My blogger friend LB takes a lot of B&W photos. So when I saw this fence along the highway, I instantly thought of her.

My blogger friend LB at Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things takes a lot of B&W photos. So when I saw this fence along the highway, I instantly thought of her.

I was told that there was a falls on Beaver Creek. That’s MY creek! Of course, I am only one property owner living along this pretty creek, but that hasn’t stopped my claiming ownership of the whole darn thing.

My friend G is living in Seattle, so pretty close. He wanted to come by for a visit and see my new place. G and I used to work together, forecasting the weather for the National Weather Service in Eureka, California. G has the actual atmospheric sciences degree, I came about that career from the Air Force, and thus can’t flaunt the same impressive qualifications. Still, that work put me into the path of some fun, interesting, and super smart people, and my friend G is one of them.

I thought that finding the trail to the falls would be a good plan for us. G has hiked a lot of trails, and in fact, recommended a trail to Red Cap Lake in northern California that was my very first solo hike of my life, back in the 1990s when I got bit by the backpacking bug. I knew he would be game, so when I suggested it, I was already going for my boots and jacket in the few seconds it took him to say, “Yes!”

The town of Rainier is on Highway 30 in Oregon, which follows the Columbia River Gorge east to west. It’s the road I took recently to celebrate my birthday in Astoria. This time we just went a couple of miles toward the coast, and turned off. We followed Beaver Creek Road several more miles, and Beaver Creek kept curving around, back and forth, beneath the road. It was big, and deep, and it was so exciting to think that this rushing body of water was the same creek that flows past the henhouse.

Before we got to the creek, there was a pull out on the road, where we pulled out and went to the water’s edge to watch the water roaring over a couple of short falls. The sun had broken through the morning fog and lit up a white fence along the highway, and I took the shot at the top of this post. Then I went over the bank and stood there soaking it up. A rainbow lit up the spray to my right. Huge basalt columns formed the banks of the river to my left. We climbed around and guessed at the height of the water during the December floods, as thick mosses on the tree branches above us caught fire in the sunlight.

You can sort of make out the geometric shapes of the basalt columns that poke through the earth here.

You can sort of make out the hexagonal tops of basalt columns that poke through the earth here.

Trees form a natural cathedral over the water above the falls.

Trees form a natural cathedral over the water above the falls.

Farther down the road we pulled out again and parked near the trailhead sign for Beaver Creek Falls. It is 9 miles from my house.

This time of year, it’s best to plan on mud, and we got some. It wasn’t too bad though. The trail was rocky, so we didn’t sink in, but the smallish rocks weren’t held together well in the wet soil and we had to take care not to slide down the steep hill.

G leads the way through the trees.

G leads the way through the trees, watching for washed out trail.

Beaver Falls from the road, through a protective chain link fence.

Beaver Falls from the road, through a protective chain link fence.

It was fun chatting with my friend as we walked, who has been working for the National Weather Service for 26 years, I think he said. Wow, has it been that long since we were young and new at that game? He caught me up on the latest intel he had on people I used to work with. Who moved, who got a promotion, who is still there, doing the same work for the great little community in Humboldt County.

After not too long, we heard the roar, and knew we were close.

The falls is surprisingly huge and beautiful. “It’s symmetrical,” G said, obviously the scientist.

Approaching the falls.

Approaching the falls.

 A small but dizzyingly high falls squirts out from beneath the road we came in on.

It’s hard to see this small but dizzyingly high falls that squirts out from beneath the road we came in on.

Beaver Creek scours out a bowl to fill.

Beaver Creek scours out a bowl to fill.

It is rather symmetrical. Practically square.

It is rather symmetrical. Practically square.

This last photo is for laughs. The sign, drenched in a waterfall and nailed to a tree with its roots in the water, warns NO CAMPFIRES! Darn it, I was just looking for my matches...

This last photo is for laughs. The sign, drenched in a waterfall and nailed to a tree with its roots in the water, warns NO CAMPFIRES! Darn it, I was just looking for my matches…

The trail is totally washed out near the bottom. It’s possible the flood waters came that high, and ground the trail to nothing. I’m surprised we didn’t think to investigate that while we were there. Feet from other winter hikers had eeked out a bit of a passage beyond the washed out part, and I took the chance and went about 20 feet beyond where there was clearly no more trail. But even I had to stop without getting to the bottom.

The falls has ground out a big bowl there, making the steep cliffs more than vertical, but undercut. It must be a fabulous place too cool off on hot days. I’ll bet the water’s edges are packed in the summer. Maybe I wouldn’t want to be here then. But a January hike into the bowl and having this view all to ourselves was pretty sweet.

 

Snow coming down at my place

Snow coming down at my place

Longtime friends of mine recently returned to their Spokane home from a New Year’s vacation in Australia and remarked on leaving the greenery down under and arriving at the whitery at home. I have shamelessly adopted their humor as my own. :-)

chicken in snow

chicken in snow

I live in a valley that is about 500 feet in elevation. That’s not really worth raising an eyebrow at in the Pacific NW, but it does mean a bit more snow than if I were at sea level. The cold air sinks to the bottom of my valley and means the snow lingers a little longer too. I like it. I’ve lived in places most my life where winter was a serious situation: Vermont, Colorado, northern Nevada, Illinois, Washington, Massachusetts, and the worst winters of all in Idaho. It’s luxury not to have to shovel snow for months, but I also miss having the white stuff around. I only need enough to make it feel like winter is here for real.

In the past six weeks we’ve had enough snow to warrant some photos and a post.

Looking at the tiny hen house from the deck.

Looking at the tiny hen house from the deck.

Chicken hussies were not phased by their first snow, and treated it as they do everything: tasting it. Snow proved edible, and they spent all morning eating it.

Chicken hussies were not phased by their first snow, and treated it as they do everything: tasting it. Snow proved edible, and they spent all morning eating it.

This is Jamie. I can tell her from her twin by the patterns on her back.

This is Jamie. I can tell her from her twin by the patterns on her back.

What's up? Chicken butt!

What’s up? Chicken butt!

Looking up at the house. Even in the winter I am pretty sure I need a couple of trees hanging over that deck. Guess I'll be planting this spring.

Looking up at the house. Even in the winter I am pretty sure I need a couple of trees hanging over that deck. Guess I’ll be planting this spring.

The pond froze over, so the wild ducks went off to find a more accommodating home.

The pond froze over, so the wild ducks went off to find a more accommodating home.

So remember when I blogged about the flooding here? The creek water was so high that it eroded the banks and turned everything that was left to mud. A couple days later there was an enormous downburst in this area, and that blasted high winds into the trees in Rainier. Mature trees were snapped off everywhere, at about 30 feet up from the ground, blocking many roads. Many more were torn right out of the soggy ground, and laid flat. This was the case on my property, where most of the trees down were those whose roots were exposed and loosened due to the flooding. Fresh snow on the downed trees makes it easier to see them on a dark winter day.

Alder in the creek. In total, I have eight trees down. Six are in the creek.

