Living The Dream: 18

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

DECEMBER: CATCHING UP

I struggled to light a fire but eventually the kindling took and I sat back in the sand. The sun had set half an hour ago and a cold night threatened. I wasn’t worried. The cabin behind us was well made, a solid log home with a woodstove, double bed, and small galley kitchen. I’d kept the cooler outside on the porch next to the rocking chair. I didn’t bother putting Nelson’s blanket on the floor. He’d reverted to his worried self and didn’t like to sleep anywhere but leaning against me. That was fine in winter. I hoped that by summer he’d grow out of it. I couldn’t imagine us in the bus with all that fur pushed along side of my overheated self. I placed a grate over the fire, moving the bigger logs to the side to open up the embers, and put on my veggie burgers to heat. I’d made a simple salad with a balsamic dressing plus I’d bought a pecan pie. It was the holidays after all. Or close enough.

Nelson sniffed around the porch, suddenly darting and grabbing a mouse. He shook it once and dropped it. He stared at it in surprise. He looked up at me and back to the mouse. The mouse didn’t move. He prodded it with his pink nose but no; one dead mouse lay at his feet. He walked back to the campfire.

The beach was silent but for a few late birds settling in for the night. An owl hoo-hoo-ed in the distance. The wind had died down. I loved this quiet. We’d had a full week in Albuquerque, full of people and traffic and shopping and conversations. I’d even sent presents to Mom, which never happens until the last minute. This way, she’d get gifts before and not after Christmas.
Stars came out overhead and my burgers toasted. Life was good. I sighed. Nelson sighed. Yep. I could do this.

 

“Want to go for a walk, kiddo?”

Nelson perked up, but didn’t move from my bed, our bed. The cabin was snug, his belly was full, and it was after midnight. He didn’t believe me.

I’d drunk too much coffee on the drive down. I couldn’t relax. I wanted to move and have Nelson to come with me. Reluctantly he slid off the blanket and came over with leash in mouth. He sat and I hooked him up.
“Yep, it’s that kind of place. Pets on leashes at all times, sorry big guy. Come on, let’s go see, okay?”
Thump, thump, and off we walked. I grabbed my coat and a headlamp and we aimed for the water. Easy access to the lake they’d said, and to be honest it wasn’t bad. The sliver of moon helped us find the glittering lake. The beach was sand and pebbles with places set aside for fishing. A marina lay silently off to the side. Short mountains hovered over to the east. Lights from homes reminded me of Angie and Jonnie. They’d persuaded me to head to Elephant Butte, reminding me to make the most of their community, who to talk to, where to eat. Jonnie had tried to get me to stay at their home near by but I needed time alone. Time to think and to decide what to do about Mark, Anne, and even Graham. How do I deal with this mess? I shook my head and kept walking. I unhooked Nelson and he ran to the water and drank, tail mid-height, wagging contentedly. I stretched and then took off at a slow run. Nelson caught up in three strides of his long legs and together we ran and we ran. The moon flickered in and out of the clouds coming in. The homes, the beach, the lodge, all were completely silent and my footfalls echoed softly on the sand as we ran.

 

I lit another lamp next to the bed. Nelson stretched out beside me. I finally turned on the smart phone and waited for the messages. Voicemails, emails, texts, so many came in that I wanted to turn the phone off, turn the light off and simply sleep but I didn’t. I pulled out my notepad and settled in for the long haul. It was time to take care of business. To see what they had to say for themselves.

 

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So, how are the rattlers at your place?

“How are they? Er, fine, thanks, pretty healthy.”
I smiled and wondered if that’s what he meant, this tourist I was chatting with at the coffee shop in town. Here I am in Madrid, NM, talking about rattlesnakes as usual. It’s the season for paranoia. I’m over it to be honest, looking forward to moving to Vermont, a place of bugs and mozzies, something less life-threatening. I can deal with that.

So what do you say to the question about rattlers? Where do I begin? Do you want the statistics of injuries, deaths, human encounters or animal encounters? The names and numbers of those who’ll come take care of the snake for you? Talk of Little Chris, who once drunk as a skunk, thought he could pick one up with his hand. He ended up in hospital for a week. Stories, you want stories? Are you sure?

We had a few bad years, the moisture and springtime brought an abundance of mice, rats, rabbits and snakes. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Or rather, I’m going back too far. Let’s talk about now. In May 2017.

This week, Rosie my mini-Husky/ lab mix, went to the vet for blood work so we can start her on heartworm. We had to sedate her, and that alone took an hour to mellow her out enough to then cover her in a towel while Nan took blood. While we’re sitting around after Harold, the other dog, a Collie/ Husky mutt recovered from minor surgery, and Rosie is trying not to fall asleep, Nan tells me of a rattlesnake bite. Damn, already? I’m not ready, already…

Rebecca’s young dog, Nika, was bitten on the nose, spent the night in the emergency care at the local vets in Santa Fe. Costly, scary, not something I wish on anyone. I forget though, how unusual this is, this risk of rattlers. In a presentation given at Overland Expo in Flagstaff, one of the crowd asked me where I lived since so much of the class was spent on the subject of how to take care of rattlesnake bites and more importantly, all those little things we can do to limit the risks. Like move to Vermont, that sounds good to me.

I’ve been at home in New Mexico since 1993. It’s been a while, I come and go most years, most months even, but rattlers are part of life here. No flip-flops on walks. Cut the weeds and grass near your home and on paths. Clean up the piles of lumber, trash, recycling etc to keep rats away and also so there are less places for the snakes to claim as their own . Don’t walk around at night in the height of summer. Don’t walk around in the evenings and mornings of spring. It’s all about timing, temperature, season. There’s so much to consider. Not that I knew any of this when I bought my land outside of town. Finally, I was a grown up! I had property, twenty acres, an adobe shack to create into a home. All within reach of the local village, it seemed perfect. In many ways, it is.

