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?”

 

 

Living The Dream: 14

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

JULY: IN SANTA FE

“What was in it?”

Louisa turned to face me as she picked up a timid husky from out the back of the truck. The sign for the sanctuary was completely hidden by the mud splattered everywhere. I took the leash.

“Not much thankfully. Some cash and my old driver’s license. The rest was just receipts and business cards, that kind of thing.”
“No credit cards?”
“No, Mark keeps those on him. We looked around but didn’t see the guy anywhere. He must have hidden pretty well.”

I stroked the dog’s ears; he was terrified with tail between his legs and shaking like my sheets in the wind. The sound of all that traffic on highway through town filled my head, so loud and insistent it was. I knelt down to talk to the pup at his own height. He smelt my hand and then my arm. He gave me one lick of friendship but the tail remained tucked.

“Did you get the guy’s name? I might know him, by reputation if nothing else.”

Louisa was busy unpacking dog crates, leashes, pamphlets, and she only half listened to my stories of the motel, the night in town, what Mark was up to. In short, she didn’t really care; the dogs were her focus right now. That was why I was here too. To get the dogs homes at the monthly adoption events she put on in Santa Fe.
We walked across the parking lot towards the store and she left me holding three pretty large dogs. I stood there, not knowing what to do with them when a white-haired couple came and started chatting to the dogs by name. Finally they turned to me.

“You must be the new volunteer Louisa told us about. This in my husband, Jim, and I’m Margaret. Or Meg if you like me.”

She had a round soft face, all freshly washed cheeks and sparkling white dentures. She wore clothes of white and pale yellow, perfectly light colors for such a sunny day. No thunderclouds threatened us so far. She held out her hand and I reached to shake it but she took a leash instead. I put my hand down. Meg petted the husky who immediately relaxed and sat at her feet. Jim took one of the other dogs, a chow-chow mix. I was left with a lab retriever youngster. One year old and hyper as all hell, she bounced impatiently, trying to nose me and anyone within reach.

“We usually set up on that bench. We’re close enough to the door that people wander over but we’re not making a nuisance. It’s very good of them to let us come here once a month. I don’t want to annoy them, you know how bad that would be.”

I followed her and settled in for the long haul. Meg talked about doing this very thing for the last six years, once a month, sitting with the dogs and counseling people to make good matches. There are too many dogs homeless in Santa Fe County she explained:    “The Shelter takes in as many as they can, almost six thousand last year. Isn’t that incredible?” Meg chatted away easily.
“Where else do you go?” I asked after a while. I drank some water and ate a protein bar.
“Oh, to the other grocery stores and the mall. We mix it up but we try to keep a schedule. That way people know where to find us. Which is a good thing since Louise doesn’t like to return phone calls.”

Jim laughed and nodded agreement. With sunhats and water bottles, Jim and Meg were ready for the next four hours. Louisa came out with a manager in tow. He stood near us, quite clean and friendly, talking to the dogs but not actually touching any. He kept his hands in his pockets.
“Only three today?”
“No, we have two more in the truck, an old border collie and a Chihuahua mutt. I’m waiting for the other volunteers to get here before I get them out. They’re both friendly so don’t worry. I think we’ll start over at the bench but move closer as the sun comes round if that’s okay?” Louisa tucked in her tee shirt and adjusted her baseball cap.
“Sure, just don’t block my customers.” The manager smiled at us all meaningfully and walked back into the air-conditioning briskly.

At eleven o’clock, my brain was already baking. How did they do this all day long? Louisa got me to help set up the signs and put flags around to catch attention. I wiped her truck a little, just enough to read the name: “Rose’s Rescue.”

I put out a table in the shade but was told to move it. The dogs needed the cool more than us humans. I spread out literature, all about animal overpopulation, the rescue’s mission, and a call for donations. I started to read. It was fascinating to learn how she does it, how she keeps the dogs fed and housed. It’s all about volunteers and sponsors apparently. Mark had dropped me off on a perfect day for this. We’d kept meaning to help the adoption events, but we hadn’t until then. Staying the night in town was the reason to be honest – I was already so close; I had no excuse not to show up. It gave Mark some time alone, which he claimed with glee.

I leaned against the truck and watched the day pass by. Hundreds of folks shopped here, in and out they came, with brown paper bags overflowing, and the donation jar filled quickly. They took flyers and chatted to the dogs.

Jim and Meg both pulled in these complete strangers and engaged them confidently with the dogs, passing the leash, coming to me to get water even though they had bottles near by. Anything to give families time alone with each animal that was the ploy. The lunchtime crowd picked up even more and I was glad when two other regular volunteers came and took on the extra dogs I’d been holding onto. This was one big happy family, and I noticed that all of them kept the public away from Louisa. She held back, she supervised, filled water bowls, walked dogs, and kept to herself. Not a publicity hound so to speak.

A huge bear of a man adopted the chow, both were strong and gentle, and the man was so soft-spoken Louisa had to lean close to talk about the details. I watched as he knelt down and whispered to the dog, who suddenly sat up on his back legs and begged. Louisa laughed and shook her head.

“He approves, I see. Don’t forget to switch the food slowly, and if you have any questions, call and I will try to help. Jenny, can you set him up with the paperwork?”
“Sure,” I passed on the forms and took his information and handed out the vet’s info. The man hugged me and loaded up the chow-chow into his car with a huge smile and a wave. Jim came over just as I was basking in the glow of a successful adoption.
“Can you walk the lab? She’s got too much energy and can’t settle down.” Jim passed me the leash and the pup started bouncing wildly.

“Where to?”
“There’s small park up there a couple of blocks. You could run around there for ten or twenty minutes. That’s probably enough for now. You okay with that? Do you want some water?”
I took a bottle and the dog. Helen was her name. Helen led the way. The roads were pretty busy with afternoon shoppers but Helen didn’t seem too bothered by the traffic coming so close. Across the street from us, a park opened up a couple of blocks length, with huge deciduous trees covering the whole area with shade. It was heaven, with thick green grass, the kind you picture but is rare to find in New Mexico. It was so luscious I stuck my face in it and breathed deeply. It smelt so yummy, better than a smoothie any day. Helen rolled on her back and wagged happily as I scratched her belly. I took off my sandals and walked barefoot. We wandered around, one end to the other. My toes were ecstatic. I missed parks; we’d had a great one in our neighborhood in Olympia. I used to spend my afternoons lying under the trees reading. I almost missed being there, but not quite. I walked us to the benches encircled by dozens of roses, all blooming. It smelt wonderful. Did you know that Tuscany is the name of a rose? They sure do come up with some odd ideas for plants. I broke off one flower and stuck it in my pocket guiltily.

With a dog in hand, I ended up meeting three or four different families and their kids and teenagers, all coming to pet her soft black fury body. She wriggled and played and chased the tennis ball this one little kid had. I sat with that family for ten minutes before they asked about Helen’s story.

“She’s a stray,” I told them. “We don’t have any history on her. Somehow Louisa, who has the rescue our near Oliver, took her in. Want her? I’m meant to be finding her a home today,” I joked.

