Calling Miss Manners

Ella on hayBy Ella “Miss Manners” Pinard

We love our humans, though they do require a lot of attention and patience. Sure, there are a few “dog whisperers” who seem to be born with a real understanding of the dogs-eye view, but many otherwise wonderful human people just don’t know how to be with the dogs they love. If you are recently rescued or adopted you may not be ready for advanced handling techniques.  But if you are past the puppy love stage and in a real relationship, cuddle up to your human and look interested; perhaps they will read this out loud to you. I’m going to explain how to teach your human basic good manners.

Does your human order you around, even when they want you to do something you want to do?  And since most of us want more than anything to please our humans, that’s just about everything.  So why do they take such a tone with us?  Doesn’t it make you want disobey, just to teach them a lesson?  Well, that’s what I did. For about fourteen years. Dog years, of course: I’m not that old, and I’m not that patient. Contrary to decades of pack-reviewed research, I believe that humans do have emotions much like our own and a sort of real intelligence too, but sometimes they learn very slowly.

Apparently there is an old human school of thought that we are just a watered-down version of our wolf ancestors. The wolf people famously have an alpha in each pack, the one who provides clear direction and discipline if necessary. This doesn’t mean they’re rude, just clear. But there’s a myth still being perpetuated among human people that the pack we share with them needs an alpha, and that being an alpha means being rude.

Now, it’s my nature to always want to be with my human, always keeping an eye on her. I love her more than anything, even more than a stranger with a chuck-it (and I do love strangers with chuck-its)! Beyond that, though, keeping her safe is my job, just like it’s her job to provide a home and food. So why would she think she needs to say “ELLA, COME!” in a rude tone of voice when we’re about to go outside? My human’s not generally a rude person; it’s just how she was taught. But now, after my patient training, she simply keeps me in the loop about what we’re going to be doing. No yelling, no commanding, just letting me know what we’re up to.

How did I do it? The rule is “Deafness to Rudeness,” a form of non-violent resistance. If my human told me “ELLA, SIT!” I ignored her (unless, of course, food was involved). If she called me to come, I ignored her. I got so good at this she actually thought I’d gone deaf!  It wasn’t easy, because after she called four or five times – making all sorts of crazy arm-waving motions – I would finally come, and my little sister Sundog would join in the rude-fest, grabbing me by the scruff of my neck as I got close to the door and dragging me over the threshold. My human thought this was terribly funny – you can guess how funny I thought it was!P1040683

After several years, my dear human finally tried petting me and talking to me about going outside – and then rudely calling me. On those rare occasions, I came the first or second time she called, depending on the level of rudeness. Then once when I refused to sit down in the car, she turned to me and said in a gentle tone, “Ella, please sit down.” So I did. Finally it clicked with her. She decided to see if I would come and sit and such when I was politely asked. She stopped yelling commands at me. Now, when she’s getting her outdoor shoes on and is ready to go, before she can even turn around to call me I’m at the door with her, stretched and ready to go.

We’re still working on training in other situations, but we’re making fast progress now that she knows I will gladly do what is wanted so long as I’m treated with kindness and respect just like anyone should be. And she’s more willing to do what I need her to, because she understands our relationship is one of mutual love and reciprocal duty. We’re a family, not a hierarchy. Now when I tell her with wags and kisses that it’s time to go inside for dinner or that it’s time for her to come in out of the rain, she almost always listens to me. She finally sees that I am just being sensible and kind, keeping her safe and gently reminding her of her duty.

For my next trick, I may try to teach her to say “thank you” instead of “good girl”!  “Good girl” is alright for puppies just learning to please their humans, but I know for a fact my human wouldn’t like someone saying “good girl!” to her, and she’s younger than I am! (Again, dog years.)

This level of leadership is not for puppies. Without focus and maturity, any leader will fail. But if you’re a grown dog ready to take your relationships to the next level, I hope this will inspire you to be patient and persistent in training your humans. With your firm and gentle guidance, I am confident your two-leggers will learn to treat you with the respect that any loving and beloved member of the family deserves. Our worth is not defined by our species, but by how we treat each other. Human people see things differently from dog people, and this can lead to misunderstandings. But we should always remember: all people are worthy of our best efforts.

 

Lucky Still

Three years after his passing Gary is still a big part of my everyday life, my inner world. Since then, changes in my world and in the world generally make those three years seem long. On one hand I half expect to find Gary next to me when my morning eyes open, so well do I remember his scent, the rough of his red beard, his laugh of delight, his teasing, warming presence. Yet some days I ask myself, has it been three years or four? So much has happened.

Gary and I meet Konall, April 2013

When I do awaken, it’s little Sundog’s scent, her fur and warmth I’ve been nestled up to; Ella warms my feet. Gary helped me start looking for “the second best pup in the world” in his last weeks (Ella is, as Gary often reminded her, the bestest pup in the widest world); Sunny joined us in October that year. Ella is still my guardian and constant companion; Sunny is our comic relief, but she’s also smart and sensitive, with great empathy.

Ella checks out Sundog’s potential as a playmate.

I now share Blue Moon Stead with Laura and Brian. It was Gary’s idea to seek out a couple to live here, and it has made my life better. Good friends and neighbors, they help me immensely. Another of Gary’s dreams has come true with Laura’s multi-species grazing – it’s a joy to see her sheep and bunnies, chickens and ducks, all eating the grass and weeds while laying down fertilizer.

That last spring we had together, Gary held the fort while I went through the Master Gardener program. I thought I would learn about plants, and I did. But I also made great good friends (including a whole contingent from Kodiak Island, AK), and through them other friends, and now feel very much part of the community here in the Columbia Gorge.

When I walk through the woods or sit by the pond, turn compost or pull weeds or plant crops in the high tunnel he almost finished, when I cook in the kitchen he designed, when I stop to watch the lambs romping and playing at sunset, find a new orchid or spectacular mushroom in the woods, or just hang laundry in the sun, my mind turns to Gary, my aunt Vee, my mom and dad, and others gone from me who made it possible for me to find myself, to find myself here.

Cabin amidst the trees from the paddle boat on Blue Moon Pond.

The Adventure of a Lifetime

Vee in 1953 overlooking Delores River near her hometown.

Vee in 1953 overlooking Delores River near her hometown.

On the occasion of Dia de Muertos, I would like to tell you about my beloved Aunt Vee, who passed away in August at the age of 90.

She wasn’t born on a horse, but might as well have been. “Best babysitter I ever had,” her mother used to say of Comanche, so patient and careful was he not to dislodge little Vera, who sat in awe atop the impressive gelding  Later, as a toddler, she entertained herself trying to climb up his leg or the fence he was tied to as a means of embarking.

