Fumie's Sphere

Insights into the worlds of winemaking and nature

Folklore and Weather Forecast December 5, 2022

Filed under: At The Winery,Nature — Thorpe Vineyard @ 5:29 pm
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When I was in college majoring in meteorology (just in case you didn’t know), one of my professors was working on his paper about the relationship between folklore and weather patterns. One of the subjects he was investigating was the size of the tails of small animals we commonly saw.

When squirrels’ tails look skinny during fall, for example, the coming winter will be mild. But when those little critters have bushy hairy tails in fall, it will be followed by a bitter cold winter.

I have been puzzled over the squirrels all fall long this year as I see both – some have thin tails while others have halfway bushy tails. They are still the same way around me now in November. So, what should we expect for the winter 2022 – 2023? How do they look in your area? Let me know!

(The original appeared in Thorpe Vineyard November 2022 Newsletter.)


Cutting the Buds March 28, 2022

Filed under: Grape Growing,In the Vineyard,Viticulture — Thorpe Vineyard @ 6:14 pm
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The winter of 2021 – 2022 came in easy as was the last few years. Warmer than normal temperatures dominated in December into early January. I was both thinking and hoping that the pattern would hold as long as it could. Then the wind changed. Yes, I felt it, and it was true. Suddenly we started to see the single digits for the low of the day. That made me nervous. When it plunged into the negative territory, a red flag popped up. “It’s not good.” I couldn’t even remember immediately when we saw a negative number last time. 

Grapes are generally a plant in a temperate region of our Planet. So when it gets colder than certain point, they simply don’t survive. They start to lose their live buds on the canes when temperatures dip below their limit. Sometimes their trunks split. Eventually the whole grapevines can die from extreme cold.

I saw the negative numbers in my vineyards twice in January: -4.5 and -1.7 degrees. And about a dozen of single digits in January and February. I was getting ready to go out to obtain some sample canes of each variety we grow in the vineyards to test so-called bud mortality rate before pruning the vines. We have to make an adjustment of how many canes to leave on the vines depending on this rate to maintain the crop level at harvest. More dead buds, more canes to stay on the trellis. 

So I went out and brought back an armful of grape canes. They were placed in the water in a bucket and stayed in a comfortable temperature to “wake up” for a few days. Honestly, I don’t remember when I did this last time – we were so used to having a mild winter that did not give me any alert to cut the buds. But, well, here I’m going. 

This is a cane of Cayuga White. What I do is to slice the buds on the cane in half and look inside. Is the bud green or brown? If it’s green, that’s the sign the bud is alive and likely would grow into a shoot to bear grapes in fall. The arrow is pointing at the bud sliced off from the cane. Can you see the center of it is bright green? 

On the contrary, this is a Riesling bud. It looks brown meaning it’s dead. I keep cutting each bud on the canes and come up with a tally in the end. That will give us an idea how to prune the vines this spring.

While cutting the buds of Riesling, I noticed that most of the dead buds are toward the end of the canes. Hmm… I tried to recall what might have been going on to cause it. Eventually I came to suspect that many of the vines got downy mildew on the tip of their growth last summer. Perhaps the disease hindered the buds from attaining enough cold hardiness to get through the extreme temperatures. — I have to come up with a better spray program for this season. I sit and cut the buds and listen to the vines’ stories. (By the way, the bud mortality rate was not so high that made me feel relieved…)


The “Art” of Winemaking December 10, 2021

Filed under: At The Winery,Winemaking — Thorpe Vineyard @ 3:39 pm
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I’m sometimes asked what’s going on in the wine cellar during winter. Well, there are a number of things always happening, but the most important thing to me is to chill the wine in the tanks. We don’t have large equipment to do so once temperature starts to rise in spring. So we utilize the chilly winter air outside – it’s quite natural and environmentally friendly way to cool the wine down.

Wine is an acidic drink. The major component of the acids is tartaric acid that comes from grapes. When wine gets cold, so-called the solubility of tartaric acid decreases. It’s sort of like you are putting sugar in your coffee. Hotter the coffee, easier to stir more sugar in. Right? If you dissolve a lot of sugar into your hot coffee, part of the sugar will precipitate as the coffee gets cold. A similar phenomenon happens in wine. When wine temperature goes down, tartaric acid combines with potassium that is also a natural ingredient of grapes. They form potassium bitartrate and precipitate at the bottom of the tank. As the acid level comes down, the wine becomes softer and milder. It is called cold stabilization of wine. Incidentally, potassium bitartrate is cream of tartar you use in baking. Did you know that?

