Tag Archives: Potholes

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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The Rain Gap

“You have my blessing to blow it off,” says the Bearded One, whose elbow hurts.  “I’ll get it when I get home.”

There’s a gap in the rain and we’re filling potholes.  We’re halfway up the road, at Momma Goose’s easement, and I still want to clean the barn and get a sack of dry cob out of the truck and haul it up to the barn on the dolly.  According to the Bearded One’s experienced radar reading, the rain returns in less than one more hour.  He’s offered to haul the dry cob.

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He strained his elbow this weekend, though.  We had twelve people here for a tour and dinner to celebrate the holidays and coupledom and our eldest daughter’s engagement, and the elbow flared up while moving furniture.  He got it from cutting thick fence wire weeks ago.  He’s been shoveling gravel for an hour and a half.  I’m not sure if I should let him finish the potholes by himself, much less haul the dry cob.

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I look at him.  I love how he looks in his black dickey, which keeps his neck warm, and which I kid him about regularly — Hey! You with the dickey!  I love how he says that I have his “blessing.”  He says it all the time, it’s part of his Texas accent, but he is the least religious person I know.  He believes in radar, though.

After our oatmeal this morning, we checked Seattle’s AccuWeather map on the computer, the green rain blobs floating across the screen.  The Bearded One had pointed to a huge undulating green mass south and east of our place on the edge of Puget Sound.  “The big one is past us,” he said, “but look at these coming from the Olympics.  We’ve got a gap of about two hours.”

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Now the sky above us looks puffy and swollen with rain and I say, “I’ll get the dry cob, but I’ll take you up on finishing the road.  Your elbow is good?”

“Yep.”

A crow flies ahead of me, straight down the road as I head home.  Even at 11am the forest is dark, and the crow caws “Hurry up!”  The green blob is coming.  As I walk, I think about the party 48 hours ago, which occurred during the last rain gap.  We got lucky.

I toasted the group from the balcony overlooking our tiny living room where six couples and the Bearded One gathered around the woodstove with their glasses of bubbly or whatever.  I played out a little drama of having invited a mystery visitor up there with me to read us a poem.  Then I backed away from the railing, leaned over to my computer, and clicked on Garrison Keillor’s NPR reading of Mary Mackey’s exquisite “The Kama Sutra of Kindness Position #3” — about what it means to be, or try to be, a couple for life.  There were many tears, including my own.

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It’s rained constantly since then, and the potholes are full of brown water, which disguises their depth.  One takes 10 or 12 shovelfuls of gravel.  There are dozens of smaller ones growing furiously.  The first few weeks after the annual grading and graveling are always like this — super rainy and the low places in the road get beat up no matter what.  One of these areas is up at the corner of our place.

I turn around and can see the Bearded One way up the road, a stick man with a shovel next to the tractor.  It surprises me.  We are rarely so far apart, and I can feel the separation.  It’s like I’m walking away from myself, or a layer of myself.  My heart aches with the distance.

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Then I turn into our driveway and up the tractor trail to the barn and get to work.  I finish mucking out the barn, raking the soiled hay into a 3-foot-tall pile and then wheelbarrowing it to the chute where the chickens turn it as it makes its way down the hill and into compost.  I even have time to move the dry cob and load some firewood before the rain and the Bearded One return.

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After lunch, as the rain comes down, I make citrus for fruitcake.  I boil grapefruit and orange rinds, scrape off the pulp, slice and chop the skins into 1/4″ squares, then boil them in syrup.

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It takes a couple of hours and the Bearded One wants to help.  He did last year.  But his elbow hurts, and I know the scraping and chopping will just aggravate it.

We have so many words for rain, I think — drizzle, shower, downpour, sprinkle, mist, drench, torrent, deluge, cloudburst, squall, spit — I wish there were as many for love.  I say, “You have my blessing to blow it off.”

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Edeltraut’s Table

A couple of fat file folders lie open.  One is full of photocopies of checks representing fully 80% of the residents on our road, a record.  The actual checks are in a safety deposit box at a bank, Edeltraut explains to us, and won’t be used until the day of the actual work, which has been postponed twice now because of busted equipment and then wet weather.  Edeltraut and her husband, as the new Annual Road Repair People (ARRP), are arranging it all and are sharing the info with the Bearded One and me, the Pothole People.

Edeltraut’s kitchen table is large and round and a fine dark wood.  There are four matching cloth placemats and napkins, and four coffee mugs — matching mugs for the girls and a different set for the boys — and a plate of cookies in the middle.

