DeJa Vu

Last semester began with broken toes, no internet, and a debilitating storm. I feel like i’m having deja vu. I broke my pinky toe. There was a big storm. There’s no internet. Here comes the mandatory orientation zoom call for the redemption semester in which everything was supposed to be different. Everyone keeps telling me that i will appreciate the roadblocks so much more once i’ve already climbed the hill. I’ll feel proud about having overcome them. I don’t understand this. I don’t ever feel pride in overcoming roadblocks; just a sudden relief that i’m done with that ridiculousness and a desire to prevent it from happening in the future. That is why when i realized i lived at one of the highest elevations in my town and lightening struck near the house during a storm causing a surge to travel to all the outlets in the structure, i had an electrician come out and install a surge protector on the utility pole outside. I didn’t think i’d be standing in those shoes again a year later.

The shift began just like any other. There was a chance of rain in the evening but when i arrived at work there was nothing on the radar. I remember just before sundown people began asking if they could go home and put the dogs up real quick so they wouldn’t be out in the lightening. Anyone who was given a chance to go home early due to overstaffing hurried to their car to “beat the approaching storm”. I had been working in the store all shift and hadn’t gone out to the parking lot. I asked, “what storm? Are we getting rain?” People looked at me as if i had asked what the statue of liberty was or whether kiwis had seeds. I went to the glass door and looked out on the parking lot. To the far side of the lot something dark and angry was brewing. It stretched out over the next 20 minutes and covered most of the sky. It was riddled with flashes of lightening and cast shadow on the far side of the parking lot. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the temperature began to drop. It went from 84 to 66 degrees within a span of twenty minutes. At this point i had been put on parking lot duty and i ran orders out to the cars under the increasing darkness of the looming storm. It began to drop little dollops of rain here and there. I tried to keep the smart phone and my glasses dry by placing them in the customers’ trunks briefly while loading the orders. They all wanted me to hurry so they could get out of there before the storm unleashed its wrath. It was the first time i had felt fear working at my job. I was assigned to the parking lot. I couldn’t leave. So, as the storm rolled in i had to continue running orders out to the cars. The lightening became closer and closer until it was all around us. The thunder was deafening, and the sky was completely overtaken with the view of the impressive storm structure. When the wind picked up and the temperature dropped i had a nagging feeling that i should get inside, but i couldn’t go. I had to stay there with the storm and do my job. Then in my absentmindedness i missed the handle of a bag i was retrieving from a slot and a can fell onto the floor. It ruptured and spun round and round in circles, spewing the contents in a high powered stream all over my shoes, my pants, my jacket, my arm, the floor, the carts, other bags, and the wall. I was immediately sorry for the mess that would have to be cleaned but my sorrow deepened when a coworker announced after taking a sniff, “is that wine?” Indeed, it was wine, not soda. What rotten luck. I avoided the wine tasting samples and cooking connection like the plague. As long as i didn’t smell it, there was no memory, no craving. If a wine bottled busted at checkout i walked all the way around. Wine and vodka had been a past time numbing agent for me. I had been sober over two years and had no desire to unravel everything i’d built. I immediately had a desire to change clothes. I knew i had to get the smell of wine off of me. However, i didn’t have a change of clothes in my car and nothing we sold in the store was appropriate to work in. I knew i had to stay until 8 pm and finish my shift out. I would have to do so stinking of canned wine. I willed my limbs to move and get back to my work but i guess i was nervous and fidgety because my team leader asked, “you okay?” The answer was yes. I got back to work. When the time came to break out the ponchos i refused mine. With every breath i took my mask filled with the scent of fermented liquid. I wanted it to cease. I thought maybe the rain would wash it off of me. I delivered the orders in my clothes while the others went into the rain rocking our banana yellow ponchos. Two orders later i was pulled from the parking lot and sent to the refrigerator to condense the cold carts. People were asking questions about why their curbie smelled of wine when delivering their order. I was grounded to indoor work for the rest of my shift, much to my dismay. At 8:03 i waited at the door while my team leader held an umbrella over my coworker’s head in the dark as he stood in the 70 mph winds and sideways rain, loading the groceries into someone’s trunk directly in front of our sliding door. When the lightening became too close and too prolific, they refused to have us in prolonged contact with the metal baskets, running them through the parking lot. Each customer was called when their order was in the basket and ready to go. They pulled the car up to the door and our team leader went out and held the umbrella over the curbie’s head while he loaded the groceries. They didn’t have to do that. It was up to each team leader how to treat the curbies. She was putting herself in danger with the metal umbrella so we didn’t get soaked or have to worry about electrocution ourselves. When she returned i waited eagerly for her to tell me i could go. I could see she wanted to ask me to stay late but she took another whiff of me and told me that if i wanted, i could dock my phone and go. I went.

I told myself, “you cannot have wine. There will be no drinking tonight”. However, something selfish and needy had awakened from its slumber in me and it would have to be appeased. I gathered a bag of chips, a package of popsicles, and a peanut butter bar. i said, “there. That’s plenty enough salt and sugar to keep you busy for a while. You cannot have wine. You can have snacks. Then we’re going to bed.” There was no place in my town that had a license to sell liquor. I knew, once i got to my town, as long as i didn’t drive back to the city, there would be no obtaining alcohol to drink. I was thankful for that. I was opening the store the following morning. I would need to wake up at half past midnight and start getting ready to come back. I needed to hurry up and get home so i could wash the wine off my clothes and put my shoes in the dryer. I knew they’d be soaked by the time i got to the employee parking lot. As i approached the doors to exit i was met with a crowd of people gathered, calling their husbands to come get them. They were basically willing to leave their cars in the parking lot overnight. The weather was so horrific they called home and told their spouses to pull up directly to the doors and come get them. Other women gave their husbands who were with them a shove and said, “go pull the car around. I’ll wait here.” I wondered what it felt like to view oneself as “fragile” and be protected by the spouse who will go out into the weather and procure a vehicle in which to carry precious cargo home.

