A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Wonders of Spring

For 30 minutes I watched the little turkey hen from the window in the cabins. She's been coming into the yard every afternoon. I'm pretty sure she is nesting somewhere nearby. The hens have broken out of the large flock of 25 or so we had earlier and gone their own way. (Photo is of another hen with babies in 2013.)

I had finished mowing the yard in between the rain showers we had yesterday. So the grass wasn't too high and the ground was soft from the rains. She worked her way around the big oak tree right outside the window, scratching the ground over and over again and eating any bugs or seeds she uncovered. A walk around the yard the last few weeks shows turkey scratchings all over the place.

Every day I've had a big gobbler coming in the yard and pasture. Unlike the hen he comes all day long. You can see him from any window at different times of day depending on whether he's headed to the water tanks or finding things to eat. He tolerates me being in the yard as long as I'm not too close and am quiet.

We have good turkey habitat here. We provide water and supplemental feed. They have cover, trees to roost in, and areas to nest in. We have some areas of ash where we've burned brush piles; these make good dust bath places. We don't have a dog to run them off. They don't mind Woodrow and Gus; they'll hang out with them in the pastures.

I'm going to have some cedar cleared this year but I'm going to try and maintain a balance so the turkeys and deer still feel welcome and yet I can keep cedar from closing off the whole property. And open a long view here and there because it's human nature to want to see as far as you can. My father-in-law Jerome used to sit on an old church pew outside the back door of his home in Mississippi and stare down the hill into the woods for hours. I know how he felt and I know what he was looking for. And I know he found it there as I find it here.

We've had a beautiful Spring. The boys have some green grass to eat and the deer have forbs. Rickie's garden is covered with red poppies that come up from seed every year since he first planted them, more than we've ever had. The larkspurs that do the same are getting ready to bloom, and the native Engleman's daisies he transplanted into the garden are full of yellow flowers. The grapes are getting blooms and we have tiny peaches and plums on the trees Rickie planted. The crapapple he planted last year is covered with blooms and bees.

Native purple verbena and mealy blue sage are blooming all over the place and we have a few bluebonnets here and there. Mexican hats are coming up and the yuccas are starting to get bloom stalks. We've never had a lavender bloom like the one by the cabin has done this year.

Doves are everywhere, cooing each evening and flying up out of the trees when you get too near them. The vermillion flycatcher swoops over the garden and the titmouses are filling the trees with their chatter. Jackrabbits have returned to the yard and a small ladderback woodpecker makes his way around the cedar posts on the porch.

I've done a couple of little paint projects. Whether it's because the kids went on vacation to Mexico, land of bright happy colors, or because it's such a beautiful Spring, or because I felt the need to offset the blackness that sometimes settles in, I don't know. But the black front door got a new coat of happy paint and so did the inside of the pantry cabinet doors.

I drained and cleaned the water tanks, something we do every year. The heron that dropped out of the sky a while back and ate my beautiful big goldfish left a few small ones. I got those divided up among the three tanks.

I tilled the garden and planted and checked out the irrigation lines, making repairs where needed. My butternut squash seeds are up and so are the sunflower seeds I planted. My Papa planted sunflowers for us when I was a little girl and Rickie has planted them for me for years. This year I plant them.

It's the season of renewal, of hope. I've seen documentaries of nuclear disaster areas that show nature moving back in. The scope of the damage is great and it's not the same, but life returns. It takes time but the natural world measures time in eons.

And out here where the scope of the damage is also great and it's not the same, life returns. Those of us who live close to the natural world know the only way to continue is the only way it's always been. The way Rick and I tried to live. To find wonder in the seed that comes up and the hen that scratches the ground looking for food. I don't measure time in eons but rather in the changing of the seasons. This Spring has brought many wonders.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Women of the Land

Back in February I was at a brush control workshop partially sponsored by Texas Wildlife Association. Checking out their website I saw they have a program called Women of the Land.
They offered workshops geared to women living on rural or ranch land, and interested in conservation, wildlife, and land management.

