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2021.January 1

My word for 2020 was “Discover” and it lasted for about two months before we found ourselves starting a two-week “lock down” that lasted through the end of the year, ten months later. I didn’t do much “discovering”.

It is now the first day of 2021. I have no word for the year. The only resolution I have is to be kinder and to be quicker to reach out to someone when they are hurting, sick, or bereaved. I probably could lose 25 pounds, too.

Today, I worked through grief by deep cleaning the bathroom. I have already rearranged the kitchen cupboards. Two days in a row, I have been out in the garden cutting the deadheads I didn’t get to in the fall because it’s currently warmer now than it was in October and November when I normally do those things. I closed the door when I worked in the bathroom, but I had help in the garden. Too much help.

His name is Ruger. Ruger Buhl’s Fall Surprise, per AKC records. He’s a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, born the 24th of September and hauled home to Oregon mid-November. He chews on all my plants which is not a good thing. I don’t know what is poisonous to puppies and what isn’t. I’m guessing peonies, primroses, asters, different salvias, and irises are not. I dug out all the foxglove in November. I know we have some arum in the corner flower bed that I will need to dig out because this dog is so mouthy – and because it is starting to show green shoots.

I have a stack of paperwork to filter through but no desire to. There’s a stack of sympathy cards, Christmas cards, and Christmas-cards-as-sympathy-cards to go through. I need to call my cousin in Montana back because the last time I spoke to her, I blubbered the entire two minutes. We have received so much support from Seventh Group Special Forces (Airborne) and I need to preserve all those commendations sent to us, specifically.

I need ideas to send gifts to my grandchildren who not only lost their father but who were taken from his home to live with their mother in Texas. She didn’t have custody when our son was living; he did. But she is the birth mother, and the law recognizes her first and the widow, second. I did decide I should put together three memory books of photos on Shutterfly. Monthly letters and cards. My daughter bought a subscription to Highlights Magazine for one of them. Is there a Pokémon magazine club? (Note to self: do the research).

I am not the only person grieving right now. I need to focus on taking care of myself, but also on helping my loved ones walk through their grief.

I don’t have a word for 2021. I have a sentence. LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Disney World 2020, Levi in the middle with all of his children. ♥

Summer of the Bird

The imposed lock-down that kept most of us home over the summer proved to be a boon to the hobby of back-yard birding. There were reports that birds changed their songs in some cities, and other articles about how loud the birds seemed as traffic noises dwindled in some cities (not here!). We certainly heard and saw more birds as we had little else to occupy our lazy summer afternoons when it was too hot to work and too nice to be inside the house. We positioned patio chairs around the lawn to maximize both sunshine and shade, as well as the view about our yard and flower beds.     

                  This was another summer without a dog or cat: the pup we looked forward to in May was a miscarried pregnancy. Wild birds took this as a boon, as did the squirrels: Eastern Fox and Eastern Grey, both invasive to urban areas of the Western United States. We settled in after the morning chores were finished (weeding, planting, digging out new flower beds) and popped the top of a beer to watch the birds and the antics of our invasive clowns, grey and red. We were never disappointed.

                My husband and I hail from very different political backgrounds but what we have in common is out love for the outdoors, insects, arachnids, flora and fauna, and birds. He grows vegetables. I grow flowers and herbs. He fills the birdfeeders with black oil sunflower seeds. I render pure suet down to pour over mounds of dried mealworms and red pepper flakes, eschewing the commercial suet fillers which are filled with GMO corn chips and other things birds neither like nor eat (and which attract the damn squirrels). I boil the nectar and clean/refill the hummingbird feeders as quickly as the little buggers empty them. He studies and names the myriad of native bees and bumblebees my flowers attract. We both stalk the spiders hoping for a award-winning photo opportunity.

                Mid-summer found a pair of chestnut-backed chickadees checking in to the little ornamental bird house I have hanging from a Shepherd’s hook next to the Hawthorne. We weren’t certain when they actually moved in so it was hard to gauge how far along the eggs must be. Then I could hear the tinniest little dee-dee-dee from within the bird house next to my head. (Yes, I meant tinniest, but tiniest will also do.) We tried to calculate how far along the babies were. They fledged on an afternoon when my husband was out of town, but I was sitting next to the bird house playing on my cell phone.

                During the weeks that followed, the crazy little birds flew back and forth between us, often narrowly missing our heads on the wobbly little wings. They didn’t fear us: our voices were ever in their ears from before their hatching. Three tiny daredevils. Two proud chickadee parents.

