RUN TO THE THICKET, BAMBI!

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You know that you live in Minnesota when just one day after the opening of deer hunting season, you see the sight of a gutted doe hanging in a back yard just a few blocks from home. This, after wondering why so many neighbors were donning neon orange caps and jackets as they drove off in the wee hours of the previous morning. It certainly couldn’t be the newest stylish fad from J. Jill. But maybe L.L. Bean?

As it turns out, there were expected to be approximately 500,000 participants in this year’s hunt. The estimate is that about one in three hunters succeed and with the current one deer limit (unless you are hunting on a private reserve or property) that makes for about 166,666 carcasses. One of which is swinging from a tree just a few blocks away.
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I remember cousin Chuck reminiscing about the deer lodge on Grandma Pauline’s family property near Lake of the Woods with Uncle Ralph and cousins Ross, Curtis and Doug’ spread nearby. It was family history and the stuff of reverie and tradition. A Minnesota ritual reenacted annually with seriousness and celebration. A nod to the past pioneers who depended upon the hunt.

I get that. And respect the nobleness of securing one’s own food. How much better than eating animals who have been packed into food lots, never to know the freedom of the woods, the life lived as intended, wild and free. But, as a child, the second movie I saw (after Dumbo) was Bambi and the grief I felt after Bambi’s mother was shot by the hunter possibly scarred me for life.

Then there is the experience of living among the herd in California. In May of 2011 I wrote, after looking out of our living room window –

“The doe was – no she couldn’t be – yes she was – depositing a baby fawn right then and there. I grabbed the binoculars to be sure and by then she was licking it and nudging it into the tall grass where now I could see a second head, the first twin.

One year we had a doe that we called “The Bad Mother” because one of her twins was pathetically small and crippled and she tended to shove it away when it tried to nuzzle up to her. I’m sure she, in the wisdom of Mother Nature, knew best because the poor little thing was not destined to live and however much we grieved, she instinctively knew it was best to let it slip away rather than prolong its existence. But it was a heartbreaker.

Our favorite twins were likely born just below our lower driveway. I would see their long ears twitching just above the grass as they lay partially hidden and curled up while mom went grazing. As they became yearlings, we noted their distinct personalities and different coloration. The one we named Buffy was creamy-tan, exceedingly handsome and gently tolerant of other deer. Biff, as the name suggests, was feisty, had a dark streak running down his back and most definitely exhibited “attitude.” I watched him once enjoying some rose cuttings I had thrown on the compost pile when two big bucks arrived. Buffy gave way to the big boys immediately, but Biff never stopped eating as he positioned his small body to block their way. And even as they tried to muscle in, he held his ground.
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I became so comfortable around the two that even when they were adults, I walked about the property, doing my chores as they nibbled nearby. The does might jump away if I got too close. Buffy would stand placidly and Biff would stare. One time I was kneeling down in the driveway, rooting up a stray thistle and as I looked up I noticed that Biff had a piece of wire wrapped around one antler. The thought went through my mind that I could probably reach out and pick it off for him, but something, some inner voice stopped me and just the next week I read in the paper about the number of people in California who had been gored to death in their yards.

I did once see that fury and force unleashed on a silly turkey that insistently gobbled and chased our flock of deer. It became a game until the day one big buck had had enough and it was shocking, swift and fatal.”

It’s been ten years now and I often wonder about the twins but, given the absence of a mighty hunter, there is no doubt in my mind that Biff has become the new Prince of the Forest.

Here in Minnesota, without deer fencing around the perennial beds, the local herd plagues my William Baffin rose, chomps the Asiatic lilies, and raids the sunflower feeders in the dead of night. Consequently we haven’t established the same cozy bond. Just yesterday I noticed that the back door had blown open and as I reached out to shut it, a buck bounded past, a few feet from the door. No doubt he saw what I saw just down the street.

Run to the thicket, Bambi!
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NOT. READY. YET.

This will be our fourth winter in Minnesota.

