Building the Chicken Coop

I wouldn’t say my 2020 posts are out of order. I would say rather that my posts at times encompass events that took place before and after the post that follows. I began planting the new additions to the homestead before i was sick and by the time the last tree was in the ground, i had pretty much recovered. However, the chicken coop was built smack dab in the middle of my 7 week window of symptoms. If it seems like a mess, its because it is. The timeline is really blurred together in my head, both because i was trying to move quickly, i didn’t feel well, and i had a lot of irons in the fire at once, all in different stages of completion.

The next time i had two consecutive days off i knew i needed to build a chicken coop and a chicken pen. I figured the best thing to do would be to build the coop first and then erect the pen around it. Out on the homestead there was an abundance of foxes. They would walk across the yard in broad daylight sometimes. At night i would occasionally hear raccoons chittering away on my porch and i often saw them crossing the road on my way to work. They looked like little masked bandits with beer guts. There were owls and a steady supply of hawks. The hawks had even tried to take Cashew on numerous occasions when she was only 5 lbs as a little pup. Not to mention, the coyotes and mountain lions that might find a chicken dinner interesting as well. I knew what i had, and that was an abundance of predatory animals that considered chicken to be on the menu year-round. I had to build something heavy, that couldn’t be dug under, with a roof. I decided to put the chicken coop in a dog kennel. Ultimately, the kennel i chose didn’t end up being very big. It was 5 x 10 feet. There was a larger one available but i rightly assessed that in my physical condition with the time-line looming over my head and a bathroom full of too-big chickens, i was not up to building the bigger kennel. Also, the panels to the smaller kennel were secured with a sturdier system of rounded pieces of metal secured around the edge of each panel with nuts and bolts, as compared to the larger dog kennel whose panels were secured with wire that resembled the chain link of each panel. The smaller kennel had cross-hatched metal bars. It appealed to me and it felt like the better choice for the situation so i bought it. The problem was, the chicken coop was a tad bit bigger than 5 ft…probably 5 ft 2 inches on the side that was supposed to measure at 5 ft. I finally figured out where the discrepancy came from. The bottom of the coop measures at 5 ft exactly but the roof stuck out over the coop an extra inch on each side to keep rain out. So, if one were to erect a pen around the coop, the measurement of the roof dimensions would be more pertinent to the situation than the measurement of the base of the chicken coop. I was sick, i was tired, and i was running out of time. I had to figure out what i was doing to make this coop fit inside the pen i was set to erect around it. Eventually i decided to begin erecting the chicken coop and figure out which pieces i could take off as i went along until i managed to shave the thing down to 5 ft on the narrower side of the kennel. So i began.

I got to about here in the assembly process before i began to realize what was what. The side with the giant horizontal window in it would be the place where the nesting boxes jutted out. Then there was the window with the wire fence on it. The next side with a little chicken door in it would open into the wire pen area with a roof.

It was at this point that i realized the solution to my problem with the kennel dimensions and the two extra inches of coop roof. I would take off the wire panels and not even put them on the coop at all. The kennel would be bigger than the yard set to attach to the coop anyway. Then i would turn the coop so that the side with the wired window faced the narrow side of the kennel. Suddenly things were looking doable again.

I got my drill, switched it over to the setting that would pull the screws out, and began taking the wire panels off.

I get tired of talking about it because it was the running theme of my life for nearly two months and now that i’ve recovered i’m tempted to bury the memory that i was ever weak or unable to do something. I’m tempted to wipe it from my memory/reality all together and never speak of it again, but, in the interest of documenting life on the homestead honestly, i will leave it in.

Building the chicken coop with step-by-step tractor supply instructions and all screws provided in labeled baggies should have been a cinch. I should have been able to knock it out with a power drill and a hammer in a couple hours but it took all day. It took all day because i lacked the strength to lift the pieces and most frustrating to me, i lacked the strength to push the drill with enough force to utilize a screw to draw two pieces of wood together. Instead, the screw kept going through the first piece of wood and pushing the second piece of wood out of my fingers, further away from the piece i was trying to attach it to. I was furious. I kept having to reverse the drill and pull the screw out only to do the exact same thing. The two pieces of wood would separate, the end of the screw between them, and i would turn my face to the sky and do one of three things; cry, beg and plead with God to let the screw go through both pieces of wood, or demand answers as to why this was happening to me (with not so pg-13 language peppered in there). Both the crying and the screaming made me breathless and further unable to operate the drill with any kind of real force or precision. I went through stages of sadness, optimism, defeat, and unchecked anger. Throughout my entire ongoing conversation with God he was silent. I was not ready to hear anything that might be taught to me at that time. I was not open to instruction. I was pretty much rage-filled, vengeful, and desperate to finish my project. I was a hot mess and God would give me some time to get myself together before speaking. Instead of answering my pleas and accusations God let me rage and rant for a couple weeks. I was given enough time to build the green house, the chicken coop, the chicken pen, and plant a couple trees before i had to answer for my words and my actions, sitting in the mud outside blubbering like a tantrumming child about strength and a power drill and some ******, ****ing screws.

