Tuesday, December 28, 2021

And Yet Another Christmas...

 Another Christmas arrives.  All the gifts have been wrapped.  Sometimes it is difficult to think of something I am excited to give my kids as gifts.  They are grown, living their own lives with established households, but I still wish to find something that surprises them or makes them happy.  Some years it has been an envelope of money with a couple of small gifts to unwrap - college years, post-divorce years, broke years (for them or me).  Sometimes all of us are broke - together!  

There have been years when none of us felt much like celebrating Christmas, but we always manage to do something together.  December is a busy month for us - two birthdays, Christmas and New Year's Eve.  When the kids were growing up, December would usher in about a six month cash deficit.  It was always worth it.

As for the supreme beings, there are two red Christmas pears. They get apples, pears and carrots at other times of the year, but I like to make sure they have a little something for Christmas morning.  The two wolf sisters are getting new stuffed wiener dog toys.  Both dogs seem to greatly enjoy carrying the toys in their mouth, chewing (mauling) to make them squeak.  The squeaker is eventually torn out of the wiener dog, along with all of the stuffing.  Then the empty pelt, with head attached, is carried about until eventually the entire toy has been ripped into tiny pieces.  This is the third set of stuffed wiener dogs in 2021.  

This year has been both long and very short.  I had surgery on both knees in March.  I had no idea what difficulty and suffering that surgery would bring.  I am genuinely glad that is all in the rapidly receding past.  I am able to do everything I could do before the surgery, most of it without terrible pain, so I consider it a success.  It was genuinely terrible there for awhile.  I hope these bionic knees outlive me because I certainly will not be able to go through that again.   

I have continued to wear a mask though I have had all three vaccinations for covid.  My son, my sister in law, and my 98 year old stepfather have had covid.  My son was not old enough for the vaccine yet when he contracted covid last year.  Now he has had covid and two shots, so I hope that protects him through the winter and beyond.  My daughter is careful to wear a mask, though both my son and my daughter are increasingly put at risk in their places of work by people not wearing masks, and countless others who are not vaccinated.  That the issue of vaccination and masks has become politicized in this country defies basic common sense.  To what end are so many folks being radicalized against their own best interests?  It is tragic. 

There has been a thousand awful things in the world this year.  Sometimes it is hard to keep my balance.  I have to remind myself of the million good things in my own life.  I continue to be healthy and strong enough to live in the country.  I am capable of tending to the horses though the older I am, the more creative I have to be when moving sacks of feed, or mineral blocks, or hay bales.  I have two beautiful black German Shepherd companions that drive me crazy only some of the time.  

I have never lived with two dogs inside the house before.  They are very smart dogs and very honest dogs.  They understand not to get in the trash or destroy the sofa.  Most of the time I do not even have to say a word, just a gesture.  I do not know if it is peculiar to Shepherds or if all dogs behave the same, but at every event throughout the day involving a doorway, these two silently glide around me.  I am never 100% certain which dog is here or there as their movements are fluid and graceful and constant - weaving beside and behind me.  They remind me of dolphins slipping through water with zero resistance and neutral gravity - graceful, circling and constant.  Since they have to be wherever I am, this behavior occurs whenever I leave one room for another, or leave the house, or come into the house.  They must have a common ancestor with dolphins somewhere far back in time. 

Before the year is out, I must thank once again the people who helped me through those long weeks of recovery after the surgery, when I was all but bed-ridden.  My neighbor, Kathyrne, who took care of the horses for week after long week.  She came to sit with me every single day for a time, keeping me from going stir crazy or feeling too sorry for myself.   

I am grateful to the people who looked after my dogs.  Mattie was able to come home after about a month but poor baby Kenzie had to stay at boarding school for months.  

I am grateful to Gary Bacon, who drove from Emporia to Topeka to my house to deliver a prescription for pain medication when I made a mistake in planning ahead!  

I am grateful to my kids who came to see me in the hospital.  My daughter was commuting 200 miles a day to work at the time and my son had to come from KCMO.  My daughter stayed with me for several nights after I came home while still managing her full time job.  

My next door neighbors came the minute I called for something I could not do myself outside.  

I am grateful to all of those incredibly dedicated medical personnel, from the nurses to the housekeepers and the physical therapists.  They work long hours and put up with all manner of behavior.  It is also a very physically demanding job, helping other human beings in and out of bed, in and out of wheelchairs, in and out of the bathrooms.  I could not do such work.

