Thursday, August 25, 2022


Mother Nature tests my patience from time to time. Over the course of the last five years, strong winds have brought down five trees around the house - two chestnuts, a walnut, and a pecan tree, as well as a huge oak out the lane. In addition, the maple tree at the corner of the house at my bedroom succumbed to a mini-derecho that hit unexpectedly in June.

I should add that all these trees fell while I was away, leaving several days of work once I returned back to the farm. It’s always a shock to see open space where big trees once provided cherished shade on hot, sunny summer afternoons. It’s an adjustment but one that quickly becomes the new lay of the land. I adjust, the corgis adjust, the birds and critters adjust, and I work feverishly to relocate cherished plants that will perish without the cover of shade under which they once flourished. Once established elsewhere, the plants and flowers adjust, take root in a new location, and open again to bloom come spring.

In my 42 years at the farm, people have come and gone; farm daughter, Bobbi, was the first; then two little Wilders made lifelong memories on the land, dogs and cats have thrived in the open spaces 30+ acres provide, and wild animals have lived safe from hunters and poachers. Despite the many changes the farm family has experienced over time, one structure has remained a constant presence for all: the beloved barn. Many a morning, I’ve taken my coffee out on the deck to watch barn swallows practice their flight patterns, swooping in, out of, and around the old structure. Our resident indigo bunting has announced sunrise and sunset from atop the lightening rods for years, and Fatty, our farm groundhog, has produced several generations of little ones in her den by the silo. My dad once caught one of her babies bare-handed, infuriating my mother who found Zeb on the ground, unable to get up because of the groundhog he held in his bare hands.

(I found this sketch I did of the healthy barn back in1989. Our chickens lived in the attached addition on the right. This is a south view.)

Built about 100 years ago, the old cattle barn has served as recorder of memories on the farm, witnessing more joy than sadness and remaining steadfast despite the battering of intense west winds, torrential rain storms, the weight of several feet of snow on its shoulders, and the heat and humidity of Mid-Ohio Valley summers. With HOME inscribed across the north end of this humongous structure, everyone who circled around the house was welcomed to a place where they could feel safe. The farm is and has always been “home” to many, and the sight of the barn has always conjured up the sanctity of the farm.  The spirit of love and HOME has resonated in the hearts of many “farm kids” as they have traveled around the country and the world, for that is what the farm is - HOME. 

Thinking about the barn conjures up memory after memory: the time I turned the corner of the driveway and saw the north end of the foundation had collapsed; watching Mr. Ambrose Arnold jack the entire barn up, put in a cement block wall underneath it and then move the structure back on the foundation with a team of oxen; shooting basketball at the old hoop left on a beam from the days when the barn was the “gym” for the schoolhouse at the end of the lane; sending the kids down to the barn to play on a rusted potters wheel that I confiscated at Marietta High School; watching Eliza and her friend Desiree sneak down to their “special clubhouse” near the silo; feeding chickens in our barn “coop” on freezing winter days, and  making many evenings of music in the silo, which could only be accessed by climbing on the feeding stalls underneath. And, I always marveled at the height of the dried Christmas tree fire just outside the barn door as we prepared for a sweat lodge or celebrated New Year’s Eve. Just as I reflect on those times, I’m sure the barn had stories to tell to its seasonal inhabitants about the zany antics of the people who traipsed through it all those years. 

Age and the weather began to take its toll on the barn several years back. Boards fell off the west side, leaving it completely open to the elements. Then the east side boards began to come loose, eventually leaving the barn completely open. Regardless, the “bones” of the old girl held on, and she never fell until the back side broke apart this past winter.  At that point, the roof began to sag, and signs pointed to inevitable collapse.

Over time, I’ve told everyone who remarked on the fragility of the structure that I’d know when it was the right time to bring our beloved farm barn down. I began to worry every time a storm came through. I had to keep the corgis out of it for fear they’d fall through the floor, and when I mowed around it, I had momentary flashes of the rafters breaking on my faithful mower and me. The last few months were like being on death watch for a friend, knowing I could not wait too much longer and sadly realizing I had to take action.

So on June 18th, two days after I returned home from NC, the crew from Doug Lowe Construction arrived with a huge track hoe to begin the task of bringing her down. My only request was that they try to save the HOME section (which they successfully did). When the hoe made the first hit on the middle of the roof, the structure collapsed from both ends to the middle, and the clean-up began.

I could not have asked for a more thoughtful crew from the (de)construction company. Bill and Jason stood patiently as I said goodbye. I took my sage bundle and smudged in and around the structure, leaving the sage burning inside as the old barn fell to the ground. I shed a goodly number of tears as I watched her crumble, and then to my surprise, I felt a HUGE wave of peace and relief. I was ready to get the debris cleaned up, the ground shaped and manicured, and enjoy my new open space. The silo remained intact - a marker to the burial site of concrete foundation, termite infested beams, pieces of the old tin roof, and the block foundation.  It would now become the keeper of memories - those housed by the barn as well as new ones that began as the barn came down.

Bill worked on and off all week, overseeing the massive burn that had to take place before burial could take place. He worked the bulldozer to cover debris, and he skillfully broke up the foundation and retaining wall. Then he began to move dirt and shape the new “lawn” where the barn had stood. He planted grass seed and covered it with straw. Regular rain showers quickly encouraged the grass to come up, and before I knew it, I had a beautiful new view to enjoy - open space into the back field with the silo in the foreground. 

I still have many of the old sandstone foundation blocks that I had used to make my terraced deep beds by the barn where the chicken coop once stood. Except for the fact that they each weigh a ton, I’d love to take them with me wherever I end up going in the future, but that might be an unlikely wish.  I WILL make a fire pit out of some on the spot where the sweat lodge fire burned on solstices and special occasions.

