Country Living Series

Thursday, March 21, 2019

First day of spring

Well here it is, the first day of spring.

The fields are drying out, the trees are budding, and everywhere we go we see green, green, green.

Okay, sarcasm aside, I guess I can't complain. This little tree was literally buried a couple weeks ago, with only the very tip-top visible over the snow.

In some south-facing slopes, there's even bare ground, such as this swale holding a seasonal pond.

This is an ant mound. It's about two feet high.

I zoomed the camera in, wondering if any ants were moving about, but the answer seems to be no. It's not like they can range out looking for food yet anyway.

The low spot on the road to our place is flooded. A neighbor did his best to break the sides open and release the meltwater, but it's still too deep to walk through without boots. Better than it was, though -- yesterday this pond was twice as big.

So the season is unquestionably quickening. Temps are warm (mid-50s!) and sunny. Everyone is smiling. And water is flowing...

...even if most of the way it has to flow underneath the snow.

So while it may not look it, spring is definitely here.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

'Please don't hang up'

The phone rang yesterday.

"Hello. Please don't hang up," said a robotic voice. "We need to verify your business account on Google..."


Ring ring ring.

"Hello. Please don't hang up. We are your local Google specialist. We need to verify your business account on Google. We have tried to reach you a number of times..."


Ring ring ring.

"Hello. Please don't hang up. How dare you hang up on us? We are Google. We own you..."


Ring ring ring.

"Hello. Please don't hang up. We have tried to verify your Google business account numerous times. What do you mean, you don't have a Google business account? What are you, baby boomers? Don’t you understand, we now own you? Bwahahaha. Are your lights flickering? Oh wait, is that your other line ringing? What, they canceled your car insurance? NOW do you want to give us the information we want to know?"

And so on and so forth.

Yeah, I know these are spam calls. But couldn’t you see the above sequence actually taking place?

Monday, March 18, 2019

It must be spring

It must be spring. We had our first yearling get out.

This is Peggy, who is Pixie's daughter (and my beloved Polly's granddaughter). I went out to do barn chores a couple of mornings ago, and she was calming grazing in the barn, snacking on hay.

The question is, how did she escape? The snow is still a foot deep in most places, and much higher in mounds where it slid off roofs or where we had to pile it out of the driveway. Besides -- as should be obvious -- walking through snow leaves footprints (or hoof prints, in this case) -- and none were visible anywhere. How did she escape?

This is our corral. You can see my footpath to the watertank, and the snow dump off the shop roof -- but no hoofprints. How did she escape?

So we shooed her back into the feed lot through a small postern gate. A couple hours later, she was out again. How???

The answer revealed itself as we scoured around the barn. We have a small bull pen annex to the barn with two pens, each with its own feed box. Since we don't have a bull at the moment, we seldom go into this annex, though the animals hang around the pens.

When Don built these feed boxes, he made large hatches so we could climb into the pen as needed. One of the hatches had come unlatched, and Peggy had figured out how to climb through. Mystery solved.

(Hatch open)

(Hatch closed)

Last week, we had one last feeble gasp of winter and got about four inches of snow.

But since then, the sun has been shining and the temperatures are rising into the 40s. Lovely!

Sometimes we'll get morning fog, always pretty.

Despite the widespread snow still covering the landscape, the season is unquestionably quickening. Yesterday while Don and I worked on tankards at the kitchen table, we were startled by a burst of liquid song on the front porch: a winter wren, whose tiny size disguises as huge and beautiful voice.

And later that afternoon, as I was taking Darcy for his afternoon walk, I saw my first robin!

On the way home from the walk, flocks of swans flew over, heading to the lake and their breeding grounds.

The "snow cave" curling off the roof of the chicken coop...

...finally collapsed.

Yep, it must be spring.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

What it means to be Irish

Reader Ken sent this:

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all you shamrock-lovers out there!

Friday, March 15, 2019

In praise of introverts

Let's talk introverts. It's estimated that one-quarter to one-third of the population is afflicted with this crippling condition, so it's worth a blog post.

What is an introvert? It's defined as "a personality trait characterized by a focus on internal feelings rather than on external sources of stimulation. … People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation," according to this link.

The interesting thing is how many people (notably, extroverts) think introverts need "fixing." Somehow it's looked upon as a flaw that must be corrected so these poor pathetic souls can function in today's high-octane world.

