Friday, July 3, 2009

The War Against the Squirrels

I took a walk in our field the other day and had a hard time not falling into a hole. Or rather, 285 holes. Our 15 verdant, productive acres of alfalfa have been invaded by ground squirrels who have dug in like an army of determined dough boys in the trenches of WWI. Stealthy but not silent, their strident, incessant "peep peep peep, cheep cheep cheep" disturbs the peace and calm we took for granted when my late husband and I moved to this farming area near Mt. Spokane. We used to sit outside and enjoy the calls of birds and the breeze whispering through the maple leaves. Who can hear anything now above all this squirrel chatter?
Don't go feeling sorry for them, any more than you'd pity rats in your basement. Ground squirrels are dirty little varmints that tunnel underground like prairie dogs, living and breeding in huge colonies. Their most active season is late spring through mid-summer, when at any given time I can look out and see dozens of heads popping up from their holes. They feed on plants and plant roots, and since their favorite habitat is open grasslands, this makes them a prime consumer and destroyer of hay fields. They’re as determined and nearly as indestructible as the aforementioned army; they’ve pitted my alfalfa field with moon-like craters so abundant you can’t take ten steps without breaking an ankle in one.
It’s legal to “control” ground squirrels when they’re destroying crops, but “ground squirrel control measures” are a joke. Back when I was young and optimistic, I found what I thought was the ultimate weapon: extra-large, heavy-duty squirrel bombs that looked like smallish sticks of dynamite. I had to travel 30 miles to Deer Park to buy them at a feed store because they weren’t legal in Spokane County.
I bought what I thought was a large enough supply to take down every ground squirrel within five miles, and then some. Back home, I filled my son's red wagon with squirrel bombs, newspapers, and matches. With a shovel over my shoulder, I pulled the wagon into the field and began my campaign against the enemy. The process went something like this: Dig, dig, dig up a squirrel hole. Crumple up newspapers. Shove a bomb down the hole as far as possible and light it. Quickly stuff newspapers over the bomb, then backfill with dirt. See drifts of white smoke coming from other holes. See squirrels popping up and laughing.
I must've spent hundreds of dollars on those bombs. I never saw one squirrel keel over. So Farmer K., who rents our field and cuts the alfalfa, brought in the definitive answer: a mega-gasser that he ran from his tractor. Soon the furry little devils would be heading for prairie dog heaven (or hell), and the field would be saved from destruction. Or not. Farmer K. did his best, but a week later, there were as many heads as ever; perhaps more, as if there were a Baby Boom generation reproducing at a rate fast enough to completely overwhelm squirrel Social Security.
If you don’t like hunting and have a fundamental disagreement with shooting anything that’s alive, please don’t read on. Because the sure-fire way of reducing the squirrel population turned out to be .22 rifles, those low-powered little can-poppers used for target shooting. Our lawn-care specialist, a local teenager we trust, offered to bring over a couple of buddies and do some shooting. Soon there were three teenagers wearing cowboy hats and carrying guns, ready to address our problem John Wayne-style.
The boys spent a couple of hours picking off their targets, keeping score of the ones they could see falling on the field of battle. Others, they were sure, descended to the depths of the earth to expire. This hunting party was followed by another made up of neighbors who had a vested interest in stopping the problem before it spread to their fields, and again, they kept count of the fallen. Over the next three weeks, the total was closing in on 50, then 100, then 125 – outrageous, unbelievable numbers that were backed up by the cessation of the head-popping and the incessant “peep peep peep, cheep cheep cheep” of previous weeks.
Soon after the last hunting party left, the weather took a turn into the dog days of summer. Extreme heat drove the remaining squirrels underground for estivation, which is kind of the hot-weather form of hibernation. It’s fall now, and we haven’t heard a peep or seen a head since July. Have we won the battle or simply a skirmish? Next spring, as the weather warms, we’ll once more sit on our deck and listen for the telltale sounds of WWI returning. Then we’ll either muster the troops or sigh in relief at a war well fought.
P.S. I wrote this last September, and the squirrels are taunting us again, but we've had relatives, neighbors, friends, and teenagers out shooting. Even my husband, the same man who captured a fly alive, took it to the door, and released it, saying, "There you go, little buddy." When Scott gets mad enough to shoot at living things, you know they're in big trouble.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Maverick Madness

We used to have a dog who was outdoors all the time, feared nothing, played hard, and slept happily in the garage. We now have a dog - the same dog - who scratches and whines to be indoors, who is afraid of most everything, who is sacked out much of the time, and who insists on sleeping in the house at night.

