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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A day in the sun.


The tortie kitty has been locked in the hay room with food, water, bedding, toys since yesterday, but it has not been seen since!  There is no way it could have escaped from the room, but the tempting aromatic food is untouched and there is not the slightest sound in response to my "here, kitty, kitty, kitty" calls.  I've moved bales and have found nothing.  It's a mystery.  T. has not yet delivered the friendly black squatter from his wood shed, but I expect it may arrive later this evening.

The snowy weather has put the donkeys in a bad mood.  Like spoiled children they are sulking.  Today I caught Corky gnawing away on the barn near his stall door.  From the house I scream, "Corky, stop that right now!"  I sound very authoritative and threatening, or at least I try to.  He stops chewing momentarily, looks defiantly toward the admonishment and returns to whittling a new entrance.  I see major work ahead for me come springtime.  Meanwhile I need to find some pine logs.  Donkeys adore pine. They're wearing their innocent look for this picture, but be advised;  they are not! They are naughty boys.

I recently spent some time chatting with a representative from The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada ( ) and of course the subject of barn noshing came up.  She says the reason donkeys are so inclined is because they are by nature browsers, thus it is just a natural instinct and that the Sanctuary periodically tosses pine logs into the pastures for their donkeys and that they have replaced all their barn trim with oak. 

I went to a friend's farm to photograph him with his goat for a story I'm doing. The little nanny was cute as a bug and I briefly entertained the notion of getting another goat, but caught myself before I did anything stupid.

In my opinion the weather today was perfect, so I encouraged my friend R. to bring a couple of her dogs over and join me and mine on our walk.  I did not expect to encounter an opossum in the middle of Kenny's field.  While my dogs would have been fine if they had seen the critter, R.'s old dog Dottie would not have been, so we quickly back-tracked to allow the pointy-nosed scavenger a peaceful day in the sun.

Nothing is quite as stimulating as a brisk walk in the snow.  I returned invigorated and was at last able to complete one of the writing projects I've been avoiding.  The dogs are pooped.  It's been a good productive day.


6:43 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A frustrating day.


"Well, they'll just be barn cats," says T. as he collects the carrier which he plans to use to relocate the wood pile cat from his place to my barn.  He says this in response to my announcement that the tortoise-colored kitty did indeed take refuge in the hay room and is now ensconced there.

 When I went to do evening chores I knew something was amiss the minute I opened the barn door.  Things in the feed room were knocked over.  Then I saw the cat hunched in fear in the hay room.  Entering, I spoke gently to it, refilled the food and water bowls, and closed the door.  Even so, it bolted between the bales to hide from me.  It's wild as a hare! 

Yes, the tortoise kitty and the black cat from T.'s place will be barn cats, but they will each still require trips to the vet to be fixed, vaccinated and wormed.  It's not just the costs, but the inevitable encounters with the resident cats, the donkeys, the chickens, the dogs and the overall adjustment period.  Right now I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of two more cats here, barn residents or not!

After spending much of the day working on a writing project that I don't really want to do, but feel obligated to complete I came to the realization that I'm not qualified to write about the subject and the reason is because I don't care about it.  I feel no passion for it.  My mantra has always been that one should not do anything one really doesn't want to do, hence I'm going against my own philosophy and not getting anywhere in the process.  I'm quitting for the day and will rethink all of this tomorrow. 


6:14 pm est          Comments

Monday, December 27, 2010

Survival of the fittest...


Or just the most fortunate?

In light of today's survivors I would have to say it is the latter.  It was awfully cold this morning.  While the thermometer read in the twenties, the wind chill made it feel like seven degrees.  I dreaded going to the barn, but chores had to be done.

As I've often noted, the barn has a cozy feel even on the coldest days.  Like every morning I sang a silly greeting to the donkeys as I opened the door and stepped inside, then grabbed the scoop for their grain and opened the door to the chicken coop where the metal grain can is kept.  As I lifted the led and prepared to dip in I saw there was more than grain in the can.  A half-grown mouse was racing around like a Thoroughbred at the Derby.  Who knows how he got inside, but he couldn't get out, so I scooped him up in my hand and set him free on the floor.  At least he wasn't hungry.

Back at the house as I took off my hat, coat and gloves and poured another cup of coffee the phone rang.  It was T.  He said he'd found the cat whose fresh tracks I'd seen last night in the snow.  It was one of the recent dump offs glimpsed a few days ago, but seemed to have vanished.  He discovered it hiding in his wood shed when he went for a load of firewood.  T. said it was skittish, but appeared to be starving, so he gave it a can of Friskees, some dry food and water.  It allowed him to stand nearby as it gratefully ate what was probably its first meal in a long while.  He'll make sure it's fed and warm tonight, so it's one of the lucky ones--so far.  If it ventures near his house one of his dogs will certainly chase it, so he'll try to catch it in a few days and hopefully acclimate the dog to the newcomer.

By evening the weather still hadn't improved.  I repeated the morning chore routine, but when the coop door opened tonight it wasn't a mouse that raced past.  It was the tortoise cat I'd seen and fed by the garden shed several days ago.  It shot past me and out the door like a rocket, but I hope it will return to the shelter of the barn tonight.  There's a bowl of food and the hay room will be a safe haven from the wind and cold. 

And so of the eight dumped cats spotted by me and the other neighbors, Karen now has one, Sandy has three, and it appears that T. and I have acquired at least one squatter each.  By my calculations there are two more somewhere.  None of us wanted more mouths to feed or to incur more vet bills, but thankfully none of us turned a blind eye to the suffering of these animals.

The cretins responsible for abandoning helpless creatures are certainly among the lowest forms of humanity and I abhor the likes of them, but it is a small comfort knowing that these few cats are safe for now thanks to the kindness of others.  I've always loved this Shaker poem which suggests that such people will ultimately pay the price for their actions.

