Thursday, June 23, 2011

Evening Chores

     Every evening begins with a trip to the back forty. That’s where the dogs, chickens and lambs live and they all need attention before sundown. But, I don’t mind. It’s a peaceful routine that signifies day’s end.
     I start by grabbing up the old round-bottomed pot that we use for egg gathering. It hangs on a hook right beside the mud porch door and I think it’s the same bucket Joe’s mom used for years to gather her eggs in. Sandy, our little beagle, jumps up when I leave the house. She’s been sprawled out in my flower bed, crushing peonies and lilies but I don’t really mind. Her good nature makes up for her bad manners in the garden. She follows me down the dirt driveway that leads to the shed. .
     When we round the fence the lambs, who are living around the house so they can grow to maturity beyond the threat of coyotes, begin bawling. They are up on the hill and bound and bounce their way down to me, cluttering up my path and generally making a nuisance of themselves. There are currently thirty of these noisome, wooly adolescents pooping up my front forty and sticking their heads through my wooden fence for forbidden floral snacks. Joe has promised that at least twenty will go to market next week. The lambs are hungry and I can’t get to any of the other chores until I have downloaded four gallons of grain into the three troughs over by the pen. If I don’t feed them first, then they will follow me everywhere, overwhelming the dogs and stealing their food and clattering up the chicken house steps to poke their heads in and alarm the old rooster who will crow until they scatter.
     We keep the sheep chow in an old oil barrel just inside the shed door. Three chickens scratch at the base, pecking up spillage and I shoo them out of my way. There’s chicken poo everywhere. I’ll have to get Scott to fence them out of the shed tomorrow. I lean deep into the barrel until I am bottom-up and scoop grain out with a number ten can. Then I exit, carrying the five gallon bucket full of grain clutched to my chest like a fullback running for a touchdown. If I let it hang down, the lambs will shove their heads into it as I walk, and pull it from my hands. I am surrounded by a baa-ing, bleating crowd and a high carry is the only way to thwart them as I make my way to the troughs. The lambs push and shove my knees, knocking me sideways as I pour grain out for them, but at least they grow quiet with the eating.
     My next chore is to feed the dogs. Back to the shed I go. This time I reach into a battered trashcan and scoop the dry food into a metal pail. The bail fell off of this bucket several years ago, so it, too, must be clutched to my chest as I cross the creek to the dog houses. Cindy is tied there until the weekend. Then it will be her turn to exercise her passion for rabbits out in the front field. She pokes her head out of her house and then pops out to meet me. Her tail wags her shoulders into a twist and she starts eating before I finish pouring. A dip of creek water with the rubber bucket completes her menu.
     The final chore is egg gathering. Sandy has abandoned me to eat her supper, but Tipper Cat loves the chickens so he stalks along beside me, tail high and straight. As we approach the hen house, he crouches down. There’s a lone hen wobbling her way towards us and, unknown to her, the Feline Chicken Chaser is about to strike. Tipper twitches his tail once and then he leaps. The chicken cackles and dashes towards the hen house with Tipper in hot pursuit. When he can’t catch her, he subsides into the weeds and licks his legs furiously until he feels dignified again.
     I slide the latch on the blue door of the henhouse and step over the threshold. It is cool and dim inside and most of the chickens have found their perches. One determined hen remains on a nest and when I slide my hand under her warm breast feathers I discover three eggs. She’s been broody for a month and, although Scott let her try to hatch a clutch, they fizzled. Apparently our ancient Rooster is shooting blanks. The hen cackles disapprovingly as I steal her eggs, but she doesn’t peck my hand.
     The sun drops behind the mountain when I step back out. The barnyard is quiet once again and Tipper follows me back to the house where the warm light from the kitchen window calls us inside for the night.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daddy Do All

