Monday, March 27, 2017

Deer Too Close For Comfort

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Now that almost all of our snow is gone, it is stunning to look back on these pictures and be reminded of just how much snow we had over this past winter.
These pictures were all taken within 30 minutes as I happily trudged in both the back and front yards sometime in calm and freezing cold January.
We were still deeply entrenched in winter, snow had been falling with great regularity, and the world was stunningly clean, frozen and white.
The most beautiful season of all.
The deer stayed in town throughout the winter (and so far into early spring they still call this tiny town home). They clung together in a tightly knit herd of does and their yearlings, and roamed easily from one yard to the next in search of whatever they could find to eat.
Often we would find them curled up together underneath the protection of the tall pine tree we have in the back yard. 
Kory chased them out of the yard often, but they always returned and for better or worse, they are now almost tame around people.
At least the people who live in this this isolated desert community.
How strange it seems to write about a desert community when by this time we had thigh deep snow in the yard, and six foot snow piles all over the town, but there it is................ 
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On this day they were all roaming in the back yard, pawing at the ground to push enough snow out of the way so as to eat whatever hibernating grass they could find buried underneath so many feet of frozen white.
During the previous week the deer and Kory had all worn down a path between our tall pine and the house.
As they continued to paw at the ground (and eat the bark off our hibernating and long-suffering lilac bushes) I walked the path and stood under the pine tree watching them.
One lone doe was standing beside our lawn mower shed to my right, while the rest broke through the snow in the center of the yard.
For 10 minutes I watched this quiet and beautiful herd, and then one by one they wandered back to the path they had made and single file began heading towards me.
Surprised (and a little alarmed) I assumed that they would stop when they got too close for comfort.
They were used to people and friendly, but always a little watchful.
But they didn't stop.  They just kept coming.  Heading closer and closer to me................. 
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Image may contain: snow, tree, sky, outdoor and nature 
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Finally realizing that these guys were not going to stop, I searched for a possible escape route.
The deer were friendly, they knew my face and we were reasonably comfortable in the presence of each other, but there were a dozen or so healthy deer now only a few feet away from me, and that was just a little too close for comfort.
Realizing that there would be no easy escape route, I stepped off the deer-made trails (between the lone deer by the shed and the rest of the herd that was now only arms distance away) and instantly sank into four feet of snow.
As they took the final few steps to reach the pine tree, it took me a few more minutes to circle around them and find my way back to the trail next to the back of the house.
Looking back at the deer and one of their favorite shelters beneath our tree............. 

 Image may contain: tree, snow, sky, plant, table, outdoor and nature
Image may contain: tree, snow, sky, plant, outdoor and nature 
A few minutes later they followed me towards the back door.
I feel like I know them.
Their faces, their personalities, the mothers and their babies from last year.
As though they were friends who drop by regularly unannounced.
I like them a lot................... 
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We gutted an old camper late last fall and then rushed to get as much of both the inside and outside completed before the impending winter.
By the end of November we had run out of time, parked it in the back yard and meant to tarp it for protection over the winter.
"Meant to" being the operative phrase. 
Of course we never got it tarped and both LC and I wondered all winter how this incomplete project would fare, through all the rain and all the snow, and then all the melting.
Surprisingly, it made it through just fine.
Dry inside.
It is back near the front of the house as I write this, as we continue to work on it.
Maybe we'll finally get to camp this year................. 
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I physically shoveled more snow this past winter than all the other past winters of my life combined...............
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Kory playing in the middle of the road..................
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This old truck (located right across the road from the house) has sat in this same place - unmoving and forgotten - for as long as we have lived in this town.
I have photographed it as the sun rose very early in the morning.
I have photographed it as the sun set late in the day.
But I had never photographed it with snow covering all but the very top of it.  Not until this past winter.............. 
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Image may contain: snow, sky, tree, outdoor and nature 
Looking back towards the house...............
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From above you could see the chaos of entangled plots on the other side of the road, and a couple of tough tethered goats, and the glint of a frozen pond somewhere in the trees. Above them the sun was shining vaguely through the milky November sky, old but strong. In April – between the thaw and the jungly green explosion of summer – or in raw mid-October, I bet the same view would have been barren and depressing. But when we stood there all the bits of old tractors and discarded refrigerators, the shoals of empty vodka bottles and dead animals that tend to litter the Russian countryside were invisible, smothered by the annual oblivion of the snow. The snow let you forget the scars and blemishes, like temporary amnesia for a bad conscience..........A.D. Miller
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Friday, March 17, 2017

Flood In The Desert

I didn't take any of these pictures.
A lady who lives in town snapped them and gave me permission to use them.
So...........what are you looking at?
You're looking at a tiny desert town in the midst of a major (albeit short lived) flood..............

We had so much snow this past winter that figuring out where to put it all became a major consideration.
Early in February the weather unexpectedly turned warm - and then freezing cold and snowy again - and then warm again.
And so it went throughout the entire month of February.
Throughout the month we fought melting snow and ice back from the house.
By the time we finally started to get a grip on it the city brought in sand and sand bags.
By that time we didn't need them.
We'd already emptied untold buckets of water.  Emptied the shop vac untold numbers of times.  Moved hoses and pumps around untold numbers of times.
Broken up plenty of ice and shoveled plenty of snow, until finally it was far enough away from the house so as to not be a concern.
As we worked day after day residents drove by and waved.  
We waved back..................

Last Saturday was overcast but warm, and around 1 in the afternoon a lady in back of town called me in a panic.
Her living room was already flooded, the yard was flooded, water was rushing towards them from across the road and could we help.
The sand had been in town for weeks.  When it was dropped off in town there was even an offer to drop sand directly outside their house, since theirs was just about the lowest sitting house in town and it had flooded badly 15 years earlier.
That offer had been turned down and no sandbags had been filled.
This was the same lady who we had helped a good deal a couple of summers ago while her husband was out-of-state sometimes working, but mostly just accumulating girlfriends and DUI's until eventually his union would no longer offer him jobs and he had to come home.
Once he came home we never heard from her again.
Until Saturday.
The impatient woman in me was angered and annoyed at the request of ungratefuls who had been too lazy to proactively care for themselves.
The decent woman in me knew that we had to help.
They were our neighbors and they were in a dire situation.
Yes.  Of course we would help.  What did she need?
She needed sandbags................. 
LC was tied into something else when she called so I headed down without him.
Headed for city hall where the sand and bags had been laid for anyone in town who needed them.
When I arrived two other neighbors were already busily filling and tying sandbags, and the DUI-husband was loading them into the bucket of a tractor.
The roads were a mess by that point - a muddy, swampy, rutted out mess that made travel by regular vehicle beyond city hall challenging and almost impossible.
I joined in with the sand bagging, quickly filling and helping to load them into the bucket.
I knew the roads were a mess but still had no real idea what the back half of town looked like.................
After 90 minutes of non-stop sand bagging everyone decided that may be enough for now, and while the tractor took the last of the sand bags to the house, I left my vehicle at city hall and rode with one of my neighbors to the mans' house.
As soon as we turned the corner and I saw for the first time what the flooding looked like I was stunned.
In a desert, in SE Idaho, I finally understood that our tiny, nothing little community really WAS in a full on flood.
The snow dams in back of town - the frozen dams of hard packed snow and ice that had separated town from BLM land throughout this long winter had given way.
 Those melted dams in return had released an endless amount of runoff that ran like a fast moving river across empty lots, down rutted out gravel roads and through one residents' yard after another, all on its march to this couples' home.......................
From city hall to this couples' home is normally a slow drive that lasts............60 seconds.
On this day it took us about 10 minutes.
Some roads were completely rutted out and filled with tire-sucking mud.
Other roads were completely covered with fast flowing water and we elected to find another route since we could see that portions were completely washed out.
So we meandered, turned around, sometimes barreling through and sometimes tentatively crawling through varying degrees of water and mud.
Who would have thought that such a short ride would have been such an adventure?
Not me.
Not in a thousand years......................
When we finally arrived at their home I immediately knew that they were in deep trouble.
The entire front yard was a swimming pool.
Two guys were spinning their wheels trying unsuccessfully to get an aging pump working.
The sandbags we had filled didn't even BEGIN to stop the flow.
As I watched people milling around unfocused and unsure of what to do I called LC.
Drop what you're doing.  We need you here.
We need the shop vac, both pumps, both 100 foot hoses, call me when you're at the corner and I'll get the guy to bring the tractor over.
The water on the corner by the house is a foot and a half deep and I don't know if it's washed out or not.
LC was already loading the truck by the time I got off the phone and turned my attention back to my frantic neighbors who were still unfocused and unsure.
I walked into the house to see how the lady was doing and the water was seeping in through the front door and already shin deep inside her living room.
She was leaning against the kitchen counter making herself something to eat...............

