Monday, December 26, 2011

About that cry...

Happy Jack in the middle of Jills
I've been calling the sound that Jack makes a cry. This is really an oversimplification ignoring the drama of the symphony he embodies. When he first starts out there is a small quality of a plaintive little cry. "maaaa..." Like that. But then he opens up his throat and he pulls from deep inside. What comes out is a bellow. A bellow that powers through cry, adds in trumpet, accelerates into wailing and releases retching. Raw. Add running around to that 'cry' and you have a small sense of the urgency and power. I've also noticed that his scent range has expanded. It's like an invisible substance. I now have a set of clothing just for visiting buck-land. It is simply not possible to go out to visit and not be marked by him. Frannie tells me that the only soap to really get the scent out is that which is made from goats milk. How lucky am I that my friend Cindy makes goat milk soap for her Hyampom Valley Soap Company?

Eric continues to plow through trail building for all mountain riding. I love going out to see him take the jumps and bend around berms. The dogs like to take the trails too. They have not quite learned to stay off when Eric is on full acceleration down hill. My job is to keep them nearby and position myself for that perfect midair shot. Some of the best positions require me to lay down in the duff. Keebo sees this as an invitation for up close and personal. I have a few blur-fur shots and a small case of poison oak.

Friday, December 23, 2011

There are some things you just do not photograph.

SO...Tinkerbelle is finding her way into the garden with Jack. That has become that status quo for now. I check on the herd a few times a day in the course of everything else I do. I walk out into the forest to see how the latest Tree House Trail (my name) or Hoe Chi Man Trail (Eric's name coming from the breaking of a hoe as he used his chi-vital energy- man energy to build it)  has progressed. Lots of poison oak on this path. That will be fun come summer. I have a tiny patch of it on my wrist even now. It's cold in the forest and I have not dressed with enough layers. I walk out in the meadow to get warm.  Standing in the middle of the sunshine there is silence, so different from the world where everyone is plugged in or driving. The goats are in their favorite sunlit spot on a small knoll outside the chicken coop. They come running over when they see me walking around in the dried mounds of grass, winding my way towards them through paths the deer have made. In an otherwise frozen day the sunlight in the meadow feels good. Everyone is here except Tinkerbelle and Jack. I love scratching their faces, the soft thick winter fur around their necks. Goats are lovely.

When I check on the goats later Flora is in with Tinkerbelle and Jack. Hmmm. This is promising. Last year she did not get pregnant when she went to stay with Mr. Sparky. Didn't happen in a two month stay. This is looking good. Surprising, but understandable, when I put the girls back in their barn for the night Captain Jack runs wildly around the garden crying. He'd actually settled down once Tinkerbelle had joined him. But here he is all a-twitter once again. Even alfalfa does not lure him quickly to the coop. Enlightenment begins to dawn in my brain. Those pheromones are crazy strong drivers of behavior. I go after him, calling his name, calling in goat language, and then I get close enough to him to take him by the collar and lead him towards the coop. he does run willingly once I get him going in that direction. A brief resistance and call out before he jumps into the coop and then he settles in for a nosh on alfalfa. Phew.

This morning I put Flora in with the Captain and Tinkerbelle. Right? Commotion at 8:30 am brought me out to the garden. Duke is running the fence line. Keebo is sitting and howling. The chickens are running after Jack who is running after Flora who is in and out of the lilacs as Jack paws at her, crying loudly. OK. Here is the show.

I call Duke and he sits at my side. This reduces the dog component of frenzy. Still, we watch chickens and goats in this mating dance. Flora finally comes to a place where she is stuck against the fence in a corner. I won't say that she is wiling, no, not that. She is caught and perhaps surrendered. Of course it is a funny human thing to project onto animals so I can't say anything definitive about their dance. I note the time and date on the calender so five months from now I'll be on top of paying attention.

Everyone settles down, returning to the nibbling of leaves, pecking at dirt, finding sunshine to soak up.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Free Ride Mountain Bike Trails

When my son Eric was three years old he got onto a bicycle and rode. No training wheels, no one holding him or the bike. He got on and rode around the street where we lived at the time. He has been riding ever since. For a time his passion went into motorcycle off road rides. Now he finds this area full of prime free ride mountain bike trails. How fortunate we live in the wilderness where riding in this way is easy and spectacular. I went into the forest with Eric yesterday to help groom some of the trails we normally walk on to create some special bike routes. He raked and shoveled dirt creating berms and jumps. He carefully clipped branches  out of the way. I raked leaves, took pictures and wandered off finding mushrooms and oddities in the madrone trees overhead. He worked all day on two different trails. A long hike together took us up and over and around all kinds of terrain. We threw rocks, sticks and branches out of the path. Arriving at the lookout spot a mile and a half from our house never fails to inspire. Out there, buried in the middle of the heavy forest is where we make our home under the shadow of the longest ridge line that remains a constant elevation. A week ago Eric and I found ourselves on top of that ridge driving along the road that runs the length of it. It was a daring move at this time of year when there is snow on top. But it has been unusually dry for many weeks with warmish days. We thought maybe we could make it over the top and wind down into the valley, a short cut in the summer from our trip to the coast. The most spectacular sunset colored our drive over snow drifts around icy corners and past the only road which could have been our destination down the other side. It was snowed in. This long ridge line was once a gathering spot for indiginous peoples long ago. They called it the race track. From one direction you can see into the Trinity Alps. Ridge line after ridge line of snow covered peaks. In the other direction we watched sunset colors play on the ocean. At one point we wondered if we would be spending the night up here in this remotest of all places. Thankfully we made it out and settled on the road to watch the rest of the blood orange and red sky. The hues took their sweet time fading. They held the sky for over an hour as we wandered. We made our way back to the main raod where we took another two hours to get home. If that road had not been snowed in we would have been home in half an hour. We travel very long distances out here to get anywhere.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Crack of Dawn has me out in full gear. Hat, scarf, two sweaters, down vest, canvas overcoat, two pants layers, boots, gloves. Gray light in a frozen world. Captain Jack is standing. The chickens are still on their roosting poles. Silence is broken as roosters crow and Jack begins to call immediately, running around the garden looking for his love.
Tinkerbelle is at the door, her head hanging through the hole she pushed into the chicken wire yesterday. I push her head back inside to open the door. The herd runs out, not immediately interested in Jack who has not quite figured out where everyone else lives. I have some moments of relief when Tinkerbelle comes to eat alfalfa and lick at the salt. Maybe the craze of heat is over for her and I can relax. Maybe. I leave Jack alone on one side of the fence and let the rest of the herd eat. I watch for a time then go inside to have a cup of chai and write before the sun comes out.
Luna on the outside.
This will be the rhythm of the days with Jack. Vigilant watchfulness. I return to the pen after a scant hour. Luna is outside the pen. Luna was born this last february, the daughter of Latifa. I found her outside the pen last night when I went to close everyone up for the evening. I do not know how she is doing this. No doubt about it, having a buck around is creating havoc with the herd. Randomness and chaos. I still cling to some hope that Tinkerbelle has lost the ardent fever. She really is the sweetest of all the does. I have thought if she had a kid it would be the easiest to be around. All of my does are friendly, but Tinkerbelle stands out.

