I knew that botany class in my degree program would come in handy some day.  I was more interested in physiology, anatomy, microbiology and genetics.  Who would have thought that the cause and effect could become so complicated?

(plug for the country song, the head-shaking one about human nature to create and repeat mistakes – all of the Chaos makes perfect sense.)

So, as you know, we live in a rural area, and we use practices that support nature on our farm.  We also have a small garden, small because we have little flat surface with more than an inch of topsoil.  The bulls contribute to our gardening resources, in the off-breeding season, and when we finish rebuilding and reorganizing fencing, there will be a little more flat space for a real garden.  I will always try organic gardening methods first, and for foods, exclusively – so far.  I regularly lose the battle for squash and melons to squash bugs.  This year I used a garden fabric with a soaker hose underneath.  At first, you can keep up by scraping the eggs daily and killing any bugs.  The warmer it gets, the less effective this becomes, and by then, the early squash is dead.  The bug damage allows disease to begin.  Diatomaceous earth also helps, and with landscape fabric, it works well so far, but there are still squash bugs one and two days later, and you have to reapply after rain.  Then there are the tomato hornworms and others.  Biodiversity is essential, but the squash bugs are the perfect example of how excessive harvesting self-destructively eliminates a food source.  I can’t figure out how these bugs survive, because who wants to grow squash or melons to grow squash bugs?  But they appear every year, jumping from one food source to another over the course of the growing season.  There will probably be no pie pumpkins for us this year except for what may appear at a Farmers’ Market.

The tangled web of life is only glimpsed from experience with vegetable gardening.  The roses have their struggles, and the dahlias.  And the apple tree.  And the pines.  Even the walnut tree. Each pest that arrives, drawn to whatever you want to grow, requires that you examine how to curtail its food sources, add its predators, or back further up or down the chain to find ways to deal with the web of nature.

We keep a few outdoor cats, who help control rodents, but who also occasionally feast on birds that you wish they wouldn’t.  We feed the cats, and wildlife that figure out the feeding schedule are drawn to the cat food, or to hearing the call of “Kitty, kitty”.  These wildlife carry ticks into the yard.  (Good luck keeping wildlife out of the yard, but there are some limited ways to treat wildlife.)  Rodents can carry ticks, but the cats help with this, along with the raptors on fence posts and power poles.  Loose dogs belonging to inconsiderate neighbors may also bring ticks, and these are usually male, so they pee on things.  The Mugho pine was finally done in, not by Parker as it was moved to a new location near the road after he was gone and it was doing well.  This is how I knew male dogs were present.  Crossing fingers, this isn’t frequent now, and there is now a county animal control officer.

I am considering a couple of additional steps in our tick control efforts.  First, I am trying to figure out how to construct a cat station that lets cats in and can be used on the exit side to trap unwanted guests.  This will be fun.  (tic)  And I’m working on plans for a barrier area that will include tick control tools.  Mowing helps, but an extra measure in the perimeter would be good.  The recommended width for a barrier is 3 feet.  This will be a lot more gardening, and while I enjoy a little gardening, it is not my primary interest.  There must be biocompatibility, mainly for dogs and cats, but also for birds.  And the plants must tolerate freezing conditions, dry conditions and rocky soil.  Lavender is looking good as a main component.  I’ve set out three varieties in the yard this year, one that is thriving, one that is doing well and one that is staying small, which is good for some areas.  Winter will be another test. I like fragrance plants, and the dried flowers can hang off the mantel during fall and winter.  It may be interesting to experiment with extracting oils, too.

For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost (etc.), so backing up the chain means garden efforts too, along with pest control efforts for pests such as aphids that damage the plants and set them up for disease.  I don’t want to build another garden to feed bugs.  But I would like to feed pollinators and hummingbirds.  All of the chaos makes perfect sense?  We will see.

For anyone who is interested, there is a lot of information online about tick controls for your yard, plants that deter ticks and don’t harm mammals, and how to grow plants – and some of this is reliable.  There is a good resource on growing lavender:

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Heavy rains were followed by intense heat along with steam bomb days. Fencing was being replaced on one side, concrete had been poured on the other, gardening was transforming from spring to summer and farm activities were at their usual high point. And a certain raccoon learned to come to the cat food when I called, “Kitty, kitty”. It was after dark, and at first, I thought he was our similarly colored cat. He turned around at my urging, surprising himself and me. Then he meandered on through the barn yard. He is a handsome young one, with a nice, full coat and a dark mask.

