Ode to the Farm Pond

It’s my baptismal font, my hole in the ground that gets me a few feet closer to the earth’s core. It’s in these waters, the color of meat broth, where I immerse myself to calm my anxieties, soothe my aches—of the heart and otherwise—and to make me feel closer to nature, which to me is the same thing as god. No matter that these waters are filled with blue gills and bass, their silver bodies shimmering below the surface as they swim, their scales scraping my skin, their sharp little teeth nibbling on my legs, stomach, and buttocks that make me cry out in surprise. They are harmless, really. They’re not piranhas. And if not for the fish, algae would cover the pond in wall-to-wall green carpet. 

Frogs line the perimeter, hidden in the willows, burrowed in the mud, sheltered by the fortress of tall grass bending in the wind. They croak their guttural chirps in unison, until some disturbance – like a ripple in the water made by my hand as I swim – makes them to go silent in an instant, as if the multitude of them were a singular voice. 

The pond’s original purpose was not to be my private swimming hole, but for erosion control. A bulldozer dug out a ditch, the displaced earth was used to build up a berm to keep Iowa’s valuable black soil from traveling downhill into the growing gully below, and in turn an aquatic catch basin was created.

With no other options—given the six other ponds on the thousand-acre farm have resident snakes and snapping turtles and occasional algae blooms—I’ve claimed this pond, the newest of them, as my sacred space. But only after making an agreement with the frogs and fish to share it, respecting our coexistence in the ecosystem. 

It’s the church I go to meditate, where I can sit in solitary silence on the end of the dock the farmer built for me, and put my face toward the sun, and talk to whatever higher power exists “up there” as the wind swirling around my body reminds me of my physical being. 

It’s the chapel/the funeral home/the psych ward I ran to when my dog died, sprinting from the house and taking a shortcut across the field, flinging myself fully clothed into the cooling pool, not to drown myself, but to douse the searing pain of grief that coursed through me like fire. I stayed in the water for an hour that day, clinging to a rubber innertube as my body heaved with sobs, though it was the pond itself that was the life preserver. 

Sometimes the pond is a place to spend time with friends, to have intimate conversations with the farmer, to drink cocktails as the sun sets. Sometimes the pond is simply a place to swim, to float, to drift, to dream, to just be.

 * * * * *

I wrote this piece for a writers workshop I’m taking. The assignment was “Getting Closer,” asking us to take a more intimate look at a place and describing it in more depth. When our group meets on Saturday they will likely pick the piece apart, telling me the structure is all wrong, that the descriptions aren’t fleshed out enough, yada yada yada. But none of that will matter to me, because nothing — no word order or word choice — will change the magic of this place for me. 
Also, I chose this subject for the exercise because winter is approaching and the water will soon turn to a solid sheet of ice, and the frogs and fish will lie dormant in the mud. I will miss it until next year, when the spring thaw comes, summer heats it up to a tepid degree, and I can bathe in its healing balm again. 
So this little story is my ode to the pond’s spiritual powers, a prayer of gratitude, and a reminder to all of us to revere (and preserve) nature. No matter how muddy it is.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 5: Chicken Pot Pie

In episode 5 of “Stay Calm and Bake Pie,” Doug is back by popular demand, demonstrating his culinary skills. Not sure if it’s him or my improving editing skills, but damn if he doesn’t look like a professional chef in this episode.

Also, there’s some great music in this one.  The Mike and Amy Finders Band gave us permission to use their song, “Man in the Kitchen.” It’s a PERFECT fit for Doug’s segment!  And legendary musician, Eric Troyer, of The Orchestra featuring ELO former members, wrote a pie song JUST FOR ME! There’s a short version of it playing in the intro, and the full version for the ending.

This pie lesson project has turned into a joyful labor of love. I am enjoying the learning curve of the editing process (I’m shooting with an iPad, and only using iMovie to edit. I haven’t yet advanced to Premiere or Final Cut.) It keeps my creative juices overflowing, almost as much as my chicken pot pie filling.

