I don’t really understand it. I couldn’t explain it well if i wanted to. I’m not a scientist. All i know is that somehow, during the summer, red dust makes it all the way from africa to texas in the wind. It settles on patio furniture, the car windshield, the porch railings, and anything left outside. The same thing happens when they are burning the fields down in mexico to plant new crops. Everything gets covered in ash. It’s hard to know whether what i’m looking at is dust or ash, african or mexican. Sometimes friends call me up to discuss it, “well its a bad year for the african dust don’t you think? Its all over my back patio! I’ve already had to refill the windshield wiper fluid for my car twice.” I just know it’s dusty. The problem is this:
It’s called “mr. cool”. It is a heating/cooling unit used for RVs and tiny houses. It has a filter that resembles the plastic tray from the dryer lint trap. It is hard plastic. You are meant to remove it once a month and empty the insects caught in it out in the yard. Then you rinse it under the sink, dry it, and place it back in the mr cool unit. The thing catches june bugs, not dust. Dust slides right through the small holes in the plastic “filter” tray and covers everything in the house with a fine dust. I remembered reading books about the dust bowl when i was a child. They spoke of placing towels under doors and windows and having to sweep every day to keep the dust out of the house. I just gave up on having the house clean. I mean i could sweep, mop, scrub, and polish the place every day and before the sun was down the dust would have coated everything in a thin layer once again. So i just became accustomed to seeing the can opener, the window sills, and the blender covered in dust. So too were the dogs covered in dust. Everything was touched by dust.
When you work in healthcare you get sick a lot. Those are just the facts of life. When people are feverish or vomiting you can’t rush out of the room to avoid contagion because you are the one contracted to help those people. You just have to accept that at some point, it’s going to be your turn. The problem is, it’s hard to find people to take your place. You don’t really have time to get well. You have to hurry up and get back to the job at hand so, at least in healthcare, taking a sick day is never a relaxing thing. I ended up with an upper respiratory infection that had me feverish for 5 days straight. I had pink eye in both eyes and laryngitis. All of my muscles and bones ached as if i was running some marathon, as if i was in some eternal work-out regiment that i couldn’t quit. I could get no relief from the pain. I had a constant multi-day headache that felt like someone was splitting my brain in half by pulling it apart from the sides. Light and noise bothered me to no end. I kept the tiny house curtains closed, the lights off, and tried to stay very still and quiet. I waited for the agony to end but it never ended because i couldn’t rest. I could only sleep 4 hours at a time. When the alarm went off i had to go to the bathroom, shake the little dropper of antibiotic eye drops and put two in each eye. The eye drops burned as if i had put chilis in my eyes and turned the entire eye pink for an hour afterwards but the side effects of the drops were better than my eyes swelling shut from the pink eye itself. I was delirious and in agony. I was stumbling around the tiny house, dehydrated and feverish, full of pink eye and making occasional pleas to God to help me so that i may go back to work and get back on top of my life. I was so tired. I craved a whole 8 hours of sleep but i couldn’t miss a scheduled eye drop or i ran the risk of vision loss and needing another dose of the uber-expensive antibiotic drops. During all of this the girls were existing somewhere on the property. They spent most of the day outside. Then at some point when i found myself on the floor near the dog food bin i would reach an arm in and pull out a scoop. I would put it in a couple bowls and go back to bed. I didn’t even separate them. They had to fight each other to get their fair share. The puppy eats the puppy version of the dog food…she ate the adult version for a week, cuz her food was on top of the refrigerator and i couldn’t lift it down in the state i was in so i gave her her sister’s. I put water out in the same unscheduled way. At points during each day they got some kind of food and some kind of water. They would come back in the house and i’d confirm they were still alive. I was in no condition to run things but, when you live alone, you have to. There’s no one else. Usually, Sili slept with me and Cashew slept in the crate, as she was still potty training and not to be trusted overnight. However, in the state i was in, i couldn’t have cared if they had sh*t everywhere in the house. It wouldn’t have mattered. I did not care what they did at night and i couldn’t get up to put them in the crates. I was really not well. So they slept on the floor. At one point, at 4 in the morning, i looked over and they were sleeping on each other all curled up. I realized that they had really stepped up. They were taking care of themselves because at the moment, i couldn’t.
I was visiting family in the city. We had driven to a plant nursery to purchase peat and sand. While we were there i had a look around. They were selling tiny pomegranate trees, and i do mean tiny, for 11 dollars. That was all i needed to hear. I wasn’t sure what would survive and what would die but if it was fruit bearing, healthy, and a good price, it was coming back with me. Just like i had for the others i dug a hole for the pomegranate tree. This one was harder work. The grass had grown up in the area and i had to cut through the tall grass with the shovel before i could even get to the soil and rock. I dug a hole, placed the pomegranate tree in it, and cut a piece of fencing to bend around it. Then i hammered rebar into place to hold the fencing to the ground around the little tree. Suddenly i had a pomegranate tree. It was very little but full of hope and promise. I prayed it would survive the winter.
I’ve never been one of those people who needs to be with someone just so that i’m not alone. I have never felt alone. There is always some animal or some plant to keep conversation with and truthfully, i’d rather talk to a horse than a human any day. I wouldn’t say i’ve always been a loner but i would say the only times i’ve ever been happy, i was alone.
When the sun sinks lower towards the horizon and my chores are all finished, i have a tendency to just stand in the yard and enjoy the beauty; watch the last ray of light leave. One evening i was doing just that when i realized how much trouble i had gotten myself into. I had fallen in love. I was truly head over heels, passionately in love with this piece of land. The dirt, the rocks, the grass, heck even the algae that grew in between the patches of grass, choking it out for its resources. I loved the big 100 and 200 year old oak trees, the baby oaks just trying to make it, the bright green rapidly populating cedars, the little feathery mimosa trees, the cactus, the agave, and the yucca. I loved the song birds and the whippoorwills. I loved the toads, the crickets, the butterflies, the hummingbirds…i loved the deer and even the coyotes. I loved the sunsets and the storms. I loved the cold weather and the heat of summer. I loved the laundry line. I loved the noise of the neighbor’s cows. I loved the earth of those 2 acres as if my own blood was soaked into it. I suddenly realized i had become one of those people who would sell a kidney or a lung before they would watch the bank take back the land from their cold dead fingers. I had never loved a human the way i loved this plot of land. This was something deep and instinctual. I felt a great connection to the land and all the non-human inhabitants that called it home. From the spiders to the mountain lions i knew this system was something fragile that had to be protected. On this plot of land i could keep the trees from being cut down, the deer from being hunted, the bees from being poisoned, and the dirt from being paved over. This land, as long as it was my land, was free to grow unhindered and undestroyed. It was free to thrive in all its glorious wilderness. For the first time in my life i felt fear like no other time. Fear of failure. For now i had something real to lose.
During the summer the insect activity around the porch light soared to unmatched levels. Every time i opened the door to let the dogs in or out insects came in. For the longest time i didn’t know what i had. I thought i just had random brown beetle-like things coming in the house, until one particularly active night when i turned the lights off to go to bed and suddenly saw them. There were fireflies in the house. They were flying all around the kitchen and the living room area and they would light up the room for a second one at a time; little magical specks of light in the sleepy dark of the house. It was wonderful. After that, each time i saw a little brown beetle like thing on the wall i knew we were in for a treat come bed time. I would turn off the lights and lay there in the blankets cuddled up to Sili in the mosquito netting tent and watch the fireflies blink on and off throughout the living room.
Every plant nursery i have ever been to has had a cat and i’ll tell you why. The plant nurseries sell bird seed in big giant bags. They also water the plants regularly. Even the plants themselves bear fruits and veggies little things wouldn’t mind to eat. This means there is a steady supply of food and water for all sorts of rodents that would like to make their home amongst the plants. The cat is there to kill the mice that customers don’t like to see. Go turn over some of the ceramic pots in the outdoor section and see if you don’t find mouse turds in amongst the spider webs. The cats serve their purpose and this is why the owners of the nurseries put up with the incessant peeing on walls and outdoor display shelves. If you’re walking by and you get a wiff of ammonia, that’s what it is. This cat in particular patrols a plant nursery up in Austin. I generally get along very well with plant nursery cats. They’re always well fed and napping and don’t seem to mind a good pet.
Once again Cashew needed another round of puppy vaccinations. So i loaded her into the car, took her to get poked full of needles, and there we sat once again in the car riding her reaction out as she shook and shiverred and whined.