The first was unusually mild and we thought – “Well, this isn’t so bad. What’s all the fuss about?” Plus we were enamored with the novelty of it all. Ooh, look at the snowflakes! Icicles! It looks like the Snow Queen’s Palace. Brrr. Shall I wear my snowshoes to refill the bird feeders? Oh, fun!
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The second winter was “snowier” than usual. So we were told. And we watched as the drifts began to bury the birdbath and smother the garden stairway. The snowplow knocked the mail box askew and our shovel was always at hand by the kitchen door in case we needed to exit the house. Fortunately that winter, we didn’t need to travel out and about very often, so we hunkered down and I baked bread and we caught up on our reading agenda.

But last winter descended upon us with record cold so that we recoiled while wondering, “what were we thinking?” when we moved from coastal California to the pits of hoar frost. That season I began to worry whenever I slogged down the driveway in order to dig into the snow bank for the buried Star Tribune, that my contact lenses might instantly freeze onto my eyeballs. One day I watched in horror from the dining room window as T.M. took his turn and as he gradually descended, suddenly flipped up and sideways and disappeared. Watch out for the “black ice,” they warn. You betcha.

I’m having difficulty assigning a point of view to the upcoming winter. I vacillate between all of the above. Anticipation. Worry. Excitement. Depression. When we were newcomers anything was possible and the thrill of adventure overrode any fears and spurred us on to heights of wonder.

Then we settled into the next phase, becoming one of the tribe and sharing that knowingness that we were inured and capable and yes, we understood the gravity of this Nordic life, but we had passed the initiation and were “cool.”

The past winter our collective resolve crumpled a bit and I, at least, was in limbo, walled in with the grays and often claustrophobic.

Now it has come round again and I wonder about my resolve. I know I’m not ready. But today I concentrated on putting the final beds to rest. I stuffed plastic bags with fallen leaves and staked them about the roses. I raked the rest, the downfall that had not been mowed for the grass, across the lawn and into the perennial beds for mulch. The last of the garden ornaments were stashed in the shed. The stone bird bath was shrouded with a cotton rug and plastic bag. I stuck a piece of the water hyacinth into a vase in the kitchen window so that it could be resurrected in the pond next spring. The hanging geraniums were stashed in the basement.

Just in time. Today the snow began to fall in big flakes and Paul Douglas, the Star Tribune weatherman began his daily column with the headline – “The S-word” and continued – “I expect it to be cold, crystalline, slushy at times, slippery to the touch, a flaky-white appearance due to scattering of light. The mere risk of snow will cause some people to make irrational decisions; commutes mangled, tempers tested.” And he concludes – “Our weather honeymoon is coming to an end. Next week may feel like late December. Not. Ready. Yet.”
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Me neither!

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BUTTON BRIGHT

 

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We have been blessed with a number of fabulous cats in this lifetime together – Robin Goodfellow, Pandora, Bela, Ram, Cleo-catra, Nefferkitty, Magic, Esmeralda Pananoia, and my darling Lyra Deara. All wonderful and special and deserving of a novel enumerating their personal and fascinating feline tales.

We still tear up remembering Bela’s too early demise under a speeding car and Rammy’s sweet brrrrp’s and the way he lined up the tails and feet of dusky footed wood rats as an offering each day. And Esme’s gentleness and unrequited love for her magnificent brother, Magic, who was the Prince. And Lyra, our alien child, who came to us with her little nose pressed against the door pane, twerping with angst and delight at finally finding humans who would rescue her from the cruel outer world.

But none were like Cosmo who, for almost twenty years, was one of “the three of us.”

I’ve written about him in the past. Of how, as a kitten, when I waded up a small piece of paper and threw it in the hopes that he would amuse himself while I read my book, he flew after it, only to bring it immediately back and drop it at my feet. Waiting to have it thrown again. And again. And again. And frequently throughout his lifetime.

How, up into his elder years he loved to play tag – hiding behind furniture and running out to swat me with a paw. Running back to hide and waiting until I snuck up and swatted back. And on and on.

How he understood the English language so that we would spell out words like t-r-e-a-t in case he heard.

