What Fresh Hole Is This?

hole By Elizabeth Speth 

Every time Angus, the Jack Russell Terrorist, digs a new hole, I think to myself:  “What fresh hell is visited upon us now?”

Lest you think I am melodramatic, let me explain.  Have the stomach to hear me out, and then ye can judge.

Angus digs several holes — about 36 — a day.  In the nine or so years he’s been with us, that makes… let’s see…. multiply by… carry the four… factor in two leap years… seventy billion holes.

It’s not his fault.  He’s a Jack Russell.  They are known for their frantic energy, their non-stop drive to go, chase, chew, jump, yip, run, bark, dig.  I don’t hold these things against him, although my husband swears he is football-shaped for a reason.

My objection to the holes is based solely on three factors.  Location, location, and location.

I’m talking about the holes in the flower beds.  And the dirt sprayed over the walkways.  I’m talking about the holes in the garden, and the subsequent mass slaughter of innocent herbs and tender radishes.  Holes among the rose bushes.  Holes around the propane tank.  Holes in my neighbor’s yard.  Holes in my neighbor’s garden.

Holes in my indoor plant pots.

There are the holes in the riding arena, where my horses will someday snap a leg if I don’t constantly re-fill them, only to turn around and see that little white tail going mad in a new flurry of flying soil.

We have a lot of pasture, and many are the nights I have heard the horrific clack of my teeth as I suddenly step in one, arms full of hay, because Angus has strategically dug right in my walking path between the gate and the feeders.  Between the gate and the barn.  Between the faucet and the water troughs.  Our pastures are so hole-y they ought to be consecrated.  Filling those holes is about as vain an exercise as picking up horse manure every day, but it still must be done.  One does these things.  One keeps up appearances.

You might be tempted to suggest a dog trainer, or a canine psychotherapist, or a strong sedative.  What we need here, gentle reader, is an exorcist.  I am withholding Angus’ allowance until we can afford one, but in the meantime there are the holes, multitudes of them, each one bringing us several inches closer to hell.

This morning, I caught my wheelbarrow on a new one.  It was hidden under the gate, right where I always pass through, often pushing or pulling a loaded cart, to deliver the horse poop to the compost pile.

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The wheel of the cart plopped right in, my forward momentum was abruptly arrested, and over the cart went, road apples tumbling everywhere, a warm and fragrant bed upon which I landed after several long seconds of undignified struggling against the inevitable fall.

Angus had the grace to look guilty, although he did not offer to help me re-gather my manure.

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“Damn you, Angus,” I said, because no one was around to hear it.

I finished my chores, circumnavigating the hole, and then I went to fetch my shovel to fill it.  Angus ran circles around me as I worked, joyful and energetic, assuming I was having as glorious a time as he so obviously was.  This is why it’s hard to stay mad at Angus.  He is a gleeful dog.

Shovel poised, I approached the gate.  Angus scurried underneath it, as he’s been doing for years, because he’s too impatient to wait for it to open.  I watched him crawl through using the hole like an open tunnel.

I rested the shovel on the ground.  “Come here, Angus,” I said, and he slipped back under, through that perfectly-placed, perfectly-sized hole like a breeze.  He came and sat at my feet.

I took a good, long look at him.  In my mind’s eye, he is still a puppy.  That is because my actual eyes, which will be fifty soon, blur the edges of the everything now.  They still see Angus as a youngster because of his energy and attitude, I guess.  But I did the math right there, and realized he is a middle-aged gent, maybe even a little older than that.

Also, he has gotten stocky, put on a few, as the saying goes.  I hadn’t really seen that before.  I asked him to lie down, then roll over, which he did happily, but was that a little stiffness he struggled against there, getting back up?

“Angus, go back the garden,” I said, and he obliged, flowing like a creamy white rivulet, right back through the hole and under the gate.  I put the shovel away, marveling at the fact that it was entirely possible Angus is taking stock of himself, and coming to some of the same realizations that I must face.

I’m approaching middle age too, and damned if things aren’t starting to widen and stiffen.  Most of my clothing has elastic now.  I need reading glasses.  I use a mounting block to get on a horse, but I don’t intend to stop riding.  Angus needs a hole under the gate, because he does not intend to start waiting for it to open.  We are both trying to maintain a certain standard of living here.

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I have to admire the fact that he assessed a need to adjust his environment to his changing needs, and took care of it.  It made me feel better about myself.  And also a little sad for both of us.

So that one hole can stay.  All future holes will be evaluated in light of this Angus epiphany, but I think it is a safe bet that most will be re-filled.

The horses remained unimpressed when I shared my new insights about our tiny, rough-coated, high-pitched and frenzied friend.  They still find him irritating.  They assure me it will be ever thus.

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Hot, Crowded, Hungry…and Old

By Elizabeth Speth

midlife

Mid-life crisis? What mid-life crisis?

Recently, I had a birthday during an unseasonable wave of heat, against a backdrop of bad news.

Though it was supposed to be spring — the air soft and cool and green with possibility — Mother Nature had careened right past that season, screeching to a halt on a startlingly hot day,  the anniversary of the day of my birth.

Never mind which anniversary.  Suffice it to say I am getting close to the age of measuring in portions of centuries.  In most cultures, that is not something women feel like celebrating.

We become strangers to ourselves.  We grow speckles and spots.  We soften and spread.  We look like our mothers.  The older versions of our mothers.  Men stop behaving with gallantry toward us.  No one looks up when we enter a room, and what we have to say does not seem as riveting as it did when we uttered it through the rosy lips of youth.

