Life in the Fast Lane

The Gift of Christmas Cookies

Andrew WeidmanChristmas cookies have been around for a long time. Whether they’re called Christmas cookies, Christmas biscuits, or lebkuchen, they’ve been a part of the Christmas season since at least the sixteenth century. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without the warm aroma of cookies drifting out from the kitchen as carols play on the radio. Then there’s the plate of cookies set out for Santa, usually eaten by Santa’s Helper before he kisses Mommy underneath the Christmas tree. Whether they’re cutouts, drops, or bars, Christmas cookies are one of the reasons there’s no place like home for the holidays.

Cookie Plate

We love to give baskets of cookies to our friends and family each year. Since we can’t send every one of you your own basket, we’re doing the next best thing: giving you our three favorite recipes so you can share them with your friends and family.

Sand Tarts

Sand tarts, a German Christmas tradition, are a favorite in our house, especially the darker, caramelized, third-run and leftover scraps. The kids always wait for them, holding out when the first-run batch comes out of the oven. These are light, thin, lacy, airy cookies, practically melting in your mouth. They are quite brittle and need to be stored in a single layer, like stacked dominoes or playing cards. They need extra care, but they’re worth it. Don’t worry, they won’t be around long.

Sand Tarts

Ingredients:

• 2-1/2 cup sugar
• 2 cups butter
• 2 eggs, well beaten
• 4 cups flour

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

2. Begin with all ingredients at room temperature. Combine all ingredients together, mixing until blended.

3. Refrigerate until cold. Cut batch in half, return remaining half to refrigerator.

4. Roll out thinly (less than 1/8-inch) on an old, cotton bedsheet on a cold surface, dusting with 10X sugar instead of flour.

5. Dip cookie cutters in 10X sugar and cut out shapes from dough. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. 

6. Traditional recipes call for dusting cookies with cinnamon and a half walnut or pecan meat. Alternately, dust each cookie with colored sugar or sprinkles. Bake for 9 minutes. Watch for over-browning. Note: smaller cookies bake faster than larger cookies. Cutout scraps can be rerolled and recut, but no more than three times before the extra sugar begins to caramelize during baking. Scraps left after three rollouts can be baked as is, for kitchen-help treats.

For quicker cookie-cutting, the dough can be worked into a log. Work 1/2 cup 10X sugar into each half batch of dough, then form into a uniform roll 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate overnight, then slice into 1/8” to 1/4” wafers for baking — the thinner the better. Return log to freezer between trays.

Slicing Sand Tarts

Soft Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookies

My grandmother used to make cookies very similar to these, if not identical, but she never shared the recipe with anyone. For many years, it was lost. Jessie experimented for years to find something similar based on my less-than-specific memories of a flavor. Finally, she hit upon the secret: the base cookie is a sugar cookie! The only significant difference is that my grandmother would make half of her cookies with chopped black walnuts, and half without. These have become a Christmas standard cookie at our house, and we think they’ll become a standard at yours as well.

Sugar Cookie

Ingredients:

• 2-1/2 cup flour
• 2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup milk
• 2 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 cup sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
• 2 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar
• 1 egg
• 1 stick butter, melted
• 1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Mix dry ingredients. Dredge chocolate chips in 2 tablespoons of dry mix and set aside.

3. Beat egg, milk, vanilla, and lemon juice or vinegar until blended. Add to dry ingredients. Add melted butter. Mix all until smooth.

4. Add chocolate chips and stir through dough, making sure dry mix on chips is mixed in.

5. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with granulated or colored sugar, if desired. Bake 8 to 10 minutes.

Variation: add 1 tablespoon cocoa powder or 1/2 cup melted chocolate to mix to make double-chocolate cookies. 

