Tuesday, April 12, 2011

COMING OF AGE IN MONTANA

A couple of weeks ago, a new kid arrived.  Not very big, sort of a teenager.  He reminds me of
Chuck when he first arrived.  Looking around, trying to figure out what this place is all about.
It didn’t take any time at all for Chuck to take the kid under his wing.  I watched them walk around together, and it was obvious that Chuck was teaching the young bull-to-be everything he needed to know. 
“OK, Kid, this is where the Boss dumps the hay when the cold white stuff has covered up the grass.  Sometimes he dumps it over there, and when we are in a different pasture he brings it there with the big noisy thing he rides in.  If you look closely, the grass is just starting to come up.  It’s the best stuff to eat.  I do it all day.”
The kid followed Chuck around like a puppy following its daddy.  They occasionally rubbed noses.  Chuck would nudge him when he didn’t move fast enough. 
“Pay attention, kid, this stuff is important.”
The kid rubbed his forehead against Chuck’s neck in response, but Chuck was already on the move.  So much to teach, so little time.  Chuck is headed for a group of girls/cows, busy eating. 
“Who are they?”  The kid stopped, as Chuck surged on ahead.  The girls were really big, and he wasn’t going near them.
“These are the girls.  Come on, quit dragging your hooves, Kid.” 
The kid followed, slowly.  Chuck stood and waited and gave the kid a hard nudge with his nose when he finally drew up to the circle of girls.  The girls showed no interest.  Chuck bellowed, and they looked up.  A couple of them came over to sniff the new kid, who looked nervous.  None of the girls had any time for a kid, and went back to eating.
“Uh, Chuck?  They are very tall, aren’t they?”
“That’s just because they are older.  I used to be short like you, but if you eat enough of the grass, you will get as tall as I am.  Trust me, kid.  Just do what I tell ya, and you’ll be just fine.”
“I don’t think they like me.”
“Doesn’t matter, Kid.  Your time will come.”
That was a couple of weeks ago.  The kid followed Chuck around while chuck showed him everything.  As an outsider, I wondered if two bulls would show jealousy, if the girls would ever react.  Nothing.  They were just two guys, doing guy stuff.  The girls’ attitude was “Borrrring.” Kind of like football for people.
This morning, I noticed a large and tall Jersey female was in the small, fenced holding area outside my bedroom window.  In with her was the Kid.  Right next to them, on the other side of the barbed wire fence was Chuck, communicating like mad with the Kid.  The kid kept looking from the cow and back to Chuck and back to the girl.  Apparently, this is the big Coming of Age moment for the Kid.  Chuck was trying to show the Kid what he was supposed to do with the girl.  Occasionally Chuck would try to come through the fence to demonstrate, purely in the interest of teaching the Kid, of course.  But in the end, all Chuck could do was instruct through the fence.
“Remember what I told you the other day, Kid?  Now is your time.  You are a bull, she is a cow.  Now get in there and get ‘er done, Kid!  You can do it.”
The Kid is looking frustrated.  He knows his duty.  The cow has a wonderful fragrance, and he is hot on the scent.  The cow finds the whole thing tedious.  She keeps moving away, won’t hold still.  She just wants to stop and eat, but when she does, the Kid is right there, annoying as hell.  She thinks, SuperBowl, and yawns.
“Chuck, she is too tall!  My legs aren’t long enough.” 
“Just put your front hooves up on her back, and everything will work out fine.  I think.”  Chuck is beginning to realize the Kid really isn’t up for this. 
“Persuade her to go over by the pile of hay so you can stand on it.”
“YOU persuade her, Chuck.  She’s telling ME to get lost!”
Chuck gets as close as he can to her, separated by the barbed wire, and bellows. 
She bats her extremely long eyelashes at him.  “You have to be kidding, Chuck.”
“It’s his first time, give him a break, huh?  You remember when I was little, don’t you?”
No response.  Bored, she is sneaking a nibble of new grass. 
The kid is standing around, watching the grown-ups converse.  He is hoping Chuck will come and take care of business and let him go eat some hay.  This cow chasing can make a kid hungry.
I have other things to do and have to hope that somehow the Kid will get ‘er done.  Eventually, when the cow takes pity on him and holds still.  As I left the bedroom window, and gave young love some privacy, I heard Chuck bellow in frustration.  The life of a dedicated teacher is not easy.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

MONTANA REAL ESTATE

I used to be a realtor, in Texas.  Before that, I always seemed to involved somehow in real estate in other states.  So I surf Multiple Listings for fun to see what's happening whereever I am.  Montana offers spectacular land you can't find anywhere else.

