Saturday, July 30, 2005

Cool Portland street art Posted by Picasa

M&O's adorable house. Violet surveys the world from the livingroom. Posted by Picasa

"L, why don't you tell K what you do for a living? K, isn't that interesting?" In Mom's defense, they really did have interesting things to say to each other about work, as L's company is currently working with K's company on a publicity campaign. Posted by Picasa

L's shiny, shiny new car. I would've framed the picture better, but she was pulling over--or rather, stopping in the middle of the lane--in rush hour traffic and it seemed better to just run over and get in. And then I forgot to take another one. Posted by Picasa

Conspicuous Consumption

Not all travel is the same. My trips to Jerome Creek are a way for me to try out the life I wish to lead someday—horses and nature and healthy cooking in a rural setting. Trips to Europe are opportunities to immerse myself in a culture only a little bit different from my own, so I can have the relaxation of a vacation with the excitement of new things. Travel to Africa is a way to step into something completely different—my past trips to Kenya have plunged me into a life utterly unlike, in almost every way, what I experience here. The surface similarities—high-rises in Nairobi, cars and traffic lights, restaurants, shops—all serve to highlight the differences, rather than comfort one with sameness.

And my trips to Portland with Mom, hedonistic biennial bacchanals, seem to have little social benefit except for the small effect that three days of shopping, breakfasts, lunches and dinners out, and a stay in a fancy hotel, have on the health of the economy. Oh, sure, we visit friends from my days at Lewis and Clark (and Mom treats them to tasty dinners—one of the pleasant carry-overs from the college days), so there’s an aspect of the trip that involves interaction with others and we’re not focusing all our energy on personal consumption alone, but that is the main part of it, and this year was no exception.

There’s something to be said for free WiFi in the hotel room, “high-speed WiFi,” no less. I don’t know a lot about computers, beyond emailing and, oh, shopping, but it does seem that the point of WiFi is ease—and having low-speed WiFi defeats that point. “We have WiFi. You can sit with your wireless-enabled laptop anywhere within our hotel and, in about 45 minutes, download some email. But you don’t need a cord!” Anyway, knowing I was going to have the fast, free WiFi right in my room, I didn’t prepare quite as well as I might have for this trip—you know, finding where to shop, where to eat, where to shop at Anthropologie, where to get afternoon coffee, where to have gelato and shop, when Nordstrom opens, how to get to the Rose Garden on the truly handy-dandy light rail, and what to buy while there, but it all worked out perfectly.

I have to say, if I weren’t planning to move out to the islands where I can have horses and boats and plenty of space around me, I would seriously consider moving to Portland (Editor’s note: Ms. Taylor would like to add the caveat that the weather be sunny and warm for half the year and then sunny and cold or snowy and cold for the other half; in other words, fairly unlike typical Portland weather). I’ve retained a bit of familiarity with the city from my years in college, when I couldn’t drive downtown without accidentally going over the Burnside Bridge. When I first graduated and moved to Seattle, I was relieved—I felt freed, in fact—to be living in a real city. I kept referring to Portland as a “great starter city”, which, for a country kid, it was. But now I see that pedestrian-friendly compactness and the light rail have some serious advantages over endless concrete (oh, I know—New York has a lot more, and Seattle is really green and small by many urban standards). Also, I don’t know if I was just in a happy shopping mood or what, but sales associates in Portland are all really nice. The guy at Coffee People recognized us the second day we went in. Of course, maybe Seattleites have developed surly attitudes to go along with their poshed-up East Coast-style lives. The new Pearl District, which everyone raves about and so I’m not unique at all in my love of it, is really cool. And it can’t have hurt the totally awesome Powell’s one bit to be on the edge of it. I’m guessing that Paul Allen’s South Lake Union will be the Pearl of Seattle, and I hope I’m right. Anyway, certainly Portland is a lovely place.

It’s also been fun to be with Mom for our biennial trip. I think in the past we’ve maybe stayed three nights, and I think that maybe would be a better idea than two—I’m so fired up about tax-free shopping by the time we get there that I’m hard-pressed to do anything more cultural . . . and so another day, in which to feed my soul as well as my closet, might be good in the future.

Things specifically about this trip:

  1. My friend L, from Lewis and Clark, who is a professional woman in Portland these days, was a charming dinner companion. I should clarify—this is always the case, not just this trip. She also has a new car, a fancy 2005 Jetta sedan, which she bought last Saturday. Marsh’s sister, K, also from Portland, is likewise a charming dinner companion. And they both dealt very well with Mom saying, as soon as we’d received our wine at the extraordinarily tasty Caffe Mingo, “Okay, L—now you tell K what you do for work, and then K, you tell L what you do.” Both knew better than to argue with a retired teacher. After exchanging work stories, I said “Okay, now how would you two feel about dating?” It just sounded like that was where Mom was going.
  2. Mom snores, like her mother. This is different from the past. Grams (Mom Sr.), used to shake the house with her nocturnal growling. Not sure if this is a transient phase for Mom, or a new leaf. She was certainly surprised to be told about it, and I am reminded that the snorer who sleeps alone (in her case, so she claims, because Marsh snores) may not be aware of their snoring. Certainly, I feel that I never snore, but Ian says I occasionally do. And how would I know; I’m asleep.
  3. Mom brought a zucchini. We were intending to have lunch with some friends we met on another trip the two of us took (on the train, mistakenly from Vancouver, BC, north to Prince George instead of up Vancouver Island . . . as did this couple), but they—in their 80s—had double-booked, and so were going off to pick peaches instead (and he uses a walker!). Instead, at dinner with L and K, I picked a number between one and ten and had K and L guess what it was—they didn’t know they were fighting for a zucchini or they probably wouldn’t have put so much effort into it—and K won but didn’t want the zucchini, but L did want it, and was quite forceful in her declarations of love for all things vegetable (well, some things anyway, including zucchini) and so took it herself, but felt weird carrying it around and it wouldn’t fit in her purse so she gave it back to me to put in my bag, which I did, leaving it there until we returned to our hotel room, but fortunately we were staying within walking distance of L’s work and so just dropped it off with the receptionist the next morning (this is not exactly true. The receptionist looked at us and the zucchini askance, then nodded knowingly when we explained we were there dropping off a zucchini for L. Apparently, this was not an unusual occurrence. Then she called L to come get the zucchini directly, clearly not wanting it to muddle up her desk). It was a nice reasonable-sized zucchini, not one of the gargantuan ones Mom has been known to grow.
  4. Two other friends, M from Lewis and Clark and her husband, O, are also charming dinner companions and Mint a fantastic place to eat with amazing cocktails—which it’s known for (Fresh, mentioned in the above-linked review, was perfect on a hot evening)—and amazing food, which it’s less known for, presumably because the cocktails are so good that people are quickly in no position to judge food. M and O have recently purchased a beautiful little Tudor in Northeast Portland, which looks inside exactly how all of us wish our 80-year-old northwest houses looked.
  5. I have realized once and for all I have blood-sugar issues. Friends may have noticed this already—an impatience of attitude, say, when I need food. I recommend that they not bring it to my attention, however, even if I’m currently sated. I mean, why poke a sleeping bear. I am also embarrassed to say that my bad attitude manifested itself in childish selfishness and huffy words to my mother, who is generosity personified (and never ever, no never, has blood-sugar issues herself). The fact that I had spent a fruitless hour or more in the much-despised Nordstrom Rack prior to getting any food did not help matters. The thing about Nordstrom Rack is this—it’s full of clothes that people didn’t want. Often, people didn’t want them because they were weird sizes. I’m not a particularly weird size, so I find it depressing, then maddening to look for anything there. If a shopper has a specific purpose—say, a fancy cotton cardigan as a gift for a loved one, or a formal gown for a recital, it can be perfect—but I’ve learned my lesson. Get in, get it done, and get out. Then have a snack.

Even in the US, the train is a comfortable way to travel, and I’m sorry it’s not easier to take everywhere. Mainly, I like it because vacation begins when you step on, not when you get out of your car at your destination. It does seem, for me, that vacation begins when I can begin drinking, whether I actually do drink or not—and I often don’t, so there. But still.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Africa Calling

I realized this afternoon that—for the purposes of this blog, even—there’s more to travel than merely the trip itself. Any time one leaves home, heads out into the world, or the country, or even just across the state—any time one leaves the cocoon of day-to-day, the mundanity of schedule, planning is involved. While the amount and flavor of trip planning varies widely from traveler to traveler and trip to trip, the bare minimum—have I locked the door?—almost always applies.

Ian and I are currently planning a trip to Africa, to take place mid-year next year. The impetus—or impeti? there are several—are that Ian is scheduled to earn his PhD next spring, and so we have a reason to celebrate; we currently have no children, only Spackle who is as happy at Mama Liz and Papa Marsh’s place as he is with us (and they—thank you Mom and Marsh—don’t seem to mind); and we would like to share our Africa experiences pre-each other with each other. In our ideal world, we would have about three months for this trip. We would start in Kenya (where I spent 5 months during school at Lewis and Clark College), work our way slowly down the east coast through Tanzania, Malawi, and Mocambique, then head into Zambia and Zimbabwe (where Ian spent two years in the Peace Corps teaching math), and end in South Africa and Cape Town. For a variety of reasons, including political unrest, our trip is likely to be much shorter than this, and quite different.

That’s not why I’m writing, though. This morning, excited about the prospect of African travel, we started reading the Lonely Planet on-line guide. Within each country, there’s a link to “postcards,” which consist of unverified (by Lonely Planet) information emailed or sent to them by readers on vacation. Two in particular, from the Scams and Warnings section for Kenya, stuck with me; one for its naivety, one for its appalling paternalistic self-righteousness.

