Temptation of a Hot Housing Market

You could own the only house in rural Vikingville without a rodent infestation.  How can this be?  We hire a professional.  If you stop paying the professional, you’ll be just another rodent-infested Vikingville residence.  Do you enjoy mowing the lawn?  This is the house for you.  We have many lawns. Lots of lawns and spacious unmowed pastures full of beautiful, yet toxic buttercups.

Comes with fully enclosed chicken fortress, complete with covered chicken yard guaranteed to protect your precious hens from the scenic wildlife including, but not limited to: possums, cougars, raccoons, eagles, hawks and ravens.  If you ever let them out of their fortress to free range your beautiful, scenic yard, they will be devoured by predators.

Hay storage is provided in a beautiful steel shed.  There is so much steel in this building, you won’t believe it.  Even the roof is steel.  It has a slight condensation problem but this is easily solved by covering everything inside with a tarp.

We may throw in a 34-year-old John Deere lawn tractor that has had nearly every part replaced at least once.  It is louder than the space shuttle on take off, so ear protection is recommended.  It randomly stops working, usually when the grass is growing, so that will give you an excuse not to mow.

Large garden area.  Larger than you could ever take care of without an army of servants.  It grows giant vegetables and bigger weeds.

Three bedroom house with a fourth bedroom-like thing that is slightly larger than a closet.  Three bathrooms.  One has a new toilet.  Don’t ask.  But this toilet will flush anything and not plug up.  Highly useful if you have kids.  Laundry room adjacent the garage so can throw your muddy clothes in the washer after a hard day of fixing random unfixable things around the property in winter.

Barn for your horses and gravel paddocks that need to be cleaned daily to stay nice.  Well-started compost pile so you don’t need to start your own.  Fencing for you to maintain.  If you’ve ever dreamed of riding the range and fixing your own fences, just like a real cowboy or cowgirl, here’s your chance.

Horse riding ring that needs to be harrowed to keep its smooth surface and tidy look.  If you’ve sat watching Monday Night Football thinking, “I wish I had a horse ring to harrow,” here’s your chance.  You can harrow it any time you want, because it’s yours!  It also grows weeds, so you need to stay on top of that.

This property has many prunable trees.  You can prune them all.  Several times a year.  They grow continuously and randomly break off during storms so you will need to hire a tree expert to climb up and remove the offending branch before it kills someone.

Natural bog area full of native and non-native plants.  These include tasty blackberries, which grow very well there.  In fact, you will need to prune them constantly if you want any other plants to grow or if you want to walk there.  Scenic walking path around the periphery of property.  Stroll through meadow, marsh and the edge of woods.  The woods is on the property of your new neighbors, who enjoy a perfect lawn and think everyone, even you should have one.  Expect to hear from them soon.

 

Incarnations of the Word “Different”

As an artist, people expect you to dress creatively.  I don’t have many clothes.  I do however, have lots of art supplies.  I am the Imelda Marcos of art supplies.  Who can have just one tube of burnt sienna?  There’s a time for zinc white, and another for titanium white.  If you have cadmium yellow, you also need hansa yellow light.

Creativity isn’t always a glorious outward presence.  It can be quiet, like a cat sitting at the edge of a mouse hole, watching.  Or a deer in the garden, browsing on prized shrubs and contemplating the damage.  Creative people can be flamboyant or watchers, or both.  Sitting in the forest, you see everything.  You feel everything.  If you wait long enough, you become everything.  Then you can pull bits of everything together in new way.  That’s art.  that is science, too.  Like atomic particles, the closer you look, the more everything is related.  The less there are distinct objects, and the more there are just moving particles and pieces that we define and put together.  if you look long enough, you will see connections where none existed before.  The connections only exist if we see them.  We’re the observer.

I look in my closet and have five pairs of the same navy pants, a few T-shirts and fleeces and sweatshirts, all in green, gray or brown.  That’s not how an artist dresses.  Or is it?  I blend in, putting on a human uniform, go about my human day and ponder the strangeness of being human.  What exactly are we?  I don’t want a religious definition, penned by humans a couple of thousand years ago, then frozen as doctrine.  There are likely clues in it, little bits of truth.

Humans are far older, and we are a mixing of other earlier hominids, many of whom seemed to be smarter than us.  For example, Neanderthals roamed Europe for a few hundred thousand years in relative peace without driving any animals extinct or leaving piles of trash laying around.  They lived long lives in small family groups, raised children, cared for elders, kept cave homes with hearths and grass beds.  We have bits of them in us.  Maybe they are the conscience that says, “what are you doing to your world?”

A being close to modern humans marched out of Africa and encountered the Neanderthals and another ancient race living peacefully in Europe.  With a short time, the older races were extinct.  No one knows exactly what happened.  One theory is that modern humans were adaptable to working with those they did not know…ei. they ganged up and formed packs and pushed the previous inhabitants out.  What does that remind you of?  Typical human behavior.  No one likes that pointed out.  Many of us still have a bit of Neanderthal in us, but it’s not same same DNA in everyone.  A bit here, a different bit there.

One day during the last ice age, we began painting on cave walls.  This happened after the Neanderthals were gone, but when people likely had quite a bit more Neanderthal in them.  Some might have been third generation children of humans and Neanderthals (pure speculation).  The Neanderthals painted with us in that way, as they became us.  Maybe they gave us art.  The drawings are so beautiful and expressive and reveal that we haven’t truly advanced a bit in art.  Later written language emerged, and agriculture and wars.  Whatever this grand experiment is, I suspect we are messing it up.

Stop and look around.  The angst that results from a disconnection with nature and the world continues.  You can’t dress it up and make it anything other than it is.  We also spend a great deal of time judging people by how they dress or look, and forming packs against the latest incarnation of the word “different.”

 

Let Your Hair Down (or Up, Depending on the Humidity)

Bernie Sanders’ hair gave me confidence.  I’ve had that hairstyle.  It happened after I went to StupendousCuts and wanted a pixie cut.  I still had the fantasy that the right stylist could make my hair look like Dorothy Hamill’s.   If you have thick, wavy or curly hair (or all three) you can end up with a Bernie Sanders no matter who cuts it.  If I get out of bed and don’t comb it, I have a Bernie Sanders.  I keep it long so the weight of it works with gravity to draw it down towards the Earth’s magnetic core and not up towards the solar winds that strike the ionosphere and cause frizz.

I’m sure solar flares impact my hairstyle, as does relative humidity, sunlight and type of cloud cover.  I don’t know Bernie personally, but I am sure this is something he, or his hair understands.  What I respect about him is that he doesn’t care.  His hair has the appropriate priority in his life.

We spend so much time managing our hair while the oceans rise, the lands are polluted, the gap between rich and poor grows.  But our hair is flat.  Every day we control it.  It’s the one thing we can control.  Hair products, blow dryers, flat irons, Photoshop.  It all takes work and focus that could be spent solving the world’s problems.  Take a page from Bernie’s book and get your priorities straight.  (Not your hair).  Einstein’s hair is another example of what happens when you let your hair go wild.  You invent the Theory of Relativity and win a Nobel Prize.  Which would you rather have, flat hair or a Nobel Prize?

On the other hand, Donald Trump apparently has a 13-step comb-over procedure.  I can’t prove this, of course.  But his hair obviously takes some work to achieve.  And it’s quite an achievement.  But is it one you would like to be known for?
Go out and be yourself.  Let your hair down.  Or up, depending on the humidity.  Be Bernie.  Revitalize a mid-sized Vermont town and stand up for the working class.  Or be Albert and invent the theory of relativity.  Or be me, and just don’t comb your hair.  And remember next time you want a pixie cut: you will look like Bernie.  Want that bob?  Think Einstein when you get up every morning.   Let your hair be hair.

Epilogue: This morning I asked Youngest Child if my hair looked OK because I didn’t have time to comb it.  He said he couldn’t tell.  It looks the same either way.  Now I will be pondering that comment all day. 

