Stoat Your Day Off Right

The other morning, I walked past Roger as he stood stock still and quiet in the back doorway.  His focused gaze clear.  Shhh.  Walk softly past.  I’m waiting to see something come out of that wall.

This particular wall is home to an abundance of life.  The rabbits who make quick get-aways when the dogs are outside.  Small birds making their nest homes among the narrow little cracks.  No doubt, the wall teams with bugs, worms, toads and loads of things we can’t easily see.   It must be an ongoing rave of tiny movements between the rocks and the mosses.  While Millie is chasing a ball, Brock is frequently sniffing parts of this wall, telling us there is a good deal more than meets the eye.  The plant life is spectacular.  Such a variety of mosses and lichen covering the rock surfaces it could easily impress a Japanese Zen gardener at Saihoji in Kyoto.

Crockern Farm Wall

It’s fair to say, Roger spots the majority of wildlife.  I may see it, but am often at a loss at identifying and naming. Roger sees, hears, and can identify the type of bird, animal and plant life easily.  It’s a skill I seek, but am most often off the mark.  Just when I think I can name the birds around Crockern, Roger will casually declare, “I just spotted a long-tailed blahdy-blah-blah”.  Lacking his skill set, who am I to question?

As Roger stood quietly in the doorway, his own wildlife hide, I crept up slowly to see what captured his attention.   He whispered coordinates of where to cast my view.   Just to the right of the Ash tree, down four stones and next to the tuft of ferns.  Do you see it?  There is a small, horizontal gap.   Watch that area.  This break in the wall, so easily unnoticed, suddenly was clear as day. The moss worn at the bottom of a decent sized opening.  Here is a faint, mini trail leading from the base of the hole out onto the yard.   Why hadn’t I taken notice before?  Millie and Brock frequently go sniffing about there. And while I chastised my untrained eyes, Roger pointed out the small movement in that particular void in the wall. I focused my attention and saw something.  A leaf caught in a clump of moss and fluttering in the breeze?  Then it happened again.  It was not a fluttering leaf, but a head busily poking in and out from the wall.  I too spied what Roger and the dogs already knew.  We have a Stoat!

Why this wall?  It seems a little close to the house.  Then again, we had a badger a few years ago burrowing about 30 feet from the front door. Unlike the badger or rabbit, a Stoat doesn’t dig its own burrow.  It’s opportunistic and will move throughout all the burrows and hideaways looking for prey. After it finds its prey, a Stoat will assume the home of the rodent it killed going so far as to decorate its new home with the skins and fur of said-dead-prey.  C-R-E-E-P-Y. That said, I suppose it is the ultimate in up-cycling.  With any number of stacks of logs, cracks in the walls, rock piles and the like, we’ve probably had a family of Stoats for some time.

Despite their approach to decorating their homes, they are adorable.  Those long and bendy bodies covered in a light brown fur on its back and a creamy white throat and belly.  Their tails tipped in black.  Cute they may be, this small little predator is just that, a predator. My thrill in spotting it was immediately offset with concern for our chickens.

Stoats are known for being well suited to hunting small rodents and rabbits. Bring it on little Stoat!  I just spent two days repairing the fourth of our six vegetable beds from rabbit damage.  Our local bunnies had burrowed up into the raised bed, despite a barrier beneath the soil.  I wouldn’t mind a small cull in this abundant population.

Our chickens are large hens, so should be okay with a Stoat moving into their neighbourhood.  And as long as there is an ample supply of rats, mice and other rodents, a stoat should be happy moving in and out of the wall’s hidden burrows.   Watching the activity at the bird feeders each morning, confirms a happy balance of supply and demand at Crockern.  Our chickens should be safely out of harm’s way.

One concern is stoats are known to eat eggs, but I’m not too worried about that since Brock occasionally does the same thing.  In Brock’s early puppy days, we witnessed him gingerly carrying an egg from the hens’ nest to the top of the hill.  Situating himself with a view, he would delicately position the egg between his paws .  Next, he would surgically make a small hole at the top of the egg, keeping the shell otherwise intact before slurp, slurp, slurping away at the raw egg.  Brock’s care in his thievery is impressive, as is his glossy coat.  Consequently, Roger and I check for eggs about ten times a day.  Brock and stoats be damned.

