When i injured my foot i realized that my ankle was probably not going to tolerate fifteen to twenty minutes of squatting in cramped conditions underneath roosting bars while i wore gloves and a mask to scoop shavings into a trash bag with my hands. The tray was meant to slide in and out from under the coop for easy cleaning if one had placed the coop on top of a level concrete foundation in a suburban backyard as the instructions had indicated. My ground was not level and the tray ended up wedged firmly in its permanent position, acting as a makeshift predator deterrent by providing a material that animals couldn’t dig or chew through to come up into the bottom of the coop. This meant i could not simply slide the tray out and dump the contents into a trash can. The cramped space also made it so that wielding a shovel in the pen was more of a frustration than it was worth. The best thing to do was don gloves and squat in the chicken coop over an extra large trash bag. Everything was going fine until i injured myself in a split second moment of stupidity that i regret deeply. Realizing that i could no longer physically manage to clean the coop, it became one of those things that i let go longer than i cared to. Every week the trash collection crew came with their pickup dragging a cage full of hefty bags and every week as the dogs sent them off with a ferocious sounding warning i lamented that there were no chicken coop shavings in the trash bags for yet another collection.
On the windiest day of the year, in a fit of energy and determination, i heard myself announce in an optimistic tone, “Today’s the day. I’m going to clean the chicken coop!” The rest of myself sat stunned in the chair, trying to figure out when i’d gone and lost my mind. On a windy day, cleaning the coop would have been a nightmare had i been able-bodied and in tip-top condition. What on earth was i thinking? This was sure to end in frustration and defeat. You could not hope to beat mother nature. That was not a thing. But, i had said it, and so it had to be.
I began by gathering trash bags and donning gloves and a mask. I figured i’d execute the task in stages, only worrying about one part at a time. It took me a good twenty minutes but i managed to fill two whole trash bags with shavings, poop, and old feed while squatting on the floor of the coop in an ankle brace and an off-loading boot. Getting the bags out of the pen while keeping the chickens in was somewhat of a delicate dance. Once the coop was empty i needed to fill it with new shavings. I spread some feed on the ground away from where i was working to keep the chickens busy and then filled the nesting boxes with hay, the floor with wood shavings, and cleaned the water dispenser (they like to poop in that; why, i don’t know). Usually i filled the feed container in the evening, convincing them there was an incentive to go in the hen house before dark, and i needed them to eat all of what i’d put on the ground so that critters weren’t tempted to break in to get it, so i didn’t fill their feed container just yet. As i hauled all my supplies to the shed and placed the trash bags in the can i noticed Daisy and Petunia coming to check their freshly cleaned hen house out.
They approached cautiously and had a look around. I wondered if they would notice the difference. I sure did. I had wanted to clean the hen house for so long. It seemed like an eternity and with the arrival of cold weather i realized the need to get the old chicken poop out of there was real. They would be spending more time in the coop with the window closed to hide from the elements. I needed to make sure the fumes from their own waste didn’t harm them. Of course, the chickens quickly set about eating the hay and mounding all the shavings in piles so they could peck at the shiny metal floor, but for one moment in time the hen house was clean and in order.
The wind blew shavings in my face, onto my clothes, and in my hair throughout the whole process. Old shavings and new shavings. It kept blowing the door shut while i was trying to shovel and eventually it began blowing the window open, causing it to bang against the side of the chicken coop repeatedly. Instinct was to pull the hair out of my eyes but i was wearing gloves covered in chicken **** so that was not an option. Eventually, ankle throbbing, i made the final trek to the shed with a trash can full of chicken poop and soiled shavings. The task was done. The chickens now had a clean environment and the homestead (save for the overgrown grass) was finally back on track.
I came home from work exhausted, hopped on a zoom call, and managed to throw something quick together to eat. As soon as my belly was full i was out. I didn’t even make it to the bathroom to brush my teeth. turning the lights off, checking the weather report, getting well water for the morning…none of that happened. I slept in my jeans. I figured i’d just lay down for a 40 minute nap and set my phone alarm accordingly. I woke up at 3 in the morning, the time i usually take my supplements and natural meds. Obviously, at some point, i had turned off the forty minute alarm and closed my eyes again. I zombied myself around the kitchen and stumbled back to bed.
The next time i awoke it wasn’t due to any alarm. It was the wind trying to tear down the house. I sat up with a start as i listened to the walls popping and creaking. Outside, the wind chimes were swept sideways and the trees were thrashing wildly about the yard. Another gust of wind hit the side of the house and i heard the dryer tube rattle in its opening in the wall. I crossed the room and peered through the curtains for a better view. Perhaps neglecting to tune into the weather radio and get the report before bed was a bad call on my part. There were no clouds in the sky so it couldn’t be a hurricane or a microburst. It was either a cold front or a warm front. It had been drizzly mid to high 30s type weather lately. In Texas, i didn’t think it could get much colder than that, so i had my money on a warm front. I thought i had better pull shoes on and open the door to the chicken coop before the hens broke the thing down, as i had slept through their 7:15 wake up call when i usually removed the door. To my amazement, their little window was still shut, protecting them from further exposure to the cold. I had figured the violent wind would have ripped it from its hinges. I guessed the direction of the wind was working in our favor to keep the window shut. I stumbled around in my pajamas, the wind pushing me and plastering the fabric to my skin, whipping my hair across my face. I made it to the chicken pen and wrenched the door open to find that they were indeed trying to bulldoze the door down. I lifted the door and slid it out of its track to reveal an explosion of feathers as 5 very angry chickens all tried to emerge from the doorway at once. They glared at me with their beady yellow eyes. I had missed their morning appointment and they were not impressed. There would have to be table scraps thrown in later to make up for it. I began to think about what i had in the refrigerator that i was willing to part with. I stumbled back to the house, watching the wind spread the chickens feathers this way and that. The chickens looked bewildered and ran back and forth in their pen. I quickly fed the dogs, made them up a bowl of filtered well water, and set it in the gated dog run, leaving the door open. I released them from the house and directed them into the dog run. I shut the gate. Both of them seemed bewildered as well. It was as if we were in the middle of a hurricane and they were wondering if i was going to leave them out there while i returned to the nice