TBT–the saga continues…

Here is part two of the lightning story:  October 4, 2011 at 4:26pm

There just doesn’t seem to be an end to this story!  At least not yet.

You might recall that I left the house with all breakers off and headed to Reno to the Tara and Trevor clinic.  (A few people have asked for my notes on this which I will post if I ever write them.  I have begun to fill out an outline with what I can remember, but if I don’t get to it, pretty soon I’m going to be thinking “now what did I do last weekend?”)  As for the power, I was naively assuming at this point that I had “fixed” the problem by ordering new circuit boards for the inverter and that all would be well once they were installed.

Anyway, poor David returned from his camping trip on Sunday and when he got into cell phone range, he receive about 6 messages from me about what had happened.  He called me and we came up with a plan.  I was going to stop by his parents on the way home and pick the Honda generator up from him, then go home and he would walk me through switching the big back-up generator over to power the house without involving the inverter over the phone (he stayed in town that night).  If that didn’t work, we would use the Honda generator to run the fridge.  It was a good plan.  We just didn’t count on Murphy.

All went according to plan in that I picked up the generator and drove home.  After that?  Not so good.  Of course, the first priority was to put the horse away and give her about 50 cookies for being so good.  Then I unhitched the trailer and drove up to the house and called David to get the show on the road.  Once he explained where the generator bypass was, it was so obvious to me that I couldn’t believe I missed it in the first place.  So now…  how to start the generator?  Normally, you would tell the “mate” to start it, but that requires a working inverter.  So I try the manual switch and… nothing—dead.

And you have to understand that all this is happening to the tune of a running conversation with David on the cell phone:

“Nothing happened.”


“Are you sure you didn’t disconnect the switch when you hooked up the mate?”

“I don’t think so…  I don’t remember!  Ugh!  Now what?  Okay, take the side panel off the generator and try the red switch.”

“Where’s the side panel?  Oh, now I see it.  Okay, I see the switch.”

“You switch it to manual start.”

“I did that, nothing happened.”


“Nothing happened.”

“Why didn’t anything happen?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“There should be red lights.”

“There are no red lights.”

“There are no red lights?”

“There are no red lights.”

“Why aren’t there any red lights?”

“Why are you asking me?”

It went on like this—ad nauseum.  We finally decided the generator battery was dead and to use the Honda generator to charge up the battery on the Kohler generator.  This was about the point where I lost it.  I remember yelling something to the effect that I could have stopped at David’s parents house and take a real shower, but noooooo…, I drove home assuming that we would have some kind of power and now I was going to have to take a shower out of a jug of water, again!

And David said “What are you talking about?  Is the water pump broken?”  To which I snarkily replied that the water pump requires power and we don’t have power and some other choice statements, I’m sure.  To which he replied (and I can’t believe he wasn’t yelling back at this point, but I’m sure he was just savoring the moment) “It’s a DC pump.  It goes straight to the battery.”  He’s a genius really.

So I would hook up the Honda and go take a shower, then deal with dinner.   (And it’s like 9 o’clock at this point).   So I went to get the Honda out of the back of the truck.  And it was gone…

The thing is, that I worry about somebody stealing the Honda out of the back of the truck.  On a trip, we lock it in—we’re that paranoid.  I had stopped at Raley’s on the way home, but I checked to see that it hadn’t been stolen, I guess on the theory that I would be able to spot the thief and chase them down in the parking lot?  Anyway, it was in there, sitting up against the cab at that point.  So it fell out.  But when?  And where?

I said “Holy (bad word)!  It’s gone!”  To David.  This was followed up by some very bad words (well, mostly one very bad word repeated a lot,) as I looked around with my flashlight, hoping (I guess) that some evil pixies had stolen it out of the back of the truck and placed it just out of sight in the dark.  Then I leaped in the truck, hung up on David and drove off like a maniac with my brights blazing looking for it.  What is the shortest amount of time known to man?  The time between when your Honda generator falls out of your truck and someone else comes along and says “Oh, look!  A Honda generator!” and takes off with it.  This was what was running through my mind as I careened down the dirt road.

I was also thinking about how–if it had fallen out–I would have run over it with the horse trailer and the windows were down and you think I would have heard it but maybe it fell out and rolled down the hill and OMG what if it fell out when I made the turn off the highway, there is no way it will still be there by now.  But no, about three quarters of a mile down the drive—there it was—just sitting there, upright even, like a lost child at the mall waiting for its mommy to show up.  Silly generator!  I was so relieved, I just tossed it in the bed and drove back up to the house with it before even assessing the damage.  As I drove back, I remembered hearing a strange crunching sound on the way up the driveway and looking back wondering what it was.  Oh, that’s what it sounds like when you run over a generator—who knew?

Although I couldn’t have driven right over the top of it because the horse trailer would have made a huge whump (and I’m pretty sure I would have noticed that!), it does have some pretty good tire marks on it.  The exhaust housing was crunched so I took it off and the side panel is a little bit skewed now.  But, what the heck!  It started on the second pull!  I must write Honda a letter.  So… plugged in the Kohler, searched three outbuildings with my teeny flashlight to find the really long extension cord.  Ran that through the kitchen window.  Pulled out the fridge and plugged that in.

Then I took a deep breath, braced myself and… opened the freezer.  And everything was still frozen!  There was a bag of peas in the door that felt a little soft, but I was amazed that all of the meat—even the ice cubes in the tray—was (were) still frozen.  It had been over 48 hours!  So I’ve written off most of the fridge stuff, but at least we didn’t lose anything in the freezer.   At this point, I noticed that the light in the fridge came on.  Well of course, it is hooked up to the generator.  And the cogs in my mind sloooowly began to turn.   And fiiiiinally it occurred to me.  If I put the fridge on a power strip, I can also plug in an electric light!  I felt very civilized as I ate my dinner by the light of a desk lamp at 10 pm after my shower (such a genius, that man.)

I ran the generator most of the night, and after feeding in the morning, went to start the big generator.  And it was dead…  The cogs turned a little faster this time.  Well, duh!  The Kohler is located about 15 linear feet from where the lightening hit the garage roof—it’s probably fried also.  Note to self—next time locate your back-up power farther away from your main source of power.   This time, there were red lights.  Later I e-mailed the error code to David.  He translated—control board is fried!

Did I mention you can see the spot on the garage roof where the lightening hit?  It looks like someone got up there with a pick and took one good swing at the roof.  You would think there would be a smoking hole, but there is just one tiny arc mark on the head of an exposed roofing nail and a bunch of rumpled shingles to mark where this huge, terrifying looking bolt of lightening struck it.  Odd…

So we are living on power from a Honda generator (that was run over by a horse trailer) and an extension cord with a plug strip running through the kitchen window right now.  David plans to try to wire the Honda into the main breaker panel for the house tonight.  That way, we may even be able to do laundry and I can curl my hair in the bathroom instead of in the kitchen standing next to the fridge.  The new boards for the Inverter should arrive tomorrow.  The jury is still out on the control board for the Kohler.  And it occurs to us that we may only have just begun to assess the damage.  We won’t know what else is fried until we get the inverter back up, but David commented that one of the charge controllers seems to have “gone a bit wonky.”  I really MUST remember to write a letter to Honda after this is over…



Woman and Dog vs. Wild

It is a late March morning.  The days are finally getting light early enough for me to take the dog on a real walk again.  As I head out to feed horses, I see that we received a dusting of snow overnight and the sky is low and grey, promising more snow to come.  It is barely light enough to see without a flashlight but if I walk out the door now, I will have just enough time to feed horses and walk “around the block” before I have to leave for work.  It’s not snowing as I head out of the house, but as we arrive at the horse compound, I can hear the tinny “tic, tic, tic,” of flakes just beginning to hurl themselves against the galvanized horse shelters.  Just a few flakes…

But the flakes are getting heavier and falling more thickly as I finish feeding and Kaylee and I head out for our walk.  “Around the block” in our world includes most of our front parcel and the neighbor’s parcel below us—a little over a mile.  First we head north down the ridge above the horse corrals.  As I walk down the ridge, I have to bow my head and hold a hand up to protect my eyes because I’m not wearing a hat.  The snowflakes begin falling fast and furious, driven by a wind from the northwest, and whenever I remove my protective hand, I invariably take a snowflake to the eyeball—not a barrel of laughs at six in the morning.

Next, I turn left at the north property line and head west on the neighbor’s road.  Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of Kaylee in her morning rambles—right before the snowflake hits my eyeball.  I whistle at the turn to let her know I’ve changed course although she’s probably perfectly aware of my location at all times.  Heading west isn’t nearly as bad and I can search for the dog a little more carefully on this heading.  I finally spot her about 100 yards ahead of me crossing the road at a lope.  She’s not chasing anything, just looking for good smells, reading the stories of all of the denizens who travel our little patch of earth.  I scan the sagebrush for coyotes, but don’t spot any.  We have come out of the trees now and are at the high point of this leg.  I like this route because for most of the walk I can see far enough around me to spot the coyotes well in advance.

The grey curtain of snow this morning had cut visibility down to just a few hundred feet.   It is really coming down heavily now and beginning to accumulate on the ground.  I can feel it hitting the back of my head—guess I get to do my hair again when I get back to the house!  Our nearest downhill neighbor’s house is about three eighths of a mile away as the crow flies, but this morning, I can’t even tell there is a house there.  As I turn left at the end of this leg to head south along the property line I try to keep Kaylee close enough that I can see her.  She is mostly a black spot running along the hillside, but it is amazing how many hidden folds and large clumps of sagebrush there are capable of completely concealing one medium sized dog.

Finally, we make the last left turn to head east up our driveway.  This is the uphill leg leading back to the house.  I never made it up this stretch at a run even when I was running marathons.  Now I labor and puff my way up the road.  Kaylee always gets pretty far ahead of me, and today, she disappears into the trees in the wash.  As I reach the gate, which marks the beginning of our property, I see her standing on the road ahead of me staring off to the north.  I follow her gaze and see the grey shadow of a coyote perched on the far bank of the wash.  As I unlimber my rifle to take aim at her, she spins suddenly and vanishes into the concealing snow.  I pop off a shot anyway, reload, and head for her last known position to take up the chase.  But after wallowing my way across the wash and up the bluff, I never catch sight of her again so Kaylee and I head directly back to the house.

Oh, don’t be too shocked and concerned.  My rifle?  It’s an air rifle, a pellet gun more correctly—but to every 11 year old Ralphie out there, it’s a BB gun.  It’s not even a really nice BB gun, purchased for maybe $20 at most.  The best I can ever do is put someone’s eye out.  My intention in chasing the coyote down is not to injure or harm her, but to train her to stay off my property and leave my dog alone.  And amazingly, it seems to be working.

All this pretty much started right after we got the dog.  At first, I thought it was mere coincidence.  We would go for a walk and accidently run into a couple of coyotes.  After we “accidentally” ran into the coyotes a number of times, I finally realized that it was no coincidence.  They were thinking “Oh look!  Snacky dog!”  And they were waiting for us.

