Monday, July 30, 2012

Good Dog

Up until March of this year, I was a full-time member of the "I totally disagree with the idea of buying purebred dogs" club.  All my dogs prior to March were pound puppies, lost and founds, castaways - perfectly wonderful mutts.  During early college I even worked at the county animal shelter and volunteered at a low-cost spay and neuter clinic where we often engaged in heated discussions about the travesty of purebred dog breeding.  Why on earth, we would dramatically wonder, would someone ever buy a purebred dog when so many amazing animals are sitting in shelters at any given time?  And, while I do fundamentally and absolutely still wonder those thoughts at times, I have now begun to understand the strengths inherent in some breeds.  Why one might actually seek out an animal that is bred to be something specific.  Why one might pay cash money for an animal that was not from an accidental litter but is here because its characteristics serve an important, unique purpose. 

Funny what a farm can do.

Because of the goats - I bought two dogs.  This is something that the pre-goat Jenna would never, ever, never have considered. 

Funny what goats can do.

In the 5 months we've had them, the Great Pyrenees puppies have started to morph into something very different from anything I've ever witnessed in all my other dogs (and I've had a lot of dogs).  Without any training or instruction, they have naturally claimed the goats.  Or, maybe the goats have claimed them?  Regardless, they're rarely far from each other.  Bruce, in particular, has emerged as a genuine guardian.  He is constantly scanning horizons, looking through fencelines, cocking his head to listen for distant sounds.  If the goats cry, he runs to check on them.  If he hears anything out of sorts, he barks at it.  If he hears anything in sorts, he barks at it.  If he hears...anything.....he barks at it.  At first I was alarmed by all the barking.  Now I realize he's just a dog doing the job he was bred for; something he can't help doing and something he doesn't have to understand.  He just does what his instincts dictate. 

Choosing a guardian dog doesn't come with a guarantee that the animal will know what to do, but if you choose an animal whose parents work, there's a decent chance the puppy will, too.  I read lots of conflicting information about the proper way to raise a working dog.  For example, Bruce's own father was raised by a farmer who swears the only way to have a proper guardian is to never touch the dog.  In fact, he named the dog "Dog," says hi to it and walks on by.  That's just not a philosophy I can follow.  So the lines I draw are between outdoors and indoors - a place the pups have never been (except to the vet).  They've been raised with the goats since day 1 and even now they go into the goat pen at night - a ritual I have every intention of continuing.  Between the mud rolling, pond swimming, and goat pile sleeping, they appear to be the happiest dogs I've ever raised.  It's early days yet as a goat herder, but so far, I marvel at how well a dog bred true to its best characteristics can serve a fundamental purpose in a place.  I wonder if I'll ever again have "pet" dogs that live inside and sleep next to my bed where I trip on them at night or whether my future dogs will always be asked to work and be chosen based on the work their parents did, and so on.

Funny what a good dog can do.

The Bee Tree

"Just grab a hunk of honeycomb and pop it in your mouth," said Anthony, a grinning beekeeper with a long piece of oak in his hands, "Go on now!  It doesn't get fresher than that!"  When you find yourself knee deep in pond plants at the far corner of a wooded property and someone hands you honeycomb, well, you eat it.  So I peeled a chunk off the oak and chewed down on the wax, the golden little honey comb cells popped and oozed with the sweetest stuff I've ever tasted.  By now, Anthony was covered in honey and my two guardian puppies, smart enough to follow us into the woods for a treat, were licking both his hands, tails wagging wildly.  We were all in a honey stupor.  Let me back up.

