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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bon voyage.


            It’s been an overcast, but lovely fall day; just the sort of weather I love, but I’m leaving early tomorrow morning for a press trip to the sunny Gulf Shores.  It will be tough, but I’ll force myself to look out upon the white sandy beach and azure Gulf rather than the flutter of falling leaves and browning fields for a few days.  Consequently there will be no blog posts until Tuesday.

            The animals always know something is up the minute the suitcase comes out of the closet.  They all adore Sandy the critter sitter, but for days prior to departure I have two big dogs velcroed to my knees everywhere I go.  Julie is still too young to anticipate my absence.   I always miss the animals, but probably not as much as they miss me.  Sandy will spoil them rotten. 

            So, until Tuesday…

8:45 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My small country life.

Is there trouble on the horizon?  I hope not, but something is happening at the Skeet Club located about a mile due south of here.  The Club has been there much longer than I have been here.  Someone recently commented that the land could never be sold due to lead contamination that would cost millions of dollars to clean up.  Well, the bulldozers are scraping the land and hauling it away in big trucks.  This is worrisome.

            While guests frequently remark, “Doesn’t that shooting bother you?”  the truth is I don’t even hear the pop of the shotguns anymore, so no, it doesn’t bother me.  If this land is somehow “cleaned” and sold it will mean development, new houses, more people, less country. 

            Tiny has transitioned from left-for-dead to house princess quite easily.  Here she is on her first day.  As for old Betty, things are not looking good.  Although she eats frequently throughout the day, she is losing a lot of weight.  She’s a pile of skin and bones, but she seems comfortable.  A costly trip to the vet last week confirmed that all of her vital signs are normal as are kidney and liver functions.  $86.00 later I was informed that, “She is old.”  Today I offered her Gerber baby food and she devoured it with more gusto than I’ve seen in a while, so tomorrow I’m off to the grocery to stock up on pureed beef and chicken.

            Anyone who chooses to share life with animals knows the reality that they just do not live as long as we do.  Death is inevitable and it appears that Betty’s is not far off, but so long as she shows no signs of distress she will remain in hospice care.  If it means seeking out special foods for her, so be it.  She’s been a perfect kitty for 18 years.  It’s the least I can do.

7:58 pm edt          Comments

Monday, September 27, 2010

Neighborhood characters.

            There are several little gravel roads that run between paved county roads around here.  I used to walk one of these regularly. In fact I found old Betty (who was then just a young cat) hopelessly trying to catch a mouse back by one of the oil pump jacks.  She was a mess.  That was 18 years ago.  On this particular mile and a half stretch of road there was nothing but woods, fields and a couple of oil access lanes.  Just one house claimed the entire strip and that big blue place belonged to Stu Stew.

            Shortly after moving here I was “warned” by the neighborhood blabbermouth that Stu had been married about half a dozen times, had a gazillion kids and that his wives sometimes turned up dead.  She went into lurid details about one such alleged murder and the subsequent garage sale and all the good stuff she got there, but Stu had never been arrested or charged with any crime.  (I have since learned that nothing that comes out of the blabbermouths maw can be believed.)

            That Stu had many wives would not be inconceivable because he was a stunningly handsome man.  He looked like a movie star.  While I working on this house before moving in, a coon hound named Judith came to visit.  She wore identification and even had an 800-number to call if she happened to get lost.  This led to my first encounter with Stu.  His animal husbandry skill, especially concerning dogs was far from stellar!  He kept a poor beagle in a rabbit hutch.  Judith herself was usually chained to a ratty wooden box next to a tree.  I later learned that the box was strategically placed to hone her coon hunting skills.  Stu sometimes caught a live raccoon which he would release into the tree next to Judith’s box.  The only way down was into the jaws of the bored hound. 

            The next encounter I had with Stu was also dog-related.  I was driving down his dusty road when I saw a Chow chained to a bowling ball.  Stu was sitting on his porch.  The Chow did not look well, so I stopped to inquire about the dog tethered to the ball.  It was Stu’s way of “training” him not to chase cars for when he ran the ball would follow and smash into his legs when he stopped.  When he said he didn’t like the dog I said I’d take him—minus the bowling ball.  I knew a woman who specialized in Chow rescue and she gladly took the poor mangy creature and within two days had invested about $500.00 in vet bills.  Among other maladies the Chow required eye surgery.  The dog must have thought he had gone from hell to heaven.  He became a healthy happy animal, no thanks to Stu.

            I dreaded passing Stu’s place for fear of discovering that another creature might have fallen under his “care.”  While his dogs rarely knew freedom, that was not the case when Stu decided to get a steer.  Apparently he’d heard about the benefits of free-ranging livestock and so Rusty (my name for him) roamed at will.  At first he was cute as a bug, but steers grow rapidly and soon Rusty was something I hoped not to encounter when walking that road. 

            And so it was one evening when I set off on the mile and a half walk out to the paved road, then turned around to retrace my steps toward home.  Just as I approached the steep-sided creek that runs along Stu’s property Rusty appeared in the middle of the road and it was clear he had no intention of moving.  Dusk was falling fast and there was no alternative route home.

            One of Stu’s many vehicles was parked next to the bridge, so I hopped into the bed of the pickup truck and called Stu’s name.  No light shown from the windows and the sky was growing darker by the minute.  While I stood in the truck bed Rusty stood at the bumper looking at me.  It was apparent Stu was not at home.  Since his was the only place on the road, there was little chance another car might pass that I could hail and be saved from an uncertain fate with Rusty.  I really thought I might end up sleeping in the truck that night.

            After what seemed an eternity the steer tired of staring at me and left, vanishing behind Stu’s house.  I jumped from the truck and ran as fast as I’ve ever run hoping not to draw any further attention from my suitor.  Just as I passed the house Rusty rounded the corner and began heading my way at more than a casual walk.  I admit it, I was scared!  As luck would have it he grew bored with the cat and mouse game and ambled across the road into the soy bean field and I made my breathless retreat towards home. 

            Rusty’s ramblings took him farther and farther from home until one day he ended up on a state highway a couple miles away.  The police came and after that Stu built a pen for him where he was confined until he became burger in Stu’s freezer.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor fellow as he pathetically stared through the fencing toward the vast fields he used to roam.  Next came the mules.

            I first thought my eyes were deceiving me, but no.  Stu had two mules behind his house, one of which was his.  One day he and a few of his friends rode up my road and stopped by to say hello.  His friends’ handsome Belgian mules were well-groomed, shod and nicely turned out in Western tack.  Stu’s little sorrel Jenny was darling in spite of her own turn out.  On top of the small mule was an enormous tooled leather Western show saddle with Stu perched in the middle of it.  The saddle was not cinched on the mule.  It just sat there as if held on by a magnet and Stu looked like he was glued in the saddle.  How he managed to not fall off is anyone’s guess.

            Shortly after that mule ride Stu suffered a debilitating stroke which left his speech extremely impaired, but his appearance was unchanged.  So, when he appeared at my back door one day mumbling something about his mule I couldn’t understand a word he said.  It was horribly embarrassing, but apparently the mule had flown the coop and was nowhere to be found.  I’m not sure if it was ever recovered. 

            Livestock was then replaced by a motorcycle which Stu drove up a ramp into his living room so he could work on it during the winter months.  Eventually a couple of houses popped up on Stu’s road, but I think his own days there are numbered.  He has shriveled to a mere hint of the movie star man he used to be.  Occasionally I see him sitting on his porch propped up with pillows, too weak to even wave anymore. 

8:36 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A big mistake?

            The weather has turned very chilly and although Tiny had plenty of cozy places to snuggle into the hay or blankets in the barn, I just felt it was too cold out there for such a little girl.  Tiny has moved to the house.  I do hope this wasn’t a mistake.  (Here she is investigating the bathroom, a very important place since this is where the litter boxes are kept.)

