Ronnie Schiller

Amateur Author, Hobbyist Shutterbug

Birds and Beasties

A kinglet in the Photinia

A kinglet in the Photinia

I have been stuck in the trailer for a week or so with only my four little dogs for company, so I was excited for my husband to return from Utah. I had forgotten how little conversation we actually have.

I actually had to pause from writing to tell him to stop feeding human food to the dogs because they’ve had digestive issues for the last few days.

One thing I have had in abundance since I’ve been here is the opportunity to view beautiful birds and scenery. There seems to be no limit to the breathtaking nature here in Washington. Here’s a list of birds I have seen in Kalama since I arrived:

I’m sure there are others that I can’t remember right now. Coming from a place where I only saw starlings and house sparrows with the occasional strays in the back yard, this is amazing. I can’t imagine what I’ll get to add to my list when I actually go out birding.

This evening, we got to enjoy a display that would never happen in Utah. We watched from the bank of the river as a sea lion hunted and feasted on steelhead.  Seeing the five-foot sea mammal breach the water with a huge, silvery fish in its mouth was astounding. The sleek, brown sea lion rolled and dipped, tossing the fish in its jaws. It was a brutal and beautiful thing.

Apparently, this sea lion has decided that it likes the bend of the river a few feet east of our RV. There’s a deep spot there, and it has been hanging around for a few days when the tide is high. The fisherman keep grumbling about how they want to chase it away because they can’t fish. Personally, I don’t mind it. I love the show.

If high tide happens to coincide with some good evening sunlight, I’m going to try to capture some photos.

Speaking of uncooperative mammals, I should mention that I closed on the Utah house on Wednesday, March 18. It cost me $60 to print the document at the UPS store in Longview–the majority of that was notary services at $10 per page–and I sent the documents back over night. It’s finally done. Just have to wait for my proceeds to arrive in the mail. Amen.


Voracious Dragonflies

Hey, now I have some cash!

Hey, now I have some cash!

My blog host service has picked a horrible time to misappropriate my domain renewal payment. The domain that hosts my old personal blog and my photoblog has been marked as expired, even though I paid a 2-year renewal two weeks ago. The issue was escalated with their Billing Department and is being reviewed with priority attention. It’s still down, and I’m annoyed. I will have bird and nature photos to share once I get it back.

While we’re in this space, let’s talk about some of the mechanics of the move.

The buyers of my former home were very pushy about our move date. They wanted to take possession of our house quickly because they had to vacate the one they were selling, so they refused to budge on a March 3rd move in day even though they would not be ready to close until February 27. I had to take it on faith that their loan would fund in time to pay me after I had left.

In order to clear the property quickly, I paid more money that I would have liked to a moving company. My husband called in every favor from every friend he could, and we ended up storing some of his construction equipment and tools in three different locations across northern Utah. He plans to make several trips–12 hours each way–to retrieve those items over the next few weeks.

On the 23rd of February, my realtor called me, upset.  The buyers had not passed the appraisal on the home they were selling and their realtor had not been forthcoming with the fact that their deal was in jeopardy. In order for them to qualify to buy my house, they had to sell the one they were in. The appraisal was about $10k short of the asking price, so they would have to come up with that amount to pay off their mortgage. (It is almost unheard of for an appraiser to do that, I’m told. They usually play along with the deal.) Their obligation to meet our contracted funding deadline was approaching in 12 hours. Several phone calls later, my realtor told me that she had been assured that a third party was going to kick in the extra cash so we could proceed. She promised to call as soon as they had cash in hand.

About five minutes before we left to meet the representative from our mortgage lender’s construction loan department to close the loan on our lot here in Washington, I got a call from my Utah realtor confirming that the buyers would be able to come up with the money and the deal was going through. A flying unicorn streaked across the sky, leaving a rainbow in his wake. Sort of.