I am grateful to every friend who called or visited or kept me in their prayers.  I had been in the hospital with the birth of my kids but I was not ill or helpless then.  The knee surgery was the first time I had been "hospitalized".  It was about as much fun as you would imagine if someone chopped out both of your knees and replaced them with metal and plastic, then left you half naked and helpless in the care of strangers.  When they made me get out of bed or sit in chairs, ALL sized for much taller human beings than me, my feet would dangle in the air.  It was so excruciatingly painful that I would have given ALL the nuclear launch codes to the Russians, had they asked.  I had no idea of the capacity for physical suffering a human body contains.  I understand that there are people who endure such pain and suffering for long stretches, and many with no hope of recovery.  It was profoundly humbling. I am very grateful that there were no complications with the surgery and I can walk now without pain.  I am grateful to a very talented surgeon.

So, another year passes in the peace and quiet of my humble little home here in the bend of the little prairie creek.  My children are healthy and self-supporting, smart and funny.  My companion animals are fine.  I am fine.  I had a wonderful Christmas with the two most favorite human beings of my entire life.  I am greatly blessed. 

Wishing peace on earth and goodwill toward (some) men - 
from the Crazy Woman, the Supreme Beings, and the wolf dogs of Spiritcreek Farm.

The best photo of them side by side.  Too bad it's through a dog-smeared storm window!


How wonderful life is when you're with your best friend and all the world is green.

  

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Living With the Descendants of Wolves

 My days are now spent in companionship with two black wolves.  Well, they are not genuinely wolves but everyone knows that dogs are descended from wolves - and German Shepherds still resemble wolves - and likely still act somewhat like wolves. 

Mattie is 4 years old and her half sister Kenzie is 1 year old.  They are related by having the same incredible sire.  German Shepherds all share some traits - the main one being high intelligence.  Their genetics dictate that they work with their human being, checking in every little bit to make sure their work is progressing and acceptable to the human.  So, even when endeavoring in an action not sanctioned - such as chasing the horses - German Shepherds turn to look to their human.  Of course, I am yelling and cussing like a sailor.  The dogs apparently assume I am exceedingly happy with their effort.  

While so alike in countless ways, the sisters are very different in personality.  In the house, Mattie is ladylike, careful, obedient, meticulous in her manners.  She does not make a mess when she eats or drinks.  She can be sound asleep by my feet but if I so much as move a muscle, she is instantly awake and on her feet, ready to travel to the kitchen or whatever adventure I have planned in my superior human wisdom.  She is beautiful.  Her face and ears are more foxy and more refined than her sister.

Kenzie is big, raw boned, and as gangly as a timber wolf.  Her ears are absolutely German Shepherd ears - enormous.  Kenzie eats noisily, and sloppily laps up water, leaving the floor wet in an enormous area around the bowl.  Everything she does is head-on, nose first, matter of fact.  Though she knows I am supposed to be the boss, in her estimation I am absolutely not qualified.  She does acquiesce to me but never immediately. Everything is accomplished in her time and choosing.  If I am slow to get up in the morning, she has no problem sticking her cold nose on my foot or arm or whatever body part she can reach.  If I am ever inattentive, she will flat-out poke me with her nose and crowd into my space because, as a human, I am quite stupid and slow - maybe one of the slowest humans she has ever encountered.  

If Kenzie is lying awake on the floor and I get up from my chair, she does not move.  She will not turn her head.  She will not even move her eyes toward me.  It is perfectly acceptable to Kenzie for me to step over her long, sleek body.  She simply lies there, entirely relaxed.  When Mattie is asleep, I try to move quietly, try not to disturb her.  But at the first movement, Mattie is on her feet and out of my way, ready to follow.  

If they were allowed their freedom, they would wander far from home.  Mattie has followed the creek westward several times, being away from home longer each time.  I assumed she was exploring further each time.  I would actively look for her, driving for miles, calling for her.  Too many dangers for a black wolf dog!  Chasing cattle could get her shot on sight.  There are hunters who set traps for fur-bearing animals in this county.  There are bob cats, and a remote possibility of a cougar. Traffic, coyotes, old barbed wire tangles everywhere along the creek and in the timber.  She could not be allowed to wander.  Sadly, it meant she had to be tied up if I could not be outside with her.  This was very unfortunate and made me feel bad for her.  Finally, this year, I had a five-foot chain link fence erected behind the house, 40 feet by 60 feet.  It is enough room for the wolf sisters to run and play safely.  It also prevents the dogs from herding the horses out of the corral and into the pasture.