I tucked my car key in my bra, zipped my phone, wallet, and house keys in my lunch box, secured my cap, and took off into the darkness. I heard some of the ladies gasp. One of the women exclaimed, “oh she’s really going to do it,”. Someone else said, “oh my gosh!” I was immediately drenched in ice cold rain. The wind was whipping it sideways at 70 mph. The lightening flashed often enough for me to see that the entire parking lot was sitting in ankle deep water. My shoes squished as i walked through it, water kicked up in front of me with every step. As i headed down the road to the employee parking lot i stepped over a tree branch and continued in the ankle deep water rushing downhill. A truck full of young men pulled up beside me and one yelled, “get in, we’ll give you a ride!” I surveyed the situation. There were 5 or 6 men crammed into the king ranch truck. Somebody who had enough money to purchase a king ranch truck might be used to getting their way. With 5 or 6 people in the truck, i would likely not have my own seat or personal space. I had ridden in a stranger’s car before but there were no other passengers at the time. Its hard to overpower somebody while also driving a car. In this situation there were plenty of them to my one and if things went south i would not have the upper hand. A gut feeling as well as an analytical assessment of the scene told me that my answer was “no”. I told the men that i was already soaked so they wouldn’t be saving me from anything at this point and that i didnt want to get their seats wet, that i was almost to my car, and i thanked them for the offer but told them i’d walk because my car was just in sight. The men began driving alongside me as i walked yelling, “C’mon girl, get in! Just get in! What’s wrong with you? Get in!” I refused and continued walking, a little closer to the curb now. The men were hanging out the window and slapping the truck with their hands. I found their body language aggressive and wasn’t sure what these young bucks might do. Fed up with my insistence the driver peeled off as one of the guys in the back shouted, “whatever, man!” I continued on towards the car. I made the right decision. It was clear that these men were a bit less refined than gentlemen and it didn’t take much to piss them off. Me disagreeing with their predetermined course of action for me wouldn’t have been the last thing i said or did to soggy their potato chips. We wouldn’t have become friends.