protective shelter of the house. I glanced at them, “Go potty first. I’ll come get you shortly.” Sili seemed to understand and went off into the underbrush to pick a spot to pee. Cashew stood with her head cocked as if to say, “How dare you?” I looked back at her, “it’s just a bit of wind. I thought you were the big bad ranch dog that didn’t need to take orders anymore because you’d become a pro deer chaser and that somehow meant you’d graduated out from under all authority figures because clearly you were running this **** and running it well.” My Aussie was indeed in need of an intense refresher course in training but my efforts to put her through one were doing more harm than good so i quit for now. Cashew had discovered that with an injured ligament in my ankle and a couple broken toes, i could jog but i couldn’t run. Being able to sprint is kind of a must if you’re going to catch an Aussie running at full speed. Knowing that it now took me a great amount of time and effort to even get close to her speed, she feared me not. If she did something i didn’t like she’d just refuse to come in. Very quickly this morphed from the occasional bad behavior to ignoring very clear and concise commands. It was as if she’d gone completely deaf. I knew she hadn’t. She could hear just fine when she was listening for sounds of wild animals. She just no longer respected my authority on the property. The more i tried to discipline her the more she realized she could outrun me. I ceased my efforts quickly in an attempt to minimize the damage done. I would need to wait until my foot had healed and then retrain her that i could indeed catch her, my word was law around these parts, and she would get a swift pop on the butt and be held in a submissive position on the ground whenever defying a direct order from me. Now i know there are some who believe a dog should never be spanked but it is in my opinion a much kinder alternative to the remote controlled shock collar i had to use briefly in the beginning to get her to stop digging under the fence. Though i know i could put that on her easily right now and push the button each time she says “i don’t have to listen to you. I’m going off to track wild animals. See you at dinner. Bye.” I’d rather wait until i can snag my hand in her collar and pull her back to me when she goes to take off because Cashew is a very headstrong dog. She doesn’t even blink unless its turned up to level 7 and only level 8 actually turns her around. I’ve tried the thing on myself and i know exactly what level 8 feels like. Level 8 produces an audible yelp and though it is effective, i don’t like using it because i realize it’s not using the respect of an authority figure to change behavior…its using the desire to avoid pain. I would much rather gain her respect and obedience through behavior than through fear of pain, so, retraining was pushed back a few months and i realized that i simply had to clear the yard of critters before letting her out and lead her in the direction i wanted her to go by the collar for the time being.
It had indeed been drizzly and in the thirties and forties for several days. The dogs, especially Cashew with her long leg fur, had become very muddy. When she appeared at the gate i did a once over and realized she had turned from a mostly black to a brown dog. I briefly considered the idea of wiping her down with towels and then let it go. We lived in a remodeled shed with faux wood floors. We also lived near a quarry and had an a/c filter that was plastic with little square holes…it caught bugs, not dust. The effort that would be spent cleaning her for entry into our already dusty abode was not practical. I let the dogs in. They quickly covered the floor in muddy paw prints which i knew would dry and become dust later. The floor did end up covered in dirt and i figured i’d sweep it out onto the porch once all the nasty weather was over. During the rainy weather the floor had been covered in messy paw prints and the scent of wet sweaty dog hung in the air, especially when i turned the space heater on to combat the 36 degree weather outside. Then they were wet sweaty muddy warm dogs.
Once the dogs had been let out to potty i made breakfast and listened to the weather report on the radio. It was indeed a warm front. It would be warm for the day and then drop back down into the thirties by nightfall. The front would arrive and leave before midnight. it didn’t seem fair. If it was going to blow through, it might as well stay a while, i thought. I finished breakfast and retrieved the dogs. They were ready to come inside. They were standing at the gate, the cedar trees around them thrashing wildly about, Cashew’s long fur whipping around her legs and stomach. As soon as i unlatched the gate they both ran for the house. I let them in and returned to my rocking chair to eat the breakfast i had prepared. Both dogs immediately parked themselves in front of the heater, laying back to back in front of it. Outside the wind chimes banged together furiously, the walls creaked and groaned with each big gust of wind, the dryer tube rattled in the wall, and i could hear the leaves of the trees rustling together as the branches were whipped this way and that. I sat in my rocking chair eating breakfast and the dogs laid motionless and peaceful, spread out in front of the heater. I decided it would be an indoor day. I made one trip back outside to throw the chickens some remnants of a spaghetti squash clinging to the outer shell and a banana peel with quite a bit of pulp and string still stuck to it. Other than that, the dogs and i spent the day inside hiding from the wind in front of the heater. I watched the wind rustle the curtains with each big gust and noted that at some point in the future i would have to seal those better for electric bill purposes.
The sumac berries ripened in mid August of 2019. This year they waited until September 7th to turn shiny and bright red. Unfortunately i didn’t notice them until minutes before sundown so they would have to be harvested on September 8th, when i had light to see the berry clusters i would be cutting. Knowing how quickly the berries went from ripe to spent, i knew it would have to be done in the morning, but i had a job interview scheduled and i didn’t get to the berries until around noon. They were just red by then, not bright red, but still salvageable and i managed to take them all. It involved standing on a chair beneath the tree and bending the branches downward so that i could reach up and cut the berry clusters off with scissors. I dropped the clusters into my metal bath tub which i had positioned not far away. The weather was the worst it could be for sumac harvesting. It was important to dry the berries thoroughly before processing them so that it would result in a powder rather than a gummy substance. If left wet, the substance would mold, both in berry and powder form. The moisture had to be done away with. So, of course, it was raining. That is why the first photographs look fuzzy. I had to seel my iphone in a ziploc sandwich bag to take pictures because it was raining so steadily as i harvested.
They ripened so late this year i was worried that i had missed the window for harvest. If i had noticed them earlier on september 7 i would have been able to harvest bright red berries with maximum sour taste but the just red berries were still pretty sour. As i handled the berries i noticed the sticky sour substance coating my fingers. When i was done cutting the last cluster i licked them and they were unbelievably sour. This was a good batch. It would be a good harvest.
On a homestead, the bathtub has many uses.
The full harvest, ready to go into the shed to dry out.
