Friday, February 28, 2014

Lessons From the Woodpile

Quilted Sky
Pondering the Woodpile
Watching Me, Watching the Fire
The sky is a glowing patchwork of silver linings and blue satin. It's not windy, rainy, snowy, sunny or even deeply cold. It's just cloudy. It feels like nothing is happening; like non-weather has stalled over Elmira Pond.

On top of the weather, my wood requires baby-sitting. It won't catch a flame and burn without constant supervision. So today, I've been staring at the woodpile more often than I normally would, as if it were the highlight of my day.

Some highlight, I grump to myself.

And then, my mind begins to explore possibilities. What does the woodpile have to teach me about rewriting my novel? Well...
  1. Like green wood, heavy, wet words don't catch the spark as well as seasoned tinder. 
  2. A slow beginning is frustrating. Catch your readers on fire and keep them warm throughout the entire story.
  3. Build a steady stack on a firm foundation; build a novel on a solid narration.
It helps to find the silver lining in any sky or situation. Some days may feel dull, but our minds can find what's worthy. And some days, it's just good to let the dogs curl up at your feet.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Mouse Whisperer

The Mouse Whisperer
Tuning In
After the Pounce, Dig
The Winged Mouse Whisperer
Come Out, Come Out
Time to Go Home
With head cocked and floppy ears perked, the Mouse Whisperer of Elmira Pond squats in the snow as still as Blue Heron. Not even a single toenail twitches. Suddenly, she launches her 60-pound body into the air, straight up, and pounces hard on the crunchy shelf of snow to break all the way through to the mass of dry grass beneath.

Bobo is hunting mice.

German Short-haired Pointers (GSPs) are German-engineered to hunt. Yet they were the common man's dog, and often they hunted where the common man was not allowed to go, bringing back rabbits for dinner. GSPs are stealthy, intelligent and sleek. Their long square snouts flare to catch the slightest scent and their keen ears can hear the quiet steps of mice tunneling under snow.

Bobo has the patience of a hunter. Unlike her brother Grendel who is a carefree runner, she is content to hang out in the horse pastures that surround Elmira Pond. Ever so silently she whispers to mice, coaxing them into movement, waiting...waiting...until the precise moment to pounce. And she will wait, statue-still for that moment.

Today the sky is moody with steely clouds that seem to grump as they pass. Or maybe it's me who's moody. Clear up or snow is my grumpy complaint to the clouds that seem to press low over our valley. It's warm enough to melt, but nothing dramatic; the ground seems to suck water from snow like a toddler with a juice-box and straw. It leaves a crusty shell of dingy snow that lingers.

Evidently such melts trigger mice movements. The Mouse Whisperer detects the subtle change and stands guard over several mounds. After the pounce, she digs like someone who just discovered a cache of coins. In fact, I sometimes hope that she does dig up an interesting object or two. But the snow prevents me from poking around her dug holes. I'm not a great hunter; I dislike waiting and this waiting for spring always gets me itching.

Overhead a hawk circles low, as if recognizing a fellow Mouse Whisperer. He lands in a low branch in the tamarack overlooking Bobo and her snow holes. He is patient, too. Ever so slowly the low gray clouds pass by, trailing more shadows.

I whistle, and the Mouse Whisperer gallops home.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Birthday Larch

Drew's Birthday Larch
Enjoying His Gift
Chopping Larch
Helpful Wife
Freshly Chopped Larch
Chunks of ice growl as they slide down the metal roof of my house. The snow, freeze, melt cycle has sculpted monuments above my eaves and some are beginning to let go. Today, the sky is brilliant blue, the air cold and my wood wet.

Smoldering wood makes me long for spring more than any other reason at the moment. My hair is flecked with ashes from blowing at coals, as if my new workout includes deep inhalations with long blowing breaths. I pant before my open wood-stove trying to get orange coals to spark reluctant larch into flames.

Larch grows in the northern Rockies like a pine and sheds its needles like an aspen in autumn. The slopes seem full of dead trees in winter, but come spring larch brightens the forests with new green needles. Green needles are great; green wood, not so much.

Our grand pile of pine and birch did not last the winter. A few weeks ago, Todd bought us a pile of rounds. We like to split wood ourselves, and by "we," I mean Drew, my son-in-law. As the wood-dealer dumped rounds in our yard, Drew and Allison headed to Idaho.

Actually, we thought they were going winter-camping and were pleasantly surprised when they showed up at Elmira Pond. They were surprised too--we were in Couer D'Alene, 45 miles south. But Drew didn't miss the big pile of rounds in the yard, and over the phone we told him, "Happy birthday!"

