Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Best Birthday Present Ever

The photo on the right is a self portrait. Though it bears a certain resemblance to the Light at the end of the tunnel in a near death experience, or the brilliant aura of a highly evolved spiritual person, it is only me, wearing the best birthday present ever.

It is an Energizer L.E.D. headlamp with an adjustable headband in stylish green and black comfort elastic, and three settings. The portrait shows the main head lamp. There is a "low beam" with two smaller LED's that look like Terminator eyes, and the infra red beams that look like devil eyes glowing in the dark.

My kids gave this to me for my birthday a few days ago. It is to wear to the barn in the winter mornings when I have to feed the horses before dawn. Luckily, I have a complete and utter lack of vanity which enables me to actually wear it.

I think it blinds the horses or maybe it just irritates them. Duke was embarrassed for me, but he still accompanied me to the barn. The chickens crowded around their little front door when I looked in on the them, their little eyes glowing, as they jostled and craned their necks to investigate.

I am fully aware of the implications here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Formerly Known as Tiny Elvis

This is Elvis, the Porcelain D'Uccle rooster I raised from a peep. When he was an adolescent, he was so goofy looking with his silly top knot comb. He zipped around in the pen with a certain attitude, like a little punk rocker. That comb reminded me of the famous Elvis hair style from the 1950's. Because I knew he would be handsome when he grew up, I named him Tiny Elvis.

Almost fully mature, his iridescent feathers befit a king. He is now simply "Elvis".

Elvis is the most vocal of all the roosters, and he crows at all hours of the day and night. He is practicing to woo the laaaaaaadies! In his mind, he is a hunk of burning love.

As I suspected, Elvis is even more fearless than Big Man, the smallest but most dominate rooster. Unfortunately for me, my work coat is red and all four roosters try to attack me when I am wearing it. I have to chase them around and throw the plastic feed cup at them at least once a week. This does not hurt them, but they act as if they have been attacked by the most horrifying predator known to all of chickendom. Well...they ARE being attacked by the worst of all predators known to chickendom. Even if they can not recall that I have handled them gently and lovingly, fed and watered them every single day of their lives, they are not so dumb after all.

See Elvis as a goofy adolescent here:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Morning

Christmas dawn was beautiful, but fleeting. The ephemeral glow rising behind the black lace of bare trees was a delicate greeting out the east window. Once again, I was thankful for my humble home here beside Spirit Creek.

Christmas has lost almost all of its magic for me. My children are grown and the one beautiful granddaughter - Miss Thing, as I affectionately think of her - is tearing around in a black Mustang. Not much an old hippie grandmother can offer by way of Christmas magic to her these days!

Every year I recall my childhood excitement over the magic of Santa Claus. I gave serious consideration to the magical aspects of Santa Claus when I was a child. As a three year old, I accepted the magic, but by the age of six I was seriously doubting some of that story. It just did not add up. By age eight, I knew better than to believe in Santa Claus. Christmas has held a shade of disappointment and depression for me ever since I concluded Santa was a fairy tale.

To shake off the nostalgia of Christmas Past this morning, I planned special treats for the animals of Spirit Creek Farm. Ms Ginger and Ms Annie, the resident Horse persons, received a red apple and a green apple diced up in their feed this morning. Ginger expressed her appreciation for a Christmas treat with her usual regal disregard. I was summarily dismissed from the royal feed tub once breakfast was served. Annie has not yet learned what treats are. Tart Granny Smith apple bites are a surprise rather than a treat. There was much head tossing as she tasted the tartness and mouthed the unexpected textures of the apples in the feed. She makes me laugh. There is a sweetness about her that is so endearing.

The ol' Dukester, that good old dog, was in his usual high dog spirits. For one thing, it is really, really cold. He chases around like a pup, and flops over on his back in the snow, growling his delight at the weather and the fact that I am home in the middle of the week. He was jealous of the horses' treats and I had to admonish him to get out of both feed tubs. I do not understand why, but Duke thinks he has to eat horse feed. He thinks he has to eat chicken feed and cat food, too. But, if I leave him a little bowl of horse feed or chicken feed, it is left untouched. It is not a serious character flaw for a good dog like Ol' Duke, but I think dogs have been our companions for such a long evolutionary time that they are acquiring our worst traits, like jealousy! Santa Claus did not forget the ol' Dukemeister, jealousy aside. He got a warm, steaming soup bone served up in his dish this morning. He stared at it so I had to encourage him toward his bowl. (Maybe he was thinking: There IS a Santa Claus after all!) Merry Christmas, Duke, you good old dog!

Big Man and his merry band of trickster chickens were not forgotten on Christmas morn. I scrambled a half dozen eggs, shells and all, and threw it in with their scratch this morning. The roosters have a little ceremony they do whenever they find new food. They test it to make sure it is edible, then they call the others with a low rolling cluck, as they peck the food and drop it repeatedly. The rest of the flock know to come investigate. Of course, the hens have already recognized it as food and have been gobbling up as much as they can, but I am sure they appreciate the roosterly good manners. I only felt a twinge of guilt feeding eggs to my chickens but the eggs were not relatives, you know.

Mrs. Kitty received warm milk poured over her kibbles this morning, and I know she thoroughly enjoyed that treat. But she does not give a rat's behind that it is Christmas, either.

As for me, I am going to take my little bag of cheap Christmas presents over to my daughter's new home, only five miles from my front door, as soon as I finish this post. No more traveling 1,500 miles, or 3,000 miles, or more to see my daughter at Christmas. Now she is home right here in the Flint Hills. We will be painting and scraping old wallpaper today - not the usual Christmas. My handsome son will be there too. It will be the best Christmas.

Merry Christmas from Spirit Creek Farm.
Peace on earth, good will toward (some) men and all animals.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gingeris Khan, the Horse Empress

This is a digital photo of a paper photo - Ginger when she was two years old, the first year she came to Spirit Creek Farm.

I do not know how Ginger, my American Quarter Horse mare, would stack up in a herd of other horses but I do know she would not give up her crown as Empress of Spirit Creek Farm without a tremendous battle of will. She is not a mean horse, but a willful one and I recognize that determination.

