Monday, June 5, 2017


Seed – The “Time Traveler” – A Pondering

Copyright 2017 by Lori-Ann Willey

As a child, I used to dig for fishing worms for what seemed like hours on end.  A pointed “spade” was always nearby.  My sisters and I were not shy in grabbing it and start digging away.  Were we going fishing?  Maybe, at some point, yes, but one can never have enough worms ready and waiting.  Most fishermen know that.

The other day, I chatted with a friend about worms.  I know. Probably not the most interesting topic for some, but he and I both agreed that “worm hunting” was something that we could do for hours on end. If it was a rainy night, as kids, we’d often be outside with flashlights and a pail.  We called it, “Jackin’ for crawlers”. 

What does the title have to do with worms?  Not much yet, but it is where it all starts for me.  I always loved digging in the dirt. It fascinated me.  I didn’t mind finding the creepy crawlies. Hell, they went into the pail, too!  Fish just don’t eat worms, you know.  If the fish aren’t biting, then they don’t want the bait you offer.  Plain and simple.  You've gottah change it up. 

I learned at an early age that once the soil is disturbed, you can expect surprises to grow in amongst the grasses.   There was a spot where we always dug worms, as they seemed more plentiful there than other spots in the yard.  My father would do most of the labor work.  He’d stick the shovel to the ground, stomp on it and pull it back to lift the soil.  Then, he’d flop it over, grass side down.  Most of the worms hid in the root system of the grass.  The job of plucking worms fell onto my sisters and me.  I don’t think either of us minded the task. 

After the soil was turned over, often, my father would leave us girls to pick through the soil, shake the sod pieces and see how many worms we could find.   Often, too, he’d leave the shovel so we could shovel through the loose soil. After we plucked all the worms we could find, creepy-crawlies, too, our job was to backfill the area with the loose soil, laying the sod on top. 

My twin, Lora-Jean, and two friends, Little Ronnie and Billi-Jo
Sometimes, one of us girls would try to dig the untouched ground. Sometimes we succeeded.  Sometimes, we didn’t.  I remember once I tried to dig as my father had.  I was just a little thing, but I stomped on the shovel to no avail.  I did more of a balancing act than digging by far. Then, I decided that I needed to jump on it with two feet instead of just the one.  Well, I wasn’t tall enough to do that either!  My mouth came down upon the shovel handle something wicked!  I busted my lip.  I cried. I bled.  I probably ran to my parents, but I don’t remember.  What I do remember is after that, next time, I was more careful.  Those who know me know that I probably didn’t ever get my lip again, but where there is Lori-Ann, there is a way to get hurt.  Avoiding the repeat hit in the lip, I’ve jumped on the shovel many times and my foot or feet would slip.  I’d end up with some nice cuts and scrapes on my legs.  Such things didn’t’ stop me much as a child …or even today at 50, for that matter.

When I was nine, we moved from our 13-room house in Pittsfield, to a 4-room house at the end of a dead-end road that the Town of Palmyra wouldn’t even maintain.  There, we had no running water, and our lifestyle was quite different.  I loved playing in the fields, climbing the trees and taking my pony for a run through the woods.  Woo wee, do I have some stories to tell about doing that!  I must’ve watched too many cowboys and Indian shows!  Looking back, I’m shocked I’m still alive!

Like when we lived in Pittsfield, in Palmyra, we had a favorite spot where we dug for worms, too. Then, I was old enough to use a pointy shovel (what I called a spade, then and now).  If the mood struck, and it always did when I saw the spade, I’d dig for worms.  This was especially so in the springtime.  I knew that summer meant doing a lot of brook fishing for trout, so that meant we’d need a lot of worms. I was always up for the task.  Again, then, and now.

It was in Palmyra that I’d dig through the soil just to see the colorful layers below the surface. I knew I dug too deep to find worms, but as I dug, I no longer looked for them, but instead, I dug to see the different layers and how they changed, their colors and what lived “there”.   I’m like a toddler that goes through the “why” staged.  That stage never left me.  I always wonder why. Lots of times, I’d dig until the hole was too deep to dig any further. Doing this, I learned that worms don’t like the gray areas (clay), the brownish red layers, or much deeper than 18”. Most worms found were within the first foot.  I knew what clay looked like, but the reddish layers confused me a bit.  When I asked my father, he said it was iron.  That confused me even more because all I knew of iron was used in industries. Clearly, that soil was not the same.

Those layers were the start of my love and fascination for “dirt”. Toward the end of the summer, and well after we stopped digging for worms, my father noticed some wild ground cherries growing in the same area we dug for worms.  They were native, but we had never seen them before. Not there. Not anywhere within walking distance either.  We were told to leave them alone to see what would become of them. Every day, I checked the plants, studied their leaves, the blossoms, and how the flowers turned into fruit. Fascinated, I was!

My father said that the seeds must’ve been brought to the surface from digging for worms, and then, back-filling the holes kept them closer to the surface.  Hearing that sent my mind thinking.  I was 10 years old by then, but after that, I remember always being on the lookout for plants growing individually from others.  I knew that birds ate seeds, berries, etc. then pooped them out as they flew.  So, that accounted for some of the “pop ups”.  Animals are “guilty” of such things, too. 

However, it taught me to be very vigilant about nature.   Having my parents’ curiosities by nature and of nature, I always studied things in the wild.  I still do.  “Why is that here?”  I always scratched the soil and looked at its color.  The trees and plant life around them.  In the sun or shade?  Near water?  Dry? Wet?  Always questions I had to answer and I answered each by observing or digging the soil. 