That first summer though was a challenge, emotionally. Living in a school-bus, raising a new puppy, Harold the Handsome, and building a home while working as a landscaper the rest of the week. Damn I was fit. And busy. It was a good life. I had a home! Well, almost. The shack was about twenty by twenty with a flat roof that leaked, broken windows, dark and dank, with straw and dirt floors. The fourth wall, facing the driveway, was incomplete, some windows, some half-finished stable doors and not much else. I put the mattress inside once I’d cleaned up after the last human pack-rat/ squatter had left it filled with pipes, broken tools and gadgets, dirty clothes, old rotten sleeping bags for him and his kid. I’d claimed it back to health, swept the dirt, put in a camp-chair, a mattress, and a stove for coffee in the mornings. Home, I had my own home.

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Harold woke me up with a squeak. Dark inside our new home, I fumbled for the flashlight but couldn’t find it. Harold squeaked a puppy yip of fear. A rattle sounded. I froze. Harold shook. At the end of the bed, a rattler coiled up and stared us down. Saying nothing, I slowly climbed out of bed, clutching Harold to me, and hugged the walls, gently moving around the bed and out the front almost-door.

I stashed Harold in the truck. I locked the doors.
No, I don’t know why, but I locked the doors. No snake would get him now.

It was five in the morning. What the hell was I to do? My friends Alexis and Alan were camped on the land with their two kids. I wrote a note and stuck a rock on top so they’d find it on opening their doors in the morning. First light was creeping over the horizon and I craved coffee. To Java Junction then. Down the dirt road and into Madrid we drove. Harold on my lap, me trying not to cry. It was too early though, the cafe wasn’t yet open. I drove to Carol’s and woke her. Eyes still closed, she passed me the tools. I shook my head.

“You want me to do it?”

Nod. Nod. Desperate nod. Carol was one of our local snake-wranglers, and of course I wanted her to do it. I was too freaked out. This was my home. My supposed safe space. Home. Home isn’t meant to be invaded by things that kill. That’s in movies and books. Not real life. Not my life.

“Okay, give me half an hour. I’ll meet you at Java. I need a shower.”

A shower? At this time? It’s too important for a damn shower…but I nodded, mute as ever, and wandered next door. Elisa came to the porch in pajamas.

“Ooh, yes, let me get my gun! I’ll meet you at Java.” She trotted off excited by my news. No need for a shower for the Minx.

By seven o’clock, I’d rallied a team of gunslingers, hoe-holders, kids, families on holiday, families just curious, Grandmas and kin, all ready to take down this snake for me. We couldn’t find the fucker though. My not-quite-a-home was barren, dirt walls, dirt floors, wooden beams and little else. Where could it be? Carol and I slowly lifted the mattress, nope. Then the box spring, nope. I slashed the fabric underneath to make sure, what a nightmare that would’ve been, to find it hiding in my bed the next night. Then Carol mentions how snakes climb. As one, we all look up at the wooden ceilings, above us in the trees but nothing. Carol stepped lightly in ever-widening circles and under a thick juniper some fifteen feet from the house, she found it. A six-footer. Thick of waist and hearty with hissing, it rattled furiously as she caught it in her home-made noose, and dropped it into a metal trashcan. Alexis slammed the lid. Elisa reluctantly put the gun away. The kids loved it: Viv, Sofia, Zoe and Kathryn, all under ten years old and loving every moment. Not me. Not so much. But we were done, right?

Half of the crew left, and Harold was allowed out of the locked truck. He wandered around, sniffing and peeing as puppies do. Then Carol mentioned that at rattlers often pair up.
“I think there’s another one near by. It’s just a sense.”

Oh great. Just great.

Harold was quickly deposited back in the truck. I hid on the far side of the house, rocking manically when Elisa joined me. Five feet something, a Chicagoan folk artist who inspires me constantly with her quirky views and manners, she pulls up the only other chair. The adobe wall behind us hides us from the Sleam Team and it’s peaceful, briefly. She sighs and picks at a rock, making shapes with the scattered debris at her feet.

“They found another. The dilemma now is, what to do with it. They can’t open the trash can because number one wants out. So, I think-”

Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.

There goes Elisa’s gun as she finishes by saying, “-that Alexis is going to shoot the second one. She might even-”

Bam. Bam.

“-shoot the first one too.”

I can’t deal, suddenly I’m sobbing in the corner with Elisa awkwardly being there for me. Pat. Pat. We’re not the cuddly type. Pat. Pat. Young Viv comes around the corner with a bloody rattle in her hand, dripping down her five-year old skinny forearm, happily showing “Look what I got! Dad cut it off for me! Do you want the other one?”

“Viv,” says Elisa, “now might not be the best time.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll show the others.” Viv wandered off around back to the activity out front.

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These days, the old timers in Madrid call me Snake: they don’t know that I’d cried. I didn’t mention that part. I did get pretty good at dealing with the snakes on my own. I’ve caught three or so per year in the last nine years up here, killed some, got friends to catch some, and even called Animal Control at times. All in a summer’s work, right? What’s the big deal? It just never ends…

A few years later, we had the snake season from hell. A neighbor of mine was breeding them, not intentionally, but you know, three acres of stuff, piles of broken down vehicles, trash, lumber, firewood, old mobile homes and trailers, his property was a hotbed of snake sex. Nine dogs were bitten that summer. Three died. One was a puppy, a little boy I’d called Eric, he and his siblings used to come hang out with me next door. Too young, too small, he’d swollen and died. My snake magic couldn’t help him. I did adopt the rest of his litter though, fostered until we found them all homes, safe homes.

Snake magic. I say that with a shake of the head. So Santa Fe, I can’t wait to be gone from those who tell me all about snake magic, ask me what I’m transforming or shaking off, pronounce my need to let go of old ways to shed the skin of blah-de-blah-de-bloody-blah. I’m too pragmatic, too bloody English for such talk. I nod, mutely, and watch where I step.

After getting back from the vet this week, Harold was sleeping in the house after having a lump removed, and Rosie staggered around, telling the cat, “I’m fine, fine. Just can’t walk too well, right now. Oh shit, SNAKE!”

Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark.

The monotonous single bark alerts me. She’s seen a snake. I race out and coach her and Little Stevie, the cat, back into the house. With dog-door closed, I look for the snake. It’s six inches of dried cholla. She was tripping. False alarm. Thankfully. I’m over it. Bloody snakes.

At least the home is finished now.  I can sleep safely.

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Living The Dream:17

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

SEPTEMBER: TURNING SEVENTY-FIVE

Note to self; don’t drive this road in the monsoons.

I held Frida on my lap as we bumped and flew over the rockiest dirt road around. I hit my head on the roof at least once. This was so much worse than Gringo Gulch and that’s saying something. The sun was setting over the Jemez Mountains, giving a streak of golden amber to the three clouds.

Alaska road took numerous forks left and right, up and down, until we were in the middle of nowhere, looking out over the empty land between the highway and interstate some twenty miles away to the west of us. I tried to spot where we were going but couldn’t see any obvious homes, only a few travel trailers and yurts. I took off my sunglasses and squinted again. The hills rose and fell, the trees lived and died. I kept looking anyway.

“There it is.”

Up ahead and to the left was a two story wood sided cabin, with decks and porches and tons of the colorful Tibetan prayer flags strung from tree to tree. The smoke from a campfire lingered overhead. The gate was open and a longhaired teenager welcomed us, showing the best place to park for an easy escape in the dark. Trucks were parked on every free area between all the trees. The place was packed.

“Just remember there’s a tree stump by the passenger door,” the kid reminded us as we walked towards the house.

Mark held my hand and Frida ran with the big dogs. I carried the food and he had the beer and cigarettes. I heard guitars and a mandolin on the other side of the clearing.

The lighting was magical with the weird way the junipers changed color in the dusk, becoming more orange than green. Christmas lights hung in the pinions.

“Welcome. Welcome. You must be Mark and Jenny. I’d been told you were coming tonight.”

A white-haired gangly man shook our hands, chuckling happily as he talked of our escapade with the cops. He wore a tight white shirt and clean black jeans and shiny cowboy boots. His eyes held me captive; they sparkled with a mischief that made us both beam along. His moustache drooped as an old cowboy’s should, and he towered over me at the grand old height of six foot three or more.

“It’s my seventy-fifth birthday and I throw myself a party every five years. You caught us at a good time my friends. The bands are setting up, the brownies are fresh out of the oven, and the dogs roam free. I take it you brought your little terrier with you?”
“How did you know about Frida?” I blurted in surprise.

He smirked. “Louisa is my sister. She likes you two. And no, she’s not coming out tonight. Well. Let me show you around if you like, and here, try some of this brownie. Let’s see…” He tilted my head so he could look into my eyes. He chuckled again. “Perhaps only a very little taste for you, young lady.”

 

At the back of his home, he’d built a stage big enough for a five-piece band. Speakers ran off a solar system. A great white parachute was stretched out across posts and beams to give everyone shade. A wind barely moved through the mesa. A campfire flared to the south side, with chairs and benches made out of logs and faded old pieces of lumber surrounding the pit. Everyone was strolling around with happy smiles and half drunk bottles of local brews. The outdoor kitchen faced the view to the west of the Jemez Mountains.

Mark wandered off to look at the stage and to chat to the musician with the double bass. I sat. I felt funny, a little lightheaded. I drank a beer slowly and took it all in.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore.” I whispered to myself.

“Hey Jenny. How’s it going out on the land? Did you get the garden in yet?” Anne, from the café, strode towards me in her usual black jeans and white tee shirt, with her hair loose around her shoulders. She sat down next to me and leaned back, sighing happily.

“This is great, isn’t it? Andrew’s one of the town favorites and puts on the best parties.” She glowed, her eyes were wide, and she munched away on a plate of goodies. “Want some?” She placed tortilla chips, guacamole, salsa, cheese slices, and chunks of French bread between us on the bench. I couldn’t resist. We ate in companionable silence, with her greeting various kids by name as they ran by. The night settled in and I hadn’t moved very far. Only to pee in the outhouse and then I came straight back. Anne and I chatted about the projects we all seem to do, those ongoing projects, and the never-ending list of improvements.

“Some days I wake up and wish we didn’t need to do so much, but I take my coffee outside, sit on the deck and that’s all it takes. I can’t wait to get started after that. Does that feeling ever go away?” I asked.
Anne tied her hair back and stretched out her arms to take in the huge view.

“Not for me it hasn’t. My husband and I built our own home in a year and a half, but since then we’ve added tool sheds and gardens and rain catchment. I count my blessings every day for having such a great home and partner. And it’s a wonderful place to be, isn’t it? Oh, I heard about the bust over at your place. What a laugh, eh?” She rested her water bottle on the ground and lit up a smoke. She passed it to me but I told her I’d given up.

“Really? That makes the story even better.”
I whistled for Frida. She ran over with a buddy, this big lump of a Rottweiler mutt, he slobbered all over my knees before I thought to push him off. Anne drifted over to the band and I followed a few minutes later with both dogs at my heels bumping into me whenever they got too excited. It made for a tricky walk in the dark. I had my headlamp in the backpack wherever that was. I couldn’t remember. Mark wandered up to me and gave me a great big bear hug that made me squeak.

He had a sandwich in hand and guitar in the other. “I just played with those folks, they told me the basic chords and let me play along. Not a bad start to finding gigs here, although I’d been thinking more of a crowded nightclub, but this was great.”

He babbled away, telling what songs they’d played and how he’d been invited to join their band for practice the following week. I didn’t really listen. I was starving again.

“Frida, are you hungry yet?” Her little golden wiry face looked up at me, and she wagged her tail knocking over some toddler. He giggled and stood back up, trying to catch the older kids. “Because I am. Show me where the food is, girl.”

Frida ran off and I left Mark to it. I kept up with my pup but for stopping to say hello to a couple of familiar faces. I caught up with her at the BBQ, just as she stole a pork rib off a plate left on the dirt. I picked up a different plate for myself and wandered closer.

“Howdy. Want some of my famous ribs? Or is a hamburger more your style?”

Graham from the fire department stood over the grill with a light green apron and a spatula in his right hand. He offered me corn on the cob to start with. He had barbeque sauce on his moustache. It was quite the color combination.

“I can’t believe how famished I am, so yes, hmm, a hamburger and some corn would be perfect. And your buns, I’d like to try your buns.”

Graham smirked for a second and waved me to the table behind us. I found salad, tomatoes, onions, and the various squirt bottles of red and white condiments. I took a little of everything and went to find a corner to sit.

 

“How are you doing out here in the wastelands?”
Graham sat down under the pinion tree, facing the same direction as me. I looked over as I wiped off the mayo from my chin. He was in his navy blue Fire Department shirt with the logo written huge across the shoulders.

“This tastes so good.” I dove back in and munched on the corn, dripping butter down onto the ground between my knees. Frida watched me patiently. Graham waited until I finished eating before asking me anything else. It took a while, I’ll be honest.

“Have you thought about joining the fire department?”
“Nope, not at all. To be honest, I can’t see myself doing anything to do with blood or fires or car wrecks. Mark might be interested, but not me.”
“But there’s so many ways you could help out, not just on scene. And I have to say, it’d be great to have another woman involved.”
“Who else is a volunteer there?”
“Anne, you’ve met her, right? She’s been a medic but is taking a break for a few months.”
“Burnt out with the drama?”
“You could say that.”

He wiped off the dirt from his jeans and looked me in the eyes, trying to gauge something. I had just finished licking my plate clean. Frida hated me right then. She wandered back to the grill. I wanted to join her but it seemed rude to leave Graham. He looked out of place here even though everyone said hello to him as they walked past. He ignored the interruptions, chatting to me about his home on the far side of town, and how he’d built it in eighteen months, brick by brick. The latest projects included gardens and sheds and workshops. The views from up there were amazing, he told me. “You should come up some time.”
“We’d love to. Mark’s all about learning how others do this.”

“Right, well, you can come out whenever you like, with or without your boyfriend. Is it an open relationship by the way?”

I drank some beer and looked around for Mark. Anne came over to us and said hi again. She stood near by, half dancing to the bluegrass music carrying across the clearing. She drank a beer and passed me a sip. Graham sat quietly, listening in as we chatted about the food. Anne gave him a grin and turned to me.

“I see you’ve met my husband. He’s pretty quiet with most women, but I’d told him about those gardening ideas we’d been talking about. Is that what you too were chatting about?”
I looked at Graham, and he smiled sheepishly at me and back to Anne.

“I was trying to get her to join the department,” he admitted, “but she’s not interested.” He stood up and wiped off his jeans again before heading off to man the grill. Anne held out her hand and pulled me upright.

“Are you okay tonight, Jen? You’re kinda quiet today.”
“I am? Oh, I thought…” I drifted off and she laughed out loud.

“Did Andrew give you a brownie when you got here?”

I nodded. She held out her hand and took mine. “Let’s find Mark, shall we?”

I followed her, whining the whole time, “but I’m still hungry.”

Living The Dream: 16

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

DECEMBER: ONWARDS

Money was flying out faster than I’d hoped or expected what with those nights in motels, a week in Albuquerque, eating out. I worked on my budget while sitting outside on the porch. Angie was at school, one last project that she’s working on in the library. Jonnie was expected to show up later today. Nelson relaxed, fully at home on his blanket, soaking up the sun. I made a decision, a small one, but it was time to move on.

 

“I’m heading south in the morning,” I told them over dinner.

We’d made pizza together, chatting and listening to a local radio station. Their home was toasty and welcoming. I didn’t really want to leave but my restlessness kicked in, and kicked me out. Nothing too comfortable for me, not yet. The ongoing distractions of exploring a new city on foot had revitalized me yet kept me from my purpose: Deciding what was next. What to do about Mark. And the others.

“You’re more than welcome to stay,” Angie offered. “It’s so easy to have you and Nelson around, no trouble at all. In fact, you could stay here for the holidays on your own if you like. I’m going back home for a couple of weeks and it’d be good to know the place wasn’t empty.” She drank some water and offered Nelson a taste of ham from her pizza. “Well, think about it, no pressure.”
“Where are you thinking of going to? Not north I hope. More snow is expected this week, and they say it’s going to be a warm and wet winter.”
“Whatever that means.” I jokingly finished for him. “I don’t know but I like the idea of going across to Arizona, see Jerome and Sedona and that area. It’s probably only a day or two’s drive for us, we stop every hour or so. Anyway, I’d like to keep exploring, camping, daydreaming…”
“ – and deciding?”
“Yes, there is that. I miss the bus as well.”
“But you’re not ready to go back yet?”
Jonnie passed me a glass of wine and we all followed him onto the porch, our nightly routine. “I can understand that. Have you heard from Mark?”
I sipped the malbec and leaned back in an armchair. “Yep, he’s in L.A. having a blast, he said. He even got to play bass for some band one night. They’d had a car accident on the way to the gig and, well, he was in the right place at the right time. It’s a dream come true for him, so I can’t blame him, not really.”

Jonnie brought out the rest of the pizza and picked at a slice as we chatted away companionably. Nelson yawned. Angie petted his head, playing with the long soft ears.

“Well, you have to stay in touch with us, okay? I’ll miss you both. You’re always welcome back. And if you move back to Oliver, we want to come visit, right?”

“Right, I’ll let you know where I end up, we end up, that is. To new beginnings.” I raised my glass to them both with a smile.

“To new friends.”

“To pizza!”

Glasses clinked and Nelson sat up, hoping for food, that’s my happy boy.

 

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER: SHOW ME THE WAY

 

 

“What the hell? You’re joking right?”

Five DEA agents surrounded Mark. They demanded that he hand over his plants. Mark stood there in his shorts and boots, bare-chested and indignant. A couple of black SUVs blocked our Subaru in the driveway. Helicopters, four of them hovered overhead, passing back and forth as they had all morning. I stood on the porch, holding onto Frida who wouldn’t stop barking and growling when anyone came close.

“Your ID please, sir.” An officer stood in all-black clothes and dark sunglasses and he had a gun. He held out his hand to for the license.

Mark laughed, “Where do you think that might be? I’m practically naked here.” he turned and started walking over to me, when the officer stopped him forcefully.
“No sir, you can wait with me and your wife can fetch both your IDs.” He nodded in my direction.

“Girlfriend,” muttered Mark. He put his hands in his pockets and pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “They’re tomatoes,” he muttered under his breath once again.

Two officers followed me to my car and I pulled out our wallets and handed over the documents. One stood next to me silently and the other read them before handing them to his partner. Mark asked why they’d come to harass us.

“We were told your wife –“

“Girlfriend.”

“- had been talking about her pot plants at the coffee shop.”
“Her potted plants.” Mark said, and he looked over at our home. The patio was covered in hanging plants of all kinds. Mint. Toms. Lettuce. Onions. Creeping vines. Geraniums. Wildflowers. You name it, I’d planted it.

The man with my ID passed it back and headed for his boss without a word to me. He had a potbelly big enough to hold a drink if he’d leaned back just another inch or two. I tried not to think about it. I coughed under my breath.
“It’s who we thought.”
Mark smoked in silence. Frida whined. I shook. I wish I had my boots on, I felt vulnerable in flip-flops.

“I’m Detective Anders. Would you take us to your pot plants please Mark.”

The man had cropped gray hair and a belt full of his important toys and symbols. And a gun. He lifted his sunglasses briefly to make meaningful eye contact with Mark, who set off in the direction of the bus. I joined him on the porch. I quickly grabbed my boots and sat down. Mark stood next to our pots.

The officer didn’t move. “Well?”

Mark pointed out two tomato plants at the front door. “That’s all we have.”
The officer didn’t smile one bit but reiterated his request. The take-me-to-your-leader kind of an order. “We spotted some twenty pot plants near by and your home is the closest. I suggest, sir, that you comply with my requests. Take me to your plants.”
Mark sighed in exasperation. “We don’t have any. I don’t even know what you’re talking about, as if we’d grow pot plants on our property. That makes no sense. Neither of us smokes anything but this stuff.” He pulled out the cigarettes from his back pocket and held them out.

Another SUV showed up and drove past the other vehicles across my front yard. He pulled up next to us.

“Is there a problem here, Anders?”
“No sir, we were just taking them to the site. Would you like to come with us?”
“Not at all, I’m staying in the air conditioning. Speed it up though. We have another sighting a mile away.” He closed the window and backed out. Tire tracks everywhere. I’d have to rake this later.

“Come along. You can let your dog loose, Ma’am. My officers aren’t afraid of a little runt like that.”

He strode off without a glance at Frida snapping around his boots. I grabbed my hat and caught up with Mark. We followed them down the arroyo on the right, through the hundred-foot bed of coal dust, and past the burnt-out pinion, the result of a lightening strike was my guess. The midday sun wore me out but I kept up with everyone, all ten or us. Although I hated to admit it, taking that hike was easier than digging in fence posts for the chicken run. I spotted some orange paintbrush-like wildflowers on the southern slope. The ridge took us up and over into a neighboring meadow of cacti and silvery stunted shrubs. We walked over the scrubby grasses, along the riverbed and past trees dead and dying. The entourage stopped next to a clump of junipers. Mark and I looked around us.

“Where are we?” he whispered.

“Please, sir, if you have something to say, say it to the group.”
Were we in high school again? Mark said nothing. I coughed. He snickered. Frida found something and ran off. I heard her digging furiously.

“Stop that dog. She’s tampering with evidence.” They ran after her and someone pulled her out from under a tree by her tail. The poor girl yelped and raced over to Mark, jumping into his arms. She buried her head in his armpit.

“What had you found, girl?” he talked softly to her. She looked up briefly, saw Anders walking over, and whimpered.

“This way please, Ma’am, Sir.”
We looked at each other and followed him into a clearing. A bunch of tall bulky and bright green pot plants lay on the dirt. Pulled out by the roots. Each one was at least four or five feet tall, I’d guess, thick and furry.

“Wow. Those are huge.”
The agents watched us closely. I stepped up to poke one with my foot. “Are there more?”
“Why?”
“I’ve never seen anything like this.” I practically laughed in fascination. I bent down and picked at one. It stank. I picked off a piece and put it to my nose before someone yanked me back.

“That’s enough. Where are the rest?”
“Huh?” I stood up and brushed myself off. “You tell me. You brought us here. This isn’t even our land.”
“Nope, never been out here before, have we Jen? I like it. Is this on our property?” He asked Anders who had a bundle of Xeroxed maps in his hand. Mark went to look and unthinkingly took the top copy. It was of a map of our forty acres and both properties on either side. The road cut through ours in a pretty diagonal, across the two arroyos.

“Isn’t that us?” He held it out to me and I looked over his shoulder, or rather under his shoulder. My finger followed the road, the paths we usually took and found our campsite and the bus, somewhere in the middle. We’d placed it well, apparently. I nodded and handed it back to him. Mark passed it to Anders.

