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.

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. ♥

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.


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.

Hello December 2020

Today was harder than it should have been. 2020, right? It’s not like we haven’t been blessed this year: no immediate family members have passed or even contracted COVID. WE have not contracted COVID. I know too many who have contracted it, lost family or friends, and/or have long term health issues due to having contracted it. But today was still harder than it should have been.

I got to sleep in today. Last night was my night to get up with the puppy and take him outside for his potty/poopy run. I put him back in his kennel and let my husband get up with him ninety minutes later. In the puppy’s defense, he is now sleeping 7-8 hours straight at night. He’s still getting up on Idaho time to eat hs first meal of the day. Tomorrow is my morning to get up with him.

Oh – we named him “Ruger” (ROO-grr) after the weapons manufacturer. He *is* a gun dog and while the name doesn’t fit him as a puppy, it will fit him as an adult dog. We call him a lot of other names like “Roscoe” and “Poop-head”, too. He is currently chewing on one of my walking sticks and growling at it.

Today. I had plans to pay bills, write cards, and pick up a table top Christmas tree. That’s not hard. Well, the cards are hard: sympathy cards are always hard and I have a few to write and send. Deaths during the Holiday season are especially hard. I also have some encouragement cards to send and those can be difficult, too – I don’t want to write some stupid platitude about how things will get better (they will) because I know how dark that tunnel can be (and how you just know that when a light comes on at the end of it, it’s a freight train headed your way, not the end of the tunnel). I’ve had some hard Christmas seasons and some hard years. Platitudes are nice and mean well, but they rarely connect and I want to connect with those hurting. Let them know I get it.

To the point: I wasted an hour on email and coffee (is it ever a waste of time drinking that first cuppa without interruption? I really think not but I suppose some people do). Then I got an ocular migraine. I rarely get the headache that follows, but the ocular migraine in and of itself is miserable, I lose vision in both eyes and it often lasts 45-75 minutes. I can function but I can’t drive, write, or do math. You can research the condition but don’t believe what WebMD says about it. It happens frequently and it affects both eyes although I suspect the impairment is really just in one eye. Mine usually last at least 45 minutes. I have suffered them for over 40 years. There’s no cure.

I digress. I used the time to pick up around the house and take Ruger outside for a brisk (east wind!) exercise. I waited until I could see again.

And then I got the headache. Well, crud. I just gave up on writing cards and paying first of the month bills. I could at least see to drive so I bundled up and headed to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription and a few items I forgot the last time I went grocery shopping. I try to keep trips to the outside to a minimum. I have cute masks to wear but I have to admit this whole mask wearing and hand washing after every stop is getting old.

I tried – again – to settle down and pay bills. I just signed up up for another year of health insurance under the ACA. Our premium jumped $90 for the same plan. There are cheaper plans but if we want to keep our doctor (we do) then the only plan that works is the one we’ve been on. Also, the cheaper plans are mostly Kaiser Permanente and Kaiser is only good in our neck of the woods. We travel. We need insurance that works outside of our area. I hate the ACA as health insurance has only gotten more expensive and deductibles have only gotten higher. Next November I am eligible for medicare and that brings its own list of issues. The entire system is rigged to benefit insurance companies. AND – to top it off – it took me a full half hour to figure out how to pay that new increased premium just so we could activate the damn insurance.

It should have been simple. I’m tech savvy. The websites are not.

I moved on to paying the other bills. I like to pay some bills manually rather than have them automatically deducted. I can see the numbers and budget. Some credit bills I like to add a certain amount over the minimum payments, but not always (like December, when I want to save extra money for purchasing gifts). That all should have been simple but Northwest Natural changed their website (again) and I had to navigate those changes. I’ll have to resave the link as the old link is no longer valid. WHY?!

Did I mention Christmas trees? I know I did. After I picked up my meds, I drove down to see if the tree lot we sometimes buy from was even open. NOPE. Great, thanks, COVID. I checked the local community Facebook page for links to tree lots open. NONE. There are Christmas tree farms, most by appointment only, and very few that offer table top sized Noble firs.

I searched Amazon for unlit fake ones and found two under $40 that could possibly work. Then I hit my husband up. Would he be willing to have a fake tree for one year and just resell the thing next year (or give it away)? My level of anxiety vs. Christmas tree hunting as up for debate.

