Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I' m Changing My Name to Noah

Spring continues here---no more blizzards so far, but unfortunately we have exchanged snow for rain. About once a week, we get a couple days of sunny weather. The roads start to dry, the pond levels decrease, the water level under my house goes down, the farmers start to look hopefully at their fields. Everyone heaves a sigh of relief. Perhaps this time it will last and summer will be here to stay.

But then the clouds blow in again and it starts to rain. Back come the puddles, the mud, the slowly thickening weather-induced depression. Bleah! Even people who have lived here all their lives say that this spring is remarkable for its wetness. The newspaper reports there is water standing where no one even thought it could.

It's inconvenient for me, and if my house does fall into the water in the basement as I worry, it will be more than inconvenient. But until then, at least the rain isn't affecting my livelihood or threatening to carry away my home. At at time when the prices for wheat, lentils, peas, and other grains are very good, farmers can't get into their fields to plant. And up here the growing season is very limited. It's already past the cutoff date for peas and lentils, and only short while away from the last date to plant wheat. After that, the farmer can do nothing but admire his barren land.

Meanwhile, in a land that is nearly flat, it's interesting to discover that yes, water really can flow here. Prairie sloughs fill up and spill over into the next one until the water reaches a coulee, which channels all its water into the nearest seasonal creek. The creek seeks out the nearest small river, and so it goes, until a whole state worth of water ends up in one or two sluggish main river systems.

Tomorrow I go to pick up Caleb for his birthday visit. I have to get there early because they are evacuating the campus by noon. One of Minot's rivers runs in back of their property, and it has been slowly and surely creeping up on them. Many other areas of Minot are under mandatory evacuation orders for either today or tomorrow.

I went to visit him two weeks ago, and even then they were struggling to deal with all the water surging through the valley there. But that was before two more storm systems came through! The road I usually cut across on goes through a low area by the river. Water had inundated most of that area and was even flowing across the road in one place, but the road was still open. Now it is completely under water.

Poor Caleb will miss all the excitement of the evacuation, but I must confess, I will rest a little easier with him where I can see him. And maybe they will still be evacuated when he returns. You never know. In the meantime, Caleb gets to work his little tail off, with a brief respite for his actual party. If I get my way (and I often do), I will get my garden in this week! Ah, juvenile slave labor.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Skunk Whisperer

There is an old joke about a little boy who embarrassed his mother in public by loudly proclaiming he had to pee. She told him severely, "Next time you have to pee tell me you have to whisper. It sounds nicer."

That night the little boy came and woke his father.

"Daddy, I have to whisper," he hissed.

His father groggily responded, "OK, son. Just whisper in Daddy's ear."

I AM the Skunk Whisperer.

One of the funny little quirks about my house is its history of skunkiness. Through the years a number of skunks have taken up temporary residence under the house. They were quite comfortable until their cozy den was invaded by the Grim Reaper. It was with sadness, but a distinct feeling of inevitability, that I arose one morning to find twin burrows dug under my foundation. Evidently the local housing shortage has carried over into the wildlife population and they are putting up condos now.

I anticipated a tragic dissonance of species, one that would make even the innocent parties socially unwelcome, but nothing has been forthcoming. Now I know it is because of my hitherto undiscovered powers as the Skunk Whisperer.

Last Sunday Laura and I undertook to walk to Westby. It was a lovely morning; the birds were singing, the sun was shining, the air was crisp. And I had to whisper. There ARE no bushes or trees around here to give the desperate aging female relief. The only recourse is to find an abandoned farm building and use it for a privacy screen. No problem there; I like old farm buildings and I just happened to be passing one at the moment.

I did my business behind the building and went around front to explore. I'm a firm believer that there is treasure everywhere and I don't like to let an opportunity pass me by. But maybe I will in the future, at least until hibernation season, because around the corner I came face to face with a skunk. I didn't even see it until I was only 8 or so feet away, but, recognizing my special powers, it was not even alarmed. Delighted as I was to showcase my new talent, I still lost no time in getting out of there. No sense in pushing my luck.

The skunks are still under my house I presume. I can't get under there to check because the whole thing is still flooded from the spring melt, but that doesn't make a whole lot of practical difference. Skunk Whisperer or not, I'm still not crawling under there! So we live in a cautious detente, the skunks delighted with their sweet set-up....24 hr. access to water, a rodent population, no harassment from predators. It's even lighted because there's a shop light plugged in under there I can't get to because of the water.

Maybe they'll leave after they raise their young....Maybe.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What I've Been up to Lately

Now that the snow is melted, it is time to get to work. Of course I'm seldom home, spending my days dashing from place to place working for others, but once in a while I get an evening or Sunday afternoon at home. Then I work like mad because I am racing the clock in a number of ways.