A man of kindness to his beast is kind

Brutal actions show a brutal mind

Remember, He who made the brute,

Who gave thee speach and reason, formed him mute;

He can't complain, but God's omniscient eye

Beholds they cruelty.  He hears his cry.

He was destined thy servant and thy drudge,

But know this: His creator is thy judge.



6:25 pm est          Comments

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Surprise upon surprises.


The Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

 Of a day I had rued.


Actually, I never really rue any day, but we all have some days that are better than others, enhanced by small surprises like the dust of snow.  Today was filled with such lovely events.  My friend Rose brought two of her dogs to join me with mine on an invigorating walk in the snowy woods.  How can anyone spend time moving through the fresh crisp air and not be happy?  It was great.

Back home I built a fire, wrote a letter to an old friend in England, put things away and was just about to settle in with an intriguing book given to me by friend D. It's called The Dying Game, A Curious History of Death written by Melanie King and it's a real page-turner! 

But, no sooner had I snuggled in when the dogs set up a ruckus telling me that I had visitors.  Some of my favorite people stopped by with yet another delightful surprise.  It was my writer friend H. who accompanied me to fish camp this past summer, her husband, her mom and their dog bringing me lavish soaps (a passion of mine), gorgeous pots of fresh rosemary, candy and best of all, some of H.'s sister's Misty Mountain Estate Herb Blends.  I use and highly recommend these herb blends, jellies and other culinary delights. These extraordinary condiments are created at their "non-traditional farm in the hills of southern Ohio."

Now, the fire is going well and I've satiated myself with all sorts of treats from friends who are better cooks than I and so I'll return to loafing and reading in the toasty room as the winds howl outside my windows.  I've still got a couple more hours before evening chores drag me from this Utopia.

Life is full of beautiful surprises.


3:17 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas to all.


A walk in the snowy woods with my favorite companions launched the morning.  Now I'm off to my duaghter's for brunch.  Best wishes to all on this lovely day.

12:01 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 24, 2010

Remembering a Christmas past.


The following is an excerpt from a Leaving Fifth Street collection of short stories.  Much editing remains to be done, but I thought I'd share this much   incomplete as it is.

             T'was the night before Christmas..., the highlight of my mother's year.  "I see the luminaries are new," I comment as she, Jess and I stride along the snowy lighted walkway toward the old Gothic church. "Oh yes, that was the new preacher's idea,' she beams.  ‘He's done so much in the short time he's been here."  Two years had passed since my last visit to First Lutheran church and that remark would prove to be the understatement of the evening.

            Climbing the wide stone steps I see that more than the luminaries are new.  Gone are the heavy, crimson doors that had welcomed parishioners for as long as I could remember.  When I was small my mother once explained why church doors are painted red. "We're walking through the blood of Jesus," she'd said with a pained inflection.  To an impressionable child, that conjured up a ghoulish image.  But, no walking through blood now for the beautiful old oak doors are gone, replaced by bleak steel monstrosities which are painted the garish turquoise of swimming pools.  The shape of a cross is cut into the upper portion of each door as a reminder that this is, after all still a church.

            "Oh, Reverend Keener had these new doors installed to keep vandals from breaking in.  He's been renovating the church," she smiles as we pass through the ugly portals into the vestibule.  "Have there been acts of vandalism?"  I ask. 

            "Well, no...,"she replies, but he isn't taking any chances.  It's clear that she approves of all the new preacher's notions.  Greeting fellow parishioners, she apprises me in a whisper who had died, who had married, and who had done something scandalous.  All the while she's smiling, but her hand gently grips my elbow lest I turn and escape.The other is looped in Jess's protective arm.

            My mother adores Jess the atheist.  If she only knew....  "Religion is the opiate of the masses," he often remarks.  He himself is drug free.

            The crisp night air is soon displaced by the smells of Christmas Eve at First Lutheran.  Cloying Estee Lauder perfume, freshly-cut pine boughs and Jack Daniels all mingle in a curious familiar bouquet.  At the entrance to the sanctuary Arnold is passing out the evening bulletins just as he's done since I was a child.  Stooped and gray now, he still proudly holds his post as head usher.  Accepting the poinsettia-decorated missive I follow my mother and the atheist into the sanctuary. Our feet make a zip-zip sound on the new nylon carpeting. 

            The old burgundy wool runner has been replaced by a strip of fire engine red carpet more suitable for a Chinese restaurant than a 19th century church.  I pretend not to notice as we move toward the front to the pew; the one claimed by my mother's family for three generations.  How she had hoped that I would continue that occupation.  She also hoped for many grandchildren from my defunct marriage, little Lutherans that would fidget on the hard oaken seat where I used to fidget.  Not only were there no grandchildren to occupy the pew, but even her daughter had abandoned it.  But it was Christmas Eve and there I am in the Harwart pew next to my mother and all is right in her world--for a while.

            The organist who always had a bit of a drinking problem is beating out a torturous medley of holiday tunes as the church begins to fill with withered, but still-recognizable faces.  Christmas Eve must be the most challenging day of the organist's year.  Barely visible over the top of the mighty Wurlitzer his wiry red hair pitches spasmodically from left to right as the huge pipes hanging in the apse reverberate with each mistake.  Every third phrase sounds like a cat has jumped on the keyboard, but he seems not to notice.  The volume of the mutilated hymns escalates hysterically and then falls just as senselessly. 

            Surrounded by the smells of the season and the shuddering racket emanating from the organ, more of the new preacher's "renovations" become noticeable.  The church has been painted.  No longer are the walls and ceiling the discreet ivory of countless decades.  Now the side walls are yellow and the vaulted ceiling is a stunning periwinkle blue.  But the face lift does not end there.  Tiny twinkle stars blink from the blue sky and shiny gold leaf moldings now separate the side walls from the distracting overhead display. 

            It must have cost the trusting congregation a fortune and I know without asking that my widowed mother has contributed to this mad desecration.  The "renovations" made through the auspices of the geriatric congregation around me are appalling.  An ear-shattering Hark the Herald Angels Sing aborts the protest rising in my throat. 

