Thursday, July 01, 2021

Oh, Sh*t It's July

Seems like only yesterday it was June.
We're officially two months from Hawaii.

That's when the dogs, cats, and I board a plane bound for Kona and don't look back. 

Unless, you know, the flight plan calls for a banked turn or two before heading out to sea. In which case I might literally look back. 

Figuratively, though, not looking.

Hang on a sec...{frantically checks "Hawaii Move Timeline" check list}.

"I thought YOU checked the list."
It's fine. Nothing due today.

Missing something on that list has become one of my biggest fears. Because it feels like every line item is completely dependent on every other item, and missing even one of them will cause us to end up floating somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in "Joe Versus the Volcano" but with a shipping container instead of immaculately matched steamer trunks.

The most complicated of the tasks (and the one with the least margin for error) is the paperwork required to bring the dogs and cats with us. It's almost as if Hawaii doesn't want people importing animals from out of state—so they demand a portfolio of paper and a stack of cash to test their resolve.

Never did a welcoming sign
feel quite so ominous.
Do everything right, and we get to take our creatures home with us from the airport. Do something wrong, and (here's what keeps me up at night) "...the law requires dogs and cats that do not meet all of the specific requirements to be quarantined for up to 120 days upon arrival in Hawaii."

{frantically checks list for the 57th time}

Breathing...we're's fine.

To be fair, the state has some very good reasons for its stringent policies. The most important of which is that Hawaii is rabies-free—and they want to keep it that way. Shoot, we want them to keep it that way. I'd just prefer not to be made to feel quite so jittery about it for the next two months.

Fortunately, we have a very kind and competent veterinarian helping us through this process—line by line, form by form, test by test. I really don't know what we'd do without her. Besides lose more sleep, obviously.

Two months. Sixty days. In some ways, it still feels a long way off.

In others, it feels like the plane is at the gate, waiting. 

{frantically checks list again}

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Five Little Dominoes

Our flock is smaller today.

Clem, Edie, and Viv
Because yesterday we re-homed Clementine, Edie, Mathilda, Scarlett, and Vivian. 

For a variety of reasons (risks to their health and safety chief among them) we decided against taking them with us to the Big Island. 

Instead, we sent them off with friends who we know will care for them with the same devotion we have.

That doesn't make it any less of a gut punch.

This morning's coyote patrol was quiet. Not just because the coyote was a no-show (thankfully), but also because the energy out back was...subdued. I'm probably projecting, but it felt like our seven remaining girls noticed how different things suddenly are.

Scarlett says 'Hi'
(among many other things)
There was a time when Mathilda and Scarlett were the only survivors of a dog attack that took three of our girls.

From that low point, our flock eventually grew to 14—before a hawk killed Gracie and a coyote took Alice. We grieved every loss, and were aggrieved by our inability to protect them. 

Which is why sending them away is so fraught with regret.

A couple years ago I would have been mystified by my attachment to these gals. If today-me could time-travel to explain it to past-me, the conversation would no doubt be schmaltzy—and unconvincing.

Mathilda, the world's
smallest Jersey Giant
I'd probably say I was surprised to learn that chickens have such unique personalities. That they're funny and social and like to hang out with their people. That from the start, you find yourself talking to them like they're a dog or cat. And that you end up loving them the same way.

Then I'd probably trail off like, "You know what I'm saying?" And past-me wouldn't know. At all. In fact, he'd probably look at me like I was nuts. At which point, I'd give him a little smile and say, "You're gonna have to trust me on this one, dude."

By mid-July, most likely, the rest of the girls will be off to their new home. We will miss the daily chick chats, the comforting routine of tending to them, even the steady undercurrent of worry about predators.

It's the price we pay for caring about living creatures—especially the ones we're responsible for.

We know, logically, we're doing the right thing for them. But logic will be cold comfort when the yard goes quiet. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Toppling Dominoes

I finally see the dawn arriving
I see beyond the road I'm driving
Far away and left behind, left behind

Oh, the sun is shining
And I'm on that road

Don't look back
A new day is breaking
It's been so long since I felt this way
I don't mind where I get taken
The road is calling, today is the day

—Don't Look Back, Tom Scholz
The dominoes are falling.

The first was yesterday, when a nice lady driving a large truck dropped a 20-foot shipping container on our driveway.

Dropped is the wrong word, considering how gently and quietly she set it down. "You're awesome!" I said with sincere admiration. She seemed taken aback by the compliment. "Thanks, hon!"

