Opening credits roll and the camera zooms in on a group of kids navigating a boat through a series of channels near the ocean. They’re looking for lost treasure and you can’t take your eyes off them because you’re invested. People make books, movies and T.V shows about treasure hunting (Outer Banks on Netflix for example), and viewers of all ages are on the edge of their seat.
My husband and I have very different ideas on what Treasure Hunting looks like. His version entails going through boxes in the sweltering Georgia heat while mine, involves searching for new blooms in my garden. Yet who wouldn’t want to know what’s in that old trunk, locked box, or what’s buried underneath the surface… right? So, when my husband tells me that he wants to go treasure hunting, I can see the appeal even if I’m not in the mood to join him.
X doesn’t mark the spot here and I’m usually groaning when the topic comes up. Yet when Rob has the itch, I know without a doubt that I’m getting roped into helping whether I want to or not. It also means that I am forced to reorganize inventory, so we don’t end up with a ton of junk stored inside our little house.
Thankfully my husband grasps that even if I’m not nearly as excited as he is, it doesn’t make me any less grateful. Especially when I’m able to donate large quantities of items to those who need them most or furnish our house with unusual finds. Knowing that we possibly helped a single mother, a kid just beginning adulthood, or a low-income family in the process… is a completely different kind of treasure in my opinion. A more valuable one.
This past weekend my husband had the itch and because I knew I was going to be involved in the adventure… I decided to take a more proactive approach. I logged in online and I began to search for storage units that we could compromise on. That’s when I hit the jackpot. We would have to wake up early in order to place our bid using the coffee shop Wi-Fi, but if it all worked out… we would be busy for days.
After reluctantly rising to greet the morning sun, and refreshing the page several times, my night-owl heart fluttered when the winning banner danced across the screen. It’s not quite as glamorous as Storage war’s makes it out to be. That T.V show is dramatized to add a more competitive nature, but I will say that bidding on storage units can be a lucrative side hustle… if it’s done correctly. It’s also, a ton of work but the excitement of discovery is what makes the daunting task feel lighter.
Imagine helping a stranger move. Except that there’s no free pizza, and the payment comes only after you sell the things you find within their belongings. Unboxing, organizing, then packing it all back up again after taking several trips to the local garbage dump… and repeat. The upside (besides selling things) is not having any sentimental ties to the valuables that are in storage because it makes easy work of sorting everything.
It never fails to baffle me when we win a unit that someone has been paying on for years only to find that it’s mostly filled… with bags of garbage. What a let down! Why pay to keep things that clearly belong in a landfill? The hasty departure almost gives off an apocalyptical feel.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, poverty is not the only cause of units being listed for auction. In many instances we have discovered drug addiction to be the primary culprit. This is evident by the number of needles and drug paraphernalia that we find stuffed into old socks and bags of dirty laundry.
Other units have ended up in our possession when the previous owner has passed away. It’s heartbreaking to come across obituaries, yet these units typically contain the most significant treasure troves for just the change we’ve had in our pockets. Gold jewelry, real diamonds, full bedroom sets, brand new sofa’s, leather furniture, kitchen appliances, cell phones, computers and so much more. Stunning antiques, newspaper clippings from world events, old love letters, and items just waiting to be refinished and repurposed.
More gut-wrenching than death are the units that go to auction because of a divorce or jail sentence. Witnessing happier memories though photographs, wedding guest lists, childhood treasures, and High School yearbooks filled with hope for the future, only to see them end up in the rubble of things discarded and left behind. It’s enough to leave you twisting internally and wishing that you could save someone from themselves.
You can learn a lot about people by things they keep. Yet you can learn even more about them from the things they hide. Underneath the family photographs, and ever-changing events throughout an individual’s life, are the items that were once tucked into the back of their closet. Burner flip phones with messages to mistresses. Naughty toys, dirty magazines, and bizarre sex fetishes. We’ve identified cheating spouses in what looked like happy homes and long-term marriages, as well as sex addicts and pill-popping mothers.
Upon discovery it has at times, left me wondering if the people around these human beings knew who they really were. Yet the more I learn about humanity, the more I realize that we all have something to hide. Weather it’s the ugly parts of ourselves, some unusual extracurricular activities, or the things we do when we think that no one is looking… we’re all a little bit guilty of something. We’re all searching for acceptance and forgiveness in one form or another.
The beauty of losing the stuff that we think is important… is that it makes space in our lives for better and healthier things. Weather it’s surrounding ourselves with the kind of people who lift us to a higher standard or finding a partner who respects healthy boundaries… we all deserve some wiggle room for growth. Who knows, maybe in losing everything, the drug (or sex) addict may finally have the strength they need to get help.
There is also a beauty in old things being made new again. Repurposing discarded items while simultaneously making the lives of other’s just a little bit easier. Perhaps a young mom who couldn’t afford to buy a brand-new pack-and-play, is able to get one because we donated what we found in a storage unit. Maybe a father that couldn’t furnish his house can have a house that’s just as beautiful as anyone else’s because of the furniture we refinished. Or perhaps someone, somewhere found healing from moving on.
The truth of the matter is that while you may not know who’s sitting next to you, I’ll bet that there’s something you regret or have kept hidden yourself. You know exactly what’s buried underneath the surface in your life. The gift is that you’re not alone. It’s never too late to box it up and throw it out.
Sometimes I’m forced into managing my expectations. I get an idea in my head about how something should look. A picture of perfection that I attempt to manifest but circumstances out of my grasp humble me.
When we took our family vacation this summer, I thought I’d be feeling my best. I planned for the unexpected by bringing all my medications along, but I told myself that I wasn’t going to need them. We were going to have an amazing time, and I wasn’t going to let my family down.
The guilt of disappointing those you love most when your body refuses to cooperate is one of the hardest feelings to manage. The list of plans you made, go out the window. Hearing your kid try to be understanding even though he’s holding back tears… is devastating. Your husband gripping the steering wheel tight lipped even though he doesn’t blame you, he’s just attempting to manage his own feelings of frustration… it’s gut wrenching. Worse yet, is trying to contain the anger you feel towards yourself.
If you weren’t there, they would be able to tackle all the plans that were made. If you were someone else or had a different body, then you could go with them. If you were healthier. If you were stronger. If you were better. Yet it took a lot for me to accept myself as I am and to know when to call it quits. To know when my body has had enough. After days of limited sleep, camping in icy weather, attempting to hike, and trying to stretch out in the car, my body was telling me that I couldn’t go on anymore.
We were walking together on a boardwalk on the top of a volcano. One of the largest volcanos in the United States and Nikolai couldn’t stop asking questions. Steam was rising out of these amazing blue pools. Water, mud, and other organic material was frothing along the bank. On our way to see these spectacular sights, a HUGE fountain of water shot up into the sky and shocked the crowd of people.
Big signs said things like “Enter at your own risk.”
“Caution hot thermal temperatures.”
“Unstable ground. Stay on the path.”
As we were walking and reading the labels on the different phenomenon’s surrounding us, a Hispanic man with a baseball cap pulled over his eyes decided to step off the platform. His feet shuffled across forbidden earth and bubbles formed around the souls of his shoes. Nikolai gasped clutching my hand tighter out of concern. The man proceeded to bend at the waist and put his face inches above the fountain that had gone off a few moments prior.
“What do you think you’re doing?” My husband said sternly.
“It doesn’t look that hot to me.” The man smirked and shrugged his shoulders.
“What about it doesn’t look hot to you? The fact that it’s boiling water? The signs telling you to stay on the path? Or the fact that it launched like a rocket as we were walking up to see it? Do you seriously need the flesh on your face to melt off, and life-flight to haul your ass out of here before you’re able to admit that you’re standing on top of a volcano?”
Anger rippled across my husband’s face. Nikolai’s eyes widened, the confrontation had him feeling unnerved. The man just laughed and got back onto the platform. He made his way past us, a swagger to his gate. He was undeniably full of confidence… as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred even though he risked his life. My husband shook his head in disgust and strangers murmured under their breath.
“This is why we respect nature and follow the rules.” I said with an unamused expression.
“What was that guy thinking mom!” Nikolai wondered out loud.
“I don’t know, but he almost ruined it for everyone.”
