Sunday, November 29, 2015

Harlan Bramble and the Full Moon of Advent

A big storm just came through and lucky for me, Prairie went into labor ahead of the rough weather. I drove to Portland on good roads and arrived in time to share in the birth of Harlan Bramble Wagner, Jon and Prairie's first child and our newest grandson.
Harlan and Sara

Harlan was born at home and that first night while he slumbered snug in his woolen sleep sack, a wild wind blew in, with heavy clouds from the coast dumping rain that sluiced through the streets. The rain kept up all night and most of the next day, gradually calming as the front traveled east. When the sky cleared, temperatures dropped below freezing and a full moon floated over the tall firs behind the house. We could feel the cold working its way in and we turned up the heat to help baby Harlan get used to the world outside his mom.
Prairie resting while Harlan gets his sun bath

Back in Wallowa County, the storm arrived bringing snow and leaving behind single digit temperatures and icy roads. Mike chained up when he went to get a cow outside Joseph so he wouldn't slide the trailer off into a little creek that crossed the driveway. We had to start feeding some hay to the cows, as our last standing feed in the valley was snow covered. After Mike caught a ride to Portland to meet Harlan, Zeke and Gabe pitched in on chores, including chopping ice in the ditch so the horses would have water.

They like each other

I'm glad to be back home after two weeks, just as I'm glad I could spend time with Jon and Prairie and Harlan. We diapered, swaddled, and rocked, sharing middle-of-the-night story telling, reading poetry and essays aloud and admiring Harlan as he mastered the jobs of a newborn.

Today I helped Mike take hay to the cows in an ice fog that never lifted all day. This next week he will try and get the new fence up behind our house and we'll trail the cows home and wean the calves. I hope it warms up above freezing for fence building, and while the cows are here, so we can keep ice chopping to a minimum. It's one of my least favorite chores.

Ice fog at the Eggleson Place

After we fed, I gathered evergreens from the yard and the wind break. I wanted to make an advent wreath for the table, and a bigger wreath for the porch door. The branches were clumped under icy snow and my knit gloves and sweater quickly grew hairy with frostsicles.

By the time I had clipped boughs from all eight types of greens my fingers were aching from the cold.  I brought the boughs into the kitchen and left them in front of the wood stove, where they warmed up, leaving little puddles of water on the hearth. 

The Oval warms up the greens

Now the spicy scent of spruce and fir and pine and juniper fills the kitchen and the first candle of advent glows brightly beside its quiet neighbors. I cherish this ritual of winter, bringing light into the darkness, honoring the evergreens of life in the midst of a snow-covered world, celebrating love and hope in spite of our fears and misunderstandings.

First Sunday of Advent

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, Home of Bunchgrass Beef

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Going Backwards

Starting from the pumpkin pie I made today, we're going backwards in time.

Pumpkin is always good

Today was a good day to make pie. Veteran's Day with four inches of snow on the ground, a fire going in the kitchen stove and a roasted pumpkin waiting in the fridge. I liked making up the recipe.

Sometime before pie, the letter writing began. It was after daylight savings started and I got up before dawn and found the quiet kitchen. I added wood to the fire, listened to the morning waking up and watched the trees and fields take shape out of the darkness.

Candles for writing letters
The first day I wrote a long newsy letter to the 90 year olds back in North Dakota, that would be my mom and mom's sister, Aunt Vera. The second day I wrote a long letter to my friend Kyle, who I met when I was four and haven't written to or spoken to for more than a year. I was thinking how the person you are writing to gives you as a gift the time it takes to sit down, light a light, listen, watch, feel. And then to write your life between you, the story wrapped carefully in paper and sent in the hands of strangers to a far away place. It seems miraculous.

Creepy teeth Weston

Before the letter writing was Halloween. My devil didn't speak, and had two tails, the horns of a goat, and a necklace of gargoyles. The mask frightened small children and the ten year olds stared until I tilted my fork in their direction and they looked away.

Pals together

Around that time Mike was back from Montana and hadn't left yet for Nevada. I was so glad to have him home. When we moved the cows to the Eggleson place on the Wallowa River, I made Gabe take a picture of us together. Evidence that in spite of our opposite peregrinations, we did have a least a few days together in the last six weeks.

Two Dot

Mike is working with the Grasslands Alliance and piloting a sustainability certification process. Two ranches in Montana and one in Nevada agreed to be the guinea pigs. The field trips came late in the season with winter's approach keeping everyone busy.
White buffalo near the Crazy Mountains

We had brought the cows into the valley earlier in the month and as usual there was fence to build. Electric this time. As we worked, little birds sang all kinds of beautiful songs from the trees along the river, and a wake of vultures rose up out of the tops of the cottonwoods and floated in circles overhead, their dark shapes spiraling slowly upward in the blue sky.

Bell at the valley pasture

Before the floating vultures and the singing birds, Malcolm Dawson died just before his 94th birthday. I gave myself a bouquet of flowers for consolation and to remind me what a joy Malcolm was in our lives. My boss, Lisa wrote her dad's obituary and it was stellar. She had me proofread it so I knew what was coming after the funny parts. I had my Kleenex ready.

Malcolm's flowers

On the day he died, Lisa told her dad he was too weak to get out of bed. His reply, "I'm strong." As Lisa told us in the obituary, Malcolm was physically strong, but he was also strong in spirit. His faith was strong, his will to live and to give was strong. His love was strong.

It's hard to imagine that precious weeks ago it was warm enough that the grandboys were mucking through the swamp. There was some hooting and hollering from Dawson as he braved the deeper parts, marshwater up to his knees, his feet sinking into the cold cold mud. Weston kept to the shallows. "I'm making magic,' he told me as he swung his cattail wand through the air, releasing clouds of tiny seeds.  

October swamp time 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef