A World Within Weeds

It was a morning in the 7th circle of hell…er…I mean Texas summer heat. Barely into June and already, the ground was cracking from dehydration. I attempted to make sweet potato fries the other day and accidentally set the oven to broil. After only minutes, those squiggly root vegetables looked, well, pretty much how the ground looks now: burned, broken, and waving a white flag.

I’d covered myself in liquid blanket (SPF 50) and wore an over-sized sun-hat yet still, the sun bullied me. The garden needed weeding and trimming, however, so, outside in the oven with my gloves and hat I went.

On the edge of the garden is a wrought-iron fence. When I put this all into the ground months ago, I planted cucumber and snap pea seedlings at the bottom of it–both being vining plants. Not a week passed that those two pods were in the ground when I caught Psycho Brown, our Sex Link chicken, clawing them out of the dirt. After shooing her away, her squabbling and flailing in typical chicken dramatics, I was disappointed to see that the seedling pods were unsalvageable.

Not to worry, I still had rows of potential other plants ready to grow: tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, and lettuce.

What I had done, regrettably, is allow weeds to occupy this base area of the fence in masses, not worried about pulling them because, well, there was nothing they could harm with the upheaval of the snap peas and cucumbers. They’d gotten so out of hand, however, that I decided this morning–this 7th circle of hell morning–would be the perfect time to go ahead and rid the garden, once and for all, of all weeds, regardless of their position.

If you haven’t tried pulling weeds taller than yourself, you should. It’s a fantastic workout. My shoulders, I don’t think, have ever worked so hard. It’s satisfying, too, when you finally get a good grip, the weed gives in just that way that you know you’re close to full extraction and then YOINK! Like a splinter finally fully removed from one’s fingertip after struggling with the tweezers, the roots slip out of the ground with a sigh of relief. You exhale. Toss it. And move on. Cheap therapy.

The pile of noodle-limp weeds behind me was also now almost as tall as me. I was soaked–literally, as if I’d jumped into a salty pool fully clothed–soaked through. I pushed the brim of my hat up and used the back of my gardening glove to wipe the sweat off my forehead. I was nearly finished, only the weeds right up against the rusted, wrought-iron fence were left.

I pulled the brim of my hat back down and sank to one knee to get a good look at my final weed-pulling challenge when suddenly, what the heck kind of vine was that?

Intertwined through the weeds was a furry, thick vine–about as thick as a thumb–with giant, plate-sized leaves. It was bright, green: margarita green. I backed up and realized that the furry, margarita vine had wrapped its octopus arms everywhere–up and across the fence and over into the back of the rosebushes on the other side. It tumbled down across the ground; curly fingers securing themselves around weeds and grass blades and sticks. I tried to lift one of its arms off the ground but its spiraled fingers had secured itself to too many things for me to tug it too high.

I lifted the large leaves that were at my face level–they, too, were furry–when my eyes adjusted and oh my gosh this was a cucumber plant! Dozens, literally dozens of cucumbers hung powerfully off the vines. Some were more than a foot long and others, barely noticeable.

Cucumber Vine in Garden

Elated, I pulled a few of the largest cucumbers off of the plant and examined them. Giant cucumbers. Surprise cucumbers. Little buggers, how you defeated the odds!

On the other side of the garden, behind the smaller, wire fence in which there were no weeds, the donkeys watched me curiously, both flicking their tails and chewing slowly on hot grass. I cracked one of the cucumbers in two pieces and held out a half for each of them. They smelled the cucumber intently and curiously. Bunny bit first and her eyes widened. She then took the rest in one, large bite. Tee followed suit.

Back at the cucumber vine, I traced each arm with my fingers to see if anymore were ready to be picked. There were.

For months, these weeds have strengthened intimidatingly, making the chore to pull them seem more and more daunting. I have, admittedly, avoided it because I knew that when I finally got in there are started cleaning up, it would hurt. It would be physically draining (which it was), I’d end up with splinters (which I did) and many, many bug bites (which I also did) and a few of my own dramatic flails when I ran across a pissed-off spider.

But my, how it was worth it. I’d found a whole, hidden world of cucumbers.

I wonder if the cucumbers would have thrived had the weeds not been there? Of all the plants I’ve been babying for months, the cucumbers are, by far, the most successful. The strongest. The farthest-reaching.

Maybe they needed the weeds. Maybe the weeds made them stronger.

I decided then to leave the remaining weeds that grew closest to the fence for now. Perhaps, they serve a bigger purpose that I realized. With my bucket of cucumbers, I marched proud and sweaty back to the house.

My, life is full of surprises. Even in the thickest, most vicious and widespread weeds, magic and miracles are happening. We can’t forget that. We can’t be overcome by things on the surface. We can’t be intimidated by things simply because we don’t understand them. We can’t be afraid to get uncomfortable and dig a little deeper if it means discovery of something you otherwise, had no idea existed.

Life and Death, Again. I Guess That’s the Way of Things.

It wouldn’t rain. My goodness, had it been trying to, but it just would not rain. The thing about late, Texas spring is that when the sky tries to rain, but can’t, we’re all left wandering through soupy, walking-through-a-warm-wash-cloth air that gets trapped around the middle of the rib-cage when you inhale. For those of us who wear glasses regularly, you can expect that they will fog up much like a car windshield does if rain has gotten into it.

Still, the property, the garden, the chickens, and the donkeys all needed tending to, so I slipped my feet into my work boots, grabbed the cowboy hat that King Ranch and I share, and headed into the yard. Over my shoulder, I had a red, 100 foot extension cord needed to power the tiller for the garden. In my back, right pocket, I had my yellow gardening gloves and in the back, left pocket, my phone. I keep it handy because, as many of us 80’s kids entering our 30’s do these days, I take pictures of my activities and post them on various social media sites to link up with other enthusiasts.

This is an introvert’s dream — social media. It’s connection without obligation. People have a lot of negative things to say about these social platforms and although I agree that we should all be careful in the kind of information we’re sharing as well as be careful with our time, I guess I don’t think we need to feel bad about using it as a way to connect. As long as you’re still getting outside and living life away from screens, I say, utilize the interwebs as you please. Just be smart and don’t become dependent.

Little Foot was in a hiking pack specific for babies and toddlers that I wore like a backpack and it made sweat pool along my spine — it ran down and collected at the waist of my jeans. He likes it though — riding in the hiking pack while I work around the yard. He even naps sometimes.

I’d opened up the well house to retrieve the tiller and a rake in order to start tidying the garden, when from out of the corner of my eye, I saw a few streaks of black move across the cloudy, heavy sky. Leaning the tiller back against the inside wall of the well house, I turned to see somewhere between 8 and 10 large birds circling the back parts of the property. I thought they could have been vultures, but I wasn’t sure. They circled like vultures do.

I stood there for a moment, watching the swirl of birds criss-cross back and forth over something that was clearly on my property, every once and awhile, diving down and then swooping back up. The donkeys were okay; they stood just on the other side of the fence from Little Foot and me curious, I’m sure, to know if we had carrots — which I did, in the front, left pocket of my jeans. I had planned on giving them to the donkeys when I was done with the garden and headed out to the rest of the property to mow.  

Once, about 6 months ago, I was out on the property and I found two vertebrae. I think they must have belonged to a cow or other large animal because they were about as big around as my fist. My only thought is that vultures dropped them there. We have a lot of them around here. Here’s a picture I snapped a while back of what I assume is their relaxing time:

wp-1464236021157.jpg

 

I closed the door to the well house and adjusted Little Foot’s pack on my back as I headed out into the pasture. The donkeys greeted me enthusiastically and nosed at my hips, probably, because they smelled the carrots in my pocket. I pulled out a few for them and continued walking to where the large birds were circling.

A few of the birds floated higher as two dove down quickly without soaring back up. This made me nervous. Then, one after another, they dove down. Every few seconds, one of the massive birds would dart into the sky, but then gracefully glide back down. I really don’t know how many there were.

My glasses kept fogging up, so I placed them up on the brim of my cowboy hat but of course, this made everything look like an impressionist painting. I had the thought that I really should finally call the optometrist and get a new prescription for contacts.

As I approached the back paddock, from behind me, Bunny let out a loud bray and shortly after, Tee squealed in his loose-timing-belt sounding bray. They were indicating to me that I should be careful. In my blurred vision, I could see the collection of birds swarmed around something, although I had no idea what. I’d seen some rabbits on the property recently and wondered if it could have been one of them.

I wasn’t sure if I should be worried — would vultures (if indeed they were vultures) attack Little Foot and I? As far as I knew, birds were pretty scared of humans. Still, the fact that Bunny and Tee brayed nervously was enough to make me halt and keep distance.

I pulled the glasses off the brim of my hat, cleared the fog from the lenses with the bottom of my shirt, and pressed them onto my face. There were seven of them, and most definitely vultures. They had bald heads and black feathers and were frantic in their consuming of, whatever it was. I found myself becoming angry that this carnage was happening on my land, but was nervous to get closer because still, I wasn’t sure if vultures could be violent to us.

In the front, right pocket of my jeans, I’d had a small spade in case I had any digging to do in the garden. The handle was shoved down into my pocket and the actual scooping part of it was sticking up. I pulled the spade from my pocket and threw it as hard and far as I could at the pack of feasting birds while screaming, “blllaaarrrrghhh!!!” I’ve got a pretty good arm — I did, after all, play 3 years of little league softball from ages 9 to somewhere between 11 and 12.

All but two of the massive birds scattered away without a sound but wing flapping, so I felt safer to take a few more steps forward. Plus, Bunny and Tyrion were three or four steps behind me, so I felt safe within their protective proximity.

It was then that I noticed what the birds had: the smaller of the two birds, although, not smaller by much, reached down with it’s nude beak and grabbed hold of something that it then stretched up and I immediately knew that it was the rubber-band texture of lean muscle. The pinkish, red bit snapped and dangled from the bird’s beak before the thing gobbled it up with only a few gulps. The other bird, pecked a few times and lifted the creature up to flip it.

It was a squirrel. A light brown squirrel.

One by one, the other birds landed cautiously, although they kept an eye on the donkeys, Little Foot, and me between pecks at the squirrel.

Little Foot said, “huh, huuuu” which, to him, means donkey. When King Ranch or I ask Little foot, “what does a donkey say?” — “hu huuu” is his response.

Both donkeys were only a step behind me with their ears straight up. They watched the birds like I did, curiously and cautiously.

I turned back towards the garden and decided I’d come back later for my spade. I didn’t want Little Foot to figure out that he was seeing creature consumption. I also worried that this was one of the squirrels that lived in the pecan tree in our backyard — one of the squirrels that constantly drives our dog, Tucker, crazy in the mornings.

Back in the garden, I tilled and pulled the larger weeds by hand. I also thought about the squirrel and wondered how it must have died. Or maybe the vultures killed it. I don’t know. What I did know was that I was angry. I was angry that a gang of big birds chose to spend their afternoon tearing apart the little guy. Surely, there was some larger carcass elsewhere that they could have fought over — but instead, they fought over a squirrel. A helpless squirrel.

As I pulled a few onions out of the ground, careful not to disturb the ones not quite ready around them, I realized I was crying. But I guess birds need to eat, too, right? Still, I couldn’t help feeling sorrow for that squirrel. What a way to go.

I noticed, then, that my poblano pepper plant had finally popped out some peppers after weeks of only flowering. They were still very small, but a deep, forest green and shiny. Life. It was sprouting life.

This made me so proud. Until I lived here at the ranch, I’d never had a garden. Of course, I’d never had a toddler or donkeys or chickens either. And all in one season, I’ve had tomatoes and peppers and onions and lettuce grow as well as a new chick hatch and become part of the flock.

Life and death. All here. Life and death.

The beginning and the end. And we’re lucky enough to be in the middle somewhere.

It’s a powerful thing: being in the middle. This is where we get to do something. Where we get to be someone. Where we get to stand up for what’s right. That doesn’t mean we have to understand everything, but we can be kind. We can appreciate that which is unfolding in front of us.

There is so much more than us. It’s right there — all of it. A whole world. Life and death and everything in between. How badass that we get the privilege of being in between right now.

Cherish it.

Life. Death. And Somewhere in the Middle

As part of my morning routine, after coffee and a stretch and in addition to feeding the dog and giving the donkeys a pet, I check the chicken coop for any newly laid eggs in which to collect.

For the past month or so, however, I have been unable to collect eggs because one of my Rhode Island Red chickens named Andre has been brooding – sitting atop an ever growing pile of eggs in an attempt to hatch some.

I suppose I should have known that this was a strong possibility – that one of our chickens would go broody. White Rooster has staked our home as his territory (it’s been months now since we’ve seen Rainbow Rooster) and well, it’s that time of year. Birds and the bees, and such.

I’ve tried, on several attempts, to collect at least a few eggs from beneath Andre, but her pecking and snipping at my hand just isn’t worth it, so I decided to just wait and see what happens.

It was a Thursday morning that was expected to be an unseasonably hot one – highs were to reach 80 degrees and it’s only April. Oh Texas weather. There was still morning dew covering every surface outside, however, it quickly disappeared, little by little, as the sun’s rays extended. It almost felt warm and chilly at the same time. With my rubber boots slipped on, I took a peek into the coop to see if indeed, Andre was still brooding and if, by chance, there would be new eggs within reach to collect.

To my surprise, I saw 4 eggs sitting by themselves about 3 feet away from Andre and assumed that meant that one or two of the other chickens had laid them there. Ducking into the coop, I extended my left hand to grab the eggs when my gaze was grabbed by something slightly buried beneath the hay between these random 4 eggs and Andre. I couldn’t tell what it was, so careful to not get pecked, I used my right hand to pull some hay back when I realized what I saw.

I think I shrieked. Or gasped. Or maybe it was just a heavy exhale, but whatever my lungs did caused me to stumble backward. There, in the middle of this box, was a dead chick.

I sat there for a moment on the floor of the coop – the damp mud was cool and soaking into my pants beneath me – and tried to gather some sense. Why? What? How?

After a few breaths, I stood up and peeked into the box once more. The dead chick lay there without any feathers. It’s feet were curled up close to its belly and it’s beak was tucked way down towards its chest. This must be the shape that chicks are in right before they hatch. I briefly recalled that Little Foot was in this same shape in every one of his last few ultrasounds.

I backed out of the coop and called King Ranch who didn’t answer, so I called my mom and told her what I’d found, crying.

After our conversation, I realized that I would need to remove that chick as soon as possible to deter any predators who may have already caught its scent. Foxes, bobcats, and coyotes are not at all foreign to this area.

For a moment, I stepped back inside to make sure that Little Foot was still sleeping in his crib – which he was – stretched out with one arm reaching above his head and the other laid across his upper belly. His mouth was slightly open and his breath rose and fell smoothly. This made me grin.

Back outside, I retrieved the shovel from the well house and dug a hole in the backyard beneath one of the rosebushes that is completely covered in light pink blooms. The bush towers above me and I thought that this would be a good resting space for the chick.

With my gloves slipped on, I scooped the baby chick into my hands. It’s neck flopped, so I tried to ball it up again like it was. It’s weight in my hands was practically nothing – as if I’d been carrying half of a small onion.

What was most odd was that Andre only watched me scoop up this baby. Not once did she squawk, peck, or even fidget. She just watched me, her orange eyes wide and her head cocked to one side. I slid the baby into my left hand and placed my right hand on top of it, moving the chick out of Andre’s sight, as I stared at her for a moment.

“What happened?” I asked her.

She stared back at me.

“I’m sorry for this,” I said.

Andre shifted her weight and ruffled the feathers around the base of her wings before settling back down onto the pile of eggs that must be at least 30 by now.

With the chick covered in my hands, I turned to leave the coop when from behind me, I heard the faintest peep peep peep.

On my heel, I swiveled around and noticed that Andre, within that one second that I had my back turned, had turned around herself in the corner of this box where all I could see was the fluff of her bottom.

Peep. Peep. Peep.

My heart hopped in my chest as I took a step back towards the box. As I did so, Andre let out a trilled scream and all of her bottom feathers spread apart. Again, I stumbled back, noticing that my hands which held the deceased chick, were shaking.

I went out into the yard, laid the chick into the hole and watched it for a moment. “I’m sorry,” I said and covered the tiny body with dirt.

Quietly, I crept back into the coop to try and see, well, whatever it was I might have seen, but Andre spread herself out so wide that I could barely see into the box at all. A low, glottal growl rumbled from her without pause, so I backed out and sat on the bench next to the side door.

I called my mom again, this time, frantic.

“I think there are chicks in there! I can’t see them! But I can hear them! What do I do?” I said.

I always call my mom when I don’t know what to do, assuming she has answers. She mostly laughed in reply to me and said a lot of, “I don’t know,”’s. My hands quivered with excitement, but also, I think, grief for the baby who hadn’t made it.

After spending about an hour researching ‘next steps for newly hatched eggs’ on the internet, and spending time with my own kid who had woken up by now, I packed us up and drove to the nearest feed store in the next town over. There, I picked up some ‘chick starter’ feed, a small feeder and small water dispenser that would fit in the box in which Andre and her newly hatched chick(s) were staying. The maternity ward, if you will.

I told the cashier my whole story about the dead chick and the peeping and asked her what I should do next to which she replied, “Ma’am, I don’t know. I only work here.”

In a flash, I was back home with Little Foot and a bag of supplies.

I put Little Foot in his wagon with a few toys to keep him idle and in sight while I tended to the coop. I’m not ready to just let him wander around the yard without being a few steps behind him yet. I don’t know when I will be, either.

Filling the new feeder, I stepped back into the coop and shut the door behind me to ensure that none of the other chickens would come in and interfere – in my research, I’d learned that other hens can get jealous and cause issues for the new hatchlings.

After setting it into the box – still unable to see past Andre’s puffed out feathers – I realized I’d left the water dispenser outside of the coop and as I went to retrieve it, the other Rhode Island Red, Big Mama, came tearing past me and into the coop and up the ramp to the box.

Screaming, I chased after her when I realized what I was seeing. Here is a video I shot that day right after Big Mama’s entrance:

I was dumbfounded. I could not believe the way that Big Mama and Andre tag-teamed in taking care of what appeared to be two new chicks.

Closing the door behind me, I left the coop, and left the mamas to tend to their babies.

For a few days, I checked on them several times and each time, was able to get a better look at the two, newly hatched chicks. Every day, they emerged from beneath Andre (and sometimes Big Mama) a little bit further than the previous. Each day, they got more fluffy and their marks became more defined.

On the 4th day, it became crucial that I retrieve the unhatched eggs from beneath Andre. In my research, I’d learned that unhatched eggs, if left under the mama, could become rancid and actually explode, putting the hatchlings and even mamas at risk. This would be no easy task because Andre and Big Mama were meaner than ever protecting these babies.

I managed to push both chickens off the eggs using a feed scoop and a piece of cardboard long enough to pull all the eggs out of the box. Andre and Big Mama, of course, flailed wildly (you’ve heard the phrase “running around like a chicken with your head cut off” – that’s got nothing on new mama chickens) and the newly hatched chicks peeped frantically beneath them.

I felt awful doing this – taking the eggs. Andre and Big Mama must have been devastated to have someone stealing what they thought were their unborn babies. But at the same time, I couldn’t put them all at risk because these eggs had been here for well over a month now and something in there smelled like rotting death.

Indeed it was rotting death. Two more dead chicks – two that looked as if they’d been trying to hatch but didn’t quite make it.

After removing them all, I left the mamas and the chicks to calm down for a while as I disposed of the eggs and partially hatched embryos. It was gut wrenching. I remembered the baby I’d buried just a few days ago and assumed that it’s little, weightless body had decomposed by now or been eaten by something in the ground. This tugged at my heart.

A few more days went by and both mamas and both chicks emerged from the box to start exploring the rest of the coop.

20160425_125750.jpg

 

Andre and/or Big Mama stay a step or two behind the chicks at all times – their orange eyes constantly scanning their surroundings. If any of the other chickens or White Rooster for that matter approach the coop, one of them chases them away, squawking and flapping.

There are few words I have to describe the intensity of these events: the pure life and death of all of it. How, in one day, some died and some lived. Some are now in the ground while the others explore. It’s very difficult to know what to say about that except that it is powerful.

Moreover, to see the way that Big Mama and Andre cooperate in protecting the chicks is astonishing. They’re incredible mothers. I should know, I got pecked more times than I could count. I’ve also never run out of the coop so many times while being chased by a puffed up chicken.

I get it though – protecting your child. I still follow Little Foot around the yard, positioning myself between him and what I perceive as danger. I would certainly attack anyone who I thought might be there to hurt him. I’d give it everything I got without hesitation.

There’s a sadness in feeling the fragility of life. The weightlessness of the first dead chick in my closed hands on that first day is a feeling that I don’t think I can, or want to, forget. I’ve wondered since then if perhaps Andre knew it had died, and she pushed it out there for me to see. She didn’t want to expose her other hatching chickens to that. I wonder if that chicken hatched first and then died, or died in the process like the other two that I found a few days later. Of course, I also wonder what I could have done differently to save the chicks.

Then again, I think that all of this is beyond my control. This is the vastness of life. This is the beginning and the end and everything in between.

We have all been born. We will all die. If you’re reading this right now, then you’re somewhere in the middle with the rest of us. And that’s life.

I am honored to have had at least a small part in the first few days of life for these new chicks. I remember how much I needed help in the first several weeks – even months – that Little Foot was alive.

This is a whole new journey for the mother hens, as it is for us here at the ranch. How grateful I am to be in the middle of life and death right now – to be living and participating in the world around me. To be able to extend a hand. To be able to feel the grief of a creature who has died. To have the opportunity to connect, on an emotional level, with an orange-eyed chicken.

The in between is an opportunity to be someone. Indeed, we’re all in this together. Humans and chickens and donkeys alike.

Life – the vastness of it and the beauty of it – is so frighteningly yet beautifully temporary.

20160424_125149.jpg

A Season for Carving

With one hand lightly resting atop Bunny’s middle back and the other navigating a blue-handled, circular brush in thin lanes along her shedding side, I’ve just realized that I should have probably put some sunscreen on the back of my neck. I can’t see it, but it feels dark pink.

Although it’s been about 6 weeks since I lobbed my hair off in search of revitalized, positive energy in the same way I was instructed to trim back my rosebushes during the winter (out with the old, make way for the new – see last summer’s blog post, ‘The Sun will Come Out Tomorrow), I still haven’t gotten used to the maintenance and subsequent responsibilities of this asymmetrical pixie cut.  Falling asleep with wet hair, for example, causes crumpled locks to stick every which direction (imagine tangled seaweed that tumbles onto the shore sprinkled with shells, bits of jellyfish, and water bottle labels) that are immune to both the hair straightener and various products. Their only cure is another shower which, most of time, I haven’t the time to take.

Sunscreen on the back of the neck is something that the spring sun has brought to my attention. I burn very easily – I have freckled, Irish skin with light pink undertones. I hang with the SPF50+ crowd – I hear we get sweet discounts at Luby’s. Don’t say that any SPF above 40 doesn’t make a difference – it absolutely does.

The donkeys are shedding in tumbleweed clumps. Our pasture is littered with roaming wads of light brown hair that travel in herds the same direction as the wind. I don’t remember the great donkey-hair migration from last year, but perhaps that’s because we’d just missed it by moving in late April versus early.

Tee bumps into the back of my knees and lets out a long, frustrated and flappy-lipped snort. I pat Bunny twice on the thigh and turn to Tee who’s anxious for his grooming.

Little Foot is sitting in a pile of loose dirt about 10 feet to my right, repeatedly stabbing a small stick into the ground with his left hand. His right is in the air, fingers spread, as if he needs it for balance and stability. He’s seated inside of a pair of jeans that are two inches too short and wearing a gray t-shirt with navy, blue letters that (very appropriately) say ‘Sleep is for the weak.’. Every once and awhile, he says, “bass” with a toothy grin.

As I’m stroking Tee’s back with the brush, I’m feeling somber. Something about spring makes me sad. It’s difficult to put my finger on it, though.

Perhaps it’s all the changes that have swallowed our recent lives. My mom always told me that I don’t do change well – attributing most of my adolescent and early-adulthood stress to anxiety and fear in my shifting circumstances.

I squash this idea, however, because for the first time in a long time, our horizon doesn’t seem to have the risk of change. King Ranch is thriving in his new (local) job, we’ve planted a garden that will likely take years to perfect, and we don’t really have a desire (or the need) to move anytime soon.

So, why the so-sads?

I run the brush over Tee’s jowls and along his neck. His brown eyes are fixated on Little Foot who is now tearing a large, green leaf apart as if it were wrapping paper on a small birthday present. His mouth is wide open, stuck at the intersection of glee and shock.

This makes me smile, but quickly, it falls.

Sadness is a strange concept. I feel like happiness and even anger can be pretty easily defined – (I’ve googled the definition of all three of these emotions):

Happiness – the feeling of pleasure and contentment.

Anger – the feeling of pain, hostility, or displeasure.

Sadness – The condition or quality of being sad. (wtf?)

Okay, so let’s see what ‘sad’ says:

Sad – feeling or showing sorrow, unhappy.

Sorrow? I feel like that’s dramatic, for me at least. I’m not sorrowful nor unhappy. I’m, well, I’m blue. In the dumps. Melancholy, perhaps, but hopefully not accompanied by the Smashing Pumpkin’s, infinite sadness.

Little Foot stands up, using his hands to push his bottom into the air first, and speedily scampers towards the next paddock with the pecan tree and the blue and green-striped hammock. I pat Tee on the rump and jog after Little Foot who’s faster than I would have expected from a young toddler.

My rubber boots make suction sounds against my bare feet inside of them as I jog through the silver-cattle gate and into the thicker grass of the front paddock. Little Foot is chasing after one of our Rhode Island Red chickens although I can’t tell if it’s Big Mama or Andre. He’s giggling uncontrollably at the squawking chicken which slows down his pace to more of a slightly traveling hop.

I catch up and scoop him into a bear hug, realizing I’m laughing myself. I tickle his ribs to keep the laughter going – he throws his head back, taking a huge gasp, before bouncing down another laughing chain that is even louder than the previous one. His nose is wrinkled allowing only the slightest sliver of blue to peek from his squinting eyes.

After a moment, I set him down onto his feet that are inside black and red cowboy boots. He quickly sprints off in the direction of the chicken, laughing.

I lean against a blue barrel and watch Little Foot and the red chicken run in zig-zags past the trampoline, back towards the pecan tree which is just barely sprouting leaves, back towards the donkey’s water trough. He’s so happy – with pleasure and contentment.

Little Foot has, I’m sure, picked up on the stress that King Ranch and I have been trying to gracefully navigate through over the past couple years, but he doesn’t know specifics. He just knows that now, he’s on somewhat of a regular schedule. We wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, take care of the animals, nap, go outside and play, go inside and play (while mom works) and then dad comes home. We eat. We play. We all go to sleep. Stability is, I imagine, soothing for him.

Beside me, Bunny noses my arm leaving a thin trail of cool snot along my tricep. I rest my arm around the back of her head like a harness and she leans her weight into my side.

To Little Foot, consistency is contentment, but perhaps to me, consistency is a strange concept. King Ranch and I have been in flux as long as we’ve been together (almost 4 years) and separately, we both had loose ideas of stability for the years before that. Perhaps it’s consistency that frightens me because it’s so foreign.

