The Sun Will Come Out…Tomorrow.

With the humidity sticking to our foreheads underneath the unrelenting sun and the bees buzzing a little too close for comfort, my friend, Rachel, traces a thorny branch with her fingers deep into one of our overgrown rosebushes. “The perfect place to cut back,” she says while gripping the branch at its fork in the road, “is right here at the knuckle.”

I squeeze the shears in close to her fingertips “Here?” I ask, guiding the dried out stem in between the blades. Rachel nods. I chop.

Our dozens of rosebushes tower over us here at the ranch. They haven’t seen a good clipping, clearly, in some time. Their arms reach up towards the roof of the house while others tumble across the grass. Tiny vines of some sort have spiraled throughout. Branch after branch, Rachel points out where to trim back– the base of withered bud’s stems – to ensure maximum flower re-growth. It’s therapeutic after a while, trimming rosebushes – chop out the old to make way for a cleaner new.

As we’re clipping, a gust of wind picks up the leaves…the branches…our hair. Startled, we step back from our trimming to find that out of nowhere, slate-colored, low-hanging clouds have swirled across the sky. They wisp in different directions and sporadically reach down towards the horizon. These are tornado clouds.

The chimes clang out of control and the chickens have shown themselves into their coop as if they know exactly what’s brewing. The wind howls. Before we can make it to the door, we’re pelted with fat, chilly raindrops.

This particular storm was the beginning of what would become a tragedy for much of the state of Texas. In 1927, an unnamed state meteorologist said, “Texas is a land of perennial drought, broken by the occasional devastating flood.” So true is the devastation that many Texas families and businesses have been living this week. The viral photos circling social media are those made in nightmares. My deepest sympathies go out to all those who have lost loved ones and been displaced during the wild weather we’ve been witnessing.

A few stormy days later – the ground a swampy wasteland – King Ranch and I stand at our window watching our donkey named Bunny stand alone in the pasture as marble-sized hail begins to fall. There are very few things I’ve seen in my life that are more upsetting than a lonely donkey standing with her head down in a hail storm. I want to embrace her. I want to invite her in and give her hot tea and cookies. Why isn’t she in her stable?

bunny in the rain

A few weeks ago, I used treats to lead Bunny over to the stable as it began to rain so she would know where she could seek shelter during a storm. Before we moved in, she didn’t have access to it – it belonged to the horses only. Perhaps her sad, uncovered stance was habitual for her. The horses always got the stable while Bunny was left out in the rain. Poor girl.

I slip on my rubber boots and grab a hat so I can try and lead her into her stable again. Just as I’m headed towards the door, King Ranch says, “Come here! Look!”

Back at the window, we watch Bunny slowly saunter into her shed. She remembers! My heart swells with pride. She remembers her stable.

Hours later, the storm breaks into a stunning, golden sunset. The trees are silhouettes in front of its glow. King Ranch, Little Foot and I stand in awe.  The yard is covered in an Instagram-like glow. I look at King Ranch who is holding Little Foot. They both admire in the same way – their one eyebrow lifted and lips slightly open. I tear up.

sunset

I’ll admit, there have been moments of stress with an identity crisis I’ve developed by moving from that big-city life to the slower days of the ranch. That unshakeable feeling of needing to be somewhere or doing something consumes me when I try to kick back on the patio. But much like the overgrown and unkempt rosebushes, my edges just need some long-overdue TLC. Much like Bunny, I need to get used to feeling the comfort of a new home instead of always feeling a little left out. And much like this storm, there will be that gorgeous sunset that follows the chaos which begins the healing process.

We all get a little rough around the edges sometimes. We all have been left out in the rain. And we’ve all wondered when the sun will shine again. It will. It always will. Rachel assures me that I will be shocked with how soon the new rosebuds will grow. I look forward to seeing them bloom.

Chop out the old to make way for a cleaner new.

Shatter Happens

I’ve been piddling around the house this afternoon, windows open, a gray-scale sky dimly lighting our living room – the wind chimes that King Ranch gave to me gently sing their deep-belly, hollow tune on the back porch. A few birds chirp merrily and in the distance, a riding lawnmower hums. Little Foot is down for his afternoon nap – his little mouth slightly open where when I lean in close enough, I can hear his breath.

I’ve never really been one to just sit and contemplate. My brain is the board game ‘Mouse Trap’ played in 10x fast forward…over and over and over again. But in this strangely still moment, I just absorb. As cliché as it sounds, time really is standing still. This new life. This ranch life. We’re doing it. Our family is doing this thing and I am thrilled. The freeway is no longer our background noise. I have yet to hear a siren. Just mowers. Chimes. Birds. Bliss.

