The first year my husband and I got married, we lived in the little house in the barnyard where my dad was raised, unloading all the earthly possessions a pair of 23-year-olds can acquire in the short and broke spans of our adult lives — hand-me-down lamps and quesadilla makers. By the time we emptied our car and unwrapped our presents there was barely any room left for walking.
And so I did what any responsible 20-something newlywed with an uncertain future would do: I got my husband a puppy for his 24th birthday.
And not just any puppy. Turns out that tiny chocolate Lab would become the kindest, most tolerant, steadiest thing in our lives for the years that followed, despite the difficulties he posed in helping us find a decent rental property in the variety of moves that ultimately brought us right back where we started.
It’s been more than 10 years since I chose him from the swarm of his wiggly brothers and sisters. I picked him up and he melted in my arms the way kind creatures often do.
And then the woman warned me.
“Big dog, more poop to clean up. That’s what I always say,” she declared.
And she was right. He is big. His paws make tracks like a wolf in the mud and his tail clears a coffee table with one sweep while he runs to the door enthusiastically to welcome guests, sometimes with an accidental and oblivious swat to the groin.
And while he spends most of his time outside these days, grunting while he rolls around scratching his back on the lawn before picking up the giant stick I swear he’s saved for five years, when he does come inside, he still wonders why he can’t sit on the couch with me.
Because in his mind he is fluff, weightless and wishing to fit in the palm of a hand all the while working to squeeze his body between the small nooks of this house, taking up the limited space available for walking.
But what he is in cumbersome, he’s always made up for in manners, polite and happy to move out of the way when prompted, not recognizing that perhaps he may indeed be fluff after all … and the rest of his 110 pounds is taken up by his heart.
But 10 years weighs heavy on a dog. White hair has appeared around his snout and his eyes droop a bit. His winter fur is slower to shed. Tonight we’ll go for a walk and he’ll hang by me instead of running ahead to kick up pheasants. If I have to take him in the pickup these days, I have to hoist him, heave-ho style, all 110 pounds.
I hoped our babies might grow up with him, but it all took too long and he’s beat them to the growing thing. I didn’t know when I made him part of our lives how those big paws would track time. I hope we have him around for many more years, but I didn’t know when I chose him, when we were so young, how fast a dog’s life goes…
The first calf of the year was born on the Veeder Ranch last week. That afternoon I went out on a walk to clear my head and to climb to the top of a hill to see if there were any mommas off alone on a hillside or in the trees, a pretty sure sign of some birth action.
But I didn’t see a thing.
So then, because it’s been warm lately, I decided to scope out the hilltops for the first crocuses, confident that I knew just where to look because years of early spring crocus hunts on this place have taught me such useful things.
But I struck out again.
Yes, to me the world was still brown with a few splashes of white snow in the deep coulees and, except for the dang hornets that have magically come to life to bang against the windows of my house, no sign of new life quite yet.
I strolled home with the dogs sniffing out the path in front of me, on their own mission for signs of spring, kicked off my shoes and went inside.
That evening my husband and I loaded Edie up in the pickup to go feed the cows, and just as we were pulling out of driveway, I got a text from dad.
“Got our first calf today,” it said.
“Of course we did,” I said out loud to myself, wondering when the heck I will develop the sixth sense and laser beam eyes Dad has for things like this. We met him down the road a ways and Edie helped him unroll a bale by pulling out handfuls of hay and picking a nice strand to chew on herself.
We drove over to take a look at the new baby who was standing on wobbly legs, fresh, slick and black as a bean. When my husband came back with the tagger (because we never have what we need when we need it), all four of us lingered out there in the warm spring air, leaning against the pickup doors and letting Edie work the windshield wipers, radio knob, steering wheel and headlights of the parked pickup, certain she was accomplishing the most important task on the place that day.
After a half hour of solving life’s problems, we all went home for supper.
The next day while I was in town for a meeting, I got another text from Dad.
“Found them first!” it said, with a blurry photo of a bunch of crocuses attached.
Apparently he also knew we were in an unspoken contest.
I put my hands on my hips and huffed.
“Of course you did,” I texted back, thinking if it couldn’t be me, at least someone found the first promises of spring.
Thinking how different the world can look behind another set of eyes.
And so with the first calf, the first crocus, the frogs croaking in the dam and the birds flying home and the appearance of Edie’s garden hat, I think it’s safe to say spring is here.
Here’s a picture of a baby goat. A kid, if you will.
Here’s a picture of a human kid showing another kid a pen full of kids.
So many kids. It’s all really too adorable.
But that’s pretty much the extent of what I know about goats, honestly. I had a couple to practice goat tying on when I was in high school rodeo, but mostly they just ate, grew giant and ran free with the horses in our pastures, occasionally and annoyingly following us on a roundup or two.
Oh, and also, when I was little, I once babysat (kid sat?) my neighbor’s baby goat named Filipe. She brought it home with her from college over winter break and couldn’t take him with her on a family trip or something, so I got the job. Filipe was tiny and young, so I kept him in the house to bottle feed him. I also fashioned a diaper for him.
And he slept in a little box by my bed next to my Christmas tree.
It was a magical relationship.
Anyway, that’s about the extent of my goat experience, until a few weekends ago when our friends asked us to come and help them doctor their herd.
Brett was our high school friend who has been living in the Colorado area since college. He recently moved his adorable family back to the ranch where he grew up and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
Brett is a cattleman and a good horseman. He and I competed in 4-H horse shows together and the one time I actually beat him was probably a fluke but also one of my proudest moments because, well, he was really good.
Anyway, while he was gone managing one of the country’s biggest feed lots, he got into the business of raising show goats that he sells to 4-H and FFA kids across the country.
Like a cattle man knows cattle, Brett knows his goats, their quirks, their needs, their feed regimen, the fact that llamas keep them company or the coyotes away or something I’m not sure because I can’t remember anything about this llama except her name is Creampuff…
and what babies belong to what mommas, which is a big deal because you know, goats can have triplets, so it gets complicated.
Anyway, we went out to help a few weekends back. Well, Husband helped. Edie and I, well, we observed.
And what she discovered was basically it pissed her off when she caught her her dad carrying any baby that wasn’t her.
And I learned that doctoring baby goats, tagging them and giving them shots to keep them healthy, is a little easier than doctoring calves–mostly because they’re lighter and more portable.
And while they might be smaller, they are definitely not quieter.
But they are adored and well taken care of, I’ll tell you that. Because Brett has a couple little helpers who seem to know about as much about the goats as he does.
Harlee is the official goat namer, petter, feeder and snuggler…
And Evan is the goat sorter and wrangler…
Brett’s wife is a nurse and a good sport about the goats, so I think it’s all a nice combination.
And we had a great day with them. It was fun to see this part of their life and learn a little something new about livestock. It’s also fun to know that the future of these goats will be to help teach youth, both in the country and within the city limits, how to take care of and take pride in an animal.
I like the thought of that.
As for Edie, despite her first impression, I can’t help but think with friends like these I can’t help but imagine a goat in our future…
Yesterday afternoon, when Husband came home from work I escaped.
Yeah. I said it. Escaped. That’s the right word. Some days around here are easier than others, and I think this baby is getting more teeth God help me, so I left her, and the man who helped make her, to it.
And I headed to the badlands.
Because I hadn’t been there in a while. Because I was feeling overwhelmed in this house that’s never going to be baby proof enough. Because being a mom is hard sometimes.
Being a work from home mom to a baby who just learned to crawl is nearly impossible.
Because I needed some inspiration. A good breath. A minute.
Because it was a beautiful night and I didn’t want to miss out on it.
The badlands are right in our backyard and the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is about a 45 mile drive from the ranch, but if I were a bird it wouldn’t take me nearly as long to fly there along the river.
I wished I was a bird yesterday evening as I drove through the park slowly with the windows open watching the rain clouds build up on the horizon, wondering how long it might pour on me and this landscape that has nothing to do but soak up the sky.
Then I was feeling sort of bummed about it, about the rain. Like, finally I get out here and I won’t get the light bouncing off the buttes. I won’t get a sunset. I won’t get the great shadows the sun creates in the canyons. I won’t get to see it in all its late summer glory.