How he immediately came running when you called his name, even when engaged with a bit of tomfoolery two blocks away. And liked to ride in the car on errands.

How he slept snuggled against my chest with his head tucked under my chin.

When he had a stroke at 19, flailing and crying out, we panicked. And when his kidneys began to fail a week later, we knew what we had to do. We sat with him as the doctor stuck in the fatal injection and he collapsed, frantically confused and gone in too much hurry and disarray.

I need not describe the sorrow and grief that followed.

But in time, T.M. (“That Man,” known as Bob in Minnesota) began to talk of another cat. I resisted and changed the subject. He persisted and I countered. Now we could take little trips. No one could replace Cosmo. We would always be comparing. It wouldn’t be fair to the newcomer.

Finally, he made the definitive argument. He needed a cat in his life. Given that he had turned 80 this year, and given that the life of a cat should coincide now with his, it might be the last one. Whether you called it blackmail or a dying wish, I had met my match.

And so he began to scan the inter-net for candidates. We agreed that it must not be a Burmese (too close for comparison purposes) but we both preferred the “meeses” – the siams, the tonkas, the burmas – and we would like to adopt and not purchase an expensive fancy breed that was bred but not raised by caged parents. The kitten must be highly socialized and we must immediately a-tune to his special-ness. A thoughtful and time-consuming procedure it must be. And I relaxed. And occasionally checked-in and commented.

The day Major Bud’s photo appeared on a rescue/foster cat site, I gave him more than a casual glance. “All right, all right,” I conceded. “We can go look at him. But we absolutely must both have an undeniable feeling of connection. He must seem special in the way that when all the litter came running into the room, we instantly knew that Cosmo was ‘the one.’ We can’t just decide that because we drove all that way (two hours) that we shouldn’t go home empty handed. Promise?”

Major Bud and his brother Captain Winky had been dropped at the end of a farm road and rescued by the veterinarian who started an organization named PAWS, short for Pets Abandoned Wanting Support. Winky had lost one eye (hence the name) and was awaiting reconstructive surgery, but they were both highly socialized, living uncaged at the veterinarian/home with three other foster cats and five permanent residents, running free among the comings and goings of other cats and dogs and people. The brothers were part Russian Blue with just a trace of tabby markings showing through their tail fur. They were adorable.

Years before I had planned to name my Lyra Loki, after the Norse trickster, before I discovered she was a girl. Now the name would be perfect, I thought, for a young male who was wonderfully naughty and sweetly self-confident. Until everyone we told about the christening decision mentioned a brother or a friend or a neighbor with a cat named Loki. What was going on, I thought? Is it a Minnesotan, we’re all Norwegian and barely three degrees away from Asgaard sort of thing? But, no. I Googled it and discovered that Loki is now one of the favorite cat names in the country and it’s all because of that Action Adventure TV phenomenon “Thor” – Loki, of course, being a major player. And never wanting to be a copy-cat, or own one, I knew that would never do.

And so the search began. And I was now the one scanning the inter-net by the hour, for I truly believe in the significance and magic of names. Think of Runplestiltskin. Or the ancient belief that the name of God is so potent it must not be spoken aloud. Or that children should be baptized quickly so that fairies aren’t free to steal them and replace them with foundling babies.

To name something is to give it power and to imbrue it with an essential and specific quality. Plus the name must roll off the tongue in a pleasing manner.

I began with angels because I discovered that Russian Blues were originally called Archangel cats. But Raphael, Gabriel, Urial were a bit too serious and formal. And although T.M. liked Ariel and pointed out that it wasn’t especially a girl’s name in antiquity, and actually represented Prospero’s male spirit in “The Tempest,” I not only thought it sounded feminine, but it was now horribly tied into a popular, post Uncle Walt, Disney movie which stupidly tied a mermaid with a name that didn’t sound like the sea! Not to mention that it also was a Cartoon Action Adventure phenomenon.

