“TO BUILD A FIRE”

That was a favorite short story in my schooldays, for this person who (apart from Hem) is not that fond of short stories.  In this run of gelid days, learning to make fire as did the Apaches, with Tom Brown, Tracker, who had been taught by his friend’s grandfather, Stalking Wolf, of the Oklahoma Apaches, comes sharply back to memory.

It took me any number of days to achieve this in 1983.  Every break we had from day and night tracking lectures and practices, I went off in a corner and worked with that stout stick and the woodblock into which it had to fit so perfectly.

I thought no one knew I was doing this.  I thought everyone else had already made fire.  I was not going home from Tracker School without having achieved this major skill.  Boy Scouts of ten years of age had managed it in less than a half hour…  I was then in my forties, being not at all handy with that heavy, unwieldy, essential Buck knife.

When the spark finally glowed, there was a great cheer.  Tom and all his Trackers had been standing behind me in a circle, one with a strong hand and arm coming to my aid to keep the key elements in contact in the last crucial seconds.  I admit tears…

O, yes.  After that, many people went off into corners to continue learning to make fire…

 

TO BUILD A FIRE

[for Tom Brown, Tracker,

Tracker School,  Summer 1983]

craft

with your big Buck knife

a stout stick

then work the pale woodblock

removing anything extra

 

pare

a smooth deep cone

which must exactly match

the stick’s new girth

 

kneel

upon needles and pine duff

— a hand-sized clutch

of some plant’s inner softness

near at hand

 

roll

the smoothed pine

between determined hands

faster, faster!

pay no attention

to your trembling knees

 

watch

for first white smoke

but do not stop

 

press on

until

the block glows red

 

quickly!

surround

your fiery gem

with plant fluff

careful

not to breathe too hard

 

make a whistle of your mouth

using will and skill

exhale the long breaths

waiting all these years

only for this fire

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

August 28/September 3,2004

 

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Christmas Arrives in Unexpected Settings

 Waterville Valley Vistas

When one has a difficult mother,  it can become essential to distance one’s self and  family, particularly at the time of significant holidays.  If one has a courageous husband, he may announce, as the parental car pulled out of our Princeton driveway after a particularly grueling visit, “That’s it.  We are not letting her ruin another Christmas.  We are going skiing at Waterville.”

My husband, Werner Oscar Joseph Edelmann (for full effect say with German accent) was 100% Swiss.  Although he had not grown up skiing, we took it up as a family, the year we moved to Princeton – 1968.  Shore friends, sitting on their dune-cushioned deck, insisted that our families learn together.  It was August and steamy.  Winter?  WHAT Winter.  We said yes.

I secretly hoped some disaster, like a broken leg, or death, would intervene before that crucial February challenge.  None did.  So we all began to learn to ski.  The girls were in kindergarten and first grade.  At Killington, they looked like bunnies in their fuzzy snowsuits and fat mittens, among a gaggle of other little beginners, huddled at the base of ‘the bunny slope.’

They, being half Swiss, did not remain beginners very long.  In the year of our deliverance from my mother, they were teens who preferred ‘bombing the black lines’   – the expert slopes.  Especially “Oblivion” in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire.  The White Mountains were Werner’s choice for our runaway Christmas, because their ski school and an authentic Swiss lodge were run by Paul Pfosi.  All Paul’s instructors were Swiss.  Extremely demanding.  “Ski marks on the inside of your ski boots” to prove you had your legs close enough together.  Off-slope, they all delighted to converse in their native (unwritten) language with this tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed very determined American skier.  Stein Eriksen in those years was our hero, our model.

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No one would mistake us for Stein, but his example formed Pfosi’s Instructor Corps.

Anita Kathriner and Raphael Wyss make Alpkase, Mutschli and butter by hand in the traditional manner in a giant copper kettle over a wood burning fire at their cheese-making hut above Wengen, Switzerland

Swiss Copper Cheese Kettle in situ

Pfosi’s Lodge held the huge copper kettles we’d first seen in Emmenthaler, in which magnificent Swiss cheeses were precisely concocted.  Only Pfosi’s kettles overflowed with silky evergreen boughs from nearby endless forests.  Swiss Christmas music, such as relatives had carefully sent to Diane and Catherine over the years, pealed from hidden speakers.  Conditions were ideal on the slopes, and for any number of days we almost forgot it was Christmas.  But not quite.

