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 WELCOME TO MY BLOG! REFLECTIONS OF A SINGLE WOMAN'S LIFE ON AN OLD FARM.
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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A good idea gone bad.
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            Admittedly I frequently have some bad ideas, but going for a walk this morning must rank as one of the worst.  It’s hard to imagine that going for a walk could have anything but positive effects, but not so.  The short jaunt up the road to the lane leading into Ranger Ricks woods might just as well have been a ten mile trek in the wilderness considering the challenges the dogs and I encountered.
            Although this little road was in good condition, resurfacing it was on the township schedule.  I saw one of the big trucks going up the road early this morning and should have abandoned the notion of a meditative walk in the woods right then, but instead I leashed up the dogs and off we went.  Half of the road had been tarred and graveled, a process called chip and seal.  Why didn’t I recall what happened the last time they chipped and sealed this roadway?  Chip and seal now means stay at home! 
            The last incident was when Ernie was still young and just learning the meaning of “heel.”  He was however a big boy.  The road had been resurfaced a few days earlier when we headed northbound on a bright Sunday morning.  Ernie stepped in front of me.  My sandal came off and I pitched forward, falling in a heap on the sharp new gravel as the confused dogs circled, effectively tying me up with their leashes.  Neighbor Karen ran out to help and wanted to load me and the dogs in her van since my leg was bleeding profusely, but I foolishly declined her offer.  “Oh no, I’m fine, really….”  By the time we reached the woods the pain was so excruciating I had to sit on a log to recover enough to head back home.  That memory should have aborted the jaunt this morning, but it didn’t.
 
            We were almost to ET’s corn field when the convoy of huge trucks bearing hot tar, gravel, graders and vehicle of unknown purpose started toward us.  The only safe place was the ditch.  Picture the narrow road with a deep ditch on either side from which rises at a 90 degree angle a brambly ascent to adjoining fields.  With approximately 250 pounds (conservative estimate) of terrified dogs on tethers the four of us huddled in the ditch.  Ernie again freaked out and keeping him at my side was almost impossible.  Had he escaped I know he would have bolted into the path of the trucks. There was no way we could climb up the steep side to the safety of a corn or bean field.  We were stuck! 
          
Enormous truck after enormous truck beeped and ground its tedious slow path toward and past us, coming within inches of the ditch.  I’m sure the guys on the crew got a good laugh out of my predicament.  When at last they were beyond us we raced out onto the sharp stones and made our way to the first mowed area which happened to be neighbor Sandy’s.  I could hear the trucks reversing gears, thus heading northward (our direction) once again.  The lawn chairs under Sandy’s big maple tree never looked so inviting.  No one was home, but we sat in the shade and waited.  My own house was so near, yet so far.  There was no way to get there other than the roadway and the project made that exodus impossible.
            After what seemed an eternity we raced toward Rick’s gate.  Inside the gate I unleashed the terrified dogs and we started down the lane toward the woods.  Less than fifty feet into our sanctuary a big groundhog sat defiantly daring the dogs to take one more step.  This current collection of dogs is well-behaved and stayed at my side when ordered to, “Leave it….”   The late Rudy or Nettie would have been on that poor critter in a heartbeat, but Ted, Ernie (dimwit that he is) and Julie all obey. 
 
            The groundhog didn’t seem to know what to do, so he raced like a thoroughbred around and around a brush pile until we were safely past and finally into the woods which were all aflutter with monarch butterflies.  Never before have I seen so many in one place.  There were hundreds, like a flurry of leaves in a breeze.  It was quite beautiful and amazing.  Things were looking up, but the distant noise of the heavy equipment meant a return trip on the road was out of the question.  The only option was the oil road. 
          
For two decades the oil road was a sacred place that my dogs and I walked every day.  It only existed as an access path for the big tanker that collected oil from the pump jack at the end of the week.  Bordered on the east by crop fields and on the left by a dense hedgerow that was habitat to so much wildlife, the oil road was glorious and I cherished every visit there.  That was before the land was sold and a house plunked on the east side.  At that house live two big unfriendly dogs.  I never walk the oil road these days, but this morning was an exception.  Thankfully Kujo and friend were not out and we made it past without an encounter.  Whew.
  
            Since this route is no longer used, the path around the crop field and into my own woods doesn’t exist anymore, so once again we were forced to another off-limits route through neighbor Bill’s back yard.  Neighbor Bill is a lawn Nazi and his property looks like a golf course bordered by my wilderness. The dogs and I scurried through the neatly clipped greenery and cut through to my nature trail which has never looked so welcoming! 
 
            A dog walk is always meditative and relaxing, but today was anything but.  The dogs are zonked out and I plan to spend the day safely in front of this computer.   
12:03 pm edt          Comments

Monday, August 30, 2010

A new week.
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           All of yesterday afternoon I laid on the porch reading Louise Erdrich’s Tales of Burning Love.  She’s one of my favorite authors and this book, like all of her others is a ‘can’t put down’ treasure.  The air was still and heavy and stupefying.  With the stealth of a thief in the night the temperature had again crept up to ninety degrees.  It seemed to defy the steady drift of autumnal leaves from the ash trees around the porch.  By 5:00 PM T. and I decided it would be far more pleasant to read on the water, so we loaded up the kayaks and headed for the lake.
   
            A new state park just opened this weekend.  Prior to this designation it had been a private 700+ acre hunting and fishing club for employees of Goodyear.  Now it’s owned and managed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and in spite of the throng of visitors it was lovely!  The lake is bigger than the one we usually paddle and the variety of birds was amazing.  I paddled into a lily pad-clogged section and just sat quietly, apparently unnoticed by the incredible array of wildlife all around me.  Several Kodak moments presented themselves, but of course the camera was at home.  I’m in the process of shopping for a small digital camera, something less cumbersome than the big Nikon.  If only I’d had it then….
           
Today I witnessed an accident just as it happened and just as news programs replay catastrophes in slow motion, that’s how the event appeared.  Rush hour traffic was heavy and speeding along when the bird began its flight across the line of cars.  I remember thinking that he wasn’t going to make it and he didn’t.  The car ahead of me hit the catbird and whether aware of the collision or not, the driver didn’t stop.  The bird fluttered like a tissue and landed in the gravel at the edge of the pavement.  I stopped and picked up the gaping pile of blue-gray feathers and diagnosed its injury as head trauma.  Since it seemed reasonably alert considering that it had just impacted with two tons of metal I poured a few drops of water down its gullet it seemed to perk up a little more.
 
            What to do?  Take it home with me, which would have meant driving with one hand (I have a 5-speed) and then trying to find a place safe from the cats, or put it in the safe shelter of the bushes alongside the road?  After holding it for some time I opted for the latter.  Had I left it where it landed after the hit-run driver knocked it out of the air, it surely would have perished, so if  it isn’t there tomorrow I’ll console myself with the notion that it revived and flew away.  As far as I’m concerned, every creature counts.
6:30 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The proof is in the pudding.
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         I’ve been indulging myself this weekend, being downright lazy, reading and dining with friends.  Last evenings dinner was a “garden medley” on the porch.  Most of the food served came from either my or Sandy’s gardens.  Eating on the porch has something no restaurant can offer aside from old Betty on the table…. 
 
            Volunteer tomato vines that have thrived amidst the cleome and rose bushes actually took over an entire corner of the brick porch, twining around the chair and cascading off one side of the table.  I had to chop away and discard much of it, something thrifty Virgos have a tough time doing, but I’ve found myself doing some very uncharacteristic things lately.  Yesterday I actually purchased new vacuum cleaner bags from the hardware!  No more recycling for a while. No more of those annoying dirt explosions from bags stapled together one too many times, but the price I paid at the hardware was simply stunning,  so the bag search at rummage sales will continue. 
           My friend S. made a birthday cake for me which had pudding between the layers.  “I had a lot of pudding, so I just used it all,” S. said.  Sadly as the cake rode in the back seat of her car to the party all that pudding sent the layers of cake in opposite directions.  In spite of appearances it tasted great and isn’t it the thought that counts anyway? 
         
Kenny’s pyromania has now expanded to the ribbon of weeds between the road and the corn field.  Judging from the long blackened strip he must have had a pretty good blaze going.  The subject of Kenny came up at dinner Friday night and our police chief shared a story that typifies Kenny’s unflappable demeanor. 
 
            A few years ago, long before farmer Chuck took over property maintenance at the farm, one of Kenny’s fires got out of hand.  Driving by, the chief saw the blaze and immediately put in a call for the fire department to “expedite” as the flames were licking dangerously close to Kenny’s hay-filled barn.  As the chief worked frantically with a shovel trying to suppress the blaze Kenny just stood by watching.  Finally, he casually remarked, “Looks like it might be gettin’ ahead of you….”
  
            As luck would have it the fire department arrived, extinguished the fire and as Kenny had intended all along, the place was tidied up.  The charred weeds soon sent up new growth and life returned to normal.  This road would be less interesting without old Kenny.

11:04 am edt          Comments

Friday, August 27, 2010

Such a simple project...
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            Perhaps one of the most critical pieces of equipment on any farm is the wheelbarrow.  A good serviceable wheelbarrow is indispensable.  I have two. A fiberglass and wood model that my mom got me for my birthday in 1990 is used for garden tasks.  The other relic (origin long forgotten) is used at the barn.  The birthday model has held up pretty well, but now the metal frame work is bent and rusty which renders it unstable with a heavy load.  The one at the barn, AKA the poop trolley weighs as much as a car, but it has a sturdy oak framework.   The metal body however has so many big holes in it that tossing donkey poop into it makes as much sense as tossing it on the floor.  A new wheelbarrow costs over $100.00, so I’ve been hoping to find a replacement at rummage sales all summer long.
            Imagine my joy when casually perusing the wares at the little thrift store in town I found almost what I was looking for.  It’s not a classic wheelbarrow, but a sturdy, fiberglass dump wagon with two wheels and a deep body.  The price was a mere $25.00 and some guy even loaded it in the truck for me.  It was like an early birthday present to myself, but like so many ‘thrifty things’ around here it was not without problems.
  
            As I yanked it from the truck bed the new wagon fell from the tailgate and one of the wheels instantly broke.  It was no one’s fault but my own.  The air was blue with muttered profanity as I cursed my carelessness.  Not only was I now the unfortunate owner of two damaged vehicles intended to make chores easy, but three!  A new search was launched for a replacement wheel.
  