I do not know a lot about her early life. She was foaled on a farm somewhere by Lawrence, Kansas. The owners were allowing their horses to freely breed, so Ginger was sold away from her mother and her herd due to overcrowding. At her second home, she was a bit flighty and "buddy sour" and so she was sold again, the second time she was not wanted. The day she was moved to my house, Ginger trustingly loaded for her second owner, not realizing she would never see Mac again, her beloved stablemate. I only had an eighty foot pen with a three sided run-in for shade when she first arrived. Before spring was gone, there was a nice open-sided barn for her to shelter in. It took another season to get the full pasture fenced so she had space to roam.

When Ginger lived in the corral, she was fed twice a day, groomed, petted, loved and fed carrots or apples. She eventually seemed to bond with me. It was a lot of work when she was in the pen, keeping manure out of the stall and out of the pen itself. I spread a mountain of horse manure around my pasture from the back of my pickup. The last big mountain of horse manure became so large that there was enough to spread over the entire pasture. I hired one of my neighbors who owns all the correct farming equipment to spread an enormous pile of horse manure. Whenever I looked at that huge mound, of which I had personally scooped every steaming ounce by hand, I became mighty self righteous. Ginger should love me unequivocally, I thought. She should appreciate how much I work and sacrifice for her, I thought.

In the deep of winter, when the temperature does not rise above freezing for days, eventually the water tank freezes solid. I have to haul water buckets up hill for Ginger, and I am old... and overweight... and my knees hurt. She should love me and appreciate me, I always think sorrowfully to myself. But horses, especially bossy horses, do not think in these terms. They seem to know they are descendants of the great horse nations that predate human beings on this planet by thousands of years. They apparently have genetic memories of the time when humans were slow, miserable beings, huddled in caves, banging rocks together for amusement. In the considered opinion of modern horses, human beings have not evolved much. In Ginger's opinion, we have not evolved at all.

She came to me knowing most of the things she needed to know - how to lead on a halter, pick up her feet and stand for a farrier. She has never liked having a bit in her mouth, but willingly allows one to be placed there. I can saddle her, flap towels around her, and place a fly mask over her eyes, but I had to work really hard to teach her fly spray would not hurt. She hated the sound of it.

No one had ever ridden her, so I sent her off to be trained for riding the summer she was four. I regretted leaving her at those stables, though I could clearly see she would be well cared for. She would have many horse friends, too. I thought she would enjoy that time away at horse school.

When she came home, I was thinking I had a finished horse to ride. As I was picking myself up from the ground, I realized that Ginger held the same opinion of hauling me around as she held for fly spray: NO WAY. She held as much respect for me in the saddle as she has for me scooping out her stall. Not only was it embarrassing to fall off a horse (for the first time in my entire life) but it hurt my feelings. I was so bummed out that I considered selling Ginger to someone who could still ride, someone with good knees.

So, sadly I advertised "Pretty little Quarter Horse mare for sale." I was selling her very cheaply, and not even factoring in all the labor for hauling water and scooping manure! A young cowboy came to look at her. I had never personally sold a horse before, so I had no idea what I was doing. Not to mention, my heart was broken at the idea of Ginger going to yet another home.

I saddled her up and snapped a long line on her. I told the young cowboy that anything Ginger did not know was my fault. As I tried to long line her, for the first and only time ever, she reared up like Roy Roger's Trigger- right in front of the young cowboy and his girlfriend! I was appalled! He said she was a nice looking little mare but too much horse for him. As he walked away, I looked at Ginger and she was looking back at me. Devil horse!

When I told my kids what happened, they each had the same separate response: "She doesn't want to be sold, Mom!" Well, duh! She would have to work and behave herself if a cowboy owned her.

Eventually, I had a replanted tall grass pasture, and a good fence around about 22 acres, so I was able to let Ginger out of the dry lot where she had lived since she came to Spirit Creek Farm. My friend Kathyrne helped lead Ginger all the way around the perimeter of the pasture, along the fence, as a safety precaution. When we took the halter off and turned Ginger loose, she began to trot, then run and then full-out gallop in ecstatic freedom. Her hoof beats were literally booming on the soft ground as she picked up speed, and tears welled in my eyes at her joy.

Since that time, Annie has come to Spirit Creek Farm, another post for another day. And that brings us right up to today, a cold Kansas morning when my knees were really aching and my face was freezing in the arctic conditions. It snowed and it was a bitterly cold and windy night, so the horses were eagerly awaiting breakfast. First, Ginger did not think she had to back up so I could get in the gate. Then she was immensely put out when I picked up her feed tub and tried to knock the snow and ice out of it before I poured the feed in. She kept crowding me, tossing her head, and letting me know that as a servant I was truly lacking in all ways. She worked herself into such a snit, that when I insisted she back up, she actually turned her hind end toward me and bucked up with both rear hooves pointed in my direction! She did not actually kick at me. If she had, I would probably be dead or in the hospital right now. If she had kicked and missed, SHE would be in a horse hospital right now.

So, Gingeris Khan, the Horse Empress of Spirit Creek Farm and I are going to come to a little understanding: I will not ride her, she will not threaten to kick me. I will bring the feed, she will not crowd me at the gate or the tub. She will get room, board and free medical, I get to take care of her. She gets to boss Annie around, I get to look out my window any time to see two horses contentedly grazing in my restored pasture. Somehow I think these negotiations will require all of my evolutionary gifts.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


"The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.

They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."
- by Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928

If anything sums up my feelings about animals, both wild and domestic, it is Henry Beston's eloquent thoughts.

My maternal grandparents were self-sufficient farmers. They raised sheep, pigs, cows, chickens and all the crops needed to feed their livestock. They also tended a large, productive garden and preserved as much produce as possible. Grandma put up wild fruit too - elderberry jelly, for instance. They sold the excess milk from their two cows and sold eggs from all of Grandma's chickens to help bring in a bit of extra cash. They themselves drank the milk, ate the chickens and the eggs. They butchered a calf from one of the milk cows every year. The beef and poultry were kept frozen, wrapped in white butcher paper, stored in the "locker" in town. (Before the days of home freezers, each little town and burg had a meat locker where people could rent space to store their own frozen meat.) Whenever my grandparents went to town, they would stop by the locker for several frozen packages of meat to restock their refrigerator at home.

