Category Archives: Diary of a Redneck Englishwoman

Stumpy’s progress.

10.15.17

The middle of October is upon us, the nights are getting colder and my goodness is it nice to get the fire lit and roaring in the stove of a morning! As I age I feel these nippy autumnal mornings make that scalding hot first cup of tea all the more appreciated! So in eager anticipation I am waiting for the kettle to come to a boil. This past week has been an eye opening one for me, in a good way I should quickly assure you, but in a way that once again has me contemplating “Life”. I guess I need to start out by giving you a Mr. Stumpy update.

It is hard to believe it has been a mere six months since I lost the last joint of my left middle finger, thus began the life of Stumpy… or as he is often known… Mr. Stumpy. I still have not come to a conclusion as to why he should be referred to as a “he” over a “she”, but that is just the way it is. Anyway, this has been quite a journey and I know it is not over as yet. Along the way I have come to discover a myriad of things that said middle finger is important for, things one might never have given thought to had one not lost a goodly chunk of one’s finger. Yes, a whole new appreciation blossoms. This journey has been both humbling and enlightening.

As you all know, the dispatching of animals followed by the subsequent butchering, wrapping and storing away of the little white packages in the freezer is very much a part of my life here on the farm. To the dismay of my autumn customers who faithfully count on me processing their deer and elk from carcass to cuts for the table, due to my not knowing how Stumpy would behave when a sharp knife was in close proximity, I made the decision to forego any custom game cutting this season. I did not want to be under the pressure of having a number of carcasses in our cooler, awaiting my administrations, to discover I could now only get through one deer a day when in the past three had been a breeze! Also, there was the fear that since Stumpy still has that urge to stick straight up in the air, he would do so at an inappropriate time which would cause him a major wound. Do you know how hard it has been to say “no” to so many loyal customers from all over the country? But it was the right decision and I stick by it.

So I am sure you can imagine the trepidation I had when Darrell harvested his buck deer. Now I could have let him skin it and dress it out, but the butcher in me would have none of that so out came my knives and to work I went. Slowly at first I started the process of disrobing the deer, keeping a very watchful eye on Stumpy. I had to remind him a few times to tuck himself out the way and found by making a few slits here and there in the deer’s hide I could make handy holes which allowed his neighbours to more easily pull the hide away from the flashing knife and thus keep Stumpy out of harms way. It was a challenge to change my skinning style, but I managed with nary a nick or a stick. What a triumph that was! It made that night’s dinner of liver and onions so much sweeter! Of course when I am processing an animal I have an internal time clock ticking away in my brain, I find I try to equal or beat previous “processing” times and this was no different. Being awfully careful, as I did not want to inadvertently slash Stumpy, the process felt terribly slow. Darrell, who had popped to the house to make me a nice cup of tea, assured me I was maybe at most about 10 minutes slower than normal and for goodness sake stop worrying as I was not in a competition! How right he was! It was an accomplishment and a relief to know with a bit of training, Stumpy could behave and allow me to get the full dispatching job done.

So, was I ready to tackle something larger than a deer? Maybe. I would think about it a bit. Since my accident I have found it takes no time at all to lose a great deal of one’s strength and despite trying to not compensate too much with my right arm, I have indeed lost a great deal of strength and dexterity in my left hand and arm. Whereas I used to be able to grasp the top of a gallon jar full of milk and carry it with ease with either hand, I am only just at the point of being able to handle a half-gallon with my left hand. Since Stumpy still cannot fully bend downwards like his partners, grasping with any strength is still a challenge (thus all the little holes in the deer hide!) His predilection for sticking up in the air is a habit that is awfully hard to break! So, how would my left hand fare while skinning out a fully-grown steer? I guess there was only one way to find out!

Last Monday dawned bight and fair, a good day for dispatching. After milking was accomplished and feeding chores done, Darrell and I headed to the paddock where Steer and his sister Heifer resided. A big pan of grain was set down in front of Steer and he died a happy chap. My goodness but he was big! His sister munched away on her hay while Darrell with the tractor, removed Steer from the paddock to my customary spot where the skinning and processing would take place. Normally we start such a deed about 8:30 or 9:00 o’clock in the morning. Today we were “late”, it was closer to 10:30 a.m. when we began. Propping the carcass up on it’s back with blocks strategically placed, I began skinning away. Now a steer hide is way thicker and much heavier than a deer hide! Normally I pride myself in removing a hide with little in the way of holes or nicks in it, but that was not the case here! To help Stumpy and my slightly weakened left hand, I once again reverted to making numerous “hand holes” here there and everywhere in the hide! Not pretty, but it worked. All in all the skinning was accomplished in near normal time, Stumpy was hanging in there like a trooper. The evisceration process, which for those readers of a sensitive nature I shall not go into detail at this time, was should we say, challenging. I decided to try a new method, which I thought might be easier on Stumpy. Alas, it was a nightmare… I have never been so inclined to stamp my feet and have a temper tantrum as I was at that moment! I should have stuck to our “regular” method! But no worries, the deed was finally done, the carcass taken to the butcher shop where it was subsequently quartered and lodged in the cooler. Despite taking nearly three and a half hours, the deed was done! Stumpy was tired and a tad stiff and sore, but he had survived the test! Another big step forward!

Yesterday, I was over in Bend, where a lovely lady I met during the eclipse event had invited me to come to her house to showcase my wares for her friend’s shopping pleasure. Her big, round dining room table was the perfect spot to display soaps and lotions, bath bombs, books and all the other odds and ends I make and sell. While the ladies chatted and shopped the thought really came home to me… what a wonderful life I live. Driving home that evening I thought once again I would not change one thing about the life I have. Stumpy has again reminded me that life can change in the blink of an eye, we can accept and adapt and keep right on moving forward or give up. Things you thought you might never do again can be done… maybe with a little more time involved… but can be done, and what a wonderful thought that is at the end of the day. Home, warmth of a fire, kettle singing on the hob, a new day before us, my dearest beside me… what more could one want?

Hunting Season is Upon Us!

10.1.17

It is a little past four o’clock in the morning. When I woke up, even without my glasses on I could see the stars brilliantly twinkling in a very dark sky. It will be chilly out there, a good morning to light a fire in the old wood cook stove and get the place warmed up. Autumn is upon us and with it will come soups and stews, meat pies, cakes and bread baked to perfection in the cooker’s capacious oven. Nothing beats a loaf of bread cooked in an old wood cooker!

The good old wood cookstove!

But this time of year also heralds the start of hunting season. Actually, yesterday was opening day and Darrell harvested a nice little buck that is currently hanging in our cooler. Now we do not take hunting season lightly! For us it is not about the antlers but about good tasty meat in the freezer, so we have a rule, head or neck shots only. Darrell did a grand job as usual and shot his buck right in the ear, dropping him in his tracks with the lad not even knowing what hit him. No wasted meat, no trauma or stress on the animal, a swift, clean harvest.