Every piece assembled was a battle. I lacked the strength to push the pieces of wood together with one hand while pushing the drill into the screw with the other hand. I sat in the dirt, tears streaming down my face, occasionally screaming at God, asking “why…why…why…why” repeatedly, and begging “come on, come on, come on” with each new attempt. Ultimately, when it didn’t work and the screw pushed the second piece of wood away from the first yet again and i had to reverse the drill and pull the screw out one more time i would throw my fists into the dirt and scream at the heavens. I was so frustrated. I couldn’t make my body do what i wanted to do; what i needed to do in order to run the homestead by myself. I was utterly defeated but also having an identity crisis. I had always been strong. I was 5 ft 0 in. I was 100 lbs. i was a woman. Nobody took me seriously. Nobody viewed me as much. But when the shit hit the fan, i could lift my weight in bags of feed, human beings with gait belts at work, i could haul, build, chop down, erect, construct, and lift with the best of them, because i wanted it more. I would push my body to the limits to get the job done because i wanted it more than the 215 lb guy that occasionally worked out once in a while but looked like the better choice when assembling a crew to get something done. Others may have been born with more mass to work with but i had a fierce desire to be independent and able, and i was, until this moment. I was weak and out of breath and no matter how much i swore, tried, or pushed myself, i could not access the strength required to put the screws through both pieces of wood. I was having an identity crisis in the middle of all other things going on because i didn’t know who i was if not strong.

As the pictures demonstrate, i did figure it out. My lack of strength was directly connected to my lack of breath. My muscles needed oxygen to work. Pushing myself towards a deadline was not going to yield results here. I had to change my methods if i wanted to finish this. I stopped looking at the big picture and said “**** it i don’t care.” I focused on one task at a time and looked at nothing beyond that task. I rested for a good three minutes before attempting to drive in each screw. Sometimes i took a break and watched a little 3 to 5 minute cartoon skit on my phone via youtube just to keep myself from physical activity for a few minutes. Then, when i was fresh and not breathless, i grabbed the drill and drove in a screw. It wasn’t perfect. The perfectionist in me was angry that not all the screws were perfectly straight, but with at least 3 minutes of rest time needed to gather enough strength to operate the drill effectively to push in one screw, i couldn’t afford to be unscrewing screws that actually went through both pieces of wood. The progress was slow going but it was coming together. It was starting to look like a structure, and at least now i had a strategy that was yielding results.

From this point on it was just a matter of pacing myself and resting before each use of the drill, something i was not used to and didn’t come by naturally. I hated every remaining step of this process because it required a discipline that i didn’t want to have. I wanted to travel at break-neck speed, forgo food breaks and bathroom breaks and just hurry up and get it done. Life does not always give us what we want.

So i trudged forwards.

Piece by piece

The roof going on was a real moment of relief. I knew i was close to being done now. I wanted to be done with my 3 minute rest increments and that blasted drill. I did not enjoy this project. I just wanted to be done.

It was not until the roof was on and the floor was slid into place that i allowed myself to open the door and imagine what the chickens, who had only ever known the environment of a stock tank in the bathroom, would think of their new home. It seemed cozy.

There were bars for the chickens to perch on. I imagined them as full-grown chickens, big and fluffy, sitting on those bars, flapping their wings to try to balance before settling down.

I cried when it was finished. I sat on the porch steps and looked at it from the house. It was done. That was all i had wanted for the last 3 or 4 hours of the project. I just wanted it done.

It was beautiful. I had no idea how i’d done it and i didn’t want to think about it again. I would strike the experience from my memory and move on. the beginning of 2020 had not been a pleasant experience for me. If i was going to live through it, the homestead would need to be maintained and projects would need to go on, whether i was up to it or not, because if i lived but didn’t maintain the homestead, there would be nothing to return to when i did recover.

The chicken coop was built.

Seeds

When i ordered the greenhouse it was at the back end of my spending spree. I had already sprung for ppe, medicine, food supplies, a chicken pen, a chicken coop, chickens, dog and chicken feed, and many other things. I didn’t have money left to buy vegetable plants at the nursery. So i decided to buy seeds instead. I didn’t have a good history with seeds. Anything grown from a seed in my house usually died shortly after the first two leaves appeared. However, this time around, the stakes were higher. Maybe out of sheer desperation i would find a way to keep the sprouts alive.

In the tiny house there were only 384 square feet to work with. So, not a lot of shelf space to sprout vegetable seeds on. Originally i had them sitting in the window sills but when the sun hit the cups it turned the water to bath water and ended up boiling some of the seeds. It was no good. I needed a different setup. So, i used the dog crates as a counter space. I did so often when it came to cooking. I would set the cutting board or the pots and pans on top of the dog crates. I mean, they were the only flat counter-like surface i had in the kitchen and it wasn’t like the top of each crate was being used for something else. So, i repurposed the tops of the dog crates as a kitchen counter and placed up-turned toy box lids on top of them. I placed the sprouting cups on the toy box lids and filled them with well water. Then i placed a wad of paper towel in each cup, placing a few seeds on top of the paper towel in each cup. It was a modified method of sprouting seeds that my friend Luke’s mother had taught me as a child. She had placed an egg carton over a cup of water and cut a hole in the middle of the egg carton. The paper towel carpeted the egg carton and laid atop a paper towel that hung down from the egg carton into the cup. The paper towel drew up the water, spreading it along the length of the egg carton and keeping the seeds continuously moist without drowning them. Luke and i used to sprout beans in this way and watch them grow. However, we were city kids so back then we were just doing it for fun. Now it was a matter of sustenance. I needed food other than rice gruel and lentils. I didn’t have any egg cartons so i made do with the cups. I had taken one of each packet that was left at the dollar general, gotten carrot seeds at the walmart, and ordered a few seed packets online. It was a struggle to find seeds as they were all on back order because the whole country had the same idea. The grocery stores were empty so they’d make their own. I was late to the party. By the time i obtained all my seeds it was nearly summer. I could only sprout a few of the seeds i obtained because i had missed the planting season for the rest. I read the backs of the packages and sprouted whatever had an extended growing season.

