Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Driving Along the Clark Fork

American Bald Eagle Points the Way
Snow Squalls in the Cabinets
Intermittent Snow
Mountains Reach to Blue Skies
HWY 200 is Like a Roller Coaster
River, Rail & Road in the Gorge
Coming Out of the Gorge
Big Horn Sheep Country
Big Horn Sheep Nibbling Early Grass
Train Like a Winding Snake
Ranches & Mountains
Big Sky Country
Quinn's Hot Springs on the Clark Fork
Cold Day to Canoe the Clark Fork
Turning onto the Interstate Headed to Missoula
Snow Dust
Passing Missoula in a Snow Squall
Snow on Coal
Our Turn Off Where Rock Creek Merges with the Clark Fork
The Clark Fork River flows from the mining country of western Montana into the Lake Pend Oreille, the second largest alpine lake in the US. We live on one end in the Sandpoint, Idaho area and our daughter, Rock Climber, lives on the other end in the Missoula, Montana region.

The river winds around the Cabinet Mountains and through the Cabinet Gorge. It's a modern marvel that a two-lane highway, water generated power lines and train tracks carrying controversial coal fit through the narrow gorge.

Uneven, the faded paved road swoops like a swallow trail, making it an exciting ride. As the Hub says, I hold the "chicken handle" mounted above my door often. He likes driving the curvaceous road ad I imagine him pretending to be a race car driver. I'm distracted by the scenery which is stunning beyond words and perfect for Wordless Wednesday (linking up with Abracabadra).

Photos are all my own. Note that I used a highly technical filter known as the "windshield."

Friday, February 20, 2015

In Order to Be Kind to Others

Today, February, 20, 2015, is a day for bloggers to reflect on compassion through a dynamic online movement called #1000Speak for Compassion. I hadn't planned a post for Elmira Pond, although I thought about horses. But what, exactly about them? So I kept my posts to literature and stories over on Carrot Ranch.

Yet, I had a personal experience this morning that brought into focus the kind of compassion I have been reading about on other blogs. For the first time in two years, I dressed up in business black, hoping the worn seams and scuffed shoes wouldn't be noticeable. My wardrobe has languished as a writer; my clothes turn vintage in my own closet.

Recently I discovered that my community has a budding outreach organization called Sandpoint Community Resource Center. It seeks to compile the service providers available in northern Idaho to help those in need. It started with two guys and a cell phone and now is a tiny office in an old bank building run by a board of directors and volunteers.

By chance, I saw that they were seeking a marketing volunteer. Everything they were doing was familiar to me as I had long been a part of missions based marketing as a volunteer board director to community non-profits in Minnesota. So I contacted the volunteer coordinator. Today was my interview with the board director who is managing their marketing.

For a week I've been excited. It would be a chance to help, an opportunity to get grounded in the community and a door to the workshop I want to establish in Sandpoint. I need to meet people.

But it felt too familiar. I rarely drive anymore and as I dropped off the Hub at work, it was like a deja vu moment -- my old clothes, my old black trenchcoat, my briefcase, thoughts swirling about what marketing strategy might be needed. Suddenly, I craved a Starbucks breve dry. Wow, hadn't had one of those in, well years. Then it hit me -- tears began to well up in my made up eyes and I fought them back because I didn't want to smear my mascara.

What was wrong with me? So I let all those stories of compassion that I had been reading settle upon my shoulders. Self-care came to mind. And so did grief. The thought of grief made my eyes water again. Really. Get a handle on yourself, I spoke out loud in the car.

You never know when grief is going to hit. It occurred to me that avoidance of grief may be a roadblock to compassion. If we don't accept our grief, let it flow, and then carry on we risk becoming brittle. And as I drove I realized that I felt brittle. How could I be of service to my community if I was going to shatter?

I don't talk abut my grief to many. It upsets my husband and children. My friends feel helpless or don't understand. My grief is complicated. I can understand another's grief at the loss of a spouse, or parent or child. But I can't explain my own losses for I have not lost a child, parent or spouse. Yet I have lost enough to feel engulfed in grief at times.

This time I practiced self-love. I spoke out loud as if speaking to a friend I care about deeply. Yes, Anne Goodwin is right, this is a necessary step to be able to act upon compassion for others.

Once I arrived, I looked at the building and had no idea where to enter. I parked, retrieved my purse and briefcase and saw a tall man watching me from inside the building. As I crossed the street deciding which door I should try, he stepped out and in a booming deep voice, said "Good morning!" I knew this was my contact. I smiled, relaxed and followed him to the office smaller than a walk-in closet.

He told me about his rough day the day before -- a woman who fell through all the cracks. She had never been homeless before but now she was on the street with nothing but the clothes on her back. Sandpoint has two battered women's shelters, a mission gospel center for homeless men but nothing...nothing...for homeless women. This man and other volunteers found her a ride to Newport, WA (the nearest bus station) and paid for a ticket to get her on the bus to Spokane where she'd find shelter. In the meantime, the volunteers were working with agencies to get her into permanent housing.