This week, he showed up with a small female and a kit in tow. I ushered them away and have since been wondering if the small female was the friend that Sylvia made a couple of winters ago. I felt a bit bad about that, given how sincerely Sylvia had been nice to that one. (Cats are complicit in this issue.) Since then, I’ve installed motion detector bulbs at outdoor lights where the fixtures weren’t already motion detectors, and I set out a couple of those ultrasonic devices that flash light for motion near the ground. If these are working, well, I suppose it could be worse. A few nights ago, I came upon Roger (raccoon) eating from the cat food again. He wasn’t very shy. I tried to explain that he wasn’t a cat and that this food was for cats. He listened well. Meanwhile, he continued stuffing his face, eating like a cat, then alternately sitting up and shoving it into his mouth with his hands. He wasn’t in the least discouraged, so I took a video and sent it to Greg and my nieces. I’m going to have to find a yet better way to feed the outdoor cats. Moving the tray outside of the barn into an open area did very little except to also feed the jays and crows. I had developed a rapport with the crows during the winter; we had a system where I would put out old bread or tortillas and they would clean it up – a good cooperative system. But now they were active where they shouldn’t be. A dog house may work for birds, but raccoons will require much more thought.

On Friday, I watched a squirrel eating a walnut on our small compost bin, then another. I waited to do the gardening task, to not disturb its enjoyment. Then it just sat still. It’s a very rare thing for a squirrel to simply sit still. After about 45 minutes, it laid down facing the creek east across the pasture. Even more rarely does a squirrel lapse into such continued stillness, close to the ground in an unprotected spot. It laid with its tail along and hanging off the compost bin, and it remained there for a couple of hours in apparent contentment as I did a few outdoor things on the other side of the house. This reminded me so much of when Jade, then Banner and Jade, then Banner would lie still in the yard listening to the sounds of nature and passing cars in a semi-meditative state. Then my chest tightened.

I had an errand to take care of in town and I stopped by the park for a two-lap walk. Happy Friday – it’s what we would have been doing, although much earlier. The park was largely cleaned up after the storm damage, but there are many short pieces of small limbs strewn everywhere. And I had noticed how exposed Marlin Perkins now was. This day, there was a couple standing near him and taking pictures. I commented that it was nice that he had company since he was more lonely now. They visited with me and said they were planning to move to Carthage in a year after they retire. Nice. Still making new friends at the park.

I had decided to turn the area where we buried Jade into a rock garden, and I needed the landscape fabric that was leaning against the tree near the squirrel, where I had covered some garden area. I went through the garage to peek again at the squirrel, and I forgot to close that door quietly. It sat up at the sound and turned its head, but it was still not disturbed. After a moment, I came back inside and pulled out a cold glass bottle of root beer, and waited a little longer.

Greg and I were planning to go to Wichita the next day for a great-nephew’s first birthday. We would need to leave very early, be there for a couple of hours, then return before 4 p.m. to go to Springfield. We had decided to attend only one of the Tent Theatre performances this year. This one had to be on a Saturday instead of a Friday, which happened to be on Banner’s 11th birthday, and shortly after our anniversary. Greg texted that he was stuck in Chicago and was being re-booked for a flight the next morning. Had he gone through Dallas, he could have driven home, and we could have picked up the car in Springfield after the play. He arrived about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. We went over a few questions and issues, and debated about how to dress for “business casual” at the restaurant’s requirements but wear shorts for the play, which was under a big circus tent for forty-some years but now has a permanent pavilion, courtesy of John Goodman, who also attended school there.

When we arrived, we ran into another person who shows Newfs. I used to run into people I knew there once in a while, but the older I get, the less often that occurs. Maybe we both look older and don’t see familiar faces, but more likely, there are fewer of us at the same plays. These days, the weather during summer is hotter, and there are fewer people who dress formally, wearing evening gowns. Fans were added many years ago. The pavilion has a raised ceiling, and the cooling by fans works better. Or, when you are engrossed in a performance, you are less aware of the heat and humidity. For this performance, an audience member was introduced who had been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the movie version of this play, Crimes of the Heart. Upon request, Tess Harper stood up to be recognized. Very nice. There were several successful, or very successful, actors who graduated within a few years of each other. There must have been some inspiring instructors there who helped people maximize their talent.