Peas

Okra

Apple seeds

Cucumber

Squash

Rhubarb (one of my favorites)!

Fava beans

Our Favorite She is a He!

Iris had long been my favorite chick. She was smaller and more docile than the others. She was sickly in the beginning and had nearly died several times so i had pretty much raised her on my chest. I had spent a considerable amount of effort keeping her alive and neither she nor i had seemed to forget it. I was showing someone a picture of the chickens at my workplace when she said, “Oh you have a rooster!” I said, “no, no rooster, just 6 chickens.” She said, “5 chickens and a rooster.” I asked, “where?!” She pointed. As i followed her finger to the indicated chicken in the photo i said, “That’s iris.” She laughed, “Well, Iris is a he.” I gasped. Could it be? Over the next few weeks “iris would grow differently than the others. Her comb would become larger and floppier and she had little appendages that hung down from her neck while the others’ were thin and stretched tighter. Her feathers were also coming in differently around the neck and tail. I began to realize, my friend was right. It was confirmed for me when i heard a large amount of commotion coming from the chicken pen and peered in to see Iris trying to hump the other hens. It was settled. Iris was a boy.

He couldn’t really be having a name like “Iris the rooster”. So “Iris” became “Ira”. Ira the rooster. I would finally get to have a rooster and hear it crow on the regular, the one true sound that reminded people they weren’t in the city anymore. If any of the hens died or went missing i could put a couple eggs under the remaining hens and hatch out the chicks. But most importantly, a rooster would protect his flock from predators such as hawks, foxes, and raccoons. An adult rooster would act as a lookout, scanning the environment for trouble and alerting the hens to any lurking danger when spotted. What good news! I had a rooster.

The Plant Boxes

I didn’t have the money to buy proper plant boxes with all the dough i was spending on obtaining my own ppe, food, medicine, feed for the animals, and tylenol. Everything was more expensive than it should have been. Produce was marked up so much a potato was a dollar. You could spend 50 bucks buying a bottle of Tylenol because everything was on back order and only the poor sobs that actually needed the stuff to keep them out of the ER and at the job site once a month would pay the mark-up criminals that amount of money for 1 bottle on ebay or amazon. Masks were similarly available, for a pretty penny.

The financial toll wasn’t the only reason i didn’t want to buy proper planter boxes. I had a gazillion termites and carpenter ants spread across the 2 acre property. I knew wood would be consumed quickly by the little pests. I went to the dollar general and picked out some plastic toy boxes. They wouldn’t be tasty to the termites and they were much less expensive than real planter boxes would have been. i drilled numerous holes in the bottom of each box for water drainage and vwalah! Once i was done making my boxes i had to fill them. I cringed at the cost of filling each box with potting soil. The boxes held more soil than i anticipated and the amount of bags i would have to buy was rising. Instead of buying the proposed mountain of potting soil i cheated a bit. I filled half of each box from the mulch pile on my property and only shelled out for enough dirt to cover the top third of the toy boxes. As i watered the plants, the nutrients from the soil would move down amongst some of the mulch layered underneath it. It wasn’t ideal but then, what was ideal at this point? 2020 wasn’t really shaping up to be a marathon of perfection if you know what i mean.

After each box was filled i set it inside the greenhouse.

It was finally coming together. Oh! I skipped a huge bit! I let the chickens loose in the greenhouse before i filled it with boxes. It was their first outing and at first they didn’t know what to make of the grass. They huddled together and stood absolutely still. Pretty soon natural instinct took over and they began to scratch and peck as all grown chickens do. I was so proud of them. They were engaging in real chicken behavior. As i had hoped, they went after all the grasshoppers that had been hiding in the greenhouse and after a couple hours there wasn’t a bug in sight. I shuttled the chickens back indoors and continued to set up the greenhouse. The chickens had done me a huge favor since i could never have rid the greenhouse of the little chompers so thoroughly.

In went my onion (sprouted in the pantry)

Chives and dill

The potato corner

These were really hard to sprout in the tiny house but, more on that later.

The Plants

Fortunately, i dug the hole for the loquat tree back before i got sick. The ground on my property was mostly limestone with a thin layer of clay on top of it. So, digging involved a large metal stick more than it did a shovel. The shovel was just present to lift the broken pieces of rock from the hole after the stick was used.

When the hole was deep enough to my satisfaction i lifted the loquat tree into it and began to bury it with the limestone rock powder i had made.

The poor loquat tree had been kept in the house until the freezing temperatures were gone and its leaves had wilted and turned crunchy. It needed to be outside. I put it in the ground but it was touch and go for a couple months afterwards. I was unsure whether it would survive. It dropped most of its leaves and then finally sprouted new ones at the tips of the branches. That’s when i knew it would live. It liked to be watered a lot less than the other trees and had a more difficult time recovering from overwatering than the others as well. I tried to remember that when examining the weather forecast. I watered the loquat sparsely every 3 days and if there was a chance of rain i skipped it all together.

I bought a little aloe vera plant at walmart. i intended to use it for medicinal purposes.

Barbecue rosemary (fenced so josie couldn’t make a snack of it)

To pinch off some leaves and rub them on one’s skin was to have a very effective and natural mosquito repellant.

