Monday, November 19, 2012

Seeing in the Dark

I guess I've gotten in the habit of writing here the night before.  Over the course of four years, before has meant many things.  It's meant bringing livestock home for the first time (that we stared at bewildered by our luck or stupidity for a full 2 hours after they jumped from the trailer), or before meant breaking ground on the house (a process that we stared at bewildered by our luck or stupidity for two full hours as the bulldozers plucked trees from the ground), or before meant gathering wobbly baby goats in our arms and placing them in the back of the car (I looked at them and they blinked back at me, bewildered by our luck or stupidity for loading brand new babies in a car and driving them down the highway).  Tonight marks another before moment for us.  Whether it amounts to being big or small, something that rearranges our lives or something that is just a blip on our timeline: there's no telling.  With all things, and especially in the choices we make, there is never any telling.

Tomorrow Madaline and her calf Rodeo Queen come home to Bee Tree.

Madaline is the particularly small Dexter cow that I met over two years ago when I first attended Kimberly's milking class.  After weeks of battling Jer's damaged back and other inconveniences that obstruct land work when the two landowners have full time jobs and an unfinished house: the milking area and cow shelter are nearly done.  They're done enough that tomorrow afternoon we can finally load the little cow and her calf into Dwayne's trailer and bring them here.  It's true that we're not new to cows, but our other little Dexter herd was nothing more than glorified pasture ornaments until they alternately became food and were sold to more appropriate owners.  Madaline, for me, is an old fashioned dairy cow.  She will be a part of this family.  Her contributions and presence here are an important part of what we will eat and drink - how we subsist.  I've got high hopes for little Rodeo Queen, as well.  This is either the beginning of something, or not worth mentioning.  I have a feeling it's the former.

Tonight I'm giddy as we prepare for tomorrow; driving over to Dwayne's to hook his trailer to our truck in the total darkness.  His horses hang over the paddock fence snorting and pawing at the ground, hoping for carrots - receiving the entertainment of two idiots lining up a trailer, instead.  At our place, Jer gets home from work in the already inky night.  With a headlamp and dull tractor headlights he goes through the motions of unattaching tractor implements and hooking on the hay spear.  The goats peer through the fence and bleat weakly.  The puppies stand like soldiers watching Their People so close but too far to reach over and pat a head.  I'm holding a dark Mexican beer as I walk in front of the tractor to open and close gates.  Lock and unlock padlocks.  Use the unsharpened army knife to tear away the plastic binding around the round bale.  We set out a new bundle of hay tonight for the arrivals tomorrow.  Up on a hill I can make out the sketch of 6 rotund donkeys who've just wandered up from wherever they were mulling.  The minute we rip the binding off hay it releases a pungent smell of dried grass, the last wisp of green scent captured somewhere from when it was cut in June - like insects in old amber - a waft of summer floats off the bale.  The donkeys catch it in the air and go screaming with excitement, come trotting down the hill.

We all stand in this scene, completing the ritual of setting out new hay in the feeble light of late dusk.  There was a time I never could have seen so clearly in this sort of darkness.  I never could have picked out the name of animals with only my hands or measured the distance of a mesquite limb from my exposed arm in such little light.  I don't claim that we've gone feral living out here in the harsh contrast between night and day, woods and prairie, city and country.  But I've gotten much, much better at seeing in the dark.  It's an acute evolution, those most primal survival skills kicking in when necessity demands them.  Because we can't, naturally, see in the dark.  Just like we can't, naturally, know how our decisions today will mold everything else - starting tomorrow.

In my 8th grade science class, we dissected sheep eyes.  At the back of each we found the most beautiful iridescent pebbles - I can't think of a better way to describe them.  They were hard as stone, smooth and oblong.  They were the color of peacock feathers, and I was mesmerized by their jewel toned beauty.  These were the tapetum lucidum - the reflective element to help mostly nocturnal animals see in the dark.  This hardened stone that grows at the back of the eye so creatures don't have to go around with their beastly legs (paws or hooves) groping out in front of them like us humans - fools that we are - relying on artificial light.  I shoved the stone in my pocket, perhaps a gruesome theft, but it looked like a precious gem.  And it possessed magical powers.

I will never be able to walk outside in the middle of a dark night and see exactly what's leering back at me.  I used to be afraid of it - all the windows here that illuminated me to whatever was glaring in from the trees.  I used to fear moonless skies.  It's eery to be covered in a black sky pin-pricked by starlight.  I used to require absolutely solid ground lightened by flashlight.  But here we are again, and who knows what we've signed up for or what it will turn into.  We've gotten great at opening doors straight out into the dark night, squinting until they adjust, sticking our hands out ahead of us and just feeling our way through it.  With a little optimism and hope we've learned to feel our way without reflective eye stones, or future-tellers, or absolute certainty.  Of anything.  And it's a deeply appropriate way to celebrate this Thanksgiving.  I'm so grateful for the night vision we've developed and the blind faith it's afforded us both.

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