“Onward!”as my friend Diane says. I’m eager to see the fence line in the back field as the leaves turn. I plan on planting sunflowers around the silo next spring. I’m going to clean out the silo and make some steps up to the first “window” so I can climb in to play my flute and have folks come over to make music again. I also want to use some of my photos and try to draw the barn from the front (north) side. And of course, I’ll plant some flowers to bloom over the summer in my new “yard.” 

I love the new landscape. The change has been 100% good. I loved the barn and will never, ever forget her, but I’m very happy that we were able to put her to rest with the love, respect, and restoration of the place where she stood for a century or more. Cheers to the barn! Cheers to our new landscape! Onward, it is!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022



These two very loving goofballs are the best definitions I know of as “brothers of a different mother.”They met at Appalachian State University in a rather alternative, experiential learning pod called Watauga College, and from there, they bonded - a soul connection in the best way.There are no other two like them.  Harrison, a photography major who’s artistry manifests in various directions, and Samuel, the guy who loves words and putting words together while working as a medical editor for EverSana.

Over the course of the last seventeen years, they’ve lived together and traveled all over the place. While in DC, they were robbed, held at gunpoint, and lost their computers. Both bartended to pay the rent, both love to make music (Harrison, the guitarist / Samuel, the drummer), both savor good booze, and both rely on the other for encouragement, support, and craziness. They’re goofy and funny, serious and contemplative….and each other’s best bud! Theirs is a connection unlike many people ever get to experience - tied at the hip by some awfully strong, wonderful knots.

Sunday, January 09, 2022


I am grateful to begin my posts for 2022 in good health and spirits. The final two weeks of 2021 didn’t measure up to great celebration, but when there’s a new beginning with a lot of things vanishing with the “water under the bridge,” I’ll be optimistic.

The Shook-Wilders arrived in Boone in batches for Christmas.  Myra and I got home early to assist in the hospital care of cousin Bill Rominger, who was recovering from open heart surgery and a second surgery to repair a hole in his gut. It was touch and go for a minute, but he’s home and recovering now. Samuel and Cait arrived on the 26th, and the celebrations heightened with Harrison coming in on the 27th. Eliza and Alex drove in on the 28th, and there the unraveling begins - not at all as a result of their presence, of course.

Caitlin had a sore throat. She had gone to CVS to “pick up a few things,” one of which was a covid home test. Literally at the moment, Alex and Eliza pulled into the driveway, we got word that she had tested positive for covid. I felt so sorry for her and Samuel, for they had looked forward to spending time with Eliza and Alex. 

Fortunately, the weather was nice, and we had about 2 hours to enjoy each other outside, distanced and masked. We opened presents, laughed a bit, and savored each minute together. Shortly thereafter, Cait and Samuel packed up to return to Nashville, Harrison and his dog Ace split for Asheville, Eliza and Alex debated as to their next move, and Myra and I settled in to disinfect the house and hope like the dickens no one else came down.

That was wishful thinking for the next morning, I was met with a sick sister, masked up and sitting in the recliner in the den. Eliza and Alex headed back to Cincinnati, dismally sad and in tears. Within two days and following two “official” tests at the local health department (negative for both Myra and me), our testing strip on the home test came back with every indicator possible for Covid. I didn’t feel poorly at all and would describe my “covidity” as basically asymptomatic….well, almost that way  

In between healthy days and testing positive, I was able to see Richard Randall, our angel who looked after doggies as Myra and I spent time in Hickory with Bill, and Terri Langdon. Otherwise, isolation and quarantine defined the days. (On a positive note, Myra and I spent a lot of quality time together, and I enjoyed being with her, even through croupy days.) When I drove back to Ohio after New Years Day, I didn’t even stop along the way in order to avoid spreading my “viral load.” 

The corgis and I arrived at the farm with very full bladders and joyful hearts. Even if I haven’t gone anywhere or seen anyone for a few days, we get out to walk and enjoy the outdoors without concern. Quite a relief, I must admit.

There were many highlights during 2021, including……

Eliza’s and Alex got engaged! Alex orchestrated the most wonderful proposal on a mountainside  in Vermont, where the two of them had hiked to enjoy the brilliant fall colors. The joy we feel with their engagement is over the top. Alex already fits into our family like he was born into it. He and his son Dominic add so much love that all I can do is smile and savor the warmth in my heart for Eliza and him as they plan their life together. Wedding plans remain incomplete, giving them time to plan the ceremony.  Love, love sweet love prevails in their house and hearts.  

Samuel and Caitlin purchased a house and moved to Nashville. Both of them were able to stay with their companies, and  now, they work remotely from the comfort of their house on Treutland Avenue. I haven’t visited their new place yet, but a trip’s in the works. I’m so happy for them and proud of the way they went about searching, negotiating and finally acquiring their home. Caitlin’s fine eye for beauty and decoration will make their home a home.  Samuel continues to read voraciously and write as time allows  

I spent a week in May with Bobbi and Isabella in Cape May, timed perfectly for the spring migration. Bobbi and I birded every day, and I’d say were took the award for the island’s nerdiest birders as we biked around the point in our birding attire and nerdy hats. Isabella and friends joined us to celebrate her 21st birthday, and Robert Knisel came to spend  a day with us. Robert and Bobbi are good friends from  Philadelphia. Since then, Bobbi and her partner Mark have purchased two houses in Cape May, and I have a hunch, we’ll be spending some good migration time there. Isabella has grown into a beautiful woman.  I still see the little girl twinkle in her eyes. I enjoyed every minute with her!

