The Turn of Summer

091017 iris in front yard.jpgIn the mornings now, the mist settles thickly on the ground and in the reaching branches of the cedar trees on the hillsides.

I watch as the sun begins to creep through and break it apart, pausing in the frenzied midst of making lunches and sorting backpacks and uncrumpling papers.  A quiet moment by the kitchen sink to savor the coffee, to contemplate the vapors.

Both of my daughters were born in the heat of summer.  My youngest in June on the solstice, that longest day, when the true swelter of the season is as yet just a promise and not a weary burden; and my oldest in August, on the tail end of the season to be sure, but still before that shift that always comes, when you can suddenly start to smell as well as feel that the earth has begun to turn it’s face from the sun.

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And now, the summer is over.  My babes have grown into little girls who tie their own shoes and shoulder their own backpacks and walk with unbound potential through their own lives.  I watch them covertly; I listen to their conversations peppered through with people I don’t know, and places I’ve never been.  Sometimes it seems that a mist is falling over more than just the trees, but I take comfort in the fact that this is the way it should be.  I am a triangle of light in the fog and they are explorers in a brave new world.

The season changes, and I look forward to what is coming next.

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Summer Stasis

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First off, I have to apologize.

I haven’t made this tiny space on the internet just to ignore or abandon it.  But I am working hard (always) on finding balance in life, and for the last two weeks or so that balance has tipped hard in the direction of spending less time on the computer.  Everyone is happier when the mama isn’t hunched over the keyboard in the morning to the detriment of breakfasts and chores, snapping “Quiet!  Mommy’s writing!”

I know things will even out again soon with the start of school and colder weather routines.  I will bundle the girls off to their classroom educations and then I’ll be able to ruminate a little longer in front of this screen in the mornings, cup of coffee beside me.  There is so much to write about, so many words working on coming together in coherent sentences up in my brain, but just now so little opportunity to transfer those sentences from brain to blinking cursor without someone melting down around me.

So.  August already almost half-way gone.  The tomatoes ripen on the vine, the baby birds have learned to fly and I muddle through finding that elusive equilibrium where I can.  And right now, most often, it’s in the golden fields buzzing with the sound of insects and in the stacks of picture books from the library and in the excitement of walking through the unfinished rooms of our farmhouse.

Places where the internet most conspicuously, and unfortunately, isn’t.

Winter is Coming

0702 logs.jpgJasper started cutting and splitting logs for us to use this winter.

The trees were ones that had fallen last summer at the westernmost edge of the property.  The owner of the neighboring tract of land clear cut the forest bordering ours.  Without the protection and buffer of those trees, the fierce winter winds felled a good swath of our trees, too.

I was mad about it to begin with.  The owner of the land is something of a lumber and land baron around here, doesn’t live on the property but bought it just for the timber, and of course he didn’t think for a second about what would happen to our trees when he cut his down.  But being mad about something you can do absolutely nothing about is no way to live.

Instead, we decided that when life knocks down your trees, it’s time to cut firewood.

0721 woodpile.jpgWinter.  It seems like such a very long way away, being in the middle of July as we are.  It’s hard to believe that the days could be cold and dark and that the nights could be long.  I’ve gotten used to sunshine and balmy weather (average of 70 degrees my friends!) and going to sleep at night while the robins are still singing and with only the thinnest of quilts.

But I know it won’t last, the Earth just keeps swinging around that sun, and so, forearms browning in the summer sun as I weed in the garden, I listen to buzz of the chainsaw and the metallic thunk of the ax in the lower field as Jasper chops firewood for the cold months ahead.  And when I go help to move it and stack it, I think about how happy I’ll feel to throw one of these logs in the fireplace and listen to it crackling away come January.

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There’s something nice about preparing for winter in the heat of summer.  Something that’s deeply soul-satisfying about knowing that this hard work will have such tangible results.  It’s not the same as working in an office and earning a paycheck.  It’s not the same as throwing the switch on the thermostat and later paying the heating bill.

It’s harder, to be sure.  But it is hugely rewarding, in a way I never knew before, and on an almost primal level.  We worked hard, and this winter we’ll be warm.

And I feel rich beyond measure.

This Season

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Getting a puppy in the summer was certainly a good idea, weather-wise.

Sanity-wise, maybe not.

I feel like a frayed wire.

Jasper is on graveyard shift for the fourth or fifth summer in a row.  He’s constantly tired when he’s awake and, more often than not, falls asleep for a quick nap in the morning before going to sleep for the “night” in the afternoon.  So, he’s out.

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The girls are at my feet, constantly.  They are bickering, constantly.  High-pitched shrieks of “I’m telling mom!” ring throughout the house, constantly.  Screeches.  Howls of outrage tempered only temporarily with good-natured sibling camaraderie.  And then back to brawling.

