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One of my favorite flower beds is right out the back door. It’s a little triangle that is always full of something growing from May through October. This year, I tried to snap a photo diary of the corner garden.

I missed April – when the grape hyacinth and the tiny wild violets are the only color in this little corner.

May

May is peony time.

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The Dragon Lily (dracunculus vulgaris) ends May and starts June with its stench – and striking beauty.

June

Even though the Dragon Lily is in full bloom, the corner seems a sea of green as the peonies fade, the milkweed and the asters push upward.

July

July. The peonies and dragon lilies fade as the milkweed blooms, fragrant and alluring. The corner goes from one aroma (dead meat) to another (sweet milkweed) in a matter of weeks.

August

August. The asters bloom when the milkweed fades – red and tall in the back, purple and lodged in a crack in the sidewalk. (The yellow mum was a potted plant.) You can see the faded glory of the Dragon Lilies, seed heads brilliant red, and the peony leaves turning brown. Seed pods are forming on the milkweed plants now.

Sept

And just like that the sun is low in the sky and September is leaching the color from the milkweed plants.

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It is late October now. The rains have held off. The leaves have fallen from most of the milkweed. The asters cling to a little bit of green, but their blooms are all but faded now.

Soon, it will be an empty space of grown, brown and sad, all the stalks cut back before the new growth begins again in April. The rains will come, the days grow dark and – for me – depressing. But the cycle will resume in four short months.

The grape hyacinth, the violets, and the peonies came with the house and this little corner. I pulled back a blanket of creeping myrtle (aka periwinkle or variegated vinca minor) to bare the ground. We planted the Dragon Lilies, babies from a single corm we stole from a rental many moons ago and have carried around with us for 30 years. (Want some? We’ll gladly ship – up to zone 8.) I planted the little purple aster from a plant a dear friend gave me some 25 years ago. It’s been divided and planted elsewhere, but this little bit insists on pushing up through a crack in the sidewalk right at the apex of the flower bed. The tall red aster surprised me that first autumn in the house – an added bonus of the many flowers already here and hidden by neglect.

The milkweed, now – that was a project. I tried two or three times over the years to grow it by seed. I gave up four or five years ago, but one fine day three years ago, a small plant survived long enough for me to identify that it was, indeed, showy milkweed. Last year, more came up and they flowered for the first time. This year, they tripled in number. They are truly one of my finer moments in gardening, even if they are now rather prolific.

 

 

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And I have not raised my hand once to type out the tales of my days.

There were birds. Dozens of birds. The Bewick’s Wrens built their nest in the garage and fled as soon as the babies fledged. The Spotted Towhees taught their fledgling to bathe in one of our three bird baths. The Dark-eyed Juncos fooled us with fledglings that looked more sparrow than junco. The Bushtits took communal baths. Black-capped Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Band-tailed Pigeons, Sharp-shinned Hawk,. Rufous Hummingbird challenged all other hummingbirds and sometimes the bigger birds. Anna’s Hummingbirds came and chirped in our faces.No dogs to chase them. No resident cat. The birds moved in and became our pets for a season.

I dug in the earth, turning over earthworms and pulling out ribbons of grass roots to make room for more flower beds. The flower beds bloomed and fed the birds, bees, and wasps. The flowers faded and turned to seed, continuing to feed the birds. Soon, the milkweed pods will burst open and the yard will be littered with fluff. I’ll save it for the nesting birds next Spring.

I spent time sitting with my husband, shushing his political rants and encouraging his dreams. We drank too much beer. We made new friends. We had a couple hellacious rows. We rekindled our love, the love that covers a multitude of sins – and, as it were, disagreements of political nature.

We mourned the loss of our youngest daughter as she chose to remove herself from our lives. It may – or may not be – permanent. She wasn’t ready to commit to either possibility, only that for now, for herself, she must separate herself from her past, which includes all of her blood family. We wish her well, but we will always mourn her.

In August, I had an epiphany: I could do this retirement thing at the age of 62. I am finally at an age where money will come in – slight, but enough to subsidize my dream of writing and painting. I applied for my Social Security Benefits, told my boss, and contacted Human Resources. Now, I am counting the days. December 28th, 2018.