I won’t get what I want out of this little trip.
And I was right. I didn’t get what I wanted.
I got more.
Because just before the sky let loose a smattering of rain on a girl standing in the long grass, hair whipping across my face, a rainbow appeared like they tend to do out of nowhere and it stayed long enough for me get to know it a bit.
And to shake the boulder that unexplainably had been sitting heavy on my shoulders for the last few days.
Sometimes you don’t know what you need. And that’s ok.
But sometimes you do and you don’t take it. And that’s not ok.
I was reminded of that last night. Because I almost didn’t take the drive out there. I felt a little guilty about it. Like I should stay home and cook supper. Like it was going to be too late and the house was a mess. Like I had lots of work I could get done after the baby went down for the night. Like I was so tired.
But I went. I went because I wanted to. I went because it wasn’t asking much.
Taking moments to exist in this wild space has always my best therapy. My best drug. And I got a heavy dose last night.
And I’ve learned a heavy dose of escape makes the return so much sweeter…
I grow vegetables. Vegetables attract bugs. Bugs attract frogs. Frogs eat bugs. I like bug-less vegetables so I like these frogs. So I don’t mind when I wear my shortyshorts to the garden and they jump splat on to my bare legs. Nope. Love them.
And because we live right by a stock dam we have the slimy creatures hanging out all over our lawn. Dozens of them jump up and make their presence known when I wander out there. I don’t mind protecting them from my stupid dogs. We help each other out.
Or at least I try…
But I still can’t get over that unfortunate incident with the lawn mower last summer. It haunts me. I was so careful. I was giving them time.
When I was a little girl my big sister and her friend rescued a baby robin from a knocked-down nest. I was so young at the time that the memory doesn’t have any details, except for the way that creature’s eyes looked before they were open, all blue and puffy, and how naked and impossibly fragile it was.
Even as a kid I knew that a baby that tiny had slim chances of surviving in a shoebox on eyedropper feedings. But the two girls tried anyway, and I watched the way little sisters do, willing it to turn out differently.
Tonight I’m out on my deck listening to the coyotes howl and watching a couple does come down the hill to take a drink in the dam. They’ve been creeping slowly toward their spot, shaken but not deterred by what sounds like a muskrat slapping and splashing in their water hole, and I’m wishing he would cool it. I mean, all those girls want is a little drink.
The way we do this circle of life thing seems so painstaking sometimes.
A few weeks ago all of the ranch dogs turned up with porcupine quills in their noses (well, all but our big old Lab who learned his lesson years ago when he came home full of sorrow and one tiny quill barely dangling from his nostril).
So my husband and dad had the task of pulling a few quills from snouts after work that day. It wasn’t the first time.
And if those dogs don’t learn their lesson, it won’t be the last.
These are the things that happen out here. Sometimes between the beautiful sunrise and sunset we’re reminded that nature is not the Disney movie we’d like to imagine it to be.
For example, earlier this summer, Dad was driving his side-by-side down the road with his brother and his two dogs. They were taking it slow, noticing the scenery and catching up when he noticed a baby killdeer running and flitting beside them. So he slowed down and remarked on the tiny bird, pointed it out to his brother, marveled at the little creature. And just as he finished saying some tender thing about being a witness to new life, his pup jumped out and snatched it up, bit it right out of the air like a scene out of an old Loony Tunes cartoon, feathers flying, tiny bird leg dangling out the dog’s mouth.
And that was that.
I have dozens of similar stories that I could pull out of the archives to help illustrate my point, like the time Mom’s cat drug a not-quite-dead-chipmunk into the house, or the one where my husband smashed a mouse with his boot in the middle of our living room in the middle of Easter dessert while his big sister stood shrieking on our couch.
And I have one about bats that I don’t want to get into right now, but why I’m bringing this all up in the first place is because just the other day, in the middle of a visit about the baby, my grandparents and my nephew going to kindergarten, Mom pulled out the latest.
“Oh, did I tell you about the bird in the sink?”
No. No, she hadn’t.
“Oh, I was standing at the sink and a bird flew up out of it.”
