|THE OSAGE ORANGE
A fall breeze blew through the trees and the wind chimes sang their gentle song. It was a beautiful morning, and as I hung
the laundry on the line, I kept pausing to look up at the sky. Its deep blue was washed with beautiful shades of sun
brightened white clouds.
And then I jumped. What sounded like a sharp shot rang out across the creek valley, followed quickly by another. I
paused, and then shook my head as I realized that the cause of my surprise had been caused by walnuts hulls, blown
loose by the wind and falling onto the tobacco barn’s metal roof. More staccato shots soon followed.
Laundry hung, I walked with the dogs down to the hay field where Greg was baling with the old round baler. The tractor
chugged, the baler baled, and the dogs and I sat at the field’s upper edge, in the shade of the trees. Again, I marveled at
the beauty of the morning. It was actually quite warm in the sunshine, but sitting in the shade, I could not imagine a more
perfect day. The dogs and I watched as Greg and his blue machines trundled up and down the field, randomly dropping
the large round bales behind them, and I felt completely content.
And then, suddenly, my reverie was broken by a crashing thud, just behind my back, followed by another, and then
another. I turned to see what in the world was going on, when a large green spherical object rolled past me and out into
the sunshine. I recognized it as an Osage Orange. It appeared to have an almost neon glow in the sunlight.
I reached behind me and picked one of the near misses up and held it in my hands, but it quickly occurred to me to look up
overhead, and yes, I was seated under an Osage Orange tree. I could see many more of the large green fruit overhead,
just waiting to fall, and I thought that it might be best to find another tree under which to sit. I moved farther on down the
When I regained my seated composure, I looked more closely at the green fruit in my hands. It had a pleasant citrus scent
to it, and I decided to gather up as many of the fruit as I could carry and return with them to the cabin. Cell phone in hand,
this is what I learned.
In the early 1800’s, as explorers Lewis and Clark mapped their way west across the North American Continent, they met
up with the Osage Nation, on the Great Plains, a people who “so esteemed the tree” that they would travel hundreds of
miles to find it, and hence the tree’s name. The Osage Nation had once inhabited the Ohio River Valley, as far back as
I learned that Osage Orange trees can grow to be 50 feet tall, though the ones in our creek valley grow no more than 30 to
40 feet in height. Their inedible green fruit can grow up to six inches in diameter, as do ours. I learned, however, that
some folk, can have an allergic skin reaction to the fruit, and break out in a rash by simply touching it. Thankfully, I do not
seem to be allergic.
I had heard that the Osage fruit’s citrus scent was believed to repel insects, and they were often gathered up, and brought
inside with this purpose in mind, but modern chemistry has theoretically dispelled this notion. There are indeed insect
repelling compounds found in the fruits, but they are not there in sufficient concentrations to be scientifically effective, but
the scent really is lovely, so I decided to simply distribute a whole lot of the fruits around the cabin. Perhaps in sufficient
quantity, the insect repelling properties would work.
The green fruit are also called Hedge Apples, because settlers often planted the sharp-thorned trees to form hedges
around their pastures. They would then harvest the close-grained wood to use as posts around their homesteads. The
wood itself is actually a beautiful bright orange color, and because of its dense nature, Osage wood has been used to
make wonderful walking sticks and prized bows. It was written in the early 19th century, that it was a good deal to trade a
horse and a blanket for just one bow made out of Osage Orange wood.
So I have learned, and as I write, I can see four of the Osage fruits I brought back from the field. Even if they do not repel
creek valley insects from entering our home, their scent beautifully fills the air, as our windchimes sing, walnuts ricochet off
the barn roof, and Osage Orange fruit crash to the ground all around.
October 8, 2017
THROUGH THEIR EYES
This past weekend was a busy weekend indeed, but curiously we were not doing any farm work at all. Two different
groups of folk had asked if they could stop by, and see what it is that we do and of course we said yes. One group was
organized by a neighbor, who asked if he could show his family, visiting from out of state, how it is that we live. The other
group was made up of assorted folk, some of whom drove for several hours, all of whom hoped to learn of, and perhaps
implement, a more self-sufficient life style.
Greg and I really are glad to share what we do, and it is not because we claim to be experts at anything. It rather because
we really do love our the creek valley, and feel so fortunate to live a life that is powered by the sun and the wind. We have
come to learn that our world somehow touches folk, and we truly enjoy encouraging the curiosity of our guests.
So for two days, with two different groups, we toured every inch of the 388 square foot house that we have called home for
the past eleven years. Our guests marveled at the doors and windows, built by Greg, the end tables and small
multipurpose dining table, and the corner cabinet, all hand made by Greg, and all of which fit so perfectly into our small
We visited the sugar shed, home to my beekeeping and maple sugaring supplies. When I opened the door, our guests
exclaimed at the sweet scent of the stored bee boxes.
We walked down rabbit row to the goat yard. We stopped by the pigeon gazebo and listened to the gentle cooing of the
white homers. In time, the birds came out to fly in their ever-widening circles, farther and farther up and down the creek
valley. As we watched the pigeons fly, the multi colored chickens flocked at our feet, begging for a midday treat. The ducks
made us smile as they waddled by in their duck line, quacking their silly laughter as only ducks do.
We went out to the bee yard, and walked single file up behind the first hive to peer cautiously down at the front entrance.
Not a single drone was to be seen. The drones had already been banned from the entrance by their sisters, who were
busily bringing in yellow goldenrod pollen balls, packed tightly into the jointed crevice of their rear legs. I was glad to see
our guests lingering at the hives. The gentle buzzing of the busy bees had worked their magic, and I could see that our
guests were enamored.
We walked down to the hill to the pole barn, and we explained the various pieces of farm equipment, the four tractors, each
equipped for a specific function, cultivating, bush hogging, belly mowing, and everything else. We explained how we use
the old combine for harvesting sunflowers and black beans. We showed them the old transplanter that we use to set the
garden starts, and the backhoe that we use to stir the compost pile, gather pawpaws, trim the orchard, clean out the
chicken and pigeon houses, dig ditches, and do everything else that needs doing.
We walked past the strawberry tower to the greenhouse. The wonderful scent of my little citrus grove greeted us as soon
as we entered. Several honeybees were flitting from flower to flower as I explained how we float start our saved seeds
inside the greenhouse in styrofoam trays, using fish emulsion as fertilizer, and that in a matter of weeks the young plants
are ready to be transplanted into our garden.
We walked past the hops, now withered, but our guests could still smell their faintly bitter citrus scent. I told them how
wonderful hop tea tastes, sweetened with just a bit of honey.
We visited the little horses and our lone steer. All three pranced up to the pasture fence for attention. We talked about the
circle of life, and the true gift that is our own lives.
We walked along the creek road, and I shared what I know of the creek’s wild edibles, black walnut, pawpaw, the Kentucky
Coffee tree, spice bush, poke weed, cat tail, red bud, and many others.
We looked for fossils in the creek, and as I stood by the water’s edge, I looked down, and there at my feet was a perfect
brachiopod. I leaned over and picked it up. One of our guests knew just what it was. I said that she should put it in her
pocket and take it home, and she smiled, so glad to add it to several other treasures that she had gathered on our walk,
pawpaw seeds, feathers, and flint pebbles from the creek.
Finally, we toured the log home that we have been building for the past two years, almost finished, but not quite. We sat on
the front porch and talked, sharing dreams.
And as I sat and listened, answering the occasional questions, it occurred to me that our guests had really given me a
wonderful gift. When I look across our world, I tend to see a fall garden that needs bush hogging, a greenhouse filled with
citrus trees that need to be replanted in larger drums, a chicken coop that needs rebuilding, a log home that is not yet
finished, and so many other things that need doing. Listening to our guests, two different groups, on two different days, I
came to realize that what really matters is not what I might think still needs to be done. What really matters is how much
Greg and I have done, building our lives together in our creek valley world, and it occurred to me that as long as we live, we
will dream, and that as long as we dream, we will always have things that need doing.
Greg and I stood on the front porch and watched as the last of our guests drove away. I knew that we had made a lot of
new friends. I also knew that I was ever so thankful to them for the gift of seeing our world through their eyes.
October 1, 2017
The little Herford seemed to always know his reason for being. He was not as sociable as the Holstein, and it really did
make sense. Holsteins are bred as milk cattle, and as such need to have gentle dispositions so that their people can
easily handle them. Herfords, on the other hand, are bred to eat and grow fat, and in turn become steak, and stew, and
Both little feeder calves spent the last year and a half, living in the same three acre pasture, eating the same grass, and in
time grain, but no matter how I called to the Herford, he was always reluctant to socialize with me, even when I offered him
his favorite fattening grain. Not so the Holstein. He would literally dance across the meadow to greet me, and as he grew
bigger, I found that I had to be careful to stay away from his prancing hooves. He ran with the little horses. He would
prance up to greet me, and I began to wonder how he would ever grow fatter with all of his running about.
By early summer the Holstein had grown amazingly tall. He towered over the Herford, but was still far from fat. He was
long and lanky, and would follow us everywhere. He would walk across the pasture by my side, nuzzling my shoulder for
his grain, but not the Herford. He would stand back and watch skeptically from the side lines, and only approach the
offered grain after I had moved away. The Herford, though short, was hardly little though. He grew wide and fat, and as I
watched, he became what he should, a good-sized steer. The Holstein simply continued to run and dance.
So I called the meat processing folk, and began to offer the cattle their grain inside our horse trailer so that they would
easily head off on the appointed day. After each feeding, I would securely pull down the trailer’s toggle latches, leaving the
grain stored inside safe within a critter proof galvanized forty-gallon bucket. Little did I imagine that my horse trailer was
not cattle proof. I went down to the pasture one morning to find a wide crescent shaped nose print in an arc at the apex of
the toggle latch. All of the stored grain was completely gone, eaten by what I realized were our intelligent cattle. And yes,
the Herford grew ever fatter, while the Holstein just continued to dance.
And then, about three weeks ago, I wondered at the wisdom of keeping the Holstein’s date with the processor. I would be
saddened to find that there was simply not enough meat on his bones. So I called the processor and cancelled just his
date, and I learned that Holsteins can take up to two years of fattening. I told the Holstein of his reprieve, and yes, he
pranced about the pasture. The Herford happily ate.
The weeks passed, and then I set the alarm to go off early one morning. We loaded up the Herford in the predawn
darkness. I could tell that the Holstein was saddened to be excluded. He mooed plaintively as we drove up the road
When we pulled into the processing facility, I noticed a metallic scent in the air. The Herford must have noticed it too, for he
was reluctant to leave the security of the trailer. I reached through the trailer slats and nudged him forward, and as I did so,
it occurred to me that this was the only time that I had ever petted his back. He cautiously stepped forward, between the
narrow fencing, onto the scales, and into the waiting pen. He was a good weight, 1,090 lbs. I was proud of him. He had
known just what to do.
And all through that day I was filled with an amazing sense of gratitude, and humility. I eat the tomatoes and corn from my
garden. I gather the wild pawpaw and suck the sweet fruit off the seeds. I can reach up and pluck a pear from the tallest
tree in the orchard and feel the juice run down my chin. For all of this bounty, and ever so much more, I am so very
thankful, but it is with a renewed sense of humility that I am thankful for the Herford. He has reminded me of the real
meaning of Grace.
September 24, 2017
THAT PAWPAW TIME OF YEAR
It is that time of year when the creek valley dresses itself with bright yellow, my mother’s favorite color. As the nights turn
colder, I smile and hold her a bit closer to my heart, seeing her bright joy in the creek valley all around me. And now that I
know that it is not the beautiful bows of goldenrod that make me sneeze, but rather the not so pretty green ragweed
growing nearby, I pause by the golden to watch my honeybees at work gathering up its yellow pollen.
There is yellow everywhere. Bright yellow jewel weed is growing in abundance along the edges of the creek road. I plan to
gather up as many flowers as I can, and freeze them in a water bath for a poison ivy remedy this winter, for yes, I even get
poison ivy from the firewood as I bring it into the woodstove.
The walnut leaves are also turning yellow, and the hulls are turning yellow and then brown and dropping to the ground.
Greg and I enjoy the game of kick-the-walnut as we walk down the road, passing a particularly big hull back and forth
between us. The hulls smell wonderful, with a faint scent of almost citrus, but beware the staining tannin within.
And buckeyes are dropping everywhere. I love to stop and pick them up, filling my pockets to overflowing. I find their
smooth roundness delightful. If I had a nickel for every buckeye I have gathered, I would surely be a millionaire by now.
But perhaps my favorite creek valley delight this bright yellow time of year, is the pawpaws. We have four large pawpaw
patches in our section of the valley, one on the hill behind our log home, and three down along the road as it runs by the
creek. The pawpaw trees seem to grow best at the edge of the forest, where their slender trunks are still protected by the
surrounding trees, but the fruit get enough sunshine to grow and ripen.
Curiously, the deep purple pawpaw flowers are pollinated by flies, and so do not smell particularly good to the human
nose, but this spring offered the perfect weather for pawpaw pollination. The flowers budded, the flies flew, and no frost
damaged the blossoms. All throughout the summer I watched as the plentiful fruit grew, first looking like small green lima
beans, then turning into oblong florescent spheres, and finally growing into smooth skinned fruits, some as large as my
hand. Then, perfectly on cue and exactly in the middle of September, the air grew sweet with their banana like aroma, and
they began to fall to the ground.
The fruit sadly have a very short life from ripening to time of spoiling, so I called on a friend to stop by and gather all she
wanted. We loaded two bushel baskets into the hand wagon and set off down the road. It was really quite fun to stand at
the base of a tree, and shake it with all of our might and listen to the steady plop of the ripe fruit as they dropped to the
ground. In no time we had a heavy cart filled with two bulging baskets of pawpaw.
My friend had plans to put them all to use, making pawpaw preserves, loaves of pawpaw bread, similar to banana bread
that she would freeze for eating later, and brewing a batch pawpaw wine with frozen pulp that she could thaw later on this
fall. I was glad that she would put the bountiful fruit to good use, and as for me? This year I just plan on eating as many
pawpaw as I can, straight from the tree, as Greg and I walk through our bright yellow creek valley world.
September 17, 2017
It really has been an amazingly cool summer and early fall. The nights have been comfortably chilly, and we have perhaps
turned on the loft fan only a handful of times to fall asleep, but most oddly, I did not have to move the citrus grove out of the
greenhouse. The little trees happily flowered and did not wither inside their glazed protection, the hottest inside
temperature barely topping one hundred degrees.