Their livelihood was dependent upon their animals, and their lives were dependent upon their animals. None of the animals were kept as pets but my Grandfather never abused any of them in his care. He got up before dawn every day of his farming life and tended to all the animals before he himself ate breakfast. He was a gentle old man with the milk cows, patiently waiting for them to find their stall and situate themselves before he started milking. Of course, he was an old man by the time I knew him, but I can not imagine that he was ever anything but kind to his livestock. He had respect for them and some measure of affection for them as well.

My paternal grandfather raised Hereford cattle. He knew all of his cattle by sight, amazingly enough. Beef cattle are roped, de-horned, branded, castrated, herded up and hauled off to market. I was never around the messiest activities, but I am certain all activities were expertly handled with the least amount of pain and distress to my Grandfather's animals as possible. Beef cattle are not coddled by anyone but some ranchers treat them better then others.

My paternal grandfather was also a genuine cowboy, an old bronc rider. I have photos of him as a young man riding saddle broncs at Kingman, Kansas. He knew all about horses. The old ways of "cowboying" were extreme compared to some of the more enlightened methods of today. I am certain my grandfather was as kind to his horses as anyone knew to be in those days. He cared for his livestock and held affection for them as well.

It was my mother who taught my brothers and me how to respect and care for animals. She loved all animals and held a gentleness and an empathy toward them. If a dog growled over its food bowl, we were taught to leave that dog alone while he was eating. I see on television that it is common practice to have those types of "food aggressive" dogs destroyed in shelters. If children have not been taught to respect a dog's space, then perhaps it is better for all involved to put those dogs down. Personally, I feel it is a grave injustice to some of the dogs.

Our mother taught us to be kind to animals. No one was allowed to pull on our pets, or squish them, or treat them roughly, not even young children. We were taught to treat animals gently and with respect. We knew to be careful of strange dogs. We knew to be very watchful around all the livestock, especially animals with babies.

The Native American respect for animals as fellow beings on this planet, as brothers whose sacrifice fed and clothed The People has always resonated with me. How simple it is to acknowledge the sacrifice of any animal that gives its life so we may live. Our current American society holds little respect for the animals slaughtered in the millions so we may eat, or earn a living. It is an illness in our culture to consider cows and chickens as stupid beasts. Comedians make fun of them. Animals are simply commodities, not living beings. It seems that a majority of "city folk" think intelligence has been domesticated out of cattle and pigs and chickens and other food animals. That is a mistake.

Earlier this summer I parked my truck along the county road to sit quietly sketching the scenery. When I first arrived, a herd of perhaps thirty-five cows were watching me intently, most of them along the fence. In a short while one of the cows began to moo, but I did not pay much attention. When I happened to look up, all the cattle had moved out of sight just over a rise, except one. She was standing alone, carefully watching me and my truck. I realized she was the one who had warned her charges to safety, out of sight of the human in the truck. She was bravely standing between her herd and me. If cattle were allowed freedom, if all the millions of miles of barbed wire vanished and the cattle could roam, they would survive.

Cattle have a herd society when they are allowed to live as naturally as possible. Sometimes the calves are watched over by one or two babysitters, while the mothers get a break away from them. When the bulls are allowed to live among the cows and calves, even the bulls have been known to babysit.

I admire people who can be vegetarians, but that diet is not for me. I can not seem to survive without meat. I send up silent acknowledgment for the give-away of the animal when I eat. I have performed simple ceremonies on behalf of the animals that have given away so that I may live.

I understand the extreme militant faction of groups like PETA, but I do not agree with their tactics. I do think we could make some fundamental and relatively inexpensive changes in the way animals are raised and slaughtered. I believe intensive corporate farming is inhumane. Once the world has been depleted of cheap fossil fuels, then we all will have to move to a local economy out of necessity. Once again people who lived like my grandparents will be needed, farmers and ranchers who supplied their own food with surplus for sale to their neighbors. It will go better for ourselves and the animals.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Large Moth

Antherea Polyphemus

This beautiful moth was photographed right outside my front door earlier this year. Its wingspan was about five inches across. I had noticed a furry looking large bug stuck on the screen when I left the house, but did not look closely. It was a wasted opportunity because when I returned, this moth was motionless at the bottom of the door. I could have observed it emerging from its cocoon and watched its wings unfurl!

I did a bit of research and found this is a giant silkmoth, named for the eyespots on its hind wings. Polyphemus was the Cyclops of Greek mythology, blinded by Odysseus in Homer's poem, The Odyssey. I learned the feathery antennae catch the pheromones of the female moth, helping the males to find a mate. Once they have emerged as flying moths, they can not eat and die within about a week.

As with countless other beautiful species, these moths too are under assault. Some parasitic wasps and flies, introduced pests, are thought to be decimating the population of the polyphemus caterpillars. It is also thought that leaving outdoor lights on at night distract and disorient these large moths, interfering in their mating chances. I was glad then to know my decision to not have an automatic yard light on my property was a good one, and may have contributed to this moth being on the screen door in the first place.

When I first moved to Spirit Creek farm, the lights of Topeka often glowed in the eastern sky, but the rest of the local sky was dark. But each year, more and more mercury vapor lights ring the horizon, and the recent towering lights along the interstate are so bright that even being over five miles distant, they interfere in viewing the night sky. I have witnessed aurora borealis several times from the knoll where my barn sits. Often it is such a faint glow that it is easily obscured by the interstate lights now. Do we honestly need all this extra light? Really?

I have a yard light, an incandescent bulb, but I can turn it on and off at will. Rarely do I ever need to turn it on. On clear nights, the starlight is sometimes bright enough to cast a faint shadow as I walk my property. Once human beings turn off their electric lights, they discover they have a very serviceable and reliable natural ability to see in the dark. But, in the dark, even a little bit of artificial light is blinding. People in the city have no chance to realize how well they can see in the dark. If the artificial light is blinding to humans, I wonder how much worse it is for all the animals, who have been evolving much longer than humans on this planet, without the benefit of artificial light. Why are human beings such a destructive force on everything they touch? Why did our technology outstrip our collective wisdom at such an incredible rate? And what can we do to change?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Merle's Silo

The Silo beside Dog Leg Creek

I have painted this silo scene about a dozen times, both on site and at home from photos. I have yet to capture the true beauty I find in this vista, with all shades of green found in the prairie, crowned by the tower of dusky red. I have failed to capture in a photo what it is I see either, though I've taken dozens of this very view. I dislike capturing structures in my "nature" photos, but for some reason, I love this silo and the impact it has in the landscape. The day I took this photo was a partly cloudy day, so there were large swaths of glowing green wherever the sun shone on the distant hills. I also love seeing the dark blues of a stormy sky against the green of the landscape, which were recorded in this photo.

