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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

AUGUST 31, 2011


Happy birthday to me,

Happy birthday to me,

The wood pile is all stacked,

Happy birthday to me!

            Yes, today is my birthday.  Although I still feel like I'm thirty, a quick look in the mirror reminds me that I most definitely am not!  I remember when birthdays took such a long time to roll around, especially that twenty-first one, but now it seems that I blink and suddenly I'm another year older.  Oh well, I'm happy, healthy and independent. Who could ask for anything more?

5:47 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, August 30, 2011



            "If you need pallets, just stop by the shop.  There are some by the dumpster," said Super Sue.  So I stopped by yesterday and was greeted by the pint-sized dynamo.  She was green from head to toe.  Her hair, face and glasses were speckled with grass clippings because she'd been "weed whipping."  In addition to tending three acres of their home gardens, she also tends the grounds around their business. 

            She helped load the pallets into my truck and said she might stop by later.  "I'll help," she said as I was leaving.  Back home I got to work leveling the ground, putting the pallets in place and stacking the cordwood.  I was also making tomato sauce and working in the gardens, but by the time my energy had run out I felt that I'd at least made a dent in the huge pile of wood.  That's when the red SUV pulled in.  It was Sue (minus the green accoutrements) and she was ready to stack firewood.

            Only a fool turns down volunteer help and I'm no fool!  We stacked until we ran out of space. I suggested we sit on the porch and relax, but Sue had other ideas.

             "How's that pond looking?" she wondered.  At this point the pond is just a small green puddle in the midst of thigh high weeds.  We stood looking at the disappointing "water feature" and I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised when the tireless creature said, "I've got my weed whip in the car...." 

            She fired it up and set about "whipping" a path down to the water thinking maybe I could get the tractor down the steep bank.  I did, but it was dicey!  We only made a dent in clearing some of the weedy pit and of course nothing will be gained from our labor regarding the leak, but just being in the presence of such boundless energy as Sue's is invigorating.  I was so tired by the time I dragged in from evening barn chores I thought I might drop, but I'll bet Sue went home and worked in her perfect gardens or maybe built a garage or something.  Does she ever sleep???

            (Note to self:  Find out what kind of coffee this woman drinks!!!)


12:25 pm edt          Comments

Monday, August 29, 2011



            I've set September 1 as my goal to have the wood pile stacked and garden work finished so I can concentrate on the writing assignments piling up on my desk.  I think I'm almost half way there.  Writing is easy.  Stacking firewood is hard work.  Too pooped to write more tonight.


8:56 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, August 28, 2011



Goethe wrote, "A man can stand anything except a succession of ordinary days."

            I'm in total agreement with Goethe, but thankfully there is no such thing as an ordinary day here.  Take yesterday for example:  I went to the flea market with friend Rose,  then came home to find a message on the answering machine from my arborist friend Dick, "I'm about a half hour from your place and I've got something for you...."  No sooner had I finished listening to the message when a red dump truck loaded with seasoned, split cordwood pulled into the drive.

            Certainly my German upbringing which epitomized frugality and preparing for rainy days has influenced my adult life, so not surprisingly I've been thinking about winter (my favorite season) and the need to get some more firewood. Considering the outrageously-fluctuating price of heating oil I expect to rely more heavily on the wood stoves in the basement and the living room for warmth this year.  Now, thanks to this friend I'm all set. 

            The location of the pile of dumped cordwood created a logistical problem requiring plenty of heavy labor, but I'd been promising myself to to get in better shape anyway, so "weight training" would no longer be an option; it would be a daily activity--starting immediately.  First that jungle of tall ragweed had to go, so I began that project yesterday just to create a work space.  The raised bed frame that I had so proudly built in the spring had to be dismantled and the soil redistributed in order to access the proposed expanded wood storage area behind the tractor shed. 

              I did that today.  Then there was the huge pile of 4' logs that neighbor Butch dumped here several weeks ago.  The original plan was for T. to cut them into stove-size pieces, bring the splitter over here and split them to add to the measley stack of cordwood left from last year.  No need to do that now, but the pile had to go.  It was in the way of everything else.

            While this might sound like an easily-solved problem, it wasn't.  There was no way to get a truck or even a wheelbarrow anywhere close.  In order to rid myself of the unwanted logs I had to create a pathway wide enough for a wheelbarrow so I could transport the logs to my truck.  AAUUGGHH!!!  It took hours, but that's done too. 