A chilling sweat broke over my body even though I had burrowed into my sleeping bag like taco meat inside a burrito. I couldn’t stop shaking but my body was on fire. It was confusing. I hunted for a bottle of water inside our tent to help me swallow my pills. I didn’t want to wake my family. My bones throbbed; my stomach churned. So many of my chronic illnesses began hitting me all at the same time. I worried that I might not make it to the restroom and wished I had a hot bath available.
The signs had been there, I just didn’t want to read them. The exhaustion, the fact that I was struggling to hike and opt for staying in the car. I waited alone for my family to see the amazing things we had driven so far to set eyes on. I wanted to be with them, but I had pushed myself and I could feel the breakdown starting to happen. My head feeling light and dizzy, the worry I felt over making my way back to the car. Wondering as I walked if I was possibly going to pass out.
I had pushed through and now it was the end of me and the plans I fought so hard to create. The medicine wasn’t working this time and the only way to recover would be to get a hotel room and sleep heavily for the next day or more. The thought of missing out on our last adventure broke my heart. It would break Rob’s and Nikolai’s too. I tried to put off the inevitable, I attempted to sleep, but I ended up getting sick in the campground restroom. My ability to spend another night fighting the elements had come to an end. It was time to head home whether I wanted to go or not.
Nikolai stifled a sob in the back seat of the SUV. He wanted to be brave for me. We had one last amazing day planned but I just couldn’t make it happen. His little arms were crossed over his chest, I could see the rise and fall of his breath weighing heavily. We had packed up our tent and all our things before our last night in Yellowstone was through. We had come face to face with grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, five point bucks, and so much more. We saw old faithful, and some spectacular waterfalls. We had ONE last place we wanted to visit but it just wasn’t going to happen. We had one last animal encounter on our list but that wasn’t hopeful now either.
I should have paced myself better, I should have listened to my body more. Yet I wasn’t reckless like the man standing above the hot springs was. Recklessness would have closed our trip with a hospital visit instead of heading home a day early. Stupidity would have been going hiking and needing someone to carry me to the car instead of staying behind, wishing that things were different.
“Don’t feel bad mom. I know you can’t help it. I’m just disappointed.” Nikolai sighed.
My husband gave me a sympathetic smile and held my hand. It was hard to see in the dark. Winding around twisted roads and praying we didn’t hit something as twilight descended. It took over an hour to find our way to the exit. We made a quick stop at the restrooms before entering a canyon.
Our headlights were turned to the high beam setting once we pulled back onto the highway. Something shook the tall grass and darted across the pavement. To our wonderment, a white tipped tail, red fur, and two pointed ears bounced to the other side. A breathtaking red-tailed fox with copper highlights was on the hunt for his dinner. The final encounter we hoped to have… spectacularly checked off our list, all because I stayed on the path and respected the signs.
Earth chunks soared over my shoulder. Some fell short only to land onto my itchy scalp. My shirt was soaked all the way through, my jeans… pressed so tightly against my skin that in order to remove them, they had to be peeled below my hips. Once I tossed the last of the carnage into the compost pile, I am rewarded by sinking into a hot lavender bath. I can almost taste the icy bottle of water that I left in the freezer before it’s pressed against my sun kissed lips. It only takes about an hour for me to get the job done because I am determined to get it over with.
The war on weeds is my biggest gardening frustration to date, yet I feel so empowered and satisfied when I’ve finished the task. I wait until the sun begins to set after a small rainstorm has loosened the soil and then… I attack! I rip unwanted stems out by the head and dig for their roots with my hands until the muscles in my legs feel too wobbly to keep me in a squat position. Sweat pours from my brow and my hair lacks luster when I’m done, but tiny red curls form at the nape of my neck.
The long-term reward of weeding around all the beautiful things in my garden is spying brand-new buds on my camellias the next morning. Eagerly waiting for my dahlias to make their appearance and having the room I needed to tuck new blooms into the paradise I have created with my own two hands. I use the hose to fill up my mud smeared watering can, and then I take a little walk clutching a pair of nippers against my chest.
Stormy and Waddles, (our ducks) are usually taking a stroll as well. I typically need to wave them away from my vegetables or they will use them as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Sometimes I’m forced to chase them off because they like to crush my flowers as they walk and nibble leaves and petals off my blooms. During our big family trip this summer, I received a call from one of my best friend’s informing me that Waddles wasn’t a drake (a male duck) like I had originally suspected.
Waddles had laid a clutch of eggs near Stormy and the two ducks were terrorizing my farm sitters. The girls were determined to have babies, but I didn’t have a drake old enough to provide them with fertilized eggs. This problem also caused havoc for Harlow (our big black and white paint) and Caspian (our miniature donkey). While trying to eat their feed, Stormy and Waddles would launch themselves at the equine and horrify them by nipping at their hooves. It was hysterical to watch the boys retreat to a corner of the pasture and eye the ducks suspiciously out of fear for their lives. Two large animals at the mercy of two angry females.
Izzy (my daughter of sorts) made a wonderful suggestion. She recommended buying some baby ducks and in the cover of darkness, to swap the duck eggs in exchange for ducklings. This way the girls get the babies their hearts desired, and the little ducklings get the mothers they never had. So, I went to Tractor Supply, and I carefully selected and bought four tiny, orphaned puffballs. I had never witnessed an adoption like this before and I couldn’t wait to see the outcome.
I sat on a log nearby and watched the shadows in the forest grow longer. I listened to the chuck-will’s-widow and heard an owl shake off the cobwebs of slumber. A daddy-long legs with two missing limbs crept over the dirt but when blackness encompassed me, I made my move. Moose (our farm dog) had stolen Waddle’s eggs earlier in the day, but thankfully I was able to snatch some from Stormy. Izzy had told me that the two ducks would share and raise the babies together if the imprinting was fruitful.
Stormy tucked those babies underneath her wings as if they had been hers all along. The relief in her body language was evident. Her purpose in life, fulfilled. The next day my neighbor drove by with her granddaughter and watched the ducklings play in a puddle with their two mothers. I myself stopped mid-snip of a flower stem to witness the binding love between adopted ducklings and their protective mothers. Rather than chasing two ducks out of my garden beds, I was now having to watch my step and encourage six to find another place to feast.
I adopted a love for gardening in the same way my grandfather adopted me. I didn’t have a father who was present in my life when I was young until my mom meet my stepfather. My childhood after their marriage became even more complicated but that’s a story for another day. My papa was the one (besides my mom and grandmother) who was always there for me no matter what. One of my most favorite memories was of holding his finger in my fist as he let me pick an armful of flowers.
He had sewn the seeds inside a drainage area that was fenced off and locked up when he worked as a ground’s keeper for a local hospital near Chicago. The skill seemed to come naturally to him while it took a long time for me to learn how to have a “green thumb”. It’s funny that I say that because the secret to growing beautiful things is simply… sunshine, food, and water. I reached a point in my adult life where I had a moment of clarity and suddenly an achievable passion blossomed. My papa however… he could grow things in the middle of the desert.
Long before I was good at growing things, my husband knew that simply pulling over on the side of the road to pick a bouquet of wildflowers was the way to my heart. I can’t imagine what people driving by must have been thinking. I wonder if they sat and watched as a tall man with broad shoulders, in full military uniform stood alone in a field of flowers as he carefully selected which blooms to add to the handful. They probably assumed he was in marital trouble. As a friend pointed out to me not long ago, my husband understands my love language and he knew what would make me happy. He still does.
Before that green thumb kicked in, I used to dream about having a secret garden full of beautiful flowers. It helped me cope with events in my life that were out of my control when I was young. Underneath my bedroom window a large cluster of daffodils bloomed and there was (to this day) the biggest lilac bush I had ever seen near the edge of our property. I would pick clusters and stash vases on every available surface. It was my way of bringing light into the darkness. Storm clouds brewed within the walls of that house. It was beautiful on the outside, but what lied within was destruction.
As an adult, I have surrounded myself with people who bring peace into my life. One of my most precious friends is a woman named Heather. When I was feeling especially lost with yet another health crisis, she invited me to see the farm where she worked and encouraged me to bring along a bucket for cut flower clippings. Her hard work and encouragement inspired me. She had created an oasis of living things with a few seeds, some bulbs, and a lot of hard work. The beauty of it breathed new life into my soul again.
“Do you think that I could have a garden like this one?” I asked her.
“Girl, I believe that you can do anything!”