I have to say; I was a tad nervous as to the butcher shop we took the buck. This would be my first time skinning out an animal with Stumpy. Would he behave and stay neatly tucked out the way or would he insist on sticking ignominiously straight up in the air? He has that tendency you know… if danger is near he still insists on boinging straight out of what he perceives to be harms way! Unfortunately, when it comes to some things, pointing straight up instead of being tucked down like his compatriots tends to put him directly at risk of a bonking or worse! In the case of skinning an animal, a very sharp flashing knife is being wielded often in quite close proximity to him. So it was with slow and steady moves that I began the process of skinning the buck, reminding Stumpy on a regular basis to try to remain as tucked as possible with his neighbouring digits. All in all it was a success! I discovered I still do not have full hide gripping strength back in my left hand but with effort I can keep Stumpy safely out of the way so as to get the deed done in a timely manner.

Well, Darrell has his buck in the cooler, now it is my turn. So after another cup of tea, I grabbed my trusty rifle and headed off to see if I too could put some meat in the freezer. We are still terribly dry around here and as such, creeping quietly around in the woods is a bit challenging. Progress is by a few steps forward then a slow look around to see if I can spot a telltale switch of a tail or twitch of an ear signaling a deer is on the lookout. Slowly, slowly I made my way, taking my usual route when I head out back to look for deer. After painstakingly making my way to a thick copse of brush and downed trees a goodly distance from the house, a place where I have found bucks bedded down in the past, I saw some bushes up ahead quivering. Yes, I spy an ear and a couple of legs; a deer is munching away behind that scrubby brush. But drat! Here I am, quite exposed with nothing but a patch of bare ground around me and one stubby little scrub brush in front of me! Yes, I see antlers… a nice little forked horn… no wait! There are two of them, both about the same size! But since they are mostly hidden behind the thick scrub ahead, I find I will have to crawl forward slightly on hands and knees to get a clear shot.

Slowly, slowly I move from my crouched position to all fours, moving ever so slightly clear of the little bush in front of me. Ah yes, that is better! Now if only one would step forward I will have a dandy shot at a mere 40 yards. I am sure you have all had the feeling at one time or another that you are being watched? Well just as I was settled and prepared to shoot, I had that uncanny feeling something was watching me and since we do have cougars in our area, I slowly turned my head to check over my shoulder. What do I see? There, just a few yards from me, staring intently with ears forward, nose quivering and hair standing on end was another little buck! He gave one loud snort, which of course alerted his two companions to the immanent danger, and all three took off like rockets! Well that was interesting to say the least!

So up I get and slowly begin the forward trek that would loop me around through what we call “The Mahogany Wood” and bring me back home. Now often on this little area of our property, deer will browse on the bitter brush and rabbit brush that dots the slightly hilly ground that is also is home to a nice growth of Mountain Mahogany. These bushy trees provide wonderful habitat for all manner of wildlife and deer and elk especially. Seldom have I passed through this area without seeing deer and this day was no exception. However, due to the hilly hammocks, it is often the case you top one slight rise to find yourself near face to face with deer! So slow and steady is the watchword. Trying to keep some brushy cover in front of me, I make my way through the wood and am ready to top the final rise where the trees end and a flattish area dotted with sage bush spreads out for a few acres before a steep gully breaks the terrain.

Naturally, as I top the rise, a twitching ear greets my eyes and I find myself just yards from a young doe and her baby. I freeze, hoping they did not see me for where there is one doe there are sure to be more and maybe even a buck too. Yes, there are more does nearby. They munch contentedly, totally unaware of my presence while I try to remain like a statue. But remaining like a statue, half crouched over, in the act of taking a step forward is not a comfortable pose to hold for long yet if I move, someone is sure to see me! Oh no! A cramp is coming on! I can feel the muscles in my left thigh begin to scream in protest, the sweat breaks out on my brow, I will have to move and blast the consequences! As I slowly reach down to grab my aching leg the young doe sees movement, gives the loud alarm snort and all I hear are the sounds of bounding deer going every which way. The alarmed doe does not know quite what way to go, so back and forth she bounds, trying to figure out what or exactly where I am before dashing off across the open area. Well so much for that hunt!

Cramp relived I start heading homeward yet still remain alert. One never knows, something may still be ahead. As I wind my way through the tall sage I see him. Well, I had an idea it was a “him”. All I could see was part of a body and part of a face staring directly at me about 120 yards away. The top of the head was obscured by brush and although I was pretty sure it was a buck, until I spied antlers there was no way I was going to shoot. I froze and he froze. Slowly, slowly I dropped to one knee and brought my rifle up to look through the scope to see if any antlers could be discerned. He moved slightly. Yes! He had antlers and was a very, very nice mature four-point buck! A deep breath to steady myself, readying for the shot, all he had to do was step forward a tad from behind that bush! But this canny chap had not lived as long by being careless, he stepped forward a smidge but kept most of his head and neck concealed by the brushy foliage. I could have taken a shot on his body but just could not bring myself to do it. If I couldn’t drop this fine fellow with a single shot in his head or neck I would not shoot. As if knowing he had me pegged, he turned his tail towards me and trotted up and over the hill, keeping a good screen of vegetation between us. Ah what a lad he was! Should I have shot? No, I was right in holding off. After all, as I have said before, you cannot eat the antlers. Maybe today will be the day…

Summer’s bounty

9.17.17

There is a very definite autumnal tang to the air. Last night was not quite as chilly as the night before when the temperature dropped to 32 degrees, subsequently giving us enough of a frost to kill the green beans, squash plants and put a good dent in the tomatoes. The weatherman had predicted nighttime temperatures of 40 degrees so I should have known it could drop lower than that, but did not listen to my belly and so did not bother to drag the heavy tarp from the shop to the garden to cover up the tomatoes. Drat it anyway!

Yet something must have been giving me the feeling the summer season was coming to a close, as I had the uncanny urge to pick green beans! This year, Darrell’s green thumb outdid its’ self in the green bean department, and the corn department for that matter. His green bean plants were loaded with lovely, long, tender fruit. We have been picking green beans for ages now, giving a bunch to his son Andy, sold some at market, eaten them stir fried in Chinese, cooked on the Bar-B-Q, sautéed in olive oil and garlic, mixed with bacon and chicken stock… we are getting a tad “beaned out”! But the urge to pick was there so grabbing a box I started work down the first row. Soon my box was filled to overflowing; Darrell came to join me and soon went for a five-gallon bucket, which also was rapidly filled to the brim. Next a 52-quart cooler was procured and when that was filled we stopped! What were we going to do with all these beans!