And, then, the puppy.  Doing all the things puppies do.  Barking, chewing, biting, running, chewing, chewing, chewing, peeing, pooping, eating, running, barking, growling, nipping, chewing, running, peeing.  On and on and on.

I feel like I alone am doing all the parenting and puppying around here.  I am in charge of teaching and correcting all these young creatures from the time I get up to the time I go to sleep.  And all the time in between that, too.  I am so tired, some physically but mostly mentally and emotionally, that I just feel completely drained.  Empty.  I have nothing in my reserves right now and when Jasper or the girls come to me for something, as they inevitably do, for sympathy or affection or whatever, I just have nothing to give.

If I were a good mom and a good blogger, this is where I would write some uplifting thoughts about this season of my life.  But right now I feel like neither of those things.  Right now I am neither of those things.

Right now I am simply trying to get through yet another day.

A very good dog

Una

Portrait of Una by our friend, Robin Loznak

It’s summer, finally. The days are long, the nights are warm and the flowers are blooming.

I always spend a lot of time during this season watering the garden and Una, my 14-year-old border collie/blue heeler mix, likes to be there by my side. I’d like to say it’s purely because she loves me, but I know she has an ulterior motive. What Una’s really after is fresh food. She will stealthily nose among the sugar snap peas searching for plump pods to clip between her teeth and eat. She does the same thing with tomatoes, strawberries, apples, and blackberries. She only takes the ripe ones, and she only does it when she thinks I’m not looking. This isn’t the first summer I’ve gardened with Una by my side, however.  I know exactly what she’s up to, and used to chase her away with stern admonitions. But this summer, more and more, I find myself pretending not to notice.

She has, after all, spent the last ten years being an unfailingly good dog.

We got Una when she was already four years old. We were living in Roseburg at the time with four cats and a rambunctious puppy, and we hadn’t wanted or needed another pet. I don’t know what brought us to the animal shelter that day in late September, but for whatever reason we found ourselves walking down the long row of chain-link and cement-block cages and frantically barking Chihuahuas, pit bulls and lab mixes. She was sitting politely by the door of the very last cage, silent while the other dogs were loudly trying to get my attention. As soon as I laid eyes on her the hairs on my arms stood up and I heard a voice screaming in my head, “That is your dog! Get her out of that cage and bring her home!” I crouched down and stuck my fingers through the fence, and her tail thumped softly while she smelled me. She raised her bright, keen eyes to mine and gently licked me.

Without speaking, my husband and I both knew our family wouldn’t be complete without her. She knew sit, and stay, and heel – she was the most well-mannered and beautiful dog we’d ever seen. As we filled out the paperwork to take her home, we asked the attendants why no one had adopted her yet. They didn’t know. All they did know was that she’d been in the shelter a month already, picked up without a collar along a road dotted by farms and ranches, and was slated to be euthanized in the next day or two. We surmised she must have been waiting just for us, and all three smiled with relief at such a close call as we headed out the doors to home.

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Una’s first official act as our dog was to appoint herself the protector of the family. This has meant, through the years, mostly chasing neighbor cats out of the yard and barking ferociously at the UPS man. I know, however, that in her heart she is a bold, courageous and dutiful dog, and that she would not hesitate to protect us from an actual threat. Just a few months ago Avery, my oldest daughter, went to help a neighbor wash his car while I watched from my porch. Una didn’t know the man, and she was not comfortable with him and Avery being so close together without me there. She flew down the street and positioned herself between them – eyes flashing and snarling menacingly at our poor neighbor – and herded Avery home.

Despite being a good dog, Una isn’t always a perfect dog.  She is sometimes distant and proud.  We refer to her as our “schoolmarm” because she cannot abide it when people or other animals have too much noisy fun. She has garnered a reputation as a connoisseur of kitty litter and dirty diapers. More than once in our many years with her, she has come home from an adventure in the woods caked in mud and swamp sludge, and reeking of something long dead. She is most affectionate after killing and eating rodents and snakes – she’ll climb onto our laps, look deep into our eyes and attempt to French kiss us. And of course she has that sly propensity to pluck and eat the ripe vegetables in the garden before I’ve had a chance to.

I’ve been mad at her more times than I can count, but there have been many more times when I felt like she was the only real friend I had in the world.  When I was a new mother and suffering from post-partum depression, she would unfailingly lick the tears rolling down my cheeks while I cried into her fur in the early hours of the morning. She’s listened patiently as I’ve told her my dreams, my ideas, my fears.  Like all good dogs, she never judges. Sometimes, after rooting in the litterbox or barking excessively for no good reason, I remind her how lucky she is that I decided to go to the shelter that day so many years ago. I say it, even though I know for a fact that I’m the real lucky one.