I especially love all the positive feedback. I am hearing over and over again, “Thank you for these videos.” You. Are. So. Welcome. Thank you for watching them!

I continue to receive photos of your finished pies — “victory shots,” I call them. Sorry I have gotten behind on posting them all to the Facebook Victory Shot album, but I’m so focused on getting the next videos made I haven’t had the time to go back and collect all the pie photos. There are so many! But I do see all of your pics and every single one of them, along with the accompanying stories, makes me swell with happiness and pride.

As for this particular pie, I confess, I had not made a chicken pot pie in years, so my skills were rusty on this one. And because I was nervous, and thus rushing, I spilled milk all over my stove. But guess what? That pie turned out great. It was so effing delicious it went from being comfort food to un-comfortable food because we ate WAY TOO MUCH! I hesitate to mention that because I am sensitive to the fact that there are people going hungry out there due to job loss, homelessness, illness….I am aware of how privileged we are to have this abundance of food to eat. I am also aware that for all that I preach about how pie is meant to be shared I’m not giving away many pies these days. It’s not easy to get out of the house, and we live 25 minutes from town. Still….I want to be doing more to help others. I just hope that by sharing these lessons I am doing something to give back to the world.

So without further ado, here is the chicken pot pie lesson…

Next episode: GLUTEN FREE PIE!!!!

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube

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And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 4: Key Lime

My farmer’s hands.
They not only
build strong fences,
they make good pie!

And now for something a little different in the “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” video series. Doug appears as the guest baker in this episode, making key lime pie.

There are many approaches to making pie and yet the same pie made in different ways can still turn out equally good. Doug and I, with our mismatched baking styles, are proof of that. Instead of debating it, we embrace it — and have a little fun with it in this “he said-she said” format.

Previous episodes:
Click here for my previous lessons on YouTube (apple, berry crumble, banana cream)

Next episodes:

  •  Chicken Pot Pie
  •  Gluten-free pie 
  •  Pie-in-a-Jar and other various shapes and forms 
  • Please follow me on my social media pages:

    And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

    Love, Beth

    Doug also shares some tips for what rum pairs well with the pie.

    Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 2, Mixed Berry Crumble

    I am learning how to do the video shooting and editing on the fly — flying solo, at that. I am using Doug’s iPad to film and iMovie to edit. I’m starting to get the hang of splitting clips and splicing music. But the sound quality needs a lot of improvement. I need a wireless lavalier (clip on) microphone. I want to wait on shooting the next episode until I get the mic, but the next one is banana cream pie and Doug already bought the bananas… So to that I say, videos, like pies, are not about perfection!

    In this berry crumble episode, I think (hope) you’ll find the baking instruction useful and the farm scenery soothing. Even if you can’t hear a damn thing! Enjoy and send me pictures of your pies — and stories of who you baked them with, and shared them with.

    Someone commented on my Facebook page that all this pie is going to make us fat! I had a whole spiel about that in this episode but the footage got deleted somewhere along the way. I was blathering on about how this berry pie is “just fruit,” full of vitamins and antioxidants. I also added that while pie making is good for your heart and soul, exercise is good for your heart and body. So go for a walk or do an online dance class to balance out the eating. I don’t want to be preachy, but I do feel it’s worth mentioning.

    Next episodes:

    • Banana Cream Pie 
    • Chicken Pot Pie 
    • Key Lime Pie 
    • hopefully a gluten-free pie in there somewhere, by request. 
    • and if I keep going, then Shaker lemon, spaghetti pie, French silk, peach…the list could be a long one!

     Please follow me on my social media pages:

    And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

     Love, Beth

    Marking Myself ‘Happy’ During the Polar Vortex

    It’s 3 degrees outside and dropping. They’re calling this the Polar Vortex, the Arctic Blast, or maybe it’s just Hell Freezing Over. News reports say that Midwest temperatures will be the lowest they’ve been in a generation, that it will be colder in Chicago than in Antarctica.