Alder in the creek. In total, I have eight trees down. Six are in the creek.

The log resting horizontally here shows high water level back when the creek flooded.

The log resting horizontally in the air was dropped there when the creek flooded.

Tara and I made a trip up to Moyie Springs, Idaho to visit my stepdad. Our timing was not so great, as we encountered a storm in Hood River, Oregon (about an hour out of Portland), and the snow and slick roads continued all the way through Kennewick, Washington through Spokane and Coer d’Alene, and finally stopped coming down in Sandpoint (about an hour from our destination). It was a 12-hour day, but the Dragon Wagon (my Jeep) did a great job and we were safe all day long. We arrived at Jim’s house to dry ground, but by morning the storm had caught up with us.

View from the Hood River Starbucks as we got some fuel for the road.

View from the Hood River Starbucks as we got some fuel for the road.

View from Jim's cabin in Moyie Springs the morning after we arrived.

View from Jim’s cabin in Moyie Springs the morning after we arrived.

Jim loves antique cars, and so I'm going to assume these are here intentionally, waiting under the snow for some future TLC.

Jim loves antique cars, and so I’m going to assume these are here intentionally, waiting under the snow for some future TLC.

Now these are clearly well loved cars. Tara and I have been for a ride in the one in the center.

Now these are clearly well loved cars. Tara and I have been for a ride in the one in the center.

What do you do when it snows? You shovel, of course.

What do you do when it snows? You shovel, of course.

Now granted, these photos don’t show the worst of what winter can be. Snow only piled up about two inches deep here, and after four days it melted. We’ve had a few more snow falls since, and as you see from the photos, it is just enough to cover the ground. The temps were low in Moyie Springs, down around 18 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. Here in Rainier it dropped into the 20s for a few days, but now it’s up into the nice toasty 40s again and all the whitery is gone.

So I’m satisfied. My Winter check box has been checked, and I’m ready for Spring now.

My sweet ride. This was the real deal and when I slid into the seat, I could *smell* my childhood.

My sweet ride. This was the real deal and when I slid into the seat, I could *smell* my childhood.

First of all I’ll tell you about my night. I was not very hungry after eating gouda cubes and smoked salmon on crackers with complimentary Chardonnay, so I picked a place called Wet Dog Cafe & Brewery (there are a lot of breweries in Oregon), hoping for a tasty dessert. I arranged for a chauffer to take me there in one of the hotel’s three restored antique cars. I think he told me it’s a 1958 Chevrolet. My driver was a great guy who had been driving for the hotel for many years and probably would have been fun to ride around all night with, but in minutes he let me off. Once inside the Wet Dog, I was tempted by the marionberry cheesecake and since I was at a brewery, I had a pint of Bitter Bitch, because, who could resist with a name like that?

snacks

snacks

Bitter Bitch

Bitter Bitch

dessert

dessert

While I sat there I was watching the Bengals-Steelers game and saw Martavis Bryant pull off an astonishing forward somersault through the end zone to maintain control of the football. Did you see that? Wow. I was so impressed I had to tell the ladies sitting next to me. Before I knew it, we found out we were

my server

my server

chandelier

chandelier

practically neighbors, and had made plans to move on to the place across the street, the very cool and chandelier-filled Inferno Lounge. My chauffer came back at the end of the night to get me safely home in that beautiful car.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

I ran out of space yesterday to tell you about the post-worthy Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. It’s more than you’d want to spend if you’re just traveling through, but highly highly worth it for a splurge. The photos will have to convey the beauty and quality and uniqueness of this place. It could get an entire blog post itself, but instead you’ll just have to suffer with a dozen photos.

These cars are for the guests

These cars are for the guests

Love this tub!

Love this tub!

View from my balcony

View from my balcony

Windowseat, fireplace, wow

Windowseat, fireplace, wow

Lobby area on the first floor

Lobby area on the first floor

Lounge area second floor

Lounge area second floor

Conference room

Conference room

West side of the building

West side of the building

Car below the bridge

Car below the bridge

Boat out front

Boat out front

History on the walls

History on the walls

Early days of the cannery

Early days of the cannery

The Lewis & Clark Bridge that I drive every day is almost the last bridge across the huge river. The Astoria-Megler Bridge is the last one, and it’s a doozy. At 4.1 miles long, it is the longest continuous truss bridge (the load-bearing structure is made of connected pieces forming triangles) in the United States. The whole hotel is on a pier out in the river, and my room was almost beneath the bridge.

Saturday evening was rather cloudy, but Sunday morning dawned spectacularly, and that made for some brilliant scenes for me to capture.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge from the balcony of my room in the morning sunshine.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge from the balcony of my room in the morning sunshine.

The Navajo getting an early start.

The Soujourn getting an early start.

Sojourn makes her way East up the river.

Sojourn makes her way East up the river.

On the land side of the pier, I spotted big ships glowing in the sun.

On the land side of the pier, I spotted distant ships glowing in the sun.

Here they are, at max zoom on my Nikon.

Here they are, at max zoom on my Nikon.

Later in the morning this tug came by, tugging.

Later in the morning this tug came by, tugging.

Close up of the tug

Close up of the tug Navajo.

I had a complimentary breakfast with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt and juice. The attendant even fetched me a larger plate when she saw I was having a waffle. I carried it all upstairs so I could continue to watch the view from my window seat. Finally I couldn’t lollygag in the gorgeous room anymore, so I packed up and headed out. With a day this beautiful, I had no choice but to head back to the Astoria Column that Mads and I visited in March on the first day of our road trip. I stopped first to take a photo of the Flavel House, which wasn’t open yet. Astoria is jam-packed with Victorian style homes and this one is one of the best. Built in 1884, it is now a museum, and something I’ll have to add to my next visit here.

Captain George Flavel House

Captain George Flavel House. It’s surrounded by trees, so hard to get a better shot.

Detail of the column. The closer you stand, the more remarkable it is.

Detail of the column. The closer you stand, the more remarkable it is.

The eye-catching Astoria Column.

The eye-catching Astoria Column stands on top of the hill.

It was still chilly, and on top of the hill the wind could get pretty brisk, but the sun was irresistible and plenty of others had the same idea as me. Soon kids were running to the gift store to purchase little balsa wood airplanes to launch from the top of the Astoria Column. I parked at a lower spot on the hill, and hiked up the grass to get a little exercise on my way up (parking at the top is $5 for the year if you don’t want to hike). Once I arrived at the column, I got even more exercise because there are 164 steps to the top.

The column is 125 feet tall with a spiral staircase inside that leads to an observation deck at the top. It was built with financing by the Great Northern Railroad and Vincent Astor, and was dedicated in 1926. It’s steel and concrete, and the outside is an unbroken spiral history of this area, told in pictures. I was interested in how the murals were made, so I looked it up. “The artwork was created using a technique called sgraffito (“skrah-fee-toh”), an Italian Renaissance art form,” says the column website.

