Building the Tree Boxes

Originally i had planned to winterize the property by the last day of September. That did not happen. Procrastination was not usually my thing. I was the one who showed up 50 minutes early to every appointment and 15 minutes early to every social gathering. I was the one that began studying for the certification exam intensively every day 4 months before the scheduled exam date. I was not usually a fly by the seat of my pants, last-minute preparation type of person. However, this time i was. As i’ve mentioned before, i have a day job in health care that keeps me pretty busy throughout the week. I get two days off each week to work on the property and during september and the first half of october, i spent those days being beyond sick. Every week i would go to work, manage to stave off sickness until my two days off, and then collapse in grossness and agony, wasting my available days to winterize the property. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to operate a power drill while feverish and vomiting. I thought that might end in stupid mistakes and bloodshed. So i put it off. But winter was coming. Whether i was ready or not, October brought freezing weather in the hill country every year and i knew my luck was going to run out soon. I had to get the boxes built for the baby fruit trees so that i could clamp the heat lamps in their windows to keep them warm in freezing temperatures. Without boxes the young fruit trees would not survive the winter. I should stop and address something before moving forwards with this story. When i say “tree”…think “stick”. Many friends and coworkers had laughed hysterically and asked why on earth i thought trees needed heat lamps. Short answer; they weren’t trees, yet. There were 3 main reasons i had planted really young trees. #1. Cost. A mature tree cost 100s of dollars. A baby pomegranate tree cost 11 bucks, a fig 15, and a lemon 20. #2. Portability. Whatever i wanted to plant, i had to be able to lift, carry, and fit in the back of my suv. I couldn’t do any of that with a 20 ft tree. #3. Limestone. The hill country was full of it. In fact, that was pretty much what the hill country was; rolling mounds of limestone covered in short and scrubby trees. Any hole for a tree had to be dug through solid rock. The more tree there was to admire, the more roots there were to bury. I was good with a 6 inch pomegranate. But, 6 inch trees were fragile. They were not well established. They couldn’t recover from stresses as well as older trees and their roots were still pretty shallow. 6 inch trees could freeze. I had made my choice and now i needed to follow through. If i failed to get the boxes erected and the heat lamps up and running by the first freeze, the money i spent on the trees, the season caring for them, and the effort spent digging the holes would be wasted. I knew it would be cold on halloween. It always was. I just hoped the weather would wait until then.

Each box took me around 4 hours to make. I used wood scraps in the shed left over from various previous projects for the first box. When i figured out what the box was going to look like i went to the home depot in kerrville and bought some more of each kind of piece i had used. I hung pieces of wood off the open edge of the shed porch and anchored them with my boot to saw them into smaller pieces. I measured pieces of wood by holding them up to where i wanted to put them and marking them with a sharpie. Then i sawed them into the size and shape i needed to fit the space i was looking at. There was no blueprint or diagram. I had an idea in my head and i was going to carry it out.

I used what i had. I used the scrap wood in the shed and i used the 3 inch screws. I didn’t want to pay for brand new materials when i had things i could make work in the shed. However, the 3 inch screws were way too long for the project at hand. I had to drive them through the wood and into the dirt beneath to get the screws tight enough to hold the wood in place. Originally i had thought it was a bad thing to have 3 inch screws sticking out of my boxes in various places but in the end, it proved an ingenious way to stick the blanket on the boxes when i had to go to work and could not leave the heat lamps on in the day time. The wind could not blow the blankets off once they were snagged on the nails. I finished the first box on October 21. The weather had been in the thirties but not yet under 32. One morning i did wake up to ice all over my windshield but the trees seemed unbothered so it must have only been freezing for a short time. I was pushing my luck by counting on october to be above freezing all throughout. I needed to build the other two boxes.

I started on the second box the very next day. I had intended to finish both of the remaining boxes to be built but after 4 hours of bending, sawing, and drilling i was not physically able to do it again just yet.

I made the second box bigger than the first. I had gone to home depot and had access to larger pieces of wood than had been lying in the scrap pile in the shed. The first one would have to sit on the pomegranate tree, the shortest of my fruit trees. I would build bigger boxes for the fig tree and the meyer lemon tree. I used the wheelbarrow in place of a second person to hold the pieces of wood against each other while i drove a screw into place attaching the pieces together. When all was said and done the top piece didn’t line up quite right so i opened the extra tube of tar left over from repairing the roof and put tar in the thin gaps around the edges of the top piece of wood. Then i stood back and looked at it. My 2nd box was better designed than the first.

I had an electric hand saw but i refused to use it unless absolutely necessary. This was why. At times, when working on projects, i tended to nick myself. When i did suffer a cut i wanted it to be at the hands of a manual, hand-powered tool rather than an electric one. For this cut i didn’t even need a band aid. If i had been using the electric saw i would have had one less finger.