“Haf a snickerdoodle!” says Edeltraut as she refills my empty mug.  The Bearded One and I have been here for half an hour and I’ve drunk most of his coffee, too.  It’s really good, and he’s not much of a coffee drinker.

“Otherwise I’ll eat ’em all,” says Edeltraut’s husband.  He laughs and I notice how he has expertly complimented Edeltraut, something every woman appreciates.  I’m getting to know this nearly 80-year-old retired engineer and current ’65 Mustang refurbisher better today.  He was born to community involvement, and has experienced decades of it.  Edeltraut scolds him and her brown eyes twinkle.  He’s still her Mustang Man, I think.

The other file is full of historical correspondence and is currently open to a letter with the list of the poor souls, just half of the 25 total households on the road, unlucky enough to have a badly written road maintenance agreement in their deed paperwork, making them “official” and “legal” and “responsible”.  Neither of us is on the list, but we’re trying to ignore that it even exists.

“Rules you have to enforce, votes for every little thing,” Mustang Man says, shaking his head.  “At our old house, the Homeowner’s Association was responsible and ended up having to hire an administrator!  And then at our condo, one lady demanded an expensive new roof and got the people from her church to vote with her!  These groups are just little governments.”

Now that national politics has calmed down, our road politics has picked up a bit again, but Mustang Man actually smoothed it out.  Turns out he went to high school sixty years ago with the neighbor raising questions about how the funds are being handled.  Mustang Man was able to establish a measure of trust.

As Edeltraut puts the coffee pot back, I see the jam and eggs we brought for them sitting on her counter.  Two of those eggs are fresh out of the nest this morning.  The egg carton is one Mustang Man returned to us yesterday.  This is what community feels like, I think.  It’s actually sitting in kitchens.  Separate kitchens.

“I’m with Emerson,” I say, “you know, Ralph Waldo?”

“I knew him in high school,” Mustang Man says and smiles, and I laugh so hard I choke a little and forget my point.

“Emerson,” the Bearded One says, and I nod.  Oh yeah.

“Emerson was that Transcendentalist writer, back in the 1840’s?  He hung out with Louisa May Alcott’s father and Henry Thoreau and knew all about communes, but he wouldn’t live in one.

“Too many work charts.  Too many rules.  He said he preferred neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods without groups.  Different volunteers do what needs to be done.”

“Yes,” says Edeltraut, “vee also believe in neighborhoods, not communes.”

“We do the potholes,” the Bearded One says, biting his last snickerdoodle.  “That’s it.”

Mustard Man nods and says, “And we’ll coordinate the annual maintenance.  That’s it.”

Other families have organized pruning parties to reclaim the road from the endless thicket.  In the spring, the alder’s green tips sem to shoot out inches per day.  The road shrinks.

We get up to leave — Mustang Man has to make a new sign letting everyone know about the new round of delay.  On our way out, Edeltraut shows me her little room where she reads and meditates.  She has a small altar with a candle against one wall.  It’s beautiful.

“How’s your daughter doing?” I ask, referring to a now successful but long job hunt and grueling school hours for her daughter, who is roughly my age.

“Goot,” says Edeltraut, but she grimaces meaning she thinks her daughter is just barely doing goot.  “I haf been praying so hard for her!”

“Well, she got a good job,” I say as we step off the front porch.  “You must have a good connection.”

“I went to school with Him, too!” Mustang Man calls out from a distance, and Edeltraut covers her mouth and laughs.

Indiana Jones and the Monster Pothole Weasels

Hansel, age 8, hangs out the back window of his family’s idling car while we old people talk.  He still has an Indiana Jones scar face-painted on his cheek from his Halloween costume.  Gretel, age 6, waves from the other side of Batman, age 4, who sits in the middle in his car seat.

Our neighbor family is returning home after gathering fallen maple leaves for turkey art, and we — our dog Ruby, the Bearded One, and I — are on a walk.  We meet on the road.  We meet everyone on the road, and, more often than not these days, we talk about the road.

Hansel studies the HUNDREDS of potholes, each full of murky brown water.

“We found a hubcap next to that one,” I say and point.  “That’s the granddaddy pothole.”

“Hey, there’s a car down there!” the Bearded One says as he leans over the monster pothole.

Hansel and his father laugh.  Batman listens from his car seat, and thinks about the word hubcap.  Gretel adjusts her golden headband and smiles at me.

Then the father gets serious and says, “Any idea when the road’s going to be fixed?”

“Didn’t Edeltraut call you?” I say.  “She left a message on our phone machine a week ago.”  Edeltraut and her husband are the new road managers.

