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The first time I came home from Chicago in the spring, after spending most of a year among gray limestone and very little green, I was overwhelmed by plants that seemed to be taking over.  The Woods Hole Institute has analyzed satellite data and produced this image of where the woods are in the United States.  Having grown up in the midst of the large swathe of dark green in the East, which is the Appalachian mountains and foothills, I think of the woods as normal.  Looking at the map, it is clear how unusual it is.

The Appalachians are a billion years old.  There are more kinds of plants and animals here than anywhere except the tropics.  I am so privileged to be here for another Appalachian spring.


My father’s favorite scripture, which we had read at our wedding:

I may speak in the tongues of men or angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing.  I may dole out all I possess, or even give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I am none the better.

Love is patient, love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offense.  Love keeps no score of wrongs, does not gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth.  There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7, New English Bible

The second part is what is most often quoted, but I think the opening is more important to remember: no matter what we do, if it is not done from love, it is useless.

Here is the Buddhist equivalent, the Metta Sutra.  Metta means “loving kindness.”

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

Translated from Pali by John Richards

Skimming through the West Virginia news this morning, I came across this gem from our Congressman:

“As we come out with Plan B, the alternative to Obama Care, I want to make sure it really answers more of the needs of the people,” said Rep. David McKinley, R-First Congressional District.

“Thousands of dollars are being charged back to corporations and it’s inhibiting their potential for growth,” said McKinley.

He also planned to sit down with representatives from Mylan Pharmaceuticals Friday afternoon.

I’m shocked – usually our politicians say “business” to give the illusion that they mean those small businesses run by real people, and make some pretense that they are concerned because businesses provide jobs.

The heavily ironic comment on the article by RobbyA from Trailer County is worth reading.

Yesterday I checked my email and RSS feeds while letting lime-remover soak on the 70-year-old hexagonal tile shower floor.

The shower, which had not drained while we had company last August, and then, without intervention, behaved itself quite nicely, started draining very slowly last week.  Robert had spent some time trying to remove the cleanout, accessible in the basement ceiling, to no avail.  This morning,  after trying baking soda and vinegar, which made satisfactory bubbling and gurgling noises, but failed to improve matters much, I managed to remove the drain cover, once I figured out the screws were missing and the holes filled with grout, and Robert snaked it out.

We went off to our ACE hardware to look for a new cover, since the old brass one had large holes and the chrome was wearing off.  They didn’t have one, somewhat surprisingly, since they are an old-fashioned hardware store with many fascinating things that the big box stores don’t carry, and lots of clerks who come up and ask you how they can help.  “It’s a very old shower,” I said, and the hardware guy said, hefting the cover, “They don’t make ’em like that anymore. They’re all flimsy now.”  We got an aluminum cover that clips over the old one, hiding the flaking chrome, and, I hope, keeping hair from clogging the drain.

One thing leads to another, of course, and I decided that the stains and sloppy grouting job needed to be fixed.  I was pleased with myself for figuring out that the yellow patches, which had bothered me since we moved in, were hard-water stains, and having a good time scrubbing them off.  Then I saw a post on a sociology blog, where people were absolutely incredulous over a survey by the Scrubbing Bubbles people that concluded a large majority of American women of all ages like cleaning house, to the point of accusations that the survey was rigged, or just plain “made up.”

Since I was, in fact, at that moment, enjoying cleaning house, and not exactly someone who has ever believed “a woman’s place is (just) in the home” or that my identity depended on my housekeeping abilities, I was a bit ticked.  Cooking and cleaning are crafts, as well as being essential, and just as satisfying, in performance as in results, as any other craft.  I replied with the Zen saying,  “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” One young woman thanked me for the different perspective, but another asserted her right to hate housework.  Well, yes, but hating anything is generally a waste of time and energy; better to focus on the experience and doing the job skillfully.

