Sili has never been one to eat poop so back when she was an only child i had a pretty good idea of what was on our property, where it was spending its time, and what it was eating. For instance, the fox scat always had berries and seeds in it. One fox in particular ate my tree seeds. Every time i saw a tree i liked i would collect its seeds and throw them out into the grass on the property where i wouldn’t mind having a tree. This ****** fox would eat them and poop them out wherever i would mind having one. Then it’d rain, the tree would grow, and i’d have to mow it down with the lawnmower. Eventually i got smart and just started moving the turds with a shovel back to the original spot i had the seeds in the first place. I still know when and where the foxes have been but if we are talking deer, road runner, racoon, possum, armadillo, skunk, coyote, or stray cat, i have to wait on the rain to identify tracks in the mud because sili’s eventual alpha sibling is a poo-eater and the only one that truly knows what’s been going on in the yard these days.
I tend to write about insects and arachnids that i live in harmony with. I tend to write about insects i’m at war with; either because they eat my plants, my house, or sting me agressively. However, i realized i was leaving out a whole other category of insect that i exist alongside peaceably; neither at war nor in cooperation with. They’re mostly walking sticks and praying mantis. I leave them alone and they leave me alone.
When i bought the property the sellers had pointed to a tree. Well, actually it was 6 trees clustered together but they were growing so close it seemed they were destined to become 1 tree in the end. They told me it was a spanish oak and to baby it and do whatever it took to keep it alive because it was visible through the kitchen window and its leaves would turn fire-engine red every autumn. Though i was excited by the information, a part of me was not sure the tree wasn’t already dead. All of the other oaks had leaves on them but this 6-trunked tree had bare light-gray branches. It appeared dead and continued to do so for months. Then one morning i looked over and noticed something different about the branches. There were little knobs of pinkish-brown color sprouting forth from each branch. The tree was covered with them! It was alive! The tree was really alive. Leaves were coming. Perhaps it would be an exciting autumn after all with this red-leafed tree in the kitchen window. I breathed a sigh of relief. At first i thought they were flowers, but they were actually the tiny folded beginnings of leaves. The whole tree was covered in little pinkish-brown bundles.
When i bought the property, my friend M said, “Let me know what you need and i’ll do whatever would be most helpful.” She offered to help me move boxes into the house but as i explained to her, the house was under 400 square feet…there were never any boxes to move…just things driven over in an suv and only i knew where they were supposed to go anyways. I did however have an uber expensive dog house that i had no idea how to put together. The unassembled pieces were haunting me during my spare time and taking up space that i desperately needed for other things in the shed. M said she was game and we scheduled a day for her to come out and help me assemble a dog house. She drove all the way from the city to get to my property. I wished i could have given her a more thorough tour and let her experience the hill country with the wind chimes and the birds and the rocking chair, but we had work to do so we just got right down to it. I was pretty good with a drill but i could not make sense of the instructions if my life had depended on it. She was also stronger than i when it came to holding the pieces together while the screws went in. Whatever she wasn’t so great at came naturally to me and whatever i couldn’t do if i’d had a gun to my head, she knocked out like a piece of cake. It was really good to see her and i had fun figuring out how to put the dog house together with her. Thank God she was the one in charge of interpreting the instructions! She was pretty insightful about those things and if i had done it, we would have been there way past sundown and maybe on into the next day. Each piece we added to the puzzle, the thing started to look more and more like a house. There was one point when all 4 walls were up and i was sitting inside the little house with Sili, trying to get her used to the idea of being in it. I felt so encouraged that it was coming together and actually starting to look like a house. I felt so grateful to my friend M, because i had a lot of ideas, but i didn’t always have the know how to bring them to fruition, and this was one of those times i’d really gotten myself in over my head with hand written and drawn instructions from a couple who made these up north. I’d been holding onto the pieces for weeks because i knew i wasn’t going to be able to assemble the thing myself. Ikea sends a diagram with written instructions and pieces that have stickers that correspond with the labels in the diagram. This was a different animal entirely. I heard a lot of comments in town like “where’s your husband?” Or “you aint going to be able to keep that place without a man”. Popular belief was that you could homestead if you were a man, you could homestead if you were a couple, but you couldn’t homestead as a woman. This dog house had me in a tight spot where i was fixing to have to admit i couldn’t do something that a man could probably figure out. Although, several friends have since remarked to me that i’m just like a man in my inability to read and make sense of instructions that came with the box. My friend M donated her time, effort, and instruction deciphering skills to help me put this dog house together for Sili and any future sibling that we acquired for her. It was an important lesson for me. It was never about whether i was male or female or what the town folk would think of me if i admitted i couldn’t do something. It was about my skill-set, and hers. Some people are good at certain things and other people excel in different areas. I could never have built that dog house and figured out where the heater and a/c unit needed to sit for it to come together with a water-tight seal without her. Every time i look at it in the yard i remember putting it together with my friend M and how willing she was to give of her time and her effort. When i met her i was working in a psych facility. She volunteered her time to come play the guitar and sing for my patients each month because that was the skill-set she had to change the lives of myself and my patients for the better. I saw the grace of God change lives through her, in the church and out in the community. She was my mentor in many ways and a cherished friend. There was no-one i could talk so openly with about philosophical things and she made me think. She and her husband were two of the very small group of people i hoped to know life-long.