    To think I could be in Florida right now.

    I was in Florida until a few days ago. I could have stayed an extra week. But I chose to drive home before the Big Freeze.

    I chose this?! I willingly came back to Iowa when the forecast is for 20 below zero with a wind chill of minus 50? I have been suffering from a severe case of S.A.D. and still I chose to come back?

    The Weather Channel is scarier than a horror movie.

    I knew it was going to be cold if I came back to Iowa. But I also knew I had survived New Year’s Eve of 2018, when Doug, my boyfriend, had his annual bonfire party outside in the woods—even though it was 14 below! (I had also survived waking up the following morning, starting off 2018 with a thermometer reading of negative 19. Happy F**king New Year!)

    Doug’s wood pile. That’s going
     to be one big-ass bonfire.

    Doug’s bonfire party tradition spans more than three decades, and he and his farmer friends and family members carry on with it regardless of the weather, such hardy folk are they. That brutal year as 2017 gave way to 2018 everyone joked about how in all the times they’d been to this gathering they had never stood this close to the flames, an inferno so towering it could melt your boots along with your brains. The blaze was so big it could have been used as a funeral pyre, a description that isn’t far off as Doug, in the early years of the party, used to build Burning Man-esque effigies and set them alight.

    On that oh-so-festive occasion, our group—there were a dozen of us—huddled precariously close to the fire, holding out our mittened hands toward the heat, continuously rotating our bodies like chickens on a rotisserie to warm all sides evenly. We roasted hot dogs (using 10-foot-long branches Doug had whittled) and drank beer and wine out of thermoses so our drinks wouldn’t freeze. We nibbled on homemade cookies so hardened by the cold they could chip your teeth.

    This is what Iowa farmers do for fun?!

    Can you feel the heat?

    I was only there because my boyfriend hosts the soirée. I would prefer to spend New Year’s Eve—or any long winter’s night—in my bathtub reading a book or under my down comforter watching Netflix. I tried to be a good and dutiful girlfriend, but I bailed on the party before midnight. Sometime before 11, my friend Carolyn and I announced we were walking home, a distance of a quarter mile away from the fire site, even though there was a fleet of pickup trucks parked nearby and we probably could have taken one. We were tough women. We would brave the elements.

    Carolyn and I cinched our coats tighter and wrapped our scarves higher around our faces. We tore ourselves away from the pull of the fire’s seductive heat, turned on a flashlight, and set off across the soybean field toward the house. We trudged over the plowed black soil and ice, taking care not to trip on the dirt clods and snow drifts.

    Carolyn and me

    As our eyes adjusted to the dark, we could see more of the sky. It was so black and wide, the air so chilled it was crystalline, the stars appeared both closer and more infinite, millions of them illuminated like the dust of crushed diamonds. The night was so serene and surreal it begged the question “Is this heaven?” Carolyn and I, like a pair of baseball players stepping out of the past onto a frozen farm, had to remind ourselves, “It’s Iowa.” We walked in silence, with reverence, as if this were a religious experience or the rapture, as if we were not just communing with the Universe but we were the Universe. No, we weren’t drunk. More importantly, we weren’t cold! And those 20 minutes—outdoors in Ice Age conditions that could kill you—turned out to be the highlight of my holiday.

    I wasn’t thinking about this when I left Florida and returned to Iowa of my own volition. Nor was I thinking about my boyfriend and how much I missed him, along with my dogs and cats and goats. Sadly, selfishly, my motivation to go north was based on Florida’s forecast. The Gulf States were going to get a whiff of this Arctic Blast too. If I stayed in the South there would be no dips in the sea or barefoot walks on the beach or margaritas sipped at outdoor cafes because Florida, the Weather Channel declared, might even get snow! Still, I checked my Weather Underground app and Google maps obsessively, toggling back and forth between the two, to see if there was somewhere, anywhere I could go within a day’s driving distance that was warm, or at least warmer. Alas, I wouldn’t be able to reach anyplace summery without getting on an airplane.