            Accompanying the improvisational organ recital is the sound of hard candy being tediously removed from cellophane wrappers.  This too is an age-old ritual and  I often wonder if eating candy in church is mandatory everywhere or only at First Lutheran.  I know that when the music mercifully ends an underlying clacking of lemon drops on false teeth will fill the void, but for now only the relentless paper rattling punctuates Joy to the World.

            The whispers, the friendly little waves and the snap of my mother's purse as she too proffers hard candy are all so familiar I could be ten years old again.  Behaviors haven't changed although the lovely old church has.  Furtively I scan the sanctuary and the sight of the life-sized Jesus hovering above the altar does elicit an involuntary gasp.

            As a child plaster Jesus had always been a somewhat intimidating presence.   Even knowing that the statue with outstretched arms who loomed over the congregation wasn‘t real, His image was oddly comforting in its unchanging gaze. But like the doors Jesus bears the indelible mark of Pastor Keener.  The new and improved Jesus has undergone an extreme makeover. 

           Gone are his subtle robes, his pallid skin and nondescript hair.  New Jesus wears robes the same garish turquoise as the front doors.  His skin is the sickly color of an old band-aid and it looks as if someone has dumped a can of Hershey's syrup over his head.  His intense Hershey-brown eyes stare out into the congregation, but like an iguana each gawks independently in opposite directions.  Jesus looks like a drunken transvestite teetering above the altar.

            "What in the world happened to Jesus," I whisper to my mother.  The question is answered by an elbow slamming into my ribs. 

            "Ernie Kalm painted him," she hisses with a nod to the pew behind us where the Kalm clan gazes approvingly at Ernie's handiwork.  Ernie has clearly worked with a limited palate.  My heart sinks.  Not because the old statue was sacred or represented anything more than ornamentation, but because this newcomer of a preacher is wrecking a lovely historic building and doing so with the apparent approval, or at least the complacency of his elderly congregation.  The nerve-wracking music finally hushes as the choir enters from the rear. 

            There's not a young face in the dozen or so choir members who are no longer clad in the ivory robes as I remembered.  Their new vestments match the flaming red carpet and bright white scarves drape from their withered necks.  The dry old faces, the stooped bodies and creaky voices inching toward the front of the church look like a senior citizen club heading off for Mardi Gras. 

            Are they ignoring the mad organist or are they as deaf as he seems to be?  Overhead twinkle stars blink, while on all sides candy clacks on false teeth and drunken Jesus surveys the pathetic scene before him.  The perfume, the pine, the Jack Daniels- it's all too much.  I could do with a swig or two of Mr. Daniels myself. 

            My mother shifts on the hard pew trying to extricate herself from her "good black coat," the one she's worn for special occasions since before my father died fifteen years earlier.  The atheist helps her and she smiles lovingly at him. The congregation shuffles to its feet as the choir moves forward and the organist breaks into The First Noel at glass-shattering volume.  Only then do I notice the change in the Candlelight Service that will forever fracture the fragile relationship with my mother.


3:28 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What is a friend?



I don't know what to feel

Heart is dead

Mind confused

Don't know what to do.


Eyes crying

Body dying.

No sound of hope

Just quiet humming

And distant echoes mourning.

                                             Gary R. Hess


            Today I've been on an emotional roller coaster.  My best intentions to finish a writing project were interrupted by a phone call from a friend who said, "Open your gate.  I want to drop something off."  I was ever so grateful for the interruption because I did not want to work on the project I've been putting off for weeks, so eagerly I ran out and opened the gate.

            Soon a big red dump truck loaded with split, seasoned firewood pulled in.  "Oh, I've got more than I need..., " said the friend.  What a thoughtful and generous gesture! I'm still overwhelmed by the gift.  This man and his wife are very special people and I know that I'm not the only recipient of their kindness.  I feel a flicker of hope.  There are some very nice people in the world.

            Later, as the snow steadily fell the dogs and I set off for our walk.  The woods were crisscrossed with the signs of deer, fox, coyote and a riot of rabbit tracks.  It wasn't hard to read the stories the footprints held.  Rabbits are prey animals and from the tell tale marks in the snow many predators have eaten well. 

            As we left the woods and began our trek around Kenny's field I spotted a beautiful red tail hawk perched atop one of the trees along the pasture.  Over the years I've become rather good at imitating wildlife sounds including the screeeee of the hawk.  In a flash the second hawk appeared and the pair seemed to put on an aerial show just for my benefit.  It was the highlight of the outing. 

            Back home the dogs collapsed for an afternoon nap and I came up to my office determined to confront the dreaded project, but again my half-hearted effort was thwarted.  An email from my friend E. knocked the wind out of my sails.  E. is dying.  She says she is not in any pain, but that doctors have "...sent me home to die...."  It's hard to find words to comfort someone who delivers such grim news. 

            I knew the very first time she and I met that we would be friends.  It was the first of many trips to Nova Scotia, the place I'd love to call home.  I'd gone there to write about a horse farm and through the subject of that story I was introduced to E. who lives on a post-card pretty farm in Cape Breton.  I opened the gate and drove my little red rental car down the long long lane and was met by a sturdy version of Jane Goodall and her husband R.

            As if she'd been expecting me for weeks I was welcomed into a home redolent with one of the most memorable meals ever eaten, even though I as a vegetarian declined the roasted chicken.  E. is intellectually brilliant, very creative and resourceful, but great fun as well.  It seemed there was nothing E. could not or had not done, but boasting has never crossed her mind.  Her husband died not long after our first meeting, but over the years I've enjoyed many memorable and inspiring visits with this unusual woman. I've always felt there would be future visits, but now that seems very unlikely. 

            To have a friend is a joy.  To lose a friend is sad.  The interim is indescribable.

5:12 pm est          Comments

Thinking about life...