So, yeah. I bought my first ever fake tree. We had one (briefly) when I was a kid and all of us hated it except Dad (who had to go pick a real one in a state where real ones were sold at a premium). Dad bowed to the majority when we moved to an area where he could just cut one in the woods. So his first cut tree was a piss-fir (white pine) that smelled like cat you-know-what and satisfied the rest of us that he was truly back on track for real trees. Funny how you can justify the smell of a certain real tree over a fake tree.

I bought a fake tree. Let that sink in. It’s three feet tall (less than a meter) and will sit on the kitchen table. Ruger is too young, too rambunctious, and still teething. I don’t need a tree on the floor and my ornaments don’t deserve Ruger. I’ll use half our ornaments and create a themed tree (birds). The tree arrives sometime next week.

THEN I decided to order Christmas gifts online (there are only a few that need to be ordered online this year). Yay, COVID. The gifts I ordered for the Alaska grands will arrive between now and December 24. I’m glad i didn’t wait a day to order! Ordering for my mother-in-law should have been simple, but no… NO. An hour later I finished her order on Shutterfly and argued with the system abut where to send the gift. And argued with the system on the price. I had to back out completely, go back in, and order. WHY IS THIS SO HARD!?

I’m done. I still have cards to write. Bills are paid, orders are finished, and my husband’s pants arrived from Carhartt. His pants are wrong. I want to curl up in a ball and hibernate. I am exhausted. Today should not have been this hard. It is 10:30PM.

Here’s a picture of Ruger to make this post worth reading:

A Puppy Adventure

WE have been waiting two years to get a puppy from the same breeder we got Murphy from. Murphy died just over two years ago, and our other dog, Harvey, died a short time later. It has been a long time with NO pets. I promised I wouldn’t look for a cat until we had a new dog. All we have had are the backyard birds (and squirrels), so when we learned a new litter had been whelped back in September, we were thrilled and begand to make plans for Puppy’s arrival.

Only our plan was to pick him up when he turned 8 weeks old the week before Thanksgiving. We would make a leisurely drive over to La Grande, Oregon, where my husband’s family still lives and spend a couple nights with them. Then a marathon drive to (almost) Twin Falls, Idaho, to pick out the pup and drive back to La Grande the same day – weather permitting. Finally, a leisurely drive home after seeing family again and resting up.

Don had First Pick of all the males, of which there were five.

Last Tuesday, the 10th, the breeder called to see where we were. Somehow, he had us coming for Puppy a week early. There were probably several reasons for the mixup: he had local buyers who were itching to pick out a pup, he was going on a Black Powder hunt the weekend of the 14-15, outdoor temperatures were dropping below freezing, and the nine puppies were getting far too active for a working man to keep up with. They were getting to be a pain in the ass.

Not wanting to lose our First Pick option and wanting to appease the breeder, we decided to go a week early. As in RIGHT NOW. We were late getting on the road (mid-morning) and I had just a smidgeon of time to request travel prayers. We hydroplaned through the Columbia River Gorge and sailed over the mountain passes to La Grande and Grandma’s house, where we holed up over night. Darn Grandma reminded us we were dealing with a Time Change between Oregon and Idaho, and it wasn’t in our favor.

We were up at zero-dark-thirty on Veteran’s Day so we could make out Idaho Time appointment. Snow, snow plows, snow packed roads, rain, and sun glare. We zipped through Boise unhindered (that’s like zipping through Seattle unhindered: a huge accomplishment given Boise’s growing pains). Forgot our Idaho map, but I was beyond certain that we needed to take the second exit into Bliss in order to reach our destination (Filer) on US Highway 30.

I love this stretch of road. You go through a bunch of small Idaho towns, follow the Snake River through the scenic Thousand Springs canyon, and avoid Twin Falls entirely. I haven’t been through Twin Falls in over 50 years but I know Highway 30 like the back of my hand. Only our breeder moved and we had to enter his address into my cell phone: gotta love those Idaho country addresses.

We arrived within our window of time.

Meeting puppies is a crazy business. We have always been last on the list for puppies and got the last pup to leave home. That doesn’t mean we got the runty or the stupid one (well, in Sadie’s case, it did mean we got the stupid one), just that we didn’t have choice in which dog we got to bring home. They’ve all been good dogs (even Sadie who helped raise our kids).