We had steaks that are produced near us in Ft. Scott and prepared at a restaurant that also knows how to maximize potential, then Greg decided that he wanted a coffee. As we walked back toward the car, we would be passing near our favorite coffee shop. When we arrived, it was closed, so we walked the other direction to the Mudhouse. I decided against changing into shorts, and while Greg was changing, I perused the flyers on their corkboard. Lyle Lovett will be in Camdenton soon, but aside from the Tent Theatre, July travel doesn’t sound like fun. Hermann MO has a “wine trail” tour, and now Springfield has a “coffee trail”. I hadn’t realized there were so many coffee shops there! And heretic that I am, I order coffee from a roaster in Oregon, but I’m always looking for a good coffee shop. If I ever write about travel destinations, it will include coffee shops as a primary attraction. The host, rather barista, asked whether I wanted anything, and she mentioned that they had some eclectic beverage options. Coffee houses often do. I commented that the Raspberry Beret Latte sounded interesting and pointed to the sketch on the slate, using white chalk with raspberry and light blue accents, but I said that I was waiting for someone and didn’t want anything. The young guy behind her said that he didn’t get the reference. I said, “Where were you 30 years ago?” and grinned. 30 is a generation; 40 may be out-of-touch. He was, of course, in his late teens or early 20s. The barista said that she wasn’t born then, but she knew who Prince was. I told her about stopping during a trip to get a Bose bluetooth speaker when we heard the news of his death so we could listen to his music for the trip. (This was before the van had iPod connector ports, which are now also out of date.) I said that when we got to the meeting, the lights began flickering and producing purple hues. (This actually occurred, and someone had commented something about Prince. We were in Sioux Falls, not in MN, but the relevance didn’t escape notice.) The young guy said, “Oooh, spooky”. I think he’ll be looking for some Prince music now.

We got back around midnight. I went out to feed the cats, having decided to try odd hours so the cats could eat with less competition from raccoons, who have learned feeding times. One cat isn’t recovering well from Bobcat fever, and the other male cat, our large “Orange Tiger” – the name of a Newf toy, has been lying near the food, to discourage the riff-raff so Dierk could eat. These two had periodic dust-ups at one time but became friends. Animals have more compassion for each other than most people realize. I saw something scurry from the patio faster than Dierk would be moving, and it went into the Cat Cave, an opening under our bedroom patio that I had built for cat cover. I got a flashlight and found a young possum in the far corner. It isn’t easy to explain the concept of “No trespassing” to wildlife, but the Jet setting on the water hose was a good discourager and an event that I hope it remembers. I went to the other side of the house to feed Sylvia and a small brown bird flew in, possibly confused by the bright light in the open door. I didn’t want to walk back into the room and have to get the bird back out from multiple rooms, so I called Greg and had him close the door on the other side. Even trapped in a small room, several efforts were needed to get the bird out, as it kept coming back inside. Perhaps wildlife aren’t thinking clearly in the distress of the heat. This wasn’t a type of bird that is usually active at night. For some reason we stayed up longer, and we found a Seinfeld rerun, the “master of your domain” episode. This morning, we are baking Banana Cake, in memory of Banner and her fondness of this cake, our first opportunity but a day late for what would have been her 11th birthday.

Banana Cake for B
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from Nov. 8, 2021

“Walk” in Banner’s language: C’mon! Let’s go!

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The storms began on Thursday.  Around 7 1/2 inches of rain arrived that day, with about 5 inches in what seemed like 20 minutes, testing the capacity of the gutters.  One nearby county had 12 – 15 inches.  As I drove over the bridges at the Spring River, brown water flowed, carrying part of our farmland with it.

I had been driving to town since we lost Banner, doing what had been ordinary things, trying to take walks regularly as we would have done together:  walking along the sidewalk on the right edge so she would have plenty of room, speeding up at corners, keeping a brisk pace as she had done before she entered her golden months, even entertaining a little adventure in the path on one walk.  This time, with my peripheral vision, I could see her moving happily, head up, eyes bright, smiling, with a tongue hanging out as though it was 80 degrees when it was only 60 – and realizing that I would need to leave earlier for walks.  I began to think about other dogs and owners we saw at the park who aren’t there now, realizing that those dogs are probably also on the other side of what we know here as life.  The more we walked, the more I began to feel the memories, if not the presence, of other Newfs – Banker on my right doing the kind of antics that charmed others around him, Jade moving up on my left side because the left side is their spot – each of them.  It could get crowded.  Parker was coming up behind me and stepping on the back of my shoes, trying to get past the compact group.  I didn’t want to turn around to look.  It was comforting to remember and I didn’t want to disturb the memories, and I didn’t want anyone wondering about the lady who was talking to “herself” to take too much interest.  So I looked ahead and kept walking, left hand in leash position.  As we walked, I thought about Jody, a Yorkie with a big presence.  He was also in his golden phase, and his mom had been pushing him in a stroller after he got tired.  I regretted telling Banner to not get any ideas, because if that option had been open, I may have done just that.  At a National long ago, an older couple pulled their senior Newf in a small wagon with a bed.