Seven-Layer Brownies

Just as I shared a special cookie from my childhood, Jessie wanted to share one from hers. Seven-layer brownies were always on the Christmas cookie plate as she was growing up. This was something she and her siblings could help her mom make when they were little. The recipe is easily tailored, each layer selected according to personal tastes. Replace the chocolate chips with mint chocolate if you like, butterscotch with peanut butter chips, add or remove layers as you desire.

Seven Layer Brownies

Ingredients:

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter
• 1-1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup butterscotch chips
• 1 cup chopped walnuts
• 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
• 1-1/3 cup shredded coconut

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place butter in 13 x 9 inch pan and melt in oven. Swirl to coat bottom and sides with butter.

2. Spread graham cracker crumbs evenly over bottom of pan. Layer chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and nuts over crumbs. Pour condensed milk over nuts. Sprinkle coconut over condensed milk.

3. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool before cutting into bars.

Cookie Basket

Cookie Tree

Three generations of four families (The Weidmans, the Parrs, the Books, and the Bachmans) wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a prosperous and happy New Year!

Christkindlmarkt

Andrew WeidmanWe had a special Christmas treat today. Coleman’s Park — a city park dedicated to the memory of the Coleman family, our own local "Rockefellers," — hosted the fourth annual Lebanon Christkindlmarkt.

Happy Holidays

Snowmen

Christkindlmarkt is a German tradition going back to at least the fifteenth century. According to one website, every German town hosted temporary markets throughout the seasons, the most lavish being the Christmas market. Martin Luther himself promoted the practice of giving gifts to children at Christmastime, telling them the gifts were from Christkindl — the Christ Child. Many Christmas market vendors offered toys and treats, benefiting from this new tradition. Before long, the two were inseparable.

Crowd

Lebanon’s Christkindlmarkt is the perfect way to kick off the Christmas season. Even though cold breezes tugged at the few leaves too stubborn to fall, plenty of people came out to stroll from stall to stall, looking for that special gift. Vendors offered everything from scented candles and glazed pottery to handcrafted jewelry and stuffed snowmen. As their customers watched, florists hand-built wreaths, swags, and centerpieces from fresh evergreen branches, holly, pine, spruce, and ivy. Hints of coffee and hot chocolate drifted on the breezes. Carolers sang to the crowd as the Moravian star was lit, symbolizing the Eastern star of the Nativity. Friends stopped to talk, catching up with each other while family members dropped gift hints as subtle as bowling balls falling from the sky.

Pottery

Wait, who was that, strolling through the crowd? That fur trimmed robe, the heavy staff decked out with sleigh-bells, spectacled eyes peering out over a thick snowy white beard, an intriguingly lumpy sack over his back … Could it be? Was it possible? Yes, it was! Saint Nicholas was here!

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nick had arrived, but there was no sign of that other German Christmas visitor, the Belsnickel. What a relief! The Belsnickel is not nearly so much fun as Santa. He’s a grumpy, crotchety, old traveler, dressed in dirty, worn-out furs, carrying a bag of fruits, nuts, and treats for good little children ... and a switch for bad little children. He’s loud, he’s scary, and he’s a pushover, once you get past the bluster. As it turns out, the Belsnickel was feeling poorly this year and had to stay in his hovel.

Evergreens

I’d love to hear about your holiday traditions. What do you do for the season? What makes it special?

Christmas-ing at the Weidman House!

Andrew Weidmanlights

Christmas carols are playing courtesy of Bing, Elvis, Louis Armstrong, and Julie Andrews. Outside the dining room window, candy-colored lights glitter on the house a street over. Inside, Sophie and Scamp lounge at my feet, dreaming of squirrels and rabbits, no doubt. The aroma of melted chocolate fills the kitchen thanks to Jessie and Isaak — our last teenager.

bare pretzels

Isaak is receiving a lesson in Christmas candy economics and "chocolatiering" while Jessie wears multiple hats: instructor, sous chef, and taste tester. She explains the workings of a double boiler, the importance of temperature control, and which spoon to use for stirring the chocolate. "Use a metal spoon — wooden or plastic spoons can add moisture and ruin the temper of the chocolate."