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This is Una’s fourteenth summer, and more than likely her last good one. Despite the warm temperatures, her arthritis has begun flaring up. She is stiff and her joints creak alarmingly when she gets up from the floor. Opaque clouds are blooming in her eyes and the black spots on her muzzle and ears have suddenly started turning grey. She doesn’t go on long expeditions in the forest anymore, preferring to nap in a sunny spot close by the house.

These days, while picking peas or any of the other fruit Una likes, I always make sure to drop a handful on the ground for her to find. She gobbles them up with gladness, and I am happy to give them. I know that summer and its fruit, like the life of a good dog, won’t last long.

Or at least not nearly long enough.

(Originally published in The Daily Astorian on 06/24/2016)

Summer Plans

field-summer-sun-meadowIt’s almost summertime, and the living is easy.

Right?  Or at least it would be if we weren’t responsible adults with jobs and kids and, like, things to do.  Instead, we’ll be as busy as ever with taking care of our garden and animals, building a house, working on the farm and keeping the children from going at each other’s throats.

Here’s just some of what we’re going to be up to for the next three glorious months!


0611 jasperDig some really big holes and trenches.  In the spirit of saving money, doing it ourselves, and hopefully getting everything up to code with the county’s public health department, we’ll be working on extending our septic drain field another 100 feet or so.  I’m hoping that I can convince Jasper to either rent or borrow an excavator from one of the neighbors when it comes time to do the trench and place the leaching chambers though, because he insisted on doing the test pits by hand, and then claimed it was fun from him.  It really didn’t look like very much fun to me.

Dig some more.  And probably get soaking wet while doing it.  We’re also going to be working on our water situation – cleaning up and securing the spring head, adding another cistern closer to the house and probably upgrading some of the pipes and shut off valves that are sprinkled throughout the property.  I’d also like to add lines for more spigots in the garden and future orchard.

And … well … more digging.  Are you getting the idea that me and my shovel are going to be becoming very close friends?  Because we are.  Anyway, fencing, y’all.  Lots of fencing.  The chickens need a run, the garden needs to be seriously fortified, and the goats I am planning on purchasing next year will need something to keep them in as well.  There’s a lot of post hole digging in my future.

pexels-photo-186572Plant a perennial herb garden.  There are two big raised beds in the garden which in years past have held oriental poppies, carrots and chard, but this year there are just weeds (and elephant garlic) in them.  They’re really the perfect spot for a perennial herb bed, so my plan is to get all the weeds out and start planting some herbs!  I’m thinking of chives, chamomile, thyme, rosemary, dill, oregano, lavender and lemon balm.  And maybe some kind of mint – in containers – to sweeten all those summertime drinks that I plan on indulging in.

Put by lots of tomatoes, pesto and applesauce.  I’m not growing much in the garden this year, and while the terrible spring weather we had is most to blame for that, a not-insignificant reason is because I didn’t want to have to preserve and store a lot of food in the teeny tiny kitchen that I have right now.  But, we do use an insane amount of pesto, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and applesauce throughout the year, and homegrown is definitely best.  So I’ll have to suck it up and sterilize those canning jars (without a dishwasher) and get to work later this summer so that I don’t run out in January again.

Add a new member to our family!  Yep, you read that right.  Our little family is getting bigger by one!  No, it’s not another human baby – we’ve got quite enough of those, thank you – we’ll be adding a Great Pyrenees puppy to the mix this summer!  Because we obviously didn’t have enough to do.  Exciting, or just insane?  Who knows.  In any case, we’ll be bringing her home in early July, and I’ll tell you more about our pup in a future post.


Ahhh, sweet relaxing summer!

Does anyone else have any exciting plans?

In the Ashes

0502 ahes 20502 ashesWandering through the aftermath of a house fire is much worse than actually watching the house burn down.

Even though this was a necessary step for building our new house, the absence of the old farmhouse is jarring.  When we pulled up the driveway for the first time since the fire, I felt physically sick.  It looked like a fresh wound; like a picture of a place where a bomb has been dropped.

Jasper, the girls and I walked around the old foundation briefly, looking at what was left, but then we had to leave.  It was just too much, that first time.  Instead, we wandered in the woods and the upper field, where everything is still as it always was.

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It gets easier, though.

The firefighters did a great job; they managed to save the big Port Orford cedar, the Italian plums and the pioneer apple tree in the garden (though I doubt they’ll fruit this year), the rowan tree and even the Japanese quince bush, which was literally right next to the building.  That these are still here is beyond heartening.

And we’ve started cleaning up, and sifting through and clearing out the metal from the rubble.  Our builder says he’s going to have people out soon to break up the old foundation and spread gravel and sand, and then we’ll stake out the new house.

Overall, it feels more like progress now, than destruction.