A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Early Morning Conversations

Usually once a week I take Bix to school instead of him riding the bus. He gets to stay home a half hour longer and I get to have interesting conversations with him. Our reward this morning was seeing our first Canadian geese of the season flying in! I’ve been looking for them and some flew over the school while we waited in the line to unload. Bix remarked that they flap their wings a lot and fast. I told him that’s one way to tell they are geese. Or ducks but the geese have the longer necks. As anyone who loves the natural world knows, you never just say oh, look, geese. You always have a conversation about them, a teaching moment. We watched them while we waited and are going to start checking the lake on the way home for sightings. Winter isn’t over but it won’t be long now! 

We also talked about while the cold snowy winter can get tiresome, it keeps us from having some of the annoying things we had back in the warmer Texas. Like tarantulas in the house and scorpions in the bed. I told him how a scorpion in the bed had stung me 4 times one night while I slept. I woke up in burning pain. He wanted to know what I did. I told him I killed it with a shoe and took Benadryl. I explained these scorpions won’t kill you unless you have an allergy but they are painful. We also talked about the cold winter keeping other annoying bugs away, such as roaches and the long centipedes we also had in Texas. And we discussed snakes and how Texas had so many poisonous ones. He said he bet you could even find a cobra in Texas! And how the cold winter gives us the beautiful moderate Springs and Summers, and the gorgeous Falls. 

We agreed there were pros and cons everywhere. And you have to sometimes deal with some of the parts you maybe like less in order to have the best parts. I hope that plants a seed in his 8 year old mind. That you can settle for the mediocre so you miss the more challenging parts, or you can accept the more challenging parts in order to have the best parts! Like they say, you have to climb the mountain for the best view. 

But this morning we were just glad to see the geese return. And with them the sure promise of Spring and all the best that follows! We do love the snow and enjoy it, but this time of year we begin to yearn for it to melt and warmer weather to return. Soon the lakes will be filled with the geese and some will stay until next winter. They’ll have their babies and we’ll watch them swim behind their moms. And the cycle continues, the Spring made more beautiful for having survived the Winter. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Little Things

These things that were on the screen porch at the ranch aren’t valuable except to us who collected them. Skulls of a hog, a fox, and an armadillo, dried stink gourds, rocks with fossils, pieces of rusty metal and barb wire, bottles, feathers, and bird nests. But I packed them up when I left and packed them again when I recently moved to a different house closer to town. I moved them myself to the storage unit and moved them from there to this new house.  

Sarah and her family and I share this house and I have a partial garage that is connected to my new Bear Den. It can’t be used as a garage because the previous owner took half of it in as more living space in the walkout basement. So I’m developing it into what we’re calling the Cantina. It’s a cross between the screen porch at the ranch and a place to hang out. It has my table because I didn’t have room for it in the Bear Den but didn’t want to turn loose of it. It has some of my sign collection, my growler collection, a cabinet that Justin’s mom gave me before she passed away, and a little rustic black cabinet that Sarah and I bought in Junction back when we just had the little camper there. It cost $30 and we used it to hold our tiny 13” TV that could only get one channel out of San Angelo and sometimes not that. It was before internet and satellite. We just had an outside antennae that blew around when it was stormy. 

I can’t finish the room yet because there are a few things I need to get out of there still. My washer that is waiting on hookups in a closet under the stairs and some things waiting to be donated or picked up by others. Still I was able today to unpack the 10 boxes of ranch stuff. One box went into the shed attic, and a few things were moved to the lean-to on the back of the shed where I’ll hang them when Spring comes. But I got most of the things on this wall. 

They hold no value and to most people they aren’t even attractive. But to me they are the triggers for many good memories. How Rickie and I sat on the porch as he showed me the rock he found with little tiny shell fossils from back when that area was under the sea. The canister of deer jawbones that he used to teach us how to age a deer. The hog skull from the one feral hog he shot from the back porch. When my friends and I went to the ranch the next weekend for a girls trip we found it cleaned to the bone by the other hogs. 

