Friday, July 30, 2010

A Shepherd's Devotion

Question: What goes stomp, stomp splat? Answer: Me, running after sheep this morning and doing a nosedive into a pile of poo. It’s never easy when it’s time to move animals and this morning was no exception. In fact, this morning was day 2 of a round-up that started yesterday.

Day 1
Joe and I wake our teenage son as soon as the fog rises off the mountains. Son jumps on four-wheeler and zips up the driveway and out to road while his parents poke along behind in the truck. When everyone is successfully assembled at the gate-we-hope-to-bring-sheep-through, son and father enter the field of battle while I wait on the road. The tried and true strategy is that Scott will travel up and down hills, rounding up sheep and funneling them down the holler to his father who is waiting below rattling a grain bucket. I am stationed on the south end of the road to prevent the sheep from travelling to town. This is the way it usually works, but today, the sheep have apparently been sucked into a giant space ship by mutton-busting aliens. They are nowhere to be found. Not on our land, not on our neighbor’s land, not on our neighbor’s-neighbor’s land. Joe and Scott search for an hour while I sit on the grain bucket out on the road. Then we go home to eat breakfast. Sometime's it’s best to just wait things out.
Day 2-
Same wake up scenario but, this time, the sheep are clearly visible across the road. We must make haste before the sheep abducting aliens return. Son zips out driveway followed closely by parents in pick up. There’s no time to lose. Son speeds through the gate-we-hope-to-bring-sheep-through and successfully corners the flock, turns them and sends them out the gate. It is a brilliant, hair-raising ride on steep hills. The sheep barrel out into the road, but unfortunately it’s only one half of the flock. The other half is a whole hill behind. Before they can all reunite, the first group changes its mind and EWE-turns in the middle of the road and barrels through the newly arrived flock. They all scatter up a very steep, very wooded hill. Joe throws the grain bucket after them. It doesn’t help.
Day 2- continued
Joe runs straight up the hill while Scott guns the four-wheeler and careens up the holler to head the sheep off at the pass. I run up the other hill and do my face plant in the poo. The sheep watch us warily from the woods and slowly, slowly, oh how slowly, we coax them down. Like wooly pendulums they vacillate up and down between the hills until finally they make the turn and stream through the gate-we-want-to-move-them-through. Joe runs back down the hill, grabs his bucket and walks down the road, shaking the ten corn kernels left in it. Convinced that he has a banquet in that bucket, the sheep follow. Once they are on the road they lose interest and weave back and forth plunging down the steep shoulder on the right and climbing the steeper shoulder on the left. I follow them and the audience of drivers waiting in their cars behind us is treated to the sight of a 49 year old woman belly sliding backwards down the shaley slope. The sheep watch from above and when I land at the bottom, leap over me to tip tap docilely down the road. They wend their way to the turn-off stopping to taste every wildflower before they hop through the meadow gate. Scott follows them on his four-wheeler while we race up the driveway to open the gate at the other end where we finally bring the sheep home.

The Bible often refers to humans as sheep and Christ as our shepherd. Every time I work with sheep I am reminded of this.  Makes you think, doesn't it?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Run to the Light