The two best Dads I know.
     I was fortunate enough to be raised by one of the best fathers in the world. I cannot remember a time when his gentle advice and manner did not weigh, consciously or subconsciously, in my decision making. His earliest advice to me was, “Gasoline will not burn you.” I did not believe him at the time. I was five and had decorated my arms in oil-based paint. It dried before I was discovered, so Daddy called for Mama to bring him some gas. When he explained that he would be using it to wash the paint off of my arms, I bolted. Gasoline was used to run cars, and I was fairly certain from overheard bits and pieces of adult conversation that burning was somehow involved. Therefore gasoline would catch my arms on fire. The paint would be gone but so would my arms. I ran down the street with Daddy in hot pursuit. He yelled promises of ice-cream and Chatty Cathy dolls if the gas burned me, but I didn’t believe him. Finally, a neighbor snagged me and hauled me kicking and screaming to my father who gently applied the gasoline and removed the paint. If I had been smarter I would have hollered bloody murder and scored a doll and dessert, but he was right. Gasoline did not burn. Daddy didn’t lie
     My mama was every bit as smart and wise as my daddy, but I was a sullen teen and didn’t fully realize her amazing gifts until I had my first child. Mainly I was jealous of her because she was too cool and way too young looking and all of my friends liked her too much. It was Daddy I turned to in my teen years. He took me shopping for dresses and told me truthfully what looked good and what didn’t. He climbed the stairs to my bedroom when he heard me upstairs sobbing because I was overwhelmed with all my activities and talked me through prioritizing and trimming my schedule. When I grew old enough to date, Daddy told me some of the lies boys might use to convince me to climb in the back seat of a car and then gave me a dime to call him if I needed a ride home.
     But Daddy didn’t just give good advice. He was a prankster. When I had friends over to spend the night and we traipsed down to our dark basement for séances and Oujia Boards, Dad would sneak out to the small window with a flashlight and at just the right moment shine it upwards on his face and laugh maniacally. It scared the bejeezus out of us every time. On Halloween, he would conspire with all of us on our annual family haunted house. He devised countless ways of startling the neighborhood children: hanging himself, covered in ketchup, from the ceiling in the living room or rising up from a box shaped like a coffin, dark circles painted under his eyes, and cackling in an ungodly falsetto.
     He told us Paul Pig stories, which he made up on the spot while we waited out in the parking lot for mama to grocery shop and then, to our everlasting delight, often hid the car right before she came out. We would giggle and point as she pushed her full cart through the lot in search of the old blue Chevy. To her credit, Mama was always game and laughed along with us when she finally located her silly brood.
     When I grew up and moved away, Daddy’s other gifts revealed themselves. In addition to the coveted title of “Daddy Do All” he earned the name, “Electric Man” with the catchy motto, “Daddy’s hands make lights work.” He helped wire the house Joe and I restored and re-wired the farm house down the road. His gifts applied to our outbuildings make me feel safer at night when I go out to feed the dogs. One flick of a switch dispels the darkness.
     Daddy is still dispensing good advice, wiring the world and building furniture to order for all of us. He and Mama make it a priority to let each of us children know we are special and loved. They model God’s unconditional love daily.

So, here’s a shout out to my Dad (and mom). Happy Father’s Day to the Bestest Daddy Ever I Saw.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Swimming Hole

     Being a bit plump has some advantages. I went down to the river last week, goggles and bathing suit at the ready, and took a little dip. Actually, I took a little float. I float so much better than I used to. It’s a density thing. Fat is less dense than muscle. The last big rain had washed a deep hole under the bridge and I wanted to see what was swimming around in it. Last year, my students and I released thirty two brook trout in that very spot and I was hopeful that I might glimpse at least one.
     I parked the car just east of the bridge and opened the rusty metal gate next to the barn. The hay was up to my waist after this rainy spring and I pushed it aside before each step and examined the ground for snakes as I walked over to the river bank. The willows that used to line the side of it had been pushed out onto a small island of rock in the middle.
     I draped my towel on a big rock and shucked down to my suit. I left my shoes on because mountain river swimming is not a barefoot endeavor. Then I waded in. The hole was in the shade under the bridge and I was thankful to be out of sight. One, because my neighbors would probably think it was nuts for a 50 year old woman to be floating face first in the river wearing old tennis shoes and goggles and two, because, well, I’m not quite as cute in a bathing suit as I was thirty years ago.
     I was a bit intimidated to start with. I couldn’t see the bottom and it’s a little disconcerting to wade down into a river hole. Snapping turtles have been known to lurk there. But, once I got over my fear, I pulled the goggles over my eyes and floated face down. At first, the fish avoided the blobby body bobbing around above them, but soon their curiosity got the best of them. The minnows came first, nibbling at my fingers which floated slightly below my face. Then the larger suckers and red eyes swam over to sample my legs. We floated together in the shadow of the bridge for about ten minutes. Every time I lifted my head for a breath, the fish darted away. I found myself longing for a snorkel.
     There was a large snag of branches and roots on the sunny side of the pool and the fish swam in and out of the roots. I was sure there must be some more interesting life back in the tangled mess, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull some apart. Some of that interesting life might bite me. The current kept pushing me into the snag so I put my feet down and discovered the pool was about four and a half feet deep. Although I saw many fish, I didn’t see any brook trout. A neighbor six miles downstream told me he caught and released a small brookie a couple of weeks ago. I’d like to think it was one of ours.
     After floating for a while, I waded upstream. The amount of damage done to the channel by the storm was significant. In some places, the river bank had eroded down five feet or more. A hundred yards upstream in what used to be a flat river bed, there was a four foot waterfall, and an island of rock that cut the flow of the river in half. I’m afraid in the heat of the summer my pool under the bridge will lose its source. I don’t know where the fish will go then.
     When I finally clambered back up to the road I discovered I had brought a little of my childhood with me. My grandmother, Nana, used to take us swimming in the farm pond. Papa would row us out to a spot near the far shore and Nana would jump in with us. The same delicious fear of snapping turtles and unseen things brought it all back to me. I think I’ll jump back in again soon. Maybe I’ll even touch the snag and see what swims out.