I managed to get the door open and slide myself into the seat of the car. I was absolutely soaked. My clothes had become heavy and were dumping loads of water on the floor. It was soaking into the seat as well. I could feel that even my underwear were wet. The smell of wine wasn’t so strong now. I pulled my jacket off and put it in a grocery bag on the floor. My mask was soaked and the make-up was bleeding from the interior to the exterior surface, turning it blotchy and beige. i set everything down and unzipped my lunch box to find my house keys. I was so wet that my fingers drenched the phone as i picked it up. I wiped it with a jacket i had in the car and placed it in the back seat. I then put the key in the car. The rain was pelting the car so hard it was consumed by a deafening roar. Water streamed down the windshield in a gel-like blur. The wind rocked the car when gusts hit the side of it. I felt i needed to get home and get showered, get the wine all the way off of me, and get the clothes and shoes i was going to wear the next morning in the dryer. I set out down the road. Firstly, the road was a stream and secondly, i could not see where the lanes were, both because they were under water and because the rain and darkness were so blinding i could see little more than the blur of stop lights at the intersection. I couldn’t see the lanes for the entirety of the journey home. Myself and every other car trying to make it drove 20 miles under the speed limit if not 30. All along the way i saw cars pulled over to the side of the road. I wasn’t sure whether that was smart or dumb as they could get caught in accumulating water and be swept away while they were waiting for driving conditions to improve. A couple of them seemed to decide this as they climbed up out of the draining runoff and joined us on the road. However, most of them stayed put as the water rose against their tires. We were driving blind. I often didn’t realize i was halfway into the lane of oncoming traffic until lightening illuminated the little reflectors under the water on the road and then i slowly corrected, veering back into the intended lane. Sometimes the lightening would flash and show me branches in the road. I would drive around those. It was a stressful drive. It was hard to see through the massive amount of rain that was being dumped from the sky. I ate the peanut butter bar and half the chips in the car on the way home in what was probably the definition of stress eating. I was cold but i couldnt turn on the heat because of the popsicles. Instead i left the air on. It was a long cold drive. When i made it to my town the lightening picked up so much i thought i was in a night club with a strobe light. There was no break in between strikes. The sky was alive with light and the noise of the thunder was deafening. There was almost no gap between lightening and thunder. The storm was right on top of me. This was the center of it. The main road was flooded and the water kicked up on either side of my tires as i drove through. As i approached the winding back roads i realized that i would have to go over two creeks to get to my property. I turned the high beams on as i approached each of them. The water was over the road but with each, by the time i realized it, i was in it. All of the roads were under water. It was hard to tell what was standing water and what was moving water in the dark. I kept my foot gently pressed down on the accelerator and coasted through to the other side. I was surprised the car made it as my suv sits unusually low to the ground and is very heavy. It’s not the ideal vehicle to take to the back country during a flood. Finally, i pulled up to the gate of my property. I parked the car on the road, as the driveway was pure slush. Lightening was everywhere. Flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash. The thunder shook the car, over and over again. I wanted to stay in the car, but my timeline moved me to action. I had to get the laundry going. I had to wake up and go open the store in a few hours. I said, “this is a bad idea.” I turned the music up real loud, loud enough to drown out the sound of thunder. I put my game face on, and then i went for it. The name of the game was park the car without getting stuck in the mud. The lightening had let me know that the whole property was in standing water. I would need to keep grass under the tires if there would be any hope of maintaining control of the car. I jumped out and unchained the metal gate, lightening flashing all around me. I jumped back in and put the car in drive. I drove slow until i caught the grass underneath the tires on the left side of the car. I put them on the grassy median between the tire tracks in the driveway. The tires on the right side of the car had no traction and a blinking light on the dashboard told me this, as if i didn’t know. I drove further than usual, ducking underneath the laundry line with the nose of the car, catching the built up gravel of the septic tank drainage field. Once i had that bit of traction under the front tires i threw it in reverse and gunned it through the slush behind me. The car was sliding. I used the momentum from my push off and turned the wheel sharply, angling the rear of the car straight for a tree. I knew the mulch was higher right around the base of the trees. Sure enough, the back right tire caught the mulch and i straightened out the car before it hit the tree. I pressed the gas one more time and the car slid into place under the oaks. The flood waters washed away more and more of the mulch each time and it was no longer a pile. I turned the wheels to the left, providing resistance against the current of water leaving down the driveway for the intersection and turned the car off. I gathered my things and ran through ankle deep water in the lightening illuminated yard until i got to the house. I turned to see that my wind chimes were suspended horizontally in the air due to high winds. It was an eerie sight. I realized i had left the house keys in the car, cursed my stupidity, and ran back through ankle deep water to the car. I retrieved the house keys, ran back to the house, and tried to open the door. As i struggled to see which key was which in the dark the wind picked up and began whipping my wet clothes against my back. I felt pressed against the door and i began to fear a tornado. Why had the wind suddenly picked up so much?! I hadn’t heard anything about tornados. As far as i was concerned we were only supposed to get quarter sized hail. I had seen some lying on the ground as i drove past the gas station coming into town but in all the rain and chaos it was hard to tell if i was looking at ice or rocks. It appeared to be floating so i guessed ice. I flung open the door and made it inside. The dogs eyed me from their crates, whimpering in the light beam of my lantern. I thought i heard the air conditioner running but it turned out to be the noise of my aussie’s nails clicking against the crate bottom as she shook uncontrollably. I pieced this together when i flipped the light switch and nothing happened. The power was out. The ac unit couldnt be running. What motor was on? I shined the light in the dog crate and found the aussie shaking uncontrollably. The crate was wet. I asked, “Did you pee?” My question was answered when i found 8 links of dog turd strewn in small piles about her crate. My first thought was, “well, at least she didn’t eat them. That’s progress.” I opened the door briefly to retrieve the turds before she changed her mind. I kept both dogs in the crate while i tried to sort things out in the darkness. Without electricity there would be no power to the well pump. Without the well pump there would be no water for a shower, tooth brushing, laundry… without electricity i couldn’t run the machines, get the wine smell off of me, do hair or make-up. Without electricity i couldn’t open the refrigerator or cook. Supper consisted of the remaining potato chips and a whole bag of popsicles i couldn’t open the freezer to store. I stood at the sink and hurried to eat them before they all melted. The electric company recording said 302 structures in my area were without power. That was basically the whole town. The gas station had lights but that was about it. For 6.5 hours the power remained off. Every hour i reset the clock to wake up and see if it was back on. Every hour it wasn’t. When i finally decided to call in because i couldnt leave the dogs in the house without a/c and i couldn’t leave the windows open for a cross breeze because it was supposed to storm something fierce again the following morning, the power kicked on at 5 past 2 am. I said, “whelp, we’re going to work!” I ran to the shed and got a towel for the car seat. I grabbed an old jacket and dug out an old pair of dry tennis shoes with the tread worn off the bottom. I grabbed a clean pair of pants, a work shirt, and hopped in the shower. Then i fiddled with the breaker panel until all the outlets had power. I brought the washing machines back online. I threw the wine smelling laundry in and washed it after running to the shed to get laundry soap. It was still raining but no longer storming. I couldn’t believe it but i had a full bucket of rain water to dump in my collection toy box, so i did. I put the lid on and ran back to the house to do my hair and makeup. I was surprised to find that my jaw was locked when i tried to remove my night retainers. Stressed out, i had clenched all night and now my tmj was working overtime. I knew what had to be done. I poked my fingers between my teeth before i could let the fear get the best of me and yanked in opposite directions with both hands. In the mirror i watched as my bottom jaw popped to the side and then down. It released but popped two more times as i worked my jaw up and down to open and close my teeth. That hurt. I was not able to open my mouth very wide at first but an hour later it was back to normal. I left the house just in time to make it to work by 5 am. As i was leaving, another big storm was rolling in. I was upset it would hit the homestead while i was away again. The house would lose power briefly one more time and the second storm would drop 2.5 inches of rain for the collection box. However, i wouldn’t fully understand just how accurate the words “deja vu” had been until that evening when the internet wouldn’t turn on. Upon picking up the lifeless router i realized that it rattled. The innards had been destroyed. That was a sure fire sign it was unrevivable. I couldn’t understand why the surge protector on the utility pole outside hadn’t protected it. All the outlets still worked. The router was thoroughly dead and because of the holiday the telephone company would not be able to restore it before my mandatory orientation zoom call for my online summer course. I began calling friends to see who would let me use their internet for an hour at 5 pm amidst their holiday get-togethers. It was truly deja vu to last semester. I couldnt figure out why the surge protector had not worked when i discovered a strange black box sitting on the floor across the room. It ended up being the outer shell of the power supply cord for the interior part of the electric dog fence that was mounted on the wall. It had apparently been blown across the room. The indentation in the back of the cardboard box that served as a table to hold my pasta maker and lawn mower batteries told me it had been blown into the back of the box, left a dent, been catapulted back into the wall, left a gray mark on the cream paint, then skidded across the room where it came to rest on the floor. As i examined the part of the power supply cord that remained plugged into the additional surge protector i had plugged into that outlet, i realized it had exploded. The screws were melted. The electricity had torn through the length of the plastic ribbon horizontally and left it with burned jagged edges. The wires were torn in half. 3 white plastic rectangles remained white but one was singed dark gray. All of the plastic bits were singed and mangled. The ends of the rubber coated wires that used to be red were now black. I wondered if it had popped and that was it or if it had been in flames. I couldn’t be sure. I was grateful nothing caught fire. Now i understood why the dog had pooped and peed herself and stood shaking in the dark. I also understood why the surge protector didn’t work. It did work. It protected the appliances. The electricity didn’t come through the wire. It came through the ground. Something was struck by lightening; either a tree, the ground, the water…something transferred electricity to the ground, and the two devices that had contact with the ground outside of the house absorbed the electricity. The dog fence wire was buried in the ground. The wire for the internet at some point before entering the house also made contact with the ground. Lightening had struck near the house and killed my devices that absorbed the shock from the ground. I would need a new router. I would also spend over 200 bucks replacing the dog fence, again. But it could have been much worse! The place could have burned to the ground. I am glad it didn’t. If you asked me which i was more afraid of, lightening or tornados, the answer would be lightening. Because of our elevation, we get it more often than twisters and it leaves a memorable mark of its power.