Northwest Montana is beyond gorgeous.  I live in a river valley between two mountain ranges.  I look out the windows and see snow-topped mountains most of the year.  And when you walk outside, the air is more fun to breathe than anywhere you have ever been.  It's clean.  No pollution.  Which makes for bluer skies and a whiter moon. 

Real estate people are different up here.  Most of them come from generations of people of the land.  Going back to the days of homesteading, log cabins, and indians.  If they have a listing on land for sale, they probably know everyone who has ever lived on it, every tree and bush, some of which they may have planted themselves.  There is nothing about the land they don't know, and there is no person on the land they can't give you the history for.  They know where the deer are, and the elk, and probably the cougars and bears. 

When you meet them, they look like normal, attractive people.  They are a lot more.  Some of them are ex-loggers or teachers, some are also ranchers.  They are part of the culture up here that seems to shine with honesty and integrity.  A very rare thing in the real estate game, I can tell you. (Most people don't lock their doors.  If anyone suspicious-looking were to show up, a kind neighbor with a shotgun would arrive to ask polite questions.) 

One day there was a little house in little town listed for sale.  I am currently renting the most wonderful log cabin, which I never wanted to leave.  But renting carries with it certain risks, and my head told me,
"Go buy that little house."  So I went through all the motions, drove my dear realtor crazy looking for signs of mold (weren't any) and got approved by the lender for a loan.

Then everyone at the loan broker got the flu and I could find anyone alive on phone or email.  This went on for days.  During which time I began to wonder of Someone was trying to tell me something.  Every time I thought of leaving this cabin, which I have put my heart and soul into, I would start to cry.  A classic battle between head and heart. 

Well, I finally got up the nerve to tell me long-suffering realtor that I was going to chicken out, and not buy the place.  She could not have been kinder or more understanding.  I don't thing she was grinding her teeth, but I wouldn't have blamed her.

I wouldn't have missed the experience with Montana realtors for anything.  They are a very special breed, and know more about this land than I can even imagine.  I can't say enough about them.

SIGNS OF SPRING IN NW MONTANA

Rain has replaced the snow, and the pastures are emerging, with a few islands of snow left here and there.  An occasional married couple of Canada Geese lands to search for whatever has survived the winter.

In cleaning up the front porch from winter mess, I swept up some wet leaves and found two tiny, pretty little salamanders hidden in the wet.  I moved them to a wet flower bed and hope they live.  There is a new crop of robins about, so their survival is chancy.

I hauled some old boxes, paper, leaves, bark, etc., the general spring clean up mess, in a wheelbarrow over to the fire pit.  To do this I had to go under the wire that keeps the cows in.  They came over to investigate the interloper with trash.  You have to first understand that this is Montana MUD season.  It is everywhere.  Did I have mud boots on for this excursion through mud and cow poop slurry?  Nope.  (Will explain about that in a minute.)  I had on athletic shoes on, which is dishonest as I am not athletic at all.  Anyway, in pushing the wheelbarrow through 6" of mud, one of the shoes was grabbed by the mud monster and my foot slipped out and I plopped it right down into a pretty yellowish cow poop.  I had to turn around, and tug really hard to get the mud to let go and give me back my shoe.  I slipped my very slimy foot into the shoe and swore.  Meanwhile, the extremely beautiful golden jersey cows were gathered in a circle around me, fascinated with what humans do for amusement.  "Hello, girls, nice day, huh?"  One of them moo'ed faintly.  It may be they understand a whole lot, but feel we are unworthy to converse with.  They always have a slightly pitying look in their eyes.

A brief note about the mud boots I didn't have on.  They are called Sorellingtons, a new product from Sorel.  Two shades of green.  They are a bit girley.  Probably should have gone to Cabellas.  Anyway, they are the grandest mud boots ever, and all last year in the mud season, I kept them in the closet so I wouldn't get them dirty.  (You may laugh now.)  This year, after the above fiasco, they are coming out of the closet. 