            She seemed quite content and even happy at the barn, but she is ecstatic in the house.  Ted and Julie are delighted to have a new “toy,” but the other cats clearly have their noses out of joint.  They look at me as if to say, “Are you crazy?  Do you have any idea what we, the veteran house cats are capable of doing?  YOU are going to be sorry!”  I hope not.

            Someone apparently is unhappy with ET, my environmental terrorist neighbor.  Two nights ago under the cover of darkness someone toilet papered his trees, bushes and even his truck.  The high winds carried off much of the mess, but being the meticulous person he is he carefully removed all but a single shred of the white stuff caught high in a tree.  Last night the little red car in the driveway that belongs to either him or his girl friend was covered in shaving cream.  It looked like a giant desert this morning.  I can hardly wait to see what happens tonight.

            It seems every place on the road has a character inside and I’ve been thinking about these people.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you about Stu Stew.  Of course that is a pseudonym, but his real name is even more unbelievable.

6:05 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, September 25, 2010



            A horseshoe driveway at the bee guy's place makes it easy to drive in, pick up a jar of honey from the weather proof table and deposit payment in the green mail box painted with honey bees that's positioned in the middle of the table.  I’d been buying honey there for years, but had never seen a human being until about a year ago.  The friendly bee master was outside replenishing the stock and we struck up a conversation.  I said I was hoping honey would help my allergies and he suggested I try bee pollen instead as a way to immunize myself, so I bought my first bottle of bee pollen capsules.

            I’ve been plagued with severe respiratory allergies most of my life.  They were disabling and often progressed into asthmatic symptoms.  It’s been a little over a year since I began taking a daily dose of the local bee pollen and this is the first year in memory that I’ve been symptom-free.  Developing immunity to the allergens has been great in itself, but bee pollen is also energizing, so I plan to take it for the rest of my life. 

            I guess being spared the allergy attacks and all the accompanying misery makes all the cold that hit me last night seem worse than it really is, but I feel awful.  Bee pollen for allergies, but I’m thinking Alka-Selzer Plus cold medicine tonight.

5:46 pm edt          Comments

Friday, September 24, 2010

...and the winds did blow.


            Birdhouses blew out of the trees.  Limbs and branches fell like pick-up-sticks and as the winds became more ‘energized’ so did the donkeys.  Since early morning it has looked like one heck of a storm was going to hit any minute, so the winds and ominous skies kept the dogs and me out of the woods today.  The weatherman continued to issue dire storm warnings, but nothing really happened, so around 5:00 PM I decided to check out the weekly County Auction.

            “Come on, let’s go.  They ain’t got nuttin here I want,” said the fat guy wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a political statement.  He sucked a final drag from his cigarette butt, flipped it a couple feet away and stomped toward the parking lot with his compliant pal in tow.

            Not everyone agreed with him.  Ahead of me, carefully perusing the long lines of merchandise was a woman in a brown shirt that stated, “There’s nothing I like more than a good dump.”  One could only wonder…. 

            There were boxes of old tools, many door both used and new and what looked like a forest of hopelessly-rusted floor lamps; thirty of them at least.  The seller would have been wiser to haul them to the scrap yard than to the auction.  When I first arrived there were a few hutch-type cabinets standing precariously in the wind.  Not surprisingly they didn’t remain standing long.  The first crash briefly stopped the crowd in its tracks.  Workers hurried to lay the others flat on the gravel and the crowd resumed its shuffling pace through the acres of junk..

            The air was redolent with onions and greasy French fries and the line in front of the Tip Top Catering wagon was huge.  I have to admit that I agreed with the fat guy.  There was “nuttin” there I wanted either. I left before the bidding began, but it’s always a fun place to people watch. 

6:21 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autumnal equinox.

            Nathaniel Hawthorne said, "I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house."  I’m with Nate!  The dogs and I have been enjoying early morning walks since this seems to be about the only time of day when traffic is minimal.  Today was also a test of the new camera.  While the photos may not be very compelling, taking them and then mastering their transfer to the computer was a big deal for me although there is still much to learn, like figuring out how to reduce the image size!!!

            After completing this feat my plan was to loaf on the porch for the remainder of the day and catch up on some reading, but then the phone rang.  It was my arborist friend Dick asking if it would be okay if he and his wife brought their houseguests up for a visit.  I would have begged off anyone else’s request, but Dick and his wife are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so I said, “Sure, come on over.” 

            It was a good decision.  Their friends from Arizona were lovely and they were politely tolerant of pesky Ted who is convinced that anyone who ventures through that gate has come solely to play fetch with him.  He really can be a nuisance, but everyone patronized him.  The donkeys too were on their best behavior as they always like company.  If they could have spoken they would have denied having done any of the naughty things I shared with my guests.  Corky’s doe eyes looked so innocent.  Surely no one would believe that he had anything to do with the gnawed barn wood and Andy looked like he could be a member of the donkey MENSA society.  Tiny was also a hit.  The unexpected visit was actually a delightful interlude in a sweltering 90 degree day.

            This morning’s walk came with another surprise.  As we approached the woods a strange-looking cat leapt from the brush and bolted into the trees.  It didn't move like a house cat and it's ears were tufted and the tail was bushy and just a fraction of the length of a normal cat tail.  I think we may have come upon a young bobcat.  The surprising encounter happened so quickly I only got a brief glimpse of the oddity, but with a bit of luck this won’t be the only encounter.

            Ranger Rick owns 19 acres, about 15 of which are woods.  All of his property is off limits to hunters and 4-wheelers, but welcomes me and trail riders from the stable across the road.  It is a sanctuary for much wildlife and we all appreciate this.  This woods is where the black bear took refuge about a year ago.  A pity the poor bruin didn’t stay in Ranger Rick’s woods.  Within days of showing itself it ventured to the east where some teenager hit it with his car.  Someone called the Highway Patrol and Trooper Goober, looking to make a name for himself shot the poor beast several times with a shotgun.  What a stupid thing to do.  We have not seen a bear since.  If our morning sighting was actually a bobcat, I do hope it won’t meet a similar fate.

            Tonight it’s off to an art show and silent auction to benefit the Friends of the Stark Pound, an incredible bunch of volunteers who make a big difference in the lives of the dogs that wind up at what used to be Death Row.  These people restore one’s faith in mankind.  I’m looking forward to the evening.

5:19 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Remembering Mrs. Clements.

           For some reason I have been thinking about Mrs. Clements. My sixth grade teacher was regal.  I've no idea how old she was. When you were twelve, all teachers were just OLD, but Mrs. Clements was someone who made a lasting impression upon me.

            She was an elegant woman, not fat, but she seemed substantial.  In those days school was no place for casual dress.  Male teachers wore suits and female teachers wore serious dresses.  Mrs. Clements favored crimson and it suited her.  It matched her lipstick.  Her black hair (probably dyed) was as rigid as a helmet and always elegantly styled.  She wore high heeled shoes which only added to her impressive stature. In many ways Mrs. Clements looked like a younger, more vigorous Queen Elizabeth.

            Mrs. Clements emphasized the importance of  correct grammar.  I can still see her ramrod straight back as she diagrammed sentences on the blackboard.  Then, turning toward the class she explained that adverbs modify verbs and adjectives modify nouns, etc.  She enunciated every word in a wavery soprano-like voice differentiating nominative and objective pronouns, so now when I turn on the television or the radio and I hear someone who is trying to sound terribly literate say something like, “…and he gave it to her and I…” it makes me want to scream!  I’m sure Mrs. Clements is spinning in her grave.

9:52 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another day.