First, the innocent, a Tina Hall (home unknown), who took a cheap shuttle into Nairobi and was dropped off in a sketchy part of town—where the shuttle (matatu) stand is—writes “some kid tried to grab a gold necklace and run off (luckily he didn’t get it).” Duh. If you want to keep your gold jewelry, LEAVE IT AT HOME.

Second, the Lord of the World, one Kelly Buja (naturally from the USA), tells about a trip to the Maasai Mara, a large game reserve that shares wildlife, an ecosystem and a border with the Serengeti in Tanzania. Kelly and friend camped outside the reserve, thus keeping money from an organization struggling to save dwindling wildlife populations and catch poachers. Each of two days, their guide drove them onto reserve grounds the back way, thus protecting them from park fees yet again. But get this—the guide charged them each $30, on top of what they paid him for the trip from Nairobi and the drive through the reserve and the back entrance into the park, and failed to supply fresh, clean receipts, so “Anyways, we got him fired, but it is such a shame that the parks continue to get exploited.” First of all, how dare you—who can afford the $2000 plane ticket to Kenya—even try to get someone fired over $60! Second, why do you think you actually did “get him fired?” They know that you, an American, are way better set up—in every imaginable way—than your guide. Third, how is it that you came to be camping outside the park and sneaking in the back way? Because you were trying to get the cheapest possible deal on a safari? That’s the shame! That’s why the parks and reserves continue to be exploited! Get over your incredible selfish sense of entitlement and see if you can do some good somewhere, for a change.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Good dogs. Posted by Picasa

Two Last Things

1) How do you tell when a horse is too fat? They don’t get cellulite or complexes, so it’s not the easiest thing in the world. It’s obvious when one is too skinny, of course. And, for sure, these horses aren’t. Oh well—at least they’ve all been ridden about 10 times (except Shadow, who’s up there around 15), and they’re obviously in better shape than when I came—not breathing so hard after gallops, more interested in sustained trotting or cantering, less sweaty at the end of rides. I will miss them!

2) Finally, last night, the dogs and I worked out a sleeping arrangement that pleased us all, instead of mostly just Spackle. For several nights now, Kit will start out on the bed (with much coaxing from me, because it doesn’t seem fair that my brown interloper should have the major comfyness while the actual dog of the house makes do with the throw rug at the foot of the bed), and then get off in the middle of the night, presumably because I’ve rolled over and nudged him, and, huffily, he decides he’s had enough. Night before last, I eventually got him up, but he laid down right where I wanted to be (it’s a king-sized bed, and the dogs take up literally ¾ of it, and Kit was encroaching into my ¼ sliver, putting me at risk of sleeping on the throw rug), so I pushed him over. He jumped up, looked at me reproachfully, then hopped off onto the floor.

Well, last night I got into bed, claiming my sliver, then invited him up (Spackle, whose knee issue keeps him from jumping, had already been lifted to his favorite position). This cleverness on my part allowed the three of us to each stake a reasonable claim, and we all slept soundly throughout the night, and, since no one was here staying with us, woke up after 7:00am. When guests are in the Garagemahal and leave their abode early, Spackle hears intruders in the yard and WOOFS his elk-and-freaky-digestion-scaring woof, which is, as you might imagine, a rude awakening.

Anyway, we all woke leisurely at about 7:40, and then these adorable dogs proceeded to roll around, legs completely intertwined, groaning and sighing with the pleasures of the morning stretch. And then they even let me get up and leave the room to get the camera, and they both stayed exactly as they were when I asked them too, and didn’t move until I’d taken several pictures and said “All done.” Such great dogs!

Houses and furniture and paper oh my Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Threatening machinery Posted by Picasa

Sikem sniffing the camera. It smelled like carrots.  Posted by Picasa

Viewing the devastation. Posted by Picasa

Home Again, Home Again

This will be my last post from this trip, and as such will be probably way too long and definitely way too disjointed. Ah well, thus is the life of the traveler—it’s hard to fit everything in, and hard to organize your thoughts about all the things you do manage to do. Ergo:

First off, a thought about the utility of travel. For me at least, being away from home gives me the opportunity—the psychological space, say—to evaluate my day-to-day life and figure out what, if anything, needs changing. On past trips, I have had some valuable insights into my everyday life, and this trip was no exception. I look forward to implementing my new ideas when I return home.

Second, a brief exposition of my ride. I managed to stay on the entire time, much to my relief. I was on Sikem, who, I’ve just discovered, spells his name with an e and not a u. I always use a saddle when I ride Sikem (except, of course, when crossing the creek in the pasture), because he has a relatively pronounced backbone. It doesn’t look like much, but it would certainly be felt very quickly. After my ride today, I realized that, backbone aside, I wouldn’t ride Sikem bareback unless someone else were riding with me. The reason is this—the mares, both of whom have been around the block a few times, know that most of the things they encounter in the wilds are not going to hurt them. Sure, the occasional flying deer is startling, but not every last hunk of wood rotting on the side of the trail. Sikem hasn’t lived long enough to know that wood is benign though, so to him, everything is a potential threat. It’s an attitude that makes cantering all the more exciting. He’s calmer when one of the mares is along; they’ve got staid down pat.