The turkey feathers from my favorite wildlife there remind me of how many we had on our place, sometimes over 100 in a group. The time the electrician was installing the breaker box on the side of our little cabin, the result of a 15 year dream, and he felt someone watching him. When he turned around about 75 turkeys flew up when startled by his movement. How he was awed when he told us that story. 

The whiskey bottle I found under a cedar tree left by hunters when it had been a working ranch. The wreath we made from cable that had once held an old wooden deer stand, long collapsed when we bought the place. The tiny green wooden camper that I kept to always remind us of how far we had come from the early days and how lucky we were to have what we had. A plaster of paris deer footprint Sarah made the first year we had the property. The washer pitching game Rickie loved to play with the grandsons. The brush he bought for Gus and Woodrow, who soon decided they weren’t going to stand for being brushed. Some green marbles made from coke bottles that were salvaged when a train carrying them crashed; we bought those at a flea market in Boerne one year on the way out to spend the Thanksgiving holidays at the ranch. The dinner bell that would call Gus and Woodrow up from the pasture. 

The memories of a life well lived and well loved. If you tried to sell them you wouldn’t find a buyer that would give you a nickel for them. But I love them enough to pack them up when I’m leaving new furniture and appliances and cabins behind. And when I get older, if I do, and my memories fade, I hope I can look at these little things that made a good life for Rickie and me and for the ones we love, and recall the stories attached to them. And the feelings attached to that memory, though it often comes with tears attached. And remember how lucky I’ve been to lead the life I’ve led. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Five Good Years

In the last couple of years leading up to when Rickie was supposed to retire he said to me many times “if we can just have 5 good years retired together, I’ll be happy. No matter what happens after that. Just 5 good years.”

On November 3, 2012 I posted this on Facebook -

“Opening day. Rickie in deer stand. I'm trying to be quiet in the cabin. Remembering back to the early days on opening weekend when Rick and his friend John C used to come out & occasionally our son John. We had the tiny trailer then and most of the time not hunting was spent around the campfire. I didn't come; it was just the guys. Those are good memories for them. Now we're all 20+ years older and have more comfortable quarters. But still. Who knew time would pass so quickly.”

The thing I feel luckiest for with these memories of the horrible camper we had then and of the times spent at the ranch in the early days, is that even then we knew we were lucky and blessed with what we had and with the opportunity we had to be there. I don’t have to look back and say “I wish I had known then how special those times were.” We all knew. And I still try to realize the wonder and the opportunity we have now with the Colorado home. Both then and now I know, in spite of the heartbreak, that we lived our dream and not everyone gets a chance to. Though I have to say also we took advantage of the chance. None of it was an easy choice and we sacrificed a lot to make the dreams come true. I don’t regret a minute if it. 

This time of year when so many memories of family times at the ranch come up, I’m always sad for what we lost when Rickie died. And wonder if I should have stayed and just died of sorrow there. But I’m reminded of an old joke I heard years ago. A man was on top of his roof with flood waters all around. Someone came by on a raft and asked him to get on and he said no, God will save me. Then someone in a little boat came by and tried also to save him. Again he said no, God will save me. A third time someone in an air boat came by and asked him to get on. He replied as before, God will save me. Then he drowned and went to heaven. He asked God why he didn’t save him. God said “I sent a raft and two boats, what more did you want?” 

Sometimes we have to save ourselves whether we think God had a hand in it or not. And here I sit in Colorado watching the snow softly fall outside, having walked with Bixby to the bus stop, fixing to work on unpacking boxes in our new home, hearing from new friends this week, meeting new neighbors, having Colorado friends help me with the move, and looking forward to Nat and Austin and their friends coming over tomorrow. 

We know what’s behind us but we never know what’s ahead of us. In 4 days it will be 5 years since Rickie died. We didn’t get one day together of the 5 good years he hoped for. And sometimes when I think of that I can’t breath. But I’ve survived the 5 years, some times just barely. I didn’t stay at the ranch just to die of sorrow. And I’ve made some wonderful memories and spent some treasured times with the people I love. Was it 5 good years? It was 5 bittersweet years and I have treasured every one. As we did in the early lean days, I know I’m lucky and blessed to be here. 

And I’m glad I got on the boat when it came by. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Ever So Softly, the Seasons Change

Bixby’s got his Pampaw’s naturalist gene. He said “whoa!” yesterday when he stood beside this 3’ tall grass on the hill. He wanted to know why the seed heads hadn’t fallen off, as he ran his fingers along them gathering the seeds. I told him it wasn’t their time yet. I told him turkeys like to eat them but our turkeys here have more unpopulated areas to go to so we don’t see them in the yard. 

This morning, heading to the car to go to school, he took my binoculars to spot the robins in the snags, on their way south. Yesterday we saw flocks of Canadian geese and talked about how they’re headed south too. 

I was out early this morning putting the recycling out. The temp was 56 but it felt cooler. Those wonderful mornings when Autumn starts to slowly roll in, like fog over the ocean. Next week we’ll be in the 40s at night with highs in the 70s. 

The scrub jays in the Gambel’s oaks by the chicken yard gate were raising a ruckus about something. A couple of nights ago a skunk sprayed one of Bixby’s dogs in that area so maybe the jays were fussing and cussing at a skunk. 

It’s the time of year when the bears go into eating overdrive, the time called hyperphagia. Piling on the weight in preparation for the long winter sleep. They’re very active now. A realtor friend of mine went out to look at some property this week and was lucky to see a mama bear crossing an open field with 3 baby bears running full speed to keep up with her. 

Soon the aspens will change, as will the cottonwoods along the rivers and creeks. One yellow, one more golden. I’m reminded of a night in Albuquerque years ago when Rickie and I were there. We had gone out to eat that evening and as we came out we faced the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande, lined with golden cottonwoods. A full yellow moon hung over the mountains and the cottonwoods shined like billions of gold coins in the light. The beauty overwhelmed us. 

Later this year I’ll take a drive over to Chama and turn north. The mountains there are full of aspens and it’s a beautiful drive. A train runs up into that area from Chama. I understand they serve a turkey and dressing meal halfway on the trip. That ride’s on the wish list for one day. Friends here report it’s a great trip. Rickie and I had a good life and experienced many wonderful things, but here in Colorado I find myself wishing he could see all the things I now see without him. 

And maybe he can, maybe he sees them through his grandchildren. When Bixby takes the Durango train to the pumpkin patch, when Natalie rides her pink board down the mountain, when Lexi runs out into the falling snow and holds her face up to catch the flakes, when Zac rides a horse high in the mountains, when Jeremy hikes to the edge of the ridge. When we all gather around the campfire in the snow with the stars brilliant overhead, making s’mores as Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas plays softly on Celia’s phone. Maybe he sits beside us, marveling not at the world’s wonders, but at the wonder of these grandchildren he loved, that they find the same joy and love he had in things both big and small. 

Maybe that’s where the the true wonder lies; the generations, as the seasons, ever so softly easing into a new one. Carrying some things with them, leaving some behind, adding their own beauty to the change. I hope you take some time to enjoy this season, the ending of one, the beginning of another, when everything slows down. It goes by fast. Don’t let it slip away unseen.  

Monday, July 29, 2019

My Turbulent Sixties

No, not the 1960s, though those had their own issues. But my decade of being sixty-something years old. It didn’t turn out like I planned. Then again, most things don’t. 

They started out ok. I retired from a boring career and was set to divide my time between the ranch and our house in Boerne. I hoped to make some trips with Rickie to South Texas, his territory, as he finished up his career. I imagined him dropping me off on the beach at Corpus, where I’d soak up some sun and drink an icy margarita at a local bar there while he went to work. Our house in Boerne was only an hour and a half from the ranch and we planned to spend as much time as we could there, getting it ready for when we could both be there in February of 2015 when Rick would retire. He got 2 baby longhorns from a ranch his company owned. He’d always wanted some and being so close we could run out after work and back if needed to check on them.  

