Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In 1991 I bought my first home, an old house built in the 1880's. I fell in love with it the minute I walked in. Though it was old and very plain, I was so excited! I could not have been more proud of the place. I had no bad or frightening feelings about the place during the purchasing process.
A night or two after moving in, I was watching television in the living room and it was late. My son was asleep on the sofa beside me. I heard the side door leading up the back stairs close. My cat heard it, too. I was a bit concerned even though I knew I had checked and double checked the locks for every outside door earlier that evening. The house was located in a pretty rough part of town so I was not taking any chances. My first thought was someone who still had a key had come in through the side door.
As I went to investigate, the door at the top of the back stairs slammed shut. Earlier that door had been shut tightly and bolted securely from the inside. It was a stop on the nightly rounds.
"Impossible!" I thought. I looked at my cat and his ears and eyes were focused in the direction of the upstairs door as if he was still hearing something up there. Adrenaline shot through me and I headed for the phone to dial 911. Before I could reach the phone, the door at the top of the front stairs slammed shut! That was the last straw and I grabbed my son, fleeing the house in a panic. Sorry to say I left my poor cat there to fend for himself.
We spent the rest of the night in my car in the driveway of my daughter's apartment. It was so late I did not want to wake her up. I knew for certain those doors at home were all locked. Being away from the house, it was easy to tell myself I had only scared myself with noises in the dark, so I did not call the police. But, I also did not go home until full daylight.
When I returned, my cat was fine. All the doors were still securely locked and there was no sign of anyone entering the home. The upper door on the back stairway was still bolted shut. The upper door of the front stairway was still wide open. New carpet had just been installed and all the interior doors had to be forcibly dragged across the carpet to open or shut them. The nap of the carpet showed no signs of the door being moved whatsoever.
That was the beginning of nine years of creepy stuff.
My little son would scream in terror at night because he could hear someone walking past his bed. He claimed he could hear someone speaking to him, but he could not understand them. He said they were speaking Spanish. I did all I could to help him not be afraid. I moved his bed to the other side of the wall from my bed and left both bedroom doors open. I allowed him to sleep with the lights on. I gave him prayers to say and various talismans in an effort to help him be unafraid. Most nights he ended up in my bed because it was the only way either of us could get any sleep.
The bathroom was located at the top of the back stairs. Whenever I was in that room, I felt as if someone was watching me. Sometimes the feeling was overwhelming and I would have to get the hell out of there. Every time I walked downstairs, the feeling on the back of my neck was most unpleasant. It felt as if someone was shouting or angrily calling to me, though I could never hear anything. It just felt that way. One day I became angry at being afraid in my own house. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I turned and gave "the finger" to the unseen presence. I angrily shouted "Leave me the hell alone!" And it did - for a while.
My German Shepherd, Nuke, was glued to my side whenever he was in the house. If I was soaking in a hot tub, he was laying on the floor as close to the tub as he could get. One day he began acting afraid of the clothes I had just taken off and tossed into a heap on the floor. He approached the clothes to sniff them but became too afraid and cowered back. I thought there was a mouse in the clothes, and started laughing at my big tough German Shepherd for being afraid of a mouse. I quietly leaned toward the clothes and jerked them off the floor, fully expecting a mouse to run out. Nothing - but my dog hit the floor, cowering on his belly, trying to hide beneath the bathtub! I ran out of that room buck-naked and my dog beat me down the stairs. Way too creepy!
Sometimes I would experience a feeling of dread and heaviness in that house. If I was in the kitchen folding clothes or doing something quiet, I would hear the microwave timer "dinging" so softly that it was only just audible. It was as if it was being powered by a fading battery. The microwave only did that when the heavy feeling was particularly palpable. One evening my grown daughter dropped by for a visit. She had gone into the kitchen for something. When she returned, she asked, "How can you stand living in this house?!" The feeling was particularly heavy that night, but I had not mentioned it to her. She felt it for herself.
The lights would flicker sometimes, different times, different rooms but I did not give that much thought. It was such an old house and the electrical system was substandard. Over time, I noticed the flickering always coincided with conversation of the strange happenings in the house. It was uncanny. If we were actually discussing a "ghost", the lights would actually go out for a brief moment in the room of the conversation. If we were in the kitchen, or in the dining room, or the living room, the lights would flicker out in whatever room we were in at the time.
The first crisis happened one night when my son was asleep beside me as I was reading. Nuke always slept on the floor beside my bed, so he was familiar with all motion and noises of a water bed. That night as I shifted in the bed, the "wave" lifted my son's sleeping body up. Nuke jumped up, growling ferociously, the hair raised on his back. He loved my son, who was just a little boy at that time. Nuke had never growled at him before, ever, but there he was barking like mad at something. The next day I called some Native American friends to see what they knew about getting a ghost out of my house.