“Yes, I think we do.”

“Really?”
“Please Mommy. Please Mommy.”
The kid threw himself around Helen’s neck. Helen fell over and started licking every inch of the little boy. He squealed in delight. Mom watched and smiled to herself. She caught my eye and nodded once.

“Oh. Okay. Hmm. I think you’ll need to come to the store and talk to Louisa. I’m not sure how that works.”
“What does she ask?”
I grinned, “I’ve no idea, this is the first time I’ve helped out.”

Back at the store, the others were settling the dogs back in the truck, making sure they all had enough water before driving back to Oliver. Jim folded the table and boxed the papers. Louisa was nowhere to be seen.

Meg pointed to the store. “Shopping for herself. She might as well since she’s in town. Did you need something?”
I introduced Meg to the family with Helen. “She’d like to adopt the pup. What do we do?”

“Did you talk to them about where they live? What their expectations are? Do they have a vet? Other pets?”
I shook my head, “No, we just played together. The dog was great with little Mickey here.”
We both looked down to see Mickey sitting on the floor with the dog laying across his thin lap, her tail wagging slowly as she drifted off. He stroked her over and over, talking to her about his toys at home. The wooden boat, the teddy bears, and the balls.

“Well, that’s a great start.” Meg laughed with the mom. “Don’t worry, we want to make sure it’s a good fit, that’s all. So, can I ask you some questions? Find out more?”

Mickey butted in, “her name’s Helen, Mom, like my best friend at school. We can keep her, right?”

Louisa and I sat on the tailgate as I waited for Mark to show up. The truck was in shade finally, the groceries packed away and three dogs had been adopted. The chow, the lab, and that shy old chi mix all found homes. The collie had fallen asleep in her kennel, tired from all the attention. All in all, Louisa had had a good day in town. She scratched her head and looked back on the husky.

“That’s the one I worry about.”

The husky stared at her. He was curled up in the tightest ball possible and only the odd colored eyes could be seen. He watched us cautiously.

“Nelson’s special. He was so messed up when I took him in that I had to carry him outside to pee. He lay belly to floor constantly. What the hell makes people scare animals like that?” The pain and outrage poured out of her. She shook her head and told me more. “I call him Nelson, because he’s such a nervous Nellie as my English friend called him, it stuck. Nelson’s a good boy, I see it in him. I’m not sure that this is the best place for him but it’s better than living so scared on the streets, isn’t it? Las Cruces was not nice to you, was it?”
I wanted to pet the boy but he’d only just got easy enough to come to me when I wasn’t looking. I’d wait. I’d find him a home, I promised myself: I’d find him a home.

“Next week you can drive in with me if you like, if that makes it easier for you both.”

“Thanks, let me talk to Mark. I think he likes his time to play in town without errands, you know? He should be here in a few minutes.”

We sat in companionable silence, watching traffic and clouds.

“Another storm do you think?”

Louisa breathed in deeply. “Yes, in two hours time, but I doubt it will be as harsh as last night but steady. So make sure your stuff is safe this time.”
“Oh I think we will. But Frida gets terrified, what should we do for her?”

Louisa thought for a moment. “Keep her near one of you at all times. Make her a den to hide under the bed, but where she can still see you, your feet if nothing else. Have you Rescue Remedy? The homeopathic stuff really helps for that kind of thing. I have some in the front of the truck you can take.”
“What do I do with it?”
“In her water, put in twenty drops each day. Or if she’s getting in a bad shaky space, give her a few drops into her mouth. Wrap a tee shirt of Marks tight around her chest. Something that smells of you both, and she’ll feel like she’s being held by one of you. Thundershirts are what they’re called at the stores but I make my own. That’s something you can do for her tonight – get her settled and covered before a storm comes in. Do you keep her inside at night?”

I had to laugh as I tell her that my sex life has taken a back seat as little border terrier claims her space between us both, cuddling one and then the other all night long. We need to send her off for a doggy date for mom and dad to play again.
“Maybe wait until after the storms are done.”
I spotted my family. Mark was headed over with Frida in a new pink harness and puppy sized straw-hat somehow tied on behind her ears. She looked dapper for a dog, although a little uncomfortable. Poor girl spent the day with her dad shopping.

Living The Dream: 13

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

 

JULY: WET DOG

“Frogs? Do I hear frogs?” I murmured in my dreams.

Mark woke up with a startle. “Frogs. What the hell?” He jumped out of bed, almost knocking Frida to the floor. She yelped and sat on my lap as I tried to work out what was happening. Outside the sky was a dark grey with the sun only just lightening everything up enough to make out the basic blackened shapes and silhouettes. He pulled on his jeans and boots.

“Come on. It’s raining.”

It was true: That thundering sound wasn’t an imaginary waterfall, rain was slamming down upon a metal roof. I stood up excitedly. At last. Monsoons. Mark called out to Frida and they charged out the front door. He was laughing out loud and running around, with our pup barking and howling along. I got dressed and stood on the steps. It was pouring. Torrential rain, they’d not been kidding when describing the monsoons. The driveway was flooded, the trash bags floated under the trees. I ran down the steps and stood arms spread out and head turned up to catch the raindrops in my mouth. Within minutes I was soaked through. I took my shirt off and stripped to my skin. What was the point of wearing anything? This was a shower like none before. Mark laughed and copied me and we ran around in only our boots, thoroughly naked we skipped through the storm.

“Let’s try to find the frogs.” He stood and turned slowly, listening intently. “That way, I think.” He pointed to the west and I followed, holding his hand as we slipped. Frida kept stepping in front of me, asking to go back. I sent her out from under my feet. I ran with rain pouring off me. A stream, or a waterfall gushed in the distance; I couldn’t make out where. Mark jogged ahead, stopping occasionally, and then changing direction slightly. He stopped next to the arroyo. That dry sandy beach of ours now had a river running full speed down the embankment, taking branches, rats’ nests, and who knows what else with it. The rushing water was so loud he had to shout. I still didn’t catch what he said so he pointed.

On the banks I spotted the frogs. Tons of them, all echoing each other to some internal rhythm, one moment deafening, and the next a silent pause before they started up the chorus again. These were the voices that had woken us both up. I stared at them, absolutely thrilled and fascinated by their shapes and sizes. Where did they come from? Did they live in the dirt all year, waiting for this? The rain slammed into us continuously, I was drenched, my hair stuck to my head, and water ran into my eyes. I blinked.

“Want a bath?” Mark stuck his mouth next to my ear. He nodded down stream at our beach.
I grinned, “we might as well, we’re already wet.” I followed him down the rocks and he found a spot that curved up and past three huge rocks, making a pond. We curled up against each other and shouted sweet nothings.

 

“Where’s the tent?”
I walked next to Mark as we headed home to warm up and make breakfast.