First is the simple fact that there are only a few months until winter starts again. Summer is a season of feverish activity in this country everywhere you look. Farmers give up on sleeping for a few months, the animal population tries to fit a lifetime of living in because if they don't get everything done by winter, they won't be living, and everyone bursts out of their houses to get as much sun and fun in as possible.

Besides the deadline of winter, I am racing a couple other natural processes. It is only going to get harder to get the property clean as the grass grows higher, hiding the trash and twining around the brush. The ticks will continue to proliferate and the mosquito population, which isn't too bad yet, will make being outside miserable without a portable dip of repellent. The grass has to stay mowed or the mosquitoes will be unbearable, but no one will mow my grass if it is full of booby traps. Another reason for my frenetic efforts is getting the trash pile hauled off to the dump as quickly as possible will deprive my basement skunks of their buffet. But that's a different post.

So we've been hauling trash. Things like water heaters, tires, fencing, microwaves, animal skeletons, pipes, lumber, well, you get the idea! The pile's starting to look pretty impressive and we aren't even done yet. Not even close.

I have lots of plants to put in the ground as soon as it's warm, so another of my projects had been to paint some on my house. What? You don't get the connection? I want to put a bed for my annuals on the east wall of the house, but it needed to be scraped and painted. If I waited to do that my plants might get damaged in the process. Ergo, I must paint to plant.

I ended up scraping the walls the day after a 3 day rain storm. The paint came off so easily it was like putting a hot knife through butter. There wasn't much white left on the walls by the time I cleaned them off, but we were supposed to have clear weather for a week or so, plenty of time for drying and priming before the next rain. Supposed to, but suddenly our forecast is filled with mostly rain clouds.

After getting the special dispensation from my all-wise father to put primer on early, I rushed home from picking Laura up and we got on the painting gear. It was somewhat akin to preparing for battle since the precursor for the storm has been high winds up to 45 mph. That is NOT good painting weather. When I stirred the paint bucket up it got whitecaps in it and the paint blew out in a spray. But we got the wall painted. Now it looks like a bird's egg, all white with brown dirt chunks all over it. Oh, well. It's only primer.

On an unrelated note, I finally have pictures of my muskrat baby. Somewhat of a misnomer, since he is neither mine nor a baby. He lives down the road in a pond, but since it's not our pond and he's causing us no problems, he has become somewhat of a pet of ours. Not that HE knows it, but that's beside the point.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May Day! May Day!

Driven by the force of the wind and unable to see clearly through the thickly blowing snow, the deer stumbled on, desperately seeking shelter. The thick winter coat it counted on for protection from these harsh conditions had been shed a month ago, leaving it with a sparse pelt and low energy reserves.

As it plowed through the drifts, powered by its overwhelming urge to survive, the ground suddenly collapsed under legs frantically peddling for a secure footing. The snow that beat against it so cruelly had also hidden an even greater danger. A shallow prairie slough, which in good weather would have been nothing more than a refreshing wade for the deer, was now covered with a thick mush of ice, thick enough to appear solid, but not thick enough to support the deer's weight. It plunged through, still able to touch bottom, but unable to extricate itself from its icy prison.

Still it struggled on, breaking a thin trail through the ice, ever driven south before the gusting, whirling winds. From time to time it would stop, panting in terror and exhaustion, its head drooping dejectedly. To either side, the shore lay within easy reach, but the deer didn't know this and could only follow the instinct that told it to put its back to the wind. The cold temperature of the water quickly sapped the last warmth from its body and its struggles grew weaker and weaker, then ceased all together. The deer's head sank a final time to the surface of the ice. The edge of the slough was 10 yards away

This blizzard hit our wildlife population particularly hard. After a winter of quiet, the sky has turned into the avian equivalent of Grand Central Station; there are SO many birds up here for the spring migration. Birds that are not equipped to deal with harsh weather---that's why they go south after all! Even the year-round residents were vulnerable because they had already shed their winter coats and were wearing fur fashions that looked like they'd been pulled from the rag bag.

I drive past the deer in the slough every time I go to town and I never pass it without saying, "Poor baby." It really is a tragedy that so many wild creatures lost their lives, more and more showing up as the snow melts. But this is a hard land and the survivors, both wild and human, must mentally shrug their shoulders and get to the business of making sure life continues.

I still feel a little bad for having enjoyed the blizzard so much personally. It's my favorite blizzard so far. Coming so late in the season, the system had lots of warm, moist air to feed on and was the most powerful one we've experienced this winter. The winds were fierce, the snow was heavy and wet and caused wide-spread damage. The storm hit in full force in the middle of Friday night---by 5:00 or 6:00 we'd lost power, probably earlier since the house was already so cold. We weren't alone---there were power outages everywhere the storm went.

The weather had been idyllic in the week leading up to the storm, at least to our frozen standards. The day before, my parents and I had been doing yard work in short sleeves. When I cleaned the house Friday afternoon, in the mood to cast off some of my winter's clutter, I had decided to take back the propane heater that had supplemented our electric heaters all winter. So now we had no heat. In the middle of a blizzard.

