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?”

 

 

Before Coffee: the comic book

Well, you asked for it. Here we are. The first volume in the ongoing series of comics. Available in all the usual spaces…and for now, get it at https://www.createspace.com/7125650.

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Thanks everyone for the incredible support.

Living The Dream: 11

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

DECEMBER: BACON

The bedroom was cozy, with windows facing a small neighborhood park, empty at that time of night. Nelson had his own bed next to mine and he slept soundly. I didn’t. How had I ended up at this home in Albuquerque? It must be the beer. This isn’t like me, to go home with strangers, but I felt safe and relaxed. Unusual to say the least.

When we’d walked back to my truck, they’d offered me a place to stay for a few nights, a chance to unwind after weeks on the road. I followed them and drove up to a small but well lit home nearby. The front yard held a teardrop trailer and an SUV. I pulled in on the left, out of their way hopefully, and let the boy out. The winter sky sparkled above, cold and distant. The lights in Angie’s home drew me in. Jonnie was in the kitchen already, putting on water for tea.

“The room is back there, the one at the end of the hallway. Make yourself at home, Jenny. We usually make tea and hang out on the porch, catching up on the week’s news. You can join us if you like?”
I shook my head and shuffled back to the bedroom. I was settling in my boy when Angie popped her head around the door.

“Your bath is ready. Come on, it’s in here.”
The bath overflowed with bubbles, the windows steamed, and candles flickered on the countertop.

“I thought you’d like a little pampering. Anyway, I’m going to be outside with Jonnie, to see what he’s been up to without me. It’s hard not living together right now, but I need to finish my master’s degree here before I go back south. Oh, blah blah, you don’t need to hear this. Go relax. See you later or not. Coffee’s usually ready early so help yourself. And Nelson can hang out in the back yard, it’s fenced. Good night.”

She closed the door behind her and Nelson’s footsteps followed her down the hallway. The backdoor closed behind the three of them. The house grew quiet.

“We’re off to the Farmer’s Market. Do you want to come with us?” Jonnie finished his second cup of coffee. “It’s pretty amazing at this time of year, what with all the winter treats like raw honey and candy, all wrapped ready for Christmas presents, as well as wreaths made from the local trees. It’s fun. I’ll even buy you a hot cider.” Jonnie stood up from the kitchen table as Angie appeared, pulling on a winter coat and a woolen hat.

“Sure, it’s okay with Nelson though? The one in Santa Fe won’t let him come in.”
Angie nodded and handed me the leash. “No worries, he’ll be fine. I know the manager. You can be my visiting niece and she won’t ask for more than an assurance that he won’t mark everything. Okay Nelson, you’ll behave?”

Nelson fetched his leash, waiting for the slow coach humans at the front door.
Clouds had followed from the North East corner of the state and threatened a snowstorm. I huddled deeper into my jacket. Nelson looked as happy as a raven with a dead mouse. Comfortable and content with the world, he trotted alongside as we walked and talked. Angie led the way through the park and onto more back roads. The sun peeked out occasionally but not often enough to melt the frost on the grass. Nelson sniffed, marked, and sniffed some more. He was a happy boy.

“We thought of buying land down south, near the Gila National Forest but the idea of living without power or baths put us off. I like my comforts,” said Angie with a laugh. “We own a home down by Elephant Butte Reservoir, not that there’s much water these days, but it’s nice to be near a lake, live quietly and still live in a real home, you know. Don’t you miss living in town?”
“We’re only four or so miles outside of Oliver, so it’s not bad. And it’s worth it to me, to live where no one cares what we do or how we do it. I don’t really know how to build to code, or really what that even means, but Mark and I, well, we got to play and make shelters and gardens and all of it without anyone judging us. That can’t be beat.”
Jonnie slowed down to ask about the water and electricity.

“Not that I understand that stuff, I work in the museum down there, cataloguing acquisitions and talking to all the school kids. I like the job, I get to leave at the end of the day and not worry about anyone or anything. Perfect. I go home, make some food, pet the cat, and watch movies. At least, when Angie’s up here.”

She slapped him playfully and linked her arm with his. They chatted away as we walked.