            I feel exceptionally fortunate to have carved a unique niche for myself in the publishing world.  People say things like, "Oh, you must know a lot about...."  I tell them I don't know squat about most things, but I do know a lot of experts on various subjects.  Listening to others as they expound on their passions and then telling their story (not mine) makes my work interesting, fun and successful. 

            The common advice to "write what you know" is in my opinion dull and limiting.  ‘Much better to listen, observe, learn and then write, unless of course one is writing about him/herself.  I know a couple of writers who write about nothing else as they consider themselves fascinating subjects.  I will reserve any comment.

            Sitting in the dentist office this week I read an article about the current money making sub-genre; bonnet romance.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  There is apparently an insatiable appetite for "wholesome" Amish romance novels and one author is particular is making a killing.

            I've spent a good bit of time in the Amish community and know that these novels are the author's idealistic imagined scenarios, rather than anything she has ever personally observed in this discreet culture.  Regardless, she is making tons of money with her invented sex scenes which might go so far as "lip kissing."  Damn!  I wish I'd thought of this instead of writing about Amish horses, hitches and harness. 

            According to the Newsweek article, the market for these novels is primarily middle-aged, Evangelical women who enjoy the fantasy of "wholesome" love and family life, when in fact the Amish are no more exempt from domestic violence than any other society.  The major difference is that such offenses are almost always quietly dealt with by the community, not by the court system.  Sometimes they are not dealt with at all.  Ironically the audience for these novels also has the highest divorce rate in the country.

            As my almost-centenarian friend Ginny says with a downward shake of her head, "Oh my, this world is a mess."

10:44 am est          Comments

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A satisfying day.


           There's a wonderful rhythm to morning chores and like any work-related task things are more enjoyable when that rhythm exists.  It begins with the dogs' unbridled enthusiasm over the mere prospect of going to the barn.  Even bad weather is no deterrent.  They know that every morning, after they've had their breakfast and I've had my coffee I will don my outrageous barn attire and unlock the back door. Pushing madly to be the first out, all three race to the garden shed and peek in the kitty door on the off chance that Rocky Raccoon or Billy Possum might be in there.

            This morning there was evidence that some kind of party had taken place during the night.  The food bowl was empty and had been knocked to the floor.  The fluffy rug on the shelf was all scrunched on a pile and the window box where I start spring seedlings was also on the floor. Such surprises are not unusual, so I refill the bowls, replace the disturbed items and lest I be seen, scurry toward the barn before a vehicle speeds down the road.  Morning Karen is not a pretty sight.

            The donkeys greet me, nudge Ernie, then make their slow, single-file trek into the stall.  Nothing smells as comforting as the barn at 7:00 a.m.  The chickens quietly cluck as I fill their feed trough and open the coop door to the outside, even though I'm pretty certain none of these feathered free-loaders will venture outside. Fresh air is important anyway.

            Corky and Andy patiently wait in front of their respective feed boxes, but this morning they are excited.  Sandy brought them a big bag of apple-flavored horse treats and they know breakfast will be extra special.  NPR is on 24/7 and the news, which is never good, keeps me company as I muck out their stall.  As regular as clockwork the school bus rumbles up the road.  I think it travels much too fast, but that's just the way it is.  Some things-- in fact most things are beyond my control.

            By the time the stall is clean, after collecting the one kid on the road the bus rumbles back down the road.  I visit the donkeys for a while.  Sometimes they get brushed or fussed with. Some mornings I just don't want to leave the solace of the barn, but after tossing their hay outside the dogs and I head back to the house.  Anything more that needs attention, like repairs, hauling feed, etc. can wait until later in the day.  Morning barn chores are finished.  It doesn't take long.

            This routine has remained constant over all the years I've been here.  Some of the animals have passed on and been replaced by others, but the rhythm has stayed the same.  While I cherish my independence, I also cherish my non-human dependents for they each enrich my small country life in many ways few people would understand.

            Later in the day, although there was plenty of work to do, something told me to deliver Ginny's holiday gift. Ginny is my 99 year old friend who still lives independently on her 137 acre farm with Mitzi the dog and Kitty the cat.   I felt a strange compulsion to go over to her house and as it turned out it's a good thing I did!  I arrived to find her erecting a ladder intending to wash windows!  It hasn't been too many months since Ginny's recovery from her fall under the tractor which broke her leg.  She miraculously healed and gets around without so much as a cane, but climbing a ladder just didn't seem like a good idea to me, so I washed the windows and re-hung the draperies while Ginny fixed coffee.   She will turn 100 on February 17th.  What an amazing woman.

2:15 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Back home.


             Few things are as gratifying to me as placing a dog in need in a wonderful forever home and such was the case with Bogi who has since been renamed Gertie.  A more perfect match could not have been found.  The newcomer was welcomed by Jim (last year's rescue) who couldn't wait to romp and play with his new ‘sister.'

            The only sad bit of the weekend came when my friend and I took the dogs to a fantastic dog park where no less than thirty canines of every size, shape and color raced and played together in the snow.  Gertie was overwhelmed with such freedom, but soon began going to every male in the park, standing up at his knee as if looking for her old owner Mike.  Her confusion was heartbreaking, but by mid-day she had comfortably settled into her new life.  She is much loved.

            Back home my own menagerie was delighted that ‘mom' had returned.  They all stuck to me like Velcro as I unpacked and tried to get organized, but as I walked past a window a stranger caught my eye.  After a cursory cat head count I looked more closely at the kitty near the garden shed who was trying to gulp down a mouse.  The tortoise/calico was not a resident here, but a hobo in need of a meal.  I immediately went out with a can of food, but the skittish kitty bolted and briefly hid.  It was timid, but hungry enough to take my offerings although I couldn't get near enough to touch it. 

            When neighbor Sandy, my trusted critter sitter stopped down for a chat she told me she had three new cats at her place.  On my way home I had passed a strange black one next door to T.'s place and Sandy said she had seen a black kitten near his mail box earlier in the day.  Neighbor Karen just took in a half-grown tiger that appeared at her farm.  In a matter of days we who live on a half mile stretch of the road have acquired at least eight new felines which have obviously been dumped.  The next and most critical step is to trap and neuter all of them. Karen's is the only one done so far.