CyclamenThe day we packed to move from Austin, New Year’s two years ago, we went to Lowe’s for some packing materials, and these cyclamen were there, 99 cents each, meant for bedding plants for winter color in Austin, where it never (well, hardly ever) freezes.  They reminded me of miniature geraniums, and the geraniums on the windowsills in the Scandinavian country style I was thinking of for the new old house.  Our house does not have generous windowsills, and they were just the right size.  They traveled north in the cab of the moving van.

They bloomed cheerily until about June, in the terra-cotta-colored plastic pots they came in.  The warm sun come summer didn’t suit them, and they looked decidedly unhappy until about November, when they perked right up and began blooming.  Eventually I found the red-glazed miniature planters they live in now, and here they are, in their third winter, brightening up the kitchen against a background of the bare maple and snowy spruces.

GreensHere we are again at what I have always thought of as the bottom of the year, the trough of a great sine wave. From here, we start the long slow climb to July, as the sun comes back a bit more each day. We have always thought more of the season as Yule, the ancient Germanic and Norse holiday, a holiday of warmth, light, tradition, and fellowship, in the dark of winter.  The halls are decked with evergreens, and the windows lit with candles.

We woke this morning to new snow, the sparkly sort which coats the evergreens and bare branches. It came after we went to bed last night, long after we had come back on dry highways from my brother’s, where my parent’s ornaments, older than I, hung on the tree among cookies, popcorn garlands, and twig stars newly made. The ancient Santa candle, in Norman Rockwell style, that sat on the edge of my parent’s mantle, is there too.  On the drive back, we listened to Dylan Thomas’s reading of his “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” a tradition started long ago when we spent days on the road at Christmas.

TreeMantleOur own tree has paper snowflakes, cut from dissertation bond, cotton rag paper meant to last forever, or at least a long as anyone would want to read your dissertation, by graduate school friends at a tree-trimming party, precursor to our annual open houses, on our first Christmas.  There are Victorian cardboard ornaments, bought on a trip to the Smithsonian, German candleholders from my Aunt Elizabeth, and various ornaments made and given over the years.

On the mantle are more evergreens from the yard, with cousin Øyvind Kjølsrud’s box and a Julekniss we got in Norway.  We have email greetings from his son Arne, whose big-band music we listened to yesterday.

And every year, the rituals, old but evolving – grapefruit and black bean soup for Christmas Eve supper, Julekage and grapefruit for Christmas breakfast.  My mother served an angel food birthday cake, with grapefruit, for Christmas breakfast, to which her brother-in-law famously asked, the first time he encountered it, “Whose birthday is it?”  The top was decorated with tiny Nativity scene candles.  We have substituted Robert’s grandmother’s Norwegian Christmas sweet bread.

Dylan Thomas says

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: “It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”

“But that was not the same snow,” I say. “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.”


One Christmas was so much like the other, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

The generations pass, the years roll around, and come to the dark again, and we light the lights and bring in the Yule log, the holly and the ivy, a few bits of green, hope and remembrance, give each other bits of delight, and the snow falls.

Into the woods

Into the woods

Yesterday we drove over to Blackwater Falls.  I had never been there in the winter, although the Falls in winter is a standard West Virginia photo.  Again, photographs cannot begin to capture a four-dimensional, 360-degree experience.  Not to mention the cold and the sound (even though there is lots of ice, the falls are still running and can be heard from the top of the hill; away from the falls, the snow soaked up all sound).

We had on black jackets, and spent some time looking at individual snowflakes thereon.


The first of 214 steps

The long walk

The long walk

The falls

The falls

Robert put up a short video

ChandelierThe crystal chandelier in the dining room is one of those things, like the hot tub at our old house, that I would never have bought, but since it’s there, needs to be kept up.  This weekend I spent a morning taking down all the prisms, soaking them in ammonia, polishing them, and putting them back up.  I had never cleaned them, and from the amount of crud on the glass, they hadn’t been cleaned for years before we bought the house.

A month or so ago, I had looked at the little doodads around the screws holding up the large mirror in the dining room, which appeared to be brass, and decided to try polishing them.  They “cleaned up real nice” – they seem to be silver, and look ever so much better.  I found that the little wires connecting the prisms were silver, too.  Polishing each one was way more than I wanted to tackle, but the ammonia took off a good bit of the tarnish.  Before, besides the dull glass, the whole shebang was dotted and striped with black where the wires attached.  Putting them back up, I also figured out that they had been replaced backwards at some point – the flat sides of the prisms were out, which also meant the attachment points showed.  Now the wires are on the inside and the sparkly sides of the prisms are out, which made as much difference as removing the crud.

The spots on the walls, the mirror doodads, and the dull chandelier were not things you would consciously notice.  It was not as if anyone would walk in and say “Oh my!  Look at that filthy chandelier!”  But the effect of all the little dingy bits adds up.  There must be a life lesson here somewhere.

CardinalWe got our minimal outdoor decorations, lights along the patio rail, up this weekend before the snow began in earnest.  Yesterday, a cardinal came and sat on the rail.

I spent almost two years thinking about how to insulate.  There was no insulation as far as we could tell, except under the floor in the den.  The second floor is really a finished attic, with no access to the space above, although there is a half-sized door (because of a chimney in the wall) to the space above the den, which has dormer windows and a finished floor, but is vented to the outside.   Despite that, once Robert had sealed at the bottom of the baseboards and we had sealed the light switches and outlets, the house was not drafty, and actually used less heat per square foot than our house in Austin, which had been weatherized in the 90s, before we bought it.  When we had the roof done last spring, I asked about insulation board.  The roofer took a look at the upstairs, and said “You have plenty of space above the ceiling – why don’t you just cut access and lay or blow insulation?”  As it turned out, they had to lay plywood anyway because of the condition of the roof deck, which helped with air sealing.

I spent a lot of time looking at  the roof and the upstairs, and decided that a hole could be cut in one of the bedroom closets. out of sight.  Robert found a carpenter who came one Sunday afternoon with his wife (a reading specialist who turned out to have lived for a while on Schoolhouse Hill in Spencer, where I grew up), and took a look.  We agreed he would cut and frame the access, at an hourly rate, and we would go from there.  Handily, he was able to come not too long after the furnace was done.  He brought his son, and in less than an hour he had cut a neat hole in the ceiling.  There was plenty of space above the ceiling, and a clear shot to the ceiling space in the dormers and sides.  So off they went to get insulation, and in less than six hours they had blown insulation into the dormers, laid bats in the flat areas, framed out the access hole, and made a cover for it.

Robert had volunteered to insulate the crawlspace, which is under the front of the living room and the parlor.  He spent a weeks’ worth of afternoons dealing with joists that were all different widths apart, insulation falling off the heating ducts, and working around a chimney base and wiring running through the space.  But it is done, and the floor above it is now about as warm as the floor over the basement.

He spent several more afternoons in the tiny attic area over the kitchen, hauling out things that have been stashed there by past owners and insulating.  Finally, we realized that the giant hole in the ceiling of the maid’s bathroom in the basement, ripped out when the previous owners redid the kitchen and never fixed, was creating a giant chimney effect.  Last winter the room stayed just at freezing, and probably contributed to the coolness of the kitchen above it.  He spent an afternoon duct-taping plastic over it,  as a temporary fix, since the entire room will have to be redone eventually.  The space under the sink, which was freezing last winter, is now in the forties.

Our gas usage for the first six weeks of this season looks like it is down 16% per degree day from last year, the combined effects of the new furnace and the insulation, and 26% from our first year.  So the sealing and turning the thermostat down saved about 12%, and the new furnace and insulation another 14% (or more – we didn’t finish the insulating and sealing until after the heating season started.)  It also puts our heating and cooling use at about half the US average.

Next year we will look at replacing windows (or adding storm windows) and insulating the basement walls that aren’t underground.  I think we still have some major air leaks in the cracked plaster upstairs; redoing the walls and ceilings in the bedrooms up there is another major project for next year.

Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. - Howard Thurman.

RSS Weather at Clarksburg, Clarksburg Benedum Airport, WV – via NOAA’s National Weather Service

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