I cried about 6 different times on the drive up here, remembering back to the first time I drove up the 5 last April. I was so young then. (Hah)
Highway signs still bring tears to my eyes, even though I’ve been out west for a year and a half now. And even though I’m not a fan of San Francisco and I’ve gotten over that false romanticized idea that midwesterners have of it, my heart still races when I see road signs with that name on it. It’s the realization or reminder that I’m living the dream. I’m in California. The place I dreamed of going since I was 13. Here I am. It’s amazing.
I went into the field yesterday with Katie. And I found a female song sparrow building a nest and a tree swallow cavity! Hah. It was more fun than it used to be, when it was my job.
Today Connie and Claude and I worked in the yard. I mowed the lawn, trimmed the bushes, planted some flowers. We burned the brush pile and I drove the tractor! And I planted my poor succulents here. Poor Missin’ Petals is really missing some petals. They did so good coming on the plane, recovering from cold nights in my car on the coast, survived Fizzy and Fuzzy clamoring around on the windowsill. And then after a day back in the car – poop – they suddenly wilted! And we prepped containers for me to plant cherry tomatoes in. Then we took Joe (the army Jeep) out for another spin. Yesterday on our morning ride we rounded a curve to find a turkey with about a dozen chicks in the middle of the road. Those babies hunkered right down and mom was running circles around them like mad! Boy as we got closer it looked like someone already ran over half of em, but thankfully they were just laying down. Well I got out to urge ‘em along and scooped up the stragglers. I put ‘em on the side of the road atop a little slope and watched each tumble and flop down into a leaf pile. They were so little they could hardly pick their heads up to walk, let alone make it down that slope gracefully. Mom was screaming like crazy at me while I saved her children. Once I plopped the last on one the hill she calmed down. What a neat freaking thing.
Then we went over to that ranch – Nat and Augie’s daughter. It sure feels like a whole different place in the spring compared to the dead of late summer when I was here last. Everything is so green and the creeks flowing and birds chattering. A pair of kingfishers. A handful of kingbirds. Low flying red-tailed.
Shades and shapes of green shout from every direction. Grosbeak music sounds from the treetops. Steam flows up from the mug in my hand. I am overjoyed. To be surrounded by spring in full force. To have woken up in a house full of so much love and laughter. To have come from a place with a face that made me so happy and excited. As soon as I opened my eyes this morning I thought for a moment that I was at home. It was neither good nor bad to realize that I am not there, it just was.
I have experienced so much beauty in the past week I could never explain it all sufficiently. I feel like the luckiest person in the world. These days have been so rich, so full and saturated with life and marvel. Scott’s oriole and rufous-winged sparrow hanging from flowering ocotillo. Rufous hummingbird zipping before a field of blooming honeysuckle. Hutton’s vireo perching 2ft away from my face. Elegant freaking trogon nearly flying into my head. Elf owl silhouette in the tree no bigger than a robin. Yellow freaking prickly pear flowers on the roadside. Owl perched on a sign at dawn. Magnificent hummingbird flashing it’s neon green throat in the midday sun. Deep, deep fuchsia flowers on the hedgehog cactus. 4 little calves occupying my campsite. Waking up to the breath of a mother cow grazing 30 meters away. Arizona woodpecker upside-down on a branch, with her puffy little head pointing down. Moon so bright I have to cover my eyes at night. Windy night outside Joshua Tree. Prancing on seemingly another planet among those whacky figures and funny rocks with tiny dots of yellow and purple below. Creosote, creosote and more creosote. The oldest living stand of creosote in existence. Rings of creosote out in the desert barrens, under a hot, hot soothing sun. The landscape turning from brown to green in the blink of an eye. Being in the desert when the sun goes down and lying among giant sequoias in the Sierras when it comes back up. The most massive slabs of rock I have ever seen in the Yosemite Valley. Water. Green. Rushing water, crashing waterfalls. Green exploding from mountainsides and moist meadows. Gigantic ponderosas with that beautiful cinnamon bark. Gigantic cedars with those deep green scale leaves. Giant sugar pines with giant pinecones. Rocky meadows purple with lupine. The smell of lupine rushing through the car windows on a windy mountainside road. White-headed woodpecker hopping up a tree trunk. Brown creeper sneaking up a pine. Morels pushing through a blanket of pine needles. A view of pine tree silhouettes before Lake Eleanor from a steep ridgeside. A silhouette of a spotted owl perched on a limb and his eyes blazing like the near-full moon beside him. (That right there is one of the more majestic, storybook-esque sights I have ever witnessed. We briefly lost our own when he took off, and I found him there.) Falling asleep beside a roaring creek on a beautiful flat rock with that moon lighting up the beautiful souls surrounding you…
After leaving the ranch I went and spent the day with Joe Cannon. Joe and I went for a ride. It was the most beautiful day – sun pressing down, so warm and soothing on bare shoulders, the sky a deep cerulean, little wind. We rode through creosote and ocotillo fields, way down into a canyon. We rounded a bend and I found myself prancing across a north-facing slope full of at least 8 different flowers – there were poppies, those bright yellow ones on the weed-like bush, those new lovely delicate looking white ones – maybe lilies, small white ones, small yellow ones, blue dicks, those purple ones, those neat square purple ones, red and pink penstemons, those deep fuchsia cactus flowers, red ocotillo, yellow prickly pear flowers, violet thistle flowers, and probably more. At a glance it looks like a field of gray tobosa, but you blink and see a million and one tiny dots of color. Everything was so lovely. Quail and doves fluttering about. Aaaand then Buddy rammed my leg into a cactus. It swelled immediately and I knew right away it was bad because I could feel pain all the way down my leg. As I was trying to regroup, my hat fell off. And as I got down to get it my saddle started flipping! It hurt down my leg into my foot when I walked to my stupid had, which didn’t seem right. I was on the downhill from Buddy so I tried getting up on the right, but I couldn’t put pressure on my right leg. So I spun Buddy around… in a full circle. So I spun him again half way, and got on. Good thing we didn’t have much further to go because that leg was hurting! But then Joe told me to go ahead a lope with Buddy. Man, it hurt, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run! It was so fun and I do feel like I don’t bounce so much anymore when trotting. Joe even said so!
