A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

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 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Trend That's Not Trending

This old rocking chair belong to Rick's grandfather and grandmother. When he was young he refinished the wooden parts of it and it's been recovered several times. I myself have recovered it at least 3 times and we've had it recovered once or twice.

In the little cabin there is only room for two TV-watching chairs. A Papa Bear chair and a Mama Bear chair. (The Baby Bears have to crash on the bed, the floor, or sit at the island.) Naturally, these two chairs have to be comfy. Neither of them are. 

The seat in the rocker needs to be totally remade and I've talked to an upholsterer about this. He said to get some material and bring it to him (turn at the corner store, go 6 miles, turn right, go 3 miles until you get to the green dumpster, turn left) and he'll fix 'er right up. In my area there doesn't appear to be an upholsterer who handles the material part also; you are on your own for that.

The chair is old, the little cabin is cedar, my ranching county is on the edge of West Texas, and I need to honor all these things in the choice of materials. Plus the chair belongs to Rick and it has to be somewhat manly. I drove into Kerrville today to pick out material from the interior design shop. This seems to be the only place in town with a big choice of material. So big, it's almost overwhelming.

But I've got in mind what I want, at least for the seat. I had recovered it in a vinyl that looks like tooled leather and we like that and you can sit on it if you're a little dusty. I told the young designer that I wanted tooled leather for the seat and a different material for the back. She kind of sighed and went to the closet. She pulled out some fabric with a tooled leather print. I told her that wasn't sturdy enough and asked her if she could order some leather for me. She said no.

She said it's a regional thing and the manufacturers don't carry it. I told her I was sure it was at least a western thing, not just Texas, and it would seem like someone would carry it. 

In Montana and Wyoming and probably Colorado I'm guessing there are some people sitting on tooled leather at this very moment.

She sighed again and began to look through a couple of her books to see what else she had. No leathers, tooled or untooled.

Shaking her head sadly and not wanting to look at me, she said the problem is "it's a trend and it's not trending right now."

With that statement she pretty much summed up the tooled leather, the old rocker, and me. She said I should try to find someone with a cow hide and get someone to tool it for me. I had been dismissed and so I left.

I headed to the feed store where milo and Beefmaker are always trending. The man that waited on me had on a cowboy hat and boots. The kid that loaded the feed had on a gimme cap and boots. Pickup trucks were in the parking lot and the hay barn was full of the smell of fresh coastal bales. 

I took the back roads home, past the RV park where a dozen full size Texas flags fly along the fence line. I passed several working windmills and some pastures with horses and cattle in them. More than one stone house over 100 years old was on my route. The creeks I crossed flowed along limestone eons old. The hills and Spanish Skirt formations that overlooked the road showed no sign of being new to the area.

I figured the last trendy thing my county had seen was when goat wire replaced barbed wire. We are old out here, the land, the rocks, the animals, the people. There is a sense that what you see today someone else saw 100, even 1000 years ago. It's a land that endures. It endures drought, fires, and occasionally a flood along the rivers and creeks. 

We have rodeos and dance halls and we buy our leather purses at the feed store and our Justin boots at Tractor Supply. When we go out to eat we go mostly for Tex-Mex and BBQ. After we finish our work, which is usually done outside, we sit on the porch with a cold beer and think about how lucky we are to be living here. 

We don't do trends.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dancin' In The Moonlight

The old ramshackle building had seen many happy times, good music, and some secrets, I imagine. There was a wood fire in the big fireplace on the front wall and we sat at a table next to it eating chili, glad to be out of the cold wind. Robert Earl was singing about a five pound bass on the jukebox. Old boots and cowboy hats hung from the ceiling and an armadillo held a sign telling you to order at the bar. 

There weren't many customers in the place late on a Sunday morning, just after they opened up. We wanted to get the lay of the land so we could come back and see one of the Texas singers that perform there. Many have come - Willie, Elvis, Merle, Dwight, George, BB, Lyle, Robert Earl, Ernest, Dylan, Patsy, Hank; the list goes on of all the greats, some Texans and some not. If you call yourself a Texan, you need to be sure you get by here before you die.

Rick and I were in a peaceful state of mind. We had just been transferred to San Antonio from Houston. While not quite in the state of mind that Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee must have been in when they left Mordor, it's fair to say we were in our happy place. We didn't think we would get out of Houston before we retired but the opportunity came knocking and we answered. 

We were now only an hour and a half from our little place and could go any time we wanted to check on things. We settled in Boerne for our last few years of working and were looking forward to all that offered. In San Antonio we could walk the River Walk and go to Mi Tierra and get the best cheese enchiladas. We were among the limestone hills and live oaks and cedars we love. There was a sense of having arrived near the end of our journey to get to where we wanted to be. To live out our life in charge of it, not dancing to someone else's tune.

Before two years were up the economy would collapse and we would be called back to Houston. I was to live the last 4 months before I retired in a little stone motel on the main street in Boerne, trying to finish out my job. Two weeks after I got back to Houston my mom entered the hospital, then a nursing home where she lived with Alzheimer's for a year and a half.

But we didn't know any of that at the time and we were happy to be together, eating chili by the fire at Floore's Country Store in Helotes, Texas. Life was good.

A couple of weeks ago Rick and I went to Austin to celebrate our 33rd anniversary a month early. We went to the new Austin City Limits venue downtown to see Raul Malo and The Mavericks. Raul is amazing and he and his fellow musicians put on an exciting, happy show. The floor level attendees were up and dancing on the first song and stayed that way the whole time!

Rick, Sarah, and I had seen Raul at the Backyard in Austin some years ago. Before it moved to another location so there would be room for a shopping center. (What's up with that, Austin?) I've seen lots of musicians over my lifetime, including the Beatles twice, and I can't say anyone surpassed Raul in putting on a great show. I keep Willie, who I've seen 3 times over the years, in a separate class all his own and I never consider him in comparing entertainment value. He's like going to a retreat where you replenish your soul, much as the Beatles going to see the Maharishi.

Well, of course, after the concert, I had to download a couple of Maverick songs I didn't already have. I was listening to Better Off in Texas, with its Tejano beat, and was transported to another place and time. I hope music does that for you sometimes; I think it does for most people. Like the slamming of the screen door, the smell of freshly mowed grass, or an old black and white photo. The song mentions Floore's Country Store in Helotes. 

And right back there I was, smelling the wood fire and chowing down on the chili. The great thing about it was the peaceful happy feeling I had at the time also returned. There is some kind of miracle in that. The mind making things so real you almost need a Pepcid AC for the chili burn.

The night we returned from Austin we went to drink some wine and eat some good food with our neighbors. We sat out on their porch overlooking the hills and valleys; it's a beautiful place they have. The moon was full as we drove home on the Mule, the four wheeled kind, not the four legged kind.

The caliche on the driveway reflected the moonlight back and it was as bright as day. I pulled up Dance in the Moonlight by The Mavericks on my iPhone and Rickie and I danced in the drive. 

" While the whole world is sleeping, we can start anew, I want to dance in the moonlight, only with you......"

I think we'll keep this tradition up, so if you come visit while the moon is full bring your dancin' boots!

John T Floore Country Store