By the gate that was chained shut because of the septic tank drainage field was a giant agave. Beside it was a smaller replica that was probably a pup from years back. As i loaded the trash can into the car one day i noticed there was a third, even smaller, agave. The pup had a pup. How interesting. I wondered if it had sprouted from the roots of the smaller one or if the giant agave was responsible for its presence there beside the fence. Anyhow, there were now 3 agaves on the property. I wondered how far away the old one was from putting up a stalk. It would mean the death of the plant but it was always an impressive sight to see. I had read that some agave produced pups around the time they were going to make a stalk. If this was true the mid-sized plant would have been spawned by a now deceased plant and the new pup was probably an indicator that the giant agave was going to flower. If so, it would be exciting to watch. I was seeing tiny deer tracks in the mud…evidence of the existence of a fawn, and now the agave even had a pup. It felt as if i was being reminded that winter wouldn’t last forever. It would be spring again soon enough and i would begin year 2 on the homestead.
Those who knew me well were aware that i had a collection of movies i considered the best visual, auditory, and emotional experiences i had the privilege of tasting. There were 84 movies in the large black zip-up case. They had all passed a series of criteria to get there. First, the story-line had to be authentic; either based on a true story or telling the story of a phenomenon that existed in many peoples’ lives. The actors must have done research into the beliefs and tendencies of the characters they were to play. If the character in the movie was to have suffered a head injury and present with symptoms of a concussion i didn’t want to see what the actor thought this might look like. I wanted to see what it would look like. I loved the actors that did research and put importance into telling someone else’s story authentically. All of the movies in my collection had some sort of resolution in the end. I was a person that became enveloped and consumed by the story being told on screen. If it had a tragic and unresolved ending, i was to have a tragic and unresolved day. Depending on the brilliance of the visual and auditory display, perhaps a tragic and unresolved week. So the story line did not necessarily have to have a happy ending but if it did end in tragedy, some good had to come of it. Facial expressions were important to me. There were 43 muscles in the face alone. I wanted to watch actors that used their face rather than just their voice to portray emotions. It made it more believable. I forgot that i was watching a story and felt that i was there. The music had to be on point. It had to fit the mood of the scene and add to it in some way. The movie got extra points with me if the song had a noise in it to match the visual i was seeing. In 6 underground, during the scene where “4” rode a skate board down a metal bar the song playing had a noise in it as if metal were scraping against metal. It was perfect for the scene. The movie had to be shot from several different angles so that the viewer could see the scenery but also get an up close look at the actor’s facial expressions when something important was happening. Lighting was also crucial. If the director had made use of lighting in a meaningful way it enhanced the experience of the story all the more. I believed casting was important as well. The right actor in the right role drew the viewer into the story.
Before i met my ex i was sure i hated movies. My ex used to watch movies from around the globe and he opened my eyes to a world i didn’t know existed. Ever since then i’d looked at films as pieces of art and i had 84 of them that i loved enough to want in my collection.
I bought a used lenovo thinkpad online and had it shipped to my p.o. box. It was missing a bit of the plastic from the top of it where it appeared to have been scraped or melted by something large and menacing. However, it turned on just fine, saw the internet, and ran microsoft word. It did everything i needed it to do for classes and it was affordable. I was grateful for the find. What it also did was play dvds. I had bought the laptop to take online courses at night but as an icing-on-the-cake side effect it returned to me access to the movies in my collection which i had not viewed in years. And so i watched “the intouchables.”
For those of you who don’t understand what is going on in the picture where Cashew has placed her butt over Sili’s head, she is trying to dominate her…only Sili is wearing a plastic cone on her head so, this complicates Cashew’s desire to sit on it.