I looked at the water, looked at the furniture that was all still on the floor, looked at the unused shop vac sitting in the middle of the room, made some inane niceties, told her not to worry, reassured that everyone was working on it and we'd get the water stopped, and then walked back outside.
The house smelled bad.
But it always smelled bad................
Looking up the road I saw LC's truck parked at the corner.
He had parked in the middle of the road and was walking the water-logged intersection, trying to determine the integrity of the road.
As I watched him, he climbed back into the truck and headed our way.
As soon as he backed into the driveway I brought him up-to-speed.
The pumps weren't big but they would slow the water down and we had long enough hoses to move it all to the back of the owners property and across the road away from the house.
That was the first order of business.
Second order was to refocus the sandbags we had across the front of the house (with an emphasis around a large semi-circle close to the front door).  
None of us could stop all the water - it was still coming and coming fast.
Flowing from BLM land, down gravel roads, across fields and yards.
Much of it filling their front yard and seeping into their house but thankfully (because of existing snowbanks in their yard that were still holding) much of it was also being redirected to the right of the house and then downhill towards the race track.
Holy cow - if those snowbanks hadn't still be there........................
With all sandbags focused in a semi circle in front of the house we eventually stopped the continual increase of water up against the house.
With small pumps pumping for all they were worth the semi circle of water drained down to almost nothing.
The yard was still a swimming pool but by this time it was getting late enough in the day that temperatures were beginning to drop.
An hour later everything would be frozen again.
One by one, neighbors who had been there to help had left until there was me and LC, one other neighbor and the DUI-homeowner left outside.
With the worst over I walked back into the house to see how the living room was doing.
Calling as I went (since I was inside someone elses home) I found my way to the living room.
With satisfaction I realized that the water was way down.
The carpets were saturated but (as with outside) the worst was over.
Calling again, I eventually heard the lady call to me.
She was laying down in the bedroom.
From the kitchen I called out more inane niceties and reassurances. 
 I had to get out of there................
It was almost dark by this time.
Everyone had left.
The home owner was sloshing through deep water in the yard, using the tractor to try and pile dirt against the random snowbanks in the front yard.
One more effort to try and redirect water to the right of the house but with so much water it was a losing battle.
But at least for now water was not further invading his home, and that was the best he could hope for.
Before we left we made an offer for the couple to stay with us at our house, if they wanted a warm and dry place to spend the night.
We also offered to help again the next day if the situation turned dire again.
We received a thank you phone call the next day, but  thankfully the worst was now over.
Two days after the flood, it was nearly impossible to tell that half the town had effectively been underwater.......................

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Winter Over Was Wishful Thinking