The first man I contacted came with his wife. He did ceremony before he came and then smudged the interior of the house. He said he could not compel the spirit to leave, but he assured me it was "under strict orders to leave you and your son alone." As soon as they left, my son looked up at me and said "Momma, that spirit is still here." And so it was. The activity and strange things seemed to temporarily subside for awhile, but before long it was back at previous levels.
It was almost a year later when I confided the haunting troubles to my friend, Leonard McKinney, a Potawatomi elder. He was concerned and explained that he could clear the house, if that was what I wanted. I gratefully accepted his offer. A few days later he came with feathers, cedar and sage, and powerful prayers. He went through the entire house, getting in every little nook and cranny, including the basement. His work made a marked difference. All the little strange things stopped and it felt much brighter in our house. In the long run, though, it seemed to either have made the ghost "angry" or something worse came in. Eventually my son began waking up, screaming in terror again. But in the short term, I felt as if the house was cleared and tried to ease his fears. I thought seeing adult men take the situation seriously had frightened my son rather than reassure him.
One day some friends dropped by. They asked about the strange happenings in the house. They specifically asked about the "ghost". I had just said it was gone for good when the front door swept open, the overhead fan came on, and a book laying open over the arm of my chair slid off, falling unnaturally to the "light side" of the book. It was one smooth string of events in perfect timing. We gaped at one another in astonishment, then started laughing like crazy.
Another unusual thing happened when my parents came to visit. Several times during the day, my step father heard water running in the kitchen or in the basement. The first two times, I checked but found nothing amiss. As the day progressed and he continued to hear something, I ignored him. I said he was hearing things. That night I had just dropped off to sleep when I was shocked awake by my stepfather shouting up the stairs. He was shouting "There is water all over the kitchen floor and spewing out from under the sink!"
I rushed down stairs to find the hot water line to the faucet had somehow come lose and was shooting hot water everywhere. I had to go down into the dark, creepy basement to shut the water off to the entire house. I could not reach the valve under the sink without being scalded by the hot water. It was a big mess. We all wondered about the "warnings" my step father had been given all day.
My daughter and I had been given Native American flutes made by our friend Ken. In the evenings, we loved to sit on the front porch playing them. They have a plaintive, lovely sound. Ken is a flute and drum maker, an artist, a Pipe carrier, and a Vietnam veteran. He is actually a medicine man - a spiritually powerful person. During that summer when we first got the flutes, my son woke up terrified one night. He dreamed his sister and I were on the front porch playing the flutes when a large, powerful, ugly man came storming out of the back of the house, enraged and evil, screaming "Those god damned flutes! I am going to kill you all!"
That was the absolute final straw! I called Ken and told him the whole story. He knew what to do. This time, we had a ceremony at my house. Ken smudged the interior of my home, and the exterior, and placed a medicine bundle in my home for protection. Other friends came to participate in the ceremony. We shared a meal and generated a lot of light and love that night in addition to Ken's spiritual work. The house was cleared at last. The energy of the house felt noticeably different. Something had shifted and I was thankful. The remainder of the time we lived there we experienced no more problems that were obviously "ghost" related, and my son's nightmares began to diminish in both intensity and frequency.
I had the distinct feeling that whatever had left my home was biding its time, waiting to return. I think it caused trouble for us in the neighborhood after that. (Well, my neighbors were already horrible, so it may be a moot point.) My cat, who seldom went outdoors, was poisoned by my evil neighbor lady. I had to have him put to sleep for liver failure. We learned of the poisoning later when the granddaughter told my son her grandmother had sprayed my gentle, loving cat with herbicide when she caught him in her yard. That same year (1999), I moved to Spirit Creek Farm, far away from all those crazy neighbors. Ten days after I moved, my dear German Shepherd Nuke died of unexpected liver failure. I suspect the grandmother from hell sprayed him with herbicide over the fence, too.
The bad luck continued even after I moved away. I had a dismal time renting the house while I tried to sell it. I made double house payments for four years. The house sat empty for most of those four years. I came home from an extended business trip to find thousands of dollars in water damage. It had to be repaired before it could be placed back on the market.
When my son was older, I hired him to paint in the house during the day. The first day he accomplished a lot, the second day, not so much, so I "fired" him. Later he admitted he heard a voice calling his name repeatedly. He bolted out of the house the second day and would not return alone. He confided this to his sister, so I believe he was telling the truth, and not merely making up an excuse to get out of work.
A very angry realtor called me one day. She was showing the house and discovered six dead birds! No broken windows. No open doors. No sign of the birds when I was there a few days prior. Many more things happened, too many to list here.
Last but certainly not least, I had decided what I wanted as a selling price for the home. Against my realtor's wishes, I made her list it at that price. I soon received a call from one very incredulous realtor telling me there was a legitimate offer on the house for my asking price. During the inspection, when the water was being run at full blast through all the sinks and the tub, water began pouring out of the newly repaired ceiling. This ultimately killed the sale. When I talked to the guy who had done the repairs, he was adamant he had checked all his work before he closed the ceiling up and that it was not leaking. The weather had been mild since he had done the work, and no one lived in the house, so it was logical to think he had overlooked something. I believed him when he said it was not leaking when he sealed the sheet rock. It was just one more instance of the strange circumstances in that house.
