This post requires a bit of imagination. It involves what used to be called a “poetic conceit,” in the days when it was allowable to speak in simile and metaphor, or to employ metonomy or synecdoche, secure in the knowledge that your audience didn’t have to know what any of those things actually was, or be able to define it, in order to take your point, enjoy your flight of fancy, and understand that you were having some fun.
Unfortunate that we seem to have reached a point when the pedants, the dullards, the inveterately literal-and-closed-minded, and the joyless woke, seem to have lost the ability to enjoy anything unless it is serves to destroy those they have decided to hate, or who are determined to take offense at the slightest sign of whimsy wherever it may be found, turning up like twenty-first century Gradgrinds, to scold, to berate, to admonish and to cancel.
If further proof of this were needed (which it is not), it would be this Telegraph article from January 30, in which it’s reported that Northanger Abbey, an early Jane Austen novel which is actually a send-up of contemporary gothic novels and their depictions of dopey, easily-led, ineffectual, women by an author well-known as an advocate for bright, independent heroines unconstrained by the overly-restrictive social mores and expectations of time and place (early nineteenth century England), has been given a trigger warning by the University of Greenwich, because it depicts “sexist” and “toxic relationships” in its plot.
Glory be. That’s Miss Austen’s point, you daft buggers.
Begone, any such Philistines who trip over this post! (I’m not worried about my regular readers. I know they’re with me on this. And that they know that it is the Spirit, and not the Letter, which giveth life: Earth to the University of Greenwich.)
The poetic conceit I’m employing here has to do with the term “Headwaters of the Mississippi.” It stems from a little joke that the late Mr. Right and I enjoyed for years, and concerns the streams and springs that are plentiful on our small property, especially in the spring season. I know they’re really not the Mississippi’s “headwaters” as they are correctly defined (those are in Minnesota), but it’s an indubitable fact that little streams trip down the steep hills in our woods, and that two–sometimes three or more–springs bubble up half-way down the field, and that all of the water from all of them ends up in the small creek that runs from east to west across the middle of the lowest point of the farm. That creek winds its way down, parallel to the road, into the bigger, Buffalo Creek. Buffalo Creek takes drainage from a narrow strip of about about 170 square miles of country, wending its way through Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and eventually empties into the Ohio River in Wellsburg, WV. And we know where the Ohio River flows from there, and where it empties into the Mississippi, just south of Cairo, Illinois.
So, there it is: I have been quite tickled for years to think that my little farm’s waters end up in the Gulf of Mexico.
A few years ago, I gained a new perspective on the matter, when I explained it to a friend who grew up in the southern United States. Although somewhat amused by my story, his point of view–stemming from his childhood in Missouri–was that his people deeply resented all that “Yankee water” that flowed south in the spring and flooded their basements and their farms, often into a state of ruin.
Oops. Sorry about that.** Still. “Time heals all wounds,” as Fanny Brice liked to say. Or perhaps it was the other way round.
Let’s move on.
It’s been a weird winter so far, here at Chateau Right. A week or so of unseasonably cold–below freezing for about two weeks straight, and below zero (Fahrenheit, all)–early on, but otherwise reasonably temperate. Very little snow. Plenty of clouds. And inches and inches of rain, sometimes for days on end.
As a result, the streams and springs are topped out. The low-lying areas are swampy. The sheep have been intermittently confined to the barn (they dislike that, but their fleeces can take days to dry out after a heavy rain, and when every day has a heavy rain, they never do dry out.) Fortunately, last year’s hay was quite decent, and there’s plenty of it, so they’re fine.
The chickens have been laying fewer eggs, probably because it’s been so dark and dreary, but they’re reliably back up to 2-3 eggs a day as the days lengthen, and occasionally brighten, and I hope they’ll be firing on all four cylinders at some point. They are getting rather elderly, so perhaps they won’t quite get there, and this is the best I can expect for now; We’ll see. In any event, they’re safe here. I don’t anticipate following Eskimo (can I say Eskimo?) tradition and setting the useless old things onto an ice floe and shoving them off into the sunset anytime soon. I can always get more layers, and these old dears won’t last forever.
But today, I was out several times with the dogs, and it is the day–there is one every year–which convinces me that spring is coming! (Just as there’s always a day, later in the year, when I know that summer has gone.)
Things are greening nicely. The spring at the base of one of the old walnut tree is flowing into a tributary of my small creek, one I tend with a shovel every so often to keep in within its little banks. It usually dries up by midsummer, but flows well in the spring.
The bigger spring, one that usually runs all year and feeds the sheep trough, is going gangbusters. Looking at the water reminds me that it’s probably time to stop up the opening, somewhere in the late spring, and shovel out all the silt and weed. Best to do that before it gets warm enough for the dogs to consider it as a “spa” option and climb in there to cool down and chillax. A Great Pyrenees tangled in gobs of pond weed, and filthy with silt and dirty water is not a pretty sight. Nor is it something you want anywhere near the house, or (lovingly) climbing all over you.
Some of the trees have buds: This is a bit worrying, because it’s so early in the year. But it looks as if the three small “Sugar Tyme” Crabapples I planted around the chicken coop last fall have survived to bud again (note to self–check the earliest planting times for trees in Zone 6 or 7, and look for a couple of pink dogwoods to join them). The maples in front of the house have buds. And the established native dogwoods in the field look fairly advanced. I hope a sudden and arctic cold snap doesn’t kill them all.