After a few other stories I was convinced that the man before me was incredibly compassionate. He wants me on his marketing team to be their writer and to help organize a symposium. I said yes. His presence, his kindness to others, his consideration of my skills and time were all imbued with compassion. He even likes that I want to develop a writing workshop in Sandpoint. He said I'll meet lots of helpful people in the community.

He said I could be their voice.

What an honor. But I will remember the many voices I've heard today. I will open my heart, practice self-love, be observing, look, listen and act. When grief bubbles up, I won't kick it to the curb. I'll be kind to myself that day. So I can continue to be kind to others.

#1000Speak for Compassion and I have listened.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Robins Return to the Hood

Light on Crows
Can It Be?
The First Robin!
Shows of the Old Apple Tree
Robin in a Tangle of Branches
Ice Thin as Eggshells
Bobo Hunting the Hummocks
No Snow
Except a Lingering Driveway Glacier
Light Shines on Elmira Pond
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Just look at the murder of crows as they wing across the southern pasture in full sunlight. Black feathers reflect white light. A sign of spring?

Sunlight is a break in the weather, nonetheless. A break from rain, fog and cloud cover. A time for the peat moss to photosynthesize light, for clover to expand and blades of grass to grow. It might be a false spring -- it is yet February -- but the ground is ready to absorb the sun. Changes are quickly happening like a lab project gone wild.

The pond has a new look every morning. I try to gauge how much ice melted, if any early migrators might take advantage of a few open pools. Reeds and grass poke out or bend over as if the pond is waking up and has bed-head.

When I see the first red-breasted robin, then I know we are changing seasons. The dogs miss the first flutters. Disappointing because they are bird dogs. My camera missed the first arrival, too. So Todd refused to believe I saw robins.

Today I'm armed with camera and I stand still with the dogs. The robins gray feathers blend in with the bare landscape, but I watch as Bobo's ears perk. She sees the movement. Two robins hop across new peat, seeking old seeds from last season. They graze, hop and keep a keen eye to us. Bobo dashes after her first robins.

It's official. Robins have returned to the hood.

Chattering, both birds find refuge in the naked apple tree. It looks so stark in the sunlight with the snow drifts gone from its trunk. Gnarled branches cast shadows where robins play hide-and-seek. This tree is old, a relic from the past that miraculously still offers food generations after it was planted. It is one of my favorite spots to watch the pond.

Ice has thinned to silver eggshells on Elmira Pond. A few hard frosts and it yet resists a full melt. Like a baby nearing her first steps, I know the melt will happen in a quick moment. The first steps for spring. The biggest change will happen when the ice recedes and migrators return to open water.

It's so early, yet I'm giddy for the birdwatching season to begin!

We explore the pond's eastern edge; something we don't do once water birds arrive because they nest here. So it's a treat to walk on the spongy peat and let Bobo hunt mice in the dry humps of grass. I've read that some Idaho peat ponds may yet have bog lemmings. Rodent-watching isn't my thing, so I'll leave it at a passing thought.

I look back at my house, the office window that gives me the best view of the pond and I'm struck by how quickly the snow has gone. Last year was drier, not a drought, but noticeably dry. And tree beetles attacked the pines. It can take several years for beetles to kill a tree and my heart sinks at the early signs. Dead pine needles and dead crowns are barely discernible, but there they are.

Droughts hasten the work of tree beetles. They do well in dry times. I hope the rainy season is merely taking a breather before dumping more rain on the Pacific Northwest. An early spring is one thing; an early dry spring is a potential threat to water eco-systems, grazing ranches and forest fires.

All I can do is watch and wait.

And then I  remember that the darkness never does overcome the light. Thus, I soak up the sunshine and watch the robins flit.

Linking up with Abracabadra for Wordless Wednesday. Photos by Charli Mills. (No bog lemmings or mice were harmed.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Me Lucky Charms

I'm the Redhead With the Shoe & Cigarettes
Neon Green Peat
Moons, Stars & Clovers
Pond is Still Winter White
Horse Trails Attract Fish
It's Bino Season
Ferruginous Hawk
Crows Ignore Their Tree
Me First Lucky Charm of the Season
When I was five, I remember begging my mom for a box of Lucky Charms cereal. Every moon, star and clover was a crunchy mini-marshmallow. That's the cereal I wanted!

Yet, the memory stands out because Lucky Charms tasted like cigarettes. Don't ask me how a kindergartener knew what cigarettes tasted like, but each moon, star and clover made me gag.

Now I know the truth. My mother served it with goat milk. To this day, I can't tolerate even the swankiest of gourmet goat cheese. Goats produce milk laced with burnt tobacco.

As I rediscover the ground of Elmira after its recent release from snow, I'm reminded of me Lucky Charms. Buried beneath winter's icy mantle has been living, breathing peat. It's lurid green would be found among the neons in the crayon box.

A close inspection shows emerging clover pressing up from the peat which is pointy as a kindergartener's hand-drawn star. In my imagination, strands of dry grass curve into imperfect half moons.

My ranch is a Panhandle peatland -- a rare archive of the past. It is a Sphagnum-rich bog and you can see it growing right this moment.