Some months later, at long last, the house sold for exactly what I still owed on it. I did not gain a penny in equity after a dozen years of payments. That house and the bad luck associated with it cost me a fortune. It strained and broke some friendships, to my regret. It cost the lives of two innocent animals, not to mention the emotional toll on my son, among other things. I was never so glad to be rid of something as I was when the place finally sold.
A young couple eventually bought the place - (they got a GREAT deal on the price!). They qualified for a program aimed at sprucing up older neighborhoods so they were able to make many improvements I could never afford. But, to this day, the house continues to hold bad luck. The young couple were only there for a short time, and the house has been empty since - almost seven years, now. I think the spirit moved back in as soon as I took down the medicine bundle Ken placed in there. I think the spirit is determined that no one else will ever disturb its domain again. I do not own the house any longer and have no emotional ties to it, so I am okay with that idea. Though I do think the best possible scenario would be if the spirit moved in next door with the herbicidal grandmother.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Tiny Elvis, Baby Sister, Mrs Peckins, and Hawk Wing
about one week old - too cute!
I did not name them until they were older and their personalities emerged, but I know which peep is which in this photo.
To make much sense of this post, you might want to first read: http://spiritcreekfarm.blogspot.com/2008/07/chicken-pox.html
Baby Sister is a smaller, younger version of Tenzing, the alpha hen of my small flock of bantam chickens. It is getting more difficult to tell her apart from Tenzing on sight alone. I have to watch to see who is in fact the big boss hen. Like Tenzing, she was first to learn to fly in the baby pen, first to learn to fly onto the door each time I opened it, and was the dominant chick when they were peeps.
Tiny Elvis will one day just be "Elvis". He is growing into a handsome porcelaine d'uccle rooster, and is losing the goofy look as his body assumes new proportions and his feathers become true kingly finery. Poor guy, he gets beat up regularly by the big roosters and picked on by the hens. When the testosterone hits, things will change. I think he will give Big Man a run for his money, if he is not already socialized into being subordinate. The d'uccles are smarter than the cochins, so it remains to be seen how it will go.
Hawk Wing got his name when he was just a chick, before I knew he was a rooster. Each time I tried to pick him up, he would spread his wings and use them to leverage out of my grip, even as a tiny chick. Now he is a juvenile rooster and only time will tell how he stacks up against Big Man and Sweetie, his older brothers.
Mrs. Peckins is the sweetest of all the chickens. She is a dainty little partridge cochin hen with the softest feathers and the sweetest personality. She is the only chicken that appears to still like me now that they are in their own chicken kingdom, ruled by Big Man and Tenzing. She will come to my side and peck my shoe to get my attention. She seems to enjoy being picked up and spoken to and petted. But, since she and Hawk Wing are the two lowest chickens in the pecking order, she might only like me because she can eat at leisure when I am in the pen. I will not let the big chickens bully the smaller ones.
There is one more little d'uccle hen, only a week or two older than Baby Sister. I took two chicks I thought were roosters to a swap meet in order to trade or sell them. But I brought them and this hen home. Once at the meet, I saw how the animals were treated. It was not necessarily cruel but they were considered farm animals, commodities. The fowl were all in small pens set out in the direct sunlight with no water. Many of them had soiled feathers, a sure sign of being in crowded and dirty conditions before they arrived at the swap meet. One guy bought a baby goat, put it in a wire chicken cage with a full grown rooster, and set it atop a truck bed full of bread. The scared, panicked bleating of the baby and the frantic calling of its mother made me so sad.
One of the guys at the swap meet "knew everything there was to know about bantams" and he did know a lot! He was very generous in sharing a ton of information with me, and I appreciated it. I also learned a lot. When I told him I had porcelaine d'uccles at home, he said there was one little hen for sale. She was in a flock of gray and black d'uccles. I bought her for $3. Her feathers were dirty and she was smelly. When I got home, I actually gave her a bath. I knew it was possible because I had read how to bathe show chickens. She is a superstar!
This poor little hen has had a nervous breakdown, I think. First she was taken from her large flock and kept alone. She was fully feathered but I bathed her with soap and water. She was miserable but no longer stinky and dirty. She had seldom been handled and hates it still. But her feathers are snow white and much smoother than the other d'uccles. She looked more like a dove than a chicken. In short, she was beautiful so I named her Amidala, after the Star Wars character played by Natalie Portman.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Sunflowers - the Kansas State Flower
A sunflower is not a sissy flower in any way. It is tall and tough and handsome, rather than beautiful. You can not easily pick a bloom with your bare hands. It does not have a perfume or fragrance. Its bold yellow blossoms make their own statement.
The plants usually grow about seven feet tall, but I have seen them standing easily over ten feet, and taller. Another thing I have noticed is that each blossom gets its own stem and space. A sunflower does not bunch its blossoms up, shortchanging some of them the way a more delicate plant might do. Like the entire state of Kansas, there is room in a sunflower plant for everyone.
The plants grow straight upward as a sturdy, fibrous stalk. It has large rough leaves, and like big blue stem grass, it is well suited to the weather conditions of the prairie. Though I have lived in Kansas all of my life, I have taken the presence of sunflowers for granted. I have not paid attention to the weather conditions that favor a large population of sunflowers. There are some sunflowers every season, but in some years there is an abundance of them. They exist in the landscape like a glowing beacon. A stand of blooming sunflowers is visible for miles. The color of sunflowers is what I consider the purest color of yellow. It is genuine, bona fide yellow.
I am not aware of any mammal that will eat sunflowers but there is always some species of small ants on them. Grasshoppers will eat the leaves, and birds eat the seeds. The blossoms tend to follow the direction of the sun. A single plant will grow equally out in all directions if it has room. It is a large, open and balanced plant. It is an opportunist and a survivor. In a seam of concrete on an overpass in downtown Topeka one fall, there was a lone stalk about twelve inches tall with a single blossom inches from the thousands of wheels in the daily onslaught of traffic.
Of all things that are under the threat of extinction in Kansas, the sunflower is not among them. And that is good.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
When summer heats up in earnest in Kansas, the constant heat and humidity are brutal. In addition to the weather, there are chiggers, poison ivy, mosquitoes and snakes! All reasons to move as far north as possible. (Last August, I actually researched moving to Yellow Knife, Canada.)
I doubt if I will ever move away from Kansas. I have dreams of living by a beach, or in a mountain cabin, or traveling the world once I retire, but somewhere in my heart I know I will never leave Kansas.
Kansas is full of good people and they mind their own business for the most part. They are also quick to offer a hand if needed. Kansas is conservative in its politics, mostly conservative - to - moderate Republicans. Like any place, there are some notorious and embarrassing citizens. A fundamentalist school board was elected and humiliated the rest of us before the world by trying to change the science curriculum in our public schools. They wanted to teach creationism as science. They were elected because the rest of us were minding our own business. That matter is resolved, and we are all paying attention now.
It is an immense personal mystery how someone born and raised in Kansas survived with my personal world view. My personal karma must have drawn me to this place and time for some reason, but it has been difficult living here at times. I do not believe that marriage is necessary or even desirable. I am decidedly not Christian. I believe in woo-woo stuff like reincarnation, karma, ghosts, and in a conscious universe. I am a socialist liberal of the worst kind, if I believe the posted discussions in the local newspaper. I am an environmentalist, one of "them tree huggers". (I have in fact hugged a tree.) I hold few men in high esteem - they have to earn my respect. I do not believe in hunting wild animals for sport, but do not deny others - except on my own property. I believe gay people should be able to marry and have the same equality under the law as the rest of us. I fervently believe George W. Bush and his cronies should be impeached for just about everything they have done since taking office. I would have voted for Hillary Clinton. I am not a typical Kansan. I wonder what it would feel like if I lived in a place where my world view was in the majority? It would have to feel wonderful, I think.
Believe me, my politics, religion, lifestyle, philosophy and opinions make it difficult for me sometimes. But not difficult enough for me to move away. Maybe I am the human equivalent of a chigger. Maybe I am supposed to rub people the wrong way, to aggravate them into considering broadening their horizons a bit. Granted, being a human chigger is not on the same spiritual level as the Dalai Lama. But, as my friend Kenton says, "Chiggers will make you scratch yourself in public." Even chiggers serve a higher purpose.
So, while the environment is hot and humid and horrible right now - while the chiggers and snakes and poison ivy are thriving - it is nice to dream of the peace and beauty of the winter season. Everyone in Kansas can appreciate the idea of snow when it is late July.
Friday, July 25, 2008
I was thinking about the concept of reality and the way certain ideas illuminate and transform our reality. 21st century Americans generally hold the opinion that all people at one time believed the earth was flat. I have never read specifically about an ancient civilization that knew the earth was round. But I think there are people who knew the earth was round and always knew it.
Great past civilizations of master astronomers had to have known it. The Egyptians and Mayans come to mind. The Lakota people have their own astronomy knowledge. Their entire culture is steeped in the idea of circles. They would have known intuitively the earth was round. The aboriginal people of Australia who are intimately familiar with and travel consciously in the Dreamtime would have always known the earth is round.
We hail our culture's great scientists for their discoveries. As the centuries roll by, one observation illuminates another, and the awareness of a round earth moved out of the Dreamtime into the waking consciousness of all.
As a child I imagined myself in space looking back. I had no notion of what I would see. The earth was illustrated in my elementary school books as a lifeless blue and brown ball. I could never have guessed the white and blue glowing presence! Since those days, photographs from space have permeated human consciousness with living images of the planet. In turn, the idea of earth as a living entity, Gaia, has illuminated the collective awareness. Indigenous people around the world have never forgotten what Western civilization now consciously knows. Our earth is round and alive. And beautiful.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
This is the road home. It is the view as I drive south off the interstate, heading for my own little corner in the Flint Hills. The red vegetation is big blue stem grass. Late in the season it turns orange and remains until it is burned in the spring. If it rains or snows in the winter, the color deepens to a glowing red. The big blue makes the prairie seem alive all winter.
I planted native prairie grasses and plants back to about 22 acres of my land that had been previously farmed in an effort to restore the property. It took about five years before the big blue stem appeared. Last year, because my two horses did not graze it down and because I did not mow, the big blue grew to its natural height of about ten feet, and some bunches even taller. It was amazing to witness how tall those prairie plants can grow in one season if allowed, and I was delighted with the results. Neighboring pastures are all grazed by cattle herds and have no chance to grow to their natural height. It was plain the early settler accounts of grass taller than a man on horseback were true.
Big blue stem grass is the most perfectly suited plant for the prairie weather. Wind, ice or snow can not knock it down. If ice bows the stems down, once it melts, the grass stands tall again, even in the dead of winter. It converts sunlight into the best grazing available for bison and cattle. It is beautiful at any season of the year. In the spring, the ranchers burn their pastures to control encroachment by undesirable plants and to produce tender new growth for their herds. The prairie evolved with fire in its natural balance and life cycle.
In my fledgling pasture, there was enough grass to burn two seasons ago, and in the thick stands of the big blue, the flames towered and roared as the dead plants were consumed. I tried to imagine fire on the long ago prairies, where there had been hundreds of miles of unfettered grass to burn. What must it have looked like to those who lived in those times? Unimaginable.
What is left of the prairie is under constant attack from development, farming, overgrazing, herbicides, mining and the encroachment of invasive species. It is one of the deepest regrets in my life that I am alive to see the final days of the great tall grass prairies in Kansas. There is no turning back the clock. The vast oceans of this magnificent grass were rubbed out along with the buffalo. Only a few wild acres are left fenced in here and there in the Flint Hills, like a few head of buffalo seen around Kansas - mostly for nostalgic reasons - mere shadows of what was once a magnificence beyond description. Nature's perfect handiwork forged in the long natural silence on the vast prairies has been destroyed in less than two hundred years by the descendants of European settlers, my own ancestors. I passionately wish the prairie's fate had been different.
Early on the Kansa Indians were displaced from their Kansas prairies. The buffalo were destroyed next, and now the tall grasses themselves. The destruction we leave as our legacy upon these lands is not equitable by any reckoning under the sun.
My horses, Ginger and Annie, coming through the tall grass of my pasture. (They have fly masks on.)
Sunday, July 13, 2008
I moved to my current home, Spirit Creek Farm, in April of 1999. A few days after I moved here, my German Shepherd Nuke died unexpectedly on a Sunday afternoon. I was grief stricken over the loss, so it was strange that the very next morning during the commute to work, the urge to check at the local humane shelter for another dog aggressively interrupted my thoughts. There was simply no room in my heart for another dog and I was annoyed at myself for even considering a replacement not even a day after saying goodbye to one good dog.
Over the next few days, at any still moment, when my thinking was not actively engaged, the idea of the shelter crowded into my thoughts. I wondered what was wrong with me. It was far out of character for me to consider another pet immediately after losing one. It normally takes a year or two before I am ready. Sometimes a higher authority intervenes in our lives. I simply could not ignore the clear and insistent message to go to the shelter to look at the dogs. On Friday afternoon I succumbed - obeyed - caved - and went to the shelter.
One glance into the puppy pen, and a fat butterball German Shepherd mix puppy caught my eye. He was sleeping while the other puppies were excitedly jumping and yapping. Instinctively, I felt he was ill but when he roused and came to the front of the pen, he was as vital as the others, so I dismissed it. I carefully and individually looked at every puppy and dog available. I did not miss one animal. But it was that little fat guy I asked to see in person. His face was so fat that it seemed as if the flesh folded vertically above and below his eyes, giving him the appearance of a clown. His paws were huge. I wanted my son to help choose, so I did not take the puppy then, but I knew he was the one.
First thing that next morning we went to the shelter. I pointed out the fat puppy right away, but my son wanted to look around. His first choice was a gangly hound/lab mix. Once my son had a chance to play with the fat puppy though, he was wavering. In reality, I do not think either of us had a choice. I filled out the paperwork, still wondering what the heck was wrong with me. As we exited the busy waiting room, there was a collective happy murmuring over the sight of an 11 year old boy with the wriggling puppy in his arms, going home together.
On the way back to the farm, my son named the puppy Duke. Even though I tried to talk him out of it, he stood his ground and "Duke" it was. Within a few days, the puppy developed a terrible case of diarrhea and I immediately returned him to the vet. The diagnosis was bad: parvo. The vet's advice was to exchange him at the shelter for a different puppy. The shelter would euthanize Duke at their expense. This simply was not acceptable. My son losing two dogs in less than two weeks? No way! I had to take out an unsecured loan that very day in order to give the vet $350 up front before he would treat Duke. I visited the next morning but Duke was one sick little guy. I did not know if he was going to make it over the weekend.
On Monday morning, I called the minute they were open and the news was good. Duke was on the upswing. Another day or two later Duke came home to Spirit Creek Farm for good.
Duke was guardian and constant companion to my formerly city dwelling son as he explored the timbered creek and hills of his new rural home. Duke learned to snow disc down the steep hill behind our house whether he wanted to or not. He traveled many miles up and down the creek, through all seasons with my son and his buddies. He stood guard when coyotes howling and strange rustling in the dark scared the boys shivering in their tent on the hill behind the house.
Duke loved my son, and is still overjoyed to see him when he comes home from college. But I think it was for me that Duke survived the parvo.
He lives a dog's life outdoors. He is not tied up, fenced in, nor restrained in any way, but knows where the property boundaries are. He does not chase cars or cattle or the horses, but loves to chase rabbits. I do not think he has ever caught a single rabbit in his life. He leaves the rest of the wildlife alone - the squirrels, birds, turkeys, deer. He barks to warn off coyotes and varmits I can never see. If a car stops at the top of my driveway, he has a particular bark and I know someone is coming onto the property.
He and my first horse are friends. He can walk under her belly and lays in the shade of her shadow. The second horse is younger and loves to chase him around. He irritates them too, with his constant insistence to be right in the middle of things at all times. If the horses are cranky, they will swing their hind ends around in warning, but jolly ol' Duke doesn't perceive the threat. To my knowledge they have never actually tried to kick him. But I fully understand their irritation.
When he was a young dog, if he could manage to get a opossum into his mouth, he just carried it around. The opossums did not like that friendly ride at all and learned to stay away. He loves to dig into the prairie for the voles. If he catches them, I have never seen it. All his life he has loved to dig frantically after them and snuffle into the hole. He did go after a pack rat displaced when my brother and I were moving hay bales. Like the magnificent predator a dog truly is, he dispatched that rat with a powerful shake and trotted off to chew on it in privacy. I looked at my brother and said "Wow! Duke is a warrior!" I had never seen him kill a single living thing before.
There are times when my knees ache and are so stiff I can hardly walk. Duke and I have worn a path to the barn looking after the horses. When my knees are bad, he goes ahead of me on the path, always. If he gets too far ahead, he will stop and wait for me to catch up. If we happen to scare a rabbit out of the tall grass, I'm on my own, because ol' Duke tears out after that rabbit like a true hound dog. Before long he returns to "help" me tend to the horses. He never misses escorting me back to the house. In fact, if I'm already on the path back toward the house, he comes tearing up behind me so he can walk in front and scout the way.
It is all typical dog stuff. Just about anyone can tell about the same behavior in their dog. But it is the true magic and life's purpose of Duke the good dog I want to write about. Often I perform ceremony and prayers on behalf of the plants and animals that are under such threat from our human activities. It is my gift to the earth. Instead of his usual insistence to be underfoot and in the way, Duke always, without fail, sits off to the side in alert but respectful silence when I am praying. He simply knows that something requiring his solemn witness is taking place.
Over and above that, I often wonder if he is my former dog Nuke reincarnated in the puppy's body. A day or so after the death of our German Shepherd, my son came in the front door, pale and disbelieving. He had clearly seen Nuke standing behind him in the reflection on the glass of the front door. I was immediately and constantly urged to go to the humane shelter. The more time ticked away, the more insistent that message was. My heart was NOT ready for another dog whatsoever. Then, I unknowingly chose a puppy that was most likely doomed to be euthanized as soon as the parvo infection became apparent. Duke does not act exactly like Nuke, but he does something that of all the dogs in my life, only Nuke would do. Whenever I came home, Nuke in a sheer overload of joy, would stand next to me and spring straight into the air, over and over again, making a joyful growling whine in his throat until stopped by a big sneezing fit. Duke, the good dog, does this exact same thing. That is, he did this until the years began slowing him down.
Anyone who has ever loved a good dog knows their dog brings unconditional love and loyalty, gifts from the Creator. Duke is the guardian of Spirit Creek Farm, a role he chose for himself and he executes those duties with a mighty heart.
Friday, July 11, 2008
All across the store were large black and blue "medicine shields" with wolves and lightning and cool stuff like that airbrushed on them. They were decorated with chicken feathers and yarn. To me, the most offensive thing about Indian kitsch is the famous painting of a plains warrior on horseback, his head down in defeat. Every time I see "The End of the Trail" I want to tear it down. Maybe white people see it as a symbol and a tribute to America's "glorious" Old West. To me, it is an affront to every living Indian, and an insult to the memory of every warrior who died fighting for his family and way of life, in the past or in modern times.
