Monday, June 29, 2009


Teasel watches the birds

Mrs. Beasley watches warily from under the bed

Raisin surveys from the ledge

Teasel peeks

Pebbles watches activity in the yard

A little after midnight I picked my way through the nearly dark house toward the kitchen, wanting a tylenol and a glass of water. Was it a sound or only a slight movement sensed that made me pause and look up at the ledge which runs above the fridge and defines part of the work space? Three of the cats, Teasel and the half-grown kittens, Jemima and Chester, leaned over the edge with, I imagined, smug catty grins--"Got you! We saw you first!"

A lifetime of sharing our space indoors with cats and the occaisional dog, the out of doors with horses, has taught us that not much of our "doings" goes unobserved. In the winter months when horses are fed hay and grain twice a day, Pebbles stands at the fence opposite the bedroom window alert for the merest twitch of the curtains. It is part of the daily ritual to open the window and shout, "Good morning, horse!" The first vehicle entering the driveway at the end of the workday sends her pounding from the lower pasture up to the fence in anticipation of a treat. During his 10 years our dog never missed the possiblity of a ride in the back of the truck. When the diesel motor fired up, there he was, tail wagging, when moments before you might have wondered if there was a dog anywhere about.

The cats are omni-present. Spoiled cats they are, their company tolerated during meal preparation and meal consumption. They trail us into the bathroom, dash into the closet when we get out clothes, they chat, they "help." And always they watch us, watch any movement outside the windows; they watch each other.

There is a tension involved in watching--or in being watched. My husband tells of snowmobiling one afternoon deep in the mountain forest and suddenly having the prickling sensation that he was not alone in that particular wooded meadow. Coming to a halt, he sat still on his machine, gazed around until he located the taut, still form of a mountain lion stretched at the edge of a rocky overlook--watching him. When we know ourselves watched there is a primitive wariness that something, someone, is about to pounce, to catch us out, to trip us up in our unguarded moment.

We watch over children in our care. We watch fondly while a loved one sleeps, unaware of our scrutiny. Walking alone after dark we try to watch where we put our feet. Stranded in an airport, waiting for our food in a restaurant, we watch strangers, marveling at their oddity. Knowing ourselves under observation, we try for nonchalance--"stare at me, see if I care!" "Quit looking over my shoulder," we snarl at the one who hovers too closely, causing us to feel self-conscious, making us fumble a task we know perfectly well how to do.

Watching a sunrise or moonrise, watching the fleet of Mallards as they float on the pond, losing ourselves in the play of sunlight and shadow across the foothills, for a breath of time we let down our guard. Better to be the one up on the ledge, the one who observes and ponders all that is seen.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Battle with "IT."

Eggnog eyeing the PC with suspicion.

Years ago a teacher friend was creating a reading list for her students and asked if I had ever read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. The book has as its basis the classic battle of good vs evil---with fascinating sci/fi elements which send the main characters hurtling to other worlds. The climax of their adventures occurs when the "heroine" Meg Murray must face down a huge disembodied and all-controlling brain referred to as "IT."
Today is one of those times when I suspect that such a malevolent entity is taking control of my computer. An e-mailed link to this blog is apt to land my unsuspecting friends on a different site.  The blog links which I carefully typed into an "add a gadget" feature disappeared--somewhere--and I had to use a different approach. Searching the blogger "helps" lands me in the jargon of html's, widgets, and other bewildering instructions. At the end of each article is a query as to whether this article was helpful. I want to register a resounding "NO"--but I don't think IT is around to hear me!
Arguably, a person with greater technical skills wouldn't have these issues or could quickly sort them. While admitting my lack of expertise, I still like the idea of a scapegoat--the one who tells me "the printer is out of paper"--when I can see the neat white stack fitted into the tray; the one who whisks away four typewritten pages before I can command "Save." Surely there is a resident goblin with a "you can't get there from here" kind of roadblock.
It may take awhile, the final product may not be especially sophisticated, but the cats and I are committed to getting the better of "IT."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What to do when it rains.

