A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Friday, February 27, 2015

Winter Visitors

The Three Amigos have been hanging out at the milo feeder for the last couple of hours. Every once in a while one of the gobblers stops eating long enough to display but it's a half-hearted attempt. It's just too cold! It's in the 20's and not expected to get above freezing today. 

The turkeys have been showing up off and on the last few weeks. A group of about 16 hens, one of 9 or 10 jakes, and today these 3 gobblers. Sometimes a group of 5 gobblers stops by. So far the gobblers don't seem to show up when the ladies are here. 

For about 3 weeks now, a beautiful 10-point buck has been at the deer feeder every afternoon at 5:00 when it goes off. He returns every day. I've not seen a buck his size hang around as much as he has. I know the rut's over and apparently he knows hunting season is over. But still it's unusual for one that size to be as visible. Or that's been my experience out here of watching them all these years.

One of his tines is broken off on the end. The does were bothered by his presence a little at first but now they mostly ignore him and he ignores them. It's the corn he's after. We haven't had any rain this month, only a trace of moisture from some ice last week. There's not a lot to eat.  Most of the hunters only feed during hunting season so our feeder is in high demand. We feed year round.

While the does respect him, the bossy doe, and there's always one or two around, give the spikes and 4-pointers hell.  I watched one yesterday jump and paw at the 4-pointer and run him off again and again. 

Tougher Than Leather has survived the season. She's gotten a bit more sure of herself and the does don't try to run her off so much. One afternoon the 10-pointer was on one side of the feeder eating and she was on the other. They stood there 2 feet apart, each respecting the other's right to be there. For some reason, it made me happy seeing her there next to him, being accepted by the group. 

Rickie had warned me if she came into heat a buck would cause her pain; they can be brutal and with her only having one back leg to stand on, she would be hurt. But if she was, she's survived it. Time will tell if she is pregnant. I've no doubt that she's got the kind of bloodline that needs to be passed on. The survival gene is strong in her. 
(This photo is an 8-pointer that stopped by in December.)

The bucks will soon be dropping their antlers and since he's hanging around here, I'm hoping my daily visitor will drop his where I can find one of them. I've only found one dropped antler in all the walks I've taken out here. They don't last too long with squirrels and mice nibbling on them and they're hard to find. 

I had a very unusual visitor drop by a couple of weeks ago. We are a long way from a river, pond, or marsh so imagine my surprise when I saw this heron in the driveway! He hopped over the garden fence and onto the little tank that has a water lily and a couple of small goldfish. All the tanks have goldfish and they've been hibernating down at the bottom and in some concrete blocks we have for them. I watched this guy for about 30 minutes, waiting for him to make a move, then I gave up. I don't know if he got the fish or not. I'll know when the weather warms and they resurface. Or not.

One morning walking to the front gate last week a fox ran across the driveway in front of me. He stopped to stare at me, and I at him, then slipped quietly through the cross fence. Last night the buck stopped and met my eyes when he saw me at the window. There is something that passes between you and a wild animal at that moment when you stand still and look into each other's eyes. There's an equality about it that has no owner/pet, master/servant, stronger/weaker component to it. These are not my animals, nor am I theirs. They share this land with me and I with them. They don't depend on me to live, but they accept the corn and milo I put out for them. In return, they visit me and sometimes they stop and acknowledge me. Quid pro quo, country style.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Like a Coat From the Cold

I don't mean to turn the blog into a sad chronicle of my loss, but one of the reasons I started it was to write things to share with my family. So indulge me today, please, as I talk of grandfathers, grandmothers, and uncles long gone.

Great-grandfather Roberts, a former Justice of the Peace in Illinois, wrote a letter to his daughter Hattie when her 24 year old son Gene was killed in Korea at Heartbreak Ridge. I don't find the majority of it comforting as he mostly just says, don't cry, it's worse when you lose a spouse, god's will, etc. If I ever lost a child, especially to violence, and someone told me it was god's will, they better duck because I'm fixing to punch them in the face. And I mean that sincerely.

