A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Monday, May 16, 2016

Around The Campfire

Though the sky was mostly cloudy, there was a break in the clouds where the half moon and Jupiter could be seen. Except for a couple of stars that make up Cancer, the crab, these were the only ones we could see. The kids and I had a campfire going and a cool front had come in earlier that caused Sarah and I to grab a long sleeve shirt before we headed outside. 

The moon was so bright the live oaks in the yard threw out shadows. Even with only a half moon, we could see the yard fence and gate, the trunks of the oaks, the cabin and bunkhouse, and the firewood stacked nearby. 

The chuck-will's-widows called out their name, answering each other on all sides of us. We roasted some marshmallows and made s'mores, although most of the kids like the roasting better than the eating! Bixby was too little and the firepit is too big for his roasting wire to reach into the fire. So I went to the garden shed and cut a long piece of heavy wire for him, making a loop at the end for a handle.  

He'd had a busy day being a ranch hand - feeding the longhorns, checking on the garden, painting some birdhouses, checking out the deer blind, doing some target practice with his suction tipped plastic ammo, and just generally doing things a kid does in the country.  

As the day wound down the kids went inside to clean up for bed and I was alone at the fire. If you haven't ever sat by a campfire in the quiet of the country, away from people, away from a campground, away from neighbors, it's hard to explain the magic of it. The only sound was the chuck-will's-widows calling all around, each one answering the other as the calls circled their way around me. Though it had grown darker, the shadows of the oaks still lay on the ground and I could still see the trees in the yard. There weren't any of the noisy katydids or cicadas that often drive a person crazy during the warmer months. 

It was as if there was no one else in the world except me and the night birds. It's easy to imagine the country as it was 100 years ago and sometimes you think about the people that have called this place home over time. It many ways it hasn't changed that much out here where we are.

A few weeks ago Natalie and Zac and three of their friends came out for the weekend and we got a campfire going. The big kids do the same things the little ones do; they just don't need as much help. They've been doing it for years now and no one ever gets tired of it. We had spent the day at Fredericksburg and Luckenbach then and wrapped it up with brisket in town and some washer pitching in the back yard here. That night I left the kids alone by the fire as the evening wore on.

I don't sit out by a fire at night as often as I did when Rick was here. He could sit there all night. And we didn't have a fire as often once we built the cabin. One of the few downsides to building it. 

When the kids come they always want to have a fire and it gets me back out there. I need to make an effort to do more campfire sitting. Just me, the night sounds and shadows, and the stars. And memories. They seem to rise from the burning logs along with the smoke. And they're all good ones. Sometimes the good ones are the hardest to bear but I can't imagine the kind of life I would have lived that didn't include them.

I hope you get to spend some time by a campfire this summer. Make an effort. Find a place where you can be away from neighbors and city lights, a place where it's dark enough for the moon to make shadows of the trees and the night birds to call out to each other. Make some memories, some good ones. 

Like these, other times, other fires -

This picture of Rick and Sarah is probably the first fire we had out here. They are sitting where the cabin sidewalk is now. Some of the stones making up this first firepit are still there, too embedded in the ground to be moved by hand. They are part of the landscaping.

Sarah and I by the campfire in 1990.

Rick and Zac during hunting season in 2005. In his hunting album Rick captioned this one "End of the day. A campfire, whiskey, and good conversation." That about sums it up. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Up on the Caprock, Me and My Baby Ride

I ran across a song posted on Facebook this week by Terry Allen, a Texas singer songwriter that Rick and I love. We saw him a couple of times at the Mucky Duck pub in Houston. He has a deep understanding of the subtleties of the world and his songs tell stories. Sometimes funny, sometimes terribly sad, often irreverent, and sometimes taking a critical look at the way we look at heroes and violence in the world.

But his real songwriting talent, at least as far as I'm concerned, is taking an ordinary moment, an ordinary life, and making you stop and look at it and see the magic of ordinary things. This particular song, Flatland Boogie, was about a fella and his love driving fast across the Texas high plains as the moon lights up the caliche on the long straight road they travel down.

That song brought back memories of a vacation Rickie, Sarah, and I took about 30 years ago. It was our first trip to the Santa Fe/Taos area and we stopped at Palo Duro Canyon on the way there. Driving across the endless plains in Rick's Bronco; Sarah just 5 years old, standing up in the back seat singing cowboy songs with us as we wondered whether we would ever get over the plains.