More than a month ago, we walked the fence that outlines the forest behind our house.  Since those 5 acres are meant for the goats, we wanted to check fences and identify which spots require reinforcement.  It's been awhile since we took a walk like that, in fact, it had been months.  There was no telling about the state of things after several strong storms had come through, possibly downing trees already dying from the drought.  Sure enough, along the edge of a creek, one enormous post oak had fallen over a fence, knocking it clear down to the ground.  The tree would have to be chopped to pieces before any repair could start.  As we climbed around the tree inspecting the damage, a quiet hum got louder until we both looked at each other and said, over the buzz of bee song, "Bees!  In the tree!"  And sure enough, on closer inspection, thousands of bees filed into and out of a hole in the tree, busily marching in lines and then flying around our heads to see if we were trouble.  Obviously, the bees had to be relocated.  As much as we both want to keep bees eventually, starting with a wild hive seemed stupid, even for us.  After getting a quote to have it professionally removed (about $300), I turned to my trusty companion that solves all dilemmas, always: craigslist.  Within one hour of posting an ad that I had a free hive for relocation, I received about 6 calls and emails (and have gotten almost 20 inquiries since it's been posted, weeks ago).  People want bees, that much is clear. 

I ended up working with a novice beekeeper, Anthony, and his more experienced beekeeping friend, Bobby.  Both work on a ranch where they hoped to establish a large hive for honey cultivation, and they thought the docile bees swirling around the tree on my fence might be just the hive they were looking for.  Yesterday they arrived with bee suits, hive boxes, and all the other fancy doo-dads required to calm the bees so they could surgically remove the hive from the tree.  None of us knew what to expect once the tree was open but Anthony promised me one thing, in his thick southern drawl, "If there's honey in that tree, I'll get it out for ya."  There's something about hearing the word "honey" said repeatedly with a slow southern drawl that makes me feel delightfully sleepy, and as if I should fan myself on a porch, sipping a cocktail.  "Anthony, if you find honey in that tree, then I'd be glad to take it."

Oh boy.

Within an hour, Anthony came walking out of the woods slowly, drenched in sweat and without his bee suit.  Not only had they discovered one of the largest wild hives they'd seen, but the little bees were so docile, you could (as Anthony reported) "Pat their fuzzy lil' backs if you want to.  Come on over and see your bees."  Off we trooped through the trees and down into creekbeds, followed by puppies and holding onto cold beers we were drinking after a long afternoon of barn building.  Within minutes, Anthony served up warm honeycomb, the puppies alternately licking it off hands, off the tree, and then jumping into the small pond that sits above the creek in the woods.  In every sense, yesterday was a golden afternoon.  We opened a tree and found pools of honey.  5pm western sunlight dripped through bright green leaves, a neigbor's cow mood lazily somewhere in the distance, the remaining bees buzzzzed by our ears, and our hands were sticky with pure, rich, bee nectar.  Finding something this good in the backyard is a treasure; is at least as magical as a pot of gold at the end of rainbows.  Maybe that pot of gold is just an unexpected pot of honey.  Chewing wild honeycomb along the banks of our creek, underneath the wooded canopy - we felt just as rich. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Tonight, as my friend Erin drove away, I walked the goats and Pyrenees pups back into their pen. Locked them in for the night and left them to the evening ritual of hay sniffing, table jumping, and grass rolling. Heading back towards the house, the long shadows from a fingernail moon fell everywhere across my path. I finally looked up at the thing and caught the weight of the night pulsing down on me - a liquid velvet canvas draped against something so bright - the stars appeared as pin pricks - light from behind the velvet night shining through each little hole. Before she left we talked for just a minute about that feeling you get underneath a big sky on a dark night. The reality of those stars, their death so many millions of years ago, their light only just coming here now - trying to think about it makes your mind bend a little and give up. We spent the evening making a quick cheese together and eating the one I'd made last night on the front porch with good crackers and pungent wine. She heard the frogs sing in the pond down below the house and watched Willy Boots play king of the mountain (no one else cared) on top of an overturned trough.

