Category Archives: Farm

Shovelling

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I would explain what is happening with the blog (that I posted on like clockwork for two years and then disappeared into silence for the last months) except I’m not entirely sure. My life does not always feel like my own. I lack a fair bit of control over my time, not to mention the needs of others that I appear tasked to meet. The juxtaposition to that reality is that there is some kind of volcano of desire at work in me these days, daring me to live in ways I long to but have not dared hope for, except in whispers. Little personal time plus risky soul searching has left me without a lot of words.

This weekend I found myself on our pond shovelling. Despite the lack of decent snowfall, it needed quite a bit. Boy two and the girls had done some. Sunday was supposed to be a group effort plus me, but the excitement of my presence lulled them into happy skating while I put myself through my shovelling paces mostly alone.

It hit me as I worked that pond clearing was a pretty good metaphor for the state of my interior life right now – which has similarly required a lot of shovelling. To carve a path where there wasn’t one before. To clear the ice and reaffirm for another season that there is magic worth working for. That underneath the snow, there are possibilities hidden, waiting to be uncovered, discovered, and skated upon with abandon and laughter.

My last post mentioned my shopping intentions. With not a little bit of trauma and drama, I followed through on it. I’ve been told in moments I lack the strength to argue that I’m not finished yet. No comment about that. But buying clothes that fit, feel good, and look nice, has been part of my shovelling. . .  I thought I was going to say a bit more about this, but I’m finding I can’t. Thinking about how I look, as opposed to what I think or believe, is for the time being just a little too threatening to write about. Saying that much is the end of my brave acts on discussing the subject. :)

The pond is easier to talk about. It looks very big when you arrive. But regardless of size, clearing begins with a single shovel full. I start out to clear a section. Then I get bored and start paths here and there down through the middle of the snow. After that I start other sections, which sometimes merge with previous sections and sometimes don’t.

This is my explanation for why the muscles in my soul feel like they’re getting a good workout. Because if the clothes were a section of my pond, the shovelling has certainly branched out. I finished my work on the children’s novel with a good sense of accomplishment. Then realized that although I would love to see it published, I’m just not ready to hang my daily energies on its success or failure. I’ll work at queries here and there, but I’m not willing to die for it.  I haven’t stopped loving words, dreaming of books, or writing in my head while I drive down the road, but I don’t want my success or failure as a person hanging on the validation of a publishing contract. Can one still be a writer and say that?

Crazy thinking had other branches. In December, I wondered what would happen if I went back to school for one of those things I would have given my right arm to do twenty years ago, but I can’t now because it’s too late. The thought was so shocking I almost fell down thinking it. I’m a mother of four. In her forties. My life path is already decided. I knew going to school was unrealistic . . . until I didn’t know that anymore. Until I started wondering if my tiny shovel and a little grace might be able to carve out a path big enough to skate on.

When not despairing at the obstacles, I whisper to myself that there might still be time – that dreams long buried really can come true. Nothing is decided. Nothing is assured. But a few times, when no one was watching I have leapt into the air and laughed on the chance it is possible.

Fall birthdays and the odd joys of gambling

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We’re a little more than halfway through this year’s birthday season. I’m limping a bit on the enthusiastic party zeal, but working hard to fake it. No one knows how many times I’ve fondly rememberd the conversation where Boy one said he didn’t want a birthday party this year. No one knows I shed tears wanting him immediately crowned my favourite child when I recall it.

I find strange comforts in the midst of afflictions. Girl two’s birthday party (not to be confused with her family birthday dinner – the math on this is 4 kids x 2 celebrations minus one party thanks to current favourite child = 7 events in just over two months) was an example of this. I didn’t use to serve lunch at parties but it’s a good time killer while you’re looking at your watch to see how many more minutes until the party your child looks forward to all year is over.

I went to buy hot dogs for the party, only to broadsided at the store by my North American-waste-panic, concurrent with my panic about nutrition vs. people eating what feels like fun to them. Illogically, I could deal with the hot dogs themselves, but the thought of white buns instead of whole wheat sent me over the edge. In went the whole wheat buns to my cart. A minute later I was back exchanging them for white. I got them in, then I took them out. After much deliberation, I resolved to buy precisely one package of 8 white buns, come back another day when I was stronger to finish the shopping, and make this the last time I ever bought them. Driving away I pictured future birthday parties and the possibility of blindfolding picky visitors until they had finished eating their proper brown buns.