Vera became a voracious reader well before starting school. She recalled to me how she walked to school that first day with Richard, her big brother by five years (and my father). He was told to hold her hand – a bit of an embarrassment at his age – and she had to run to keep up with him. It became a habit that stuck with her. “Never walk when you can run,” advised her father. Vera (now Vee, a nickname she got in school stemming from her initials, V.V.) was in complete agreement. She was a good athlete and a sought-after player on all the boys’ ball teams, and so excelled in academics that she skipped a few grades.

At home she had chores, of course. One of hers was to round up the horses and put them into the corral for the night, among them her father’s prize cutting horse. Cricket was a spirited animal trained to cut cattle from the herd, capable of turning 180 degrees in a single move. Vee, a girl of 10 or 11, was under strict orders never to ride him. Each evening she would put a piece of her mother’s oil cake in her pocket and seek out a mount for the task at hand. Cricket was the only one who came for the oil cake, and little Vee – without the benefit of saddle or bridle or even so much as a rope – hopped on and herded the horses into the corral. One night as Vee and Cricket headed into the corral behind the other horses she saw her father watching them, a ghostly shade of pale. For the very first time Vee realized that she was in fact riding Cricket; just because she hadn’t saddled up didn’t mean she wasn’t riding him!  She jumped off and began a profuse apology. Her father cut her short. “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars,” he told her. “You can ride Cricket any time you want!”

Vee with her father (my grandfather) in Colorado.

Vee with her father (my grandfather) in Colorado.

The one-room school in her home town of Gateway, Colorado, didn’t have a twelfth grade, so Vee went to Grand Junction to finish school, working for a family there in exchange for room and board, as my father had done before her. She was also able to continue piano lessons, and became a very accomplished pianist. After graduating in 1941 at the age of 16, she enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where her big brother had gone. Growing up, Vee and Richard each had some cattle of their own. Vee had sold hers to help Richard through school, and now he sent her part of his military pay so she could continue her education.  It is my great good fortune that Vee’s roommate at Boulder was a graduate student who went on to become my mother!

Vee thrived at Boulder, and found a mentor in an English professor who was seen by some as a bit of a curmudgeon. He ate occasionally in the dining hall, and complained to Vee that the young denim-clad women never dressed properly for dinner. One Saturday night, Vee got all the girls to wear formal gowns to dinner. The professor laughed and laughed at the surprise, and was ever after more widely appreciated. When Richard came to visit his little sister, often at inconvenient times, her mentor set him to grading papers, taught him some native American dance, and generally kept him from being underfoot. Eventually, Vee figured out that it was her roommate, Mary, who accounted for the frequency and duration of Richard’s visits, and the rest is (my) history.

Vee enjoyed and excelled in college, graduating not long after her 20th birthday.  Because of her gift for languages, her mentor recommended her to a war-time program where she was taught to read Japanese in its romanish form. She was given a post in Washington, D.C. that she rarely spoke of, because her work there was so confidential. Her job was to translate Japanese teletype messages as they came in to the office of her boss, a nephew of General George S. Patton. One morning she and another young woman arrived early for work and picked up a teletype. It was Japan’s unconditional surrender. They sat on it nervously until their boss arrived. “Don’t say anything until you hear this on the news,” he told them. Vee didn’t say anything for many years.

After the war, government work was clearly going to be too dull for Vee. She worked briefly in Indiana, but was eventually prevailed upon to return home to teach in the one-room school, though she wasn’t much older than her oldest students. When the town asked her to stay on the next year, Vee said she had other plans. What plans? Ummm….she had to think quickly. “Alaska,” she said. “I’m going to visit Alaska.”

So it was decided. She bought a plane ticket from Seattle, but on the train there met a librarian who urged her to join her on the ferry instead. The year was 1949. Shortly after arriving, she met the love of her life, Keith Specking, marrying him less than a year later. “I liked his eyes,” she told me.

And now I will begin shamelessly plagiarizing the lovely obituary my cousin Joan wrote for her mother, which I note in italics.

They owned and operated Rabbit Creek Inn, a six table restaurant 10 miles south of Anchorage. She claimed she was a lousy cook and waitress and liked to tell the story of tripping over Rusty, their big Irish Setter, and spilling an entire platter of fried chicken on the floor of the restaurant. In addition to the restaurant, they homesteaded 160 acres and built the cabin where they lived the first four years of their married life. The first August there, her husband and his partner went on a moose hunt and packed it out on their backs. “Why don’t you use a horse to pack it?” she asked, introducing her husband to horses and their value to hunters in Alaska.

In 1953 they moved to Hope, Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula about 90 miles from Anchorage. As they raised their family, they started a big game guiding business based out of their main cabin at Brushkana Creek on the Denali Highway in central Alaska. For nearly 40 years in the guide business, she spent hours over a wood cook stove in a cabin or a tent, helped pack horses with supplies needed for a pack trip back into the wilderness, led back horses over wilderness trails, and drove long distances to pick up clients.

At the museum in Hope, you might still find a pamphlet talking about the effect of the Good Friday 1964 earthquake, magnitude 9.2, on that little village. A letter from Vee to a neighbor, who was away at the time, reported on the damage not only to the homes but to the land, much of which swamped, and the supply drops being made during that time of physical isolation from the rest of the world.

In the late 1960s, her husband ran for the state legislature and spent years as an elected official and then working for the governor. They lived in Juneau during the winter months while he was involved in politics, and summers in the Interior hunting camp.

Vee’s many adventures in Alaska are too numerous to share here, but are not forgotten, thanks to her own writings.

Vera and Keith retired to 160 acres outside of Eagle Point, Oregon, and built their own home. They spent summers trailering their horses up the highway to Alaska, stopping to fish and camp along the way.  They had many visitors at their ranch “Chimney Rock” and Vera continued to ride and even show her beloved horse Limelight. 

Chimney Rock: view from the kitchen window.

Chimney Rock: view from the kitchen window.

It was at Chimney Rock I met Vee and Keith about twelve years ago, having seen them only as an infant. My own parents had passed away, and vacation time that would normally have gone for a visit to them gave me an opportunity to finally meet my father’s sister, my mother’s college roommate. My mother had always told me that if I met my Aunt Vee I would know the meaning of true Western hospitality, and she was so right. I only wish I had met her sooner.

Upon Keith’s death Vee moved to Helena and spent her final years living at Shelby House, enjoying coffee on the patio and conversation over meals with friends.

Calling to talk to her at Shelby House was one of my happiest rituals, and I only wish I could call her now to fact-check my work and tease out the story of yet another one of her many adventures.

 

Spring Showers

Spring rainbow today over the high tunnel and corral.

Spring rainbow today over the high tunnel and corral.

Every morning, little Miss Sundog puts her feet up on the bed and wakes me with copious kisses, usually right around 5 am. She’s learned to wait patiently (sometimes) while I rouse Ella with pets; morning pets are like caffeine to Ella. This morning, after these loving rituals, we came out to find the downstairs door wide open. (Gary always scolded me for not making sure it was shut tight!) Even so, and without an evening fire, the thermometer upstairs stood at 60 degrees, just a shade warmer than the rainy morning temperature outside.

