Monday, March 24, 2014

Adjusting to the Drought

A couple of weeks ago as we were sitting on the porch I remarked to Rick that I was tired of dragging the garden hoses around to water the plants in the yard. I had just finished several hours of doing that. We water the yard plants almost exclusively from the cistern where we collect rain water. One hose won't reach so I have two attached. They're heavy and when it's dry, like it seems always to be, I just leave them in the yard instead of putting them back up. It takes so long to water this way that I sometimes take two days to do it. Of course, being a bit OCD, I don't like the hoses all over the yard!

In December we had 6 tenths of an inch of rain total. Since then we have had only half a tenth and yesterday we had another half a tenth. This is all the rain in the last 4 months. I told Rick that day that if we were going to turn into a desert, we might as well look like one. I wanted to move most of the plants we have planted in the yard up near the cabin and use decomposed granite gravel as a mulch for them. I would leave the Thompson's yucca, the Spanish Dagger, and some rosemary plants that are too big to move. These can all go longer than the other plants without water and I don't think they would survive a move anyway. Every thing else would be in one area where I could water it with one hose and also get more pressure from the cistern. 

An added bonus to the gravel is that it makes it harder for a rattlesnake to sneak up on me! 

So I got the pick and shovel out and dug some holes. I ordered a dump truck load of the same gravel we used for the outdoor kitchen area and the walkway to the bunkhouse. I moved the plants, mixing some leaf mulch in with the dirt. I removed most of the rocks that surrounded my planting beds, leaving only a few for accents. 

I moved the 12 yard truck load of gravel with a shovel and wheelbarrow. Rick was here one day and helped that afternoon, but most of it I moved myself. My generous friend and neighbor Scott offered to come down with his tractor, but I hate to impose my never-ending projects on anyone else! I am going to ask him to come down one day and move a really big rock that he moved once before for us. I want to put it on a place to the right of the front steps where I have gravel but no plants. The hose won't easily reach there and I'm sticking with my watering plan.

I had enough of the gravel to cover the area in front of the bunkhouse and to make a walkway on the side of it. I was even able to put a little up under the bunkhouse porch! I also surrounded the yuccas and rosemary plants in the middle of the driveway with the gravel. By the cabin where the plants are I put cardboard under the gravel and it's several inches deep so I shouldn't have a problem with weeds. Under the cardboard I have leaf mulch, hoping this and the cardboard will improve and cool the soil.

The small birds love this little star cut into this stone. I fill it with water when I water the plants and they come take a bath in it, though they barely fit! Every thing loves a bath, especially out here in dry country. I scooped up some native horsemint that was coming up by the steps and put it in the bucket. It's a beautiful wildflower and I hope it grows.

The weather forecast for the upcoming year shows the drought across the western US only continuing. We are off to a bad start here. I'm trying to resign myself to living with that. As we say all the time, "it is what it is." Some day, but not in my lifetime, our country may wake up to the fact that we need more water in the west and less in the east, and devise a method to move it. If we want to continue to grow our own food, both plant and animal, we need to do something. No matter what you think the cause of climate change is, we need to address it and see if we can improve things. 

Over time, nature makes her own adjustments. It may be that all the trees out here, both cedar and oak, need to be killed by drought in order to make the land fit the resources. A hundred years ago that was the case, with trees mostly along the draws, creeks, and rivers. It's not likely that all the landowners will be able to manage land to fit the water. People don't always have the time or money needed, and often not the knowledge. We may one day look like the high desert country around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, without the nearby mountains to provide some relief. 

But for now, I'm just trying to make it easier on myself and at the same time be able to have some flowering plants. If the ones I have now don't flourish I'll have to go to cacti. We made a trip to the nursery this weekend and replaced a couple that didn't look like they had much hope of surviving but the salvias seemed to make the move without a problem. I can't wait to see how it all looks once the weather really warms up and they start growing. I'll post some photos then.

I love how it turned out! And even though the rainfall has been a disappointment this Spring, the birds have not been. We've had so many cardinals, finches, cedar waxwings, titmouses, rufus sparrows, flycatchers, wrens, and a beautiful vermilion flycatcher. The birdhouses have birds going in and out feeding the babies. The turkeys are back and the gobblers are showing off. A few peach blooms have survived, the potatoes are up, and the poppies and larkspurs are growing. 

"We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to." Climate Silence

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Downsizing - Less is not more, it's less!

I decided this weekend to clean out everything I could in the apartment we still have, even though we need to keep it a while longer. The countdown has begun and I was in the mood to get 'er dun!

We've been downsizing since the end of 2007 when we got transferred to the San Antonio area. We gave away a lot of stuff but when we arrived at the apartment we were renting then, we still had way too much! We were tired and discouraged that night; even the movers felt like crying. The house we sold was around 1800 sq feet; not small but not huge. We thought getting rid of what we did would be enough. We could hardly walk in the apartment and even gave a few things to the movers!

A year later when we moved into a house we once again gave furniture away. Some of what we had was not the style we now liked so we gave things away and replaced some of them. The house was a little over 1700 sq feet. It had a good arrangement and seemed spacious.

Less than a year after that move we got transferred again! This was a hard move. Still we were able to take most of what we had at the time. Retirement was close and after the last move, so quickly after we had bought a house, we decided to go the apartment route until we could move to the cabin full time. 

A friend of mine told me one time that three moves is as good as a fire for getting rid of possessions! I know people that have never moved and they still have things from their kids' childhood in the closet and the kids have been gone for years. We aren't those people. We purged with every move. 

The last move was to a smaller apartment. We wanted to get as lean and clean as we could for the last time spent away from the cabin. At this point it was starting to get a bit painful for me, and I'm not one to hang onto a bunch of clutter. But now we were jettisoning things I liked and things that had sentimental value to me. That's when you have to keep your eye on the prize and remember what you are gaining, not what you are losing!

I came back from this trip with 8 boxes of dishes and most of them I have some kind of attachment to. I had held onto part of two sets of dishes I had acquired over the years. My Mamaw had helped me buy some of each set. She loved dishes and I do too! She had a certain dish she used for different things. The ambrosia dish never held anything but ambrosia, the tuna fish salad was always in the tuna fish salad bowl. I have both of those bowls now and they survived the final cut. They are all the more precious because I didn't keep everything. As I told a friend of mine, you don't have to keep all 30 of the vases your mother left you, keep one or two.

I stayed up until 1:30 last night adding some dishes and taking some of the ones I had in the cabin out. One in, one out is the only way you can live in a small house. Out of the 8 boxes, I have 6 boxes of dishes that I am going to donate and I'm giving myself a pat on the back for that! If I didn't love pottery and bowls in particular, I could live with less than I kept. But we have room for what I kept so I didn't have to downsize any further.

Books, dishes, and pictures (both photos and artwork) are the three material things I love the most. The cabin has 464 sq feet and the bunkhouse has 160. With that total we were able to keep a lot of what we really love, helped out by e-books and photo albums instead of framed photos. I had to go back to the bunkhouse and lose one photo and move a mirror so my Willie Nelson concert poster would have a place. Sarah has agreed to give my signed Kinky Friedman for Governor poster a loving home. When I had an office at home it was decorated with Texas music stuff; these posters, a Stevie Ray Vaughan painting a friend did for me, and record albums, one signed by Willie at this concert. I fretted very much over my Texas music stuff! The albums are on the bookcase and I'm going to put the painting somewhere in the bunkhouse.

The Good Morning, Good Night pillow covers I made and embroidered in the German turkey red style, but with blue thread, will have a home here but I had to take out some other pillows to make them fit. I embroidered them on my breaks when I was a substitute at the school district where Sarah went from 5th to 12th grade, so they have memories woven into them.  

None of the furniture in the apartment is coming this way so this is pretty much the end of the downsizing for us! If you are considering a move to a small house and are hesitant because you don't think you can live without your stuff, don't let that stop you! The rewards of living with less outweigh the negatives. Try to find homes for the things you love but can't take; it helps to know someone else can use them and enjoy them. Make some money on them if you can, if not, donate! We gave away most things but we sold the furniture we had bought for the last house. That money paid for the move to the smaller apartment. And it helps to downsize in stages. We never would have gotten down as clean as we are without doing it over time. 

And it helps to occasionally watch George Carlin do his "stuff" routine! 

"The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less." Socrates

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Before the Next Teardrop Falls

Some songs can take you right back to a place and a moment, just as surely as if you had entered a time machine. The world as it is falls away and in its place is a memory come to life. It can stop you in your tracks, and you hold on to it as tight as you can. Like a dream you don't want to wake from. It's your only way to call that loved one back from the grave and you play the memory over and over again until you have to let it go.

The song is Freddy Fender's Before the Next Teardrop Falls. Even though it was recorded 4 years later, I long ago attached this 1970 memory to it, I guess because of his background. A South Texas boy from a poor neighborhood, alcohol addiction, service in the Marines, a working man, a mechanic, many things that make him "my kind of people". And a voice that can make you cry no matter what he's singing.

The song came on as I returned from town today but for me it's Summer, 1970, in Brownsville, Texas.

It's the end of the day, the quiet twilight time, when what's going to be done that day has been done and now all we have is either regret or hope. The cicadas are slowly beginning their music. The little motel is made up of tiny sagging cabins, clustered together around a shady grassy area that hasn't seen a lawnmower in a while. The paint is peeling outside and in, the crowded furniture worn and well used. It's not very bright inside, even with the lights on. Each cabin has a small kitchenette, old pots and pans with uneven bottoms, a sink stained and chipped, the faucet leaking. Cigarette smoke hangs in the air, and there's a moldy stuffy smell. A smell of people that worked and didn't bath, of old beer and old dreams.

There's no swimming pool, no coffee bar with continental breakfast, no gym where guests can workout while they travel. There's no parking lot, just the street off Central Blvd. There are tall skinny palm trees stretching toward the sky, the first ones we've ever seen like that. They sway in the constant breeze and Daddy jokes that they don't give much shade. There's a resaca nearby and the breeze carries the smell of the water and the flowers that grow along its banks. Resaca is a new word for us, this local name for the old channels of the Rio Grande, cut off and no longer flowing to the Gulf. 
My dad was sitting on the steps of one of the units as the darkness settled around him. His worn and dirty cowboy hat was pushed back on his head. His jeans were dirty as were his hands. When you work with your hands for a living they never appear to be clean no matter how many times you wash them, how much GoJo you use. He was a handsome man with a youthful outlook, even at 45. He almost always had an open face; he loved people and he never met a stranger. Most of the time he was singing, little snippets of song that he started and didn't finish. Tonight he wasn't singing.

I had made some spaghetti and came to tell him supper was ready. As I came around the corner I caught him at one of those moments we all have where we think no one is watching us. When we let our face reveal things we don't want anyone else to know. He leaned a little forward with his forearms resting on his knees. One hand held a cookie or cracker that he was eating without noticing. He was staring off into the open area at the ground but he wasn't seeing it.

When he did see me, his face changed and he smiled and said, hey, sweetheart, as he always did. But I knew something was wrong and I knew what it was.

Though most of my family would be there off and on during this Summer, only my dad is there now. I'm with him, as are my boys, so young then; Larry was 2 and 9 month old John took his first steps that Summer. I didn't realize it then, but I was young too. The next to oldest in my family of seven kids, I had left home when I was 17 years old. I turned 21 that Summer.  My family was working as contractors on the building of the Fort Brown Motor Hotel.

My dad had a monkey on his back and that monkey was alcohol. He fought this demon all his life like a survivor in a zombie movie, going 15 years sober at first; then he made 3 trips to the VA for it after I was a teenager. Each trip held it in bay for less than a year. Mama fought it with him and if she could have fought it for him, she would have. He had been sober for almost a year and we had begun to suspect he had started drinking again. But we didn't dare confront him. That would make it real and so far this episode hadn't sent our family into the downward spiral that we knew would come soon enough. Denial was one of the tools in our arsenal of battle and we used it because we had to. 

I used it then. As the night crept in and the sunlight left us once again, I sat down beside Daddy on the steps and leaned my head on his shoulder. We shared a story about the day, something inconsequential that I don't recall. We stayed that way for a while longer, hesitant to break the spell of that South Texas moment, both of us knowing somehow that as long as we stayed there on those steps, we could keep the hard times away. 