            Rain has aborted redistributing the remaining soil from the dismantled raised bed (thank goodness!  I'm pooped!)  Once everything is leveled I'll pick up some pallets from the hardware and begin stacking the mountain of wood that will keep this old house toasty when winter winds blow.  I actually look forward to this part of the job. Stacking firewood is a good time for reflection. I'm grateful for my friends, a strong healthy body and that my life is not "a succession of ordinary days."

2:11 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, August 27, 2011



            The hens and chicks have been moved from the ‘nursery' and now have access to the outside transitional pen, so I headed up toward the barn to check on them.  That's when I heard a robust male voice singing at full volume.  My first thought was that it must be a radio, but the sound grew closer and the dogs raced to the fence to investigate.  A shirtless young man, probably in his late teens was walking up the road, obviously unaware that he was not alone. The tune wasn't familiar, but he had a very good voice!  At that point I was hidden from his view, but the dogs followed him on their side of the fence as if he were a pied piper.  When he saw his appreciative canine audience he stopped and turned to face them, threw his arms into the air and cried, "I love you!" and then proceeded to sing his way up the road.  How beautiful to be so utterly uninhibited, I thought. 

            The day was perfect; breezy and sunny, so maybe that's what inspired the stranger's song and it occurred to me that too much time had passed since the dogs and I had gone for a long walk, so rather than work in my office I grabbed their leashes. They were jubilant as we set off on our trek!  It felt good to be moving along at a brisk clip although Ernie seemed to have forgotten his manners and tugged ahead of the pack until he felt the half-halt reprimand.  By the time we approached Ranger Rick's woods the trio had fallen into their old orderly formation.

            Nothing smells like a deciduous forest in late summer.  Each season has its own special ambiance and each time the smells of the seasons change I think, this one is my favorite.  Walnuts, hickory nuts and acorns have started to fall and the trail was littered with mast.  Fresh deer tracks told me the big buck had recently passed by and the dogs nervously sniffed coyote scat before racing on ahead.  It was good to be back in that peaceful place.

            I hesitated when we reached the path that led to old Kenny's field, but the dogs were already leaping through the waist-high Queen Anne's Lace, ironweed and just-blossoming goldenrod.  Except for Julie who is still a bean pole, they looked like fat gazelles bounding through the wildflowers.  It's hard to believe it's been more than twenty years that I've known the seasonal beauty of old Kenny's meadow.

            Even when Farmer Chuck cleared some hedgerows and planted corn, then soybeans in the vast south field it was still beautiful.  Now the field is ablaze in late summer wildflowers.  I stood at the edge looking at the familiar acres and then I saw the flags.  Not just the pink ribbons that dot the entire township, visible confirmation that the landowner has signed a fracking agreement, but bright orange ribbons as well.  The song in my heart expired as we trudged toward the north end of the pasture.

            There should have been cattle there.  I expected to see Cow, the old Hereford, the liberated bull and maybe even this year's calf, but the field was empty.  Worse still, the single hot wire was down.  I didn't want to think about where the cattle had gone.  Kenny has never in all of his ninety years been without cows, but now it seems they've been replaced by ribbons marking sites for explosives and seismic monitors.  Out of state trucks race along these country roads from early morning until dusk and beyond.  The crews from Texas, Louisiana and New York are already drilling in the soybean field across from S's dairy barn.  Neighbor Sandy says she heard that blasting will begin before month's end.  

            Old Kenny seems to be slowly abandoning his lifelong commitment to responsible land stewardship.  Until he leased his fields to Farmer Chuck, his farm hadn't known commercial, petro-based fertilizers.  Manure and rotating fallow sections worked well enough for him.  Granted, Kenny probably never knew harvests like Chuck's, but he stayed true to his respect for the land and that meant more than money to Kenny.

            Now that the cows appear to be gone (I cling to a hope that they were all inside the barn) and the fields are peppered with fluorescent ribbons it seems to me that Kenny is getting ready to leave the life he's loved for almost a century.  He won't live long without cattle and I imagine that the dogs and I will not have access to our beloved fields much longer either.   It seems as if Kenny is committing a slow suicide and no one can stop him.


3:30 pm edt          Comments

Friday, August 26, 2011



            His face was distinctive as mouse faces go.  He looked just like Richard Nixon, but alas, just like the former president he's now gone.  The cats won't have him to "kick around anymore." 

            I'd actually grown rather fond of the kitchen mouse.  How could you not admire his chutzpah; the way he peeked from safety, then bravely raced from one refuge to another.  He took tremendous chances.  Sometimes as many as three cats would be stationed lying in wait for him to make a mistake. Their kitty eyebrows would be knitted in concentration as sensitive paws blindly fished around under the bin or cupboard.  I'd get down on my hands and knees and shine the flashlight into the dark recess to find him safely huddled in a rear corner. The frustrated cats would finally tire of the game, then Nixon would vanish.  He was darned cute. 