I think i just found the tree that took the lightening. behind the house were a couple of young oaks growing underneath the power lines. Now there is one living and one dead. The live one is a regular gray color and has leaves. The dead one is singed black with all its parasitic moss also black. There are no leaves on it and it stands a bare skeleton, a black silhouette against its healthier luckier sister. I probably have the hours of torrential rain to thank for putting out the fire before it could harm any of the touching trees. Poor unlucky juvenile oak. I will have to cut it down at some point in the near future to prevent the carpenter ants from nesting so near to the house. It now makes sense why i had to flip the breaker switches for the back part of the house to restore power to the laundry and the bathroom whereas the front of the house was fine. The lightening strike was in closer proximity to the back of the house. I got lucky. If it hadn’t been raining so hard, my place may well have burned to the ground. My hope is that one day extended family will live on the land with me and they can tell me if i need to rush home and handle a disaster. For now i must rely on luck and prayer. Thank you God for not letting my dogs burn.

Surprise!

The nest in my stacked planter boxes had been empty for some time now. The baby birds had grown up and flown away. I was curious if the mama bird would still view the nest as home or be done with it now that it had served its purpose. I occasionally lifted the cardboard to see if she was in there squatting over her nest but she never was. It was always empty. For several days i didn’t check for her. When i finally did i got a surprise! As i lifted the cardboard out of the way i saw 5 little speckled eggs sitting in the nest. I was immediately thrilled! Not only would there be more birds to eat the biblical amount of grasshoppers on the land, i would get to watch another batch of babies grow up! I was so excited that the birds liked this spot so much as it was a good height for me to look in on without climbing a tree. I decided that the planter boxes would stay stacked just like they were forever so that birds could reuse the nest time and time again. I wasn’t sure if it was the same mother bird that laid the first batch of eggs or a different one but the edges of the nest had been revamped with new material pulled from the scraggly bark of the cedar trees. The renovated part of the nest was very organized and tidy. What amazing creatures!

Well, i didn’t have to wait long to get the answer to my question. It was in fact NOT the same bird. Instead of an oak titmouse i discovered a little brown bird with a white stripe about the eye and a striped tail sitting on the nest. I can’t be certain for i’m no expert but i believe she is a carolina wren. she returned to the nest and laid a 6th egg. She’s been diligently incubating them ever since. I can’t wait to see how the tiny baby wrens differ from a baby finch, a baby swallow, or a baby titmouse!

There are now 7 eggs in the nest. That’s a lot of babies! i am so curious how many of them will hatch.

The little bird ended up laying 7 eggs. For a while she sat on all of them. One day i checked in on her and she had pushed one of the eggs out of the nest. 6 eggs were in the nest and one egg was just lying all by its lonesome on the nearby cardboard. At first i thought maybe it had been ejected from the nest accidentally. It was a very small nest and was full to the brim with eggs. I snuck it back in the nest and tip toed away. The next day i came back and there were only 6 eggs again. This time the seventh egg was nowhere to be found. It had completely disappeared. It became apparent to me at that point that she meant to eject the egg from the nest. Either she knew it wasn’t fertile or she just made the decision that seven eggs was too many for each baby to get the food they needed to grow into adulthood. Either way, it was her call and it wasn’t my place to interfere. So i left her to her business and returned to my chores. There are now 6 potential babies.

Update: Sadly, none of the seven eggs were fertilized. One by one the little wren pushed an egg out of the nest over an extended period of time. Sometimes she would leave it there. Sometimes she would eat it. 7 eggs became 6, became 5, became 4… i knew something was wrong. Unlike the finches, the swallows, and the little titmouse of my past, this bird was not fiercely guarding her babies in the nest, she was throwing them out. She sat on the remaining 4 eggs until i went outside one day and found only 2 eggs. There was 1 egg on the cardboard under the nest and 1 egg in the nest. At this point i consulted a family member with a birdwatching business. What would make a bird behave this way? I was curious if they were all duds. I took the egg that had been adjacent to the nest and opened it. It had been incubated to term before being discarded…plenty of time for something to develop if it was fertilized. When i opened it, there was no baby inside; just some yellow liquid. I sighed. They were all duds. I read on the internet that if a bird did not have contact with a male she would still lay and incubate the unfertilized eggs until it became apparent nothing was going to hatch. Then she would abandon the nest. I never saw the wren again. She never returned to the nest. Poor thing must not have found a mr. Carolina Wren and motherhood was not to be for her…at least not this year. As i thought about it, i saw many finches, titmice, cardinals, white winged doves, and blue jays, but i didn’t see too many wrens. Maybe they were not as prevalent in this area as the other birds. Finding a mate must not have been as easy as it was for the cardinals that are everywhere or the finches that fly around the yard daily. I felt sad for her. She had spent so much time incubating the eggs and to no avail. I told myself that now she would eat well, as whatever she caught would be for her and she wouldn’t have to run herself ragged bringing food to 7 babies. Still, i really wanted to see what baby wrens looked like.