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When we are young, our skin fits snugly and our clothing is loose. Now, of course, the opposite is true.

I know that there are three definite, terrifying signs that you are officially old. One is losing your memory.  I can’t recall the other two.

But that wasn’t the only bad news on my birthday.  Something else was dragging me down as I trudged sizzling sidewalks, wiped sweat from my newly creased forehead, wondered if the whole world was having a hot flash, or just me.

I was sluggishly digesting (that’s one more thing that fails with advancing years) a news story about falling rice production in my beloved home state.

California’s recent dry spell, it seems, is expected to have a dramatic effect on rice production.   That is a big deal, and not only because this state supplies virtually all of the nation’s sushi rice.  The other half of our crops are exported.

Economists say that, of all the food crops, rice is likely to be affected by the drought the most, and the California Rice Commission estimates that rice farmers will leave 100,000 acres, or about 20 percent, of their fields fallow.

This of course nudges prices up worldwide.  Which can be a tragedy, depending upon where you live.  For us, rice is a comfort food, a sticky pillow upon which to rest your sashimi.  Something to round out a meal.  But in other cultures, a bowl of rice can make or break your day.  Perhaps that is most of what you will eat in a 24-hour period, and now you can only afford half a bowl.

To complicate matters, with food stores in the pantry beginning to dwindle, a real crowd has just shown up for dinner.

California’s population grew by roughly 332,000 people in the last fiscal year — its biggest increase in nearly a decade, according to new California Department of Finance estimates.The estimated population rose 0.88%, exceeding 38.2 million as of July.

Most of that growth was “natural increase” — births minus deaths (all those young whippersnappers having babies, which used to be my job, minus old people at the end of their lives, which is what I am now).  The rest is immigration.

So let me put all the layers of the birthday cake together for you, so you can see it clearly.  (Hang on.  I will need to find my reading glasses so I can see it too.)

My world was suddenly hot, crowded, and about to be very hungry.

The sky seemed to narrow, its gaze hostile and unwelcoming.

The message I thought I might be hearing was, ‘Shove off, Grandma.  Move over.  Make room.’

In a time of contracting resources, like space and food and familiar climates, shouldn’t we defer to the talent, beauty and energy of youth?  Can we afford the luxury of a vast, aging population, sucking up sustenance and space, reminding us all that the end is coming, and it is wrinkled and grim?

Have I, at my advanced age, over-stayed my welcome?

My youngest child had become a legal adult the week before.  What would I do with myself now?  How would I contribute?  Here I was, your typical old folk, obsessing about  weather and crops and the fact that my joints, like today’s young people, are so darned disrespectful.

It’s enough to make you want to whack someone with your cane.

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As I usually do, I sought refuge and comfort in the gloaming of my horse pasture at evening feeding time.  I took comfort in the fact that I can still, for now, lift a bale of hay, and that I do still serve at least one purpose, even if it is only keeping the herd from starvation.  They need me.

I sat on the edge of a feeder and listed to the rhythmic munching of hay, and watched a feverish, fussy wind harass the tree tops.

I rejoiced as I felt one tiny tendril of cool breeze lift my hair, and then another.

I listened to the birds chirping to each other, telling stories about the day, and it did not sound as though they were complaining.  Small, colorful butterflies ignored the heat as they flirted with each other on the mustard blooms.  They don’t have a lot of time either, in this life, and they were getting on with the business of living.

I became aware of the drone of bees among the blackberry flowers and felt the world — finally, blessedly — expand.  As if drawing a breath.

Without realizing, I exhaled along with it, and the high, hot wind gusts finally quieted as the cooler breezes gathered momentum closer to the ground.

Because I had been thinking about rice all day,  I suddenly remembered something.  I remembered how many things can fit on a single grain of rice.

Grain-of-Rice-Art1Amazing-art-on-rice-grain

I thought:  If you can write entire verses — or faithfully detail the unique features of a human face — on such a small surface, how crowded are we really on this earth?  With the proper perspective, and appropriate tools, a grain of rice is enormous.

I looked around my familiar, large pasture, with its groves of trees, its seasonal ponds.

I thought, well, I have a little room.

I reminded myself that the hot weather I was finding so onerous of course meant the advent of the season of longer days.

That’s a few more hours in the day to get things right.  More time, if you will.

And my age has some benefits.  I can serve as a powerful cautionary tale, at the very least.  A walking, talking essay about things that should be done differently.

I am a living, breathing admonishment to:

— Wear sunscreen.

— Refrain from gluttony, because enough is as good as a feast.

— Live more outside of the comfort zone, even if it’s a bit terrifying, or become merely a collection of habits.

— Travel, or risk a mind that is fused shut.

— Accumulate fewer things.

— Glorify busy-ness less.

— Go ahead and get naked, because it’s only ever going to get worse.

Yeah.  That’s stuff young people aren’t born knowing.  Some unfortunate old person always has to demonstrate it.  I can do that.

Later that week, the oldest trainer in Kentucky Derby history, Art Sherman, 77, won that race handily with his horse California Chrome.  This duo — this perfect balance of very young horse and wise old man — also hails from the state of shrinking rice crops and swelling populations.  That made me feel better.

There was time, maybe, I thought.  Perhaps even for something amazing.

So, even though there is less and less room for me in the world, everyone knows people shrink as they age. I will take up less room. Well, vertically, at least.

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