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.

Back in Time

It’s kind of funny to watch Springtime retreat from dramatically unfurling its leafy glory to an adolescent stage of plump, juicy buds… then rewind further to a youthful display of those adorable, tiny-little-baby-buds… and finally watch it surrender, limbs held high, shivering, naked, swaying stiffly in frigid winds gusting from stern, gray skies… Sproing!

I made it to Chicago.

All the Florida Alabama Louisiana Mississippi Tennessee Arkansas Missouri pollen was power-washed from my little house’s face as we barreled through heavy rains in southern Illinois heading north.  Too bad more of the bugs weren’t removed, as well.  The bodies of the ones that remained were frozen solid this morning as nighttime temperatures swooped into the 20’s.

Meanwhile, I am experiencing a hiccup in my own, personal space-time continuum.  Driving towards Chicago, where I was born, I had to struggle against the power of incessant western winds in order to keep the hummingbird on my windshield focused on the dotted lines of the road.  The sight of vast fields blanketing flat lands–something about the colors of the earth and sky–awakened memories so faint that to call them a memory is a gross overstatement.  This morning, frost-laced grass crunched under my sneakers as notes trilled from early-rising birds.  All of this–by no means unique, yet achingly familiar–echoed deeply in the soft parts of my bones.

While visiting with dear, old family friends (Aunt Marion, Aunt Betty, and Uncle Howard), memories took on flesh and warmth.  They breathed in new life.

My Mother and Father were part of a group of ten friends (five couples) who knew each other for ages.  Some grew up together, two were cousins.  The girls were high school and church friends and as they started pairing off with the fellas, the most amazing thing was that they all continued to get along famously.  They had their children around the same time as each other, and they shared the joys and challenges of their marriages and of raising their families.

Although my Mother and Father moved away from the Chicago area, their group of friends remained close.  This was all the more special, since it happened in the days of hand-written letters and costly, long-distance telephone calls.  It took real effort, compared to the ease and speed of today’s emails and texting, cell phones and Skype.

These precious friends and I reminisced about the visits they made to see my Mom and Dad in New York, Florida, Cleveland, and later just my Dad in the Washington, D.C. area.  We talked about their children.  Grandchildren.  Great grandchildren.  About so much joy.  About immeasurably deep sorrow.

Mom and Dad have never felt closer to my heart than over the last couple of days.  Strands of their love like golden thread wrapped unseen around me and their beautiful friends.  Connecting us in a tapestry of shared experiences, shared histories, shared love.

I won’t be visiting my parents’ graves before leaving.  They are not there. They are in my heart.  In the hearts of my siblings.  In the hearts of their friends.  I believe they peek in on us now and then, and when we are silent enough we can feel the gentle flutter of their angel wings as they continue to love us, always love us.

FullSizeRender-345For that love never dies.  It passes amongst all whom we touch.  It enriches the earth we walk upon, feeding our souls and the souls of those who come after.  It cleanses the air we breathe and sharpens the music that touches our hearts.  It settles deeply into the marrow of our bones, giving life, sustenance, and color to the ghosts who people our past and to the stories that populate our history.

Yes, time marches on.  But some things do spring eternal, especially love.  Love shared.  Love ever-growing.

(This post is dedicated to Aunt Marion, Aunt Betty, and Uncle Howard, three of four surviving friends from the original group of ten.)

The Art of Standing Still

Well, we’re not exactly standing still, but after zooming through 7,500 miles in three months, it’s pretty close to it!  It has been lovely to slow down and enjoy our old home turf in Virginia.

Tonight my son came to the campground with Dawny and me.  He really likes our little house on wheels, and amazingly, it doesn’t feel cramped with someone else rambling around inside.  He is all set up with his computer, Kindle, and phone on the corner bed in the rear of the house and I am in my usual spot at the dinette.  The TV is on up front, above and between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, providing easy viewing for both of us.

I’ve had a chance to convert the dinette into a bed and try it out, now that we have a guest.  It sleeps quite comfortably.  I am really happy that I got a floor plan that has a permanent bed in it, since I would not enjoy breaking down and setting up a bed on a daily basis.  For the occasional guest, this works great and offers some very handy flexibility.

Dawny is relaxing in her comfy bed behind the passenger seat and across from the dinette, after having announced some critter was apparently rummaging around outside.  She sure takes her job seriously, much to the distress of my ears.  Everyone who knew her before we left has commented on how great she looks.  Not an ounce of fat on her and as strong as steel.  Not bad for a 10+ year old doggie.  Today we had a wonderful walk with an old friend and her sweet, little poodle.  This is actually great progress for Dawny and our goal of socializing her more easily with her fellow canines.  Next time we get together, my friend is upping the ante to two poodles!

The campground is located conveniently close to my son’s neighborhood.  Many nights we just stay parked in front of his house (I checked with the neighbors first), saving some money in campground fees.  I have been welcome to use the shower there, too, which conserves my fresh water supply so I can be lazy and not fill up as often.  I really like being back in the campground tonight, though.  It is lovely, quiet, heavily treed, and has great space for terrific walks.  And it’s extra special tonight since we have special company.

I am learning to drive my house more like a car, putting a lot of local, stop-and-go, heavy-traffic miles on it.  I had been wary of navigating tight-fitting lane changes, as this area (not unlike many others) is notorious for people speeding up to cut you off if you put your blinker on for a lane change.  Amazingly, most people slow down and give me the space to move over.  I suppose they don’t realize I am a weeny, so they are cautious about my girth and heft.  Please don’t laugh, but I had been very nervous about night driving, and in all of those 7,500 miles I had only driven at twilight once.  Now I am (almost) comfortable driving at night!

I will take advantage of the extra time we are here to take care of paperwork, banking, and medical appointments, including taking Dawny back to her old vet.  I am also looking forward to learning how to use the crock pot I bought while visiting my friend in South Dakota (it is bright red!).  I have become way too reliant upon cans, so real food will be a treat.

“Standing still” grants space to ponder, appreciate, absorb, reflect.  Time to dote on loved ones and friends.  Energy to stretch, and to take care of necessary tasks.  Here’s hoping Father Winter takes his sweet time getting here and we can enjoy a long, colorful autumn!