The Great Blue Heron awaits his mate.

The Great Blue Heron awaits his mate.

It’s felt like Spring for much of the winter. But it was the 18th of March when I felt Spring had truly arrived. Not one but two Blue Herons appeared around the pond, apparently in a mating dance. The river otters, which I’d thought gone, reappeared. A mated pair each of wood ducks and mallards swam companionably. Sunny and a frog surprised each other on the porch.

And the Wood Duck too!

And the Wood Duck too!

Though I often feel nothing gets done around here, I know it’s not true. What doesn’t get done is housework and taxes. But the farm is showing signs of life.

The garlic we planted in the first days of November is coming up beautifully, along with a fine turf of wheat grass from the not-so-clean straw I bought as supplies dwindled. I officially created Blue Moon Stead, LLC, so I could hire some help. And I found a chef who wants to become a customer! I’m experimenting with growing a custom mix of microgreens for him, and he’ll be looking for green garlic and garlic scapes when they come on.

It's a duck! It's an otter! No, It's the sunny little Sundog!

It’s a duck! It’s an otter! No, It’s the sunny little Sundog, bringing back a stick!

Ella enjoys a good roll in the grass, something Sunny doesn't quite understand.

Ella enjoys a good roll in the grass, something Sunny doesn’t quite understand.

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Sunny prefers to lie in wait for the right moment to start a fight.

Andrew, my helper, is here most days as we make up for lost time in preparing for spring. As I take the pups on their walks, I’ve been pulling knapweed and other invasives and pruning elderberry trees; Andrew is burning the piles while fire danger is still low. He’s hand-tilled and amended the high tunnel soil, and put low tunnels inside so we can get an early start on planting. Although I’ve never wanted to grow market vegetables, this year I need to generate income along with this new expense, so we’ve decided to trellis tomatoes and cucumbers in the high tunnel and grow lots of basil, all of which are in high demand. I’ve also started veggies for personal use.

The microgreens are another project altogether. It’s a question of whether I can get the hang of growing many trays of different vegetables and get them to germinate at the same time. Some need more heat and light than we have now, so we are adapting part of Gary’s workshop, which has heat and electricity, with heat mats and grow lights. I’ll grow beets, carrots, kohlrabi, peas, broccoli and kale, among other things, and just as the first true leaves appear we’ll harvest them. It’s more intensive than ideal, but fairly high value. Because I do have indoor space it may be something I can do year-round. Most importantly, I have a potential buyer! I attended a cooking class at one of the good local restaurants with my friend Norma, and the chef mentioned using microgreens. Norma reminded me of that when she took me to lunch for my birthday, so I emailed him just to find out what he looked for. To my surprise, he said his supplier was retiring after 10 years, so could I grow these for him? We’ll see!

Dogfight! A favorite pasttime of both girls. I think....

Dogfight! A favorite pasttime of both girls. I think….

The chef is also interested in green garlic and garlic scapes. I’m not sure how much green garlic I want to sell, as it is early harvesting the whole clove at a smaller size and weight, so the economics may not make sense. But the garlic scapes, a seasonal delicacy in June, I believe, need to be cut anyway to encourage the growth of the bulb. (Note to Annette and Terry: they have to be harvested long before they get tough like the ones we tried to eat last year!) I don’t know how many scapes there are per pound, but I will have many pounds of scapes to sell.

Garry Oak branch inoculated with shiitake

Garry Oak branch inoculated with shiitake

I’m also growing mushrooms! I’m taking an online course through Cornell on growing mushrooms commercially on logs. I’m planning to start at a sub-commercial level of 50 3-foot logs of shiitake mushrooms, and the first harvest will be next year. I’ve started one log of shiitake as well as some oyster and stropharia (wine cap) mushrooms. The oysters and stropharia come on more quickly, so I might do more of those as well.

Nosework practice -- Mira found the chicken in the box first!

Nosework practice — Mira found the chicken in the box first!

Sundog concedes the point and moves on while Mira collects her chicken.

Sundog concedes the point and moves on while Mira collects her chicken.

I’m not the only one in school. Ella is taking her first class ever, joining Sunny in learning Nosework. They love this class. What’s not to love? I hide cubes of ham or something tasty inside boxes, on top of chairs, under baskets and just in a variety of places at various heights. The dogs do what they do best: sniff around to find them. Eventually they will learn to find non-food scents, starting with essential oils of sweet birch, cloves and anise. Most mornings I hide the treats out on the deck, and one at a time the girls diligently (and eagerly!) do their homework. But I have to make sure the cat is inside – Mira is a pro at nosework, and can beat the girls to a treat if I’m not careful!

As I wrote this morning, Mira sat on my lap. It had taken her months to get on reasonably comfortable terms with Sunny, who takes a bit too enthusiastic interest in her. Ella, sitting on the couch next to us, turned to see me rubbing under the kitty’s chin and decided if I was petting I might as well be giving her a tummy rub. As she turned belly-up, she “accidentally” kicked Mira in the face.  So my lap is now cat-free, the sun is long up, and it’s time for me and the pups to go on our morning walk this warm and rainy spring morning.

Wet from a swim, ears wide as she eyes Ella in attack mode. That's my puppy!

Wet from a swim, ears wide as she eyes Ella in attack mode. That’s my puppy!

But can you believe this is my little puppy?  Sundog at 6 1/2 months.

But can you believe this is my little puppy? Sundog at 6 1/2 months.

Recent Reads: 

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, Brady Udall (Highly recommended!)

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, Timothy Egan

Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, Dorothy Wickenden

 

The Death of Winter

Ella chews a stick while Gary watches the bonfire

Ella chews a stick while Gary watches the bonfire

A number of years ago I wrote to Gary wishing him a happy Winter Solstice. He wrote back saying it was bittersweet, representing as it does the “death of winter.” I only came to understand his sentiment the winter we were together at Brushkana: the joy of late sunrises, cozy fires, animal tracks in the snow, astounding views under the crust of the river, sunset skiing atop the river past browsing moose. We had time to read, reflect, talk, dance, cook, write, carve, and plan.  Shortly after Solstice we started to gain an hour of light every 10 days, an astounding change that left me in a continual struggle to adjust. Spring in Alaska still allowed for beautiful skiing and other “winter” pleasures, but we felt a sort of obligation to those longer days, to use them more intensively.

Today another winter begins, and dies. Six months ago today, my family and friends joined me here for a memorial service for Gary. Since then, I managed through some projects to improve the cabin and property that Gary had suggested to me, sold our Norwegian Fjords, Drader and Konall, to loving new homes, brought the outside cat in, and adopted a sunny little Sundog.

Drader (left) and Konall on their first day here.

Drader (left) and Konall on their first day here.

