The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Blue Moon, Red Fox August 1, 2015

A Blue Moon rose last night over Greenfield, and from my lovely spot here on the hill its rise was gorgeous. It’s been a week that’s run the gamut for me emotionally, and this was a good way to bring the week, and the month, to a close.

There are two red foxes in our neighborhood now, and sadly, late one afternoon, in broad daylight and as I witnessed helplessly from inside the house, a fox grabbed our dear Sussy and ran off with her (Elihu took a rare shot of her that appears at the top of the last post’s photos). I shouted and ran after, but it was too late. It wasn’t til the next day that I realized how hard our dear, chatty hen had worked to evade the predator; there were four distinct spots of struggle which started on one side of the house and concluded out back. A day or two later Elihu, neighbor Zac and I watched as the fox made another pass at the yard, crossing over the creek and through the field without so much as picking up his pace to a trot as I yelled after him. Clearly, this place was easy pickins, and my shouting was no deterrent. This is so frustrating. Last year I did battle with a family of raccoons, and to my chagrin I ended up killing two of them. The humane trap isn’t as straightforward a solution as one might think (and then there was the skunk which I did end up catching – and then releasing – thankfully without getting sprayed). What’s more, foxes do live up to their reputation as being clever creatures. They can figure out all sorts of inventive techniques to reach their prey (and they are notorious for evading traps). This new situation is very distressing – I can never leave our property with confidence, but truthfully, even if I am here, I’m not sure I can do much to stop this visitor from making off with one of our gals. And while there are a good twenty birds I could lose without much regret, there are three of whom Elihu and I are so deeply fond, that to lose them would be a true heartbreak. All I can do is hope that somehow they’ll be spared. (We’ve lost four hens in the past month, and now the loss of eggs is becoming a challenge as our young gals aren’t laying yet and we still have regular egg customers.)

This is our sixth year raising chickens, so we know that unexpected loss goes with the territory. But still. It’s hard to shake a loss, especially when you lose one of those ‘special’ birds that has shown herself to stand out from the flock in any number of endearing ways. I can assure you this: even a simple chicken may possess unique tendencies. Elihu himself will scold me for anthropomorphising these creatures – but nevertheless, it’s sad to lose a hen who added such good cheer to our homestead. Mom is a good lookout and calls us with advance warning; she lives just one property over, and daily she puts out corn for the deer. Just this past week the foxes (this is how we know there are two and not just one) have joined the raccoons, deer and turkeys at mom’s place (between the furry creatures and all the birds, her house looks like Snow White’s cottage!). I just hope the foxes eat their fill there and forget about their taste for chicken. I should think it would be a whole lot easier to eat what’s given to them than to hunt – and tear apart – a bird. At least I hope so. Elihu and I found a fox den in the woods on the side of the hill and covered it with sticks. I’ll return soon to see if they’ve been moved. If so, at least we’ll know where they live. That will give us something to work with. This is an adventure that’s likely only just begun. It’s all so discouraging; just when you think you’re past the rough spots, there’s always some new challenge. But truly, that’s life in the county.

At this writing Elihu is back in Chicago with his father, and will return again in little less than two weeks – coming in on the late night flight that arrives after 1 in the morning. Later that evening we plan to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra, so it’ll be a long day. But no point sweating over that just yet; that may as well be a year off… House guests arrive any day now, and between the Studio, my search for piano jobs, staving off the ever looming panic attacks, teaching a handful of students and life in general (oh yeah, and fox hunting) there will be plenty to keep me occupied.

A few weeks ago I’d tried my hand at another garage sale, in order to get an infusion of summer cash into my pocket – and to once and for all get rid of all this stuff that has remained in my possession all these years. I finally unpacked the one last box from my move here, and at last knew definitively what should stay and what should go. The sale was a lot of work – and a bust too, netting me a mere $47 after two hot and sweaty days, not to mention the many hours spent in prep. And after it all, I was still left with my stuff, plus the trash that had come with the process. Rather than spend more money I hardly even had, I decided to muscle up and get rid of it by myself – the old fashioned way: by going to the dump. I hadn’t been to a dump since I was a kid and my dad would load up the station wagon and back it up to the big, sandy pit here in Greenfield. The place has been closed for years, and thankfully, somehow the forest has reclaimed it. (It’s actually kind of eerie – in driving by you would never know that there’d been a huge, open space there once upon a time. I shiver to think of the stuff that’s hiding just below the roots…) I did have to shell out $25 for the car load, but what a relief to finally have my big trash out. Now I gotta muster the oomph to load up the car again and schlep all that leftover stuff to the Salvation Army store a few exits up the Northway. Believe me, when the last extraneous scented pillar candle and ironically amusing coffee mug is finally out of my garage, I will feel a relief that will, I’m hoping, be something of a spiritual experience.

