Thursday, December 20, 2018

This is How We Live in the Town

When I was young I had a book called This is How We Live in the Town. I don't remember a thing about it except the pictures and the title, but it sprang to mind this weekend when I experienced some of the joy that comes with neighborliness.

Last week, my dog ate chocolate. In the past, I've used hydrogen peroxide as an emetic to make dogs throw up in cases like this. I was all out, so I called a neighbor. Not only did Durand bring me some, but he went to the grocery store for it! In Scatchet Head, which is second only to Baby Island in its magical ability to be stupendously far away from everything, that's a testament to his generosity.

Over the weekend, I was making a giant holiday dinner for my extended family when I realized I had rapidly browning pie crusts and no foil with which to cover them. I posted an entreaty on the neighborhood Facebook page and within 45 seconds, my neighbor Tara showed up with a roll of Reynolds Wrap.

That same day, Nico stopped by to ask for help putting his ducks to bed when he was called away on urgent business. After a feast, my mom and dad and I walked across the street and herded Daisy and Ernie into their hutch in the waning light. I felt lucky to know Nico, and to get a moment with Daisy and Ernie, and to be able to give and receive with such ease in my sweet little community.

This is how we live in the town.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

2018 Reflections

Sarri Gilman‚ a program leader at the Whidbey Institute and an expert on boundaries, shared some questions for end-of-year reflection in a recent newsletter. I enjoyed thinking about the topics she raised, and while I didn't do the journaling exercise verbatim I did spend some time reflecting on my relationships, my work, my health, and my finances. Overall, I'm proud of how 2018 went and eager to greet the new year!

In the relationships realm, I am happily in love. I love his emotional availability, his communication skills, his empathy, and his kindness to me, my kids, my animals, and others. I'm getting better at expressing my needs and wants and recognizing what's mine and what's not mine to fix or change in others. I am proud of my kids, one of whom graduated in 2018, and so glad that my animal family is happy and healthy. The sudden loss of my beloved Fenway Bartholomule in June was the dark spot in an otherwise joyous year, and even that came with the blessing that his passing was instant and apparently painless.

At work, I'm extraordinarily proud of the whole Whidbey Institute team. We're two years into a $4.5 million capital campaign, our lodging has nearly doubled, we're holding more programs and welcoming more program participants than ever before for the important work of transforming in response to the interconnected social, environmental, and moral challenges of our world today.  I'm also thrilled with our newest team members, Meg and Sommer, who will help make our continued evolution possible.

In the health realm, I miss boxing and exercising (Shawn T, your DVDs are growing dusty on the shelf). Trying to write a memoir has gotten in the way of my exercise routines, and I know the new year will bring some needed changes in that regard. I've already made a small change, parking my car further from the office, on the assumption that a twice-daily walk will be a good start. Otherwise, I feel good. I just got a CBC during my annual wellness exam and I'm happy to say that all of my bloodwork came back looking good.

Financially, I think about the big expenses of 2018 that threw off my budget and I can say that it was all money well spent—a ductless heat pump, a new washer and dryer, a dishwasher, a propane range, new brakes, Brodie's veterinary care for Cushings disease and diabetes, Dahlia's treatment for a severe eye infection, and the purchase of Rosie, a companion for Dahlia. Vet bills will keep coming, but I think 2019 will be a good year for house costs. The heat pump really is ridiculously efficient, and the energy savings are HUGE. Fingers crossed—let's assume that 2019 will be a "steady as she goes" year for my wallet.

I used to write an annual State of the Farmlet Address, and it was hard after we left Bent Barrow Farm and especially after we left Greenbank. How was I to write, without a farmlet? Now, I feel liberated again as a writer and I can safely say that there will be a 2019 State of the Ark Address flowing off my fingertips next month.

Thanks, readers, for sticking with me. 2019 is going to be a good year.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Christmases of yore

I'll never forget caroling in Wickersham . . . Fenway in his sleighbells, Arrietty in her antlers and wreath, the Cain Lake Stables gang, complete with goats and ponies and giant dogs. Those were some of my favorite Christmases.

Dahlia and Rosie Cotton are going to be living in a walkable neighborhood soon. If I succeed in Rosie's halter training, we just may have a Maxwelton Beach caroling party in our future! 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Horse showing front incisors. atliegilsson/RooM /Getty Images

I'm irrationally proud of my teeth right now.

11 years ago I had fourteen fillings in one sitting. I'd been a cavity-prone kid, and I'd been neglectful of my dental health in my early adulthood. I was taking advantage of my last month of solid dental insurance, and the dentist thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and give my whole mouth an upgrade—replacing my childhood fillings in every molar and premolar and filling a couple of new cavities, too.

When the novocaine wore off, I called my dentist to say my mouth hurt. "What can you compare the pain to?" he asked. 

"I had a baby last month, in my living room. This is about three times worse," I said. 

"Let's not do 14 fillings at once next time," he said. "Take Ibuprofen—and when you feel better, floss more."

I started flossing as soon as that headache wore off, and I never looked back. I now floss daily, and although I've skipped annual cleanings—visiting the dentist just three times this decade—I haven't had a cavity since. Today, I got a cleaning and x-rays for the first time in a couple of years and, once again, I'm cavity free. I also signed up for a care plan, so I can afford to get them cleaned again in June.

Thanks, teeth. I appreciate you. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Arrietty Update

The girls and I visited Arrietty in Sequim yesterday, and I was reminded that she's exactly where she needs to be right now for her health, happiness, and safety. Her weight looks good. Her feet look great. Her stall is warm and dry and her hay is sweet.

The girls and I miss seeing her every day, but she's bonded with her new friend Zoe and we've enjoyed the leisure of mornings and evenings without mule chores. I'm really impressed with how clean and dry her paddock is (the Olympic Penninsula is mostly temperate rainforest, after all). Sue, her foster human, dotes upon her.