So monitoring acid level in wine is an important task for winemakers. Here is the way my lab table looks like when I test the acid. The acid in wine samples is neutralized by a basic reagent to measure how acidy it is. It changes as the cold stabilization progresses. 

Another thing I do once the fermentation completes is to test the alcohol level in wine. This is called Ebulliometer. It boils a small amount of wine and tells me its boiling point. Consequently, I figure out the percentage of alcohol in the sample by looking up a chart. Alcohol boils lower temperature than water and the boiling point of the sample depends on the alcohol content in wine and the ambient atmospheric pressure. This is a sophisticated sensitive apparatus that the old owner, Bob Straubing, Sr., left behind.

So, where does the “art” come into winemaking? I’ve always thought that’s a very good question as there is so much science behind winemaking starting from growing grapes. Lots of analyses, observations, calculations, etc. etc… Then one day I face the wine samples in the glasses in front of me. They have to go into the bottle one of these days. I sniff, taste and start mixing the samples in different portions – add some sugar time to time. At some point one of the glasses comes to me on its own – there it is! Winemaking is not the art but the wine itself is.  

I pick the glass up and taste it again. Sure, I like it. Did I keep track of the blending portions? My notes are full of scribbles — well, looks like I did. And to me sometimes the hardest part is to replicate the contents of the glass exactly the same way in the tank. That’s called the challenge of winemaking.


Enthronement 2019 February 16, 2020

Filed under: Japan — Thorpe Vineyard @ 4:54 pm
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Last year my home country Japan welcomed the new emperor.  Emperor Akihito, the 125th Emperor of Japan, abdicated on April 30th, and his son, Throne Prince Naruhito, ascended to the Throne the next day.  This was the first time in 202 years since the last imperial abdication took place in Japanese history, and now there are the Emperor and the Emperor Emeritus co-existing in the nation.  (I wrote an article about this historic event in April 2019 Newsletter.  Click here to read it.)

There were a series of ceremonies for the Enthronement of the 126th Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, throughout 2019.  Here are some snapshots to share with you.


Emperor Naruhito's First Speech - Image #1

Emperor Naruhito, accompanied by Empress Masako, gave his first speech as an emperor in front of the representatives of the people at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on May 1st shortly after the Ascension Ceremony.






The Proclamation Ceremony, the most notable of all, took place on October 22nd in the Palace in front of 1999 guests, the foreign and domestic dignitaries.  There were two structures, Takamikura and Kichodai, that the Emperor and the Empress resided during the Ceremony respectively.  They were eight-sided buildings, about 22- and 18-foot high, that always remind me of gazeboes I see around here.  The form of the structure has been in use since the 8th Century for the imperial enthronement.  These particular two buildings were built in 1913 for the Enthronement of Emperor Taisho, Emperor Naruhito’s great-grandfather.  They were broken down into smaller pieces and brought from the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, then put back together for the Ceremony in Tokyo.


Emperor in Ceremonial Robe (2) - Image #4

Emperor Naruhito wore the Kourozen-no-gohou, the robe made with the fabric in the color that is permitted to be worn only by an emperor.  The use of the robe of this kind was first noted in the late 8th Century.  Here in this image Emperor Naruhito is standing in Takamikura with the text of the Proclamation in his hands.  The Imperial Treasures he inherited as the proofs of the throne are placed beside him.

Empress in 12-layered Kimono - Image #5


Empress Masako dressed in the 12-layered kimono with the traditional hair piece.  The style of this costume was also established in the late 8th to 9th Century.




Motorcade Parade - Image #6

Motorcade Parade was planned to immediately follow the Proclamation Ceremony first.  But Typhoon Hagibis left devastating damage to the wide areas of Japan just before the Ceremony.  The Administration decided to prioritize the rescue effort by rescheduling the Parade to be on November 10th.  The procession took about 30 minutes in central Tokyo from the Imperial Palace to the Emperor’s residence, the Akasaka Estate.