All throughout the summer I would enter the greenhouse every few days, and water the little trees, and watch as the weeds
grew in from the edges of the clear walls. I always do a thorough greenhouse weeding in the early spring, as I get the float
trays ready for starting the garden plants. And by the time I set everything out in the field, I am pleased to stand in my
greenhouse doorway and look across the benches, and the wood chips scattered across the floor, and see a pristine,
Bur by midsummer the sight was not quite so orderly. I noticed a small sycamore tree sprouting from behind the water
tank, that is fed from gutters that feed to inside pipes. The tree must have been growing last year, but I did not notice it until
it topped the tank. Milk weed was beginning to climb up the table legs, and crab grass was starting to march from the
walls in towards the center of the floor. Wingstem was Prairie Dock were growing taller, their soon to be yellow flower
heads just starting to form. And tall, soon to be purple flowered, Iron Weed was growing taller by the second. A few
Pokeweeds stems were thickening by the outside corners.
But it seemed that whenever I entered the greenhouse, I was only stopping by to water the citrus trees, and I did not linger
to pull a few weeds. In time, I thought to myself, in time I would weed, but the time was never quite right. Finally, this past
weekend, I knew that it was not only past time, but I had made the time to weed the greenhouse. The Sycamore tree was
actually pushing up against the clear glazed roof. The milkweed pods were the size of small bananas, and their vines
stretched from one wall to the other. The Pokeweed towered over my head, and I could actually look the blooming
Wingstem, Prairie Dock, and Iron Weed flowers square in the eye.
It was a cool early morning, and I eagerly set to work with my implements of destruction. I even wore a long-sleeved
flannel shirt, and of course, had on my favorite leather farm gloves. I happily toiled and trundled wheelbarrow after
wheelbarrow, filled with unwanted weeds, down to the compost pile. I could clearly see that I was making headway.
Of course weeding is hard work, but I find that it is ever so rewarding. The fruits of my labor are so readily apparent, but
after half a day’s work, my arms had begun to feel a bit of a burn, and my back was stiffen up just a tad. After a late lunch, I
decided to finish weeding the following day.
It was not to be. I woke up the next morning to a nagging itch on my wrist, that I soon realized was not only on my wrist, but
was spreading across both of my forearms, my inner calves, and even across the right side of my face. The closely
clustered dots of burning itch signaled that I had also weeded something quite poisonous.
I easily recognize poison ivy when I see it growing up the side of trees and clinging to the bark with it’s hairy stem. I went
back down to the greenhouse and looked along the bottom of the clear sided walls where I had yet to weed. There, I saw
what the day before I thought had been small sprouting trees. These were not trees. These were small poison oak
plants, darker leaved than poison ivy, with the same three leaves, but their leaf lobes were more rounded. The old adage
came to mind. Leaves of three let it be. I sighed.
Greg commiserated with my blistered self, and with a smile, promised to take some time off from building our log house to
finish weeding the greenhouse. Feeling foolish and a bit blue, I promised to try not to scratch, but Greg really cheered me
up when he volunteered to go down to the creek and fetch some Jewell Weed. We have learned that a poultice of the
orange flowers works wonders as a cure for such ailments as the poison oak greenhouse blues.
September 10, 2017
A DIRTY JOB
Our homing pigeons seem so beautifully clean and pure. Even our oldest bird, who we have had for the past seven years,
still looks as handsome and pristine as he did the day we brought him home, but for all of the birds’ beauty, they are
masters at making a mess.
They live in a lovely gazebo, that Greg retrofitted with screening, a people door, and a pigeon landing pad. They have
pigeon perches, a wide swing, and nest boxes. They fly freely by day, making four or five flights high over the creek valley.
They circle above the ridge tops in ever widening arcs, until they finally swoop back down to land on the windmill tower.
From there, one by one, they return to the gazebo until their next flight.
The gazebo is really a fairly maintenance free, perfect pigeon palace. I simply scatter fresh layers of straw frequently
across the bottom, to better absorb the droppings, but several times a year, I do need to replace all of the old straw. This
is a task that is far easier said than done.
I had heard that this weekend was a holiday weekend, but we have come to learn that when things need doing, it is best to
get them done, and today seemed like the perfect day for cleaning the pigeon gazebo. It had stopped raining for the first
time in several days, and the temperatures were not supposed to climb too high. I gathered up my pitch fork and my short
handled square blade shovel. I tied a bandanna around my neck and climbed up into the backhoe seat. The old machine
rattled to life, and with a bale of straw in the frontend loader bucket, the backhoe and I trundled up the hill to the gazebo.
I parked right in front of the door and raised the bucket to about waist high. I pulled the bandanna up over my nose, put on
my work gloves and swung down to grab my tools and enter the gazebo. The pigeons all looked down from the highest
possible perches. I told them that they were more than welcome to leave through the open front door, but they decided to
stay so that they could periodically fly past my face and let loose the occasional dropping.
I was soon pitching the dusty floor covering out the door and into the waiting backhoe bucket, and in no time I realized that I
had worked up a bit of a sweat. Dust stuck to my arms. The beat of the pigeons’ wings actually felt cool on my neck. Every
so often I would pause and step outside for a breath of fresh air, but I did not linger long. No need to prolong the task.
Best to just push, or pitch, my way through this dirty, dusty chore.
In time, the gazebo floor looked fairly decent. I scraped up the remainders with the square bladed shovel and scattered
fresh straw all around.
I looked up at my birds. The parents had all abandoned their nests and were looking down at me from their high perches.
Their featherless young chirped for parental comfort, but to no avail. I turned to the offspring and carefully lifted each baby
pigeon out of its nest so I could scrape up the gathered droppings with my back-pocket trowel. The little birds quieted
down and settled easily into the palm of my hand, perhaps feeling secure with the warmth. I held each little bird for a few
moments extra, and then resettled each one on top of a fresh layer of straw.
My job was done. I stepped out of the gazebo, pulled the bandanna down from my face, and returned to my high seat in the
backhoe. I drove down the hill, waving at Greg as I passed by the shop where he was working. With the bucket held high,
the backhoe and I trundled on down to the compost pile, where, bandana back over my nose, I dumped the dusty load.
I parked the backhoe, put away my tools, and of course I returned to the gazebo to check on my birds. The parents had
returned to their babies. The rest of the flock was circling high over the creek valley. A gentle breeze blew through the
trees scattering the first of the fall leaves to the ground, and it occurred to me to ask Greg if perhaps we should take the
rest of the day off. Perhaps …
September 3, 2017
The familiar patterns of my day bring a sense that all is well. When the rooster calls just before daybreak, I wake up,
knowing that I can roll back over for a few more minutes before I rise to start the coffee. I smile.
And every morning, Greg climbs down from the loft shortly after the old mechanical timer lets forth its clear ding, signaling
that the requisite five minutes of aromatic seeping in the coffee press are complete. Our day has begun.
When Greg heads out to the feed shed to scatter grain for the chickens, they flock around him. I watch from the kitchen
window as I wash the morning dishes. Every morning, I can see Greg steps ever so carefully, not wanting one of the hens
to end up under his boot. I could not imagine a better way to start the day.
And if I happen to leave the farm, and head up town to the post office or courthouse, I always give my dear husband a light
peck on his bearded cheek. He smiles and says “See you next week”
“Back in two hours”, I reply. I could not imagine it any other way.
When I return, the driveway gravel crunches under the tires, and as I open the car door, the dogs press their farm muddy
noses into my lap. The chickens run to gather around me and escort me back to the front porch, and I smile as it is my
turn to step carefully and negotiate my way through their feathered midst. Greg smiles, “What are you doing back so
soon? Miss me?”.
“Always”, I reply.
Perhaps I spend the afternoon pulling weeds, or working in the greenhouse. Maybe I brush the horses and feed the cattle,
but after I set the dinner dishes to dry by the sink, I always go outside to gather the day’s eggs and close up the ducks and
pigeons. As I enter the goat yard to gather the eggs from the goathouse loft, the goats come from down from their hillside
for a hug. They brush up against my legs and I rub between their ears. I bend down for a gentle goat kiss. They breathe
my breath and look at me with their wide goat eyes, and my heart fills with warmth for these sweet trusting creatures who
share this moment with me every evening, no bribery with a special treat needed.
And as I leave the goat yard I look out to the orchard. The mother deer and her twins are standing midway down the row of
trees, perhaps fifty feet from me. They hardly seem to notice my presence. The mother dances on her hind legs, trimming
the low hanging limbs so that Greg can mow under them more easily. Her young are not yet tall enough to reach the
leaves or low fruit. I pause to watch. They notice my stillness and also pause. In time they resume their eating and
dancing, and I smile, and I resume gathering the rest of the chicken eggs from the drop down doors at the back side of the
coop. What a perfect way to end the day.
Most evenings, but not all, a lone deer crosses the top of the driveway, close by the cabin’s front porch. She always
crosses from left to right. As evening falls, the hoot owl starts to call from the hill behind the cabin, and just at dark, the
side deck toad hops his way from the back of the house towards the front. If I am outside I can hear a soft plopping sound
each time he lands. If I do not know where he is, I step carefully, not wanting to kick or step on him. I know that e is there
Yes, I have certainly come to recognize the rhythms of our life down here at the creek. I feel securely wrapped in their
familiarity, and I could not think of a better way to live.
August 27, 2017
MY GRANDMOTHER AND THE SPIDER
My grandmother was a very proper lady indeed. When out and about, she would carry her short handled purse on her
elbow, and she often wore light colored cotton gloves, even in the summertime. I remember that her purse always
contained a kerchief, for wiping smudges off of our faces or for blowing our runny noses, but just in case we ever found
ourselves out and about without a kerchief, she taught us how to blow our noses, neatly, without one. She showed us how
to place an index finger over a nostril and blow through the other nostril with a short sharp burst of air, and then watch as
the offending blockage flew out to the ground below. She would demonstrate and we would practice, and I thought it all
very odd. But now I do have to smile and admit that I have had occasion to use this nose blowing technique when I find
myself out in our fields without any tissue.
Now my grandmother lived in the city all of her life, but she also, very curiously taught us to always respect spiders,
explaining that they brought good luck. She would recite the simple rhyme “If you wish to live and thrive, let the spider run
alive”, but I did not know of any spiders that lived in our city house and I told her so. She explained that perhaps the city
cement and asphalt were not conducive to spider habitation, but knowing that I wished to “live and thrive”, she told me with
a smile, that she knew just how to remedy the situation.
The next time she came to visit she pulled a small, tissue wrapped package out of her purse and handed it to me. There,
safe inside the paper, was a beautiful emerald backed spider quite at home in the center of a delicate wire web. I now had
my very first house spider. For years the spider lived in the corner of my bedroom, and when I was grown, the spider
joined me where ever I might call home, eventually living on the top of my bedroom dresser in the city as Greg and I raised
our children. When we moved to the country, and built our perfectly small 388 square foot home, the spider moved with us,
taking up residence just over the front door.
But now I must share with you that we have come to know many, many spiders here in our creek valley world, and just
recently, they seem to have become particularly abundant. Holding my grandmother close to my heart, I try to let them all
“live and thrive”. When I find a new web spun across the corner of a window, I attempt to catch the spider in a small glass
cup, that I keep on hand for just such spider catching occasions, and then I escort the diminutive creature outside. It
seems though that for every spider I escort out to the porch, at least three more move inside. Each morning this past
week, I have been carrying out, what must amount to by now, countless evictions.
And I began to wonder why so many spiders, and why now? So, I inquired, and I have learned the country lore that such an
abundance of spiders means that the weather will soon turn very, very dry. “When spiders spin their webs ‘fore noon,
sunny weather’s coming soon”. Without a doubt, it has been an amazingly wet summer. The grass is still growing and
the honeybees are still enjoying the creek valley clover. My spider inquiry also taught me that if one finds dew on an
outside spider web first thing in the morning, then that day’s weather will be absolutely perfect.
So I can now let you know, based on the multitude of creek valley spiders I have met this past week, that I do believe that
we are finally headed for a dry spell. I will also confess, however, that I have thought the weather to be downright hot these
past few days. It doesn’t take much activity to work up an amazingly good sweat. So yes, every morning after the spider
evictions, as I head outside to do the animal chores, I walk across the side deck in search of morning dew on the now
familiar spider webs, knowing that the dew will signal the start of a perfectly cool, late summer day. I am still looking.
August 20, 2017
I grew up in the city, where our neighborhood was our entire world. My little brother and I would walk to school across the
park as one of our parents watched out of a window on the second floor. The meat market was just around the corner.
The grocer was just across the avenue, and our friends lived up and down the block. We rode our bikes from avenue to
avenue, played marbles, jump rope, and hop scotch on the sidewalk in front of our houses, and we knew everyone.
Our children were also born into the city life. They walked to and from school with the neighbor children, and their very best
friends lived only two houses down. We walked our dogs around the block, and for summertime treats, we would all walk
down the hill to the ice cream shop, in the next neighborhood over.
But as our last child grew older and was ready to move away, Greg and I made the decision to leave the city behind, and
move to the country. Greg has always been a country boy. I remember him quietly sitting on the back steps of our city
house, looking out across the small yard. His heart was in the country.
So we began to drive thither and yon, north and south, east and west, looking for property, until one day, after about two
years, we drove down the creek road. There were no utility poles running along the gravel drive. There was no house. The
fields were overgrown, and the only standing structure was an old tobacco barn, precariously perched by the creek. We fell
The property had no utilities or running water, and had been on the market for two years, but love is blind, and the owners,
ready to sell, accepted our only offer. The first few nights we slept out in the open behind the old barn. I remember waking
up when the coyote began to howl, and being sorely afraid that Greg’s gentle snoring would lead them to us and that they
would eat us up, but their howling passed by on the other side of the barn as they continued on their way farther up the
creek. I fell back asleep looking up at the stars in the clear sky overhead. I marveled at their number and beauty, and I
have not feared the coyote since.
We soon learned that the cost of running electric down the road would be amazingly expensive, so with a bit of research
Greg decided that we could build our own energy system, and generate all of our electricity with solar and wind. We set to
building our wonderfully small 388 square foot home. Greg even built the windows and doors, and much of the furniture,
so that it would fit into the tiny space. In time, we took a deep breath and sold the city house, quit our city jobs, and moved
to the creek.
I heard that our city friends and family were placing bets as to how long I would last in the country. Fifteen years later, I
imagine that all bets are off. Wild horses could not drag me back to the city.
And where our neighborhood used to cover a few city blocks, it now includes may square miles of farm and creek valley
families. In the springtime we share excess plant starts, and by late summer we share overabundant garden produce.
When farm machinery breaks down, we help each other with repairs or lending equipment, and I can honestly say that
there is never a trip to town when we do not stop to pass the time with a neighbor or friend.
I have also learned that the very best country evenings are spent when folk stop by to simply sit a while and talk. This is
what country porches are for, welcoming any who pass by.
Yes, my neighborhood has surely grown, from a few city blocks to miles of farm and woodland, but my heart has grown
immeasurably, and even though I spent the better part of fifty years growing up and living in the city, I can now honestly say
that I am from the country.
August 13, 2017
NO SUCH THING AS SILENCE
I woke up this morning to the sound of falling rain, again. It was a gentle rain, not pelting, just falling easily through the
grey sky. I looked out the loft window across the orchard, and there, I saw two deer, running in circles through the trees.
They would pause every so often for a nibble of the clover that is still growing and flowering in abundance. The rain may
have made it difficult to bring in our second cutting of hay, but the wild flowers and clover have certainly been thriving, much
to the delight of not only our honeybees, but the growing ever fatter, creek deer and rabbits.
And then the rooster called from the side deck, right under the loft window. When I climbed down from the loft, I could see
him and his flock huddled under the picnic table. They do not like the rain, but I do not like them messing up the side deck,
so I slipped into my wooden shoes, opened up the umbrella that stays right by the front door, and clopped across the front
porch to shoe them away. I opened the umbrella and waved it in their direction. With a flutter of wings and squawks, they
reluctantly left the deck to seek shelter in the goat yard.
I watched the chickens’ flurried retreat across the upper field. Two of the goats were standing in the doorway of the main
goat house. Some chickens darted through a crack in the gate. Others flapped their way up and over the fence, and soon
all of the birds had all joined the goats inside the dry house. I wondered what would be their topic of conversation. No
doubt my heartless eviction.
Even though the chickens and goats do not like the rain, it does not seem to faze the creek valley deer. As I stood on the
porch folding up the umbrella, the first two dancing deer were joined by a third. All three cavorted around the orchard. It
amazes me that even with our big dogs, the deer come so close to the cabin. The dogs know not to chase after our birds,
but we have never told them not to go after the wildlife, still, our dogs will often sit right on the edge of the deck, front paws
crossed, watching the wild life as it passes across the upper field. I imagine that this is a doggish form of reality
entertainment. This morning, though, the dogs were still sleeping soundly inside the cabin.
I put the kettle on the stove for our morning coffee, and by the time the water had come to a boil, the pitter patter of the rain
had stopped. The creek valley was, for one brief moment, completely quiet, but then I heard a cricket start to call. Soon it
was joined by another. As I stood at the kitchen sink and looked out across the field, I saw two of our hens run down to
their coop. The rooster crowed, and as I poured our coffee, and as Greg climbed down from the loft, one of the hens
began to call with delight that she had laid an egg. Just as her song was coming to an end, the second hen began to sing
that she too had laid an egg.
It was then that the mooing of cattle from the farm across the valley began to echo up and down the creek, and our two, not
to be left out, soon joined the bovine chorus. Our horses also chimed in, whinnying that they too were present and
accounted for, adding that when we made our way down to the pasture, a morning treat would certainly be nice.
It was then that the call of a mourning dove began to float through the windows, carried on the still wet air. Smaller birds
began to chirp and whistle, and Greg and I sat at the breakfast table, sipping our coffee. How wonderful to be surrounded
by the sounds of a wet creek valley morning.
August 7, 2017
We have been raising homing pigeons for quite a few years now. They are pure white, and look so beautiful, when on a
day like today they fly in their pigeon formation, in a giant circle, just above the creek valley ridge tops, the clear blue sky
their backdrop. As they pass by overhead I can hear the clip of their wing beats. In time, they land on top of the windmill
tower, and then, one by one, they glide down to the door at the front of their coop to safely gather inside before they fly
again. They usually fly four or so times each day. Their flights always bring me smiles.
And yes, they are homing pigeons. They have been selectively bred for generations to be always able to find their way
home. Historic records show that they were used in ancient Greece, over three thousand years ago, to proclaim the
winners of the Olympic games. By 1000 A.D. they flew a regular mail service across the middle east, and they flew for the
Egyptians, carrying messages up and down the Nile. In the 1800’s homing pigeons delivered news and stock prices
across Europe. And, of course, they have been used in times of war, carried by the troops across enemy lines and then
released to carry messages regarding battles lost and won, back home to their commanders.
There is still debate as to how the birds are actually able to navigate, returning home from distances as far as a thousand
miles away. Some believe that the birds are able to detect the earth’s magnetic field, and so are able to fly on a particular
compass bearing until they return to the familiar territory of home. All I know, is that my birds have, somehow, always
been able to return to the creek valley.
But I have really not flown them very far, and I have certainly not flown them in public, until recently. Perhaps their lack of far
off fights has been because I have been too busy, or maybe I a tad lazy, or perhaps it is because I am overprotective, but
finally, this past week, I volunteered to fly three of my veteran fliers, and one relatively young bird, from an ice cream social
at the library in the middle of our county. It would be about a thirteen mile flight to return to the creek.
I placed my four fliers in a large “Toto” style wicker basket and we drove up to the library. The librarian told me that a group
of over one hundred children and their parents were assembled on the lawn. I spoke a bit about the history of the homing
pigeon, and then I explained that theoretically the four birds would fly up into the sky as a group, and then circle around
several times over our heads until they got their bearings, and that then they would head south, back to the creek and our
My birds had never stayed in their basket for such a long time before a flight, and they had certainly never flown from their
basket in front of a crowd of onlookers. I opened the basket lid and the four beautiful white birds flew out, and up, and into
the clear blue sky. They circled around, high above the library and the crowd gathered below, and then, after several
circles, they headed south to the creek. I felt as though my heart would burst as I watched them fly out of sight. Theory had
turned into perfect execution, and I began to breathe again.
I had imagined that my birds would sit in their basket and simply look up at me when I opened the lid. Or I imagined they
would fly up to the library roof and sit there and looking down at me. Or … but my imaginings had been unwarranted.
Now homing pigeons can fly a distance of four hundred miles and average fifty miles an hour. By the time Greg and I had
packed up and said our good-byes, the birds were long home. The flour fliers were banded with color coded bands so
that we would know they had arrived at the creek safely, but the next day, several of the curious library children had asked
their librarian for proof that the birds had in fact made it safely back home. I sent photos of our flock of pure white birds,
each bird totally indistinguishable from the next, but the librarian reported that the children were still skeptical.
So now I have a plan. I will purchase small homing pigeon canisters that attach to the birds’ legs, and the children can
have their librarian put a secret message into the canister so that I can report back with the text from the message, and
then the children will have their proof that the birds did indeed safely return to their creek valley home.
And as for me? Yes, I was a bit worried about my free flying birds. It is a big, not necessarily bird friendly world out there,
but the joy of their flight reflected in the faces of the gathered crowd was so worthwhile. And the birds did just as they
should. They flew beautifully, as only a flock of pure white pigeons could do against a clear blue sky. And … they returned
July 30, 2017
We live without air conditioning, and really always have. Our city house was so big that it required two large compressors
to cool all three floors, and the cost to keep them running was so exorbitant, that we found it far more effective to tell the
children that if they made it through the summer without complaining, that they would be “richly rewarded” come fall. The
reward usually took the form of whatever ice cream treat they could imagine, and as they grew older, the form of cool cash
in the palms of their out stretched hands.
Now that we live at the creek, and generate all of our own electricity, cost is no longer an issue, but we still choose not to
spend our energy stores with what would be required to run an air conditioner. We have rather learned to live our lives
following the ebb and flow of the summer temperatures, working harder when it is a wee bit cooler, and slowing down,
sometimes to a standstill, when it is the hottest.
But I must confess, sometimes towards the end of the day, when we sit back on the front porch swing, and the air is
perfectly still, and it is too hot to move, that it occurs to us to climb into our air conditioned vehicle and drive the extra-long
way out to a very leisurely air conditioned dinner.
This past weekend, the day was done, and it was simply too hot to cook in the small cabin. It even felt too hot to move
about and prepare a cool salad for dinner. I looked at Greg. Yes, we would head out, the long way, to dinner, but all good
things must come to pass. Darkness was falling as we turned down the creek road.
It was soon pitch black, the overcast sky periodically illuminated by the flash of heat lightening to the south. It seemed as
though rain was imminent, and we still had the evening animal chores to do, gathering up the chicken eggs, closing up the
pigeons and ducks, and switching out the dogs. (We only allow one of the females out at a time as they do not get along).
But with rain on its way and chores still to be done, Greg was driving so slowly!
The road toads were out in force. It seemed as though every ten feet or so, one of the little pyramidal creatures was sitting
stoically, waiting to be either squished or to dine on an evening bug, so Greg drove slowly, back and forth across the road,
trying to avoid the squishing.
Finally, we made it home. Greg tended to the dogs as I walked out across the field to gather the eggs and close up the
pigeons and ducks. It did not even occur to me to get the flashlight. The heat lightening was now flashing so frequently
that the entire southern sky looked like a giant strobe light. One flash after another lit up the valley from ridge top to ridge
top, but not inside the goat house where many of my chickens lay their eggs in the hay loft.
I stepped inside. It was pitch back. I could hear the gentle breathing of my goats. I felt with my foot for the inverted five
gallon bucket and cautiously stepped up onto it, and reached out into the hay. No snake greeted me, just five eggs, cool to
the touch. I gently placed them into my metal egg basket. As I stepped down off the bucket one of the goats came up for a
hug. I quickly rubber between her ears and explained that rain was on its way and I could not linger. She followed me out
to the gate.
The sky continued to flash, and as I walked across the field, down to the chicken coop, I found myself stooping, and even
feeling a wee bit nervous. I knew that the windmill tower was far taller than I, as were the trees all around the field, but I
had never seen so much lightening. It seemed like the special effects from a science fiction movie. A drop of cold rain hit
the back of my neck and I shivered. Then another drop, and soon it was raining hard, and I ran back to the cabin.
The rain fell hard and fast. The sky was still bright with the strobe lightening, but I felt safe and secure on the front porch of
the 388 square foot cabin that has been our home for the past eleven years. In time, I climbed the stairs to the loft, and
soon fell fast asleep to the sound of the storm outside. I knew that I was perfectly protected by the sturdy little home we
had built ourselves. I pulled up the comforter. No need for air conditioning. None at all.
July 23, 2017
Without a doubt, it was a warm day. We pottered about the farm, doing a few small tasks that needed doing. I swept the
front porch and hung up a load of laundry. Greg put felt feet on the new chairs for the log house. We were both reluctant to
get into any big, hot projects, and readily agreed that we could allow ourselves to spend a day enjoying our version of
As the afternoon wore on, and I was bringing the laundry in from the line, Greg came up to my side with a proposition. He
had had enough leisure and was ready to mow the upper field and orchard. We looked out past the pigeons and goat
yard. The field actually looked as though we had planted clover. I imagined that even if we had, we could have hardly done
a better job. The gentle rises and falls of the ground were covered in beautiful white waves of almost solid clover flowers.
Greg helped to fold the last of the laundry, and we sat down to survey the field. The clean scent of the line dried clothes
surrounded us. We both turned to each other in unison, shaking our heads. It looked as though Greg would not be
mowing the yard after all, at least not now.
The gently rolling waves of clover were not lying still in the hot afternoon air. It looked as though every flower head was
being blown by a summer breeze, but curiously not a breath of air was blowing in the creek valley. I got up from the table
and walked out in to the yard, and yes, there, on just about every flower head, was a foraging honeybee. This was why
there would be no mowing, for the time being.
I looked behind me and carefully sat down, brushing a few bees out of my way. I knew that a foraging honeybee would not
sting, and I did not want to squish any of the workers. I knew that in order to produce a single pound of honey, the
hardworking bees had to travel the equivalent of three times around the world. I also knew that a single bee only produces
about one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey during the course of her entire lifetime. These are precious creatures indeed.
So I sat quietly, and watched the foraging bees as they flitted around me. I could tell that some of the foragers were quite
old, by honeybee standards. Their wings were frayed, showing signs of wear, and I knew that these bees had been flying
for perhaps the past six weeks, and were close to the end of their summertime honeybee life. During the winter, when the
bees are inactive, and clustered safely, deep inside their hives, they will live for many months, but not during the busy
foraging days of summer.
In time, I got up and returned to the cabin, and yes, later that evening, closer to dusk when the bees had returned to their
hives, Greg did get the mower out from the barn, and mow the upper field. Job done, he climbed the hill to the cabin, the
mower once again stowed quietly away. I had been gliding through the evening air on the front porch swing. Very
seriously, I asked him if he had mowed over any of my bees. He smiled. “Only three”, was his reply.
July 16, 2017
TOMATO TIE DYING
It was going to be a perfect day. Just a wee bit chilly in the early morning and not to terribly hot in the afternoon. The bright
blue sky overhead seemed to reflect my happy anticipation for what I knew I could accomplish. Today was the day I was
going to tie up my two long rows of tomatoes. Two one hundred foot rows of tomatoes that is, and they needed to have
their suckers snapped off as well. I was completely, one hundred percent, absolutely, and totally ready.
So, with my favorite overalls on, and my work boots securely laced, I headed down to the garden. I first gathered up the pile
of green twine we had cut from the hay bales that we fed to the cattle and horses over the winter. I would use the twine to
tie up the plants. Greg and I had already run a row of hog panels secured to “T” stakes down the center of the two long
rows of tomato plants, and all that remained was to simply tie each plant back to the hog panel, and perhaps even weave
some of the taller plants back and forth through the panel openings. This method provides far more support than
traditional wire tomato cages, and with two hundred feet of plants, it is far more cost effective.
I began by pulling a few weeds between the first two plants, and then I snapped off the unwanted suckers on the first pant,
and finally I pulled loose a strand of the baling twine from the thankfully not too knotted jumble, and tied back the first plant
to the hog panel. Countless plants later I had made it to the end of the first row. I looked back at my handiwork. I was
pleased, but I did feel a bit parched and in need of a break. The blackberries beckoned.
A few big, black, perfectly robust berries hung high on the vine. I reached up and with just the slightest tug, a berry fell
loose in my hand. I popped it into my mouth. A sweet, almost wine like taste, flooded my senses. This was a perfect
berry. Several berries did not so easily let go, and I let them stay on the vine, but quite a few fell gently into the palm of my
hand, and these I readily devoured. The sky was a perfect blue. Yes, this was indeed, a perfect day.
I began to work my way back down the second row of tomatoes, and just as my back was beginning to feel a bit of a kink
when I stood up straight after tying each tomato plant to the hog panel, I had reached the end of the second row. I stopped
again by the blackberries. Life was good.
Back at the cabin I started to get lunch ready. I stood at the kitchen sink washing my hands, and then I washed my hands
some more. I reached for the towel to dry them off and thought better of it. I lathered my hands up really well to wash them
yet again. Even after the third washing and a thorough drying, what looked like a day-glow green sheen still adorned my
fingers, and my fingernails bore black streaks. My cuticles were blackened and under my nails … well you can imagine.
I still went ahead and made lunch, figuring that even though my hands did not look particularly clean, that whatever
remained on them was by now at least well washed dirt.
I went about the rest of my day, doing those things that needed to be done, though perhaps pausing more frequently than
usual to wash my hands, but alas, the day is now done, and as I look down at my fingers they still have that decidedly
greenish tint. And wouldn’t you know it, first thing tomorrow morning I have two cases set for hearing in court. It looks as
though I will be wearing a jacket, no matter how hot the forecast. I might just be burying my hands deep in my pockets. Or
perhaps I could wear a green blouse with my blue slacks, to compliment the green hue of my skin, and take pride in my
green sheen farming fashion. Perhaps …
July 9, 2017
BEE SIDE MYSELF
There was finally a day when the forecast did not call for rain and no other pressing matter was on my to-do list. I knew
that I wanted to get an early start, before the sun rose too high in the sky and the day became too hot, so just as soon as
our morning animal chores were done, and Greg had headed over to work on the new house, I went out to the sugar shed
to ready my beekeeping supplies.
I would need three deep hive boxes to place on top of the deeps that housed the swarms we had caught earlier in the
spring. Several of the remaining nine colonies would likely need supers, the boxes in which the bees build up honey for
us to rob, and bottle, and give to family and friends.
I stacked three deeps and four supers into my pull behind farm wagon. I lit up the old smoker, a well worn hand-me-down
from an old beekeeping friend who retired several years before. The cotton string caught easily and a cool smoke was
soon wafting from the tin spout. I slid my legs and then my arms, into the old white bee suit, also handed down from my
friend. Finally, I tossed my sharpened bee tool and a pair of clippers, into the wagon, and I headed out past the goats to
the bee yard. The dogs somehow knew not to follow. They have been stung before. They lay in the shade by the goats’
By the time I parked the wagon between the first two hives, I was already beginning to perspire. I pulled on my gloves,
zipped up my veil, and let some smoke waft across the first hive’s entrance. The bees congregating on the front porch
quickly retreated inside. I pried up the top lid with my hive tool and let a bit more smoke waft under the cover and stood
back to let the bees ready themselves for my invasion by scurrying deeper into the hive. By this time, I was no longer
perspiring. I was downright sweating.
I lifted off the outer and inner hive lids and quickly saw that the super I had placed on the hive several weeks before, was
already completely filled with honey. I retrieved an empty super from my cart, carefully placed it on top of the hive, and
replaced the covers. I trimmed the weeds that were growing at the front of the hive and then stood back, to look down the
long row of hives in my apiary. I was no longer sweating. I was quite literally leaking from every pore in my body and
eleven more hives still lay ahead of me.
Slowly but surely, I made my way down the row of hives, adding deeps and supers as needed. When I reached the half
way mark, I could stand it no more. Salt water droplets stung my eyes. The bulky bee suit felt as though it was plastered to
by body. So I stood back behind the row of hives, in the shade of the trees, and took off my gloves and veil. The bees,
flying straight out from their front doors, did not even know that I was there. A slight breeze blew across my forehead. It felt
amazingly delicious, but I knew that the longer I waited, the hotter the day would become, so I suited back up and
continued working my way down the row of hives.
Time seemed to have no end, as one hive at a time, I slowly made it down to the end of the row. I was wet, and hot, and
my eyes stung, and I felt so thirsty. In truth, I was literally beside myself. I pulled my cart out past the last hive, and there,
standing within a wee bit of shade, I pulled off my bee suit. It was absolutely sopping wet, as was I, and I must confess
that this was not a gentle disrobing. It was more of a frantic tearing off of heavy, wet, white cotton.
After drinking what must have been a gallon of cool water, and with the laundry started, I realized that less than two hours
had passed. And only then did it occur to me to be proud of the fact that I had not been stung. I was quite certain that I had
not squished any bees between the box layers. Even though I had been ever so uncomfortable, I had worked slowly and
methodically, and the bees had been good to me and remained calm.
As I sat on the porch swing, looking out past the goat yard towards the apiary, I had to smile. I may well have been quite
“bee side myself” just a little bit ago, but now I felt so perfectly wonderful, swinging gently through the creek valley air, two of
my dogs napping lazily by my side.
July 2, 2017
ME AND MY MARBLES
The city sidewalk was my front yard, good for riding my bicycle up and down the block, from one avenue to the next, but not
so good for playing marbles. The square cement pavers made perfect boundaries for the game of ringer, but our marbles
easily chipped as they bounced over the uneven cement. We were undaunted. We developed a marble substitute, metal
bottle caps filled with melted crayons. I would secretively hold the crayons against the bottom of the radiator in my
bedroom until the wax began to melt and drip off of into the bottle cap I held below. I remember my parents wondering
about the strange odor of wax that filled the house. I remember staying quiet.
We would then play marbles with the wax filled bottle caps. They skimmed perfectly across the cement, and allowed us to
keep our precious glass orbs, safe and secure, in our pockets, good for trading, sharing, and showing off.
Our own children grown, Greg and I packed up our treasures, sold the city house, and moved to the country. We kept only
those things that we thought that we could never live without, but after ten years at the creek, I had quite forgotten what lay
inside the boxes we had stacked high in the pole barn. I began to sort through them, one by one, and some things I
quickly realized I could certainly live without. For those things I found new homes, with family and friends, but there were
other things, like my old marbles, that I took out of the boxes, things that brought back fond memories and for which there
was ample room in our country life.
Our country home is small, measuring only 388 square feet, but marbles are also small. I put my original marbles in a
bowl beside our bed in the loft, and I bought a few books on marbles to read though at the end of the day. I began to find
jars of marbles here and there that I began to bring home, and I even learned that one of the world’s four surviving marble
was less than a four-hour drive away.
So we drove east to the factory, actually more of an old metal warehouse with a marble making machine that dated back to
the 1930’s. We knocked on the door and were warmly welcomed inside. There were only two people who worked in the
factory at a time, and it ran every hour of every day, all throughout the year. One person kept the molten glass at the correct
temperature and regulated the flow of glass out of the cauldron and onto long rollers that shaped each glob into a perfect
glass sphere. The other person rolled the cooled marbles past her on a sloping board so she could pull off those that
were misshapen or out of round.
Over its decades of operation, many of the cardboard boxes of marbles had broken and the cement floor inside the
building had become littered with shining glass orbs. The ground outside, even in the gravel parking lot, was similarly
littered. My heart soared at the sight, and when the quality control lady told me that what I found on the ground I could pick
up and put in my pockets to take home, I imagined that I would stay forever.
Now, it seems that I have marbles everywhere, rolling across the floor of my car, escaped into the corners of the cabin, and
even buried in the concrete foundation of the new log home we are building just across the driveway. With so many
marbles, it occurred to me that perhaps it was time to divest myself of some of my treasure, and to that end, I have given
presentations at the county libraries where I teach children how to play marbles and, with parental permission, start them
on their own personal collections. I have handed marbles out at craft and machinery shows, and historic reenactments,
and whoever stops by to visit the farm, leaves with a few chosen marbles in their pockets.
And yes, this past weekend I had a particularly was a marbelous time. I set up at a craft show on the town square, my
marbles spread out before me, and happily gave hundreds of them away. I shared their history, their beauty, and the fact
that each and every marble is totally unique. The passers-by poured carefully over the marbles on my table, taking their
time to decide which of the offered selection they would put into their pockets to take home.
I felt ever so richly rewarded, but perhaps my favorite marble reward occurred a while ago as Greg and I were leaving the
grocery store up town. A little girl reached up to tug on her mother’s hand. “Look Mom, it’s the marble lady!” I smiled.
Actually, I am still smiling!
June 18, 2017
I have come to know so many birds since we have made our home here at the creek. The wild ones call beautifully each
spring morning, their chorus so loud that it would be impossible to sleep in after a hard day's work, and many of the tame
ones I have come to know individually, each with their own distinct personality. The cocky rooster struts about the upper
yard with his chest puffed forward, knowing that he is lord and master of his flock. And then there is the little red hen who
dashes up to me whenever I leave the cabin. I know that she would readily jump into my car and join me to run errands, if
only I would let her. And of course, there are our pure white homing pigeons, who chortle and coo contentedly in their
gazebo, and who burst forth in exuberant flight to circle high above the creek valley several times each day. And yes, I
cannot forget silly ducks, who waddle about the yard, heading from here to there in their perfect duck line, the male always
in the lead.
Without a doubt, I have come to love all of our creek valley birds, and this has caused me to wonder about the reasoning
behind the expression “for the birds”. I have always thought that it had a somewhat negative connotation, as though if
something was not good enough for anyone else, it was simply “for the birds”.
Well, I have now learned that the expression "for the birds" got its beginnings in the urban world, before there were
automobiles. All of the horses that drew the assorted wagons and carriages would leave a trail of droppings, and passers-
by would have to be ever so careful where they stepped. No creatures found any benefit to the piles of droppings, except,
that is, for the city's birds. They would gather around and pick through the deposited mounds to find the most delectable
goodies among the indigestible seeds. Hence the expression. What was a nuisance to everyone else, was "for the birds".
I have now learned that those leftover kitchen scraps that I cannot feed to the compost pile, scraps containing meat, and
cheese, and egg, I can happily scatter for the birds to gobble up. Knowing this, perhaps I can agree with those
preindustrial city dwellers, and acknowledge that yes, scraps that perhaps have no other purpose are indeed, positively,
good for the birds. In my mind though, I have removed any negative connotations, because I know the positively good
results, happy healthy birds and wonderful tasting eggs.
I have also always known the expression "make hay while the sun still shines", and understood it to mean that one should
take advantage of the chance to do something while the conditions for doing so are favorable. Since we have lived at the
creek, however, I have come to learn that understanding, and really knowing, are actually quite different.
Our garden crops have all been planted for a while, but our hay field of clover and alfalfa had been simply sitting, waiting for
several dry days, all in a row, so we could cut, then rake, and rake it back the other way, and finally bale it. I had been
checking the long rage weather forecast only to find chances of rain almost every day, until last week. Even then, there was
still a chance of rain, but we really did need to get that hay in, so Greg hitched up the hay conditioner to the old blue tractor,
and one evening, as I puttered about the garden and greenhouse, he cut the field. He finished just as darkness fell, and
we fell asleep, hoping for dry weather for the next several days.
My heart sank though, the next morning, when I looked out the loft window. Even though the sun shone down on our creek
valley, the sky to the south and west was covered with patchy blankets of thick dark cloud. I was hopeful to see the leaves
blowing and knew that the wind blowing across the field of cut hay would help it dry. Greg raked the hay into windrows that
day, and back again the other way the next day, and still it did not rain. The garden soil was actually starting to look
The third day, I had to leave the valley to do some lawyerly things, but that evening, after I got home, we planned to bring in
the hay. All throughout the day I kept looking out the courthouse windows. The sun was still shinning. As soon as I drove
up the gravel drive, Greg and the old blue tractor were ready to go. The square bailer worked its magic, gobbling up the
windrows and spitting out perfectly tied bales. I followed along behind, picking the bales up and throwing them onto the
drag. Greg was done long before I, and in time he joined me. One hundred and seventy-three bales later we were done.
The late evening sun still shone across the top of the creek valley, but we were tired. We just backed the last load into the
barn. We would stack it later.
As we walked up the hill to the cabin, it occurred to me that I really did know that making hay while the sun still shines is
nothing short of very hard work.
Yes indeed, there is so much that I am, only now, just beginning to understand.
June 11, 2017
The two cars drove down the road and turned right at the old tobacco barn to head up the gravel drive to the cabin. No
sooner had they come to a stop, then the doors opened wide, and seven elderly ladies sprang forth from within. Yes, they
literally seemed to bound out from the confines of their vehicles, as they stretched out their hands in warm welcome. We
carefully ushered them up onto the cabin’s front porch, guiding them past the assorted holes that the dogs have dug in the
front yard. One lady had a cane to assist her cautious steps. Another exclaimed that their oldest member was ninety
three, but she was quickly corrected. The oldest member was a spry ninety two, and she had absolutely no desire to rush
things. They all laughed.
We entered the cabin where we have lived for the past eleven years and invited them to all find seating in our transformer
living space that serves as living room, dining room, kitchen, crafts space, and laundry room. They marveled at our oil
lamps, the small wood stove in the corner, our pull down-big screen television, and the comfort of our tiny home. They
remembered living with and using many of the things that we have collected for everyday use. They smiled and even
laughed at the memories, and listened intently and asked questions about our off-grid lives.
We returned outside and toured the log home that we are building, and our collection of assorted animals, and as we
walked around our world, I marveled at our guests continued smiles and happy exclamations. I held one of the baby
pigeons and the ladies easily reached out to pet the small creature’s barely feathered head. The chickens pecked about
their feet. The goats grazed indifferently up in their yard. The ducks waddled in their proverbial line, and our guests
chortled as happily as I could imagine that ladies could ever chortle.
As we walked back towards the cabin, I noticed that two of our guests were wearing lovely red tennis shoes. A gentle
breeze blew through the red ribbon another sported in her hair. With warm hugs exchanged, and promises to stay in
touch, they resituated themselves back into their cars and headed off up the creek valley road, but before they left I noticed
that broad red hats had been placed lovingly beside them on the cars’ seats, and that the ladies gently picked them up and
held them in their laps as they drove off, on their way to what would be, without a doubt, a very joy filled lunch.
As I went about the rest of my day, weeding, and setting out a few more garden starts, I found that I could not stop smiling,
and it soon occurred to me that our guests had filled me with a joyous appreciation for not only life, but for a graceful older
age. I realized that age had afforded these wonderful ladies the freedom to go where they chose to go, happily embracing
both the past and the present, and that with age, they had gained the courage to welcome new adventures, such as driving
down the creek valley road for an afternoon visit to an off-grid farm.
And yes, I am still smiling.
May 28, 2017
It has been raining all day. The front door is open as I write at the table just inside the cabin’s main room. I feel as though
the sound of the falling rain is a soothing backdrop to my thoughts, sometimes picking up in intensity, other times slacking
off to gentle patter. It occurs to me that all of the creek creatures, Greg and I included, have slowed our pace and adapted
to the wet day outside.
Greg has been working in his shop, tinkering with some of his many machines. I stop by periodically, umbrella in hand, to
see what he is been up to. And I have spent the day happily working in the greenhouse, transplanting my leftover garden
starts into small pots so they are easier to give to neighbors and friends. I was able to set out all of my pepper starts, but I
had quite a few tomato, basil, and marigold starts left over. The scent of the lemon, lime, purple, and sweet basil filled the
greenhouse air as I gently moved the starts from the float trays to my collection of assorted plastic cups that I have saved
for just this purpose. Every now and then I would pause in my transplanting and take a seat in my greenhouse swing and
kick back, and simply listen to the rain as it fell against the clear roof overhead.
Whenever I would climb the hill to the cabin, and look out to the goat yard I would see that the sweet creatures had curled
up in the straw just inside the door to their big house. Goats definitely do not like to be wet, but they seemed very content,
spending a lazy day, watching the rain fall. I could see that a few of the big chickens had joined them, and were scratching
their way across the goat house floor.