The corgis are aging; I can’t deny that fact. Regardless, they feel fine though long walks are off the table these days. Mac still loves to play “stick” outdoors and fetch old socks inside. My hearing suffers as a result of their LOUD barks, but I don’t know what I’d do without their companionship, especially during the spikes and isolation of the pandemic. Mac, MerryBelle, and I form a tightly-bound pack that hangs close to the farm and to each other. I realize I’m as much of a dog as a person, but I don’t bark or go outside to pee.

The Esbenshade Series of Marietta College suffered the effects of the pandemic, but we’re up and running again.  I see my time as director coming to a close, especially with wedding planning on the horizon. I  don’t know what the future has in store,  but it would seem this is the year for the barn to come down and for me to chart the next move in my life.  I’d love to have more time in the mountains and travel, as well as have a place to hang out here in Marietta. That’s what I’m going to manifest. Put it out there with me, please!

I have added drawing to my list of interests, and I’ve posted many creations on Facebook. Inspired by others who are sharing their work, I also started an Instagram page (@tanyaswilderart) after working up the courage to post what I create. Knitting, handmade paper, drawing on my iPad, and my flowers define my creative time.

Bobbi has turned me on to heart meditations with the I Am Heart group, and as I grow in understanding and insight, I realize on an even deeper level that life is all about opening our hearts, loving, growing, and sharing our love on physical, as well as energetic levels. So, I close this first post with my wish for us all: may we all grow and prosper abundantly, following the path of love in our lives and in our hearts.

As the barn shares with us, peace and love, and don’t forget to laugh!


Wednesday, August 18, 2021


Yesterday’s email (8/17/2021) brought the message I anticipated. David Blythe of AFS International wrote me that his colleague in Japan had another conversation with Yuki’s ailing stepmother in response to a letter she/he sent to Yuki’s father. The colleague learned Yuki’s dad had passed away, and the stepmother reiterated she had had no contact with Yuki for 10 years. She knew nothing about where one could find Yuki.

When I responded with the possibility of one more contact with the stepmother requesting the whereabouts of Yuki’s sister, David graciously contacted the Japan office. Sadly, the person who has been so incredibly helpful in assisting in the search for Yuki felt it was not a good idea nor appropriate to make yet another phone call of inquiry. 

So this morning after another futile internet search of mental health institutions in Japan, I have quite peacefully come to the conclusion I will not find her. Realistically, I held little or no hope from the beginning, so it’s no great let-down, just a little heartbreak. Our efforts don’t always yield the results we seek.

What I have felt, however, has been a tremendous dose of the goodness of humankind. David Blythe, Manager of Program Policy & Support at AFS International in New York, did not dismiss my desire to locate Yuki after all these years. He went above and beyond to explore every option available to assist in locating Yuki. He understood my concern, and from his office in the US did all he could to find out about Yuki. I am deeply grateful to him. He confirms for me that there are myriad people out there, most of whom I will never know, who house a kind and gentle soul, empathetic spirit, and understanding of connection.

Likewise, his colleague in Japan (whose name I don’t know) was able to connect with one of the two or three people in all the world who might have been able to provide information about Yuki. The person was under no obligation to help with my request. I can only say “thank you” to him/her via this platform; my gratitude for the kindness shown is huge.

Finally, from my family’s experience with our AFS student back in 1975-76 and my own tenure as AFS advisor at Marietta High School from 1982-1998, I recognize the value of this international exchange organization. Once one has been involved with AFS, one realizes the incredible and valuable treasure of knowing and living with people around the world brings. We are all connected in a spirit of peace and love through AFS!

So, here’s to Yuki Sento! Here’s to David Blythe and his colleague in Japan! Here’s to AFS and lifelong friendships with folks around the world!

Monday, July 26, 2021


In search of Yuki: Part 2

I have no idea why I didn’t think of this years ago. After I shared my initial post about Yuki, it dawned upon me that maybe the AFS office in  New York might have some suggestions for me in my search for Yuki.  

To make a long story short, I connected with David Blythe at AFS International, gave him the last address I had for Yuki in Japan and all the additional info I have from Yuki’s stay in Marietta: her AFS host mother’s name, etc. David spoke with a colleague in Japan, and that person was able to locate Yuki’s file from back in 1983 and called her house in Susaki City! The colleague spoke with Yuki’s stepmother (a woman who was never nice to Yuki), and as you read below, it was difficult to understand her; however, from the brief conversation, we now know Yuki’s father is still alive and David’s colleague in Japan will communicate with him and get back to David. 

(David’s on vacation until mid-August, so I’ll wait for him to let me know IF Yuki’s dad can / will provide additional info about Yuki’s plight.)

I hold a little hope.  (See below….)


Dear David,

Thank you so much for providing me with additional information so promptly.

Now that I know her name is Fuki Sento, I could find her name and phone number  on GL.

I called her only to find that the phone number is no longer used.

Fuki did not register her address.

I have a very old roster for Japanese returnees up to 1998 at home.

As this roster had the address and phone number of her family when she participated in the AFS Program,  I called her family.

An old lady who introduced as Fuki's step mother answered my phone.

The step mother told me that she has been out of contact with Fuki for more than a decade, so she does not know Fuki's contact address.

The step mother spoke a very strong dialect which I could not understand well.

What she told me seemed very complicated, so I need to check with someone else such as Fuki's father or siblings. 

So I will try to call again some time later when Fuki's father is at home and get back to you by the time you will return to New York after your summer vacation.

I appreciate Ms. Tanya Wilder's patience.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


During the 1983-84 school year, Marietta High Hosted an American Field Service student from Japan, Yuki Sento. Yuki’s real name was Fuki, but for obvious reasons, we knew her as Yuki. Yuki was exceptionally bright, graduating at the top of her class in 1984 (though she was not recognized since she had not completed a 4-yr. program at MHS). 

