Reality Check

July 31, 2018

I almost always work alone. Though I am accustomed to it, in times of stress I can get a little lonely and blue. Then God sends me a reminder of the miracle of creation. Yesterday there was a goldfinch feeding on a single stalk of timothy outside my kitchen window. The day before a kestrel was perched on a fence post. This morning it was this tiny frog.

What a beautiful world!

Too Bold is Back

July 30, 2018

The big yellow coyote that I call Too Bold reappeared Friday afternoon. I was mowing on the knoll behind the barn when the geese began honking and flying toward me. At first I was not concerned. The geese often get so excited bathing in their water troughs in front of the barn that in an overflow of silly exuberance they fly off in all directions. However this time I saw the big coyote racing right behind them down the driveway.

(I was very lucky he chased them toward me, rather than away, as I never would have heard the commotion over the roar of the mower.)

I have a very loud voice and immediately began screaming, “Hey! Hey!” I threw the mower into 5th gear and bumped over the grass toward the geese. The coyote, galloping after them, barely glanced up at me.

“Hey!” (I am not at my most articulate in a panic.) I reached the fence, jumped off the mower, and began running at the coyote, still yelling. “Hey! Heeeeeeey!”

At this he sloped off at an angle to canter into the stand of trees by the cabin. I ran at him again, yelling. For the moment, he melted away.

My young geese John and Abigail (I’m reading the Adams correspondence) seemed stunned with fright. Their necks were stretched high, their eyes round. Normally they are skittish around me; now I thought I might have to pick them up to get them back to the barn. Eventually, glancing repeatedly over my shoulder, I was able to herd them back up the driveway. My old goose Kay was at the barn door, worried. I locked them all inside.

I need to spend hours weedwhacking all my fences and the driftway to get a hot charge. The south pasture has had no charge at all since the excavator snapped the electric line in the fall of 2016. (My sheep are inside portable netting with a battery charger.) Last summer there was no time, and this summer I hadn’t made it a priority. Now it is.

My neighbor, Mike, who is a skilled hunter, heard my shouting from his house and guessed what was going on. He had hoped the coyote had moved on from the neighborhood. Though I had not seen it yet, I thought probably not, after two summers of good eating and no consequences. In both 2016 and 2017, it was late July when the coyote first appeared at my barn, and for the past few weeks I’d been reminding myself to get ready. However, with my bad knee, scrambling over rocks around the back of the driftway and along the far fence lines to weedwhack is so taxing that I’d allowed it to slip down the list.

In the meantime on Saturday morning I spent several hours hauling out the old wire panels I’d stored behind the bunk house and setting them up around the front of the barn. These are the panels I’d taken off the broken sheep shelters. They are tired and bent.

The effect certainly adds to the Poverty Hollow-ish look of the barn.

I have a gift certificate to a local lumberyard and had planned to repaint the barn and paint the addition this summer … it’s still on the list … along with a dozen other projects.

The fence makes mucking the barn trickier, complicates bringing in grain bags, and will have to be taken down for hay deliveries.  I also need to line the bottom foot of the panels with remnants of galvanized wire because the chickens can spurt through the holes. So it’s ugly, it will get uglier, and it’s a pain in the neck.

However my hope is that it keeps my animals safe.

*   *  * 

On Saturday night, after an hour on the phone, I was able to snag for DH the very last seat on a plane to California. Airlines have dropped their compassionate fares and it looked as if getting him to Brian’s wake was going to drain our bank account. However, a kind person at American allowed me to use frequent flyer miles and we only paid the $75 fine for not buying 21 days ahead. Since he would be boarding in less than ten hours, I thought this was fair. After two long days of board meetings, DH greeted camp parents for visitors weekend from breakfast through dinner Saturday, received the wake details that evening, and got up yesterday at 3 AM to drive the 2.5 hours to the airport. Last night he was with Brian’s family and friends.


July 28, 2018

Last night we got terrible news. A dear friend of DH died in his sleep. Brian was a doctor, a kind, thoughtful, soft-spoken man with a cheerful smile. He was one of the Fossils, DH’s climbing buddies who keep in touch regularly by email and have tried to get together most years for more than three decades. At 63, Brian was the youngest. He had recently retired and moved to Colorado. His daughter is getting married in a few weeks. It is shocking.

Brian stayed with us a number of times over the years for Fossil adventures. Here’s a photo of Gary and Brian at our door during an ice-climbing weekend in 2011.

Brian and DH had exchanged emails only three days ago. The news of his death is hard to believe. It is also a brutal reminder to me to focus on what is important in life, and let the rest roll off.

Driveway, Round Two

July 27, 2018

One day last week Damon felt better and drove out to put in the second set of driveway culverts. It all went easily at first.

I thought our biggest challenge would be to fit the culverts together. Lucy came outside for a few minutes before leaving for work and with each of us holding a floppy, heavy, 20′ length, she and I had tried to ram them together. Unfortunately we could not make them snap to fit. (Our helpless laughing — lunging at each other with giant culvert snakes! — didn’t help either.) Damon later suggested a block and sledgehammer and, though dull, his method was effective.

