Monday, November 9, 2009

The Writer's Desk

One of my first cousin's married into the Blaine family that has roots in early American politics. Her father-in-law built this pine desk in the early 80s and somehow it migrated to my bedroom when I was a teenager.

The Writer's Desk

Many of my close friends were then, as they are now, living in the midwest USA, and I would spend hours huddled over the pine desktop with pen and paper corresponding with them.

I cut my writer's teeth largely on this desk by learning language, tense, and the subtle art of asking questions that elicit a written response.

My sister had it for some reason and several months ago I intercepted the desk from taking a one-way trip to the dump.

Earlier on this balmy November day, I retrieved the writer's desk and put it in my office. After a decades long delay and a sea change of technology, I write on it again.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Have the Neatest Friends

I visited my friend and photography mentor, Al Tolman, this afternoon. I drove up his driveway, got out of the car and paused.

Hmmm...that's a wild turkey standing near his doorstep.

I waited. Al emerged from his house, 'Hey Tim.'

I Have the Neatest Friends

'What's her name, Al?'

'Tee Gee.'


'Thanksgiving.' He smiles.

'Uhm, are you going to eat it?'

'No. But cool name, huh?'

The name Tee Gee pales to the coolness of having a wild turkey for a pet.

Al continues, 'I go into the forest to cut firewood and the dog, cat, and turkey start following me. After 200 yards, the dog grows disinterested so I'm left with the cat and the turkey in the woods.'

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do you have a magnet?

While talking on the phone, my uncle walks past my living room window and knocks on the door.

'I have to go. I'll call you later.'

My uncle walks in, 'Do you have a magnet?'

'Sure. Why?'

'I was mowing and my keys fell out of my pocket somewhere in my yard.'

'Well, I'm making lunch, but after I'm done, I'll help you look. I'm not sure where my big magnets are, but I could help you best if I look where you mowed.'

'Sounds good.'

My uncle left the house in his faded, pocket-drooping, teal-blue Dickie pants and I followed him while my macaroni was cooking.

I returned to eat and in a short while, I'll join him to look for the keys.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Pecking Reorder

I open the egg door on my chicken coop and I see Molly gently extracting the yolk from an egg that Whipped Cream lay this morning.

I sigh thinking, 'I was hoping this is why I wasn't getting eggs.'

'It's time.'

I turn to the brooder where my two Americana hens are and I count back the months on my fingers, 'May, June, July, August, September, October...that's 20 weeks. It's time.'

Soon I move the big live trap near the brooder and open the water hatch. The hens know something is happening. I lift the big hatch and they cower near the water.

After I open the live trap door, I take one of the hens and move it to the trap. The door swings shut gently. I grab the other and nestle it, wriggling, near my chest as I put both in the live trap and move it to the chicken run.

Molly, being at the bottom of the pecking order, cowers in the coop unseen.

The two new hens calm down and look. The other hens and rooster move to investigate. Everything is relatively peaceful.


The sun shines brightly on a warm mid-autumn day. I retrieve a can full of chicken feed and pour it over the entire flock. The new hens eat in the live trap, the existing flock pecks and scratches.

'Molly. Where is Molly?' I wonder.

Using a broken shovel handle, I nudge Molly from the perch in the coop. She runs out ready for a melee, but none exists. She stumbles a little and drinks feverishly. She eats. She looks at the new hens.

There's an important stasis in the flock.

It looks like Sisu is molting and the rooster pecks playfully at her. Her golden brown feathers are scattered through the coop and the run and it looks like she just woke and needs to brush her feathers.

After patiently watching, I move the live trap and open the chicken run door. The live trap door opens and the new hens emerge quickly into the flock.


To promote peace, I dump several pounds of chicken feed on the floor of the run. Runt moves to peck at the smaller of the new hens. Molly enjoys freedom and eats voraciously.

The reorder is clear that the smaller, new hen is at the bottom.

After the bird's hunger is satiated, Molly uses her new position and eyes the new hens. I watch her moving towards them, now cowering in the corner of the run.