“Wait. A bird flew out of your sink!?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Well anyway, it flew up at me and then started banging against the window and so I screamed.”
“Yeah, I bet you screamed.”
“And Dad came huffing in, wondering what was going on, you know …”
“Because you’re easily startled.”
“Yeah. And so he was able to grab the bird against the window and bring it out to the door to set it free.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
“But, well, then I heard him holler, ‘Don’t look, don’t look!”
“Oh, no …”
“Cause the cat was out on the deck …”
“And as soon as that bird left his hands, well, she got up off her chair and snatched it up, and that was that.”
If this were a Disney movie, I think that would have turned out differently.
Yes, the law of the land is hard to buck sometimes.
Out here on the ranch, for some reason, I like to define them.
And there are about a million criteria for the qualifications of both, which, I guess, is a good thing and a bad thing, respectively.
And of course I like to say a bad day out here is better than a good day almost any place else in the world.
Except for the time I got my finger smashed between a metal bar and a post by a 2,000-pound bull. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad day, I mean, things were going pretty good up until the emergency room visit that resulted in a cast on my middle finger that sent me out of the hospital flipping off the world.
But it could have been worse.
It could always be worse.
Funny, we say that a lot around here.
Get bucked off your horse and land in a cactus patch? Well, at least it wasn’t your head smashed on that big rock over there.
Couldn’t get the swather running after six hours of tinkering in the field under the hot sun? Well, at least you didn’t have to be in a conference room meeting all day.
Get your four-wheeler stuck up to its belly in the creek again because you tend to think you’re magic when you’re on that thing (Dad)? Perfect. Now I have some material.
When I think about it now, maybe that’s why I found my way back here. Because of the optimism that was somehow always generated even after the day had gone completely haywire. It’s a trait that could only occur in people who truly love what they’re doing. Who wouldn’t be drawn back to that?
Through the years, we’ve had plenty of opportunity for bad days, for long walks home after the pickup quit, for lessons learned about polyester shirts and welding torches, for doctoring a herd of cattle with pinkeye well after the sun went down, saying to one another, “Well, at least the nail you stepped on didn’t go all the way through your big toe,” or “Would have been so much harder without all your help.”
But now that I think about it, it’s sort of telling that we continue to say, “Well, it could be worse,” and skip over the entire concept that in times of tractor breakdowns, man-chasing momma cows and an incident with an exploding motor that almost started the entire barnyard on fire, it could always be better, too.
But just yesterday as I strapped the baby to my chest and took off hiking across the home pasture with my niece chatting happily beside me on a quest to fill my cap with enough wild raspberries to make some sort of dessert, I couldn’t help but label that moment “one that could not be better.”
Even with the flies and the thorns.
We woke up that Sunday morning to a smiling baby and a hankering for blueberry muffins. So we made them. Because, what luck! Blueberries were on sale and I had some in the fridge. So we cooked them up, along with eggs and bacon, and had ourselves a regular, fancy brunch.
And that evening, after stripping the baby down and watching her play and splash in the baby pool on the deck while the sun shone gold on the hilltops outside, after feeding her bananas as she sat in her robe and tiny socks, we tucked her sleepily into bed and ate a supper of grilled brats and beans together around the table outside. My husband put his feet up after a day of fixing equipment, and my niece and I saddled up the two lazy horses in the barnyard and took off together, walking slowly across those hills dotted with wildflowers and berries and we just kept saying, “Well, it’s so beautiful out here isn’t it?”
It just couldn’t be better.
And while I know there are plenty of ways to define the bad days, the days that are out of your control, I couldn’t help but think in that moment how wonderful it is to know that you can build your own good ones.
A few weeks ago we had a big birthday party for him, complete with noodle salads and dessert, music on the porch, BYOB and a big board of embarrassing photos his sister drug out of the archives and presented.
My Aunt K. is the family historian. And now that she’s newly retired, she has the time to dedicated to embarrassing her brother just like in the olden days.
Anyway, this week his brother is up from Texas and they are fixing fences, riding through cows and catching up.