During the three hours we were out, I cemented yet more knowledge of the area. I now know for certain at least one route to a very steep, uncomfortable descent leading to the Gold Bug Mine. I chose not to take that descent today. Instead, having found it, we turned around and went the other way, straight into a current clear-cut (it being Saturday, we were not threatened by any large machinery. That is to say, I knew we weren’t, and Sikem thought we were but he was wrong). I have mixed feelings about the clear-cut. First of all, it looked horrible, a wasteland. Sounded like one, too—the woods are a-twitter with bird song this time of year, and it was a bit eerie to be in a place where there wasn’t any. Then I noticed deer prints in the dirt road and I thought “Oh, deer.” Then I thought “Oh. Those deer probably lived here.” Then I thought probably not all the deer that lived there escaped. Then I went on to focusing on the smell, which was gorgeous—sap and wood and balsam. And here’s the thing—I can have these transcendent riding experiences because of this logging company. I can get to the top of a rise and see wooded hills and meadows for miles around me because the place I’m looking over was clear-cut at one point. And this is not old-growth forest; it’s farmed. And at least two deer survived.

Sikem must have lost about 50 pounds, though. Not just from the exercise; he also pooped eight times and piddled twice. He’s the only horse I’ve ever been on while it was piddling (I piddled once, off the horse).

A note about riding solo. None of the horses particularly likes to go off and leave the others. They are all extremely glue-footed for fifteen minutes or so. They eventually perk up, though, and the girls rev up to their normal speed and are just fine. Shadow does have a bad habit of speeding up when she approaches an intersection, particularly if one leg leads more quickly to home. When she gets to the trail she wants, she swerves sharply into it and one has to be vigilant to not tumble off into the brush. Toby pricks her ears a bit more when she’s alone, and doesn’t stumble over her own feet quite as much as when she’s following Shadow, who looks out for good footing for everyone. Sikem, however, frequently reverts to a young horse needing lots of reassurance. While the girls seem to think only that the others are having fun without them, Sikem seems to think if he goes too far, he’s never going to see them again. So he stops. On the way home, of course, the opposite is true, and all horses have to be held tighter to keep them from breaking into a trot. Running of any sort is strictly prohibited within a certain radius of home.

I never did see a bear this entire trip, for which grace I am greatly relieved. I even stopped worrying about them eventually, when I realized that the low-pitched, distant growling I was hearing was coming from Shadow’s gut (regular readers will here recognize a striking similarity between myself and the dogs. But I say, if dogs find digestion terrifying, why shouldn’t I?)

So tomorrow I go home. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, I will take my final ride around midday, on The Sofa, up the Long Gallop and around the loop that I found on the 4th, in the hopes that I’ll actually remember where it ran.

Time for bed; I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow, trying to do most of the things I brought to do, which have been lying fallow for 20 days. Happy Trails.

Tune in again at the end of July when Mama Liz and Calin take their biennial trip to Portland. Should be lots of blog fodder there.

You Know You’re Far From Civilization When . . .

Your stomach rumbles, albeit a weird, distant-sounding, high-pitched EEEeeeeeeaaaaaaaaahhh, and the dogs leap up barking ferociously and race outside to clear the dangerous predators from the yard.

And then, five minutes later, it all happens again.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Dismount, Accelerated

I rode today with N, taking her on four different loops that she was only somewhat familiar with—she’s lived here for a few years and I haven’t, but basically all I do here is ride, think about riding, and this year, look at the satellite picture to see where I want to ride next, so it’s not surprising that I have a better internal map of the trails. She, after all, is spending the bulk of her time eking a rich existence out of steep, wooded hillsides (which is a romantic way to say she spends her days splitting wood and hauling water). Midway through the ride, she asked how I felt about three weeks as the length of my stay here. Was it too long, not long enough?

It’s a good question, and I really didn’t know how to answer it. The more time I spend here, the more I know, I know, I can’t bear to live in a city the rest of my life. The noise—visual, aural, psychological—I can’t tune it out when I’m in the thick of it. And so my life accelerates to a fever pitch—all my hours, virtually all my minutes, are filled with input. Even when I’m washing the dishes or doing the laundry or driving 10 minutes to run errands, I’m listening to books on tape. Not a moment lost, not a second wasted. It was from the height of that—a story to hand in, a book on tape to finish and return to the library, the house to clean for the cousin who is living with us this summer (much to my joy so I don’t have to worry about home when Ian and I are off dilettanting), Pilates, rock climbing, parties to host . . . oh, I know—it’s not a bad life. But I’m in the habit of filling it too much—and the 24-hour-a-day go-go-go atmosphere of the city not only encourages that behavior; it expects it, requires it even. So in one sense, NO! Of course three weeks isn’t enough! I need a lifetime here! For many reasons I am loath to return home.

