Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Night visitor to the farm

Some time around 2:00 am, I woke up to a strange shrill night time sound. We live across the street from a park, and once in a while there are noises - peels of music, the sound of brakes or fireworks, youthful cries of exuberance. This was none of the usual sounds. I sat up, listening closely, ready to call 911, but this was not a sound I thought a human could make, even in dire circumstances.

Our neighbors are often up late, and occasionally their kids are up. Was this one of the ubiquitous recorders that the school district has distributed to every child in the city? No. The note was long and sustained, but it slid slowly downward, as no recorder player could.

A dog? A dog choking on its collar, slowly losing air? Does it need my help? The note stopped and I got ready to go look.

Then the sound began again, and went on, and changed, and broke into pieces and back together again. There were long wails, and staccato cries, sounds like words sung in a language aliens might understand. Now that it was warmed up, the voice couldn't seem to stop. It trilled, murmured, whined and grumbled. Here and there something like a suppressed bark would start to form, only to be embroidered over with a baroque complexity of other sounds. It was like a dog that suddenly mimicked a songbird, an octave too low and in the middle of the night.

Two houses back, there are a couple of sled dog type dogs that sometimes make bits of sound like this - yowling like giant cats, or giving short, cut off barks. They make different noises to express loneliness, excitement, play. One mood, one sound. Compared to this profusion of sounds, the dogs were like a couple of children typing emoticons, while this animal was  pouring forth profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

I've known for a long time that there were coyotes across the street in the ravine down at the bottom of the park. I saw one once at dusk, by our mailbox, trotting toward the wild embankments on one side of the golf course at the end of our street. They live on who knows what. Blackberries are abundant and I've seen canine scat made entirely of berry seed. There are bowls of cat food, squirrels and other rodents. Yesterday a dead squirrel lay on the road all day and was still there the next morning. Scarcity is not a problem.

To the best of my knowledge, the coyotes in our neighborhood don't kill cats - I keep seeing the same cats and there haven't been any mysterious disappearances that didn't later get explained. Nor have they killed any of our chickens. Once a dog did, and before the barn door was tight, a raccoon did, but each animal leaves signs and there was never evidence of coyotes getting them. I've come to think of the coyotes as cautious souls, avoiding fences, hunting game that won't arouse the ire of the humans.

Aside from that one glimpse, they have never made themselves known until now. Why suddenly is this lone animal bursting into such a long, complex song outside my window? The singing stops and the night noises pick up again. A cricket, which are uncommon here. Airplane noises, old house noises, the neighbor's waterfall.

Far off, miles away in Tukwila, I hear a train whistle. Somewhere closer but still faint in the distance, a fire engine wails and the coyote starts up again. I contemplate taking a picture and decide not to startle it. I contemplate posting a facebook status. Then I think: a dog would post this on facebook or twitter. A coyote would want to write about it in depth. A coyote would come back to its work and revise it, and practice, and listen to its own voice at night.

So I'm doing that. I want to capture how it sounded, a wild, intelligent creature making sounds that it understood, even though I don't. I will come back and revise my writing because I haven't done it justice. There is this parallel life being lived invisibly outside my window and I want to capture it in words, and that's not going to happen all at once. I'm working on it.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A perfect hour on the farm

 Last week I hit a sort of low point in the garden. The apples were all pruned, and huge chunks of bare, goat-gnawed branches littered the tall orchard grass where dandilions were going to seed. The neighbors' least valuable toys and soccer balls would get kicked or tossed over the fence into the tall grass on rainy days and forgotten till I half heartedly pitched them back. Naked dolls, handles of push toys. Things no one really wanted.

Noah's schedule had consumed whole days of time and no gardening got done. I'm so proud of my son -scoring a T-Rex role in a play, going to math competitions, scouting. But. Nothing. Was. Getting. Done.

I am a daylight gardener. I'll work in the mud and rain. I'll sweat on hot (for Seattle) days, but I draw the line at working at night. But one night I knew I had to do it, and hauled all the huge branches through the damp grass into a huge pile.

The next day David mowed the lawn, and a sense of normal began to return. Everyone thinks goats will mow the lawn for you but this I know. Four goats cannot mow half an acre to any respectable standard.

Last night I hurried home from work for a six o'clock meeting with some folks in our neighborhood who wanted the apple wood. I didn't know them but I knew they were fellow urban farmers and like minded people.

I pulled up exactly on time, grateful that my work clothes are informal enough to do some good yard work when needed. I handed out pruning implements and we all went to work breaking down branches in to manageable bits.

The first honeysuckle flowers of the season were opening on the deck. The air was full of their waxy fragrance, which is best in the early evening. One or two flowers can fill a whole yard.

The purple flowers of the sage only let out scent when you brush by.

As we
wheelbarrowed loads of twigs to their van, the hot sage and the lazy sweetness of honeysuckle combined with the dense honey ripening in the hive and the grounding, not really lovely smell of iris and damp branches.

The goats had greeted the newcomers joyfully but then, with unusual politeness, retreated to their grazing patch, the fenced of area that hadn't been mowed.

We worked well together. Although we didn't know each other, and I'm somewhat socially awkward, we hit it off quite well and talked about travel, philosophy, apples and the changes in our region since we all arrived, twenty to thirty years ago.

Then it was seven and I had to go get Noah from his show.

The folks who visited left all the pruning equipment in a neat pile in the wheelbarrow. They double checked that the gate was closed, and drove off as I went to get Noah.

It occurred to me that it had been a perfect hour. Outside, perfect temperature, doing work that kept me moving but didn't tire me or get my clothes dirty. The animals and plants were on their best behavior, there was good company and a convenient end time. Perfect.

Some of the least planned and least expected moments can coalesce like that. Trying to create them is crazy making. I think some of our most annoying holidays (I'm looking at you, Mother's day) are about trying to manufacture such moments artificially. You can't. All you can do is be present for them when they choose you.