Some of the workshops were one day but there was one that was 3 days of presentations and hands on experience. It was held on a ranch down south of me. Some of the things they offered I was familiar with and some I wanted to learn more about. Plus the opportunity to meet and interact with a group of women with similar interests sounded like something I needed. If I'm going to stay here without Rick, and I intend to, I'm going to have to do all I can to make it work.

When I told my daughter Sarah I had signed up for the workshop, she said she wanted to go too. I'm sure some of it was just to support me but she loves this place too and she wants to step up and help more with her dad gone. As the day to go approached, I have to tell you, I was wondering why in the hell I signed up for this! I just wanted to stay home where I can cry anytime I feel like it. And in the best of times being around people I don't know for any length of time isn't something I always want to do. What if I didn't like anyone? What if I got too sad? What if I felt out of place? I almost backed out but Sarah, who was also wondering if she would like this, said no, let's go. So we did. Knowing we could just leave if we wanted to! 

So we loaded up our cordless drills, our binoculars, our work gloves, and our hunting knives and headed south with our boots and jeans. We put the truck in 4 wheel drive when we got to the muddy ranch road and pulled in just in time for the wine and cheese social! We had all brought a couple of bottles of wine, and Sarah and I had a few tiny airline size bottles of Crown Royal in our bags. For emergencies.

Some of the women were my age and some were older. There were two young wildlife biology students from Amarillo. There were some younger than me but older than Sarah. I met a couple of women that have property down the road from me! They live elsewhere but come out here when they can. Some of the women managed their own ranches and some had inherited ranches they wanted to learn to manage. One woman was a hands-on ranch owner already, one sold real estate in Central Texas. What bound us together, besides a desire to learn, was a belief that there was nothing unusual about women calculating Boone and Crockett scores or mending fences, or figuring out how much cattle forage you have available.

Our classes and presentations were varied. The ranch owners taught some, along with some of the staff and friends, and Texas Wildlife Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife personnel came in from different parts of the state to help us. Through it all we had great meals prepared by one of the young ranch owners. She worked non-stop keeping us fed and hydrated. We stayed in a nice lodge on the ranch with a beautiful great room. We usually ate outside on a flagstone patio with a huge fire pit and a stone water feature, complete with a little running creek.

The presentations included gun cleaning, optics, knife sharpening (get yourself a WartHog knife sharpener), trailer backing, chainsaw operation and maintenance (I had been particularly interested in this one. The theme of the lesson was just because you aren't able to do it all, doesn't mean you can't do some. I have a Husqvarna cordless chain saw on order at a ranch supply store. I have confidence I can do some trimming at least!), aging and scoring deer, how to use a water wagon for fire fighting or road maintenance, range plant identification, and fence mending (gotta do that constantly around here). We had classes on bats and pollinators, GPS, plant identification and cattle grazing and forage. We learned about prescribed burning and got to set some little fires with drip cans. We built bat houses.

We  got to play with the big boy toys - we drove a bulldozer, a tractor, and a bobcat, carrying sand down the road and dumping it. While we certainly didn't get qualified to be heavy equipment operators, there is nothing like driving a bulldozer to empower you! The young men that helped us with this were extremely polite and helpful, as were all the people that presented or taught at the workshop.

On our last night there we climbed into the back of three pickups to go out and do a spotlight deer survey. They made it into a contest and we had to judge range distances and count some stakes with metal tags that one of the wildlife biologists had put out to represent deer. It was a cool and clear night, perfect for riding down a ranch road in the back of a truck with ladies you had come to respect and enjoy. As we pulled out of the ranch yard, Orion and the Dog Star hanging over our heads, with Taurus and the Seven Sisters just beginning to appear, one of the women in our truck started singing "The stars at night are big and bright............." We all joined in and then sang some cowboy songs we only knew part of the words to. We seemed alone in the world, the pickups slowly crunching the caliche of the ranch road, an occasional deer, jackrabbit, longhorn, and porcupine appearing near us, the soft voices of strong women singing rising over it all.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Sarah and I made her dad proud.

(Time to head home, me and Sarah, my lips chapped from the wind, Sarah all smiles.)