Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"To see you naked is to recall the Earth." (Federico Garcia Lorca)

I’m wearing a blue tee today that says barenaked physical ed. on it. Gotta love Steve and Barry’s. Thanks to a shopping trip with the girls yesterday, I’m appreciating my solitude today. Shopping with a Caribbean is always a lesson in patience. They look at everything twenty times. I’ve waited for over an hour before, after finishing with my grocery shopping, for Caribbean friends to finish theirs. I’m not complaining, I’m just noting a cultural difference... or the fact that I shop like a guy. Know what I need, look for it, don’t find it and leave, or buy it and leave. I’m not as bad as a guy, but when I shop I like to keep moving. Talking is great, but so is a good hustle. Unless it’s a book store. At that point, just change my address.

In honor of the pink (I know, pink is a mental disease, not a color) elephant boxers I bought yesterday, I decided to add a little side note on elephants since they remind me of big cows. The elephant is a very sacred creature. Like cattle, they are a symbol of fertility. They can be vengeful if wronged and show a great interest in death and dying, displaying sorrow over the death of loved ones. Those with elephant totems should pay attention to clouds, or the mist that separates worlds, as well as smells. Elephants smell very well and those with this totem may find scents open doors for them. Family is also an important element with the elephant totem. Check out Ted Andrews’ Animal-Speak for more info. Also, Nature on PBS produced "Nature: Echo of the Elephants" and "Echo and Other Elephants." I think I’ve seen both and they rocked.

I gave up on 100 Years of Solitude. Good book, but too deep for me. Try it again next time. I’ve got so much reading right now it’s ridiculous. And of course I got another book yesterday, but I couldn’t pass it up. It’s called The Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend. It’s about sustainable ag and animal husbandry. Hard to get more up my alley than that without a dragon or a dog. So I guess the rest of the day will go to Taylor and writing practice as well as some major reading on Lorca, which is due back, and some Loreena McKennitt for background noise. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even go sit out on the porch today. :-)

Monday, August 25, 2008

"All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was" Toni Morrison.

Well blogging kinda went to shit this weekend for no fucking good reason. Gram called first thing with a calf alert. Luckily, it was a false alarm. I’ll be so glad to get my cows across the road where I can deal with them better when they calve. It’s been a good month with Dad gone, but I’m ready for him to come home now that I’m over being pissed. I never should have been mad in the first place, stupid shit, but sometimes girls get angry for no good reason. I don’t that often, so once in awhile I figure I’m due for a good temper tantrum. Nothing’s gone too wrong with Dad gone and the cooler weather has made it easier on Max. The last few days have really taken their toll on the old man. The heat and humidity, so typical of a Michigan August, take it out on the old dog. He’s part Chow-chow and black Lab so his hair keeps him very warm.

The cows looked great this morning. They’ve got that full, healthy bloom to them that only pregnant cows get. They feel good and they look good, and they know it. Sexy bitches is a term that comes to mind. It makes me feel good that I’ve created an environment where they can be so happy and content.

We got Deja moved this weekend. Today is her first day back to college. I’ve been smiling all morning with the thought that I don’t have to go to school… ever again if I don’t want to. College was good for me, but learning on my own has been great. I like choosing my own reading and practicing writing more intensely than in creative writing courses. But I have good self-discipline and enjoy independent study.

Been practicing with character emotions this week. I usually don’t like writing exercises, but these are helping to shake things up a bit and help identify a range of emotions. One thing about it, cows are a lot easier to write about than fucking feelings.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cats, dogs, and literature

After so much death and destruction, it seems almost a false lull yesterday and today. I keep expecting something to go wrong. The bulls will probably rip the gates to the hay barn down and the cows will be in desperate need of water. If it wasn’t so hot today I’d go work at the farm and maybe ride Argo. He’s still in a funk over Iris. After the cow episode, that seems like weeks ago now. It seems that thinking about death, thinking about a person or animal going out of your life forever is worse than it actually happening. I get sad when I think about not seeing Iris’s floppy lip when I go out to the barn or when I think about never getting to have a beer on the porch with my grandpa. But thinking about the never agains is worse than the actual. I shouldn’t be in this type of mood today. Everything is going well, and I might get to go out for beers tonight. Maybe it’s a farmer’s cynicism, but there’s an air of something off today. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Zip and Deja’s cat are an interesting pair. This morning, Zip laid on Shay’s head while Shay struggled with him. I think the cat liked it.