I chose a different way back from the fire it, with the same mud and poop slurry, crawled under the wire, and removed the shoes.  Not really sure how to clean them.  They sure are not going into the washing machine until they are clean.  [Don't look for logic there, please.]

There is a new addition to the pastures:  A very young bull.  A previous time I took trash to burn, he followed me all over the place.  I pretended not to notice.  I don't understand why bulls seem to become imprinted on me.  I have been ordered NOT to PET this one, as trouble comes down the line.  I am LISTENING.  Yesterday, I was pruning some plum trees when a HUGE, deep bass toned bellow startled me.  My friend Chuck the dancing bull was very close in a pasture where he usually isn't, and he wanted out to play with me.  There was an electrified wire to keep him in, but it's about half an inch wide and doesn't look like it would keep a herd of ducks in.  But they sense when there is live power in it, I guess.  So he just stood there and bellowed and pawed the ground because he was not allowed out to play. 

I honestly believe if you were to sit in a chair and watch him for an hour you could see him growing, kind of like you can hear bamboo growing.  He has become a huge, magnificent creature.  Imagine the terrifying monster bulls in a Spanish bull fight.  That's what he looks like.  What, you've never seen a real bull fight?  Well, I admit it takes a huge attitude adjustment for westerners to appreciate the balletic but gorey spectacle.  Anyway, Chuck would be like the famous Ferdinand.  He wouldn't fight, he would just chase everyone around the bull ring until someone stopped to pet him on the forehead.  Then he might nudge you lovingly with his nose, knocking you down, then he might paw at you with his hooves to make you get up......  A new definition of "Tough Love."

Friday, March 25, 2011

CHUCK COMES FOR TEA AND HOUSE RERUNS

Chuck, the Jersey bull, whom I have petted and loved since he was a pimply teenager, has grown to magnificent proportions.  He has a perfect diet of hay, free range grass, spring water, and his own herd of girls to hang out with.  He's getting so big that if a young heiffer becomes fertile, he can't be allowed near her, his weight would break her pelvis.  He finds this grossly unfair and frustrating. 

A couple of days ago around tea time, the Boss put a young heiffer into a corral to protect her.  Chuck found his way out of his pasture and went searching for the love of his life, this week.  The Boss has a very long stick in his hand and was out front talking with a neighbor.  I was looking out the picture window, wondering what the stick was for, when Chuck appeared, prowling the parking area and bellowing. 

Chuck has the memory of an elephant.  When I scratched the curls on his forehead when he was young, he thought he had found heaven.  He turns his head and watches me if I walk by his pasture.  Now he was seeing his friend through a plate glass window, and he wanted to play.  He trotted over and pressed his nose to the glass, leaving a muddy nose smear on it.  The window bowed a bit, threatening to let Chuck in for tea.  I ducked behind a chair, and he moved on.  The heiffer search was more important than his friendship with me.  I am crushed!

The Boss decided it was time to round up the friendly bull and stash him in his own corral, which he did with very little effort and a long stick.  As I said after another encounter with Chuck last summer, even if we forget that we have dominion over the beasts of the field, the beasts themselves do not forget.  One lonely man with a long stick can pursuade this huge bull to go where he is told.  So Chuck went in, bellowing and complaining, within scent distance of his lady love, the little heiffer.

I thought that was the end of it. 

This morning the Boss and his lady got in the big truck and went off somewhere, leaving Buster, the border collie on the back porch napping.  I thought I heard a familiar bellow, looked out the nose-printed front window to see Buster waking up, yawning, as Chuck, the super Jersey Bull, wandered by, bellowing and searching.  He was headed my way again. 

I sat down out of sight and watched House reruns.   I hoped he had forgotten that his playmate was  inside the cabin.  At the commercial, I looked carefully over my shoulder and, sure enough, Chuck was at the window watching House with me.  He wandered away finally, and I pulled the curtains.  When he went around the main house, I called Buster inside.  Buster can outrun the bull, but I think I really wanted the moral support.  Buster is annoyed.  He does not want to babysit the woman in the cabin.
I fed him a scrambled egg, which improved his mood for about 30 seconds. 