An entire race of people are carelessly dismissed by America-at-large and the proud traditions of nations turned into Indian kitsch. It always hits me in the heart and I want to shout out the names of the Indian people I love. I could name a long list and not a single Indian named possesses a defeated spirit like that painting "The End of the Trail".
One of the dearest people in my life was Mr. Leonard McKinney. He was a full blood Prairie Band Potawatomi, WWII and Korean veteran, gourd dancer, fluent speaker of Potawatomi, and examples of his extraordinary beadwork are in the Smithsonian. After he and I knew each other well, I was telling him about a commercial aired on the local radio station for a certain pharmacy. Even though there are three Indian reservations in the broadcast area, the pharmacy was advertising with Tonto and the Lone Ranger characters! Of course, Tonto spoke in pidgin English and was the butt of the joke. I was angry at the ignorance of the people at the pharmacy and the radio station! I wrote a letter of protest to the pharmacy but received no reply. I also never heard the commercial again, but I honestly do not know if it was taken off the air. I doubt it.
Leonard, being a much older and wiser human being, and having seen far worse prejudice in his long life, told me simply that Indians did not consider prejudice against them as their problem. His quiet dignity calmed my heart. As the years go by, the more deeply that lesson illuminates my life. That old warrior, that story teller, elder and artist, that dear old white haired man knew his worth, and neither Tonto nor "The End of the Trail" had power over him. I hope that is what all the Indians think.
Pama mine, Nekon.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Tenzing Norgay, the alpha hen of the flock, shown here inspecting the new door lock.
Tiny Elvis, named for his goofy comb and the fact that he's the smallest chicken in the pen. They are porcelain d'uccle bantams. They are not bred down from larger breeds, but authentic bantams so they can still fly. I also believe they have retained their natural chicken intelligence as well. They are not the most beautiful of bantam chicken breeds, but they are vital, smart and full of personality.
Tiny Elvis could have been named Yoda. When I first put the youngsters out with the three big chickens, I was most afraid for El'. When one of the big roosters challenged him, he stretched up to his full height, planted a fierce peck in the general direction of the bully's face, then flew up and over his head! He was like a Master Jedi, kicking the Dark Side's butt!
See Elvis all grown up here.
Now that I know these chickens and recognize their personalities, fried chicken is not as tasty as it once was, that is for sure.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Early this spring I went to the farm store unsupervised and finally succumbed to the irresistible allure of the newborn chicks. I watched the bantams for a good while before choosing the three most vital. I had no idea what breed they were. I chose a tiny blue chick with a spot of light yellow on its head, and two brown striped babies with white breasts. They skittered across the pen with great speed, and acted confident. The blue chick seemed especially independent and intelligent as I watched it interact with the others.
I knew a bit about raising chickens from my mother and grandmother. Should be easy, I thought. The chicks cost $2.49 each, but by the time I purchased a cage, bedding, feed, a waterer and a feeder, I had spent over $50. Great.
At home I set them up in the warmest room of the house, with a desk lamp for heat, and a draped towel to avoid drafts. The chicks survived. They actually thrived. I spent hours on the internet in an effort to determine their breeds. It is not easy to identify living things from photos alone but I thought the blue chick was a porcelain d'uccle. It would be white and mottled blue when it matured. The other two were a mystery but I finally decided they were partridge cochins.
Very soon their fluff was replaced with the first feathers. The blue chick was in fact white and light blue. It was capable of flying up to a small perch in a remarkably short period. Almost immediately, it learned to fly to the door each time I opened the cage, apparently because it enjoyed sitting in my hand. It was so tiny and so brave that I named it Tenzing Norgay after the indomitable sherpa without whom Sir Edmund Hillary would never have successfully climbed Mt Everest.
The other two had no interest in flying out of the cage, loudly peeping in a panic each and every time I picked them up. One was very tiny and received the name of Baby Peep. The other brown chick was quiet in nature and a bit timid. It developed a condition known as "pasty butt". Manure gets spread across the rear and dries into a cement-like substance, preventing the chick from fulfilling its main purpose in life: producing manure. This hapless little chick I named Sweetie Peep. To remove the dried manure, I held the chick under warm running water. It was too much for Sweetie Peep's timid nature. I do not believe it ever recovered from the indignity.
Of course I was hoping for three little hens, but two were roosters. The smartest and bravest chick, Tenzing, turned out to be a hen, naturally. It was a very cold late spring, so the three stayed in the house in a large dog kennel. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to observe them, though it was a lot of work cleaning their cage twice a day.
Baby Peep was destined to become "BIG MAN", the tiniest, most handsome bit of rooster flesh to ever sport green tail feathers. He was always the most vocal, clucking loudly and scratching in the cage any time I spoke to them. In my ignorance, I did not know that his strutting and pecking at the floor was his war dance and warning.
