A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt

A day or two after Rickie died his best friend, next to me, came by. John and Susie lived in Houston near us and also had a place in the Hill Country. They were South Texas natives and ranchers. We had known them since our days in Lafayette many years ago. John said to me as they left “Sue, it’s a bad hand you’ve been dealt but if anyone can handle it, you can.”

I’ve repeated that to myself many times over these last years alone. I’ve made hard choices and I’ve done things I thought I’d never do. The hardest was giving up the ranch. Not only was it the place Rickie and I had loved for almost 30 years, but we had built it up from bare land to be our home, our place to live out our lives. Truly our blood, sweat, and tears were in it, as well as every penny we could scrape together. We knew every inch of it, every animal that we shared it with, every season and the changes it brought. We loved the smell of it, the caliche and the cedars, the draw flowing after heavy rains. We loved the history of it, the feeling that those who walked it before us still passed by every so often. Unless you have also loved a land, the actual land beneath your feet, you can’t understand this and I can never explain it to you. You either know it or you don’t.

But as y’all know, living there alone consumed me with a sadness that ruled my life. And over a couple of years I contemplated how best to play the hand I’d been dealt. My choices were simple. Live there alone trying to keep our dream on life support, and be sad every day of my life, with the kids and grandkids occasionally coming out and being sad with me, or try to find some joy in the years I had left. The sadness would always be with me but there had to be some joy left for me also.

My overriding guide in decision making was this - my choices were to be made not only based on what I might want but on what would benefit my kids and grandkids. I’d lived 65 years already at that time. What could I do to make life different for them? As I told them, Rickie left us an opportunity and I intended to take it for all of us. I would make the final hard decision for all what would happen.

I have a little moleskin tablet Sarah gave me years ago. I write down quotes I like in it. A few months after Rickie died I ran across it while rearranging a drawer. There was a quote by Muriel Rukeyser that I had written twice. I figured I must have either needed it then or at the time I rediscovered it. “However confused the scene of our life appears, however torn we who do now face that scene, it can be faced, and we can go on to be whole.” It was time to face it and go on.

It’s been a year now since I sold the ranch and moved to Pagosa Springs. It’s been everything I hoped it would be, for me and for the ones I love. It’s been a year of skiing, sledding, horseback riding, rafting, kayaking, hiking, train riding, tubing, cowboy parades, campfire sitting, and hot springs. A year of new friends for me and doing things I’ve been scared to do. A year of adventure. A year of healing.

A few months after I moved Sarah and her family sold their home and left Austin, the city they loved. They decided they wanted a change and new adventures of their own, and also being closer to me factored in. They moved to Denver, because of the job market and the big city opportunities. But they’ve decided they just traded one big city for another and haven’t had the change they hoped for. So, as Sarah puts it, they’ve decided to do a “Waylon, and Willie, and the boys” and sell their home there and move here to Pagosa.

When I decided to come here, my original plan was to buy a place here and be here most of the time but to go back to Austin and stay in my tiny house in the kids back yard some. Then they said hey, let’s all move to Colorado and find a place where we can all be together. Our search for that didn’t pan out. But as it turned out the place I bought here fit that plan better than anything we found then.

So once again we’re changing up our lives a bit. Sarah, Justin, and Bix are selling their house in Denver and moving into the cabin here. I’m in the process of converting some of the big 5 car garage with workroom into a space for me. It’ll be about 500 sq feet, a bit bigger than the original ranch cabin but with a different design. I’ll have a separate living/mini kitchen, a bathroom, and bedroom. I’ve started on it already and more on that later.

When I was a teenager Elvis movies were all the rage. They were as we know, just a way for him to sing his songs! The movies were all the same mostly but we loved them anyway. My favorite was Follow That Dream. I loved the words to the song. “When your heart gets restless, time to move along. When your heart gets weary, time to sing a song. But when a dream is calling you, there’s just one thing that you can do. You’ve gotta follow that dream wherever that dream may lead.”

And so, in playing the hand I was dealt, I’ve also managed to follow a dream. A dream of adventure in a place Rickie and I also loved, a dream of a new life, a dream of finding some joy left to me.