Everyone has eaten. Jack is on the far side of the fence calling, pacing, stepping up onto the fencing. Is it possible he will push it down? After leading Luna to the inside of the fencing I find she has crawled under the gate leading to the garden. I find this only because Mr. Peanut and Mocha have their heads underneath this gate trying to follow in Luna's path. I can just hear her. "Hey guys, it's easy! Just wiggle underneath." They hadn't figured this out before Jack was on the scene.  I am thankful Luna is the smallest and the others can't  follow her. More kluging of boards and this escape route is blocked. I put Latifa and Flora in with Jack. He follows them with the ardor he feels for Tinkerbelle, hoping. They'll have nothing to do with him. Bobbie tells me that goat heat cycles often go with the full moon, 6 days ago. This means I'll have Jack through January. Oh joy. Bobbie tells me he is going out of rut and his scent is not as strong as when he is in full rut. "He'll make your eyes water," she says. I tell my son Eric. "My eyes water now. His smell is revolting," he says.

I take my position watching the fence line for a while. Jack and Tinkerbelle are crazy for each other. I am probably making a colossal mistake by leaving Tinkerbelle with only a six foot fence between her and Jack. I must have some insanity in my hope that I will not have to lock her up in the goat barn. But maybe for the sake of both of them (and myself) I will end up doing that. I suspect that my ignorance in the matters of Buck are grand. I will paraphrase from My Fair Lady: "Let a buck in your life and your serenity is through." But life is not dull.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Captain Jack Show

Captain Jack
It is barely light at seven in the morning. I mentioned Captain Jacks perfume. You've been in a room where someone heavily dosed leaves a scent trail? Jacks' trail is an invisible cloak that radiates around two hundred feet, spherically. Yep. You smell him long before you ever see him. I walk into a scent wall as I turn a corner from the house. Quite literally I do not smell him one second and then his fragrance is a cloud which envelopes all. I make my way out to the chicken coop where the roosters (yes, I discover now, this day, that there are two singing in a dissonant manner) announce daylight. I open the coop door and Jack comes out and immediately begins to sing, calling in his hoarse voice. All of the chickens lived without incident with Jack last night. Phew.

Onward to the goat barn. Tinkerbelle at the door, the first one out, running to the fencing where Jack is pawing at the ground underneath the wiring. The other goats show little interest in Jack. Tinkerbelle is at the fence with Jack who is licking at her through the fencing. Much goat posturing amongst the rest of the herd. Head butting. The herd reunited has its ways of establishing who is who.  Tinkerbelle and Jack are outside of this pecking order, off in their own world. I usher Mocha and FLora into Jacks world, hoping they'll get happy. It might be a while since heat cycles are 18 days apart. Oh dear....

Mocha and Flora
I had spent sometime before releasing the herd with careful placement of cedar posts along the bottom of the fencing in places that looked like someone might be able to crawl underneath. I did not really think this would happen but when Jack got down on his side and put his entire head and shoulders under the fencing in a place where it seemed unlikely he would make it through...with all signs of making it through...I ran around and placed more cedar posts. I also barricaded a gate that only stood four feet high lest Jack jump over and find ways into the other pen.

It might be sweet that Jack and Tinkerbelle have such a strong natural affection for one another. But it is not OK for Tinkerbelle to get pregnant. I find I do not trust the fencing even with all the safety precautions I have put in place. Rutting is a FORCE of nature. I put Tinkerbelle inside the goat barn with ample food and water, barricaded. It is the best I can do. If Jack and Tinkerbelle manage to make something happen....

Every once in a while I long for a life where there is cement everywhere and my shoes never really get dirty. To go out into the world and wear clothing that is cute and not durable. To smell like a woman and not a male goat. To have a latte in a coffee shop with my laptop open and chic people parading through. It is a dream life of ease.

But the out of the every day quality of the wilderness keeps me riveted in place.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

oh for the love of goats

When Thaddeus e-mailed and suggested that he bring Captain Jack over with Flora and Mocha I sat at the keyboard for a long time. The does are up at his place because I was not sure I could handle having a buck at my place. I've heard stories. Had a few experiences. Not really feeling like I would like to have any stories or experiences just now thank you.

But I have just talked to my dearest friend, my adopted mother, Frannie. She is going through chemo treatments and wants goat milk. From me. Frannie has become dedicated to her health in a remarkable and loving way. How can I say no to her request?

I want to say no to Thaddeus. Ask him to please drop my does off and take Captain Jack back to Bobbie's herd.

When the red truck pulls into the driveway I know it is Thaddeus. The smell of Jack wafts from the rear of the covered bed. "Maaaahhhaaa. Maaaaa," accompanies thumps and bumps. The four goats I have in the fenced garden come running over, curious.

Thus begins an adventure, a story. Buck plus does equals story. Period.

