Sunday, August 30, 2009

Glorious Rust Bucket of a Tub

I've spent a few years now struggling with the idea of 'what's next' for me. I'm like a roulette wheel and it just depends on where the arrow falls...that's what I'm gonna be. Baker, teacher, doula, writer, hockey player, professional slacker, Volunteer Mother of the Year. Can you hear the click click click of the wheel, as it's getting slower and slower and slower and it finally comes to a stop?

Holy Moly Guacamole! Fiber Artist. Can you believe it? I'm a fiber artist. And I've burnt the shit out of my hydrangea bushes. But that's okay, because I'm a fiber artist! And my kettle is black! And I have smoke in my hair and dye under my finger nails. And has anyone ever smelled how disgusting a vat of roasted goldenrod smells like? It stings your nostrils. I've been smelling it in my sleep...along with wet hot wool. It's incredible!

And this glorious rust bucket of a tub. It was FREE! From one of Paul Bunyan's co-workers. We just had to go and pick it up and clean out the small trees growing in it and wash the green scum off of it...but isn't it wonderful? I mean, isn't it beautiful? I've never known such a happiness as I do now. Really.

Because now, now, I can wash half a blanket of fiber (that's like half of an alpaca) at one time! I know this looks worse than it is, and many of you might think that it really is as worse as it seems, but I, if only I could have, would have jumped into the tub too. It was delightful! To see all that dirty water, and to play in it, and pull pieces of hay, and alpaca poop, out with my fingers.

And then the end. To see that I might actually be good at it. I mean, I know I have a lot to learn. BUT I got yellow. See? I got yellow from a weed. And you know what I'm going to do with some of this yellow? I'm going to add it to Indigo, which yes, I'm going to mix in my big black bucket and I'm going to have GREEN. Right? Blue and yellow make green? Right? This is elementary, my friends. Which is why I might be good at it! Life is grand. And you'll never guess what I have steeping on my stove right now? Any guesses? Okay, I'll tell you. I have PURPLE from red cabbages (local), which I simmered for an hour and a half. The house smelled delightful. Well, at least I thought so. The spawn wanted to sleep out on the lawn again, but I told them it was supposed to rain. And then I said, "you guys better get used to all these stinky potions...your momma's a fiber artist!" And they said, "what?" Yea, that's right...your momma's a fiber artist!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sweet Dahlia Tea

Oh, does someone need more water? Oh, and yes, I'm sure you're hungry again, even though we just ate an hour ago. Would you like a snack? Oh, and you're most definitely bored, I can see that. Should we set up the paints or the play-doe? And you can leave it all there for me to pick up. Would everyone please leave their wet bathing suits on the floor a few more times?

I'm not bitter. I'm not bitter about being a slave to my children all summer. I'm not bitter at all. Does it sound that way? Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to come across that way. My bad, but I'm really not bitter.

Well, there is one week left of my servitude, but I used yesterday as a me day and I brewed up some sweet dahlia tea for our fiber. I'm going on a rampage this fall and I'll be bathing in aluminum sulfate and some blue and red and pink and yellow and green; and so if anyone wants to wreck their lungs and color their finger nails...join me. The pot will be boiling and I'll be the crazy witchy woman chanting: "Double, double toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble".

I had to work inside yesterday because my firepit maker hasn't made my fire pit yet! I'm mordanting the fiber with aluminum sulfate here...boiling at 200 degrees for an hour.

But look at these beautiful blooms. I'm lucky enough to know people in high places. I got these dahlia bulbs from my friend Mike at American Meadows. He and his bulbs have never failed me.

I had to pick 20 blooms for dyeing...and there are new ones just about to burst. I won't have to miss their colors!

Shove the dahlias in glass jars with mordanted fiber and cold water.

And let them soak for several the sun!