    This isn’t snow, but it felt like it! It’s a white sugar sand in Navarre Beach,
    Florida, and the wind chill was about 28 degrees when I took this photo.

    In the midst of agonizing over a tempting invitation to South Carolina (unseasonably cold, but warmer than the Heartland), I had a phone consultation with my friend Kee Kee. After confessing to her that I already had a trip booked to Arizona for 10 days in February, I came to the conclusion that home is where I needed to be. No matter how low the temperatures would go.

    And they will be dangerously low. According to media reports, it will be so cold they are advising you should not talk, let alone breathe when you’re outside.

    Is this the Arctic? No, it’s Iowa.

    Oh, Florida…why did I ever leave you?!

    No matter how cold, how uncomfortable, how life-threatening, I promised myself I would not complain about the weather when I got back to Iowa. (Doug—or anyone who knows me—will confirm that my proclivity to grumble increases by 99 percent in winter.) And as the temps continue to plummet—it has already dropped to 6 below in the past hour—and the winds howl, their speeds gaining force, I have yet to utter one negative word about Mother Nature’s deadly assault. Because the forecast indicates it will be in the mid-40s by Saturday. In other words, this too shall pass.

    In the meantime, I have the means to endure as I am heavily armed with the essential tools. I have a thick suit of armor, created out of multiple layers of fleece, wool, and down. I have a warm house with a trustworthy furnace, a deep soaking bathtub, and an on-demand water heater to fill it. I have cupboards well-stocked with hot chocolate and red wine. I have flannel sheets on my bed, a down comforter and, best of all, a steaming hot potato of a farmer I can snuggle with underneath it.

    I consider my return home something like The Hero’s Journey, because avoidable as coming back may have been, there is something that feels noble and right about joining in the battle of survival, not running from it but facing it head on, and going through the test of endurance together. It’s like Tea Leoni’s character in Deep Impact (the doomsday film about a killer meteor on a collision course with Earth that will wipe out humanity) when she sacrifices her spot in the shelter, giving up her chance to live, to be with her dad, her family. Doug and our animals are my family. And whether it’s a meteor hurling toward the earth or, as is the case, a dangerous but far-less life-threatening winter storm blowing across the Great Plains, I wouldn’t want to be alone in a Florida motel room. I would want to be—and am—with family.

    So, yes, I may be in Iowa in this torturous, record-shattering weather, yet I’m feeling triumphant. Because whether this is heaven—or hell—freezing over, no matter how bad this Polar Vortex gets, I am safe, I am warm, I am home—and I’m very happy to be here.

    Stay safe and warm, everyone!

    For the Love — and Grief — of Goats

    Mr. Friendly, Mamacita & Chaps asking, “Yo! Where’s our breakfast?”

    Three weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I went out to the barn, as I do every morning, to feed the goats. The three of them—Mamacita, Mr. Friendly and Chaps—are normally waiting at the gate, having already been staring at the house with anticipation upon waking, as if they could will me to come out sooner with their breakfast.

    When the two males, Mr. Friendly and Chaps, see me coming they rear up on their hind legs and head butt each other, slamming their horns so hard the smacking sound echoes off the barn. I first thought this was an act of aggression, but after observing it repeatedly, always in this context of me bearing breakfast bowls of grain, I realized it was the goat version of a high five.

    But on this particular morning—Sunday, November 11—there was only one goat waiting at the gate.

    Our goats are old. They were already at least 12 when we adopted them from an elderly couple in Selma, Iowa, the tiny village just down the road from Eldon. I had fallen in love with the goats during the four years I lived in the American Gothic House; I would bring them carrots while out on my road bike rides, I would feed them through the chain-link fence, and we developed a bond. They got to know me over time, always running to greet me when I pulled up on my bicycle. Given they were already at the top end of their lifespan when we adopted them, and we’ve had them for three years, they are now well into a very advanced age. Camp Doug is their retirement home, and as with any senior citizens, I know I need to be prepared for their departure.

