Living surrounded by forest i feared fire more than i feared anything. I refused to have anything in the shed that could be remotely ignitable. Though i had a charcoal grill i kept neither charcoal nor lighter fluid. All my power tools were electric. The mower was powered with elbow grease. There were no candles; only battery powered lanterns. I knew fire and i understood its progression. Fire was not simple. If your property was on fire determination, will, stubbornness, knowledge, or even skill…none of it meant anything. In the hill country fire was considered a tool; not one that i trusted, but then nobody asked me my opinion and i didn’t give it. People had a right to do with their land what they pleased. Farmers would burn fields in order to prepare the soil for the next crop. They would let the fire department know ahead of time and round up a handful of men to stand on the edge of each side of the field with boots and a fire extinguisher. They would stamp the flames out with their boots or put them out with the fire extinguisher if they traveled out of the designated burn area. I didn’t view man as a formidable opponent to fire. I found some ran a more careful operation than others but fire did not play fair and the farmer who thought he’d mastered it was a fool in my opinion. I was more comfortable with brush piles than field burns. They would pick an area void of grass and far away from trees; out in the open. They’d pile up branches and old stumps and then set fire to the whole thing. They’d make a day of it. Someone had to sit out there in a chair with a fire extinguisher and watch it just in case. Some people out in the country burned their trash in a metal barrel. This was also done away from grass and trees. At night i dreamt of fire. I dreamt of people flicking cigarettes out of their car windows while driving. I dreamt of field burns getting out of hand. I dreamt of a brush pile too close to the trees igniting the branches above it, the flames spreading rapidly from branch to branch, dripping glowing embers onto the ground below and igniting the grass there as well. The thought of fire haunted my sleep. It was nearly 1 am. I was watching “only the brave” on youtube on my cell phone. I had begun the movie and was so invested in the thing that i hadn’t put it down even though my eyelids were drooping and i had needed to pee for over an hour. Finally, i couldn’t hold it anymore. Off i went to pee. The bathroom was the only room closed off from the rest of the tiny house. I think it was the transition into a room that was closed off from the rest of the space that alerted my nose to a difference that made me sit up and pay attention. Something was on fire. My thyroid did not function at max capacity as it should and as a result, i had a reduced sense of smell. I knew that by the time i smelled something the scent was likely very strong. I also had a tendency to mix smells up. I thought cigarettes smelled like toast and i thought bread smelled like meat. This smelled like fire to me and the fact that i smelled it meant it had been warning us for a while. There was no time to waste finding what was on fire. I ripped the curtain back and studied the tree boxes. All heat lamps were intact and no boxes were on fire. Just perfect orange squares in the darkness. I checked the stove. All the knobs were turned to “off”. All the burners were cold to the touch. I turned to the space heater. To my horror, Sili had her face a foot away from it. What she didn’t account for was the plastic cone on her head being taller than she was. I grabbed her by the legs and yanked her backwards hard. I dragged her across the floor, away from the heater. The smell was stronger now that i had her close to my face. Burning plastic. I touched her face and neck. Cold. I touched the plastic cone. Searing hot! I resisted the urge to pull it off of her. The fur of her head, neck, and torso was cold to the touch. It was only the plastic that was hot, and she would only make contact with it if i brushed it against her face in trying to remove it over her head. I pinned her to the ground and held her head directly in the middle of the cone, away from the edges. I tried to bend it back into shape as it cooled. She had warped the plastic into a non spherical shape with the heat. I breathed a sigh of relief. The burning thing had been located. The dog was unharmed. The property was not on fire. We would all live to see another day. I moved Sili far from the heater and closed the youtube window. That was enough tv for one night. At 1:45 am i was wide awake. I feared i knew the theme for my dreams that night.
It seemed as if the weather had sensed that i was at the end of my rope and in a matter of hours the temperature rose from 30 to 60, with a high of 72 scheduled for the afternoon. I was determined to get us out in the yard to enjoy it as it was to return to the thirties in the evening.
Every once in a while a goose or a pair of geese would fly overhead. They were incredibly difficult to capture on camera but the noise of their honking was a beautiful reminder that i was not in the city anymore and sometimes they flew low enough for me to hear the flapping of their wings and see their bellies as they flew over. All spring i had seen a pair flying together but come winter i only saw 1 at a time. One lone goose honking overhead.
