Tag Archives: rural life

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 Goat Gig

He’s watching me.  I’m brushing Sage (He-Who-Reared-Up-At-Me-Again-This-Week) and the Bearded One keeps coming in and out of the barn, making sure Sage behaves.

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I’m so new to this goat gig, I know nothing.  I accept the Bearded One’s protector personality and I accept the responsibility of monitoring my own cavalier-tending attitude toward capricious wild animals and I am uber-careful and will not keep brushing Sage after he turns and looks at me.  And in exchange the Bearded One will not mention getting rid of Sage again.

Earlier this week, I was brushing our biggest Pygora goat Sage in the upper pasture when he gave me the eyeball and body language that he didn’t like where I was brushing anymore, but I didn’t quit soon enough because he carefully backed up, then stood on his hind legs and challenged me to a whacking of horns.  It was affectionate and playful, despite the situation.

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Still, among goats, that rearing up is a very short-term prelude to charging ahead and ramming something.  Other goats, barn walls, people.  They can do it way gently or way hard.  I yelled at him to get down, which he did, but the Bearded One saw the whole thing and said, “We might have to get rid of Sage.  Gotta put a stop to that.”

I agree that a solution must be found, but I also know that I was more in control of the situation than the Bearded One credits me for.  And I was untouched.  Still, in a love relationship you take care of yourself at least partly because of and for the other, and my other is concerned.  His own mother was rammed hard by her own billy-goat when she was 80.

He keeps checking on us.  At least that’s what it seems like he’s doing.  There he goes again.  Probably making a crate to transport Sage back to Vashon Island, I think.

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I’m using the new tail-and-mane brush we bought at the feed store.  Sage’s creamy fleece floats above his thick brown guard hairs like foam, and my job is to brush it out so we don’t have to shear him.

Shearing would require buying or renting equipment and restraining the goats, or hiring someone to do it, and since the goats shed their fleece anyway, and since it’s still freezing some nights, we’ve elected to just brush it out.  Then wash it and maybe stuff pillows with it.  Or learn to card and spin.

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We have a good bunch of it this year.  We started daily brushings when we saw them rubbing it off on the fencing.

I pull another inch-thick patty size chunk of Sage fleece from the brush tines and add it to the pile.  And continue brushing.  And pondering my relationship to the goats, how to embrace them without embracing them.

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Both the Bearded One and I brush all three goats now, but Pearl is partial to the Bearded One.  Sage can’t stand to see Pearl being brushed — he can’t stand to see LaLa brushed either — he charges over and butts them out of the way.

So the Bearded One carries a walking stick with him when he brushes Pearl.  He’s never struck Sage with it, he just holds this 5-foot pole in one hand and Sage doesn’t approach.  “He respects the stick,” says the Bearded One.  Which amazes me, but it works.

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Sage’s eyelashes are so lovely and long.  I think of him as my buddy and companion.

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As I brush, I want to show affection to him like to a dog or cat.  Not kissing, though.  I haven’t kissed LaLa since I promised I wouldn’t — over a month now.  Sage turns and stares at me with his square pupils.  That’s enough, he’s saying.

I follow him out of the barn, carrying the pile of feather-soft fleece in a plastic bag to take to the house and clean.

And that’s when I see what the Bearded One’s been doing when I thought he was checking on me.

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Setting up to pour concrete as a finishing cap on his latest goat toy, the four-ramped Goat Gig.  There’s not much chance of Sage leaving any time soon.

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A Farmlet Christmas Miracle

It’s a small world, my life here on the farmlet with the Bearded One and our goats and chickens.  I’m 56 years old this week, and I am content.  I could die today.  In fact, I wonder, as I get up in the dark, how it can be that I have so little ambition.  I don’t long for anything or anyone.  I don’t yearn for a million dollars or a bestseller.  I’m married to the love of my life and am completely and totally requited.

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This is my frame of mind as I walk up to the aviary in the cold, dusky day.  What day of the week is it anyway?  They’re all the same.  I open the main door of the chicken coop.  “Good morning, Ladies!” I say, as usual, to seven hens perched on the top roost.  Stevie and Spot, who both have been broody for weeks now, hunker in the nests.  All nine hens accounted for.

Dusty is the first off, then Leah flaps the fifteen feet down from the roost and out the coop door into the main floor of the aviary.  I open the side doors and by then, Anna, Cheetah and Kimber have dismounted, too.  I disappear behind the coop to hook the door open and fill the plastic jar with cracked corn.  It’s not raining so the goats have come over to watch.  Sage scratches his head with his hind leg, like he always does.  Pearl pees.

By the time I’m back with the rake to stir the night’s chicken poop into the deep peat moss and dirt below the roost, Jane is the only hen left.  She and I have a system since she hurt her foot this fall in an oatmeal stampede with the goats.  Usually I have to go around to the end of the roost to pick her up and transfer her gently to the ground by hand, but this morning she eyeballs me and actually walks the roost toward me, then hunkers down to be picked up.  “Whoa!”  I laugh out loud and kiss her soft orange back feathers before I set her toes into the dirt.  She shakes like a dog then waddles to the feeder to start her busy day.

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I feed the goats a cup of dry cob and four little carrots each.  I stuff new hay into their feeders and talk about the weather and how I’m enjoying their new Christmas lights and hope they are, too.  Then out of the blue, I remember the spoon.  What day is this?  Saturday the 22nd!

