Tiny Dots

It’s late. I’m not sure of the time, but it’s been night for a while—long enough for the dark to feel damp and for the scattered clouds to have a purple tint. In my jammies and boots without socks, I’m walking through the wet grass out to the barn where Bunny, Tee, and Baby Bodhi are likely resting.

With both hands, I slide open the barn door and flip the light switch just inside. Three sets of ears perk up high and like a burst of beautiful light, Bodhi leaps for me with his ears back and his tiny tail wagging. Bunny and Tee, from behind their stall door, begin to bray. Shaky, I kneel down and scratch Bodhi’s soft fur, his chin resting on my shoulder. He still smells like a baby.

It’s been three days since I’ve seen my sweet donkeys: I’ve relied on King Ranch and my parents to help care for them while I’ve been severely ill. In and out of the hospital and unsure of the time when I wake up from long rests, it’s been a blur of chills, lightheadedness, groggy sips of Gatorade, and much anxiety over what is happening in my tired body.

I stand, my head dizzy for a starry-eyed moment, before I open the stall door. Normally, Bunny and Tee race to reach me first (especially if it’s been some time since I’ve seen them) but tonight, they’re delicate in their approach. They know I’m unwell, I can see it in the wideness of their eyes and in the care of their steps. Bunny nips at my hair while Tee presses his head into my thigh. Bodhi stands against my other leg, his tail swishing from side to side.

In the dim barn surrounded by the quiet of night and warmth of my donkeys, I peer up at the light above which flickers with silhouettes of June bugs and moths. I draw in a deep breath, close my eyes, and surrender the walls I’ve taped up around my emotions to the midnight air. Tears begin to stream down my cheeks.

I don’t remember a time when I’ve been this sick, at least not as an adult. And to complicate things, my pre-existing heart condition is succumbing to the stress and making my movements and presence tedious and difficult.  The good news is, I’ve seen a host of doctors and have seemingly turned a corner to see a light at the end of this dark, dank, claustrophobia-inducing tunnel where I’ve left a scattered trail of my weight, strength, and optimism.

I’ve been unsure as to whether or not I wanted to write about this but the thing is, I write to figure out my feelings. I have to spell out thoughts to see them straight—to remove them from the neon nebulous of my anxious mind where I don’t have a single train of thought, but rather, a bustling train station buzzing with people yelling in languages that I can’t understand.

I have a friend, a wonderfully talented novelist who bravely moved her life overseas and is one of the most inspiring people in my life. She writes her stories and essays in a way that transfers the reader to the front lines—to the smells and tastes of places they’ve never been—and the other night, she messaged me out of concern to check on my health. It’s been years since I’ve seen her in person, but across the world, her concern and love of my feelings made way for a platform to begin to explore my own understanding of the depth in which this aggressive illness has dug. In talking with her, my heart touched by her words (because she’s just the kind of person who can be so warm and empathetic, even oceans apart), I realized that in this illness, there have been moments where I have actually feared for my life…like really thought it might be over for me. I think this must have been the first time I truthfully and legitimately feared that my end might be near and although that moment is now in my distant and hopefully unreachable past, it’s left me in a strange, emotional place. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the swift severity of my condition left little room to feel like I had much of a fight. 

(To be clear, I am fine. I am going to be fine. There were just a few days in there where I really thought I might not be fine and those ripples are still splashing around pretty hard.)

As I stand here in the barn, these three donkeys doing everything in their ability to comfort me, I am overcome with…I don’t know what it is. Gratitude for sure, but something else. Purpose? Raw presence? I’m not sure. That very real fear has done something to me and even though I know I’m out of the thick of the threat, there’s this pulsing light from beyond my field of vision that’s reminding me of the fragility of all of this. It’s a blocked off area  that stays just beyond my sight with giant, red, boldface letters that says “RESTRICTED” because only those who are emotionally equipped to handle the reality of how temporary life is can enter without crumbling. This very human condition: that we are all momentary. 

Little Foot climbed up into bed with me yesterday and rested his curly head on my chest.

“Mommy,” he said, “I hear your heart going ba-boom ba-boom ba-boom.”

I twirled his hair between two of my fingers and said, “I think my heart is happy you’re here.”

And it was. It is. Oh my it is, my heart flips in my chest at the sight and even thought of my sweet, little boy. He’s barely three years old and already he helps me feed the animals, collect eggs from the chickens, tells me stories that are made up in his imagination, and reminds me that you don’t have to be of a certain age to really know how to love.

Bunny lowers her head and rests it against my chest. I wonder if she can hear my struggling heart, too. I look down to see tiny, damp dots freckling the donkey’s faces—my tears having dripped from my chin onto them. I think they’ve moved closer to me, the weight of their bodies giving me strength to stand even though I’m so, so tired.

