Depending on where one was planning on driving to and from in Texas, it was a good idea to take everything needed along. One must always have a spare tire, the equipment needed to change a tire, a knife, a jacket, water, toilet paper, a plastic bag, a first aid kit, a full tank of gas, and some kind of food. Depending on which direction one was traveling, some places in texas could get pretty sparsely populated and the towns one did encounter would be mostly ranches with large gates blocking the drive, miles from the actual house. There would be one gas station/grocery store that was closed on mondays and no public bathrooms or car repair shops. You were not likely to have cell service when you actually needed to call triple A or youtube how to open the hood of your car. Even the radio stations were sparse in some of the areas i was traveling through. Way out, there’d be nothing but static. Closer to the well populated towns with fast food joints and hospitals you could get country and church radio. The idea was to keep moving until you got to your destination. Don’t hit any deer and don’t have any car trouble. If you could manage that it was a good trip. I enjoyed the solitude in the middle of nowhere with the sparse radio stations and the barren landscapes out the window. I enjoyed the herds of livestock, the buzzards picking at carcasses alongside the road, and the occasional road runner or jack rabbit. The long drives gave me time to think, contemplate life’s mysteries, and rest for lack of a better word. I didn’t have to always be thinking about how my behavior was being perceived, whether my body language, facial expressions, and words were conveying the appropriate thing for each social situation. Solitude appealed to me because it was easy. It was restful. It was peace. I enjoyed road trips…just maybe not trying to cram the round trip into one day so i could get back to the dogs by nightfall and get ready for work in the morning.
I stopped on the side of the road to take a 10 minute nap and there were these 3 giant bulls. They waited to see if i had food, then turned and ran when they weren’t sure what i was about.
On this particular day i had already made the trek to see family and was heading towards home as fast as i could manage safely on the winding one-lane roads. I was racing the clock to let the dogs out before they shredded the pee pads and cashew went into full-blown poopapalooza mode. I had tried to stop at two different gas stations when i passed through blanco. It was the last big city i’d be seeing for a while. I had to pee. I knew blanco was my last chance at an actual bathroom. I passed the entrance to the first gas station because nobody would let me over one lane. I tried to stop at the second gas station but a truck had parked sideways, blocking my access to the available parking spots on the other side of him. Thinking he would see my car and adjust his so i could get through, i sat for a good 8 minutes. When it became apparent that the **** *** had no intention of moving i became disenchanted with the city of blanco and began to long for the solitude of the dry and undeveloped scenery of the open road. I left. When i could hold my urine no more i pulled the car over on the side of the road and opened the trunk. In it was a roll of toilet paper, a plastic bag, and the bottom half of an ozarka gallon jug of water, sawed off with a box cutter. I gathered the items and climbed into the back seat of the car. I quickly unfastened my belt and squatted over my ozarka travel potty. I heard a noise. “Ba-ah-ah-ah” then again. “Ba-ah-ah-ah”. Then around fifty sheep ran down the hill and stood next to the car, staring at me. No doubt they thought i had brought food. Several of my neighbors held a routine of driving their truck up to the fence and dumping hay from the bed of their truck into the animals’ feed area during the evenings. These sheep most likely thought i had come to do just that. But i hadn’t. I was just sitting there trying to pee with an audience of fifty sheep. I hurried up and tied the tp neatly in my plastic bag. Then i fastened my belt and opened the back door, stepping out to empty the ozarka jug. As i carried it behind the car the sheep followed me. I poured it out in the grass. At this point the sheep decided i hadn’t brought food and the herd disscipated, scattering across the hill. I waved goodbye. Many a time i had opened the bathroom door to an audience of two curious dogs who wanted to know what the heck i was doing in there but it was the first time i had peed in front of fifty sheep.
So there my spiders were, doing their thing and living their best life. charlotte was catching bugs that flew behind the house, ruby caught the flies that tried to get in the shed, odessa caught everything attracted to the porch light, and piper went after the flies that attempted to make it into the well house when the door was open. They seemed to be thriving and i hadn’t seen a mosquito in weeks. For the most part i left them alone.
Then one day i stepped out onto the porch and i noticed the big female praying mantis that had been on the porch when charlotte disappeared weeks ago. She was right next to odessa. Odessa was not as smart as charlotte. She didn’t seem phased in the slightest. The mantis had inched close enough now to grab her and still odessa sat in her web looking positively relaxed. I said, “hold on odessa, i’m coming.” I went inside and grabbed my step stool. They were on the ceiling of the porch. I was five foot. It had to be done. I grabbed the plastic lantern and tried to smash the praying mantis with it. The mantis moved. I smashed again. She moved again. Every time i tried to smash the thing it moved. Finally it climbed onto the top of the roof and out of my sight. It was on the roof somewhere. I was not getting the ladder out of the shed to go after this thing. I let it go. I had a chat with odessa about stranger danger. I told her how Charlotte had left the porch to avoid the praying mantis i now dubbed “Rasputin”. I told her she needed to be careful because the porch was a confirmed spider hangout and the mantises knew that. Odessa seemed unphased. She continued on with her routines business as usual. It was her confidence that would be her undoing in the end.