I’ve been reading 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Marquez. Interesting book, but I’m not too proud to resort to sparks notes. Also reading the complete poems of Lorca. I love the way he has with language. It seems so familiar somehow. Rural and beautiful yet elegant. As much as I love literature, all aspects of it, it still seems like I can’t quite absorb it all at once. Maybe that’s part of the allure.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Calving takes my sanity

Oh fuck. What a yesterday. We put Iris down first thing in the morning. Her buddy, Agro, looked stricken. Can’t tell me horses don’t have feelings. He’s moped around ever since, even coming and leaning on me, which he never does. Then we stacked two hundred squares bales in the back barn, which consisted of climbing over the old bucket, the mower condition and the roller, and staking around the disk. I tried to dig a hole for the horse, but didn’t have the coordination so we called my cousin to stop by after work.

Then we went to lunch.

We got back to the farm about 3:30, got the horse buried by maybe four. Went down to check the cows and found 82N calving in the thornapples. We got her up and made a run to TCS for calf drugs. No progress when we got back so we got shit around to move the whole herd across the road. We got it going our way but three vehicles passed my Gramma and my sometimes roommate sitting in their cars in the road so we stopped the herd, the herd split, but Dana and I kept the cow going, and got her across. The bulls broke out after we got the cow settled, so we rearranged panels and locked the bulls out. At dark we got the major fires put out and decided to let the cow settle (which we’d been trying to do for about four hours). I went back to the farm about 10:30 and still no progress. I checked the cow and found a tail. No front feet, no back feet, just a tail. Several phone calls and an hour and a half later, the same vet who euthanatized the horse in the morning lay in the mud pulling a calf.

By 12:30 a.m., the calf came, already several days dead. Black heifer calf, of course. Luckily, there wasn’t a twin and the cow came out of it all right. This morning she and my close-up heifer, 30S, went out to graze and seem to be taking it easy.

All in all, it could have gone a lot worse. Iris had a good, easy death. The cow is okay. And my hips are a little sore from moving and running sprints. Hopefully the cows can keep themselves in line until we find Deja an apartment today. That’s not a lot to ask, is it? After all, their due date isn’t until the 25th.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I’m grieving a little tonight. I care for a lot of geriatrics on the farm right now, old dog, old woman, old horse, old cow, and old tractor. Not to mention the old buildings and equipment. I’m usually fully prepared for something old to go to hell on a daily basis. But I found I really wasn’t prepared for my old horse to go down Friday night. Well, we said, her feet just got trimmed, must be sore. And besides, she got back up. She did that all weekend. Today, she didn’t get back up.

I find it hard to describe my feelings. I’m happy that I got all this time with her the last few months. I’m sad she’s leaving. Because it seems in life that there is never enough time. I keep crying when I think that she is the last animal on the place who knew my grandpa. It’s not much but my memories with her keep grandpa alive a little. It feels like with her dying that his life gets erased just a little bit more. But isn’t that all dying is? Being slowly erased from life?

Oh I could get quite morose tonight I see. It doesn’t help that Argo is worried over Iris finally or that Max, my 18 year old rott-lab-chow mix laid on my foot tonight over a beer. He doesn’t need people like Zip does so for him to seek out attention is rare.

I’m not looking forward to burying a horse tomorrow. I’ve never done it. I didn’t want to have to start with her. I want to give my horse a good death, a death equal to what she gave in life. And what she gave has been compassion, patience, gratitude, temperance, beauty, kindness, and peace. I ask only that I can give her a death equal to what she gave in life. (Not a tall order or anything.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Counting cows

I counted cows Monday morning, or bulls and steers to be more precise. Anyone who has dealt with livestock knows the moment I’m talking about when you go “One, two, three, four… five.” Wait a minute. Wait a minute. “One, two, three, four… five.”

When I left Friday, I had four head. I returned from my weekend of drunken debauchery to find five head.

Apparently, one of my close-up cows (soon to calve, for those less familiar with my slang) got sick of living across the road on pasture with the girls and took it upon herself to move in with the bulls and steers who live near the barns. We’ve been meaning to move the cows as soon as I have a place to put them around the buildings, so I can corral the mommas when they calve. This heifer (cow who hasn’t had a calf yet) decided she wanted to be near the maternity ward apparently, because she looks like the first one who’ll go.

Chaos. Just chaos.

It shouldn’t surprise me. After all, the cows moved themselves to grass this spring. Why wouldn’t they move themselves back when they got near to calving?