It has begun raining.  I'm beginning to feel like Faye Wray with her friend King Kong.  Only Kong had more finesse.  Chuck doesn't understand that he can kill a toy by playing with it.  Me.  So I'm in the cabin until the Boss comes home.  If I had more practice herding cattle, I would put Chuck back where he belongs, but I don't.  And the chances are there is a section of fence out from where the love-sick bull pushed it down. 

It's a huge giggle to have such a gigantic creature just wanting to play with me.  When he leaps into the air with pure joy, it's hard to remember that he's dangerous.  But I'm trying. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SNOW IN LATE MARCH

Years ago I read a book called Smilla's Sense of Snow.  One thing stuck in my mind:  The Danish author said there are over thirty words in that language for snow.  As I have watched the different sizes, weights, behaviour in the wind, I think it's sad that those of us who speak English do not have the ability to describe the different kinds of snow.  It's a huge empty place in our language because snow comes in so many forms. 

It's snowing now, but the thaw has begun at last.  I can't haul firewood in a snow sled any more; it drags on the dormant grass.  So the tire on the wheelbarrow has to be pumped up.  It's time for it to back to work after sleeping in the woodshed all winter.

As I walked by yesterday with arms laden in firewood, there was the first of many spring garden discoveries.  Tiny purple violets around silver driftwood were alive, preserved under the snow in perfect color.  It seems impossible that they could still be thriving and perky after months of ice and snow.  Why do violets do this?  Because garden fairies live under them.  That's why.

The winter brought several Jersey calves. They all love having their heads scratched. They have soft fuzzy winter fur, in a range of colors from honey to tan to taupe, with huge gentle eyes and eyelashes any woman would kill for.    It bears repeating that Cattle must be Gods favorite creatures. 

The Boss also sold some cows, acquired some others.  Violet, of the shortened tail, went to a good family of nine children.  She has huge liquid eyes.  The children are sure to fall in love with  her.  One of the new ones is huge, and like all of the Boss's cows very peaceful for a Jersey.  They have a bad reputation for being fractious, but not on this ranch.  Perhaps they know how superior they are in the dairy cow world and expect royal treatment.  They get that here.  This new lady loves her new diet, and gives more and more milk.  I think she holds some kind of record.  As Jersey's do, she gets thinner, ribs showing, making the casual observer think she is being starved.  Not so.  That's just the way the breed is.  You only have to look into her eyes to see she is a very happy lady.

Last evening, I saw Buster the border collie running madly toward the south pasture.  I walked out to see what huge beast he was chasing.  He only barks at critters, never people.  His target this time was only a pair of Canada Geese, one of them probably tired or wounded so they drifted down to rest.  Buster stood at a polite distance and invited them to leave.  They couldn't, so I called him to come and have a bone.  The Boss told me that Buster is trained to scare them away, as when the new grass sprouts in the pastures, the geese pull it up by the roots.  Not helpful.  It will start with a visitation of two or three married-for-life couples, then before you can turn around there are hundreds of them diligently yanking up the cattle's new grass.  Buster will have a marvelous time racing around in circles persuading them to depart for greener pastures.

I have been in this paradise for a year now, and survived a Montana winter.  When I tried to run away to sunshine there was more snow there to greet me and let me know I might as well have stayed home.  Yes, Montana is home. 

Changes are coming in a month or so.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

SEWING MACHINE RESURRECTED!

The snow has hit hard, ten days and counting.  Piles left by ploughs and dumped off roofs are 10-20 feet.  In some ways it's a blessing, as it's crunchy and easy to walk on.  I've landed on my butt too many times slipping on ice.  The ice will return, but the respite is very nice.  Natives in the area say this is late for such an endless storm. 

I have learned that the winter depression from lack of sun and vitamin D is very real.  It has always seemed to me utter nonsense when I've read about it in the past.  The answer is obvious.  Get off your ass and do something useful and quit whining!  Well, from the middle of last month the ice was everywhere and a menace.  Even if the sun peeked out, one could not go for a walk.  I woke up two mornings in a row crying for no reason.

Clearly, it was time to get outta here and go south to inflict myself on friends and relatives.  The night before I left, I went a quarter mile down the highway, downed a double scotch and soda, came home and slept a rare uninterrupted eight hours.  At my age, uninterrupted sleep is a wish, a fairy tale.  Not reality.  So the next morning, the eight hour drive to Vancouver, Washington was a piece of cake, not having to fight sleepiness on the road.  I can't afford, financially or physically to take the double scotch cure every night, but the feeling of finally getting enough sleep was wonderful.