Maiden flight

                The scrub jays brought their fledgling into our yard. We made a platform feeder for the crows (which, sad to say, mostly avoided our yard this summer as last years’ fledglings all died of Avian pox). This platform was a boon to the scrub jays with their loud squawking praises for the bounty of peanuts as they raced the squirrels for the prizes. One afternoon as we sat with our back to the Hawthorne, we were startled by an unearthly scream. We jumped up as the Hawthorne shuddered and an angry sharp-shinned hawk beat its wings in a backstroke to get out of the mess of inch long thorns. It flew up and out of our yard. Inside the heart of the Hawthorne, the scrub jay fledgling huddled having just escaped with its feathers intact.

                We saw fledges of nearly every backyard bird: golden-crowned sparrow, Downy woodpecker, Northern (red-shafted) flicker, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, Lesser Goldfinch, Anna’s hummingbirds, bushtits, black-capped chickadees, and even this year’s crows. The Bewicks Wrens, which only last year raised their young inside our garage, eluded us (they were here but not as visible). So, too, the Spotted (rufous-sided) Towhee.

                Overhead, we watched bald eagles and turkey vultures each their young to catch thermals. The osprey young had a harder time with thermals and often dropped to just over our home on the bluff before they caught the rising air and could slowly circle up to dizzying heights, ever chirping. The eagles are by far the largest of the big birds. Red tailed hawk and owls sometimes migrated through the neighborhood, the hawks screaming their eerie call.

                A week ago, we saw the first of the turkey vulture migration south. Fifty plus birds caught thermals and soared, single file, overhead. Two days ago, during a break in the October rains, we watched in awe as three other kettles of turkey vultures (or buzzards) catching thermals and racing south for the winter. (Kettle=flock or group, but specific to vultures.) They will return in March.

                We are preparing the feeders for the winter. Many of our small birds over winter: song sparrow, junco, bushtit, both chickadees, Townsend’s warbler, white-breasted nuthatch, red-breasted nuthatch, Downy woodpecker, scrub jay, and Anna’s hummingbirds. We will have a dog next summer, and perhaps a cat. It will be a very different birding year.

I forgot that lesson earlier tonight as I struggled with some mini sketches of Arabians. I got too concerned with being perfect that I forgot they were just practice sketches and not meant to be perfect. They’re meant to be sloppy, hasty, and just a tad nice. Anyway, I tossed them aside and pursued other interests for a couple of hours before revisiting them.

Hah! A little ink, some scribbles, and – TaDa! rough sketches. And I enjoyed the process. I remembered.

Just little doodles of horses at the Arabian Horse Rescue & Education. I need better photographs to work from. I could try sketching onsite, but I dislike people peering over my shoulder, so photography is the next best way for me to go. I only used my cell phone the last time I was out there. I shall take the big DSLR and extra lens on Thursday when I deliver my first commission.

I still have a bit of the Imposter Syndrome going on (that I’m not good enough or what the client thinks I am). I have room to grow. A lot of room. I need to be willing to stumble a little. I also need to remember to Enjoy The Journey. So much of my joy was stolen in December and it is a fight daily to keep myself on an even keel.

I will eventually add a page to my website for art (TwoCrowFeatherWoman.com) titled “Arabian Horse Rescue and Education”. This is where I will blog about the journey (in between genealogy and gardening and healing my heart). For now, just look at my doodles and know I was practicing. Nowhere close to perfect and they shouldn’t be. They’re part of the journey, and the part that should be enjoyed.

Earth Day

49 years ago (gasp!), I posed with a group of classmates for Earth Day 1972. We were going to leave this world a better place for our theoretical children and their children. I was 15 years old.

There I am, all full of hope and determination. No more pollution! Clean rivers, lakes, ponds, oceans! Sustainable living!

Here I am, 49 years later, and very jaded about the entire process.

Stand in any parking lot in the United States and observe the people around you. Those eating fast food that open their car window and drop the entire contents of the fast food paper bag on the ground without a thought: plastic, paper, food waste. Don’t confront them because they will s wear at you, threaten you, and even – possibly – attempt to hurt you. They may be driving a POS of a car or a Lexus.

*They.Don’t.Care.*

I moved to Oregon in the late 1970’s. It was supposed to be a state of are beauty, clean roadsides, unpolluted waterways. Oregon established the original Bottle Bill to keep cans and bottles out of landfills and repay good citizens for recycling: $0.05 deposit on cans and $0.10 on glass bottles. You could make money walking along the highway and collecting cans out-of-staters threw out their windows. No one I knew littered.

Ah, for the 1970’s and early 1980’s. They are no more.

I have hiked to remote lakes and picked up empty beer cans that someone carried in with them full, but didn’t have the decency to carry them out, empty. I have pulled into remote campsites and picked up dirty diapers in fire pits, carrying them out to the nearest place to drop them into a garbage can. My kids have cut their feet on discarded glass in our river beds. Our highways are littered with plastic, paper, cans, bottles. Parking lots are the worst garage receptacles. It seems that very few even begin to care.