Yuki came from a very humble and traditional Japanese family, and the year in the States was an opportunity of a lifetime for her. She sang in chorus, ran cross country, swam on the swim team, and learned as much as she could about life here. Knowing very little English and NO Spanish, Yuki excelled in my my Spanish class and completed three years of study in one year and came close to bi-lingual proficiency in that time. In 40+ years of teaching, I never had a more gifted language learner.

Upon return to Japan, Yuki was selected to study in the elite Japanese Institute of Foreign Languages and finished with degrees in Spanish and English. She went on to teach, bring students to the US, and return to visit my family twice thereafter.  My parents and children welcomed her into our family wholeheartedly.  Over the years, we remained in close contact, and I looked forward to hearing about her latest translation efforts and news.

Unfortunately, prior her AFS year here and after return to Japan, Yuki’s life was not easy. She never told me much about her family, except that her mother had died when Yuki was very young. Her grandmother lived with the family to care for Yuki and her sister, and both her father and grandfather faulted her for her mother’s death and subsequently, favored the older sister, leaving Yuki to do house and garden work. I sensed her father was brutal to Yuki, and I’m still not sure how it was that she came across AFS and was permitted to participate in a year abroad.

As time passed, news from Yuki became really sad. She left one or two teaching positions and was at a loss as to what to do. She listened to English radio stations and did some translating on the side to keep her skills sharp. Her letters began to indicate that her mental health was in sharp decline, telling me she had fallen in love with her therapist and insisting they communicated telepathically. She said she had named her only possessions after people she remembered and loved. For example, she named her purse “Tanya” and spoke of it as if it were her child. 

Finally, about two years ago, I received my final letter from her. She said she was “going away”and I would never hear from her again. Wrapped very carefully in the letter, she included her tassel from her “84” MHS graduation and asked me to always remember her. 

I have no idea what happened to Yuki.  I’ve asked myself over and over if she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital or even if she took her own life. The last picture she sent to me remains on my refrigerator alongside photos of Samuel and Eliza. Her tassel hangs on the lamp by the chair where I sit and knit. Frequently, I open a random book I pick up and am surprised to find a letter she wrote and that I used as a bookmark. 

What motivates me to write this lengthy post is Yuki’s presence in my dreams for the last two nights. I need not post the details of them, but I hear her voice calling. So, I’m once again inspired to see if I can find out anything about her - if she is, indeed, alive.

I know I’m searching for a “needle in the haystack.” The most assistance I’ve been able to receive came from the Japanese consulate in Detroit, where a kind man listened to my story and has offered to send me the website and / or phone number of the police department in Susacki City, Yuki’s last place of residence (that I know of). 

Along with everyone else with whom I’ve shared this story, the gentleman in Detroit reminded me that the Japanese strictly adhere to privacy on all accounts, especially if the matters would include a transfer to a mental health facility or a suicide. He kindly cautioned me not to anticipate answers though he hoped I could learn something about Yuki.

If anyone who reads this has advice or knows of an avenue I can pursue to learn more about what has happened to Yuki, please send me a message. I’ll keep trying, but so far, I hold little hope of finding Yuki. 

I just want to know what happened to this truly sweet, innocent, amazingly gifted woman, and I’m not one to give up until I exhaust all available measures. I fear I’m close to that point now, sadly.

Sunday, July 11, 2021



Yep…..a cougar in the back field. No, it wasn’t a bobcat.  It wasn’t a gigantic feral kitty cat. The animal I saw was a cougar, regardless of naturalists’ consensus that cougars don’t inhabit Ohio (especially southeastern OH) anymore.

Here’s the lowdown:

On Wednesday, June 2, 2021, the corgis and I took a long afternoon walk around the back field to look at birds. As we entered the bottom side of the field, I could see a pair of red-tailed hawks perched in a tree across the fence in the neighbor’s field. I watched the regal pair as they surveyed their surroundings for an easy catch. I had my binoculars on them until we reached the turn in the back of the field that leads into the woods. Mac and MerryBelle were about 15 feet ahead of me, sniffing in her grass for scat piles to roll in and waiting for me to give them the OK to go back into the woods.

As I lowered my binocs, I caught movement in the corner of my eye coming out of the overgrown brush along the fence line, and out jumped a big cat. It was obviously surprised to see me, and I was definitely surprised to see it.  The moment was one in which time stood still: I remember telling myself to take close mental notes, for I was face to face with an animal I had never seen in the wild.

Now, I’ve seen bobcats in captivity and in the wild around the farm. This was not a bobcat - too big, no markings of a bobcat, not a bobcat facial structure. This cat was large, much larger than a bobcat. It had very, very faint spots on its face, as if it were a juvenile.

In a split second - maybe a total of 5 seconds- of a face-to-face encounter, the cat turned and jumped back into the brush. When it did, I was able to see the full side of its body - an elongated torso, some very, very dim spots - however, the telling feature that remains crystal clear in my mind was the long tail with a dark tip. 

I couldn’t get to my phone in my pocket to get a photo….time moved too quickly. From many times in the woods with Zeb, I distinctly remember hearing his voice in my mind, telling me “to watch, watch carefully…tell yourself over what you saw…tell yourself over and over again while your memory’s fresh…”

Mac and MerryBelle had their backs to the cougar when it jumped from the brush.  In retrospect, I can see that it could easily have thought Mac was tasty prey since he’s white from behind and stands close to the ground, similar at a distance to a rabbit. It pounced from the brush, stopping abruptly when it saw me. One more pounce, and Mac could have been fighting off one whopper of a cat. My only weapon would have been my binoculars! The corgis missed the encounter completely since they were searching for some stinky stuff to roll in.