Have you ever let your body fully relax? Try it. Just let your shoulders drop. A little more. Little bit more. Totally let go. Now do the same with the muscles in your face. Your temples. Your brow. Even that little spot between your eyebrows. Separate your teeth to relax your jaw. Try it. There’s always a little farther to go. This is where I am. I imagine that this is how Benjamin Braddock felt in The Graduate while drifting in his pool. This place of stillness and serenity really does exist, y’all. Pure, unadulterated peace.

Suddenly, explosion of terror – chicken squawk and screech shatters the silence. I jump in surprise and run towards the back window to see the source. Black feathers flying everywhere – like a slow motion busted pillow fight. Feathers flying, wings flailing EVERYWHERE. As I get closer, the scramble includes our two dogs – ears, paws, white, and brown fur blurring in all directions. No. Oh god. I’ve left the dogs outside!

“NO!!!!” I scream through the window. “D*MMIT NOOOO!!!!”

Darting around to the back door, I hear Little Foot rev up for a shout – my cursing has woken him up.

I continue into the backyard – it’s a war zone. Feathers. Fuzz. More feathers. They’re scattered from fence to fence. “DOGS!” I scream. They come running around the house, tails down, their claws scratching as they scatter across the pavement. The white dog has feathers sticking out of her muzzle; the brown one violently shaking his head from side to side. Oh god.

Slowly, as if in a movie, the camera pans across the yard, around the large rose bushes lining the fence. I see no victims. Not one chicken. Remember, we have at least seven. There is no squawking. No merry bird chirping. The chimes are still. Where are they?

Returning to the backdoor, the dogs won’t make eye contact with me. They stare at their paws, ears down. Furious, I shuffle them inside griping some sort of dog-related profanity. Little Foot is in a full on scream now.

Sweaty and with my heart pounding, I try to comfort my kid, patting his back with my shaky hand. “I’m sorry, I know I woke you up. Shhh shhh shhh.”  After he calms to a coo, I prop him over my shoulder and head back out to the battle-zone. As I pass the dogs, they begin to perk up their ears, “We didn’t do anything! Are you here to love us?” My death stare pushes those faces right back down. Bullies. They were tag-teaming in their attack! My sweet dogs who have never hurt a thing – they were in cahoots! I didn’t know they had it in them!

In the yard, three chickens have surfaced. They seem untouched but they’re oddly quiet and they’re looking at me as if I’ve let them down. Heads cocked. Silent. How could I let this – whatever ‘this’ is – happen to them and their comrades?

Little Foot and I circle the yard twice – looking through bushes, behind pots, under chairs and the other four chickens are nowhere to be found. Surely the dogs didn’t consume them. Consume… Eat… FOOD! Yes! Let me get them food – that will entice the other chickens to come out from hiding (assuming they are hiding.)

Moments after sprinkling feed across the driveway, one by one, the remaining four slowly emerge. Thank goodness, they’re alive! Oh gosh, the battle wounds. They’ve been plucked in various places – some have bare bellies, others patchy necks and backs. These four, brave survivors. They’re alive. But no feathers lie flat. Little spikey chickens. How could I let this happen?

I speak sweetly to them, “Come on, ladies. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I let this happen to you. Here, have some corn and seeds.” I sprinkle more food.

They all seem reluctant. They no longer trust me. I’ve betrayed them. I’m a failure. A chicken-mom failure.  I can’t even keep the chickens safe or control my dogs. How am I supposed to raise a kid? Why did I think I could move here and do this? Failure!

Defeated and swirling down a rabbit-hole of self-hatred, I clutch Little Foot tightly and sulk back into the house.

Little Foot begins to fuss – he’s still sleepy having been woken from his nap with my shouts. “Shhh, baby, I’m sorry” I whisper as I rock him back and forth. Poor guy. “I’m sorry, honey, shhh.”

His bright blue eyes with tiny tears begin to blink slowly and more heavily. His breath slows down. In no time at all, he’s back asleep. His body is heavy in my arms. I wonder just how much longer I have that he’ll rest his whole body weight on me. Sweet baby. An angel. A perfect little being lost now in slumber. He sucks his bottom lip. I hear the chimes cling-clang deeply again and notice that the riding lawnmower is still going.

I lay Little Foot back down, pass the dogs – their heads still hanging – and head back to the driveway.

All seven chickens are pecking away at their feed mindlessly and seemingly oblivious to what’s happened only moments ago. They squawk again “Bergock! Bergock!” and look up at me, still hungry. I give them more feed out of guilt. They flutter and chat and bounce as if all is right again in the world. As I back away, they follow – just like before – hoping I’ll throw even more chow down.

There is forgiveness here.

The chickens are pecking away and have moved on. Little Foot is asleep and has moved on. I pet the dogs. They are wagging their tails and have moved on.

I need to remember not to leave the dogs out in the same yard as the chickens. None died. Now can I move on?