The bulbs are emerging, hyacinths, daffodils, anemones, and others, although none has flowered yet. The hellebores I bought last fall, and stuck in rather late, are about to bloom. The ferns are bursting out of the ground in the woods. The birds, bunnies and squirrels are everywhere, as are the black walnuts, many of the shells pecked apart by turkeys, or chewed by squirrels or racoons. (Another note to self–maybe this is the year to pick some young fruit and finally try to make that beloved British delicacy, pickled walnuts?)
Perhaps one of the reasons I’m so joyful to see the return of the “headwaters” every year, and particularly lately, is that it’s been as bit fraught here since 2018, the year the coal company undermined the property. Anything could have happened. The house could have been completely destroyed. All the groundwater–springs, creeks–could have dried up. The well might have failed.
None of those things happened. As it turned out, both the coal company and the State of PA did a magnificent job of managing and monitoring the situation, and–five years later–the State still sends what I refer to as the “bug people” out several times a year to take samples, monitor the water flow, and make sure that the bugs, insects and occasional fish still thrive on the property in their expected numbers.
Buffalo Creek itself took a substantial hit, as the creek bed rose and fell along the path of the void cut out six or seven hundred feet below it, and it was quite a mess for about eighteen months. (That’s when the beavers moved in.) I made myself a civil, but relentless pest to the coal company, which explained that it had to wait something over a year for things to settle out permanently, and then did what it promised to do, two years after it came under, by basically re-cutting the entire stream bed, cleaning everything up, and planting hundreds of trees alongside it to replace those which had died from being waterlogged or which had been destroyed by the beavers. The landscape has returned to its original (or perhaps even a bit improved) state in which it functions as a haven for several sorts of woodpeckers, heron, kingfishers, ducks and geese, muskrat and the occasional mink, and–now and then–a snapping turtle. (I’m sure there are more creatures, but those are what I see most often.) No complaints, start to finish about the coal company, or even–for once–the state. Immense relief about the well, which I don’t mention often, since I have no desire to tempt fate, but when I do, I always cross my fingers and say a prayer to the ghost of the water witch (diviner), Harry Lindley who told us where to drill. Bless your heart. And thank you.
And so–almost five years down the road–I’m grateful: to the coal company (CONSOL) which made it more than worth my while to acquiesce to their actions. To be clear, they had the legal right to undermine the place and I could not have stopped them as the coal company has owned the coal rights under the land since early in the twentieth century, more than eight decades before Mr. Right and I purchased the land ourselves. Nevertheless, they were reasonable–and even generous–in compensation (far in excess of the damage done, as my tax bill can prove), and went so far as to supply–free of charge–extra box cribbing in the barn foundation, and a few other things I asked for, including advice as to what I could do myself to mitigate disaster in the house’s living spaces. While there was some damage, it was relatively minimal, and I’m grateful for that, too.
I’m grateful to the state for paying attention, for not being to niggly (can I say niggly?) about things, and for continuing to keep an eye on things around here to make sure I don’t end up living in either a mosquito-infested dead-water swamp, or a dried out husk of what was here before.
I’m grateful for my neighbors, who–as they always have–continue to give me wonderful advice. They’re the ones I trust to tell me to “Know when to hold up/Know when to fold up/Know when to walk away/Know when to run.” And they’ve never let me down.
And, always and forever, and whenever I turn on the faucet, I’m grateful to Harry Lindley. Bless.
The next challenge/conundrum?
Earlier this month (January 2023) I got a letter out of the blue from an energy company. “Oh, Lord,” I thought. “Here’s another outfit offering me a one-time payout for what remains on my fracking lease. (Taylorstown, PA–about five miles down the road from me–is at the epicenter of Marcellus shale, for those wondering, and I get offers of a lease buyout a dozen or so times a year.)
The letter was from a natural gas company, explaining their intent to run service down my little road sometime this summer.
Right now, natural gas service doesn’t come down this way. Which explains why the entire house is electric other than for the propane generator which exists to provide fuel for the fireplace in the living room and to cover for the times that the electric fails (which it does, several times a year, and often for long periods of time at a time.)
But now there might be an option. Which is presenting itself right as the war on natural gas, and gas appliances, seems to be just getting underway. (Love that NPR frames this as something of a hysterical right-wing concern, while it was started by Rich Trumka, Jr. No right-winger he.)
About to hold my nose, close my eyes, and jump. Not for the first time, and–even as I approach the latter years of my seventh decade on this earth (for those of you in Rio Linda, that means I’ll be 69 late this year)–probably not the last.
In the meantime, stay tuned. I don’t expect everything to go smoothly from this point. Like life, the weather doesn’t always move in a straight line. So perhaps there’ll be more snow and more frigidity. But, eventually, we’ll get there. I’m certain of that.
**It’s an interesting discussion to have here, as I’m a bit less than twenty-five miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, and a close-by small town, Claysville, PA, was known as “Little Richmond” (after Richmond, VA, the capital of the Confederacy) during the Civil War because of its strong support of the South. There are still irreconcilable divisions among otherwise closely-related family members that date back to those days and differing loyalties as a result. Lots of history in this area, which is why I like it so much. But it does sometimes complicate things, especially among those who insist on the binary.
Spring is coming!