18 May 2015


What an amazing day. The glass-topped table outside contained hundreds of interesting new inhabitants that you could watch from above. Clusters of teeeeeeny tiiiiny newly hatched spiders on the underside of the glass.

I reached under and touched them. They spread everywhere, with long strands of gossamer streaming behind.  Itsy-bitsy new lives.

They were so small, no larger than a pinhead. I wondered aloud what something that little could eat, and John said they ate very very small sandwiches. I was unable to give a better answer.

 What will they accomplish in their tiny mysterious lives? I don't know, but it is probably more important than you or I could guess. All baby spiders shall live.

In this whole wide world, who else was born on the 18th of May, 2015? In the year of the mountain sheep, 2015, the day that Mt. St. Helens awoke in in 1980, the day that Bram Stoker's novel Dracula was first read in London (1897), the day that Montreal, Canada, was founded in 1642?

Our third grandson, born at home in a little apartment above a garage in New Jersey. Welcome to this world, little beautiful one. We do not yet know your name, but your presence on this planet may be more important than you or I could guess. May you live a long and happy life.

11 May 2015

Rhodie overload

 In the midst of rhododendron season I just ran across an article by a landscaper commenting that rhodies "have been out of style" but are now trending back "in." I was surprised. It was like learning that denim was out but is now back in...I had completely missed the dip.

 I first met up with rhodies while living in Alabama, where I also loved azaleas every spring.

 These are crazy, over-the-top blooms. When did they go out of fashion?

 When we moved to western Oregon I was so happy to see rhodies thriving in the climate here.

 They look like they'd be a lot of trouble, but they are sooo not-fussy. They love the wet winters and do fine in the warm dry summer. They don't seem prone to insects and disease.

 Not having a green thumb, these are plants that will actually grow well in my yard. The deer don't bother them, and one doesn't have to baby them like rose bushes.

I'll take them over roses any day.

06 May 2015

Mother's day

My mother died last month, and now I see "Mother's Day" in front of me, that charming, antiquated day which persists year after year,  a holiday that was nearly rescinded after Anna Jarvis, its originator, protested that it had become too commercial. Still, you should call your mother, maybe send her some flowers. At the very least you should give her some thought.

As I process her death, there is a lot that flits by, both good and bad. In the end I've decided that none of us should be held accountable for our first and last ten years. The garrulousness and intractability of those years, well, that is not who we are, or were, not really.

With my brother Jeff, and flowers in her hair
My mother was a beauty, and none of the rest of us were ever as gorgeous and self-sacrificing as she was for most of her life. I have always been perfectly ok with that.

Me and my grandfather. I am in jeans. But one side got wet.
The memories of her useless one-on-one singing lessons directed at me, or the countless times we struggled over how I should dress...they are funny to me. I could never help being myself, and she always respected that, with a sigh. Hey thanks, mom, I know you were just fine with how I turned out. I still hate most dresses.

Still, I have a weird love for the reality TV show America's Next Top Model, and I always watch Project Runway. My mother looked great in everything she ever wore. How fun would that be? But she never complained about ending up on a rural Wisconsin farm, isolated from everything. That is the single most amazing fact about her.

My mother, age 17, kissing my father.
I miss my mother. And that is all.

15 April 2015

One bright morning

One bright morning when this life is o'er, I'll fly away. I'll fly away, yes, I'll fly away.

On the brilliantly sunny morning of April 12, my mother passed away quietly. 

It was not an unexpected death, and she lived a long mostly happy life during which she worked hard, raised a family, administered sound advice, cooked well, and looked good.  She would have been 94 in May. It wasn't until her last few years of hearing and memory loss that she began to slip away, and even then she could put up a pretty good semblance of normalcy.

I am glad I was able to see her in February, as she waited her life out in a small home for patients with memory issues. With the utmost seriousness she took my gift of a springer spaniel stuffed toy,  stroking its ears as though it were yet another of the many dogs she had known over the decades.

As an adult child you know you will lose your parents. It has finally happened to me. I find myself in a little boat of my own, where I've been dozing. But the slender rope that used to attach it to the pier? It's come loose and I'm strangely afloat.

23 March 2015

Trail cam fun

 A year ago I was gifted with a trail camera, and for the longest time it was mounted at the back of our yard, focused on the path beyond the fence. There have been a lot of photos of Ed and Reub and myself because we're out there all the time.

 Still, it was worth it just to see who else shares that space. Here the local population of turkeys sneaks into the back yard on one of those mornings when the dogs are napping at my feet in the house.