People say that I’m a Naturalist and that I missed my “calling”.  I should laugh.  I call it curious observances with the patience, the want, and the ability to connect the dots to formulate theories.  Nature is a love. I don’t doubt that. I embrace it, even.

Last fall, my sister posted a picture of a plant that she called wild sauerkraut.  I had seen it before, but I didn’t have a name for it.  She is quite knowledgeable when it comes to plants.  We share our knowledge with each other, teach each other, hypothesize and ponder together.  Learning.  We’re always learning.  If we don’t know, we research, learn, and then, share with the other.  Maybe, it was the way we were raised. Maybe it is just how we learn best …hands on, trial and error, problem-solving.  Not so ironically, we both live off the grid.

About three summers ago, I had a bunch of loam dumped in the camp yard.  With it, I shoveled and wheelbarrowed it many countless hours on end to fill depressions, make garden beds, etc. I am still moving that loam with my 3rd “spade”.

It was late summer when I saw a new plant spring from the edge of the pile.  It was a plant that I had not seen for many years and never up this way. So, when my sister posted a photo of her wild sauerkraut, I had to go examine my plant a bit closer. I hadn’t taken the time to do so until then, but every day, I paid it a visit.  As suspected, it is what she called sauerkraut.  It grew in the same type of soil as her plant …the same proximity of the water, too.  I tasted it.  It was tart …lemon-like.  I researched further.  It is sheep sorrel. I’ve eaten “sour clover” (wood sorrel) all my life, but never sheep sorrel.  I liked it, but I much more prefer the “sour clover”.  I even let the sour clover grow in my garden for snacks and use some in cooking, too.

So, like the wild ground cherry in my childhood, it is hard telling how long that sheep sorrel seed laid dormant in the ground, just to be exposed to the right conditions for germination.  When the guy dumped it, he said, “It’s from the bottom.”   Some seeds can lay dormant for many decades.  In some cases, many centuries …even up to 2,000 years!  So, when I hear of a plant “gone extinct”.  I smile.  I know there is hope for their return still. The current conditions just may no longer be adequate for them in our changing world.  In the now, if you will.  I’m all for hope.

Even at 50, I still turn up the soil and let it be.  I still watch for what will grow, if anything different.  I still dig to see those layers of soil.  I think.  I ponder.  The deeper you dig, the further back in history you “go”. How is that thought alone not fun?  The seed – a “time traveler” of the natural world kind.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Don’t Lean over the Coffee Pot

Don’t Lean over the Coffee Pot
Copyright 2017 by Lori-Ann Willey

Do not lean over the coffee pot with long hair! Did I get your attention? In a reassurance, gentle, Mr. Rogers-like voice, I say, "I knew it would".

I do not hide the fact that Ima Compost-Maker-Aholic. It is one of my all-time favorite things to do. So, as our dedicated followers of Willey’s Dam Camp already know, I continue to use the "coffee pot" (AKA piss pot - a 5-gallon pail with a screw on lid) during the nonwinter months, too. Urine is great for the compost and many nitrogen-loving plants, as well. 

Paul continues to use the composting toilet now that the weather is warm and that "line" won't freeze. I know! I know! Some of you are scrunching up your noses. It is not your forte or wanted lifestyle, but it is mine. I get that, but do you 'get' me? Some will say yes. Some will say no. 

There is no soil here, per se, so I must make it to garden. The act of making nutrient-filled soil is called composting. Composting is nothing more than a mixture of decayed or decaying organic matter used to fertilize the soil. 

During the non-winter months, I have two 5-gal pails that I pee in. One sits by my garden and one that is inside but set in the wood crib that is next to the bathroom. Which one I use depends if I am inside or outside. Ok, so this time of year, it also depends on the blackflies and mosquitoes, too, because I do not spray there

Every day, I lug the pails to one of my numerous compost piles, make a hole with a designated stick, (and hope that I grab the right end), and then, "water" my piles. Like a good "kitty", I even cover it up afterward. 

Usually, during the summer months, my long hair is braided so it stays out of the way while I work outside. Hell, even while inside, too. Yesterday, I hadn't yet braided it yet when I felt the need to “make my bladdah-gladdah”.

After I jokingly announced to Paul, “I’m stepping out to pee”, I stepped into the wood crib and closed the door behind me. The process is usually the same. I put the toilet paper roll on top of the chest freezer (propane), unscrewed the lid on the pail, set it on the floor, set the comfy rubber seat in its place, and then, sit. When I used the word “usually”, I meant it. As sometimes, I simply just squat over the pail. I can be lazy like that.

When finished, I role-reversed the process. The problem came when I bent over to pick the cover off the floor. My hair, and not seductively so, went full speed ahead in downward. There, thanks to momentum, it didn't just dangle all still-like, but instead swayed. 

I dared not continue my bend-over. I could not reach the cover either. Trying to counter-act or defy quantum mechanics was useless. Slowly, I stood to calm the sway without touching the inside of the pail. I was thankful that my hair is not long enough to reach the bottom of the pail ...not even with 4-5 inches of leaf litter in the bottom of it. 

Why leaves? Why not. Lots of dead leaves on the ground here. They offer lots of carbon pee, lots of nitrogen. Why not start the composting process in the pot for 24 hours before adding it to a compost pile? Works for me, but you bet your sweet patoot that from now onward, I'll set the lid away from the pail, but not too far away that I'll have to tip the pot to reach it when done. I'm not into teeter-totters these days. 

My hair is braided for the summer so I can avoid the Plop and Flop Dance. Goes to show that one is not too old to learn new tricks. In more than one way, I'll "put a lid on it". A new meaning to "Stifle it, Edith" (my sister calls me Edith). "Over and out!", too! I no longer lean over the coffee pot!