Rains have pounded Elmira at the rate on one inch a day, and forecasters predict a full ten days. They've issued avalanche warnings in the mountains and already mud slides have gummed up roads and tracks. We even had a smattering of mysterious dirty rain to give us a good science debate (it may not be volcanic ash as first reported).

Elmira Pond remains gripped in white slush, although water is pooling like a cup of coffee heavy on the cream. With all the rain, the horse trails look like streams lacing the pond's edge and I watch as fish rise to the surface, seeking their meal since ice sealed them under.

I'm like a little kid, wanting to put on galoshes to chase fish along watery horse trails.

Open water is a beacon to migrating birds. It's like April in February, and I've heard the honking of geese headed north. My binoculars are on my desk and I regularly scan for feathered visitors.

For days, I've seen a flash of white about mid-way up the tall tamaracks west of the pond. Today it landed on the massive power line tower that carries electricity for northern Idaho through our narrow valley.

Turns out to be a hawk. I believe it to be a Ferruginous hawk because it's much whiter than a red-tailed hawk and it is as large as a small eagle.

The snow is gone and so are my excuses to not un-decorate the Crow Tree. Murderous ingrates. They flock past but never stop.

Yet, I did find treasure near the tree with it's lagging ribbon like a gilded tongue. Each year, before the grass overtakes the pad of peat, I search for broken glass. If peat is an archive of seeds and pollens, it also keeps record of human trash.

Today I found a shard of cobalt blue bottle glass -- my first lucky charm of the amateur archeological season.

And I refrained from licking any stars, moons or clovers, having learned that not all treasure tastes as advertised.

Linking up with Abracabadra for Wordless Wednesday. Photos by Charli Mills (except the incriminating cigarette photo -- that was provided by my partner in wading pool crime, my Cuz, Mitch).

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Stranger in the Shadows

Hoarfrost Where It Belongs
The Ignored Crow Tree
Horses in Fuzzy Sweaters
Driveway Glaciers Melting
Almost a Sunny Day
Stranger Slinking in the Dry Grass
Which One of Us is More Scared?
A Coyote Dog?
We Keep a Watchful Gaze on One Another
And Then It Was Gone
Hoarfrost crystallizes the top trees of the ridge like a confectioner; the monster is sweet when he stays away from my barn. I admire his work from the valley floor below where crows continue to commit murder elsewhere.

They fly over head -- caw! caw! -- each passing by the pond, the barn and the tree I decorated for them. Baubles remain like unopened gifts. I'd take them down and spare my gilded ribbon exposure to the elements, but I'm not risking the drifts of snow that remain.

This is not snow for trekking. Snowshoes or cross-country skis would make it passable, but walking is treacherous. One moment you step across glistening crust, the next you break through and become entangled. I will stay on the icy worn trails and emerging bare patches.

Beyond Elmira Pond, the neighbor's horses trample the drifts and seek clumps of dry grass. Their winter coats are fuzzy as angora as if they put on full-body horse sweaters. Come spring, they will need a good currying.

Spring can't be too far away, after all the driveway glaciers are melting from underneath. Small pools and glacial streams form during the day. It's not sunny but the clouds are high enough to make the day feel expansive. The dogs bark and I think they have cabin fever.

But then I notice Bootsy, the barn cat. She's still and pressed against the outside wall of the garage not far from her kitty door. She's staring in the same direction as the dogs are barking. Wouldn't you know it? They are all focused on the barn where I thought I heard a monster last week.

With camera in hand -- if I can click Big Foot or a grizzly it might be worth my moment of terror -- I go outside. Bootsy dashes through her kitty door and I feel as though I've at least saved the cat. I stand at the fence and stare. Nothing. Dogs continue to bark.

Then I see it. A shape so cleverly still, so perfectly camouflaged that I thought it part of the wood pile. Inside the wood barn is...something.

As soon as it realizes that it has been seen, it zips out the structure in odd little leaps the way coyotes do when they hunt mice. How did it know I finally saw it? Did it smell my fear, a chemical reaction in my body, a subtle change in my stance? I didn't move or make a sound. I merely saw. How did it know?

In the light of day, it has a coyote muzzle and ears but a hound-like body with a cream chest and brindle coat. What the dickens is it? Dog is the obvious answer. Coyote dog is a possibility. Is it wild or domestic? Is it lost? This is not a critter I've seen before and I'm not comfortable standing in my snowy pasture looking at it looking at me.

It's not comfortable either. I'm not sure if my stranger is male or female. I'm not even sure if my stranger is scared or scary. It bounds away in those funny leaps and hops through the wires of the fence as if they were mere illusions, simply shadows of lines.

The stranger stops and stares. First at me then toward the highway. Maybe it isn't sure which one of us presents more danger. I opt to consider the stranger a lost dog and whistle. It trots down the road, then turns around and trots toward the place behind ours.

And then, the stranger disappears into the dry grass and trees, slinking away into nature as if it had never been here in solid form.

Linking up with Abracabadra for Wordless Wednesday. Photos by Charli Mills.