 Disappointed mountain bikers, who had probably hoped to find a way further up into the hills.

 Quite a few deer, hurrying past.

Finally, when I found the fresh carcass of a turkey not far back in the trees, I decided to move the camera to see if it would capture one of the likely predators lurking there. Heh. I wonder whose terrier this is?

First diner to appear was a possum.

Second to show up was a raccoon. But wait...is that just possibly... the crouching shape of a bobcat on the right, in front of the little fir? No, it seems too small, and anyway the bobcat is extremely camera shy. Hmmm.

 Recently I moved the camera to the edge of a grassy clearing. The first visitor was a young doe.

 She makes her way up the path.

 She pauses.

 Maybe she notices the blink of a light as the camera takes its shots.

 She investigates!

 Becomes bored.

 Hogs the lens for almost 3 minutes. The camera-driven by its motion sensor-merrily takes this shot over and over.

 At last she ambles away.

 The next day introduces the first fawn of 2015. I have yet to see this little guy, but the camera knows he's there. I'm really enjoying the camera's new location! Who cares if I can't seem to capture a big cat? I release myself from the pressure of having to photograph exotic megafauna in my back yard.

 And then, guess who shows up? Here is the bobcat, at last, passing through in the moonless night. Hello Kitty. I am delighted.

I expect the bobcat comes this way a lot, and the camera tells me why.

10 March 2015

Town and country

We spent a couple of weekends in Portland recently.  I love these trips to the city, where we absorb music and time with kids, interesting food, bookstores, and urban architecture. 

 The view from the hotel window, so different from what I see at home.

Bio-swales in southeast Portland clean the polluted rain run-off. I like these small natural areas beside the busy streets; they seem like a good idea.

Meanwhile back home in Corvallis, spring is in full swing.

In back of the house, maybe a hundred yards, I found this paw print. The squareness of it and its lack of toenails makes me think it's a cat of some kind, probably the elusive bobcat who surprises me from time to time when I'm out there. I think it's too small for a cougar. I suppose it might be a dog print, or a coyote, but probably not.

This is what Reub's paw print looks like, not so square, and obvious toenails. Clearly canine, and different from a cat.

Then, this happened too. I was out back with Ed and Reub when we came upon a small bunny in the path. He didn't move and I knew he was either sick, or a loose domestic rabbit who didn't know to bolt from the curious dogs.

I took the dogs into the house and went back with a towel, thinking that if it were a domestic rabbit I shouldn't let him out in the drizzle like that, prey to the hawks and owls. I should gather him up and cage him. I covered him with the towel and he poked his nose out. We sat there for a long time and I realized he was dying. Swaddled with the towel I moved him under the dry cover of a protective young fir. Then I took the towel and went away. Thirty minutes later he was dead, toothmarks in his side. And 30 minutes after that he had disappeared completely. I suspect the bobcat.

Even if Mount Hood is a wilderness area looming like a drama queen nearby, Portland is a place protected from the constant give-and-takes of nature. In an urban setting it's easy to lose touch with the fact that we ourselves are part of a greater world. So although I really love forays into the city, I do like returning to a less urban setting, one where I am confronted with wary predators and small rabbits.

16 February 2015

The dairy state

When you visit a place it's good to take advantage of that region's unique qualities. Take Wisconsin, for example. The minute you drive your rental car out of the airport you're experiencing the dairy state's unusual way of de-cing its roads. Is there any other place that sprays cheese on its highways in winter?

Well, to be more accurate it's actually a cheese by-product: the brine left over from making mozzarella, when tossed on pavement, causes the salt to adhere. Wisconsin is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars by using far less salt than in the past, plus the cheese makers don't have to dispose of all that brine. Pretty cool, eh?

Speaking of cheese makers, we always try to visit one. I favor the mild brick from Widmer's Dairy in tiny Theresa, Wisconsin. (That's pronounced Teh-reh-sa, not Teh-ree-sa.)

We picked up two kinds of brick (on sale) and some fresh cheddar cheese curds. Divine.

Chocolate is also a dairy product.

The same day we went to Widmer's dairy we also visited Hughes Chocolate in Oshkosh. Here, when they say "Oysters" they don't mean oysters. They mean little round chocolates rolled in crushed peanuts. I ate mine before realizing I should have taken a picture.

The endearing thing about Hughes is that it produces its chocolate in the basement of an old house, and on a cold winter day there's a window open in order to cool the chocolate bunnies.

Didn't I just read that including fat in one's diet isn't the big no-no that it used to be? That article was perfectly timed for our trip to the dairy state. I'm going back for more.