            About 10" in front of the wall cupboard there is one very ancient mouse hole in the old wood floor, it's edges worn smooth and thin from nearly 200 years of rodent retreats.  The hole offered a safe exit to the cellar bunker.  Maybe Nixon was taking advantage of it, but I'd never actually seen him use it.  In fact I had seen no cat/mouse pursuit for the past several days, but this morning the bottom ‘rag drawer' was pulled open and the cupboard doors under the sink were also ajar, the trash bin knocked askew.  I should have guessed something had happened, but I just closed things up without giving it a second thought.

            Then I found Nixon's head.  No sign of the rest of him; just that dear little face I'd grown to know.  To the best of my knowledge he leaves no surviving family members. The smug look on Tiny's face suggests she may have played a role in his savage execution.


1:23 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, August 25, 2011



            I'd spent Tuesday cleaning, angst-ridden about hosting overnight guests who didn't know me, then determined that fretting over the fact that my home is not as fancy or as amenity-equipped as places I have stayed was just plain crazy!  This is my home and I have always taken a certain pride in its simplicity.  So, why was I fretting! 

            Operating a Bed & Breakfast never struck me as a fun idea.  I live alone because I like my solitude.  And since I'm admittedly a snob I only invite people here whom I like and respect (well, for the most part anyway...).  Considering these facts, a small single bathroom is quite adequate. I don't mind the limited heat or the lack of AC.  My vegetarian lifestyle is healthy and I'm a good cook, so I make no apologies for the fare. As for the animals, I love them and life without critters would be no life for me, so that's just the way things are.  

            I think people feel comfortable here.  At least I hope they do.  I've been in homes (?) where I've felt the eyes of the hostess boring into me lest I sit a cup or glass down without a coaster, move an uncomfortably-placed pillow or disturb the display of magazines she has fanned out on the coffee table like those in a waiting room.  To me, that is not a gracious home.  My only request is that visitors don't spill or break things.  They can set things down wherever they want to.  I do.  And I'm not going to feign shock if a cat jumps onto the table.  I'll just shoo it away, just as I would if no one were here.

            So, by the time my guests arrived I had adopted the attitude, "What's the worst that can happen?  They won't like my accommodations or will be offended by the animals that live here?  So what?"

            The pleasant couple arrived around 9:30 pm.  We chatted a bit, but they had to catch an early flight yesterday morning.  "Can you wake us up at 3:15?" they asked.  That was 3:15 AM!!!  I woke them, fixed them tea (they declined breakfast, thank goodness) and they were gone by 4:00 Am.  I had not slept at all and simply felt fried, so wearily I climbed the stairs, plopped into bed and promptly fell into a deep sleep.  Four lovely hours of rest was all I was to enjoy before the phone began ringing.  The last call was from my daughter.

            Her pain-choked voice told me she was having a kidney stone attack. It was deja vu from two years earlier.  I threw on clothes and sped to her stable to find her flat on her back, gray-faced and writhing in pain.  One of her capable friends was already on the scene taking care of the horses.  We had to get Jill up, but one of her Cane Corso (Italian Mastiff) dogs had stationed herself as guard over her mistress.  The plan was to put the dogs into a stall, but pulling Jill upright while a 130 pound dog "protected" her was a bit dicey.  The other Corso was terrified and sat growling and barking in Jill's truck.  Neither the friend nor I thought it a good idea to grab the dog's collar.  We left that dog in the truckand concentrated on Jill.

            After getting her into a vertical position she thought she felt well enough to drive herself home although I was skeptical.  With no medical insurance and having just paid off the bill from the other kidney stone incident, her reluctance to go to hospital was understandable.  She still had pain medication from that 5 day ordeal, so I acquiesced.  Jill went to her home and I returned to mine, still feeling the effects of not enough sleep.  The day dragged groggily on until Jill called again.  This time the situation was not debatable.  She had to go to hospital!

            I splashed water on my face, called neighbor Sandy to ask her to check on my animals if I were not home by 9:00 PM and then sped up to my daughter's house to find her supine on her bathroom floor.  We spent the next 5 ½ hours in the Emergency Room.  The good news is that she passed the kidney stone.  I got home at 11:30 PM which is why there was no blog post yesterday.  No excuses, just an explanation.

            I'm hopeful that life here at the not-so Peaceable Kingdom will soon return to normal.


10:31 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, August 23, 2011



            As per previous gripes, I'm having a tough time catching up on all that awaited my post-holiday attention and rather than making progress, I seem to be falling further and further behind.  Yesterday I learned that I'll be hosting overnight guests this evening.

            One of the "advantages" (???) of getting older is the privilege of joining something called the Evergreen Travel Club, an unofficial Bed & Breakfast of sorts.  In all seriousness, it's a terrific opportunity.  For just $15.00 members can stay at the homes of other global members.  The price includes, what else--a bed and breakfast!  I have personally enjoyed Evergreen lodgings in several states and in Canada.  My hosts have all been gracious and my accommodations have been very nice. 

            As an Evergreen member one is required to make his/her home also available to travelers.  Tonight my first ever Evergreen guests are arriving!!!  Panic!  I have advised them that accommodations here are Spartan, animals live here (both inside and outside) and that breakfast will be vegetarian fare.  They're coming anyway.

            Although I've hosted many guests from all over the world, these have all been people who knew me.  They weren't terribly surprised or disappointed at the unconventional lodgings, but based upon my own Evergreen experiences which have all included private bathrooms, I fear tonight's guests may be stunned. 

            There is only a single small bathroom in this house.  And while their room is clean and the bed is very comfortable, to reach it they must pass directly through my own bedroom.  Oh, and did I mention the low clearance?  The room with the double bed is a former attic.  One must either be very short or walk with heads cocked to the side.  Tall folks might have to crawl. 

            Oh dear, I hope they won't be too disappointed!


11:50 am edt          Comments

Sunday, August 21, 2011



           Another birthday is fast approaching.  My daughter gave me an early present; a new  laptop computer and I'm delighted with it, but just as I do each August I find myself consumed not with thoughts of gifts or celebrations, but with thoughts about how I will use the upcoming year.  Will it only be spent seeking security and physical comfort?  Or, will it be spent taking a more active stance for things I believe in? 

            A couple of years ago an unwarranted ambush of our township police chief  threw me into a public fight for justice.  The attack launched by two sleazy goons provoked a fury I hadn't felt since marching for civil rights or protesting the Viet Nam war.  Justice ultimately prevailed.  The creeps who had choreographed the effort to unseat a respected public servant slunk away like scum down a drain.  The year-long battle was invigorating and rewarding, but it was exhausting. 

            These days there are so many things that are unjust, exploitive or simply wrong that it's hard to know where to put one's energy. Consequently we risk becoming apathetic.  But as I look at my rural community littered with pink flags indicating the successful efforts of the oil and gas "representatives," part of me feels compelled to loudly and publicly voice my opposition to the fracking frenzy.  The issue has been polarizing and mine is certainly a minority voice in this township.  A lot of people  have chosen to dismiss scientific facts, hoping to get rich quick.

            However, another part of me, the part that acknowledges my vulnerability as a minority feels fearful.  Violence is an all-too-accepted part of life these days, even in rural America.  I don't wish to become a victim, nor do I wish to fire my revolver at anyone.  I don't like any of these feelings.

            This inner conflict stings more than the nettles I got into on Saturday.  I refuse to ever join that segment of society too busy or indifferent to care about the world beyond my own little existence.  I don't crave status symbols or wealth or fame.  But I do crave the company of others who decry deceit, exploitation and corruption.  Where are the passionate kindred souls of the past?  There used to be a lot of us.

            There's a protest against the proposed tar sand oil pipeline underway in Washington. Even knowing that a sit-in won't have any real effect against the oil and gas industry or the spineless politicians, I'd like to go and drink in the passion of those brave enough to risk arrest for demanding justice and environmental responsibility.

            Logic says I can't afford to go.  Money is tight right now.  I have several fast-approaching writing deadlines.  I have animal expenses that can't be deferred.  I have garden produce that must be harvested and preserved for the upcoming winter.  I have responsibilities.  I have all kinds of excuses, hence I have inner conflict.  My small country life is not peaceful right now.

12:15 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, August 20, 2011



            My original plan for the day was to relax; just lie on the porch and read the New Yorker, but it was impossible.  The overgrown grass derailed my plan.  Instead of reading (after bathing all three dogs), I got on the tractor and confronted my most-hated task. 

            All went as well as could be expected until, while mowing an area I consider a ‘short cut' from the south to the west yard.  For no apparent reason, whilst in the midst of a dense jungle of stinging nettle, the damned mower just quit. Investigating the cause was not an option unless I had masochistic tendencies (which I do not).  I had no choice but to push the tractor out of its tangle of misery into the open.  This was not an easy thing to do, but alas I prevailed and told myself that the exertion more than compensated for the Reese's cup I had eaten for lunch.