11.3 Miles

Between semesters i had a week and a half to get a lot of things done. I knew i only had a certain amount of days off to do them in. To maintain my license and certification to practice occupational therapy in case i ever wanted to use my degree again, i would need to complete 40 hours of online courses by the deadline for renewal. I also desperately needed to mow the roughly 1.5 acres of cleared land on my property as the grass was over 4 inches tall in all areas now and if i didn’t do something about it right quick it was going to be another year of constant unbearable chiggers for myself and the dogs. I needed to steam and hang dry all my masks for work on the clothes line during the only forecasted sunny day in two weeks. I was also in the process of writing and formatting two projects i needed to get finished before starting a new semester. On top of this i thought it seemed like a really good time to learn Russian. Sometimes i do that; throw something else on the plate that i want to do more than what’s in front of me that will cause me to exert a herculean effort in getting everything else done so i can focus on what i really want to do, which is whatever last task i threw on the heap that seems super important in this moment.

I had worked an 8.5 hour shift which meant i had sprinted down the aisles gathering 8 to 15 objects at a time, wedging the corners of chip bags between my fingers, stacking boxes in a tower and tucking them under my chin, and stuffing spice bottles in my jacket pockets to carry them while i sprinted back to the cart. The carts were too bulky for the customers to navigate past so we weren’t allowed to bring them down the aisles. You just had to stuff your arms and sprint. Every second counted and the smart phones tracked everybody’s performance. I had a quota, as most jobs do, but beyond that there was an expectation of performance in order to keep people content. So you run. I mean literally sprint for 8.5 hours minus two fifteen minute breaks and a 30 minute lunch break, but you still have to run from the front of the store to the breakroom and vice versa. I usually run around 8 miles per shift but on this particular day i came home, took a look at the land, and decided that i was not going to sit down just yet. I put my headphones on, got out all my lawn mower batteries, and ran about the yard until sundown. I say ran because each battery lasts a total of 40 minutes at full charge. I had 3 of them. I needed to mow 1.5 acres of 4+ inch grass. In 40 minutes the battery would be dead and the mower would turn off. How much grass got mowed in those 40 minutes was up to the one mowing the lawn and the speed at which they ran. So i sprinted back and forth, back and forth across the land to some good tunes. When all was said and done i had run 11.3 miles. I had to quit because the batteries were all dead. I still needed to mow the front field and the back half of the dog run but that would have to wait until the following day when the batteries were charged again.

Round 2 began the following morning when the batteries had each had their turn on the charger. I set about mowing the lawn but every 20 minutes i had to stop and put another 2 masks in the instant pot, replace the water, and turn it on again, then start timing when the steam had built up and was coming out in a steady stream. I would wash my hands, switch out the old masks, hang them on the laundry line, place new ones in, and reset the device. I was also washing laundry in the house. By the evening i had the whole property mowed down to a buzz cut in comparison to the wild inches of flowing grass it had been just the day before. Now the jack rabbits had nowhere to hide and i could see the toads when they hopped. I even mowed up by the orchard and reclaimed some of the wild area over by the pin oak tree. The land looked more expansive after i cleared the brushy weedy area over there.

The next task on the list was the 40 hours of courses. It was actually a requirement of 36 hours but i always did an extra course in case the organization rejected one of my submissions (which does happen sometimes) either because it was not considered an approved course or because they didn’t feel the topic was treatment centered enough. i made myself a big breakfast, sat down, and got it done. During my break between semesters i had managed to cross everything off my list except clean the chicken coop.

I left the boxes undisturbed, hoping that the bird would return and raise babies in the nest under the cardboard layers again next year.

Sili watched me cut the grass in the dog run from afar, always being careful to stay out of range of whatever whirring monster i was pushing. Cashew, on the other hand, rang alongside me, lunging and snapping at the mower every time i slowed, turned, or got hung up on a branch or rock. She seemed to be intent upon herding the mower in some direction. She wasn’t sure what that direction may be, but she felt the need to herd it, pretty much because it was moving. I’m not going to lie; i was relieved to be done with the dog run. I was trying to protect her from the mower, the mower from her, not dull the blades on rocks or stumps, and refrain from injuring myself. I probably should have put her in the house but it was the one sunny day in two weeks of forecasted weather. I thought that they should be out to enjoy it. Eventually i would collapse into bed, physically and mentally exhausted, but the semester break projects were done.

A Rainy Day at Home

There were a couple pop up storms that rolled through and dumped a couple of inches in our rain collection containers. There was a fair amount of ground lightening so i spent the majority of the time soothing Cashew and trying to convince her we were all going to be fine with one hand while typing on my laptop with the other. I had worked four days straight, running an average of 8 miles per eight hour shift; lifting bags of charcoal, 28 packs of water, deer corn, bags of salt chips, and pulling the weight of bulk carts over the carpeted sections of the floor to get back to the box. My arthritis was killing me. It not only hurt to move, it hurt to be still. I tried to lay stretched out without bending my knees at all. That hurt less. I never admitted to my comrades at work that i was in agony. I didn’t need the young spring chickens having reasons i wasn’t as adequate a worker. However, you’re just damned if you do and damned if you don’t because then they resented me for my time scores. If only they knew how i paid for those time scores every night they wouldn’t have felt the need to punish me further. It was my first day off in 4 days and i decided all that would get done was charging the lawn mower batteries and writing on the lap top while listening to the rain on the tin roof. That’s exactly how productive the day was.