I love it when family comes to the ranch. I especially love it when we’re around the supper table or chatting over drinks on the deck and old stories come up about the time when they were kids and their dad had a load of bulls on the truck in a cattle rack and forgot to latch the dump chain, successfully delivering the entire load of Charolais bulls on their butts in the yard.
“It was a pile of white bovine flesh,”* said Uncle W.
“And dad got out of the truck and started swearing and kicking at the chickens,” said Pops.
“And mom probly saw the whole thing from the kitchen window, but there was a back door on that house and she probly hightailed it outside to the garden…”
And there’s a million more where that came from.
But here’s one that Aunt K. told the night of the party about my dad as a little boy. I can’t remember how old now, but I imagine him seven or so, brown hair, brown skin, chubby cheeks and husky jeans.
He was riding in the car on the highway with his dad and spotted a road kill raccoon likely on its way to resembling a furry pancake due to its high traffic position on the road.
And he made his dad pull over so that the little seven-year-old version of my dad could scoop up that poor flattened soul and put it in a plastic bag.
“I know that animals get hit out here,” he explained to his father. “But it just isn’t right to let people keep running over him like that.”
And so his dad drove the tiny savior and the poor varmint his son scraped up back to the ranch where he received a proper burial.
And if that story doesn’t sum up what type of man he is, well then, I don’t know what else to tell you about the guy.
Well, it seems to be a baby boom at the Veeder Ranch, and I tell you, I can’t get enough.
On December 29th, just in time for the weather to get good and cold, dad’s dog Juno gave birth to a big ‘ol batch of puppies.
I got a text from dad early that morning telling me that there were “4 pups so far.” Later that morning, when mom stopped over to snuggle our baby, she said she thought there were five. But it was hard to tell, because she had them in the dog igloo and it was dark in there.
Five pups was my guess. That’s what I thought she would have and that was a nice manageable number.
I called my little sister to report the news and then headed over to mom and dad’s when Husband got home to take a look for myself.
We pulled into the yard just as Pops was pulling in from work and Juno ran up to welcome her favorite human, giving him the opportunity to shine a flashlight in the igloo to see what she made.
“They’re so loud in there,” he said.
And then he found out why.
“Holy Cow!” he hollered.
“What?!!” I asked nervously “What’s in there? Are they ok?”
“There’s a whole pile of them!”
And indeed there was….
A little more than five I guess. I tried to get a good count on them while they were wiggling and squirming all over each other.
I thought I counted nine.
I was confident. But I counted again.
Nine’s a lot. That’s a lot of pups there.
The mat they were laying on was a little damp. These pups were brand new, so I decided to get a couple towels to put underneath them and help absorb some of the moisture.
So we took the pups out one by one.
And we all counted out loud, Pops, Husband, my niece and I.
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9!!!”
“9,” I declared. “Perfect!”
“Oh, we’re not done yet,” said Pops.
That’s a lot of pups.
“Good idea we had here huh dad?” I said to him.
Because it was our idea, to breed our Gus with his Juno the best cow dog ever.
Because cute + cute = so damn cute…
But also, because they will be really good dogs.
After Pudge died this fall we thought we needed to get another young pup to start learning the ropes.
And we thought maybe someone in the neighborhood might be interested in a good cow pup too.
But eleven? ELEVEN?! What were we going to do with eleven puppies?
Well, first things first I had to pick one out for Edie.
Which wasn’t an easy task, except I liked the brown border collie. She was the only one like that in the batch. And I haven’t seen many brown border collies in my life.
So she was my favorite.
It seems like Edie liked her too..
But this one is also my favorite because she’s so little and she has brown eyebrows that match her brown feet and I just can’t take that sweet face I want to smush her and put her in my pocket…
And this one is my favorite too because of his speckled little feet and speckled nose and he seems like he’s going to be really smart and I just can’t take it I want to scoop him up and put him in my cereal bowl.
And this one breaks my heart because, well look at him! Those ears! That look! He’s so beefy and rolly-polly. He’s also my favorite. I really like him. I like his white face. I can’t even take it, I want to wrap him up in a blanket and snuggle and watch re-runs of Seinfeld together. He seems like he’d like Seinfeld. He seems like he has a good sense of humor that way.