What changed Maverick into Marley? Age, mostly, but also thunderstorms. When he was still young, Maverick was playing in the neighbor's yard when a thunderstorm hit. He took off running and turned up, the next day, 8 miles from our house. In his panic he had run over the top of the nearby hills and down the other side.

In the intervening years, every thunderstorm sent him into a frantic episode of chewing (gates, fences, door frames, screen doors, or whatever kept him away from us at the time), pacing, whining, and shaking. That is, if he wasn't running for his life. We "lost" him several times and had to go retrieve him from wherever he'd run to. One night Scott and I held him, or tried to, while his tranquilizers took effect, but he was so panicked that he ran right over the top of us and butted his head against the bedroom door, trying to escape - who knows why or where.

Maverick is nearly 13 years old now, and he turned deaf about a year ago. He seemed to ignore last season's thunderstorms, so we thought those episodes were over. Whew! No more chewing, running, or freaking out.

Then a few weeks ago, while my grown sons were here to witness it, Maverick went ballistic on our side porch. He chewed chunks of wood off the newly fixed door frame (we had it repaired because we thought he was over that manic phase) and banged his body repeatedly against the door. We let him inside, gave him tranqs, and waited while he calmed down. A couple of nights ago it happened again - we got our first indication there was a t-storm in the distance when we heard Maverick banging the door. More chunks of the door frame were lying on the porch. Later he nearly chewed his way out of a dog-proof crate. It's amazing the dog has any teeth left.

I get so mad at Maverick when he's destructive that I forget what he really is inside: a frightened little boy who wants his mommy because he doesn't know what's going on, and he doesn't understand that the loud noises and flashes of light won't hurt him, as long as we're with him. He can't help doing what he does, and no amount of scolding will stop him from doing it again.

So we're at the point of asking how much trouble we're willing to put up with while Maverick lives out his last years. We could say he's had a good, long life, have him put down, and be done with it, but that's the coward's way out. The door frame is fixable (again); nights of lost sleep are redeemable; and the aggravation of dealing with panic attacks is manageable. We have an obligation to the old boy, just as we would to any other family member who loses his mind under circumstances he doesn't understand and can't control.

That reminds me - Honey, if someday I'm reduced to chewing, whining, and freaking out uncontrollably, please keep me.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

10 Things I Like About Mom

Mother's Day doesn't seem like a holiday for me. It's all about MY mother (as if, after 25 years of motherhood, I don't quite have the "mother" identity yet). She is the most special woman in my life, the one I adore the most, the one I'd choose to spend time with over all others.

I don't say it often enough: I just love her to pieces, and here are a mere ten reasons why (I don't have space here for the other 3 million):

1. Her kind and caring heart. I don't know anyone else who cares so very deeply about people. Her prayer list must be endless, because she doesn't just promise to pray when you ask her, she really does. She takes on the cares and worries of others in a way that makes you feel truly loved. She has the gift of crying with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who are glad.

2. Her deep spirituality. I've known about God since shortly after my birth, because Mom made sure we kids were in Sunday School and church several times a week. But more than that, she has always modeled a relationship with Jesus and a trust and faith in God that I made sure I had for myself. Her example has helped me to worry less and believe more.

3. Her wit. Mom is fun to be around. She sees the irony in situations that would pass most people by, and her sense of humor ranges from an appreciation of the absurd to an enjoyment of silly stories. When she emails me something funny, I know it'll be worth checking out.

4. Her intelligence. Scott and I joke that Mom provides tech support for the entire community of Lyle, but we aren't far off the truth. She continues to learn and master technology, contraptions, and inventions. Some of my earliest and favorite memories are playing word games with her, and I give her a lot of credit for my love of learning.

5. Her love for growing things. There is hardly a houseplant or garden flower, shrub, or bulb she can't coax into full beauty. Her green thumb is evident in her shelves of blooming African violets and front and back yards full of dozens of varieties of flowers. She transformed a barren hillside into an oasis. I always try to take a tour of the gardens when I visit, to see what's new and what's in bloom.