It was at about this moment that the bucket began grinding on stone. Given the boulders all over the farm, this didn’t surprise Damon or me. However, when he was finally able to pull out the rock, we found it was embedded in concrete. Oh, dear.

Once upon a time this property had a small cottage in deep woods. I had cleared two acres of the woods and originally hoped to rehab the cottage. After twenty years standing empty and vandalized, however, the little house was rotted beyond saving. I looked into having it burned by the fire department as a training exercise, but in the end my friend Tommy knocked it down.

Now we were finding buried pieces of the stone foundation . . .

… as well as shards of the house.

Damon’s language was unprintable.

I was extremely apologetic. Between logging, terracing, putting in a driveway, building the garage and then building the house, the land has been so altered that I hadn’t realized we were near the spot of the tear-down.

An hour passed as Damon sifted the mess with the bucket while I pulled out chunks of wood and he tried to find enough good dirt to bury the culvert. Eventually we had to quit. “Ain’t nothing here but crap!”

I had no choice. We made calls and the next morning a tandem truck arrived from the gravel yard, carrying crushed stone.

The culvert is safely (and expensively) buried.

I have taken all the large broken scraps of wood to my burn pile, but there are still stacks of rocks, concrete-edged boulders, and piles of trashy dirt at the edge of the driveway waiting for my attention. I have added them to the list.

But not for today. For some reason I woke up this morning at 2 AM. Even reading a book on colonial tools and studying a dozen types of adzes could not get me back to sleep.


July 26, 2018

The skies have been dark all week and finally we’re having a little rain after months of dry weather. Not much rain, but what falls is appreciated. I am trying to improve the day by weedwhacking my fence lines. This is slow work because my weak knee is not up to lurching over uneven ground for too long. Nevertheless, I work at it a little almost every day.

In the hot dampness, the weedwhacker steams and wet shreds of goldenrod and raspberry canes paste themselves all over my glasses, shirt, and pants. After an hour I look like the survivor of a salad explosion.

In addition to my bad knee (diagnosed last week as missing cartilage, and prescribed a shot of cortisone plus a webbing and metal brace) and my bad elbow (not yet medically inspected), I also have arthritis in my hands. For years now I’ve been unable to open the head of my weedwhacker to change the blades or refill the string. Thus, I’ve had to rely on an alternative method.

I often smile to myself, imagining the amazed remarks of any observer. “So then to change the blades, this crazy lady got out a giant pipe wrench …”



July 25, 2018

The situation with my builder has been like a blow dart spreading paralyzing poison in me since June. I have felt so shocked, angry, and powerless that it has been hard to think about anything else. After seven weeks of non-responsiveness he finally contacted me a few days ago to let me know what he would be willing to finish. He has taken more and more off the list, things that he stood next to me and promised to do many times.

I want to rant and rail. I want to report him to the Better Business Bureau. I want an acknowledgment that we have paid the price for his mistakes in planning. I want an apology.

None of these things are going to happen. I have replied briefly and coolly, telling him merely that I would be glad to have the house finished and asking him to give me notice when he planned to return. Who knows when that will be. I know it is out of my control. I also know I can’t stay lost in bitterness over my misjudgment, that trusted him as a friend. Finally, I know that in the scheme of things, losing money is a manageable loss.

In the meantime I have been working long days outdoors, listening to hymns, emptying my mind, tiring myself out. When my bad leg won’t stand up to it, I sit down and mow. When the weather is bad, I work indoors. (I call the well company!) I tell myself to just keep going. The list is very long and I know every speck of progress will make me feel a little better. Great is [my] faithfulness. 

A Grand Stroke of Luck!

July 24, 2018

I have been worried about my well pump for more than a year. It has been running constantly; I would hear a quiet hiss when I passed it. Yes, I know that this is bad for the pump. I was told by Damon. I was told by my contractor. I was told by my electrician. However when I called the well company last summer I was told it would cost $400 merely to send a man out to assess the problem, and over $2000 to replace the pump and in-well tank. I didn’t have $2500+ and it was not yet a crisis — and I was dealing with so many crises at the time. I pushed the pump problem to the back of my mind.

However it remained on my list, so yesterday I forced myself to call the company again. The original owner has retired, but his office manager, Cathy, still has my file from 2008, when they drilled the farm well. Again she went over the chilling litany of probable expense, and reminded me that they do not take credit cards. Feverishly I ran through scenarios in my mind, juggling dollars. I did not want to have a water failure in January at 30° below zero.

My mind stuck at the $400 charge to come out. Could a local electrician fix it? Not likely. Another well company? The other well company was only ten minutes closer. I was too far from everyone.

“We hardly ever get calls to your town,” Cathy said regretfully. “Though, actually, I have someone up there today.”



“Would it be possible for your guy to stop by to look at my well, while he’s up here — just to diagnose the problem?”

“I suppose… but he’s hard to reach. He has terrible cell service.”

“Oh, would you mind trying?”