There are four of them in the pack I think.  The two I see most often I named Frick and Frack.  Frick and Frack are not afraid of people and once they’ve spotted their prey, will follow doggedly (pun intended) wherever we go.  They are probably the same coyotes that got my cats.  Then there are the invisibles.  I first saw Mr. Invisible on a day when the coyotes did not see me down cleaning the horse corrals.  All three were trotting east along David’s trail probably sniffing Kaylee’s tasty dog scent and scheming to “invite” her over for lunch.  Later, I saw Mr. Invisible from the house a few times trailing along with Frick and Frack as they tracked the scent trail we left on our walk.  And now I’m pretty sure there is a Mrs. Invisible, but that comes later in the story.

One day while I was riding the horse, we ran into them.  I saw them and Kaylee running through the trees above me on the bluff of the wash and pretty much freaked out.  I called Kaylee down to me and spent the rest of the ride keeping her close.  They followed us for about a mile, then met us on the way back down and followed us almost all the way home—very annoying.  I tried to get Max (the horse) to chase them, but Max wasn’t too enthused about it, while Kaylee thought chasing them sounded like a marvelous idea so I had to give that up.  A couple of days after that, they were waiting for us on our walk and followed so closely that I could throw rocks at them and almost hit them.   Anybody whose ever seen me throw rocks will know that’s gotta be pretty close!

That was the day I had had enough.  I e-mailed David at work and asked him to pick up some bird shot for the 22.  I figured that I could try to shoot close enough to scare them and if I accidentally got too close, birdshot would mostly sting, but not do any real damage.  David informed me that he would be bringing home a wrist rocket instead.  Huh?  Having never been an eleven-year-old boy, I had no idea that a wrist rocket is your basic slingshot.  I was picturing those little crossbow things the bad guys were using in The Road Warrior only somehow firing little RPG’s.  It kind of seemed like overkill to me, but finally David straightened me out.  I suspect he was just nostalgic for the days of childhood when he and his friends would go around shooting rocks at each other and anything else that seemed worthy of targeting.  He also brought home a box of pellets for the pellet gun.

I went on the Internet and googled “how do you get rid of coyotes?”  The ideas were pretty much in line with what I was thinking.  Most pages suggest using noise and shooting at the coyotes with paint ball guns or other non-lethal projectiles.  One interesting fact I found was that if you kill the coyotes, the alpha female will just begin producing new litters of pup to replace the ones you killed.  Because of this, it’s apparently almost impossible to wipe out the local coyote population. Personally, I just don’t see the point of killing them.   If it were possible to train them to leave me alone, I would rather do that.  If I started killing them, I would just have to deal with the next untrained generation.

So I spent a couple of days shooting driveway gravel at fence posts, clumps of sagebrush, trees, cargo containers and pretty much anything else that would stand still long enough. I got to where I could hit a target if it was large enough and not moving.  Now all I need are large, immobile coyotes!  And I saw no coyotes—naturally…  A few days later, though, I ran into a pair on the ridge as we began our walk and it was game on.  I don’t think I actually hit either of them, but I came close a few times.  One of them took off pretty quickly, but the other circled around as if to follow us on our walk so I went after it.  I pursued them very aggressively because the web pages had said that it wasn’t enough to just make them run away—you have to pursue them until they leave your territory.  So I kept shooting rocks and chasing even after they began to run away. Kaylee joined me in the chase and I finally realized that when she chases coyotes, it’s not to go off and meet them, but to chase them out of her territory also, so we were a team.

Pretty soon, I saw two coyotes disappearing over the lip of the wash almost 200 yards away at a dead run.  Kaylee rejoined me quite proud of herself and we headed back towards the house—I figured that was enough excitement for one morning.  We were working our way through the trees that fill the wash through our property when we encountered the invisibles.  So Kaylee and I had another fun chase until the invisibles high tailed it out of our territory.  At first, I thought that Frick and Frack had circled back around, but as I thought about it I realized there simply hadn’t been time for them to run all the way back up into the trees.  That’s when I decided there must be a Mrs. Invisible in the pack.

After that, I started carrying the pellet gun on every walk.  It is kind of heavy and annoying.  I felt a little silly walking around like Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s Mines (only he had better hair and a much bigger gun).  But I have discovered I’m much more accurate with the pellet gun at a longer distance than I am with the slingshot.  I can even hit the occasional T-post on purpose now.  After our big encounter, however, I didn’t see any coyotes for weeks.  They obviously got the message loud and clear.  In fact, my encounter in the snow was the first coyote sighting since I chased them off and I would say that the alacrity with which she scooted out of there only proves that this really was an accidental encounter.

Since then, we’ve chased off the occasional coyote.   We still make sure they “leave the territory” every time.   I’ve stopped living every 11 year old boy’s dream and walking around looking like Ramar of the Jungle, but I continued to carry the slingshot for a couple of months.   The other day, Kaylee was outside.  I looked out to check on her and spotted her trotting around collecting good scents out in the sagebrush when I spotted a coyote down below her on the hill.  She looked up and saw it about the same time.  I watched, wondering what would happen.  Kaylee began to trot in the general direction of the coyote until it spotted her (they were still about 200 feet apart).  Suddenly, the coyote dropped its head and ears, put its tail between its legs and slunk quickly away into the trees.  Kaylee stopped, satisfied that she had done her job.


We’ve gone to the dogs! Finally…

Nothing beats having a week off and STILL having to go into work everyday.  And the hell of it was that I couldn’t even sleep in and mosey in late in my sweats and flip-flops.  Why?  Well may you ask.  It all started when we got this dog.

You see, we are dog people.  Even my husband, who was dog deprived for a good portion of his childhood, is dog people.  We did not buy our first house because we wanted a house—we bought our first house because we wanted a dog.  And ever since we took possession of our new house, we’ve had a dog or two around.  Until a couple of years ago, that is.  We had two aging border collies and, knowing that the time was near; decided maybe after they went we would choose to be dog free for a while.  Dog ownership is great, but the logistics of having to feed and care for dogs make it difficult to just pick up and toodle off for a weekend in Death Valley or Yosemite.

And over the years, we have had some logistically interesting dogs.  Pockets, who was our first dog, was insanely loyal.  One time while out camping, David drove off on the motorcycle leaving Pockets in the tent at camp.  He told the other campers to let Pockets out after a little while and he would be fine.  Pockets, once freed, proceeded to track David down…12 miles…on his motorcycle…and found him.  This created a monster because he figured he could just track us down if he looked hard enough.  We couldn’t leave him with anyone when we went off on vacation because he would go off looking for us, but we finally did figure out that we could have David’s parents come over to the house and pick him up and take him home with them.  That way he didn’t feel the need to track us because we hadn’t “abandoned” him.

At one point, we even had a down-on-his-luck friend living with us.  Other people might think this was a little awkward, but it was great because he: a. did not eat our food; b. helped David fix things; and c. took care of the animals when we were on vacation.   In fact, we never charged him rent because; as you pet owners are already thinking to yourselves, it was more than worth the price for part c alone.  Unfortunately, our friend moved on and we now have to deal with our own animal travel logistics again.  So we thought we’d go dog free for a while.

Then we got hit by the quadruple whammy.  We lost both old dogs, the horse, and the old cat all within a 10 month time frame.  It was a rough patch for both of us and instead of being dog free for “several months,” it took us over two years to get back in the game.  At first, any dog we saw reminded us of our little lost Ringo and BC and we would dive head first into the vast pits of maudilinity that threatened to consume us.  Eventually though, we began to find ourselves afflicted with a strange sort of magnetism that sucked us over to any dog we happened to encounter.  We were like little kids who just wanted to pet the nice doggie.  We finally realized the “dog free interlude” was far past its expiration date when we went down to Mule Days last year.  We spent as much time during the parade and show ooohing and aaahing at the dogs people were walking around as we did looking at the mules.  When we started actually fantasizing sick and twisted plots to kidnap certain likely looking dogs, we knew it was time.

Fortunately, I have a neighbor who volunteers at the pound, so I asked her how to get in on the dog walking action.  The obvious danger with this strategy was that I might wind up bringing home half a dozen dogs on the first visit.  I needn’t have worried since most of the dogs at the pound turned out to be Pit Bulls or Pit Bull crosses.  I’m not saying Pit Bulls are not nice dogs, just that we are pretty confirmed Border Collie/cattle dog type people.  I can resist Pit Bulls.  Time turned out to by my other ally in this because (isn’t this the story of my life?) by the time I got the dog-walker training and was cleared to volunteer, I was back at work and had no time to walk dogs.  But I was able to sneak in a few days of walking here and there and my neighbor, alerted to our plight, kept me informed by e-mail whenever a likely dog came through.

It was on our Thanksgiving break that I met Stella.  I actually had a day free to go in and walk dogs and there was a cute Pit/Bulldog cross named Ria that I liked, and there was Stella.  My first thought on seeing her was that she is a McNabb or Border Collie/Queensland cross.  She is black with the white ruff speckled with black speckles and the black white mottling extends down her stomach and legs—definite cattle dog territory.  Of course, she heeled like a sled dog.  All of the pound puppies do.  I have this theory that it is because so many different people walk them and some let them pull while others don’t, so they just pull like sled dogs until they get a walker who makes them heel.  But she kind of tried to heel when I asked her to which is more than some of the dogs do.  She also had “that look.”  Border Collie people know whereof I speak.  So I kept thinking about Stella over the next week.

The following week, I had an appointment with “the dentist who never works.”  I have to take a full day off to see him whether it is a marathon torture session or a simple follow up because he is in the office (a 60 mile drive) for approximately 5 minutes on alternate Wednesdays if you’re lucky.  This was a simple follow up, so I went to walk dogs afterwards.  And I walked Stella again.  That Saturday, I took David in to meet Stella.  He fell for “the look” too, and after signing many, many forms and promising that we would hug her and pet her and love her and squeeze her…  no wait…  wrong story… we proudly walked out with OUR new dog.

We immediately agreed that we hated the name Stella and after a bit of good natured arguing, came up with Kayleigh—a good Scottish name to go along with her likely Border Collie heritage.  Only we decided to spell it Kaylee so that people wouldn’t have to bring up too much phlegm figuring out how to pronounce it.  How do you say that?  Kayleecchh…?  When I opened the truck door and said get in, she launched herself into the back seat as if to say “it’s about time!”  When we got home to our wild open sagebrush I crossed my fingers and let her off the leash and we haven’t needed it since except for trips to town.  I don’t know if she’s as insanely loyal as Pockets yet, but she made it patently obvious from the start that we were her new world.

Which was where our trouble started.  She was picked up as a stray, so we have no information on her background, but given how quickly she bonded to us I’d say there was someone out there she was very strongly bonded to.  I don’t know if it was getting lost and having that bond broken or spending 4 months in the pound with no clear “master” or if maybe she was this way to begin with, but she definitely suffers from severe separation anxiety.  We picked her up on a Saturday morning and spent the weekend having fun with our new dog.  Monday morning rolled around and I decided to leave her in the laundry room for the day while we both worked.  Our yard is good, but a determined dog could escape and I didn’t know how she’d be just loose in the house.  So I left her with toys and water and some treats and headed out for the day.  When I returned, it was to complete disaster.  Everything even remotely strewable was strewn.  My favorite fleece jacket had one arm chewed off.  Kaylee had ripped the molding strips from around the door and the fake window pane dividers off of the window.

