The Road to Spring Coulee

“It was so risky and so scary, and yet at the same time, so beautiful. Maybe the truth was, it shouldn’t be easy to be amazing. Then everything would be. It’s the things you fight for and struggle with before earning that have the greatest worth. When something’s difficult to come by, you’ll do that much more to make sure it’s even harder -if not impossible- to lose.” 

Sarah Dessen, Along for the Ride

Writing has been really difficult lately

I took a little time off to deal with some sudden life changes, and now I feel like I’m stuck. There was a period of time where I couldn’t bring myself to open my computer. I’d write little snippets in Notes on my phone, but nothing sounded right. I had trouble forming coherent sentences. Too much shit has gone on this year… I’m backlogged. My mind can’t handle it. I have so much to process and so many unresolved feelings that my brain is in a constant state of bufferingI am happier than I’ve ever been before, but positive change still requires processing. And now, even though I’m writing again, I feel like I’ve lost my voice. I never intended on taking a break for this long, but… this fucking year, amiright? 

Write –> delete. Write –> delete. Write –> save for possible future use, but we all know I’ll never look at it again. Just like the 15,000+ photos I have on my phone.  That’s too many photos, Megan. Get your shit together. 

Some days I will compose perfectly “written” blog posts in my mind. Usually, it’s when I’m standing at the sink doing dishes or exploring the property, searching for treasures. If I immediately try to make the words permanent and transfer from brain to computer, phone, or paper… they’re gone, poof, like they never existed in the first place. Frustrating. 

Treasures

Nothing sounds right. Nothing looks right. I’ll spend days working on a piece, re-read, immediately hate it, delete. How did I do this before?

Just… bear with me. 

If you’ve read all 12 of my blog posts, you know that a) I lost my job in April and b) there were a few uncertainties and unknowns regarding my future. Also, c) hey… thanks for following along! The biggest source of my unknowns was this giant blaring mystery of not knowing when I was moving. At the beginning of the year, Markie Mark had decided to finally take the leap he’s been dreaming about for years and pursue agriculture. He grew up farming and raising animals, and in the 8 years we’ve been together, his desire to return to the land hasn’t faded one bit. I fully supported his dream, although location was my only argument. I really wanted to stay in Montana. He did his homework and spent most of his free time researching possibilities. In March, he discovered a 9600-acre organic grain farm roughly five hours north of us. He called, he visited, and it quickly became clear that these were our people

Toward the end of March, the flooring jobs he had lined up came to an immediate halt because of that whole pandemic/quarantine thing. You know the oneThe one that hasn’t just magically disappearedSince farming is an essential business, he ditched me and went north to help with Seeding Season. We were already discussing our transition before he left, and a few weeks later, I drove up to meet the owners and look at potential housing. At this point, it was just a matter of getting us a place to live. The farm owners were in negotiations to secure us the property we looked at, but because everyone was busy with seeding, everything was left up in the air. 

During this time, I’d also been dealing with Mika and Daisy’s refusal to eat dog food. Daisy had been diagnosed with kidney disease in January, and in March, she stopped eating not only her prescription dog food but all dog food in general. A week later, Mika stopped eating her dog food. Ugh. What they chose to eat one week or one day, would frequently and quickly change the next. I found myself constantly cooking and trying different foods, desperately attempting to get them to eat something. For the most part, it worked. I was always able to find at least one thing they’d eat. For a day. And then they’d refuse it the next. They became known as “the picky bitches.”

Daisy and Mika. The happiest, pickiest bitches.

When I returned home from my farm trip in April, I started overthinking and overanalyzing their quality of life. We made an appointment to check in with the vet… not only did I want to get a professional opinion of their status, but also make sure it was acceptable to feed them whatever. Even though both girls still had life, spunk, and enjoyment, I was so concerned about their new-found aversion to food, I started to convince myself that “this was it.” My heart was broken. I only wanted what was best for them. 

“The shadows of life add depth and dimension to our journey, like route markers along our path. They are never intended to dominate our life with darkness, neither do they determine our ultimate destiny.”