The original bottle bill has been raped and pillaged by big business: one can no longer take their cans or bottles in to the nearest grocery store for redemption, but there are crowded redemption centers around the metro areas. You are limited to the number of cans and the number of bottles you can bring in over a month’s time. The parking area around one such redemption center is littered with post-its, receipts, labels, and what not. Crowds line up for blocks, blocking business entrances. You can leave bags for redemption and get the money back on a card, but that only works for cans, not bottles. The recycling business is now a convoluted conglomerate of consumerism.

Every day, we are bombarded with ways to create a better environment for our children with “clean” energy (solar or wind because hydro power endangers fish that can’t climb fish ladders* and natural gas isn’t “clean” enough). Drive an electric car. Quit driving altogether and take public transit. Don’t fly on airplanes because they are huge polluters.

I’m over-simplifying the issues to make a point: we aren’t talking about the herd of elephants in the room.

India. China. Parking lot trash people. The cost to make those electric car batteries and the half-life they live when they die. The hundreds of miles in the American West where there is no public transit and no electric car plug ins next to random sagebrush.

Mostly, China. Not the people: the governments. China is perhaps the worst polluter in the world, but there are no sanctions against the Nation. They don’t care. Not about their own citizens they continue to poison, not about our pets they continue to poison, not about the deadly words “global Warming”. China doesn’t care.

I am convinced that beyond anything else, that we have to start with parking lot trash people. If we can’t educate and change the minds of those who continue to litter without consideration, we will *never* have a clean environment. These heathens do not care. Not about wildlife, not about how ugly it is, not about anything but their immediate need to dump the garbage out of their car onto the pavement for some poor “other” bastard to clean up (meaning you or I).

I’ve walked around cities where my children live and watched my kids pick up other people’s garbage. My daughter picked up plastic bottles around a garbage can in Arizona and dropped them into the garbage can while skaters and bikers circled her and tossed out even more garbage *because they haven’t been taught to care*. My son and his wife picked up sea washed debris and hauled it through a group of sunbathers to a public garbage bin, and not one of the sunbathers thought to do the same. My daughter in law even commented on the apathy she beheld among those in their little lounges.

If we want to save the world, we have to begin at the very bottom, with the bottom feeders who continue to throw their fast food Big Gulp drinks out into the middle of the street. We have to educate. We have to make recycling sustainable and available to everyone, everywhere, and keep big business out of the mix.We have to call those nations into accountability that *do not* have any protocols in place and that *do not* participate in worldwide efforts to clean the air and water. We need to talk about the elephants in the room. We need to talk about the environmental damage that wind farms cause, from noise pollution to what they do to large raptors.

I wrote this off-the-cuff, so I expect some intelligent feedback from others with a differing point of view. I only expect you to be respectful, not resort to name-calling, and not react with a knee jerk. I accept my opinions are not the popular ones. I accept that I may not have all the facts on some items (and welcome intelligent correction). Really.

Let’s talk about those “elephants”.

Healing Myself

I cried out to God and God answered me.

Sounds like something the Psalmist would write. I love the Psalms and often live my life through them. The Psalmist (usually attributed to David, King of Israel, but sometimes some unknown author) speaks of my struggles, despairs, hopes, and dreams. They are the most human collection of essays and poems in the Bible (preferably in King James, but either of the Revised Standard editions will do: English or American. All other translations lose their poetic value in my opinion – and the poetry is important. It’s like trying to read Shakespeare or John Donne in a “modern translation”: it doesn’t work).

Enough on the Biblical: I cried out to God. I sat in a lawn chair,catching as much Vitamin D as the weather allowed, and I called out.

I Need Healing. I need to move forward. Not “on”. I know I will never move “on” – I lost a child. I cannot stay in this Valley of Death forever. I sit and do nothing. I take pleasure in nothing. I am fading I have grandchildren, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, and a husband to live for. I *need* to create. I need *something*.

In general, that was what I prayed. Or Thought (being Methodist by up-bringing, I rarely pray out loud. Prayer is more of a thinking way of communicating with a Being you believe is able to even read your mind). A good Being as somehow an Evil Being cannot read your mind, but only interpret your actions. Theology left up to debate, I suppose, but a theology that has never left me and has always worked for me.

I don’t know how many days or hours later that I received an Instant Message from a contact I had spoken to several times two years ago. I first met her three years ago, around a campfire at an outdoor beer place. She was dressed in jodhpurs and boots and was drinking with other women dressed similarly. They were sweaty, tired, and horse-dirty, but they were smiling and friendly. They were not the snobbish sort of horse people you can run into, the ones with too much money or too much prejudice in a certain breed of horse (although they did have that prejudice). Down-to-earth people.

