Tag Archives: married life

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.

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“Where are all the chickens?”  It’s just after 8am on a cloudy Saturday morning that was supposed to be clear and sunny.

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I wish I could answer the Bearded One’s question, but I only see two hens of our nine.  They are usually all outside the coop and pecking around in the aviary by now, ready to be let out.  We’ve been doing it the same way for a couple of years.  “Look at all those feathers,” I say.  Several hens have moulted recently, but there are way more loose feathers scattered around the aviary doors than yesterday.  Something is going on.

And then I see a large pile of dark red feathers against the back corner of the aviary.  I hurry to inspect Anna’s decapitated body.  I search around the back side and find two live hens, Leah and Cheetah, huddled in the far southwest corner.  Dang it all.

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The Bearded One is doing his own reconnaissance and together we figure out that there are five live chickens — Spot, Stevie, Maybelline, Leah, and Cheetah — and one dead — Anna — in the aviary.  Where are Kimber, Sweet Tart, and Danielle?  After weasels killed 58 two-week-old Cornish meat birds this summer, we first suspect them.  But they suck the blood and leave the carcass, and three hens have just disappeared.  Gone.

There are feathers stuck up on the high wires near the tarp roof ten-feet up where there is a gap that can’t be easily sealed.  The water trough is dirty.  Outside the aviary I spot a scattering of Kimber’s feathers, and the Bearded One finds a chicken leg bone with foot attached, both leg and thigh bone chewed clean except for a ruffle of golden Sweet Tart feathers.  Raccoons.  It has to be raccoons.

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I want to linger.  By this time, though, the goats are tired of waiting for their grain and start begging, and the Bearded One takes off toward the barn, and I say, hey, let’s feed the goats together.  The Bearded One agrees but not enthusiastically enough.

The fact that he is here at all is amazing since the morning chores are mine and he is usually still in bed.  He is pure night owl.  Mornings are not his time.  But he was up early — achy chain sawing muscles — and offered to do the chores.  I said that I’d love to do the chores together, and he said okay but not enthusiastically.  And now I’m asking again.  To feed the goats together.

This lack of enthusiasm peeves me, although my heart is breaking over the dead chickens and I don’t yet know it. They were pets.  So I irritate him as he scoops out the grain — “Is that three cups?  I feed them more than that.  That was only two cups.”  He clams up.  Back at the aviary, he suddenly turns and marches back to the barn alone, then eventually returns with a plastic trash sack.

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“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Getting Anna,” he says and opens the aviary door.  I say something about him just deciding what to do here, wanting to discuss what to do with the body.  He turns, says, “Here’s a bag.  You do it then,” and walks away from me toward the upper pasture.

I am in shock. I feel something, but can’t seem to place it. “I am gone!” I shout back at him, and march the opposite direction.  And keep marching.  I walk our road and cry myself silly.

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Tears roll down my face and threaten to choke me.  Spider webs drip from the trees and the fog rolls in. A lone rabbit on the road doesn’t even run away as I walk by through the mist.

At home, I find out that the Bearded One has put Anna in the trash can, and I yell at him.  I slam the front door, get the shovel, retrieve the plastic trash bag from the garbage and cry the whole time.  As I bury the body I can hear the Bearded One starting the chainsaw to continue with his never-ending, exhausting, wood-supplying operation.

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Then I go upstairs, realize I haven’t eaten anything all day and don’t care, and cry myself to sleep.  Maybe a raccoon will come and attack me in my sleep.

When I get up, I check on the remaining birds and see that Leah is off by herself, hunkered down.  I pick her up and see that she is wounded.  The back of her head has been bitten.  So I doctor her in the house with hydrogen peroxide and Neosporin and then set her up in the hoophouse so she can recuperate without being pecked.

The Bearded One returns and we finally talk it out.  “I am sad,” I say.  “I am sorry,” he says.  He says, “I was insensitive.  I am not tired of your company.”  “Tell me your side,” I say.  He says, “I was trying to help you to duck the chore and get away from the hard karma of the moment.  I was also irritated in the barn, yes.”

“I needed to linger,” I say.  Together, remembering.

Poor Sweet Tart, we say.  She came to us back in April after a dog bit her and tore open her thigh to the bone, and now this.

Kimber was our very first chicken, a lovely little banty rescued from an abandoned greenhouse, just over two years ago.  She came with her seven babies.