PS.  It is Memorial Day weekend.  A lot of you will be camping.  Some of you will return with your own drop'em and go stories.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Do or Die Concept

The Do or Die Concept

Copyright 2017 by Lori-Ann Willey

I come from a long line of hard workers, but there comes a time when I start to realize why the comments I get, even from Paul. Of course, at the time, I didn't understand from where they stem, even when my body is too tired to take the next step.
Last spring, starting in March, my problematic back became a very big problem once again. The outdoors is a constant lure for me. It always has been. All my life, I said I’d love to live in a glass house so I could “be” outside even when I’m not. Instead, it is more reasonable to have a lot of windows. If it weren’t for the winter months and cold winds forcing their way inside, I wouldn’t even have blinds or curtains.

My parents worked, but I think they put more work in at home than at a money paying job. Always they were busy, and as a result, my sisters and I were always busy, too. Of course, we had lots of play time, but we had our chores …and not like the chores kids today have.

Chores consisted of tending our large gardens, hauling water, pulling weeds, picking rocks, throwing and stacking wood. That included learning how to use an ax and a splitting maul the second I was strong enough to swing an ax …and I think I had that strength at the time of birth (said with a chuckle, of course). Other chores were yard work, gathering of wild fruits and edible weeds. Come hunting season, we helped package and freeze what plopped on the table.

We ate “off the land” when we could. Raised some meats, caught our fish, and hunted for our other meats. The only time I had meat that wasn’t wild game was at school or at a friend’s house. To eat from a box was something that other people did and I didn’t like those kinds of foods. They lacked that homemade taste (AKA – Flavor). We did have Campbell’s Tomato Soup quite often …and boxed cereal, but the cereal was a treat, more than a staple. Breakfasts consisted of oatmeal, homemade apple sauce or bread with homemade jelly.

My mom loved her Euell Gibbon’s edible plants book. I can’t remember from whom she got it from, or maybe she bought it. But, that book was used A LOT …and that was on top of already knowing a lot. As mom learned, so did us girls. To this day, a lot of my knowledge stems from my childhood days. And, get this, I still enjoy foraging for wild edibles and putting them to use. However, there are a few edibles that I’d just as soon not eat again. There is so much that grows around us as weeds that are delicious and very nutritional.

Getting back to the subject of this blog entry -hard work. As I stated above, last March (2016), my back decided to pitch a hissy fit. It became difficult to walk, sit or even lay down, but being active, was better, despite my right leg not lifting more than four inches from the ground. To walk up our six steps into the camp meant literally picking up my right leg. Getting into the truck was torture as was every waking minute. 

Despite the pain, and it was excruciating, I pushed myself to do the things I wanted to do. I was determined, or as my mom used to say, “hell bent” to get things done. I built six raised beds, some of them quite large, and shoveled loam for hours on end to fill them all. Because I used pressure treated wood in one bed, that meant that I also had to line it with plastic. I think that task was the most torturous of all. 

I continued to make compost, walking through the woods collecting nature’s debris and toting it back to camp. That process seemed like it took forever and I became quite frustrated. Love the woods or not, I could not step over fallen trees, or step upon shallow humps or step in shallow depressions. It seems like I had to walk around everything. Picking up the leg and plopping it over was attempted more times than I could count, but I’d end up yelping in pain or falling to the ground. After a while, even this stubborn old coot learned it was just easier and safer to take the couple dozen extra steps, excruciating or not.  That was especially so while carrying a hatchet and/or a machete.  I had a couple "almosts" that I never let Paul know about.  Shhh! I smartened up before I drew blood.

Honestly, there were times where I would sit upon the ground because I was in too much pain to move. At times, I literally crawled or scooted on my butt, as that was easier than trying to stand. There were a couple of times that I belly-crawled. Now, if you can picture a 50-year-old woman doing that all for the sake of being outside, then you can chuckle with me, but it was something that I didn’t think twice about. Crawling isn't easy with big boobs, either!  Yet, I did this routine day in and day out, 10-12 hours a day.

To make some of my garden beds, I used logs and cut pieces of wood anywhere from 2-6-foot-long and 17 inches in diameter, to 8 feet long to 12” thick. What I couldn’t roll up and down a hill, I flipped end over end. At the time, I thought nothing of it. I knew what I wanted to accomplish and I would stop at nothing fulfilling my plan.

Finally, come June, I caved. I was due for my annual mammogram, pap smear, and general check-up. I waited until then to have my back checked out. I was sent for an MRI and to a neuro-surgeon. He sent me for X-rays and manipulation therapy. After that, I went through several PT sessions. Slowly, and come Sept/Oct. I was walking better, feeling better, doing better. I hadn’t realized how limited I was, or how much pain I was really in until I started getting my mobility back and the pain lessen.

In looking back at my garden, yard work, and compost-making photos to remind myself of my spring/summer 2017 plans, I became amazed as to how much I could do in such pain and very limited mobility. I was dumb-founded and commented to Paul, “I can’t believe how much I did while in such pain”. He looked at me as if I had horns growing from my head. I knew I had done a lot. I also knew that my pace was so slow, my steps so deliberate that, to me, at the time, I wasn’t working fast enough or hard enough. My mindset, “It should’ve been done in half the time!” And normally, it would’ve been. 

Paul spoke, “Honey, you were working 10-12 hours a day out there! I couldn’t get you to stop!” I remember replying something like, ‘If I stopped, the pain was worse. I had to keep moving.' 