Dusty runs a non-profit Arabian horse rescue. I love Arabians, but I rarely love Arabian horse owners. There’s a certain snobbery that comes with horse people who love a particular breed over all others, and Arabian horse owners can be among the worse. But that wasn’t Dusty or her companions. I checked out the rescue a couple times, went to a volunteer orientation, took a few photos, and even painted a couple paintings for an auction to raise money for the rescue. But it wasn’t the time. I have this small, still, inner Voice that tells me things like that. The timing was all wrong.

And whoever was supposed to call me never called. So I just let the idea fade away.

But here was Dusty on my Instant Messenger. Wanting to meet. Wanting to talk about art, sponsorship, and horses. Ah, horses. Arabians.

I drove out to the rescue for the first time in almost two years. I talked to Dusty. I told her where I am. I am the one who is broken and needs healing, not the horses. She brings in a lot of broken horses. She rescues from auctions and private owner surrenders. She gets horses that have been so traumatized they may never trust again. Most are Arabs, but some are not. Some are damaged physically as well as mentally. She gets people to sponsor a horse ($150/month) or feeding the lot (say, $20/month). She campaigns for donations for vet bills and auction bills (she might run an auction bid request to save a particular horse for $900 – just an example). She brings in mares with foals, mares in foal, and old Arabians past their prime with plenty of life still in them. Retired endurance horses. An old horse with Coggins disease (it’s awful: the horse walks on its ankles). Old pets sent to auction and horses “too wild” for the current owner.

We talked. We toured the facilities (again, but one-on-one this time). She gave me her vision. She doesn’t care if I don’t want to muck stalls. The idea is to paint the horses, create a marketing plan with horse posters and paintings (“anyone can take a photo and make it look great” – Dusty). Ceramic mugs. Things to get you excited about helping out horses with no other recourse than the auction.

THE AUCTION.

This is where horses are bought and sold, right? And killed. You didn’t know that? Meat buyers haunt auctions. There are legitimate buyers who go to auctions, but there are always meat buyers. They buy up the horses that don’t get bid on and load them into trucks bound for Mexico and slaughter. It is inhumane. I can’t even go into how awful it it=s: someone’s old beloved pet pushed into a truck with dozens of other frightened animals and hauled hundreds of miles in crowded and dark conditions.

Horses are highly intelligent, highly emotional. They connect with humans like cats or dogs. They are inherently gentle giants.They are ballerinas, dancers, jumpers, racers, lovers, competitors, and always friends.

Dusty is only one rescue and she works specifically with Arabians (although she takes in the occasional non-Arabian). Arabs are the aristocrats of horsedom. One of the oldest breeds. The purest breed. The breed that everyone else uses to strengthen their own horse lineage. They are small among breeds but mighty in genetics. They are unique. I’m not going to bother with how unique they are right now, but they are unique and the foundation of many a current horse breed.

The point of this blog is this; I accepted the idea. I accepted the commission. I stepped out of my comfort zone (we’ll talk later about the imposter syndrome). I am going for it. Horses. Healing. Art.

Arabian Horse Rescue Education. You can give via Amazon. I encourage you to follow on Facebook.

No art to be posted at this point in time/

Short post tonight. I ran into an old neighbor at the UPS store today. He recognized me before I knew he was even there. I was busy shipping off Easter cards to grandchildren and a shadow box to our son’s widow. The clerk was busy trying to get me the best deal and we were holding up the line.

This old neighbor called out to me. We exchanged hellos and “it’s been so long since…” greetings. Then I said, “We lost Levi in December, you know.”

“Yeah. I heard that.”

Not much more. I’m sure he felt awkward. Levi worked for him during his pre-teen years. Worked hard. Nights, cleaning and waxing floors in commercial buildings. Levi made good money under the table. It was hard work and the neighbor was a hard boss. We never encouraged Levi to complain but we knew it was hard work and thankless. It gave him something to do and a way to make money, and it taught him the value of hard work.

Still. I waited for more of an acknowledgement, but all I got was, “Tell Don, ‘Hi’.”

Tell Don “Hi”.

No, I’m sorry for your loss.

No, he was a great kid and a hard worker.

No, I knew him.

Just, “Tell Don, ‘Hi’.”

The last time I saw this person was at another funeral, probably ten years ago. I know he’s not insensitive to grief.

He just didn’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say. Death rips us apart. Our hearts are shredded. What can you say? Don’t ask for the details: I can’t talk about those right now, and not in a public setting. We can’t even reach out and touch hands in our Covid-19 society.

My ex-neighbor left the store. The clerk got me the best deals on shipping. I left, feeling slightly empty, like something had not been acknowledged about my son’s brief life. My son spent hours at the neighbor’s house, playing with his children. He worked hard. and I didn’t get a simple, “I am so sorry.” That’s all I wanted. An acknowledgment that my son walked this earth and touched your life. That he was real.