I didn’t get around to building the third box until October 28. There was a freeze and i had to just cover the trees with blankets. Luckily, it was short lived and they survived unscathed. On the morning of October 28 i told myself that all 3 trees would be in boxes with heat lamps and fencing by sundown. No excuses. No unfinished pieces. The property would be winterized by sundown and that was that. It had to be. This was getting ridiculous. Winter was coming…should have been here already. If i didn’t get things in gear i was going to lose those trees. I wore my apron for the pockets but otherwise i was in boots and pajamas. There was no time for showers, or breakfast, or lunch. This had to get done. I didn’t even take very many pictures of the third one. I was busy, as usual, trying to damage control Cashew’s ever-present desire to “help”. Only, now it would be november in a matter of days. Time was running out, stress was high, and my patience more thin than ever. Every time i cut a piece of wood that dog ran off with it. Any time i dropped a screw that dog took it. If i laid down something sharp she had to go stand on it. Then i had to drop what i was doing and go rescue her before she got in over her head and really injured herself. I would lift her off the saw and carry her away from my tools, one arm underneath her pits, back legs swinging in the air as i hoisted her to safety. “How many times have i told you dog? Do not stand on the saw!” I tried to lay it up on the railing of the shed porch but the wind blew it down and it cut into the floor boards of the porch when it landed. Every time i turned around Cashew was behind me. She was always in my way. I knew she wanted to help but this was the kind of project that really required opposable thumbs. The dog seemingly had a death wish, or at least zero survival instinct. Whenever i ran the drill, she tried to bite the spinning part. I was trying to finish this box and she was trying ****** hard to make sure that never happened. As long as i worked on it she was never more than 8 feet from my project. The bees liked it too. Any time i ran the drill they would arrive in groups of 3 to 5 and buzz around my project until they were satisfied there was no flower to be pollinated. I wasn’t sure how i was calling them with the power drill but i was. Occasionally i had to chase Cashew around the yard and pry a bee out of her mouth before it stung her. Like i said; no survival instinct.

During the construction of all 3 boxes, Sili sat far away from the bees, the power tools, and the wrath of her mama, frustrated by time and weather. She had known me longer than our new puppy and she had no desire to be in between me and the mess i was working on. She stayed out of my sight, sun bathed in the yard, and helped herself to the water bowl on the porch when she was thirsty. When Cashew did something inadvisable like eat bees or try to bite a running power drill, Sili looked on from a distance with a certain expression on her face that seemed to say, “dumbass”.

When i built the boxes i constructed them next to the power outlet on the side of the house. Then i stored them in the shed until i had all 3. The second and third box were built with thicker wood. They were taller, wider, and heavier. I couldn’t lift them. I turned them on their sides and dragged the boxes out of the shed, down the stairs, and onto the ground. Then i tipped them up until they were standing. I lifted one corner of the 2nd box, leaving the box standing on the adjacent corner. I advanced one side of the box towards the fruit trees. Then i swung it around and landed on the opposite corner, and then back to the first corner. In this way i “walked” the box from the shed to the fruit trees. It took all my strength and i was sore for days after. When i finally got the box up to the fruit tree i wanted to cover i took a hair tie out of my pocket. I gathered the tree’s branches and secured them loosely in the hair tie. Then i laid the box on its side and got it as close to the base of the tree as possible. I tipped the box up, bringing it down over the little tree and suddenly it was in the center of the box. I removed the hair tie and wrapped the fencing back around the new wooden box to keep the deer out. I repeated this ritual 2 additional times. An hour later i would add the lamps. I clamped each one to the window in each box. I found a large rock to sit the extension cord union onto to get it up out of the dry grass. I threaded the heat lamp cord through the fencing for each tree and attached it to an outdoor extension cord. I then ran 100s of feet of extension cord back to the house where i had a piece that if plugged into an outlet would support 3 different devices. Ultimately the 3 lengths of extension cord would be plugged into this piece which was then plugged into the outlet on the side of the house. The bulbs would turn on and i would collapse in relief in the rocking chair. The property was officially winterized. During the months of november and december i put the heat lamps on at night any time the forecast called for 40 as the low. If the weatherman said 40 you could count on it being 31 or 32 when you awoke and the car would be covered in ice. At 4:30 in the morning i would pull on my coat and scarf and head out to switch the heat lamps out for blankets before i went to work. The dogs would always accompany me. Sili for moral support and Cashew so that she could attempt to shred and sometimes sit on the blanket you were trying to cover each plant with.

Three days after i finished the last of the tree boxes the hill country experienced the first hard freeze of the year. Just in time.

Someone Raids the Compost Pile

It started with a piece of cabbage. There was a piece of cabbage in the yard. I went over to stand near the vegetable scrap. I scratched my head as i examined it. What was a piece of cabbage doing in the yard? 30 feet away i could see an orange peel….and now that i was looking, there were vegetables spread out in every direction as far as the eye could see. I went around gathering them in my apron, trying to make sense of how they got there. Squirrels? Was Max pulling things through the square holes in the fence… the fence. Cashew! I dropped my bounty in the grass and ran to where the fencing around the compost pile had been. There was a mangled, folded, sideways origami of fencing that had once been a neat and tidy circle with a compost pile in the center. Cashew stood a safe 25 feet from me looking on with interest. “You!” I pointed a finger at her accusingly. She turned and ran. The sun was setting and i had no time to lose fixing the compost pile. I couldn’t go after her just yet. I pried the fencing apart and shaped it into the best circle i could manage with the wreckage she had left me. I gathered as many scraps as i could find and put them back on the pile. I needed rebar to hammer the fencing into the dirt but i didn’t have any. There was no hardware store in my town. I had to improvise. I grabbed my hammer and the box of 3 inch screws from the shed. I hammered the 3 inch screws into the dirt at an angle, catching the bottom edge of the wire fencing beneath the widened head of the screw. Each time i hammered a screw into the ground i hammered one at an opposite angle on the other side, trapping the fencing between the two. In this way i secured the fencing to the ground all the way around the circle. It was a short-term fix but it would have to do. Exhausted and angry i put my tools up, locked the shed, and returned to the house. Sili came in for the night. Cashew was nowhere to be found. I thought maybe i’d been too hard on her. Maybe she was feeling remorseful for all the extra work she’d made me. Then i remembered who i was dealing with. She was an incredibly useful dog but “remorse” was not in her vocabulary. I took the lantern through the dark, back to the compost pile and sure enough, there she was. On her face, she had the look of a child on a road trip with her finger 2 centimeters from her sibling’s face singing, “i’m not touching you. I’m not touching you…” This child of mine. As i’d told her many times before, i said, “You’re going to be the death of me.”

The Neighbor’s New Cows

When i moved onto my property the neighbors had a little herd of hereford cattle. They had a couple calves and were pretty friendly. I enjoyed watching them emerge from the trees around feeding time. I called them forest cattle because the neighbors hand’t cleared the land so that’s where they lived, amongst the trees. One day the forest cattle disappeared. All the fence posts came down. Big machinery arrived to tear down enough of the trees for the crew to work along the fence line. Then they began erecting the weirdest fence i’d ever seen. They used these skinny metal sticks and stretched the thinnest sheets of wire i’d ever seen across them, securing them with thin metal ties. It did not look like a livestock proof fence. I couldn’t understand what they were doing until they finished the whole thing and turned it on. It was an electric fence. Any animals that touched it got shocked. It was very effective too. A few coyotes and some deer got trapped in there with the cattle. I was sure my neighbor would shoot the coyotes soon. With 22 acres, it was hard to make sure all the wildlife was off the property before closing the fence up. The new herd was bigger and they had many young ones with them. They all had horns and different patterns on their hides. They were much more wary of me than the herefords had been and they mooed less often. I missed the herefords, but i was happy for my neighbor who seemed to be moving up in life.

the Tiny House

There were plenty of disadvantages to being in the tiny house during weather but they were far outweighed by the joys that could be experienced if one knew what to be looking and listening for. My two favorite things about living in the tiny house were listening to the rain on the tin roof (an undescribably peaceful and melodic noise) and feeling a soft breeze pulled through the house by open windows on opposite sides of the room on a barely windy day when the temperature was not too cold and not too warm. After that the whole house would smell fresher. There was a cleanness to the air and the breeze felt good on my skin. I relished the days when the weather was good and i could spend my day off cooking in the kitchen, watching the curtains sway gently as the fresh air was pulled through the house. I never wanted to feel removed from nature. I wanted to feel as if i was immersed in the wilderness in a little box for shelter from the elements. On good weather days the smells of cedar and clean air drifted in through the windows and i felt as if the wilderness was indoors too.

Stomach Flu at the Homestead

I could talk for hours about how unfair it was; the big fat lie that health care workers didn’t get sick, as if we were some sort of magical beings with iron immune systems, exposed to every illness imaginable and walking away unscathed. The healthcare system was set up in a way that punished workers for being ill. You could call in sick for one day but if you were feverish more than a day you needed a doctor’s note saying that you weren’t lying just because you didn’t want to go to work and would rather play hooky. You needed a doctor’s note to tell the company what the thermometer and your upchuck reflex just told you. This meant, instead of resting in bed, the infected healthcare personnel had to drag themselves to the car with a bucket and drive themselves, feverish and vomiting, to an urgent care clinic, wait in the waiting room (infecting everyone else…dooming them to join in the agonizing misery), and see a doctor who after a 50 second interview and a thermometer reading would exclaim, “yep, you have the stomach flu” and write on a palm sized piece of paper “stomach flu…not to return to work until 24 hours after loss of fever”. Then the doctor would sign his/her name and the healthcare worker would be expected to fork up the money for the bill, not having met their insanely unrealistic insurance deductible. They had not been to work, they just obtained a piece of paper that said they were not allowed to go to work. So, now the money for the bills at the end of the month would be more scarce than usual, and on top of that, for the doctor’s expert 50 second opinion, the worker now had a 1 or 200 dollar bill. It might not seem like a big deal to most but for someone who was living paycheck to paycheck with each dollar promised to some monthly payment due before it was even made, this kind of ritual could really tank a person’s existence. Add children to the mix and it was not an option. Single moms on a CNAs salary were not going to take food out of their kids mouths or spend the school supply money to obtain that little doctor’s note that said they had a fever. Thus was born the lie that healthcare workers did not get sick.