On the shelf beside us is Tink’s bright blue halter. He was wearing it the day he passed. Little Foot asked about Tink for the first time in a while the other day (before I fell ill) and I told him that Tink died. I used those words….he died.  “But where did he go?” Little Foot asked with a puzzled look. I told him that I wasn’t sure, but I believe that even when people or animals die, they’re still out there somewhere in some way. I told him that I think they must be out beyond the stars, so maybe you can look up at night and see if anything up there reminds you of him and if it does, then he’s definitely still alive in your thoughts. Among all those twinkling, tiny dots are so much more than meets the eye, so look as hard and as often as you can. This seemed to satisfy him. He also asked if the slug that he accidentally stepped on the other day is up there, too, because he was very sorry that he smushed it, he just didn’t see it before he stepped. I told him that I’m sure the slug is up there.

After a while, I shuffle the donkeys back into their stalls, laying a kiss upon each of their heads, and close the barn door. Purple clouds glide across the sky which is nearly singing like a full choir with twinkling stars. So many tiny dots. I breathe in deeply, their light filling the broken parts of me, before exhaling deep gratitude, relief, and hope with a long sigh.

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Rain Thoughts

It’s pouring outside. Like one of those real, north Texas, springtime storms that we haven’t had many of this year. I think about how many of my blogs last spring and the spring before were stories about hunkering down in these storms of epic proportions: the kind of storms from which tornadoes and old, forgotten childhood fears spiraled. But this year’s been different…only a handful of noteworthy systems have moved through our little town, most of which have been more wind damaging than anything. 

I’m also laying in my bed right now, typing this blog post on my phone with my right thumb because my left arm is wrapped about a sleeping, slightly snoring Little Foot. He’s started chatting in his two-year-old sleep recently, mostly about dinosaurs, cars, and sharing and it’s downright adorable. I wish, so badly, that I could see his dreams. What do the colors look like there? I wonder how many more times Little Foot will sleep curled up next to me. That’s one of those things I won’t realize it’s the last time until way after the fact. 

The plants outside must be thrilled: their roots are probably chugging the draining water with fury because it’s been that long since they’ve had a drink that wasn’t poured by me and we all know that water from a hose just isn’t the same. I hope that this storm refreshes my struggling garden and peps up the lawn a bit. We thrive on these storms and in their absence, everything’s just seemed…I don’t know…a bit off. Everything has been so tense and tired and stressed out. 

I know there’s a cliche metaphor in there: the whole, “can’t have a rainbow without the rain” concept. Which I mean, it’s true and I love that idea, but what I’m laying here thinking about isn’t what lies on the other side of this storm. I’m thinking about how much we need it and how much I’m loving this rain… The kind of rain that will take days to fully soak into the ground. How grateful I am for the fury of this storm upon us because I think everything needs a good wash out from time to time. A good cry. A purge of the build up that happens when it’s too hot and heavy for too long. 

There’s a meditation technique I learned once where you close your eyes and focus on one sound that you hear at a time. The rain. Little Foot’s heavy breath. The clock ticking in the bathroom. The chimes clanging outside. My own pulse… Can I really hear my own pulse right now? Or do I just feel it that heavily in my temples? 

Pitter-patter, inhale-exhale, tick-tock, clang-clang, thump-thump. 

It’s pouring outside and right now, I want it to last forever.

Little Foot’s Little Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my best, silly Spanish voice I read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can’t get enough of that.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a squirrel. A light brown squirrel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life and death. All here. Life and death.

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

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

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

Cherish it.

Choppy Waves

To your tiny face, I stoop down,

My thumb pushing that line

Of tears. They’re cool on

Your warm, tired face, and

Glaze the depth of your blue

Eyes with heavy glint that hurts.

 

Come here, unto my chest, my

Baby, and feel my beating heart. Every

Thump thumps just for you, every

Hair, and every cell.

 

Your mind a treasure trove

Still untapped and

Waiting to be found. Oh my

Baby, how I’d take it if I could,

This hurt that wobbles your

Mouth, your soul, for smooth,

Quiet shores are all you should have.

 

I did the same, myself, you know,

Curled up into mommy’s lap. She

Would stroke my hair and hum to me

And that’s when

Land appeared.

 

It’s hard to see, sometimes, I

Know, that peace is up ahead. You’ll

Get there, you know, I promise you that:

Where the sun is gold and sand is

Warm. The breeze will blow

Through your hair.

 

For now, just rest, upon my chest

My breath, the flowing waves. My

Baby I’m here for you, close your

Eyes now and sleep. When you

Wake, I’ll have your hand, the

Trail ahead awaits.

 

If ever those eyes hang with

Hurt or with despair. My baby,

Just come over here, my hands

Will run right through

Your hair.
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Life. Death. And Somewhere in the Middle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?” I asked her.

She stared back at me.

“I’m sorry for this,” I said.

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

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

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

Peep. Peep. Peep.

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

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

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

I called my mom again, this time, frantic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Season for Carving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, why the so-sads?

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

This makes me smile, but quickly, it falls.

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

Happiness – the feeling of pleasure and contentment.

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

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

Okay, so let’s see what ‘sad’ says:

Sad – feeling or showing sorrow, unhappy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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