            The tractor finally sat in a clearing.  Even knowing my lack of mechanical prowess I got down on hands and knees to investigate only to find myself kneeling next to a big pile of dog poo.  I really tried to keep my composure as once again I set about pushing the heavy beast clear of the unpleasant deposit.  At last, it was in a safe zone.  I checked all those confusing belts and all seemed in place, yet the tractor refused to move.  I was left with no option other than confessing the latest mowing predicament to T. who has promised to fix it tomorrow.  Have I ever mentioned how much I hate mowing? I hate it even more now.

            As compensation, we went to see Midnight in Paris, a wonderful Woody Allen flick.  I will not think about the immovable tractor until tomorrow.


11:01 pm edt          Comments

Friday, August 19, 2011



            I've always believed that if acted-upon convictions impact just one other person it's possible to change the world.  Sometimes I'm surprised by how this theory is exemplified.  For example, I started this silly blog as a writing discipline just for myself.  I was amazed that anyone else found my ramblings interesting, but though the blog I have encountered many wonderful people, some of whom have become friends.

            Meeting Sue and Bud who transformed my terrace into a thing of beauty and who certainly influenced the way I now look at and approach projects changed my own life.  When Sue and Bud were adopted by a feral cat that they were reluctant to accept I introduced them to my daughter Jill who operates Cripple Creek Ferals and Friends ( ), a cat rescue charity.  With Jill's help their feral cat was trapped, vetted, named Pywacket and is now a part of Sue and Bud's family.  Thus, they too became involved in confronting the problem of abandoned animals by adopting one and by educating others. 

            When Sue conducted a tour for Town and Country Garden Club this week, she presented her visitors with fliers about Jill's cat rescue organization and the Alliance garden enthusiasts graciously sent a donation to Cripple Creek which in turn will help with the expense of vetting eight kittens that were recently dumped in a corn field.

            I think this illustrates the adage that for every action there is a reaction. In a world of so much pain, destruction and ugliness, just when things seem so hopeless, it's encouraging to realize that even the simplest act can have far-reaching positive effects.  Nothing is inconsequential.


11:27 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, August 17, 2011



            Recently I shared a photo and my delight over the lush volunteer garden that had erupted inside the chicken pen.  There were pumpkin and squash vines, corn and robust tomato plants all thriving in the small enclosure that serves as a safe transition space for hens with chicks.  I was ever so pleased because the dense vegetation would provide plenty of shade, food and cover for them and anticipated moving the new families out there within the next couple of weeks.  But now thanks to one especially-bad ass nearly all of that protective vegetation is gone.

            I'm still not feeling well, but animals must be fed and watered, so I dragged myself out the back door hoping to get by doing just the most basic chores.  I didn't expect to see a donkey standing inside the chicken pen as if he'd been dropped there from the sky.  The pen gate was still closed and latched, but there stood Corky amidst the ruin, blinking his long-lashed doe eyes at me and feigning innocence. 

            Having discovered the ‘all-you-can-eat-salad-bar-if -you-can-just-pull-off-a few- boards' he had done that very thing.  I wanted to cry!  I'd already harvested some of the corn, but there was more (until Corky's rampage).  He'd eaten all of the tomatoes, leaves included.  Nothing remained but trampled little stumps. The pumpkin and squash vines were untouched.  ‘No fun messing with those until just before they are ‘ready' to pick.  That's when they become donkey toys.

            Clever fellow that he is, Corky had not gone about his work on the south side of the pen where I might possibly have seen and aborted his demolition project.  Working on the north side he was safely hidden from sight by the formerly-healthy garden.  As I entered the barnyard the little gray terrorist shot from the wreckage as if he'd been fired from a cannon.  Not such a bad idea, I thought.

            I have to keep reminding myself how lovable he is most of the time, but not today!


1:25 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I am extremely ill today (flu?) and will hopefully have a blog post tomorrow.  For now, it's back to my sick bed.
6:40 pm edt          Comments

Monday, August 15, 2011



            The farm was not stagnant while I was away.  Things happened and upon my return I was welcomed by more than the usual menagerie of dogs, cats, donkeys and chickens.  There were newcomers; some welcome, some not so welcome. 

            At the barn the two diligent hens that have wasted their summer setting on non-viable eggs finally hatched some chicks.  My conscientious critter sitter set up a maternity ward in the extra stall, but the two old girls bicker constantly, each worried that the other one might steal her baby.  Of course the peeps are adorable.

            There's a new resident at the house too, but this one will be relocating as soon as possible!  While the crazed cats are set on exterminating all moles within a five acre radius, they have chosen to ignore the mouse who has taken up a comfortable residence in the kitchen.  They act as if the rodent is part of the family.

             As a couple friends and I sat at the kitchen table on Saturday I noticed Tiny peering under the wall cupboard.  The flashlight beam shined under the cupboard revealed an array of aluminum foil balls, wine bottle corks, catnip mice, small bells and several other kitty toys, but also one very alive real mouse who nonchalantly sat amidst all the stuff.

            Having only been home for a few hours I was too tired to deal with the squatter at that moment.  I'd set the multi-mouse tumble gym later, I thought.  Suddenly friend R. squealed and her hands flew to her face.  Since she was facing the window toward the road I thought something awful had happened outside, but no.  As Buddy (cat) and Poppy (also a cat) snoozed on the table and chair, Mister (or Ms.) Mouse was casually running by the stove.  As a precaution I've cleaned the cupboards and put sheets of Bounce in the drawers ( a very effective deterrent) until I trap the freeloader, after which he/she will move to the barn where Little Ivy will probably catch and murder the poor creature.

            Weeds overtook the gardens, but in spite of the competition plants are producing bumper crops, especially the tomatoes.  A huge cauldron of sauce is simmering on the stove as I type.  Although dealing with such abundance is a task (but isn't that what we hope for when we plant our gardens???), it will be wonderful to have a freezer full of marinara and pesto when the winter winds blow.

            Bright pink plastic tape is everywhere. It looks as if a township-wide party is about to happen.  The pink ribbons hang from sticks, twigs, on branches and even on corn stalks to mark the places explosive charges will be set off or monitors will be placed.  Neighbor Sandy says they will detonate all at the same time, but no one knows when this disruption to our relative peace will happen. I can't imagine what this will be like.  Today I watched a doe and her spotted fawn cross the road and naively slip into brush that was marked with a pink ribbon.  I'm worried about the wildlife.

            The bad asses are very busy these days "working" in the garden. I caught Corky picking and eating a tomato he had snagged from under the fence.  Yes, those boys are naughty, but I was happy to see them anyway.

            There is so much to do I wonder if I'll ever catch up. 


8:03 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, August 14, 2011



          Lake Ainslie is said to be the largest fresh water lake in Nova Scotia.  Its shoreline is dotted with old farms and more recently, modest holiday homes.  It's a lovely area, but it's also the target of the oil and gas companies who are scouting Cape Breton just as they are scouting Ohio.  They've already violated First Nation laws and have attempted to impose their dirty business without notifying the native population which is 100% opposed to having their lands further desecrated  My friend says that while the local opposition may prevail, if the provincial government decides otherwise, it could all be for naught.  I'm keeping a close watch on this fight for landowner rights.  I pass this lake en route to L.'s place.

            It had been many years since I'd visited my friend and trying to remember how to find his place wasn't easy, but after hours of wandering endless logging roads I found it.  A tractor sat in the yard and a ginger-colored dog laid by the back door.  I tooted the Kia's horn and waited.  Nothing moved, including the dog whose expression remained blank.  I've known dogs with such faces that disguise temperaments that might be friendly, but might  also be vicious and protective.  I opened the door and called.  No answer.  No one home.

            After so much trouble finding the place I decided to get a book from my back pack that was in the trunk and wait, hoping L. would return before too long.  As I got to the driver's door I saw that Kujo was no longer guarding the back door, but was lying beside the car.  Still no wagging tail and no change in expression.  While it would have been nice to walk around the place leaving the safety of the Kia just didn't seem prudent, even for a dog person like myself.  Instead I read, waited and watched the late afternoon clouds drift over the surrounding mountains.

            L. is thin as a coat hanger and just as wiry.  His sparse hair is long and his clothes are functional, but were never fashionable. He rolls his own cigarettes, smokes them down to tiny roaches and lives in the remote mountaintop home which he constructed with his own hands.  L. is an authentic and unpretentious man with a brilliant mind and  I'm honored to have him for a friend.  Sitting in the Kia, looking at the hundred acres he calls home it occurred to me that he has accomplished more than a lot of people could ever hope to, not just the physical structures he's made, but more importantly, the peace and independence that he enjoys.