    Prepared? When you love someone—whether man or animal—who is ever prepared for a goodbye that is so final?

    We lost one of the four goats a year and a half ago, in April of 2017. After spending a month at my dad’s bedside in California, caring for him through his aggressive cancer and doing the unthinkable: saying goodbye to him, I returned home only to find myself right back in hospice.

    Cinnamon

    Cinnamon, our tan-colored fainting goat, had stopped eating while I was away. So for two weeks following my return, I alternated between sitting with her in the barn and driving to the vet with her stool samples or to get medicine, desperate for a cure to whatever was ailing her.

    The vet prescribed a homemade “goat drench,” a concoction of corn oil, molasses and Gatorade, which I was to squirt into her mouth with a turkey baster. I squirted. She pursed her lips tight and jerked her head away. I pushed the baster into her mouth again. “Come on, beautiful. You have to eat something.” The sight of the drench running out of the side of her mouth, leaving a sticky trail of brown and sugary oil on her beautiful fluffy coat, was as upsetting to me as her failing health. I went back to the vet again and again, pleading for something, anything to help.

    Finally, the vet held my shoulders and stared straight into my eyes. “She’s 15,” the vet said.

    “But…” I started to say.

    The vet interrupted me, repeating more sternly, “She’s 15.”

    And then one morning, after Doug left to do his farm chores, he came back inside to find me. “She’s gone,” he said tenderly. I went outside to find her in the far corner of the barn, the life drained from her body after her drawn-out struggle. We buried her on the west side of the farmhouse, between the garden and the soybean field. Doug shoveled out the grave and I bought flowers to put on top. When we had pushed the last of the black soil over her, Doug went back to work and I went on antidepressants.

    My dad died in March. Cinnamon died in April. And in June of that same year, 2017, Jack, my dog and surviving member of “Team Terrier,” developed both diabetes and congestive heart failure. He has nearly died at least four times during the past 18 months. Miraculously, after thousands of dollars in vet bills and countless tears, he is still alive—14 and ½ years old, blind, his strong spirit still intact. Every morning when I wake up, I hold my breath as I check to see that he is still breathing. When I see his chest rise and fall, I exhale with relief.

    Jack is blind, but he still likes to go for walks —
    even when I have to carry him in the backpack.

    It’s the same with the goats. Every morning when I go out to feed them, I scan the goat pen to make sure the three of them are accounted for.

    But on that Sunday, three weeks ago, only Mr. Friendly was at the gate.

    Occasionally the others hang out in the barn until breakfast is ready, but they always come running at the clanking metal sound of the gate opening. That Sunday, no one came running.

    I pushed past Mr. Friendly, who is a big, white, lovable lug, and walked further into the pen where I saw Chaps, who looks like a miniature wildebeest. He was lingering in the doorway of the barn. But I didn’t see Mamacita.

    Mamacita


    Mamacita, who is a pygmy goat, is Chaps’ mom. She’s a feisty little thing with one horn (the other broke off years ago) who Doug so accurately describes as Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” She may be the smallest of the herd but she’s in charge. She’s the adventurous one who leads the others to the far reaches of the yard, discovering the parts meant to be off limits, like the garden when everything is ripe or the hay barn when the door has been left open. If there is a feast to be had, she is the one who will find it.

    She is also the one who pushes through the gate if I leave any bit of space to squeeze through. Lately I had been encouraging her to escape so I could feed her outside the pen, allowing her the extra time she needed to eat so the boys didn’t steal her food. She could go back into the pen when she was done eating by pushing the gate in, but the boys could not push it out. She didn’t always go back in though. She would take advantage of her freedom and graze in the yard while the boys watched with envy from behind the fence. I had been allowing this, giving her special privileges, though I give the boys equal time to roam freely too—much to Doug’s disapproval. But Doug knows how much I love the goats, and he loves me, so without saying anything he simply puts up fences around the mock orange bushes, flower beds and other areas he doesn’t want them devouring.