Little Foot trips on his boots and faceplants into one of the donkey’s self-made dust patches, so I swiftly make my way to him. Picking him up, he’s still smiling as he’s breathing heavily and wriggles furiously to be free of my grip. I place him back down and as if he were a toy car that had been wound up to it’s capacity, the second his feet hit the ground, he speeds off in a crooked path towards nothing in particular.

I guess my mom is still right – I don’t do change well – the change being the potential of settlement. Perhaps this is what sailors who have spent years on the sea feel like when they come home and promise their children that they’re done with their travels.

When you spend a great amount of time shifting, I think you lose sight of who you are as a person. I think that’s why I chopped off my hair and why I’m somewhat considering having bright blue streaks put in it – because I’m searching for that person that exists below circumstance.

I’m remembering when I was having one of these very identity crises as a freshman in college, my roommate sat me down on the floor of our dimly-lit dorm room and said to me, “You are Jess. You like screamo and Celtic music, running, and peanut butter sandwiches. You pretend like you don’t watch Dawson’s Creek, but you do and you actually like it. You like analyzing feelings. You like to make people feel good. So why on Earth do you give a shit what your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend thinks of you? You’re you. There’s no other you.”

I wonder if she remembers this conversation. I wonder how she’s doing and know that wherever she is, she’s doing great because she won’t allow anything less for herself – and I admire that.

But I also wonder if she has any clue how much that conversation meant to me – that 12 years later, I’d be channeling my inner her and reminding myself that I am me, despite circumstances.

Events happen and they all serve as saws, knives, and sanders that shape the wood carving that is our life. And if there’s a misstep and a finger is accidentally sliced off with the slip of a grinder, well, you go with it. You give your statue a mitten instead.

I guess I’ll call this time, transition to something. I’m not going to force myself to smile or be any way other than screamo, Celtic, closet Dawson’s Creek, me. If that involves a season of “I don’t even know, man,” then, that’s fine, right?

My kid’s laugh certainly bring me joy. As does King Ranch’s growing confidence and sense of purpose in his new career. As do my sweet, shedding donkeys. Soon enough, I hope to find that in me which brings organic joy. In the mean time, I’ll keep picking away at this pile of wood with all my carving tools until I discover that which soothes this season of semi-sadness.

 

Growing Pains

When King Ranch and I decided to make the move to this property a year ago, one of the things I couldn’t wait to get going was a garden. I so desired the opportunity to build a homestead – to live off the land.

It’s taken us a whole year, but we’ve finally done it – planted a garden.

I’ve never done this before. I watched my mom and dad grow a small garden on the side of the house where we grew up in northwest Houston. I don’t remember much about it except for my mom in a big hat, my dad with a wheelbarrow, and a few fruit bats that started hanging upside down outside my window at night, peeping as I fell asleep.

My lack of experience has me a little apprehensive about this process. It’s so new and fragile. Although, thinking about it, this time last year, I was saying the same thing about owning a ranch – wondering how on Earth I could do this. Then I said the same thing about becoming a donkey parent – what was I thinking? Months before that, I said the same thing about becoming a human parent, too. I was responsible for raising a human baby?

I suppose all things are new and fragile until you’re used to them:

 – Parenthood, for example – I remember crying my eyes out one day (okay, more like every afternoon there for a while) because I was so afraid that Little Foot wasn’t getting enough to eat. And, seriously, I just knew he was going to die if I wasn’t there to pick him up the second he started to cry.

 – Lifestyle – city life to ranch life? The closest grocery store was how far away? And how often do we need our well serviced?

 – Relationships – I think they all go through a ‘polite’ stage where, you know, it’s all ‘yeah, I’m down for whatever because I’m so laid back and just want you to be happy’  and ‘Oh, it’s fine that you left dirty dishes in the sink for three days because you’re just so freaking beautiful that I don’t care.’

 – Pet ownership – donkeys and chickens?

 – Home ownership – a mortgage?

 – Even new jobs – right now, King Ranch is delicately stacking up the blocks of his days at his new job with the utmost detail because it’s all so…new and fragile.

DELICATE: Handle with care.

Nevertheless, it’s now in the ground: tomatoes, peppers (bell, poblano, and jalapeno), an eggplant, several types of lettuce, onions, snap peas, cucumbers, two types of grapes, and raspberries. Planted in pots on our back porch are herbs (mint, cilantro, basil, and dill) along with an over-sized pot filled with potatoes.

FullSizeRender

I’ve been out every day to check on it – the new garden. The baby plants. I’ll admit, I’ve talked to them a bit. “This is your home, little lettuce. We’re gonna take good care of you.”