6. Her patience. When one 3-year-old boy tells another, "She doesn't yell at you when you spill things," you know you're in the presence of someone special. Things like spilled milk or a broken vase simply don't upset her because, as she says, "What will it matter in five years?" People young and old feel comfortable in her home because she doesn't stress over perfection. People come first, not things.

7. Her optimism. Mom's philosophy has long been that it's better to be an optimist because worrying doesn't change anything anyway (she has a better way of saying it). My often-fearful heart is comforted by knowing that Mom has set a grand example of trusting the Lord to take care of things. And it's not just lip service; she truly lives her belief.

8. Her generosity and selflessness. If you needed it, Mom would literally give you the shirt off her back. She is always on the lookout for things other people might want, things she can share, and things she can give away. More than that, she responds in a practical way when she hears about a need. If it's possible for her to meet it or to help in any way, she will do it.

9. Her perseverance. Mom is like a pit bull when it comes to getting things done. She is the best I've seen at following up on everything from technical issues to people issues. Problems others would drop as too complex are a challenge she embraces, and it's rare for her to not be successful. I love hearing her stories about working through difficulties!

10. Her ability to enjoy and understand children. Mom must have been one of the best kindergarten teachers ever, because her former students, now in their 30s, 40s and beyond, are still coming up to her to visit and reminisce. She's definitely one of the best-ever grandmothers, beloved by my children and her other grandchildren, along with great nieces, great nephews, and basically any child that comes into her presence. She is a loving grandma who sings, plays, reads books, cuddles, laughs, and can relate to the children in her life.

Thanks, Mom, for giving me the gift of YOU and for teaching me how to be a godly woman, kind and generous, spiritual, optimistic (still working on that one), a lover of flowers and children, giving, and determined. You are the best mother God could have given me, and I'm so very grateful.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

50 Ways to Freeze Your Lover

Did you ever talk someone into doing something and then feel really stupid when it backfired on you?

Yesterday I decided Scott and I needed to walk half a mile to our mailbox and back. We've done this a few times lately, and it's felt good to get out in the fresh air. Plus I've turned into Jabbette the Hut over the winter months, so I NEED to walk.

I pulled my husband off the oh-so-comfortable couch, purring and persuading and cajoling. "Pleeeeeease? Take a walk with me, it'll be fun."

Being a gentleman who can't refuse his lady anything she really wants, but complaining under his breath that it was too darn cold, he arose and reached into the closet for a coat. This action was significant, because Scott doesn't wear coats, even during winter. "Too warm," he says. But he took a look outside, told me I was nuts, and put on his heaviest jacket.

I, being uncharacteristically optimistic, told him it was a beautiful April afternoon and no, the rain wouldn't catch us, and those clouds didn't look at all threatening, and did he want a hat? He declined.

We walked the quarter mile toward our mailbox, feeling the wind at our backs, and Scott (who is an optimist's optimist) declared that it was freezing, I was crazy, and wasn't that rain hitting his head?

I, in my stocking cap and heavy winter coat, declared that I was quite comfortable, haha, and why didn't he wear a hat?

When we reached the mailbox and turned around, it was as if we had been magically, cruelly transported to the Arctic. This wasn't a warm, spring rain stinging our faces; it was driving snow! And the wind that had gently pressed against our backs was now biting our cheeks and reddening our ears. Mother Nature had pulled the ultimate April Fool's joke and pinned us down in a springtime blizzard.

Through chattering teeth, my kind and loving husband stated that there was no longer any doubt: I was, indeed, crazy, and he would be happy to hold this walk against me for quite a long time. I asked him if he'd like to jog to warm up, and he reminded me that the titanium in his knee joint had already frozen and, if jarred, would explode into shards like in that Terminator movie. Once we got home and slammed the door on the snowstorm, it took an hour before we were truly warm again.

Today when I asked him if he wanted to take a walk, I half expected him to turn me over his knee and spank me. But he simply said, "Sure, Honey, just give me a few minutes." And now I can't find him anywhere. Was that a car I heard driving down the road?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

So there was this guy singing, see...

I used to have to go to student recitals when I took music appreciation in college. If they didn't make us go, nobody would show up, because recitals were B-O-R-I-N-G. I was also taking art classes, so I'd relieve my boredom by sketching whoever was singing or playing or strumming or tooting.