            I called all logical sources only to find that a brand new wheel cost far more than the dump wagon itself. I visited farm supply stores and bike shops and thrift stores and shopped on line.  Clever friends suggested I replace both wheels with tires from a little kids’ bike, but this meant the entire axel would also have to be replaced.  The project was getting complicated.  I took the broken wheel everywhere I went, just in case something suitable appeared.  It’s amazing how many things have wheels almost, but not quite the right size.  Baby strollers, golf club carts (the kind you pull behind by hand),  toys, lawn mowers, the list goes on and on, but nothing was just the right size or thickness.
            In desperation today I took a hammer to the broken wheel, pounded it into a close facsimile of its original shape and then retrieved that other ‘must-have’ from the workshop:  DUCT TAPE to the rescue.  The little cart is almost as good as new.  Happy birthday to me!
 
            The project tomorrow will be to marry the other two damaged wheelbarrows, putting the good body on the good frame and tossing the rest.  It’s easy to engineer jobs like this, but I readily admit that I am not mechanically inclined and so projects never ever go as planned.  I’ve already been told that the bolts will have to be cut loose using the Sawzall and this sounds like a prescription for injury.  Keep fingers crossed.
            The weather has cooled down considerably and this draws attention to how much must be done before winter.  One especially objectionable job involves ripping down the ceiling insulation in the barn workshop and replacing it with something more durable.  For many years mice have called that fiberglass batting home.  They’ve made more deposits than I care to think about and they’ve birthed babies which have fallen to the floor like pink jelly beans.  It will be a hideous job and I don’t want to do it.
  
            There are some kids up the road that look to be of an age that might be up for the task if the price is right.  I’m going to make them an offer they can’t refuse.           
4:40 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Too much of a good thing?
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            The freezer is ready to burst and I’m tired of all this preparing for Armageddon.  I sure won’t starve this winter.  As usual, all of this bounty has come at once and it can’t be ignored.  I even bought more corn from Mr. S today.  He’s the dad of the S. clan, sort of elderly and he really seems to be enjoying having the little corn stand on the side of the road.  I told him how good his corn was and he told me he uses no chemical sprays.  Even better!  We made small talk and  I said I think it’s important to patronize local growers.  He beamed with pride. 
          
There is one new chick at the barn and Buffy, the hen who stole the peep is proving to be a lazy mom.  The little chick is learning to survive with little help from any of the other chickens.  The other two hens continue staring mindlessly into space as they each set on two eggs that are probably duds.  They are determined to increase the poultry population here.  I have noticed a similar determination among the wild birds.

          
First I noticed doves busy building more of their shoddy nests.  Dove nests must rank as the most poorly-c0nstructed nurseries of any species. It’s a miracle they manage to propagate at all.  Next I saw a robin choosing construction materials for a nest.  Robins are anal-retentive builders that take great care to find just the perfect material to create their deluxe accommodations.  Then just yesterday I watched a pair of cardinals setting up housekeeping in the tree near the porch.  It is very unlikely any of these efforts will come to fruition as by the time they build the nest (shoddy or deluxe), lay the eggs, incubate and hatch them, the weather will be getting chilly.  Of course the fledglings must mature quickly to survive the cold.  I don’t think it’s going to happen, but this behavior does foretell a hard winter. 
 
            I look forward to it.
6:36 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Corn $2.00 dozen
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            The faded sign was hardly legible and for a minute I thought my eyes were deceiving me.  $2.00 a dozen for fresh corn?  I pulled off the road and stopped behind a car that bore several hostile bumper stickers.  The driver was chatting with the old fellow who was sitting on the tailgate of his corn-filled truck.  I took my time getting out to avoid any kind of confrontation with “the enemy.”  Fortunately he hopped into his hate-mobile and drove off before I had my door open.  I know I’m an outsider in these parts and as such I go to great pains to avoid any and all conversations that might involve politics or religion. 
          
Approaching the cheery old guy sitting on the tailgate I say, “Boy, only $2.00 a dozen!  ‘Must be a price war going on.”  He laughs and says that’s the going price this year.  Maybe on that corner, but not at the stands north of my place.
 I silently wonder how anyone can afford to plant, harvest and sell a crop for so little.
           Then the questions begin; “You live around here?” he asks.  I tell him where I live and he says, “Well, then you know me.  I’m one of the S’s.  I’ve got that big red barn over there on Tyro…” He points.  “You’re up there by Smitty, aren’t ya?”
  
            The S. clan dominates this area.  They’re a big family of mostly dairy farmers.  I acknowledge his family connection and this launches the name dropping that’s part of all country dialog.  We go through everyone on my road, and then his face goes serious and he says apologetically, “This corn’s just not as nice as I wish, so I’m givin’ ya 14 ears.”  He pulls down the husk, exposing plump yellow and white kernels.  It looks very nice to me.
            Back home I quick cook a couple of ears and the taste is wonderful.  He’d said he’d just picked it this morning and I know that was the truth.  Freshly picked corn has a unique taste—delicious.
            So, on top of all the other things I’ve been “putting up” (as my neighbors say) I also put up some corn today.  So far I’ve made vats of tomato sauce with varying additions, many containers of pesto, several bags of beautiful green peppers and I’ve really only just begun.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s satisfying work.   Knowing how and where food was grown is a good feeling.  It's the reason I keep chickens and put in a garden.  Tomorrow I’ll “put up” some more corn. 
 
            Kenny brought me another prezzie.  I found the plastic bag full of peaches and my returned pie plate hanging on the gate.  The soiled pie plate still bore traces of the pie, but the peaches are lovely.  Dear old Kenny doesn't place much importance on cleanliness.
  
            In town is a store that specializes in close out merchandise.  Each spring a marvelous selection of trees appear on the curb in front of this store and each year I buy a couple of new fruit trees.  There’s a great variety from which to choose, everything from cherry trees to ornamentals.  They are healthy specimens, quite big and very inexpensive.  The only problem is that not one of the trees that I have purchased to date has been what the identification tag has claimed. 
           The “dwarf Bartlett pear” is a gigantic thing that produces boatloads of big, hard pears that are most definitely not Bartletts.
 The “dwarf Red Delicious” is the size of a large maple tree, but at least it does produce Red Delicious apples.  The two “Red haven” peach trees turned out to be white peaches.  It didn’t matter to me.  They were delicious, but within just a few years the trees began to die.  An orchard owner told me to cut them down and start over. 
            “Once a tree gets like that, there’s just nothing you can do to save it,” he said, so after cutting away as much of the dead as I could reach it looked as if his prediction was right on.  But since several bird houses hang in those two trees I was reluctant to remove them. I planned to wait until this autumn and bought another peach tree and another pear tree, neither of which has produced anything at all this year.
            As if the two doomed peach trees knew what was in store for them they rallied and I’m now picking and eating nice big white peaches from their gnarly withered limbs.  How can I cut them down now?  Plan B calls for cutting them back to almost nothing this fall to see if they put out new growth next spring.  Their execution has been postponed.
5:01 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

No joy ride.

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            It was Martin Luther King Day, a blustery January 15, some sixteen plus years ago when Jill and I set off to collect a little black and white goat about the size of a house cat.  His life had been launched under less than ideal conditions.  A careless mother gave birth to him during a bitter cold spell, then she stepped on the kid and injured a back foot that would forever be deformed.  The tips of his little frost-bitten ears were blackened and eventually fell off.  Jill named him Martin.
            At the time n
either of us guessed what a character this guy would become.  The previous owner represented him as a pygmy, but that was clearly false advertising.  He grew and grew and grew.  The vet who later dehorned him didn’t do a very good job, so instead of the two nicely formed horns which were removed, Martin grew three new stubbly nubs. 
         
           
His constant companions were Large Marge, the recently deceased Pot-belly pig and Weebles.  Weebles is a miniature horse who was also born with some serious issues, but surgeries rendered him healthy and sound, albeit with very deformed legs. He and the goat are best buddies.  Martin’s most recent friend is Chuck the duck.
           
          
During their younger days the unlikely pig, goat and horse trio gave tremendous joy to the residents of a home for profoundly retarded individuals.  Everyone adored the troupe of four-legged clowns.  The staff even set up a table with bowls of carrot chunks, apples and other treats for the residents to feed them.  Marge and Weebles were always polite and very well-mannered, but Martin saw these excursions as little more than all you can eat buffets.  While the pig and horse were graciously accepting hugs and pets from the residents, Martin would be sneaking over to the table helping himself to snacks.
            
          At home he proved himself an escape artist which to this day gives Jill much grief.  He can circumvent any fence, even hot-wired.  Martin always seemed to be in some kind of trouble, but in spite of his shortcomings he was and is much loved, so when he began favoring a front leg, it was cause for concern. 
           
         “Martin’s going to the vet.  Do you want to come along?” asked my daughter.  Of course I did, so once again she and I and the no longer small goat went for a ride.  Around 7:00 PM Jill arrived with the bleating, stinking goat in the cab of her truck.  He complained the entire way to the vet, but was very compliant at the clinic where he was diagnosed with arthritis.  Most goats don’t live 16 ½ years, but other than his bum leg he’s a picture of health, so he’s now on anti-inflammatory meds and back home with Weebles and Chuck.  

           
Is it any surprise that Jill calls her place Cripple Creek?  It is home to every scratch and dent critter that comes along, but once there, they live long happy lives.  I think her dad and I raised a very special person.
11:19 am edt          Comments

Monday, August 23, 2010

Got milk?
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            If you do, I sure hope it’s pasteurized.  I’d been drinking old Kenny’s milk for three days and for three days I’d been experiencing severe stomach problems.  Well, that’s putting it mildly….  The heavy cream from Cow’s rich milk in my morning coffee really tasted great and I thought myself lucky to have this luxury.  All would be well until around noon.  Then, with little warning my stomach would begin to growl and rumble and blow up like a hot air balloon.  I should have put two and two together after the first attack.  T. explained that warm milk as if comes from any cow needs to be cooled to 40 degrees within an hour of leaving the udder.  Clearly, Kenny does not observe this rule of basic milk safety.

           
Kenny just strains the milk through a sieve of sorts into a bucket which is then immersed in a sink with about six inches of cold water in it; hardly  adequate to cool the milk enough to prevent the growth of bacteria.  T. says that my malady was definitely related to Kenny’s “farm fresh” milk.  I’ve gone back to Horizon organic milk for my morning coffee. 

           
I suppose that a lifetime of consuming raw milk has given Kenny immunity to such bacteria.  Lord knows he’s healthy enough!  I’m all for the raw milk movement that’s underway, but with some regulations.  My kitties are now enjoying it with their breakfasts since it doesn’t seem to bother them, but I doubt that even seven cats can drink the two gallons in the fridge before it goes bad.  As much as I hate to waste anything, I think it's better to be safe than sorry.  No more drinking Cow's milk and no more dinners at the home of my friend who called this morning.