            Some days everything just floats along effortlessly.   That’s how it was yesterday.  It was a busy day, but everything had a positive outcome. I even landed a regular writing gig I was vying for.  Today was just the opposite.  Big computer trouble began last evening.  Then there was the new camera fiasco, lost items, unexpected dilemmas…,  the list goes on and on, but it’s boring, so I shall simply note that today has not been a good day.  I’ll be happy to wrap it up and go to bed.

            I love falling asleep in the springtime serenaded by the peepers all night long.  Later in the summer the chorus frogs, coyotes, screech owls and even the occasional great horned owl lull me into that lovely coma-like state, but so far this autumn has been as quiet as a tomb.  Last night I was especially aware of the unusual silence.  Not even a car passed as I dropped off to a blissful sleep.  At 2:30 AM that stillness was abruptly broken by a raucous raccoon party that began at the barn and worked its noisy way down to the garden shed.  I was happy to hear them for this has been a very strange summer nearly devoid of wildlife visitors. 

            Typically there are mouse nests that must repeatedly be removed from the pump spout.  Not a single nest this year.  Raccoons and opossums love this place and why not?  There’s always something to eat if they look around.  The compost pile serves a rotating menu of coon and possum favorites.  This summer I’ve only seen a couple of each of those critters.  They were skittish and just passing through.  Even fox have been scarce.  Squirrels are abundant, but I miss the raccoons.

            One year, shortly after I moved here a particularly social coon visited the pond every day at 5:30.  I named it Calvin.  Calvin would patiently sit on a big rock and wait for me to prepare a little peanut butter sandwich and deliver it to him.  The dog family at that time was very tolerant of all wildlife, so Katie, Dorothy and Margie would lie on the brick porch and watch as Calvin appreciatively devoured dinner. 

            The scene was repeated every evening.  I probably could have petted the friendly masked bandit, but knew better than to try, so I just laid the sandwich on the rock inches away from the friendly hobo.  When Calvin appeared the following spring and resumed the dinner ritual I was delighted knowing he had survived the winter.  Then one day my dinner guest failed to appear.

            I fretted and grieved and thought surely Calvin had become the victim of some lunatic with a gun, a car or even someone’s dog.  My worry was needless.  Several weeks later Calvin appeared with four tiny replicas trailing behind HER.  It was wonderful.  She seemed so proud to show off her family and the kids all loved peanut butter as much as their mom.  The third year Calvin failed to appear and I imagine she had finally met her demise, but it was great sharing those two happy years.

            This years ominous absence of such visitors was broken by the gala that took place in the wee hours of morning and although it disrupted my sleep it gladdened my heart.

7:22 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Digging up the past.

            The woods are blanketed in leaves that crunch underfoot and the trees are beginning to reveal their bones.  The dogs love racing down the path, throwing up a wake of the dry foliage.  Things long hidden under spring and summers lush growth once again surface; things like what appears to be the stone foundation of a very small structure, a cabin maybe.  Many of the stones have been heaped on a pile in the center, but a square outline remains.  The foundation is at the north end of the woods which are defined by a haphazard rock wall next to Kenny’s fields.  Not the tidy New England sort of rock wall, but rather a long ridge of tossed boulders that surfaced after plowing, decade upon decade of discarded stones.  I wonder if anyone else has ever noticed these reminders of the past.  Kenny’s house was built around 1830-40, so the zig-zaggy wall represents generations of farmers, most of whom plowed with horses or mules. The rocky ridge is nearly three feet tall in most spots.  It makes me think about the past.

            Back home, the pine trees I pulled from between the railroad ties in Canada this summer were not doing well where I had planted them.  Since these trees might make a handsome barrier to the east where they would get more light I decided to move the seven survivors.  Digging up the trees was easy, but digging new holes was not.  In fact it was nearly impossible because in the process I dug up several stones not unlike those in the skeletal foundation in the woods.  Perhaps another building once existed east of my house.  I do know there was once an outhouse there, but would that warrant a stone foundation?  It was nice to discover them.  They'll certainly be useful somewhere, but I’m glad to be finished with that project!

6:20 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday morning.

            I think spur of the moment events are the best, so this morning I invited a few friends in for dinner tonight . This required a trip to the flea market to pick up some fresh produce.  Really, I only went to get some fruit, but ended up spending the morning perusing acres of stuff, both edible and otherwise.  The sun was bright, the fall air invigorating and the crowds enormous, both literally and figuratively! 

            A sociologist could tell a lot about America by attending one of these flea markets.  Cookies for fifty cents.  No shortage of customers at that booth, but most of them should have been eating celery, not peanut butter cookies the size of dinner plates.  Gun dealers.  “Yeh, I’m gittin’ ready fir ‘em…,” says one guy dressed in camo. He was fingering a rifle of some sort and I could guess what he was talking about as I eavesdropped--and it wasn't deer.  Book dealers.  Two categories prevailed; religious and trashy romance novels with a smattering of self-help books on the side.  Little porcelain knick knacks galore!  These were especially popular with obese women bearing tattoos on their arms and legs. They picked up these stylized babies with big eyes and bulging foreheads and handled them as if they were real children.  Eek, if one actually birthed something that looked like one of those things you can bet the mom would be on Oprah tomorrow!

            I had an interesting conversation with one bookseller who had a marvelous selection of reading material. He talked about his favorite writers and philosophy and other matters of substance, then admitted he was having “a cash flow problem.”  His booth was not crowded like the cookie vendor’s. 

            Representatives from a Canine Search & Rescue group hoped to recruit folks interested in training their dogs for this important work.  I’ve often wished I had a suitable dog, but one of the requirements is that the handler be able to carry the dog to safety if need be.  While Ted would be an excellent candidate for the searching part, there is no way in the world I could lift his bulk, but I know he’d love the job.  Poor Ernie, who fears his own shadow would never be a consideration, but at 100+ pounds even if he were suitable his weight is more than I could handle.  That leaves only Julie who I explained is seriously vision impaired.  “No problem,” said one of the men. “She still has her nose and that’s what really counts.”  True, but somehow I can’t see my little cross-eyed girl saving anyone’s life.  I’d hate to be buried under rocks waiting for Julie to find me. Guess I’ll have to get another dog if I really want to pursue this line of work.

            The produce mongers seemed weary of the irritating men and women alike who sniffed and squeezed, then rejected their offerings.  $2.00 for a basket of bruised peaches or $3.00 for some nice ones that would soon be in the same condition as the $2.00 basket thanks to all the unnecessary pinching and prodding.  No wonder the poor vendors looked exhausted.  I’d only planned to pick up a couple of things, but ended up with bags of beautiful fruit and lettuce and spent very little.  It's hard to beat the flea market, especially this time of year.

            As I pawed through a jumble of jewelry in an old dirty box a piece caught my eye.  I’m not much of a jewelry person, but this dirt-encrusted leaf said, “Pick me up,” and I did.  It was supposed to be a brooch, but the pin was gone.  “How much?” I asked.  “For you it’s free or if you’d like to you can give me $300.00 for it.”  We laughed and chatted and I now have a pretty pin that I’m going to try to outfit with a bale and chain.  I did not give him $300.00.

            It was fun to be invisible amidst the thousands of other shoppers. I had a great time.  'Too bad I didn’t have my camera.

5:29 pm edt          Comments

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kicks just keep getting harder to find.

            Neighbor Sandy’s 82 pound pumpkin took first prize at the county fair.  For growing this behemoth and then lugging out of her garden, heaving it into the truck, then out of the truck and into the exhibition hall she received the spectacular prize of $20.00 and a blue ribbon.  The procedure was then reversed and now the monster is back where it started out.  What will she do with such a pumpkin I wondered aloud?

            My friend looked at me as if she hadn’t given this much thought.  It certainly wasn’t a pie pumpkin.  “Well, I guess it will have to be a jack-o-lantern,” she said.  I think she’ll need a sawzall to carve it. 