Photo courtesy of the fabulous Erin Negron
We all live in our own little ecosystem, something I never considered before the move here. Whether it's a cat inside an apartment navigating a relationship with a cricket along the baseboards, or a 100 acre farm filled with cattle and coyote - it's where you live and what you know and the balance you keep is precious.  In light of some drama this week (and last) involving my dog and the goats, I’ve been thinking a lot about peace-keeping and ideal environments and all those things you should consider when asking unlike beasts to coexist.  Locking animals into the places they sleep and watching them return to rituals they created without instruction – it makes me think about all this stuff, too.  I won’t ever understand the rhythms we fall into but I know respecting them is sacred.  Like the little cheese curd that’s forming in a pot on my counter.  It’s working like crazy to knit together and turn into something completely different from how it began, but if I were to shake that pot or stir its contents, it would be ruined.  I’ll never know what makes everything fall into place and hum along with order and repetition.  But it does make perfect sense that milk turns to cheese each time, regardless of whether I keep the temperature perfect and measure the exact amounts of rennet and culture.  Respecting some basic, fundamental rules means it will, in the end, become something else. 

So it follows that keeping some basic things in order here will maintain balance and peace so the goats can be goats, the dogs can be dogs, the chickens can be chickens and together they’ll be our version of a scrappy little farm.   

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Trouble with Donkeys

Since the beginning, we've had donkeys.  In our poorly executed land-purchase stupor, we decided that donkeys were necessary to guard the three "miniature" Dexter cattle we would bring to the land.  At that time, we knew very little about most things but knew a few things for sure, namely: Dexter cows were smaller than your average Angus, and the area where they'd live was covered with coyote.  According to my academic Google research, donkeys were the most efficient pasture guardians.  They naturally despised canine and were fairly easy keepers.  It took only about an hour to locate a mama and baby pair out in Llano.  By the time I finally laid my eyes on the 2 month old version of Boo, forget about it, they were coming home with us with or without cows to guard.  Thing is, in all the years they've been here, they've never guarded a thing except whatever they happen to be eating at the moment.  A donkey will go to great and dramatic lengths to ensure that nothing ever comes between it and an easy meal.  Beyond that, however, they could absolutely care less about coyote.

So how is it, one might wonder, did our two useless donkeys multiply to six useless donkeys?  Like many before us, we fell victim to the allure of free miniature donkeys and justified them because we had plenty of space.  Chances were good that five donkeys together might combine as an unstoppable coyote combat brigade, right?  Also, we planned to someday breed the little mini donkeys and sell a few babies to help establish our ag exemption status on the property.  In reality, the three new donkeys cared even less about canine animals than the first two belligerent asses.  But they were cute, and around here, that counts for something.

After moving here, we finally decided to take the plunge and bring home a little mini stallion - or a jack donkey - as they are known.  Finally, our well-laid plans to breed the girls and sell a few mini donkeys would come to fruition.  I managed to locate an incredibly docile and particularly tiny little man, previously known as Elvis, who (around here) is called Pedro.  What ensued was - well.........nothing.

Turns out that Pedro, while the sweetest little dude we've ever had the pleasure of meeting, is 100% a-sexual.  He has no interest in anything but grass-eating and ear scratches.  Occasionally he enjoys chasing, kicking and biting Boo - which almost justifies his existence here.  Almost.

Just when I thought we had exhausted our creativity with Mission: Give Donkeys Purpose, I found a small group of them haltered and grazing near the garden where grass was growing tall and wild.  Jeremy spread bermuda seed up near the house in an effort to stop the soil erosion that occurs with each rain.  If the donkeys could be haltered and manageable around our dogs and goats, then they just might work as lawn mowers around the house.  So Jer experimentally haltered a few and brought them over with the small animals to observe how everyone acted together.

So far, the experiment's been a success.  We've now had all four mini donkeys out with the goats and dogs - off their halters without incident - and roaming freely to mow the front pasture.  The two wild cards, Chula and Boo, have yet to be turned out with our smaller animals.  In the end, we don't consider this "free" lawn care, nor would I ever recommend that one collect donkeys like hand-me-down clothing.  But it appears that, for now, they have finally found their special purpose on the farm - albeit incredibly minor and non-essential.