Though this sounds like a sad story, it's a happy memory for me. Daddy eventually sent his demons to hell and shut the door on them and I stood up to some of mine too. That Summer I acquired a love of South Texas and the people that live there that has never left me. And today I've returned to those steps with my dad and stayed a little longer. The teardrops fell but I had already turned to the back of the book and I knew it had a happy ending.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Borderline

The bank was much higher on this side of the river. Night was coming on and a few bats were taking flight. Behind us a murmur of music and laughter came from the bar. Cold beer and the pool table drew people from both sides of the river.

Just upriver a man waited in a little boat, ready to ferry anyone who had the modest fare across. The river wasn't very wide here and not all of the bank was high like the cliff where we stood. You could just make out the few houses on the other side below in the darkening twilight. The streets there were dirt and there didn't seem to be a way to get there from the countryside behind the village. As if the only tether to the outside world for them was this side of the river.

Looking out across the river here, it was easy to imagine it was 150 years earlier and Woodrow Call was standing there beside us, keeping watch for Pedro Flores. The village on the Mexican side, nestled up against the mountains there, looked as if it was unchanged since then. 

Off to one side of us a little line of buildings designed to look like old Western storefronts sold clothing and recreational items, things you would need if you were heading down the river or camping out in the dry countryside. 

On the other side were the small units that made up the little hotel there. We were staying in one of the rooms and had walked over to the riverbank. Plants we weren't familiar with then, like the native candelaria and ocotillo, grew next to the buildings. 

It was 1993 and we had come to visit Big Bend National Park and the area. It's an amazing, with a capital "A", place as everyone that comes will surely agree. 

But when I think back on the trip, this is the moment that slips into my mind. Standing there on the bank, looking across the river in the low light. Only that and the bar exists in my memory, that and the old man with the rowboat. A feeling comes over me, like some memories have the power to evoke, a hot dry breeze blows over my skin; the ghost of a cowboy cradles his rifle as he settles in to watch for the night. The desert smells surround me, the night sounds slowly begin. The call of the poor-will, the rustle of the bat wings, evening sounds from the houses across the river.

I'm hesitant to leave, to break the spell.

I haven't been back there since then. I understand there is a big resort and a very green golf course there now, looking as out of place as anything can. I don't know if the rowboat still operates with all the changes about border crossings.

In my mind it all remains unchanged, aided by the fact I haven't returned. A link to the days of the Old West, a time when the circle people there lived in was small although the countryside was big, before spas and golf courses moved into the Chihuahuan desert. 

I wonder if the cowboy's ghost is still there or has he felt the changes and moved further down the riverbank. Does anyone come to stand beside him, to keep watch with him, to look across the river and remember old times, old friends, old adversaries. To remember him. 

I hope so. I know I'll be thinking of him if I go there again, standing still in the twilight, waiting for the night sounds to begin. And to wonder, just a little bit, if one day someone will feel my presence in a breeze that blows softly, in a place I once loved.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Single Lady

I first saw her a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. She was limping along to the small water trough in the yard. I always put some birdseed out on the ground there. She stood on one leg, holding her injured right leg in the air. After having her fill of the milo, millet, and sunflower seed mixture, she hopped up on the edge of the tank for a drink. Perched there alone, without a flock to stand watch, she alternately drank and looked around for any sign of danger. 

I didn't expect her to survive long. Last year we found the remains of a turkey that died a violent death at the hands of a bobcat. The scene of destruction told the story, wings ripped off and bones scattered. 

When we were kids we had a little parakeet that was crippled. We had caught him in the backyard, an escapee from somewhere, on the run. We unimaginatively named him "Crip". He could open his cage and he would fly around the room and land on our heads and shoulders. One day he made his getaway out the door and we never found him. He was a bird with a lot of self-confidence. We thought we had saved him but apparently we were holding him back from his life's adventure. 

This morning, as it has been every day for awhile, I'm surrounded by a flock of about 30 hens. They move from turkey feeder to deer feeder to water trough, hitting all the birdseed spots on their walk. They're a family of mothers and daughters, sisters and aunts. They don't tolerate the male species in their group. This is ok with the gobblers; they have their own agenda with the hens and it's not the right time of year for that. 