My clothes have the slightest perfume, unmistakeable, as vital as skunk. Love it or hate it. My son Eric will not come near it. Too much. I like it. So does Tinkerbelle. The one doe who should not be bred. She is hot for Captain Jack. Hot in the worst way. She's been calling for him for days now. Calling herself hoarse. I have read of does that can call every 30 seconds and then some for the days they are in heat.

Tinkerbelle peeks from the back.
I perch at the top of the garden where I have a view of the two side by side pens. Captain Jack, Mocha and Flora are on one side, the side surrounded by eight foot fencing. Tinkerbelle, Latifa, Luna and Mr. Peanut roam the other side of the fencing to sniff at the returned does and their escort, the Captain. Jack greets the others. Tinkerbelle goes wild. Her head comes through the fencing to be on the same side as Jack. Jack wildly nibbles her face, neck, ears and she is into it. They are rubbing up against each other, eager, clearly happy to be with each other. Not one single question about what goat love looks like. I had wondered when Thaddeus reported that the girls were just not into Jack, that he had to go to Oregon, that Jack and my girls had a go no go decision to make.

I had hoped Thaddeus was wrong and that somehow they had connected goaty style while they were up at his place. But in the presence of such obvious ardor exhibited by Tinkerbelle and Captain Jack I know they have not. Frannie wants milk therefore Captain Jack is here to stay for a visit.

I watched the proceedings along the fence line for a while. I watched convincing myself that this was one side and that was another. That there would be no co mingling of goats across the fence apart from the harmless necking. I had to admit to a friend that I really hoped they could manage no more than necking through a fence. You see, I've heard stories. I came inside to watch the storm clouds glide into the sky after ten days of clear blue sky and a frozen pond. Where would Jack sleep? Who would he sleep with? I thought Flora and Mocha would be with him. Sleep under the covered area in the chicken coop, a small highly fenced place within the larger garden. Yes, that's it. There is an area that stays dry. It is not optimal. But the dogs do patrol at night. Of course I have heard that some trouble bears have been released in the area. Bear that have come from the national parks where people feed them and they know the things human offer are  food. Normally in this wild where I live there are not bear troubles of a large nature. The usual nature. Like the year we lost two sheep to bear. Had two old dogs that year. But I have one very vigorous dog and another good dog. I've had no bear troubles. I hope Jack will be safe.

Dark falls rapidly near the solstice. By five it is dark. At 4:15 I go out to the garden to see how things are going. It takes me a while to find the goats. Chickens are active, around. But the goats are not in the larger garden. All manner of thought begins to pluck at my mind. I am fractions of a second from letting those thoughts run away with me and then I see the goats crowded into the smaller chicken enclosure. The door has swung shut somehow. Relief. This side of the fencing. The other four have travelled the fence line and are on the far side of the chicken coop, nearby. I step into the chicken enclosure. I wear boots at all times this time of year. Frozen muddy chicken yard is one thing to walk on. When the day warms and the muck thaws...yucky mucky. Sucky.

Fearless of muck I step into the coop. I look to the end where my darlings are doing their work munching overgrown blackberry vines. So smart to find the worst place in the garden from my point of view as gardner, the place with the most blackberry. Pleased, I start towards them. Mocha and Flora come running towards me, to the open gate and into the rest of the garden. I look into the blackberry thicket and there stands Captain Jack, his true love by his side. Tinkerbelle, tail wagging, nipping at his neck as he nips back at hers. Are they in post-coital bliss? I fear this to be true. If the violence of their initial head contact is any indication, then they are a happy couple. They stand next to one another, side by side, touching along the length of their bodies.
There is nothing to be done at this point. If Tinkerbelle has managed to get herself over (?) or under (?) the fencing, somehow materializing on the side of Captain Jack and they have done the deed...well...I will figure out how to participate in the next part of the story.
Of all the does, all five, that live here at Quail Meadows, it is Tinkerbelle and Tinkerbelle alone that should not be bred. She was run over by a truck when she was a kid, a few months old. Her pelvis was broken. She was cared for by Bobbie with such TLC that she in the friendliest goat that lives here. Bobbie made me promise I would not get her pregnant since we do not know if she can get pregnant, carry a baby safely or deliver at all. So that's how it is.
I separate Captain Jack from the rest of the herd. He stays in the chicken coop, locked up with the hens for tonight, happy for the moment with a leaf of alfalfa. This can't last long, there are many problems associated with this method of buck care. Like I said, I'm in the midst of a story and I wasn't sure I wanted one. But who am I to control any of this wild ride called life?
Tinkerbelle called to Jack, Jack to her or the world, as I led Tink to the goat barn. Everyone settled down into the deepening darkness of the darkest days of the year. Sleep will take us all and lay to rest anything of worry, at least for a few hours. Tomorrow is another day...will I be able to keep the love goats apart?? Will I find out just how Tinkerbelle is finding her way into the garden enclosure? Will anyone else figure out how to be with Captain Jack? Will the two does that I really wish to breed ever care for him as Tinkerbelle does? Stay tuned. Can I stand the tension? Can you?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Fall Day at Quail Meadows

I wake when the sky begins to lighten. Stars mingle with the earliest sky of blue gray light. I watch out my bedroom window, thinking perhaps I will fall asleep once again. But fall means such bounty I simply must rise. Coffee. Three pages of writing. Laundry begun ( I adore clean line dried sheets! oh heaven you are found in laundry! who knew!). A phone call requiring the utmost presence. Then: out to the day!  A day which begins with pink. purple, gray and white puff ball clouds streaming from the southern dawn. Greeting the chickens who are happy to eat fallen apples, the migrating bird-pecked peaches and simultaneously mow the grass beneath the trees. Such virtuous weed whackers, these ladies. What is the most urgent today? Mugwort! Grapes! Peaches! Pears! I keep moving and carefully harvest each one in their turn. After greeting the goats.

Six of these endearing creatures live with on this ranch. They work for a living. Yes, they do. Three years ago there were three serious fires each within three miles of my home. So serious were these fires that crews came to each of the ranches on the road and helped to clear away or suggested where to clear the fire dangers. In my case a somber tall close-shaven man stood for many minutes looking in to the willow, blackberry and horsetail thicket ringing the barn, workshop and garden. He stood looking in to this massive growth and spoke a truth I had felt for a long time. "This is your greatest fire danger, here." His crew, waiting for release into working the fiercest blaze, never made it to my home to help clear as they had with other neighbors on this nine mile long dirt road. But the message remained clear to me. These six goats are now nearly completed with removing extra growth from one half of the thicket identified three years ago. I am greatly pleased that I have found a gentle way to accomplish this work.

