Deer food

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We are lucky to be living in a deer-friendly neighborhood. This is fawn season and a doe has brought her two spotted fawns into our backyard at least three times that I’ve noticed. Undoubtedly more often. I figure she’s teaching them how to drink from birdbaths and which yards have the tastiest leaves.

Therein lies a problem.

We would delight in the occasional deer (mule deer) to our unfenced yard. Then we began to notice that the rose bushes had fewer flowers, the tomatoes disappeared on the plants as soon as they started to turn red and the pansies were bitten off the day after we planted them. I tried spraying the plants with a raw egg/water mixture (I read that in a book) and it seemed to work until the first rain. We also tried powdered garlic on the plants with limited success. We even considered human urine as a way to mark the territory as “ours” but ultimately we accepted that if we wanted to enjoy our wildlife visitors, we’d have to make concessions.

The deer numbers have increased. What used to be an occasional sighting has become a common occurrence. We surrendered to a dearth of flowers, bushes stripped of leaves (at least to the deer-mouth height of about 4 feet) and our envy of other deer-empty neighborhoods filled with colorful variety.

Then we noticed something interesting. Deer discriminate. Whereas roses and azaleas are toast, succulents are eaten primarily when other choice plants are unavailable And gardenias? Not at all.

Our mule deer also avoid springtime narcissus, daffodils, iris and gladiolus. Sage and lavender also survive.

Hey, we may be on to something here. I don’t mind our yard being the deer’s salad bar as long as they leave me something. It’s all about sharing. And watching spotted fawns frolic in the backyard.

Mothers, Daughters and Memories

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My mother is letting go. At 96 years old, she’s tired and longs to see my dad, her sister, Katina, and her mother again.

Our relationship has occasionally been strained, especially from my perspective as the daughter. But I’ve mellowed in the last several years and I think she has, too. And because this “long goodbye” is taking, well, a long time, I’ve come to appreciate the gift of time to reflect on the good memories we created over the years.

Food plays a big part in those memories. And each summer, my mind goes back to tuna fish sandwiches.

We lived near the beach in Southern California and several times throughout the summer, my mom and her sister, Thea (“aunt”) Katina, would drive my two cousins and I to Playa del Rey for the day. But first, Mom made lunch. And lunch was always tuna fish on sourdough bread. With cucumber spears. Always.

There’s a good reason for the tuna fish: my dad was a sport fisherman. He loved to go deep-sea fishing and instead of always bringing home the actual yellowtail or other tuna, he would sometimes trade it in for canned (albacore) tuna at the dock. The result of all this “sometimes” trading was stacked cases of canned tuna in our garage.

So Mom would chop bits of onion and mix the canned tuna with mayonnaise and spread it on large slices of chewy sourdough bread. She’d cut the sandwiches in half, pack those and the cucumber slices in one of those metal, plaid-painted picnic boxes with the metal handles that pivot from either side and join at the center on top and off we’d go.

I suppose we also had drinks, maybe some cookies or fruit. But all I remember are the tuna fish sandwiches on sourdough with cucumber spears on the side because they were, well…perfect.

To this day, whenever I pass that same beach, I see myself near the water’s edge, playing with my cousins, wet and happy. And each time, we’re also sitting on a blanket spread across the hot sand and eating those sandwiches.

This is a memory I cherish and keep close to my heart. And I still love tuna fish. Especially on sourdough with cucumber spears on the side.

Hiking Stress

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I love to hike. The views, the exercise, the mental vacation… So when we met our son in the Rock Creek area of the Eastern Sierra last week, hiking was at the top of our list. I expected a certain amount of physical stress – a good workout can leave you energized. What I hadn’t anticipated was how this particular hike would affect how I thought about hiking in the future.

We often do a day-hike on our first full day and, since we had two cars, I suggested the 11.4-mile hike from the Mosquito Flat trailhead (10,255 ft.) over Morgan Pass (11,155 ft.) and ending at the Pine Creek trailhead (7,405 ft.) near Rovana where we could leave one of the cars.

We set out at 10:00 AM and easily walked the 4-plus miles past wildflowers and the lakes of the Little Lakes Basin up to Morgan Pass and beyond toward the Morgan Lakes. This is starkly beautiful alpine country with rocky peaks typical of the Eastern Sierra.

After lunch near an old log shelter, we began the descent on a well-graded mining road. Rusty metal and mining timbers littered some areas along the trail and we could hear the sound of Morgan Creek tumbling over rocks through the canyon nearby. We should have turned back after taking in the magnificence of the early-afternoon sun shining on Bear Creek Spire. By then, the canyon had fallen so far below us that we could no longer hear the stream. But, no, we continued on toward Pine Creek, 3,000 feet below, along 7 miles of long switchbacks crossing, hot, dry, bleak talus.

I have a problem with heights that I’ve been working on the last several years. I’m much better. Yet, as soon as I realized this particular trail was a relentless descent down a steep hillside with treeless drop-offs into a deep canyon, I had a moment when I hesitated and seriously considered returning the 4 1/2 miles back the way we’d come.

The little voice in my head said something like, “You’ll be down soon. How bad can it be?” The answer became, “Pretty bad.” With the help of my floppy hat folded down like blinders on a horse, I focused on my feet, putting one foot in front of the other. The two times I ventured a look past the trail edge, my knees went wobbly. By the time we arrived at the trailhead and the car, I was exhausted. Mentally and physically.

For the first time in a long time, I questioned my ability to conquer this fear of heights. And then I got mad. I want to still enjoy hiking, not second-guess each trail. And what about my plans to someday climb Mt. Whitney and decend the Grand Canyon?

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” (Friedrich Nietzsche) Okay. I didn’t die.  My son and husband walked the same trail without any problem. So, if I can believe Nietzsche, I’m closer to conquering this fear-of-heights-thing because I hiked that God-forsaken trail.

I’ll go with that. And with the hope that I can continue to love to hike.

Death and the long goodnight

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I knew my neighbor had lost her battle with cancer when all the extra cars were gone. The stream of caregivers, friends and family had increased in the last two weeks. Then, suddenly, the street was hauntingly empty.

Lately, I find myself standing in front of the sympathy card section at the store more often. Used to be birthday cards. Now it’s almost like I’ve entered the “death season” of life, when elderly relatives are passing on, acquaintances are getting sick (and some don’t recover), parents of friends are dying. Death used to be something in the distance. Now it holds hands with my everyday life.

I assumed death would be more heroic or darkly romantic like in the movies or in books. A kind of “rage against the dying of the light.”* Instead, it’s become an ever-present shadow as if the sun is stuck behind thin clouds and I’m waiting for it to break through.

Maybe I’m getting maudlin but I actually think it began when my mom stopped coloring her hair. All my life it was brown. Then about ten years ago, boom! Suddenly she had white hair. I wasn’t prepared for how old it made her look; I wasn’t ready to accept her 85 years of living. I started noticing old people on the street – how slowly they walked, if they were hunched over…

It’s like a doodle-bug pit: you reach that stage in life when you stand at the edge. Then a few grains of sand slip out beneath your feet and you begin the slow slide toward the hole at the bottom.

My mom is nearly at the hole. It’s taken her almost 96 years to get there. On her slow slide she’s used a cane, begun to fall a lot, lost most of her hearing, moved to a wheelchair, and all but stopped eating. For her it will be the sickness of old age.

So, yeah, I guess death has become a part of my life now. The mists may never quite clear away again. I never did like gray skies.

*”Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight” poem by Dylan Thomas.

Getting past “It’s too hard”

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“Two more.” Or, God forbid, “Three more.”

I focus on a spot a few feet in front of me, willing my calf muscles to contract and help push what seems like an impossibly heavy weight an inch higher. My calves already burn when Aaron, my trainer, says “Three more.” For the first time in 9 weeks, I almost cry. “Breathe!” he tells me.”Come on, you can do this!”

I don’t think I can. He’s delusional. It’s so heavy. But I manage to raise the weight then sit, waiting for the ebb of tension, emotion and self-doubt.

When I joined my local gym earlier this year, I thought I’d use the free one-hour consultation with a trainer to get an overview of the equipment and some pointers on how to achieve my fitness goal. Now, over two months of twice-weekly sessions later, I’ve come to rely on Aaron’s encouragement, advice, support and belief in me. My own personal cheering squad.

Alongside the muscles slowing defining themselves, I’ve also noticed a growing confidence in my work as a writer — especially during those predictable times when I’ve hit a wall and think, “I can’t do this, it’s too hard.”

Sometimes the tears come and, like the Tom Hanks’ character in “League of Their Own,” incredulous when a player begins to cry and tells her, “There’s no crying in baseball,” I hear Aaron telling me, “Suck it up. You can do this.”

And I can. And I do.