And did Kaylee feel bad about it?  Dear God, the dog that met me was a completely different dog—frantic, penitent, manic and horribly ashamed of herself.  It was all I could do not to sit down and have a good cry with her right there.  But I managed to pretend that everything was okay and stay calm until she could calm down also.  After sending David pictures, I cleaned up the mess.  I still didn’t trust her in the yard and after what she did to the laundry room, wasn’t ready to let her have a crack at the rest of the house so I cleaned as much potential flotsam and jetsam out of the laundry room as I could find so that she would have “less to destroy.”  Haha!  The next day I came home to find that she had gotten into the furnace closet, pulled out the filters and destroyed them.  She had also begun chewing her way through the laundry room door into the house proper.

Both days, Kaylee greeted me with the same panic-striken look of fear mingled with shame.  “I’m so so sorry about the mess, but I was so afraid that you had left me forever and ever and ever and I’m so happy to see you and I’m so happy you came back because it was so lonely and scary abandoned in this frightening place without you to protect me all day long and now you’re finally back when I thought you were never coming back and did I mention I’m really, really sorry about the mess?”

I couldn’t leave her again.  She was rapidly reducing our laundry room to a scattered pile of atoms!  I knew if I gave her a crack at the rest of the house we were going to have to put rocking chairs on the porch and take up the banjo to explain the mess.  Fortunately it was December and I had also noticed that she seemed very at home in the truck.  So Kaylee began going to work with me every day.  And we began working on the separation anxiety.  Every day, I would get up, get ready, feed horses, walk the dog, then go through my “leaving” routine.  I would close all the doors, give her her treat ball, tell her to be a good girl and walk out the door to the car.  Then I would go back in the house and say “Come on Kaylee!”  And she and I would go to work.  At first, the interval of abandonment lasted no more than 30 seconds and even then, I would return to the same frantic dog that had greeted me after working all day.  But gradually, she began to understand that I was, indeed, going to return and she began to act calmer.

Amazingly, she was absolutely fine in a vehicle all day.  I would walk her on my prep period, but otherwise, she was alone.  Pockets spent a lot of time in the truck as a young dog when I was still shoeing horses, so I suspect she had led a similar life.  The truck, to her, was security.  And other than the separation anxiety, she was the best behaved and most well trained dog we have ever owned.  As time went on, I began to gradually increase the time I was gone until I was sitting in the car playing on the phone for several minutes before retrieving her and heading to work.

When Christmas break rolled around, I was planning to “work on the dog.”  I found out it’s kind of difficult to do any sort of abandonment training when you have family visiting and David home on vacation.  I was only able to leave her a couple of times right towards the end of Christmas break, but I figured she was doing so much better so let’s give it a try.

The first Monday after break, I left her in the house, presumably on the theory that she was ready; besides which, she had run out of things to destroy in the laundry room.  Bottom line?  She wasn’t ready!  That day, she tore all of the carpet out of the hallway and began chewing her way through the other side of the laundry room door.  She also attacked several of the miniblinds and destroyed a couple of them.  That one was tough to ignore, but I clamped my hand firmly over my mouth and jerked my head in a way that was supposed to indicate “let’s go for a walk,” and we walked until we were both okay and I could talk in a normal voice again.

So she kept going to work with me and I kept extending her morning interval until I reached the point where I was actually driving off down the driveway until I was out of sight, playing on the phone for 15 minutes, then driving back up the driveway to get the dog and go to work.  This led to some interesting encounters as the few other neighbors who live out there kept driving by and asking me if I was okay.  “I’m training my dog,” seemed like a kind of weird response, so I would just pretend to be on the phone.  I also discovered that there are very few places in our area that are actually out of sight of our house.  I wanted her to get used to me leaving her, but if she could sit and watch me out the window, that wasn’t exactly going to make her feel abandoned now was it?  But by the time our February break rolled around, I was ready to try for longer periods of time again.

Only I got sick.  This was no ordinary tickle of the throat, delicate snuffling into a tissue kind of sickness either.  This was down for the count, can barely crawl out of bed without hacking up a lung, need to stop and take a nap halfway to the kitchen because I’m so exhausted sickness!  But I was bound and determined to train the damn dog no matter how sick I was, so I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed at 5am each morning, hacked my way through pretending to get ready for work and drove off and abandoned the dog.  I actually went to work and did some filing for a few hours before heading home to “rescue” Kaylee and fall nearly comatose back into bed.

But by Wednesday, I simply couldn’t do it.  I got out of bed, pretended to get ready, then went back to bed—Kaylee’s training was going to have to wait at least one more day.  By Thursday, I was feeling even worse if that was humanly possible, so I combined feeling sorry for myself and dog training by heading into the clinic in Carson City.

Now anyone who lives 45 minutes from the nearest grocery store knows that you can’t just go into town to do one thing.  I don’t care if you have to hire someone to wheel your hospital bed around Costco (pausing by each sample table to administer a syringe of whatever goodies they are selling into your IV), you will inevitably have a list of 4000 items that you MUST not return home without.  Plus, I had to stop at Costco to pick up the supposedly life saving antibiotics prescribed by the clinic.  I was just thankful I didn’t have a list for Home Depot, but I did have to stop at Raleys and pick up the things I couldn’t buy at Costco.

And the clinic?  “Well…., you’ve only been sick six days and usually we don’t like to give antibiotics until it’s been seven days… but since you drove so far…”  Then they told me to get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take lots of Mucinex—all of which I’d already been doing—lots.

But the end result was that Kaylee spent an entire day in the house and didn’t destroy anything.  I was ecstatic and croaked liberal praise in her general direction as I crawled back to bed to pass out!

It hasn’t been all sunshine and butterflies since then, but we’ve progressed to the point where she stays home in the yard all day now.  She’s never even attempted to escape from what I can tell.  She still carries an edge of hysteria in her daily greetings, but she has chosen to confine her destructive tendencies to merely tearing up the yard trying to get the lizard that just ran under the back porch.  Since our landscaping theme could be best described as “Weeds of Nevada,” this hasn’t really been a big deal.

At least filling in a hole is easier than figuring out what to do with the hallway.  But even that has its silver lining.  When Kaylee ripped up the carpet, we realized that there was actually linoleum under the carpet.  It needs some work since the people who built the house spattered paint over it (after all, they were going to put carpet over it), but with a little sprucing up, it will look nice and wear better than the cheap carpet anyway.  And when she ripped the molding strips from around the back door, Kaylee revealed that the gaps between door frame and house frame had never been properly sealed.  So we did her one better and ripped the molding strips from around the front door and found the same thing.  Now our front door doesn’t whistle during windstorms anymore.  We suspect Kaylee may have had a past life as an interior decorator and was just attempting to reveal the flaws in our house to us.

I still wonder about her past.  She is almost freakishly well behaved.  She does not beg to go with me in the morning even after of months of riding to work with me every day.  It’s as if she was used to being left behind and accepts it.  She is great with the horses and loves to surf on the center console and stare longingly at the herds of cattle we drive past in the valley.  She will chase the horses if they get crazy and run around, but will come back when called which is more than I could ever say about Ringo.  She mostly spends her roaming time chasing lizards, squirrels and rabbits.  Naturally, I encourage the squirrel chasing!

So I’m curious about her past because I can’t imagine how she ever got lost or how her previous owners didn’t tear apart heaven and earth trying to find her, but really I don’t want to know.  I don’t ever want to have to give her back.



Part 3–Still Simple?

In which we naively thought that if possession is nine tenths of the law, then 90 percent of our troubles ended when we became the proud possessors of a KX-41 excavator.  What fools we were.

The next morning, David was up bright and early and ready to begin digging ditches.  He spent a few minutes figuring out the controls, then drove the excavator off of the flatbed and over to where we wanted a ditch and started digging.  And he dug, and he dug, and he dug.  After awhile, I went down to see how he was doing.  And he hadn’t gotten very far.  So he turned off the excavator and we stood around and looked at the ditch from several different angles with our hands on our hips and discussed it for awhile and figured that “once he got out of the clay…” things would go faster.  We repeated this process several times: dig, dig, dig, discuss, discuss, look, look, look, hands on hips, discuss, “you’ll get out of the clay soon…”  Finally, it became patently obvious to both of us that David wasn’t EVER going to get out of that clay.

David dug with that excavator for 9 hours and we barely had 100 feet of ditch.  Moreover, instead of getting OUT of the clay, it was getting worse.  He finally reached a point where he would raise the bucket up, then pound it down…whump!  Into the ditch, where he would begin dragging the bucket back and the excavator went “Eraaawwwk!” (Which based on many hours of scientific research watching Jurassic Park Movies is the noise that your average T-rex makes.)  Anyway, this T-rex definitely sounded injured as he scooped the bucket along the bottom and up the leading edge of the ditch and pulled up… one teaspoon of dirt. And doing the math—letsee, feet of ditch dug divided by time, three teaspoons equals one tablespoon, carry the five, time left to complete ditches?  Somewhere between forever and infinity.  And since you rent the excavator by the number of hours on the meter, we stopped right there, rinsed off our poor injured T-rex and loaded it back on its trailer.  The only consolation was that it allowed me to say my favorite worn out movie line one more time:

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

Monday morning, David hauled the KX-41 back into town.  (At least the road was finally open.)  He called later to say that he had rented the KX-91 for the following weekend and that it weighed only 7100 pounds and hopefully the flatbed could handle that.  And NOW you know why I want a flatbed trailer that can haul more weight:  David, being your basic intelligent guy, had done the math.  GVWR minus weight of trailer equaled something like 7800 pounds, so theoretically it should work right?  I, on the other hand, had done the “real world” math which involved hauling hundreds of bales of hay using the trailer and I can tell you pretty definitively that that particular trailer maxes out at somewhere around 6000 to 6500 pounds of loaded weight.  In fact, it positively creaked and groaned under the 60 bales of hay I was carrying each load.

So after all that “saving the money…being the guy…doing it ourselves…” talk, we ended up paying a boatload of money to have the KX-91 delivered, in addition to the rental fee, in addition to the money we had already spent renting the KX-41 for 9 hours.  Now I don’t have a clue how much our local backhoe guy would have charged us for the job, so maybe we saved money in the long run anyway.  I certainly DON’T plan to “do the math” on that one.  I figure I’m entitled to my little fantasy.  In the end, the KX-91 did get the job done.

Of course, the job got a little technical as we got closer to the corrals.  David realized that once he dug the ditch across the road, he couldn’t use the road or maneuver the excavator at all without falling into the ditch he had just dug, so he had to stop and lay pipe in that section, then fill it back in so that he could drive on it before proceeding into the corral area.

I wasn’t able to help because, naturally it was homecoming.  I was busy doing my part trying not to get run over by homecoming floats at halftime while simultaneously trying to keep them (the drivers of the floats) from running over any sprinkler heads or spectators or encroaching on the sacred and hallowed ground which is the football field.  After wrangling the floats onto the field, I got to sprint back to the sideline in time to organize flowers and crowns before the floats made it around the field all the time praying that none of the girls would accidentally go splat while attempting to step down from the float wearing a tight little dress and impossibly high heels.  It all went well, but you can see why it was actually a relief to return home and find the property all torn up with ditches and holes and piles of dirt all over the place.

