Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Home for the Holidays

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

We came to her table, friends and family, sons and daughters, grandchildren and neighbor kids; we laughed, we cried, we teased and joked, complained and worried, grew older, changed shape, and eventually, moved on.

She’s gone now and it has been many years since I actually sat down at that table, but I’m always there at Christmas and Thanksgiving and every other day worth remembering.

Continued at... Home for the Holidays.

Rural Delivery
Holidays and Notable Events
Out of the Past
Amelia: An Oral History
Artwork: Home for the Holidays

Monday, December 22, 2014

Midwinter Delusions.

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

Why is it that the coldest and stormiest days of winter seem to fall sometime after the solstice, in January or February when daylight is growing? Is it a build-up of cold arctic air in those long December nights that finally gets loose and spills southward into higher latitudes?

Correspondingly, the hottest days of summer seem to come in early August, which is well past the summer solstice of June 21.

Midwinter is an expecially difficult time -- an end time, the passing of a season and a year. Left alone in these dark times, it is hard not to reflect on losses and failures, vanished dreams and extinguished lives. What went wrong? How did things get so bad?

Continued at... Midwinter Delusions.

Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Winter Solstice
Artwork: Mid-Winter Moonlight - by Marie-Francois-Regis Gignoux

Sunday, December 14, 2014

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.

Continued at... A Chance of Showers.

Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Meteor Shower
Perseids Meteor Shower
Artwork: Meteor Shower Umbrella

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Winter Lights.

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

There are some nights so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face. There are some nights so dark you'll lose your bearings, mistaking north for south and near for far. There are some nights so dark they penetrate the soul.

Once you've seen this kind of darkness it's easy to appreciate a flashlight, a candle, even a match. The glow of a campfire is like a warm blanket against the cold. The lights of town reassure us that we are not alone.

It is little wonder that early civilizations devoted so much attention to the heavens and obsessed on figuring out the mechanics of the seasons. Even those of us who live in cities notice the days growing shorter and the night extending its domain. How frightening it must have been to see the darkness and coldness of winter spreading while supplies dwindled. .

Continued at... Winter Lights.

The Nature Pages
Second Nature
Artwork: Golden Light Flows out of a Window on a Winter Night

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Risk Assessment.

There's a difference between choosing to take a risk and living with a risk taken by someone else.

I remember living in a large metropolitan area and realizing how vulnerable I was to other people's mistakes. An errant driver on the freeway, a negligent building inspector, or a germy waitress could end my life. Any number of things can go wrong in a chemical plant or a water treatment facility that would affect entire neighborhoods.
After being shortchanged at the drug store and having the kid who changed my tires neglect to tighten the bolts, or reading about the bridge that failed and the bus driver that fell asleep, it gets harder and harder to trust other people with my well-being.

Continued at... Risk Assessment 

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

Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Second Nature
Artwork: Carr Fork Canyon Seen From "G" Bridge

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Old Iron Disease

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

Retired farmers are particularly vulnerable to this affliction, but it's also seen in generous numbers of those hobby ranchers who have professional city jobs and a handful of country acres in pasture.

Look for the full onset of the illness once the victim arrives home with a John Deere Model B or something similar purchased at auction for just $2,500. Hours spent in the shop will immediately double and there will be persistant talk of PTO drives and three-point hitches and remote hydraulics.

Continued at... Old Iron Disease 

Rural Delivery
Tractors and Tractor Parts
Farm Supply
Artwork: Early Model Mccormick-Deering Tractor by Sharon Pedersen

Saturday, August 9, 2014

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 
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Outrider Reading Group
Artwork: Hot Summer  Night

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When Cowgirls Rode the Broncs

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

Before there was Venus Williams or Nancy Lopez or even Billie Jean King, there was Lulu Belle Parr and Bertha Blancett and Lucille Mulhall.
The true pioneers of women's professional sports gripped reins instead of golf clubs, rode wild horses and bulls instead of thoroughbreds, and competed in dusty arenas rather than on grass courts. America's first female pro athletes grew up on farms and ranches of the West, like Lorena Trickey of Oregon, who started competing as a bronc rider to support the family after her parents died. They were cowgirls competing head-to-head with cowboys in rodeos all across America.