I stayed at the top a good long while, though it was windy as heck and somewhat cramped. Adults and children alike launched their tiny planes, and we cheered them on as they often soared to unexpected distances and for great lengths of time before gliding silently to a stop. Anytime a plane landed nearby, someone at the bottom would scoop it up to try their own launch. The original owners didn’t care, because no one was about to make that climb a second time.

After that I decided to head back home. I stopped at Coffee Girl on Pier 39 on my way out of town. Named after the original coffee girl who sold coffee to the cannery workers at the Bumble Bee Seafood pier, the coffee was handed to me across the original coffee counter. Pretty cool.

A view of the city of Astoria from the column.

A view of the city of Astoria from the column. Columbia River on the right, Youngs Bay Bridge across Youngs Bay to the left, and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Youngs Bay

Youngs Bay and Warrenton, Oregon across the bridge.

Mt. Rainier off to the northeast (because I had to include a volcano!)

Mt. Rainier off to the northeast (because I had to include a volcano!)

Me, squinting in the sun.

Me, squinting in the sun.

An Indian boat display at the far end of the parking lot.

An Indian boat display at the far end of the parking lot.

There's my little home town of Rainier in the foreground, on the Oregon side, and Longview across the river on the Washington side. In the center is the Lewis & Clark Bridge across the Columbia River, that helps me get to work (and more importantly: home) each day.

There’s my little home town of Rainier in the foreground, on the Oregon side, and Longview across the river on the Washington side. In the center is the Lewis & Clark Bridge across the Columbia River, that helps me get to work (and more importantly: home) each day.

Saturday I turned 46 and went down the road apiece to Astoria, Oregon. I stopped right away at a viewpoint and looked down on our rural valley, about an hour drive north of Portland, Oregon. From there I could see the industrial mechanisms of the local economy, in the form of lumber and pulp mills, and the Port of Longview.

The next thing that caught my attention was a sign that pointed the way to a toll ferry. I did not need to go wherever the ferry would take me, except that I have been randomly discovering quite a few small ferry crossings on the many Oregon rivers, and it’s become a new interest of mine. Sadly, I did not ride a ferry that day.

Ferry was closed for repairs, but now that I know it's there, I'll go back and try again.

Ferry was closed for repairs, but now that I know it’s there, I’ll go back and try again.

The water beside the ferry launch was picturesque.

The water beside the ferry launch was picturesque.

In no time I was in Astoria, the city built at the mouth of the Columbia as it pours into the Pacific Ocean. I took a few photos near the mouth of the river, which is filled with sea faring ships, of course, since it’s a safe harbour when the ships are not en route. Then I stopped for lunch at the Rogue Brewery on Pier 39. I drove on the pier to get there!

Ships appear to be moving along a track in this photo. But they are in the distance, and a man is walking his dog along the path.

Ships appear to be moving along an earthen track in this photo. But they are in the distance, and a man is walking his dog along the path that follows the narrow piece of land.

The "road" to the brewery. One will also find shops, a museum, a law office, and the original cannery building for Bumble Bee Tuna.

The “road” to the brewery. One will also find a coffe shop, a dive store, a museum, and a law office.

Bumble Bee Seafood Company started right here. Can you sing the tune with me? "Bum Bum Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna."

Bumble Bee Seafood Company started right here. Can you sing the tune with me? “Bum Bum Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna.”

At the Rogue Brewery I veered away from the “Dead Guy Ale,” and the “Yellow Snow IPA,” and tried the “8 Hop IPA” and some homemade clam chowder (fresh clams, obviously). I somewhat recklessly agreed to become a citizen of the Rogue Nation and raised my right hand and took the pledge. I got a card that entitles me to a free pitcher of beer on my next birthday, but not this one. I talked with another woman traveling solo who is from Idaho like me, and has been roaming the West Coast since November, she said, trying to decide whether or not to retire. When she left, I talked with the couple on the other side of me, who were having a great day because the grandparents had the baby and they were free for awhile. They were both Air Force veterans like me and I quickly gave my VA-is-the-best-thing-ever spiel, and answered some questions and gave them my contact information.

Next I went to check in at the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. This place looked great online, and is *so* much better in reality. The service was personal and genuine. They learned my name in the first greeting, and from then on never asked again what room I was in. I told them it was my birthday and they wished me a happy birthday every time I passed the front desk (and even checked in with me the next day at breakfast, to see if I had enjoyed my birthday. I had.) I took a dozen photos, and I’ll share them with you in my next post.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

There were about two hours of daylight left, so I left the place and went to find the sea.

First I got distracted by this garage covered in scavenged buoys. The woman who owned the home there said the garage was built at the same time as her grandmother’s home, which had been where we were standing before she tore it down to build her new home. “But Grandma loved her garage and it reminds me of her, and I just can’t bring myself to take it down yet,” she said. “We had a pile of these buoys that we had found, and one day we hung them up. Now people drop them off and we keep hanging them up.”

Grandma's garage covered in buoys

Grandma’s garage covered in buoys

Then I was distracted again by a sign giving directions to the Army Cemetery. The road passed through what had clearly been an Army outpost years ago. Though it is entirely civilian now, one can’t ever erase the stamp of the federal government. It had the feel of a military base still. At the end of the road I found the humble Fort Stevens Post Cemetery, founded in 1868, according to an informational sign, when the first burial was Private August Stahlberger, who fell in the river and drowned while under the influence. It was also closed for repair.

The road to the cemetery.

The road to the cemetery.

Past the guardhouse

Past the guardhouse

U.S. Army Cemetery, Fort Stevens

U.S. Army Cemetery, Fort Stevens

Doing repairs carefully

Doing repairs carefully

Finally I found the beach. I honestly tried to pick out just the good photos, but… I fell in love with them all. It was an exquisite view in the January afternoon, as the sun shed her last rays on us ocean-loving humans.DSC_0191DSC_0189DSC_0198DSC_0195DSC_0194

On the way back to the hotel for their 5 pm wine, cheese, salmon and crackers, I had to stop again for photos. These reflections were still discernible in the very last vestiges of light at about 4:40 pm.

Branches stretch across a swampy bay.

Branches stretch across a swampy bay.

My camera makes it look rather light still, but it was pretty dark at this point. Still, the reflections were worth stopping for.

My camera makes it look rather light still, but it was pretty dark at this point. Still, the reflections were worth stopping for.

I went up to my room and changed into my new Christmas dress that I had only worn once so far. I enjoyed the treats downstairs, then came back to my room to try out a new whiskey that I received as a birthday gift. Have I mentioned that I’m a whiskey drinker? A co-worker has been lauding this Japanese scotch for the longest time. I was skeptical that such a good whiskey could be from Japan. I am no longer skeptical. Then, since I wanted to get a photo of my dress for Tara, I took about 75 photos in the bathroom mirror and failed them all. By the time this one was taken, I was totally cracking up at my own ineptness. But at least I got a fuzzy picture of my dress. It’s a sweater dress, so fuzzy is appropriate.

Auchentoshan pours out like syrup

Auchentoshan Three Wood pours out like syrup

Cracking myself up while failing at a selfie.

Cracking myself up while failing at a selfie.