As children my younger sister and I were not much daunted by any kind of weather. Rainy days were frequent enough not to be an occaision, but after a few hours of reading, paper dolls, or board games, we inevitably hauled on our boots and headed next door to our grandfather's farm. If the rain was a mere drizzle, it was an adventure to dangle in the swings hung from the huge maples in the yard, listening to the rain-welcoming calls of the robins, feeling the splat of any droplets that made it down through the thick green roof of leaves. There were puddles to wade, earthworms to admire as they stretched and seemed to swim in little pools of moisture. My uncle's hens, disliking the wet, ruffled their feathers and huffed, clucking, back to the shelter of the henhouse. When we too had absorbed enough moisture we headed for the farmhouse. Upstairs the hall was dim and mysterious. At one end a tall cupboard loomed, containing unfamiliar items--books that never made their way down to the living room; a shoe box containing a pair of shiny brown pumps which had belonged to our never known grandmother. Small boxes contained neat stacks of crocheted motifs--a bedspread started and never finished, perhaps by that same lady. Sitting on the edge of a blanket chest, we sorted, handled, admired the treasures, replacing them carefully in their appointed spots. As the rain increased my uncle appeared with enameled basins to place around the chimney stack which stabbed through the hall ceiling on its way up to the roof. The sour smell of dripping creosote mingled with the breath of the rain-pummled flower garden blown in from the open west door and wafted up the stairwell. Climbing narrow steps to the attic, we stood in the cobwebbed space while the din of rain on a metal roof filled our ears. A single feeble light bulb did little to charm away the darkness lurking in corners under the eaves. Picking our way carefully around the debris of several generations, we crossed creaking floorboards to arrive at the dusty dormer window, there to watch as the leaves of a young maple shuddered in the deluge and the petals of our great-grandmother's Fairy rose shattered in the wet grass.

And It Rained.....

Flattened whorls of tall grass under an old tree.
Water rushing over dislodged planks crossing the ditch.

Raisin doesn't like wet feet.Trees hanging heavy with wet.

Fresh loaves cooling.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Family Weddings

A cousin of my husband mentioned on her facebook page that today was the 36th anniversary of her wedding. When I sent congratulations she replied, "Do you remember making that lovely wedding cake?" I hadn't thought of that in years, but the scraps tumbled out of the mental closet ready for review. We lived in a farming community, extra money was scarce and many weddings of the day were still home made occasions. The bride, then and now an excellent seamstress, had made her pretty dress, flowers were gathered from the gardens of friends and relatives, and I, armed with instructions from a Farm Journal cookbook, volunteered to make the wedding cake. I borrowed cake pans, bought the requisite boxes of Betty Crocker White Cake Mix, carefully made the fondant roses and stored them in tupperware bowls. From somewhere I procurred a cake decorating tube with interchangeable tips, and without any practice run, assembled my goods at the church social hall on the morning of the wedding. All went well until I began to apply ropes of colored frosting to the edges of the cake layers and found my decorating set completely unequal to the task. The bridegroom hastily borrowed a professional decorating apparatus from a relative who had owned a restaurant; the two of us squirted frosting and left to dress for the event. Until I walked into the reception and saw the cake intact and reasonably photogenic I wondered what had possessed me to take on such a project!

My family and my husband's many cousins have carried on the older tradition of weddings that are staged with the considerable help and talents of family and friends. As a competant seamstress I have produced a few bridal gowns and quite a number of lovely bridesmaids dresses.

In the past year I have searched the on-line archives of the newspaper published for over a century in the upstate New York area where my mother's family has lived for generations. The accounts of family weddings are delightful to read. Most took place at the home of the bride's parents or in the local parsonage. Then as now, the details of the bride's and her ladies' clothing were described as were the flowers and refreshments. A nice suit or dress which could be worn again for church occaisions seemed to be common rather than elaborate gowns with trains and tiaras.

The top photo, shared by my cousin Barb, is of her two aunts--who married two brothers in a double wedding in 1941. My mother, herself a bride the previous month, is the bridesmaid on the far right of the picture. I have no photo of my parent's wedding, but I well remember my mother's wedding dress, a navy blue crepe with a swirling bias skirt and a tucked waist. She wore it, with a tiny veiled hat, to church for many years.

The second photo, from the collection of my cousin Bruce, is of my mother's cousin and her new husband. Their marriage took place in 1928.

The last photo is of my great uncle and his wife on their wedding day in 1914.

I have no wedding photo of my grandparents, but here is the announcement of their marriage in 1913.

A beautiful wedding was solemnized at the home of Mr. And Mrs. Edward Ross at 7:30 p.m. Monday evening, December 22, when their eldest daughter, Helen, was married to Mr. Mac Lewis of Hague [NY] the Rev. L. M. Issac officiating in the presence of the two families and many friends. The ceremony took place in the parlor, which was decorated with evergreens, cut flowers and choice plants. The bride, who was given in marriage by her brother, Lawrence Ross, was beautifully gowned in a blue broadcloth traveling suit with hat to match. The bridesmaid, Miss Myrtle Burt wore a gown of blue and white serge. Following the ceremony, refreshments were served in the dining room which was beautifully decorated with cut flowers and choice plants.

The announcement continues with the plans of the "honeymoon", a list of those attending and mention of gifts. My mother told me years later that she understood the honeymoon journey, a train trip to Montreal, had to be postponed due to a snow storm!

Having grown up next door to my grandparent's farmhouse I can imagine it decked for that event so near to Christmas Eve. I can see the dining room table extended with all the "leaves" covered in stiffly ironed damask. I expect there was a Christmas cactus in full bloom. Perhaps the "cut flowers" had to be fetched from the branch line railroad station, shipped in from the next town, or maybe they had been chosen and carefully wrapped for the journey when Grandmother Helen and her friend Myrtle made a shopping trip to Brandon a few days earlier as promptly reported by the local news "correspondant."

