Monday, September 16, 2013

The culinary explorations of an elderly goat

Purina Goat Chow? No thank you.

Equine Senior? Ho, hum.

Corn, oats, and barley? Blech.

Alfalfa pellets? Yaaaawwwwn.

Asphalt shingles and moldy tar paper? NOW we're talking!

Missy hasn't been so excited about a meal in ages. Good thing FarmWife was near the all-you-can-eat garbage buffet before Missy overate!

P.S. Our housetiger, Townes, is easier to feed. His challenge is that he is ALWAYS hungry. Here, you see that he has asked for, and received, a BIGGER bowl of cat food. "Ah," he said. "Finally, a dish my size!"

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book 4

We are well situated here at Bent Barrow Farm in regard to nature. While our 113 year-old farmhouse sits on what many would consider a small parcel, we do have what feels like the world's biggest backyard. Bent Barrow Farm sits in the South Fork Valley of Western Washington's Cascade foothills, and with a fit mount and a weekend's time, I could ride out on our neighborhood logging roads and deer paths and make it as far as the 7,000-ft. Twin Sisters. With a free summer, a game mule, and a machete, I could traverse the neglected Pacific Northwest Trail to Montana. With a free hour, however, I am limited to difficult footing or very short spurs that end, like the pipeline trail, at gravelly drop-offs or precipitous, densely forested slopes. There’s the trail that ends above Ennis Creek, its gravel cul-de-sac offering little pleasure beside the burbling sound of the falls below, and the one that ends on the rise below Lyman Hill’s impassable north slope. Lyman Hill is just a little taller than New Hampshire’s famously difficult Mount Monadnock, for scale, and is our closest geographic feature beyond the Samish River. There’s the Bear Walk, which requires a mile of road riding and which was recently logged, anyway, but which hides pounds upon pounds of chanterelles in its least disturbed corners, and Lex’s Walk, beyond, which has been sculpted by motorcyclists into a sandy roller-coaster track. There’s the Hilton’s gravel slide, which covers the natural gas pipeline a mile from here and which is littered with hoofprints and lead shot—the former left by Fenway Bartholomule, the latter left by our neighborhood’s least discerning target shooters. I am a target shooter too, but I don’t fire towards the pipeline and it’s “Warning! Natural Gas!” signs. I'll leave that Darwin Award for another contestant, thank you.

From the perspective of an equestrian, Bent Barrow Farm is well situated. Springy, groomed bridle trails and a covered arena would be nice, of course, but the mere presence of trails—any trails—is a boon. I grew up riding horses in Central California's expansive country, so my perfect ride would involve cantering up a sprawling ridge: golden grasses bowing before flying hooves. Shadows pooling under spreading live oaks. Sun. Space. A clearly visible horizon. Here, though, I get the next best thing. Picking our way among roots, Fenway Bartholomule and I exit a primordial forest onto a steeply climbing gravel road. We stop and look behind us. To the east, the glaciated peaks of Mounts Baker and Shuksan peek out from behind the Twin Sisters in their lacy bonnets of spring snow. The south fork of the Nooksack curves away to the north, a ribbon binding quilted squares of orchard grass and blueberries, corn and kale and cattails. In front of us, a replanted forest slopes into the tuneful marsh of the Samish headwaters. A pastel softness defines the scene, a special quality of light unique to the first emergence of brilliant sun on an otherwise rainy day. We turn southwest to a view across the blue and rolling Chuckanuts to the tulip fields of Skagit County and the southern San Juan Islands. We are twenty minutes from home. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book 3

Bent Barrow Farm
'Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

This story begins with this farm, if I can call it that. This farm sits on just 1.25 acres, but it’s all pasture and orchard and barn and garden and coop. I think it qualifies at least as a hobby farm, except that I resent that phrase. It brings to mind hobby farmers, whom I think of as people with more money than me. Perhaps this is no farm but just a rural home, with a rural yard full of rural pets—mules, goat, rabbits, chickens.

I start by telling you about this place because it is here that I learned to be happy.

