Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tis also the season for demolition

Last year on the day after Christmas we tore up the kitchen floor. Unlike the last kitchen floor we demolished, we only had to go down to the bare dirt in half the room. But also unlike the last kitchen floor, it was winter this time rather than the height of summer and we never had to pull out the old sill plate and prop the house up with a car jack. Ah, the memories. Asbestos dust, respirators, dust masks. Dry rot. Boring beetles as big around as my pinky finger ...

[Photo: This was our door to the kitchen and the outside world. Stella, our wood cookstove, turned out to be fully up to task of keeping us warm as long as the temperature didn't go below 25 degrees F. The kitchen's wall-mounted cupboard sat on two potting tables in the dining room. The refrigerator was at the other end of the dining room table. The chest freezer spent most of 2010 in the front hallway.]

It seemed to me that 2010 had been a slow year -- after the kitchen achieved a usuable state (NOT a finished state, that still hasn't happened), at the end of January. It took nine months to finish fencing the front acre and half for goat pasture. But we did tear the carpet out of the new 10' x 12' pantry (previously Peach's transition aviary and before that a bedroom) all in one morning. The shelves went up in the afternoon. All of this came much to the surprise of the teenagers who slept through the pounding and cling to the mistaken notion that people are supposed to relax on their birthdays, holidays, and weekends.

This Christmas break Matthew finished the goat fence and put up two trims boards in the kitchen. But all in all its been too much of a holiday. All this sleeping in until 7:30 is getting me down, although Matt seems none the worse for making it to almost ten o'clock once or twice. The dogs fill the house with narcoleptoids (drowse-inducing pheromones) and try to inspire us to lay around sleeping like they do, but how can we do that when every time we want to sit for a moment by the fire we have to shove, pry, drag, and otherwise forcibly evict from the couch or the chair a previously happy dog.

The house meanwhile, has achieved a state of maximum clutter (even for us) because we are preparing to expand the teens' room out into another section of the house and all that stuff had to go somewhere. This made now as good a time as any to implement another plan I have, which is to install floor to ceiling bookshelves in the sitting room and thereby get a look at what really is under all the Pink Chablis carpeting (ack!) in preparation for tearing it out some other Christmas holiday.

We started by taking down our fabulous tree. Then we shoved all the other junk lying around into other corners of the house and tore into it. And lo! Below the carpet lay an oak floor. One that previous owner of this house used as a dropcloth. I say, we may be uncivilized and gauche but using a hardwood floor as a plasterers' and painters' tarp definitely the wins the Yobbo Prize in my book. Which also makes yobbo the word of the day. It's Brit-speak for lout, yokel, hooligan, idjit. "Yob" for short.
But that's just my opinion. I am sure that, should this house survive us living in it, the next inhabitants of the Fujiko Farm manor will also spend a lot of time on many projects shaking their heads and wondering: why on earth did those yobs we bought this pit from do this that way???

Friday, December 24, 2010

A low-key way of getting a tree

Hard to write this piece while we're still waiting to know if Jay's seventeen-year-old son is going to pull through, and what the situation will be when Ben regains consciousness. But here goes ... cognitive dissonance ... 'tis the season.
* * *
"Did you get your tree yet?" my dad asked.
"Yeah, but I'm not telling you how. I'll send the story to you."
"You stole it," mom said.
"Hey! who ratted?"
"No one," she said. "I just figured."
* * *
Well, I don't know, was it stolen or wasn't it? Our next door neighbor said we could take any trees we wanted on his property. As in whole Douglas Fir trees sixty, seventy, eighty feet tall. In a year or more, we never got around to it. Matt complained that the trees were too wolfy to be worth the bother. Knotted and limbed all the way to the ground. Difficult, even as firewood.

Then it got to be near Christmas and we merry procrastinators still didn't have a tree. I was leaning on the goatshed door waiting for Joy to finish her food and studying the treetops in the neighbor's yard -- a yard now pretty much owned by Bank of America, foreclosure date, charmingly enough, February 14. When I saw one I thought would do nicely.

Matt also said it wasn't worth climbing a tree and cutting the top out of it because the tops of firs are rangy and you can take ten feet of a tree and only have three or four side branches. Oh, but not that tree right there. Right next to our neighbor's music studio. That tree had already lost its crown a long time ago and had a bushy, forked top.

Thus, in a moment of weakness, Matt was bullied into helping me get the tree this year. All the other years, Matt and Ronan got the tree together or Matt brought the tree home as part of some forestry job he was doing. Matt insisted on doing a proper professional job of topping the tree, despite that the thing so limby, I couldn't have fallen out of it if I tried, Matt insisted on doing a thorough job of it. He harnessed both of us up, complete with fliplines, safety ropes, prussock knots, everything but spurs. He also, gallantly, carried the saw up with him. I should have protested and brought the saw up myself, but it was just as well: there were so many tight spaces to squeeze through between all the limbs and the tree was soppy wet and slippery -- "Greasy," Matty called it -- that by the time I'd pulled my way up fifty or so feet to just below the spot I'd be sawing, I was already tired.