Sue asked me—as I've asked myself—why I didn't pair Arrietty and Dahlia up, rather than leasing Arrietty out and adding a mini cow. Several reasons, including timing (back then, Dahlia was happily housed with a cow herd) and above all my conviction that herd animals deserve same-species companionship. Arrietty and Fenway were like a married couple—affectionate, bonded, physically and emotionally intimate with one another. They spoke the same language.

The cultural translation that it would take for a cow and a mule to bond is possible, sure—and yet I think both of my beloveds deserve the ease of living with friends who understand them.

I reminded Sue that if ever her circumstances change, Arrietty can come home to me. In the meantime, I'm so glad to see her happy.

Monday, November 26, 2018

What would you name me?

Since finding a beautiful pasture and barn for Dahlia near my home, I've been looking for a companion for her. I knew I wanted a small cow or steer for three reasons—1) cost of feed, 2) impact on the land, and 3) compatibility with Dahlia, who is a gentle cow with a submissive temperament.

Yesterday, through a series of miraculous coincidences, a miniature belted Galloway heifer fell into my lap. I met her at 2 pm. By 4, she and Dahlia were safely tucked into a paddock eating dinner together like old friends.

She needs a name, and quick! Bonus points if it has something to do with being red, small, sweet, or Scottish. In the meantime, I'm calling her Mei Mei—little sister—and my mother is calling her Petunia. Your ideas are welcome.

Mei Mei and Dahlia are staying in Oak Harbor at Moonstone Farm Sanctuary with my mom until January, when they'll go to Ballydidean Farm Sanctuary for long-term boarding. It's 2 miles from my home, and absolutely beautiful.

Dahlia and Mei Mei

Mei Mei with her parents, Josie and Tucker.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thanks in advance, Universe

Thanks in advance, Universe, for your next miracle.

A couple of days ago I learned that my cow, Dahlia, needs a new living situation. She's been very graciously boarded by a family in Coupeville, whose caretakers are good friends of mine, for the last couple of years. They're moving on to other things, which means Dahlia must move on too.

Whenever one of my hoofbeasts has instability in his or her living situation, I get flooded with anxiety about living on a lot without acreage. I think crazy thoughts about selling the Ark or refinancing to cash out my equity. I imagine squeezing into a tiny house or building an Earthship out of tires and cans in order to somehow, once again, have my animal family together.

These are old feelings, from childhood—the discomfort I experienced alongside my mother when we had our horses boarded in a succession of arrangements that ranged from too expensive and too distant to too muddy and too crowded. Buying five acres on Whidbey was her solution when I was 11, and today when my mule or my cow loses a living situation I immediately log onto and start browsing property.

Arrietty and Fenway, my mules, were safely ensconced in the field of my friend Connie and Dennis until June, when Fenway suddenly died. Arrietty couldn't be made to live alone, and so June and July found me researching every option. Move the whole family? Borrow a pony? Adopt another mule? Board nearby? Place Arrietty elsewhere? In the end, due to the limitations of my time, money, and energy, I decided that placing Arrietty in a care lease a couple of hours away was the current best option. She's very safe there, and has become good friends with her new horse companion. A trusted friend trims her hooves and sends monthly updates. I hope that someday we'll be together again, but I know she's happy and safe.

This evening, I'm meeting some folks who live about ten minutes away and are open to considering a cow. I have my fingers crossed—on paper, it sounds like a too-good-to-be-true situation. Given how many too-good-to-be-true things have unfolded in my life thus far, I'm optimistic.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Susan, Susan, Susan, Susan, and Kate

photo credit greenbrier aussies

As longtime readers may remember, I have a thing for Susans. I have blogged about my Susans before—women who have been meaningful as mentors, friends, and elders. Dear Susans—I love you. 

I also have a thing for Kate—one Kate in particular, board chair of the Whidbey Institute and co-president of the Marnie and Kate Mutual Admiration Society. 

I've been actively dreaming lately, and each morning I wake up with a thrilling dream adventure to retell. My nocturnal subconscious rambles provide extensive opportunities for conversation with my boyfriend and for self-analysis. Lately, I've even been having dreams which I believe to be my subsconscious mind's attempts to resolve what my conscious mind thinks my boyfriend's subconscious mind might be wrestling with—that is, I've been exploring his favorite landscapes and private longings in my sleep. 

A couple nights ago, I had a delightfully lighthearted dream in which I met a litter of Australian Cattle Dog puppies. Australian Cattle Dogs are the pinnacle of dogdom—they're smart, loyal, strong, brave, energetic, beautiful, squishy, sweet-smelling, and adorable. I cannot go on enough about how much I love puppies in general and this breed in particular. 

In my dream, the puppies all had names. Their names were Susan, Susan, Susan, Susan, and Kate.

If a female Australian Cattle Dog ever comes into my life again, I think I know what I'll be naming her. Kate Susan4 Jackson, are you out there? 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A view from atop the Ark

Mr. Ark is up there on the roof right now—sweeping off pine needles, loosening moss, and hosing out gutters. He's been at it for two days now, while I've lain in bed recuperating from a cold and reading a Dick Francis novel and two entire magazines, including the advertisements (Outdoor Photography and Dwell). In Dwell, I found a men's ring so perfect for Mr. Ark that I now find myself wondering if a $67 Christmas present (already bought, wrapped, and hidden) is sufficient for a partner of such devotion.

I show my love through gift-giving, and through cards and postcards, and through little notes hidden here and there. He shows his love through service, and always has the same reply when I try to thank him. "Service is my life, Ma'am."