Contemplating Karma

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As I stood filling the ducks’ water after rolling their pen to a new strip of grass, I pondered how much good karma I was getting for this drudgery.  The water filled slowly, so I admired the green trees and rain drops misting all around (and over) me.  Then I thought of the mayonnaise container that I didn’t want to wash out to recycle and threw in the trash.  If karma was a scorecard, I might not come out ahead.  So, I had to be happy that ducks were happy, splashing in their clean water and snarfeling in the grass.

I have bad karma also related my hornet trap.  I used to catch and release hornets that got in the house.  Then we kept getting stung and so we got a hornet trap.  This all creates philosophical angst for me because I spent some time in my youth with animal rights people.  And I love animals.  I don’t eat them (very often).  I am mostly a vegetarian.

The other day I wondered if vegans worm their cats.  A worm is also a living thing and they shouldn’t be killing it.  And fleas.  Fleas should also be taken outside in a paper cup (catch and release).  Same with lice.

Bacteria are living things, too.  I’m not sure about viruses.  That could go either way.  They are on the border between life and non-life.  Mushrooms are intelligent life, having vast networks of mycelium that communicate with both other fungi and plants.  The communicate outside their own kingdom.  And then we stir-fry them.

Plants.  Plants are unlike us, but intelligent enough to follow the sun with their flowers and I doubt we’ve scratched the surface on their unique intelligence, so different from our own.  When you walk in the forest, you walk among zen masters.  They’re rooted in the earth.  So, what do we eat?  Rocks?  Apparently rocks have a living energy, according to the legends of some native peoples.  And they aren’t very nutritious.

Karma is very difficult to add up because we don’t know everything’s point value.  And I suspect point values are another human invention that exists only in our own minds.

 

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors (or Hide Annoying Ones)

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Disclaimer: Any characters in this story are fictional and any resemblance to real people, lawns, greenhouses, exercise bikes, log books, unsheared sheep or matching steers is coincidental.

The dream of moving to the country did not include phone calls from an annoyed neighbor who was keeping a log book on how often and what time we mowed.  In addition to ruining the neighborhood by having animals and putting in a horse ring, we were also mowing too much.

Never mind that cows and an unsheared sheep lived across the street munching on a pile of used baler twine in front of an unrestored 1900s barn.   A random tipped-over stove stuck out of the second story of the scenic barn and the door blew in the wind.  Then there was a mysterious exercise bike parked amid some weeds next to the barn and a burgundy truck up on blocks.  So we weren’t exactly Mercer Island.

However, down the lane were three upscale houses, starting with my next door neighbor.    One of the upscale houses had a newer red barn and periodically raised steers, but in nice sprayed, green pastures and everything matched.  Even the steers.  The other had a little square of lawn perfection in a sea of grassy wilderness.  They just kept up the square to suburban standards.  My immediate neighbors had a lot of lawn perfection and a giant eyesore of a metal-framed industrial greenhouse he got on Craigslist and had built 5 feet off our property line.  But we didn’t complain.  Much.  They thought their greenhouse was beautiful.  So I really didn’t want to criticize their baby, even though its fans whined incessantly.  And it was an ugly baby.  Truly.

Back to the mowing log book.  Every time we attempted to mow our pasture for weed control, the phone would ring.  They were eating dinner and we’d driven them indoors and needed to stop mowing immediately.  Mrs. ImmediatelyNextDoor informed me their lawn service only came during the day so they didn’t need to hear it at dinner time.  We were also using too many fossil fuels to mow and destroying our property by putting in a confinement paddock for the ponies.  We should be turning them out on the grass and not keeping them in the paddock.

The very next day, we were eating dinner at 5 pm and their lawn service started roaring away (using fossil fuels).  That is usually how it works when you make blanket statements.  The universe loves to break them.

“This goes in the log book,” Mr. Raincountryjournal said.

Our houses are very close together because once a five-acre parcel was split and children built a house next to their parents, with a makeshift fence and gate between.  We are the children, but not.  They have the original house.  None of us are related.  But we live really close.

They decided to start building a tall, solid fence between our yards to completely block us out.  We pay half.  It will be a good thing because you know, good fences make good neighbors or block out unsightly ones.
The fence may form one side of the new rooster rescue I plan on starting.