Of course, I never made it back to the store. The party began. There were 6 children in attendance. Celebrations are about extravagance. I decide to gamble on eight hot dog buns anyway. Some people take chances on cards, some people take chances they can outmaneuver seven year olds. We all have our vices. I sweat, but I do not panic. There’s actually a strange kind of pleasure in the challenge.

I put some fries in the oven. I prepared the hot dogs and cut each one in half. I made a mountain of carrot sticks and apple slices. Each child got a plate with half a hot dog, some fries, and their choice of fruit or veggie. I poured milk and I served slowly. Everyone who asked for seconds was served. Eventually, I brought around seconds until everyone refused more and gave the leftovers to a stray sibling.

The white bread guilt is gone. Party weariness disappeared that day. I served 6 children as much as they wanted with a mere 8 hot dog buns, none of whose pasty whiteness remained on my counter. And yes, there’s a bit of an afterglow just remembering it again.

Fruits and hope

Some of the fruits of our labors came together this weekend . . .

Finally a honey harvest!!!

Finally a honey harvest!!!

 

Some lovely comb to use for our bottles of chunk honey.

Some lovely comb to use for our bottles of chunk honey.

 

About 4:30, I sent two kids to the pasture on bikes to look for our cow, Anabelle. We were in up to our eyeballs in stacks of unextracted honey, newly extracted honey, pots, pans, machines, and instructions, but no one had seen the cow all day. Her son, Buster, left the farm a week ago and I worried she might have gone off in search of him. The kids returned without success so my husband headed out. Meanwhile, Boy one and I soldiered on in the honey business. We had gone for a lesson on honey extraction the week before,  but we still had to keep stopping to look things up.

After a good long search, the cow tracker returned with a grin. Honey had to wait while we went off to see for ourselves what Anabelle had been up to out there in the bush.

 

The best picture of the one who did all the work. (Placenta was still hanging so birth was quite recent.)

Anabelle had been busy getting out someone new for us to meet. Since she did all the work, the first picture features her! (Placenta was still hanging so birth was quite recent.)

 

To our great delight, Anabelle's calf was a girl.

Our new calf is a girl! We’re loving the look of the Hereford in her.

Naming the calf took a few days . . . but Almond Joy she is, with promises to Girl two that she will be called Almond Joy as one name, not just Almond, with Joy as a middle name – for reasons unknown, this mattered. The birth of Almond Joy means we’ll have a second cow to breed (very good news, we think).

 

Presenting her beautifulness. . . Almond Joy

Presenting her beautifulness. . . Almond Joy

 

We were pretty happy about this too!

And more beautifulness!

 

The honey operation that we guessed would be the work of a few hours that night took us almost eight . . . but even morning people need to stay up until midnight once in a while. A few weeks ago, we found the bee mentor I’ve been dreaming of. She is a goddess of reasonable, effective, low key beekeeping. Looking at our hives, goddess says the only thing we’ve really done wrong was use a cheaper kind of frame that the bees don’t like, otherwise things look good. (I held back just barely from throwing my arms around her neck. It helped that we were both dripping sweat like a faucet out there in the bee yard.) Thanks to goddess, Boy one and I are sticking with bees for another season at least.

 

Sweet to the last drop . . . 70 lbs of top quality honey plus a few lbs of home honey mightily helped to ease the frustrations of a difficult year with the bees. Knowing we finally have our very own bee goddess in driving distance who owns a phone doesn't hurt either.

Sweet to the last drop . . . 70 lbs of top quality honey plus a few lbs of home honey mightily helped to ease the frustrations of a difficult year with the bees. (Knowing we finally have our very own bee goddess in driving distance, who owns a phone, doesn’t hurt either.)

Thistles

Thistles, by Shibata Zeshuin (1808-1891). Compliments of thefamousartists.com

Thistles, by Shibata Zeshuin (1808-1891). Compliments of thefamousartists.com

Lawn mowers are my life long love affair. The roaring drone of the engine is ironically all about quiet. Sometimes I sing, or not. What I never do is hear who did what to whom, or what anyone needs, wants, or is looking for.  My lawn mower is a portable combination church, library, nature sanctuary, divine telephone line and therapist all rolled into one.

