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.

Do You Believe in Magic?

It’s approaching 1 in the morning and I still can’t sleep. This pillow is all wrong. I sleep with it every night but for some reason right now, it feels foreign – like I’m back in college sleeping on someone’s futon and they’ve tossed me a couch cushion in lieu of a proper pillow.

Little Foot woke up an hour ago. Luckily I managed to get him back to sleep pretty quickly. He’s been doing this thing lately, where if I just hold one of his hands in mine for 10 or so minutes, he falls back asleep. It’s adorable. He holds my hand to fall asleep. It’s a habit I should probably be concerned with breaking soon but…I love it.

King Ranch is sleeping, but is tossing and turning more than usual. I’m worried that it’s me keeping him awake, so I slide out of bed and wrap up in my robe.

In the living room, we’ve left a lamp on near the front door with a low-watt bulb that makes everything amber. It’s so quiet and in this dim light, so cozy. I bundle into a throw blanket and plop down on the couch. The cushions are cool from being empty for several hours.

I relax my shoulders and my face.

Has that clock on the wall always ticked so loudly?

I bury my head under the blanket.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

I can’t take it anymore, so I throw the blanket on the floor and walk into the kitchen while adjusting my robe a little tighter around my waist.

Not entirely sure what I’m looking for, I open the fridge. Leftover stir fry in a red-topped Tupperware. A bag of oranges. A half-eaten container of Little Foot’s sweet potato baby food. Many, many condiments.

Carrots.

I take four carrots out of the bag and head into the utility room. Still barefoot, I pull on my mud boots and slip on King Ranch’s green jacket that is hanging by the backdoor. Back in the living room, I hear the jingling of Thing One’s collar as I open our back door. Every door creaks in this house.

“You coming?” I ask, holding the screen door open. Thing One scrambles outside as I softly close the door behind me.

It’s chilly outside, but only because of the wind. We’ve had a bit of a warm front here at the end of January, which isn’t uncommon for Texas winters. The chimes on our patio are ringing hauntingly as they clang their low-belly song.

Above me is a blanket of stars. From horizon to horizon there are twinkling stars of every shape and color. Interesting that you can only see the sparkling of stars when it’s otherwise completely dark. Magic.

I unlatch the lock on the gate that leads into the pasture while making a clicking sound with the back of my tongue and scanning the pasture for movement as best I can without wearing my glasses. I’m still not entirely sure where the donkeys sleep or if they even have a designated spot.

By the back-house, I notice a slow moving shadow and then the yellow reflection of one giant eye. There she is.

“Come here, little girl,” I whisper loudly. I hear a snort and can finally see Bunny’s shape emerge from the shadows. Not far behind her is Tyrion.

The donkeys slowly saunter up to me, their eyes wide with curiosity. I pull the carrots out of King Ranch’s jacket pocket and snap them in all in half. Alternating between Bunny and Tee based on the loudness of their crunching, I give them a piece of carrot at a time. The nose each other to try and get in the way of one another.

“It’s all gone,” I say. Bunny and Tee continue to sniff my hands. I’m wishing I’d brought out more carrots.

Tee snorts and moves past me a bit to graze on a patch of grass. Bunny stays with me and leans all of her weight into my side.

Squatting down, I put a hand on either side of her jaw and scratch.

I’d do anything to keep her healthy and safe. Bunny and Tee. I don’t need anything in return. I don’t want anything in return. I just want to spend time with them. Take care of them. I’m briefly angry at Bunny’s previous owner for leaving her behind without any of her companions, but then I’m immediately grateful that she gets to be a part of our family now. Darkness turned light, I suppose.

I think of this family: King Ranch and Little Foot sleeping inside. These donkeys. Thing One sniffing around the yard. Even our flock of chickens – I just want them all to be healthy and happy. I just want them all to sleep at night knowing that not only will the sun come up tomorrow, but when it does, it will be on a day that will in one way or another, be filled with wonder.

