Our House Came Home :)

Dawny and I were without our house for ten days.  Yesterday it came home.  What a splendid feeling it was to drive it out of the shop, speed down the highway at 65 mph–faster than our normal speed, but I wanted to test things out–and return to our friends’ ranch, where they had generously accommodated us in a private apartment over the barn.

On the way back to the ranch, I settled comfortably into my well-worn driver’s seat, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and sent out a prayer of gratitude.  For a stroke of bad luck, we were blessed with several strokes of extraordinarily good luck.  The squeaking noise we had occasionally heard on the way to Texas was due to a nasty rear axle/nut/bearing/brake situation.  It was a major repair job.

Fortunately:

  1. We are lucky that the problem did not deteriorate to the extent that it caused us to have an accident on the road.
  2. There was a Ford dealer/repair facility nearby that serviced RV’s, which is not an easy thing to find.  (Our RV is built on a Ford E-350 chassis.)
  3. Although our Ford bumper-to-bumper warranty recently expired, this problem was covered under the drive-train warranty, which was still good.
  4. Our bill upon leaving the repair shop was a mere $7.00 to cover the cost of the annual Texas vehicle inspection.
  5. Our friends made us feel welcome and gave us a safe, comfortable place to stay, even though our week-long visit stretched to two weeks.

Keep in mind that Dawny and I travel in our 25-foot motorhome and do not tow a car behind (often referred to as a ‘toad.’)  When the rig goes into a shop for routine maintenance, we wait around for it.  This was the second time in three and a half years that it went in for a lengthy repair and we were unable to stay with it.  The first time (August/September 2014), we happened to be visiting my son’s dad and were able to stay with him for the duration.

When researching the full-time RV lifestyle nearly four years ago, I read lots of opinions about whether or not to pull a toad.  In order to keep costs down, I decided to start out not towing and, if it looked like a necessity, I could change my mind later.  Not only would it save a lot of money not having to insure and maintain a second vehicle, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible in our new life.  KISS–keep it simple sweetie!

I have no regrets about going toad-less, but I do wonder what things would have been like had we not been with friends during these two major repair jobs, which together totaled about 20 days.  I suppose I would have rented a car and stayed in a pet-friendly hotel.  That would have been expensive, but still a lot less than the cost of owning an additional vehicle all this time.

I really missed our little house, and I am so happy it is home.  We are home.  And soon we will be back on the road, house and all.

Less Talk, More Action

Have you ever heard the advice to use action words to describe your experience and assets when writing your resume?  Potential employers want to be entertained just as much as the rest of us.  They want to know what you can do and not fall asleep while reading about it.  You know, like this:

Job Title:  Master Castration Assistant and Novice Ranch Hand (Dec. 2017):

Duties:  Secured young bulls’ hind quarters via tail and one rear leg while Rancher surgically transformed them from bulls into steers.  Promoted to Junior Gate-Juggler concurrent with hind-quarter responsibilities.  Mastered teamwork necessary to help herd each nervous patient through network of increasingly smaller pens and chutes until they reached operating table enclosure.

Achievements:  Miraculously maintained steely grip on own stomach and the contents therein throughout the entire procedure.  Promoted to Ranch Hand at the end of the day.

 – – – – – –

Not too shabby, huh?

John (Head Honcho) and his wife, Carol (Co-Honcho), suggested I add this new skillset to my workamping resume after helping them castrate this year’s bull calves.  I have mentioned these friends in other posts.  They have been raising cattle in north Texas for 55 years, and they do it the old fashioned way, doing most of the work themselves, including birthing, tagging, weighing, inoculating, castrating, weaning, and so on.

One Lucky Heifer

This visit, they let me assist during the messy task of castrating 10 bulls.  It was supposed to be 11, but one lucky calf, upon closer examination, turned out to be a heifer (see glossary of cow-terms below).  That became apparent once she was on the table and John couldn’t find what he was looking for.

When John first started raising cattle, a local teen showed him how to do the castration.  At that time, he had no special equipment beyond ropes and a sharp blade.  They literally tackled the young bulls and did the deed as quickly as possible.  He had to learn an awful lot the hard way.  A momma cow just about took him out one time with a good head-butt.

Momma’s Watchful Eye

Carol joined John sixteen years into the endeavor.  One of her early jobs before they had a network of pens to control the herd’s location and movement was to keep the Mommas away until John finished each calf.  Picture a 98 pound woman shooing off a 1,200 pound cow intent upon dealing with those mean men who just tackled her calf.  Ya.

Their calves are Angus Source Certified in accordance with USDA and Angus Association requirements.  Operations like theirs are the start of what you eventually see in your grocery store labeled as Certified Angus Beef, which is among the highest quality beef you can buy.  Great care is taken in the raising of these calves in order to meet strict requirements.  Carol is in charge of the meticulous record keeping necessary to maintain this qualification.

Whenever I visit my rancher friends, they treat me to a delicious steak grilled over an open fire.  I appreciate each year’s meal even more than the last as I learn more about the hard work and dedication that goes into raising our food, especially by small, private operations.  For the vegetarians out there, the same applies to the farmers that grow our vegetables, fruit, and grain.

A Texas-sized ‘thank you’ to all those hard workers and to my friends, Carol and John, for yet another wonderful, educational, mind-opening, resume-padding visit.  Who knows… If I time my next visit just right, I might gain another new skill for that resume:  Assistant Cow Midwife.

 – – – – – –

Glossary of Cow Terms:

Cattle:  Generic term that covers all the members of a herd.

Cow:  A female who has given birth.  Also used generically to refer to all the members of a herd.

Calf:  Juvenile member of the herd, generally under two years old.  Refers to either male or female.

Bull:  A non-castrated male, either adult or juvenile, the latter often referred to as bull calf.

Steer:  A male castrated before reaching sexual maturity.

Heifer:  A young female who has not given birth.

Relocate! Relocate!

Allayne came out of the office to pet sweet Dawny who, once I had opened the door, was doing her best to barge headlong into the place.  We had arrived at this small campground in eastern Louisiana (Lake Bruin State Park) earlier in the day and came by the office after settling into our campsite to tell Allayne, who had checked us in, what a pretty park it was.

“Yes, most of the people who work here have been around at least ten years. It’s such a beautiful place.”  The peaceful look on Allayne’s face told all there was to tell.

Dawny found her beautiful place by Allayne’s knee so she could scratch behind her ears while we chatted.

Whenever we walk by any building:  shed, restroom, office, cabin, outhouse… it doesn’t matter… if it has a door, Dawny wants to go inside.  If I give her enough leash, she approaches the door, sniffs, and waits, anticipation tugging each wag of her tail.  Dawny can’t read, so all she knows is that, if it has a door, there might be someone inside who will give her love and/or cookies. Preferably both.  This day she lucked out with the lovin’.

How nice a life my girl has had that closed doors hold such sweet promise.

I asked Allayne about the local wildlife, especially the creepy-crawly kind, which I am increasingly beware of the further south we travel.

“Oh, yes, we get some action here.  We had an alligator get into the swimming area–”

“There’s a swim beach here… with alligators in the lake?” I asked, my wide eyes betraying any semblance of the cool, seasoned, old-lady traveler that I may have constructed up to that point.

“Sure.  And snakes.  I was out here on my cell phone one day and right over there,” Allayne pointed to a small gully that ran under the sidewalk leading to the campground office, “I saw something slither out.  It was slithering and squirming… totally creepy.  It must have just shed its skin and stuff was stuck to it all over.  It looked awful!  I quickly called the ranger:  ‘Relocate! Relocate!'”

My politically incorrect and fearful mind silently screamed:  Oh my God!  Relocate?  What if it came back??  Did they relocate it far enough away???  Kill it!  Just kill it!!  At least blindfold it, pick it up by the tail, spin it around until it’s good and dizzy, then toss it somewhere over there by Arizona!!!

“Relocate!  Relocate!” Allayne interrupted my neurotic thoughts, recalling her call for help.  I recognized a kindred spirit looking out from her wide eyes as she continued the story.  Help arrived.  It was a water moccasin.  They relocated it.  All was well with the world and this was once again a peaceful place.

Leaving Allayne to get back to her job, Dawny and I continued our walk around the campground, including wooden docks and platforms that stretched from safe, solid ground through the dark, moss-draped shoreline into the blue of the lake.  Absolutely beautiful.  Albeit not free of alligators, snakes, or bears…  A fellow camper reminded me that the namesake of the lake was, indeed, “Bruin” for a reason.  Bears used to be quite plentiful in the area.  Sheesh, I thought I had at least left the threat of bears behind me in the Appalachians.  Apparently not.

Unlike my dear traveling companion, closed doors signify something very different to me.  They make me nervous, hiding the unknown.  Turns out it’s mostly just local life living out its local life.  The nice part is that the more familiar it becomes–by staying a while, taking time to chat, or through repeat visits–the less scary it becomes.

So, Dawny and I pick up our tails and continue with our own version of ‘Relocate,’ in this case joining the snowbird ranks migrating south for the winter.  Our current journey will cover about 2,000 miles from northern Virginia to east Texas, with a stop to visit friends near Dallas.  By the time we reach Dallas, we will have visited nine campgrounds, all of them new to us.  Our route is a new one, too.  I am proud to say that we survived the tangle that is Atlanta for the first time.

It is a good life.  Each door opens to another beautiful place, filled with lovely views, friendly faces, and kindred hearts.  We need only to open our own hearts, to recognize and relax, to give and receive.  Dawny, for all of her simple brilliance, has that part down pat.

* * * * * *

Short review of Lake Bruin State Park’s campground:  Five out of five stars.  Please keep in mind that this is from the perspective of someone traveling in a 25 foot motor home with no tow vehicle and who does not need sewer hookups.  Although not very convenient to I-20 (the park is over 35 miles south of exit 171), it was well worth the trip.

Lake Bruin is an oxbow lake formed from an old loop of the Mississippi River that was cut off from the main river channel ages ago.  It used to be a fishery and was donated to the state park system in 1958.  Fish, turtles, and alligators were raised in basins that now cradle the park grounds and some of the camp sites.

The campground road and the sites are paved.  Most are pretty level and fairly spacious.  Each has 30-amp and water hookups and there is a decent dump station available.  There is a nice mix of sun and shade.  It is a good idea to scope out the sites before picking the one that best fits your needs.  I was able to get a good Verizon signal and several over-the-air TV stations.  The restrooms are modern and immaculate, and there is a laundry room on site.

Park staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, matching the charm of their surroundings with the best of southern hospitality.