So get this – 30+ years later, I'm going through college memorabilia (junk I saved) and I come across a program from some guy's recital. I saved it because of the brilliant artwork (!), not because I remember Jeff H. But I'm thinking, hey, maybe he's still out there singing somewhere. He sang pretty good in Italian or whatever.

Being a Google junkie, I Google Jeff H and I find this music minister – a PhD no less – at a church back East. He doesn't list EWU in his bio, but what alum of EWU does? I look at his online photo and I look at my sketch (I was a brilliant sketcher) and I'm thinking, yup, could be!

So I email him a cautious note, because I don't want him thinking I'm a stalker. I explain that I ran across this printed program, and he looks kind of familiar, and is it maybe him?

A few hours later I get this email:

    It’s me. Can it be thirty years ago? Let’s see, I’m 51. I guess it is.
    Please help my worn out memory: how do I know you?

Now I realize I have to 'fess up, tell him the story, and send him the sketch and a short note saying I knew some of his accompanists from church. Later I get this email back:

    You’ve blessed me! Ah, the wonders of the internet.
    I remember that church - I attended for a number of months.
    Thank you for the sketch.
    Blessings to you and yours.

Ah the wonders of the Internet indeed - reconnecting with somebody I didn't remember who didn't remember me!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dignity and Desperation

When you sell stuff on craigslist, you meet a lot of nice people. This isn't anonymous eBay, where you mail things to New York. This is real life, in your face, actual people coming to your house.

The other day a sweet college girl picked up a small desk, thrilled to find something she could afford. A young couple driving a brand-new pickup bought our unused twin bed for their little girl, proclaiming it "perfect!" Another young couple in a very old truck took away a free pile of plastic gardening pots for their garden to feed hungry families. A kid gratefully hauled off our scraps of Trex lumber to build shelves in his workshop.

Then there was the family who pulled up in a van to buy a pair of doors for $20. The doors had languished quite a while unsold, so I was happy to have a buyer. A man came to the door, well-dressed in a shabby kind of way. He probably looked older than he really was because his shoulders were stooped, as if he were carrying a great weight.

A young man got out of the van to help get the doors. I heard a baby crying, and a girl in the back seat, who looked no older than 18, asked for warm water to fill the baby's bottle. While we were loading the doors, the older man said something about the baby's health problems - a cleft lip, hospitalization. He paid me, and the older woman in the front seat rolled down her window and called out, "Thank you SO much for selling us these!"

I was struck by this little family's quiet air of dignity and desperation. I took the man's money but regretted it as soon as they left. As I explained to Scotty, they seemed to really need it, but I didn't think fast enough to give it back. Scotty had the same thought I did: email them and offer to return their money.

The mom, who had emailed me about the doors, thanked me for offering their $20 back but said not to feel obligated. I insisted - I explained that God had laid it on my heart, it wasn't my idea. She gave in, and that's when I heard the rest of the story.

The family of four was actually a family of at least 10 - the older man and woman were husband and wife, and they had one child of their own and seven that were adopted. The seven had been removed from their birth home because of abuse and starvation, and now this couple were struggling to feed and care for them all. Medical problems and a lack of insurance had stretched them to the limit.

Sandy had indeed reached the point of desperation, but, she said, "I just think you ought to know how you have blessed me in my feeling that my prayers were not being heard, and realising now that they must be."

I've gathered some stuff for them - extras from our pantry, a box of food from the Union Gospel Mission, our old baby crib, high chair, and playpen. It will help, temporarily. I worry about what they'll do when this food is gone. But God calls us to help where and when He needs us to. For now, this is the help we can offer, and we'll continue to pray for Sandy and her family. Would you pray too?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Got Wench?

This is an actual ad - not a joke - that appeared in my church's March 2009 newsletter:

Need a Freezer?
Large chest freezer, free to a good home for just coming to pick it up. If interested, call F*******s Community Church at ***-**** or Dave C. at ***-****. Will most likely require a wench to get it out of the church basement.

Now I don't know about you, but I have a lot of stuff that needs to be moved out of my basement, and the funny thing is, I never thought of using a wench. If you have one I could hire, please call me at ***-****.