The Sweet Family in 2007

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Snow-covered pond

Bad news abounded toward the end of 2006. Char had a small stroke in November. She is not disabled in any way other than feeling tired and run down all the time. Cleo, our eldest feline, was also getting sick in November, and was diagnosed with untreatable cancer in early December. She died on 19 January 2007, just shy of 15 years of age. Click on her photo at right to get to our cat page for the latest photos. Then on the last weekend of 2006, two of my old-time paddling buddies, Warren Yeisley and Chuck Cooper, died suddenly and unexpectedly. It was not a good way to close the year and start the new one.

We had a mild winter with no snow to speak of through mid-January. Hence we got some outdoor chores done that would normally wait until spring, including some preparations for a big fence project and getting a jump on firewood requirements. I also cleared and blazed several hiking trails, which I have been wanting to do for several years. Winter clamped down in late January, with below-zero temperatures. February was the coldest of recent record, so sugar making got off to a late start. We began opening trees on 21 February but there was little flow for another week. We began our first boil on 1 March, which is the latest start we’ve ever had. The photo at right shows our pond after a late February snow.

House renovations
Belle and Betsy
Chestnut Ridge Dig
Butler Window Ledge

Sugaring wrapped up in mid-March and we began the long task of house renovations at about the same time. The first photo at left shows our small addition being put under roof on 7 August. Click on this photo to access all the details on this project. At this writing, the addition is complete except for a few finishing details. We will be taking a short break on construction until we start the big project in late winter. That involves converting the old laundry room and kitchen into an all-new kitchen and dining room. Stay tuned! Also in March, we loaned out our cabin to a couple whose own house was under construction. They were here for the entire month. We will probably be living in the cabin next year while our house is all torn up.

When I went up to feed the cattle on the evening of 4 April, most of them were lined up at the barn but Belle was standing under an apple tree some distance away and bellowing. When I went to check I found her with a newborn calf, which had not yet stood up. By the time I returned with the camera she was standing and moving around, being licked dry by her mother. When I checked again at 11 p.m., mother and daughter were both lying down, seemingly resting comfortably. We first thought it was a male but closer inspection proved otherwise. We named her Betsy.

I have been doing quite a bit of caving and related activities this year. In March and April I helped other BCCS members with a digging project that succeeded in opening up a couple of small caves. Click on the third photo at left to access a trip report on this project. I made three trips into Butler Cave this year, two of them photographic trips with Phil Lucas. The fourth photo at left is of me taken by Phil on the first of these trips in January. It is not nearly as hairy as it looks!

In May I went on a botany field trip to Elleber Run with two friends from Charlottesville. This is a high-elevation valley on the west flank of Allegheny Mountain, just across the state line in West Virginia. There is a remarkable area there where pink lady’s slipper orchids cover the ground. There are literally hundreds of them. They were not yet in bloom on that day but I went back a couple weeks later to take the photo at right.

lady's slipper
BCCS roof
blacksnake in
blacksnake out

The day after the botany trip, Chris Swezey of the U. S. Geological Survey came for a visit and we hiked all over our hills looking at the rocks. The geological strata here are the same formations as in the Butler Cave area, so it seems likely that we could have a cave on our property, though none is known so far.

On Memorial Day weekend I took a break from working on our house to help replace the roof on the Butler Cave Conservation Society’s field house near Burnsville. The field house was once the home of the Carl Butler family, then owners of Butler Cave. It was built in the mid-19th century and abandoned about 50 years ago. We replaced a deteriorating composite roof with a standing-seam metal roof, second photo at right, which should last for another century if properly maintained. That’s me in the green shirt.

When I got home from the roofing project, Char had been keeping a close eye on a large black rat snake that had taken up residence in our library. It had spent much of the afternoon stretched out on the carpet but by the time I arrived it had disappeared. A quick search revealed that it had moved into the book shelves and was curled up in the caving section in a small space between George Deike’s PhD thesis and Bögli and Franke’s Radiant Darkness. I encouraged it to come out onto the carpet again, from which I could gather it up to return it to the outdoors. We wonder how long it has been living in our house.

We have a fine young man working for us this year. Shane Wiseman is now a Junior at Highland High School, so we hope to have him for another year. He is a hard worker, knows how to do a lot of things, and is a pleasure to have around. I didn’t know they made them like that anymore! He has helped on the house project and with hay making, kept the lawns mowed, painted the entire barn roof by himself, painted several gates, split and ranked wood, and has done many other chores too numerous to list.

Kathy & Steph
Evan Bertz

We had a family reunion of sorts the first week of July, with all three daughters plus granddaughter Lynne Bertz in residence for most of the week. Kathy and Stephanie and I hiked up to the overlook on Piney Point one afternoon. Our house is in the distance over Kathy’s right shoulder in the top photo at left. The second photo shows Lynne, Beverly, Char, and Stephanie just before they left. Evan Charles Bertz was born on 26 August, so we are now great-grandparents. Whew!

A bit later in July, Char and I went up on Cedar Ridge to pick apples. While passing the namesake cedar, I noticed deep scratches on the trunk above head height. I feel sure that only a bear, a large one, could have done this. We know there are bears around but they are rarely seen.