            The problem of dumped or abandoned animals in rural communities is endless.  Of course all of these cats are beautiful, frightened and cold.  My anger flares as I think about the creeps responsible for such cruelty.  So, if you want to do something meaningful this holiday, please contact me if there is room at your ‘inn' for a kitty in need of a home.

            It's good to be back-I think....

5:44 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 16, 2010

bon voyage.


            I'm leaving for Cincinnati in the morning to spend the weekend with my friend who adopted Jim, the pup about a year ago.  Tomorrow I'm picking up Bogi, a bulldog- Boston terrier mix that needs a new home.  She is going be Jim's sister and a finer home for any dog does not exist (except maybe here...). Since Bogi and I have never met I expect my five hour drive with her is going to be "interesting."  Keep your fingers crossed.

            Having been ill with the flu most of last week meant that any basic maintenance on the house was neglected, but since the house sitter is coming this meant a lot of clean up work to ready the place.  Sometimes just getting ready to go away for a relaxing weekend is so tiring I'll need the vacation.

            While I'm away another friend is going to drop by old Kenny's to inquire about the calf.  He's planning to say he's heard from me that the calf may be for sale.  If anyone under the sun can convince Kenny to liberate the imprisoned bovine it's my pal M.  He can be very persuasive in the nicest way.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that upon my return I will see not two, but three cattle in Kenny's field.

            Some time ago I expressed my anger at the ways some big name animal rights organizations "fundraise" by tapping the emotions of readers or viewers rather than providing factual information.  Such was the case a few years ago when through such tactics the three USDA equine slaughter houses were shut down.  As a result unwanted horses, donkeys, mules and ponies now meet an even worse fate thanks to these efforts.

            Not only has the last ride for the equine become longer with worse than imaginable destinies at the end, but there is also a growing glut of neglected animals left behind.  This article was published in The Horse magazine.  I think it confronts the issue in a non-confrontational, scientific manner.  For anyone who genuinely cares about animal welfare I recommend clicking this link.

            I will not be posting my blog until Monday, at which time I hope to have a happy ending story about Bogi in her new home as well as some other interesting news.

9:22 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cut down in her prime.


            I regret to announce the untimely death of one of this weeks poster girls.  Upon entering the chicken coop early this morning I found one of the young hens lying on the floor, dead as a mackerel.  Cut down in the prime of her life, the unnamed blond beauty was only about a year old.  As her coop mates watched in horror, I collected the still warm body and did a cursory examination. There was no sign of injury. She must have had a heart attack or maybe a stroke. 

            It's a pity, to be sure, but her death will mean that some scavenger will live.  The weather is harsh and I'm sure finding food is tough for all, so I'll put the carcass in the open field to the north for whoever is in the mood for chicken. Waste not, want not....

            I puzzled all yesterday and even into the night over the origin of the dead-or-alive bat that was found next to the coffeemaker and have concluded that I must have unknowingly carried a stowaway into the house along with an armload of firewood.  This possibility comforts me, especially in light of Fran's suggestion that he probably was not alone.  In my chosen scenario, he was/is a loner.

            What other explanation could there be?  Everything is closed up as tightly as a clam, but the rough, dark beams; the bones of this old house could certainly hide a bat (or several...) that might have sneaked in with the firewood. 

            I'm not going to give another thought to more possible bat guests until March when I'll move the squatter to the barn (assuming he was/is merely asleep). 

9:30 am est          Comments

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Early to bed, early to rise...


Go to the kitchen and find a surprise. 

            At 6:30 a.m. I stumbled down the stairs, let the dogs outside, then headed for the kitchen to fix coffee (first priority) and feed the cats.  Next to the coffee pot on the counter lay what appeared to be a large crumpled piece of brownish-gray paper.  Being barely awake my first thought was, "Hmm, that's odd...."  

            But it's funny how quickly one jerks to attention when a ‘piece of paper' reveals itself to be a bat!  My next thought was, "What the...!"  The bat was bigger than any previous bats I've encountered here and it appeared to be dead-or was it just hibernating?  Rather than solve this mystery so early in the morning I placed a metal colander over Batman, fixed the coffee and fed the cats.

            When the hour seemed reasonable I phoned my wildlife rehabilitator friend Fran who confirmed that the bat might very well be hibernating.  She also said he was probably not alone.  More than once I have mentioned that this old farmhouse is pretty chilly (with the exception of the living room and my office which both have alternate heat sources), but I didn't think it was actually cold enough to induce hibernation!  I know there are friends who would disagree.

            Anyway, rather than attempt to awaken my uninvited guest, if indeed he is alive, I followed Fran's advice and lined a Tupperware container with tissue, added a twig and the bat, secured the perforated lid and took him up to the attic which is without a doubt cold enough to induce hibernation.  Fran says to check on him in March, so I've marked my calendar accordingly.

            I don't think anyone has the right to be "bored" in life for interesting or beautiful things abound if one just takes the time to look.  Granted, it was hard to not see the bat, but this morning view from my office window thrilled me with its beauty.


3:46 pm est          Comments

Monday, December 13, 2010

And the winds are roaring...




          While I won't be hosting al fresco luncheons anytime soon, the marble-topped table on the porch has been crowded with diners all weekend.  Tufted titmice, black capped chickadees and sparrows, plus cardinals and jays all seem grateful for the pile of birdseed and sunflower seeds.

            Clad in their waterproof, quilted dog coats my canine crew seems oblivious to the icy blasts. They love any excuse to go out and play in the snow, but at the barn it is an entirely different story.

            "We are not setting foot outside this door," says Corky.  Instead they stand inside, chew a bit more paint and wood from their surroundings and pout. The donkeys outside stall door is usually kept open 24/7, but last night I closed it.  It seemed foolish to allow the frigid winds to whip through the entire barn. 