And despite disrupting the tiny earwig birthday parties that were going on in each of the blooms, it was a fairly easy process. I'm moving on to the goldenrod fields, that is, if the little princess and princes will give me a few hours. And if not, I'm scared I might have to drink some of that sweet tea. Especially if it's turning into a nice purple vodka!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hard Homecoming

I love coming home from vacation. I love seeing the pumpkins growing their tentacles out onto the lawn. I love going on a zucchini hunt with my children in my garden of weeds. I love seeing the flowers in my beds stick out over the borders, trying their damndest to make the world brighter and better. And I was so looking forward to seeing Hunter frolic in the yard, rejoicing in our return. But it is a sad day to say that he is no where to be found. Our house sitter said she saw him the whole time we were away and that it was probably just since Sunday or Monday that he vanished. My guilty heart wishes we had come home just two days earlier; we could have possibly saved him from searching for excitement somewhere else. I have to hold out some hope; although it's hard. Hunter took that NOLS course for three weeks last summer and showed up skin and bones down at the bottom of our hill. So there is a possibility that he can survive and return and rub up against my legs once again...or keep me company while I weed my garden of weeds.

This whole 'fact of farm' living is hard on me. I'm just not good at the losing of things. We "lost" an alpaca two years ago. Paul Bunyan brought the sick boy up to the garage here at the house because it was a cold January morning and it was obvious he was in distress. And as life would have it, Paul Bunyan had to go to work and I held Titan in my arms, and as the vet ran to her truck to get pain meds I watched his life (a life cut too short) slip away. I tried to hold back tears, so as not to let the vet see my weaker side; but after we slipped his body into a garbage bag and loaded him into her truck for an autopsy, the taillights of her truck got lost in all my weepiness.

I pulled slowly out of our driveway on a Friday morning, two days before we left for Minnesota. I was taking the spawn to camp and I saw Cronus lying in the pasture. It was raining a steady rain. Cronus lying in the pasture was not normal. I called Paul Bunyan as soon as I got cell coverage, but he slept through the ringing, as he had just climbed into bed five hours earlier. My message said something about how I think he looks bad, like he's dying. When I returned home after a few errands, Paul Bunyan said that when he went down there to feed them, Cronus popped up off the ground and seemed to be doing better. He did, however, call the vet to chat with her about his status. Paul Bunyan thought that maybe he had gotten beat up by the other boys in the pen, but I was wary of this because I've always seen Cronus fight back against their bullying. But, of course, PB had to go to work and gave me instructions to go check on him when I got back from retrieving the spawn at their respective camps.

When I got down there Cronus had his head under the hay feeder and was breathing laboriously. And nothing I did to get him to stand was working. I ran back up to the house to call PB, who said to just keep an eye on him and to call the vet if I can't get him up. Up and down, up and down I went. And Cronus was not doing any better. Annie, the vet, was at a dairy farm 45 minutes away and I told her we'll wait for her to arrive. The spawn, gratefully, were playing really well together, which is usually the case unless they haven't slept long enough between days. I tell them, between trips

bleep bleep bleep. Breaking News!! Breaking News!! I interrupt this program to bring you this most important announcement: HUNTER HAS JUST RETURNED TO THE HOMESTEAD...and he is acting like he never left for his 6 day vacation all rubbing and meowing and stuff. Oh, Happy Day!! And now back to your previously scheduled program.

So I'm telling the spawn, "please stay up here and be nice to each other. I have to go wait for the vet and Cronus might be dying, so please don't come down because I don't want you to have to see that."

"Okay, Mom. We'll be good."

I'm not back down at the barn for ten minutes when I see the small Indians moving slowly down the hill on the path toward the upper pasture and the gate that enters it. The Indian Princess who is leading the parade is wearing her new hand-me-down high heel shoes and she is carrying a bag full of sweatshirts and rain jackets and snacks, as if the Little Indians were going to set up camp and watch the life and fire leave one of our animal's eyes. They all wanted to "see" him and so I let them take a look but I shooed them back up to the house just as Annie pulled into the driveway. They left without howling their war cries.