melt

They start with a mix of melting milk chocolate and special dark chips — "Chips don’t coat as well as block chocolate, but I think they have better cocoa flavor." The bottom pot reaches a boil, and Jessie turns the heat back to medium. Izzie stirs the coating until no lumps remain.

ready to dip

It’s time for the pretzels. Pretzels are a German treat, and Lebanon is locally famous for its pretzels. Keeping with the local theme (Hershey, "Chocolate-town USA" is only thirty minutes away), chocolate-covered pretzels are a favorite treat, and a favorite to add to Christmas cookie platters.

They’re also easily devoured, several disappearing within a minute.

lots of pretzels

Easy as they are to eat, by contrast, Izzie gets a lesson in the work that goes into dipping them. Each pretzel (we’re using the little heart-shaped pretzels) gets dipped just-so-far by hand before having the excess chocolate shaken off. He learned quickly that the chocolate can scald your fingers if you’re not careful. As the rows of dipped pretzels grows on parchment-covered cookie trays, Jessie follows with red, green, and white nonpareils, adding just the right holiday touch.

dipped pretzels

By the third tray of three-dozen pretzels, Izzie starts to flag. "I had no idea how much work goes into these things!" They haven’t even begun dipping in white chocolate yet, or baking cookies. Jessie expects to be baking all week, churning out sand tarts, chocolate chip cookies, and seven-layer brownies to go along with the pretzels and dipped Oreos.

It’s work, but it’s worth it, and happily done. The treats are destined for gift baskets for family, friends, and work associates, part of the joy of giving at Christmas. We love giving these gifts; it's a small reminder of the greatest Gift ever given, over 2 millennia ago, wrapped in cloth and resting in a bed of hay in a stable surrounded by livestock, shepherds, kings, and angels.

star

From our house to yours, Merry Christmas! May God bless you always!

Seeing Estate Auctions In a New Light

Andrew Weidmancalling the bid II

When I was a kid I used to like going to estate auctions with my dad. They provided an excuse to explore new places, discover strange new treasures (at least, new to me), and maybe meet some new kids and strike up a conversation. Sure, the day could get long and the auction boring, especially if Dad struck up a conversation with someone he hadn’t seen in a few years. That happened just about every time we went, whether it was an estate, consignment, produce, or livestock auction.

I swear Dad always knew someone, and like most farmers he seemed to crave trading stories. That probably comes from spending long hours in the field with not much more than the roar of the tractor for company. Even if you have actual company with you, conversation is nearly impossible over a high-throttled diesel’s thunder. And boy, did Dad have the stories: that time a hog escaped the truck while crossing town; the hay-wagon incident when I lost the back third of a load of bales, thanks to a ill-placed groundhog hole; to his days testing milk as a young man ...

crowd scene

You never knew what you’d find at an auction. Once we brought home a Quonset hut, balanced on a flatbed hay wagon (thank the Lord that didn’t upset). Another time, the trove was a set of five hog-farrowing crates. I remember seeing old pickup trucks, hay knives, glass power-line insulators, glass chemical-fire extinguisher bombs, and foot-powered whetstone wheels. I think a lot of my appreciation for Pennsylvania Dutch heritage came from asking about the stuff on the docket at auctions.

butter churn

How can you talk about an auction without mentioning the auctioneer’s craft? Using a singsong voice, a string of called numbers, and what sounds like nonsense, a good auctioneer can coax a crowd into bidding more than they expected on items they didn’t know they wanted to buy. I’m always amazed at how a good auctioneer can start the bidding at what seems high, have the bidding fall to less than a dollar, then coax the crowd into a bidding war shooting far above that starting call. I’ve even found myself caught up in those bidding wars, bailing out at the last second after promising to pay more than I wanted or could afford to spend.

