Cows, and Then Some!

Dawny got an eyeful of cows and we both got some great country walks on our vacation from our vacation!  My bonus was a few extra pounds put onto my very spoiled self by our hosts’ incredible cooking, which included home made pecan pie (I pronounce that correctly now), fire-broiled steaks (of the melt-in-your-mouth variety), and meal after meal of just simple good country cookin’.  Our Texas friends, Carol and John, could not have been more gracious, generous, and accommodating.

We took a couple of day trips through the local countryside.  North Texas is beautiful.  We saw Gene Autry’s home town and drove by Randy Travis’ estate.  Pastures, lakes, and vineyards, small towns with their town squares (including the bank from the movie Bonnie & Clyde), country roads and big-city suburban traffic snarls–all painted in North Texas hues.

The area is blanketed by gently rolling hills and is home to some of the best horse country there is.  The soil is sandy, rather than the clay you find further south, and it is easy on horses’ legs and good for growing the grasses they love to chomp on.

I learned about that from Carol, who went to Agricultural College after she met John and began helping him with his ranch.  If she gets herself a lamb to raise, she will have all the agricultural animals covered.  At this point she and John have raised cattle, horses (wild ones, which Carol personally and patiently tamed), chickens, pigs, goats, and donkeys.  They have simplified over the years and now work just a small herd of cattle.

And then there’s their dog Ashley, who Dawny decided was an arch enemy in her quest to take the ranch over for herself!  I love Dawny, but sometimes I think she’s a bit of an idiot.  Ashley was wooed from a pack of wild, abandoned dogs that had been frequenting the area.  Carol and John  worked tirelessly to gain her trust and draw her into their garage so she could give birth to a litter of 12–yes, 12!!!–pups that winter many years ago.  Ashley is now firmly ensconced in her self-selected abode under the backyard shed, unless it thunders and lightenings, at which point she comes inside to cower next to John and Carol until Father Weather calms down.

FullSizeRender-609John has had his ranch for over 50 years.  Carol has been with him for over 35 of them.  Theirs is a second marriage for both.  They met while their respective children (teens at the time) played in a soccer league.  Both divorced, they recognized kindred spirits in one another and had the gumption to give the whole love connection another go.

Rarely will you meet a couple who completes and complements each other so well.  They weave in and out of each other’s sentences, completing them, or simply filling in a few words mid-sentence, bouncing back and forth, reading each other’s minds with uncanny fluency, pulling from the same memories–although from slightly varying perspectives (hence, you often get some conflicting opinions on what really happened and when, where, why and how).  It’s an amazing thing to watch, especially when the give-and-take is a loving, light-hearted, respectful dance.

Back to more mundane matters, I was hoping to get an opportunity to shoot a cow, but with all the rain, the fields were too wet to be able to move them to the pen where they do inoculations.  John and Carol did get prepared, though, by moving the herd with the young bull in it to the field that had the lone, older bull (let’s call him Hamburger), and then putting Hamburger where the rest of the herd had been.  This had to be done efficiently and quickly as the two bulls needed to be kept a good distance away from each other.

FullSizeRender-628Carol helped with the gates, and John (a.k.a. the Cow-Whisperer) led the herd to the next field by calling them, slinging out feed from a huge feed sack, and working the gates.  The picture here shows John with Hamburger, who weighs in at well over a ton.  A ton.  Of bull.  Think about it.  They are close enough to be bosom buddies there as John leads him with his sack of feed into the field just vacated by the herd and the young bull.

By the way, I just read today that more people are killed by cows than by sharks every year.  That probably mostly happens to people who are careless or don’t know what they are doing.  Or just plain unlucky.  John and Carol work very closely with their herd, though, and they know each other well.  Raising cattle is an art.  And a science.  I was privileged to get a glimpse of both.

After feeding us for a week, Carol and John sent us off with our refrigerator packed with leftovers for another week.  They also gave us a precious souvenir.  For wine-thirty, I can now sit back in my little house wherever we are and reflect upon our friends and our time on their beautiful ranch.  They gave me a wine glass with the name of their ranch etched onto it!

FullSizeRender-617So, cheers!  Cheers to Carol and John, who through their southern grace made Dawny and me feel welcome beyond welcome.  Cheers to Ashley, who protects her people and her turf with a gentle, laid-back, but firm, ranch-dog personality from upstarts like Dawny Virgil Prewash Sassy…  as well as from the coyotes we heard in the evenings singing with raucous abandon (I had to wonder what they were drinking!).

And cheers to all the farmers and ranchers throughout this country who work incredibly long, hard hours and against often capricious odds (thank you Father Weather) with a dedication and love that few know, and we would all be better off if more understood.

Restless

It has been a lovely Winter here in Florida, with gorgeous weather for the most part.  We had a couple of below-freezing nights this past week, though, causing those huge, funny elephant ears that grow on the edge of the swamp to shrivel up, resembling long forgotten greens in the produce section of a derelict grocery store.  Those are some saaaad elephant ears.

FullSizeRender-249Today it is back up to the 70’s under blue skies and a smiling sun.  Dawny is smiling, too.  She has discovered that not everyone on four legs is a threat and has actually made a few friends.  As for me, two and a half months in one spot has been long enough and I am getting restless.  Actually, I’m surprised it took this long.  It’s time for less “aging in place” and more “hell on wheels!”

Speaking of which, today as I was relaxing in the dog park while Dawny hunted lizards, I noticed an older couple come out of their rig, get into their truck, and drive off.  She walked very slowly and carefully with a cane, and her husband kindly and patiently assisted her entering the truck with a stepping stool.  It occurred to me that they (and many travelers like them) are “aging in place” just as much as anyone who wants to stay in their S&B (sticks and bricks home) as long as possible.  If they can still manage the steps to get in and out of their rig, not only can they enjoy their home on wheels, they can change the scenery outside of their windows whenever they get restless and wish to move–in effect, “aging anyplace.”

So, onward we go.  As I suspect many of my fellow full-timers, part-timers, and snowbirds are doing right about now, I am back to pouring over Rand McNally Atlas pages and Google Maps, looking for the best route for our departure from the sunshine state in a couple of weeks.  We will aim for Chicago first, to visit an old family friend and then skip over to Indiana, to have a couple of things checked by our rig’s manufacturer (Phoenix USA) before the warranty is up on the house part.

Hopefully brutal Father Winter, who has been beating up on everyone in the North and Northeast so relentlessly, will have exhausted himself and things will be gentle and tame by then.  Really gentle and tame, since I don’t want to dodge too many tornadoes as that season kicks off.  “Hell on wheels” sounds good, but I’d like to keep my six wheels on the ground!

Home Sweet Home

Dawny and I have been visiting my big brother and his family in Pennsylvania.  It’s been fun showing off our little house to them and relaxing over good meals and lovely visits.  Dawny has been treated to some terrific doggie walks and has fallen in love with my brother and his cooking–she got grilled salmon skin one night!

My brother escorted us to Gettysburg one day and we spent hours strolling around the battlefields and perusing monuments.  Long an avid Civil War buff, he provided vivid descriptions of the history, the people, the battles.  We encountered a gentleman on Cemetery Ridge where Pickett’s charge took place who had a small display, including photographs of a reunion on the 50th anniversary of the battle.  In 1913, 60,000 veterans from Gettysburg returned.  Blue and Gray.  Old antagonisms and griefs were buried by their most basic, common bond:  soldiers, brothers, Americans all.

While being welcomed, entertained, and spoiled, I’ve been able to quietly observe and celebrate my brother and sister-in-law’s post-retirement lifestyle.  They are great examples of staying connected, active, and productive.  They travel to interesting places when the mood strikes.  They have two wonderful children, both married, who live close by.  And they are blessed with a grandson that they get to see and enjoy often.  This sweet little charmer even graced me with a little kiss–a special gift that I will be able to pull out of my memory-pocket anytime I need to lift my spirits.

Both my brother and his wife volunteer at a variety of places, using their expertise from their working years, as well as their interests and passions, to make their corner of the world a better place.  Between the two of them, they are helping with pet adoptions, working at a historical library, assisting ill people with paperwork, and serving as a volunteer ombudsman at a group home.  All of this is in addition to taking care of their grandson two days a week.  My sister-in-law has Fridays open, but does she sit back and kick her feet up?  Noooo… she is trying to find another volunteer opportunity to fill that day.

This is a wonderful time for my brother and sister-in-law, and I hope it lasts for many, many years.  That their health stays strong, their family loving and safe, and their home warm and secure.  I hope their children and grandchildren appreciate the solid foundation passed along to them, enriching their own years and families, and that they pass the love along with generosity and grace.

When I first arrived, I was asked a couple of times what my favorite place has been that I have visited so far.  I was at an unexpected loss for an answer.  Don’t get me wrong–I love what I am doing and do not regret my choice of vagabond lifestyle for a moment.  But now, near the end of my visit, I can easily say this has been my favorite spot, where my little house on wheels met my brother’s sticks and bricks.

Home is where the heart is, and as I continue down the road, my home and my heart are warm and full.

(Photo of the fields at Pickett’s charge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.)