The one thing that has pained me most about living here – aside from the lack of affordable, good ma and pa restaurants and any true ethnic diversity (those wonderful little joints usually come along with that missing diversity) – is that there’s no water in my world. Yeah, there’s a lake just about a half hour drive in any direction, but that aint the same as living on the shore of one. And ten miles may just as well be a hundred. Anyway, even if I do make it to a shoreline, I have no means of getting out onto the water. I don’t have any boating friends here, so I don’t have an in. This was something I could live with for a few years, but just a few days ago I reached my limit. What was stopping me from at the very least finding my way to the local sailing club? I didn’t even stop to think about it, I grabbed my bag and got in the car.

I’d heard about the sailing club – but no one I’ve asked ever seemed to know where it was exactly, or how you got there. Good Lord, people, are you not all smart phone equipped? I myself had a mere map on paper – and that was all I needed… It was a bit further off the beaten path than I might have guessed, but easy enough to find. I pulled in and discovered an old home on a lovely, tree-shaded lawn that ended at the water’s edge. I parked, got out of the car and crunched up the gravel driveway as a man in front of me, looking up into a tall white pine, said quietly “there’a a bald eagle in that tree” and pointed behind my shoulder. Sure enough – stock still he sat, surveying the water for dinner. I always have a pair of binoculars in the car for appreciating birds and scenic outlooks, so I doubled back to get them. I offered them to the man for a look. He enjoyed them for a minute, then thanked me as he handed them back. I stood there feeling more than well rewarded. I’d finally found this place – and got my first sighting of a wild bald eagle. This had to be a good sign.

I went in and found two high school boys on the porch waiting for their charges in the youth summer program to arrive. We had an enjoyable chat, and I got a better idea of the vibe there. Although there were the requisite high-end cars in the lot, the place didn’t have an overly highbrow feel to it, instead it felt homey and very family-friendly. I passed my card to one of the boys, the one who’d said his own mom might actually like to take me out on the water. I also wrote a note on my card and pinned it to the bulletin board. I hesitated for just a second, but decided to do it. Nothing to lose. I snapped a couple pics of the old-timey, nautical-themed interior, then got on my way after admiring this rare view from the underdeveloped west shore of the lake.

Until the magical day I get on the water again, there’s always much to do around here. Progress is stop-and-go with the Studio, but things are still moving forward. We now have doors that actually lock, and we’re just a day or two away from a kitchen with actual running water. ! Bits and pieces are still annoyingly hard to complete; a strangely-shaped box office needs some desk and counter space, but just how that will work is still not known. A large crack has erupted in the new wall which the carpenter suspects is being caused by a leak in the roof. There’s an enormous pit in front of the place that will need to be back filled after the plumbers finish their work. We still need to order and install an art hanging system, and there are knobs and face plates to go up. Small crap – construction mess and various bits and pieces – still lay about on folding tables and it all needs to go out or back where it belongs. Much of the tedious little stuff I can do myself – and in fact that’ll get to that this next week, but my hands are tied when it comes to addressing perennial leaks and joining pvc pipe. But on the whole, this process has been fascinating, and I’ve learned a lot on the way – it’s been a supreme game of ‘which comes first’, and for me, a person for whom linear thinking is often a great chore, it’s helped me to organize my actions effectively. Sometimes (hell, who are we kidding, make that most¬†times) it feels as if nothing has actually been accomplished – that I’ve been spinning my wheels and getting nearly nowhere, but the photos from our ‘then’ and ‘now’ tell me otherwise. Much as I’d like to think I’m a happy, positive energy in this world, the inner side of me is more of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of gal, and panic and worry are forever tapping me on the shoulder to remind me of the ‘what ifs’. But I’m working on it.

This may be my last solo day for a while, as my friends arrive soon to stay here for the week, and Elihu returns not long after they leave. I feel a mix of that dull, waking awareness that summer is on its way out, and a growing dread for the unknown future of my world. One of the things that does lighten my heart as I plod along on this planet are uncommitted days in perfect weather – just like this one – when my garden comes alive with color and my chickens surround me, purring and chuckling sounds of contentment. So today, this first day of August, I’m not going to do much, and I’m going to do my best not to feel guilty about it either. I’m going to savor my solitude, my birds and my garden, as I enjoy the memory of last night’s Blue Moon. I’ll be back to hunting red foxes soon enough.