            Sandy is an odd little character and I guess that’s why we are friends.  She is quite small, but sturdy as a fireplug. She’s dependable and sensible.  When I’m sick she makes jello in Styrofoam cups and puts it in my refrigerator.  When I travel, she cares for all of the critters here and I never have to worry about their welfare.  She spoils everyone of them.  But something else sets her apart from other friends. She is spontaneous.  Until a few years ago it wasn’t at all unusual for Sandy to call and say, “I saw buzzards circling the quarry.  Do you want to go look for bodies?”   And so we did.

            Before the limestone quarry at the end of the road was “developed” it was 750+ acres of wildness.  It had been abandoned in the sixties and nature had beautifully reclaimed the wasteland. It was a beautiful place.  Crystal clear ponds lured drunken teenagers to jump from the sheer cliffs into the icy water.  My dogs loved to swim there too and I enjoying canoeing the vast winding waterways.  Unfortunately the ponds were also places where thugs dumped things ranging from stolen cars to dead bodies, both human and otherwise.  One never knew what might be found floating or looking up from the depths. 

            A single road intersected the woods, fields and ponds, so not surprisingly it was convenient for a variety of purposes.  The quarry had a unique allure for many; nature lovers like myself, drug dealers, cheating spouses and criminals.  For nine years in a row a murdered female would be discovered just off either side of the road. All were eventually identified as prostitutes from Cleveland.  No one was ever arrested. When the women were found to be hookers, law enforcement just seemed to look the other way.  Case closed. 

            While Sandy and I never stumbled upon one of those victims, over the years we tramped every inch of that place we discovered other treasures.  Once we found an unopened case of Mary Kay moisturizer.  Twenty four jars!  Everyone we knew suddenly became a Mary Kay user.  We hauled home countless dumped and abandoned animals and found the remains of others, like the two emaciated dead beagles laying side by side, each with a bullet through its head. 

            Everything we found begged a story like the nice acoustic guitar in a hardshell case, a sound board, a song list and a wooden stool, all barely hidden in the weeds.  I think about it still. 

            I imagine the poor discouraged musician who just couldn’t face another night of strumming and singing the oldies at country clubs, bars or any other venue that might net him a few bucks.  I see this poor devil driving into the blackness of the quarry after an especially-tiresome gig.  Turning off his headlights he sits alone in the darkness, contemplating his life.  He had big hopes, but somehow things never quite clicked.  After a dismal rehashing of his dashed dreams, the thought of one more gig pretending he really liked singing the Wichita Lineman or Desperado is unfathomable. 

            In a fit of desperation he pushes open the car door and steps into the night, oblivious to any dangers that might be lurking in the quiet weeds.  He walks to the trunk, but hesitates.  His eyes brim with tears that linger on the lashes, but don’t spill down his cheeks—not yet.  Picking up the instrument that has come to feel like an extension of his body he heaves it into the brush.  That's the hardest part.  Throwing the sound board is easy and the stool easier still.  Liberated from his failed life he slams the trunk, gets back into the car and races down the quarry road without looking back.

            The soundboard was smashed when Sandy and I found it, but the guitar was safe in its case.  Eventually I sold it, but the stool is still in the basement workshop right next to the workbench.

            Our days of tramping around the old quarry are gone.  Everyplace is someone’s back yard now.  I’m not sure what I’ve substituted for those good times, but Sandy has taken up growing giant pumpkins.           

7:59 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I can't believe my eyes!


             It’s been an exhausting day.  I regret to report that our lovely red fox never got to enjoy the anchovies.  He died during the night.  The poor thing that had lived peacefully at the old barn on the corner was the victim of another hit and run driver.  It used to be very quiet here.  If five cars went down the road on any given day that was a lot.  Not so anymore.  These formerly quiet country roads have become racetracks and the cars are driven by careless speeders chatting on cell phones, mindless of anything else that might chance crossing their path.  It’s just one more way things are changing.  An old Amish fellow I know once said (and I’m not sure this was an original observation…), “All progress requires change, but not all change is progress.”   Sad, but true.

            Tiny is growing like a weed and becoming very playful.  She has figured out how to escape her confines, but no longer hides in unreachable places.  Julie adores this new friend, but as you can see by the look on her face, she can’t believe her eyes.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This peaceable kingdom.

            People are always amazed at how well all the critters here get along with one another, and it’s true.  They like each other.  It’s just the way things have to be. As this photo illustrates Tiny has been happily accepted by all, especially Ted who loves to groom cats.  Each morning they take their turn at Ted’s big slurpy tongue.  Why should they bother washing themselves when a big dog is more than willing to clean them from head to tail?  It’s all part of the morning ritual. Ted was fascinated with Tiny from the minute she arrived, so she will be well cared for I’m certain.

            Thankfully I am not the only caring person on this road.  I’ve just had a call from neighbor Micki telling me there is an injured fox lying up against her garage door.  My wildlife rehab friend Fran has advised how to capture the little critter, so while I wish I were finished for today, I must abort this blog post, haul out the live trap, bait it with sardines and hope our little friend will be lured by the smelly treat.  If successful I’ll be transporting the patient in the morning.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy birthday Jill.


            It seems impossible that xx years ago (and those are NOT Roman numerals…) I brought my daughter into this world.  Out of modesty for both Jill and myself I will keep the magic number secret.  She requested pie rather than cake and for that I am delighted.  My cakes are usually disastrous, but pies are usually good, so I’ve made the requested apple pie backed up by a banana cream (just in case…).

            The apples looked lovely at the orchard; a yellow background with pinky-red stripes.  The orchard master explained they are a new variety, a cross between Gala and Yellow Delicious.  My suggested name for this new apple is Not Very Good.  The apples may be pretty to look at, but inside they were dry and tasteless, proving once again that beauty is only skin deep.  I won’t buy this variety again and can only hope that in a pie they taste better than out of hand.  Tonight a few of Jill’s friends gathered to celebrate her big day; the ultimate critics.  Pies were deemed a success, but her friend Cindy brought some apple crunch thing made with maple syrup that I felt was much better than my pie.  I shall post her “easy” recipe as soon as she sends it.

           It was a nice gathering and I'm lucky to have such a good kid. 

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Tiny's big adventure.

            Overnight Tiny managed to wedge herself (sex now determined) between the interior and exterior stall wall, so at 7:30 AM I returned to the house for the crowbar and pryed off a board to retrieve the helpless kitten.  She was cold and trembling, so I immediately called my wonderful vet who said to bring her right in. 

weighs one and a half pounds.  Imagine 6 sticks of butter. 
Her ears were infested with mites.  She got wormed and sent home with antibiotics, ear medication and assurance that she’ll be fine once all these little issues are addressed.  She’ll return in two weeks for she is too fragile to handle vaccines or blood tests right now.  Back home she endured her first bath. 

            For now she is being confined to a sizable cage.  She will have the run of the west wing when she’s healthier and more adjusted.  I will post photos of her progress every couple of days.  She looks so much better already.  Little Ivy (cat) visits her, peering into the cage and telling her what she can expect here since it appears The Peaceable Kingdom just got bigger, but since the feline family here already numbers seven, if anyone is interested in giving Tiny a good home, please contact me.  She loves to be held and I’m sure that like the hundreds of other dumped and abandoned kittens Tiny will make someone a wonderful loving companion.  It’s just that I already have companions aplenty.

            Once again today I was reminded that there are some very nice people in the world.  I refer to the staff at the vet clinic where each person is special.  In a world where everything is little more than "business," this clinic stands apart.  They are all kind and accommodating and always have the genuine welfare of the animals at heart.  I think all of these people are extraordinary and have let them know.  Words of appreciation (and a batch of cookies) cost nothing, but mean a lot.