In an act of desperation i repurposed the “dog run/chicken run/purpose to be assigned at later date in time fenced thing” once again as a play pen to keep my grounded girls busy while i hung the laundry in the yard. I wanted them to have a chance to enjoy the weather without destroying anything else so i prayed they would forget how to dig under the fencing and just run in there instead.
For some reason, they obliged me. They did not dig under the fence this time and instead wrestled, played, ran, and chewed dug-up young tree stumps i had thrown in there for them to gnaw on. Finally, i had a moment of peace and they had some outdoor time. A dump truck broke down alongside the road next to our property and the dogs figured out they could bark at it from behind two fences just as well as they could one. I was getting lots of chores done and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
When i finished hanging all the laundry in the yard i returned to the house to open all the windows. Any time the weather was in the 60s or 70s i turned off the wall unit, tied up the curtains, and opened all the windows to air out the place and let the freshness in.
Though always a little cluttered just by the sheer lack of storage space in my little tiny house, the interior was a beautiful sight to behold on sunny days when i could open the windows in mid to late morning. There were only windows on one side of the house so I only got the light during the first half of the day. There was nothing i enjoyed more than those days when the windows could be opened up. The window in the bathroom created a cross breeze and a gentle wind touched everything as i sat in the rocking chair or cooked in the kitchen. It was peaceful and it evacuated the wet dog and old laundry smell that tended to build up in the winter when the fresh air hadn’t been allowed in for a while.
Wherever i had lived, even in apartments, i had always taken a rock from outside and placed it on the window sill. It reminded me to stay connected to the earth. It felt as if i was inviting a little bit of it in, so as to keep my living space a part of nature, not a structure meant to shut it out.
It was my day off after a long week. The girls were spending the day indoors, both because it was 30 degrees outside and because they were in trouble. Both of them were tracking mud all over the floor and Cashew was once again soaked in dried urine. Her rump, her legs, her belly, and her feet. I tried occasionally to give her wipe downs with organic baby wipes (which i bought in droves). I had taken to petting her on her head and avoiding the rest of her. That didn’t stop her from trying to wipe it all on my clothing as if she was using my pants as a bath towel. In the summer i would have put her in the tub and given her a bath, but in the winter when temperatures sat consistently in the teens, twenties, and thirties, without a holding tank for my well water, it was very cold and my water heater was on its last legs. I was looking at 2 minutes of warm water in the tank on cold days. It wasn’t enough to make a bath with the boiled water from the stove. By the time i had one batch of water boiled, the first batch had gone cold in the tub. She stayed dirty because i felt it would be cruel to subject her daily to wet fur in the winter temperatures when we struggled so hard to keep the tiny house warm. The dog refused to use the pee pads. Every day she would fold them and urinate next to the neatly folded pee pad. It was something i prayed to God about and it was an ongoing struggle. I bought many many packages of organic baby wipes. It seemed that would be our damage control strategy until the arrival of warmer weather. If she didn’t chew electric cords i could just leave her outside when i went to work, but lately outdoor electric cords hadn’t been the only problem with releasing her free range in the yard. I looked out the window one day and saw my dog carrying a railroad tie. She was prancing round the yard, tail wagging, with one of my wooden steps that had previously kept the land from eroding in a slightly sloped area during rain. I dropped the dish i had been washing and opened the door, “Hey!” She turned sharply, almost whacking herself with the end of the railroad tie. “Drop it!” I yelled. And so the chase was on. I charged about the yard following this dog of mine in an attempt to recover the remnant of a chewed-up rail road tie that had once been my step to the side of the house. And she, delighted at the attention i was paying her and enjoying our little game of chase, trotted about balancing the behemoth thing carefully in her teeth. It teetered this way and that, tilting her head as she ran. Sili sat a good distance away from both of us, staying out of it and trying her hardest to see what was going on from behind the plastic cone on her head. When i finally caught up to her i grabbed the railroad tie and placed it back in the trench she’d left in the earth. I disciplined her and put her in the crate for an hour and thought that was that. Over the course of the next 3 days she would dig that railroad tie up and carry it through the yard past the window 11 more times. When the heat lamps were on to keep the young fruit trees from freezing Cashew had to be chained in the yard or she would go shred the extension cords connecting them to the source of electricity, thus electrocuting herself. It was winter so she found herself on the chain a lot. One day i walked out the door to the house and my mimosa tree was sideways. She had dug up the mimosa tree; the only young tree she could reach on the chain. She had literally dug it up. Furious with her, i placed the mimosa tree back in the hole, moving the displaced