Tag Archives: Community

Equalization

It’s that time of the month again.   The Bearded One’s back is out (for the first time in his life), he’s in bed and has been for days (moving all those damn lava rocks),

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so for the first time since we moved here a year ago and got the solar system up and working last fall, the monthly battery equalization is all up to me.

“I haven’t pushed the button myself,” he says as he explains to me – how Tom explained to him – how to start our new electric-start, gasoline-powered generator. Our old FOUR-pull start, propane-powered generator is for sale, and I’m handling that, too ($700 on Craigslist).

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We are too old to yank that rope four times out to here. The Bearded One will be 60 in September. I’m not far behind him.

I laugh.  I haven’t laughed much today. The Bearded One has never actually started the new generator. I will be the first. This is funny because I never was able to start the old generator. I have to start this new one today because we have to have it on to equalize the solar batteries. A dreaded procedure we usually do together.

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Tom wrote us a lengthy (but at our reading level) manual called “Care and Maintenance of Your Solar System”. It includes this: Equalization is a process that charges a battery with higher than normal voltage to dissolve scale and electrolyte buildup on the internal battery plates to keep them clean and functional so the voltage in each battery cell is comparable with its peers (equalized!) which makes them perform better and last longer.

The Bearded One is in charge of maintaining and starting the generator, and carefully putting the distilled water in the batteries (touch two terminals at once and it’s all over), and I am the electronics panel person, because it looks like a computer and the Bearded One is computer illiterate. Tom almost always ends up having to help us with that screen. It just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.

“Living off-grid requires healthy bodies,” I say, riffing on a previous discussion where I panicked about my planned trip to the mainland  to help with the birth of our grandchild in less than three weeks.

I couldn’t leave the Bearded One like this. Our own water and electricity operation requires some effort almost every day – hauling propane and ethanol-free gas, checking the catchment tanks, checking the battery water level and the monthly equalization,

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not to mention the unexpected events like the battery meltdown at the end of December, or the generator not charging the batteries, or the accursed monitor not working properly. How, just 10 days from now, is he going to be able to handle all that, plus the cooking and cleaning? He can barely make it to the bathroom. At least now he doesn’t need the crutches to get there. The happy ending to that dilemma is that our son, aka His Majesty, who still lives on the island, agreed to be on call — even to moving in here if need be – so that I can go.

“Healthy bodies,” agrees the Bearded One, “and a handyman.” He is reassuring me that we can always call Tom or Bruce. Living off-grid does create a community.

“I’ll figure it,” I say. And then, as I leave the house with the generator instruction manual, a flashlight, a gallon jug of distilled water and a turkey baster,

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I stop and run upstairs to make sure Nala is inside. Open batteries full of hydrochloric acid don’t mix with curious cats.

The day the Bearded One’s back gave out, Tom and His Majesty were up here installing the reed ceiling over the heat insulation panels. It turned out nice, like Gilligan’s Island.

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The Bearded One hasn’t even been up the stairs to see it yet. He’s moved into the den, and Nala thinks he’s mad at her because he won’t go outside or bend over to pet her.

There she is, on the shelf in the tool area. We meow to each other.

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This week hasn’t been all work and no play. On Thursday, swimming at Pohoiki with my buddy NeNe, the water was way calm, almost like a lake. There were hardly any waves, but dozens of paddle boarders and swimmers and snorklers. And kids out of school. Lots of Hawaiian locals, but also a handful of us local haoles and some happas (mixed race). All the usuals that know us were telling us there was a school of spinner dolphins out there. Big smiles and pointing. Previously, I’ve only seen these leaping dolphins from the shore, and way out. They were close in today. So I swam out! And just 10 feet away, sleak gray dolphins, maybe 30 in all, in a lovely formation, two by two, then a few singles, leaping up and down, circled this group of us.

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Several people had goggles and one woman offered to share. Two kids were goggling next to me and told me all about the little baby, just a foot long, that was flanked and shielded by the others, but giving the elder dolphins some trouble. I didn’t see the baby, but the kids, a boy and a girl, had and told me.  Everyone was treading water quietly, respectfully as we watched. I loved the people around me as much as the dolphins.

On the way home I stopped to get propane, filling one 4-gallon tank I had with me and buying two additional for our stove, fridge and hot water. We sold our 9-gallon tanks on Craigslist yesterday. Heavy things. The Bearded One always loaded and unloaded those.

Okay, so here I am, by myself in front of our electrical system (four US Battery L16 410-amp hour 6-volt flooded lead acid batteries wired in series to create a 24 volt electrical system), and our new generator (Generac 7500 Watts).