To encounter a Stoat before setting out on a journey is bad luck, or so goes the myth. As we stand in Roger’s make-shift observation spot, we both feel rather lucky to have spotted this Stoat and welcome yet another member to the diverse collective at Crockern.

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Tempus Fugit

 

Some projects are harder than others.  It’s not just the materials needed, mess generated, or muscles overused.  More often, it is the collision of details which creates a seemingly impossible cause and effect situation.  A typical planning conversation between the two of us:  “If we move this, then we will need to move that.”  “Okay, but if we move that over there and then, oh wait, what about those wires?’  “Hang on, that will need to be moved over here before we do any of this work.”  “Haven’t we already made this decision?” “Is that a pipe running there?”  “Can we finish this in a few weeks before our friends are due for a visit?” Spoiler alert:  We’ve started another project.

When we moved to Crockern, our very first project was to install a wood burner.  It was a necessary undertaking as the chimney was open to the sky, inviting in the rain and cold, and letting out heat.  The room was chilly, damp and smelled of wet ash.  This improvement proved essential and for years we’ve had a cosy sitting area throughout the winter months.

Roll on a few years and several other projects, we returned to further improve this sitting area:  sanding the floors, removing the paint from the stone walls and scrubbing the dark soot off of the other stones around the  fireplace.  Repairing stairs, painting walls and ceilings nearby, changing the lighting, and taking the time to regularly enjoy the area.  But we aren’t finished.  There remains a window in desperate need of replacing as the frame is now rotten.  And above, there is the unaddressed wooden ceiling.

This ceiling is held up by some lovely beams which we’ve long wanted to sand to reveal the beauty of the wood.  There once were horrible particle boards hidding about 50% of the beams, but we ripped that out ages ago.  In doing so, we discovered how big the next step would become and stopped, learning to live with it as it was.  Somewhat. Neither of us liked the look or feel of the ceiling in this state.  Friends would say how they liked its “rustic” look, but that’s easy to say when you aren’t living with it and thinking about the full potential.

 

 

We spent an age deciding the next steps.   The confounding challenge is currently the ceiling sitting above the beams, is nothing more than the floor boards of the room above.  We didn’t want to install plaster board between the beams since they are wonky, bent and old.  The look would be sloppy and the plaster would quickly develop cracks.  The current set up allows for dirt to fall through from the floor boards above.

An additional inspiration for doing all this work is that we need a solid, insulated and straight wall to hang a clock.  As so many walls in the house are stone or roughly angled, our options for hanging the clock are few.  There is, however, a perfect  spot in the room above where we sit by the fire for this clock.  Too bad the wall is not finished, or rather, framing hasn’t begun.  And here is that nasty cause and effect.  We can’t frame the wall until the floor below has been sanded.  Can’t sand that floor unless we lift up the floor boards and address the beams below.  Because once that wall is built, we can no longer address the floor.  Every project begets more projects.  It’s positively biblical!

My Dad collected clocks and when he died, I brought one of his wall clocks from the USA to Crockern. It’s an old Viennese Wall Clock from the late 1800s.  Currently, it is being repaired.  I’m not certain when my Dad gave up his daily tinkering on all his clocks, but this one was an early casualty.  I found someone to repair the clock and someone else to restore the case.  I am looking forward to hearing the familiar ticking of a clock.  Growing up, our house was filled with clocks, noisily keeping time and occasionally chiming in unison on the hour.  While I can’t wait, neither can the project which will end in a wall to hang the clock. We’ve got about  4 weeks.

 

 

And yet time waits for no one.  While we’ve made our list, purchased our materials, and set about our plans we’ve had a few hiccups since starting this project.  I went to visit friends one recent morning.  During my short stay, a tree came down across their track, stranding me there until Roger could pick me up in a nearby car park.  A few days later, as we were making real progress (1/3 of the floor boards lifted and the beams sanded), Roger stepped on a 6 inch nail. He spent a night with his bandaged foot elevated.  The next morning he received a tetanus shot.