Well, then i injured my foot and got a job that required me to jog over 7 miles a day and left me exhausted upon returning home. Processing sumac was a several-hour painstaking activity that required a lot of sitting on the floor while picking each individual berry from the branch gently, handling it as little as possible, in order to keep the little sour granules in the berry and not on one’s fingers. I put the activity off for over a month. By then the berries had been given ample time to dry in the shed. Somebody had recommended comfrey cream for my ankle. I had been applying it twice daily and i finally felt up to the task of sitting on the floor for four or five hours. So i opened the shed up and carried the bathtub full of dried berries to the house. I set a stool on the floor near the tub and sat down to pick the berries from the twigs that held them. I picked for four hours straight. Like i did during many tedious chores on the homestead, i listened to an audio book while i worked, ensuring that i was getting the maximum amount of things done during my day off…processing a resource and taking in knowledge at the same time. The audiobook was a memoir of sorts about a man living with and rehabilitating a herd of wild elephants that had become distrustful of humans through past trauma. My stamina was not what it once was and on several occasions i wanted to stop and finish processing the sumac on another day but i forced myself to keep going until every last berry was separated from the twigs. I was motivated by one thing. I had wanted to give a little jar of the sumac to my dear friend one town over last year but i didn’t dry the berries long enough and they were too gummy to process for very long in the coffee grinder. They didn’t get ground fine enough and the moisture content could have caused the batch to mold, so i was forced to keep the batch in the refrigerator/freezer all year. I knew she’d never tasted sumac before and i knew better than to give her sub-par sumac in order to decide if she liked the flavor her first time around. So, i promised her i’d do better with the next year’s harvest and she could have a jar of that batch. I was so close to getting it done right. This year i would give my friend the sumac.
Each twig and leaf must be picked out from amongst the loose berries before going into the coffee grinder. Ground wood pulp, while it wont kill you, will dilute the flavor. The more twigs you leave in, the less sour the powder will taste. I used my fingers to gently move the berries around and picked out the twigs with a plastic spoon in my other hand. When only berries and their recently shed brown dirt-like sour granules remained, i began moving them along the grooves in the bottom of the tub. I used my fingers to push the granules along the circular track until they formed a pile. I scooped up granules with the plastic spoon with each handful of berries i put into the coffee grinder. I would then grind the batch until it was a fine powder. The finest powder stuck to the lid of the coffee bean grinder. I scooped that powder into a jar for my friend. I saved the larger pieces for my own supply. I didn’t mind chewing around them. I knew to be careful but i wanted her to have the good stuff. When her jar was full i put the lid on and breathed a sigh of relief. I had done it. I had made up a jar of finely ground sumac powder with maximum sour flavor and minimum moisture content. I would fulfill my promise and my dear friend would finally have a chance to try fresh sumac. I stopped and licked my fingers to test the batch and see if it was any good. It was good. My face puckered with the sour flavor. Sumac is kind of like if lemon was made into a spice.
I was quite pleased with her little jar of perfect sumac. Now it was time to process the rest of it. I was eager to know how much powder the tree would yield compared to last year when i was out of town when half of the berries ripened and didn’t get to pick the whole harvest.
I soon had my answer. By sundown i had filled two thirds of a jar with the burnt-red colored powder. This was my sumac supply for the year. It would last me until the following august or september when i would harvest the berries again and repeat the painstakingly ginger process of handling the berries without extracting all the sour bits prematurely. It was a really important thing for me to do; process the sumac. Now i had it in the jar and it was done. It went into the refrigerator to be used as a spice throughout the next year. I had spent 7 weeks with covid symptoms 3 separate times this year and now had an injured ligament and some broken toes. It was important for my mental health and self esteem to finish something that i had started. Upon completing the processing of the sumac berries i felt a weight lift off of my shoulders. There were so many things on the homestead that depended on timing. Let something go unaddressed or unfinished too long and you will suffer the consequences. I missed the opportunity to plant the orange, pecan, and avocado trees in the ground. It’s too late to put them in now because their roots wouldn’t have time to establish themselves before it begins to frost overnight. The fate is sealed. They will have to winter inside, bringing with them whatever ground hornets, scorpions, and centipedes have made their home in the pots (still battling the ground hornets in a desperate attempt to separate them from the potted orange tree in time to take it in during the first frost). But, this one thing; i finished. The sumac, i managed to harvest, process, and jar. This is one thing in 2020 that got done.
i had read somewhere that organic squash or pumpkin seeds could be used to deworm chickens and that farmers regularly chucked whole split squash or pumpkins into the pen for their flock to eat in order to keep the worms at bay. I had a couple chickens that demonstrated trouble keeping on weight and i figured worms were probably the culprit. Their poops were also less formed than their feathered sisters who were making more solid healthy poops. I was eager to get Daisy well. Buttercup was a notoriously ill tempered and distrustful chicken that would not eat from my hand. I would focus on Daisy first and if it appeared to be a valid remedy i would find a way to get the medicine into Buttercup. For weeks i saved a handful of my seeds, cut them out of their shell, and invited Daisy into the house for a private feeding where she enjoyed the temperature regulated climate, fresh water, and ate seeds out of my hand. She did poop on the floor which i then cleaned thoroughly to keep her from transferring worms to the dogs (not sure if heart worm meds also cover other kinds of worms but not taking the chance). After a few weeks Daisy began to feel heavier and not quite so bony. She also wasn’t as starving every time i gave them scraps from the kitchen. I decided there must be some truth to the old theory. I wanted to give Buttercup the seeds as well, but she wasn’t as easy to separate from the flock for a visit to the house and a private feeding. She was the only chicken that was not fond of me. Her best bud had been the rooster that i had killed. Both tiny as chicks, they had spent a lot of time together, pushed away from the feed by the bigger chicks who also wouldn’t allow them to huddle for warmth. The rooster chick and Buttercup kept each other warm, and then i killed him. Buttercup has never liked me since. In my defense, the rooster tried to kill me non-stop for about 3 months before i killed him. Only when i was sure this behavior was permanent and also endangering the hens when i couldnt get them water in 110 degree weather because he was barring the door to the pen, did i decide to off him. The other hens who were used to him ripping out their feathers while he attempted to mount them and beating them into the dirt if they would not accept him when he wished to mount them had a complete personality change when the rooster was dispatched. They became much calmer and more friendly. They seemed less traumatized. Buttercup was not amongst this group. To this day she stares at me with beady little eyes and waits lurking around the edge of the hen house until my back is turned when she will run up and pinch at my clothing and legs with her sharp little beak, only to disappear when i turn. I let her be because she is the other hens’ sister. They are attached to her and have accepted her so she must stay, but she does not come in for a cuddle when the rest of them are sitting in my lap and about my knees. She is my angsty teenage loner, but probably the one that needs the dewormer the most. I decided trying to separate her from the flock would be a right comical disaster and the best thing to do was just deworm the whole lot of them. I put an extra organic squash in my delivery box last week and cut it into four sections which i dropped in their pen. Then i moved off. As suspected, all the chickens emerged (including Buttercup) and began pecking at the squash. They worked at it for a day and a half and ended up eating everything but a thin layer of peel. Daisy, who had developed a taste for the seeds during her private feedings in the house knew just what to do. The rest of them figured out pretty quick that squash was good to eat. I really enjoyed giving them something whole to work on. It was fun watching them occupied by the task. Food always tastes better when you have to work to get at it.