The coldness is creeping in. The days are still bright with sunshine, but the edge of winter will come with clouds and rain, rain and clouds. My prayer book is brimming with the heartbreak and needs of my friends. My dreams are restless and thematic, always returning to sharing a bedroom with my messy little sister and trying to decide what items to pack to move. Often, there is a dog in the dream, or a loving cat. Once, I screamed in my dream, venting my frustration at all things emotional: it wasn’t a real scream, not the kind that wakes you up. It was all inside my head, exploding.

I have stared at the screen of my computer, wanting to write. I have stared at the blank page, wanting to draw. Nothing came. I rolled with the punch, not wanting to fight the cosmos. Who has the energy? I asked.

Tonight, I am standing up and punching the cosmos in the eye. I can do this thing!

 

 

My days – when I am at home, and not at work – have been spent bird watching in my own backyard. Birds are God’s gift to me, and the little haven we have built on our 100×100′ lot has been our gift to the birds. We are surrounded by sterile yards – I try not to judge my neighbors who have different values than I do, but hey have yards without flowers, without water, and without insect life: heavily sprayed and poisoned against the influx of weeds or creeping things, they are lifeless habitats while our yard is a virtual Eden.

My computer presently holds over 400 photos shot with my DLSR (set on “sports”) that I need to meticulously go through and delete, edit, choose, and watermark. I am spending more time with my husband than on the computer, so it may be a while before I get to these photos (think cold winter months).

Tomorrow, I will haul artwork down to the yard: things that need to be sanded down before I can repaint, and things that need the use of my Dremel tool. But my DSLR will be at hand to take more photos of the birds that inhabit our yard – and which are becoming more comfortable with the presence of two human beings who pose no threat to them.

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The Spotted Towhee – I like this photo because while it lacks focus and quality, it shows the speed ith which a wild bird can escape the camera’s lens. We have a nesting pair and their one fledgling in the yard. hey take no less than three baths a day!

There are the juncos, the Bewick’s wrens, the house finches, and the song sparrows. The Anna’s hummingbirds are at odds with the Rufous hummingbird over the five feeders hanging in the yard.

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That’s not counting the black-capped chickadees that have decided the hummingbird feeders are also a good place to catch small insects!

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There are three black-capped chickadee siblings. They’re idiots. I have a series of phots (as yet unedited) that show one sibling losing its grip on a hummingbird feeder, and ending up hanging upside down, like the fellow above.

I mentioned to my husband that all I was seeing were the siblings, and no chestnut-backed chickadees.

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I have a series of photos of this little guy deciding to take a bath by hanging onto the pocked piece of granite. He’s much smaller than his black-capped cousins.

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Then there’s the bushtits… I’ve seen them play in the sprinklers before, but this summer they decided to entertain us by taking a communal bath in the concrete birdbath. This is not one of the better photos – as I said, I have a lot to edit! Bushtits are tiny little grey fluff balls so non-descript that most people don’t even notice them. They are one of my favorite birds.

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I call them the Three Stooges. There’s only two in the photo (obviously), but there are three of them – siblings from the crow’s nest in the Doug fir across the street from us.

It’s a good summer. A bird summer. I’ll be shooting photos and setting them aside to deal with when the weather turns cool enough to sit upstairs and edit. I haven’t started on the insects and blooms. The birds are enough.

Shalom. I’m still here.

Don and I celebrated 38 years of marriage early last month, and we ended the month celebrating his birthday.

Losing both dogs last summer was something of a turning point in our marriage. Where once the dogs acted as something of a buffer between us, we were now stranded in mourning and – at least for one of us – a sea of loneliness. We have been driven closer through these months, spending more time together and rekindling that spark of love and friendship that first brought us together.

Now, the weather is starting to turn into summer (we have cold days still, and will have them until a week or two after the Fourth of July – it’s just the pattern of weather over the Pacific Northwest: you can’t trust it to stay summer until a couple weeks after the 4th). My mornings are often spent out in my little corner prayer garden, watching flowers and birds. I’d rather be outside than inside on any nice day.

We would rather spend time together.

I’m not writing or painting right now. I’m just spending time with my husband. I do promise to carve out more time for my own hobbies, but for now I am learning to be content with more time away. It wont always be like this: fall and winter will come, and the house will close in on me. I will need to write and draw.

