Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hugh’s Photo Challenge: Week 8 – Charity Christmas Tree Topper Challenge

I Love You to the Moon & Back, Too!
Dreams of Sugar Plum Faeries Dancing
Love From a Summerhouse in Britain
Love From Kansas Fields of Sunflowers
A Proper Tree Topper in the Office
What's topping my tree is nothing.

That fact makes it a tad difficult to join in with all the merry-making tree-toppers around the globe, but I'm a writer. I'll make the connection. I also love dogs and this tree-topping post is to support Hugh's great cause for the Dog Trust Charity. Hugh is great, too and gets bloggers topping trees in photos each year. Learn more at his blog, Hugh's Views and News.

Many marvelous ornaments hang from my bare-topper tree. (Hugh actually has a bear-topper tree, which is slightly different). A few my children made Christmases long ago. A Santa in his sled had an accident of sorts during the night and he lost his red wagon and both boots. Luckily, I have a 15-year-old staying with us and she's a whiz at Super Glue.

My tree is taking on an international flare. Two years ago, a tiger from India joined the Sugar Plum Fairy and watchful Nutcracker. This year a special post from a special Summerhouse arrived on Elmira Pond bearing British love in an ornament. Next, two new ornaments arrived from distant Kansas, professing love that is both as cheerful as a Kansas sunflower and out of this world.

It's not what tops the tree, but the ornaments that hang with memories of loved ones.

Yet, upstairs in my office is a perfectly topped wire tree strung with lights. Beneath the star a drama unfolds. A fly and a spider stand off in the light of colorful electric bulbs. Life, and death, does not pause for Christmas. But the promise of Christmas, a baby in a manger come to save humankind, lifts us above the spider-eats-fly world we live in.

May your tree be topped with what matters most -- love. From this, all else hangs like the ornaments we adore.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Winter Whistles

Eagle From My Office in Shadow of Star
Scanning Elmira Pond
Responding to Whistles
Also Responding to Whistles
Something white catches my eye while I rinse dishes. Thinking it's the railroad track pigeons, I give a casual glance. What looks like two white birds becomes one -- a bald eagle with white head and tail. He's got a hankering for pigeon-pie.

He hung around Elmira Pond for most of the day. Like me, he looks over the pond in search of movement. Only stillness. The migration south is over. Those who remain are the opportunists: the murder of crow, the forest ravens and the bald eagles.

No one likes the crow tree I decorated last year. The crows avoid it and several of the shiny baubles have dulled and the glittery ribbon is faded gold. The eagle pays it no mind from his perch on the bent top of a larch.

So I whistle. The eagle hears me and cocks his head one way and then the other. How delightful it can be to get a response from a living thing. I whistle some more and laugh. Then I hear meowing and see a winter-puffed Bootsy headed my way.

We all need to connect. No one can live in a tree, a garage or a house alone.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

December Rains

Santa Has a Tree for Me
Our Tree is Tagged & Legal
Frozen Grouse Creek on Dec. 5, 2015
Swollen Grouse Creek on Dec. 9, 2015
Pooling Flood Water
Nearing the Bridge
Churning & Muddy
Swollen Waves
Road Wash Out
A thin crust of ice clings to shadows as Todd and I shop for a Christmas tree. He likes the firs with their short needles, and I like the thick pines. We measure height with our eyes and try to imagine this one or that in our living room.

Finally, we agree on a tree and he gets the handsaw.

Our lot is the wide open Kiniksu National Forest, and we have a $5 permit with a "Merry Christmas" greeting from the Forest Service. It might lack mugs of cocoa or a red-suited Santa you'd find in town, but I like shopping for a tree in the forest.

Until I look down and see lynx tracks. That's when I notice the deer carcass and head to the truck. No way do I want to get caught between a hungry wild cat and her dinner. We pick another tree, and I say I like it better. It's better because it's not located in the lynx dining room.

Turns out it's a hemlock. Not a bad choice, but we are both surprised as we load it in the truck. We have to carry it because where there's not snow in shadows, there's mud. Two winters ago we had to trek through waist deep snow to find our Christmas tree. Now we are driving along Grouse Creek, tires slipping on mud.