5:13 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Meet Tiny.



Tiny has been in protective custody for just about 24 hours now and as you can see by the photo he/she (sex yet to be determined) is in pretty rough condition.  The kitten is skin and bones, has weepy eyes and is terrified, but already I’m seeing improvement.  Food and a warm safe place to rest are having a positive effect, but a trip to the vet is in order ASAP.

            In the donkey pasture there were three very dead trees.  The lives of these trees were shortened with the help of the two bad asses who stripped bark several years ago.  Yesterday T. cut them into logs and split them into cord wood, so today with the help of the tree murderers and the dogs not to mention several cats I hauled it to the wood pile and was surprised at just how much there was.  While it is far from premium so far as the BTU’s it will generate, it will still burn in the woodstove this winter.  Waste not, want not.

            Ted would play Frisbee from morning until night if he could just con someone into throwing his demolished disc.  This one is less than a week old.  Since human throwers quickly tire of this game he has come up with a new tactic and I must admit it’s working for him.  Whatever task the human may be performing Ted knows that a Frisbee deposited in the garden, in the wheelbarrow, on the woodpile, on a table or even in a hole will pretty much ensure a hearty if reluctant toss.  Here Ted is “assisting” with the firewood project.

            Fall is rendering the gardens ugly, but these last dahlias of summer still brighten the back yard.  Next year I plan to plant them en mass.

7:54 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Todays find.

            Helpers Ted and Julie and I spent the day cleaning up the tall ragweed which I’d knocked down with the tractor about a week ago.  It was dry enough to burn so that was our job this lovely Saturday.  Each year the monstrous plants fall down, creating a big mess that takes weeks to clean up.  And each year I promise myself to plant that area in something productive or pretty or certainly less messy the following spring.  One year it was corn and sunflowers, but to say the crop was marginal would be stretching it and so the following spring the ragweed reigned supreme once again.  But, this year I have a real plan I’m excited about.  The pine trees I planted at the south end of the pond are not thriving, so I will move them.  The prospect of a graceful curve of evergreens fronted by cleome will be pretty and ultimately will provide even more privacy!!!

            After the exhausting ragweed burn I decided to mow the pasture one last time.  Monthly mowing has greatly improved the forage and I don’t mind mowing the fields.  I’d just finished and was bringing the tractor through the gate when I spotted black and white fur up against the hinge-side fence post.  Had it been on the other side I might have hit it with the mower.  It looked like a bit of skunk fur, nothing more.  It was tiny.

            I got off the tractor to investigate.  No skunk fur.  I grabbed the scruff of a miniscule kitten.  I quickly opened the door to the extra stall and put the trembling hissing creature in a muck bucket, then hurried to the house to fetch it something to eat.  It didn’t quite know what to do with the food, and little wonder since it is hardly old enough to be weaned, but it after putting it at the bowl a couple of times it got the idea and quickly devoured the meal.  It has a limp on a rear leg.  This kitten did not wander here on its own.  It was most likely thrown from a car, like the many beer cans I collect from the ditches. 

            A search of the fields for more of the litter was futile, so it looks as if I now have a barn kitty.  It’s raining now and much cooler.  Thank goodness I found the poor thing.  It has food and water and a warm safe bed in the stall. Pictures tomorrow.

7:53 pm edt          Comments

Friday, September 10, 2010

Feeling my way...

            The new camera arrived today and I’m eagerly looking forward to sharing some images of the lovely woods the dogs and I walk each day.  My regular camera is far too heavy and awkward to take on these treks.  The new one is tiny.  I’m excited, but slightly intimidated about learning how to use it.

            More minor eye problems sent me to the ophthalmologist today.  Consequently I am somewhat blind again right now, so this post will by necessity be brief.   I also had to order a new contact lens which has jumped in price since my last new pair in 2006.  Suddenly funds seem to be hemorrhaging.  A writer’s life is always feast or famine and while work is plentiful, so are unexpected expenses.  I’m sure it will all work out.

Tomorrow begins a two day auction of wonderful art at the Rachel Davis Gallery in Cleveland with all proceeds to benefit animal welfare organizations through the Janet L. Ennis Charitable Trust.  This will be a great way to invest in art, enhance your décor and help animals all at the same time.  Check out the offerings and details on line:

            My life has always been about animals and I am fortunate to get to know and write about some of those dedicated to doing the really hard work of rescue, rehab and trying to foster a more humane planet through education and legislation.  By comparison, my job is a piece of cake.  Upcoming travel over the next few months will present opportunities for me to share the stories of some of these people and their projects.

6:32 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Live your life and appreciate what you have!

            At the mill Dave loaded about 150 pounds of feed into the back of my truck.  Laughingly I said, “If I didn’t have all these animals I’d be rich.” 

            He replied, “But would you be happy?  ”That was easy to answer.  No, I could never be happy in a world without animals. 

            Later I stopped in Borders Books to peruse the alleged dwindling periodical department and was pleased and surprised to find a plethora of new magazines, several of which look as if they might be suitable venues for my work.  One new publication was The American Dog which noted that in today’s economy the pet business shows no sign of retreating.  Currently it is a $50 billion a year industry and predicted to grow by $7 billion!  The magazine offered some facets of this growing industry.

            Beyond the obvious pet foods, grooming, veterinary services ranging from holistic to conventional, there exists what I consider to be absurd “opportunies” in pet clothing.  Frankly I do not believe that dogs and cats NEED fancy dresses, hoodies and even fur coats other than those that Mother Nature gave them.  My own dogs do have quilted coats made like horse rugs for winter, but that’s the extent of their wardrobes.

           Then I met with a friend who made me realize what a special and privileged life I lead.  I cherish this friend for all that she gives me without even realizing it.  I thought about our lunch all afternoon.  In fact, I thought about many of the special people in my life.

“Why would you ever want to leave this place?” says Patty.  She looks regal, sitting on the porch overlooking the cesspool that passes for a pond.  The truth is that I MUST travel to appreciate what I take for granted.  Today I confirmed several very exciting business trips over the next several months.  Sometimes I wonder why I am so fortunate to lead this life.  I am a very lucky person.

10:28 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A lot on my mind.
I've had a lot on my mind and since I'm caught up on writing jobs I've been reviewing some of the Leaving Fifth Street pieces.  This one is still rough, but I like it.  Maybe you will too.