Yesterday the injured turkey hen was back at the water trough. She kept her own watchful lookout as she ate and drank, then she left. She can't keep up with the flock so she travels on her own. I wonder does she join them at night to roost. Or do they shun her as not being one of the gang, one of the sisters. 

The desire to protect her, to "save" her, surfaces when I watch her hop around. But it's possible she neither needs nor wants saving. She has her freedom and other than her limp, she seems healthy. She doesn't hang her head in despair. She walks with that "turkey pride" that I see in all the wild turkeys. This land is her home and she knows her way around. We keep the turkey feeder full of milo all the time, so she has plenty to eat, and she has water. 

And as I learned from our friend Crip, she may not see herself as crippled or challenged. She's a bird with a lot of self-confidence. I don't want to hold her back. 

I think I'll call her Beyonce.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas, Little Cabin Style

Rickie and I went to the draw this week and he cut a little cedar tree for our porch, like he's done for many years now. This year he cut a second one, a little bit smaller, for Bixby. It's Bixby's first cedar Christmas tree from the ranch. 

We brought our tree back and decorated it. I used my favorite old quilt. I bought it many years ago in Alabama because it has Davy Crockett fabric for a couple of the squares. Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, killed him a "bar" when he was only three......

The little cabin is one Sarah and Rickie made many years ago for a school project.

We've had some pepper lights for years but I haven't used them on the tree in a long time. This year I just heaped them in an old scale I have on the porch. The color didn't come out but they are red.
My sister Kathy came out last weekend. The weather was so wintry we didn't get to make our cedar wreaths. I always make one for the front gate and last year Kathy and I both made one. I decided to do something different this year. I have some old barb wire we found here, left by hunters that were here before us to protect a deer feeder. Rickie and I cleaned it up last year and made a wreath out of some of it. I painted it orange and it's been on the woodshed. I repainted it red and added a pretty burlap bow Kathy brought for me. I love it!

We put the outside lights on the bunkhouse this year instead of the cabin and set up the fence post tree there. It looks very festive, I think!
Inside the cabin we have a few subdued decorations. There isn't much room inside so most of the decorating is done outside. I'm thankful for my screened porch so we can have a live tree!  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Christmas Memory

Every December most of us who are readers will re-read one of our favorite Christmas stories. For years for me it was Dickens' A Christmas Carol. For the last few years I have pulled out Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory

The story is of a lonely little 7 year old boy and his 60+ child-like cousin. They live with relatives in a big old farmhouse in Alabama. They are best friends. The way it is written reminds me of all the Charlie Brown stories; the "adults" are never shown, rarely mentioned, and when they speak at all it is simply a "bwa-bwa-bwa" sound. It is mostly about Truman's real life experience.

They are best friends and the story is about how they celebrate Christmas back in the 1930s. Their tradition of making fruitcakes, cutting a Christmas tree, making gifts, the love they have for each other. A little dog named Queenie is the other member of their family within a family. It is a touching story of love and of people that are different from the rest of the family. Those who don't quite fit in. They have found each other within that family and mostly ignore the others.

At the end of the story they are separated by the family and the little boy is sent off to a military school. It is disturbing to me that children live in a family that has no clue about what kind of person they are. That a quiet sensitive odd little boy should be sent off to a military school is horrifying to me.

The story is only a few pages long and if you haven't read it, I recommend it. Especially if you have ever felt like the odd member of a family. I kind of think we all feel like that at one time or another. But some of us are different all of the time.

I grew up in a large family with 6 siblings and grandparents that lived with us. Sharing a bedroom with 3 sisters and a baby brother, there was no place to go to be alone. I often climbed a big mimosa tree in the back yard and read. Within its feathery leaves it was cool and peaceful. And quiet. 

I was always the family member that wanted something a little different, that believed a little differently, and I still am that one. But I was never as different as the young Truman and his elderly cousin. My wish for the season is that everyone has a place they feel at home and safe and accepted.

And if you have the opportunity to offer this to someone, I hope you'll take it.