And be still my heart. This one is my favorite. Look at her! Look at the brown on her. She looks like she’s going to be SO FLUFFY I COULD DIE!!!! Look at her feet, with the little speckles on her toes. And I just can’t take it I want to buy a pink purse and put her in there and walk around the mall with her peeking out, smiling while everyone declares “What an adorable pup!” and I would say “I know right?!”
And this one is my favorite because of his brown legs and white face. He looks smart. And snuggly. And I just can’t take it I want to tuck him in bed and read him bedtime stories.
And this one is Husband’s favorite, but I think he’s also my favorite because he looks like his dad Gus and Gus is my favorite. I like that he’s solely black and white and he has a cool big black spot on his side and he’s going to be beautiful. And I just can’t take it I want to teach him the best tricks and enter him in one of those frisbee catching contests that you see on TV. We would win, because, well, just look at him.
And this one. This one’s my favorite because he’s going to be fluffy and I love him and I just can’t take it I want to comb his hair and put a bandana around his neck and name him Scout.
And this one is my favorite because of his white legs and spotted nose and I just can’t take it I want him riding shotgun in the pickup with me anytime we go somewhere so he can stick his head out the window and really get his ears flapping.
And we’ve established why this one is my favorite…But it looks like she’s going to have curly brown hair so I think we’ll be able to relate…
And this one. Look at this guy! He’s going to be smart I can just tell. He’s got the look of a perfect ranch dog and he’s my favorite because he reminds me of the old dog we had growing up named P.V. and she was the best. I just can’t stand it I want to bring him inside and let him lay on the rug in front of the fireplace.
And this one is my favorite because he’s classic and he knows it. He looks like he could be in a movie where he herds up lost sheep that got out on the highway and headed to town so he grabbed his brother and saved the sheep and the day. And I just can’t stand it I want to give him an extra bowl of milk because he looks like he’s going to do such a good job someday.
Oh Lord. It’s been hard on me. All this cuteness. It’s giving me cavities.
But it turns out it hasn’t been hard to find these babies homes. No. One little social media advertisement and they were homed in a matter of hours to some really wonderful families who will probably not put their puppy in a pink purse and cart it around the mall, but might let them ride shotgun in the pickup. Or sleep on the rug in front of the fireplace. Or, most importantly, give them a life where they can do what they were meant to do…chase cows and roll in poop and drag bones from gawd-knows-where all over the yard.
And be unconditionally loyal.
So fluffy. Just like their mom.
And so annoyingly smart, just their dad.
Because that’s what’s running through their blood.
And I can’t take it.
Now, does anyone have any name suggestions for our new little girl? I would ask Edie, but I don’t think she’s old enough to make these sort of decisions.
Ugh, life must being going good when too cute becomes a problem…
This seems like a good time to share my music video “A Girl Needs a Dog” again, featuring baby Gus and the photos you all submitted of you loving on your favorite dog. Enjoy!
I hope you’re all feeling the same way we are here–a little bigger in the waistline, a little haggard from all the merriment and happy for time spent with family and friends.
In Edie’s short little life, in a matter of a couple weeks, she has managed to meet nearly all of her more immediate relatives, on both sides of the family, whose locations range from Arizona to Minneapolis and back again.
Yes, it was all about family, and one long road trip with the infant across the state that, thankfully, my little sister and I survived.
I was never worried about Edie, just how we might handle a giant barf explosion that pooled up in the carseat halfway there…
And we did. We both cried (my little sister and I), but we made it.
Speaking of family, Edie’s not the only baby at the ranch anymore!
Nope. Actually, she has eleven, yes, you heard that right, ELEVEN! new baby puppies to add to her crew that are part sweet Juno and part crazy Gus.
You should have seen the look on Pops’ face when we finally got a count on them, thinking maybe there were only four of five, only to discover, when momma dog moved out of the way, a whole pile of wiggly, squeaky little things.
We took them out of her bed to get a good count and put dry towel down after I pretty confidently declared I counted nine in that pile, but when we got to nine, we weren’t done yet.
That’s a pile of cow pups there to have in the coldest part of winter.
And while we planned for pups, we didn’t plan for this sort of timing.