It matters little that we covered furniture, created dog barriers, numbered the boards, and were moving at a pace.  Sometimes, life – or trees and nails  — get in the way and slows us down.  Still, time’s ticking!

What’s in a name?

’Tis but thy name that is mine enemy:
What’s Montague? It is not hand nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.

 

So sayeth Juliette, from her balcony, fully aware of the power behind a name as she poses this question to Romeo.  I can say, all these years later, her question of what’s in a name? remains.  And if she and Romeo had lived long enough to have a puppy, would they have struggled as we did to agree upon a name?

Nearly a year ago, April 2018, Roger and I brought home a puppy to join our Crockern family.  He is now fully grown into a beautiful, strong, affectionate and silly dog.

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But for weeks, we struggled to agree upon a name.   Dale Carnegie famously said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”  Now, I don’t know about that, but I do know names are powerful stuff, including a dog’s. It reflects personality.  It needs to be easy to shout across a field for recall.  But more, it says a lot about you.   Consider Fang v. Fluffy.

As a dedicated list maker, I was more than happy to create pages of name ideas in the weeks before bringing our puff ball home (no that’s not his name).   Roger and I considered each and promptly rejected most, and then all by the next day.  Hoping for some manner of inspiration we sought lists for dog names.  We dug deeper and consulted books on our shelves with Latin or local names for trees, plants, animals and birds.  One afternoon, I ran through an on-line list of baby names.  When that bore no fruit, I started looking at the names of authors, musicians, actors, you name it.  Briefly, each idea seemed pretty good until we thought about saying something like, “Sit (fill-in-the-blank-using-anything-from-our-really-endless-list-of-ideas)”.

How do people who have children do this?  How do they come up with names that will shape a personality, or certainly affect first impressions?  It is an onerous task.

Days before Roger and I picked up our puppy, I had returned from a visit to see my Dad.  My sister extended her visit as we were both increasingly concerned about Dad’s health and safety.  My Dad, known to many as Tom, knew Roger and I were going to pick up a puppy and had yet to select a name.   While chatting over the phone one night with my sister, our Dad proudly chimed in with the suggestion, “Name him Tommy!”  What could I say but, “Great Idea.  But Dad, do you really want a dog named after you?”  “Of course I do!”

But how could I? Roger and I have a Bantam cockerel named Tommy.  How could I name two animals in our lives the same thing?  That shows a complete lack of imagination.  Still, how could I let my Dad down?  Facing this dilemma I did the only thing I could, I lied.

Every time we spoke, my Dad would ask, “How’s Tommy?”  And I would say, “He’s great, Dad.  You’d love him.”  I couldn’t tell my Dad we didn’t have a name for the puppy yet. Our hope of inspiration upon bringing him home failed us.  With an energetic puppy with no name, I continued to tell my father “Tommy” was cute as could be and sent photos to prove the point.

We made an initial vet appointment and began to feel the pressure of not yet having a name for our young puppy.   The vet would want to know what to call him.  Puppy socialisation and training would need to begin soon.  We needed a name.

Our vet is a tall man and relatively young.  He worked for many years on farms with large animals before making the shift to the world of domestic animals (standing on a dry floor rather than in mud was a driving force as I see it).  He has an easy-going demeanour, floppy, curly hair, and a gentle giant way with animals. Roger and I both like and trust him with our dogs.  At this first appointment, he asked, “What’s this lad’s name?”  We confessed our inability to come up with anything. Without any hesitation he says, “I’d name him Brock.  He’s going to be a big boy.”

And just like that, we had a name:  Brock. It felt right, inspired in fact.  We didn’t need several lists, we just needed someone else to have an excellent idea.  I’d like to say Brock perked up his little ears and wagged his tail with delight with his new found identity.  Instead, he was blissfully unaware and tried to chew my zipper.