We are not without joy, the six of us. Ella is a bit jealous of Sunny, but clearly enjoys playing with the little heathen. Sunny is game for anything, and in her rush to keep up with Ella she tumbles like a circus clown, though less and less as she grows. Bess and Duchess have a new winter pasture in view of the cabin; they beg for attention and apples, and I see them running and kicking up their heels when they think we’re not looking. Mira, the cat, has moved up to the loft, but takes pleasure in using a variety of annoyingly urgent vocalizations to train me to climb the stairs to provide room service or a little cuddling. Sunny almost never chases her anymore, but “almost” seems to be the operative word so far as Mira is concerned – she remains cautious. Ella sweetly mixes perfect maturity and her lovely manners with sibling-rivalry neediness. I take pleasure in most every day, in the rhythm of my chores, the challenge of training little Sundog, the satisfaction of seeing projects develop and come to fruition.

Ella and Sunny enjoy a peaceful moment.

Ella and Sunny enjoy a peaceful moment.

I miss Gary terribly, of course. All the usual things I expected to miss – his hug (and if you ever got one, you know what I mean), his eyes and smile, his crazy wonderful ideas, his wisdom and practical skills, the way he danced, the scratch of his beard on my face, his habit of telling me my meals were “scrumptious,” and how he called me “Stinky” and made it seem the best possible term of endearment. I wish I could get his advice on how to keep Sunny from chasing deer or going ice skating; I wish he could share the joy of hearing a new bird, seeing a new sunrise. And I wonder what all Gary might have accomplished, in work and art and for our neighbors and community, had he lived another five or twenty-five years.

Gary carving the Spring moon at Brushkana.

Gary carving the Spring moon at Brushkana.

But I never focused on how stark it would be to lose that one person who bore witness to my daily life. Not having really been alone before, for the first time I am facing the question, “Who am I when no one is looking?” And I feel the weight of the question, “What might I accomplish in the next five, or twenty-five years?”

I find that when no one is looking I only have enough housekeeping motivation to keep a clean bathroom and kitchen unless company is coming. I find it hard to cook for myself, but am getting better. I don’t seem to be in danger of wanting to drink too much, but while writing this I just polished off a plate of the first cookies I’ve baked in recent memory. My hair is uncut and unwieldy, and some days I don’t even try past the first brushing. Laundry gets done, but my car is so dirty that I can’t make it into town without mud all over my pants. I need appointments with the dentist, eye doctor, and a dermatologist to look at a mole on my back that Gary’s not here to describe to me. I put off simple things, am months late on a wedding gift (sorry Eric and Nigeen), and will miss getting things out in time for Christmas. I have some good friends and see them regularly, but find it way too easy to shelter in place here with my animal family. I tell myself I want to learn how to do things like maintain the tractor, but I can’t bear to watch youtube on something so boring, and if I can get someone to do the job for me I manage to find something urgent to do rather than watch and learn.

Gary directs as niece Kristen moves the orchard box into the garden.

Gary directs as niece Kristen moves the orchard box into the garden.

Friend Steve thought he'd retired from farming (in Fairbanks!), but made a return visit to Blue Moon Stead this year to plant garlic.

Friend Steve thought he’d retired from farming (in Fairbanks!), but made a return visit to Blue Moon Stead this year to plant garlic.

On a more positive note, I have managed to catch up on a lot of backlogged work and projects, with help, of course, and have embarked on some important new ones. Finding little Sundog was a bit of serendipity, and an important one for Ella and me, to help take care of us both as 10-year-old Ella ages, and so Ella could help me raise the little one. With a lot of help from a friend, I planted a crop of garlic – 8500 cloves – a project unforeseen at the time of Gary’s death. I joined his acupuncturist in an effort to grow and nurture growers of Chinese medicinal herbs, and became a Master Gardener, meeting some great people along the way.

Ella and Sundog keep me smiling.

Ella and Sundog keep me smiling.

The death of winter foretells the spring. A new year is soon to begin. I’ve had some time to adjust to my new circumstances, and will have to take the opportunity of seasonal rebirth to help me hone who I am when no one is looking. And to find an answer to the question of what I might accomplish in whatever time is left to me. I have been on the receiving end of so much compassion and empathy, grace and kindness – in short, so much love. One thing is sure: this is a time for me to start to look beyond my own needs and cares to offer generously to others in that same spirit of lovingkindness.

With heartfelt gratitude and love to you all, I wish you a happy season and a wonderful New Year.

(This was published yesterday on indeep-alaska.com, where many of my subscribers still reside!)

Here Comes the Sundog

Sundog, rainbow of the darkest days.

Sundog, rainbow of the darkest days.

These last five months have been full with the work of keeping up and catching up on long-idled chores and projects around Blue Moon Stead, and with the love of friends and family who have been so good to be in touch with me, to be here with me, to cheer me and help me adjust to this new life. There has been both a sense of emptiness and fullness, with waves of grief and gratitude for Gary.

Turning compost is time-consuming, unless you can get someone else to do it! In my best Tom Sawyer fashion, I convinced my brother, Richard, that it was fun!

Turning compost is time-consuming, unless you can get someone else to do it! In my best Tom Sawyer fashion, I convinced my brother, Richard, that it was fun!

Gary and I always knew the key to me managing my deep sense of loss would be healthy busy-ness, and we were certain that Blue Moon Stead would provide.  It has. Gary left me with a list of projects and priorities and, of course, others have come on their own.

Richard cleaned all manner of debris from home improvement projects off the deck, making room for pond-side dinners on the warm September evenings during his visit.

Richard cleaned all manner of debris from home improvement projects off the deck, making room for pond-side dinners on the warm September evenings during his visit.

I’ve had work done on the cabin to make it more comfortable, especially in winter. I’ve had parts of my forest cleaned up for fire safety and forest health.  My brother, Richard, after spending quite a bit of time here in the month or so after Gary died, came back for ten days in September to help with everything from shoveling manure and turning compost to assembling carts, taking nails out of boards, putting up horse fences, and moving all manner of things from the deck and porch into storage.

I have sold Drader and Konall, our handsome Fjord geldings, and have been getting training on how to work with Bess and Duchess, my two Dales Pony mares who will remain with me.  I’ve begun growing Chinese medicinal herbs at an experimental level, and am preparing to start some as true crops, working with Gary’s acupuncturist toward developing a consortium of growers in the Columbia Gorge region.P1040636

Meanwhile, I needed a crop that will be harvestable next year (most of the Chinese herbs require 3 or more years before harvest), so am planting a whole lot of garlic this fall.  Our friend Steve, who visited us last year, offered to help. Steve farmed in Alaska, so knows the meaning of Extreme Gardening! 

Ella checks out Sundog's potential as a playmate.

Ella checks out Sundog’s potential as a playmate.