            His power is generated by an efficient wind turbine and augmented with solar panels.  He dug his pond by hand and his heat comes from wood he cuts from his own woodlot.  Heaps of un-split logs surrounded a wall of neatly stacked cordwood.  His cooking is done on a big black ‘modern' wood-fueled stove, which also heats his water.  In the summer a two burner propane camp stove is adequate.  There's no shortage of clean fresh water for the  kitchen and bathroom. That's delivered by a gravity-fed system L. designed.  A big scarecrow protects a huge garden which produces the food L. will preserve for the long Cape Breton winters. If he wants meat he'll shoot a deer. 

            Piles of books are heaped everywhere and when he isn't gardening, preserving, hunting or cutting fire wood L. reads and paints.  He and his dog live a sustainable existence and they are happy. 

            The day was getting late and finding my way out of this no man's land could be tricky in the dark, so I wrote a note announcing my visit and intention to return the next day, placed it in a plastic bag I found in the glove box and weighted it down with stones in the driveway. The dog had returned to the house and watched from its station by the back door.

            The following day I returned.  It's good that I didn't wait for L. He had been helping a friend with haying and didn't get home until late.  Boo, the dog and I became instant friends while L. and I caught up on all that had transpired in the years since our last visit.  He showed me his latest paintings which were quite good. We discussed books, politics and life and had a fine reunion. 

           There was a time when I thought L.'s lifestyle was a bit over the top, but considering all that is happening in the world today; things that threaten the lifestyle I and others have long taken for granted, I have an increased respect for L.'s independence.   

            The time spent with this old friend was the best part of my trip.


5:46 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, August 13, 2011



            I returned to my little sanctuary around midnight, happy to be back from ten days in Nova Scotia where it rained every day except the day I departed.  The inclement weather put the kibosh on most of my holiday plans, but for anyone who has never visited this maritime province, I recommend going.  It's uniquely beautiful and the natives are friendly.  The food is delicious and with nearly 4,800 miles of coastline, vast provincial parks and wildlife aplenty, it's a great place for those who love the outdoors.  Never mind that the mosquitoes are the size of cats....  I'm happy to be home, but this vacation presented an epiphany I didn't know I needed.

            Not belonging to a place provides a freedom to "see" beyond the obvious and never before did I appreciate this truth more.  For several years I've thought Nova Scotia would be my Utopia if only I could move there.  I mourned the fact that immigration restrictions meant this would never be, but no more mourning.  My love affair with this part of Canada is over and that's okay.  The trip was fraught with issues, but along the way I met some interesting individuals and renewed a valued friendship.  Some encounters provided fodder for magazine articles and others provided invaluable character studies for future short stories.  I began the trip with great expectations, but alas those expectations were dashed with almost daily regularity. I'll share just a few.

             It was late afternoon when I pulled into the drive of my Cape Breton Bed & Breakfast.  The startlingly-white house sat at the very top of (appropriately-named) Hilltop Road.  The meticulous farm overlooked lush valleys and endless forested mountains.  Since the rain had ceased for the time being and I was anxious to get some exercise an unused logging road that cut through the property beckoned me to explore.

             I set off minus appropriate footwear, but armed with a heavy walking stick as per the advice of Park Rangers to ward off aggressive coyotes.  I hadn't gone far when it dawned on me that dusk is about the time that wildlife also ventures forth.  Bear and moose were abundant in the area. Seeing the foolishness of my venture I decided instead to drive my  little rental car up the logging road hoping to catch a glimpse of Smokey or Bullwinkle.   I've no one but myself to blame for what happened next. 

            Kathy, the hostess said the road was very narrow and rough, but I assured her I'd already been on some pretty rugged byways and against her warning I revved up the little Kia and set off toward trouble.  I didn't think about the fact that I'd have to back my way down the road, nor did I worry about not being equipped with as much as even a flashlight.  Instead I pushed the little two-wheel drive compact rental deeper and deeper into the vegetation that was slashing at its sides. 

            When it bottomed out on the center hump of the increasingly-rough not-quite-a-road I was forced to admit that what I was doing was simply stupid!  The smart thing would have been to throw the Kia into reverse instead of attempting to straddle the hump.  The sickening THUNK of the Kia as it fell into a knee-deep ditch in the near darkness was a sound I won't soon forget.  The Kia sat pitched at a 45 degree angle on the right side of the road.  It wasn't going forward nor backward and no one was just going to happen by to rescue me from my foolhardy predicament.  I had two choices; sleep in the car instead of in the comfortable B&B, or hoof it through the darkness back to the house.  The choice was clear.

            In my flimsy sandals and armed with only the car key I raced down the logging road in the fading light of day toward the house.  No one was more surprised than I that I could run so fast!

