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!

Thursday, November 29, 2018


Boy, I am a slacker blogger; my last post was in February, 2018. I like to write; I just don't get around to taking the time to do so. I get consumed by things that occupy my time and mind. Fortunately, I'm rarely bored, and that's a good thing.

Anyway, I've been thinking about the holidays and my excitement to see my kids and sister, my family, and friends in both NC and OH. In the process, I've also been compiling a list of what I want for Christmas.

So, cue the music:

All I want for Christmas is to be with these folks around the Christmas tree, the fireplace, and the dining room table in my parents' house in North Carolina.....

So many of those with whom we used to share those spaces are no longer with us, and we miss Mom and Daddy, Uncle Frank, Aunt Lib and Uncle Robert, as well as the Randall-Schadel family who will be in OH this Christmas. Regardless, we continue the extended family tradition: we eat well, laugh a lot, share stories, and revel in the love we've shared for over 60 years now.
And I want to spend time with these two - the loves of my life. If I've accomplished anything of note in my days upon the planet, it would have to be concretizing the unwavering bond between Samuel and Eliza. They honor and respect each other and always have each other's back. My greatest accomplishments, my greatest gifts.
And I'll be awfully happy to be with my sister during the holidays.
We are greatly different in many ways, but our bond parallels that of my children's, and I dont' know what I'd do without her.
Otherwise, I'd like some slippers since my 30-year old ones now have a hole I can stick my entire foot through, and I'd like a head flashlight - one of those things I can strap on my head when I need both hands and a flashlight at the same time. For me, that's about it.
Hopefully, Santa's helpers are within earshot.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

THE WEEK IN REVIEW: 2/18 - 2-24 / 2018

As I sat at the table this morning with a cup of coffee in hand, I found myself drifting back to a question a friend who was over for dinner last night asked me: quite simply, she inquired as to how my week had been.

I'm a lucky woman, for I realize the third week of February, 2018, provided me with loads of joy and sweet memories.

-Last Sunday, I spent the afternoon with Miriam and Jr. Murrell at their house outside of Malta, OH. Miriam cooked a wonderful meal, accompanied by Jr.'s famous biscottis for dessert, and we sat around and talked about everything from life in our mid-sixties to political matters. Three aging yet still very active "back-to-the-earthers"chewing the fat, planning gardens, playing with cats, and sharing a meal.  Doesn't get much better.

-No one likes dental work, and I dreaded Wednesday something awful. At 7:45 AM, I arrived in Parkersburg on a visit to the endodontist that would be a lengthy stay, as I had not just one, but TWO root canals done over a period of five hours. Thankfully, Dr. Scott Seago and his assistant at Parkersburg Endodonics succeeded in putting me at ease. That's quite a feat, and I enjoyed their humming along to the Pandora station over the unnerving sound of the drills. Not a bad experience at all, especially for one with a low level of dentalphobia.

-On Thursday, I got to spend the afternoon with Sophie Veladota Justice, an amazing high school freshman who's as wise as any young woman I know at that age. We made a failed attempt at dying my hair purple. Alas, I understand platinum hair like mine can be difficult when it comes to taking color, but I do have a couple of nice lightly colored purple streaks in it to show for our efforts.  And, I'm not beyond thinking that I might just try again. It was FUN to do some girly play despite the fact I'm not looking like a punk-esque grandmother at this point. Later that evening, Sophie's mom, Christy, and I had time together at dinner (while Sophie endured an ACT workshop in math and science) to catch up. Christy and Sophie, farm family from way back, know the workings of TSW and the farm and fit right in.