“I don’t see it. Do you?”
The sandy campsite was now a sodden mess of twigs, our trash bags, and a couple of cardboard boxes that had lodged themselves in the bushes. No tent. We looked at each other and then downstream. Mark nodded once and set off into the mud. He searched down the arroyo for some ten minutes before he came back with a piece of fabric in hand. Emerald green, wet, and muddy.

“Was this it?” He held it out to me to inspect.
“It could be. But what about our clothes? Did they wash away too?”

“I don’t know. What else did we have in there? Oh, my ties and nice shirts were in a sports bag, a box of photos and letters, some books, oh and that box of vinyl too, damn. Could it really wash away something that heavy? Come on let’s go, it’s your stuff too, you know?” He paced impatiently, scratching his beard.
I waited a moment and offered, “We’ll look for everything when it stops raining, okay? I’ll help.”
Mark looked around helplessly once more and shrugged his shoulders in defeat. He held my hand though as we paddled through the streaming rain. The door stood open, as we’d left it. Mark went in first as I took off my boots and hung them out to dry. The sun peaked out from behind dwindling cloud cover.

“What the hell?”
The bus was wrecked. Furniture overturned. Fridge open. Books scattered and at least one was half-eaten. A pile of puppy shit sat in the middle of the hallway.

“That dog of yours.” He looked around furiously. We couldn’t see her. I called and called but Frida didn’t come out. I stepped back into the bedroom. The covers were shaking.

“Mark? Come here, will you?”
“What is it now?”
I pointed at our bed.

“Oh baby,” was all he said. He sat on the edge and started talking to her soft and low, calling her name, talking to her as I had that first day. She stopped shaking and the lump under the sheet slowly wriggled towards his voice. Her head stuck out and she stared up at us both dolefully. Her big amber eyes blinked. Her ears were flat to her skull. Her terrier brush-like fur was soaked and droopy. She shook as I folded back the sheet and reached for her.

The rain slammed against the roof of the bus suddenly, one last attempt before the sunshine returned, and she flinched but came out finally and sat between us, leaning into the warmth of our bodies and craving our touch. I looked at Mark over her head. He shrugged.

“Now what?” I echoed.
“We clean up, one of us does, and the other can stay with her. I guess we don’t leave her alone in storms any more.”
I stood up. “I’ll make us some coffee then, you stay here. Here’s a towel for you both, catch.”

 

We spent the morning enjoying the rain, the dog, and finally, remembering to enjoy each other. Mark made us a fire in the woodstove, as I still didn’t do a good job with that. Coffee in bed, we chatted about the solar and what we should do. Mark decided that we could work it out ourselves. What’s so hard about it, right? A panel, an inverter, and some batteries. Yep, we could do that for ourselves. Frida had finally left us alone to curl up on her own bed but one eye kept watch at all times.

The driveway was a muddy river. The porch had held up, and the bench had stayed dry enough for us to sit outside and we listened to the buckets overflowing, drip-by-drip, all from off the one little tin roof. We now had ten five-gallon buckets of our own water – it was a pretty satisfying for a start in self-sufficiency. The rains finally stopped but the clouds hung around. The mountains hid from sight in a lingering dense fog.
Mark went back inside, putting away mugs and coffee pot, and generally cleaning up after me. Frida came outside and joined me on the bench. Mark listened to the radio, only to come tell me that another big storm was on its way.

“This afternoon,” he said as he sat next to us, looking around the mud pit we called home.

“Is it time for a motel?” I offered with a grin, tying on my boots, hoping he’d agree.
“You want to bail on us? Go back to your townie ways?” He teased.

I nodded. “Yep, no shame in that as far as I’m concerned. It’s just for a night, it’s not like I’m giving up and moving back to the city, you know. You’ll quit before me.”
There was an uncomfortable pause before he laughed me off and stood up. “All right then, let’s go.”

“Now?”
“Yep, why not? It’s stopped raining. I’ve drunk three cups of Joe and I’m raring to go. So let’s go, right?”
I grabbed my backpack and cowboy hat as I closed the door behind us. Frida followed me closely, still scared.

“You drive.” I threw him the keys with a grin.
“No, you drive. I’m tired of driving all the time, it’s your turn.” Mark whined as he picked up a guitar and followed us.
I raced to the car, jumping over some puddles, splashing through others, and claimed the passenger seat. Frida ran after me and climbed into the back seat. Mark stood there, staring at us all warm and dry, and climbed in with a shrug and then a brief smile. He nodded to himself.

“Okay, okay, girls. I’ll drive. You wouldn’t know how anyway.”

 

“Hey, do you need a ride?”
Mark pulled up next to this figure stumbling along Harold’s Way in the mud. He turned. I tried not to gag. His eyes were both swollen shut, his mouth dripped a fine trail of blood and his face was a mass of eggplant bruises. He held his right arm close to his torso. I looked at Mark, shaking my head frantically. Too late, the man was coming up to my window. He leaned down. Frida growled from her back seat.

“That would be great. I’m trying to get to the clinic in town.”
“Okay.”
Neither of us knew what to say exactly. We drove slowly through the mud, occasionally slipping off to one side or the other. Thank God for four wheel drive. Finally I had to ask,

“Hmm, are you okay?”

The man turned to face me. I wish he hadn’t. Frida leaned next to me, none to happy with sharing the car. She grumbled deep and low.
“It looks worse than it is. Are you two the ones out by Dieselhead?”
Mark nodded as he drove. “Yeah, why?”
“Well, don’t tell him that you picked me up.”
“You mean, he did this to you?”
“No, but he arranged for me to leave town. He wants me gone.” The man shook his head and mud flew everywhere. Luckily he’d stopped bleeding. His jacket was soaked through and his jeans were caked in layers of clay and sand. He smiled at me and I saw beyond the yikes-factor. He had a friendly open grin, with only one tooth was missing.

“Thanks for picking me up. I don’t know that I’d have made it out of there on my own. Most people drive past me.”
I had to wonder why but I didn’t ask. Not directly. “Really?”
He turned back to watch where we were going as he started to talk about living in Oliver. He’d been in town for some eight or so years from what I could gather, and never as a popular man. “To start with, they thought I was a Narc. Now they think I’m going to steal whatever’s lying around.”
“Are you?” Mark sounded quite firm, most manly for a second.

“No, I’m not. And you just helped me out more than you can imagine. I’d not do anything to you, or your place, honest.”
I believed in his messed up logic. I think we’d just paid our insurance dues. He told me about the trailer he’d rented being burnt down in an accident in March, and since then he’d been couch surfing around the area.

“But I think I’ve run out of places to stay. Did you say you have a space? Extra studio or something? I could trade you.”
Mark said that no, we’d lost our tent on the floods, had our own place, but thanks for offering. It was all quite polite of him considering the situation. The car started sliding to the right as we crested the one small hill. I clutched Frida a little too tightly and she yelped. We drove down an embankment and into a riverbed. A creek rushed past my door. Great. The car stalled out. It started to rain again. Great. Mark gave me a look of frustration and stepped outside to see what we could do. Not much by his helplessness of his shrug. I opened the door, stepped shin deep into cold water, and joined him. Reluctantly. Our wandering hitchhiker sat inside and stared at us through the glass. I turned my back on him. I whispered to Mark. He went back over and asked the guy to get out and help us.

After checking it out from all angles, Mark had a plan. The three of us searched the road for loose rocks and stacked them around the tires and made a ramp back onto the road. It kept on raining. Frida started to whimper again so I put her in Mark’s seat with a scarf of mine to suck on. She watched me through the window.

The ramp was built. Mark got in. He started it up. The car didn’t move. I fell in the mud. Like I said, it was great.
We all sat in the car not knowing what to do.

A Dodge truck drew up beside us and stopped in the middle of the road, and the Hitchhiker flinched but said nothing. A young couple – did I really just say that? They were in their twenties at least, but anyway they both climbed down and introduced themselves, telling us how they lived a few miles past us, way out at the end, and rarely came out. They were pretty friendly, nice, you know? Three young kids peered out the truck windows. Frank and Debbie were homesteading, home schooling, and basically staying home. We were lucky; it was their regular trip to Santa Fe, bad weather or not, they always drove to town once a month. He pulled his cowboy hat back on and shrugged on a denim jacket. With leather gloves, Frank took out a ten-foot chain and tied our car to his bumper. The Hitchhiker hung back, being very low key for a man with a smashed in face; you’d almost not notice him. Debbie climbed into their truck and with only a second glance she pulled us out. Mark whooped it up in glee and Frida barked in distress. I let her out and she ran over to Mark to make sure nothing was wrong with him. He petted her as he took out his wallet to pay our saviors.

“What? No chance. We’re neighbors, that’s what we do. Help each other out.”
“Well, can we invite you all over sometime?” Mark offered.

Frank held out his hand, “We’d be honored to do just that. We’ll stop on by some afternoon with the kids. Do you both have kids?”
“Not yet,” said Mark.
“No plans,” I said.

Frank smiled at us both a little uncertainly. He unhooked his chain. “Well, okay then, you can follow us out to the highway if you like. And you’ll see us again. Pleased to meet you both.” He shook our hands. Debbie pulled on her sunglasses and gave us a wave as she waited for Frank to climb into the Dodge. She slowly drove off and waited for us to catch up.
I looked around. “Where is he?”
“Who? Oh, right, yeah, where is he?”
I looked over at the car and Frida had jumped back in through a window. I walked closer to check on her. She was alone. Our hitchhiker had disappeared. So had my wallet.

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!

Living The Dream: 10

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

 

JULY: ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE

 

I woke up to the sun shining in through the bus windows. The sky was streaked in gold and periwinkle. My sweetie was snoring next to me. The wind gently rocked the bus, but in a good way. I yawned and stretched my legs. I climbed out of bed and took three steps to turn on the coffee pot. I stared out another window at the mountains to the south of us. Tall and craggy, they loomed over the valley we lived in.
I got dressed in the usual jeans and red tee shirt, found my new cowboy hat, and poured out a fresh brewed Joe. I opened the door quietly and stepped down on to our almost finished porch. The paint smell had finally blown away.

I stretched tall and touched the tin roof above before bending forward to scratch my toes. I looked all around and once again was overwhelmed by how beautiful the desert can be. Sitting down on the bench we’d made yesterday, I put my feet up. The coffee was perfect. The sky lightened into a teal and orange stripe fest. The silence enveloped me. I sighed. I drank the coffee.

 

“What the hell?”

In front of me stood a small animal. Furry. Four legs. Tail tucked somewhere underneath. She looked like a roast chicken that had been left drying out on the dining room table.

A stray dog, in other words, she looked like a border terrier mixed with something, I had no idea what. I put my feet to the floor softly and she flinched but didn’t run away. The poor little bugger was all skin and bones, panting even now in the cool morning temperatures. I stood up, talking gently the whole time. I took a couple of steps and climbed into the bus, grabbing a green cereal bowl and filling it with water. I couldn’t think of what to feed her.

I came back out and she’d gone. I stood there, water in hand, and started to cry. It was hormones, honest. I put the bowl on the wooden platform and sat back on the bench. Out from under my feet she crawled past me and crept over to the water. She drank half and then burped like a pro. I laughed out loud and she jumped, running back under the porch itself. I could see her through the flooring.

I drank some of my tepid coffee and started to talk. I described the bus and how we’d found it. I told her about the mice and rats. I mentioned my favorite colors. I just talked a bunch of crap really.

The dog came out and sat in front of me with her head tilted. She had long spindly legs and that scruffy wiry creamy straw-like fur that terriers are known for. On her top lip, she’d grown a short moustache. She licked her lips as I spoke.

“Are you hungry, Frida?”
She knew what I was offering and her tail made an appearance, wagging slowly and cautiously. I stood up.

“Well, let’s see what you might like, shall we? Come on inside, don’t worry; the fella snoring is one of those good ones. He’s a keeper. He’ll be nice to you, I promise.”
I looked behind me to see her at the top step, nose working furiously, aimed at the new kitchen. I squatted down and opened the fridge. We had some beans, rice, and tortillas, Mark’s leftover hamburger and fries, a bag of tomatoes, coffee, cream, and beer. Oh, and some eggs. I pulled out what I wanted and put everything on the counter above me. I found another bowl, blue this time, and half filled it with the rice, an egg and some burger and stirred it all together. I headed back outside with the little girl at my feet, staring at me expectantly.

I put the bowl by her water and stepped away.

She sat. She waited. She licked her moustache.
“Go on, it’s yours.”

 

We walked the property with the sun rising behind us. I walked and talked out loud to the pup. She bounced like a puppy, forgetting herself and chasing at leaves and flies. She looked up when I chatted. She played under the pinions and in the sand, digging furiously at a small hole. I wandered over to see what the fuss was and she stopped to stare at me. I squatted down to her height. I leaned against a banana of a boulder. She dug some more. Suddenly a mouse ran between her legs and I squealed. Frida lunged after the little creature and gave chase. I heard her excited yelps growing more and more distant. I waited. She didn’t come back when I thought she would.
I carried on walking. I reached the back half of the forty acres and came across a few deep holes, seemingly old ones, hidden by branches cut from a nearby juniper tree.

I stood on the high point that looks over a dry riverbed, an arroyo as they say hereabouts. Sand and river rock lined the route the water must take if ever it flows. We’d still not had more than a slight rain so far this summer. My umbrella stared forlornly at me from the hook on the porch.

I sat down and listened hard. No furry footsteps came my way. I sighed and stood up and walked home. I took the western path, cutting under a ridge with sandstone ledges that scared me; the slightest extra weight could bring them crashing down on me. I spotted a small stumpy cactus that had thrown out a shocking pink flower. Just the one. I got close and stared. It was delicate yet chunky. Solid in it’s new growth, the flower didn’t move in the breeze. Or when I poked it with a stick.
The sand turned a burnt sienna in places, and in others a golden cinnamon toast. I was hungry. I picked up the pace. The sky was becoming more of a gunmetal gray than the periwinkle blue I’d grown used to. In the distance I heard a rumble. It wasn’t my stomach this time.