Annie looked at Cronus' gums and eyes and took his temperature and listened to his heart. All did not look well. She went to the truck to get some clippers to cut a spot on his leg hair in order to give him some pain meds. As soon as the needle went into his leg, the color of his blood alarmed her. She let me know that things did not look good. I was fairly certain that Paul Bunyan would not have had her try too many other things to keep him alive. This is very upsetting to me; although I know that the cost of keeping an animal like Cronus alive far surpasses his monetary worth to us. I, however, believe that every animal deserves the right to life...especially if they are under our care. So it was a struggle for me to say the words, "I think we better put him down," because it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair, either, to see him struggle in pain. I didn't want him to go through the night barely able to breath.

Annie tried to put him to sleep with a 'normal' dosage (one she would give a heifer). Cronus baffled us both as he stood up (!) after she injected him with the Fatal Plus. She couldn't understand why that would have made him want to get up; whereas it should have made him want to go to sleep. And so it went, that I felt this horrible guilt for deciding for this animal that it should die, when all it really wanted to do was get up and live. So, Annie and I got him back down and she gave him a little more and so it ended...his pain. But my guilt, it ran wild and bucked and snorted and threw its crazy head about.

She wanted to cut him open in order to learn for herself what may have caused his death. So I went to get the tractor. We carried him to the bucket and placed him in it. I told her that I didn't think I could watch, and she completely understood, promising me she'd call with whatever she found. We decided we would leave him in the bucket until Paul Bunyan could bury him...and she would lock the other boys out of that section of the pasture.

It turns out that Cronus had something she called "Colic" and it appeared that his gut got twisted. He was always a very nervous and frantic animal and his demise could have been brought on by stress. So that night I spent hours trying to figure out if there was something we could have done. I'm still not sure if I discovered an easy cure for such a thing, or whether I tried to convince myself that there wasn't anything we could have done (which is what I think I did to make myself feel better). I'm sure there was something...if we had seen signs earlier, but we didn't.

I decided to turn the computer off and turn down the covers, but as I was laying there trying to fall asleep I heard the coyotes yowling in the near distance. They were on the next ridge. My mind started to unravel like a ball of thread- would they smell Cronus' open body? would they duck under the fence to steal the new babes born this summer? would they make my nightmare night a bloody murder morning? I couldn't bear it.

I pulled on my Carharts and slipped on a head lamp and started down the road, and not the path, to bring Cronus' body up to the house. I remember the scream of the rushing water of Johnny Brook; it had rained most of the day. I remember my breath as mist in the light of my headlamp; it was a cold July evening. And as I approached the tractor, I heard the shift of the boys in their pen. The tractor's start disrupted the silence and a field mouse scattered up the hydraulic arm of the tractor towards me. When he got close enough, I flicked him off as I would a booger off my thumb. And as I lifted the bucket high enough into the air, in order to ensure that Cronus wouldn't get dumped out on my way back up the road, I saw his white ear pop up over the edge. I took a deep breath and ran the tractor slowly up the hill...having to scoop up his parts would be more tragic to me than the day had already been. I pulled the tractor up to our wood landing and lifted the bucket as high as I could. Only the birds would have been able to get him. I turned the lights off and shut down the engine and said goodnight.

I would hear Paul Bunyan later that night burrying him at 2 a.m. when he returned home from work.

Life on a farm, any farm, comes and goes. I'll get used to it. The letting go will get easier. I do hope, however, that next time Paul Bunyan will be around to shut the eyes of the animals that have hopefully lived all their days out...full on our homestead. And have never known a happier place.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

And Here You Are At The Ripe Old Age Of...