I manage to harvest all fruits on my list and run another round of laundry. The sky smells lightly of smoke. A smell I have not had since those fires three years ago. It is a deep awareness we live with out here in the middle of the dry summer forest: fire. There was a small fire south of me sending gray plumes up into the sky yesterday as I traveled home from a long day away helping a dear friend. Three years ago the only way I could handle the tension of impending immolation was to create wood burned sculptures. I returned to the last of those sculptures waiting to be finished and have been working it for two days. Now, hang the last load of laundry and hope the heat of a summer given way to fall will offer enough to dry my comforters. Oh bliss! To climb into bed at the end of a long day of work, freshly washed sheets and me!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Marigolds and Sungolds

Sun crests over the ridgeline flashing her first rays onto fiery marigold and tangy sweet sungold tomato. I eat breakfast in this garden. Vitamin C is mine in the sumptous brust of flavor the cherry tomato offers. Our season is marginal for tomatoes without extra care. The small fruits of cherry tomato ripen easily and are wonderful to dry. I add them into soups and stews in the winter or eat them alone, remembering the unique fragrance of tomato leaf and the near stink of the marigolds of summer!

I relish fall. The bounty of the earth is everywhere. I do have a rather conventional planted garden. I also harvest from an unconventional garden: the wilds around my home. This morning I found a new patch of elderberry. I gratefully snap a few fruited heads. They are hanging now in my window to dry. Brewed into a tea they are an excellent immune system booster in the colder months.

Today I walked with a deep prayer for peace. I say prayer but what kept coming through my heart and head was song. A smiling song of happiness received while walking in the wilderness. I felt this song with a deep sense of peace and then hoped this could be felt by all. Grateful for the gift of peaceful feeling. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Value of Silence

I was over on the coast to visit my daughter. A wonderful delight. We walked the plaza in Arcata, California for an arts and music festival. Acapela choirs swayed rhythmically singing gospel music. Belly dancers in finery balanced pots on their heads as hips whirled to the music. A tall thin man in his twenties with gorgeous blond dreadlocks cascading the full length of his back said "this feminine power always makes me a little uncomfortable." I told him that I had heard belly dancing was originally only meant to be performed by women for women. "That explains it," he said as he edged away. One side street hosted a brass band. A mother danced with her tie dyed clad child. Vendors lined the entire plaza selling hemp clothing, beeswax candles, surreal art work, and many expressions of creativity. My brain exploded with possibilities. My daughter and I walked hand in hand along with her boyfriend. My joy was complete in their company and the excitement of people who live with so much freedom. A young man walked down the street bare chested. Swirling patterns of gold paint travelled from his collar bone to his navel, a  triangular breast plate. He wore short shorts over silver stockings and pink high tops. He and his friend strutted down the center of the street gesturing and talking loudly in their own world. Children peeked out from behind their butterfly painted faces while mothers with multicolored skirts over multipatterned pants pushed strollers. Everyone was there in a vibrant expression of life. We walked up H street until we got to the dry goods store where my daughters friend, Cassie,  works. Cassie offers a saturday afternoon of crafting amidst the collectibles. We made fancy animals. miniature plastic animals decorated with rhinestones and feathers, fabric saddles and reins, necklaces and shimmering chains. Fabulous flights of imagination some to life. Then we walked away from the festival down 11th street, retreating to the quieter neighborhood. I drove away east into the mountains as the setting sun illuminated  golden grasses and green forest against a twilight sky infused with pink clouds. Winding deeper and deeper into the wilderness all the chatter in my head, the action of the previous days, at first became so loud I wondered at all the thoughts racing through. As the sky grew dark and the last light faded I found my driveway and made my way to the round chair out on the deck. I sat in this chair watching stars appear in a moonless sky. I know some people have never really seen a fully starlit sky. I was told by an astronomy professor that this particular valley is one of the few California places where the magnificence of the stars can still be known. The chatter of the day melted away under the trails of shooting stars and cicada concerto. The value of silence is clarity.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunrise of a New Day

First light fills the sky. Oaks trees not yet visible as green. Scent of beeswax on the air. I imagine it is fir balsam but I do not know for certain. A summer scent. Rich, spicy, hopeful. Intoxicating. I love to be up in this dawn hour. Everything seems possible. An entire day, 86,400 seconds, ahead of me. Cool morning. I wear my heavy pink bathrobe outside on the deck with my cup of coffee and the writing notebook that has been companion to many such morning for decades now. Wrapped up outside on the deck I watch the clouds color, grow, alter, disappear. The sun rises over the ridge at the halfway point between summer high and winter low. A flock of robins has been visiting. Working the grass where the sprinkler waters. They fly off into the treetop of the giant madrone at the far side of the pond. The call from a bird I do not know moves around the forest. A bell like tone. A single note. Clear. Strong. A tibetan bowl comes to mind and when I first heard this tone I thought someone was creating the sound. But it moved too far too fast to be human in origin. Something new to learn about. One of the many mysteries of the forest I love. Today I will pick blackberries. Perfect luscious ripeness perfume to the tongue. Pie!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Living in the WIlderness