I wasn't particularly worried. If I'd been worried, the storm wouldn't have been much fun, but I knew it wasn't cold enough to pose any real danger. The temperature outside was barely below freezing, and while we might be uncomfortable, we would be safe inside out of the wind. We spent a good share of the day in bed; it was the warmest place in the house as the temperature steadily fell, reaching a low of about 44 degrees. I was in pajama pants, snow pants, a hat, a tank top, long sleeved shirt, sweater, and vest, with long socks and my new fuzzy slipper boots I thought I wouldn't get a chance to use before next winter.

We ate cold food, talked, and slept some more. The storm finally blew itself out by about 8:30 and I was ready to be rescued. My neighbor came and plowed my driveway to let us out and gave us instructions on the back way into town since the main road was blocked with huge drifts. Jack met us on the way and escorted us into town safely. We decided to spend the night in Westby in a heated house, which was a good thing because the next morning our house temp was down to 38 degrees. I brought as many of my seedlings as I could because they were already showing cold damage. Thankfully, a night in a warm house revived them, but I left them in an extra day to play it safe.

The town of Westby emerged on Sunday to find a world quite different. It was the first day of May, but it didn't look it! Trees were down all over the place and everything was covered with snow again. But the forecast called for plenty of sun and the snow wouldn't last long. The power came back on around 4:00 that afternoon, and everything was back to normal, at least for around here.

These are all scenes from my parents' house:

My driveway, which had just started getting better:

The thick, icy snow melded onto the tree trunk in a curious geometric pattern:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Return of the Thrift Store Vikings and Danger on Ice

Last Monday I had one of those lovely days that comes so rarely to a busy mom. I got to do some (almost) completely guilt free shopping for as long as I wanted with no rush to get home. I had a bit of extra money, so I gave myself permission to pick up any needed furniture items I saw at the thrift shops. We are doing OK for furniture, but we've been using only half our house during the winter, so it's not hard to predict an increase in need now that we can start using the whole thing.

I had a wonderful time at the thrift stores, spending $60 between the two of them. I got a couple nice pieces of furniture, though not really needful ones, and some smaller items just because I could. As closely as I remember, for my $60 I got:

3 pictures
A wire and wood shelf
A wicker and wood cabinet
1 coffee table
3 denim jackets
1 white summer jacket
2 skirts
4 pairs of pants
I lost track of how many long and short sleeved shirts I got...
5 planters
3 children's snowboards
A darling quilted ABC chart
3 mugs that appealed to me
A corduroy vest
A pair of fuzzy slipper boots (finally!)
And a lovely decorative piece, a tiny wooden outhouse with a sign next to it, "Little House on the Prairie"

I love this ABC chart. It has little pockets with a little fabric applique piece of something for each alphabet letter. You can put in and out of the pocket, but they are attached by a little cord so they won't get lost. The quality of the workmanship is amazing, and I got it for $1.50. It was made in the Philippines, and I'd like to give credit to them for a nice product.

Then it was on to Walmart where I got more mundane, everyday stuff, but I did indulge in some new sharpies (can't live without 'em) and a bunch of new acrylic paints since mine were in pretty bad shape. Aaaaaaaaah! Once in a while it's nice to have a day where you get a break from living hand to mouth.

Danger on Ice

A couple weeks ago, Noni and I took the kids and dogs on a Sabbath afternoon drive. I was trying to find a back road that gets us the closest to the Canadian border, but that's a different story. Things were much snowier and icier at the time, and Finley got into trouble our very first stop.

The hills around here are lousy with old buildings that I happen to like to stop and explore. As I explain to Noni, it is only trespassing if you come with a spirit of rudeness or destruction, not if you come to respect and honor the past. I only hope if I ever meet a sheriff, he won't make the same rude noises she makes when I tell her that...

Anyway, stopped to look at an old school house that happened to have a snow melt pond right next to it. Finley was accustomed to the shallow ditch ponds around our house where you could fall through the ice and it was no big deal. So he charged out across the snow just like always, and fell through, just like always. But then he found out he couldn't get out, just like always. I was a long ways away and started running to see if he needed help. There is very real danger in a situation like that, as the deer in my next post can attest. Noni was closer and says she could tell he was doing just fine, so she took pictures. I'm sure Finley appreciated being the model for her photo-journalistic efforts!

Later we stopped to climb a hill and left the dogs in the car; there are limits---even for me---to how disgusting they can get and still have transportation. They sat there, staring out the windshield at us, and panting in disappointment. We were gone about five minutes and returned to this scene...

The tragedy (though Noni did not seem to find it so), was that the moisture was not confined to a gentle misting of the windows. Someone had drooled all over my steering wheel, a fact I did not fully discover until driving. So it went something like this....steer, yuck, wipe, fiendish cackle from sister, steer, yuck, wipe, cackle...Well, you get the idea. Next time she can drive.