From the late 1890s through the 1920s, cowgirls like Dorothy Morrell and Tad Lucas were popular stars of big-time rodeo competitions like the Calgary Stampede, the Pendleton Roundup and the World Series Rodeo in Madison Square Garden of New York City.

Continued at... When Cowgirls Rode the Broncs 

Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
The Corral
Artwork: Cowgirl With Horse

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Northern Spy and Other Edible Antiques

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

A Rhode Island Greening is about as common in the contemporary American kitchen as a butter churn. It's as likely to be used as a woodburning cookstove or an icebox. Few of them have ever been microwaved.

The Northern Spy, once a standby at neighborhood grocers, is rarely seen in today's supermarkets. It's gone the way of the horse-drawn carriage and the stagecoach. Just try to find one.

The Greening and the Spy are both apples, two of the finest-tasting varieties ever to touch the American palate. But today they are "antiques," each more than a century old. Each has been replaced by varieties of apple better suited to the mass-production technologies of the modern era: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith.

Continued at... The Northern Spy and Other Edible Antiques

Rural Delivery
Home and Garden Center
Out of the Past
Artwork: Northern Spy

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pushing Progress

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

Bought a new lawn mower recently, my first ever, and I'm not sure I did the right thing.  I hated to give  up on my old one, you see, since it's served me faithfully the past ten years since I bought it at a flea market for $5. It's an old (1940s?) Montgomery Ward manual reel mower with a wooden handle that's splitting. The well-worn blades chatter like crickets as I push them gainfully across the lawn.

A push mower doesn't trim grasses as readily as one of those self-propelled motorized models, nor does it cover as much ground as quickly as those riding mowers can, but it has its advantages. Starts every time, for instance.

Continued at... Pushing Progress.

Rural Delivery
Lawn Mowers and Yard Supplies
Home and Garden Center
Artwork: Industrious Boy Mowing Lawn

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Own Stories

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

My little boy stops me in the middle of a story I am reading.

"I don't want this story; I want your story," he says.

"My story?" I ask.

"About when you were a little boy."

I pause, trying to figure out where this is coming from.

"You were once a little boy, weren't you?"

"Yes, I was a little boy a long time ago."

Continued at... My Own Stories.

Rural Delivery
The Animals Within
Out of the Past
Artwork: Alexander Cassatt and His Son Robert Kelso Cassatt by Mary Cassatt

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Any Given Name

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

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.

Juliet, upon her balcony, wishes Romeo would give up his family name and change it to some other. He, in turn, offers to be "new baptiz'd" with some other name than Montague? But does he follow through? Does he change either his Romeo or his Montague? Naw.

Not for love or for the sake of their two warring families do the
star-crossed lovers change their names. They'll go to any extreme, even drink poison if they must, to avoid that end.

What's in a name? Just about everything.

Continued at... Any Given Name.
Rural Delivery
Outrider Reading Group
Out of the Past
Artwork: What's In A Name?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Canine Alter Ego

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

When Ulysses, that ancient Greek king, returned home in disguise after being on the road for twenty years only his faithful dog -- Argos -- recognized the hero in beggar's clothing.
External trappings don't mean much to the canine species. Rich or poor, famous or ordinary, your dog still responds to character and performance. There's no fooling Fido.
"The fact that dogs haven't given up on humans completely and still make people their friends shows there must be some hope for the human race," said President Lyndon Johnson, whose beagles stood by him despite that awful ear pulling.

This ability to see beneath the surface of humans probably explains why dogs, almost invariably, resemble their masters.

Continued at... Canine Alter Ego.

Rural Delivery
Pet Supplies
Where Did Dogs Come From?
Artwork: Elizabeth Taylor with Little Black Dog.

Monday, May 12, 2014

In The Morning

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

A cat herds you toward the kitchen, crying breakfast. You heat water on the stove, break eggs over a frying pan, pour milk from a carton.

The kitchen windows are dark and reflective. Hold a hand against the glass and look outside. Skies are clear. No sign of those showers. There's the moon, a soap shaving hanging above the horizon with Venus, the morning star.

A warm mug of coffee. A newspaper. Livestock and grain prices. These are morning matters.

Continued at... In The Morning.

