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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The White Album

It seems as if we only take photographs when the ranch is covered with snow. As predicted, we got about 9" from 10 p.m. on Tuesday until early this morning. Yesterday, after plowing the driveway for the first time that day, I strapped on my snowshoes for a mile-and-a-half walk up the first hill. Looking back, I took this photograph of the ranch house from the first switchback of our long driveway. The snow was wet and heavy, and dragging on my snowshoes and the remnants of electrified fencing from last year's grazing season. Up past the barn, long ago taken over by elderberry bushes, now covered in a thick glaze of snow, and down past the peony patch. Nearly 30 years ago, I'd photographed that barn for the first time, it's roof and cupola intact.

When I started snowshoeing two years ago, I was 58, recovering from some surgery that didn't go exactly as planned. But, I was traveling light, getting fitter and enjoying the land in winter, looking at familiar trails in a new way and looking for animal tracks. Now, as a diabetic, I haul around a waist pack with a water bottle and snacks, as well as glucose tablets for a quick boost. At the top of the long drag up to where we one day hope to build a new house, I needed that boost. Amazing how quickly glucose kicks in - and how badly you need it when you figure out you need it. I coasted home and took my sugar - 79 mg/DL. Kerry wondered how low my sugar had been before I took the glucose. A piece of homemade blueberry pie brought me back up. After an hour, it was time to re-plow the lower driveway. Did it again this morning. I hope the person who invented the ATV and detachable plow blade got appropriately rich.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More Snow Coming

We're expecting 5-9" of snow starting at 10 tonight. After lunch, I filled up the gas tank of the ATV, figuring I'll be doing a lot of plowing tomorrow. Kerry and I took Blue, our white Siamese cat, for his first walk in more than a week. Warm weather had finally melted the ice from the long gravel driveway, and footing seemed reasonable. It was, though the loggers' trail down the upper meadow was muddy, with puddles. We cut across through the woods where the deer had eaten the beautiful orange fungus last fall, and up the hillside past the rusted engine part that now serves as an object d'art, displayed on an old tree stump. That's probably the most interesting piece of woods junk we've found since the two-man saw blade that had been abandoned on an upper hill. Blue has gotten chunky this winter, spending most of his time on the living room sofa, soaking up heat from the propane fireplace. But, he should round into shape quickly. He did a few easy sprints on today's walk, but stopped now and again to shake water and mud from a paw.

One of the doors to the shed, where I store the gas cans,has pulled loose from the frame at the hinge. I pounded three longer nails through the hinge, scaring the hell out of the feral tabby who lives in our woodpile. Donovan and I are going to have to re-build the shed this spring. Kerry thought we wouldn't be getting much use out of it, but it's so fragile - 50 years on - that even mild use has taken its toll.

Waiting to hear whether my insurance company will pay for an insulin pump this year. My diabetes has been under control - pretty much - with the exception of a day or two following a mild fever. Then, the blood sugar went up into the 300s, and didn't come down until yesterday. Working out on a stationary bike brought it down to the 120s before lunch. Right in the target zone.

Monday, December 13, 2010

False Spring

A false spring has come to Shenanigan Valley. The snow has mostly melted, probably too quickly to really impact the water table. Cable Creek is running high and fast. The deer and turkeys have stayed up in the hills, no longer needing to forage on downed willow leaves in the front yard.

Our cats have celebrated "spring" by catching their first mouse of the season. Ricky, a big orange tabby, with no front claws, corralled the mouse on the concrete front porch, driving it toward Harry - a seasoned old mouser - who killed it and ate its head, leaving the rest of it for us.

The snowshoes are going back into the garage for a while. I'll use walks up our long driveway to complement workouts at the gym. I had some trepidation today, wearing to the gym for the first time my try-out continuous glucose monitor. My diabetes educator installed it Friday afternoon, and, while it's provided some interesting information, it's also provided a lot of frustration in the form of low sugar alerts (a function, I think, of my educator setting the low sugar parameter too high) that have woken me twice in the early hours of the morning, and readings 4-50 points different from contemporaneous finger sticks. Anyway, I thought the transmitter needle might hurt when doing crunches (it didn't), and that the monitor might be in the way for other exercises (it wasn't). Surprisingly, the glucose readings after 2 sets of 13 weight stations dropped only 20 points, and then went back up again. The Gatorade I drank during exercise might have had a small impact, but not much. Way different from a long bike ride.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mom and the Doll