As a girl, I dreamed of having my own horses and a shiny little stable.  My reality is a passel of six stubby donkeys and a rusty old barn.  Close enough.

Why We Have No Eggs - Part 2

They're back.

Why We Have No Eggs - Part 1

Motion sensitive, infrared game cameras are quite enlightening.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yes. You can.

I've never been the toughest or strongest chick around, a fact that never bothered me much and one I never really thought would change.  I was just, you know, me - more analytical than athletic.  More tender than tough.  More weenie than winner - you get my point.  

Storm coming in over fields near Coyote Creek
Moving here's changed some of that, sort of.  I mean, let's face it, I'll never be the kind of cowgirl I've always envied; the type who knows exactly how to tack up a horse with a Western saddle, can call the cows in with a two-fingered whistle, and back up a livestock trailer one-handed.  I will always always cry a little at the sight of a rattlesnake and "culling" my own irreversibly ill animals - forget about it.  You've got to know your limits.  
Pretty old Lady
 There are so many components to this life I never anticipated.  If you're not from the country, and if you've only admired it from behind a car windshield, some realities are worth understanding.  Unless you're independently wealthy (congratulations!!), country living demands a lot of manual labor.  Growing up in a rather manual labor-free environment, this realization was a shock to my sensibilities.  Turns out: trees don't dismantle and clear themselves.  Water buckets don't stay full in perpetuity.  Escaped animals rarely return without first being chased (and found) in jungle/thickets.  Cars stuck in mud don't extricate themselves.  While Jeremy always bears the brunt of these burdens, I've helped too.  The loss of my back this spring was proof of two things: 1) Obviously, I hadn't done much of this type of constant work before, and; 2) I DID, I really, really did help. 
What remains of a town square
Today I met Kimberly out at Coyote Creek Farm again for more organic livestock feed.  This time I tripled the amount of feed previously purchased.  The goats are weaned now (this involved a level of goat screaming and drama that was really worth filming), and their grain intake has increased.  Remembering to grab my camera, I snapped a few shots of the places mentioned yesterday and a few more places that I often pass on my errands around these parts.  They're all pieces of this life that motivate me to give the whole tough-as-nails-cow-girl thing a good, solid effort.  Just because I started out a little puny doesn't mean I have to stick with that identity forever. 
Road home

View towards Austin 
There's something about bouncing down potholed country roads carrying a load of feed and hay that gives a girl confidence.  Plus, the view's a lot better from behind the wheel of a beat up pick-up truck.  By the time I got home, the storm that had been threatening off to the east started to grumble overhead.  The 450lbs of feed and hay just purchased would sit out in the rain unless I took some action.  It was obvious I'd have to move them all, something Jer would normally do for me after returning from work.  So, I backed Buster up to the barn and chucked the contents of his bed inside, arranging them all along one side like a proper feed room. 

6 months ago, it's unlikely I could/would have chucked 450lbs of anything from the bed of a truck through an open door.  There's a damn fine view from the inside of the barn now.  Pretty enough to make me want to kiss my arm muscles, put my hands on my hips, and try to call the animals in with a two-fingered whistle.  Turns out I still stink at the whistling thing, but I'm pretty sure there's a legitimate cowgirl/farmer in here who's finally making her way out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Town

My friend Cindy found the real estate listing for this land.  We'd only been searching under the farm and ranch category but she looked up "lots" and this place popped up like a little shining beacon of light.  The price was (almost) right and it was tantalizingly close to Austin.  I remember poring over the listing 10 times.  I had the thing memorized in 20 minutes.  So much about it seemed right except for one very important detail - the town it's affiliated with.  In fact, I remember literally hearing alarm bells in my head the second I read the name of the little town.  It was enough that I closed the listing on my browser.  Shut my laptop.  Walked away from it for awhile.  That's how strongly I disliked the town.  Keep in mind, I had never actually been into the place prior to viewing the land.  Instead, I'd driven on its outskirts and I'd heard enough rumors and seen enough negative reactions to its name that I wanted nothing to do with the place.  In retrospect, my reaction wasn't very open-minded or benefit-of-the-doubt-y.  I snap judged it with the best of them.