I'm a modern and independent woman—I earn a living, own my house, and can keep up with young men in a hay-bucking contest*—but cleaning roofs and clearing gutters is not on my list of strengths. My comfort on ladders only lasts as long as I can keep at least three limbs in full contact.

Here, then, is a view that I may never see in person: the roof of the Ark—cleaned with love.

*an actual thing, apparently. And no, I don't literally compete.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

It's Possible

I bought a journal with this cover a couple of years ago because I have a tattoo of a flying pig on my back, and because it's my favorite shade of teal. The message—"it's possible"–was fine. The pigs were what I was really after.

My tattoo represents forgiveness, and thinking the best of people. When my first daughter was an infant I was really frustrated with her dad, and he gave her a Balinese crib angel in the form of a carved wooden pig with wings. The pig came to represent a lot of things, including the power of love and the futility of thinking anyone "should" do, think, or be anything other than what is. He and I became cooperative co-parents, and the crib angel became my second tattoo after the one of Mirri, my late great heart dog. 

I like the message—it's possible. A world in which animals are no longer enslaved in factory farms—it's possible. A just and equitable human future, in ecological balance with the planet—it's possible. A career that feels more like play than work—it's possible, and I'm grateful every day for it. A dying dog turned back from the brink of death, shining and thriving again—it's possible, and Brodie proved it. A joyful and unconditionally loving relationship—it's possible, and we are celebrating our second anniversary this week. 

Don't stop hoping.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018


I brought my camera to work Tuesday morning, hoping to get a photo of the albino squirrel my coworkers have been telling me about. My daughter and I walked into the woods near the Sanctuary, a cedar and fir timber-framed building a few hundred yards from the office. We heard a high-pitched "chip-chip-chip-chip-chip" from the treetops, then saw a frantic squirrel battle: rolling, chasing, biting, tumbling, falling. The albino squirrel was being told, in no uncertain terms, to get off the turf of his reddish-brown cousin.

S/he eventually made to an apparently undisputed tree, where s/he settled down for a snack of fir seeds. Near the horizon, a stocky buck whom I had never before seen skirted the edge of the forest. "Come closer if you'd like to have your pictures taken," I called out in his direction. Robin and I walked back to the office, where the cook offered us breakfast.

We were sitting in the dining room enjoying fruit and oatmeal when Robin said, "look, he's closer!" The buck, who had apparently heard my invitation, was standing right outside the dining room window. He sauntered past, then stopped near the Apple Tree Garden at the bottom of the hill to graze. I looked into his white right eye as he passed, wondering what compels humans to shoot people like him. It's hunting season on Whidbey Island and I wonder what role that played in his sudden appearance in new territory. 

I've been wondering lately if the wild creatures are trying harder to reach us. The whale Tahlequa, a member of the Southern resident orcas, carried her dead baby for 17 days. I would not have been surprised if her thoughts were along the lines of, "she died because I cannot eat. I cannot eat because you've killed the fish. I need you to see what's you've done." 

Buck encountered another one of my coworkers yesterday, appearing as if out of nowhere within feet of her. I'll let her tell her own story (she'll do so, on the Whidbey Institute's news page, soon). Let me just say that yes, the animals are talking to us. They might be saying, "we're here too. Let's work together for a change." 

I ended the day with "Leave it to Beavers," recommended by my dad and available on Youtube. It's another good reminder that much of what humans take for granted—in this case, fertile landscapes—is a gift from our animal kin. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018


About five years ago, I was working as a Humane Society of Skagit Valley employee and a 90 year-old friend of mine was looking for a dog. I've match-made before, connecting the right dogs with the right humans time and time again, but this was a special opportunity. I knew how greatly my friend needed the companionship of a dog as her mobility grew increasingly limited, and I knew how much love and lap-time her potential adoptee was in for. I connected P. and G. (names withheld for the family's privacy), and the rest was history.

I promised G. then that if ever P. needed somewhere to go—a possible reality whenever you're in your 90s and adding to the family—I'd be there. In G.'s last days, I was on call, ready to scoop P. up and get her to her next home when the moment came.

G. and P. brought a tremendous amount of love into one another's lives while they were together, and when G. passed away she was at home, with P. in bed beside her where she belonged. I'm grateful that my friend Jules stepped up and provided immediate foster care for P., sparing her the rambunctious chaos of my three-dog, two-cat, three-rabbit, two-kid home. Jules lost a beloved elder dog a year ago, and P. lost her beloved elder human just this month. They've been a great comfort to one another.

Jules has realized she's not the right long-term human for P., due to her busy lifestyle and P.'s longing for more lap time. Luckily, Jules found a fantastic family that we both like and trust very much, and P. is going to be spending time with them on trial starting next weekend.

Every dog who has ever passed through my hands on their way to someone new—Story, Eben, Djembe, Benni, Noel, Joey, Stoney, P.—can always come home again. I just love it when they don't have to, because they end up somewhere even better.

Happy trails, P. Thank you for bringing so much joy into the life of my good friend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The visitors: in which Russell loses his shit

Russell (center) has dangerously low self-confidence. Yesterday, he reminded me of this by losing his shit when my friend D. dropped by around dinner time. Forgetting how heavy Russell's emotional baggage is, I let my daughter open the door while I stirred the onions. Russell freaked out and tried to save us, and I arrived just in time to grab his writhing form just before he slipped out the door teeth-first. I carried him to the bedroom, where he proceeded to have a total meltdown. He's valiant—I'll give him that. It's just that D. is the opposite of nefarious, and Russell seems to have missed the memo.

Russell spent the first seven months of his life tied to a tree, during which time it seems he formed a few general impressions: 1) men are bad. 2) tall men are very bad. 3) tall men leaning over are very, very bad. As a result, no greeting of anyone even remotely mistakable for male goes down in my household without Russell being locked away, or at least a stern warning being issued. "Don't look at the brown dog, he's afraid. Don't touch him. Pretend he doesn't exist."