On the other hand, I fell off Shadow today, and Sikum yesterday, so maybe three weeks is just a little too long.

First of all, Sikum. Mom and I were collecting our horses from the long grass (they like it again, and eschew the yard . . . okay . . . ), which is a rather complicated process because the long grass is on the other side of the creek (remember to pronounce it “crick”). What I typically do, therefore, is take a halter with me and collect one horse, whichever I can grab (most usually Toby), fashion makeshift reins from the halter rope (I hook the hook on one sidepiece of the halter and tie the loose end on the other sidepiece), then jump on and, using leg aids and the horse’s good nature, ride across the creek to the gate. Well, yesterday I grabbed Sikum. He looked confused when I made my reins, slightly more confused when I led him over to a rise so I could have a better chance at jumping up, seriously alarmed when I did jump, and abjectly terrified when I did the little leg-pumping thing to work my way all the way up his side so I could swing my right leg over. I never got that far; certain that some evil wildcat was attacking him, Sikum bucked once, twice, dislodged me and tore the “reins” from my hand (I was trying to hold on even though I was ignominiously on the ground), and plunged across the pasture. Mom, who got to witness all this, happened to be standing by a gate that he would likely go through since the girls were through it. “Catch him if you can,” I called as I jumped up, fortunately unhurt. She caught the halter and held him there, feeding him baby carrots. I approached slowly, talking to him all the while (“it’s okay, Sikum. Good boy. You’re a good boy, it’s okay . . . ) and pulling more baby carrots out of my back pocket. When I caught up to him, I again grabbed my “reins”, and I slowly leaned against his side, my arms over his back (Mom still held his halter on the right side), always talking. After a few moments, when he seemed to be calmer (he really does recover quickly), I jumped up so I was lying cross-wise over his back. He started, but that was all. I slid back down, proffered a few more carrots, then leapt for real, and swung my leg over. He stood calmly. Mom let go of the halter, I reached down and fed him one last carrot while sitting on him, and off we went across the creek. This evening we tried again, to get Toby and him back into the yard. He didn’t even flinch when I leapt on. Such a good horse :).

As for Shadow, well, I was riding bareback, of course, The Sofa being still quite comfy, and cantering up a hill toward the west and the setting sun. A deer leapt across the trail up ahead, and Shadow, moving too quickly to see well, leapt aside to avoid what was most likely an evil predator. I flew off as she jumped for the brush, but landed not too hardly, and got back on without too much trouble. Still, I’ve never before dismounted quite so quickly or ungracefully from these horses . . . and I’ve never been here longer than two weeks.

Pretty fuschia plant blight. Posted by Picasa

Spackle also helping. Good dog, Spackle. Posted by Picasa

Kit helping to clear the trail. Good dog, Kit. Posted by Picasa

The age-old usefulness of levers, in action. Posted by Picasa

Use #117 again Posted by Picasa

Appropriate use of your Leatherman # 117: clearing a trail.Posted by Picasa

The Dismount

I would be lying to say that I feel no effects from the days of riding I’ve subjected myself to. On the contrary, my 32-year-old legs and, more to the point, Sitz bones, are generally a little stiff by the time I make my way back to the yard and slide off. I’m pleased to report that removing the horse from under me takes away the bulk of the discomfort (which really doesn’t form until near the end of two hours, anyway). The deep-seated knowledge of my own discomfort, however, makes me all the more impressed with Mom.

For several years now, Mom has carried on conversations (or, more appropriately, monologues) with various of her body parts, to get them to do what she wants. If I happen to be around for a clothes-changing, I frequently hear “Up leg. Good leg,” as she’s putting on pants. Therefore, I was not surprised when this method of limb-encouragement was employed during the dismount. I had dismounted from Sikum, swinging my right leg over his rump so I was facing the saddle, pulling my left foot out of the left stirrup, then using my arms to lower myself to the ground. Mom and Toby were behind a tree, with only her left leg and Toby’s head and neck showing. “Up, leg,” I heard. The left leg remained where it was. “UP, leg,” a little more assertively. The left leg rocked a bit, and I started to turn away, as it appeared she was going to be successful. “UP LEG!” came again, then “Creeeeeak,” she said as she slowly lowered herself down.

And she rode the next day, too.

Oh, Mother

Mom did not want to come. Her reasoning is entirely understandable—she lives on several acres of land that, together with Marsh, she has turned into a thriving Babylon of vegetables, berries and blooms. Leaving this garden for any amount of time in the summer is risky; housesitters cannot possibly understand the work that went into it—an understanding entirely necessary for spending enough time watering the masterpiece. But Marsh, who is coming to know her better and better, expected that a couple days away, a couple days to spend with me, would be the perfect break.

