Christmas 2009

A dozen deer crossed our path as we drove up the reptile road. The engineering of the essentially-a-one-lane-road brought them to our sight again and again and again until at the top of the ridge we watched them one by one jump the fence and head down the river breaks, their white tails disappearing beneath the rock ledge.

It was zero degrees this morning and reminded me of our first Christmas here twenty-five years ago when snow dusted the sagebrush and the roof of the house under construction and the cold froze the mud paths as hard as concrete. We used the hair dryer to thaw out the pipes beneath the fifth wheel trailer. Deer trails like white braids twisted through the ridges toward the river that then as now forms a shoelace of white meandering through the foothills of the John Day River breaks. Chatting Canada geese occupy a small pool of open water. Bo, our Griffon, barks back at the geese while surveying the landscape from his perch on the deck. PB the cat and Caesar the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, our new addition, stand beside him. View photos on Bo’s blog Stan the goat still guards what remains of the vineyard which is mostly wooden stakes and Stan’s recycled weeds. Two steers await their fate but for now happily munch on the last hay we’ll take from the flat beside the river.

Change does come despite the similarities of times past. Two years ago we sold the cows and now we’ve decided not to try to raise alfalfa next year. Equipment needs updating, the rise of fuel costs, and just the human cost of sustaining ourselves on the land has led us to that decision. I’ll still be planting rows of words and harvesting them in books at least for a few years more. Jerry traveled with me to several events this year in Minnesota and Wisconsin and around the Northwest but stayed home for Kentucky and Texas and a few other sites while he recovered from surgery. He’s doing well but emergency room travel up the reptile road reminded us that while we can still do this homestead thing, we wonder for how long. Jerry will be a young eighty next year.

Two vacation highlights of year were trips to Baja, Mexico and Whistler, BC that included friends Sandy Maynard and her sister Donna Perry. Jerry loves the odds of traveling with three women. He did all the driving into Canada. I notice he no longer complains about the voice of the GPS system. She seems to beat out three women giving him directions at once. You think? We also tried to make my 45th class reunion, got stuck at the airport, had trouble with the rental car, took a wrong turn down a snowmobile road (it was over this little bridge, just like the guy at the tavern directed us to!) and missed it! Fortunately, we found a few classmates at the Mondovi Inn and caught up; time with my 90+year old aunt Idella and cousins Mike and Linda Rutschow helped make up for the loss of time with classmates. For the 50th, we’ll come the day before.

We had great visits from family and friends this fall. My brother and his wife came west and fixed incredible meals for us and told us stories while we cheered the Packers on. Jerry’s daughter Katy and husband Joe visited from Florida and Jerry fished with them and son Matt for two full days without success. At least the wind calmed for them belying the value of the hundreds of windmills that now dot the landscape beyond our sight above us along Starvation Lane. Or youngest granddaughter, Madison, attends a dental assistant program in Florida and works full time. Katy’s other children are spread around the south. Matt continues to work for us and he and Melissa tend the ranch when we travel. Mariah works full time for Azure Farms in Moro, a natural food corporation that ships gluten free food, bulk grains and Nancy’s Yogurt among other things, around the west.

My latest book based on my maternal grandmother’s life A Flickering Light was named this month to Library Journal’s list of Best Books of 2009 which is a delight. Even better has been the reception of the book by family members who still invite me back for family gatherings! My aunt Corinne and Uncle Ron, Aunt Helen and Minnesota cousins Pat and Ross, Molly and others not only helped with research but made our launch trip at the Winona Historical Society a wonderful event. The sequel will be out in March and is called An Absence so Great. We’re also getting ready for my first contemporary book titled Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name which I hope will make people laugh as well as consider the cost of fame versus fulfillment. I’m at work on the next novel. Working title: Journey to a Present Joy.

So we come to this season seeking to savor the present, often fleeting joys of life: The memories of good times, challenges met, changes that await. For us, the blessings of the Christ Child’s presence in our hearts reminds us to thank you all for your part in helping us savor these present joys. We wish you enduring blessings for the year ahead and pray that despite the weather or uncertain circumstances, that your holidays will be warm and fulfilling in every way.

Love, Jane and Jerry