I often wish my artistic ability matched my "artistic eye". It is discouraging to not be able to paint exactly what I see. One time an artist I admire very much told me that no artist ever manages to paint exactly what he sees. That encouraged me only a little. It is still a worthy project for me to try to capture with paint and paper the emotional impact the red silo has amidst this green and lovely Kansas view. I do not know how to convey distance in neither a painting nor a photograph, which is a large part of the visual impact of this valley. Even if I never get it just right, I still have the living view itself. And that is better than any painting or photo.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Children

This is a photo of my children. I think they are beautiful. There are times when I may be looking at either of them and become amazed that these two people chose me as their mother. Even though both are grown now, in my mind they still exist as babies, toddlers, middle schoolers, and teenaged brats!

They were born fourteen years apart. I raised both of them essentially alone, though their respective fathers were around for about two to three years each, then faded out of the picture. There is no changing the past but I can state without reservation that parenthood is much easier if there are two parents. Two parents can tag-team a willful teen. Two parents can usually outsmart a three year old. Two parents can shore up one another for those late night feedings, fevers, baseball tournaments and calls to the school.

These are the kids who spoke disrespectfully to their mother, broke or lost their expensive toys, lied to and disobeyed me at times. These two wrecked cars and broke the law and got in a little trouble at school. One ran away and both have been arrested. One fell fifteen feet from a tree. One was in a bad car accident. Both have drank alcohol and done many other things against my best efforts to teach them otherwise. But so far, they are still alive and well.

Of course, they had a crazy mother who cussed like a sailor, smoked like a chimney, and rode a Harley. Now that they are grown, I understand how I SHOULD have raised them. Somehow we made it to today, and all of us are still speaking. Somehow, my kids know that I love them beyond imagining.

I had the opportunity to go into Lodge with both of my children several years ago. Though most of it is a knowing that can not be expressed in words, I caught a glimpse of who these two people truly are.... I caught a sense of their true spirits, of their souls. I saw that this life is just a tiny sliver of who they are, and that being their mother is just a tick of time in eternity. It was humbling. It was profound. It was almost beyond description. I can not say that revelation excused me from all the poor decisions I made as their mother, but I did feel somewhat better seeing how awesome they are in their spiritual aspect.

Yet, we are here on this earth as physical beings, to experience being born and growing up and growing old. We are here to experience the power and pain of free will. We are here to love one another, to worry and argue and cry together. We are here to laugh and enjoy life and live in this mysterious, beautiful world. I would not trade away one second of my life with these two people, not for anything.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Blue Biker Family

This is my daughter sitting on her own Ninja sport bike, wearing a pink motorcycle jacket. (I tried to raise her better!) She should be riding a Harley Davidson. Instead, she chose a "rice grinder".

I can not be surprised that my daughter purchased and rides her own motorcycle. When she was a girl, she rode behind me on my 1979 Harley Davidson Superglide. About the time she discovered boys, she became too cool to ride with me any longer. She grew up, moved away from home, eventually got married. Almost two years ago she surprised me by announcing she had her own motorcycle! I am very proud of her independence. When I tease her about not riding a Harley, it is all in good fun.

This summer she traded this red Ninja in for the same model in the 2009 edition, and it is blue. Her husband rides a big sports bike, also blue. My current Harley, a 2006 Street Bob, is blue. We are the Blue Biker Family.

Now that my daughter has been through the rider safety course and has over a year's experience riding her own motorcycle, I let her ride my latest Harley one afternoon when we had ridden to Lawrence to visit my son. She rode smoothly down the street on a REAL motorcycle, handling a 1442 cc engine - that is, 88 cubic inches - of American iron. No mother has ever been more proud!

My daughter sitting on my Harley.
Watching his sister take off on my bike, my son wanted to ride her Ninja. I was certain she would just say no, but she gave him the quick tour of the controls, and off he went. We held our breath as we watched him roll down the street. This is the same guy who has wrecked every single thing he has ever ridden or driven with wheels, starting with his little toddler ride-toy with handle bars when he was two. Luckily, the day he was trying out his sister's bike, he came back in one piece. Naturally, he then wanted to ride his mother's Harley. That was a difficult parenting choice, let me tell you.

My son preparing to take my bike for a spin.

I insisted that he wear a helmet and made him go over all the controls and repeat their function back to me. He was a bit nervous, but I was more nervous! He took off down the street and disappeared around a corner. He was gone longer than I expected. Just as I was beginning to panic, he came back into view, still riding conservatively. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and thanked the universe for not punishing me for breaking the cardinal rule of motorcycle ownership: never let an inexperienced rider take your motorcycle for a ride.

My son has since tried to talk me into riding my Harley again, but I flatly refuse. After he has taken the safety rider course, I might consider it. He is currently saving money to buy his own motorcycle. What self-respecting young man would not want his own motorcycle when both his mother and his sister ride? As much as my daughter and I worry about one another's safety out on the road, both of us are absolutely terrified of the idea of my son riding. He is too impulsive and fearless. But, once you have had the wind in your hair, it is only a matter of time before you are on the open road on a bike of your own.

Now I understand how much my own mother must have worried about me when I first started riding. No one expected me to be able to ride such a big bike. I am not 5 ft 2 inches tall. Back in those days, I only weighed 95 pounds. But nothing was going to stop me from riding. My son rode with me a few times as a little boy, but he would not sit still and would not hang on very well. I was very much afraid he was going to get hurt, so eventually I parked my bike. Now that my kids are grown, I am riding again. 80 miles an hour down the highway on a big rolling hunk of Milwaukee iron is just as wonderful now as it was when I was younger, maybe even better. And to be out there riding with my daughter again is the best!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Thunderstorms and Lightning

photo from public domain
Living in Kansas, you become familiar with thunderstorms and lightning because they happen any time of the year. Early this morning, the thunder rolled in and a spectacular storm lit the sky. It was unexpected since the weather has been mild and cool. One enormous clap of thunder shook the entire house and sent waves of adrenaline through me. I think only in war would a human being hear anything louder than thunderclaps directly overhead.

