Autumn Senses–The Sounds of Canada Geese

geese2I stand on my front deck. I hear a faint sound that confuses me, even as it’s getting louder. It’s the sound of a train coming through.

But the closest train tracks are several miles away . . .

The sound grows louder, gets closer.

It becomes clearer what it is.

That’s no train!

That’s a huge flock of Canada geese, heading our way.

The temps are in the 80s, the leaves are still green, the grass still needs to be mowed.

But it’s autumn. The geese tell me so. They insist.

Dozens, nay, hundreds, of Canada geese visit our bay at this time of year. In November, they’ll give way to snow geese.

The Canada geese are the early harbingers of fall. And they sound really, really excited about it.

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They sit out there in the bay and yak among themselves. They squawk and they chuckle and they chortle. They yip and they yap. They sounds like they’re laughing, and arguing, and announcing important news.

They get quiet and then for no discernible reason, they start in again, all at once, raising a ruckus.

They chat early, early in the morning, well before first light, and they are the last sound I hear before drifting off to sleep.

It not just their voices I hear. When a flock comes in, I can hear the beating of all those wings and the splish as they hit the water.

And when they leave, it’s never a quiet “exit, stage left.” They leave with noise and splashing and flapping and a big huzzah.

It seems they must be communicating; it can’t all be sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I’d love to know what they’re saying. Is the meeting in Monty’s Bay the equivalent of a block party, a meet and greet with neighbors? Or is it more a high school reunion, seeing friends they haven’t seen for years?

Are they talking about how they spent their summer vacation? The sights they saw up north? Or are they planning the upcoming trip, deciding where to stay and where to eat. That’s what we talk about when planning a trip . . .

They sound pretty happy and excited, but sometimes they sound cranky and argumentative. I imagine them arguing over who gets to fly first, out in that big point in the V in the sky.

“It’s my turn! You did it last time!”

“Well, I’m better at it than you! You led us to Kansas. Who wants to got to Kansas?!”

“How come I never get to be in front? I’m tired of looking at your back end!”

“You can’t be in front, you’re a girl!”

“You sexist gander, you!”

They all talk at once, nobody seems to be listening. It’s enough to make a person think of American politics . . . well, never mind.

Autumn in upstate New York smells like campfire. It tastes like a Northern Spy apple and cider doughnuts. It looks like maple trees with leaves aflame.

And it sounds like Canada geese.

What does autumn sound like in your neck of the woods?

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“It’s All About Me” Monday: The Balsam Pillows

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Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.
–Vladimir Nabokov

When I was a child in upstate New York, I took naps on a sunny glassed-in porch at the farm. On my couch was a special pillow. It was small and floppy and not soft. In fact, it was lumpy and sort of scratchy but . . . it had the most amazing smell.

The smell was faint, just a hint of something special remained. If I squeezed the pillow, I could coax a stronger breath of it out but just for a moment. The fragrance was of all outdoors and mountains and pine trees. It spoke of my grandmother’s house, of the farm, of the region, that place of my birth.

The small pillow was filled with needles of balsam fir. Then, and still now, these small pillows can be found all over the northeast, and especially, it seems, in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and in Maine. They were, and are, sold as souvenirs of a particular kind of wilderness.

I’ve had a thing for these balsam pillows all my life. I wander around my house and can count at least 35 of them—some are vintage, with corny sayings, like “I pine for yew and balsam, too,” printed on the pillows. Some are newer, made of bright Pendleton wool, embroidered cotton, and even one of velveteen.

Of the pillows lying around, probably 10 or more are ones I’ve made over the years. I can buy balsam needles locally for $5.50 a pound. It’s fresh and aromatic and condenses forest-mountains-lakes-sun-breeze-summer into one sniff.

I have usually made my pillows using a quilter’s technique called Cathedral Windows. A solid-colored fabric is folded and sewn in a particular way, until small bits can be turned back to frame an inserted scrap of special fabric, which is featured like the glowing pieces of stained glass.

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A Cathedral Window quilt. Photo by Kristen

Over the years, my featured fabrics have been of Adirondack images—apples, acorns, and pine cones—but my most recent pillows are a little different.

Of all the vintage linens that go though my hands, some of my favorites are classic, hard-working, striped linen dishtowels. They look tailored and efficient and elegant in their perfect design for a job of work.

But some of the towels I handle are damaged by a big hole or dark stain. It pains me to throw such a towel away so I use scraps to decorate my balsam pillows. Some plain muslin fabric, a small square of dishtowel, a random old button—together they make a perfect envelope for that special fragrance.