I also learned not to wave to friends, or scratch my nose, or even nod in agreement while a bid was on. That could get expensive fast. Fortunately, I never found myself on the losing, er, winning end, of an accidental bid. That’s not to say I never had a panic moment, though.

auctioneer

But until last week, I never gave too much thought to the history of the treasures uncovered at an auction. I don’t mean the history of what that item was used for, such as using wide-mouth crocks for pickling cucumbers or sauerkraut. No, I’m talking about the history of that piece as it relates to its previous owner.

That hammered home in a new way as I sat at the estate auction for my parents. Suddenly, I knew the stories behind the items on the block. That reddish-brown baked-bean pot with the fading, chipped, painted detail — a boy offering flowers to a girl in primary colors — went to every picnic and covered-dish social filled with thick, pasty, sweet, baked beans fortified with bacon and brown sugar. Those square, clear, glass pitchers graced the table at every meal filled with fresh, raw milk courtesy of Dad’s dairy herd. Barlow and case knives reminded me that Dad always had a knife in his pocket, as I still do today. There’s the bookcase that once stood in the upstairs hallway stocked with World Book Encyclopedias, my window to the world when I was a child. There are the lots of Mom’s extensive "flocks" of ceramic chickens of every breed, color, and artistic style imaginable: nesting hens, hen and rooster salt-and-pepper shakers, rooster planters — chickens in every conceivable form. Finally, the shotgun and .22 rifle which accompanied me on so many pheasant and rabbit hunts on golden November days in my youth.

bean pot

At the same time, row upon row of box lots — old iron equipment, wooden runner sleds, and barrels of long-handled tools — drove home the reality of eight decades of accumulated life. Innumerable birdhouses spoke of Mom’s love of bluebirds. Boxes filled to bursting with patterns and material along with a half-dozen sewing machines hinted at a seamstress’s skill. Arcane, alchemical-looking glassware gave silent testimony to a young farmer moonlighting as a state milk quality tester. Cases of plastic berry boxes and box after box of canning jars — most clear and modern, some blue slope-shouldered, and one green glass jar driving a lively bidding war — spoke of years of throwing nothing away as long as it could still be used for something.

At noon, the flow of items to the block paused to allow for the auction of the property itself. It was then that I watched as the farm, a Weidman property for some fifty years, ceased to be the Weidman Family Farm and became instead the property of a new family. One chapter ended and a new one began by the time clocks struck one.

a family affair

I came home from the auction bearing new family heirlooms and heritage gifts for my boys, pieces of my childhood, parts of my parents’ lives and legacy, and a link connecting the past to the future. Add to that a day spent reminiscing with friends and family, and I judge it a day and money well spent.

Life goes on, even when life stories come to an end. Antiques carry impersonal histories, heirlooms personal. Yet all are merely things, subject to the crack of a gavel and the whims of a bidding public. I suspect that while I will always enjoy estate auctions, I won't ever look at them in the same light again.

A New Home For Lola

Andrew WeidmanLilah

Two years ago, we brought Lola into our home, bringing our dog pack up to three. We never expected to be a three-dog household, but Lola needed a place to crash.

When we met her, Lola was staying with our groomer. From what we understand her first home had been chaotic, filled with several children and endless activity and confusion. That might sound like dog paradise, but Lola is a designer breed: part poodle, part Yorkshire terrier. Yorkies don’t do well with chaos, and the Yorkie is strong with Lola.

IMG_1933

Lola had a sister, and they were surrendered at the same time. Her sister had already found a new home, but Lola had issues — issues with men, especially in dark uniforms, issues with other dogs near her food, and issues with big dogs getting near "her people." Our groomer also raises German Shepherds, who Lola took immediate offense to. That meant Lola couldn’t stay in the house; she needed to stay in the shop kennel, or with the groomer (as long as she wasn’t grooming big dogs.)

When we first met Lola, she was sharing the kennel with a Boston terrier imitating a car alarm. Six weeks later she was still there, and the terrier was still yelping to beat the band. Six minutes of that racket drove me to distraction; six weeks was unimaginable.