All images courtesy of NHK, Nippon Hoso Kyokai (Japan Broadcasting Corporation)


A Decade February 15, 2020

Filed under: Living — Thorpe Vineyard @ 4:26 pm

Last year as the year 2020 approached, I started to hear “the end” and “the beginning” of a decade.  Just let me make it clear: year 2020 is NOT a beginning of a new decade.  This is, on the contrary, the last year of the decade that started in 2011.

2020 - 2021

When we count numbers, we always start from 1 – one, NOT 0 – zero.  The same applies to the numbering of years.  The first year of any set of years; such as decades, centuries, millennia, always starts with ONE.  

I wrote a very similar article in our old print newsletter in December 1999.  If you are curious about what it was, click here to read it.  If you remember this article, you must be with us for a long time!


Year 2000

So much has been talked about it, but we dare to put a small note here.

The Year 2000 is NOT the beginning of the new century OR millennium.  The coming century and millennium will not start until January 1 of 2001, and this is why.

When we look back in history, the numbering of years is … 3 BC, 2 BC, 1 BC.  The year then after 1 BC is 1 AD.  That is, there is no year ZERO in between.  This means that the beginning of a century, as well as a millennium, is always a year with a “1” NOT a “0.”  Thus, the year 2000 is the last year of this century and millennium, not a new beginning yet.  However, the fact that the first digit of the year is about to change from “1” to “2” surely makes us feel like something is coming, doesn’t it?

We wish you all a great and prosperous year 2000!

(If you are curious, there is a similar article in the “Farmer’s Almanac” so please peek.)

Original article appeared in the Fall 1999 Issue of the Trillium Ridge Times, a print newsletter of Thorpe Vineyard.



Indian Summer and Koharu (小春) Biyori (日和) October 18, 2019

深い秋が訪れた! (春を含んで)

 立原道造 「忘れてしまって」より

“The deepened Autumn has arrived! (with Spring within)”

by Michizou Tachihara, translated by Fumie Thorpe
The stretch of pleasant sunny weather last week kept reminding me of the term “Indian Summer.” According to my search result, its use is meant to be after experiencing killing frost. We did have the first frost on October 4th, but it was not hard enough to bring an end to the growing season up here. Despite the definition, it came to me along with this line of a poem that I first read over 40 years ago.
We call the warmup after killing frost (or noticeable cool down toward the end of fall) Koharu (小春) Biyori (日和) in Japan. Koharu (小春) is an alternative name of October in Lunar Calendar that falls anywhere between late October and early December in Solar Calendar. The Chinese characters mean “Little (小) Spring (春).” Biyori, or hiyori depending on the context, (日和) indicates a right weather condition for a specific event to happen. So, Koharu (小春) Biyori (日和) means the nice weather, as if spring had come back after having a cold weather pattern that foreshadowed coming winter during a month of Lunar October (that is “Indian Summer” in English to me).
Indian Summer is said to have its origin in England, again, according to my search. Summer is no doubt the most pleasing season of all out there with longer daylight, reasonably warm temperatures and low humidity, due to their locality at higher latitude and on the western side of a continent. I don’t wonder why they think of summer when the enjoyable warm weather returns after winter-like chill.
On the contrary, summer is hot and moisture laden with lots of rain in Asia. Remember: Eastern to Southeastern Asia sits in the prominent monsoon zone, where the high annual rainfall enables there to be the largest rice producing region in the world. Summer is often sultry and uncomfortable (to say the least!); not quite the weather we imagine when pleasant warmth revisits following an early sign of winter. As the natural transition of seasons, we think of spring after undergoing some wintry weather.
Michizou Tachihara has been my single most beloved poet since I first encountered his works when I was in Junior High School. He died of tuberculosis in 1939 at the age of 25. He saw the surge of nationalism that divided and lead the world to the Second War. Those were the days when so many lives, especially youngsters, were lost to the war and diseases there, here and elsewhere even before they had a chance to know what life could have really meant.
Summer or spring; the difference in terminology reflects the language we speak and the climate we live in. But we all know the sense of comfort in the return of warmth in late fall – it’s a moment of joy in finding a “little spring,” to me, beyond the brilliant foliage and in the soft breeze that weaves through the vineyards.

