There was nothing i loved more than hanging the laundry right after a good storm. The droplets of water would cling to the underside of the plastic coated line. I had only to grab hold and give it a good shake and all the droplets would simultaneously race to the ground. It was as if the laundry line had been washed by the earth. All the dust, bee pollen, and the bird poop had washed away. The line was just as spotless, smooth, and cream-colored as the day i had put it up. I would pinch the little clothes pins without hesitance to hang the clothes out in the sun. The baby spiders that usually hid within the pins were tucked away somewhere out of the rain. It felt as if the whole world were washed clean after a good storm. There was a sort of peaceful silence in the air. It felt good and it smelled good to stand in the yard after a storm. The wind chimes clinked and dangled against each other. The birds sung to anyone who would listen. The dogs ran wild in the mud and i hung the laundry.
On one of my trips back from austin i stopped at a hardware store to pick up something i’d been meaning to get. The grass right against the shed and the house had become long and unruly. Also, there was the grass in the area that i’d let go uncut so the thistles would not be mowed down and could be enjoyed by the birds, the bees, and the butterflies. The grass was too tall for my 5 blade reel mower. It would just bend the grass over and roll right off the blades. I needed something to cut it back into submission with. The area was too large to rely on the loppers. I needed a weed eater. I objected to spending 100 to 120 dollars on a weed eater and i wasnt going to so i waited until i could get to the store i had in mind where i found it for 50 bucks. I needed to get back to my little town before sundown or i’d have to evade the deer driving home in the dark. The sun was setting and i was in a hurry. I found the weed eaters but i needed to know which one would get the job done for the least amount of money. I had narrowed it down to two options. I had a couple questions about each which when answered would make the winner apparent. I found an employee who gave me a rundown of the differences between each weed eater. The guy told me what i needed to know to make my decision and i grabbed the box and some extra cord and headed to the checkout. He called, “do you have an extension cord already?” I answered, “yes.” I had 5. He called again, “do you need help carrying that?” I said, “no thank you”, still walking towards the registers. He called once again, nearly shouting now, “do you know how to use it?” I answered as i turned the corner out of sight, “i’m sure there are instructions.” There were; instructions for both assembly and use. I checked out quickly and made it back to town right as the sky darkened beyond visibility. I heated the tiny house, ate a snack, and went to bed. The next morning around dawn i put my new weed eater together. The dogs watched me intently as i fiddled with the instructions, turning and snapping things into place. When i got the thing assembled i went to the shed and drug out all the extension cords. If you ever want to pull all your hair out, buy something battery powered. Whether it be a weed eater, a lawn mower, or a cordless drill…it will never hold its charge and you will be swearing like a sailor and tearing the thing to pieces by project # 5. I wanted one with a cord. I’d rather drag it around the yard than lack the power i needed. I had a strict no fuel policy on the property. The only thing with gasoline in it was the car. I was very familiar with fire. Living in an area prone to drought and lots of it, i’d seen the devastation a fire could cause in the blink of an eye and i knew how quickly a fire could escape one’s grasp. I did not allow the storage of fuel in any of my sheds simply because i was not a full-time homesteader and if something did get set ablaze, i would not be there to see to getting it put out. So i hooked all the extension cords together and plugged them into the house. I set the handle at the angle i wanted and pushed down on the button. The weed eater buzzed to life. I began cutting the grass away from the side of the house. It wasn’t perfect but the house began to emerge from the gaggle of weeds it was in. It was kind of like trimming a man’s beard during self care training. There was still grass but it was shorter and neater than it had been. I was instantly addicted. I enjoyed anything that allowed me to mold and shape the landscape to my liking…the mower, the loppers, the manual hand saw, the weed eater, the post hole digging stick. I loved those tools the most. I spent a good 6 hours weed eating the yard. I used it to trim around buildings first but then i had to dig the well house out of the “butterfly patch” the name i had given the chunk of land i quit mowing so that the thistles would grow for the animals that enjoyed them in the summer. I used the loppers to cut down the old dried-up thistle stalks and then went through one patch at a time with the weed eater, cutting the grass down short; using the weed eater as a make-shift mower. Though my body ached i wouldn’t stop until i was finished shaping my landscape. I was like a dog with a bone when i had a project and only the coming of sundown could keep me from my purpose. When i finally finished the last bit of grass the weed eater was in desperate need of a new cord and my clothes were soaked with sweat. I unplugged the weed eater and laid it in the shadow of the house towards the back, where my new tool couldn’t be spotted from the street. I stumbled towards the house with ice cold apple juice on my mind. I made it in and began peeling off the layers of clothes i had bundled in for the chill of dawn…layers i should have removed when the sun took over the sky. I stepped out of my boots, bright red blisters on my feet from walking and sweating in them without socks for 6 hours. There was no time for socks. I was on a mission to get stuff done. There had also not been any time for breakfast. Food would have to wait. I stripped off everything but an undershirt and collapsed on the bed, muscles exhausted and angry with me. I slept for a couple hours. It was restless uneasy sleep. I knew i was uncomfortable, dehydrated, and hungry. I also knew my new tool was still caked in grass in the yard. It needed cleaning and it needed put away in the shed. But alas, i couldn’t move. I laid there and waited until my body had gotten enough rest to do what my brain was willing it to. I was surprised how sore and weak i was. I had not noticed the weight of the weed eater or the angle of my back while i was using it. I was focused on my task. Only once i was still did i realize the trouble. I hobbled around the tiny house, pulling on my shoes and securing my machete. My new toy was still in the yard. The caked on grass had baked in the sun and i brushed it easily from the plastic. I carried the weed eater to the shed and found it an official spot in the tool shed. I coiled and put away the extension cords. Then i took a look around. Everything was short again like in the spring. I lamented at the thought of cutting down a thistle patch again next summer. I was tempted to say i wasn’t doing it again, but the birds and the bees really loved the thistles so much. I couldn’t take them all away without leaving them a patch. I sat still in the house, drank cold apple juice, and tried not to move. The yard looked good. There was no more danger that the house and shed might disappear in the tall grass.
My dogs were very smart. One would think that was a good thing but it was not always so. There were multitudes of pot holes all over my once beautifully flat property. All because the dogs were digging drinking bowls. When it rained the holes would fill up with rain water and they would drink out of them. They must have been expecting a party because they dug a lot of them. Every time my ankle gave way and my foot rolled into an indentation in the earth i yelled, “would you stop digging these *** ****** holes?! Yall are trying to kill me! And if i’m dead, who’s buying the dog food eh?!” Then it would rain and they’d run from one hole to the next lapping up cloudy water. Their favorite place to dig these drinking holes was undoubtedly in the middle of the driveway. Why, i didnt know.
I had noticed a praying mantis hanging around on the underside of the porch roof. It was there for a couple days and each time i noticed it the thing was closer to charlotte’s web than it had been before. I didn’t think much of it until Charlotte went missing. When i last saw her the praying mantis was right next to her web. The following morning she was not there to greet me as i walked to the car. She was not there when i came home from work either. I wondered if she had moved back to the side of the house but if she had it was strange she hadn’t taken her web down and recycled the material to use in constructing her new web. I checked the side of the house, hoping to find her and breathe a sigh of relief. She was not there. I knew i should feel happy that i didn’t have to worry about a giant spider coming in the house anymore when i opened the door but there was no such glee in my heart. I felt heavy and saddened. Sili looked for her too. She had become accustomed to our little chats with Charlotte. She followed me everywhere. So she sat with me in the evenings while i updated Charlotte on the day’s highlights and the forecasted weather report, though she probably knew more than i about the coming weather. For more than a week Charlotte did not turn up. I decided to google what praying mantises ate. I was horrified by what i found. Not only were orb weavers on their list of preferred snacks; the way they went about killing their prey was gorey and downright inhumane! I watched a handful of videos in which the praying mantis grabbed a hummingbird, held its head, burrowed in through the eye socket, and ate the bird’s brain while it was still thrashing. Think about how terrifying an experience that must have been for the prey animal, to feel itself being eaten to death as its captor went after its brain. It was like a real life insect zombie. It was so wasteful. It decapitated these spiders, grasshoppers, and birds. It ate the brains and discarded the body. All the insects and birds were alive when the mantis was tunneling to the brains or decapitating them one bite at a time. It was so inconsiderate and void of all compassion. If i was going to kill a fish or a crab to eat it, i was going to make it a swift death and i was going to utilize every part of it out of respect for the animal whose life i just ended. These mantises were wasteful, brutal, and rutheless. They were barbarians. I couldn’t respect any animal that ate its prey alive one bite at a time while it struggled and writhed in agony. I was pretty sure that giant female mantis had eaten my charlotte and i made up my mind right then and there to do a better job protecting ruby than i had charlotte. I had known that mantis was there and i did nothing. I hadn’t realized what a danger it was. I decided that if i saw another one i would have to kill it. It was a hard conclusion to come to as i tried not to interfere in the natural balance of things in the wilderness, and if i sided with the spiders, that would be me interfering. However, after the bird videos i read an article talking about how female praying mantises ate the heads of their mates during or after the act of mating. Sure enough, there was video footage of that as well. Thank you youtube. My nightmares were haunted by images of praying mantises biting the heads off things and discarding the bodies. They were like the ultimate animal narcissists.