I have not looked at my accomplishments from last summer since and I don’t think I want to for a while. I know I am a stubborn woman and “hell bent” on getting stuff done, but I remember well the torture, and that is a perfect word to use. It bothers me to remind myself how much I put my body through. There were days when I’d come in from outside and I’d head straight to the bedroom and sleep off my fatigue for 2-4 hours. Pain is exhausting. I would rather run a marathon and sleep for a week than the pain I was in with my back and how the sciatica tortured me something awful.

Now, don’t go thinking that this is all about “look what I can do”. This entry is not about that. But, in a way, I guess it is, because when having the work ethics I grew up with, that doesn’t just leave once I turn 18 and am on my own. Where there is a WILL there is a WAY! Determination, a way of life I enjoy and intentionally choose to live. Though, that concept is one that boggles many minds.

Life does not stop because we have an owie.  Life stops when we stop wanting, planning, doing. I push myself too hard. I know I do, but that is just the way I am. I should be a “skinny-mini”, but it is OK that I’m not, because, honestly, if I were that “mini”, I don’t think we could live at camp 365 days a year. Not with a disabled husband, especially. 

Why do we live here under such conditions? I say, ‘Why not? Hard work doesn’t stop me. I enjoy the physical labor’. However, don’t look too closely at the scars upon my body or the fingernails that fall off from time to time. I have one that fell off in January that tries to grow back but can’t. I may have to have that corrected by a doctor.  Meanwhile, I try to figure it out.  I’ll deal with that AFTER the summer months, then, mention it to my doctor at my next annual physical ...if at all.

I am NOT unique in my way of thinking. I have disabled friends who scoot along on their butts to get things done. I have seen Paul scoot more times than I can count, too. Again, there is a certain level of “fight” within ourselves. We can give in and give up. Or, you can make the most of life …no matter the one dealt. You’ve heard me say or type this before. It all comes down to “How much do you want it?”

I don’t expect a whole lot of people to understand what I’ve written, as so many cannot grasp the concept, but it is merely because they have not been into a situation or situations where that deep-down drive is pushed to the surface. To have that “do or die” mindset. Sitting in a cozy house and fussing about a bent fingernail is traumatic to some people. Life is relative. What is life-stopping for some, is not life-stopping for others. It all depends on our experiences since birth. No matter what …life IS what you make of it. Who can say one lifestyle is wrong over another? No one, but there are a whole lot of people who try.

"Do or Die" some of you may know that as "Digging Deep".

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Intuition Grabs at My Gut

Intuition Grabs at My Gut
Copyright 2017 by Lori-Ann Willey

Living with a disabled husband for as long as I have, you learn to pick up even the most subtlest hints of others who are disabled, too.  Just because someone doesn't use a wheelchair or a cane, doesn't mean someone is not disabled in another way ...a bad way. There are so many medical issues out there that are not obvious.  Often, their "issues" go unnoticed, and one would "never know" unless they were told.  Some of them escape me, too.  

This afternoon, Paul and I did the 16-mile loop to shovel off and around the truck and trailer.  Soon after our arrival, a man pulled his snowmobile to the back of his trailer, stopped and turned off the ignition. My initial thought was, "I bet he's done that a million times". After throwing a few shovels of snow, I saw the man manually shimmy the back end of his sled to line it up. A few more shovels of snow and I started to wonder what might be the problem that he didn't just drive the machine onto the trailer.  I stopped and gave a closer look.  

There was something subtle about him that caught my attention.  His walk was normal, but still, there was something minute that stuck out and I couldn't quite pinpoint it without making it look like I was staring at the stranger from about 75 yards away.  I shoveled a few more times and then glanced back again.  "Yep", I thought to myself, "he's gonna need some help."   He shimmied the sled again.  That time, I started walking his way. When I closed in half the distance, he glanced my way but kept doing his thing.  I spoke loudly, "You all set?  I can help."  The man smiled and gave me a wave that indicated he didn't need any help.  I turned and walked back to the trailer.  A few seconds later, he called, "Thank you!".  I tossed my hand in the air without looking back and yelled, "Yup, sure thing."
It bugged me. Something in my gut told me to keep glancing at the man.   I knew myself well enough that if I saw him struggling, I'd go over and insist that I help, because I am forever and a day declining help, too.  At the same time, I didn't want to barge into his space either, because stubbornness and that independence thing is something that I understand, as well.  

The way the man walked was normal, but still, something in my gut told me to stay vigil.  I figured I'd throw a few more shovels of snow and if his sled wasn't on the trailer by then,  I'd just go help no matter.  After four shovel throws (I was going to the count of five before I approached the man again.), I heard a winch start.  I grinned bigly and stopped to watch across the distance.  I love when people find ways to make things work for themselves!   Without a doubt, I knew the man wasn't being lazy, but instead playing it smart.  My curiosity bugged me. There was a reason!  My gut is very rarely wrong.

Paul was at The Beast and emptying the bed full of snow when he saw me walking with a shovel in hand. He looked kinda confused until I pointed at the lone sledder.  As I approached the man, I made light conversation about the winch while the sled slowly and effortlessly slid onto the trailer.  The man spoke mentioning something about it being a new winch because the other one stopped working on him and indicated that he was still pretty much in trial and error mode with this one.

After he put the cables away, he asked if that (The Beast) was our rig.  I told him that it was.  He went on to say that he just purchased one similar to ours, but smaller.  He asked how we liked it and asked questions about the entire set up. After a couple short minutes, I told him that we lived off the grid and that Paul is disabled, so although using one of those is expensive, it is easier for Paul rather than a sled.  The man understood without question.  As we started walking toward Paul, the man confirmed my gut instinct when he said, "I'm disabled, too".   For years, I've been so in tune with Paul's medical issues that subtleties catch my attention ...preemptive red flags, if you will.  