We grumbled about the missed funding deadline and got an extension on the possession date, from March 3rd to the 7th. Those few extra days made the difference we needed. There was no way we would have been ready by the 3rd, so we were glad to have them. I was able to get the utilities transferred out of my name, and make the last-minute reservations on the RV park in Kalama. We would close on the Friday, the 6th, and they would take possession of the house on Saturday afternoon. Funding would hit by Monday or Tuesday, and the small amount of cash I would receive from the sale would hit my bank that week.

But we didn’t close on Friday. The lender didn’t have the documents ready. Their realtor said there was just a normal workload delay with the small bank they used and the papers would be ready on Monday. I could get an email copy and print/sign/send to close. No problem.

My first construction loan payment was due on March 5. It was an interest only payment of about $50, since I had not yet begun to draft against the account. No biggie. The cost of the movers, the rent on the RV park, the fuel to drive three vehicles from Clearfield, Utah to here, and the various tools and other expenses of moving and preparing the RV were also no big deal when viewed as one thing at a time. They were buzzy, little dragonflies to be swatted away with the remains of my paycheck.  I had enough savings to cover my car payment, and I didn’t have to worry about a house payment for the month of March, thanks to the sale.

Easy peasy.

So, here we are, on the 13th.  The papers are still not ready from the lender, and we have not closed on the sale of our house. Their realtor tells mine a different story than the one she hears from the lender and the title company. She sends me frustrated texts, but my realtor is a sweet woman who wouldn’t says shit if she had a mouthful. I have to guess as to how annoyed she is. We don’t know if the delay is being caused by the buyer because he didn’t give the lender some certificate he earned in a class he had to take to qualify for a $0-down mortgage, or if the bank is being slow because they don’t care about my situation. Either way, my realtor is demanding some more earnest money from them by mid-Monday and I have blown most of a paycheck on another mortgage payment in a house I can’t occupy. I blew another chunk of that check on a bag of pork rinds for lunch and a convenience store quart of milk that cost more per ounce than top-shelf booze at a Vegas club.

The list of people I want to punch in the face with a steam-engine-powered knuckle duster is growing longer, but I am powerless here. It’s just me and the pups in a trailer in paradise.

Geese in Flight and Dogs that Bite

Low tide on the Kalama River, mere feet from where I sit.

Low tide on the Kalama River, mere feet from where I sit.


My husband and I have spent the last year looking for a new home in the Pacific Northwest. We were initially lured by a foreclosed farm in Brush Prairie, Washington. It seemed like our chance, and we dared to dream for a few days before it was taken off the market. That possibility was enough for us, and the search began in earnest.

We have had tremendous good fortune in finding a level 1.43 acres in the beautiful, small town of Kalama. The sellers are kind, dear people who have cheered us on and accommodated us in every way possible. The details of our success will spin out in time. Tonight, I want to talk about the journey to our new home.

The stress of packing under a deadline with little sleep wore me down throughout the last week of February. I continued to work and coordinated the closing of the sale of my house in Utah and all of the associated financial chess of that transaction, with the closing of the construction loan for the Kalama property during my breaks. I was fighting a sinus infection, as well. The effort tempered my excitement about the move, but only as much as a wisp of cloud tempers the heat of the sun in summer. I felt moments of giddy elation, even as my body protested my every step.

We pulled the last few items from our house on Friday evening, March 6, just after the sunset. The vinyl flooring made everything echo noisily. The dogs were so confused by all of the commotion; they kept waiting outside the door to my old office. They followed me up and down the back stairs as I carried the odd broom and stepladder from the kitchen to the 5th wheel trailer parked in our driveway. The overhead lights of the trailer were the only illumination in the street by the time we settled in for bed.

We rose just after 5:00, preparing to leave by 6 AM on Saturday.  My husband was driving his massive truck, pulling the trailer, while I drove behind in my beloved Juke with our four dogs in the passenger seat. His mother was on her way to meet us and round out the convoy, driving our old Chevy Cavalier.