Little did he know that I was looking into getting a little Malinois puppy like Ella, and the timing couldn’t have been more, well, perfectly imperfect. Steve arrived on Thursday, less than 48 hours after we welcomed little Sundog (Sunny) into our family.P1040688
Well, I welcomed her, at least!  Ella tolerates her little shadow admirably, but doesn’t hesitate to growl, show fearsome teeth, and bark to discourage Sunny from using her tail as a chew toy, or from using Sunny’s own chew toys as chew toys, for that matter. Mira, the cat, has returned to the home with a great deal of caution and trepidation. She is a bit hurt to see someone else occupying her lap – but that’s the only way I can know where Sundog is as I write this!P1040689
 – Sundog gets into everything — in this case, a small cooler!
P1040683We have a soggy week ahead to plant garlic – I’m hoping the lure of a little puppy will bring some friends in to help. It’s been hard getting back to writing while absorbing the reality of life without Gary, though his love and influence remain with me. But winter is looming, the Sundog is here, and a different rhythm will pace our days. I hope that means I will be writing again soon!
                                                       – Taking a long walk is the best way to wear the Sundog out!
The End

The End

Lucky

During our four years together, Gary and I said our share of “I love you’s”, but another feeling often poured from our hearts and out of our mouths.

“We’re lucky,” we said.

I met Gary not quite ten years ago on my first trip to Alaska, at Brushkana, where I was visiting my Aunt Vee and Uncle Keith. Uncle Keith rang the breakfast bell that first morning and in strode Gary, with his big red beard and trademark feathered hat, carrying the .22 he’d been using to pick off some pesky red squirrels, his dog Bella by his side. He was a real life mountain man.

Gary glassing

Gary glassing

When Gary was 15 years old, he had begun spending summers and more with Vee and Keith and my cousins Joan and Glenn and our dear friend Heidi. My aunt so thoroughly considered him her adoptive son that for many years I assumed he had no other family to speak of, though I could not have been more wrong. I didn’t know my aunt and uncle growing up, except through letters. I’d sought them out in their Oregon winter home about two years before that first trip to Alaska, not long after my own parents had died. What I’m trying to say is this: the odds of me ever meeting Gary were – if you can forgive the pun – extremely remote. We were just really lucky.

We corresponded a few times a year after that, and Gary’s letters revealed a reader, a poet, a creative thinker and artist, a spiritual soul deeply connected to the natural world. He lived his life – a life so exotic to me – with a grand sense of humor and high adventure. We became dear friends.

In 2009 Gary was diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Living remotely as he did, with only an unreliable satellite phone for communication, Gary accepted my help finding specialists. I traveled to Portland to join him for doctors’ appointments and see him through surgeries. Gary never forgot it was cancer that brought us together.

“We’re lucky,” he reminded me, even as the disease took its awful toll.

When Gary first confessed his love for me, I was surprised. When he said he would follow me to San Francisco, I was disbelieving. But he and Ella left their homeland and his beloved ponies, and came to join me in a rented flat next to the freeway. Someone asked Gary not too long ago what was the best time of his life. Though I still have trouble taking his answer too literally, he was, he assured me, sincere.

“San Francisco” he said without hesitation.

Gary open studio

Gary at his first SF studio. Photo courtesy of David Gartner, http://www.versusgoliath.com.

Every day he and Ella saw me off to work and then walked to his studio, where he was able to carve full time for the first time in his life. When I got home in the evening, Ella would be watching at the window for me; seeing me pull up, she would run to the kitchen where Gary was fixing dinner, and the two would greet me at the door. Gary loved the stimulation of the City: the diversity of people, the parks and beaches, the beautiful organic fruits and vegetables always available, the library and bookstores, the art, music on the streets and in concert venues. He never lost his wonder at all the plants that thrived year-round in the mild climate.

He quickly discovered “street finds” and “free stuff” on craigslist, and the amazing salvage and recycling places in Berkeley. Gary found the most unexpected uses of what others threw away. He made a dance stick in the shape of a horse from a single chair leg found on the street, and just this March we saw our dear friend Brent dance with it at a pow-wow. Our next-door neighbor in San Francisco considered it life as usual in the City, I’m sure, when she saw a bearded guy in a do-rag taking a broken child’s chair from her garbage. Her surprise came when Gary returned it to her, repaired and beautifully painted, decorated with a charming chip-carved flower. Gary spoke to the homeless people I’d learned to overlook, even if only to ask them how they were, and to listen to the answer. He showed me my own world through new eyes. We were lucky.

Brushkana cabin with addition in progress.

Brushkana cabin with addition in progress.

After a year in San Francisco, Gary and Ella returned to Alaska, where he worked to make his Brushkana summer cabin into a cozy year-round home for us. He built an addition with room for our coats and boots, his carving table, and a shower stall for me. We didn’t have running water, so he bought a 3-gallon sprayer normally used for pesticide; it made a wonderful hot shower. If San Francisco was the best time of Gary’s life, Brushkana was the best time of mine. Gary had little time to carve as he made us a home and kept us safe and warm, patiently teaching me what he could. How to make a fire, stack wood, ski, drive a snowmachine, make a snow shelter, insulate the cabin with snow bricks, keep the water hole from freezing over, test the ice, tie knots, pick and clean and can berries, even how to use the outhouse properly without stinking it up. Gary and Ella were at home in their beloved Alaska, and I reveled in our life together in a tiny cabin in a vast and beautiful wilderness. We were lucky.

Gary building addition to our cabin

Gary building the addition to our cabin

The last two years were filled with doctors and scans, research and treatments, diets and supplements, appointments and disappointments, choosing and abandoning, packing and unpacking, hope and despair, gratitude and anger, laughing, loving, crying, growing and dying. We understood how precious each day was, and we were grateful. Our tribe grew closer and dearer as family and friends gathered around and touched us with their love. I know no one with a stronger will than Gary, or a stronger will to live. We worked so hard to find a way. Gary was willing to do anything, no matter how difficult, to regain his health. At the same time, he was at peace with his Creator and his fate, able to reconcile that struggle and that peace.

Gary pulled in several tons of loose hay while undergoing chemo.

Gary pulled in several tons of loose hay while undergoing chemo.

Gary wrote this: “The saying, ‘it is a good day to die’ means that you have done well in your living and it is a good day, you can go without regrets, leaving loved ones behind, you will, no matter, but leaving them loved is good. We all will leave this and go on. Don’t fear the new or what must happen, accepting but not giving in, there is a balance somewhere between those.” Gary wrote that a year and a half ago.

Evening at Blue Moon Stead.

Evening at Blue Moon Stead.

We were lucky. I am lucky, and I am so very grateful. How precious it is to have loved and been loved by such a man. Gary changed me. He changed my world. Gary left me here at this beautiful place with our beloved Ella, making me part of a larger and stronger tribe, including each one of you and his own family, so dear to me now. I love you and need you all. And I pray I will never forget how lucky I am.

