A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Love it or Lose It, Holiday Style

It's a little early but we have family out Thanksgiving week and I like to have it festive, so I'm going through the Christmas decorations. And I'm wondering why I have so many.

When we started downsizing, I donated a lot of decorations I had but as with most things, they start slipping in under the radar. I worked in a soulsucking cubicle for years so I always decorated it for every holiday. Some of these I really liked so they made it to the cabin when I retired. Because I don't have room for day to day accessorizing I would often buy holiday decorations when I went shopping at places like Fredericksburg and Gruene. 


Gradually I accumulated 6 large storage boxes of Christmas decorations plus 3 wreath boxes. That's too much for tiny cabin decorating! Yesterday I interrupted Rick's firewood cutting to get him to hang a wreath in the bunkhouse for me. I told him if I ever had to get rid of most of my decorations the three wreaths would be the only things I kept. They're my favorites.

I've written about them before but in case you missed it, I made these when we first began downsizing some years back. The kids were gone and it wasn't as much fun decorating a tree as it used to be. And of course, we have no room for a tree in the cabin although we do put a little cedar tree on the porch. I had a lot of tree decorations but not all of them were special to me. So I kept my favorite ones, bought some artificial wreaths and made three themed wreaths. I store them with the decorations attached in wreath boxes and just hang them every year. Super easy and I love them! 

One of the storage boxes has outdoor lights so I'm going to keep those. We put them in a different place every year, sometimes on the cabin front porch, sometimes on the bunkhouse, sometimes on the screen porch. This year we have something different planned. I'l show y'all when we get it done! 

Looking at my wreaths, I thought "I'm going to donate the things I don't love, the things I kept just because I like them and I can find a place for them". Let someone else enjoy them. And get back to tiny cabin rules. If you don't love it or need it, let it go.

My mom and my Aunt Carolyn bought artificial Christmas trees when they first came out with the green "realistic" ones. It was before you could just take the tree out of the box, maybe put two parts together and be done, before they came with lights installed. You had to stick the branches in the frame. It was a bit of an ordeal, really, and it looked as realistic as you would expect green plastic to look.

After a few years my aunt upgraded to one of the newer ones but Mama loved her artificial tree! Every year, for at least 25 years, she would put it up with help from some of the kids who were around. Nothing much ever changed about it. Her face would light up, she would smile and say "25 years and it still looks good!" 

So my deciding factor on keeping decorations this year is going to be whether it can put that same look on my face that Mama had on hers when she looked at her tree. 

If it can't, maybe it can give that look to someone else.


(Photo above: Mama and my Mamaw. Two photos of Mama's tree, one with my grandnephew Caleb and granddaughter Natalie, one taken years before that with my Grandma Hattie and son Larry.)


Friday, October 31, 2014

Deer Camp

All over West Texas the whiskey sippin' has begun, as the hunters arrive at the ranches. Opening day is tomorrow and they'll be ready, and they'll be sober, but tonight they greet friends and family they haven't seen in a while, maybe not since this time last year.


Sometimes they own a small place they hunt on, sometimes they go in with other hunters and lease a place. Some hunt where they live; some hunt on the old home place. Some have leased the same place for years, as did the fellas I talked to at the gas station in town last year. They said they were headed toward Rocksprings to a lease they've had for 30 years.


Those that hunt where they don't live have been coming out since September getting things ready. They put feeders out and clean the blinds. Some haul a camper out if there isn't a house to stay in; some make sure they have motel reservations. Feed store owners are smiling over deer corn sales and lease payments have paid the taxes on many a family ranch that can't make a living on livestock any more. 


Some come with guns handed down from dads and grandpas, tried and found to shoot true. Some come with a new rifle, anxious to try it out and see if it will get the muy grande that has been elusive the last couple of years. Some use a friend or uncle's gun, often borrowed once they get together at the camp.


Some are looking for a big buck complete with bragging rights, some just come to get away from the big city, all want some meat for the freezer. 



They've stocked up on food and take turns as camp cook. If anyone has been successful hunting, someone is hustling the backstrap to the kitchen. Fried backstrap takes precedent over any other planned meal. There's sure to be ribeyes and baked potatoes one night. A pot of pinto beans goes nonstop during the weekend and if there are Cajuns present, you'll find some gumbo on the stove. Breakfast is huge, cooked and consumed after the morning hunt. Homemade biscuits, bacon, sausage, eggs, leftover beans and backstrap. 


They sit around the campfire at night after the evening hunt and supper is over and sip whiskey. This is the time for stories. Tales of what they got today, what they saw that got away, what blind or draw they're going to try tomorrow. Someone will tell a story on one of the hunters from a year past, sometimes favorable to the hunter, sometimes not. If the hunters are family or long time friends, there will surely be tales of dads and grandpas. For sure there will be some laughter and it's possible someone might be seen wiping a tear away.


An area has been set up for processing the deer and the young ones learn from the older ones what needs to be done before you take the deer to the processor. In times past, the deer might have been totally processed and Rick and I have even made our own sausage and cut all the steaks and roasts out. Nowadays, the deer is gutted, skinned, and quartered and taken to the processor to be turned into steaks and sausage, adding some pork. Some people will just field dress a deer and take to the processor that way. But as Sarah says, if her dad is teaching anyone to hunt, they're gonna know how to skin and clean a deer.


It's dark now and the last hunter has come in. The old fellas are watching over the young ones as they clean their first deer. They've got new knives, a gift from a grandparent usually, and they help each other, the ones that have done this before holding the deer as the new hunter skins it, the way their dad did for them. Lights have been set up so they can see and once they finish several of the guys will go down the hill to put out the part of the deer that is offered to the scavengers.


Time slows down and shadows creep in. Stars come out and there's a quiet most of these hunters don't know the rest of the year. The kitchen is cleaned, the deer's been iced down for the trip to town tomorrow, the old fellas are starting to fade and the young ones are talking among themselves. Soon it's lights out with the alarm set for an hour before daylight. 

The young ones will be dreaming about tomorrow's hunt and the old ones will dream of hunts past.

(Note: In the first photo my brother Andy is holding a 30-30 rifle that has been used for 4 generations. Our grandfather, Pop, bought it used for $7 when our dad, Perry, was 12 years old. It's a Winchester model 1894 made in 1898. Perry has 27 notches on it for the deer he killed with it, Andy has 4 (including his first deer), and his son has 1. Andy killed the deer in the photo with it. My boys John and Larry are in the photo with Perry and Andy and our older brother David, who passed away this year. Below is Pop with his hunting and fishing gear.)






Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hear That Lonesome Whippoorwill...........

I was 62 when I came out here to live alone. My mom had passed away a few months before and I no longer needed to be close to help her. Rick was still tied to the city with his job but I couldn't imagine staying in the apartment we had there all day while he was at work. I'm not the kind of gal that enjoys that for very long. I need to be outside and I need to have projects to do.

Alzheimer's had robbed my mom of her ability to live with dignity. The capable and independent person she had been was gone. I looked at the years I probably had left and didn't want to waste any of them. Each year that passes as we get older brings slight changes to us and to what we are capable of doing. I had some things I wanted to do out here while I could. And a place needs to be lived in and taken care of and looked after and there was no one else to do it but me.

I gradually moved all my possessions from the apartment to the ranch until all that was left of me there was a pair of pajamas, a jacket, a pair of sandals, and a photographer's picture of us taken the year we met.

And Rick, the other half of myself.



I brought fears with me, some of them deeply embedded, ones that walked with me since childhood. A fear of the dark and an unreasonable but paralyzing fear of spiders. And I acquired at least one new fear out here, a fear of wildfires. And a healthy respect for rattlesnakes.