One of my family members has a dog that we will call Gigi for the duration of this post. When i first brought Sili to meet Gigi years ago she was still afraid of everything and anything bigger than her. Gigi was bigger than her. So of course she growled and snarled at Gigi. But Gigi is a gentle giant; regal, patient, and usually resting somewhere in the sun. She saves her short bursts of infinite energy for rabbit hunting and doesn’t bother herself with the politics of other dogs and their issues. So i picked Sili up in my arms so that she would be taller than Gigi and leaned her down just enough so that she could sniff Gigi’s nose. As soon as she sniffed her she began wagging her tail and fell head over heals in love with Gigi. She was the older sister Sili never had. Sili copied her every move. If Gigi laid down, so did Sili. If Gigi got a drink, so did Sili. If Gigi sniffed a particular spot of grass on a walk, Sili sniffed that spot too. Sili loved Gigi and wanted to be right against her wherever she was, and Gigi… wanted space. Poor Gigi just wanted to lay on her bed unaccompanied, look out her window by herself, and get a drink from her bowl without company. But it made Sili so happy to be near her that Gigi tolerated her super close presence for the duration of each of our visits. So you can imagine the thoughts going through Gigi’s head when i opened the door and introduced her to the second one…Cashew. Now she had two dogs following her around wherever she went, copying her every move, and sitting super close to her when she tried to sunbathe in the yard. It was like her house had suddenly been converted into a daycare center for toddlers and she was unwillingly in charge. Her face in the pictures says it all. I don’t think Gigi enjoys our visits as much as one might guess but Sili and Cashew think she’s just the best thing to ever walk the planet and each time we drive through the gate and they figure out who we’re going to see the crying and jumping begins as chaos erupts in the car from the gate to the driveway. Gigi is their hero.
Sili had a relationship with Gigi before Cashew even existed so she wanted to spend some quality time with her beloved cousin. I finally took pity and peeled Cashew off of Gigi’s furr where she was trying to sleep. Cashew spent some time with her mommy while Sili and Gigi caught up. They just hung out quietly in the yard, because that’s what Gigi liked to do, and Sili was a little more respectful of that than Cashew.
Gigi’s mom was a chef. There was always something good to eat every time we went for a visit. However, this time around it was one of my favorites…vegan german chocolate cake. To die for. I mean sinfully sweet and moist. It was the best!
The first time i encountered a scorpion in the tiny house was in May. It was after dark. I had washed the dishes and put the food away. I was walking away from the kitchen area and headed for the rocking chair. I heard a very prominent “clink” noise in the sink. I knew it was an insect because i hadn’t left anything in the sink that could “clink”. However, i expected to turn around and see a june bug. It was not a june bug. It was a big old scorpion and it could see me. It met me with pinchers outstretched when i leaned in to take a closer look at the intruder. I began to realize that this thing had to have been on the ceiling. I mean, where else could it have dropped from that would have made such a “clink” noise? It started trying to climb out of the sink. It was a big old boy so i was pretty sure it would figure it out if given the time. I looked for the nearest thing i had handy. The dish washing soap would have to do. I smashed it and smashed it until it stopped moving. The first scorpion of the year was dead. I scooped it onto a “no trespassing” sign i had lying around and threw it outside for the road runners to eat. The second scorpion that arrived was a smaller one. I was lying on the floor with the dogs on either side of me. They were finally still and i was taking the opportunity to doze off for a few minutes. Something startled me awake and i happened to glance over at Cashew just in time to see a scorpion raise its tail to sting Cashew’s foot. In my sleepy delirium there was no time to communicate. I grabbed the puppy by the paw and slid her across the floor quick before the scorpion could bring its stinger down. Now i was mad. It was going to sting Cashew in her sleep for absolutely no reason. How dare it go after my puppy in our own house while she rested?! So i grabbed the nearest thing (my diary) and smashed it with a level of anger i hadn’t channeled in a while. All that was left of it was goo when i was finished. The third and fourth scorpions were unimpressive encounters. It was really just a matter of recognizing movement within the pattern of the floor. They were both very young scorpions; very little. I was amazed i saw them at all. However, the 5th scorpion was perhaps the biggest of all the scorpions i had to kill. It was certainly the smartest. There was a huge scorpion that lived underneath the trash can in my tool shed. The day our 5th little intruder entered the house, the one in the shed disappeared. I have always suspected our 5th scorpion was the same one that lived in the shed. It was big. In the bug world, you don’t get to be big by being stupid. You get to be big by being cunning and cautious. This scorpion was. Believe you me, this scorpion was. It started out along the ceiling in the bathroom. When it saw me it ducked behind the interior wall against the framing where i could not follow it. Over the next week i would find this thing on the wall, in the sink drain, and in the wall outlet. It would hide in places i couldn’t reach it. One night i checked everywhere for it and when it was nowhere to be seen i leaned on the sink to examine a blemish in the mirror. On autopilot, i plugged in my cell phone charger. When i glanced back over at the outlet a giant scorpion had emerged from behind it. Every time i went to smash it the scorpion scurried behind the outlet plate into the wall. One night i went to brush my teeth. Half way through brushing i spit the excess foam into the sink and turned on the water to wash it down the drain. The giant scorpion emerged from under the sink drain. It was like something out of a horror movie. When i least suspected it the scorpion was there. Every time i hunted it the thing was gone. This time i had it in the sink and i knew i had to act fast before it emerged from the drain completely. While its tail was still down the drain i pulled the drain stopper and caught the scorpion in mid escape. For a while it hung there, opening and closing its pinchers at me. I turned the water on and tried to drown it but it appeared to be swimming and it wasn’t dying. So i opened and closed the drain a few times; trying to cut it in half. When that didn’t work i grabbed a glass mouthwash bottle and smashed the scorpion into tiny pieces over and over again until it finally stopped moving. I had to kill this sucker that knew how to hide in walls and drains. He was too smart. After the intelligent bathroom scorpion i stopped counting. There were a couple more but by autumn they really stopped appearing. Everyone seemed very concerned about the scorpions in my house and offered all sorts of ideas about how to stop them, including digging a mote around the house and filling it with diatomaceous earth. It just seemed like a futile effort in my mind. I slept in a mosquito net tent in a 384 square foot box but i lived in a 2 acre scorpion habitat. They were there first. I was inhabiting their territory. Also, there were hundreds of them. What was i going to do, hope to assassinate them all? No, better to just get good at killing them and leave the ones who didnt come in the house alone. There were plenty of spaces large enough for a scorpion to crawl through in the walls of my house; especially around light fixtures, light switch plates, and outlets. However, i was averaging 4 hours of sleep a night as i was trying to balance work, school, homesteading, and training a puppy. There was no time to go around on my hands and knees with a tube of plaster. That would have to be a project for another season of my life.
I had been keeping a meyer lemon tree in a plastic pot on the porch for a number of years. It averaged one or two lemons per year. However, it never really thrived. There was no place for its roots to go. It had long outgrown the pot it was in and if i put it in a pot that was very much bigger i wouldn’t be able to lift it to bring it in during the winter. I decided to plant it. Everyone i knew gave me grief for this. “Meyer lemons don’t like cold” “meyer lemons won’t survive the winter” “don’t you know meyer lemons belong indoors in pots?” However, i made a decision when i bought the property. No more indoor trees. I mean, the house was 384 square feet. I lived with 2 dogs. There was barely enough room for the three of us to fit perfectly. There was no room for a tree. It either survived in the ground or it didn’t but i wasn’t having it indoors. I had a plan involving heat lamps for the trees during the winter. I wasn’t sure it was going to work but like everything else out on my property…it was worth a try. So i dug a hole, put the lemon tree in, and filled the area with dirt. Then i cut some fencing and fastened it together around the lemon tree. Then i hammered some rebar through the fencing and into the ground. I had to render the tree deer proof. I would worry about making it winter proof later. The 2 lemons on it dropped immediately as the plant dealt with the shock of being transplanted. Over the next few months the tree would try to put out new growth 4 separate times but each time the ants and grasshoppers would devour it before it even got a chance to grow to full size. They loved the shiny new green leaves. Truthfully, by the end of summer i was not sure if any of the trees i planted were going to make it through the winter due to the damage done by pests. My property was not a hospitable environment for young trees. Only the established trees seemed to be capable of survival. I wondered how many years i would have to replant before i got them to survive until reaching the level of “established”. I tried to remain optimistic. As long as there was one leaf, there was a chance i could nurse each tree through to next spring. Just as long as there was one leaf.