Our family, over the years, had no experience of that Holiday beyond our own formal tree and hand-made-ornament tree, one by the living room fireplace, one by the family room’s slate hearth.  Heaven to us was a fire in each room, the three of us in long plaid skirts and white lace blouses, playing our guitars and caroling for Werner in the family room.  There’d always been the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, and caroling in the neighborhood near Princeton’s Snowden Lane.  Could Christmas find us in New Hampshire?

There was a tiny church in the village below the lodge.  It felt very odd to go to church in ski clothes and apres-ski boots.  Instead of a jungle of poinsettias in the Princeton church, but two tiny ones ‘decked’ this austere altar.  Instead of instruments sustaining voices back home, a motley choir with cracking voices sang in a small wooden balcony high overhead.  But it was Midnight Mass, and it did hold all the magic we needed.  And the quivering voices underscored a somehow more memaningful reality.

We drove back up the mountain, past the restaurant where we’d had Christmas Eve Supper.  We’d sat next to a live birch tree, somehow able to live and thrive indoors, reaching for the midnight sky.  Between dinner and church, we’d been astounded by stars beyond counting, which seemed nearly blinding.  But between church and the lodge, no stars.  Instead, white swirls, glistening to be sure, of new snowflakes — no more welcome blessing in ski country at Christmas.

Swiss Santa in Boat

Back in our rooms — it must have been near 2 a.m. by now — we found dark Swiss chocolates wrapped in bright gold foil upon our pillows,.  Pfosi’s had signed lacy old-fashioned Christmas cards with gilt arabesques, such as those which arrived every year from Tante Li, Onkel Joni, Cousin Vera and the rest of the family in and near St. Gallen.  I cannot spell their Christmas message, but we all knew how to say it in Swiss — it sounded like FRO-LIKKA-VIE-NOCKTEN.  One said this with certain notes in our voices which the girls had heard since babyhood..

Frohlichi Wiehnacht Swiss Christmas Card

Diane’s and Catherine’s room was right across the narrow hall from ours.  They burst in, laughing all over.  “Come Quick!  Come Quick!  Carolers!”

We “thrust open the windows, threw up the sash” onto a scene I will never forget.  Snow circled, enfolding us as though we had been transported into the Milky Way. itself, Horses snorted and their visible breath mingled with the flakes.  Yes, sleigh bells jingled.  Tucked into hay in an old fashioned sleigh were male and female carolers, dressed as we had been for Mass, in ski parkas and ski mitts and knit hats.  These voices sounded like tiny silver chimes, like bells, rising into the heavens in celebration.

And we’d thought Christmas was only in our family room…

It wasn’t every Christmas morning that opened on a trail named “Oblivion”!

The Mountain, Waterville Valley

May each of you find your special holiday exactly as you need it this year — and may its real message of Peace on Earth, Good Will, suffuse our entire planet.

Here is an ad from the 1970’s, when we were there:

ski watervi w va NEW HAMPSHIRE PFOSI S LODGE Willkommen! Paul Pfosi, Director of the Waterville Valley Ski School, invites you to enjoy the Swiss-American hospitality of Pfosi’s Lodge. Alodge unique in every way combining old world charm with the most modern American accommodations and conveniences; …

The future would bring Christmas in other realms:

Aspen skiing scene,jpg

In Aspen, we could ski through forests.

In Zermatt, the Materhorn always tantalized:

Zermatt Materhorn from Internet

 

But the slopes held the magic:

 

Swiss skier from Internet

BUT NOTHING EVER TOPPED CAROLERS IN THE HORSE-DRAWN SLEIGH OUTSIDE THE OPEN WINDOWS OF PFOSI’S LODGE OF WATERVILLE.