And a year later, I offer thanks to the ranch we loved that provided the funding, to my kids and grandkids for having the nerve and the heart to let go of the ranch for a chance of new adventures, to Colorado for making us welcome, and as always, to Rickie for teaching me to be strong and having the courage to go for it. The hand’s been dealt and played.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Protectors of the Realm, Western Division

It seems the cats have assumed the responsibility of guarding the Rockin’RS since Woodrow and Gus didn’t make the move to the mountains. And although it wasn’t consciously planned that way, the new guardians have the same personalities as the old guardians. 

Heathcliff is the brooding loner Woodrow and Solar is the friendly curious Gus. And just like the longhorns they are the best of buddies. 

This morning Heathcliff and Solar unknowingly mimicked Woodrow and Gus, sitting back to back like the boys often did, keeping an eye out for trouble in each direction.  

Until I saw them this way, it never occurred to me that I’d instinctively sought out a smaller version of the longhorns. But the heart wants what it wants. So says Emily Dickinson and Selena Gomez and I have to agree. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Family Additions

So. For reasons not quite understood by me, I adopted two cats from the animal shelter last week. It wasn’t that I was lonely; I consider myself pretty much a loner and for the most part, I’m perfectly happy living alone. I’d prefer to live with Rickie but that’s not an option, so alone works for me. He was a bit of a loner also and that’s one reason we worked well as partners. 

Part of my adopting the cats has to do with volunteering at the animal shelter each week with the group of gals and a few fellas that walk dogs. We also do mailings occasionally and there are some other events and a thrift shop that I’ve not worked with and really have no plans to. But being a volunteer, sooner or later, I feel like you have to put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, and support the efforts of the organization you volunteer for. 

So this quiet gray cat, with a reputation as a loner (you notice a theme here, right), named Heathcliff gave me a “who the hell are you and what the hell do you want” kind of stare one day. Naturally, I recognized a soulmate. After a few weeks, I heard myself say to the cat lady “l think I’d like to adopt Heathcliff.” Then I kind of looked around to see who was saying that. No one there but me. She said he had to go to a quiet home. He came back to the shelter after a previous adoption 7 months before that didn’t work well. He was starving and scared when he returned. Well, a quiet house is my house, so I said ok, we’re good. 

Then she said well, would you take two? And I’m thinking, cat lady, I’m not even exactly sure why I’m taking one. But what I said was “sure, why not.” So Heathcliff and his best friend Solar came to live in the cabin with me a week ago. Solar, a black and white shorthair, is a curious cat and she made herself at home pretty quickly though she’s still a bit jumpy. She was named Solar because she came to the shelter on eclipse day. She had been there 5 months. I wanted to keep their names but Solar doesn’t roll off the tongue so well so I’m calling her Solo, at my daughter’s suggestion. Sort of keeping with the universe theme as naturally, it refers to Han Solo and could be a nickname for Solar. And she’s kind of the adventurous of the small pack of two. And Heathcliff is the brooding one as befits his name. 

Heathcliff stayed in his carrier for three days then moved upstairs under the bed. After 3 days staying hidden there and only coming out at night, he began to come out during the day and evening. He listens when I talk to him, though he ignores what I say, and he won’t let me get near him. He’s still unsure about this whole sharing the cabin thing. He’d probably prefer me to move out. I give him his space because that’s what we do here. 

Another reason that maybe contributed to the adoption was that I’ve always had wild animals to observe and interact with. I miss my wild turkeys from the ranch and naturally, I miss Woodrow and Gus. Though not the work and expense so much! I have a few deer here and some magpies and we heard gobblers last Spring, but I can’t feed any of these animals like I used to in Texas because of it drawing bears in. Then the bears get in trouble and Colorado has to kill them. So, cats are about as close to wild animals on a regular basis for me here. 

But. I have a few rules we have to follow, at the same time as we have to keep it real. I’m a bit of an OCD gal as far as the cabin goes (don’t look in my car). Now that the cats have settled in some I made a couple of small changes. I shut them out of the den, although I’ll let them in if I’m in there. That room is so cold and I have to use a space heater to supplement the gas. I’ve had it running 24 hours a day since the cats arrived. With the expensive propane bill I can’t take a huge electric bill also. So we’ll mostly stay out of there. They don’t care anyway, their fave place is the loft. 

I had a bench with a longhorn that looked like Gus on it by the stairs. They both like that bench and Solo will get on it and swat at Heathcliff on the stairs. But the material resembles very much a scratching post, and that was their observation, so I moved it to the foot of my bed and shut that door. I’ll let them in at night when the bench is covered with excess pillows and blankets. I like it there anyway. 