However, since we've spent more time here and especially since we've moved in, my perception of this area has changed dramatically.  It would be a gross exaggeration to state that the town we're close to is charming.  That's a stretch.  It would also be hyperbole to go so far as saying it's a nice place to hang out.  It's not.  What our town does have though, is promise and history.  Lots of both.  Today I took the old farm truck out for a spin into town to pick up a post office delivery and return something to a Red Box movie receptacle (by God, we DO have a Red Box here!).  It occurred to me today that this was the first time I'd "run errands" in this place.  Normally, I'm only in town to drive through to a highway or grab a Route 44 lime iced tea from Sonic. 

Since I started reading the book, Evolution of a State  by Noah Smithwyck, I realize exactly what this spot used to be.  More than 100 years ago, the hills and prairie just east of Austin were the blooming center of the Texas economy (outside of Galveston, of course).  Bastrop's ample supply of timber and its location on the Colorado made it a prime spot for trade and business.  All the land between that town and Austin were owned, farmed, and managed by just a few powerful families like the Hornsby's and Gilleland's.  Their legacy is everywhere in the names of creeks and roads here.  But what they molded from the earth has been all but lost to poverty and a departure from small farming after the irreversible impact of the 1950's droughts.  One full block of my town maintains some of the original structures and a few blocks off the northern end of the "square" sits one of the most beautiful Victorian painted ladies I've ever seen.  She is a three-story monster of brick and stained glass, each level wrapped in porches.  Although she sags at the edges these days, it's obvious she looked over a bustling little town and acres of farmland from her perch on a hill.  Right about now you'd probably expect some photos of this, right?  A picture of that house and maybe the little stretch of old buildings (where one of my favorite Mexican restaurants lives).  The problem is that it didn't really occur to me until I was crossing the old railroad tracks in town that I finally photograph these places.  With only my iPhone, I just kept driving.  Plus, there's a teeny part of me that's sure others will see the pictures and do what everyone does: wrinkle their nose and question my sanity. 

I think you have to live here to see that there's shiny copper underneath this grimy penny of a place.  On the outskirts, proper businesses are taking root.  Austin's coming out this way, too and with that will be grocery stores and Targets.  All of those amenities will be a welcome change but means more people and development.  Tomorrow I'm taking my camera back down by the tracks where the old buildings still huddle together and house greasy spoon restaurants and empty warehouses.  I want to capture this place on the cusp of whatever's coming next.  It's a fleeting stage; a tiny town in between its past and its future.  I think my town has been stuck somewhere in the middle long enough to develop a reputation is doesn't really deserve.  Sometimes, you have to know the history of a place to believe it can be something again.  Picking up my box at the post office, I was greeted, for the first time ever, by an overwhelmingly charming postal worker.  She asked my name and introduced herself.  If this is the kind of place where the mailmen know my name, and I bump into neighbors at the fried fish joint, then I welcome all the dirt around its edges.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's Official

Just as we suspected, Simon has become a permanent fixture on the porch.  He has given up the free-wheeling life of a feral forest cat. 


Like most weekends, we spent some time with friends last night. Probably, it doesn't bear noting. There's nothing too special about getting together at a restaurant or lounging around someone's living room. But lately, "hanging out" has become a bigger deal for me. We've made a real effort to insert social time into each weekend, but increasingly, it does take effort - not because I don't want to see other people in the world who exist outside the boundaries of these 15 acres - but because it's getting harder to pull myself away. Actually, it's getting harder to find people outside of this property interested enough in what goes on here to talk about it. In essence, I fit in less and less with everyone else.  I expect it will just get worse until I'm only able to converse about the basics, like the weather, and eventually only in some form of rudimentary sign language. Not many folks can relate to this life beyond polite conversation, and why would they? Who runs off to the forest where the ground turns into swampy marshland with the slightest rain, where scorpions fall off the wall onto kitchen counters, and goats sleep on trash cans on the porch? Who chooses to live without the convenience of trash pickup or driveways or clean floors? This guy.