I tossed the house this week and between moving boxes and running the shop vac (don’t mess with my dust bunnies, they’re more like vampire rabbits with rabies), my dog has lived in terror. He’s pretty neurotic anyway, but the vacuum sends him over the edge. He either cowers under my bed (not an easy task since I stow so much shit under it), hides out in the crawl space where my great-great-great-grandparents kept the hard cider, or b-lines for the truck or car. At least he quit high tailing it to the neighbors’.

Oh and the sheep got stuck under a horse yesterday so the horse I was trying to back out of a slip stall couldn’t move and the dog just made them bunch tighter underneath the other horse. Dad always said the reason our horses aren’t kick-y is because the sheep run/stand underneath them while the horses are tied in the slip stalls. I didn’t believe him. I think I’m starting to.

See? Chaos.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Horses and habits of writing

Writing, for me, began because it was impossible that I ever do anything else. After all the reading about writing I’ve done recently, I’ve realized that the reason my ass glue often fails is because somewhere along the line (I’m not pointing fingers at college or anything. OOPS! Were my fingers crossed?) somewhere along the way it became less important (in my mind) to produce pages that made me happy to write, to play with, and more the priority to turn out material that was brilliant the first time, even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy it. Does that make sense? I mean, when I was a kid, my favorite thing was to sit on my grandma’s floor and play with my farm set. I want my writing to inspire me the way that did.

Okay, enough whining. I just made a poem. I have nothing to whine about. It’s about farming, about a horse, and it’s sad enough to be acceptable even to me. I guess I didn’t write enough angst-ridden poetry as a teenager. It’s coming out now. At least some of it doesn’t suck terrifically.

The horse totem stands for freedom and travel. I like to think it’s one of my permanent totems, since I’ve always been around horses. I could ride before I could walk, thanks to my dad. Horses have always been there to tell me things, even when I don't listen. I always learn something from horses, every time I hang out with them. Which is something I can’t say about people. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of people in my life that I care about, but animals have always been an easier relationship for me. I know what they want and have an easier time letting them know what I want. It’s all just easier. I guess that’s why shapeshifters have always fascinated me, and gods that could become animal. I feel like that combination would make all the difficulties of being human go away. But after spending time in my writings, I’m learning that even shapeshifters combat their human selves.

All right, better get to the writing instead of mooning about it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Got the farmer hat on

Just spent two days cleaning the house and doing construction projects on the farm. Shit, am I tired. Let’s just say three women store their shit at my dad’s house and only one of them lives here.

The farm projects have needed done for awhile. I’ve got cows with udders filling up even as the Olympic swimmers dive in tonight. So in order to get them to the area where I’d prefer they calve (my cows have a way of ignoring what I want), we needed to patch some sagging fences, fix some broken and tattered fences, and do some overall maintenance.

I also went and looked for a new dog today. It breaks my heart to think about having just Zip around after Max goes to the big woodchuck killing arena in the sky. And I think Zippy will be pretty sad too. But, sadly, we didn’t come home with any new four-legged friends. Looking at the dog totem, it stands for (unsurprisingly) faithfulness and protection. It’s recommended to look at the individual breed(s) an individual is drawn to in order to illuminate the world further, as different dogs mean different things. Studying the dogs in your life reveals a lot about you.

The bull/cow totem, on the other hand, stands for fertility, respectively masculine or feminine. The curve of the bull’s horns symbolizes the coming together of the male and female. Because the bull “brought nourishment through sacrifice,” the bovine totem symbolizes “fertility through sacrifice” (Ted Andrews, Animal-Speak).

Sorry for this disjointed blog tonight (or maybe it just seems that way since my eyes keep crossing). I’ll do better tomorrow.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Happy Birthday Grampa

After a weekend of too much fun, I’m having a hard time getting into the blog mode today. I’m spinning with Dad on vacation, the farm and the house needing equal attention. Repair work at the farm and house cleaning around here could keep two men busy full-time. Instead, it’s me. So the writing gets the brunt of my busy schedule and I would rather it was the other way around, but with twenty cows ready to calve in a week or two, it’s hard to justify letting fences go so I can spend time with Luke and Taylor. I did get a dark sci-fi story outlined some today. Really happy about that. Several markets are looking for dark sci-fi and it gives me a new genre to try.

I finished reading Jim Harrison’s Dalva last week and moved on to A Good Day to Die. Good title, if not a little depressing. I’m also reading Elizabeth George’s Write Away, continuing the Stephanie Plum saga, and read Evanovich’s How I Write, all of which give me great ideas. I swear in taking the summer off to learn and read and work on the craft of writing, I’ve learned more and done more work than I did my entire college career.