When we bought Bent Barrow Farm (known then merely as the Omey’s place or, to some of the older neighbors, the Hathaway house, or, to some of the even older ones, the old electrical transform station), I was not happy. I was quite distressed, actually. We were expecting a third child—all of them unplanned, and through no lack of attempts at contraception—and we were broke, exhausted, and really, really tired of our tiny apartment in a nearby college town. That neighborhood was gray and brown, with plum-colored bus stops.

This neighborhood is green, brown, blue, and white, but mostly green—green forests, green pastures, green hills, green orchards, and, in the winter, green moss where my pasture grass is supposed to be. I think it means my soil needs a higher pH, which is no surprise: we live on slick gray clay, notorious for its acidity. This acre is bounded by the Samish headwaters to the east and by a rarely-used spur of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to the west, which works out nicely: when Wickersham floods, the steeply-banked railway serves as our own personal canal. Meredith Lane becomes an island, and life goes on as usual here at Bent Barrow Farm. This has happened more than once in our seven years here, which makes me think we are rather lucky to have the train tracks.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A book I was writing, part 2

Here's the second installment of the book I was writing. —Marnie

Roommates, continued

My cockatiels lived at that time in their own outbuilding, a flight cage of about a hundred square feet, and so Rhody, the aptly named Rhode Island Red, was the little house's only resident fowl. She had lost a leg after becoming entangled in chicken wire and had thereafter been brutally ostracized by her fellow hens. Chicken flocks, it turns out, are not equal opportunity organizations. She passed her remaining days in the yard with my three dabbling ducks and slept, each night, on my the headboard of my bed: butt facing out, paper beneath. The ducks slept in a doghouse out of doors, because even I had my limits.

My Siamese cat—Mewzetica—and three guinea pigs—Piglet, Nellie, and Iggy Tribble—rounded out the mammal population of my little house until I brought home three mice and a pony. The pony, Sir Lancelittle, had spent his first five years of life tied to the outside of a lion cage, a sort of live entertainment act for the two resident cougars. My mom drove by one day to the sight of the two cats crouching, tails a-flick, and the pony twenty feet away pulling back against a straining rope. She bought him there and then, loaded him into her Vanagon, and offered no objection when I borrowed him as duck yard mower and occasional house guest. In defense of my sanity, I will tell you that he was only allowed in the kitchen, that he was never permitted to poop indoors, and that he slept in the barn with our ten big horses. There was only so much room in my bed.

The mice were a symptom of my first crush: I was 14, recently returned from summer camp, and a percussionist of 17 had captured my attention. He was the first vegetarian boy I'd ever met. On my last night at music camp, he walked two miles to bring me a rock which we had both admired. We named it Howard: 52 pounds of garnetiferous mica schist.

My timpani player loved classical music, Apple computers, and pet mice. We had music in common—I played flute and cello. Apple computers? Check. I had one, back when they were roughly the size, shape, weight, and color of a standard cinderblock. Mice were the missing element, and in a fog of teenaged thinking I decided that I needed some with which to lure the object of my affection from his Seattle home to my Whidbey Island lair.

Rimsky was plump and golden, Korsakov exotically splashed with black and white, and Glinka, their underweight albino companion, thrown into the purchase out of pity. I set the three “boys” up in a nice large cage. All was well, for a time.

Anyone who has ever examined a male mouse will know that male mice are anatomically—how to say this—well, let's say “testicularly endowed.” There is no overlooking mouse balls, and yet somehow I overlooked the absence thereof on little Mr. Korsakov until the day that I awoke to sixteen little pink pups suckling at Mr. Korsakov's breasts. Make that Mrs. Korsakov. My dad, ever the handy assembler of pet cages, had recently moved to the area to set up his own household. With his assistance, the little weanlings and their parents were soon moved into a set of nineteen mousey condos: six inches per side, two feet tall, each equipped with stairways and landings so as to lend interest without taking up floor space. Still, the colony required about half of my kitchenette and at least an hour a day of my time. Cleaning my room was more akin to mucking out a stable, and I don't believe I ever did get my percussionist over for a visit. I wouldn't have had time.