-All week I have felt very connected to the movement begun by the students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School following the horrific event they experienced at their school. Every school shooting leaves me stunned, breathless, greatly (!) saddened. These incidents hit very close to home with me since I've been in the classroom for close to 40 years of my life. I identify with teachers who feel helpless, who, along with their students, are little more than sitting ducks when someone succumbs to insanity and annihilation. I identify with students, who should not EVER have to endure such slaughter, and I identify with parents, whose children leave for school every day with no thought that their life might be ended or their world shattered by a school shooting. Those who read my Facebook page know that I can't sit quiet on this any more. HOWEVER, the movement sparked by the wise and fearless students who have mobilized our nation energizes me to act, to disseminate information, and to stand with teachers and students unlike ever before. I have always said young people have it together MUCH MORE than given credit ; adults are quick to assume and criticize without really knowing young adults and what matters to them. I stand with students, and I stand with teachers who are calling out the ignorance of the public on matters that make it impossible for them to live a life that meets the quality of education and time they invest in students. Teachers need to get paid for the work they do; they need support from state and local school systems; they need to be recognized for heroic efforts in terms of shielding students and giving their lives for student protection. More on all this's highly emotional for me.

-A special wedding took place in Vietnam on Wednesday that I have celebrated all week. My former student Michael Sieberg married Tran Xuan Thao Nyugen (aka Nyugen) in Hue, Vietnam. Their happiness reached around the world, that's for sure, and as I participated from a distance via photos on Facebook, I could hardly contain my happiness. (I married them in Marietta just before Christmas for the official American license.) In their honor, I have had flowers all over the house, pulled out all my Buddhas, and toasted to them via photos. My heart pumped champagne bubbles of joy for them all week.

-And under another definition of celebration, I have ventured back to Boone, NC, in my heart, along with many of my classmates and friends as we have said goodbye to our high school principal, Dr. N. A. Miller. When all the high schools in our county consolidated into Watauga County High School, Dr. Miller became our first principal. My class, the Class of 1970, was the second class to complete all four years in the school. Dr. Miller, a soft-spoken, caring, kind man earned the respect of a student body who knew him to be fair, receptive, and invested in both students and teachers. Under his guidance, the school immediately grew in reputation as one of the model high schools in the state with a deserved reputation for both academics and career education. He set the bar very high for both his staff and their students. When I first entered the teaching profession, I was under the impression that all administrators would be like Dr. Miller, a false expectation across the board. In 40 years in the classroom, not one administrator, with the exception of Neena Davis, a dean at the local community college for a very brief tenure, reached the level of admiration and respect all of us held for Dr. Miller. He was also my friend Susann's father, so my friends and I knew him as a dad, a swim teacher, and a friend. Rest in power, Dr. Miller - a great inspiration to many, many people. Your legacy lives on in your students and in the students of your students.

Here's to life. Here's to celebration.  Here's to love. Here's to taking a stand. Here's to hair that resisted. All a great part of this past week.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Something tells me that every year when the anniversary of the first Women's March in Washington comes around, I'm going to be taking to the streets. Yesterday across the United States and in cities abroad, there were 650+ marches - from major gatherings in large cities to smaller ones in towns like Athens (OH) and Newark (OH). Two of my marching buddies from our trip to DC, Miriam Murrell and Jacky Miner, and I hit the road and headed to Columbus to participate with others from around the state in the 2018 march.

Since our trip to DC last year, we've been in close contact and have organized a small group in Marietta we call MOVing Forward. We assisted Appalachian Ohio Indivisible with the Connectivity Summit held in Marietta in July, and we've represented our group at a meeting with Representative Bill Johnson's aide at Johnson's office in Marietta, as well as participated in a rally outside his office earlier in the year. Some members represented our group at the Athens March yesterday, and though we are small, we are united in spirit. I believe all of us would concur that our involvement in the marches and MOVing Forward has created an unbreakable bond of friendship and respect, as well as moments of unadulterated fun. And, I do believe that we are a part of a powerful movement that will make its presence greatly felt in the upcoming mid-term elections.

We picked up Miriam at her house outside of Malta, OH, and from there, she navigated us along the back roads toward Columbus. What a spectacular day for a drive on many roads that were new to me! The beauty of the virgin snow on pasture after pasture was breathtaking.

(photo credit to Jacky Miner who was riding shotgun)

Much, much smaller than other marches across the country, the Columbus rally was nonetheless powerful and impressive. All of us remarked at how glad we were to see young women taking a lead in voter registration and redistricting campaigns, as well as campaigning for progressive candidates. Families, single moms, senior citizens, people of all ethnicities and orientations gathered to state their concerns and hopes for our country in a very civil, respectful march and rally.

I remember my mom's support for the DC March last year, and this year, she continued to support our family marchers from the world of spirit: I proudly wore her Avon owl necklace from the 70"s under the many layers of clothes I had on.  Eliza went to the march in Cincinnati, Samuel watched in Chicago, and Myra and friends participated in Richmond. Colleagues and former students marched in places around the country, and others will be marching today.

I want to make one point clear: It's undeniable that people in our country are angry with the myriad comments and events that have streamed out of Washington this year. That's a fact. HOWEVER, the greater truth is that those who march LOVE our country and are genuinely and deeply concerned / worried over the trajectory in which we find ourselves plummeting. Attempts to denigrate or label those who march reflect a disrespect and misunderstanding of sincere conviction.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017


As one who is hard-headed, spirited when it comes to tackling obstacles, and willing to grapple until there's no more grappling to be done, I've learned a lot about surrender and acceptance when faced with the loss of a family member, friend, pet, and even a favorite plant or tree. There's no use to do do less than accept and continue, as death is a non-negotiable circumstance. Surrender is freeing; acceptance soothes the sorrowful heart.

The last six months have been punctuated with many passages - 16 mothers of friends have transitioned into the world of spirit, as well as my own mother. I am caught breathless at times when the enormity of these losses consumes my soul, and I am still trying to come to grips with the new reality of seeing my and hearing my mother only in my dreams. Thankfully, she's appeared a couple of times - beautiful and happy though the dreams themselves have been rather bizarre - one rather humorous and the other filled with inverted images throughout; for example, a dresser that was suspended upside down from the ceiling in my grandmother's house

I've learned a lot about the acceptance of death from life here on the farm. The cycling of the seasons serves as a constant reminder of  life->death->rebirth. There's great joy in watching my flowers emerge after a cold, hard winter. Somehow they muster the strength to return year after year and retain full beauty despite the unpredictability of the weather. When they have withered after producing glorious blooms, I hate to see them leave; I miss them and eagerly anticipate their return the next growing season.

Likewise, in the nearly 40 years I've lived here, I've buried many a pet....Tornado, Gunner, Annie, Molly, dozens of cats, chickens and ducks, guinea pigs, hamsters, lizards, and several fish. Some of my most vivid memories involve listening to Samuel and Eliza say a sweet, tender good-bye to their beloved animals after we had gone through the ritual of digging their graves together. Just as watching Mama Cat give birth was a monumental occasion for us all, so was the burial of each furry friend. I would agree with psychologists that having children celebrate the beginning through the end with their pets offers an invaluable experience and explanation about the life cycle which assists their understanding when the loss inevitably involves a person they love.

Another thing I've noticed during this incredible time of transition centers around the way one grieves. The only constant I observe is that each individual defines his/her own grieving process, and that process is different with each passage involved. When my father died, I was greatly consoled by having pictures of him all around me. I felt close to him that way; I could see him in a healthy body and remember him as agile rather than fragile, as active rather than ravaged by Parkinson's Disease. I can still see him in photos and sense his sweet presence.

With Mom's passage, I anticipated photos of her all throughout the house would equally console me; however, that has not been the case. I long for her sorely when I see the photos. I can't get a grasp of the reality of her being gone. I want to pick up the phone and hear her voice. I'm still very raw. I miss her so!  Therefore, I have had to put most photos of her in storage for now. I have the last one taken of her and me on my desk, but other than that one, I'll wait a while before I put out more.