Now I normally will put up a two-year supply of beans, corn and tomatoes but fell off my schedule last year as if you will recall, we were thinking of selling the farm and moving on. So really I should have knuckled down and preserved this bounty of green beans but I for one would rather eat corn than beans so opted to preserve that golden harvest instead. After lugging the full cooler back to the house and depositing it in the laundry room, I decided to see if our friends at the Thomas Orchards could take said beans off our hands and sell them down there. Indeed they could, so yesterday morning the beans and a big tub of corn were duly delivered to the fruit stand in Kimberly. Yes, corn too. Although not as pleased with his corn this year, the ears are rather long and too slender for Darrell’s taste, we do have a goodly amount, plenty for canning, freezing and eating fresh. That is on the agenda for Monday, Darrell will pick me coolers full of corn then the canning begins!

I really do enjoy canning corn despite the mess and time involved. The cutting of golden kernels from the cob… getting ones ‘self well splattered with sticky sweet juice in the process… the filling of pint jars freshly washed and rinsed with scalding hot water standing in tidy rows on the kitchen counters. The two big pressure cookers, looking like some sort of weird bombs sitting atop the cook-stove waiting to be filled with layers of jars for processing. Then comes the watching of the pressure dials, seeing the heat is turned up just right so as to keep the pressure at a steady 10 pounds for the required 55 minutes. Ah, but the reward of seeing rows of jars on the pantry shelf filled with golden sweetness is so worth the effort and in the middle of winter, to open a jar of our corn is to remember the sun of summer!

Somehow, this year has zoomed by at quite an alarming rate! Maybe it was having such a long and tedious winter filled with some very unforgettable and hopefully never to be repeated events, followed by a sudden start to summer. The weather went from cold to hot in a flash and I mean hot! So many folks have commented on the length of time we have been in the very high ninety degree to over one hundred degree range this summer with nary a break. The winter snowmelt and wet spring was great for grass production but then the hot summer temperatures brought the worry of thunderstorms and fire. Thankfully we have been spared the devastating wildfires that have plagued other parts of Oregon and our neighbouring states of Washington, Idaho and Montana. When looking at fire maps of the United States it seems as if the entire western region is ablaze! Thankfully cooler weather is upon us and much needed rain is in the forecast. So despite gently grumbling at how we went from 90 degree days to 60 degree days in just about a day, I really am thankful for the weather change.

But as the feeling of autumn hits, there comes with it an almost frantic desire to get things ready for Old Man Winter, as he must be just waiting around the corner I am sure. Just like a squirrel, I feel the need to make sure our pantry is brimming with stored food. Darrell has already filled the woodshed both at the house and the shop, our winter store of hay is in the barn and grain bins are full of animal feed. Yet there still is much to do. It is a good feeling to be prepared is it not?

The animals too are feeling the seasonal change. All of a sudden the deer have started to group together and are coming out to feed earlier and earlier of an evening, prowling around the vegetable garden perimeter just longing to find a way in. There is a reason we have such a tall fence! The Redwing Blackbirds arrived yesterday and descended on our corn, a sure sign it is ready for canning and I heard the first Sandhill Cranes passing overhead on their long journey south from Alaska to Mexico. Their haunting trill always signals the seasonal transformation, from hearing them fly over us in the spring as they head north to their breeding grounds in Alaska to the their southward journey heralding autumnal change. All creatures know.

Last evening I hauled the big tarp to the garden and diligently covered the tomatoes. It was a bumper crop this year, lovely large fruit still green as grass, but what an abundance of them! Maybe we will be fortunate; maybe enough will have survived the touch of frost from the other night. Maybe Mother Nature will be gentle and spare us a strong killing frost thus allowing the fruit to ripen to a rich red. Then, another garden bounty will be harvested, canned and set to store on our pantry shelves. To be opened in mid-winter, the aroma of freshly picked, red ripe tomatoes rising from the jar as they are added to soups and stews bubbling away on the woodstove. Yes, Old Man Winter may be just around the corner but we will be ready, snuggled in our little log house, fire roaring in the grate, a pantry full of summer’s bounty to sustain us. Hmmm, I am actually looking forward to it!

Family “eclipses” all!

8.27.17

To say this has been an epic week would be a gross overstatement for sure! Maybe that is why the title of this morning’s musing is “Family eclipses all” is so very appropriate! This time last week saw Darrell and I sharing our farm with a wonderful family and a few of their friends who had made the jaunt to the Triple H in order to view the total solar eclipse in the path of totality. Monday rolled around and the time for this epic celestial event approached. Our visitors headed down the hill into Monument so as to watch the eclipse with the rest of their family gathered at the little Monument airport. Darrell and I along with Brandy and Bella settled in to observe the skies from the comfort of our own front deck.

With welding helmets at hand, dogs at our feet and peacefulness all around us, we waited. Every once in a while I would don either my special solar eclipse viewing glasses or my welding helmet and glance at the sun to see how far the moon had obscured her face. As the two-thirds stage approached there was just a slight change in the feel and “look” of the air. Three-quarters of the way the bees were still happily working the catmint flowers alongside our garden path. Gazing at the sun and slowly seeing the moon obscure even more of her surface, to where the sun herself through the protective lens looked like a sliver of new moon, the temperature dropped and shadows lengthened. Darrell and I waited for that moment of totality… me with bated breath, Darrell with stoic nonchalance. Then it happened… the sun disappeared and the brilliant corona was visible to the naked eye. Stars popped out and the temperature dropped markedly. An eerie silence surrounded us for even the bees had suddenly disappeared. The air had a surreal quality to it that is hard to explain. Darrell suddenly reminded me to grab the camera and take a picture although a picture will never quite capture the essence of this celestial event. Would I have travelled hundreds of miles to witness it? No, most likely I would not, but to see it from one’s own front deck with one’s best friend sitting right beside you holding your hand, well that was worth so much more.

As quickly as totality happened, it was over. The sky once again began to brighten, stars winked out and the temperature began to rise as the bees returned and resumed their steady drone. Life goes on.

After the eclipse event, the many folks who had descended upon our little town and others in Grant County started wending their way home. Darrell and I had made plans to head south to Reno in order to attend and sell our wares at the big gun show held a couple of times a year in that bustling burg. We were going to leave on Thursday but decided with our wedding anniversary just around the corner we would head off half a day early. The last of the folks who had visited the farm for the eclipse would be here until Thursday and they obligingly offered to take care of morning chores for us and Darrell’s son Andy and his family would arrive on Thursday afternoon to “farm sit” for us until our return on Monday. Excitedly we prepared for this little holiday of ours, a rare time away together from the farm. With the truck packed to the gills, animals fed and watered, we said fond farewells to our visiting friends and then headed off down the driveway on holiday.