Before this summer, I mowed the fields when the lawn wasn’t big enough. Sincere men tried to explain that this was not what the ride on mower was designed for.  They were missing the point. Twice we had to have the blades replaces half way through the summer. The fix it man could not understand how a lawn could be so hard on a mower. But it wasn’t the lawn. I was traversing a field/pasture/premier breeding ground for frogs, snakes, praying mantises and mice, and swerving accordingly for any sighting of small life. The whole farm sits a few inches above bedrock. What can I say? Sometimes it sticks up.

This year we have bush hog, “to do the fields properly.” This is a mostly blessing. But the bush hog has to be officially hooked up in some kind of grand manner and then grandly unhooked and parked just so in order to fit everything in the barn. The bush hog cannot be summoned because I feel the yearning to mow rising to fever pitch. The current lawn mower is slower, coughs, squeals, and after it’s years of service, mows drunkenly uneven swaths . . . but it does not require advance notice to use it. The old girl still gets a go at the open spaces if no one is looking when the lawn is not big enough by half.

Farms can fill you with joy and overwhelm you with discouragement. It was a day of the latter a few weeks ago. Bee hives were not thriving. Ditto for apple trees. Ewe #3 did not get pregnant this year. Small but promising garden was demolished by a hurricane of cows. (When they couldn’t reach to eat any more off the tops of the tomato plants, they knocked down the fence and ate everything except the weeds to the ground.)

I finished the lawn and finished the apple/bee yard. It wasn’t enough so I started in on part of field covered in thistles. Ruining our beautiful, previously pristine field, thistles. I imagined the farm in a few more years. No bees, dead apple trees, and the pasture an unwalkable sanctuary of thistles. We would have to name our farm Thistledown.

I began mowing a hopeless protest through the four foot high sea of thistle. After four or five passes, I stopped for a honey bee. I looked closer and laughed. Honey bees were everywhere, inches apart from each other, buzzing in and out of endless thistle flowers. For the bees, the thistles were a paradise of flowers a short flight from home. The kind of thing a beekeeper would plant on purpose to help them.

I stopped mowing, happy. The thistle looked beautiful. It could stay, even multiply. Grace tickled my heart asking what other thistle things of my knowing might be secretly brimming with the stuff of honey.

Kingdoms and royal decrees

Pink line in right hand corner is a movable replica of a worm.

Pink line of “y” in right hand corner is a movable replica of a worm.

Summer brings with it a fierce and lasting deafness to my clarion calls for order. My subjects, I discern, fancy themselves as fellow royals. The concerns of their dominions are too loud to hear me most of the time.

Boy two is responsible for chicks. Food and water are not overly interesting to him. Worms, on the other hand, are. And chicks, he believes, need worms. The girls love to play with the chicks while they’re new. Unbeknownst to me, Boy two forbid them from even seeing the chicks unless they paid admission. Morning admission: one worm. Evening admission: two.

Boy two said instead of explaining himself, we should come to Chicky, Chicky Worm Fest (invitation reminder via a sign on the bathroom door, later moved to the coop before our arrival). The girls agreed. Wearing a wig and a large brimmed hat, Boy two introduced himself as Raul. He held a worm until a chick got hold of it and ran. Mad races then ensued. Chick with worm ran determined to maintain the prize, anyone who saw the dangling worm ran to steal it, the rest of the chicks ran to see what all the running was about. Two chicks with worms meant even more chaos and the possibility of crashes. Raul proudly extolled the excellent exercise opportunities of worm racing, a clear but unspoken defense of his admission policy.

Boy one’s established kingdom is primarily focused on information. For free, he provides all kinds of facts necessary for our betterment. He also asks a lot of questions. The other day he asked me one I didn’t know the answer to and didn’t particularly feel like talking about it.

“I don’t know,” I said. Closing down his bid for further knowledge, I added, “as a wise man once say, when person not tell truth, it not worth asking the story.”

“Wow,” he said in awe. “That’s amazing. I mean, that’s really true. I never thought about it, but it’s true.”

The bequeathing of a minor earldom in my direction is absolutely one of the highlights of my summer. It may in fact turn out to be the last thing I ever say that impresses him. When I told him I’d made it up, he was speechless (briefly).