This time, however, we were the first to pick out a pup. And, yes, we took the Pick of the Litter. the big guy. First born. Boldest. Friendliest (although . that was a tie with a smaller sibling). The other three males just weren’t as interested in us and one was more interested in going his own way than in people. I could see him being a replica of our last Griffon, Murphy. Five roly poly busy puppies chewing on something.

Papers were signed, vaccination records passed over to us, and the first puppy to leave home was loaded into the car. He was too little to put in the big dog crate, so he curled up on Don’s lap for the ride home.

And ralphed on Don’s lap before we were back on I-84 West.

He was fine with the four point five hour drive back to La Grande on an empty stomach. Slept most of the way. The snow, ice, rain, and wind disappeared. We were back at Grandma’s in daylight hours some ten hours after we’d left in the morning. Puppy was a little disoriented but being the bold character he is, he was unfazed. Even the 18 year old cat didn’t faze him – too much. She did land a swat on the face that warned him not to mess with her. She’s raised a number of German Shepherd pups in her life and has no qualms about setting a puppy to rights about Cat Social Distancing Zones.

The honeymoon. Puppy went to sleep around 7:00PM Pacific time and slept until around 6:30AM. He whined a few times, looking for one of those eight siblings he’d just left behind, but a soft voice put him back to sleep. He curled up in the big kennel and slept. He made a few mistakes on Grandma’s carpet, but she’s raised more puppies than the cat has trained (and more kittens). Grandma spoiled puppy with a ton of toys, only a few of which we took along home.

There was a big storm threatening to move in on Thursday. Snow in the mountains, wind in the gorge, and copious amounts of rain. We decided we’d overstayed our window of time to make it back to the Portland area on good roads and left early. Over the mountains, through the passes, down Cabbage Hill, and into the fog at Boardman, we sailed at just over Oregon speed limits. No wind, dry pavement, no rain or snow. Puppy slept almost the entire way home.

He didn’t sleep through the night. Don thinks he is still on Idaho Time. He is learning how to tell us when he needs to go outside to poo and pee (some accidents have occurred). He understands the word, “NO!” He goes hard for a couple of hours then crashes for a while. He’s been on his first walk around the block on a leash. He fell in love with our yard during the first ten minutes of his life here. He thinks our house is the perfect home.

He just does not have a name. All the names we thought we would use don’t seem to fit. Don wants to use a single syllable name. Most dog names are two syllables (more is pointless, especially with a hunting dog ). Two of the grandchildren have thrown in suggestions (“Gator” – really? This came from the child whose father – our son – refers to him as “gator bait” when hiking or camping. They live in Florida).

He’s a normal puppy terror: sharp teeth and newspaper shredding. He tries to eat every plant in the back yard (not a good idea). He “talks”. He nips. He sleeps. He plays hard. He’s smart, but not in a devious way: he wants to please. He’s already picked out the pecking order: Don first, me second, him third. He doesn’t challenge me like Murphy did. His wiry hair hasn’t grown in but he promises to be a wiry dog in his adulthood. He is not afraid of anything but he’s not aggressive. He even likes rain.

He’s not my dog. I can’t initiate a dog naming contest because it will only irritate my partner and my husband of 40 years. He’s seven weeks old, born September 24th, 2020. He’s smart, independent, and – I hope – the best dog we have ever had to date. I’m in love.

You can send me your name ideas and I will try to run them past the Man In Charge. Ultimately, though, Don has to decide.

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.


                Summer ended a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t ready. We were still sitting in the fog of fire haze as the best time of summer passed us by. Still, the garden thrived, and wild birds continued to flock to our yard, and life – such as it has been in 2020 – continued at its relentless pace. One season turned into another with little fanfare.

                We received good news at the end of September: a puppy we have been waiting almost two years for was whelped on the 24th and would be available for us to pick up mid-November. Because we have waited so long, we get pick of the litter (male). Someone else who has waited longer gets pick of the litter (female). Already we are making plans to welcome this little bundle of energy: I’ve pulled the dog food dishes, leashes, and miscellaneous gear out of the attic where I stored it the year we lost both Harvey and Murphy. Don will be cleaning the doghouse and adding new bedding. I am clearing a space for the indoor kennel.