“I don’t know that I could go back to teaching, not yet anyway. You’re right; it’s easier when you don’t have to worry about anyone. The café has been perfect for me, a way to meet the locals, network, and get involved in the community. Mark has had a harder time of meeting people but he’s made some friends, some closer than others. I don’t know if they’re aware why he’s left. I’ll have to tell them I guess, when I go home.”
Angie and Jonnie glanced at each other. “Do you still think of it as home then?”

I nodded, surprised at myself. “Yes. Yes, I guess I do. It’s good to talk about the place, the people. I hadn’t realized how much it suits me there. Or how proud I am of how we learned how to do things for ourselves. It’s kind of amazing really, we used to just accept what we’d been told, you know, by the supposed experts. But then we started to question them and we’d look into things ourselves. I learned a lot.”
The lights changed and we crossed another side road, and found our way through the mass of cars and bicycles parked haphazardly in front of the market.

“If you lose us, Jenny, there’s a café just there, see it? We’ll find you there at noon, okay? Come on; let’s face the mayhem. There’s this family who make the best burritos. You’ve got to try one. And for you, Nelson, bacon?”

He trotted happily, tail high and proud.

Click on the book cover for a link to where you can buy a copy if you want more NOW!

How will art change my writing?

As a lifelong writer, it’s a complete switch in direction to suddenly, obsessively, sketch. First thing in the mornings. Before coffee. As I’m hanging out with friends. In the winter’s evenings. I’m committed, and addicted, to sketching. Doodles? Portraits? Still life? Pen and ink? Landscapes? Watercolours? Cartoons? I’ll try anything.

And I have to wonder how this changes my writing. Will it? Will it make my stories brief to the point of novels becoming a short story in a magazine? Will I master the art of slow-reading, editing out every other unnecessary word in my own works in reaction to this simplification?

I’m curious. Yet, I can’t stop sketching long enough to read anything of substance nor to write much beyond a short article or blog. I must get back on the word-wagon though. That’s why I quit my day job, right? To focus on submitting, working at, improving my writing. I give myself a hard time, the days seem so long, what am I doing with myself? Flake!

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Then I look at all that I’m working on, learning, and researching. Since quitting the retail job, my income has dropped significantly, yet my interest in people and their stories has increased. I have time for you, mostly. Tell me what you’ve read, experienced, but not just how much you drank on the weekend, although maybe that will be the next book? Drinking as the social outlet in small towns?

Flake? How can I call myself a flake? Because I work from home? Because my days are my own? I don’t know but it’s true, I am hard on myself. More. More. Must do more. But let’s see, remind myself of all I’ve done in the last few months. A book length travelogue. Three photo essay books and another in the works this week. Four photography calendars. Three articles for fempotential.com’s travel section. Two articles for Classic Land Rover magazine in the UK and a position on their staff for a new section called Stateside Stories. Postcards of five of the cartoons from the Before Coffee series. A Flickr account. Two stock photography accounts with well respected websites. Two interviews for upcoming essays. Submissions each week to various publishers. A press pass for a huge Overland Travel Rally in Arizona. Yep, it’s coming together. I’m reaching my goals steadily.

In the meantime, life revolves around researching online, following the calls for stock photography, setting up more platforms on social media, looking for the magazines and papers that take submissions on travel related essays complete with good quality photos.  BE SMART says my notice board in the kitchen.

  • Submit
  • Market
  • Art practice
  • Research
  • Travel

My morning is feed the critters, make coffee and go back to bed with a sketch pad. Then it’s time for a walk with two dogs in the brisk sunrise quiet of New Mexico. Back to the home and with laptop warming up for me, I make a quick breakfast. Check emails. Check  list of goals for the day. Research the questions that came up from the day before, for example, what is the industry standard for single panel comics? When is the deadline to submit the watercolours to the gallery in Madrid? Mornings are full of online work, the writing, following threads and taking notes. I get overwhelmed by words, by the ideas and potentials and it’s hard to focus. Hence the lists for the next day, a way to allow those ideas to settle into priorities and action plans.
The afternoon is less word oriented. Reading has fallen aside in the last three months and I know that as a writer, I need to read more. Yet, I can’t. It’s time for a break, for new inspiration, and that’s coming from sketching, and from asking my professional artist friends, and even watching Youtube videos on beginning art techniques. The amount of people with quality tutorials leaves me in awe, the notepad filling, and yet more ideas pop up.

