Afternoon Pause

It’s a typical late-Texas summer on an early, weekday afternoon where leaves hang completely still from the treetops. The chickens have dug small holes outside of their coop in which to rest (the dirt beneath the surface being much cooler than anywhere else they may find) while the ducks drift gently in their pond with their heads tucked into their feathers. Little naps. Flapping bugs hop through the grass—pops of glittery movement in an otherwise motionless yard.

I’ve been sitting on the floor for some time gazing aimlessly out the window with gratitude for a working a/c in my house. I keep wondering if the ducks will wake or if the chickens will grab a skipping bug as it passes. I wonder if the donkeys will emerge from the barn but even they’ve foregone grazing under this afternoon sun and opted, instead, for the shade and coolness of their stalls. I suppose even I’ve been frozen for a while—perhaps time on this afternoon has simply paused.

I take a long, slow breath and as I exhale, I lay back and place my hands over my heart. I stare at the ceiling fan above and try to focus on one blade and follow it around and around, but I keep losing track. I can feel the beat of my heart in my hands. It’s wonky. It’s always wonky in heat like this. So I breathe deeper and more slowly, hoping that will calm her down. Ba dum, ba dum, baaaa dum dum. Ba dum, ba dum, baaa dum di dum dum. 

I‘ve learned to take advantage of quiet, still moments like these in an effort to find the same kind of calmness within my brain and being by trying to visualize various things depending on what I need or what’s going on. I’ve described some of these images before—things like purposefully pushing boulders down mountains in an effort to establish new grooves in the thought process. Streams of light that swirl into my body as I inhale and carry out the dark as I exhale. Muscles relaxing and releasing over the bones that support them, even the tiny ones around my eyes and ears. Lately I’ve been walking down a long hallway, slamming doors of busy thoughts as I pass while focusing on the dark end which I can’t quite make out yet. 

But anxiety is several doors pouring open at once, their insides tumbling and scattering all over the floor. Before you can even think about receiving the satisfaction of slamming the door shut, you must shuffle all the pieces back into their places, careful that you’re picking up the right stuff and not accidentally mixing up this door’s thoughts with the contents from the door across the hall that just spilled open, too. And when you’ve finally, meticulously stacked all the screaming thoughts back into their boxes and arranged them just so, two more doors with even louder and more fragile thoughts burst open. 

It’s then that I lay down in the growing pile of crashing thoughts and chatter and close my eyes into an even smaller, darker hallway with smaller, more finicky doors—a sort of inception of my own coping mechanisms. 

Over and over I do this until the darkness swallows me.

Dizzy, I open my eyes quickly. The room is bright with afternoon sun. The ceiling fan spins around and around and again, I try and find one blade, but can’t. I take in a deep breath and stand as I exhale. The ducks are splashing in the pond. The chickens are pecking through the grass. The donkeys are out in the pasture, heads down and tails flicking. 

As I wander back to my office, I wonder how many versions of me might still be laying in piles of thoughts with their eyes closed? I wonder if there even exists a hallway that can be silenced? Or maybe that’s not the point? 

Thoughts for the next pause, I suppose. For now, the afternoon is alive once more and so too is my need to return to it, spilled contents and all.

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Waiting out the Storm

It’s an East Texas downpour out there—the kind where I know that somewhere beyond the endless sheets of rain is a brown barn that inside, must be awfully loud beneath a tin roof, although I can’t see more than a blur of gray and swaying, green smudges that are the swelling leaves of new, spring life. I keep wanting to clean up and till the garden to start anew, but every time I find a few free moments to get out there and tend to her, storms move through with a fury, washing out the loose soil and feeding the rampant weeds that I can’t seem to get out in front of, no matter how I try.

Through a foggy window, I watch the rain switch directions over and over again as lightning flashes every few seconds and drum rolls of thunder barrel by almost without break. The forecast shows we have several more days of this and I keep thinking of the garden flooding, washing away any bit of useful dirt and leaving behind hard-packed, red clay that’s been beaten down into a calloused and impenetrable space.