But as a confirmed introvert, I beg to differ. Since my earliest days, I've liked solitude. In fact I spent a significant portion of my young childhood wanting to be a hermit.

I have a distinct memory of when I was five or six years old and I wanted to run away from home. Not because I had family troubles (on the contrary, I grew up with a warm and loving family, and we seldom had arguments or conflicts) but because I wanted to live in a little house all by myself somewhere in the woods. When my mother stopped me from leaving to fulfill this dream, I remember crying piteously while she held me in her arms, because I still wanted to run away.

Then, and later, I spent a lot of time designing tiny and solitary living spaces out in the woods somewhere. With books. Lots of books.

Yes, books. The best thing in the world for a kid like me was books. "My Side of the Mountain" was my favorite, and for years I wanted to emulate the boy Sam's adventures as he lived off the land in the Catskill Mountains – by himself.

It's no accident I became a field biologist before and after marriage, working in remote areas such as the White Mountains of California, the high Sierras, the deep southwest Oregon woods, and other out-of-the-way places. I relished this work until having babies made it impractical.

Neither is it an accident that we live on a farm in a fairly remote corner of Idaho. As introverts, we thrive on solitude and the company of each other. We can easily go days without leaving home or socializing with anyone other than our neighbors.

Since we chose to homeschool our kids and added the double insult of homeschooling them on a farm, we were constantly on the receiving end of Standard Homeschooling Criticism No. 1: "But what about socialization?" The inference, either implied or stated, was we were doing our girls a disservice to raise them under conditions that could lead them towards becoming (gasp) introverts. The widespread societal criticism of "What about socialization?" for homeschooled children claims that without the constant presence of hundreds or thousands of other students, children grow up psychologically twisted, malformed, and with the social skills of woodlice.

But what if they merely became...introverts?

Most extroverts don't understand introverts. After all, humans are sociable creatures and deliberately seek out interaction with others. But not everyone wants constant socialization. The Charles Ingallses of the world sought to live in distant woods or lonely prairies because they longed for solitude and independence, not constant people and unstoppable conversations.

But the world revolves around extroverts. "For decades, personality psychologists have noticed a striking, consistent pattern: extroverts are happier more of the time than introverts," notes this article. "For anyone interested in promoting well-being, this has raised the question of whether it might be beneficial to encourage people to act more extroverted. Evidence to date has suggested it might."


The article says "people tend to report feeling happier and more authentic whenever they are behaving more like an extrovert (that is, more sociable, active and assertive)." But here's the thing: introverts can be sociable, active, and assertive too – and then they need to go away and recharge their batteries before they can play-act those traits again when called upon to do so.

Once again, "research" like this illustrates the compulsion to "fix" introverts because they're somehow flawed. Extroverts assume introverts are unhappy in their solitude and just need to get out more.

(As a side note, a few years ago I came across an interesting article called "Time alone? Many would rather hurt themselves." The gist of the article is most people "would rather inflict pain on themselves than spend 15 minutes in a room with nothing to do but think." Now tell me again – who needs fixing?)

It's true that introverts rarely become powerful leaders. That's not their style, and they rarely crave power. But never underestimate their strength. It's just not brash, hey-everyone-look-at-me kind of strength.

Even phones are viewed with some irritation. As early as age 14, I viewed talking on the phone, even to dear friends, as a waste of time. (I've amended that now since so many friends and family are widespread and seldom seen.) But to me, phones are primarily instruments to convey minimal information. Once that information is conveyed, the conversation can be over. Maybe that's why I don't care for cell phones except as necessary objects for conveying important information as briefly and concisely as possible, i.e. roadside emergencies.

As it turns out, introversion may be biological – embedded in our DNA: "Introverts have a lot of the chemical that makes them feel stimulated; extroverts don't have so much. This is why introverts tend to avoid crowded places or deadlines – things that are likely to put extra pressure on them – because they already have pressure within themselves."

"As an introvert, you are more energized by spending time on your own, or in very small intimate groups of people you trust," states this article. "So when you are out in a social environment that is very highly stimulating, what happens is that while the extrovert gets more and more incandescent and magnetic, the introvert starts shrinking and shrinking away."

Yep. Been there done that.