It is in this context that you must understand my present day argument: that no, we do not have too many pets, and that yes, I really should bring my two mules in next to the hearth for next year's Christmas photo. It's really a very reasonable request. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An excerpt from a book I started to write

Let's file this under "old but good." This is an excerpt from the book that I was writing, and which I ought to get back to. I'll parcel it out to you over the next few days, and you can see if you think it's worth finishing.

Some material may have appeared on my blog, Puddle Run, before.

It's a mostly true story.  


When I was about twelve years old, my mother and stepfather let me move into the guest house at Cultus Bay Road. The two story building, 100 yards removed from our squat shingled house, had linoleum floors, a kitchenette, and a fenced yard for my Indian runner ducks. This was my home for a brief but formative time, the years after my family moved to the country but before my Irish wolfhound was framed for murder. At the end of those years, my mom moved me to a five acre parcel off Lone Lake Road where we could afford a barn or a house, but not both, and where we therefore lived in a barn for the rest of my childhood. (My former bedroom is now home to Sailor, the Shetland gelding, and Cadbury, the miniature stallion.) 

The linoleum in my little house was handy, as some of the tenants with whom I shared the building were less evolved in their bathroom habits than others. I was an animal lover even then. It was how I had identified myself, and been identified by others, for all my life. My mother was an animal lover too, and her particular enthusiasm was for making ALL animals welcome. This meant that she passed no parental judgement—offered no voice of mature reason—when I decided to invite Mirri, Maggie, Mewzetica, Piglet, Nellie, Iggy Tribble, Sir Lancelittle, Rhody, Rimsky, Glinka, and Korsakov plus her 16 infants (I named them Bach, Tchaikovsky, and fourteen other composers between) to live in the little house with me. 

Mirri was a given. If you've ever loved an Australian cattle dog, you will know that they are not the sort of pet one leaves behind in the main house. They are a faithful shadow of a dog, glued to your side except when they are out in front saving you from attack, herding your livestock, or nipping the heels of an innocent bystander. Mirri was heroic, gentle, and savage as needed: when I was seventeen, she bit a would-be date rapist badly enough to require stitches. When I was 21, she performed as the steadying ballast when my daughter pulled herself to her feet for the very first time. So yes, Mirri moved with me into the little house. I will tell you another time how she broke my heart when she died, and how she visited me with terrible nightmares, and how I could barely let her tired body go. 

Maggie, the Irish wolfhound who would later be smeared with blood and accused of having murdered my mother's three dozen hens (all of them shot through with a .22), came too. Hers was the still-warm turd that I stepped onto, in bare feet, on my first morning walk out of the little house. She weighed 140 pounds, and it was not a small turd. Otherwise, she was a saint of a dog with a flawless character. She looked like one of Jim Henson's muppets and acted like a child, save for occasional majestic moments: during those, she would pause and sniff the air in such a way that one could see the blood of Finn MacCool coursing through her. Otherwise, she would grin and galumph about or gambol with such unbridled joy that she might knock into an observer's knee, shredding its meniscus cartilage and completely obliterating its anterior cruciate ligament (ask me how I know). Aside from a lifetime of knee problems, I have nothing but fond memories of Maggie. Like many Irish Wolfhounds, she died too young. They are a marvelous breed, but not a long-lived one. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

A beautiful dogs, beautiful bird kind of day

I worked from home today (Labor Day + a cold = a great excuse to stay in) and enjoyed the time with my pets:

Clover, who DOES have a tail (it's just wagging too fast to see)

Paisley, who ALWAYS looks this amazed
Kevin, who is THIS wonderful (stretching arms wide).


Sunday, September 1, 2013

One blog, two voices

Dear friends and readers,

I'm planning on deleting, and The archives of those blogs are now intermingled with Fenway's posts here at I hope that the disadvantages of broken links and changing voices will be outweighed by the advantage of having a streamlined online identity and a chance to share photos, stories, poems, and updates in one place with my largest audience. The tone and character of Brays of Our Lives may evolve, and I thank my friends and readers in advance for going with me on this next phase of my journey as a writer. 

Fenway is still here, hale, and hearty, and still serves as my muse. You'll hear from him from time to time!

Marnie Jones