And this was the first real rain that the little chickens had ever encountered. I was curious how they would react, and I
checked on them several times throughout the day. At first they all huddled under the chicken coop, chirping loudly,
obviously worried at what was happening in the outside world, but as several of the big hens returned to the coop, to get
out of the rain, the five week old chicks seemed to take note. As the last of the big hens made her way up the ramp and
ducked under the coop’s chicken sized door, the little chicks dashed out from their cover and flowed in a quick chick
procession up the ramp, and darted safely inside the dry confines of the coop. Their high pitched chirping stopped
immediately as they too set to scratching their way across the dry hay floor of the coop.
The pigeons perched high up in their gazebo, out of the rain’s way. The horses and cattle took shelter in the wooded
corner of their pasture. The dogs stayed by Greg in his shop, and the rabbits seemed oblivious, sitting calmly in their
cages as the rain pelted down all around them.
Only the ducks were out and about through it all. They waddled across the upper field, waggling their broad bills through
the rain soaked grass, gobbling up worms here and worms there. It seemed to me as I watched that they were finding
worms everywhere. This was definitely a day that was good for the ducks.
But then it occurred to me, I really did need to set the leftover garden starts into pots, and Greg had been talking for a quite
while about needing to spend a day in his shop. The pigeons were contentedly cooing in their gazebo, the chicks seemed
at ease in their coop, and the cattle were lying down, relaxing in the woods beside the horses.
As I at the cabin’s table writing, a red hen just came up and pecked on the door. She was soon followed by a speckled
grey hen. I told them that I would not let them inside, not today, but they seemed content to just stay by the door and preen,
washed clean by the creek valley rain.
Yes, I had to agree. It was good to have a rainy day down here in the creek valley.
May 21, 2017
Our children and our grandchildren all live far away, back in the city where they were raised, some on the east coast, others
on the west, and others still farther, on the other side of one, if not two, oceans. Without a doubt though, they are always
close to my heart, especially this past weekend.
Farmer’s lore has it that it will not frost past Mother’s Day. Our greenhouse floated garden starts were just starting to grow
tall and leggy. It was time to set them in the ground, but the weather leading up to this weekend did not seem to be
cooperating. It rained, and the creek rose full, and then it rained again, and the fields grew soggy with standing water, and
then it rained some more, and I wondered if we would ever be able to set out the garden.
I was amazed though, how calm I felt about it all. I knew that there was nothing that I could do to change the weather. It
would be what it would be, no matter how much I worried, or how hard I fretted, so I set myself to doing a few of the
thousand other farm chores that needed done.
I moved the baby chicks out to the chicken coop, and cleaned up the sugar shed where they had been residing for the past
four weeks. I added supers to the bee hives with hopes of bountiful late spring honey harvest. I trimmed back the edges
of the upper field and fed the multiflora rose vines to the goats. They relished their prickly treat.
And I smiled to see that the wind blew gently, and the sun shone warm for two days straight, and yes, by the end of the
weekend, our garden ground had dried up enough for one last tilling just before we set the garden.
Greg readied the old Holland transplanter and idled the grey tractor down as low as it could go. I brought my trays of
tomato, peppers, dill, basil, and marigold out from the greenhouse and set them at the end of the rows, ready to be placed
in the transplanter’s trays, and then we were off.
I found myself treasuring each small plant, not wanting to waste any. They were alive and so ready to reach their roots
deep into the tilled soil, spread their leaves, and grow. As the rows of green starts lengthened behind me I felt an
amazing sense of pride, and it occurred to me that yes, our garden is also an odd sort of progeny. The marigolds are now
growing from seventh generation seeds that I have saved each year, and as I watched them line up in perfect formation, I
really did feel as though I was welcoming one of my back home. In less than two hours we had the entire garden set.
I climbed back up the hill to the cabin, but before heading for the front porch swing, I went over to the chicken coop to check
on the chicks. I sat down in the grass a few feet away to watch the diminutive chicken show. Several were inside the coop,
fluttering up to the low perches, and scratching their way across the hay floor. Others were hopping up and down the front
ramp. I had placed some feed along the rungs to encourage them to make their way up and down. And a few others were
scampering about the grass out front, pecking at bugs and blades of grass.
One of my big hens made her way up the ramp and pecked her way across the coop floor, oblivious of the little chicks. We
had introduced the chicks the night before, when the hens were on the roost, so that when the big birds woke up in the
morning, they would just figure that these small creatures were meant to be. All was well, and again, for the second time
in the day, it occurred to me that the chicks were also an odd sort of progeny. We have now had several generations of
laying hens, and their eggs have fed not only us, but our friends and neighbors, and our children and grandchildren when
they come to visit. And life goes wonderfully on.
May 14, 2017
The Queen was older now. This was likely her third spring, but as the worker bees began to bring pollen into the hive, she
started to lay eggs as she had done every spring before. It had been years since she had left the hive on her one and only
maiden flight. She had simply stayed deep inside the hive's dark warmth, all through the seasons, surrounded by her
attendants, who took care of her every need.
But this spring something was different. The queen's brood pattern was not as tight and symmetrical as it should be. She
was laying her eggs scattered about the brood chamber in an almost random pattern, and she had an odd scent about
her. The colony knew just what to do.
The nursery bees, who tended to the freshly hatched larvae, chose a new egg that was low on the comb. They surrounded
this egg with a special mixture of royal jelly, that they made from pollen and a glandular secretion, so that when this larvae
hatched, she would grow larger than her surrounding sisters, and become the colony's new queen.
The days passed, and the new queen larvae grew in her cell while the old queen continued to lay eggs, but only for a while,
and then she stopped. And then the day came, and the old queen left the brood chamber and made her way down to the
hive entrance. They sky was overcast and it looked as though it might rain, but the swarm was going to happen, no matter
what the weather.
The queen's attendants were right by her side. Many of the hive's older foragers, and even some of the younger bees who
had just learned to fly, began to gorge themselves on the hive's honey stores. The old queen stepped out into the evening.
Scout bees had already found the perfect branch on which the swarm could gather, not too far from the hive. Several
scouts were on the branch, fanning their wings so the breeze would carry their scent to the queen and the swarming bees.
Other bees danced at the hive entrance to tell the swarmers where to gather. The queen took flight.
She flew straight to the chosen branch and landed. Her attendants immediately surrounded her and within a matter of
minutes, about half of the bees from the colony had joined her. They all gathered, in what looked like a pitcher sized,
gelatinous mass of honeybees. As the bees settled into their temporary location, the scouts left again, this time to search
for a permanent home.
Greg and I were just about to head out to meet some friends for the evening, when Greg turned to me and said, I don't think
we will be leaving just yet. I followed his gaze, and there, low on one of our apple tree branches was a good sized swarm.
We knew just what to do.
I pulled on the old beekeeper's suit given to me by a dear friend. I feel wrapped in his love of the honeybees whenever I
wear it. Greg got out the five gallon bucket with the slotted lid, and together we walked out into the orchard. Greg readied
an empty hive box, pulling out several frames so I would have room to introduce the swarm.
Greg stood back. I held the lidless bucket up under the swarm so that its rim rested on the branch from which they hung,
then I pulled the bucket back a bit and gave it a solid thwack up against the branch. The clump of bees fell neatly into the
bucket. I quickly grabbed the lid from between my knees and snapped it into place.
I then walked over to the empty hive Greg had prepared and loosened the lid. With a second thwack of the bucket on the
ground, I felt all of the bees fall to the bottom of the bucket. I pulled off the lid, and upended the bucket, pouring the mass of
bees into their new home. With my gloved hand I gently spread them out across the bottom of the box, before I replaced
the frames that Greg had removed. With the hive's lid securely on, I stood back to watch. Greg came up to my side.
We smiled to each other. We knew that we had the queen and that the colony would stay. A line of bees was forming at
the hive entrance. They raised their rumps in the air and began to fan their wings, wafting their scent out into the evening,
and telling any straggling members of the swarm that they had found their new home.
I went over to the old colony from which they had flown and put my ear to the side of the bottom box. The hum that I heard
was a bit high pitched. These bees knew that they were now queenless. All was not quite right with their world, but I knew
that their new queen would climb from her cramped cell within a few days, and that as soon as her scent passed from bee
to bee and all throughout the hive, that this colony's buzzing would contentedly reflect that all was once again well.
Greg and I happily headed off to meet our friends. Yes indeed, all was well.
May 7, 2017
YELLOW WILD FLOWER
There still seems to be so much that I do not know about this country life, and I wonder if I will live long enough to feel as
though I have finally hit my stride. Just as soon as I start to feel somewhat comfortable with my gardening, crop, and
animal chores, a new question arises and I am reminded that the past fourteen years have been no more that a flash in
rural time. The creek rises and falls, the seasons pass, and I am forever learning.
Take the color yellow. I honestly do not recall a spring since our move to the county, when the surrounding fields were so
totally cloaked in yellow. Perhaps it has been because this year the fields have simply been to wet with spring rain to work
the ground prior to planting. Perhaps it is because this year the weather turned so suddenly warm, that the yellow has so
deeply and ubiquitously proliferated. Or perhaps it is simply because my memory has faded, and the bright yellow fields of
the past fourteen years have dulled with my misty memory. Regardless, this spring my curiosity was piqued, and I paused
by the edge of an upland yellow field to investigate.
A vast expanse of yellow flowers spread out before me, all the way across the many acres to the tree line on the far side of
the field. I waded out into the thigh high yellow sea. Clusters of bright yellow, almost daisy like flowers, topped thick,
ribbed stems that snapped easily as I passed though. I almost expected to see the Emerald City appear on the far horizon
as I waded deeper into the field, but no city appeared, and in time I turned around, and went on with my day.
Over the next several days I asked neighbors and friends what they thought of the yellow fields. Some folk thought that it
was wild mustard, but mustard has multiple, smaller stems and far smaller flowers. Others thought that it might be
goldenrod, but goldenrod flowers have as many as sixty petals, and most importantly, goldenrod does not flower until fall.
This flower was not goldenrod, and it was not mustard.
And then one neighbor knowingly told me that this yellow wild flower was cressleaf groundsel, also known as butterweed.
I set out to learn as much as I could.
Butterweed is native to North America, and typically grows in damp, disturbed, open ground, hence its healthy spread
across this spring's wet farm fields. Each flower head contains hundreds of seeds that are spread by the wind or by tilling,
but as beautiful as the yellow fields of butterweed are, the flowers are toxic to grazing farm animals, such as horse, cattle,
sheep and goats. Curiously, deer have the good sense to avoid it, but livestock who consume it, will, overtime, sustain
liver damage that can lead to death. Thankfully the flower's propensity to grow in disturbed soils means that only a few, if
any, solitary plants are found in pastures.
So once again I learn! I have not noticed any growing in our hay field, but I will be careful to keep a lookout for it so we do
not bale it for winter feeding to our farm creatures. And I am reminded to be thankful for my most recent country lesson, a
wary appreciation for the beautiful yellow fields that remind me of the poppies surrounding the Emerald City.
April 30, 2017
It is hard to put this past week into words, but I am going to give it a try. I truly believe that this is a story that should be told.
Ninety high school seniors, from an affluent suburban world far across our state, made the trip down to our neck of the
woods, teachers and chaperones in tow. Divided into small groups of five or six students, they spent their days working at
sites all across our count and our neighbors'.
They pulled weeds at the Children's Home, working in the garden beside children who for differing reasons could not live
with their parents. They sorted trash at the recycling center, and became intimately aware of the various aroma's. They
danced with aging veterans at the Veteran's Home and delivered meals to the elderly with Meals on Wheels. They cleaned
stalls at the animal shelter and played with the abandoned dogs.
They visited the homes of high school "farm" kids their own ages, and were amazed that they all listened to the same
music and were really very much alike in so many ways. They climbed up into a combine that cost as much as their
suburban homes. They all promised to stay in touch.
They planted tomatoes on an organic certified farm, cleaned a winter's worth of knee deep droppings out of an alpaca
barn, and cleaned the stalls of therapy horses, after which they learned to ride the horses from the children who received
They drove tractors for the first, and perhaps the only, time in their lives. They loaded a backhoe bucket with stone,
shoveled cattle droppings into a wheelbarrow and then trundled the heavy awkward barrow over to the bottom of a ten foot
tall compost pile. The whole idea was that they were to serve, and to learn.
And then, the last night that they were here, they had a dinner, to which all of the site hosts were invited. Many of us knew
each other and we readily caught up on the latest county goings on. It was a good time to reconnect, and then, food
cleared away, the program director stood up and got everyone's attention. She asked her ninety students to close their
eyes. I looked across the room. They all had their eyes closed, and then she asked them to think back on the past week,
and find their most memorable moment, a moment that they would then share with the gathered group.
Eyes opened, she began to call on them, one by one. I listened, transfixed. There certainly was laughter as some shared
their experiences with alpaca droppings one day, cow pies the next, only to be followed by a day covered in baby chick
splatters. Such is life in the country, but there were other stories as well.
One student stood and explained something that even her classmates did not know, that she had been adopted when she
was four years old. She had been assigned to the Children's Home, and while there had spent time with an angry young
girl. Only as she was gathering up her things at the end of the day, and getting ready to leave, did the young girl come up to
her with a hug, and say thanks. The girl told her "If you can make it, maybe I can too". As she sat down after sharing, the
others at her table leaned over to give her hugs.
Another student stood to say that she had been to the dance at the Veterans Home. She had sat down beside a
gentleman who was wearing a World War II hat, who did not like to dance. At first they had spoken of easy things, her
classes at school, his many grandchildren, but then she told the group how her own grandfather had been a WWII vet. Her
grandfather, now passed away, had never spoken about the war, and her family somehow knew to never to ask him about
it. She shared this with the man seated beside her, and then she gathered her courage and asked if he would mind telling
her about his experiences in the war. He told her that he did not mind, and he slowly opened up, and they talked until it
was time for her to leave. With a tear in her eye, she told the group that she would never forget his gift.
As Greg and I said our good-byes and headed back down to the creek, it occurred to me that these suburban youth may
well have cleaned up the chicken coop, moved rocks, and brushed the winter coats off of the horses, but in reality they did
ever so much more. As I listened to their stories about spending time in our corner of the world, I realized that we are all
part of the same world, and how we are all so wonderfully gifted to be a part of it.
April 23, 2017
RESCUED, RECLAIMED, AND REPURPOSED
This story not only starts without any beginning, I am also quite certain that it comes to a close without any end. It seems
to go something like this.
I was doing what must have been my 627th load of laundry in our little solar powered washing machine, when I heard a
horrible clanging sound. I rushed into the back room and saw the whole machine jumping up and down as though it
wanted to be anywhere but where it was. I quickly shut it down and called Greg to investigate. I then proceeded to hang
that close-enough-to-be-finished last load of laundry on the line and went about my business, leaving Greg to investigate
the dancing washing machine.