With a hike in the hills with the dogs, watching the sunset with the dogs and Little Stevie at the overlook by my home, we settle in for the night. Another few hours of sketching, trying out techniques and styles, a last minute look online at social media, and then to bed with a magazine or short story, it’s all I can manage. I’m tired.

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My articles have started appearing regularly in a few places, and it’s an amazing feeling. There are many submitted that weren’t exactly rejected, but no one responded. I’ll wait a month and check in with those editors. I need to learn a system for keeping track as my notebook is a little distracted as am I. Classic Land Rovers, travels as a solo woman, the pets, and simply put this life of mine. I’ve not yet looked into writing about the off-grid homestead of mine, why not? It’s just what I do, nothing special to build a wooden outhouse one weekend? Or to fix a leaking roof? To wander around my home with dogs, cat and two chickens following along?

These sketches of mine, the daily practice is taking me along fast. I don’t know where this new discovered talent will take me, but aiming high, how about getting published? Syndicated? Well, hell, why not? It’s good to have goals…I’ll work on it. I will.

From these beginning doodles in January:

And to this, the last week in February, I’m happy and amazed at the learning curve. Where will I be by the end of the year? That is the commitment, to sketch every day, and I’m on it.

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It’s going to be interesting to see how my essays change as my focus is now on being brief, direct, and still quirky. We’ll see. It’s a process. I’m not stopping.

Living The Dream: Chapter 3

DECEMBER: CAMPING

The sun woke me. Nelson poked his nose under the covers and scooted closer against my shivering sleeping bag clad body. He sniffled contentedly as his warmth seeped through the layers of blankets and I laughed. The sun peeked over the mountain, and steam rose from the lake in front. The frost on the windows shimmered as it faded and dripped. The fire pit beckoned.

“Coming out, Nelson?” I sat up and grabbed the jacket and hunter’s cap. Nelson claimed the pillow instead and wagged his tail. “Okay, okay, you just warm yourself while I make the fire, get the coffee going and fry up some eggs, is that it?”
Thump. Thump. Nelson smiled his doggy smile as I opened the door and climbed out. The only problem with the 4Runner? You can’t open the tailgate from inside. I can live with that though.
Ravens flew overhead, crowing to each other as they swooped and soared in the light breeze. I shivered but poked at the embers. I added some old pinecones, yesterday’s newspaper, and a handful of small sticks. The fire took within minutes. I set the grate over the rocks and prepped the coffee pot. With chores done, I settled back on the tailgate.

I’d woken only the once during the night. Well, Nelson woke me. Another nightmare, I guess. He’d nudged his wet nose in my face until I took a deep breath and woke. Thump. Thump. I recalled reliving my memories of Mark and living in the hills together, walking along the arroyo to the school bus. The overnight solstice party at Andrew’s home with all that live folk music. Louise’s dogs greeting me on my weekly volunteering visit with her rescue. My heart broke to think I could lose all that.
I shook myself free of the images and tied my hair back into a loose ponytail. The coffee pot farted its readiness and I used the jacket sleeve to grab and put it onto the campsite’s concrete table, my new kitchen. I moved aside a crate of canned soups, snacks, teas, and cooking supplies. I poured out a mugful and added cream and honey. My days always start in such comfort if I can help it.

Nelson groaned softly then jumped out and ran down to the lake and drank deeply. Then he peed into the lake.

“Hey, bud, you hungry?”

Nelson bounded up, ears flat and tail wagging, and I passed down a full bowl of kibble. I’m constantly amazed at how much this boy can put away.
“What should we do today, then? Head west? Or simply find somewhere warmer than here? Like Arizona, you think? I wish I hadn’t forgotten the map at that tavern but oh well eh? I can fake it. The truck will take us wherever we want, and in comfort too, right boy?”

Nelson burped and sat down at my feet, staring into the hills around us, as if looking for someone.

“I know, I know, I miss Frida too.” Nelson looked up at me, hearing her name, but his ears drooped and he lay down across my boots unhappily.