When we selected Brock, we thought he’d be a similar size to Millie.  And this is where the differences begin.  Millie never chewed.  Brock chews everything.  Millie loves to chase toys.  Brock loves to chase Millie’s tail.  Millie rushes out the door at night, barking away any evening predators.  Brock doesn’t bark at night, seeming cautious and a little uncertain; instead, he reserves his voice for the daylight hours when he tells every dog who passes the house to go away.  We have two very different dogs.

Turns out Brock (brocc, broc, broc’h) is Old English of Celtic origin.  I like that.  It also means Badger, and our Brock has a broad white strip up his nose.  He’s strong and, like a badger,  he has powerful legs and paws and loves to dig as evidenced by the state of our garden.  Millie chases balls and Brock chases the scent of all the subterranean life in the yard.

Up until my Dad died in August, he would ask after “Tommy.”  I gave all the training updates, and also included the truth.  I told my Dad we had given the puppy a longer name,  like a stage name for a cabaret performer:  Mr. Tommy Brock.  To keep it easy, we were calling him Brock for short.  My Dad gave a smile and said, “I like that name.”

 

 

 

 

 

Hoo’s Looking for Birds?

At a recent party, I heard three separate conversations about Barn Owls. “Oh, we have one living in our shed.” “I have a Barn Owl roosting in my stables. ”  “You know, we’ve got a pair mating in our barn.”  And to each of these, I gave an acknowledging smile and grudgingly contributed, “Roger and I have spotted one once or twice on a standing stone along our track.”  Doesn’t compare, does it?

I love owls and spotting them is different from other types of birds.  Most are fairly elusive during the day, enjoying the nocturnal and crepuscular way of life.  This definitely doesn’t correspond with my behaviour.  I’m up with the sun, busy during the day and then ready to hunker down when the sun sets, particularly in winter when it is colder. Nothing beats sitting by the fire on a cold winter’s night, good book and glass of wine to hand.

Our wet and rainy December has given way to a less wet, but certainly colder January and February.  We had our first snow flurries the other week, but not much accumulation.  Then these past few days, the temperatures dropped to an angry cold, the clouds moved in and we have a proper eight or so inches of snow.  Currently, when the news isn’t about Brexit, it is all about the Polar Vortex gripping the Mid-West in America.  Less newsworthy, we’re having our own wild winter on Dartmoor.   The dogs go crazy in the snow, following the fresh scents and animal tracks on the surface.  They love nothing more than diving into a snow drift to chase a snow ball.  While Millie and Brock are busy sniffing newly laid scents, I am moved by the pure resonance of the dawn chorus.  This layer of snow dampens ambient sounds leaving a still backdrop for the songbirds.  Because of this and the play of morning light, I enjoy getting outside first thing.  Likely, right after any owls have decided to call it a night.

With this much snow, we presently have the moors to ourselves, except for a brave few photographers. This solitude won’t last long as no doubt, the weekend will bring all the madness of people coming to go sledding.  They will leave their cars parked all over, block gates, and leave behind a trail of litter.  This is the part of the snow fall I do not enjoy.   But the roads are not fully passable at the moment, so they haven’t arrived yet. This gives us a chance to fully embrace our own little winter wonderland and the thrill of laying our own fresh tracks in the snow.

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Roger andI head out onto the moors with Millie and Brock, the ashy coloured sky reveals an occasional patch of blue.  The sun has tentatively peeked out, lighting the clouds in a pleasing combination of pink, purple, and grey.  The tors look especially brooding on top of the hills in this light and with their dusting of snow.  With the wind to our backs, we march up past Crockern Tor, and then north along the ridge.

Trudging through virgin snow, we pass sheep who keep a watchful eye on Brock.  We do too as he is still working through his instinct to herd them.   After about forty-five minutes, we clamber to the top of some rocks, pause, and take in the views.  The sun is now casting our shadows across the gorse, reeds and granite boulders.  We catch sight of a bird of prey quartering low over the moors beneath our vantage point.  We watch it either hunting or waiting for a clear moment to feed on something already lying dead below.  Roger is certain it is a Hen Harrier, which we don’t often see.

