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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Mira, Mira” she called.
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.
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.
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!