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I fill a 2-gallon gas can from a full 4-gallon can (which is hard to lift and angle and I’m selling our 4-gallon cans asap).

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Then I angle the gas nozzle into the generator hole, previously located and upcapped, and pull back on the little lever so the gas burps out. And out. Two gallons is enough. It just has to run an hour to equalize.

Fuel petcock switched to the left, check.

Choke switched to the left, check.

Press START. Vrooooooom! She starts, then gets sluggish and I race around and switch the choke off, and the generator is on. Whoop! No pull rope at all.

Next to the battery box. Take off the plywood siding (takes me 10 minutes of loosening C-clamps this first time). Carefully remove spring-loaded battery caps from 4 green box batteries. Shine flashlight into batteries and see water level. Use turkey baster to fill them up. Wipe sweat from brow.

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Then go mess with the monitor. Can’t get clear screen. Check instructions again. Try to clear the screen by turning off Battery Disconnect Switch. Nothing happens. Do this several times. Still not working. Sweat.

I turn off the generator and trudge inside. Sweat and tears, but no blood. “It won’t work!” I say.

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The Bearded One says, “You did great. You started the generator! You filled the batteries. You are such an island babe.”

“True,” I say. It was pretty sweet. No man is an island. “I’ll go call Tom.”

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Falling Into My Lap

All weekend, Hansel reminds his dad about what will have to happen in order to actually get a puppy.  “If one falls into our lap, that’s what you said.  If it just falls right into our lap.”

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Hansel’s father is a fair man.  Their last dog, when they still lived next door to us, was a wild thing that got cancer at age 3 and had to be euthanized, so he is justifiably wary and put the issue — his three children’s deep and constant yearning for a puppy — into the realm of the Almighty.  “If one falls into our lap,” he had indeed told Hansel all autumn, and now it is January, and the Almighty has spoken.

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*   *   *

All week the Bearded One and I revel in the decision to move to Hawaii.  We take stock and clean out, things we might have done anyway after the New Year we tell ourselves, as if we haven’t really decided.

Never mind that we’ve talked to a realtor neighbor and have considered whether to include the goats to make it an already-stocked-farmlet, or to advertise the goats on Craigslist just like the ad we responded to two years ago.  Arly sniffs through the piles of files, boxes of art supplies, and bags of clothes, absorbing all the stories.  He shreds the Bearded One’s flop.

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“Are there Flop Trees in Hawaii?” the Bearded One asks me on Sunday night, and I laugh.

I’m on the couch and cuddling Arly’s solid little chesty 21-pound body, kissing his velvet ears.  He licks the lotion from my neck.

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Hawaii has a pet quarantine law of up to 120 days, which is four months, which is how long Arly has been alive on the planet.  Too long for a pup, so if we are really moving, finding a new home for him sooner rather than later seems the way to go.  Better for him.

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Garfield is seven, but since our idea is to rough it in Hawaii for a few months and explore, we need to re-home him as well.  On Friday I emailed Hansel, Gretel and Batman’s mom asking if they would like to adopt Arly.  And now, on Sunday, they’ve accepted.  This is our last night together, and I’m enjoying the best part of having raised this sweet puppy for two months.

*   *   *

Hansel, Gretel and Batman pile out of their car.

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Arly races to meet them.  Hansel crouches to pet the wiggling puppy.  Gretel presents me with a gift, a drawing of a chicken —

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— which matches the button she gave me the last time they were here, and which I’m wearing at this moment.  Gretel notices and smiles, showing her emerging two front teeth.  Batman clings to his mom, since Arly scratched him on the chin last time.

We all go inside to talk and get Arly’s luggage.  His favorite pillow, his bag of food and treats, bowl, leash, basket with shampoo and nail clippers, and a couple of our favorite dog picture books…Good Dog, Carl and Hideaway Puppy.

There are boxes everywhere, including one with oodles of office supplies — paints and markers and construction paper and tablets — and I offer the whole pile to the kids.  Seven-year-old Gretel beams.  “I always wanted a clipboard!” she says.  There are two clipboards, and Batman seizes the other one.

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Batman, too, has had a dream come true.  He smiles and says that Arly, who perches on Hansel’s lap on the couch, is better than last time.  Calmer.

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Hansel is in charge of Arly, and he takes him out on the road on the leash while we load all the puppy and art supplies into the car.  Then we help buckle Batman into his car seat.  Gretel climbs into the middle of the backseat and immediately continues work on a new chicken series on her clipboard.