            This
slightly eccentric pal bemoaned “the shrew problem in the kitchen….”   Really, now how much of a problem could short tailed shrews be in one’s kitchen I wondered?  I’ve had the occasional unwilling shrew brought in by a cat, but such instances have been rare indeed.   I suggested the obvious; simply catch it and take it outside, but my friend informed me the problem goes beyond a single shrew.  There are several and they are living on her kitchen counter, carrying off slices of bread, eating peanut butter and she says one even ate part of her dog’s Prozac pill.  Can you imagine!

           
           
I’m loaning her my multi-mouse tumble gym which is capable of capturing up to nine mice (so probably an equal number of shrews…) unhurt for release into a more natural habitat.  FYI:  Shrews are one of very few venomous mammals in North America which is why cats are not interested in eating the little buggers.  As for me, I will be declining future dinner invitations there.

 
9:49 am edt          Comments

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Celebrate life!
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My birthday is fast approaching; an event that usually launches predictable weeks of gloom and doom.  Another year older.  What have I accomplished?  Whine, whine, whine….  Not this year.  I am celebrating my life and I’ve started early by treating myself.  Some ‘treats’ were necessities, like the eye surgery.  In spite of the $5,000.00 deductible insurance, this was something that needed to be done and now it is done and I am delighted.  Other ‘treats’ included a cordless hedge trimmer, a tool I’d hoped for years to find at some rummage sale, but alas when I did find one it didn’t have the power pack to make it work.  I sprung for a brand new one and used it today for the first time.  What a joy!  Worth every penny!
           
           Today I made the first pesto of the season.  When the snow flies I’ll only have to open one of the frozen containers of this delicious aromatic treat and it will be summer all over again.  I have several new writing projects underway and an upcoming trip, this time to the southwest.  So why should I even entertain the notion of being gloomy just because another year has rolled by?  How foolish!  
           
           Yes, there have been some bad times, the worst being the loss of my beloved Nettie. And there have been some little accidents too, but all in all this has been a very good year.  Nettie is gone, but now I have Julie.  Thanks to a wonderful surgeon I can see much better and I’ve made some wonderful new friends this year as well, some I’ll be spending time with this evening.  I have a terrific daughter, I’m healthy and my life has purpose.  There’s an opulent bouquet of dahlias on the sideboard and life is good, so I’m celebrating it!
2:54 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, August 21, 2010

It's a bright, bright, sunshiny day!
            I had eye surgery yesterday morning and spent the rest of the day in a drug-induced stupor.  It was heaven except for the times of lucidity when it felt like someone had hit me in the head with a brick.  ‘Awoke this morning to a whole new world.        
           Although still quite swollen and bruised I can see so much better than I ever believed possible.  My vision has been problematic since I was four years old, but thankfully I’ve always been able to see, albeit in slightly distorted ways (both literally and figuratively).  
           
           Never ever take your sight for granted!  Take care of your eyes.  I must go lie down again with a package of frozen peas on my face to reduce the swelling, but just wanted to report that all is well.  I’m delighted.  More later.
3:02 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Changes.
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            I must correct something regarding the last post lest some reader try to fashion a door closer with a spent 9 volt battery. The one used for Kenny’s door closer was not a 9 volt (which I’ve since learned is the little bitty thing used in smoke alarms), but the big square battery common in lanterns.  Sorry.                  
          Work was underway when I returned the big pail that had contained the chilled milk Kenny had sent home with me earlier.  Since Farmer Chuck’s intervention I never know what to expect when I round the curve at the end of the long lane.  Most recent has been the transformation of a previously peeling white clapboard building to bright blue steel siding from top to bottom. It’s nothing less than stunning, to say the least.
           
           A beautiful rambling rose forced to compete with poison ivy, thistles and miscellaneous trash used to cover the ramshackle building with a fragrant blanket of scarlet blooms.  Now the rose and all of the other stuff that defines Kenny’s farm is gone from that area.  Not even a weed survives around the base of the newly-roofed and sided structure.  I’ve never seen a building entirely shrouded in blue.  Like I said, it was stunning.  A couple of long-haired workers were busy putting firring strips on another distant building.
           
          “We used to keep a 1928 Buick in there,” Kenny recalls.  “Sometimes it wouldn’t start and you’d have to give it a crank.”  He smiles at the memory and then tells me the siding on that building is going to be gray, but that he really likes blue.  Half of the roof on his house is blue and he himself is always dressed in blue.  Even Kenny’s eyes are blue.
           
          I remark that a lot is going on and he says that some of the buildings need some repairs.  That’s an understatement, but at almost 90 years old I can’t help but wonder why he’s addressing repairs now.  I say the building looks nice, but in all honesty I liked it better when it was covered with roses.
           
          Chuck keeps the grass around the house neatly mowed, but each vehicle in Kenny’s ever-growing fleet is surrounded by long tufts of green.  Chuck just mows around them.  Kenny’s late sister Ethel’s old silver car now appears to serve as a storage space for cleaning supplies.  There’s even a vacuum cleaner in the driver’s seat.  Old blue, Kenny’s favorite truck is sort of like an emergency shelter on wheels.  Through the window I see clothing, canned goods, jugs, blankets and the ubiquitous newspapers used as fuel for impromptu fires along his lane.
           
          The black Volvo station wagon just doesn’t look right in this scenario.  It should be parked at one of the McMansions over the hill.  Kenny rarely drives the Volvo.  His latest vehicle is a bright red 4x4 truck.  Like the blue truck the red one has a generous supply of newspapers.  What else might be in there is anyone’s guess.
           
          Back at the barn I discreetly kick away some of the litter from the narrow path.  Several old license plates catch my eye and I ask if I might take a couple to use as roofs on my birdhouses.  “Take all you want,” he says and before I know it he’s collecting a pile of plates.  No bird will suffer a leaky roof next spring.
           
8:49 pm edt          Comments

Morning at Kenny's.
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            I took a cherry pie up to Kenny's this morning.  Now I have a big jug of fresh milk in my fridge.  A visit to Kenny’s is something to cherish and today was extra special.           
            
“I just call her Cow,” says Kenny as he glides through the rubble and trash that fill the barn.  No one else could “glide” through the mess, but Kenny does.  I pick my way carefully along the tiny path leading to the milk house.  Somewhere under all the junk is a half-buried tractor beyond which is the milkhouse.  Scraps of tacked-on cardboard cover the broken window panes in the door.
           
          “Gee Kenny,” I say, “Looks like you could use some help here.  I could tidy up this milk house for you,” I offer.  He says it’s okay and picks up a bucket to rinse out with a hose that invisibly snakes amidst miscellaneous jars, tools, empty medicine bottles and stainless steel milk cans. Kenny moves at a slow, but steady pace through the chores he’s performed all his life.  We pass through an adjoining room, crunching over sheets of broken window glass and he pushes open the door to the lower part of the barn.  It closes soundly behind us.  
           
        Kenny has devised a clever use for dead 9 volt batteries.  With a few strategically-placed fence staples to guide the baling twine cable with dead battery attached, he’s made an effective door closer, much like the one that holds the door to his mail box closed.
            
        The huge bank barn floor is soft under foot with a thick layer of manure and hay, but it’s littered with empty cans of all sorts and ages, old harness parts, broken pitch forks and other implements, heaps of baling twine and a big old crock that  I’d love to have on my porch.  At the far end of this oddly-comfortable jumble stands Cow, Kenny’s big Milking Shorthorn.  Her calf which was born in April is still nursing.
            
        “I’d like to find someone with a shorthorn bull, but no one seems to have ‘em anymore,” he says.  It’s true.  Only folks like Kenny still appreciate breeds like Cow.             
            Cow looks at me with interest as if to ask what I’m doing there.  I snap photos while Kenny and I wait for the big calf to finish breakfast.  He tells me about a time he was helping Smith (someone I don’t know…) whose cow was “a kicker.” 
           
         “She pulled my arm right out the socket,” he says demonstrating how it dangled until he went to a “kwyer-prakter” who put it back in place for $7.00.  The calf peeks under Cow, his muzzle all frothy with milk.  He’s had enough, so Kenny collects the little milking stool and a contraption I’ve never anywhere before.
           
          Over her back he places the rubber-sheathed, half-loop of tubing that reaches down either side of the animal.  On top is a metal crank which Kenny tightens.  Cow seems oblivious to the procedure.  “This keeps her from kicking,” he explains.  I can’t imagine that Cow would even think about kicking Kenny.  Then he tucks Cow’s manure-laden tail under the crank, pulls the little stool into place and asks if I’d like to milk her.  I decline.  I’d rather photograph this rare scene of yesteryear.  
           
        “I used to milk about 20 cows,” he says as he wipes each teat with whatever concoction is in the bucket.  “14 on this side and 7 on that side….”  Then, with the same deliberate slowness he takes the bucket to the door and dumps the wash water outside.  Kenny never hurries.
           
        
I took a lot of photos this sunny morning and spent a long time listening to Kenny's ramblings.  I’ll share more of this special day later, but don’t expect anything tomorrow.  I’m having eye surgery at 8:15 am and doubt that I’ll be in any shape to sit at this computer when the ordeal is finished.  This operation is no big deal, just a minor fix of a hereditary issue.  Nothing to worry about.
12:13 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Life is a poem.


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            I’ve been spending a great deal of time at this computer since returning from Canada, so last night, just around dusk the dogs and I went for a walk.  Regardless of the season I always whisper Robert Frost’s  Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening as we enter the woods.  There is an art to reciting poetry aloud, one that I don’t feel I’ve mastered at all, but it’s pleasantly challenging.           
          When I was in high school and madly in love with Edgar Allan Poe I memorized The Raven in its entirety.  I’ve been out of high school for a long time, hence I can no longer recite The Raven.
           
          
Critics often suggest Frost’s poem is dark in the psychological sense, but I don’t think it is.  I can see how they’ve come to this interpretation; some even implying that the speaker was contemplating suicide, but that his link with the little horse keeps him from carrying out the idea.  I must be naïve.  I love this poem and several other Frost poems and prefer not to think of it in such ominous ways.
           
          Our woods were indeed lovely, dark and deep.  The dogs and I will go again this evening.

  Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I've promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.