Crack! Molly grabs for neck feathers and the young hen squwacks loudly! The young hen nestles near her sister.

The rooster investigates and shows little interest, but provides a peck or two at the new hens to establish his presence. Something instinctive inside tells him, I think, to wait for a few days or weeks until they are ready to lay their first eggs.

Molly meanwhile, continues her pursuit as she enjoys her new position. She cracks out and grabs more neck feathers! The new hen escapes and tramples through the water pan.

Bored, Molly pecks at the food on the ground.

The pecking order is a function of deep seated, latent nature and cannot be avoided in a flock of chickens.

But Molly had to stop eating the eggs that I need to eat and she was desperate for relief from the pecking order. So I introduced the pair of new hens a few days early so that Molly could find her natural place and get a chance to thrive.

The new hens will continue to grow and a slower, natural re-ordering will occur. Perhaps Molly will once again be at the bottom, but she'll have status now and will not be banished to the coop.

As I write, I hear the occasional squwack from the coop outside as the pecking re-order continues.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The History of Highbridge Village

'Tim!' My second eldest aunt cries out in the eating area at church, 'I need you!' She giggles, 'I mean I need your help!'

She walks over and shares details of her latest project with me. 'There is not very much history on Highbridge Village in New Ipswich where Ma and Pa's farm used to be. I'm writing a history and I need your help with writing.'

Every time that I see Mildred now, she's smiling and energized with the daunting task of documenting the history of Highbridge Village in New Ipswich, NH.

Her work is a personal history of four Finnish families that moved from Worcester, MA and bought farms in Highbridge Village. Two farms, the Grandfors and Kangas's farm are not technically in Highbridge, but she's including their farms in the story.

A couple of weeks ago, she handed me her latest draft and I finally edited them today. We worked out the type of editing she wanted and she needs a contextual edit that digs deeply into the content, not simply a copy edit for grammar and style.

I marked up the six pages with small corrections and conceptual questions for her to consider. She impressively met each comment with previously thought-out responses. She's fully engaged and I, as editors often are, am along for the ride.

Some of her writing leads to larger topics such as the history of the school system in New Ipswich, but we would laugh a little and giggle as we stayed focused on the task. She would charm me with sayings like, 'This book isn't going to be finished until 2037!'

My grandmother who we called Aiti and I would travel back down memory lane when we talked. Working with my aunt brings back fond memories of my grandmother and it's an honor to help her write.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hunting in Dixie's Corn Field

My new smart phone has a built-in camera and I enjoy playing with the panorama feature.

Dixie's Cornfield in New Ipswich NH

The land in this image isn't technically Dixie's cornfield anymore, because she deeded the land to the Monadnock Conservation Commission.

But we townies will call it Dixie's for years to come.

Mark LeClair plants corn in the field every year and it's good to see this continue even after Dixie deeded the land.

One of my uncles owns the hill in the background and this location is a favorite hunting grounds for my family and friends.

Last fall, someone in my hunting party is watching the far end of the field.

Soon the radio crackles with profanity.

'What? What?' We ask.

'He's walking right towards me!' the voice strains in a hushed, frantic whisper.

'What is it?'


Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Unexpected Coolness of the Explore Page

When I teach photography classes, I reel off some simple ratios that are guidelines for anyone who makes images with a camera.

One or two of a hundred shots you will want to show your friends.

One or two of a thousand shots you might have published somewhere.

One or two of ten thousand shots National Geographic (for example) might consider for a story.

And apparently, one of fifty thousand shots can be the photo of a lifetime.

When I stood on the banks of the Souhegan River a few mornings ago, I wasn't feeling very well. I was facing some seasonal depression. I was brooding over my relationships. And although I saw the beauty, but details nagged at me in the composition. The cold dampness gnawed at my fingers.

Yet I clicked and clicked.

A couple days later after one of the photos was selected for the Flickr Explore page, nearly 2,000 people have looked at the image.