My first year growing cut flowers was so successful that I made floral arrangements and gave them away weekly. Seeing how much joy it brought into the lives of other people had me researching ideas to improve my output. One of the first steps I needed to take was to expand our farm. We succeeded in doing that in March and rebranded our farm with the name Everpine Forest & Farm. This year we’ve cleared trees and worked to create a new pasture space that would allow us to move the equine around.
Harlow’s original pasture has served as my new gardening space. This spring I bought out four stores of their cut flower seeds. I planted hundreds of dollars in seeds and bulbs. Most of the time it was a matter of experimenting to see what worked and what didn’t, but each day taught me something new. I now know that next year I need to stagger my blooms by their growing season to help me have flowers to cut year around. I also learned that it’s best to keep each type of flower together with its own kind, so they don’t have to compete for sunlight.
I have discovered that like any crop… spacing is EVERYTHING. Rather than planting thick rows like I did this year, I need to plant smaller rows with a narrow space in between so that I can walk in and gather blooms without trampling, tripping, or dancing my way around them. I’ve learned that it’s better (and cheaper) to buy seeds and bulbs in bulk than it is to buy from your local Walmart, nursery, or dollar general. Best of all… I learned that in order to keep my output flowing efficiently, a greenhouse is a must have essential.
While all these changes are in the works to help me improve next year’s garden, I am thankful for the joy that this year’s garden has brought with it. I look forward to planning and building our greenhouse, and I can hardly contain my excitement regarding my future cut flower stand. I have high hopes of donating arrangements to people in hospitals and nursing homes who need a little extra love to lift their spirits.
A couple weeks ago Heather called to tell me how proud she was of my hard work. To my delight she told me that she was envious of my flower garden this year! This woman is the most selfless and hardest working human (besides my husband) I’ve ever meet. Her house is covered in plants, and she basically helps grow lovely things for other people even though she works three jobs and has no spare time. I’ll never forget her kindness in sharing seeds and bulbs with me to help get me started.
I can’t adequately put into words how much sunshine floods my veins when I’m standing in the middle of something tangible that I thought I could only dream of accomplishing. As a summer storm unleashes above me, I’m laughing as I chase six ducks out of my haven. I have rose petals plastered to my cheek. Rain is dripping off the tip of my nose, and my butterfly top is drenched as I attempt to carry a watering can stuffed with blooms up to the house. My favorite pair of nippers are clutched close to my heartand I’m overflowing with fulfillment.
It’s funny how farm life follows me no matter where I am. Like the bits of hay that I find tucked inside my bra and pushed into the creases of my pockets. Or in this case… a couple of fireflies that hitched a ride and found themselves trapped inside our SUV in a state where they wouldn’t otherwise survive. The tiny yellow lights flashed and caught my attention as they clung to the windshield near my visor. My husband and I pulled off the highway to switch places and as we did so, I released them… knowing full well that they were doomed.
At home, the woods light up after dusk and if I’m not wearing my glasses… they look like hot embers dancing towards the treetops in the darkness. On an especially warm night, their numbers increase and if you catch them from the corner of your eye, you’ll be convinced of a raging forest fire taking place among the pines. These are the things I miss when I’m away, even if I’m surrounded by some of the most impressive scenes. Thankfully, it makes the homecoming even sweeter.
I woke up early because the chill in the air was nibbling on my numb toes and the birds were especially cheerful. Their shrill voices felt the same as stepping on Nikolai’s Legos with bare feet… except it was happening inside my throbbing head. I yawned and stretched my cramped legs as far as the floorboard of the car allowed them to go. When the promise of adventure glimmers underneath exhaustion and homesickness, you override your senses to radiate a joyful demeanor that’s infectious.
My sleeping bag had been pulled tight around my ears and I found it ridiculously complicated to wiggle my way out. I tried to look outside to see where we were but there was too much condensation. Droplets turned into rivers that ate up larger droplets until the glass meet rubber. I had to take the sleeve of my sweater and use it to buff out a peephole. Grey rock formations enveloped a rest stop where like us, rows of cars had parked to get off the highway sometime throughout the night.
The cold wetness on my sleeve mixed with the insane temperature drop raised the small fibers on my arm. My skin puckered like a freshly plucked chicken and sent a shiver that shook my bones. I leaned over to turn the key in the ignition and the dash lit up to inform me that it was a frosty twenty-six degrees outside. From the heatwaves we had in Georgia to a winter wonderland, my equilibrium felt distorted, but I was glad to be here in this magnificent place.
A place where green grass stretched out like an ocean, bending and rippling like waves against the shore. Only rather than hot sandy beaches, we were meet instead by cold and jagged mountains and water plummeting thousands of feet to the ground from melting glaciers. We arrived holding our faith in our hand like cowboys hold their hats. We couldn’t get the website for the national park to work. Reservations typically made 180 days in advance except… the sight would crash.
I would refresh the page and get on at eight in the morning per recommendation from Glacier’s Facebook page. Yet so would thousands of other visitors and only two hundred tickets were passed out daily. I kept trying anyway.
Page refresh… sight down.
Page refresh… tickets sold out.
We came with the hope of getting in but there was no certainty about it. Having driven thirty-one hours one way on prayer alone that I would be able to show my son and husband places from my youth that I visited again only in my dreams. I’ve taken more complicated leaps of faith before. I clicked on the campsite list, but I had pretty much given up. A lump of doubt formed in my belly and nibbled on my expectations like a rat. My husband was feeling moody. The thought of coming all this way to… be forced to sit outside the gate? It was heartbreaking.
Then there was this voice in my head about an hour and a half past eight… it said refresh it again. So, I listened. There it was… an available campsite listed for one night. My fingers shook with anticipation as I put in our credit card information and begged my phone to not loose cell reception. I hit the button to finalize the payment and forgot to breathe. Success at last! Time and time again, God proves to me that leaps of faith are the only way to live.
I couldn’t stop photographing one scene after the next. I felt a lot like Julia Andrews during that famous scene in TheSoundof Music. Arms spread wide, wind catching my cardigan instead of the hem of a dress. Nikolai and my husband would pull off to the side of the road to pick handfuls of wildflowers for me that I had never seen before. I had to photograph some of them just so I could look them up later and decide if it was possible to grow them at home. I think I would need an icebox for these blooms to survive on my farm.
The greenery of the Rocky Mountains is so different to that of North Georgia. In comparison, Glacier National Park looked like a desert. Not because it was without lush beauty… but because Georgia’s lush greenery is on steroids. We own a mosaic of trees while Glacier’s trees need to be able to survive drastic climate changes and avalanches. Furthermore, there’s a line where things stop being able to grow altogether due to the altitude. They don’t measure things by sea level but instead, by above or below tree line.
The campsite was… everything I had hoped for and yet beyond what I had expected. We were snuggled into a valley surrounded by silver cliffs with gleaming tinsel of white. Glee bubbled inside the way it used to on Christmas eve when I was young. A good portion of Highway to the Sun was shutdown due to flooding but we spent so much time soaking in what we had access to that it didn’t feel like we were missing out.
Upon parking to photograph thunderous falls, we took our picnic lunch and our pack of essentials on a hike with us. I put about three hundred more photos into my phone’s memory bank and had Tallulah help guide me down a path with a no-pets-allowed sign. Thank goodness she’s as well trained of a service dog as she is because she had to listen to commands carefully when it came to crossing narrow bridges. One bridge had water that leapt out to kiss our ankles. She almost attempted to turn around, but I told her to stop and move forward instead.
A lesser companion would have knocked themselves off the bridge and down into the frothing rapids out of fear. Not my girl! My heart swelled with pride even though my nerves jittered behind my confidence. A steep and tricky hike brought us to yet another waterfall that rewarded us by spraying a fine mist and cooling us down. Despite the weather at night, during the day it was rather balmy. There were lakes so clear that they reflected the blue sky like a mirror, and it made me wonder if that was how everything use to look before our world was polluted by humanity.
We decided to tuck in for the night a bit early (or so we thought) and that’s when I noticed something unusual. I felt exhausted but the sun was still up. Hours went by and twilight lingered. I couldn’t tell if I was that sleep deprived or if maybe we had gone to bed earlier than we had expected. My phone battery was low, but I had enough charge to see that the sun didn’t fully set here until around eleven at night. I didn’t remember it being that way when I was young, but it made nightly trips to the restroom easier to tackle and less likely to run into grizzlies. The Black bears in North Georgia are typically less confrontational.