We cut the tree on Saturday because we had a lull in the drizzling rain. On Sunday it returned. Though I wait for it to turn to snow, the rain continues to patter on our metal roof. The moisture is needed, but so is snow. Without the cold, the water saturates the ground. Snow is like a container and it (should) release the moisture as spring thaw comes on gradually.

Last year the thaw came early and quick. By the time the rivers would normally be close to flood stage, we were entering a drought. Yet, if you look at precipitation, we had a "normal" year. Cold plays a dynamic role in our Inland Pacific Northwest climate.

At 2 am last night it was 52 degree F. Crazy warm! And the rain poured relentlessly. The flooding began a few hours later. We went up both the Pack River and Grouse Creek to marvel at the natural disaster. The road we had just slipped down with our tree a few days ago is gone in places. The icy river is now churning pale chocolate milk. Logs look like sticks riding the rapids.

When the road washed out before us, Todd kept driving. Yes, I panicked. He found it funny. The only way I could calm down was to point my camera and film. Watching the screen diverted my eyes from watching the washout road. Not a prize-winning piece of journalism, but you can watch the video here.

There's something unnerving about how quickly water can displace rock. It's as if water plays nicely and goes through proper channels only because it agrees to this arrangement. We build up around it and one day water turns rebellious and destroys all we've built -- bridges, road, houses, pastures.

It's receding and we'll muck out the debris water left in it's wake. At least we got our Christmas Tree before the road washed out.

The photos I'm sharing via Abracabadra's Wordless Wednesday Link up. The photos are mine, as well as the words.

I'm not really word-less.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Home's Where the Heart Is

Outtake from the Family Photo Session

Fall Transitioning to Winter
The Murder Moves In
Decorating for Thanksgiving
Silent Pond
Kitchen Turkeys
Kyle on Schweitzer
Cabinets & Pond Oreille
Schweitzer Ski Village
Kyle, Drew & Allison
Castle #1
Castle #2 Kitchen
Castle #2 Bed
Collection in Castle #1
Help With Author Headshots
Table of Love
A Lasting Gift of Love
Knowing  the kids are all coming home is the best feeling in the world. The empty house afterwards is one of the worst. Not unlike the cycle of life, home beats with a heart.

Our barns are bursting with rounds of wood and we make a run to WinCo in Coeur D'Alene for the best deals on food in the region. My ripe pumpkins await the oven, a dream I had all summer that we might all gather for pumpkin pie.

By the time the migratory birds move out, the cold settles in along with our winter guests, a murder of crows. Elmira Pond is silent, a shell of ice as if it were incubating until spring. Crusty snow fills the pastures and reveals the trails of wildlife. One of our big bucks is bedding down beneath the hemlock outside our bedroom window. I try to see him in the moonlight, but he remains shadow.

The Midwest children arrive on Sunday with beer, games and love. Allison and Drew have gifted me with their presence and that of Kyle's. They bought him a plane ticket with their mileage points and drive from Houghton, Michigan to pick him up in Menomonie, Wisconson where he's working on his masters in IO Psychology. They fly in from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Missoula, Montana where Brianna lives. They drive three hours to Idaho, crossing their third time zone and fourth state to get here.

I'm blessed with a happy heart.

My house is filled with good cooking and laughter. The games begin, and I serve Christmas fudge out of holiday sequence, while getting our 22-pound turkey drunk on Clean Slate Riesling. It's our favorite brine that even wins the approval of Chef Josh when he and Brianna join us later in the week.

Time stands still and I hear the beating heart. In between games of Dixit and Catan we eat and interview. This year we are eggless, having discovered that it is the culprit of Allison's food imbalance. I got so good at holiday cooking gluten-free and dairy-free that egg-free has thrown me for a loop. We eat squishy pancakes and I later learn from Josh that tapioca is essential to egg-free cooking and baking. He even shares with us his egg-free squash nog and pies.