These are very small pillows, less than 4 inches across. I can use them as sachets and tuck them almost anywhere so that, unexpectedly, I’ll walk through a room and get a hit of that astringent fragrance, evocative, not too sweet, full of memories.

When I smell balsam, it’s always summer and the sun is always shining onto fir needles. I’m a small girl again, taking a nap in a cozy, secure place in the country. When I smell it, I smell home.

But, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my balsam pillows? If you craft and make things, is fragrance a part of the making? Is there a smell that transports you back to childhood?

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Our Quilt Guild Show!

IMG_8836The biennial show of the Champlain Valley Quilters’ Guild of New York was just over a week ago—it was wonderful fun, but pretty intense!

There were a few days there when I didn’t care if I ever saw another quilt!!

But I’ve gotten over that and am thinking happily about new projects, inspired by the work shown by my guild mates and by the vintage and antique quilts on display as well.

For those of you who don’t quilt and haven’t been to a quilt show, a little background might help. A local show like this is not juried—members of the guild can enter quilts that have not been shown in previous years. A numbers of awards are given by community members and by voting among attendees.

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Made by Anne Gillette. This quilt is about 26″ square and was acknowledged by attendees as “Best of Show.” It’s made by a technique called paper piecing. (Sorry about the keystoned image–it was hung above my head!)

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The strips of fabric are about 1/4″ wide!!

Many of the quilts are projects of the quilter’s own choice but others are made around a theme or challenge held by the guild.

For instance, a guild challenge we had last year was to make a long, narrow seasonal banner of a certain size and with a specified range of colors. The fun came with seeing how different makers translated the theme. (You can see larger, full images by clicking on the photos.)

Other special displays were made of mystery quilts (the quilters choose fabrics then follow directions given out over time, to make a pattern that will only come clear at the end of the project), quilts made by junior quilters, and a memorial display, with quilts made by guild members who have recently died.

You may remember me writing about the “Cot to Coffin” quilts done for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. Some of those quilts were also displayed together. For lots of photos of those, you could visit the original post.

Probably my favorite part of any show is the inclusion of antique and vintage quilts owned by guild members. We had a “bed turning” display that was very popular with show attendees. The format was a stack of old quilts layered on a bed. Each was revealed as its history and story were told. The quilts ranged from 150 years old to 9 years old. We had four generations of quilts from one family and poignant stories. Grandma Van’s quilt made its appearance, too!

Guild shows often reflect the region in which the quilters live and what I would call the guild’s group style and values. Our guild has a definite focus on nature and rusticity, and the members seem to prefer traditional styles and patterns. I saw a lot of pictorial quilts and almost none that I would call “art” quilts (although I would consider many of them artistic). Many of the quilts demonstrate superb technical skills and most are machine quilted, some with virtuosity. As a whole, the guild tends not to do a lot of handwork, although some hand appliqué was astounding.

Here are some of the quilts that caught my eye! So many were wonderful–I wish I could include them all.

And, because some of you were nice enough to show interest, these are my quilts from the show. I’m a hand quilter and, mostly, a hand piecer.

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Autumn as Antidote

IMG_4087A young friend liked Disneyworld. He really did. But at the end of a busy, exciting day, he burst into sobbing tears.

His parents asked him what was wrong. Through his tears, he said, “Too much people, Mommy. Too much people.” That little introvert had had enough.

Yesterday, after three days of work at the quilt guild show, of smiling and meeting and greeting, I knew exactly how he felt.

I enjoyed it. I really did. But, by Sunday night, this little introvert had had enough.

I was drained. Exhausted. It had been busy and exciting, but so many people!

Yesterday was my antidote, to get me back on track, back to quiet and solitude, back to myself.

Autumn was my anodyne.

And we fit all of autumn into one quiet, perfect, healing day.

With piercing bright sunshine, a dancing breeze, and temperatures in the 60s and 70s, it was the most exquisite fall day imaginable. The autumn foliage season was at its peak. We started by taking our annual leaf-peeping drive.

With each sparkling, falling leaf, I could truly feel my shoulders settle down, from their tense, hunched state. Silence was as golden as the leaves. We didn’t talk much, except to exclaim about a particular tree or an extraordinary view.

Want to see some of them? (Sorry there are so many–I had trouble choosing! Click on them to see the shining details of autumn in the Adirondacks!)

When the leaf-peeping tour was complete, we stopped for an apple crumb-top pie at an orchard where people waited in line to take photos of their little children with big pumpkins.

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We went out to lunch, at the spot we knew the beers would be coldest.