Rob (my husband) had a difficult and bitter night when the freezing weather crept in again, whereas Nikolai and I possibly stole his blankets by accident and stayed rather toasty. The next morning, we packed up camp so that we could make the trip around the outskirts of Glacier. We were on a family mission to see my favorite place of all, McDonald Lake.
The odd timing of things working out beautifully continued to carry us throughout our journey. With road closures around the lake made of glass, Rob suggested we stop by a large log cabin hotel. We had driven past it at first, but it looked to be the easiest access point to arriving at the bank of colorful stones. There at the edge of the lake, sat a kiosk advertising guided ferry and motorboat rides. While the ferry was overpriced (and fully booked) … three motorboats sat tied to the pier like an open invitation.
I wasn’t sure how Tallulah would handle this kind of adventure, but I intended on finding out. I tied lifejackets around our midsections and slathered so much sunscreen onto our skin that we looked rather ghostly. Despite being noticeably uncomfortable, Tulla got into the boat and once she settled down… the exploring was underway. The heat was made tolerable by the breeze we created while flying across the water. I took pictures with my cellphone, yet the scenery was so breathtaking that friends of mine thought it wasn’t real.
I was able to photograph everything in a way that was impossible to do when I was younger. To my knowledge, boats weren’t allowed back then in order to avoid pollution. There were also spectacular ice caves to explore when I was last in this magnificent place and in its current state, 80% of the glaciers are long gone now. Even though the water wasn’t as crystal clear as I remembered it being… the views and images that I got from the boat will forever be something I cherish.
I’ll admit that it was hard to pull myself away from the beauty and serenity that we found here. The only thing that made leaving easier was knowing that Yellowstone (and the list I had created in my head of all the animal encounters I hoped we would have), was our second to last stop before going home again. Nikolai was most excided about witnessing living volcanos. I had been forced into creating multiple science experiments with him at home over the years. As we drove onward through the night… I spent time listing facts about what awaited around the bend.
Most people are shocked when I tell them that we don’t have access to internet out here. I must be honest; it was a learning curve for me as well when we first moved to our little farm. It’s not because we don’t want to pay for it, but rather because no working internet provider will bring it this far out of the way. Our town Facebook page is littered with posts about how the only satellite that provides internet is down time and time again.
The town grocery store puts up a sign asking people to pay in cash and Nikolai’s school has internet access issues too. When you live deep in the woods like we do, there’s no point in paying for something that rarely works. Large pines, poplars, and oak tree’s spread their limbs and reach to the heavens causing the signal to be disrupted. It’s almost as if nature is blocking the path for a reason.
The more I read the news and catch up with old friends on Facebook, the more thankful I become for the interruption. My ability to get into stupid debates when something rubs me the wrong way is limited to moments when out of nowhere my phone suddenly receives two bars of LTE. As soon as I’m invested in riveting conversation… the moment has passed and I’m unable to respond again. Instead, I use my phone as a paperweight. I listen to Audible, pull up pre-downloaded books on Kindle, or just leave it to charge while I spend the afternoon in my garden.
We don’t live “off grid” but I’ve come to enjoy my life being this way. When I want to upload a blog post and catch up with other writers, I must drive to the coffee shop to connect or wait until I need to go get something from one of the bigger towns nearby. I often pull up Facebook while I’m picking up feed for my animals. In other words, I schedule time to use the internet and my time is limited.
About six months ago a man came and knocked on my door to ask me if I wouldn’t mind putting my dogs up so he could access the powerlines. His bald head was a glossy glow in the morning light, and he had the kind of nose that was thick through the bridge but flat around the nostrils. He was doing research for an internet company who was determined to “bring knowledge and connection” to rural towns that are hard to reach. Apparently, there is a government contract for this kind of thing.
“Knowledge and connection.” I think towns like mine have more to teach the world about knowledge and connection than the millions of people who live in large cities and never look up from their phones. I’ve read articles that detail the problems that social media has caused on the mental health of billions of people. So much so, that humanity likes to boast about taking social media breaks (which I have done myself).
One of my biggest accomplishments was the time I deleted all my social media apps from my phone for six months. I didn’t miss a single thing. I did, however, enjoy more phone calls from loved ones. They made my day burn brighter. Friends reached out with cellphone numbers so we could chat and there was far less confusion about the tone in which something was taken because it was a lot easier to clarify misunderstandings.
The gentlemen from the internet company asked me if I was excited at the possibility of getting internet. His brown eyes lit up with the prospect of gifting something of such great importance to most people. I attempted to smile.
“Not really!” I replied. His bushy salt and pepper eyebrows furrow at my response, so I elaborated.
“Why bother with that when I have all of this?” I reached my arms wide to gesture to our 11.2 acres.
He didn’t get it. My niece and nephew who live near Chicago didn’t get it either when they first came to visit. It took time for them to see the value in how we do things out here. I took them hiking on our farm, drove them to see an amazing waterfall, and took them to an empty field where they could learn to drive for the first time. The learning curve hit them harder than it did for me. Yet by the time they had to go home… they were wishing they had what we have here.
It all comes back to connection and real connection doesn’t come from a screen. It comes from immersing yourself into your environment. The feeling of your bare feet touching solid earth, seeing a creek turn into a waterfall, holding hands with the ones you love, and listening to the soothing voice of a friend. Salivating over an amazing meal and mentally stimulating your brain with conversation that bubbles over into laughter.
The internet can’t provide substance for you and knowing a lot about the world is meaningless without experience. People were social distancing long before Covid ever came into play, we all just got better at it. It’s a lot harder to handle the news when you’ve lost sight of things that have real value, and we can’t expect to change people’s points of view without first being able to connect with them.
Upon returning home from our amazing family vacation and having the alone time to sit and reflect on everything I have learned… I continue to come back to the topic of connection. It doesn’t take living in the middle of nowhere to find it (though I truly believe that it helps prevent us from slipping into old habits). You can limit your time social distancing exactly where you are.
My hope in writing this is that these thoughts of mine will touch someone who is as exhausted as I am. That perhaps they will read what was on my heart and have a desire to take a leap into connection with me. Challenge yourself to put your phone down, to limit your internet access and use the extra quality time this week to read a book that shakes you. Grab a loved one and hike to somewhere you’ve never been. You don’t have to be in shape for it… Lord knows I’m not!
If you’ve decided to commit to doing this with me… I want to read about it! Write me a comment to tell me what worked for you and what didn’t. You don’t have to make it an everyday thing, just circle one day a week on your calendar. If you can’t do a full day, try an hour or two. Contact some friends or family and see if they can’t meet up with you or give gardening a go. Most importantly of all… share how this challenge made you feel, not just with me but with others.
Side note: I had originally planned on posting more about my incredible vacation today but in light of what happened with Canada loosing internet service… I felt this was a better fit for this week. I’ll post amazing images, videos, and stories next week instead. Hopefully I didn’t disappoint anyone!
Other than the white noise of Rob and Nikolai snoring, it was rather quiet inside our vehicle. Tallulah had her wet nose pushed against the glass so she could keep an eye on untrustworthy strangers. I could see the reflection of the flashing crimson sign from the “Come and Go” gas station lighting up her peripheral. We had laid all the seats down and blown up the air mattress in the back of the SUV with the hopes of re-balancing our sleep schedule.
Despite the exhaustion, it was the smell of equine sweat clinging to the breeze that woke me. It felt out of place within the truck stop’s parking lot until I realized that there was a farm nearby. We popped the trunk open for better airflow and let our tangled feet dangle out the back. The temperature was near perfection but It’s hard to sleep when there is an undertow of excitement crashing over your psyche. A crack of thunder strangled the peace. Darkness danced with lightening, and the anticipation of damp earth hung like a curtain in the atmosphere.
My stomach lurched with electricity, not from the storm but from the adventure of it all. The ability to witness firsts with my family, to see things that I saw as a child with the eyes and humility of an adult. I wanted to etch every detail to memory. Thirty-one hours of driving just to get to our first destination and that didn’t include the trip back or the stops we planned to take along the way. My friends thought we were crazy but, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy the mountains… is to get lost in them.
With only a couple hours of sleep in our pocket and first morning light on the horizon, we visited the restrooms and refueled with caffeine. The first fifteen hours of driving had been uneventful but from this moment forward there would be an endless supply of amazement. You can’t (rather you shouldn’t) visit Glacier National Park without stopping by to see things along the way, like the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. There’s even an amazing town from the 1800’s where you can visit the past as beautifully preserved as if it were the present, and you wouldn’t want to miss a little town called Walldrug where you can buy a cup of coffee for a nickel.
My beautiful boy had a history book opened across his lap one day. He was sitting on his bed flipping through the pages when I heard him gasp. His blue eyes wide in wonder as his fingertips graced a picture of some faces that had been carved into stone. His mouth left agape, and his expression full of questions that had me pausing in the threshold to wait for his thoughts to materialize.
“Hey mom? What is this?”
“That would be Mount Rushmore.”
“Is it a real place?”
“It’s very much a real place. In fact, I’ve been there… more than once.”
“YOU’VE BEEN THERE?! CAN I GO TOO?! I want to see it!”
“Not today sweet boy, but I promise that someday, I’ll take you.”
I laughed a little as I walked back to the kitchen. I knew how far away Mount Rushmore was, and I had been making plans with my husband to take Nikolai to see it for a long time. He had been so disappointed that afternoon. You would think the little conversation we had back then would have prepared me for how overwhelmed with emotion he would became when he saw it for himself… but it didn’t. After bounding up the steps towards the mountain cliffs, he threw his arms into the sky and leapt as he whooped for joy.
“MOM! I’VE WANTED TO SEE THIS FOR MY WHOLE LIFE!”
“I CAN’T BE-WEVE THAT YOU TOOK ME HERE!”
“LOOK AT IT MOM! It’s so be-woo-di-ful!”
People all around us found his excitement just as intoxicating as my husband and I did. Nikolai’s slight lisp made everything he said that much more enduring. It was demanded of me that I take his picture immediately and explain how and why the president’s faces were carved into stone. I did what was asked of me with gusto. I have a passion for history and lovely places.
Earlier that morning, hours before reaching Rushmore, I could feel my palms turn icy cold with a cool sweat. The sun was skipping off the copper highlights in Nikolai’s hair. He held daddy’s hand tightly as he gazed into the steep canyon of the Badlands. Wind so strong it tugged at the curls in my ponytail and threatened to push me over the embankment.
Every inch my family took towards the edge had Tallulah and I feeling anxious for their safety. She cried out for them, and I was forced to tighten my grip on the black lead that kept her at my side. I’m terrified of heights, and I knew she was picking up on my concern as she had been trained to do. I considered what early Native American’s and settlers must have thought when they saw the Badlands for the first time.
Void of walkways and trails to navigate through it and the extra miles it must have added to their trip in order to go around. Did it feel daunting? An impossible task with the wicked heat of the sun beating on the crown of their heads as blustery hot winds spooked their horses. Did they find a way to work with the land or did they lose loved ones? It was within that moment of staring into the emptiness that I felt myself being restored from my busy life.
I get wrapped up in to-do lists, maintaining my health, and being a partner to my husband as we attempt to make ends meet. I lose my ability to sit quietly, to allow the strong winds of life to soften my rough edges but not to break me. I am horrible at trying to maintain control over events in my life but as I get older, I’m finding a newfound freedom in weathering the storm. In allowing myself to let go of things I cannot control; I have discovered a depth of peace that is unmatched.
We slid back into the car, and I realized that sometimes we all need to slip away in order to see the bigger picture. Two days into a ten-day trip and I was feeling more like myself already. The tension released from my shoulders when I allowed spontaneity to take the lead rather than trying to micromanage our plans. With an audiobook keeping us on our toes, a cup of hot chocolate in my hand, and an empty road kissing day two goodbye… I could hardly wait to see what would come next.
I can feel sweat sliding down my neck and slipping between my breasts underneath my shirt. Its continual dribble is saturating my bra with the scent of salt crystals. My nostrils flair because I’m worried that if I can smell it, someone else probably can too. I am convinced that my brain is swelling and smooshing against the confines of my skull. It must be that way because my mood has soured and I’m feeling forgetful, mouthy, and blatantly rude.
The day began with such promise but turned rotten when amid running errands during a Georgia heat wave, the air conditioning went out on my SUV. Even with all four windows tucked away and the breeze attempting to cool things down, I can feel my skin cooking like a rotisserie chicken set aside at Walmart. I don’t do golden brown though, I only do red. The flecks on my shoulders become more prominent but the rest of me looks like the underside of a baboon.
My husband kept talking. I would ask a question and he would snap at me while my son would repeat himself… and repeat… and repeat. My mind wandered and drifted off to laying on my bed at home in my underwear like a starfish. Air conditioning on blast, an iced tea in my free hand… or maybe it was an ice cream. My mouth watered at the thought of anything cold being pressed against my lips and lingering on my tongue. I would love for the water from a frozen swimming pool to graze across my skin right about now.
“Maybe it’s a problem with the compressor… are you even listening to me?” He interrogated.
I wasn’t. The blowers were turned on but the only thing coming out of them were flames that were aimed directly into my face. He kept them turned all the way up because he had spent hours sitting in the Auto Zone parking lot messing around with parts underneath the hood. He wanted to see if he had fixed it yet, he hadn’t. He was doing it for me, but I just wanted it to be over. The vents stayed on blast while I was in the fast lane of being driven to insanity.
I wanted to feel ashamed for not considering the homeless people who have tents tucked underneath bridges in Atlanta. Yet I was selfishly focused on my heat intolerant body and my ability to avoid passing out so I could make it home… so I could identify as a pink naked starfish. The trip to the laundromat proved to be equally fruitless. I tucked my computer underneath my arm hoping to connect to the Wi-Fi, download some movies, write, and perhaps cool off a little. The problem was that their air conditioning had gone out too.
They used an extension cord to provide power to a massive fan as a way of circulating air flow and making things more comfortable. Unfortunately, a woman who didn’t have enough quarters for a dryer had emptied her wet belongings into the bottom of a cart while hanging her fitted bedding from the corners of the rack on top. The speed of the fan turned her bedding into a parachute that blocked the cool wind tunnel from caressing anyone or anything other than the clothes she wanted dried.
Normally I pay close attention to my body language but since I had lost my ability to sympathize, my foul mood and disgust was written clearly across my face. I should have considered that perhaps the woman was a truck driver, or someone who (in this current economy) was forced to live out of her car. It’s also possible that like me, she felt so delusional from the grotesque Georgia heat that she had forgotten all about the fact that they would dry rather quickly if she had only chosen to hang them up outside. I however didn’t think about any of those things before tossing dirty looks in her direction. She was the thief of my joy after all.
She tucked her yellow locks behind her ear, and I thought that it looked a lot like crunchy instant ramen noodles, so I made another face. I didn’t feel particularly proud of myself for thinking that way, but I was angry. Nor did I feel good about judging her life choices, yet I wouldn’t dare choose to wear white spandex in public on a day like this. As I sat there making mental notes, I assumed that perhaps this heat had her looking at me in the same light… or not. I didn’t care.
The woman stammered an apology. She tucked her sunny blue shirt into her leggings and fiddled with her hands as she tripped over excuses for stealing my happiness. It was too late; my back was turned, and I wasn’t listening. We loaded our small laundry pile into our plastic basket and onto the sticky leather seats of my car so we could head home. Relief at last!
As I lay like a naked starfish across the length of my bed, I didn’t radiate with joy like I thought I would. I felt cooler, I felt more levelheaded, but the only one I had to blame was myself. Rather than thinking rationally about my mood or my actions I allowed how I felt to determine how I treated people like my husband, my son, and even strangers within my orbit.
I could have scrounged my car for spare quarters to share. I could have thanked my husband for standing in the heat to rescue me even though he was frustrated too. I could have set a better example for my son. It’s hard to humble myself and ask for forgiveness. To point out that I didn’t do my best and that sometimes how I treat others is a dead give-away to what’s going on inside my head. My car runs. I have a house to go home to and yet, I was the thief today.
The other night when Nikolai was racing through the house with his fuzzy navy socks on and one of his favorite toy cars in hand, he slipped. As his legs gave out from underneath him and his open palms slapped laminate flooring, he skinned his knee, and knocked the breath from his lungs. When it finally caught up to him, he was a heap of tears and a sobbing disaster. I put aside cooking dinner for a moment by removing heat from the pan so I could comfort him. Yet as soon as he felt calm again… he said something that left me grappling for words I couldn’t hold on to.
“I’m so sorry you hurt yourself, can I kiss it to make it feel better?” I asked, my heart overflowing with empathy.
