Saturday, June 26, 2010

Texas Sky

Tonight improved my mood about the land. No rattlesnakes crossed my path. The animals organized themselves nicely around the fresh bale of hay we rolled out. And there was a breeze.

I had a few cold Lone Stars and wandered around, enjoying a rare break from land tasks, while Jer created work for himself that required the tractor.

Mostly I looked at the sky (when I wasn't staring at the ground for coiled snakes). Clouds at sunset make a pretty awesome spectacle if you pay attention.

After playing with the tractor, Jeremy attempted to dislodge a large wasp nest from a piece of equipment. Knowing this would seriously upset the wasps, he hatched a foolproof escape plan; run straight into the opened car door. Unfortunately the plan went awry when the angry insects came swarming after him. Instead of making a straight line to the car he ran straight towards me at top speed shouting "DAMMIT," before turning right towards the opened car door which slammed shut at that precise moment due to a strong breeze. Lucky for all of us, I had the camera handy:

And yes, if you wondered, that is OUR bathtub, sink, and countertop garden growing near the car. When I mention that I have collected "old house parts," I really mean it.

Even the animals exuded peace and harmony tonight. Last night's chaos may or may not be partially due to the fact that their owner stood in the middle of them all simultaneously sobbing and screaming, while holding a big bucket of food. I think I annoyed and confused them yesterday, hence all of their bad behavior.

Tonight they got a glorious new bale of hay, and everyone was perfectly satisfied.

Things are looking up for me and my future at the land. I have to watch for rattlesnakes, that much is obvious. More importantly, I have to accept that they live there too. The sun, the sky, the breeze (the beer?) tonight reminded me why it's worth accepting.

For Sale

In a hurried attempt to visit the animals last night I carelessly tossed food in a bucket and quickly walked towards the freshly installed gate. The lofty goal was to get all livestock on one side of the new fence so that we could have free reign of the other side and enjoy dinner free of donkey noses. I was too focused on making the donkeys follow me to notice that a rattlesnake was curled in my path. I saw it just one step before stepping on it...............

..................................................(this is your opportunity to take a moment and really picture the scene. Jenna, bucket, 5 donkeys trotting behind, rattlesnake in front of gate)...................................

Ok, got that picture in your head? In case you wondered, I did scream. I screamed, (screamed, screamed) then jumped backwards and watched the serpent quickly wriggle forward, then stop, giving me plenty of time to clearly identify the raccoon-ringed tail and rattle and triangular head. I screamed some more, then I heard wild mooing and turned to my left in time to see the cows tearing up the hill, on the other side of the fence, then through the gate and straight towards me (I was still holding the feed bucket). At this point I backed into the new fence, three sets of horns surrounding me as the cows aggressively pushed each other to get to the bucket. I have no idea where the snake is at this point. The fence is at my back, horns in front of me, Chula kicking the air angrily next to me and a rattlesnake lurking somewhere. It was too much.

I completely lost it. I threw the bucket towards the cows and cried. Just shut my eyes and dreamed of my manicured lawn at home. Standing in a dusty pasture with the cows, a snake, and bucking donkeys suddenly seemed totally ludicrous.

Yea, I'm a little stressed. Leaving town for few days tomorrow in order to help conduct a large event. The differences between that life and the farm life seem irreconcilable, at the moment. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the thought of what we want to do at the land. But rarely do I feel overwhelmed by the actual animals and wildlife out there. But not today. Today I'm feeling scared to return, annoyed by the cows, and frustrated in general.

Two rattlesnakes in a month and no other snakes in sight. What did we sign up for? Hopefully I'll have happier news next week.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dinosaur Farm

We grow unusually small livestock at our farm. Animal manageability is important to me and even though I have absolutely no control over any of them, their smaller size is a tad less intimidating. Animals in miniature seems to extend to many creatures that live at the land. In fact, recently I found an extraordinarily tiny dinosaur living upside-down in the rafters of our rickety purple shed. Jeremy argues that it's probably just an extraordinarily large insect of some sort. But that's way too creepy. Bugs should never, ever, never grow this large. I'm more comfortable with miniature dinosaur. Like the tiny livestock, it makes the creature seem more manageable somehow.

On another note: WHAT THE HELL KIND OF STUFF IS LIVING OUT THERE AT THE LAND?!?!?!?! Let's be honest. I saw this freakishly archaic beast and dropped into the fetal position, sucked my thumb, and passed out. I can hardly look at the picture. But here's another one:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Remember the Fish Bus?

From which our ill-fated catfish arrived months ago? I think it was briefly noted, then forgotten. But I just remembered that it was photographed.