Now – my husband needs the time I spend with him.

Don’t be fooled into thinking I am only doing that: spending all my time watching TV shows with my other half – I’m not. I garden, I will be canning, and I just snapped over 250 photos of life in our backyard (birds taking baths – it’s a real theme). It will take some time for me to work through all of those photos, winnowing out the very best ones (I have it down to 130, but that was just the first go-through).

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Friends came down to help us celebrate the old man’s birthday. Life is good.

We were all up and moving early on Monday, the 18th. It was still raining. Raining. Steady raining. Ugh, raining. Don wanted to go see Devil’s Tower, and it was low-ceiling clouds and raining. Still, we took a back road that was mercifully without traffic, and made our way out to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.

We actually paid $20 to get closer, only to realize it was still raining and we could see it just as well from outside the National Monument boundary. We had to elbow our way through other tourists in the gift shop and duck under other people’s umbrellas (who uses an umbrella, anyway?). Hiking up the trail seemed a useless activity between the tourists, the umbrellas, and the rain. Photography was definitely out. BUT – we came, we saw, and we were impressed with the sheer magnitude of this strange tower in the midst of rolling hills and flatlands. Creation is amazing: erosion, glacial power, rock.

We wanted to get as far west as we could in one day. I made it to Bozeman before calling it quits. Five o’clock in the evening. In Bozeman. Bozeman has growing pains and a lack of traffic signals to deal with the amount of traffic that hits the pavement at quitting time. I took the first cheap motel and parked. We’d already agreed to not try camping in the rain in a tent with an inadequate rain fly, and sleeping in the car… well, been there, did that, had the crick in the neck to show for it (Don did).

There were a few brew pubs to choose from, but they all closed at 8PM (why?). However – and this is big – Bozeman is home to Montana Ale Works*. Montana Ale Works is a tap house in an old railroad station. The directions were simple, and we found it with no problem. The place was hopping and the wait was 25 minutes!

*I won’t add a link to their website as it is infected with spyware.

I did take a photo, but it was too blurry: the station house is long, every nook and cranny filled with tables, seats, benches, and wait staff balancing five or six plates overhead as they weave in and out of a clueless clientele. The bar is in the center, and every stool was filled. The noise level was too much for my HSP brain and I nearly turned around and left. Don, however, was intrigued and felt the wait was worth it, so we stayed.

We split a Kobe/Angus hamburger (vegetarian and vegan friends, avert your eyes):OMG. The best hamburger I have ever eaten. We tried two different beers, one in particular that impressed us was Kettlehouse Brewing’s ColdSmoke Scotch Ale.

We crossed the street to Heeb’s Grocery and found these:

We didn’t try the Jeremiah Johnson, but we did buy the Pig’s Ass Porter. It was very nice.

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Yes, that’s a Feckin’ IPA in the middle. Feckin Brewery & Smokehouse is our favorite local small brewery & watering hole.

Don popped open a Pig’s Ass Porter in the motel room, but I put my head on the pillow and – boom! – didn’t wake up again until he shoved me over to get under the blankets. I wanted to sleep for a very long time…

Tuesday. We were up early, again, and on the road. We arrived in Missoula an hour before the Northside Brewery (Kettlehouse Brewing Co) opened. That gave us a little time to stretch our legs and explore the unique railroad crossings of Missoula. Missoula is a place that needs more time to visit than we had!

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The Double Haul IPA (far right) was a tad too hoppy for me. The Fresh Bongwater Hemp Ale was an easy drink (I really wanted to get a T-Shirt regaling the virtues of bongwater, and I don’t smoke). Tick Czech Ale was a wonderful pun and nice sip. Eddy Out was good, too. Of course, we had a pint of the ColdSmoke Scotch Ale, and we bought a pint of whiskey-barrel aged ColdSmoke to bring home to a friend.

Kettlehouse Brewing has two locations – we went to the north (and secondary) location, which is in an old brick railroad warehouse. The floors are original plankwood, and the decor is a little rustic, and the wait staff is laid-back and friendly. No crowd here at noon on a Tuesday, but I bet the place is hopping at other times.

We switched up our travel plans in Missoula and took US 12 south to Lolo, where we turned west over Lolo Pass. It’s a two-lane with not a whole lot of traffic, and the western slopes of the Rockies descend slowly, steadily, and the highway follows the waters of the Lochsa River and the middle fork of the Clearwater. The country is full of history from Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through it, and from my own family: my great uncle worked the Bitterroots as a Forest Service Ranger, my dad did a lot of youthful work in those mountains, and I remember a family trip along that very same highway sometime in the late 1960’s.

We lunched in Powell, Idaho, coasted on to Lewiston, and got lost once trying to find Hells Gate State Park. At least it wasn’t raining or even threatening to rain!

Paid $25 for a tent site, drove a mile out to the site only to discover that the campground host had forgotten to turn the sprinklers off and the <expletive> site was flooded. Of course, the host was absent, so we had to drive back down to the Visitor’s Center to change campsite designation. The result was we got a really nice spot on the edge of the park, away from most of the other campers.

At dusk, the magic happened. I’d already put my camera away as it was too dark to photograph, so there are no photos.

One owl rose from the shadows of the cottonwoods, followed by another. Silent flight, on wings broad, they began lazy circles just above the trees. Then another ghostly owl joined, and another. They circled above the heads of clueless campers, with noiseless wing strokes. They clicked in chirping staccato: echo locating insects and small prey. Occasionally, one owl would utter a short, rasping, screech. Six owls, six circles of flight, dipping into and out of the cottonwoods. Barn owls, all. Late into the night, we could hear them overhead, chirping and screeching as they hunted. It was the last magic act of our road trip.

We flew down the freeway from Itchkeppe City Park in Columbus, Montana, bound for the rental in Hermosa, South Dakota. Gas & breakfast at a truck stop on the Crow Reservation, and then a side trip to see the site where General George A. Armstrong met his unglorious end.

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I visited this site in 1966, and it is still just as sad and lonesome as it was then. The voices of the people who lost their way of life (this battle was the beginning of the end for the First Nations) and the cries of the white men who died there still whisper in the winds. The very ground cries out, and the crickets in the grass sing sorrowful melodies.

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Prayer flags flap in the wind from the monument that was erected to honor the warriors who died defending their sacred lands.

We drove out to the site of Reno’s Retreat, and gazed in awe at the expanse of contested land, and wondered at Reno’s frustrations as he could not reach the ill-fated Seventh Cavalry.

We also logged two new birds for our life-list: the lark bunting (which I never got a photo of) and the lark sparrow.

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The sparrow left his own commentary on the history plaques, most of which was not kind to the human species and their wars.

We raced across Wyoming and into South Dakota, stopping in Rapid City for gas. There, I did something so 21st Century that it amazes me still: I figured out how to get Waze o tell me how to get to the rental in Hermosa! This was a good thing as the house was way-the-heck-out-there. (For my adult children: I programmed Waze and then handed the phone to Donald with the instructions, “Waze will start talking, so just hold onto this.”)

We still; had lovely weather when we arrived at the rental, and all the cousins were planning on a trip out to see the evening ceremony at Mt. Rushmore, so we decided to jump into someone’s car and join them. It’s a good thing we did as the mountain was shrouded in clouds for the rest of our visit!

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(Photo courtesy of Ellen Block)

Saturday, we went off on our own to drive through Custer State Park. I apologize now if you were someone who got trapped behind us as we wandered through those winding little roads at the posted speed limit: I just drove over 1300 miles to see the damn park and I wasn’t going to speed up simply to appease someone who can’t slow down and look at the flowers. We also apologize to anyone who stopped behind us thinking we saw animals: we were looking at wildflowers and trying to identify them. You should try it sometime – it might expand your world.

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The narrow tunnels were amazing. Not sure who that guy is or why he’s holding up the granite wall…

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Every last one of the cousins managed to arrive at Sylvan Lake on Saturday, but at different times.

Don and I drove down to the little town of Custer because we wanted to check out the beer sub culture. We ended up in the Bugling Bull, sitting at the bar next to a lovely couple from California who were celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary.

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The taxidermy was wonderful: some very lifelike poses, and then these two items. On the right is a typical Jackalope (which, despite the name, sports antlers and not prongorns). On the left is… um… what I referred to as a “beavalope” but was informed it was a “horny beaver”. I did not name it.