It’s thrilling to spot a bird of prey.   They are spectacular and spellbinding examples of power and grace.  Possessing top predator status can’t be easy and that means they will never be as numerous as other birds, so there is a certain novelty and happy surprise to seeing these elusive creatures.  Since moving to Dartmoor, we have spotted Red Kites, Hen Harriers, Buzzards, Kestrels, Sparrow Hawks, Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, and Hobby.   Roger has spotted a Merlin, too. He once observed a pair of Peregrine Falcons in this very spot we are standing now.

Owls are part of this elite top bird group of predators.  And like all birds of prey, they are powerful, fast, graceful and nimble.  And yet, despite appearing ferocious, they are fragile.  I suppose that is what being a bird of prey ultimately means.   They sit on the top of the food chain and their numbers are essentially controlled by the amount of prey available to them, an amount so easily disrupted by climate and people.  With curiosity and admiration, we happily watch the Hen Harrier.

As we move on, I bring up the conversations at that recent party.  “Roger, why is it almost everyone seems to have a nesting Barn Owl?” “Roger, why don’t we seem to have nesting Barn Owls?”  “Roger, did you believe everyone’s comments about the nesting Barn Owls at the party?” “Roger, could there be that many nesting Barn Owls living in such close proximity?”  Clearly, my envy was getting the better of me because while many of our friends and neighbours are able to report Barn Owls living in their out buildings, all we can confirm are Jackdaws, rabbits, rats, mice, voles, toads, and a million spiders.  In the spring, Swallows and House Martins will join the crew.  And, Pied Wag-Tails will make nests in the cracks in the mortar of the building’s walls.

In the meantime, if I can’t see a Barn Owl, I’ll darn well listen out for one.  Unlike the hooting sound of the Tawny Owls living in the stand of Pines across the river, I will need to listen carefully for an eerie screeching and hissing sound.  I’ll also have to keep Millie inside as she enjoys nothing more than conducting a night time perimeter bark to warn off foxes and badgers, in order to keep our chickens safe.   I doubt we’ll get a resident Barn Owl anytime soon, though I may sign up for a Nest Box workshop at the local Barn Owl Trust.  It’s important to encourage new critters to Crockern.

Dartmoor

 

The Vegan Hot Dog Van

In every town I’ve lived, there have been the regulars.   In cities, there were the old men who daily smoked outside the front door of their apartment building.  Or, the group of teenagers hanging about the corner for hours. Regular dog walkers.  Early morning joggers.  Solo folks saddled up to the bar having a bite to eat before heading home.  All our lives connected through something bigger than any of us.

Living rurally, we may not have the corner shop or the local bar, but we do have a cast of characters. The tall man with the curvy walking stick who leads visitors to places on the moors always stops to greet Millie and Brock.  The local couple who are busy tracking and recording migratory birds to the area, dressed in camouflage and draped with more than a few pairs of binoculars routinely stop by to say hello.  There are our regular egg buyers, dog walkers, bird watchers, or trail runners who are all part of our lives, even if we don’t always know their names.

There is one, who remains a mystery to me.  I’ve never met him.  And up until recently I had never seen him.  To catch a glimpse of him is akin to spotting the mythical Sasquatch or The Loch Ness monster.   If there were Dartmoor Trading Cards, he may be perhaps the most valuable of them all.  A vintage Babe Ruth.  Michael Jordon’s 1986-1987 Rookie Card.  The 1954 Ted Williams.  Or, a mint condition Wayne Gretzky.

It all began when we noticed a maroon and green van with a sky-blue top sheltered in various lay-bys on Dartmoor. We’d spot it any time of the day, but most often it was parked very early in the morning, or towards evening as the sun would begin to bruise the sky with a sunset.  There are probably similar vans and campers moving about on Dartmoor, but this one is unique.  In addition to its earth and sky colour theme, the side of the van shows a painting of a golden sun with radiant beams.   In large letters across the top is written, “Vegan Hotdog”.

