Monday, December 27, 2010


When I poured my coffee this morning, I barely glanced out the kitchen window, and noticing nothing amiss went to my computer and waited for caffeine to work its magic and raise my brain from the fog of recent sleep. I watched the birds out the back porch view flitting around the feeder now with more earnest efforts since the thermometer was reading in the 30’s. I heard Kitty’s whinny, also with a more earnest pitch, hollering for me to come feed, or so I thought was her intent. When coffee had done its job I returned to the kitchen window and saw the reason for Kitty’s pleas. Robijn and Joline stood just the other side of the rise of the field lines and were quite happy munching the still green fescue grass that grows there. I didn’t see Sunset the usual ring leader of escapes from the barn, but I didn’t panic about these two being out. I did hope they would refrain from a dip in the close by swimming pool, so I grabbed coat and etc and went out side to head to the barn.

I used to freak out when horses got loose, especially the young ones. Now I have come to notice that they won’t leave. Heck why would they and who would take them? As long as they are calm and merely graze the greenery it is not big deal. And as expected, once I had gotten to the barn to grab a rope to go catch the escapees, I turned to find them followingme to the door. Sunset had managed to have locked herself in Kitty’s stall, hence her absence from the front yard group. Order restored and all fed, I went back to the house for tea and a chance for the day to warm a bit before riding the working girls.

It is the day after the day after Christmas today. The weekend has been nice, cold but relaxing and slow. Christmas Eve fell on a Friday this year and we spent it at my parents’, a chaotic replication of the past eves, but with each passing of these events, a wondering of how many more will we share crosses my mind. This year my dad was quieter than on years before, and was tired. My mother looked festive in her seasonal garb, but she too is moving slower. Christmas day Mark and I opened our gifts from each other, a box of art materials from him, and to him I gave a small mortar.

This particular mortar is about 6 inches long and has maybe a 3inch dia. and with the help of some black powder, is capable of launching a helpless golf ball 300 yrds. or so. A friend of ours, who was a soldier in Nam and who blew stuff up then and still enjoys a good loud ballistic boom, had told me about this little mortar and suggested it for a gift for Mark, who also enjoys a good loud boom as well, and so I ordered it. What I didn’t know or think about was how it would fire. I knew that we had some black powder and some old golf balls but I didn’t even think about a fuse needed to send the ball out of the barrel and hadn’t ordered any. So Mark had a toy that he couldn’t play with, like getting a telescope on a cloudy day. No fun. Then Mark said that he bet we could get fire in that hole somehow, and thus became the focus of our intent for Christmas day.

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, this little cannon, or mortar, is a very heavy small barrel with a golf ball sized opening at the firing end. To fire it, you place a charge of black powder in the barrel first, which sets into a reservoir in the rear of the barrel, then you stuff in the ball. On top of the barrel at the rear is a 1/8” hole that goes down to the reservoir, and this was where we needed a fuse to send a spark to the powder to ignite and blow the ball into the air. The trick was to get anything to continually burn long enough to get down into the chamber. With no firecracker with a steal-able fuse anywhere to be found in the house we were going to fabricate one of our own making. We had intent to ignite some powder, by golly.

The internet had postings of several options for making homemade fuses for fireworks or whatever, firebombs, etc. First we tried toilet paper strips rolled into tight cords and then covered with a paste of ground up match heads. These burned well, if, they held together long enough, but went out as soon as flame hit the hole in the top of the mortar. Next was yarn soaked in lighter fluid, same result. By then our elder daughter and son in law had driven out to the farm and so they joined our quest for fire.

As a youngster this fine son in law of ours had, self admission, been quite a pyromaniac of sorts and had made many fuses for various bombs for blowing up things, so he suggested tissue paper, from the close at hand newly opened gift boxes. Black powder was poured onto this and sprayed with a fixative and then rolled tightly into a shape as tho one might put in your mouth and smoke it. After several prototype attempts of almost doing it, finally we got a successful burn and resounding boom, and sent the ball flying across the yard to the pond’s edge. It was only a small amount of powder used that time since we were still very much on the bottom of the learning curve, but it was very gratifying to have improvised and prevailed. With our group victory accomplished, we retired to the warm fire and glasses of wine, and toasted our day.

The weather gurus had hinted there might be a white Christmas but that day only held very cold rain and dashed hopes for a jingle belled carriage ride. Yesterday tho, they said the same might happen and sure enough tiny flakes fell for most of the day, too warm to stick but lovely. At one point while feeding the horses the flakes got bigger and I felt like I was in a snow globe and half expected to be turned upside down.

In the late afternoon during the heaviset of the falling white stuff we hooked the bouncy mare to the carriage. So we did get our carriage ride in the snow, with bells on the mare jingling away. The lap robes kept our legs warm, and the soothing elixir in the flask kept our spirits bright.The pre Christmas stuff had its stress but post c-day and the day after the day have been just fine.  
check out the boom

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ho, ho, ho

The first chiming of the captain’s clock I heard this morning said it was 3 am. I heard it a while later chime once for the half hour, and continued to hear the chiming of the hours all the way until I heard Mark making coffee at 8:30. I had spent all of those hours almost getting back to sleep and then being jostled into consciousness again and again. Images and words poured thru my brain like I was tapped into the congestion of the airwaves. My sinuses were feeling like a dump truck had unloaded a full load of gravel on my face. It was not the best way to start the day, Christmas Eve. I hate not getting all my beauty sleep anytime tho. It makes me feel like I have been on foal watch for a month, and going thru the days in a fuddled daze. Gimmie coffee, quick, there is merry, merry to be had.

It has been a nice week leading up to my insomnia with visits from both my youngest daughter, and my sister in law. Their visits were brief but it was very nice to be with them and recount things that have happened in our lives since the last time together. They both live far to the west so the infrequent nature of their visits makes them more special.

One night during their visit was special indeed, with a birthday celebration for Mark at a good friend’s house. It was a repeat performance of the same gathering last year for the same purpose, including both daughters, son in law, sister in law, and our hosts.

Our friend and neighbor, likes tamales, on a serious scale. To that end, one night we were talking about them and how a really home made one was so much better than what generally gets passed off as in a restaurant. The next minute this fellow is on his phone calling a place he remembered visiting in Santa Fe where he had great tamales. After he had convinced the person, somehow, that he was not crazy (that, is still up for discussion), he placed an order with them for several dozen in all types of stuffing inside. A few days later a big box arrived, out came the steamer, salsa, chilies, and sour cream and into these hot tamales we dug.

So for Mark’s birthday this was repeated and we stuffed ourselves silly with these corn husk wrapped treasures, washed all down with nice chilly Mexican beers, and then we sang a raucous chorus to the birthday boy with his candle burning bright. Of course, our friend could not help but use a relighting candle as a joke. It worked. Mark blew hard and out it went and came right back lit. It was a sweet night with friends and family spent doing a lot of laughing. I don’t know that I can safely say which hurt worse, my cheeks from laughing or my belly from my dinner, but it was pretty close either way.

Tonight is Christmas Eve and the gathering is to be done at my parents’ house as they aren’t quite as mobile as the rest of us. Dad likes to get it all done early, mid-afternoon really. He has an incredibly hard time looking at wrapped presents and always stresses over our lackadaisical methods of slowly unwrapping the boxes. We will then eat, and finish early,  and all retire to our homes to wait for Santa and his reindeer.
Christmas is pretty boring around here now that the kids are grown. I did put up a tree and got out some of the multitude of ornaments we have stored upstairs, and dressed it up but it’s quite pale compared to our past Christmases where the house was transformed into the North Pole basically, with lights everywhere and all the trimmings. We used to host for many years, a huge party that celebrated both Mark’s December birthday and the holiday season. The party was a staple event for hundreds of our friends and when we ceased having it many people wondered if they had been dropped from the invite list, or if we had lost their address, or had they done something to offend us. It was none of that. It had simply run its course and my energy for putting it together was gone. Now I appreciate the less stress, more laid back approach and my elder daughter has picked up the torch and has a smaller champagne gathering at her house.

Today is a cool clear blue day but the weather folks are hinting at a possible white one for us tomorrow. I just got the bells out down in the barn and either way I want to take a jingle bell carriage ride tomorrow. Being in a carriage behind a horse wearing bells is magic. At first when the horse is just walking the bells rattle with discourse, but the sound of the rhythm of the bells when the horse starts to trot is something everyone should get to experience. If that sound doesn’t move you, then, scrooge to you.One can't help but hear where The song came from. Jingle all the way.

I have got a few more things to wrap, so off I go to the attic workshop to get the last ones done. Mark should be home from hunting quail with friends soon and we will begin the ritual of the evening events. Fingers are crossed for snow, and wishes are for all, to have a very merry one, and a fabulous new year. Cheers.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

To the Queen...

This past weekend was spent doing things which don't have anything to do with life on the farm. We, in contrast to our norm, shed our bluejeans and boots in exchange for me, a long formal gown and for Mark, well, a silk costume. Our purpose for such a drastic change was our attendance at a Grand Ball, a debutant affair steeped in the traditions of Mardi Gras based social clubs, or Krewes, where young maids of the town are presented to the observers and society in general. There is an entire weekend filled with parties, brunches, luncheons, practices, and more, all surrounding the climax of the Ball itself.  The preparatory events go on year round, culminating on this one special night of revelry.

A dear friend was to be the King of this year's weekend long event, a job which is both an honor and a big financial tug at the pockets, and  it also requires the willing fellow to wear sparkly jewel bedecked garments, lots of makeup, a wig and glued on beard, stretchy white tights, and tall white boots. His bewigged head is topped with an enormous dazzling crown that is covered in crystals and cabochons. His job for the Ball begins with him walking regally around the dark auditorium to the orchestra's tune, dragging an ermine trimmed velvet cape, and he grandly waves to the crowd bestowing them with his good will. After this he climbs to his golden throne and awaits the entrance of the rest of his court, and then, his queen. It is not a job for one with any insecurity issues.

Next come the maids with their escorts. These ladies are usually juniors in college and their names have been on the list for their being presented at this moment since they were born. It is preordained. They are generally members' daughters and many have been princess in previous Balls, and many have mothers, and even grandmothers who have all traveled this path thru the lights to the front of the audience for their gracious and deep sweeping curtsy, that signals their status as now being eligible for suitors. They smile and the lights dance in their eyes as they rise to go to the throne where they join the King in awaiting the presentation of the Queen. Before the mysterious identity of the Queen is to be revealed, the court princesses are walked out, well more like herded out.

The princesses are all about 6 or 7 years old. This particular age was chosen as the year before the little girls start losing those front baby teeth in order to avoid them being in that awkward spot that young children go thru. At this point they are still precious and cute, and they are dressed in delicate laced dresses with satin bows, white gloved holding bouquets, and wearing tiny pearl crowns and a touch of lipstick. Most of them fidget and twist and turn around to see the King sitting behind them and try to see what the other princesses are doing. They are also daughters of members and each has the possible role of future queendom, depending on her pedigree within the organization. They each step forward in turn as their names are called and give a slight curtsy, to the crowd' oohh and aahhs and generous clapping. Then, it is time for the Queen to enter the room.

The music changes and the room blackens. The audience rises to their feet and the spotlight hits stage right. There in the wings stands the one chosen to wear the crown for this year. She begins with a wave of the sparkling scepter and then begins her walk around the room to begin her reign for the night. the dress of the queen is typically an incredibly heavy garment, covered completely with hand sewn on crystals of all sorts, some reflecting light and others consume the light and show as a black flicker. So the dress dances like fire as she walks slowly thru the spot lights beam. She, also, drags a long velvet cape with the Krewe insignia, a very heavy thing which she must pull in her heels and make it look easy. Generally the queens who have had ballet training have been the most successful in pulling off the looking easy part.

There are elaborate sets, costumes, tableaus, and a few million details that all swirl around the ritual of putting on the Ball. The Ball itself is a full blown production that combines theatre with all of the centuries of history of how fathers have presented their eligible daughters to society. Think of the wedding ritual and protocol,  multiply that by a million times, and you might have an inkling of its complexity for a successful evening. It requires long hours of incredibly hard work for many people to pull one off and have every thing fall into place.

The logistics of the physical is one thing, but the knowledge of the social ladder within the organization is something that each captain for the year must deal with and not get wrong. There have been tears and a good bit of anger when so and so's mother was accidentally placed in the spot of lesser importance in the line of chairs of the Royal Box, the designated area for the members wives to see the procession with the best view.  Melt downs are not uncommon. So with all this huge effort over a bit of pomp, sparkles, crowns and big puffy dresses, one would be quick and right to ask,  is it worth it?

When I was somewhere in my teens, my mother and father, who had been very involved with the Ball thing for many years, told me that I was destined for queendom. In fact it was all the work that my parents did that was for my behalf to the chosen one. Pedigree is one factor determining queenhood, but willingness to work your butt off is another one that is paramount. I had no idea what they were really talking about having never been to a Ball and I certainly had no idea about what the being Queen would be about but I was not looking forward to it. Give me a horse to ride but don't put a spotlight and white dress on me. Years later things just happened, I eloped with Mark, and dashed my parents' hope for me to wave that scepter and tossed all their hard work down the drain. To say they were disappointed was an understatement, at my elopement of course, but the fact I turned down a crown was unbelievable. That is until we had a baby girl and their hope was renewed.

Years down the line both of our daughters have now been both princesses and then later queens. Mark and I did our duty, and worked the long hours and handled the multitude of details that come with the privilege. At first to repay my parents, but later it was about what you feel when it is your daughter's time to be presented. When your child is grown up and is wearing the lovely puffy dresses looking as beautiful as a work of art, you understand why. It is their smile that is the reward. In that moment, yes, it is worth it.

We had a wonderful weekend of the festivities, and whatever went wrong we never knew. Mark took many photos of the King and his court and folks have been clamoring to see more of them. I have taken the liberty of sharing here, some of our youngest daughter's experience with my iphone, taking them from Mark's blurb book he did about that year's Ball. A link is below to the photos of her reign. Regrettably the book only lets you preview 15 pages and these are taken up with essays but perhaps mine will suffice to give reference to the feeling.

Sunday afternoon after a splendid closing luncheon hosted by our King, it was back to the farm, the dress shoes were kicked off, blue jeans went back on, and we enjoyed the rest of the day resting by the fireplace.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gifts That Open Doors

The other morning I woke up with my usual pre-Christmas "haven't done a thing about it yet" panic, which soon set into depression. As I was drifting in this mental downward spiraling vortex of gloom and doom, and bah humbug-ness, with no hopeful thoughts at all, Mark thought he needed to cheer me up some.  So he told me what my early Christmas present was going to be from him. He said that he had taken all of my blog entries from this  past year and had put them together and ordered them as a book thru a company online called blurb. He showed me the mock up of it, layout wise, and the first 15 pages or so. It was stunning to me, that he had done this, having taken many hours to compile and post when I know his hours of down time are so limited. I was at a loss. It was such a nice gesture, so sweet, and yet, troubling.

Looking at the mock up on line, it was a very weird feeling to look at these words I had written and the stories I have told over this past year and to see it about to be contained into a tangible form. My babblings, which I have spewed freely into the dark zone of the cyber world, never knowing much about who read them, if, they were at all,  all written and abandoned, but now were here, hemmed up and documented. He posted the publishing of this stuff on his facebook page and pretty instantly the thing was selling. This I found really both equally disturbing and interesting. I do not think of myself as a writer,  and yet, if one is published and compiled into a book, does this not make one a writer? I write, I wrote, I will have written...on it goes but still, I do not see myself as a "writer". I wondered at my thoughts about this and now this proof in the shape of a book, conflicting them. How does one define what one is, or is it done for you by proof of your actions?

When I was little, I had a grandfather who was the zen master of them all. He was a saint among the gods, at least to me. He was old and he was regal. He had white, and for the day, long hair. He had a rhythm to his days that remained the same, a drifting thru time and space with equal markings of the tempo. He smoked cigars, wore elegant straw hats and the finest of shoes, and always had a white shirt and tie on, except while shaving his face. Then he would stand in the green tiled bathroom in his undershirt, his suspenders over his shoulders, and would take his lathered brush and wipe it slowly over his face to ease the blade's path over his skin.

He told me endless stories, many repeated over and over, but not minded in repetition, about his horses that he had owned as a young man. I used to remember all of their names, in the succession of their interfacing with his life. He actually had one that Ringling Brothers Circus bought, a very clever palomino whose name I also have forgotten. He spoke of them all with a quiet reverence, as they had been his dear friends, admired for their beauty, intelligence, fire, and the freedom they gave him. I never tired of hearing these tales of his horses and I never tired of spending time with him.

He was the first to hang one of my drawings. He put it on his kitchen wall. That one gesture was one of the biggest pivotal moments, a door opening, for me, because someone who I thought so highly of,  had acknowledged my effort and was applauding it.

There is something different to a drawing, a musical piece, or to a bunch of words when suddenly they are pulled out of the shadows of the closet, notepad, or cyber world and placed where they are tangible for all to see and hear and feel. A sketch gains stature when placed on the wall.  It is the revealing of one's imperfections and flaws, making it public, and its a baring of one's soul. It solidifies the ephemeral and makes it solid in time. It says that in this space and time, "I did this thing" and it thereby marks a moment.

I do not remember the particular drawing that I did of a horse, that impressed him enough to get the tape out to hang it on his wall for him to see every morning when he ate his fried eggs and grits, and sipped his hot black coffee. I do remember the amazement I had that he had done that. It never would have crossed my mind to consider myself a drawer/artist of anything as I always was very disappointed at the drawings I did with the kit my brothers had. This kit had a thing where you were to sketch  a copy of a dog, or whatever, to see if, YOU, were really an artist and somehow you didn't know it. Clearly I was not, and yet, here was my grandfather acknowledging my work and appreciating it enough to show others that he admired what I had done. It was humbling and exhilarating at the same time. The problem then arose, what to do next for an encore? How can that gesture be met with anything that can surpass it enough to warrant equal billing?

I do remember the challenge to take new pieces of white paper, and to try to do even better drawings and I started putting in serious time on this now knowing that they would be shared, and, I did so enjoy his compliments. So the wall in his tiny kitchen became my first one person showing, and personal gallery, revolving new pieces, scribblings, as I finished them.

My sweet grandfather died when I was still pretty young, third grade perhaps, so never got to know him any differently than how I remember him from that perspective, and my grandmother moved from that house after he passed and the drawings were lost. He had shown me a freedom, tho, to try anything, drawing, writing, riding a horse, swinging on a high swing set, talking to camellias, it was all good to him, but, in any effort, to do your best. He was a very, wise and gentle man.

So now Mark's having put my words into paper,  is almost as humbling as my grandfather's taping of my drawing, and yet it is encouraging. Do I look for the knock on my door from a major publishing house? No, but is a very nice thing to have one's efforts appreciated, in any form.  So, what to write next? I have no idea and no control. It has been a year of merely responding to the rhythms of my life on the farm, and jotting them down. From here, what will come will come, when it comes. I will leave the muses for that job as they show up at the most unexpected times and places.

As of late I have had more time to write, than paint, or to ride, but I feel good to back semi-literate again after years of not writing. It is encouraging me to finish projects that I had begun but lacked a direction in where that they should go. There is definitely a book a head of Jack, the poor puppy. One too, on the life of my uncle, Wilson, a dear man who happened to have been one of the top 6 couture designers in the '40s, world wide, according to Vogue magazine.  This was a fact that I had not know until fairly recently, having only known him as my favorite uncle as a kid.

It was a very sweet thing for Mark to give me back my words, in a book, a one year's legacy. It was a beginning and a closure of that year's reflection, and now, it begins another. For all of the kind words from those of you who have read this year's epistles, and to those who have already bought the book, I am again humbled, and, I thank you.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The day the music died...

"I read the news today, oh boy...."

A quick look at the world on the Internet today brought back to mind that today is the day that John Lennon was so stupidly killed, now the anniversary 30 years since.  It certainly doesn't seem that is was that long ago and yet three decades have passed and gone. There was an article on line about the night and the events of this murder written by a fellow who had also written a book about the events up to, and after the death. The interesting thing to me was that after this article there were comments left by folks responding to the piece. It amazed me that there could be such a diverse bunch of feelings about the meaning of his life and of his death.

When I was very young I had a record player with some characters on it that I really didn't know. Their names were Beenie and Cecil and were some cartoon drawings. The record player was often the merry go round for my Barbies or whatever toy I was playing with on that day. Sometimes I would turn the speed up to 78 and watch the toys go spinning off. For some reason that seemed hilarious to  me at the time. Other times however, the record player did what its intended purpose was and that was to play vinyl records.

I also had a small box that someone gave me for a birthday or Christmas, can't remember which, that had some 45's in it. It had some songs that I had heard on my transistor radio from the Big Bam station, and most I was clueless to who was singing on them. This was early 60's and music was evolving as it reflected a generation of change in the world. Some of the music in my box was stuff like Connie Francis, and various female singers doing sappy little ditties, and there were a few unmemorable "rock" groups that my brothers liked and thought I should know about.  I liked music and listened to these despite the lack of quality in content.

One record I did like a lot was a big 78 size vinyl that was thick as a brick, a rich dark black color with a purple label with a gold scripted title. It was "The Waltz of the Flowers" by Tchaikovsky, a lovely 3/4 time dance from the Nutcracker Suite. There was a story that went with it about some mice in a garden who needed to escape from a cat who had found them. As the music plays and builds in intensity the mice brilliantly decide to take the flower blossoms they were hiding behind and wear them as camouflage. Carefully adorned with blooms, they waltzed their way out of the garden and away from the non suspecting cat.

I don't think the story that came with this recording had anything to do with the original story of the Nutcracker Suite and its dancing sugar plums, nutcrackers, and very strange uncles bearing magical gifts. It has been way too long since I have watched that to know. My little mouse story with them all dancing in flowers grabbed my imagination and I listened to this one for hours, imagining the joyful escape of these silly mice. I liked to think that had I been with them that maybe I would have come up with such a plan of evading the evil cat. It made me very happy every time I heard it. Just now I pulled it up on my iphone and once again I am back whirling with mice across a lovely green lawn to the sweeping sounds of violins, ....

The waltz was a long recording, a classical label, compared to the pop 45's, that only lasted for a minute or so. Songs that played on the radio had to be snappy and quick because the attention span of an average listener was presumed to be brief and their knowledge limited.  They were right. The recording world was starved for quality. It was a dark period not unlike the Dark Ages before the Renaissance. Then came the Beatles, and everything changed.

My brothers were older by a few years than I was, but infinitely more savvy about the world, and music in particular, as they went to school and were hearing about new groups from their friends. They somehow got an album of this group, the Beatles. The cover showed an outrageously long haired group of four lads smiling down from a balcony. It was the first collection/album of pop music that I had seen, as full big albums were for grownups and their music. These guys were from Great Britain and wore really weird suits but there music was captivating. It quickly became my brothers' and my favorite group and we waited impatiently for the next album to be produced.  

My mother worked at a fabulous toy store in a big modern shopping center, Normandale, about this time and regularly brought us home cool toys that had just hit the store. I suspect that she spent most of what she earned on this activity, but my brothers and I had no problem with the situation at all. It suited our plans just fine. On one day she brought home the best one tho. She somehow managed to grab two Beatle wigs for my brothers, a shaggy pile of dark fake hair with bangs and fuzz that reached over the ears.

Back in this time, hair for boys and men was short, really short. My dad had been a recent soldier in Korea and he too had very cropped hair and kept it tidy with some good awful crud called butch wax. My brothers both had buzzed tops and little short bangs that were held stiffly upward by using this pink goo. So for them to wear these wigs was making a statement. We had a great afternoon that day all taking turns wearing the wigs and playing air guitars using tennis racquets. Mom took lots of snap shots of us laughing and listening to the music of these guys, rocking back and forth like Paul did. Then dad came home.

My memory is fuzzy about the whole thing now, but I do recall mom crying, the wigs being thrown in the garbage can, a lot of loud bellowing about how disrespectful, horrifying, and how wrong it was for his boys to be dressing up like a bunch of girls playing loud raucous music. It was not a good end to the afternoon. I personally felt the anger was not proportional to the scene, but in retrospect it reflected the gap that was to become bigger as the 60's moved along, led larger by the changes that were influenced by this group of four. The wigs didn't stay long but the love of these guys' music did, for us and for an entire world wide generation.

The Beatles broke every record for sales probably ever done, but it was how they changed fashion, attitudes, music of course, videos of themselves ( the beginning of the MTV thing), visual arts, nearly every facet of the 60's were influenced by the talent and charisma of the four. The hard part for most girls was trying to decide which Beatle she liked the best, John, Paul, Ringo, or George,  and usually it was a tight race between Paul and John.  

My intent is not to give a history lesson, because the generation that knew them and grew up with them, worshiped the Beatles. It is the following generations that don't know what it felt like back then, and don't know what the void was like before the Beatles filled the airways with their songs. We were so surprised once when Mark and I were driving somewhere with our baby sitter and Beatle's song came on the radio. We asked her if she knew the group and she said no. We told her and she was stunned to know that Paul McCartney had been in a band before Wings, his then current one. We were stunned that  a phenomenon that shaped our lives could be in total ignorance of another's.

My guess is today that the comments I read after the article were by younger folks than myself and do not know the collective deep sorrow we all felt when Howard Cossell announced on the air of a Monday Night Football game, that John Lennon had been shot. I remember it vividly, when it happened, the shock, and the waste.

I will toast John's life and his passing tonight, and give thanks that I was lucky enough to be there during his life and career.



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Useful Technology

Yesterday was a day I set aside to do, what I knew was to be, a certain difficult battle with technology. My mission was to suck up the fortitude to compile photos and videos of the various horses I want to sell and get the information ready to get to possible buyers. It used to be such a simple thing to take your camera out, shoot some stuff, plug it into the vhs tape player to make a copy, and then mail it off to prospects. The problem with technology is that every couple of years when I need to do something like this, the equipment has changed, improved, gotten infinitely more complicated, and what I did know then, I have now forgotten.

Now the process involves the camera, of course, now digital, but also a computer, with its always evolving software updates to be able to edit the material. Once the editing fun and games is muddled thru, then comes burning it to a dvd, or worse, trying to upload it to either emails or web pages, none of which ever seem to be compatible with the data, requiring a new upgrade of software. The cycle of this perpetual, tormenting learning curve has me wishing for a simplification of this nightmare, like where people actually come a see a horse in person. I ask too much, I know. I like horse and buggy technology, and the dark ages were comparatively much easier.

Anyway, as I typed away at my computer on the dining table and waited for incredibly slow sites to upload stuff, I was creatively cussing this annoying process when a tiny movement across the room caught my eye. The various dogs who were lying around the room took no notice, each in resting mode and softly snoring. Then another flash of movement revealed the shape of a tiny bird, flitting from one window to the next. It was a wren who had come in the open screened door to the porch, and on into the living room. It was very confused.

Our living room area and the foyer have an open two storied ceiling, and these areas are separated by the wooden beamed stairs which rise to an overlooking balcony. There are large windows over the doors to the back porch and over the front door. So this tiny trapped wren was flying back and forth from these high windows, hoping the light from them was an exit. I climbed the stairs to see if I could assist its efforts.

The wren nearly flew into me as I intersected its path and then it changed course and flew into the kids’ bedrooms, first one and then the other as I followed it around trying to herd it back towards the living room area again. I closed all the possible doors to narrow the options of its egress, and had the porch door open in hopes it would figure it out soon. Then I saw that another wren had joined in the mix, having also ventured inside and now it too was trapped by these walls and panes of glass. These two little birds now had the Yorkie's undivided attention.

We have two different types of wrens in our area, the Carolina and the House, and I couldn’t tell which these were. Just as I was going to look it up in a field guide, I heard one of them do their call, and a thought occurred to me of how to solve my puzzle of their identity using a bit of technology.

My cell phone is a hand me down iphone from my uber-techno husband and this thing is grossly more gadget than I ever need to place a call, but does do a good job as a portable camera. It happens, tho, to have an ap on it for bird watching, complete with all the pictures and info one might need to identify a bird. It also has their voices. So I played the Carolina first, not it, and then the House call. It was a perfect match, so much so that the birds flying around my house answered, and then flew downstairs. One landed on the piano a few feet from me, the other a bit further away. They were so cute. Troglodytes aedons, the cell phone identified them as.

I kept playing the cell phone House wren call and walked with it to the open porch door. Obedient little wrens they were. They followed me, found their way out to the now open screen door and to the freedom of the trees beyond singing as they flew away.

These weren’t the first wrens to venture inside, or to nest on the back porch here, but it did make me think of why they are called House wrens, with this habitual characteristic of the species. These were the absolute first, tho, that I have helped get out by using a cell phone/gadget and its technology.

In the course of the day I didn’t accomplish much of what I had wanted to get done with the video/horse stuff, but technology, and me, were back on better terms for this, my attitude towards it improved. I had to concede; it has its usefulness, even if only to help a little bird or two to fly back home. Thank you to Mr. Jobs and all the other nerds who made it possible.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Lunacy of the Poor Puppy, Jack

When I told the vet this morning, what had happened over the weekend to the, once again, poor puppy Jack, I was asked "Did it happen on the full moon?". A definite "Yes" was my answer. In recounting and rethinking the events, it must have been a perfect storm of misaligned energies and forces that set things awry and got things so crazy.

There was a huge full moon that was just rising this weekend as I was finishing my rounds of the afternoon feeding of the horses. The dynamics of the herd were still in a total state of chaos since I had recently weaned Frank, the foal, who was born on a full moon, 6 of them ago now. The subsequent reshuffling of the herd had all the horses jockeying for new social rankings and there were lots of flattened ears, teeth showing, and a few spinning back kicks thrown as they were sorting the situation out. Frank’s dam, Joline, had been placed in the group with Robijn and Sunset and was quite obviously at the bottom of the pecking order and was being repeatedly chased away from her hay pile. So I went back out into their paddock to move her pile further away from these two other mares and their gnashing teeth.

As I was moving her hay, I fussed at the two evil food hogs, and tried to defend poor sweet Joline. From where I was I could hear across the way in my neighbors’ farm, the sound of a dog fight and one dog obviously getting the bad end of the duel. It sounded gruesome and I could hear voices hollering trying to stop them as I turned and walked back to the barn.

 Then, as I got closer to my own barn, I could hear yet another dogfight going on in one of my stalls. I ran to the stall gate and couldn’t at first make the latch release but I could see that it was one of the terriers on the bottom, with my big dog on top. The sounds, too, were horrific and nauseating.