Home for a quick nap and then the autumn perfection continued.

A guitar and singing by the lake, the best songs for the last night we will sit here until May.

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Warming drinks and steak on the grill. Family and a perfect campfire.

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A sunset to bring summer and autumn 2015 into perfect harmony.

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Maybe autumn is meant for introverts and that’s why it’s my favorite season. A time when voices can seem a little too loud and we don’t need to say much, just keep our eyes open.

During autumn, I don’t feel a need for lots of people to keep me company—just the most special ones. It’s a time when we’re busy turning inward, making plans for the cocoon of our winter home, and relishing every bright, sunny moment because we know darkness and cold lies ahead.

I know not everyone loves autumn—some see it as a dying season, and feel melancholy. I don’t think I ever feel more alive and energized. After yesterday, I am whole again. I can face people and deadlines and maybe even quilting!

How about you? Are you an autumn-loving introvert?

Local Style and Manly Hands at Home: The Adirondack Chair

IMG_1870Talk about your manly hands at home! A regular guy was looking for a way to provide vacation relaxation for his family and he created a chair that has become a style icon!

The story goes that, in 1903, Thomas Lee was vacationing with his family in Westport, NY, a small town on Lake Champlain and in the Adirondack Mountains. His family needed outdoor chairs, in order to better enjoy the scenery, so Lee built them some. He experimented with designs, enlisting his family as testers, until he arrived at this:

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That chair, made of wide planks of wood, became known as the Westport chair, which is generally believed to be the precursor of locally-ubiquitous Adirondack chair.

photo by Michael Pekovich

photo by Michael Pekovich

The Adirondack chair is an icon of a place, as associated with my home region as wrought iron is associated with New Orleans or the saltbox house is with New England.

The elements that define the chair are a sharply-raked seat, a high back, and wide and flat arms. While the Westport chair was made of wide planks of wood, often hemlock, the Adirondack chair is made of slats, perhaps because those wide planks were harder to come by.

The slatted Adirondack-style has been around at least since the 1930s, when some of the style variations were patented.

The unusual raked seat of the chairs is said to be specifically designed for use on steep hills, so the chair would be stable and sitter would be comfortable looking down the mountain or hill toward the view.

The wide arms were perfect for those vacation necessities–a cold drink and a book.

The traditional colors were the hues of the outdoorsy setting—medium reddish-brown and dark green, though some chairs were left unpainted to weather attractively to grayish-brown.

In my experience, the chairs are only okay for sitting in—they are kind of hard and those slats are not easy on one’s posterior. The raked seat makes it hard to get out of the chair, especially when it’s set on flat ground.

And, yet, we love them. We all have them, whether in the traditional wood in subdued colors or plastic in colors of the rainbow. You can find the style translated as rocking chairs, love seats, even lifeguard chairs. And, of course, they can still be made by loving hands at home:
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As regular visitors know, I like Adirondack chairs best as photo props, to serve as a focal point and evoke the “summer in the North Country” vibe I hold so dear. In fact, when my sister decided she wanted a photo series of her daughter at “camp,” one photo a year for the first 18 years, an Adirondack chair became the item that always appeared with the child.

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The Adirondack chair has moved beyond the Adirondacks and can be found in summer homes, lodges, and outdoorsy settings all across the United States.

Has this style come to your part of the world?

Now, as we all know, standing up while viewing a summer sunset is nice, but watching that sunset while comfortably seated with a cocktail at hand is always nicer.

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Summer Abecedary: Ps and Quiet

This summer has been brought to me by the letter P.

Piquant: As always, summer is the season of grilling and barbecue. My husband has taken to making his own barbecue sauces—my favorite has 25 ingredients. And there’s the piquancy of knowing that so many summer flavors, and experiences, are available only briefly, and more beloved because we wait all year for them.

Pesky: For all the perks of summer, we still have Japanese beetles, red lily beetles, crabgrass, chickweed and . . .

Poison ivy: The peskiest of pests, brought home as oil on the fur of cats I love to cuddle.

Predictable: Summer in our neck of the woods and lake means certain obligatory outdoor décor—Adirondack chairs, lighthouses, and day lilies. Being over-achievers and highly competitive, we have all three.

Pellucid: Summer is the only time of year I use this word. And it is the only word that really describes the satiny smoothness of the water ripples, on certain summer evenings.

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Pellucid waters

Poignant: Summer is a time of so many cherished traditions, involving family and friends. Sometimes I can’t help but think, how long can this last? Can I just freeze this moment in time, with these people, forever? Please?

