Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fastest trip change in the West . . .

The reason I’ve left you all hanging about various events at Jerome Creek is that the striking of that set and the staging of the next trip happened very, very quickly and, as usual, at the end of trip two I didn’t leave myself any recovery time at home before plunging back into day to day life in Seattle (starting with a trip to the dentist a mere twelve hours after my return. And I have a cavity. Doesn’t get much more unpleasantly mundane than that.).

Specifically, I arose at 6:30 am and left Jerome Creek at 9:00 am on Thursday, 27 May, dropped Loper off at his home at around 1:50 pm, made it to Seattle just before 3:00 pm (yes, making remarkable time. I was very, very careful, but speedy), threw farm things out of the car and into the laundry area willy-nilly, shoved beach things in more willy-nilly yet, kissed Ian (at least, I think it was Ian . . . things were happening very fast . . . ), showered (or rather rinsed off), patted Spackle, scratched Kit (who had made the trip with me to be delivered later than evening to K&A, fresh from Barcelona), and was out the door at 3:45 to pick up Laura at work and drive to Portland to meet up with college friends for a weekend at the beach. Finally made it to bed, upon one of the most comfortable couches on which I’ve had the pleasure to sleep, around midnight. I’m tired all over again thinking about it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


That's my mother-in-law on the ground behind her horse. This was not planned. Yes, to add to my two weeks of, well, more challenges in a small amount of time than is ideal for a vacation in paradise, Janet took a spill off Shadow today mid-canter. Sikem, back far enough to see only that something had leapt out of the woods and attacked Shadow, stopped short--I mean immediately--from his fast canter and I flew over his head in what I would like to believe was a graceful arc, but certainly in what was a complete somersault. I landed on my bum, and bit my tongue hard. Not a perfect ten dismount off the pommel horse.
My immediate fear that I'd bitten off my tongue (seems my teeth aren't so strong afterall) was immediately distracted by the moaning of my mother in law, lying in a loose fetal at the side of the trail. Shadow was up ahead, unconcernedly cropping grass. Not leaving, but it was clear she wasn't needed at the scene of the accident so she'd just stay out of the way for awhile, you're very welcome.
I didn't quite manage to keep ahold of Sikem's reins through my acrobatics, and he danced away when I lunged at him, before even standing, before even looking at Janet, before even testing to see if my tongue was, in fact, still attached. Freaky person on the grass grabbing at my head, said Sikem, I don't think so.
I stood up--it seemed I could--and called over to Janet. "Where did you land," I said, then "good boy, Sikem, come on back, baby, " turning the other way.
"Here, on these large muscles," said Janet, gingerly reaching back to rub her left glute, "with a little bit of back involvement."
"Okay, don't move. Stay there, I'll be right over!" Janet moaned a couple more times, then suddenly was silent. Panicking, I glanced over from where I was trying to lure Sikem to my hand, with grass I'd pulled just for that purpose. Janet told me later that the moaning had felt good, but then she worried that it would worry me and stopped. Which worried me because then I thought she was dead, or in a seizure of some kind. I thought briefly that even with the Leatherman, and the Epipen, and my digital camera, I was woefully unprepared for disaster.
Things more or less resolved, fairly quickly, from then on. Evidently, the grass I was waving, shakily, in Sikem's direction--yes, the same grass he was eating all by himself, safely out of my reach--appeared to be better, so Sikem wandered over and let himself be caught.
"Do you want me to hold him while you go get Shadow?" valiently offered Janet from the ground where she was still lying in an almost imperceptibly looser fetal.
"No, I don't want to risk him pulling on you. We'll be able to get her and be right back." Which was true--Shadow accepted that she was now needed, left off eating, and meekly allowed herself to be led back to her fallen partner .
And then, adding much to my already great respect for this woman who bore my husband, Janet got herself up, and then got herself back on the horse.
"Shadow," I heard her say as I remounted too, "I've never fallen off a horse before! You were my first!" Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 22, 2006

I like paper as much as the next guy, but . . .