I realized yesterday that Mom and I had never before spent exactly this kind of time together. Yes, we’ve traveled together (the Azores, Greece, Spain, London), and we spend weekends together every two years, down in Portland shopping tax-free, but all these previous trips have been chock-full of distraction. There’s a museum to see or a place to eat or a boutique to investigate, or the next day’s museum/restaurant/boutique to plan for, and so conversations are disjointed or foreshortened by our desires for consumption.

Here, though, is a bit like being at home, where we know the sights and flavors and they don’t intrude. We are both supremely comfortable here. Unlike home, however, our responsibilities are slight. So we were given the opportunity to let conversation flow as it might—about relatives and friends, hopes, fears, disappointments, successes, philosophies of life. These conversations took place on the sun porch, on horseback, on long walks (Marsh plugging along dutifully ten paces behind so as not to disturb the ladies).

As for the riding, it was definitely nice to continue our conversations, and I get intense pleasure from sharing the beauty of this experience with people who care about me and whom I care about . . . and so I was willing to not go faster than a quick walk for three days, although one of my joys is galloping up grassy inclines and along verdant lanes. Toby, who seems to be the perfect middle-aged lady’s horse, carried Mom faithfully and calmly, never running away from cows, never dragging her through bushes too fast. And evidence of Mom’s and my different perspectives of speed is the following comment she made to Marsh last night as we drove up to see the sunset:
“ . . . And she kept running with me!” said Mom. “And I stayed on!”
“The slow Western jog,” I asked. “Is that what you mean by running?”

Off they went this noon, supremely glad they came.

PS--I would like to add that Mom, before coming, made sure I understood that they expected me to feed them dinner the evening that they arrived. I had everything ready for a lovely tasty repast, of course. They show up with a huge cooler, and Mom pulls out leftovers. That she'd brought here, on vacation. The next morning, she got out her own coffee maker and coffee. I wonder sometimes, does she actually know me?


Those of you who know my mother will not be surprised to learn that, while she's been here, instead of writing or doing any of the other things I have been piddling around with for the last two-and-a-half weeks, I've been deep in conversation pretty much the entire time, including the daily rides because, like the former Peace Corps volunteer and farm owner she is, she has gamely gone on a ride every single day. The last time she rode before this trip was for about two minutes, one year ago when my brother and sister-in-law got married out here. The last time before that was probably in the mid-80s. Way to go, Mom!

She and Marsh leave today, though, so I should be able to get some "work" done.

Mom, still happy on her third ride in three days. I'm very impressed with her! Posted by Picasa

Three happy good dogs. Posted by Picasa

How dogs learn to beg. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My brave mother, who arrived only 30 minutes later than I thought she would.  Posted by Picasa

New Characters

Arriving now at least 30 minutes late (but still, possibly, when I am actually expecting them) will be my mother and her friend Marsh, and their dog, Loper. Marsh has declared his unequivocal non-desire to ride, any horse, for any amount of time, which I will honor, although I will never understand. Mom has kindly agreed to accompany me somewhere. As for Loper, who knows what will happen! He and Spackle love each other, and at his house he’s alpha, and at Spackle’s house Spackle is alpha. How will it be determined that Kit is alpha here? Or will Loper accept my alpha status? Or, perhaps, the horses’?

C & J, do-si-do-ing to the band. Posted by Picasa

Independence Day

I was invited by the Pioneers to come along on a family outing to the Coeur d’Alene casino for a Fourth of July barbeque, fireworks display, and go at the slots (which are depressingly high-tech. They don’t take coins or even tokens; you can use dollars, or you can use bar-coded printouts. Or, as I believe I very disturbingly saw, at some machines you can actually draw money directly out of your bank account and into their coffers). I paid my $14 for the fireworks (not directly assessed, but rather in the form of a stupidity tax), and had truly a lovely time with N, G’s mom, G’s younger son C, and C’s friend J. We lay on the grass to drink beer and watch the 30-minute fireworks display, which was quite spectacular, although it took place across the freeway from the parking lot where everyone hung out to watch, and cars passed periodically until the last five minutes or so, when a steady stream of cars leaving early lit up the ground while the blasts lit up the heavens. Compared to the bulk of my stay here (not counting Kit and the ineffective herding), it was a very noisy 7 hours, including casino beeps (no ka-CHINGs here), a live band (quite good), a parking lot section to shoot off “personal fireworks” which, since we were on Reservation land, were pretty much the same as the display only less safely organized (in fact, one poorly aimed rocket set off a whole stack of other rockets which then became particularly poorly aimed . . . and “personal” became “closed”), and almost three hours of animated conversation with five people in a car that seats five. I was almost glad to have the excuse of a lost wallet to drive up and see them all one more time this morning, except that the lost wallet seriously stressed me out when I was already seriously stressed out about Shadow and getting her to the vet. But my wallet was there, and everyone was just as charming in the rushed morning light.