The agricultural termites always made an appearance during humid weather. They had tunnels beneath the whole two acres and it was always a surprise where they would pop up next.

I went to retrieve the trash can from the intersection and stepped right over the biggest grasshopper before i realized what i’d just done. I hurried to step on it. For some reason it moved but did not jump. I smashed it several times before it crunched and then i carried it to the chickens who couldn’t even swallow it in one bite. It was so big that two of them had to pull it apart and each got half because buttercup couldn’t fit it in her beak. That was a gift from God for the chickens. Usually a grasshopper that large could fly 30 feet easy in one jump and i’d never be able to catch up with it before it took off again. I knew that the tool shed would be teeming with pill bugs after the rain as the environment would be dank and humid inside. I headed over there with a cup. Sure enough, the floor was crawling with them. I picked them up one by one and dropped them in the cup. Then i locked the shed up and dumped the cup in the chicken run where the girls feasted. I added a couple of centipedes i found as well. Because i didn’t free range them, i needed to collect the bugs they would normally eat if they were free from the confines of my chicken fort knox, or be forced to buy dried mealworms from the feed store. I preferred to catch the chickens protein rather than buy it. I felt that way it was fresh and didn’t cost me a fortune.

Rain for 2 Days Straight

i have never in my life had this much rain water collected at once. I kid you not. It rained for 2 days straight non-stop. One storm system after another. It was so dark i never turned off the night light. My phone was constantly going off with flood alerts. All the creeks and rivers had jumped their banks. The low water crossings were rushing rapids. We were told to stay in our houses and not drive unless it was absolutely necessary for medical emergency or because the house was filling with water. My house was on pier and beam, meaning it was actually raised off the ground and not level with it. So the water did surround the house and the whole property became a standing 1 to 2 inch lake but it never came in…just went underneath the skirting and out the other side. The chicken pen flooded and made the most awful form of primarily chicken poo quick sand so that i managed to get them feed while sinking ankle deep in it and decided they could keep their eggs for the day before heading off to de-gunk my toes and shoes underneath the spigot. I was thrilled to have all the rain water in my possession. However, it was a little bit exhausting dealing with the flooding, the dog terrified of lightening, the leaking window, and the power outages during my online tutoring session. When it finally stopped raining i let the dogs out after being cooped up for two days.

A Surprise in the Cardboard Bin

Note, this clever bird has used my molting chicken’s feathers to line her nest.

I have always loved birds. I think it is such a privilege to watch them hatch and raise up their babies. It happens so fast and teaching them to fly is such an exciting and nervous day. Several people i knew had swallows who returned every year to nest on their porch. They would glue newspaper to the side of their house so it would fall off when the birds started constructing their nests or they’d bat the new progress down with a broom each day. These birds were so determined to make their nest in the same place every year that they’d spend the whole season trying to rebuild and rebuild a nest and they’d never lay eggs. I thought it was so cruel. The poor birds never gave up. I killed bugs and left them a trail to my porch from my neighbors, but they ate them and then continued trying to make a nest in exactly the spot they had the first time. As much as i wanted to provide a haven for the poor swallows, they didnt choose my porch, and so i had no swallows. One day i was just fuming mad about something that was said to me by a customer at work. I was just fuming mad about how awful humans could be to each other at times and i had torn my work shirt off, threw it in the laundry, stormed about the yard in a furious manner getting the chores done, all the while muttering about how i’d swear off humanity altogether if i didn’t have to pay the mortgage and property taxes…when i saw a mass of sticks peeking out from my cardboard pile in the old bins with holes in the bottom that i had once used as planter boxes. Could it be?! As i lifted the cardboard gently i expected to find a bird’s nest but what i found surprised me. 5 little fuzzy pink mounds with unopened eyes sat wobbling beneath my gaze. A nest full of babies!!! Oh hallelujah! I finally had birdies! The rest of the day fell away and i couldn’t care less about the people who had been just wretched and awful earlier in the day. My whole brain was consumed with birdies! I named them uno, dos, tres, cuatro, and cinco. Im getting less creative in my thirties. The mother ended up being a little gray bird with a long skinny tail. I wondered if she was maybe an oak titmouse. She was a very attentive mother. She fed them constantly, except for when it rained. Then she shielded them from the weather. I fed the babies crushed bugs a couple times when she was away but ultimately, she was such a tireless and attentive mom, i didn’t want to get in the way of her doing her thing so i started leaving bugs directly beneath the tree she was in or the fence she was perched on. She began taking caterpillars and pill bugs from me and then bringing them to her babies. Whatever i found i put in a cup to leave for the bird next time she returned. I tried to check on the babies growth but it rained for two days straight and before that every time i went to check them she was sitting on the nest.

