A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Leap of Faith

Picture this. The woman sits reading a book, alone in the quiet solitude of the cabin. She hears a truck drive up and before she can get outside the door swings open. The north wind seems to blow the man inside. He's laughing and rubbing his hands together. This is his favorite time of year. He doesn't come alone. With him comes action, fun, laughter, conversations about the events of the world and the family. With him comes life. Chili simmering on the stove, walks in the woods, fences repaired, winter vegetables planted, deer blinds checked, a campfire lit. In the beginning days before the cabin, the campfire was kept going all day on cold days so they could get warm as they worked outside and he could cook biscuits and pinto beans over the fire. The whine of the chain saw often heard, providing wood for the fire. This woman and their daughter Sarah dragging the oak tops over to be used as fire starters, and helping load the oak logs in the truck.

She gives him a hug and they go outside to unload what he's brought with him. He has hay and feed for the longhorns, some corn for the deer. Grocery bags full of things you can't buy at the small grocery in town; steaks to be grilled with fresh vegetables, maybe some salmon to be smoked or some meat for his famous fajitas. Always, a big bottle of Crown and maybe some wine and Bailey's for the upcoming cold nights. He hopes to get neighboring friends Martha and Scott over for supper and wine one night while he's here.

In a few weeks it will be hunting season. Some weekends he will slip out alone before dawn to sit quietly in his stand, watching the sun creep up over the hills, hoping that muy grande buck will let down his guard and come out of the woods. While he waits he watches the other residents either wake up or head back to their dens after a night of hunting; foxes, birds, an occasional bobcat. And some weekends other hunters will come. His son John and grandson Zac, his sister-in-law Kathy and brother-in-law Derald and their grandsons, and in the early years his best friend John C. Hunting weekends filled with family and friends are a whirlwind of activity. Lots of eating, laughing, storytelling about the ones they got and the ones that got away. He teaches the new hunters how to hunt, how to clean a deer, the ways of wild animals, and the responsibility of being a safe and ethical hunter.

During the holidays before the bunkhouse is built, the kids and grandkids will be spread all over the floor sleeping on air mattresses, the furniture pushed back and sometimes moved to the back porch. One giant slumber party, the last embers in the fireplace dying down as everyone quiets down and goes to sleep. In the mornings before everyone is up, he has the bacon frying and she's making homemade biscuits. They slip out to the front porch with their coffee as the kids all wake up. He's cut a small cedar that they've decorated and put on the porch. Lights have been hung, sometimes on the cabin porch, sometimes on the bunkhouse and pumphouse, and the one last time in the trees over the outside kitchen, help often provided by Zac and Cam.

During the hot days of summer, there are different things going on when he's here. Sometimes he'll get the canoe out and he and the woman will go floating down the Llano River, marveling at the clear blue-green water, stopping to rest and wade in the water every so often. Sometimes he and John and Zac will take the canoe and go fishing as they float down the river. A few years he's managed to get the family and extended family together for tubing trips, going to Cuidad Acuna together, and always cooking his fajitas. Sometimes just he and the woman go tubing. He was an athlete when he was younger, even a lifeguard, and she's not the best swimmer, but she always feels safe with him. 

The garden is overflowing with flowers and vegetables he's planted, his grapes to be made into wine and jelly, his peaches for jam and frozen drinks and cobbler. He's an adventurous gardener, always trying new varieties and new fruit trees. In the late afternoon, as the sun heads toward the horizon in the West, he stands by the fence, a glass of whiskey in his hand, and talks to the longhorns.

He teaches grandsons Zac, Larry Michael, and Jeremy the Texas version of horseshoes known as washer pitching. He takes the youngest grandson Bix for rides in the Mule and teaches him not to be afraid of Woodrow and Gus. It was a good life.

And then one evening it all ended. He died as he lived, going out with his boots on, as they say here in Texas. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

And I was left alone. 

I've learned to do a lot of the things he did, in a modified way as my abilities required. I've walked alone the trails we walked together. I've tried to find peace and comfort in being where we spent so many happy years together. I've made all the improvements to the ranch he wanted to do and didn't get the chance. I've hoped to spend my last years here where we shared our life.

But the truth is, the life has gone out of the place with Rick's passing. Yes, I have the memories. But I'll have no new memories and the old ones sometimes threaten to roll over me and crush me. I'm not sure I can survive another 10 or 12 years with only his ghost for company.

So I've made a tough decision. It's not been easy to make and it won't be easy to carry out. I've not made it lightly. I've put a lot of thought into it and I've weighed what I'll lose and what I'll gain. If you know me at all, you know my love for this land I live on. And you know my love for the man that loved it too. In my most logical moments I know that he would not have expected me to stay here after he was gone. I've stayed because I couldn't leave. But I'm now where I don't think I can stay without him. It's also hard because I have always believed the place we love and live defines us. As this place defined Rick, it also defines me.