The next morning, I rose to fix breakfast, hearing a steady whump outside. Drew was playing with his new gift, chopping the larch. In between meals, birthday cake and several rounds of Catan, Drew finished chopping all the rounds and his lovely wife helped to stack it all on our porch.

So while the wood has me attempting to breath fire, the memory of Drew's chopping his birthday gift leaves me warm.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Eagles Over Elmira

Snowy Morning
No Blue Sky Today
House Squats in Snow
Not a Hawk
Simply, Majestic
"The Eagle And The Hawk"

I am the eagle, I live in high country in rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky.
I am the hawk, and there's blood on my feathers.
But time is still turning, they soon will be dry.
And all those who see me, and all who believe in me
share in the freedom I feel when I fly.

Come dance with the west wind and touch on the mountain tops.
Sail o'er the canyons and up to the stars.
And reach for the heavens and hope for the future
and all that we can be, and not what we are. 

~John Denver

It's snowing so hard, I can't see the heavens, let alone reach for them. No blue-sky companion for me today. Yet, in the muffled sounds of the snowstorm I hear a twittering. It's the same bird-twittering I've heard outside my office window the past few days. I scan the snowy trees for a hawk. Nothing.

The old snow crunches beneath the lighter new snow as we walk back to the house. Grenny burrows his snout into the snow, biting at the harder clumps. Bobo runs off to chase mice in the south pasture and ignores my calls. On my third shout of , "" the twittering answers me and I see movement in a tall pine toward Elmira schoolhouse.

Dark tail-feathers shake off snow high above the ground. I think it's a hawk, but most of the body is hidden among pine boughs and snow. Rushing into the house to grab my camera with the telephoto lens, the birds lets out a shrill, "Scree." Then I see it; a white head with a curving yellow beak. This in no hawk.

Bursting out from the pine is a bald eagle. I'm so excited I miss the flight shot. He lands across Elmira Pond on the upper branch of a bare tamarack. Majestically, he sits. How else can a eagle perch but majestically? I whistle, trying to get him to talk back to me. His earlier twittering reminds me of the "Star Wars" robot, R2D2. He is silent to my whistles.

Throughout the day, eagles circle low over Elmira. They must be seeking the mice that hunker beneath the snow. At least four eagles have graced my day; my muses that surround me. Guess it's not so bad to be socked in with snow if eagles are my company.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Elmira Sky

Blinding Afternoon Light
A Peek of Blue
Gray Sky Over Elmira
Stepping outside, I'm blinded by a floodlight of sun-rays as if the sky were poised to interrogate me. Blinking is my only defense. Careful not to step off the porch into a pile of snow, I grab the railing and try to see the blue sky I've been denied for nearly two weeks.

Yes--this is the Pacific Northwest weather I recall from last year. No matter the precipitation, the sky over Elmira has persisted in remaining gray like welt wool socks hanging overhead. It feeds my desire for coffee and throws my sleep-cycle off kilter.

But early this morning I did glimpse blue peeking like a tired eye over the western ridge. Sometimes the sky looks through the hanging socks. Mostly it retreats and rain tracks water down the windowpanes until it shifts into a white blizzard of slushy snow.

Last night, in the dark with no light at all I had to trudge through snow drifts to wipe the satellite Internet clean. Poised to flee from monsters lurking in tall pines, I nearly collapsed when a tree branch dumped a bucket-worth of snow across my back.

I miss the sky and the sun.

So right here, right now on the porch I'm basking and blinking in the bright light. It is good to see you again, my Elmira Sky.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Romancing the Pond

Wine and Roses
Pale Yellow and Delicate Pink
Poe and Snickerdoodles
My Cupid
My dashing hero drives in from Moses Lake, delicate yellow roses tinged with pink in one hand and a cheap bottle of red wine in the other.

I greet him at the door with freshly baked snickerdoodles and a Valentine. Brats are in the oven and potatoes are frying up in the pan.

The whining dogs try to hop up to give us both kisses, reminding us that this is a day of love, a day that should be every day. Love is the highest law, the ultimate gift of giving of ourselves. Love is patient, love is kind. Love is a smile at a stranger, a hug for a friend.

Romance will soon begin on the pond once all the migratory birds flock this way in search of mating grounds. The bull-frogs will start up by April and by May their sonorous sounds will fill the evening air like bad tuba-players.

Love is on its way. But we can be kind to one another every day, beyond spring's promise of romance.

