Into the Woods

It is gloriously sunny — one of the first times this year for us here in the Pacific Northwest — and our forest chicken pen sparkles with 27 healthy, happy white Cornish Rock meat birds.  Not one of our ten laying hens is in the broody box, and Pearl, LaLa and Sage, our three Pygora goats, prance and wag their little tails.

I’m leading a farmlet tour of extended family and friends down the trail and out of the woods when I mention that we lost two meat chicks last week.  One of my relatives stops in her tracks and groans.

“Something dies here every day,” I say.  Everyone laughs nervously, and I scramble to explain.  “Besides the chicks, yesterday’s deaths included a baby rabbit and several mice courtesy of Garfield.”

I don’t say that I actually sat with one of the chicks as it died.  It flapped its wings, and then its beak yawned in death.  Probably some bacteria got it.  This is a normal loss.

The group appears to understand just fine as my commentary on death this week continues.

“Raccoons got all of our neighbor’s ducks two nights ago.  Pulled them right through the fence. That was the same day that Nora Ephron died, but I’m not saying that’s the same thing.”

Everyone nods, acknowledging human deaths are somehow greater but that animal deaths are hard, too, and that you can’t have an abundance of life without death.

Hundreds of ripe red huckleberries hang from giant indigenous bushes.

Our 3-year-old fruit trees — Italian plum, sour cherry, and two kinds of apples — are laden with growing green babies, and the rhubarb leaves are big as umbrellas on thick scarlet stalks.

Six-year-old Red Riding Hood, the only child of the tour, finds an egg in one of the nests.  She giggles and hands it off to her grandfather, jumps on the trampoline, and then she and her mother settle into picking ripe red huckleberries.

Three days later it’s still in the 70s and beautiful.  The Bearded One and I walk the road and a friend stops in her truck.  “Neighbor caught a coyote pup in her trap last night,” she says and shows us the photo on her camera.  “Was trying to catch raccoons.  Had to shoot him.”

“Oh, no!” I say, looking at the cute little carnivore.

“I know,”says the neighbor, “but we gotta let Mama Red know she’s not welcome here.”

The Bearded One saw the big red coyote everyone calls Mama Red crossing the road from our property recently, no doubt scouting our meat birds.  I think of Mama Red discovering her pup’s body.  I see a mental image of a raccoon yanking a duck through a wire fence.

Farm life is raw some days.  We’re used to it.  And so, it seems, we are a good place for comfort.  Our Twenty-Something son calls, and I know something is wrong.  “Mom?” he says.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Monty Carter, remember him?  The music director at Northwest?  He died yesterday.”

I remember a gifted young man, a virtuoso on the piano and a good friend to his students, including our son who played Rapunzel’s Prince in his school’s production of “Into the Woods” five years ago.  He sang the song, “Agony,” with the hilarious punch line, “So much greater than yours!” in his rich baritone voice.

“How did he die?”

“An accident in the Wenatchee River,” he says.  “Drowned.”

We talk about the tragedy of it, his young age of 43, what a loss to the world.  Our son needs me to talk, I can tell this, but I don’t know what to say.

“What’s going on there?” he asks.

“No more chick deaths,” I say.  He is very quiet.

“Your sister called from Spokane this weekend,” I say.  “She’s on vacation, you know.  She was laughing about a conversation she had with her boyfriend’s parents regarding her own parents back in the western part of the state.  Us.  Me.  She said, ‘I told them you were unconventional — a hippie — and were probably this minute running around without a bra making jam.'”

Our son hoots.  I love to make him laugh.

“And you know what?” I say, “she was exactly right!  She’s psychic.  I was making 10 pints of StrawBlue Hucklecherry Jam.  Can I send you some, Sweetie?”

“No,” he says, chuckling, “but I appreciate the offer.”

“Is there another kid from school that you can call?  To talk about Monty, I mean?  Someone from ‘Into the Woods’?  What about the Witch?”

“Yeah,” he says, “Danielle.”

“Call her.  Share your memories.  Keep him alive.”

We hang up and the Bearded One and I head back up the hill once again, stepping over yet another mole Garfield has proudly left for us on the back deck.


9 responses to “Into the Woods

  1. Beautiful post, Christi. A fine way of saying something that many of us fail to understand in our disconnected lives, and yet as your son discovered they follow us there, because we’re not really disconnected except in our hearts. Good stuff.

  2. Christine Widman

    Here too – something dies every day.
    Today I took a dead gila woodpecker from my studio deck out into our desert acres. A turkey vulture will live from the woodpecker’s death.
    This is one of the stunning draws for me to the desert. Seeing the bones of the earth.
    This morning we woke to 7 brilliant white flowering stars thrillingly alive on one of our cactus.
    Always alongside death is the continual sense of the resiliency of life.