If You Can’t Say Anything Mice

I know many mouse lovers, however none of them actually have free-roaming mice in their houses.  I would happily send my free-range mice to any mouse lover who would like them to set up residence in their kitchen and chew through their pretzel bags. They will  jump out of your trash in the wee hours and send you running.  It’s a good cardiovascular workout and discourages late night snacking.  I can do catch and release into your house.  Just let me know.

 
When we bought this house, we had an expensive home inspection by a certified inspector.  He never marked the mouse superhighway behind the oven, though he should have.  The mice think they have an easement from under the deck, through the wall behind the oven, into the oven drawer and across the kitchen floor to the closet where they eat paper towels.  This is apparently their ancestral migration route, passed down from generation to generation (all six generations born each summer).  They use the earth’s magnetic field to migrate towards the paper towels and camping gear stored in the closet under the stairs.  We called it the Harry Potter closet.  It’s now the Harry Potter and Mouse Closet.

 
The mice also know how to eat bait out of traps without springing them.  So putting out traps just feeds the mice so they grow stronger and have more babies.  We vary the bait so they don’t get bored and complain about the food.
The first year on the farm, after battling the mice for months, we pulled the oven out to see what was going on back there.  Next to the plug in the wall, the mice had chewed a big hole.  We plugged it.  Silence. No mice chewing.  No mice for months.  We were mouse free.  Life was good.

 
Then spring came and I opened the closet.  I don’t open that closet very often except to throw something in or grab a roll of paper towel.  Mice!  Time to pull the oven out and look if the superhighway was operational.

 
There was a new hole chewed next to the steel wool.  We plugged it.  They chewed a new hole.  On this went.  Pulling the oven out is a hassle considering it is crammed into a tight space.  So we avoid pulling out the oven until we have to.  More steel wool.  Little mouse paws pushed the steel wool out and chewed a new hole.

 
Next weapon: steel wool and spray foam. Silence.  They are thwarted.  But it has only been five hours.  This afternoon I decided I was going to move back to the suburbs to avoid mice.  Then I remembered the mouse that made in a nest in the car’s air filter in the burbs, and the rat that got into the house when I left the back door open.  The cat cornered it, and I caught it in a box and let it go outside.  I’m sure my neighbors appreciated that.  Especially since I never saw the rat again.

 
We have a neighbor cat who adopted us and a barn owl who flies over every night.  Still we have mice.  It’s another one of those things that are never discussed in those cute childrens’ books depicting idyllic farm life with horses, cows and honking geese.  They don’t show mice eating paper towels in your closet.

Don’t Let the Blank Page Win

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A blank page has an incredibly powerful ability to create a blank mind.  It’s as if the page  encounters a mind full of brilliant ideas and neutralizes them.  It is a piece of cosmic white-out designed to challenge the thinking mind.

A blank canvas or a blank page is like a piece of uncharted wilderness.  The river is wild and of unknown depth.  The old maps are gone, and it’s hard to decide if you can ford the river, or it is so deep that building a bridge would be better.

The page looks back with its unforeseen whiteness.  How did you get so white?  So blank?  Why are you staring at me like that?  All I wanted to do was write something.  You’re looking at me like I want to burn you or wrap a really ugly present with your whiteness.

I want to improve you, blank page.  I have flowery prose and beautiful colors.  You will look better.  I promise.  No, says the page, you will ruin me with your words and paint.  You are up to no good.

Blank page, I am writing a novel.  I’m painting a masterpiece.  Ha, says blank page.  I dare you to write one sentence.  Or make a line drawing.

Here it is blank page.  I took your dare.  Here are my words.  You haven’t won.

“You may have won today,” says blank page, “But you will have to face me tomorrow.  And I will be well-rested and very white.  My blank stare will meet your ideas and I will glare at you until you decide to start cleaning the sink.  I can make your life very uncomfortable.”

“Just try,” I say.

Go write something.  Don’t let the blank page win.

Captain Stinky and the Eggs of Doom

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Captain Stinky (appears later in post, keep reading)

Flighty’s speckled eggs didn’t explode on the judge.  They made it through the first fair, where they received a red danish, meaning  “very good but not great.”