            "Oh, you should have gone to the left side of the road, but don't worry.  We'll just get Sheldon to come up with the tractor in the morning," said Kathy, but I could tell from the look on her face that she was sorry she'd ever said she had a vacancy.  I worried about how much damage the Kia had suffered, but as promised Sheldon arrived the next morning on a big tractor with a front end loader.  The host of the B&B went along to assist him and in about an hour the mud-covered Kia was back in the driveway.  Amazingly, dirt was the only evidence of the mishap.

            I forced money into Sheldon's reluctant hand (Cape Bretoners are very kind people) and reminded myself that a Kia is not a truck!


5:36 pm edt          Comments

Monday, August 1, 2011



            As I sat in traffic impatiently waiting for the roadblock to open up I noticed a sturdy older woman pushing a baby stroller through town.  She was clad in men's short black socks, canvas shoes, a Tasha Tudor sort of dress and a floppy sun hat. My first thought was, ‘oh, Granny must be babysitting,' but I was wrong.  Peeking out of the net-enclosed stroller was a black and white cat. The passenger looked happy and relaxed, as if a cat going for daily walk in a stroller was perfectly normal.  The sight made me smile. 

            I think my own felines live very happy (normal) lives.  All seven of them can go in and out at will.  Outside they climb trees, leap around on the hay bales in the barn, chase the chickens and one another.  They kill untold numbers of rodents (poor little critters...) and they sleep anywhere and anytime they like.  Inside they eat very well and do little else other than demand attention and kitty cookies. It costs more to feed them than the dogs, the donkeys or even myself.  They have a good life, but under no circumstances will any of them be going for a walk in a baby stroller.  These happy pet stories contrast greatly to something that occurred over the weekend. 

            According to neighbor Sandy, the dairy farmer discovered the two old dogs when he went to feed his heifers early Saturday morning.  The fat old lab laid dead in the ditch, the victim of a heartless hit and run driver.  The surviving dog stood barking pitifully, protectively guarding his lifeless friend.  Several people tried in vain to approach the bewildered animal until at last one patient woman got a lead on the dog. He didn't want to leave his dead companion, but she took it to her home where she already had seven dogs of her own. 

            I saw the dead black lab this morning.  He must have been hit very hard only about a hundred feet from the stop sign, and then left to die. His poor body had skidded on the roadway.  Clumps of hair were missing and there were great purple bruises.  He looked well-fed and to be at least ten years old.  Of course, there was no collar.  I'm haunted by the abandonment of these two dogs; one who suffered the greatest misfortune, the other one only slightly luckier.  What kind of person loads trusting animals into a car, drives to a rural area and then shoves them out?  I know someone who did such a thing.

            H. was an antique dealer with a hugely-exaggerated ego and greatly-undeserved self esteem. I regarded H. as a mildly-entertaining drama queen until his elaborate revelation one afternoon many years ago. The antique shop buzzed with customers that day as H. related to anyone who would listen how a stray dog had taken up residence at home, lavishing him with great affection and being very protective. "He was a really nice dog...," H. beamed.  H. accepted the dogs love and trust for several weeks until one day the dog growled at the postman.  Paranoid H. decided at that moment the dog could prove to be a liability.  "I could have gotten sued...," he declared as if we should all empathize. 

            I shall never forget his animated account of how that very evening he loaded the dog into his car and drove into the countryside.  He actually thought the story was funny, telling stunned customers how the animal had stiffened his legs and looked over its shoulder with questioning brown eyes and resisted being shoved out the door to fend for itself as ugly H. sped away.  He laughed as he told how the dog stood in the middle of the road watching as the car vanished around a curve. 

            I didn't mince words that day expressing my disgust at his despicable act and I never spoke to H. again, but have told every prospective customer what he did.  What a hateful creature!  Who knows what happened to the abandoned dog?  It probably met a fate like the one lying in the ditch down the road, but karma is a bear! Not long after the event I heard that H.'s house was been broken into and robbed.  The burglary was followed by a series of major health issues that will follow H. to the grave.

            I've no doubt that the knuckle-dragger who abandoned the two dogs this weekend will also meet karma and this is satisfying to me, but my heart still aches for the suffering of the helpless animals.  I hope the surviving dog ultimately finds a permanent new home with someone like Granny.  Were I not going away I would consider it myself.

            But, at 7:30 AM I will be on a plane en route to my favorite place; Nova Scotia.  Posting on this blog may not be possible or at best will be spotty.  I don't own a laptop, so computer access will be limited to libraries, but I shall return on the 12th, armed with photos and stories much happier than this one.  Ta ta, for now.


6:54 pm edt          Comments

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