I went to the antique store and found a little chest with a marble top - marble is one of my favorite things right now - and put it where the bench was. They can jump up there and no harm done. And I have a little more storage. There is an old newspaper from 1989 in the top drawer and I’ll keep it there. I don’t like the drawer handles. I had one antler knob left from the ranch closet and used it on the door. I’ll look for something similar and replace the handles. 

I also found a wooden sled at the antique store. It’s not real old but I like it and it was reasonably priced. I’ve been trying to add a few Colorado things to the cabin. It’s made by a Colorado company called Mountain Boy Sledworks. They’ve been around since 2002. Some are made in Colorado and some in China. It doesn’t say on this sled. I also found some WWII 10th Mountain Division snowshoes which were cool. They were also $345 so they’re still at the antique store. 

So the new residents of the Rockin’RS Western Division are gradually making themselves at home and we’re all three settling in for some possible snow over the next several days. I loaded up the firewood rack on the front porch, we have plenty of cat treats and people treats and I’ve got some new books to read. Solar has been observed watching a little television and Heathcliff is happy in his loft. 

And so begins the winter of our content. 

Are cats strange animals, or do they so resemble us that we find them curious as we do monkeys? John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

The problem with cats is that they get the exact same look on their face whether they see a moth or an axe-murderer. Paula Poundstone

Friday, December 29, 2017

Walking on the Ashes of a Dream

As 2017 winds down, I’ve spent some time looking back on my year and one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made. The decision to leave Texas and everything Rickie and I had spent almost 30 years building. It was scary; it was stressful; it was immensely sad both for me and my kids and grandkids; and lots of people thought it was crazy. And some still do. But it was mostly necessary. People tell me, when they hear my story, that I was brave (some say crazy) to leave my familiar home and come here, not knowing anyone. But it would have been harder to stay. We can’t fight our nature and it’s not my nature to sit around and cry and wring my hands when things go all to hell. I’ll do that for a while, most people will. But then it’s time to pick yourself up and take stock of your life. What you have and what you want.

I can sum up what I wanted in one sentence and often have when people ask me why on earth I left our place and came here to Colorado. And it’s this - while I’ll always be sad, there has to be some joy left in life for me. And so I set out to find that for me and for the kids and grandkids. As I told them, Rickie left us an opportunity for adventure and I meant to take advantage of it. Not just for me but for them.

And it’s been the best thing I could have done. When I look back at photos of the ranch, it makes me sad. But it’s the life we had there that I’m sad about and that I miss. If I went back it would still be sad because what I miss isn’t there anymore. I read something a widow wrote the other day about why she moved when her husband died. She said his memory ambushed her at every corner she turned and she was emotionally drained all the time from the sadness. That summed up where I was.

It’s been a busy year here and it’s been an adventurous year for the family and friends that have been able to come over. We’ve all done things we’ve never done before. Some have been skiing and snowboarding, we’ve been horseback riding in the mountains, rafting and kayaking down the river, hiking, train riding, sitting in the hot springs, and practicing our snowshoeing for this winter. We’ve seen some beautiful sights and we’ve driven down some scary roads.

I’ve had a Christmas tree for the first time since Rickie died. This is the 4th Christmas without him. I decorated the cabin and put the lights that used to be on the ranch cabin up outside. There was joy in the house with grandkids here. And then more joy as I went to Denver to celebrate Christmas with Sarah and her family.

I accomplished some goals here at the new cabin this year. I had a deck built; I furnished the cabin since I left almost everything I had at the ranch; replaced all the broken mini blinds; moved piles of stone; mulched my planting beds and planted trees and perennials; dismantled an old greenhouse: replaced all my door locks (17!); painted the kitchen and bath; had my bedroom, living room wall, and staircase painted; cleared a pile of junk on the hill; replaced the appliances; painted the front and garage walk-through doors; made gravel paths, edging, and a garden area by the deck; and had someone haul off a giant pile of old posts by the driveway that had been there about 10 years. I’ve started a list of things I want to do next year.