In my years in Kansas I have witnessed some amazing storms. One particular summer a storm blew down from the Rockies that flattened most of state's electrical infrastructure. The night it hit, I had fallen asleep with the front door open and woke to the comforting sound of distant thunder. I remained still, enjoying the cooling peace. Strange flashes of light, irregularly timed and oddly colored, drew me to the open door. The red, yellow, blue and amber flashes of color were lightning unlike any I had ever seen. I stood transfixed by the eerie strobing lights. That is why I was in the door when the fury hit. Incredulously, I watched the trees, illuminated by the street lights, bend low in unison in a strange and silent manner. Before I realized what I was seeing, the wind and noise exploded against the house with a howling blast.

I slammed the door shut about the same time the electricity went out. The full force of the storm came on - the wind was a wailing fury and the boards of the old house began to creak and moan. There was no basement and it was already too dangerous to leave the house for better cover. I was afraid. I was angry at myself for not paying better attention to the weather.

I woke my little girl and calmly led her to the center hallway. Covering her body with mine, we rode the storm out lying face down against the stairway wall. I was acutely aware of the large west window at the end of the hall and the groaning of the old house as it flexed and swayed in the furious battering. It creaked and moaned like a wooden ship at sea. It seemed the howling would never stop. I listened intently to the tones in the wind, straining to hear the first roaring of a tornado. Surely something this powerful was fueled by a massive tornado!

At last the fury calmed enough that the house was no longer groaning. That old place had weathered one more mighty storm, but some of the trees in the yard did not. All across Kansas there was tremendous wind damage, but no reports of tornadoes. It blew down electric lines over the entire state - a record breaking storm in scope and extent of damage.

I had seen colored lightning before but it was not associated with a massive storm and nothing as spectacular as the one that sent me cowering in the hallway. When I was in high school in a little town in north central Kansas, the dry and hot summer nights would sometimes generate heat lightning. It would flash across the sky with a perceived width, often red or yellow. The streaks would sometimes hang in the air for a moment and then fall into pieces, like fireworks, and fade away. There was never any audible thunder with it. I have never seen it since those days, but then I haven't been lying out in a sleeping bag staring up at the northern skies all night long, either.

The most spectacular lightning I have witnessed occurred the first summer I moved to Spirit Creek. There were many storms that first season. At the first sound of thunder, I stood under the cover of the front porch in celebration of my return to "the country". During the worst of one storm, a mighty river of lightning ripped out of the west seemingly just above the trees and across my entire farm. The lightning appeared to be as wide as the valley. It was an enormous sheet of light that simply disappeared into a tiny point high above the ground in the east. It was so surprising that I could not understand what I had just witnessed. Another incredible river of white light blasted across the angry sky just above my head and disappeared into a tiny point of nothing high in the east and then I realized it was striking the top of a 2000 ft. television tower two miles to the east. The inconceivable power and light vanishing in a point in the sky was a singularly awe inspiring sight.

To live on the earth where there are no huge thunderstorms, a person cannot understand how necessary and welcome they are. They cool everything, freshen the hot, stagnant air, bring a deeply appreciated respite from oppressive heat and humidity, generate much excitement, and light up the sky with spectacular living scenery. This is a great web site of lightning strikes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms taken by Gene Moore. It will give you a glimpse of a thunderstorm on the Great Plains.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Woodchuck and Other Critters

The Woodchuck

While working in the yard one evening earlier this summer I noticed this guy up a tree in the front yard. I think the dog had scared him up there. Though my old dog is not the type to sit uselessly at the base of a tree barking hysterically, this creature was very aware of the dog and remained absolutely motionless. I had time to get my camera. I needed photos for identification purposes because I had no idea what this creature was.

This photo is not the best. The creature's head is at the top, his eye a point of light. He has a little bushy, curly tail, and impressive front claws.

As soon as I could, I researched the internet for Kansas mammals. Thanks to information on a great web site, I determined it was a woodchuck. I was born and raised in Kansas but I did not know woodchucks lived in Kansas. Two of my hunter friends did not believe I had seen a woodchuck, either. After I provided my photos, they each researched and came to the same conclusion. I was not the only bonafide Kansan surprised by this creature.

All I know about woodchucks I learned on this web site:

They are the largest member of the squirrel family in Kansas, growing up to two feet long and weighing as much as twelve pounds. They live in dens in the ground, but can climb trees quite easily. They are vegetarians and they hibernate. This one likely lives close to my house, along the creek.

I am delighted that I share my little corner of the world with critters like this guy. He goes about his life and I go about mine. If he had never gone up that tree, I would most likely have never seen him and never learned woodchucks live in eastern Kansas.

The time I have been here at Spirit Creek, I have seen many animals: deer, fox, coyote, bobcat, several types of hawks, kestrels, eagles, wild turkey, prairie chickens, muskrat, prairie voles, a variety of snakes, insects, butterflies, spiders of unimaginable variety, and a list of birds too long to write here. I count each sighting as a gift. I am always amazed that despite our best efforts otherwise, these creatures have managed to live alongside humans.

The holy grail of wildlife sightings for Kansans is a mountain lion. Just about everyone I know in Kansas knows someone-who-knows-someone who has spotted a mountain lion. Officially, there are no mountain lions in Kansas but there is an enduring "urban legend" that wildlife officials released mountain lions at various places around the state several years ago. Each time I hear the release story, it is always just two people removed from whomever is telling the story.

Now, I do not know about the secret release of mountain lions, but I do believe some of the people who have told me personally they have spotted a mountain lion. My neighbor said he saw one crossing the road about two miles from here. I believe him. I do not believe the story of a mountain lion having her kits under a junked car in Willard, Kansas, though.

I hope to see a wild cougar some day, but from far, far away. If my good old dog is with me, I will be perfectly safe. No body messes with the Duke - not even woodchucks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rain Sky

It is hard to photograph space and distance. The views of Kansas are difficult to capture in order to convey the scale of sky and the depth of view.

There is still a bit of room in Kansas. There is space to breathe and live a distance from your neighbor in peace.

These are no grand vistas of Wyoming, nor majestic crown of Colorado mountains. What Kansas gives you is sky - three hundred sixty degrees of windblown, ever changing, immediate sky.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Spirit Creek

I live next to a little spring fed creek that I christened Spirit Creek. On modern maps, it has no name. In an antique book store in Topeka, I found an old township map that shows it was once named Spring Creek.