Finally Hansel walks back into the driveway and offers Arly up for us to say good-bye.  I’m so happy for Arly — he’s been rather bored this week since Roger left — that I can hardly be sad.  I’m full to overflowing.  This is a giant step into the rip current taking us to Hawaii.

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All of the theoretical obstacles to a big move are falling like dominoes. The Bearded One grins, and pulls me to him.

Hansel gets into the car next to Gretel, his long legs cramped, his smile lighting up the world as he pulls Arly into his lap and says, “YESSSSS!”

Staying Put

We are no longer the only pothole fillers on the road.  Travis the Dump Truck Driver, a new neighbor, used a machine with a heavy blade last weekend, even before the annual road scraping takes place, and fixed the potholes.

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And then this weekend, the Road Manager and his daughter Susan topped off a few smaller ones further up the road with gravel that Travis delivered.

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I watch Susan, backlit by the low winter sun.  It’s shining directly in our eyes and casting gigantic shadows behind us on the road.  I’m relieved, even elated.  It registers on my face as tears.

So much has changed here this year.  I started wearing glasses and I changed my last name.  Ruby our Golden Retriever is dead, 58 Cornish meat birds were eaten by weasels, and we lost 4 layers to raccoons.

Beloved neighbors have moved away, even though they still visit.  We see Momma Goose on the road, she who has flown to a new destination —

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— migrated — and is just picking up her mail.  She hops out of her truck.

“Let me hold that pup!” she says and scoops Arly into her loving arms.  She misses us, and we miss her.  We hug, she promises to stop by soon, and we say good-bye.  Each small change has some ripple effect on anyone nearby.  But we’re not moving.  How do you change in place? I wonder.  Apparently just by staying put. Fifteen-pound Arly yanks me across the road.

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Our daughter was married in August, and she and our son-in-law and their puppy Roger arrive on Saturday evening and stay the night. There is a fire in the woodstove, we eat leftovers, and the canine cousins, Arly and Roger, chase each other around the couch, wrestling and growling.

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Roger got into some poop earlier in the holiday weekend, so our son-in-law bathed him in the only thing available, Old Spice body wash. IMG_NEW

I hug Roger and breathe in deeply.  Arly wriggles at my feet.

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I think I’ll take a break from writing this blog for a few weeks.  Raise this pup.  More in the new year.  Love, Christi

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Batman and Arly

Batman, age 5, has just been scratched on the chin by Arly the puppy and is near tears and speaks only in his tiniest voice.

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He clings to his mom next to the new deck, even though Arly ran off into the yard.  He and Hansel, age 9, chew their peach fruit leathers as they listen to their sister Gretel, age 7, tell us about her very loose tooth.  Our old neighbors moved six months ago, but happily they still visit.  This time to meet Arly.  They’ve all grown.

“It’s been so long since I lost a tooth,” I say.  “Does it hurt?”

“No.”  Gretel smiles and shows her upper gum with all the tiny baby teeth now widely spread.  The front right is gone, and the left is barely hanging on.

“My father used to tie a string around my loose teeth and yank,” I say, shivering even though the low midday November sun covers the entire new deck.  “Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.”

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“Oh oh oh,” says Gretel.  “The Castaway!”

Hansel’s big brown eyes light up.  “Oh, yeah!”

“I get to tell it!” says Gretel.

Hansel agrees, but paces the deck.  Even Batman is riveted and hopes desperately that Gretel can tell it right.  I watch as she mentally backs away to get the big picture.

She starts with the point.  “He had a real bad toothache and had to knock it out with a rock and an ice skate from a Fed Ex box!”

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Hansel is pleased with her delivery, but he knows the story.  It’s a movie, apparently.

“A Fed Ex box?” I say, as lost as the castaway, but reveling in their sheer joy of sharing stories.

Batman says, still in his tiny, puppy-scratched voice, “He’s a Fed Ex Delivery Man.”

Gretel stares at her little brother then continues.  “His plane crashed in the ocean and he went to this island and lived all by himself — ”

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” — EXCEPT for,” Hansel says, and Gretel tells him that isn’t the main story here, but lets him tell about the Castaway’s sole friend anyway — a salvaged volleyball named Wilson.

At this point Arly runs by with a rotting cornstalk in his mouth.

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He likes to pull the silk out of the undeveloped ears which I planted too late so they are composting in the garden.

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Arly’s grown an inch since yesterday, I think.  Batman eyes him suspiciously.