10:08 am edt          Comments

Monday, August 16, 2010

Get angry and get motivated.
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            My sincere apologies for the last few abbreviated dull posts.  The reason is that the “upgrades” to my server have caused one gigantic headache and have made posting to the blog a complicated and very annoying effort.  I’m not certain how to resolve this, but I am working on the problem.  Sorry….                    
       Being involved both in animal welfare and in communications I receive a lot of email regarding subjects I’ve written about in the past.  One such subject is the BLM management of America’s wild horses and burros.  In a nutshell, the “management” as it currently exists is a nightmare.  Wasteful, inefficient, cruel and utterly contrary to what was intended when the Free Roaming Wild Horse & Burro Act was passed in the 1970’s.
           
      One relentless advocate for justice in this issue is Ginger Kathrens, although she is far from being the only one.  Ms. Kathrens has extensively and wisely documented this flawed policy.  In her quest for change she sends periodic updates.  I hope all readers will take a minute to look at her most recent which documents California’s bloody round up of 2,000 animals.  Be sure to look at the cost factor in this idiocy!
http://www.thecloudfoundation.org/            
      It’s horribly depressing to read about such actions which are being paid for with our tax dollars.  Why this continues is because of the powerful influence of ranchers who can lease the public lands (that are supposed to be sanctuaries for these Federally protected equine) for about $2.00 per cow AND her calf.  Obviously the cattle compete with the horses for the marginal forage on much of this land.
           
       
I have been to some of these ranges and have seen the animals up close and personal. I’ve met former range managers who were caring, competent and who offered logical solutions, but one outstanding woman in particular became so discouraged by the bureaucracy that she finally quit.  I’m sure the BLM was happy to no longer have to deal with such a highly-qualified and principled employee.
             
      Whether one regards these horses as feral or as symbols of the Old West or native wildlife is irrelevant. That argument is another can of worms.  Regardless, they are supposed to be protected, but only a token few will remain unless the status quo changes and change only happens when people become informed, enraged and energized.  I hope that at least one reader will be so affected after looking at the Cloud Foundation site.        
7:17 pm edt          Comments

Cooperation.
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“I’m so sick of tomatoes,” complained a friend.  I’m not sick of tomatoes.  I covet that friend’s tomatoes since I have to keep a constant vigil to protect my paltry crop from the donkeys, but the hoola hoop has been invaluable in this ongoing challenge.  It was without a doubt the best dollar I have ever spent. 
            While I purchased it thinking Corkey and Andy would have a ball playing with it, they were and remain terrified of the intended toy.  Hence, the hoop is now a “training tool.”  I keep it strategically placed between the fence through which they pull tomato leaves and the plant and unless the hoop falls out of place the threatened plant is safe.  I’m looking for more hoops.  Who knew!!!           
            Work is pouring in and for this I’m very grateful.  There is much talk about the demise of the publishing industry and in fact many magazines and newspapers have gone out of business, but I believe that those publications that have tightened their belts, cut pages, offered advertising specials and most importantly, have worked with writers who like myself have agreed to temporary or one-time-only compromised pay are secure.  I also believe that as a writer I have an obligation to help ensure their survival.  It’s a win-win situation, but only if both sides work together.
            
             While sitting in the barnyard with the donkeys the other evening the rooster began making a terrible fuss, running in circles and squaking up a storm.  I looked over my shoulder just in time to see a hungry, redtail hawk light on the fence not four feet above several hens who seemed utterly oblivious.  I leapt to my feet and heaved a stick at the hawk who clearly had a chicken dinner in mind.  He flew off and Pinhead the rooster breathed a sigh of relief.  
            No, this is not a hawk, but a vulture.  I like its silhouette against that blue sky anyway.
1:05 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ingrates.


            This weather has nothing to recommend it!  While it is uncomfortable for me, it is torture for the donkeys.  Even though they are bad under the best of circumstances, I still cannot bear to see them tormented by horrendous deer flies.  I spray them several times a day, but the flies just laugh at even the most potent “repellents.”           
            Today I scrubbed their fly-bitten legs with cool sudsy water and a stiff brush, then rinsed them with cold water.  It was obvious by their cooperation that this felt good.  They even stood obediently as I sprayed them with Deep Woods Off.  I know the relief was welcomed, but as soon as I finished with their spa treatment they were right back to old tricks.
           

           The sun blasts through the south facing windows in their stall, so I stapled a sheet over the opening.  Flies are attracted by that intense sunshine, so I figured that blocking it out without totally eliminating the air flow combined with the air circulated by the fan would be a fly deterrent and make the stall something of a sanctuary.           
            No sooner had I returned to the house and the brats had ripped down the sheet (which I thought was so positioned to make it unreachable…) and they have transformed it to the toy du jour.  I give up on those two.
           
           Ironically when I got back to the house the phone was ringing.  It was my artist friend Rose asking me to critique a large drawing she’s working on.  She didn’t say what the subject was, so I was really surprised to see my two bad asses immortalized in colored pencil.  She captured not only their physical appearance, but their underlying mischievous personalities.  As soon as she pronounces the work “finished” I will post the image.  It’s quite wonderful and it will be offered for sale at Second April Gallery in Canton, Ohio.

6:17 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Memories.

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For some reason I've been thinking about my mother lately and today I came across this. I wrote it shortly after she died and called it "The Back Yard." Whether it's good or not, I don't know.  That wasn't important when I wrote it and it isn't important now.  It's just how I felt at the time and rereading it today was to relive a cold heavy day one January a long time ago.

            The gravel in the driveway crunched beneath my weary feet as I approached neighbor Anne‘s house.  Inside, the warm smells of coffee and something baking in the oven offered brief comfort as I repeated the prognosis. “The nurse says it won’t be long now.”

             It sounded like a weather bulletin;  The storm will be coming ashore today, but we don’t have an exact time just yet.  Anne was grateful for the update and said she would tell the rest of the neighbors, so my mother’s friends would have a chance to say their goodbyes. 

            The cold January air slapped my face as I stepped from Anne’s steamy kitchen and returned to the place that had always been home.  It was “spitting rain”—as my mother might have said.  Walking around the backyard in the gray mist it was surprising to see how little had changed over the decades.

            There was the big maple tree bare and lonely now, but every April, predictable as spring rain, three clumsy metal lawn chairs would be hauled from their winter post in the garage and positioned in the shade of the luxuriant maple.  That used to be my father’s job, but when he died the task fell to anyone who was available.  By late October the chairs would be returned to the garage and snugly tucked against the boat that had sat unused for countless years.  Like a lot of the stuff that had been there as long as I could remember, the chairs were a reminder of happier healthier times.

            They were originally red. Then someone painted them green and when my mother became too weak to do it herself I’d given them a coat of sunny yellow enamel.  Lugging them into the garage as the leaves began to fall I knew the old chairs had probably seen their last year under the maple tree.  When he delivered the news of my mother’s condition the doctor had simply said, “She won’t see another summer.”

            Shreds of her garden poked above the skimpy blanket of dissipating snow.  Next spring pansies and daffodils, orange poppies, pink and white peonies and blue asters would surprise some new family.  Later the scent of roses would drift across the lawn and seep into the strangers’ kitchen window.  A flurry of blooms would continue right until it was time to put the old lawn chairs back into the garage for winter. 

            I suspected the new people would probably trash the chairs and get something prettier and less cumbersome, something weather resistant that could be left out year round.  It was hard to imagine that I’d never again sit under the maple tree admiring my mother‘s gardens.  I could only hope someone else would appreciate them.

            I looked at the dry flower stalks that she had been too tired and weak to cut back and heap on the compost pile as she had done since I was a child.  I never got around to cutting them back either.  There were so many other more-pressing demands.  Now their brittle stems stood like sentinels guarding the soon to be empty house.

            I swept the scant snow from the sidewalk to avoid going back inside to confront the face of death and remembered the year when creating the walk was a major masonry project.  My Uncle Bill and neighbor Brookie had engineered a cement pathway intended to last as long as the pyramids. It circled the house from front to rear, and then an arm split off to define the north and south halves of the back yard.  The cement was still as level as the day they poured it.  The steps to the back porch had presented the men a challenge that was disasterous from the start, but replacing them had never even been a consideration. 

            There should have been four steps instead of three, but when everyone was young it didn‘t matter that the risers were far too steep to be practical.  Back then folks sprinted up to the porch without much effort.  Later, when they had trouble lifting their tired legs so high, the men installed an ugly railing fashioned from plumbing pipe so they could pull themselves up like mountaineers. Like the cement the railing had held up well over the years. 

            Still screwed into an outer corner of the porch was a rusty hook just like one on the garage. It was put there for the clothesline that used to criss-cross the yard, then terminate at a post set amidst the roses.  Every Monday my family’s dirty laundry was bleached to blinding whiteness and hung out for all the neighbors to see.  The post in the roses finally rotted off, but that probably didn’t matter anymore.  Not many people hang clothes out to dry these days.

            Again I wondered what kind of people would live in the house where I had grown up.  The house where my mother had also grown up, married and lived right up to this day when she was predicted to finally leave forever.  Feeling as weary as my mother’s old friends, I grabbed the plumbing pipe railing and pulled myself up to the porch where a red squirrel sat on the banister eating corn from the bird feeder I’d filled early that morning. 

            He was used to visitors, but froze in place as I approached.  My mother had named this squirrel Skimpy because of his ratty tail.  He was so tame.  Just weeks ago he was taking walnuts right from her fingers, resting his little paws ever so carefully on her thin crepey skin.  Now he held a kernel of corn in his tiny hands and stopped chewing until the wooden door to the kitchen closed behind me. Only then did he resume his meal.  I’d have to remember to ask Anne to keep feeding him this winter.  There was just so much to remember....

 

 

2:42 pm edt          Comments

Friday, August 13, 2010

Randy Rooster--or not...

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            The dictionary defines randy as lustful or lecherous.  That was precisely why Randy Rooster was so named, but as you may recall Randy was decapitated by the weasel that invaded the hen house earlier this year.  Pinhead, so named because his head was so small it almost didn’t exist survived without a scrape. 

            During Randy’s reign the hens hatched several clutches of eggs, but now one of Randy’s offspring has been setting a nest since I returned from Canada.  She probably began this vigil while I was gone, so these eggs should soon be peeping.  I hear no sign of life from within any of them. 

            Pinhead has matured to quite a handsome cockerel with a normal size head. He crows to welcome each morning, has proven himself a good sentry when danger approaches his flock and is docile enough to come when called, but tonight it dawned on me that I have never witnessed any amorous behavior from Pinhead.  Never.  This suggests that the poor little golden hen may be wasting her time staring mindlessly into space as she sits atop a pile of infertile eggs in the laying box. 

            For the first time ever, rather than seeking a “good home for nice rooster,” I may actually be in the market for a rooster,   I’ll wait one more week before starting Pinhead on Viagra.