The danish system was invented, not by pastry makers, but in order to judge entries against a standard, not each other.  Like Scandinavian countries, the danish system has a hint of socialism.  There can be many people in each danish group and no blue danish is better than any other.  Blue means the judge’s standard is met.  Red means very good.  White means needs improvement.  Everyone gets a ribbon, though a white ribbon comes with a feeling of humiliation.

Because this is America, we couldn’t let things go with a danish system.  We needed more ranking.  So among the blues, there are special awards, merit awards and the equivalent of being crowned king or queen: the Best of Show ribbon.  On top of that there is a weird trophy that is the Best of the Best of Shows.  That is like becoming Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan.  You rule over the whole spiel.

Back to Flighty’s eggs.  Flighty is a Cuckoo Maran, pictured in the Best of Show post.  They saw the speckles on her eggs as flaws at the first fair, and Owly the Welsummer’s unspeckled eggs ended up with Reserve Best of Show, defeated by green beans.  Eggs are part of the horticulture section there.

Since the eggs still hadn’t rotted and exploded, we decided they were good for one more fair.  They hadn’t even begun to smell, so we were good.  When we got the fair, Flighty’s eggs had a Best of Show ribbon tacked on them.  The speckles made them special.  Flighty was Queen but not Alexander the Great.  The glittering crystal trophy went to pure white duck eggs.  Very deserving duck eggs, which were very likely not ready to explode.

If you think I’m being dramatic about eggs exploding, I am not.  One year, Captain Flint, the gray Americana hen, went broody and had a nest somewhere in the woods.  She had pulled long grass over herself and we didn’t find her for weeks.  She had a large stash of unfertile eggs she was brooding and attempting to hatch.  The kids were supposed to pick them up as they were getting rotten.

One day my nephews came over to visit and play.  My own kids neglected to warn their cousins about Captain Flint (aka Captain Stinky, so named because a rotten egg had exploded on her).  She was off her nest eating or something when Teenaged Nephew took a pleasant walk in the woods and stepped on Captain Stinky’s hidden nest.

Let’s just say that rotten eggs do explode and this did not end well.  My nephews and sister had a long car ride home with rotten egg shoes.  We were also unable to go near the woods for weeks.  They couldn’t go near their playhouse, which was several feet from Captain Stinky’s exploded nest.  We couldn’t go near Captain Flint either, and certainly didn’t want her coming near us. She is still known as Captain Stinky years later.


So yes, eggs do rot and explode and if you think a skunk is bad, then you have never experienced a nest of rotten eggs.  I am sure Flighty’s eggs had the same potential, so we breathed a sigh of relief when the fair was over.  But did we touch her eggs to bring them home? No… I hope we are allowed back to the fair next year.  I really hope the eggs had another week in them when they were tossed by the fair clean up people.  I hope no one took them home and attempted to eat them.  If so, I hope they did the float test first and didn’t just crack one into an omlette.

The Brush Cutter Returns

Like every bad movie, there’s always a sequel.  If you need to know where the brush cutter is, just send me out on a time-senstive errand down the back roads of the Pacific Northwest.  I am sure to draw the brush cutter out of his evil lair.

We headed down Ole Norwegian Settlers Road to take our entries to the fair before the rush at Thor Hall.  Enjoying the scenic valley view of cornfields, smelling the dairy farms (on recirculate air), and blissing out at the vast blue sky, we saw a sign “Road Work Ahead”  “Prepare to Stop.”

It appeared to be a false alarm, an apparition or random ill-placed warning as we cruised another mile at the full speed of 40 mph.  Then it came.  The flagger.  Brush Cutter ahead.

Paused behind the large, grinding machine and its sidekick the Brush Truck, which hauls away the cut brush, we had many moments to contemplate the meaning of life, how patience was a virtue and that we had better take the car off recirculate and on to air conditioning.

We finally made it to Thor Hall and into the line (one person long) with our eggs, fruit, vegetables, crafts and a potted weed.  Let the Fair begin.