This is the exact animal I saw….maybe just a tad smaller and likely, younger. (Internet image)

But there’s more!

Once I got my breath after the cat bolted back in the brush, the corgis and I turned the corner and started (rather expeditiously) up the fence line path home. We hadn’t gone 5 yards when I noticed a pile of fresh, steaming scat in the middle of the path. Whatever had left his couple of elongated turds had done its business recently, that was for sure. I photographed it and hightailed home, corgis panting behind me.

Two people with great knowledge of the animal world have suggested these turds look like coyote scat. I’ve done a lot of reading about cougar scat, and the overriding consensus is that cougar poop greatly resembles coyote scat in many ways, but with a more definitive “pinched” beginning and/or end.  I am inclined to think the cougar had taken a very recent dump, jumped back in the brush, realized something was approaching, crouched and pounced when it saw the dogs.

Fast forward to getting back to the house: I immediately messaged Julie Zickefoose and told her what had happened. She didn’t discount what I recounted, thank goodness. Her immediate response was to go “collect the shit!”

With two gallon zip-loc bags and my trusty trowel, I took off to the back field again. As I was scooping the “prize” into my bag, I could hear a low, threatening growl from the brush at the entrance to the woods. I’ve heard that angry, warning of “GET AWAY” sort of growl many a time from the cats here at the farm…..definitely feline, definitely a “mind your own business,” “don’t cross the line” sort of sound. So, again, I skedaddled back up to house and stuck the double-bagged elongated turds in the freezer.

(At the risk of turning off those reading,I will confess that many strange items have been stored in our freezer over the years- birds that have flown into the window, cats that have died in the middle of winter, a large coot that Molly, one of our first corgis, brought home, a large hawk I picked up on the roadside. My dad and Uncle Frank would have been proud that I took the time to observe and study. My mom would not have permitted such a sample in her freezer. )

Julie contacted a friend of hers who is a scat specialist, I believe, to see if she would be interested in analyzing the scat. We’ve yet to hear from her. I also contacted Jim McCormac, a respected naturalist in. Columbus who concurred with others said about the unlikelihood of a cougar in the wild in my area. He suggested it was possibly an escapee from some “nutcase” (my description) who kept wild animals. Maybe he’s correct since there aren’t confirmed cases of cougar sightings in SE Ohio recorded.

I don’t know exactly how to proceed, but it occurs to me that perhaps I could contact the naturalist at Grandfather Mountain back home in NC to see if he/she would examine the solidly frozen scat in my freezer to confirm (or not) that the turds are from a cougar. The conservancy there has introduced cougars back in to the wild there and keeps track of their movements.  I would really, really like a confirmation, but if I never get it, it won’t matter because…..

I know what I saw on that evening walk around the back field, and I saw a COUGAR !

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


“…..You can take my body.  You can take my bones. You can take my blood, but not my soul….”

Rhiannon Giddons: “Birmingham Sunday,” Freedom Highway

William Henry Thompson III no longer walks the planet - no longer dons his binoculars and heads to spot birds around his house or lead birders on treks to exotic spots around the globe. He no longer sits with his guitar on his leg, playing incredible riffs while his band and friends sing his favorite songs, and he no longer graces the world with his humor and love. It's been a tough one - a reality hard to fathom:  Bill Thompson, III, aka BT3, is gone, the victim of an unforgiving, rapid-paced, nasty pancreatic cancer that ultimately consumed his body and ended his life. As he always did, Bill lived his final days largely and lovingly until he exhaled for the final time on Monday evening, March 25, 2019, at 10:44 PM. I was fortunate to be with him earlier that day.

I am still stunned by this reality, and I vacillate between gratitude for his life and intense sorrow at his death. I grapple with disbelief at his absence, with celebration of a life fully-lived versus the heartbreaking, stark reality that he’s gone, gone forever. It’s going to take a while longer – much longer than the two months that have passed since those gathered shoveled dislodged ground back into his grave - to not experience daily waves of memories and grief unlike I’ve ever known, except with the passage of my parents.

I met Bill in 1980 when he was a freshman in the West College at Miami University. That year was my first year in the Marietta (OH) School System where I taught Spanish at the Junior High School. Laura Thompson, Bill's sister, was one of my students, and I suppose she mentioned me to Bill.  I really don't know what inspired Bill to come by school to meet me, but he did, and from that initial conversation in my dilapidated room at MJHS, our friendship began. I looked forward to Bill's regular visits, dancing with him at parties, hearing about his next adventure and his passion for and love of birds. Over time, Bill would play music at my house with members of his band, setting up sessions down in the silo by the barn more than once. As his life unfolded after college, we stayed in contact, and he kept me abreast of his life - from time in London to work in New York, from meeting his future wife, Julie Zickefoose, to his return to Marietta, from the birth of his children to their high school years (during which Phoebe, his daughter, was my student), from his travels across the globe to his newly defined relationship with Wendy Clark, and ultimately from his diagnosis to his last day on Earth. On his last birding trip in October, 2018, we were in close contact as he traveled through Colombia because he was going to be in areas where I had been a year earlier.

After his diagnosis, I mailed a letter to Bill once a week. I knew many folks were vying for visits with him, and I certainly didn’t want to intrude on time he needed to process his situation, get his affairs in order, and rest. Once he felt a bit better, he responded to my notes.  On February 11, 2018, he wrote the following:

“Dear Tanya-

I’ve finally gotten around to writing a few notes of thanks and the very first one is to you. Your many card and notes have been so uplifting and full of love – it makes me grateful to have you as my dear friend.

Not at all sure what’s ahead out there in the future, but then again, when has that ever been true? But I’m feeling better each day and am hoping for a good long run. There are so many friends to hug, songs to play, birds to see….

Love you, B.