I walked fast through the silver pale green shrubs and the forest of tall cactus near our homestead. I heard Mark snoring still. I rounded the tail end of the school bus. On the steps sat Frida, with both the water and food bowls licked clean. Her tail wriggled and she stood up and ran to me. She stood on her back legs when I bent down. A lick on the chin, and that was that; I loved her.

 

“What the hell is that?” Mark yelled from the bed.

I ran inside. Frida followed a few paces behind. On the pillow next to my boy was a mouse. A dead mouse. Mark had scooted to the bottom of the mattress. His hair stuck out in all directions and he gave me a frantic look. “How on earth did that get there? Is this some kind of a joke?”
I laughed, which probably wasn’t a good idea. He scowled. I nodded behind me. “I think she brought you a present.”

“Who?” Mark pulled his knees to his chest and stared at me in a foggy daze.
Frida stepped closer to me and peered at Mark from between my legs, all sixteen pounds of her pressed into me for support.

“What’s that?”
Frida whimpered and shook slightly. I looked down at my scruffy new friend. “That is a dog.”

“He has a moustache.”
She, yes, she does. She has a name.”

“What name?”
“Frida, her name is Frida.”
“Oh, right. We can talk about this later, okay? Can you do me a favor now? Take the corpse away.” He pointed to my pillow. “You might want to wash that before tonight.”

I picked up the mouse with his bandana. Frida watched me with her head tilted sideways. Her one ear flopped and the other stood up high. She licked her top lip nervously. I smiled at her and looked back to Mark. “Isn’t she adorable?”
“Does that mean we’re keeping her?”
I smiled sweetly. “Did you want coffee in bed?”
“We should try to find if someone lost her.” Mark said sensibly.

“But what if they did and I have to give her back?”

He drank more coffee and leaned back against the headboard. I sat next to him. Frida looked at us from over the edge of the mattress, her little tufty ears following us back and forth. She watched as we decided her fate.

“What if it was your dog? Wouldn’t you want someone to give her back?”
“Yes, of course. Damn, now we’ll have to go to Oliver and try to find her family, won’t we?”
He nodded sagely, and lightly tapped the bed once. Frida needed no more encouragement and she bounced up. She stood there for a second, all eighteen inches tall, before she circled twice and curled up at his feet. Her eyes watched him closely.

“We can make some flyers or something. Go to the Post Office and ask around at the store and at the cafe. It’s a small enough town that they probably know the dogs’ names more than their neighbors.”

Mark was right; we’d have to go look, and make sure she wasn’t simply lost. To me, there was something wrong about how scared the pup was. That shouldn’t be allowed if she did indeed have a home nearby. Maybe someone dropped her off on the highway? Left her out here on her own?

“What about driving and asking the neighbors first? We could drive up Harold’s Way and ask around.”
Frida sighed and wriggled against Mark. He reached down and petted her absent-mindedly. I said nothing and left them to it.

 

“Hello? Anyone home?”

Mark shouted out of the car window. Three big furry dogs ran up to our Subaru and barked like crazy. Frida hid at my feet. The adobe house had one wall fallen in. A horse stood in a corral and watched us, flicking its tail. The German Shepherds soon got bored and walked back over to the shade of the porch. They didn’t stop staring. The house was pretty big but incredibly run down. Gutters half fell off the roof. Buckets lay everywhere. Empty bottles and trashcans lined the driveway. An old Chevy truck sat on blocks. The firewood pile had cacti growing out of it. The path to the front door was clear and well worn. Where was everyone?
I wanted to get out and look around. Mark wasn’t going to let me.
“Remember what Dieselhead Danny said, about how people don’t like visitors showing up uninvited? Especially folks they’ve never even met. We’re lucky we didn’t get shot.”
He looked around nervously, smoking as he checked his mirrors. “Do you have that note about Frida? We can stick it to the gate post on the way out.”
We turned the car around slowly, trying to avoid the stuff lying everywhere. The gate had been open when we drove up but I got out and pulled it shut behind us. I had some duct tape and I attached the description of Frida to the right hand side. That would get their attention.

 

One by one, we stuck notes on gates and sometimes on front doors, depending on the dog situation. If none charged us as we drove up, I was sent to do the deed. If the car was surrounded, Mark admitted defeat and we drove away with Frida on my lap. Her fur tickled. She leaned against me, nestling in for hugs when Mark wasn’t looking. We spent most of the morning looking for her owners but no one could help. Not that we met many people, but still, we did run into a few and not one recognized her. There was one last reclusive homestead on the way to Oliver we were told to check out first.

The gate was firmly shut but for some reason Mark insisted on going up closer. I got out to push the metal gate out the way when a voice shouted out to me.

“Don’t do that.”
Deep and strong, the voice was of God, booming out from the unseen. I spun around. A tall dark-skinned woman strode towards us. Frida whimpered and ran for the car, bouncing in and onto Mark’s lap. I was on my own here.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” I started in my polite middle class way when she reached me. At some six-foot or so, she made a remarkable first impression. The long legs reached higher than my waist. The tee shirt hugged a skinny wiry body devoid of anything extra, (that’s a polite way of saying she was flat-chested), the muscles shaped her arms into string beans, and her hair was a silver gray, and almost invisible it was that short. Her blue eyes took me by surprise. I didn’t expect that. I stuttered out the story of finding Frida. “Are you missing a dog?”
“I might be. Describe her again.” She had a no nonsense approach for such a strange answer.

“Surely you’d know if a dog’s gone, right?”
“Not necessarily. You see, I run a rescue here. That’s why I didn’t want the gate opened by strangers. Look up the hill and you’ll see my dogs are watching us closely.”
I looked and almost fainted. The hilltop was lined with dogs staring at me, bunches of dogs, all eyes focused on my healthy sized thighs, the color of a medium rare hamburger.

“How many do you have?” I shuddered in awe.
“Thirty-three. Or maybe it’s thirty-two now?” She smiled and suddenly I liked her. A childish mischief came out in the twinkle in her eyes. I grinned back.

“Let me show you Frida, she’s with Mark in the car.”
“Okay, that’ll work. I did get some dogs in recently that haven’t adjusted to the pack dynamic. They want to leave. I try to take a handful in to Santa Fe each month to find more permanent homes, you know, but that’s hard to do sometimes.”

We walked back, introduced ourselves, and she talked about the sanctuary. She’d had the place for fifteen years, starting with two rescue dogs that she found wandering her land. Mark watched us but didn’t get out of the car, Frida sat on his lap, and they both stared at us worriedly. Her little ears drooped at the sight of us.

“Is that one of yours?” I asked.

Louise stepped closer.

“Yep, she came in last week. She hates it here. The other dogs are much bigger. This isn’t really the place for a dog like her; she’s too vulnerable. Too small.”
“How did you end up with her?” Mark piped up, curious after all.

“Her owner died of old age and in his sleep. The EMTs brought her here when no family came forward. They’re pretty good like that, taking care of more than just the emergency patients. You could say that she came here reluctantly.”
We stood next to each other in silence. In the Subaru, Frida sat on Mark’s lap and licked her nose nervously. The storm hovered above the hills to the north of us, which were lit by a streak of sunlight within a mix of dark gray and baby blue clouds. Ominous.

“Can we keep her?” Mark said it first. I grinned at him and he smiled back briefly before focusing on the woman next to me. She stood quietly scratching her shaven head absently.

“On one condition,” she answered after a moment spent assessing us both. “You come help me here with the dogs and the property. My husband left me last spring, for a woman with two cats.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I need help, with maintaining the place more than anything, but also taking four or five dogs to town each month to find them homes.” She broke into a toothy gapped grin that made me nod my head without thinking it through. She stuck out her hand to mine. I shook hers and I didn’t wonder why.

She stepped closer to the car and leaned down and into the window. Mark held onto Frida. Louisa laughed softly.
“Don’t worry, she’s yours. I’d say she’s about three years old, and I know she’s had her shots and been spayed. I have the records for you. She’s a good dog. Thanks for taking her.” She petted the pup gently. Louisa looked into Mark’s eyes. “I’ll see you on the weekend, shall I? Not too late, I get up a six.”

LA for an award? Sure, I’ll go.

It must be an elaborate hoax, right? That my latest book won an award? That I’m being flown to LA tomorrow for a dinner downtown?

I’m packed, I figure even if it is a hoax, I might as well spend the weekend in LA. I haven’t been there in over 25 years, oh shit, that makes me old. Well, is there a big difference between that innocent yet brave kid and my current self? In some ways – no. I write, she wrote, we’re both restless and curious, not satisfied by the mundane but needing to find out other people’s stories and experiences. I’m excited to land in LA early in the morning and have the time to wander around, take the bus to the beach, wander up to Santa Monica to eat fish and chips at the British Pub that I remember.

The first time in LA, I was 22 years old with a backpack, a handful of dollars and one address in Venice Beach. I walked, talked, explored and stayed with a friend I’d met in Germany a year or two before. We’d gone to Freiburg University together, she was a good student, me not so much.

This time, I have a flight, a credit card, a small daypack, and no addresses. I’ll be staying at an Airbnb place near LA Live where we’re having the Awards Dinner. I can walk there and back easily and take the metro in the morning back to the beach before my flight Sunday night. Short and sweet a visit.

Is is hoax? What do I wear? What do I say at the ceremony?
What do I want from the experience? To network and talk to agents and publishers. To find a larger readership. To know that I am a writer after all these years. It’s real. It’s not a hoax.

From the website:

GREAT NORTHWEST BOOK FESTIVAL NAMES “VAN LIFE” FOR TOP HONORS

A woman who decides to hit the road with a van, three animals and her adventurous spirit is the grand prize winner of the 2017 Great Northwest Book Festival, which honors the best books of the late winter/spring.

Author Sarah Leamy’s “Van Life” (CreateSpace)  is the story of a writer who decides that there’s more to living than working retail and yearning for adventure. So it is that she takes two dogs and a cat on a rollicking trip through the back roads of the Northwest, stumbling across rural villages and a microbrewery or three. Her stories of the locals, the scenery and her family of animals are funny, poignant and ultimately a satisfying read for any armchair adventurer who dreams of doing something similar. Leamy and others in the competition will be honored in a private ceremony later this month.

 

Living The Dream: 9

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.  

DECEMBER: HOW TO

“I’m not sure, to be honest. Mark’s really good at improvising, that made it all a game, you know?” I reached down and petted Nelson’s head, reassuring myself.   “Mark just knew how to look at what we had lying around, and then create from that. He taught me a lot, that’s for sure. I’d not really built anything until we got to the land. I was the dreamer, the researcher, the teacher but he taught me how to play.”
“Your home became an art project then?” Angie sat back and finished her enchiladas. Jonnie was still eating but listening fully. It was good to talk. I hadn’t stopped yet.

“Yeah, I guess so. We had fun; making plans, playing with the materials. I love how our home was so, well, organic I guess. We didn’t really know what we needed until it became obvious. It was all so different to living in the nice little home in Olympia, gardening and watering with the hose, walking to town if we needed to pick up something. This was a whole new world for us. For me.”

I drifted off for a moment, picturing how Mark and I’d created such a home within months.

 

 

 

 

JULY: ART PROJECTS 101

 

 

“Are you sure that’s level, Jenny?”

I stepped back a few feet and looked again. It seemed pretty good to me and told him so. I walked around and checked from all the other angles. Yep, pretty good. I came back to the first post and took up my grip again. Mark let go of the four by four and grabbed his tools. A new cordless drill and a pocket full of screws made the boy so damn happy. He attached a crossbeam to another angled piece of two by four. The posts now stood up on their own. The porch was taking shape.

Impressive.

Next he had me hold more lumber in place as he screwed in the eight footers and tied it all together to make a basic framework for a roof. We’d dug the holes earlier in the day before it all got too hot. No cement but rocks and sand packed in tightly seemed to be enough to keep everything solid. Our plan was to build six uprights and create a frame of two by fours for a shed-like roof. On that we’d simply screw in the old eight foot sheets of corrugated tin that were stacked up near the driveway. Reuse and recycle had become our new mantra. In Santa Fe, Mark had discovered Habitat for Humanity where you could buy lightly used building supplies. It had become a favorite place to visit. Sinks, furniture, plumbing, electrical, you name it, they stocked it. Mark loved coming home from his errands with a box of screws that cost him only a dollar. Or that time he’d bought a kitchen cabinet made of old metal, absolutely rat proof and perfect for his next project. Yep, the homestead was coming along nicely and at a great price.
Mark set up a platform to stand upon by using his dad’s table. He started laying the lumber out for the next stage. I held pieces in place, trying to keep my face out of the direct sun. I didn’t want to look like some of the women around here. Much too wrinkled for my tastes.

“Can you go get some roofing for me?” Mark stood up on the table as he worked. “I’d say we can get this part done today and build the actual platform in the morning. What do you think? Are you up for another hour or so?”
“Sure, let’s get as much done as we can. I’ve still got some energy. I’ll go get you a sheet.” I wandered off down the dirt track and off to the right. Under another bunch of short stumpy trees I found the stack of old tin. I picked up a piece and brought it back to the school bus. I passed it up to him.

“This roof will make all the difference. Can’t you see us sitting on the deck for our morning coffee?” I was excited at seeing our first real building project come together.
Mark grunted as he worked. “Next time get a couple of sheets, okay?”
“Oh, right.”
Back and forth, I carried dirty, somewhat rusty, roofing. I set him up with what he needed, passing screws, tin, bottles of water. He worked. I helped. The roof was done. Nothing moved when I shook the posts. It all held firm.
“Good job.” I congratulated my boyfriend. “What do you need now?”
“A bath? A shower? A pizza and a beer.”
“Okay, let’s see. I have a beer for you. Does that work?”
He jumped back down and stood there admiring our work. He opened a beer and drank a good part of it before answering me. “That’s much better. Thanks. But what do you say to us staying in town tomorrow and getting a motel room?”
“Really? How decadent of us. I’d love it.”
He grinned and sat down in the shade of his new patio. He looked up at new roofing and nodded to himself. His shirt was drenched and his hair lay flat for once. The burnt toast color suited his face nicely. I stayed lobster pink, a rose by any other name.