The next time i got to check them was directly after our two straight days of rain. They had feather tubes and their eyes were open! She had kept all five of them alive during all that drenching rain and wind and cold. I sure was glad there were holes in the bottom of each stacked toy box so the water couldn’t pool. Their mum was a pro. I wondered how old she was. This was not her first rodeo. She had fed all five of them until they were fat and feathered and kept them all warm and dry while she got rained on during the storm. For the first time i noticed an intact egg. I wondered if it wasn’t fertilized or if it had just never hatched. The babies were nearly grown. It was a little too late for it to just be a late bloomer. I suddenly remembered the nest that was in the satellite dish when it came down off the roof. I had put it in the tree behind the house not far from where it had been in the dish. There was one little unhatched egg in that nest too. I hurried over to the tree behind the house to check. Where the nest had been, there was a mass of sticks wedged between a couple branches. It had been taken apart and recycled. She had come back to her nest, found it gone, located it, and rebuilt it with the old materials in a more protected and sturdier spot. It was barely in the tree when i had placed it there. I was preoccupied with all the thorny plants beneath the tree against my bare feet in flip flops. I hadn’t even known the nest was up there until the satellite came down. I missed a whole generation of birds being raised on my roof. But i was going to be able to see this batch, and this meant mama had clearly chosen my house as a nesting place 2 years in a row. This meant she would likely make it a tradition and i would get to see future birdies grow and learn to fly. I was so thrilled! I finally got birds!

Here they are with feathers. I had a couple of finches make a nest in a hanging plant on my patio about 3 years ago. They raised 3 babies. If these birds are anything like the finches they are getting ready to fly.
Almost grown
The nest is empty. All 5 baby birds survived, made it to adulthood, and flew the nest.
The random egg that never hatched was left behind. I had a hunch that it was never fertilized but i wanted to see if my theory would be right, or if a chick had developed and then died before hatching.
My theory was right. It wasn’t fertilized. It was quite rancid. The smell was pungent to say the least. The ants immediately took over and i left them to their work.

A Miscellaneous Update

Though things are rather uncertain at the moment, Sili and Cashew are unaware and living their best life on the land. They are operating business as usual while i stress and fret over work and school and sometimes that’s very helpful.

Yes, that is a whole tin of blueberries smashed into the packing there.

i cancelled our subscription to the fedex food delivery service. The price for foods suddenly sky rocketed so that not only was it no longer cheaper than the foods i could get at the grocery in town…it was more expensive and you still had to pay shipping, which they raised by a dollar. Also, the food was always arriving damaged or missing. I had a theory that they raised the price so high after losing so much money refunding items that were damaged due to poor packing and fedex’s handling but i had no evidence to base this on, only a hunch. Once i began shopping in the grocery again i had such a wider variety to choose from and never had to worry about what state it would arrive in if it even arrived at all. However, by cancelling the service i had given up access to food at a level of ripeness that could not be achieved in the super market. This food was so ripe and so sweet it was near spoiling…at the perfect time for maximum flavor. However, financially it just wasn’t feasible to stay and i was upset that the service offered no explanation for nearly doubling the price of every vegetable and fruit on their site a few months ago. I think i was most upset that they were taking advantage now that people were dependent on them for groceries.

Last year when i built the chicken coop i put it inside a covered pen so i decided to leave the “run” part off of the design and just have it be open so they had access to the whole interior of the pen. I saved the wire fence panels thinking i would at some point construct a chicken tractor that could be pulled about the yard so they could graze various spots without worrying about hawk or coyote attacks. However, i never got around to doing it. One day i just decided that i was going to finish this idea today. I dragged an extension cord across the yard, fetched my drill and some 3 inch construction screws i had left over from the shed porch railing, and the panels. Within an hour i had constructed a chicken tractor. I had to drive the screws in 2/3 of the way so that the pointy end didnt stick out and i used shorter miscellaneous screws i had in the lid of my toolbox where i could but eventually i ran out so i just made the longer ones work. I put the chickens in it one by one and let them eat grass and hunt bugs for a couple hours before placing them back in the pen. Everything was about predator protection where i lived. I would give them as many food sources as i could but not at the expense of safety. in the chicken tractor, hawks couldn’t swoop down and carry them off.

I began noticing a dramatic reduction in eggs. Only one chicken was molting at the time so there should be more eggs than 1 or zero per day. However, there weren’t. Then one day i ducked into the coop to find Daisy, my favorite chicken, stooped over the nesting box with her rump up in the air. She had yolk dripping down her beak and she had completely eaten the top half of the egg shell. She was working her way down, eating every last bit of the evidence. I was horrified. The proper thing to do was eliminate the chicken from the group before she taught the others, but i couldn’t. If it had been buttercup, well she bites, she’s sneaky, and she never liked me anyway, but it wasn’t. It was Daisy, my favorite; the one that wants nothing more than to sit in your lap for hours and be petted. I couldn’t get rid of her and soon i had a whole flock of chickens eating their own eggs. I decided there was only one thing to do. I purchased 6 ceramic eggs at the feed store; 2 for each nesting box. I tried to collect the eggs multiple times a day and immediately after they had laid if possible. I left the ceramic eggs in place in the boxes. The chickens pecked at the ceramic eggs, which didn’t open and probably hurt their beaks. After 1 day they stopped pecking the eggs and i began getting a full batch daily once again. During this time though, i had the opportunity to examine the broken eggs they had pecked. The shells were very thin and brittle and the yolk was yellow instead of orange. I was alarmed by this. The only thing i could attribute it to was a recent change in their feed from scratch to pellets. They were wasting half of the scratch. They only liked select bits. They sorted through, ate their favorites, and left the rest. Also, i got 3 bags that were contaminated with beetles and moth larvae. They pretty much ate the corn and left the chickens droppings to consume in its place. It was a local store. I knew the whole batch was contaminated and refunding us all would put them under. I didnt try to bring it back. I used all 3 bags and then i switched to a different feed, one that wasnt made in house, so that if it was defective i could go after some corporate company for a refund. Well, apparently the vitamin content of the all natural pellets i switched them to was just not the same. They were getting less vitamin a, vitamin d, calcium, and who knows what else. The only thing i knew to do was put them back on the scratch that they waste so much of. It wasn’t what i wanted to do but within a week of switching back, their eggs were thick shelled again and the yolks were nearly orange.

