Sioux Rogers, a retired nurse and owner of Morning Star Gardens, has a laugh with fellow members of Women Helping Other Women who are getting her Applegate farm ready for a fundraising tour.

Sharing life's burdens

A quirky group of women chore-barterers in the Applegate Valley are looking for a few good females:

Gals who can stain a picnic table the perfect shade of oxidized teal, trundle bales of straw hay down a garden path or sling a ton of pea gravel down a driveway, then celebrate their sweaty accomplishments at a convivial luncheon with a nice bottle of wine.

In other words, the ladies of Women Helping Other Women are seeking soul sisters who understand life is better when burdens — and laughter — are shared.

The members of WHOW describe their group as an empowering women's "labor bank." It doesn't matter if you're married, divorced, widowed or none of the above.

The only thing that matters is being female and showing up ready to work when your WHOW commitment date rolls around, members say.

"If you say you're going to attend, you'd better show up. Or get someone to come in your place. Because people are depending on you," says Sioux Rogers, retired nurse, owner of Morning Star Gardens and WHOW member.

WHOW events are worked out at the group's monthly planning potluck at WHOW organizer Thalia Truesdell's place.

Truesdell, aka "the Binder Queen," keeps the book that tallies members' toils. Three hours spent at someone else's work party earns one credit for your own chores, says Truesdell.

"It's balanced like a checkbook," she says.

Truesdell started the group about a dozen years ago after moving from a Portland community where "this used to happen naturally." Relocating to the less-populated Applegate Valley, the weaver began calling on her female friends to form the WHOW, she says.

"Nobody automatically came to help me, so I had to create it," Truesdell says, sweeping wide swaths of brown stain over Rogers' too-teal picnic table.

Rogers is getting her gardens ready for the Josephine County Historical Society tour on June 21 and 22. In dire need of her WHOW pals, Rogers' extensive list of honey-do chores is being whittled with the help of Truesdell and fellow members Kaye Clayton and Leslie Lee. Another WHOW member, Karen Giese, broke her arm between the date Rogers' WHOW was scheduled and the day's activities. Her wounded arm cast and nestled in a sling, the elder-care specialist is advising two artists, weaver Truesdell and painter and ceramicist Lee, on the picnic table's proper shade. Moral support counts, too, Giese says.

"I'm telling everyone I'm providing quality control," Giese says with a grin. "But I really came for the lunch."

The group has taken Rogers' outdoor furniture from its winter storage and placed it under shady trees and back into flowery nooks. The final coats of new color are almost finished.

In the vast vegetable garden, Clayton is bringing in fresh straw for the raised tomato beds.

"Make way for the wheelbarrow," huffs Clayton.

The retired occupational therapist and president of Friends of the Ruch Library board has wheeled many bales of straw already. She is down to the last few trips. Pushing past the hostas, poppies, daylilies and irises, Clayton continues down the path which leads behind the multi-tiered chicken and turkey coop and around to the back of the compost area. Dropping off her load of straw, Clayton brings the barrow back and parks it by the pitcher of iced tea.A quick sip of something wet and cool, then off she goes for another load.

As hostess, Rogers' job today is to direct her WHOW buddies and provide lunch. But with dirt streaking down her cheeks, sweat dripping off her nose and straw sticking out of her coveralls, the petite woman looks like she's been mud wrestling with her poultry instead of directing traffic.

In fact, Rogers is worried about one of her turkeys. An adolescent gobbler managed to scalp herself in a freak accident a few days ago, the details of which still has Rogers scratching her own head. The peripatetic woman rescued the comatose young hen and carried it around inside her blouse for hours, bathing its wounds and dripping drops of herbal remedies into the bird's beak at regular intervals. The bird not only survived, she will soon be released from medical leave, Rogers says.

"I've got her in the spare bedroom upstairs right now," Rogers says. "It's become the turkey hospital."

At noon the women put down their tools and leave their shoes — along with the oppressive heat and humidity — outside as they enter Rogers' log home. The morning's grime is washed away as each member takes her turn in the two-story cabin's bathroom.

In the window nook, a table is set. In the kitchen, Rogers is putting the finishing touches on lunch. Slicing a tangerine into her mixed fruit and veggie salad. Giving the pesto-dressed pasta a quick stir. Slicing a loaf of olive bread. Opening the bottle of wine.

"Lunch!" Rogers calls, carrying the last of the dishes to the table.

The hostess makes and serves the food and cleans all the dishes. The WHOW workers simply dig in with the guiltless appetite that comes when calories have already been burned.

"It makes you feel thanked," says Lee.

All the women in turn praise Rogers for the food. The feminine cluck and chatter is reminiscent of a flock of companionable broody hens.

Not to be forgotten, the little turkey pipes in, whistling from the second-floor infirmary.

"What shall I name her?" Rogers asks.

"Bonnet," offers Lee, so her topknot issues will always be remembered.

Perfect. Bonnet it is, they agree.

The group then begins discussing past and future WHOWs.

"I think what we do is amazing," says Rogers.

Not all WHOW projects are as pastoral as the ones in Rogers' glorious gardens. There was the time a group arrived at Lucia Scott's home to find a mountain of gravel that needed to be converted into a new driveway. The women still groan at the memory of their aching muscles as they schlepped wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of the heavy material up and down from the ever-diminishing pile. Then they smile at their final memory. No pile. New driveway.

And Scott, a musical director, is a great hand at pruning roses and mending fences, they say. So they were happy to help.

There isn't much they won't do. Except for one thing.

"We just don't do dangerous," says Truesdell. "We don't do high ladders or heavy machinery."

Lee held an "unusual" WHOW at her Hummingbird Studio bed and breakfast, she says.

"We had people plaster our straw bale house," Lee says.

A few weeks ago, Lee went into WHOW labor debt getting help rehabbing a dilapidated rental trailer on a separate property she plans to sell.

"It was disgusting," Lee recalls. "I had to make a decision. I could do that nasty job all by myself. Or I can have the WHOW women help and be in debt."

Lee ultimately decided whatever she had to do to make up her WHOW time, it would be better than working for days at a job she detested, all by her lonesome, she says.

"The camaraderie is a big factor," says Truesdell. "You can get through anything together. And it really does go a lot faster."

Giese has sold her Applegate ranch and is moving to Ashland. But before she goes, Giese is donating her '85 Nissan four-wheel-drive truck to the group.

"It's the only one funky enough to haul dirty stuff," she says.

Rogers wants to see the WHOW expand into an official nonprofit organization. The tax-exempt status could qualify them to seek grants and possibly provide help to women who cannot afford the time, effort or energy to return the favor.

But the rest of the gang aren't too keen on that. They already help out when they can. And it all just seems like too much paperwork and hassle, they say.

They would like to see WHOW groups spring up all over the valley. Men, who have been known to pitch in on WHOWs from time to time, could start their own groups, the women say. Call it MHOM. Pronounce it like 'mom,' they say with a laugh

For now, this particular group of Applegate gals would simply prefer to add a few new uncommon women to their roster. If you live in the area, have a hankering for hard work and an appreciation for female empowerment, call Truesdell at 899-8741.

"Ideal would be to have about 20 people," says Truesdell.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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