            To offset their boredom I bedded them with straw rather than their usual wood shavings and gave them a muck bucket toy.  They seemed quite content with the arrangement and the barn was snug and almost cozy this morning.  I opened the door to the outside, but again today they remained inside.  They are bored and they not happy donkeys, but I think they will soon tire of standing inside as this weather is not supposed to abate for several days.

            The chickens wouldn't even consider venturing outside.  Chickens hate cold feet.  As for myself, while I like this winter weather, I must admit it's even too blustery for my enjoyment.  The dogs and I take walks on the nature trail, pick up kindling and then hurry back to stoke the fire, listen to the roaring winds and now that my work day is finished, I'm going to lose myself in a new book.  On nights like this my old farmhouse is a comfort and there's really nowhere else I'd rather be.


7:03 pm est          Comments

Sunday, December 12, 2010



           It's pretty obvious to anyone who has read this blog, even if only for a few days that I am (and always have been) passionate about animal welfare issues.  It is my purpose in life.  It is what motivates me.  It is an issue that will never be solved, but hope springs eternal....

            A few days ago I was invited to brainstorm for a very promising program that will locally address the problem of too many animals, not enough homes.  I came away from the meeting feeling optimistic and excited.  And why not; it is exciting to be part of a solution to such a huge  problem.  Last night I came face to face with a symbol of the problem itself and it felt like after taking two baby steps forward I'd just been shoved one giant step backward.

            "Look how cute...," she said flipping through photos of puppies.  "Eight of them..., and the next door neighbor's dog just had eleven...."  The speaker could not get beyond anything other than how adorable the dogs are.  Statistically two thirds of these helpless, never-should-have-been-conceived dogs will die.  Some will undoubtedly end up in shelters where they will be 'put to sleep,' that ridiculous euphemism for killed via a stab to the heart or gassed or decompressed.  The reality is that the likelihood of these mongrel puppies, cute as they are, of finding responsible homes that will vaccinate them, spay or neuter them and provide forever care for them is very very unlikely.

            The fact that a low cost solution to the mother dog's pregnancy which I'd offered months earlier was ignored makes the situation all the more maddening.  It's hard, maybe even impossible for me to forgive such irresponsible behavior and indifference to the tragic consequences.  I feel that a long time relationship was severed the moment those photos were displayed along with all the "oohs" and"ahhs" over the cute doomed dogs.

            Acknowledging that such mentality exists, even among people thought to be intelligent has banished the optimism of ust a few days ago. It will return, I'm sure, but right now my mood is as bleak as the sky beyond my window.

3:10 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Getting ready for snow--I hope...


             Being ill is no excuse when one lives alone.  The flu interrupted my daily routine all week long, but chores and other work had to be addressed anyway.  I did so in a haphazard manner.  Thankfully I think/hope that today is the end of this malady.  Big snows are predicted and I'm looking forward to going cross-country skiing.

            Before the encroachment of newcomers to this area a big snow opened a magical world just outside my door.  I could set off through the woods and fields, up the oil road and into Ranger Rick's woods and then across Kenny's meadow and not see another human being.  Today's route which now includes some road travel is far less magical.   I still get weak in the knees remembering last year when I nearly became little more than a red smear in the pristine snow.

            It happened during the whopping big blizzard that shut down everything.  I thought it was great and decked out all in red I set off for T.'s place just a half mile away.   No plows had been down the road since morning, so the conditions were perfect as I shushed my way south.  The moon shone through the trees, the snow sparkled like diamonds and this gorgeous world was all mine.

            Around midnight I set off for home.  About half way between his house and my own I saw distant flashing yellow lights, easily recognizable as the county snow plow.  It was easy to gauge their distance, so as the behemoth drew near I side stepped far into the field on the curve.  There are no words to describe the terror of seeing the monstrous truck with a blade nearly as tall as myself, heading directly for me as I helplessly stood in the middle of the field of white with nowhere to go.  The truck stopped less than ten feet away from me.

            The only possible explanation was that the drifting snow had apparently blurred the roadway, hence the truck ventured far off the pavement.  I can only imagine what the driver felt as he saw me in his headlights.  We all have to die, but honestly becoming a bloody smear in the snow would not be my preferred method of departure! 

            Recalling the horror of that near miss should make me think twice about midnight ski escapades, but I'll just be extra vigilant this year.  Come on snow!

1:11 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 10, 2010

The unwanted.

            I went with a friend to a neighboring county dog pound to collect a lucky pooch that was destined for a rescue.  As the deputy opened the cage to liberate our charge I dared to look around at all the others whose fate was not so hopeful.

            “Pick me, pick me.  I’ll be really good, I promise,” each furry face seemed to say.  A couple of pathetic prisoners looked as if they had given up all hope.  One big Rott jumped at the chain link pen, snarling and daring anyone to come near.   A sign warned, “Watch dog.”  ‘An understatement to be sure.

            Each dog had a heartbreaking past, a story that will never be told.  The dogs I saw will disappear in a few days and new ones will fill the dreary cages.  I came home and my own canine family seemed all the more dear to me.  I only hope that anyone even thinking about getting a dog will go to a shelter rather than to a pet store.


7:16 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I want for nothing.

            "What do you want for Christmas?" asks my daughter.  What I want no one can give.  I want world peace, a compassionate society that cares more about the needs of the suffering than they care about some designer handbag or smart phone.  I want a government that respects and protects the environment, spends money on education instead of bombs and works for the common good.  Like I said, no one can give me these gifts.

            First, I do not celebrate Christmas.  Second, there is absolutely nothing that I need.  I already have more than any person needs or deserves; my health, a daughter a friends I care about and respect, enough money to pay my bills, a job I love, a warm safe place to sleep at night and of course, all my animals.   I'm happy.

            I do enjoy giving token gifts to special people, especially to those who may feel alone and forgotten; folks like old Kenny.  This year I'm having a tough time reconciling my extreme disappointment with Kenny in spite of his "forgotten" status. 