A friend from my distant past has been asking me questions about my life. I mention I live in the wilderness but this somehow is not the most motivating topic. I wonder if this is because it is difficult for any who have not lived in wilderness to know what that might mean. I'm not sure I know what it means and I have lived in the middle of it for thirteen years. My son is an environmental studies major. I get the influence of the wilderness in schooling decision. He is out working in the forest as I write about it now. Thinning. Helps the trees left behind grow larger and reduces fire danger. He tells me that few of his classmates have ever been in the wilds except for perhaps day hikes or camping. He feels the differences in their experiences compared to his own, growing up here.
I spent much of the summer away from this wild place. Months away. Long enough that the callouses softened in my hands. Long enough that I had few bruises or scrapes and no poison oak. Long enough that it takes me a week before I am able to once again walk out into the wilds on my own. I return to the wilderness and I mow the lawn. This is not the usual experience for wilderness living. It is certainly a relic from the life of suburbia. However the lush green of the lawns serves as a fire break from the dry dusty forest surrounding this small oasis.
I was out earlier in the day to help with the thinning. Hiking a mile to get to the site. Climbing up and down slopes, pulling downed limbs and small trees to piles where they will be burned later in the year once the rains have come. Loading into the truck rounds of wet oak to be stored for next years use. A little more dry madrone for me to use this year. I rely on wood for heat. The attempts to work around the fir trees that Travis fell are met with strong resistance from the wasps that have taken up residence in a rotting branch. First Eric and then Travis are stung. We apply mud to draw out the venom and move to another place in the forest to work. Some days go easily. This day is all about the obstacle and the slow cautious work. This work always invites caution. Think about chainsaw blades and crushing trees. But some times the trees just do not fall so easily and more time is needed to get them onto the ground. I slow my work as the ground crew pulling brush to watch the chainsaw work. Chainsaw work  requires the help of others with more muscles than I have. I do love to get out into the middle of the forest and work hard with others and sweat. When I do this the cares and worries of a life connected to computers and telephones and the news which is not always so edifying or confusions within relationships..all of this eventually falls away while I do the work that is not about the big brain. It is not necessary to understand much in order to create a pile of brush. The creation of these piles moves me from my mind, which is going and going, into my body which is grateful for the exercise.
I know that people who do not live in the wilds exercise and know the magic of movement. Wilderness is not necessary for this to occur. What wilderness gives me as I exercise is a place to allow all thoughts to be dissipated. I feel that the earth is able, somehow in ways that I do not really understand, to absorb my emotions and turn them into something softer. Touching wood. Walking in the soft duff. The scent of freshly cut wood. The heat of the summer day as it warms the forest and trees release their rich fragrance. All of this is part of the forest life I have come to love.
I offer to walk back to the house and refill the water bottles. I notice a tree fallen neatly across a small stream bed and I balance myself to walk across this bridge. Stepping over logs, working my way through the tall grasses, noticing how an oak and a madrone have grown together over a long period of time. This is one of the fruits of the life. Near the house I take a few minutes to move sprinklers around, check e-mail and refill the water. I follow a new path back to the work area. Shoes crunch in the crispy carpet of yellow madrone leaves. The oaks are ready with a new crop of acorns. What relevance this has to a life lived in suburbia is unfathomable really.  This is my neighborhood now. This home which supports deer, turkey, bear (big scat full of berries found yesterday), mountain lion and me continually surprises and challenges. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New York City

Whatever does New York City have to do with Hyampom? Ummm, a noisy concrete and steel cavernous jungle is the complete opposite. I am here visiting a friend. Riding the subways to get everywhere. Taking in the little bits of nature in Central Park, and an area called The Tangle is as close to Hyampom as this world offers and it is a dim comparison. I now understand why so much of the world has no idea what wilderness really is. Or why it is important. I am able to dive in and navigate this urban wilderness though I was timid at first. I thought of it all as if it were the river on a hot summer day. Jumping in is the way to get wet, cooled off and swim in the river. New York does not offer the same refreshment as the river, but diving in does produce results. Learning how to correct mistakes when I get off the subway at the wrong stop for random reasons like the stop I am looking for starts with an F and so does the one the train pulls up to. Maybe like following a deer path in a different direction than I thought? I felt willing to get lost today. I did a bit but once I remembered the use of maps and asking for help often i was OK.

Life here is not so much about thinking and contemplation as it is about sensory stimulus. Why else would I join hundreds of other people to stand in line at the Metropolitan Museum for a half an hour to witness a surreal exhibition of Alexander McQueen fashions? Gorging visually on man made creation allows me to challenge myself to follow the creative impulse. It seems the more outrageous the better. I overheard one of the officials from the museum saying this was the third most attended show ever. It kind of made me sad though. The fashion designer took his own life this last February. I could feel his emotional struggle in many of the garments. He did not try to hide it and it even seems to be a big part of the draw around his work.  There was counterpoint to his evident depressive angry states with some sumptuous florals and fluffy white creations. His wild creativity is magnificent. But I would like to know why is creative genius so often associated with insanity?

Maybe if Alexander McQueen had the opportunity to truly rest his physical being in stillness he could have found rest for his emotions, his soul. Maybe not. SOme people have come to the wilderness silence and left within a short period of time because they suffered from stimulus withdrawl. I was asked recently why I like to live in the wilderness. The instant answer? I find the deepest create comes from the silence. For those who wish to uncover, discover, recover their own voice the vastness of wilderness and the beauty and silence offer opportunity to listen once again to your own still small voice.  Some may not want to hear it but it is well known that the sages of the ages (ha ha) have sought wilderness in order to hear.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Phalarope correctly identified

Yes, this is a female Red-necked Phalarope. These are "sandpipers," but they have curious fringed lobes on their toes so that they can swim (lobes spread on the attack, swept back on recovery...whatever...Michael Phelps I'm not). The great bulk of the population gets from southerly oceanic wintering "grounds" n. to breeding areas in the Arctic by flying over-ocean, with many seen from shore in May. Much smaller numbers take an overland route, and if a small flock had been over Hyampom at first light---well, it's Any Port In A Storm. Similarly, they are sometimes seen on sewage and stock ponds, golf course water hazards, vernal pools, etc. In autumn they are more commonly seen inland.

Phalaropes are quite specialized, with the females wearing the bright spring colors and the males responsible for incubation and chick-rearing, such as it is. They spend much of their time bobbing high on the water, spinning half-circles and dabbing nervously at the surface to obtain tiny animals and other edible matter. There are only three species: Red-necked and Red, both found across the rooftop of the world in summer and wintering widely southward, and Wilson's, which is found only in North America and winters, I believe, largely in the Andean region.