Char at bear tree
Alden Bird, C-1

I took a day off from work the first Saturday in August and traveled to western Maryland for the slalom nationals. No, not competing. I have not raced for about 15 years but I wanted to watch the race, visit with old friends, and see the man-made whitewater course built on top of a mountain. All three goals were successfully completed. The photo at right shows Alden Bird, who finished 9th in C-1, on the course.

I have been wanting a new tractor for some while but have been putting off the decision. The old one is still in good condition but it has some shortcomings that the latest model resolve so, I finally placed my order in late July. It arrived in mid-August, seen here with the old one, both saluting. The setup on this one is quite a bit different so it took some adjustments to get it ready for the field with all of the different implements, including a trip back to the dealership, 60 miles away. Sigh. All sems to be in order now and I love most (not all) of the new features. I was able to sell the old one for a little more than I was offered on a trade in.


Shortly after we got the tractor back from its return trip to the dealer, I took it up to a friend’s place on Allegheny Mountain to do some mowing. Char rode along. We were coming home after dark with the tractor and mower on our trailer behind the truck. About five miles from home I was easing the rig up to a stop sign and stepped on the pedal for the final stop. Bam it went, to the floor. No brakes! Fortunately there was no traffic and the road is flat from there home so I eased it on in and parked. If this had happened ten miles sooner we would have been on a long downgrade coming off the mountain, where the consequences would probably have been severe. Turns out that a brake line had burst. I had all of the wheel cylinders checked and every inch of steel tubing replaced. Brake failures are scary, so expense was not a consideration.

Kathy in the Subway
Fall foliage

Caving came to the fore again in the fall. There was another Butler trip and a visit to Crossroads, which I had last seen nearly 50 years ago, and another go at the Grapevine dig, but still no real cave there. Then in late October, Phil Lucas happened to notice that a new crevice had opened up in a large sinkhole near his home. This find led to the exploration, still ongoing, of a large, totally new cave system. There have been several mapping and photography trips already. The photo at right shows Kathy Gregg beside a formation in the main passage. Click on the photo to access detailed trip reports, photos, and a line map of the Water Sinks Subway.

John has been writing — now it is Char’s turn.

2007 was pretty much a lost cause as far as I was concerned. My main activity was seeing one doctor or another and getting tests and adding and subtracting medications. The diagnosis was vertibral basilar insufficiency, and what it amounts to is not enough blood flow to the brain. My memory, never good, flickers in and out. I have had a few TIAs, which manifest themselves in numbness in my hands and feet and sometimes parts of my face, plus inability to come up with the words I want, once to the point that I couldn’t communicate. However, I don’t hurt anywhere and, though I’m tired, I feel fairly good.

After I recovered from the stroke in November 2006 I got involved in physical therapy at the Wellness Center of the Bath County Hospital. They have a crackerjack physical therapist who worked on my balance and strength and did some magical thing to any nerves that were hurting. I was sorry when he announced that I was able to continue to improve on my own. He set me up with exercises to do at home and I even did them for quite a while.

Kathy has been after me for a long time about how bad my hearing is and I decided, since I was spending practically all my time in communion with the medical community, I might as well throw in an audiologist. I got my hearing aids (yes, both ears) in January and it is amazing how much difference they make! The doctor I’m seeing has a program he refers to as auditory aerobics. He fits you with hearing aids and tests your hearing, then gives you one session a week for six weeks, then tests you again. You have a month off, then do another set and get tested again, etc. What you are doing is retraining your brain to interpret sounds, and exercising your brain by making it work creatively to work out meaning. The upshot is you get better at talking with people in a crowd, ignoring background sounds, and interpreting the sounds you haven’t heard for a while.

Char & Rudy

Char with Rudy, above, and a tiger for Evan.

White Tiger

I again went to the spring music retreat at Garth Newel in mid-March and played chamber music in a harp quintette. We are not nearly as good as the rest of the musicians who attend this retreat, but they are nice to us because we’re all a lot older than the rest of them, and we haven’t played nearly as long. They are amazed that we’ll try it! (Me, too.) A week later I played with the Allegheny Highlands Orchestra in Covington for their spring concert, which meant rehearsing during February and March. Fortunately the weather was good enough to travel most Thursdays! I took lessons through the fall, winter and spring – I think it was starting to help when my teacher got totally tied up with their summer workshop program for college music students. By the end of the summer I was starting to have more medical problems and have been more or less out of commission since. I didn’t play in the Fall concert. I also dropped all the organizations I was active in. I simply couldn’t remember what I was responsible for, when meetings and activities were, and was too tired to go anyway. This was amazingly hard to do, but is very rewarding now that I’ve accomplished it!

Since last spring I’ve been seeing a psychologist, who diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. It’s been helpful to talk to him and he’s had some suggestions about some strategies to help with the missing memory. I’m no stranger to this malady, but he had some suggestions I haven’t tried. And he has helped me deal with stress, which is a good thing, because we’re remodeling our house.

I’m really happy with my new laundry room and go into transports about my laundry sink! (It’s the little things.) If this newest medication works the miracles it’s supposed to, I will start moving unused objects out of the house into the warehouse right after the New Year. My plan is for none of the stuff I take to the warehouse to come back. I am beginning to look forward to this!

I’m really hopeful that I will be perking up over the holidays and greeting 2008 with renewed vigor and a functioning brain! Stay tuned!


Happy New Year to All
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John and Char Sweet