Three years of living by myself hasn't lessened any of these fears. I still have them. Facing them doesn't make them go away, no matter what people say. And whether we have nothing to fear but fear itself or not doesn't really matter. We're still scared sometimes.




Living in this country of no subdivisions and shopping malls, where much of the land hasn't changed in the last 150 years, you look out and can imagine how it was for people here back then. When darkness is settling in and the moon is rising, you look down the hill and easily imagine a Comanche slipping quietly through the live oaks. Their ghosts walk these hills still.

And you understand that people have always lived with their fears and you're no different. You go on in spite of them and are thankful most of yours are just in your mind unlike the very real fears so many people the world over live with.

A person learns a lot about themselves living alone, far away from family and old friends, where neighbors are spread far apart.




I've learned some pretty good carpenter skills here and I've done some projects that I didn't think I could do. I've done my part to finish out two cabins and built an outdoor kitchen from recycled objects. I've built shelves and organized three storage buildings. I've tiled a kitchen island and painted the deer blind. I wasn't raised around cattle but I've learned to enjoy the company of two 1200 pound longhorns and to care for them. I've learned how to winterize the water lines and I've worked in the freezing cold to try and save the garden. I've hauled hay and unloaded feed and filled feeders. I've shot rattlesnakes and tracked deer and found mountain lion scat. I've hauled trash to the landfill. I've photographed and learned the ways of deer, turkeys, and birds. I've stacked and burned brush and cut thousands of small cedars. I've pulled on my boots and gone out in the snow to feed and break ice for animals both wild and tame. I've moved tons of native rock and gravel with a shovel and wheelbarrow and I've taught myself to do masonry work. And I've written a blog about it all.


I've had a great time and I'm proud of the things I've done on my own. But I miss my partner. He hasn't left me totally alone out here. He comes out a couple of weekends each month, although much of the weekend is spent traveling back and forth.  And we're counting down the days now until he makes it here full time. Each of us at the end of our rope and hanging onto the knot we've tied, ready for a change.

We've paid a price all these years to have this place. Trying to hold onto it while having to make a living somewhere else. And we continue sacrificing now, being apart. It gets lonesome out here, even for an independent gal who likes her own company. But it's a peaceful lonesomeness. I share it with those souls both past and present who inhabit the land. I've put my stamp on it these last 3 years. And it's put its stamp on me.



"I don't want to be alone. I want to be left alone." Audrey Hepburn

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, went I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Henry David Thoreau


Friday, September 19, 2014

Parade Magazine Story

Kerri at Living Large in Our Little House shared a Parade magazine article she wrote this week about the little cabin. 

In case you missed it, here's the link:

Heaven in Texas Hill Country



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bernie Ann

In 1990, the second year we had our property, we brought a 1968 Layton travel trailer out here. It was 28' long, if I remember correctly. We left Houston with it around 8:30 at night, too excited to wait until morning!


We made it to Junction at 2 a.m. We didn't want to take it out to our place in the dark so we pulled into the parking lot of a little cafe on the interstate and waited until daylight. The temp was in the 30's so every so often Rick started the Bronco and ran the heater. Sarah was 7 years old and she slept on the back seat, covered with blankets and stuffed animals. Rick and I reclined our seats and snoozed off and on. There were a few truckers stopped to rest in the big caliche lot and they came and went all night.

Finally, the first weak light of morning appeared. We walked across the parking lot to the cafe and ordered some biscuits and gravy. Then we headed out to our place with our travel trailer!

The camper needed more work than we could ever give it but we started immediately making it something we could stay in. Rick patched the holes in the floor, walls, and ceiling. I painted some of the walls, gave up on that idea, and cleaned the rest of the walls and the ceilings with bleach. The camper had come from a humid environment and there was a lot of mildew.