 

 

8:07 pm edt          Comments

Rural delivery.
This afternoon T.'s dog brought him a can of marinara sauce.  This was not something from T.'s kitchen, but from the side of the road.  The only damage to the can was the puncture from the dog's tooth.  If this mystery continues none of us will have to go into town for groceries!
7:33 pm edt          Comments

Pitching pickles.

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            Now, you’ve just got to ask yourself WHY someone would drive down the road throwing cucumbers at mailboxes.  I guess kicks just keep getting harder to find.  Maybe I should start tossing these jumbo yellow squash that seem to multiply every hour.  Neighbor Sandy has some extra zucchini. We could turn the road could into a pick-your-own market, but in this case it would be a pick UP your own produce.   In spite of the weather some of my garden is doing extremely well.  I can’t recall ever having so many lovely green bell peppers, but I will not be tossing them along the roadsides!

 

 

2:20 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Waste not, want not???

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            I grew up believing that my family didn’t know where its next meal was coming from.  This wasin fact not the case, but to say that my mother was frugal would be a gross understatement.  Maybe it her Depression Era upbringing that made her so, well…so thrifty?  Baths were limited to once a week and even then I was only permitted 2” of tepid water.  If she were not home I’d hurry upstairs and fill the old claw-foot tub with about a foot of hot water and hop in for a real bath, but it was never really enjoyable because I’d worry myself sick that when the water bill arrived she would know and all hell would break loose.  There were very few pleasures to be had on Fifth Street and a luxurious bath was certainly not one of them.

            My clothes were hand me downs or in extravagant times (like the beginning of a school year) they came from W. T. Grant.  “It is exactly the same stuff that is sold in those fancy stores,” my mother would claim.  Even as a kid I knew that was not true.  My clothes were stiff as boards that first week at school, loaded with sinus-burning sizing, but after the first laundering my blouses looked as if they’d been made from toilet paper. 

            And so is it any wonder that I myself am thrifty?  I am, but not to the point of deprivation. I think that by being resourceful I lead a rather lavish lifestyle even on my poverty-level budget. I live in a house that was deemed worthless by the bank appraiser, but I think it's grand.  Admittedly, at nearly 200 years of age the house has some definite quirks, but it’s pretty and it’s comfortable and it provides everything I need.  This is just my opinion.  Not everyone agrees.

            A house that has no heat in the upstairs is not for the masses.  Wood floors throughout may not seem elegant to everyone, but I like them much better than wall to wall dirt-catchers.  I consider my house interesting;  filled with books, art and eclectic furnishings.  I think my wardrobe is interesting too.  I welcome the challenge of creating satisfying conditions for pennies on the dollar.  This is indirectly due to my mother’s parsimony.  My thrifty lifestyle is hereditary. 

            Nearly everything I own came from thrift stores, garage sales or rummage sales.  Finding something from the “looking for” list is especially rewarding.  This mode of living is not without problems and today was a perfect example of some compromises associated with frugality.

            It began with the recycled vacuum cleaner bag.  These bags clearly state that they are “disposable” and the manufacturers go to extremes to make recycling them next to impossible, but I have become an expert at thwarting that advice.  The glue that bonds the seams makes it impossible to pull them apart, but by carefully snipping a generous opening in the bottom of the bag I can empty the contents. Then, by folding over the severed section a couple of times and shooting a couple dozen staples into it, the bag is good as new.  Unfortunately, there are limits to how often this can be done and today the sweeper bag reached its recycle limit. 

            Things started out just fine, but then the vacuum cleaner issued what sounded like gunfire and an explosion of fine, cough-inducing dirt filled the air.  While I saved money by recycling the bag I created a lot of extra work this morning.  It wasn’t the first time this has happened, so I just dealt with the mess and hoped I might find some Z-style bags at the rummage sale I planned to visit.

            No bags, but as if my wish upon a star had been answered I found a Black and Decker Hedge Hog.  Imagine, a cordless hedge trimmer for a mere $3.00! I was ecstatic in spite of its missing battery and charger.  How much could that cost, I thought as I loaded the like-new trimmer into the truck and headed for the hardware.  How about $99.00! 

            “Throw it away,” said the guy at True Value.  “A new one doesn’t cost that much.”  How discouraging! Maybe someone on Craigslist will have a battery and charger for sale.  I’m still hopeful.

            “Dry clean only,” on a label says to me, “…Or wash very carefully in Woolite and hope for the best.”  Last weeks rummage sale netted me a gorgeous Eileen Fisher two piece wool dress with that label and so after soaking, washing and blocking my beautiful new ensemble I was happy to note that upon returning from the barn this morning my dress was almost dry and ready to bring inside.  I should have done so, but I didn’t.  It could wait.

            Instead I took three Oriental rugs to the car wash (that high pressure sprayer does a great job).  After I loaded the wet carpets into the back of the truck, I stopped by the lumber mill for wood shavings for the donkey stall.  I refuse to pay $7.00 for a bale of shavings from Hartville Elevator when I can fill bags with shavings that cascade from the ceiling of the mill shop and accumulate in the stifling 6’ x 8’ cubicle until someone bags them and hauls them away.  The shavings are free, so of course I bag my own.

            It’s a horrible job under the best of conditions.  The dust is blinding and even with a mask the choking sawdust clogs my lungs.  Today was especially bad.  It was hot and humid and a blizzard of shavings rained down on me as I shoveled.  After filling just one bag, $7.00 seemed like a bargain.  I quit.  While wrestling the single bag into the bed of the truck the plastic broke and a small stream of  shavings spilled from the hole.           It was just about then that the skies opened and the rain we’ve all been hoping for came in torrents.  Not only was I soaked, choking and blinded, but I was also covered with a thick suit of wet sawdust.  The freshly-washed rugs in the back of the truck were sodden and heavy when I pulled in my driveway and the Eileen Fisher dress was wetter than when I first laundered it. 

            Things have not gone well today.  I didn’t save a nickel and I have twice as much work to do as when the day began, so I am quitting while I’m ahead. 

 

 

 

6:23 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Growing old.

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            I saw Kenny yesterday.  He was putting a match to something next to his lane.  Since the strip of grass (formerly tall weeds and trees) now looks like he has a lawn service thanks to Farmer Chuck, Kenny wasn’t having a lot of luck.  I think he cleans the trash from the cab of his truck, then burns the litter, but why he chooses to do so about thirty feet from the road is anybody’s guess.  'Probably so he can wave to passersby.  At almost 90 years Kenny still finds ways to busy himself.

            Then I went to visit Dorothy who is imprisoned in a nursing home, albeit a nice one as nursing homes go….  I always take her a little present because I know how much she loves surprises.  When I got to the home Dorothy was nowhere to be found; not in her room, not in the restaurant.  One of the workers said, “I think she’s in the courtyard,” and she was.  There she sat in her wheelchair. She was wearing a polar fleece shirt and polar fleece pants. It was ninety degrees. 

            I made a big fuss over how well she looked, although she actually looked depressed which was very unlike the Dorothy I’ve known for so many years.  She opened her gift slowly and with a strange difficulty.  She seemed distant and sad and after what felt like an eternity sitting in that sweltering heat she agreed to go inside and join the Bingo bunch that was assembling in the dining room, although she said the air conditioning chilled her. 

            I left with an uneasy feeling.  I hate going to that place, but force myself to visit because I know only two other people ever stop by to see her.  Being confined, being dependent and incapacitated after having led such a meaningful and interesting life seems to me like a fate worse than death.  I wonder how she feels watching her visitors leave.  Does she guess how relieved we are to get in our vehicles and drive away from all that false institutional cheeriness?  I’m glad I went, but her odd behavior haunts me.  I think Dorothy is giving up. Who could blame her?

            Later that evening I stopped to see Ginny, my 99 ½ year old friend whose optimism never ceases to inspire me.  The heat had not subsided one bit when I pulled up the long lane toward the tidy cottage on the hill.  Mitzi the dog greeted me followed closely by Kitty, but there was no sign of Ginny.  I opened the door to the kitchen and called.  She was in the garden, bent down, her back as straight as if she were in a yoga class yanking weeds with more vigor than I could muster. 

            She was wearing her child-size jeans, a tee shirt and hiking boots.  Sweat poured from her brow as she straightened up from her labors and wiped her dirty hands on her jeans.  She beamed, delighted to see me.  “Ginny, how can you stand working out here in this heat?” I asked.  “Oh, these darned weeds were just getting’ ahead of me,” she laughed.  Her vegetable garden looked like a page right out of Organic Gardening magazine.  While mine and most other gardens are parched, withered and indeed weed-infested, Ginny’s was immaculate. 

            More importantly, Ginny was happy.  I think Kenny is happy too setting his little fires and collecting stale bread from the Amish bakery, but I don’t think Dorothy is at all happy.  Ginny and Kenny amaze me.  They never complain and they don’t stop planning for the future.  I doubt they even think about dying.  Their lives still have purpose and not surprisingly that purpose is linked to their close connection with the land.         

            Dorothy and her fellow prisoners at the nursing home have nowhere to escape their sterile confines other than to a cemented courtyard with an unconvincing plastic pond, complete with equally-unconvincing waterfall and some strategically-placed annual flowers.  They couldn’t touch the soil if they tried. 

 

 

2:53 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gratitude.

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            “I put some bread in your barn,” said the message on the answering machine.  It was Sandy and I knew what she meant in spite of the vague comment.  It meant that old Kenny had been to his favorite bakery down in Amish country (where Sandy is certain he maintains a mistress who wears a lot of black and drives a buggy) and that he had returned with a truckload of bread that had passed its sell-by date. 

            I expected a few loaves, but found a bulging black garbage bag full of wheat bread.  The chickens said, “Thank goodness it’s not that spelt bread.  We hate that stuff!”  And so, for the last few days the chickens and the donkeys have been enjoying wholesome, organic wheat bread, but now the heat has rendered it moldy.  It’s destined for the trash.  I can’t even put it out for wildlife as moldy food is dangerous.  Kenny claims otherwise.

            He equates mold with penicillin and if that cures illness, then it stands to reason that a bit of mold in ones diet would be a good preventative.  There’s no arguing with Kenny.  We graciously accept his generous bread offerings for our critters (Sandy has sheep) and quietly discard it when it turns bad.  Kenny’s intentions are good, but I pity his poor cows.

            The insufferable heat shows no sign of abatement.  Summer can’t end too soon for me.  Keeping the animals cool and comfortable adds much to my daily grind.  I fret about the animals kept by people who don’t bother to keep fresh water available, who don’t keep stalls clean, who never think to spray their livestock for flies.  These animals suffer and just knowing this is gut-wrenching. 

