When i came down with the upper respiratory infection i tried to ride it out with fluids and rest. It was the addition of the pink eye that forced me to the urgent care clinic. When you haven’t met your deductible the medical bills can add up. Because of how often someone working in healthcare can expect to be sick, i tried not to go unless i absolutely had to. Well, with pink eye on a saturday i had to. While i was there i mentioned the 5 day fever i just couldn’t kick. The doctor told me she’d already seen dozens of other healthcare workers come down with the same thing and none of them could kick it without antibiotics. So i sprung for the antibiotics and took them home. I read the directions on the bottle and took one pill with a small amount of food. Then i laid down for a bit. That was the wrong thing to do. I’ll spare you the specifics of what happened next. Let’s just say i would have needed 2 packs of adult diapers a day and reconstructive surgery on my butthole if i had wanted to continue taking the antibiotics and going to work. I mean, i can understand a few mild side effects but this was as if i had swallowed a thousand laxatives at once. After i had survived the experience i sat down to rest and think about what i was going to do. I knew better than to take another one of those pills. I wasn’t sure there would be anything left of the house if i were to go for round two. I had to return to work. I couldn’t get better without an antibiotic. Suddenly it became clear. I had a natural medicine cabinet in the shed. I had created it years ago, with only the finest quality herbs, leaves, and roots, more as a tribute to my mother and the way she had raised us than a practical thing to use on a regular basis. She had raised us with a book called “prescription for natural healing”. I had grown up with a vast knowledge of herbal remedies. Actually, most conventional medicines are derived from plants. They aren’t magically poofed into existence. They do come from somewhere. When i created the cabinet i never imagined how often i would come to value it in a place where stores were far away, infrequently open, and carried few items i required. But now i really needed the contents of the natural medicine cabinet as i had never needed them before.
I pulled out my own copy of “prescription for natural healing” and thumbed through the pages, making a list of herbs and roots with antibacterial properties. I was going to make my own antibiotic; a tea; one that wouldn’t have the explosive effects of a thousand laxatives swallowed at once. I made myself a list. Then i opened the drawer and the cabinets and pulled out the corresponding jars. I carried them in my shirt to the kitchen where i brought a pot of water to boil. I placed all of the ingredients with antibacterial properties into my pot and boiled the water until the kitchen smelled absolutely dreadful. Then i let the tea sit and rest for a bit. When the water had stopped bubbling i strained the tea into a cup. It was awful tasting and awful smelling, as most medicinal things are. Truthfully, i had no idea if it would work. It was an experiment. I had to try something and it certainly was not going to be another one of those pills that had rendered me beyond incontinent. I decided i would treat it like a conventional antibiotic. I would take it morning and night for 10 days in a consistent dose. If i began getting better i’d know it worked. If i still had a fever i’d know it didn’t and i’d crawl back to urgent care seeking another visit with alternative solutions to the terrifying blue capsule. Within 48 hours my fever was completely gone and my symptoms were dissipating. The doctor at the urgent care clinic told me she had seen patients that still had a fever two weeks after the onset of symptoms because they hadn’t come in for the antibiotic. I had to know for sure. I stopped drinking the tea. My fever returned. I went back to drinking the tea and continued with a consistent pattern of consumption for 10 days. The upper respiratory infection was gone. I sat back and marveled at my discovery. One could make antibiotics in the kitchen. They tasted awful and smelled worse but, it worked. I filed the recipe away in the shed. Armed with this new found skill i was never going to urgent care for antibiotics again. Weighing the options, which would you choose, a disgusting taste and a yellow tongue or a geyser of poop? It seemed like a clear enough choice to me at the time.