The longer we talked with the man, the more admiration I had for him. He was inspiring! When he said that he just moved to Maine and is new to the area, that he takes daily walks with his dog and enjoys fishing for trout through the ice, my heart warmed.  I thought, "How great is that!  An outtah-statah, disabled at that, moved to Maine and is doing the things he wants to do. Disabled or not, I like that mindset!"  That is such a huge feat in my book! That not only takes a lot of courage, he is not allowing his medical issues stop him from living!

Just because someone is disabled does not mean life stops!  I applauded this man. When he listed his illnesses, I recognized only two of them, Chrone's and Dementia. The protective mommy side of me spoke out, "You be careful out there on those trails!  Don't get turned around"  It was then, he said that he usually has his dog ride with him, but not today.  

The man, Paul and I chatted for a long while, but both men were tired.  Their stance needed help. They both leaned for added support.  I reached for the man's hand and shook it, "You keep doing what you are doing!  Keep getting out there!"  He grinned and said, "I will.  Thank you".

I know a lot of disabled people.  Some have unseen illnesses. Some, are quite obviously physically disabled.  I was in awe of this man.  Part of me wanted to be protective. Another part of me wanted to kick his patoot, while the biggest part of me wanted to encourage him to never-ever give up enjoying life.  We are all thrown curves.  Some are harder to hurdle than others, but it's the mentality, the drive, the courage to continue doing things in life that make us feel as whole as possible.  

Some of the most impressive people are disabled, but their minds are as sharp as their tongues at times and they make me laugh in appreciation.  They not only kick their own patoot, they kick and encourage others to push onward, too.   It REALLY IS a mindset ...I've written about that very same topic before, but it really, really is just that.  Where there is a will, there IS a way.  The question one should ask themselves is, "How bad do you really want it?"

"Live" while you can, people.  Stop making excuses!  DO!  So what if you need to alter how you do something.  Figure it out!

Monday, December 12, 2016


Click to enlarge photo.

Copyright 2016 by Lori-Ann Willey

It could save their lives.

Even if there are people on it.

Know the location of inlets, outlets, and channels.

NEVER trust the ice thickness MEASURED BY OTHERS
unless you personally watch them measure.  

Ice thickness can vary GREATLY WITHIN A FEW FEET.

Know that salt water freezes at about 28 degrees
Salt keeps water molecules from bonding together to form ice, thus it freezes more slowly.

Bodies of water with fluctuating water levels (hydro dams, pump stations, etc.) keep the ice in motion. Rising and lowering over rocks, stumps.  Along the shorelines are often slushy and not safe.  

Have moving water, thus are slower to freeze and ice is NEVER dependable from hour to hour, day to day.  Expect THIN ice, always.

KNOW that rocks, logs, stumps, and even docks absorb heat
Therefore, ice will be thinner around them.


Clear Ice (“Black Ice”) is the strongest. Some people call it "Blue Ice".

Gray or Yellowish Ice / Snow means water is present. (Slushy)

White Ice means frozen snow/slush and is about ½ the strength of black ice.   

Snow is white due to the presence of air.  That means air gaps.  Gaps mean not solid.  This is why when you walk on snow, it crunches or squeaks.  You are compressing the ice crystals (flakes), and you are actually hearing the snowflakes break under your feet.  

Know also, that snow is a great insulator. It will insulate the ice and keep it from getting thicker. A lot of people, even Mainers, think that because the ice holds that much snow, means that it'll hold people, snowmobiles, cars, trucks, too. That is not always the case. Remember, white means air ...air is light.

It could save their lives.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Playing Tug-of-War with the Toilet Seat


Playing Tug-of-War with the Toilet Seat

Copyright 2016 by Lori-Ann Willey

One would think that after 12 years living at our camp off the grid, that the simple act of “making the bladdah-gladdah” would be a mindless task. Well, it is …kindah-sortah.  Unfortunately, when living this lifestyle, not so many things are as simple as they seem …or what one would begin to expect or suspect! 

This morning, I was up by 4 a.m., which is not so out of the ordinary for me. Daylight comes around these parts of the Maine woods at about 7 a.m. this time of year.  However, since we live in the woods and the sun rises behind us …err behind a landscape of trees, our camp sits in the shade until noon-ish.  That means, that unless I turn on the bathroom light to do my duty, the small room remains quite dark throughout the day. That, despite a small window at head level.

Starting at about 6 a.m. this morning, I periodically stepped outside with my camera in hand.  I love to capture the predawn colors.  To watch as the sky and snowy landscape gracefully and ever-so-subtle-like lighten before my never-ending gaze is something that I enjoy doing each morning.  The sense of peace it brings is genuine and pure -a natural “being” if you will. 

In between my darts in and out with my camera, I sipped my coffee, tended to the fire, and caught up with friends and family on Facebook.   All the above is my morning ritual.  Adding to that is starting a fire, and, of course, over-stimulating the cat so he’ll leave me alone.

After about the 4th time I dipped outside, the 10-degree air and minus five degrees below wind-chill started penetrating my body.  My muscles tightened to maintain my body temperature.  At 50, that tightening also gives a sense of urgency to the bladder, too.  Sometimes, there isn’t much warning before that urge intensifies quite rapidly!    Dressed as I was, I knew that urge would come more quickly, too, but, of course, my photos are more important than releasing my bladdah. My bladder can wait, often the perfect photo cannot. 

This morning, as per usual, I was barefoot. I wore knit Capris and a thin tank top.   There wasn’t much to slow the wind or keep me warm.  I knew better, yet, I have this same routine all year long.    Hearty?  Hardy?  Or, just plain stupid.  I’ll let you decide.
To get a little blood flowing for added warmth, I trotted down the somewhat snow-covered steps trying to land each foot on the snowless patches to avoid slipping.  The darting about, that gravity thing, too, gave me the urge to pee before I reached the bottom step.

