Sunset, Little World

I lean against the chicken-wire fence, hoof trimmers hanging
From my belt. In one hand, I hold your empty sippy-cup while the other
Shades my eyes from the setting sun. Until a moment ago, I thought
You were only steps behind me but when I reached the gate, I realized your
Short strides no longer crunched in the leaves at my heels. I turn
To find you yards away with a hand on Tee. You are grinning and Tee

Stands stoically. You, at his side, show no concern in the slightest that
I am not by yours. Behind you, Bunny lowers her large head and you
Turn, moving your hand to her nose the same way I always have.

The setting sun illuminates the chaos of curls around your
Sweet head and highlights flicking bugs swishing in the
Tick-tock of the donkey’s tails—the only part of them moving.

Little Foot, my darling, I’m beaming with pride. Surrounded by
Gentle beasts, you have no fear, no hesitation. As the sun sets,
I stand here leaning, watching, pondering from where you
Channel your bravery when I realize that it’s your

Wonder of the world around you. This place is an explore, a wonderland, a
Spell-casting and curious cauldron that you’ve begun to create.

You’ve befriended the beasts, they are loyal to you. Imagine where you’ll go,
Especially now, with those two by your side. They have stories to tell, you know.
Just look into their infinitely, brown eyes and they’ll tell you secrets that
No one else will ever know.

I call your name, just then, and you turn to me with a hand still on Bunny’s nose.
I say, never mind, sweetie and I continue to lean while you stand tall, the world swirling
All around you.

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And Then There Were Four: Saying Goodbye to Ali the Foster Donkey

Sweat ran down my spine in slow, chilly lines as I stood in the driveway with one hand shading my eyes from the sun and the other waving goodbye to a man and woman from central Texas who pulled away carefully in their large, white pickup truck. Attached to the back of their truck was a black horse trailer and peering at me nervously and seemingly confused through the slits in the side was Ali—the first foster donkey who’s left my ranch to live out his life in his new, forever home.

Earlier that day, I spent some time in the pasture securing halters on all five of the donkeys that I had available for adoption. I brushed them and wondered who, if any of them, I’d be saying goodbye to today and equally felt excited at the prospect and dreaded it. I studied each of them closely trying to remember every detail of their faces. I watched the way Ethel, the 10 month old jennet, stomped her back foot when she got frustrated that the other boys took her place around the hay. I watched how Charlie, a two year old all-brown gelding, slowly blinked in what seemed like relaxation when I brushed him. Beans, the two-year old wild-caught burro, had just started becoming comfortable with me, allowing me to pet his nose and actually brush his back—unless I made any sudden movement, in which case he’d dart away. Simon, the eight-year old black and white gelding, has been quick to steal my attention since the five fosters originally arrived. One of his eyes is half black and half white—not the actual pupil, but the lids around it; half black and half white like a little yin-yang. I wonder sometimes if that’s what makes him so balanced. Then there was Ali: a 6-year old gelding and a mix of gray and white. His background prior to being rescued is unknown but whatever has happened to him, it’s caused him to be overly affectionate. He rests his head on yours and leans all his weight into you and when you rub his jaws, his large, black eyes close behind long, black lashes as he sways gently.

When the man and his wife showed up to meet our donkeys, I led them out into the pasture to spend some time with them. I kept my distance to allow the couple to interact and soon, it became clear that they had begun to latch onto Ali and in turn, Ali latched onto them: he pressed his nose into the man’s chest and nosed at his inner arms. The man grinned widely and wrapped himself around Ali, whispering things like “hey there” and “you’re a sweet one, huh?” into Ali’s ear. I tried to pretend it was sweat but really, tears had started to sting my eyes. The man and Ali were bonding…like really bonding. It was touching to see the sensitive side of this man that I’d only just met. Of course, it was just as touching to see Ali reciprocating.

It didn’t take any convincing. Soon, the central Texas couple were backing their trailer up to the gate as I attached a rope to Ali’s harness and began to lead him towards the edge of the property.