Down the hill I trot.  I open the soggy gate and hop through the puddle on the other side, then, fired up with anticipation, walk like our son (much-rehabbed from knee surgery) taught me, stretched up like I’m looking over a fence and showing the soles of my shoes with each step.  He’s here on Christmas break, sharing his recently-learned body-healing stretching techniques.

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Now he’s still sleeping, as is the Bearded One.  So I tiptoe up the stairs and turn on the computer.  Garfield, who has completely recovered from his spell last week, hops into my lap.  I admired the spoon when I first saw it on my friend’s blog.  Tasmanian wood, a light color and smooth as butter.  Best of all, hand-carved by her husband.

I literally felt a spark when I read that it was to be the prize in a reader’s lottery.  To enter you just had to leave a comment, which I did.  For someone not desiring anything at all, it occurs to me that I really want that spoon.  Their dog Earl would be picking a walnut with the winning person’s number written on it out of a bowl on Saturday, December 22 — yesterday in Tasmania.

Down through text and pictures of scones and gorgeous summer gardens and flowers I scroll.  And then I see it.  It’s a miracle.  The winner of the spoon is:  CHRISTI.  My name is written in the middle of the page in bright green twinkling letters, and I gasp.  I won!  I laugh out loud and stifle a shriek of absolute delight.  Men are sleeping.

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I click on the video link my Australian friends have made of Earl the Dog actually picking the walnut with my number, number 5, and I am giddy.  Steve’s accent is thrilling and I can see Fran’s hand in the bowl and her direction behind the entire enterprise.  I have won.  With no effort whatsoever, no striving, no cause and effect involved except showing up, I won the lottery.  Merry Christmas Everyone.

Spoon and the winning walnut

Whodumptit?

The early bird neighbors with jobs notice it on their way out, their headlights reflecting off of the white plastic pile of 15 stuffed, smelly trash bags dumped on the side of our dark, dead-end dirt road.

Hours later, our elderly Norwegian neighbor Lou points it out to the Bearded One on his “morning” walk — “Would you look at that?”  Lou says he has called the county and the Health Department.  Coyotes will get into it, sure enough.  Tarping it would be useless.

As they talk, another neighbor’s girlfriend drives by, then stops and backs up.  We met her at Momma Goose’s when Jonah killed our Thanksgiving turkey.  Now Jonah’s girlfriend commiserates with Lou and the Bearded One over the disgusting pile, and then offers to take it to Momma Goose’s to burn, so long as it’s okay with Momma Goose.

I feel the energy the second the Bearded One opens the door and comes into the kitchen.  I’m cooking — bread, casserole, chili.  He tells me the story and I say, “I love our neighbors.  I love our road.”  I’m with Emerson, I say, who preferred neighborhoods to communes.  The Bearded One has his lawyer hat on and isn’t feeling it.  He’s on a mission from God.

This is the 4th time in 5 years for such a big trash dump, and often as not it is him who cleans it up, hauls it to the dump and pays the fee.  He says it would sure be nice to ID the culprit and let the county hammer on them a bit.  Still, we’ve checked with the county before and never gotten so much as our hopes up.  Trash dumping on rural roads is nothing new, and not a county priority at all.

He calls Momma Goose to check out Jonah’s girlfriend’s offer.  She is also cooking.  Making sausage.  She says she doesn’t want to burn it — who knows what’s in it? — but she offers to take it to the dump in her truck this afternoon.  The Bearded One tells her that Lou has called the county.  Maybe they’ll take it.  Maybe we won’t need her truck.

I overhear this and shake my head.  The county won’t come.  The hopeful thing this time, though, is that Lou is calling the Health Department.  Something new.  We don’t have to wait long to find out.

The phone rings and it’s Lou.  The Health Department has arrived (how the hell did he do that?) and the Bearded One is out the door.

An hour later, the Bearded One is back and ready to talk.  It’s the same story he tells the assembled group of neighbors a day later while he fills potholes from the recent snow storm.

Momma Goose came with her pickup.  Jonah and his girlfriend, Lou and the Bearded One all helped the Health Department lady, a redhead in her 30s, open all the putrid bags — some had diapers, which sent Momma Goose to gagging — and sorted through them for pieces of I.D.

They found three pieces, including a car registration, but the Health Department said it wasn’t enough.  The evidence needed is 3 items on one human.  They found 2 items on the wife, 1 on the husband.  Jonah even knew the people, or at least knew who they were.  Not the best folk, apparently.

Then they re-bagged the garbage.  The Health Department lady said that the county wouldn’t pick it up for days, so Jonah and his girlfriend took it to the dump.  Several other passing neighbors stopped as this was going on and offered cash for the dump fee.  Momma Goose headed home for a long, hot shower.

The Bearded One finished the story, and laid the Health Department lady’s card on the kitchen table.  “Oh, well, she kept the evidence,” he said with some satisfaction. “She said that she had NEVER, EVER had neighbors go through the trash with her and help out like that.  She was a little bit choked up.”

This made my day.  It doesn’t look like a neighborhood out here, but we’ve got great neighbors.  I serve the Bearded One a delicious lunch.

Whodumptit?  Who cares?