I took Sikem through last year’s clear cut the other day, out through Maple Creek Meadow and up the east side of Maple Creek—a gorgeous trail that I’d never been on despite coming here five years in a row. It’s a surreal experience to ride through a finished clear cut. It looks, to my un-bomb-educated eyes, as though a bomb went off, leveling the forest and incinerating everything remaining. I assume the loggers burn so that they can control the fires, instead of letting incredibly good tinder lie around baking in the sun, waiting for a rogue spark from an ATV or a cigarette to catch and send uncut forests up too, but it makes for a distinctly end-of-days atmosphere.
Horses, like virtually all animals, don’t like fire all that much, and this weird, barren place smelled a lot like fire. Sikem was not at all convinced that we should actually walk through; particularly (although I could be projecting) since all the burnt stumps looked like bears. Evidence that he’s maturing, though, and that I, perhaps, am a sufficiently competent rider, was that even traveling through a burning mountainside crawling with bears, he trusted me to keep him safe (mind you, had there actually been burning and bears, I certainly couldn’t have been trusted to keep him safe, and our trip would’ve been much different).
He almost lost it nearer the end of our ride, when we were beginning a canter up a long-familiar trail and encountered two deer, or rather, startled two deer into leaping away, leaving us with a brief glimpse of their phenomenal fluffy white tails, which are about the size of baby seals. He was one stick snap away from bolting, his ears pricked three inches taller than normal, his neck bathed in sweat, and ignoring me completely when I tried to explain that the deer were even more afraid, and even more harmless, than him. Eventually, convinced that they were not going to jump back out of the woods at him as quickly as they’d jumped in, we were able to continue along.
Back at home, he proved his maturity once and for all by allowing me, with no argument whatsoever, to maneuver him into place so that I could reach down and extract the formerly scary, rustly newspaper from the newspaper box. Or the stresses of the evening had simply worn his defenses completely down. Posted by Picasa

The 4-Runner Loves the Palouse

24 miles to the gallon this last tank, which is quite a bit better than the 18-20 promised. Not bad for an SUV, eh?

The Cat Came Back?

Here’s the thing, the thing that makes it abundantly clear that I am unsuited, to put it mildly, to take care of cats. This has nothing to do with my allergy to cats, which varies from cat to cat in intensity from none to asthma like I’m going to die, even taking Benadryl. No, the reason I am unsuited to taking care of cats is that I—all you feline aficionados take note—evidently do not know for sure how to tell one from another. You see, there’s a cat here. She was here last night, and she was here just 20 minutes ago when I went to the loft to check. She was even lying in the milk crate—documented behavior of Doucely, Miss Missing. The problem is that this cat doesn’t have a collar, and the first cat did. Now, the same things that cause farm cats to go missing can cause (much less dramatically) collars to go missing, so the fact that the first cat had a collar and this one doesn’t is really neither here nor there. The other problem, though, is that there are varying opinions on how the first cat looked. The cat that Laura and Sonja talked with was gray and stripy. The cat that Ian talked with was gray and stripy, too. When I mentioned I thought the cat had been black, Ian said no, but maybe dark gray. Now, two nights ago I did briefly see a flash of gray and stripy cat leaving the loft when I went up to check for Doucely . . . but that cat skittishly behaved very much like a stray. The little black cat that’s here now doesn’t, however. She was quite happy to be held and petted, and purred intensely all the while. So . . . I think the cat that’s established herself in the loft is actually Doucely, albeit naked, re-establishing herself. But it embarrasses me that I can’t be sure, and that I’m going to have to ask A, next time she calls, what, in fact, her cat looks like.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Doucely is still MIA.

Kit maintains an armed truce against Loper, who maintains a clueless truce.

Toby's owies are in better shape today, and all swelling has disappeared. She's going to be fine.