Beta Dog

I have finally realized that Kit doesn’t see me as Alpha Dog. The fact that it took me two weeks to come to this realization is all the more evidence that it's true. Oh, sure, he likes me fine as Beta—I give good treats and belly scratches, and I let him up on the bed—but I’m not the boss of him. It’s quite obvious, too, now that I’ve seen the light. The horses have been grazing in the yard the last two days—they’re allowed to, so that’s no problem, although I tried to usher them to the long grass and they wouldn’t go . . . who knows—and Kit finds them to be irritating when they get too close to the house. They are particularly irritating, and need to be shepherded, when they are trying to get rid of one of these awful, Jurassic-age (not really) flying monsters that land on their rumps, out of reach of the tails, and dig in a big syringe to deposit eggs. Since tail switching doesn’t dislodge the insectine skewers, bucking and galloping is sometimes necessary. This drives Kit wild, and he races after them, snarling and yapping and leaping at their noses. I yell ferociously at him (and I do have a ferocious yell, as many can attest), and he pauses, looks pointedly at me—you stay in your place and be quiet, Beta—and continues on his merry way. The only good thing about this situation is that the horses couldn’t care less about him. They ignore his leapings and snatchings completely, proving that, no matter how noisy and belligerent, he’s not the boss of them.

Down Days

For a variety of reasons, this idyll has seemed slightly less than idyllic the last couple days. The reasons have nothing to do with spending a national holiday without my sweetie-pie; we’ve actually celebrated Independence Day independently 3 of our 5 times so far. Rather, one of the big reasons is the aforementioned growth on Shadow’s face. It’s safe to say by now, I believe, that this is one of the countless non-life-threatening ailments a horse may contract. But it stressed me out, and today, when I had to actually load her into the trailer and haul her into Potlatch to the vet, I was stressed all the more. Yes, the vet could’ve come here, but it would have cost a lot in time (for her, who could less well afford it) and money. And, besides, I intend to have horses someday, and I intend to haul them places, and I’m fairly confident in my driving skills, and, of all the horses I know or have ever known, Shadow is about the best one I can think of for a first-time haul. She’s happy to go into the trailer, and she’s steady on her feet so she’s unlikely to fall all over if I take a turn too fast (I, and I’m sure the cars lined up behind me, don’t think I did that). Anyway, it’s likely she just has some mondo sliver or something and it’ll get all soft and then be ready for lancing. I won’t get more graphic than that.

PS—I should note that even down days have their ups. Yesterday I very successfully found a new loop, and returned home in plenty of time to shower before the festivities. I felt quite proud.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Drawbacks of Housesitting Alone

  1. cleaning up after visiting animals
    1. Olivia’s stash of kills in the loft. Avian and rodentian. Writhing with new life.
    2. Dog diarrhea on a shag rug.
  2. sole responsibility for animal medical emergencies
    1. Shadow’s weird, lemon-sized, overnight growth on her right jaw-bone. Like Spackle, nothing seems to put her off her food. It doesn’t feel hot, it’s hard-ish but not rock solid, and yes, I called the emergency vet. If it doesn’t get worse, I’ll take her in on Tuesday (of course, Shadow, you would develop this ugly thing on a holiday weekend). I am very glad that:
      1. Mr. Host gave me a refresher course in towing a trailer including driving on the highway and
      2. there’s very little traffic.

One of the drawbacks is that I have to deal with these unpleasant things alone, of course, but the bigger drawback is that fact that no one is around to be impressed with my fortitude.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Sneaky. Posted by Picasa

The joys of tall grass. Posted by Picasa

Olivia the kitty, who went home today leaving us at 1 me, 2 dogs, and three horses. I did not pose this picture, nor style it. Olivia really is cozying up to a computer monitor on top of a stack of straw in a barn. Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 01, 2005

Different Strokes

I love the call I just got from Ian. He was on his way to the ferry in Anacortes, to meet up with some friends and camp for the weekend in the San Juans. He was running late--by only about ten minutes, and called me to commiserate. Rather heartlessly, I told him I was very glad that this was a lesson he was learning twice without me. The next boat was in almost three hours, his three friends were in line and going to sail without him. Ian's plan all along was to park his car in Anacortes for the weekend and load some goods into S's truck. He asked me, here in Jerome Creek, about the ferry schedule, and of course I had one. Why wouldn't one always carry an up-to-date schedule for the Washington State Ferries. We determined that he could either wait in Anacortes for three hours, or ride a different boat to Friday Harbor, wait there for about 45 minutes, then ride to Orcas. He thought this sounded a lot more fun, but worried about what to do with his stuff in Friday Harbor. "Well, there are lockers by the ferry dock," I said.
"Yes," he replied, "but can I fit trees in them?"
"You brought trees?"
"Well, to plant on Orcas. And my new cooler. And I decided to bring my bike as well," he said.
"!" I said.
He went on to explain that the trees were small, the cooler has wheels, and his bike he can push, probably with one hand, and his clothes are in a backpack, so he thought he could probably manage to tie everything together and get it onto a ferry. Full of holiday-makers and their cars, going to the islands for the long weekend.

