Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Cold Snap

A frosty sunrise following a clear night.

Winter seems to be getting a late start this year, but this morning it appeared to be gaining a foothold.

The pond was covered with a thick layer of frost crystals that resembled a blanket of moss.

Delicate frost flowers grew an inch or more from the ice. It would be interesting to watch them grow, but that would require lying on the ice overnight with the temperature hovering near zero. Maybe a webcam would be a better idea?

Jonathan took advantage of the cold weather to flood the ice, first chopping a hole...

...and then bailing with a bucket.

Something about this picture should tell you that by evening the following day the temperature has risen to almost 40 degrees again. This is not the kind of sunset you see on a cold day.

Of course, the sheep were more interested in their hay feeder than in watching the sun set.

But Gunnar approached me to see what I was doing with the camera. He seems to be settling back down to his old laid back ways and hasn't shown much desire to butt me lately.

The ice on the pond is remarkably smooth, almost like a mirror.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Joulukuu - Christmas Moon

The Christmas moon and the our "joulukuusi", literally Christmas spruce in Finnish.

We like to burn candles in mid-winter. Somehow the light spectrum from a flame feels so pleasant. Someday scientists will discover that burning candles relieves seasonal affective disorder and it's going to touted as a major discovery. Ever wonder why your eyes are drawn to flame, but not to an electric light bulb? Your eyes are telling you that there's something in that light that you need.

So far we've had very little snow. The boys have been able to shovel off the pond and play hockey.

Pond hockey at it's finest.

Long winter evenings are made for chess. No game compares with it for intensity and cerebral violence. Mind against mind, with an infinite number of moves, where a single move can radically change the game. I also like it because it is the last field where I am still competitive with my sons.

Genuine Finnish sourdour ryebread - ruisleipaa. The tragedy of America is that we have forgotten what real bread is. The white foam that you find on the shelf of grocery store is mostly air and might as well be made of styrofoam for all the nutrients it contains. Ruisleipaa is a meal in itself. You need good teeth and jaw muscles to chew it and it fills your stomache for hours. I take a few slices along when I go hunting and after many hours of walking in the cold I come home for supper and guess what? I'm not even that hungry!

Winter 2011 Commencement at Michigan Tech.

Deanna and David both graduated in civil engineering. The last semester was a particularly busy one. Their senior design projects took up an incrdible amount of time. They really earned those sheepskins!

Four graduated, one more to go. Maybe I'll be able to retire then?

Janet and Pete Larson joined us for "juhlakahvit" coffee and cake in honor of David and Deanna. Pete and I go back a long ways - we went through school together from 6th grade onward. In ninth grade we had the distinction on playing together on a basketball team that only won two or three games all season. Pete was a great ball handler and good dribble like a Harlem globetrotter, but somehow that just wasn't enough. My own specialty, as I recall, was fouling out.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Winter Finally Arrives?

A pileated woodpecker visited our apple tree to inspect the fruit that Marja had left for the birds. Apples that stay on the trees for winter can provide much-needed fuel to early spring robins.

Finnish Christmas ornaments - bundles of oats tied with red ribbons. The genius of Finnish design is in its simplicity. The Finns have long understood that it is hard to improve on nature, so they have learned the art of highlighting it.

Whose woods these are I do not know....

...but I don't think he'll mind if I watch as they fill with snow.

The next day Robert Frost got out his John Deere and started blowing some of that snow. You just can't watch it fall around here.

Ice on the pond! David and Jonathan had to scrape off about six inches of snow, but hopefully the pond hockey season will begin soon.

Clearing a skating rink is invevitably a losing battle, but you hope that the heavy snows will hold off for a few weeks.

Back in the old days before indoor ice rinks became the rule, kids developed their skating skills pushing scoops around outdoor ice rinks. Even here in the snow capital of eastern United States every town and village had at least one outdoor rink operating all winter long. The rule was, if you wanted to play hockey after the evening public skating time was over, you pushed a scoop and helped flood the rink afterward. Kids got a lot of ice time in those days and managed to get by with a minimum of adult supervision.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Autumn Returns

A heavy snow fell the weekend before Thanksgiving and made us all believe that winter had come to stay. The Tech XC trails were groomed and David and Marja went skiing, and I put the plow on my truck to open our driveway. But then the wind began to blow from the south...and by Thanksgiving morning only a thin layer remained.

The turkey fresh out of the oven, baked to a golden-brown perfection....