Despite needing to circumvent Loki, I next moved onto Nordic names after discovering that the Russian Blue provenance was just as much associated with Finland as Russia. But after considering Asbjorn, Baldur, Snorri, and Finngad, I decided to move on again. We could do better. (No offense Oh Great and Noble Odin.)

At this point we decided to simply call him Buddy for the time being. It was a sweet name, it rolled off the tongue, and it was a diminutive of his listed foster name – Major Bud. To make it more interesting I tried Buddy Blue. Not bad. Buddy Boy. Ugh. No, we said, let’s sleep on it. It will come. But I am impatient and still I scanned the inter-net – foxes (which his face somewhat resembled) in literature, mystical names, elf names, Shakespearean names. Peaseblossom? Cobweb!

One morning, as I chided him for being a “Monkey Button” (the epithet my grandmother had given to naughty children) it occurred to me that most of our cat names had included that modifier, as in Cosmo Button, Magic Button, Esme Button. And, as he might be the last in the lineage, he could be “the” Button. And for his formal name, he would be Button-Bright, for the boy in the Oz books who had many adventures, including at one point having his head changed into that of a fox.

We tried it out. And for whatever reason, it worked. And like the boy who had many adventures, I suspect that Button Bright has only just begun.

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Posted in Cats, enchantment, In Memorium, mythology, naming, Norwegian | 2 Comments

Return to Otter Tail County

snowbirdredux:

My good friend, Liz and I have both grown as writers through our Fergus Falls Writers Group and the two of us have traveled together and shared the wealth of many writer’s workshops around the state of Minnesota. After four years, Liz has completed her memoir and started a blog. Welcome and congratulations Liz!

Originally posted on Tales From a Rural Life:

Hello! Welcome to my new Blog! I’ve thought about writing a blog for several years, and am finally about to begin. But first, let me go back fifteen years to explain where I’m coming from — and my search for a house in a rural or quiet suburban neighborhood, including a sculpture studio in my home with lots of space and good natural light.

From 1972 through 1998, my husband Don and I had lived a comfortable suburban life in  “old” Edina, Minnesota, a first tier suburb of Minneapolis. I had grown up in south Minneapolis, just a couple of miles away. I loved my neighborhood, had wonderful friends,  and adored my home. I might have stayed right there doing things like sewing, tending my flower garden, shopping, walking or biking around Lake Harriet, meeting friends for lunch and having family and others over for dinner, for the rest of…

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MISTER AND MISSUS

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One morning just before dawn I was awakened by popping sounds. Three. And then four. A pause. Two more. It went on throughout first light, coming from all directions. I laid very still, awake now, focusing and straining to hear and bear witness.

Just the day before at the farmers market I overheard talk of duck season beginning and thought “How Minnesotan.” Coincidentaly, my friend John had recently written a charming piece which he shared with our writers group. I found myself thrilled by the description of the duck blind that the boy of the tale laboriously constructs with his father on weekends before rising one morning to arrive with youthful anticipation and sense of adventure only to be usurped by a hunter supreme, stalking down the center of the river in his fatigues and dark demeanor, then shooting from the opposite bank as the birds arrive honking from above, taking the primo shots and the prize before saluting and tramping away.

I know much of nothing about hunting, but in John’s yarn I sensed a glimpse of the primordial quest which continues on today so that a boy or a mythic hunter might tangle with life and death from the safety of sport. Perhaps it is simply in our DNA or collective conscience. And how much better, I thought, to take responsibility for our sustenance rather than leaving it in the hands of antibiotic and growth hormone-injecting, feed lot butchers. Better for any prey to live on the wing, if just for a time, or in forests or prairies, or be raised (as one market vendor describes his herd) “in a stress free lifestyle moving daily among fresh grasses, clovers and bountiful bugs with ample sunshine, fresh air, and a touch of morning dew.”

I am, besides, a self-proclaimed carnivore. If you ask me to name my favorite culinary treat, it would unequivocally be filet mignon, medium rare please. Or luscious chunks of lobster dipped in warm butter. Oh be still my heart. And how I miss the California availability of multiple sushi bars – tuna rolls, yellowtail, eel, tekka maki – bring it on. My husband regularly turns a roast chicken into ambrosia. And while I’m not one of the Norwegians who long for lutefisk, I think of pickled herring as candy.