                                                   It Won’t Be Long Now

              “It won’t be long now.  She’s cyanotic....”  That’s what the nurse said. Lydia wished she could wake up just long enough to say a few things now that it was getting down to the wire. Since the nurse had said “it wouldn’t be long now” she guessed this big sleep would soon be coming to an end.
      Lydia had already outlived her predicted three score and ten, so the encroaching Grim Reaper wasn’t really a surprise.  Even so.... They say a person’s life passes before him as death approaches, but she hadn’t seen anything yet, so maybe it wasn’t quite time to go.  Frankly, Lydia didn’t want to see reruns of her life.  Up to this point it had been a lifetime of anger, regrets and disappointment.  Now, lying here in this curious state of isolation she found she was rather enjoying life for the first time.  She felt a little like she did after a couple glasses of Mogan David blackberry wine; weightless and free, without worry.  ‘Quite nice, actually.
            Yesterday the preacher had come by for a visit.  Wilma the day nurse crooned in her funny sing-song way, “Ly-dee-ahh, your minister has come to see yewwwww...”  The preacher talked about the weather.
            “Boy, this is some rain we’re having, isn’t it?”  Then he prayed for soldiers.  Was there a war going on?  Lydia couldn’t recall how long she’d been in this lovely state. She didn’t give a shit about what the weather was doing outside.  She wanted the bald guy who was fidgeting next to her bed to confirm her salvation.  Isn’t that what preachers are supposed to do?  Comfort those in distress or those at the end of their days here on earth? 
            He could have at least touched her hand or said something--anything--to assure her that her dedication to first Lutheran Church and her attempted adherence to its dogma weren’t for naught, but he didn’t.  ‘Just went on and on about the damned weather.  Frankly she was glad when he left.  Oh, if only Randy were still around.  She was pretty sure no one knew she was on such intimate terms with Reverend Randall Peeler, but oh, the dreams of those steamy days when he’d slip up behind her and wrap his arms around her waist as she stood at the kitchen sink.
            It’s a miracle none of the neighbors caught on.  Not many preachers made so many house calls as Randy, but to the best of her knowledge no one ever guessed their little secret.  She knew she should feel guilty about the indiscretion, but she didn’t. Still, no one was more surprised than she was that day he stood in the pulpit and announced that he was heeding the call to a church in Rhode Island.  Rhode Island!  Of all places. That was a jolt.
            By her own standards Lydia was a good Christian and a superb Lutheran. Each week until she became so ill she had stood in the pew which had been in her family for three generations and professed to believe that in spite of the original sin that bound her to evil temptations (oh, that Randy....), she would be saved from Hell’s inferno through her faith.  Oh dear, now that this nurse had said it wouldn’t be long, she sure hoped that was true.
            The back door opened and closed.  Someone had left the house.  Lydia knew every creak and squeak of the place. Her father had built this house. She'd been born in this very room.  She’d never lived anywhere else.  Life beyond Fifth Street was limited to a few National Geographic specials she’d seen on the television.  She regretted that her world was so small and now there was no time left to expand it.  She wished she’d traveled to faraway places, learned to ride a bike and ice skate, but instead she’d stayed right where she’d first entered the world.  Now she’d be leaving from the very same place. 
   She wondered if Zena, her only child would be by her side when the big event occurred—death.  She was all that Lydia had left, but their relationship was fraught with differences, just as her’s had been with her own mother.  If only she could tell Zena that none of that really mattered now and that she really did love her, but in this purgatory she couldn’t say anything.  She could only lie here and think.
            Thinking about where she might be heading, (Heaven, she hoped) Lydia allowed her mind to drift, wondering who might be there to greet her when her soul departed this worn out body.  Her mother maybe?  She was ambivalent about that reunion for like herself and Zena, they had spent their lives criticizing, judging and being generally disappointed with one another.  Her father?  She was only nine when he died from the Spanish influenza of 1918.  About all she remembered was how he’d insisted in his delirium on getting all dandied up in his best suit so he could go to the neighborhood tavern.  She remembered watching as her mother helped him on with his coat, but as he bent to pick up his hat from the chair he fell to the floor dead as a mackerel. So, if he’s at the pearly gates to meet her she probably wouldn’t even recognize him.
            Certainly Andrew would be there, wouldn‘t he?  Oh, of course her husband of forty years would be there.  But maybe he’d be with Tiny, the girlfriend Lydia wasn’t supposed to know about.  She recalled that hot August day when she’d discovered his indiscretion.  They were eating lunch in the sweltering kitchen when the phone rang and she had answered it.  It was Capper‘s Jewelers, the most expensive jeweler in town calling to tell Andrew that the gold bracelet he’d ordered was almost finished, but they needed to check something about the engraving; “All my love, Andrew.”  Andrew had nearly choked on his sausage.
            He probably never guessed Lydia would discover his affair and he surely wouldn’t have expected to be outed by a phone call from the jeweler.  She remembered how his face turned gray and how the sweat poured from his brow and dripped onto his potatoes, the potatoes she had mashed just the way he liked them; with little lumps.  He’d sputtered some lame excuse that the office was getting the bracelet as a group present, but she knew the truth.  “All my love, Andrew!” Oh, she felt the angry and hurt all over again.  An expensive engraved bracelet!  Just how dumb did he think she was?  All he ever gave her were stockings from Kobacker’s, ‘the working man’s store.’  He never even bothered to wrap them.  She’d never gotten a gold bracelet from Capper‘s, that’s for damned sure.
            She found she was enjoying thinking in profanity too.  All her life she’d kept a close rein on her tongue when she wanted to curse.  The times she did let loose with a “dammit to hell” she would blame whoever provoked the outburst for making her say it.  Now that no one knew her thoughts, she saw the words in blue letters and it pleased her to give color to anger and exasperation.
              After Andrew’s revelation she kept her heartbreak to herself, but things were never the same between them.  When he died and the funeral home was flooded with friends and co-workers, Tiny was not there.  Remembering all of this, Lydia still thought a reunion with her husband would be nice.  She mentally put his name in the ‘looking forward to seeing’ column.  After all, her name was already engraved next to his on the granite marker in Forest Hill Cemetery.  Soon she’d be lying next to him six feet under the soggy wet earth if that preacher’s weather report was to be believed.
            There was one person Lydia was eager to see-- her brother Billy.  The only time they had been apart was when he was in Germany during the war.  Billy was two years younger than she was and had never married, but had lived with her and Andrew until his death.  That’s just how it was.  Lydia, Andrew, Zena and Billy.  When he died last year she felt her own spark begin to flicker.  Lydia wondered if her lips were smiling because the thought of being with her brother again made her happy.
            There were so many things to think about as she lay in this strange rented hospital bed plunked in what used to be her dining room.  The nurse was still pressing her thumb into Lydia’s foot, but she felt only the slightest pressure, like a butterfly landing on her bare instep.  She felt her cat Pinky too, as he settled against her.  She wished her hand could reach out and touch his soft fur, but like her foot it was unresponsive to her wishes.
            A cold draft brushed her face as the back door opened again and she heard neighbor Anne’s low voice talking to Wilma.  “The nurse says it won’t be long now?” Anne asked.  Soft whispers from Wilma and then Anne’s cool hand upon her own.  Anne was praying in German, her native tongue and the one Lydia herself had grown up speaking.  Wonderful Anne.  She was a special friend, the one Lydia used to confide in.
            There were so many things she wanted to tell Anne and Wilma and Zena.  She wished they knew that Joanne, the night nurse was roughing her up and stealing things.  She wanted to beg Wilma not to leave when the clock struck midnight for that marked the first of twelve hours of Joanne’s sadistic rule.
            She wanted to tell Zena how Joanne had tossed her feeble body on the sofa one night and propped her up with pillows, then teased her poor thin hair into something that looked like Dolly Parton‘s.  All the while she was making fun of Lydia, laughing and telling her what she’d found in her dresser or in the attic and how much she’d sell it for.  Oh, what an evil creature that Joanne was all dressed up in her nurses’ outfit.  Lydia wished she had the strength to summon help, but every night Joanne would shoot something into the pitiful vein and in a matter of seconds she didn’t know what Joanne was hauling out to her car under the cover of night.
            She wanted to tell that preacher he could use some brushing up on his bedside manner and that she wasn’t all that impressed with him. He really should try harder!  She could only imagine what he’d be saying at her funeral.  Lydia loved funerals. 
Before she was facing her own, attending them was something of a hobby.  By rough calculations she figured she must have viewed at least a thousand dead people over the years.  She was an expert on how things should and should not be done.  Too bad she hadn’t issued directions for the one coming up.  She hoped the funeral director would do her up nicely because she sure as hell didn’t want to end up looking like Edna.
            When Edna died Lydia went to pay her last respects since she hadn’t had anything else to do that afternoon.  Edna was one of those big women who always pretended to be fragile and delicate, walking with little mincing steps and wearing a little velvet bow in her hair.  It gave her a silly childish look, but she was a bossy obnoxious shrew.  Edna had a terrible relationship with her own daughter which might have explained the bizarre events that day.            Lydia wasn’t prepared for what had greeted her when her feet sank into that obscenely-thick carpet common in funeral homes in the better sections of town.  Those in the poorer sections had thin carpet Lydia had observed.  She considered herself an expert on funeral parlor decor as well as body preparation.
            Anyway, there lay Edna looking like Thanksgiving dinner.  Her casket was silver-toned, like a big aluminum roaster and Edna in a silver lame blouse looked like a great big Butterball turkey.  There should have been a pop-up thermometer in her bulging foil-wrapped breast.  The sight of Edna would have been quite enough of a shock, but the music blaring down from the ceiling speakers was a collection of polka tunes recorded live complete with whoops and clapping. Edna’s daughter Lynne sat quietly smirking as she watched the entourage of visitors shock  Lydia hoped Zena would not be so cruel.

            There were so many things Lydia wished she could say or do.  Slipping further still from the world around her she realized that she had botched up some things rather badly and it was too late to fix them now.  Oh well....  A blinding light beckoned her and she knew it really wouldn’t be long now.

9:29 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Find a penny, pick it up...


           ...All day long, have good luck.  I am a believer in such axioms, or at least I was until I took a big oriental rug to the car wash.  This is an excellent way to really get rugs clean, by the way.  It’s hard work lugging the heavy,wet wool, but the end result is worth the effort.

            I had soaked the big rug with sudsy water, but it was going to take several rounds of rinsing, so I was headed toward the bill changer when I spotted a penny on the pavement.  As always, I bent to pick up the good luck piece.  After converting a fiver to a fist full of quarters I headed back into the wet car wash bay, deposited  my money and grabbed the high pressure sprayer. That’s when the bee came at me. 

             Memories of the recent yellow jacket attack are still very fresh.  As I whirled toward the threat with spray wand in hand my slippery crocs went out from under me on the sodden soapy rug and down I went with a splat.  Instinctively my left hand flew out to break the fall.  It hurt a little at the time, but I really didn’t think much about it.  My soaking wet pants were more of a concern since the next stop was the grocery store.

            The hand quickly discolored and began to throb, but it’s just a sprain.  The good news is that the rug is beautiful.  I bought it at what I consider a bargain price and can’t wait to put it down in the dining room.  I’ll have to recruit a helper since my left hand is useless.  As for that “good luck” axiom that offered such hope, what can I say?  I’m afraid it may not be true, but hey, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

            True to their reputation for shoddy construction, Dove Builders most recent nest has blown out of the pine tree. The two infants had not yet fledged and so they smashed to their death.  I honestly don’t know how dove populations thrive. 

            The farrier came today to trim the donkeys’ hooves, giving the two troublemakers a diversion.  As disgusting as it is, all dogs love eating hoof trimmings.  Ted can hardly wait.

            My daughter Jill has recently obtained official non-profit status her cat rescue; Cripple Creek Ferals & Friends.  Check out the cute kitties that desperately need new homes.

5:11 pm edt          Comments

Monday, September 6, 2010

Changing seasons

            The temperatures have pleasantly plunged. The skies are dark and the winds scream that summer is over—or at least I hope it is….  Leaves skitter across the dry grass and the tall ragweed is at its awesome peak.  The dogs and cats loved to make tunnels through the foliage and it couldn’t be beat as a privacy barrier, but it has started to collapse.  The wind took down a big swath of the twenty feet tall plants, thus blocking my exit from the porch.  As exotic and dramatic as this plant is all summer, it’s now just a big mess and there’s no easy way to clean it up.

            I got on the tractor and decided to just help Mother Nature along and knock it all down.  Seeds rained down from above (why didn’t I wear a hat?) and the thick stalks often stopped the tractor from moving forward.  It was an ugly job, but at last nearly all of the plants are on the ground.  I’ll try to gather them and set the heap ablaze, but it won’t be easy and I may have to resort to dousing the pile with some used motor oil saved for just such emergencies.

            In spite of the winds the dogs and I went for a walk.  In the woods two trees, each no less than thirty feet tall had come down.  One was dead and so denuded of bark that it was impossible to identify, but the other was a lanky wild cherry tree.  It must have been dramatic when they crashed to the ground, but I guess I’m glad we missed the event. 

            Deeper in the woods is an enormous beech tree.  The base is almost three feet in diameter, but the great tree is completely hollow and two thirds of the outer trunk core is totally gone.  Very little holds this beech tree erect, something I was very aware of as we hurried past.  A doe rose from her bed and casually walked off, but aside from that there was little life to be seen as the winds whistled through the trees.

6:46 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, September 4, 2010

What's in a look?

            It’s very early morning when I head to the barn.  Chores don’t take long and most days I go in my pajamas topped (or not) with whatever else is needed to be comfortable.  On my feet are bright yellow crocs a couple sizes too big.  I know I look a fright, but who’s to see me?  When I hear a car coming down the road I scurry toward the barn, a tree or the shed, but I really don’t care if I am spotted.  This morning as I headed back toward the house in my not ready for prime time attire  I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the back door and thought, “OMG, I have become Pearl!”

            Pearl lived in the house directly behind where I grew up.  Her husband B. looked just like Popeye the sailor man and their dog Toby was a shaggy indifferent mutt that resembled a werewolf.  Their big white house was unlike anyplace else on Fifth Street.  In the backyard surrounded by portulacas was a fish pond where multi-colored goldfish swam until being taken inside for winter.  The limbs of a sour cherry tree hung over the back porch that held a swing suspended from the ceiling.  A tattered quilt lay folded at one end for chilly summer evenings.

            Inside the house bookshelves were loaded with hundreds of old National Geographic magazines, a World Atlas’ and fascinating volumes about fish, plants and photography.  There was a player piano in the entryway and a darkroom in the basement.  Every room had at least one big gurgling aquarium that made the place warm and humid and inviting.  In the winter water streamed down the window glass.  I'd curl up in a huge leather (or maybe it was Pleather) rocker that swallowed up my thin young self and leaf through the reading material.  It was a wonderful and magical place to visit.  No one on Fifth Street realized that Pearl and B. were smarter and far more interesting than any of them.  They considered them “odd.”

            Like me, Pearl cut her own hair and like mine, it was short, but I prefer to think mine is a bit more stylish.  Her straight bob was chin length, secured at the temple by bobby pins.  She had no teeth at all and said little to the neighbors as she and Toby stomped through the streets rain or shine.  Toby, at the end of twenty feet of clothes line walked with the same determination as his mistress. 

            Fashion mattered not at all to Pearl and in my memory I can still see her pendulous breasts swinging at waist level under an ugly dress that rarely seemed to change.  In the winter she wore a long black wool overcoat and unbuckled men’s goulashes that made a shushing-clink sound that could be heard before she was in sight.  A dark scarf long enough to trip her trailed behind and a stretched out old watch cap topped off her cold weather costume.

            Pearl was originally from Nebraska, a place that seemed as remote from Fifth Street as Mars.  One day, wearing the big overcoat she wore when she walked the dog in  cold weather Pearl simply headed up the ally without Toby.  She was carrying a ratty brown cardboard suitcase when she boarded a Greyhound bus headed west.  She went to Nebraska all by herself, something no other woman in the neighborhood would have even thought of doing, although most probably envied her.  B. told the neighbors that she went to research her ancestry and that’s all anyone ever knew.  She seemed to be gone for a long time.

            Now that I’m older, a solitary woman with a self-inflicted haircut, someone who dresses in thrift store clothing and lives with a mob of motley animals, I wonder if I’m regarded with the same curiosity with which I regarded Pearl.  I hope so.  Pearl inspired me.  I learned early on that it’s better to be authentic than to care what anyone else thinks.