New Solution

Instead of the nylon rope formerly failing to hold this gate closed, I twisted up some wire using the tool shown. Spackle observed, although not what I was doing. There are some chickens in the next yard over. Posted by Picasa

New Challenge

One day I went to collect the horses and saw Toby in the creek pasture, which is not where I had put her. Further investigation showed that the Rambunctious Youngsters had not actually jumped the fence a few days before but had, in fact, pushed through this gate (the tangle of barbed wire looped around on the ground). Posted by Picasa

Trouble in Paradise

Today was not quite, in balance, a good day. Certain things were good—my friend S, still a new friend but rapidly becoming a long-term friend, is here, and we’ve been getting along great and she’s been enjoying the company of the dogs and the horses. It rained today, which may seem bad but is actually good, as it keeps me from feeling guilty about not watering the Arbor Day trees in their little blue tubes and the daffodils around the house (spring comes later here than in Seattle), and it created the perfect opportunity to sit on the couch with my knitting supplies and start the mathematically laborious task of working out the new pattern I’m creating. Also, rain doesn’t go on endlessly here—it rains, then it stops and the sun wetly appears and everything steams and suddenly it’s hot again, and then the sun starts to go down and suddenly it’s surprisingly cold. And on our evening ride we came upon a litter of coyote kits, trotting busily about in the waning light.

But the bad things are multifold. First, Doucely the cat has vanished. Doucely is an outdoor farm cat, and in coyote/eagle/barn owl country this is, almost without exception, eventually a death sentence . . . but nevertheless, no one wants to be responsible, even by proximity, for flipping that final switch. Doucely was a very sweet kitty, at least as far as I could tell from the first several days here. She was last seen about 4 miles north by neighbor G, day before yesterday, climbing a large lodge pole pine. Since then two different stray cats have availed themselves of her food . . . but they, I suspect, will be no acceptable replacement. I have not given up hope completely, but S and I have accidentally started referring to Doucely in the past tense. Not a good sign.

Second, Kit has decided that Loper is not, in fact, always welcome. Yesterday there was an episode of angry attack, which I broke up by sounding even angrier than Kit, and today after dinner there was an even worse episode. Spackle was already in the kitchen, Kit was in the kitchen, and Loper was heading nonchalantly in himself when Kit, with no warning, leapt at him snarling and barking. I leapt at Kit snarling and barking myself, and stomped up stairs after him to where he had retreated behind K&A’s bed where we’ve been sleeping, and made him sit, then made him lie down, then glared at him for a while. He stared back at me, not entirely unrepentant, and eventually reached up and licked under my chin. I read Julie of the Wolves, so I know what that means. And about time, too, I say. Eventually Spackle appeared as well, then Loper, then S, and after a bit of residual deep, throaty growls, Kit subsided and we all trouped back downstairs for a civilized evening of wine (S and me) and naps (the three dogs).

The third, and worst part, is Toby. I’ll say right off that it’s not serious in the scheme of things, and she’s going to be perfectly fine, but she’s out of commission for at least a week. Late last night, I was sitting in this very office, typing away at my recalcitrant email and listening to the frogs singing outside. Suddenly I heard a CLANG-WHACK-CLANG. The dogs snored on. I put my ear to the open window and listened intently . . . nothing. I assumed a horse had banged into a gate and left it at that. Soon after, I went to bed.

This morning, I got up around 7:30, the usual time, and when I went to let out the horses, saw that Shadow had pushed herself into Toby’s small corral. She was standing under the overhang, out of the rain, and Toby had stuck her head out of her stall, but Shadow was blocking her exit. I led Sikem down to the pasture first, then returned and extracted Shadow, then Toby, to lead them down together. As I haltered Toby and led her from her stall, I noticed that the sliding door between the stall and corral was askew in its tracks. I took the mares down to the pasture and released them, then returned to survey the stalls.

Shadow had managed to get herself into Toby’s corral, the inner of the three, and couldn’t get herself back out. She had wedged a gate and a door together, and it took some muscle to get them apart. Inside the stall, Toby had pooped quite a bit—which I know made her unhappy because she is the horse that leads all the others to poop way down at the bottom of the yard away from where people and horses sleep, when given the chance. Clearly, she hadn’t had a choice because Shadow’s menacing presence was blocking her way. Lastly, I saw that some kicks had evidently been aimed at the wall of the stall—two boards had been knocked out on one end, knocking this other sliding door askew on its track. I hammered everything back together, cleaned up the poop, rehung the doors, and sighed with relief. It could’ve been worse.

It was.

S and I walked up to collect the horses for our afternoon ride around 5:30, taking the long way through the tree farm to appreciate the views. We approached the horses from an unusual angle; if anything, this made them all the more set on eluding us and making us carry the halters. I noticed, from the distance the horses placed between us, some marks on Toby’s side, that looked maybe like dirt, but more like injuries. And then they took off down the hill toward home. We trudged along after them, eventually cornered them in the little square of pasture on the creek, caught Shadow and Sikem, and finally saw that Toby was, in fact, not covered with dirt at all. She was covered with bites—but all of them are on her off side, so I hadn’t seem them when I’d haltered her.

Shadow had bitten her, or she’d scraped herself in her stall trying to avoid Shadow, probably a dozen times. None of the marks is awful in itself; hardly any showed any blood at all; the only puffy one wasn’t hot to the touch. Fortunately her legs weren’t injured at all and she’s walking fine and eating fine. I slathered her sores with Bag Balm and crooned to her, and fed her a bit of extra grain. She snuffled my hair and my chest, and seemed to have forgiven me, or never have blamed me. It was my fault, though. I had failed to fasten the gate between Shadow and Toby’s stalls, and Shadow (is it part of her Machiavellian nightly routine to push on each gate, just to make sure?) took advantage. And when I heard the quick CLANG-WHACK-CLANG I listened, very carefully even, but I didn’t go check on anything.

I’ve spent the evening feeling kind of sick to my stomach.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Solution

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The Challenge

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A few lists

Things that are different this year

  1. I’m here about a month earlier in the season, so I’m catching all the spring flowers, as well as the rivulets of water that are just dry creek beds by June. In fact, the season change took place while I was here: last Friday night, it froze—hard ground, frost on plants in the morning; and Sunday night it didn’t fall below 55 or 60. Yesterday afternoon it was 90 in the shade.
  2. My underwear. I bought four pairs of slippery granny panties, after an uncomfortable first ride (which had me applying Band Aids for day two). I tell you, they make all the difference.
  3. There’s a place down the road toward the highway selling horses. As far as I can tell, they have to sell them because they can’t keep them fenced in. Several times I’ve seen rogue equines heading up the road.
  4. Ants. Not a lot of ants, but some. Not teeny ants that get into all the food, nor the large carpenter ants that eat your house to nothing, just standard black ants. But three or four every day, inside. Hmmm.
  5. Deodorant. Yeah, I’m not wearing any. I thought, why? Who cares out here? And, it turns out I really don’t smell all that bad. Yeah, my sweat smells like roses (or, rather, nothing at all). Yeah, I know, I was surprised too!

Things that are the same that I wish were different

  1. Dial-up internet. For someone with high speed WiFi at home, this is a huge inconvenience. One might think that I’d spend less time online since it’s such a pain in the ass, but I actually spend about the same amount of time. I just get infinitely less done.