To install the waterers, it was necessary to dig about 400 feet of ditches and two large holes.  The holes had to be deep enough to add 18 inches of gravel in addition to the 3 or more feet of waterer and about 6 feet in diameter.  One of those holes had to be long enough to install two waterers.  The main ditch came in straight from the well area to the corrals, and then we made a ditch that T’d off the end of the main ditch where the waterers would be installed.  We also dug a small side ditch in order to install spigots for both hot and cold water at the corrals.  I had rearranged the pipe corrals to give us room to work while keeping the horses safely penned up away from the ditches.

It all sounds simple until you realize that there was NO ROOM TO WORK!  You couldn’t maneuver a large piece of equipment in that small an area without hitting a pipe corral, a horse shelter, a tree or the perimeter fence.  I pitched in by helping glue some more pipe, then jumping on the tractor and filling in that section of ditch.  This involved scooping dirt off of the piles David had made in creating the ditch which were invariably under a tree or right next to the fence where you couldn’t get at them.  The most frustrating pile was located in the perfect place to simply push back into the ditch, EXCEPT I couldn’t get the tractor into position on the other side of the pile.  So first, I pecked away at the edges that I could reach until I thought I could sort of get by.  Next, I had to back over the pile since there wasn’t room to turn around on the other side.  I backed slooooowly with one tire on the ground and the other going up over the pile, tipping the tractor over at a frightening angle farther and farther and keeping the bucket down for balance until I finally got scared to go any further.  Then I gingerly hopped out of the tractor and even more gingerly dug at the pile behind the tractor tire until I was pretty sure the tractor would untip as I backed it further.  Then I ever so cautiously climbed back on the tractor and continued to back slowly until I felt safe again.  Whew!  Then I gleefully pushed the pile back into the ditch.

While I was triumphing over the giant pile of dirt, David was off digging even more ditch.  We alternated digging, gluing and filling back in for the rest of the day and well into Sunday.  (Did I mention that I “got” to chaperone the homecoming dance Saturday night too?—uggh!)  The digging got technical again where we had to join in to existing waterlines down by the well.  David seemed to be trying to answer the question “I don’t know… how many times CAN you hit the water line and break it?”  (I think the answer was four—not sure.)

But by the end of the day, we had water coming out of pipes at the corrals (intentionally), even if they (the pipes) weren’t, technically, connected to anything yet.  We had our holes and ditches dug and now all we had to do was tap into the well for the hot water line (we have a hot well), buy and install a spigot for the hot water (the old one we planned to use had given up the ghost), dig out the waterers, put landscape cloth down, put in the waterers, connect them up, cover with a protective sleeve, backfill with pea gravel, fill in the holes, fill in about 300 feet of ditch, and reassemble the corrals.  Egads!  Once again, a simple plan had gone and complicated itself while we weren’t looking.  To add to the fun, the weather guessers were predicting possible freezing temperatures later in the week and the last thing we needed was to have any of our new pipes freeze and burst!

We spent the next few nights scurrying around using shovels trying to get enough dirt over our precious new pipes to prevent freezing and trying to figure out how to get the silly waterers to work.  Remember how we stored them for about two years?  Turns out that might not have been the best idea.  Or perhaps we should have stored them in a slightly more pristine environment than a three sided shed?  Perhaps we’ll use a hermetically sealed bank vault next time!  When we removed them from their gnarled and decomposing boxes we found that the inevitable Nevada winds coupled with a less than ideal environment of desert mixed with dried out horse poop had managed to breech the boxes and infiltrate every possible nook and cranny of each device.  I hooked them up and began testing and found out that none of them worked!  We spent the next two or three nights disassembling, flushing, scrubbing, flushing some more, reassembling, redisassembling, etc… until we had them all in working order.

After that, we would put them into the ground, surround with landscape paper (to protect the drain field) put on the protective sleeve, and… oh, yes, the protective sleeve…  We had thought to buy some 18 inch PVC sewer pipe.  We needed three sections about 3 feet long each.  So David called the local plumbing supply and found that for some inexplicable reason PVC type sewer pipe is outrageously expensive.  So we got the corrugated metal kind which was about a third the price.  And I know what the horse people among you are thinking right now—EDGES!  AAARRGGHHH!  I had the same thought.  The answer was to get old tires from Schwab and slide them over the waterers to cover the edges.  But first we had to get the sewer pipe.  I honestly don’t remember why David didn’t just pick them up one day, but they were to be delivered.  There was some interesting back and forth over the phone about delivery—I think the plumbing supply company was a wee bit confused about our actual location in relation to the rest of the Planet Earth.  In the end, I came home one day to find three nicely cut sections of sewer pipe sitting on a pallet all wrapped up like a Christmas basket in a straight jacket with that stretchy plastic stuff.  They were sitting in the sagebrush by the side of the road about a mile from the house.  They were, however, only about 20 yards from the Nighthawk Ln. sign, so A for effort, right?  The next night, I spent a lot of time with a grinder seeing how many shards of metal I could embed in my arms and face trying to get the edges just a little less sharp.

So the process went something like:  hook up the waterer, check to see that it works, check that it’s not leaking, check to see that it works again, level it, landscape cloth, check to see that it still works, pick up sewer pipe, put it back down and try to figure out how in the world to get it over the top of the waterer without falling into the hole, pick it back up and sort of fling it over the waterer, carefully pour bucketsful of pea gravel in between the sleeve and waterer, carefully shovel dirt into the hole to anchor the landscape paper, check level on waterer, check to see that it still works, add enough scoops of dirt to anchor the waterer, check level on waterer, get on the tractor and fill in the hole trying not to hit the waterer or the fence or any of the other waterers with either the front or back of the tractor, stop the tractor and cover the waterer with a plastic garbage bag because you forgot to, back on the tractor to finish filling the hole, check to see if the waterer works just one more time, and voila!  You’re sort of done!

Eventually, we managed to get it all done.  We still have random piles of dirt in inaccessible places that I guess I’m going to have to remove by hand at some point, but the waterers work and we now have hot and cold running water at the corrals instead of 300 feet away which nicely eliminates a lot of garden hose stress.  And almost without exception, the waterers have performed as promised.

The only exception was Max.  I came out on the first 0o morning to find Max’s water bowl full of nicely solidified ice.  Hmmm…  That’s not supposed to happen.  So the first order of business was to get it thawed out.  Oh, wait!  I now have a hot water line to the corral!  It only works when you are pumping water directly out of the hot well, so first I fired up the generator and got the well pump running.  I thawed out the bowl with running water, but it still wouldn’t drain, so we removed the top of the unit and pulled out the guts and ran hot water over the drain pipe until it thawed out too.  Then we tried to reassemble the thing and it fought back like an octopus on steroids.  The “flexible” hose they use to join the incoming water source to the valve/drainpipe assembly is about as flexible as I am after running a marathon.  We fussed and fumed and swore at it and finally got it into place, but weren’t really happy about how it had gone together.  We were so relieved, though, that we just screwed the top back down and called it good.

In the meantime, we had the well pump running to fill the water tank.  I realized that that was where the freezing problem had originated.  You see, we pump our water out of the ground manually up to a storage tank.  We originally priced a system which would run on solar power and top off the tank each day and then decided against taking out a third mortgage!  So once a week, we fire up the generator and fill the tank.  I now know that if the outside temperature decides to take an arctic plunge, I need to pump water sooner to keep the tank from getting so cold.  The warm water from the well thaws the tank (where I’ve seen up to 4 inches of ice layered on the inside during really cold snaps) and the amount of water in the tank gives it enough thermal mass to keep it from freezing back up for a few days.  Anyway, the water was so cold that when Max drank it, it couldn’t drain out fast enough to stop it from freezing.  Max also seems to like filling the bowl all the way up as he drinks, so this habit probably meant there was more water there to freeze.

Which is what caused our second problem with the waterers—Max again!  Sometime in March, I noticed that Max’s corral seemed to be pretty wet.  After a few days, we had a respectable swamp going.  I thought Max had found a new hobby—playing with the paddle and flooding the corral!  After a couple of days, I got worried about the water level in the tank and, sure enough, we were down to less than 100 gallons.  I pumped water until 11:00 that night.  So we started brainstorming ways to outsmart a water loving horse.  I e-mailed BarBarA and asked them if they had any suggestions and they sent a picture of a barrel someone had rigged up so that the horse had to put its head inside the barrel to drink out of the waterer.  Caution and claustrophobia would keep the horse from standing there with his head in a barrel holding the paddle down.  That Saturday, I dragged a plastic barrel up to the garage and cut the bottom out.  Then I threw it in the truck and hauled it down to the corral to see if the hole I was planning to cut out would seem like it would work.

When I got to the corral, Max was just finishing a drink.  He then walked away from the waterer… and it kept running… on its own… no horse required.  And as we disassembled the device for the second time, it hit us.  It wasn’t Max.  We were the ones who had screwed it up. Basically, the hose was turning in the direction opposite of the way it should turn, so was interfering with the on/off valve.  David had fought with it when he originally hooked it up, then given up when he thought it was good enough to work, but we’d made it worse when we put it back together after it froze.  We still couldn’t figure out how to win the battle of the inflexible hose short of training weasels to scamper around in there and chew through the tie wraps we needed cut.  The problem was that the tie wraps were at the bottom of the unit, 5 feet down and the whole unit was now embedded 3 feet into the ground.  Cutting the tie wraps to allow us to try and wind it the other way was the only way we could think of to fix it.  We even tried to duct tape a set of wire cutters to two broom handles–which was entertaining, but didn’t work.  Finally, David was able to use a 6 foot rock bar and a hammer and break the tie wrap connections so that we had a little better movement with the unit.

Once we had it loose, we spent about half an hour fighting with the waterer and each other trying to get it to work.  The octopus was winning!  Finally, David did this weird zen/karate kid thing where he stood and moved his hands and visualized what he needed to do, then he went over to the waterer and just spun it into place.  It was pretty cool, and the best part is that it worked.  So the bottom line is that I may want a heavier duty flatbed trailer and a bigger tractor wouldn’t go amiss, but I’m pretty good with the husband I’ve got!

Since then, the water system has worked with absolutely no problem.  After we thawed it out, we had several more really frigid mornings and it never froze again.  I suspect we’ll need to disassemble and clean the waterers once a year to keep them in good working order.  We’re getting pretty good at taking them apart now, and as long as Zen Boy is around, they should go back together nicely.  And next time we have a bad cold snap, I’ll pump water twice a week and make sure the tank stays thawed.  Now I think I’d better go give Max about a dozen cookies to make up for giving him such a bum rap!

Once again, a simple plan goes awry!

This winter was one of the iciest I can remember in the 30 years we have been here.  I finally had to strap crampons on my snow boots.  They’re the cheap 4 pronged kind that just go under the instep, but it didn’t matter.  I waltzed down to the corrals to feed horses without fear for the first time in days—maybe even weeks. The ice was that bad!  Here, we were not worrying about global warming.  Here, we were in the midst of our very own mini ice age.  With just a few notable exceptions, the temperatures hovered around the single digits to low teens at night and the mid 20’s to low 30’s during the day.  This lasted for about six weeks.  Oh, and the exceptions were when the temperatures dropped down to zero, not when it warmed up.  And it snowed.  It was not the heavy backbreaking kind of snow that you start getting sick of slogging through  after one day.  It wasn’t even deep enough to bother pulling out the tractor and plowing the road, but it was too deep to labor through every day without pulling a “poor man’s plow job” and driving a truck around the property to break trail wherever we might choose to walk.