You turned 24 the summer you wooed me on the English River; you were a young boy then with hair. I remember that first hour in the canoe- we didn't have a cadence yet, having not had time to create our own rhythm...your powerful strokes backing up my underdeveloped ones. It would just take time...and rushing water, and whispers, and rain, and a bear, and chocolate chip pancakes and a little game of word association:

I said ring, you said 'the nickel on my finger'.
I said red, you said 'the station wagon I used to drive'.
I said ice cream, you said 'Ben and Jerry's'.
I said giggle, you said 'you'.
I said pussy willow, you said 'Colorado'.
I said mountain, you said 'Alaska'.
I said hot, you said 'your showers'.
I said sand, you said 'beach'.
I said stink, you said 'fart'.
I said soft, you said 'your legs, sometimes'.
I said death, you said 'Timmy'.

At the end of our trip we came along the shore, right below the road at Sioux Lookout and you were anxious to get out of the canoe here and walk a mile down the road to the car. I was apprehensive. I think you could feel my discomfort. You took my hand, and I started to calm down a little bit. As we walked, you kept smiling at me. Our hands were swinging back and forth and as they swung forward you switched your stride so that we fell into a rhythm with our feet. It took us a few days to get our rhythm down in the canoe, but only after these few steps on solid ground I was pretty certain that we would have a nice cadence in our dance together through life.

Paul Bunyan, I'm sorry that you're always traveling on your birthday...and I'm sorry that I could only fit a hat from Sha-Sha into my backpack to give to you at gate F12 in the United terminal at O'Hare...and I'm sorry I didn't have a babysitter waiting for us when we arrived home so we could go play, like we were 24 again...and I'm sorry I couldn't have gotten you that new chainsaw you want...and I...and I...and I

And I am so lucky that you don't really mind about all that stuff and that you just feel lucky to have me walk, in step, beside you, and that sometimes our rhythm is good in not just a canoe but also in places that I can't talk about here, and I promise to always make myself feel like it's summer and then we'll always be in sync, for ever and ever and ever.

Happy Birthday PB. I'll love you long time...just keep in step with me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where has the time gone??

Oh my...where has the time gone? It feels like just yesterday I was standing in this field of cow shit with Mud. She would go into labor later this day and give birth to a beautiful bouncing baby boy. And it feels like just yesterday that I walked Addy down the dark hallway of the hospital towards her new baby brother. As we followed the blue line toward the maternity ward, I remember Addy holding tight to her baby, which happened to be a BIG baby and appropriately named "Big Baby". I remember Addy meeting her new brother for the first time and how Mud held Tanner up to greet us as we rounded the corner into the small maternity room. And how Addy put Big Baby down in the chair that barely fit next to the bed and then climbed onto her mother's lap, and without anyone really having to say too much, Mud put Tanner in Addy's lap. And I cried.

It's hard to believe that just three weeks later my mother would walk Claire down that same dark hallway, following that same blue line, entering the same double doors onto the same maternity ward to meet her two (!!) new brothers. I was high on morphine when Claire got to meet her brothers...and there are important details of that meeting that I don't remember. And there are important details of the boys' first year of life that I dont' remember...mostly because that's just how it is. You forget the tough stuff. And that first year was tuff. But I wouldn't trade any of it....not for anything.

Happy 5th Birthday boys!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hey Fatso...Let's Play Some Bunghole

11 summers ago when Paul Bunyan and I got married in these wild woods of Northern Minnesota, Paul Bunyan's father, who is now most notably known as "Popi" became great friends with a chipmunk named "Notch". He was known as 'Notch' because of a defining feature on his ear. Notch became a member of our family as we would each sit down by the rocks and hold peanuts out for him to peacefully take from our fingers. He would sequentually pack them away in his cheeks and ferry them away to his hideout, where I assume he would stockpile them for the cold and dreary Minnesota winters. Notch has since come and gone but I believe we may just have a Notch offspring here this summer. There have been other chipmunks since Notch, but none as friendly or as confident as this year's chippy "Peanut" (thus named by Claire). Peanut's character, which sometimes urges him to stratch at random legs or bite the fingers that are holding the peanuts out for him to take for FREE, reminds us a little of the original Notch, but with the modern day rudeness that we're all embarrassed to say our children may have as a result of being a product of the 'drive thru' generation. "It's mine...I tell ya' and it's mine fast, or it better be free."