As much as I don't like the catchphrase "the new normal," I do realize I am attempting to find a way to define my mom's presence in a new way in my life. I hear her voice; I talk to her in my mind; I tell myself what I know she would tell me; and I beseech her to come to me in my dreams.

Norm Sartorius read the following poem at Diane's mother's funeral, and the words and simple thoughts have brought me great consolation.  I hear Petie's voice as I read the lines, and they help me along the way each day.

Death is Nothing at All 

by Henry Scott Holland

 Death is nothing at all…

I have only slipped away in the next room.

I am I, and you are you.

Whatever we were to each other that we are still.

Call me by my old familiar name,

Speak to me in the easy way you always used.

Put no difference into your tone

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed

At all the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play, Smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without effort,

Without the ghost of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever was;

There is absolutely unbroken  continuity….

Why should I be out of your mind because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you for an interval,

Somewhere very near, just around the corner.

All is well.

Sunday, May 07, 2017


Shortly before 3:30 AM on the morning of March 25th, I heard my cell phone ring in a room on the other side of the house.  I didn't make it to answer, but the immediate ringing on the house phone brought the realization that I was about  to get news. The minute I heard my sister's voice on the other end, my intuitions were confirmed: "Mom just passed away" are the only words I remember from our tearful conversation.

In retrospect, I can now see the signs that pointed to Mom's decline - shortness of breath on occasion, minor but obvious memory issues, the lack of desire to do things that she enjoyed, a diminished appetite, lack of stamina, sadness that she could no longer do for others, her talk of dreams about her father and deceased siblings, her nostalgia and longing for my father (especially as the anniversary of his death & their wedding anniversary - on the same day, March 16th-approached), her insistence for Myra and me to go with her to see a lawyer with her about her will and estate matters, and her inability to deal with anything that interrupted an easy day / her normal schedule. Yet still, for a 98-year old woman, she seemed to be faring OK.

Back in late February, Mom had told me a couple times on the phone that she just didn't feel quite right. Then, one night, I got a call from my cousin Bill, who was responding to an EMT call from Mom's Lifeline. She had fallen getting out of bed, actually slipped off the side of the bed as she was trying to get her slippers on to go to the bathroom. Bill reassured me Mom was OK, but he felt something wasn't quite right about her. He stayed with her for two nights until I could get home.  The next day, I headed to Boone.

When I arrived, Mom insisted that she was "just fine," but I could tell she looked a little weak and puny. So, I moved into the same mode she would have done with others: I fixed her three healthy meals a day, insisted she drink an abundance of water (which she swore she did, but I never saw her), massaged her, assisted with her bath, walked up and down the hall with her for exercise, and got her outside in the spring air - which was abnormally warm for Boone at the time. Over the course of a few days, I began to see change for the better, and the following week, I brought her to OH to spend time with me while Myra and I made arrangements for her care once she returned. (She stayed with for almost three weeks, insisting at the end of week 2 that she was ready to go home. "I've had a good time here, Tanya, but there's no place like home.")

That care, an initial thought that she would enter Brian Estates in Boone, was NOT to her liking. Though she had insisted all her life that when the time came, she would fully cooperate with whatever needed to be done for her care, she grew sad, very sad, and depressed about the thought of "breaking up her home, " as she described the impending move. To make a long story short, Myra and I reworked the plans away from Brian Estates to include in-home care via Hospice in NC so Mom wouldn't have to leave 145 Russell Drive. That possibility resonated a bit better with her, but she was not entirely content with it either.

While in OH, Mom seemed pretty good though I noticed confusion on occasion and a greater indication of short-term memory issues. Still, we drove around in the country, went out to eat with folks she knew here, sat on the back porch, and took a day to go to Amish country. She was fascinated with the Amish way of life and asked me all sorts of questions as we watched men at the stock auction in Kittering, toured Lehmann's Hardware, and passed women and men in their rickety black buggies. That day, Mom seemed as young as a 70-year old: we laughed, stopped to watch men working oxen in the fields, and talked all the way there and back home. It's a day I'll never forget - ever.