I turn to Hansel and Gretel and say, “Last year, you stood out in the corn patch and told us a corny joke.”  This is ancient history to them, but it is their history and it is such a fine joke, they are already laughing.  Batman was there but doesn’t remember.

“I get to tell it!” says Hansel.

Gretel agrees, but has to cover her mouth to keep from butting in.

“Why shouldn’t you tell secrets in a corn field?” says Hansel.  Batman stops chewing, baffled.  “Because the corn has ears!”

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Everyone laughs, and Arly the beagle puppy prances up to the deck with the cornstalk.  We all remark on his cuteness.  His white fur and black spots and waving tail.  Batman stands tall, a twinkle in his eye, and says the punchline softly, “I like his ears.”

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The Trail at the End of the Road

“This is where I stopped,” says the Bearded One.  We’re on a large knoll, built up by the long-gone machinery, at some future turn on this new road a couple of miles from the farmlet.

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The continuation of this wilderness road, which appears to have been plowed out this past summer, is narrower and more choppy, but at least it’s dry.

“Is that a ravine in the distance?” he asks.

The land dips and I see a darker area at the far end of this rough dirt road which, as I study the route, winds through a meadow first and then past two enormous piles of stumps and branch debris.

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“Is it water?”  I am profoundly lost.  But I’m catching the Bearded One’s sweet enthusiasm for the discovery of a New World.  It feels good to be in this new landscape together and to literally not know what is on the horizon.  Where are we?

Our mile-long gravel road dead-ends into a trail through the woods which heads west and which is called Bear Trail.

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We’ve never left the trail.  We always follow it until it turns and heads off south to distant homes.  Yesterday, though, the Bearded One discovered this new road punched through the woods at the turn.  He realized he hadn’t been on this walk in months and was excited for the new sights.

Now the Bearded One comes in closer to my side as we approach the mysterious silver line.

The sky is overcast and we walk through mist and over tire-sized dirt clods of the recently churned up forest floor.  Large roots poke up like snakes.  The road goes on and on.

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Cedar needles rain down on the neon orange property line flags and blue spray-painted water lines.

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The Bearded One says this would be a great place to bring a new pup, and we talk about Corky, the dachshund mix we applied for, but not soon enough.  He was already adopted.

Mushrooms are under every tree, in every nook and cranny. Whites, creams, browns, and bright oranges and reds that the Indians used for dyes.

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This is a record-breaking year for mushrooms.  There are 5,000 kinds and around 50 are edible.

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Mycologists make the front page of the Kitsap Sun.

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“It’s a road!”  The Bearded One identifies the mystery and he isn’t disappointed.

“There’s a house in those woods,” I say and I pick my way across a raised track in the mud puddle we’ve encountered and hop down onto a paved road.  I can’t see another house or car or anything, just the distant outline of a blue house.  Neither of us knows where in the world we are.  We’ve walked farther than we thought.

“Let’s go this way.”  I head to the left where I can see the road curves.  Then I see mailboxes on the side of the road and a row of tidy homesteads with lots of barns and sheds on big lots.  Some have elaborate gardens.  There are RVs with charming built-on decks and awnings.  There are ship-shape mobile homes with lawn ornaments.  It’s about noon, though, and the entire place is deserted.  I can’t find a street sign.

And then out of the mist comes the mail truck.  It zooms up beside us, and our lovely, good-natured, fast-driving, crazy mail lady has a big grin on her face.  “Do you need me to give you a ride home?” she says, laughing at the sight of us.

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The Bearded One hoots and I giddily explain how we got here.  I point and describe.  The whole road project is news to her.

“Where are we?” I say, finally, distilling the entirety of my psyche and laying it before her.

“You,” she says, wide-eyed and hugely amused as she waves goodbye, “are in a trailer park!”

We have really stepped out, I think.  We’ve widened our territory and had loads of fun.  But — gracious — we’ve still got to make it back home.

The Invitation

Somewhere in the dark hollows of my disoriented sleepy brain, I hear a car door slam.  My eyes adjust to the dim room and I take out my earplugs. What was that?  What time is it?

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Another slam, and my eyes are wide open.  It’s 5:23pm.  Dusk.  Someone is in the driveway.  Well, okay.  We’re not expecting anyone, but this happens even out in the country.  Deliveries, politicians, clean-cut-polite-young Mormons.  How do they find us?  The Bearded One is downstairs in the deep end of his own late-afternoon autumn nap after working on the road all morning, filling the first potholes of the year.

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I’ll just peek out the window.  No need to sound the alarm, but I need to check.