Actually Marja complained that it was overdone, but that's the way women are - never satisfied with their own cooking.

Part of the Thanksgiving dinner spread...all delicious. Regretably, once we started eating no one thought to take any pictures. Nine of us sat till bordet (at the table for those who inte forstar svenska), including M&D, D&J, G&G, C&C and A special guest from Germany Sebastian. Carl kicked off the annual table hockey season with a win over Sebastian, who was new to the sport, and finished 1-2 for the day. He was unable to prove the controversial theory that reflexes improve with age, something for which I found no supporting evidence in my own pathetic match against Jonathan.

Heini enjoying her special Thanksgiving treat - a deer leg.

The sheep enjoying good hay from their new feeder. Sheep are very wasteful animals. Once they have trodden over hay they consider it impalatable. The feeder has a shelf that catches loose hay and discourages sheep from stepping on it.

Black Friday. Almost all the snow has melted, and Marja harvested the remaining rutabagas from the garden. Most will be fed to the sheep, which now appreciate a little variety in their hay diet.

Saturday dawned gray, foggy and drizzling - an ideal day to burn the brush pile.

City children have to burn down abandoned buildings in order satisfy their innate urge to play with fire. Here in the country we have opportunities to do it safely without causing property damage.

There is something about fire that fascinates us all. When was the last time you saw a burning building that didn't attract a crowd?

Sheep take a more measured approach. They watched it for a little while, but then got back to the business of their lives, eating and chewing their cud. Sheep attend to their own business very well, and are not quick to run to the fence to view every novelty and aberration that comes down the pike. There is very little on television that would interest a sheep.

I started the fire in the middle of the brush pile. The wind was blowing from the north, and a couple of spruce trees stood rather near to the the north end of the pile, just to the left of the photo. I wanted the fire to spread slowly against the wind so that it wouldn't erupt in a tall sheet of wind-driven flame that could possibly ignite those trees. Fire makes a good servant, but a bad master. Ultimately all our technology is an expression of our attempt to harness fire, but our violent world testifies to the fact that we have not truly learned how to control it yet. Our tools, sadly, are much better than we are.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hunting Season

To be a successful deer hunter you should be out at your stand well before this moment. Of course defining "success" is a subjective matter; hunting deer and shooting deer are not necessarily synonymous. (That of course is pure B.S.; anyone telling you so is just a poor hunter.)

The pups enjoy hunting smaller game. A chipmunk under a snow covered rockpile enjoys decided advantages, but the dogs dig and snuff with enthusiasm that would put many a discouraged deer hunter to shame.

Fortunately, David potted a nice spikehorn and saved the family from ignominy of having three hunting licenses and no venison. Johnny and I continue to hunt, but now the pressure is off. If either of us gets another deer, hunting season will officially end, for the freezer will have reached its capacity.

Deer aren't the only animals that go into rut in November. We have had to keep our ewes separate from our ram, but now that the snow has come it was time to take down the electric netting and move the ewes into the winter yard.

Sorry Gunnar. He has to endure one more week of isolation before he can begin charming the ladies. He greeted them with tender kisses though, pledges of his ardor and undying affection. They seemed quite interested and happy to be near him again.

Patience lad, your day is coming. Lately Gunnar has shown an aggressive side we didn't see during the summer. He tried to butt Johnny the other day. I've taken the proactive approach and tap his horns with a heavy stick when I've enter his pen just to remind him not to get any foolish ideas. I've also do not turn my back on him. My sore knees are approaching full recovery, but I have no desire to test their durability against a charging ram.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


November is a month of abrupt changes. An autumn evening...

...can be followed by a winter morning.

De-worming Sigrid. We enticed the ewes into the pen with a fork of hay. The books recommend de-worming sheep right at the beginning of winter since the eggs cannot survive the cold.

Gunnar getting his syringeful of Ivermectin. His horns make good handles.

The first snow has melted. Grandpa making his daily visit with the sheep and dogs.

The apples on this tree are still very firm and quite tart, despite numerous frosts. I suspect they will keep a long time in the basement.

We have begun feeding hay to the sheep. In another week we will put the ewes in the winter pen with Gunnar and let nature take its course.

Much to my pleasant surprise, the sheep eat hay like it was candy. I admire an animal that can live on grass.

Off in pursuit of the fleet-footed hind. I've seen a lot of does so far, but no horns.