The next morning the popping resumed. This time, knowing exactly what was occurring, I fantasized about every pop, wincing as each magnificent mallard took the hit, flailed and fell. Pop, pop, pop.

The problem lay partly with my overactive imagination. Each death became a tale unto itself. The teenager on his first, thrilling flight south, terrorized when dad suddenly jerks and falls from the sky. What to do? Go back? Flee faster?

The point leader who is taken down while the flock scatters in panic, desperately trying to regroup.

Or the devoted couple whose partnership is destroyed with one pop. And that was the other part of the problem. Each spring since we have resided on Mt. Faith, a drake and his mate have taken up residence at our backyard pond. And because I know that migrating birds usually return to the same place each year, how could I be absolutely certain that our particular mister and missus were not being blown out of the sky? No. Not them.

And so I am left with a dilemma. Hankering for a hamburger while decrying murder and mayhem. But it’s Minnesota, I tell myself. And certainly there is a 4H Mom grief support group out there somewhere. Please respond ASAP to snowbirdredux.

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Posted in Birds, Farmers Market, favorite things, hunting, minnesota life, Wild Life | Leave a comment

WHAT I DID THIS SUMMER

I didn’t cruise the Alaskan coast or go on African safari or even explore the fjords of Norway – all aspirations of my youth. I suspect, in fact, that those “bucket” dreams shall be sensibly set aside for another lifetime.

But to answer the many queries I have received – “Are you all right? I haven’t seen any posts on Snowbird!” – I am still comfortably happy here on Mt. Faith, watching the garden grow, bed by bed, collaborating with what will hopefully be the final stages of inside tweeking and re-furbishing, all the while juggling and struggling to manage my all too many hats.

Those who know me well understand that I suffer from a disease that forces me to raise my hand too easily while enthusiastically proclaiming – “I can do that! That would be fun!” And if I experienced a bad bout of this peculiar illness last summer, I relapsed with an even more virile strain this year.

Somehow, I found myself president of the Otter Tail County Master Gardeners of Minnesota – a hand raising I must have done in my sleep, for I can’t really recall the circumstances. Fortunately, the premise of the organization is based on “service to one’s community” so I am backed up by an amazing cadre of horticultural public servants. And then there was the accidental incident (someone in command falling by the wayside) in which I found myself hugely responsible for pulling together the Lake Region Writers Network annual conference which, at this very moment, is breathtakingly imminent I might add. Not to mention – program committee for Underwood Unitarian Church, facilitator for UU Covenant meeting, and eager participant in the Fergus Falls Writers Group. And yet to my credit, I have sat on my hands every single time that the garden club president cried out for volunteers. Sorry, Lisa. If it’s any comfort, I experienced wracking guilt each and every time.

That’s a lot, you might think. And you would be right. But I haven’t yet mentioned the one major, all-consuming endeavor of the summer. The Fergus Falls Farmers Market.

I’ve struggled through the procreation and subsequent adolescence of the market for three years and often wondered what in the world Lynn and I were thinking that day we decided that someone needed to start a farmers market and it might as well be us. Last summer, as it expanded, and this summer as it grew even more, I often lamented the time which drained me of the ability to sit down and write. Well, write anything else after I’d written the weekly newsletter.

If I’m honest, I’ve done a lot of inner whining and self-pitying. Well, some outer. Actually, a lot of outer. Ask my husband.

The first hint of a reckoning occurred when I considered what it would mean to birth a child, even one of those menopausal, Oops, Surprise! Pregnancies, followed up by decrying that I “hadn’t realized that this kid would be so much trouble, need constant care and nurturing and publicizing and directing and organizing and rules and I have a life and what was I thinking! I couldn’t very well just put it out on the street and hope that someone took pity and took over.” Could I?

