Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Tale of Two Vans

It all started with a simple plan: borrow a van to get my pet portrait paintings and 6-foot display screens to and from Olde Salem Days on Saturday.

I should preface this with the explanation that two weeks ago my trusty 2000 Durango blew a gasket. “Blowing a gasket” was one of my Daddy’s favorite expressions. When I was growing up I didn’t know what it really meant, except that somebody was mad. In this case, the gasket is deep in deep in the Durango’s bowels, the timing cover gasket.

After taking powderpuff auto mechanics when I had a slant-6 1965 Dodge Dart, I know a fair amount about what’s where inside engines, but a timing cover gasket that causes the car to leak like a sieve and blow clouds of steam is a new one on me. I figured it was the water pump, or a stuck thermostat or something related, once I could tell it wasn’t the radiator or the hoses.

At any rate, the Durango is sidelined until I can get it fixed.

One of the main reasons I picked out a Durango was for the 6-foot-carrying space for fall craft shows, and here I was days away from my first one of the season.

I arranged to borrow a van that was beat-up but ran. My sweet husband spent a couple of hours on Friday packing the wire screens, wooden screens, boxes of my Animal Art by Meg paintings and framed ones into the van while I was at work. I was feeling so positive about the whole thing, being packed hours before Saturday morning. Hah!

At 5:30 Friday evening, I went out to start the van to drive to Salem that evening to take a photograph. Nothing. It was deader than a doornail (where did that expression come from, anyway?)

Bill had already left to teach a master’s level class in marketing at National College, and wouldn’t be home until about 10 p.m.

I started calling neighbors, and got no answer at the first three. The fourth didn’t have jumper cables. We did. Ted Lineberry generously came over to jump the old van. It wouldn’t even turn over.

He decided it was something other than the battery. I wasn’t so sure, but bummed a ride with him back to Salem and borrowed a second van.

So far, so good, even though it meant the prospect of unloading and reloading everything in the dark of night. Bill was willing, but not the happiest of campers, especially when we couldn’t get the rear door of the second van open. It opened for me two hours earlier, I promise.

So he jumped the older van with the newer one, and left it running for awhile. It started, and all was well with the world.

Until the next morning. At 6:45 a.m. when I climbed in and shut the driver’s door, it bounced back. The locking mechanism was frozen. Olde Salem Days starts whether or not you’re there to set up. Bill handed over a bungee cord, and I strapped the door closed by hooking it to the seat belt connector. I wouldn’t have tried this except that the trip was a little over 2 miles each way, and on back streets.

The old van performed just fine, except for the door. I left a note on the keys and was glad to return it to its home.

Editor’s note: My Durango is fixed, back and I am soooooooo happy to have wheels that work again. I can’t say enough good things about Rick Yopp and his Riverside Auto in Salem. Less than 24 hours after the Durango was towed to his shop, he had her fixed. – Meg

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Raccoons in the chicken yard!

There must be an invisible sign flashing over our house this summer. It reads, "Eat here!" The sign is visible only to the wild things who live in the woods: squirrels, field mice, bear and the latest, raccoons.

I wish I still thought raccoons were cute little furry critters with smiling mouths and black masks. The masks should tip you off. They're bandits, and will eat just about anything at your house they consider theirs.

Naive, trusting person that I am, at first I believed it was a possum gnawing at a corner of the extra sack of chicken laying mash we stored on the back deck after a trip to the local Big Spring Mill in Elliston. It's worth the nine-mile trip to buy two 25-pound sacks of feed there than to buy one at the local hardware store. Only one fit into the can, hence the open storage.

Somewhere along the way I figured out the culprit must be a raccoon instead of a possum. Then came the day I found an unopened sack dragged across the back yard and part-way up the hill. It still hadn't dawned on me there was an entire passel of raccoons conspiring to get that sack of feed up the hill and over the fence into the woods.

We've had six Araucana laying hens for three years and only now are we getting raccoons inside our yard. I declared war a week ago after hearing chickens screaming at 5:30 a.m. and found a mama and a half-grown raccoon head to tail, frantically trying to find a way out of the chicken coop that is a totally enclosed cube of chicken wire.

We couldn't find where they got in and they couldn't seem to remember how to get out. After rousting my sleeping husband out of bed, Bill and I finally had to open the coop door and beat on the outside wire covering to chase them out. (Of course, in between times I had gone into the coop and taken pictures of the two. Once a journalist, always a journalist.)

Bill had thwarted the varmints for more than a week by wiring a shutter horizontally along the chicken wire at ground level. Before that, one or more raccoons had been pulling up a 3-inch half-circle and going in to raid the feeder.

We've had some interesting conversations with farmers, local wildlife experts and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries since then. For instance, we found out if raccoons are not shot in the trap, which is what most chicken and geese owners I've talked with do, coons usually come back if they're not relocated more than 10 miles away.

But it's illegal in Virginia to transport raccoons unless you have proper licenses. Catch 22.
In researching raccoons and their rights in Virginia, I learned:

• There is a continuous open season to trap raccoon and several other furbearers within the incorporated limits in Roanoke County, or, according to DGIF's website, of any city or town in the Commonwealth, and in other specific counties. A very helpful young woman named Stephanie in the DGIF office out of Bedford confirmed that for me.

• Trapping laws are different than hunting laws. Depending on where they live, property owners might still have to get a kill license from the state even if they are hiring a wildlife control service.

• A person 65 or older does not need a license to trap on private property in that person's county.

Wildlife people and Barbara Leach, an Extension Service horticulture technician who frequently writes columns in our paper about gardening and garden pests, passed along some good advice:
"One of the biggest attractants is inadvertantly feeding raccoons. Leaving out dog or cat food – even bird food – or having fish ponds, streams and frogs."

Speaking of food, I also found out some of the old guys in the Roanoke Valley are partial to baiting live traps with cans of sardines to attract raccoons. The mama of our laying-mash litter is probably too smart to fall for that. For now, it's a standoff. We're keeping the extra chicken feed inside the house. Let's just hope the mama and her little ones don't manage to get a copy of our house key.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

To everything there is a season

First there are the purple and white violets and bluets and unnamed tiny yellow flowers defying winter in our woods. Then life progresses way too fast through pink wild geranium, white fleabane, magenta redbuds, white dogwood if it's a good season, and suddenly, Queen Anne's lace and the lavender blue of chicory that signals full-blown summer and the heat that comes with it. Finally there is the pollen yellow of goldenrod which lasts through the dogwood leaves turning red and the first frosts.

For every kind of wildflower there is a season. For us, too. I hear friends talk about "being too old to do what I used to do." I refuse to use the word old until I'm 80. At least that's what I say now. I subscribe to the Old Testament Hebrew tradition of "If you say it, it can become real."

I know I'm not 20 any more – nor would I want to be – nor 30 or 40... Actually, I'm only 9. I keep trying to convince people of that. I don't tell little children any more because they look at me funny. But my family knows and understands. I grew up as an old child and began working my way backwards as an adult.

I've known people who were old at age 30, and others who were young at age 90. Attitude has a whole bunch to do with that. Genes, too. Of course, our bodies betray us as various parts wear out, but still, if you think young you feel a whole lot younger, I'm convinced.

I remember my daddy saying shortly before he died of lung cancer at age 75 that he was thinking about what he wanted to be when he grew up. That's an accepted idea now, when people have on the average three careers during their lifetime. My dad, John Bachner Gross, died in 1986 and not many people were thinking that way then. Sitting back in retirement was expected when you got to be 60 or 65.

Not me, and not my husband, Bill, either. Although he is a retired community planner, he is still working, teaching world geography at the Salem campus of National College, as a Census enumerator right now and during the season, as an income tax preparer for Liberty Tax. He also keeps score for Salem Parks and Recreation ball games, and ushers at Salem Civic Center concerts and other events.

As I get closer to 65, I'm beginning to think that someday I would like to slow down a little from the twice-weekly crunch pace of community newspapers. I still plan to write until I'm in the grave, or, in reality, my body is transformed into ashes and scattered in some interesting places around the world – like petals from spent flowers.

To everything there is a season.