We have to do better when reaching out to people who are bereaved. Acknowledge the life lost. Speak a memory. Offer a hand, even in COVID times. Don’t just pass it over.

Our son mattered. He was a hero. A father. A Husband. A brother. A son. A hard worker.

I forgive you, my neighbor. I get that you felt suddenly awkward in the face of death. I hope this post spurs someone like you to speak out next time. Grief needs to be acknowledged, not brushed past.

Broken

February 2021 is an analogy of the past few months in digest form. Broken, frozen, without power, unable to communicate, and yet not quite destroyed.

The 12th of February (coincidentally, Washington’s Birthday and the day our oldest grandchild turned 13, we were in for a winter storm. Snow! I love snow! But, typical of the Pacific Northwest, we had freezing rain first, then about half an inch of powdery snow, followed by two more surges of freezing rain. It was an epic ice storm, the worst since the late 1970’s to hit this area. Our power went out sometime during the night of the 12th, but that’s no big deal: we have hurricane lamps, a gas range, a gas water heater, candles. It’s never off for more than a day here in town (we did go through a big freeze in 1988 where we were without power for seven days, but we were in the middle of moving and could stay warm in the apartment we were leaving). Sometime in the 1990’s we suffered through five days of no power and no heat in a flimsy 1970’s singlewide trailer. All that to say, we have Been There, Done That and survived just fine. We had little kids those days and I am sure they loved every moment of darkness, hurricane lamps, and having to flush the toilet with rain water (we were on a well at the time). This time, we are in town.

A town that got almost two inches of ice on top of the bit of snow on top of the first coating of frozen precipitation.

I ran outside on the 13th to take photos of the ice storm. Artsy photos, pics of the rhododendrons leaning away from the house, the lilac hugging the earth, and the Camellia with her boughs bent to the earth and frozen.

Photos of yard art frozen and rhododendron blossoms encased in ice. I had no idea that there was another ice storm heading our way to add more layers of ice. sometime during the night, that leaning rhododendron toppled.

The night of the 14th, a branch on an old oak tree across the street dropped and snapped the power line and internet cable to our home. The power line ricocheted back to the tree, pulling off the meter on our house. We were without a land line or Internet. Fortunately, I was good on data on my cell phone (the phone my husband hates). I called the power company to report the downed line (dangerous situation even though no one had any electricity and would not have any for days). I put in a repair call to the internet/phone company, but they routed me through Omaha where the only power outages they knew about were in Texas where record freezing temperatures were causing rolling blackouts. Clackamas County, Oregon, didn’t exist in the greater psyche of News Outlets (including our own local ones). Texas was headlining.

The thaw began during the day of the 15th and continued through the 17th. Trees laden with ice dropped their branches on homes and cars. Basket ball sized pieces of ice slid off the fine needles of other trees and dashed anything below. Through the night and through the day, we could hear the loud BOOMS of trees and branches and power poles giving way to the melting ice and their heavy load. Transformers, feeder lines, substations suffered unimaginable damage. When it was all over, Much of Clackamas County looked like a tornado or a hurricane blew through.

We lost the main trunk of one lilac. The Camellia suffered horridly.

Fir boughs littered our yard, but the damage done was minimal to us (not our trees – thankfully, we have no trees)

We finally got electricity on the 20th through a miracle of God’s timing: Our electrician (doing a side job as a favor to a mutual friend, but licensed and bonded), arrived with all the parts necessary to replace the meter. The City of Oregon City was expediting permits and waiving fees. The City Inspector happened to drive by. The Montana crew of Linemen arrived as our electrician was finishing up. The Inspector returned with our approved permit just as the Linemen went to throw the switch. The Linemen circled back and turned our house on.

I did laundry in my own house that night.

We aren’t getting real excited about clearing away the debris. We’re both over 60 and arthritis bugs us. The lilac is not a loss nor is the other lilac and the vine maple. The Camellia remains to be seen – we will need to hard prune it back. The lowest branch that was damaged was 33 years old. The bush itself is older.

The rhododendron was also 33 years old where the lowest cut was made. We couldn’t stand it back up, but decided to let the stump lean away from the house and hope for new growth to come this summer.

We got our land line and Internet line repaired on March 3rd. Our original order was lost during the Texas storm and I had to arrange another work order. But it is done. We are beginning the healing process of our yard. We lost about $100 worth of refrigerated items (we had ordered a quarter of beef that was NOT delivered before the ice storm, thankfully). The electric repair was a mere $100 over our insurance deductible. We made no claim. Some people lived without power for 5 to 10 days longer than we did.

It was a one-two-three punch. I am philosophical, however. We were inconvenienced and frustrated (and a tad bit cold), but we have seen weather related damage here before: windstorms, 100-year floods, fires, ice storms, and even some epic snow storms.We survive. We repair. We go on. We mourn. We find humor in the darkest days.