Hours later I returned to the cabin. "What did you find?" I inquired of my dear husband.
"Come and see", was his reply. We walked through the small cabin and into the back room. I was amazed. There was
nothing left of the washing machine, but scattered bits of this and that, and things of which I had not a clue were
everywhere. Greg had taken the entire machine apart, down to the last nut and bolt. With a smile he explained that there
was no way to get to the root of the problem without such a thorough dismantling.
It seems that the spider like armature that once held the wash drum to the motor had broken. Greg explained that the only
way to repair the broken machine was to replace the drum, armature attached. Unfortunately, this particular manufacturer
did not sell the armature separately, but the necessary parts would be delivered in a few days. I smiled. I really am quite
I looked at the now free stainless steel drum. It really was a thing of beauty. We already had a pile of scrap metal down by
the barn, ready to be taken to the salvage yard, left over roofing, old fencing, unnecessary bumpers and such, but this
stainless steel tub was far too beautiful to add to the scrap pile. And then it occurred to me. I was assuredly looking at
what had to be the most beautiful planter in the county.
As I hosed it off at the front spigot, I looked around at our off grid world. We have turned left over PVC pipe into horizontal
planters, empty wine bottles into wind chimes and lanterns, old cutlery into sculptures, and empty tin cans and old
washers into tin woodsmen porch decor. A reclaimed exercise bike serves to generate electricity when energetic
teenagers come to visit, and a friend gave us a trivet made out of an old planter's seed plate. And I have learned that old
tractor tires make excellent raised beds. Yes, we have been learning the fine art of salvage, and have come to
wholeheartedly realize that when an item's originally intended function comes to an end, a whole new realm of
possibilities lies delightfully ahead.
So I happily repotted some bee friendly flowers in to my new stainless steel planter. Again, I stood back and looked
around at our off grid world. Now I just need to find the perfect place in which to proudly show it off.
April 16, 2017
THAT REDBUD TIME OF YEAR
There was a spindly tree that grew just off of the front porch of our city house. It's trunk was thin, and its scraggly branches
seemed to go every which way with no rhyme or reason at all. And every spring I had to be careful not to park under it, or
my car would be covered with a blanket of small red flowers. I often thought of cutting it down, but when we sold the city
house the odd little tree was still there, peeking out from the side of the front porch and leaning out across the driveway.
After holding what was surely the world's largest yard sale, we moved to the creek.
That first spring I was amazed to find similar red budding trees growing everywhere, not peeking out from behind city
houses, but majestically growing much taller and straighter along the edges of our farm fields. I thought that they were
beautiful, decorating the early spring hills with a splash of color that contrasted perfectly with the new growing green.
Our first few years at the creek we had so very much to learn, and when I heard that there was going to be a presentation
about wild edibles a few hour's drive east, I knew just what to do. I set the alarm, and woke Greg early one morning, and
off we headed in the predawn darkness.
The presentation was in an old school gymnasium. Folding wooden chairs were spread out across the floor in front of a
wooden stage. I smiled to see that the stage was decorated with my familiar red flowered boughs.
At the appointed time there was not a single empty seat, and quite a few folk set out more of the wooden folding chairs.
The organizer took center stage, and after a few words of welcome, introduced the featured speaker, Miss Edelene Wood.
She was a sprightly older lady, easily in her eighties, who hailed from the nearby mountains. She had stalked the wild
asparagus with her dear friend, Euell Gibbons. She was a wealth of knowledge, and she easily shared her vast
understanding of wild things with the gathered crowd. In time she reached back and plucked a red flowered bough from a
vase by the side of the stage. As she continued to talk she would take occasional nibbles of the flowers, and then, with a
broad smile, she offered to share the bough with the gathered crowd.
She cautioned everyone to eat just one or two of the small Redbud tree flowers. As with every wild food, one should just
eat a small bit at first, and then wait to see if there is any allergic reaction.
I eagerly waited, watching the small bough that was headed my way, and when the person sitting next to me passed it, I
pinched off two of the small red flowers and popped them into my mouth. Their flavor exploded boldly and pleasantly
across my tongue. They were amazingly crisp, almost crunchy, and had an almost citrus taste to them. They were
And I learned that Redbud flowers are not only edible, but are amazingly high in vitamin C. They can be added as a
garnish to salads, pickled in apple cider vinegar, and frozen in ice cubes for mid winter thawing and enjoyment. The twigs
can be placed in a roasting pan to add a splash of spice to meat, hence the folk name Spicewood.
So if you happen to pass down the creek road over the next week or so, you might just find Greg and I chewing on a
Redbud twig as we walk the dogs, or if you happen to stop by a bit later in the evening, you will likely find us dining on a
festive salad, brightly adorned with crisp Redbud flowers. If only I had known when we lived in the city!
April 9, 2017
It would be a difficult decision if I had to choose which of our several houses I prefer. This is not to say that we have a
summer home, or a winter get away, or even a weekend retreat, but it is to say that we have somehow built quite a few
houses in our creek valley world. And it seems that whichever house has seasonally called me through its door, becomes
my very favorite house of all time, until I happen to walk across the next thresh hold.
When I enter the sugar shed to get ready to work the hives, I am greeted by the most wonderful sweet scent of honey and
wax. The sugar shed is where I will be working over the next several weeks as I prepare the bees for a summer of
foraging, but not quite yet.
The goat houses are special too. They clean houses smell of straw and contented goats. It is a wonderful treat to sit
down in a fresh bed of straw with a goat by my side, as she whispers sweet goat kisses my way. These are houses that I
can enter at any time of year, to slow down and simply be.
And then there is the 388 square foot cabin that has been our home for the past eleven years, and is perhaps one of the
original tiny houses. We built it small because it was all that we needed, and I have known it as my dream come true
home, proof that we really could turn our imaginations into reality, and quit those regular paycheck jobs and live a simpler
But I'd better not forget that we are now building a spacious 930 square foot log house. The cabin will become our guest
house and summer kitchen, as the log house becomes our new dream home, where we are carving every nook and
corner into the perfect space to fit our eclectic lives.
This past weekend though, I fell, once again into absolute, total love, with my greenhouse. As I pulled dead leaves off of
the orange, lemon, and lime trees, the air surrounded me with a heady citrus scent. When I pulled the chain to open the
roof panels, I felt the gentle breeze of the hot air wafting past me and up and out into the creek valley.
I got down on my hands and knees and pulled weeds from the wood chip covered dirt floor. The ground was dry and hard
packed, and the weeds did not easily let go, but two wheelbarrow trips later the compost pile looked decidedly fatter. I
hosed off the inside of the polycarbonate panels where green algae had begun to grow. I spread out the float trays on the
slatted tables where I would soon be seeding my garden crop of vegetables and herbs. And then I stood still.
The sun had just passed over the valley hill and I could already feel the temperature beginning drop. I closed the roof
panels but left the side panels cracked just a bit, and then I sat down in what was at that moment my very favorite chair in
my very favorite house. I held onto the chains and pushed back as far as I could. I picked up my feet and swung freely
through the greenhouse air. I leaned back and looked up through the clear roof at the dusky sky overhead.
And it occurred to me that at that moment I was the most fortunate person I could imagine. I had a house within which I
could sit comfortably, surrounded by clean citrus scented air, tilt my head back and see the whole outside world. I could
not imagine needing or wanting anything else. I had it all right there.
April 2, 2017
THE GOOD FORTUNE OF THE GREAT ESCAPE
It is no easy task to leave the farm. The dogs need to be delivered to their doggish hotel across the river. We need to
make sure that there are sufficient food supplies to last the duration of our departure for all of the hungry rabbits, goats,
chickens, ducks, pigeons, horses, and cattle. We need to run through the daily chore briefing with our farm watching
neighbors, and only then, finally, are we ready to pack our bags and fly away.
This last trip west, to our youngest son's wedding, was no different. I smiled nonstop as I puttered through my pre-
departure chores. I was so excited that I felt as though I could hardly keep my feet on the ground. Finally, Greg and I met
on the cabin's front steps, ready to head in and pack our bags. I was amazed how eerily empty our world seemed without
the dogs by our sides, ready to follow us inside.
Just as I was reaching out my hand to open the cabin's front door I heard Greg's voice behind me. "Now what do you think
I turned to follow his gaze. There, just past the pigeon gazebo, were all three our goats, contentedly grazing. They had
somehow escaped from the confines of the goat yard. Packing would have to wait. We walked out to the yard to
The mechanics of the escape were immediately apparent. A large ash tree, the favorite high perch of our pigeons, had
fallen across a section of the goat yard fence, but as we surveyed the damage, we quickly came to realize how fortunate we
Thankfully the tree had fallen while we were still home, allowing us the opportunity to repair the fence and corral the goats,
without having to leave an awkward situation to our farm watching neighbors.
The sixty foot tree had also fallen across the hill, not down, and so had not taken out any of our goat houses. It had also
fallen very neatly behind the row of bee hives, sparing their destruction and an even more remediation.
And finally, only one section of the goat yard fence was down, though that section was quite crushed by the almost three
foot diameter trunk of the ash tree. Greg retrieved the chain saw from the barn as I lured the goats back inside their yard. It
is uncanny how easily they follow a bucket of feed. They bleated and pranced along behind me, acting as though they
hadn't eaten in weeks. As soon as I spread the feed across the bottom of their troughs, they immediately began to whisper
up their late day treat, and yes, I use the word whisper to describe their eating because they have an odd way of gathering
up the feed with their lips.
Greg proceeded to saw large rounds from the toppled tree trunk, and as soon as the fence was clear, we pulled it back up
into place. The T posts either side of the fallen tree were amazingly solid, though the wire fencing itself was quite twisted.
On Greg's suggestion, we took an unused section of hog panel, wonderfully versatile stuff, and zip-tied it along the twisted
fencing. The goats, still eating, did not even glance our way.
Finally, Greg was able to push over the rotted base of the tree so that it would not provide a platform from which our
starving escape artists could jump the fence to the greener pasture beyond, and we were done. The sun was just
beginning to set behind the hill.
As we returned once again to the cabin, Greg turned to me with a smile. Yes, there was one more bit of good fortune. The
fallen ash would certainly provide us with quite a bit of easily accessible firewood for the next winter. Accessibility is
always a good thing, and yes, when least expected, good fortune on the farm greets us in many forms. We easily finished
off our packing and climbed the loft stairs for a short night's sleep, excited to be leaving, but thankful to know that we would
soon be returning home.
March 26, 2017
LESSONS FROM THE WOODPILE
I wonder if I truly could predict the weather, if I would. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing that I do is head over to
the loft window and look outside to see what the day has in store. Perhaps there is something about not knowing that
keeps life exciting. It does seem, however, that I must have been very excited these past few weeks, because the weather
has been far from what I had earlier imagined.
Several weeks ago we were contentedly wearing short sleeved shirts to work outside, and days passed without the need
to light a fire in the cabin's wood stove. Flowers blossomed, and as I relaxed on the front porch swing, I thought that
perhaps winter really had left the creek valley.
As we do every year, all throughout the winter, we had been keeping a careful eye on our wood supply, but this year it
seemed to be practically endless. I felt thankful for the relative warmth of the winter that had left us with an ample supply of
gathered wood. So in my shirt sleeves, arms crossed, I stood back and calculated that at the rate we were burning though
the pile, and lighting only occasional night time fires, there would be no need to bring in more wood. Or so I thought, until
about two weeks ago.
Suddenly, even the daytime temperatures dropped into the teens. The daffodils that line our creek valley road shuddered
and dipped their heads all the way down to the ground. The flower blossoms on the pear and plum trees turned brown
and withered. My bees stopped flying and stayed in their hives, hopefully not eating through the last of their gathered
stores. And our wood pile, quite literally, went up in smoke.
I watched daily as the pile grew smaller and smaller. I began to have doubts about my former self assurance regarding its
bounty. It seemed to be dwindling away to nothing.
I checked the long range forecast. By the end of the coming week, the daytime temperatures were supposed to climb back
up into the sixties, but the nights would still be chilly with temperatures hovering around freezing. And as I checked the
forecast further, all the way through the end of April, there was not going to be any change in the night time lows.
Wearing my warm winter jacket, I stood back and looked again at our wood pile. We would certainly be needing more
wood. So we did what we needed to do and brought in more wood and stacked it just so in front of the new house.
And this evening, when I went over to the woodpile to bring in some logs for the cabin's fire, I paused to take a good long
look. I had no concerns at all. I knew that I could light the fire and open the windows at the same time. I felt as though I
was the most well-to-do lady in the world. Yes, country living has taught me that wealth comes in many forms.
But country living has also taught me that taking the time to stack firewood is somewhat like taking the time and to plant
straight rows across our fields. There is nothing quite like climbing down off of the tractor at the end of a spring day and
looking with pride across a field well sowed. That same sense of pride filled my heart as I stood back and looked at our
neatly stacked, and plentiful woodpile. I was certainly content with our newly gathered bounty, but I also had to smile with
pride at the wood well stacked.
March 19, 2017
RED TAILED HAWK
I love to watch the red tailed hawks fly across the creek valley. Their light brown bellies glint beautifully in the sun as they
fly. Their dark brown wings stretch four feet across, and as they turn and climb higher into the sky, I can see their fan
shaped, name sake, red tails. Their scratchy call echoes between the hills and up and down the creek valley.
Occasionally one will sit high on a branch up the hill behind the cabin, seemingly hunched over, small round head atop a
large body, as it eyes the ducks, chickens, and homing pigeons foraging across the yard. Over the years we have walked
across our fields and occasionally found what is left of one of our flock after a hawk attack. The chickens are too big for
the hawk to carry away, but the pecked out belly of our beloved bird is a sure sign that she was dined on by bird of prey.
Yes, I know that the hawk need to eat too, but, it saddens me to lose one of my hens or pigeons. After an attack I keep
them penned up and hope that the hawk will hunt elsewhere. My birds look at me, with heads cocked to one side,
wondering why they are being punished.
It has seemed, though, that the hawks have had plenty of other creatures to eat of late, and have not been bothering my
flock, until just the other day. I was standing on the cabin porch, was watching the pigeons circle over the valley, when I
was surprised to see them take a sharp downward turn. When their squadron formation swooped back up, higher into
the sky, I saw why they had made the sudden dive. A red tailed hawk was literally right on their tails, a slight pigeon's
I stepped off the porch and into the field. My heart stood still as I watched from below and silently urged the squadron to
return to their coop. They dove and darted, and after several turns the hawk soared off over the edge of the creek valley,
and out of sight and my pigeons were able to return safely home.
That evening as I closed up the coop, I could see each of my twenty birds, each one contentedly nestled beside its
lifelong partner, each on its respective perch. All was well, or so I thought.
The next morning Greg did the animal chores as I puttered about inside the cabin. Chores finished he returned to the
cabin, looking very solemn as he opened the door. "Come outside", was all he said.