“That’s our place, right? Here’s the road, the bus, our gardens and the boundary where we walk the dog. See?” Mark in his innocence started to walk back the way we’d come.
Two of the officers blocked his path. They kept their hands on their hips.

“Unfortunately, sir, that might be true, but you two live right next to this large collection of illegal plants. We don’t believe you, to be blunt. Now, where are the rest? Someone who grows this many usually has at least another ten or more hidden nearby.”
“Couldn’t your helicopters see any?” I piped up.
Anders stared at me. “No, they didn’t.”
I shrugged and sat in the shade on a huge rock the size of a VW Beetle. Frida tried to join me but she kept slipping off the rocks. She sat at Mark’s feet instead. Anders watched us both carefully.

“Show us the path you use to bring the water out here,” he asked after a while.

“No, you show me.” Mark was getting braver and braver as time went on. I was quite proud of him. “Because there isn’t one and you know it. You know that this isn’t our doing. We’re too effing naïve, aren’t we? Oh, and to add to the equation, we haven’t lived here long enough. You might want to check your records before you try to pin anything on us. I only moved to Oliver, what, two months ago at most.”
Anders looked between Mark and I. He looked down at his paperwork.

“Is that right?”
We both bobbed our heads in agreement. He started to sweat.

“Damn. Who owns this bit? I’m going to get in such deep trouble for messing this up.”

His officers hung back, slowly melting into the trees around us. Frida headed for the freshly dog holes and stuck her face back in them, sighing loudly. I almost felt sorry for Anders. I came to look at the map he held. I recognized the driveway he pointed out as being the nearest. I said nothing.

He folded up his papers and looked around for his men. They’d gone back without him.

“How do we get back from here?”

He turned in a circle, desperately looking for someone to lead the way back. The clearing stood empty but for five dying plants and the rear end of a digging dog.

“We follow the little runt,” said my boyfriend with a sweet smile. “Frida, let’s go home.”

 

“Another pint, Jenny?”
“Hell yeah.”

We stood at the bar surrounded by locals, Dieselhead Danny being one of them. He’d been telling everyone about watching us with the cops and how suddenly they’d all just left, driven off, no charges, and no further searches. Or finds.

“They didn’t get the others,” he announced proudly. He kept buying us drinks. The tavern was pretty empty but it was a Wednesday afternoon. The tourists took over town on the weekends. After we’d found out that little detail, we had adjusted our drinking times suitably, still trying to fit in. Anyway, Danny kept slapping Mark on the back, thanking him for not mentioning the water hauling or anything like that.

“Oh, right, I’d forgotten about that. I just hated the way he called my dog a runt. He pissed me off.” Mark leaned against the stool I was sitting in and gave me a quick kiss on the ear. That third beer was doing wonders for his mood.

We’d got back to the bus with Anders in tow and had made ourselves a cold drink. All three of us sat on the deck and watched as Frida found a rawhide and fell asleep with it under her front paws. One SUV waited for him as he finished his lemonade and apologized in a roundabout way. Finally we were alone again. I got up and raked out the tire tracks. Mark took a sponge bath. Frida napped.

Half an hour later we drove to the tavern, under the watchful eyes of two helicopters. Mark gave them the finger. Frida panted. For once, I drove.

 

Danny wandered outside for a smoke and Mark joined him. I sat there alone for a while, I was glad the day was over. The bartender came over and handed me a pint of cold water.

“You’re looking a little rosy,” he said politely.

I snorted. “I know. It seems to be my New Mexico color, I’m okay, just a little flushed after this morning.”
He laughed out loud and grinned with me, and had no teeth missing. The job must pay better than most.

“Yeah, I heard. That was a close call, you realize that, don’t you?”
“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I need to forget how close a call. Does that happen a lot around here? It was crazy. Do you think the cops even know whose stuff it was? Is?”
“Probably, but I’d forget all about that if you can. At least now, you’ve made a friend for life with Danny. He’ll look out for you for as long as you live near by. He’s as loyal as a puppy if he likes you.”
Once a year apparently the cops come around, hoping to find fields of green. Instead they bust two or three people for having a handful of pot plants. After seeing the five ‘copters and twenty or so ground personnel, SUVs, even a couple of all terrain vehicles, I have to wonder how much that all cost?

As usual, Mark interrupted my deep thoughts.

“There’s a BBQ out on Alaska road on the weekend, and we’ve been invited. Want to go?”
“Sure. Whose?”
Mark grinned. “I don’t remember but here’s the address for us. Dusk onwards, and he said bring beer, instruments, and dogs, not bad eh? Frida’s first party.”
More importantly – it was going to be our first party in Oliver. We’d finally arrived.

 

 

“Oh, look, nineteen kinds of meat sandwiches!”

Okay, so maybe I should have written “burgers” but to me, someone who rarely eats meat, this is what I see when I look at a menu dominated by burgers, like at the new local restaurant in Cerrillos, not to name anyone specifically…
It’s a blindspot, and so many restaurants wear blinkers as far as what to offer those of us who don’t crave red meat. Are vegetarians really not worth the respect of offering them an equal amount of options on the menu? Do you think there are so few of us? To treat us as second class citizens? What do vegetarians eat after all, is that what you’re thinking? It’s odd to me, this blindness. Is it really a case of meat-eaters only think MEAT, carbs and a couple of slices of tomato? Can you really not think past that? Although I admit to knowing a few vegetarians who rarely eat actual vegetables, another odd idea to me, but that’s for another rant.