As I reached the Columbia gorge, I saw too much snow.  This stuff was supposed to stay in Montana!  There was more around Vancouver than I had ever seen.  And more was coming down, lightly.  We turned on the evening weather.  CBS in Portland, Channel 6 down there, was on half an hour early.  They stood around for half an hour telling their viewers that nothing was happening yet.  Even on Sylvan Hill in Beaverton, the roads were clear.  But the Portland reporters made up for the lack of snow by wearing tons of clothes and being really excited about the snow that wasn't there.  Oregonians are strange.  If they were in Montana, the level of hysteria would be monumental!

Each day of the week I was there, I looked out the window to see more and more snow.  I came to escape this and find some sun.  THIS ISN'T FAIR!  I finally had to find a day when the snow was resting and run for home.  It got dicey below Spokane, up into Idaho, and into NW Montana.  Home at last, for more snow.

If you read the early chapters of this blog, you will recall that I said to be prepared for whining when winter comes.  Well the whining is exponential now.  I'm taking a lot of vitamin D and calcium.  I guess it's working.  I'm not crying any more, and I have KILLER fingernails.  Love it!

Just before I left to go south, I found a tiny ad that someone way out in the hills of an area called Belknap does sewing machine repair.  I called him, described my 50-year old machine.  He knew it!  He had worked on them!  When I got back, he had completely rebuilt it.  I didn't have to pay a fortune for a new piece of crap.  I am thrilled beyond description, and working on a new wall hanging, of Arctic ice and polar bears.  Once again, I have learned that there is amazing talent and skill in these mountains.  You can find anything if you look hard enough.  Northwest Montana is an incredible world, even when the sun is hiding.  I'm so happy to be home.

Spring will come before long.  Y'all hang in there now.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rest in Peace, Sewing Machine

I think guys get all dewy-eyed if a vintage car really, truly dies.  If you are one of them, you may understand the following.

I purchased a Japanese sewing machine that uses Singer parts in 1961, while I was pregnant.  It cost a whole $135, with tax.  I took it home and began a serious relationship that spanned half a century.  It was made of cast iron and weighed a ton, but sold as "portable".  Yeah, right.  If you put a handle on an elephant, does that make it portable?

It made maternity clothes, little girl's school dresses and nighties, Barbie clothes, Troll clothes, dollhouse accessories. 

I gave sewing lessons on it to young girls.  I have mended all sorts of things for those  who are not sewing-literate.  I even mended a torn Spinnaker sail for a beloved sail boat.

It made haut couture designs from Vogue in the '60's.  While most of the West Coast went to tie dies, I made Christian Dior and other Paris Original series.  Those Vogue patterns were masterpieces.

It made curtains, bedspreads, pillow covers, duvet covers. 

It made four (I think) wedding dresses.  One of them in the heat of central California, working with sweaty hands on white silk, covering it up at night to keep the cats off it.

It has made many, many kimonos for friends, relatives, and neighbors, and flannel shirts for men and women.  I've lost count how many.

At some point my daughters reached the age where home-made though couturier design clothes only brought them grief from schoolmates who could afford store-bought jeans, t-shirts, etc.   Elegance went down the drain.  If they didn't have it Macy's, Magnin's or Nordstrom, the noses turned up in disdain.  There are times when peer pressure does nothing to further civilisation.

It has hemmed napkins and table cloths from Irish linen,

It has done detailed applique on silk and suede wall hangings.  It has changed some designs when it took off with a mind of its own occasionally.

It has outlasted husbands, and traveled to five states.

I just finished a Montana scene, mountains/plowed fields, an old shed, silver thread barbed wire, and a plum tree covered with dupioni silk leaves and plums.  After I finished the last leaf and the last plum, suddenly the motor just went to sleep.  No matter how I beg and plead, it has gone to its reward.

I have years and years of memories with this machine, much as guys remember the girls who populated their first car. 

More expensive machines have already been tried.  They may have their advantages, but they will never measure up to the 1961 model. 

In the sculpture garden of Israel's Holocaust Museum, I saw a huge tower made of old, old sewing machines fitted together.  I wonder if I could send them my old friend.