Anthon St. Maarten

The day before the appointment, I lost my job. Terrible timing. I felt like I was about to lose one, if not both, dogs the following day, so this was just a giant kick in the teeth. I already knew my time there was ending, obviously… I was moving. But with everything going on, that was my one support system. A shitty support system, yes. At work, I felt like I had friends and people who actually cared about my life. Ha. You think you know someone… the fakeness ran deep within that company. I learned the hard way, again. The number of times I’ve been through this, you’d think I would have known better. But no. It was pretty stupid of me to believe my boss and coworkers were actually being genuine. But instead of properly communicating with me, as I had done with him since the beginning of my employment, my boss chose the route of cowering and hiding. What are we in elementary school? Seriously, the level of bullshit was incredible. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not mad I lost my job. It was an easy way out and the company was a shit show. I knew I was leaving eventually, plus, it’s just a job. What really wrenched my heart was the way it was handled by people I thought actually gave a shit. It was the fact that I was already emotional with the potential loss of two of my dogs. The fact that my boss ignored my questions, hid from me, and didn’t respect me enough to explain the situation. He didn’t respect me enough to say goodbye, give thanks, or show any amount of support. He had lied directly to my face and told me I was safe, weeks before. I should have known better. Honestly, he did me a favor in getting me out of that place. I just wanted the mutual respect of honest communication that I always gave him. So, instead of feeling free and recognizing the gift I was being given, it felt like a betrayal. Good riddance.

Luckily, the following day at the vet went much better than expected. She recognized the amount of life still present in Daisy and Mika. She instructed me to “feed them whatever,” emphasizing that she didn’t care what they ate, as long as they were eating. Okay. I can do that. And now, I had unlimited time to be able to find something to their liking. And it required unlimited time because it was hard. But, they ate. And they maintained their happiness, energy, and enjoyment. 

For two months, the status of our move stayed unknown. I tried to focus all my energy on the girls, giving all my love and commitment to their end-of-life care. It was not easy. I was massively sleep-deprived, but I’d do anything to make them more comfortable. I knew they were on the last few pages of their life story. Death was closing in. 

In June, we finally got an answer regarding housing. The place we had looked at in April was a go, move-in set for July 1st. Everything felt like it was in limbo two months, then BAM… go go go! Mark returned home for a few weeks to finish up his last few flooring jobs and I began packing up the entire house, while still trying to keep the girls fed and content. Some days were harder than others. At this point, my only goal was to get the girls to the farm. I knew they’d love it, bringing peace and happiness to their broken and deteriorating bodies. I really wanted them to be able to reach “farm dog status” before they died. Amazingly, they seemed to be doing a bit better in the months I was home. Daisy had her occasional bad days, but the good ones far outnumbered the bad. 

As I worked on packing up the house, Mark took loads of crap to our new home. How and when did I accumulate all this stuff? Why is it in my home? Stop hoarding, Megan! When he was finished with his flooring work and said goodbye to the industry he’d been in for 6 years, he ditched me again to go do his final flooring job: refinishing the floors in the new house. I finalized the packing and in mid-July, we said goodbye to our house in Three Forks, moving on toward our future. The drive was a little over five hours, and by the time we made it to our new home, I was exhausted. We had some friendly neighborly help unloading, as well as a very quick introduction to the number of bugs we’d be dealing with. Living in the middle of nowhere farmland has so many perks, but also 500 trillion bugs. It’s a good thing I transported three batches of Baby Quinoa (aka baby orb weavers), along with 12 adult orb weavers. What? If you thought for one second that a semi-normal thing like moving would actually stay semi-normalish, you’ve got another thing coming. I’m insane, to the core. I didn’t leave that shit behind in Three Forks. So, yeah. I packed up a bunch of spiders, put them in coffee cans, and drove them up with me. I would have packed up the bluebirds, too, if I could have. God, I miss those Bluebies. I also demanded Mark pack up the compost I had spent years working on. I’m not about to give up that shit. That’s black gold! Shout out to Markie Mark, who transported the babies, 6 adult orbs, and scooped all my compost into five 5-gallon buckets. I’m so thankful to have someone who fully accepts all the obsessions and insanity that radiates from my being. Love you, Poo. 

Baby Quinoa adjusting to their new home.

From the very first day of residency in our new home, I could tell this was it. This place is magical.  Even though I still struggle with anxiety and depression (because it never goes away… MeSsEd Up FoR LyFe!), I’ve never been happier. I’ve never felt more drawn to a place before, like the Universe aligned perfectly with my life and made. this. shit. happen. It’s like a never-ending playground of exploration, collecting, and observing. And as the life slowly creeps out of the girls, I know this is the right place for them to live out the rest of their days, as short as it may be. They get to run and explore with me, chase bunnies and deer, roll in the grass, sunbathe, smell all the smells, pee on all the things, and when we are outside, excitement oozes from their weakening bodies. I knew they’d love it. I knew it would give them a brief glimmer of happiness before the inevitability of death, as all three of them will die of failing kidneys, most likely before the year has ended. 

I have a lot more to say about the dogs, but for now, I’m going to leave it at that. It’s deserving of its own post. 

The move, in general, went a lot smoother than our last, but it wasn’t without its difficulties. However, considering it only took roughly four months from finalizing the decision to completing the transition, I’d say it was a win. We ended up getting three offers on our house in Three Forks within a relatively short period, and most everything regarding the sale has worked out to our benefit. We are getting the exact amount we wanted for it in order to pay off Mark’s business debt, and our agent has been A M A Z I N G in helping us with everything since we now live five hours away. Mark goes back on Monday to sign the final papers and then we’ll wash our hands of that craphole. I don’t really think it’s a craphole. I loved that property. The house definitely had its issues, but I really did love living there. It was a great transition home and I’ll miss aspects of it, for sure. Honestly, I thought it would be more difficult to leave that place. I’d only been to the new property once prior to us moving, and even though I was excited about new experiences, I was still unsure. I didn’t realize I’d fall so deeply in love with it. 

Our new house rests on 40 acres and it’s owned by the Hutterites, aka the Hoots. They call it Spring Coulee, because of its location, so that’s what I like to call it. Yeah, our home has a name. No big deal. The Hoots still use the bins and one of the shops, but for the most part, they could give two shits about it. It’s not part of the colony and it’s too far away for them to care about keeping the land. Hopefully, we can use this to our advantage when it comes time to negotiate a trade or purchase. We really want this place. No one has lived here for 10 years. It’s a lathe and plaster house, which I think is super cool, but Markie Mark wants to tear it down and build a new house if we ever get the opportunity. It’s got issues, too, but it’s an old fucking house. I find myself less upset when shit leaks or squeaks than I was at the other house because this house has character. It feels more like a home… our home. It’s the perfect place for an isolated introverted hermit creep like me. It’s roughly 40 miles from town and 10 miles from the Canadian border (miiiiight just come in handy in the relatively near future). I’m not sure the exact distance we are from each neighbor, but they are far enough away that I could walk around outside, naked, all day, and no one would see me. Unless the Hoots or FedEx/UPS drop by. Which might be weird.  And awkward. However, our house is 3 miles down a dirt road from the main road, so luckily I’d have enough time to see them coming, run back inside, and hide. Which is exactly what I do. Not the naked part, though, just the run and hiding part. And then I peep through the windows and spy on whoever stopped by. But, for the most part, no one stops by. I’m left to my own devices. Just pure isolated bliss. 

New house… who dis?

Leaving the Bluebies and Neighborhood Murder Cat behind was difficult. I felt genuine sadness I’d never seen them again… these creatures that had brought me so much joy the past two years. But I’d be damned if I left my spiders behind! I wasn’t sure what the spider situation was like at Spring Coulee, so I had to guarantee I’d have my cat-faced orb weavers widely available to satisfy my weird obsession. I’ve lived in a house with no orb weavers before. It sucks. What am I supposed to stare at all day?!? I did discover the property already had cat-faced orb weavers, along with some bridge orb weavers, but most of them hung out around the outbuildings and barns. Only bridge orb weavers were present around the house. So, hopefully, that will change next year with the addition of 1500 cat-faced beauties. They have a harsh winter to get through, so I know many won’t survive. Godspeed little spiders.

As far as cats and birds… there’s no Murder Cat prowling around outside, which is probably a good thing considering the Hoots put a bunch of mouse poison in the buildings. I have yet to see a dead mouse just laying around, so I suppose that’s a good thing. I do not like poison. I mean, who does, really? MuRDERS, that’s who! We still get mice inside, but I found these really awesome wooden traps (Tomcat brand) and they work SO GOOD. We throw the dead mice in the tall grass behind the house and I check on them frequently, observing the decomposition process. Nature is truly awesome. We’ve got carrion beetles and those things are the fucking coolest. Sometimes when I check on the dead mice (and that one random dove that looked like it died in flight), the bodies have mysteriously disappeared. Hmm. Such mystery. There’s a ton of birds, deer, bunnies, coyotes, porcupines, badgers (although I have yet to see one), rattlesnakes, and my favorite… GREAT HORNED OWLS! I do miss my bluebirds, but if I had to give them up for anything, owls are a worthy trade. I have so much to write about regarding the owls, so that will be another post. There was also an incident with a rattlesnek… another story worthy of its own post.

