Monday, June 5, 2017

SEED – THE “TIME TRAVELER” – A Pondering

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 ...as 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 ...my 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!