Letter From Home “Snow Squalls” 11/12/21

Every year since we arrived at this home in 2007 there are certain traditions that are now part and parcel of our lives. We love to get the Adirondack chairs out as soon as the first hint of spring is in the air. Watching fireflies on a warm summer night with a cup of tea or watching heat lightning on the horizon is utterly relaxing. Raking leaves into piles just knowing there is one neighborhood kid who will take advantage of them before they are bagged.

And then there is the yearly event which occurred today.

It can be generally assumed that in the last days of October, into the first couple of weeks in November, a day will dawn downright chilly. The skies will be somewhat clear so that even though the sun shines brightly at times, clouds can also bank about in the sky. Across the lake, on the Madison isthmus, there will be a whitish-gray that slopes out of the sky and skirts across the gray cold water, and as it does so flakes of snow fall. As the flakes arc across the lake and then up over the shoreline and onto the rooftops and sidewalks the wind picks up and dances the white wonders in the air. In short order, the snow stops and the sun shines again.

There is no doubt about what is happening. The first snow squalls of the season have arrived.

This week, knowing the cold weather was planning its arrival I trimmed the rose bushes and cut the blooms that had sprouted over the past couple of weeks due to unusually warm weather. As I did the work on the bushes I smiled at the thought of allowing them to linger outside, with snowflakes settled upon the blooms. That would be just as Sonny James sang in his song When The Snow Is On The Roses.

I readily admit to a bittersweet feeling when putting the gardens to bed for the winter, storing rakes away, and bringing the snow shovels up from the basement to the outside shed. I love putting on shorts and colorful summer shirts while wearing sandals.

But that feeling fades when the sights of today come down from the clouds, crosses the lake, and the feel of the wind ramping up hits my face, as the flakes fall.

The Catalpa tree in our yard is the last of the season to release its leaves. During the recent brisk winds and rain, the large plate-size leaves pelted the house as they let go, allowing the winds to careen them through the air, making for a nice sound when they plunked on the siding. There was a nice-sized pile after I raked them today.

But as I bagged them, one of the squalls moved overhead. The little ice crystals tinged on my hat and dusted the tar pavement. It was perfectly timed. I cleaned up a few other items needing attention and went inside. After hanging my work jacket up, and my hat in its location I opened the back door to the kitchen.

James had shallots simmering in a frying pan for the start of our ham omelet lunch. I poured another cup of coffee to take off the outdoor chill.

The start of another winter is underway. And it feels good.

And so it goes.

My New Doty Land Podcast: Tribute To Grant Turner, Classic Country Music Stars

Doty Land, my podcast, following a long hiatus due to truly swear-worthy technical issues and the pandemic which made it most difficult to have the equipment in our home worked on, is now back ‘on the air.’

Humbly written here, but I am mighty pleased with the 16-minute multi-track production which offers my sincere tribute to WSM radio announcer Grant Turner. I also offer my thoughts as to what essential quality the classic country singers had which then allowed for them to have such faithful fans many decades later.

You can hear Doty Land and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartradio, Spotify, Castro, and many other sites. Pandora and Amazon are the next sites I am working with that will be offering my podcast for your listening enjoyment.

You can also link here and head directly to my podcast page.

From memories of Loretta Lynn,  Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, WSM radio announcer Grant Turner and others this tribute looks at how classic country music still resonates across the land.  Heartfelt memories galore! Podcaster Gregory Humphrey takes listeners on a journey from his Hancock home to the stages of country music shows.  The fiddles are warming up, now.  

This project will not put me on the map, but it made me very happy if for no other reason than everything is working as the manufacturer of the studio equipment intended! Broadcasting and now its offshoots remains a great love of my life. Therefore, it was most rewarding to ramp up the production values for this episode. I admit to a few ‘bumps’ that perhaps my ear is more accustomed to discerning, but overall I am very content to offer this episode to the listening public.