Mom always had a cat on her lap when she lived at home. About a year after she went into assisted living, and her dementia had become pretty bad, but she still wanted to get up to let out the cats or let in the dog, I purchased a furry toy cat that purred and vibrated when you flipped the switch.  It didn't work out. The cat's ears were stiff and Mom decided it was a dead cat. It upset her. The toy cat migrated into another resident's room and finally disappeared, probably given to a visiting grandchild.  So, it was with a small joy that I heard today from the nurse that when Mom gets restless and tries to get out of her chair (she can't walk any longer), the nurse has given Mom a baby doll to hold and Mom rocks it and murmurs to it, and even burps it.  And for a short time she is focused on something, instead of staring at nothing or keeping her eyes shut.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Angel in the Garden

There is an angel in Mom's garden.  It's been here a long time - so long that usually it goes unnoticed.  Once it was surrounded by her flowers - daffodils, pansies, columbines and cosmos, among others. But the flowers have migrated into weeds - purple vetch and white daisies and long grass - which shroud the angel and child during most of the year. The day was rather warm today and the piles of snow began to melt. It was with a slight surprise when, around four, I looked out the window as evening came on, diminishing the light, and saw the angel across the lawn in the garden.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sun, Crunch and Sugar

The sun shone today for the first time in, seemingly, forever. Icicles on the edge of the metal roof were slowly melting. Time to go snowshoeing before the crust turned to slush. Instead of taking the driveway, I decided to cut through the meadow behind the house, humping up the first of the hills. My legs were tired from my workout at the gym yesterday, but the sun felt good on my back. I climbed slowly, from fatigue, the incline of the hill, and the crunchy snow.

This was something of a learning day. On Thursday, I went out at a fairly fast clip through the light, fresh snow. By the time I got home, I felt a bit shaky, and it wasn't from the effort of the exercise. In late July, surgery left me an instant Type 1 diabetic, and I'm still learning about how diet and exercise affect me. Thurday's exercise - and not enough food - left me with a blood sugar level of 57.0 mg/DL, below my hypoglycemic parameter of 70. A quick glass of apple juice, followed by a slice of no-sugar-added apple pie with sugar-free ice cream, got me back up. Determined not to let that happen today, I had 1/2 a whole wheat bagel with salmon before going out today, and age a Glucerna snack bar 20 minutes into my walk. My blood sugar when I got back was 237 mg/DL - 50 points higher than I'd like it, but not hypoglycemic. Getting this right is going to take some time.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Snowshoeing Redux

Overcast, but warm today. The snow has been melting, and plowing the driveway created some icy versions of Jersey barriers, that won't melt off until sometime in spring. I decided to go snowshoeing, this time with poles - much faster, better balance, and more of an upper-body workout. No surprise, since I did a lot of cross country skiing in Wyoming. What did surprise me was a line of moose tracks crossing the driveway, about 150 yards from the house. We've seen what we thought were moose tracks in soft dirt, but nothing with as clear an impression as these - about five-and-a-half inches long, with small impressions of dew claws. After I finished my mile-and-a-half loop, I brought out my camera to take this shot. Still waiting to see a moose in the flesh on our place.

First Snowshoeing Day of the Season

The newspaper says we’ve gotten more than 32” of snow so far this brief winter. Didn’t seem that much until I got to the second switchback of our half-mile-long driveway, and the drifts proved too much for my ATV-mounted snowplow. The driveway goes up to the site where we hope to build a home someday. We’re now living in Karen’s childhood home, not far from the county road, and plowing that section of the driveway was quick and easy. Getting half of the long driveway plowed made it easier for the first day of snowshoeing in two years. Last winter was so mild, we didn’t strap on the shoes once. But, we did on Tuesday. Snowshoes, check. Gaiters, check. Poles, no (until I got some this morning at Cabela’s). Then it was up the driveway, still with about an inch over the hard-packed gravel and dirt.

The lower meadow was covered with the tracks of wild turkeys. We stopped by a large apple tree at the start of the first switchback to drop pieces of stale bread for the birds. Next, I guess, will be a big box of Honey Nut Cheerios I can’t eat now that I’m diabetic. Past the switchback, the snow alongside the driveway is pockmarked with the hoof prints of the deer that come down to graze near our house in the early mornings and evenings. At the second switchback, we keep going straight, past the ruin of Mr. Cable’s log barn. Years ago, the roof caved in, and the interior is now home to an enormous elderberry bush, which in the summer produces great bunches of purple berries, food for the magpies and shelter for the hummingbirds. We make our way down to the lower meadow, ringed on the south and east by more apple trees, and then along the now-frozen spring, which had provided water to the Cables. On past our small aspen grove, then the hundred-yard site of summer’s red peonies, to the slope leading up the backside of the home site hill. Two autumns ago, I’d transplanted a small fir tree from dead-center on the trail we’d just traveled, to a clearing just east of the trail. Every day, when we’d walk the trail, I’d look over to the little fir, and say “hello” to it. But not on this trip. The deer had nibbled away half of each branch. It looked pathetic. Still, I knew that, since the deer had not eaten the top, it would continue to grow. Sometimes I think of the deer as little more than big-eyed vermin.