So why complain about all of that pretty white fluffy stuff?  Because after one dazzling day, it wasn’t pretty, white, or fluffy anymore!  On those rare days when the outside temperature warmed up into the mid 30’s and the sun came out, the snow would begin to melt off.  Only, beginning is about as far as it ever got.  You see, it takes most of the day to warm up that far, and just about when things start to soften up a little bit, the sun goes down.  So, you got these little teaser patches of brown dirt showing through, but mostly what you got was ice—especially where you had already walked or packed it down with the truck.  And just about the time when you got enough brown patches of dirt showing through that you could hopscotch your way down to feed the horses and avoid maybe half of the ice, it snowed and the cycle started all over again. Only now there was ice hiding under fresh snow just waiting to catch you unawares!

Then finally, the cold spell broke!… sort of…  The week started with 6” of snow on Sunday morning.  Then on Wednesday, we had “The Big Melt” where it warmed up to the high 40’s, turning the roads into an intricate river system, my corrals into the “Great Horse Poop Lakes” and everything else into an Okeefenokee style bog.  And then the sun went down.  And we had own our very own ice skating rink!  Ergo crampons.

And yet, there was a silver lining.  Every day when I went down to feed the horses, no matter what the temperature was (we saw 0o several times), my horses had water.   Not the solid crunchy kind, mind you, but the clear, wonderful liquid kind of water we only used to dream about in cold snaps like this.  And how did this come about?


I blame RFDTV really.  I had RFDTV once.  That was back before we decided we were too cheap to pay for satellite TV because you have a hundred channels and there is STILL NOTHING ON!  We got the channel package that included RFD-TV because the latent horse crazy girl inside of me insisted.  I have a rule about horse programs:  If it has horses in it, I will watch it.  I may point and laugh at the screen.  I may yell and scream at the totally clueless people in the show who are putting glitter on their horses’ butts or making kissing noises so often that even the dog starts howling.  I may even write angry letters to the powers that be, but I will watch it.  I even watch the commercials because they have horses in them (which makes bathroom breaks kind of tough!).  Most of them have crazy claims, like “if you feed your horse Vitamin X—the only horse vitamin you will ever need—it will be able to jump 8 foot fences and win the Kentucky Derby!”  But the craziest, absolutely far-outest commercial I saw was for a watering device that required no power and would not freeze.  I would sooner believe in Vitamin X!

But, alas, we ditched satellite.  Even now, my horse crazy inner girl really misses RFDTV.  She would be willing to pay $60.00 per month just to have that one channel, but I have had to tell her no.  She was not happy.   Eventually, to appease her, I went to the web page of the horse waterers (Bar Bar A is the name brand) to find out the true story.  What I found out is that—unlike Vitamin X—these watering devices are a truly ingenious invention.  Basically, they consist of a 5 foot pipe that you bury 3 or so feet of in the ground. The valves and guts and important things are at the bottom of the pipe, so once they are buried, they are 3 feet underground; hence, they don’t freeze!  The horse pushes on a paddle to get the water to fill the bowl to drink.  When the horse finishes, the excess water drains back out of the bowl and out the bottom of the pipe… three feet underground.  It’s a brilliant idea really—no standing water, so no freezing in winter and no mosquitoes in summer.  It also requires no power to run a heater.  What could be simpler?  (Can you hear me sniggering?)

So I bought 3, which costs roughly about 3 years worth of RFDTV, but it would be worth it, right?  The plan was to hire “the guy” to come out with a backhoe and dig ditches for the water lines, slap a bunch of PVC together, and voila!  Piece of pie!  Simple as cake!  Only about that time I lost my horse to colic which turns out to cost a ridiculously spectacular amount of money, so the backhoe had to wait.  And wait it did.  Next, the batteries in our power system died which turned out to cost a STUPENDOUSLY, ridiculously spectacular amount of money—yeouch!  Suddenly, the water lines were so far down the list of priorities that we barely remembered the project.  Occasionally, one of us would vaguely mention that we ought to put those waterers in, but then our conversation would just sort of taper off into indistinct mumbling and we would forget about it for another few months.  The waterers themselves sat languishing in a shed in their original cardboard boxes, which slowly began to decompose so that it looked like we were conducting some sort of lame experiment on how many years cardboard can last.

Until this year that is.  This year, the stars all lined up and the good fairy of horse projects waved her little wand and I stopped mumbling and stated boldly for all to hear that “I’m gonna call the guy.”  Only, David wouldn’t hear of calling “the guy.”  Being a guy himself, he has this theory that all it takes to be “the guy” and not just “some guy” is the right piece of heavy equipment.  (More sniggering?  Ladies! Get your minds out of the gutter.)  David’s theory is why pay “the guy” when you can rent the right piece of heavy equipment and be your own guy and save money.  Besides, that way he gets to dig in the dirt, which (pay attention ladies) is apparently a very powerful guy fantasy that starts when they are 3 and begin digging massive trench warfare layouts in the backyard for those little plastic soldiers and ends, well… never.

This thrifty be-your-own-guy plan depended heavily on our ability to haul said piece of equipment the 30 miles from the rental place ourselves using a flatbed trailer.  Fortunately, we have access to a flatbed trailer that we can borrow from David’s generous Aunt and Uncle in Reno.  A side note about flatbed trailers:  This may be the single most useful piece of equipment after your basic tractor—possibly, even more useful since you can use it to haul the tractor to other places thus rendering IT (the tractor) even more useful.  Naturally, after borrowing one for most of last year, I want one of my own.  Only I want a bigger one that can haul even more weight!  (Does this surprise anyone?)  So step one was: pick up the trailer.  Step two was: take it back because David’s cousin suddenly needed it.  Did anybody catch the foreshadowing there?  We didn’t either!  We just blithely picked the trailer back up after they were done figuring “what could be more simple!”

But it was summer, and I was so busy doing my usual summer activities and hauling loads of hay (on the trailer) and rebuilding my hay barn and attending math conferences and sailing with David, that we could never seem to find a weekend to rent the excavator that we wanted to use.  We finally found a weekend in September that would work.  The plan was for me to drive the truck, hauling the trailer, to work on Friday and drive into Gardnerville after work to pick up the excavator.  We would use it all weekend, then David would return it Monday morning on his way to work.  There is no rocket science operating here, right?  Simple plan? The only thing operating here was fate.  I’m not only starting to believe in fate, I have begun to become very superstitious after some of the strangely coincidental events we have been through.  I believe that Loki is more than just a character in the Avengers movie and on this particular day, he was rolling his dice or throwing darts at a board or whatever he does to decide what mischief to cause whenever he gets bored, and the dart landed smack on the road between me and the excavator.

We got word at school around 2:00 that there might be a problem.  There was a fire and the road was currently closed.   After a few phone calls to the Sheriff’s office and the fire information people, we confirmed that the road would be closed for at least a few hours.  The alternatives were drive out through Yerington and back in from the east—a dramatically long detour that would add more than 100 miles to the trip.  Or… drive over Monitor Pass which would only add about 20 minutes, but would involve hauling a rather largish flatbed trailer over a steep pass on a narrow winding two-lane road.  Not great alternatives, but I simply wouldn’t make it to the rental place before closing if I went the long way so it was off to the pass.  Along with everyone else on the planet!

You see, all of the 395 traffic was being routed over Monitor Pass, so there we all were—cars galore, motor homes, flatbed trailers, 18 wheelers, covered wagons—you name it, it was up there!  The first thing that happened as we were waiting to turn left off of 395 is that a motor home coming down the last little narrow canyon lost its brakes.  I was fortunate to be stuck in the left turn lane, but two of my friends had made the turn ahead of me and one nearly got hit by the guy.  She said he passed so close, she could see the look of abject terror on his face.  Amazingly, he managed to thread his way through the mess of cars, cross the oncoming lane without hitting anyone and pull off onto a large dirt area where he was able to stop about 10 feet before the highway.  As I finally made the turn onto Monitor Pass Road, I couldn’t help but wonder what other disasters might be waiting for us.

And I was right to be concerned about hauling the flatbed over that road.  The trailer is at least a foot wider than the truck, so I had to pay careful attention to its position in the lane.  On the left hand turns, it had a tendency to wander over into the oncoming lane, which I’m sure provided thrills for one or two oncoming drivers.  It was certainly more exciting than I was hoping for when I had to pass oncoming trucks and motor homes.  On the right hand curves, it had a tendency to want to go off the edge of the pavement.  This would not have been such a big deal if the edge of the pavement had been in good shape.  It wasn’t.  I think I had the whole shebang airborne a couple of times after hitting potholes or spots where the pavement had crumbled away.  But I made it into town in time to pick up the precious excavator.  I was all ready to head home!  Except the road was still closed.

So David (who had joined me on his way home from work) and I went out for pizza and hoped they would open the road.  They didn’t.  So now I had to make the same decision, only now instead of hauling an empty 2200 pound flatbed trailer over a steep, winding, narrow road, I was hauling about 6000 pounds of trailer plus excavator.  The prospect was scary, but I knew the truck could do it—after all, there was a reason I insisted on that Allison transmission, and 100 miles through Yerington still sounded like 100 miles.  The question was could I do it?  Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of heights?  Yep, don’t like those drop-offs.  I could have wimped out and traded David for the Camry, but I don’t like to wimp out.  Every time I wimp out, next time is tougher.  So I went for it.

And it was fine.  Well, it was almost fine.  The trip up was uneventful and the traffic had really thinned out, thankfully, but as we headed down the ski slope that is the east side of the pass, I caught up to another truck hauling a utility type trailer.  He obviously did not have an Allison transmission.  I was discovering that third gear would hold the truck and trailer at a very nice speed of around 35 miles per hour with only the occasional use of the brakes.  As soon as I hit the downgrade, I fiddled with the trailer brakes and found the sweet spot where the trailer wouldn’t grab the truck or push it either.  Not so this fellow in front of me.  He was apparently of the opinion that one uses the trailer brakes to slow the entire rig!  I started smelling this horrible burnt brake shoe odor and got a little panicky wondering if it was me.  How could my brakes be burning?  I was barely using them!  Then I caught up to him.  Corner after corner, I watched acrid white smoke boil out of his trailer brakes.  I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it and wouldn’t have been surprised to see flames shooting out of the trailer wheels. Thinking of the motor home, I started to worry that he would lose his brakes.  I thought to myself “jeez, if I watch this guy go over the edge, I’ll never be able to drive again!”

Finally, I shifted into second and putzed along at about 25.  I figured I’d give him time to get a few turns ahead of me and then I could stop cringing every time I saw the cloud of white smoke. And if he went over the edge, well, at least I wouldn’t see it.  I can’t imagine he got to the bottom without doing lasting damage to his brake system.  I never did see him after that because I pulled over when I finally got to the bottom of the drop-off section.  I really had to pee and there’s just no bleeding place to pull off with a truck and trailer where a girl can rush off and hide discreetly in the bushes anywhere along that road. I’d been waiting for this perfect little wooded spot with a long pull-out for about 20 miles.  Too much root beer with our pizza dinner!