“How about our goal is for finishing the deck tomorrow, putting across the wood to make some kind of platform, and making sure it won’t move in the wind? It won’t take me too long. I’ll probably be done by lunchtime and we can go to town after that and relax for the night.”
I sat next to him and leaned back. I gave him a short sweet kiss.

“When you do that, if you don’t need me, I want to get the painting done inside. It can air out when we’re away for the night. What do you think?”
“Yep, that works. But more importantly, what’s for dinner? I’m starving.”
I opened the cooler and rummaged around for a second, then pulled out the hot dogs and a pack of whole-wheat buns. Mark grinned.

“I think I need to eat something a bit healthier tomorrow night, but for now, no complaints. Do you need help? I’ll go wash up a bit if that’s okay?”

“Sure, go for it. I’ll make us a fire.”
He wandered off to the car and pulled out a five-gallon container of water. He filled a bucket, found his soap, and striped down to his boxers. He washed. I watched. It was a good evening at the homestead.

 

The night trickled along easily. We had a sweet routine of work, cook, drink, and then daydream. We’d chat about the different ideas for homes, and how could we do it, get a home base by winter? It was dawning on us both that this was a bigger project than imagined. He was growing into the idea of yurts and teepees and stuff like that, each being quick and easy to set up, even if you had to pay more upfront. I wanted us to build with stones taken from around the land, or even better to make adobes and create some funky weirdly shaped dome home. The labor-intensive options didn’t get his enthusiasm for some reason. We were chatting about compromising with a yurt that had straw bales set around the base for extra insulation when we saw flashing lights heading up our driveway.

We both stood up. Visitors? At this time of night?

Mark threw on a couple more logs so we could see what the hell was going on. Three large huge sounding trucks pulled up next to our campsite with their spotlights blinding us but I couldn’t see what was going on. Who were they? I shaded my eyes, unsure as to where to look or talk. A voice from the darkness spoke.

“Do you have a permit for that fire?”

A door opened and in the distance more vehicles rumbled down the driveway. For us?
“What’s going on? What do you mean, a permit?”

Mark walked into the light. I lost sight of him.

I felt naked in my shorts and tee shirt under the bright lights. I never had been one for standing on stage in front of strangers. I wanted the darkness back. I wanted the silence back.
The fire trucks kept their engines running. I moved into the shadows and tried to work out what was going on. Mark was surrounded by some ten firefighters in full gear. Helmets, boots, reflective coats, the lot. Radios beeped and voices bounced off each other.
“Didn’t I meet you the other day?”
I jumped and coughed. Next to me stood the man from the EMT vehicle in the parade.

“No, but I saw you at the Independence Day event. I caught a candy you threw.” I replied in surprise.
“Oh that’s right,” He smiled. He was smaller than I’d pictured, with a bit of a belly stuck out over his pants, and his skin hadn’t tanned like most peoples round here. But he was in uniform, what can I say? I liked uniforms. His dark hair was cut military style, and he had a salt and pepper moustache that didn’t make me laugh out loud. He smiled again. Perfect teeth. That must have cost his parents a fortune.

“I’m Graham. I’m with the Fire Department.”
“Jenny. I’m new to town. Welcome to my home.” and I blushed. It was too dark to tell, thankfully. I wanted to giggle. I stifled another cough instead.

“Have you ever thought to join the department? I could do with some sweet female energy. There.” He stepped closer. Nice aftershave.
“Really? You could? I mean, what do you need? At the department?” I didn’t tell him that I hate blood and can’t stand anything bigger than my campfire. ‘Hot’ scares me. He didn’t scare me. Well, not like that. His green eyes held me captive as he talked about volunteering. I had no idea as to what he said. I watched his mouth. Nice soft lips he had.

I suddenly realized that a couple of men were throwing dirt on our fire. They stood around in a group and with shovels in hand, messed up our very nice new fire-pit. I was  none too impressed.
“Hey, what the hell are you doing?” I stood between them and the smothered flames.
Mark jumped in and explained to me how there was a countywide ban of open fires. The wild fire risks were too great, he’d been told. In the Jemez Mountains some fifty thousand acres had already burnt up this summer. Everyone was scared. Especially as they were all waiting for the monsoon season to kick in.

“No more fires for us, eh?” He smiled nervously. “And if their boss shows up, we’re in trouble. They’d have to give us a ticket. But since we’re new and haven’t been here long enough to hear about that kind of fire ban, we’re okay this time. The Fire Officer told me it’s a fine if we get caught with another fire. Bummer eh?” He whispered and stared behind me, “Hey, honey, who’s that watching us?”
I turned to see the Graham head back towards the Fire Engines. A couple of men, and I think one woman, walked up to him.

“Hey Chief. Are we done yet?” someone asked him.
“Yes, let’s call it in and go back to Oliver. Did you make sure the fire’s out?”

“Yes sir.”
Graham waved at us both politely and climbed up into the lead vehicle. The other volunteers came and shook our hands first, almost apologetic for disturbing us, and they too left.
We stood in the dark and watched their lights grow smaller and smaller, with no sounds but for an owl to keep us company.

“Bedtime, I guess?”

Awards! Contests! Festivals! 

http://www.greatnorthwestbookfestival.com/

The Great Northwest Book Festival just honored my book VAN LIFE as the Grand Winner of their 2017 contest! I’m thrilled and delighted! They’re covering the cost of the flight out from NM to the awards dinner in LA and even are giving me an appearance fee. Bruce, who wrote to me, wrote: “Congratulations on a fun and page-turning read. Definitely one of the most fun reads I’ve seen in a while.”

http://www.greatnorthwestbookfestival.com/ for a link to their winners’ page.

For me, entering contests and festivals is a chance to find new readers as it’s mostly been word of mouth, going to events, chatting up strangers and handing off books and business cards. The opportunity of a book festival award opens more doors, tells others that my stories are compelling and that self-pubishing works. It does. I’m doing much better for myself these days although I’ll be honest, it’s a small time business, locally focused.

My goal then for this year? To find an agent. To have a chance at getting my books known nationally and internationally – it’s doable since I have a small steady following of readers here in the US and in Europe. I just need to build on that. And I will.

Solo Travels: Tips for women

http://www.fempotential.com/scared-solo-female-traveler/

“Aren’t you scared?”

Just yesterday a friend asked me if I ever got scared camping on my own, travelling on my own. No. I don’t. There’s more to it than that, but simply put, no, camping on my own is where I am happiest and most relaxed. In towns, in cities, surrounded by people, traffic, noise, music, talking for the sake of filling in the silence, no, that is not where I relax.