There was also a drunken pheasant on its back, balancing a bottle of whiskey with its legs, but I did not capture a photo of that anomaly.

It rained all day Sunday, so we simply stayed in and enjoyed each other’s company on our last day of the 2018 Melrose Family Reunion sans the Melrose Girls: Phyllis (died 2017), Donna (too frail to come at age 88), and Mary Lou (died 1995).

Tomorrow: the road home

It has been six years since we went on a road trip, and forever (plus a day) since we went somewhere we haven’t been before. Here’s a little background on this road trip: when I was going on ten, my folks pulled us all out of school early to make a long trip to Durand, Wisconsin, to see my oldest cousin (on my mother’s side) graduate from high school. We pulled a rented trailer and Dad promised us all these fun stops: St. Louis to see the Budweiser horses, Mt. Rushmore to see the presidents, the Little Bighorn Battle monument, nd Yellowstone National Park.

The car over heated pulling the trailer and we cut out St. Louis and Mt. Rushmore – the two places my ten year old heart wanted to go. I won’t say I was disappointed in the site of Custer’s Last Stand as I had just finished reading biographies of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, but I was disappointed that we did not stop in to visit the memorial for Comanche, the sole survivor of the US Cavalry on that fateful day. If you are not familiar with the story, Comanche was a US remount (cavalry horse) of a dun color (buckskin) who somehow managed to escape being mortally shot by anyone on either side, and who became a sort of legend of survival of a battle that signaled the end of a way of life for the indigenous peoples of the American continent.

I just cared that he was a horse.

I loved Yellowstone, also, but Old Faithful was a huge disappointment (we were there less than a decade after the 1959 earthquake that put the geyser into a momentary tailspin) but I got to meet a grizzly, up close and personal (not a tale for this post, sorry. I got very close).

We have always camped rugged: we had a six-man tent for years, then we moved up to the back of a For Explorer, and then life intervened and we lost both the rig and the tent – so we purchased an inexpensive tent for the trip. All other camping gear was on hand: stove, pads, sleeping bags.

I left the itinerary rather open: three days to get there & three days to come home, who knew where we would land?

Day #1 was a long day as we passed from Oregon into Washington State (who said self serve gas was cheaper has never pumped gas in Washington State!) and into Idaho at the narrowest point of the panhandle. My only goal was to get to Montana, and we did that.

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The requisite campsite photo: we paid ten dollars for this site, had wonderful hosts, and they even had garbage dumpsters. I thought we entered a time warp. If you are interested: Cabin City Campground. 1980’s prices, clean, well-maintained, highly recommended. We were there for the overnight, so can’t say anything for the sights.

Day #2… We drove into one helluva a lightning storm near Livingston. Cloud to ground strikes and cloud-to-cloud strikes, pouring rain. I stepped off the gas pedal a tad in case we had hail and the person who was about to pass me decided I was the wiser driver and pulled back, too. Fortunately, no hail. We did, however, see two elk carcasses where some hapless truck driver came around a corner and – SURPRISE! – there were elk in the road. Oy.

We pulled into a campground just outside of Columbus, Mt. FREE. Unheard of. It’s a city owned campground run for the benefit of travelers Donations accepted.

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The threat of more rain kept us from setting up our tent (which has a crappy short rain fly) and we spent an uncomfortable night sleeping in the KIA. I love the Sportage because it is built for short people to drive, but for sleeping in…? It sucks. The guy with the snowy beard ended up with a bad crick in his neck. But we did have flushing toilets, even if they were for giants.

The people camped next to us had no idea of camping etiquette and crossed through our camp site to go to the restrooms more than once. They didn’t seem to be “all there” so we didn’t say anything, but – really?? They were nice enough, just a little unfamiliar with how one should behave in a campground with designated sites. Oh, hell – do I have to spell this out? You don’t walk into or across the site next to you. There’s a little road or you can circle wide through the grass, but you DO NOT walk through a site.

I picked up a friend and carried him over to meet Don.

He’s some kind of moth. I haven’t bothered to look him up. If you can ID it, I would gladly appreciate that. It was newly hatched.

We were outta there before 6AM Pacific.

I’ll post more later. Blessings.