Catch-up Day

July 31, 2010

We took Lizzy home to Albany on Thursday, an all-day excursion. Yesterday was spent doing errands. Today is beautiful and I hate to waste any of it indoors. However I have been running around so much the past few weeks it feels as though the details of my life have got away from me. I need to change beds, clean bathrooms, run loads of laundry, excavate the refrigerator, make cheese, pay bills. The dull stuff that keeps me feeling reasonably in charge and on top of things.

I also need to post the last few days of Lizzy’s visit. We had a lot of fun! I will backdate those entries so as not to be confusing.

And now the dishwasher calls.


Ironman Lockdown

July 25, 2010

Today was the Ironman triathlon. It’s a huge boost for the local economy (2000+ athletes flood our small town, and it is estimated that each athlete brings three supporters who spend their money in local shops). However it’s also a huge pain. The roads have been clotted with bicycles for weeks. It doesn’t seem too big a deal until you realize that almost all our “back roads” are 55 mph highways, hilly and twisting, with narrow shoulders. To avoid potholes, the cyclists often ride in the lanes. As a driver your heart skips a beat when you crest a steep curve to find an athlete in lycra pedaling madly just in front of your car grille.

On race day, however, the roads are entirely closed to traffic. Lots of locals simply leave town. With my livestock that’s not practical for me. Instead the girls and I hung out at the farm for the day. Though it was raining on and off, I was determined to mow, so I mowed in the rain.

The girls worked on the round pen. The task was to clear the ground to make the footing safe for riding.

There were many rocks…

…broken logs…

and tenacious roots!

Lucy became adept with the pick-axe — which Lizzy kept referring to as a “pitch fork,” making them both giggle.

It turned out that Allen had missed a number of small stumps with the excavator. For these we needed the truck. We removed one panel of the round pen and I backed in. (Lucy thought we should commemorate Lizzy’s new skill at directing drivers. She has very authoritative hand signals. “I dream of becoming a crossing guard,” Lizzy says.)

The girls dug beneath each stump and passed a piece of DH’s old climbing rope under it, and then looped it back around the truck tow hitch.

A quick gun of the engine in four-wheel drive — and hooray! The girls were cheering.

I am surprised stump-pulling isn’t an organized sport.

Between every filling of the cart they retired to the cabin for a game of cards in the loft. Then back for “round pen basketball” — throwing more logs into the cart.

At the end of the day I had the girls help me move a birch snag which had fallen over the cow pasture fence. “God was trying to give Katika one last chance to enter the triathlon!” I explained. Luckily she was not interested, and stayed home this year.

However a garter snake had tried to cross the downed electric lines, and had been fried by the current. I showed him to the girls.

“Poor snake!” they cried, but kept their distance.

By the time the roads re-opened at five the girls had been working for hours. They were tired and dirty but still cheerful. A surprisingly good day, despite the weather and lack of choices. Sometimes it’s fun just to ride on the tailgate of a truck. (Doubleclick on the photo to see their smiles.)

Maiden Voyage of the “Grandma”

July 24, 2010

Today we launched our new (to us) canoe, purchased off Craigslist this spring. Though Lucy still had a low-grade fever, the girls were stir-crazy indoors, so I decided we’d keep Lucy medicated and hydrated and head out canoeing anyway.

It was also the first trip with our canoe trailer. Why a canoe trailer, you ask? When I was planning the summer, DH thought he would be away for a month. My single experience lifting the canoe up onto the roof of the car, with the help of two other adults, convinced me that this not was an activity Lucy (90 pounds clothed and wet) and I could manage on our own. So I watched canoe trailers on Craigslist, but they were rare, fancy, and very expensive, and I was beginning to despair. Then my friend Mike mentioned that a camp was getting rid of one of its trailer fleet. A rusty, gigantic, old painted trailer built in 1955.

“Don’t look too great but it works fine,” Mike said. “And dirt cheap.”

The magic words. Sold.

The antique trailer rattled and bumped. Of course I was a bit nervous backing in tight spaces but the girls quickly became proficient at calling out directions and we swung perfectly into place to off-load at the landing. Within minutes we were paddling up Upper Cascade Lake.