The property was basically set out like a triangular ring. In the middle was an area of cleared land and all around it was a border of densely clustered trees. It was a perfect nature-made privacy fence. Every time i went exploring i found something new. The problem was there wasn’t much time for exploring. By the time i got a day off from my job in the city there were a list of backed-up projects i needed to knock out from breakfast to sundown. That’s how i went months without realizing i had 4 mimosa trees on the property and without knowing this sideways-growing tree with the slender leaves even existed. It was right near the padlocked gate where i put my trashcan out on trash day. At first its leaves reminded me of a pecan tree but vegetation was growing all around it so i knew it couldn’t be a pecan tree. I began desperately searching google for what kind of tree had long slender pointy leaves. I had to know what it was that i had. I settled upon the only possibility that seemed to fit the size, leaves, growth environment, and berries of the tree; a sumac tree. They grew wild all over texas but there was a problem to consider. So too did poison sumac trees. The sumac trees were said to grow in hot and dry climates. They were supposed to be very drought tolerant. The poison sumac trees grew near water sources like creeks or rivers, where they could keep their roots wet. The sumac tree was said to produce white flowers that turned into red berries. The poison sumac tree produced green flowers that turned into white berries. Finally, the leaves were different. The poison sumac leaves were a little bit rounder and more plump than the long slender fingers of the sumac tree’s greenery. The poison sumac tree was rumored to produce a reaction on one’s skin several times worse than poison ivy. I was pretty sure that what i was staring at was a sumac tree and not a poison sumac tree but my friends and family seemed disturbed enough by the possibilities that they decided it best not to mess with it at all. One friend told me to hire someone to cut it down just in case. The possibility of it being poisonous was enough to condemn it to death in her eyes. I was never one to operate from a place of fear. I ignored her suggestion and did my own investigating. I was looking at white flowers. That suggested the tree was not poisonous. It was growing in a dry area and had long slender leaves. Also indications that it was not poisonous. There was only one way to tell for sure. I broke off a small branch of leaves and held it in my hand. 3 days later; no reaction. I had a sumac tree. For anyone who doesn’t know what sumac is, it’s a tangy lemony spice. It is so good sprinkled over top food! You can pay a lot of money for it in the store. I just knew it as a sticky reddish brown powder in a jar. I hadn’t ever thought of where it came from. I didn’t know it was a ground berry. I looked up when to harvest the berries and google indicated they would be ready mid-august. That was right when i was scheduled to spend a week out of town. I would have to be vigilant and pray that the berries ripened before or after my trip. This first year harvesting might be an experiment to see what i wanted to do better next year (like not leave town during harvest time) but the exciting news was, i had a wild sumac tree growing on my property, it was mature enough to produce flowers that would one day become berries, and come august, i intended to harvest, dry, and grind my own sumac for the spice rack.
I don’t really understand it. I couldn’t explain it well if i wanted to. I’m not a scientist. All i know is that somehow, during the summer, red dust makes it all the way from africa to texas in the wind. It settles on patio furniture, the car windshield, the porch railings, and anything left outside. The same thing happens when they are burning the fields down in mexico to plant new crops. Everything gets covered in ash. It’s hard to know whether what i’m looking at is dust or ash, african or mexican. Sometimes friends call me up to discuss it, “well its a bad year for the african dust don’t you think? Its all over my back patio! I’ve already had to refill the windshield wiper fluid for my car twice.” I just know it’s dusty. The problem is this:
It’s called “mr. cool”. It is a heating/cooling unit used for RVs and tiny houses. It has a filter that resembles the plastic tray from the dryer lint trap. It is hard plastic. You are meant to remove it once a month and empty the insects caught in it out in the yard. Then you rinse it under the sink, dry it, and place it back in the mr cool unit. The thing catches june bugs, not dust. Dust slides right through the small holes in the plastic “filter” tray and covers everything in the house with a fine dust. I remembered reading books about the dust bowl when i was a child. They spoke of placing towels under doors and windows and having to sweep every day to keep the dust out of the house. I just gave up on having the house clean. I mean i could sweep, mop, scrub, and polish the place every day and before the sun was down the dust would have coated everything in a thin layer once again. So i just became accustomed to seeing the can opener, the window sills, and the blender covered in dust. So too were the dogs covered in dust. Everything was touched by dust.
When you work in healthcare you get sick a lot. Those are just the facts of life. When people are feverish or vomiting you can’t rush out of the room to avoid contagion because you are the one contracted to help those people. You just have to accept that at some point, it’s going to be your turn. The problem is, it’s hard to find people to take your place. You don’t really have time to get well. You have to hurry up and get back to the job at hand so, at least in healthcare, taking a sick day is never a relaxing thing. I ended up with an upper respiratory infection that had me feverish for 5 days straight. I had pink eye in both eyes and laryngitis. All of my muscles and bones ached as if i was running some marathon, as if i was in some eternal work-out regiment that i couldn’t quit. I could get no relief from the pain. I had a constant multi-day headache that felt like someone was splitting my brain in half by pulling it apart from the sides. Light and noise bothered me to no end. I kept the tiny house curtains closed, the lights off, and tried to stay very still and quiet. I waited for the agony to end but it never ended because i couldn’t rest. I could only sleep 4 hours at a time. When the alarm went off i had to go to the bathroom, shake the little dropper of antibiotic eye drops and put two in each eye. The eye drops burned as if i had put chilis in my eyes and turned the entire eye pink for an hour afterwards but the side effects of the drops were better than my eyes swelling shut from the pink eye itself. I was delirious and in agony. I was stumbling around the tiny house, dehydrated and feverish, full of pink eye and making occasional pleas to God to help me so that i may go back to work and get back on top of my life. I was so tired. I craved a whole 8 hours of sleep but i couldn’t miss a scheduled eye drop or i ran the risk of vision loss and needing another dose of the uber-expensive antibiotic drops. During all of this the girls were existing somewhere on the property. They spent most of the day outside. Then at some point when i found myself on the floor near the dog food bin i would reach an arm in and pull out a scoop. I would put it in a couple bowls and go back to bed. I didn’t even separate them. They had to fight each other to get their fair share. The puppy eats the puppy version of the dog food…she ate the adult version for a week, cuz her food was on top of the refrigerator and i couldn’t lift it down in the state i was in so i gave her her sister’s. I put water out in the same unscheduled way. At points during each day they got some kind of food and some kind of water. They would come back in the house and i’d confirm they were still alive. I was in no condition to run things but, when you live alone, you have to. There’s no one else. Usually, Sili slept with me and Cashew slept in the crate, as she was still potty training and not to be trusted overnight. However, in the state i was in, i couldn’t have cared if they had sh*t everywhere in the house. It wouldn’t have mattered. I did not care what they did at night and i couldn’t get up to put them in the crates. I was really not well. So they slept on the floor. At one point, at 4 in the morning, i looked over and they were sleeping on each other all curled up. I realized that they had really stepped up. They were taking care of themselves because at the moment, i couldn’t.
