Monday, October 8, 2018

Nick, 2004-2018

Nick The Dog. He was loved.
Five days ago we said goodbye to Nick, our dog and best friend for almost 13 years. 

He was maybe 2 when we rescued him. We drove more than 2 hours from Minneapolis to a shelter in Amery, Wis., in pursuit of a dog with border collie in him. I had shared a life with a border collie mutt years before and was won over by their intelligence. But when we met Nick, he was extremely timid, so much so that I didn't want him. He seemed joyless. He didn't play. He was shelter-shocked.

That afternoon, we left him behind at the shelter. Driving back to the Twin Cities, Mason and I argued. He wanted this dog, originally named Sailor. It seemed fitting, since sailing had figured prominently in our former life. After 10 minutes of arguing, Mason turned the truck around, and Sailor came home with us. He soon became Nick, named after my father, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of years before.

Soon after we adopted Nick, I got to talk with the man who had surrendered him. He'd rescued Sailor/Nick from a bad situation. Someone had been keeping him in a baby playpen where he couldn't stand upright, and was trying to sell him off as a pure-bred border collie.

Nick was clearly scarred from those times. He was skittish and very slow to meet new people and dogs. He barked at all children and tried to herd them. He barked at and nipped mailmen; he ran from blimps. 

Eventually, we taught him to play, though never as much as a typical border collie. But Nick was absolutely devoted to us. Mason may have been his favorite (table scraps, treats and more table scraps), but I know he loved us both. And we loved him.

In Minnesota, we'd walk to a nearby park every day,
 and Nick loved to swing with Mason.
For the past year or more, Nick declined with dementia, failing hips and eventually kidney disease. First, he couldn't get on the couch any more, then, we had to block him from climbing our treacherous spiral staircase. One too many times, he had fallen down them in the middle of the night. 

We struggled with the decision over when to let him go. It should be a struggle, right? We both support assisted suicide, but it shouldn’t be too easy.

Five days ago, a very friendly horse veterinarian came to our house, unphased by 2.5 miles of rough dirt road. Nick had been napping in his bed on the living room floor. We showered him with treats and kisses, and watched him die. It was hard, but also a relief.

For five days now, we have struggled to adjust. It will take more time. He’s buried across the road in what we call "The Meadow,” where we feed the deer. Mason built one hell of a coffin for him. We buried him with his bed, favorite toy and the U.S. Postal Service card that warned of a "dangerous dog" at our address in Minnesota. We can see him from our bedroom, and from the kitchen window. 

Thank you, Nick, for making our lives so much richer. We will miss you forever.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Still Kicking

Too old to stand, but not to eat!

Look at him go, folks! He may be thick with dementia and thin with kidney disease, but Nick’s appetite has yet to fail. So yes, he’s still hanging in there. 

Sorry for the long lapse of time since the last post. Every day begins with the thought, “Will this be his last day?” so it’s kinda been a long summer. He particularly likes to take a turn for the worse on Fridays, when he knows it’ll be harder to get the vet to drive up the mountain.

Twice he’s gone missing. One time, in the dark of night, after searching for him for a good 45 minutes, we found him close to a half-mile down the road, past the cabin behind us. He had walked past the end of the road and into the woods, down an embankment, and his hips collapsed and he couldn’t get up. Luckily he yelped a few times and Mason heard him. We’re incredibly lucky we found him before a coyote did. (We'd heard them yapping about 30 minutes earlier.) Since then, he doesn’t get too much unsupervised time outdoors.

He sleeps most the day, then paces the house at night. The kitchen floor is too slick for his wobbly hips, so we’ve put up a couple strips of blue painter’s tape, keeping him out. We sleep with pillows over our heads to drown out the click, click, click of his nails on the wood floor.

Oh dear, this is all more than you want to hear. But I must confess that it’s been a bit all-consuming.

Other news? The biggest update comes from Mason, who has begun digging and setting piers for the bunkhouse. Next week we order lumber from the lumber yard, so that’s incredibly exciting.

"Mortgage Lifter" tomatoes were prolific.
I’m back working at the garden nursery on weekends until November, designing yards and dragging hoses around. I do that at home, too. That bean arch Mason built me? Big success. Several of the tomato plants were 8-feet-tall. The potatoes are all ready to be pulled from the ground all winter. The pesto is in the freezer, ready for winter, too. I still have to cure the sweet potatoes and roast the peanuts.

We’re definitely ready for the cooler fall temps. 

We are never ready for winter. (Well, all the firewood has been laid in since Spring, so we've got that going for us.) 
Beans hanging from the bean arch.
The bean arch.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Savoring Each Day

A labor of love.
Let me start by saying that Nick the Dog is still with us. We’re trying to savor each day, looking for a slight tail wag or a smile. But we also are preparing for the inevitable. 