    With Mr. Friendly and Chaps accounted for, I went looking for Mamacita. “Maybe she’s just around the corner, warming up in the sun,” I thought, hopefully. But she wasn’t, so my next option was the barn.

    The barn is cavernous and dark inside. I walked in, pausing to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, and headed toward the back. And then I saw her, Mamacita, lying on her side in the straw.

    Was she was sick? Was she going to be okay?

    As I got closer, I felt the energy shift around me, the molecules of air rearranging themselves. I was filled with a simultaneous sense of dread and hope and knowing—that moment of teetering on the precipice right before falling, that last precious nanosecond of time before discovering that life as you have known it has just permanently, irreversibly changed.

    She was dead.

    I knelt down in the straw to feel her body, rubbing my hands on her white and brown hair, long and coarse. Given she was cold to the touch, she must have died during the night.

    The guilt came hard and fast. “Did she freeze to death? Did I not feed her enough to keep her warm?” I asked myself. Iowa has had an early winter. It had snowed two days earlier and temperatures plummeted to a record cold of nine degrees. Nine degrees! In early-November!  “Should I have gotten her a coat?”

    Doug came out to the barn and held me in his arms as I sobbed on his shoulder. In his soothing way, he said, “Bea, she just ran out of gas. She didn’t suffer. Her heart probably just stopped. What a peaceful way to go.” Then he left me to sit with her a while longer while he got his shovel and went to dig her grave next to Cinnamon’s.

    Our funeral for Mamacita

    We held a little graveside service, lighting a candle, reading poems to her from John O’Donohue’s “To Bless the Space Between Us” and sprinkled baby carrots into the pit. We said our thank yous and our final goodbyes to her, then Doug picked up his shovel, while I picked up a handful of dirt to toss into the grave in the symbolic way they do at human burials. But I didn’t stop there. I dropped to my knees and started pushing the icy soil on top of her, at first gently, then shoving it in faster with my bare hands, until she was completely covered.

    We worked in silence as the dirt piled up into a mound, the physical effort and connection to the earth serving as therapy for my sadness. Yet my tears—and my remorse—continued. “Did she freeze to death? Did I not feed her enough? Did I not keep her warm enough?” I asked myself again and again. “Could I have prevented this? Surely there is something I could have done.”

    “She was 15!” the vet’s voice from a year and a half earlier bellowed in my head. “15!”

    In reality, she was older than that, maybe closer to 16 or 17, living well beyond a pygmy goat’s 10- to 12-year average life expectancy.

    For as much as I want to keep my animals alive forever, there comes a day—not just for the animals but for all of us—when our bodies expire, when no amount of medicine or molasses-based goat drench can keep us going.

    “It’s sad,” my mom said when I told her about Mamacita’s passing, “but you have prolonged all of their lives by taking them in and providing such a good life at Camp Doug.”

    Her words provided some consolation, but they didn’t erase the added heartache of watching our two surviving goats grieve. Yes, goats grieve. For about three days, Chaps stood off on his own, his head pushed up against the barn as if he didn’t want anyone to see him cry, while Mr. Friendly paced around the pen, the barn and the pasture, as if looking for Mamacita, determined to find her, willing her to return. But she would not be back. At least not in the same form.

    Tiger, our barn cat who hangs out with the goats,
    consoled Chaps after Mamacita died.
    It was a beautiful thing to see animals
    showing compassion for one another.

    “Every day is a bonus” is an expression we utter daily in our house full of elderly animals. Doug’s dog Mali, an athletic but incontinent spaniel/beagle mix, is 14, maybe older. His cats, Tiger and Maybelline, while still strong and healthy, are at least 15.

    Every day Doug reminds me to stop worrying so much, to stop anticipating the losses, and start seeing the days as half full.