Then, off she rolled, leaving me to circle the container in all its actual and figurative enormity. It took me a minute to figure out how to open the doors. Turns out it wasn't because I was doing it wrong—it was because the latches were like the hinges on an ancient crypt. Squealing, corroded, and barely functional. Life at sea takes a toll, I guess.

After some effort the doors swung open, and I was surprised by the cavernous interior. "This thing will hold a lot," I thought (probably incorrectly). This assumes we can overcome the fact that the floor of the container is nearly five feet off the ground. It may seem like there are several obvious solutions for lifting heavy objects to that height, but so far we're stuck on an electric "stair-climbing dolly" and a 14-foot ramp.
Day 2

The electric dolly—specifically recommended by an equipment rental company for loading a shipping container—was useless. It weighed a metric ton and didn't extend high enough to reach the floor of the container.
"The old-fashioned way"

We used it the old-fashioned way to load three heavy pieces and then set it aside for the day.

The non-electric ramp, on the other hand, was simple and humble and effective. At 14 feet it created a steep climb into the container, but that just meant we got a better workout.
Day 3

So many trips up and down stairs. Carrying so many heavy things. The ramp, while indispensable, mocked us with its indifferent steepness. 

Sidebar: what kind of people allow their home to be overrun with so many things they don't need? Clothes, shoes, furniture, electronics, outdoor gear, cookware...

Us—we're those kind of people. So embarrassing.

Also, dust. Dear god, the dust.
Day 4

Woke up with a very stiff neck. Decided to take a couple naproxen and go back to bed for a couple hours.

Hahaha! "Go back to bed for a couple hours." Good one. All kinds of time for THAT today. 

Rolled out at 5:30 a.m., walked and fed the dogs, put some peanuts out for the crows, brewed up a quadruple espresso, drank it while on coyote patrol with the hens. Came back in, cleaned the cat box, took out trash and recyclables. Cleaned up last night's dishes, heated up some leftovers for breakfast, cleaned up breakfast dishes.
It actually does hold a lot.

Wrested open container doors, noted there was room for more stuff. Too much room. The thing about a seagoing container, we feared, is that waves would toss our belongings from one end of the space to the other. We eyeballed every unfilled cranny and obsessively stuffed it with stuff (some of which hadn't seen the light of day for years).

Late in the day, we suffered our first furniture fatality. An ornately carved wooden bar stool that had survived multiple moves fell from the container to the driveway below. 

Okay, it didn't just fall, it was bumped by someone. Okay, it was me. I bumped it. The sound it made on impact will stay with me forever. You can't un-hear something like that. I am grateful, though, that it was the bar stool making that sound and not one of us.
Day 5

The container is full. 

It now holds much of the chaos that casually overtook our home for the past several months.

The house is still a disaster...but it's a much less cluttered disaster. That stands to be a key selling point when the time comes to put it on the market. "Lots of space for your own clutter once the current owners clear out all their junk!"

In a couple hours the nice lady will be back to retrieve our container and deliver it to Tacoma. On Saturday it'll be loaded on a big boat and set sail for Hilo. Ten days after that I'll fly over to meet it and repeat the process in reverse. Because learning from mistakes is not something we do.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Checks and Balances

It's finally warm enough, the past couple days, to throw open our doors and windows.

The dogs wander out to sun themselves on the deck, and occasionally I'm drawn out as well by the sound of happy chickens, chattering about whatever chickens chat about.

Looking out over newly leafed and flowering trees, I'm suddenly reminded that this is likely the last time we will watch a Pacific Northwest winter slowly give way to spring. It makes me—not sad, exactly, but...wistful?—in much the same way I feel near the end of a really good book. 

I want to finish it, but I don't want it to end.
The planning for our Hawaii move has kicked up several notches. We have an actual timeline now, and are several steps closer to putting our belongings on a ship headed for Hilo.

The to-do list is daunting, but green check marks have appeared by the first few tasks.
  • Get estimates for two 20-foot containers? Check.
  • Schedule dogs and cats for vaccinations and boosters? Check.
  • Assemble reams of veterinary paperwork as required by the state of Hawaii? Uh, half-a-check.
  • Find homes for our much-loved hens? Half-a-check and a full broken-heart emoji.
The list goes on.
  • First Pfizer vaccination. Check.
  • Google "used pickup trucks". Dozens of checks.
  • Research portable generators. Check.
  • Learn about installing solar panels. Half-a-check.
The further down the list we go, the more complex the tasks become. Each has its own sub-tasks, dependencies, and critical timing. Even so...
  • Learn project management software? Hahaha! No check, ever.
Our little family has up and moved so many times—Phoenix to Seattle to San Francisco to St. Paul to Raleigh—and back to Seattle. Often chasing jobs in lieu of peace of mind. In retrospect, that may have been misguided.

There were multiple sub-moves associated with each of those stops, a dizzying array of apartments and townhomes and houses. We're up to 14 of those, by my count, but there's a real possibility I'm forgetting one or two.

So, either we really enjoy putting our things on moving trucks...or, like our ancestors, we felt the ancient drive to migrate with the change of the seasons.

It's fitting, then, that we're heading to a place that has one season, more or less, year round. And that we're no longer chasing jobs, but meaningful, gratifying work and...quietude.
Wherever we've gone, there's always been an undercurrent of anticipation and adventure. To see new places, and meet people whose lives and experiences were different than ours. To learn from them and adapt ourselves accordingly.

That's true this time, and then some.

Singing Whale Farm is far enough from tourist hubs to be considered "country." Friending the neighbors will be less about social media and more about being kind to their cows.

Where once we took every convenience for granted, we'll now be a lot more mindful about where those conveniences come from, how far they traveled to get to us, and whether we can still feel good about choosing them.

Our little adventure in agriculture will embrace agritourism and hands-on education for local teachers and students. We'll talk about things like sustainable farming; biodiversity; and creating inclusive spaces for people and animals alike.

We're not silly enough to think we'll be changing the world. But we are silly enough to dream we might inspire someone who will.
"To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time."
—Leonard Bernstein

Friday, February 26, 2021

Conflict of Interest

Object is closer than it appears.

I hate carnivores.


[SFX: audible sigh] 

Okay, that's not true. I don't hate carnivores.

IN FACT: during the wildlife documentaries where the relentless wolf chases the cute, innocent widdle bunny wabbit...I'm the guy cheering for the wolf.

Lions and tigers and bears gotta make a living, ya know.

[SFX: angry, conflicted muttering]


No, our LITERAL back yard, where our chickens live and recently have been stalked by coyotes and hawks.

The hawks have vexed us for a while now, TBH, but the coyotes are new. And frankly it's wracking my nerves. Every time a crow caws out back (crows are amazing first-alert alarms) I rush to the window at defcon 1.

"Let's see if this gate opens!"
If it's a hawk in the tree above the yard, I hustle out to the deck to fling pine cones and epithets until it gets bored and flies off.

If it's a coyote outside the fenceline, I fly madly down the stairs, grabbing a big stick on the way out the door. I've actually had to charge the fence, shouting and banging the fence posts before the critter will retreat. 

Would I take a home run swing at a coyote's backside if I got the chance? Why yes, yes I would. We sincerely love the urban wildlife—but we love our hens more. Sorry, not sorry.

[SFX: audible sigh]

Thankfully, urban coyotes are way too smart to stand around waiting to be whacked by soft-walkers carrying big sticks.
It turns out urban carnivores are *everywhere* in metro Seattle. There's an online tracker that aggregates reported sightings of black bears, bobcats, mountain lions, opossums, raccoons, red foxes, and [checks notes] river otters? 

See the swarms of yellow dots? Coyotes. See the red circle? Our neighborhood. And these are just the sightings that have been reported. Frankly, I don't know how any of us have survived as long as we have.
"Look, I'm telling you, there's something moving 
and it ain't us! Tracker's off the scale, man.
They're all around us, man. Jesus!"
It's been a few days now since the last coyote incursion. We don't know if our "coyote hazing" measures worked, if they found easier prey elsewhere, or if they'll be back when the mood strikes them. Living creatures are unpredictable.

What we DO know is that there are no villains in the wildlife food chain. They're all just doing their best to survive, and some of them are better at it than others. We can't hold that against them.

Our inclination will always be to live and let live—us on our side of the fence, them on theirs.

[contemplative pause]

I'm not getting rid of the big stick, tho.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Urban Direwolf

"Round he throws his baleful eyes
That witnessed huge affliction and dismay"
—Milton, Paradise Lost

"Normal life in an abnormal time tends to become abnormal."

—Newton's First Law of WTF
CASE IN POINT: coyotes in our neighborhood.

We'd heard the rumors, but we hadn't seen the real articles.

Until oh-dark-thirty this morning.