Rural Delivery
Artwork: Crescent Moon and Venus by John K. Nakata.
Outrider Books
Outrider Reading Group
The Nature Pages

Friday, May 2, 2014

Born To Be Rural

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

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?

The song of open spaces stuck with me early on, and though I've known my share of cities -- Kansas City, London, New York, Seattle -- it's in rural places that I've been most at home: wheatfields on the Palouse, the lush dairylands of Tillamook, wind-swept high desert country on the Snake River Plain, the timbered Ochocos of central Oregon....

Continued at... Born To Be Rural.

Rural Delivery
Artwork: The Edge of Town by Steve Smith.
Outrider Books
Outrider Reading Group
The Nature Pages
Farm Supply

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Wing and a Prayer

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

This time it was an oddly-striped finch that caught my attention, perched on the feeder outside my office window. The bird has thick bands of orange on either side of his pecan-sized head and looks like he is wearing one of those tear-shaped fiberglass  bicycle helmets.

Never mind the dozens of goldfinches fluttering about or the bold crowns of the Pine Siskin, it is the odd bird, the rarely-seen-in-these-parts critter that gets the most notice. It is this uncommon sight that gives me pause.

Isn't that the way it is with birdwatching? It's not the everyday bird that draws enthusiasts to bogs and barrens with their binoculars and field guides.

More than 60 million Americans feed and watch birds. Many do this in their backyards, but many are willing to travel great distances and endure physical discomfort to participate in the activity called "birdwatching." Recently ranked with other American recreations, birdwatching placed second ahead of gardening.

Continued at... A Wing and a Prayer.

Rural Delivery
Artwork: Birdwatchers Retreat by Janet Kruskamp.
Outrider Reading Group
The Nature Pages

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Cast Iron Skillet

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.

Next to barns and old tractors, the most distinctive artifact of the old-style American family farm is the cast iron skillet. There was a time before the aluminization of cooking utensils that these skillets could be found in almost every rural kitchen. These days, they're not so common.

You can find cast iron utensils at hardware stores, kitchen supply shops and some grocers, of course, but no new skillet measures up to a well used one. Like fine wines, these culinary implements get better with age.

A well seasoned skillet with decades of experience producing hundreds of batches of corn bread and fried chicken is practically priceless. My wife recently found one with a shiny black patina in an antique shop and presented it to me on Father's Day. What a prize!.

Continued at... The Cast Iron Skillet.

Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Kitchen Supply
Artwork: Cast Iron Skillet.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Privy to Privies

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

Live long enough and many of the everyday skills and experiences you take for granted become virtually obsolete, like operating a manual transmission or dialing a rotary phone.
Outhouses are like that. You don't see many privies any more, even on the most remote farmsteads, and few folks can claim to have sat in one.

I'm not talking about those industrial "Johnny-on-the-Jobsite" rental toilets or even the Forest Service's government-issue campground restrooms. True outhouses are homebuilt wood-plank structures with personalized features like crescent moons cut into the door or a shelf for the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

Continued at... Privy to Privies.

Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Home and Garden Center
Artwork: Morning Commute by Billy Jacobs.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Good Fences, Bad Neighbors

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

"Good fences make good neighbors," said the poet's neighbor, as if a wall could improve on human nature or protect one from its failings.

The poet was not convinced, and from what I've seen lately his neighbor had it backwards. Only good neighbors make good fences.

For the past several months Neighbor B has been feuding with Neighbor A over the size and appearance of his fence -- eight feet tall and a hundred feet long, sculpted from old barn wood.

An eyesore, says Neighbor B.

A necessity, says Neighbor A.

Neighbor B, you see, bought land next to Neighbor A a few years ago and built a home there.

Then he started landscaping and, as neighbors often do, questioned the property line. Neighbor A's fence was trespassing, said Neighbor B. That's where its always been, said Neighbor A, whose favorite apricot tree grew from the contested soil.

Continued at... Good Fences, Bad Neighbors.

Rural Delivery
Artwork: Old Wood Barn with Fence.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Winter Visitors

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

Among the most common sounds of winter in the country, along with rustling leaves and crackling fires, is the scratching and scurrying that can be heard inside walls and rafters of almost every rural dwelling.