The more handsome he became, the more assertive and macho he grew. His comb grew into a fine fat and firm crown, as befits a king. His wattles grew bright red and impressive. He feathered out into a mix of shimmering red, green and browns. Any time I would speak to the three, Big Man would make his musical rolling cluck, pecking on the bottom of the cage, ripping up a big piece of newspaper and strutting around with it in his beak. How I admired The King in my ignorance!
One sad day I opened the cage and Big Man pecked my hand. It did not hurt much but only because he was a rookie at pecking. I knew nothing about roosters. I was so enamored of the Bantam King, that I good-naturedly took his abuse. He always managed to peck my fingers or hands and draw blood, yet he held still for neck scratches, "bruck-brucking" contentedly, his eyes closed in bliss. I forgave him the attacks, assuming it was the testosterone and he could not help himself. After all, he did not even weigh a full pound! How mean could he possibly get?
While the peeps were maturing, I was constructing a chicken coop. I imagined it in my head and detailed it on a scrap of paper. Did I mention that I owned no power tools? So....several hundred dollars later, (two power saws, a variety of other power tools, a special table and clamps), the coop was completed. I stood back in admiration of my finest carpentry handiwork to date. It was pristine white and included three one-square-foot nest boxes. It also had a double screened picture window with an expensive piece of removable plexiglass for the summer months.
I had to promptly remodel the coop, moving the nests to the outside to free floor space - because I purchased four more peeps! I was hoping for four hens so I would not have to get rid of either rooster. This is the worst mistake new chicken farmers make. I succeeded in buying three more roosters! I took two to my first poultry swap meet but came home with them plus another little porcelain d'uccle hen. Eight chickens! Was I crazy?
As difficult as it was, I decided I should sell or give away one of the big roosters after I put the youngsters in the permanent pen. Two fully grown roosters are too many, I thought. I kept an eye on things as I tried to blend the two "flocks". Much to my dismay, Tenzing preferred Sweetie, so sadly I removed Big Man from the coop at twilight when chickens become somnolent. I brought him into the house and put him in the baby cage in preparation for the swap meet the next morning. All night long he sat forlorn and sadly fluffed on his perch, making the saddest noise over and over again. It sounded just like he was crying. I had no choice but to return him to his flock the next day. Back in the pen, he strutted around, pecking the ground over and over again, then he quietly went into the coop alone. He climbed into one of the nests and spent a long time in there making quiet peeping noises to himself. It sounded as if he were comforting himself at being home again. I will never take Big Man away again.
I slipped out to the pen with a flashlight the other night, wondering how the youngsters were doing in the coop with the three big chickens. Sweetie and Tenzing were cozied up in one nest. I was startled to see Big Man and all five of the youngsters in the same nest box! I guess this will last until the testosterone gets to El' and Hawk.... then I'll be building on to the current chicken facilities.
Friday, July 4, 2008
After the meal was cleared and the mountain of dishes washed, Grandma whipped up the ice cream concoction, handing it to the men for freezing. The men gathered around the old freezer bucket which they packed with ice and salt then wrapped in burlap. They shared the cranking chore beneath the shade trees, maybe indulging in a cold beer as one or the other turned the freezer. Only the men did this - not even the teen-aged cousins were allowed. Idle time never sat easily on those men, but their genuine friendship and caring for one another infused their easy circle as they chatted and smoked and laughed quietly together.
The fathers' circle was not a strict one like the mothers' often were. The men tolerated the children coming through to check on the ice cream's progress. Mothers would have scolded after the second check, but the men would not. Maybe the men enjoyed a day with the kids as much as the kids enjoyed the men.
When at long last the ice cream was ready, the cousins were called in from far and wide. Everyone was given a bowl of the most delicious, icy cold, sweet treat ever invented. There was no air conditioning in those days and no junk food. Ice cream was a genuine treat made even more desirable by the anticipation built waiting for the long process of making it. Every man, woman and child enjoyed that home-made ice cream.
Another round of dish washing by the women and then, finally, it was time for the fireworks - the other holiday chore handled by the men. The meager fireworks were never spectacular to anyone over the age of five, but the entire family enjoyed the display. The "fizzles", the dud fireworks, brought the most laughter. Far too quickly the day came to an end and everyone left for home. It was always a grand day.
Only one uncle is still living. Beginning with my father who died at the young age of 33, all the others are gone: Grandma and Grandpa, my mother, her sister, her sister in law and brother in law. Some of the cousins are gone, too. It is not that I am so old but rather that those times passed quickly away when America moved from the farm. In a single generation, the families scattered far and wide. My children have never had the grand pleasure of anticipating something as simple as homemade ice cream and cheap fireworks and cousins on the Fourth of July. They hardly know their cousins or uncles or aunts, and their fireworks are in fact spectacular - but not as wonderful as those cheap mystery fireworks sputtering in the dark at Grandpa's farm.