“I seriously thought it was Chinese or something. It was that good,” he said.

Girl one fights for the shape of her kingdom more quietly. (Girl two keeps us steadily informed on her behalf.) Girl one hates passing on clothes to her sister. We talk about it. We let the outgrown clothes sit around for awhile. Slowly, a few things at a time, we change them over to Girl two’s drawers. Often Girl one see them there and takes them back once or twice before it sticks. For her part, Girl two makes a point of mentioning how good the favorite previously owned items look on her whenever possible. There is a particular pink kilt beloved by both girls. Girl two wore it a few days ago. That night she told me she was giving it back to Girl one.

This had never happened before. “I thought you liked it,” I said.

“I do,” said Girl two, “but she told me if I ever wore it again she was going to put a witch’s curse on it so something bad would happen to me.”

 

Kingdoms come, kingdoms go. Summer marches on.

 

Luring the next racer

Raul luring the next racer  (hard to see the worm)

Unlucky and lucky

photo by anitapeppers compliments of morguefile.com

photo by anitapeppers compliments of morguefile.com

Veronica the vicious is a chicken who got unlucky once, lucky twice, unlucky once, and then lucky twice again.

Veroncia was caught pecking open an egg, however, she successfully ran to the chicken witness protection program. Melted into the milieu of other chickens, man and boy couldn’t be positive which one she was so they carried on cleaning out the chicken coop. Veronica being bold, the scenario played out a second time without successful capture.

After the third egg she attacked in broad daylight, my husband leapt, gashed his head on the ceiling, but at last cornered her audacious clucking self. Veronica the vicious was then named, segregated and her tail marked with black spray paint in case she got loose.

Since then, Veronica has been in detention because none of us were in the mood for an execution. This is where she got extremely lucky. Veronica’s execution has been stayed and in fact, she is travelling to a new home today. We are providing a cage, food, and some wood shavings. We may also have stated with confidence that she won’t eat her own eggs, (so an egg a day is bound to follow?) I’m not sure on what authority we speak. In any event, we sincerely hope she doesn’t, and liberties of expression can be taken in capital cases.

Squeaky is not a chicken. Squeaky is a wood chuck. Squeaky’s family took up residence last summer in our barn. We cleaned out their temporary residence, put up no trespassing signs and went inside for the winter where we belonged. This spring, Squeaky and company  came back. They took down the no trespassing signs, hung curtains, and began working in earnest at family expansion. My husband said he would trap them. I said it wouldn’t work. In for breakfast he came the next day. One less wood chuck, was all he said.

You caught one? Wow, okay. I guess now we have to decide what to do with it.

Not too much to decide.

You mean you killed it?

The rest of the conversation can be summed up as followed.

Me: surprised. horrified. mad.

Him: proud. surprised. disappointed (at the lack of congratulations).

The eventual new procedure was distant resettlement of future captures by me. Two of Squeaky’s family have already been released in a forest a few kilometers away. Patient and quiet, they exited (the long rectangular cube of white plastic with air holes) almost as soon as we opened the trap and quickly disappeared into green.

Unlike his predecessors, Squeaky was not quiet about the unluckiness of getting caught. I have always assumed wood chucks to be mute. Squeaky laid that myth to rest. He squeaked so loudly when we got near the trap that we jumped. More than once. I expected from his noises a kind of rocket to shoot forth from the trap once we got to the forest.  We opened the trap door and Squeaky stayed put. We gave up waiting. I upended it and he slid out onto the ground. Squeaky waddle-ran ten feet and then stopped.

I apologized that the barn was no longer available. I had no defense for our lack of hospitality. Then I reminded him he was lucky he wasn’t the first woodchuck caught in the trap. He thought about it, sniffed the air, looked around some more, and disappeared his lucky self into the brush.

 

The season of letting go

Engraving from a French ice skating manual, 1813. Compliments of Public Domain Review.

Engraving from a French ice skating manual, 1813.                                                   Compliments of Public Domain Review

This is the season of letting go.  The thought comes a few weeks ago. I walk around with it uncertain. Letting go is not just about loss. It can feel good to lay down heavy things.That is what I tell myself. I try many times to write before I can find words.  I promise myself I can throw it away unseen.

If this were the season of letting go, I would. . .

