Greetings from Bucolia!
A nearaway place over the river and into the hills where…
- Cattle cowspire to wage cowrilla warfare against unwitting humans
- Potlucks and fence posts replace CNN
- Scotch and Merlot are as essential to good gardening as fertilizer and water
- There be witches, wolves, and wild winged wonders
- Truncated gerunds dominate the dialect
- Mystifying, monstrous machines rule the roads
- Cats and dragonflies become spiritual oracles
- Frayed and unraveled lives are rewoven
- You must drag your home over a mountain logging road just to get there
Drop by, pick up some farm-fresh flowers, eggs and zucchini—just leave your money in the pickle jar.
Chapter 4: The Battle of the Hillside, or, Thank God I’m a Carnivore
Part I: Cattlegate
Cows. I hate ‘em. Unless they’re on my plate, that is. All nicely sliced up and cooked just so.
Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t always been a charter member of the Anti-Bovine League. Fact is, like most folks, I used to be quite taken by the dewy-eyed, fat-lipped, barrel-chested buffoons. Until I uncovered their true purpose: to sow discord, mistrust and generally foul-smelling mayhem amongst us human beings.
How did I reach this admittedly controversial conclusion? Well, pull up a chair (preferably a leather one) while I let you in on the details of this grand cowspiracy…
The shouts of joy upon seeing our beloved new home safely ensconced on our property had barely finished echoing off the mountainsides when we were faced with our first challenge. Need I tell you that cows were involved?READ MORE
You see, my wife Donna’s dad—we’ll call him “Vernon”—had been running cattle on the land since, well, since cattle were invented. We fully intended to allow him to continue said practice, given that he would fence off a good-sized lot around our home and allow us, in return, the grandiose concession of a driveway. Problem is, that driveway would stand squarely in the path that Vernon employed to herd his cows from one seasonal pasture to another. So, months before the torturous moving of the house over the mountain, Donna and I sat in her dad’s kitchen drawing out plans for fencing, driveway and a gate to accommodate this bovine thruway.
Looking back, I should’ve been able to hear those blasted cows snickering and plotting right then and there.
For, lo and behold, no sooner had the home landed on the lot than Vernon (no doubt duped by his beloved beasts) decided to radically alter the gate arrangement so that our driveway would in effect cut straight through our front lawn. This, he insisted with a mad look of cowfusion in his eye, was the plan we had originally agreed upon and he would hear of no other. And, by “hear” of no other, I mean that literally. On account of—following years of work at sawmills and on tractors—Vernon is just a wee bit hard of hearing. And, by “wee bit,” I mean a lot bit. When one has a conversation with Donna’s dad, there’s always a great deal of shouting involved, followed by many phrases like, “Eh,” “What’s that,” or simply awkward silence. Generally speaking, what Vernon gets out of a conversation is whatever he came in wanting to hear. God love the man.
Which reminds me of an incident that occurred before the house came over the mountain when final site preparations were being made. Our contractor needed access to the property where Vernon’s cattle were grazing and plotting their next move, so he phoned me upon arrival in order that I could in turn phone Vernon and ask him to open the gate. That phone call went something like this:
Me: “Hi Vernon, it’s Matt.”
V: “Hello? Hello?”
M: “It’s me, Matt!”
V: “Who is this?”
M: “Matt!! You know, Matthew?”
M: “Matthew!! Your son in law, Matt? Matthew!!!”
V: “Oh. I love you, too.”
M: “No! It’s Matthew!! The contractor is at the gate!!! Can you go let him in, please?”
V: “What? The gate? Gate’s locked.”
M: “Yes! The gate! Could you go open the gate and let the contractor in?”
V: “Who is this?”
M: “It’s Matthew!! Please go let…”
V: “I love you, too.”
Perhaps you, like me, might wonder how it was so easy for an 82-year-old man to express his affection over the phone to someone he thought to be a complete stranger, but such are the conundrums that have now become part of daily life in our new home. Anyhow, now you have a taste of the type of insurmountable auditory odds what we were up against gate-wise.COLLAPSE
Amy Kepferle on Cascadia Weekly "Words" wrote:
BY BARBARA LLOYD MCMICHAEL
For The Bellingham Herald
“Bucolia” by Matthew Thuney
One of the fun things about this column is that I hear from writers all over the region. Authors from big towns to little burgs I’ve never heard of send me their books for consideration. It pains me that I can’t get to them all — I know about the high hopes and hard work that go into literary endeavors!
This week let’s look at a book that hails from one of those tucked-away places, a hamlet alongside the Nooksack River, not far from the Canadian border.
Matthew Thuney and his wife planned to spend their retirement there. They liked the quiet and the trees and the slower pace of life. They just didn’t realize how much slower until they tried to get the manufactured home they’d bought, delivered.
And that’s about where things begin in Thuney’s new book, “Bucolia: Hijinx in the Hinterlands.”
The construction of the home was itself a gradual process: “by ‘gradually’” Thune writes, “I mean that assembling our home on, say, the eastern coast of Russia and waiting for the process of continental drift to float the completed house to the Pacific Northwest would have been more expedient.”
As it turned out, the delivery of the home was an even more drawn-out procedure. Thuney drolly details the dealership’s dismissals of his repeated warnings about the one-lane girder bridge on the sole paved road to his property as a potential barrier to delivery — until delivery day came, the bridge was confronted, and a new route had to be devised.
Plan B was to haul the house over a mountain via switchback logging roads — during logging season.
This is just the start of the hi-jinx promised in the book’s subtitle.
Thuney tries to shed his city slicker status as he learns how to deal with water witches, zucchini, barbed wire and, during a particularly bad cold snap, a hand-me-down generator that came without instructions.
Just as incorrigible are his hard-of-hearing father-in-law, Vernon, and Vernon’s cows, which are pastured on the property.
The author won’t ingratiate himself with cow-lovers when he begins one chapter with the declaration, “Cows. I hate ’em” and devotes the next several pages to a comical anti-bovine rant, even going so far to refer to those who might disagree with him as “moon-eyed cow pie loving fancypants leather-haters” — a category which includes this reviewer (at least the moon-eyed leather-hating part).
But to his credit, Thuney tends to be an equal opportunity offender and pokes more fun at himself than at anyone else. He eats his humble pie with a dollop of good humor — and he’s learned to bring veggie burgers as well as meat to the local potlucks.
Bucolia, Thuney tells us, turns out to be more a state of mind than a place on the map.
“Bucolia” the book, graced with nice pen-and-ink illustrations by Whatcom County artist Ellen Clark, is dedicated to the proposition that laughter and good fellowship help create the kind of community where you want to put down roots.
“In Bucolia, folks tend to communicate more over their fence posts and on their front porches than they do by pressing buttons on a piece of high-tech plastic,” writes Matthew Thuney in the opening pages of Bucolia: Hijinx in the Hinterlands. “It’s an old method of communication called ‘talking’ or ‘conversing,’ and it seems to work pretty well when it comes to catching up on news or, especially, gossip.”
Sometimes the tittle-tattling is done at one of the many potlucks that take place during “soiree season” near he and his wife Donna’s South Fork Valley home in rural Whatcom County, but Thuney also writes about being compelled to converse with neighbors by the side of the road as he tries to get from point A to point B.
Either way, it’s clear from the overall tone of the autobiographical tome that the author is thrilled they made the move from the big city of Bellingham to “Bucolia,” which seems to be a state of mind as much as it is the geographical description.
“Whether you’re a denizen of Bucolia or just passing through, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes peeled and allow a little extra time to get from here to there,” he writes. “You’re on country time now. Clocks tick a little more slowly around here.”
Those who read Bucolia will also discover that time isn’t the only thing that behaves differently when it comes to living outside of city limits. After Matthew and Donna moved to the county in 2008—preceded by a hilarious recounting of the months-long challenge of getting a manufactured home to their remote locale—they soon realized that the humans were a little out of the ordinary, as well.
For example, despite being a longtime UFO aficionado, Thuney balks when his wife suggests consulting a “water witch” to find out where to drill for a well. But the dowsing works, and the diviner won’t accept a penny, instead asking him to “pay it forward.”
“Out here in Bucolia, between the old ways and modern technology, we sit pretty comfortably in the here and now,” he notes.
Or take their friend Anna, who arrives to bless the property and soon tells the couple it’s good they didn’t set the house where they were going to, because it’s a prime locale for the Sasquatch People (also a fascination of Thuney’s, and a topic he’ll discuss at a March 12 Whatcom Community College presentation).
Along with clever illustrations by local artist Ellen Clark, subsequent chapters in Bucolia deal with everything from Thuney’s latent gardening addiction to ongoing battles with cows (and his father-in-law), mysterious lights in the night (most likely caused by glowing frisbees and dogs), the sighting of many winged and furry creatures from the animal kingdom, the weirdness of being cat people among a community of many farmers and, finally, becoming “Your Voice of the Valley” on the rural radio station KAVZ.
While Thuney acknowledges that not every moment spent in Bucolia is bucolic, the love he feels for the place—and the people—will resonate with anybody who’s made similar journeys, and even those of us who make their homes in places where generators aren’t needed.
“The truth of the matter is that Bucolia is my pillar, not the other way around,” Thuney writes near the end of the book. “This tiny community tucked far away from the hustle and bustle, the confusing discord of life lived in convenient but close confines, has supported me in ways too numerous to mention and too deep to divine.”