The best rosemary for mosquito repellant purposes was native rosemary. Its leaves held more oil and were more fragrant than its softer more edible cousin cultivated for cooking purposes. However, the native rosemary was small and wilted so i bought the barbecue rosemary as a back-up in case the wilted rosemary didn’t perk up and survive.

I also bought a chocolate mint plant. When i was a child my mother planted one mint plant in our front garden and for nearly a decade after we could not beat back the invaders as they took over everything in sight and choked the other plants for resources. I planted the chocolate mint behind the house in the hope that this type of invasive pattern mint was known for would repeat. I wanted chocolate mint everywhere back there. I could use it in sweets and drinks or just chew the leaves, it would smell like chocolate at the back of the house, and if it choked out the other plants back there perhaps i wouldn’t have to mow that patch of weeds.

I saw a muscat grape vine at the tractor supply one day (before i swore that store off for good) and i suddenly remembered picking muscat grapes on the way back from the bus stop in the old apartment i used to live in back when i was in Austin. The vine had climbed some tree trunks and hung down from the trees in a wall of grape leaves. During the summer grapes would appear. The outside of each grape was leathery and the first bite burned a little bit on the tongue, but then the gel on the inside of the leathery casing would ooze out and be sweet as pie. They had seeds you kind of had to roll around in your teeth and spit out or swallow but the little bit of sweet gel in the middle was well worth the effort. I bought the muscat grape vine and buried the twig with leaves next to two old oak trees standing together. Then i fenced around it to keep the deer off. I hoped the vine would grow up the trees and hang down so i could pick the grapes in the summers.

One day my neighbor sent me a message that she had left some plants hanging on the fence for me. I hurried out to my gate but there was nothing there. Then i started thinking…there was a little white rock road on one side of my property that was the only way for some of the ranchers to get from their property to the main road. It ran between my property and the neighbor next to me. As far as i understood, when it fell into disrepair, it was the responsibility of all those whose land touched against it to pitch in to maintain it. I was okay with this when i bought the property because upon examining it, it was hard packed and level and white rock instead of mud or pavement. It would hold up pretty good without much fuss. Now i walked along the fence against this white rock road until i found it. There was a plastic grocery bag hooked on the barbed wire of my fence next to the road. In it were some decorative plants that i planted and the deer promptly ate. However, beneath those were four little aloe vera plants. They were very dry and wilted. All the plants were. There was no telling how long they’d been on the fence. I cut the bag down and set to digging holes immediately. I had to get the thirsty plants in the ground and water them. The little aloe vera were all together with their roots tangled in one big mess. I set to separating them as carefully as i could. They would have more room to grow if i could get them separated and they’d do better. Initially the aloe vera went into shock. It took them a couple weeks to get their green color back and perk up, but they did. When it became apparent that all four of them were going to live i breathed a sigh of relief. Aloe vera was antibacterial, good for wounds, burns, sunburns, infections, and stomach ailments. The gift my neighbor had left me on the fence was priceless! If i could nurse them into big plants i could have 4 big aloe vera on top of the one i had bought at the store. The spiky aloe vera plants did better than the finicky smooth one i had bought at the store. They were less picky about water and sun. They took whatever conditions came. They would more likely survive than the plant i’d bought at walmart, though it didn’t stop me trying to nurse it along.

There was one last blackberry bush at the walmart store parking lot when i went there for groceries that day. I snatched it up and set it in the basket. It was scrawny and dry and i had to pull off the broken branches but i saw potential. It had a few unripe berries on it and the leaves that were present were green. It was salvageable. I bought it, planted it, and enjoyed the berries when they ripened.

Now, right before i got sick i had gone to the plant nursery and bought a pear tree, a mulberry tree, an orange tree, an avocado tree, and a pecan tree. I bought them during the two days before they closed the city, determined to carry as many food trees home in the suv before they declared only essential businesses could remain open and shut down our economy. What i didn’t realize was that i was going to spend 7 weeks struggling to overcome symptoms and i was going to be in no shape to plant the trees. By May i had overcome all of my symptoms except the tachycardia and i was at a point where the trees needed to go in the ground if i planned on keeping them. I donned my apron full of useful pockets to hold keys and tools, put on my 1 dollar denim walmart clearance hat, and laced up my steel-toed boots. It was time to see if i could still do this, if i could still lift the heavy metal stick and dig a hole as i always had.

The answer was yes. I could still dig a hole.

It took twice as long as it should have because i had to keep stopping to rest to allow my heart rate to settle and i had grown weaker than i was when i was used to a daily diet of manual labor. My muscles lacked their former strength and reserves. I very well could have managed 3 holes in one day if it’d been the same time last year but i managed two this time around and that was good enough. I had feared that i wouldn’t be able to dig a hole at all so when i dug two i was plenty satisfied with that. It did however take every last drop of energy i had and by the end of the day my arms were jelly and my legs threatened to buckle beneath me.

The mulberry tree went in first. I cut some fencing off the roll, dragged it across the property, used the wire cutters to bend the edges of the fencing around each other, and hammered rebar into the ground at an angle around the bottom of the fencing to keep the wind from lifting it up.

The day was getting hotter and i was feeling it. The prickly pear were starting to open their flowers towards the sun. The bees were loving it.

The beautiful flower of a true survivor of drought, the cactus.

The second hole was twice as hard to dig, both because i was tired already and i picked a spot that was solid limestone instead of broken limestone pieces laying on top of one another. I really had to work for that hole because there were no air pockets for the rock to crack into. When i brought the stick down it wasn’t a big dramatic shatter. It cracked in small isolated pieces and the going was slow, but i got it done.

The pear tree was in. All i could think about was getting these trees that were such a resource and a valuable treasure if kept alive, into the ground before they died. I didn’t want the money spent to be in vain. I didn’t want these young cuttings to be wasted. They had such potential if only i could get them all in the ground and fenced with rebar.

By now the cactus flowers were completely open. The sun was high and the grasshoppers were clicking and buzzing through the grass. It was hot.

At this moment my orange tree, avocado tree, and pecan tree still aren’t planted. It is imperative that i get them into the ground before cold weather this year. It looks like they may go in during autumn. I’ve missed my spring window to get them planted. I tell myself im going to do it on my day off each week, and then something always comes up that takes precedence. The dog needed a rabies shot. All the appliances broke at once. We had a microburst that knocked out the power for 6 hours and downed trees and signs all over town. The chiggers became a huge problem and i had to get the grass mowed (an all day event with the 5 blade reel mower). I am behind and the trees are not settled. At some point i will have to remedy this. I just cant do it right now.

The Wasps

We were having an unusually warm spring. The highs were already in the high 80s and low 90s and frost seemed like a thing of the past. It was time to take the winter boxes off of the fruit trees. They had been nursed along in there, hidden away from the sun in an attempt to keep them from frosting until warmer weather arrived, but now they needed the sun if they were to be salvaged. Without thinking i grabbed hold of one of the boxes and leaned it to its side with the intent of freeing the tree housed beneath it. An angry wasp emerged and flew about my head. I set the box carefully back down and took a few brisk steps towards the shed. The wasp returned to its nest. Upon further inspection there was a wasp nest hanging from the interior ceiling of each box. This, i decided, had to be remedied before i could get back to removing the boxes from the trees. I knew i had a can of spray under the sink in the kitchen. I retreated to the house to weaponize. My brain told me it would be best to wait for sun down when the wasps would not be moving and spray them in their sleep to avoid being stung. My brain also detailed a mile-long list of chores that needed to be done and “remove boxes” was one of those that was listed to be done today. The can read, “kills on contact”. I slipped my keys in my apron pocket in case i needed to run and said, “I hope you’re right.” I shook the can, held it up to the first nest, sprayed, and ran.

The wasp was hit directly with the foamy poison and it wriggled and writhed on its back in the grass. Eventually it stopped twitching. I kicked it with my boot. It was dead. I turned to the next one. I sprayed each wasp’s nest in each box and then set the can down next to the tool shed.

With the wasps dead and the nests knocked free i could tip the boxes on their sides, at which point a little fruit tree sprang forth from each one and i redid the fencing around it to keep the deer out. I then corner-walked each box over to the cedars in front of the fence line and stood them there, to be used next winter if the termites didn’t get them first.

The lemon tree flowered WAY early this year, probably due to the unusually warm weather. It flowered when i hadn’t taken the frost box off yet and the bees completely missed the blossoms. I didn’t get a single lemon.

There was my beautiful brown turkey fig tree. I hoped it would grow as big as the one i remembered from my childhood, eventually dwarfing our old house.

Finally, the little 11 dollar twig i had planted the year before; the pomegranate tree. I was ecstatic to see it had grown taller and sprouted more leaves. All winter it had lost all but three little leaves, the last sign of life that clung to the tops of the twigs. Now it appeared healthy and thriving. All 3 of the fruit trees had survived the winter. The question was, what fruit trees would be joining them on the property this year? What gems would the nursery offer, how much money would i have to spare, and how many holes would i find time to dig through the limestone in between working and running the operations i already had going on the property? Only time would tell.

Building the Greenhouse

As i said before, i had my eye on a super fancy super huge greenhouse with solar powered vents and fans. It would have been larger than the tiny house itself. However, when Covid-19 took the stage the money i was saving for the greenhouse had to go straight into buying my own ppe and getting a 6 month supply of meds for me and the dogs. Then there was the rice. I had hoped to buy these large buckets of rice to keep on hand so the dogs and the chickens always had something to eat. I didn’t want to watch them go hungry or skinny while i rationed what we did have. I tried to fatten them up with supplemental insects i found on the property. They would charge me for the rice immediately but it was on back order until late spring. Late spring would come and go and i’d never hear from the people again but they still took the $800 they wanted for the rice. It was just one of those things. You had to let it go. You had to try. And then when it failed, you had to let it go and keep walking.

Anyways, the stores were cleaned out good by the time i got off work. People lined up in the parking lot of the local grocery store every morning, waiting for the doors to open like race horses listening for the gunshot on the track. When those doors unlocked it was a full-on stampede.

I couldn’t get my hands on any food. My first thought was that i ought to purchase a greenhouse, though i was saving that for another year. It seemed now had become the time. I knew i couldn’t buy my dream greenhouse so i went the other way. I bought a 500 dollar greenhouse from walmart. It arrived in pieces with an instruction packet that read, “Takes 2 to 4 people for assembly.” I thought, “Here we go.” I tied on my bandana and tucked in.

The going was slow from the very beginning. There was not a single word to the instructions. It was all pictures, and some of the parts were labeled wrong. The picture showed an L shaped piece that said 893 while clearly the long metal sticks lying in my yard bore the stickers that read “893” and the bag of L shaped ones said “992”. Though i looked through all the pages of the packet, i couldn’t find “992” mentioned anywhere. Then there was the problem of the picture angles. You could only see what was going on from one side of the picture. It was unclear what the opposite side looked like. Frequently i’d get 3 steps in and realize one piece was turned in the wrong direction and i would have to undo all 3 of the steps just to go back and set it straight so it would connect to something else properly later.

Some pieces, like the bolt that was supposed to go through the door handle, were too short to fit in the place the diagram swore they were supposed to be. I was so frustrated with the cryptic asinine instruction diagrams that i was stomping round the yard in my steel-toed boots, shaking the instruction packet at the heavens while pointing emphatically and telling all the wildlife that would listen, “This is clearly not 893!!! That there is 893! This here is 992! Where the **** does 992 go? Nobody knows! Nobody knows! But we got 16 of those 713 pieces over there. 16 of them! And it says here there should be 4.” “****ing Walmart.” I was at a loss as to how i was going to turn those instructions into some sort of roadmap i could follow in any way.

I had 2 days blocked out to get this project done before my work week in healthcare resumed its wicked pace. It was now or never. **** the instructions. I was going to have to do this, trial and error, until all the steps were run through, all things were assembled, disassembled, turned, and reassembled…i was going to have to construct this greenhouse one way or another.

Right from the beginning i noticed a design flaw. Instead of using nuts and bolts as they were intended to be used, the company in their infinite wisdom said, “let’s make the heads of the bolts square and then we’ll slide them in a loose track and the track will grab the square head of the bolt and hold the thing together. That way, if the wind blows or the foundation shifts, the client can have the fun of scrambling around trying to get all the square heads of the bolts back in the tracks they popped out of before the whole thing falls apart.” I could not believe it but the whole greenhouse was to be held together by tracks sitting precariously balanced on the ends of square bolt heads. I pulled at my face. This was not going to last. But, what was there to do? I had already spent the money. It was already here. I couldn’t afford a different one. This was it. This was what we had to work with. The dogs eyed me cautiously from a distance, wondering if the swear words were just in general or directed at them.

As i began to put pieces together the wind was blowing something fierce. It was howling through the trees and the rustling branches were bent back towards the ground only to be thrown the other way with the next violent gust. I was shouting at God. “Please, *** ****** please! Just wait, WAIT! Wait!! Wait!! Lord please, PLEASE!!! Just let me get the frame up first! Not yet, don’t blow it down yet Lord. Wait, no, no, no, no, no; OH COME ON!!!”

“2 to 4 for assembly” meant i had to get creative about who was going to be holding the pieces in play for me. Meet “Mr ladder” and “Mrs wheelbarrow”. He was a pretty good helper but she was lacking in the height department.

The thing was flimsy as could be and i tried frantically to hold it all together long enough to get to the next step and the next one while the wind whipped my clothes around and threw dust into my eyes, bent the trees and threatened to tear down all my progress at any second with a mighty gust.

Finally i reached the stage where i could start putting the panels in. That was a dangerous endeavor as they caught the force of the wind pretty good and having one side up without the other side anchored in threatened disaster with random gusts of wind slamming into the barely standing half-wall.

The edges of the panels were sharp and as i carried them the wind threatened to rip them out of my hands or bend them, twisting them this way and that as i walked through the yard. I held tight to the panels, determined not to let the wind carry them away from me. The edges of the panels dug into my fingers and the palms of my hands and drew blood.

It was a little bit better balanced against the wind once i got the panels in on both sides but not by much.

As the sun set on day 1, i had the base erected but still lacked a roof.

I hoped it would still be there in the morning and reluctantly quit for the night.

In the morning i set about adding a roof.

Getting that middle bar on was quite the task! It was one long piece, bolted together. I had to maneuver the ladder in through the greenhouse doorway while still folded, open it, stand it up, climb on top of it, and balance the majority of the bar on my shoulder while bolting one side down to the frame. I then scooted the ladder to the middle of the greenhouse and laid the other end of the bar carefully against the top ladder step. I then hurried to the other side of the greenhouse frame and hoisted the bar onto my shoulder once more so i could bolt it to the frame on the other side as well. When the bar was bolted in place i dropped to my knees and sighed in relief. I had done it. The part that REALLY required 2 to 4 people to assemble was over.

I erected more bars and slid the roof panels in. At this point process of elimination was helping me figure out which pieces the diagram was referring to. There weren’t many left to choose from so i was piecing the puzzle together.

When all the roof panels were in i began to feel as if maybe i could see the finish line.

As the sun set on day 2 i began work on the door.

I installed and uninstalled the sky light when it became apparent that the plastic arm that was supposed to hold it open had a tendency to drift back to its original position; closed. Also it was catching wind pretty effectively and i was worried it would be torn off by the first rain storm.

Then i mulched around the bottom of the frame so the grasshoppers couldn’t slide under. It was dark when i finished the project. I finished by lamp light, alone, fiddling with nuts and bolts and trying to whisper my disdain for Walmart because the neighbors were sleeping. I had to wait until the next day for a final picture. In the end it took 19.5 hours to complete the project. I had to zip tie the door handle in place because the bolt ended up being too short to poke through the other side to catch the nut. I was so thrilled to be done with it but i had an uneasy anxious feeling growing in the pit of my stomach. I worried that the slightest wind could probably leave all that work i’d just done in vain.