While I'd like to see this weekend-trip hurdy-gurdy of supplies, I'm rather glad I'm not a part of it.

The Junior High Posse, momentarily calm. Posted by Picasa

Free At Last

The Inlaws just drove off, on their way back to Bellingham via Garfield (and the boomerang museum which will probably not be open), Elberton, and a night’s camping in Vantage on the Columbia River. Four nights, three full days, three long rides, a visit with an extraordinary modern-day pioneer, dinner at the Hoo Doo (smokeless, much to our joy, and full of bikers—that is, Harley-type bikers—much to Janet’s delight), and a beautiful view of a sunset five twisting miles and a couple thousand feet up a gravel road, seem to be the perfect amount of visit for everyone concerned. So yes, the entry title is sarcastic. I fully enjoyed their stay.

I would also like to say that yesterday’s ride, to old Jerome City (ancient mining settlement marked by a giant slag heap and a log box that used to have a second story and a roof) and beyond, with a gallop up to Calin’s Loop (so named because the hosts had not discovered this particular modest trail in their 20-30 years of riding here), was completely successful with no getting lost, no stress on my part, and a great deal of beauty and varied terrain.

The day before, however, was a tetch different.

Like any good hostess, I had everything planned out. I had gotten lost once already out there, so I had carefully studied the satellite photo to see where I’d gone wrong. It was a simple matter of roads not actually existing where I thought they did, and roads existing quite obviously in only a slightly different place.

We set out confidently about 5:30 pm. Sunset here has been 8:45ish, so I figured we’d have plenty of time. N the pioneer joined us on her gorgeous 3-year-old Palomino, Strider. Dan was on Shadow again, Janet on her trusty Toby, me on Sikum. There’s no love lost between Sikum and Strider, as I was quickly reminded as early on the younger horse attempted to maneuver his hindquarters into position to kick my mount (last fall when the pioneers and I rode together Sikum kicked Strider, but hit N on the ankle, fortunately not injuring her too grievously . . . do horses hold grudges?)

It’s of course obvious that we got lost.

For a long time everything was fine. The weather was beautiful, the glades and meadows and narrow trails picturesque. I felt a little like a chaperone on a junior high field trip—while N and Strider are learning quickly together, they are still learning and Strider really is a teenager, with a teenager’s unruliness and gawky uncoordination. His high spirits were infectious, riling up our usually staid horses into prancing and other antics. Dan and Janet, who are quite competent at staying with their horses, nevertheless have had little experience riding in several years, so I hung back with Sikum, watching the pack, wary and ready to rush to the rescue should anyone’s experiences prove to be a bit too much.

Our road petered out—in a huge clearcut—without ever reaching the intersection I was looking for. I knew the satellite photo hadn’t been taken this week, though, so there was a chance things had changed. So, obviously, we rode into the clearcut. And around it. And through it, searching for an obvious way out, horses picking their footing with varying degrees of skill through concealing brush and sharp, dagger-like fallen limbs. I mean, if logging trucks had gotten out, very recently from the looks of the devastation, horses should be able to get out. I started to be concerned, and said so (no longer quite the perfect hostess, who should never admit uncertainty when others’ comfort is in question). Janet replied that she wasn’t worried in the least, because none of the responsibility was on her. While it was comforting to know that I could cross worrying about her worrying off my list of things to worry about, it was all the more worrisome to be so trusted. N the pioneer was, unfortunately, as lost as I. We eventually found that the best road out of the clearcut was the road we rode in on, but soon after leaving the logged area we found an intersection—I said fondly “Wouldn’t it be nice if this were the intersection I had planned on all along” . . . and I really thought it might be (it wasn’t)—and a very clear road. Our choices were to go right, or west, which was the ordinal direction we knew we needed to go to get home, or left—the wrong way. Dan loosened Shadows reins on her neck to see what she would do (always my tactic in the past when faced with such choices) . . . but she was inconclusive. N and I, for some reason, felt that left was right, so we turned east.

To make a long story end, left was right and we made it home without further ado, although I didn’t recognize that we were on the Potlatch Road—the major road of the logging company—until we were almost home. We arrived before sunset, having been on the road not quite three hours.

N took Strider home then returned to join us for dinner, which I cooked; baked fish, asparagus, polenta (the Inlaws created an excellent salad). At 9:45 Ian called, wanting to reach us before we all went to bed. “We’re just about to sit down to dinner,” I said. “WHAT?” he exclaimed, Taylor through and through and shocked that the evening meal—necessary for the regulation of blood sugar and moods—was still to come. “My dad hasn’t had dinner? How is he surviving???”

The wine that night was really good.