I have been a guest at some beautiful and elegant weddings. Some have been grandly orchestrated events which left the participating families exhausted and in debt. My favorites will always be the ones which have been planned and created with the skills and the love of families and friends. I'll do anything to help--except the cake!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Traveling Man

"It was a dark and stormy night...". That classic opening line suits this little tale.
At dusk on Saturday evening, with angry clouds boiling down from the mountains, the wind moaning, my son-in-law phoned from next door. "Look out your front door, there's a sheep wagon headed toward town."
I headed outside with my camera and tried to focus through the swirling grey-green dusk on a slowly moving conveyance which did, indeed, appear to be a horse-drawn sheep wagon. A yellow warning light blinked dully from atop the lurching wagon while a pickup truck with 4 way flashers on alert, crawled behind. We voiced the concern that surely this little entourage must stop soon for the night rather than risk travel in dark and storm.
On Monday when I mentioned this sighting to my friend at work, she told me that the fellow and his horses had set up camp in the parking lot of a discount store on the north edge of town. Curious, I drove there on Tuesday and a bit diffidently approached, camera in hand.
Two men sat on folding chairs in the shade provided by the wagon and an attached trailer. This close I could see that while the wagon had the classic shape of those still used here by sheepherders, it was one of a kind.
"May I take photos of your horses?" I asked. "We watched you passing on the highway below our house when you came into town." The younger man gave gracious permission while the older, a slender gentleman with white hair and beard, watched, eyes bright in his tanned and leathery face.
We had a few moments of pleasant conversation, about places we both have traveled. I inquired if the horses were Belgians and was told that they are Suffolks, "An English draft breed that dates back to the Magna Carta. The animal control people have been here to make sure my horses are not being abused. " A wry smile accompanied this statement, as though it was a situation encountered before. The big horses, hides clean and shining, were tethered to the back of the supply cart, munching their hay. Drums of water stood nearby. No sign of manure, no flies anywhere around them.
I wished the man a safe journey and as I turned to leave, he added, "I don't talk much about myself, but if you'd like to know more, be sure you have a photo of my sign. You can visit the website which a friend has made."
This afternoon as my daughter and I drove home from grocery shopping, we met the traveling man headed out on the next phase of his journey. Having read his story I had hoped he would still be here this evening. I missed the opportunity to offer anything to help him on his chosen way.
If you would like to read more about Lee the horse logger, here is the link to his website.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Update on the deer

I had an errand at nearly noon, down to the old log barn that was here when we bought the property. In the three years of living here we have worn a path down some old stone and concrete steps, across one of the planks that ford the irrigation ditch and down through a swampy bit of cat tail marsh. It has been unusually wet for a Wyoming spring, so I wore my clumping wellies. [If I were to meet a snake, I would feel much more valiant in boots!] Squelching along I stopped to photograph some fat brown mushrooms and a stalk of milkweed. Headed back toward one of the alternative crossing planks I plodded through the edge of the marsh--and literally tripped on the fawn. In the instant that it took to check my forward momentum and rock back on my heels, the tiny thing was bounding away up the shady ditch bank. It disappeared into the tangle of tall grass, saplings and Russian Olive. Heart pounding, I looked around for the doe, but she didn't appear. All that was left behind for evidence of what I had discovered was the tiny oval of flattened grass and the trail of its passing through the grass.
Little creature, come back to the safety of the cat tails--I didn't meant to frighten you!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Resident Deer

There are many challenges to having a garden in Wyoming. The growing season is short, even here in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains. I have known snow on the 5th of June, killing frost on August 31. Most summers, by now, though the days start cool enough the temps rise to 100 or more by noon. Rain is a memory from other places, places I once thought of as less than kind to the gardener. Irrigation water is to be fought for, the means to water a lawn and garden are contrived. The hot drying wind that sweeps lustily down from the mountains seers greenery, flings dust and tumbleweeds, and passes on, leaving wilted plants trembling from the blast.

Then there are the deer and the rabbits. The bunnies bob through the dooryard, nibble parsley and swiss chard. The deer who left their footprints circling house and haystack all winter, now appear in the trees by the pond. They tiptoe past the bedroom window, startled by the big-eyed cats who watch from the folds of the curtains. Emboldened, the deer come within yards pf the dining room window, then progress on dainty hooves to the flower border. When I step onto the porch, they raise their velvet-antlered heads. "Go away," I tell them, "the flowers are mine!" Startled by my voice, they stand watching, ears alert and tails flicking. As they bound through the pasture they are joined by a doe and the tiniest fawn I have ever seen.

It would seem we can't have both the wonder of their presence and the joy of flowers.