I followed him over to the pigeon gazebo. There on the floor inside the coop was a dead pigeon, it's belly pecked quite
clean. Outside, amid a pile of pure white feathers, were the remains of another of my birds.
I took a cautious look inside the coop. The birds were obviously traumatized, not wanting to venture down from their
perches. Eighteen pairs of uncertain eyes met mine. I was unsure what to do. Let them fly and risk becoming hawk
dinner, or keep them sadly cooped up, but safe. Greg and I talked it over, and I decided to follow the latter course.
Perhaps the hawk would go in search of other hunting grounds, realizing that the delectable flying white morsels were no
longer available. I could only hope, for the birds of prey are legally protected and cannot be hunted, unlike the fox. I cannot
load up my 22 and keep it ready by the front porch.
So we shall see what time will tell, and in time I will let my birds fly again, but for now they safely flutter about inside their
gazebo, looking out at the blue sky beyond. And as for me? Well, I continue to scan the valley ridge top looking for signs of
the hungry red tails, my ears tuned to the sound of their scratchy call.
March 12, 2017
It was a warm day, actually an amazingly warm day for the first of March. I felt quite comfortable in a short sleeved shirt,
and I was not even that surprised to see quite a few folk up town wearing shorts and sandals as I ran my errands. It
seemed as though the old saying about March coming in like a lamb, really was going to hold true this year.
I returned to the creek, and as I made my evening rounds gathering the chicken eggs and closing up the ducks and
pigeons, I paused to listen to the wind turbine. The weather was still warm, but the wind was starting to pick up and the
little turbine was whirling, it's fast moving blades whistling through the air. I looked up at the sky. Dark clouds were
moving across the creek valley from horizon to horizon, and I could see the trees on the tops of the ridges starting to dance
in the upland wind.
Back inside the cabin I prepared dinner as Greg built a fire in the wood stove. He would not light it until later, but it was all
set and ready for a match as soon as the cabin began to chill. The temperature had already begun to drop outside, but we
knew that with the windows closed, the cabin would stay warm well into the night.
Eventually the day was done, and we climbed the stairs to the loft. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear the sound of a
pelting rain as it drummed against the cabin's metal roof. I felt secure in the comfort of the small house that has been our
off grid home for the past thirteen years.
When I woke the next morning I realized that Greg had gotten up and lit the fire sometime during the night. The cabin was
toasty warm. I put on the coffee water and went outside to switch out the dogs, and only then did I realize how much it must
have rained. The dogs' dishes were easily filled with almost two inches of fresh rain water and I could hear the creek
running wild behind me. I looked down the hill though the winter bare trees, and saw the swollen water, raucously rushing
south to the river.
Back inside the cabin, I checked the state of the batteries' charge, as I always do each morning, and was surprised to see
that they were at 98 percent. They usually lose a bit of charge overnight, as we turn the lights on to read, cruise the internet,
or watch satellite television. The solar panels obviously do not generate energy after dark, but this past night our batteries
had maintained at almost a full charge. I immediately knew that our little wind charger, usually still in the shelter of the
creek valley, had been working overtime all throughout the night. It was still early morning, and somewhat dark outside,
but I happily turned on the cabin's lights, luxuriating in our excess early morning energy.
After breakfast we finished up the animal chores and headed across the driveway to work on the new house. Greg planed
and installed the window trim, as I treated the finished woodwork with clear preservative. The sun was shining bright and
we worked easily, but by early afternoon we decided to take a break and head up town to run errands. It seems that we
make a run the hardware store almost daily.
We were amazed. As soon as we drove away from the creek, we realized that the valley had sheltered us from a ravaging
storm. Massive tees had been uprooted and crushed our upland neighbors' barns, fences, garages, and even homes.
We saw that one neighbor had lost his entire roof, ripped off by the winds, trusses and all. And everyone was without
power. We later learned that some folk had been left without power for several days, yet all through the raging storm and
after, we had been blissfully oblivious.
As astounded as we were, though, it occurred to me that perhaps oblivious is not quite the right word to describe our creek
state of mind. My heart certainly pined for our upland neighbors, who we saw already beginning to clean up and rebuild,
but my heart was also filled with an amazing feeling of gratitude for our creek valley world. I was reminded that our
horizons along the creek may well be limited, and at times we may seem cloistered, cut off from the rest of the world, but I
had to smile to know that this valley really has become our home, a home that sheltered us from this passing storm.
March 5, 2017
IN MY FATHER'S TIME
A little over a year has passed. The grandchildren have gown. We have planted and harvested crops. The feeder calves
seem to have ballooned into full grown cattle, but sometimes it seems like only yesterday when I say beside him and held
his hand. We talked of so many things.
He was proud to have been a longshoreman. He unloaded the giant ships that brought pineapples from South America
and then filled their hulls with raw steel for the return voyage. He told us that one of the steel loads had broken loose and
crushed his ankle. After that he took to wearing high boots that he laced tight for support. His fellow dock workers called
him Hollywood because of his blond hair and good looks.
He told us that there was a time when he did not even have an apartment to call home, and he slept on a park bench with
his jacket pulled up over his head for warmth. When a beat cop made his rounds, he rapped his billy stick on the sole of
Dad's boot and told him to move on. When Dad pulled his jacket down and looked up at the cop, the cop softened and
said "ok". The cop told Dad that he could stay on the park bench till morning, but he'd better not ever find him sleeping
Dad told us how he jumped a freight train all the way to California, and then jumped a freight train back to New York City.
He never did tell us why, but we imagined as children that he did it just so he could tell us stories about the beauty of our
country, a land that stretched all the way from one sea to another.
He was a clock maker. He built the clock cases out of beautiful black wood with a clear glass face. He set the gears in a
graceful arch that turned with the gentle swing of the pendulum. He sold one to a store up town and I remember feeling so
proud to be allowed go with him when he would take his tools and clean it. I was the clock maker's daughter.
Still single, he moved into a fifth floor walk up flat on the lower east side of the city. With his boxes of clock parts spread
across the floor he looked out of the window across the park and introduced himself to a beautiful quiet lady looking out of
the apartment window above. He fell in love with her moon lit face. Years later, when they tore the building down, he
returned and bribed the night watchman into allowing him to take the stone faced maiden home, the most beautiful
gargoyle in the city. Our mother smiled.
He was a husband and a father, and when his young wife told him that clock making was a hard way to support a family,
he went to night school and passed the bar exam and became a lawyer. He was an inventor and helped other inventors
patent their dreams. We grew up with wonderful prototypes everywhere.
He was a wind miller. Children grown and debts paid, he and our mother moved away from the city and built a museum of
wind, water, and solar technology. His windmills stood tall and he told us that he felt like he rode the wind when he'd climb
to their tops and do his tinkering.
He was always a dreamer, but when our mother fell asleep for the last time, his dreams grew forgetful. He explained to us
that he had holes in his mind, and he decided it best to let go of managing certain things. Still, he smiled with his love of
life and adventure. His only regret, he would say, was that he might not live long enough to solve his latest invention. He
believed that he was close. We have his notes, his last invention was left unfinished.
Perhaps it is no wonder how much I still miss him. I imagine that I always will, but my life is so filled with his life. From our
wind generator, to my love of mechanical clocks, our creek valley world is filled with his spirit of dreams and adventure. On
days like today, though, when I miss him terribly, I have discovered a wonderful way to hold him near. I simply slip his
large faced Timex watch over my wrist. The stainless steel band soon warms to my body temperature, and all throughout
the day I feel wrapped in my father's gentle touch. It is a fashion statement that I would not trade for any other, but mostly it
brings me a smile whenever I glance down to check the time, in step with the past, living today, and yes, ever so much
looking forward to tomorrow.
February 26, 2017
CITRUS AND HONEY
The first day of spring is still officially four weeks away, but I must have forgotten to tell my honeybees. The weather has
been amazingly warm and they have broken out of their winter clusters and have taken flight to forage for food. I always
worry that there will not be any bee food for them to find in the creek valley, and that they will burn up their precious energy
and starve. This is a precarious time of year to be a honey bee.
But it is a good time of year to harvest the greenhouse citrus crop. It is in late winter that the fruit turns its sweetest, just
before the trees flower with the next year's crop. Morning chores done I decided to walk down the hill to the greenhouse. It
was a chilly forty five degrees outside, but sunshine filled the morning, as well as my greenhouse, and the temperature
inside was already a toasty eighty five degrees.
The three grapefruit were bright yellow and bigger than any I have seen before. The little tree bent sharply under their
weight. The oranges were the size of tennis balls and pulling their branches down to the ground. The lemons were
absolutely lemon sized and very abundant. The limes had actually sweetened several months ago, and had already been
harvested, but this is where I return to my worrisome honey bees.
I carefully picked each individual citrus fruit off of my seven trees. Their wonderful aroma surrounded me, washing away
any lingering cares that I might have had about my bees, or anything else for that matter, and as I picked I could not help
but notice that the trees were beginning to flower. Some of the flowers were still tight green buds, but others were
beginning to open, sweet white petals just starting to unfold.
Soon my bushel basket was quite filled with my citrus harvest, and I turned to leave the warmth of the greenhouse. As I
walked towards the door, I absently mindedly brushed a passing honey bee from my hair, and then I turned, and sat down
in my greenhouse swing. I watched the little bee flit from flower to flower, and in time she found one that was open and
briefly settled down to sip to its nectar before she flitted on in her search for more. I pushed back on my swing, and as I
coasted through the citrus scented air I saw another bee, and then another, and soon I could hear their buzzing as more
bees that I could count passed from flower to flower, finding those that were open and ready for pollination.
I felt as though I could have lingered on my swing forever, but the day called, so I stood up, and with bushel basket in hand,
I closed the greenhouse door behind me to head back up the hill to the cabin. I passed by several dandelions and paused
to watch one of my honeybees as she stuffed the yellow pollen into her leg sacks.
I was curious. I set the bushel basket down on the front porch and headed out past the goat yard to the apiary. I walked
behind each of the eight hives and saw a steady trickle of bees coming and going from seven of the eight. Perhaps the
colony in the eighth hive had simply decided to sleep in for the morning, or perhaps they did not make it through the warm
winter. I am always the optimist.
I returned to the cabin dreaming of tomorrow's grapefruit for breakfast, perhaps with honey drizzled across the top. Without
a doubt, life in the creek valley is filled with many smiles.
February 19, 2017
I remember sitting at the top of out front stoop and dumping Lincoln Logs out of their cardboard canister. The many pieces
would scatter across the brown cement, but I would carefully gather them up and arrange them into their different
categories, long logs, medium logs, the small end logs, the roof beams, and finally the green wooden slats that would
make up the roof. My troll family, orange, blue, and green hair standing up on end, typically stood in a row off to the side,
intently watching the construction process as their cabin home took shape. Finally, the last roof slat in place, the troll
family would enter their new home, hair first, quite likely for the hundredth time or so. I never did keep count of the many
Now, many, many decades later, I wonder if all of those childhood troll cabins might have paved the way for the log house
that Greg and I have been building for the past year and a half. Our home's logs, however, are really quite different from the
Lincoln Logs of my childhood. They are not round, but rather measure six by twelve inches, and there is chinking in
between each course, but other than the shape of the logs and the chinking, the similarity is still quite striking, even down
to the green roof, though ours is metal, not made of wood slats.
There is another similarity to the troll houses of my childhood that I did not realize until today. As we have built our house,
we have been placing the unused wood down in the basement. There was a large log that we did not use as a front porch
beam. We carefully checked the architect's plans and they only called for ten beams, but we had eleven, so down in the
basement went the extra log. We could only fit thirteen stairs from the basement to the first floor, but we had fifteen stair
logs. The two extra logs joined the porch beam down in the basement. There were extra ceiling beams, and many extra
board feet of the two by six tongue and grove boards that span the ceiling beams and the first floor loft. Eventually it
seemed as though it was getting harder and harder to move about the basement.
I remembered back to my troll house days. There always were a few Lincoln Logs left over. I would carefully place them
back in the canister, and perhaps take a few out later to make into a troll bed, or add them around the perimeter as an
outside garden wall. Now I wondered what to do with our basement filled with big pieces of wood. Greg was working on
the door and window trim, and suggested that I take as much of the left over wood as I thought burnable over to the scrap
pile. The few pieces that were usable I could stack down in the dry half of the tobacco barn.
I began to sort through the wood. It seemed that I was placing it all in the back of the pickup truck to take down to the barn.
I set only a few small pieces off to the side to take over to the burn pile. When my second pickup truck load was just about
done, Greg leaned over the front railing and asked what I was doing. "Saving the wood", I replied.
"Now what are you going to do with all that wood?" he inquired.
In my mind I was thinking about building a troll house, but I answered that this piece would make a nice outside bench,
and this one could be a chair, and another a small porch table. Greg smiled and came down to the truck to help me load
the last of the wood into the back of the truck. We then drove down the hill together to the tobacco barn, and together we
added the second truck full to the already big stack of big wood.
We stood back and looked at the left over wood. "We almost have enough for another house", Greg said. I thought again
of my childhood troll houses, but decided to keep quiet, just for now. We still have our own home to finish, but it certainly
occurred to me that it would be fun to build a troll cabin off in the woods. Shh ...
February 12, 2017
It was bitterly cold outside, but ever so warm under the covers. I was in absolutely no rush to get out of bed, but as the sun
rose up over the creek valley, and its bright light began to stream in through the cabin's windows, I knew that I could
procrastinate no longer.
My first order of business was to switch out the dogs. The two females do not get along, so they take turns staying in their
outside runs, but do not worry. They have beautiful houses, built by Greg, that we keep filled with fresh, clean straw. They
bed down quite comfortably, even in the coldest weather, and often, given the chance, happily stay in their houses rather
than come outside to join us.
I stepped out on to the front porch, one female by my side, a bowl of her breakfast in my hand. I slid on my wooden shoes
and stepped out from under the porch roof onto the side deck. My dog stayed right by my side, but as soon as I was out in
the sunshine, I had to stop.
My dog looked up at me impatiently. She was apparently hungry and ready to rearrange the straw in her house, but I was
intrigued by what greeted my eyes on the side deck. I walked slowly around the deck, stopping here to there, and looking
with amazement at my ordinary deck decorations, that on this morning did not look so ordinary.
The special rocks I have brought back from creek walks, my outside marbles, our benches, and the picnic tables, were all
covered with the most gigantic frost flakes I have ever seen. Some of the ice flakes were almost as large as my fingernails.
I looked over at the dog runs. The captive female was sitting patiently by her door, ready to bound out into the day. The
other female sat expectantly by her gate, ready for her breakfast. I stepped across the frosted grass and let my hungry dog
inside her pen, placing her bowl of food on the straw covered ground. She immediately set to eating as I latched the gate
behind her. I let the other dog out and watched her bound across the upper field.
