Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Winter Lights

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

Drive away from the city at night, a couple dozen miles or so, and turn up an empty rural road. Continue until the glow of civilization recedes and the nearest farmstead or outbuilding security beacon fades from view. Then stop the truck. Turn off the lights. And step out into the darkness.

If the skies are clear, the great swath of the Milky Way will unfold overhead. And if there's a moon, a shadowy landscape may appear. But mostly there will be blackness, a void where our vision will not penetrate, and an immense loneliness.

Some folks never meet the night; they spend their lives beneath streetlights or behind headlights and well within the city limits. To them, night must seem like a shadowy time between dusk and the morning alarm. But out here in the country there is true darkness. If you've gone camping in the wilderness or spent a night midwifing a cow on a remote pasture or had your rig break down miles from town, perhaps you have seen it and felt its chill.

Continued at... Winter Lights

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: A Cold Winter's Night

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Winter's Sleep

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1995. All rights reserved.

These are the longest nights. From now until mid-January the sun will set before most of us are done with the day's work. We'll be coming home in darkness and leaving the house again before dawn. Some folks never see their home in daylight this time of year except on weekends.
This is a time of torpor, when many mammals take to their burrows for hibernation. Colder weather and shorter days signal biological changes in the Earth's creatures, including man. Holidays alone are not the reason we do more shopping, put on more weight and feel more tired than usual.

Each of us comes with a built-in biological clock that affects virtually every function of our bodies, including sleep. Blood pressure rises and falls, pulse quickens and slows, and glands secrete proteins according to daily -- or Circadian -- rhythms established by this inner timepiece.

Continued at... A Winter's Sleep

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Out There

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Mystery of Mistletoe

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1993. All rights reserved.

Christmas trees are decorated with lights that ward off the darkness of winter. Wreathes hanging on doors symbolize the circle of the seasons. Reminders of the Christian holiday (stars, manger scenes, candles) and the spirit of giving (Santa Claus mugs, stockings, presents)are everywhere this time of year.

But why hang sprigs of mistletoe from ceilings? And why kiss people unexpectedly as they pass beneath some waxy green leaves and white berries?

Continued at... The Mystery of Mistletoe

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Right Jolly Old Elf

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

"He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself"
-- C. Clement Moore

This Santa Claus is certainly a magical fellow. He flies through the sky, is rarely seen outside of shopping malls, possesses an uncanny intelligence about who has been naughty or nice, and has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of toys.

Some say he is descended -- or evolved -- from Kris Kringle, a legendary figure from Norse folk tales. Or perhaps he's related to Odin, the Lord of the Winds who rode through the stormy nights on an eight-legged flying horse.

Continued at... A Right Jolly Old Elf

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Carol's Tale

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.

Most songs don't keep. People sing them for a few years, then lose interest. New tunes replace the old in a continuous cycle and yesterday's lyrics are soon forgotten.

Even Christmas carols, the most traditional sounds in American music, have fairly shallow roots. The most popular Christmas song to date, "White Christmas," was composed by Irving Berlin in 1942. "Do You Hear What I Hear?" only dates back to 1962 and "Away in a Manger" is just over a century old.

Hardly anyone sings old Christmas classics like "La Bonna Novella" and "Nowell" any more. Both were big European hits in the 16th and 17th centuries. So was the German carol "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen" ("Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.")

Like a well-worn pair of boots left on the back porch, old songs lie forgotten until they lose their usefulness. Then they don't seem to fit any occasion.

Continued at... A Carol's Tale

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Artwork: Church Choir of Boys and Girls Singing Joyfully

Friday, December 9, 2011


by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

If you listen carefully enough, you may hear the precise, spontaneous trill of a far-off warbler, or the whisper of clouds passing between earth and heaven.

If you keep at it long enough, you may begin to hear the steady pulse of your own heart and, even, the quiet drumming of the soul.

It's hard to keep quiet, though, with so much to be said and thought about and worried over. And it's even harder to quiet the noise around us, from the caw-caw-caw of ravens to the obnoxious rumble of a diesel engine.

The living world is often a wondrous cacophony of sounds that compete for attention like a swarm of little children around the only available adult. It keeps you occupied so that you are unable, quite literally, to hear yourself think.