                Our oldest called to tell us they were buying a house and property with plenty of room for their kids to run and grow. Our youngest grandson called from another state to tell us how excited he was to receive his birthday present (a remote-controlled car).

                Good things.

                So why am I in such a funk? I stare at blank canvas before setting everything aside with a heavy sigh: I will not paint or draw or color today. I will not sculpt. I will not write. The words don’t come. The muse is asleep. I have never felt quite as sad as I do this year, this Autumn, facing the rainy season down.

                It isn’t circumstance. Lord knows we have seen worse times. I’ve lost 3/5’s of my family. We’ve been homeless – with children. We’ve been sued. We have been knocked down, lied about, betrayed. We have sometimes deserved some of the things that came our way. We have been poor.

                This morning I walked outside with the intent to just talk to God about my plunging emotions. I didn’t intend to beg Him (or Her) to do anything about it – my emotions are my own and I control how I face the world – but I wanted a sounding board. A non-judgmental ear.

                The overcast had begun to break up. Robins could be heard everywhere as they gather into large flocks for their short migration away from here. All the little birds were busy in the Hawthorne, the Camellia, and the evening primroses I left bordering one side of a flower bed. The golden-crowned sparrow, new to our yard this summer, worked the platform feeder with a dark-eyed junco. A Townsend’s warbler (formerly Audubon’s) creeped through the Camellia to look at me – they only visit our yard in the winter months, hanging out at the big feeder out front. A red-breasted nuthatch came even closer, its tiny eyes studying me. The lesser goldfinches worked over the evening primrose – they are also new to our yard this summer, staying longer than their usually migratory passing in the Spring.

                I came inside, grabbed my DSLR. What happened was the magic through which God speaks to me: Nature. Birds. Even the bushtits cooperated, those tiny feather-balls of dull grey and a ridiculous long tail.

                When the birds and squirrels were fed and sated, I went to work on my overgrown rosemary bush. I hacked back all the unruly branches threatening my precious tree peony on one side, the curry bush on another, and a regular peony on the other side. I discovered I had two rosemary bushes as one branch had grown along the ground and put down roots. I divided them. One bush will go out front along the stone wall. Don thinks I should make it a topiary of some kind.

                And I admitted I don’t have the room to dry rosemary, nor do I need to dry any as I have jars on hand from previous years. The hoarder in me stuffed the pruned branches into the yard debris bin.

                I have a long way to go to feel purged of this year, but I feel like I am fighting now. It is time to embrace a new season: October, November, December. Holiday season. I already have the Hallowe’en decorations pulled out and ready to install.

Smoke, Fire, and Brimstone

I always fall off the wagon when it comes to writing and summertime. I spend it OUTSIDE. However, at the moment – and for the past few days – I have been unable to be outside.

I am listening to Band of Heathens’ “Hurricane” as I begin this post. Ironically, our son and his family are weathering Hurricane Sally in the Florida panhandle.

At least he’s getting rain. We just came out of another long dry summer in the Pacific Northwest making it something like seven years of drought. That added to years of poor forest management, and an unprecedented early windstorm, and our forests went up in flames. Fast moving firestorm forest fire flames. Devastating fires in some areas of the state: Jackson County, Lincoln County, Marion County, and Clackamas County with entire communities wiped out. The Beachie Fire in Marion County and southern Clackamas County wiped out several small hamlets down the Santiam Canyon. Friends of mine lost their home outside of Otis, Oregon, in Lincoln County.

I would have stayed outside, playing in my garden, ignoring the siren call of my blog and the duty call of inside housework except for those fires. Smoke from the Beachie Fire and the Riverside Fire in Clackamas County shut down any outdoor activity for this asthmatic early last week, shortly after we raked up most of the oak leaves the winds blew into our yard. The sun and moon turned red. The air turned orange. The winds gusted into Wednesday evening, but on Thursday morning the world went silent around us. Silent as a snow day.

And dark as night.

Thursday, the 10th emergency services started to publish Evacuation Levels. The Arabian horse rescue I support decided preemptively to move all 28 horses out of their barn near Estacada (ess tah KAY dah). Originally, evac centers were set up in Molalla (MO la la), but by Friday morning, Molalla was under Level 2 evacuation warning and everything was moved here, to Oregon City, some 15 miles north (or so). Colton, Estacada, Molalla and much of the rural area around here is old logging country. Cowboy country. Horse country.