[Above left: at least one of us was partially dressed in seasonal attire. That would be Matt, in his seasonal oiled "tin jacket". My low-budget version of rain gear is having another set of clothes to change into when I'm done.]

Ronan was our groundman. She held the rope that she would use for lowering the topped treetop down to the ground. I put in a face cut. Matt helped with the back cut, turning one arborist's handsaw into a momentary misery whip. Then we pushed the top out of the tree and ... watched it hang up in all the branches about ten feet below.

Getting me and the Christmas tree down was more work than climbing up. My lowering rope kept binding in tight crotches and I had to swing out onto other limbs and dance around and jump up and down to get the Christmas tree to dislodge and fall to the next level of hanging up. But eventually it was on the ground.

We three happy tree poachers dragged our kill to the front deck where we trimmed it. When we got it inside and up (tied to hooks inbedded in studs in the wall to keep it from toppling over), I realized that the tree was not just a tree with two tops. It had bunches. In fact, it was a tree cup.

[Right: Tree cup. And a photo of a dog experiencing cognitive dissonance. Beta had just returned from an all night 12-mile hike with her previous person. Her she is back in her own house where she usually goes straight into the chair nearest the cookstove. But she feels guilty because she was so happy to be with Olive all night. Now she's back with both her favorite people and her best friend (Sophie, our other dog) and she doesn't know what to do with her feelings of divided loyalties. I gave her some counseling and invited her up into her favorite chair and pretty soon she was over it.]

It was such a beautiful tree cup that Ronan said she didn't want to put ornaments on it. Which is why we hung our presents as the ornaments -- our symbolic fruit would actually be harvested at Christmas, and then filled the big bowl at the tree's center with all the objects too heavy to hang.

[Here we have Ronan wearing her festive "Don't Talk to Me" shirt and looking like an elf with attitude.]

I would really like to get a picture with all seven or nine of us around the tree, but Pat is already gone visiting down south and the four teenagers in our lives are hard to track during the holidays. We've gotten the goats taken care of: they got a new pasture for the holidays. The dogs have our neighbors' too long leftover turkey to garnish their dinners. Now what can I get for the skunks under the goat shed?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

And sometimes there is nothing you can say or do

I thought about my friend Jay and his son, Ben, and his wife Renee when the little thrush plopped into and back out of our lives yesterday. Sometimes it's so easy. Sometimes even a stressfest like our goat, O'un, being pronounced "brain dead" seems like it was so easy ... only one week later and she was back. Not just back, her personality was back, too. When we nursed O'un back to life one blackberry leaf and knotweed sprig at a time I wondered what brain damage would like in a goat. But we never found out because O'un was exactly the same. The leader of the herd. A pushy matriarch but sensible for a goat, certainly no more stupid than before her near-death experience.

But then other times there is nothing you can say or do to heave things back into alignment. You can just wait.

Last Saturday my friend's son collapsed in front of him. An artery had burst in his brain. All week his parents have lived in a hospital netherworld and I have gone about my ordinary life of getting Ronan to school, doing a fundraiser for a Cambodian orphanage, going to another fundraiser for our river's watershed, milking O'un, doing whatever, I waited and wondered how things were going for Ben and his parents. On Friday I learned that eight hours of brain surgery on Tuesday fixed the arterial problem but Ben had yet to regain full consciousness.

Now I've been told by the friends-of-Jay grapevine that Ben has pneumonia and that they are having difficulty getting his temperature down. His parents wait helplessly there at Riverbend.
The family's friends wait helplessly wherever we are. Seven drops of water and a little snuggle time over a warm heart are not going to be enough to fix this. If there is a magic blackberry leaf for Ben, we haven't found it yet. We just wait. Tell Jay and Renee we're thinking of them and ... and ...are afraid to say anything else for how lame and helpless it all feels.

If you know Jay or have seen him play at the Art of Everything or at the Axe, he is posting any news there is to his facebook page from the hospital. Text messages or e-mail are preferred over phone calls. I don't know what else to say.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Seven drops of water, three poops later

I was talking on the phone with my co-teacher, Olive, setting up a time to do a work session on issue two of the The Mirror, when I looked out the door and saw a little bird sitting on the doormat with its wings spread. It was mouth-breathing.

Hung up. Picked the bird up. Gave it a drop of water from my fingertip. It swallowed. Gave it several more. The little thing kept swallowing. Good.

Got Ronan. Sat her in the chair by the fire with the bird on her chest. Fed Ronan tea and leftover cream puffs from the Watershed fundraiser last night. Ronan said, "It pooped on your shirt." Great!

Ten minutes and two poops later (one in Ronan's hand) and the bird was ready to go outside. Ronan opened her hands. The bird sat there for moment soaking up the morning sun, then flew off across the garden and up into a young fir tree.

Nice to have an easy fix sometimes in amongst the complications. Now on to making cranberry and walnut chevre and thinking about my Oregon Quarterly essay submission -- due January 15th. haven't started it yet. Oh, right, and then there's that magazine issue to publish. Isn't that what I was doing when this started?

Having a bit of a hard time maintaining focus lately, as you can see.