               Let go of all the measurements and calculations to prove that I’m okay.

               Let go of attempts to be good enough to merit love

               Let go of all the people I have tried to get to fill the holes. Really. Let them all go. Wander out                into traffic to forget me or not.

               Let go of protecting myself from failure (who defines that anyway?) 

               Let go of needing to prove something, protect something, and stand out as something.

               Let go of the worry about where I fit or what people think

 

I keep picturing Boy two and the bird. We were on our way down the driveway when I saw the cat. She had a bird in her mouth. I stopped the car. Boy two tore open the sliding door and leapt out. He pried open her jaws with his fingers and against her wishes, the cat let go. The bird flew up from her mouth into the air, across the lawn and into the sky.

I am the cat right now, but maybe I will also be the bird.

That’s how far I get. After that weeks go by and I can’t look at what I’d written or think another single thought about letting go. So much for the cat and the bird.

Over the weekend, I take Boy one to the airport to fly alone across three provinces. Upon arrival he is to find a taxi, buy a bus ticket, and use up five hours (all composed of sixty minutes) before boarding a bus. At the other end of the bus ride is two weeks of summer camp a very long way from home.  It is my idea. (A fact which I hate myself for all the way to the airport.) Boy one is a tiny bit nervous (not nearly enough) but also intoxicated with the joy of so much trust, independence and adventure. I hug him goodbye at the airport. He walks away smiling.

Back in the car, I remember the season of letting go. My boy, in the air, above me, beyond me is tearing my heart out. I see a picture of us. Me privately grieving while I smile and gently push him away. He is too happy to see my tears. He cannot stop grinning. This is great comfort indeed.  My heart hurts, but I’m doing my job if in only a whisper I can croak out the word, “Fly!” to my son.

A question knocks at the door of me. Might a season of letting go become also a season of flight? Not just for him, but for me?

National Holiday Cake

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Picture is upside down but candles are arranged to spell, “old.”

 

The holiday was national as applied to the nation of County Road 21, where my husband and I were again celebrating our shared birthday. The kids made the cake, to which the poor lighting does not do justice. My contribution to the cake was in the form of empathy band aids for all the emotionally disenfranchised during it’s making. Knowing only who hurt whose feelings, whose ideas got TOTALLY ignored, and that they didn’t like any of the frosting recipes so they made up their own, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cake.

It was delicious, including the frosting. I should say that outright. Their joy in presenting was helpfully contagious. Unfortunately, I have a few issues with germs and food cleanliness. The decision to decorate the cake with fragments of potentially poisonous bits of chopped up rubber snake, cars, and other well used toys was a stretch for me. We didn’t have to guess the theme (which is good because I wouldn’t have figured it out). The birthday man and I were treated to a verbal tour of the cake with great pride and enthusiasm.

Look at the cake. Do you get it? We’ve got everything.

Look. See that brown thing? It’s actually a hat from one of our toys, but here it’s the poop. Get it? It’s a farm!

Don’t forget to show them the pee.

Yeah, see that? There was a trailing blob of yellow food coloring in one corner. That’s the pee. It is definitely not a farm without pee.

There was a car, people, fields. The cake was chocolate. Brown was the color chosen for the icing. Earthy tones all around. Coconut and walnuts for texture.

Doesn’t it look like the snake is actually crawling through the cake?

And did you see the sheep guts? That’s what the red is with all the lumps. Blood and guts. 

Isn’t it great? We knew you’d like it.

 

It really was delicious. I removed the germ infested toys and poisonous rubber snake bits as soon as possible and shook my head at the comradery and pleasure they never tire of finding in all things uncouth. It reminded me of Father’s Day. After all the cards and sweet things, one child ran for his gift. He returned with a blindfold, a nasty concoction he’d made, and the sincere belief that would be fun for his father to drink his recipe and guess the ingredients. Behold the man. :)

 

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Two unexpected acts in the drama of bees

I need you to do the bees by yourself today, I told Boy one. My list is already longer than I can manage and besides I’m grumpy. You’ll be happier out there without me.

Famous last words.

Boy one was back in a few minutes. An entire hive had been ripped apart. The bees were still hanging around but the top honey super (almost ready for human consumption and looking like our best producing hive) was ruined. What wasn’t scraped and eaten was filled with bugs.