I’m sure you can tell where this is going.

Dogs_9887-550 jpg

Lola came home with us until we could find a forever home for her. There were some rough edges at first: dominance issues and territories, feeding arrangements, and triggers. Lola and Sophie, our Cockerpoo, faced off for Alpha status a few times. Scamp took his Omega status in stride; Scamp takes everything in stride, it seems.

We learned that mealtimes needed to change. Lola and Scamp took their meals in their crates, as Scamp always waits until the others have eaten, and Lola inhales everything in sight, including Scamp’s supper. I don’t think she’s ever tasted a thing in her life; it’s gone too fast for that.

Walking expeditions also changed. Because of her territorial nature and aggressive tendencies towards other dogs, we started walking the neighborhood at odd hours. When we would have stopped to talk to people before, now we needed to keep moving to keep Lola’s barking and general over-the-top behavior to a minimum. Muzzles really didn’t make a difference; she still barked and growled herself silly. Walks slowly dropped off, until we started leaving the pack at home, defeating the whole purpose of walking the dogs.

For the first few weeks, my work uniform startled her into a barking frenzy, one I needed to talk her out of before she would calm down. She also has a thing with feet. If you brushed her with your foot as you walked by, bumped her with your toe because she was always underfoot, or even simply stepped near her, she would yelp like she’d been gutted. She never grew out of this.

The thing that broke my heart the most, however, was the fact that she had no idea how to play. Sophie loves tug-of-war and keep-away, Scamp loves fetch, and they both love catch-me-if-you-can. But Lola’s idea of recreation was sentinel duty. She’d sit on the back of the overstuffed chair in the family room and announce any intruders to pass the front window, be they mailmen, walkers, wild turkeys, cats, dogs, cars, trucks, squirrels, leaves, breezes ... At the first alarm, Scamp would heartily join in. Imagine two Yorkiepoos barking at full volume. It’s deafening.

Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months. We began to suspect that Lola’s temporary status was becoming permanently temporary. By spring (Lola joined us just before Thanksgiving) it seemed obvious and inevitable: this would probably be Lola’s forever home.

IMG_2738

Some of Lola’s rough edges did smooth out with time. She grew to eagerly greet me as I came through the door every evening, her nub of a tail wagging at top speed. She even came to enjoy belly rubs and chin scratches. In many ways, Lola became "my" dog, although always on her terms, and always at a distance.

If that was all, things would have been fine. The problem lay between her and Scamp. As time went on, Lola grew more aggressive and intolerant of Scamp. When she nipped at him twice in one week, we knew something had to give. Lola needed a one-dog home.

A shelter, filled with cold block walls, barking and howling dogs, a parade of strangers, and sheer pandemonium would never do.

Siamese

After photos, Facebook posts, and emails, we found Lola’s new family; a middle-aged couple with no kids and two cats (which couldn’t care less) came to meet Lola one evening. She went home with them the same evening, and on a shopping spree the next day. Walks, car rides, and belly rubs are now the rule, and I predict Lola (Delilah now, "Lilah" for short) is soon to be spoiled rotten.

On the home front, Sophie and Scamp took her absence in stride and have gotten back to normal — a pre-Lola normal no one had realized was missing until now.  Sophie’s more laid-back, less on-guard and dominant. And Scamp, well, Scamp’s much more playful; he’s the lovable little buddy we hadn’t seen in two years.

IMG_4153

Rescuing a dog can be a trade-off of rewards and responsibilities. Dogs can be incredibly loving and forgiving, but they can also be unbelievably fragile, suffering deep emotional injury, recovering slowly if at all, hesitant to trust again after betrayal. A forever home is a wonderful gift to give, but it must be the right forever home. If your home isn’t the right forever home, it’s okay. Your job was finding that home and providing a warm, safe haven in the meantime. 

Lola has a forever home now, one where she can be Lola, er, Lilah.

Going Native

Andrew WeidmanHanging Fruit

There’s a hole in our mini orchard. We laid out the back corner of our yard for four little trees: two apples and two pears. Right now, there are three. There’s the Paradise apple, a local antique from Paradise, PA (yes, Paradise really can be found in Pennsylvania, just down the road from Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand — but that’s another blog post entirely). Beside it stands my Ditlow’s Hard Winter, a rescue apple with a provisional name and no known history, one tree of a variety on the brink of oblivion. Catty-corner from the Hard Winter is my Elwood’s Homestead, grafted from an ancient, one-of-a-kind seedling lingering on my parents’ farm. The second pear tree failed. Twice. I think it’s time to take a different tack.

Last weekend, Jessie and I took in the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA (more on that in a different post). We sat in on Michael Judd’s "Fruit in the Edible Garden" talk, part of which covered pawpaws.

Pulp and Seeds

Pawpaws are an unusual fruit. They grow across the eastern half of the country, from Georgia to just below New England, out to the Middle West and Nebraska, according to Lee Reich. Apparently, the only big-tree fruit native to North America, they’re also from a tropical family, related to cherimoya, custard apples, and soursops. The fruits look like lumps of green Play-Doh, smell like bananas, and can taste like them, too, or maybe melon or mango.

They’re also attractive trees, small and pyramidal with big, tropical-looking leaves, glossy green throughout the summer before turning bright yellow in the fall.

Pawpaw Tree II

Since we have a hole in the orchard needing to be filled, Jessie suggested giving pawpaws a try. Of course, I thought that was a stellar idea, so now we’re on the market for pawpaws. Sort of.

See, I never do things the easy way. What fun is that? The other three trees I grafted myself. There are two other pears on the property, growing in an espalier on our one shed. Want a challenge? Plant an espalier. Oh, and I grafted them, too. All of my gooseberries and currant bushes? Rooted from cuttings, either by myself, or by friends of mine. And don’t get me started on my potted figs.

I could have bought a pawpaw (two, actually; they need cross-pollination to set fruit), but what would have been the fun in that? Besides, I happen to know where to find a pawpaw that tastes a bit like melon. It’s a grafted variety, growing along the banks of the Union Canal, in a little park in Lebanon. I might have felt bad about "stealing" a fruit from it if its base wasn’t littered with fallen fruits, rotting and returning to the earth.

Fallen Fruit

Pawpaw seeds are tricky. Of course. They can’t freeze, and they can’t dry out. The best way to start a pawpaw, I’m told, is to store the seeds in damp peat moss or a paper towel in the refrigerator for a few months — long enough to forget about them. I tried this once before ... and forgot about them. When I found them, they had sprouted, apparently a few months before; the taproots were long and wrapping around the confines of the quart Ziploc baggie. Like other trees with strong taproots, pawpaws are finicky. They will not tolerate having them damaged or stunted. That other batch of seeds was a loss.

Pawpaw seeds

I’m trying it again. That pilfered pawpaw gave up nine seeds. I only need two. After I cleaned off the pulp — delicious work I might add — I packed them away in another baggie, in some peat moss, and tucked them in the spare fridge for the winter. Help me remember they’re down there, okay? In the spring, or maybe late winter, when I need a cabin fever antidote, I’ll pot them up in some deep-root pots so their taproots have room to grow. If I manage to get two nice ones to grow, they’ll go in that last empty spot in the orchard. According to Mr. Judd, you can comfortably plant them in pairs with about 18 inches to two feet between them. Let’s see what happens.

The High Price of Progress

Andrew WeidmanCardinal

Major changes are happening in our neighborhood, changes that will affect the landscape for some time to come.

My house, my entire street in fact, is built on land once lined with Christmas trees. Blue spruce and white pines once grew rank and file on every property. Lone sentinels remain here and there, guarding lawns throughout the neighborhood. A few lots remain filled with trees, though most of them now grow neglected and thicketed, returning to the Earth.