It is normally a beautiful clear water stream. It loops around my house and there are several places where the water flows over rocky shallows with a musical murmur. When it rains, it rises in a muddy hurry. When it downpours, it boils into an angry, dangerous current that pulls down trees, erodes the banks, and scours the streambed clean. Before I moved here, it carried an eight passenger stationwagon about a mile downstream.

In the time I have lived here, Spirit Creek only stopped flowing once. It dried up into large pools, and exposed the bedrock and gritty sand of its channel. I hiked upstream in the empty bed and was surprised at the number of small springs and seeps that were trickling water.

It was during this hike that I discovered at every tiny seep or trickle of water, hundreds of Monarch butterflies congregated. The sheer numbers amazed me. Some were perched on the moss-covered rocks next to a trickle of water. They roosted closely together on the limbs directly above the fresh water, where it was cool and damp. I could feel the coolness myself as I slowly passed, careful to not disturb them.

Two years of low rainfall coupled with searing heat from early spring until late in the year were the culprits in drying up the creek. It was not replenished with rainfall, and what water there was evaporated in the heat. Somehow the butterflies knew where to find fresh water. It was more than mere chance that so many would have accidentally found the empty stream bed - the entire creek is scarcely four miles long.

I sometimes take Kansas for granted and I take my few acres for granted. I should know better. If I lived here for one hundred years, I would never discover all the secrets.

The creek is also a treasure of fossils. In early spring or on particularly warm winter days, before the insects are out, before the snakes, spiders and other creatures that make sitting next to the water an uncomfortable experience, I love to actually sit in the sand of the creek. With a few minutes of searching, I can find a handful of fossils. I have collected quite an array of fossils, saving the best specimens of each type.

As far as my amateur research has gone, the fossils are quite common and came from the end of the Permian period, in the Paleozoic era. There are neochonetes, which look like delicate clam shells. Crinoids are tiny sections of an ancient plant-like animal with a hole in their center. Some of these are actually five sided. There are tiny ancient clams that are perfectly shaped, often both sides petrified together. There are also millions of tiny stone pieces that look like kernels of wheat called fusulinids. My favorite fossil to find are the bits of bryozoan fossils. They are minute pieces of some creature that looks like modern coral or tiny pieces of tree branches, and delicate bits of lattice that apparently were once fanlike creatures. They are so delicate that I am amazed they survived millions of years for me to find them in the sand now.

The Permian period was between 299 million and 248 million years ago. I have tried to imagine time on that scale and simply can not. At the end of the Permian period, there was a mass extinction of most marine invertebrates. It is the largest extinction of life known to science. Eventually the Permian sea disappeared, the age of dinosaurs came and eventually gave way to the Monarchs and human beings.

As I sit in the ancient sand of the creek, hearing the calming music of water over the limestone rocks, I consider the evolution of the earth. I wonder if in her great dreaming, she ever imagined the sycamore tree sinking its mighty roots deeply into the soil and sand and ancient fossils right at this bend of creek. I wonder if she herself dreamt me into being so I could lay back on the warming banks to watch the silent drift of clouds above this fair place. I wonder if the death of these tiny marine creatures was in the grand plan on the way to dinosaurs, to mammals, to grasses, to bison, to Monarch butterflies, to human beings all along. Or was it a cosmic accident she had not anticipated? And always, I wonder what is to come....

Photos of fossils here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Horse Persons

When I was a child, there was only one thing in the universe that I ever wanted to do, and that was to ride horses. My father owned a Quarter Horse mare named Lady. She was a fairly small sorrel horse, not particularly beautiful, but she was my soul mate.

My mother told of a day when she missed me from the house. A missing toddler on a farm was very alarming. We lived by a county road, there was large stock tank full of water, and a river nearby. There was also a new mare turned into the corral with Lady and her companion. The two mares were having a difficult time sorting out who was boss. They had been kicking and biting and chasing one another with great malice for sometime, both determined to be dominant.

When Mom realized I was not in the yard either, she went directly to the barn. She found me there with all three horses. I was standing behind Lady with my arms wrapped around her back legs. Mom was faint with fear, afraid to come into the barn to get me, thinking it might trigger the horses to kick one another. Mom used all her powers of persuasion to coax me out of the barn. She said as soon as I was out of there Lady let the new mare have it with both hind hooves - a powerful, vengeful kick.

I have no memory of this. As a mother myself now, I can imagine how scared Mom was when she found me with all three of those horses crammed in the space of a couple of barn stalls. But I know Lady would never have done one thing to harm me. There was a connection between us unlike any I have had with another animal since.

At some point, Lady was moved across the river to my grandfather's farm. If I could have ridden her every day of my life, it would not have been enough. I lived and breathed for the times when I could go to Grandpa's and ride the horses. Most often I could not ride, but when I could, I was free and happy and in control of my own destiny.

All of the grandchildren rode Lady, and she babysat each of them in turn. But she was not an old, broke down, retired cow pony! She was a serious cow horse and knew exactly how to cut a steer out of the herd.

Once I became strong enough to open and close the gates between the pastures, I could ride Lady anywhere I wanted to go. One day I was in a pasture with a herd of cattle, out of sight of the house. I thought I would just see what Lady could do. At the first few turns, she was not sure what was going on. After all, since when did little kids work cattle? About the third cut, she got the message and it was all I could do to hang on! It was impressive the way that horse expertly stayed on that steer and separated him from the herd. It took me a little bit to dissuade her. If things had turned out differently in life, there might have been a time when I could have ridden Lady and helped my Grandpa with the cattle. Lady and I would have been a great team.

There were times when the strife between my parents caused by my father's alcoholism weighed heavily on me. Sometimes as a child, I was burdened by a sadness for my father that I did not understand. Even if I could not ride Lady, if I could just be near to lean against her warm belly, or brush her copper neck, all was right in my world. I think Lady felt the same. She would put her forehead against my heart and sigh, my bony chest hardly large enough for a horse to rest her face against.

I could write a book of my adventures with Lady. My grandparents lived by the Little Walnut River in Butler County, Kansas. There was a field road that followed the high river bank. It was a perfect place to ride a horse. It was a race track, a wagon train trail, a parade route, an Indian hunting ground - whatever my imagination could invent, that was what the dirt road became. I could fly down that road on Lady's broad back, my hands twisted in her mane, my skinny legs strong enough to keep me securely aboard the galloping horse. The hours I spent with Lady were the best times of my childhood. In a certain consideration, those times were the best of my life.