But it has a sadness when he talks about losing his wife that I can now understand. He says "you stand alone, your life shattered, with the wreck all around you and you do not know which way to turn. I have had that experience and only I know the loneliness. She is in heaven and there Gene finds her and is gathered with those who have gone before....
I am writing you this sitting by the fire in the kitchen this cold, rainy Sunday, and living over the past 60 years since I first met our Mama. I am an old man, and I have left the rest of my life in the hands of my god, knowing that when I have finished my mission, I will receive my reward, and there is entire peace between us."

While my beliefs on the ways of the universe are different than his, today I find his comments like a big hug from a grandfather that I knew only vaguely when I was a very young girl and he was a very old man.

And as I write this sitting by the fire in my kitchen this cold, icy Monday, and living over the past 34 years since I first met Rickie, I feel a connection with Grandpa Roberts. And it comforts me, as much as I can be comforted today. This "blog post" of his from 1953.

And I marvel at how I've saved this letter all these years since Grandma Hattie gave it to me back in the 1960s. A letter written on his J.P. stationery, with his office phone number of 474 and home phone number of 1008 in the top corners. It's survived every downsizing and move I've made to surface this morning.

Some things can't be explained and people need to stop trying to make up stories to explain them; it's not necessary. Some things just are. I've walked with sadness this morning and Grandpa Roberts has come to walk with me. And it warms and comforts me, as Guy Clark says, like a coat from the cold.

Like A Coat From the Cold by Guy Clark

Friday, February 13, 2015

Prickly Pear - the Good, the Bad, and the Heart of It

People not familiar with the kind of country we live in used to always ask what we were going to do when we retired. I always told them Rickie was going to cut cedar and I was going to dig up prickly pear.

I decided today was a good day to work on my end of that. We have some open areas between the cabin and the road and the prickly pear is out of control there. I like prickly pear. It has beautiful flowers and my favorite jelly is made with the fruit, although you have to work hard for it. It provides food for wildlife and Woodrow and Gus will nibble on it in a pinch. But it's one of those things that if you give it an inch it takes a mile.

I was having a day of rough moments. I really don't have days that are rough; I have moments. I learned many years ago to appreciate the little things and I can have moments of happiness in all but the darkest of days. If you can't find peace and joy in the world around you - in a little crippled doe that keeps on going, the tiny yellow bloom on an indescript cactus, an early morning snowfall, the way the late afternoon sun lights up the hills - then it might be harder for you to find that peace. But it's always there for me. I just have to get out in it.

It got up to 81 degrees today. Perfect for digging prickly pear. I started outside the yard gate and worked for about 3 hours. The boys had nibbled the grass as close to the pear as they could. When pickin's are slim like now they show up with cactus spines in their faces. I freed up some grass where I dug the pear out and they headed straight to that when I left. Then they moved over to the area where I dump the pear out and examined that. Curiosity is a character trait of theirs and they notice anything different in their world.

There's a little bug called a cochineal that lives on prickly pear. You can tell it's there when you see white cottony clumps on the pads. If you smash the bug you'll end up with a bright red color on your fingertips. This is used to make a red dye and it colors food and makeup. It was used by indigenous people in Mexico and by the Spaniards to dye clothes. I like seeing it and knowing its story. I like knowing that people long dead found uses for it in their lives and that it's still around. It's a survivor and I like survivors.

This heart shaped pad was lying on the ground where I was working. The boys had chomped it off recently and left it right where I happened to be today. Their Valentine to me.

I wonder sometimes if they miss Rickie. I'm not sure what they comprehend. They are smart observant animals very aware of their surroundings. If they notice a few prickly pear dug up and moved surely they notice the absence of their friend. The one who stood at the fence and rubbed their noses and horns, speaking softly to them. They know their names and they know their routines and they come when you ring the bell on the shed.

And apparently they know Valentine's Day is this week.