PS: Would love to see you if we can make that happen.”

Later in February, Bill invited me out to have pizza with him and Wendy, but I couldn’t make it. Mac, my corgi, was desperately ill with pancreatitis, and I was afraid to leave him, so we planned for another time. Shortly thereafter, Bill invited me out to the “Pink Palace” for his birthday celebration of “making music with some of my far-flung pals. We’ll have good food, too.”

That day, March 3, 2019, is one I’ll never forget – watching Bill play “Summertime” while Elsa sang; standing beside him as he played while Julie, Wendy, and Mimi Hart sang, and holding his hand when he stretched out on the bed and took a break. Most of all, I remember his face and smile when I walked in the door and the hug he gave me at that moment. Very few people I’ve known could share an embrace with a powerful zap of love like Bill Thompson. His hugs always reminded me of the warmth I once felt from my happy days with Sam, my children's dad.

After the birthday event and knowing that Bill was slipping, we began texting back and forth, especially during the last week of his illness.  I had gone to NC to celebrate a remembrance of my parents at Appalachian State University, and on Sunday, March 24th, I got a final text from Bill asking me to come to him.

“Tanya, you best hurry…I’m pretty bad today, and it’ll only get worse. I don’t want to miss seeing you. Please come.”

My response:  “On my way home from NC. Heading out now. Hang on if you can…and if not, take flight with my arms wrapped around you, beloved Bill. You are with me every second now…you’ll be with me every second for eternity…every time I see a bird…every time I hear music, you’ll be there.”

Bill: “Thanks love. Didn’t want to miss seeing you.”

Me: “It’ll be late when I get home tonight, but I’ll be there tomorrow, I promise.”

Bill: “ Don’t rush love.”

Me:  “Headed home. We’ve got a date.”

Bill: “Oh yay!”

And so, on Sunday afternoon (3/24/2019), I packed up and headed home immediately, texted Wendy, and made plans to go out for a visit on the next day, March 25th, in the afternoon.

Now, I need to back track just a bit. Two years earlier on that same day (3/25/2016), my mom took flight. To say I miss her more and more as time goes on is a bittersweet admission. I long to hear her voice; I still am inclined to call her when I’m on the road; and I so wish she were here to enjoy Samuel and Eliza as they begin to think about building the foundations of their own families. And especially during Bill's illness, I sorely missed her guidance and wisdom.  I relied on what I "sensed" she was sharing with me. After she passed, I asked her to come to me in my dreams, and she did, in vivid, bizarre, unsettling ones that made me retract that request. Seeing and hearing her in very awkward, surrealistic dream space then was way too much for me, so I hadn’t asked her to come back until I was driving home from North Carolina.

My memories of that drive home from Boone through the WV mountains that afternoon are vague. I know I talked to Bill at length in my thoughts, and I talked to my mother, asking her to send me a dose of the strength and wisdom I had so frequently observed in her as she went to be with friends in their final moments.  I recall many of those who were dying waited on her to be with them so they could take flight surrounded by her peace and calming nature, and I know she considered those moments to be her most special, cherished memories of her 70+ years as a nurse.

When I arrived at the Pink Palace on Monday afternoon, Bill was outdoors with Andy and Wendy, and I could see he was trying to walk back in the house without their assistance. Andy left when they got him back in bed, and I moved over beside him to talk softly and hold his hand. He drifted in and out of sleep / consciousness, for he was exhausted from events of the morning and his “walk” outside. What was readily obvious was that Bill was near death – cold feet, purple coloring underneath his toe and fingernails, and a sporatic heartbeat -two short beats followed by a “thud” of a beat and then several seconds until the next two short beats. I couldn’t find his pulse in his wrist and was able to barely detect it in his neck. Wendy asked me if I thought he was leaving us, and I told her I thought it was best to call Julie, who came over immediately and was shocked at seeing his decline since the morning when she was last with him.

The hospice nurse, Kim, also arrived and confirmed our feeling that Bill was in his final hours. Her wisdom consoled and kept us in the moment; her attentiveness to Bill’s comfort and her professional skill was of great assistance.

Kim left after a bit, and from then on, my recollections are vivid though I’m not sure of the time element involved in the remainder of my stay. Wendy called Bill’s family to tell them to come, and shortly thereafter Laura and Bill Dauber arrived. Everyone who was there focused on Bill, for his breathing became more sporadic with extended pauses between inhales.

For me, the next few minutes were pretty much out of body. I held Bill’s hand, and he grasped me firmly. (I can see his hand in mind as clearly as if I had a photo of it.) Suddenly he opened his eyes and stared out beyond the bed into the next room. (Julie was at the foot of the bed with her phone, Wendy was in the kitchen, and Laura and Bill were on the sofa on the other side of the bed from where I was seated.) Bill seemed a bit perplexed as he looked into the other room, and he asked if Laura was there. And then he asked her, “Is that Gigi?”

When Bill questioned Laura about Gigi a second time, I turned and looked past Julie. I damn near cried out loud, for what I saw was my mother standing just inside the room beyond his bed – an “as-real-as-they –get” vision of my mom – in her nurse’s uniform, white hose, clunky white shoes she always wore to work, and with her cap on (which she never wore when she was in her office on campus). As Bill was staring intently in her direction, she opened her arms and motioned for him to come with her. And in that split second, I watched her drift, maybe float, through the door to the porch and disappear. Mom was healthy-looking, radiant in her uniform and surrounded by a pale shimmering, peach-colored aura that highlighted her smile and open arms. As quickly as I realized what I was seeing, she disappeared out the door. I couldn’t begin to verbalize what I had just witnessed. I just remember feeling great joy at her presence; I sensed a mili-second exhilaration similar to that which I remember when my children left my body at birth….that’s the best I can describe what I saw and felt.