            Then I look at my rotten donkeys who have a pretty good life standing in their fresh stall, feeling air from the fan blow across their backs as they take a long pull of cool water.  They thank me for my efforts by destroying tomato plants, eating the barn as if it were a giant cracker and pooping in their stall instead of going outside.  No good deed goes unpunished.

            Julie is now about nine months old and my cross-eyed little girl is pathetically homely.  If she were a human, she’d be a pimple-faced, geeky teenager.  Each morning she looks like a new dog.  One day her body seems extra long, the next she’s two inches taller.  Tomorrow she’s off to the vet for an apparent grass allergy and lately she’s been experiencing sporadic lameness on one back leg.  I hope it’s just a growth thing and nothing serious. 

            I’ve never owned such a physically unattractive dog, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world.  Her big soft ears stick out at odd angles.  Her eyes are crossed.  Her hair coat is blotchy in color and it’s doubtful she’s ever going to evolve into a beauty, but she’s such a good girl, so well-behaved, loving, playful and happy to be alive.  Looks are only skin deep and Julie is proof of this.  I love her to pieces.

 

 

9:17 am edt          Comments

Monday, August 9, 2010

This old house.

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            In the winter people say it’s freezing (I’m used to it…), but in the summer it’s lovely; cool and breezy.  This might suggest that summer is without issues here, but not so.  First of all, there’s the speed bump in the dining room.  For whatever reason a section of the wood floor heaves, thus creating a stub-your-toe crossing running from north to south. It changes with the seasons. Next there’s the musty smell in the dining room and the living room.  Not everywhere, just in the big old cupboards, but this requires me to empty them and wipe down the interiors with bleach.  The rooms are not damp, so why this happens is a mystery.      

            Autumn is in the air even though the temperature is predicted to top 90 again today.  Fall can’t come too soon for me, but with it comes a stunning fuel oil bill, the reminder to get more firewood, pull garden plants, dig bulbs and tubers for winter storage, haul porch pillows to the attic, install the storm windows in the living room….  The list goes on and on and makes me weary just thinking about it all, but these tasks signal my favorite seasons, so no complaints.  Things like this make me especially aware of emotional highs and lows.  These natural spikes and ebbs are things too many people no longer experience. 

            I’m increasingly aware of and disturbed by how many friends and acquaintances pass their lives on a flat, emotionless plane thanks to prescription drugs.  I know only a few people who are not on some kind of anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, anti-something or other.  It’s worrisome how casually they hand their lives over to doctors and drug companies rather than actually living their lives.   They all offer excuses that sound like television commercials.  They’re hooked and they think it’s okay.  I don’t think it is okay.

            And so, while I’m grumping and griping about costs, smells, work, etc. I’m also remembering and reveling in the little highs that spike my life every day, like remembering this years trip to Oba (see the bear in this photo?).  That little getaway recharged my batteries. Even my upcoming birthday (which is usually a downer) is kind of exciting.  I feel a change in the air, both literally and figuratively.  Life is good.

 

 

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lazy Sunday.

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            I awoke to a loud clattering emanating from the kitchen.  Oh, ‘just cats chasing a mouse I thought falling back asleep.  The racket roused me several more times, but it wasn’t enough to get me to crawl out of my comfy nest and go investigate.  Dawn broke and as the dogs and I stumbled down the stairs, again I heard the noise.  With the dogs outside I really expected to find a mad cat rodeo underway in the kitchen, but instead found just the usual line up of kitties waiting for breakfast—minus one.

            Poor old Betty is deaf as a stone and so ratty looking she could be a poster child for homeless, neglected cats, although she is far from neglected.  She’s nearly twenty years old, on thyroid medication, eats canned food at least six times a day, plus kitty cookies and anything else she demands, but where was she?  Betty never misses a meal, especially breakfast. It’s her favorite because she also gets a bowl of milk.

            Again; the familiar clatter.  It came from the lower section of a big wall cupboard that stores everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else.  I opened the door and out stepped an even more bedraggled Betty and she was not happy.  The old girl whose life includes napping, eating and the occasional race through the house in pursuit of a fake mouse had gotten herself shut in the cupboard and spent the night trying to get comfortable in the clutter of stuff stored there.  Poor old girlie.  She got extra goodies.

            I think I should write a book for lazy gardeners like myself.  It will be the shortest gardening book ever penned having just one page, maybe just one word--cleome.  Fussing with fancy flowers seems senseless when I look at this all volunteer garden.  Oh sure, all that pink is a bit monotonous, but who cares?  It’s beautiful and the bees love it.  It makes elegant long-lasting bouquets, but handling these pretties requires leather gloves as the stems are loaded with stickers.  Cleome will bloom nearly until the snow flies, reseeds itself and is vigorous enough to suffocate most weeds.  It’s my kind of flower!  I think a border between the donkey fence and tomato crop might be a good idea next year.

            If anyone would like some seed, just send me a self-addressed stamped envelope and you too can sit back and smell the cleome instead of knocking yourself out or spending a lot of money at the garden center.

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9:42 am edt          Comments

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I'm moving to an apartment....

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            Since flies torment the donkeys, I keep a fly strip hanging in their stall.  After hosting a small dinner party last night I was especially tired this morning when I went to the barn to do chores and the last thing I needed or expected to find was a large frantic bat stuck on the fly paper.  He must have thought he’d found the all you can eat bug buffet, but got himself trapped with his intended meal instead.  The more the bat struggled, the worse his predicament became.  Immediate action was called for.

            I ran to the house to fetch bat removal gear; leather gloves, olive oil and Gojo hand cleaner.  Back at the barn I cut down the fly paper with attached bat and stapled the strip to the work bench to stabilize things.  Then I applied oil to all the stuck parts.  Mr. Bat was becoming increasingly agitated and clearly did not appreciate my good intentions, but as the oil began to saturate the paper his struggles were starting to become productive.  Using the edge of a knife I assisted and at last one oil-drenched, exhausted, angry bat fell to the floor.  I went to the house for another cup of coffee to allow him to recover in peace and quiet.  It was a relief to find that after regaining his strength the Gojo bath wasn’t necessary.  He’s gone, thank goodness!  He’ll be grooming himself all day, but I think his worst aftereffect will be a case of diarrhea from the lube job.  Good thing it was healthy olive oil….

            Anyone who gardens knows nothing tastes better than that first vine ripened tomato.  Two days ago I picked that first tomato and delighted at the fine looking crop that had yet to ripen.  Earlier in the season something (rabbit, groundhog) had nipped off several plants, so I enclosed the salvageable few in mesh cages, safe from whatever critter had destroyed the others.  The plants thrived, but unfortunately only one was the heritage variety that had produced the main ingredient for my all-time favorite meal; a tomato sandwich on rye.  All the others were cherry-type volunteers I’d transplanted.  I cherished that heritage plant and looked forward to harvesting lots more big sandwich-worthy tomatoes in just a few days.

            By the way, donkeys adore tomato leaves, so the storm that night must have softened the soil just enough to weaken the cage support which allowed the two bad asses to pull some of their favorite leaves through the fence.  That’s all it took.  They then managed to knock off every last tomato and to destroy 2/3 of the plant itself.  There are some days when my small country life is fraught with trouble and I wonder why I even try.  Today is one of those days, but doesn't Corky look remorseful in this picture?  I don't buy it for a minute!

 

 

11:06 am edt          Comments

Friday, August 6, 2010

The good, the bad and the very ugly.
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            I’d briefed my friend Hazel on what she might expect on the trip to Oba.  Mostly I emphasized all the beauty, the tranquility, the nice hosts Mike and Hana, but I’d also mentioned the lavatory accommodations such as they are, these being outhouses. 

            Outhouse privies are not necessarily a bad thing.  Some are designed to compost matter which renders them odorless.  Those at fish camp are not so designed.  So, when it was no longer possible to avoid the trip up the hill to #4’s private facility I could not help but laugh out loud when I saw Hazel’s contribution.  She had placed a Renuzit Heavy Duty Air Freshener in our crapper.  Just thinking about the absurdity of this pathetic little gadget makes me smile.  It was supposed to impart a fresh lavender aroma, but alas, Renuzit had met its match.  Actually, it was no contest. 

            Each cabin has its own personal outhouse, but a few years ago someone got the idea to create a “ladies only” restroom.  There’s even an original art deco-style head, complete with hat and demure downward gaze painted on the door.  The inside of this special spot is mint green with pictures of animals and flowers from a calendar stapled on the walls.  Sunlight streams through the  corrugated fiberglass roof.  Sadly, the ladies room is just as stinky as any of the others.  It’s all part of the Oba experience, but upon returning home my own bathroom seemed positively elegant!  This is good.  I was suffused with a fresh appreciation for the room I’d been dissatisfied with before the trip.

            One of the regular highlights of this vacation is going to Clark Lake.  Clark is an even more remote, but considerably smaller lake than Oba.  Each year Hana and I (and this year Hazel as well) pack a light lunch, motor north on Oba, pass under the big railroad trestle and then confront the difficult task of trying to find a place among the big slippery rocks to moor the boat.  I can’t impress too strongly how challenging this is.  There is no way to get anywhere near the shoreline, so it means rock hopping which seems to become more difficult with each passing year/birthday. 

            Once the boat is secured we set off hiking through the bush.  About half way to our destination we reach an enormous granite outcropping.  Remember this is the Canadian Shield, the backbone of the Rockies.  On this moss-covered site sits another granite orb on which I’ve had my photo taken every visit.  It’s sobering to see the change.  While the rock remains changeless, I do not.  No longer do I hop up on this boulder with the agility of a chipmunk. It's harder nowadays, but Hazel dutifully took my 2010 photo which Ihave yet to see.

            After a brief rest we push on.  The second half of the hike is more difficult as it passes through some long boggy spots where slipping could mean sinking into the muck past one’s ankles.  Due to the unseasonable heat and dryness these spots were easier to traverse this time, but the huge birch tree that had fallen across the trail added a new obstacle.  I should note that this is not much more than a wildlife trail.  As we pass single file each person breaks off  encroaching limbs and saplings that threaten to obliterate the pathway.  Finally, we reach Clark creek.

            Here we eagerly pull off our packs, flop down on the sunny rocks and take in the glorious beauty of the area.  Our lunch tastes especially good after the long walk through the bush. On the shoreline is an upturned canoe and two mismatched paddles which we will use to go up Clark creek to the lake.  Clark creek is nothing like common “creeks.”  It is a pristine winding, weed-clogged, rock-strewn channel through the muskeg.