The second reckoning occurred when locals began to tell me how much they loved the market and “thank you so much Lynn and Diane for doing this for the community.” And the third reckoning occurred just a few weeks ago when I paused for a moment in a hectic, making-it-happen Saturday morning, paused and looked down the row and surprised myself with the energy, animation, and happy hustle and bustle all about. I had been so busy organizing and directing and publicizing and creating rules, that I had forgotten to breathe and celebrate.

Once I did, my priorities subtly shifted so that I no longer felt I had to choose either/or. With some adjustment there was no reason that I could not include both in my life. And more importantly, I realized that I might sit at my computer the day long and type my stories, and feel the artistic satisfaction, and even get a bravo or two now and then, but what Lynn and I began had evolved into something much bigger than we originally envisioned and, lots more bravos or not, it was good.

So I am determined to adjust the work somehow, create space for both, hustle and bustle, and definitely make time to celebrate.

Celebrate with me -

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PACKING FOR A PILGRIMAGE

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In the first prompted exercise in a recent writing workshop we were asked to jot down ten things we would take upon a pilgrimage. And then we were instructed to cross out three. Not so simple, as it turned out. The first three I eliminated were the first three I had written, and I reluctantly gave up my comfy down pillow, my sensible shoes, and my collection of New York Times crossword puzzles to keep me occupied during “down times.”

The next three rejects included (gulp!) my camera, and as I worked through the last of the list I surprised myself by surrendering my notebook and pen for the blessed security of a talisman. Or, more accurately, talis-men.

Let me explain. I once experienced a year that included three car accidents in succession. I hit two deer with one blow as they leapt into my path, ran over a fleeing coyote as he dashed across the road, and sent a pedestrian flying. The last incident was the most traumatic, of course, and while she was also responsible for entering my line of direction, and thankfully and amazingly only suffered cuts and bruises, the whole business of setting out on the paltriest of journeys, never mind searching for the Grail, became daunting after that.

And so, as I made up my pilgrimage packing list for the workshop and momentarily struggled over the last entry, I threw in with a certain sense of silliness, my old remedy and creative technique for calming my driving and journey fears those years ago. And just as the first entry became the first to go, the last was left, necessary and pre-eminent.

At the workshop, after all the unpacking and discarding, the reluctant letting-go of this and that and the panic of leaving my notebook behind, I called upon the ultimate necessity – my Driving Angels. I had named them Zepheriel and Mercuriel and decided they were “Angels in Training,” novices that could be sent to protect a newly Nervous Nelly like me.

I imagined them perched upon the hood of the car, ever excited, letting the sea wind blow through their hair, straining to look around the bend in the road. They would laugh with joy as they hung onto their newly earned halos. The more intense the weather, the better they liked it. The crazier the freeway traffic, the more thrilling the adventure.

And we had many. There was the magic day dolphins arched along the shore, seeming to race the car until they abruptly turned west and vanished from sight. There was a foggy night when a small dog appeared in the headlights, trotting rapidly ahead before dashing into the dark of a turnout, and we pulled over and called and whistled and pleaded until the frightened fellow came running and leapt into the back seat. There was the motorcyclist down by the side of the road and we raced to the nearest café to call 911.

When I fly I marvel at how flight supervisors on the landing strip must gape in amazement, can hardly believe their eyes at the awesome figures, each sitting astride a wing of the plane. And passengers waiting to board, looking through terminal windows, gasp at winged creatures flying a large golden ball coming in for a landing.

A real, in-the-flesh pilgrimage might be enlightening or scary, and most likely both. By its very nature a journey is meant to challenge and push beyond our comfort zones with a promise of something greater at the end. But I suspect the real enlightenment always occurs in the treading of the path.

I think I better understand the writing exercise now and the importance of recognizing what is most important for a pilgrimage. My angels have served me well over the years, calmed my fears, encouraged me to travel, and most importantly, fueled my imagination.

 

-Inspired by Karen Hering’s writing workshop – Pilgrimage into Creativity: seeing with pilgrim eyes. Her book,“Writing to Wake the Soul, opening the Sacred conversation within,” Simon and Schuster, available online at Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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