IMG_0204This was not actually the true Blue Moon, but the one the night before. Still looks pretty full and sure is beautiful.

IMG_0149Usually I’d scold Austin and shoo him off the bird feeder, but he’s alerted us so well whenever the fox has been here that I feel he deserves this special treat.

IMG_0145This is the trio we love – Thumbs Up, her sister Specks, and our eldest rooster and father of the whole flock – Bald Mountain. He himself has battled a raccoon – losing his comb in the process – and made it out alive. In fact, he’s survived many attacks in his six years here. Elihu loves him like a favorite dog. If too much time passes without hearing him crow, I go searching for him to make sure he’s still with us. He may be old, but he’s still fully loaded.

IMG_0056Went to the movies with mom and Andrew the other night, but it was still light out, so the birds hadn’t roosted yet. Not wanting to risk losing our favorites, I put one gal under each arm and stashed them in our screen porch for safety. I’d left the window to the porch open – and look what these clever girls did for added security! Do ya see em? They let themselves in through an open window.

IMG_0057Smart girls.

IMG_0051Smart boy, too. He parked himself on the table because he’s a big, heavy bird and likely couldn’t get to the top of the fridge.

IMG_0039This business of euphemistically calling a dump a ‘transfer station’ gets me. Can’t we just call this place what it really is?

IMG_0040I got in line to have my full vehicle weighed on the drive in.

IMG_0043We’re headed to the building in the distance.

IMG_0023Inside this hangar-sized structure is a mountain of trash. Ya just back up your car and heave away.

IMG_0021A large claw pushed the incoming mess to the back as folks continued to fling their trash onto the heap. Decades ago, before recycling was hip, I’d taken it upon myself to collect the recycling of my apartment building neighbors and drive it to a recycling center. My friends all knew me as the gal ‘who’d take your stuff’. I even had T shirts made that said “The earth is a finite resource. Recycle.” I sold them in Garbage Magazine (long out of print) and to anyone I could. I was – and still am – profoundly frightened of our long-term prognosis with respect to our cast-offs. I remember feeling very conflicted about even having children because of it. Many times I’ve apologized to my son for bringing him into this mess. Our future is not for the faint of heart.

IMG_0077Ah, but this is what Genesse Cream Ale was made for. To help us forget! Mom brought over a couple of cold ones, including this gem on the right: the very last of the original bottle shapes. They don’t make em anymore, which makes me a little nostalgic. Screw it, let’s drink!

IMG_0080I’ll miss those short, squat bottles. Genny in a long neck just isn’t quite the same.

IMG_0198Finally! It’s a very long, private drive to the shore, but I wasn’t daunted.

IMG_0192Here’s the lovely home of the Saratoga Lake Sailing Club.

IMG_0185A cozy feel just like you’d imagine. Even has that certain smell…

IMG_0186Ah, nautical memorabilia. Gives me a gentle feeling of being home at last. It’s been over a decade since I’ve sailed, and honestly, I couldn’t get underway without help these days, but there’s something about being on water and powered by wind that makes everything finally OK. It erases care and unites one with the world. Really.

IMG_0190Here’s the view from the club.

IMG_0189The bump in the center is Snake Hill, on the lake’s southeast side, and I can see it from my house all year ’round.

IMG_0194And look! A sailboat!! So close, and yet still, so very far…

IMG_0187Love this. Cheat the nursing home. Die on your Laser. !!

IMG_0180How’s this for bird watching? My first ever sighting of a Bald Eagle in the wild. Awesome.

IMG_0047But these are the birds I love most. I love to know they’re living a happy life here. While they enjoy roaming free and foraging in the grass (cutting my feed bill by more than half) they’re safer in the run. Now I let them out only when I can be out with them.

IMG_0036And this, I assume, is a happy frog living in our pond

IMG_0134I also like to think that even our fish are happy.

IMG_0126This time of summer our garden looks lovely – and that, even if it’s only a moment’s distraction from the endless concerns of money, my unknown future and endless to-do lists – makes me happy too.

IMG_0278The Blue Moon rises to the left, and the casino and harness track glow in the distance off to the right.

IMG_0269Burning what’s left of the paper and boxes.

IMG_0068After seeing me ‘standing alone’, the moon retreated behind the clouds and left them glowing around the edges in the dark night sky. Goodbye for now, Blue Moon. Most likely things will be very different around here the next time we see you.