Did Bill see Petie? Was he seeing her when he questioned if Gigi was there?  I’ll never know. For me, her apparition was real. I just know what I “saw.” Mom had come and was there in spirit, light, love –whatever or however one would describe such a seeing / vision. Instantly, I knew it was time for me to take leave, that Bill was awaiting his family and his leap into spirit before long.

I walked to the car, and wept – sweet tears of awe, of sadness, of surrender, of gratitude, of every emotion I can begin to fathom, yet I was comforted, for I had been in the presence of spirit unlike only one or two other times in my life.

I don’t remember driving out the driveway or turning left onto Dalzell Road. The next thing I do recall is turning left out a ways onto Stanleyville Road. There was a squirrel in the middle of the turn, so I stopped and watched it scurry away. Apparently I had inserted a CD at some point, and when I became aware of the music, Rhiannon Giddons was singing – hauntingly, powerfully….

            “….you can take my body, you can take my bones. You can take my blood, but not my soul…”  

Cancer might have taken Bill’s body, but never his soul.

And so, I headed home, accompanied by Rhiannon’s music and my random thoughts. At the bottom of the hill along Goss Fork, a great blue heron flew from the creek on the right and continued directly in front of me to the intersection below Sherm's and Caroline’s old house where I needed to turn right. Surprisingly, it seemed to be guiding me, as I was very much in another world myself. The bird didn’t ascend above the trees, but rather stayed about 15 feet above my car all the way out to the turn in the road. It followed every curve along the way and only ascended once I turned to go out State Route 26. ( I have a special connection with herons, for when I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with Eliza, one came to me to let me know there was a little girl waiting to come through my body. I had been distraught with the idea of a pregnancy at 40 years old. The heron set me straight into acceptance and joy.)

Likewise, the following day, as I headed out the driveway, a red-tail hawk lit  from its perch on the lines out the way and flew, just as the heron had, just above the car to the end of the driveway. It was so close that I feared I would hit it if I didn’t slow down even more.

I can’t help but think those two birds were sent by Bill of the Birds as a sign he was there, guiding me along the way.  Since that time, more than just once or twice, I’ve sensed him around the farm and in North Carolina at my grandmother’s house. Like the butterfly that encircled Samuel, Eliza, Harrison, and me the afternoon of Mom's memorial service (in the middle of March), I know those birds were BT3's assurance to me that he was flying freely and guiding all of us along the way.

I think of Bill daily, and I worry 80% less and try to love 80% more, as per his advice.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

March 25

I'm sitting in my upstairs workroom, surrounded by the stacks of handmade paper that will eventually work their way into projects I house in my mind, books that I just can't part with, and treasures (maybe junk, really) that are of value only to me. A red-shouldered hawk just flew into the tree across the driveway. As I stare at it, it stares at Loonis the cat, who stares back at the hawk, and I can't help but wonder if those two are thinking each could be a hefty meal for the other if they were hungry enough to put up the fight. The hawk looks as if it would have the agility and speed of youth; Loonis definitely possesses the wisdom of years and experience. My view from inside's just fine for me.

Today's an interesting day. I haven't been away from the farm other than to take my walks out the ridge for going on ten days now. Covid-19 has the world on lockdown. Life right now is a reality we've only experienced through sci-fi novels and films based in contagion and apocalypse. Each day evolves into a crazy dance whose steps weave in and out of the need to know and the desire NOT to know, whose rhythm can become more erratic and out of control unless we decide to waltz to the song of the birds. Isolated here at the farm, however, I feel just fine - safe with the corgis, connected with friends via technology modalities, and embraced by the spring flowers that wave to me in the breeze. This moment in time will be one we all remember, hopefully with greater understanding of ourselves, the world, and the precious connections that nurture our souls in moments of confusion and perhaps, fear.

March 25 will be a day of reflection for me as long as I live. Three years ago today, my mom - our beloved Petie - leapt into the world of spirit in the way she perfectly designed. Words cannot begin to describe the depth of my love for her, the good fortune I feel for having her as my mom, and yes, the longing I feel to hear her voice on the end of the phone or listen to her high-pitched laughter. I still hear her in my mind, especially during these crazy days, and I seek her wisdom many times daily as we navigate this consuming pandemic. She never fails me, and the nostalgia I feel for her today is greatly overshadowed by gratitude as large as the Universe for the love she shared with Daddy, Myra, Samuel, Eliza, Laury, and me, as well as so many, many others.

From my blog, shortly after Petie left the planet:

And a year ago, one the second celebration of Petie's passage, another beloved friend joined her in the spirit world. Bill Thompson, III, left his body to greater freedom in light. I think of Bill every day, and I am inspired by the life he led in his too-short 56 years. A creative soul whose light shines in song, in every bird I see or hear, in the echoes of the silo down by the barn, and in his legacy at Bird Watchers Digest, BT3 will be with us forever. Most obviously, however, he lives with loving vibrance in his beautiful, intelligent, creative kids, Phoebe and Liam.

From my blog, shortly after Bill's passage. Until today, I've only shared it with Julie and a couple of others.

I'm now watching a somewhat cocky male cardinal singing at top volume to his lady who just flew to the feeder. While he channels Pavorotti from the tree, I think I'll go pick up my binoculars and head outside to get a closer listen....

March 25, 2020.......

Monday, January 06, 2020

IT'S BEEN A WHILE...... fact, it's been over a year since I paid attention to my blog. Pitiful. No excuses. I just haven't sat down to write. I plan to pay more attention to writing, simply because I enjoy having a chronicle of life here at Farmlandia.

We'll see how I stick to my intention.No judgment and no expectations.

