Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Proof of Gravity

Proof of gravity
Lies in the fact
Of the descent from a
Moisture-laden sky
To the earth
Of just one
Infinitesimally small
And powdery

The fact
Of their collection
In sufficient quantities
To outline
And to encrust
The bare limbs
Of the aspen tree
Converts a proof
Into a miracle.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Send the Raven

"Send the raven,"
I said to the sky,
Thinking all the while
That God was the sky
And the sky was God,
Hoping all the while
That God
Would hear my prayer
And answer it by sending
A sign.
That I would look up
And see a familiar bit of blackness
Beating against the air,
Coming swiftly,
Looking to the right,
Looking to the left,
Eyes fixed on something
That only it could see
And I would never know.

There was, of course,
No sign of the raven.
The sky was but a mass of frigid clouds.
Snow falling,
But sporadically,
In light flurries.
Prickly points of coldness
On the face.
A blessing, maybe,
But not a sign.

Leaving the meadow,
I looked behind me
To take note
Of the tramped-out labyrinthine pattern in the snow,
Of the leafless guardian aspens on the hill,
Of the snow-laden tansy taking final bows of submission to the inevitable.

I turned away
And resolutely
Began to trudge the path
Back toward shelter from the cold.
Along the way,
With my question
Sent spinning to God
Still unanswered,
I continued to take its measure,
Weigh its possibilities,
Seek the answer
That eluded me,
"Yes" or "No."

Thus lost in thought
But responding to some disturbance
In the air,
I looked up
To see the raven
Following the road that I was on,
Flying straight,
Coming toward me.
Looking to the right,
Looking to the left,
Eyes fixed on something
That only it could see
And that I would never know.

A sign?
A coincidence?

But the answer to my question,
"Yes" or "No,"
As yet unresolved.
Still mine to decide.

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia

Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia's Day (or St. Lucy's Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.

St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means 'light' so this is a very appropriate name.

December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old Julian Calendar, and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia's Day.
St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter. Schools normally have their own St. Lucias and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung.

For various and sundry Holdenesque reasons, all valid, St. Lucia's Day was observed on Thursday, December 18. All of the children in the village were dressed in white robes tied with red sashes and participated in the celebration. Olaf Coffey and August Carpenter were Star Boys and Nyrie Mietzke, Ellie Vegdahl-Crowell, and Jordyn Mietzke served as the younger girls of the group.

Grace Coffey, Raina Rerucha-Borges, and Marta Vegdahl-Crowell balance their crowns of lighted candles and listen to those gathered in the dining hall sing Sankta Swedish!

August and Nyrie bring a tray of food to the table of Carole Young. All of the children participated in serving the tables of those in the dining hall.

On each tray was a large loaf of freshly-baked and still warm saffron bread. To accompany the bread, there were dishes of sugar, and jam, and butter, and a small pitcher of warm cream.

Raina and Jordyn serve hot chocolate to a table of guests.

Jordyn was ready to offer marshmallows to accompany the hot chocolate.

Olaf took his job as a Star Boy very seriously. As the youngest, he led the procession into the dining hall and participated fully in serving the guests.

(There were no unfortunate accidents of burns by either hot wax or flames.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Along Railroad Creek

Temperatures are so low now that there is considerable ice in Railroad Creek. This fantastical arrangement appeared to be a water lily made of ice. The only thing we can figure is that the center part has as its base a rock that is firmly secured on the bottom of the creek, but part of it is protruding out of the water. Ice, a thin plate-like sheet of it, formed around the rock and ice crystals formed on the top of the rock. Altogether, it is quite unusual.

Quite a bit of ice is forming on the bed of the creek, under the water. This build-up of ice causes small ice dams to form and the water spills over the top in order to continue on its way downstream. This view is of the creek taken from the covered bridge.

This view of the creek was taken upstream a bit from the village, just in front of and down the bank from the bench overlooking the water on the trail to "the ball field." There is ice on the sides of the stream and in the middle of the stream.

It is more than a little surprising, considering the rapidity with which this water moves downstream, to find so much ice in so many different formations.

The large rocks to the side of the creek at the bridge are now covered with snow, and they look like giant marshmallows.

This was also taken at the bench on the trail to "the ball field." The scenery is (obviously) quite beautiful, but the extreme cold weather which created all this beauty can be quite dangerous unless you are properly dressed. Every time I go on a foray out of the village, I learn a bit more about what to wear and what not to wear. Except for sometimes being too warm or sometimes being too cold, I have managed to survive.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tender Mercies: Rosettes

My good friend Ione Erickson who lives in Willmar, Minnesota used to tell me about making Rosettes. After her own children were grown, and her own grandchildren likewise, it was her Christmas gift to the family to settle in after Thanksgiving to long, extended sessions of Rosette making, enough for her entire family to be supplied for the upcoming Christmas holidays.

