What I said in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin last week:
The afternoon is chilly, verging on frosty. I’ll leave work soon and head home to cook dinner. On the menu are sauteed mushrooms, mashed cauliflower — my latest drug of choice — and a green salad.
And there will be steak, meat that’s been soaking in secret sauce for the day. I’ll sizzle it in a little olive oil and a dash of this and that, plate it up piping hot.
Pardon me as I wipe drool off my lower lip.
Since Camo Man and I became a family, we get protein for our tribe in several ways. We buy a 4-H pig in the spring, pleased a local kid raised the animal right here in our Valley. Those youngsters fill feeders and waterers, and muck out pens for weeks so their little piggy can go to market. In turn, young farmers use their profit to pay for college, a first car, next year’s pig.
We get excellent product while lending a helping hand to an upcoming generation. That’s called gravy.
Sometimes we buy poultry from the store, ignoring the horror stories of chicken abuse and disease laid like rotten eggs through the media. We have no defense for our irresponsible poultry consumption other than roasted chicken makes our mouths water.
We fish from Uncle Jerry’s pond for deliciously tender trout. From the same 600 Dayton acres we are generously gifted with lovely beef by Uncle Jerry.
Steaks, burger and more from free-range, grass-fed, hormone-free, happy cows that haven’t stood in their own manure for months as they wait for death.
If you’re a practicing vegetarian, you have a right to wince and turn away. But if you eat meat of any kind, it’s difficult to avoid the distasteful truth. In society’s demand for cheaper and more food, we’ve moved farther away from understanding how the animals we eat come to us. Chickens squashed into tiny cages in the dark for their short lives. Pigs raised to 250 pounds in less than 8 square feet of space.
The exhausted cattle fatted up on subsidized corn and wheat — so foreign to their digestive systems — to add fatty weight.
Just so we can have burgers on the grill when we want them.
It’s a little crazy-making some days.
Moving on, there’s also hunting for our brood. Camo Man hunts deer and elk every year to fill our freezer. He practices the creed of worthy hunters everywhere: Take care of the land you hunt on; pay for the conservation of wildlife and public lands through hunting fees; and eat what you kill. He provides well for our family this way.
Except … not this year. Please excuse me while a belly laugh rolls up my chest and bursts forth in joyous guffaws from having excellent bragging rights over my husband.
The idea of hunting once made me queasy. Couldn’t bear the vision of violence or thoughts of rifles in my house. And all that camouflage-and-testosterone crap? Please. Get a real job.
That was before I began learning where the problem with meat really lies. After watching documentaries and voraciously reading about the subject, the thought of an animal born into and living in freedom, eating the food God intended for the species, undergoing no injections for anything until its last breath was far easier to stomach than the alternative.
Still, I wasn’t jumping up and down to be the one bringing home the bacon. Watching Camo Man layer up and lade himself with gear to spend hours in the wet and cold made me all too happy to stay behind with book, heater and hot coffee.
This fall I was informed I would be obtaining a hunting license and a “tag” for elk. Meaning I was giving the government money for the privilege of a big, fat failure. For starters, I had never once managed to spot an elk on my own — how could I hope to bag an animal for our family?
Nonetheless I practiced with “my” rifle and loaded the RV with coffee accouterments, movies and fuzzy blankets. At the least, I figured, hunting would take me away from housework for a weekend and give me a date with a book I wanted to read. And I didn’t need to worry, since Camo Man would take care of getting elk in the first hunting season the weekend before.
That said, guess what happened? The man whose image is in the dictionary under “hunter” did not, actually, get an elk this year. He’ll tell you he was busy helping a grandson with his hunt, but you believe what you want. I do. Thus the pressure was on.
Not that we really expected I would do this thing. I might shoot the gravel out of a boulder at 200 yards standing still, but hone in on a moving animal while hoisting a big ol’ .270 short mag? Right.
Yet there I was in early November, shivering on one ridge of the Blue Mountains while waiting for enough light to see over to another. My husband, acting as expert guide, had four-wheeled us close, and we hiked the rest of the way in.
He whispered, “Sit right here. Get your gun ready.”
Say what? This ground was cold and damp. I was bundled up like Randy in “Christmas Story,” but I didn’t feel particularly waterproof.
But I sat as instructed, scooched when my guide tilted his head to the left, raised my binoculars to stare at the land, praying I would be able to recognize an animal.