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I ask around, “Have you ever seen that van?”  “Do you know anything about him?”  “Does he sell vegan hotdogs?”  “Does he live in the van?”  “Is he nice?” “Is he an activist?”  Almost everyone I ask looks puzzled, save a few who have also seen the van and entertained similar questions.  One friend mused, “I wonder if he does a good trade selling vegan hotdogs on the moors?”

I search the Internet and find little more than a story about a vegan hotdog receiving a 95% approval rating.  There is also a moderately interesting story about a woman who ordered a vegan hotdog at a big international store, only to discover it had meat in it.  Like any Internet search, there is a rabbit hole of articles.  And yet I uncover no information, not even a photo, to shed light on my local mystery.

This past year, Roger and I began reporting our various sightings of the van, sharing with one another where we saw it parked and looking abandoned.  Occasionally one of us would see the van on the move.  In the distance, just over the crest of a hill, the bright blue roof would appear.  We slow our car in order to catch a glimpse of the driver, this Vegan Hotdog Man.

He has a big white beard, but so does our friend Steve and I’m certain this is not a separate identity for him.  The Vegan Hotdog Man seems to be driving alone in the van.  I have never seen a dog or another person riding shotgun.

Who is he?  What’s his story?  Since we don’t have Dartmoor Trading Cards, there are no stats to glean from this hard to come by collectable.

With the new year upon us, I’ve turned my attention to making positive steps.  I’ve upped my exercise, not as a new year’s resolution, but just to get it back to what it was before my Dad got ill last year. I’ve carved out more space for relaxing with a good book or listening – actually listening not just as background – to music.  Brock and Millie are back into my school of obedience training, a casual but necessary school. And, as I do at every start of the year, I’m working on a clear out.  Clothing that has holes.  Paperwork which is no longer needed.  Books long since read, which someone else might enjoy.  And the growing pile of things to take to the local tip.

With Roger’s help, we packed the car with recyclables and I drove to the tip.  As I rounded the corner to find a strategic parking place for easy off-loading — metals in the metal bin, plastics in the plastic bin, glass in the glass bin — I spy the bright blue roof of the Vegan Hot Dog Van.

Can it be?  Is he here at the tip?  Should I introduce myself?  How do you start a conversation with a mystery?

I’ve had this overwhelming sensation before.  Being in an unusual place, spotting a celebrity – greater points awarded if they are a B-list celebrity – and not knowing my next move.  Do I interrupt their privacy with a  friendly “Hi?  Don’t I know you?”  I’ve done this:  A still yet unknown Benedict Cumberbatch at the National Portrait Gallery; Laurie Anderson in the women’s restroom at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; and Colm Meaney at a hidden lake in Connemara, Ireland.  Colm and I spoke about the beauty of the landscape and drank the water from the lake, but I chickened out at saying “I love you as Miles O’Brien on Star Trek:  The Next Generation!”  That felt too needy.

As I walk past the Vegan Hotdog Man, I clutch my bags of recycling and slow my pace.  He’s slender and tall, his white beard is thick and bushy. Beyond this, there’s nothing notable. Either that, or I’m a bad witness or easily distracted.  Almost as soon as I see him,  I turn my attention to the van, taking a casual passing glance inside the open door.   But he’s doing what I’m doing and off-loading things at the tip.  There’s no more information to be had about him than anyone else at the tip with our vehicles full of things to drop off in the  appropriate bins.

Perhaps one day, I’ll have an opportunity to introduce myself.  Maybe we’ll meet at a party.  Or, his van will be slightly blocking my car and I’ll need to politely ask him to move, sparking a casual series of questions.

Who are you?

Or maybe, some ingenious person will produce a series of Dartmoor Trading Cards.  The elusive Vegan Hotdog Man among the many collectables. Having just recycled several things, I don’t really want a collectable trading card, I just want to meet this man in the flesh.

This Place is a Dump

As she slowly got out of the car in the dark of night, placing her feet and walking stick onto the muddy track, Roger’s 91-year old Mother’s first words upon arriving for the holidays were, “This place is a dump.”