There are exceptions to Russell's impressions, such as my friend Rob. When Russell met Rob, Russ threw the book away and wrote three new rules: 1) Rob is good. 2) Sitting on Rob is very good. 3) Lying on Rob's chest while Rob lays on his back, entranced by Russell's loving gaze, is very, very good. Another exception to Russell's rules is my boyfriend, who spent a couple of years diligently pouring love and kindness upon Russell in order to earn the privilege of leaning over without being barked at.

I know that Russell could be helped by more practice, more treats, more positive associations, and more of my time devoted to exercise and training. I don't have that time to spare right now. Apparently, though, I don't have the most phobic dog ever. When I googled, "my dog doesn't like men" just now, I hit on an interesting thread in which a top comment was, "my dog hates people and the world."

Just goes to show you that life could almost always be worse.

Do drop by again, D., if you're reading. Just don't try to pet the brown dog.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Doggo Slomo

For days when there's no time to write, there's slow motion dog video:

Saturday, October 6, 2018


Clover and Shaila—two of my blessings.

I saw something on Facebook along the lines of, "do you love your job, your home, your family, and your love life? Are you very happy with every aspect of your personal life? Do you wake up filled with joy and gratitude every morning?"

And I thought . . . "yeah! Basically, I am, and usually, I do."

Then I read the comments. It was a sponsored post, selling some kind of e-workshops with a self-help guru. People were pissed—in full denial not only of this guy's services but also of the general premise that it is possible to be pretty happy with every aspect of your personal life.

Don't get me wrong—I get angry, sad, distressed, worried, anxious, irritated, blue. I'm pissed about Kavanaugh, enraged about family separation at the border, distressed on behalf of the animals suffering in factory farms everywhere, and devastated by the ways in which institutionalized racism and speciesism are upheld. I'm also occasionally annoyed by my family, worried about money, or spread thin at work. I want things I don't have and can't afford.

That said, I am grateful. Deeply, awesomely grateful. I'm grateful to my racial justice learning group members who help me learn and grow as an anti-racist advocate. I'm grateful to the staff and board of the Whidbey Institute, whom I count not just as colleagues but as some of my dearest friends. I'm grateful for my children, who are growing up to be kind, wise, talented, and compassionate people who inspire me daily. I'm grateful to my boyfriend, for being kind, funny, thoughtful, and more emotionally intelligent than I thought a straight white man could be. I'm grateful to Sue who is keeping my mule Arrietty safe in Sequim, and Madisun, David, and the Shermans who are keeping my cow Dahlia safe in Coupeville. I'm grateful to the womxn and the LBGTQIA and BIPOC leaders who stand against white supremacy and patriarchy. I'm grateful to indigenous wisdom and cutting edge innovation that brings us closer to environmental sanity. I'm grateful to my wonderful neighbors for putting a smile on my face (and a birdhouse on my fence—thanks!) and to my local farmers for putting food on my table. I'm grateful to all the voters who are going to reset the Senate in the next election.

While there can be no "perfect happiness," here are some ingredients that bring me close:

1) aligning my actions with my values as often as possible
2) doing what I'm good at, for people who appreciate me
3) being honest with myself and others
4) serving others and staying involved in my community
5) living within my means and planning for my future
6) surrounding myself with animals and people whom I love
7) taking down time for myself, even when life is busy
8) staying just informed enough to be effective, without obsessing about what's out of my control
9) getting outside in nature often
10) counting my blessings—every single day

Hey, reader—you're among my blessings too. Consider yourself counted.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Heirloom citrus

I now have 8 baby citrus trees growing in pots in my home. My working theory is that the climate of Whidbey Island circa 2018 is roughly similar to the climate of Oakland, CA circa 1885, which is when the parent tree sprouted in what is now my brother's backyard. I plan to raise my shiny little trees indoors for a couple of years then dole several out to friends, plant one in my greenhouse, and pot one on for wintering indoors for as long as it can fit in the house. I might try putting one in the yard as well, though I'm nervous about its chances in a hard frost. Advice welcome.

My brother's citrus tree is supposedly a pomelo hybrid. It has fruits which look and smell exactly like lemons but are the size of grapefruits. It's a fantastic tree, and though I'm not sure the offspring will share the parent's characteristics, I am very excited to have these shiny little green reminders from my brother's Victorian urban farm.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Four degrees of preparation

I won a first aid kit through my community's emergency preparedness Facebook page the other day. It's been a good resource for getting to know my neighbors, and I'm glad to know they're thinking about caring for one another in the event of a disaster. With my abundance of leashes, kennels, carriers, and crates, and with the nearest animal shelter 27 miles away, I've volunteered to be my neighborhood's companion animal assembly station in the event of a disaster on a scale that separates people from pets. 

Survivalists and preppers have been the brunt of more than a few jokes in my lifetime, and there is something almost pathetic about someone who invests more life energy in building a nuclear bunker than in connecting with today's society. Preppers are often stereotyped as anti-government, right-wing radicals or commune-dwelling, free love hippies, but since Y2K and especially since 9/11, it seems that being prepared for at least a couple of weeks of societal disruption is now viewed as mainstream common sense. Workplaces are doing it, families are doing it, and in some places, communities are doing it together. 

 I've been thinking lately about four kinds of preparedness for either socioeconomic disruption or a natural disaster. While I'd like to think that society is on a trajectory for course-correction and increased health, I look the income disparity, environmental degradation, and political madness rampant today and I realize it's not a bad idea to prepare for alternatives. Additionally, living as I do on a restless subduction zone, being prepared for an earthquake is just good thinking.

