The deluge will return. It resides behind the stack of concrete slabs, piled along the banks of the stream long ago. Though she does haunt me, and yes, I know I can’t defeat her, I must prepare for the losing battle that one day shall occur. Fill a sand bag, carry to the front line, lay in place, repeat. The important lesson here being that life’s deluge repeats and reforms. One must know this, adapt to its latest incarnation and persist in dealing with the forces that must be dealt with, cannot be resisted and will eternally occur. There can be no judgement as to the intruder’s intention or the defender’s performance. But it must be accepted that a threat is in motion and a response must arise. Watch the power as it shapes and directs. Let it go by. Cut your losses. Preparation for battle must include an escape route. Valiant resistance must recognize that fighting for another day postpones defeat.
Blood. A spot. On Syndee’s ear. Not good. Something else is dead.
It’s the end of summer here and I sit outside for a few minutes with the two dogs and fondle their ears. There is usually something to find, burs and stickers mostly. Blood? Not so much. I know what this means without knowing the whole story. First blood could be one of a very few perpetrators, but this blood presents only as a clue. Before I put them in the back pasture and before I make the early morning rounds of the chickens and the ducks, I need to walk the near earth and discover who did what to who.
Feathers. Outside the goose pen gate. White feathers, scattered about, mostly the little fluffy ones. The geese count three and look in good shape. Another pile. Not white. An attack pile away from the others, towards the Americana chickens in Coop 5. Not good. I thought never opened it yesterday, so I didn’t bother going up and closing it last night. This is the source of the blood. But Big Syndee wouldn’t be the culprit. She doesn’t kill my chickens. Her chickens. But she’ll accept an invitation to a free meal.
The other one. Smaller, pure white Sydnee, she would do this. But she couldn’t. Not reasonably. Yesterday, when we went out in the afternoon, I had closed the pasture gates. I know because I had to open them…very early this morning. The dogs were barking. I got up and went out to see. I opened the gates and walked back…nothing to see. Something had happened or was happening, and the dogs ran to it. Now, with the light, I could see what that something was.
A sinking feeling came over me as I walked further back to Coop 5. Where were the chickens? I saw that the little coop door was left open. There were no chickens behind the water tank where they usually congregated. None either among the high weeds and reeds that cloaked the fenced in chicken yard. Nor in the fence enclosed chicken run which protected Coop 5. Looking through the wire into the coop I didn’t see a single bird. Last hope, I went around to external nest boxes to see who might be laying eggs. I unlatched the door to the first set of four boxes. Nadda. Then the second. No luck. With a sickness at the bottom of my stomach I started to accept that whatever happened, all of my Coop 5 chickens were gone. In one night.
I just returned today from four days in Virginia. It is the first respite of more than one day from my little chicken farm and its unpretentious responsibilities. When I get away, I use the time to reflect on my concerns and put them in perspective. The short trip to Vienna (VA) provided plenty of metaphorical fodder for my symbolically oriented mind.
Wolf Trap, VA is an area named by early pioneers for the pursuit of the menacing wolves which were a constant threat to community livestock. The menace of wolves represents to me the menace of flood back at Sawmyl Synders Farm. A certain “Wolf Trap Farm” sat on the Difficulty Run tributary. Difficulty Run would surely describe, for me, the last three years of three floodings and recoveries. The Difficulty Run, in VA, flows along mildly, for a while, until it meets the treacherous rapids at a juncture with a larger flow…the Potomac. Potomac in Algonquin means “the place to which tribute is brought”.
Back at the farm, each time my hope was restored, my birds repopulated, and my buildings put back to near normal…I looked up to the heavens. The clouds ominously gathered. They inflated and then darkened. They came thundering down to exact tribute. This treacherous Difficulty Run tributary ends at Dranesville, VA. “Drainsville” is about where I am. I’m not quitting but I’m not going to tell you I’m hopeful either, that would be a trap. Prevailing over this difficulty will not look like anything I can imagine at this time. I’m still draining.
It was late. It was dark. We pulled into the driveway and something caught my eye. In the shadows, in the driveway next door, a tiny red dot betrayed dark figure. I opened the garage door and stepped cautiously from the truck. My wife took things from the cab and headed inside. I dropped the tailgate in order to remove the unwieldy cargo. The burning cigarette attached to a man’s mouth approached quickly.
“May I help?” puffed the cig.
“Gladly!” say I.
In a sec the mini-freezer gently met pavement, but with a groan.
“Thanks”, says a me, looking curiously at the grown man.
“I just had surgery on my arm. Ah, she hurts.”, puffed he.
“Lordy!”, I concorded. In this stranger’s efforts to help me, he may have hurt himself.
It turns out, this man was waiting for others to arrive. Upon our last words, several vehicles raced for the curb and piled out into street and marched toward the house of Puffy’s. The neighborly homeowner among them informed me that a friend of theirs, a young adult I surmised, had died suddenly (tragically?). This explanation served as a purpose for the gathering.
The next morning, the next-door driveway and the curbs were clear. Nothing to see here…but… What looked like a tall, rounded vase with a base sat solitary and distinctive near the attached garage. Filled with something which seemed to give it external texture, it was. Internal gravitas? But what was it? Remnants, but of what? A tribute, but to who? Ashes for Algernon? Butts!
As a child, I was well loved, but… One time, when I was a young boy, my old man (Dad), yelled at me, “You have the temperament of an old man.” Not knowing what temperament meant at that time, I didn’t have an immediate retort.
Dig if you will the picture, a local winery event with band and vendors and a Saturday family crowd. Two uninterested vino connoisseurs (NOT winos) seek out a spot far from the madding crowd. A place where they can share stories and observations which challenge veracity. There it is! A pergola covered courtyard opposite the banter and the band with the expansive winery buildings in between. With appropriate glass wear and beverage acquired, seats in a semi-sunny spot are selected and the games begin. But the skeptic in the pair somehow knew that serenity found would soon devolve into paradise lost.
Dream, if you can, a courtyard. First, there arrived a quiet lady with a glass who sat an appropriate distance. Next, they came, a romantic couple who chose a table as distant as possible. After them…the deluge. Prominent among them was the young fit couple with a baby carrier and a noisy gaggle of boys trailing off after those youths spotted a corner for creating mischief. This young couple, with expansive seating still available, sat European close to our perimeter table. So be it.
“Brunswick!”, thundered the parental scream. The startling break in the quiet almost bowled me out of my chair. It seems the fit couple dad had a fit because his boy baby (improbably named Brunswick) split out of sight with the soccer jocks. Slipping out of sight with this dad ran a foul of his rules. Ok, enough, nothing to see here. Settle back into to your conversation. But minutes, seemed like seconds, later…
“Brunswick!”, boomed the now familiar mezzo-frantico voice.
Maybe I’m just too demanding. My lofting impatience hitting the ceiling, I directed barely audible invectives at the near table – you know, the kind you hear in the background when you’re giving your monthly committee status report.
“What?”, yelled back the puzzled little Brunswick. I was puzzled, too. He was clearly visible this time through the glistening concertina wire, between the deep effluent filled roadside gutters and he looked to be escaping the several stray dogs playfully chasing the urchins.
Why do they scream at each other? This is what it sounds like when doting parents care.
Yeah, Dad, I get it now.
Freezing solid in Montgomery County Texas is a rare threat the good Lord giveth. Almost like proverbial hen’s teeth. The warning of winter storm sounds from rural to borough and citizens listening batten down their hatches. A crystal cover soon cloaks each road and roof and wheeled ride. Worry turns to wonder as Nature slightly smiles in arrogance at the halting power she still holds over the ever pushy and impatient men at her mercy.
For an old farmer, staying home (and far from the madding roads) is my default, anyway. So, the calamity of traffic lines looms less important. More important be the water lines in winter. And the great lengths that water hoses go. Strewn and stretched. To five coops, with four splitters, into three pools, from two sources. One shrinking soul slinks out each night to protect the vessels of drink from the icy fingers waiting to grip them. Cutting off water, draining off hoses, taking off nozzles. Maybe silently praying that I got it all. Knowing from piles of coiled evidence that I did not.
The next morning icily crackles awake, an accompaniment to the familiar cackle of poultry. Layered clothing and mud caked boots soon maneuver through a glass menagerie of thin, irregular glass panes glazed overnight in my muddy puddled pasture. The Ice Queen! Yes. She was here. From coop to pen, to my gloved hand, fingers numbing, in the deep freeze, exhausted smoke hurries up from my lungs and sun rises. My cotton and wool weaves envy the victory that fur and feathers still claim against wind chill. My ever-present canine companions relish the relief from the heat of this climate change, adding their own smoky dogs’ breath. My fowl friends stare thirstily and indignant. A steady gaze, one hundred pairs of eyes seemingly asking at once, “Who do I have to kill to get a drink in this place?”
Good question. I go grab a maul (like an axe but blunt and fat). The skinny chickens see me coming in brisk. One would think, instinctively, the winged animals would take flight at the sight of an axe. But curiosity overcomes them and all watch to see what this fool with his tool may do. I speed past them to the waterfowl.
First, I deliver a love tap to this seemingly pitiful ice sheet on the kiddie pool that serves as the duck’s drinker. Only a contusion. Next, I raise it up higher, delivering a more insistent blow. Maybe a fracture. Followed by a big bounce. Whoops! Back atcha. Finally, I chop at the ice like I would wood. I’m attacking an evil, tightly grained, unseasoned green, stringy round of hickory. That did it.
Drink it now, you young quacks, because in an hour or so the laws of physics will taketh it away.
This week I started cleaning my barn. My second flood in a little over a year. For three months, the mud sat on the concrete, the tools and the supplies. On several occasions, help beckoned from my neighbors, friends and my beloved church but I turned down that help. At this current moment, the residue afflicted me with pain from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head. I took a piece of broken memory and scraped the mud from myself and sat among the ashes.
Predators, poachers, pollution. The outstanding nemeses at Sawmyl Synders Farm. When I first got chickens, the predators, in the form of raccoons, opossums, and coyotes, started showing up. So, I had to start putting them down. To the acrimony of the animal lovers. When deer season came one year, an interloper put a deer stand on my back property. He said it was a mistake. Also, he could see my house from the foot of the deer stand. He took it down. To the rancor neighbors who wanted me to prosecute.
This year before the flood, following the flood of last year, the mischievous creek turned black. And smelly. Dangerously black and smelly. It turns out that the City of Magnolia Wastewater Treatment plant stopped treating the sewer water. The started dumping effluent into the creek that ran out into Montgomery County that contained E Coli that was twelve times the permitted limit. The City lied about it. It took six months to get the water treated properly and for the smell in the air on the farm and around back to tolerable.
Last week I ran into one of the realtors involved in my purchase of this property now christened Sawmyl Synders Farm. Part cowboy/farmer, all gentleman, and subtly wheeler dealer, Wheeler sat down on a high stool alone in a Tomball restaurant catty-corner to my wife, my daughter and myself. In no way was he a cowboy in the jungle, “With his shrimpskin boots and his cheap Cheroots And his skin as white as paste”. Wheeler personifies the real deal. Fine and shiny leather boots, broad seasonal cowboy hat, pressed roped shirt and Wrangler jeans. I spoke to him briefly, mentioning the flood. How I recognized him is a wonder. He finished his lunch and spoke quietly to the young waitress before approaching our table. A good salesman always, he greeted us appropriately, gave me his card, and galloped back west.
I haven’t forgotten that I started this anecdote by telling you I was cleaning my twice flooded barn three months after the last flood. You might think I sat there in the dust dwelling on the fact that my dream dwelling had become a hovel of dust and mud and flood. You could surmise the disgust I held for the poacher that got away or the lying city officials who dumped crap on me through the spring, summer and into the fall. But you haven’t yet guessed that Wheeler the realtor paid for our expensive lunch that day last week in Tomball.
I am not nice. But I try to be. One fine day, my wife took an order for eggs, a hen and a rooster. Eggs and hen in inventory. Rooster on backorder. Chicken to customer travel clucked several miles, so parties agreed to a meetup point – inexplicably a short distance from the buyer’s house. Such a compromise. Anyway, after exchanging the eggs, hen, some of feed, a cute chicken feeder and some nesting hay, we were off. Another citizen on her way to home grown farm fresh eggs. We seemed done…not so fast.
I am not easy. But easy I try to be. It wasn’t but a week or so before the lady called and said she was out of feed. I previously gave her some feed and a little feeder as a courtesy and told her of at least one place where she could buy feed. Ok, but she needed me to bring her feed. The hen had nothing to eat. I bought a 50-pound bag of Layer Pellets and drove down to a different rendezvous point for the exchange – about the same distance for me to travel but quite convenient for her. So, after the exchange of feed and money, we were off. Another citizen on her way to having a well-fed hen and home-grown farm fresh eggs. We thought our deed finished…easy there rider.
I’m not generous. But I try to be. The next time my wife talked to the hen lady, she said her hen was not laying eggs. This was odd. A Gold Star hen less than two-years-old had stopped laying in the prime season of spring. With no other information I concluded that the hen needed company. I could donate one of my older birds so that companionship and egg production would commence. So, one day down the road we drove, old hen in cage. Good deed on the way. This time we drove to her house. I’ll never forget my shock on that sweltering summer day when I saw the non-producing hen in her backyard, tabled up high in a – wait for it – parakeet cage. My head, my heart and my hope dropped. Here I was donating one of my beloved birds to someone who cluelessly tortured her first purchase. I presented the free bird and left the small cage which was more than twice the size of the current housing. Dejectedly, we drove off determined to come back with a reasonably sized chicken coop for my former fowl. We thought we had a final solution…hold your horses Samaritan.
I’m not tolerant. But I try to be. Due to circumstances beyond our mutual control – her husband’s death, our Hurricane Harvey, the sweltering summer of 2017 – the roomy coop did not materialize until one hot Saturday this fall. While I struggled to complete the project with materials and remnants on hand, my wife struggled to contact the bird lady of Alcatraz. I finished the cage in the afternoon – some of my best worked. However, my wife could not get in touch with the lady by any means. We decided to make the drive south and check things out. Wow. We got there – she was gone! No furniture as observed through the bare windows. No parakeet cage with suffering animal. No loaned out handmade roomy cage with free bird. In addition, cell phone – cancelled, forwarding address – nada, personal contact – nope. Tracking this lady down to give her new free stuff (roomy coop) in exchange for old free stuff (homemade cage) loomed problematic because she was known to my wife only by her nickname -Ya Ya. With waning hope, we talked to the neighbors – who knew nothing, checked the mailbox – with mail addressed to both the living and the dead, and knocked at the door of the leasing office – closed on Saturday at 3 pm. Naively, we drove away towards home knowing that somehow there would be answers about the disappearance of Ya Ya, without knowing when or how or what. We knew, assuredly, that it was only a matter of time…until what?
He talks. Oh yeah. If you had three hours and he finds you, he’ll consume every minute. Hobbling from his truck, past the single bullet hole, up to within three feet, he starts yapping like a like captive escaped and un-muzzled. Knowing everything and listening to nothing and missing the point. Trying to impress so hard that a form of depression sets in. As I say goodbye in the middle of a diatribe after his three hours are up, he moves with me as I move away and toward his exit gate. Only when he stayed well past the appointment time someone had set for him does him inch back towards his truck door. Only silence will silence him. No talking. No expression. Play dead. By the time he is gone I am spent. But it was worth it – on occasion.
My cabin in the woods was homemade. Redneck rafters made out of spliced two by fours. Spliced wires snake through the walls and attic. Plumbing and sewer lines barely buried and cheaply and inexpertly connected.
Today I need a friend. It always happens. I get all pumped up and inspired to do great things and then something happens to rain on my parade like…a massive break in my sewer line. Ok, I know its always something. The rain washed away enough dirt to expose the break in the sewer created by the professional tree cutters I hired.
What Can I Expect In 2017?
Tom wants to hurt me, suddenly. He was always throwing his substantial weight around. Now he is throwing it at me. Tom is my male turkey. He is big. Really big. Even when he is not puffed up. I’m used to him shadowing me when I enter his domain. 50X15 of internal fencing meant to contain and protect my eight waterfowl and turkeys (now numbering 2). I’m not used to him charging me when I turn my back. I was used to my billy goat nudging me and always kept a close eye, and sometimes a thick stick in hand when I dealt with the Boer goats. A new paradigm. An evolution. A potential hazard. Why am I surprised?
It’s my nature to be surprised when relationships change. It’s to my shock when my purview collides with a new reality. It’s my demoralization when my handling of new circumstances with familiar methods fails to yield familiar results. I certainly resist preparing myself for the challenges of new people, places and things. I am a mark for every grifter, whiner, or malignant narcissist who leans on my country gate. These occurrences empty my pockets. They strain my sympathies. They mar my humanity. I don’t want to abandon mankind and become a hermit. I do want to better prepare for those who will surely be leaning on my gate in 2017.
The flood in May at Sawmyl Synders Farm changed a lot of things, not all for the worse. For details of the deluge, see prior blogs. On the down side, my plans for future expansion of farm endeavors are permanently canceled. On the up side, I’m not completely giving up, but rather adopting plan B, which I still haven’t fully fleshed out. As for the up side, my eyes were opened to many things. I need to have a lifelong pursuit that is not challenged by the vagaries of weather, people, or health. What might that be? Do tell. Next up side, I realize there are people in my life who are more important than flood prone property and death dependent livestock. My bundles of joy: wife, children, grandchildren. Always have a life to live separate from them but never think of living your life without them. My wife is retiring. My children are building. My g-kids are awakening.
Another up side awakened in me when that flood tried to drown my spirit. The Church. Christian Church. St. Issidores. The new spirituality entered me like a lamb and has since been my challenging lion. The only people who came out in the night in my water-logged hour of need were those genuine believers at a church who called me family before I knew that I was. Now, I say challenging my lion because I stepped into the church with no doors with my eyes closed to distrust, open to mutuality and accepting of appropriate difference. The eye opening occurrences have stunned me. I know that I am naive for my years. I know I should have put on my big boy pants before entering the unknown-to-me land of mission. What did I discover? Desperate people do desperate things. Tribal behavior remains when tribes merge. The young act young, that’s their only fault. My discoveries demand that I change. Reality can be patient but it is also indifferent to persistent myopia.
Three things stand in the way of 2017 becoming a better year than 2016. The first resists any form of control but respects preparation, resilience, and reverence. The weather. She is not God but she has his ear and she should have ours. A rain slick and rubber boots is nice. Even if the deluge is belly button high. With boots full of water and a slick soaked on the inside it’s still nice to know – you were prepared. If the water didn’t carry you away, you can be sure of three things. The rain will stop. You are alive to start rebuilding. Nobody knows the trouble you’ve seen (so don’t pay any attention to their bromides and bloviation).
The second thing that stands in the way of a better year is something you can’t control but you can influence. People. Again there are three things to incorporate into influencing people. No. Say no. When what they want is not what you want – say no. Next, boundaries. Money? How much do you want to give or spend versus how much the charity case will try for (as much as you have?). Accommodation? Every tribe has their nomenclature and ritual but when in Rome – act appropriately. Harsh reproach won’t work on just about anyone out of diapers. Example and suggestion might but sometimes a cause has to be lost in order for the possibility of other higher causes to be successful. Finally, choices. When individuals render themselves of no useful purpose, then your purpose for them is no use. Let go so that another opportunity with another person may be allowed in.
The last thing that stands in the way of a better tomorrow is the thing that yields to control, influence, preparation, resilience, and reverence. You. Or me in this case. My year will be better if my health and welfare get high priority. Take care of my heath and wealth. Build on the ruin of real failure and rejoice in discovery of goodness in near misses and great good fortune. Take every opportunity to gain from the things that happen and don’t, that frighten and inspire. Treasure all you have. Avoid turning great bounty into sour grapes. Stay true to your evolving beliefs and deny false prophets from entering in to what has proven to be true to you your entire life. Being positive isn’t always the answer but having both binocular forward vision and a rear view mirror perspective adds to your chances. What am I getting at? Yes, go high but don’t forget your lows. What is still the biggest mystery? Who is always the hardest to convince? Why is everything that is so important so hard? Where can all the answers be found? When will change stop? When will hope begin?