Interesting fact: when my daughter did 4-H, Clackamas County had more horses per person than anywhere else in the USA. Horses are like pet dogs and cats to those who love them and moving them to a safe place is a huge undertaking. Clackamas County Fairgrounds was at capacity before the end of the day. I heard there were even three camels lodged there with the llamas, alpacas, cattle, horses, goats, and more. Some friends opted to leave their cows in the pasture.

So that’s not exactly scary. Worrisome, maybe. Then the Evacuation Zones were redrawn and to our surprise, we were in a Level Two zone. In town. In the center of town.

Level One is “Be prepared for Level Two. Follow the news.”

Level Two is “Pack what you need to grab and set it by your door in case you go to Level Three.”

Level Three is “Pack that shit and GO.”

I still was not panicked, just – well, you know the saying? “This happens to other people.” And “This happens in California, not here.” I was feeling a little stunned.

Colton, Estacada, and Molalla were raised to Level Three. Entire communities with all their livestock. This also meant that the Evac Centers in Oregon City needed to be, well, moved again. Trailers full of toys (ATVs and such) as well as prized horses and livestock were once again migrating further north. Clackamas County Fairgrounds began the work of moving all the animals in their care to another facility. Oregon City is something of the hub between Molalla, Colton, and Clackamas County Fairgrounds. All that traffic had to flow through our small community to get north.

Many people who were just notified of their Level Two standing decided to also go rather than wait for a Level Three notice. Traffic ground to a halt on every artery through town. Even our little side street (which is a main street) got really busy as people tried to cut through town. We watched in awe.

Why didn’t we go?

The fires were still many miles south of us and while wildfire can travel fifteen miles in a few hours, there wasn’t enough wind pushing this one. My husband has fought forest fire. The air was unhealthy, but we weren’t in any imminent danger of a conflagration such as Paradise, California saw. We looked at maps while we fielded phone calls, texts, and IMs from concerned friends and family. We knew where we were and where it was most dangerous, and it simply didn’t seem prudent to pack up and leave. If we had to go, we could go after the arteries out of town unclogged.

Had we gone, we would have fled to Eastern Oregon and the sanctuary of my husband’s mother’s house, but her air quality wasn’t much better than ours.

So we stayed here, stuck inside, venturing outside long enough to wash out bird baths and refilling them with clean water. (cough cough, hack hack).

Meanwhile, rumors began to fly on Social Media. BLM was setting fires. (Doh! The BLM in this case is the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, not Black Lives Matter.) Arson was reportedly the main cause of the fires while law enforcement kept repeating they hadn’t had time to look into the cause of the fires (that’s usually done once a wildland fire is contained). Antifa, Proud Boys, anyone who could be blamed is being blamed.

The Riverside Fire is known to be human caused. I don’t know if that means it was caused by fireworks, a gender reveal party, arson, or – most likely – an untended illegal campfire. The woods have been closed to campfires for the summer, but that never seems to stop some people who think that if they are camping, they MUST have a campfire. S’mores, you know. I can’t tell you the number of times my husband and I have come across a smouldering abandoned campfire. People don’t realize those things don’t put themselves out. You must douse it heavily with water and stir the embers and ash in the fire ring until they are all soaked. Smokey the Bear has officially rolled over in his grave.

I do know that a lot of redneck cowboys with Trump sympathies picked up their polaskies, shovels, and pickaxes to dig unofficial fire lines around rural homes. In fact, we saw a very large rural county come together as people donated food, water, supplies, barn and pasture space, stock trailers, and more to help their neighbors. Businesses closed their doors to help evacuate and to donate their food and beer. The local Facebook community was alive with offers and requests and answers. Politics were tossed aside as were COVID-19 fears.

Saturday night at ten PM, we received the call: we are downgraded to level one. There’s still danger and level three hasn’t changed, but we could take a huge sigh of relief.

If only we could breathe.

(Thank you to EVERYONE who inquired, offered help, offered a place to stay.)

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That’s it. All I know.

Teach me, friends.

I am listening.

I see you.

I hear you.