The sun has just peeked up over the mountains, so I slip on my garden clogs and head out to weed. The plants are cool and wet with dew and that old bob white is up bright and early letting me know he is around. I whistle back and forth with him for a minute or two while I rest on the handle of my hoe.
     The early morning sun is suspended in a soft fog that burns off as I work. The garden is going great guns. The corn is tasseling, the broccoli is crowning, the squash are burgeoning and the beans are blooming. Looks like my cellar will be full this winter. But, right now I am full of a gardener’s kind of contentment. I am already filthy and I haven’t even had breakfast, yet. Damp dirt clings to my fingers as I practice the art of weed and shake meditation. Pull a weed, shake the dirt from its roots, toss it on a pile to wilt in the sun. Pull a weed, shake the dirt…well, you get the rhythmic picture.
     The sun defeats the last of the fog and I feel the heat on my back as sweat drips off my nose. I don’t mind. I love the summer because of the sun. I am like the plants in my garden always happiest in its radiant light.
     Yesterday, I spent some time, out of the light, in a wild cave in West Virginia. Caroline and I took a ride with some of her relatives to the Sinks of Gandy (don’t you just love that name?) It’s a remote, ruggedly beautiful area of Randolph County. We travelled a private road that stretched across ten miles and five gates to her aunt’s property tucked in a sea of towering, grassy meadows. The feeling was the same one I get when I stand at the edge of the ocean and watch breakers rolling in from the distant sky.
     Then after a packed picnic lunch that included fresh cucumbers, potato salad, watermelon slices, homemade peach jam, and (heavenly days) homemade coconut cream pie, we gathered some interesting rocks, resisted the urge to nap, and drove another ten miles across vast wilderness to a place where the Gandy River ran into a hill and disappeared, only to reappear almost a mile to the north.
     Caroline had been through this cave twice and wanted to explore it again. I was happy to finally get a chance to go through a cave I’d heard so much about. We left her family at the misty entrance and turning our beams to the darkness, followed the water inside. The happy sound of our splashy footsteps bounced from one wall to the other as we sloshed upstream and our flashlight beams soared up to an arched dome of a ceiling. It wasn’t long before the giggling stream dodged under some boulders and we were forced to climb up and over the tumbled remains of floods and ceiling drops. We turned off our flashlights and spent a moment in the dark. The only sound was our breathing and the gurgle of the creek on the other side of the rocks.
     The plan was to follow the water all the way out to the other side, but the water never reappeared. We clambered around a stagnant pool of foam and sticks, and we waded through a dark, cold spring-fed pond, but the stream eluded us and soon we couldn’t even hear its happy song. Caroline was all for pressing forward, even though her memories of the cave didn’t match the reality. My rising sense of panic overruled her. My head was screaming in my ears about death and being buried alive. We turned around and realized that we weren’t sure exactly how to go back. There were several paths to choose from.
     With our flashlights bouncing off of the now menacing rock formations, we began searching for a way out. The route back didn’t match our memories of the route forward so we took turns scouting ahead until we stumbled upon some familiar looking features. The stick that looked like a snake, the arrow painted on the wall that clearly showed we had gone the wrong way (Oh, that’s what that arrow meant!) and finally the glimmer of sun dancing off water up ahead. Like a horse headed to the barn I picked up my feet and cantered to the light.
     After ten minutes of thanking a watchful God and enjoying the sun, we hiked up to the car and changed into dry clothes. Then we decided to walk over to where the river reappeared and exam the cave from that side.
     This entrance was a bit trickier. In our clean clothes and shoes we slid down a narrow crevice through wet orange clay to a small chamber. Intrigued by light dancing on the ceiling we discovered a large lake with an opening to the outside on the opposite shore. Then we turned around to go back the way we’d come, only again (can you spell I-D-I-O-T) we could not locate the correct path. There was no exit sign to guide us out and our flashlights were beginning to cast rather faint orange ovals on the pitted floor.
     I looked at Caroline and said, “If we don’t find our way out of here in ten minutes, I am swimming that (expletive deleted) lake and I will climb down a thirty foot drop if that’s what it takes to get out of here!” She told me to stay where I was and disappeared. I turned off my light to conserve my batteries. In a minute I heard her calling. She had found the way out.
     Now Mom, I know you are reading this and you are ready to pick up the phone and give me a call, but the reality of the situation is people knew where we were, and the cave is rated family friendly. The only real danger I was in was the danger of spraining my ankle as I galloped to the light. In fact, I would really like to go back and try to get all the way through sometime. Well, maybe not for a while.