We pulled the screens out and stapled new ones in. I painted the cabinets, we put in a hot water heater and air conditioning window unit. We furnished it and supplied it. It had some Old West themed curtains in some of the windows. I lined them to help keep out the heat and cold and made curtains for the windows that didn't have any.

We never imagined we would be using the camper as living quarters out here for 15 years but it ended up that way. Over the years Rick probably put 55 gallons of sealant on the roof, or so it seemed! He rewired the whole trailer, did some plumbing work, and we made many a trip to town each time we came out because something always needed fixing. Duck tape became part of our decor.


Some things were never fixed and I kept the bottom kitchen cabinets closed against the scary things I imagined I would find there! But it enabled us to stay at our place where before we had to stay at a motel in town.

We could have campfires, watch the stars for hours, spy on the animals that came up to the water trough after dark, get in out of the weather, snuggle under the blankets as we listened to cassette tapes of Louis L'Amour books, and plan for the day when we would have a little cabin.


And as soon as we had the cabin completed enough to stay in, we gave the little 1968 travel trailer, our refuge for 15 years, to the cabin contractor for his hunting camp.

But the old camper inspired in us a love for tiny travel trailers, ones that could actually be traveled in, that would let us go see some of the wild places we wanted to explore and some places not so wild. A little place we could feel at home in, with some of our own things, a place to make coffee in the morning, and sit by a fire at night. A tiny tiny home on wheels that we could take on adventures.

And so a few weeks ago the tiny 15' Starcraft camper with the off-road package made its way to the tiny ranch with the tiny cabin and the tiny bunkhouse.


We're unsure of a name for the her yet, but for the time being I'm calling her Bernie Ann, a combo of our middle names.


We've cozied her up with some pillows and throws and some old travel postcards from the 1940's and 1970's. I attached some old camping photos of our families to a cane pole Rick brought from Mississippi.

And so we've come full circle; where we once sat in the camper planning the cabin, we now sit in the cabin, planning our first trip in the little camper.

"The mountains are calling and I must go." John Muir



Friday, July 11, 2014

Tougher Than Leather

When the little yearling walks it's almost painful to watch. Her injured back leg gives her a strange rolling gait. We don't know what happened to break the tendons in that leg so that she can't use it. We suspect she got it caught in a fence, a fate too common out here.

She stays by herself now. Most of the deer do this time of year except for the moms and babies. At the feeder when the corn is thrown out in the evening one of the bigger bossy does runs her off. She's learned to make the rounds looking for some supplement to what nature offers. From deer corn feeder to turkey milo feeder to the longhorns' pen looking for leftover feed and alfalfa, she moves in a circle outside the yard.

I've named her Tougher Than Leather after a Willie Nelson song about a gunslinger. Things are dry again out here so it's getting harder to find something to eat. But she perseveres. And when she has to she runs. Unlike her walk, her run is smooth and fluid and she's not diminished by her imperfections.

My brother David is the only sibling older than me. Being the older siblings we were the first ones to drive, the first ones to leave home, the first ones to fall and the first ones to learn to pick ourselves up after that fall.

David joined the Navy after high school. After his discharge he married and raised a family. He worked as a carpenter, moving from doing trim work on houses to working on massive concrete buildings. He spent his spare time working on his home and yard. His vacations were spent at the beach where he and his family joined friends and spent a week each summer. He loved to fish with our dad, brothers, and cousins. Life was good.

And then came the fall. He started having grand mal seizures. He suffered from short term memory loss. He would get in the truck and not remember where he worked or lived. He had to quit working and driving. Eventually he moved in with my parents and lived there for years until our mom went into a nursing home.

Scared but determined to carry on, he then moved into an apartment near his family. We went by to take him to the store, out to eat, bring him things he couldn't go out and get on his own. We took him to visit our Mama and to family fish fries and to the beach.

His ways of coping weren't always conducive to improved health. But we saw the fear and confusion in his eyes as he more and more lost control of his life, of his memory, of his ability to get by without help. But he lived the time he had in the fullest way he was able to and that is all any of us can do.