4:11 pm edt          Comments

Friday, September 3, 2010


            Buddy went to the vet early this morning and was diagnosed as having “inflamed gums” and “allergies,” so she is now on medications.  The fill-in vet (my regular is working at the county fair) suggested that due to Buddy’s advancing age I “…may want to have kidney and liver function tests done on her.”  I don’t think so.  Buddy eats, drinks and makes merry and seems very healthy other than her sore mouth which should heal quickly thanks to Clyndamyacin.

            Buddy may be an odd name for a female cat, but when the late Margie (dog victim of a rare aggressive cancer) found Buddy as a tiny kitten in neighbor Bill’s shrubbery I foolishly presumed that the orange kitty (which became Margie’s best friend) was a male. Bill said he had seen a car throw the kitten from the window and speed away the night before and that he didn’t want it.  It seemed incredulous to me then (and now) that any person could witness such an act and then ignore the helpless subject of such cruelty.

             I named the kitten Buddy and made an appointment to have him neutered.  How embarrassing to receive a call later that day from the vet telling me they had spayed Buddy!  Buddy says she couldn’t care less that she has a masculine moniker. In fact, she likes it.

            While waiting at the vet clinic I could hear a conversation through the wall between the exam rooms.  A older man with an Appalachian inflection in his speech was telling the vet tech about his dog.  I could also hear pathetic canine moaning.  It was a sporadic whine-moan; the sound that accompanies pain.  The man told about finding the dog and having him for fourteen years.  Throughout the conversation during which the vet tech offered the standard compassionate responses, the dogs discomfort was obvious.  Then I heard him say, “I’m ready to let him go.”

            My heart broke.  He was trying to sound brave and manly, but even without seeing him, I knew he was suffering that worst kind of pain—letting go….  The vet tech must have left the room because all talking ceased.  Occasionally the dog wailed.  Then I heard the door open again and the dog being carried away protesting in raspy barks and moans and I knew where it was going as the sound grew distant and faded.  It had been taken to the surgery room far at the end of the building.  All was quiet.  

         I also knew what procedure the vet had performed before coming into my room to look at Buddy.   I felt so sorry for the poor man whose face I never saw, but whose pain I felt through the sage-colored walls.

6:53 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A day of extremes.

            It’s about 8:00 PM and I’m having a glass of wine to formalize the close of a day fraught with petty aggravations, but also to celebrate a day of blessings.  Unfortunately the bad events launched my day. 

            People who live with animals expect unpleasant surprises, but when they come before dawn in the form of projectile cat vomit that demands immediate attention, it makes one want to pull the covers overhead and start the day later. 

            Okay, I cleaned up the mess and poured the first delicious cup of coffee.  I am a coffee snob and in my book, few things are as bad as bad coffee.  My coffee is always fresh, good quality and something nice to anticipate each morning.  Coffee IN the mug is good.  Coffee OUT of the mug is bad.  Spilling the coffee ON oneself is definitely not good. 

            So, I cleaned up that mess and tried to put on a happy face.  After all, they were just minor issues, right?  I went up to my office and turned on the computer expecting it to work as it always does, but that turned out not to be the case.  How do things change overnight?  Especially when I shut everything down before retiring?  Long story short; computer was all screwed up and seemingly unfixable (by me).  A call to the repair shop informed me that they are “…about a week behind.” 

            After spending hours fiddling with things I know nothing about it was time to meet my daughter for a belated birthday luncheon.  “Let’s try that place…, they have some vegetarian offerings on their menu….”  We met at the proposed restaurant only to discover this is a place that should not be serving food.  In fact, what they served barely qualified as food!  We were very disappointed and not at all satiated, but then things took a dramatic turn for the better. 

            At Jill’s home I met the five rescued kitties that need a home.  (See them on  Petfinder under Cripple Creek Ferals and Friends.)  Jill is someone I genuinely like.  I’d like her even if she were not my daughter, so we had a very nice afternoon and I returned home with what I considered to be the absolutely perfect gift—several bales of wood shavings, thus saving me the lung-clogging, eye-burning, filthy job of going to the mill for shavings myself.  I was and am delighted!!! 

            As if this were not quite enough good fortune the phone rang and it was my certified arborist friend Dick Drake, who after reading my blog lament about the defective wheelbarrows here not only brought me a refurbished heavy-duty replacement, but also took my two junk wheelbarrows and created a second heavy-duty model that should last the rest of my life!  He called to say he was delivering the remodeled workhorse.  It is wonderful and better than a brand new one.  I loaded the bales of shavings in the sturdy new (to me) wheelbarrow and did barn chores with ease.

            Last year I hired Dick to trim my beloved big Norway Maple and he did an outstanding job.  Through this experience I learned the drastic difference between a certified arborist and simply a tree trimmer.  Dick is an honest and competent businessman and a kind person, something rare in todays world.

            Finally, after wasting much time earlier in the day being annoyed over cat vomit, spilled coffee, a broken computer and the worst lunch in memory, I realized how stupid and foolish I was to expend that energy when so many nice things followed in their wake.  After a tally of good stuff versus bad I see the good stuff in my life certainly outweighs any bad. 

            Tomorrow will be a better day.  The cat is going to the vet.  My computer fiddling has paid off somewhat and things are almost working as they should.  I will enjoy another mug of good coffee in the morning and I will never return to the rotten restaurant.  Life is good—or it will be….

9:07 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


            The phone rang.  It was Ginny.  “Hey Karen, I’m cleaning my freezer.  Come on over here.”  It was a vague and strange order and I thought maybe Ginny needed help, so after dinner with friend R. I drove up the long lane towards Ginny’s neat-as-a-pin cottage at the top of the hill.  Ginny and Mitzi, her toothless dog were sitting in front of the big window watching a trio of deer by the pond.  Ginny looked tired, but why shouldn’t she?  She’s always busy, always working.

            We sat and visited for a long while, enjoying the antics of two fawns, their mom and two darker deer which were probably young bucks.  Then the doe moved and I saw that her right front leg was useless and broken.  She’d most likely been hit by a car.  The fawns crossed the creek and the lane and came right toward the house.  Ginny was like a little kid, so delighted, but also worried about the fate of the broken doe.  “Oh, I hope they’ll be safe down there.  That pond water just isn’t very good anymore since the farmer (who leases her land) uses all those chemicals,” she said. 

            I watched the face of my friend who is just a few months short of marking a century of farm life darken.  The changes she has seen in agriculture sadden her and she frequently comments on how she and Emmett used to work the land, each on a separate tractor, taking days to plow or harvest what the current farmer does in a few hours.  She shakes her head in dismay.  Ginny is still as much a part of the land as the big maple trees that grow along the lane.  The current farmer may plow the fields, but he isn’t part of the land.

            I’d almost forgotten why I was there in the first place.  “I’ve been cleaning out my freezer in the basement and have a bunch of stuff maybe your chickens will like,” she explained as I headed down the cellar steps.  There at the foot of the stairs sat two big bags of frozen food, all grown and put up by my tiny friend.  The bags weighed no less than a hundred pounds.

            “How in the world did you get this stuff over here,” I questioned.  It was all I could do to lug them up the steps.  “Oh, I just dragged them along.  ‘Want me to help you,” she asked.  So there I was, a strong healthy woman struggling with weighty parcels an eighty pound woman of almost a hundred years had managed on her own.  I declined that offer and loaded it all into the back of the truck where most of it remains this morning.  The donkeys had corn and peaches for breakfast and the chickens had several bags of the same.  I’ve called neighbor Sandy and soon her sheep will be enjoying Ginny’s generosity too.  There’s far more than my critters can eat before it goes bad.

            “…and when that’s gone I’ve got at least that much more, so call me,” ordered Ginny as we hugged goodbye.  “…and don’t run over my deer.”

9:29 am edt          Comments

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