These are the sounds of the house mouse, mus musculus, one of the least welcome of guests and most difficult to dissuade. This uninvited visitor will eat, or chew on, almost anything and defecate everywhere. He contaminates food, causes damage to structures and property, and  carries dangerous diseases.

Introduced by 16th century pilgrims in the holds of their Atlantic-crossing ships, house mice followed the progress of Europeans in the New World, traveling in wagons and rucksacks and saddlebags and trains and trucks and planes across the continent and back, occupying pantries from Maine to Malibu.

Grayish brown with a naked scaly tail, the pointy-snouted house mouse puts down 50 droppings a day, on average, and gives off 300 squirts of urine in between. Messy, ugly, and presumptuous, this uninvited guest inspires desperate measures.

Continued at... Winter Visitors
Rural Delivery
Home and Garden Center
Artwork: Hairless Mouse - Mus Musculus.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Solar Reflections

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

If all the Earth's fuels -- petroleum, wood, coal, etc. -- were lumped together and burned at the rate the sun emits energy they would last, at best, four days.   

What a bounteous source of power, this sun! Would that I could pry open my truck's gas cap and pump it in: fill it up with light, please!
The promise of solar energy has been homilized since I was in grade school. By now, we imagined we'd be driving solar cars and flying in solar planes. Photovoltaic cells were going to make conventional fuels obsolete.

Continued at... Solar Reflections
Rural Delivery
Energy Farming
Artwork: Frost-Covered White Birch Trees with the Sun Rising Behind.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How America Lost Its Marbles

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

I used to carry a small canvas bag with me everywhere I went. Inside that bag was my prized shooter, an oversized aggie with distinctive caramel-colored swirls, and an assortment of smaller clearies, puries, clays and jaspers.
We played for keeps on the playground of my youth, circles scratched in the dirt, knuckles drawn, shooters poised. I can still hear the loud CRACK! of a successful shot and remember the agony of watching helplessly as some 10-year-old sharpshooter cleared the ring of my last target marble.
The size of my marble bag reflected my fortunes. Some days it bulged with booty; other times I had only my shooter.
I no longer measure my worth in rounded bits of glass. It's been a long time since I was on my knees in the dirt taking aim at a purple-tinted brandie. But it saddens me that no one has taken my place at the ring and that few schoolchildren these days have any interest in the game.

Continued at... How America Lost Its Marbles

Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Out of the Past blog
Outrider Reading Group
Artwork: Playing marbles.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What The Snow Reveals

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

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

Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Artwork: Lynx Tracks in Snow

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Out of Line

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.

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.

We called it waiting "on line" rather than "in line," I suppose, to show that we were individuals and not anonymous segments in a line. Either way, I spent a lot of time waiting.

Continued at... Out of Line

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Outrider Reading Group
Artwork: People Waiting On Line

Friday, February 14, 2014

Signs of Trouble

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

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
How To Do It Books
Artwork: Goldfish

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Livestock Getaways

No matter what the enclosure or how strong the fence, there's always an animal or two in every flock or herd or pen of livestock that's going to find a way out. Call them Houdinis, or call them some expletive, but please don't call them heroes.

That's what some folks called a pair of pigs in England who made a daring escape from an abattoir near London.  An abbatoir is a slaughterhouse or "knacker's yard" as the Brits call it, where pigs, cattle, sheep and other livestock are prepared for market.

The "heroic" pigs squeezed under a fence, swam across a river and took refuge in a wooded area west of London. Local authorities were notified, a search was organized and the tabloid press caught wind of the event. Television helicopters with live coverage beaming worldwide joined the pursuit.

Continued at... Livestock Getaways

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Farm Supply
Artwork: Hog Slammer

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Beware of Bambi

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.

Recently, a woman at Wallowa Lake in northeast Oregon was attacked by a deer just outside her home while taking her toy poodle outside for a walk. A doe blind-sided the woman, knocking her off her feet and then repeatedly struck her with its hooves.

"It just kept coming back," the woman told a reporter. "I thought I was going to die. It could have killed me. It was bizarre."

Continued at... Beware of Bambi.

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

Rural Delivery
Out There
The Nature Pages
Artwork: Trophy Buck Deer With Big Rack

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Man in the Moon

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.

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Out of  the Past
Holidays and Notable Events
Outrider Reading Group
Artwork: Full Moon