dirt back around it to cover its bare and traumatized roots. “Stop ******* digging everything up!” I yelled. “Enough, that’s enough!” She wagged her tail. To Cashew, any attention was desirable attention, whether praise or yelling. She was bored and wanted my full attention all the time. I needed to build her an obstacle course and spend time training her brain, or lend her to someone who would teach her to herd sheep. I wondered if my neighbor needed a dog to help with his herd. She would certainly keep the coyotes away from them, and i had heard he was losing sheep to them and so laying in wait to shoot them when they came for his sheep. With Cashew nearby, he’d not have to worry about such an undesired reduction to his flock. But, i’d never met my neighbor as all of our houses were far away from the gates and one had to drive onto the property past a locked gate for a ways before encountering a doorbell to ring. And i would want the dog back at the end of the day…when he would probably need the dog most to guard the flock. I wasn’t sure what to do with her. I knew she needed me home more and hoped one day to have a career that would allow that, but for the time being at least, my attention was divided between many things and Sili and Cashew were only getting a fraction of it. Sili was well suited for this routine. She enjoyed my attention and company when it was there to be had and busied herself with sun bathing, chasing cars and deer, and chewing bones and sticks in the yard when i was not available. Cashew was not so content. If released on the acreage without a specific job and direct supervision, she would assign herself one. Because of this and my inability to cope with the needs of our mortgage and payment plans in conjunction with her needs as well, she became grounded. The dog could not roam the 2 acres unless i was staring at her. That meant, through laundry and dishes and all my other indoor chores, she had to be in the house with me. Sili was also grounded. She had licked a raw hairless spot on her leg in response to the itchy tree pollen that covered everything this time of year and she sported a white plastic head adornment to keep her from gnawing the leg clear off. She was grounded for her own safety. Even the skunks and the raccoons felt she was an easy target with the giant satellite dish obstructing her view and causing her to graze the ground every three steps. She too was getting baby-wipe sponge baths to try and keep on top of the pollen situation. They were a mess and i was mentally exhausted.
I’d been told by many people that change was the only constant in life. I wasn’t sure if i quite identified with that statement. I felt God’s grace was also a constant in my life so i wasn’t sure if i could say with any confidence that i understood “change” to be the only ever-present thread throughout. That being said, it did seem change was rather inevitable no matter how settled i attempted to be. I’d explain it like this: when a person is young, they think its their job to hurry to find a place in society so that they can support a household and participate. As a person ages they figure out, finding a place in society is not a one time job but a lifelong journey that takes effort, maintenance, and sometimes change. Faced with this reality, i found myself in a state of despair. There was never going to be a year where i could sit back and say “okay, now i’ve done it.” I was learning; to be alive was to struggle. Once adulthood was reached, you had two choices in this realm. You could struggle or you could give up your power and let somebody else struggle for you. I knew myself. If there was to be a struggle, i would want to be in the driver’s seat. I did not trust others to navigate life’s twists and turns for me. Secondly, there was only one person i would be relinquishing my power to…handing over the steering wheel, and that was God. It was why i’d never be married. It just wasn’t for me. I was happy for all those out there that could thrive as a help mate and at the same time i knew i wasn’t one of them. As the winter temperatures formed ice crystals atop the paint job on my car, circumstance etched dizzying designs of a frigid nature on my heart. My soul sank deep within my person, shriveled and bruised, hiding from a cruel world. I was unable to enjoy the beauty of the country i had once so loved. I recognized a depression brewing in me, of a degree that i had only experienced once before, after my miscarriage. I knew i had a choice. I could leave things as they were and disappear into the fog. I could drown standing in place watching the suffocating clouds surround and envelope me, or i could stand and start walking to higher ground, to observe the fog in its beauty from a higher elevation where the view was clear. I made a decision to start walking. Who knew how long i’d be walking before i found the next destination this time? I didn’t know what i was walking to or how long it would take to get there, but i knew the direction i was traveling and why. Many people pointed out their perceived errors in my new direction of travel but their comments fell on unbothered ears. I felt that gentle but very present tug on my soul. I felt God calling me in the direction i was moving, and no matter why the next leg of my journey seemed like an ill-advised action on paper, i knew in my heart, it was where i was supposed to be going. When traveling this path i had a peace in my heart that rendered me uninterested in micromanaging all the details at one moment in time. I knew this next thing had been set in my path for me and that it was the direction i was meant to be walking. So i laced up my metaphorical hiking boots and began walking.
On a tuesday in december my sweet Sili turned 4. It didn’t seem like she could possibly be that old but then Cashew was a 5 lb beanie baby in my hand when Sili was 3 and Cashew was almost a year old now so she had to be 4. Unfortunately the tree pollen was really making Sili itch and she had licked a raw bloody spot on her leg, so the cone was brought out of retirement and tied around her head to save her from herself. So, not an ideal birthday but i tried to still make it fun. I kept her with me all throughout the chores because she was quite clumsy and couldn’t see where she was going and i recognized she was not a formidable opponent for a coyote with that giant plastic thing on her head. She would lay down near me and then when i moved down the laundry line i would have to call her because she couldn’t see that i had gone. Then i’d have to keep calling her so she could follow the sound of my voice. If she had held her head up and moved it around she probably could have seen me but Sili was not a problem solver like Cashew. It kept her out of trouble whereas Cashew was always in trouble. It also meant she did not adapt to new situations easily, or in the case of plastic cones…ever. Around supper time i made Sili a birthday dinner and Cashew and i sung to her. Well, Cashew was more protesting the fact that she had to wait for her food but i like to think she was helping me sing happy birthday to her sister. Then i opened the crate doors and handed them their food bowls. Sili figured out how to eat her birthday dinner even with the awkward plastic cone on her head. It was her usual dry food with a few scoops of salmon and potato wet food, 3 salmon biscuits, and 2 lamb hearts. Happy Birthday my sweet Sili.
At a certain temperature all the soaps would freeze. I mean, not become solid like water to ice, but they would become thicker and gel-like and they wouldn’t pour. At 29 degrees i had to unscrew the cap to the laundry detergent because it would just barely trickle at all from the dispenser. At 29 degrees, with 4 minutes of hot water in the tank, i had to unscrew the cap and get the shampoo in my hand ahead of time and then take a military-style shower where i turned the water off to soap up and turned it back on to rinse. Below 32 degrees none of my pumps worked to dispense the products they were designed to.
I will preface this story by saying i did not take a photograph to pair with this post. It was just one of those days when things had to be done quickly and there was no time to fiddle with things that weren’t water proof.
I arrived home from work one evening to turn on the heat lamps in the tree boxes. A cold front was already blowing in and the sun was getting steadily lower behind the gloomy gray clouds. The wind was whipping the wind chimes and the tree branches back and forth. I went to let the dogs out thinking i’d get the fruit trees situated and checked for the night and then i’d turn on the heater in the house and start supper and that would be the end of our night.