I was torn. With the introduction of indoor laundry and satellite internet it seemed i was moving away from the old fashioned ways of doing things that i had sought to return to in the first place. It felt wrong and dirty to be moving towards bringing technology to my little slice of wilderness. However, i knew it was necessary. I wanted to take some classes at night…like between 10 pm and 1 am. Classes weren’t offered at that time at the private university in town. However, online courses could be taken at any time of the night, with only assignment and exam due dates set in stone. For what i wanted to do, it would mean at least 6 years of a full course load of classes at night while i spent the day at my job making money to feed us and pay the mortgage and bills. Somewhere in there i would also have to fit “running the homestead”. Sprinkled in would be vet visits, dental visits, and occasional trips to austin. I wasn’t sure how. So i let go of “how”. I’d been reading a new book lately. It talked about what it was to let go, i mean really let go, and give it over to God. I was one of those people who frequently said “yes, but….” i claimed to believe that a higher power was at the steering wheel and that God already had his plan for my life figured out before i even entered the world. And yet, i frequently held fast to the steering wheel while desperately trying to make sense of the map. It was not my job to figure out “how”. It was my job, before all other jobs i held in my life, to listen to the navigation instructions being handed to me one step at a time and drive in the direction i was pointed. I was thankful for the revelation that was given to me along the way to this one which was; there was no destination. There was no moment in life when i would finally be so wise that i didn’t need more teaching, so financially set that i didn’t need to worry about bills, so educated that my job couldn’t cease to exist in society tomorrow, or so happy in where i was in life that there would be nothing to trouble my mind. There was no such destination. The journey itself was the destination, and if i spent the whole life that had been given to me striving to reach the destination, i would have spent each decade fraught with anxiety only to reach death on the last page of the story. When in actuality i should have been looking out the window, stopping to experience the wonders i was passing along the way, and taking pictures to add to my memories. I was going to stop worrying about the destination and experience the now in the thick of it.
My sister had been a ballet dancer while we were growing up. Her feet were often bloody and blistered from her pointe shoes and i remember her rinsing them under cool water in the bathtub after one of her performances. My sister always had foot odor but i never did. All through our childhood i could wear shoes without socks and my feet never gave off the slightest odor. I was also used to my feet being pretty dry. All that changed with the addition of my second dog.
Cashew had a thing for feet. She wasn’t the type of dog to lick your hand or your face. She went straight for the toes. I chalked it up to being another one of her weird quirks. even if you were wearing socks she would lick the socks until they were soaked. She was by far the strangest dog i had ever met. At the time that she started doing this i didn’t realize that she also had a thing for eating her own poos. By the time i realized how bacteria laden her mouth probably was it was too late.
For the first time in my life i had foot odor. it smelled to me like half cooked/half raw dead-fish. It definitely had a fishy odor to it. Unfortunately, so did Cashew’s breath and her poo. The primary ingredient in her dog food was, after all, salmon. Dead fish was not really what i wanted my feet to smell like. It was worse. It was like a combination of bad breath and dead fish at the same time. The worst part of it was that my feet started sweating; something that had never happened to me before. My feet had always been dry, even when my underarms were dripping. Now in between the toes was wrinkly skin, as if i’d just gotten out of a pool after swimming. The shoes, the boots, the slippers…everything began to smell like dead fish and hot dog breath. This was a problem.
I waited until i had 2 days off and then i washed all of the shoes and boots in a solution of vinegar, baking soda, and laundry detergent. Then i hung them on the line to dry. The steel toed boots were too heavy for the laundry line so i set them on top of the car. then i filled a square baking pan with vinegar and baking soda and let my feet soak for about 10 minutes. After that, i slathered them with raw organic coconut oil to kill any lingering bacteria. Then i broke out the tea tree oil. I didn’t know what else to do. I threw all i had at it, but would it be enough to kill the salmon poo bacteria? I really didn’t know. I was suddenly sorry for all the times i had rubbed it in my sister’s face that i did not have the foot odor she suffered from.
i sort of trapped myself on the homestead for the day. I could not go grocery shopping or drive to town because i was washing every shoe i had. I was forced to walk around the muddy homestead in socks. Don’t ask me why i chose white. I had other socks. I guess i just didn’t care.