Cashew was good at a great many things. None of them had anything to do with living indoors. She was good at all things ranching; domestication, not so much. One of the things she would do that disqualified her from ever being left with a pet sitter in my absence was something i dubbed poopapalooza. We held poopapalooza in the living room every day.
To achieve poopapalooza one only need complete the following steps. First, shred the pee pad into tiny little pieces. Then, pee on them. Next, poop on all of that. Once this is done, put poop in mouth and chew it until it is shredded into tiny flingable pieces. Then spit it out all over the concoction you have just made. After all this is done bark to let everyone know it is finished. If nothing happens or nobody comes to see your creation, spin in a circle really fast until you have feces and urine all over your feet, the floor, and the walls. Then, sit in it. This will ensure that you will be nice and filthy by the time your mother comes home and she will have to pay attention to you because you obviously are in great need of a bath.
On this particular night Cashew got 3 baths in a row. It was a warm day so i put the tub in the yard and filled it with water from the well-house spigot. As soon as i lifted Cashew out of the bath she rolled, as she did the second time while i reached for the towel. The third time i lifted her out of the bath with no towel, let my clothing soak up her dripping wet fur, carried her into the house and set her on the floor before she could have any contact with the ground. Then i dumped the water in the yard and gathered the supplies to clean the mess that she was undoubtedly making in the house.
Sili was there for her sister throughout the entire ordeal, standing near the tub in the yard, offering nuzzles and nose touches for moral support as cashew endured the horrible terrible treacherous concept of being covered in soap. Sili was very loving and considerate. Through all 3 baths she did not leave her sister’s side. Even though she knew she was in trouble and she might get wet if she stood too close, Sili felt it important to see her sister through whatever it was she was doing. She even stayed with her in the house while she dried. Sili would not go out to play without her sister by her side.
Cedars were known for their rapid growth. Their branches were reaching out at me when i walked along the paths myself and the dogs had worn in the dirt. It was time to just trim things up so that no branches were hanging down over the laundry line, snagging clothing when i walked along the trails, or blocking sunlight to other nearby younger trees. I went to the tool shed and grabbed my bypass lopper and the wheelbarrow. As i went along snipping the branches of the cedars i noticed that cashew would come along and grab the branches in her mouth, dragging them off. I wondered if i could use this to my advantage. She did always seem to want to help. So i called her to me. When she arrived i took the branch from her mouth, threw it in the wheelbarrow, and praised her immensely. Then i pointed to another cedar branch on the ground. She picked it up. I took it from her and threw it in the wheelbarrow. She wagged her little stumpy tail. I said “go get it” and pointed. She ran and fetched a cedar tree branch. I took it from her, threw it in the wheelbarrow, and praised her immensely. This continued. I couldn’t believe it. The dog was a gem; i mean true gold. She fetched bits of trees. All you had to do was point. I’d say she brought me 80 % of the branches we cut. I piled all of them in the wheelbarrow. Then i picked out a nice big one and gave it to Cashew to chew on. She earned it.
It was Cashew who found her. She had wandered into the web stretched between the side of the shed and a tree branch. As she was making a mess of things, something was frantically running about trying to salvage what she hadn’t already trampled or eaten. At first i thought it was Charlotte. As i turned the corner to the house i looked and there was Charlotte in her web. So, if Charlotte was in her web on the house…who was on the shed? Then it hit me; two! 2 golden orb weavers! They were both females. The newcomer was slightly smaller than Charlotte but that was to be expected as Charlotte had really ballooned in size since she discovered the all-night porch-light buffet thing she had going. In all probability, these two orb weavers shared a mom. Charlotte had a sister. I agonized over what to call her. She was much more timid than Charlotte and would scurry away if i or the dogs got near her web. I couldn’t think of a proper name for her so i gave up. Then for some reason i began thinking of my Uncle’s dog of years ago. Her name was Ruby. I was not sure if Ruby would approve of my naming a spider after her but, we needed a good name and Ruby had been a good and well-loved dog. So i named Charlotte’s sister after Ruby, my Uncle’s dog of years ago.