Kenzie seems content to stay within sight of the house.  She will follow Mattie if I let both of them out at the same time, but if Kenzie is alone, she stays close by.  I was watching her from the front window the other day.  She was a good forty yards away, following some intriguing scent she had found in the leaves.  I wondered just how sensitive her hearing was.  I spoke her name in a very quiet voice.  A human in another room in the house would not have heard me.  Kenzie heard and immediately stopped to give me the German Shepherd stare:  body absolutely still - ears and eyes hyper-focused on me.  I quietly said "Come, Kenzie." She heard, all that distance, through the glass, and came running.  Amazing.

Mattie is convinced the two horses are dangerous killers that must be kept far away from the house and certainly away from the human.  She will race along the corral, hackles up, teeth bared, ferociously barking.  If the horses ignore this horrible warning, she will dip under the fence to chase the killer equines away.  She goes right to their back hooves, snapping and snarling.  I practically perish each time this happens.  One kick and Mattie would be terribly damaged or dead.  The horses are peace- loving creatures and apparently understand that the pain-in-the-ass dogs live here, too.  They tolerate the dogs with remarkable good grace, but their ancient mustang genes certainly recognize the threat of wolves at their heels.  They rush away from Mattie, tails high, manes flying.  I do everything in my power to prevent this from happening but sometimes Mattie gets away.

Alone, Kenzie apparently wants to be friends with the horses, not chasing or barking at them.  If Mattie is barking and threatening, then Kenzie will half-heartedly join in.  I saw her hanging on Wally's tail the other day, and almost passed out.  Wally amazingly accepted this foolishness as play and ignored the dog.  Mattie thinks she is protecting me but Kenzie would not care if the horses kill me.  Poor Mattie has to watch confined in the fence when I go into the corral to tend the supreme beings.  Mattie paces and whines, and makes the most remarkable noises of distress as she watches horses and human walk toward the barn, side-by-side.  To Mattie it must seem as if the human will be killed right before her very eyes while she is helplessly constrained by a mesh of wire and metal poles.   

People say things, like, "I'll bet no one will give you any trouble with those two Shepherds here!"  I do not know what would happen if someone actually tried to cause some harm.  These are two gentle, loving beings who do not know yet that humans can be mean and dangerous.  They are sensible dogs, not prone to dog hysteria or senseless barking.  They rarely bark in the house and never in the car.  If they bark at night, it is because there is some critter - probably a host of critters - moving about under the cover of darkness.  I guess if a maniac tries to come uninvited into the house, we will all find out together what the Shepherds will do.

Otherwise, if I am at the computer, or painting, or watching tv, the dogs are asleep at my feet.  Their quiet satisfaction in simply being fills my home with peace and tranquility.  If I could still hike the creek and the prairie, we would go happily, as a small pack - they the descendants of wolves and me the descendant of hunters.  As dogs, they retain the most valuable quality of wolves, that being their love and loyalty to their family.


Mattie

Kenzie

Baby Mattie

Baby Kenzie

Wolf Sisters playing tug of war


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The End Days of Autumn


I can never capture the true colors.  The tops of the hills and the trees "catch fire" as the sun sets.  It is beautiful.


A terrible photo taken with my phone.  It was beautiful to see Venus and the moon together.


A spectacular chance for a fantastic photo wasted because I was too lazy to take the camera.  


Taken at sunset on a cloudy day.  It was as if the very air was red.  The brilliant crimson shade on everything only lasted for a minute or so - it was the same at dawn and at dusk this day.


A large storm system came down off the Rockies, giving us wind and rain for a few days but ultimately turning the sky a brilliant blue with these scattering clouds.


The leaves along the creek are in their annual descent, gradually opening up the eastern horizon from my bed in the mornings.  Of course, the horizon was blazing with deep oranges and reds - beyond my cell phone capabilities to record accurately.  But you get the idea.

In every season, I fall more in love with the earth.

 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

As We Say In Kansas.....Welp!

There is a wonderful little piece of magic that exists in the tiny remnants of a village known as Volland. It is a lingering dash of white settler history beside the railroad track in Wabaunsee County. The old  brick general store building was saved, restored and repurposed. 

The Volland Store now offers a variety of activities - art shows, poetry reading, and activities like learning the function and history of such things as root cellars and big barns, then touring various locations.   I have purchased locally harvested honey and hand-made soap there.  It is a fine building, reimagined for the twenty-first century, located in a beautiful little hollow in the emerald green of the Kansas Flint Hills. 