Look at peanut pack away the peanuts. He's going to be livin' the high life this winter. All his friends will be knockin' on his den door. "Dude," they'll say, "where djew get the stash?" And it will be Peanut's character, when it comes down to sharing this bounty, that will be tested when it's 40 degrees below zero. He'll have to think about how it might feel to receive a gift from his comrades, if they were in his place...the lucky bastard.

But for now, he's scratching at the legs of his masters as they play a game they learned in Chicago. It's called Baggo or Corn Hole. Paul Bunyan, you remember him? He can build anything. So, he threw together a few Corn Hole boards and before you know it, we're all throwing bean bags into wooden boxes with holes sawed out of them. It's a lovely game, much like horseshoes...without the danger of lost toes or ankles. There are websites designated to the game. Just type in Baggo into your search engine.

But I can't help calling it Bunghole. And this may have something to do with a few someones who painted the 'boards' for Popi....some beautiful original designs. I tell ya...nothin like a homemade gift!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kettle Falls

Telegram reads: Headed East on the lake today to Kettle Falls. Stop. 2 hours on a pontoon boat each way. Stop. Still have rocky boats. Stop. Jumped for a little exhilarating excitement. Stop. First cliff jumps eva. Stop. All still alive. Stop.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bridge To...Eh?

We walked across the line. The line that travels right down the middle of Rainy River. We had to go over a bridge to cross the line. But we made it...and it was free. We maneuvered through railroad lines and lines of cars with boats, and we ducked under big pipes of sawdust getting sucked to the paper mill from the mountainous piles 200 yards away. We saw lots of men and women in uniforms with guns, who don't smile very much. But that isn't their job. We saw cars and trucks getting rifled through. We walked into Canada and I don't think anyone would have seen us if we kept walking but we had a mission. We had a goal. So we had to stop in at the Customs Office in Canada. I got the kids new passports in order to make travelling to Montreal a little bit easier, and so (yea) maybe I also secretly hoped that we could have gotten down to Costa Rica to visit Stinky Jon...but that didn't happen. Well, so now the kids have these cool little books with their photos and official names and pages and pages of space for STAMPS! Luckily, the boss man at the Customs office was very nice and not only did he smile (!) and give us cool little commemorative pins, but he stamped the kids' passports. He was trying to pick out what page to stamp his official stamp when he said in his natural Canadian twang, "I think it should go on the first page, eh?". My kids looked at me and luckily said nothing, but I definitely had to explain the "eh" after we stepped out of the office. We had a lot of fun picking out the ehs as they floated off the local's tongues.
It's hard to believe that a ten minute walk across a bridge (just to get an official stamp) can put you in whole new place like ehville.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


The Law of the Woods defines a set of core values first recorded on birch bark scroll by Ernest Thompson Seton, the father of the American Camping Movement.* Kooch-I-Ching, the camp Paul Bunyan grew up going to as a young boy, uses the principles of the Law of the Woods as its cornerstone. Every summer the young boys, and the men who are still boys at heart, don Native American costumes and hang bells from their ankles, and show off their Indian dancing skills. The audience gathers in a Council Ring, which has been raked clean of all debris, and is marked clearly with a ring of rocks, painted freshly white. No one is allowed to step inside these rocks, except the dancers, and only AFTER the Law of the Woods has been recited. This recitation is dependant upon the lighting of the Great Central Fire. The lighting of the fire is clearly an important part of the ceremony, if not the most important. I have watched many (however, not as many as some) of these Grand Council ceremonies and have always been impressed with the ease at which the fire was started by some of the most famous fire starters this side of the Mississippi (which side are we on?). The Ernst brothers have their names etched on the fire starter plaque as being the fastest and quickest in town. Well, maybe there is no plaque, but in the imaginary halls of the Kooch-I-Ching historic library it's their photos that show the mullein stick as hand drill, with smoke billowing from their nests of tinder...a sure sign of imminent flame.