Continued at... Listen

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Animal Talk

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1992. All rights reserved.

People who live with animals almost invariably talk to their critters, or at least that's been my experience. And the animals, in their own way, usually talk back.

I've personally talked to several horses, a few cows, assorted chickens, a pair of exceptional pigs and dozens of dogs and cats.

We don't carry on about American literature, of course. When I do, their eyes glaze over the way mine do when someone talks about computer programming. They sniff. The scratch. They look elsewhere and finally walk away.

But when the subject is birds or food or the quality of the weather, then we understand each other just fine.

I find it curious, therefore, that people will pay good money to have someone teach them how to talk to their pets.

Continued at... Animal Talk

Monday, October 10, 2011

Flown The Coop

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2005. All rights reserved.

I spent many hours of my childhood in chicken coops. If I wasn't gathering eggs from my Grandpa's laying hens or teasing his rooster I was likely with my cousins in the abandoned coop behind my uncle's place that we'd claimed as a clubhouse.

Every home was built with a chicken coop out back, or so it seemed. Both sets of grandparents kept chickens, and so did most of my aunts and uncles. Until the day he died my Grandpa Jess had a hand-painted sign advertising "EGGS" nailed up out front next to the lane.

Nowadays, I'm hard-pressed to find a chicken coop. We have no chickens. None of our neighbors keep chickens. There are chickens around and eggs for sale someplace nearby, I'm sure, but I couldn't give directions.

Continued at... Flown The Coop

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Large Portable Chicken Coop

Saturday, October 1, 2011


by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.

In a quarter century of driving I figure I've put more than a million miles on various cars and trucks, most of it on rural two-lanes, gravel drives and dirt roads. This includes several cross-country migrations through 36 states and one Canadian province, across prairies, along riverbanks and up over mountain passes.

In all this time, across all those miles, I have not run over a single skunk (knock on wood) or collided with a big game animal (knock on wood twice). Nor has my driving claimed the life of any dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes or tortoises. My only roadkills have been a few birds, mice and a mess of frogs that covered the road in a Kansas thunderstorm one August night.

I mention this not to boast, but to explain why I don't understand roadkills. Drive a few miles some morning along almost any state highway, especially those that cross some rural area, and you will likely find carnage littering the roadway.

Continued at... Roadkill

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Steve's Roadkill Cafe Collectible Metal Sign

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Harnessing an Instinct

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1994. All rights reserved.

As Patrick Shannahan's stock dogs work a herd of sheep they are quiet and serious. No movement is wasted. No turn escapes their attention.

Shannahan's voice is soft but authoritative as he calls out commands to his trio of border collies. Meg and Spud and Hannah respond immediately, and sometimes earlier, running wide arcs around the sheep, driving them forward in a straight line and shedding them in orderly fashion.

"With gathering breeds like the border collie it's their instinct to herd animals and bring them to you. What I teach is how to develop that instinct," Shannahan explained.

A sheep rancher in Caldwell, Idaho, Shannahan started breeding and training stock dogs in the 1980s. His first border collie, a cross-bred dog, was acquired to help him with his herd of 250 ewes. When she died he replaced her with two purebred dogs and started seriously working at breeding and training. That led to requests for training classes and seminars.

"When I got started training stock dogs seven years ago there were only a handful of people doing this," Shannahan pointed out.

Today stock dogs are increasingly popular not only on farms and ranches, but also among pet owners and people who enter their dogs in stock dog trials -- an event during which dogs gather, drive and pen sheep on command.

Continued at... Harnessing an Instinct

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Classic Sheep Herding Dog, the Border Collie, with a Stick

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New Neighbors

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1994. All rights reserved.

Moving to the country? You're going to love it... maybe.

If you are anything like the thousands of folks fleeing the "rat race" of city life each year by taking up residence in some small town or rural county, then you probably have some romantic notions of country life.

You expect to find less crime, less traffic and more friendly faces. That's possible. But don't come out here looking for Green Acres or Northern Exposure. There are no Martha Stewarts on these farms. You won't find espresso bars or vegetarian bistros in most small towns.

All across the country, in rural places from Maine to Mendocino, there are terrible conflicts raging between folks who have lived in these places all their lives and newcomers who want to change them to better meet their expectations.

Continued at... New Neighbors

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: New Neighbors Moving In

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Uninvited Guests

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.

On certain summer evenings out on the prairie you might hear what sounds like the howling of a miniature wolf. High-pitched and hysterical, a cry of "sk-sk-skreeee" slices through the wild grasses.

Measuring just four inches and weighing a single ounce, the furry source of this howling is the audacious little grasshopper mouse. Fiercely territorial and uncommonly bold, the males leave their burrows shortly after dusk, howl at the heavens to advertise their claims, and then swagger off in search of fresh meat.

While most mice dine happily on seeds, nuts and table scr

aps, the grasshopper mouse prefers to kill its dinner. Grasshoppers, appropriately, are a favorite prey. But this killer mouse also stalks mice, voles and kangaroo rats. Attacking from behind, it grabs its victim with its front legs and drives its incisor teeth into the brainstem. No playing around.

Those brown-furred critters scurrying through the grain fields, damaging crops and leaving tiny runways of felled grasses are more likely voles. Also known as meadow mice, voles have tiny ears, small eyes and bluntly rounded muzzles. And they are incredibly prolific.

Continued at... Uninvited Guests

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Book: Grasshopper Mouse

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Dog Days of Summer

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.

These are the dog days of summer, a time of year when creeks run dry, the air stands still and the sun beats down relentlessly, day after day, or so it seems.

These are the days when we rediscover shade, pools, and the contents of our freezers. Cooling off becomes an obsession.

Over-heated hounds do lounge beneath porches and trees on hot afternoons, but it is not for them that "dog days" were named. Instead, this parching period pertains to Sirius, the "Dog Star," which rises and sets with the sun from mid-July until September. Sirius is also called "The Scorching One." Its lurid presence on the horizon evokes desperate memories of withered crops, raging wildfires and infernal droughts.

Continued at... The Dog Days of Summer

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: A Hot Summer Day

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Animals Within

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1993. All rights reserved.

Call me Pooh Bear.

My three-year-old son is Piglet. We walk side by side, the best of friends, in pursuit of adventures. All things are possible.

Some days I am Rabbit, who frets and worries, or the bouncing Tigger, especially after a cup too much of coffee.

Then there are those somber, feeling-sorry-for-myself times when I'm accused of being Eeyore. "Thanks for noticing me."

Continued at... The Animals Within

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: A Hug From Pooh

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Moving Away

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1993. All rights reserved.

I’m standing here in a bare-walled room contemplating a stack of cardboard boxes and wondering which contains the notes to the water rights article I’m working on. And I’m asking myself again why this is happening. What possessed me to box up my belongings, scramble whatever order there was to my life, and leave behind friends and neighbors for a new residence?

Some people enjoy moving. They like the emigrant experience, the transitory feel of ever-changing scenery and acquaintances. They live their lives like travelers on an interstate highway, pausing only for rest stops and business loops.. Life is short. There’s no time for attachments.

My wife and I do not share this feeling. We grieve over places and people left behind. Moving fills us with worry and frustration. We experience sudden headaches, dizzy spells, disorientation and nausea. Each time we move we say to each other, "Never again! Here we take root!"

Continued at... Moving Away

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Moving House by Morteza Katouzian
Moving Boxes

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Where Oliver Found His Place

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved.

Oliver Wendell Douglas finds the Haney Place advertised in The Farm Gazette, which he picks up from a news stand while on a business trip to Chicago. Compelled by a deep-rooted urge, he decides to go have a look. To get there, he changes planes twice, takes a bus from the county seat to Pixley, then hops on a train known as "The Cannonball" for the last leg of his journey. When he gets off in the town of Hooterville, he breaks into song:

Green acres is the place to be,
Farm living is the life for me.

Dressed in an expensive three-piece suit, the Manhattan attorney with a Harvard Law School degree purchases the 160-acre farmstead and is determined, at last, to be the farmer of his dreams.

Land spreading out, so far and wide...

Continued at... Where Oliver Found His Place

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Green Acres - The Complete First Season (1965-66)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

In The Morning

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996. All rights reserved.