Post Script: I made the decision to let the chickens out today, because they seem so much more content to roam, take dust baths and sit in the shade. As I sat working at my computer Austin began to sound an alarm, and I looked up to see a fox about ten feet away from me, and creeping closer still. I yelled and the fox merely slowed his pace… Unbelievable how brave… Finally I grabbed a couple of rocks and threw them, and he/she did then retreat towards the woods, but it stopped a few times to look back to see if he/she might not be able to get past me and grab just one hen… Now I simply cannot go inside until sunset for fear of an event. Time to wash the car and do a little weeding I guess.

 

 

Cape Cod Scrapbook August 28, 2014

“Cape Cod Scrapbook” is a companion post to the previous one, entitled “Two Weeks Gone”

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Finally…

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My Uncle Paul and his sister (my mother) Nancy, my son Elihu and my Aunt Sandy.

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Cousins Elihu and Rusty take off in search of sea life without a word of goodbye.

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This is the dock behind their house; at high tide the water comes much closer in.

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This is the small neighborhood beach. Just perfect at low tide to find critters.

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After our first brief visit, we all headed out to this local eatery.

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While we waited for our food, Elihu and I went out to the pier to hang with the fishermen.

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I think all eleven year old boys get a kick out of live fish.

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Aunt Sandy, Uncle Paul and mom at the end of a fine dinner of fresh, local seafood. The harbor is just outside.

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Elihu points out the location of the restaurant on this mural of what Wareham looked like over a hundred years ago.

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As painted by Nanci. Love it.

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A picturesque New England dock scene from the restaurant window.

IMG_1315If you’re ever in Wareham, Massachusetts, stop by Narrow’s Crossing and get the whole fried clams.

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The following morning we found a nice little breakfast joint in the neighboring town of Onset.

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We’re at the Pier View Restaurant. The bay is right behind mom and Elihu.

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Note the Linguica. It’s a Portuguese sausage, usually kinda spicy, always tasty. (Dig the great prices, too.)

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Mom’s not usually down with me making changes to the menu, but I requested that my Eggs Benedict be made with the local linguica instead of ham. I suggested that they might want to call it “Eggs Elizabeth” should it become a hit.

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And here’s the handsome man who carried out my culinary wish.

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We’re not at our family’s beach here, but rather another, more expansive stretch of coast about two miles away to the Southeast. I preferred it as it was much more wide open than the small neighborhood beach, it was sparsely populated and there was lots of sand.

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We fed the seagulls earlier, and when we left the beach to go into the water, they ransacked mom’s bag. The gall of those gulls!

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Mom on the beach. She spent much of her youth here.

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My Cousin Janice, in the middle, is about to undergo her third year of chemo for an unrelenting cancer. She’s got a great spirit, and both children and grandchildren to live for. She’s ready to kick its ass once again.

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Elihu shows his Great Uncle Paul his catch from the day.

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Uncle Paul is in his chair, on the right. Since his stroke in ’91 he still gets around well – drives too – but speaks very little (might be due in part to his wife – she kinda makes it hard for the poor guy to get a word in edgewise, stroke or not!).

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Sandy gave mom a history of the Jackson side of the family, compiled by Paul and Nancy’s paternal grandmother. I know mom doesn’t have great feelings about this side of the family (her father left her mother and never supported them in any way, nor did her father’s family help out), but nonetheless it’s nice to have this information.

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This is a letter from Uncle Paul’s paternal grandmother, describing in part the contents of the book. Dated November 11th, 1963. There’s a fascinating amount of detail going back a couple hundred years. Both the Conants and the Jacksons have been in this country for over three hundred years, so when people ask me what nationality I am, I tell em that I really am American more than anything else. But hey, at this point in the game, aren’t we all pretty much mutts no matter what our lineage?

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Uncle Paul and Cousin Rusty. Rusty likes to say in his local accent that I’m his “Cape Cawed Cahzin”.

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This is the shack where Rusty keeps his stuff and works on various projects. His father was a shop teacher, and it seems he has the tinkering gene too.

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There’s a lot of stuff here… certainly more orderly than my own brother’s mess.

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Sadly, since Uncle Paul’s stroke, his boats have languished here in the back yard. If only I lived nearby! I dearly miss the sailing era of my life.

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We discovered these very odd-shaped fungi poking up through the ground all around the house. The craziest part is their smell – super funky bad, almost like skunk.

