Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Barn Art

   On beautiful spring days it's time to reactivate a distinct pleasure of childhood, the Sunday afternoon drive. For my early childhood to get a ride was a thrill because gas was rationed and the car was never used except for work and dire emergencies. The best we could do was wait at the corner above the house for a ride on the running board when our father returned from work.
   Back-roads driving is a skill acquired in a past era, but in the spring it is pure joy to observe the countless greens that appear in the landscape. It's sad to see barns and abandoned houses crumbling into oblivion, but frequently a well maintained farm will pop into view and you slow down to a crawl to watch it glide past.
   Barns have been used for advertising since time immoral when enterprising businessmen recognized the value of alerting passers by of their wares. A new generation of merchants recognized the flight patterns of airplanes and used the roofs of barns. A writer never lets an experience that will give life and genuineness to their work fade into memory. Maud Tosh writes her first letter home in Sandprints of Death when she describes roof advertising:

   "The trip was short, but we had to wait an hour to land at the Atlanta airport. Five times the plane flew a big loop over a barn that had 'Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco' painted on the roof."

   Some years ago a movement began to enhance barns across the country. Local Art Guilds and various other groups began doing placards that depicted quilt patterns and placing them on barns by the side of the road. Today they are called "Barn Art."
   You must get off the Interstates and away from new construction to view these works of art because barns existed long before the new highways, which passed them by. A perfect excuse for a Sunday afternoon drive to tour the quilt museum of patterns we all remember. Take a picnic basket and tailgate, better yet stop by a country store for nabs and a soda, or drop peanuts in a Coke before drinking it. Indulgence is a snack from the past for a afternoon drive.
   Nash and I have a collection of barn art which we plan to post to a Pinterest board. A favorite is a white barn located in Adair County, KY on Hwy. 55 that has a perfect color wheel on its peak. I'd watched it for years before we ever got around to taking a photograph as bad weather, not having a camera with us, or going too fast to stop got in the way.
   Take a drive next Sunday and indulge yourself on the back-roads, because that is where real views are located to watch spring dance across the landscape.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bells of Spring

   Three bell shaped yellow flowers ring in spring. Daffodils, Clinch Vine, and Yellow Forsythia. I like to think these early bell shaped blossoms are nature's way of helping hummingbirds who thrive on nectar deep in bell shaped flowers on their northbound journey.
   Yellow Bells (forsythia) seem to pop out overnight and shimmer in the sun. They add a special glow to a yard or hillside where a farm house once stood. The bright yellow flowers manage to withstand our sudden spring freezes with amazing vigor. The sturdy bushes with great cascading branches are almost impossible to dig out. To make them flourish thicker than before, as soon after they flower as possible cut the bushes back to about six inches above ground level. New branches must have plenty of time to grow and develop as the bloom buds are set during the summer prior to spring flowering. If the new leaves begin to appear leave then alone for another year before pruning.

   We also have a white forsythia outside our library window on the south facing side of the house. Its blooms are smaller than the yellow. It also blooms much earlier, most often flowers appear in middle of January. This year like the witch hazel it got its seasons mixed up and bloomed in late November. Now it's sending out a few sparse blooms in March.
   Clinch Vine is the rarest of three native Kentucky flowering vines. It's flowers are a deep yellow with red hearts. Within days after you see the blooms high in the trees, fence rows, and bushes hummingbirds appear on their northward migration. We have a few in our maple and oak trees that bloom before the leaves of the trees appear.

   Anywhere you drive yards, ditches, and fields are dotted with the most common early spring bell. The daffodil is a European import that flourishes wherever they are planted; lasting decades after a structure has crumbled to dust. One local farmer tried to rid a cornfield of them. He plowed and harrowed his field, cutting deep into the soil. The next spring he had hundreds more of them bloom among the tender stalks of his new corn crop because cutting up the bulbs increases production of new plants.
   Beautiful they are and have been immortalized in poetry for ages for the vibrant color they bring to spring, yet they have a sinister quality of death. We used this in the opening story, "Don't Go There," of our national award finalist collection of ghost stories, Haints:
   "The night-bleached flower heads lifted their faces to the stars. The clumps bumped across the dark field in random profusion separated by narrow paths where cattle had foraged sweet grass in safety. Every bloom, blade, and bulb is safe from predators because of the poison they contain, but they are lovely to watch as they nod on vagabond currents of air."

   So our farmer's new shoots are safe from a raccoon or rabbit as they have learned the danger lurking across the field. The yellow belled flowers ring in spring more often than weather patterns that vary from soft to fierce.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