After snapping a few photos, I turned and walked the length of the dock toward camp.   At the base of the stairs, I paused and stared at all those steps that lead to the deck.  My body was cold and my bladder more urgent.  I grumbled, “You’re getting old, Lori-Ann!  You are cold and you have to pee!  That’s not a good combo!”

Inside, though the camp was barely 60 degrees, but after being outside, it felt like the tropics.  The cat, AhChoo, was not at the door to greet me upon return.  It didn’t take long for me to remember that when I crawled out of bed at 4 a.m., he was in the bathroom on mouse guard duty.  Apparently, he had one trapped in the corner behind his litter box.

I set my camera on the couch (sofa) and continued toward the bathroom without hesitation.  There was no need to flip the light switch for added light. I knew my way around that small room just as well in the dark as in broad daylight.  As I rounded the corner, I heard the cat leap out of the way and land atop the bucket of aspen shavings.  For that, I was rather thankful.  I didn’t want to take the time to walk around him or scoot him out of the way.

In case you didn’t know - 
During the non-frozen months, we use a composting toilet inside the camp.  It is nothing more than a glorified inside outhouse with a toilet-like set up inside.  To use, simply “go” as you would any other toilet system. The difference is that this toilet holds no water, per se.  Your waste drops through the floor and into a “drum” (holding tank) below.  After we poo, no matter the time of year, we toss a handful of wood shavings into the toilet.  Every few days, or weeks, the drum, accessed from outside, is rotated to mix up the human waste products, toilet paper, and shavings.  This keeps the “stuff” mixed up and composting; thus, the name, composting toilet. Every few months, the drum is emptied and I wheelbarrow it up to a pile where I let it age for two years before adding it to my garden as fertilizer. There is never a foul smell during the whole process, and the result is beautiful “black gold”.
During the frozen months, we have a somewhat different setup.  We still go poo in the composting toilet, but we make our bladdah-gladdah in a 5-gallon pail that we call, “The Coffee Pot”.  The coffee pot has a screw on cover to keep down any odor due to the lack of an obvious stink pipe from the pail.  When we pee, we unscrew the cover. Paul can “go” without putting on a rubber toilet seat, but not me. Well, I can, but that narrow pail rim is not very comfortable.  Thus, I remove the cover and plop the toilet seat that has a groove specifically for the bucket rim.  We call it “The Coffee Pot” because we use used coffee grounds as a scent cover.
Now that you have somewhat of a visual of our “going” process, you’ll better relate to my situation this morning.
After I unscrewed the cover from “The Coffee Pot”, I couldn’t put the cover on the shavings pail because the cat was there. Instead, I figured that I’d just swap places with the toilet seat.  However, when I reached for the toilet seat that usually rests upon the composting toilet seat, it was not there.  At that point, a smart person would have turned on the light, but apparently, I’m not that smart …or maybe I am too stubborn.   My preferred word is “determined”.

Bending over further, I felt the floor around the composting toilet.  In talking to myself, I whispered, “Nope, it’s not there.  AhChoo, where did it go?” At that point, I knew the only place it could be was underneath the cat himself.  You’d think the cat would move on command?  Of course, not.  His attention was on the mouse he kept at bay in the corner.   With both hands, I felt for the seat around the cat’s feet.  When found, I gave a gentle tug.  I thought for sure the cat would at least lift his feet or jump down, but that is human thought, not cat thought.   

By then, my bladder was quite “pressing” and my patience quite thin.  Still, I continued to struggle with the seat cover around the cat.  Everything was fine until I envisioned my stance and my actions.  Here I am a 50-year-old woman playing tug-of-war with a cat …and not with a rope!  Then, my child-like mind reverted to the problem-solving mode of a toddler.  Remember that Fisher Price toddler toy of stackable rings?  I figured if I could just pull the seat up around the cat, and then, over his head, I’d be fine.

Well, it took a few attempts to navigate around his legs, but all seemed to go smoothly until the seat reached the cat’s neck. I don’t know if that movement startled the cat, or if the mouse decided to make a run for it at the same time as the toilet seat reached the neck area. I suppose I’ll never know.  What I do know is that when the cat lurched forward and learned that he was held back by the toilet seat, and worse yet, he could not pounce on the mouse without strangling himself, he got more than a little bit antsy on me.  

These are not the toilet seats mentioned in this blog.
In haste, and in the darkness, I might add, I blindly tried to move the seat in the same direction as I predicted his movements, but I was too slow and I ended up moving opposite of his direction each time instead. Every move he made, he must’ve thought I intentionally blocked him.  A cat in the dark is stronger and quicker than I thought!   I don’t know how Paul didn’t wake up, as all this unfolded not 10 feet away from him.   With each attempt to escape the seat, AhChoo lurched. He is a big cat, so each lurch tipped the shavings pail and made more of a noise as it toppled to and from, too.  It seems that I couldn’t win and neither could the cat!  The mouse, I’m sure was either petrified more than ever or ceased the moment to run like hell.

Finally, I let go of the toilet seat and hoped the cat would sense his freedom and jump free of it all.  Thankfully, within a second, the cat was on the floor behind me!  Other than the tug-of-war with the toilet seat, all ended well, and for that, I was thankful. 

Trying to keep my composure, and keep control of my bladdah, too, I couldn’t help but let out an appreciative smirk as I quickly pulled the toilet seat to rest atop “The Coffee Pot”.   Unfortunately, I did not bother to feel around to see if it was properly secured in place. I should have.  I should have taken two seconds to flip the light switch, too. Hindsight is always 20-20, even in the dark, right? 