Anyway, we made it home, complete with truck, trailer, excavator and my fragile panic disorder all intact.  I was tickled pink that the truck did so well.  I would not even have made the attempt in my old truck!  Thinking that we had thwarted Loki, we happily went to bed knowing that in two days of hard work we would have ourselves a new water system.  Yeah, you know that didn’t go exactly as planned…

We had a simple plan…

We had a simple plan.  We always think we have a simple plan.  We should know better.

Not all of our plans are simple, but we tend to get around to tackling the simple ones first because they seem so… well… simple.  Once begun, though, our plans seem to fall prey to whatever the opposite of entropy happens to be called—disentropy, antientropy, unentropy.

You know about entropy.  That’s the principal that says things tend to devolve into their simplest form over time.  It’s the principle that disproves the theory that if you give enough monkeys access to enough typewriters for enough time, eventually, they’ll write the complete works of Shakespeare.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!  Instead, the monkeys will find that flinging typewriters full of poo is much more entertaining than just flinging poo and they won’t type anything at all.  That’s entropy!  Another way to say it is:  we all rot.  Left to its own devices, nothing gets more complex over time.

Our plans, on the other hand, given enough time, tend to become infinitely more complex than we can possibly imagine.  (Or is that Obi-Wan Kenobi if Darth Vader kills him—I can never remember…)

I think I’ll call it Murphentropy!  That makes it the subclause of Murphy’s law that states that there is no such thing as a simple plan—only people foolish enough to believe they have one.

And I know it’s true, because it once took us two years to rebuild a bathroom.  What happened was, we went to a local home improvement store which happened to be going out of business and we found a corner shower stall.  And we thought, “hmmm… that corner shower stall would fit into that our teeny broom closet of a master bathroom, and then we’d have another shower we could use, and (everybody say this together): It will increase the value of our house!”  Uh-huh.  Only the corner stall wouldn’t fit in the bathroom with the existing vanity.  If only we could find a pedestal sink.  We kept on browsing and, lo and behold, we found one.  All we needed now was a new toilet—white, thank you—please God, don’t make us put the harvest gold one back in.  Soon, we found ourselves a white toilet, and it was all on sale, and all we had to do was rip out the old bathroom and install our new booty and our lives would be complete!


Have you ever tried to install a shower stall in a bathroom that doesn’t have an existing shower?  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  You see, your standard shower consists of “pipes” which make “water” come “out” when you try to take a shower.  Because our bathroom didn’t have an existing shower, there were no “pipes” and hence, no “water.”  The thought of standing around naked in a shower stall with no water seemed somehow inefficient to us in terms of getting clean, so we knew we needed pipes.  Only, to install pipes, you first have to perform a complex ritual involving seven plumbers and an African witch doctor dancing around a bonfire on the summer solstice offering prayers to Goombar, the god of bathroom plumbing.  If Goombar is pleased, you are allowed to install your pipes.  Apparently, we pissed Goombar off.

So what happened first was:  I hired a plumber.  I foolishly, naively, stupidly, hired a plumber.  The plumber came out and crawled under the house and made lots of important plumbing sounds by essentially banging randomly on any pipes he could find.  Then he cut out enormous hunks of wall board and sautered some new random pipes onto our existing random pipes and then presented me a bill for approximately half the national debt.  At this point, I foolishly, naively and stupidly believed that the plumbing was finished and we could install the new bathroom.  I believed that right up until David came home from work and laid eyes on our new pipes and declared them “all wrong!”

Now I know what you are thinking.  David is a computer guy, while the plumber is… well… a plumber.  So wouldn’t the plumber be far more qualified to get the job “all right,” than David would be to declare it “all wrong?”  I indulged in this sort of thinking as well—for about twelve seconds.  Then I realized that A. I have to live with David, while B. I do not have to live with the plumber.  So naturally I sided with David.  Unfortunately, by declaring the plumbing “all wrong,” it was now incumbent upon David to make it right.  And David didn’t seem to be in any big hurry.  Mostly, he seemed to be considering what he was going to do—you know—while he was watching TV or we were camping in Death Valley.  Maybe he was sneaking out every full moon and doing dances to try and get back into Goombar’s good graces.  All I know is that we had this empty little cave where our bathroom used to be and we had a bunch of unopened boxes containing a new bathroom taking up space in the shop and that was the state of affairs for a good looooong time.

So what finally happened was… we invited my parents up for Christmas.  Or was it Thanksgiving?  I can’t remember, but the end result was the same.  The thought of having to share a bathroom with my parents for up to a week was horrifying enough to motivate David to fix whatever it was he didn’t like about the pipes so that the bathroom could proceed.

This necessitated a rather comical scenario wherein David’s father came over and spent an entire day crawling around under the house banging on pipes in a vaguely plumberish way and attempting to carry on a conversation with David (who was in the house) that went something like this:

David:  “Can you find the hot water pipe?”

Dad:  “Mmmff mmmff mfff…”

David:  “What?”

Dad:  “Mmmff mmmff mfff…” (louder this time)

David:  “No!  Not that one, it’s the other one!”

Dad:  “Mmmff mmfff?”

David runs outside and crawls under the house.

Sounds of banging on pipes.

Sounds of muffled conversation.

More banging on pipes.  (Goombar likes it when you bang on the pipes a lot.)

Then David would reappear in the house and yell, “Okay, you have the hot water line?”

And dad would yell “Mmmff mmmff mfff…”

This went on for most of the day.  They were probably not as efficient as the plumber, but they made up for it by being far more entertaining and much cheaper.  In the end, I think it cost me a couple of sandwiches and some soda for lunch.  The toughest part was the physical discomfort of having to stifle all of my snorks and giggles whenever one of them was near enough to be offended by my mirth.  And in the end, they fixed whatever was “all wrong.”  Or perhaps they just banged on pipes in a manly fashion and didn’t change anything and just never admitted it.   All I know that when we finally got around to hooking up the shower, water did come out when you pulled the little handle—take THAT Goombar!

The part of the project that turned out to be the most difficult was actually the linoleum.  It turns out that your bathroom floor is glued on… with real glue!  (Who knew?!)  That means that if you put the glue down and then you put the floor down on it and you screw it up?  There’s no backsies.   You have to rip the whole thing out and go buy new linoleum and start all over again or you have to immediately sell the house to unsuspecting buyers.  If it hadn’t been for the fact that the bathroom was roughly the size of your average postage stamp (if you cut it in half), we might have been intimidated by the prospect of putting down a floor and hired somebody to do it.  As it turned out, we did just fine once we got brave enough to try.

You would think that this project would have turned us off to rebuilding bathrooms, but it wasn’t that long before we actually did it again!  The root of the problem was that we purchased a house that had been built in the early 80’s, but apparently, the people who built the house had really, really fond memories of the 70’s.  The carpet was avocado green.  One bathroom and parts of the kitchen were harvest gold (the kitchen counters were actually the kind with gold flakes embedded in them) and the other bathroom was baby blue.  The overall effect was to scream “POLYESTER PANTSUIT!”  If Donna Summer had dropped in, she would have immediately begun looking for the disco ball.  So it was either start listening to the Bee Gees again or start working on the house.

Ironically, the second bathroom turned out to be far more technical than the first.  That’s because this time we (again foolishly) went from a shower stall to a tub and shower combo and the bathroom wasn’t, technically, large enough for the tub.  In addition, the old shower had leaked down through the subfloor and we were afraid we would have to replace the joist and THEN when we went to replace the wallboard, we found out that we were the proud owners of “The Amazing Sort-Of Trapezoidal Bathroom.”  Which shouldn’t have surprised us because when we tore out the old dry-wall, we found an empty beer can inside.  And the piece de resistance (literal translation: stupidest thing we did) was that we installed a pocket door in the new bathroom which was so daunting a task that even the linoleum had no power to frighten us this time around.

This time, though, we were at least smart enough to know that it wouldn’t be a simple project, so naturally, we finished the second bathroom in only six months.  Maybe that’s because we had learned a valuable lesson when we rebuilt the first bathroom—invite your parents to spend Christmas sooner this time!  (I think I was actually adding the last coat of paint the day before my parents arrived.)

And of course, all this was by way of introduction to our latest “simple plan,” affectionately known as “the water project from hell.”  But now that’s going to have to wait for another day!

Enter, the wilderness

The other night I looked up from my reading and spotted an ant walking around my living room.  This event is not completely unusual, as we’ve been finding these ants wandering around the house for the last month or so.  They’re not the red kind that bite—they are sort of red and black mixed and about twice as large as the red ones.  They seem to have an affinity for my bathroom for some reason.  It always makes me kind of sad, though, knowing that they will wander aimlessly in their little DNA programmed search for food and, not finding anything interesting, die of old age lost in the carpeted wilderness.  Unless they meet THE SHOE, natch…

And since we couldn’t figure out how they were making it in to the house in the first place, it was kind of hard to plug up the hole.  Of course, there was always the danger that one of the little buggers would actually find his/(hers/its?) way back out to the nest with a stray grain of rice and announce to the whole world that there is FOOD TO BE HAD! in this direction, but the chances were pretty slim.  However, ants also leave trails so that others can follow, so I knew that my little Lewis and Clarks were merely the tip of the exploration iceberg and that, sooner or later, the inevitable “westward migration” would occur.  So I figured I should probably get around to putting out some ant bait.  You know—when I got around to it.  Pretty sure I spotted it in the horse trailer a month or so back…  Ummm… what was I saying?

Now I realize that there are some of you who are perfectly happy to live with the “wilderness” when the wilderness chooses to live with you.  I am not of that opinion.  I do not like to share my little domain with critters that:

a.  eat my food

b.  don’t clean up their own messes

c.  carry diseases that could possibly kill me

d.  might bite me

e.  refuse to curl up on my lap and purr while watching TV or chase tennis balls and worship me

And while I know my friend, Carly, would probably gladly die of Hantavirus rather than kill a mouse, I would not.  I think of it this way:  David and I own approximately 100 acres here.  Our house takes up approximately one twentieth of an acre.  This leaves 99 19/20 of an acre for the critters!  That’s 99.95 acres for the fractionally challenged among you who are still reading even after encountering a fraction (bravo for you!).  The others, of course, ran screaming from the room at the first hint of fractionage and are hiding in a darkened closet right now, shivering in terror.

I still hate to poison the ants, so I put this event off as long as possible in the hopes that they would magically just go away.  But they were bad ants.  They told their friends who told their friends and suddenly it was PAR-TAY!!!  I, of course, was oblivious.  I spotted the one ant and ignored it.  Then I spotted a second and a third ant a few minutes later and ignored them.  After the fourth or fifth ant, I got wise and started turning on lights and really looking.  They were everywhere!  This explains why, if my neighbors were nosy enough, and if they had a night spotting scope, they would have seen me hightailing it down to the horse trailer at 10 o’clock at night in my pajamas to dig out the ant poison.

Interestingly enough, when I went outside, they were swarming all over the ground out there also.  Must have been The Night of the Ants.  I was very disappointed, though.  I listened really close, but I couldn’t hear them singing.  You know?  “The ants go marching two by two.  Hurrah! Hurrah!” Apparently, that is merely a myth perpetrated by summer camps and scout troops.  My childhood unravels…

The one plus is that I was able to follow the trail back and find their access hole—under the front door.  So I stuffed a rag in the corner of the door.  Someday, I will probably strategically locate some weather stripping to block this hole.  Someday.  In reality, 20 years from now, there will still probably be a rag shut in the corner of the front door.  If you ever visit me, look for it there.