We picked a gravesite in what we call “The Meadow,” a small nook of cleared land across the road where we feed the deer. We can see it well from the kitchen window and from the loft. We took turns digging over several days and it’s now ready, not that we are.

Mason built a casket. Normally we're cremation people, but we have so much land here. And Nick loves it here. We’ll bury him with his bed, his collar and his favorite toy — not that he has ever been overly playful. But he has been a real sweetie, a great dog, a great friend.

Who knows, maybe he’ll be with us for longer than we think. And if he is, each of those days will be better for it.

A rare flower spared from rabbits and deer.


Monday, July 2, 2018

Midsummer News

We ordered a fan off the Inter-Webs on Thursday afternoon
 and Mason had it installed by Friday night. Amazing.
What's Mason doing now? Installing a ceiling fan on the porch! On those 90-degree, 90-percent-humidity days with not a breeze to be found, you'll find us right where we usually are, except now we'll be a bit more comfortable. We like it so much, we might add one on the other side of the porch where we eat lunch on nice days.

Garlic heads hanging to dry from the porch rafters.
Meanwhile, the garlic has been harvested and the first tomatoes and cucumbers are coming. And I vow to not eat slimy supermarket cilantro or parsley ever again (or until next winter). JalapeƱos have already been harvested, but the jury is still out on the edamame and peanuts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Dog Day Afternoons

Shorter walks and longer stints in front of the fan these days... 
Summer arrived brutally, with temps and humidity soaring right up to the brink of insanity even before June 21st rolled around. Nick doesn't like it at all, and we're dealing with it the best we can. After breakfast, we sweat for two hours doing chores, eat lunch, then rest for a bit. Sometimes it's a nap, sometimes it's just an hour (or 90 minutes) trying to catch up with the stack of New Yorkers building on the coffee table. Then we hit it again until it's beer o'clock, which rings about 7 p.m.

Mason rebuilt the front porch stairs (photo to come) and the well house foundation. The well house is also getting a new paver floor and new insulation, all inspired by The Snake Incident.

All my spare time has been spent pulling weeds, which has been made easier by a ridiculous amount of rain.
A mulched path? Or a pond? Criminy!
I've also been busy in the veggie garden, finally getting the potatoes in the ground and, new this year, in towers. I'm trying to grow a few things vertically, to make room for more varieties (edamame, peanuts and sweet potatoes are new this year). Today Mason helped me build an arch that will soon support 1,500-Year-Old Cave Beans. It's a pole bean that was discovered in New Mexico in a clay pot sealed with resin of some sort. Carbon-dating determined the beans found inside were incredibly old (1,500 years old to be more or less exact).  I love cooking dried beans in fall and winter, thus the arch.

He has his own chores to do, but helps me with my crazy ideas, too. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

We've Had It With These Goddamn Snakes

Jackmanni Clematis vine.
Who’s up for a snake story? Or two? Or three? (Michiela, you best just stop reading right now. Just look at the pretty flower photos and move on.)

Monday was my first day summer vacation (I’m officially unemployed again until the fall gardening season), so I was in a particularly good mood, a dancing-while-making-breakfast kind of mood. After breakfast comes watering, so I two-step off to the garden. Oops, we’re out of water, so I two-step over to the well house, open the door and “SNAKE!”

A copperhead was right there on the floor. Disturbed by my screech to Mason, the snake started slithering under the wood floor of the well house. Mason comes running with the snake gun, but I slow him down, warning him to be careful not to shoot the water tank, the water lines, the propane line and electrical lines, all of which run through the well house. By the time I issue all my warnings, and he snaps at me that he had a clear shot, the snake is gone. It’s somewhere under the floor, with all the water lines, propane lines and electrical lines. (In my defense, Mason has shot a water line and a hose in pursuit of snakes.)

Red Itoh peony, I forget the variety.
We try to scare the snake off with Snake-A-Way. No go. We stand watch for a while. No movement. We now face the unfortunate scenario of knowing there’s a snake in the well house, where now that it’s gardening season, I must go several times a day to top off the tank to water all these damn plants I’ve planted.

But there’s nothing we can do about it, and it’s time for Nick’s walk, so we go for the walk. Two minutes into the walk, I squint down the driveway. “What’s that? A tree limb or a snake?” Once you see one snake, you start imagining them everywhere. “Where?” says Mason, who can’t see shit without his glasses, which he’s not wearing. I lunge for Nick’s collar before he walks right toward the snake. A black one. A friendly one, or at least not poisonous. Mason tosses a stick at it to get it to move along, but the snake takes offense and curls up in a defensive stance. Mason throws another stick. Seriously, can’t we just stop throwing things and let it mosey along on its own? Which it finally does and we continue our walk.