SERENITY, SPIRITUALITY AND SUN: Remembering Santa Fe & Taos

Brooding Santa Fe Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Santa Fe Indian Museum, New Mexico Skies

Sometimes, I am compelled to take NJWILDBEAUTY readers into my ‘memory bank’, especially on gloomy New Jersey days.  The entire sky this morning is filmed with grey, –somewhere between fog and soot.   It’s hard for me even to remember sun. But it was ever-present in Santa Fe and Taos in the spring.

StoryTeller Santa Fe Museum of Indian Arts & Culture

STORYTELLER, BY A. E. HOUSER, Santa Fe Indian Museum

Two of ‘my’ Intrepids and I, as you know, undertook a Georgia O’Keefe pilgrimage in Santa Fe and Taos.  Janet Black and Jeanette Hooban were part of this quest. Carolyn Yoder is the fourth — not present in O’Keeffe Country at that time.  Sometimes we call ourselves The Four Musketeers — Janet (of Manhattan) being d’Artagnan; as in not always near enough to partake of every challenge.  All for one and one for all, and always seeking — art, history, courage..

In Houser’s “Storyteller” above, a man’s image of a strong woman inspires us, “stiffens our spines” in the urgent causes on every side in thus 21st Century.

Motherhood Pearl Buck Estate July 2017

Motherhood statue at Pearl S. Buck Estate — Buck adopted six children of mixed race, spent her lifetime insisting  upon honoring what we now call ‘diversity’

Pearl Buck Grave July 2017

“Gone, but Not Forgotten” — Pearl S. Buck’s being and ideals

Here, she rests in her beloved Bucks County, PA,

surrounded by bamboo and lilies.

All four of us, as you well know, require regular doses of strong women, Eleanor (Roosevelt, of course) above all.  Abigail Adams.  Pearl S. Buck.  And Georgia, always Georgia, — modern in art and dress and life, before there was much ‘modern’ in the United States.  As this interweaving of strong women unfolds this morning, I sense that each, that all, would insistently approve of the motto of Al Gore’s splendid new film on climate change: “BE INCONVENIENT!”  (This has become my motto for my upcoming birthday year.”

All of these women lived by strong and high ideals.  Each engendered practical change, against all odds, from the 1700s through the 20th Century.  They stood against prejudice and insularity, for compassion and courage.  They took bold actions; wrote strong words; painted reverberant works to convey the truths by which they lived.  We honor them, especially by visiting their sites, for courage, for being the original Intrepids.

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Augustus St. Gauden’s Statue in Washington D.C., which comforted Eleanor in her travails.

Riverside Park Statue Eleanor Rroosevelt-

Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial, Riverside Park, NYC

Prayer Santa Fe Indian Museum

Prayer, by A. E. Houser: Santa Fe Indian Museum

When I began this blog, I thought it was going to be about wallowing in the wild, complex, ever-changing sunlight on the mountains and adobes of New Mexico.

Adobe Outbuilding Santa Fe Museum of Indian Arts & Culture

Sun on Simple Adobe, so very Georgia! (Indian Museum, Santa Fe)

The Universe had other ideas.  I need to enshroud myself with strength and courage.

fig. 78: Alfred Stieglitz

Iconic Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz from Internet

The world as we know it is being altered exponentially, by political forces seemingly beyond our control.  I’ve ‘been there’ before,   as Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese sought to rearrange the world.  I never understood how the Germans or the Italians could go along with those tyrants.

It never occurred to me that our own country could be usurped and taken in directions with which most of us do not agree.  Politically and climactically, we are poised to lose everything we hold dear.

Abigail and Eleanor and Pearl and Georgia stood firm against currents of their time.  For women, for freedoms, for children of other lands, for art, for feminine dress itself, in Georgia’s time, and against prejudice..

It’s up to us to do likewise.

Abigail Adams Portrait from Internet

“John, remember the women,” Abigail Adams 1770’s –As Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, were being composed…

In the lexicon of Alfred Stieglitz, publicizing all art, especially Georgia’s, ” The spiritual was opposed to material and modern art was materialism’s antidote,” insists the catalogue from “Georgia O’Keeffe, Living Modern”, [Brooklyn Museum exhibition].  Brilliantly authored by Wanda M. Corn, it goes on to assert that “Stieglitz described his artists, not as ordinary beings, but as gifted modern seers.” He found their avant-garde work “healing and therapeutic for those living in an age dominated by commerce and business.”  