 

Many of my blogger friends are doing a year in review, and I was inspired to borrow some of your ideas and do my own.

Hiking

I went on a lot of great hikes last year and that means I spent a lot of time doing what I love.

In January I hiked up Tom Dick and Harry Mountain and got this view, left to right, of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. {click the image for a larger version}

In January I hiked up Tom Dick and Harry Mountain and got this view, left to right, of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. {click the image for a larger version}

In February I got this shot of Metlako Falls on the Eagle Creek Trail

In February I got this shot of Metlako Falls on the Eagle Creek Trail

Along the Cherry Orchard trail in February.

Along the Cherry Orchard trail in March.

Hiked to Larch Mountain in April with a women's hiking group.

On our way to Larch Mountain in April with a women’s hiking group.

Hiked above Seattle in April with my brother and his girlfriend.

Hills above Seattle in April with my brother and his girlfriend.

Tara and G went to Oneonta Gorge with me: the trail is so narrow we had to walk in the creek.

Tara and G went to Oneonta Gorge with me: the gorge is so narrow we had to walk in the creek.

I spent 4 days in The Enchatments Wilderness area in Washington state.

I spent 4 days in The Enchantments Wilderness area in Washington state.

Tara

In 2015 I got to watch my only child transition from high-schooler into college student, and to grow closer to the adult they are destined to be.

I took Tara and two friends to check out college campuses.

In the Spring I took Tara and two friends to check out college campuses.

April is animecon time in Seattle and Tara keeps me involved in this world.

April is time for Sakuracon in Seattle and Tara keeps me involved in the anime world.

All Tara's best ballet buddies showed up for graduation in June.

All Tara’s best ballet buddies showed up for graduation in June.

Kumoricon is Vancouver, Washington's animecon, and a tradition in our family.

Kumoricon is Vancouver’s animecon, and a tradition in our family.

Tara got a tattoo of a honey bee

Clenching teeth through the pain of a first tattoo

Tara in a cosplay from the show Gravity Falls

Tara in cosplay from the show Gravity Falls

 

Exploring

I can’t help but find make adventure.

My friend Mads and I went on a coast road trip from Oregon to Vancouver, BC, and stopped at The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island on the way.

My friend Mads and I went on a coast road trip from Oregon to Vancouver, BC, and stopped at The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island on the way.

And we went through Seattle on the way back.

And we went through Seattle on the way back.

In April I made some time for appreciating art and met some activist graffiti artists

I met some activist graffiti artists in May.

Portland Rhododendron Garden

Portland Rhododendron Garden was lovely in June

We went back for round two of Disneyland as a graduation present.

We went back for round two of Disneyland as a graduation present.

Tara visits Hansel & Gretel in our favourite local amusement park.

Tara visits Hansel & Gretel in our favourite local amusement park.

Buying a big piece of land and figuring out how to manage it on my own was a big adventure this year, that will certainly continue through 2016.

Buying a big piece of land and figuring out how to manage it on my own was a big adventure this year, that will certainly continue through 2016.

Animals

Domestic and wild animals alike capture my interest. Particularly squirrels.

I fed my backyard squirrels from my hand.

I fed my backyard squirrels from my hand.

This black squirrel was in Vancouver, BC

This black squirrel was in Vancouver, BC

Hunting in Victoria, BC

Hunting in Victoria, BC

Looking for a handout in Victoria, BC

Looking for a handout in Victoria, BC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I sketched this rhino as part of a scholarship lottery for Tara. We didn't win, but we had a ton of fun drawing endangered species.

I sketched this rhino as part of a scholarship lottery for Tara. We didn’t win, but we had a ton of fun drawing endangered species.

A duck in the Rhododendron garden.

A duck in the Rhododendron garden.

I see deer daily on my new piece of property in the country. In 2016 I plan to get some decent photos of the elk for you.

Ranting

Some things build inside me till I have to get it out, and that’s when I pull out my soapbox. Though my blog is typically the place where I simply catalog what I’m doing, it’s also a place to spill out my thoughts and emotions.

The Charlie Hebdo attacks spurred me to evaluate just exactly how I feel about freedom of speech.

The Charlie Hebdo attacks spurred me to evaluate just exactly how I feel about freedom of speech.

On Veteran's Day I talked again about complexities of guilt and pride for those who served, but not in battle.

On Veteran’s Day I talked again about complexities of guilt and pride for those who served, but not in battle.

I finally found the courage to write a blog post about being the mom of a transgender teen.

I finally found the courage to write a blog post about being the mom of a transgender teen.

Photography

I took a few nice ones this year.

This flower was blooming in February

This flower was blooming in February

Sunset in Astoria, Oregon in March

Sunset in Astoria, Oregon in March

I made this portrait of a California Condor

I made this portrait of a California Condor

Wet blooms in The Butchart Gardens

Wet blooms in The Butchart Gardens

The sun lit up a mountain lake in October.

The sun lit up a mountain lake in October.

Friends

I made lots of new friends at the home of a luthier in Gig Harbour, Washington. There is nothing like having friends who can make music.

I made lots of new friends at the home of a luthier in Gig Harbour, Washington. There is nothing like having friends who can make music.

I’ve been saying that 2015 was my Year of the Friend. I relished opportunities to develop stronger friendships and I expect to reap great rewards as the happy memories pile up and we find more excuses to be together. Since you are here, you already know that bloggers make friends as good as anyone in real life. I have learned much from all of you, I have seen sights I couldn’t see any other way. And it’s not merely the dazzling shots of places around the world, but more the perspectives you give me of your lives. Bloggers don’t just post photos, but they comment on the world around them, and it’s in your personal convictions and your love of family and your delight in local traditions that makes me feel so close to you. Thank you, thank you. Or, wado, as we Cherokees say to one another. I truly hope your 2016 is the best yet.

This was the hand-written message at the bottom of a Christmas letter from my Great-Aunt. It brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

This was the hand-written message at the bottom of a Christmas letter from my Great-Aunt. Look how she first wrote “her,” then used white-out and wrote “them” instead. It brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

Being transgender does not mean what I thought it meant. It doesn’t mean today what it meant when my kid first taught me. In fact, the definition is probably changing right now as I write this. All the media coverage I’ve seen on the challenges transgender people face did not prepare me for the challenges their parents face. That process has been like swimming through an emotional stew, dipping into and out of the murky grey sea of sex and gender, pride and shame, loss and reward.

Thank the gods I became a parent. The best, best, best thing I ever did to help my own education as a human being was to have a child. I’m sure I would have learned more with more children, but this only child has helped me grow much closer to the person I always wanted to be.

Considering that I can be a difficult student, I am lucky that Tara is the one who is teaching me what it means to be transgender, and how to treat a transgender person. It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned in life. I was raised by a religious mother and a conservative father in tiny, rural communities. This type of upbringing around the world tends not to be supportive of alternate definitions of love, family, sex, and gender. And while my people are good people, I did not have the opportunity to learn about these topics. I am deeply ashamed to admit that when I was 18, as Tara is now, I was outspoken about how homosexuality didn’t make sense in nature, and so shouldn’t be taken seriously. I had never even heard of transgender people then, and I’m certain I would not have been accepting of them.