Shortly after i discovered Odessa and Piper i noticed a different type of spider on the property gate in the evenings and mornings. She would hold on for dear life every time the gate swung open. She turned out to be a spotted orb weaver. She had the most stunning bright red legs. I noticed she would take down her web every time bad weather was on the way and put it back up when the rain, sleet, or wind had passed. For this reason i dubbed her “wilma the weather spider”. Wilma was a joy to watch. She was very active, always either constructing or deconstructing a web. she quickly became my new favorite for the simple fact of her bright red legs. For around a month i used her behavior to tell me if it was going to rain overnight. Whenever the weatherman on the radio disagreed with her, he was wrong.
One day i arrived home from work to find Charlotte back on the porch. At first i was very concerned because i liked the thought of her being some place the praying mantises didn’t know to look for her. But then i realized, it was not Charlotte. The spider was smaller than Charlotte. Who was i looking at? Maybe Ruby? I sauntered over to the shed. Ruby was hanging in her web on the shed. I clapped my hands in delight. Another one! Another golden orb weaver! What an immensely happy surprise! This spider was not afraid of anything. She was more assertive than both ruby and charlotte though she was a tad bit smaller than them. She followed the movements of myself and the dogs as we walked around her web. As she was a bit more bold than the other two spiders and very regal, i decided to name her odessa. I ran around the house to tell Charlotte about the newcomer. As i did i passed the well house and a set of slender legs caught my eye.
Another one! This one was smaller than all the others, a little mini golden orb weaver. She was missing a leg. It looked as if she had already tangled with a predator and lost the battle but escaped with her life. She did everything the other spiders could do. She just took a little bit longer than her larger cousins. She used an alternate leg to pull and place the threads of her web as she was constructing it. All the other spiders used their back leg but this little bitty spider only had one back leg. So she stood on the back leg and used a middle leg to place the threads. It took her longer but she got it done. This little spider was spunky and resourceful. I decided to name her piper.
Now i had an entire crew of mosquito-eating night-shift working spiders. Within 2 weeks i could stand on the porch while the dogs played without a single mosquito bite. It was lovely.
There’s not a lot of pictures for this post and there’s a good reason for that. I was busy. There was neither time nor hands to fiddle with a camera that day. So, you’ll just have to use your imagination.
I had parked the car and unloaded my work bags. The sun was setting so i grabbed the watering can and began taking the spigot lock off the side of the well house to water the fruit trees before dark. I was tired and lost in my own thoughts. As i trudged past the electricity pole with the bucket of water something glinting in the late evening sun caught my eye. It was a web. A really big web; stretched from a yucca plant all the way to the pole. It was like a giant triangle. As i looked closer i realized it was the web of a golden orb weaver. I dropped my bucket and ran. It was indeed! It was Charlotte! I would know her anywhere. For one, she was huge; much bigger than ruby. Also, she had more orange on her legs than her sister. It was definitely Charlotte. She was so much more plump than her sister; quite an impressive spider. I could not believe it! I had thought she was dead for a couple weeks. I was so relieved to see her alive and well. Her web was even more magnificent than the last two. I thanked the lord for bringing Charlotte back to me and called Sili and Cashew to tell them the good news. I called them but they didn’t come. I told Charlotte how sorry i was about the praying mantis and how worried i was that it ate her. I told her to stay in her new spot as the porch was too dangerous while they knew to look for her there. I was so happy! It felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders and my heart was light and airy. The sun was sinking into the trees; filtering through the branches in orange patches on the dry, crunchy leaves. Nightfall was coming. I had to hurry if i wanted to water and tend to the plants in the daylight. I took one last look at Charlotte, picked up my bucket, and headed for the fruit trees. Cashew was at the fence sniffing the air. As i trudged through the tall dry grasses something jumped in front of me. It ran past my face, 2 feet away from my body at most. As my brain switched back on and i returned from my thoughts i realized what it was; a white tailed deer, a young one. In slow motion i saw the realization spread across Cashew’s face. The chase was on. I looked around for its herd but saw no other deer. I thought to myself, “that’s strange, the deer out here are so skittish i’ve only seen one on the property twice. They would usually never come that close, and i’d never seen one run with such urgency. It was young; barely even a year. It was too young to survive outside the protection of its herd and was at an age where it would usually still be looking to an older doe to teach it the abc’s of survival and grazing. What was it doing out here without any trace of its herd?” In the distance i heard yelping and yipping through the trees. Now it made sense! Suddenly the yipping was louder. They were tracking the deer! Oh shit! I realized too late. As my brain worked a million miles an hour to put the pieces together and i opened my mouth to call the dogs a sizable coyote flew through the seven foot hole in my fence, tearing off in the direction both the deer and my dogs had gone. I was screaming now, “cashew, sili…” two more coyotes flew past me without so much as a glance. One straight down the path and the third one along the left side of the property through the grass. I could see nothing as i ran. They were all swifter than i in my clumsy steel-toed boots. I screamed with everything i had in my most authoritative voice i could muster in complete panic, “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” As i rounded the other side of the house i could see the deer had doubled back, realizing perhaps she could not outrun the coyotes in a straight sprint. They were hot on her heels, and to my horror, so were my dogs. The coyotes were busy with the doe and didn’t seem willing to address their instantly acquired running mates yet. My dogs were just splendidly thrilled to be part of something. I had to cut my dogs out of the pack before they caught up to this doe and their attention became unoccupied. I could hear my voice but i didn’t recognize it. I was saying, “shit, shit, shit, shit!” I was running after the group as fast as i could in those clunky boots, machete swinging wildly from my belt. When i opened my mouth a wavering shaky command escaped in a thunderous volume. I was almost screeching, “Let’s go, now!!! Now now now!!!” Within seconds both my dogs were on the porch, waiting for me. I couldn’t believe they listened. I ran to the door. I grabbed both their collars, dragged them inside, and didn’t turn back, leaving the coyotes to their prey. Two minutes later there would be wild coyote yipping from the neighbor’s property. I didn’t guess the doe survived. I collapsed and slid down the wall into a heap of adrenalin on the floor. I looked at my dogs in astonishment, “you listened.” They looked at me, panting. I said again, “i can’t believe you listened.” I was beyond ecstatic they were both safely in the house at this time. I had thought for sure at least one would be coyote dessert that night. And yet both of them had left the excitement, come when i called, and they were safely in the house behind the closed door. I had never seen anything like it. I’d never forget the sight of my two dogs running alongside coyotes, as if they belonged there, all hunting together. They looked like fluffy dogs with slender legs and thick tails except that their eyes were wild and yellow. I wrapped my arms around both dogs and held on. I was so very grateful that they chose this one time to listen. I kept them very close to the house that night. Wherever those coyotes were with the remnants of that deer, i didn’t want my dogs sauntering up to ask for their fair share of the dinner they had helped to rustle up.
There were moments in which the light was perfect and everything was still. The birds were quiet and the song of the coyote was absent from the air. Humans could recreate many things but these moments were not one of them. It was in this quiet perfect stillness illuminated in the kind of light movie directors could only dream about that i knew there was a higher power responsible for this beauty beyond the capabilities of man. It was during these moments that i was quiet. I was usually praying. I was thankful for all the astounding things i had been allowed to witness, for the piece of land i had been able to purchase, and for my two girls; Sili and Cashew.
There was nothing i loved more than hanging the laundry right after a good storm. The droplets of water would cling to the underside of the plastic coated line. I had only to grab hold and give it a good shake and all the droplets would simultaneously race to the ground. It was as if the laundry line had been washed by the earth. All the dust, bee pollen, and the bird poop had washed away. The line was just as spotless, smooth, and cream-colored as the day i had put it up. I would pinch the little clothes pins without hesitance to hang the clothes out in the sun. The baby spiders that usually hid within the pins were tucked away somewhere out of the rain. It felt as if the whole world were washed clean after a good storm. There was a sort of peaceful silence in the air. It felt good and it smelled good to stand in the yard after a storm. The wind chimes clinked and dangled against each other. The birds sung to anyone who would listen. The dogs ran wild in the mud and i hung the laundry.