Here are the four ways in which I'm creating more resilience for my family and neighbors:

1: Thriving Now. That means I'm paying down debt, living within my means, loving my work, caring for my health, and cultivating joy and sustainability in my daily activities so that I'm not living on the edge of material or emotional survival to begin with. 

2: Preparing for Emergency.  I want to feel secure about my family's immediate, essential needs. That means storing water, emergency rations, first aid kids, a go-bag, an emergency radio, flashlights, etc. For my hungry animal family, that also means storing plenty of kibble. 

3: Building Community.  Surviving together will be a life skill in the event of a major disaster. Thriving together is the icing on the cake of community life today. Knowing who's in my neighborhood, and what their skills, resources, and special needs are, is a good idea with or without disaster. I'm glad to have Community Emergency Response Teams mobilizing in my neighborhood and I'm planning to be involved. I'm also building community by supporting small businesses, keeping my banking as local as possible, and buying my food through a CSA from organic farmers in my watershed. 

4: Building Skills. I think one way to move forward is to move back—to gain DIY skills for building, mending, and growing, and self-sufficient communities. Despite my relatively shaded lot and limited time, I'm planning to plant a small vegetable garden and a few fruit trees as a step toward greater food independence.

The nice thing about all of this is that it doesn't have the slightest negative impact on life: living within my means, storing life essentials, knowing and supporting my neighbors, and having the skills to meet my own basic needs are just great, life-enhancing activities whether or not life as I know it is disrupted in my lifetime.

Prep away! 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Deer whispering

I once read a book that suggested it's possible to speak to animals—really speak, and really be understood word-for-word. The book made me a little angry, to tell you the truth. It was like a tantalizing but false offer of the greatest gift I could ever hope to receive.

Nonetheless, I believe I can speak to animals through my body language—through my touch—through the tone of my voice. I believe they can understand what's on my heart when my attention is attuned to them.

I have two great dreams: one, that I might one day open a deer sanctuary on Whidbey, to rehabilitate injured and orphaned deer and to support the conditions for safer deer-driver interactions. Two, that I might die with enough money or fame to warrant the construction of the Marnie A. Jackson Memorial Wildlife Bridge, to allow safe passage of wild animals over Highway 525.


I had an extraordinary experience last night.

I was driving to the ferry to pick up my daughters at about 8:45 pm and I saw three vehicles pulled over on the highway. Out of the corner of my eye, I realized the drivers were kneeling on the shoulder next to the moving body of a young deer. At that point, I had passed their location and couldn't safely stop.

"Three stopped cars," I thought. "They've probably got it handled." And then I thought of the fawn who was entangled in a wire fence three years ago, and whom I'd delivered to Sarvey Wildlife Center two hours away . . . and another fawn, who didn't make it but who died in my arms after another driver struck her . . . and the badly injured doe with whom I'd waited for twenty long minutes last winter until a sheriff arrived to ease her passing. I had too much experience to drive past without stopping. Too many visions in my mind of the various possible outcomes, for better or worse.

I went around the block, turned on my flashers, and pulled up next to the crowd. There was a woman I didn't know, kneeling near the fawn. The rest of the crowd came into form in the pooling light of the street lamps, and I realized with surprise that they were all friends—J, a volunteer at the Whidbey Institute. M, a childhood friend. E, a colleague and, incidentally, my first employer (I gave her son riding lessons when I was 14). This is small town life.

The deer was flailing, thrashing, and beating his head against the ground. One leg was folded under his body. His horn buds were just starting to swell to little lumps the size of blackberries. His spots had faded into a smooth, healthy brown coat. His mouth foamed. The crowd thought he was dying, and had carried him from the pavement to the grass to await the sheriff and a merciful bullet. I asked for permission to approach, which they gladly granted.

Two police officers arrived just moments after me, and they agreed with the assumption that the fawn was on the way out. "I think her leg is broken," said one. "We see this all the time," said another. "We put down several a week. We'll end her suffering."

I didn't think so. I had seen animals in the spasms of death. I had seen grand mal siezures, I had seen neurogenic shock, and and I had heard the agonal breathing of animals near death. This wasn't those.

I sat beside the jerking fawn and lay my hands on his body. I bent my head, and I poured as much love and peace through my hands into his body as I could muster. The rest of the scene faded away from my consciousness as I touched my forehead to his neck and whispered, "you're a beautiful baby and I love you. You have a long life ahead. You can stand up and walk away." He grew still. His breathing became regular.

When I moved back, he stood—drunkenly at first—and shook. His legs were unsteady but uninjured.

Two sheriff's deputies and I walked with him across the dimly lit highway. The three of us—me in a dress and colorful tights, the deputies with flashlights and holsters—walked with him. Approaching traffic slowed to give us room.

As the fawn gained strength and steadiness, perhaps shaking off the fog of a concussion, I guided him up a grass embankment. As he tried to turn back into the road, I reoriented his body away from the highway and gave him some parting advice. "Go uphill," I said. "Find a quiet patch of grass. Rest and get better."

I'd like to think he's lying in some tall grass now, sleeping off a headache and dreaming about looking both ways before crossing the road.


Update: I have heard from so many people who saw the accident, or expressed interest in helping to transport the deer to a vet facility. I want to let readers know that on the night of the incident described below, I wanted to secure the deer in my vehicle and transport him to Sarvey Wildlife Rehabilitation. The responding officers felt that would create unsafe driving conditions. I also offered to go home and get a large kennel in which to transport him, but that idea was vetoed as well.