Sniffling he replied, “I know that’s not how it works mom. Kisses aren’t magic. They can’t make me feel better. My body just needs time to heal up!” He smiled sympathetically and embraced me in a hug before emptying my arms to resume playing.
I sat there frowning for a moment feeling as though my heart had somehow shattered within the walls of my chest. Kisses aren’t magic. The more I turned it over in my mind, the deeper the notion cut me. I tried to resume cooking and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling of despair. It wasn’t just the loss of childhood innocents that struck me so profoundly, though that was part of it. What really got to me, was the fact that the statement wasn’t true. At least it wasn’t true for me and in my heart, I felt that it wouldn’t be true for him either.
I didn’t know what to expect when Rob met me at the airport a week before New Years Eve. We had been talking over the phone for months. My parents had screamed at me when they saw the phone bills that we had run up due to our non-stop conversations. I waited outside the terminal feeling breathless with my stomach twisted into knots. We weren’t officially dating. We had been friends for a long time, but this was different and when I saw him waiting for me, carrying a bouquet of roses… I knew that things between us were shifting.
Yet the chemistry didn’t fully ignite until I was standing before him in his parent’s rented apartment kitchen. When his arms slipped around my midsection, and he pulled me into him for the kind of first kiss that made it feel as if life itself had been put on pause. All the heartache of relationships past, and childhood trauma quieted within that moment. Rational thought left my head and the only sound I could hear was my heart strumming music into my ears.
I don’t remember kissing Nikolai for the very first time because I passed out. I had a C-section and after they removed him from my belly, I felt as if I was burning up. The last thing I recall saying to the nurse was that I felt hot all over. The last thing I remember feeling was the coolness of a temperature strip being placed on my forehead before blacking out. There are pictures of me kissing Nikolai’s forehead after the temperature strip had been placed but I don’t remember that part, and I don’t recall having seen his face.
Three hours later I woke up in a recovery room alone. My belly felt empty, and my baby was nowhere to be found. I didn’t know if they had taken him from me or if something horrible had happened. I couldn’t remember what he looked like because I didn’t recall having seen his face, nor did I remember if I had heard him cry or not. The pregnancy hormones were dropping, and I felt such a crushing sense of despair that I didn’t want to live.
When I was finally brought back to my room and Nikolai was placed into my arms where I could kiss his tiny forehead… I couldn’t contain the tears of relief and joy from flooding my cheeks. The same was true when he wrapped his tiny arms around my neck and kissed me back for the very first time. The magic that having him had helped to heal my body and had given me my life back plus so much more… was beautiful. I had gone several years bed ridden wondering if I would get the opportunity to be a mom at all. That moment felt just as powerful and just as healing as the first kiss I gave my beautiful boy on the day he was born… because I felt as if I had earned it.
There had been other kisses over the years that healed me as well. Friends who held and kissed my hand when I was in the hospital and my future was uncertain due to my health. Kisses that my own mom gave me throughout the years when I needed them most, and just-because kisses. Make up kisses, heartbreak kisses that gave me closure, and the kisses I gave to my husband before he left for Afghanistan so we could remember our last moments together for as long as possible.
These are the thoughts that ran through my mind as I was cooking that had eluded me within the heartbreak of the moment. Yet I knew that I had to rectify Nikolai’s notion on the subject matter before I forgot everything that I needed to say. When our meal was finished and the plates had been served, I took his small hand in mine so I could have his undivided attention.
“Remember when you fell today, and I offered to kiss your knee to make it feel better?”
“Did my kisses make you feel better on the inside?” I asked
“Yes, I stopped crying.” He shrugged and smiled
“Your body will heal at the rate it normally does, that part is true but that doesn’t mean that kisses aren’t full of magic. They have a special way of healing your insides and when you feel good on the inside… you’ll feel better on the outside too!”
“OH! So, kisses are magic?”
“Kisses are the best kind of magic… because they are the kind of magic that’s real.”
I smirked at him before tickling him and attacking his grinning face with a million smooches. He squealed as he usually does and asked me to tickle him some more. When we were done laughing, I winked at him and told him to eat up before it was time to get ready for bed.
If you enjoy my blog, you may enjoy other things that I’ve written as well. Here is a list of some of my most popular posts. There’s no greater compliment than when people comment and share the things I have written with others, so thank you for taking time out of your day to spend it here with me. Happy Reading!
As a family we talked about him often. The crazy adventures, his knack for stealing Rob’s tools, and all the times he snuck his way into the house. It had been at least two years since we heard honking echoing through our farm. We discussed getting another goose regularly but for some reason the timing never quite worked out the way we hoped it would, and we knew that life without Aspen wouldn’t be the same.
On a random Friday afternoon after having tackled farm chores, we decided to make a trip into town for essentials and extra feed for the farm. We had been hauling things to the nearby garbage dump so rather than take our usual route, we knew it would be more direct to take the back roads. The long stretches of farmland between scenic mountains and sunshine did my heart good. I let the windows slide down to the rim so the breeze could dance over my throbbing fingers and ease the pain from the injury I had obtained a couple weeks prior. The rolling hills were carpeted in rich shades of green and dappled with day lilies while the last of the spring blooms put on a show of pink and purple hues.
It’s funny how quickly an ordinary afternoon can become something more extraordinary. Rob was sitting in the driver’s seat with one hand on the steering wheel while the other caressed my non-broken limbs. His amber eyes sparkled, and he threw a cocky grin at me. We were secretly listening to Nikolai drift off in his own little world. Wiggly legs dangled over his booster seat; he had been making up lyrics to songs that he wrote himself. Something Niki said about redheads being dangerous had my husband and I roaring with laughter. I intended to write it down. I do this a lot to savor his words for a later date, but I was interrupted by a sign advertising the sale of a flock of chickens.
Two large cages filled with birds had caught Rob’s attention and since we could always use more chickens, it captured my attention as well. It happened so suddenly that in the middle of typing Niki’s lyrics, I dropped my phone between the seats. While fumbling to find my cellphone, Rob made a three-point turn to get us back onto the highway. My hand was already hovering over the buckle to release my seatbelt before my husband had the opportunity to throw the car into park once we had arrived at our rerouted destination. I was eager to leap from my seat so I could stretch my legs but more than that, I was curious over how much the asking price would be. If it wasn’t too outrageous, I figured we would probably load up the car and take them all home with us.
I lifted a hand to shade my eyes from the sun so I could see better. Three menacing dogs snapped at me behind a chain link fence that blocked the front door. I couldn’t decide where the best point of entry to ring the doorbell might be. Was it behind the dogs? I wasn’t about to jump the fence to find out. That’s when I heard a sound that instinctively had me snapping my neck to locate the source. Underneath a shade tree was a large coop and five long necks that were straining to get a better look at me.
“HONK! Honk, honk, HONK!” I gasped and slapped my good hand across the car window so Rob would roll it down to speak with me.
“Do you hear them?!” I asked excitedly
“They have geese?” He asked with wide eyes
“See if they will sell them! Forget about the Chickens, try to convince them to let us buy a goose.”
A young dark-skinned boy in his early teens emerged from the woods in a dusty red golf cart and inky shorts. His flip flops made a sloppy sound as he was walking towards me after parking. Yet his eyes were bright, and his smile was more inviting than the dogs who kept him company.
“Can I help you?” He asked inquisitively
“Hey there! I saw your sign along the road for chickens, I was wondering how much you wanted for them.” I asked even though at this point I couldn’t have cared less about the chickens.
“Ten dollars a bird.”
“Hmm” I responded, “what about the geese? Are they for sale by chance?”
“The geese? I’d have to ask my parents, but I might be able to sell one to you.”
“I’m not sure… twenty dollars sound fair?”
Twenty dollars wasn’t a fair price. Most goslings in our area cost around fifty to seventy dollars but I wasn’t about to question him. Instead, we would bring extra funds with us just in case he changed his mind. With that, an agreement was made, and we left to locate an ATM.
When Aspen entered our lives, it was through a woman that I meet on Facebook. She was an amazing person who quickly became a friend. Aspen landed in our lap as the beautiful gift he truly was. I believe that the best friendships happen when we least expect them. I find that to be true of people as well as the animals that enter our lives and live on our farm. Some of my most memorable relationships have occurred when animals (and people) have showed up on my doorstep like a dusty puzzle piece that I never knew had been missing.
When we got back to the chicken sale with cash in hand, the boy’s father had been waiting for our return. He wore a grim expression across his face, and he was rubbing his rough hands across his jeans. His lips were pursed, and his jaw was set tight. Either they weren’t selling, or the price was way off. My stomach churned as my hopes began plummeting.
“I hate to break it to you, but those geese cost more than twenty dollars.”
“I figured as much.” I responded with a shy but knowing smile.
“I’ll only sell the male and we’ll take no less than a hundred for him.”
The boy shook his head and mumbled an apology. “That’s way more than I thought they should be sold for.”
“Can I see the male?” I asked politely as his father left to retreat into the confines of his home.
When the boy pointed to the gander, he was a stunning grey and white beauty with a graceful neck but a messed-up wing. The wing wasn’t a dealbreaker, but the fact that he was a Toulouse was. Male Toulouse geese are known for being exceptionally aggressive during mating season and I refuse to keep aggressive animals on our farm. There was no way he would be taken from his girls without a fight.
Standing next to the Toulouse gander however was a goose that looked almost identical to our late Aspen. She was white with blue eyes and a hump on her bill. Something like a cross between an Embden and a white Chinese goose. Where Aspen had splatters of soft grey down, she had a more muted sandy brown. I believe they call the cross breed, a painted goose. When I saw her, I knew in my heart that we couldn’t leave without her. She was standing in a thick, soupy mess of a pen. Her feathers desperately in need of a bath but her eyes were soft and bright like the boy who raised her, and I knew that if I could talk the boy’s father into it… she would be ours.
“What about the white one? She’s a female, right?”
“Yes.” The boy sighed “She gets bullied all the time. Are you interested in her? I could probably convince my dad to let you buy her. I have talked about rehoming her several times before.“
“If your dad is okay with it… we’ll take her.”
One phone call later and my husband and I were switching positions in the car. I was driving us home to protect my broken fingers from further damage and he was sitting in the passenger seat… holding our painted goose. Other than the occasional honk and pooping on the door handle… she sat rather quietly. The boy had told us that she was a good girl who didn’t bite as he released her from his arms and into ours. Before we left, he stopped us one last time to plant a goodbye kiss along her slender neck. She had been well loved before, and she would be well loved forever more.
We tossed around names for hours. Some were funny, some silly, and some were positively ridiculous but none of them seemed to really fit her. As we were fixing up our big coop so that it could become her new home, it came to my attention that we should name her after a tree like we did with Aspen. As suggested by one of my best friends, we decided to call her Maple.
If you enjoy my blog, you may enjoy other things that I’ve written as well. Here is a list of some of my most popular posts. There’s no greater compliment than when people comment and share the things I have written with others, so thank you for taking time out of your day to spend it here with me. Happy Reading!
I knew it was a bad idea the moment I had agreed to it. The gravity of how unbelievably stupid I had been didn’t fully register until I was holding on for dear life, staring at my muck boots while watching the ground skate underneath my heals. I kept recalling all the times I walked by a mirror and was struck by the realization that I’m not as young or as thin as I once was. My age and poor judgment left me with a crippled right hand, a limp, and a trip to the emergency room.
As I was withering on the ground with pain sending shockwaves through my body, I wondered how I was going to explain what happened to my friends and family. I didn’t last more than a handful of seconds before going bottoms up and mooning the evening sun. I tried to do a mental inventory of my extremities, but I had already assessed that something felt broken. Perhaps multiple things and there was no way I was going to be able to write for a while.
One moment I was screaming and the next moment I was uncontrollably laughing at the absurdity of the accident. My husband looked at me in horror. Blood was pouring down my hand, running over my arm, and dripping off my elbow. He doesn’t do blood. He handles it well because he was a soldier, but the sight of blood makes him sick to his stomach and causes his head to feel woozy.
“I’ve never seen someone get so injured going under five miles per hour. Why didn’t you hold on better?”
“ME? Why did YOU speed up?”
“Well, we’re not exactly tiny people Lish. I had to build up momentum!”
“Yet I was begging you to stop! I think I broke something. No, I KNOW that I broke something.”
He helped me limp my way to the house by slinging my arm around his shoulder and we left that stupid minibike where it fell. If I didn’t need one good leg to stand on, I would have kicked it out of spite as we were hobbling by. I had spent all day gardening. I was sunburnt, exhausted, and possibly a little heat sick. That’s the only reason why I recalled agreeing to his request. That and my desire for a little excitement. The walk up our driveway had looked especially daunting and the thought of a cool breeze getting tangled in my red hair sounded magnificent.
“Want a ride to the house?” he asked
“It’ll be fun! Come on… live a little. You won’t have to walk!”
“You’ll be fine!”
It looked like a bad idea. I said as much but he’s always good at talking me into stepping outside my comfort zone. Yet a conversation I had with Izzy just a week or two before didn’t resurface until after the accident. Rob had attempted to convince her to ride on the back of that stupid minibike too. She came into my bedroom laughing about how ridiculous someone would have to be to take him up on it. She talked about how there was no way they both would fit because there was barely enough room for one adult person. That’s when I told her that saying “No” was probably the smartest decision she had made that day. Yet somehow, I had forgotten to say no.
“Eighteen years babe. You should know by now not to listen to my bright ideas.”
I snorted, laughed, and then admitted that he wasn’t wrong.
Two broken fingers in my right hand, tons of bruising on my side, a possible fracture to my right kneecap, and I had obtained some wicked road rash on my palm and knee as well. I almost needed surgery and I had to re-learn how to do things. I still have months of physical therapy to tackle in order to get my middle finger to bend correctly. What’s interesting is that this isn’t even the first time that I’ve broken the exact same middle finger.
I can no longer make a fist without flicking people off which to be honest… may have come in handy a time or two. Yet I didn’t grasp just how messed up I was until the night after the accident when it took over two hours to open the bottle of painkillers that the doctor had prescribed me. Or the almost three hours it took me to accomplish farm chores the next morning (not including all the regular housework I had to do later in the day). Hauling feed, tossing hay, washing dishes, opening packages were only a few of the things I began to dread doing.
While contemplating the state of my existence and waiting in line to order my favorite drink from our local coffee shop… the barista asked me what had happened to my bandaged hand. I laughed nervously, trying to decide if I should add the fact that I injured myself on a mini dirt bike or if I should go ahead and leave that part out to make myself sound cooler. In the end, I relayed the truth of it and had her grinning. Then with a mischievous spark in her eyes, she said something that profoundly changed the way I saw myself… curvy body and all.
“Yeah… but at least you got on!”
At least I got on. I stepped outside my comfort zone. I tried something extremely stupid. I failed, but I got back up and I had been physically and mentally open to doing something spontaneous. As my husband had slung my arm around his neck to help me limp back to the house, he beamed at me and shook his head.
With a chuckle in his throat, he said “Think of it this way my fragile lemon… you have a good story to write about.”
“Do you know what you need? You need a service dog.”
That was how my husband proposed the idea after I began battling with severe vertigo and had passed out a few times. I had seen several doctors but we still didn’t have an explanation for the new bizarre symptoms that were honestly ruining my life. That wasn’t even my only health issue. I also had been spiking chronic low-grade fevers. I had issues with a butterfly rash across my face, joint pain, exhaustion, a stomach disorder, a kidney disease, blood pressure problems that I had never dealt with before, and ocular migraines where I would suddenly lose my vision.
I couldn’t figure out how to handle everything or where to go next. My quality of life was greatly diminished and the issues with my body would easily wreck the kind of havoc that made every-day tasks nearly impossible… especially when things hit me at once. I could go a couple of weeks feeling amazing when out of left field I would be knocked on my behind for a month or two… or longer. I once lost my vision while I was in the middle of driving. I never saw the semi that was barreling down the highway towards my car. It happened so fast that Nikolai and I were almost taken out of this life for good. Something had to change. Anything! I was desperate.
Still… a service dog? Dogs like that are expensive right? Was I “sick enough” to have one? What did “sick enough” even mean? Was there a person behind the scenes who would qualify sick people for service dogs? What would people think of me for having to rely on a dog to make me a more functional person? The questions swirled around in my brain until it made me feel that much worse. I decided to do the only thing that make sense to me… I sat at a booth hunched over my keyboard inside our local coffee shop and I googled the heck out of it.
I learned that the only one who could approve my service dog request was my physician. I also came to the realization that people used service dogs to do all kinds of things, from helping with PTSD, to managing anxiety, and other health problems as well. Yet the biggest thing I discovered was that I was over qualified.
