Friday, December 14, 2012

A Chance of Showers

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

The night is cold and moonless. Stars twinkle in frosty stillness. My breath rises from my lips as a thick fog, circling my head before it dissipates into the silence.
I am out late in the dark, standing on a butte more than a mile from the nearest street light, because there's a chance of showers. Meteor showers.
Falling stars, or meteors, are not uncommon. You can catch site of one almost any night of the year, and some are even large enough and bright enough to break the light of day. But showers of meteors -- when long streaks of flame arc across the heavens not once, but many times -- are another matter. Most of these are caused by clouds of dust left in the path of passing comets and they come round again like the seasons, year after year.

Continued at... A Chance of Showers.

Rural Delivery
Holidays and Notable Events
The Nature Pages
Artwork: Meteor Shower

Monday, December 10, 2012

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.

Rural Delivery
Holidays and Notable Events
Out of the Past
Artwork: Church Choir Singing

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hitched to History

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2008. All rights reserved.

It hasn't been all that many years since horses were the primary mode of transportation all across the West. They not only pulled buggies and wagons, and sleighs in the winter, but they also powered the plows and cultivators that tamed an arid land.
Les Broadie remembered well those horse-drawn days. They were as near to him as his well-weathered hands, and as much a part of his life when I met him in 1995 as they were when he was youngster in the 1920s.

After his retirement from raising draft horses and cattle, Les operated Blizzard Mountain Carriages -- a one-man outfit specializing in buying and selling horse-drawn wagons, carriages, carts and sleighs. At the time, we was one of but a handful of American horse-drawn carriage dealers still in business.

Continued at... Hitched to History.

Rural Delivery
Farm Supply
Out of the Past
Artwork: Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride at Twilight in a Snowy Landscape by Ira Block

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cold Hardening

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

Hard frost again last night. My footsteps leave dark impressions on the ground. The breath of the cows rises in clouds as they huddle together like football players at Soldier Field on a December Sunday.
Fewer grasshoppers now, I notice. They used to scatter through the wheat stubble on my approach. Only a few stragglers remain. The rest have died or gone off to hide from winter.

The crisp night is giving way to a warm morning glow. It will be an "Indian Summer" sort of day, the kind we missed out on last year when winter dropped in early. Some of our coldest weather came in November rather than January, where it belongs.

Continued at... Cold Hardening.

Rural Delivery
Dark of Winter
The Nature Pages
Artwork: Winter Tree Line I by Ilona Wellman

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fall Back

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2008. All rights reserved.

After Daylight Saving was first enacted in the U.S. in 1917 (by the same Congress that committed a relcutant nation to World War I and Prohibition), farm organizations lobbied for and achieved its repeal in 1919, overriding a veto by President Woodrow Wilson.

After its repeal, Daylight Saving was still observed in a few states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island) and some cities (New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and others), but there was no national effort to control the clock until President Franklin Roosevelt instituted year-round "War Time" as a conservation effort from February of 1942 to September, 1945.

Whether Daylight Saving was an effective means of conserving fuel during the war years, or at any time, has never been proven

Continued at... Fall Back.

Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Clocks and Watches
Daylight Saving Ends
Artwork: Decoupage Art Wall Clock

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Logs to Burn

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

Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
Even the very flames are cold.

"But Ash green or Ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown.

"Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke.

"Apple wood will scent your room
With an incense like perfume.

Continued at... What Logs to Burn.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern

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

First, you start with a pumpkin seed, but not just any pumpkin. Seek out seeds of a Halloween or Jack-o'-Lantern or Spookie variety. You want a pumpkin that matures to the size and shape of your own head.
Sow your seed just before the last frost in mounds of soil and manure. And as you plant, reflect on how deeply the roots of pumpkins sink into history. Native to the Americas, pumpkins fed Indian tribes before Columbus landed and gave white settlers in frontier cabins sustenance through cold, dark winters.

Grow pumpkin vines in full sun with plenty of water. When they sprout small pumpkins, pinch off the tips of the vines. When the pumpkins are six inches across, pick all but one pumpkin per vine.

Turn your pumpkins gently in their final weeks of growth so they don't grow flat on one side. If one becomes your favorite, reflecting in its ribbed surface something inside your soul, scratch your name or initials in its skin.

Continued at... How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern.