When i opened the door to the house i realized it was not so. Cashew had actually managed to push her pee pad underneath the bars of the crate and onto the floor in front of it. It lay flat and unused in front of her crate with just a corner still touching the black plastic tray. Cashew sat dripping. She must have peed and then rolled in it because she had it on her chest and ears. She was dripping, literally dripping with urine. It was 42 degrees and windy outside. I sighed. Muttering a string of colorful words under my breath i went to the shed to get the dog shampoo and the bowl i used to pour the water on them. I contemplated taking her into the shower. It was cold. It was too windy and cold out for a bath…but she couldn’t be left like that; dripping. she would drip urine all the way to the bathroom. It would be a colossal disaster and if she shook on the way i’d be facing urine covered furniture. I’d be cleaning all night. Also, there was at best 4 minutes of warm water to be had in the shower at 42 degrees. Finally i just said “**** it she’s getting a bath in the yard.” I put every pot i had on the stove. I boiled as much water as i could. I poured it all into the steel tub in the yard. Then i emptied what little warm water existed in our water heater into a pitcher a few times and dumped that in as well. I had to add 1.5 pitchers of cool water to make it so it wasn’t scalding and then before the wind and the temperature could cool it off further i put on an old t-shirt, dragged the crate to the front door, opened the door, releasing cashew into the yard, scooped her into my arms, and dunked her in the tub. I had placed the tub to the side of the car and parked the car so that it shielded her from the direction the wind was blowing. The towel hung from the side mirror and the soap and rinse-bowl were beneath it. For once in her life, Cashew didn’t want to get out of the water. She sunk in as deep as she could and tried to flatten herself in the tub. For once we were on the same page. The poor dog did not want to be in the wind and tried her hardest to stay deep in the warm water of the bath. I soaped her as fast as i could, as i was out there in an old t-shirt, wet with urine and bath water. I was cold too and wanted to go inside as much as she did. I soaped her, rinsed her, and wrapped her in the towel, then carried her up the porch stairs, finished drying her feet and legs, and set her on the floor inside the house. Then i began the process of cleaning her crate. I slid the tray out and emptied the urine from it in the yard. I dumped the bath water on it to rinse it. I leaned it against the electric pole to dry in the wind. The wind blew it over several times until i just laid it flat in the grass. I washed the bath-tub, put it away, checked the fruit trees, turned on the heater in the house, changed my shirt, made supper, and sat down. I looked at my wet dog sitting in front of the heater wagging her tail, “You sure are a lot of work.”
In december the tractor supply store had a big christmas sale. Chicken coops were each 200 to 400 dollars off regular price. Many other items were 20 percent off. If i was going to buy a chicken coop and supplies for raising chicks and then accommodating chickens, December would be the time to do it. Whether i wanted chicks in the spring or when they had them again in the fall, december was the time to buy the supplies and coop, while everything was at a good low price. If you weren’t careful, you could easily spend $2,000 getting ready for chickens. I checked the website that sold the greenhouse i was keeping an eye on. It was also on sale for $200 less than regular price. I sat on my hands. As difficult as it was to let the days of the Christmas sale tick by without making any purchases, i would have to. With all the turbulence and changes going on in my career field, it would be unwise to add new mouths to feed and new structures to maintain at this time. One day i hoped to be rearing chickens, tomatoes, rhubarb, and okra. At the moment i was rearing dogs. For the next year at least it would have to stay that way. One day we would make full use of the land. Now was not the time. I sat with the dogs on the floor at night when i looked at the sale items on my phone. When i began to mourn the items i couldn’t purchase at sale price i would look down at the precious fur babies in my lap and remember how lucky i was in that moment to have what i had, whether or not i ever got to add anything.
In mid december every year the local farmers would close up shop and they wouldn’t return to the little white shack where they sold their goods until mid May of the following year. Crops just didn’t grow in the winter and the new crops for spring wouldn’t be mature until May. So, in early december i would make one final run to the little white shack on the side of the grocery store parking lot. I would stock up on potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions. The onions would keep for a few months in a cool dry place in the tiny house (the bottom shelf of the pantry was only about 3 inches high. you could just fit potatoes or onions or squash down there and they would keep quite a while without sprouting.). The potatoes and sweet potatoes were to go in the freezer. I could pull one out and thaw it whenever i needed throughout the rest of the winter. When i got home i already had so many things in the freezer…the frozen bananas, the compost pile scraps (to keep the ants out of them until the bag was full and ready to dump), the sumac harvest, the gluten free bread stuffs, and last year’s harvest of local barely dried beans. There wasn’t any room for the potatoes and sweet potatoes. The ice had to go in order to make room. I carried the ice into the yard and threw it. The larger piece shattered into little pieces. Cashew, who loved ice, began to vacuum them up excitedly. As far as she was concerned i might as well have just installed a ferris wheel and a couple roller coasters in the yard. She was having a blast rolling, bouncing, chasing, and chewing her ice pieces at her little self-made theme park outside under the laundry tree. The potatoes were in. I was glad she was happy and busy chewing something other than my things. We would get more ice for the freezer in the spring.