Flowers Bloom June 19, 2019

Filed under: At The Winery,Nature — Thorpe Vineyard @ 11:59 pm

For the first time in 20 years my ‘May Flowers’ did not bloom during the month of May. May Flowers is, of course, a nickname I gave to the irises we had transplanted from the old house to here when we built a new home at the winery in 1999. A few years ago, I came so close to having said the same thing. My May Flowers always bloom on Memorial Day weekend, but that year they didn’t at the beginning of the long holiday weekend. But in the end the blossoms arrived on Memorial Day Monday. Flowers always keep their word. They relieved me then.

But this year they finally broke their promise. When Memorial Day weekend ended without the blossoms of May Flowers, I looked up at the sky and thought about the cold rain and winds we kept getting throughout the month. The flower buds were; however, swelling quickly as the month headed toward June.

The clouds were hanging low, and the cool mist was flowing in from the Lake in the morning of June 6th. Another chilly damp start of a day was replaced by the sunshine by lunchtime. I was busy in and out of my farm barn, taking advantage of the dry afternoon by working on my tractor. When I was passing by the flower bed along the winery barn in late afternoon, I saw some light purple swaying in the breeze. Oh, my May Flowers! I stopped to look and smell the brand-new blossoms. “It’s not when, but the fact that they’ve returned.” It was a moment of confidence that was found in the arrival of this year’s May Flowers.


Turning a Page in History April 29, 2019

Filed under: Japan — Thorpe Vineyard @ 10:39 am
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fojMy home country Japan has been under the reign of a single Dynasty for over 2500 years – well, give or take a few hundred years to be honest. Our history starts with a mythology involving how the nation was formed. Supposedly God dipped his rod into the ocean to stir, then he pulled it out. When a few chunks of mud dribbled from the end of his rod and formed islands in that part of the Pacific, they turned into Japan. That’s the way the mythology begins.
Even after all these years, a fascinating fact is that the monarchy has been still continuous since they first took power a long time ago. By the time the 6th Century came around, there was a centralized government of Japan which was built by imitating that of China (or then China – the name of the nation in charge has changed countless times in the Continent). The form of the administration has gone through from a monarchy to aristocracy to feudalism (Shogun was the Boss) to now a parliamentary democracy. Yet the Imperial Family has always kept a relationship and involvement with any ruling party of the time.
In August 2016 our current Emperor Akihito, who is the 125th Emperor in line, appeared on TV to address the nation that it was getting increasingly difficult for him to keep up with the duty as an emperor as he aged. He was 82 years old. According to the current Imperial Household Law the throne is a lifetime tenure and the change can only happen following the passing of the current emperor. The Emperor expressed his hopes the nation would understand his feelings and agree to alter the law so that he would be able to abdicate. And the nation did listen to him. A set of special legislations was passed in the Parliament and enacted into the Law in 2017. That was the beginning of the path for Japan to see the Imperial Abdication for the first time in 202 years of its history.
Akihito and Naruhito April 2019Emperor Akihito is the first to serve as an emperor under the Japanese constitutional system called Symbolic Monarchy. He himself looks back the days of his reign and says that he has endlessly deliberated the meaning of a “symbol of Japan.” He is, in a sense, not a person. He and other Imperial Family members do not have the registers that the rest of the citizens do. They don’t commit to any political activities including voting. His being there is for the nation. He says he has done what he has come to think the role of a symbol of Japan should be. He adds that his son, the Crown Prince, will succeed the throne to perform what he interprets the role of the symbol ought to be.
The date of Emperor Akihito’s abdication was set to be at 5 pm on April 30, 2019. Yes, it will be the last day of this month. The Crown Prince, Naruhito, will be enthroned as the 126th Emperor on the following day, May 1st. The change of the Era will take place at the same time from Heizei to Reiwa. It is expected that both Emperors will address the nation and world at the abdication and enthronement, respectively. Japan is now in its longest national holiday season of the year – we call it a “Golden Week”, as there happen to be a few national holidays occurring successively from the last week of April through the first week of May. They’ve added 2 more holidays this year for the abdication and the enthronement. Cherry blossoms are gone, but there is no shortage of flowers and young green leaves in the air of Tokyo. I wish them the best, and dream about apple blossoms and bud break on the grapes to follow here on the shore of Lake Ontario.