Up out of the bottom came a herd, slowly, eating a breakfast of moss, grass and twigs. My tag was for a “spike” elk, meaning a young male in his second year. This herd, however, consisted of a beautifully blond older bull with “branch” antlers and a posse of cows. I watched in awe as the group moved like a majestic blanket of muscle and grace up the ridge.
Camo Man and I absorbed for a bit in reverent silence. It looked, however, like we’d need to move along and search elsewhere. My guide was ready to get to his feet when I whispered as loud as I dared — “Look! Right there! Coming through those two trees RIGHT THERE! Do you see it?”
Another elk the color of wheat had emerged from the forest. It seemed to be a loner, unconcerned with catching up to the others. There, through the binoculars, was the glint of horn we were waiting for.
Despite Camo Man’s frenzied urging in sotto voce, I prepared like I was going on stage. I lowered my face to the gun’s scope, lining up the cross hairs like I was moving underwater. I knew two things: There would be no end to the teasing if I missed, and it was my duty to spare this fine animal unnecessary pain.
On what seemed the perfect spot, I froze for a microsecond, wondering if the gun’s kick was going to pay me back for what I was about to do. Then Camo Man’s ongoing training kicked in and I squeezed the trigger.
The first bullet went into the lung, we would learn later. My second and third shots went home, as well, before the elk buckled and rolled to his death. Just as my own legs turned to jelly.
Like hunters before me, I thanked the Creator for giving me this animal to feed our family. Then I turned to my guide and planted sloppy kisses on his smiling lips.
Almost immediately I felt my head begin to swell. “Well,” I said, my delight rising like helium, “it’s a good thing I’m able to provide for our kids.”
Yeah, that hasn’t really stopped, either. I love to hear my man on the phone, telling others of my hunt with notes of pride beneath bemoaning his own bad luck. He tells me “shaddup” with a huge grin, tipping me off that he’s as surprised as me this came to pass.
And, perhaps most importantly, I finally “get” hunting. I understand the faraway look in Camo Man’s eyes when he talks with other hunters — he’s viewing distant ridges and roads as he considers what course to take next year. I see why those white-paper packages in the freezer are such a gift to our family’s health. It’s hard work getting a 250-pound elk from mountain to table, all done by our own hands.
Tonight we’ll taste the bounty from the land. I may wish, for a second, that I didn’t like meat so much. But I do, and I’ll tuck in just like everyone else. Then I’ll raise my head, smile at my husband and ask those at the table, “Hey, how does the elk taste this year? The one Mom got?”
What I said in the newspaper last week:
Readers, do you know what time it is? It’s time for another chat with eldest daughter, known best as MacMama.
Me: In June, the MacFamily departed Seattle, finding the grass was definitely not greener on the wetter side of the fence.
They journeyed back to their beloved Portland, where numerous grandmothers converged on grandboy Macalicious with open arms and a new job waited for my son-in-law, MacDaddy.
MacMama: Then came the frustrating house hunt. And let’s not mention the three-month renovation that tested our wallets, our energy and our sanity much more than we would have preferred.
Me: So we were headed west to lend a day of labor to renovating the sweet 1922 bungalow. I planned to paint while Camo Man wrestled with a dryer and the little sisters filled in everywhere. It was important to help, we felt, because MacMama was newly pregnant. I wanted her breathing the least paint fumes possible and the new house is — how shall I put this — stinkin’ huge.
Plus, the first ultrasound of the pregnancy was planned for that morning. I couldn’t wait to talk about it in person.
We were still loading the car, however, when my daughter called …
MacMama: MacDaddy and I expected nothing less than a calm, easy second pregnancy after our first had been relatively comfortable. Naturally, I was champing at the bit for that first six-week ultrasound, where we would hopefully see the miraculous little flicker of a heartbeat and check that all was well with that little pink tendril of baby-to-be.
Lying on the ultrasound table, however, was a worrying experience this time around. The doctor frowned slightly.
“There’s some shadowing here,” she informed us. “I can’t see the sac well. You’ll have to go down to radiology later today.”
MacDaddy and I were gripped with fear. What if there was something wrong? What if something terrible had happened to this little seed of ours?
Me: Hang on here.
MacMama: When we made it to our date with the super high-tech ultrasound machine, we got our answer. That shadow?