Ali walked proudly beside me—his ears up and steps confident. Having rained the previous day, we left a trail of side-by-side hoof marks and boot prints in the mud and as we approached the gate, Ali suddenly stopped and resisted. He saw the trailer, looked at me, looked at the man and his wife, then back at me and froze. Placing my hand between his ears I told him that it was going to be okay before I tried tugging on the rope and on his harness. “It’s okay, bud. You can do this, it’s okay,” I said, but if you know anything about donkeys it’s that when they’ve decided they aren’t going to move, there’s nothing that can really be done to move them. The man and his wife tried to help, but this only made Ali lean his weight more heavily into me.

“Ali, bud, it’s okay,” I said.

Still, he resisted. I tugged with literally all of my strength (and as I’m sitting here typing this now, I can feel the soreness in my arms and back from the struggle) but I may as well have been tugging at a skyscraper. He would not budge.

I decided we should take a break and I sat down on the edge of the trailer, wiping the sweat from my brow. My forearms had a layer of dust that stuck to the beaded sweat over my freckles and as I lifted my hand to pat Ali on the head, it shook uncontrollably. I think I was nervous. Ali leaned his head down and placed his nose in my lap, so I rubbed the base of his ears and told him that everything would be okay. I told him that I knew this was confusing and scary but that everything would be just fine. He buried his head deeper.

After a few moments, I got back up and with the help of the couple, we managed to get Ali into the trailer.

Ali is a decently sized donkey but as they pulled away, he looked very small in that trailer. His eyes were wide and his demeanor, nervous. I wiped my eyes as they left my view and told myself that he was going to be okay. The couple was lovely and had great plans in store for him. He was leaving us and he was going home.

I knew fostering donkeys would be difficult. I’ve knowingly and voluntarily signed myself and our property up to be a bridge from an often broken and painful past to a hopefully bright and loving future for donkeys in need. My space is only temporary before they find their happily ever after. I’m only here to help them get there.

Still, it’s difficult. It is an impossibility for me to become attached to the well-being, futures, and overall existence of these donkeys. I’ve brushed them and held their heads in close to my chest when our horrible neighbors were cracking fireworks in the middle of the night. I’ve sang to them and fed them and worried for their safety knowing that at any time, it will be their time to move on.

In a way, I’m reminded of the struggles that I have with being a new mom. I constantly worry about Little Foot being out in the world and about him growing up and moving on and not needing me to slice his grilled cheese sandwich or secure the velcro on his sandals. I’m heartbroken in anticipation of the day when he tells me to go away, but I also want (more than anything) for him to grow up and be a functioning member of society who is successful at what he chooses to do. I don’t know how to walk that line of protectiveness and letting go.

In his book, The View from the Cheap Seats, my very favorite author, Neil Gaiman, has a chapter (that was actually his acceptance speech for the 2009 Newbery Medal) where he talks about how if you as a parent do your job well, then when your children grow up, they won’t need you any more. They will go on and live their lives in their own futures and it’s true. Little Foot, if I do what I’m supposed to do, will grow up and not need me any longer. That is, sadly, the goal…although I can’t find peace in it. Not yet, at least. 

The same goes for these donkeys. During my time, they require my whole heart because really, there’s no other way to have a donkey. You can’t half-heartedly move into donkey ownership…or half-ass, if you will. They’re complex, deep, thoughtful creatures that know when their owners are genuine and well-intentioned and will react accordingly. They also know when their owners don’t care and sadly, that’s where many of them get stuck and/or abandoned. They are creatures that are emotionally affected by absolutely everything.

But wholeheartedly or not, I am only their bridge. Their vessel. Their portal to greener pastures and today, I had to say goodbye. Prepared or not, it was really hard.

I suppose that means I did my job right. I trust the couple who’s taken him and I know that he’ll be happy. I know this is right. As Neil Gaiman said, it is the “…fundamental, most comical tragedy of parenthood that if you do your job properly, if you as a parent raise your children well, they won’t need you anymore.”

I did my job and now, he is home.

Happy trails, sweet Ali.

Ali

 

Turtle World

For three days, I’ve watched a turtle become less and less a turtle and more and more a dark stain on the one road that leads out of town. I wished I had seen the turtle when it was alive: I would have pulled over to move it to the other side.

Once, when I was 10 years old, I sat in the passenger seat of my dad’s car as we drove along a similar country road—two lanes with woods and pastures on either side. I couldn’t tell you where we were headed or coming from, but I remember my dad suddenly slamming on the brakes of his car with a stick shift so that when reached his arm out across my chest instead of shifting gears, the car bucked violently and stalled.