While checking the Volland Store website to see what might be happening, I discovered a mystery called NuPenny.  People were invited to: "Bring your lawn chair and a picnic – Visit with neighbors and make new friends as you wait for sunset. Watch NuPenny emerge as light fades and darkness falls." 

I was intrigued! What did this mysterious contraption do? Play fantastical music? Offer a cosmic light show? I HAD to go see it for myself. 

Soooooooooooo...

I dragged my neighbor here...

 

to see this.


 but NuPenny does only this.


Of course, the whole point was to be there for this - a lovely Kansas sunset, which both of us see every single evening - she from her horse barn and me from my front porch.

                                              WELP!


(The Volland Store  follow this link for more information.)

Thursday, August 12, 2021

For Christ's Sake, man!

If you live long enough, you begin to think nothing will surprise you.  You tend to think you have seen or, at least, heard it all!  There may be nothing new under the sun but an old woman can still be taken entirely off guard.

There was a huge jungle of sumac growing around the barns.  A few plants are okay, but the few had, in one season, exploded into a seven feet tall forest crowding the barns. It was an eyesore.  Should the prairie catch fire here, nothing would save the "barns" with so much vegetation almost smothering the structures.  I decided to hire a man who advertised machinery and services needed.  

I left a message on the business phone and was happy when my phone call was returned the next day.  Even better, he came out later that day to take a look and discuss costs.  I was thrilled when he actually arrived the day after that and made fast work of several problem areas.  That level of customer service earns my sincere and appreciative loyalty to a company or service provider.

Our interactions had been friendly but polite and business appropriate, though he did ask quite a few personal questions.  It was a bit awkward, but I did not think too much of it because he seemed like a very nice person and I was entirely comfortable doing business with him.  He appeared to be my age.  . 

I had texted my address to him first so he could find my house.  We exchanged a few lines to verify the time.  We exchanged brief messages about the extreme heat and he asked how things looked after he was finished.  I thought that it was nice of him to follow up.

Entirely unexpectedly, I received a much later text saying that he had wanted to ask me something but had chickened out.  He was sure I would laugh at him and just tell him no. 

I have to admit that I was stunned.  It has been many, many years since any man has shown even a glimmer of interest in me other than as a friend.  I felt as if the worst thing possible had happened!  He seemed like a very nice person and I certainly did not want to hurt his feelings but I held NO interest toward him.  So, I did not respond.  Chickenshit of me, but the easiest for everyone involved.  He texted again, assuming I did not get the last text.

So... I considered.  I realized he had asked enough questions of me when he was here that he knew I was not married, that I bought this place and have improved it all on my own, that my kids were adults and doing well for themselves. (I cannot help but brag about my kids having college educations and Master's degrees!)  He had even found out that my ferocious German Shepherd is a big, hairy cupcake who wants nothing more than petting and attention from all human beings, strangers or not. 

I thought about how unbelievably difficult it would be for me to ask someone out for a cup of coffee at my age.  It would be painfully difficult and I would certainly feel as if that person would "laugh and just say no", too.  If nothing else, I did not want to be rude to such a nice person.

First things first.  I had to make sure he was not a crazy Trump supporter.  There are thousands of  them in Kansas.  It would be a deal breaker right out of the gate.  So, I finally texted "Well, if you were going to ask me if I was going to vote for Trump in 2024, I would have laughed and told you no."

He texted that no, he was not a Trump supporter either, and added that he chickened out asking me in person and he was sorry that he had not asked.

I was greatly relieved that he was not a Trumper but I was also thinking, "For Christ's sake, man.  You need to buck up!  We are not in junior high."  I was not going to make it easy.  He needed to ask.  

After another few irritating texts from him assuring me that he was sorry he chickened out, that he was certain I wanted nothing to do with an old man like him, blah, blah, blah, he finally got the courage to ask.    

No, he wasn't interested in having coffee with me, which is what I had assumed.  He said he was not married and he thought my chest looked very good.  He wanted to ask me if he could touch it.

Well.  

Well...

Well.......I was not prepared for that.  It took me a while to collect myself.  I finally texted back that if he had asked me, I would have laughed and certainly told him no, and that there was nothing left to say at that point.  Then I blocked his number.

For Christ's sake, man!  

In the next few minutes, I realized how stupid I had been to answer his personal questions so casually.  If there was something truly wrong with him, he now knew enough to cause me some trouble, including that he did not even have to worry about the dog.

In the days since this unfortunate exchange, I have decided that maybe he was just drunk texting or something.  He did teach me a valuable lesson about not telling strangers anything personal.  The next time someone asks me about my dog, I will say she is a vicious killer!  They do not have to know she only kills stuffed toys. 