I wanted to blog on something important today, but looks like that just didn’t happen. Oh well. At least I wrote fucking something. I promise a better blog tomorrow on animal behavior or books or something.

P.S. Yesterday would have been my grandpa’s 86th birthday, I think. Just figured anyone who knew him might wanna know.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"I'm actually forced to write about Michigan because as a native of that state it's the place I know best" (Jim Harrison).

I thought about making today Wine-o Wednesday, but I need to work on the farm tonight and I don’t know that much about wine anyway. So, instead, it’s Whiney Wednesday, even though I’m not feeling particularly whiney.

I just heard from Dad. He made it out to Denver ok, and sounded more relaxed than I’d heard him in awhile. Hopefully I’m not as pissed at him when he gets back as I was when he left. Enough time alone with my characters and I tend to forget my real-life problems anyway. I guess that’s why I played pretend so much as a kid. Nothing like a good game of pretend to escape the shitty-ness. I need to play some major pretend with the second book. Or even a short story. Something. So far I’ve been reading a lot and making a shit-ton of notes. The second book is a little convoluted, and started out as a novella, so there’s some twists and turns to incorporate. I need to make some major notes on shapeshifters, like which kind can do what, before I get too carried away. Usually I can push Taylor and she just pushes back. Since I’m back-peddling, trying to cover my ass on the plot and characters, I guess this is her pushing back.

Nothing like getting in an altercation with your own imagination.

Luckily, my family and friends are usually tolerant, if not accepting of my craziness. Of course, Zip really doesn’t care and Max is too senile to notice.

The white cranes are still on the pond today. Yesterday there were two and today there are three. We have three Canada geese families and some duck families too. Barclay Water Fowl Preserve, that’s us. The cows came running out of the water hole when they saw me coming this morning. They always think they’re going to get moved. Unfortunately, without rain, I got no place to move ‘em to. At eight and a half months pregnant, some of my girls are getting pretty hungry. Just hope they hold those babies in until next week when we move ‘em across the road after we get second cutting off the field. Farming feels like balancing on a knife-edge once in a while, especially in August and March. But after forking loose hay on flatbed wagons the other day, I have a whole new respect for my ancestors who did that all day for days and filled a hip roof barn with the stuff. Back when men were men.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Longevity and good bowels

The blogging went to shit on me last night (gotta love family drama) so its Two for Tuesday, two blogs about animals and their totems for the price of one.

I saw six, as yet unidentified, cranes and two Sandhill cranes today. I looked up some information on cranes (since I was bombarded with them) and thought they were pretty interesting. So cranes are the subject of the blog tonight, so forewarned is forearmed and anyone not interested in birds should go watch reality t.v. or something else educational.

When I used to live up north, we called Sandhill cranes pterodactyls, because they look and sound like something prehistoric. Not surprising now, since fossils of the sandhill crane are dated to the Pliocene era, circa four million years ago. Fossils similar to the modern crane are dated to the Eocene, about forty million years ago.

Found on most continents, the modern crane is two to five feet tall with a seven to nine foot wing spread. Their bills are straight, with long legs and necks. They fly with the legs behind and the head and neck straight.

Cranes eat a variety of animals and vegetables, such as insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and earthworms; small fish such as crayfish; snakes; tubers; grains and grass seeds. They nest in shallow water, and lay 2-4 eggs. Both the males and females incubate the eggs for 28-36 days. Babies mature quickly and remain a family group for nine months. Prior to the following breeding season, the parents drive the young-adult offspring off and the juveniles form groups. The bird book mentioned something about a spectacular mating dance, but that sounded like a whole other blog entry.

Cranes, especially to the Chinese, are an important totemic symbol. They stand for justice and longevity and help express feminine energy, due to their association with water. Ted Andrews says in his book Animal-Speak that cranes “could very well reflect that you are about it recover what had almost become extinct within you.”

Thanks to a video from, I tentatively identified the new cranes as juvenile Whooping cranes. I was geeked over that one. Whooping cranes are so rare and seeing six of them (in Michigan no less) seems amazing. That’s why I’m not putting too much faith in my birding skills. But, I did start looking through the bird book, and online, for other birds that interest me. So the second animal and totem went to vultures.

In general, vultures are two to four feel long and brownish-black in color with warty heads, hooked bills, medium to short legs, and long toes not adapted well for grasping. They live all over North America.

Normally solitary, vultures raise their young in pairs and live as a family group with the offspring. Both males and females care for the 1-3 eggs in the clutch. The eggs incubate 58 days and the baby vultures won’t leave the nest for six months.