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Spot and Stevie are the last left.  Kimber laid our last egg on Friday.

Danielle, Kimber, Leah, and Anna were the core of the Founding Fowls of the Farmlet.  They were all named after our son’s past girlfriends.

So we make a plan in the face of this new level of discouragement.  First, we decide to completely lock down the coop at night.  We set the raccoon trap in the aviary with aromatic pepperoni and Ritz crackers.  We do this together.  “Thanks for fortifying the coop,” I say, noticing how he’s hauled timbers from the barn to block any digging at the entrance.  Then we check on Leah in the hoophouse.  “Good catch about Leah,” he says.

Inside, he makes a fire and then we watch a Netflix movie together.  The miracle here is that I don’t like movies, but tonight I am willing to watch just to be together, and the movie is “The Impossible” about a family of five and the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and how love and compassion is more important than survival or efficiency.

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The next day, we proceed to be wonderfully loving beings.  There’s a raccoon in the trap when I do the morning chores, and I speak softly to it and feed it some crumbs.

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The Bearded One sleeps in.  When he gets up, we relocate the raccoon together to the wilds several miles away.

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We work out a plan to fortify the aviary roof.  I show interest in his amazing new automatic chainsaw sharpening system,

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and make him popcorn to eat in front of the football game.  And we both check on Leah repeatedly. So she won’t be alone.

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The Fights

“IS THAT BETTER?”

I’m leaning over the toilet in the downstairs bathroom trying to hear through the two-foot square window.  The Bearded One is outside on the ladder twenty feet up adjusting the TV antennae with a long extension pole.  The wind is blowing and we are shouting.  “HOW’S THAT?” he hollers.

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“HANG ON!” I say and wedge myself out from the narrow space between the commode and the cabinet, holding the remote control in my left hand.  I have been trained once again in its use, the up-and-down CH arrow buttons, and the top, far right second-row-down button called DISPLAY.  My job is to check channels 9, 4, 13, and 51.2 trying for the highest DISPLAY numbers possible, or at least 20.  We’ve been at this for 15 minutes.  As soon as one channel comes in clear, some other one quits working.  I’m now at the end, the dreaded Channel 51.2.

This distills what it is to live rural.  In a valley.  In a forest.  There is no cable, and satellite dishes don’t work in the forest.  I’m not directly affected since I don’t watch TV and haven’t watched since the 1980s.  It makes me nervous.  Hits me like a strobe light.

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The Bearded One loves it, though.  At least at night.  He wears earphones and the TV is here in the den, the man’s cave.  He and Ruby lie each night before the flashing bonfire of the vanities, flipping through the stations or watching a Netflix movie.  The kids got him Netflix for Christmas.  He also reads a lot in there.  I do other things.

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But not now.  Now I point the remote at the little black box which sits on top of the slightly larger little black box on the cabinet just outside the bathroom beside the TV itself.

And the remote is as sluggish and unresponsive as ever.  Even as I point it inches from its mother ship, the action is about as effective as a crosswalk button.  Everything’s on delay.

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I start my re-check with Channel 9, the PBS top priority.  A Cat in the Hat cartoon.  I check the signal.

“NINE IS TWENTY-TWO!” I shout.  The ladder outside creaks, and I hear, “NOW FOUR!”

My ultimate goal is Channel 51.2.  The fights.  Which I hate.  When I happen to walk into the den when they’re on, I feel assaulted.  Men beating each other up!  Butting heads like goats!  Pecking at each other like chickens!  How can it possibly be relaxing to watch?  He loves it.

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I tangle with this irritating machine out of love, which, I remind myself, is accepting if not embracing of extreme differences.

Channel 4 is Doctor Oz talking with some 20-year-old woman about an anti-aging product.  Check signal.  Then to 13, a talk show of some sort, just like so many others on this weekday afternoon.  All of this takes time, and the fix won’t last long.  Every cloud coming in off the Pacific Ocean alters the result completely.  Some channels we get only in a hail storm.

“HELLLLLLOOOOOO!” shouts the Bearded One.

“JUST A SECOND!” I shout back.  Why doesn’t he understand how slow this sucker is? Perhaps because he has been stuck up high on a ladder for 15 or 20 minutes.