I’ll grant you we’d had a lot of rain and the track was a muddy mess, but Crockern could hardly be considered an unpleasant or dreary place.   We’ve worked hard over the years, and while we still have many projects with which to attend, we would never consider turning our backs and abandoning Crockern to a waste heap.  Rather the opposite, we carry on supporting, improving, and loving Crockern.  Even with minor setbacks.

We celebrated this recent Christmas at our house .  We’ve only done this a few times, as normally we pack up the car and head to Roger’s sister and brother-in-law’s house for a few days.  But his mother recently relocated nearer to us, giving us all an opportunity to have a proper country holiday.  Our first at Crockern and we wanted it to be perfect.

T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house we were organised.  For weeks, I had made endless lists of food and things to do daily. The fire was lit and the house warm and cosy.  The tree was decorated and holiday music and films at the ready.  Roger and I had wrapped and placed presents under the tree. The house was neat and tidy.  And if we weren’t busy enough, we made a nice stone patio by the front door to eliminate the muddy puddle which was growing from days of rain.  No one, not even Santa,  would need to leap over the pool of rainwater to enter the house.

But, on the morning of Christmas Eve, while I was packing my lunch to head to work, I noticed the lights throughout the house were flickering.  Not a little stutter of light which we sometimes get with the generator; but a full-on disco flashing.  It was worrisome.  I called to Roger, pointed out the lights and then promptly left for my day.  Roger, who was to prep dinner and tire the dogs out before family arrived, now had a new project.

Checking the generator first, the alarm light showed red.  There is never a moment when this is a good sign.  This is a new generator, making the very idea that it should cause us problems distressing.  Roger ran through the usual trouble shooting and resetting steps required.  The batteries, invertor and generator were all fine.  The lights in the house stopped flashing and the invertor indicator light was back to its happy green colour.

Roger assumed his work was done and began washing up only to discover there was now no water.  Ideally our water system works as follows:  Water comes from an underground spring above our property, through a lengthy pipe system into a storage tank outside our house. This tank should always be full. We have a pressure vessel and a pump outside, which directs the water through our new whizzy filtration system before working its way to a faucet in the house.   While Roger examined the dry tap problem, the lights began their flash dance again.

Why does this happen when we are about to have guests?  Early days at Crockern, we had a visit from Roger’s family and we had no water, Internet, or electricity for the better part of a day.   We did have builders and new beams being installed at the time, but that hardly off-set the trouble which lay ahead.  It was not a winning trifecta.  To this day, I remain confident that my arrival from the outside with full watering cans for the toilets was not perceived as a helpful solution despite my best intention.

Roger’s investigation revealed our spring was running fine, and yet the tank was empty.  The culprit:  The pump into the house was working sporadically.  We’ve had compression issues and blockages before, and so this was the obvious place to start.  But this is a relatively new pump, so a problem here was just as troubling as that red light on the generator.  Using a preferred “go to”, Roger re-compressed the pressure vessel.  Still, no water and the lights continued their intermittent lighting.   Never a good time for a system shut down, but hours before family arrive for the holidays is perhaps the worst.

I called on my way home to illicit a status update,  Roger simply said, and with utterly flat affect, “Not good.  We have no water.”  When I left in the morning, the lights were flickering.  Now I was going home to a house full of people, no water, and holiday expectations running at some unknown level.  My heart sank as I knew all too well bringing in watering cans to flush toilets was not especially Christmas-y.

Roger is a determined problem solver.  He will read every instruction, watch you-tube videos, make a few phone calls, and seek to solve the problem himself.  In this situation, having exhausted every possibility, he was left with no alternative but to make an emergency Christmas Eve phone call for one of Santa’s plumbers.

When I arrived home,  I encountered a somewhat quiet and sombre mood, but at least the lights were behaving.  In the dark and cold, Roger and Mr. Plumber worked in the water shed to restore water.  It was a call worth making as the problem involved a specialised level of technical know-how.  As it transpired, the flow return valve was knackered and needed to be replaced.  But it wasn’t just the return valve, there was also a little frog – dead I hasten to add — trapped in the return valve.