The eggplant was from a dear friend’s garden. It was a surprise trade when i brought her chicken eggs. I do love eggplant!!! The oat bread was made with orange blossom honey and peanut butter and began a sweet bread craving that i chased until i was out of flour. The onion medallions were an ingenious accident. I had been baking carrots and had extra room on the cookie sheet so i cut up some onion rounds and filled the space with them. I drizzled them with olive oil and salt and popped them into the oven. The onions cooked quicker than the carrots so when i pulled them out they were crisp and appeared burnt. I thought i’d wasted them until i took a bite. The inside had turned to a creamy, sticky caramelized onion goo while the top was a crunchy, slightly salty layer of charred onion, like a chip. It was so good i vowed never to do onions any other way! The persimmons were given to me by the friend who gave me the eggplant. She picked them off her tree and had a whole bucketful. I set them up there to ripen and checked them every day. If i was patient, when one of the little treasures ripened, i could eat it with a spoon and it would be like eating heavenly orange sugar. If i was impatient and couldn’t wait, it was a mouthful of chalk. My mother bought me some organic bananas, which i froze. Oranges were the only fruit i had in the house so i began combining an orange with a frozen banana and making smoothies. The flavor combination actually wasn’t that bad…a little tangy, a little sweet.
Crystal’s eggs weren’t the only ones i had to worry about. I was allergic to chicken eggs, though i had always dreamed of having chickens, much enjoyed them as pets, and found them totally useful as bug exterminators and in light of the fact that i had no garbage disposal to handle kitchen scraps. I was used to making regular runs to town to deliver free eggs to former coworkers. However, the eggs would not keep well in the car if i were to deliver them after work and with the physicality of my job i really needed to ice and elevate my foot on days off. I tried to convince people to come to me but the lure of free eggs was not strong enough to get people to drive from town to my land. I ended up giving the a/c repair man over three dozen eggs. He didn’t bring enough cartons so i put the rest in a cardboard box with some tissue paper. There’s only so many eggs my dogs can eat! One friend that lived in a neighboring small town was willing to drive out to me and i gave her 38 eggs. I now have another two dozen ready for her, not counting the ones the dogs have eaten gladly. Somebody asked me how i had so many eggs. I asked, “what do you mean?” They said everyone else who supplied them in the area said their hens had stopped or slowed down on laying eggs at this time of year. I pondered the notion. I had five chickens but i regularly got 3 to 4 eggs a day, and on occasion in the summer, 5. They said that my chickens must be happier than the other chickens to still be laying. I thought about it. I had made them a very small enclosure and i always thought that in itself would render them less than happy, but i had done it because i erected the structure myself while financially strained from buying my own ppe at marked-up prices and suffering from covid symptoms. That small pen was all i could afford and manage to erect. However, loving the chickens as i did, i made sure that if i was transferring my hand-raised babies from inside my tiny house out into the wild unknown, i was going to predator proof the pen. The roof kept hawks out of it. The trench with buried wire fencing attached to the bottom of the pen kept predators from digging under. The metal fence panels were insanely heavy and sturdy. To put it in perspective, i broke the key off in the padlock once and had to call my friend with bolt cutters to help me get in to feed the chickens because try as i might, i couldn’t figure a way. I even tried to unscrew the nuts and bolts to the door but it was put together in such a way that i would have had to have the door ajar at an angle to pull it out all the way and obviously, it was padlocked in a non-ajar position. There were foxes, raccoons, coyotes, hawks, and mountain lions that regularly passed through the area. I wanted to make it like a shark cage where divers could see the sharks but the sharks couldn’t get in. (I could point out several design flaws in actual modern-day shark cages but that is an issue for another day). I knew the chickens would witness foxes in the yard. I wanted to make sure witness was all they did. I made sure the door to the hen house was on the side farthest away from the fencing so that if a predator stuck his paw through, the chickens had a wide open escape route. I didn’t want coons reaching in and breaking the chickens necks from the outside. They were troublesome little creatures with a knack for just that kind of behavior. So i made a very small but sturdy structure and put the chickens in it. Everyone remarked how little space the chickens had to move around but they seemed contented. They took dust baths, scratched for food, ate the chicken feed, laid eggs, laid traps for bugs by mixing feed and water and eating whatever was attracted to the smell, caught flies and chased each other in circles around the hen house. They ate whatever organic veggie or fruit peelings and scraps i brought them daily. They seemed happy enough. They also enjoyed a daily pet from me. I would hold Daisy, petting her and hugging her tightly and she would settle her neck down and make a sort of cooing noise, squinting her eyes nearly shut. As i began to research what happy chickens looked like i ran across an article that claimed chickens egg yolk color changed based on the vitamin A content of their diet. The more orange the yolk was, the more vitamin A the chicken was getting.
I was still drowning in eggs so i regularly cooked 4 on days off to feed to the dogs just so they weren’t wasted. I cracked four eggs into the pan and studied them for color. The egg yolks were pretty near orange. I smiled. The girls must be getting their vitamins from all those organic veggie table scraps now that a pandemic and budgeting was dictating i cook everything from scratch.
I developed a theory. I figured Rosie’s eggs ought to be a little oranger than the rest, as she was the biggest, fattest, most dominant chicken and she nearly always dominated the feeder and the kitchen scraps i threw to them. I opened one of Rosie’s eggs directly next to one of Petunia’s. Sure enough, Rosie’s egg yolk was slightly more orange. Each time i made eggs after that i made a point to compare Rosie’s egg to the others and it was always slightly more orange. I laughed. Rosie was hogging all the food.
I was not having a good time in the slightest dealing with 2020 and all it brought with it. However, the dogs were thrilled. I was unemployed for a time and traded that in for part-time work, so i was home more often and they were getting sunny side up eggs for breakfast for no reason that they could think of. According to them, they were having a wonderful year.