Though we didn't go to the Four Corners area that trip, we learned about the Anasazi, the indigenous people that lived in the Four Corners area thousands of years ago. And about the mystery of where they went and what happened to them. One thing I read later that has always stuck with me was a statement attributed to the Hopi. "The Anasazi didn't disappear, we are the Anasazi."

Rick and I would have been married 35 years today. He's not here and yet he is. I still refer to the Rockin' RS as "our" place; I still say "we" when talking about things that are being done here. Though things have changed somewhat with the addition you can still tell this is his cabin when you walk in. I still call the garden Rick's garden, not mine. The leather cap he left on the truck dashboard is still there, all shrunken and twisted from the hot sun; his boots are still by the back door.

It's not that I've kept things as a shrine. It's that he is so embedded in this place that his presence is still felt. You would have to burn the whole place down, trees, vegetation, and all to remove him. Even then, he would be here. Because like the Anasazi live on in the Hopi, he lives on in me and the kids. Rick didn't disappear, we are Rick.

We do the things he used to do, we tell his stories, we teach the kids the things he knew. We remember him.

The grief still overwhelms me a lot of times, especially at night when it's quiet and I'm not busy. I'll be almost asleep and the pain will hit me like a punch in the chest and it's clear why it's called a broken heart. I wish I could say it's easier, to give hope to any of you going through the same thing. All I can say is it becomes more familiar and, along with carrying Rickie with me always, I carry the grief always. I'll be carrying them when I breathe my last.

Happy anniversary, Rickie. I wish we were riding up on the Caprock one more time.

"And yet she could feel the pain becoming a part of her, finding its indelible groove but never vanishing. Time goes by, she wrote, days spill on, routines, appointments, diversions, some fun, a trip, somebody sick, on and on, times goes and grief finds a niche, a place, and settles in and goes along, too, included in everything. 'I'm here', says Grief. 'Never mind me, just go about your business.' " David Kushner, Alligator Candy

Flatland Boogie

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cutting Cedar

When I had the cedar cleared, there was some hand cutting work to be done on the front fence line. After getting caught up on other things I decided today I would finally start on that.
It had been about a year since I used my Husqvarna cordless chain saw so I was anxious to get that going again. First thing I found out was why Rick always had a paper feed sack under his chain saws. To soak up the chain/bar oil that leaks out when it's stored! The case I have has a tray in the bottom so I was ok there. Rick had a gallon jug of the oil so I filled the oil reservoir. The battery had kept a charge all this time. I don't store it with the saw so there was no oil on it. It started right up!
I tightened the chain a bit, loaded supplies in the Mule, and went to the road. I'm starting at one end of our place and working my way across. There were a few little cedars Juan had cut that were tangled in the fence so I cut those out and threw them inside the fence.
I had a second gate put in on the road because there was no way to access half of the properly without going through the longhorns' pen. There is a cedar on each side of it just outside the gate. Juan, the contractor that cut the cedar, hand trimmed them on one side. He would have done more but I was ready to be finished with contractors.
Today I trimmed them both up. If you don't have any experience with Texas Hill Country cedar, they are hard to deal with. They don't grow with one main trunk but have multiple branches and form a round ball shape. You have to work your way in, cutting as you go. Because Juan had cut one side it was easier for me to get close and do the cutting. The small one looks kind of puny but it will grow and keep its upright look now.
I was almost finished cutting for the day when my chain jumped the bar. I got it back on and was up and running again!
Juan left one corner of the property wooded just inside the fence line and he cut a tractor size path, or sendero, through the woods. I love it in there! Cool, shady, quiet, and private. He cut a turn around at one place so I was able to drive the Mule into that and work from there.
Some of the sendero was blocked with cedars Juan had cut outside the fence and tossed over. I was able to cut these out of the way except for one place. It was a complete tree and it has to be cut up before I can move it. I saved that for another day.
There is some sandy soil in this one area and up under a pile of cut cedar you could see where water had been standing when we had rain lately. The ground was still damp and covered with a tiny green algae. A place for wildlife to find water temporarily. I like finding these little things that make this the sort of place where animals would be happy.
With cedar cutting comes cedar stacking and I did a lot of that also. That was always my job, and Sarah's too when she was home, although on big projects Rick had to stack also to keep up.
This was my first time doing the cutting. I sure missed my partner today but I found I had learned a lot working with him out here for 26 years. Of all the work we did out here, cutting cedar was the thing we loved doing the most. It gives instant gratification and opens up spaces, maybe a view. We mostly cut in the cooler months and every time a cold wind blows in I remember those times and feel the urge to load up the Mule.
We always felt closer to nature doing this than anything else we did here. Working a while, then taking a break, sitting in the shade drinking water, and listening to the wind rustling the cedars. That smell they release when they move.
There's something about sitting on the ground on the edge of the woods, wildflowers all around, some so tiny you only notice them when you get close, the air so clean, the peacefulness of it. So today I took a break and sat on the sandy soil in the wooded area, enjoying the work I was doing and the results of it.
And tomorrow and next week I hope to do more of the same!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Farm and Ranch Report

I've been gone for a few days so when I got home it seemed like the garden had really grown!