The dogs and I always get out early. It's just easier that way, since the three of them are disorderly in the best of circumstances, and the one of me is barely able to contain their nonsense.

TODAY three runners ran by us, and were flagged down by a passing car. I couldn't hear the conversation, but I imagined it had something to do with their running in the road in the dark.

Nope. The same car pulled up next to us and the driver hollered, "I just passed two coyotes. Not sure if they'll attack dogs or people."
Me: "How far up?"
Him: "Just by the entrance to the park."
Me: "Okay, thanks for the tip!"

As a result of that conversation, did I expect to see coyotes? I did not. Because though we'd heard multiple, credible reports of their presence in the past few weeks, I HAD NOT PERSONALLY SEEN ONE...therefore they couldn't possible exist.

Besides, THE park in our neighborhood is Discovery Park, the closest entrance to which was nearly two miles away. Dude MAY have seen coyotes up there, but we were down here, and never the twain shall meet.

HAHA. I'm an idiot.

Not just because coyotes travel, but because there was another small park (more of a scenic overlook, really) about 150 yards up the hill from where we were.

Toward which we kept walking, ignorant, blissful, oblivious.

The time between the friendly warning and the coyote encounter was brief. Three or four minutes, tops. I saw it first, which is inexplicable since there are no streetlights on that stretch of road, and it's still quite dark here at 5:45 a.m. PLUS I was traveling with three dogs, one of which is supposed to be an LGD (which stands for "livestock guardian dog"). But I'm the one who spots the direwolf in the dark??

Not cool, dogs. Not cool at all.
Representative coyote.
Actual coyote may vary.

I turned on my headlamp and pointed it {gestures over there in the underbrush}. The coyote froze, its eyes shining back at us...and THAT'S when the LGD barked.

Fortunately, when a Great Pyrenees barks, people (and other creatures) listen. The coyote turned and bolted up the hill, whilst I wrangled the dogs back down the hill. No need for an early morning confrontation with the local wildlife after all, wot?

Was I remembering the guy distinctly said, "two coyotes"? I WAS.
Did I continue looking back over my shoulder whilst we hustled away? I DID.

The rest of the walk was boring. Standard dog hijinx. We get that here every day. {sighs}

Back home, we had barely gotten in the door and I could already hear our chickens fussing out back.

"Two urban coyotes walk into an urban chicken farm, and the first one says {nothing because coyotes don't talk with their mouths full}."

UPDATE: The chickens are fine.

So far.

But I'm confident that will not remain the case if the coyotes get a craving for poultry cacciatore.

Saturday, January 09, 2021


The thing I notice most is the quiet. 

Sitting here on the back porch, looking across farm fields and ranch land, there is sound, of course. But it's of a kind that soothes rather than rattles. Cows lowing, sheep baa-ing, birds chirping and cooing and crowing. 

What's missing, but not missed, is the constant jangle of human sound. It's not entirely absent, but it is gracefully subdued and intermittent. A far-off tractor working a field. A car slowly rolling by on a one-lane road half-a-mile down the hill. A plane 30,000 feet above.

As I sit here, no actual humans are in sight. Cows, goats, doves and cardinals are accounted for—as are a couple of romping dogs and what I assume is an 'io, the native Hawaiian hawk. Whatever sound it might be making is carried away by the wind. 

After a while, a horse and rider appear, ambling along the road below. They're in no hurry, maybe just soaking up some mid-morning sun.

A bit later, several geese complain loudly about something unseen. I look up to see four of them, in a row, hurrying up the road—cheerfully chased by a young boy.

Further down the slope, the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean stretches to the horizon. If you were to sail north from here, on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, your next stop would be Alaska—with nothing but water in between.
This low, agrarian hum is a welcome change from our urban soundtrack. 

Dogs barking outdoors, at a distance, blend into the background. Dogs barking indoors, at close range, are akin to sudden jackhammering in a library.

A tractor rumbling through a far-off field is pastoral. A police car speeding by with sirens blaring is like a tractor rumbling through the living room.

A tiny baby goat carried by a young girl in the local grocery store is endearing and adorable. A tiny baby goat carried by a young girl at an urban Whole Foods is...okay, that's still endearing and adorable. Never mind.
It's amazing how quickly and completely my routine has changed in the few days I've been here. I'm eating better, exercising more, and deep-breathing without having to remind myself to take a damn breath.

We're still months away from moving here full time, but I expect this pattern to hold when we do.

I'm heading back to Seattle soon. 

I'll be taking as much of the quiet with me as I can.