Grandma Schwarz landed at this angle for the promo pic. As in radio days, I like to have photos of special people around as it makes for a more genuine type of conversation when recording. She seemed the one who would best connect with the topic of these recordings.

And so it goes.

Letter From Home: “Lessons From A Sunflower” 8/31/21

Last winter when the pandemic was racing across the nation I considered ideas that would alter the landscape of our gardens come summer. One way I coped with the sadness of news from hospitals and the ever-increasing number of people we lost to the virus was opening up seed catalogs and planning. Planning big!

Or in the case of my hopes with sunflowers, planning tall.

I love sunflowers, the brighter the yellow, the larger the bloom, the bigger the smile on my face.

When we first moved into our home I planted a long row of sunflower seeds alongside my neighbor’s garage, which abuts our property. The place was perfect with ample sunshine. They anchored themselves to the soil so securely that come fall there was no way to pull them out. Digging their roots out was the only way to remove them.

The glorious tall heads had a variety of birds darting about, with the goldfinches being my favorite as they pecked away while perched upside down. Blue jays were a part of my childhood, but the only time I have had a number of them in our yard was when the sunflowers seeds were ready to be plucked. Some say they are mean birds, but their grand color always gives them a pass in my book.

So with three large packets of a variety of seeds purchased via the mail, I awaited spring.

What I had not factored into my winter-time plotting was the growth of the nine trees we have planted since moving in 2007. One of them came to us our first spring, placed in a large bucket and carted in a wheelbarrow. The man lived a few houses down on our block.

“Welcome to the neighborhood!

That sugar maple was shorter than I was, but now it towers higher than our three-story home. That along with a red pine, spruce, two Pagoda Dogwoods, Pin Oak, Honey Locust, a crab apple tree, and a lilac bush pruned to look more like a tree means that when it came for staking out places with lots of sunshine…..well, I need more space!

So back to the now limited area where my memories of past sunflowers were raised. Alongside the neighbor’s garage.

I planted and watered and remarked to James each day the progress of their germination.

At this point, I should mention my soft-hearted nature when it comes to wild animals. Each winter I put out food for the bunnies. James even felt they needed a better place to stay so fashioned a large rose cone into a bunny home with a straw ground cover. I bought high-fat nuts and even a cheap metal baking pan so as to not just toss their meals into the snow.

I thought of all those little niceties we did over the winter each morning as I soon noticed the sunflower’s fresh green growth had been munched completely off! What to do?

I brought up some of the fencings we use for winter protection of plants and soon had the next freshly planted seeds–thankfully I had ordered large packets–protected from anything that could go wrong.



In our Catalpa tree this year we had a large squirrel nest with cute little tykes running about. The tree is not far from the sunflowers, or more to the point of this story, from the roof of the neighbor’s garage.

So as my seedlings now truly did grow and reach high up above my head with growth…

…the new squirrels would launch themselves off the roof and land on the top portion of a sunflower, their weight snapping the plant down and thus ending the hope of a bloom. The one pictured was soon taken down by a squirrel. None of those large plants in the back of the house would blossom this year.

BUT, there was a sunflower at our home that did bloom–numerous times in fact– and truly makes for a point about life.

On the front lawn is where we have some of our Adirondack chairs. During street updating several years ago the city constructed a stone wall at the edge of our property that at the corner point is 18 inches tall. It was at that spot in the landscaped portion of a flower bed that one of the animals dropped a sunflower seed. Perhaps it was one from the winter bird feeding, or perhaps one that was dug up on the backside of the house this spring.

The plant took off with ever-increasing growth. Higher, stronger, and then I noticed it was a variety with multiple blooms. Sitting on the lawn and looking straight ahead constantly places this wonder in view.

All my planning and work to create a garden plot had come to naught. But Mother Nature with ease and grace planted a seed, did not require a daily update, and placed it near thorny bushes that little animals are not very fond of.

The lesson from that sunflower is two-fold.

First, perhaps in life, we overthink things.