We came back and ate ice cream, got out some Jim Beam, and eventually ate an amazing steak dinner, while I limped around pathetically. There were hardly any needles to remove. But there must be some deep in there or somethin. Every time I move my foot a sharp pain shoots up my leg. Oy. I got about 8 different pieces of advice. And have taken none of them. I don’t think there’s anything much I can do… that’s what I have an immune system for. Right?
Anyway, said goodbye to Joe the next morning. His chin quivered as I drove off. And as soon as I hit the pavement tears fell from my eyes. I cried down the highway half way to Safford as more and more miles separated Sugar and I. It feels like heartbreak. And tears come to my eyes not as I write. I want to look at our pictures together her but I’m doing all I can to not think about her.
I awoke this morn atop the hay bales in the barn. A slight pink tinged the eastern sky and the sound of hooves could be heard among the ash-throated flycatcher. My body ached in most places from yesterday’s ride and my eyelids begged for moments more. The unusual smell of damp, fresh earth seemed to be becoming normal, along with the condensation dripping from the rafters… directly onto the few inches of my exposed face of course. When I slowly and stiffly rose to a sitting position, I saw the long ears gathered at my gate staring amusedly at my sleepy face. It hurt getting up and climbing down, but the ride was worth it. We were granted the privilege yesterday of going out for a fun ride. I started Sugar trotting up the driveway and I could hardly believe it when she broke into a cantor. I couldn’t keep from laughing out loud and squealing a bit. I felt so proud. Of Sugar, of myself, of our relationship. I didn’t know she had the motivation in her to move at that pace… but she knew I was finally ready to run. We went up the driveway, across the mesa, through the tunnel, up the road in Lookout Pasture to a high peak overlooking the land I’ve called home for the past 2 months. On the way back we were enveloped on the north, south and east by deep gray rainclouds. Lightening struck over the mine. The wind blew a cool, constant breeze through our shirt buttons on the mesa. But the storm didn’t catch us.
The evening was warm and gay. It was the twins’ 12th birthday so we celebrated into the night. We bounced on the trampoline past dusk until elk spaghetti was steaming from our plates. Prickly pear margaritas littered the table. We churned ice cream by hand, with all the kids (including me and Joe) taking turns. It turned out mysteriously salty, which was interesting for a moment, but quickly became incredibly unappetizing. Nevertheless it was served, along with Sarah’s Guinness cake that failed to rise. Oh, but we sang and indulged anyway. There were marshmallow creatures, broken glass, deep laughter that ached sore gut muscles. And then… hugs for a goodbye that didn’t, and still doesn’t, seem real.
Yesterday we hung out in the corral while icing Smokey’s leg. I got on Sugar bareback in hopes that it would help me with my bouncing. It didn’t. But I think it enhanced our relationship for sure. Eric, Sarah and I went to the store in Clifton. Eric got chocolate chip cookies that turned out to be raisin (what a disappointment!), so Sarah and I went back in and traded them for chocolate, looking like fools. We ate them in the car and opened the milk jug so we could have milk and cookies. We came back and fixed the chicken coop for the 20th time. This time we put up a whole second layer around the entire thing. Hung up the laundry. Rushed to make a fruit dessert before Jean returned.
There’s new guests. I saddled up my horse and watched that little girl ride away on her. I gave Sugar a pep talk and that girl was crying by the time they reached the house! They brought back 3 cows and 2 calves. And then we got to go out! Made my day getting on Sugar because I feared I wouldn’t get the chance before I leave!
When Jean’s back was turned Sugar and I trotted up the mesa. I need practice, and time is running out. I bounced all over the place! Well we brought back a cow and calf. Okay, well, Jean and Sarah did. I did cactus training with Sugar. Before dinner we went out to brand the 3 calves. They had a hard time getting ‘em in the pen. We had a hard time starting the fire. But eventually we got on with it. I’m glad we separated the calves from the mothers this time ‘cuz that big lady was lookin’ us in the eye sayin “bet you don’t wanna know how I bent my left horn.” We said, “no ma’am!” Eric and Keith thought it’d be entertaining to have me try to lasso a calf while we waited for the irons to heat up. Well I got that thing around the hind legs! Of the wrong calf. Then I roped some dirt, some hay, and then, I couldn’t believe my eyes, my rope landed around the neck of the little black calf! I threw the coil around my hip and said something like “uh oh! What now!?” They said to just drop the rope, that’s good enough. Oh.
Yesterday morn we watched Eric and Keith ride around the corral to push 5 cows through the gate for, uh, 2 hours! Boy, was Eric mad, growling at the cows. We were over there by the tack room hiding our giggles in our horses’ manes. Then we trailered them to Murder Camp. Then we fixed the chicken coop for the 4th time since building the dang thing the day before. We went and played with rocks, and then came back to find a goddang hen wandering around the yard!