I sold Rickie’s truck to our grandson and traded in my SUV for a Subaru, the state car of Colorado. I joined a great group of people that walk dogs at the animal shelter each week (and then we have lunch and they teach me all about Colorado) and I go one night most weeks to meet some friends to hear live music and have a drink. I know my neighbors and could call on them for help. I’ve sort of learned to drive in winter weather. Sort of.  And just this week I adopted two rescue cats from the animal shelter. All part of learning to live again.

In everything I do I see Rickie’s hand. Without the sacrifices we made all those years to have the ranch, I wouldn’t have been able to sell it and buy this place. Without his belief that we have to take every chance to grab happiness and joy when it presents itself, I wouldn’t have had the courage to go off on my own like I did. Without all the skills I learned from him, I wouldn’t have been as confident to do some of the things I do. And without his love for the natural world and how he instilled it in me and the kids and grandkids, I wouldn’t have picked this place of peace and beauty.

I sometimes wish we had sold the ranch when he was alive and come here. He would have loved the adventures we’ve had. And I believe had he lived we might have done just that after he was retired a couple of years. We talked about it many times and he was always ready to do something different. He was the only one in my family like that. And he taught me to be that way and I’m grateful. It’s made all the difference in my life. That road less traveled.

My grandson Larry Michael told me that Rickie lived on in me because he changed me into the person I am. And that when I went to Colorado people would know him because of who I now was. Sometimes when I’m doing something or making a decision that I never would have before, I’ll say Rickie is gone and so now I have to be Rickie. Sort of like Negan on Walking Dead and how all his people say they are Negan when asked who they are. In many ways, I am Rickie and so are all those he influenced.

It’s been quite a year, this 2017. I hope 2018 finds us courageous enough to face what life tosses at us and that if we find ourselves faced with choices, we don’t always take the familiar one. That road less traveled does, indeed, make all the difference.

Ashes of a Dream by Mike Stinson

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Leaving Your Mark Along the Trail

As a lot of photos of the ranch cabins and the Kangaroom tiny house in Austin show up on the looking back feature on my Facebook page, naturally it makes me sad that we did all that work and then left them. But it also makes me proud that we did it and passed it on to others to enjoy. And in the case of the Kangaroom Casa de Abuelos, to enable the new young family to make extra money to offset their mortgage obligation. Our motto was always leave it better than we found it, even the times we lived in a rental. 

And as I enjoy my new Colorado cabin, it makes me happy to see all the work Matt did and passed on to me. Life is a journey not a destination and we leave our mark as we pass by.

I hope you’re leaving your mark as you go on your journey and are proud of what you left along the trail. And I hope someone left their mark for you. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Older I Get

“The older I get, the more I think, you only get a minute, better live while you’re in it, cause it’s gone in a blink.”

Driving back from Denver this week I was struck once again by the spectacular beauty of nature in Colorado. I had checked the webcams at Wolf Creek and the road was clear and the weather apps didn’t show any snowstorms on the way. So I took the scenic route along the mountains and plains. The consensus of the weather folks seems to be that winter is late coming to Colorado this year. Once it sets in I’ll most likely have to go up I-25 and that rolling treeless country isn’t my kind of place. 

I drive through Bailey, one of the prettiest sections of the trip. The narrow road winds along the South Platte River. There are no shoulders on the road there and the forest and the river come up close and wrap you up. I skirt the little towns of Buena Vista and Salida as I go into and out of the Colorado plains. The Arkansas River tumbles along past them. 

In Conifer a big mule deer buck stops traffic as he crosses the highway. A small herd of buffalo graze in a pen near Fairplay. A group of young men wearing football jerseys play a game of football in a ranch pasture beside the river where fly fishermen cast a line back in the summer and early fall. Their jerseys are big, as if they covered shoulder pads on a different field in a different game. They all look like Dallas Cowboy jerseys but whether they are professionals here on a Thanksgiving break, or are fans, or college friends, or family, I can only speculate.  

As I left Denver V-formations of Canadian geese fly over heading to a warmer climate ahead of the cold snows that are surely coming soon. I can hear their honking and am reminded of how much Rickie loved the wild geese. As I pass a high school football field I see it’s covered with them, taking a rest and a feeding break. We used to see them by the millions in the rice fields west of Houston before subdivision after subdivision replaced the flooded fields of rice. 