She agreed. Five minutes later she called me back. “I’m sorry. I can’t reach him. He’s probably already on his way home by now. Or he might just be in a dead zone for service.”

“Really.” I sighed. “Where was he working?”

She paused to look it up, then named the road.

“Oh my goodness, that’s our road! It’s only seven miles long! If he’s still here, he’s five minutes away! Can you tell me the number?”

She gave the number, and the name. The technician had been working at my friend Marie’s house!

I told Cathy I would call her back, then jumped in my truck and drove over. At first sight, my heart dropped. No well truck. Rats. I’d missed him. Backing the truck to turn around, I caught a glimpse of a van behind the house. I jumped out, ran over, and tapped on the passenger window. A teenaged boy rolled it down.

“Cathy has been trying to call you!” I exclaimed to the driver. He was startled but kind. They had just finished work on Marie’s well. I explained the situation and a half an hour later he and the boy were at my house.

Naturally, after two months of drought, it now began to pour. “If we all put on our raincoats,” I joked, “the rain will stop.”

It did.

I stayed with them as they took the well cap off and worked to find the problem.

It turned out that a small hose to the pressure gauge had cracked and was spraying water, freezing the gauge with rust and keeping the pump running. The young technician thought the pump itself was fine.

It took two hours to cut out all the bad parts and replace them. The teenager and I were the nurses passing tools and holding hoses, electric wires, and the flashlight as the technician doctored my well.

At last it was done! Marie and her husband, George, drove in just as the tech was packing up his tools. The three of us were damp with rain and smeared with mud and rust. Marie and George, immaculate and smiling, looked like advertising models from another planet. They hugged me anyway.

My well is fixed! $300. I am very lucky. Thank you so much, Marie, George, and the Universe!


The Hammock

July 20, 2018

Lucy has wanted a hammock for years. Five? More? A hammock has always shown up on her birthday list.

I don’t know why I never found her a hammock, even a used one, but with everything else going on (moving twice, building a house, dealing with an errant contractor) I never did.  I happened to mention it to DH and he bought her an inexpensive one from a street market on last week’s business trip to Guatemala. He gave it to her yesterday.

Today I bought eyebolts, drilled them in, and hung it up. Someday this corner will be a screen porch. It may even have porch furniture. But for now, Lucy is happy reading in her hammock.


Days Are Passing

July 15, 2018

I am aware of the ticking clock. Both sets of bluebirds in my bluebird boxes have left the nest. The clutch of tree swallows in the box near the barn fledged the day before the official start of summer. I happened to be there and spent ten minutes watching the five babies try their wings. The barn seems lonelier now, without all the busy swooping.

Summer is fleeting here.


A Quick Trip Away

July 14, 2018

On Thursday I drove Lucy to the Connecticut coast for an annual visit with one of her closest friends who would only be available for twenty-four hours between college stints in Fiji and Chile.

As I am working on a story set in the area during the American Revolution, I took the opportunity to poke around for a few hours. Though I grew up in the town next door, I have not lived there since 1983 and have not visited since my mother’s death in 2004. After 35 years in the mountains, I wanted to refresh my memories of mudflats, salt marsh, and sea weed.

I also wanted to find a bridge at the head of a nearby harbor. During the Revolution, the wooden bridge at this spot was called the Great Bridge. It was a point of local pride and at the heart of the business district. In 1779 the townspeople pulled up all the bridge planks in an (unsuccessful) effort to keep attacking British soldiers from crossing. For my story I had to see the site. Getting a decent view of this now-insignificant, side bridge involved circling around city buildings, scrambling through a parking lot, and using my zoom lens. Today we might call it the Dinky Bridge.

Still, I looked down at the rocks at the base and thought to myself, You were here then.

My real treat, however, was a visit with my older sister, who drove over from New Jersey for lunch. Though we write regularly I hadn’t seen Newly since Lucy’s high school graduation, which was a blur. It seemed forever since we had really visited.

Of course, we met at the cemetery. I brought sandwiches, Newly brought brushes, soap, and jugs of water, and we scrubbed our parents’ gravestone. I know this would have pleased Mom and Dad. Scrubbing family gravestones is a tradition from our earliest childhoods.

Lucy joined us for the return trip north. Before we left, she wanted to see Grandma’s house. Lucy was six when our mother died and the house was sold, but she had happy memories of playing with her cousins there. I drove anxiously down the driveway, expecting to be lacerated by seeing the house where I grew up.

To my astonishment, I felt nothing. The 1950s colonial that had sheltered two parents and five children had been bought by a single woman who considerably enlarged it, changed the roofline, changed the porch, changed the windows. Every detail was very, very fancy and expensive — and completely unrecognizable to me. In a way it was a relief. This woman was not living in our home. Our home was gone. It lives safely in our memories.

While we were in the cemetery, Lucy took our picture. I tend to be stiff and a little worried in photographs.

Newly doesn’t!

It was so wonderful to see her, even for only two hours.

Lucy and I hit traffic all the way home and I pulled the barn doors closed at 9 PM.