There are areas of flooding all over the south eastern portion of the state right now.
Large swaths of farm land and homes and streets all underwater as I write this.
It has been a long winter, filled with more snow than locals have seen in more than 40 years.
It wouldn't have been quite as tough of a winter if it had simply snowed (and snowed and snowed............and snowed) from late October until late February, and had then simply all started to melt away.
Instead, by the first week in February we found ourselves (surprisingly) facing temperatures above freezing during the day and temperatures below freezing at night.
Days battling melting snow and then ice formation overnight.
Melting.  Then freezing.  Then melting.
Rinsing and repeating over and over.
And just as we finally felt that we had a grip on the melt, it snowed again.
And then a few days later snowed some more.
It's been a mess and continues to be a mess, but slowly (one day at a time) we are getting a grip on these very earliest days of the impending spring.
Pictures of the back yard.
Although much of it has melted, we still have three feet of snow covering the ground...................
One day last week it snowed all afternoon and overnight, and  left 8 new inches of snow on the ground when it was all done.
As I watched Kory happily prance and dance in the snow I looked at the snow in front of the house.
If I didn't shovel it away it would all melt and seep into the mudroom intent of making its way to the living room, so I knew that it was time to shovel.
We'll be on the hunt for a snow blower before next winter.  More shoveling happened this winter than LC and I want to even THINK about.
But this snow was light, dry, inches deep instead of feet deep, and after the long winter we have had the effort to clear snow away this time seemed effortless.
Almost effortless.
While Kory danced, while LC cleared off the vehicles, I grabbed my hard working snow shovel and went to work intent on moving it far enough away from the house until we could get the city to move it across the road to the empty lot...................
With the snow shoveled I made a grab for Korys' leash and together we wandered through town.
It was a mild day.
Just below freezing and in reality it hadn't been COLD cold in many weeks.
The funny thing about this winter is that I had expended so much physical energy on snow shoveling that I had actually spent less time cross country skiing that I did last winter.
All work and no play is making for a dull girl these days.
But on a beautiful, quiet and mild day it was nice to wander with my dog................
A couple of days later I took Kory for a walk to the four potato silos that are located on the outskirts of town.
My singularly focused dog has spent the entire winter bunny killing at these silos.
I have spent a good part of the winter trudging through a mostly snow-covered secondary road waiting for my pup to find a rabbit, break its neck, make her way through the deep snow of the field where the silos silently stand watch over the desert (with dead bunny in mouth), and then watching her proudly trot her way back to the house with her treasure.
There are dead rabbits buried or partially buried all over the back yard as I write this.
One day soon (when they are all finally uncovered in the melting snow) LC and I will have to scoop them all up, drive them out onto BLM land, and toss them.
A free meal for the coyotes.
But throughout the winter my dog has been single mindedly focused on rabbit hunting...............

On this late afternoon it was cold, clear and very windy, and as Kory and I headed for the silos I quickly realized that the light, dry snow was drifting across the roads, quickly filling in the space that the snow plows had created just a day or so before.
I was still making my way to the silos but Kory was already there and already in stalk mode as she hunted her next prey, and I was suddenly mesmerized by the drifting snow.
It was quickly covering the road, and the wind was so strong that the drifting snow across the vastness of empty BLM land looked as though it was a flowing ocean.
Waves of frozen white crossing the vast ocean of empty land that surrounded us, and it was compelling to watch.................
The next day, Kory and I walked again.
Turning left from the house, we walked down the road a short ways and turned left again.
As we headed towards the large ugly single wide that residents refer to as City Hall I absently watched a resident claim his mail from the bank of mail boxes that stand outside City Hall.
Still not giving the man much (any) thought, I watched as he climbed back into his truck and headed towards the back of town.
I knew that when he reached the end of the road that he would turn right, winding his way towards home.
Only.......he didn't.
As Kory happily sniffed and marked around the mail boxes I watched in surprise as the resident backed his truck all the way back to where I was standing.
Finally finding enough room to turn his truck around, he smiled and waved to me as he drove by.
Well........THAT was strange.
Gently pulling on Korys' leash I finally wandered beyond City Hall and the mailboxes and (without giving any consideration to where we were walking) we turned right.
As soon as I turned the corner I stopped.
Completely startled...............

The road was gone.
Completely gone when only the day before, it had been a newly plowed and easily passable road.
The drifting snow had covered the road again with three feet of snow..................
When I got to the back of town I was again startled by the sheer volume of snow that had drifted across the road.
The entire road was like a slalom course - four feet deep rises and falls the entire length of the road, making it completely impassable to vehicles.
Gingerly testing the depth, Kory and I ventured onto the hills and I was gratified to realize that the snow was hard packed and easy to walk on.
It was the first time that I had ever walked on such an up and down, rise and fall, heavily snow packed road, and I enjoyed the newness of the experience.
And I finally realized that any idea I had about winter being over and spring being right around the corner was nothing but wishful thinking....................
Our back yard as seen from the road.................
A day later the snow drifts had been plowed yet again.
A never ending cycle this winter.................
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade................Charles Dickens (1812–1870), Great Expectations