I squint through the branches of the cedar tree that hides our bedroom window.  It’s a silver minivan parked at the end of the driveway.  Our old neighbors!  I see Batman circling the van, urging his parents out.

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We knew they might drop by sometime this week from an errand they had close by.  We invited them.

“They’re here!” I shriek to the Bearded One, but it comes out garbled.  I take the little nightguard out of my mouth, wipe my sleepy spit, and quietly shout “They’re coming up the driveway!”  I slip out of my warm bed and hobble to the bathroom.  I clip my wild hair into a ponytail, and look into the dim mirror. What day is this?

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The Bearded One moans.  “Whaaaa?”

I bump into the bathroom doorway to holler down to him.  “Hansel, Gretel, and Batman!”

“Huhh?”

“Honey, get up!”

The Bearded One mutters something, but I can tell he is up now because I can hear his belt buckle jangling.

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I find my socks and slippers, and yank them on as I peek out the window.  “All five of them are in the driveway!” I call out.

We love these kids — ages 9, 7, and 5 — and have missed them since they moved away this past June.  We saw them for the first time in 4 months last week — was that just last week?  They stopped by after Batman’s dentist appointment, and we took them up the trail to Jake and Ruby’s grave.

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They marveled at the dark autumn forest, the branches and logs they had earlier hauled to line the edge of the trail, artifacts from ancient times.

I hear the toilet flush downstairs and I know that the Bearded One is functional.  Garfield looks at me from the bed as if I’ve gone insane.

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That’s when I wonder why I haven’t heard a stampede up the front deck steps, or even voices.  I decide to check their progress one last time before going downstairs.  I look out the window.

No van.  No people.  The driveway is completely empty.  I heard nothing.  This is impossible.

They must have decided we were napping, I think.  One of us is usually outside or in the kitchen and greets them, and they are very thoughtful and know I sometimes take naps, but wow.  It’s like I imagined the whole thing.  I was pretty deep in sleep.

“Sweetheart?”  I’m at the top of the stairs now, staring down at my half-awake husband.  He has one boot on and has just tucked his own wild hair into his hat to greet our friends.

“I’m sooooo sorry,” I say.  “They left.”

“Left?”

“But they were here!” I say.

“A dream?” he says and smiles a little.

He will milk this for days….

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A Plum Date

It’s early morning and the days are getting shorter fast, yet I sit and stare.  I feel weary and weak.

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What difference does another jar of jam really make?  I am too wimpy to take anything else on, I think.  Still, I ask the Bearded One, quietly.  “Do you want to go pick Lou’s plums with me?”

I know the Bearded One is racing to get the next round of deck staining finished, and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but he says he’s up for it.  “A plum date,” he says.  “Got to work on the plumming.”

My blood perks up a bit.  I get up from the couch.

“Do you want a picking jug?” I ask.

“NO,” he says, then immediately, “YES.”

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This is his usual pattern of which I rarely witness such a blatant display, and he knows it, and we both smile.  Not an actual laugh or anything, but I feel light at the top of the rabbit hole I’ve fallen into this weekend.

I lash the milk jug to my waist with the ribbon looped through the handle and pull on my boots.  I fetch a couple of 5-gallon buckets and the apple picker pole from the barn.

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The goats watch me and follow me down the hill, hoping for a plum.  Which I pick from our tree and give to each of them through the fence.  Their fleece is thickening up fast.  I consider starting to brush them now, to avoid the dreadlocks.  Nah.

LaLa takes the entire plum into his mouth and works it, chewing and shifting the skin and sweet pulp around in his mouth for a full minute or two.  Then, behold, he spits the pit through the fence a full five feet, like a watermelon seed.  A hilarious direct hit to my sour mood.

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This morning is cloudy, but it’s supposed to be sunny this afternoon.  We walk the road north to Lou’s place and make note of the potholes we’ll need to fill soon.

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I adjust the 10-foot long picker pole I’m carrying.  Lou’s is the one thing on this road that hasn’t changed, I think.  He’s 86-years-old and getting frail, but he’s still here.  Momma Goose moved out.  Hansel and Gretel and Batman started their homeschooling elsewhere this week.  Ruby is dead, His Majesty has gone back to college, and all 235 wedding jams are gone.

The Bearded One whistles as we walk up Lou’s driveway, but we can hear his TV and he said for us to just come on over and pick the whole orchard anytime.  “It’s either you or the deer!” he said.  He lives alone. We met his extended family this summer, when they were up from California.  We have their phone numbers now, and Lou knows to call us if he has an emergency.

We’ll leave him one of the jugs full of the best plums, apples and pears and a couple of pints of jam — Rhuberry and Peach.  He couldn’t decide when I asked him which he wanted.  “Surprise me,” he said.

Lou’s yard is full of plant experiments, old trucks, mowers and various project leftovers.  His little orchard circle behind the house is overgrown with weeds, the mason bee canisters moldy and quiet.

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Ripe fruit — dark purple plums, red and yellow apples, golden pears — hang from every tree limb.

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“These plums are gorgeous!”  I reach up with the pole picker and pry the high ones off into the pronged basket.  The Bearded One picks the apples and pears.

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Sap droplets ooze from the tops of the juicy plums, and I pick two and three at a time, dropping them into my milk jug, filling it a dozen times.

As we leave with two full buckets, Lou hears us and opens the front door.  He smiles and waves a plastic bag and calls out, “WAIT!”

We stop and the Bearded One jogs over and retrieves the bag, and points out our gift on the porch.  Lou smiles big and hollers, “Thank you!” to me.

I see that the plastic bag is full of jam jars, all carefully cleaned.  There are the metal bands and plastic tops I gave him to use instead of the metal lids.  Everything washed and ready for another use.  “You’re welcome!” I call back.  “Thank YOU!”

The date is over.  I’ve got jam to make, I think, and rush home.

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Ruby Slippers

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She lies in the woods just 100 feet from the house, under the crook of a young cedar which branches from an old nurse log. I can see her vertebrae she’s so thin.  The lumps on the side of her neck are thick and growing.  Her stomach rumbles very loudly, almost without end.  She woofs out air to clear her lungs.  Everything is going at once.  Besides that, she’s calm and serene and deeply tired.

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Two days ago Ruby entered this cave, after two weeks of not eating.  Yet still she breathes, and occasionally opens her brown eyes.  She’s an old dog and is dying and we are caring for her, but not trying to rescue her, and it’s hard. Planes rip across the dawn sky.  Coyotes scream in the night.  We visit often to stroke her bony head and rub her ears and paws.

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“Where’s Ruby?” the Bearded One and I began to say to each other last week in greeting.  In the high weeds under the plum tree?  Behind the hut in the salal?  Under the house?

The Bearded One knows dogs.  He used to train sled dogs in Alaska, and he has had to put dogs down with a gun.

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If Ruby shows signs of pain or distress, I’ve asked him — after he offered and after studying the euthanizing options — to take her into our woods just off the nature trail where we’ve already dug her grave next to her brother Jake and shoot her with his gun.  She adores the Bearded One.  He is her person.  This is her home, and there’s no place like it.  He has agreed to this.

But neither of us believes it will come to that.  She is too far gone.  “She’s trying to ride it out,” he tells me, and I get an image of her galloping into the sunset.  In fact, the one thing Ruby seemed to enjoy this last week, before instinct pulled her under the log, was lying in the sun.

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*   *   *

Our daughter the nurse knows about dying from up close and knows how long it can take.  “She’s dying, but not dying fast enough,” she says.  I laugh at this raw truth and take a breath.  Dying is a process as consuming as marriage or divorce or graduation or any of life’s big transitions.

*   *   *

Saturday we helped our neighbor Brooklyn Man harvest his 53 meat chickens.

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Weasels killed all of ours, 58 total, in just two hours in broad daylight on June 29, but Brooklyn Man escaped the weasels and he gave us 10 birds as a thank you for helping with the 6 hour harvest.

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Momma Goose wasn’t there.  She’s in her own empty-nest transition to some new life and, fingers-crossed, a job with her brand new license driving truck.  Maybe a crane.

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Their son, Jonah, was there, his new golden wedding band twinkling in the sun.  He got married two weeks ago.

Our oldest daughter gets married in two-and-a-half weeks and I have finished the 235 half-pint jars of 4-berry jam she’s giving all the guests.  The Bearded One has about 70 labels to go.

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He also made the sign holders for the reception out of plum and alder and cedar cross-sections.  Earlier he finished the 9-foot arch under which she’ll take her vows.

*   *   *

My reoccurring college nightmare forever, which thankfully I have just once or twice a year, is the Bearded One refusing to marry me.  I beg and beg and he won’t do it.  And of course I had it last week, on Thursday.  I woke up crying.  Weddings bring it back.

“Will you marry me?” the Bearded One whispers in my ear in the kitchen that afternoon.

Tears spurt from my eyes and drench my eyelashes, then my glasses, then drip down my cheeks onto my lips.  I click my heels together and say “Yes, yes, yes.”  So what if we’re not in Kansas anymore.