In the bus together last summer, Mark had liked to sleep in with the dogs, but not me. Up and out early for me, sitting on the porch, watching the birds cruise the neighborhood, listening for the coyotes in the hills. Grabbing my journal, I wrote a few phrases remembered from the day before, just my passing thoughts, little reminders of sights and sounds on the road, just the two us, a girl and her dog. Those short interactions at the gas stations. The conversation with Salty Dan at the tavern in Farmington, meeting his wife, and talking of books we’ve loved. Finding the cemetery at the end of the national forest road, one that was in memory of firefighters who’d lost their lives protecting a nearby village. The eagle in the ponderosa. The snakeskin on the boulder at the signpost for this campsite. I made notes about Mark too, his comments that still hurt, and the ones I could answer now, too late I know. I carried this book with me, in the jacket, with a notebook of tasks to be taken care of if I decided to stay in Oliver. If I decided to make a go of living alone in the bus in a small community like that. I didn’t yet know, didn’t know if I had it in me. To go back or to see everyone again.

I stood and gulped back the last of the coffee.

“Ready yet, fella? Ready for a walk?”

Living The Dream: chapter two

JUNE: MEETING THE NEIGHBORS

“Maybe walking to town wasn’t such a great idea.”

We huddled in the shade of a half dead tree. Mark’s nose was lobster red. My tongue stuck to my lips. The heat was relentless. I’d not slept well. Mark had a hangover. What a perfect first day in New Mexico, eh?

We’d spent the morning making plans, what to buy, what we needed, where to set up the tent – that kind of thing. Oh, and ice, we needed ice. I’d suggested walking to Oliver.

It hadn’t seemed that far in the truck, going as slow and steady as we’d driven, I’d figured a few miles at most. Now though was a whole different perspective.

We passed the dead dog again. For some reason, we both walked up close and examined the body closely.

“A boy,” said Mark with authority. He poked the body with a stick of dried cactus. I’d kept back in case it stank. It didn’t. My curiosity drove me nearer. I noticed the tuxedo style of white chest and black body. White paws on three feet. Thick dense fur and a long scrawny tail, the dog was pretty odd looking I have to say. I nodded wisely.

“Yep, a boy.”

We carried on walking for another ten minutes before taking a break. The water bottle was empty by then. I noticed that Mark’s navy blue shirt had large wet rings under his armpits. Mark looked at me strangely when he noticed me staring. “I hear something.”
“Uh huh.” I rolled my eyes.
“No, seriously. I can hear a car or a truck or something. Come on.” He stepped back out into the full day sun. June at midday was not going to be my favorite time of year, I decided. I followed my boyfriend and we started walking once more. The thought of a beer at the tavern kept me going, sort of. The trees no longer seemed as dead and useless as yesterday, I saw them as potential time-outs and craved sitting under each and every one. I noticed the range of colors but had no words to describe them. I’d need to get a thesaurus for the eighteen shades of brown.

A beat up old diesel truck pulled up behind us but I stayed under a juniper tree. Mark chatted away and within minutes I found myself sitting between him and the driver. Danny. Danny the Dieselhead, he told us to call him.

“So you two bought old Pete’s place, did you?”
He took me by surprise. “Yeah, how did you know?”
“Well, you’re not locals for one. Why else would someone be stupid enough to walk down here in the middle of the day? It’s fucking hot out there.” Danny laughed harshly and spat out of his window. “Smoke anyone?” He offered a roll-up.

I shook my head. I’d stopped smoking tobacco eight months and three weeks ago. Mark’s hand shot out and took it from him with a thanks. He lit it. It didn’t smell like tobacco to me. I sat back to get out of the way of the smoke. My boyfriend was getting high with someone we’d just met and I wasn’t too happy about this. I kept my mouth shut though. For now.

They started talking about Oliver. Danny drove slowly, swerving this way and that to miss the rocks and boulders that we’d simply driven over the day before. He told us that even though Oliver, NM claims only three hundred residents, there are some four hundred locals in the hills and valleys surrounding the place.

“Like us.” I piped up.

Danny stopped talking. He looked over at me in my jean shorts and new red tee shirt with the Zia symbol. My sunglasses were high on my forehead and my short bleached blond hair stuck to my ears.
“Yep, like you, right.” He turned back to Mark. “Do you have any guns?”
Mark hiccupped, “Yes.”

“No.” I said just as quickly.

Danny looked between us, raising his glasses. “You might want to say yes, if any one else asks you. It keeps the riff raff away.”
I coughed. Mark knew what that meant; Danny was not exactly an emblem of the thriving middle class by any means. Bailing wire and duct tape held the truck together. The seats were worn through and covered by old blankets, themselves held together by dog fur. Dog fur.
“Are you missing a dog?”
“You mean that black and white boy back there?”
I nodded.