I was visiting family in the city. We had driven to a plant nursery to purchase peat and sand. While we were there i had a look around. They were selling tiny pomegranate trees, and i do mean tiny, for 11 dollars. That was all i needed to hear. I wasn’t sure what would survive and what would die but if it was fruit bearing, healthy, and a good price, it was coming back with me. Just like i had for the others i dug a hole for the pomegranate tree. This one was harder work. The grass had grown up in the area and i had to cut through the tall grass with the shovel before i could even get to the soil and rock. I dug a hole, placed the pomegranate tree in it, and cut a piece of fencing to bend around it. Then i hammered rebar into place to hold the fencing to the ground around the little tree. Suddenly i had a pomegranate tree. It was very little but full of hope and promise. I prayed it would survive the winter.
I’ve never been one of those people who needs to be with someone just so that i’m not alone. I have never felt alone. There is always some animal or some plant to keep conversation with and truthfully, i’d rather talk to a horse than a human any day. I wouldn’t say i’ve always been a loner but i would say the only times i’ve ever been happy, i was alone.
When the sun sinks lower towards the horizon and my chores are all finished, i have a tendency to just stand in the yard and enjoy the beauty; watch the last ray of light leave. One evening i was doing just that when i realized how much trouble i had gotten myself into. I had fallen in love. I was truly head over heels, passionately in love with this piece of land. The dirt, the rocks, the grass, heck even the algae that grew in between the patches of grass, choking it out for its resources. I loved the big 100 and 200 year old oak trees, the baby oaks just trying to make it, the bright green rapidly populating cedars, the little feathery mimosa trees, the cactus, the agave, and the yucca. I loved the song birds and the whippoorwills. I loved the toads, the crickets, the butterflies, the hummingbirds…i loved the deer and even the coyotes. I loved the sunsets and the storms. I loved the cold weather and the heat of summer. I loved the laundry line. I loved the noise of the neighbor’s cows. I loved the earth of those 2 acres as if my own blood was soaked into it. I suddenly realized i had become one of those people who would sell a kidney or a lung before they would watch the bank take back the land from their cold dead fingers. I had never loved a human the way i loved this plot of land. This was something deep and instinctual. I felt a great connection to the land and all the non-human inhabitants that called it home. From the spiders to the mountain lions i knew this system was something fragile that had to be protected. On this plot of land i could keep the trees from being cut down, the deer from being hunted, the bees from being poisoned, and the dirt from being paved over. This land, as long as it was my land, was free to grow unhindered and undestroyed. It was free to thrive in all its glorious wilderness. For the first time in my life i felt fear like no other time. Fear of failure. For now i had something real to lose.
During the summer the insect activity around the porch light soared to unmatched levels. Every time i opened the door to let the dogs in or out insects came in. For the longest time i didn’t know what i had. I thought i just had random brown beetle-like things coming in the house, until one particularly active night when i turned the lights off to go to bed and suddenly saw them. There were fireflies in the house. They were flying all around the kitchen and the living room area and they would light up the room for a second one at a time; little magical specks of light in the sleepy dark of the house. It was wonderful. After that, each time i saw a little brown beetle like thing on the wall i knew we were in for a treat come bed time. I would turn off the lights and lay there in the blankets cuddled up to Sili in the mosquito netting tent and watch the fireflies blink on and off throughout the living room.