It was a second embryo, nestled cozy against its sibling.
“Two? Are you sure?” we gasped, and when the tech nodded and smiled, we started a string of nervous giggles lasting for hours. All day long we just looked at each other — how could this be reality?
Me: Here’s how the phone convo went down on my end. MacMama said, “I have some news to tell you when you get here.”
I said, “Tell me now.”
She said, “No.”
I said, “What if I die in a car accident on the highway?”
She said, “Fine! We have news from the ultrasound.”
I said, “Like what? Like you’re having twins?”
She said “Yes!”
And there was the sound of loud and prolonged “squee-ing” on both sides of Oregon. When I stopped to take a breath, I reminded MacMama of the tradition of twins in the family, from her cousins to her own sisters. The fun part is when people ask MacDaddy if twins run in his family, as well.
“No,” he replies.
“They do now!” we all shout with glee.
MacMama: Despite all the excitement and joy over the thought of welcoming two new babies into our home this spring, the news has brought its challenges as well. Here we were, smugly assuming we had nearly all the things we’d need for our second baby. I also expected that my first trimester would be peppered with the occasional afternoon nap, cravings for salsa and lots of beaming — just like last time.
Instead it’s been a rough ride of nausea, utter exhaustion and back pain. The thought of caring for a 2-year-old as well as two newborns strikes terror in my heart. The warnings about prematurity and drinking gallons of water, as well as a thousand other special “twin” fears, nag at the corners of my mind.
Me: The only thing I can do is pray and make shopping lists in my head. Oh, yes, and dig up all the past twinisms I was so fond of, such as twinions, twinsters, twinnies.
“Gross,” she tells me.
MacMama: So far the twins are healthy, active little people. At our last ultrasound, one was prodding the other to wake up and wiggle with his teeny tiny feet. So I hold on to that and avoid Internet horror stories when I can. Maybe I should be more worried about my new moniker. MacMama just isn’t going to do anymore.
Me: Right! And that is where you come in, readers! We are opening the polls to choose from three possibilities:
3: TripleThreatMama (which will be long to type out, Just sayin’.)
4: Your own idea goes here. None of mine exactly sing.
Email your answer to me at the address below. And then figure out what we’re going to do about “MacFamily.” For the record, I am never changing MacDaddy. Because who would?
Hey, Tech Boy,
I know you haven’t known me very long. And we hardly ever see each other.
But, somehow, we have this certain connection between us. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, because I love it.
Tonight we are having a little birthday party for you. You already know that. You might even know I’ve purchased party hats and those annoying blow thingies that curl out with a scream.
What you don’t know is that this isn’t your real party. Nope.
The one I wanted to give you was to celebrate you finishing high school some 17 years or so after the fact. That idea came about when we were planning the graduation bash for Martha Stewart, Jr. this past spring.
Your dad phffted and poo-pood the fuss, insisting he’d never seen so much preparation for a kid’s gathering.
Unfortunately for his neck, it got chopped by my whirling madly around to assure him he was badly mistaken. “This is the way it is in Milton-Freewater for high school graduation! Everyone who has been part of her life will be there!” I roared, unscrunching lime green paper lanterns. “Didn’t you do this when your kids graduated?”
His face, still somehow attached to his body even as his neck had been verbally severed, gave me the answer.
You got no party, Son, even though you ran the course.
I get it. This sort of celebration was not “a thing” when my oldest graduated in that same era. But I was still sad for you and I vowed to give you one. Late, but with fresh enthusiasm.
Then things didn’t go so hot this summer. You already know that. I had not one ounce of extra energy to muster, and my grand vision of a surprise graduation party fizzled.
Now you’ve missed out twice, just so you know.
Instead we’re having something else. A birthday party, and I know you’ve had birthday parties before. I know your bride loves birthday parties and she has surely hosted one for you. Your mom must have, as well.
I’m not your mom, of course. But I wanted you to know that when I call you “Son,” I mean it. So I’m going to buy a cake and napkins and party favors. We’re going to eat pizza and wings and ignore calories and carbs.
You have graduated into my heart, after all, into my picture of family.
I guess this is kind of a graduation party!
What I said in the newspaper last week:
Plight of Red Dog drives would-be rescuer ‘crazy’
Polly called. She rarely does, so when it happens, I listen.