But, well, I know all about how timing goes.
Anyway, I was sure glad we were around to help her count them and make sure they were nice and warm, but Juno didn’t really need us.
We knew she would be a good mom judging by the time a neighbor brought over their new puppy and Juno picked it up by the neck skin and tried to take it back to her bed and claim it as her own.
Those instincts are strong.
And that’s what this week’s column is about. Motherly instincts and the security of a village.
We’re getting better at this whole mother/daughter routine here, so I am hoping to be posting more on our trials and tribulations, and of course, keeping tabs on these babies’ growth and adventures.
Thanks for being such loyal and supportive followers year after year. It has been so fulfilling to share with you and hear your stories too.
Early this morning I got a text from my dad. A picture of his cow dog Juno came through with the caption, “4 puppies so far!”
And there they were, all squishy, slimy and black and white, poor timing to be born in the coldest part of winter, but tucked in snug in a bed my dad made up for her.
Downstairs, my oldest niece was sleeping on an air mattress in my makeshift office. After all of the Christmas festivities, she made plans to come home with us for a few days to help with the baby.
As I write this, the little girl I used to rock, burp and snuggle who suddenly grew up to become a 12-year-old with superb baby-sitting skills is upstairs burping and snuggling my baby.
And so I’m plotting how I can keep her around.
Because she likes changing diapers. And the projectile vomit Edie gifted me, the one that coated my shirt and hair last night, didn’t even faze her.
I got up out of the chair to head for a towel, and that 12-year old (who was just a baby yesterday) looked at me and said, “That’s not a cleanup situation there … that’s a shower and find new clothes situation.”
Husband’s first instinct in this situation was to grab the camera, not the baby…you know, for the photo album…
And she was right. There was no saving me.
Yes, I’m in the trenches of motherhood now, the period where the guests carting meals stop knocking on your door, the burp rags pile up in the hamper and reality sets in.
This is not a drill. This is the part that I was nervous about.
Because unlike the motherly, animal instincts that kicked in for my parents’ dog early this winter morning, the one that will keep her licking on those pups and keeping them snug throughout the winter, I was worried I didn’t have the natural, know-what-to-do caretaking instinct in me.
I love children, but hand me an infant before Edie was born and the “I’m gonna break this thing” panic set in, complete with stiff arms and cold sweats.
But it’s been a month now and besides checking her breathing in her car seat every five minutes on the way home from the hospital, and a few middle of the night soft pokes to the tummy just to make sure, much to my surprise, I haven’t panicked yet.
Little by little I’m finding out that all of the tips, tricks and preparation articles I’ve read don’t compare to the instincts nature equipped me with.
It’s a welcome relief because the observation of instinct is where growing up as a ranch kid can either calm you or terrify you. I’ve seen plenty of animals being born. I’ve seen motherhood and babyhood in its most raw and natural form. I’ve seen a momma cow take after my dad, knocking him to the ground while he was on his way to check on her baby—a dangerous, protective motherly instinct that nearly sent him to the hospital.
I’ve seen mother cats move their kittens from secret spot to secret spot in an attempt to keep pesky farm kids at bay.
I’ve seen it go well and I’ve seen it go terribly wrong—a momma cow rejecting her needy, wet calf in the middle of a blizzard; a confused pregnant dog dropping her puppies, helpless and alone all over the barnyard; a baby calf born and unable to feed.
And in these situations, as animal caretakers, we step in to find an orphan calf a new momma cow to take her, pick up the puppies and introduce them to their mother, and find a bottle or a tube to feed the calf.
Every day my baby stays healthy, eating and pooping and burping away, I say that I am lucky and whisper a quiet prayer of thanks.
Every day that my mind is clear and my body cooperates, I am grateful knowing that motherhood doesn’t always come easy.
But watching my mother change her granddaughter’s diaper, hearing my friend on the other end of the line offering advice and trusting my young niece to rock my baby safely and expertly in the other room, I am assured in knowing that if and when I falter, like Juno has her rancher to make her a warm bed, I have my village.
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We’re quickly coming to the end of another season out here on the ranch. School has officially started and my friends are posting “first day of school” photos of their kids, some sending their first borns off to kindergarden for the first time.