This photo I took several years ago sums up “poignant” for me—it captures a perfect summer moment.2008 em tess-05

But the ball dropped and splashed. The dog has since passed on, to the big lake in the sky. The girl has grown and is heading to a new stage in her life. The sun set.

The moment passed.

Yet summers continue to roll over us, and catch us up in their charms. We turn our thoughts to new moments to be lived and memories to be made . . .

. . . periods of perfection to be pondered, and exulted in.

That’s my summer—pretty and perfect and Ps-full peaceful.

Has your current (or most recent!) summer been sponsored by a specific letter? Here’s hoping you’ve found it letter perfect!

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Whiteface: The World’s Most Perfect Mountain?

IMG_6730You have company from out of town. You want to show them what makes your region special. You want to impress them!

Where do you take them?

For 25 years, living in Buffalo, NY, we took people to Niagara Falls.

Now, we take them to the top of Whiteface Mountain.

Whiteface Mountain, in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, is, to my way of thinking, the world’s most perfect mountain.

What would make a mountain perfect?, I hear you cry!

It’s simple. These things:

A great mountain needs to provide a great view from the top. Whiteface Mountain has a bald and rocky top with a 360-degree view. From its peak, you can see east to Lake Champlain (I can see my house from here!) and Vermont, north to Quebec and Montreal, south to the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, and west to wide open spaces.

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Lake Placid, reflecting the sky

While many mountains boast great views, Whiteface has the added attraction of providing a view of an Olympic village. Lake Placid was home to two Winter Olympics—you can see the town and the ski jumps from the top of Whiteface.

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Look hard at the lower right quadrant–the ski jumps are behind the low, lighter-colored structure there!

And, if you’re really in to winter sports, Whiteface is a mountain you can ski. The downhill ski events in the Olympics were held at the slopes here and 22 miles of ski terrain provide lots of options for skiers today.

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Ski where Olympic champions skied!

Another element that makes Whiteface so fabulous as a mountain is that it is so accessible. Do you like to climb a mountain and be challenged? Whiteface is the 5th highest mountain in the Adirondacks and, while the Adirondacks are geologically old and mellow as mountains go, the climb will still make you feel all the muscles in your body (or so I’m told—I haven’t climbed it myself)!

But if you aren’t inclined or able to climb a mountain, you still have the opportunity to go up the mountain. One option is to ride the gondola at the ski resort but, if you want to go to the very top of Whiteface, your answer is the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway.

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Twisty-turny road

This paved road snakes its way up the mountain, complete with hairpin turns, rising 2,300 feet in five miles. The road has been re-paved recently so the hair-raising frost heaves are gone but the views along the way provide their own thrills.

The road up Whiteface leads to a choice. When you come close to the summit, you arrive at the Castle, a stone structure with a restaurant and other amenities. You park there and decide to a) hike to the summit or b) take the elevator!

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Part of the climb, with the weather observatory and elevator shelter on top

Those who choose to hike the remaining 267 feet (129 meters) need to be aware that these are not “sidewalk miles,” as folks say up here! Climbers are still climbing a mountain, just a short one. It means scrambling over large stones and being careful of footing, albeit with the help of some steps and handrails. I find the need to stop frequently to “admire the scenery” (and catch my breath!) when I choose this option.

But for the person who doesn’t want to or is unable to climb, the elevator is an amazing experience in its own right. The elevator shaft is cut into the middle of the granite mountain and to reach it takes a walk through a 425-foot (about 130 meters) tunnel. The tunnel is lit, but not brightly—no claustrophobes need apply!

IMG_6749To me, the perfect way to experience this perfect mountain is to hike up the trail—breathe hard, get a taste of climbing a mountain—and take the elevator down. Walk the long small space, smell the damp and rock, and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

All of these ways to experience the mountain lead to another aspect of what makes Whiteface such a great mountain—it has a great back story. Local entrepreneurs came up with idea of a road up the mountain over 100 hundred years ago. The road was actually built in the 1930s, an amazing construction feat in the era. The project was dedicated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he was governor of New York and he came back 6 years later, as President of the United States, to cut the ribbon on the road. You will recall that FDR was wheelchair bound himself and it was at his request that the elevator be added, to provide summit access to others.

Whiteface has it all. It’s high enough to make your ears pop but not so high as to affect your breathing, It has photo ops galore, for updating your Facebook page in style.

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And it looks good in every season!

I know most of will never choose to use your hard-won time and money to visit this particular part of the world. But know, should you visit, that a perfect mountain awaits you!