A woman's vanity dies a hard death.  

Vicious Killer protecting her owner.


Monday, March 1, 2021

Crows

It is hard to realize just how large crows are until you are within a few feet of them.  They are far larger than chickens and much more intelligent.  I love hearing them, though theirs is not a musical calling.  Documentaries proving their amazing intelligence impress me.  I realized long ago that I had never seen a dead crow on the road.  They are smart to fly away from the traffic.  It warmed my heart to read a scientific article explaining their family groups and their social lives - that the young adults stay with their parents to help raise the youngsters for a year or two.   

I was in a MacDonald's parking lot enjoying my senior coffee (75 cents, thank you so much) when a small flock of crows landed in the parking space next to me.  I scrounged to find some treat for them.  I carry a baggie of dog food for instant reward for good puppy behavior but there were only a few pieces left.  I scattered the kibble out the window and, though they were all quick to try for a piece, there was no squabbling or fighting.  I wished I had more so they each could have had some.  

One of the crows had a broken leg permanently turned all the way inward.  The crow seemed comfortable and capable despite this awful handicap.  Another was missing most of its beak.  How in the world did that happen, I wondered.  I was shocked to see the rough condition of the little flock.  I suppose city crows run afoul of humans and their unnatural technology all the time.  Maybe, because they live in extended familial groups, injured members can survive at a higher rate than other birds who do not live in such groups. 

There are many crows in Manhattan, Kansas.  I see them everywhere diligently searching for food.  How can birds their size possibly find enough to eat in the winter months?  It is a mystery to me.   

The wild crows that visit my property never come into the yard, even though it is several acres.  They fly over my house and they visit along the creek.  I hear them above the pasture, but they are never close enough for me to see if they have damaged members in their flock.  I would love to feed them but I think they are better off making their own living far away from human beings.  

Photo: Paul Powers/Great Backyard Bird Count
Follow this Audubon link for more information
American Crow Audubon Page

I have never seen baby American Crows before!  

This photo is from a blog page on the Slater Museum of Natural History, Washington State.  It is one in a series of photos of a nest over about a month's time.  Something you are not likely to observe for yourself! 

Follow this link to the:   Slater Musuem of Natural History

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Fixin' to Get Ready

I celebrated another birthday last month.  It is not a big (or even a little) deal at my age.  Still, I always recall the birthday cakes my mother made for me.  One year it was a pink birthday cake decorated with a ballerina, and the gift of a pink chenille bedspread with a ballerina on it, too.  (This may have been inspired by an entirely unexpected, out-of-character but deadly serious imitation of a prima ballerina pirouetting through the living room for the benefit of my Aunt Mary.) 

Another birthday is always a good time to stop for a minute and take stock.  I paused long enough to consider I am old and living in a state filled with assholes who refuse to take the covid virus seriously or even wear a mask.  ('Murica!)  I am very careful but it is possible that despite my best precautions, that virus, carried by red necked, gun-totin', truck drivin', maskless "patriots", could be my abrupt and unexpected end.  (I would sure hate it if the worst of red state Kansas finally got the best of me!  I have been resisting them my entire life.) 

After a brief search regarding a tiny local cemetery, I discovered some of my neighbors are the trustees.  So, on the last day of 2020, I chose my final resting place a few miles from my house.  I already have the deed!  So, unless something improbable happens and I end up living in a cliffside cabin facing the mighty Pacific, I will most likely spend the rest of my days in good ol' Kansas, my ashes returned to the soil that once belonged to the old buffalo hunters.  I have a Native American name and was told that when the time comes, they will see me coming and joyously welcome me to their fire.  That is good enough for me.  

In a few days I will be signing all the paperwork of my last will and testament.  It is remarkably simple.  As I read through it, I thought attorneys are the best snake oil salesmen to ever arise from the evil dust of this old earth.  A score of  pages to say my kids split everything 50/50 and whatever they decide is fine.  Whatever.  It feels good to have most of the big issues settled, and I did learn a few things.  While you are alive, you can title a paid-off car to anyone you choose.  At your demise, it automatically becomes the designated person's property with zero fuss.  

I do not have a sense of foreboding or doom, or feel that the end might be near.  Rather I just feel I should get things lined out and be done with it.  On a typical bright and windy Kansas day, I selected my cemetery plot.  It was the last day of 2020.  When I woke up in 2021, I felt like a real adult.  


My probable view of eternity.  When I found this photo, I had already titled it "The Way Home".  Cool.