     Light and dirt. Two of my favorite things. But, dirt without light doesn’t hold the same magic. I have read Tom Sawyer with my students too many times. I know Tom and Becky get out of the cave and he discovers treasure in the end. But, I’ve discovered I wouldn’t make a very good troglodyte. My treasure is the warm smile of the sun on my face and a garden full of green things that have captured the light and stored it so I can enjoy it later.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

At the Auction

     When the chores are done and the weather’s fine, then it’s time to go to the auction. Today, two friends and I spend the morning at an estate sale in West Virginia. Cars and trucks line the road for a half a mile in either direction, so we squeeze onto the grassy shoulder perilously close to a ditch. Caroline jumps out and directs my parking.
     Once the van is secure, we scuttle up the road, dodging oncoming cars and then climb the porch steps of the old farmhouse to register and get our numbers. I am number 206, which means there are 205 bargain hunters ahead of me. It might not be a good day for deals.
     The auctioneer starts with a hay wagon load of boxes. Each box has a variety of household treasures tucked inside its cardboard walls. Nut crackers, boxes of matches, Tupperware, ashtrays, tin boxes, pots with no lids and lids with no pots, paint by number pictures framed and ready to hang, beads, buttons, curtains, sheets, and dish towels. And hidden amidst all of these things might be a piece of depression glass, a tin toy, a rare book, a butter mold. The first hour at any auction is spent poring through the boxes to see what might be tucked under the junk. But, we are late. No time for that. We’ll just have to use our women’s intuition. We push our way through the crowd to plop in the grass on the hill.
     I’ve never been to an auction with this auctioneer so it takes me a while to catch on to his patter. Every auctioneer is different. Dressed in blue plaid and blue jeans, with a farm cap tilted back off his eyes, he leans on his cane and commences to tantalizing.
     “Heey! Lookee here. A genuine tin flower pot shaped like a bedpan. Isn’t that clever? Who’ll give me five dollars and where? How about four? You aren’t looking. You’ll never find a prettier potty. Start me off. I got a dollar, now two, now three. Anyone else? Are you all through and all done? Sold to number 135!
     The lady who buys it raises her card so he can get her number and then hurries forward to claim her prize. The first time I went to a country auction, I was afraid to wave to friends, scratch my nose or nod to acquaintances. I was uncertain about the bidding process and thought any stray movement on my part might be interpreted as a bid. I’ve since learned that sometimes you have to wave pretty hard to get the auctioneer’s attention, but then once you have it, just a slight wrinkle of your forehead is enough to send the bids up. It’s fun to look around and see if you can figure out who’s bidding against you.
     Sue and I jump right in. She buys some galvanized troughs for her lambs and a garden push plow. I buy a box of old pots for three dollars. There’s one white enamelware pot that I’m interested in for decorative purposes, but when I retrieve my pile I discover I’ve also gotten two beautiful enamel bowls, one blue and one sage green. Plus, a tin dishpan and various other pots with holes in them. There are tape labels on the sides proclaiming “All Big Boy,” and “small cherry.” These pots have been used as seedling starters, but now they will get a new life as dog bowls and decorations. Not bad for three dollars.
     A storm blows up and people scatter as the auctioneer and crew rush to pull blue tarps over dressers and sofas. I take a break and Caroline and I haul fifty pounds worth of goods to the van and then pull it closer. Lots of people have left in the deluge. We may get a bargain, yet. Sue stays behind and snags a box of toys and I offer to buy a cute little tin duck from her. We seal the deal and move on to the farm goods across the creek.
     Before I can cross the little bridge, I hear the auctioneer start the bidding on some chicken coops I spied earlier. I splash through the creek, soaking my pants , because these coops are one of the reasons I’m at the sale. I get there just in time to get a real deal on two coops. Sue offers to buy one off of me for a coffee table, but I tell her we’ll have to wait and see if Scott needs both of them. We consider buying some wooden barrels, but decide we can’t stuff them in the van. I offer to buy a chicken waterer from a lady who buys ten of them, and she takes me up on it. Then we make another trip to the van with our loot.
     It’s lunch time and Caroline springs for hot dogs and a slice of cake. Then we decide we’ve had enough and wedge ourselves into the van in between all our bargains. The van lumbers home and when I unpack it, I discover my chicken waterer won’t hold water. Oh well. Auctions are really about risks and treasures and catching up with old friends. It’s been a successful day.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One Summer Day

I thought I would document one summer day and see what I did:

7:00 am--rise and shine—breakfast for Joe and Scott—creamed chipped beef on toast

8:00 am--clean up from breakfast gather things to work on finishing the mud room

8:30-9:00—Morning devotions

9:00-11:30--sand and finish all woodwork on mud room, finish moving furniture back on to it, sand and refinish five window sills in house

11:30 --go with Joe down to McDowell so he can drive the tractor and bailer up the road and I can drive the hay wagon. I hate driving wagons up the road. I’m always afraid the wagon will take out a mailbox, but I manage to make it the six miles with no incidents and even pull it through the gate without hanging up on a gate post. Scott flags us down. He’s lost hydraulic pressure on the disc mower so Joe pulls into the meadow and problem solves for him.