Promises, Promises

Winter got off to a slow start. Following a hard freeze and a skiff of snow at the first of December, we had long stretches of warm, spring-like days and few excuses to stay indoors. Finally, a wildly windy, rainy day was followed by days of rain, threatening rain, freezing rain and freezing fog. Promises of snow were broken time and again by temperatures well above freezing.

In any weather, my day opens with a walk to the ponies’ winter quarters to feed them their morning hay; a twilight feeding closes the day and begins the evening.

The ponies enjoy their morning hay. Behind them is the creek and their winter pasture.

The ponies enjoy their morning hay. Behind them is the creek and their winter pasture.

Gary thought to situate the ponies on the creek at the far edge of our property, so they would have running water when we had to be away for a couple of days. And a good thought it was, too, as our pipes froze at the well-house when it got down to 3 below zero while we were away for a couple of days that first week in December. The creek assures the ponies good running water, not prone to icing over; their watering troughs, on the other hand, I had been breaking open with an axe morning and night when they were still in the corral. This little freeze left us all – house and corral – without well water for three or four days.

Missing only the convenience of an outhouse, we settled easily into the habits of a dry cabin, like our home at Brushkana Creek in Alaska. Gary swears that I burst into song as I carried five-gallon buckets of water from our spring. Our gravity-feed water filter from Brushkana days had been put into service when Gary’s chemo required that he drink only filtered water; we easily filtered our spring water for drinking and cooking.

Within a few days we were expecting a barrage of guests – Gary’s brother Randal and his son Josh, sister Sharman and her granddaughter Paige, and his youngest brother Jon and his wife Rachael. I worried out loud about where to sleep six guests and how to feed eight hungry mouths. Thanks to a new invasion of mice we had several live mouse traps hidden around the cabin, at risk of clamping onto some unsuspecting guest or their pet at any moment. And now, how could we manage it all without running water?

“Don’t worry,” Gary said reassuringly, “they’re from Alaska.”

We enjoyed spring-like weather in late December with (from left) Gary's nephew Josh, brother Randal, sister Sharman, and Sharman's granddaughter Paige. And Gary and Ella, of course.

We enjoyed spring-like weather in late December with (from left) Josh, Randal, Sharman, Paige. And Gary and Ella, of course.

Luckily, the thaw preceded the guests and two of our guests arrived late, so we did have running water and only four guests at a time. Best of all, Gary’s sister Sharman cooked (and brought all the way from Boise) a nineteen-pound turkey and all the fixings, plus homemade soup, beans, salsa, squash, green beans canned and pickled, and fruit fresh and dried: enough delicious fare to feed the whole crowd lunch and dinner for the duration. Randal took charge of dessert, and Josh did an amazing job as breakfast chef, serving up hash browns, bacon, scrambled eggs, sausage, French toast – all I had to do was sit, eat, and occasionally run the dishwasher. Josh found us the perfect Christmas tree, and Sharman and Paige helped decorate it.

Gary’s niece Kristen and her beau Chris visited from Alaska the last week in January. The weather was dreary, but the company kept us in good spirits. We hiked and debated paddling around the lake on the cold water. Working together we were able to groom the ponies, and gave the thick manes of the Norwegian Fjords a trim at long last. Little did we know they would soon be you-tube stars!

Chris and Kristen made easy work of grooming the ponies.

Chris and Kristen made easy work of grooming the ponies.

February 3rd brought the start of three days of beautiful snow, a couple of feet of it. As the snow started to fall, the ponies left their pasture at the far end of our property. They did not come when I brought their hay that evening, but what fence I could see looked fine, so I assumed they were taking shelter from the snow as I hurried back to my own shelter. When I saw snow-covered hay the next morning, my heart fell as I realized my mistake. Did the coyote I saw the day before startle them enough that they broke through the electric tape? They’ve escaped their fence before, but never showed much interest in wandering away. As Ella and I followed what we could see of the ponies’ snow-covered tracks, we found ourselves going in circles. Gary, Ella and I spent the rest of the day covering as much ground as we could, on our property and the lumber company land adjacent, on foot and in the car.

We had no luck. Gary did brush snow from some tracks large enough to be hoofprints, but he knew they might well be bear prints. Still, they were our only lead, leading us to think the ponies may have gone into the perilous Rattlesnake Creek drainage. We called all the neighbors, the sheriff, the local Department of Natural Resources agent, and the folks living down that steep road where the ponies would end up if they had gone that way. The next morning we were off to look at a used 4-wheeler we could drive down to the drainage ourselves, when the call came from our neighbor, Jessica. The ponies were in her yard! The rest of the story is on video, as many of you have already seen, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijhNAqjLj0w

The ponies were so eager to get back home that Drader almost broke through the fence to get back in! We are ever grateful to our good neighbors, Jessica, Cody, their son Jack, who made a successful search for the ponies on skis, and of course our friend Russell, who took the “National Finalist” halters he’d won as trophies in his rodeo riding days to secure the horses while they waited for us to get there. We were glad Jessica and Cody could use the adventure for their you-tube channel, and only a little embarrassed when two of their next videos involved fixing our tractor tire and fixing our snow plow blade. All our neighbors are wonderful. Did I mention we had Christmas dinner at Russell’s? That was at noon; at 3:00 we had Christmas dinner with Jessica and Cody.

With ponies safe and sound, Gary rushed to pull the skis, snowshoes and sleds from storage. We couldn’t wait to use them; I skied out to feed the ponies, snowshoed while dragging a sled with a 65-lb. bale of hay to them – twice – and snowshoed a trail for sledding on a good long hill.

We did sled that day: “Bonzai!” Gary shouted as he started down.

Ella checked us for injuries when we slid to a stop, laughing uncontrollably. (We were laughing uncontrollably; Ella was licking and wagging uncontrollably.) It was a good thing we didn’t delay: rain that night put an end to such frivolity.

Overflow from the pond made an impressive new creek from a usually-dry drainage.

Overflow from the pond made an impressive new creek from a usually-dry drainage.

The rain and, more significantly, the snowmelt it brought down, created streams, ponds and overflows we never imagined. Our firepit by the pond became a firepit in the pond. Our babbling cascade became a roaring waterfall. The classroom building began to seep as it stood in a three-sided moat.

Our little cascade grew so big it sounded like a driving rain everytime we stepped outside.

Our little cascade grew so big it sounded like a driving rain everytime we stepped outside.

Gary had to use the tractor to carry hay to the ponies, since we couldn’t trust any of the other vehicles to make it on the muddy, pot-holed drive. That worked well until he crossed the snow to see a new river in the making; the tractor left the protective cover of snow and that’s where it remains today.

New snow on the tractor!

New snow on the tractor!

By the time Kristen’s folks — Gary’s sister Karen and her husband Scott — came to see us this past week, the road was still a bit muddy, but the runoff had subsided greatly. Gary’s brother Jon and his wife Rachael made it in their little sportscar with no problem, bearing gifts of wonderful food. We were back in the cloudy damp until Saturday, though Mt. Adams peaked through the clouds on Friday just in time for Scott to get a good photo. The snow began in earnest just as Karen and Scott headed back to the airport Saturday morning.