We slogged up the long drag of a hill, pausing once to rest for a few seconds, wishing we’d had snowshoeing poles. Up through our putative building site overlooking the slope down to the old house. Back on the unplowed section of driveway, we could soon see Mount Spokane to the north, heavy with snow. Shortly after we moved here, we put a bench near the house site from which we could see Mount Spokane, changing with the seasons and conditions of light. From there, we can see most of the valley west of the county road, the red barns and white fences, and cattle grazing spring through fall. Sound echoes up the hillside, and we can hear our neighbors plowing fields or plowing snow, each in its own season. Logging trucks chugging up the county road; chainsaws working overtime; children playing in their yards; stock cars at distant Stateline Speedway; the train moving down the tracks at Otis Orchards.

Then, all downhill, past more transplanted firs – these unmolested by the deer. The breadcrumbs at the first switchback is gone, the turkeys scattered. Pete, our long-haired black cat comes to greet us. Here comes Tigger, the small middle-aged tabby wearing his perpetual sneer, the result of losing an upper fang to a carelessly swung door in his youth. They escort us back to the house. The first day of the snowshoeing season is done.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

 These winter days, silent and dark, take me back to other times.

After Mom went into assisted living in November 2007, the snow began to fall and I began to clean the house of 50 years of accumulation. We had to throw out the furniture Mom’s six cats had sprayed because she couldn’t remember to clean out the six litter boxes scattered about the house. My son Donovan pulled out the urine soaked carpeting, installed the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.  I sorted through drawers of cards, bags of old letters, a filing cabinet full of old bills. And in the cedar chest, I found among other things, the night gown my frail grandmother had worn in the nursing home where she spent her last two and a half years, finally dying at 97.  Why did Mom bring it home to fold away and preserve? To have the last piece of clothing Grandma wore? “I wish she’d become senile,” Mom would say to me on the phone. “She cries and wants to go home to her big old house. It makes me feel so guilty.” And as the months limped along, she’d say, “I wish she could die. She is so unhappy. I’m so weary of going to see her twice a week. Your dad resents my going. I’m gone half of the day. I wish she could die.”

I thought it awful for her to wish for her mother’s death.  But now - not so much.  Did she bring home her mother’s nightgown because of deep guilt? Or to have one last thing with her mother’s scent on it?  She often said through the years how much she missed her.  Now, she looks for her. When I arrive at assisted living and say, “Hi, Mom,” she’ll turn and look around. “Where is she . . . where’s Mom?” 

 We watch our loved ones slide irretrievably into the past, their past – either real or imagined.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Welcome to Shenanigan Valley

They say you can’t go home again, but I have, and I’ve brought my husband along with me, and my adult son. I grew up in this Idaho valley in the 1950s and 60s, and then came back every year.  Toots Ferry, the old rascal, who lived across the valley with his ancient mother, called it Shenanigan Valley, and so it is.  Something is always going on here. 

There are layers of time here, also.  The valley had been part of the Coeur d’Alene Indian reservation until it was opened for homesteading in the early 1890s.  In 1951 my parents bought these 66 acres from William Cable, whose parents had homesteaded a larger piece of our side of the valley.  He sold off sections through the 20th century until, in his 80s, he and his old wife were surrounded by this single piece of land and fruit orchards.

My parents lived here for many years. Dad died in 1994 and Mom continued to live here until November 2007.  She is still alive, but lives in assisted living with advanced dementia.  Still, she dominates my memories of this place.  And so, my husband, Jay and I will write about our part of this beautiful valley -- the meadows and woods, the springs and the creek, the wildlife.  Times now and times before.

Wildlife Symbiosis

Seems as if it's been snowing forever. About 5 inches on the ground, with deeper drifts up in the hills. We're expecting another 4-8 inches today. The snow has driven wildlife down to to our house to forage for food. Outside our living room, looming above our propane tank, is an apple tree that bore heavily this fall - we picked three boxes, which I'm now using for pies. The local critters are taking care of the rest of the harvest for us. Right now, I'm watching four doe shuffling around in the snow, looking up from the ground to the tree, taking care not to step on the wild turkeys milling around their hooves. There are also eight turkeys, some Toms, some hens, up in the branches, pecking at the apples or trying to swallow them whole. Most of the apples wind up on the ground, to be gobbled by the deer and nibbled or speared by the milling turkeys. The grounded turkeys are fighting over the apples; the deer are taking it all in stride. Everyone wins.