12:30--to the house for lunch. It’s just leftover hotdogs, beanie weenies and sliced apples with cold iced tea. It’s been hot and dry so we’re going through a lot of iced tea.

1:30 --Joe and Scott return to the hayfield. I finish bringing all of the furniture onto the mud porch and putting my tools and paint and rags and varnish away.

2:30—catch up on some writing assignments for the Recorder, then outside to water the back flower garden.

3:00—clean house—sweep and dust, wash some windows

4:00—drive back down to McDowell to meet Chance and talk about the CD he wants to record. Play and sing songs and choose four of the ten for him to use.

5:30—Justin comes home and heads to his garden, so I go out and help him weed for about 45 minutes.

6:15—back home. Go with Scott to chase cows out of the meadow. Then feed and water dogs and fill the trough with water for the sheep and horses.

7:00—start supper. Tonight we’re having cold sliced leftover chicken with Oriental cabbage salad, cubed cantaloupe and sliced tomatoes. Make another pitcher of iced tea with plenty of sugar for Scott.

8:00—Joe calls. He’s in McDowell filling the three hundred gallon water tank from the well on our other farm. He asks me to roll out hose up the hill so we can gravity feed it into our garden. He shows up at 8:30 just as I finish and we hook things up and make sure water is flowing all the way through the soaker hose.

9:00—sit down to eat supper out on the screen porch. It’s still 80 degrees, so we turn on the fan full blast.

9:30—clean kitchen and sit down to write this post. Whew! I’m tired

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Celebrating the Fourth

     On Saturday, in honor of our country’s Independence, Joe and I drove thirty five minutes to cheer on the marchers in our favorite parade. We were five minutes late and would have missed them completely if they hadn’t done a U-turn and retraced their route past the white-porches and general store of Blue Grass (formerly Crab Bottom), Virginia. It’s the same every year. Children on bicycles with red and blue streamers tangled in their spokes rush ahead of the red faced parents tugging their toddlers in red Radio Flyer wagons down the hill. They are followed by a phalanx of four-wheelers with flag waving teen-agers. They are in charge of the CD player for the line of cloggers tapping up the asphalt behind them. Next, a few civic minded citizens stroll past, decked out in crazy red, white and blue hats. Our local Maple queen and her court, in flip flops and halter tops, toss candy to the crowds lining the route as they stop to chat with friends. I score a Mary Jane, and three pieces of bubble gum. Finally, shirtless Stew, who sports a Mohawk and moccasins trots past on his noble black nag followed by cute little Carly on her Shetland Pony. It’s all over but the pooper scooping as the marchers disperse and line up for home-made ice-cream churned on the spot by the Friends of the Book Bank.
     Tonight, we continue our celebration with Doc who is on a brief leave from the Naval Academy. He has finished his plebe year and has come to visit Scott. They stay at the house long enough to share supper with us before packing up to spend the night up on the mountain. When they leave, Joe and I clear the table and then sit on the front porch under a star spangled sky and watch all the fireworks going off up and down our valley. Sue and Bobby, our neighbors across the street and over the hill, are really putting on a show and we watch their green and gold and red and silver chrysanthemums bloom against the black shoulders of Jack Mountain for at least 45 minutes. When the last explosion echoes off the hill behind us, Joe heads back inside but I hang out a bit longer to watch the earth-bound fireworks as fireflies rise up from the dark lawn. One last look at the night sky reveals Venus low on the horizon and tucked next to Regulus in the Sickle of Leo. I watch until she sinks from sight. A lone shooting star crosses right through the ladle of the Big Dipper and the sky show officially ends. It’s been a perfect celebration. Happy Fourth of July.