Two weeks after my retirement began, my mom’s struggle with Alzheimer’s sent her to a nursing home, never to go home again. Rickie got transferred back to Houston right before I retired and we had to sell the Boerne house we’d had for less than a year. I spent the last 2 months of working staying in a little run down stone motel finishing up my job. I covered some of the holes in the floor and replaced the toilet seat myself. There wasn’t a manager on site and sometimes I was the only person there. But the rate was good and I could walk around downtown after work. After that I spent most of my time in Houston as my siblings and family rotated almost every day at the nursing home. After a year and a half, we lost our mom and I moved to the ranch alone to wait for Rickie to retire. I learned to be a ranch hand during those 3 years. 

Half way through my 60s, my world was turned upside down. Rickie was 2 months away from retiring when he died that Thanksgiving week. Everything we had planned for, had worked for, had sacrificed for, had looked forward to, died with him. 

The next 5 years were ones of change. Trying to build a life I could sustain, one I could carry on with, filled every moment of them. Finally realizing I couldn’t stay where I was for many reasons, I had to bury that dream we’d had for almost 30 years, along with burying Rickie. I tried to make it work without him. But the amount of work, the isolation, the sadness, all took it’s toll. 

I reluctantly let go of my ranch hand persona and headed for the mountains. Here I was welcomed by everyone I met and I found some peace. There was much to learn about being a mountain girl but I found some joy along with the peace. My kids and grandkids had new adventures as we all tried to live up to what we knew Rickie would have wanted for us. Had we not tried something new, I feel he would have been disappointed in us. 

I missed the central Texas lifestyle we had and I still do. But it was never the same without Rickie. I had to accept that and make a new life, as people in my position do. Everyone says we have our memories, and I’m glad we do. But memories are a double edged sword, and sometimes they crush you. And you have to walk away from the day to day reminders of the moment of impact, as a friend refers to us losing our partners. 

I downsized from 54 acres to less than 5 and thought that would fit me. But I didn’t take into account the work and equipment required to maintain a hill at 7000 feet elevation. Or 4 feet of snow in one week and the steep driveway. Trying to clear brush and keep it cleared because of fire mitigation, foreseeing work needed on the older home and the septic system and well, all these things and more, made me realize the need to move closer to town, with a flat driveway and less property. 

It’s time to get ready for the next decade, my 70s, and what I hope is my last decade. I know some badass 80 year olds but it’s risky and most people lose a lot of quality of life then. But we’ll see. As I know well, our days are numbered and we don’t know the number. 

During the last year, as y’all know, Sarah and her family came to share the house and I did a garage conversion for more space. The new place has separate areas for us as well and we’re ready to settle in. 

We’re set to move shortly after I turn 70. I’m looking forward to less work and more hiking. More travel to visit family, more new adventures. I enjoyed ranch work when Rickie and I did it together and I enjoyed the feeling of improving a place. But I need to hang up the saws and tools and change gears a bit. I want to plant flowers and a few veggies, not clear hillsides. I want to mow and weedeat a yard not a hill. I want to decorate for holidays not build a house!

Bring it on 70 and let’s see what you’ve got! I hope you keep the heartache to a minimum. The 60s kicked my butt, so give me a little break and let me slide out of this ole world knowing I gave it my best and didn’t take it for granted. Because some of us didn’t make it this far. We left a lot of graves along the trail. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

On A Good Day

I spent July 4th moving stuff to the storage unit. It wasn’t a happy day for me. I wasn’t feeling the holiday and selling and buying houses has been more stressful than it should be. It was 5 years since my son-in-law’s mother Miriam had died, and 5 years and a week since my brother David died. I was wondering why in the hell I’m not tossing out some of this stuff I’m moving, and handling things I brought from the ranch just made me sad. Every song that came on made me cry and think of loved ones lost. When Zane Williams’ On A Good Day came on I played it over and over. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not. I’ve played it a million times since Rickie died. I was thinking I should ask my brother Andy to learn it so he can sing it for me when I’m gone instead of I’d Like to be in Texas for the Roundup in the Spring. I’d asked him to learn that a few years ago. That’s the kind of mood I was in. 