It's the early bird that gets the worm, they say. But what worm are you fishing for?

The day commences at four because animals have to be chored, vehicles need readying, children gotta have full bellies before their schooling, and there's a long drive into town for supplies today.

And also because there's this feeling, deep down inside sometimes, that missing out on the start of the day is like losing a chance at seeing the birth of a wild creature, wide-eyed and wet, staggering uncertainly on its legs for the first time.

Continued at... In The Morning

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Artwork: Crescent Moon Rising Over Old Volcano by Kevin Leigh

Saturday, April 16, 2011

View From The Trees

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2005. All rights reserved.

We're only about ten feet up off the ground, but the distance feels tenfold greater as I gaze out over rooftops and across the brush to fields and houses beyond. Here we are uplifted, held aloft by strong limbs, and separated from standard time.

Here we are eye-to-eye with the birds, as far removed from ground-level reality as an eagle in its aerie. Shrouded in leafage, we can peer out at passersby who never seem lift their heads above the horizontal plane; to them we are invisible.

Almost every kid who grows up in the country knows what it's like to climb trees. And nearly everyone who has ever climbed a tree has built a treehouse... or dreamed of one.

Most treehouses aren't much, just a few boards wedged between the trunk of the tree and some sturdy branches. All you need, really, is a platform to rest upon, but it's nice to have some walls and a roof as shelter from wind and rain.

Continued at... View From The Trees

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: 'Treehouse' Wall Decal

Friday, April 1, 2011

Stay at Home Geese

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2001. All rights reserved.

A flock of Canada geese honking overhead captures my attention, and I think, "There's a sure sign of spring."

But wait! I've been watching that same flock, or one quite similar, fly overhead for most of the winter. And I remember seeing large gatherings of these birds on cornfield stubble, on golf courses and even some folks' lawns in January.

Idaho lies along the migration routes of many waterfowl, but most birds keep moving south toward the promise of warmer temperatures and open water. So, what are these Canada geese doing hanging around?

One of the most spectacular changes in the bird world in the last quarter of the 20th century, according to ornithologists, is the sudden appearance of "tame" Canada geese in suburban North America. In a recent Cornell Backyard Bird Count, the Canada Goose was the "most-seen bird" of 419 species reported in North America; more than 360,000 of them were counted. More common than sparrows!

Continued at... Stay at Home Geese

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Artwork: Canada Geese on Lake

Sunday, March 6, 2011

No Mere Coincidence

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996. All rights reserved.

Fastened to our refrigerator door with a cow-shaped magnet is a fading piece of print clipped from some newspaper or almanac long ago. The clipping has outlived at least three refrigerators and survived several moves, traveling with us like some heirloom we dare not misplace.

Though curled at the edges and smeared a bit, the words are still legible:

"When the first leaves of the lilac appear... plant peas, potatoes, lettuce, radishes and the like.

"When the first lilac blossoms appear... plant beets, carrots, kohlrabi and other cole crops.

"When lilac blossoms reach full bloom... plant beans, corn, cucumbers and squashes.

"When the lilac blossoms fade and fall... the danger of frost is probably past and it's time to set out tomatoes, peppers and other warm-weather crops."

Continued at... No Mere Coincidence

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Blossom in Lilac by Gail Mckenzie

Thursday, March 3, 2011


by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1995. All rights reserved.

It is early spring and I am walking the windbreak I planted last spring. This stand of saplings should rise up 20 feet in a dozen years or so, providing some protection against the hot, dry westerlies that blow this way come summer.

A properly constructed windbreak can deter winds 10 times the height of the tallest tree, or so I've read. Planted in a bell-shaped curve with the tallest trees in the middle and shrubs on either end, the aerodynamic windbreak will re-direct breezes around a field, giving soils and tender seedlings some peace.

Continued at... Windbreak

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Agricultural Landscape in France with Distant Windbreak of Trees

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What The Snow Reveals

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.

Snow conceals, but it can also betray.

Consider the tracks of mice, or wolves, or lynx -- so rarely seen. But here in the frozen dawn the secrets of their passage are plain to see, recorded like marks on a blank page.