The accolades that I am receiving are interesting (and surely temporary) and soon enough, I expect to be aiming my camera to make images that I alone may love. In fact, it doesn't have to be anything more.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Seasons Change

I have much recent experience with grief, whether it be broken relationships, deaths in my family, changing employment, or other events that lead to change.

Researchers define five stages of grief to be denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and in the end acceptance. Grief takes a long time to work itself out and unpredictable episodes appear at the most unlikely times.

Right now I am grieving my employment change, but more importantly, I grieve the loss of summer. The air is cool and that makes me look forward to the hunting season, but the gradual seeping cold progresses further inward each day, until we're all bundled under layers of clothes.

If I had more initiative, I would explore a greater topic of 'America in Grief'. Think for a moment how many millions of people are affected in one way or the other by massive unemployment? Time Magazine is dedicating a year-long series to focus on our dying city in Detroit. Imagine the grief there.

However change leads to growth and as someone close to me explained this morning, 'You may not feel great right now, but growth doesn't always feel good.'

The key, I believe, is to remain honest with oneself and loved ones, and grow together.

A small silver lining when we grieve the season's changing in New Hampshire is that our colorful foliage becomes better than television.

I was grateful to capture this image at sunrise today. Enjoy.

Foggy Foliage Sunrise Over the Souhegan River 4

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Betty's Cat and Hebrew National Hot Dogs

One of my cousins married a man who had a dream house. Well, he envisioned a house on the top of a hill in Mont Vernon that had six sides, an attached 3-story, 6-sided greenhouse, and a cupola. Since Mont Vernon had lax housing standards, he started building his dream house and many of us spent hours working with him.

I met his mother, Betty, while I worked on his house. She was in her sprightly sixties and worked right along side of us. My jaw dropped when she stapled Tyvek onto the house by crawling from window to window on the outside of the house, two stories up.


Betty has a strong, Yankee personality with clear, sharp opinions, unique insights, and a forceful, yet entertaining way to tell stories. Perfect (well, unless you're my cousin's husband perhaps?).

One day we started working on the house early and made great progress. Around noontime, replenishing ourselves with water and snacks wasn't enough, so we broke for lunch.

My cousin's husband cooked Hebrew National Hot Dogs and as we dug into the chips, iced tea, and hot dogs, our lunchtime dialog wandered to Betty's cats.

Her cats personality reflect the owner as most pets do. Her cat, if I recall correctly, always tried to eat food off the table at supper time.

Betty bought an inexpensive brand of hot dog, and to everyone's surprise, the cat didn't try to eat them.

Curious, Betty bought a different brand, and the cat stayed away.

She repeated this with the solitary idea that she could determine the relative healthful quality of various hot dog brands through his cat's palate.

Finally, success!

The ravenous cat was unstoppable when Betty served Hebrew National hot dogs.

If they're good enough for Betty's cat, they're good enough for us!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Good Night Sleep

My family has roots in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and when I return there, I am struck by the beauty, simplicity, and most of all the fresh air. Lake Superior freshens the cool, crisp air on summer mornings and causes me to feel quite sleepy.

Last winter, I invested in an air-exchanger system for my house. Every three hours, the air is exchanged for fresh, filtered air. My cousin and I turned the system on last night and almost immediately, my house seemed better.

I lay down in bed last night, smiling. The fresh air brought me back to being in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and my eyes closed into a deep, restful sleep.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Going to the Big E Fair

My then co-worker Krista and I routinely ate lunch with our co-worker Carole.

During conversation during some random lunch early last summer, Krista blurts out, 'I'm taking you to the Big E fair, Tim!' Because her inside voice had been listing out my passions that include farming and agriculture.

Carole grins and laughs softly.

I brightly smile, 'Sounds good to me.'

So yesterday, we went to the Big E fair on a bright, crisp fall day. I hoped to see the Big Pig, but there were no pig barns this weekend.

I was fascinated by the cows, sheep, and horses. While in the cow barn, I saw this young girl sitting on a contented cow. A true ham, she lay on the cow and posed for me.

The Contented Cow and a Girl

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Somero Farm Report - 2009

Throughout New England, there are fairs and harvest festivals and I regret not having more to show from my land this year.

My wild success was my potato crop that I planted from $1 bags of potatoes at the grocery store. I hear reports that store bought potatoes are sprayed with something that prevents eyes from growing, but every year, I plant them anyway. My ratio was nearly 4 to 1 pounds this year and I'm thrilled.

My chickens are doing well and I have four layers, two roosters, and two pullets that haven't started laying yet. Having two roosters is a problem and one has to go, but as usual - despite my public bravado - it's not an easy task and I am delaying the inevitable.

My freezer still has eight chickens from this summer and I need to start consuming them.

My other crops such as beans, peas, carrots, and beets were either over-grown by weeds, eaten by a woodchuck, or didn't come up properly. Edwin's garden next door turned out well, but throughout Southern New Hampshire, it seems like squash and pumpkins didn't do well at all.

Finally, my dear apple trees produced this year, but without spraying them, the apples suffered.

Mistreated Apple 1

I had an interesting conversation with a family friend about growing apples. I sent him a link to a wonderful short course on pollination by Richard Norton. Did you know that crab apple trees are hands-down the best pollinators?

My Mom asked him why my brother's orchard in the Twin Cities Minnesota area has pears and apples didn't require any pesticides. My brother's apples and pears are flawless!

Mike replied saying, 'Whenever a storm blows up the coast, especially from the Gulf of Mexico region, the orchards that I help out at are plagued by bugs and disease.'


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gently, From the Past

In my early 20s when I first started working 40-hour office jobs, the first day would exhaust me. My brain would absorb so much data that by the end of the day, I was saturated. Going home would be a welcome respite and I would lay on the floor somewhere, pulsing with fatigue.

My last few 40-hour jobs weren't like that. I turned the learning curve, perhaps, and I would breeze into and out of my first day without much fatigue.

Yesterday, though, reminded me of the past experience of starting a new job. I'm learning as I go and finding unexpected things with each turn.

For example, my Mom keeps quietly sharing my Dad's experience as an entrepreneur. 'Tim, you'll eventually miss the camaraderie in the office. Dad does.'

My routines are different. My outlets for conversation during the slow times are different. What scuttlebutt can I tap into? It's not so readily available.

Where's Buddy, the receptionist? Oh yeah. She's not available except through the Internet.

So last night after an extremely long day of investing in a business framework for a photography services business, I was tired. Gently, from the past, I revisited the feeling of starting a new job.

I kind of like it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Not Working for the Man

Today is my first day of not working for the man. Cool. Scary. Interesting. Exciting. And a little weird.

I slept early and woke early today and walked through the conservation land that abuts my property. I chased fog and my feet were soaked by dewy, frosty grass and brush.

On my return, I reached a simple decision point. My fingers and feet were cold. I felt hunger pangs. Do I return the way I walked, or do I take Furnace Brook Trail and capture some shots of Kangas's Falls?

I pressed into the Furnace Brook Trail and I am glad that I did.

Kangas's Falls in New Ipswich, NH 3

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Do Kids Party Out Here?

A few of us sunrise photographers were talking when Steven approached us with the simple question, 'Do kids party out here?'

He found a bag with drug paraphernelia and of all things, homework. We called the police and they took the bag away.

Being good-natured photographers, we cracked jokes about our find, but underlying the event is something more serious.

A former co-worker of mine at IBM who passed away from cancer while we worked together taught me an indelible lesson.

He was from Hawaii and loved to tell me stories about conscientious objection to the establishment.

'Tim,' Bob says to me, 'Nana i ke kumu. Always remember this native Hawaiian phrase.'

'What does it mean?'

'Look to the source. Never rest until you find the source.'

The phrase was wonderful during my long tenure as a diagonstic (or forensic) computer support person. For example, an effective diagnostics guy always separates the symptoms from the root cause.

And with the backpack that we found today, we should look to the source. We should be vigilant that drug abuse has a root cause and unless the root cause is understood and addressed, the problem will continue.

One of the most important things is for everyone to ask themselves, 'Are my basic needs met today? Nutrition. Sleep. Emotional. Security. And so on.'

Chances are that the poor boy who left homework in his backpack is deficient in meeting one or more basic needs.

Bob's voice lasts inside, 'Always remember, Tim. Nana i ke kumu.'

Friday, September 18, 2009

Another Rooster...Bill?

If you follow my blog, you'll see below how my brother-in-law and I processed chickens last summer. When I told the story in-person to Bill (an occasional reader), his brow dropped when I got to the end of the story.

'You should have given the hen back to me.'

My heart sank. 'Uh oh.' I thought. 'So much for my misguided initiative.'

My current flock consists of Whipped Cream, Runt, Sisu, Spot, and two Americana Pullets who are not laying yet.

Spot is a rooster that Bill gave me last fall so keep the three laying hens warm.

Yesterday, Nina, from the Monadnock Backyard Farmers group in Yahoo offered a Rhode Island Red hen and a good looking (but noisy) rooster. I loaned her my live trap last summer to try and trap a fox, but she hadn't returned it.

We chatted briefly online and when I returned home last night, something caught my eye outside.

My live trap was tucked off my driveway and there was a very pretty rooster in there. I looked closer and saw the hen!

I sighed, 'Oh boy. Two roosters. Now what?'

Two roosters are bad news because the natural pecking order for chickens causes fighting.

After soccer practice I moved the new hen into the big coop and left the rooster in the live trap near the coop. Before work today, I need to give the rooster some food and water and contact Bill.


Want your rooster back?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Story Telling - What's that Sound?

Tuesday morning, my manager replied, 'We'd like you to wrap everything up by Friday. We'll pay you next week until the 25th, but you don't have to come into the office.'


For my paid time off, I scheduled a training session on how to create a calendar for charity. I have another business endeavor to go on. I might even boogie down to Brooklyn to talk to the principals of Art To Frames.

Business may or may not be good, but I'll certainly be busy.

So while I wrap things up in my job, my story telling streak emerged. The cooler temperatures are prompting me to tell this story.

When I lived in the Minneapolis, MN area, I drove a 1982 Mercury Lynx that I bought for $177.00 from my brother. The car was nearly guaranteed to run to 150,000 miles so I nursed it along month by month, year after year.

A brutal cold snap gripped the Twin Cities area and I fired up my car to drive to the University of Minnesota where I was enrolled.

About a mile from the campus on Interstate 35W north, the car started gasping its final breaths. The head cracked, I think, and the heater core burst because my windows fogged and I could barely keep the car running on the freeway.

Luckily, there was an exit.

I nursed the dying car up the off ramp and coasted silently into the parking lot of a small light-industrial business.

I sat in my car aware of the time. 'Hmm.' I thought. 'It's minus-30 below out there and I'm a mile away from campus.'

There are a few technical problems when the temperatures go down that far. Exposed skin can get frostbite in minutes.

A steady wind blew small puffs of icy snow past me as I sat in my dead car.

So the wind chill would only add to the danger.

I packed my school bag full of books. I looked through the car for as many clothes as I could find.

I tucked my glasses into my inside jacket pocket and I took my scarf and wrapped it around my head and face, up my nose just below my eyes. I pulled my hat down to my eyes so I could barely see through a slit between the hat and scarf. I pulled my hood over my head. I closed my eyes and took a last breath of relatively warm air.

My gloved hand opened the stiff door handle and I emerged into the frigid air.

'Ouch.' I said softly as the simple pain caused by such cold hit me. I looked through the narrow slit and walked towards campus.

Step by step I pressed onwards knowing that I only had a mile to walk and I gauged my path so that I walked between buildings on the lee side of the wind.

Finally I approached the bridge that crossed over 35W and would land me on campus.

By now the pain from the cold started affecting my toes and my face as wind seeped through my scarf. I tried to breathe so that moisture would not dampen my scarf and let ripping cold through.

Step by step I trudged, slowing a little when I stepped on the bridge.

The cold started wearing me down and I came to a simple realization. Too long in this cold and I could die. Wow.

Step by step, I passed over the bridge. The steady wind blew into the side of my face.

Step by step.

Finally, I traversed the bridge and ducked into a bus shelter to get a reprieve from the biting wind. My fingers hurt now, too, and I balled them inside my gloves because the fingers provided little warmth.

I closed my eyes briefly and inhaled slowly, exhaling carefully upwards and I opened my eyes again.

Confused, I heard a strange sound.

*tink* *tink-tink* *tink*

Perplexed, I looked for the source.

*tink* *tink-tink* *tink-tink*

Softly I laughed.

Icicles that formed on my eye lashes made a tinkling sound every time I blinked!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walking into the Unknown

I trembled a little, speaking softly as usual, and showed my manager my resignation letter. My last day is on September 25th.

Simply, I am ready.

The situation is not completely unknown because a few small, startup-like companies are inquiring about my services. I joined up with a bunch of entrepreneurs while we try to carve out a photography services business in New Hampshire.

Most of all though, I finally listened to the entrepreneurial voice inside that calls to many in my Somero family.

It can be as simple as, 'How will I make money today?'

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Mundane Chore of Chicken Killing

It rained in June and nothing more. I brooded eleven broilers and two Americauna chicks through the rainy month.

Finally, sunny weather arrived in July and this morning, my brother-in-law came over and we processed the broilers. In less politically correct terms, we slaughtered all eleven birds.

This is the fifth or sixth year that I have raised broilers and our discussions give insight into our growth.

Years ago, we would be jittery, apprehensive, expectant, and awed by how close we were to procuring our own food. We thought deep thoughts, said profound things, and performed our duty.

Today's dialog was routine.

'Is the hatchet sharp enough?'

Crack! Toss on the lawn. Quiver. 'They're not doing much this time.'

'Plucking really doesn't seem like it's a good use of time. I like the skinning that you're doing.'

True to our pattern, I gave my brother-in-law special assignments while I eviscerated and skinned the birds.

- go dig a hole for the waste
- clean out the feed tray in the brooder
- you're ok with cutting off some of the feet?

Then I went through the final stages of my debate regarding a broody Silkie hen. Earlier in the summer, I liked the novel idea of a broody hen, but I was clueless.

Several weeks into her brood, I learned that I wasn't supposed to remove eggs like I had since day one.

I inspected a few of the eggs. None seemed fertile.

I only had one nest, so the other hens contended for time and space to lay their eggs.

I stopped collecting eggs.

The broody Silkie ate some of the eggs.

I learned that Silkie's are naturally broody and should have a separate nest box just for them.

I only have one nest box.

I didn't see any positive outcome nor end to this cycle.

'May as well take the black hen from the coop.'

He pulled the bird from the clutch of eggs and went toward the chopping block.

'There's nothing to it, is there?'

'Not really. It's light.'

Stretch. Crack!

He tossed the bird onto the lawn and it started running, hopping, flying, and bouncing twenty yards down the sloped hill.

My brother-in-law seized the moment as we watched the Silkie.

'Well finally! Something to break up the mundane chore of chicken killing.'

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wedding Canceled

My wedding scheduled for June 13th of this year has been canceled.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The War Zone

In my writerly way, a debate rages inside. After our great ice storm, the land here is like a war zone. But the phrase war zone is too severe. So my mind churns away seeking a fitting analogy.

Ice Storm 2008 in New Ipswich 5

A friend from Michigan is visiting today at my parent's where I am staying until I remediate the mold in my house.

Over breakfast he starts talking in with his Finnish accent. He gazes out the window overlooking the damaged forest on my Dad's land.

'There are so many trees snapped all over the place and the chaos in the woods is like a bomb went off.'

'It's like a war zone.'

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Got mold?

A day after I proposed to Betsey, we learned immediately and in the last month that we're both allergic to mold in my house.

Got Mold?

The long, slow remediation process is underway.