Rural Delivery

Artwork: Jack-o-lantern

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Stories We Tell

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

Was it a conscious decision I made to move back to the country, or was it the agrarian genetics in my blood that drew me here? The desire to grow things, to live among animals, to own land and be out in the open is not entirely learned. I am the Frenchman tending his vineyards and a Norse fisherman returning from the sea. I am the Volga German growing tulips and the Irishman cultivating potatoes. When I turn the earth, I turn my soul. I carry memories of many soils inside my skull. Carved into my brain are inclinations I only faintly understand.

Continued at... The Stories We Tell.

Rural Delivery
Second Nature
Out of the Past
Out There
Artwork: Rational Chaos by Philippe Sainte-Laudy

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Silent Sentinel of Crop Protection

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

He stands alone near the fenceline staring out at the horizon. The breeze that rustles through the dried corn stalks stirs his tattered shirttails. He sways slightly, but keeps a firm grip on his rusty pitchfork with a broken tine.

Since spring planting he's been out there, a silent sentinel of agricultural defense. As the fields were plowed and fertilized, he was watching. He witnessed the first emergence of seedlings and saw the workers moving handlines during the early summer drought.

But now the crop is in and harvest done, and he's still standing there, waiting. I find him unnerving.

Continued at... Silent Sentinel of Crop Protection

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Artwork: Scarecrow by Susan Savad

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Real Cowboy Hats

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

Real cowboy hats don't have feather bands, nor do they come in mink fur or shades of mauve. The real thing, like the Stetsons and Resistols of old, is 100 percent fur felt. It's sturdy enough to weather gully-washers and to withstand horse's hooves, and it comes only in basic colors: good-guy white, bad-guy black and wrangler tan.
It used to be, a hundred or so years ago, you could tell where a cowpoke hailed from by the style of his hat. High Plains horsemen wore hats with wide brims to shade them from the glaring sun. Backcountry packers and riders in wooded areas favored hats that were narrower, to avoid tree limbs, and more bowed, to keep rain off their necks.
Nowadays mass production of cowboy hats has messed things up, but there are still some distinctions among real-life working cowboys. Your Texas cattleman, for instance, still wears a conservative rancher-style hat with a crease down the center of a six-inch crown and a dent along each side.

Continued at... Real Cowboy Hats.

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Artwork: A White Cowboy Hat

Friday, October 5, 2012

Signs of the Weather

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

Bad weather is on its way -- ferocious storms of rain and maybe snow. I see it clearly in the night sky: that ring around the moon -- a sure sign.

The brighter the stars, of course, the better the weather, but when a cat begins to wash its face a storm is coming fast. And when smoke drops in a chimney, rain soon follows.

Before there was a Weather Channel or weather reports on the radio or even a National Weather Service, folks in the country relied on the sights and sounds around them for weather forecasting. They noticed the color of the sky, the direction of the wind, the shapes and movements of clouds and their combined influence on the next day's weather. They also noted how often animal behavior corresponds to the meteorology around them.

Continued at... Signs of the Weather

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Artwork: Rooster Crowing

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yellow and Ripe with Autumn

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

Our long, dry summer is drawing to a close. Weeks of clear skies gave way last night to a steady rain. We haven't had a soaking like this since June, or May. There will be more warm days this year, without doubt, but November is already in sight, and December too.

I see autumn in the meadows and pastures, where ryegrasses and wild wheat have reached maturity, their tops all yellow and bent over with the burden of seed. The goldenrod is blooming now, taking the place of monkey flowers and penstemon.

In our garden, a second crop of carrots are showing their orange roots above the dark earth. We've seen the last of the raspberries for this year, I'm afraid, but the snow peas are still producing. Yesterday I dug up an armload of potatoes.

Continued at... Yellow and Ripe with Autumn

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Artwork: Yellow Autumn Grass and Sunset

Friday, September 21, 2012


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

We lie on the brink of change. Great storms are brewing. This is the week of the vernal equinox, when the Earth stands up straight to the sun before it begins to tilt again, northern hemisphere tipping outward.
At this moment everything hangs in balance. The hours of day and night are nearly even. There's some powerful physics at play.

I remember Oregon Coast fishermen, charter skippers and commercial trollers, standing around the bait shop scolding the weather. The worst storms and the most unpredictable catches occurred at equinoxes, they said. Nasty storm clouds would rise out of nowhere and turn the ocean black, threatening lives. Then, quick as cream in a cat's mouth, the clouds would be gone. Skies would clear. Fish would bite.

Equinoxes are times of special powers. Calendars are created around them; crops are planted by them.

Continued at... Equinox

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Out There
Artwork: Encyclopaedia Britannica 1801 Precession Equinoxes

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Skipping Stones

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved.