Gradually his health went from bad to worse. He suffered injuries from falls taken when he had the seizures. Always slim, he became frail and weak. Diagnosed a couple of months ago with bladder cancer he entered the hospital and a couple of weeks ago he went home to his son's house and into hospice care. His daughter returned from overseas with her little son to join her brother and his sons in caring for their father and grandfather.

No one knows what happens to us when we pass from this life. Sure, preachers and others claim to but they don't. All I'm sure of is it isn't like I learned in Sunday School as a child, however comforting that idea may be.

But I'm pretty sure wherever David is now, he has persevered. And his run is smooth and fluid and he's not diminished by his imperfections.

He too is tougher than leather.

 

 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I'll Fly Away

Earlier this year swallows started building a nest above a window on the bunkhouse. Not wanting them there, I hung a piece of shade netting up. This stopped them but they called my bluff and raised me one. They moved to the cabin front porch. I threw in my hand and took the shade net off the bunkhouse so they could move back there. I cut some strips of shade netting about a foot wide and hung it all around the cabin porch. We have some screws along the top there where we hang the Christmas lights so it was easy to just push the netting on. At this point the swallows lost interest in the game and moved on.

A female Scott's Oriole, however, found the netting irresistible! She began weaving a nest in an outside corner, using the netting as her base. I relinquished the porch to her for the duration. Soon she was sitting on eggs and not long afterwards I saw the first tiny beak appear above the edge of the nest.

Both the female and the male Orioles feed their babies while they are in the nest and for a couple of weeks after they fledge. 



There were two babies in the nest but a few days ago I noticed a third tiny head appear. The one born later, the last egg to hatch. 

Yesterday the firstborn stood on the edge of the nest. The immature males and the females look very similar so I'm not sure if these are males or females but I've been calling them all "him", so I'll continue, although I think the two oldest are probably female. He looked very proud and curious standing there, as if to say "I'll be joining you soon, world, so get ready for me! Oh, the places I'll see!"

I've watched them all morning and early afternoon. I started shooting video when I suspected the oldest one might be getting ready to make his move. I walked away for about 15 minutes and I heard some distressful chattering so I went to check. The middle child was crying out because the firstborn had left! As if to say "wait for me, I wasn't ready!"

He fretted and called out for a while then he hopped out of the nest onto the shade netting. Gradually he made his way about a third of the way around the porch. A few times the parents came in to feed him and his younger sibling. 

He almost fell off a couple of times. Not quite ready to let go of his safety net, he flapped his wings and held on, reminding me of when I was a kid learning to swim and didn't want to let go of the side of the pool. Eventually he made the leap! He flew straight to a window screen, held there for a couple of minutes, then took off! It got awful quiet on the porch.

A little bit later I heard the craziest racket outside so I went to go see what everyone was in an uproar about. A squirrel, some titmouses, the Oriole parents, a Scrub Jay, and some cowbirds were all squawking at the top of their lungs, flying in and out toward the cenizo bushes. I went over and they all moved back and got quiet. At least one of the baby birds was in the cenizo.


I wanted to scoop him up and take him back to the nest. Squirrels and jays sometimes kill baby birds. He needed a few more days in the nest. He's so small and the world is so big.

I've watched the little family's progress for weeks and I've got a lot invested in them. How does something so fragile survive in such a big and scary world.

But I don't take him. And I can't kill all the things that might do him harm. I back away and leave him where he is. I have to trust the system even though it fails as often as not. 

It's been several hours now since the two orioles flew off into the world. I went out and checked a couple of times and I don't see any sign of them or their parents. I hope they are safe. I hope the parents don't desert the last baby in trying to keep the older two safe. 

There needs to be a halfway house for baby birds!

Here's a little video of the firstborn. 

The Firstborn and Dad just before he left

"A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange sun's rays
and dares to claim the sky."
Maya Angelou