“Yep, that was mine. He never did listen. The coyotes got him last week.”
“How?” I couldn’t help but ask. He seemed so nonchalant about it all.

“Well, every night they’d come a calling, howling in the arroyos and picking off the hares and the critters near by. Old dumb dog of mine wanted to run with them for the last three years, but I’d get him in the kennel by nightfall. Until last week. I was in the city. Santa, that is. I got home late. The damn dog was gone. Poor bastard never learned, did he?”
I stared out the window. Note to self: keep dogs in at night.

Mark asked where Danny lived, was it nearby? Danny slowed down to a crawl even my Grandma could have kept up with and he pointed out behind us. Into the barren blank land that I was to call home.

“Yep, there, there she is. My home. Built it myself I did. Took me some twenty years, but she’s done now. Well, not quite but almost. Brick by brick, I made them myself.”

It took him that long? Not us, Mark wasn’t going to be some slacker. A year at most, that’s what I figured. I looked hard, I did, but I didn’t see a home out there. Mark kept trying to find it, is that it? Is that it? Danny finally stopped the truck and made us get out. He stood on a rock and pointed back towards our place.

“There. See that twisted juniper tree, hugging a pinion, with a huge boulder to the right?”
He waited patiently as we stared and stared, as if I could make out which tree but then Mark found it. He described it to me, “Straight ahead, thirty degrees north, down four inches, there is dark grey rectangle. See it? That’s the roof, I think.”
Danny slapped him on the back. “Well done. Not bad for a tourist.”
“We’re neighbors,” I exclaimed excitedly.

Danny sighed. “Yeah, but don’t come over asking for a cup of sugar. I’m not that kind of neighbor. I don’t like visitors, not generally. The dogs don’t like it neither.”
“Dogs? You’ve got more?”
“Oh yeah, they keep on having pups, you know how it is.”
I bit my tongue. Danny was our new neighbor. Anyway, we needed the ride to town. Damned if I was walking any more today.

Danny dropped us off at my Subaru in the parking lot of the general store. Mark wanted to get the shopping done, coffee, bacon and eggs, two bags of ice and all of that. I pointed out that it’d all go off by the time we got home.

“Oh, right. So beer first and after that shopping?”
I gave him a hug; he was so smart sometimes. I opened up the car and sat down. Then back up. Fast. The seat burnt my thighs. The water bottle on the back shelf had drooped. The M&M’s were slime. We cranked open all four windows and stood back.

“Walk to the tavern?” Mark suggested.

“Yep, let’s leave it like this. Oh, and add it to the list that we need the window shades.”
Mark took out his notebook and wrote it on page three of the things we needed. I took my bag and off we walked. It’s a half-mile from one end of town to the other. The sun shone. Tourists passed us and smiled. Kids biked down the road with dogs chasing at full speed.

Life was great but for these facts: My head hurt. My skin burnt. My knees wobbled. My new Nikes pinched my feet. I needed a cold drink, preferably alcoholic.

On either side of the two-lane highway were small old wooden houses made into galleries and stores. A thrift store. Rugs. Art. Art. Art. More art. Cowboy boots. Art. Stone work. Art. And one coffee shop. I craved beer not coffee after our little adventure. We kept on walking.
“How’s the hangover?”
Mark laughed easily. “Not bad actually. I don’t know why I felt so crap. I used drink much more than three glasses of wine in Washington. It must be because I was tired from driving or something. How are you feeling today?”
“Apart from hot and tired? Pretty good. I can’t wait to sit down with the locals and talk to them about living out here. I wonder if anyone knows we’re new here?”
Mark shook his head. “Well, I don’t reckon they’ll take to us that quickly, you know. They don’t know us from Adam, or the rest of the tourists. Hey, isn’t it July the Fourth next weekend? I wonder what they do to celebrate here.”
We crossed the road with two yellow and orange local mutts and followed them up the steps and into the tavern. Yes, the dogs went inside too.

Where next?

Trundling around Europe in the back of a Land Rover, it was never a question of ‘are we there yet?’ but more of ‘where next?’