I stood. I turned.  I pulled down my pants.   I sat.  Instantly, I knew something was very wrong. During the game of tug-of-war with the cat over the oval-shaped toilet seat, it somehow got spun around so I set it upon the pail sideways.   Immediately, I knew I was not secure for a relaxed sit. Moreover, panic struck when I wondered if I had room to pee IN the bucket or if the seat was so offset that I’d end up peeing on the outside of it after all?  It was too late.  I was already mid-stream. All I could do was dive forward, ‘cause, as you know, it is not so easily for women to adjust our pee stream as it is for a man!  Dammit!  I’d love to be able to write in the snow!  All I could hope for this morning is the ability to lean far enough ahead to direct my stream more downwards.  Believe it or not, I was successful, but in all honestly, I don’t know how! 

By then, there was just barely enough light in the bathroom to see the darkest of silhouettes against a dark room.  The cat has very large ears that seemingly glow in the dark. It was obvious that he sat watching the whole "sitting" process with great confusion. He had forgotten about the mouse. Apparently, I was more entertaining at the time.   I had to laugh. If I could have read his mind!  If it were possible, in a cartoon-like cloud above his head, I know it would have read, “Just piss in the litter box!”  I spoke to him, but apparently, he was no longer amused. He turned and walked away. 

When finished “making my bladdah-gladdah”, I did the “hopper hop”. Remember when I said we pee in “The Coffee Pot”, and go poop in the composting toilet?  Luckily, so far, I have yet to hop in the wrong direction.  I don’t think AhChoo would be too impressed if I used his litter box, do you?  Although, after that fiasco this morning, I may consider it a safer bet …or maybe just flip that light switch next time! 

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Pearl Harbor Day – The USS Arizona

Copyright 2016 by Lori-Ann Willey

(boring personal memories)

(USS Arizona)


Back in 1985, Paul received Army Orders.  Destination - Field Station Kunia, Hawaii.   Newly married by less than a year and pregnant with our first daughter, Alanda, we drove from Maine, up through Canada, and then, to San Mateo, CA.  There, our light blue Cavalier was shipped onward to Hawaii.

When we landed in Honolulu, I knew for sure I had never seen so many people or highways in my life. The air was so humid that I remember the feeling of slight suffocation in my lungs. The air was filled with a salty sea breeze.  The sun, very direct and intense upon the body.  

Married, with a child on the way, Paul immediately put us down for Military Housing, but unfortunately, the waiting list was six months to a year. This meant that we had to live off base, and hopefully close to Paul’s work.  For the first two weeks, we stayed at the guest housing on Schofield Barracks. The old WWII barracks had been converted into temporary lodging for soldiers in transition.  Each single room had a bed and joined another room occupied by another soldier.  Two rooms shared the same bathroom.

Sharing a bathroom with strangers was not something I was used to, so I not only checked once to see if I locked their bathroom door, I checked it several times as I did my duty in this very small bathroom that was just large enough for two doors, a toilet, a sink, and a shower stall. 

The men we shared a bathroom with were friendly, but I came from a non-smoking house, so their wretched cigar smoke filtered through the doorway and gave me wicked headaches and nausea 24 hours a day. The only escape was to be outside in the heat. To this day, the mere mention of a cigar brings back horrible memories!  There, in our single room, too, was where I learned what cockroaches looked like and how HUGE they were!

Paul and I went straight to work looking for a place to live in the civilian world.  The first thing we noticed was the cost of living factor.  WOW!  Even in 1985, a gallon of milk cost about $5.00, and it was cheaper to buy a pineapple at a rinky-dink grocery store in Maine, than it was to buy one locally.  That was especially shocking because not a mile down the road and there were millions of them growing for as far as the eyes could see!  Unfortunately, they belonged to either Dole or Del Monte, and hearsay said to pick one and get caught meant a $10,000.00 fine.

I remember well, the realtor that took us around to look at places to rent.  She was a very talkative young woman, full of self-assurance, but even at 19, and coming from the country living of Maine, I knew she was more talk than walk. The woman never stopped talking. When I sat in the back seat, I immediately noticed a piece of cardboard over a rotten piece of plywood on the floorboard.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, it moved aside as I sat.  When I looked down, I literally saw a large gaping hole in the floor the size of a youth basketball!  The rest of the floor was very thin and rusted with holes the size of a quarter!  The seats also had holes.  The cushion springs were literally poking our butts and backs as we sat.  I never dared to rest my feet upon the floor, but instead straddled the holes the best I could as I watched pavement move to a blur between my feet.  I was less than impressed. That was our first and last ride with that woman.

It wasn’t long before we found a place to live on the second floor in a development in Wahiawa.  The cockroaches were everywhere there, too!  However, we did our best to keep them under control by spending at least $10 each week for roach killer sprays.  Thankfully, we could keep them from coming into the apartment via conventional methods, but we had not thought that the eight inch long centipedes would come up the drains!  It is sad when you can sit on the toilet and hear a three-inch roach crawling up the shower curtain beside you!

Hawaii was certainly a different culture for us.  We fell in love with the gecko’s and lizards, but the roaches, centipede’s, and scorpions were not our favorite things to encounter.  Our downstairs neighbor was a wonderful Filipino family with a live-in grandmother who stayed home and tended the kids while the parents worked.  Due to a language barrier, we rarely spoke, but we’d share warm smiles and grins in passing. 