Smokebush. Love that color.
We are now more than jumpy. Two snakes in 20 minutes. We’ve gone up to the lake, which is a long walk for Nick these days, and are just curling around and up our driveway. We were deep in conversation about something. Maybe the projects for the day, but more likely about that idiot Trump. Mason’s a few steps ahead of me and Nick when I see it.
“Mason stop,” I shouted, lunging for Nick’s collar again. Mason stopped, but then he also backed up in a slight panic, which is natural.

I shouldn’t have said “stop,” I should have said “Behind you, snake!,” which I then managed to spit out quickly. Mason spun around and backed away. He now saw it clearly, because it was damn close. A rattlesnake. A fat one.

One shot to the head before it could ever rattle its 15 rings, and a shovel to decapitate it, and we are rattled to our cores. (Yes, we did see the story last week about the Texas man bitten by a decapitated snake head. Mason always uses a shovel for head disposal.)

The snake story doesn’t end there. Two days later Mason decided it is time to rebuild the well house foundation. We built it atop landscape timbers made of treated wood, never thinking we’d still be living here seven years later. Well seven years later and the timbers have begun to rot. Personally I would have waited to start this project for a week or two after watching a snake slither under the well house floor. But Mason?

“Oh, that snake has moved on,” he said, mocking me for my nervousness.

Siberian Iris, Caesar's Brother.
A couple hours later, we’ve got the well house jacked up a foot off the ground. Mason’s done most of the work; I'd get called to help lift, and grunt, and lift again, but then I’d back off beyond a snake jumping distance. In between calls for help, I’d wander into the veggie garden and tend to things. 

I was pruning the tomatoes when I heard him.

“Holy shit,” Mason said in a low, slow alarming tone. I raced over quickly, but he had moved even more quickly, rushing backward out of the well house.

“The copperhead,” he said almost breathlessly as he reached for the snake pistol, which he had wisely kept nearby. He ducked back into the well house just far enough to cut the glare of the sun and focus on the far back corner. There was the snake, curled up on the middle shelf, the same shelf Mason had just rested his hand on to reach down and raise a heavy block. But the snake hadn’t been on the shelf when Mason first saw it. It had been slithering out of the wall insulation. Just as Mason was raising up with the block in one hand, his other on the shelf, he saw the snake’s head just a foot from his face. Thus the “holy shit.”

Rest assured that snake is now dead. We left the body out on a tree stump, where we always leave our snake carcasses. An owl, coyote, maybe a crow, some night-dwelling creature sweeps them away for us.

Today is Sunday. I’d like to say we haven’t seen a snake since, but just a couple hours ago, returning home on our morning walk, Mason spotted a rattler stretched between a boxwood and some foxglove seedlings. 

The season’s tally so far: 3 copperheads, 2 rattlers. 

So, who’s next to visit?

In other news, the carport extension got an extension.
The 1949 Farm-All Cub tractor now has its own "garage."

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

For the record, stairs involve a lot of math. (Yup, he's a handsome mathematician!)

Huh. So apparently three months flew by. I knew I had been remiss. But a lovely card arrived in the mail yesterday from our former neighbor in Minnesota. She follows our adventures on the blog and started wondering whether Tennessee had gotten the best of us. 

We’re still here, Betty!! Thank you for prodding me into action.

I whole-heartedly blame the long, long winter for dulling our senses, burying any burst of creativity under comforters and gray, bleak skies. Not once, twice, but four times we had to scavenge our woods to find dead trees to burn to keep us warm long after our yearly (and usually ample) supply of firewood had run out.

In February, we faced the somber task of helping dig a grave for a neighbor here. More on that later. We also were treated to a four-day visit by some of our closest friends, Cindy and her hubby, Dean. 

Then March came, and I went back to work weekends at the garden nursery.  Cindy also threw a little work my way, and I really wasn’t used to working quite so much.

Somewhere in April, it finally warmed up to more typical temperatures, which immediately triggered a flurry of gardening projects, both here at home and for others.  

The warm weather also kicked Mason into high gear. The stair project, which got underway last fall, finally was finished. We now can flee our bedroom if the cabin catches fire (keep a happy thought -- we hope to never need it, but it's pretty cool to have it). We think the stairs look like they were always there, so that’s always a good thing.

See? It looks great!!
Mason also built me a swing!! We had a swing in Minnesota and, despite his protests that it was just a piece of wood, I made Mason pack it with us when we moved here. But for years, we could never find a good tree limb to hang it from; all the trees here are so damn tall! But all winter, while binge-watching “Homeland,” I stared out the front window at the dogwood that was dying in the front yard. I was bereft, but then I realized that, just above that dogwood, was the perfect oak tree limb for a swing. I made Mason take my photo in it, but it was terribly out of focus. So I made him take a second photo, picture perfect. 

I decided I liked the blurry one better.

My swing!!