Red-necked Phalaropes undoubtedly overfly Trinity County often in migration, but, as they are capable of long flights to and from especially favored areas, it is likely that the scattered water bodies of Trinity County, combined with comparatively few birders, allows most to go undetected.

It was a real treat to meet so many of the good people in Hyampom last weekend. I felt as if I had suddenly been beamed to the Best of the West.

David Fix

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Red-Necked Phalarope?

For five days five of these birds swam in our pond. They flew with the swallows, looking very much like them until they settled on the surface of the water and swam with the ducks. My friend Tony correctly guided me to the Phalarope. What I am wondering about is if this is a red-necked or a Wilson.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Violet Pie

Ummm, not really. I only wish the delicate scent could be ingested. I think people do candy violets...maybe one day I will try. This time I settled for their place as intoxicating scent/visual. Taking note from Barbara Kingsolver in her pursuits to eat locally I made an orange chiffon pie for our local fundraising event: The Hyampom Pie Auction. Oranges grow about two hours from here. This is outside of the range the Kingsolvers set for themselves in Animal Vegetable Miracle , but I forgive myself given that there is fairly extreme undeveloped mountainous terrain between here and there.

Orange Chiffon Pie with Chocolate Cookie Crumb Crust

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 (1/4 ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon Cointreau or other orange flavoring
4 large fresh eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
1 (9-inch) crumb crust

Prepare the crust first

1 package chocolate cookies wafers
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter

Grind cookies in a food processor with sugar. Place into pie tin. add butter. mix to coat all crumbs. Press crust firmly into place to fill bottom and edges of pie tin. Set aside.

To make the pie:

In a medium saucepan, stir together first addition of sugar (1/2 cup), gelatin, lemon juice and orange peel. Stir in orange juice, Cointreau and egg yolks until blended. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until gelatin is dissolved, about 5 minutes. remove from heat. Chill, stirring occasionally, until mixture mounds slightly when dropped from spoon, 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar at high speed until foamy. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are glassy and stand in soft peaks. Gently fold whipped cream along with chilled egg yolk mixture into egg whites. Pile mixture into prepared pie shell. Chill until firm, at least three hours. Garnish with violets and candied orange peel.

Candied Orange Peel

6 lemon peels, cut into 1/4 inch strips
4 orange peels, cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 cups white sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup white sugar for decoration

Place peels in a large sauce pan and cover with water. bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water. bring to a boil and cook until mixture reaches thread stage, 230 degrees F (108 C) on candy thermometer, or small amount dropped in cold water forms a soft thread. Stir in peel, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Stir frequently. Drain. Roll pieces, a few at a time, in remaining sugar. let dry on a wire rack for several hours and then store air tight. Or place them onto a pie!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

More about Violets

How can the beauty of a violet be ignored? Even more so does love blossom for this delicate low growing treasure when one whiff of her fragrance is caught. A week ago a friend had a birthday and asked me to make a carrot cake. The white cream cheese icing just seemed to call for more decoration. I went out in the snow and found a little patch that had not been covered. These beauties are small. To gather them takes time. It takes dozens to make an impact. Fortunately these lovelies are profuse. It was satisfying to watch guests at the party dip their noses into the flowers tucked into the icing, inhaling deeply of her perfume.

I will admit I have spent a little bit of time on my hands and knees, on my belly, taking photos of these wonderful gifts from the earth. I fantasize an entire lawn filled with them. I am motivated to this fantasy by a lovely woman, Sis Moss, who passed away at nearly ninety. She gave me some of the violets that now fill my secret garden. Her lawn is filled with them. So romantic. I am satisfied with a small garden where the violets have happily scattered themselves everywhere underfoot in shades of purple, violet and white. Between the violets and the frog song I think I live in a slice of heaven on earth.

As spring progresses the wildflowers just get better and better. I have already spied the first Shooting Stars and Indian Paintbrush at lower elevations. They will appear here in another two weeks as this little micro-climate is colder than that in the valley below. Ever unfolding beauty.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Frog Song

The crack in the window allows the storm fresh air in along with frog song loud enough to fill my ears  blocking out anything else. I went down to the edge of the pond on Sydney's suggestion. It's like standing at the edge of the stage at a concert. The different members of the orchestra can be heard with more discernment. I can tell when a note pops from the front edge of the water or from further away. Here inside the house the frogs are so loud that the concert comes through the windows and my friends on the phone can hear them! The frogs are loudest at night. I sit on top of the old row boat turned upside down. Outside in the dark it is hearing that takes the lead. Scent of the pond light. The brush of breeze on the face. This storm is warmer. No snow. All the snow has melted now.

I spent a lot of time in with the goats today. When I went outside this morning to check on animals Latifa did not want to eat her grain. Not good. In and out of the goat stall many times and many remedies later I think she might be trending in a better direction. We will see. She was fine yesterday. Main symptoms? She does not want to leave the stall much and she stretches her hind legs out behind her often, elongating her back it seems. I have learned in all the time with goats that when the darkness falls it is Mr. Peanut who snores and nods off first. His sister curls and sleeps quietly nearby. Tinkerbelle still has her nose in the hay. Luna walks to the edges of the sleeping herd and sniffs around. Flora is now in the kidding stall. Her very tiny shape and a 'maybe bulge' makes me think she is not pregnant, but her overall irritability and not wanting to be touched (uncharacteristic) make me think she is a tiny momma to be. I take precautions and give her all the minerals and TLC I offered to Latifa a few weeks ago. Another baby? I'd better start knitting again! One of the two coats I knit has been lost in the bramble. The other Luna still wears. She is growing so fast it might not be for too much longer. Luna is out of newborn and solidly in toddler heading rapidly for little kid.