Years ago we had great success with some blackberries. For one season. After that, nothing. We replanted a couple of times and still never any blackberries. A couple of years ago we tried again. We haven't had any blooms until this year. Not many but there's hope we might have a handful!

I planted one little nasturtium for my mom, who loved them. My Papa planted them for her every year when we were kids. One of the rare tender mercies he showed his daughter. It has its first bloom!

The garden path I added has settled and hardened. When I had the new fence put up the gate was moved to the orchard end so I could get the lawnmower in there without going through the vegetable garden. I like how it adds another element to that section.

The poppies are fading and the larkspurs are taking over. Rickie always made sure we had flowers throughout the growing season from Spring through Fall. Yellow Englemann's daisies and irises are blooming now also. Later we'll have Mexican sunflowers and zinnias.

The Mexican buckeye my friend Debbie gave me in my mom's memory has lots of seed pods this year! It had two last year and none before that. Her stepfather's dad, 98 years old, grew this tree from a seed!

The Texas Bird of Paradise is showing off by the bunkhouse. It's only two years old and it can take the cold weather where the Pride of Barbados variety can't.

Antelope Horn Milkweed, a native wildflower the Monarch butterfly caterpillars need to survive. We have several that come up in the yard every year.

We've had some rain so things are green here. The live oaks have put back out and the grass is growing, making Woodrow and Gus happy.

In the vegetable garden the tomatoes are blooming, the corn and cucumbers are up, and the peppers, squash, onions, cilantro, and pinto beans are growing. Something has eaten the basil. A dill plant came up from last year's seed; I cut some to put on potatoes and green beans for supper tonight.

The grapes are loaded with little clusters of blooms and we have a few peaches, not many, and the little plum tree has lots of plums for its size.

Looks like we've got the start of a pretty good gardening year!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

If I Could Only Fly

Last night I dreamed again that Rickie came back. I have this dream every so often. When he first died I found myself thinking often that he would come back though I knew he wouldn't. But my mind thought it anyway. Or maybe it was my heart doing the thinking.

The rain woke me up, blowing loudly against the windows. I tried to go back to sleep, to pick the dream back up. Sometimes if I'm only half awake I can get back to my dreams. But the wind and rain were persistent and I never could go back and find him. The dream just evaporated.

It's been a crummy week. Lots of things going on that have made me feel sad and overwhelmed. Some big, some small. But even the little things seem determined to pile on. The lawnmower won't start and I'm in the process of learning to change the spark plug, waiting on the rain to clear out. Which shouldn't be hard after I've already learned to change the oil and replace the battery in the Mule. And the new washer makes a squeaking noise, like a belt squeaking or something. I'm ignoring that right now because it's not causing problems yet.

I used to have a sign that read "it's not the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe." I feel like one more thing going wrong, no matter how small, will be the one that does me in.

Everyone has these weeks, I know. I'm not special in that. But it's been that kind of week for me. It'd be pretty sad if the woman who completed her room addition almost singlehandedly was done in by a squeaky washer.

This afternoon late I walked back to the ridge, hoping to find some peace. It's been cloudy all day and the low light makes all the new leaves on the oaks such a bright green it looks unreal. As if someone edited the photo to an unnatural shade. I didn't find the peace I was looking for though I found some beauty.

On the way back I stopped to pick up a little skull fragment from one of the deer Rick or the boys shot in the last few years. We had a place back on the hill where we put out the share for the scavengers. When the cedar was cut this was cleared and the bone fragments are scattered.

Like the fragments of my life.

"I almost felt you touching me just now, I wish I knew which way to turn and go.......if I could only fly, if I could only fly, I'd bid this place goodbye to come and be with you. But I can hardly stand and I got no place to run, another sinking sun and one more lonely night."


Friday, March 18, 2016

Texas Mountain Laurel

As soon as I opened the back door I could smell it. It smells just like grape Kool-Aid. It drifted up from the pasture over the whole back yard.