Hansel’s mother leans over her husband and says, “We got rid of our landline, Christi.”  I remember our conversation about both of us being maxed out with solicitors and political calls.  She’d told me about a new cell phone tower close enough that we can all get more bars, and I’m considering following her lead.

The Bearded One takes back the conversation.  “They got 18 checks out of 25 households, a new record.  The road company’s scheduled.  Should be just a few days now.”

“We’ve never seen it so bad,” the Bearded One says, still talking about the road.

“Turned out the hubcap came off of Honey Girl’s little Geo,” I say, referring to another neighbor.

“Hubcap,” says Batman.

“Honey Girl not only lost a hubcap,” the Bearded One says.  “She lost half her laying chickens to weasels.  I just talked with her yesterday, and they dug under her pens and killed fifty more hens.  That makes 70 out of a hundred gone.  The weasels went wild up there.”

Hansel’s father shakes his head, and I make a sad face.  I’m glad that the Bearded One doesn’t elaborate on the grisly pictures of scalped layers that Honey Girl showed him on her phone.  Weasels tear into the heads and suck the blood.

“Honey Girl sells eggs,” I say, “or she used to.”

Hansel has never seen a weasel, but he imagines he knows where they live: in the potholes!   You can see it plain as day on his face as he leans farther out the car window.  If only he had brought his Indiana Jones bullwhip, he’d stir that brown monster pothole water up good, force the monster weasels to the surface, chicken feathers still stuck to their lips, their razor-sharp teeth glistening with fresh chicken blood, and whack their heads off, one after another.  He fairly glows at the sheer glory of it all.  I remember our grown son at this age.

“Speaking of eggs,” Hansel’s mother says leaning over her husband again, “we’ve got some egg cartons for you.”

Gretel is out of her seat now and crowding Batman and Hansel, who suddenly snaps out of his daydream.  “I’ll bring them over!” she says, and then elbows Hansel aside so she can see Ruby.  “I’ll do it, Mom, I’ll do it!”

“Thanks,” I say.  “Bring them any time.”

Batman cries for Gretel to get off of him, and it’s time for us all to say good-bye.

Hansel smiles and sinks back into his seat, having defeated the Weasels of Doom.  He waves to us and chews a piece of well-deserved Halloween candy as his reward.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

When we moved to the country, we imagined more of a hermit lifestyle.  There are 25 households on our 3/4 mile long dead-end dirt road, each with a minimum of 2.5 acres.  The ones with horses have ten.  You can’t see many houses.  Acres of woods surround us.  I was worried that I’d never meet any neighbors.  The truth is, the more rural you get, the more community you get.  We all recognize on some level that we need each other.  Even the hermits wave.

A gift from a neighbor left on our mailbox on Monday.

We moved here in January, 2007, in the middle of a blizzard.  Neighbors still remember that winter because everyone lost power for a full week.  Losing power is an especially big deal when you’re on a well and suddenly have no water.  It’s the 19th century again — candles, buckets of water to flush the toilets, gallons of water heating on the wood stove.  Neighbor kids home from school hang out on the road and keep everyone informed.  Most of the time, it’s so dark and cold we just hunker down.  We all live in a valley.

In the summer, though, the days are long and the neighborhood warms up.  The triathletes run with their baby stroller.  The horses get saddled up and exercised, and the alpacas get sheered.  They roll over and scratch their backs in the sun like kittens.  Puppies chase roosters, and then roosters chase puppies, and men who are turning 65 buy Mustangs.  “Stay out of his way!” the wife says to us as she drives by, “It’s a standard!” 

You can’t force friendship (especially on cats), but neighbors in my experience are only rarely friends.  They’re neighbors.  And, for the first time since my childhood, I know the name of pretty much every family on our road.  Everyone knows us because we walk our golden retriever Ruby every day, and because we fill the potholes.

One neighbor is an inventor and is currently marketing a gardening tool called the Hardy Pull.  It works.  Another has recently returned from Japan where he experienced the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.  He’s threatening a slide show to us neighbors this summer.  We have a firefighter, a cop, a serious badminton player, a high school computer/robot club advisor, and a nuclear submarine mechanic (who has offered to get us a tour) all right here on our little road.  Out in the middle of nowhere.  Our beloved 80-year-old chiropractor neighbor, frequently renowned as the smartest person on the road, died two years ago.

And no, it’s not all peace and love.  I can’t really just lay out tales available to tell.  Someone would likely sue us.  Maybe shoot us.  Virtually every household is armed.  There are lots of concealed carry permits for sure.  The hermitage sneaks back in here.