            The canoe is well past its prime.  There are no actual seats, just someone’s sorry attempt at weaving some nylon roping, but a couple of boat cushions offer adequate comfort and support.  Hazel is in the bow, I’m in the stern, Hana stays behind on the rocks doing yoga. The canoe leaks—badly!  Water seeps in through the keel and anything on the floor (like a backpack…) is quickly saturated.  The unmatched paddles create a definite power inbalance.      

            A pair of ducks acted as helpful guides through the tall grasses when the channel seemed obscure. With the wind in our faces Hazel and I push upstream and note that this brisk breeze will speed our return, but the sky darkened, the winds changed direction and the trip downstream was no easier than the trip upstream.  By the time Hana came into view the canoe interior looked more like a bathtub than a boat (full of water).  Even so, it was lovely as always to be in this place where few others ventured. By the time we retraced our way back to the boat (which we were happy to see was still moored among the slippery rocks) I was pooped!

            Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but not at fish camp.  Bathing is done either in a dishpan or the lake.  Oh, there is a wood-fired sauna which in turn heats a tank of water on its roof for parsimonious use in the shower, but this is only offered twice a week and it wasn’t time.  A cold shower (and I do mean COLD) was the only option.  While this may sound unpleasant, even miserable to some readers, it really wasn’t all that bad….  Think of it as invigorating!

            Camp guests typically depart on Friday when the train heads south.  New guests arrive on the northbound Saturday train, but for some reason Thursday night brought guests from hell.  Mike pulled the pontoon boat up to the dock, loaded with a bizarre array of gear for the father, son and two teenagers that were then installed in cabin #1, the nicest cabin in camp.  Their arrival at first seemed inconsequential, but that quickly changed.

            The rude, ill-mannered teenagers raced the boats up and down the lake whooping and screaming as if they were at an amusement park.  A generator (!!!) was soon roaring away on the sandy beach and cabin #1 was lit up like a lighthouse.  From inside a television flashed videos these lunatics had brought to a wilderness fish camp.  Later the air was perforated by country western “music” (I find it impossible to consider these whining noises music). 

            We had enjoyed a nice dinner with our good neighbors Mike and Craig, delivered the goody bucket to the point for the wolf, motored into the bay to enjoy our final night at Oba and then retired with the intention of actually sleeping, but at 11:30 the racket was still blasting from cabin #1. 

            Furious, I leapt from my bed fired up and ready to stomp over and give them a piece of my mind, but stopped short at our door.  We would be leaving the next day, so I returned to bed and tried with all my might to hear only the loons on the lake.  I’d tell Mike in the morning and he’d address the idiots, but I pitied those unfortunate enough to be stuck with this rude bunch for neighbors the following week. 

            And so, it was the right time to leave my beloved Oba lake.

 

 

9:57 am edt          Comments

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gone fishing.

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           Well, actually it was Hazel that went fishing.  I just drove the boat, but I used to fish.  For many years I lugged the rods, reels and priceless lures inherited from my dad and Uncle Bill up to the lake, bought a conservation license and went in search of dinner, but admittedly I was not and am not a fisherman.  I chose lures because they were pretty or did interesting things in the water, not because they were appropriate or effective.  I lost more of these vintage lures than I care to remember.  That was before I knew they were valuable.  When I came to grips with my pescadorian failure I sold the remaining lures to a collector.

            In spite of my ineptitude occasionally some depressed fish would commit suicide by taking my hook, usually a Northern Pike. They are vicious-looking creatures, full of bones and difficult to fillet, but I can do it.  This year my fillet knife never left its sheath.  This is not to suggest that Hazel is a lousy fisherman (quite the opposite), but because of the lake conditions.  The temperatures were stifling and the water level was lower than I’ve ever seen it, hence the lake was warm as bath water.  Fishing in general was not good.

            Veteran fishermen in camp advised us of where to go on the big lake.  I obligingly motored us there, then opened my book or scanned the shoreline with field glasses as Hazel expertly baited hooks, cast like a pro and waited.  Nothing happened.  We’d move to another “hot spot” and repeat the whole process until finally my discouraged pal said, “Let’s just go sightseeing.”  And so, we did.  There’s a lot to see even when it all looks the same.  “Seeing” is a learned experience.

            At one point we pulled the boat up on the rocky shore next to a beaver lodge.  While rock hopping and looking for tracks I saw a movement to my left—a mink.  In a flash the little fellow ran through the brush and came right up to me, raised himself and said, “Who the heck are you?”  He was too cute for words, and of course the camera was in the boat.  Minks are very curious creatures. 

            We continued our tour.  Hazel’s subsequent casts were all futile, but it was nice way to spend the afternoon.  Later, back at camp the men were coming in with their catches, but unlike other years when stringers would be laden with huge walleye and pike, most had only a few.  “You girls have any luck today?” they’d ask.  We’d hang our heads and mutter in the negative and very soon some kind soul would present not just fish, but filleted fish! 

            It would be rude to accept such generosity without reciprocating, so we ended up sharing dinners.  I love to cook and they loved to fish, so it turned into a win-win deal.  The next day the guys next door offered to take Hazel with them.  These men had advantages she and I did not, like fish finders and other paraphernalia from Cabellas.  She had a good time and we all ate fish later that day, so no one complained.

            Oba has a lot to offer beyond fishing; relaxing, hiking and wildlife watching.  We did all of the above.  Although a loop nature trail is accessible from the camp, hiking in the bush is slow going, so we also walked the railroad tracks.  That too requires watching your feet, but it’s possible to get more exercise on the tracks while watching for signs of life along the way.  There are usually lots of raspberries to eat, but the hot weather was too much for them. The bushes bore only tiny, seedy things too small to even pick.

            After dumping the nightly delivery of fish guts on the point, we’d sit quietly in the bay in hopes of hearing or seeing a bear. (photo #2) Unfortunately the dump bear was a no-show, but we’d seen one earlier en route to camp.  Then we’d head over to what we dubbed beaver bay.  One night as Hazel, (persistent pescador that she is) cast her line a pair of beavers put on such a show they might as well have been auditioning for a movie role. They circled ever closer to the boat, looking adorable, then slapping the water with their powerful tails and diving out of sight, only to resurface on the other side of the boat.  To me things like this are far more rewarding than catching fish.  

            For what this trip costs in gas, lodging, food, train fare and camp expense, one could hop on a plane and go to a resort, but I’d never choose that option.  The remoteness of fish camp forces relaxation.  Working at anything else isn’t an option.  Activities are limited only by a sense of adventure.  The small accommodations are a reminder of just how little is really “necessary” to live.  No one really “needs” much to be safe and comfortable.  The trusting, fearless behavior of the wildlife is an inspiration for greater conservation efforts at home.  And the close proximity of the few cabins forces tolerance of others.  (That was easy this year because our fellow campers were nice people.)  The physical beauty of the place is priceless.  I’m very fortunate in that I travel a good bit and while other trips are great, this one is uniquely special. 

            But, as with everything in life, nothing is perfect.  Tomorrow I’ll share a couple of the less than ideal issues.

 

 

11:20 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wildlife

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            When we first entered cabin number 4 I noticed several freshly-baited mouse traps which I immediately sprung.  Live and let live is my philosophy.  So, on that first night, although Hazel and I were each ready for a good nights sleep, our other cabin mates were ready to party!  First, a busy bat fluttered around in Hazel’s room.  She didn’t mind and its presence didn’t bother me either.  Bats eat mosquitoes.

            Our food was secure on kitchen shelves or in the fridge, but there was no mistaking the sound of a munching mouse.  I leapt from my bed, flashlight in hand and headed toward the sound where  I found the party animal happily and safely eating the peanut butter from the sprung traps.  I shined the light on the little guy who sat not six inches from my toes.  He looked up and said, “Good hor d’ouvres.”  I went back to bed and he went back to munching.

            The bat and mouse kept us company each evening about the time darkness finally fell.  Dawn brought other visitors.

            Every year a different species of wildlife beggars invade the camp.  This year it was a platoon of very tame black ducks, which by the way are not black at all, but rather beautifully penciled brown ducks with green bills.  Hooded mergansers have always been common, hovering near the docks, but always paddling in the water and rarely coming ashore.  The black ducks rarely bothered going into the lake.  The ‘breakfast club’ (as we nicknamed them) was too busy going from cabin to cabin looking for and in fact demanding treats.  We all obliged the charmers.

            In previous years we’ve had a resident fox went begging door to door.  I recall offering him a peeled hard-boiled egg which he politely declined in favor of bacon from the guy next door.  No fox visited our camp this year, but Carl and Anne from a few miles down the tracks reported they had a ‘pet fox’ who came each morning for breakfast.

            In the past there have also been armies of rabbits, but not this year.  Sometimes there are groundhogs galore, but only two this year.  Chipmunks are also usually plentiful and extremely tame, but not so this visit. ‘Just a few and they were rather shy.  Whiskey jacks are engaging members of the jay family.  About the size of crows and equally athletic they used to be all over the place, flitting from porch to porch  to take snacks right from my hand.  I only saw one last week.  Of course bears wander through camp, but they’ve never been a problem.  The most likely reason for the absence of the usual wildlife became obvious soon after our arrival.  Any of them would make a tasty meal for a hungry wolf.

            It’s been three years since I first saw the injured wolf.  It was across the lake at the rocky point where fish guts are dumped for the gulls and ravens.  I was sitting on my stoop scanning the point with field glasses because another year I’d seen a couple of bears snacking there.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  When I told Mike and he saw it for himself he was flabbergasted.  “Twenty five years we’ve had this camp and never before have I seen a wolf!” he exclaimed.

            The wolf was walking on three legs.  It was thin and I really doubted it would survive the winter months when there would be no daily fish deliveries, but I was wrong.  The wolf not only ate at the point each morning which thrilled all who saw it,  but it also visited camp.  Mike crested the hill behind Hana’s garden and came face to face with the lobo as it noshed at the compost pile.  It was missing a foot.  How the wolf was maimed has a likely explanation.

            For decades a man I’ll simply refer to as G. has trapped Oba and beyond.  He also dynamited beaver dams for the railroad because he claimed a ruptured dam could wash out a section of track.  I suppose that could happen, but since the lake and rivers are below the railroad I’m not sure how.  Mostly G. trapped and killed beavers, fox, weasels, mink, otters and wolves for their skins.  Personally, I wish every woman who ever thought wearing fur makes her look glamorous could meet its original owner and witness the disgusting reality of trapping and killing that animal.  Wool makes equally-warm outerwear!