But the ants haven’t been our only invaders lately.  A couple of weeks ago, we were driving to town and stopped at the Lodge for some reason.  As we sat there, we both noticed that we could smell barbecue.  Yum!  It never occurred to us to wonder why the Lodge might be barbecuing at 6:30 AM.  We noticed it again when we stopped at a stoplight in town.  Wow!  One of these restaurants must be barbecuing also—must be national barbecue week or something.  And it STILL did not occur to us that 7 AM might be a wee bit early in the morning for pork ribs.  It did at the third stoplight.  It finally penetrated our fuzzy brains that WE were the barbecue!

So we stopped and opened the hood and found a veritable beaver dam in the front of our engine—a smoldering beaver dam!

We disassembled half the engine and cleared out the beaver dam and figured it must have been a pack rat since some of the sticks would have challenged your average mouse.  (Or maybe the mice have gotten a hold of a stash of steroids.)  And in our usual fashion, we ignored it after that.  Until David noticed the lovely barbecue smell again the next day on the way to work.  He figured we had missed a few sticks only to find a new and freshly built beaver dam under the hood.  This went on three days running.  And so it was war!  Again, I absolutely despise killing critters if I can possibly avoid it, but I have to draw the line somewhere.  I’d like to think that line is somewhere this side of my car bursting into flames as I drive into town!

We didn’t have any traps big enough to catch a pack rat, so we decided to use bait.  I popped the hood on the 4runner to find a lovely nest made out of insulation scavenged from under my hood sitting right on top of the engine.  So I cleared the nest out and replaced it with a bait tray.  Our new truck didn’t have any obvious nests, but the insulation had also been chewed on, so it got a bait tray also, as did the Camry.  This explains why there is a post-it note on the back door stating emphatically REMOVE MOUSE BAIT!  Look for that on your visit as well.

The next morning, all of the bait was gone and there were new nests in the vehicles.  Huh?  Apparently, (according to the label) this poison could take a few days to work, adding heavily to my already huge load of guilt over our terrible treatment of the wildlife.  This went on about three days running—bait gone—new nests.  Then David thought to disassemble the Camry’s air intake because we have found nests there in the past, and what did he find?  That’s right!  Most of the bait.  Apparently, the little blighters thought they’d stash a bunch of it in there for later—either that or they are hoping to kill us with the fumes from the mouse bait because they weren’t successful in their first attempt at catching the car on fire.  My friend Carly would be cheering for the mice and/or pack rats at this point if she wasn’t still shivering in the closet over the fraction.  However, tragically, for the mice or pack rats, they snacked a bit as they were stashing and in a few more days, we finally managed to claim the exclusive use of our vehicles once again.

I guess it’s one of those inevitable struggles of rural living.  After all, it was their home before it became ours.  On the other hand, I strongly suspect that the critter load on our 100 acres was not nearly as high as it is now that we’ve come along and provided food (hay) and water.  In fact, I would venture to guess that the critters are quite far ahead of the game here.  They even have their own water with a stick strategically placed so that they can climb out of it if they fall in.  I got tired of fishing dead rabbits, squirrels and mice out of my horse troughs and dog water dishes.  And if you examine the hay in my stack, you can see the places where the rabbits have chewed away at the bottom bales for the last year or so.   I’d love to hear them discussing this year’s crop.  “Do you think she’ll buy us any alfalfa this year?”  (Maybe they’d like some Trix.)

A few years ago, I declared war on the ground squirrels.  They have an exasperating habit of placing their holes right next to the foundations of my horse stalls.  They actually came up right in the middle of Dolly’s stall, but the mat was so heavy, they couldn’t work their way out from under it and gave up—and left a giant hole in the middle of the stall!  You don’t see it under the mat, but it is a booby trap awaiting the unsuspecting visitor.  We have this big juniper tree next to the arena and the squirrels spend all summer stripping it of berries and, presumably, storing them underground somewhere.  Either that, or somewhere on my property, there is a ground squirrel run gin factory that I have never stumbled upon.  Each time I walk by the tree no less than 8-10 squirrels bail out —another 8-10 of them don’t bother to bail—they just stay perched up there looking like live Christmas ornaments and laughing at me!

Anyway, my plan of combat was to get a couple of feral cats.  Their names were Romeo and Juliet.  I know—awwwww…  Romeo, apparently, had been handled as a kitten and was pretty friendly while Juliet was wild as a march hare.  They set up shop in the rafters of our tractor shed and I kept food and water for them in my little stack yard where they could be safe to eat.  They were cute and entertaining and I was even able to get Juliet to be near me, even if I couldn’t ever touch her.  And they did their job, which was to keep down the squirrel population.  They also kept down the lizard population, the rabbit population, the snake population, the mouse population, the bird population, and the pack rat population.  I wasn’t so thrilled about losing ALL of my critters, but figured the trade was worth it if I didn’t have to do combat with the packrats and mice for the vehicles or worry about breaking a leg in one of my stalls.  Unfortunately, the tale of Romeo and Juliet—cat version—also ended tragically.  I had had them a little over a year when the coyotes got them both.  I wasn’t entirely surprised that they got Romeo because he was a bit laid back.  I suspect that Juliet went off looking for her Romeo because she disappeared the day after he did—very Shakespeare!

Anyway, since then, the critter populations have all bounced back tremendously.  I currently frighten away no less than 4-6 rabbits almost every time I feed—and those are the ones hanging out in the stack yard.  They are all over the property.  You can see them hopping and bouncing and just generally frolicking about everywhere.  I feel a little like Lady Tottington in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.  Where are Wallace and Gromit with a giant vacuum when I need them?  There are also birds nesting in the rafters of the tractor shed now, lizards skittering around the back porch and we even found a rather somnolent and angry snake in the tractor shed the other day with a mouse sized lump in its belly.  So it’s all good, except for the poor cats.  I don’t plan to get anymore any time soon—I have made my peace with the squirrels (for the most part).  They coyotes are still around also—naturally, they are pleased with the smorgasbord I have provided them.

I’ve been thinking about rigging up one of my barrels as the ultimate humane mouse trap.  Put one of those humane one way live traps through a hole and seal it up really well so mice could get in, but not back out.  If I used a large enough trap, I could probably even catch pack rats.  I’d set it up on the driveway where we park the cars.  I could give them food and water through the top of the barrel and when I had enough in there, I could transport them elsewhere and release them.  Perhaps my crazy neighbor Tom is feeling lonely…

Walking on the land

It is the last day of daylight savings time and I just have time to do something with the horse.  I don’t really have time to saddle up and ride, so my choices are ride bareback or go “walkies.”  Since it is just above freezing with a cold wind outside, and since I haven’t ridden all week, I decide on a walk.  First, I must don the appropriate amount of layering—long underwear, sweats, long sleeved t-shirt, fleece jacket, gloves, neck gaiter and headband.  I test it out on the back porch—brrr…  I go back in the house and add a pair of wind pants.  Okay, now I think I’m ready.  The wind pants mean that I won’t be able to hop on bareback if I feel like riding at some point.  Have you ever tried to ride in wind pants?  It’s like trying to ride a greased pig!

I decide that today will be a “cookie” walk.  Usually I don’t carry cookies , but I have found that if I do an occasional cookie walk—where I stuff my pockets full of goodies and let them know it—the effect lasts a good long time.  And for these girls at least, I guess hope springs eternal because they generally stay with me even when they know I don’t have anything.  They must figure I have the power to magically conjure cookies on a moments notice, so they’re not taking any chances.  Only they have to earn their cookies.  They have to go off and graze, then put effort into coming back to me—only then do they get the reward.

I let them out, and Annie immediately begins shadowing me.

“Cookie?” is her obvious question.

“No cookie,” I say, gently shooing her away.

Dolly closes in from the other side “Did you give Annie a cookie?  Because I want one too then!”

“No cookie,” I repeat, gently shooing her the other way “ you have to earn them.”

So we wander down the ridge and they finally begin moving off to look for the clumps of dried grass that are still hiding among the sagebrush.  As we leave our property, Dolly stays behind to munch on some weeds then trots to catch up.  I reward her with a cookie.  Annie trots over indignant, so she earns one also.  It becomes a competition between them.  They watch each other as closely as they watch me.

We reach the bluff that overlooks a large wash.  It is a short steep drop into the wash proper.  The girls stop to graze on some nice clumps of grass at the top of the bluff.  As I slither down the hill, I wonder how long it will be before the angry scars of recent flash flooding will fade away.  The hillside is cut by dozens of parallel erosion channels leading down into the wash.  The wash itself is a mess.  Where there used to be a soft sandy floor, there is only hardpan and harsh gravel.  The banks no longer slope easily, but are cut deep and jagged.  I hear both Dolly and Annie clattering down the bank behind me.  Dolly finishes with a flourish by cantering through the sagebrush and coming to a screeching halt beside me.

“Cookie?”  Yep.

We choose to cross this wasteland and seek the nicer footing above the far bank.   Dolly gives a little hop and halfhearted trot—sorry, not enough effort.  We continue across the wash to the far bluff where there is an abundance of bunch grass.  Both Dolly and Annie know this place and immediately tuck in.  I find a nice rock halfway up the bluff and sit to enjoy the world around me for a while.   Grey clouds punctuate a crystal clear winter sky.  To the west are the strato-cumulus, soft and fluffy, but to the east are dark grey lenticulars, sculpted into fantastic shapes by the winds aloft.   It is the golden hour where the quality of light is at its best.  The sky to the east appears to be a darker shade of blue even though the sun is still above the horizon.

If I had enough talent to write poetry, this is the time and place I would most like to write about.  Too often, people mistake the desert for a barren wasteland, but it is not so.  Down below me, there is a sandy channel with the tracks of the hundreds of small animals who call this little area home.  There are ground squirrels and chipmunks and a whole multitude of rabbits living here along with dozens of lizards, their tails marking their tracks as reptilian in origin.  It is too cold for lizards or their shyer cousins the snakes right now, but during the summer, they dash away in all directions as I walk through.  There is a large covey of quail that roam this area and will sometimes explode in all directions when I venture too near. Their tracks are all there, telling me stories about the lives they lead.

In addition, there are the larger animals that prey on all of this fare—the coyotes, hawks and eagles that I will occasionally spot as I walk or ride the horse.  One of the most amazing things I have seen is a Golden Eagle taking wing from about ten feet away when I startled it away from a rabbit it was eating.  And there are the unseen animals—the pocket gophers and packrats and mice who only make their presence known by causing a mess in my haystack or horse trailer.   I have even spotted a few foxes over the years, though usually late at night when I was driving home.  They live there, all of these animals, because there is plenty of food in the form of bitterbrush, pine nuts, and the seeds of the many grasses and flowers that grow abundantly here if you know where and when to look for them.

Annie stops by for a scratch.  She knows I won’t give her a cookie, but she will stop by for a scratch just in case I make the offer.  She enjoys the scratch almost as much as the cookie anyway.  Dolly is slowly moving up the bluff now, so I climb to the top.  She canters the last few strides and earns another cookie.  Annie, of course gets hers as well.  We decide to head downhill today and make a big loop around to the left that will bring us back home.