Sili is and always has been a digger. She leaves craters all over the yard (especially smack dab in the middle of my dirt driveway), under the fence (in case critters needed an invitation), and sometimes i will look out the window to find her flinging my mulch pile in every direction. She’s not only a digger; she’s an enthusiastic digger. She enjoys it. Tail wagging, ears flapping up and down with her efforts, she is the picture of joy when digging a hole in the yard. For the life of me, i cannot get this dog to stop digging up the septic tank. -_- the tank was installed before i bought the property. Im not exactly sure how the thing works. So, to err on the side of caution i figured it was best just to leave the whole thing undisturbed. I knew where my drainage field was. I knew that couldn’t be disturbed or built upon. I knew i had a mound of chalky dirt over there where the tank was. I didn’t know its exact function but if the sellers had put it there i was sure we needed it. It was part of the septic system. Sili didn’t see it that way. Sili saw a large mound of displaced earth with her name on it and as a bonus, it smelled good. She would dig in the pile sending dirt flying through the air. Then she would lay down and roll in it. I would open the kitchen window and yell through the screen, “hey! Stop digging up my septic tank! Yeah, you! I see you! I have eyes everywhere dude. Be very afraid!” Sili would look around trying to see where my voice was coming from. She was sure she was being sneaky. She’d quit digging for a minute and then when she thought i’d surely gone she’d start up again, at which point i’d yell, “get out of my *** ****** septic system!” She’d stand at attention and raise her ears trying to figure out how i could see her. Im sure the neighbors LOVED us. Since we moved in all they’d heard was yelling about going poop faster and getting out of a septic tank. They probably thought we were deranged, or at the very least, eccentric.
The most common question i get asked about the tiny house is “is there a dish washer?” The answer is no. This seems to be a deal breaker for most people. I thought it would be the tendency for scorpions to come out of the outlets and sink drains or the lack of hot water, or the sulfur smell produced by both the well and the decaying matter in the septic tank. But it seems people are willing to entertain those ideas…just not the idea of washing dishes. I don’t have a lot of counter space. Buying a dish drying rack was never in the plan. I didn’t see what would be the point. I had a dish drying rack built right into the porch railing for free. The railing was topped with a wide and flat board of wood, making a counter-like surface perfect for supporting plates, bowls, and cups. So each time i washed dishes i would plug the sink, boil the water, soak the dishes, soap and rinse them, and dry them on the porch fence railing. When they were dry i would carry them over and put them back on the shelf in the shed. A couple people offered to buy me a dish drying rack after hearing what i had resorted to but i turned them down. I preferred my dishes sun-dried on the porch.
I listened to the radio for my weather report. It was more accurate than all the cell phone apps. Any time i heard the words “hard freeze” i set to work preparing the property. I turned on the light in the well house and placed a blanket against the bottom of the door. I retrieved all the drinking water from the non-climate-controlled shed and placed it in the heated tiny house. I put freeze bags over all the spigots and i made sure i had a lighter on hand in case i needed to melt ice off the padlock chaining the fence gate to get the car out (i learned this the hard way). Winter was a less productive time, when the effort was spent on maintaining what stood to be lost. Spring and summer would be the seasons to build and create.
My coworker came up to me one day and said, “i got you a housewarming gift.” She disappeared and returned with a little brown box. She said, “i know you like to garden and you don’t have a garden yet at the new house because of the deer, but this plant is self-sufficient. You don’t even have to water it. You can have a little greenery without any of the fuss.” I lifted a hanging plant in a tile pot out of the box. It was made of rubber, but so life-like. There were little gravel bits glued into the pot where soil might have been were it real. It looked so realistic. At first i thought to myself, “i’ve never had a mock plant. I’ve only had real. What am i going to do with this?” But as i walked through the tiny house i realized, it did not feel like me. There wasn’t a speck of green. I had gotten rid of all of my flowering and vegetable plants in order to move to the property and i was nowhere near financially stable enough to shell out for a greenhouse or a raised bed garden with a 10 ft deer fence. So i picked a spot in the bathroom and drove a nail into the edge of the medicine cabinet. I hung the little rubber plant. Every time i showered or sat on the loo i saw the little rubber plant. It did not register in my mind that it was fake. The way it hung down was realistic enough that i felt i had a bit of garden in the tiny house with me. It eased the pain of giving up the plants i’d had on my 15 ft apartment patio and it gave me hope that one day i’d get my financial situation together enough to afford a greenhouse and there would be veggies and flowers galore once more!
When i decided Sili needed a companion my mind immediately went to a Great Pyranese. They were majestic. They were huge (bigger than coyotes). They were brave, fiercely protective, highly intelligent, job oriented dogs. They were also massively fluffy (not gonna lie, there was a cuteness factor pulling at my heart strings). However, i wasn’t sure this was the type of dog we needed for this particular property. Everything i had read about them indicated that a great pyranese would not be condusive with our type of fencing. Also, they tended to give the orders rather than take them. They were used to being left alone in the hills to look after a herd of sheep on their own. They weren’t the type that could be made to sit, fetch, or roll over on command. I wondered whether Sili would still follow my orders if she saw another dog calling their own shots. Also, and most importantly, the several thousand dollar a/c and heated dog house (some assembly required) i had purchased online was a large, not an extra large. I began looking at other breeds. Then suddenly it hit me. I had always loved Australian Shepherds but never thought about owning one because i didn’t have the land or the lifestyle that would be required to have one. Well, now i did. An aussie was exactly what we needed. They were highly intelligent and easy to train. They were fearless and high energy working dogs. They were known for being bold (what we needed). They were bigger than Sili. And most importantly, they would fit in a “large” sized dog house. So i made up my mind. We would find an aussie. As soon as i started researching i realized two things. 1. Aussie puppies go fast. 2. Aussie puppies are insanely expensive. I made up my mind. We would not be paying over 400 dollars for a puppy. Most of the Australian Shepherd puppies in the area were listed at 800 to 1250 per dog. I made up my mind that when the right opportunity arose and an australian shepherd puppy presented itself for less than 400 dollars, we would go get it. Only problem, where were we going to put it? I figured i had better get to work on constructing the uber expensive freight delivered dog house. I spent over $2000 on the thing and all together it weighed 384 lbs. it seemed like an investment i should seal against the elements in some way. I had a can of “chestnut” colored paint in the tool shed. I figured that ought to seal it well enough. So i set a piece of cardboard in the yard and placed brushes and a stir stick on it. I pried open the lid of the paint can with a screw driver and begun painting all the pieces “chestnut”. Half way through the day i would turn the pieces that had sun-dried laying in the yard and paint the other side. I inherited my grandmother’s ivory skin so i had anticipated a risk of sunburn. I had sunscreen on my eyelids, my ears, and even on the part in my hair. The only place i didn’t think to put it, was my butt crack. I don’t think anyone intends to have plumber pants. I sure didn’t. But, with hands full of paint, i wasn’t going to reach down and pull my migrating pants up. I kept thinking, “i’ll get them as soon as i finish with this piece…” but there was always another piece. Eventually all the pieces of the dog house were painted. They laid in the grass drying under the bright sun. I went inside the house and leaned on the counter. Suddenly i felt pain. I lifted my shirt up and turned my head. The little strip of skin directly above my butt crack was not crab red, but maroon, almost brown. It was beyond burnt. It was so burnt i considered calling a doctor to see if there was a protocol that should be followed. It was as dark as the paint. I placed a bag of frozen peas gingerly onto the remnants of my skin and realized this would one day be a very strange tan line. There are no pictures included here for obvious reasons. There’s an unspoken rule in life. It goes something like, “If you are stupid enough to wear pants showing your butt, don’t have photographic evidence of you doing so, and if you do, don’t share it with others whom you wish to respect you.” My sunburn took weeks to heal. Layer upon layer of skin peeled, one at a time. I do still have a dark brown line across my butt where the pants sat. I learned something. When painting, wear a long-tailed shirt. The pieces of the dog house were painted, dried, and placed back into the shed to await assembly. We were one step closer to a new addition, an alpha puppy.
Before and After
When i met the sellers they told me that they had enjoyed listening to the coyotes yip in the dark many a night but they hadn’t heard them in a while. They feared the sheep farmers up the road had finally won the battle and wiped out the remaining of the coyotes who were eating their flock. I didn’t give much thought to the subject for a week or two. I had no reason to. I hadn’t seen any coyotes, though i checked the mud for tracks and scat each time it rained. There were plenty of fox, one possum, at least two raccoons, an armadillo, an occasional road runner, and a herd of deer that frequented the property. However, much to my contentment, no sign of coyote or mountain lion. I assumed there were none in the immediate area but i never left the tiny house without a weapon, just in case, especially at night. Anyone who had met my dog Sili knew that she would follow her momma into the mouth of hell if that’s where her momma went, for loyalty ran deep in her veins. Anyone who had met my dog Sili also knew that she was afraid of everything, from other dogs to thunder. She was a medium sized dog, about 27 lbs. she could be feisty when cornered but her nature was not that of an alpha. Sili was a follower. She was a valued member of my pack but she wasn’t in charge of our property. She was one of the charges on it and it was my job to keep her safe. So when it came time for Sili to go to the bathroom after dark i would pull on my shoes and my belt and accompany her into the star-lit darkness of the night. I would stand in the yard watching her as she timidly searched for a spot to do her business before hurrying past me towards the porch. When squatting she would glance back at me frequently to make sure i hadn’t gone. This cemented in my mind the need for a second dog. Not only was the property too much for Sili to guard by herself, Sili didn’t appear to feel confident, even with me standing armed in the yard. Sili didn’t feel safe. I knew what she needed. She needed an alpha; one that was smaller than her. Sili didn’t accept any kind of dog she thought might have a chance of winning a fight with her. Sili needed a puppy. A headstrong, confident, bold puppy who would one-day usurp her in size and rise to be her alpha…one who she felt she could probably whoop in a scuffle on day 1. I began researching dog breeds with the idea that when the right puppy surfaced, i would know and we would seize the moment. One evening, about 45 minutes before sundown, i was driving home when something ran across the road directly in front of my car. I could see it plain as day through the windshield. It looked right at me as it crossed the road, a haunting boldness in the expression on its face. It looked like a giant fox with a more dog-like snout. I didn’t know what it was at first. I knew coyotes to be bony desperate creatures with mangy coats and hollowed out faces, timidly hiding in the shadows, following neighborhood folk as they walked their yorkies and chihuahuas, waiting for the owners to turn away or answer their phone for just a second too long. This animal was confident, healthy, well-fed. Its face was full, its coat beautiful, and not a bone visible. No fear in this animals eyes. I had expected it to fear the vehicle about to smack into it but it seemed unphased as it trotted across the winding road. I made a mental note that Sili needed a companion that would grow larger than her. The coyote was larger than her. Even if she did find her bravery, it wouldn’t be a fair fight were they ever to cross paths in the yard. Sili spent a great deal of time sniffing all the areas of the yard. She seemed to know what i was realizing and she refrained from drinking water after nightfall and stayed close to the porch when made to go out to potty. Two days after i had seen the coyote cross in front of the car, i had fixed dinner, washed the dishes, and let the dog out to potty. Sili was standing in the yard. She was very stiff. She sniffed the air instead of the ground. I was frustrated with her because she was dragging the process out. I barked at her under my breath, trying not to wake the neighboring ranches, “go poop, Sili! Go poop! Its not hard. Pick a spot!” Sili remained frozen. I heard rustling in the darkness. Immediately my mind went to Max and i scanned the yard for his little glowing eyes, expecting to see him rooting in the dirt for bugs or displacing all the mulch in my pile. Then i heard a noise that sent a chill down my spine and made my blood run cold. A howl. Not a distant howl but a right-here howl. I had read that coyotes often sounded closer than they were. I was hoping there was truth to that because this one sounded loud enough to be standing somewhere on the property. Another quieter howl answered the first one in the darkness. There was a coyote very near to us having a conversation with at least one other in the distance. As the conversation continued i looked at sili, illuminated by the moonlight. She was standing 30 feet from me. She was looking at me. I couldnt make out her expression in the darkness but i knew from her rigid posture she was terrified. I motioned towards the porch with my hand. She stared at me. I motioned again and again for her to go to the porch. She stood frozen in the yard. The howl was louder now and i could hear dry grass crunch though neither Sili nor i were moving. I realized Sili was not going to move. Perhaps she knew better than i how close they were and feared movement would call attention to her position. I didn’t care what was in the yard or how close it was anymore. I was going to get the dog and go to the house and nothing was going to stand in my way. I unsnapped the holster for the machete on my belt and crossed the grass to where Sili stood. I could hear grass crunch on a different side of the yard. I wondered if the coyote had circled us or if its buddy had caught up. I reached the dog and placed my arms under her belly, lifting her into the air and heading back towards the porch. She remained rigid in my arms; frozen in place. Once i made it to the porch i climbed the stairs, set Sili down, turned the door knob, and lifted her over the threshold into the house. I locked the door behind us and turned on the porch light so i could see. The porch light only illuminated a ten foot circular area of grass near the porch. It revealed nothing. Sili looked up at me, her eyes wide with fear. The howls seemed very loud for a while. Then they became quieter. I told Sili, “it sounds like they’ve gone.” Sili shot me a look that said, “i will shit on the floor and take the consequence before you convince me to go out there again.” I didn’t offer her any more water that night and i didn’t require her to go potty again before bed. She held it, gladly. When i was standing at the stove making ramen i heard a strange noise. It sounded like a bunch of crazy people yipping in the night. At first i thought it had to be teenagers drunk out of their minds dancing around a bonfire somewhere but i quickly realized it was the coyotes. In all likelihood, they had caught dinner. I thought about what the sellers had said, about the coyotes eating the sheep. I looked over at Sili, her eyes wide with terror. I realized suddenly, she was probably smaller than a sheep. If they could take down sheep, they could take down Sili. I began leaving Sili inside when i did chores close to sundown and if i heard the coyotes at a distance, i put her inside and went back out to finish alone. One night i had worked at three different facilities. I had spent over 12 hours working. I was sleep deprived and hungry. I’d had to pee for several hours. And the following morning was trash pick up day, so i had to get the can out of the shed, drag it across the property, open the gate, and take it to the side of the road at the intersection. The trash can had wheels. As it rolled over the rocks and dirt it made a lot of noise and it filled my ears. I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings. I was about halfway through the yard when all of a sudden, loud and clear as day, i heard a howl. I looked around. It was overcast. There was no moon to see by. There was nothing but impenatrable darkness staring back at me. I strained my ears to listen. I couldn’t tell what was wind moving the tree branches or paws in the grass. There was another howl, to the other side of me. There were at least two coyotes nearbye. I thought about leaving the trash can in the yard, but, what would we do with the trash? If it wasn’t at the corner, IWS wouldn’t pick it up in the morning. I unfastened the holster for my machete on my belt and continued towards the gate. The howling rang in my ears and i kept thinking that i was moving in the wrong direction…away from the house. I thought, “at least Sili is inside, thank God.” I drug the trashcan to the corner of the intersection and set it in front of the gate. Then i started back in the direction of the howling. As i walked alongside the fence on the outside of my property i thought i could hear what sounded like a dog walking along the inside of the fence but i was sure there was a possibility my tired fearful mind was playing tricks on me. The howling stopped. As i closed and chained the gate there was only silence. I walked slowly and purposefully across the yard. I rested my hand on my machete until i got to the porch steps. I looked out into the darkness. I could see nothing. I opened the door and stepped inside. Sili was beyond happy to see me. I think she feared me captured or eaten or something. She wagged her tail back and forth and laid at my feet licking the air as she did when she was nervous. It stormed later that night. As tired as i was, i didn’t sleep. The coyotes were becoming too comfortable with our property. We needed another dog. A big dog; one who would bark at coyotes. Bigger than a sheep maybe. I wondered exactly how big a sheep was up close.