Scott Janisch took this beautiful photo of Mt. Adams from our "backyard."

Scott Janisch took this beautiful photo of Mt. Adams from our “backyard.”

Promises of snow unbroken, the beautiful winter scene outside is confused only slightly by the sight and sound of robins, Stellar’s jays and varied thrushes, not to mention two pairs of mallards on the now snow-covered pond. Inside, four cosy creatures laze in the living room, soaking in the warmth of the fire.

This varied thrush is enjoying the buffet of birdseed on our deck.

This varied thrush is enjoying the buffet of birdseed on our deck.

Yes, four: Mira showed up in January. The little cat who stationed herself under my car when the barn cats’ food dish was empty told me her name morning and evening and sometimes through the night.

A winter's day in March by the fire.

A March winter’s day by the fire.

“Mira, Mira” she called.

Mira wasn't shy about curling up on Ella's bed with Ella's sock monkey.

Mira wasn’t shy about curling up on Ella’s bed with Ella’s sock monkey.

Neighbors said she’d been hanging around their barn for a year. Now she’s been living on the deck and in the barn, but has weaseled her way inside — literally, jumping right over my foot as I attempted to block the door. She’s sitting on Ella’s bed as I write, bathing herself and napping as though it was her own. Ella does her best to ignore the kitty, chewing nervously on her toys if I give Mira too much attention, and jumping aside if the kitty tries to rub up against her.

A snowy day, March 2, 2014

A snowy day, March 2, 2014

Time to put another log on the fire before I pull on my skis to go feed the ponies.  I can’t waste the chance to join Ella in a bit of snow fun before the rain comes again, bringing slush, mud, and promises of spring.

Update:

The rain is eating away at the 6″ of snow we got yesterday. Let the slush begin!

Thanks to all for your love and concern for Gary. His tumors have been stubborn: some growing, some shrinking with drugs and diet. He is now on a ketogenic diet (high fat, very low carbohydrates, restricted protein and calories), each meal a perfect ratio measured by the gram. Together with supplements, the oncologist thought this was a reasonable alternative to the oral chemo he was taking, as it was making him more tired than chemo last summer. Gary stays strong and disciplined; we have both been able to stay positive and enjoy this beautiful place, made even more beautiful by family and friends who visit, call, write, pray, and send good thoughts and love our way. Thank you!

Catching up: The Seasons of Summer

Fall arrived exactly as predicted by the calendar. No sooner had we adapted to days that stretched well past 10 p.m. – pleased or regretful of the extra time to work outdoors – than we found ourselves scrambling to get the ponies in before dark. We spent our summer simultaneously planting and building our garden between near-weekly trips to Seattle, five hours away, where Gary underwent chemotherapy from May through August. Seedlings planted in the optimism of a day grew haplessly in their flats for months awaiting permanent homes as we rushed to fence in a sanctuary from voles, gophers, deer and other locavores.

Gary's niece Kristen places an orchard box of tomatoes into the new garden enclosure at the end of July.

Gary’s niece Kristen places an orchard box of tomatoes into the new garden enclosure (late July).

I had planted two packets of tomato seeds in little 1-inch square soil blocks, not thinking that 200 seeds might actually yield nearly 200 plants well before we had space and protection for them.  We took the giant flat trailer to the edge of town and picked up sixteen old 4’ x 4’ orchard boxes to use as containers, which I proceeded to plant with tomatoes and basil as densely as though they were New York tenements, telling myself it was French intensive gardening. I gave away forty starts to neighbors; still, well over a hundred tomato plants were homeless. As the plants grew spindly and began to flower in their tiny soil cubes, Gary could see I was never going to get them into the ground. He took the tractor and scraped the soil with its front bucket, dumped a few buckets of compost on the soil, and began planting. Our largest, most perfect tomatoes have come from the plants he saved. Far more, still green, huddled under cover from excessive rain and danger of frost until we pulled them in early October.

Our enclosed garden sits alongside the ponies' corral. Behind it is our high tunnel, still under construction.

Our enclosed garden sits alongside the ponies’ corral. Behind it is our high tunnel, still under construction.

We still have tomatoes spread out on tables to ripen, though some rot instead and others are destined for green tomato stew.  In the garden we have harvested everything but one lone head of pak choi destined for dinner tonight, and a few broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants.  Pumpkins never got beyond golf-ball stage, and we were too late in planting cucumbers, watermelon, butternut and acorn squash to get anything but flowers, though we did eat some of those.

Gary, once he’d finished haying in June, focused on expanding the ponies’ corral. He opened their pasture into some woods, and created a second, much larger area of pasture and forested area for graze and shelter during our trips to Seattle. Slowed but not stopped by the effects of chemo, he continued to expand the ponies’ pasture as grass grew brittle in the summer’s heat. With the help of friends and neighbors, the ponies did fine even during our longest absences.

The remodeled kitchen was finished in early July. There is a wall of bookshelves for my cookbooks behind Ella.

The remodeled kitchen is a joy to cook in. There is a wall of bookshelves for my cookbooks behind Ella, and a spot for barstools if we move her bed!

If it hadn’t been for visitors, we might have never found time to hike the land and paddle around our pond. Annette and Terry were first, arriving in early July, just after our kitchen remodel was more or less complete. They had the wisdom to stay in town, spending a day with us after touring around the Columbia Gorge a bit. A couple of weeks later, Gary painted the guest bedroom floor while I ran into town to buy a bed, just in time for his niece Kristen’s visit. It was remarkable how much better Gary felt the week she was with us. That magic worked again when our friend Heidi came. Heidi moved from Alaska to southern Oregon about when we did; she, Gary and my cousin Glenn have been friends since childhood. She took care of the ponies, and even trimmed the Fjords’ manes, during one of our longer trips to Seattle; when we got back home, Glenn and his wife Terri were here too.

Ella took this photo of (from left) me, Gary, Heidi, Terri (with Charlie), Glenn and Mercedes, mid-August.

Ella took this photo of (from left) me, Gary, Heidi, Terri (with Charlie), Glenn and Mercedes (mid-August, just at the end of Gary’s chemo).

Ella spent the summer cooling off in the pond and chasing birds. She doesn’t chase large birds – wild turkeys, grouse, or the heron who calls our pond home – but she does run after robins, swallows, and other little birds fully capable of avoiding her. We saw her come running toward a hatchling, fully expecting it to fly; when it didn’t  – couldn’t, poor thing, she barked at it. Didn’t it know how to play? She didn’t touch the little guy, but she surely gave it a good fright.

Our friend Terry came up with the idea to extend our new metal roof partially over the deck. The old cedar shingles are now being used as kindling -- frighteningly good kindling.

Our friend Terry came up with the idea to extend our new roof partially over the deck. The old cedar shingles are now such good kindling it’s frightening to think they spent the summer on top of our cabin!