The most common questions I get when I say that my child is transgender, is “Female to male, or male to female?” And “Has your child had an operation yet?”

Just like them, I yearn to place people into simple categories, binary if possible, and assign distinct characteristics to them, so I can know where I stand and then move on to the next category. Categorizing people was probably really handy on the savannah when humans were only recently upright and spent most of the day surviving. But in the 21st century it gets in the way. It got in the way when Tara finally told me they are transgender.

Strangely, rather than the day when we talked about what it means to be lesbian, it was the day Tara talked to me about being transgender that finally forced me to consider that this was not a phase. Instead of exploring the idea of homosexuality for a couple of years, then drifting back to heterosexuality as I expected, Tara just kept going farther from the norm. Not that I was actively insisting that my kid was heterosexual, I just hadn’t given it any serious thought. I had decided everything would ‘work out’ in the end to something that would make sense to me, and in the meantime it wasn’t important enough to dwell upon.

About two years before that, middle-schooler Tara had asked, in tears, in an apprehensive voice, “What if I’m a lesbian, Mom? What does that mean about me?” This question didn’t scare me because the categories were easy: females and love. Those are two words I am used to defining. I told Tara to stay away from a label like “lesbian,” and just stick with the facts. “You like girls, that’s all it means about you. And liking girls doesn’t change who you are.” The girl-crush thing persisted, and I wondered whether it was my fault for making my kid that way, because I can never seem to find the right man for myself.

But see what I was doing there? I was judging Tara, doing exactly what I had done as a teenager: dismissing the preposterous idea, assuming it was a phase, assuming it was not important, assuming it was something I could have caused, waiting for Tara to turn out ‘normal.’ What kind of subconscious unsupportive messages was I sending to my own child? I am appalled at my own behavior.

The day of The Talk, I sat on Tara’s bed while they explained that a dictionary definition of “transgender” is a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth. It can mean a person born a boy feels like a girl, or vice versa, but does not necessarily mean that.

Gender is a person’s individual awareness or identity or role that they fill. Sex is a person’s physical anatomy. Tara was born with female anatomy, but explained they did not feel female. And the startling part: they do not feel male either. Tara asked me on that day to stop using the pronouns “she” and “her,” and to use “they” and “their” instead. They do not even feel as though their gender is fixed, but that it moves from day to day. “Think of a spectrum in the shape of a triangle,” Tara told me with wisdom, clarity, and calm that belied their 16 years of life. “On one point is a concentration of female qualities, one is male, and one is no gender. As you go toward the middle of the triangle, you move away from one gender and take up parts of the others. I am somewhere in the middle, and on some days I feel more female, some days more male, and some days I don’t feel either. I cannot predict how I’m going to feel, but usually I can tell when I wake up in the morning.”

I asked how this is different from what everyone feels. Doesn’t every person feel a little female some days, a little male some days? Tara was certain that it is not the same thing, but had a hard time clearly explaining the difference. For a time we settled on this concept of change, of “fluid gender,” and later we used “gender neutral.” I asked if they thought their gender would always be in a state of flux, or if the changes are a part of trying to figure out who they are. Tara said they didn’t know yet. There was a period where Tara got completely fed up with both male and female, and began identifying as “agendered,” meaning neither male nor female. Even within the very tolerant community that Tara has built around themself, there was pushback. People simply hate vagueness.

Tara’s current preference is “non-binary gender,” to emphasize the fact that gender is not either-or. But I still struggle to grasp the real meaning of Tara’s identity. They say that it is hurtful to be thought of as female or male. “Each time a person calls me ‘she’ isn’t that bad, but what happens is that after a series of people thinking of me as a girl, all day long, it becomes very painful. So uncomfortable that it hurts.” I asked, “How is it different from when, for example, people make incorrect assumptions of me because they see me as female,” I asked. “They think I am not smart enough or strong enough to handle something. How is what you feel different from that kind of pain?” Tara answered that they can’t really explain the difference, except that when it happens, they feel two distinct reactions. One is that the person wrongly assumes they are female, and two is that the person wrongly assumes they aren’t smart enough or strong enough. “They aren’t the same reaction, they aren’t the same kind of hurt.”

It was over two years ago, The Talk, and the trauma of it lingers. I won’t kid you: I was stunned. I was so confused that I couldn’t even begin to respond to Tara. My questions along the lines of “Aren’t you simply giving a high-falutin’ name to what everybody feels?” were based not in love, but in trying to flush out the proof that it was not real. I was mostly in shock, but at least able to recognize that this was a pivotal moment in my child’s life. The only thing I could do was to help Tara get it out and to feel safe talking to me. I said,  “Tell me more about that,” when I wasn’t sure I could handle hearing much more. The more Tara talked, the more I felt part of my world breaking apart and falling out from under my feet. Out of loss.

I don’t know if I can explain it, but my love, respect, and appreciation for Tara never wavered. In fact, I was a bit in awe of the kid for having the presence of mind to initiate this conversation with me, and to stick with it while I was so obviously gobsmacked. But I was flooded with a profound sense of loss. It felt like I lost my child that day. I lost my daughter. The one I had constructed in my mind because…well, how was I supposed to know I had to keep my mind open to something else? I just assigned “girl category,” and filled in all the rest.

For the next few days I was in a deep depression and I experienced a very real grieving process. I felt sorry for myself. I cried and cried. It was so hard to explain it to friends, “I have to give up who I thought my child was, and give up the future dreams, like marriage and children. There will be no giggling over boyfriends, not ever. Well, of course Tara can still get married and raise children, but every bit of it will be different than what I had imagined.  Not that it’s bad…it’s just…confusing. And unexpected.” My friends, bless their hearts, gave me hugs and didn’t quite understand what I believed I was giving up.

My own child was not who I thought. Sixteen years of a relationship based on misconceptions. It really, really hurt to face that.

“I can be physically attracted to just about anyone,” Tara corrects me today. “I could easily have a boyfriend one day and children. It’s just another vagueness of my future I am not sure of. My non-traditional identification stems from gender and sex, and also how I choose to appear and how I define my romantic relationships.” Just for context, Tara’s been in a relationship with another transgender person for three years, so the boyfriend comment is more to make a point. “Brynnen are you Tara’s boyfriend?” I asked, “Yes,” they answered without hesitation. And it was a relief to laugh.

Two years later, we are the same tight team we have always been, and – get this! – I am actually not assigning Tara into a gender category in my mind so much anymore. I didn’t realize it was possible, but with time, I am able to give up “female.” I am getting much better at using the difficult pronouns, which for a somewhat OCD grammar-freak, is extremely difficult when I’m constantly using a plural pronoun to describe a individual person. I am doing better at using “them/they” at work and with relatives and acquaintances. Without exasperation or anxiety, I can respond to their confused questions, calmly explaining that I am only talking about one person, and Tara prefers that I use those pronouns.