Because Ione is of Norwegian descent and because every time I hear about Rosettes, it is in connection with all things Norwegian, I am going to take a wild guess here that Rosettes have their origins in Norway and have therefore slipped-the-noose of the term Scandinavian. It is apparently more important to get this distinction right than I would have guessed.

I don't know what I expected when I saw my first Rosette here a few days ago as a part of the Advent celebration for that day...maybe a small buttery cookie cut from rolled-out dough and then baked. I certainly did not expect these light-as-a-feather concoctions, deep fat fried and floating off special decorative Rosette irons into the hot oil before being removed, sprinkled with sugars, and attached to small weighted anchors which acted in accordance with the principles of gravity to hold them in display on the trays.

I am joking about the anchors, but I am not joking about the "hot oil" and the "deep fat fried" aspect of making these confections. These words do not appear in any version of the Holden Cookbook and in fact, have been banned from the Holden Dictionary itself. Something subversive may be going on as these two terms, along with the words "bacon" and "eggs-to-order," seem to be making a comeback, or as in Holden's usage of the terms, making a fresh start . Those of you who choose to worry about the "green aspects" of the disposal of used cooking oil need not fear. The time, the effort and the steps needed to dispose properly of fats and oils are so prohibitive that any food preparation requiring such an ingredient or such a process will be prepared only on on rare occasions, Advent apparently being one of them.

Sarah Gustner (Lead Cook) and Liz Langeland (Staff Coordinator) proudly show off their handiwork. They admit to some initial failures in getting the Rosette batter to the proper thickness in order to ensure that it stayed on the irons long enough to cook but not so long as to remain permanently affixed thereto in a greasy mass. Their success is obvious. (I assume their failures went into the compost bins!...which begs the question, "Does oil cooked into the batter of a Rosette count as oil and does it, therefore, need to separated from the Rosette and disposed of as oil, or does its combination with the batter of the Rosette negate its properties as oil?...I want to answer my own question with the reply, "Food for thought," but I dare not continue on with this train of thought.)

Carole Young ("IT Person"...that's "Information Technology Person"...although when the network is down or when a program is not working properly or when the program operator is not operating the progam properly, she is the "It Person! "...but I digress...) anyway, Carole's facial expression speaks volumes to the fact that technology cannot improve on this delicacy.

For those of you have never seen Rosette irons, here is a sampling of the ones Sarah and Liz used in making our Advent extravaganza. The red handled device is used for the attachment of the iron to a handle that can be used to hold the battered iron under hot bubbling oil. Most cooks deal with one iron at a time, but as you can see, it is possible to attach two irons to the same handle. I would assume that only highly skilled and/or experienced Rosette makers would use the double-handled arrangement.

Laura Norton (Contributions Recorder and Village Artist) and Katie Benjamin (Teachers' Assistant in the Holden School) return to the table for seconds...or thirds...or....

Winter coffee breaks are long coffee breaks, and community members frequently spend their mid-morning time in laughter and conversation over coffee and (on this day) Rosettes.

Late-breaking culinary news: This morning for Sunday Brunch, we were served sausage, fried eggs, and ...are you ready for this?...crullers! Go figure!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

One of Holden's Staff Coordinators, Liz Langeland, shows the kind of enthusiastic reception that a good snowfall gets from village inhabitants who are more accustomed to having accumulations up to a couple feet on the ground already at this time of year. Of course, it is well-known fact that Liz has a brand new pair of cross country skis that she bought at the end of last season. She is anxious to strap them on and head out on the trails.

The timing of this snow could not have been more perfect. These pictures were made about 1:00 pm, and we were out in the weather awaiting the arrival of the bus bringing in our some of our very first Christmas guests. These would be people who would be coming here to frolic in the "white stuff" as opposed to skittering around on the treacherous glaze of ice as has been our wont since Thanksgiving.

Head Maverick Dan Roberts shovels accumulated snow off the loading dock in preparation for the arrival of the bus and the offloading of luggage, supplies, and mail. This weather system had been on the move and coming our way for days. We were to receive prodigious amounts of snow and exceedingly low temperatures. The snowfall began about 10:00 am, as forecast, and continued throughout the day and into the night. For me, it was exactly like being in a snow globe that has just been turned upside down...and being there for all the daylight hours during which the falling snow was visible. The exceedingly low temperatures (close to and perhaps below 0) are to begin to sweep in sometime today. Just as a footnote to history, my own personal history, I have never been in any place where the temperature fell to "below 0."

Recent arrivals to long-term staff, Sue (Cook) and Don (Electrician) Cushing wait at the edge of the loading dock for the bus. (When you look at Don, do you see potential for a Santa Claus?)

The road grader, a vital piece of equipment to maintain the road and in keeping it passable throughout the winter season was a special part of this welcoming ceremony. It was brought down from the shop and put into position just in front of the place where the incoming bus would stop. The huge blade you see in at mid-air point had a sign affixed to it. The sign read, "Hey, Chuck!" Daniel Lund at the controls raised and lowered the sign in greeting, in exactly the same manner that Florida State University fans and Atlanta Braves fans do the "chop-chop" to cheer on their favorite team. Just picture this enormous blade, sign affixed, going up, coming down, going up, coming down... The occasion was the arrival back in the village of Chuck Carpenter, head of Operations. When Chuck left, the grader's blade was not functioning and with winter bearing down, there was concern that however-whatever-nowever, it be made ready to grade the roads. This was Chuck's "Welcome Home" greeting, a signal that Mechanic Terry Sanderson and his able assistant (when he is not in the kitchen during a power outage wearing a head lamp and cooking eggs-to-order) Daniel Lund.

Chuck (in the green jacket) is welcomed home by Tom Ahlstrom (one of Holden's three directors) and Steve Marks (in his signature hat, one of the two teachers at the Holden Elementary School).

By 3:00 in the afternoon, this was the view of the aspen tree just off to the side of the Agape porch. The snow continued into the night. At this moment, I am awaiting daylight to see how much more has accumulated.

There are no words to do its beauty justice.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Short Takes

There is not a long story in every special moment, but there are moments that are unforgettable, for whatever reason. Here are a few too good to go unnoticed.

As a part of Holden's Advent Week, the students of Holden School treated the Village to their caroling. The moon was full, the stars were out in full array, and the air was cold. A perfect night to step outside on the porch and hear young voices singing "Silent Night".

The large Advent wreath is ready to hang suspended above the circular fireplace in the winter worship space in Koinonia. Carole Young, Sarah Gustner, Angela Mietzke, Bill Somerville, and Dan Roberts prepare to raise it up to be attached to the ceiling.

Sometimes, what goes up comes down. When putting the large candles in the Advent wreath, the ceiling support gave way, and the wreath crashed to the center of the fireplace where it remains. The greenery was easily rearranged, and everyone agrees that its new resting place is just as satisfying to look at as having it hang above the fireplace.

An origami bird made out of a piece of sheet music became a decoration on the tree in Agape.

Carole Young knit a pair of leg warmers for Miss Scarlett, the Flamingo Extraordinaire which (who?) occupies a lookout spot on the front porch of Agape.

And with The Great Christmas snow beginning today (12/12/08), the leg warmers were on Miss Scarlett's skinny legs not a moment too soon. (The hat was a gift of Robert Monsen when he was here for Work Week earlier in the fall.)

The outdoor jacuzzi is officially closed for the winter as of today (12/12/08). Contrary to what you might be thinking, it did not close because of snow. It closed because of the need for dwindling electrical power in higher priority, laundry, heat...things like that. Jacuzzi buffs are greatly saddened.

Meanwhile, the work of the village goes on regardless of the weather. Strapped into her safety harness and working while the snow flies, Annelisa Steeber is atop the roof of the hotel making last minute repairs. We will not see that roof again until spring, Annelisa leaves in two weeks for Israel. When she returns, she will attend graduate school at Princeton.

Holden's Business Manager, Karen Haines and husband Paul have left the village to have a family Christmas with their children and their grandchildren. Karen and Paul made big batches of homemade marshmallows for gifts. (And yes, you can make marshmallows at home if you would like to do so. They are a lot of trouble but are really delicious...probably worth the effort.) Here Karen proudly displays a bag of these goodies. What follows is a close-up photo of the bag...close-up enough so that you can read the label.

No comment...except to say that these "mallows" are pale yellow in color.

Aneta Bunke holds the youngest member of the Holden Village community. At 3 months, Little Miss Aubrey Growing-Like-a-Weed Gustafson just this past Wednesday night began to participate in the regular staff meeting...spoke her mind, she did.

Work has begun to paint the doors to the food lockers. When a piece of paper that had long been affixed to the door of the locker we have always known as Curly was removed, lo and behold there upon the door was written "Moe!" No one can offer an explanation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Power Line Down: Call for H.E.L.P.

If you lived in this community and the community was experiencing a power outage as the result of a downed power line, would you feel secure and comfortable knowing that repairs were being made by a team of people who, even though they had the best of intentions, were in occupations other than utilities before they arrived at Holden? What if you knew that Holden's utilities crew consisted of a rocket scientist (well, aeronautical engineering), a school teacher, and a harp designer?

In all truth (I am incapable of making this up), I have just described the entire staff of H.E.L.P. (Holden Electric Power and Light). This is Mark Rerucha-Borges ascending the pole. You will notice the absence of a utilities bucket-truck. Here at Holden, to get to the site where repairs are needed, you have to climb the pole...and carry all your tools strapped to a belt around your waist. Mark is the harp designer.

Standing on the back of the truck and managing the safety lines and the repair operations at the ground level is Mark's intrepid wife Nancy Rerucha-Borges. She is the school teacher of the group. She is, in fact, currently teaching algebra to students at Holden High School. When she is not teaching algebra and when she is not actively involved in a utilities project (all three work to manage ALL of the utilities...power, water, sewage, whatever utilities you need in any town or city), then Nancy is managing, scheduling, and driving in Holden's transport system...buses, trucks, snow cats, etc. (We fondly refer to this couple on an individual basis as Mark R-B or Nancy R-B.)

When I took these pictures (and yes, it was as cold a day as it looks), the third member of Holden Electric Light and Power, Daniel Sullivan, was at the next power pole directing the connection between the two poles at ground level. He is the "rocket scientist." A twenty-something, if he is a day old.

You may recall that these three recently organized and implemented the AAA (Above Average Ambiance) Jacuzzi party. Now THAT is H.E.L.P.!

Meanwhile, people have to be fed. It is a Saturday morning. The schedule calls for the cooks to prepare eggs-to-order, bacon (! you heard me correctly!), and hash browns. Do the cooks falter, opt out of the hot eggs-to-order breakfast (which would only be reasonable) and disappoint members of the staff and guests by serving them cold cereal, of which there was plenty? Why no! They put on their head lamps (!you heard me correctly!), turn on the gas stove and cook omelets and sunny-side-ups and whatever you want. Behind the headlamps, lead cook Sarah Gustner, is ably assisted by Daniel Lund. (Daniel, if you want to know, works part-time in the kitchen preparing our food and part-time in the mechanics shop repairing and maintaining Holden's vehicles.)

Just another day at Holden. Making use of talents people never knew they had to begin with.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Christmas Tree for Agape

The U.S. Forest Service issued the permits enabling those of us living at Holden Village to cut Christmas trees. Generally speaking, one tree per residence was allowed. We were given some general guidelines as to the area open for cutting and some general prohibitions about where not to go to search for a Christmas tree and which kinds of trees not to cut.

With our permit for Agape in a backpack and a hand saw borrowed from the carpentry shop, three of us headed out on the trail toward 10-Mile Falls to search for a suitable tree to decorate what is called "the common area" of our residence. We did not have to go very far. Only a short way down the trail, we looked off to our right down in a ravine and spotted a couple possible candidates.

One of the trees turned out to be better than the other and we decided to look no further. It was, in fact, a rather remarkable tree in both its shape and its size and its fullness. You don't often see such trees here in a natural environment in which simple survival is quite difficult.

Aneta Bunke cut the tree and Liz Langeland carried it along the 10-Mile Trail back to the village. You will, of course, notice the absence of any snow along the trail. The fabulous pre-Thanksgiving snow had disappeared by December 6, and we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of its replacement in time for the Christmas season. That being said, it was far, far easier to trek through the woods, find a tree, cut it, and haul it back to the village without having to deal with a major accumulation of snow. Not as perfect as a painting on a Christmas card. Just easier.

Back at Agape, the end of the trunk was trimmed, and Carole Young helped get the tree into the tree stand and maneuvered into an upright position in the corner of the "common area."

To start the lights at the top of the tree or to start the lights at the bottom of the tree...that is the question. Opinions were divided so Liz took matters into her own hands and began at the top.

Enter Karen Haines to assist with the lights and with such decorations as we could find or create. Decorating a Christmas tree at Holden often calls for ingenuity. If you are missing something, you cannot jump in your car and go to a store and purchase it. You do without, or you make what you have on hand suffice.

The final touch to any Christmas tree, Aneta puts the star on the topmost branch. This particular star, made of reeds and shaped into a 3-dimensional design, was made by Mary Sather, also a resident of Agape.

In good spirits,
And in concert
With the others,
I had gone
Into the forest
In search of a tree.

Still in good spirits,
And still in agreement
With the others,
I joined in the decision
As to which tree to cut.

But with the first sound
Of the serrated steel blade
Separating the tree
From its root,
I felt remorse.

Too many times
I had marveled
At the tenacity
Of just such trees,
And now I had cut one down.

Too many times
I had tried to photograph
The collected light of the sun
On the branches of just such trees,
And now its limbs are draped with artificial lights.

Too many times
I had stopped and listened to the wind
Moving through the branches
Of just such trees,
And now this one is propped in an airless room.

It is there we sit in silence
Keeping company with one another.