I could tell when the weather starts to warm up here on Cinnamon Ridge even if I were blindfolded. During the months when the ground is buried under several feet of snow and we get more on a regular basis, silence envelops the house at times. We live in the middle of 160 acres in a house surrounded by untouched pine forests, so there are no road or neighborhood noises. Sometimes the snow is so deep we literally can’t see out some of the windows, but that doesn’t happen often.
On winter mornings when I awaken, the first thing I hear is the silence. It’s almost a living presence, slightly unearthly and all-pervading. The light filtering through our blinds has a strange pure quality that I’ve observed only when there is snow on the ground and the sun is out. That silence means winter, snow, sleeping flowers and hibernating wildlife.
In the spring, though, I’m often awakened by a racket, both without and within. The woods come alive with bird sounds, dominated by the raucous screeches of Steller’s Jays as they compete with squirrels for pine cones and all feathered comers for seeds, berries, and droppings from the feeding station we maintain for the deer. Several of the bolder jays, whom I suspect were born close to the house in earlier years, perch on the deck railings and carry on long, intense conversations with Saffron, my canary. Saffron, I suspect, is quizzing the jays on whether they’ve spotted the little greenish hen bird he fell in love with a couple of years back. We haven’t seen her yet this year. The jays hold their early morning chats fifteen feet from our bedroom window, and when Saffron joins in, the noise level is such that it would be stretching a point to ask a person to stay dead. When one of our cats slithers into view, belly to ground, tail twitching and jaws chattering, obviously visualizing blue jay for breakfast, the jays sound the alarm and take off like blue streaks, invariably leaving disgusted felines staring after them.
At night we’re serenaded regularly by coyotes, fortunately most times at a distance. Once in a while we hear a yowl that sounds like a cat a lot larger than the ones we share house space with, and occasionally we’re treated to the hoots of an owl. I love it.
I’ll confess, though, that at times I’m a lot less enamored of the noises that come from within. Yes, we’re still wearing socks, no shoes, in the house to avoid irritating or alarming the skunk whose nest is directly under the centrally located wine room. But I’m talking about other noises, with accompanying uproar.
Regulars here know that in addition to cats and my canary, we have two Australian Shepherd dogs named Buddy and Talili. At present, we’re dog-sitting for our son, John, which means his huge dog Will is also a resident. Years ago, before Talili’s arrival, Will and Buddy were the best of pals, but that had to end when our elder son moved to New Zealand, left Talili with us, and Talili developed an intense dislike for Will. When John is away and we babysit Will, I play what I fondly call Doggy Tango, switching dogs in and out for indoor time with us, always extremely careful to keep Will separated from Talili. At this point, I’m not sure that Will and Buddy would even get along because it has been so long since they put their noses to the ground and got into so much trouble together, once taking a vacation at the dog catcher hotel in Klamath Falls, a nearly three-hour drive away. Oh, and I mustn’t forget their fascinating and quite painful encounter with a porcupine, after which a good Samaritan found them and took them to the local vet. It cost a hundred per dog to pay that bill. Ah, the memories. They used to have so much fun together. But not any longer, sad to say.
Buddy and Talili bunk in the master bedroom during the cold months...and, I admit, often during the warm ones, as well. Talili snoozes on the rug on my side of the bed. I usually try to get to sleep before he settles in for the night, because he can snore louder than any dog (or person) I’ve ever encountered. I mean, this dog is a world-class snorer. Years ago, when he first began sleeping there, I dreamed that a tugboat had become stuck on the end of our bed and was frantically signaling for help! To make things worse, his snores are punctuated by snufflings and snorts and grunts, that are at times followed by long silent pauses. The first few hundred times I experienced this phenomenon I would jerk bolt upright in bed and yell for Sid to wake up, convinced that Talili had died. As my husband fought through the mists of sleep to full consciousness, my concern was negated by a cacophonous explosion of snoring, muffled yips, and more grunting as Talili engaged in some kind of dream battle and went right on sleeping. Not so me — or my husband!
Buddy most often sleeps in our walk-in closet, but he sometimes claims the privilege of sleeping on the bed. Sid and I can’t really claim it as ours any longer because we never know if we’ll have Buddy stretched across the foot of the bed, snuggled between us (usually with his hind feet in the general vicinity of my kidneys), or draped comfortably over one of us as he uses our shoulders or arms as a headrest.
Well, have I ever mentioned that Buddy’s nickname is Houdini? This dog has never met a door he cannot open. I know Houdini was renowned as an escape artist, and Buddy’s talents are usually centered around his desire to get in instead of out, but, oh, well, the name has stuck. I have worked exhaustively with Buddy over the years to break him of this door-opening habit, not because I don’t appreciate his genius, but because he scratches our woodwork when he jumps up to work the door levers and knobs. Most of the time, Buddy is a good boy and doesn’t open doors anymore, but note that I stress most of the time. It depends on whether or not Buddy wants in or out badly enough to earn a scold from Mom.
Anyway, since we are dog-sitting Will, we play Doggy Tango all day, ending with a finale at night, when Will is safely and happily tucked in for a sleep in the laundry room while Buddy and Talili enjoy their rightful place in the bedroom with us. At the end of the hall, across from the laundry room is the door into my office, which I keep locked because my dogs don’t like the cats, and my cats don’t like the dogs, and Buddy, the door opener, used to snooze in there all day by my chair and may decide to open it. I seldom forget to lock the office door, but that isn’t to say I always remember.
Moving forward with the story, we don’t have thunderstorms on our ridge too often, but when we do, they’re enough to shake the house. Buddy and Talili are frightened by them. Will, John’s dog, who normally resides at a lower elevation, is also frightened by the ear-shattering thunder and the crack of lightning.
Picture Mom and Dad, all settled in for a long winter’s nap, when out on the ridge there arose such a clatter! That night, we had what I’ve heard in Australia is called a “donderstorm.” The turn in the weather had been predicted in a forecast, but I didn’t think much about it because we rarely get thunder and lightning on the ridge in the winter. Well, we got both that night, so much lightning it looked almost as bright as day, torrential rain that pounded the roof and the deck, and thunder that sounded almost apocalyptic. There was also high wind that whipped the trees so violently that I half expected one to fall on the house.
I was unnerved. Sid was a bit worried but assured me all would be fine so I could go back to sleep. Bad mistake, because Buddy, our door opening Aussie, was absolutely terrified. He didn’t know if he wanted to be inside, flee outside, or join Mr. Skunk under the floor. And—you guessed it—he opened our bedroom door, Talili fast escaping behind him as if his nose were glued to Buddy’s rump. It took me a moment to come awake and realize what had happened, and that moment was all Buddy needed. He raced down the hall and opened the laundry room door, I’m guessing in retrospect to get outside through his doggy door. I long ago purchased a portable, tri-fold iron gate that weighs a ton, and I always position it just inside the door of the laundry room when Will visits, just in case Buddy should ever decide to go in for a reunion with his old friend. That could be disastrous because Will and Talili would undoubtedly tear into each other.
Anyway, when Buddy opened the laundry room door, fleeing in blind terror, he encountered the massive stand-alone gate, knocked it over, startled Will half to death, sent an explosive crashing noise throughout the house, and scared me and Sid wide awake. There followed a brief flurry of dogs fighting before the sounds of the storm made them forget why they are such deadly enemies. Sid and I were tearing down the hall, thinking the dogs might kill each other. But before we could get there to break it up, Buddy decided, “To heck with this,” and exited the laundry room to bound across the hall and open my office door. Well, I thought the door was locked. But it wasn’t, and my three cats, unafraid of the storm, got a rude awakening. Fortunately, Will ran for his life through the dog door to escape outside, and only Buddy and Talili entered the feline den. Both dogs have spent many an hour in there with me while I write, so to them it is a safe place, but it wasn’t that night.
Peppy and Sam both had the good sense to dive into hidey-holes. Sissy, with the infamous overdose of what we fondly call Sissy-Tude, faced the furry, terrified canines alone. Before Sid and I could rescue our dogs—note that I said rescue the dogs—Sissy took her stand. If she could have shouted, I’m sure she would have yelled, “Oh, yeah? You want to barge in here? Well, bring it on, big guys, and make my day!” Buddy was in the lead because he had entered first. Before Sid or I could react—picture furry things darting between and around our legs—Buddy got swiped very rudely on the nose. He yelped and did a somersault in midair—which we were able to see only because lightning illuminated the room. Miraculously, he landed on his feet at a dead run to get away from Sissy. Not so fortuitously, he collided face first with Talili, who had been close on his heels. Buddy and Talili are almost the same size, with Buddy weighing in three pounds less than his brother. One would not have guessed him to tip the scales at a lower number than Talili that night. He hit Talili so hard that Talili flipped up in the air, landed on his back, and slid across the hardwood floor, only to come to a stop on the rough hallway slate at Sid’s and my feet. Sid had already slammed the laundry room door closed to prevent another dog fight. Buddy saw no escape, so he sailed over his prostate brother, tore back up the hall to our bedroom and, with a flying leap, landed smack dab in the middle of our bed, which is where he spent the remainder of the night, with his brother taking up the center lower half of the bed. Sid and I soothed Will and checked him for injuries. When we felt assured he was fine, we put the gate back up, closed the laundry room door, and then went to the office to congratulate Sissy on her knockout swipe. After locating Peppy and Sam, the only smart ones in the whole lot, we locked the office door, and returned to our room to see if our dogs had escaped the fracas uninjured. Then we had to search for a place on our bed where we could fit.
Needless to say, that is a storm we will never forget! I think we will always refer to it as Sleepless on Cinnamon Ridge.
We’re putting out feed for our deer, but so far we’ve had no customers. At least we haven’t actually seen any of them. They are either slipping in during the night or very early in the morning, or—and this is a distinct possibility—our dogs are eating the grain during their evening runs. Yes, they try to eat the deer food! Mom feeds those interlopers, and what they get in their bowls must be delicious! Right? If we spot Miracle Girl again this year I’ll be sure to let you know.
I can’t close this letter without asking for special prayers for two couples who are undergoing hard times right now. Lynda and Tim VeArd are dealing with Tim’s health issues, and Mary Alice and Thomas Gibbons are struggling with his advancing Alzheimer’s. I hope you will include these two wonderful couples in your prayers.
I’m wishing the joys of springtime to all of you. I’ll keep you posted on whether the skunk has found a spouse and (heaven forbid) produced some offspring under our house. I’m hard at work on Quincy Harrigan’s story, which I think will surprise a lot of you — but not as much as it is surprising Quincy. He’s in for a far rougher and more unpredictable ride than the world’s toughest bronc could give him.