Sydney has invented a game with Luna, a hide and seek where they run figure eights around the big fir trees in the pen and chase each other. They are fun to watch! A surprise visit today from a delightful family brought Luna out of the stall where mama recovers to romp with  Sadie and Aurora. It seems that young children and goat kids are natural pairs. Luna called to Sadie as they chased each other around. Fun for both all. Aurora is a natural with animals, finding good treats of fir tips to offer Latifa and Flora.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Little Bumps Along the Way

It can be challenging to capture the stunning beauty of snow fall with a camera, but then I am not a professional but an enthusiastic amateur. The willows were particularly striking against the vivd blue of a break in the storm. Each little node just budding out was a landing spot for the super soft light snow that fell. There are little bumps in the life of goat watching too. Several months were spent making progress creating new goat pastures fenced carefully. Who knew (obviously not me) that baby goats would simply jump through those holes in the fencing perfectly sized for goat exploration. Oh! I guess I could say at this point that baby girl goat is now officially named. Fittingly it seems as she was born on a full moon. Luna. Latifa and Luna. I like it. When I had first thought to call baby goat "Brownie" I told Frannie (who calls herself infamous for my quoting of her in the blog), Frannie said ( and you have to know her and understand that she has the most loving heart and a total sense of honesty), anyway she said  "That's terrible." I had felt it too so a certain relief came with her candidness. I appreciate that quality in a friend very much.

Yesterday I was going about my work and heard frantic Luna calls. Sydney was coming in from the pasture as I was going out to explore. "Luna is on one side of the creek and Latifa is on the other. They'll figure it out." Being a new goat grannie (another terrible name) I could not quite let it rest so I went out a little later with my big boots to see exactly what was happening. Another thing to learn: goats are definitely curious. And the pasture is full of thickets of blackberry caves along with some open grass land. the goats are tunneling through the blackberry and there is Luna in the middle of it with her little sweater stuck on the thorns. I thought I was sore last night from a wonderful wellness class workout but I suspect that it was more from hiking over and under and through those blackberry canes that left thorns in my hair, my boots and all manner of scratches everywhere else. I carried Luna out of the thicket and back to the safety of the smaller penned area. Now I can rest. For a moment anyway. New work to be done figuring out baby proofing the fencing. Lessons learned. I rather like that I do not have it all figured out.

Luna is quite friendly. She will hop up onto my lap and lean into the body scratches she has grown to love. She also puts her head into my hand indicating the desire for a head scratch too. Warm Velvet Softness. That's the feeling.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Silence Shattered by Symphony

I've been waiting. Wondering if they are late this year. Worried that they might not come. That something is wrong. I have heard one or two here and there. But not the deafening surrounding sound I thrill to every year. What am I talking about? Frog chorus. Tonight at about 6 PM they gave their first concerto out on the pond. How is it that they wait until a certain time and then start? Is it the right temperature? Is it the right amount of daylight? Does it vary from season to season? I do not know. I only know that I adore frog song and the way they dominate the forest when they are mating. Full orchestra builds from that first voice or two and then under guidance of unseen conductor: a sudden stop. What mysterious clues do they follow to begin and cease? I've never studied their ways thoroughly except to enjoy the brief weeks of song and delight in their varied colorations and sizes. Frogs are special. Water bound beginnings. Transformation. Land life. Higher notes of winter tree frogs change to the deeper groanings of bull frogs in summer. I'll sleep well tonight serenaded by this wonderful indicator species.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Awaken to Silent Beauty

A Full Moon shone through the departing clouds last night illuminating snowy meadow creating surreal landscape. No power this morning and a silence deeper than usual. Stillness. I walked on snowshoes on top of a foot of snow before the sun was up. I feel I am somewhere else in time. Alone, quiet, carless, powerless surrounded by astonishing beauty. The snow is so transitory here that it is delightful rather than onerous. Clumps of snow release from branches once sun hits. Suddenly the giant old fir outside the house drops a large branch. The dogs run barking to investigate. Goats browse from branches hung low with snow and Latifa takes a little walk outside of the kidding stall leaving me with her baby. These rare few hours of total detachment from the way the world works is an oasis.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Snow Adventures

The snow continues. A foot has accumulated now. Latifa and Baby are getting along. Baby is beginning to kick up her heels then fall over because she is still wobbly. I enjoy these early newborn days in the kidding stall. Latifa likes to come snuggle up next to me when I visit. The way it works is wonderful. The night Latifa gave birth was the night I had the Net Flix movie The Business of Being Born. Great documentary. How appropriate it was to be reminded of the work of a doula. I can now say that among the many other things I have done at Quail Meadows over the years as 'firsts' I am now a goat doula. I like to think I am an honorary goat but I am not sure the goats would go so far.

As the snow continues to pile up I begin to get a little cabin fever so I decide to take the Geo Metro to town and mail a package and get mail. My neighbor Phil said he wasn't so sure I could do it in a car without 4 wheel drive. When I called him later to report that I made it down the hill he raved about the amazing little car. Not so fast. Coming up the hill was another story. At that point I became convinced that the Geo is a soda pop can with wheels. I slid around and carefully picked my way back down to a safe spot in the road where I parked the car. I began the one mile walk up the road to my driveway. As I was walking another neighbor drove by. I waved. He waved and continued on. I guess I could have flagged him down but the walk was so beautiful and good for me and he does not drive a tow truck. I am currently car-less but where would I go anyway but back out to the goat stall to check on the baby and momma?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm a Grandma! Sort of....

Feeling along the spine above Latifa’s tail yesterday both Sydney and I knew birth was near. The pencil shaped ligaments had finally softened and disappeared, readying the birth canal. Sydney had a flight to Los Angeles this morning and a storm is dumping showers of water all over the state. We decide Sydney should go to Redding and stay overnight to be sure she could get out of the mountains. Good call. 8:30 PM and Latifa is dripping a little fluid. Rain pouring down. I go back inside and sleep until waking suddenly at 2 AM. Three inches of snow on the ground and fat flakes flying. Down jacket, rain coat, heavy boots and layers. Out to the stall with a flashlight. The birth kit is already nearby just in case. Goats have been at this for thousands of years and sure enough a little kid is standing wobbly and dry near her mom. Earthy fragrance of birth sweetly pungent attracts the other four goats who poke their heads into the stall to meet the newest member of their herd.