The ground stayed wet for days but as the water drained deeper into the earth the soil settled where liquid had been. The swirls of different types of material lay interlocked in a beautiful pattern all over the yard.
The forecast predicted nonstop rain for two solid days and for once they were right. It rained steadily for two days. It was wet enough on day one but when i came home from work on day 2 i was greeted by a canal in front of my property. The water was draining alongside the edge of the road, running downhill to the intersection. My gate sat overtop the place where the river of water draining off my property met the canal of water headed for the intersection. I would have taken a picture if i wasn’t so busy trying to figure out where to park the car to step out and unlatch the gate. I would have left the car outside the gate and just walked to it the following morning but all my high spots on the side of the road were in the new canal of rushing water. I finally parked the car with the back tires still on the asphalt of the road and one of the front tires on a patch of grass, both of them in the water, left my shoes and jacket in the car, and got out to unlatch the gate. I pushed it open and climbed back in the car. I urged the car gently through the stream in the driveway and managed to get it up onto the mulch pile under the oak trees by the gate. I turned the car off and took a moment to survey the damage. The tool shed was sitting in a pond. The extension shed and the house were on cinder blocks so they were okay. The dog run was under water. Even the laundry area…oh ****…the septic tank drainage field was under water. Pretty much the whole property had standing water on it. I wondered if the fruit trees were overwhelmed. I waited until a lull in the pouring rain and then made my move for the front door in my socks with my pants rolled up, carrying all my items across the yard. I tried to step lightly through the water so my feet sat on top of the mud instead of sinking into it. When i made it to the porch i took off my socks and dumped all the stuff i had been carrying onto the kitchen floor. I was in.
I rinsed my socks out in the sink and hung them over the shower rod in the bathroom to dry. i was in but the dogs desperately needed to go out. They had waited faithfully for me all day and neither of them pottied in the house. I had to let them out. I opened the crate doors and led them outside. Cashew jumped into the water with a splash. She wore an expression of shock on her face. She had expected ground to be there when she landed and instead she found water. I stood in the puddle of water that had accumulated outside the dog run and unlatched the gate, “in, in…”. Both Sili and Cashew ran through the gate into the flooded dog run. There they did their business. I waited in the house for a few minutes but the rain was pouring down on the roof and when i couldn’t stand the thought of them drenched in a giant puddle out there any longer i flung the door open and went to retrieve them. They followed me through the ankle deep water to the house and hopped up on the porch steps. They were indeed drenched and so was i. I grabbed the dog brush and began combing the pieces of mulch and mud globs out of Cashew’s long fur. I brushed Sili too just so she wouldn’t feel excluded. I turned the heat up a couple degrees. The temperature was in the forties outside and i didn’t want the girls to be cold. The tiny house was ripe with the scent of wet dog.
At this point i had to use the restroom. I had held it in order to get home in time to let the dogs out but now i had to go out so to speak. I had momentarily forgotten about the drainage field being flooded. I was quickly reminded when i attempted to flush. At first the bowl would fill up and churn around but it wouldn’t go down at all. I was pretty sure it was a hopeless effort but i thought i’d try one more time. The back of the toilet was making a noise as if water was running but the toilet still would not flush. When i removed the lid to the back of the toilet it was not water that i saw but mud. I chewed the side of my lip, stating the obvious, “that’s not good.” I hadn’t the slightest clue what i was doing but i was pretty motivated to flush that toilet so i filled a cup with water and dumped it in. I did that until the toilet was full and it stopped running. Then i pushed the handle down and praise the lord it flushed. Muddy water rushed in to replace it. Also not good. I would have to wait for the rain to stop to see what state the system was in and what it needed at that point. Nobody was going to be able to do anything for me in the middle of the rain with the drainage field continuing to actively flood. I would try not to touch the toilet any more for the rest of the night and hope the rain would stop in the morning so i could get a sense of the damage. It was time for the back-up potty i kept in the corner beside the water heater. It was a tall orange home depot bucket with a lid and sawdust. Ta-da. Problem solved. Sort of.
I had decided to ween myself off of caffeine. My physical dependence on it had gotten so bad that i had to wake up to have a cup of coffee at 2:30 am on my days off before going back to bed in order to avoid a mind-splitting headache. i was having 9 cups of coffee a day which roughly translated to 22.5 spoonfuls of the organic instant coffee powder. It had gotten to the point where sometimes i didn’t even bother to boil the water. If it was 2:30 am and i didn’t have a clean pot, rather than take the time to wash one, i just dumped the spoonfuls into a plastic cup, added drinking water, and downed it. Good to go. That was all fine and well and i got a ton of stuff done with my 22.5 spoonfuls of coffee a day, but, i was just barely meeting my requirements and then the decree came that we needed to do more and faster. I realized the end game here was death. If i didn’t get out of this race i was going to be run til i dropped. The finish line was ever changing, being moved farther and farther the faster i got. I didn’t want to be a runner anymore. It took me a week to ween myself off of caffeine and those last two and a half spoonfuls (1 cup) were the hardest to let go of. My head felt like someone had taken an axe to the center of it. I was sensitive to light. It felt worse standing than lying down. I was grumpy as heck and moving slower than ever. I was miserable.
Luckily, i now had my indoor laundry operation to try out. I washed the clothes, stood on my step stool, transferred them from the washer to the dryer, set it, and pushed the start button. I watched as the clothes dried themselves in the machine in the house with fabric softener. It was amazing! I loved my laundry line and wouldn’t trade it for the world but, i decided the dryer would be good for bad weather days or sick days. I wasn’t feeling so hot so it was nice to load the clothes in there and just sit and hold my head in the rocking chair. The laundry units were not bolted to the floor so one still had to scoot the laundry units back and to the left about mid cycle. I discovered, even with the dryer unit stacked on top, i was still strong enough to scoot the washer where i wanted it. I was not confident the tiny house floor could withstand something being bolted to it and was more convinced it would rip the stick on floor boards up as it rocked. And, having to scoot the units back once per cycle was a small price to pay to not have to spend 8 hours churning the clothes in the metal tub by hand.
Both of my days off were drizzly, foggy, and damp. It really was good that i had the dryer because nothing would have dried in this weather. I hid from the world in my caffeine-withdrawal misery. I did have to go to town at one point to get supplies. I didn’t wrangle myself into the car until 4:30 pm. I found myself colliding with the after-work monday rush in the stores. They were out of everything. All the produce and instant rice had been picked over. There were people stampeding in the aisles and hitting each others baskets. I almost got run over by a basket, a motorized store scooter, a baby stroller (the kid looked as surprised as i did), a car (while i was driving), and a car (while i was a pedestrian trying to get to the basket return). The last lady nearly ran me over with her car twice and then circled back around to roll down her window and shout “sorry!!!” in my direction. I just didn’t understand these people. It was great that she was sorry but if she had driven down the parking lot rows instead of across them, she wouldn’t be having to roll down the window and shout an apology. I was doing my best not to bite anyone’s head off without my beloved caffeine. I had done a fairly standard job. At one point i ran into a coworker i hadn’t seen in a while. She waved enthusiastically. I forced my hand up, flopping about a bit like a nearly-dead fish. I waved back with an expression a serial killer might wear plastered on my face. She quickly gathered her items and left the self check out. I wondered if she would take it personal or chalk it up to me having a bad day. I hoped it was the latter. I just needed to go home. I’d heard people say “i’m not adulting well today.” I wondered if there was such a word to describe socializing with people out in society. I wasn’t people-ing well today and i needed to hurry up and get home where there were no people whose day i could ruin in my misery.
The dogs spent most of their days off in the dog run simply because i wasn’t very pleasant to be around. I wanted to spare them from my mood and i wanted to be left alone. Cashew tended to nose people constantly; poking and jabbing at them, needing constant communication, instruction, and attention as i guess most aussies do. I loved her and on days when i was feeling well i was up for it, but these days off were best spent in the dog run chewing tree stumps, running around, and barking at cars.