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Decades pass and the restlessness rarely leaves me. I crave another trip, another adventure, something new please. Engaged by curiosity, I lose interest in the familiar. I’ve read enough books about how that’s a lack of contentment, spirituality, blah blah blah but this world is made up of the curious. New inventions, new paths, new works of art, and yes, new books all come from a curious mind. Curiosity killed the cat is one of the most annoying and limiting phrases thrown at me over the years. Familiarity kills the spirit. My spirit that is. I’m not saying one way to live is better than another, just that for me, it’s different.

A map, a road unknown, a small town cafe, a bookshop, an empty beach, a mountain path, that appeals. The sense of what next? Where next?

This last year has been one of readying myself for the next phase in life. At thirty, I was deported, sent back to England with a hefty slap on the wrists and nine months in limbo. At forty, I graduated from professional clown school in San Francisco. Now at forty-nine, I wonder. I don’t know.

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In preparation though, I sort through another drawer, pulling out old photos, cuttings from newspapers, ideas scribbled on paper as my mind whirled late at night with stories and events worth remembering. A basket for paper to be burned. A lockable truck for the goodies I still care for. It’s about half and half it seems, which fills fastest. One drawer down. Two.

I turn to the closet, well, cupboard and pull out all my clothes one by one. It’s a compulsion. A need to lessen the load. To look at what I own, and to question why. I find it releasing, a lessening of the the claustrophobia that lingers in my mind, threatening to make me hit the road and leave it all behind. I’ve done that once before. Walked away with only a backpack. Claire was left with it all. I’m sorry Claire, I didn’t think of how it would affect you when I left London like that.

After clearing out my parent’s home, I understand how hard it is decide what stays and what goes. How was I meant to pay respect to their belongings when Peter and I weren’t able to house all this stuff. A minimalist most of my life, it overwhelmed me. I refuse now to do that to my family and friends. Being a morbid bugger, knowing too well that lives have to end and usually surprisingly suddenly, I throw out old letters, old clothes, anything that weighs me down. I dread for my anyone to have to sort through my belongings because I can’t. That’s one reason I’m such a minimalist.

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The other reason? A vagabond perambulator I am. Happiest wandering around, watching, chatting, reading and writing. Then setting up a temporary home in some simple cabin, here in New Mexico, in Guatemala, in Wales, in North Carolina and even Tennessee. It doesn’t take much for this scruffy english woman to relax and make a home base.

Perhaps then, this current discarding of belongings is to set me free once more? To allow me to take trips whenever I feel the urge, to rent out my own cabin in the mountains near Santa Fe, New Mexico? I don’t know. I really don’t know what’s next. I’m throwing out so many ideas into the world, acting as if each and everyone will happen, I keep moving forward. The freebox in Madrid takes my clothes, tools, furniture and books. I sell what I can, give away others, and burn the paperwork that holds me down.

Too many hats. I have too many hats. They’re my parents. I can’t give them away so I bring them with me. Yes, I do keep some things, a table from my great-grandfather, paintings from my gran, books of my dads, hats and photos from Mum. Peter’s cast-off clothes, the benefit of having a big brother.

But what is next? Where is next? West or Mid-west? North or south? I pick at my belongings, less and less is kept, and my closet is bare. The sentimental stuff of childhood in England is boxed and under the bed. The paintings hang on the wall above my bed, and the hats are above the front door.

Where next? Do we ever know? I’d say no but I’m ready for upheaval. For big changes. Hopefully that is. And yes, all the critters are coming with me.

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Kristie’s Story (in her own words)

These last few weeks have been pretty amazing.

I used to follow her around all the time but suddenly she keeps picking me up and cuddling me. I used to drive her crazy, always ready to pounce on her lap as soon as she sat down, on the bed, at the desk, outside, it didn’t matter to me. I wanted to be close. Now though, it’s Sleam picking me up and holding me against her chest, sitting down for ages at a time, doing nothing but loving me. She knows that the cancer is killing me. She’s spoiling me rotten and I love every minute!

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There was a time before Eddie and I came to live with Sleam. I won’t go into details but I will say they didn’t like me and I didn’t like them, which is why I peed on their bed, a lot. That kind of backfired as they dumped me at the Shelter. I didn’t like it there, small spaces, and lots of strangers coming and going. I’d overheard people talking about Eddie, this black and white cat; he’d been there a year already and was running out of hope. He used to hide under the cages all day long, all on his own. Eddie didn’t play the game you see, the ‘customer service smile and purr game’. I got to hang out with him though, I liked him, he was my age almost, and a funny cat. Anyway, one day, this tall woman came in and lay on the floor and talked to us both as we hid under a huge cage in the corner room. Eddie went over to her, purred loudly, and then climbed onto her lap. I was amazed. I followed him. She took us both home. Life has never been so good.