Spruce

Our property abutted one of these lots, the spruce lot, for the last two decades. We’ve enjoyed the benefits of these now-overgrown evergreens and the ash, mulberries and black walnuts filling in between them. They blocked the afternoon sun, bringing welcome relief on dog day evenings; and blocked the wind, sheltering us from dead-of-winter blizzards. Our favorite benefit, however, was the privacy those trees afforded us, hiding our entire backyard, and even the side of the house, from the road.

Those were the obvious benefits. Less obvious were the joys of the residents making their homes in the deep undergrowth: chickadees and cardinals, finches, wrens and juncos, woodpeckers, flickers and creepers, even blue jays and grackles would jockey and hustle for a meal at our birdfeeders. In the spring, when the grackle rookery was in full swing, the parent birds could empty the suet feeder in a day. Before long, the birdfeeders would occasionally earn their names in a more gruesome fashion, providing the hawks, both red-tailed and Cooper’s, with a quick meal, evidenced by clusters of small feathers here and there in the yard. And every summer, a hummingbird would grace our butterfly bushes; I think she makes her home in a nearby Mimosa tree.

Blue Jay

Speaking of butterfly bushes, they would often be filled with swallowtails and fritillaries, hummingbird moths and skippers, even honeybees and bumblebees. Most striking, however, were the fireflies, decorating those spruces never selected for Christmas, covering them in a glittering, flashing, breathtaking display of Christmas in July.

Occasionally, deer and even a fox would pass through, the yard on their way to wherever they were headed. Turkeys moved in two years ago, threatening cars and traumatizing our dogs as they deliberately strutted by the front door. Squirrels and the random chipmunk staged birdfeeder raids, performing gymnastics straight out of Mission Impossible. Rabbits grazed in the backyard, and groundhogs grazed in the garden when I had one, locked in a never-ending war I always seemed to lose.

By now, I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been writing all this in the past tense. That’s because seven of the remaining tree lots have been sold for development this spring, including the three between our house and the end of the street. The one on the corner was cleared and built first, and the new neighbors are moving in as I write this. The other two remained untouched and unmolested – until this week. Every thing I told you about, the spruce and pines, black walnuts, ash, and even an English walnut grafted to five different varieties, has been uprooted and destroyed, grubbed out to make way for construction. Nothing remains save for a few stumps and root snags, and bedraggled goldenrods at the back edge, coated in dust and scorched by the now-intense sun and winds.

Walnut Stump

Bewildered robins hop from spot to spot while grief-stricken cardinals search for nests they’ll never find. Dusty, the resident not-quite-feral cat, seems insulted by the barren state of his former jungle haunt. Most depressing are the mourning doves, flying back and forth over these new badlands, trying to take stock of this new reality.

I must be fair; we always knew this day would come. At one time we did consider buying that vacant lot next door, to use it as a privacy shield and a private picnic grove, keeping it in a more-or-less natural state. The realities of finances, workload and life in general proved that to be nothing more than a pipe dream.

Before

I can’t even be mad at the previous owner for selling the lots, or the developer for clearing the land, or even the buyers for wanting a shining new home. After all, everyone needs a place to live, don’t they? Honestly, I’m no better. My house is built on the exact same stretch of tree farm, isn’t it? Songbirds and skunks were evicted to make way for construction vehicles, deer found less shelter, lightning bugs fewer trees to garland. By buying my house, I took responsibility and ownership in a continuing reshaping and domesticating of formerly wild rural countryside. I have no right to be scandalized now that the realities of that ‘progress’ are impacting me.

The thing that breaks my heart the most is not that I’m inconvenienced. For me, it’s an unpleasant shock. That will pass. I’ll adapt, replant, replace. For the birds, beasts and everything that once found sanctuary among those sheltering branches, it is a holocaust. They will not so simply adapt. They cannot.

Black Walnut Stump

Where will they go? And how many will stay behind?