I am not over it. I hate it that I am not. Who knew I would so stubbornly cling to my traditional upbringing when I have made it a point most of my life to be as open-minded and tolerant as I can possibly be?

But I am not sorry for myself anymore, which allows me to give more of the emotional validation that my kid needs from me. I’m on board, and I actually get irritated when I fill out forms and have to check a box to identify myself as male or for female. These days, I often check male, to be difficult, because I’m finally starting to understand how frustrating it could be to live in a binary world. And I’m done thinking of it as a phase. This person who has been right next to me all these years, is actually way more genuine and brave than the one I gave up.

Beaver Creek is apparently trying to be Beaver River.

Beaver Creek is apparently trying to be Beaver River.

I’m sure you have heard the news about the rain on the U.S. West coast. Here’s our story.

On Tuesday December 8, despite the pouring rain I drove south to Corvallis after work to pick up Tara from college to come home for the holidays. We got home at 9:30 pm and I was so tired we didn’t visit, just went to bed. So much rain had fallen that day it had caused a mudslide that brought down trees and debris across Oregon Highway 30 near Rainier, my hometown. Wednesday morning I kissed Tara’s sleeping head, and hopped into the Jeep at 5:00 am like usual. I could not take the Highway 30 route into Portland because there was a roadblock, flashing lights, and police out there answering questions. I shrugged and turned the other direction to cross the Lewis & Clark Bridge over the Columbia River to Washington state. It’s my preferred route into town anyway. Both highways hug the river all the way to Portland, but the I-5 speed limit is 70 miles per hour, and the Hwy 30 speed limit ranges from 25 to 55 mph as it passes through half a dozen little towns.

During the day Wednesday the rain came down like a monsoon. Word spread through the office that there had been a mudslide on Interstate 5 between Portland and Seattle – my way home. I wasn’t worried at first, since that is a major route and I knew it would be a priority cleanup.

Tara sent a video taken on their phone. It showed our little Beaver Creek had overflowed its banks and flooded the whole bottom section of the property, flowed all across the land and into the pond. The video is blurry, but you get the idea. Since I moved here in July I have fretted about the low level of the pond, but in minutes the raging Beaver River filled it up and overflowed the other side. (Notice the sticks still on the railing after I photographed them for their ice formations.)

I left work and headed north on I-5 like usual, and right away I saw enormous highway signs proclaiming “Road closed, mile post 23. Use alternate route.” I kept driving because the mudslide was from the morning. Certainly the major highway would be open by the time I arrived. And besides, “alternate route,” that’s a joke. There is no alternate route. There isn’t a  frontage road, or mountain pass, or even a little recreation road that follows the Columbia River on the Washington side. There is absolutely no other way to get through except Highway 30 on the Oregon side.

Road Closed Ahead.

Road Closed Ahead.

I was still about 10 miles away from the so-called “road closure,” but already the Interstate was slowing down. Three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic traveling around 15 miles an hour finally made me take the situation seriously.  The big glowing highway signs stated “Take next exit.” I passed one exit, still not convinced. When we were down to 3 miles an hour, and still 8 miles from mile marker 23, I acquiesced and pulled off the highway, turned around and went back to Portland. I finally had to agree that the Interstate was truly closed.

Luckily I had a place to stay in downtown Portland, so I had a rather appealing Plan B. Serendipitously, Tara was at home and could keep an eye on the place, feed the cat and the chickens, and that was reassuring. I visited the hot tub on the roof of the apartment building where I stayed, and for an hour the rain let up and gave us this Christmas view of the city.

Christmas lights of Portland.

Christmas lights of Portland.

I wore all the same clothes at work Thursday December 10, though I was able to swap out my undershirt with a clean Incredible Hulk T-shirt, which I was carrying for the workout that never happened. You just never know when you’re going to need the help of a superhero, am I right?! My co-workers and I heard that Highway 30 was finally open at Rainier, but a couple hours later a new mudslide happened at the St. John’s bridge. Cleanup crews for the St. John’s slide accidentally hit a natural gas pipeline, which closed Highway 30 again. I-5 stayed closed. My co-worker’s wife called to tell him that a tornado dropped down in their hometown, and the schools were calling parents to come get their kids. A tornado!

Apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I considered driving to the coast at Tillamook, Oregon, going north to Astoria, and coming in to Rainier from the back way. Yes, for reals, I was seriously going to drive to the coast just to get home. However, the same co-worker with kids going home for a tornado, has family in Tillamook. He cautioned me not to try it because many of those highways were under water as well.

Finally Hwy 30 opened again in the afternoon, and I left an hour early. I thought for sure that leaving at 2:30 pm would help me avoid rush hour traffic and make the trip home reasonable. I had not seen my home in two days, hadn’t said “hi” to my teenager or the chickens or the cat, hadn’t taken prescription meds, and I needed new clothes. I made up my mind to get onto 30 and just be patient if it ended up taking a long time.

"A long time," was an understatement.

“A long time,” was an understatement.

The sign says "SLIDES." I found it pretty funny. But then, I was bored out of my mind while bumper to bumper, so I was easily entertained at that point.

The sign says “SLIDES.” I found it pretty funny. But then, I was bored out of my mind while bumper to bumper, so I was easily entertained at that point.

All Interstate 5 traffic was routed onto 30 that day. Just imagine it: three lanes of Interstate traffic on two lanes (and for a large portion of the highway, only one lane) of country road. It wasn’t just a slow trip home: it was the worst ever. Six and a half hours it took me. I finally pulled into the driveway at 9:15 pm.

Friday morning at 5:00 am, I kissed Tara’s forehead in the dark again (I still hadn’t seen my kid awake for days) and headed back into town. Sadly, all the southbound roads had been open all week. Meaning, I could always get to work, but getting home was the problem. Next time I’d prefer to be trapped at home due to mudslides. At work we heard stories of how the Red Cross had set up tents along the Interstate for motorists trapped on the highway, unable to back out because of being penned in by other vehicles. They passed out silver heat blankets and bottled water, and people stayed the night in their cars. If I was religious, this would probably have been the time for me to send up some prayers. (I sent some anyway, just because I don’t let convictions get in the way of my gratitude)

This is how I-5 looks now, at mile post 23.

This is how I-5 looks now, at mile post 23.

Two lanes are open and it's not a problem at all to get through.

Two lanes are open and it’s not a problem at all to get through.

...but that's certainly a heap of mud to deal with yet.

…but that’s certainly a heap of mud to deal with yet.

After work Friday I went home on I-5 that had two lanes open at long last. I passed about a dozen abandoned cars beside the highway, where people had pulled into the ditch and walked back toward Portland two nights earlier. Thank goodness I had not been one of those trapped. I am so glad I decided to turn around. One of my defining qualities is the refusal to give up when things get difficult, but perhaps a sign that I’m maturing despite it all, is the fact that I am learning that sometimes the right decision is to give it up.