Rain Water

Before the world was in the throes of a pandemic i got my water from a dispenser plugged in outside the gas station near my property. When that was out of order there was another one sitting outside the grocery store in town. When they came down with the decree that everyone should stand 6 feet apart from each other they took the dispensers. They loaded them up on trucks and drove away. They said they didn’t want to have to send store employees to supervise the cueing of people in the parking lot to get water. So i had no choice but to buy bottled water. Well, that was difficult. People were panicking. People who were hooked up to city water were buying up all the bottled water in mass quantity as soon as the trucks arrived. I lived in the country with a well; a sulfur well. The water was good to give to thirsty plants but no good for humans and animals to drink. It would cause epic diarrhea and eventually lead to death via dehydration. However, when the supply trucks arrived at the grocery i was at work caring for my patients. By the time i made it to the grocery in the afternoon there wasn’t any water left. When there was they were single bottles, usually Dasani, and every customer was only allowed one. So, i could buy 1 single serve bottle of water (if it existed on the shelf that day) for myself, 2 dogs, and 6 chickens to split. I watched as my six 3-gallon containers of reserve water were gradually emptied by my little family. I was without water. I didn’t know what to do. There was no fire station you could report to during this time where you could say, “Please, i’m out of water.” Especially if you were a healthcare worker; no one wanted to be near you. You could be infected. I thought about going to the river, collecting water in my 3-gallon jugs, hauling it back to the property, and boiling it to make it drinkable. The problem was, boiling the river water would kill the algae and bacteria but it wouldn’t filter out the chemical waste that i knew was in there. The river water had long been contaminated and i had never in my life lived some place where the rate of cancer was so high in the population. High school students and even toddlers were fighting and sometimes losing their battle with cancer. To drink the river water would be a slower death than to drink sulfur water but a death just the same in the end. I wracked my brain for what to do. In the end, it was God that solved the problem, not me. I began buying as much coconut water as i could. There was no purchasing limit on coconut water because nobody really knew what it was. They usually had it in stock because it wasn’t an item on peoples radar to stock pile. I lived on coconut water alone as a hydration source for a few weeks. My dogs and chickens needed something to drink as well. It was then that the rains began. God gave me rain daily for two straight weeks while i was waiting for the filter my grandmother had ordered me to arrive. Every day it rained and every day i nestled my four glass cookware containers in the sticks of my fire pit outside. Every day i dragged my horse-feed bucket that i had used the last of the bleach to sanitize onto the concrete driveway of the toolshed and left it. When the rain died down in the evening i would scurry out to the fire pit and the shed driveway to pick the leaves and twigs out of the water collected. Then i would pour it into my two plastic pitchers that i kept in the refrigerator and replenish the dogs’ water bowl and the chickens’ water dispenser with the rain; gifted from the heavens.

My grandmother saved us in the end. The filter arrived in the mail; a small, life-sustaining tool that rendered undrinkable water drinkable. It could filter half a gallon at a time. It took the raw water from the well, removed the sulfur, and 30 minutes to 2 hours later, depending on how recently i had changed the little cylindrical filter insert, the water had moved from the top to the bottom compartment and was now perfectly safe. I was determined to make the filter inserts last as long as i could so even when it took 2 hours to filter water i didn’t throw the insert out and put in a new one. I kept using it and just made sure that i was always in some stage of filtering water to keep the jugs filled. I began to recognize that i was becoming possessive of things like the water filter. Even after i had received it i still put the collection containers out and filled the pitchers whenever it rained. I was becoming like my patients who had lived through the great depression. I remembered the uncertainty of not having a water source for any of my animals and there would be no wasting of anything that could be rendered drinkable. In some ways, i became a different person and i didn’t always recognize her.

Josie

Around early spring i noticed i was being followed by a jack rabbit wherever i went. She would follow me around the yard as i did my chores. She always stayed just far enough that i couldn’t reach her. 10 to 20 feet. She would sit near me and chew the grass, wriggling her little nose as she ate, ears alert and glassy eyes watching me. I went about my chores. I never tried to pet her or chase her. I simply went about my business and she kept me company while she went about hers. We had an agreement for a long time. She would eat all of the grass and dandelion flowers she wanted from the property as long as she left my cultivated plants alone. Sometimes she would come up to the house and sit in front of the porch. I wouldn’t know she was there and the dogs would chase her when they were let out to use the bathroom. I worried they would catch her but they never did, and it didn’t sway her from coming around. I became accustomed to the sight of her veiny ears sticking out of the grass in the late evening sun and her glassy dark eyes and wiggly nose. I became used to watching her chew and hop around looking for more things to eat while i watered the plants and built things in the yard. I decided my new friend needed a name. I settled on Josie. She became a regular fixture on the homestead and pretty much came to hang out with me as i wandered the property with a watering can every other night. I did my thing and she did hers. There didn’t need to be any talking, obligation, or social niceties. She was the perfect hang. Sometimes i don’t wonder why i prefer the company of animals to humans. Sometimes i wonder why not.

A Trip to Enterprise

Once i had returned to work i knew i needed to go pick up my items at tractor supply. They were holding them for me because i had been on quarantine. I needed to get the chicken coop, a dog kennel, and a dog kennel roof. For that, i needed a truck. I began my quest for a pickup at uhaul. they informed me that the nearest uhaul that stocked pickups was in San Antonio and i would have to drive there to get the truck and drive back to return it. I wasn’t doing that. Instead, i headed over to enterprise. I rented an F-150, left my car in their lot, drove over to tractor supply, picked up my items, drove them back to my little town, unloaded the truck one piece at a time, flipped the tailgate up, drove back to town, turned in the truck, retrieved my suv, and drove home. Enterprise was happy with the condition i returned it in and told me not to hesitate to call on them again if i needed to borrow the pickup to retrieve an order. I said, “i’ll probably see you once or twice before the year is over. I got a few more things i want to build.”