    • A good point, Christine, that life come from death, the turkey vulture and the woodpecker. The desert is truly the rawest of bones; I love your descriptions of life AND death there.

  3. I guess living on a farm/let gives you a real eye opener to the seasons and most poignantly, the seasons of life. It brings you back into natures fold and it teaches you (often the hard way) that we belong to the earth and not visa versa. I love reading your posts Christi…so vibrant and honest. Our chooks are laying all over the place. We watched one of our hens emerge from the coop this morning when Steve opened the door only to jump into the large compost heap right next to the chook run and promptly lay an egg! On closer inspection we noticed 3 eggs in a small nest and after some more investigation we collected 15 hen and 2 duck eggs and goodness only knows how many more there are hiding amongst the shrubs on Serendipity Farm. Well done on the gentle sharing. It’s really hard when your kids are hurting. I find it is easier to comfort strangers than my children. Their pain is magnified to the nth degree and often renders me numb. It seems so much more important to say the “right” thing rather than the first thing that comes to mind. I remember the first time that I had to deal with death (my maternal grandmother) and it affected me for about 6 months. It was at the same time as the very first gulf war and it resonated through me constantly. When my mother died this year it brought home my own mortality and I guess that when you are exposed to death as a natural and inevitable process of life it is a whole lot easier to accept and embrace it. Cheers for another amazing post 🙂

    • Fran, you put it perfectly about the difficulty in dealing with your kids’ pain….numbness. That’s it. I can feel their pain as if they’re still inside me!

      And I can relate also to your pain over your grandmother’s death. I felt this in 2002 (the same gulf war time…interesting) when my (ex) mother-in-law died. That is my ex-husband’s mother who I loved deeply (maybe as much as I loved her son:)! I felt the blow of her death (a stroke) physically.The other hard death for me was my adopted brother’s suicide in 1986. He was just 19 and hung himself. I was in therapy for years over that.

      As we age and our parents die, we’re the “elders,” a spooky concept itself. My father died in 1985. My mother turns 79 in 3 days, and even though she is very healthy, she will die, too, a fact my oldest daughter tells me to never mention in her presence. Her grandmother must live forever! Both of your parents are dead, and fairly recently. I like when you mention them in your posts, helping me, on the other side of this planet, to process the future.

      • Mum died in January this year and it was much more personal to me than when dad died. As you know we had an “interesting” relationship ;). You really don’t realise how much you love your mum until she is not there. I threw myself wholeheartedly into whatever came emotionally and spiritually when mum died because I owed her that much. When they say that a sharp knife is best to use because it cuts cleanly…thats how I took to my grief. I let everything that needed to be there…be there. Today, 6 months later I no longer feel that terrible empty pain that feels like it won’t ever go away and only yesterday I pulled one of mums jars of jam that she brought over in her suitcase out of the reverential place it had assumed at the back of the fridge and used it to inject some of her summer sunshine and strawberry love onto Steve’s toast. He celebrated her love yesterday and it made me happy. I think we have to embrace reality so that we live right here and now and being honest about death is one of the most important things. If you don’t prepare yourself to be real about emotions when someone close dies you have no idea how you are going to come out the other side. I am very sorry about your adopted brother. I can’t even begin to imagine how that left you. I dare say empty, lonely and angry at the world. I am so glad that you were able to work through it and arrive out the other side the lovely person that you are. Someone closes death is most certainly the very first wakeup call that we get about the reality of our finite time here on this precious earth and I think its our reality check…its a message to “get living NOW” as most people don’t ever come to the reality that what we are trudging through (in our case chicken shi# lol) from day to day IS our life. You can’t wait till you retire to live because by then you have missed most of it and usually the best years. It sounds like your daughter is going to take it hard when your mum passes away. She is very lucky to have a wonderful and most understanding mum to help her through it 🙂

  4. Was thinking of this theme as I saw a mourning dove perched on wife’s car’s rear wiper today, evidently having labored breathing, and unwilling to take flight even with me a yard away. Now, our doves have come to see me as unthreatening, but that’s too close for a bird with the wherewithal to fly away. My guess: elderly, near the end, and as do many birds, come here to pass. I left him or her to the final moments, if so, and will check tomorrow. If gone, all I can do is assure a respectful interment.

    As for the rest, one is embarrassed to be torn at sympathy for the loss and eyes lighting up at huckleberries. Wish you lived closer; would trade you wild grapes in season. In a flash.

  5. Deal. Olalla means place of many berries, so I’m equipped to barter in multiple berries, should you be in the neighborhood.:)

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