For those wondering how to help injured deer on Whidbey, I recommend contacting Sarvey and Wolf Hollow. I also recommend that, when transferring injured wildlife to the mainland, you let the ferry staff know—in the event of a long line, they will allow expedited boarding for emergencies. Dr. Parent in Freeland and Best Friends in Oak Harbor both provide veterinary care for wild small mammals and birds, free of charge. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Plumbing perspectives

The Ark (not pictured) is a fixer-upper. That's why I was able to afford it, and I am grateful for the stained carpet, missing fixtures, overgrown yard, rickety porches, and dripping taps that put this home within financial reach. Thanks to the help of various hired and volunteer helpers in my life, it's now moving from the "needs repair" to "could use updating" column—in other words, it's safe, sound, and livable.

The most recent project includes replacement of the 80's era beige toilet in the the upstairs bathroom, which has had a tricky flush valve since we moved in. It was off limits for most of the summer, with a "NO!" handwritten in sharpie taped to its handle.

About a month ago, my dad pulled the beige toilet out and opened the box on our shiny new toilet from a big box store, only to discover the tank was cracked. Never fear! The friendly customer service team was only too happy to process our refund and reorder the toilet. It would be shipped to my home, they said—no need to make the hour's drive again.

The toilet was ordered September 5 and was supposed to take about a week to arrive, so I've put in a few calls to customer service since then. First,  I was told there was no update from the freight company contracted to deliver to Whidbey Island. Second, I was told the freight company had changed and the contract was now in much better hands. "I'm glad," I said. "We're a big family, and our upstairs bathroom now has a plastic bag and an inverted salad bowl on the floor where a toilet used to be."

On my third call, I was told that maybe my toilet was caught up in Hurricane Florence, 3000 miles away. This gave me pause. My inconvenience pales next to the tragedy of homes and human lives lost, the environmental devastation of manure lagoons overtopped, and the brutal, brief lives of the 3.4 million chickens and 5,500 pigs that drowned in North Carolina's flooded factory farms. 

I got a call yesterday at about 9 pm from a customer service representative based in Arizona, who promised that guaranteeing my delivery was now her personal commitment. I was grateful for the update, yet unattached to the outcome. I've decided that for now, one functioning bathroom is enough.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


I rented in this neighborhood for six months before I bought, and when a house I could afford came available I jumped. The thing I would not trade for anything—one of the most precious measures of home—is that my neighborhood is walkable.

Going out my door and strolling with the dogs is a great source of joy to me. From our door, we can walk down a quiet wooded lane, descend from the high bluff through a dappled forest, traverse a mile of secluded beach on the shore of the Salish Sea, and hike up a quiet country road to return home.

My other favorite place to walk is near X's home (below). There, I experience the feeling of spaciousness that I remember from my California childhood. The windswept hillsides, sun-soaked and dotted with trees. The golden grasses bent over and rattling. That sort of sprawling landscape feels, to me, like heaven.

I'm grateful to this land for holding me as lovingly as the California hills once did.  Whidbey, isle of view.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Five goals of this blog

Alison Fennell art
I'll tell you a secret—I've always wanted to be an advice columnist. If you need advice, send me your questions.

The advice column dream notwithstanding, I do have four goals in mind for this blog:

1) Share a little of the joy and humor that I experience every day at the hands and paws of my beautiful family.

2) Flex my writing muscles again, as I have come to miss the creative boost I experience when I have a daily blogging habit.

3) Deepen my roots here at the Ark—a new house for me, but one in which I'm starting to feel at home.

4) Provide fodder for my third book. My first book was a children's story, published a few years ago with illustrator Alison Fennell (she illustrated the bunny above). My second book is in progress, working title Shine. It's mostly about Fenway Bartholomule, but also about me.

What do YOU want from this blog? Anecdotes on the animal family? Home improvement updates? Family status reports? Poetry, psychology, gratitude, angst? Advice? You got it.

It's good to be back.

With appreciation,

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Russell the Muscle

Someone hurt Russell's feelings once and he has never forgotten it. He is a very soft dog—a fast movement makes him cringe and a harsh word curls him up like a pillbug. Nonetheless, he also has a tremendous, oversized capacity for joie de vivre. I have never seen a dog enjoy freedom as much as Russell does.

When Russell was younger, he used to make a garbled sound like an emphysematic gremlin at the sight of any other dog. That sound, plus his curled tail and wrinkled forehead, made me guess he had a streak of basenji in him. Now that he's arrived at the dignified age of 6, he has a regular (though shrill) bark. He spends less time shrieking in the presence of caninekind and more time trembling with tension and curiosity.

Russell spent the first seven months of his life tied to a tree, and after joining our family he tried to help himself to freedom in oversized portions. Backing out of harnesses, scaling gates, digging under fences, and squirming out of the cracked windows of cars in motion—if you can think of an escape plot not involving opposable thumbs, he's tried it.

Yesterday, I took Russell to a favorite site of his—the road to nowhere, conveniently sited on a friend's private property and surrounded, as you might guess, by virtually nothing. He had a major grownup moment when the cattle in a neighboring field began to run. Do you know what my good puppy did? I'll tell you—he froze, he stayed on OUR side of the barbed wire fence, and he watched.

Good boy, Russell.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Hearing voices

Monday, a friend and I were talking about what made Brays of Our Lives work. Brays was my former blog, written from the point of view of my late mule, Fenway. He had a clear voice—earnest, baleful, wise, and wry. Writing for Fenway felt more like channeling than authoring. It was often a state experience—effortless, exhilarating, and sweet.

My friend asked if the current animal family (three dogs, three rabbits, two cats) would contribute to this blog, and I said I didn't think so. They talk to me every day—with deep eyes, wagging tails, play bows and binkies. That said, they don't tell stories . . . not in the way Fenway did.

Maybe I'll discover an animal voice in my blogging process—maybe one day Russell will look at me and say, "hey, Ma? Scoot over. I have something to say." I don't think so, though. I think one of the great gifts my mule gave me was the ability to hone my own writer's voice. Like Fenway, I have some wisdom and some humor to impart. I hope that daily writing flows as well for me as it did for him.