I thought about how graciously Banner had moved out of the way for the kid in a wheelchair.  I thought about the elderly gentleman with the even more elderly black lab, wondering how he was doing.  Jazz, the blind Shih-tzu, hasn’t been at the park recently either.

After walking past the corner where there is activity on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the feelings became more vacant again.  I wondered how many other people were doing ghost-walking now.  I explained to Banner that losses are harder when their presence has been such a gift, that without the joy of the experience, there would not be so many tears.  So, really, the tears are a symbol of joy.  She would have been listening if she had been present.  Whether she would have agreed, she would have responded as though she didn’t disagree.  This was not one of those discussions that would generate disagreement.

Doing ordinary things seems necessary as a part of the healing and the readjustment process.  Today I had an appointment in Springfield, as I would tell Banner, “with my veterinarian”.  It was a routine appointment that followed most of the same path as we would take for Banner in the past few months.  To make her experiences a bit more positive, I had begun stopping at a Popeye’s for their classic chicken on the way out – her latest favorite.  When I could see that one of the vet visits had left her a little uncomfortable, I changed her focus by asking, “Would you like to go to Popeye’s?”  Her attention was instantly optimistic.  So, we ate a lot of Popeye’s chicken over the past few months.  On the way back today, I went to the same Popeye’s.  I think the chicken tasted as good, but shortly afterward, I was thinking again.  The weather was warm and the sun was bright, following several days of mostly rain.  I decided to leave the air conditioning off and the windows up, to think about how it may have felt to Banner, who always thought the temperature was too high unless the ground was 40 or below.  The humidity and the sweltering warmth inside the van reminded me of the area where I grew up.  There was a detour to follow on the way back, and the damage of the heavy rain to crop fields was evident.  Hopefully enough water will soak in to restore, or partially restore the water table, but there will be some impacts to overcome.

Any drive is a good opportunity to have some reset time, so like Banner, I watched outside the windows, in between thinking.  I thought about the goodness of childhood times and my parents, when life was made comfortable, and when starting life on my own was new, that glorious phase when you begin your adventure on your own, about the horses who have also played roles as teachers, and about the depth of love from a mare for her foal, for her lifetime, and about the gentle and dedicated cows whose calves are being weaned, and the so-called cycle of life.  I thought about the long black snake that I tried to straddle to avoid running over it as I left town, and about a turtle that was crossing the road.  Ordinarily I would have stopped to hasten the turtle across the road.  I thought about how raising and losing a Newf is like a parent whose kid leaves for college and doesn’t come back.  I thought about how life must end at some point for all of us, and how that end is rarely the fairy tale we would prefer of dying peacefully during sleep.  Passing is tough.  It is hard on us, in ways that only the person who knows this event could describe, in the many ways it arrives.  There have to be endings for all of us, and we need to look ahead with some planning but without obsession.  We don’t have a choice.  It will arrive whether we are ready or not, when it arrives.  So the best you can do is to make life as good as you can for those around you while they are here.

Looking ahead, I thought about how we would handle our farm in the next 15-20 years, at what point we may need to think about different living conditions.  Our home was built for living with Newfs and aging-in-place, but the farm needs attention that at some point we may not be able to sustain.  If we moved to an area that was better suited to retirement, with a smaller home, where would I put all of my boxed memories and Newf things, those things that refresh memories for each Newf?  How much downsizing would be needed?  I’ve been thinking about recipients for some things.

I wondered what that nice police officer would say, the one who stopped us for “walking a bear” in town, if he knew that a ghost was driving a van.

There was another stop to make in Carthage, and I wanted to follow some of the walking paths that were familiar to different Newfs on the drive home.  Feeling prompted, I turned on the radio.  “Ooohh, child, things are gonna get easier,  ooohh child things are gonna get brighter”.  “We’re gonna walk in the rays of a beautiful sun.”

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