In the higher elevations there are patches of snow under the trees and the sun dims. A few cars are parked at Kenosha Pass, their occupants off somewhere down the trail. Once I get to Wolf Creek there is more snow. At the summit kids and parents are sledding down the hill. Later in the season snowmobile, cross country skiing, and snowshoe trails will embark from this area but for now the kids have it to themselves. 

It’s been 3 years today since I sat on the deck of the screen porch and held Rickie’s hand as we waited for the formality of the medical examiner’s proclamation. On the Masterpiece series Poldark, Ross says that his mother was the star his father set his course by. Rickie was that to me. Since then I’ve had to set my own course. And it has led me to this beautiful place and here I’ve found a home. As with the ranch, I find I have to keep returning to it when I’m away. It centers me and the loneliness of it comforts me in a way that’s hard to explain unless you are also a person like me. One of the things about losing your best friend at this stage of your life is you realize you’ll never have another best friend. On the rare chance that you should run into someone who maybe has potential to be that friend you don’t have time left to form that bond you had. So in its place you embrace the loneliness of being best friends with a memory. 

All is well when I make it home and the first thing I do is go around and raise the shades to let the sunshine in. No matter the temperature outside this is what I do the first thing every morning. In the same spirit, I try to let the sunshine into my life.

Because the older I get, the more I think, you only get a minute, better live while you’re in it, cause it’s gone in a blink.

Alan Jackson The Older I Get

My granddaughter Lexi introduced me to this song. Click on the link above to hear Alan sing it. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

I Can’t Remeber If We Said Goodbye

“I only miss you every now and then, like a soft breeze blowin’ up from the Carribean. Most Novembers I break down and cry, but I can’t remember if we said goodbye.”

Heard these lines from Steve Earle’s song Goodbye today. November is a month that swings back and forth for me. It’s the month 3 years ago that we began life without Rickie. It was always our favorite time of year. The hot summer heat finally broke for a while, it was hunting season and all the excitement associated with that, and the holidays were coming up with family gatherings and visits. We had some time off from work and from school for the kids, and we spent more time at the ranch than any other time of year. Orion was back in the night sky, the Milky Way was clear and bright, and it was time to put a pot of chili on the stove.

Whenever that first front flows down bringing the north wind, I’m overwhelmed with memories. It feels like a punch in the gut and I try not to double over when it hits. Rickie’s favorite day of the year was the day the first norther blew in. He was very in tune with the natural world and living with him taught me to notice those changes, both big and small.

We had our first snowfall here in Pagosa yesterday. It was snowing when I got up and a few hours later it was gone. But it stayed cloudy and cold all day. I got a fire going in the fireplace and read all day. I’m reading Where They Bury You by Steven Kohlhagen. His wife, an author in her own right, is in the dog walkers group that I’ve been welcomed into here. We walk dogs each week at the animal shelter then we go to lunch. The book is set in the New Mexico and Arizona territories during the Civil War days. It’s interesting and I’m learning some history of my new part of the country.

The last two weeks I’ve been trying to get some things done before the real winter weather settles in. I hired a fella to come haul some old wood and junk off and to take down an old greenhouse frame. He never showed up and the other bid I got to do it from someone else was more than I was comfortable spending. So I cleaned the junk area up and then took the geeenhouse down myself.

One day I went up to the tree line and did some trimming. I found a little 2’ tall Douglas fir there. This was Grandma Hattie’s favorite kind of Christmas tree; in fact the only kind she would have. I can remember taking her to the store to pick one out. I hope I can dig it up and transplant it in the yard for Bixby. We like to have trees for people in our family. Then he can decorate it every year for Christmas.

I found a deer trail leading up into the woods. Once the bears go to sleep I’ll explore it. I haven’t been back there yet. Rickie would have already been up there and mapped it out! I’m feeling a little bad I’ve let it go so long.

A longtime friend of mine from Houston was out a couple of weeks ago. We rode the train from Durango to Silverton one day and went horsebacking riding another day. The weather was beautiful, the leaves had changed, and it was good to have adventures with an old friend. They are few these days, old friends, and to be treasured.

I made a trip to Houston the end of September for my granddaughter’s wedding. It’s a priceless gift in life, this starting off on a new adventure together. That feeling of everything being new. I wish Rickie could have been there, and maybe he was. Because we were there, those of us who love Natalie and Austin. And we carry him with us. Maybe that’s why I never said goodbye.