Eventually Ruby would move her web to the front of the shed next to the door so she could catch the flies as they tried to sneak in when i opened the door. Ruby had a more timid personality than Charlotte. I said good morning to them both every day. Charlotte didn’t seem bothered one way or another. As soon as i opened my mouth and spoke Ruby scurried up her web and out of sight.
I used to be a very loyal customer of a beautiful little health foods grocery store run by a really sweet family with a lot of heart. They were incredibly excited about all the new things they were ordering. They would try things out on the shelves for a while and then carry something else. This little health food store had the new products on the market before they even hit austin. I stopped there often and tried many new health foods that i wouldn’t have otherwise known existed. It was like a neat surprise what was on the shelves each month. I remember loading my basket with goodies and going to the check out with vegan pizza, chives dip, cream cheese, yogurt, and field day garbanzo beans (the best there are). I also always bought several packages of gluten free vegan ramen noodles. I spent a great portion of my paycheck there. I bought a smoothie each time. I thought nothing of it. The field was stable and i didn’t have a mortgage. Fast forward to a year later and all sorts of changes were being made to my career field. There was a fair amount of uncertainty in my life. I had an adjustable rate mortgage, lots of payment plans to uphold, and two mouths to feed. I could no longer afford to buy luxuries like vegan waffles, chives dip, and gluten free ramen. I was ashamed. I was so very ashamed that i could not afford to contribute to their place of business like i used to; like i wanted to. I didn’t show my face there at all for a couple of months. Then one day i mustered the courage. i was focusing more on dry bulk items; things that would keep long in the pantry and give me the most amount of food for my buck. I looked for bags with large quantities of the thing inside rather than an individually wrapped item. The owners had started a “clearance basket” routine. Whatever didn’t sell in a timely manner went into the clearance basket in great quantity to make room for something that would sell better. I felt super guilty again because they were not making any profit selling me items at $1 a piece. I told them it felt like i was stealing from them. I thanked them for the items. It nearly squashed what was left of my pride when the owner produced the box of ramen saying that he thought i must not know where they were because i hadn’t tried to buy any from them in months. I bought a couple. I knew i would enjoy them, but they were not in the budget and this couldn’t happen again. Over the next few weeks i watched all the things i had once loved to buy disappear from the shelves as he gave up on me returning to my old habits. He held out longer than i expected him to wait before crossing the items i used to buy off their list. He was truly a considerate person and made every effort to allow me to purchase them before discontinuing the carrying of the items. I tried to put on a happy face every time i entered the store but my carefree days of filling my basket were over. I shopped from the clearance basket. This particular time they were getting rid of gluten free dry pasta. I spent 50 dollars and filled the trunk with two large boxes of food. It was a good deal. Then i hopped over to goodwill where all the clothes with orange tags were 50% off. I found two shirts with orange tags and 9 big band records for a collective total of 99 cents. There were 10 originally but one was missing.
Then i drove it all home and stocked the pantry.
I put on a record to listen to while i unloaded the groceries. Though the music was upbeat my heart was heavy and sad. When i got a great deal on clearance items in a chain store it felt like an accomplishment but when i knew the store owner, it just made me feel like a sorry friend. They had their obstacles and hardships just like i did mine. I wanted to support their business. These were people that had given me a free brownie to celebrate the closing of my house, who had opened their closed smoothie shop and driven a block of frozen acai berries over to make an acai bowl when i was so very sick i felt like death itself and the frozen acai berries slid down my throat in such a soothing manner. These were people who had been there to help me mark every milestone, even the landing of my side jobs. I wanted to support their business, but unfortunately, i couldn’t. I continued to dig through the clearance basket and make quiet excuses and forced smiles when they brought me the items i used to purchase regularly. My own words to the patients under my care seemed to haunt me, “if you don’t use it you lose it.” I had been talking about muscle mass but i was pretty sure it applied to beautiful family-owned health food stores in the country too.