2019 sped by like a streak of lightning.....passages and births, beauty and wrath in nature, friendships - new and old, those renewed and others eternally sustained, winter chill and summer heat, a family engagement to celebrate, trips and discoveries, great joy and doses of grief...... 2019, 365 days of deeper gratitude for life, regardless of joy or sorrow.

On the joyful side of the coin (and in no certain order):
~Samuel's engagement to Caitlin Axland, a wonderful woman whom he met by virtue of a book both were reading on the subway. We couldn't be happier for the two of them. Wedding plans are setfor September 26, 2020 in Chicago - a non-traditional ceremony witnessed by their two best friends, followed by a celebration and fiesta later in the day.
~A trip to Washington, DC, to hear Dr. Jane Goodall speak. I'm not a bucket list sort of person, but if I were, being in her presence would be toward the top of the list. My heroine. I wish my life were defined by the good work for the planet like she has accomplished. I remember wanting a chimpanzee, a REAL chimpanzee, as a child. I got a stuffed animal one instead, but Dr. Goodall got to work with real chimpanzees, and I've always been (positively) envious.
~A trip to New Mexico and visit with Caroline Koons and Joseph Henderson. I've always wanted to live in New Mexico, and visiting there after 15+ years of absence reminded me of why I love the people and land there as much as the mountains and folks of the North Carolina mountains. If there's fact to the notion of past lives, I know I was born and lived to a ripe old age in the Southwest.
~A visit in North Carolina with Peg Martin, a friend from birth. Our adventures over the years are well-known in the annals of our families' histories, and it was wonderful to retrace the footsteps of our youth, this time, without having to call someone to bail us out, however.
~Several weeks in the summer in Boone, defined by doing a little work on my parents' house, as well as attending concerts and presentations of the Appalachian Summer program with Terri Langdon: Ben Folds with the Winston-Salem symphony, The Punch Brothers, Lily Tomlin, the TESLA string quartet, and more. The arts vibrate in Boone! I'm proud of that.
~Another visit in Boone by Miriam and Jr. Murrell which included hiking in and around Blowing Rock, Linville Falls, and Pigeon Roost. 
~An Easter trip to Cincinnati to visit Eliza, Alex (her partner), and Dominic (Alex's son). Eliza and Alex had recently moved into a new house, and I got to help Eliza get some plants started. Her tomatoes produced much more successfully than my own, so I'm convinced a part of her mom's earthy personality has had a bit of influence on her Scorpio daughter. And as an aside, Alex is an easy fit in the Shook-Wilder clan. Both Eliza and Alex work at KAO in Cincinnati.
~Daily time spent with my sister, Myra, on the phone. She calls at the same time she and Mom used to talk in the evenings. Even if the conversation is little more than a run-down of the day's events, I look forward to hearing her voice every day.
~Bobbi's visit to the farm in July. Oh my, what a gift!. The two of us had extended time together for the first time in years, and laughter reached a 10+ on the Richter Scale. Since her visit, the Marco Polo (app) connection keeps us in touch daily. Bobbi's the first farm child....we've been connected for almost 40 years now.
~The blessing of friends, near and far.....Diane Bosley and Norm Sartorius, Terri Greene Langdon, Richard Randall, Pam Plaskett, my mah jong buddies, my garden club friends, and all those whose lives enrich mine. Friendship's nothing to be overlooked in terms of one's overall well-being, and the love of many sustain me from every direction. I'm grateful for my friends.
~The two beings with which I spend every day - my beloved Mac and MerryBelle. Though I'm not too happy with Mac's smell today (he rolled in fresh deer poop), I have no idea what I'd do without their presence in my life. With unconditional love and understanding beyond what I can fathom, far-surpassing what many humans understand. their corgi smiles frequently brighten my day more than anything else.
~Farm kids: Bobbi, LoriBeth Huck Auldridge and family, Brett Potash and family, Dana Kinzy and family, Meera Chary and family, Tom Jackson and Chintu Bastian, Harrison Fahrer,  Renato Jaramillo, Yuki Sento, Bob Ritchie, and all those who've spent time here as a part of the farm family bring me joy every day.

And on the flip side of the coin, 2019 landed some poignant doses of sorrow:
~Lera Britt Randall's passage - My second mother, my mentor, my mother in my own mother's absence, my friend, left the planet this year. For all but about 5 years of my life, Aunt Lera was always just a call across the driveway or a phone call from wherever away. After my own mother's passage, Aunt Lera's leap into spirit leaves a huge void for Samuel, Eliza, and me.
~Bill Thompson, III,  - a friend I've known since I moved to Marietta, brother to one of my first students here, friend since his college days, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, and over all great musician - succumbed to pancreatic cancer on the anniversary of my Mom's death. Two years to the day after Mom died. I'm still stunned when I see photos of a healthy Bill, finding it hard to believe he's left this earthly plane. I'll write more about Bill later. Even on this beautiful sunny winter day 10 months after his departure, I remain in disbelief at his death.
~The dire situation of the Earth brings me great concern. Climate change, destruction of habitat, the huge decline in the number of birds on the planet, the extinction of species, etc. can stop me in my tracks. Here at the farm, I notice a decline in the number and species of birds from one year to the next. BUT, I believe there's hope for a reversal in what seems an overwhelming task. I refuse to give in to the pessimists. Ignorance and complacency on this issue will not prevail!!
~The current situation of the United States under the leadership of an authoritarian / dictatorial / ignorant narcissist. I'm not going there in this post, but it's no surprise that I hope the current leadership in DC is not longer in place after November, 2020.

OK.....that's it for now. I'm sure there'll be revisions in this post over time, but I want to get something posted to mark another item off my "I"m going to do this" list.

Happy 2020 to all from Farmlandia!