Since we left home Wednesday afternoon, the first leg of our journey saw us driving about 320 miles south and spending the night in Alturas, California. We did not get too much sleep and were on the road again before daylight the next day, easily making the remaining 170+ mile jaunt to Reno where we checked into our hotel room and then set up Darrell’s table. The remainder of the day was spent chatting with other vendors who had also set up early, then finished up with a super meal at the hotel’s Grand Buffet. As we headed up to our room after eating way more than we should have, we were excited about the opening of the show the following morning. Once in the room I turned on my computer to check emails and messages only to discover our world would be turned upside down in a moment. We discovered Darrell’s younger sister Ruth had suffered a debilitating stroke.

This news hit us like a ton of bricks! The message said Ruth had been struck totally blind by the stroke and was currently in an ICU ward in Springfield, a town close to where she lives. We were able to get her daughter’s telephone number and Darrell called his niece to get an update and more information on how his sister was doing. The report did not sound good. Apparently Ruth had been misdiagnosed at one doctor office as well as one hospital before her daughter took her to another facility that made the correct diagnosis. However, this time delay precluded the use of the clot busting medication so there was no way to remove the clot that was pressing on her optic nerve thus rendering her sightless. Darrell was in a stew! There was no way we could leave that night as we could not get into the exhibit hall to retrieve everything from Darrell’s table. We would have to wait until morning. Needless to say we once again had a sleepless night.

Up bright and early, we packed up our luggage and headed down to the hall in the hopes of being allowed to enter to gather up all our wares and get on the road. Thankfully, the show manager happened to be outside the exhibit hall and after hearing our story of Darrell’s sister, expedited our way into the hall and with the aid of a security guard we were all packed up in a jiffy. Soon we were speeding on our way north for the 430 mile trip to get us to Ruth.

We arrived at the hospital where Ruth was supposed to still be in the ICU ward and were delighted to find she had been moved from that unit to a bed in an observation ward located in the old part of the hospital. After an extensive search we found her and what joy it was to see Ruth looking so well! From what we had last heard, she was almost totally sightless and was under threat of another serious, life-threatening stroke which made Darrell more than ever want to see his sister. It was so good to be able to hug her and sit and chat with this remarkable lady. Her spirits were high, she was as tenacious as ever and more than ready to get out of that hospital bed! Ruth was indeed a very lucky lady. She has quite severe glaucoma and bless her heart, knowing that one day soon she most likely would become fully blind, she regaled us with witty stories of how she had already memorized “steps” between each room in her little house in preparation for what she knew was an inevitable event. She just had not expected blindness to hit her so quickly! Darrell and her joked at how they were now alike in that he too is blind in his left eye with diminished sight in his right. Thankfully she does have some sight in her right eye and we all hope and pray that as the clot in her occipital region subsides her sight will continue to improve.

After a lovely visit with Ruth, the arrival of an orderly to take her for an MRI prompted us to go find a room for the night and grab something to eat, promising to come and see her again after we had dinner and before we headed off for much needed sleep. Upon returning that evening we chatted again for a while then said we would be back in the morning to check on her, reassuring her the long drive up from Reno was well worth it to see her smiling face!

The following morning, after breakfast, we popped in and had a grand couple of hours visit with Ruth who was more than ready to make her escape from that hospital ward! I must admit, the harried nurses and overcrowding in that hospital wing made Darrell and I greatly appreciate the compassion and care received by patients in our local Blue Mountain Hospital!

After taking leave of Ruth with promises to call her immediately upon our arrival at home, we began the final leg of our journey, the over 260 mile trip home. Tired but so glad we had seen Ruth, we pulled into our driveway yesterday evening with relief. A journey of 1230 miles later, the majority of them quite stressful ones, had brought us full circle home. Some family members had questioned why we should give up our so looked forward to holiday in order to make such an epic jaunt to see Darrell’s sister when there really was nothing we could do for her. Well let me tell you, the look of joy on Ruth’s face when she saw her brother enter her cubicle, the tears that flowed from Darrell’s eyes as he hugged his little sister were worth every single mile and every single stressful moment. We would do it again in a heartbeat. After all, the eclipse may have been a spectacular epic event… but family love truly eclipses all.

 

Morning drizzle

8.13.17

How lovely it was to wake up this morning to the very soft sound of rain pattering down on the roof and deck. After what seems an interminable age without the slightest bit of moisture direct from Mother Nature, this soft drizzle was much appreciated. Last evening, Darrell and I sat on the front deck as some huge raindrops splashed down. We were in hopes of a downpour but instead got just enough to make some dark splotched areas on the deck’s parched wood. A brief spattering and it was over.

This time of year, any moisture falling from the sky is very welcome. Fire is our greatest fear so as we watch the clouds building we have mixed feelings, will we get some much needed rain or will those clouds bring only thunder and lightning? Thankfully for us we were spared lightning although the huge rumblings meant someone was feeling the brunt of the storm nearby.

It really is quite amazing what a natural watering from Mother Nature does to one’s garden. Despite being diligently dampened on a regular basis with water from our well via hosepipes and sprinklers, the plants seem to relish the “true” dampening coming from the skies up above. They seem to grow almost before one’s eyes and instantly flourish. I am sure our corn and sunflowers sprout inches immediately after a rain and the weeds, well they just go right to town! Yes, nothing beats a natural soaking.

I had to smile yesterday morning. We have a family from Portland visiting us this weekend, dad and his twin 11-year-old children. As we all went down to the lower farmyard to feed Lass and the pigs, a few large raindrops started to spatter down. In the 70 plus degree warmth of the morning I relished the droplets falling on my face and shoulders, this to me was a treat! The youngsters however, pulled up their sweatshirt hoods and eventually headed for dryness of the bunkhouse until the brief shower was over. I too may have done just the same at one time in my life, now, during summer’s drought, I relish the slightest moisture coming from above.

This summer has been quite brutal as far as hot weather goes. Our chickens are showing their displeasure by cutting back on egg production, Lass too is down on her milk although still giving up nearly 5 gallons a day for me plus some for her calf as well so I cannot complain. But in this heat she is more content to find a shady tree to lie under rather than head out the back to forage. Trying to get as much done in the coolness of the early mornings as possible is the name of the game for us for by noon the heat is driving us to find a shady spot. This whole year has been a bit of a muddle as far as temperatures go. The wild and wooly winter was followed by a very wet spring which just as Darrell predicted, turned off into a blazing hot summer. Not to wish our lives away, but we are looking forward to some slightly cooler and damper weather! It is just too dry out here!