I think of the donkeys in the loud barn, imagining their eyes staring out into the blurry forest that surrounds our house. With ears as sensitive as theirs, storms like this must be painful. Both of my dogs are hidden in a closet right now, terrified of the thunder that crashes through, full-bellied and heavy, every few seconds. It’s the kind of thunder you feel in your chest—ribs rattling with the rolls—a direct hit to the heart every time.

I worry I’ve missed my window to plant a garden that might have a growing-chance because after this stormy season comes that notorious, inescapable, Texas summer. Watching this storm, however, I suppose that even if I’d gotten those tiny, eager seedlings into the ground and meticulously arranged the mulch, cages, and cork-labels around them, they’d have rotted in the rain water by now or been washed away before establishing any real roots. How can roots reach out when every time those tiny arms try to grab at the spaces outside of themselves, their entire world floods and deforms, leaving nothing solid to latch onto or dig deeper into?

Still, here in early spring, bright, green life is blooming rapidly in all directions up in the treetops. Heavy with leaves, their branches droop down and cast dark and cool shadows across the yard. Along the edges of things, sunflower sprouts and sweet grass reach high towards the sun when she’s out and radiating while aggressive, spiky weeds slither and slap across the ground like an octopus out of water.

But it’s the little seeds in their tiny pods with thread-like roots: cantaloupe and cucumbers, tomatoes and hot peppers, sweet peas and turnips, that I want to gently transfer outside and tend to daily so I can watch them reach, swirl, and grow and witness the fruit they could bear. It’s just for now, they don’t seem like they’ll have a fighting chance as the rain falls harder and faster creating muddy pools that’ll take days to recede. I lose hope that my tiny, delicate seedlings will sprout and find their real roots in the ground outside: little seeds that started out so hopeful in little baggies, labeled proudly and waiting to learn what it feels like to reach into the warm, open air. I’ve read so many books and blogs that have told me when it’s the perfect time to plant around here, but I just can’t seem to land on that perfect time and as I watch the blurs of grays and greens whip and lash around outside, I doubt I’ll find that perfect time.

I’ve read about above ground gardening, seen pictures and how-tos, and have even been encouraged by some to take that route. Maybe I will. Maybe I have to. I guess that’s the problem with laying all your hopes down in the space you cleared up near your house where the sun would be perfect and the drainage seemed ideal because of the slant. You root for that space that you spent time clearing and turning with your hands, shovel, and tiller and fenced in to keep the rabbits out. You liked the idea of digging down a little deeper, where it’s cool and dark and full of strange bugs that tie themselves in knots when the sun touches them. The idea that the root’s paths were essentially endless without a bottom created hope for their strength and growth to be infinite. I’ve always thought that the deeper we dig, the taller we must grow.

But then these days, it feels like it’s all about building up. Building up, filling in, creating drainage systems, and using that cold, hard clay as a foundation….a base…a starting point that if you’re building up and up, doesn’t really matter if it’s too hard to breakthrough. You use the callouses as starting points from which to move forward, not to dig beneath in hopes they’ll ever soften enough to allow for real, fruitful growth.

The storm has subsided a bit now into a steady, straight-down rain that you can actually see through. There are some large branches scattered around the yard: branches without new, green leaves that the trees must’ve been ready to shed to make way for anew. Branches that had must have been overrun with bugs or rot or had simply just died off because their part was finished. The trees must feel lighter now—relieved, even—having rid themselves of their heavy, dead branches.

I don’t think I’m ready to give up on the idea of digging down into that now hard and calloused space I’ve created. It doesn’t feel dead to me yet and abandoning it, I suspect, would bring me no relief. It just needs more time. It needs more tilling. It needs to be fed and touched and rid of the sneaky weeds that grow faster than the fruit I intend to grow.

So I suppose I’ll keep waiting. Waiting. Waiting for the storm to pass and the for the sun to dry the puddles so I can get back to turning and digging and loosening the ground enough for roots to travel freely and growth to reach up full and tall.