About 5 minutes before she showed, I missed one of the steps leading away from the sleeping area inside the trailer, and fell about four feet downward over a distance of six feet horizontally. I was clumsy and half-awake, but the fall turned on the juice in an instant. It was one of those truly humiliating, slow-motion trips. The stacked dog kennels and my tucked right arm took most of the weight of the impact, and my forehead hit the edge of the dogs’ water dish on the way to the floor. I was still groaning in pain when my husband barged through the door to find the source of the commotion.

He looked at me, writhing face-down on the narrow linoleum hallway, drenched in water, with four excited Chihuahuas prancing on my back, and managed to keep a straight face when he asked me if he needed to call a doctor.

My arm was swollen in three places with brutal blue and purple bruises for days. All fleshy parts, of course. I told him I was going to post photos and tell my friends that I had “fallen down the stairs”.

I still have a nasty bruise just below my left elbow, but it’s fading fast. There were plenty of little mishaps like that along the way. My biggest dog tried to jump into my lap as I merged onto the interstate and threw the car into neutral when I was accelerating to freeway speed somewhere around Troutdale. My mother-in-law couldn’t figure out how to turn off the hazard lights in the Cavalier, and I neatly snapped the switch in two trying to do it for her. I had to pry it into place with a key. A tractor-trailer came within a foot of broad-siding the trailer in a construction zone near Boise, and honked at my poor husband. The resulting anxiety attack took him off the road for a long while.

On the subject of Idaho: western Idaho is a depressing, gray wasteland of dirt and sagebrush that seems to never end or change–especially when you are driving the third car in a 3-car train moving at 40 MPH. The first 12 hours of our drive were punctuated by listless crows and clumps of faded green brush amongst cloud-shaded gravel. It sucked so bad there, the plants couldn’t even summon the enthusiasm to be fully green. I was so bored, I burned through CDs one after another, just to save my sanity. I never want to make that drive again.

We spent the night in an RV Park in Baker City, Oregon. I escaped the crowded trailer for a few minutes to have a cigarette and wondered at the multitudes of stars that I haven’t been able to see for the past 5 years in the suburbs. In my usual lust for knowledge, I wanted to know the name of every speck of light in the sky.

The next morning, I woke to the song of a Northern Mockingbird just outside the trailer: a good omen, and a delightful buoy to my spirit. I have loved mockingbirds since I was a child, and the clear, loud sing-sing-sing repertoire was a welcome treat.

As we pulled away from Baker City, I found an oldies station on the FM band that came in strong enough to allow me to recognize the old tunes and sing along with whatever fate wanted to spin up for me. I sang to my dogs to keep them calm, but they didn’t need it so much after the first day. I kept singing because I wanted to feel what the mockingbird felt in the predawn anticipation of a beautiful day.

James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind” started playing as we crested a hill west of Baker City. The sun touched my cheek, and I saw the first big, lush slopes of the mountains to my left. The mountains in that part of Oregon are not as grand as the Wasatch Front, nor as tall. I know people in Utah would assert that they are scarcely more than hills, but I insist that they are better. In Oregon, the hills are soft and warm. They don’t stifle the rising sun, they bask in it. They don’t stand with locked shoulders, exposing layers of scarred rock; they fold and bend with evergreen spines and mossy roundness. They are alive and inviting.

I don’t know the words to that James Taylor song. I knew the title in the way that I know many song titles that I have absorbed through snippets in television commercials and pop culture exposure. The words, at the time, seemed to be about being where you feel you really want to be. I was. I was going home to Spring in a place I’ve only visited too briefly in Autumn. Despite fighting the ridiculousness of it, I began to sob.

To be fair, I was choking up a little bit during Huey Lewis and the News singing “Power of Love” before that. It’s not the song, it’s the moment.

I cried again when I told my husband about it in the parking lot of the Flying J later that morning. He choked up this week, a bit, too.

We are home, as yet without a home. We are living in the most beautiful place I have ever seen. For now, that’s enough to keep all the stress of the job ahead at bay.

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