In short, extroverts think introverts are wrong and must be changed. Many extroverts think introvert tendencies can be overcome if the introverts in question are exposed to enough socializing opportunities, whether it's nightclubs or parties or merely get-togethers or even frequent phone calls.

But socialization for introverts is like eating hot chili peppers: a little goes a long way. Too much spice – too much socializing – mentally exhausts (rather than exhilarates) introverts, and they need a period of recovery before the next social occasion. That's the way introverts work. We need a lot of alone time to recharge our batteries.

Extroverts get their batteries charged by social interaction, so the more social time they get, the happier and more energized they are. They thrive on social situations. It feeds their souls and energizes them. Solitude is boring, depressing, and something to avoid.

Bottom line, it's not that introverts don't like people or fun events; it's just that we can't handle too many or too much.

But give us stacks of books, a quiet room or porch or meadow, a bunch of poufy clouds to contemplate, a country road to walk on, a corner of a coffee shop, an empty park, an intimate gathering of friends, a library or bookstore on a rainy day...and we're happy as clams.

I should make it clear introversion and extroversion fall along a spectrum. While there are extremes at both ends, most people fall somewhere on the continuum. Many introverts are terrified of public speaking, for example, and I'm not. Nor does introverted necessarily mean shy (I'm not in the least bit shy). It's all a continuum.

If there's one thing to remember about introverts, it's this: they're not broken. They don't need fixing. They are still perfectly capable of functioning in society, performing their jobs, making friends, having happy marriage, etc. They just do it a little differently.

So don't try to fix them.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Fun fact

A few weeks ago, I put up a post called "More Snow Pix" that showed how much white stuff we've gotten this winter.

One reader liked the photo of an Oregon junco on a tree branch.

In fact, she liked it so well she asked for a copy so she could have it printed, saying it would be the perfect accent for her dining room. She then sent me photos of the result:

Cool beans!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Random photos

Here are some random photos from the last couple of weeks.

Taxes, ug. Yes, I still do our taxes by hand. With a pencil. A pencil that gets sharpened over and over and over...

Burning shop waste in the woodstove. This gives us a two-fer advantage: one, it cleans out the shop; and two, the wood is hardwood so it gives a nice hot fire.

The temperatures are slowly, slowly rising. It's zero degrees (Fahrenheit) as I write this, but daytime temps are climbing above freezing, sometimes even into the high 30s and low 40s. As a result, the snow is starting to compact. It's down to about 18 thick on the ground (better than the 30+ inches of a couple weeks ago).

The other day I walked outside and saw a whole bunch of chickens clustered on a tiny little patch of bare ground.

It was the first bare ground they'd seen in a while, so they were pretty excited.

Speaking of chickens, this fella is bottom of the rooster totem pole. As a result, he gets beat up if he stays in the coop, so he spends most of his daylight hours hanging around the (snow-free) barn. I give him a separate pan of food, and he eats it ravenously.

He's a very sweet and grateful rooster as a result.

Yesterday morning dawned cloudy, but one single shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds and lit up a snow-buried tank on a neighbor's property with an almost day-glo orange.

I tried to get a photo of the sunbeam itself, but by the time I booted up and got outside, the moment had passed.

The weather goes back and forth. We'll have a few days of calm and relative warmth, then suddenly the wind will whip up and start drifting the snow. On Thursday we took Mr. Darcy for his morning run, and you can see the quasi-drifts trying to close the road.

When the nighttime temps plummet but daytime temps get above freezing, the result is a crust on the snow. This morning it was almost -- almost -- strong enough to support me. For the first three steps I walked on the surface, then I plunged through.

I've been photographing animal tracks as I see them, which surprisingly isn't very often. Here's a deer as it hopped the fence from our neighbor's property onto ours.

Deer tracks in less-deep snow, where it could walk.

Deer tracks in deeper snow, where it had to leap.



Quail tracks crossing deer tracks.

Tracks from Oregon juncos (from our front porch, where we're feeding them).

The season is changing, no doubt about it. Despite the snow on the ground, birds are starting to return. We haven't seen any robins yet, but I'm hearing blackbirds for the first time this year.

But winter isn't over. The weather report is calling for up to another five inches of snow this week, which is causing everyone to groan. No one wants to see another five inches.

But it is what it is. Spring will be that much sweeter when it finally arrives.