Monday, October 10, 2011


If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions then, quite frankly, I think I have the contract to tarmac a large part of it.  And, as a result of my deeds I have created a monster.
The rooster who now resides almost permanently at either my front or back door waiting for food is a prime example of my intentions going horribly wrong.  If he was a person, I would have been responsible for turning him from a capable, athletic man into a couch potato munching on Cheetos.
Sorry dude, I didn't mean for this to happen to you.
It began when Duncan (named after my father and brother) was ousted from top dawg position among the chickens by his son Johnny Rotten (yes, we also had Sid Vicious, but we ate him when he started living up to his name).  Of course we felt so bad for him (by we I mean me and my children, my husband is far to practical for what follows here).  Turned on by his own flesh and blood, hounded mercilessly away from his ladies who didn't give a hoot, or should I say squawk, what was happening to him.  It was tragic, terrible to watch.  So...
So we started luring him to us with scraps of food to keep him out of harms way.  It was like all his Christmases and birthdays rolled into one great fiesta.  He soon forgot his harassment but also forgot his ladies.  And his chickeness.  And his ability to forage.  You name it, he forgot it - except that house doors mean food.
 And now I can't get rid of him.  Currently it is pouring rain (far cry from the sunshine I last wrote about) and he is standing, soaked, at the back door, I can see his reflection in my computer screen and he's just staring through the glass at me, waiting.  If I open the door he comes in, has a drink from the dog water bowl and wanders around.  Fortunately he seems to understand basic potty training, I think, I hope - so far so good.
But at least he's small and manageable and easy to remove.  Once one of our ewes gave birth in a snow storm at 3am in record-cold temperatures (of course).  We were only alerted to the situation by her field mate frantically baaaaing to wake us and the little first lamb was already hypothermic when we got there.  Although we tried to warm him up in the barn it just wasn't happening.  So of course he became 'house lamb' for a brief period of time and I went a bit over the top.  Fortunately my husband put a stop to my overly-enthusiastic intervention after finding the little guy and myself curled up fast asleep in our bed.  I spent the next two days reinstating him with his mother, which, although hard work, was preferrable to having a sheep spend its life trying to get back into what he considered his rightful home.
Hopefully I have learned my lesson with Duncan and from now on I will be practical, sensible, definitely not well-intention, when it comes to the livestock.
We'll see.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


"This is not your country."  The words arrived in my head so unexpectedly and with such ferocity I had to sit up and take notice of them.
This thought came to me on a routine drive from Oroville to Tonasket, a few miles to the South.  I had been scanning the landscape lazily, as I always do, for wildlife or features I hadn't noticed before, but now I felt I had to take a deeper look to figure out why my mind was booting me out of my comfort zone .
The road falls in between low mountains, naked of trees at this level, but beautiful in the detail of the rocks.  I have grown to appreciate their bare bones - being able to see every crevice, rock formation and contour instead of imagining these through a layer of trees.  They are not dissimilar to Scottish hills, only covered with sage rather than heather and soaked with sun rather than rain.  Every crack and shadow highlightly starkly by its brilliance.
Then I realised it was the sun that was disturbing me, it dominates everything here for much of the year and has control of the landcape.  Twice in the past two weeks I have watched wildfires burning, one only a few miles from our house.  Seeing smoke as I came down the mountainside I thought: "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."
And yet while the sun dominates - perhaps because of this, I always back the underdog - I have been completely drawn instead to the night skies.
Since Montana has already taken the obvious moniker I have named this place "Biggish Sky Country" and after dark it really comes into its own.  It feels like you can see every star there has ever been and the Milky Way is like a highway driving through them.  Shooting stars and satellites appear almost every night, making the sky is alive.  Once we were trying to figure out what the glow on the horizon could be only to discover the Northern Lights were particularly active that night. 
There is not one dot of light pollution here.
And the full moon, oh words can't do her justice.  I've always appreciated the harvest moon, but here she hangs huge, pregnant and orange just over the mountains.  I am woken up in the early hours by her brilliance shining like a flashlight through the window.  I can't take my eyes off her when she is like this.
Now, although the days are still warm, the nights are getting cold this high up the mountain and we recently slept out under the stars for the last time this year.  My boys stayed awake for ages watching 'sky TV'.  But I fell immediately into a comforted sleep only to be woken by the coyotes howling at dawn.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The End

Belle's life was ended by a vet she had never met, in a small town where noone knew her name, surrounded by an unfamiliar landscape she didn't get the chance to explore.  She was old, in pain and ready to go.  I, on the other hand, being human and selfish was not ready to let go of her and felt that the breath had been sucked from me and my heart would burst from my throat.
The other dogs viewed her body, sniffed and moved on.  Her son, Bug, rolled on his back for a belly rub.  They accepted the change from life to death instinctively and without grief - maybe they know something I don't.
Change is hard for me.  Which is an odd one as my husband Steve and I have forced change on ourselves from the time we met.  We have constantly been reshaping our lives, moving, making plans.  All of which seem to be leading somewhere we don't yet know - that place where we can say: "Yes, this is where I want to live out my days, this is where I want to be put in the ground at the end of it. This is home."
Putting Belle in the ground on the 20 acres of Okanogan Highlands that we have just moved to was unsettling to me.  Being from Scotland, and having lived in rainy western Washington state for the past four years I am finding the beautiful, remote mountainside we are living on so different than what I am used to.  The heat, the dry grasses and the thin film of dust which covers us, our two boys and all the animals isn't what I'm used to and I have not embraced these things yet.  The crickets drowning out the sound of the birds unnerves me. When we first arrived I dismissed the soil as too thin and rocky to suppport a vegetable garden.  I'm not sure this is where we are meant to end up and if we do move Belle won't be coming with us and we won't have her grave to sit next to or be able to press our hands into the dirt above her as if we could still pat her.
But when we dug down to bury her, I realised the soil was deeper and more fertile than I had believed.  Maybe something will take root here.
Time will tell.
I feel disoriented without my companion for the past thirteen years.  But I believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe she is teaching me that the only way to know you are found, that you have ended up in life exactly where you are supposed to be - is to first get completely lost.