It was there, that I learned that in the Philippine culture when offered a gift, you can either accept or decline that gift.  Unknown to me, I did not understand the gesture behind such offerings.  So, when one day, the grandmother offered me a spider plant, I declined.  We were moving into military housing and I already had enough to pack.  I did not know that declining her gift meant that I declined her friendship!   To this day, some 31 years later, I still feel bad about that!  Had I known, I would have happily accepted her friendship.  Sigh!  It really does help to learn different cultures!  These days, I do!

By then, our daughter, Alanda was six weeks old when military housing became available in Honolulu.  It would be a decent drive for Paul to go to work each day, but he knew of co-workers that lived there and they carpooled the distance together.   Our address was 1319 C Ixora Place. Google Map it, and see that we lived on the edge of a dormant volcano crater.   Like any volcano, dormant or not, occasionally, we’d wake to tremors. There was never any damage, and after a while, even I slept through most of them.

Here is where I became pregnant with our daughter, Dawn.  I have a blog entry about her that you can find if you want a sappy read.  We were only stationed in Hawaii for 3 ½ years, but in that time, we met some very good lifelong friends that we consider family.  What so many non-military do not realize is how quickly neighbors become like family.  All of them were away from home, so we learned to lean on each other, become babysitters, etc.  We all came from different walks of life and from all parts of the world, but we all had one major commonality, the military lifestyle. 

Because I was pregnant much of our 3 ½ years in Hawaii, we didn’t do much of the tourist-like activities.  We did go to a Pro Bowl football game once, a couple luau’s, the Punchbowl Crater, etc., but mostly, there was so much to explore that we took up snorkeling, hiking, beach camping, and boogie-boarding.  At 9 ½ months pregnant we even hiked a mountain and a mountain range.  No, my doctor was not impressed with me in the least, but those who know me even today and the lifestyle we live, do not doubt my activities while very, very pregnant! That 4 ½ mile mountain trail had such drop-offs that if your hands or feet slipped from a root (the soil had washed away on the cliff-like slopes), they’d never find your body.  It was that hike that we discovered passion fruit and guava strawberries that grew wild along the trail.  They were DELICIOUS!  Unfortunately, I was to learn quickly that I was allergic to passion fruit!  Luckily, all I did on the trail was collect and carry.  Thankfully, it wasn’t until after we got home that we started eating them. 


One place we made sure to visit while living on Oahu was the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.  Quite honestly, I sat down to write about that experience alone but then got side-tracked a bit.  Everything written above this is that “side-tracked” mind of mine. That is why my twin sister calls me “Edith”! 

One day, Paul and I decided to visit the Arizona Memorial.  Pearl Harbor was literally only a ten-minute drive away from where we lived.  We had passed the Arizona Memorial more times than not, so one day, we went to pay our respects.

Upon arrival, you were led into a room to watch a short history film about the USS Arizona.  The room was filled with many different nationalities, but mostly, the room was filled with Japanese.  The mood was very somber, respectful, and filled with apprehensive sadness.  Throughout the film, both Paul and I were very taken back that the Japanese men and women sat and openly cried.  Even now, remembering that as if it were yesterday, I have tears in my eyes.  What I would have given to know their thoughts as they wiped their eyes of tears.  I wondered how many times they visited the memorial? How did they know to bring tissues?

After the short film, the room emptied and we were lead out to a carrier that had seating much like that of a bus. After the boat filled …and each boat is always filled, we slowly chugged to the memorial site.  I remember how beautiful the weather was, yet how somber the ride.  If anyone spoke, I did not notice.  Even Paul and I sat quietly. 

Soon, the boat docked.  I remember the walkway, all the names of those who perished really set the already drab mood that tore at my heart. I remember quite well, the shock when Paul pointed to the very visible USS Arizona that lay directly below our feet.  My heart stopped as I stared at dry land just a few dozen feet away.  “They were so close to shore!”  A lump lodged in my throat as I read how many men were trapped underwater with no way to escape and no way to be rescued. 

Paul pointed at the oil that still rises from the sunken ship.  I remember watching it shimmer in the sunlight …how beautiful, yet how very sad, yet amazed, that after (then) 45 years, oil continued to seeped from below.  The sailors entombed for eternity.  As we approach the 75th “anniversary” of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Paul told me just a few days ago, that oil still seeps from the depths.  That still amazes me!

The USS Arizona left an impression upon me.   I’m not saying that I enjoyed the visit, but I can say that if we had not visited and paid our respect, that I do not think I would be writing this blog entry today.  It is not the case of “seeing is believing”, but instead, “seeing is feeling and remembering through historical memorials” such as the USS Arizona.

While living in Hawaii and so close to Pearl Harbor, we learned a lot about the people who lived there during the time of World War II.  There was a man who rebuilt a Japanese WWII plane and wanted to fly the same route with it as the Japanese Kamikaze pilots flew that memorable December 7, 1941, morning.  The older citizens -Hawaiians, Japanese, and Japanese-American’s alike- did not like that idea because it brought back too many horrific memories.  Their families feared realistic flashbacks and showed great concern for their loved ones who remember so vividly that day in history.  A day that changed their lives forever.   They were concerned not only for their emotional beings, but their age and health played a large factor, too.   We moved before we learned the result of their plea.

Also, while living there, there were reports that some of the island elders had emotional setbacks each time the military performed their exercises in breaking the sound barriers over the ocean. Numerous times we heard the sonic booms, and could easily relate to the sounds of bombs in the distance. I could easily understand how such things affected the islander elders and their emotional being, even after all those years.

Since visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor Day takes on a whole new meaning to me.  I have a soft spot for Veteran’s in the first place, but until you sit and talk with a wartime hero or visit such a memorial as the USS Arizona …I wonder how survivors cope with their experiences?  They truly are hero’s and they deserve so much more admiration and respect than given by so many.  They helped make this country great!  Please don’t forget that.