Background Switcher (Hidden)

A Powerful Trickle

Saturday, December 14, 2019

It was November 18 when I went down to the basement with the intention of getting some of the dozen broken office chairs out of there. The basement was a mess, and I thought that might be a good place to start--get big, easily carried things out so I'd have a little room to move. Our basement has been a miasma of junk for decades. The kind of thing I would close off when people came to visit, except that our guest room was downstairs, so everybody wound up seeing it and probably having to decide whether they liked us anyway. As I bent down to pick one up, I noticed a puddle on the floor. You never want to see a puddle on the floor of your basement. Tracing it back, I found that something in the kitchen plumbing had been leaking down into the basement for some time--perhaps as long as a month. I raced upstairs and found a basin my plumber had put under the water inflow tap when he replaced my faucet in late October. It was level full.  One of the new hoses he'd put in was bad. The undersink area was floating and foul. Everything was wet and it had been coming down the wall and onto the shelves on which Bill had stored many, many boxes of miscellaneous papers that described his high school, college and early work life. So many boxes of papers and photos, and most of them were sopping wet. I knew I had to go through every damn one of them.

This is the kind of thing that will spur even the most work-averse person to action: saturated boxes of stuff. Water and mildew wait for no one. Already it smelled funky. That first afternoon, I waded right in, and six hours later I had gotten the wet stuff pulled over toward the door. It was heavy, it was gross, and it was soul-sucking work. I had to save my paintings, which had been sitting in their boxes on the floor in a puddle of water for I don't know how long. I unwrapped them all, dried them off, and reboxed them. The next day I started early and ended after bedtime, and I got most of that wet wall cleared out and the shelves cleaned.

It was daunting. I took a break for a couple of days so I wouldn't lose my soul. Liam came home for Thanksgiving break. Cooking commenced. I loaded the dishwasher for the first time in months. Turned it on. Unbeknownst to me, water shot out of a huge hole in the dishwasher's drain hose, under the sink, out onto the floor, and right back down into the basement. I figured it out when Liam's feet got wet on the other side of the kitchen. This flood was ten times the size of the last one. I could not catch a break from water. Back downstairs I went, mopping, sopping, pulling stuff out of water, saving what I could, combing through things, laying things out to dry that were precious and still salvageable. Tossing. Tossing. Tossing. 

I became a drone to cleaning. It was all I could think about, all I could do. I knew that I would have to remain in this mindset until that basement was done, cleared out and cleaned. The motivation and mindset might not come around again for another 30 years, so I'd better go with it. The right bay of the garage began to fill up with junk. Ritualistically, I'd load the garden cart and haul it up the hill to the garage. Somehow that felt like getting rid of it, felt right. I was staging it for pickup, and I wanted to make pickup as easy as possible for whomever did it.

90 percent of the stuff I had to get rid of was Bill's. The extent to which he'd accumulated and squirrelled away useless crap became shockingly clear. So many boxes of papers, old love letters; none of them to or from me. Stacks of photos, feet high. Old holey T-shirts. Contractor bag after bag of clothing, bird festival shirts, things that hadn't fit him in years. Boxes to every new thing he had ever bought. Might need to return it. Save the box. Files from his work history, from school back to high school. Broken office chairs (eight!) which, rather than put in the dumpster at work, he. brought. home. and. put. in. our. basement. He didn't announce it, he just did it. He couldn't throw anything out. There were six old suitcases, each one of them, surprise! jammed with mildewed worthless clothing.  Everything he didn't want, he piled in that basement, and he never dealt with it again. When he left to go live down the road in September 2017, he took only the things he wanted--his best guitars and music equipment; his favorite clothes and shoes. The rest he left behind, never to look at it again. The rest was left to me.

This is after countless loads were taken out. I don't have photos of the basement as it was when the flooding started. Who would photograph that?