I had spoken on the phone with my mother the night before. She had said the weatherman recommended securing patio furniture and taking the more portable items into the garage or the house as they were forecasting 70 mph winds and a tornado watch for the following day. The weather was supposed to be the worst by late afternoon. I thought, “Really? Tornados in January?” It just didn’t seem likely. It was winter. Tornados were for the spring. I checked both weather apps on my phone and listened to the radio report for weather in the hill country. There were varying reports but all agreed we’d get about 2 hours of rain with 15 to 20 mph winds. Nothing to worry about. No 70 mph winds forecasted and no tornado watches mentioned. I decided that they must be getting the brunt of it where my mother was and that it wasn’t going to extend far enough down to reach the homestead. I broke my cardinal rule; never trust a weatherman. I don’t know why i did it. Perhaps i was lazy. Perhaps i was distracted. Perhaps it was January and i just couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that we were going to have a storm…in January.
So i went to work as usual. I didn’t hurry or rush or check the weather radar every 30 minutes. I just did my work and drove home. I was actually chatting with my mother on the phone, checking on her weather, when i turned off the highway into my little town. She asked, “Is it raining there?” And i had said, “what here? No. I was calling to see about your wind. Did you guys get the 70 mph winds?” Just then i went down the hill and around the bend, losing cell phone coverage as i always did and i had to wait until i was at the homestead to dial again and finish the call. As i drove i noticed some dark clouds gathered together. They appeared to be dropping rain in sheets somewhere nearby as the dark gray just melted from the clouds into the ground, as if bleeding water color all over a painting canvas. As i stepped out of the car to unchain the gate i noticed a few drops of water falling around me. I pulled the car through and chained the gate back. I parked in front of the house and quickly let the dogs out in the dog run, filling their bowl with water. I wanted to give them a chance to potty before the rain arrived. They had been out for only about 4 minutes when i heard the rain began to speckle the tin roof. I flung the door open and raced around the house in the ever-increasing intensity of the rain. I pulled the gate open and said, “house, house, to the house!” Both dogs made a beeline for the porch steps and waited for me at the front door as i latched the gate. I ran up the steps and opened the door, letting them into the dry warm house. I called my mother back and told her the rain had arrived. As i squeezed the water from my hair i recognized a familiar sound. It was hailing. At first the hail was only pea sized. I didn’t think a thing about it. But, as the seconds ticked on the hail began to get bigger. By the time i was staring at marble sized hail i was chanting “oh shit, oh shit!” As the ceaseless pelting and pinging of ice competed with the roar of the water being dumped from the sky onto our roof. My mother suggested i move the car under the cover of the oak trees near the gate as i usually did when expecting a spring or summer storm. I argued that it wasnt that simple because i couldnt just leave the dogs in the house alone; cashew would rip up all the electric cords, and i wasnt wearing shoes. I noticed one piece of ice larger than a marble hit the ground and bounce up onto one of the wooden porch steps. The hail was going to get bigger. I realized she was right. It was imperative i move the car now, before the hail was big enough to cause me injury running to the car; before it was too late. I wrangled the dogs into their crate, grabbed my keys, and ran through the yard in my socks. I had realized i still had my phone in my hand as i ran down the porch steps and it had quickly been tucked under my shirt. I made it to the car and put the key in the ignition. As i did so the hail picked up and ice balls began pinging off the hood of the car. I threw it in reverse, all the while spouting some sort of reflexive involuntary chant “oh shit, oh shit!” I drove as fast as i could without dipping the tires into the really muddy areas and tucked the car quickly up under the tall oak trees near the gate. To my horror, i realized it was winter. The branches of the trees didn’t have the leaf cover they would have during spring or summer. The branches were slowing the ice balls down, but they certainly were not protecting the hood or the windshield of the car. The noise of the hail making contact with the metal of the car became louder. The little balls of ice began hitting and bouncing off the windshield and hood of the car before my eyes. I realized that some of the ice balls in the yard were the size of quarters. My “oh shit”’s