The interviews are the result of a new writing gig, one that gets me out and about the Panhandle of Idaho to catch stories of businesses, entrepreneurs and lifestyle. First we go to my favorite breakfast house to be stood up for my first interview. The next place is closed. Worried, I call my third interview because he lives on top of Schweitzer Mountain. He's still willing to do centerfold shots, he tells me. It's a joke, but I'm grateful for back up nonetheless.

We climb the switchbacks above Sandpoint and park the car on an icy plot of flat ground at the ski resort which dominates the mountain. Far below the fingers of bays weave in and out of mountains and forests. From our vantage point we can see the craggy peaks of the Cabinet Mountains and the expanse of Lake Pend Oreille. My third interview of the day shows up in his truck to take us to his castle.

The owner is a character and a delight to interview. And what could be better than getting to tour a mountain top castle with three of my grown kids? Experiencing an earthquake in the middle of the interview. It rumbles like an avalanche and shakes the stone structure. My son-in-law is a geologist and he gets excited -- it's his first quake. Now all he needs to do is see lava and stand on a glacier.

While it's not lava, there's hot water surrounding the entryway of the main castle like an interior mote. We get a peek at a collection of authentic ancient armor and arms, a real Viking's sword and Revolutionary War era pistols. We even cross a drawbridge to enter the main castle. Yes, there are two. One is our host's home and the other is a guest-castle. For a nightly fee, you can sleep in style on a mountaintop in northern Idaho and ski to the biggest resort in the state. Earthquakes are random and not guaranteed.

Brianna arrives with Josh and their dog, Barley. We break out the Cards Against Humanity and laugh ourselves silly. Josh perfects the drunken turkey, showing me how to brown it at the end. We serve all the trimmings, the last of my garden, and make a killer gravy out of drippings, potato water, giblets and Riesling. I forget to save back wine and I make everyone tip their glass to the gravy. We have a red wine for dinner, but the turkey likes his Clean Slate.

We are so full we hold off on the pies until breakfast.

It's six a.m. and I'm whipping cream, holding back a flood of sadness. Soon the beating heart will diminish to a murmur. Already I hear the kids rising, packing. The Midwesterners have an afternoon plane to catch in Missoula; Brianna works tonight; and Josh is going elk hunting. We eat left-overs and pie, huddling around coffee and the woodstove. They load up the two cars. Drew and Josh ride together and I envy the car that gets to hold my three children for the duration of the trip.

My heart breaks as they leave no matter what I tell myself.

Todd and I sit by the fire holding hands. Brianna rushes back in -- she forgot her purse. We laugh and I try to hide the tears, that flow again once the door shuts. Todd retreats back to bed with the dogs, and I clean up, needing physical activity. I know I need to hit the keyboard with five articles due in three days and two more interviews to hold, plus the one I missed.

Upstairs I find a heart, shaped from Allison's turquoise scarf on top of my computer with a love note to watch over it for a while. She knows it's one of my favorite colors and I really liked her scarf. She and her sister used to make off with mine all the time. Now it's my turn.

I hear the heartbeat return and know the truth -- while there is yet love, there is life.

It pulses more rapidly when we are all together, but home is where we are, thinking of loved ones, welcoming loved ones and even missing loved ones. Soon I'll decorate for Christmas and get ready to welcome one of Kate's granddaughters to my home. I'll get to see Kate's family and share an unbreakable bond of love. I hope this spring to get to visit Todd's parents again; in May to see my son receive his masters; to see Allison and Drew's new house in Michigan; to see my cousin's son graduate high school; to visit Kansas for love; and visit Brianna and Josh in the off-season in Montana.

Home will go with me. And so love continues.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cemetery Trees of Boulder Creek

So long ago, I don't remember when
That's when they say I lost my only friend
Well they said she died easy of a broken heart disease
As I listened through the cemetery trees
~ The Wallflowers 

There's something solemn and sacred about cemetery trees. I often wonder if the oldest of the trees were present for the burials. When searching for a cemetery among the steep mountain canyons that were once logged by the community that briefly lived there, I wonder if there were any trees at all?