Second, life continues to be at its best with simple unexpected events.

And so it goes.

Madison Tornado: Seven Years Ago Today

Seven years ago tonight a tornado crossed from Park Street, across Lake Monona, and slammed the Madison isthmus. The storm would be labeled as a F1. We like to think we are strong and in control of all things. Then we are reminded of real power in the hands of something else.

Early that morning I started my venture around the neighborhood with camera in hand. As one might expect there were many people out looking at the debris from the storm. I was struck at various places by things such as metal siding literally wrapped in a circle around a light pole, or a sailboat upside down in Lake Monona, a playground set under a huge tree that had blown down, or streets blocked to traffic from the massive uprooted trees lying about as if they were matchsticks flung about for fun.

Many of the people I talked with spoke about a noise–a large rumbling noise–that came moments before the wind. Some people went to their basements, but most I talked with were watching the weather reports on TV and spent the storm in their living rooms. One man I spoke with slept through it, and one woman gasped as I passed her house and she was first looking out at the scene in her robe and slippers while walking down her steps.

“This is so sad,” she said and covered her mouth with a hand. “Lots to clean up but lots to be grateful for too as we take note of the most important fact that no one was hurt.”

I recall arriving back home and giving a most detailed account on the telephone to Aunt Evie, who lived in Hancock, Wisconsin. She had not heard of the news and I was more than able to be her on-the-spot reporter. And we had much to see from our home!

B. B. Clarke Beach was hit with rugged winds which resulted in five trees down and close to 15 canoes and such watercraft on rental slots all gone, as well as the metal rental units themselves. After the storm, James and I took a 45-minute walk around the larger area, getting home at 1:30 A.M and being thoroughly soaked.  The trees in some cases at the park were cork-screwed out of the dirt, with the heavy metal sign anchored to a concrete base at the entrance to the park popped out of the ground.

Earlier that night I had been watching the weather, as I have an interest in such things, but James was starting to sleep.  I heard the roar (about 12:20 ) as I was looking out from our home. In fact, I had set the rocking chair set up so I could watch the lightning from the windows.  But then the winds started and I yelled for James and as he started coming from the bedroom I saw the whirling multi-colored display of a power line let go. I grabbed James and pulled him down on the floor under a wooden door frame.

Then the tornado had passed. In seconds.

In a few minutes, James had his shoes on first and went outside to pull some branches that were clogging the street drains so water could flow. I soon followed as we looked at our home which, thankfully, suffered no damage.

21st Anniversary With James

Twenty-One years ago this evening James and I had our first date in Madison. We had dinner on State Street and I was really nervous which might account for my concluding the evening with a kiss on his cheek. Two years to the day we moved in together.

I think only once in life does someone find another who can completely turn the world around. James did that for me and there is not a day that goes by I do not feel the full awareness of what love means and how much it is to be treasured once found.

Each day I get to live with the love of my life; my best friend with a sharp wit, and a curious mind. Walking the shared road of life remains the reason to smile each day. From Yosemite to the first holiday I brought James home to meet the family, the memories abound. As does the love.

Am Vaccinated, But Still Mask Wearing

This weekend was a very good one for this household. James and I received our second Pfizer vaccinations, and as I post this on Sunday night we have not experienced any negative reactions. Though I have joked that the soreness at the injection site has rendered me unable to fold laundry! Where is my sling?

In two weeks we will be at the point where it is reported by professionals that masks are no longer required when ‘out and about’. But we both will continue to wear a mask when groups are milling about and there is no way to know if they have their shots. We have not been in an actual store for 14 months, and have no intention of eating at any restaurant for some time to come.

And I know we are not alone.

Yes, we believe in science and data. Yes, it might seem odd, then, to wear a mask when the CDC says it is not required. But here is the thing. While the vaccine is a powerful tool to combat COVID and to minimize the severity of the virus should it take hold in my body, I really would rather be a bit safer and simply not contract it. I am weirdly wired that way, I guess.

