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Whitehurst Journal: Photo folders on PC serve as diaries

As an introduction to this essay, Sharon Whitehurst remembers that Monday was a red letter day for the Whitehursts in their new 'Promised Land' - Gradyville, KY: "March 21 marked the first year anniversary of our arrival in Kentucky from Wyoming--a harrowing three day run of snow, sleet and icy roads. Crossing the KY border and driving past green fields swathed in daffodils, finally lumbering in convoy into the dooryard of the Gradyville farm, we felt as though we had achieved the Promised Land," she wrote, and sends this essay about what she's finding this year: An earlier spring than 2010.
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By Sharon Whitehurst

I grew up in a family for whom seasons and weather were vital matters of awareness and conversation. This is hardly unusual since country people have always been keen observers of weather as it affects seedtime, cultivation and harvest. As the season goes, wet, dry, cold or hot, so goes a local and personal economy for the dairyman or orchardist, or those who garden with the intent to "put up" a goodly supply of produce for the winter.

Country folks of any time and place don't hesitate to prophesy regarding imminent weather patterns; they have, after all, been observing the signs for years.

My father, who relied on "The Old Farmer's Almanac" as well as his common sense, prefaced many of his weather predictions with----"I'm afraid we're in for a_____"--fill in the blank with storm; dry spell; an early winter. His work for many years entailed keeping the miles of dirt road in our Vermont hamlet fit for travel. A heavy blizzard of snow and ice meant round the clock work for him and his crew, plowing and sanding the roads; men and equipment had best be ready.

My maternal grandfather, a dairy farmer, kept diaries for many years. There was nothing literary or elaborate about his entries. He recorded the weather, the amount of milk produced by the cows, the loads of maple and beech culled from the woodlot and cut to stove lengths. He noted when fields were harrowed, potatoes were planted; where the wild blackberries ripened eariliest, when mud season turned the dirt roads to a sticky rutted mess.

Sometimes I would comment that the weather seemed too cold for spring break from school--or that snow had come early, the lilacs were late in blooming.Grampa's response was to take down half a dozen or so of the old diaries from the cupboard, push aside the piles of Farm Journal and Hoard's Dairyman, clearing a space for us to spend a pleasant hour comparing the weather for a random assortment of years.

We noted that indeed there were seasons when temperatures were out of kilter or storms came unexpectedly, but taken as a whole, the turn of the seasons from year to year was reassuringly predictable.

Spring always arrived, no matter how long the winter. A killing frost inevitably put an end to the garden in autumn.

The photo folders on my PC, automatically dated, serve much the same purpose as my grandfather's diaries, noting the weather and the small details and interests of our days--projects, pets, scenes from home or travel.

My blog expands this process and I'm already finding that it serves as a helpful journal recording our first year of gardening in a new home.

As we pondered aloud last week over the forward season it was gratifying to refer to the photo archives and verify that the first flush of spring did indeed come early to our old Kentucky homestead.

This story was posted on 2011-03-27 13:34:38
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Spring in Gradyville, KY: Pussy Willows in kitten stage

2011-03-27 - Old Gradyville RD, Gradyville, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
Sharon Whitehurst took this picture of a pussy willow in Gradyville on Tuesday, March 22, 2010. For the past 10p days, she and husband Jim Whitehurst have been mentioning that this spring season seems to be ahead of 2010. She says her photo archives are providing the record she needs to see changes in the weather, just as her grandfather's old hand written diaries did. In 2010, on March 22, the pussy willows were only in their silky grey kitten stage.

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Pussy Willows, more mature, in March 2011

2011-03-27 - Old Gradyville RD, Gradyville, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
Sharon Whitehurst writes, "The pussywillow tree [goat willow, salix caprea] photo from March 22, 2011 "The pussywillows in the other accompanying photo were in the silky grey kitten stage on March 22, 2010. But this year on March 22, 2011, they had reached the fluffy yellow catkin stage."

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Peonies past (2010) - Peonies present (2011)

2011-03-27 - Old Gradyville RD, Gradyville, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
The proof of the early spring is also in the peonies, if one remains unconvinced. On the left are spindly sprouts of peonies on April 1, 2010. On the right are the full leafed peonies of March 21, 2011.

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Grandfather Diaries: In 1959, before PCs commonplace

2011-03-27 - Old Gradyville RD, Gradyville, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
Being a diarist is in her DNA. Sharon Whitehurst uses the automatic records in her photos and on her PC. Her grandfather, in the simple days a half-century ago, did the same job with penned entries in a pocket ledger. His name was McKenzie Lewis, born in 1886 in the Adirondack hamlet of West Hague, NY. Sharon Whitehurst got her love of the seasons and country lore from him, she believes. She writes, "His handwriting and spelling were elementary, his jottings brief and practical." But they are cherished family histories how. It's a simple task to connect the dots, to fill in the blanks. "I can look at them today and whole episodes of my childhood are conjured from his simple journals." The journals told life's little triumphs, "Cow getting better," as well as its minor tribulations, "Broke chain on spreader." The little books are treasured keepsakes; but she's kind to today's ways. The grasp of 21st century technology is creating a modern archive of life as it is today in Adair County for those yet to come. That's important, she thinks.

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