These stories will feature the Ark crew, though. You'll meet Russell, a low-confidence, high-energy minpin mix . . . Brodie, a dignified labrador/greyhound cross . . . Clover (pictured), my chihuahua and copilot. Milo, a doggish cat, and his brother Tiger, a cattish cat. The rabbits—Mama, a retired breeding doe from a nearby homestead, and sisters Olive and Hazel.

Hazel has a t-rex spirit trapped in a mini-rex body, and I'll tell you this: if Hazel were authoring this blog, it would be NSFW.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

F . . . or was it Q?

Brodie likes to sleep tucked in beneath his blankets. In winter, he likes to wear his blankets around the house. 

F said he doesn't mind being blogged about as long as I refer to him with a different capital letter each time. He doesn't want anyone getting the idea his first name is Frank (it isn't) or even begins with F (it doesn't). Today is a Q day, I think.

Q has many lovely attributes and habits, but one that I find most endearing is that he's very committed to tucking the dogs in each night. He spends extra time with Brodie, who is not as young as he used to be, and who is dealing with several chronic illnesses, and who can't see any more. I think Q's extra time with Brodie has less to do with the fact that for Brodie, time may be running short, and more to do with the fact that Brodie is just a great dog. He deserves more love than we could possibly show him in the years he has left.

Q gets down on the dog bed beside Brodie and tucks him in beneath a blanket, after five or ten minutes of baby talk and patting and philosophical musings along the lines of, "who's a good boy?" These days,  Brodie can't sleep without getting tucked, and he'll come to the bed whining if we forget. 

Thank you, Q, for being the kind of person who intentionally adds a few minutes of joy to the life of my dog every single day, without fail. I love that about you. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018


Longtime readers may remember Dahlia, my Jersey cow. Some of you may even remember her as our Jersey cow—saved by 22 people, (the "Dahlia Syndicate") who contributed to her purchase so that she could join my family. She's had a very happy retirement, and has made many friends.

Dahlia has spent most of the last year living on a 200 acre organic squash farm in Coupeville, on central Whidbey Island. There, she shares a couple of acres with two other cattle and spends her weekends being admired by visitors. Autumn is an exciting time to be an extroverted cow at a pumpkin patch!

Dahlia gets a lot of compliments on her beautiful big brown eyes. They're one of her most distinctive features, and apparently one of her most vulnerable. For the last few weeks, she's suffered a debilitating case of pinkeye. We moved her, briefly, to my mom's farm where we'd have easier access to a headgate, in which she was restrained for a series of intra-ocular injections. That's a thing I never again want to see a loved one go through.

Dahlia is much better now, and despite our fears and the vets' warnings she seems to have escaped with her vision unhampered. Yesterday, she returned to the squash farm fully healed and ready to greet pumpkin patch patrons throughout the month of October.

I want to acknowledge that even at the ripe old age of 39 I can ask my mother for anything, and she'll be there. Swooping in with a truck and trailer to rescue my cow in her moment of need is just how my mom rolls. (Thanks, ma!)

A retired dairy cow is a rare creature*, and every time I see Dahlia I feel a rush of gratitude for the many people who intervened to keep her out of the slaughterhouse. My former neighbor, who sold her to a commercial dairy but passed along my phone number and an entreaty: "call this lady if you ever decide to butcher her—this lady and my cow are friends." The farmer, who dug that scrap of paper up five years later when he thought the time had come. The 22 people who donated to her purchase (she was priced as beef, on the hoof). My mom, who drove over the Cascade Mountains to pick her up. My friends the Sterns, who caretake at the squash farm. The owners of the squash farm, who opened their pasture and their hay barn to my cow and her voracious appetite.

I'm grateful to Dahlia, too. After multiple painful treatments of her eye infection, she still came to me. Dropped her nose into the halter. Rested her head on my chest, and reminded me that love really does win.

*The average longevity of a dairy cow is 5 years. The natural lifespan of a cow is estimated at 22 years. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018


“To bring anything into your life, imagine that it’s already there.” Richard Bach

I think one of the major contributors to my general happiness is my ability to get tremendous satisfaction out of my imagination, or perhaps I should say my intentions. To clarify, I can imagine something that is likely to come along down the road—that I'm planning for, and working towards—and it just thrills me, and is almost as good as the real thing. My front yard will be full of giant allium flowers and chartreuse euphorbia. I can see it already, in my mind's eye, and it is BEAUTIFUL. I get less satisfaction out of thinking of a front yard full of Scottish highland steers (beautiful, yes. Likely to come along down the road, no). In this way, I'd say I'm fed more by plans than by daydreams.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” —Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

Example: I replaced my washer and dryer yesterday. It was basically a non-event, because I'd known I needed a new washer and dryer since October 2016, and I'd started saving then. As soon as I set the intention, in my heart they were as good as mine . . . and, while the old ones heaved and squealed and strained along I was able to live with the ease and joy that comes from knowing solid, working appliances were in my future. 

Example: I know what color my house will be someday. I have the paint swatches picked out, they're magneted to my fridge, and they're BEAUTIFUL. Done! In my imagination, my house is basically already that color. Never mind that it might be two or four or six years before I get there, I know it will come. 

Example:  I decided I wanted a boulder in my front yard, roughly delineating the end of the driveway (for, no matter how many potted plants I line up outside, people still find ways to drive over the septic tank). I mentioned it to my mom in a, "silly me, when will I be able to afford a boulder?" way, and she showed me to a giant rock in her field that she would be quite happy to give me! It only lives an hour away, only weighs a ton and a half, and is only slightly embedded in the glacial till that forms the entirety of Whidbey Island. Voila! It's as good as mine. I love looking at the spot where it will go, thinking about the mosses and sedums that I'll cultivate in its shadow, and planning for the day when I can hire the Smitty's Towing team to move it from there to here. 