I’d pinched my eyes shut during all of this and when I opened them, my dad was unbuckling his seat belt, looking behind us and in front of us. He turned quickly to me and said, “Stay here.”

I nodded and watched as he jogged with his khaki shorts around the front of the car and bent down although I couldn’t tell for what—the hood blocked my view. My heart thudded painfully. When he stood, my dad’s hands were cupped around something that he held up to his chest. He looked at it and then at me, grinning his sideways grin that everyone says I have, too.

When he sank back into the car, he reached his closed hands towards me and slowly opened them. It was a small box tortoise, retreated completely into it shell. Upon closer inspection, I could see the glint of little black, terrified eyes.

I smiled and looked at my dad who was grinning—lines reaching from the outside corners of his eyes. He said, “I had one just like this when I was a boy,” and handed the small, scared creature to me. It was much larger in my hands…and warm.

Every time I’ve passed this disappearing turtle on the road that leads out of town, I’ve thought of my dad. He would have saved the turtle, too. He has a soft spot for every kind of creature. I get text messages from him often containing pictures of animals. Sometimes it’s a peacock. Sometimes a dalmatian. He sends me elephants and monkeys and emus.

When passing the disappearing turtle, I think of my dad because he would grieve like I have been for days. He would be angry that someone hit it instead of stopping. He would blame society—that the world moves too fast and if people would just slow down for a minute, they could do better. He would take a long sip from his Shiner Bock and say something about how lucky the turtle is to be in a better place—that he’s even a bit envious that the turtle gets to be at peace now.

Then he’d change the subject. He’d talk about work for a while and he’d purposefully avoid politics. But then, after everyone had forgotten the turtle, he’d say, “I would have stopped and moved it to the other side.” His mind would be somewhere very far away.

There’s not another brain or another heart that’s ever been or will ever be quite like my dad’s. The world where he resides is a magical one. There, creatures have large, bugging eyes sometimes made of coins or bottle caps. Hands can talk and sometimes, people don’t have bodies and are instead, just heads with stubbly necks. In my dad’s world, Peter Sellers is the mayor and Basset Hounds are the mascot. Everything is slapstick, except when Jack Bauer is fighting crime.

I think of my dad when I pass the disappearing turtle because if it weren’t for him being him, I might not care so much about the new smudge on the road. I might have forgotten it or chalked it up to “the way of things.” Instead, I find myself furious with the speed of the world, too.

I think of my dad and I am so grateful for his world and that he’s brought my brothers and I into it. We are who we are because he is our dad. He’s fearless and thoughtful. He’s sensitive and very brave. He’s fiercely protective, funny and strange beyond the rules of this world. Because of him, that turtle will live forever.

I love you, dad. You’re the kind of hero that should be in comics: you and your Beagle sidekick saving the world one turtle at a time.

 

Little Foot’s Little Books

We are nearing the end of the usual soaked, Texas spring. Soon, the clay will crackle in devastating dehydration and the treetops and rosebushes will be broiled. I give it another month until we’re begging for relief from the heat.

I sat on the floor in the living room sipping my coffee, watching Little Foot flip through his ‘Peppa Pig’ book while it poured in sheets of rain outside. From his point of view, the pages were actually upside down, but still, he flipped through each cardboard page, one-by-one, and studied the pictures. He flips the pages with his left hand and holds his right hand out for balance, even though he sat steadily on the floor.

I’m so grateful that he loves books. All day, when we’re inside, he brings book after book from the bookshelf in his room to me so I’ll read it to him. We read them 3, 4, sometimes 5 times in a row before he retreats to grab another.

I’ll use funny voices if there are characters, some of which make him laugh and some of which make him turn the page faster. I’m not particularly good at voices.

I’ve heard so often that “I don’t have time to read” or “what’s the point of reading fiction?”

The point is simple: you learn things. You learn about worlds that often, you cannot visit. You learn that there are other “me”s out there. That everyone is a “me.” Neil Gaiman talks about this in his most recent book (which I am obsessing over slightly) called ‘A View From the Cheap Seats.’ He talks long and emotionally about how reading fiction helps readers become empathetic. It teaches you how to see the world — real or otherwise — from someone else’s point of view. Young children learn very early on that they’re not the only “me” out there. We are all “me”s.