This week has truly tested our fundamental passion for the property.  Regardless of how cozy and livable we make the inside, any wet weather smacks us back into reality - we're still sitting in the middle of a spot not meant for human occupants.  I've gone to bed each night with feet covered in mud up to the ankles, wake up and step onto a pile of dirt that crumbled off my dogs and has fallen in trails throughout the house.  The moment I walk outside one of our animals comes bounding towards us, happily caked in fresh mud, flinging their bodies against me - "Feed me!  I love you!"  It's not precious.  Friday afternoon I arrived home to the third torrential downpour of the week and the ground, already saturated beyond anything I've witnessed previously, completely gave up.  Turned into a 3 acre river right there in front of the house and across the driveway, taking out huge chunks of it on its happy way downhill.  The 5 dogs left out on the porch came galloping up to my car which I parked at the gate, unable to drive anywhere near the house.  Leaving my computer, purse, and files in the car (and wearing office clothes), I sprinted down the drive to the goat pen, and set them free.  All four goats stood huddled, wet and shivering, against the outside of their shelter.  By the time the dogs and goats and I had made it onto the porch, I was completely soaked.  Mud was caked up to my knees.  Paw and hoof prints were strategically smattered across my bottom, my front, on my arms.  I ran inside grabbing clean towels and started the 30 minute process of toweling 7 animals.  Went inside, sat on my bedroom floor in wet clothes, started to cry.  It wasn't tears of sadness, obviously, but lots of frustration mixed with a strange sense of happiness.  As someone who has lived a life committed entirely to maintaining total control - this world represents the ultimate immersion therapy.  I have to give up and give in.  For a farm, it's a sacrifice I willingly make.

Over dinner last night people discussed movies and work stories.  The place was so packed I could hardly hear anyone.  My throat was sore from shouting.  It's good to go out, but it's getting tougher to beat my own front porch.  And there's less for me to talk about that others understand.  Aside from giving a general goat-progress update, no one cares about my plans for a dairy cow or the big decision to create a goat pasture out of the 5 wooded acres behind the house.  Or the trouble with training teenage chickens.  Or the fear of the mountain lion we know is living somewhere near our property.  No one has asked (why would they) about my experiment making kefir from Fran's cultures and raw milk.  And the magical discovery of her dairy just down the road?  Not interested.  These things that increasingly overtake all my other interests - they're just mine.  I accept that.  Now I have to find a way to go out in the world without appearing like an alien in a foreign land.  Merging these worlds won't get easier, I suspect, and it's no burden, just an observation about the distinct differences between all of us.  Regardless, it's comforting to know there's a whole group of us out there, even if we're not getting together for coffee and wine on weekends.  Why would we - you're just like me and would rather sit on your own front porch to watch an evening storm roll in.

Kimberly of Star Creek Country recently created a list of all the best things she sees in her barnyard and backyard.  It includes the sort of observations I make daily and could never share over dinner in downtown Austin.  Just knowing someone else notices the way baby chicks steal bugs from each other - well - it's the sort of reminder I appreciate this morning.  There's a network of us out here, aliens in the midst of conventional 2012 living, more comfortable in a creek bed than a bar. 
It's so nice to meet you.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

After the Deluge

Rain.  So much rain.  Creeks turned into rivers.  Dirt turned to slime.  It was glorious.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Long View

Last night a storm blew in all of a sudden the way they always do in summer time.  From the goat pen I watched a storm head gather and double itself 50 times above us.  When a big cold wind blew in, the clouds moved along faster.  I never noticed these things before, or I did, but I didn’t stop and take note.  There’s a difference.   Right now we’re sitting on the front porch that faces onto the big pasture.  The thunder is rolling in again from the north east.  If I step out to the front yard I’ll be able to diagnose exactly where it’s headed, how wide it spreads.  In the city I could only see what was just above.  So I didn’t look up much.  I missed a lot.