Finally I got the gate open and went in to break it up. I grabbed the large one by the skin of her neck and back and lifted her. This did not improve the situation as she had a firm hold on the terrier, who I could now see was Jack, the Australian terrorist being held by his head in the jaws of the big dog and both came up as I lifted. I was screaming, kicking, and punching and was getting no where. My grip slipped and I fell backwards on my butt and still the growling and screaming continued.

Finally I was able to get enough of a good kick into the big dog that she loosened her grip long enough for me to pull her away. Jack was quickly up and ran away and I sat upon the side of my big dog and held her down until she relaxed and submitted to the restraint. I was gasping for air, my heart was pounding, and my hands shook. The adrenalin rush had done its job but its effect wasn’t gone. It had just come out of nowhere, this fight, so unpredicted, and so violent, all over a few tidbits of spilled horse feed. I sat there stunned.

My dog is a shepherd, German in every way. They are my favorite breed, loyal, intelligent, sensitive, etc. I have had many of them in my years and loved them all, but most have regrettably had an incident of some type of skirmish with another dog. The fights are always brutal and traumatic to the other dog and to the breaker, or breakers up, of the fight. Shepherds are hardwired to be possessive and to be dominant, are formidable to this end, and do not suffer fools lightly. They fight with one quick and determined bite, a firm hold that squeezes and crushes, and one that does not loosen without one using a force greater than the dog possesses, to do so. This time a kick in the ribs was the final answer to my saving Jack from an almost certain death.

After locking the shepherd away, I assessed poor Jack’s damage. There were two holes on top of his head, perilously close to his left eye, and blood poured freely from them both. Another hole was under his jaw, and a bright red stream flowed from it as well. The jaw bone was not broken and inside his mouth his teeth checked out ok as well. So I cleaned the wounds and tried in vain to regain some composure, questions screaming thru my brain about the whys of what had just happened.

By this time the moon had risen to above the tree outline and out in the woods nearby the coyotes began howling like Sirens and the remains of the afternoon air hung wild with an electric energy. Had that rising full moon's appearance really caused such a flurry of fighting, all of it coinsiding in such a brief moment? Was it indeed caused by being in the exact crossfire of the beam of light from the setting sun before it illuminated the rising white orb?  Legends and stories abound of lunacy and strange events, including werewolves, all being caused by the full moon. This orb rose and left revealing no answers. Come next full moon tho, I will be very cautious in animal world, and may lock them all up.

In animal world, the dominant being rules, and eats first. The possession of dominance can change with a tiny change in social dynamics, age, and energies from varied sources, perhaps not excluding the power of the moon. Dominance is not strictly the domain of the larger. It can be a state of mind and attitude. Jack was unfortunately, a bit mistaken on his perceived level of dominance to try to take food from the shepherd on this day and hopefully won't repeat it. He is terrier though, and the smaller they are, the high their opinion of themselves.
Jack is home from the vet with new antibiotics. He is not looking real pretty but can almost get his left eye open, and is feeling much better. Pecking orders have been  re-established and peace is settling down on the farm again. Tonight I will finish the spanakopita for Thanksgiving with the family, and tommorow do the "over the river and thru the woods" thing again to my parents' house yet again. It sure seems like Thanksgiving was yesterday when it has only been twelve rises and falls of the moon since the last.

And so begins the holidaze of 2010. Hope everyone has a happy one.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Bare Bones

There is a gentle rain falling today outside the door to the back porch. The droplets fall with varying intensity upon untold numbers of fallen colored leaves, and this softens their impact, quieting them, and it makes for a peaceful, relaxing day, devoid of any pressure to get horses riden or to get any of those pesky outside jobs done. They will wait. Today is for tea, and for doing some writing, and perhaps some painting. There is also the strong possibility of my doing some sewing of some sort, but anything might happen. There is just a relaxing of my shoulders in this being relieved of outside duty, a free pass from farm world, courtesy of Mom Nature, and  it is greatly appreciated.

Yesterday we wondered back to the creek bed again. It is still very dry and the water was even lower than the last time we were there. There were many more leaves on the floor of the creek bed and many animal tracks telling the story of their need for the diminished water supply in our area. Deer tracks were the predominant ones, of all sizes from the heaviest adults to the tiny sharp imprints of fawns. There were skid marks where several had misjudged the slipperiness of the blue hard packed clay near the remaining pools, where they came to drink. Raccoon hand prints overlaid some of these, as did fat tracks of cows.

In one of the longer pools it was evident that an animal with a belly about a little less than a foot wide, had crawled thru it leaving a path thru the leaves exposing the sand below. Alligator? Perhaps. It is quite possible and very interesting to think so.

The light was not as spectacular as the last time we had been there and the element of surprise was diminished but it was nice to just be wandering with no purpose, in a pretty place with no agenda. The fun part about going to a place with very little idea of what you might find, is that that is what you do sometimes find, the unexpected, is sometimes amazing and boarders on the magic.

Mark was busy taking photographs while I was taking in the stories these footprints told. Following a trail of tracks, I ventured up the sides of the creek to visit with one of the largest two trees I have ever been around. The main tree was a cypress, firmly planted in a huge sand bar, with its roots and knees circling its base in a 50 ft. or so perimeter. Growing out of the massive root system closer to the creek was a huge sycamore, climbing towards the heavens with glowing white bark and shaking yellow leaves. These beings, albeit vegetable, were alive and were presences to be admired. I walked close to the cypress and put my palm towards the bark and felt its energy, the heartbeat of a tree. I was awed.

I noticed a few feet away, in this lovely grove of these two giants and its supporting group of mock orange trees, that a cow skull lay in the sand, upside down and bleached white. I snapped a few shots with my cell phone and then noticed more of this poor dead cow's skeleton scattered around its final resting point.

This cow's carcass had obviously made dinner for many a scavenger as the bones lay in a circle a good ways away from the skull, a heavy thigh bone here, and toothless jaw over there, and varying leg parts that I couldn't really tell what they were, all here and there, pulled away from the source and picked clean.

I started to gather these relics up and called Mark over to see them. He told me to place the other bones around the skull and he began taking photos of the still life of bones. I gathered more and slowly the grouping began to take on a renewed life of its own. 

In the deep white sand surrounding the cypress giant, I happened to see a piece of whitened bone, perhaps a vertebra I guessed, sticking out of the ground. When I pulled on it, it quickly suggested it was not a mere back bone, but with a bit of digging I was able to pull the whole treasure out. It was an entire pelvis, white and unbroken, preserved by being covered with sand so that no small rodent could chew the bone for calcium supplementation. It was massive, and yet the abstraction of it not being attached to the cow, lent itself to new interpretation, and gave it new  suggestion and life.

It is interesting to me that we as humans, and perhaps other animals do too, tend to involuntarily try to see the face in an abstraction. We want to recognize the face, and in seeing something with such symmetry as an upside down skull, or cow pelvis, out of context, and it is amazing how quickly the abstract becomes a personality to our brains.

Such was the case with the pelvis, which soon became referred to as Elvis. Mark took many photos of our new found friend, that are haunting and surreal, ones that transpire mere cow bones in a grove. We left the re found bones of the displaced carcass back rejoined with the skull, but borrowed the pelvis and hope the deceased won't mind that we took it home. What a gift this ol' cow left behind.