Two days later, I took her back to NC and stayed another week in Boone with her until Myra could get home for a week prior to taking Mom to Richmond for a visit there. One day while we were both there, Mom wanted to help with clean up from lunch. She started to put up dishes from the dishwasher but had to cut it short because "I just don't have the energy to do it, Tanya." Her breath was short, she was experiencing waves of nausea, and she mentioned being a bit dizzy. My concern increased as I knew her heart was weakening.

I returned home the Sunday after Myra arrived with the thought that I might not see Mom again. As much as I tried to dismiss the thought from my mind, it lingered and surfaced as I drove home to the point where I almost turned around and went back home. During their week in Boone, Myra and Mom had several appointments, one of which was to see Mom's primary care physician. Dr. Smith checked Mom thoroughly and found her to be in good health - a good blood pressure reading, strong heart beat, etc. Mom was vibrant when I spoke with her that evening telling me, "I got a very good report from the doctor today." At that point, she seemed reassured, for I know now that she was very aware of what was happening in her body. Still, Myra confirmed she also noticed changes in Mom's endurance and breathing, and in particular, Mom's appetite was significantly diminished with tummy upset becoming more and more of a factor.

On the following Saturday, Myra and Mom prepared to take off to Richmond, but Myra called to tell me they might delay a day or so because Mom was just "out of kilter." But, they went out to lunch, got Mom's meds, had a visit with a friend from Mom's church, and talked to Samuel, Eliza, and me on the phone. Bentley, Myra's dog, hung close to Mom all day, and she let him lick the crumbs off her shirt after dinner - something she really enjoyed watching him do. (Mom loved our dogs and Richard's dog, Baxter, is the only animal I've ever known to lick Mom's face.) She sent Myra out to get Japanese  food for dinner, but when Myra returned Mom declined to eat it; her tummy wasn't feeling good. However, she stayed up to watch TV until Myra insisted on going to bed, and when Myra left her in her room, Mom was reading her daily devotional and Bible. That was about 11:15 PM or so.

According to Myra, Mom called her in to her room about 2:30 and said she couldn't breathe. Myra knew she was in distress and pushed the Lifeline alert. The EMTs were on the way in no time flat. Mom remained alert until the emergency squad arrived, but shortly thereafter, she lost consciousness and drifted away, peacefully and painlessly, with Myra holding her and sweet Bentley curled up at her head. Myra said it was as if the nurse in Mom knew what was happening and she held on until Myra wasn't alone. Once the squad arrived, the woman of deep faith surrendered to the process and took flight. All of us - Samuel, Eliza, Myra, and I - are incredibly grateful for Mom's peaceful passage.  It is as if she wrote the script and followed it gracefully into the realm of light.

At this point, I can't write about much more than the events, other than to say that I've made progress in processing my grief.  I'll return to my blog before long when I'm ready to put the emotion in words, if I can. Most of all, I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have had the parents I had, to have had such special time all my life with my mom, to have watched her with Samuel and Eliza, and to have spent 5 of her last 6 weeks with her. That gratitude sustains me as waves of the most powerful grief overwhelms me still.

(taken the first week Mom was with me in March)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


As the Women's March approaches this weekend in Washington, DC, I find myself at the helm of a group of 55 women and men from Marietta and the surrounding area who will join hundreds of thousands of people in solidarity on behalf of rights - women's rights, human rights, everyone's rights. It just so happens that the Women's March was purposely planned by a group of young women to follow the day after the president-elect's inauguration.  The president-elect, in his actions, words, and in intended appointees and policies, embodies the reasons we march: to make a bold, clear statement that inclusion of all people in our country and equal rights are issues that must be acknowledged and protected. I think most folks would agree that moving forward, we cannot be assured of support, understanding, or advocacy for those causes from those who move into leadership positions on Friday, January 20th.