A huge aspect of the entire house design was always the porch.  At one point during the 100 house iterations, our porch was scrapped.  In fact I’m sure I hung onto that version of the house plan in one of my dingy, worn out house notebooks where so many scribbled versions of this place are stashed, just because.  It was a moment of desperation to erase porches after one of the 15 bids came back with an astronomical amount of zeros at the end.  Doing this again, I’d make the house smaller, porches bigger.  Add more windows.  I’d extend the roof awnings out beyond the point of utility just so there’d be more tin to catch the rain.  Sitting under a tin roof during a thunderstorm is alarming, exhilarating, and relaxing all at once.  It invokes the kind of emotions that, if bottled, could probably cure most of what ails us – anxiety, discontent. 

Things moved fast since we packed up the last of it from Austin, accumulated farm animals and started living in this new place.  So fast, in fact, that I already think I’ve forgotten everything that went into getting here – although the forgetting has been like licking wounds.  Necessary to heal.   Recently, folks have reached out to ask questions about our process as they begin their own journey into the country.  What would you do differently?  How did you decide on the roof pitch?  Why did you settle on this vs. that?  I love the questions and am glad for the way it’s forced me to turn it all over again in my hands a few times.  There is a lot we would do differently.  And we wouldn’t do it again – not this way.  I love the house – the light and space and the big views of sky that come in from the high windows.  

But all of that matters so little compared to what’s outside the door we spent so many hours scrutinizing and considering.  In the end, who cares if they are painted French blue, full lite, solid wood, or are 36”?

For the longest time I contemplated finding an old, small house to move out here, plop down in the woods and just build acres of porches around.  Even now, in this house I do love, I am wistful for that old creaky, leaky place. 
What would I do differently?  I’d think long and hard about precisely what matters most, and I would have focused on just those things: front porches, baby goats running in the forest, a garden with a view of the hills, a clean kitchen and warm bed.  For those of you considering the big step of land and house and are starting with a blank, rugged slate - give yourself this much – at least: an honest shoulder shaking.  Why are you really going out to the country?  What do you think will matter most once you’re there?  You can never know for sure what will draw you in once you’re there – but you can try.  

Last week when Jer was out of town for the 4th of July, I hunkered down at the farm by myself, unsure of the extent of country fireworks or how my group of animals would respond to them.  Before the sun set, the distinct sounds of pop! and whizzz! surrounded us on all sides, but I couldn’t see a thing in the sky.  It wasn’t until the huge butter colored moon wobbled up into view above the tree line that so many little explosions in the sky appeared beside it.  The beauty of it caught me off guard, and I sank down into a chair on the porch.  The lights from the fireworks and the moon reflected off the windows behind me and in the eyes of four little goats who stood mesmerized, staring at the sky above, chewing their cud quietly.  If we hadn’t positioned the house just so, or placed a porch across the front in just this way, I might never have been audience to precisely this view.  No architect, no matter how well-trained, can plan this for you. 

In asking for advice about building a house in the country, someone questioned my “regrets.”  I don’t have many – only that we should have traded this inside space for bigger porches and more land.  But the perspective from here backwards is always better informed, and that sort of thinking is useless.  The first step is really just figuring out where you want to be and then work like crazy to get there.  For me, getting there could have meant a creaky, leaky shelter with an expanse of tin-covered porches and a long view of the big sky.    

Monday, July 9, 2012

Brace Yourself

This is really disgusting.  But also fairly adorable.  It's a confusing mix of emotions.  Recently, we've started taking all of the animals (literally) for walks around the entire property.  This means that everyone spends some good, quality time with the pond - otherwise known as the Algae Research Facility.  Due to the mix of heat and rain, the entire thing has turned into an enormous science experiment.  I'm sure you're waiting with bated breath to learn what happens when scum, turtles, fetid water and humidity combine.  Hopefully the pictures say enough that I don't have to.