Little Foot stood up from his book, ran as quickly as he could back into his room, and came back out carrying my copy of Don Quixote. This made me laugh and I told him that I think this might be a tough read right now. He is, after all, only 17 months old. Come to think of it, I wonder from where he grabbed my copy of Don Quixote in the first place.

I thumbed through the thick paperback as Little Foot backed himself up into my lap, through the hundreds of pages with the tiniest, single-spaced print, and picked out a few lines to read aloud for him.

In my best, silly Spanish voice I read:

“Did I not tell you so?” said Don Quixote. “Wait but a moment, Sancho; I will do it as quickly as you can say the credo.” Then, stripping off hastily his breeches, he remained in nothing but skin and shirt. Then, without more ado he cut a couple of capers and did two somersaults with his head down and his legs in the air…

…at this point, I was laughing which made Little Foot grin and scrunch up his nose…

…displaying such arts of his anatomy as drove Sancho to turn Rozinante’s bridle to avoid seeing such a display. So, he rode away fully satisfied to swear that his master was mad…”

I couldn’t read anymore because Little Foot had started laughing hysterically, I think, because I had giggled so much. I’d also gotten louder, my Spanish accent more ridiculous. So I tickled Little Foot who squirmed onto the ground, gasping for air between belly baby laughs.

I gave him a break and stopped tickling so that I could finish my coffee before it got cold. Little Foot scampered into his room and returned, this time carrying his ‘Big Book of Animals’. The book, almost as big as him, is colorful page after page of zoo animals, farm animals, birds, house pets, and a few more categories. We go through this book, Little Foot flipping the pages while his blue eyes jump from shape to shape and me listing off the animals and making their sounds (side note: what does an Egret sound like? Besides the picture, I don’t know if I really know what an Egret is.) I skipped Egret.

This went on for sometime — I drank coffee and tried to get things done around the house and Little Foot chased me with various books, sometimes bashing me in the legs with them, sometimes plopping himself on the floor and flipping through them on his own.

I’d been thinking about books a lot lately, partially because I’m working on one of my own and partially because of the aforementioned Neil Gaiman book I’ve been working my way through. I’d been thinking that books were very important to me growing up and I was very encouraged to read as much as I could.

Where I get sad and a bit regretful is how, as a kid, I was so shy and so insecure that when I did have a book out at school or otherwise and was made fun of (because kids do this – they make fun of other kids for the silliest things) I would, instead of find a safe place to read or tell the bullies to buzz off, I just stopped reading entirely. For years, I didn’t read, even if I wanted to. I just stopped.

I watched Little Foot on the floor now flipping through a lovely kid’s book called ‘The Pout Pout Fish’ by Deborah Diesen and I want, so badly, for him to always love to read. I want him to go absolutely everywhere, reality wise and fictionally speaking. And I don’t want him to worry at all what other people say or do.

I want for him to do what he’s meant to do. Whether that’s read or build things or fly planes or drop different chemicals into test tubes to try and solve critical problems. Or if he wants to splash odd colored paints onto canvases to convey his feelings or if he wants to dive deep into the ocean to learn just a bit more about life down there — I don’t want for him to feel like he has to make those choices based on someone else’s permission or approval.

How, as a mom, do you instill confidence in your child when you, yourself, struggle so much?

I don’t have the answer to this. I don’t have a lesson that I’ve learned on my ranch yet to answer this question either. I’m hoping that I figure it out. I suspect I don’t have that much time to do so.

What I do know is that right now, more than his stuffed animals, his blocks, his trucks, and his dinosaurs, Little Foot is enamored with books. He can’t get enough of them.

And I can’t get enough of that.

Outside, the rain subsided. I thought about going outside but by the time I pulled on some pants, the Texas heat was pulling the rainwater off the ground outside in blurry waves. I would need to wait until the ground was fully cooked outside because it’d be impossible to breathe that steaming air right now.

Instead, I pulled Little Foot into my lap with our copy of ‘Love You Forever’ by Robert Munsch which, for him was a great choice because of the colorful pictures and over and over song of “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

But for me, it was brutal. I bawled — big, sloppy, swollen crying — because how is this all moving so quickly? This season is ending and then on into the next. One day, Little Foot will be the one to tell me what an Egret says.

 

 

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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:

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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.

Choppy Waves

To your tiny face, I stoop down,

My thumb pushing that line

Of tears. They’re cool on

Your warm, tired face, and

Glaze the depth of your blue

Eyes with heavy glint that hurts.

 

Come here, unto my chest, my

Baby, and feel my beating heart. Every

Thump thumps just for you, every

Hair, and every cell.

 

Your mind a treasure trove

Still untapped and

Waiting to be found. Oh my

Baby, how I’d take it if I could,

This hurt that wobbles your

Mouth, your soul, for smooth,

Quiet shores are all you should have.

 

I did the same, myself, you know,

Curled up into mommy’s lap. She

Would stroke my hair and hum to me

And that’s when

Land appeared.

 

It’s hard to see, sometimes, I

Know, that peace is up ahead. You’ll

Get there, you know, I promise you that:

Where the sun is gold and sand is

Warm. The breeze will blow

Through your hair.

 

For now, just rest, upon my chest

My breath, the flowing waves. My

Baby I’m here for you, close your

Eyes now and sleep. When you

Wake, I’ll have your hand, the

Trail ahead awaits.

 

If ever those eyes hang with

Hurt or with despair. My baby,

Just come over here, my hands

Will run right through

Your hair.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Full Circle

It’s 4:30 in the afternoon and Little Foot has just gone down for his afternoon nap. For the past 45 minutes or so, he’s become increasingly fussy – throwing toys and arching his back – a key indicator that he’s tired. Nap time is a bigger fight than it used to be – he pulls out all the stops trying to stay awake. A favorite of his is the “Little Foot leg flail” whereby he vigorously kicks his long legs in any and every direction as quickly as he can. The closer he gets to sleep, the more violent these kicks become.

Despite the battle, he is now sleeping soundly in his crib and I’ve lounged back on the couch in the living room. I love this couch. It belonged to my grandparents and always reminds me of being at their bayhouse. It’s a white couch with over-sized pillows that are easily removed to open up to just about a twin-size bed. For guests, it’s the best kind of couch. For me, it’s a reminder of the bay.

As children, we would go the bay house and play for hours. My grandparents lived in a small, water-side community just before the causeway that bridged the border of Texas to Galveston island. It smelled of salt-water and was never perfectly quiet – although the constant noise was therapeutic: seagulls, waves, the occasional distant boat motor.

Both of my grandparents who owned that house have since passed away – my grandmother years before my grandfather. Still, I think of them often and feel lucky to have little reminders in my house of my time with them: this couch, a gray, ceramic dog in our living room with one ear missing that my grandmother used to call Max, a toothbrush holder in the shape of a white elephant with a yellow bird on its trunk, and a diamond mirror framed in pink and brown sea shells, to name a few. These trinkets remind me of the salty-smell of their house. They remind me how many late nights my cousins and I would compare headstands and cartwheels on the floor in their living room. They remind me that for some reason, my whole family – folks, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins – would spend hours standing in a circle with beverages and snacks to catch up before ever taking a seat on this couch – that was unless their was an important football game on television.

This couch is more than a reminder though – it’s a goal. It’s what I want for my family.

Little Foot was a huge surprise to King Ranch and I. A few months before I found out I was pregnant, I was actually told by my doctor that I would probably not be able to have kids – and even if I did, somehow, get pregnant, that my body would have a difficult time hanging on to a pregnancy. So when I found out I was pregnant and months later, went into pre-term labor with Little Foot when I was only 28-weeks along, I was terrified that this was the end for him. I was so fearful that even though I hadn’t given much thought to being a mom before, that now this was the end for the potential of parenthood. 

Here we are though, two years later and Little Foot is alive and well. We’re a family – King Ranch, Little Foot and I. I don’t know that another kid will happen or will even be possible in my future – but at least with the three of us, I want what my grandparents had: an oasis. A family gathering spot that years later, still exists in all of our bones. I guarantee that all of my aunts and uncles and cousins distinctly remember the smell of that house. I know for a fact that they all remember what the carpet in the living room felt like beneath their bare feet and what Joan, the mother goose of the canal, sounded like at 7 in the morning.

