01 Jul Counting Numbers

The big surprise about the cicada invasion is that they brutalized every tree and bush on our farm. Prior to their arrival I was warned to protect saplings only. Most everything will survive, thankfully, but it’s not pretty and, as a result of their beating, I suspect many trees will not yield their usual fruits, nuts, or whatever. If I had the opportunity to talk to the king and queen of cicadas, I’d say, “Really, this is the best you can do, after all this time? It seems incredibly inefficient.” Half the limbs they broke haven’t fallen yet. Okay, let Nature do what Nature must. Sadly, cicadas are a feckless, bumbling bunch. I’m quite sympathetic, like a friend of mine (Jim Magruder) who wrote a poem about them:

Little Legs Everywhere

i love the poor mad creatures.

the older i get, the sorrier i feel for them  

and their sad life cycle. 

all that work  

to get crushed on the sidewalk. 

even the cats are getting bored  

with catching them. and I’m getting bored  

with them throwing them up. 

little legs everywhere. 

Speaking of Nature: before Jill got sick, I started a big pollinator garden in our southern field. Had I known our imminent situation, I would not have done this because it’s a lot of work but, now that I’m into it, I’ve got to finish. It’s half planted and half fenced. Alas, the deer stepped in and ate the first crop of wild flowers. What most people don’t know is that deer are the biggest threat to success on a farm. They can wipe out your crop in a single night. Come fall, I’ll have to fence in all of my orchard trees to keep the deer from chewing them down and the bucks from splitting the bark as they butt and rub their heads against every tree (to relieve the itching from their new horn growth).

For two months Jill has had energy enough to sit on her mower and cut the fields. To look at her, to talk with her, you’d never suspect her body was riddled with cancer. Whereas someone in a similar situation might simply retire to a dark, cool room and wait for the end, Jill insists on living as fully as she can. I counsel her to slow down but she refuses. Sometimes she overdoes it and has to take a few days to recover. But then I’ll find her outside again, dead-heading roses or picking weeds or trimming bushes.


Her most recent tests show that her cancer antigens have increased from 400 to 530, a huge jump. The average count in you or me is about 35. Jill fears that this might be the bad turn that inevitably awaits her. Her current treatment should be effective for a year, maybe two. She’s been taking it for over a year. Soon it will peter out and she’ll have to try another treatment. If the alternate medication doesn’t work, she’s run out of options and must resort to the traditional chemo, which will either extend Jill’s life for a while or kill her.


Jill talks with me about her final prospects as if talking about house chores. Can you imagine what kind of inner strength it takes to do this, to hold onto your shuddering interior, to fend off the nightmarish scenarios that await your final days, to look your spouse in the eyes and steadily, calmly enumerate all that must be done before you’re lying insensible in a hospital bed? She leaves me in awe and awe mostly keeps me from breaking down.


This is not to say Jill doesn’t have bad times of panic and fear. She’s very emotional these days, as you can imagine, and sometimes it overwhelms her and she despairs. But in the main she is tough and determined. I do for her whatever I can. This includes my commitment to meet her last wish: she wants chickens, sheep, and goats.

So: our current plan is to attempt “finishing” the farm before Jill herself is finished. This means getting animals next spring. A lot has to happen before that time. If Jill’s undergoing chemo, then we clear the decks and focus on that. If her current medication is still working, then we continue full-tilt with our plan. Unfortunately, there’s just one of me. We had some volunteers helping with yard work but lost them after the lockdown ended and they re-entered real life.


Our Go-Fund-Me money, now exhausted, sustained us for over a year. (Thank you, if you’ve donated!) As of July 1, Jill’s insurance starts over, meaning we’re in for $15,000 of deductibles before her coverage kicks in. We’ve started consigning our collections (antiques, art, etc.) and excess furniture at local auctions. We’ve cleaned out closets, reorganized the household. As I’ve said in past posts, dealing with terminal cancer is like preparing for a long trip. This week Jill is making a list of passwords so that I have access to all of her accounts.


And life goes on. I’m drying herbs from the garden, re-locating big plants (sage and arugula have gotten out of control) to the pollinator garden.  Jill is searching online for building materials. She bakes banana bread every week. Soon zucchini bread too. I’ve started feeding raw zucchini to our bassets, Maisie and Oliver, who love it as a treat. Our housecats, Paisley and Lilly, continue to sneak outside at every opportunity. Remarkably, Lilly uses the ladder–leaned up against the front porch for repairs–to access the porch roof, where she presents herself at our bedroom window. We’re finding cicada remains everywhere outside and the quiet is such a welcome change! It looks like our five-year-old orchard (20 trees) will bear fruit this year, though it’s hard to say how much the birds, bugs, and squirrels will leave us. We’ll be grateful for whatever we get because, well, we’re grateful for so much this year.


Jill’s Go-Fund-Me page