 For 27 years, I'd lived an upstairs/downstairs kind of life, trying not to see the mess in the basement, even as I kept the upstairs as clean and orderly as I could. For most of our married life, I cleaned religiously, once a week. Friends told me that was too much. I didn't see it that way. I had a job to do. As I worked on the downstairs, picking through Bill's endless crap, I came to the epiphany that this house was a perfect mirror of my parents' home. My mother was a clean freak. My dad was a creative slob. Upstairs was hers; downstairs was his.  Upstairs was warm and clean and cozy with cookies and coffee brewing and two rooms with really nice furniture that nobody much sat on, and a family room where everybody did everything, and a kitchen  always humming with industry. And then there was The Basement. There, DOD had four lathes, any number of antique gasoline engines under re-construction; walls hung with tools; boxes of who knows what...there he did his thing. Ida had to go down there to do our laundry; she had to pick her way through that miasma every day, and she couldn't do a damn thing about it, because it was all HIS.  It drove her absolutely nuts. When I was a kid, I used to wonder why she seemed to be mad at him almost all the time. I have come to the realization that it was likely that mess of a basement and all it symbolized that had her doing a slow burn, one I could smell.

We wind up living our parents' lives. I don't know how we do it, but we do.

Way back on June 15, 2018, after Bill had moved out, but before he got sick,  I got a reading from an intuitive named Ellen Bone. One of the things she said that stuck with me was that my house was upset. She told me houses have souls, and can make their feelings known. I listened, trying to imagine this. She said my house was worried that I wouldn't be able to take care of it, and worried that I was going to leave, too (Bill had been out of the house for nine months by then). Well, at that point I had my doubts as to whether I was going to be able to take care of it, too. Suddenly being charged with doing absolutely everything around here was throwing me for a loop. There was a lot of stuff Bill did that I lacked the skills or know-how to do. He'd stop over and do a few things now and then, but he had his hands full fixing up his house now. I was on my own, and this was a lot of house to handle. I was struggling with the concept of having to hire people to help me. I was overwhelmed.

This reading came back to me as I grunted and lifted and dragged crap out of the basement, mopping the wet floors and sorting through every dumb pointless box, looking for things I shouldn't toss. I thought about how not once, but twice in a row, and in completely unrelated incidents, the house took matters into its own hands, sending cascades of water down onto all the junk that was clogging its ch'i. The flooding, I realized, might have been an act of desperation on the part of a house that had simply had enough of chaos and miasma. Or it might have been chance. Bad hoses. Rotten drain tubes. Whatever. It had happened twice, and why it happened was immaterial. All that mattered was how I reacted to it. This house was calling me to arms, and I had no choice but to sign on for whatever was ahead.

She Shall Be Released!

Friday, December 6, 2019


Liam arrived from Morgantown about dinnertime on Saturday, November 23 for his Thanksgiving break. He had a well-aerated cardboard carrier with him. And in that carrier was precious cargo: the redtail, coming home. All that care and medication and rehab had paid off and she was ready for release! He'd picked her up at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital that afternoon. I couldn't believe how smoothly this was all working out. 

The night turned wet and bone-chillingly cold, with rain changing to wet snow. I was happy that our mighty redtail was in our protected basement and not facing a night like that outside. I'm sure she didn't love being in a box, but I comforted myself by thinking about the 30 days she might spend in springtime, lying over her eggs. She'd be fine overnight, resting on soft toweling. 
Better there than in a freezing rain.

I'd been giving my Jemima book talk to Master Naturalists at the New River Gorge in West Virginia Friday evening. It was a blast. Stayed overnight at Opossum Creek Resort. Saturday morning, I took a last long hike with Curtis along the Fern Creek/Endless Wall trail (fabulous!) and headed home at midday. We hit the grocery store on my 3 hour drive home, and I proceeded to go totally Martha Stewart. Knowing that you're going to release a redtail the next morning is cause for celebration. Saturday evening, I cooked like mad, making kits for a couple of gouda and broccoli quiches, arugula salad and the piece de resistence, a persimmon custard pie. All to be assembled and baked on Release Morning, bright and early. 

I invited a few friends who'd been especially involved in her story. Tanya and Shila, who'd provided moral support. Chris, who drove her to Morgantown, took the first shift carrying her box out to the meadow where she had pinned me down a month earlier.

Liam took over as we neared the hayfield.

He set the carrier down in the middle of the open field. We wanted to give her room to fly, and we wanted to have her in view for as long as possible.
I very carefully opened the carrier, and she sat back and considered her situation for several minutes. 