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Lightning Shows

Last night leading up to midnight, I spent the better part of an hour out in the shed with the donkeys watching the sky. Our little area of Texas was having what I thought at the time was a heat lightning storm—something we cherish down here in the south. Lightning pulses behind heavy clouds in a humid sky, sometimes reaching out in bolts and grand, illuminating flashes during these storms. They only seem to happen when we’ve spent several days with high temperatures hovering around 100 degrees.

While I was out there, I got to wondering what causes heat lightning so when I came inside some time later, sweaty and draped in small spider webs I’d picked up on my walk back, I Googled heat lightning only to find out that heat lightning doesn’t exist. We’ve made up that phenomenon! That information can be found here: What is Heat Lightning?

I love the weather channel.

Even so, these lightning shows are stunning to behold. Their never ending flashes become meditative after a while, especially without the anticipation of thunder. I put these lightning events on the same level as a good fire whereby you can sit for hours staring into its ever changing light and there, no two people will regard them in the same way.

The best stories are told around fires. The best thoughts are conjured during lightning storms.

I thought about how, way back when I first moved here to the ranch and the months following, I was so lost. If you’ve only recently started following this here ranch life adventure, then you may not know that donkeys found me…not the other way around. King Ranch and I had bought a property and said property came with a donkey. I thought about how when we moved here, Little Foot was a mere 4 month old infant: tiny and fragile and I was a 4 month old mother with no idea what I was doing. We didn’t know a single person within 250 miles and even the nearest grocery store was a half-hour drive.

The lightning continually flashed across the sky, highlighting the shapes of the clouds and reflecting off the large eyes of my three donkeys who watched the sky with me intently. I thought about how many times I wanted to run away—back home to Houston where I knew people, where I had a support system. I missed my parents and my friends and my local watering holes. And although Houston is so congested and humid all the time, I missed her familiarity.

But Houston didn’t have my donkeys. I watched the way their ears shifted and twitched with little sounds that flicked about. I thought about how now, being two and a half years into this ranch life, Little Foot has had the opportunity to grow up with dirt under his fingernails and donkeys at his side. They’re very protective of him. I remember when Little Foot was just learning to walk, how Bunny and Tee would follow closely behind him, their noses right behind his little, wobbly back. Even now, when he’s out there with me running and jumping, they’re always by his side.

The lightning rolled on—a pulsing, electrical heartbeat stretching across the sky. I got the sense that the snaking and slithering bolts were beginning to reach down into my own chest, wrapping their light around and into the chambers of my beating and tender heart. It’s been over two years since we moved here and in many ways, I feel as lost as I did then—like I’m constantly searching for something but just can’t find it. I’ve described to King Ranch lately that it’s like I’m in a biplane circling the same, cloudy destination but can’t land because I can’t see it yet.

Bunny was leaning on me by this point and I suspect it’s because she felt my apprehension. She always does this: leans her weight into me when I’m thinking too hard. Maybe it’s her way of telling me to slow down which, I feel like a lot of people have been telling me to do recently. And I know I need to but I struggle because something….something….is tugging at my insides. I just don’t know what.

More clouds appeared and the bolts became harder and harder to see, only dull flashes pulsed in the distance and so I decided to abandon my post and go inside to research heat lightning. When I discovered that it’s a made up concept, I wondered to myself if that invisible landing spot which I’ve been circling is a figment of my imagination. Perhaps like the “heat lightning” being far-travelling lightning from a far away storm, my own apprehensions are far-travelling anxieties from a far away shift in my own recent past…residual stress from everything in my life changing in the past two and a half years.

Or maybe, indeed, change and shifts are somewhere on my own horizon. By now, I’ve learned that there’s a lot to be said for the feelings that poke and prod in your gut—that intuition is a real thing, if given a chance.

Either way, there is wisdom in the shifting skies. If it’s been a while, you should sit outside and look up for a while. It reminds you how vast the universe is and a reminder that the same vastness is inside you. Just as there are storms and heat and fierce winds and mysteries in the skies, so too are there in you. They’re worth beholding from time to time.

So are donkeys. They’re always worth beholding 🙂

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