I had actually done it before; rented a pickup from enterprise, that is. Not for the purpose of picking up an order that wouldn’t fit in the suv but as a birthday present to myself. During previous years i had traded in my car for a truck and spent my birthday driving around town running errands in a pickup, happy as a clam. See, my entire adult life i have been 5 ft 0 in and near 100 lbs. Frequently new colleagues or patients asked me questions like “Are you a student here?” or “Are you somebody’s grandchild?” When i spoke people did not listen with the same attention they paid to others of taller stature who actually looked the part of an adult. They often talked over me or seemingly didn’t hear me at all. I pretended it didn’t bother me because there was no sense in doing anything else. But in actuality i was a professional in my field and an adult woman in my thirties. It did bother me that i was constantly perceived as something new, wide-eyed, hopeful, and naive in the world. I wasn’t taken seriously and my words held no weight. If i identified a medical problem that a patient appeared to be having, we had to wait until someone who was not me came to the same conclusion to entertain the idea. Of course not everyone was like this. Some who knew me did take me seriously and my word held weight with those few. However, i found years ago that a pickup truck spoke a universal language that everyone seemingly understood; “mine’s bigger than yours so move.” I loved it. For the first time in my life i knew what it was like to be tall. I could see everything! No peering over the dashboard and sitting up as high as i could in the seat to try and tell where the turn lane was painted on the asphalt. I could see everything i needed to and more. What a view! I also suddenly knew what it was like to be taken seriously, as nobody minded letting me in when i wanted to merge or flipped me off in an angry rage if i wasn’t speeding as fast as they thought i should, because my car would win in an accident. I’m smiling now just thinking of it. So for a few years, i treated myself to a rental pickup every time my birthday rolled around. I would have loved to have owned one but i couldn’t justify the difference in gas mileage with the amount that i drove on a regular basis. It wasn’t a smart purchase. So i stuck to dreaming and birthday rentals.

I didn’t have any trouble backing it into the space between the house and the well house. It was actually fairly easy to drive, even in reverse, because for a rare change, i could see where i was going (short people problems). The part i had trouble with was the strap that fastened the cargo to the truck bed. The guy that had loaded the bed with a fork lift tightened the strap for me and apparently tightened it really good. For the life of me, i could not get the thing to release. I figured i was probably doing something wrong so i grabbed the box and fished out the instructions. They said to do exactly what i had been doing. Push down on one piece while pulling up on the other. I texted my friend a picture and said, “What am i doing wrong?” He told me to do all the steps i had just run through. I told him i already tried that. He said, “and it wouldn’t budge?” I said, “nope.” He said, “then you probably tightened it too much. Just get a knife and cut it.” That was all i needed to hear. Two seconds later i emerged from the house, knife in hand, bam. Problem solved. The remainder of it was removed from the truck and repurposed as a door stop for the extension shed.

I had to unload the truck, which would have been a workout on a regular day but in my weakened and fatigued state at the time it seemed near impossible, which didn’t stop me from giving it my all. I had been told to chill, to focus on my health, and get ahold of the property later. Everyone who said that to me did not understand. A homestead had to be maintained. If the grass grew too tall one would have a problem with snakes, jack rabbits, and ticks. If the blades surpassed 3 to 4 inches the 5 blade reel mower wouldn’t even cut it. If the chickens grew too large in a small space they would begin to injure one another and i’d either have bloody chickens or no chickens in the end. If the salt chips for the water softener weren’t hoisted into the barrel when it was empty the laundry machine would become clogged with sulfur gunk and never work properly again. Also, my clothes would turn yellow. If the dishes were not washed, there was nothing to make food with. If the garden was not planted, the window for the growing season would be missed. If holes for new trees were not dug, they would whither in the pots where they stood. I couldn’t afford to “take it easy”. I had a homestead to run so the moment i parked the car and tore my scrubs off it was time to get back to work of a different kind. Normally i would have been able to lift each panel with a moderate amount of effort and i would have stacked them methodically against the wall in the shed. Instead, i found myself stumbling around the yard trying to make my way towards the shed door without dropping each panel. Every single action took a world of energy from my bones and lungs. I found myself easily winded and dragging as exhaustion crept in.

I did eventually manage to carry all the kennel panels and the roof into the shed. Then it was time to unload the chicken coop. I tore into the box and began pulling out pieces.

I finally got each piece of the chicken coop into the shed.

I stashed the packaging in my tool shed to be broken down and disposed of bit by bit each trash day.

Finally i was left with just the palette the box had been sitting on. I backed the truck up to my brush pile, lowered the tailgate, climbed into the bed of the truck, used every last bit of my residual energy and hoisted the palette off the tailgate and thrust it onto the pile. I then closed the tailgate, got back in the truck, and drove towards the gate. The job was done and it was time for me to return the truck to town. With a twinge of sadness i tuned the radio one last time and set out down the winding road back to town in the tall white pickup. The mission was accomplished. I had moved my order out to the property. I had retrieved my items from town. I had secured them safely in the shed. Now there was nothing left to do but enjoy the air conditioner, the view, and the sirius radio stations one more time.