We were all in a wide circle around her, our iPhone cameras at the ready. 

She didn't like that, so we pulled back a bit more. I used my 300 mm telephoto for these shots. 

Man, she looked beautiful, just ablaze with life. 

I tiptoed closer to check on her and she woke up and began to consider using the sudden space over her head. Shila was lucky to be standing directly in front of her when she finally took off, and professional photographer in her kicked in as she kept the camera rock-steady on the bird flying right at her face. She had set it to slow motion to capture the wing action and the pure magic of something we knew would spool out all too quickly. Well done, Shila!!

My real-time video, which Blogger will not accept, captured our heroine taking umbrage at my quick peek, and getting the heck out of that box, that meadow full of people, the whole scene. She was gone, brother, gone. Strong and beautiful and gone.  

She landed a few hundred yards away, in the woods, and roused her feathers a couple of times. Then she zigzagged gracefully through the trees, turning on her side once to make a narrow passage, and headed for Dean's Fork, where I bet she took a cold soaking bath to clean those soiled feathers. 

We have released the hawk! She lives to fly another day, to eat rabbits and refurbish her nest and raise some more hawks!  We high-fived and smiled fit to split our faces. Now we feast!  She'd been feasting for almost a month; this bird that came in at 2.4 lb. was now tipping the scales at 2.75 lb (1250 gm). Ack. That's a lotta hawk!

We repaired to the warm kitchen, where we filled up on delicious homemade things. It was a fine, fine morning, a great day with good friends. Part of me is still flying with that huge, ornery, gorgeous, terrifying, totally worth it redtail. 

Cue The Roches singing, "Persimmon Custard Pie...." in three part harmony

If you have enjoyed this multi-part story, please send your thanks to the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, a small but mighty clinic in Morgantown, WV, with the best vets and volunteers you could find. They took in more than 400 creatures this season. Jesse Fallon and his devoted volunteers do this on their own time. He's a hard-working small animal veterinarian who cares about all wild things, and knows just what to do to heal them.

Thank you!!!

Testing Her Wings: Redtail Update

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Wildlife rehab, and especially avian rehabilitation, is not just bunnies in baby blankets, though rabbits certainly present their own unique challenges. When you're trying to heal a bird, you've got to make darn sure it's going to be flightworthy before you turn it loose.

By November 17, our barbed-wire redtail was eating voraciously and it looked as though her patagium was healing well. But would she be flightworthy? Jesse was worried about her patagium and especially the area around her wrist, which looked "abnormal," in his words.

There would be only one way to tell if she could fly well enough to be released, and that was creance flying. One person holds the bird, and a second person (Dr. Jesse Fallon) holds a long thin line attached to jesses around its legs. An ACCA volunteer releases the bird, and Jesse hauls ass behind her as she flies, like this:

Oh, that's encouraging! Let's try it again.
No good deed goes unpunished. Jesse finds a hole in the field and goes down like a thrown steer. His heartless writer wife Katie giggles. Just kidding. They're both all heart, and dear friends.

 Having recovered his composure and apparently uninjured by his spectacular fall, Jesse explains about barbed wire injuries, and this bird's injuries in particular.

He said it. The R word. Release!! Readying for release! How do you like that, Formerly Doomed Redtail? I like it very much!

At this point, it seems meet to point out that the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia is always grateful for donations to support the free medical assistance they offer to injured and orphaned wildlife. I wanted you to have a glimpse into what they do to ensure the birds are recovering and flight-ready. It's not just bandaging them up and tossing mice into their cage--it's physical rehab, too!

And for anyone wondering about the legality of taking an Ohio hawk to West Virginia for care, I've cleared it with the Ohio Division of Wildlife Permits Officer to have this bird treated in WV, then returned to Ohio for release. Gotta keep that stuff up front and out in the open. I live two hours from the closest wildlife rehab facility with veterinary staff (Ohio Wildlife Center in Columbus). ACCA is almost three hours from here, near Cheat Lake, WV. It's tough for wildlife rehabbers in my part of Ohio, really tough. Any way you cut it, you're going to kill an entire day transporting the creature. I appreciate these two facilities more than I can say, and I sure wish they weren't two and three hours away. 

[Back to Top]