And once the fire has started, the Law of the Woods is recited. So this year, with boys waiting in the wings to dance their tiny little asses off, poor Sam Weiman struggled with his bow and drill. Some reports say it was half an hour, but I would guess it was more like 15 minutes. The squeaking sound of wood rubbing against each other...creating heat and spark and smoke and fire, seemed to get lost, as time progressed, in the antsy coughs and quiet whispers of the restless crowd. I could only guess what Sam was thinking, as he took time to retie his bow and make more tinder. The cadence of his struggle reminded me of some of those camp boys, who (I'm sure) lie awake in the night playing with themselves...stroking harder as climax approaches. Finally, it appeared Sam would have the Great Fire started...flames could be seen. He placed his tinder pile on top of the wooden box, which was so carefully prepared as to ensure perfect bonfireness. And then he exited the council ring.

BUT, the flames would go out and poor Sammy Weiman had to come back...come back I tell ya' and blow smoke up that wooden box's ass....just to get the damn thing to light.

Oh, what I would have given just to see him stand up and say, "Does anybody have a match?"

And here is the Law of the Woods:

From the Great Central Fire,
I Light This, the Lamp of Beauty.
Be clean- both yourself and the place you live in.
Be strong- understand and respect your body. It is the temple of the spirit.
Protect all harmless wildlife- and be ever ready to fight the wild of the fire in the woods.

From the Great Central Fire,
I Light This, the Lamp of Truth.
Speak true- word of honor is sacred.
Play fair- foul play is treachery.
Be reverent- worship the great spirit and respect all worship of him by others.

From the Great Central Fire,
I Light This, the Lamp of Fortitude.
Be brave- courage is the noblest of all attainments.
Be silent- it is harder to be silent than to speak, but in the hour of trial it is stronger.
Obey- obedience is the first law of the woods.

From the Great Central Fire,
I Light This, the Flaming Lamp of Love.
Be kind- do at least one act of unbargaining service each day.
Be helpful- do your share of the work.
Be joyful- seek the joy of being alive.

This is the Law of the Woods.

Thanks, Sam, for lighting that Great Central Fire last night and I think maybe we should add The Lamp of Persistence, for your sake, to all the other Lamps.

*some data stolen from a Kooch newsletter

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Border of Canada

Well, after a ten hour drive North to the border of Canada we arrived at the town of International Falls, Minnesota, where the air smells like stinky cheese from the paper mills that send billowing blasts of stink into the bluest of blue skies. The dark waters of Rainy Lake are registering 61 degrees, and despite having the coldest July on record, I am confident we will have a little summer in this little piece of heaven. We will bake us some summer by finding pieces of sunshine to lay in and we will fill our buckets with wild blueberries, which (to our luck) are late this year. We will fall asleep to the sad whale of the loons and wake to the bright sun floating into the loft.

This is a special place for us. I fell in love with Paul Bunyan here under these deep skies of full moons and northern lights and 11 Augusts ago we partied with our families and friends in celebration of that love. Someday, I hope, you'll see this place for yourself and if you already have, then you know why we all keep coming back.

I'm going to try to show you a glimpse...snipits...clips of the days. Here is the first:
My dearest daughter (you know the one who just turned 3) Claire, she decided to get her ears pierced at Claire's in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. And now she's all of 17.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Where In The Heck Is The Hussy Now...

1. It's windy here.
2. Still more kids than adults.
3. Looking forward to deep dish pizza.
4. There is actually a beach here.
5. We're going there today.
6. We're heading North tomorrow.
7. Life is good.

Your Hussy