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It’s funny how much I love being held these days. I used to fuss and cry when she’d pick me, but Sleam would stroke me, once, maybe twice, and then put me down again. It felt good to be held though so I let her pick me up more and more. Now though, like I said, it’s her coming to me. My tummy hurts and it feels good to be held so I let her cuddle me. The other night I fell asleep on her chest. The dogs were on the bed too, well, not Harold, he’s happier on the floor-tiles.

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I usually join him during the night but this time, it rained and Rosie and Ollie and even the annoying little kitten Stevie slept with me and Sleam. Stevie, I shouldn’t call him little any more, he’s bigger than me now I’ve lost all this weight. He was the one-pound weakling when he was found in a woodpile and came to live with us. He got so sick that Sleam had to hold him to her heart for days before he started drinking goat’s milk.

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Anyway, the little tiger, Stevie’s learnt to be a great little mouser. Sleam’s home will still be rodent free; that was my job you know, keeping the kitchen clean of critters. Eddie, he went outside most days, hanging out in the yard, watching the birds, didn’t catch anything but he liked to hang out with the dogs. He even raised a few puppies. Eddie didn’t come back one night though; we’ve all missed him horribly. Stevie makes me think of Eddie, he wants to be a dog too, always playing with Rosie and following Ollie around the yard. Funny boys.

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These last few weeks Sleam and I have a new routine. She feeds me junk food, oh my, oh my, I do love this food. Whiskas, Friskies, fresh salmon, ham, you name it, whatever I want she goes to Santa Fe and picks it up, even catnip!

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I can’t keep the food down any more, but I try to hide how bad it is. Sleam hears me though, wakes up in the middle of the night, and simply cleans up my mess then strokes my head until I stop heaving. She picks me up and takes me to bed with her.

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I hadn’t wanted to tell her about the cancer but her friend the vet worked it out. Sleam didn’t take the news well, but I didn’t expect her too. She rallied around though. Her job even let her have time off to be with me. I’m glad. She’d talked to the vet and they’d decided on a Friday to let me go but I wanted Thursday. I kept telling her, each time she held me, but she didn’t hear until she got to work one day. That voice in her head was me. Her boss told her to take the day off.

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Yep, these last few weeks have been pretty amazing. Today, Thursday, the dogs sniff me, sleep next to me, they’re being gentle. I like being near them all. Even Ollie is cuddling me. He still steals my food but I don’t mind.

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Stevie is outside in the tree, oh here he is, come to check on us. Rosie takes a nap with me whenever she gets a chance.

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Sleam is writing. I sit in the sun and dictate to her. It’s a good day. I’ve had a great life – did I mention that? Life with Sleam and family has been wonderful. I know I’ve been loved. How good is that? I’ve known love.

My latest Writing Project

https://roadtripswithmydogs.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/backroads-camping-in-nm-az-part-three/

I’ve been thinking about how I should do what I love and that is writing, dogs, camping, and the Four Corners area in the States. I’ve started writing a blog on wordpress in case any of you are interested in following along with my road trips. I’ll keep this blog upto date with my novels and articles too. Thanks for staying in touch.

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CALL FOR ENTRIES!

Call for your stories! I’m editing an anthology of dog focused tales, with the theme of taking our dogs on the road when camping and on road trips in the Southwest…What was most fun? Most challenging? Tell us of a specific incident that made you laugh or cry, that made you wish you’d left them at a Doggy spa or one that tempted you to adopt yet another dog. 

The book will be a mix of photos and articles and stories, available on Kindle and Amazon to start with, expanding as soon as possible to a bigger audience.

Word length of 150 – 2000. Images of 4 mgb or larger.

Contact me at revsleam@yahoo.com with “Roadtrips with dogs” in the title.

You can find me on Amazon, Rovers North, Google, Madrid Artists Quarterly and other places too numerous to mention. Oh, and FB there is a page called Roadtrips with dogs in the SW.

Thanks and pass this on!