So if you ever doubted our honesty.....

then here ya go: Fish Bus


Yesterday, I was certain Matilda was dying. I made my mid-week visit to the animals and noticed stringy blood on her backside. Blood around an animal's backside is rarely a good sign. In fact, it's usually a very, very bad sign. I spent the evening researching this topic and decided she suffered from a variety of rare but serious diseases. I was convinced that the primary culprit was Coronvirus - something cattle transmit at deadly speed in the middle of winter when housed in feed lots. This being Texas in the summer with the three cows living on a spacious 15 acres, made the winter disease...well...totally illogical. But it was too late. I read this disease exists and therefore Matilda would die (It's for this very reason that I avoid checking Web MD for my personal ailments. I tend to, er, worry).

In order to save Matilda from the dreaded disease(s), it was clear that a vet must be called and a small army of neighbors summoned to rope the poor heifer so that she could be adequately medicated to ward off the disease(s). My entire weekend would be ruined by this activity and the constant concern over her mortality. Dammit, I wasn't in the mood for this. Especially because my job required that I spend the day in Fort Worth, three hours from the land, making it impossible to assist in the Matilda-saving efforts. I drove to Forth Worth this morning, white knuckles gripping the steering wheel, glancing at the phone waiting for the vet to return my frantic call. My mother generously traveled to the land to check on Matilda's health which I was certain was deteriorating since her disease(s) worked quickly. I decided early it was going to be an awful day.

Until my phone rang. The vet calmly listened to my dramatic story: the sight of the blood, her labored breathing, slight lethargy, general disinterest in me. I was out of breath at the end of the description and readied myself for a dreaded response. What I got was a long sigh. A chuckle. And a "Oh ma'am. I haven't seen the heifer myself yet but from what you've described.....well...your cow's just got her period." Long silence. "Ma'am?" Ok, I wasn't convinced yet. "What about the labored breathing and lethargy?" I squeaked out, painfully embarrassed. "Heat, ma'am. 98 degree heat sure does cause that in a cow." But, but..."What about the disinterest in my presence?" Long silence on his end, then the obvious explanation, "She's a cow ma'am. They ain't very smart." Excellent point.

Of all the sophisticated search words entered into google last night, I failed to include "bovine menstruation" although Jer notably suggested it as the curious "disease." I brushed him off, laughing hysterically at the notion of a cow period. I mean. Come on.

How ironic also to be in Cowtown, USA dressed in heels and suit, with cows on my mind rather than the topic I was supposed to discuss at a conference. Before me sat a room full of men wearing polished cowboy boots, handlebar mustaches, and dinner-plate sized belt buckles. I was certain they had cattle, and I desperately wanted to change the subject from education policy to the more pressing issue of bovine epidemiology. If we could just talk about cattle instead than my two worlds would happily, finally collide. It took enormous restraint, and some professional integrity, not to just blurt into the microphone - "Did you know your cows have periods? Who knew this? Can we all just head to the bar downstairs and discuss?"

On days like today I wonder if people spot me as a livestock owner, manure chucker, fence builder, chicken handler, donkey tamer? I get a secret thrill from the shock that spreads over the faces of those who have prematurely pegged me as a condo dweller in the city once they learn that I am, well, quite the opposite. Gladly, the opposite. Even if it means discussing the density and shape of cow manure with a large animal vet while wearing my suit, driving into the big city. Life is most interesting in its contrasts.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer Breeze Makes Me Feel Fine

The Seals & Crofts classic has always been, and shall forever remain, at the top of my summer soundtrack. It was briefly nudged from the top spot in the late '90's by Will Smith's "Summertime," but I was young and stupid so don't hold it against me. It's impossible for me to hear that chorus without instantly craving cold watermelon, roasted corn, fireflies, steamy twilight, mosquitos, and sprinklers. What IS IT about summer that always makes me feel like a 7 year old in my jelly sandals?

Whatever IT IS was all over the place this weekend, and I realized that summer is in full swing down in the Lone Star state. This is a fleeting moment for us, really. Summer heats up so fast here that if you're not careful it's already August 5 and 110 degrees with crispy grass, dusty fields, and lots of AC. June and early July are for sitting on the porch with a cold beer before the sun sets. The cicadas just started singing a month ago and haven't annoyed anyone yet. And you can sit still without sweltering. Also, the gardens are exploding with leaves and promise before dwindling in the August heat. This year we mixed in lots of compost made by the cows+hay+rain, and the plants went crazy.