I don't take the reasons for going lightly, and I'm certainly not excited about being in a crowd which, by all estimates, will surpass the number of people in Washington, DC,  for the inauguration ceremonies. Yet, I haven't been so moved to be a part of a movement since the late 60"s. At that time, the Women's Rights movement was emerging from the social birth canal of our country, citizens still fought for basic civil rights, and the US was involved in a horrendous war in Viet Nam. Good people were fighting and dying (on both sides), and the country's leadership disavowed responsibility. Furthermore, the president broke the law, resulting in the Watergate scandal.

Perhaps the sting of those events and times has diminished over the decades, but the memory of the then and the current state of our country remain to worry me. Very, very sadly, the future of the very issues we stood for and worked for back in the day are under attack yet again, and our soon-to-be administration scares the living daylights out of me, offends me on so, so many levels, and forces me to "walk my talk." As a human rights activist, as a woman and mother, as one who believes in equality and non-discrimination, I would be a model of hypocrisy if I didn't do my part as an agent of opposition and change. And, I understand that I, Tanya Shook Wilder, can do very little personally to make a difference; however, the combined voices of many singular choir members can, indeed, produce a powerful song with a far-reaching refrain and call to justice.

So, I join hundreds of thousands across our country on January 21, 2017, who are genuinely committed to lifting our voices in a chorus that cannot be un-heard by those who take over the government on the previous day.

People on my bus range in age from teenagers to women in their 70's. We have lawyers, teachers, artists, massage therapists, mothers with their daughters, a minister, and others who represent a diverse cross-section of our country. We go prepared for a long, grueling day of standing on our feet for 10 hours, of being in a huge crowd, of being limited in terms of food and water, of infinite weather possibilities. Yet we go, and we carry the message of many people who cannot attend. We'll wear messages from the folks back home as we rely on them for prayers of protection and peace.

I march with the blessing of my 98-year old mother, who would be there herself if age and frailty didn't work against her. She encourages my sister and me to go and include her voice in ours. With her blessing and encouragement,  I march for my children. I march for men and women who feel marginalized because of their heritage, their beliefs, and cultures. I march for men and women who need access to health care and reproductive options. I march for my friends and colleagues in the LBGTQ community. I march on behalf of the Earth, on behalf of everyone's right to clean air, water, and land. I march on behalf of immigrants who are forced to abandon their homeland. I march on behalf of those who cannot care for themselves - children, elderly people, those who are chronically ill- and those who walk grace our world in the animal and plant kingdoms.  I march on behalf of those who lost their lives as a result of violence. I march on behalf of the rights stated within the Constitution of the United States and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I march because at this juncture in our history and in my life, complacency is NOT an option. Too many human rights and principles are at stake. I march with sincere conviction and love for all people and for my country. I do not take what I march for lightly, under any circumstances.

I hope that in differences of thought and belief people can find common ground. I hope leaders and representatives across our country will stop and reflect.

I hope even those who are not in agreement with what I offer here can at least respect my thoughts and conviction.

Peace and all.

Sunday, January 08, 2017


Mac, Merrybelle, and I rolled back into the farm after a 2 1/2 week visit in Boone over the holidays. Samuel, Eliza, Mom, Myra and I had over a week to enjoy together, and the greatest gift of the season was to have family time with them. After Myra left to return home, the kids and I took a couple of days to ourselves - the longest stretch we've had together in a while - to enjoy a lunch at Black Cat, coffee at Expresso News, and meals around the table with Mom. On the classic scale of 1-10, those moments soared way past 10+++!! The absolute very, very best in every way.

I'm forever grateful my kids love each other like they do. Samuel and Eliza have each other's back-- no squabbling or sibling rivalry between those two. I'm proud of that bond. They've gone through a lot together, and I think the difficult moments they endured over the years as a result of their parents' divorce have ultimately cemented their love and admiration for each other in indestructible ways. Now, as adults and professionals in their respective fields, they grow deeper in respect and pride of each other's achievements, relationships, and paths. What more could a mom ask for?!