We go on.

Final Farewell

                For the second time in six weeks, we were escorted to 7th SFG Liberty Chapel. There was no casket this time but, rather, a small brass plated box on a podium with a propped-up rifle, dog tags, and Levi’s beret atop the barrel of the rifle. The box appeared to be 10×10” square and couldn’t have weighed as much as Levi did at birth: ten pounds, three and a half ounces.  

                The words spoken from the dais included adjectives such as meritorious, honorable, excellent, brilliant, conscientious, considerate, faithful, meticulous, valiant. Friendship, respect, and a deep sense of loss permeated the air. His soldiers called him “Dad” because he was, at age 34, like a father to them, always there, always with advice, always with an answer. Then came the bagpipes, and the Last Roll Call followed by a 21-gun salute: there was ugly crying.

                7th Group Special Forces (Airborne) treated us to a light lunch, beer, and soda. They patiently allowed small children to run amok in their meeting room. We took family photos. Three children were missing: their mother, our son’s ex-wife, refused to allow their children – the ones Levi raised and had custody of until his death – to attend the service. Four children were there who have no memory of Levi: his nephews and niece from Alaska. They were honored to be there to pay respect to the man their mother loved and grew up with.

                We loaded into the vans once again. There was a bus with soldiers and Patriot Guards on motorcycles. A small motorcade of vehicles left Eglin Air Force Base near Destin, Florida, to make the drive to Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola. I thought it odd that a funeral procession had no police escort.

That changed when we merged onto State Highway 85 northbound: The State Police had northbound 85 closed to all traffic so we could proceed unhindered. County Sheriff’s Departments then joined us, stopping traffic at every light and intersection, and clearing the lanes ahead of us. We would take all lesser highways, winding through all the small towns, a parade of flashing red and blue lights and sirens. Police officers got out of their cars blocking intersections and saluted as we passed by. Pedestrians removed their hats and salted. Traffic in the oncoming lanes, even when it was divided highway stopped. Some flashed their lights in respect. Some saluted. It took us two hours at an average speed of 35 miles per hour, multiple police agencies (county and city), and back roads until we wound through an older neighborhood of Pensacola and rolled into Barrancas National Cemetery.

                We joked that Levi would have loved stopping all that traffic and messing up the Friday afternoon commute.

           The last ceremony was graveside. F-18’s occasionally roared overhead as they took off from the Naval Air Station (Pensacola). Flags were folded and presented to the widow and the sister (Don and I had already received our flag and dispensed with that part of the ceremony by choice). Another 21-gun salute. Everyone left but the immediate family and small group of friends who came in the two vans. We drove to the plot where Levi’s ashes were interned, next to the spot where his widow’s, Erin’s, ashes will be interned when she joins him on their last long journey. It was hard to watch the gravedigger replace the sod, then rake it so that it looked undisturbed, leaving no sign that someone had just been buried there.

                We loaded into the vans one last time. Don, Arwen, and I rode in the children’s van with all the kids 12 and under. The kids were incredible, managing to hold it together the entire day. Levi’s six year old son clung to his father’s flag. Levi’s comrades, the other two E-7’s in his unit, were our drivers. We hugged, we laughed, we shared stories. At last, we reached our destination: Erin’s home.

                The rest is an alcoholic blur. We are family. Levi’s gamer friends, Levi’s in-laws, Levi’s brother and sister-in-law, the nieces, the nephews, the 7th Group soldiers who served with, over and under Levi. All the dogs: Bender (Levi’s favorite, the German Shepherd/Malinois cross), Daisy (the yellow lab foster), Trigger (the in-law dog), and Ash (the cat).

                Erin texted the family photos to Levi’s oldest son in Texas and he showed it to his two siblings. He texted back that they wept at not being able to be there. They are 12, 11, and 8 years old. They should have been there to see how beloved their father was, how influential he was, and how faithful he was. I hope they will come to understand how much of a man their father was: honorable, dependable, loving, and faithful. I hope they will know how much he loved them.

Levi A Presley, SFC

There is an “atmospheric river” pouring over the Pacific Northwest right now. They used to call it a “Pineapple Express” denoting the warmer air carried with the rain and winds, but nowadays it is simply an “atmospheric river”. It makes no sense to me to change the name of the phenomenon but there you go. It is what it is. Two to three days of unseasonally warm rain, in torrents.

We are treading water. Ruger provides comic relief, but he is just a puppy.

We have interacted with actual human beings. A friend who lost her home and all of her possessions in the fires of 2020 Came to visit with her grandson. He was dressed in a dragon costume. Levi had a dragon costume. He ravaged his sister’s My Little Pony Castle dressed as a dragon and razed it to the ground. He was a two-year kid terror.

We met with friends and had beers at an outdoor venue we love. Ruger came, of course. He was mostly well-behaved on the leash.

