Friday, March 30, 2012

In like a lamb, out like a .......lamb?

An early spring followed a mild late winter, and we braced for the expected late freeze. But March has failed to live up to its normal weather pendulum. It comes to an end even more lamb-like than it began. And looking ahead into April it seems we'll just skip Dogwood Winter this year. The insects and ticks are already loving it. Perhaps with global warming we'll have to assign February the task formerly carried out by March.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Together, Again

It's a special treat when the blooming of Redbud (Cercis canadensis) and Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) overlaps. It looked as if the redbuds would be finished before the dogwoods arrived this year, but with the unusually warmer weather the dogwoods are rushing to catch up.

The dogwoods haven't reached their full whiteness yet, a little green is lingering in the bracts, but that should be gone in a day or two. When the two trees grow side-by-side, passersby are treated to a natural bouquet.

And through the flowers and branches, a glimpse of Uffington House, the home of Thomas Hughes's mother, Margaret, during the 1880s.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Invitation

It's an invitation to take a seat, not take a chair. The rockers are protected by steel cables running through them, so one may sit in them but not take them away. It makes sense on a college campus. Otherwise they would be sure to add luxury and comfort to dorm rooms somewhere. Yet, it still is a mute comment on society, trust, and the English language. There's a discomfit that we must fasten down anything of value lest it be lost. And pity the poor student of English as a Second Language who tries to make sense of being told "You may take a seat but not the chair."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A View from the Pew

We were walking past the church yesterday when my wife noticed the two dogwoods in the side yard were coming into bloom, one white and one pink. She remarked that one of her favorite photographs was one I had taken a couple of years ago from inside the church. Here it is. It's most often seen on note cards these days.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Thomas Hughes's back garden

The house Thomas Hughes had built for himself in Rugby, and which he named Kingstone Lisle, sits facing the main road near the school, library, and church. Its front elevation has been taken home by generations of amateur photographers, and a few professionals, as well. But the back garden is what really stands out this week. The cherry tree near the kitchen door joined the redbud in full bloom.

Volunteers spent most of one day this week trimming and cleaning around the house. It's in top form for the visitors who are coming in greater numbers with the warm weather. And I can almost taste the cherry pies this tree will supply come summer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cumberland Falls

 Cumberland Falls lie within a State Park of the same name, on the Cumberland River in southeastern Kentucky. The falls are reported to be the widest natural waterfall east of the Mississippi River and south of Niagara (~ 125 ft. or 38 m), although at 68 ft. (21 m) there are several that are taller, even nearby. Sometimes referred to as the "Niagara of the South," it pales in comparison to its namesake. Average flow over the falls is about 3,200 cubic feet/second (91 cubic meters/second) compared to Niagara's more than 66,000 CFS. But one can get much closer to these falls than to Niagara.
Dr. Thomas Walker and his party in 1750 were the first Europeans to find the Cumberland River, which he named. It is reported that he chose that name because the river's crooked path reminded him of the Duke of Cumberland (Prince William, Third Duke of Cumberland). The river begins in eastern Kentucky near the Virginia line, dips into Middle Tennessee to go through Nashville, and then turns back north across western Kentucky before emptying into the Ohio River.

Cumberland Falls is the only place in the western hemisphere where one may see a "moonbow." On a clear night with a full moon, a lunar rainbow may appear. You can see one by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On my way home

We made a quick trip to Knoxville on Sunday. Along Pellissippi Parkway coming home, the millions of daffodils were starting to give way to the redbuds (Cercis canadensis L.). These shrubs/small trees are native to eastern North America, but also are widely planted as ornamentals. Their color, along with the Cumberland Escarpment in the distant haze, formed a proper welcome for the short trip home.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Whole Lotta Bull!

It was a pastoral scene, a farm pond with three Angus heifers lounging in the cool waters. I stopped my truck and got out with the camera. Suddenly there was an enraged bellow coming from behind me. This big fellow apparently didn't like anyone observing his girls skinny dipping in the pond. The barbed wire between us looked weak and inadequate. Besides, his bellow had sent the girls scurrying to the far side of their pasture. We'll try for the pastoral scene another day.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Our Periwinkle (Vinca minor) is in full bloom on the bank behind the house. It makes a great groundcover for spots where you don't want grass, and it requires very little weeding (although we could stand to go clean some dead leaves out of it). It has the added advantage of being readily available and, if you know where to look, free. Historically, Periwinkle has been planted in cemeteries in this area. It also is naturalized and invasive, meaning it is prone to wandering away from the cemetery on its own. We have woodland on three sides of our local cemetery, where we are welcome to collect plants to fill in any bare spots in our groundcover. The plants spread vegetatively, sending out runners that put down roots as they go along. We collect them after a rainfall by pulling up handsfull and placing them in a plastic garbage bag. They can be transplanted by simply pushing the rooted stems into the ground. They are hearty and survival is very high. And they spread quickly, even in what passes for soil where we live.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring in the Bluegrass

The oak trees are still bare, their branches showing up as fractals against the sky. Prairie species bloom in the fields. The dry air lets the distant buildings stand sharply against the horizon. Life is good!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sandstone arches

The are more than 100 sandstone arches in the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee. These spectacular structures were formed over some 300 million years, starting with deposition of sand, consolidation into rock, uplift, and erosion. Softer rock erodes faster than harder rock, so when harder rock overlay softer rock the stage was set for differential erosion. As fissures widened into cracks and cracks became valleys, narrow rock ridges were formed under the harder layers. Eventually the lower, softer rock layers began to erode from the sides. This process first produces what are locally called rock shelters, rock houses, or sand caves. These shallow shelters were used historically by native Americans as temporary shelters, such as on hunting trips, and later by European long hunters and even modern hunters. When rock shelters formed on both sides of a narrow rock ridge, it was possible the two eventually joined, in which case a natural arch formed.

This particular arch is in the Daniel Boone National Forest in southern Kentucky and is accessible from a day use area. The cliff line it eroded through extends for some 10 miles.

To get a sense of scale, note the young couple and their toddler just above the steps leading up to the opening. And did you notice the Sarvis blooming near the right side of the arch?

Perhaps America's best-known arch is Natural Bridge in Virginia. It has been a tourist attraction since the days of Thomas Jefferson. The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area has at least nine arches that are readily accessible. You can check them out here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

More Jackstraws and Geegaws

 Today's items are more geegaws than jackstraws. They were all made by Jack Price of Surgoinsville, Tennessee, some 25 years ago. Bill Henry bought them then, and I acquired them just recently. After researching the pieces (no, I don't know what each one represents), I'm hoping to suitably display them in a location where others can enjoy them. In the photo above, there is a plow, a primitive harrow, an anvil with tools, a log sled, a box sled, and a shovel. All these things would once have been found on a working farm in Appalachia.

 This is a set of household items. Starting at the top and going clockwise, there is a churn, a bucket, a mop, a lard paddle, a stir stick, a broom, a butter mold, and a rolling pin. A dough bowl is in the center.

 In this picture, left to right starting at the top: a bow saw, double and single ox yokes, a screwdriver, a baseball bat, a maul and froe, a handsaw, a cross-cut saw, and a two man handsaw. At the bottom is a mallet. Don't know what a maul and froe are? Back when wooden shingles were the usual roofing material, shingles were split rather than cut. There are small, water-carrying tubes that run the length of a piece of wood. If the shingle is cut, then rain can seep into the open ends of the tubes and the shingle will rot fairly quickly. If the shingles are split, however, the tubes remain intact and the ends are covered by the next shingle positioned up the roof. Water can't seep in and the shingles last much longer. A froe is a very dull blade that is used to split (or "rive") the wood into shingles. It's placed at the top of a section of wood and struck with the maul to drive it into the wood. The wood then splits between the vascular bundles (tubes). The instrument became the source of a familiar simile in Appalachia. If someone was not too bright, he might be described as being "dull as a froe." Kinda like saying "he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer."

This last set are hand tools. At the top we find an apple butter stirrer (click here to see one in use) and a handmade rake. The next row are cutting tools; axes, adzes, a hatchet, and a hoe. At the bottom is a mattock. Some of the tools would have been used in building log cabins; the mattock was used in clearing roots and small stumps from new ground (i.e., freshly cleared land).

Some of these tools are still used today. Most are "antiques," if they survive. All are part of our heritage.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jackstraws and Geegaws

Jackstraws is a game with the same rules as the ancient game of pickup sticks or spillikins. This North American variant replaces the plain sticks with carved pieces, which tend to catch on each other. Traditionally the pieces are carved to represent everyday household items or farm implements. Now an art form, the pieces usually represent items of domestic commerce from an earlier era.

The set above was carved for me by my friend Bill Henry. Bill told me he now has enough patterns to produce 20 complete sets, all different.

I bought this set from Bill, who had bought it at an auction many years ago. He has no idea who carved them, but they do contain some interesting pieces. Note the round broom at the bottom, next to the fish. There's a book, a scythe, a homemade rake, a churn, a piggin, a maul, and other items of domestic commerce. I think I may have to buy a book on early American tools, home, and farm implements!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rugby Printing Works

Like most communities in the 19th century, Rugby had its own newspaper, The Rugbeian.

The newspaper carried a chronology of the developing community and the comings and goings of its citizens, which has been preserved in the Rugby archives and has provided a well-documented history of the community. But as the community fell on hard times, the paper ceased publication and the building was eventually demolished sometime in the 1930s. But that was not to be the end of the Rugby Printing Works.

When the second Tabard Inn burned in 1884, Abner Ross, the owner and operator, moved 16 miles south to start over. He had kept a pet deer at the Tabard Inn, so named his new town Deer Lodge. This fine Victorian structure was built to house that town's newspaper. It later became the town post office, and was being used as a hay barn when bought by Historic Rugby and moved Rugby in 1978. It now sits across the road from where the original Rugby print shop sat.

The furnishings inside are all from the right period, although none came from either the Rugby or Deer Lodge businesses. This ca. 1885 treadle press is the current work horse, being used to print such things as small signs to be sold in the museum store or paper bags to place sold merchandise in. Behind it sits a ca. 1859 newspaper press that still needs further restoration. If and when it gets restored, we can expect to see sheets of a reborn Rugbeian hung to dry in the shop.

There are cases of period type,
and a composing desk where dies are assembled or taken apart.

There are a couple of specialty presses, as well, such as this hand press that was used to print small items, such as calling cards.

Heat in the newspaper office/composing room comes from this small wood stove. Would you care for a cup of tea?

The Cumberland Plateau was late getting electricity. The print shop was wired in 1948 when it still served as the Deer Lodge post office. It took another five years for electricity to come to Rugby. Note the old-fashioned wiring placed on the surface of the walls and ceiling. It is still in use.

Volunteers now staff the print shop on weekends and during special events. Thank you Carolyn, Gerald, Julian, and all of you who have volunteered to be trained.

Friday, March 9, 2012

"With nuts or without?"

The road sign above reminded me of an episode of the M*A*S*H television show in which Col. Potter says "Radar, get me a Snickers bar." His clerk says "Yes Sir" and heads for the door. But he stops, turns, and asks "With nuts or without?" Col. Potter answers "Without!" The clerk on his way out the door says under his breath "Milky Way!" Sometimes you just gotta ask! And since these towns are more than an hour apart, it's best to know which way to turn.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Blossoms are starting to appear on the earliest spring-flowering trees and shrubs, and serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is among those early-flowering species. The old timers in the mountains pronounced it sarvis, and it gets its name from when remote communities were served by circuit-riding preachers.

Weather and muddy roads kept the preachers out of the most remote spots through the winter and well into spring. People who died during this time were buried and their funerals were delayed until better weather arrived. Couples might declare their intention to wed and be allowed to live together while waiting to have the union blessed.

Once spring arrived and brought the circuit riders with it, then all of the "sarvises" would be held. And Amelanchier arborea would provide a suitable backdrop of flowers.