I had dreams of riding Lady as a genuine cowgirl, as a barrel racer, or helping my Grandpa but they never came about. My father died an untimely death. My mother remarried, and my family moved away from my grandparents, my hometown, and away from my beloved Lady. I still saw her a few times but eventually there was that last time. Like so many last times, it passed unnoticed, and I have no conscious memory of the very last time I saw her.

My life was headed toward a period of great unhappiness and chaos. As I made my way through those difficult years, always when the despair was deepest, I would dream of Lady. Often they were nightmares of something being terribly wrong with Lady. Of course, they were warning of what was wrong with me or my life. But somehow those dreams always seemed to give me what I needed to get through one more day, one more disappointment, one more crazy adventure.

Life carried on and I eventually learn how to live more gracefully, successfully putting to rest my demons until at long last, after several false starts, I now have my own little "farm". I have not one, but two, horses. The boss horse person is a sorrel Quarter Horse mare, Ginger. I love her dearly, but she does not necessarily return the favor, at least not the way Lady did. Ginger likes me okay, but she prefers that I not lean on her big belly or wrap my arms around her neck. In fact, she prefers that I not ride her, so I do not.

The other horse person is Annie. She is a mutt of a horse - kind of lumpy in her belly and skinny-necked. Maybe she has some thoroughbred in her. She has an ugly face and forthright personality. She has beautiful big boned legs and she loves to run. I went to the sale barn in Wakarusa one Saturday night when a January snow storm was blowing in from Nebraska, to look about a pregnant appaloosa mare destined for the slaughter house in Texas. But that horse wanted nothing to do with me. I already had an uppity horse. Why would I want two uppity horses? I wanted to look at the others.

When I walked out into the pen my heart ached for all of those unwanted horses destined for the slaughter. There was ugly little Annie, matter-of-factly eating a sprinkling of alfalfa hay with her best friend by her side. There were some beautiful horses in that pen but Annie was friendly and open and curious and unafraid. Someone had combed out her beautiful mane but there was ice frozen in her matted coat. Her hooves were in bad shape - she was potbellied and skinny - and darn it, she was ugly. But she was the one.

So, now I have two horse persons and I am their indentured servant. I do not ride either horse, so they have a fairly boring life. I have to buy hay, throw bales around, shovel horse manure, scrub the water tank, pay for shots and fly spray and a farrier, chop ice all winter long so they can drink, tote 50 pound bags of feed around - and I am OLD! But oh, how much I love having horses in my life again. There might come a day when I decide Ginger is going to let me ride her and go where I want to go, but probably not. It does not matter. Even if she does not like it, I still hug her neck whenever I want.

Post Script: The appaloosa mare and her unborn foal were not sent to slaughter, but purchased from the kill buyers and saved.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Earth Day 2006

Some kind of prairie snake crossing the road.

This is a photo of a common snake I see all the time around Spirit Creek. This snake was fairly small, about three feet in length. Most of those I have seen are big snakes, five feet long and more. They typically try to stay out of human sight.

April 22, 2006 was a day I will remember as a significant snake day for the rest of my life. It was Earth Day. I was working around the barn in the bright sunlight of mid-morning. I was taking a break, leaning against a fence panel of the round pen when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I recoiled when I realized it was one of these snakes, about six feet long. It had come through a wide expanse of short vegetation and was heading directly to the barn, passing within about three feet of me. Not only was that far too close for my comfort, it was unusual behavior for this kind of snake. I normally only know they are around when I catch the movement
of their tails gliding out of sight.

I had a lot of work to do, so rather than run screaming for the house, I kept one eye on that snake at all times. It made a straight line into the open door of the storage side of the little barn. I noticed that it came out and went around the west side of the barn. It made a full circuit in and out and around the barn. I thought it was looking for mice. I minded my own business and let it look for all the mice it wanted, believe me.

I continued to work hard at scrubbing the water tank. About 15 minutes later I was again leaning on the same fence panel, taking another break. (Hey, I am the owner and general manager of this outfit. I can take a break whenever I want.) It was deja vu! In the same spot, another snake was quickly and purposefully crossing the round pen, following the same path. This one was a bit smaller. It went directly into the open door of the storage side of the barn, exactly as the first snake had.

Now there was approximately eleven feet of living, slithering snake within a few feet of me!

For some reason, the second snake's last six inches of tail remained draped over the door jamb. It was a windy day, and I thought perhaps the door had closed partway over the snake's body and it was stuck. Damn. Even a snake does not deserve to be slammed in a door.
Gathering all my courage, I took the manure fork and cautiously walked toward the open door.

Holding the fork as far forward from my body as I possibly could, I tried to push the door all the way open. I was holding the fork with the fewest fingers I could manage because this grip allowed me to stay as far away as possible. I was not able to move the door. I choked up on the handle a bit, gingerly stepped forward and pushed the door again. Something was blocking that door and I thought it was the snake's body.

I was not happy. I was going to have a seriously injured snake to extract from under the door. I had no idea how I was going to manage handling a six foot snake. Once I did get it out, if it was terribly injured, what could I possibly be able to do for it? I would have to call a nature rehab center. Hopefully, they would come to my barn and I would not have to take the snake to them... My mind was racing.

Finally, I gathered my courage and forced myself to get close enough to the door to see what was blocking it. As I carefully peered over the jamb, I practically passed out! BOTH snakes were beneath the door, but they were not caught. They love... I dropped the manure fork and backed away.

"That is not something you see every day," I said to the horse.

As I returned to scrubbing the water tank, I realized that only 'love' would make the snakes brave enough to so boldly travel the short grass, exposed to all their enemies, and pass so closely to a human being. They ignored the horse, as well. It was impressive how the first snake had been thoroughly searching for its mate, and how they unerringly found one another.

I finished up the tank and refilled it with fresh water. When I thought to look again, both snakes were gone. Even though I do not particularly like snakes, the whole incident was a strange and wonderful gift from the earth to me that day. This is a great web site with good photos of all the snakes in Kansas.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Uncle Rand'

My Little Brother

This is a picture of my little brother, Randy. He was born just 2 weeks and 2 days short of being two full years younger than me. He was the cutest little boy you ever saw in your life, with shiny light brown hair and long black eye lashes. He was always quiet and trusting, easily led into mischief by a far more devious older sister.