I first spotted Crystal while mowing the grass on the west side of the house. She had made a web up against the side of the house and attached it to a tall weed in the grass. I spoke to her and told her she was welcome and warned her of the danger of praying mantises and to run if she encountered one and not stay and defend her web as Odette had done the year before (when she was ruthelessly beheaded and eaten alive one bite at a time). She sat still in her web and seemed to be listening. I mowed around her, leaving the grass tall where her web was. I began visiting and chatting with her daily. I would scour the grass around her web and if i saw a praying mantis i would kill it and feed it to the chickens. One day she was gone. I was in such despair. I had Odette, Piper, Wilma, Ruby, and Charlotte last year but this year Crystal was the only female orb weaver i could find. I was devastated at her disappearance. Then one morning i opened the front door and there she was, sitting on the door. She was looking at me; she scared the **** out of me. Without my glasses all i could see was a dark mass and my first thought was that the wasps i had been battling in the well house were here for retribution for their fallen brothers. As soon as i realized it was Crystal i breathed a sigh of relief. I put my hand on my chest and spoke to her, “There you are my lovely girl. Don’t do that to me! I nearly had a heart attack! I thought you were a wasp!” She stared at me, unmoving. She twitched a leg. I stepped out onto the porch to see what she had been working on. She had built a web encompassing half the porch. I marveled at what had happened. Each time i had met an orb weaver on my land i had chatted with them and offered them the porch light as a hunting place for bugs, telling them i’d leave the porch light on for an hour or so each night and they could have anything that was drawn to it for dinner. Each time, the orb weaver i had spoken to had taken down their web and moved onto my porch, re-erecting it near the porch light. It was almost as if they understood my invitation. I knew people would think i was crazy if i told them i had spoken to spiders but the results were so compelling, i kept on with our conversations. I told Crystal she could have the porch but not the door or the area directly in front of it, as i would need to walk through there regularly. All was going well until the dogs got curious about one day after her move to our porch. They stuck their noses in her web. I knew this because suddenly Crystal’s web was not there and she was nowhere to be found. I located her on the underside of the porch railing, hiding. I looked all over for what had caused this behavior in her, where her web had gone to…as i turned i noticed the dogs standing behind the fence. Somehow they had done it on their way to the dog run. They were now gated in but the evidence of their momentary deed was plastered all over their faces; the sticky remnants of Crystal’s smooshed and folded web. I chastised the dogs, pulling the webbing off their faces and swatting them each on the butt once as i communicated my displeasure with what they’d done. They were just doing what dogs did. They were curious and so they investigated and the webbing came away with them. All of her hard work, dashed in an instant. I presented the slobbery sticky mess that was once her web, wiping it on the railing, unsure if she could reuse any of it or would even want to. I promised her it was not purposeful and that they didn’t mean anything by it and were just being dogs and doing what dogs tend to do…investigate. I told her that the other side of the porch, behind the potted plant gate, would be undisturbed and unreachable by the dogs, and maybe she would like to put a web there. The next day, she had re-erected a smaller web just where i’d suggested. There she stayed. I said good morning to her daily and left the porch light on for a time each night to draw her dinner in. In total 8 praying mantises tried to approach her while i was home. I killed all but two of them. With my ankle and my broken toes i was no longer quick and i couldn’t leap over the porch railing at a moment’s notice to go after them, so two of them slipped between the porch floor boards and were gone. I knew they’d be back. Once they knew where a spider was, they would always come back until the meal was obtained. I told Crystal this. I told her it had gotten away and she needed to be vigilant and keep an eye out. It was as if the praying mantises spoke to one another and shared Crystal’s location. They just kept coming!
One morning, in the pre-dawn hours, i stepped onto the porch with my lunch and water bottle, ready for work. To my great excitement, Crystal was working on something. She was making a white tear-drop shaped egg sac! There were to be babies!!!! i immediately phoned my brother in law so i could tell him the news! He was the only person in our family that appreciated such informational updates on the arachnids that frequented the land. When i came home Crystal was gone and the egg sac appeared finished. It looked like hard work had gone into it. I wondered if she’d popped out to get a bite to eat. Days went by and i still didn’t see her.
One day i was watering the plants and i noticed those familiar slender black legs peeking out from behind the chair, but something was wrong. They were curled and upturned instead of spread wide and straight. It was Crystal all right. She was dead. I had to know if one of the two praying mantises i had let escape had done her in. I quickly flipped her over. Her head was still there. Couldn’t have been a praying mantis. I knew the females ate the males following coitus, which i thought rather barbaric, but, at least they didn’t eat them alive one bite at a time like the praying mantises. I wondered if the females also succumbed to death following coitus. I did some research and found it was true. Crystal had died of natural causes; procreation. I suddenly realized she had trusted me quite a bit in leaving her egg sac exposed hanging from the ceiling next to the porch light. The bugs at the porch light attracted other predators, including praying mantises. The egg sac wasnt tucked under a leaf somewhere. It was totally visible and in the open. I felt a great sense of duty to her and promised her corpse that i would do my best to see her babies into next year when they would emerge from the egg sac if still alive. I killed praying mantis after praying mantis. They were all on the porch wall directly near the egg sac. I wanted to bury Crystal but lacked the physical ability to climb over the porch railing to get to where she was behind the chair and potted plants. A week later her body was in front of the door minus a head. Handiwork of a praying mantis. They always left the spider’s headless corpse on my welcome mat. It was as if they knew they were important to me. This one didn’t hurt like last year’s loss. The fact that she was already dead when the mantis ate her brains was very comforting. It was the eaten alive bit that i had so much difficulty with. I didn’t want to think of my beloved friends suffering. I didn’t bury this body, mostly because i knew Crystal was no longer in it, and because i was in no condition to dig through the limestone with a shovel. I let the ants carry the rest of her away. Crystal wasn’t there. She was in heaven.
Crystal’s egg sac turned medium brown. I checked on it several times daily and killed any mantises i found inching near to it. They were nasty buggers and put up quite the fight, jumping all over me, flying at me, and pinching my clothing with rapid jerky movements in those horrible iron-grip arms. I fed them all to the chickens who often finished the job for me. I just had to smoosh them a bit and the chickens would rip them limb from limb. The chickens were helping me keep Crystal’s babies alive.
Listen, it’s 2020. Everything’s gone to shit. Just take my word on it. I could explain it but we’d be here all day. I could dwell on it, obsess over it, struggle to wrap my mind around it, but that wouldn’t really do anything to make me feel better about where we currently stand. Instead, i started a world war with a highly evolved civilization of ground hornets and have been engaged in strategic battle maneuvers all day. We gained some ground on the battlefield between the house and the extension shed off and on over a period of four hours and took back the well spigot but have completely lost the orchard and tool shed and have retreated to make a supply run for more hornet spray and dish-soap. Yes, i spent the day communicating with dogs about strategic attacks on armies of hornets. No, this is not unusual behavior for 2020. Buckle up folks. Tomorrow’s a new day full of hornets, politics, germs, and unrealistic expectations. Yippee. 🙄
Well, the phone call i was waiting for came in. We’re ready for you to hit the floor. Come in tomorrow at 8:30 am. I told them i’d be there and hung up the phone. I stood up, went to the shed, and retrieved my bin of old shoes. I found a pair of tennis shoes a former coworker had given me that were a little too big. Then i wrapped my toes in ace bandage, put a sock on, fastened my ankle brace, let out all the laces, slipped my foot into the shoe, laced it up, and folded the sock down to cover the brace. I practiced walking around the yard with a straight face, focusing on making my gait pattern symmetrical. My ankle felt much better while sitting still. I wasn’t sure how it was going to react to me literally running for an 8 hour shift. Logically, it didn’t seem like there was going to be a way to get through two 8 hour shifts of running around non-stop, with a time quota, in order to keep this new job i had landed. At the end of my cognitive ability to control the situation, i stopped thinking it through. I was not going to lose this job. It was mine. I had fought for it, earned it, celebrated the receiving of it…i needed it to pay the mortgage so that my family could pay my tuition to return to school. Me having this job was part of the whole operation. Without it everything fell apart. So, that morning i got up an hour earlier than i usually would have and put arnica, emu oil, ice, ace, brace, and shoe on my foot. Then i practiced walking normal around the yard a few more times without making a face. I loaded the car and drove to town. I sat in the car, listening to one of my podcasts on my phone and going over the items on the aisles in the store one last time. Five minutes to go time i turned the car off, turned the phone off, and had a chat with God. I said, “God…i don’t know how i’m gonna do this, but i can promise you i will do my best. I’ll do my best, and you do with that what you can.” I thanked him for bringing me this opportunity and asked him to guide my actions so i didn’t mess anything up horribly on my first day (like that episode of the office where michael drives the forklift into one shelf that then knocks all the other shelves in the warehouse over like a string of dominoes). I got out of the car, climbed the stairs to the second floor, placed my lunch box, water bottle, wallet, and keys in a locker, took one last advil, and clocked in for work.
When i was 20 years old i started as a cashier at a grocery store making $7.75 an hour. A lot had changed since i was twenty and groceries were now a hub of technology. All data was collected and analyzed by computers. This was a whole new world for me and i was no longer a young whipper snapper. I was in my thirties while most of my coworkers were in high school. I took comfort in the fact that a few of the bakery and deli employees were more towards my age or older. I felt a great need to keep up. I was not a “full time” employee. Instead, hours would be assigned based on employee speed and accuracy. The faster and more accurate you were, the more days the company would schedule you. I knew this and i kept it in the back of my mind but i was more worried about hitting the quota than beating it. I knew if i was consistently under, i wouldn’t survive. I’d talked a lot of stuff about being underestimated for my ability to meet the quota for another position…so now was my chance to prove myself. If i couldn’t hit the quota in the position i’d landed…i had no business fussing about being overlooked for more demanding and fast-paced positions. During the morning i was all eyes and ears. I was trying my hardest to learn from the more seasoned whipper snappers putting my time to shame. I watched everything they did; from where and when they picked up or stored the tools they used to what position they laid the smart phones in…from how they pulled out the metal carts to how they organized the work space…when they would switch from one activity to the next, and how they would respond when the bell dinged signifying the arrival of a new customer. I picked out three or four veterans of the system that clearly knew what they were doing and studied their every move. I asked questions whenever i had them. I focused on being thorough and quick, although my time was dragging and i was not hitting that impossibly small quota of minutes i could spend on each order from start to finish. I had been informed upon arrival that i would be expected to hit the time quota by the beginning of day 2. Half way through the day i remembered my policy on sobriety. I had 3 years and then i fell off the band wagon. I had the hardest time getting back on, because i knew i had to start over with counting every time i relapsed. It would be three years before i got to where i had been before i did something stupid and threw it all away. That thought was full of shame and wrapped in depression and it was not helping me get and stay sober again, so i stopped counting. As soon as i stopped counting it was like the weight and shame had been lifted and it was just about the act of being sober, not the act of counting days. So, i quit counting the minutes. I focused on retrieving the orders, using my tools correctly, placing items in correct positions, reading the data correctly, running the order out, connecting with the customer, and closing the order as fast as i could. At some point it became apparent to me that i was guarding my ankle and not using my broken toes to grip the floor when i wanted to pull or shove a metal order cart or run through the parking lot with a basket. I was worried that my ace wrap and velcro brace wouldn’t be enough and i was guarding. It was costing me valuable seconds and throwing off my speed. At lunch i took another advil and realized i had to pull out all the stops if i was going to make this job work. I had to push my body to its limits because only my best time would do to keep my employment longterm. I watched the board. The others hit their quota times consistently. Running was a requirement here, and i was fast walking. I made sure my wrap and brace was nice and tight. I redid it secretly in the women’s bathroom stall. Then i pulled my sock over it to cover the brace. I returned to work and i ran for the remainder of my shift. It was a gradual process. At first i was getting near the quota time but not hitting it. I then began to get into a groove. Once i recognized the repetition of the patterns and started memorizing some things it became less cognitive and more instinctual. I tapped into something left over from my childhood, a complete willingness to ignore pain in order to get something i wanted very badly. By the end of the day, i wasn’t only hitting the quota…i was getting some of the smaller orders done faster than we were required, which was necessary to balance out some of the larger orders that ran over, but also necessary to place on the schedule the following week. When all was said and done my cell phone recorded that i had walked (more like jogged) 7.4 miles. I drank an entire bottle of water and never really had to pee. It all leaves the body in the form of sweat. I made it to the end of my shift, thanked the coworkers that had helped or taught me on my first day, returned to my locker, retrieved my items, walked to my car, and drove home. Once home i did all the chores on the homestead, took care of the dogs and chickens, cooked dinner, and then was able to sit down. I got my arnica, emu oil, advil, and ice pack ready and sat down in the rocking chair. When i lifted my pants leg the left leg was twice the size of the right one. When i took off my shoe my toes were bent downward in the middle and pointing towards the ceiling. I quickly reset them, taking advantage of the flood of natural chemicals my body had just released into my veins out of shock at seeing them facing that way. I got the ice pack out and elevated my leg the rest of the night and the swelling retreated. I kept staring at that number on the phone. 7.4 miles. Somehow God had allowed me to jog 7.4 miles despite the stupid and injurious thing i had done to my foot, that i wasn’t quite ready to admit that i had done.
The next morning i had an 8.5 hour shift. Again, i got up an hour early and fixed myself up. I packed the car and drove to town. I put my things in the locker and clocked in. This time i knew how to collect and deliver orders. The challenge would be making a seamless transition between doing that and returning to other activities in between times when customers were arriving for pickup. In between collecting and delivering orders i would need to engage in other necessary activities. Then when an order came in…abandon the activity that i was working on, memorizing where i left off, pick up and deliver the order, and return to the point where i left off in the previous activity. It was fascinating to me. It was like a well oiled highly-organized machine. Everyone was kind and supportive of one another. The company had bakery items and produce brought up to the break room daily to feed us for free…even peanut butter. It was a very pleasant environment to work in. The only two understandings were that you had to be fast and you had to be accurate. I wanted to be a part of this well-oiled, highly-organized customer-service focused machine. So, i tackled day 2 with a new determination. When all was said and done the cell phone app showed i had walked (jogged) 7 miles. Every muscle in my body burned because you had to pull the metal cubby carts with force in 1 motion instead of 3 to make those seconds count. You had to carry many bags at once instead of making many trips to shave down your time. So i prayed to the lord and hit the floor with my best attempt at doing well enough to stay. Throughout the day, the supervisors teaching me gave me a couple compliments. One said i was doing really well and the other told a coworker i was good at a specific task i had been assigned and had picked the routine up fast. I realized that in my 7 year career in healthcare no one had ever told me i’d done anything well. I didn’t realize how motivating a small compliment could be until i heard it. I think the healthcare field is probably focused on all the wrong things and wired kind of screwy but that’s a whole tangent on its own for another day. I couldn’t believe how nice these people were being to me. In healthcare, the newby is always harassed until they’ve earned the right to harass the new newby. You cant just walk in day 1 and have people treat you like a person. You have to pay your dues. Day 1, these people treated me like a human and were ready to teach me anything i wanted to learn. I was proud to be a part of such an environment, grateful that God allowed me a shot at being part of this company, and for the first time in my life, i was happy to go to work. I loved it. I wanted to be a part of that well-oiled fast-paced machine for the rest of my days. Of course…eventually i would have to go back to school and get another degree, but that would come later. Right now, i was going to enjoy being content and fulfilled where i was at and not worry about time or numbers…just push myself, do my best, and thank the Lord for always setting me back on the path. I had been so wrapped up in trying to control things and make things work…when i couldn’t…i had to let it go and turn to God. It was the first time i truly learned the lesson that i’m not in charge down here. I’m not waving the conducting wand and making everything work. Sometimes you gotta think less and have more faith. So i finished my second day. I made it up the stairs and to the locker. I sat on the couch in the break room and checked next week’s schedules on my phone. There, in beautiful black numbers, was my schedule. I had full shifts for four whole days. It was the most wonderful thing i’d ever seen. I would pay the bills, get a chance to work on my speed and accuracy, maybe the team would teach me some more tasks, and i would have an opportunity to whip my muscles back into shape. I was elated. In the back of my brain was a neon red warning sign “get home” “get home”. I knew i had pushed myself and now was running on empty. I got the dogs fed, the chickens put up, inhaled some food like i’d never eaten before, and fell asleep in the rocking chair. I didn’t get the chores done. I didn’t get my teeth brushed. It was one of those heavy sleeps that comes on like a weighted blanket and the more you fight it the sicker you feel. I started feeling nauseous and hollow so i closed my eyes and felt better. That was it. I woke up in the rocking chair at midnight with both dogs staring at me as if to say, “aren’t you gonna crate us?” I made it to brush my teeth, crate the dogs, and i was out again. Yes! This was the job i wanted! Absolutely full of repetition, teamwork, cooperation, customer service, speed, multitasking, and the physical workout of a lifetime. I loved my new job with a passion. I would show up each day scheduled ready and willing to learn and apply myself and with any luck, keep up with the whipper snappers. 🙂
Cashew gets a bad rap with most of my family members and friends because they don’t understand what she’s for. I have 2 dogs. One’s a companion and the other is a working dog. One was potty trained from the get go and spends her free time napping. The other took a good solid year and cannot be trusted with “free time” unless one desires something of her choosing overhauled. I bought Cashew with a purpose in mind. I needed a dog that would make up for the 7 foot holes in our barbed wire fencing. I needed a dog i could trust to keep an eye out and hold the perimeter against critters while i worked on projects and chores, and i needed a doorbell system. I wanted a dog that would tell me when we had company…human or critter…while i still had time to go for the machete.