I hate that they waste half of it but it keeps them so shiny and healthy and makes great eggs. Sometimes out of frustration i take the bits they dont want and have spread all over the floor to pick through and put it back in the dispenser, trying again to convince them its food.

Yet another thermometer dismounted from the post in the middle of a storm and i had to buy a replacement. This time i took a different approach and ordered a basic metal one from hobby lobby rather than a vintage decorative stucco or tile one. They were too fragile and hard to find. However, the metal one was bigger than i anticipated when i looked at the picture. They need to include a hand or a quarter for size reference in the advertisement photo. It was too wide for the porch post. I hung it on the house. However, the house is 4 degrees warmer than the porch post so i quickly realized that i had to subtract 4 from whatever temperature the new thermometer displayed for the sake of accuracy.

I spent Easter with my dear friend’s family. Her granddaughter made me this baby chicken from her clay set. I treasure it and it lives on my kitchen shelf where i can see it daily when im cooking or packing my lunch.

Her family dyed eggs and filled them with confetti. We hid them all over the property and the children found and deployed them. I do so love the look of mischievous optimism on a child’s face as they are deciding which relative needs more confetti in their hair. It was a rare break from the duties of life and the responsibilities that need tending to. It was a moment where it was okay to just be present and watch kids being kids.

One day i walked by my mulberry tree and noticed it was covered in little green knobs. I was just thrilled that it wasnt dead when it sprouted leaves after our winter-pocalypse, as people in the community are now calling it. i was in awe of this tree that it was going to put out fruit right now after clinging to life by a thread. Literally, if someone said a fire is on its way to your property, this is the one tree i’d turn the hose on, i’d save it before all the others if i only had one choice, because you just can’t beat a tree that not only survives the apocalypse but puts out fruit directly after. What a tree. I had planted it last year and this was the first time i had ever seen fruit on it. I was beyond excited.

The berries turned from green to pink, pink to red, and then finally black.

The first batch was barely enough to taste. Two chews and they were gone. However, it registered that they were good.

For about a week i got 20 to 30 berries a day, enough to have several mouthfuls and really taste them. I was enjoying the dickens out of the berries but it meant something more to me. It meant the tree had established itself. It was here to stay. It had rooted and it was producing. It felt like some giant monumental step in constructing my fruit orchard. Since i was not wealthy and had to dig the holes bu hand, most of my trees were very young. It would be a long time before they produced, but the mulberry tree was an adult. It was ready. I now had something besides sumac to harvest yearly.

I was worried what the freeze meant for the mimosa tree in front of the house, as it was regularly dormant at this time of year so there were still no signs of life. I was so relieved when it sprouted leaves and then fragrant pink fuzz balls. It survived being run over by a fedex truck and then winter-pocalypse. Though a flimsy thing, it sure was pretty. I was trimming it yearly to look more like a tree than a bush, as i tended to do with all my cedars. Its looking more and more like a tree. I recognize that once it gets older it will be a hazard to the house during wind storms but it is so pretty and the birds enjoy it so, im willing to deal with the consequences. I havent the heart to cut it down.

There were two little elm trees only a foot tall on the property that i discovered last fall. They were pretty lifeless after the winter storm and i feared i shouldnt have turned my friend down when she offered me a baby elm tree she had in a pot. Then all of a sudden both little sticks sprouted leaves near the base. They were coming back from the roots. Two leaves even emerged at the top of one of the tiny trees.

I tried desperately to water proof the window with a giant a/c hanging out of it. Each time it rained i would find new points of entry for the water and seal them up. Unfortunately, this just meant i was rerouting the path of the water to somewhere else, and i didnt get to figure out where that was until the next time it rained.

Eventually i put down the caulk and picked up the gorilla glue. I needed something liquid that would seep down in the crevice and then poof up to twice the size when it dried. Gorilla glue did the trick. It worked too well. Next time it rained i realized everything was so sealed up the water was being routed to one of the only unprotected areas left, and in great quantity.

We had a storm system come through that brought two straight days of steady to pouring rain without any breaks. The property flooded. The chicken pen flooded. Water was going under the house and coming out the other side, then flooding the dog run…they issued an emergency weather statement for the area asking everyone not to drive and to just stay in their houses because all the river banks were swollen, the creeks and streams had overflowed, and the low water crossings were impassible in a big way. My land was so water logged there wasn’t any getting the car out even if my life depended on it. I sunk ankle deep in the water and mud just trying to bring feed to the chickens or make it to our shed. The dogs had to potty directly into the flood water because there wasnt any break in the rain to hold it til. It was during this storm that i realized the new vulnerable area of the window unit water proofing configuration. Water began pouring in from the left top corner. I cut the tip off the container of caulk which i had left loaded in the gun in the house because there wasnt any sense in putting it back in the shed seeing as i would need it each and every time it rained. I plugged up the hole with caulk and prayed that it would dry in the middle of a downpour. The next time i looked at it the whole top of the unit was covered in water. I felt around and realized it was dripping from the foam that had been placed in between the top of the unit and the bottom of the window. The foam was so wet i didnt think there was much chance of getting the caulk to stick to it but i knew i would have to create a pretty extensive wall of caulk once the weather was better to cover the whole exposed strip of foam on the interior side. When the water began pouring in and dripping down the sides of the unit i decided it couldn’t wait. I adhered a massive amount of caulk to the foam as best i could and tried to keep it from peeling off. It wanted to stick to my finger much more than the wet foam and i was using a plastic bag to smooth it because i’d run out of gloves, so, it was more than a bit slap dash. However, it stopped the leaking for the time being. One of these days there wont be any more areas to plug and we can just enjoy the rain.

my hand towels have become permanent fixtures on the window sill.