Autumn arrived cold and rainy, and we lit our first fire of the season on September 21st. Not a moment too soon – perhaps a week or so too late – we replaced our derelict cedar shake shingle roof with a new metal roof. After a prolonged and beautiful spell of cool air and warm sunshine, we’ve had a week or two of off-and-on rain, though evenings have mostly stayed above freezing. Preparations for winter are ongoing: Gary bought a snowplow blade for the tractor, more hay for the ponies (just in case), and has gathered, split and stacked four cords of wood, regaining some of his muscle in the process.

Gary unloads large stumps he'd wrestled onto the truck, and prepares to split and stack the wood.

Gary unloads large stumps he’d wrestled onto the truck, and prepares to split and stack the wood.

Scans following chemotherapy showed that Gary’s tumors stabilized, more or less, during his treatment, then grew a bit as of mid-September. This was a particularly painful time for us both, as it became clear that the doctors are not fighting to win, but trying to keep Gary as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Shortly following his mid-September scans, Gary had some pretty severe abdominal pain caused by the tumors. For the first time he was suffering not from the treatment but from the disease. There was talk of radio-frequency ablation to get rid of a couple of the tumors, but as it turns out they are all either too large or in areas too sensitive to be treated.

Gary put up the bell (yes, filched from Chimney Rock); now we can call each other in from the fields and forest. He's with Ben and, of course, Ella.

Gary put up the bell (yes, filched from Chimney Rock); now we can call each other in from the fields and forest, and visitors can announce themselves. He’s with Ben and, of course, Ella.

The news does get better. We consulted a naturopathic oncologist in Portland, who has been quite helpful. The Seattle radiologist referred us to a local hospital for a couple of weeks of radiation treatment to reduce the pain, but by the time we met with the local radiologist the pain was gone. That was in early October, and the pain has never returned. Gary continues to do anything that might aid his healing. He is meditating and doing guided imagery work daily and even as we sleep. A friend got us started wheatgrass-juicing. He is reducing carbohydrates and starting to add meat back into his diet. Family, friends and strangers have added their prayers and good energy toward his healing as well, and some have made their way to our remote spot here. Gary’s oldest brother, whom he hadn’t seen in years, visited this week. Gary’s young friend Ben made the trip as well, helping with all kinds of things, including building a fire pit near the pond. Love and friendship are great healers. We are exceedingly grateful for this reprieve. It may be that the tumors have shifted to a better spot, or it may be a miracle in the making. Every day is a miracle, really, as we go about our work and play together in this beautiful spot.

Ben and Gary built a fire pit near the pond so we can sit under the stars on the rocks by a warming fire any time we want.

Ben and Gary working on the fire pit near the pond. Now we can sit under the stars on the rocks by a warming fire any time we want.

The shorter days are bringing us more time to read and write, think and plan and dream. Writing came hard to me this summer. It was a confusion of joyful discovery of Blue Moon Stead in the summertime, healing visits from loving friends, and the agony of disease and treatment. As we settle in for the winter, I hope to stay in closer touch.

While the Sun Shines

We’re making hay. Last week Gary spent Sunday mowing grass, using the tractor to pull his new sickle-bar mower.  He spent most of last Monday fixing a rusty old hay rake that looks like a rural lawn ornament; Tuesday he was raking well past twilight. When Ella and I found him out in the fields, I climbed onto the rusty seat of the rake behind the tractor and rode the last round. Releasing the lever, I dropped the grass onto the long windrow Gary had begun.  Then we gave the horses a surprise nighttime snack.

Gary mowing hay, with the horse-drawn mower hooked up to the tractor

Gary mowing hay, with the horse-drawn mower hooked up to the tractor. The fences mark our neighbors’ property.

Konnal and Bess exchange neck rubs.

Konnal and Bess exchange neck rubs.

The sickle-bar mower and the hay rake are horse-drawn equipment, and our little draft ponies should be helping make the hay, it being for them, after all. But the ponies aren’t ready for that adventure and neither are we, so we used the tractor.  At first it was my job to drive the tractor at a walking pace while Gary managed the mower, pulling up the long sickle bar to avoid rocks and other hazards. It was surprisingly hard to position the tractor so Gary’s mower would find grass I had not managed to trammel with the tractor tires. Instead of calming rows of mown field, the trail I left was a higgledy-piggledy hodge-podge, as my dear brother-in-law Sepp would say, tire impressions and grass clippings in full chaos.

We were lucky to get a couple of rainy weeks at the end of May, but the sun is shining now. Days are long, with dusk around 10:00. Our little world is alive. Our garden is started (just barely); I managed to give my squash and tomatoes frostbite and sunburn within the span of a couple of days, but they’ve recovered. I have more kale and mustard spinach to harvest than I can easily use. Our apple trees are now planted, enormous patches of sweet ripe wild strawberries the size of blueberries are underfoot, and we discovered we have wild mint.

Our Great Blue Heron overseeing the pond from the raft.

Our Great Blue Heron overseeing the pond from the raft.

The mallards had ducklings, a Great Blue Heron lives by the pond, we have hummingbirds, and Gary found Tiffany-blue evidence that baby robins have hatched out. One night I took Ella out just before dark, and counted 19 bats as they flew from under our roof; I could still hear more squeaking inside. I know the sound well: I hear them when we’re in the living room, too. Swallows roost under the eaves, with one nest right by the kitchen window.

Gary's work on the kitchen remodel. Cabinets have since come in, just waiting for countertops!

Gary’s work on the kitchen remodel. Cabinets have since come in, just waiting for countertops!

Our kitchen remodel is progressing. Gary finished his part, including digging a 20’ trench for the propane line in pouring rain. Cabinets were installed this week, with countertops soon to follow. We are making progress downstairs as well, where the last of the filthy carpet is soon to be pulled up. I painted the cement floor of the tiny bedroom a cheerful “Tequila Sunrise.”

Did I mention we found morels? Not enough to get rich -- this was most of the crop.

Did I mention we found morels? Not enough to get rich — this was most of the crop.

We are happy to be busy. We go to bed tired and sleep well, for the most part, despite everything. As some of you know, at the end of April we learned that Gary’s sarcoma is back. He’s been undergoing chemo since mid-May, but has been amazingly strong so far. His late-night mowing coincided with a pre-treatment 72-hour fast (and another 8 hours post-treatment): he preferred working outside to the chance he’d come in and find me eating.  I did fast for 24 hours, but I realize now it didn’t begin to help me feel what Gary is going through. A few days ago Gary outpaced Ella in their shedding competition, and decided to shave off his beard and mustache. He’s had his second round of chemo, and is more tired now, but still very much himself.

It’s been hard for me to write as we fight this disease, our emotions, and time as it rushes us through an important season for planting our garden, building our fences, and making hay. But our adventures continue, and staying in touch with our family and friends is important, now more than ever.