I knew that I needed to give fresh, unfrozen water to the breakfast eating dog, but just as soon as I had her watered, I
returned to the cabin's deck. I stood and watched the frost crystals in the bright morning sunlight. They shimmered with
silver beauty, transforming my rock collection into things that looked like underwater sea urchins or sponges.
The morning air was certainly cold, barely into the double digits, but as I stood still watching, I felt the sun warming my
cheeks. There was no breeze at all. The air was perfectly still. I held my hand out to one of the largest crystals. Before I
even touched it, I noticed that it was starting to shimmer and melt. At first I thought that it was the warmth of my hand, but
as I stood in the morning sunshine and looked out across the crystal covered deck, I realized that they were all beginning
to shimmer, and melt. The magic of the morning moment was quickly fading in the bright sunshine.
We have lived in the creek valley for fourteen years now. Sometimes it feels as though we have always lived here and it is
hard to imagine ever having lived anywhere else, but this morning I felt as though I had just arrived. I was amazed to
discover the silver beauty of the frost crystals.
February 5, 2017
THE COLOR WHITE
White is a color without hue. It is the color of clouds, of snow, and sometimes the sky, and today, from first light to last,
was a completely white day.
When we woke up this morning a light snow was falling, and it continued to fall, well past evening. Curiously though, the
snow did not gather on the ground. Its presence was certainly visible, but it looked more like a light dusting of
confectioner's sugar spread out across the fields.
I have learned that snow is white because it is made up of multiple tiny ice crystals that do not absorb, but rather reflect the
world's colors equally, and when combined, the reflected light wavelengths create the color white. As I looked out across
our fields, I imagined them covered with miniature mirrors that were reflecting the creek valley world around them. I
imagined the brown mud, the green of the cyprus trees, and the grey creek rocks, all joining together in my mind's eye.
I have learned that clouds appear white because they are made up of individual droplets of water that also reflect, rather
than absorb, all of the colors of the world below them. When I looked up at the sky today, it looked like a soft low lying
blanket, that covered not only the creek valley, but the fields at the top of the hill, and the world beyond, and then it occurred
to me that it was not so much of a cover, as a white reflection of the world below.
Now my homing pigeons are also white, and I as did the morning chores under the white sky with white snowflakes
gathering on my jacket shoulders, I wondered how my birds would look flying in their formation across the backdrop of the
white blanketed sky, but they did not seem in any rush to head off. I returned to the warmth of the cabin.
As the day progressed, the snow continued to fall, and the sky stayed beautifully white, but I did not see my birds fly.
Perhaps they were taking it easy, or perhaps I had missed their flights, but then in the late afternoon, as I was carrying
some scrap lumber from the new house down to the burn pile, I heard a familiar whooshing from behind. I turned, and
yes, there were perhaps a dozen of my birds flying low, the beat of their wings echoing with the well known whistle. They
circled the windmill tower in ever widening arcs and then broke out into their signature figure eight pattern, passing far
down the creek valley and almost over the ridge, but never out of my sight.
I have always marveled at their pure white beauty as they fly against the backdrop of a bright blue sky, but today I stood in
awe of the subtle image of their monochrome flight. Simplicity can be breathtaking, but really, today's white creek valley
world was not monochrome in the least. It was really the purest reflection of everything.
January 29, 2017
A warm wind is blowing up the creek valley and playing with the wind chimes on the cabin's front porch. It is early
afternoon, and there is so much that I could be doing, but the gentle voice of the chimes seems to hold me captive, at least
for now. I reflect on the moment.
Without a doubt, it is amazingly warm for late January. When I pass by folk uptown they exclaim how wonderful the winter
weather has been. There has been no need to run up high heating bills, or cut more wood for the stove. They have not
had to bundle up in multiple layers before venturing outside. They smile to say the weather could stay just like this until
spring, and that would be just fine with them. I nod and agree, and keep my thoughts to myself.
For you see, it has been so warm that my honey bees have broken their winter cluster. They have been out flying, foraging
and looking for food, but there is none to be found. If I had my druthers, the weather would be well below freezing, and
they would stay deep inside their hives, barely moving, hardly using any energy at all, and conserving their winter honey
stores. But with the warm weather temperatures they are out and about, flying thither and yon, burning up their precious
energy, and eating their dwindling winter stores. I worry.
And then, just yesterday, I noticed that they day lily shoots are peeking their neon green tips up through the warm mud. I
walked down to the sugar bush beside the creek so I could check on the maple trees. I rolled the buds between my
fingers. They still felt tight and I was thankful, because once the buds begin to swell, the sap does not run clear, and the
resulting boiled down syrup has a distinctly off flavor.
The warm breeze blew against my face. Even though the maples had not shown signs of budding, I still felt a shimmer of
concern. I tried to count how many below freezing days we have had so far this winter. I am fearful that this warm winter
weather will keep the maples' sap from settling below ground in their roots. It is below ground, in the trees' roots, where
the sap absorbs the maple's famed sugar, sugar that was produced by the process of photosynthesis the summer
On below freezing days, the maples keep their sap below ground in their roots, where it is safe from tuning to ice, and so
cannot expand and split the tree's living wood. And it is down in the roots, over the winter months, where the sap absorbs
the photosynthesized sucrose and so becomes so famously sweet. But, if the winter weather stays too warm, and the sap
does not settle for long in the roots, it will simply not sweeten. And so I worry.
On my last trip up town I ran into a fellow beekeeper and maple sugarer. We both commented on the warmth of the day.
He had already lost one of his colonies of bees to starvation and he had noticed a dandelion growing in his yard. As we
parted, we agreed that we were among a very few who fervently hoped for the temperatures to not only plummet, but to
remain plummetted for a while. We walked away, wryly smiling with our shared camaraderie of wishful thinking.
With certainty I do realize that there are some things I simply cannot change. The winter weather will be what it will be, but I
also suppose that I really should get up off the cabin's front porch and go set a few bee feeders filled with honey out in the
orchard. And as for the maples? I will just wait, and watch, and for the moment, enjoy listening to the wind chimes.
January 22, 2017
GOOD FOR THE DUCKS
I usually think that I am fairly optimistic, but of late my typically bright outlook on life has been put to the test. The valley's
seemingly endless sea of mud has begun to coat not only our creek world, but my disposition as well.
Muddy dog footprints cover the front porch and side deck, not to mention the cabin's wood floor. When the dogs return from
outside I try to wipe off their feet and brush the brown clumps from their black fur, but it seems to no avail. After a nap by
the wood stove, a pile of dried dust marks where they lay, and a loving pat on their backs results in a cloud of dust that I try
not to inhale.
I find myself sweeping the mud-turned-to-dust off the cabin's floor countless times each day, and I am continuously
brushing a thin film of air born mud-dust off of the table and counter. I would not even try to count the number of times that I
have tripped over the pile of muddy boots we have left by the cabin's front door.
I have also noticed that our creek valley mud has the uncanny ability to cling to my coveralls and jeans with amazing
tenacity. A simple trip out to the wood shed results in various shades of brown adorning the cuffs of my pants, and if the
dogs join me and brush by my side, I return to the cabin with muddy swatches up and down my legs. And then, if I go up
town to buy groceries, it looks as though I have spent the day hard at work outside, clearing fields or doing some other
such strenuous farm chore, when in reality I have been hunkered down inside the cabin thinking that it is simply far too
muddy to venture out.
The mud in our yard is actually so prevalent, that it seems like a sea of brown surrounding small island tufts of green
grass, and even though I might be wearing my rubber work boots, I still find myself carefully navigating my way as I step
from tuft to tuft. My cautious course-plotting, however, seems to be to no avail. I feel as though I am nothing more than a
On my last venture outside, however, just as I was completely succumbing to the mud-brown blues, I heard a joyous noise
approaching from behind. I carefully turned to watch the makers of this impossibly happy sound as they waddled toward
me in their perfect duck row.
I stood transfixed, carefully balancing on a green tuft of grass. As I watched, they came upon a duck-perfect mud puddle.
They broke out of their linear formation and began to gloriously dip their bills into the murky brown water and joyfully wiggle
their heads back and forth. Every now and then they would throw their heads back and quack with blissful delight.
And then, as if on cue, they stood straight, lined up, once again in their linear formation, and continued their march in
search of another duck-perfect puddle. I had to smile as I thought to myself, even though this sea of mud was certainly
driving me to distraction, I knew without a doubt, that it really was good for the ducks.
January 15, 2017
Every morning, in the predawn darkness, I hear the call of our rooster. I do not quite wake up, but I know, somewhere in
my dream sleep, that soon I will. I roll over and stretch my toes, his call echoing in my mind as I relish the last of my
sleep. Until just the other morning.
We have certainly had a love-hate relationship with this big, beautiful bird. He has faithfully protected our flock of hens from
the creek valley predators, but he has also chased us ruthlessly about the farm. Greg even bears his scars. On
numerous occasions he has held me captive in my car as I return to the farm, puffing out his chest, flapping his wings, and
stretching out his neck as he calls a warning that he is dominant and I am not. So we have carried sticks, rooster
deflection devices, and corralled him in one of the dog runs when company and children come to visit. But no more.
The other morning I did not hear his call as I lay snuggled under the covers. As I climbed out of bed, I thought that perhaps
I was snuggled too deep and the covers had muffled my hearing. I made the coffee and we went about our morning
routine, but whenever I looked out the kitchen window, I could not see him. I saw our various hens, scratching about the
yard, but no sign of our big white bird.
As I washed the breakfast dishes and swept the cabin floor, Greg tended to the animals. I heard his boot steps on the
front porch and then the door open. I turned. Our eyes met. He held a large feathered white wing. Our rooster was no
I put on my winter jacket and headed back outside with Greg. We surveyed the evidence together. The crime, if not the
perpetrator, was quite clear. Several distinct piles of black and orange feathers were scattered around the chicken coop.
Several other piles, red and grey, dotted the gravel drive headed down towards the creek, and long white feathers were
We reconstructed the crime. Greg and I had been happily watching a movie inside the warm cabin as darkness had
fallen. We were indulging in the luxury of evening laziness, having spent the day hard at work putting insulation in the loft of
the new house. The dogs lay warm by the file. We watched the show, our bellies filled with warm soup, as the chickens
headed back to their coop.
The predator had lain in wait near the coop and grabbed the first bird. Our rooster tied to protect her, but the predator
prevailed. Our birds scattered, but their roosting instinct was strong and they tried once more to return to the coop, but
again the predator struck, and again the rooster tried to protect them, to no avail. Another of his hens was lost. And a third
and a fourth time the predator returned and still the rooster fought, loosing feathers everywhere. Finally, our bold bird
chased the predator off down the drive, but there the predator turned, and our rooster lost his wing. Still he fought. The
white feathered trail continued, evidence of his valor, until he too disappeared, leaving just a pile of feathers, like his lost
The following morning I rolled over in my sleep, a wavering rooster call lingering in my mind. I sat bolt upright. The
wavering call got stronger. Was I dreaming?
No, I was not dreaming. Some of you may recall that the rooster had fathered three white chicks this past summer, all of
whom had survived, thanks to the doting care of their red mother hen. One of these chicks was a fledgling rooster, who
during his father's reign had kept quietly to himself, but now, he was learning to spread his wings.
Over the past few days his call has gotten stronger. He puffs out his chest and flaps his wings as his father had done, but
he is hardly his father. He has patches of red feathers on his chest, and an orange sheen about him, while his father had
been pure white. I am inclined to say that he is not as handsome as his father, but still, I am growing more fond of him
with each passing day, and coming to see that he is a beautiful bird in his own right.
When the chicks first hatched, I had hoped that they would all be laying hens, and was decidedly disappointed to see that
one had clearly grown to show his rooster comb. But I am no longer disappointed. Now I am even thankful.
Yes indeed, things do seem to have a way of working out, and I have learned from our creek valley world that life does go
January 8, 2017
PAINTING THE SKY
Our log house is coming closer and closer to becoming our home. Greg has pulled what seems like miles of wires
through the logs. They were predrilled for just such purpose, but because we live with 12 volt, and only turn on the inverter
to run our 110 appliances, Greg had to essentially wire the house two times, once for 12 volt, and again for 110, but the
wiring is now complete, as is the clear coat of wood preservative that I painted on all of the inside logs and ceiling boards.
I have always enjoyed painting. There is something about the finished result, all perfect and pristine, that gives me a real
sense of satisfaction. I enjoy being able to see the results of my work, so I have been looking forward to painting the wood
preservative on the inside of the logs. It had always occurred to me that the cathedral ceiling was quite tall, 21 feet from the
main floor to the ridge beam that spans the width of the house, and there is a lot of wood up there. The ceiling is lined with
beautiful tongue and groove boards that span the heavy trusses which run from the ridge beam down to the front and rear
log walls. Even the log walls are tall, measuring nine feet tall.
I could have stood on an inverted five gallon bucket and painted to the top of the walls, but even if I wanted to use our 24
foot ladder to climb up to paint the ridge beam, there would be no wall to lean it up against, and there would be no way to
prop the ladder up against the sloping ceiling. I began to wonder at the wisdom of building a log house with such a tall
cathedral ceiling. I might as well try to paint the sky.
Greg smiled at my wondering, and calmly suggested that we rent some scaffolding, so rent we did, three five foot
sections. I would now be able to stand on the top of the scaffold and reach both ridge beam and ceiling, and apply clear
coat to my heart's content.
Greg put the scaffold sections together. I readied my painting supplies and climbed up. I felt as though I was climbing a
huge yellow jungle gym. This would be fun. I reached the top and sat down. It did not occur to me in the least to stand up.
The floor seemed very, very far below.
Greg pottered about the first floor, installing the switches and outlets at the end of his wires. I gathered my nerve and
stood up. I began to brush the clear coat onto the ridge beam. A gentle clatter accompanied my brush strokes. The
scaffold sounded almost like a wind chime, but there was no breeze blowing. It was my shaking knees, causing the
scaffold to rattle.
Greg looked up. "Are you alright up there?" I explained that my shaking knees were causing the whole scaffold to shake.
Greg directed me to sit down as he clamped the scaffold to the loft beam.
I stood up again. My knees still shook, but the scaffold was firm beneath my feet. In time my knees stopped shaking, and
in more time I realized that I actually was having fun. I really did enjoy climbing up and down the scaffold, and three days
later, as I finished the last section, I lay back on the top of the scaffold, my hands behind my head, and looked up at the
ceiling over my head. Greg pottered about below, finishing up the wiring.
As I lay there, something occurred to me. Maybe, someday, we should build a jungle gym for grownups out by the goat
yard. I imagined sitting on top of it, close to the sky. The chickens would fly up to say hello, and from our jungle gym perch
we would watch the pigeons as they flew in formation across the creek valley sky. This would indeed be fun, but perhaps I
shouldn't mention this to Greg, not just yet. Perhaps now we should just keep on with the task at hand and finish building
our log home.
January 1, 2017