Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Some years come onto the east slope of the Rockies with a great softening of rain and warmth, so that the leaves unfold with gratitude and the grass leaps up to meet the new calves. This one (2006) is so dry and still so cold that it keeps the ground stony and the chlorophyll unkindled. Maybe it’s better for the births of calves to have plain earth so long as the rancher provides plenty of feed and bedding -- even shelter. One rancher explained how he trucked a length of 4-foot-in-diameter culvert pipe out to the field and heaped it up with manure on both sides, then filled the bottom with straw. He says the calves crowd into it gratefully.

I’m sure it’s warmer than this house when the temps get really low, but in fact we’re teetering back and forth over freezing -- ice, puddle, ice, puddle, ice -- depending on where the sun is shining. When I sit reading, I don’t realize I’m getting hypothermic until I stand up and find myself stiff, a bit confused, surprised when I look for my big thick fleece shirt only to find that I have it on but remain chilled. The cats go out in the stiff dun grass and sit right at the edge of a shadow of a building, as though either the cold were a carpet or the sunshine were a blonde and polished wooden floor, too slick to sit on. I have more rugs than usual on the floor indoors, in case of mud, and they sit on the rugs, but at the edge or, even better, one corner.

That is, Squibbie (the self-appointed sentinel tortoiseshell) moves all day between one edge and another, hoping to be disguised as she scans the long alley to the east, the short (but more trafficked) alley that runs north and south parallel to the lot line. (This lot is at the meeting of a T.) Crackers, the big blonde broad-butted cat with a sinus problem as bad as mine (sometimes I have to stop and listen to figure out who is making that terrible snoring: the cat or me), sleeps all day with her face pressed into the warm electrified bed. She’s more truly crepuscular -- active at dawn and twilight.

We’re having a leash law problem so at every hour I’ll be quietly reading when a cat shoots by and either dives under the bed (Crackers) or leaps to the top of the etagere (Squibbs) with tail expanded but trailing -- not held upright as usual. When I go to look for the intruder, I might find someone’s big fat lab or it might be Caspar, the cat from across the street. Caspar has tended to leave us alone after his winter adventure. He was napping on top of the family’s sporty yellow car, nicely arranged on the sunwarm metal, when the Mom came out and drove to work several blocks away. She wondered what all the laughing and pointing was about -- surely, she had remembered to comb her hair. When she parked, Caspar launched into space and went off like a bottle rocket. Everyone figured the cat was heading home. But it was two weeks before he got there. It was evidently a sobering experience, though some argue that a kind but tyrannous old lady pulled him into her household. If so, she never gave him anything to drink, for his first act on coming home was to rush to the bathroom for his customary source of water.

Aside from cat adventures, this spring is memorable for me in two ways: after a lifetime of being accused of having diabetes, always exonerated when the blood tests showed otherwise, I finally DO have diabetes. Somewhere I had read that when a person reaches the tipping point in their life, they can -- by following all the good health rules -- move back physiologically by ten years. I’m embarked on this and have lost between fifteen and twenty pounds besides slowly gaining stamina by walking. In fact, my body “snapped back” so easily that I can only attribute it to having done all the right things at the same time that I indulged in the wrong things. I ate my cracked wheat mush and THEN scarfed chocolate. Up until my dog-catching years (the Seventies) and the ministry, I was really pretty healthy.

My mother was a farm girl who -- between the Depression and her father’s mismanagement of their prune orchard -- grew up on home fresh eggs, chicken, garden vegetables and -- through the winter rainy winter -- homemade bread with applesauce on it. She thought this was a normal way to eat. Combined with the nutrition lessons promoted by the government during WWII, her standards made her insistent about balanced meals -- NOT hamburgers and milk shakes except when we were traveling.

I have no doubt that this diabetes can be managed, though it seems to take a lot of time and thought.

The other factor this spring is having sold my biography of Bob Scriver. The University of Calgary Press board has voted unanimously to publish “Bronze, Inside and Out.” I’d thought I wouldn’t talk about it until I had signed a letter of agreement, which is what they do instead of a contract, but neither side is waiting around. We’re both at work on the long series of tasks that will produce -- NEXT spring -- an actual book one can put on the shelf. I’m very glad that it’s this particular press and proud that my editor really loves the book for its own sake -- not because she is impressed by Bob Scriver.

But fiscal restraint is the call of the day -- there won’t be money for either of us until the sales begin to roll in. I have no doubt they will, even if by then Bush has brought the world crashing down on our heads. It’s a funny book, a love story in several ways, and a tale of success against all odds. But editing, proofing, and getting permissions is harder than writing.

Truly, this spring is hard. We’re realizing that drought is no longer a matter of a set of bad years from which there is recovery, but is a constant state. Almost everyone by now knows someone who has been killed in Iraq and we are not sure what for. We’re advised to “cowboy up,” but some are becoming a little too armored against loss and disappointment. Old age creeps among my friends and former students, now and then taking one of them off in cold jaws. The Blackfeet obits often attribute the death to diabetes. I yearn for a wood stove, but anyway there’s not a lot to burn on the prairie.

I bought this house almost exactly seven years ago, on the way home from the C.M. Russell Museum Benefit Auction. It was the most reckless and the best thing I ever did. (All gratitude, again, to my mother whose estate made it possible.) It’s the reason I could get the book written, the way I reconnected with the best parts of myself as well as my best friends, and one of the ways I beat off diabetes as long as I did.

It’s a hard spring but the cats and I survive here in slightly more elegant fashion than the calves in their culvert. Quite independent of the temperature, the days are getting longer and the poplars, in spite of twenty-below-zero temps a few weeks ago, are extruding those sexy little purple pollen tassels. Crackers and I will sneeze but then we’ll smile. Squibbie,in the meantime, is watching the geese (who are already pairing up) and thinking about our location on a major migratory flyway. Cats are killed by "bird flu."


Anonymous said...

I love this post.


I've no idea.

I just do.

Dave Lull said...

Hi Mary,

sb's not alone.