Oh, maybe I should have called it Before Kibble instead. Oops. Oh well, before coffee is always before kibble. At least it is in our household.
Oh, maybe I should have called it Before Kibble instead. Oops. Oh well, before coffee is always before kibble. At least it is in our household.
SEPTEMBER: SUPPORTIVE FRIENDS
“Do you have a shotgun?”
“Did you kill it?”
I poured the French Roast one at a time and answered, “we went to bed.”
The café broke out in laughter; all began talking at the same time. The two tables were full of locals, with newspapers, empty paper cups, plates of bagels, and the various phones and hats they all carried. Eight chairs, seven gray-haired men, and one four-year old little girl in pink. She held court between the snake stories. Mark and I’d gotten off lightly apparently. One local woman had a rattlesnake climb into bed with her. I’m glad that wasn’t me.
The guys all had different ideas as to what we could/ should do next time. No one had the definitive answer that I heard. But here goes, the ideas included but were not limited to:
Rope on a stick to lasso the bastard.
Metal buckets with lids.
Cats keep away mice and rats, and therefore the snakes don’t come over for dinner.
Clean up piles of lumber and trash. (Little did they guess that I was pretty anal about that already and didn’t need any excuse.)
Wire mesh under the bus to keep out all kinds of critters.
Cat-litter spread around the perimeter.
And again, get a shotgun.
I poured coffees for the regulars and made lattes for the tourists. The café business was slowing down after my mid-morning rush. I took a breath and carried on cleaning, dusting, and catching up. I drank another cappuccino. The two glass doors had been propped open and a soft crosswind took out some of the various odors, not all were that pleasant let’s say. I wiped down the shelves and took a cloth to the shelves full of small colorful silly gifts for those passing through. I looked at my notes. Matthew, a local mechanic, had drawn a sketch for how to make a lasso out of PVC pipe and baling wire. He’d drawn a cartoon of Mark and I chasing down a posse of snakes across the desert. I wanted to frame it; he’d done such a great job. Frida was asleep outside in the back yard of the café, under the elm tree with her favorite blanket and toy near by. She’d been on quivering guard all night long and the poor thing was exhausted. I checked on her every so often but she barely moved.
The morning passed peacefully and for that I was glad. I scanned the paper, looking for jobs for Mark. He’d hate that, but he’d need to do something soon. I couldn’t support us both on what I was doing. I thought of asking at the restaurants but couldn’t face that either. I leaned against the counter and daydreamed.
“Hi. Is Anne around?”
Andrew, the birthday boy, stood in front of me with his hat in hands, politely letting me gather myself. He’d pulled up in the driveway in his 4Runner, the engine still running. I checked the calendar and told him she’d be back in the morning but not before.
“Can I help somehow?”
Andrew shook his head but sat down on one of the wooden stools in front of me, his truck forgotten. His long white hair hung loosely and the blue Levis and denim shirt were much more worn out than at his party the other weekend. He wasn’t in his Sunday best, I guess.
“I don’t know, Jenny. It’s my sister; I’m worried about her. Anne’s so good at all of her community outreach stuff, I wanted to ask her help.”
“What’s wrong? Is there anything I can do?” I poured him a cup of coffee out of habit and sat next to him. I turned down the music. He sat quietly for a moment, thinking to himself before he started to talk.
“It’s the rescue. She’s drowning in debt but won’t ask for help from anyone. I don’t think she can keep going for much longer unless she gets some money together. I don’t know how. We’re all the family there is, we don’t have anyone to turn to. Mom’s ancient and doesn’t even recognize us any more.”
“So you thought of Anne? How come?”
He glanced at me. “I forget you’re still new here.”
“I’m not. I’ve been here almost three months now,” I said indignantly.
He laughed, “no offence, but that’s not so long, is it? Anyway, Anne’s put on fundraisers before. I thought maybe we could do one for the sanctuary.”
“I want to help. I don’t know how, but I’m sure I could do something. What does she need?” Ready to get involved as usual, I couldn’t keep my enthusiasm in check. I tried not to bounce in my seat.
“Mostly it’s the financial stuff, paying bills, buying supplies for the dogs, paying medical bills as they come up, maybe even making it into a non-profit.” He grinned. “Well, that’s what I’ve come up with so far.” and he tied his hair back and out of the way. His moustache drooped and dipped into the coffee.
“What’s she been doing until now?”
He sighed deeply. “Nothing. I told her to set herself up properly when her husband left, but did she listen to me? No, I’m just her older brother.”
“Mark’s been helping over there, mending fences and stuff. It’s not really what he’s good at. He’s more of a musician than anything else. But he’s good on the computer. Maybe we could do the Internet stuff for her, work on the accounts and look into some marketing?”
“Louisa doesn’t like getting people involved in her life. We’d have to get her okay first. But is it hard to get the non-profit stuff done?”
I shook my head and sipped coffee and grabbed notebook and pen. I started to write down ideas free form. “I’d think it’s probably just lots of details, setting up the different roles and that. We could do it so she has the final say on mission statements and that, but we organize how to deal with the money side of things. If Mark or someone could write some grants, then…”
“She’d be okay? I don’t want her to lose everything in the meantime.”
“Oh, right, that wouldn’t help her out right now.” I stood up and called to Frida. She trotted up the steps and lay down next to Andrew’s boots, and started to lick the one nearest her.
“Been cleaning out the stables,” he explained as we watched my dog.
I wrote down about grants, sponsors, fundraisers, and asked, “When Anne’s done other events, how does that work?”
Andrew added some more sugar and talked about the tavern hosting various shows over the years, with silent and live auctions, music all night long with the local bands each getting a set or two before the community jam towards the end of the night. “For one woman with a back injury, we raised about six thousand, and that took care of her mortgage and those kinds of expenses. The hospital covered the medical bills since she was under the poverty income levels.”
“Do you really get that much support here? There are not enough people, surely?”
Andrew laughed, “I know it seems that way at times, but there’s another four hundred or so folks living out in the mountains, and most of them are artists and writers and sculptors and woodworkers. They all bring their own creations to auction off. The musicians play with each other and with their reputations they bring in more of a Santa Fe audience, the families bring the kids, and it’s pretty incredible.” He had the sweetest smile right then.
I petted Frida. “Let’s do it, a fundraiser then, and in the meantime, Mark and I can work on the long term legal stuff, finding us, I mean Louisa, sponsors. I’m up for it. I’ll tell Mark later today, okay?”
Andrew put his hand on my arm, and still smiling, simply said thanks.
The four of us sat at the corner table in the tavern. Papers and pens lay scattered among pints of half-drunk beer and untouched iced water. A bowl of tortilla chips was brought over by the waiter. He left us to it after checking we didn’t need anything for a while. We all talked over each other, one idea after another. Anne took down notes as to names of artists and galleries. I wrote their suggestions for media coverage, which papers and the specific journalists to approach. Radio stations, online yahoo groups, Facebook, all the different social networks came to mind. Mark scribbled his own ideas and questions to follow up on for finding the bands. Andrew stood up after a while and stepped outside to smoke, with Mark following his lead. Anne and I took a breath and stopped talking. The calm felt good. I set the pen down. I breathed in deeply and let it out slowly.
The tavern was empty. Then again, for a weekday afternoon, I should know to expect that by now. Anne drained her first pint and ordered another round, with a plate of nachos for the group of us.
We sat in an easy silence.
The drinks came. The men didn’t.
“Cheers.” she toasted me. “Welcome to Oliver. You’re truly a part of this place if this is how you spend your time off.”
I tipped my glass and took a sip. “Yep, I feel like I can help out. I know Louisa. If it had been anyone else, I don’t know that I’d be as keen as this, to be honest. But I like what she’s doing up there. Maybe I can help set up a website, tell people about the specific dogs looking for homes.”
“She’d do well with a monthly newsletter to keep us in touch. She’s not good with people, that’s for sure, but I’ve known her with these dogs, ones you’d think should be quarantined because they’re so unpredictable. But she works with them, teaches them manners, and finds them homes. It’s such a shame her husband left her, but I reckon she’s happier without him.”
“It wasn’t his dream, you know? The ones that don’t make it out on the land, well, usually one or the other is just going along with it to keep the partner happy. After a while, hauling water, or chopping firewood, or waking up to a raging windstorm, it gets old for some.”
“Not me. I love every minute of it. I didn’t know I would, but I do. And Mark’s been amazing too. He’s so great with the pup, and with getting his hands dirty, all the while he’s grinning and giggling and whistling to himself. I’ve not seen him this happy before. It’s pretty amazing.” I stared out the window and we watched Andrew and Mark chatting away, big smiles on their faces, non-stop back and forth. Mark pushed his curls out of his eyes and tied a bandana around the unruly mess, as he stroked his goatee absently. He finished his pint as he listened to the older man. Andrew’s faded denim shirt glowed in the direct afternoon sunlight, and his weathered skin suited him just fine, so much so that I imagined my boyfriend in his seventies looking somewhat like his new friend. I smiled to myself and turned back to Anne. She was reading her notes distractedly, fiddling with a strand of hair.
“Where’s Graham today?” I asked suddenly.
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. Something about the fire department, taking out a new volunteer to check for wildfires. He said they’d be back late afternoon sometime. We’ll see.”
She shook her head and focused on writing reminders to herself when Mark wandered over. He took a seat next to me just as the nachos arrived. He helped himself, humming away as he ate. I watched them both.
“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.
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-”
“-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.
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.
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?”
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 –
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 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?”
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.
Thanks everyone for the incredible support.
As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.