But when Rick left, all the fun left with him. I can do the work, for now anyway, but as the years go by that will be harder to do. But I can't have the fun without Rick. This remote country life is best when you have a partner. And some of the reason I wanted to stay was to keep the place to hand down. But the truth of that is, this was our dream, mine and Rick's. It was what we wanted and what we chose. And that dream has died. The kids and grandkids will have their own dreams and that's how it should be.

I never thought a year and a half ago I would say this. But I've decided to sell the ranch. I've got a new idea and a plan that's begun to take shape that will lead me to new adventures and experiences. I wanted now to explain why I made this hard decision. I'll write about my plan later as it is more firmed up. It was decided based on the belief that life is precious and we are at fault if we waste it being sorrowful all the time. I have yet a part to play, as we all do, and I need to go see what that is.  

Rick will be where I am going as it's a place he and I often traveled to. Some memories will be there waiting for me when I arrive. I'll take what I can that was his when I leave, his deer and hog mounts, his hats and boots, the mesquite fireplace mantel he created, his tools, and his memories. 

Keep me in your hearts as I try to find my way down this new road. 

"He's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith, spread your arms, and hold your breath, and always trust your cape."

The Cape by Guy Clark

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cut Your Own Wood and It'll Warm You Twice

Rick always told me to stay away from the chain saw. I'm a clumsy person and both he and I could see plenty of chances for disaster if I tried to use a chain saw. He was practically born with a chain saw in his hand and even he had a near disaster one time when the saw kicked back on him as he fought one of the big many branched cedars. He was untouched but his jeans had a big slash across them. But things change and we have to adjust if we're going to continue on.

The one chore Rickie did that I was afraid I couldn't do was cut firewood. We have a small fireplace in the cabin. Our area is relatively mild most of the time in the Winter. We love a fire and burn one when it's cold but we don't really depend on it for heat. We have central heat but we don't use that a lot either. Usually just for a little bit in the mornings to take the chill off. 

But we both loved a fire and we'd have one inside and a campfire outside whenever we could. After Rickie died a neighbor brought me a trailer load of firewood. Which was such a nice thing to do. It got me through that year, but I didn't want to depend on someone else supplying me. And you could cut half the oak trees down I have and still have an abundance of them so buying firewood seemed kind of ridiculous. 

Sarah and I went to a workshop for ranch women several months after Rick died. One of the things we learned was yes, you can cut firewood. You just probably can't use the biggest chain saw they make or cut a redwood down. We learned how to change the chain and things like that. So I got the Husqvarna cordless chain saw and I love it! I recommend it to anyone that has trouble, like me, starting gasoline equipment! 

One thing I have missed with the addition is being in bed and looking out the window at night and seeing the stars. When the bed was in the original cabin room we could raise the shade and see Orion cross the sky, followed by the bright Dog Star and the moon. Out here where it's dark you see so many stars! There is a group of trees on the side of the addition and the windows are too close to them to see the sky. I'd have to cut them all down to see the same sky we saw from the cabin. And I don't have a window that gives that same view. 

But I can improve the view at night and see some stars. So the last couple of days I've been trimming the trees outside the bedroom window. Because I have plenty of trees and only one bedroom view! A view is as important to me as trees, and maybe more so. I grew up in the piney woods and always felt claustrophobic. You can't see much of the sky under those tall trees! One of my favorite quotes is "the barn's burnt down, now I can see the moon."

The bonus of the tree cutting is that I've got a good start on my firewood now! We only use about a half cord each year in the fireplace, sometimes less, and I've probably got enough already for the year. But I'll cut a bit more as the weeks go by. You never know when you might have a power failure!  Cutting firewood was one of our favorite things to do. Though I have to do it alone now, it brings back a lot of good memories. The smell, the noise of the chain saw, working side by side with Rick, getting something done on our own, being outside. We've been a little cooler and have had a great breeze so it's been pleasant. 

There are a couple of trees in the group I'd like to cut totally down. And I may yet. I have to study on it a bit! Also my chains need sharpening. I don't try to do that myself but take them to the hardware store in town. That was a recommendation from the rancher than taught us at the workshop. Rick sharpened his own but I'm making it work for me. 

We've had some rain lately and things have greened up. The fields are full of grass and wildflowers. I've been able to quit feeding hay to the longhorns and the deer have forbs to eat. The garden, which was a complete failure this year, is full of flowers. And the one pepper plant that didn't die right away was loaded with bell peppers! I've had some deer bedding down about 20' from the house; I love finding the matted down places they've left in the grass and knowing they slept close to me. 

This time coming up was always our favorite time of year and many days are hard for me when it comes around. Last year I couldn't bring myself to do some of the things we did and some things and traditions I tried to carry on. I'm not sure if that was better or worse. Some things I've decided just maybe have to pass away with Rick. Because they're never the same, no matter how you try. But while time doesn't really heal, it helps you learn to live with the changes. The memories don't always make you cry; they sometimes bring a smile. I'm hoping for more of those moments this year. And wishing the same for all of us who loved Rick.