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This is Gertrude – or Gert, as locals know her. She lives directly across the street from my family in a house painted the color of tomato bisque. She knew my mother’s mother, Lydia, and is thrilled to meet Lydia’s great-grandson. Gert’s in her early nineties.

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We’re enjoying a visit with Gert in her breezeway. (I just love these time-capsule homes – nothing’s changed in forty years.)

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A sweet good-bye.

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Gert sang with big bands in Boston in the ’30s and ’40s and regularly appeared on live radio programs as well. We have both those things in common! She has difficulty remembering what day it is, yet she remembered me well from my visit two years ago – she even remembered that I ‘was the singer’. I was impressed! She’s one spunky lady. She zips around the neighborhood in her motorized wheelchair and seems to know just about¬†everyone in town.

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The boys on their second and final search for critters.

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What’s this?

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A tiny crab!

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One more cast of that magic trap…

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And look! A flounder! Crazy looking creatures they are, with both their eyes on top like that. They swim flat along the bottom and usually don’t come in this close to shore. Rusty assured us this was a really lucky catch.

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These folks invited us over for a drink. Mom’s on the right.

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The world proved itself to be a small place once again; the woman on the far right has a brother who lives in our town. !

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Crane spotting.

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Mom, pulling away from her brother Paul’s house, as he watches from the porch. (Note Gert’s tomato bisque-colored garage door in the side mirror.)

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After she waved, mom noted to me that that might well be the last time she would ever see her brother. What is there to say? Poignant, and quite possibly true.

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Later that night we had one of the best dinners I’ve had in a long time at Mezza Luna in the town of Buzzards Bay. Great music played, the vibe was elegant, the food expertly prepared. Highly recommended by all three of us. Their house clam sauce was spectacular.

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The next morning we set out for home – the long way. This was the house in which my Auntie Helen (mom’s Aunt) lived – in New Bedford, Massachusetts. High class, high style.

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This is the front hall. !

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Mom indicates the large staircase…

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…and Elihu investigates it.

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This was the office of my mother’s uncle, who was a doctor. She remembers getting a vaccination under protest in this room as a young child.

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This is our host (yet another Nancy!) in the grand foyer.

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The new owners have put together a small history of the house and their progress with the restoration.

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As a child, mom used to think these decorations looked like door bells. We all agree. They do.

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How about this garage. Not too shabby, huh?

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Now we’re off to see if we can find Auntie Helen’s summer cottage. But first we’ll have lunch at the harbor.

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We’re eating at Sail Loft, just behind the marina in South Dartmouth, Mass. I’m enjoying the iconic “law-b-stah” roll. I am not kidding when I tell you these were among the very best french fries I have ever had. Really. This place has a cozy vibe, plus live music. I’d go back if I were a local.

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The house on the right at the end of the pier was Auntie Helen’s.

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My son is clearly comfortable here.

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And there’s an osprey nest here too. A little bit of heaven for each of us.

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An ‘almost’ selfie of us on the new pier with the yacht behind.

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As a child I remember walking down this yard and path to the beach.

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Inside Auntie Helen’s old house, Elihu zones right in on the bird art.

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Elihu and Grandma look out over the bay to a view I marveled at as a child.

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We passed a lot of boats and bridges on this trip.

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Now we’re visiting the house mom lived in for her middle school and high school years. She had a lot of happy stories to recall for us as we drove around Fall River. Her bedroom had been upstairs on the left.

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And this enormous structure was where she went to high school.

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On the steps that she once scrubbed with a toothbrush (see the previous post for the backstory on that).

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Durfee High School, Fall River, Massachusetts. Long-time drummer for the band Steppenwolf, Ron Hurst attended Durfy HS too, years ago. The grand building is no longer used a school; it’s a municipal building now.

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Now we’re in Barrington, Rhode Island at mom’s very first home.

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Eighty years ago it was all farm land. The house on the left side of this picture is the same house as in my photo above (sans the addition, which is on the right in the first pic.) Both mom and the current owners knew the family that still lives in the small house on the far right side of this photograph. Mom knew the generation that came before, but still the same family. I thought that was a sweet thing to learn. In this photo it was all wide-open fields and orchards – it looked just like this when mom was Elihu’s age – but now the area is heavily wooded and houses are everywhere.

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Here’s the view of the ocean from the front door. In the old days there was only an orchard of fruit trees between this house and the water.

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One quick stop to get directions…

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…and to smooch a pooch.

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Now it’s goodbye until next time. Thanks, you lovely ocean, you. You feel like home to me.