There's a place down by the river where the bank is wide and sandy. It overlooks a low-lying rock dam over which the river spills. Behind that dam, the water is flat and calm -- perfect for skipping stones across.

My son stops here every time we come by on walks or bike rides. He scrambles down to the water's edge, scavenges for flat stones just the right size to fit between his palm and forefinger. This is where he learned to skip stones.

I started skipping stones as a toddler beside a reservoir in Montana. My family spent many weekends camped along its shore. As soon as I grew bored watching the folks fish, which didn't take long, I took to skipping stones -- well away from the anglers, of course. I threw for hours.

Continued at... Skipping Stones

Michael Hofferber
The Nature Pages
Rural Delivery
Out There

Artwork: Skipping Stone Just About to Hit the Water's Surface by Michael Durham

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Out Walking

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

Night falls an hour earlier now than it did a month ago. Evening walks that once began in full daylight and concluded against a rosy red backdrop end in twilight.

I walk the better part of an hour or more each evening and sometimes in the morning too, often with my dog and occasionally with a partner. The pace is leisurely, hardly ever brisk, and frequently interrupted with opportunities to comment about the weather or the progress of someone's garden with a neighbor or passing acquaintance.

By the time I return home I have surveyed a good portion of my town and know much about its business: whose tomatoes are ripened and whose house is being painted and who's hosting a family reunion. These walks fasten me to the community like the couplings on a freight car.

Continued at... Out Walking

Michael Hofferber
The Nature Pages
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Tree Avenue in a Small Town Art 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Where Did Dogs Come From?

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved.

Domesticated dogs, these creatures that fetch sticks and sit at our command, seem so common and normal that we take them for granted. They are so much a part of human life, both past and present, that it's hard to imagine a world without them.

But dogs haven't always been around. Part of the Canidae family that includes wolves and coyotes and jackals, domesticated dogs are rather new to this planet and what they've accomplished since teaming up with humans is miraculous.

In the space of just a few thousand years, dogs have changed their shape and behaviors to fit into almost every known human environment and endeavor, from Huskies pulling sleds in the Arctic to Border Collies herding sheep in Scotland and Pekinese warming laps in midtown Manhattan.

Continued at... Where Did Dogs Come From?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lightning Strikes

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

Tonight the sky is growling. Beneath the blackened heavens a finicky breeze rattles the maple leaves and makes the pine boughs groan. A scent of rain rides the whiffs.

Without warning this darkness is penetrated by fingers of ghostly white. They grasp at the earth, its treetops and its mountainsides, ever so lightly before withdrawing into the night. Moments later, thunder rumbles.

Lightning is one of the most dramatic, uncontrollable and dangerous acts of God. A hundred times each second bolts of lightning connect with the Earth. Where they will strike, no one can say. But aside from floods, no other natural phenomenon claims as many lives or causes as much damage.

Each year about this time we hear the stories of people killed, survivors wounded and fires started by lightning. Like the teenage boy I read about who was struck while watching a baseball game. The lightning shredded his clothing, ruptured his eardrums and burned his skin, but he survived.

A man playing cricket in Kansas City, Missouri, the same week was not so lucky. The 33-year-old victim was standing in an open area far from any trees when the bolt struck him down. At 6 feet 3 inches, he was the tallest person on the field at the time.

Continued at... Lightning Strikes

Friday, July 6, 2012


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

Age had dimmed her vision, but Grayce Brintnall could still see herds of wild horses grazing on the hillsides. She was spending her days indoors, but her lungs still swelled with the fresh air of the open range. And while she hadn't been in a saddle for years, she could still feel the ride of a strong horse at full gallop.

A few days before her 100th birthday, I went to ask Grayce some fool questions. That's what happens to you when you get to be a centenarian.

"You aren't going to ask me those questions, are you?" (How did you live to be 100? What's your prescription for a long life? Did you think you'd live to be this old?)

"I was taught not to ask questions of people," said Grayce. "That was the law when I was a kid. You didn't ask people where they came from or why they came."

I asked my questions anyway, as people of the newspaper trade are wont to do.

Continued at... Folks

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Artwork: Cow-girl, mounted on horse

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ascent of Man

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

However old I age or whatever career goals I pursue, it seems, I still remain a little boy watching for Daddy to come home.

My father was a working man of the 1960s, responsible for the gross household income, and for him that meant days and weeks on the road selling heating and air conditioning equipment. His father and his father's father were raised on family farms and orchards where the day's work ended at a communal dinner table. He was the first father in his line to take his dinners alone at motel restaurants in far-off cities while his family ate at home before his empty chair.

No one told us this was unusual. No one warned us how we would miss him then, and for years and years to come.

Mom was essential to my physical well-being, fixing meals and attending wounds, but Dad's attention had a direct line to my soul. Mom's praise and encouragement were important, but Dad's approval was a gift of grace.

Continued at... Ascent of Man

Michael Hofferber
Father's Day
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Time by Jean Monti

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Out of Line

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

In the town where I live, there's just one streetlight with one color: red. It flashes the same in all directions at a four-way stop where one state highway crosses another.

The traffic bottles up when a freight train passes through, blocking the
north-south lanes. I've seen cars backed up five, maybe six deep...

Queued up in one of these small-town traffic jams the other day, I started to reflect on the lines I've waited through and the ones I missed. I used to work in midtown Manhattan, you see, once of the most densely populated places on earth.

Continued at... Out of Line

Rural Delivery
Artwork: Baseball Fans Waiting in Line for Ballpark to Open (1920)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Old Iron Disease

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

There's an affliction common to the rural side of this country that attacks men more often than women, and the middle-aged or elderly more often than the young.

It's called "old iron disease," but you won't find it mentioned in any medical journals and no one that I've heard of is searching for a vaccine. It's one of those diseases, like "spring fever," that science has given up hope of ever understanding or preventing.

"Old iron disease" has nothing to do with blood chemistry or minerals, but a whole lot to do with memory and mechanical aptitude.

Continued at... Old Iron Disease

Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Poster: Early Model Mccormick-Deering Tractor

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Beware of Bambi

Lions and tigers and deer, oh my!

Danger lurks in our forests and other wild places. Grizzly bears and alligators and mountain lions have been mauling humans for ages, and fear of their claws and jaws bites deep into our consciousness. Somewhere inside, we all remember cave bears.

But while most of us retain a healthy respect for wolves and cougar, the urbanization of humankind has diminished our awareness of vicious raccoons, angry squirrels and the mostly deadly critter of them all -- deer.

More people perish in the U.S. from close encounters with deer each year than with bears and sharks and snakes combined (bees are the next most deadly creature). Many of these deaths are the result of collisions on roadways, but deer are also killing people with their hooves and antlers.

Continued at... Beware of Bambi

by Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Bambi: Iron-On Embroidery Patch

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Rural Delivery: Small Souls

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

More than 90 years ago the author Anatole France wrote a novel titled 'Penguin Island' in which a blind monk baptizes a flock of penguins, mistaking them for a group of small people.

The monk's error creates a crisis in heaven, as God and his advisors debate whether birds should be given souls. They struggle with the pros and cons of the idea before finally accepting Saint Catherine's recommendation that birds be given souls, but only small ones.

Personally, I've never thought much about the souls of birds or fish or reptiles. Like most folks, I suppose, I've accepted the idea that these are "lower life forms" incapable of the kinds of thoughts and feelings we have in common with mammals. We humans stand at the top of the pile, according to our philosophies, with dominion over all the other creatures.

Dominion, however, implies responsibility. We can have our way with animals, but are we really free to do with them as we like?

Continued at... Small Souls

Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Artwork: Nature's Harmony

Friday, January 27, 2012

Confessions 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... Confessions of a Latter-Day Luddite

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Out There
Artwork: Rustic Tuscany by Liz Jardine

Friday, January 20, 2012

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: Solitude

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In Praise of Older Trucks

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

This was another one of those bone-chilling mornings.

The thermometer dropped below zero again and the windows were all frosted with ice around the edges where winter tries to ease its way inside. Only the woodpile and baseboard electric, it seems, are holding back an ice age.

Outside, the frigid air made my whiskers stand out straight. The snow underfoot was crunchy, like Rice Krispies, and the bucket seat of the Oldsmobile was stiff and unforgiving. I tried the ignition.

Is there any sound so unwelcome as the empty clatter of a starter on a dead battery? The dentist's drill, perhaps. Or a wailing infant at 2 a.m.

Continued at... In Praise of Older Trucks

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Old Fashioned Truck

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dark of Winter

In the dark days that follow the winter solstice, the last of December through the middle of January, I anxiously track the growth of daylight for reassurance that the tide has indeed turned and that winter will eventually give way to the brightening of early spring.

At this latitude of approximately 45 degrees, daylight grows ever so slowly at first, just a minute more each day until the middle of January, when it starts to grow by twos and then by threes at the month's end.

What I always find curious, and faintly disturbing, is that the day does not grow evenly. The sun sets a minute later each day for the week following the solstice, but it rises the same time day after day.

Continued at... Dark of Winter