For 4 days i cared for those who were feverish, complaining of body aches, and puking their guts up, and on the fifth day i joined them. Living on the homestead, i’d come to understand why people sent for the priest so quickly in the olden days when someone fell ill. There were few modern comforts to be enjoyed during illness and i often wondered dramatically if i was going to survive. There was no hot water unless it was boiled, no heat unless the space heater was turned on and moved about the room in rotation. You could soak in an epson salt bath to address your aching bones during fever if you could make it to the shed to get the epson salt, lift the bath tub and carry it into the house, boil the water for the bath, and muster the strength to tip the tub to drain the water at the end. It wasn’t worth it so i just laid there. Living alone on the homestead, things like tea and soup required making. Heat required attention and effort. Even drinking water had to be carried from the shed in 3 gallon jugs. I laid in the bed and waited to die.

At first i became incredibly tired. I couldn’t keep my eyes open and i felt sick to my stomach. I decided to lay down but i didn’t make it to the bed. I laid on the floor, grabbing the couch throw that had been hanging on the rocking chair. I wrapped it around me and slept, face pressed against the cool floorboards. When i woke, both dogs were nestled against me but i was not in a condition to enjoy their comfort. I frantically searched the tiny house for something to puke in. My septic system was limping along as it was. I was not going to try my luck with flushing upchuck. I grabbed a metal mixing bowl from the kitchen. Up came my dinner. Mom’s beloved soup. At first i thought it was over. I had puked. It was done. I just wouldn’t consume any more food and everything would be fine in a day or two. But i was wrong. Oh was i wrong. I didn’t feed the dogs that night. I didn’t let them out to go potty until midnight and i didn’t make it to the door to bring them in until 4 am. I puked my guts up until there was nothing left but stomach acid. After the 30th time i stopped counting. At first i was in awe but after the number 30 my thoughts turned to survival. I had to hold the bowl up as i puked into it because if i turned my head down the vomit came out my nose and i couldn’t breathe. I struggled to not swallow though my brain told me to. When i swallowed, sometimes it went down the wrong way so i tried not to. But when i just kept puking and puking 5 or 6 times in a row i needed a break to breathe and out of desperation i would begin swallowing hard to try and stop the coming reflex from being triggered again, even if just for a second to catch a quick breath. As i laid on the floor of the bathroom, sitting quickly before each upchuck, raising the metal bowl to my chin with shaking hands, the hours of operation of the dollar general, the only store in my town, had not been on my mind. I thought that at some point it would end. I thought, “this can’t go on forever.” But i was wrong. When my stomach was emptied of contents i threw up acid alone. It burned my throat and chest after each time. Sometimes it burned the passages in my nose. It felt like i had swallowed water swimming and was drowning in my own stomach juices. I couldn’t swallow any water to wash the acid away because that would just come up as well. So i sat there and endured the burn. Eventually i realized i needed help. This was not going to stop on its own. The patients had all been given anti-nausea tablets by the nurse, ordered by the doctor. I knew the dollar general would have some but they were closed. They did not open until 8 am the following morning. That was a long time to wait. I asked myself if i could make it the thirty minute drive to the nearest city where there was an all night walmart who could help me. The answer was no. I would crash the car trying not to swallow my vomit into my lungs or miss the bucket. Would the bucket even fit over the steering wheel? I was in no condition to drive. Eventually, i left the bathroom floor and crawled to my bed. The dogs were outside. I didn’t think i could make it to the door so i left them out there. It wasn’t a cold night. I was in such a state i couldn’t even worry about whether they lived or died. I was very dehydrated. My lips were chapped. My mouth was slimy with thick saliva. I wanted water so badly but i could have none. I wet a towel and wrapped it around my shoulders in the bed. I put another over my face, peeling it off every time i needed to sit up and vomit. I had to trick my body into feeling like i had somehow given it water. I made my skin wet because i could not put water in my mouth. It helped a little bit. At least i felt like i was doing something to remedy the thirst. I ached for water. It seemed there was nothing better in the world than the thought of cool clean water. “Water water water, water water water water…” i mumbled. I began to make plans for the following morning. I had to save enough strength to get to the car, open the gate, drive down the road, get out of the car, and purchase anti-nausea tablets at the dollar general at 8 am. I would leave at 7:50. I just had to make it to 7:50. I woke every twenty minutes, sometimes to vomit and sometimes just because i was thirsty or my bones ached. Sleep was thin and delirious. My thoughts turned to Jesus. He had died on the cross, crucified brutally, muscles and tendons torn, bloody and beaten, the weight of his body tearing flesh further, thorns pressed into his scalp…i thought to myself, “if jesus can bear being crucified, i can bear dehydration.” Each time i wanted to cry i turned my thoughts to jesus, his bloody body hanging on the cross. I stayed focused in this way for a number of hours but around 6 am the sky began to lighten just the littlest bit and i could taste the nearing of 8 am with each passing minute. I mumbled continuously about water, “water water water water water water water water…” stopping only to take a breath or upchuck more vile greenish yellow liquid. I soaked the towels in water from the sink faucet, not ringing them out thoroughly as i had before. The bed sheets became sopping wet, and probably the mattress too. My clothes stuck to me in the dampness. I didn’t care. All i could think about was water and 8 am.

At 7:50 i made my move. I left the dogs in the house, running loose. I crawled through the yard, dragging my bucket and car keys behind me, one of the towels still sitting around my neck. I made it to the door and hoisted myself in. I was going to get help. There was going to be life after this. I was going to civilization where they would help me. This was going to end soon. I puked one more time in the bucket and drove the car towards the gate. My head felt funny. I was there but not really there. I knew i was driving but kept forgetting where. Then i’d snap back to reality and remember where i was going. I had a very high fever but i couldn’t keep the fever reducer down. That was going to change soon. 8 am was coming. It was coming. I left the gate open. I had gotten it open. I still had to get out the car at the store. I didn’t want to waste my energy closing it. So i left it open and said a prayer to God to keep trespassers from walking through. I managed to make it all the way to the dollar general without throwing up again. Water, beautiful water. Finally, 8:00 am shone in beautiful bright numbers on the clock in the car.

A woman came and unlocked the door. I must have looked a strange sight with my disheveled hair, my bath towel cape, my bucket, and my soggy shirt. I must have looked a little bit zombiesque because she looked at me as if she had seen a hoard of flesh eating monsters approaching the doors. She disappeared back into the store and i mustered my strength one last time. Leaning on the basket with shaking hands i asked the employees i found in the front of the dollar general, “please…anti nausea tablets…”. The woman pointed. The man decided to help me and took me directly to the little purple box in the middle of the aisle. I thanked him. I waited until he’d gone and then i tore into the box, pressing into the little foil package to release one beautiful pink chalky little tablet that was going to restore my ability to drink water. I chewed and swallowed it. It stayed down. Slowly, my nausea dissipated as i shopped. The woman said, “anything else?” I said, “yes, water, lots of water.” I could not lift the 3 gallon jugs in the shed. I was looking for something portable and oh how good it would taste to tear into it in the parking lot. So close now. So close to clear clean cold beautiful water. Mine all mine. I bought a 24 pack of mini water bottles and the last two boxes of anti nausea tablets in town. I slid down the side of the car in the parking lot and wrenched open the cap of one of the water bottles i had ripped out of the package. I tried not to choke. I tried to drink slowly but it was so good. It was so so good. I had water running down my face and soaking into my grimey shirt. I didn’t care. It was water. I would need the anti nausea tablets for 4 whole days just to hold anything down. Eventually i made it to the walmart in kerrville and bought another box. I decided they were a must to have in the purse at all times. It would take 2 weeks to catch up on all the chores i had abandoned during my introduction to the stomach flu. I would never look at water without gratitude again. I would remain a self-appointed hand washing and infection control practices enforcement officer in my field, as it was the only piece of the puzzle i could control. I would begin stashing coconut water and anti nausea tablets in the nooks and crannies of the tiny house for any future times when i was stranded in the country with sickness. I wished not to repeat the experience.

Killing Rasputin

It would be 3 days before i got my shot at Rasputin. After chasing Charlotte off she had sat in her web for days, taking advantage of the spider’s system and beheading anything that became ensnared in the webbing. I had looked for her, hungry for vengeance for my poor friend and eager to protect the remaining spiders from her rutheless activities. But it seemed she knew my plan. She did not show herself. Until one day she was there, sitting behind the delicately placed threads of Odessa’s masterpiece; the only trace of her that remained. My blood turned to fire and a rage ignited inside of me. I said nothing. I quietly entered the house, grabbed the heavy lantern, and climbed the porch railing. When she saw me coming she scurried into one of my hanging plants where i had nothing hard to smash her against and couldn’t hit her without destroying the plant i’d been nursing along towards winter. She was smart but she would still be losing her life that day. I’d made up my mind. I’d let her go once and she’d killed Odessa and left the carcass on my front doorstep for me to see. She would not be getting the chance to leave me another of her tragic gifts. No, Rasputin was a killer. If allowed to live she would kill all the spiders i regarded as friends of my little one woman and two dog family. So, i had to become a killer too. She clung to the branches of my hanging plant and refused to let go. I jumped down and grabbed the scissors from the windowsill in the kitchen. I cut the branch she clung to. As i was positioning the scissors around the branch, she had reached out with her folded barbed arms and was clawing at my fingers. She followed my every movement. She was no longer trying to get away. The fight was on. I ran down the stairs and around the house to where she had fallen. I quickly spotted her long green body amongst the branches in the grass. I used the scissors to hold her in place while i dragged the branch away. She squirmed and clawed the air, turning her head this way and that. She reached out at me, as if punching an invisible bag. I took the scissors and smashed the living daylights out of her until she moved no more. Her innards splayed out of her as when one tries to open a too-ripe banana and the top part wont peel so the banana goo escapes from the middle and it is ruined. Rasputin was a threat no more. I scooped her into the water pitcher and carried her to the compost pile. I laid her delicately on top and let the birds and the hornets have at what was left of her. Odessa, i had given a proper burial with a little service which both dogs and a female cardinal had attended. She had a tombstone (the tree stump) and was laid to rest respectfully. Rasputin would be afforded no such niceties. Praying mantises neither numbed the animals they ate, paralyzed them, nor brought about a quick and merciful death. They tortured their victims, unphased by their suffering. I wasn’t sure why God had created these strange beings with their iron arms but if found on my property, they would be given to the birds. As i walked back to the house, both ruby and charlotte were in their webs. I stopped in front of each and notified them that Rasputin was no more. Piper was missing. 1 tell tale spider leg lay in the grass where she usually sat in her web. I knew she had joined Odessa and i began preparing a tree stump tombstone for her beside the other.

A Tumultuous Day

There was a cold front heading towards the property but it wasn’t supposed to hit until nightfall. I had finished up my work with the mindset of getting home in time to ready the property for the coming weather. As i drove through the gate and hopped out the car to close it behind me the sky wore an ominous look of change. There was blue, gray, and white all spread across the same canvas and the clouds were windswept and layered. Seemingly stationary clouds sat above another low-hanging layer that raced beneath them. They seemed to be racing me to nightfall. The changing weather instilled a sense of urgency in me and i hurried about digging blankets for the fruit trees out of the shed and closing the little potted porch plants into the well house, flicking the switch to the heat bulb jutting from the wall before locking the door and swinging it shut. I went to the house to grab the water pitcher. I liked to water the plants before cold weather so that if i couldn’t uncover them for days they wouldn’t die of thirst. As i stepped onto the porch i noticed a flash of familiar black and yellow at my feet.

It was Odessa, but she was all wrong. Broken and crumpled, legs folded, flat and lifeless…missing her head. One of her legs was strewn across the porch a foot away. As i knelt to examine the damage i noticed blood. I hadn’t thought of spiders having blood. Something had chewed through her, bite by bite, severing her whole head from her once impressive body. My mind immediately flicked back to that day the praying mantis had gone after Odessa and i with a mind to kill it had missed. Rasputin had finished the job. If it had been charlotte she would have packed up and picked a new spot, making another web from scratch. If it had been Ruby, she might have hid. But Odessa, she had been fearless; unphased. I wondered if she ever realized the trouble she was in. I wondered if she put up a good fight. I wondered how quickly it was over. I wondered how something so big and so vibrant could be reduced to this crumpled heap on the porch before me. She looked so small. There was no more time to contemplate. The wind was picking up and the weather was moving in fast. Now i had one more task to add to the list of things i had to get done by nightfall.

I stood and headed for the tool shed. I went with the mindset to get a shovel. I was going to dig Odessa a grave. However, i soon had a new problem on my hands. As i slid the door open i knew exactly what i was looking at. A formidably sized tail moved around in the dark as the rump of what could only be a rat bumbled around in amongst the scrap wood before climbing the sideways ladder and jumping across the room to scurry behind the shelves. As all this was going on i stood in the middle of the shed shouting, “oh, oh, oh, oh!” Both dogs ran to the shed entrance to see if i was harmed. I pointed to the rat. Both dogs leaned in and sniffed. As soon as she caught a whiff Sili was out. She turned on her heel and ran the other direction, away from the shed. I called, “sili, get back here and help me with this rat!” She glanced back, shot me a look that said “**** no”, and then continued running. Cashew backed away from the entrance to the shed slowly. I held out my hand and in my softest sweetest voice said, “here girl, come here, come to mommy…help me get the rat.” As soon as i said the word Cashew took off towards the house. I screamed, “get back here! Both of you!” But neither of them would listen. I had nothing of interest for a rat in the tool shed. However, most of my neighbors had livestock and i imagined there was animal feed in their sheds. This guy was a good sized rat and he looked like he hadn’t missed a meal in his entire life. I imagined he had found his way into the bags of feed somewhere. It was unnatural for a rat to be that well-fed in the wild. He continued to move about the shed and realizing the dogs were not coming back for me i grabbed my shovel and began swatting at the rat as it moved from shelf to shelf. I was not making contact with the rat, who was quicker than me in the ever worsening darkness. In fact i was just destroying the shed. Eventually i couldn’t waste any more time on the spontaneously added task and i gave up. Maybe it would freeze. I took the shovel back to the house and began digging a hole near some trees in back of it. I dug a good sized hole and then i gently shifted the lifeless corpse onto the blade of the shovel. Cashew immediately tried to eat her. I scolded her sharply and she ceased her efforts. I carried Odessa over to the little hole and dumped her deflated wrinkly abdomen and stiffened legs into the indentation in the earth. I began shoveling the dirt on top of her, saying a few words and vowing to kill Rasputin the next time i saw her, to save the others from Odessa’s fate.