became louder. My mother, still on the phone, asked, “Do you have a blanket or something in the car you can put over your head if the windshield breaks?” My socks were caked in mud. I took them off and left them next to the brake pedal. I climbed over the center console and into the middle of the back seat. I pulled a jacket over my head and waited out the rest of the hail storm from beneath it. I would survey the damage once the weather passed. Eventually the hail did stop. After all that commotion i wasn’t especially eager to get out there in the open where those ice balls could conk me on the head. However, i now had a new problem. All the rain that had been dumped on the dry parched ground…rather than being absorbed, it had just sat on top. It was as if the ground had said, “nope, too much too quickly…the workers have given up, punched out, and gone home.” I now had ankle deep water to wade through if i wanted to get back to the house and i wasn’t the only one that had been caught off guard by the intensity of the storm. There were thousands of little angry ants floating in the ankle deep water. I decided to wait a bit for the water to go down before making my way back to the house, in an attempt to avoid the ants. The dogs were safely locked in the crates. I had the time to spare. Amazingly, neither the windshield not the hood of the car seemed to be damaged by the hail. I would later learn some of my friends caught driving in the same storm were not so lucky. I thank the Lord and the nearly bare oak trees for watching over our only car. Also, thanks mum. Moving the car was a stellar idea!
When about half of the standing water had been soaked into the ground i decided to emerge from the car. I didn’t think there would be any remnant left of the hail to photograph and kicked myself for not getting out of the car sooner to snap a photo but i found two survivors clinging to life in the warm temperatures on the floor boards of the porch. I had put my socks back on to give an added layer of protection against rocks and twigs and ants encountered under the water. I then locked the car and trudged across the yard to the house.
I had thought that was the end of it but unbeknownst to me the storm was just getting warmed up. It would hail 3 more times in the next couple of hours (thankfully all pea or marble sized…no more quarter sized hail). It would rain ceaselessly for 2 hours, turning my property first into a pond and then a river, carrying my top soil down the driveway and into the street. I cringed at the sight of it but what was there to do? Luckily, my mother had suggested moving the car under the oak trees to shield it from hail damage. The sellers had left a mulch pile under those trees which lifted the area higher than the surrounding terrain.
As the river of water made its way down the dirt driveway i realized, if my mother hadn’t suggested moving the car, it would be in the middle of the river. The water would probably have eroded the dirt from around the wheels, causing it to sink into the mud and making it very difficult to drive it to work in the morning. Instead, the kia was safely up on the mulch pile next to the treeline, the only thing above water as the rain continued to overwhelm the ground.
More hail arrived. I realized i’d gotten lazy with preparation for this weather. I needed to get on my game. January or not, i should have known better.
My property was covered in water and it had come up to the porch steps now. I was glad the house was raised up on cinder blocks. it was a disconcerting feeling being in the middle of water. The eerie thing was the sheer amount of darkness. It was daylight. It was not night time. The sun had not set, but the clouds were so thick and so dark, you would have thought it had.
I could barely see across the yard but when there was a break in the clouds i could see blue sky. It was the strangest thing. It might as well have been past sun down because the storm stayed until 10. I kept thinking i was going to feed the dogs dinner and let them out to potty and go out and check the baby fruit trees…see how they weathered the hail. I would nap for an hour, having set my alarm, and then wake up only to find we were having another torrent of rain or more pea sized hail. I didn’t get to feed and potty the dogs until 10 and i didn’t check the fruit trees until the following afternoon. I skipped supper, went to bed at 11, and woke up for work at 2:30 am. The January storm had really wreaked havoc on the property. All the soil was pushed around where the water had traveled and i had to clear it away from the front gate to open it to get the car out, but, it could have been worse. No structures were flooded. No windshields were broken. No people or dogs were conked on the head by ice balls from the sky. We had much to be thankful for. Next time someone mentioned a summer storm coming in January, i would pay attention.