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.

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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Beginning a Garden

Wearing a bright green sweatshirt that’s sporting a brown t-rex, Little Foot is stumbling around through dried, crinkled leaves while waving a short, dry stick in the air and giggling uncontrollably. Just in front of him is Thing One who seems only mildly okay with being chased in circles through the yard. I’m watching this adorable scene over my left shoulder while holding a chunk of  brand new, chicken-wire fence steady with my hands, as King Ranch is looping circular nails through its wiring to secure this new fence to tall, forest-green posts buried deep in the ground.

“Can you hold it steady?” King Ranch asks under an irritated sigh.

“Oh,” I say, turning back to the fence, realizing that I’ve let it sway. “Sorry.” I peek one more time at Little Foot running around and then focus on my hands.

We’re fixing to get our garden started – an impressive, 24’x 100’ lot that has been carved out of the paddock closest to our backyard. Big plans are in store for this plot – tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, zucchini, squash and an array of herbs. Fruit trees are also being considered – pear and peach, perhaps.

Just on the other side of this project are the donkeys seemingly confused by the rising barrier. Bunny stays in line with me, only the wiring of the fence separating us. Every few seconds she turns her big brown eyes back to me and blinks heavily as if she’s searching for understanding.

Tyrion the mini donkey is pacing back and forth along the erecting fence, stomping his back, right hoof every few steps. He’s not happy. Change, I think, is something in which donkeys are not fond.

“It’s okay, little girl,” I whisper to Bunny while leaning over the fence to see my reflection in her eye. She lowers her head.

“Honey,” King Ranch huffs.

I glance back down to my hands and realize I’ve pushed the fence towards the donkeys.

“Sorry,” I say while shifting it back in line.

King Ranch is wearing a cream-colored cowboy hat that’s covering his face, so I can’t tell if he’s actually frustrated, concentrating, tired, or a mixture of all of those. A dolphin-croak behind me and I turn to see Little Foot a few paces away picking up a small, broken pecan. He opens his mouth and raises the pecan.

“No!” I shout, releasing the fence and scrambling towards Little Foot. Before I can reach him, he throws the pecan and runs away from me. This spooks Bunny who trots away with her ears straight up. I hear King Ranch exhale heavily and drop something metallic on the ground.

We’ve been out here for a while now  trying to get this fence up. King Ranch was out here well before Little Foot and I and although it’s still technically winter, the sun has beat down on him long enough to make this the most frustrating project in the world.

“Sorry,” I say, turning to King Ranch. “I didn’t want him to choke.”

“No, I know,” he says. “It’s fine.” He stands up and cracks his dusty knuckles.

Tyrion walks past King Ranch and around the fence that isn’t yet nailed into the final post and slowly saunters towards Little Foot who is using a stick to push dried leaves around on the ground. He lays his ears back and noses Little Foot’s shoulder gently. Little Foot turns for a second to acknowledge Tyrion before focusing back on his crispy, lifeless leaves.

“Any news?” I ask, rolling up the sleeves of my shirt while walking towards King Ranch who’s staring at the last post not connected to anything yet.

He pulls his phone out of the front pocket of his dusty jeans and holds it up to his face. He presses some buttons on the screen with his thumb and focuses for a moment. “Nope,” he says without emotion.

I wrap my arm around his back and lean my head against his shoulder.

King Ranch is possibly very close to landing a job not too far from here. He’s had a couple seemingly successful interviews with this particular company and several encouraging followups from the assigned recruiter. Now, we’ve just been waiting.

I don’t think that either of us want to give our hopes up about this potential job, but at the same time, we want to pour good vibes into the possibility. It’s exhausting to go through application after application and interview after interview without success. I, myself, have been interviewing with various full-time jobs around the area but unfortunately, have not been extended an offer that would cover the cost of child-care for Little Foot.

King Ranch runs his fingers up and down my spine twice before walking back towards the house in a tired shuffle. He leaves long, sliding boot-prints in the dirt.

Little Foot is hitting Tyrion in the nose with a stick.

“No, no, no,” I say, putting my hand in front of Tee’s nose. “Sweet donkey, see?” I gently pat Tyrion’s snout. “Sweet donkey.”

Little Foot grins and throws the stick down. I squat down next to him and pick up a different stick.

“Stick,” I say, holding it in front of his studying, blue eyes. “It’s a stick.”

Little Foot grabs the stick from me and pokes a few tired, tan leaves beneath him. A warm exhale behind me and I turn, bumping my nose into Bunny’s snout. She snorts and actually shoots a bit of donkey snot onto my cheek.

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I think she might have a cold or allergies or something. She’s been a little snotty-nosed and crusty-eyed the past few days. Wiping the snot from my face with the inside of my arm, I giggle to myself. Warm donkey snot. Why does that seem cute? I’m astonished with how little bodily fluids affect me these days. When you have a toddler and live on a farm, you get covered in stuff. All kinds of stuff.

Bunny noses my hair (likely getting snot in it) and then rests her jaw on my right shoulder. I’ve read before that this is a sign of affection for donkeys. I lean my weight into her as she leans hers into mine. With his ears back and his eyes half-open, Tyrion is standing close to Little Foot who is now drawing lines in the dirt with his index finger. The breeze picks up a few leaves and sends a faint smell of sawdust, as well as a few feathery specs of white, past us.

King Ranch walks back into the yard carrying a Miller Lite in one hand and a red solo cup in the other. I stand up, patting Bunny on the snout who starts to back away.

“Whatcha got there?” I ask, extending my hand.

“Hydration,” King Ranch says, handing me the red cup with a small, sideways grin.

I laugh.

As he’s swallowing a gulp, King Ranch says, “Let’s get this last part done, then we can go in.” He points his beer to the end of the fence. I nod and place my cup on top of a blue barrel that’s been sitting in the yard since we moved here.

Little Foot is still drawing shapes in the dirt and every so often, grabbing handfuls of loose sand and tossing it in the air with a smile.

I return to my spot on the fence as King Ranch squats down with a box of nails.

“Thanks for helping me,” he says.

“Of course,” I say.

——

The next day the fence is complete, gate and all. It’s a perfect fence ready to have the growth of a garden within it. Our options seem endless. There’s so much space for so many fruits and vegetables. We’re ready to till which brings us even closer to being ready to plant.

The next day, King Ranch gets a confirmation from this company – he’s been offered the job and all pre-employment processes have been confirmed and completed.

He built that fence. He got that job. He did all that.

Now, as we move into spring, we get to see what grows. And we are so excited.

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