You’re Done, Dead Weight

On our property are several pecan trees. During the fall, literally 1000’s of pecans fall with the leaves — some crack open and some don’t. Pecans that do crack open are quickly discovered by hungry donkeys who look forward to the tasty, autumn treat.  

During the summer time, however, the pecan trees turn into massive, mushroom clouds of bright, thick green with heavy and far-reaching branches. They’re lovely for shade from the hostile, Texas sun, but do quickly overgrow into forces that are difficult in which to reckon.

The overgrowth also makes it particularly hard to mow the grass. More often than I’d like to admit, I have found myself riding the mower through a low hanging arm of one of the pecan trees that leaves a long scratch across my arm or face.

I needed to do some trimming.

When I have tasks like this, instead of trying to keep up with a very curious and exploratory Little Foot, I strap him into his toddler hiking pack and hoist him onto my back. We both wear sunscreen and hats and I’ve found that he actually quite likes the sometimes hours-long piggyback ride. My excuse to get out of having to do a proper workout enjoys it, too.

I stood underneath the welcoming shade of the pecan tree that sits farthest back on our property as Bunny and Tee wandered up to see what we were doing. When Bunny noticed I had a tool of some sort, she trotted away, likely assuming that I was planning not to trim the tree, but her hooves instead. Tee stayed a few steps away, mostly curious about the companion riding upon my back.

I began trimming. The branches were more tangled than I imagined they’d be. I assumed this would be a pretty straight forward chore, but instead, found that the smaller and older the branches became, the more they weaved in and out of one another. They reached down with curiosity as if they were trying to touch the ground. None of them actually did, so I wonder if they talked about it amongst themselves. Maybe it was a competition. Who could reach the ground first?

Bunny decided that my shears were, in fact, not a threat and followed closely behind me to nibble on the leaves of the branches that tumbled down to the ground. Over my shoulder, Little Foot’s glossy, blue eyes watched my chore intently. Sometimes, he’d snort.

Branch after branch, I chopped. Some were easy and some required more might. Sweat accumulated where the straps of my Little Foot pack wrapped around my hips and chest and had even started to run down my forehead, stinging my eyes. Still, I chopped.

I began to notice that many of the branches that hung down lowest were actually barren: dry, prickly sticks not producing anything but weight. I felt bad for them. They were sad. I felt guilty for chopping them away having worked so hard to get here.

From the lowest hanging stick’s point of view, I could imagine that I was quite terrifying. A sweating, two headed monster wielding a long, bright orange and black pair of shears whom, without warning, chopped off the arms of these innocent branches. Behind me, my noble steed dined on the remains of those fallen.

But it was my duty to chop. I had to. I swore an oath to protect my land and that included trimming the trees so that I could properly mow. Otherwise, our land would become a breeding ground for snakes and even more mosquitoes than there already were.

So I continued to chop as Bunny (and now Tee) continued to chomp.

Some branches went down easily and without a fight while others struggled until the end. The more I chopped, however, the more I realized the way the blooming bits of the branches would spring far up towards the sky and even bounce a few times having lost the weight of the bare sticks.

Perhaps these sticks, instead of holding on, were actually looking to be let go.

The pecan trees — nutrient producing and life sustaining beings don’t have the capability to remove their dead bits. They need assistance. My, how the branches perked when I removed those parts which were bare.

I chopped more, but this time, triumphantly! I was healing a hurting tree!

This took just over two hours. Little Foot actually fell asleep on my back. I decided to take the extra time of his nap and clean out the donkey’s water troughs. They were grateful. All that noble-steeding left them quite parched.

Of course this made me wonder what it is that I’m holding onto that I just can’t bring myself to release. I know there are things. I know that there are memories that creep around in the dusty parts of my mind that feel exposed and raw whenever something shines their light on them. There are people who, when they pop into my vision, my heart hurts. Literally, it hurts. There are angry bits, too, that when poked or prodded explode in a fury of 4-letter words and end with tears.

I know they’re there. I know it. But I don’t know how to chop them off.

Sure, I still bloom. I still do my job. I mostly look nice. But my insides, in many ways, are quite heavy.

King Ranch pulls barren branches off from time to time. He sees them. As does my mom. As do most people who get close enough and who care to notice. Then again, I suppose we’ve all got dead stuff lingering around. Even when it’s all chopped and cleared away, next season, there will be more.

What I’m finding now is that it’s a much harder task to go through and release the pecan trees of their dead weight when I’ve let it get out of hand. If I’d have kept up with it, this chore would have been done in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the effort.

Still, it needed to get done. No matter the time or the effort, it needed to get done. It will again next year, too. And it’ll be worth it to see how proudly the pecan trees stand after they’ve been released.

img_5058

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wp-1464236021157.jpg

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a squirrel. A light brown squirrel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life and death. All here. Life and death.

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

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

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

Cherish it.

Growing Pains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – Pet ownership – donkeys and chickens?

 – Home ownership – a mortgage?

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

DELICATE: Handle with care.

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

FullSizeRender

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

Gardening

 

—-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between the mini blinds, blue lights flashed like paparazzi.

—-

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

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

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

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

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

20160324_101708

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

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

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

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

Now go watch your garden grow; your story unfold.

 

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. 

20160303_135822

Little Wooden Bed

Not entirely sure what time during the night or early morning it must be, I’m watching the tree’s branches gently waving their shadows through the slits of the shutters on the second floor of my parents Houston home. King Ranch and I have made a trip down here for the weekend with Little Foot and Thing One for a quick visit.

Half an hour or so ago, Little Foot woke up in a screaming fury. His teeth are at that terrible toddler torture stage that makes it impossible for him to completely escape the pain. Poor guy.

Now, I’m curled up in the very same bed that belonged to me as a young child while holding Little Foot in a little spoon position. My mom has set up this toddler bed in the guest room for him to sleep in while we’re here because frankly, he’s outgrown everything else. I am surprised to find that I still fit in this bed. I’m not stretched out by any means, but I fit nonetheless.  

It’s a wooden bed with wooden railings along the sides and a built-in shelf that serves as a headboard. I’m very vaguely remembering that I had a stuffed beagle and several plastic dinosaurs set up on this shelf once upon a time. I’m also remembering that I had a Minnie Mouse comforter.

The very first dream I can remember having occurred when I was about 4 years old and sleeping in this very bed:

I was woken up by a terrible growl. I pushed the pink comforter down from my face with my feet and clutched the wooden railing of my bed. As I peered over the edge of the bed, suddenly, my view switched to omniscient, allowing me to watch myself from someone else’s point of view.

Nailed to the outside of my bed by his hands, was a growling and snarling monster with long, tangled, bright, orange hair. He had two horns that poked up crookedly from his head and bright yellow, angry (but also kind of googly and scared) eyes. From my outside point of view, I watched myself, wide-eyed, peeking over the edge of that wooden bed and becoming so frightened that I when I tried to shout, nothing came out.

Suddenly, a police car with flashing lights and screaming sirens came crashing through the wall by my bed. The wind blew my hair and the monster’s orange hair in the exact same way: chaotically. I fell back and reached for my stuffed beagle.

I smile and laugh a little. I remember that dream as if it happened last week when really, it’s been nearly three decades.

Three decades.

Three decades later and I’m holding my son in this very same bed beneath a blue blanket while my own mom, who nearly three decades ago comforted me in the middle of that orange monster night, is sleeping in her own bed downstairs. At least I hope she’s sleeping. The room we’re staying in right now is above theirs so I’m worried that Little Foot’s painful crying and my footsteps have woken her up. They probably have.

Little Foot grunts and with his eyes still closed, he reaches a hand back in search of mine. I place my index finger in his palm. He clutches it with his small fingers, pulls my hand against his chest and relaxes back into sleep. His curly hair is beneath my nose and smells like a mixture of citrus and spaghetti.

What must Little Foot be dreaming about?

It’s difficult to put into words how it feels to curl up in a bed with your child that your mom used to curl up in with you. This particular bed is one that I had while I was still so young – it’s what I had before I even started grade school. At that time, the world was what my parents taught me and what I started to explore for myself.

I’m wondering what my mom thought about on those nights that she stayed up with my brothers and I. I’m wondering if she can still remember what our hair smelled like beneath her nose. I’m wondering if she can remember any dreams that she had as a child and what it felt like for her mother to hold her. I’m wishing that she could hear my thoughts and come up the stairs so that all three of us could curl up together.

King Ranch and I have been through so much over the past year. This trip back to Houston is one that I think I needed because sometimes, when I’m scared, hurting, uncertain or just exhausted, all I want is to go home and be with my mom.

I think that there was a time when I was ashamed to admit that. As if I felt like I needed to be an adult. Face my problems. Become independent. Handle it myself.

Don’t get me wrong, those are all good and necessary things – to grow up. But I guess what I’m laying here thinking about is that it’s great to be successful, independent, and able to problem solve on your own while also being okay to, every once and awhile, feel the need to curl up with your mom because you just need to feel safe and secure.

Little Foot, I’m imagining, will never be too old to come home. I’ll never stop wondering if he’s sleeping well. I’ll never stop wondering what he dreams about. I’ll never stop being curious about what he must be feeling. I’ll certainly never forget what this Little Foot in a little spoon feels like in this little, wooden bed – his little breath rising and falling – while the shadows gently sway across the ceiling.

If I know my mom, which I feel like I do pretty well, I’m fairly certain that she’s lying awake in her bed downstairs debating on whether or not she should come up here to see if we need help with Little Foot. But in the end, I know she won’t come up here because we’re indeed adults and she knows that we need to be capable of solving rough nights with a teething toddler on our own.

So I’m just laying here smiling. I’m smiling because my kid is asleep again feeling safe in my arms. I’m smiling because I’ll be drifting off soon enough, feeling safe with my mom and dad in their bed down stairs. My mom, I hope, is smiling down there because of the irony that is her daughter awake with a restless, teething baby while probably imagining how insane it is that her own child has a child. And somewhere out in the universe, I imagine that my mom’s mom is pretty tickled that her daughter, her daughter’s daughter, and her daughter’s daughter’s son are all beneath the same roof.

I watch the swaying tree branch shadows on the ceiling. My mom is probably seeing something very similar on her ceiling. One day, Little Foot will remember the same on his ceiling. The wind will always blow the branches.

Some things, no matter how much time goes by, never change.

 

 

Shatter Happens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is forgiveness here.

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

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

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

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

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