Next to the little hole had been a tree stump. I took a permanent marker and wrote odessa’s name on the tree stump. It would be her tombstone. She started out covered only with dirt but as i turned to walk away i saw dirt flying through the air in my peripheral vision. When i turned back around Cashew had both paws in the hole and was holding Odessa in her mouth. “No!” I barked, “give me that!” I pried her jaw open and fished out the slobbery remains of the spider. I reburied her in the hole and placed rocks on top of her grave. Then i went back to preparing for the approaching storm. The rat and my revenge on Rasputin would have to wait.

Eventually Piper and Wilma would join Odessa in the spider graveyard just a week later. Piper had most likely been killed by a smaller male praying mantis seen lurking around the well house the morning of her disappearance. All that remained of her was a single torn black leg in the grass. Wilma was not in her web one day. Though i searched the property for weeks she was never found and i assumed the worst. Now all that remained were the two original sisters, Charlotte and Ruby.

Graveyard

I had always feared my eventual resting place ever since i was a child. I worried that if i died my parents would bury me somewhere far from the trees and nature that i loved. I was worried i would either end up amongst cactus and flat open spaces without any trees in sight or sandwiched between neighboring corpses like a sardine in a can or those cookie cutter houses in a row in the suburbs. It was probably the thing that haunted my thoughts the most; where was my body going to be when i died? I was quite sure that my spirit would leave my body, as it would be a straight bummer to stick around once the body was done living. However, my body was the only form i’d ever been familiar with and it was near impossible for me to think of it as something other than part of me. So even if i wasn’t going to be in it, i wanted to know what was going to happen to my body once my spirit wasn’t in it. I wanted it to rest some place nice with lots of trees, no unnaturally-bright plastic flowers, and few other people. I was reminded time and time again that all cemetaries would have “other people”. I was endlessly annoyed with this detail. I didn’t want my corpse to rest like a sardine. I wondered if it would be possible to save up enough money to buy the four plots around mine to make sure nobody else’s corpse could crowd me. But this created a new worry. Which family members and their offspring would i be survived by, and if they became desperate for a little extra cash, would they think much of selling the plots off, resulting in the inevitable crowding of my former shell anyways? Every time i passed a cemetary i noted how far apart the tombstones were and what type, age, and number of trees existed amongst the graves. There was nothing remotely close to what i was looking for. The graveyards with 200 year old trees were already full. There were no available plots for newcomers. The best and biggest trees, it seemed, stood in the cemetaries for veterans and you could only rest amongst them if you had risked your life serving our country, which i had not. In college i was in Oakland California and i did a photojournalism assignment on a crematorium there. It was beautiful. I took some of the best photos i’ve ever produced with that camera in the oakland crematorium. There were trees growing out of the floor in that building, stained glass windows, fountains, streams, frosted sky lights filtering diffuse light onto a cement floor, and rooms and rooms of boxes built into the wall with glass windows on the front. Next to each box was a plaque that told you a little bit about the person inside and then in the middle of the box would be an urn. Each urn was different and the words printed next to each box were different, chosen by the family to represent the life of who they had lost. I really enjoyed being there and thought how wonderful it would be to reside there in the days after death. But of course, it was full. There were no more boxes available to put new urns in. After watching what was involved in the cremation process i found it to be a rather unnatural process. Most of the ashes were not belonging to anything human and the parts of the human that wouldn’t burn had to be ground into powder in a rather abrasive way. I wanted to be buried. It seemed less violent. For a while i jumped on the bandwagon of a growing trend. The corpse was folded into a seated position in a bag surrounding the roots of a tree. That tree was planted in the ground and the decomposing body gave the roots of the tree nourishment so that it may grow. That would be one way to ensure i got a tree near my grave plot. But the idea of roots poking through my whithered skull as the tree grew started to creep me out a bit. So, 8 months after i bought my property it occured to me; i’d make a family graveyard and be buried on my land! That way i could pick a spot next to a 200 year old tree and make sure strangers weren’t parked around me like fish in a can. I spoke to my mother about the idea. I decided to choose a spot near one of my 2 really old oak trees. I didn’t want to disturb its roots so when the time came i would hire someone to cut down a couple mature cedar trees opposite of it so that there was room to dig a grave. My mother, my grandmother, myself, and any of our dogs that had gone to be with the lord could all eventually rest together under the shade of my oak and cedar trees. It was super important to me to find the right spot as once a family graveyard was cleared and fenced, i was not moving it. I thought how nice it would be to always have the dogs close; in life and in death. I thought how nice it would be to visit and speak to the tombstones of beloved companions that had passed and introduce them to four legged siblings that came to join the homestead after their passing. I texted a picture of the spot to my mother and asked if she and my grandmother would like to rest there when the time came. It certainly was a beautiful spot and it meant that i wouldn’t have to leave my land, even in death. Well, now that i had the next 60 years planned out i could relax and stop worrying about final resting places. My final resting place was home.

Making Soup

It was hard to get a lot of the health food items i was used to in the hill country. Everything had to be made from scratch, not because i felt like cooking from scratch, but because prepared or instant vegan food was just hard to come by in the country. In a big city there was going to be an abundance of gluten-free, dairy-free cakes and cookies, little chocolate pies and brownies. There would be vegetarian and vegan options at the soup bar. There would even be cheese free cheese-puffs in the chip aisle. In the middle of the hill country the health food stores were mostly investing in dry goods that would keep well for long periods of time on the shelves. If i wanted the solitude and beauty of the country i had to cook and i was okay with that. It was cheaper anyways. The problem arose when the stores stopped carrying rapunzel vegetable bouillon cubes because if not bought and used immediately the oil in them would turn rancid. Without the rapunzel bouillon cubes i wasn’t sure how to make soup. Soup was what i made in the winter months to get me through to days when the light lasted longer and i had more time to do things after work. I would gather all the vegetables available at the local farm market and put them all in a pot with bouillon cubes and water. Then i would simmer it until the vegetables were nice and soft and the herbs had coated each piece. I would pack it for lunch and eat it for dinner for the rest of the week. My mother was a raw-food chef. She had this uncanny ability to taste something and recreate it exactly. She knew what ingredients were used to create the flavors she was tasting in one bite. We had gone to our favorite restaurants and fed her our favorite dishes offered there in the hopes that she’d be able to recreate them for the holidays when we visited even though the restaurant would be closed. Boy did she deliver. If you had closed your eyes, you would have sworn we were sitting at a table in the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that we loved so much. So, when the stores stopped carrying rapunzel bouillon cubes, i asked my mother if she could make a vegan bouillon soup mix to sell on her website for people like me who wanted to make soup but lived too far out to not have to make it from scratch, boiling vegetable scraps and onion skins to try and infuse water with flavor without the salty oily grease of chicken (harder than it sounds). 2 months later she delivered. She put a glass jar of tan-colored powder in my hand on one of my visits and gave me the test batch of her new product, vegetable stock bouillon powder. I tucked the treasure i held in my hand into a nook in the car and drove it home to the tiny house in the hill country. It would be another month before i got away from work long enough to make soup. One day i found the time. I called my mother for the dosage and unscrewed the cap of the stout little jar i’d been keeping in the freezer for freshness. As soon as i put my nose over it the spices hit me. It smelled savory and familiar like herbed bread rising in the oven. I chopped all my local vegetables and threw them in a pot. I filled the pot with water and spooned in the aromatic tan-colored powder speckled with flecks of green. I stirred it together and put it on the stove to bring to a boil and then simmer as i went about the day’s chores. The market had held in their wooden bins; cabbages, potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, a few good bell peppers that hadn’t turned to mush that late in the season, and i had thrown in a box of store bought mushrooms just because i loved them. I stirred and checked on the soup in between each of my chores, anxiously awaiting its finale. I was so hungry and it had been so long since i’d had vegetable soup. The little tiny house was filling with the aroma of herbs. My mouth was watering and my belly was hungry. Finally, i lifted the lid to see the carrots soft and rounded by the bouillon bath and the bits of skin falling away from the soft chunks of potato. The onions had cooked down and were now soft and see-through, just the way i liked them. I went to the shed and got my soup ladle. I washed it and spooned out a helping of soup in one of the stonewear bowls my parents had owned when we were growing up. I could barely wait to take a bite. I stood at the counter blowing on my spoonful of veggie soup. When i finally tucked into that bowl of soup it was the best thing my tastebuds had savored in a long while. I called my mother to tell her she had better start making more and come up with a label and a price for the jar. It was perfect. I would use her soup mix many more times throughout the winter months, until the local market closed up for the year, not to open again until mid may. There was no need for the discontinued rapunzel bouillon cubes in the country anymore.