Groundhog Day and Setsubun(節分) February 12, 2019

Filed under: Astronomy,Nature — Thorpe Vineyard @ 1:53 am
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It was late January 1984 when I first heard the term “Groundhog Day.”  I was getting ready for the second semester of my freshman year at SUNY Oswego.  “Groundhog Day” — what is “groundhog”??  Lots of things were still so unknown for someone who just came from Tokyo to pursue the college degree in meteorology and astronomy in rural Upstate New York.  I don’t recall when I finally discovered the meaning of the day correctly but do remember wondering about this: this is about the same time when we celebrate the arrival of spring in Japan.  Is there any relationship to that?

The question resurfaced and faded as Groundhog Day passed every year until I came across an article in the February issue of Astronomy Magazine in 2007.  Yes, I did see a writing about Groundhog Day and its implication to the duration between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.  To my regret it slipped through between my busy schedules then.  So, when I saw the revised version of the article on Facebook this year, I was delighted!

The idea of Groundhog Day was brought to America by German immigrants, and the animal of choice in their old country was hedgehog, according to the author, Rich Talcott.  Well, it makes sense as it has been famous as a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition and that’s where Punxsutawney Phil resides.  But my true interests lie in why it’s February 2nd every year, and Rich explains it as one of the four so-called cross-quarter days, which mark the midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes.  Ah, that’s Setsubun (節分)! 

The Lunar Calendar was predominant in the Eastern Hemisphere until modern era.  To my knowledge it is still in regular use in some nations including those in the Middle East.  It is based on the movement of the Moon, that completes its cycle around the Earth in 29.5 Solar days.  As time goes on, a half to one and a half days difference per month will result in considerable gap between the Lunar and Solar Calendars in terms of which month or season it is at one point of time.  Ancient astronomers observed the sun’s location in the sky to invent some tools for farmers to follow for their field work – farming has been always essential to mankind throughout the history.  They learned when the solstices and equinoxes happened, then divided the entire year into four seasons setting a solstice or an equinox at the middle of a season.  So, the point which is equivalent from a solstice and an equinox was set as a Setsubun, that is a cross-quarter day in Rich’s word.  Setsu, denoted by , means a season, and Bun, , a dividing point; all together Setsubun 節分 means where it divides two seasons.  Precisely speaking there are four Setsubuns per year.  However, the one between winter and spring has been what we customarily indicate when we say Setsubun.  As is Groundhog Day, knowing a coming spring is the significant event in our lives thus we celebrate the day.  It’s been always the fascinating fact that we, in the East, denote an end of a season at Setsubun so that a solstice or an equinox is the middle of the following season to the contrary a beginning of a season is either at a solstice or an equinox in the Western Hemisphere.


On the day of Setsubun, which usually falls on February 3rd, we throw roasted soybeans out of the openings of our house, doors and windows, to expel any evil souls, called Oni 鬼.  Pictured here are the roasted soybeans in an oak container and paper masks denoting Onis.  Oni comes in red or blue.  A person in the family wears a mask and acts as an Oni, and the rest of us throw the soybeans at him/her in the hopes to eliminate any evil souls before welcoming new spring.  The day after Setsubun is the first day of spring in our calendar called Risshun 立春.  (An oak container like this is used to drink sake giving the oak flavor to the drink.  Sounds familiar??)

When we look around the world, we notice that there is a broad notion of a “month” that consists of around 30 days, that makes me wonder if just about every culture and/or civilization once set the movement of the Moon as an indicator of time in life as well as the Sun.  As we evolved, we couldn’t neglect the discord of those celestial bodies, so we had to find the way to compromise.  Perhaps Old Germans, as well as other Europeans, figured out what we did in the East.  Or there might have been communications between the West and the East in the past, and Groundhog Day and Setsubun might be the results of such.  We, as humans, seem to share certain omnipresent senses regardless where we physically exist.