 

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There was a third toppled section not pictured here.

 

The amazing part was that inside the toppled mess, the bees were still at it. Despite a night of pounding rain, two boxes of bees were hard at work. We were back and forth as to what had happened. We looked for breaks in the fence,  called around for advice, read our book, and eventually confirmed that our situation met all the criteria for a bear. We also learned that there have been sightings of a bear in our area.

 

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The girls hanging in there with us until we could get them upright in familiar hive space.

 

It took us a while to carefully put everybody back together and clean up the mess. We were finished with the work and standing to catch our breath (and talk about electric fence devoted to the hives) when we looked over at another hive.

Wow! I said. That was the hive we were worried about. Look at all those bees. That’s incredible.

So incredible that I took a picture.

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Look at the sky! we all said.  The picture doesn’t do it justice but hundreds of feet high and wide looked like fireworks of bees, everywhere around us, then above us.

 

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We realized it wasn’t the kind of incredible we were aiming for (the bees were swarming) but it was such an incredible view of nature’s genius that it felt like a privilege to see it. Four of us were there at that point. Girl two left shortly after the fireworks. She was unimpressed by what we’d read about bees being gentle when they swarm. They were thick in the air, and she was out of there, thanks.

 

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After a few minutes, they began to gather on a cedar try about twenty feet away. It took them a good five minutes to conglomerate themselves. Being there meant we could recapture the swarm. Boy one was the man of the hour and directed the recovery of our bees.  (Since we spend one to two hours at the hive per week, the fact that they swarmed when we were there is especially fortunate.)

 

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With the branch cut, Boy one carried the swarm to an open box. Luckily, we had an extra hive in the garage. We set it up, quickly read up on how to and watched the next unbelievable thing.

 

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Just like the book said they would, a few of them figured out where the hive was and let everybody know about it. Then it was a river of bees marching across the sheet and into the hive for at least ten or fifteen minutes.

Hopes and prayers for bee mentor to materialize continue. So far, so good on no return from the bear.

 

What the flies and I hear

photo and fly compliments of morguefile. None of ours would sign a photo release.

photo and fly compliments of morguefile. None of ours would sign a photo release.

Boy one is taller than the rest of us and hoping to grow more. Looming manhood seems so inevitable, unstoppable and near that I forget how much he is still a boy. The moments he reminds me are treasures. His boyhood feels like a work of art, an exquisite castle carved in sand with the waves about to reach shore.

As noted before, this son was born with a serious approach to life. All realizations are immense. All perceptions of reality are carried with the weight of unquestionable truth. All thoughts, developing or otherwise, are generously shared. The boy who doesn’t joke had this to say last week.

Did I tell you what I have Girl one doing to help me with chores these days? he asked. Well, I think it’s really helping, he said. It’s helping Girl one, but I think it’s helping Misty too. Girl one is reading to her. Every night. She brings a book out to the barn, sits on the rail and reads. Misty loves it. I mean, I don’t think she understands the story, but she hears Girl one’s voice. She feels loved.

There was the smallest question in his voice. A tiny part of him not 100% sure but what the pony might understand at least a little of the story.

The waves are rolling in to cover up the castles but they’re not here yet. He’s taught himself to juggle. Eggs, he confessed are calling his name. How many might he have and where could he practice?

Girl two invited me to play hangman but there was a twist, invented she explained by Girl one who had decided that hangman made no sense. How would you hang a person one body part at a time? she said when I asked. I’d never considered the question but her solution was delightful. Do yourself a favor and try this version of hangman sometime this weekend.

  1. Get a pencil, and eraser and a pen (pen is optional)
  2. Use only a pencil to draw a full body stick figure hanging from the gallows
  3. Use pen to draw a shark with open mouth and teeth below the body.
  4. Choose word or phrase and begin game.
  5. For every missed letter, erase one body part from the stick figure. Redraw the body part inside the mouth of the shark (preferably with pen for extra drama). Losing players may watch themselves be eaten bite by delicious bite.

 

The only thing the flies missed seeing was the lawn. Boy two mowed for me. Walking by the next day I saw patches missed all over the place. He doesn’t drink. What had he been thinking? I looked again. All thirty or so unmowed intermittent grass patches were full of daisies. My artist hadn’t missed them, he had seen them!