Last year, I had the honor of being a panelist on a discussion about the art of solo travels. Overland Expo West 2016 had almost 10,000 people all interested in vehicle dependent travels, whether local or worldwide; we all were there to get inspired.

To hear the stories from others who just have the wanderlust in their blood like I do was reassuring for me. I’ve been settled for too long now, and I’m restless again. I have been for the last few years, working towards getting on the road again.

That weekend at Overland Expo, I talked about crossing the States at 22 years old, hitch hiking with a small backpack and no credit cards or money, just following my distracted ideas of what to do next. I talked about riding my 1976 Yamaha XS750 across the Midwest repeatedly even though it would break down every other day, street performing in Guatemala, and driving the high elevation passes in Colorado in a 1973 VW Beetle. I never knew what to expect — these stories are part of me. I lost my two front teeth in Tarancon, Spain. I woke up on a train in Switzerland, not quite sure which country I was in. Hitched to the Munich beer festival. And yes, I travel alone. And I like it.

I admit, I once traveled with someone. It was 1989. Steve joined me in Chicago, a friend from my small hometown. I was walking down the streets in the city, knowing we’d find each other somehow but since neither of us had phones or hotel rooms, it would be a challenge. I walked with my backpack clunking away against my hips when I saw Steve sitting on a bench smoking. I sat down next to him and took his smoke.

We crossed to Maine, New York, Washington; we took trains, hitched, and then stayed at random homes of the families we met along the way. It wore me out. Steve let me make all the decisions. It wore me out. The responsibility. The constant discussions as to what we would eat that night, where we would sleep.

There have been other moments, a week here and there, spent on a road trip with a friend, but nothing as extended as that initial travel with Steve, bless him. Since then, I tend to go off on my own, I’m happier that way.

You see, it’s that on my own, I’m free to follow my nose, or rather the signs that capture my attention. It’s usually the ones that say ‘lake’ or ‘4wd only”, and off I go. I generally have a loose plan, places I’d like to visit if I’m in the area. I set a few goals, for small weeklong trips and for the extended travels. These days with the Internet, I plan a lot more, looking at photos, reading forums, and asking for suggestions. Whether I follow the ideas, that’s another story. I tend to forget to read my own notes.

 

Since I’ve done a bit of everything, backpacking, hitching, motorcycles, busses, trains, VWs, trucks and now a van I’ve learned that I have to be aware of what I bring. Packing has become more complicated nowadays, as two dogs and a cat come with me. I’ve made a short list for this latest configuration, and with the idea in mind that I might have to abandon ship (van) in an emergency, all the necessary items must fit in a small backpack too. I can leave the rest. I have before, in a dead VW bus in the middle of nowhere Missouri. I never did see that red camper again. I miss that van. Oh, well. But it was an adventure…

I love that I can eat what I like and when I like. Frito pie for breakfast? Bacon sandwich before bed? Chocolate? Cheese and crackers? Veggies and eggs? Whatever I like, when I like. It’s wonderful and one of the biggest perks for me.

As a solo traveler, I interact much more with locals. Since they appreciate how trusting I am, it’s always come back to me that these strangers treat me with the same level of trust.

As a twenty-two-year-old, I was hitching through Wisconsin, heading north to catch a ferry across to Michigan. My destination was a tiny village along the small blue highways in the Midwest. A truck pulled over, and two men started chatting to me. Two men and myself as a young woman? I talked to them, the father and son, and they offered a ride, but first they wanted to call ‘Mother’ and ask about dinner. I listened in as one of them chatted away, grinned, and said it was okay with her but I had to agree to come over to meet her! We ended up sharing a meal, they put me in the son’s bedroom, and dropped me off at the ferry in the morning, after introducing me to the Ferry Master. Safe? Yes, I remember them so clearly all these years later.

You see, I’m curious. The people I meet and their stories feed me. I also found that when I first crossed the States alone that many families I met wanted my stories of other states, places, towns, ones they had never visited themselves. My anecdotes of their own country paved the way for their hospitality. It was a trade in a sense. The armchair travelers got to explore their own country through me.

But I have to admit, I’m not very safe. I go places I shouldn’t. No one really knows where I am these days. I follow roads, conversations, and dreams. I have no back-up plans. I take risks. I fly by the seat of my pants and all without a safety net. I like it. Traveling like this wakes me up. Opens me up. To answer the question I started with, have I ever been scared? A couple of times. That’s all. First was when I had to get myself back from the South of France as an eighteen-year-old who’d been fired from her nanny job. I had a passport and a plastic bag of clothes. No money. No credit cards. And this was before cell phones, not that I would have called my parents, I preferred to get back and then tell them. I didn’t like to worry them! Poor buggers. I stowed away on a train, stole food, had a guard try to rape me, smashed him in his privates, and locked myself in a bathroom on the train. That was the first big solo trip and the sense of achievement at the end was incomparable: “I can improvise. I can get out of trouble. I should keep traveling!”

And I have. Looking back, even in the last ten years of ‘settling’, I took a ferry back from Alaska and a salmon cannery down the Canadian coast, camped all over the Southwest, spent three months in the Northwest, took a winter living on communes in North Carolina and Tennessee, rode my motorcycle across Wales and Ireland, studied in San Francisco, and had many other random shorter trips in the States. Not bad, not bad…

In my twenties, I just traveled without thought, it was an addiction, a need. I couldn’t sit still for more than a few months. I settled for a while but that addiction has kicked back in. I built a home, worked, settled and now the last few years, the need to explore new places has taken over.

If you haven’t traveled alone before though, you’d need to ask yourself: Where are you happiest? How do you spend your days? Are you mostly surrounded by friends and co-workers? Or do you work alone? Live alone? What are your social needs in other words? Think about what stresses you out and what makes you relax. For me, time without words, yes, I know, ironic since I’m a writer, but still, empty heads talking at each other wears me out. I like silence. I like mountains. And I like the company of animals more than people. But that’s me…and then after a couple of days alone, I love to sit and chat to friends and strangers alike. I have the energy and desire to hear their stories. To tell mine. To connect. Knowing yourself is one of the amazing benefits of solo travels, you have to take care of yourself and you will. There’s no one else.  Each time, I learn new rhythms and routines that are mine, pure and simple.

Close friends still ask, how do you find meaning when you have no one to share the experiences with? But I do. I write. I photograph. And simply sitting next to a lake in the mountains alone with my dogs, I know that our world is magical, stunningly beautiful whether I am there or not. I am a very small speck in a huge world and that is reassuring to me. I relax.

There is an art to solo traveling and the more I travel alone, the more I appreciate nature and the random conversations with people I meet. I am not afraid. I am open to life and adventures…and after doing this since I was a teenager much to my mum’s horror, I’m getting the hang of it. Finally. The question for me is where next? And when?

To hear more about Sarah Leamy’s solo travels, check out her book, Bring a Chainsaw & Other Stories From My Solo Travels

Solo traveler Sarah Leamy shares why she loves to solo travel and why it doesn't scare her to see the world alone.

 

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?”