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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Flood Friday

Creek pouring over retaining wall into yard on Friday.

March has set a new record for rain in these parts and the creek circling the lawn is a raging torrent; it sounds like freeway traffic when we step outside.  

Creek in flood

Yard flooded from the perspective of old swimming pool.

And this reminds me of the flood of 1974. It had been raining a lot then, too.  But it wasn't the creek that demolished the yard, filling the swimming pool to the top with rocks, rubble and debris.  It was the earthen reservoir atop a hill on the next property that hadn't been maintained, and it suddenly broke, carrying tons of water, boulders and everything else in its path down the hill, across the field and through our property, hitting the corner of the house and cracking the wall. It also washed out the two culverts in the creek that my parents had laid as part of a circular drive over to the county road; they were marooned until some neighbors came to their rescue. The flood also washed out the county road.  "Act of God," the attorney said, when my parents consulted him regarding a possible lawsuit.

Aftermath flood of 1974. Note sidewalk at swimming pool edge and culvert across creek at county road.
I was living in Mexico at the time and Mom wrote letter after letter, describing not only the damage, but also their emotions and depression afterward, especially those of my father, who was schizophrenic.  His years of work on the yard and his swimming pool were suddenly gone.  Years later, when writing my novel, A Devil Singing Small, I drew upon those letters for some insight into the devastated emotions of Betty and Mitch when their son Michael disappeared in Vietnam.  

We'd had good times with the swimming pool when I was a kid, though it was filled with cold creek water, and didn't get tolerable until August. We often swam with trout that I'd caught in the creek and tossed in (since I wouldn't kill and clean them, and Mom wouldn't fry them). One year there were 25 fish in the pool and it did get a little slimy, but they kept the mosquitoes down.  After the flood, Mom decided not to clean out the swimming pool, but rather to turn it into a large flower garden. 

Dad and me 1960.

Any flood is awful, be it a small one affecting a single family, or a large one, such as in Margaretville, New York, August 2011, that my friend Jen describes in her blog. I just hope that reservoir won't break open again. And it’s raining hard once more.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pussy Willows and Cats

The pussy willows are kittening out near the creek.  Pussy willows remind me that a favorite book I read to my son Donovan when he was small was Pussy Willow by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. 

 The the cat in the storybook looks somewhat like our cat Geordie. 

Geordie was my birthday present when he was 5 months old – that was six and a half  years ago in Laramie.  It’s taken him a long time to come into his own.  He was a lousy mouser as a youngster.  Now, up here in Idaho he has a mouse de jour  - the pasture surrounding the house is full of them.  He eats the entire mouse, from ears to tip of tail, on the porch where he’ll be seen and appreciated.  I suppose his rationale is, “I catch it . . . I eat it.”

Now old Blue (part lavender point Siamese, with blue eyes), who was one of my mom’s cats here on the place and once was a famous hunter in these parts, still catches a mouse occasionally.  He also brings it up on the porch, but eviscerates it, eating everything but the lungs, heart, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, guts and bladder, neatly spitting them out on the porch.  I don’t ask why.  No doubt, his reply would be,  “I’m a gourmet . . . not a gourmand.  It’s how I’ve always eaten a mouse . . . and other small game.”  For many years (he’s about 15)  he was top cat on this place. Whenever another young cat adopted Mom (and she had 8 when we moved up here to care for her), Blue would beat it up just once  to gain its respect.  Otherwise, he was a peaceable cat.  He is still a grand cat and always accompanies us on our walks on these 66 wooded acres, but the hills have become steeper for him and he’s slowing down.  He has diabetes and needs an insulin shot twice a day and gets glucosamine for arthritis mixed in with his food every morning. One of his front legs has a slight tremor in it.

And that brings me back to Geordie, the young gun, who doesn’t know about Blue’s reputation, and who wants to be top cat here now.  He swaggers; he bullies old Blue, reaching out to smack him when he comes into the house; getting a clawful of white fur off him; taking over his favorite spot on the couch, or in the sunshine on the porch swing.  Blue hunkers down – not really cowering – but making it plain that he’s retired his “guns”and isn’t looking for trouble.  But I say to Geordie, “Don’t push him too far . . . you don’t remember him when he was young and fast . . . but I do.”  

Friday, March 23, 2012

All the Young Dudes

It's spring, and in spring a young turkey's fancy turns to thoughts of...well, you know.

For the past few days, a group of Toms have been working the back meadow like cutting horses, rounding up the hens into harems. Fanning their tails, dropping their wings, puffing up their feathers, blood-gorged blue heads and red wattles, they strut back and forth, left, right, straight ahead, keeping their conquests in line. Until today, it's been a pretty orderly process.

This morning two Toms in "fancy dress" were driving about eight hens up the driveway past our house, when three Toms approached from the opposite direction. Quickly, the established Toms shooed the hens off to the fence line and turned up-driveway like Jets on a New York City playground, fluffing and puffing, trying to intimidate a bunch of Sharks. No bats, no knives, just beaks and spurs.

The battle was a short flurry. The newcomers flew at the defenders, but the attackers were driven off in short order and headed back up the driveway. The victorious Toms summoned their hens, and together they wandered back to the meadow to...well, you know.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bluebirds of Spring

When I was a kid, I picked up an old 78 rpm record at St. Vincent de Paul's thrift store in Spokane of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys singing "Take Me Back to Tulsa."  On side B was "There's a Bluebird on Your Windowsill."  And that's the song that's been going through my head today - well, at least the tune has been repeating because I can't get beyond the second line.

Today we saw four pair of western bluebirds in the pasture behind the house.  Of the 56 photos I shot with Jay's heavy camera with the telephoto lens, only one was mostly in focus.  And here it is.  I always thought any bluebirds we saw out here were mountain bluebirds (that's what Mom always called them), but in comparing my photo with the ones on the Internet, they are more-than-likely the western bluebird (Sialia mexicana).  They winter in Mexico or southern California.  These may be only passing through, on their way to somewhere more exciting like Canada or Alaska.  Or, they may have decided that they like our valley - maybe even permanent summer residents I have yet to make an acquaintance with -- and are looking about for an old woodpecker's hole or a  rotting pine snag to build a nest in.  I was charmed to see so many together, but I read that when not mating, they will travel together.  I think they mate for life, but haven't found anything to support that.  Of course, the male is a "love me, I'm beautiful" blue with rufus (that's orange-brown) on its breast and between its wings. The petite female has a subdued, impeccably tasteful look that will never go out of style (though an ornithologist, obviously a man, called her a "faded version of the male"); she has a white eye-ring - a sublime adornment - that the male lacks. 

It's been raining and sleeting for days. I do so want spring to come. I do. I do.

"There's a bluebird on your windowsill;
There's a rainbow in your sky. da, di, da, di do."