March Madness-Big Six to the Rescue

Sheriff Big Six Henderson
After defeating Morehead State in NCAA play in a basketball game,  euphoric Western Kentucky students singing "Stand Up and Cheer" swept out of UK's Memorial Coliseum in Lexington to board nine chartered buses destined for Bowling Green. They were completely oblivious to the evening's madness that loomed ahead.
   Following a rest stop in the Kentucky Turnpike service area, the buses continued their journey through some very light snow flakes that soon became a major snow event. With the blurred lights of Elizabethtown, KY fading in the distance, everyone began to sense that the heavy snowfall portended a possible highway nightmare.
   Just north of the small town of Bonnieville, the four buses in the lead came to a halt. In the words of Phil Stamp, the Bengals former radio announcer, "that was all the far they could go." Drifting snow had literally brought the buses and all the traffic around them to a frozen standstill. There were no approaching headlights in the northbound lanes while the snow covered southbound lanes had stranded four bus loads of two hundred student in the midst of fields covered with two feet of snow.
   March Madness had arrived early! No one had a computer or cell phone an unimaginable situation in today's world.
   Nothing moved until the grey light of dawn revealed the impossible notion of traveling any further. One of the men on the first bus of fifty students was Big Six Henderson, the renowned Sheriff of Warren County. After consulting with the bus drivers, Big Six decided to lead the two students into the sleepy town of Bonnieville. Wearing his famous ten gallon hat and overcoat, he lead the parade of willing followers who were casually dressed for early spring. Some of the girls were still wearing high heel shoes for the unexpected trek.
   When the beleaguered group reached town, they were greeted by residents who had heard of their plight on a Louisville radio station. Immediately, they guided the students into a local church where a meal was served and bathrooms were more than a welcome sight.
   Later in the day, everyone received news that officials from the L&N Railroad had arranged for its southbound train, the Pan American, to stop in Bonnieville, to transport the students to Bowling Green. When hearing the news, sighs of relief spread among most student while others wondered if classes would be cancelled the next day.
   After expressing their appreciation to those who sheltered them, the students gathered behind Big Six once again and slogged to the small village depot. As the time for the train's arrival drew near, anticipation of a ride home surged. Alas, when the engine's headlight broke through the mist, everyone knew the speeding train was not going to stop. As the train thundered past it signaled that the night's adventure had come to an end and a frozen ordeal had begun.
   Once officials discovered that the Pan American had boarded another two hundred WK students in Upton, a town six miles north of Bonnieville, the L&N sent a special train dubbed the "Snowball Express" to rescue those who were left standing by the station in Bonnieville. Late that night after the train arrived in Bowling Green, the students were transferred by the National Guard to Western's campus where the "Hilltoppers" 1960 March Madness had only begun.
   Noel Harrison Taylor grew up in Corbin, KY and was the lone male student on the first bus with Sheriff Big Six Henderson. He is a retired administrator, Princeton City School District, Cincinnati, OH, and Adjunct Professor of Education, Xavier University, and author of A History of Corbin

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Daylight Saving Time

Spring Forward
   Who is saving time when we move the hands of our clocks forward one hour each spring?
   On March 1st we have about 11 hours and 21 minutes that the position of the sun allocates to daylight. Then by March 31st this span has increased to 12 hours and 35 minutes, which gives us an increase of 1 hour and 14 minutes during the month. The amount of daylight we have is measured by the position of the sun and by moving the clocks forward one hour near the middle of the month we gain 2 hours and 17 minutes of evening daylight by the end of the month, but we will be back to getting up in the dark for a few more weeks.
  Farmers hate the idea for good reason as dew is evaporated by the sun and farm animals don't recognize clocks, but then neither does my body clock. It takes almost six weeks to adjust to the change. A suggestion has been proposed that one can adapt internal sleep time by going to bed 15 minutes earlier for four nights prior to the time change to alleviate this problem.
   The idea of more usable summer evening time has been around for a long time. Benjamin Franklin speculated on it in 1794. The first person to do a major campaign for daylight saving time was an Englishman, William Willet, who wrote in The Waste of Daylight,

   "Everyone appreciates the long summer evenings. Everyone laments their shortage as Autumn approaches; and everyone has given utterance to regret that the clear bright light of early morning during Spring and Summer is so seldom used."

   The idea was codified into law in England in 1916 and the United States adopted it on March 31, 1918, just short of a year after we entered World War I. Today it is observed in some fashion around the world.
   Daylight Saving Time is with us to stay. It has been herald by conservationists and utility companies as a great savings in electrical energy, but studies have illustrated that these benefits are inconclusive because what is saved in the evenings is used in the morning.
   All we can do is grumble a bit, wonder if we'll ever find that lost hour, appreciate a second chance to see the sun rise, and remember to "spring forward" our clocks before we go to bed on March 12th.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Winter Squash

   Before the day of electricity and refrigeration the storage of foods for winter consumption was a chancy business. Most homes, either town or country had a root cellar where it was dark and cool with an over all constant temperature above freezing. If one was lucky enough to have access to a natural cave these were used for winter food storage. During bitter weather none of these gave the easy access of opening the refrigerator or freezer door. Often the door to the basement or root cellar was placed close to the door opening into the kitchen.
   Fall's bounty stored in a root cellar gets sparse when the early days of March roll around. Foods like potatoes, onions, and apples take on a wither crinkly appearance. Carrots, turnips, and cabbages have been dug from their straw pits.
   Winter squashes were a staple in root cellar preservation, their hard leathery skins protected the meat from an early demise. The late fall winter squashes we find today in the grocery have thick skins, but they are no where near as tough as earlier varieties before the seed companies began work to produce easier products to use.
  A lesser know and tougher member of the squash family is the cushaw. Its skin is hard and I mean hard, which contributes to its lasting longer than the others. The seeds for this vegetable have been passed down through families and friends. It is a mottled green with a crooked neck that grows quite large. The first time I encountered this particular squash I had to take it out in the backyard and use an ax to cut the tough shell. Several years ago, a friend gave me one from her garden and it lasted on our glassed in porch til early March.
   The very firm flesh can be used much like potatoes, doctored like pumpkin for pies, pureed and make into a fine spread for hot biscuits or toast the same consistency of fine apple butter.
   Cushaw makes a delicious casserole using cooked cubed cushaw, Italian sausage (precooked), cream of celery soup (undiluted), chopped onions & peppers, shredded mix-Italian cheese and Italian herbs & spices. Sorry readers, I seldom measure ingredients or as a friend remarked, years ago, to my dinner guests, "Eat hardy boys, she'll never duplicate the recipe."