Our canoe is an elderly Old Town sixteen-footer, heavy, upright, very stable, and very safe. The canoe is designed to right itself if it rolls and swamps. “It wants to take care of us,” I told the girls. “It’s the U.S.S. Grandma.”

The paddling was smooth over the dark water. All the way down the lake we followed the progress of a Belted Kingfisher that swooped ahead of us from tree to tree hanging over the water.

“That would have made Grandma very happy,” I said.

We drifted and ate granola bars at the far end of the lake, peering up at a small waterfall splashing down the side of the mountain (one of the cascades emptying into Cascade Lake). DH had told Lucy about another, larger waterfall at the other end of the lake, so after our hour’s paddle I lashed the canoe back onto the trailer while the girls went exploring.

They rushed back to me in ten minutes. They’d found an unmarked trail! It might lead to the waterfall! We toiled over boulders to hike up the side of the mountain to see.


All morning I kept thinking of my mother. She worked so hard to have the grandchildren know each other, bringing all five sibs and all our children, from all over the country, back together for a family reunion, summer after summer. The girls were only six when she died, but by then they were friends.

We live six hours apart and the girls only see each other a few days a year. But they’re twelve now, and still friends.

Wouldn’t Grandma be pleased?

Lizzy is here! …and DH is leaving

July 23, 2010

…and Lucy is out for the count!

Lucy and I picked up her cousin yesterday in Albany. Lizzy is sweet and funny, and though seven months younger, quite a bit taller than Lu. (In the photo, right, she’s standing on a lower rock.)

Lucy has a habit of falling sick on the eve of much-anticipated events, and this was no different. She has been so excited to have her cousin come for a week — ergo, her nose began streaming Wednesday night. We drove to Albany with Lucy sneezing uncontrollably and packing a box of Kleenex.

This morning she seemed a bit wan but the girls came with me to barn chores, brought in the horses, grained the cows, fed the pigs, and each tried a hand at milking one teat. Then they were off to go hiking with DH for a quick run up Owl’s Head in a drizzle.

When they came back at lunch time, however, Lucy was pale and out of gas.

“Do I feel a little hot to you, Mom?” she asked. “My neck hurts. My head hurts. I have no energy.”

I took her temperature. 102.4. Oh dear.

Now it is raining and the girls are playing board games while Lucy lies on the sofa. I am frustrated by this double monkey wrench but I guess I will have to concede that the weather and the flu are both out of my control.

Meanwhile DH leaves at 4 AM tomorrow for two and a half weeks of climbing in Peru. He laid out his packing last night in the living room, checking and rechecking his lists, his ropes, harnesses, etc., and evaluating everything by weight. I have watched this ritual for 26 years.

I always worry when DH is climbing big mountains. I know it makes him happy and he is a safe, conservative climber. Still, I have to switch off my awareness of the danger for most of the time he is gone.

Of course DH is not taking the dollhouse up the glacier. Lucy and I found that on Freecycle and are renovating it this summer — “for the grandchildren” — as a rainy-day project.

However (sigh) not a rainy-day-and-flu project.

Thinking about willows

July 21, 2010

Lucy and I spent the day in Burlington yesterday going to the dentist and doing family chores. Today we were supposed to drive to Albany to pick up her cousin for a week, but after a 3-hour white-knuckle drive home from Vermont through a thunderstorm and torrential downpour, the truck windshield wipers unable to keep up with the water, and more of the same predicted for today, I called my sister-in-law and put off the trip for twenty-four hours. Perhaps I’m getting old. But there’s no reason to push and the girls will have just as much fun visiting from Thursday to Thursday instead of Wednesday to Wednesday.

It was a pleasure, as always, to spend time with Lucy. I enjoy her so much.

We stopped briefly at a nursery to price willow trees. For some reason Lucy loves weeping willows. They were the first trees she could identify. She was three when I took her with me on a drive to Maine for a memorial service, and from her car seat she called out excitedly, “Willow!” I craned my neck and sure enough, we were passing a big weeping willow. She has remained devoted to them ever since.

Now, my own memories of willows from childhood involve a neighbor’s big messy trees dropping branches and catkins, and providing a haven for flocks of Canada geese and swans — thus the ground below them was always grazed bare and slippery with goose poop. Not appetizing. I also think of willows as a suburban fixture. However, I have told Lucy that we can plant a weeping willow at the farm. What’s the point of raising children to love nature — to have a favorite tree! — if you can’t indulge that love on twenty-two acres?