“Engage your core!” my nursing student daughter sings out from the deck.  I’m digging in the garden, turning the soil for all the sprouts in the hoop house.  After I yell back “Engage YOUR core!” I smile and give her a thumb’s up.  I tighten my torso before I plunge the shovel deep back into the soil.

The homestead.

We added three inches of topsoil when we first built the garden, but didn’t till it in.  Now I’m involving all parent material as the soil scientists (pedologists) say — clay, silt, sand, minerals, organic humus.  I have a gardener friend who actually trucked in the soil from her father’s garden to her garden when he sold the family home.  The contents of soil are living links, the medium of growth and change.  An inch of fertile soil takes a thousand years to be formed in nature.  We had 3 inches hauled in at once.

I breathe the smell in, taste it on the sensitive places of my tongue.  Earth.  I ponder the soil of my life, the elements of family,  friends, and neighbors, as I hold my core steady. 

It’s been 30 years since the Bearded One went on a 7,500 mile motorcycle trip throughout the U.S., sleeping by the side of the road for months, and this week his riding partner pulled into our driveway on a bike — Kawasaki 1200.

Clay is his wonderfully earthy real name and, at age 54, he is making another epic journey which happily included the Farmlet.

He’s been on the road a week, from Memphis, Tennessee to Utah and then up to Idaho and then over to us.  Canada yet to come.  Over 2,300 miles so far, and all of it full of potholes.  Except for our road.

Planting Time

This week the rubber meets the road.  Shovels in the soil, seed potatoes out of the root cellar and sprouting, seed packets stacked on the kitchen counter, and rain and hail storms every ten minutes reintarnating the potholes we volunteer to keep filled.  It still dips into the 30s at night.  We’re still wearing knit hats.  But it’s the first week of April and every sun ray feels like love.  We have spring fever.  Sunday was a New Moon.

Here are the last of last year's potatoes, whites and reds, straight from the root cellar. My seed potatoes. I'll let them warm up and get light for the next 2 weeks so they'll start sprouting, then I'll plant them after the full moon on April 17.

The moon, it turns out, is a Farmer’s Almanac basic.  Its ebb and flow, wax and wane, affects ground moisture, and the timing to plant both underground and above-ground crops.

 The water issue really isn’t a problem here — our issue is the cold — but I like the idea of the moon pulling the earth’s water.  Potatoes and other root vegetables like to be planted on the waning moon (getting smaller).  I think hiddenness.  Plant peas and cabbage and broccoli seeds when the moon is waxing (getting bigger).

I’ve been weeding and sifting huge moss slabs and other green stuff out of the soil.  It was an experiment to leave the thick layer of straw off of the gardens this year.  We had so much still half-decomposed last April that I thought some minimal moss build-up would be preferable to hauling all that wet straw to the compost.  Wrong.  The mossy ground cover here takes in a full inch of top soil.  And it chokes out the seedlings.  I don’t use any poison, so I’m sifting it out on a nifty screen.

By the time you read this, there will be sweet peas planted in this spot.

Our younger Twenty Something daughter called this week from nursing school and expressed concern about the first cedar arch seen in last week’s blog.  “I hope it’s not an eyesore,” she said, “with all that plastic.”  She was a bit cranky, having just gotten out of a 3 hour lecture on breastfeeding.  She thanked me for breastfeeding her, and reminded me that she’d been born with a tooth, as though I could forget.  Vampire child.  As we talk, our conversation veers happily toward love, and I gaze out at sunlight glistening through the five glorious, feminine, curved arches and dark, fertile, freshly turned earth.

Hoop house arches are all up.

We are actually digging holes!  At least in the garden.  We’re filling them up out on the road, where at this time of year, the holes spit out the gravel overnight.

We fill the potholes on our 3/4 mile dead-end gravel road.

 A woman in a black Lexus offered the Bearded One a religious tract on the road earlier this week.  When it gets nice out, the evangelical traffic really picks up.  Neither of us is in the market for a religion, though.  So when we step out on the road, I scan up and down for proselytizers.

The Bearded One/Moses sees my concern, and knows I struggle with what to lovingly say to well-meaning religious workers.  So, as Ruby the Golden Retriever rushes to the edge of the road to deliver her pee mails, he sings out in a low, rumbling, Charlton Heston baritone, “LET MY PEE PEE GOOOOOO!” …. farmlet humor that might not translate into blog, I wish you could hear the melody …. and it’s like magic, I laugh, leapin’ and hoppin’ on a spring moonshadow, and say that if Brother Love himself comes up our road with his Traveling Salvation Show, I’ll help him set up the tent.

Maybe even bake them their daily bread.