Suddenly, a flock of birds rises out of the sagebrush and flows downhill like quicksilver.  The sun glints brightly off of their wings and they make a high pitched “chee, chee, chee…” as they fly.  Then another flock and another, rising with one fluid motion, then flying nap of the earth, skimming the top of the sagebrush in ever widening circles until it looks like a giant maelstrom of tiny birds.  And then they disappear, settling back into the sagebrush as suddenly as they ascended—invisible again to the outside world.

We find another patch of nice grass to graze on for a bit, then I continue to move off to the west.  There is too much grass here, though, and Dolly is thinking about ignoring me and moving away into better grazing so I move off in the opposite direction.  I find an unexpected ally in Annie who sees her chance to hog a few cookies as she follows me.  She almost makes it, but at the last moment, Dolly gallops after me and catches up just before Annie does.  They both get two cookies for leaving such good grass to be with me.  As I continue to walk down slope, paralleling the wash, Dolly canters off to the right, then circles around to stop right in front of me again—I think she has the idea!

I keep trying to get one or the other of them to pose for a picture with the big lenticular behind them against the bright blue sky, but they don’t cooperate.  We finally cross the wash again about a half a mile below where we did earlier and continue south towards home.  As we walk, we pass the “sheepherder shacks.”  David and I call them that because the sheepherders sometimes camp there, although we don’t know what their original purpose was or who built them.  Dolly is always fascinated by the junk that is laying around loose near the shacks.  Today, she noses at an old hunk of plywood on the ground as the sun finally slips behind the mountains.  Soon, we won’t even have time for this luxury after school.  Our walks will range closer to home if we can take them at all.  For now it is enough to enjoy the perfect twilight and the companionship of our little herd.

How many dead bugs does it take?

Okay, so I cleaned my house the other day.  I’m not proud of it, but sometimes it just happens.  What happened was that I needed to go to the dump.  See where we live, A. There is no garbage service, and B.  We generate garbage.   I have not yet figured out how to not generate garbage.  Wal-mart doesn’t seem to sell the handy Recyclohome, home recycling center, and in spite of the fact that we own 100 acres, I’m pretty sure the neighbors would notice if we started to bury it all back in the canyon.  So trips to the dump are SOP, literally Sort Of Problematic because the dump is in another state and is only open two days a week so you have to plan these things out.  I usually end up going every 3-4 weeks.   In the fall, if I plan carefully, I time it so that I can go by school and watch the football game too.

Now, your normal trip to the dump does not always precipitate a house cleaning on my part, but this trip happened to coincide with my reaching critical mass.  I don’t know how you clean your house, but the “Critical Mass Method” is how I clean my house.  This is the method whereby you keep noticing the clutter but not doing anything about it until one day, you get tired of looking at all the little dead bug bodies on the bathroom counter and actually begin cleaning something.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand uses the Good Housekeeping approved method of actually cleaning the dirt up when she sees it.  She is the absolute stereotypical, cliché, sitcom mother-in-law.  Her house looks like the staff from Architectural Digest, or maybe Sunset Magazine just finished up a photo shoot, only you never see them because she made them hide, along with all of their equipment, in the closet when she saw you coming up the driveway so the place wouldn’t look cluttered.  This is how she operates:  Say she is sitting innocently on the toilet doing what people normally do there and she looks up and notices a cobweb in the corner of the bathroom.  She will immediately (upon finishing her business) proceed to find a long handled brush or let’s say a small shop vac, which is what I would use.  But let’s say the shop vac is in the garage because my father-in-law has been using it to vacuum his boat, which is where it would be in my house.  She will immediately ask him in strenuous tones to indicate that this is IMPORTANT to please bring it into the house so that she can remove the cobweb.  He will do so (muttering under his breath because all of the Soule men mutter under their breath when put upon by their wives), and he will gallantly remove the cobweb himself because the Soule men are gallant that way.   My Mother-in-law will then suggest that next time he makes a trip to Home Depot (they don’t shop at Wal-Mart) maybe he should buy his own shop vac to keep in the garage strictly for boat vacuuming purposes.

This is how it works in my house.  I will notice as I am sitting on the toilet that there is a cobweb (usually it includes a spider in my house) in the corner.  I will think, “huh, there is a cobweb in the corner.”

I will immediately forget about the whole thing until the next time I use the bathroom.  You see, I’m okay with the spider unless it decides it’s a good idea to move into my shower.  I have been carefully weeding out the spider gene pool to remove the shower-dwelling gene for several years now and I think I’m beginning to have some success at that.  So the spider is really only in danger if I get the shop vac to clean up the cobwebs because then, it just makes sense to remove the spider as well.  In fact, the spider has a better than even chance of living a long and healthy life in my bathroom corner because the next thing that happens is that one day, I accidently happen to notice that the shop vac is not in the closet where it belongs.

Several days (or maybe years) after this, I will actually ask David where the shop vac is.  He will tell me it is in the garage because he has been using it to vacuum his boat and I will say in a very non-strenuous tone “huh, well if you get a chance, bring it in the house so I can use it sometime.”

Then one day as I am walking into the living room, I will trip over the shop vac and think “huh, David moved that into the house.”

Then, finally, after much time has passed, after I have tripped over the shop vac 47,000 times, after the spider has died of old age and is just a desiccated little exoskeleton hanging limply from one of the now multitude of cobwebs draped artfully around my bathroom to the envy of haunted house designers everywhere, I will reach critical mass and I will know that it is time to clean the house.

Only I don’t have time to clean the house…  So I will think about cleaning the house—while I am off riding at a clinic or on the Alzheimer’s ride—while I am off sailing with David on the Delta or Tahoe—while I am visiting my mom—while I am at work.  Until finally, one weekend, the stars align and I need to go to the dump anyway and my horse is lame and David has gone off hiking and I have time—and THEN and ONLY THEN, will I clean the house.

The cleaning itself is pretty unremarkable.  There is the usual amount of windex and pledge involved.  But most of what makes up cleaning in my house is REMOVING CLUTTER  (so having this coincide with a dump trip is a pretty good idea).  Only a portion of the clutter actually goes to the dump.  Most of the clutter is just stuff that has managed to crawl out of whatever place it actually belongs so that it can commune with the other clutter on some flat surface.  Right now, if you go into my laundry room, you will find at least two of my ball caps on the counter or on top of the dryer.  Why aren’t they hanging neatly on their hooks?  Good question.  And there are at least 10 pairs of shoes there.  This might make sense in some cultures, but at least 6 pairs of them ought to be in the bedroom closet.  Coffee table?  Books that ought to be on the book shelves.  Dining room table?  David’s sailing/camping stuff that has inexplicably clawed its way out of its storage container and is attempting to scuttle off of the table and into whatever dark corners it can find.

And the knick-knacks!  There is the decorative Grappa bottle displayed in the living room waiting, I presume, to be joined by other decorative Grappa bottles in the future.  I have to ask myself why I would want to broadcast how much Grappa I drink to casual visitors (one bottle folks—it is still waiting!).  I have to ask myself if I can really drink enough Grappa to make up a collection worth talking about after I get out of rehab and assuming I haven’t just blacked out the entire concept of collecting Grappa bottles.  I have to ask myself if I shouldn’t just recycle it right now and get it over with!

Which brings us to my Mother-in-law’s deepest darkest cleaning secret.  She CONTROLS CLUTTER (with an iron fist)!  If you look in any one of her closets, you will find where all of her clutter hides—banished there along with the Sunset photographers and their equipment.  Every few months, her house has a new “theme” wherein she allows certain items of clutter a reprieve from the dark, as it were, and banishes the old theme items to the closet.  If I were to pull this off, I would need about 8 more closets!  Still, I often think maybe I should spend about an hour once a week banishing clutter—hahahahahahahahaha…

The Moon’s the North Wind’s Cooky

One of the reasons I love living where we do is the seasons.  I know I like to joke about only having two seasons in Nevada—Winter and Road Construction, but the truth is we have four distinct seasons and I love all of them.  It is fall now, and you can see the slashes of color up in the mountains.  The other day, David and I drove up to Obsidian campground with the horse.  He hiked.  I rode.  The color was spectacular.   The aspens rise in rolling benches off of the floor of Molybdenite Creek and each bench seems to be a different shade of amazing.  I had to simply stop the horse and stare at times (or risk riding into a low hanging branch).  Down in the valleys, the leaves are just beginning to turn.  A really good fall is one where we don’t get a huge windstorm until after we’ve had plenty of time to enjoy the color.  My fingers are crossed (as always).

Another thing that happens to me in the fall—usually in early October is that I have to start going down to feed in the dark every morning.  It is then that I am reminded how much I love the waning moon.  It lights my morning excursions to the corrals as long as there are no clouds out.  I have a game I play where I see how little I have to use my flashlight.  For the week after the full moon, I rarely use it at all.  I revel in the almost daylight and marvel at the strength of the shadow it casts.  I use a small light in the hay barn, but navigate to feed through the corrals easily in the glow of moonlight.  As the moon narrows below half in the second week, the light becomes dimmer and dimmer and I have to use my flashlight to get through the rough spots on the trail or risk breaking an ankle.   Finally, it narrows to a mere sliver which amazingly still casts a shadow, but forces me to use my barn spotlights to get around the corrals as I feed.  Even then, Annie who is out of range of the spotlight appears only as a dark shadow, hiccupping in her eagerness to be fed.

Once I finish feeding, I head back up to the house.  My eyes have adjusted almost fully to the darkness by then and it is even easier to walk without light.  It is a good thing the road is fairly smooth here as I am usually gazing at the stars as I walk back.  Orion hangs high in the western sky, locked in eternal battle with Taurus, heralding the approaching advent of winter.  Venus is there, too, perched over the mountains. Often, I will see the steady dim light of a satellite streaming past way overhead.  Several times now, I am pretty sure I’ve seen the International Space Station go by.  It was too bright and too low for a satellite, too steady and too fast for an airplane.   And the Leonids!  It is early, but they are beginning now.  Some mornings I see only one or two quick streaks, but others, there will be 3, 4, even more meteorites dashing across the northern sky.  Sometimes, I stop and try to take it all in.  I try to pick out all of the stars in the Little Dipper, or even more challenging, all seven of the Pleiades.  Even the dim glow of lights from Carson City and Reno are enough to make this difficult.  I love to feel the chill eastern breeze on my face knowing that winter is coming soon.

The moon is gone now.  I am forced to rely on artificial light for the next two weeks until it returns.  The stargazing and the Meteor showers will get better, but it is not such a friendly place out there when the best I can do is poke at the darkness with my ineffectual flashlight beam, pushing it back in one direction while it closes in in another.  It used to creep me out, walking around in the dark imagining mountain lions behind every tree, but now I merely embrace it as part of the cycle.  We will repeat this cycle, the moon and I, waxing and waning, waxing and waning, as the winters themselves wax and wane throughout the cycle of our lives.  Until one day, as I’m heading back from feeding, I will slowly realize that rather than my eyes adjusting, the light itself is softly returning.  By then, Orion will be fading into the east, waving goodbye to me for another year.

The Moon’s the North Wind’s cooky.
He bites it, day by day,
Until there’s but a rim of scraps
That crumble all away.

The South Wind is a Baker.
He kneads clouds in his den,
And bakes a crisp new moon that…greedy

Vachel Lindsay