Incidentally, I was recently asked when the Chinese New Year’s would be this year.  I would have never heard this question when I first came here over 30 years ago.  I felt so amused that I responded by asking, “do you know when the next new moon will be?”  The person who asked me the question looked startled. They are still with the Lunar Calendar, so the first of a month is always the day of new moon.  Maybe it’s a handy trick for you to remember!

Note: If you are interested in knowing more of the astronomical facts concerning Groundhog Day, visit the blog or Facebook page of Astronomy Magazine.


Songbirds November 21, 2018

The very hot and very dry summer came to an end in the middle of August when we got over 5 inches of rain within a few days. The heat continued, but the rain made a comeback to my rain gauge from time to time. A hot and dry summer is good for the grapes, but when it became rather droughty, it brought a different kind of concern to the grape growers, myself included. So, it was a welcome change to see some rain every now and then. As the grapes were already well underway to early harvest due to the mid-summer heat, that also kept the disease pressure low; occasional rainy days even felt refreshing following the extremely hot period.

At the beginning of September the rain went away somehow, and it started to dry out again. I recalled the beautiful fall weather of last year – sunny and much warmer than normal temperatures – which brought us a great harvest time. After a soggy summer, it appeared as if we’d be reliving the true summer of 2017. I started to prepare for the harvest, which was for sure to come earlier this year, without much doubt to have the same sort of harvest time as last year, based on the dry summer we’d had.

The changes happened when the remnant of tropical systems dumped the moisture in the middle of September. It was not necessarily rain, but high humidity in the forms of dews, mists and fogs all the time. There were not many occasions for the grapes to dry out; the excessive moisture promotes the growth of the spoilage microorganisms, namely bunch rot, aka botrytis, and downy mildew. Now we had to forget about the low disease pressure: we’ve got to do something! Luckily the grapes were ripening quickly so we started our harvest. Diamond came in first (if you are a fan of Evening Glow and/or Fialka, this variety gives the flavor you love), and Maréchal Foch and Pinot Noir followed.

October 2018 turned out to be another memorable month, to say the least, in which we weathered two totally separate seasons in just one month. The first half was more or less like summer, while the latter half brought a sure taste of winter. Rain also prevailed throughout the month. We tried to move along as much as we could before the spread of the diseases would become a serious threat to the grapes.

One day when I walked out from the winery barn to head back to the house, I heard a clear musical whistle in the backyard. Oh, a White-throated Sparrow! I instantly stopped to look toward the brush where the voice came from. It was another gray damp day in the first week of October. The whistle was repeated a few times then quiet down. White-throated Sparrows appear in spring when we have wet weather before trees bud out around here. They always seem to be busy feeding on the leftover seeds from the previous year, and somehow move away when the sun gets higher in the blue sky as the season progresses into summer. The misty October afternoon resembled the rainy spring weather in which I’m used to seeing them. I heard their song time to time though never caught them in sight.

We finished our harvest on October 14th and were busy processing the grapes the following day. I was a little nervous as a storm was called for in the afternoon – when we crush and press the grapes, we have to leave the front door of the winery barn wide open. The winds picked up gradually, and by early afternoon stormy looking clouds filled the sky that appeared to be getting ready to come down. I heard the distant roar over the Lake. “Must be the cold front approaching,” I thought as I’d had the same experience in the past. Fortunately, it never poured here while we were working. By shortly after sunset we finished cleaning and closed the door. I felt relieved.

The cold front swapped the season from summer to winter overnight, and it remained wet and chilly the rest of the month. I started to see Northern Juncos frequently in the yard who are messengers of the coming winter. Bluebirds were often on the power wires – do you know we have year-round bluebirds here? White-throated Sparrows were still heard in the brush in the cold rain along with the familiar voices of Cardinals, House Finches and Common Flickers.

While I waited for the foliage, the winds ripped a lot of leaves from the trees this fall. My backyard was no exception as the brush turned bare gradually as I walked back and forth between the buildings everyday. One moment I came to a halt to look around the brush – I hadn’t heard the clear whistles for a few days. It was the last week of October under the gray sky that was such an accustomed scene by then. “Maybe they left,” I thought. “I don’t know where they overwinter, but they have a place to go.”  It felt like the chilly mist was coming in from the Lake. “I’ll see you again in the spring rain.” It was my promise to the Songbirds for sure to return next year.


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