After all, we are floating in space on a blue and green planet, circling a massive ball of fire and gas. The air we breathe is thanks to the trees that grow. The Earth we walk on is thanks to the gravity that keeps us grounded. Seems like magic.

I’m still squatting down in front of Bunny who is resting her head on my shoulder. I start humming something. She begins to sway, and I with her. Tyrion wanders back over and rests his head in my lap.

The warmth from their heavy exhales is enough to cancel out the chilly breeze. It’s almost too warm. Their heads are heavy on me, but I don’t care. I love it. All of it.

I just want them to feel safe.

After a while, I realize I’ve lost feeling in my feet from crouching down, so I slowly stand up, a hand on each donkey. They keep leaning their weight into me. I decide to stay outside for just a little while longer.

The breeze is cool on my face. The stars, a twinkling symphony. The chimes are distantly ringing.

Magic.

Back inside, King Ranch and Little Foot are still sleeping. I sit in the chair in Little Foot’s room for a while listening to him breathe. I’m remembering what it felt like when I was pregnant with him and I couldn’t sleep. He’d wiggle and flail and I’d sit up and chat with him in the dim middle-of-the-night light. I wondered what he’d be like. Now, there he is – breathing the same air as us.

I never really go back to sleep on this night – and I’m not upset about it.

It’s two days later and I’ve just finished teaching a yoga class in town. I’ve been at this particular studio long enough to expect a host of usual suspects in my classes on normal days…

…I’ve actually been stuck at this sentence for a while now trying to find a way to describe how it feels to teach a yoga class.

At the risk of sounding ambiguous, it’s other-worldly. I find so much joy in being able to provide a space where people can just be. From my own experiences, I know the weight of the world can seem so heavy sometimes. We all experience that in our own ways. We all have more responsibilities than should ever be humanly possible. We all have scars. We are all held to standards and expectations set by sources other than ourselves. It’s why we’re anxious and self conscious and critical of every little thing about ourselves – because the world has made us that way.

So for an hour at a time at the studio, I do everything I can to slow down life for just a bit. I want so badly for my students to be able to see their beauty and their worth. And then I want them to be able to carry that around with them. I want them to look at themselves and be proud. I want them to feel loved.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that to teach yoga is an honor. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to try and connect with people when they’re at their most vulnerable. Physically and mentally, yoga is quite outside the norm by today’s standards. So it’s truly an honor to facilitate that hopeful process.

As I’m leaving the studio, fully ready to return to my normal life, I am, out of nowhere, reminded of this quote by Roald Dahl:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Then it hits me – Love is magic.

If you don’t believe in magic, you’ll never find it. If you don’t believe in love, you’ll never find it.

Love is what I have for these members at the studio. It’s what I’m trying to pour out of myself as I lead these yoga classes where I don’t care if they can touch their toes or not. I just want them to feel loved. Love is these members putting trust in me to let their walls down. Love is them, in some cases for the first time, being purely themselves – and being proud of that. Love is what they’re sending back to me and why I’ve been having a hard time describing the experience.

Love is what brought Little Foot into existence. Love is what keeps King Ranch and I together. Love is Thing One trying to protect us from what he perceives as threats to our family. Love is Bunny and Tee swaying with me in the middle of the night – and me wanting them to never, ever be abandoned again.

Love must be those feelings of protective mom and wife I get when it comes to Little Foot and King Ranch and truly having no boundaries or lines for what I would do to keep them safe and healthy. I’ve talked about it before – how I’d fight the masses and infiltrate the mob. Hell hath no fury like a loving wife and mother.

As I’m leaving this studio today, I am feeling loved. I am feeling so magically loved.

King Ranch. Little Foot. Thing One. Bunny. Tyrion. All of the staff and members of this studio. I am feeling so utterly and unconditionally loved.

Love. It’s magic. Open your glittering eyes and look for it. It’s out there – in its purest form, it’s out there.