    Chaps in his new coat

    “Every day is a bonus, Bea,” Doug reminds me.

    Every day I have been spending a lot of extra time in the goat pen with Chaps and Friendly. I have been bringing them warm water with molasses, and increased their feed. I have been petting and petting and petting them, like some massage therapist for goats. And I bought a new sewing machine to make coats for them out of fleece blankets and an old nylon tarp. (Making the coats was so easy I wished I had made them three years ago.)

    Every day I give Jack his insulin shots, his heart pills, his liver pills, his skin pills. I kiss him every time I walk past him, snuggle with him and tell him how much I love him.

    Every day I brace myself, holding my own breath until I’ve made sure everyone is still breathing—the dogs, the cats, the goats, and yes, Doug (who is 63). And every day I say my prayers of gratitude as I confirm each one is still with us.

    All I want to do is keep everyone alive. Given that I do not possess the power to do so, all I can do is shower them with love for as long as they are still here—and, sadly, grieve them when they are gone. I have lived through too many losses already, and the cumulative grief chips away at my enthusiasm for life. But as Queen Elizabeth said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” And I cannot and will not stop loving. Fully. Deeply. Courageously.

    Mamacita. Forever loved.

    Thank you, Mamacita, for your sweetness, your feistiness, your girl power, for the four years I visited you in Selma, and for the three happy years we had together at Camp Doug. You are so very missed, and forever very loved.

    Guest Blog: Life in the Not Very Fast Lane at Camp Doug(h) — by Doug

    There is no set time when Happy Hour starts on the farm. Beth’s dad, Tom Howard, had a set in stone 5pm start time. For us, in the late spring or summer, it may start at 9pm while we are fixing supper. But now and then it actually starts right on time.

    The official start is when we make the left turn off the sidewalk towards the machine shed where the side-by-side is parked. At this moment our dogs, Jack and Mali, race ahead of us to be first in. Loaded up, the four of us—Beth, the dogs, and me—enjoy a wind-in-our-face ride to the pond. Now we are living!

    The pond is where we want to be on hot summer evenings. Mali squirms out through our legs the instant we are stopped. Jack jumps out then waits obediently for his life jacket from Beth. I dive in from the dock, instantly washing off a day’s worth of dust and sweat. Beth tosses in Jack’s inner tube with the plywood platform (for Jack to stand on), then she throws Jack’s stick. Jack promptly swims after it. Beth dives in to join us. Mali, unlike Jack, is content to hunt frogs in the grass along the edge. Eventually we all enjoy a drying wind as we motor back to the house.

    Once home, the dogs get beef liver treats for leading us on such a grand adventure. Now, accompanied by our beverage of choice (a gin and tonic or wine for Beth, beer or “brown water” for me,) Beth starts to work on a salad and I light the grill. Pork or beef from our freezer will go over the coals. Produce from our garden will go in the salad. Another evening of farm-to-table dining at Camp Doug(h).

    Now that the picnic table, shaded from the evening sun, is set, Jack and Mali line up for their ritual wait, hoping for steak or pork chop bones. With fresh food on the table, the lingering aroma from the grill, a soft summer breeze caressing us, we toast to another beautiful day.

    But the day is not quite finished. With fading light, it is time for “cowboy TV.” Yes, it is when I light a small bonfire in the fire ring beyond the picnic table. Once the flames have calmed down we relax with a little night cap while watching our favorite show. There is a bit of a disagreement as to what show to watch. I like to watch the pulsing red light of glowing embers. Beth prefers to stir the fire and watch the flames. Somehow we manage.

    Eventually the fire starts to fade. But it’s not just the fire. Beth and I are fading too. There is one more thing to do: walk the dogs. You would think they could go on their own, but no, they wait for us. Under a starry summer sky we parade down the gravel road. Mali is always out in front. Jack usually brings up the rear. With a little luck, we may see a shooting star.