The point of all my ranting is this: I was nervous and slightly terrified to leave our old house. I had created a space of comfort and obsessions and I wasn’t sure what was going to be waiting for me up north. As I’ve said before, I’m terrified of change. But, change can also be a good thing, and in this case, a very good thing. We faced our fair share of obstacles this year, but we endured and persevered. Both Mark and I are happier than we’ve been in quite some time. This place just feels right. Sometimes you gotta suck up your fears, accept that you can’t control the outcome (whatever it may be), and jump into the unknown. We don’t know what awaits us… and it very well could change our lives forever. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but sometimes… it IS.

“The laws of nature remind us that no matter how long, seeds do grow. Push through long enough to see your seeds grow.”

Andrena Sawyer

Fred and the Baby Spiders

I have a thing for spiders. Yeah, I said it. I’m one of those people. But I have my reasons.

Disclaimer: This post contains images and descriptions of spiders.

My infatuation with spiders developed some years ago when I lived in Oregon. Over time, I have become more open to different kinds of spiders, realizing that most of them are harmless and more terrified of us than we are of them. But my love for them started with one specific spider: The Orb Weaver. Specifically, the Cat-faced Orb Weaver (Araneus gemmoides). And there was one particular spider that started it all, and her name was Fred.

I lived in a duplex in Oregon for 9 years. It had a very small laundry room with a door leading out to the garage. There was a window in this laundry room. Fred found her way into the laundry room at some point and started to build a web. I did not think this was a very good move for Fred. She was still smallish at this point in her life, so I moved her gently, and placed her directly outside the laundry room on the window. She apparently liked this location very much, because she set up shop and lived out the rest of her days there.

Fred as a beautiful young woman, showing off her mad web skills.

Now, I named Fred before I knew Fred was a female. But then obviously I couldn’t change her name, so Fred it stayed. When I met Fred, I was going through a bout of terrible insomnia. I was also a smoker. So I would spend a lot of my nights and early mornings smoking cigarettes, watching Fred tear down her web and build a new one. It was fascinating. If you have never taken the time to watch an orb weaver work… I highly recommend you do. It’s delicate, rhythmic, therapeutic, and the result is really beautiful. It’s weird, I know. I was going through this really shitty time in my life, and I bonded with a spider. Thinking about Fred still makes me want to cry. Obviously, this spider never talked to me, never gave me advice, and probably never knew I even existed. But she gave me something. A connection? The ability to disconnect temporarily from my surroundings? Maybe. I don’t know what it was… but she gave me something I needed to survive that summer and move on with my life. She was my friend.

I watched Fred’s life cycle that summer. I met her as a young women, I saw her mate (and eat her partner!), I watched her get all fat and pregnant, and then when it came time and got cold in the fall, she disappeared to lay her eggs and die. I searched for her body for days, hoping to find my friend, wishing I could bring her inside and revive her. But that’s not how it works. The next year, we had some Fred babies pop up here and there, but no one really stuck around. And a few years later, I moved to a different house.

Old and pregnant Fred. The day after this photo, she disappeared.

The story of Fred happened in the summer of 2011. Every Spring, in every house I’ve been in since, I start the search for orb weavers, looking for my new Fred. In 2017, we moved to Montana. Apparently, orb weavers LOVE Montana. The first summer we were here, I was blessed with my first orb weaver above the back door. I watched her lay her babies and the egg sac is still there (sometimes, the babies never hatch sad face). Last year, it was an orb weaver Mecca. I had coffee can babies, 11 mature pregnant females, and an unknown amount of adolescent/teenage Orbies hanging around the perimeter of our house. I was only able to observe one female lay her egg sac (another round of coffee can babies!) and because she stayed with the babies, I thought I could get her body for preservation sake. Generally, they die within a few days after laying their eggs. She had been completely covered in snow. I brought her inside, and she was still alive! Barely, but alive. She didn’t do much, so I put her back out with her babies and continued to check on her. After weeks, she was still alive. It was insane. Like, the sheer determination in this woman. Or her energy reserve just hadn’t run out yet… I don’t know. I don’t know spiders. But then, probably the most traumatic and tragic thing to ever occur in my spider loving life, occurred: My dog ate her. So, that’s the end of that story.

Pregnant Orbie trying to find a place to lay her eggs.
Orbie with her babies, before my dog ate her. What a good mama, leaving bugs and shit for her little babes.

Winter happened. And all my precious Orbies either died or hibernated or whatever they do when winter comes. After the first snow, I found 8 bodies of adolescents that didn’t make it, so I know a lot of them died. That’s why spiders have so many babies… because most of them won’t survive. It’s a hard life out there, ya know? But now it’s almost May, and that’s the time when everything starts coming out again, because, you know, it’s getting warmer.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a spot hanging from the ceiling by the bathroom door in our bedroom. Upon closer inspection, I recognized the shape immediately. Oh blessed day! An adolescent Orbie had survived winter and decided to set up shop in my room. Obvi, I have good spider juju. They know. She apparently did not like that location and bailed, moving to the corner of the room by the window. Obviously a smart move because: 1) that’s very close to where I sleep and 2) the window, duh. She hung out by the closet for a couple of days and I waited for her to make a web. They are more active at night, so one night, during one of Daisy’s middle-of-the-night-pee-excursions, I used my phone’s flashlight to check out the area. You wanna know what I found? Yeah, you do. Another Orbie! This one was much smaller, more babyish. It was chilling on the blinds. Blessed with two! Two orb weavers in my room? By my window? In my corner? Oh my lord… they know.

The next morning, the bigger Orbie had disappeared. I was devastated. I searched for her everywhere. Web trails, evidence, something… anything. I thought perhaps she had gone down the vent and went into the basement. Nope. For days, I searched. Every morning and every night. No sign of her. She left me. Which is understandable… a bedroom probably isn’t a great All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet for bugs. I didn’t blame her. The baby was still too young to understand, but she’d eventually get smart and leave me, too. It was inevitable.

Coffee Can Babies. I was out-of-my-mind delighted when I found these guys.

For the next few days, I watched the baby move from the blinds, to the corner, to the wall. I would check on her at night when I let Daisy out, and she would be busy walking little baby butt strings along the top of the wall. You do you, baby spider. She seemed to have found her spot, and the fact that she was making a web confirmed that she was here to stay. Haha, you dumb bitch.

Wednesday April 22, 2020:
I awoke to the most marvelous thing! The bigger Orbie that had vanished from existence last week has reappeared. She is back in her corner by the window and she even grew a little. Getting thick. I don’t know where she went in her little hiatus or what she was doing, but she’s back and everything is right in the world…

Wait…

WTF…

Now the baby is gone?!? Okay. I cannot be a spider mother. I cannot handle this kind of stress. I’m officially throwing in the towel. I quit.

Thursday April 23, 2020:
Baby has returned! My life is complete! I have two Orbies in my room, safe and sound. Both have made webs, both are eating (I’m a crazy person and I may be literally finding bugs outside to throw in their webs), and all is right in the world.

I realize how crazy this post sounds to a lot of people. I have two spiders living in my bedroom, literal feet away from my face when I sleep, and I’m finding bugs outside to throw in their webs inside instead of just relocating them OUTSIDE where they probably should be in the first place. Yes, you’re right. And at some point, I will relocate them outside. Because I know they won’t be able to survive in here for an extended period of time. Plus, they’ll need to find a mate and make more babies, and that obviously can’t happen in here. So for now, just let me have my moment and be a spider mother. I already know I’m crazy. But honestly, I don’t care. Because I’m sitting here right now, thinking about my life in this moment, wondering why, again, I have attached myself to some random spiders. I am one of those people… but I really only love orb weavers. I don’t kill spiders, but I won’t just let any spider build its web and exist in my bedroom, 5 feet from my sleeping face.

It’s Fred. It’s always been Fred. She gave me a gift… that unknown gift of survival. During the darkest points of my life, when I need a connection, a focal point, that familiar rhythmic and therapeutic dance… there she is. It’s why I continuously search for replacements, hoping for the day when my therapy will resume. My future is unknown. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I lost my job. My dogs are dying. Things are grey. But here and now, I have two tiny friends. And for the time, I can occasionally disconnect from all the daily unknowns and bullshit, check in with my Orbies, and life seems a little less grey.

I rarely name Orbie’s anymore since Fred. Usually when I do, they leave me almost immediately. This was Montana Orbie #1 after laying her eggs, one day before she died.