It just doesn't take that much to find magic in life, but it does require an effort. It is out there and it is everywhere, if, you get off the sofa and open your eyes and see it and feel it. It is amazing to have had such experiences in this one place, so close to my back door, in this jumble of trees by a creek bed. Ireland was a magical and mythical place to visit of course years ago, but this little spot in my back acreage ranks a pretty close rival. The shaking yellow leaves and sky stretched trees, bleached white cow bones, and possible alligator trails of yesterday left me feeling refreshed and happy to think that there are still mysteries and things to be discovered. It is hardly ever a bad day to walk in the woods, and Elvis concurs.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Autumn Song

This past Sunday was Halloween. I think it may the first that I did not carve a pumpkin for. There were no costumes and no trick or treaters out here at the farm. There never have been since we live so far away from suburbiaville. When our kids were small and enjoyed knocking on doors for candy we always had to go to town and find a neighborhood that looked promising for loot. This Sunday was quiet, tho, and it settled into a nice memorable day of its own merit, not requiring the help of pumpkins, nor of costumes and candy.
I fixed a late morning breakfast of leftover corned beef, turned into hash with diced potatoes and sweet sautéed red bell peppers and onions, with a sprinkling of thyme. This was topped with two soft poached eggs. A spot of fruit on the side and a light screw driver completed the fare. It made for a nice mellow start to a fine autumn day. 
I have always loved corned beef, the salty flavor that goes so well with horseradish, potatoes, cabbage, carrots. I regard it as high comfort food. I also am reminded every time I eat it of one of the worst whippings I ever got, as a kid at my parents’ table. 
On that memorable occasion my mother had prepared corned beef hash, which I liked immensely, even tho it was from a can, as were most food groups in the mod ‘60s. As we opened our napkins, post prayer, and took stock of our grub, I casually remarked that the food looked just like the Kennel Ration canned dog food that we fed our pup Skippy. I meant nothing by it other than an observation. I just remember my surprise at being suddenly snatched from my chair by my father and getting a very solid paddling, while I protested the innocence of my intention. I learned to keep my non positive, or any questionable comments to myself from then on. There is holy hell to pay for insulting a cook.
Anyway, back to Sunday...various chores which got done at a leisurely pace, made for some of the day until later in the afternoon when the sun began washing the landscape with a warm golden hue and made long cold shadows as it began its decent to the horizon. We climbed onto the four wheeler and went back to the woods.
Our property is approximately 90 some odd acres of which, maybe 30 or so are relatively high ground and is open, used as a horse farm, hay fields, and site for home and barn. It quickly slopes behind our house into seasonal wetlands, hard wood covered, dense and dark, until it gets to our northern border of Pinchona Creek. I had seen from the back of horse a few days ago that it looked that the creek was at very low stage and might be revealing interesting things without the usual flow of water over it.
We climbed down the banks into the creek bed where only a mere trickle of crystal water flowed now. The banks loomed some 25 to 30 feet over our heads. At our feet were small black mussels, and a carpeting of leaves from the many species of trees in the canopy above. 

We stood on a long flat hard blueish clay bed at this spot, an ancient deposit of a chalky vein that runs under the Black Belt soils and which is home to many fossils and impressions left by animals that lived in the sea that once covered this area. I broke a few pieces apart and found impressions of bivalve/clam shaped group.

As we walked further along the creek bottom we came around a turn to huge ancient cyprus trees standing nearly 150’ or more by my guess. They were covered in Spanish moss and they looked like swaying dancers in the breeze, lit from a low angle, making them seem even taller. The banks, that are normally under water, now showed how these giants were not subject to be eroded away like the oaks and pines are. Wild and crazy root systems intermingled and occasionally rose to form a knee, but together it all formed a net or barrier to keep the bank from being undercut.

I had never seen as large of a grouping of these trees before and to find them literally in my back yard was just amazing. To find the spectacular in unexpected places is why we enjoy exploring, and it certainly paid off this time. Mark, of course, took many gorgeous photos of the beautiful scenery we were in and I did the ones here on my cell phone. It was hard to not see something wonderful in every direction I turned.
The sun finally got too low and it was time to get on the four wheeler and head back to the house. We came out of the woods into the wild flower field. Leaves were being blown around and drifted without course. It was a nice Halloween. Van Morrison wrote his Autumn Song many years ago but there is not a fall that comes that his song plays nonstop in my head.  “Leaves are brown, they fall to the ground.....I just feel like singing Autumn song....” 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Food.... Glorious Food.

“I am in the kitchen now. I stir the risotto and type. I am waiting on the capon negro to finish in the oven, a bird stuck on a contraption to hold it vertical and allow it to roast, basting in the steaming beer in the dish below it. The bird is covered with a rub of cumin, paprika, chile powder, cocoa, and a touch of brown sugar. The smells are phenomenal. On the cook top, the colors of the vegetables in the risotto are bright, and make for good contrast with the black beens simmering in the neighboring pot. The risotto sizzles with each addition of the warm broth, a mixture of the sautéed vegetables and chopped Black Mission figs, mixed in with the fat grained rice and vermouth, gradually becoming rich and thick before the final addition of the various cheeses. Tonight I will add parmesan and asiago.  A sensory feast before its even on the plate.    I drool, therefor, I am.” 
(last night while fixing dinner)  
I love to cook.
This was not always so. When Mark and I married some many moons ago, my knowledge and experience with cooking was limited to being able to microwave a hot dog and heat water. Mark taught me to make cornbread and how important the care of a good cast iron skillet is. I still cook cornbread in that same skillet, his grandmother’s, well seasoned, with multiple decades of its use.
Eventually I managed to learn to cook a simple breakfast. A Crock Pot held my hand as I used it to learn how to make a meal. There were many errors along the way, but I gradually learned improvisation and a good bottle of wine can get you over most with little notice. 
I had several folks along the way who taught me basic stuff like combinations of flavors and proportions of ingredients, and such and I became a bit more comfortable and adventurous  as I learned. My cook book collection is enormous and I can spend hours reading recipes, tasting them in my mind, imagining the merging of the flavors, but rarely follow them. I learned,too, that it was about the food, of course, but that it was also about the sharing, that made the meal and the preparing of it, become, something special. Food became an art project on multiple levels of satisfaction, in both the production and the consumption.
There was our friend Pat, a poor fellow who was going thru a painful divorce and who needed a diversion to his evenings. Pat was the first real “foodie” I had ever met, he loved food. I mean loved, FOOD. So for a while, every Wednesday night, he would come over and bring whatever fresh veggies or bag of shrimp he had. I would pull whatever I had out of the fridge and we would all engage in the process of creating and experimenting with the random stuff we had. It was he who introduced me to cooking risotto. The night we first cooked it, we all got into such a giggling fit that we were paralyzed and could barely stand, much less, stir the rice. I had to pull in help from my daughter to handle the chore. She, of course and rightfully, thought we had all lost it and were crazy. We finished that meal off with enormous bowls of ice cream. Pat remarked that mine was so huge it was bound to affect the climate. It was so good. 
Eventually Pat’s pain eased and we ceased the regularity of our Wednesday sessions and we moved on in new directions. Pat sadly died this year, and those memories of our time spent in my kitchen, chopping and tasting are now more precious. I, of course, remembered the incapacitating giggles again last night as I continually stirred the rice and added the broth.

In all this time coming down this path of learning to enjoy cooking, the most surprising thing I have come to realize is, that the teacher who really taught me the most, I had not even known I was taking lessons from. Her name was Francis.
Francis Clayton was a very tall and very round black woman who my parents hired when I was in 3rd grade to keep their house, cook, clean, run me around town, and do whatever. She was very good at all of this. She raised me, from our introduction in 3rd grade until my senior year of high school. Her influence on my character was immense. I preferred time with her to most anyone, and I spent endless hours in her kitchen, not helping, but just sitting and talking and, watching.
What had not occurred to me however, until recently, was that in my watching, I was learning. It just took years of struggling thru the formality of learning to follow recipes and such, to finally understand that she had already taught me the real basics of cooking. Comfort. She cooked from the soul, and she was abundant with her love, and her cooking always was soothing and sweet for the soul for those lucky enough to sample her fare. Her food deeply nourished on so many levels. There was nothing fancy about it. It was just simply, good.
Now whenever I cook a batch of collards, batter fresh bream from our pond, season the black eyed peas, drop corn meal covered green tomatoes or okra into hot grease, or mix some butter beans with corn kernels to make a salad with mayonnaise, or any of the more southern types of dishes I can see her still in my folks kitchen in town and up at our lake house, doing the same, and I mimic what she did and feel her spirit. 
We are what we eat, literally in both a physical and a spiritual sense. Food prepared with anger or out of obligation, or with a lack of concern for even basic esthetics goes down badly and sits like a rock, refusing digestion. Fast food is without any spirit and is the worst.  Food should be fun and makes folks happy.
I have been told many times by the folks who have shared a meal at our table, that my cooking makes them feel better. Unknown to them, that the ooh’s and ah’s  they give to me, is really high homage to this wonderful teacher, Francis, that graced my life and left her legacy to me, to share with them.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Sunday I enjoyed a very nice brunch with the family at the downtown marina restaurant. It was a fine October day and we sat on the covered deck outside, which is perched high on the bluff overlooking the Alabama River, under tall oak trees, and saw the boats below us waiting patiently in their slips. Acorns dropped above our heads, landing on the clear fiberglass roof and like small bricks being hurled our way, and I felt like I was really in a version of my new favorite Iphone game “Angry Birds”. Then they would roll noisily and slowly down the grooves of the roof until they made it to the edge, then silence, and they were gone. We enjoyed omelet’s, silky cheese grits, along with other various breakfast fare, and eased it all down with a screwdriver or two. Nothing fancy, but good for the soul and the stomach.

I came home after this diversion, with thoughts of doing something outdoors that might be both gratifying and productive. A given glance around this farm gives an endless list of things which might fall into either of those categories. I juggled and few and then I looked at the area formerly known as the veggie garden, now an overgrown jungle of surrounding shrubs that have way over grown their “matures to something? feet high??”  nursery tags, the interior path ways filled with dry grasses, volunteer zinnias, and goldenrod, and raised boxes undetectable. I felt somewhat like Scarlet O’Hara standing in the post Yankee ravaged South, ruined garden of Tara, and I said to myself, “As god is my witness, I will grow collards in here again!” And thus began my afternoon of righteous labor with intent to take back that which nature had the full summer to run amuck with.

I stood at the gate and was significantly overwhelmed when I took in the whole scene of what lay before me and the knowing what the cost to my poor body would be. It would have been so nice to blink my eyes and have it be done, all tidy again. Nice fantasy but it wasn’t going to happen like that, I knew that, so I looked down and focused on what was within my reach and I began, that is, after I had hacked down the branches of the lady banksias rose to even get into the garden. The dogs all assumed their positions in  shady places and waited for me to work it all out.

Soon I was in my rhythm snatching the villainous weeds and stuffing them into my bucket. Once full, the bucket was dumped into the front end loader. This continued for unknown hours. The tractor made at least 4 trips to the compost pile to dump this mess and at long last the horses convinced me it was “quittin’ time” and I stopped my mission for the afternoon. Mission was not anywhere close to being accomplished but I had scared some of the weeds still left in there pretty bad, and they know I am coming back for them, soon. I did feel pretty darned gratified.

My dad used to employ this type of gardening, in his twisted way of relaxing, when we went up to our lake house and later at the beach place. Early in the morning, out he would go, a cigar stuck in his mouth, and with his University of Alabama coffee cup and machete in hand, armed for warfare. A few hours of hacking at the underbrush, sticker vines, and honey suckle, he would emerge from the newly tamed jungle, blood oozing from the scratches on his arms, bucket loads of sweat pouring off his skin, his cigar shorter, and coffee gone. He would smile and reach for a cold Heineken beer and feel the piety of beginning a day with such a determined effort. This was usually before 7 am or so, while we snoozed away, knowing that once again we would be safe from all of the encroaching vegetation, saved by my favorite super hero, dad. Of course this pattern perpetually repeated itself as the vegetation always grew back allowing the ritual to continue.

I did pause Sunday, as I worked, and looked around, and listened, enjoying the pleasure of being able to be outdoors again, and even though working hard, not dieing from the heat. It was pleasant, apart from a few nasty fire ants that got into my glove, to be working with the soil, making room for new plants. The scent of the herbs that I hit as I weeded filled my nose and made my mouth water. First, closest to the gate is the bed of chocolate mint, a small leaved mint that has a distinct sweet and yes, chocolate smell, like peppermint patties. Then the garlic chives mixed with this, followed by the thick scent of the basil stems I broke, and then the rosemary chimed in. It was an olfactory overload, but very nice.

Across the pond from the garden, the tall sweet gum trees were filled with the autumn arrivals, the fish crows. This time of year these birds come in large groups and sit at the very tops of the trees boisterously yakking back and forth with a nasal sort of honking and beeping. They are smaller than the regular crows we have here year round and they do not make the “caw” type sound of the larger birds. Theirs is a sound that now quintessential October background noise for me, like June bugs in June. These fish crows will hang around for a while and then be gone to parts unknown, hopefully to return to sing their songs next October, and for more after that.

My back “told me so” the next morning when I got up, about that weeding thing, but a few Tylenol later I was up and kicking. I rode my mare, Sunset, back to the creek, through the woods on the south border of the property. We sauntered along like I was on a Thelwell pony, with her grabbing bits of grass as we walked in the filtered sunlight, leaves crunching under her feet, and lazily made our way back to the creek. The creek was very low and the swamp maples were only hinting at turning colors but showed promise of doing so soon. The trails had done like my garden and were a bit thick to travel through in parts but it was a nice hack.

The perimeter trail ends on the north side into a field that doesn’t get cut regularly and tends to grow wild after a few years. When I came out of the shade of the woods I came into a field of golden sunflower/daisy like flowers blooming on very tall shafts. Goldenrod blooms laid out in a blanket of gold below it and sporadically placed were towers of a pink wild flower I don’t know the name of.

It was spectacular, and it was peaceful. It is nice sometimes to be able to be totally blown away at a simple field of wild flowers and not just be a viewer from a car window, but to be riding a nice horse through it, and just be, there, in a sweet moment suspended in time, and one of sheer unexpected beauty.

Today I will do battle with the willful garden again, and give those remaining weeds what for and the ol heave ho. Adios and farewell ye weeds. Collards are coming to take your place, and snow peas, and chard, and maybe some broccoli. It has been said that to be a gardener one must be an optimist, living for the reward of one’s efforts, and I eagerly await the fresh greens that will grow from this soil.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Jack stood at the bottom of the stairs at the back door, looking up, quivering, and he was scared. He remembered his gallant attempt to jump up the first step the other day and how he had missed terribly, and impaled his soft broad belly on the corner of that first step. This time, his quivering, which began with this anticipated fear of pain, turned into more. Jack started to have a seizure.

Jack’s body began to jump and shake out of control. His eyes looked at me now with a new and different fear, a pleading, help me, I do not understand fear. I picked him up and put him on the floor inside the house. He frantically tried to regain control of his involuntary twitches but couldn’t. I grabbed a jar of honey and put some of the golden sugar in his mouth and soon the spasms thankfully subsided.

I called the vet and got advice on what to do with him for the evening and was told to bring him in the next am for a blood sugar test to see what was going on with the diabetes we were dealing with.

My thoughts from this episode were running pretty darned gloomy. The past few weeks since Jack was diagnosed with this issue has been rough and extremely intensive, time and attention wise, watching his every move and mood, wondering where his levels were. I have been carefully feeding him small amounts of food several times and day and following feeding up with three insulin shots daily. None of this has been fun or amusing for either of us, and I hate looking into his eyes before I stick yet another needle into his skin. So my thoughts were groping with the realizaiion that this was the way to the end, Jack was not going to be here much longer.