But tonight, it's just me and my Cupid...and a couple of dogs!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Woes of Wind and Wet

Wind-Stretched Clouds Over Elmira
Imploding Snow
Melt on the Pond
Cornice of Roof Snow
Water Like Pearls
Flashing blue lights taunt me. I'm resetting the HughesNet Satellite Internet with no such luck of service. Already I've trudged to the satellite dish twice, but see nothing amiss. Cables are all connected. Wireless system is a-okay. Computers rebooted. Third reset and the lights blink. I'm woefully disconnected.

It must be the wind and the tremendous melt it rushed across the northern Rockies. Water pours off the roof from beneath mounds of squishy snow. Elongated clouds stretched to almost breaking by western winds cast a kaleidoscope of light and shadow across puckered snow. It's melting so fast the snow is imploding where tracks create hollows.

Giving up on the electronics, I march across the southern pasture to Elmira Pond. Already I can see water pooling along the far edge. The ice is flexing, no longer solid.

My trouble is with the snow. It's still deep, but like walking in soft ice cream. My heavy boots clunk and my legs protest against the gait. Halfway back to the house a cramp seizes my hamstring from the back of my knee up to my left periformis muscle.

Stretching relieves the cramp until I try to step with my left leg again. After three spasms, I'm dragging my left leg walking sideways to the house. The wind blasts at my back and spray from melting snow splatters the lenses of my glasses. I think this is what it means to be on one's "last leg."

Side-stepping is easier across the driveway and I'm so relieved to make it up the wet steps beneath the mounding cornice of roof snow. Water drops like strings of crystal pearls and it sounds like summer rain.

Once inside I check the blue lights. Still flashing. So I watch the wind contort clouds and I gently stretch my leg.

Woes will pass.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mirage in the Snow

Elmira Snow Day
Snowy Pond
Snowy Dog
Fun in the Snow is for Dogs
Snow on the Fence Post
My fingers sting from the blowing snow. Todd said that he encountered a few flurries driving from Elmira to Moses Lake at 3 a.m. It'll pass, he tells me. For now, the blustery conditions linger.

It's another snow day.

Better than a brown day, or a polar vortex day. But I'm longing for open waters on the pond--the day I can announce that the feathered-guests have returned. I'm longing for a merganser day.They'll need the water so for now, I'll endure the snow.

Despite the gusting wind, the snow muffles all sound. If my fingers weren't so cold, I'd stay out longer. I left my gloves so that I could take pictures, but each shot looks the same--filtered in white. Bobo searches for mice and Grendel rolls in the snow. They love a snow day.

Back inside, my fingers fumble to get kindling started. It's so quiet that the only sound is the gravelly crush of the snow plow's blade as it heads north. It'll return, southbound, in about five minutes since we are so close to the county border. The next border beyond is Canada.

Crackling now, my fire consumes birch bark and newspaper until flames engulf split pine logs. I watch the glowing orange and my fingers relax. A strange sound draws my attention to the train tracks. An odd-looking locomotive slowly lumbers northward on the BNSF track. It's yellow, but old and rusty, a design I don't recognize. It's different from the locomotives that pass Elmira.

Then I see flames. Strange cars linked together in a short train of eight or nine, blast the rails beneath with flames. It occurs to me that this contraption is how the railroad clears its tracks, although we've seen plows mounted on engines and heard of air-blowers. This contraption looks old--like rustic-old. It's a steel dragon breathing fire out the belly of each car. Never have I seen such a train. Like the Hellfire Express.

And neither shall you see it! So befuddled, I watch it progress, ending with a tanker car and an old-fashioned yellow caboose. Then it occurs to me that I need a picture. Too late; it vanishes into myth beyond a stand of pines.

Maybe it was simply the mirage of a snow day.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Where Blue Heron Treads

Blue Heron's Log
Log Frozen in Ice
Silly on Sundays Bloghop
To go where Blue Heron treads is possible because of ice. A mere stub of log pokes through the frozen layers of Elmira Pond and I can actually stand where my favorite pond guest likes to sun and preen in the spring and summer.

The first time I ever met Blue Heron he was stalking frogs in the rushes along the water's edge. He's a male, great blue heron nearly four-feet tall with a wing span that approaches seven feet. He's magnificent. His neck compresses like under-the-sink plumbing until he strikes, elongating that neck and wielding his beak-blades to snag a frog, fish or even a field gopher.

When Blue Heron is at rest, he goes to the log across the pond and stands still as carved blue-grey marble. Until molting season. Then he pecks at his feathers until I worry he's diseased. He sheds his mating colors, growing duller feathers before leaving me alone to watch an empty pond in winter.