My desk is littered with To Do lists which I am slowly checking off. Thank you notes are on there, but I am not certain when I will actually begin writing them.

Levi’s Military Honors is in less than two weeks. Another flight to Florida and another flight home. The flights are the worst. Half the people in airports believe in COVID-19. Half simply wear their masks under their nose until someone points out their error. If that happens at all. American Airlines doesn’t socially distance fliers, although I have heard that Delta and Alaska do.

We will have to isolate for two weeks again when we return home.

Third Battalion, Seventh Special Forces Group (Airborne) has taken great care of us. They have reached out to Levi’s older sister. They have wrapped Levi’s widow in their collective arms. We are blessed he was part of such a special unit in the United States Army. Here is no need unnoticed or not taken care of.

Grief continues to wash over us unexpectedly. How can someone so hale and full of his future be gone within a matter of hours? The homeschool e-group I have been a part of for over 20 years is grieving. It is hard to put a name to this tragedy.

Don and I are binging on stupid horror/satire flicks. B-movies. Anything that makes us laugh. I am procrastinating watching all of the available Star Wars franchise: Levi idolized Boba Fett.

The loss of a child is truly a deeper loss than the loss of a sibling, and I still mourn my sister every day. She died of a bizarre disease: Necrotizing fasciitis. Ironic that Levi should succumb to a bizarre autoimmune disease: secondary HLH. My heart is torn for our daughter who lost a sibling and feels tenderness toward her brother’s children. I know this well.

And Levi’s widow. Damn. A man leaves his parents to join with his wife and a woman leaves her family to join with a man. That is the strongest bond of all. So many decisions were handed to me and I deferred them to his widow. What a burden for a 38 year old woman to have to bear. It’s unfair. Damn.

So – we fly out the week o the 20th. Spend a few days in Florida. Watch the Military Honors – participate, even. Cry some more. Drink a lot more. He was a f’ing hero. He was something else. He was compassionate. He loved dogs and children. He loved his wife who is now his widow.

And his ex-wife is refusing to allow his children to attend the service. Yeah, there’s that detail. I have no words for that. The judge who granted the divorce gave Levi custody. That’s all you should know. Keep those babies in you hearts and prayers. There are three of them. That is all I will tell you.

I may post again before the 22nd. I may not. I am laying my son to rest.

Christmas Came Down Today

I like to decorate early and un-decorate late, but Christmas 2020 deserved to come down before the New Year.

Words fail me at this point. How do I tell someone about this past month?

We were on an airplane somewhere between Phoenix and Charleston, trying to catch a little sleep. I must have dozed off. I woke to a feeling of something passing me in the atmosphere and the soft Voice that whispered, “He’s gone now.”

I lied to myself the rest of the flight. He wasn’t gone, I heard wrong, he had to still be alive. Even the cryptic message from our daughter-in-law could be read either way. I stared at that message in the airport in Charleston, waiting for the last leg of our trip, hoping that she meant he had improved and still lived. In my heart, I knew. And when she met us at the gate at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, I knew.

Our son was gone. We had a brief time of good-byes before we boarded the flight in Phoenix and we had a chance to tell him we loved him by phone. His sister was in the air somewhere and had no chance for a good-bye.

There are so many questions. What the hell is “Secondary HLH”? How could such a beautiful soul die in such a terrible way? Why?

Father to six. Beloved husband. Beloved in-law. Son. Soldier. Leader. Friend. Lover of dogs (and cats, even though he denied it). Hero. Green Beret. God, he loved Special Forces (Airborne). He loved jumping out of airplanes and helicopters. He loved his children.

And he’s gone. 34 years old. A baby. The hole in our collective hearts is huge. His wife. His father-in-law who loved him like a son. His brother-in-law who looked up to him. His sister. His father and I. His six babies.

My emotions are still very raw. Words just don’t flow. His oldest son (age 12) wrote a beautiful tribute.

THE TRAGIC CHRISTMAS

Once upon a time there lived a son and his father, they both had a lot of fun together then one day his father had a great idea to go to a place called Disney World. They started their journey from home and then made a couple pit stops but they made it. When they got there, they went to a hotel and then the next few days of endless fun, they rode 21 rides in total but on the last day at Disney World his dad got extremely sick. When they got home, he was taken to a hospital next to the beach. It was two days until the son had news his father had passed away; his whole family was sad and angry, so they stayed home for a week due to this tragic event.  The son missed his father very much and his father never got to give him his Christmas gift, so his mom did, and it was a swiss army knife from his father and his son loved it. A couple days later they had to plan his funeral, but they had their entire family by their sides through everything.