Vultures are the garbage men of the bird world. They will eat fruits or vegetables if meat is scarce, but they prefer offal and carrion, only rarely killing what they eat. For this scavenging, they often get a negative reputation for being dirty.

The vulture totem represents purification, death and rebirth, and new vision. Many cultures, including ancient Mayan cults, have myths and stories about vultures. Their scavenging prevents the spread of disease and helps clean the environment. Even though vultures loose their bowels on their feet (watch your digestive and eliminative system if you have a vulture totem), they are remarkably clean birds. It offers a promise of balance and higher purposes at work, even you cannot see them through the carrion at the time.

Here are some websites with more info:

There’s your Two for Tuesday Totem fix. Actually, it was pretty fun. Maybe it’ll become a thing, we’ll see. Thirsty Thursdays are better though. :-)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dogs and laptops

(I gotta take some new pics.)

All right, so I like the new computer, but I don’t love jumping between laptops. It seems like whenever I want to work on one story or another, already something I need is in the other laptop. So it’s down (or up) the stairs I go with my trusty travel drive. And saving everything between Vista and XP so each one can read the other is annoying. But, hey, at least I’m not working on a typewriter still. That would really keep Dad up at night and freak the dog out. As if Zippy doesn’t have enough paranoid behaviors. Today it was the fly swatter. Usually it’s the vacuum, me on a horse, or the hay rake. Sometimes it’s waving a stick in the air.

My dog has issues.

Speaking of animal behavior, I took a test for Zip awhile back that was supposed to give insights into his personality. It was right on too, like high energy, high neuroses, but easily chilled back out, easy going, but ready to go when he needs to. It was Stanley Coren’s book on dog personality and after taking the quiz, an exhaustive listing of dog breeds in the back of the book made it easy to see how your dog lined up with traits for its particular breed. (Zippy is more laid back and affectionate than normal heelers, but we knew that.)

I plug Stanley Coren’s work with dogs a lot just because it’s the best work I’ve found that deals with dogs as a species. They are not wolves. They are not humans. They are not sterile samples in a lab. They are a living, breathing animal in a dynamic world, reacting to their environment in various ways that work on instinct, experience, and individuality. Coren is the only author of books on dogs who treats them in this manner. It’s either a veterinary manual or the ABC guide to training the perfect dog. There’s no such thing as the perfect dog. And I don’t relate to my dog in a lab. I want to understand why my dog, and by extension why I, act the way we do and how we can be a better team. I may be dominant, but Zip and I are partners in our daily life. I think that’s what pack is about. And reading Coren’s work helps me be a better pack member.

Gee, and I wonder why I get along better with dogs than with people. The effort I put into it maybe? :-)

Friday, August 1, 2008

"To hold a pen is to be at war" (Voltaire).

My goal was to have the book done by this date. I stayed up until 2 a.m. and got it done Monday night / Tuesday morning. Tuesday I was out of it, of course, but drove to Toledo to pick up Gram. She spent a week with my cousins there. Tuesday night Joe and I went out, which was good because I was just pissy. Stayed pissy for two days. Wednesday was a wash. Yesterday Dad and I raked hay and hopefully we can bale today. It’s supposed to rain after noon, one o’clock.

I get to be a farm woman on my own for the next few weeks, with Dad off to Oregon. If he comes back and we have a puppy, it’s not my fault. J

I started Dalva by Jim Harrison. So far I’m a hundred pages in. Good book. Well-written. The only thing I’ve never liked about literary fiction is I never know who the hell is who and related to who or how until the end of the book. I guess that’s why I write fantasy. I also read Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. Really inspired me, especially the part about how you know you’re done editing and this is the best book you can write with what you have at the time. I gotta admit, the last few days I’ve been frustrated enough that I thought about scraping the version of Taylor that I have and starting all over.

I just got my first cup of coffee and I’m sitting here in the kitchen with the cool air seeping around the edges of the blanket I have around my legs. The air tickles my bare feet. Zip just got in Dad’s chair. It’s too early for him to be very active.

I’m still reading Contemporary American Poetry. The poets I like from it include: Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Michael Palmer, Joy Harjo, Kim Addonizio, Louise Gliick, Sharon Olds, Gladys Cardiff, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Susan Howe, Lucille Clifton, (wow, I had no idea I’d folded this many pages down, and Charles Bukowski. There’s others that I like, but Dad just got home and I haven’t had coffee yet so… yeah.