            I've recently learned that the calf that was born in May and tethered at birth with about eight feet of rope is still in that same situation.  I have addressed this with Kenny twice and even offered to help put up fencing.  I've implored Farmer Chuck to intervene and he said he would, but he prefaced it by noting he's afraid to tick Kenny off since doing so would jeopardize his lease on the land he farms.  I've also asked neighbor Butch to confront the issue.  Nothing has worked.

            The calf must be around 800+ pounds by now.  I've entertained the notion of sneaking into the barn and cutting the noose from its neck, but frankly I'm afraid to do so.  It seems like a recipe for injury or worse.

            So, what to do?  Do I prepare a basket of cookies and other holiday presents for the lonely old bachelor farmer up the road in spite of his indifference to the welfare of that poor animal?  Or, do I sever my relationship with the old guy?  It's a dilemma and I wish there were a solution.

            I guess I must add freedom for the calf to my ‘want list' of intangibles.  Just like world peace, it's not likely I'll get my wish.

6:35 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Being ill is a drag!


            Being ill is bad enough.  Being ill in weather that chills to the bone is worse.  At times like this I'm especially thankful for those who called to see if I needed help and to those who arrived on the scene to do barn chores so that I could remain on the sofa inside the warm house.  I'm even thankful for the crock pot in which simmers an aromatic concoction of things that were on hand.  I'll eat well tomorrow.  For now, it's back to the sofa.  The dogs are not happy.  They wonder why we aren't going outside.  The cats are ecstatic and more than happy to lie on the sofa doing nothing at all.  I am bored.

7:22 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Under the weather.

            It was too good to be true; yesterday spent outside enjoying my favorite season, lots of writing assignments that I planned to get right on early today.  Everything, including more time out in the snow except to take care of the barn critters is on hold.  I'm sick as a dog with the flu and will be out of commission for a while, but back on track ASAP.

            Downward facing dog is a favorite yoga position, but as this photo illustrates, Julie has given the asana a new twist.  Here she is demonstrating upward facing dog on my yoga mat..

5:33 pm est          Comments

Monday, December 6, 2010



            The morning news warned that 144 wrecks had been reported and that some highways were "shut down"-all because of the weather.  Snowflakes the size of butterflies are piling up and lots more is predicted.  I love it!  I have yet to see a car go down the road although the township road crew has been keeping it plowed. 

            In this paranoid society people are even afraid of winter and look for reasons to stay inside.  They're missing all the beauty.  For me the snowy world beckons, although I did reschedule a goat photo shoot planned for this afternoon.  It was more fun to find reasons to be outside right here at home.

            The dogs and I (well, mostly I...) collected kindling.  There's no shortage since winds took down an old pear tree that had been dead for years.  T. cut the bigger stuff into cord wood, but the rest is dry, conveniently located and perfect for breaking into stove-size pieces.  Then we took a walk and discovered two more trees have fallen in the past couple of days.  T. won't be happy to hear this as the news will come with the implied request for more chainsaw work.  He does not share my enthusiasm for winter.

            At the barn nothing is stirring.  The donkeys keep reminding me that they are not native to this climate.  Their species hailed from warmer places.  Like T. they do not share my love of snow.  Instead, they mill around in the fresh wood shavings in their stall, peeking with disgust at the blustery conditions outside their door.  The chickens wouldn't even think of venturing out in such weather, nor are they entertaining any thoughts of laying eggs.  I should put a timer on these slackers since egg production is influenced by light.  At their current production rate each precious egg is worth about $4.95.

            I should be writing, but on days like this it's so easy to procrastinate.  I need to go to the dreaded/dreadful cellar to collect corpses as the winter migration of deer mice has initiated feline trophy hunting.  When I ventured down the stairs late last evening in search of something or other I noticed that Tom and Booger have been busy.  Good that I noticed the recently deceased before things get stinky.

            There are other cellar chores calling as well; those heavy bags of salt need to be dumped into the water softener.  The filters in the furnace need to be changed and I'll undoubtedly discover more tasks once I force myself down the narrow steps leading into that dungeon.

            Yesterday I went along to look at a property that a friend is considering purchasing.  While the house is definitely aesthetically challenged, the land is wonderful.  My friend is reluctant to take on the remodeling challenge in spite of my insistence that it will be "fun."  It reminded me of the day I decided to buy this old farm, a decision I have never regretted.

            When my friend Tom said he was "thinking of selling..." and I quickly replied that I "might be interested..." I really knew at that very moment this place would be mine.  I did not think about the condition that was so decrepit that the property appraised for the price of the land only.  I simply saw a farm that someone had built by hand in 1821;  a place full of history and stories that still cling to the rough-hewn beams. 

            I chose not to notice there was no heating system, nor that the glass was literally falling out of the window sashes.  A bucket of well water drawn one day would be full of stringy black slime the next morning.  Electricity flickered and sparked and the cellar was full of snakes.  But what did any of that matter? 

            Even if someone had told me how much it was going to cost to address the most basic necessities I still would have signed on the dotted line.  When a place calls your name, it's not a good idea to focus on such trivial things as water, electricity and heat (ha ha). 

            And so now, all these many years later, the furnace that was installed at an outrageous cost sort of warms the place.  After being rewired not once, but twice due to an inept part-time electrician, the electricity is reliable.  The revamped well ($$$) provides plenty of clean, but smelly water and the snakes, for the most part are gone from the cellar, having moved to more natural habitats, but the occasional renegade does still sneak inside.

            Transforming an aesthetically-challenged place into home sweet home requires vision and a lot of naiveté.  This place is proof of that.

2:06 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What friends are for.


            My friends are important.  I'm discriminating and I don't use that term casually, so when bad things happen to good people, I worry and care about them..  It pains me to see people whom I admire and respect for their honesty, generosity and kindness beset by misery inflicted by people who possess none of the aforementioned qualities.  Currently a couple of very good people are being challenged by what can only be described as evil-doers.  What can a friend do to help?  It never seems enough.