I took this photo the day he came to help me with my new Harley. I bought the bike from a retired public servant, either a fireman or a sheriff - memory fails. It had forward controls installed on it, and I was afraid I would not be able to handle riding a strange new bike and manage the forward controls, too. (Forward controls are the rear brake control and the shifter moved far forward on the bike, so a person with long legs can sit more comfortably when they ride.) Also, Rand' is a great mechanic, so he would be able to hear or spot anything wrong with the bike. He came over 200 miles (one way) to help me just because I asked.

Randy has always known what he wanted to do in life. He always wanted to be a mechanic, and he is a good one. He has worked on cars, trucks, motorcycles and small engines. For most of his adult life he has worked on the big machines, caterpillars and road graders and earth movers. He has box end wrenches in his toolbox that are so huge I can hardly pick them up. He was born broad shouldered and strong as an ox, and that strength has never failed him.

He grew up and joined the Navy during the Vietnam war. When he returned home, he bought a Shelby Mustang someone had turned into a hobby stock race car. With his own money and doing his own work, he raced on the dirt tracks in northern Kansas. He was number 88. I happened to be in the pits the night of his maiden race. About the third lap, the drive shaft broke and stabbed into the dirt track, lifting the back of the car off the ground! As my contribution to his racing career, I paid for the drive shaft to be welded that week. The drive shaft never broke again.

I also painted Mustang Sally on the hood. I used a centerfold from an old Playboy magazine as the model, and painted in a big racing slick at her feet. I put all my love and thoughts of protection into that painting, so my brother would be safe when he was out there with those other maniacs racing in the dust. When Number 88 was sold, my brother cut Mustang Sally out of the hood and she hangs in his garage, still sexy in her high heels and big mane of brown hair.

It was fun going to the races with him, hauling that old jalopy around in the hot summer nights, drinking cold beer after the races. We commiserated with him when he broke down or crashed or was edged over the high bank by an aggressive driver. When he would place, we were all ecstatic, as if he had won the Indianapolis 500. Our baby brother, Mark, was in on this racing venture as well. But it was Rand's idea, his money, his mechanic work, his courage to get out there and drive. Mark and I were just enthusiastic supporters and beer drinkers.

My brother is the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. He's too nice, always willing to take second best, or second place, or do without so someone else can do with. Sometimes it is hard to see how that kind of behavior brings its own reward. Every so often, it does reward my humble brother.

One day at a convenience store close to where he works, Rand' was in line behind some guy who wanted to buy a scratch-off lottery ticket. The clerk tried to sell a ticket that had already been torn from the roll. The guy refused that ticket, a bit rudely maybe, and demanded the next one from the roll. My brother spoke up and said he would buy the loose ticket. That ticket turned out to be a $20,000 winner. Yep, and ol' Rand rode that $20,000 around in the form of a new Harley for about 12 years!

He's a pretty good guy, all told.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Medicine Wheel

Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming

It will be hard to write about the Medicine Wheel without talking about my sister Patti Massell. She died in the prime of life, unexpectedly taken from her family and all who also loved her.

She was a pejutawin, a medicine woman. She was given a powerful healing ceremony and she made it available to anyone who asked. I personally know people whose doctors had told them to get their affairs in order - modern medicine could do no more for them. Most of them were dying from a combination of cancer and chemo treatments. They came to Patti at death's door, but today almost all are alive and healthy.

Leonard McKinney first introduced Patti and I at the Veteran's powwow in Wichita, Kansas. Some months later, we met again and it was as if we had known one another our entire lives. We quite casually became instant best friends.

Several years went by before we realized she was born at the summer solstice, and I was born at the winter solstice. It was only one intriguing synchronicity of many in our lives. Patti once said "It's as if our lives have been on parallel paths, and then our paths crossed." She adopted me as her sister, an old Native American way of honoring someone.  Aside from my children, it meant more to me than any other thing in my entire life at the time.

Writing about Patti is a book in itself. Much of what could be written is too sacred for the internet. I respectfully and humbly share that I had the honor to have been part of a ceremony with Patti June 20, 2001 at the Medicine Wheel. Her youngest son, my son, and another friend were there, too. Patti's elderly uncle stayed at the ranger station, waiting for us to come down from the Medicine Wheel.

I went up there as my old self and came down changed. Spirit dealt forcefully with me that day. I still do not understand all that happened, all that Spirit was trying to show me. It was a transformation that will take the rest of my life to unfold.

The Medicine Wheel figured in my life long before I knew Patti Massell. It was in the early spring of 1994 when I took my son and daughter on our first genuine family vacation. We went to Yellowstone. It was something I had so much wanted to do for my children but never could afford. I planned the trip through the Big Horn Mountains specifically to visit the Medicine Wheel. Once there, a sign warned of a long hike to the actual site. I was not physically capable of such a hike at that altitude and I was deeply disappointed. I made a silent vow to come back.

Years went by but my intent to return to the Big Horn Mountains never wavered. I felt as if a perfect time would present itself for the trip, but I could never have guessed the circumstances of my return in 2001. It worked out that Patti and I could go at the same time. We met there and camped on the day before her birthday.  That is how magical life sometimes is.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The View East

The same view in three seasons.
The Rising of the Light

There is no imagining the new vista revealed with the rise of any given dawn. Each sunrise more I am granted, my heart moves outward, touching every blade of grass and dew drop and snow flake and whisper of wind through the limbs in the sheltering trees.

My human heart pulses within the great maternal breast of the earth and thereafter belongs to the rhythm of seasons. Above the line of earth rises the moon,
the sun's great shafts of light rushing inward
and I effortlessly witness the mystery.

I do not know how I came to be - I do not know my creator, nor the creator of the shining earth, nor understand what substance time may be. While I exist, I celebrate the rising of the light, the rising of the light.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ghost Story

Before I moved to Spirit Creek Farm, I owned and lived in a haunted house. Oh yeah, buddy, it's true. The activity there eventually became so overt and disturbing that Indians had to rescue me, a descendant of cowboys.

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

Baby Pictures

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:

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.

Amidala (the chicken) is Tiny Elvis' main squeeze, but she is silly and goofy, I am sad to report. It must be her good looks he goes for!