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*   *   *

Ruby died at about 6pm, August 6, 2013.

The Bearded One was with her at 5:30pm.  He held her close and sang her the Dogsology.  He put an ice cube to her parched lips.  We loved her and her litter mate Jake very very much.

 Born 2/23/2001 — Jake died November 17, 2009

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Goldilocks and the Three Goats

The stroller has a duo-cab, thick rubber all-terrain 10-inch diameter double wheels, and a cup holder.  Our new neighbor pushes it and its two precious children through the cedar arches of our front gate and down to the cabbage patch.  The little 3-year-old girl has crystal blue eyes and a glittery barrette in her curly blonde hair and I think of her as Goldilocks.

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Goldilocks sits directly under her mother with a view of her new 4-week-old brother and sucks her pacifier.  She doesn’t get to see much except Baby, who sucks his own pacifier.  I’ve heard her outside playing, so I know she has a voice.

The Bearded One and the dad linger at the new deck construction,

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and the mom and I stand next to the stroller by the onions gone to seed and the cabbages

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and talk about childbirth, the stress of moving, and eating healthier.  I can’t keep my eyes off of the glorious Goldilocks, and she never takes her eyes off of her brother.

Then, quick as lightning, Baby loses his pacifier and Goldie crams it back into his mouth.  He winces.  “Gently!” says the mom.

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I bend down and chop a big green cabbage at the ground so there’s a long stem left.  I snap off the outer leaves and, “Voila!” I say, “A cabbage balloon!”  Goldie watches quietly.  She is not impressed.  Or the pacifier is really really good.   So I lop off the stem, the mom thanks me and tucks the whole thing into a lower back compartment in the SUV stroller and we head up to the goats.

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The men follow us up the hill, and I hear the Bearded One telling about how weasels got all of our Cornish Rock meat birds four weeks ago.  The new neighbors have chickens, too, they say.

“Would you like to pet a chicken?” I ask Goldilocks.  She casts her sea blue eyes upon me and sucks, uninterested.

“She’s been around chickens all her life,” the dad explains.

Still, I go and fetch Leah, our Rhode Island Red and one of our best acts.  She is such a beautiful red color and always up for a petting.  “Ta-da!” I say, as Leah dutifully crouches down to be picked up, and I pet her like a cat.  The dad is smitten, but not Goldie.  She turns her head away and studies the inside of the stroller before resting her eyes back on Baby.

The goats are scared to death of strangers and hightailed it across the upper pasture when we first crested the hill.

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Now Pearl stands atop Goat Mountain, a four-foot high cement hill the Bearded One made.

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The neighbor mom is charmed by the goats, and, behold, Goldie has noticed the goats and is interested!

“They are wild animals,” the mom says to Goldilocks, as she peers around the high padded side of the stroller.  All three goats stare back at her.

“Let’s see if we can get one to come over to the fence, though,” I say, and Goldie looks me in the eye — Hop to it.

In the barn we keep a jar of almonds, the most delicious treat to our goats.

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I fetch it and shake it and all goats freeze.  I walk back outside the fence, stand next to the stroller and shake the jar again.  I open the jar and all three tremble with desire.

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Sage is the biggest and the leader only because Pearl hasn’t had a baby.  Mama goats are supreme, but in our herd it’s Sage, then Pearl a close second, then LaLa comes in last.  Sage ventures straight over but stops halfway.  Pearl steps off of Goat Mountain, and then stops.  LaLa moves laterally, behind a group of cedars, and then zooms in ahead of Sage.

Goldie watches as I hold a nut through the wires.

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LaLa’s soft lips quiver around one nut and then another, and then, glory be, Goldilocks cracks a huge “just right” smile out the sides of her pacifier.  Her eyes crinkle and I hear a wee little giggle.

“Oh, LaLa!” I say, “You have such big lips!”  He nibbles as many more as he can before Sage arrives and plows in for his due share.

It’s getting dark, we say our good-byes, and the new neighbors are almost to the easement, when I decide to give it one more try.  “Good-Bye, Goldilocks!” I sing out.

“Bye!”  I see a flash of blonde hair as she looks back over the side of the distant stroller.

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Weasel Wipeout

The dead Cornish chick lies wedged at the bottom of the gate, the bite on its neck as deep and bloody as the cut I was planning to make in just five weeks.  Weasels only want the blood.

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Three more dead chicks lay against the  fencing to my right, forty more are scattered here and there, a hillside of horror.