I have the perfect spot picked out: the rough, bouldery ground fenced off above Allen’s tiny pond. I won’t be walking or working there, so the mess won’t matter. (Though Lucy, exactly like a child pleading for a puppy, promises feverishly that she will clean up after this tree forever.)

Prairie Cascade willow

The Grand Isle nursery sold only one variety of willow, the Prairie Cascade. This is a hybrid developed for the mountains and is hardy to zone 3. A seven-foot sapling available had a few drooping branches. However the nursery didn’t have any more information about the variety. I hesitated. Lucy was suspicious, too.

“Cascade means waterfall and there are no cascades on a prairie,” she pointed out.

I had to laugh. My daughter and I are quite different but there are a few areas of overlap.

We decided we needed to do some more research. I will be going back to Vermont in a few weeks and it’s likely the saplings will still be available, perhaps even on end-of-summer sale. The interval will allow us to look into the different varieties that can survive here (Prairie Cascade may be the only one) and even dig the planting hole.

Keep Your Dreams Within Reason

July 19, 2010

In the 1930s E. B. White’s friend at the New Yorker, John McNulty, cracked that he was going to write a popular song and call it Keep Your Dreams Within Reason. This tickled White’s fancy and, later, mine, and I’ve always remembered it — perhaps because my dreams have always been even more unreasonable and outlandish than most.

I had an email from Luke saying he’s not coming to work this morning. He was invited to Montreal. He canceled last Friday too. I’m disappointed. I’d had visions of getting a lot accomplished on the farm today before the rest of the week is swept away in family commitments.

I’ll have to scale down my list, make it manageable for one person, leaving myself something I can cross off at the end of the day and feel good about. I always remember my sister telling me about visiting a young woman and seeing a to-do list stuck on the refrigerator. The first item on the list was “Sheetrock house.” Maybe getting the top 12 acres mowed over the weekend was in the “sheetrock house” category.

It’s dark this morning and due to storm.  I’ve already heard the rumbling of thunder. I’ll consult with my master summer work list, my week’s list, and a yellow pad, and try to come up with a “reasonable” plan.

A little discouraged

July 18, 2010

I mowed and weedwhacked all weekend — in every spare moment apart from other farm and life chores — and it feels as if I barely made a dent. I’m so behind on work! Finishing building the garage hasn’t even started. I never got the pumpkins planted and now it’s too late. Ditto for meat chickens. Black-eyed susans (an August flower in my mind) are blooming everywhere. Where has the time gone? I try not to panic.

I mowed the top of the home field, remembering clearing the trees with Tommy in 2005.

It took two hours to weedwhack the thick stand of three-foot goldenrod and daisies smothering the top of Allen’s first rock wall. I recalled the look of concentration on Allen’s face as he built it swiftly and surely, lifting the stones into place with the excavator.

Every time I reloaded the weedwhacker I sat on a boulder and thought of Dave, who taught me to use and load one long ago. Dave, who is much younger than I, was extremely patient with an old broad’s lack of smarts with machinery. He never seemed ruffled that I couldn’t get it, and simply showed me one more time. He always used to quote the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Dear Dave, you were right and will be remembered as long as I have strength to weedwhack.

When I gassed the mower and had to restart it, I remembered the time I called Mike in fright when the old machine was new (to me).  I’d been mowing for fifteen minutes, stopped the machine to move a rock, and when I got back in the seat and turned the key — nothing.

“It won’t start!” I told Mike frantically on the phone. “It won’t even turn over!”

It was a weekend and Mike was busy with his sideline of small engine repairs.

“OK, Sis, I’ll finish what I’m doin’ and drive out.”

Mike appeared in his truck about an hour later. He hiked out to the mower carrying tools. He looked at the machine, looked at me, and moved a lever.

“Won’t ever start, Sis, if ya got the blade engaged,” he said kindly, and turned the key. The mower fired up immediately.

“Oh, Mike! I’m so sorry! I’m so stupid!”

Mike laughed. “You said it, Sis, not me!”

Dave, Tommy, Mike, Allen … and more. I remember with affection all the guys who’ve helped me over the years and hope they’d be happy to know how often they’re in my thoughts.