Cashew began chasing coyotes at 5 lbs when her bark was still just a high-pitched squeak. It was a good sign, in my opinion, that she had the instinct to do what i needed her for. When people meet Cashew they see an unruly dog that wont walk on a leash and never calms down. They don’t get to see her in her element. They don’t get to see what she was born for, and that’s to work. Cashew is a dog that always wants a job. She is always sitting at the ready, waiting for an order. If her human doesnt recognize that behavior for what it is, she will give herself a job, which is not what anybody wants. Lately, i’ve been trying to give Cashew as many jobs as i can on the homestead. She can be a very helpful dog if managed right. In her younger days i let her have free range of the land and she showed me that one of her go-to self-assigned jobs was destroying electrical wiring. Now, she does not have free range of the land. When i give the command she goes to either the car or the dog run, and when i give the return command she runs to the porch steps and waits at the front door of the house. I trained her to do this so i could keep her away from the ac unit, which does have tubes and wires. She spends her time in the fenced dog-run area when she is not in my direct line of vision. However, seeing as i was finding myself home much more frequently after quitting my job, i decided to give her a little more leash to work with and observe the results. She was older now. Perhaps she would be easier to train. I started using her to deter the deer from my young fruit trees. They were fenced of course but the deer would stick their noses up against the wire fencing and munch on the outer leaves that they could reach. Cashew was a fantastic doorbell. She had a different bark for every kind of creature that visited our property. With deer she would bark incessantly; deep full-bodied barking peppered with high-pitched yelps of excitement. If it was a possum she gave a single bark every once in a while. With raccoons she went ballistic. She did not like raccoons one bit and a sighting of them resulted in snarling, barking, and baring of teeth. She responded to rabbits with sighing and whimpering. Humans were also a snarling occasion. So were passing trucks. So, i never knew if she had a coon, a human, or a truck in her sights when she started all that rabid-sounding mess. The fedex and ups guy got the same treatment as the coyotes. She gave them her deepest most intimidating bark and kept going until i appeared from the house and seemed willing to do something about the threat she’d identified. I had long been using her as a doorbell and surveillance system. However, i now started letting her loose on the deer that tried to browse my garden. I would open the gate and she would stand ready, dancing from paw to paw, bracing, waiting, listening with all her might, looking at me with pleading eyes… until i said “get em” and then she would tear off in the direction of the deer so fast, all her muscles working to propel her forwards in a flash. When she came to the tall grass she would use her legs like a spring and bound through the tall grass just like a bunny, soaring through the air with front paws tucked for each jump. Once released she was silent. She knew she had a better chance of catching the deer if it didn’t hear her coming. She would wait until she was right up on it and pop out of the tall grass barking her head off and the poor deer would nearly have a heart attack and scramble to get running before Cashew could reach out and grab it. Cashew would then herd the deer along the fence line until they encountered a hole in the barbed wire, at which point the dog would cut the deer off, herding it right through the hole in the fence and circle back. She would sniff everywhere the deer had been and then when she was satisfied she knew the exact trail it had taken across the property she would pee all up in that area, in case the deer didn’t understand whose territory it was frequenting. I let her have her fun. When i wanted her to return i would whistle and she would come flying back to me at break neck speed. If you wanted Cashew to repeat an action, all you had to do was praise her. I told her good job for chasing the deer and she repeated the series of steps every time. I told her good job for retrieving the cedar branches i cut and now whenever i trim trees she retrieves the branches for me so i can dump them in the wheelbarrow. If i point to a tree stump or some left over tree roots in the ground, she digs it up with her claws and pulls it out of the ground by yanking backwards with her teeth. She can be an incredibly useful and intelligent dog but leave her unsupervised and without orders and she’ll assign herself the job of digging up living trees. She’s quite efficient at it too. There’s a 50 year old oak tree leaning towards the house that she’s been digging up and i’ve been reburying for the past 6 months or so. She’ll get herself a good 2 foot hole going if i dont check on them for a while in the dog run. Cashew likes a job. She must always have a task. So i try to give her one as often as i can.
Earlier tonight we had an eerie orange full-moon. The sun had just set but the sky was still light and the chickens refused to get in their coop until full darkness fell, as usual. A band of coyotes stood on the property line yipping, howling, and pacing, circling around. They were big healthy things with bold yellow eyes. Likely getting fat on the neighbor’s sheep. But today, they seemed set on chicken. All 5 chickens flapped frantically around their enclosure, feathers flying, making the most racket they could possibly manage. Both dogs stood stock still in their enclosure, ears perked, tails up, looking at the coyotes. Neither one barked. I wondered if they didn’t feel the need to alert me since i was already staring at the threat. I had come out to get something from the car and noticed movement at the property line and then heard their distinctive yipping, way too loud to be in the distance. I had two choices…put the dogs inside or use them to save the chickens. I decided to see what Cashew was made of and before i could change my mind, i released the dogs. They stood there looking at me, waiting for orders i guessed. I growled and mustered up a deep throaty bark in the coyotes direction. That was all the info Cashew needed. She took off in the direction of the coyotes like a flash of black fur dashing across the dusty ground. Sili ran after her for back-up. She usually likes to give Cashew enough of a head start that she probably won’t see any action but will lend her voice for intimidation purposes. Cashew ran along the property line, barking and snarling. She ran back and forth, back and forth, snarling and snapping like she had lost her mind. The coyotes lingered for a moment and then disappeared into the trees. Cashew sat at the property line and stood guard, keeping an eye on the trees in case the coyotes decided to return, while i sat on the porch steps waiting for the sky to darken enough for the chickens to go in their coop. When the last chicken was in i put the door on, locked the pen, and whistled. I heard the rapid-fire patter of paws on the ground and then there she was, sitting at attention, muscles shaking with excitement, ready for action. I rubbed her head and patted her side saying, “Good dog, good dog!” She ate it up. She loved being praised more than anything on the earth. She would be sure to chase the coyotes away every time if it meant she would get a “good girl” and a head pet. We haven’t heard the coyotes since so they’ve either moved out of ear-shot or they haven’t found dinner yet. Either way, Cashew remains ready to defend her feathered siblings…which is slightly ironic because when i brought them home she was pretty sure they were supper and remained sure about that for several months. My point is, she’s a dog that loves a job, and she’ll do whatever job she’s given. She’s incredibly smart, extremely attentive, and absolutely fearless. Cactus, scorpions, and bees don’t seem to phase her. When she’s on a mission she knows no pain. I wish others could see this side of her. I know they just see an unruly ill-behaved house dog but that’s because Cashew doesn’t spend most of her time in the house. That’s Sili’s domain. Cashew watches the homestead and Sili watches me. Sili has long been my soul mate. She is my heart. She is extremely attentive and cuddly. If i’m sick i’ll let her sniff my head. If she ignores me its a simple head cold. If she wraps her paws around me and holds on, nuzzling me with her snout, i know i better buckle up for something big like the flu or norovirus. She can also sense my level of anxiety and if she feels i’m reaching critical levels she will place a paw on my leg or lay her head on my lap. She is the dog that is content to nap in the bed all day long and will stare soulfully into her human’s eyes for minutes at a time. She also snores, which is pretty adorable. Here she is directly after feigning back-up during the coyote standoff. She is my love, my heart, my baby, but you can tell perimeter patrol was not her cup of tea.
Sili is the older dog…wiser in many ways. But i have come to rely on Cashew for quite a few things recently, and tonight when she told those coyotes off so i could get the chickens put up for bed, i was **** proud of her. It really is a beautiful thing to watch her work. She was h*ll to train but now that she’s over a year, for me, watching her execute an order is like watching a ballet. That’s my kind of show. A muscley little dog channeling all her bull-in-a-china-shop tendencies into swift and precise herding motions…its a beautiful thing.