Then something happened. It was a little thing, and in the way little things often are, it wasn’t. As I was waiting to turn out of the storage facility onto the highway there was a couple with a motorcycle stopped across the highway on the shoulder. They weren’t old but they weren’t kids either. I’m not sure why they were stopped but as they got back on and took off, the woman held onto her cowboy hat with one hand and gave me a little wave to say thanks for letting them go first. I had to wait on 3 more cars coming behind them before I could pull out. 

We were down the road a ways and I saw the cars in front of me were all swerving to avoid something in the road. I couldn’t see what it was but it was moving in my lane like an injured squirrel or bird. As I got close and also swerved to avoid it, I saw it was the cowboy hat the woman on the motorcycle had been wearing. I looked behind me and vehicles were still swerving to avoid it. That made me smile and the whole day suddenly changed. Up ahead around the curve I saw the couple on the motorcycle just moving on, never looking back for what was lost. 

And I thought I ought to do the same. At least for a little while. 

“....And on a good day, the steam from my cup

Rises in a ribbon like a prayer going up

And I can close my eyes and not see your smile

And I feel like myself again for a little while

And the mountains breathe, just like they did before

On a good day I don’t miss you anymore”

Zane Williams On A Good Day

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Some Days Are Diamonds

Last week I had to drop some paperwork off downtown. The office I went to had several winter prints on the walls, all of a mountain man in a red coat. Snow was on the ground and bending the branches of the conifers. The mountain man had been hunting and in some prints had Canadian geese he was sure to make a meal of later back at camp. 

I didn’t know the artist so I tried to find the prints on the internet when I got home. I believe the prints were Paul Calle’s artwork. I found these beautiful prints he did of a mountain man in a red coat. I love the vibrant colors and the way the man looks in them. 

We had a tough winter here this year, especially for a Texas gal. It seemed it would never end and we were all running out of room to pile the snow. The roads were narrowing down as the snow plows pushed more and more snow to the side. 

Last week there was more snow in the mountains in northern Colorado. One of the meteorologists said she didn’t know if this was the last snow of winter or the first snow of the next winter! 

Here in Pagosa it’s been beautiful sunny weather lately. The flowers are all in bloom and things are as green as Ireland. The rivers are running full speed ahead with the last of the snowmelt. We’re finally all able to get outside without shoveling snow or worrying about the roads being plowed. The roads and towns are full of summer visitors. 

But as I looked at the mountain man prints downtown a remembered feeling of winter came over me. It’s the feeling of breathing in the crisp dry air here when it’s cold. The air is so clear then and what colors there are - the blue sky, the dark green Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines, the winter coats and hats everyone is wearing - stand out brighter than they do in the warm humid climates I lived most of my life in. And the snow covers everything, hiding the clutter and the cast offs of people. The sun turns the snowy ground into fields of glittering diamonds. Here and there you see deer and elk tracks, and maybe the footprints left by rabbits or foxes. And of course, the magpie prints the chattering birds leave behind. 

It’s a feeling of being alive. Of being able to see the breath of your life. The air so cold you feel a slight bit of burning pain as it enters your lungs. You’re aware you’re breathing, it’s not just something you do automatically. It’s a wonderful feeling and you only get it by enduring the problems that come with being in a cold snowy climate. 

And I’m thankful I’ve gotten to feel that. If you get a chance to feel that too, even if just for a short visit to a wintry place, don’t take it for granted. Stop for a minute, hopefully on top of a mountain with a view spread out below you. Or maybe gathered around a fire pit in the back yard with those you love, talking about the adventures you had that day. The stars sparkling overhead, flipping the snowy diamonds that were beneath your feet during the day. Whatever you do, don’t let it slip by unnoticed. These moments are numbered for each of us and we don’t know the number. Soak them up.