Reasons why it’s awesome to be alone

  1. I can eat the whole mango all by myself, without feeling guilty (the lack of guilt being the key component)
  2. Everything I do is entirely at my own pace, tempered a little by dog and horse hunger.
  3. If I feel like hiking for 45 minutes (each way!) with a heavy handsaw tied to my back with a rope (thanks, Ian, for making the saw sling before you left) and giving myself a blister on my palm sawing through a fallen log blocking a favorite trail, all during the heat of the afternoon when it was 90 in the shade, no one can encourage me not to (and boy, I can say without hesitation that a hot afternoon feels much cooler when 1. you’re bathed in sweat—and I mean bathed—and 2. you’ve actually stopped doing the hard physical labor and are merely walking).

Reasons why having another person here would be nice

  1. There’s no one to help me eat the mountains of produce left by last weekend’s visitors. I mean mountains. Like 13 apples and 6 bananas and 7 different kind of greens. It turns out one person eats surprisingly little.
  2. When I’m out walking on old logging roads with the dogs and Spackle stops drops and rolls in a moderately fresh (I mean, I smelled this one coming) scat of some sort, there’s no one to tell me that it probably wasn’t, in fact, bear scat deposited seconds before we rounded the bend, and that if I go on (which was my intention, the log being ahead rather than behind) I won’t, in fact, be mauled to death by a giant grizzly. And so I continue on, all senses as alert as possible, wondering if my anxiety is merely my brain saying “bear mauling would suck” or actually some innate sense saying “bear mauling would suck and there’s a bear right around the next bend, ready to leap on you!
  3. I’d have company both when I trekked up the giant hill to the far end of the 80 acres in order to bring in the horses (who don’t come when they’re called), schlepping the halters; and when I hiked back down the hill, still schlepping the halters, because the horses (who do what I want but in their own special way), galloped by me and raced for home at about 1,000 times my pace. Really, I’ve carried those halters up and down that hill way more times than the horses have.
  4. If I feel like hiking for 45 minutes (each way!) with a heavy handsaw tied to my back with a rope and giving myself a blister on my palm sawing through a fallen log blocking a favorite trail, all during the heat of the afternoon when it was 90 in the shade, someone could encourage me not to.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dog Heaven

We had a funeral here Friday afternoon, for a beloved 13-year-old family member, Baylor the big dog. He was actually a member of K&A’s daughter W’s family, and represented even more than merely thirteen years as their best friend. He was older than W’s son T, so T has never known life without him. And he had been adopted by W and T’s father J, who are now divorced. And so, when Baylor, who had lived a good life and loved Jerome Creek like all dogs do, breathed his last on Friday in their home in Ballard, several things ended with him, and the logical thing to do was bring him here so his spirit could roam in this singular place.

The beautiful convergence of family dog funeral (including W, ten-year-old T and W’s S.O., R) and long-term family friend housesitter-plus-husband-plus-two friends-plus-five very live dogs, is something I hope to foster in my own home now and in the future. We all came together like old friends. I’ve known W all my life but I’ve never met R; she’s maybe met Ian, but never Laura and Sonja. I warned W about the five dogs so they were all prepared, and T seemed to enjoy throwing sticks into the pond for Spackle, who’s insatiable, and he also enjoyed riding out on Shadow with his mom on Toby, while Loper trotted along, pleased to be out in the world with people who like dogs and horses who tolerate them. Everyone spent the night and there was plenty of room for seven people and five dogs; we ate dinner together by plan, and the next morning converged at the table without planning at all, for a group breakfast. Those of us whose dogs are very much alive were sobered by reflecting on their inevitable deaths; those whose dog had just died were heart-warmed by the goofy aliveness of other dogs.

Ian watered the burial mound this morning, last thing before we left for the airport. I’ll keep it up as long as I’m here.

Rest in Joy, Baylor.

Mr. Cowboy

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Makeshift bridle for creek crossings

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Putting a brave face on leaving . . .

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Neighbors rock!

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Soup's On

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Ta da! Home again!