For 98 years old, Mom's holding her own quite well. She's not going to run a mile in record time, and moments of spaciness result in a bit of confusion for her from time to time. Nevertheless, her sharp wit and sense of humor remain intact. Her house served as command central for folks who came to visit and spend time with her. Aunt Lera and Richard joined us for Christmas dinner, a tradition (with the exception of maybe 3 or 4 years) that has been in place for close to 60 years.

Aunt Lera remarked after dinner that she really enjoyed the fact that three generations of people, ranging from 25 - 98 years old, shared interesting and engaging conversation around the table until shortly after 10:00 PM. Aunt Lera has been Mom's best friend and sister spirit for decades, each serving as a second mother for Richard and me (and Betsy, too). Samuel and Eliza have never known life without the Randall connection; I'll never forget how Eliza immediately rejected the idea that we really weren't related to the Randalls by blood.  Didn't matter to her. Aunt Lera and Uncle Frank were indisputably her aunt and uncle, just like Richard was my brother by another mother, which still made him her Uncle Richard. (Apologies to Richard for his absence in the photo. He was the photographer.)

There were other connections in Boone with family members and friends. Zeb's family is still represented strongly in the mountains. My uncles, aunts, and cousins fill the void of missing my dad and grandparents. A ride over to Pigeon Roost and back through the mountains soothed my longing to be a child again at Grandma's table on Christmas Day, and a wonderful afternoon with my cousin Bill and friends Terri and Debbie, as well as a visit in Boone by my friend Pam, put the icing of wonderful memories with special friends and family on the holiday cake.

Return to the farm has provided the pups and me a chance to get outside (despite very cold temps) and move our bodies. I'm in search of a leak in my water line, so I've walked the distance from the house to the end of the driveway several times in unsuccessful attempts to find a "wet spot."  It looks like there'll be a new water line coming down the lane before long, damn it. The high thought, however, is the knowledge that I won't be dealing with water leaks again. I've had three leaks since I took over the farm 16 years ago. The upcoming damage to the bank account, however, makes me think that part-time work is in my not-too-distant future.

Some may recall the unfortunate ending two Novembers ago to a huge stag who had protected my land for many years. I had watched this majestic animal grow from a young buck into the alpha male on my land over the course of time since the kids and I redefined our lives here. I had met him and locked eyes with him on more than just a few occasions back in the woods. We knew each other well, and we understood the magic of the land upon which we dwelled harmoniously together.

A neighbor, upon whom I would not piss on if he were on fire, allowed one of his hunting-buddy houseguests to take the buck out, and I found the neighbor and his friend crossing my field to carry the animal away. The buck jumped the fence in his last moments to come to the farm to take flight (We won't dwell here on that; however, it was more than just "luck" that I came across him and held him as he died.)

Shortly thereafter, I met another young buck back in the woods and have watched him now for two years as he has taken heir to the farm as "chief stag." This is the first time I have mentioned him or written about him, except to communicate about him to a friend who would understand my connection to this animal.

I arrived home Friday afternoon, and yesterday morning, when I opened the blinds to check out the snow, there he stood across the driveway as if to welcome me home and let me know he had kept close watch on our land in my absence. Interestingly enough, the dogs didn't pick up his presence, so in the silence we exchanged our unspoken understanding that all was well, a new year was upon us, and we would each remain in touch to ensure the farm's protection and care.

With all that's happened / happening on the political scene in our country and across the world, I've found myself either enraged, stunned, grief-stricken, ill, or depressed since early November. However, the encounter with his buck has stilled my heart of worry and concern, comforted me, and left me invigorated and energized as I begin my 37th year here as Farm Mom. And with that ease of heart, I begin 2017 with great gratitude and humility for the many blessings that flow my way.

Love, love to all......infinitely!