All is well at home. No one is allowed to worry that my house was ever in danger of flooding. We sit up on a hill and the whole Columbia Valley would have to fill up before the water would get to my house. Ironically, I currently have an application pending with FEMA to get the property removed from their categorization of flood zone, so I don’t have to buy flood insurance. Shh! Don’t show them the video.

The river washed out the log that used to be here, as well as the huge blackberry brambles that were growing from it. (Yay! Less weed-whacking this summer.)

The river washed out the log that used to be here, as well as the huge blackberry brambles that were growing from it. (Yay! Less weed-whacking this summer.)

Who needs a leaf-blower when floodwaters clean it up much better?

Who needs a leaf-blower when floodwaters clean it up much better?

Looking the other direction, you can see exactly where the water flowed.

Looking the other direction, you can see exactly where the water flowed.

(This is what it looked like in July)

(This is what it looked like in July)

Not as welcoming for the ducks at the moment, but lots better for the fish.

Not as welcoming for the ducks at the moment, but lots better for the fish.

This is back when I thought my poor fish were going to boil in the shallow, warm pond.

This is back when I thought my poor fish were going to boil in the shallow, warm pond.

Hm, the water brings gifts.

Hm, the water brings gifts.

This section was entirely impenetrable a month ago. Now it's smartly combed.

This section was entirely impenetrable a month ago. Now it’s smartly combed.

Look at her, high-stepping through the marsh land.

Look at her, high-stepping through the marsh land.

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Rainier City Hall with a diminutive & dark Christmas tree at its side, awaiting official tree-lighting time.

A couple weeks ago I attended the Rainier tree-lighting ceremony. It was a small affair. My new community of Rainier is pretty tiny. Its heyday was when the Trojan Nuclear Facility  was running, which lasted until the plant was closed in 1993. Rumor has it that the TV show The Simpsons modeled their nuclear plant after this one, which makes sense, since so many Simpsons characters are named after streets in Portland. When the nuclear plant shut down, the town of Rainier slowly began to disintegrate. It still exists because of the logging industry, with multiple mills on the Longview, Washington side of the Columbia River (two largest employers there are Weyerhaeuser and Kapstone, timber/paper companies). But it’s not enough to keep a town thriving, so my home of Rainier is understated and I can almost see it shrinking.

The indefatigable citizens organized a caroling event and tree-lighting on the steps of the impressive City Hall building. It’s the only impressive building in town. The tree appears newly planted, and is about 8 feet high and not quite grown into its oversized decorations. About 30 of us stood on the sidewalk along Highway 30 in the rain, and listened to Christmas carols.

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Carolers were energized when Chief Elf showed up.

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Tree is now lit

Soon the city fire engine pulled up next to us, and Santa himself climbed out. The kids all broke into a rousing version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town, and Santa helped sing. When the song was over, Santa led us in a countdown, and the lights of the tree came on at our command.

Then everyone hurried inside and out of the rain. Kids got in line to talk to Santa, grownups grabbed hot cocoa and cookies to wait for the kids. There was a long table piled with donated goods from local businesses. Each person who walked through the door got a raffle ticket and so everyone stayed to see if they won anything good.

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Soon the little tree will be a big tree, and these ornaments will look just right.

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Tree comes to life with lights.

This waiting around took a long time, and I entertained myself by wandering the main hall of the City Hall. There are historic photos on the walls and I was delighted to discover that one of the largest original industries in the town was the Rainier Soap Factory, providing critical employment for women as well as men.

Finally, Santa was done talking to the kids and assisted with the raffle. I won a little basket with a stuffed animal and some Christmas dishes, but traded it with the next door neighbor girl for a squirrel magnet. Squirrels are my favourite.

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Homemade antiquey looking clocks were the only thing I wanted, but no such luck.

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Photos of the Rainier Mineral Soap Factory and its employees (mostly women) are along the walls of City Hall.

Rainier soap

Rainier Mineral Soap – keeps out blood poisoning, cleans ink spots, polishes metals, and protects from pestilence. This natural antiseptic contains no dirty fats. It’s a miracle product! This great little advertisement for the Preston Manufacturing Company tells a story and lauds the many benefits of Rainier Mineral Soap.

I also found an old photo of the City Hall (not very good, so I didn’t include it here) with interesting bits from the back of the photo posted beside it on the wall. “The new City Hall. The American Legion post here was given the privilege of obtaining two cannons, which in a moment of enthusiasm they decided would be fine placed at either side of the entrance to City Hall. It didn’t seem like such a good idea after they were installed, so they were moved to the grounds of the new High School on Nob Hill (1926).

“In the building, provisions were made for a hall above for the American Legion. Also for the library on the east side.

“Bord Kegh, carpenter, built the fire bell tower to the south east side of the building (1922). On Sunday morning, young Robert McKinley (1925) begged the janitor of the Methodist Church across the street for special permission to ring the church bell for Sunday School. In his youthful enthusiasm, he rang it with such vim and vigour that he called out the fire department – the bell tones were similar.”

My first question about those notes from the back of the photo is “Why was it a bad idea to have cannons at City Hall, but a better idea to have the cannons at the High School?” I’m also curious about the timeline, since it appears that the fire bell tower was built in 1922, but the cannons weren’t removed till 1926. Apparently it took years for the bad idea to be discovered. And finally, look at that vigour: Americans in the 1920s also used the British spellings, just like me. Maybe I’m channeling my inner frontierswoman.

It wasn’t the flashiest Christmas party I’ve ever been to, but it was a good night because I visited my City Hall and learned some great little tidbits about the building and my town’s history. These are the kinds of things to make a person feel more connected to her home.

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Lacey wants me to hold still so she can find out whether the large black round thing on my face is edible.

The Chicken Hussies, I’ve been calling them. They are saucy and misbehaved. They are rarely home, running around the neighborhood bringing dishonor upon this house. They don’t come when I call them and I dont know where they are half the time. When they do show up, they run to me at first with joy of recognition. That turns into clucking complaints, demands, unceasing inquiries about the availability of grain. They peck my hands and my shoes, and mutter that the feed I give them is tiresome and they would prefer leftover oatmeal. “Remember that time when you fed us oatmeal?”

These hens leave their, shall we say, “fertilizer” all over the deck and the front porch, and in the equipment shed on the side of the house where they sleep. It’s a sure sign that they know where they belong. And yet do they stay here like proper ladies? Never. I fear their reputations are ruined.

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“Oh, it’s a camera? Well, here, I think this side of my head is more photogenic.”

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In back, left to right, Lacey, Jamie, Phil. The red one is Tawny.

The once sensitive topic of reciprocity has become more of a common theme. Admittedly, I am the one who brings it up. I explain about the cost of hay, feed, fencing. I explain about having a full time job and getting phone calls from irritated neighbors who wish for me to spend my off time collecting chickens from their properties. I tell the Hussies I’ve resorted to forcing my evening visitors into chicken-wrangling, in which I throw a tarp over the sleeping group and together we haul them down the hill and put them back into their perfectly darling chicken house filled with dry fluffy hay. They reply, “We were wondering what that was all about.”