So, in the spirit of 1) sarcasm and 2) helpful suggestions, here goes. My take on how to create a balanced menu that respects the financial needs of a kitchen and the demographic of meat and non-meat eaters alike. Now, you know, being politically correct isn’t one of my talents, but hey, it’s not that big a deal to think of others, is it? Nah, I didn’t think so. I’ll make it easy though. You can name one of these sandwiches after me if you like.
The average menu offers twenty or so items and only one or two of those don’t contain meat. Why? Oh, well, I’ll pass on that for now, but when the restaurant defensively says that they’ve got a salad for me. Yeah, well, that’s great, I eat salads most days, but come on, is it as substantial or filling as a honking great sandwich? Pizza? Panini? Well, dear restaurant owners, here are a few ideas for you.

Looking at all those meat sandwiches, sorry, I mean, burgers, why do you have so many? Are they all the same? Red meat with a few other ingredients on the side? Oh, they all have different and unique flavors? You mean, like cheese? So perhaps, try this. For each kind of cheese, remember how it fits with different sides? Brie and tomatoes. Swiss and grilled onions. Mozarella and basil. Goat cheese and grilled bell peppers. That’s the first few that came to mind. And you probably have all those ingredients in the kitchen, don’t you? So here’s a challenge, create at least five cheese sandwiches with different fillings.
Or, you know, vegetables? Again, you probably have this stuff already so this won’t cost you anything. Cheese and veggies last a long time if kept cool, so don’t worry about that extra cost, okay? SO, what do you think about offering grilled zuchini and greens? Roast peppers and mushrooms? Kale and grilled onions and garlic? In wraps perhaps, or on an open sandwich? Or on a pizza?

To think that people only want meat and carbs is, well, depressing. To me.  I understand but you can take those blinkers off now. Look in the kitchen, open the fridge, and just look at all the veggies and ingredients you already have. Now, play with them. Break out of the limited idea that vegetarians want pasta or carbs. Most of us want a decent meal with fresh veggies, perhaps some cheese, or even a sandwich with one of the many kinds of veggie burgers. You know, something substantial and fresh.

So my challenge to those local businesses who only offer a couple of items without meat, have another look. Get playful. Get creative. And get our business.
Please.

 

Living The Dream: 15

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

AUGUST: GROWING YOUR OWN

“Your usual, Jenny?”

“Yes please.”

I sat at one of the stools at the counter and returned the morning’s greetings with the locals. They’d become used to my turning up Thursday mornings at the coffee shop. All had paper cups of coffee and lattes. The newspapers lay half read and conversation flowed from building stories, their weekend plans, and on to gardening. I perked up my ears and drank my medium dark roast. With cream.

“How are your plants doing?” asked one bearded sixty-something man to another.

“Pretty good, they budded out nicely, and they have grown tall and thick for once. It’s the best year yet, I’d say, although I don’t want to jinx us. But those rains sure helped my back, I’d prefer the rains do the work for me rather than haul five gallons at a time all day every day.” He knocked on the wooden slab of a table and grimaced.
They laughed and talked about fertilizers and soil amendments. I wanted to butt in but felt shy. The caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet apparently.

“I added more manure to the soil last winter and let it all soak in and break down for a good six months. I used to add straw as a mulch but it’s so bright and conspicuous that I buy bags of peat moss instead.”
“Yum Yum mix, I swear by it, that’s made all the difference to my crop this year. It’s expensive I know, but it works a treat.”

They talked about cuttings, clones, and trial and error and all the details showing some serious organic expertise. I just wanted a few tomato plants and some spinach. Too late now.

“Excuse me, can I ask you a gardening question?”
They looked at each other first before the one on the right nodded to me.

“I want to set myself up to grow some plants but it’s too late for this year, isn’t it?”
“What kind of thing are you thinking about?”

The man nearest me sipped his drink and leaned forward encouragingly. He wore the usual uniform of faded blue jeans, work boots, and a light colored long-sleeved shirt. The cowboy hat lay on his lap. His face was as lined as a dried out apple and his blue eyes sparkled to some inner joke.

I explained that we were new in town and –

“Pete’s?”
I nodded and sighed. “It seems everyone knows us but we don’t know a soul.”
The guys laughed, but kindly. “We get so many folks moving here, wanting to fit in, but after a season, or maybe a year, they end up leaving. We take our time before putting in much energy and that’s the truth.”
“Why?”

“Why what?”
“Why don’t many people make it for the long run?” I honestly didn’t get it. At the time.
He sat back. “It’s not easy, is it?”
I shook my head.

A man in coveralls and slicked back ponytail added his opinion by saying, “after that movie came out, tourists flocked here, looking for the dream of an artist town near Santa Fe, all hip and cool, and easy living. But it takes work to be here. Too freaking hot in summer, harsh winters, and incredible winds in the spring. The homes are either old run down shacks or you build it yourself out on the land. Either way, if you’re looking for suburbia, this isn’t it.”

I grinned. “That’s what we told Diana, the solar woman.”

“Oh yeah? She’s pretty mainstream, isn’t she?”

“Yep, she wanted us to build a suburban and expensive home with televisions and sound systems and microwaves and washing machines, the whole nine yards instead of just hooking us up with the old funky school bus we’re living in. She kept insisting that she knew best so Mark told her we’d do it ourselves.”
“And have you?”
“Well, no.” I admitted with a wry grin and a shrug, and that made them laugh with me.
Anne, the barista, told me that her brother, Ken, was a solar tech geek, and had sorted out a few homes in the area. He could help out. He had the right connections, as she said.

“If you want to get know us here in town, keep doing what you’re doing, and show up, hang out with us, talk to us rather than watch us as if we were a freak show.”
“Does that happen a lot?”
The whole café erupted in loudly as they all chimed in with their own stories of rude and naïve tourists and the stupid questions they ask. I was guilty of at least a few of them. I shook my head in embarrassment. The conversations died down and they soon forgot about me. Anne poured me a refill and started to chat about her own gardens and described the community garden in Oliver. Close by, I could walk over there with Frida if I wanted. The place was fenced in with homemade gates, stone pathways, and beds overflowing with healthy crops of all you possible imagine growing. Incredible for a desert garden, she finished.

“That place will inspire you. And, no, it’s not too late for some things. Do you have anything set up yet?”
I shook my head again. “Nothing. I haven’t even thought about where we’d put the garden.”
“Well, you’ll need some kind of wire or wooden fencing to keep out the rabbits. I’d suggest sunken beds to catch the rains rather than have the precious water run off and away. Do you want some catalogues and books?”
Anne sat on a stool next to me and wrote down a few ideas and the best nurseries to visit in Santa Fe for free information. I suddenly knew what I’d be doing for the next few days.

“Greens, there’s quite a few lettuces and stuff for the fall, you could get them in now. But I’d suggest that you start with some pots for whatever you want to grow this fall, and make a greenhouse or something if you want more than that. You can work on making the soil perfect in the actual gardens over winter. Get the manure, straw, better soil, and add your compost, that kind of thing. Spend the holidays digging in the shit, as my husband says. Digging in the shit.”

 

“Do you have the pick?” Mark hollered over the radio.

AC/DC rocked out, filing the valley with something he sang along to. I never did like them that much.

“I can’t dig more than four inches in this stuff, it’s ridiculous. Rocks everywhere I turn. Are you sure you want the garden here?”

He wiped his forehead with his bandana and propped the shovel against a tree. He stared forlornly at the area we’d chosen. Close enough to the bus for us to remember to water things, and also within walking distance to the car for hauling supplies as needed. The juniper trees protected the western edge because of those infamous spring winds. The one pinion in the middle would give shade to different sections throughout the day.

I stopped pounding in the metal T-bars. I’d done five out of twenty-eight. My shoulders killed me.

“Well, yeah, it’s the best place, right? After all we read and what Anne told us, this is going to be the easiest spot to grow what we want. Do you want to switch with me?”

Not that swinging a pickaxe would be any better, but you have to help when you can. Mark suggested a break instead. He turned off the radio thankfully.

“It’s that time already?”
He grinned and pulled out his cigarettes. “It is somewhere.” He walked over to the bus and grabbed us both pale ale and opened them. Frida followed him everywhere these days. She had a crush. I was jealous. They walked back and found a seat in the sandy shade. Frida came over and curled up against my legs, groaning in pleasure. An angel, she’d been an angel since the monsoons had stopped. I sighed and stretched out, lying down and shading my face with my hat. I rested the bottle on my belly.

“How about we build one of those little window boxes with a window on top? Like a mini greenhouse? We could set that up and prop it next to the porch steps.” Mark continued to talk about that and other ideas. He wasn’t enjoying the preparation part of this gardening business. He mentioned how we needed to make an actual outhouse soon. Our shallow dumping hole was filling up fast. That meant more digging though.

“What about the compost toilets?” I reminded him.
Off he went, describing the different options we had, the store bought, the homemade style and the humanure kind. I half-listened and sipped my beer. He could work it out and let me know. I didn’t pay too much attention. He did most of the work, not me.

“Do we have the pallets for a compost pile?”
“Weren’t you listening?”
I sat up and grinned. “No. Were you talking to me?”
He threw a stick at me and hit Frida on the butt. “Very funny. I was saying, to Frida apparently, that for the humanure toilet we could go ahead and use the pallets we have and build us compost box this afternoon. We only need four and I think we found five or so. I have the baling wire to tie them all together. We can empty the buckets in there and cover it with straw. I’m glad we got a few bales today, some for this garden of yours and one for me and my shit pile.”

Mark finished his beer and toasted me with the empty bottle. “Your round, my dear, yes, I’d love another.”

He gave me an easy going smile and scratched at his goatee. The new shaver had kept the rest of him clean cut but what with the facial hair and how he had let his hair grow wilder and curlier than before, this was a new man. The outdoor work had made him a shade of toast and peanut butter. I still stayed on the pink side of the scale; a Tuscany rose as I claimed. I liked the sound of it even if Mark teased me, but he was the one with the farmer’s tan, not me. My pinkness was through and through. I’d even stopped bleaching my hair, and the dirty blond and brown roots had grown into a reddish mop with white tips.

 

I picked at the dirt and swore under my breath. I jabbed at it with the shovel. I kicked rocks away with my new work boots. I sweated and dripped and got two beds dug before giving up. I added a bag of peat moss, a bucket of manure from the horse-lady in town, and stirred it all together before covering it with a layer of straw. It looked good if nothing else.

Mark finished the fence posts and gave up. He wandered over to the pallets and propped them into a square, tying them upright with the wire. He spread some straw a couple of inches thick across the bottom and emptied out a bowl of table scraps. He smiled up at me proudly and pointed.

“Our new compost pile. Food and feces. Can’t you imagine what your mom will say when we point her towards the buckets to use?”

“I don’t think I want to explain what we’re doing. Can we make it easy on her and leave the sawdust in a container next to the toilet with a little sign or something? Less of a lecture on the benefits of recycling our waste, let’s just make it quick and easy for her. You know, something that says ‘Pee here, cover it with this, close lid.’ Not that she’s planning on visiting that I know of. God, I hope she doesn’t surprise us again.”

I stood next to him and stared at the pile. It was pretty sturdy and didn’t fall over when Frida jumped up trying to get to the scraps. He nodded happily as Frida kept trying to push her way to the leftovers but failing.

Mark picked up his tools. “What next?” he asked me, as we headed back to the bus. “Chickens?”

 

 

Moving to Montpelier. 

The brain works in odd ways. Feeling overwhelmed with the cross country move, I let myself scribble all he scattered thoughts. Middle of the night, sleepless, brain won’t quit. 

Mind-mapping is a skill my mum and Aunty Viv taught me when I was in highschool. Years later, I still use it. 

That’s all. Thankful for Mum and Viv. Miss you both.