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It’s late Saturday morning.  I let 57 healthy 2-1/2 week old chicks out of their overnight coops several hours ago.  And then the Bearded One returned from his morning walk and found me here in the kitchen frying our next-to-last chicken from last year.  “Oh my darling, you know that meat birds are not pets,” the Bearded One says, catching and holding my eyes with his.  And then, “Because weasels got ’em all.”

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Blood drains from my face and then my whole head as I register the massacre.  I must make meaning of this, but I’m racing up the hill.  My soul is already searching, but the event is still happening.  I can’t make meaning on the fly, though I keep trying.

We find four survivors huddled in the far corner of the pen, and a fifth shows up later, while I silently dig the mass grave and the Bearded One gathers the little corpses in a wheelbarrow.

“We didn’t keep them safe,” I say.  The Bearded One parks the loaded wheelbarrow near the three-foot deep pit and says, “Sorry, Meat Birds.”

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“Let’s count them as we go,” I say.  I’m surprised and comforted by the simple ceremony, how the enormity builds until I cry.  One…TwoThree…FourFiveSix….Fifteen….Twenty-ThreeTwenty-Four Twenty-Five…Thirty-Six…Thirty-SevenThirty-Eight…Forty-OneForty-TwoForty-Three…and finally, Fifty-Two.  We fill the grave in and resolve to do better.

The Bearded One calls Momma Goose and Brooklyn Man, our neighbors and poultry mentors.  We ordered the Cornish chicks with them last month.  They have 59 identical birds in their non-weasel-proof coop.  Brooklyn Man is horrified.  Another neighbor got wiped out precisely this way a few weeks ago.  He says that they’ve never lost any birds to weasels.  He knows that weasels can not only climb and dig and get through a one-inch hole, but they can also cross the road to his place.  His chicks are doomed.

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So we make plans to move his chicks to our aviary that evening.  We’ll do the work and split the birds with him.  The aviary isn’t Fort Knox, but it’s dig-proof (cement trench all the way around), there’s doubled chicken wire on super tall walls, plus goats patrol the perimeter.  Our layers have been safe in there for almost two years.

Cornish fryers and grown layers would fight if they were housed together.  So for now, the layers will be fine shut out of the aviary until we harvest the meat birds on August 2.

As he backs out the tractor and trailer to move Brooklyn Man’s chicks, in broad daylight, the Bearded One sees one of the supposedly nocturnal weasels loping across the tractor trail — long and dark and about the size of a stretched-out squirrel.  We see them on the road once in a while.

It’s the hottest weekend of the summer so far, up to 90F, and sweat drips into my glasses as I move Brooklyn Man’s feeders and waterers into the aviary.  The Bearded One catches dozens of chicks and then hauls them to our place.

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The transfer takes a couple of hours and we are exhausted when it’s all over.  “I’ve reached full kaput,” says the Bearded One.  The house is an inferno, and before I go to bed, I look outside and ask the wounded Barred Owl I removed from the aviary last week to please eat the weasels.

Sunday is blissfully uneventful.  Only Maybelline and Kimber, two of our bossiest layers, are out of sorts, furious about not having access to the aviary and their old nest boxes.  They pace the aviary perimeter while the meat birds mock them, dust bathing and stretching their drumsticks in the sunray.

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All is relatively well for two nights and half of Monday.

And then the Bearded One hurries back to the kitchen after just finishing lunch — “Six or seven meat chicks are dead,” he says. “Weasels again.  I think it just happened.  I heard a loud squawk.  I left Ruby up top guarding the place.”

We move fast, I’m in the lead, and I see a dead chick by the aviary door, a deja vu of Saturday at the meat bird pen on the other side of the property.  There are five more dead, but all the rest are still alive.

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“You caught them in the act,” I say, and the Bearded One agrees.  He gathers the bodies.  “They’re still warm and loose,” he says.

I look up and around.  “You know the weasels are watching us,” I say.

“There’s no safe place on this property,” he says, “except inside the house.”

“I’m entering the anger stage,” I say.

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We decide that we have to move the chicks back to Brooklyn Man’s.  At least they’ll make it through the afternoon.  The weasels haven’t discovered his place yet.  They’ll be back here the minute we leave.

I babysit the chicks while the Bearded One calls Brooklyn Man at work, and then we spend the afternoon catching and transporting 58 chicks back to the hopefully weasel-free zone.

At least for now.  Any place is safer than here.  We quarantine the aviary to clean it up for the layers, all of which we now wonder if we’ll lose.  That’s how weasels are.

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