Gardening

 

—-

Last night, a severe storm pushed through the area. Springtime in north Texas, we’ve learned, is dramatic. Funnel clouds reach down from the sky like bodybuilders reach down for kettlebells in front of one another – glamour muscles flexed, veins popping – it’s intimidating albeit, impressive – but also kind of annoying because unless you’re into that kind of thing, you’re ready to move onto more peaceful scenery – like the repetition of an expert rower or the gazelle-like strides of an intermediate to advanced runner on a treadmill.

Massive gusts of wind that travel, I think, down the southern end of the Rockies and tumble, gaining speed across the Texas plains, don’t just push over pots, but tear major artery branches out of trees and toss them over houses – usually into expensive things like cars or brick mailboxes.

There are sometimes the lovely, Earthy, peaceful lightning storms that resemble the cover of a mediation album, but then there are the flashy lightning storms – sequined, spinning ball gowns underneath sparkling chandeliers at a rich kid’s high school prom – the music heavy with bass.

Last night was a perfect, kettlebell, branch tossing, expensive, fluffy dress, kind of storm.

As the thunder rumbled the foundation of our house and my phone screamed with tornado warnings, I mentally noted my list of major concerns.

  1. Little Foot and King Ranch – both in the living room with me, ready to take shelter in the hallway at any moment.
  2. Thing One – under my feet. See #1.
  3. Bunny and Tyrion – still trying to convince King Ranch to let them inside when weather like this begins. For now, I peeked, they’re in their shed, seemingly okay. They’d probably prefer the space outside instead of the walls of our guestroom, anyway.
  4. The chickens: Big Mama Red, Youpullit, Andre, Psycho Brown, Resurrected Zombie, White Rooster, and Last of the Mohicans (aka Rockstar Rooster) – All will be in the coop except for Resurrected Zombie and Rockstar. RZ is a mystery to us. She only seldom shows up on the property. She doesn’t lay eggs (at least not in the coop) and when she is around, she’s a safe distance from the others. I don’t know if she’s been shunned or is shy herself. Rockstar is a rooster that sleeps in the pile of firewood on our back patio. He’s also responsible for waking us up before dawn. Anyway, with the exception of RZ, I can assume our chickens and roosters are all safely sheltered as they are night after night.
  5. The garden. THE GARDEN. Absolutely NOTHING is sheltering those plants.

I laid there and worried about it – the tomato plants, especially, because they’re, so far, the tallest and I think, most likely at risk of dying in harsh winds. Remember, I’m a novice at this – these are just my own conclusions.

I could barely sleep all night thinking of my garden. Every time I heard the chimes clang nervously on the back patio, I cringed at the thought of stems snapping, leaves detaching, and hail pelting these eager plants.

Between the mini blinds, blue lights flashed like paparazzi.

—-

It’s morning and King Ranch has left for work and Little Foot is awake and ready to run everywhere. I pull on some pants and open the curtains in the livingroom. To my surprise, it’s a brilliantly sunny day – richly green grass and saturated trees are tangled with bouncing squirrels, fleeting robins, and disappearing dew.

It’s also quite chilly – for March in Texas, that is. About 40 degrees.

Bundled up, Little Foot and I head outside to check on numbers 3 – 5 on the worry list. Bunny and Tee bray loudly when they hear the gate clang and trot over to us with alert ears. With the exception of a little extra mud around their hooves, they look just fine. Mornings after storms like this, I get the feeling that the donkeys come running up to me to tell me all about the storm last night. They’re extra clingy and by now, you should know I love that.

All the chickens and roosters are accounted for, except for Resurrected Zombie – but that’s not unusual – and they’re extra-energetic and excited with the bugs they’re finding in new mud puddles.

The garden looks just fine. Soaked, but fine. I do feel, however, that I should put stakes by the tomato plants in preparation for the next storm so I don’t worry so much that they could tumble over. So I do. I stake them.

20160324_101708

I fluff the leaves a bit and call Little Foot over so I can show him what I did. I don’t think he understands my words yet, but he certainly seems interested in things like wood, string, tools, and most especially, dirt. 

This is, undoubtedly, the first of many storms this season. This is also, I’m sure, the first of many gardens. I imagine one’s first garden is much like one’s first pancake – kind of a flop. Probably still edible, but the subsequent servings are far superior. You have to learn the timing, the texture, the temperature, and most importantly, the patience, to perfect pancakes. And gardens. And parenthood. And homeownership. And pet ownership. And relationships. And life. And, well, yourself. It all takes time and practice and inevitable mistakes along the way.

Little Foot is not only alive, but healthy. As are the donkeys. As is my relationship. There have been many times I thought that I’d ruin each of those because of my ignorance and/or inexperience and/or stupidity and/or a million other reasons why mistakes happen. But I just kept going. I still keep going. One day at a time.

Be patient. Be cautious and smart. But be patient. You’ll figure it out. Stake that shit and keep going.

Now go watch your garden grow; your story unfold.