I’ve been spending time picking peas and beans, cucumbers, carrots and every red tomato I can find out of my garden, fascinated always by how time can transform dirt into food, just like that.
Fascinated by how time has made it harder for me to bend over and pick those beans every day, made those little flutters in my belly turn to jabs and hiccups…and then, soon, an actual tiny human that breathes this air.
Life and time are twin sisters it seems, conceived at the same moment and moving through the world together hand in hand. And just as time creates and grows life in one breath, it quiets it and takes it away in another.
And so it goes here on the ranch, the circle of life we’re made so aware of every day among the growing and withering things, reminding us that to everything there is a season.
Last week our faithful ranch dog, Pudge, gave us the gift of living until old age took her away in her sleep.
My husband came home to tell me the news, then went out to the big oak tree where we were married and dug a deep hole in the hard, dry, gumbo packed earth and buried our old friend.
“One day you will hear the sound of time rustling as it slips through your fingers like sand.” Sergei Lukyanenko
Yesterday I was just a kid shaking dirt off the carrots in the garden.
Tomorrow I turn 32.
Today I count the kicks in my belly, make plans to assemble the new crib in the box and miss that old dog…
Lately the coyotes have been howling outside our open windows, slicing the black silence with chilling wails. Inside the garage, our domesticated dogs rise from their beds, lift up their heads and howl back to them, long and dramatic cries, an unnerving message sent between the wild and the tame.
Last weekend, while I was out on the highway heading for home after a late show, my husband opened the windows to the house to let in the night air, turned on the porch light and laid his body out on top of the covers of our bed.
Somewhere between his dozing and me cutting through the dark miles, down the road at my parents’ place the oldest cow dog on the ranch took her last breath, and quietly, one of the most familiar lights on our ranch went out.
We knew it was coming. Pudge, an Australian shepherd with thick, wooly fur, one blue eye and one brown eye, came to us on a hand-me-down after her owners moved to town. Pops, who had lost his previous cattle dog to a snakebite, needed a new animal to help him get cattle out of the brush and to accompany him on rides.
We think she was 4 years old when she came to us. Lately, the topic of her age had come up often. I was in college, or on my way there. Could it be that she was 15? Fifteen and no longer possessing the strength to go for long rides with Pops, but holding on to the spirit of her job by making the walk with him to and from the barn.
That was the last walk they took together it seems.
And now we’ll no longer find her snuggled up in the her spot under the heat lamp in the garage in the winter, in the pickup box in the summer or trying desperately to make her way through the window screen and under the covers of my little sister’s bed during a thunderstorm.
Pudge hated thunderstorms. That might have been the dog’s only flaw.
Because it turns out she was just the right combination of sweet, smart and tough enough to be one of the few cattle dogs on this 100-year-old ranch to get the chance to die of old age.
This place can be hard on the strongest, most cared-for animals who live a life more in tune with their primal instincts than the couch-dwelling suburban pet.
Pudge tried out that life with me once. I took her back to live with me for a little while in college when life was overwhelming me. I’d take her for bundled-up walks on sidewalks and she would sit in the sunshine by the door and watch the cars roll by, comfortable knowing she had a purpose in helping me find my big girl legs again before I brought her back to her ranch where she belonged.
Before my husband came home to tell me she was gone, I was pulling carrots in my garden and singing to myself, “To everything turn, turn, turn … there is a season, turn, turn, turn … and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
If you can’t see that manifest itself out here, if it doesn’t become known to you as morning turns to night and summer turns to fall and the hair under your husband’s hat turns silver, you’re not paying attention or you don’t want to know.
It all happens so slowly and then so quickly, as if all at once the time has passed and then it’s up.
I listened to those coyotes howl last night and thought about Pudge, who would sit out at night under those stars, just on the edge of the light that flooded into the yard from the garage. When it was time for the people to lay down and pull the covers up, Pops would call to her to come in and she would pretend not to hear him, preferring a cool bed of grass under that sky to her fluffy bed.
And if Pops gave in and left her out there, she would wake him with her barks and wails to that dark sky for hours on end.