Of course before much longer we will be inundated with people in our little community as the great extravaganza, the solar eclipse, will see a huge swath of Oregon swamped with people from all over the globe. We in Monument, as well as other towns in Grant County, are in the “Path of Totality”. As such, we are preparing for an influx of visitors the likes of which we have never seen. If only half the number of people show up that are expected, we will still find resources stretched to the limit! With only a week to go until the celestial event, people are on edge wondering what to expect. Some landowners are hosting huge numbers of eclipse viewers, opening up their fields and sectioning off camping spots to take advantage of the flood of people looking for a place to watch the sky. Eclipse mania is upon us! For ourselves, we are content to have a lovely family from down in California return to stay with us. Two years ago they were here for a family reunion and at that time booked our bunkhouse for this event, which to tell you the truth I had no inkling of at the time! They and a photographer lady from the Seattle area are the only ones who will be staying at our farm, which is perfectly fine for us!

Let us all hope those folks who are planning on coming to our little part of the world to view this celestial event will treat our lands with kindness and consideration. May they come and enjoy our beautiful area, leave no fires behind them and return home safe and sound.

 

Letting go…

7.16.17

As I woke up this morning and glanced out the bedroom window, the early light of dawn was just a glow on the horizon, reminding me yet again that we are on the downhill slope of another year. There is a bit of a chill in the air, a welcome coolness after the heat of the past couple of days, but a harbinger that firing up the wood cookstove of a morning may not be that far off. Daft thinking I know, since we still have the remainder of July and all of August’s heat to get through. Right now we have guests staying in the bunkhouse or this cool morning would see Darrell outside, firing up the chainsaw, cutting the logs piled in our driveway turnaround into chunks destined for the woodshed. Early morning is definitely the time to get cracking on chores like this before the day’s heat drives you to seek shelter indoors.

Sitting waiting for my first cup of tea to brew, I realize it is a very dear friend of mine’s birthday today. She turns 57, just as I shall turn 57 in September. Goodness me, why 57 sounds so much older than 55 or 56 I have no idea, maybe because 60 is looming around the corner? I think I am going through a mid-life crisis. Once again it hits me how very short our lives are and how much we tend to work, work, work instead of making time to play. Now when one has been brought up with the old adage “Work first and play later” firmly drummed into one’s being, playing before working in an anathema! Yet more and more a part of me is raising up a rebellious head, determined to defy that part of me so well programmed by my father all those years ago. I can choose when to say, “Let’s take off for the day!” and put all thoughts of the chores waiting to be done at home behind me can’t I? Of course! Sounds so easy to do yet how hard it is to take that step away from old habits. Yet when one does, an almost gleeful little girl feeling steals over one, an uncontrollable urge to giggle wells up inside. As we throw a map, fishing poles and tackle box in the back of the truck, grab some snacks out the pantry and head off into the dawn’s early light to who knows where (after judiciously feeding all the farm critters of course!), I glance over at Darrell sitting beside me and we both feel a tad like truant schoolchildren. It is however a grand feeling! We must do this more often.

This maybe is what has brought forth the feelings inside me that it is time to allow change to slip in to the old routines, to let go of some things here and there, make some changes in our life. What on earth has brought this on? Maybe the realization of mortality as a flashback to this past winter and the roof collapse debacle, maybe the realization I am starting to slow down, that I cannot go 90 miles an hour all the time. Maybe just that I finally came out and admitted to Darrell that I am tired. Do you have an idea how hard it was to say those three little words out loud? Incredibly hard! I think Darrell was quite relived that I actually voiced them! Now anyone who knows me will understand that there is no way I can just sit and do nothing, it is not in my nature, but I have made up my mind that I need to cut back here and there. Small steps towards slowing down!

Well, that was easy to admit and spit out in the open! So then comes the huge dilemma of what to cut back on, what to possibly give up, what to change et cetera, all the wile trying like mad to not feel guilty about any of it! Stumpy has helped me out in one respect… haven’t I always claimed I lost the end of my finger for a reason? He makes his feelings known in a swift and sure manner, letting me know instantly and often very painfully, that I need to rethink how to accomplish common tasks. The other day I had the making of sausage on the agenda. Grinding the meat was no problem; it was the mixing in of the spices that was the daunting task. How would Stumpy cope? He hates to get cold and a fifty-pound lug of ground meat is cold! The pepperoni mixing was slow but not too bad. The summer sausage was even easier as I got into the swing of things, however the salami almost did him in! Those whole peppercorns were just too abrasive on Stumpy’s still tender end! But one handed I got the job done. Darrell offered his help but stubborn me declined, I could get this done and done indeed I did!

Stumpy brought up a good point, I can work around his tendency to boing up in the air out of harms way at a moments notice for the most part, yet I have to admit I have to be so very aware of him at all times. He does not bend as easily as I feel he should, he is still a fat, chubby little thing and my goodness does he get cold easily! I find I have lost some strength in my left arm, natural I suppose since I cannot grip as well without the full use of a middle finger, but I am working on that. What concerns me, and we shall soon put it to the test, is how Stumpy will fare when it comes to skinning out an animal or butchering a beef. His tendency to stick straight up in the air, while comical sometimes could become a liability where sharp flashing knives are concerned! I shall have to be extra cautious! Maybe I need to give him some more time to recuperate, more time to work on his flexibility and strength, more time to toughen up tender nerves. Yes, time.

Then the thought hits me… time… time to slow down, time to go fishing, time to just sit on the front porch and watch the sun go down. Oh drat! Is this a subtle way to make me let something go? You know, I think it is. I ask Darrell what he would think about me giving up my autumnal work of processing wild game for folks? Normally he responds to such an enquiry with a comment such as “I need to leave that decision up to you”, so I was surprised when he came out with a resounding “Good idea!” He worries about me being in the butcher shop all day cutting and wrapping elk or deer. He will worry more because of Stumpy. Can I do this though? Can I give up all my loyal customers who have relied on me for the past few years to process their harvested game animals from carcass to little white packages? Oh dear me, saying “no” is not my forte… yet there is a part of me that once the subject was voiced I realized it was the right decision to make. The guilt will no doubt insidiously try to seep in when I get a telephone call asking if I can cut and wrap an elk or two or three, but I must and will be strong. This is one thing I will let go… at least for this year. Stumpy and Darrell will be relieved!

Yes, making the decision to slow down a tad, to cut back on some of the things I do is not easy, it makes me feel awfully lazy! But you know, along with such thoughts come calmness, a peace and a sense that I have made the right choice. Is this what a mid-life crisis is about? Seeing that life is short and it is time to stop and smell the rose’s a bit? If so, I think I am on the right track. Thank goodness I have a strong man beside me, to help guide and support me through this chapter in my life. What on earth would I do without him? Ah… he just brought me another cup of tea… yes, what indeed would I do without him…

 

Lilli’s visit

7.9.17

Goodness but this year is zooming by at quite an alarming rate! Here we are, rapidly approaching the middle of July. Summer heat is upon us and the days are already starting to show subtle signs of being on the downhill slope. Whereas only a week ago at this same time of the morning, a touch before 5 o’clock, the sun would have been ready to peek above the horizon. Today as I sit in my chair and glance out the window, a perceptible lightening of the dawn sky shows me sunrise is still a short while away.

This week has been a busy one. Monument always holds a grand Fourth of July holiday celebration complete with a community Bar-B-Que, fun events for children and adults alike and wraps up with a brilliant fireworks display! We, of course, had our little stall set up on the village green with other vendors and were kept busy selling soaps and lotions, sausages and cheese to the passers by. The following day saw the arrival of Darrell’s son Andy, his wife Anna and our granddaughter Lilli, coming to visit the farm for a much anticipated holiday.

Lilli has just turned five years old and what a little charmer she is and right at the age when helping with chores are a grand adventure and something not to be missed. She is ready at a moments notice to don her little apron to gather eggs, helps feed the piglets and milk cows and willingly fills water tubs and buckets. Wherever nana Rose went, Lilli was right behind! There really is something quite special about watching a youngster of this age experience not only the fun but also the work involved on a farm. Learning that eggs come from chickens, milk from a cow and sausage and bacon from the piglets running around in the pen is priceless. Knowing it is important to get all the farm animals fed and watered first thing in the morning and helping to feed piglets by carrying a bucket of grain all the way up a hill to their pen. Using our muscles to drag a garden hose over to their water tub and the fun of seeing them splash and blow bubbles in their newly filled wallowing hole.

Back at the house, breakfast time was a tad messy of an affair but a fun one too! On the first morning Lilli had waffles, but in our house that means little ones get a hand in learning how to make their own breakfast! Managing to half carry, half drag a wooden breadbox, which made a perfect stool on which to stand so as to reach the countertop, Lilli measured out all the ingredients. Cracking the egg into the mix, adding the milk and stirring like a pro… for after all, a good chef always makes a good mess… the waffle batter was made. Taking up her ladle Lilli managed to dollop a couple of good-sized blobs onto the surface of the waffle maker, put the lid down and watched patiently while it cooked, not worried at all about the excess batter oozing from beneath the lid. Next morning it was pancakes she made and cooked all on her own with nana Rose close by to supervise! Setting up her special little table on a kitchen chair with the ubiquitous breadbox now a handy seat, Maple syrup was put in a small jug just for her and a tiny shot glass made and excellent little juice cup. What a great little cook she is! Now to teach her to wash up!

The days were filled with farm chores, with egg gathering a definite highlight, paddling in the hot tub that became her own little swimming pool to cool down in, or dashing in and out of a garden sprinkler. Lilli helped make mozzarella cheese for my upcoming market but promptly fell asleep when her mum and I started making fizzy bath bombs. Yes, she is a worker and a true delight to have around the farm. The “please and thank-you’s” come naturally to her, what a wonderful job her mum and dad are doing in raising such a polite little girl.

The house seems quite quiet this morning. As I headed down to the milk cow paddock to turn Lass in with her calf so he can take care of the morning milking chore, since today is a market day, I half expect to see Lilli ready to check the hen house for eggs. Darrell is busy cutting wood for our winter stockpile, the sprinklers are on and I am just about to load all my boxes in the back of Pearl to soon head down the hill to Kimberly. Yes, we are back to the daily morning life here on the farm but we sure miss our little lassie Lilli…

 

 

Automobiles… past & present

6.25.17

Think it is a going to be a bit of a scorcher out there today. After a long, hot, mad dash to Scappoose and back yesterday to pick up a new truck… well new to us… we are exhausted this morning! The trip, all 520 miles of it, was uneventful. Leaving home at 5am we were sure there would be elk and deer galore to see, but barely any were spotted. The morning was glorious and even in the Columbia River Gorge there was little wind and just tiny white caps to be seen on the water. A delightful drive!

Purchasing a new vehicle is always such a huge headache, yes headache. The decision of “should we or shouldn’t we?” The pros and cons of the different vehicles out there on the market, the exorbitant cost of a new vehicle which for us is definitely out of the question, the makes and models and hours trying to find the right one. It is an exhausting business! We had in mind what we wanted, the challenge comes in finding said vehicle that fits our criteria and is in the price range we can afford. So many of the trucks we looked at were jacked up so high I would need a step ladder to get in the cab, are a bright red colour and we greatly dislike red on a vehicle! Remember that lovely 1959 Chevy Impala Darrell bought? It was red and we could just not get used to it so it was promptly sold! The search seemed interminable!

Many are the times we decided to just stick with our old blue truck and drive it until the day it gave up the ghost. But with our luck, it would give up the ghost while pulling a loaded trailer up the Mitchell grade! No, it was time for a new, or I should say, newer vehicle. So the search began again and this time the vehicle that fit almost all our requirements popped up on the computer screen! Chatting back and forth with the owner we felt this was indeed the truck for us. A deal was struck and yesterday we made the jaunt to pick up our new workhorse for the farm! Of course it has a few bells and whistles that are a tad superfluous for a farm truck… such as heated seats and a 6 disc CD sound system… but as the lovely lady who sold it to us said, in no time at all we would wonder how we ever got by without such things! I will take her word for it.

It is funny though, with these “newer” vehicles, newer as in they are not old classic Chevy’s, I never seem to have the inclination to name them. They are generally known as “The Blue Truck”, “The Little Truck” or now “The New Truck”. Old cars however immediately seem to garner nomenclature; “Nessie”, Pearl”, Morris”, “Scorcher” for example. Wonder why that is? There is just something quite special about those old cars I think, a grace or grandeur, timelessness, solidness, a glimpse of days gone by. All which make it easier to make such vehicles more “human”.

As Darrell and I drove up past Portland on our way to Scappoose we thought about the cars we have. Scorcher, Darrell’s 1958 Chevrolet Impala, is in the paint and body shop at this moment awaiting painting to restore him to his gleaming white. Nessie sits patiently in the arena, sad and yet stoically resigned looking as she waits her turn for some TLC. I am determined to save up my money in order to have her roof and boot repaired, maybe a new coat of paint in order to bring her back to her former glory… she is not forgotten! Since Scorcher went off to John Day, Pearl resides in the garage now. She is currently hoisted up in the air so I can crawl under her, most likely later today, in order to work on adjusting her brakes with Darrell’s expert guidance. A week ago I finally think I may have found, and hopefully fixed, her penchant for running away! My removal of her accelerator rod and linkage, replacing a missing grommet, adjusting things here and there then a good cleaning of her rather dirty carburetor seems to have fixed the issue. Now I need to inspect her brakes, discovering whether a mere adjustment is required or maybe total replacement of her brakes is in order.

I love these old cars… can you tell? It would be so easy to forego some of the other chores and projects that keep us busy in order to devote more time tinkering with these old jalopies. But alas, such tinkering requires funds and money does not grow on trees! Besides, what fun it is to look forward to my next session of working on Pearl. Having a project car to restore is in itself a rewarding enterprise, but actually doing all the work oneself is tremendously satisfying. Thank goodness I have my Darrell beside me who supports and encourages this odd bent of mine! I am sure at times he gets exasperated with me when I insist on doing everything little thing myself, but he is patient and a grand teacher!

Well, Lass is out there, noisily reminding me I need to get cracking on my morning milking chores. Water needs to be turned on in the garden, chicks and pigs and calves to be fed, then after a leisurely breakfast it will be off to the garage for a spot of tinkering on Pearl. A good Sunday morning is off to a grand start!

 

A Stumpy story

6.10.17

Seven weeks out from the injury that permanently separated me from the end joint of my left hand middle finger, really has been an experience and a half. Yes, the Stumpy Saga continues! This journey has been interesting in both the clinical sense and the psychological sense plus a good sense of humour about the whole affair has certainly helped as well.

The number of things one discovers the distal end of one’s phalynx of one’s left hand is useful for seems to be never ending. Despite being predominantly right handed, mundane things such as the plaiting of one’s hair or even washing of said hair, the tucking of a shirttail into one’s trousers, all seem to involve one’s left hand. Little things such as holding a teacup have to be relearned, grasping a saucepan handle to pour the contents into a bowl becomes an awkward chore and castrating piglets was cause for a jolly good laugh!

Yes, the latter was quite an eye opener! There were five little male piglets in the farrowing pen that were a good two weeks past the time when male piglets normally are divested of certain appendages here on the farm. Since they were ready to be weaned from mum there really was no putting off the deed unless we wanted to raise up a pen full of boar piglets. Darrell said he would help so an auspicious day was chosen. Piglets were subsequently trundled into the closed-in area of the barn, the girls separated out so as to be back in the farrowing area with mum Ramona, who had been given a very generous breakfast. This last was with the intent of keeping her somewhat occupied while her little lads underwent their “operation”. Normally it works like a charm, but not this time!

As a rule, the deed is accomplished with speed and precision with the subject piglet hardly knowing what happened to him. I have a great system. Begin by grabbing a piglet by a hind leg; swing them between my legs, which places their nether region in a perfect place for the operation. A quick couple of incisions made with a sharp scalpel, the “parts” popped out and snapped off with a quick pull before the piglet is unceremoniously dropped to the ground, happy to scamper away on all four trotters. Quick, easy, not too traumatic for the piglet and normally accomplished without too many squeals or struggles. Mum Ramona normally remains decently unaware of the whole procedure. As I say, not this time however. For lo and behold, I discovered I perform the main and most important part of the operation with… you guessed it… my left hand! Not only that, I normally perform this procedure on my own. This time however, since I did not have full function of both hands, I had to have Darrell assist me. This in turn was a tad of a challenge. How best to have him hold the rather large, struggling piglet? How best for me to safely get in with a razor sharp scalpel to do the deed without fear of nicking Darrell’s hand by mistake? All the while, the first piglet subjected to this experimentation was screaming indignantly at the top of his lungs! This definitely caught Ramona’s attention and to hear a five hundred pound sow trying to come to the rescue of one of her babies made one feel very thankful for the stout door between her and us!

Finally I resorted to plan number two, tipping the piglet onto his back on the floor, sitting on him and while Darrell held the trotters for me just so, I made two quick incisions. Drat! Seems I normally use my left hand to complete the task! All of a sudden I had to lay the scalpel down and perform the finishing touch with my right hand! Anyway, the deed was done, all piglets turned from little boars to barrows and happily reunited with mum. Add another thing to the list Stumpy has made me rethink!

Stumpy really seems to be healing nicely. He is a fat little thing, a tad swollen still and maybe always will be, very stiff and until a couple of days ago, still giving me the feeling he was being held in a pan of boiling water! Thankfully that sensation totally disappeared unexpectedly yesterday morning, hopefully never to return. I am diligently exercising him, bending and stretching, finding the limits of such movements for as they say, “No pain, no gain”! There are little beanie caps, fingers cut from various gloves, in all sorts of places around the house and in almost every vehicle, since Stumpy gets cold extremely easily. He has a tendency to a have a mind of his own too, a self-protective mechanism of sorts. If he thinks something is getting too close to him he will pop, or as I say, “Boing!!!” up in the air where he thinks he is out of harms way… unfortunately often bashing himself into something in the process. Ah Stumpy! Often, I find his most comfortable position is sticking straight up in the air since he is still not too keen on bending and curling down towards my hand like his fellow fingers do. Now this, as I am sure you will agree, can be quite embarrassing!

Imagine if you will, my driving down the road, left hand in its usual place on top of the steering wheel. Being unable to bend and wrap around the steering wheel like the other digits, Stumpy is fully extended and happily pointing straight up in the air, not a care in the world. All of a sudden, a car passes by and the thought hits me! Oh no! Did that driver think I was giving him “The Gesture”? You know, “The Gesture”… that single finger wave, which is not considered a friendly one! I do NOT do gestures! Never have and never wanted to, yet here I am as I drive along, suddenly discovering I am unknowingly giving everyone “The Gesture”! What has Stumpy done? What has he made me become? A permanent “Gesture” maker? Someone wants to look at my finger to see how my scar is healing… they get “The Gesture”! I am making a fist in a CPR class to illustrate a point and inadvertently give everyone “The Gesture”! Oh no! Bending exercises will definitely be increasing!

I also discovered Stumpy suffers from PTSD, yes, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now a few weeks ago shortly after the dismembering incident happened, I was browsing the Internet to see if I could find any good articles on rehabilitation after a finger amputation. There were loads and loads of articles on the psychological aspects of a partial finger amputation, how people suffer from PTSD after losing the end of a finger and how this can devastate their life, making them hesitant to shake hands, meet new people or even leave the house! Goodness gracious! “It is only the end of your finger folks, you still have lots more” was my reaction when I read some of these articles. Life should not end just because of the loss of part of a digit! I myself have found humour in what happened to me. Challenges yes, pain yes, but what happened happened and one cannot go back. So I do not have PTSD… but discovered Stumpy does! What is that you say? He does but you do not? Yes indeed I will answer. Let me tell you about it.

Last weekend I got the urge to do a spot of gardening and had Darrell do a bit of landscaping work on the tractor for me. As part of this urge to tidy up, I decided to dismantle the dog kennel and re-do it. Now the girl’s kennel run is made up primarily of hog panels… I think you may know where I am going with this! I would have to undo places where I had previously wired the panels together, pulling them apart and tugging hard to free the bases from where grass and weeds had ensnared them in place. I discovered something interesting for as soon as my left hand came close to a panel, BOING!!!! Stumpy would fly up in the air! I tried again… BOING!!!! … there he went again! He did NOT want to get anywhere close to those wire panels! This was ridiculous! Surely I had control over my own finger for goodness sake! Deciding I could force him to remain tucked in between the fingers on either side of him, I tried again. BOING!!!! Like a Jack in the box he sprang out of the way, he definitely did not want to get close to those wire panels! I just could not help it, I burst out laughing! Silly Stumpy!

Yes, this really has been quite the journey and I am sure it is not over yet. Do I have days when my finger aches and pains me? Oh yes, especially when he gets cold. Do I very much wish it had never happened? Absolutely! Will I still try to find humour in the situation? Why not! After all, there is so much more to be so very thankful for.

 

 

 

 

 

“That Look”!

6.4.17

I do not, emphasize the word not, like pack rats! These furry, somewhat cute looking rodents are the scourges of those who live in a rural area. Known throughout the region as “pack rats”, “wood rats” or by words, which I shall not repeat, these creatures soon lose their cuteness appeal when one gets to know them a tad better! Unlike “regular” rats, pack rats look like cuddly, fluffy small Chinchillas. They tails are covered in fur with a little tuft on the end, their large Mickey Mouse looking ears add a certain charm, but bottom line is they are dirty rotters! Off and on over the years I have had my fair share of encounters with pack rats. This year seems to be one that we may remember as a “rodent year” for already the mice and pack rats seem to be on the rise! The good side of the coin is having two grand rat catching Rottweiler dogs on the premises!

Brandy & Bella

Brandy is a whiz at finding and dispatching these creatures and Bella has quickly picked up on her mum’s technique. About a week ago near the bins on the back deck which hold empty plastic bottles and one full of the dog’s dry food, Brandy alerted and gave me that distinctive look that told me a pack rat was in evidence. She stands tense with ears cocked, eyes bright and gives you a very penetrating stare. This is her “There is a mouse in here” look! As a dutiful owner, I am then supposed to dismantle or move whatever happens to be in the way between her and said “mouse” as she will continue to give me that look as if saying “Come on! Get on with it!” If I do not immediately submit to her wishes, like a cat at a mouse hole Brandy will wait patiently on guard until I give in and comply. So when last week she gave me “that look” in conjunction with my noticing telltale blades of wilted grass protruding from the old rug that was rolled up near the bins, I knew we had a rat. Dutiful owner that I am I promptly started moving the bins that were in Brandy’s way. Quick as a flash a grey shape made a dash for freedom but Brandy was faster, dispatching the rat with a snap of her jaws and shake of her head.

Good job Brandy! Bella searched the area but no other rat was in sight so she had to resort to laying a few feet away from her mum, who was proudly guarding her kill. Bella was hoping Brandy would leave it for a few minutes so she could dash in, grab it, then hurry off to bury it. No such luck! Proud as a peacock, Brandy was content to just show off her prize like a first place winner at the County Fair.

Now once you have discovered one pack rat, you just know there will be more; such is the nature of the beast! Since it was not blistering hot yesterday, the urge to weed the flowerbeds by the house hit me. For the past while I have needed to dig out an old Potentilla (Cinquefoil) bush that finally succumbed to being chewed to death by puppy teeth. There was major weeding to be done, as well as a general tidying up that had been on the agenda for a while but kept moving onto the back burner. Landscaping chores were on my mind so I enlisted the help of Darrell to come in with the little tractor to push over some stumps and smooth out the area by the dog kennel, which for years has been a wilderness of tall grass.

While he was doing this I decided to clean up the kennel area since it had become a depository of all manner of hodgepodge items from chicken feeders to Brandy’s whelping box to gardening pots. An old set of shelves had sat for years behind the large wooden box that served as a doghouse. On these shelves an accumulation of odds and ends made the whole kennel area, dare I say it, rather shabby looking! The dog kennel area is located in the same little shed-roofed building that also serves as our winter wood storage area. In fact, the whole building was initially built for wood but it did not take long for me to wheedle out the need for part of it to become a doghouse! During this time of year the wood shed is pretty empty which is perfect, as it then becomes the temporary abode of new chicks. Each year we buy a few new layer chicks and some turkey chicks to raise up. Until they reach a size where they no longer need the benefit of a heat lamp, we keep them close to the house for convenience. A big box in the woodshed, covered with a screen so they cannot fly out, makes a perfect brood box! Since I was in a major cleaning up mood and the woodshed side of the building being obligingly empty, I decided to remove the old shelves behind the dog’s sleeping box. Brandy had been spending a great deal of time in her house, which was unusual for her… I discovered the reason why.

As I started tearing into the cleaning chore, I noticed a bunch of kindling wood that had been artfully, albeit untidily, crammed into every nook and cranny between the dog’s house and the old shelving unit. Fresh dandelion leaves, dog food, torn scraps of newspaper and numerous telltale pack rat droppings told me immediately why Brandy had been so engrossed in staying in her kennel. As soon as I started moving things out the way, she and Bella were at attention and giving me “The Look”! It was a chore to move the whelping box from atop their sleeping quarters; I did not remember it being this heavy when I made it! The reason soon was made clear; almost 30 pounds, yes 30 pounds of dry dog food had been stashed in it! Since a piece of wood had covered the top of the box, I had no idea it had become a pack rat pantry! I had thought the dogs were going through an awful lot of food! Once the box was out of the way, the dismantling of the shelves began. Brandy stood guard on one side and Bella on the other. With a final heave the shelving unit gave way and moved… two pack rats leapt out from their nest tucked way in the back, a mother and youngster! Bella, quick as a flash caught and dispatched both! Brandy came tearing around to nab the last remaining rodent. Good dogs! Both girls proudly showed me their prizes, little stumps of tails wagging like mad! At least those ones are gone!

But I have an idea this may not be the end of the pesky rascals! Last night, I heard the patter of little feet running along the length of the deck. Drat! Somehow I think Brandy and Bella will have their work cut out for them this season… or should I say we will, for it is us who toils away moving, dismantling and shifting things aside when the dogs give us “That Look”!

The girls after the words… “Where’s the mouse!”