The End

Levi A. Presley, Sergeant First Class, 3rd Battalion, 7th Group Special Forces (Airborne)

September 6, 1986 – December 12, 2020

Painting by Elisabeth McGinn Art

Tonight is my short night. I get the morning shift with Ruger, who seems to think six in the morning is an acceptable time to get out of bed and eat. Ruger is not retired.My husband and I switch early morning shifts because we are retired and six o’clock in the morning is… way too early for either of us. What were we thinking when we got a puppy?

Oh, hell, what were we thinking when we had children? They didn’t sleep in, either. But we got revenge on them when they became parents. And then we got a puppy.

Today was a big day for our ten-week old guy. The governor (bless her heart, said in the sweetest Southern drawl I can manage) loosened restrictions on pubs and restaurants once again. I won’t go into the whole mask debate (I’m pro-mask & safety precautions) but COVID is killing small businesses. This is just a reality. The loosened restrictions mean we can once again go to our favorite small breweries and drink a few pints – as long as we are outside in the elements. That’s excellent news for one of our favorite places to go as it is entirely an outdoor setting. We don’t usually go out there in the winter because of the one word people in the Willamette Valley and north into Seattle know well: RAIN. Rain is colder than just cold and sunny days. Rain permeates, even when you are huddled under a canopy with a propane heater. Rain drips, is cold, and often comes sideways.

But we’re in a dry stretch. And that means sunshine on picnic tables because we’re far enough north that the sun comes at a slant through the surrounding Douglas fir trees and warms the tables. I also dress in layers: stretch pants, jeans, a blouse, a sweater, a vest, a down jacket, a huge and warm winter scarf. I wear a hat. Double up the socks. And I carry a fuzzy blanket. I wear fingerless gloves.

Then there’s the puppy. He’s only been in the car to ride here from Idaho. He’s lived with us for three weeks and has had zero chance to meet other dogs and has only met a couple neighbors. He’s met two of our friends, but no other house guests. We’re all on lock down number something or other and we’re all cautious about going out. We have different opinions about all of this but we still wear masks, use hand sanitizer, and try to stay six feet apart.

If you asked me about children and socialization (the “S” word in homeschooling circles) I would tell you to just take your children places. Let them meet people, young and old and from as many cultures as you can expose them to. They don’t need school to socialize: they need social gatherings with a variety of people, customs, and manners. They need real life.

Puppies do, too. I used to take my English Setter rescue (Harvey) to Home Depot to just walk around the store. He had to take in all the noises, all the people, and he had to accept little children running up to him to ask if they could pet him. In return, I have spent a few dollars at Home Depot. They allow dogs, I don’t care what else you have to say about them. Harvey was also excellent on a leash (not at first, mind you, he had to learn to heel).

Ruger has never ridden in a dog carrier and he threw a fit about it today. He also puked. Like my English Setter, Ruger gets car sick. All bedding we purchase is washable. I have sudden empathy with my parents who had three children, only one of which puked often in the car. Me. I never ride in the back of the van. (See how I made that about me?)

I took a pig’s ear with us (American made), his puppy bed (he’s outgrown it), and a fuzzy blanket just for Ruger. I took doggie treats for Ruger, jerky & crackers for us. My husband has never been much for walking dogs on a leash but he took Ruger for the first potty run out in the huge dog field out beyond the brewery. Ruger, who has been a pill on the leash to date, was extraordinarily well behaved the first couple of hours. It was all new and chewing on a pig’s ear gave him time to digest the noise (highway and cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles). Friends arrived and he remembered them.

Strangers stopped and asked to meet him. He met other dogs, some interested in him and some not so interested (but not aggressive). He met men and women. He met little kids. I took him for a late walk in the grassy off-leash area and he did his duty like a good boy. He was proud and started to get bold. He never once barked at a person or another dog. He got into his dog carrier and rode home without a peep. The only people he jumped up on were my husband and I and we quickly pushed him down.

In short, Ruger had an amazing and exhausting day. He sacked out on the way home. He played hard a couple more times (most recently in the loft with me) and then crashed just as hard. He’s learning to fetch, which none of our prior dogs ever managed to do. He still eats socks, shoes, scarfs, and cardboard. He loves playing soccer with the big blue ball our grandson, Eli, picked out. He’s neither aggressive or too shy with other dogs. He likes people.

Best of all, he’s brought laughter back into our home.

This is really more of a testimonial of Ruger’s first socialization outing, but I want to throw in a tip: if you have a puppy please do it a favor and find a way to socialize it even with all the COVID restrictions. Go to an outdoor pub (order a soda if you don’t drink alcohol) that is dog friendly. Find a reason to shop at Home Depot (don’t just go there to walk your dog and DO NOT take your dog there to piddle and poo). Dog parks are Okay but I don’t really trust the other dog owners – that’s at your own risk.

Pick up your dog’s poo. This has nothing to do with the post above but some people really need this in their face. Pick up your dog’s poo.