Finally I arrive at 51.2, and it’s a talk show, thankfully.  Or maybe a religious show, I can’t tell.  The signal is a barely acceptable 18, but the Bearded One is finished.

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“DONE!” he calls, and I whoop and cheer.

When the Bearded One comes back inside, he is tired and his feet hurt from standing on the ladder.  He starts to run through the stations to see what he’s got.

“I’ll be upstairs on the computer,” I say.

“Emails?” the Bearded One asks.

“That and the kittens.”  There’s a live-streaming video I love to watch of 5-week-old kittens and their mama.  They’re being fostered for an animal shelter by a young woman in her home in Canada.  There are almost 800 of us followers now, it’s like an in-home reality show.  I can’t get enough of it.  When I checked them an hour ago, they were all sound asleep.

I hurry back upstairs.  Surely they’ll all be fighting like crazy by now.

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The Lurgy

I’m tucking the Bearded One back into the den bed where he has been shivering under a pile of blankets all afternoon.  He has a 101.6 degree fever, a wracking cough, and is nauseated.  We’ve pretty much acknowledged that he is sick, perhaps even with the dreaded lurgy — the Australian word for flu — but it has taken the entire day to accept this fate.

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Even now he must warn me of the hazards of taking care of the animals tonight, which is usually his job.  Sage the Goat has been standing in front of the aviary door, blocking all coming and going for the chickens, which creates havoc at dusk when the farmer has to get all the chickens into the aviary.

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The pull of leftover oatmeal is weakening, the chickens forget about it en route to the aviary, and, the Bearded One says, between hacks, that I should tease it out so Danielle and Spot don’t have to be re-rounded up.

“You might have to…*cough cough*…”poke Sage with a stick,” he says.  “He’s been standing there for an hour!”  *cough cough cough*

“Poor sweet baby,” I say — our tender Charlie Brown and Peanuts verbal hug — and I turn off the light.  “Try to sleep.”

I’m relieved that one of us is well, but I’m also adjusting to being the well one.  We’re on this trek together, deep into the flu forest, and so far my efforts at comforting him — an electric blanket, a humidifier, a basket by his bed to throw up into, rubbing his aching legs — haven’t lifted the gloom.  “If I still feel like this in 3 weeks,” says the Bearded One as I leave, “pull the plug.”

I consider the sadness of widowhood as I go into the kitchen for the pot of oatmeal.  There on the table is the phone and the Bearded One’s broken Sawsall repair hotline numbers. He had decided to make a wooden spoon like the ones made by our fellow farmletters in Tasmania.

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The spoons arrived and are exquisite.  He had been inspired, but he ran into trouble right away when the tool wouldn’t work.

He’d made a few calls, punched his way through a couple of phone trees, and then succumbed.  By noon he declared, “My biorhythms are down,” and went to bed.  Now he coughs and groans as I walk out into the cloudy dusk.

The animals have had a low biorhythm day, too, although they’re not sick.  The goats stayed in the barn all morning chewing their cud, watching me muck out the peeing corner.

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Danielle and Anna, our two Wyandotte hens, doubled up in a nest, which I hadn’t seen since they were babies.

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And now, Sage gives me no trouble when I shoo him away from the aviary door.  Maybe they all know the Bearded One is sick.  Animals are sensitive that way.

Back at the house, I start a fire in the woodstove, feed Ruby, who also wants reassurance, and heat a dinner of leftovers for myself in the microwave.  I eat alone at our dining room table, then read the newspaper.

After a quiet hour, the downstairs toilet flushes and minutes later the Bearded One totters into the living room and sits on the edge of the couch, all huddled up.

I crawl up behind him and begin to massage his shoulders.  I am relieved that he’s not coughing, that maybe the Tylenol (“the key to fever” according to our nurse daughter) has kicked in, but I know we’re not out of the woods.

“This is punishment for the sin of pride,” he jokes, and I wonder what in the hell. “What in the hell?” I say.

“Spoon pride,” he says and reminds me that Steve the Spoon Maker had generously offered to tell the Bearded One about a secret spoon-making tool, but the Bearded One had said, to himself, “I don’t need no stinking secret tool.”

“First the saw is broken, and now my body.”  He indicates I should please start massaging his lower back now.

“Yes, that must be it,” I say, and laugh — not too loudly — for the first time all day.  “Poor baby,” I say and kiss his neck.

“Poor SWEET baby,” he says.