwest of Schloss Bodissey. The forecast is predicting severe thunderstorms in this part of the Commonwealth this afternoon.

The electric grid in my area has an annoying habit of going down for extended periods under such circumstances. So, if you don’t hear from me for a while, and your comments don’t get approved, you’ll know why. All I can do is wait it out.

In the meantime, I suggest that you look for news on two import topics: (1) the ongoing unrest in South Africa, and (2) the immigration crisis in Lithuania. They are far more interesting and important than whatever fatuity Joe Biden may have uttered today, or the way Jen Psaki has pstriven to pspin it.

I recommend staying away from the American news — for the moment anyway. It is full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.

A Midsummer Daydream

Dymphna died just four days before the thirty-ninth anniversary of the celebration of our marriage. The photo at the top of this post was taken forty-one years ago today, on June 21, 1980 (our actual marriage had taken place the previous fall at the county courthouse). After the service we held a reception for relatives and friends back at our house, which is now known as Schloss Bodissey.

I’ve blurred out the face of my good friend in the background who officiated at our little service, and cropped off the maid of honor on my left and the best man on Dymphna’s right.

My mother had given Dymphna her own mother’s wedding ring, and I’m wearing my late father’s wedding ring.

1980 — just the other day!

The Biologic Urge to Readjust the Map of Europe

In the two years since Dymphna died I have dedicated myself to putting my affairs in order, so that the future Baron won’t have too hard a time when I shuffle off this mortal coil and go to claim my 72 virgins. One of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks has been to clean out, cull, and reorganize the material in the filing cabinets here at Schloss Bodissey. I have to pull out all the papers and scrutinize them before deciding whether to keep them or not. In the process I have come across a number of delightful surprises, plus a few mysteries.

An example of the latter is a hand-written chart (to be discussed in detail below). It’s in pencil, in my handwriting (and very small — you can tell my eyes were still working), written on the back of a computer printout that dates it to 1990. It’s basically a compendium of territorial changes in Europe between 1916 and 1945.


(Click to enlarge)

The big mystery is: why the heck did I put the thing together? It was written fourteen years before we started blogging. The future Baron was too small at that point for the document to have been one my lesson plans for him. The material in it closely tracks what I had to absorb to take my A-levels (and special papers) in European history. But it was written twenty years after I took my exams, so I couldn’t possibly have been regurgitating it from memory. I can tell I consulted the Harvard Encyclopedia of World History (a 1948 edition inherited from my father that is now held together by duct tape. It is one of the most treasured resources in my reference library, second only to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology). Alas, I can no longer read it without a magnifying glass, so I won’t be checking any of the dates and facts on my chart to make sure they’re right.

For weeks I puzzled over the document, trying to figure out why I compiled it. My best guess is that Dymphna had been reading something — possibly The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman — and wanted to know about the territorial adjustments made in the map of Europe by the Treaty of Versailles and others that followed in the wake of the Great War. She knew I was well-versed in modern European history, so she must have asked me if I would put something together that would summarize it for her. I would have been delighted by her request, because I love to do that sort of thing — or used to, when my eyes still functioned normally.

The chart is a useful resource, so I took the trouble to transcribe it as well as I could. Doing so brought back memories of all that old A-level material. Vojvodina! I hadn’t thought about that name in a while. And some of the other names — Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldavia, etc. — are well-known now, because they’re sovereign states, but they weren’t in 1990; they were still socialist republics within one or the other of the communist superstates.

I can still remember a few more names that didn’t make it to the chart — the Sanjak of Novi Bazar, for example, or Eastern Rumelia.

The map of Europe was drastically reorganized after 1917 (after the Bolshevik Revolution, that is) and then even more so after 1918 in a series of treaties that divvied up the territory of the collapsed empires. Adolf Hitler did his part to rearrange the map even further, and then major revisions took place after the end of World War Two until 1946 or so. After that everything was frozen in place by the Cold War for the next 45 years. Then suddenly in the 1990s you started to see names in the newspaper that hadn’t been there since the 1930s — Montenegro, for instance, and Estonia. And things are still in flux now — who knows what the map of Europe will look like after the EU finally collapses?

Here’s my transcription of the document. I tried to put it in date order as far as possible. I expanded abbreviations when I was sure what they meant; otherwise I left them as-is:

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