Surprise. The blood test showed that Jack had seized not because the diabetes had worsened, but that his pancreas had caught back up and had begun producing insulin again and the higher dose of it in his blood stream had caused the attack. This is a great thing. Jack is a recovering diabetic. The vet lowered his dosage and was thrilled at the results. Me too.

That was yesterday and as I needed to man the gallery in town and didn’t have time to take him home, Jack got to go urban with me. Jack went downtown, a first for him. I got him out of the truck and put his leash on and started to walk to the corner to cross the street. Jack was very disturbed by the cars, and the noise, and the big things that moved very fast past him. There were strange smells and the ground was not grassy but hard and white. His little tail was tucked firmly between his cheeks and his head was low and his face would not come out from behind my heels. There was finally no choice but to pick him up and carry the sucker if I wanted to get to the gallery in the present millennium.

Once inside the gallery, he remained a bit worried until some folks came in after their lunch at the nearby restaurant carrying their leftovers. Jack could smell the garlic and savory flavors they carried and he followed these folks around the room as they admired the photographs and paintings, wiggling and doing his best to get a sample, but to no avail. I had told them he was diabetic and they withheld the yummy pasta in their boxes. I gave him a piece of cheese from my leftover sandwich and he was cool with that. I still had to carry him back to the truck when I left tho. The big city is just way too scary for this little country dog.

Ironically, we both nearly died on the way home. Driving down the road and coming up the last big hill before our turnoff, I looked ahead to see an oncoming car, in my lane, the driver, a woman, deeply absorbed in her cell phone in her hand. Time went into super sonic speed and my reaction was first to lay on the horn and the only other option in the short period of time before the impending impact was to drive off the road onto the shoulder to let her pass. I don't really think she knew or noticed. Jack didn't say and it admittedly took a while for my blood pressure and fury to subside at the stupidity of this person who was so nearly the cause of my demise. Of all the ways to die, that ranks right up there with the ridiculous. Of all the near touches with danger in my days, to die at the wheel because of some bimbo checking her email or dialing a number while going down the road, would have made me a ghost to be reckoned with in the after life.

Once safely back on the farm, the remains of the afternoon were sweet. Only two weeks ago we sweltered in 96 degree temps while riding our horses in the dressage clinic with Jeff Moore. At long last the weather gods have smiled and long sleeves and flannel are the garb of choice to wear. I actually got 4 horses ridden/worked the other day, didn't break a sweat at all, and had gobs of energy left over to do other farm projects, but didn't bother.

The tea olive shrubs at each end of the front porch are just beginning to bloom now, but already the tiny white flowers are filling all the air in the front yard with a heavenly smell that never fails to bring back my memories of Mrs. Holding's kindergarten school playground and getting to finger paint. The only colors we used at this time of year were orange and brown and the theme of course was Halloween. There was such a delicious joining of the tactile joy of getting to finger paint and the smell of these shrubs, combining with the anticipation of the upcoming trick or treating night to come. How many pumpkins and witches on broomsticks did I gleefully paint while inhaling the powerful scent of these shrubs I have no idea. The memory remains ingrained in my brain, and is as strong as the scent, and is just as sweet.

It has been almost a year since I began writing this blog thing. From the stats feature I have seen that I have readers in places all over the world and I wonder at what they must think about what my life and dribblings about it must seem like to them. I reread some of my previous posts today, and both laughed and cried, and am glad that I have had a place to put down in some form that which has transpired in my farm world in the past months. Just hope to keep staying out of the path of oncoming cell phone drivers for a few more so I ride more horses, paint more pictures, cook, garden, write, and continue to enjoy this world I share with my wonderful friends, family, and critters.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Walt Disney was quite right on one thing. "The world is a carousel of color, mystery, comedy, and fantasy." This is so true and the jingle to the opening of his tv show each week in my childhood reinforced this idea over and over. The natural world that Disney revealed to the audience was perfect, kind, and glorious.

The natural world is just so many, many things. It is beautiful, mysterious, charming, humorous, graceful, enchanting, mesmerizing, amazing, wonderful,etc. The superlatives and descriptions are endless to describe it. As I was to learn later as I grew up and was shown other views, it is also a cruel and very hard thing to comprehend sometimes. In its unbiased perfection, it is a set of checks and balances that we, as humans, judge and give labels to, and morally decide the good guy from the bad, the right from wrong. Nature does not view itself from this myopic view point and has no moral code. It is totally about life and it is about death, and all means go this end. It is about the survival of the best, and eating is at the core of our survival.

This morning began well enough, coffee drank, hat on, out the door I went to start the day. Two of the dogs came up to begin our walk to the barn, with their ritualistic yapping at my heels. Jack was not present and neither was white dog, Memphis. When I turned the corner of the carport I saw why. Jack was urgently gnawing on the remains of a hind leg of a young deer and he looked up at me with a somewhat guilty look. I took it from him in disgust and then saw where Memphis was.

Further down the drive towards the barn she stood pulling at pieces from the rest of the front end of this poor young fawn. Its delicate ears draped to the ground  and its beautiful head bent away from her pulls like a woman swooning from a romantic kiss.

I was instantly revolted and sickened by this horrific image, and angry too. Then I began to question both my horror, and more my anger. Why did I find humor in the time she had the dead squirrel and find myself so repulsed by this particular killing by my supposedly domesticated pet?

I live in the world, on this farm with these animals, that most folks read about and never experience first hand. One where death and life are close companions. It is a hard world to really emotionally grasp and I cant' help but be subjective. Exactly why is one animal's life, and its death, more important or different from another? Is it the fact that we relate more to the large eyes of the deer and care little for the furry tail rats? Is size the answer or is it of our emotional attachment to the species? And too, there is the primal thing about watching
a recently live animal being devoured, crunched on, chewed that is deeply disturbing.

I remember so clearly the film Disney did of Bambi and the movie's rude departure from the feel good stories I had viewed previously. The startlement in the death of Bambi's mother, shot by a hunter, leaving the poor fawn alone to fend for him self, really rocked my boat. This unfairness in the course of the natural world had never occurred to me. Until this point I was naively there with Bambi and Flower and Thumper rolling thru the flowers of life, having never thought anything but good was always to happen. Disney had ingrained this into our young psyches on previous works. The devastation, in the sheer concept of Bambi's mother' death , and finality of the pleasantness his young life to that point, was an unexpected eye opener.

Memphis did not happen to see the movie about Bambi and really doesn't discriminate about her prey choices based on some moral judgement call. They are all good to her. She was proud of her kill and the other dogs respected her prowess and gave her wide berth when they walked past, making sure their eyes were averted and they kept one ear was pointed in her direction lest she think they had intent to take it from her. Having filled her belly with enough to satisfy, she just laid there looking at her kill, admiring it, claiming it, owning it. The poor fawn's remains were twisted and ripped, but even then, it retained a soft beauty to the closed eyes and delicate curve of the domed head and neck.

I am an omnivore. I like meat. Does my moral compass shift away a bit at seeing this today? Yes a bit. I am glad to be spared the part where slaughter houses do the dirty work to bring my plastic packaged dead animals to my grocery store. On the other hand tho, should I feel any less guilty eating lettuce, ripping the leaves, and chewing them up? Eating is for survival. As humans we have just come up with ways to make food, whether animal or vegetable, pretty and appetizing. We manage to just sweep our little consciences under the carpet, unfold our napkins, and dig in. How different from Memphis are we? Not so much I think.

Regrettably, a long life was not to be for this fawn, who had most likely followed its mothers command to stay put somewhere hiding low in the grass. I have come across several fawns in similar situations and have nearly stepped on a few. Memphis probably had a very easy prey. I feel very sad for the fawn, and for the mother who will be looking for it later on today.