You can read how the hare bounded from the forest cover, paused briefly to listen and stare intently (at what?), then was off again. And you can follow the tracks of a lone elk that staggered back and forth across the hillside, searching some remembered comfort before collapsing beneath the weight of hunger or disease, or both.

Continued at... What The Snow Reveals

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Lynx Tracks in Snow

Friday, February 18, 2011

Signs of Trouble

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

Our goldfish died, both of them in less than a week. That's an ominous sign.

Goldfish, you see, are a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. According to feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of channeling energy, a pond or bowl with goldfish swimming in it will help attract luck and success. A goldfish bowl near the entrance to a home invites happiness to enter; an aquarium near the cash register of a business brings wealth in the door.

When the fish turn belly up on the surface, that's not so good. We'll be getting Prozac offers in the mail now and that knock at the door won't be Ed McMahon. Our bank account and the Dow Jones average are bound to continue their downward spiral.

Continued at... Signs of Trouble
Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Plum Blossom Chinese Feng Shui Painting
Feng Shui in the Garden

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Coffessions of a Latter-Day Luddite

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

In my good dreams the phone is not ringing. On my best days the starter goes unturned, the monitor is blank and nothing gets scanned. I walk or ride a bike whenever practical, pay cash mostly and disconnected the cable TV long ago. Pollsters and marketers lurk in the dark alleys of the media. If it has a magnetic strip, it can't be trusted.

Machines are maddening; technology is terrifying. And yet I work all day at computers and make a living through their connections to the Internet. They allow me to be rural but not rustic, connected but not hardwired.

I am what you might call a Latter-Day Luddite.

Continued at... Coffessions of a Latter-Day Luddite

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Rustic Tuscany by Liz Jardine
Against the Machine

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In The Quiet

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

Coming home after a trip to the city, I look forward to the warmth of my loved ones, the comfort of familiar faces, and the joys of country living: open space, good neighbors, unpaved land. But what I often crave most is the sound of this place, or rather the lack of sound. The silence. The quiet. The peace.

Here on the porch, I hear the drip of meltwater in the drainspout, the chirp of juncos at the bird feeder, the sound of a pickup truck on a far‑off section road, and the occasional bellowing of a cow or barking of a dog.

Days and nights in the city reverberate with alarms and whistles and recorded noises of all kinds, from disembodied voices to loud syncopated beats. The hum is nearly constant, like being at the seashore next to a continuously pounding surf. The waves roll in, one after another, day after day, until your body starts to expect them and your ears stop hearing them and you wouldn't be able to sleep nights if they were taken away.

Continued at... In The Quiet

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: "A Quiet Place" by Patricia Hobson

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Man in the Moon

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.

The Man in the Moon looked out of the moon,
Looked out of the moon and said,
"'Tis time that, now I'm getting up,
All children are in bed."

Look at what's rising: Luna, Selene, man in the Moon.

Much of the universe, as we know it, is strange and distant, full of lifeless orbs and wild cataclysms and dark voids. We know little about the quasars and nebulae and supernovae of outer space. Through our telescopes we peer at stars and planets and galaxies, but how well do we really know them? We can only see what we can see.

The moon is different. It is closer to us than any other heavenly object, both physically and imaginatively. It has been part of our stories and dreams since the dawn of time. It's the stuff of nursery rhymes...

Continued at... Man in the Moon

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Full Moon Poster

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Born To Be Rural

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1992. All rights reserved.

"Next time," says the author Frank Waters, "by hook or by crook, make sure you're born with a mountain in the front yard."

And an acreage out back, I would add.

Waters was born to the Colorado country and wrote several classic books (Masked Gods, The Colorado, The Book of the Hopi) about that land and its people. I come from the plateaus of eastern Montana, where your eyes rest on backlit mountains after crossing miles of open range.

It makes a difference what you're born to, of course, whether its the black sod of Kansas prairies or the slick sidewalks of Fifth Avenue. Places put things in your head like those silly tunes that you hear once and can't shake. They get in your dreams and wake you in the morning. You find yourself humming them in the shower, at breakfast, on the job. Who can say why?

Continued at... Born To Be Rural

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: "Mother's Apple Pie" Is Country Living at It's Best by Patricia Hobson