Actually, this year's garden almost wasn't planted since I lost my will right around the end of March when plants and seeds need to be in the ground. There's just something about planting a garden that makes things feel permanent, and my goal is to move on from this house, so the idea of it seemed like back-pedaling. Sensing my need for encouragement, Jeremy promised me that this was the very last summer garden here. I rolled my eyes and turned the soil, knowing his fingers were crossed the whole time. Tonight though, we ate our first garden tomatoes with brie and a baguette, put on Seals & Crofts, doused ourselves in bug spray, and watched the chickens peck at the still-green early summer lawn. Sure am glad he tricked me into planting.

But the real news, the truly mind-boggling news, is that the fence is done. The. Fence. Is. Done. Jer and his father get the credit for working like crazy the past several weekends to complete this ridiculous task. Considering that we first discussed the fence last fall and finally began clearing specifically to create it sometime in late winter makes the whole thing slighly anti-climactic. But the fact remains that it's there and done and pretty damn impressive. Aside from the obvious benefits of the fence (keeping donkey noses out of people food), we were shocked at the sense of order it's given the entire place.

The fence line is a differentiation between people space and animal space. And the small gate near the woods is lined up with the future front porch. I can almost, almost picture a front yard now that the gate is there which makes me giddy (Picture me: jumping up and down, clapping hands, shouting "yippee!" That kind of giddy.)

So there it is. Fence? Check! Lone Star? Check! Now what?

The next project(s) is beautifully captured here on my grainy iPhone camera.

Not only does each door pictured need to be refurbished (sanded, scraped, painted, planed to appropriate size) but the shed that houses them will have to be dismantled, moved about 40 miles, and re-mantled (?) somewhere at the land. My parents gladly donated the metal shed that's stood in their backyard since the beginning of time and that used to house sheep, goats, and chickens when I was small. For now it will keep old house parts dry but eventually we'll turn it back into an animal sanctuary. Both of these projects are daunting. Well, they seem ridiculous, frankly. But so did the idea of building that fence.

Happy early summer! Whereever you are, I hope you have a good view of fireflies and one free hand to slap mosquitoes off your leg.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

From the Mouths of Babes

Between the frantic dash to complete a 1000 foot fence in 1000 degree weather we managed to welcome a few tiny visitors to the land this weekend. Jeremy's nephews stopped by Saturday to marvel at the wonders of country life which, if you're 4 and 2 years old, include a tractor ride, 4 inch high cow patties, cow horns, rocks, and golf balls. Yes. Golf balls. These are scattered about the property along with a variety of other trash that continues to somehow emerge from the ground. If you're 4 years old and collecting rocks on a forest trail, finding a golf ball can seem pretty dang exciting. Enough to elicit a squeal and require that all adults present spend at least one minute examining the golf ball to confirm that it is pretty awesome. Aside from this event, the boys were just as excited as we expected they would be to feed donkeys, throw rocks, and make animal noises.

(Sidenote: Why is it that adults are always, withOUT fail, compelled to ask a child "What sound does an X make" when an X and a child are near each other? Why? I mean, I'm guilty of this too, except I tend to pose more challenging questions than your run-of-the-mill dog or cow sound. Like yesterday, I pointed at deer, spiders, and caterpillars and asked the boys "what sound do they make," because, seriously, I want to know! If you were wondering, they all apparently sound like donkeys. All of them.)

Well, to be more specific, the 4 year old was just as excited as we expected. The 2 year old was a bit frightened of the tractor and only wanted to feed the animals one individual grain at a time (causing a brief animal riot), and would rather hit a stick against the ground, thank you very much. He was totally non-plussed by the entire situation. It wasn't until we walked to the pond and turned our backs for one second that the relatively quiet 2 year old erupted with the loudest shout we had heard all day, in his raspy 2 year old voice....."ROLY POLYYYYYYYYYY!!!" We all turnd at once to find the child squatting over a pile of rocks and pointing excitedly, the hugest baby-toothed grin plastered to his face: "roly poly roly polyyyyy!!!" Atop the pile of rocks indeed wandered one lonely roly poly, an insect at home in both the country and city; something that he finally could identify. Here we were trying to impress our visitors with shmancy equipment and exotic animals when they were still able to find wonder in the tiniest things. It takes a kid to bring you down a notch that way.

Not that it's particularly interesting, but a fence related post(s) is forthcoming.

For now, it's Sunday. Sunday means I'm thinking about a week of work which really just means I'm counting down to another weekend and some serious land time. Sunday nights make me anxious, gloomy, and annoyed. The best remedy for this is, as usual, Boo. If you also suffer from the toxic Sunday blues, then this is for you, too: