All posts by Annaka

I am a software engineer, YA fantasy writer, and gardener.

The Totality: Impressionistic

The landscape fell into shadow, as if night came in from all directions at once. The air grew chill.

The sun still blazed high — and then it was snuffed, a bottomless emptiness where it should have been, ringed with a feathered halo of white fire streaming away into a deep twilight sky.

Around the horizon was a pale band, as if the sun was rising from all directions at once.

This, then, was the end of the world.

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For a more complete and less evocative description of the eclipse, please go here.

Eclipse 2017

I was fortunate enough to see the eclipse totality yesterday. If you just want a descriptive sense of what the totality was like, go here.

My parents and I watched it from John Day National Monument in eastern Oregon. The park service had mown a field to accommodate all the visitors.

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Fortunately for us, people didn’t hear about the parking area, or presumed it was full — there were a couple hundred cars in a field that could have held twenty times as many.

The Eclipse

Without the eclipse glasses, we wouldn’t have been able to tell anything was going on until the sun was 3/4 covered. At that point it got a little dim, as if there were a high haze.

I honestly don’t think that I would have remarked it until the sun was about 90% covered. At that point the whole landscape started to dim into twilight, and there was a little nip to the air.

At 98% it was notably twilight, but you still wouldn’t have been able to directly see what was going on with the sun — without the eclipse glasses.

Though the glasses we watched a fine sickle reduce to a line, then a dot.

Then….

Gone.

The Totality

This is the sight the has stopped wars and ended reigns.

It is truly amazing.

The whole sky was a deep twilight, but not black.

There was the blackest of black circles where the sun should have been, with a streaming pale halo wisping off in all directions.

All around it was a deep twilight, but there was a band of pale light around the horizon — as if dawn would be coming in another half hour or so.

The otherworldly look lasted about two minutes for us — then the light started beading at the edge.

And the light returned.

The Totality: Impressionistic

 

Go here for a more evocative description.

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Comment on Eclipse Photos

There are much better photos of the eclipse itself — but I wanted to note that even the best of the eclipse photos don’t truly capture what I saw.

In even the best eclipse photos, the surrounding sky is too dark (often completely black), and the light is too bright and crisp-looking.

I think the issue is that the corona is too bright relative to the rest of the light.

I hope you get to see a totality in person some day, because as with so many things in life, the photos don’t do it justice.

 

Hummingbird Feeder Heating Hood

It has been an unusually cold and snowy winter here in Port Angeles.

Our house is at about 1000 feet, and we have had snow on the ground for more than five weeks. This, after an unusually warm fall.

We’re suffering from climatic whip-lash, and so are the critters.

We took the hummer feeder down in early September to encourage the birds to migrate, but the garden kept right on blooming until the first hard frost — December 5th. That night, the snow came.

The next morning, I put the hummingbird feeder back out, just in case some of the hummers hadn’t migrated in time. Sure enough, a male Anna’s hummingbird promptly claimed it.

The solution I use in the winter — one part sugar to three parts water — has a fairly low freezing point, so as long as the temperature stays above ~26 degrees F, the feeder is fine.

But the temperature has been dipping below that, and unless I take measures, the feeder freezes.

The simple solution is to pull the feeder in at night, and put it out in the daytime. That works fine if the colder temperatures are only at night, but it’s also a bit of a tyranny.

This tiny bird is dependent on me. If we had to go out of town, or I forgot to put it out one morning, or had to go out during the day and the feeder froze, the hummer might well die.

So, what to do?

Make a hummingbird feeder heater!

Below is my design for a heater. It has worked well to about 20 degrees F. This variant still leaves the little feeder straws vulnerable. Much below 20 degrees, and those will still freeze, rendering the beautifully fluid reservoir irrelevant.

Still, it fills in that critical 20-25 degree gap, which covers the vast majority of problematic temperatures here in the Pacific Northwest.

And let’s be honest: hummingbirds in sub-freezing temperatures are probably only an issue in a very narrow geographic area. I doubt it comes up much outside of the Pacific Northwest.

Hummingbird feeder heater

Materials:

  • Small heating pad (~6×8-12 inches)** Note that the model I link to here is a good size, but the cord is not technically outdoor grade. That means you should be sure to take it down before rainy weather. There may be outdoor-grade options, but I don’t know them.
  • Yoghurt container (or other semi-cylindrical container that fits reasonably well over your hummingbird feeder’s reservoir)
  • Bubble wrap
  • Packing tape
  • Plastic grocery bags
  • Extension cord (and external power source)
  • Binder clips
  • Ladder (depending on hummer feeder placement)

If you have everything you need on hand, this will take about half an hour.

Making the heater unit

1. Using a good pair of scissors, cut down one side of the yoghurt container to the bottom, through to the middle of the bottom, and make a hole as close to the center as you can (a diamond or rectangle is likely to be easiest). This will allow the feeder’s hanger to go through. Note that the bottom of the yoghurt container will become the top of the heating unit.

Make a notch closer to the edge of the bottom. This will provide room for the power cord, without disrupting the feeder.

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2. Take the heating pad and thread its power cord up the slit and through the notch. Curve the heating pad and slide it into the yoghurt container. It may not go all the way around. That’s ok. Position it so that the middle area is clear (both of the heating pad and power cord) — keep in mind that this will need to slide down over the feeder.

Stabilize the slit in the yoghurt container with packing tape.

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3. Take bubblewrap or a padded envelope (which is what I used), and wrap it around the yoghurt container. This will provide insulation, and help insure that most of the heat stays inside the yoghurt container. Because the yoghurt container does not have perfectly vertical sides, you will need to offset the bubblewrap some so that it goes high on one side, and overlaps on the other (to try to cover the whole container).

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Clip the excess off around the bottom.

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4. Take another bit of bubblewrap and make a circle. Cut a slit and a hole to correspond with the gaps in the yoghurt container’s lid. Put it on the bottom of the yoghurt container.

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5. Cut slits in the part of the bubblewrap that is sticking up above the bottom, and fold them down onto the bottom. Tape into place (this tidies it up and adds a little more insulation). Apply packing tape to the junction between the bottom and the sides.

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6. Cut a hole in the bottom of a plastic grocery bag. Thread the bottom of the yoghurt container through so that the bottom of the container lines up with the hole, allowing the heating pad cord to go through and giving access to the hole in the middle.

Tape around the yoghurt container in the bag, to snug the bag on and generally stabilize things.

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Tuck the open top of the bag through to line the yoghurt container’s central space. Make sure that there is a clear path through the yoghurt container, through the hole, and out the other side — that’s where the hummer feeder and its cord will go.

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The grocery bag will help protect your work from any stray sugar water, and will help restrict the escape of warm air (we want to keep it in the cavity, and this is part 1 of that effort).

7. Make sure that your hummer feeder fits nicely inside the cavity, and that its cord can get through the top hole. If so, you’re ready for installation!

Note that the finer points of installation will depend on whether your feeder is on a pulley system (as mine is), or whether you just hang it each time. In the former case, you want the heater installed where the feeder will hang, and then you’ll hoist the feeder into it (and adjust). In the latter case, you’ll put the heater over the feeder, and then install the whole shebang. More on that in 10.

The cord arrangement below should work well for either case.

8. Set up your cords. Note that you want the cord of the heater coming down from above, close to where the feeder itself hangs. This will keep the heater from tilting the feeder.

I tacked a couple nails into the eave to one side of the feeder. I hung a binder clip on each. I clipped an outdoor-grade extension cord with one, and hung it. I then clipped the cord of the heating pad with the other, and hung it.

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That keeps the cords at a good angle, and keeps the junction out of the weather.

9. Prep the feeder.

You will note that the heater does not provide close contact with the feeder, and there is likely to be a significant air gap between the bottom of the heater and the lower part of the feeder. It is important to fill that.

At minimum, tie a plastic grocery bag around the feeder, down close to the flowers. This will fill the gap between the heating hood and the feeder, and allow warm air to build up inside.

However, I found that with that arrangement the feeding straws still tended to freeze at 23-24 degrees F, even though the reservoir was lovely and fluid. To fix this, take another plastic bag, slide it under the middle of the hummer feeder, pull the ends up on either side and tie it on (e.g. With the second plastic bag mentioned above). This will create some protection and heat transmission for the lower part of the feeder. With this arrangement, I was able to predictably have fully accessible hummer water at 20 degrees F. It could probably go a little lower, but you might need to strategically add more insulation — e.g. a second grocery bag going under the bottom, up between the other pair of flowers (if you’re using the common four-flower feeder design).

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10. Put up the feeder.

10a. If you have a pulley system, hang the heater where you want the feeder to be. Thread the cord from the pulley through the hole in the top of the heater, and pull it down until it’s at a comfortable height to mount the feeder. You will then hook up the feeder and hoist it until it’s in the heater. You will need to be able to reach the feeder at its final position, so that you can make sure everything is snug, and check for freezing.

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10b. If you just hang your feeder, slide the heating hood onto the feeder and thread the feeder’s cord through the top.

Mount the feeder and plug the heater’s cord in, ideally clipping the heater’s cord into the appropriate support (see 8).

11. Make sure that you don’t have any big gaps between the heating hood and its plastic bag scarf. If there are any, adjust the plastic to cover them. You want to keep the warm space as warm as possible.

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11. Check the feeder.

This is very important, especially if this is your first time mounting the feeder, or if the weather has suddenly gotten colder.

If the little access points freeze, the hummer still can’t get to the food. If this happens, get everything thawed out (remember, that tiny bird is counting on you!), and then get it set up again, possibly adding a bit more insulation around the lower part of the feeder.

If it is very cold, you may still need to bring the feeder in at night, and then just use the heating hood to keep it fluid during the day.

Once you have observed the hood’s behavior at various temperatures over a few days, you can feel more secure, but keep an eye on it.

One last note:

This is a contingency plan, for if the weather gets brutally cold and there are still hummingbirds around. I recommend taking your hummingbird feeder in for most of the autumn, because ideally there won’t be any hummingbirds around in that ultra-cold weather.

But when the ultra-cold weather does come, if there are still a few holdouts, they may well die without your intervention.

Let me know if you try this, and how it goes!

I would be especially interested in any cold-weather improvements, or adjustments for different kinds of hummingbird feeders.

Processing

It has been a week since Trump won the projected electoral vote.

It has been a tough week, although as a white woman living in a quiet corner of a liberal state, it has been tough at some remove.

A week ago, I watched with creeping dread as the early returns looked worse and worse for Hillary. I went to bed before the worst was known — hoping that somehow the world would have reset to the “right” path by morning.

When I woke up, the first thing I did was check the results.

I had a few seconds of profound relief when I saw the vote percentages.

Then I saw the electoral college tallies.

The mixture of disbelief and creeping dread throughout was similar to when Dubya beat Gore, except a few orders of magnitude worse. It was having a nightmare come to life in slow motion — and of course this is just the beginning.

In the last week there has been a swell of hate crimes. Trump has put together a ghastly transition team.

I have heard such terror from so many of my at-risk friends (minorities, people with health problems, people outside of the white “mainstream”). And at the same time, there is a chorus of “this won’t be so bad, we can get through this, we’ll just roll with the punches.”

It is terrifying to think that these conciliating attitudes may exacerbate the harm that Trump could cause.

A snippet from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been going on. I just hope that it isn’t as prescient as it feels at this moment in time.

There is still the cruel hope that faithless electors can prevent Trump from taking the Whitehouse. I signed the petition, but I know that it is an incredibly long shot. One or two might defect. Maybe ten could defect. But unless Trump does something absolutely insane in the next month (something Republicans see as insane, that is), I don’t see how 38 would possibly defect.

I feel very helpless, but I also know that I can’t just sit here and feel helpless.

I am privileged. I am not at risk in the way that many of my friends are. I need to step up for those at risk.

I have set  up recurring donations. I have subscribed to the New York Times and The Seattle Times, in hopes of showing my support for journalistic integrity.

I will try to go troll hunting for my friends.

If I see something in real life, I will do my best to quash my conflict-avoidant conditioning and intervene. As lily white as Port Angeles is, that seems a bit unlikely, but I will put myself in the mindset to be ready.

I desperately hope that all of this will pass without doing too much damage, but I cannot assume that. I desperately hope that history will not be looking with profound image at this period to see how America let a fascist dictator take power.

Much as I would love to assume that everything will be ok, I cannot assume that. I will do what I can to help make sure that doesn’t happen, even if it is a number of small things.

The small things add up.

Cringer

The other exciting development is the addition of a kitten to the family.

We first met Cringer at the end of July.

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At that time he was being fostered by a tech at the Port Townsend animal shelter. He was due to be neutered at the start of August — just in time for Rob’s birthday.

Because of some complications, he actually came home with us three weeks later than expected. It was hard waiting, but in retrospect a 12 week old kitten was much easier than a 9 week old kitten.

Even so, he spent his first day with us in the corner of the closet, facing the wall. That was pretty sad, but he settled in quickly. By the next day he was purring and playing.

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Within a few days we let him out of his room and he started terrorizing Dulcie. She had never been around kittens, and so she ran away every time he came into the room. It didn’t help that he recognized her as a cat, and wanted to dash over and make friends.

After a few days she realized he wasn’t actually dangerous, but he persisted in leaping on her at every opportunity for the first few weeks.

He is starting to mellow slightly — he only pounces on her half the time now — and they occasionally look downright cuddly together.

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He’s shaping up to be a great lap cat when he’s not acting like a kitten.

Cougars, Part 4 – 3 goats – Done!

The fence is done, and has been for a while.

From getting the corners done to getting the fence completed took about a month. We had to cross-lash the H braces, string the wire, and install a gate.

Once we figured out the process, it took about 15 minutes for each electric wire, and a bit less for each ground wire. I’d rather not compute how much time that required, considering that there were four sides, seven wires per side.

It looks good, and although it isn’t cougar proof, it is a lot better than what we had.

It’s rather comical to look at the old and new next to each other.

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Having gotten the fence squared away, we were able to get a new girl. Her name is Teela, and she is another Nigerian Dwarf — probably with a bit of Pygmy in there.

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Nob spent a couple weeks bossing her around — he’s bigger — but she has some spunk, and she has horns. Now she ranks him, and 8-Bit ignores her (except when there’s food involved), so she has it pretty good.

She’s a sweet goat, and fits in very well.

Hopefully that will be the end of our cougar woes.

It is a risk still — the fence is cougar resistant, not cougar proof — but the only realistic alternative would be to rehome our goats. That wouldn’t have been hard with Nob, but 8-Bit would have been a job and a half.

Now we just have to wait and hope. It was a year and a half before we lost Bell, so it will be a while before we can be confident in our lovely new fence.

Cougars, Part 3 – 2 goats – Fencing!

It is now late July, and our remaining 2 goats are intact.

Unfortunately our remaining goats are the 2 boys – one big (a La Mancha) and one little (a Nigerian Dwarf).

From a compatibility standpoint, they’re the worst pair of survivors to have . . . But they seem to have adjusted reasonably well.

The only problem is that the big boy can’t play very well with the little boy, so then he’s overly frisky with us.

Once the fencing is done, we’ll see about getting a girl to keep the boys in line.

The fencing . . . ugh.

Good fencing isn’t easy.

What the game warden recommended was high tensile electric fence.

The power of the fence doesn’t need to be any higher than what we had already, but the goal is for it to be tight and strong — so the cougar can’t just zip through.

High tensile electric fence is made with 12.5 gauge wire (annoyingly heavy-duty) cranked to 250 lbs of force.

The real problem is to support that kind of fence, you need really strong corner posts.

We have spent the last month and a half going through the steps to get H braces in place.

This setup involves bracing the corner post with a partner post a few feet away, with a pole holding them apart towards the top, and a cross wire pulling them together into a stable box.

It is, frankly, a huge pain.

The biggest issue was getting the holes done. Our soil is rocky, and even with an auger it took several hours to do the preliminary holes — and even longer to tidy them up and wrangle a few extra inches to get the full three foot depth.

Then we had to put 8 foot posts in the holes, level them, and fill in with concrete.

Thirteen of them.

It was slow going, but we finally got the top braces in a couple days ago.

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The next step will be the wire cross-lashing that will stabilize the box.

Of course, at that point we still won’t have a fence. We’ll have corners.

Cougars, Part 2 – 3 Goats – May

I am sorry to say that we did nothing.

After all, we had lived in our house for a year and a half without any problems. And the cougar didn’t get a square meal out of Bell, so maybe it would just roam on its way.

A couple weeks later, I went out to give the goats a treat, and Minnie was gone.

Poof.

One big goat – 130+ pounds – missing.

Not without a trace, though. All of the electric fence wires at one end of the pasture were broken, and there was a broad drag trail.

I followed the trail a little ways, but balked when it went into the woods. After all, Minnie was bigger than I was, and the cougar had taken her out just fine!

When Rob got home from work, he managed to find Minnie’s remains . . . Which was amazing, because the cougar had carefully buried her. It was sad, but also really impressive. I don’t think that a human could have done much better hiding a goat with duff and moss.

Can you spot the goat?

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We didn’t notice it at the time, but a couple days later we realized that 8-Bit — the big boy — had a bite on his rear leg. The cougar must have gone for him first, failed, and then gone for Minnie.

The less said about giving antibiotics to goats, the better.

The game warden came out the next day. The first step was to put up a game cam and try to see what was what.

I had assumed it must be a big cat. It dragged Minnie a hundred yards, including through the brush.

The game warden told us about a cat that took out a 400 lb. calf. The cat was able to drag the calf to the fence, but then couldn’t get it over or under.

So . . . cats are freakishly strong.

The game cam came up empty the next morning, but the morning after we had some fine pictures of the cougar.

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Unfortunately, halibut season had just started, so it was a couple more days before a warden made it out. It was too late for a cage trap, he said — the carcass was starting to rot. He told us that we should keep checking the camera, and let him know when the cougar resurfaced.

In the meantime, see to our fences.

We had taken advantage of the “safe” time after the cougar took Minnie to set up a gate in the shed, so we could lock our two remaining boys in at night. That was fine in the short term, but in the long-term the only answer was a really good fence.

Really good fences are a big pain.

Cougars, Part 1 – 4 goats – April

I tend to go to bed early, so Rob had to wake me out of a sound sleep.

“Bell is hurt. Can you come help?”

Bell is the smallest of our 4 goats. She is super sweet, and all the other goats bully her.

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I pulled on some clothes and went out with him, feeling that this was probably a dream. What could have hurt Bell?

Rob had moved her to the shed, and she was lying on her side on the ground, her four little legs sticking straight out.

Stiff.

Screaming.

She had blood on her neck, but we couldn’t find the wound in her thick hair. It wasn’t gushing, but there was a liberal amount of blood on the ground, and all over Rob’s sweatshirt.

I went to check the other three goats – her brother and two big goats. Of course, the other goats took that as an invitation to come back in the shed. Not good with a wounded goat.

Nothing to do but move her.

We have a little back area in the shed for hay. I opened the inner gate, and Rob picked Bell up. More screaming.

He lay her in the small space by the hay, and stayed to comfort her while I went to phone the vet.

Note: Always have the vet in your contact list, easily found.

I didn’t have that foresight, so even though it was close on 11 I called a friend who also has goats to get the livestock vet’s number.

Thank goodness for emergency livestock vets! He said he’d be there in 45 minutes.

Back out to the shed, where Rob sat next to Bell. She was quieter, but still looked awful: eyes open wide and rolled back, blood on her neck, stiff as a board.

It was a long 45 minutes.

In the meantime, Rob filled me in.

He had gone out to say goodnight to the goats, and he had heard them moving around in an odd way. He turned his headlamp on, and saw an animal disappearing through the orchard – and there was Bell, in extremis.

I went out and, sure enough, the electrical fence was busted in two places. Entry and exit. There was a liberal smear of blood near the exit point.

 

At last the vet pulled up in his van/vet’s office.

He looked Bell over, gave her a shot for the pain, and told us that we could most likely expect her to bounce back the next day – eating, etc. – or not. And if not, there would be some hard decisions to be made. In the meantime we should keep her warm.

We tucked her between a hay bail and the wall, with a ratty old sleeping bag that we had been meaning to trash wrapped around her. Rob settled in for a long night, while I went in to get a little sleep before spelling him at 4:30 the next morning.

He had to work the next day, but I didn’t have anything pressing for work – so I would take her for the day Friday.

 

It was a long night for Rob. He got a few winks dozing on the hay bales next to Bell, but the one time he went inside for more than a couple minutes she dragged herself out of the nook and was lying on her side in the middle area – crying – when he got back.

Ugh.

So I collected my kit – reading light, book to edit, snacks – and settled in for goat duty while Rob headed off for work on half an hour of sleep.

After some experimentation, I established that Bell and I were both happy if I sat next to her, against the hay bales. It gave her a sense of herd, and it gave me the sense that I was doing something useful. And a backrest.

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When I had my breakfast – hot cereal – I offered her the last bit, and she ate it with every evidence of enjoyment. That was encouraging, so I went in and made some rolled oats with lots of hot water, so that she would get some fluid as well.

She took that as well.

All very encouraging. Eating had been one of the vet’s criteria for bouncing back.

I caught up on social media and did some editing. Every hour I popped inside for a few minutes to make sure nothing was blowing up at work.

All seemed to be going well . . . but by noon she still hadn’t stood up.

Worse, she had tried, and every time she did she would scream and subside shaking, and pant for the next ten minutes or so.

And it was Friday.

So around noon I gave the vet a call. He said he would come by to take X-Rays around 3. That way we would have a better sense of things going into the weekend.

Fortunately Rob was on the early shift, and was there for the vet’s visit. The vet had a nifty portable rig. He would position a plate under Bell, and then pass a hand-held machine over it to take the X-Ray.

No digital processing, though – we’d have to wait for the results.

In the meantime, he wasn’t sure whether she would be ok or not. It was the dreaded “not bouncing back, but not in dire straits” gray area that he had warned us about. She might just be very sore. Or it might be a more serious issue.

His advice was to keep her quiet, but he didn’t think we needed to keep sitting out with her, as long as she was pinned in. She wasn’t about to keel over.

He gave us some more shots to give her over the weekend, and left us feeling generally optimistic.

 

Two hours later, the vet called back.

The X-Rays were done. Her neck was broken. He would be out in 45 minutes to do the necessary.

Bad news, clearly. I was a little surprised it was so cut and dry. After all, Bell was eating, and apparently there’s some gray area with a broken neck. Sometimes they can heal, although it’s a pain for all concerned.

We went out to spend the last stretch of time with Bell. We fed her treats, and sat with her.

And I cried.

When the vet arrived he showed us the X-Rays, and his certainty made sense. One of the large bone spurs from her vertebrae was snapped off, and out of place by a couple inches. The vertebrae was at an odd angle.

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This wasn’t just a broken neck. It was a badly broken neck.

Bell should have been dead eighteen hours ago.

But she had somehow made it, and her spinal cord hadn’t been severed – so she could eat – but it was pinched enough that she couldn’t stand.

This wasn’t an injury that a goat could come back from.

So we said our goodbyes, and the vet did the necessary – first something to knock her out, and then a shot to the heart to stop it cold.

No more suffering for Bell.

 

We buried Bell in a nice spot by the woods. Our smallest, sweetest goat was no more.

We could take some comfort in the fact that we made her last eighteen hours as comfortable as possible.

 

But we couldn’t just mourn.

We had a cougar.

Bell’s broken neck confirmed Rob’s initial guess. Cougars latch onto their prey’s neck, both in the initial attack and to drag their prey away.

So, we had a cougar.

What to do?

 

Bell as a baby

lap bell

 

Ups and Downs of Country Life

We live a couple miles outside of Port Angeles, and to most people our neighborhood would look like country.

In the last couple months our life has really been feeling like life on the farm.

In a lot of ways that’s good: gardening, fun critters, neat projects.

In some it’s bad: predators, inclement weather, failures of various sorts.

 

In the next few posts I’m going to record some of the ups and downs of our life in the (almost but not quite) country.