            Plato said, "He who commits injustice is ever made more wretched than he who suffers it."  I hope Plato was right.
            Other than a preoccupation with the injustices wrought upon others , today was one of those that can only be described as "big fun."  My favorite thrift store was having an extravaganza called Morning Madness and indeed it was.  I and a couple of like minded pals went to brave the crowd at Funky's (my name for this place, not its real name).  I think the reason it was such fun (aside from finding some wonderful bargains) was that the shoppers were not there looking for status symbols or nonsense that no one really needs. 

            They were looking for magic and that was what we all found.  It was an atmosphere of laughter, polite behavior, and simple joy all housed in a dreary brick building with no windows. We all left with treasures and smiles and no one spent much money at all.  Off to dinner soon, so all in all, this has been a good day. 

            Regarding my friends who are not having good days right now, I will stand by them.  I will remind them they are not alone and that these seemingly-insurmountable issues will pass and they will be stronger and wiser when it's all over.  I hope that the gift of friendship will help them weather their storms.

5:19 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 3, 2010

Remembering Nettie.

            A lovely brisk day for chores and a long walk.  The bad asses were eager to help at the barn by stealing the empty feed sack after I'd dumped the contents into the bin.  For whatever reason, running around the field with a big paper bag is big fun. 

            On our walk the dogs discovered the grissly field dressings of two deer killed at old Kenny's.  The crows were feasting on the fresh entrails, but the dogs seemed upset.  They kept looking at the bloody pile with those peaked dog eyebrows, then back at me as if questioning what happened to the rest of the animal.  We pushed onward.

            Sandy was driving up the road as the dogs and I were heading home.  She'd been out looking for the dog again.  On our final foray late yesterday we found tracks that could have been the alleged dumped dog or they could have been (and most likely were) coyote tracks. 

            At this point I'm inclined to think the dog Sandy saw and presumed had been dumped may in actuality been someone's naughty dog that had strayed from one of the homes in the quarry.  Regardless, we have not found the dog and no one has posted a ‘lost' sign.

            The pond is full of water topped with a thin crust of ice.  As I looked out the door this morning my first thought was how Nettie would have been out there testing what she already knew was ice not thick enough to hold her weight.  I could almost see her mischievous face looking back at me as she always did when I screamed frantically, "Get off that ice!"    Who would guess an icy pond would open such a painful memory.  I still miss that dog.

1:04 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 2, 2010


From beasts we scorn as soulless

In forest, field and den

The cry goes up to witness

The soullessness of men.

            M. Frida Hartley


            It felt like I'd been hit with a whopper of a cold yesterday, so last evening I took a slug of Nyquil.  It's effective stuff and in no time at all I was out for the night.  When long before dawn the dogs announced it was time to get up, I was still pretty groggy from the cold medicine, but dragged myself downstairs and began the morning breakfast ritual .

            While the dogs are outside the cats get their individual bowls of canned food.  This allows them to eat in peace without dogs trying to steal their morning treat.  After filling the dog bowls with kibble, I take Tom's breakfast to his feeding station in the cellar way.  A kitty door allows the cats entry at will, but only into the basement.  Since Tom had been a feral feline for several years before finally succumbing to my efforts to tame him, he is quite happy with this comfy arrangement.  He has constant food, water, a lavish kitty bed and freedom when he wants it.  What more could a kitty desire.

            Still sleepy, but with Tom's morning bowl of Little Friskies in hand I opened the door to the cellar way and was greeted by a big dead rabbit.  Tufts of bunny fur littered the carpet in Tom's apartment.  Until then I had been indulging the lovely lingering mellowness from last night's Nyquil, but I suddenly became very awake! 

            The corpse was as big as Tom!  A badly broken rear leg suggested that it had been hit by a car and then scavenged by Tom.  He had hauled it in through the kitty door (which is quite small), down the ramp leading from the window into the main part of the cellar and up the narrow stairs to its ultimate dead end.  Maybe he intended it as a gift?  I bagged it and put it in the trash can.

            And so, my day began.  I didn't even want to guess what might be next, but I didn't have to wait long to find out. Sifting through the mail I found the dreaded notice that it's time to get dog licenses for 2011.  It's dreaded not because of the $12.00 per dog fee, but because the arrival of this notice signals the official "dumping" season for unwanted dogs and it has begun right on target.  I was in my office working when the phone rang.

            "Hey, someone dumped a dog....  I tried to get it, but it ran into the woods.  Would you see if you can catch it?" said Sandy.  She was calling from an appointment she'd had to keep which is the only reason she herself wasn't out there tramping through the brush.

            I gathered up a long lead, some dog biscuits and a can of food and set off on the rescue mission.  The snow made tracking easy, but the footprints led into impenetrable (for me) brambles and multiflora rose.  I tried entering from other approaches, but all were futile.  I did not see the "collie-shepherd mix" (the ubiquitous ‘breed'), but left the opened can of food and I'll go back a little later. 

            It's awfully cold, but I guess the monster that dumped the poor animal to fend for itself didn't give much thought to the weather.  I hope I can catch the dog, but I'd really like to catch the cowards that commit such acts of cruelty and see them brought to justice.

3:14 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The colors of the season.

            The weatherman said we would awaken to snow and we did.  ‘Not a lot, but enough to flock the trees and dust the ground, so while it looks like winter technically it's still autumn. 

            The colors of fall are always presumed to be scarlet reds and flaming gold, but we seem eager to forget that the bleak grays and blacks are autumns last hurrah.  It's very cold, or at least it seems very cold.  One day it's in the fifties, today it's in the twenties with a wicked wind.  Not enough time to adjust.  I'm freezing, sniffling and sneezing and I've had to dig out the dogs' winter coats and add ‘dressing' the three characters to my daily chores.

            In spite of the discomfort of the moment, the frozen water pails, the chill that radiates from doors and windows in this old house, I love winter.  Just a few more weeks....

5:47 pm est          Comments

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