On one of my trips back from austin i stopped at a hardware store to pick up something i’d been meaning to get. The grass right against the shed and the house had become long and unruly. Also, there was the grass in the area that i’d let go uncut so the thistles would not be mowed down and could be enjoyed by the birds, the bees, and the butterflies. The grass was too tall for my 5 blade reel mower. It would just bend the grass over and roll right off the blades. I needed something to cut it back into submission with. The area was too large to rely on the loppers. I needed a weed eater. I objected to spending 100 to 120 dollars on a weed eater and i wasnt going to so i waited until i could get to the store i had in mind where i found it for 50 bucks. I needed to get back to my little town before sundown or i’d have to evade the deer driving home in the dark. The sun was setting and i was in a hurry. I found the weed eaters but i needed to know which one would get the job done for the least amount of money. I had narrowed it down to two options. I had a couple questions about each which when answered would make the winner apparent. I found an employee who gave me a rundown of the differences between each weed eater. The guy told me what i needed to know to make my decision and i grabbed the box and some extra cord and headed to the checkout. He called, “do you have an extension cord already?” I answered, “yes.” I had 5. He called again, “do you need help carrying that?” I said, “no thank you”, still walking towards the registers. He called once again, nearly shouting now, “do you know how to use it?” I answered as i turned the corner out of sight, “i’m sure there are instructions.” There were; instructions for both assembly and use. I checked out quickly and made it back to town right as the sky darkened beyond visibility. I heated the tiny house, ate a snack, and went to bed. The next morning around dawn i put my new weed eater together. The dogs watched me intently as i fiddled with the instructions, turning and snapping things into place. When i got the thing assembled i went to the shed and drug out all the extension cords. If you ever want to pull all your hair out, buy something battery powered. Whether it be a weed eater, a lawn mower, or a cordless drill…it will never hold its charge and you will be swearing like a sailor and tearing the thing to pieces by project # 5. I wanted one with a cord. I’d rather drag it around the yard than lack the power i needed. I had a strict no fuel policy on the property. The only thing with gasoline in it was the car. I was very familiar with fire. Living in an area prone to drought and lots of it, i’d seen the devastation a fire could cause in the blink of an eye and i knew how quickly a fire could escape one’s grasp. I did not allow the storage of fuel in any of my sheds simply because i was not a full-time homesteader and if something did get set ablaze, i would not be there to see to getting it put out. So i hooked all the extension cords together and plugged them into the house. I set the handle at the angle i wanted and pushed down on the button. The weed eater buzzed to life. I began cutting the grass away from the side of the house. It wasn’t perfect but the house began to emerge from the gaggle of weeds it was in. It was kind of like trimming a man’s beard during self care training. There was still grass but it was shorter and neater than it had been. I was instantly addicted. I enjoyed anything that allowed me to mold and shape the landscape to my liking…the mower, the loppers, the manual hand saw, the weed eater, the post hole digging stick. I loved those tools the most. I spent a good 6 hours weed eating the yard. I used it to trim around buildings first but then i had to dig the well house out of the “butterfly patch” the name i had given the chunk of land i quit mowing so that the thistles would grow for the animals that enjoyed them in the summer. I used the loppers to cut down the old dried-up thistle stalks and then went through one patch at a time with the weed eater, cutting the grass down short; using the weed eater as a make-shift mower. Though my body ached i wouldn’t stop until i was finished shaping my landscape. I was like a dog with a bone when i had a project and only the coming of sundown could keep me from my purpose. When i finally finished the last bit of grass the weed eater was in desperate need of a new cord and my clothes were soaked with sweat. I unplugged the weed eater and laid it in the shadow of the house towards the back, where my new tool couldn’t be spotted from the street. I stumbled towards the house with ice cold apple juice on my mind. I made it in and began peeling off the layers of clothes i had bundled in for the chill of dawn…layers i should have removed when the sun took over the sky. I stepped out of my boots, bright red blisters on my feet from walking and sweating in them without socks for 6 hours. There was no time for socks. I was on a mission to get stuff done. There had also not been any time for breakfast. Food would have to wait. I stripped off everything but an undershirt and collapsed on the bed, muscles exhausted and angry with me. I slept for a couple hours. It was restless uneasy sleep. I knew i was uncomfortable, dehydrated, and hungry. I also knew my new tool was still caked in grass in the yard. It needed cleaning and it needed put away in the shed. But alas, i couldn’t move. I laid there and waited until my body had gotten enough rest to do what my brain was willing it to. I was surprised how sore and weak i was. I had not noticed the weight of the weed eater or the angle of my back while i was using it. I was focused on my task. Only once i was still did i realize the trouble. I hobbled around the tiny house, pulling on my shoes and securing my machete. My new toy was still in the yard. The caked on grass had baked in the sun and i brushed it easily from the plastic. I carried the weed eater to the shed and found it an official spot in the tool shed. I coiled and put away the extension cords. Then i took a look around. Everything was short again like in the spring. I lamented at the thought of cutting down a thistle patch again next summer. I was tempted to say i wasn’t doing it again, but the birds and the bees really loved the thistles so much. I couldn’t take them all away without leaving them a patch. I sat still in the house, drank cold apple juice, and tried not to move. The yard looked good. There was no more danger that the house and shed might disappear in the tall grass.
My dogs were very smart. One would think that was a good thing but it was not always so. There were multitudes of pot holes all over my once beautifully flat property. All because the dogs were digging drinking bowls. When it rained the holes would fill up with rain water and they would drink out of them. They must have been expecting a party because they dug a lot of them. Every time my ankle gave way and my foot rolled into an indentation in the earth i yelled, “would you stop digging these *** ****** holes?! Yall are trying to kill me! And if i’m dead, who’s buying the dog food eh?!” Then it would rain and they’d run from one hole to the next lapping up cloudy water. Their favorite place to dig these drinking holes was undoubtedly in the middle of the driveway. Why, i didnt know.