When I'm facing something big—a big deadline at work, a huge home renovation project, a daunting savings goal—I imagine the feeling I'll have when it's complete. I experience it viscerally, as though I were really living that moment. I never set out to operate this way, but it started happening to me unawares and I was eventually able to put my finger on it. Now, I notice and appreciate how often my instincts take me to that place of visualizing my success, my gratification, and my future joy. 

That's what I'm grateful for today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Four senses will do

Living with sensory-impaired animals is interesting—there's so much to notice in how capable they are, and how much they achieve with the senses they do have.

Paisley, our deaf Aussie (2002-2013), used to go into the master bedroom of our apartment on Billy Frank Jr. Blvd. at about four every summer afternoon to watch the ceiling. It confused me at first, until I stayed with him and saw what he saw—a glint of light like a flare slashing across the ceiling, signaling that the chrome bumper of Matt's truck had caught the light as it turned the corner toward our driveway. Master was returning.

Brodie, my Labrador mix, is blind. He lost 100% of his vision in one eye and most of his vision in the other due to complications of diabetes this winter. He sees a little bit of light and shadow, it seems. He gets around fine, and you could almost forget he was vision-impaired if it weren't for the occasional "walk straight into a bush" or "run joyfully to greet the spot 10 inches left of me" moments. When I took him to the home of his petsitter for a pre-trip safety check, we realized the extent of the danger when he nearly took a header off the second story deck, with its widely spaced stiles harking back to an era when small people could plummet to their deaths without anyone being sued. That deck has been off limits to him since.

When it comes to recognizing people, places, and subtle emotional states, Brodie probably achieves more with his nose than I can achieve with my eyes, ears, and nose together. He knows when my boyfriend F is not in the bed, and hops up to take his place next to me.

F and I sleep well together, sometimes holding hands all night long. He's been away this week, and although the dogs are good companionship they can't take his place. Apparently I sense his absence in my sleep, and reach for him. I keep being awakened in the night by the rough feeling of paws pulling away from my grasp—seems holding hands with the dogs as we sleep is more soothing to me than to them. They associate paw holds with claw trimming, something Brodie is downright phobic about.

We all miss F and want him home. We'll be watching for him, though I think blind Brodie may see him coming before I do!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A new story

The other night I dreamed that I was writing again, and I knew exactly how to begin. It was a simple thing—maybe one sentence, maybe two. In my dream it started with just that, and then the words flowed out of me and by dinner time it was a book. I don't remember the first sentence, but it had something to do with stepping on dog shit in my bedroom*.

I then dreamed that I found a weanling mule wandering in the road, and I had nowhere to put him. No paddock, no pasture, no backyard, no garage. I roamed the streets beside him, feeling an obligation toward his safety and an utter, overwhelming lack of clarity as far as how to secure it. That dream ended when I saw the door to my home—the Ark—and suddenly the weanling was gone, and I was mounting the steps and opening the door and wrapping my arms around my boyfriend, who stood there silently awaiting me. It was the best feeling. A feeling of safety, of permanence, and of home.

Moving to the country and owning acreage was my mother's dream and it became my life story. I moved to the country with my mom at age 11, and in adulthood I achieved micro-farmer status when my ex-husband and I bought Bent Barrow Farm, on 1.25 acres in the Cascade Foothills. It was big enough for horses, goats, chickens, rabbits, and dogs, so it was big enough.

While the transitions that have taken me away from Bent Barrow Farm have all been good ones (a career I love, a community I adore, an amicable ending to one relationship and a beautiful start to another) I've struggled to resonate with an idea of home that doesn't include pasture. While my heart often says yes to this quirky, sweet house and this beautiful little yard that I bought two years ago, my head still says, "but couldn't we make a Winnebago on a 4 acre clearcut fit in the budget, instead?"

I didn't know I had writer's block until I dreamed I didn't, but I think the two things are connected. I think I want to belong here, in the Ark—and one way to do that is to tell a new story.

*this happened. Thanks, Russell!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Tales and tails

My mule Fenway died on June 1, 2018—the day before my 39th birthday. It was terrible, and unexpected, yet apparently painless and instant. I loved him so.

I can't continue blogging without mentioning him, as he was the mule behind Brays Of Our Lives. Through my relationship with Fenway Bartholomule I found my voice as an author, my confidence as a communications professional, and my gratitude, in a time when I was overcome more often by sorrow than by joy. Today, I'm almost ridiculously happy most of the time—wonderfully fulfilled, wildly optimistic, and constantly grateful for all that is right in the world even while so much is wrong. Racism, environmental devastation, climate change, the kyriarchy—I acknowledge they're real and that I must play a role in dismantling them, but also that I work better with a joyful heart.

I've sometimes wondered if I should have kept Brays Of Our Lives going in those years after I got busy doing paid work, writing not for my big brown mule but for my nonprofit employer. I loved the journaling aspect of being a blogger, and I loved the ease with which Fenway's words flowed off my fingertips. I loved the connections it sparked—with entrepreneurs, with other writers, with ideas and movements, and with readers all over the nation and world, including some who've become dear friends.

It would feel wrong to blog on Brays Of Our Lives now—that is Fenway's space. It always was and it always will be. It was about scenic trails, fragrant hay, and the tuneful rhythm of bare hooves on pavement.

A lot has changed since Fenway started blogging from Bent Barrow Farm—a new job in 2013,  a divorce at the start of 2016,  a new relationship since the next autumn, and my oldest daughter grown and launched into the world in 2018. This is going to be a place for my stories—mostly stories of animals and family, which is what I'm up to these days.