Realize that Stieglitz and O’Keefe’s first command of the art stage took place in the 1920’s!

As the values of our Founding Fathers and Mothers, our powerful authors, out iconic artists are increasingly trampeled, “BE INCONVENIENT!?

The Harsh Southwestern Landscape seems a breeding ground for strength:

Late Afternoon Santa Fe Indian Museum

CAPE MAY BIRDING WEEKEND PRELIMINARIES – Intrepids at Hawk Watch Platform

Birding, –whether its interval involves weeks, weekends, or stolen moments before sundown–, guarantees the unexpected.

Below is a potpourri of impressions from the Intrepids’ Cape May week, in extraordinarily hot October.

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Sunrise, Cape May, October 2016

Above, Carolyn Yoder watches for the Cape May skimmer flock, at sun’s arrival, on our empty beach.

Below, note birdless sky at the Cape May Bird Observatory Hawk Watch Platrorm, in the face of implacable winds out of the southeast:

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Ready for Action, neglected scope and camera at Cape May Hawk Watch Platform in Hot October 2016

 

“…Home are the wanderers, home from the sea…” For a series of idyllic days, Jeanette Hooban, Carolyn Yoder and I woke and slept to the sound of waves.  Except for our superb dinner at the Ebbitts Room of the Virginia Hotel, we never left the (perfectly restored charm-ful Victorian) house without binoculars in hand.

 

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Timelessness Central, Cape May Dwelling

 

Extraordinary fellowship was the hallmark of our days and night.  Especially as Carolyn Yoder. read aloud of Whitman and of Yeats, on this beckoning porch, in pitch darkness seasoned with moonrise.

 

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Dunes and Sea from Timeless Porch of Restored Victorian Cape May Residence

 

As for birding itself…   Well, let’s just say that 21st-Century people tend not to realize the crucial factor of wind-direction, –for birders, to be sure; but even more-so, for the birds.  Fall migrants need tail winds straight and strong, out of the northwest, surging them southward.  Our four southeast-buffeted days brought glorious sunrises, sunsets, and even a delightful dip in the Delaware Bay.     Birding?  Let’s put it down to quality over quantity   –that lone whimbrel on the Skimmer’s Back-Bay Birding pontoon Cape May saltmarsh expedition, above all.

 

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Jeanette Prepares for her Dip in Delaware Bay, at Higbee Beach

 

When the keenest birder abandoned his scope and camera (see above) and the raptor workshop began to speak of optics rather than birds, we took ourselves elsewhere.  We headed for Higbee Beach, scoping it out for our final morning’s dawn.  We planned to discover which warblers (especially) had chosen to rest among dunes and shrubs, rather than take on Delaware Bay.  Basically, this Intrepid Expedition convinced us that planning and birding do not go hand-in-hand.

 

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Migrant Human Crossing Delaware Bay — well, not exactly crossing…

 

I joined Jeanette, somewhat unexpectedly, attired in my shorts and shirt, when waves suddenly removed sands from beneath my feet.  The water was divine — cool as perfectly chilled champagne, and as invigorating.  My favorite part was looking up at sky through the Bay, (neither of us had ever entered it before).  I pretend I can still taste remnant salt on my sunburnt cheeks.

We had a little competition for that body of water:

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Ferry (Cape May – Lewes, Delaware) Entering the Bay

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HIgbee Beach, Where We Would Have Spent our Last Morning, Had not FOG and Windlessness Rendered Even the Atlantic Ocean Invisible

 

We have new respect, –the three of us–, for wind direction.  Those inescapable currents act like giant policemen’s hands, holding up all in flight, causing everything from slowing to fall-outs in bird-centric Cape May.

(As I work on this blog, we are experiencing serious south-westerly wind, so fierce that it is gusting ‘my’ goldfinches right off their thistle socks.  This wind is of no use to migrants, either.  Nor to all the other obsessive birders down there for Cape May Birding Weekend, in its full swing at this moment…)

 

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Cape May Bird Observatory’s Hawk Watch Platform Sponsors

Our first day on the Platform, we had an American bald eagle implacably chasing a migrant osprey over the tree line, most likely the osprey’s breakfast.  The ‘spotters’ told us, “eagles usually win.”

Humans on the Hawk Watch Platform had time to memorize the wisdom of our brilliant ornithological mentor, Pete Dunne, meticulously and wittily differentiating sharp-shins from Cooper’s hawks.

My i.d. skills were especially honed on this journey because a dear friend, –who prefers to remain anonymous–, loaned me HER priceless Swarovski optics for the duration.  Miracles were witnessed through them, not all of them at ‘The Point.’

 

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Carolyn Yoder and Jeanette Hooban Walk Away from a Lake Full of Swans

 

A good deal of time was spent studying mute swans in coordinated pairs, on the lake below the platform, and on the lake reflecting Cape May Light.  This land is mercifully preserved, and assiduously maintained, despite dire storms, –so that birds, pollinators, native wildflowers, and humans may thrive there.

 

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Feisty Butterfly on Cape May Point Boardwalk

 

The leitmotif of our pre-Birding-Weekend days was the bell-like muffled chatter of yellow-rumped warblers in and out of high tide plant and vines.  In normal years, we wouldn’t have been able to see the ivory blossoms of high tide plant for nectaring monarchs.  Amazingly enough, we may have been granted a higher proportion of lepidopterae than birds, for most of our time on the platform.

 

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Jeanette Discovering the Gadwall, confirmed by official Hawk Watch Platform Spotter, from Cape May Bird Observatory

 

Fellowship is high among today’s birders.  The second day, Jeanette was convinced that head shape and neck design meant a bird other than black duck.  Here she is, her discovery being confirmed and identified.  Queries are welcomed and richly answered.

But even Pete Dunne noted, “When talk turns to Cape May restaurants, we know the wind is wrong on the Platform.”  I teased him that a talk on such topics would be his next article.  Pete shook his head…  “Done that!,” he noted, turning to watch a sharp-shinned hawk twisting in high erroneous gusts.

Birders tend to have many teachers, over our years of (unending) apprenticeship:  But there is no one from whom I more joyously and thoroughly learn birding essentials than Pete Dunne.  Every aspect of Cape May Point echoes his work there, since he essentially founded Cape May Bird Observatory, standing on a picnic table and counting raptors decades ago.  Pete dared declare that Cape May had the highest seasonal concentrations of migrating raptors along the East Coast/Atlantic Flyway.

 

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Raptor I.D. Flag at the Point

 

Many of us first learned of Pete in his New York Times columns on nature in general; birds, birders and birding in particular.  But I must not overlook his long list of books, among which two favorites are Featherquest and Tales of a Low-Rent Birder.

The subtly witty Pete is the Ur-speaker at birding events.  He remains the ideal guide on a day devoted to avian creatures – whether on a boat on the Maurice River or on a rather odd bus in Philadelphia, riding from the Heinz Refuge to the shaded, bird-rich grave sites of America’s earliest ornithologists, Alexander Wilson and George Ord.  It would seem that birder-feuds are less virulent now than in their day — Ord is known for fiery resentment of colleagues, John James Audubon and Thomas Say.

 

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From Far and Near

 

The miracle of Pete Dunne is that he does not hold his encyclopedic knowledge ‘close to the chest.’  Quite the contrary — there is no more dedicated, determined teacher.  As Guide, he not only wants everyone ‘on’ the bird.  Pete sees to it that you take home field marks, silhouette nuances, and nearly-nonsense jingles so that you can do all this without him.

 

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Habitat-Protectors of the Future

 

As I tell Pete most times when I’m privileged to be with him, “All of us take you with us, every time we pick up our binoculars.”

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Pete Dunne on the Hawk Watch Platform from Internet

 

 

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Carolyn Watches Birdwatchers at the Platform