In the past 10 days, there have been news reports about some folks in this nation filling plastic bags with gasoline as a way to ‘stock up’ during the pipeline problem in the southeastern part of the nation. Now, I am to believe we should trust the honor system when walking among my fellow citizens thinking they have made the proper judgment regarding the vaccine.

I am not in the midst of schools with children, business offices, manufacturing floors, or the bubbling masses of folks each day but I do care for the vulnerable populations who are in such environments. Therefore, I wish to make it possible for them to stay safe as we are aware of the huge numbers of people who refuse to be responsible and get vaccinated. It is imperative that we still strive to find the best mitigation efforts, and part of that process is really simple.

Wear a mask.

The reason is obvious in that there is no way we reach that overly optimistic place of herd immunity. There are simply going to be a lot of chuckleheads who will not take the vaccine. And they are going to be at the places you shop, attend concerts, sporting events, along with a host of other activities. As such, I am very pleased to see some Madison businesses stepping forward and acting with regard for us all.

My isthmus neighborhood in Madison is really most special as over the past weeks James and I are again walking in the evening and taking in all that spring offers with green growth and colorful blooms. Over and over, if there are people ahead of us on the sidewalk either we take to the street, or just as often the other party does. It warms my heart that there are many who still regard this virus as our common threat, and treat each other as we would treat ourselves. As we pass each other I always say” thanks.” The common refrain is “of course.’

We all want to move forward and surely can do that following being vaccinated. We have had that in mind for many weeks as we created a brand new outdoor social seating area at our home with a bevy of places arranged for that time when those we know, who also were vaccinated, will again be more than just a voice on a phone. We started making invites this weekend, and thrill to the eagerness of our friends who want to smile and laugh face-to-face.

But when we walk down State Street or when shopping for our own groceries (it is the little things!) we will still wear a mask. It is the smart thing to do.

The Pagoda Dogwoods Bloom

My mom, growing up in Arkansas loved the blooms of the dogwood each spring. We moved into our Madison home the year she passed away (2007), and the following spring we planted dogwoods in her memory. A variety that would grow in our climate. This, then, is how the Pagoda Dogwoods look this year….the blooms are phototropic.

Madison’s B.B. Clarke Park Mowing Draws Attention

UPDATE. I can report that the city re-mowed the B.B. Clarke Park this morning at about 9 AM, and it now looks fantastic.  Thanks to Alderman Brian Benford and the Mayor’s office for responding to this neighborhood issue.  This park is a gem and with the vaccines doing their work (!) it means this place will again be filled with young and old alike.  It should always have a welcoming feel and look for those who swim or just read a book in the shade.


I must write and express displeasure with what was witnessed following a mowing of B.B. Clarke Beach.  When taking these photos a young graduate-age couple with a picnic, along with two older women seated on a bench dedicated to Henry Dudek, weighed in with agreement about this issue.  One older woman told me “we were just talking about this.”  

As well they might considering how it looks.

In years past, I have known a city employee with an actual standard mower to clean up the parts of the park following the larger mowing machine.  Having said that, however, the person using the large mower did not even seem to try to complete the job. 

On my Facebook page a reader commented on this matter, underscoring how other cities work to make their parks looks grand. .

Yesterday in Sun Prairie where I live the park was getting mowed as I was walking my dogs. One of the employees was doing the large areas, another around trees with a push mower and still another (first day young employee) was hand trimming. I’ll also add the new young man was pleasant, acknowledged us and appeared to be pleased with his work! 

Given the pitch/slant of the land not being different in the unmowed and sloppy portions, in relation to the properly mowed portions, requires our attention. This sloppy look is not part of the ‘no-mow-policy’ but rather like someone closed their eyes for part of the job. 

This park is a sweet part of our community, and folks take pride in it.  I can state the park use from 2007 until the pandemic increased year to year. This gem is becoming better known. We take pride in our park, and I wish the city employees felt the same about B.B. Clarke Beach.