Six questions:  Who gets a frog in their water system?  What sort of frog was it?  Where was it before it became trapped in our pump?  When did this happen?  How did it get past our filters?  And lastly, Why, oh why?  It seems this frog’s destiny was to end in tragedy.  To come from the spring, into a water tank, develop from frog spawn to tadpole to frog right alongside our pressure vessel seems a cruel and tragic outcome for a frog.  Nowhere to go,  it died alongside our flow return valve.  This frog was a costly amphibian.

We said goodbye to the plumber and returned inside to our family.  The lights were shining steadily throughout the house.  Our water was flowing.  The fire continued to burn bright.  We opened the wine, put on some festive music, hopped to cooking dinner and getting on with the holidays in our little dump.  An unfrogettable time.

 

 

Writing Dad

It’s been months since I’ve set aside the time to write anything other than an e-mail.  What a year it has been, and not one filled with our usual projects and adventures, but one where my father fell ill and died.

Just over a year ago, my 94-year old father announced that he wanted to leave his wife, sell the house and move into assisted living.  A few weeks after that, he changed his mind.  Roll on another few weeks and he fainted while driving and totaled his car into an electric transformer.  Four-hundred people without power for two days.

One pacemaker later and his life was changed.   Confusion.  Illness. Changes in decisions that had been in place for decades.  Falls. It felt like a rapid descent into craziness.   But the real cruelty fell when in May, Dad was taken to the hospital where he stayed for nearly a month with an infection that we were never fully told about.  His wife wouldn’t let any of Dad’s children speak with the medical staff, nor they with us, and she was incapable and unwilling to discover and share information.  We were on a sad and painful path.

Never a quitter, Dad worked hard to gain back some mobility.   He had less luck with recalling how he became so ill. None of us were able to help fill in the blanks.  From his rehabilitation at the skilled nursing, we moved him into assisted living when he was ready.  He seemed to be on a slow trend toward stable, heading out with my sister and cousin to a 4thof July veteran’s musical celebration.  We watched together the World Cup, rooting for England, over FaceTime. And then, another infection ravaged his body.

Back to the hospital and aggressive treatment for MRSA.  He became increasingly agitated.  Dad was uncertain how he got to this place but certain he didn’t want to be there.  No longer ambulatory.  Greatly confused.  A few weeks later he died.

None of these abbreviated points capture 2018.  Not only did I lose my Dad, but I also lost – temporarily – my joy and my sense of purpose beyond phone calls and e-mails.

I remarked to Roger one evening that my entire year felt like it was consumed with travel to the USA and nothing but sad and stressful events around my Dad.  Roger wisely reminded me that we attended two weddings, and two funerals.  Not exactly a Hugh Grant movie, but nearly.  He also reminded me that we replaced our generator, introduced Brock to our family, had a near house fire and replaced the radiators in the house.

All four seasons have come and gone since I last blogged and I can barely remember where the time went, let alone where I put my car keys.   At the same time, I can remember with clarity each conversation with my Dad, holding his hands, sharing a joke, kissing him goodnight, and singing a favourite song or two.

With my Dad’s death, I’m now an orphan.   What an odd feeling.  Accompanying the regular reminders that I can no longer ask “that question” of either parent, there is a freedom.  The worries of an ailing parent are now gone.  The historic relationship with siblings – largely defined by family history and dynamics – are being defined anew.

Calling to me are a few boxes of paperwork from my parents, which hold little discoveries which can put a smile on my face or cause me to sob deeply. I found my Mom’s high school diploma. My sister and I found our Dad’s naval pilot flight record.   There were birthday cards my parents sent one another over the years, saved for all their naughty sexual innuendo.   I also found the binder where Dad printed out every single blog post from Crockern.

It chokes me up to think he will no longer be sitting at his computer, printing the pages and carefully putting them into his binder, archiving our story.  As we move into the new year, I intend to take with me the energy and joy my father possessed.   Roger and I have a lot to do.

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