            I had a polite relationship with G. for several years.  Why, you ask?  Because he knew everything about wildlife behavior; diets, breeding, habitats and more.  I learned a great deal from G.  I believe that if one is to have a strong opinion about an issue it is important to know the facts.

            One time G. took me to another camp where he was picking up an “order” and payment for a wolf skin.  The elusive animal that served a vital role in nature had a price of $350.00 on its head, but he didn’t know it.  It still makes me ill when I recall watching this transaction.

            G. casually remarked that he would set snares for the wolf, but not until it’s coat was thick and luxurious in winter.  A wire loop concealed over bait would capture the unsuspecting animal.  As it pulled desperately to free itself, the noose would tighten until at last strangulation would occur.  God only knows how long this horrific torture would last.  If the wolf were not dead when G. found it, he would dispatch it with a club or bullet.  I never considered G. a “friend,” but like I said, I learned a lot.

            Other animals, like beavers were victims of conibear traps which slam closed with about 90 pounds of pressure.  They are designed to kill anything unfortunate enough to trigger the trap.  I once saw G.’s cabin.  He’d asked me there to be a ‘first responder’ while he crawled under the building to jack up the center joist.  At the far end of his kitchen was his workbench.  An assortment of traps hung on the wall along with clubs, knives, skin stretchers and other things I chose not ask about.  This Hannibal Lector workshop haunts me still.

            My relationship with G., such as it was came to an abrupt end the year I sent him a holiday greeting card adorned with a NO FUR sticker on the envelope.  Judging from the thirteen page, handwritten response which accused me of being responsible for every single thing wrong in the world, he failed to get the joke.  We never spoke again—until this year.  He was at the Hawk Junction depot.   “Hello G.,” I said. 

            Twisting his head and feigning a lack of recognition, he unconvincingly replied, “Do I know you?”

             I went along with his game and responded, “I’m Karen, Mike and Hana’s friend.”              Another look of faked confusion; then, “Oh yes!  You are the bunny hugger.  You know I kill animals,” he boasted. 

            “Yes, I know.” Our ‘conversation’ was finished.

            G. did not look well and I mentioned this to Hana when relating the encounter.  A few days later she learned that G. has that most-dreaded disease anyone could contract.  Karma.  The wolf has survived in spite of G. for several years and hopefully will continue to do so even with his missing foot.  As for G…?

            Delivering the “goody bucket” as neighbor Mike labeled it (AKA fish guts) to the point became a regular after-dinner activity for Hazel, me, Craig and Mike (our next door neighbors).  It was disturbing to know that this splendid creature had been reduced to scavenging like an opossum, but at least we knew he would have breakfast the following morning. 

            One night I was awakened around 2:00 AM by a loud splash. It sounded like a big dog had jumped off the dock.  There was no further sound, but there were wolf tracks in the beach sand the next morning.  How many people ever get to experience a wolf in its natural environment?  Not many.  We all feel very honored.

 

 

8:31 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On to camp...

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           The pontoon is loaded and heads toward camp while Hana deftly guides the people-boat away from the dock in the bay, easily bypassing some barely-submerged rocks.  Veering around the point we head south, the water misting our faces, the air so fresh and clear it almost feels obscene.  As with every visit to Oba, the sensation is like coming home.

            Mad shuffling ensues as we sputter up to the camp dock.  We’re all eager to unload and settle into our respective cabins.  I had expected to be assigned cabin number 5 ½, the smallest structure as it’s the one I usually occupy.  Number 5 ½ is also called the trapper’s cabin, marked by an ancient rusty leg hold trap still hanging above the door.  Its antique condition doesn’t diminish the torture and death imposed by such implements of cruelty as will be revealed later this week. 

            I’m happy to learn that Hazel and I have instead been assigned to cabin number 4 which is larger and airier.  Its saggy old mattresses had even been replaced by new, less-saggy ones!  What more could one ask?  Hazel takes the back room and I establish myself in the front, making up the bed next to the open window so I can fall asleep to the sound of water lapping the shore not twenty feet away. 

            When I first began visiting Oba each cabin was furnished with an antique oak ice box.  Inside was a big block of ice that had been cut from the lake the previous winter, then stored in the long, sway-backed building behind the fish house.  By mid-week the ice block would be melted, but hanging a paper plate lettered with ICE on the door signaled Mike to deliver another chunk in an old wheelbarrow that has been repaired so many times it’s taken on a “designer” appearance.  The old ice boxes are gone; replaced by propane-powered refrigerators.  I much preferred the old models. 

            As we unpack our food and make up our separate rooms, the roar of boat motors punctuates the air.  Some of the guys can’t wait to get their lines in the water in pursuit of Wally Walleye.  Like everything else at camp, the boats are not fancy.  They are heavy-duty, aluminum fishing boats fitted with 9 horsepower Yamaha motors, perfectly adequate to deal with even rough lake conditions, but on our first day the lake is as smooth as glass. 

            I fix a gin and tonic and Hazel fixes herself a spritzer with her husband’s homemade wine.  Then we sit on the porch to drink in the glorious vista before us. Soon Hana stops by and we catch up on the news of the camp.  She and Hazel (a nature writer) quickly establish an easy rapport.  Hana looks tired, but that’s not surprising.  There’s a certain romance associated with operating a wilderness fishing camp, but the truth is that she and Mike work extremely hard and rarely have time to themselves, so the visit is a treat.

            Aside from the fuel and propane that must be brought into camp via the train or a float plane, there are cabins to clean, firewood to cut, endless repairs to be addressed, not to mention dealing with the guests; “Hey Mike, can I get some minnows…? Hey Mike, are there any night crawlers…? Hey Mike, can you look at this motor…?  Hey Hana, do you have some …?”  Romance is a myth.

            The cabin to our north is occupied by Bill and his grandsons.  Bill is a retired psychologist, a lovely gentleman with a family to match.  Two cabins to the south are taken by a super bunch of guys, five of whom are young, successful and great fun.  Sadly, the entire group can only stay a few days, but two of the “older” fellows remain for the week.  All of these men are kind and generous and will prove to be our only source of fish as the week progresses.  Once again, we are very lucky.  In other years I have occasionally found myself cursed with horrible fish camp “neighbors.”  Not this year.

            The sky stays light until quite late, but the North Star reflects in the mirror surface of the water and eventually we fall asleep listening to the cries of the loons and anticipating the wonderful week that lies ahead.

 

 

11:04 am edt          Comments

Monday, August 2, 2010

Travel notes.

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            After a good night’s rest I’ve had time to reflect upon the trip away from my Peaceable Kingdom to an even more peaceable place.  The destination was Oba Lake in northern Ontario, a place I’ve now been visiting for about twenty-five years.  The appeal of this particular spot is its pristine nature which has remained essentially unchanged for millions of years.    While man has certainly intruded and left his mark (like the small camp I visit), given the slightest opportunity Nature reclaims /rescues the land from the intrusion.

            Getting to the camp requires a bit of effort, but after so many years I’ve simplified the task.  It’s a 765 mile road trip.  I like to travel light.  Food staples, linens and clothes are really all that’s needed.  Last minute items from the store in Wawa complete the inventory of necessities.  After last minute shopping it’s just about twenty more miles to the train depot in Hawk Junction.  From there the Algoma Central transports fishermen and gear to Mile 212 (212 miles north of Saulte Saint Marie) where Mike and Hana, owners of Woods Cabins await.  After happy greetings we off-load stuff from the train, haul it down a flight of rock-strewn steps to a dock, then onto a modified pontoon boat driven by Mike. A smaller boat manned by Hana transports us away from the last vestiges of civilization (the train) to the modest cabins that will serve as home for the following week.  

            The drive takes two days, but traveling through Superior Provincial Park is spectacular.  Wawa is familiar and friendly and by 2:00 PM I pull the truck up to the Hawk Junction train station.  It’s a bloody long way!

            Loading and unloading the train and the boat is always a group effort and while I personally travel with very few parcels I find that men do not!  They bring such absurdities as bottled water (to a pristine glacial lake camp equipped with a water filtration system for drinking water), bed pillows (!!!), enough luggage to take them to Europe for three months and literally boatloads of fishing gear.  One year some guys brought twenty four CASES of beer.  Remember, loading and unloading all this stuff is a shared effort….

            The train is always late.  That’s the one thing travelers can count on.  This didn’t used to be the case, but several years ago the Canadian rail line was bought out by Americans and it hasn’t been on time since, although the ticket price has more than tripled. The rail road itself soon became so neglected it was declared hazardous and last year the government threatened to shut down the entire line from the Soo all the way to the terminus at Hearst (moose capital of the world).  This provoked a frenzy of gandy dancers and now the track is spotted with new creosoted ties, welds and other repairs.  Punctuality however has not been addressed, nor is it ever likely to be.

            Impatient travelers mill about the little station, smoke under the surrounding trees or drink beer at the Black Bear “restaurant” located across the weedy field next to the station.  The Black Bear is about the only surviving business in Hawk Junction.  Even the little store that used to sell lures, hats and other assorted paraphenallia is gone--literally!  It was bulldozed last year leaving just a blank spot in the weeds as a reminder.

           At last the train rumbles to a stop and loading gets underway with Kathy orchestrating.  Kathy runs the depot, sells the tickets, cleans the station, dispatches trains and does just about everything but drive the locomotive.  Before the take-over the Algoma Central employed lots of railway workers.  Now it’s just Kathy.

            Loading goes quickly in spite of the ridiculous quantity of stuff.  We pile into the two passenger cars and head north on the iron line that intersects the beautiful Ontario wilderness. Stillness settles in as each traveler privately contemplates his / her life. Occasionally the cry, “Bear!” or “Moose!” shatters the quiet and incites a mad rush to photograph the long-gone critter.  Back home, the photographers will point to a nebulous dark spot and identify it as “the bear” or “the moose.”        

            On the train I look at my fellow passengers and secretly select those I hope will not be disembarking at the 212 marker.  This year’s fellow riders all seemed nice and as it turned out, they were very nice indeed.

            This year I invited my fellow-writer pal Hazel to join me and now I think she is hooked (no pun intended) on the destination.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you about life at the lake.

 

 

3:36 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Home at last.

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I'm still in limbo; not quite home, although physically I'm here and while my person is not at the lake, I'm still somewhat there.  The dogs are sure happy I'm back.  It was a lovely trip with the exception of about a day and a half of dreary rainy weather.  As always, even after twenty-some years there were still new things to 'discover' and new friends to meet.  Beginning tomorrow, I shall share some of the beauty of Oba lake and maybe driving two days, taking a train and a boat to a little cabin with no power, plumbing or phones will make some sense.

11:14 pm edt          Comments


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