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Doggy (and human) grin

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Ridin' in the pickup

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Last Human Standing

Well, I’m on my own (at least for a couple days). Took Ian, my last bipedal compatriot, to the airport in Spokane today, a round trip of five hours for me or, yes, about the amount of time it would take for me to drive from here to Issaquah. Of course, included in that time was a stop at the Spokane Valley Mall so I could check out the latest fashions at Old Navy and Maurice’s (which I first found in Bismarck, North Dakota and which also has a store at the Palouse Mall in Moscow . . . that should give you an idea of how “fashion forward” the shop is . . . ). In all, Ian made it home before me. Also been and gone are two dear friends, Laura and Sonja, and their dog Jessie, as well as the wiggly and exuberantly bouncy Marlee, who caught a ride home with them (and with her, at last count, rode 24 ticks). Everyone remaining—me, Spackle, Kit and Loper, and the horses—is feeling the lack, except possibly for Shadow. Shadow is undeniably chunky (even my new-found hip looseness—which should allow me to grip less with my inner thighs and hold a bit more with my calves—wasn’t enough to keep my lower legs from swinging in rhythm with her rapid steps. No matter how loose, one’s legs can only fit so far around a giant barrel.), and so she appreciated going out for a ride with someone who didn’t need a saddle, and therefore didn’t need a girth biting into her soft, expansive underbelly, and who could, it turns out, stay on over unannounced leaps of fallen trees and the last small rivulets of spring runoff. Also, her grumpy old lady comes out with too many dogs panting at her heels—three seems to be about her limit before she becomes seriously annoyed (and Loper, who is the king of panters, almost got his noggin knocked by a hoof when he tailgated a bit too long).

Being alone out here is surprisingly social, though—I’m going to dinner at a neighbor’s house Thursday evening, I have riding lessons on Thursday and next Monday, a different neighbor dropped off half a delicious rhubarb custard pie this morning, and I’ve been a bit of a secretary for K&A (hiring K to perform a July 1 wedding), who are off in southern France on a canal boat cruise with Mom and Marsh and another couple. The people at the Harvard post office (size: 8 feet X 12 feet) know me, and the people at the Hoo Doo recognize me, too. I even occasionally run into the same people out trail riding. And on Friday another friend arrives, and on Monday my in-laws, who loved last year with a passion, return for a second go-around, and on Wednesday night a friend visits on her way to Santa Fe for the summer.

So yeah—tomorrow and Wednesday, when I’m all alone with nowhere to go, I’m gonna love it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Taylor-made DogVentures

Send your Best Friend on the vacation of a lifetime with Taylor-made DogVentures. The fun begins with a pick-up at your dog’s home (collar and leash are the only necessities—we supply everything else), and a group ride in the camp car (up to four dogs per car) so everyone can get acquainted. We’ll stop once along on the way to the wilds of Jerome Creek, Idaho, for sniffing, marking of territory, erratic running around and that old dog favorite—Expando Leash Dog Maypole (unfortunately, heretofore it has been impossible to capture this spectacle on film as all hands have been busy participating in the Maypole). Once at our destination, we will take Rover and pals on daily hikes and trail rides, accompanied by Giant Dogs or Dragons (or horses to you and me), with countless opportunities to chase small wildlife such as rabbits and ground squirrels, and larger wildlife such as elk and the occasional feral cow. Camp Jerome Creek has multiple swimming holes, including the creek itself, a large silty pond, and several smaller seasonal pools. Most of our clients prefer to end their swimming experiences with a self-performed full-body massage in one of the many aromatherapy wood chip-covered horse corrals. After the day’s activities, it’s back to the ranch for a frenzied dinner of kibble—the other dogs’ kibble—toweling off, and an evening of snoring on various dog beds and rugs scattered throughout the facility, broken occasionally by hysterical barking at nothing.

Mom, I love camp! Posted by Picasa

Hydrotherapy Posted by Picasa

On a mission, with dragon. Posted by Picasa

Hey guys, smell this over here! Posted by Picasa

Ready to hit the trails . . . Posted by Picasa

Dinner Time--Always Exciting! Posted by Picasa