As we slid into autumn the stores began to reflect the change in season. The pumpkins and autumn-leaf wreaths began to appear. Our budget didn’t allow for such lavish decoration as the mr. and mrs. scarecrow in the burlap pants and matching apron with the cutest plaid dress and a silk sunflower in her straw hair. However, i did find this one acorn for 1 buck at the dollar general. We could spare 1 buck for non essentials, i decided, and the acorn came home with me. It was the first time i’d had my own door to decorate. I wanted to make it festive for the changing seasons, even if only a tiny bit. When i had drilled through the door to place the curtain rod against it i found out pretty quick that it was metal, not wood as i had believed. So, i got smart (or lazy) one of the two. I bought one of those packages of stick-on hooks that you could just pull a tab to remove when you were done with them. I stuck it on the door and hung our little acorn. No mess. No fuss. Immediately i went to look for the girls so they could take a picture by the newly decorated door. Cashew was more than happy to be needed. She was always wanting a job. She was a true working dog. She was always anxiously reporting back to me as if i was going to send her on an errand, “hey there mom…need me to do something mom…huh huh, need me to do something….huh mom? Herd something…chase something…pull something…push something…? I know, dig something up…bury something…sit on something…fetch something…chew something…climb something…? Need anything done? What’s that? Can i help? Should i carry that? Shred it? Not shred it? Oops. K. Definitely not shred it then. Good to know moving forwards.” Ever seeking a task, i gave my little work horse a job, “Sit here and look at the camera.” She was so into this it was comical. I could see the light go on as her ears perked up and her eyes became bright, “I have a job!!!” She was an excellent photo model. Sili…wasn’t interested. She was sun bathing in the yard and couldn’t care less what kind of acorn i had tacked to the front door of our house. I tried coaxing her with baby talk and then whistling. She picked her head up and laid it back down again. I finally went inside and got the peanut butter treats. For a peanut butter treat sili humored her mama and joined the photo.
The chives plant that my sweet friend had given me bloomed and the honey bees that belonged to my neighbor immediately took notice. I wanted to cut the blossoms with scissors so that it would put out more long blades that i could use in cashew cheese sauces and sauteed mushrooms. However, i committed myself to waiting until the blossoms had wilted and dried and the bees were no longer interested in them. I thought about my experience with different types of raw honey and how the pollen of the plants visited changed the flavor so dramatically. I realized that my neighbor was getting chive pollen from my yard contributed to this year’s honey supply. I wasn’t sure what chive pollen would make the honey taste like but i felt it would be neat to contribute to something the bees were doing in those boxes over there and i left the flowers on the plant for them. The porch would start with one or two bees in the morning and then pretty soon 30 of them would be buzzing all around the porch, the car, the door, and the dog bowl. I would have to lay a blade of tall grass in the water bowl so they could get out without drowning. Otherwise cashew tried to drink and got a face-full of drowning bees and sili actually tried to catch them as if they were something to eat. Hey, nobody said these two had survival instinct; strength and heart yes, but survival instinct….ask the one prone to eating raw acorns and poisonous mushrooms. Sometimes the bees would pick up on my perfume and chase me about the yard trying to pollinate me at which point i’d be running as fast as one could in steel toed boots yelling to the dogs, “get the bee! Get the bee babies! Get the bee!” Both of them would set their behinds down and watch as i ran about the yard, as if someone had punched their ticket, helped them to their seats, and given them each a bag of popcorn for their enjoyment during the show. I loved bees for their pollinating abilities. They have always been truly amazing. But the first and only time i got stung i ended up with a rash that spread all the way from my foot to my underwear line. I’d been afraid of what that meant for round 2 ever since. I had a very careful and respectful relationship with honey bees. I needed them and i’d like to be a part of this complex process called making honey, but i was not seeking round 2 with the stinger end of a bee any time soon. When i lived in an apatment in the city the bees made a hive in my apartment wall. I knew they were close but didn’t realize they were living in my wall. All of my plants were pollinated immediately and i got so many vegetables that year. They would land on me to rest and i could just gently brush them from my shirt to the tablecloth i was using to cover the plants for cold weather. They were pretty tame. They rarely chased me. Somehow they just viewed me as common place. I cried the day they came in and broke up that hive. They tore into the wall. They dumped all the beeswax and the raw honey into the dirt and covered it with powder. When i got home that day it looked like a massacre. There were hundreds upon hundreds of dead honey bees and smashed, chemical covered honey comb dripping with sticky, dusty, ruined nectar. They wasted the honey and they wasted the bees. It was awful. I knelt amongst the carnage and took it all in. I took some up close pictures of the dead or dying honey bees lying on the pavement that day. People i showed them to had never seen that side of honey bees before; vulnerable, fuzzy, and helpless. I put a bumper sticker on my car that read, “save the bees”. It would be important that we make an effort to do so, for the survival of future generations.