I know it’s early on – but I hope our ranch in this someday. I hope that it becomes a sanctuary of unique and heartwarming smells and sounds that can’t be found anywhere else – at least not like this. I hope that one day, our grand kids are fighting over who gets what belongings of ours so that they can think of us when they get older.

Outside, a hear the engine of a large truck drive down our road and I turn to see the back end of a passing white pick-up truck. Bits of gravel kick up behind the truck as it drives off and a trail of dust lingers for just a moment before vaporizing into the brightness of the blue sky. In the yard, our chickens are pecking around and scratching for bugs.

At my feet, Thing One is almost asleep – one ear is still standing up and every few seconds, turns like a satellite towards any sound. I pat his head and lay back on the couch.

King Ranch will probably be calling me in an hour or so to say he’s on his way home from work. With his new job, his commute is much longer than before – about an hour one-way. It makes for far shorter evenings for us – we’re trying to adjust our dinner time and bedtime routine for Little Foot to maximize our time together – but it’s a process, I suppose. I’m so grateful that he’s found a job and one he’s so far, seeming to enjoy.

It’s an odd thing, though – him starting a new job now. It was this time literally one year ago that King Ranch interviewed for and accepted his job up here in the first place. It was precisely a year ago that we made the decision to move up here and it was almost exactly a year ago that we toured this ranch and met Bunny for the first time.

How little we knew.

A year ago, everything was so new. North Texas. Living on a ranch. Fresh eggs in the morning. Donkey ownership. Being a stay-at-home mom. I was so scared. I was so insecure. I was so anxious that I would fail.

I relax my shoulders a bit more and close my eyes. Chickens chatter outside. Thing One is breathing heavily.

I relax even more – letting go of the muscles that lie beneath my shoulder blades. I let go of the muscles along my spine. With a deep breath, I let my legs, ankles, and feet melt into the softness of this iconic, white couch.

And then I remember that it was just about a year ago that I was doing this exact same thing – relaxing every single part of me – when I realized that our dogs were attacking the chickens outside. (that post can be found here.)

I remember that I had to leave Little Foot screaming in his crib so I could go out and save the chickens. I remember doubting myself as a mom, as a homeowner, and as a ranch owner. I remember wondering why on Earth King Ranch and I thought we could pull this off.

I remembered that on that day, I found that the ranch breeds forgiveness. That despite being attacked, the chickens were okay. That despite being left in his crib for a few minutes, Little Foot was okay. Even the dogs after getting in serious trouble were okay.

In time, I’ve learned that even the donkeys forgive – they’re furious when we try and trim their hooves, but they always forgive and come back around.  I’ve learned that King Ranch is forgiving when I have an anxiety attack over what looks like to him, nothing.

Most importantly, in the past year, I’ve learned to forgive myself. I’ve not handled everything in my life perfectly, but then again, who has? I haven’t always made the right choices or handled things maturely – but so what? I can honestly say that I’ve always done my best. MY best – not someone else’s best. Mine.

That’s what it’s all about, I think – doing your best, being kind, being honest, and extending forgiveness (to others and yourself) along the way.

I think my grandparents to whom this couch used to belong understood that and I think that’s why our whole family was and still continues to be so close. They did their best, were honest, were kind, and were always forgiving. So even though that bay house has been sold and is out of all of our lives physically, their example and their impact still lives on.

That’s what I want for us, for our family. I want kindness and gentleness. I want forgiveness. I want unconditional love. I don’t think anyone should settle for anything less.

I have no idea what the next year of our lives could possibly have in store for us and I guess I’m okay with that. In one year, we’ve learned to run a ranch, care for donkeys and chickens, plant a garden, build a fence, raise an infant, survive without an income, be supportive, and to love without end. Imagine what the next year has waiting.

How little we know.

Outside, Bunny brays. I haven’t been out to see the donkeys today, so I get up to grab a few carrots out of the refrigerator. I slip on my boots by the back door and step outside – the smell of livestock and barbecue spice beneath the chattering birds in the pecan tree and the slamming shut of the screen door behind me. These are our waves. Our seagulls. Our sounds.

I open the gate that leads out to the pasture, Bunny and Tee trotting up to greet me. Their eyes are wide and ears are perked.

This ranch life. We’re doing it. 

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