Linking up with Abracabadra for a Wordless Wednesday. Photos are from my search for Boulder Creek Cemetery. The mountains are full of trees today and the fallen lumber is that of the old logging camp. One tree we claimed as firewood and the tree rings reveal that it had indeed stood sentinel over the burials before it died of its own broken heart disease, blue stain.

Blue Stain, a Broken Heart Disease for Cemetery Trees

Walking the Old Logging Trail in Search of Dead Trees to Fall

All That's Left of Boulder City

Hollow Log on Boulder Creek

Whirl of Pine Needles

Old Roots

Larch in Blaze Orange for Fall

Walking Among the Old Ones

Cemetery Tree in the Distance

Standing White Pine

Fenced Boulder Creek Cemetery

Distant View

Cutting the Downed Pine

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Silver and Gold

Following the White Truck Across Nevada
Roman Nose Lake
Visiting Family
Silver & Gold
Weasels Hiding in the Rocks
All Quiet on the Lake
Except for the Curious GSP
Treeless after Nearly 50 Years
White Truck's First Idaho Adventure
Sniffing the Gold
Ghostly Mist on the Ridge
"Make new friends
 but keep the old.
One is silver
the other is gold."
"Make New Friends" is a scout song that comes to mind as I scan the silver rocks and gold tree leaves of Roman Nose Lake. Silver and gold, silver and gold.

A few weeks back we had dinner and ice cream with old friends, shared laughs about long ago antics and marveled how much silver we are all getting.

We brought back the Mills farm truck from Sandblow Dairy in Fallon, Nevada. My inlaws have retired and gifted us with the truck at a time we could use the gift. The best gift, though was visiting with family and old friends.

We returned and had our first truck adventure. Todd's brother Gee and his wife Kathy drove up from Nevada in our wake and it was a pleasure to share with them our beautiful mountains and valleys.

We laughed about elevations, though. While the mountains are steep here, the valley floors are relatively low. We live at about 2,200 feet above sea level in Elmira. Our mountains go straight up to 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation. Stunning.

Yet, if you consider Nevada, the elevation of Fallon sits on a basin already 4,000 feet high. Those Great Basin ranges have mountains as tall as almost 12,000 feet. Many are surprised to realize how mountainous that state is and why it is called a high mountain desert.

No desert here in the Inland Pacific Northwest, though we continue to be unseasonably dry. Clouds and mist have returned but lack rainfall typical of this season. It's warm for October, too. We are concerned for the snow pack which requires lower temperatures, heavier precipitation and a slow spring.

Without it, we are in danger of another bad fire season.

Up on the Roman Nose, the peak itself remains bald of forest. In 1967 the Sundance Fire burned so hot -- a raging firestorm -- that nothing has grown back to replace the timber lost. Two men died up there, dozing a fireline when the fire roared over the peak like a flaming hurricane. A third man, on lookout at the station on the peak, managed to get into rock crevices deep enough to have survived.

When I visit the quiet alpine lake in the treeless bowl, I can't help but think of those who fight fires. Some win. Some do not. I pray for a heavy snowpack.

We met new friends at Laughing Dog Brewery. We always meet the most interesting people there. This young couple, newly married, have a six month old Springer Spaniel. Dogs are welcome in the tasting room. We make many new canine friends, too. The young man, so full of life yet, a college baseball player, new wife, new dog, just visited Costa Rica...he's a fire fighter.

There's something so youthful and courageous about those who fight the flames. He tells us he spent a good month on the fires in the St. Jo region. That's steep terrain. He says he loves to hike and it was nothing. Yet, it is everything he places on the line. His life.

Up there on the Roman Nose the ghosts of fire fighters are silent. Their memory hangs in the mist. And I bid them farewell, until we return next spring, hopeful of moisture and huckleberries. Hopeful of a reprieve from fires.

Linking up with Abracabadra for Wordless Wednesday. All photos (including the drive-by shot) by Charli Mills.