Our Texas Mountain Laurel had finally bloomed! We've had it for 20 years or so and most years it never blooms. When it does it's only a couple of tiny blooms and you have to stick your nose up on them to smell it. This year it's covered with the beautiful purple clusters of flowers. They drape like those of wisteria.

I had walked down the hill where it's planted a few days ago. Buzzards had been flying low over that area for a couple of days. I suspected there was a dead animal but I didn't find one. I was, however, surprised to see the mountain laurel covered with flower buds!

We originally planted it in what is now our front yard. After 4 or 5 years we decided it wasn't going to do well there so Rick moved it down the hill in hopes of it being better suited to the soil, or lack of, that it liked. Still all these years it has looked puny. Several times we thought about cutting it down just because it was annoying to see them in Kerrville, Austin, and Fredericksburg looking so huge and covered with blooms and ours looking half dead.

A few years ago the longhorns attacked it, presumably looking for grass growing up under it, and broke half the branches off. We don't prune it into tree shape since any little tree trunks are tempting to a buck as a place to rub their antlers in the Fall. So it's just a big shrub, and not all that big for its age.

Every Spring is different here and that's the wonderfulness of it. You quickly learn to treasure little things and things you realize you may never see again. Like the Clark's Nutcracker I saw in 1994, a bird rarely seen in our area, and not seen by us since. Or the year the native verbena covered the ground in a blanket of purple.

Or this week when we had over 4" of rain and the draw behind the house has been flowing ever since. In the afternoon and evening you can hear the frogs down there. They spend most of their lives waiting on rain and emerge when the water flows to lay eggs and sing the night away.

You enjoy the pink blooms covering the old peach tree more because each year may be its last. We had two and lost one in the bad drought of 2011. Rick was going to cut this surviving one down and let the shoots below the graft grow to see what we would get. But I didn't have the heart to cut it down so I cut the new shoots off and the old tree has been covered with beautiful blooms.

So I guess the moral of this story is this - never give up. Not on the old sad looking things you love that seem to be down for the count, not on the little frogs and toads that wait for months on end for rain, and not on yourself. There may yet be another glorious Spring ahead. And when it comes, grab your boots and don't let it pass unnoticed. It might never come again.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Last Unfinished Business

The fence guys finished up today. They replaced the garden fence that was falling down and added a gate at the road to the side of the property that had no access except through the longhorns' pen.

I've been disappointed in contractors not showing up when they said they would but I've not been disappointed in any of them once they made it out here, and the fence guys were no exception. They have all done what I asked and usually more and they have all treated me with kindness.

I asked the fence guys to add two electric hot wires to the fence and to add some chicken wire along the bottom to keep the rabbits out. These aren't things they usually do. They're normally working on big ranch jobs with lots of fencing and they do cedar clearing. They never gave an indication this was beneath them but really, it kind of was. It wasn't quite as bad as asking the plumber to load the
dishwasher but it was close!

I spent a little bit of time working with them today helping add the chicken wire. It was something I could do and I didn't want them to run out of time. We finished that and they added the hot wires. They didn't like the corner pieces I had bought; they felt they weren't sturdy enough. They said they'll probably come back by and bring something better.

I've got a lot of work to do in the garden. It's a mess from neglect and just after Winter. But the peach and plum trees are starting to bud out and the old peach tree has tons of flowers just showing some color!

I've got some painting to do on the fence, on the welded posts that make up the framework. I told the guys I had more free time than they did and I'd paint them. It lets them finish today and move on to another job next week. And really, I'm ready for everyone to be gone and just get back to what constitutes normal for me now.

The garden gate has a place to hang a sign. I have one I may move there, a cut iron one a friend had made when I retired. I'm indecided yet; I also like it where it is!

I've spent the last year and a bit more trying to get all the things done that Rick wanted to do and couldn't. This fence work was the last thing. I feel like I can move slower now, the urgency to get these things done before something happens to me has passed.

I still have things to do, just like everyone else. I need to paint the original cabin bathroom, get the garden in shape, cut some little cedars and some firewood, dig prickly pear, finish with the load of granite gravel I have, paint a bench, finish my defenses against skunks trying to move under the bunkhouse, etc. And down the road I'll have to find someone to haul off the cut cedar. But the list of goals for our place has been completed.

With all my heart I wish Rick and I could have accomplished these things together and that he could see how they turned out. It's as if all the years of hard work paid off and the icing on the cake was added. But we have to play the hand we're dealt. And I've tried to play this bad hand as best as I can. It's not in me to fold, as it wouldn't be in Rickie if he was trying to finish my business.

I hope it honors him, as that has been my unfinished business.