My daughter, Brianna, joins me on the ice and I show her the log. A gymnastics coach, she struts a few poses, giving me her best Blue Heron imitations. It's a silly thing to do, but giggling on the log helps me overcome the pond's empty-nest-syndrome. I know that the migrators will return, just as the flown children still visit.

Join host blogger EverythingSusan for more Silly on Sundays stories, posts and funnies. Getting silly prepares you for Monday.

Have a few giggles with our photos:

Posing Like Blue Heron

Nifty Heron Leg Trick

Boots on Blue Heron's Log

Statue Still Like Blue Heron

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sewing Like Frankenstein

Cat Quilt
Grenny Bored With Sewing
Frankenstein Stitches
Looping big stitches around and around pinched seams, I'm actually sewing. This is a big deal. I don't do stitches.

Todd's mom makes beautiful quilts like the blue calico one she made for our wedding 26 years ago. It graces my hope chest in the guest bedroom beneath a smaller quilt she made for my youngest daughter with triangular patches that form two cats. Her daughters are equally talented with fingers, material and visions.

As for me, I might have picked up the practice had I lived closer to my mother-in-law or Todd's sisters. Instead, I happily receive the gifts of their hands. To my own children I passed down such skills as duct-tape and staples.

One night, not too long ago, my youngest daughter calls and says, "Mom! I made a cat-castle out of cardboard and duct-tape!" This is the same daughter that I once taught how to hem with a stapler. Her older sister is more savvy than us and can sew ribbons onto point shoes, patches onto jeans and baubles onto belly-dancing costumes. She has her paternal grandmother's knack for stitching.

Tonight, however, I have torn sheets. One of the dogs, in a nesting fury, slashed my bottom bed-sheet like some Jack-Russel-the-Ripper. The little tear grew with successive washings. A few nights ago my foot caught in the tear and ripped it more. After today's washing, the tear is a monster of a rift. And I only own one set of sheets for my bed.

So like Dr. Frankenstein, I'm bent over my monster stitching loop after loop. When I'm done, it's a puckered patch job but the rips will no longer attack my toes at night. Satisfied with the results, I think I did a fantabulous job.

For more fantastic & fabulous stories, join blog host abitofsunshine for Fantabulous Friday.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Coyote Calls

Cold as Ice
Keeping the Coals Hot
Hiding From the Scary Monsters
Nary a Track This Way...
...Or That
No Coyote Trails
Just a Clear Day Dawning Over Elmira
Temperatures dip low enough for me to recall what Minnesota cold is like. Reaching for the door handle, my bare hand is stung by the metal, reminding me that I need to wear gloves to gather fire wood from the porch at 3 a.m. For two nights in a row, I've roused myself from the layers of warm blankets and sleep so I can keep the coals burning.

It's pitch black and the dogs balk at the darkness which makes me wary. What is out there, unseen? Todd teases me that Elmira has night monsters. A former Army Ranger, he trudges out into the darkness, flashlight in hand, scanning the fields and forests for monster eyes. Sometimes he glimpses a cat or startles a deer. Once he walk right past a moose. From the pile of droppings it left so near his boot tracks, suffice to say Todd scared the moose.

But Todd is working down in Moses Lake and I'm all alone fighting what my weather report calls, "frigid weather." Bobo dashes off the porch to pee by the garage and I think, "no monsters," so I follow down the steps with Grendel on a leash. He lifts his leg on a bushy pine and banshees begin to wail.

Bobo freezes mid-squat and Grenny turns off his stream. My heart skips and I'm ready to levitate back to the porch, I'm so scared. It screams again and Bobo gives off a low growl. Fear turns to protectiveness, as I realize it's a coyote and very close. Bobo is off leash. "Come here," I rumble. I'm worried about BoBo.

She trots to me, but the ki-yi-ing kicks into full production. It's only one coyote and they call for many reasons--marking territory, calling in the pack and baiting dogs. The first few calls that were so eerie sounds as if the coyote is injured. Even I want to go see if he's okay.

But coyote is a trickster. And the hair standing up on the back of my neck is a good indicator that I need to not go off investigating like my Ranger husband would do. The coyote may be trying to lure my dogs, so I grasp the leash tightly and hold onto Bobo until we get into the house.

Grendel continues to bark although Bobo decides that the freshly stoked fire is a good place to settle near. Even in the house I can hear the eerie cries. I swear the coyote is in my front yard.

Come morning, I rise early to fan the coals once more. I'm curious to track our nighttime trickster but see nothing but smooth snow. Not a single track, trail or hint of any presence but our own. I look to the abandoned schoolhouse beyond our northern pasture and still see no sign.

The monsters all dissolved with the rising sun, having only teased me with howls of coyote calls.