She hated to ask a favor, she said, but there’s a dog in trouble, and could I help?
“I’ve tried everything I can think of. Maybe you can get the word out.”
You remember my childhood friend Polly? Right, the one who became my roommate when we both left home in our senior year of high school. Not because we needed to rebel, but because we both needed to live with someone who wasn’t angry about our very existence.
Polly has always had a heart for the underdog, despite being an underdog her entire childhood as she struggled to survive under a reign of terror by her stepmother.
There, I’ve said it. No sugar coating is thick enough to disguise that truth.
As an adult, that translated into a mission to do everything she could for animals. There was no such thing as an unwanted kitten in her eyes, just cats who needed Polly.
Meaning she became a crazy cat lady. For the 20 years I was gone from the Valley, I could count on her house being decorated in the same style every time on my visits home — scratching posts and couch covers everywhere. Nothing was in the house that didn’t meet Polly’s strict safety standards for her fuzzy babies.
One day my former roommate married a very nice man who loves her for exactly who she is. But that did not mean Pete wanted to forever live in a world filled with cat hair floating by his face. The two reached an agreement: After Polly’s seven cats (down from a number I can’t even make myself type out) went to Kitty Heaven in natural course, there would be no more adoptions.
How could that man realize what that ultimately would mean? Yes, my friend became the crazy dog lady, becoming mother to three Australian shepherds, with Pete at her side. The dogs’ vet bills mimicked the national debt at times as Polly cared for her pets from cradle to grave over 16 years.
And the world could use a lot more Pollys, I believe. Judge for yourself.
It started in April, she told me. A lady stopped at Hat Rock State Park near Hermiston to feed her kids a picnic lunch. Two dogs approached the family, obviously hungry, Polly said.
“They would come close and she could pet them, but she couldn’t get a leash on them.”
Enter Hermiston volunteer animal rescue group Pet Saverz. Made up of four dedicated souls with no funding base or facility, they do the best they can, Pet Saverz member Sharon Mckim assured me. A week or so after Pet Saverz found out about the dogs, Mckim and the others managed to nab one out of the park.
Guess who took the pup in? Correct.
Polly named him Gulliver, for his travail of travels, and set to healing the 2-year-old Australian shepherd from the kind of trauma and terror that caused the dog to curl into a fetal position and urinate as soon as he spied Polly’s husband.
“It’s so obvious he was terribly abused,” she said. “It was weeks before he would let Pete touch him.”
It was days before Gulliver would eat, and six weeks before he would eat out of the hand that fed him.
There was no sign of aggression, however, and when Polly spent more than two hours picking off 100 or so ticks from Gulliver’s body, he sat still in a tub the entire time, too scared to move.
“Any sudden movement and he would drop to the ground trembling,” she said. “I cried so much for that poor dog.”
But at least he was caught, rescued, Polly said. “He has the happiest ending.”
Made more so by the nearly $800 Polly spent on food, veterinarian care, medicine and ads trying to find Gulliver the best home. Which came 10 weeks later by way of a woman near Seattle who fit Polly’s stringent criteria. Pete and Polly have made one visit to Gulliver’s new home and plan another.
Gulliver’s brother, or traveling companion, remains elusive to all who try to bring him in. Polly has dubbed him “Red Dog,” and she cannot stop thinking about the boy. People still spot him at Hat Rock as he strolls through the campground — sometimes within feet of outstretched hands, never accepting any offers.
Now it’s getting cold, and Red Dog has been reported as walking with some difficulty, Polly said. “I don’t know if he has puncture vine or cheat grass in his paw.”
Aussies are a very smart breed, Polly said, and don’t easily fall for tricks. “That’s part of the problem with Red Dog — he’s learned to stay away from people.”
If she could just find out if someone’s feeding the animal, that would be incredibly helpful, she added.
Polly has called around, trying to borrow a tranquilizer gun (I told you she’s crazy) and hire the expertise needed to dart Red Dog and bring him in.
“I would pay whatever it took. Fish and Wildlife has a gun, but he’s not ‘wildlife,’” she explained.
So here’s me, talking to all of you. For my crazy friend Polly, best friend to animals everywhere. She is well aware I write for a Walla Walla newspaper, she promised me.
“But someone will post it on Facebook and someone will share that and someone by Hermiston will read it. You never know.”
Truth. You never do. Call Polly at 509-529-1388.