What does an expectant goat granny do while waiting for her doe to kid? I join women through the ages and knit little goat sweaters. Really. I’m not so sure generations have been knitting sweaters for their goats, but I have been accused of having grandma baby fever so I’ll cast aside denial and admit that perhaps knitting goat sweaters could be a sign. Good thing I followed the urge to knit as temperatures are below freezing. Now I’m sure that goats have been figuring out this one too, but truthfully my nervous hands were happy to have made something useful. I put the 4 pound velvet soft darling into the sweater and stayed with them for three more hours while Latifa labored without results. We all curled up together and slept in the hay until 5:30 AM when I came inside to put myself into a hot tub and then sleep for half an hour. Consulting with my ‘experts’ I figured out there must be another baby but what to do? Bouncing.

Layering up once again after a cup of hot tea I returned to the stall. ‘Bouncing’ is like hugging a goat from behind and holding her belly just in front of the udders. When there is another kid there will be knobbly bits to feel. I bounce and don’t feel knobbly bits but soon after the bouncing another kid begins to emerge. This one is not alive and very tiny. I scrub up and then pull the kid from Latifa and carry him/her away. The baby must have died some time ago for it is not fully formed.

Latifa eats, baby nurses and everyone seems happy. Six inches of snow on the ground and still falling. The evening was surreal. Latifa let me know there was another baby.  Communication happens even without words. We all know this and yet to live in relation to others who never use words is a gift. I am so blessed to have time to  learn the rhythm, the sweet scents, the ways of goats. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I watch the trees.

I do. I look out my window and look at their branches reaching out to the sky. I notice the silhouette against the sky, sometimes pink with sunrise. Or like now when the light comes bursting through leafless branches onto my keyboard casting twiggy shadows as I type. Blue jay calls. Red Wing Blackbird joins the chorus. The drum beat of a pileated woodpecker takes me outside to hear the early symphony even though the world is still frozen here.

I watch the trees for signs of new growth, for the turning of the earth into spring time and summer. I do love summer. Full leafy ripeness and hot shady swing. But the frozen quality of winter invigorates with her beauties once I force myself out with proper bundling and booting!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Waiting for Sunrise

The world is still frozen here each morning. It is hard, at times, to force myself to bundle up and go out into it. Once I do I am rewarded by the fresh air and the urge to explore. Walking the familiar path each day gets stale. I stop seeing things. I went right instead of left today and found that my entire attention was woken up just by going into unfamiliar territory. Seeing the new velvet soft growth on willows, hearing...oh great delight the call of red wing blackbird has returned, and the scent of violets on the air all remind me it is good to be alive.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Simple Life

My sister-in-law recently wrote me and spoke of my choice to live a simple life. I have been thinking about her words for a month now asking myself if the word simple really defines the life we live out here in the wilderness. I can't quite answer the question. I ask myself what is the complex life? I drove to the San Francisco Bay Area this past weekend to celebrate my father's 80th birthday. Drove down late friday. More driving saturday morning to retrieve my son from his home in Santa Cruz. Party number one. Sleep. Drive up to SF to retrieve my daughter and then drive down the peninsula to party number two. Drive to Santa Cruz to stay the night with my son. Monday morning drive seven hours back to my home. Wonderful gathering with family. So much time in the car.

Home again I walk to do my work. Goat care. Walking dogs in the foggy moist forest. A construction project underway here at my home. Up on an orchard ladder in the winter sunshine cutting branches from an ancient apple tree. Computer work for an art installation. The actual art for the installation. Wheeling loads of firewood. Sorting seed for the garden plantings. A night of  music with Beeeaters. Awesome young musicians. This is a four mile drive away. The longest I make since my return home.

Some answers to what is a simple life: less driving. Less noise.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pink Catkin

Because I am working on the Walking In Love Installation I have been using my camera on my morning walks to look for whites that occur in nature. The project is executed all in white. White is obvious: rushing water, clouds. Then subtle and challenging to capture, like frost. Snow falling. Mist rising from the river.

Just because white is what I am out to find it doesn't mean that other beauties cease to exist. These catkins stopped me in my tracks, the pink so luscious in the frosty shady early morning of winter.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Oh delight of winter! Watercress pops up in the icy cold creek, a superfood with more goodies for the body than brocolli. Google it and see. Inspired by my sister Jennifer, a very creative cook, I used it to make an out of this world pesto! I am what my adopted mom Frannie would call a "willy nilly" cook. This means imprecise quantities. No matter, this is to taste so you can adjust it anyway you like.

Into a food processor with the chopping blade inserted place:
2 large handfuls of watercress
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
As many cloves of fresh garlic as you like!
About 1/4 cup or so of grated parmesan cheese
1 small handful of unsalted nuts, I use whatever  I have on hand (walnut, pecan, almond, pine)
Pinch of salt

Begin to process and add Olive oil until you have the pesto paste. That's it.

We used it on top of Gnocchi along with some tomato sauce for a gorgeous and healthy dinner.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Every Day is Different

Frosty morning once again. Thin layer of ice holds water lily captive in the upper pond. Lichens in soft sea foam green cling to oak. I notice another white lichen on the branches. Oaks are home to so many life forms. Stellar's Jays, Pileated woodpeckers, Flickers, Coots (yes!)  and more love to forage in oak trees. Now in the dormant season it is the lichen, usnea, that is the show.

The sun comes up melting all frost into a near perfect spring day for a few hours before the cold afternoon returns. The rhythm of winter is fruit tree pruning, some garden bed prep (cleaning out the goat stall to layer on top of potato beds) in the short rainless period we have. Readying the stall for the birthing of kids, goat babies due on Valentines Day, and other projects that are part of the work here. It is good work.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Morning Walk

The meadow is frosted this morning. Twinkling, sparkling mirrors wink at me as I crunch through the grasses. The sun just begins to break the ridge to the east. Glorious blue sky day following the first full moon of 2011. There are often frosts on full moons. Winter. Hard to believe when the day time temperature lets me prune fruit trees in shirt sleeves!

I walk through the ancient grape vines hanging jungle like from the tops of oak and fir. One spot has a perfect loop to sit on. The trickle of a creek is flanked by thick stands of primeval horsetail reeds. I cross the reeds on a tree fallen through the middle, ducking the grape vines on the far end. I love to wander these thickets.