I suppose I’ve learned something. See, mistakes happen. Dogs, who in no fault of their own, have instincts and will get left outside from time to time. Babies will be woken up from naps. Chickens will get hurt. And we can either wallow in guilt over our faults or we can learn from them. We can forgive and move on. Share some feed. Some squawks.

It’ll be okay. It’ll always be okay if you let it. Perhaps we spend way too much time beating ourselves up for our faults. We tear ourselves down over the silliest things. One misstep does not define us. If we can just learn to love ourselves for trying – for the adventure – it will make all the difference. And if we can learn to love each other for the same, imagine the world we’ll create. Allow relaxation. Remember those face muscles? Let go.

Breathe. This ranch life. We’re gonna do it.

Cock-a-doodle-DOH!

20150514_072752

We’ve got some visitors this week.

Backstory: It took us a few weeks to figure out just how many roosters and chickens became ours when making the deal on the house. (This is Texas, after all. It’s not strange that our deal makin’ includes trading of livestock and other farm animals.) And unlike many (what I assume is normal) chicken-keeping  situations – ours just sort of wander the land.

What we did know was that there were three chickens that mostly stayed in the coop – even though the door remained open. There were another three (but sometimes four) chickens that just pecked around the backyard and the side of the house. We would see a rooster from time to time – and finally figured out that we had three: An all-black rooster only slightly larger than our chickens as well as a yellow rooster who is always closely followed around by a tiny brown one (we call these two Frick and Frack).

During these studies, King Ranch and I swore we’d seen a fourth, much larger rooster roaming around at one point. The kind of rooster that would be captain of the football team. The Jock. Voted most beautiful. Long, flowing tail feathers. Technicolor-body. The most classic ‘cockadoodledoo’ you’ve ever heard. But we hadn’t seen him since the beginning…until this week….

So back to our visitors:

A gang of three new roosters have been scoping out our new digs. They have, for the most part, kept their distance from us. But they’re getting closer – perching up on a fence studying the food we’re throwing at our flock. There’s the jock (as mentioned above). His right hand man is a smaller rooster who’s almost completely blonde. Beedy eyes, too. The third keeps a bit of distance from the other two – a reluctant tagalong. We mistook the third for one of ours the first time we saw him – he’s all black, only barely larger than our chickens. Perhaps the kin of ours?

Being new to all this, we’re not entirely sure how long they intend on staying, nor if this is a common occurrence. So far, we haven’t noticed any big fights – although the chickens and roosters have widened their wandering radius pretty dramatically. I had to chase one of our chickens back into our fence this morning! So are they becoming more familiar with us and gaining confidence to explore? Or are they keeping distance from the encroaching three?

As a long-time inner city resident, I learned very quickly that if you put food out on your porch for a cat, you’ll become the go-to for all the stray cats in the neighborhood. So I imagine if these three amigos start getting fed, well, our rooster count will increase.  But I can’t imagine who in their right mind needs six roosters.

Are roosters to the country what cats are to the city?

On his way to work this morning, King Ranch discovered a half-eaten mouse by our front gate. Tragic. Poor fellow. Looked like a little Disney character – well half of one. It would seem that these three squatters are more violent than our guys. Although I suppose they’re innocent until proven guilty – just seems mighty coincidental that we’ve got three strange cocks on the land and suddenly people (mice) are getting hurt!

I’m told the feed store is a good place to check when you need random ranch advice. Know your feed store folks.  Looks like King Ranch, Little Foot and I need to go get acquainted this weekend.

On that note, I gotta go shoo away some birds with a broom. Until next time!

Howdy!

Greetings from the blogosphere! And thank you for visiting.

By way of introduction, my name is Jess, and this is my donkumentary. You may be asking yourself, “what’s the deal with the donkey?” Well, I’ll tell you:

A month ago, my husband, my baby, my two dogs and I gave up big city life and moved to a small ranch in a tiny town, barely on the map, northwest of Ft. Worth, Texas. With purchase of the property, we adopted three roosters, seven chickens, and you guessed it: a donkey. She really did seal the deal for us. Our little (big) bargaining chip. What an ass.

Quick side note: I must apologize to my long-time friend, Tiny Tim, for not being able to take you on this adventure. You were a great pal who I believe is in exceptionally good hands now (thank you, aunt Megan and uncle Darren). I’ll always love you, little buddy.

For the sake of privacy, my husband henceforth will be referred to as King  Ranch, First of His Name, Son of Father Ranch, Maker of King Ranch Casserole, Lord of Ranchedom, the True King of Donkuland. We can call him King Ranch, for short. Likewise, the baby shall be called Little Foot.

This blog will document our ( King Ranch, Little Foot and my own) adventures in adjusting to our new country life, provide some tips in building your own homestead (especially for amateurs), and most likely reveal some dos and don’ts of that ranch life. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I’d love for y’all to find out with me. I encourage comments and feedback along the way! New life, new blog hobby.

Happy Trails!