Then I cautiously bring up the topic of eggs. THE POINT OF ALL THIS.

They pretend not to understand. “What are these ‘eggs’ of which you speak? Forgive us, we are dumb chickens. Is that a spider?”

One morning after a successful chicken wrangling, I was out on my deck with a cup of coffee. I looked with satisfaction and pleasure, down the hill at my lovely ladies: Tawny, Lacey, and the twins Jamie and Phil. They were safely inside their fence, clucking contentedly, eating grass, scratching for spiders. I was filled with such love for them, I called down “Good morning my chickies!!”

All four froze and turned to see me for the first time, squawking “Mom!” in unison. As you would expect if there were four Harrier jets ready for a mission, the ladies rose into the air and shot toward me. One after another, they lifted straight up and over their four-foot fence, then rocketed through the air up the hill in military formation, directly to me standing on the deck. I’ve never seen chickens fly like that. I thought the appropriate response would have been to scold them to teach a lesson, but instead I was flattered.

Still no eggs. I looked up “hussy” in Urban Dictionary and one of the definitions was “chicken.” So I had to look up chicken, and one of the definitions is a female with attractive breasts and thighs. Do you think it’s time to remind them of what happens to chickens who don’t lay?

This morning a new kind of fowl caught my attention.

Something pure white in the pond caught my eye from the kitchen window. I stared and had mostly convinced myself it was a duck. Multiple ducks, from the appearance of movement. I got out the camera and used the zoom lens to confirm. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen ducks on the pond.

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Male and female Hooded Merganser moved to the far side of the pond when they saw me sneaking down the hill toward them.

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The group of six female mergansers also decided to scoot away when I showed up. Here I captured only one straggler.

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I think it looks like a proper pond for the first time. Ducks are an excellent accessory.

In the past I have accidentally startled a lone goose, who exploded skyward as soon as I was spotted. I would love to have some long term pond-dwellers. I crept slowly down the hill, hoping not to frighten them, I hid behind trees, and crept as close as I dared. I watched them dive for goodies underwater, then pop back up onto the surface.

If they decide to stay, I hope they don’t talk to the Hussies, or I’ll likely find myself building another ineffective pen and buying more pellets for ungrateful birds.

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Frosty pond on Thanksgiving Day.

After rain and clouds and fog and darkness, we’ve had a week of sunshine. Sun in November means there is no protective blanket of clouds and the ground is exposed to the frigid atmosphere. Lows in Rainier have been in the 20s (below zero Celsius) at night and warm up to around the freeze/ melt point during the day (most people saying “freezing point,” but meteorologist say “melting point”). Despite the cold, the sun makes me happy. And when it’s cold day after day, and you walk in the air and breathe deeply while chasing chickens or chopping wood, you get used to it in no time.

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I am no longer worried about the pond being too warm for the fish to stay healthy. Interestingly, I have no concerns about the effects of a frozen pond on the fish inside.

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Frost is adornment for the leaves and grasses and branches. When the sun hits them, the land sparkles.

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My friends told me this plant looks like kale. I’m pretty sure it is not kale, but I haven’t identified this random weed growing on my property. I do agree that it’s as pretty as kale.

The chicken hussies (so-called because of their stubborn insistence on misbehaving) are periodically in their pen. I capture them, and I force visitors to help me wrangle chickens, so on occasion all four are inside. But they lose their patience and fly out within days. Or hours. They used to be content to scratch the dirt and eat the grass within feet of the house, but in the past month have decided that no distance is too far to roam. I usually have no idea where they are.  Thanksgiving morning I walked down to the chicken pen to visit the only chicken in there at the time.

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Tawny examines a crust from leftover key lime pie.

After chatting with Tawny, dumping out the solid block of ice and refilling her water dish with liquid water, I noticed something white that looked like paper trash down by the creek. It was not trash but the most amazing ice sculpture! I’m guessing that the cold temperatures froze the moisture inside the sticks, and when the ice swelled, it was forced to squeeze out of the sticks. Anyway, what do you think happened?

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I brought the two branches up from the creek to the deck, so I could photograph the ice better.

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It was very difficult to get my camera to show what I saw: delicate feather-like wisps of ice that clumped together in a chilly pillow.

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As soon as I touched these mounds of ice, they crushed and melted beneath my fingertips.

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I was totally captivated by the ice.

I have been worn out with my commute. I spend three hours a day in traffic, sometimes four. I can’t stand driving to begin with, so it really takes a toll on my spirit and my ability to get stuff done at home since I’ve been deprived of all that time. But the upside is, I am slowly learning my new job and gaining a tiny bit of confidence. In a few months I will probably be released to go back to working at home.

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My view every single day when I leave work and begin the long trip home. Well, usually it’s raining.

Hair care I find to be a menace, and once I have a hairdresser that suits me, I stick with that person till something drastic pulls us apart. When I lived in Boston, I continued to schedule haircuts for when I flew back to California, ha ha. Well, I have moved from Portland to way out in the country, and only recently made it back into the city to get my hair cut. I like it long in summer, so I can pull it back into a ponytail. I like it short in winter.

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Short hair is a good way to show off enormous earrings!

I was asked out on a date a few weeks ago, and he and I hit it off, which is CRAZY because this guy is proud to call himself a conservative Christian Republican. I may be nuts. I am proud to call myself a liberal atheist who refuses to align with any political party. In my Thanksgiving phone call to my Pa, he laughed and said, “Well, I’ll bet you two have some rousing conversations!” So… it could make for some future rants in my blog that could offer some real entertainment. Stay tuned. ;-)

Tara has been home the last two weekends and I am *so* happy to have my kid at home. I didn’t realize how much of a hole there was until it was filled and I felt the peace of it.

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Last weekend, Tara came home because there was a performance by the dancers at their old studio.

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It is like family being there, even for me. I love these girls and have watched them grow into stunning young women athletes.

Tara got their first tattoo yesterday. It was an event. Tara has wanted a tattoo for years, but I would not give consent. The kid is now 18 and I relinquished my right to say “no.” If the plan had been to get a tattoo on the face or neck, or someone’s name, I would have protested, but instead Tara wanted a honeybee on their thigh. I can totally live with that. I think the tattoo is beautiful. While I was there I showed the artist my sadly distorted faery on my abdomen (who looked lovely until I got pregnant), and she had some ideas for how to make her pretty again. I may soon go under the needle myself.

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From this photo you can’t tell how much pain my kid is in.

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It’s the season for giving thanks, and I am so grateful. For having a perfect child and an open mind, for having a father I can call, and a stepfather who calls me. For the reminder that I am a woman that a man could love. I am grateful that it’s so cold I think about the weather, and grateful that I have chickens to worry about. I am grateful for a troupe of gorgeous dancers and their parents and siblings who hug me every time I show up. I feel lucky to have a job many miles away, and I know I am lucky to have a home that fills up when my Tara and my Racecar kitty are here with me. I am so grateful that I turned out to be a person who never ceases to be fascinated with investigating the world around me.

One of my many guises

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