28 September 2012

A different kind of creeper

The "Creeper" on our Cottonwoods
A few years ago I created a post entitled "the creeper" which was a bit of a spoof on the creeper from Scooby Do, but was dedicated to a little inconspicuous bird called the Brown Creeper.  What is truly creepy about it is its continued ranking as the number 1 most-read post I've ever written.  So in some way, this post's title is testing a theory.

But it is about a different kind of creeper.  Virginia Creeper to be more precise.  This is our third Fall out here on the Hill.  We are surrounded mostly by golden yellows associated with the colors produced in the fall by the century-old ash trees that line the homestead, and the cottonwoods and walnut trees along the creek.  We have two red maples that manage to interrupt a bit of the yellow monotony.  And the sycamores produce a coppery variation to the skyline.  But we often comment how much we miss our two big old sugar maples that stood guard at each corner of our front yard.  They provided a show of dark yellow to bright orange and every variation in between.  I may be biased, but they-particularly the south guard, were the most striking trees on all of South Michigan.  Which is why I was nearly sick to my stomach after only a year living there, the new owners trimmed (read "butchered") both so badly.

However, there is one early-turner at Sycamore Hill that, in turn, turns a lot of heads.  We have a great deal of Virginia Creeper, which is a woody vine with five leaflets per leaf, clinging to many of our trees along the creek.  Virginia Creeper, given enough sunlight, turns a dark crimson to burgundy color early in the Fall.  Near the road, on each side of the bridge, there is a grove of mature walnut trees that have a very open trunk and branch structure where the "creeper" is most evident this time of year.  The same is true of one of our tallest trees along the creek, an old cottonwood, which has the creeper extending to the very tips of its highest branches.....almost like flames extending into the sky.

The "Creeper" as it begins to cover our house
Knowing its showy Fall qualities, when the creeper began to grow on the south side of our house after I removed the old landscaping, I decided it wasn't going to hurt the aluminum siding that would one day come off so that we could restore the old wood siding underneath.  So I let it grow....and in less than three years it has covered about half of the south wall.  I was hoping for a spectacular show this fall, but the Japanese beetles managed to take a bite out of that plan.  The leaves have been turned to lace, though the burgundy color is still evident.

I still miss those old sugar maples from River City, but God saw fit to provide a double-punch here with both gold and crimson.  Take a drive down our road beneath the walnut grove that shelters the bridge.  You won't be disappointed.

27 September 2012

3 x 100

Mr. Carothers, at 100, on the Mule
Maybe as people are living longer these days, knowing folks who turn 100 years old won't be so unusual.  My grandpa would have turned 100 this year, and maybe subconsciously we marked that with the first reunion of my dad's family in June....only a few days after gramp's birthday.  But personally, I had never known someone who hit the century mark.  Until this year.  And now I know 3.

About a year ago I was asked to create a nomination to place the Jacobs Circus Winter Quarters near Grissom Air Force Base on the National Register.  At that time I met Mrs. Kelly, who owned the property, and her son Ed.  Dorothy was 99 and told me that she would invite me to her 100th birthday party in 2012.  A few weeks ago I received the invitation that had a picture of her training the largest elephant ever used in a circus. I rsvp'd this morning.  Her birthday is only a few days before mine in October.  Someone asked what I was doing for my birthday this year and I said I was marking it with a 100th birthday cake.

Mrs. Kelly, nearing 100, at an event in Peru in her honor
Earlier this summer my mother called me and asked if our family planned to go to the 100th birthday party that was being held for an old family friend and one of our loyalest customers from the truckstop days.  I asked, "Lois is turning 100????"  Evidently time does move quickly.  So we attended her party at the firestation, had a little cake, and wished her well.  She knew me as soon as I said our truckstop's name.  I asked how she was getting along and she said not as well as she liked.  And I thought...."you're 100 and you seem to be doing just fine-I'll be lucky to hit 70".

Lois, almost 20 years ago, at our truckstop
Last evening at our preservation group's board meeting we held a little outing at a cabin in a woods.  Before the meeting we visited a nearby farm that has been in the same family for over 100 years and has been lovingly taken care of by the son of the man who built the house and barn in 1908.  Mr. Carothers said he had been born in the house.  As I was doing the math in my head someone interrupted my thoughts and said Mr. Carothers had turned 100 earlier this summer.  Would never had guessed.
There must have been something magical about 1912 to have produced this many centurions, all living well, living large, and independent.  I figured I had already hit my halfway mark......but with these folks as inspiration, I still have a number of years to go!

01 September 2012

Confessions of Owl Obsession

I've heard that there is a fine line between interest in something and outright obsession.  I think my friends and family believe I crossed that line some time ago when attempts to identify and confirm our mystery owls on the hill took a rather interesting turn.

Wing Man-my fellow birding buddy-had contact with a fellow from Pulaski County who had great interest, and frankly skill, in being able to identify a wide range of birds regardless of good visuals.  Sounded like the man for the job since we never have gotten a good solid look at our owls with enough daylight.  So our expert came to Sycamore Hill one night and sure enough....our pair of owls were here.  But was he able to confirm their identity?


So he suggested setting up a trail cam on a post near another fence post that the owls seemed to enjoy perching on and hunting from.  I figured why not at this point.  I had already crossed into the deep end.  So he and his son came back later that week to set up the camera....

Setting up the trailcam

 What we had hoped to see:

Barn Owl on post

And maybe this:


What we actually saw:

Very inquisitive Bluebird

Red Tailed Hawk

One of about 100 pictures of Crows

Disgusted and taking down the trailcam

And today we are no closer to having a positive ID on our night hunters, though I have conceded the possibility that they are not Barn Owls, but may be Short-Eared Owls.  Which also are not supposed to be around here and don't match many of the characteristics that our owls do...that more closely follow those of Barn Owls.

About a month ago our owls fell silent for a few weeks' time.  Then within the last week or two we had noticed that one was back, but unfortunately not the other.  We're hoping that nothing happened to our other owl.  In a fit of obsession, after hearing the owl, I went out to the garage where I kept a monstrous spotlight my buddy gave me.  I took the spotlight to the woods by the creek and spooked it out from which it flew to the barn, then on to the field behind the hill.  I know what I saw.  And I'm no closer with an answer.  Other than...I think I'm obsessed.