Incapable of preforming daily tasks due to a disability or illness?
Hospital visits that are frequent?
Official diagnoses on my medical records?
Check. Check. Check. Check. Check!
I read that owning and training your own dog with the help of a professional trainer was the fastest way to obtain such an animal. Otherwise, you might be sitting on a wait list for a couple of years or more. It takes a minimum of two years to train a service dog and you need to be committed to the endeavor or you both will fail. It’s one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things that you’ll ever do. Finding the right kind of dog would be a whole other mountain to hike. Temperament testing the dog’s personality for service dog traits and willingness to learn was just the beginning. Even that wouldn’t guarantee success. Dogs have a high rate of flunking out of service work.
Most people don’t have family who raise purebreds at their disposal. Most don’t have an army of people in their corner who have physically seen them suffer over the years either. I was blessed enough to have both. My grandparents had been raising Rough Coat Collies for well over fifty years. They came from a long line of calm, quiet, and gentle dogs. On top of that, my grandmother’s adopted daughter Isabell had worked for a neighbor who raised search and rescue German Shepherds, police dogs, and yes… even service dogs!
My mind was made up. I needed a service dog and with my doctor’s approval in hand… I knew exactly where to get one. I picked up my cellphone and called my grandmother. From that moment on, my life was forever changed by the most amazing dog my family and I have ever known. The events of her birth and that of her siblings are of such epic proportions that you almost had to be there to believe it.
“I’m not positive, but in my gut, I think that Bambi is pregnant!”
“How do you know Grandma?!”
“Well, I don’t know for sure… but I feel it.”
A week before easter my grandmother had felt that Bambi (Isabell’s German Shepherd) had been filling out her naturally lean frame. Bambi had connected multiple times with my grandfather’s dog Sampson, which was within itself rather miraculous. You see, Sampson was an old man for a purebred Collie. Even though my grandfather had passed away years earlier… Sampson (who was the last generations of purebred collies on my grandparent’s farm), was still very much alive.
We had wanted and loved these puppies before they were born. It was the end of an era for my grandparents but the beginning of an era for me because one of the babies was going to be my service dog. I spent many nights lying awake and praying for a pregnancy to take place. Begging God to provide the kind of dog who would help me become a more functional person for my family. It wasn’t a cure, but I needed to be more confident in my abilities to manage my household and health on my own while my husband was away for work.
The day before easter I was sprawled out in bed with my husband by my side and my 6-year-old son’s foot in my face. Nikolai had crawled into bed with us and spent the night kicking me in the head. It was a beautiful Saturday, there was a periwinkle hue over the mountain peaks and the fireball in the sky was just beginning to show off. It was going to be a lovely, relaxing weekend… until my phone rang.
“You’re aren’t going to believe this! You just aren’t going to believe it!” My grandmother’s voice was lively and animated.
I yawned, stretched my legs out before me and mumbled sleepily “What time is it? Why are you up so early?”
“SHE DID IT! WE HAVE PUPPIES!”
I flew to a fully awake sitting position among piles of blankets and maneuvered the limbs of my family away from me. “What do you mean? How?! Last week you weren’t even sure if she was pregnant and now, we have puppies? WE HAVE PUPPIES!”
I squealed and my body shook with excitement “I HAVE A SERVICE DOG IN TRAINING!!”
Had I stuck to the typical service dog rules… it may have made my life easier. Rules such as, “not choosing a puppy until you have them professionally evaluated first” are important to a higher success rate. My wonderful trainer lived in Georgia with me and these puppies were located in Arizona with my family. I decided to trust God and do my best to evaluate them myself through facetime. I don’t recommend doing what I did, but if I had done things any differently… than this would be a different story. Tallulah wasn’t the right dog but she was right for me.
Bambi had her babies in a field, choosing to hide them rather than be cozy and warm inside the house. My mom and my grandmother saw blood and found a hole that she dug to hide them in. The first two (and the oldest) puppies never made it into the foxhole. Their bodies were discovered lifeless several feet away. My mom ran her hands over them, rubbing the puppies with all her might. She breathed life into their mouths and gave them CPR to revive them.
One of the two puppies yelped and began rooting but struggled to latch or eat. The other laid limply underneath my mother’s hands. She called me with tears pouring down her face and I listened to her voice quiver as she whispered a prayer over the tiny animal’s body. Hours went by and she continued begging the fellow to live until his body became cold to the touch, stiff, and ridged. There were no more soft sounds from a beating heart. No shallow breaths being taken. He was gently set aside in the dumpster behind the house so that the other dogs couldn’t take him away before she had a chance to bury him. She devoted the rest of her time to encouraging the puppy who didn’t want to eat, to nurse.
Tallulah was found with one of her brothers in the hole her mom dug out of the earth to save them. The moment I saw her picture on my cellphone… I knew that she was mine. It was as if God took the extra time to write my name on her. She was the only puppy born with a large black letter “L” marking on her back… a characteristic trait that she eventually grew out of. Yet she had been written into existence especially for me. Her marking was a beacon of light within the whirlwind of darkness that my health had plunged me into once again.
After a long day, my exhausted mother had to dispose of the dirty towels and blankets from Bambi’s birthing room and move them into the dumpster. She had helped Bambi’s babies to nurse and even delivered a few more puppies along the way. The sky was fading from blue to silver and the stars were making a dashing appearance of their own. It was almost time to bury the body of the first born. The closer she got to the trash can the louder a scuffle from within became. Twelve or more hours had passed and there had been no sign of life or a will to live. Yet she lifted the lid and there he was! A living, breathing, wiggling miracle searching for his mother. That’s how “Lazarus” changed my mom’s life. A puppy that was completely dead came back to life with nothing more than faith and a prayer… the day before Easter.
My own prayed for puppy, has rescued my life countless times. She has warned me when it wasn’t safe for me to be driving. She has told me when my blood pressure became dangerously high. She helped chase an intruder out of my house and away from my son. She’s watched over my baby as if he were her own. I’ve seen her soothe Nikolai on sick days, and giggled to myself over the joy of her bubblegum pink tongue kissing away his sadness until laughter was all he had left. She has put herself between me and those she didn’t trust on multiple occasions and I’ve learned that she’s the best judge of character that I have ever meet.
There were moments within this amazing first year together when I thought that she wouldn’t make it as a service dog. We have been through trials that I never saw coming. Yet between my wonderful trainer’s advice (thank you Sharon!) and Tallulah’s desire to learn, my relationship with this incredible dog has only strengthened. She has saved me again and again. I owe her my life.
If you enjoyed this post about Tallulah, I have written other posts about her as well that you may want to check out! You can find those posts here, here, and here!
Nature hasn’t always been kind to me. There have been a number of instances where my love for animals has gotten me into trouble. Nothing reminded me of this more than the meme that came across my Facebook page a few weeks ago. The bold writing prompt stated to “Name an animal you’ve been chased by other than a dog.” The more I sat and thought about it… the more interesting my list became.
I decided to re-post the meme to Facebook along with the catalog of events that I had created without any further explanation. Several friends came across what I had written and had questions about how I got into such unusual circumstances to begin with. I had some of them laughing hysterically while others were horrified. I’m not entirely sure how to justify everything other than to say that I am and always will be, a lover of four legged and feathered creatures. I prefer their company over human beings and I just can’t seem to help myself.
A picnic basket slung over my arm, I laced up my salmon and slate colored tennis shoes to aid in the search for the perfect location. My family and I had been hiking through the mountains of North Georgia to find a lake that we had never seen before. The temperatures were sweltering into the upper eighties so it was imperative to find the perfect shady location to prevent my skin from turning the same shade of pink as a rosy maple moth. After a lip-smacking meal, we decided to discard our trash before heading out on our next adventure.
Within seconds of pushing the lid back to drop the contents inside, a squirrel launched itself at my horrified face. I barely had a moment to react but somehow dodged seconds before its outstretched claws grabbed at my gaping jaw. I screamed and ran but the tiny terror chased me around the parking lot. I used the car tire to lift myself up onto the hood of our vehicle yet the little jerk was persistent. My husband, who attempted to aid in my rescue (while uncontrollably cracking up) unfortunately became the next victim.
There we were, two grown adults being chased around our car by an animal who didn’t weigh more than a couple pounds. The evil little thing stole the uneaten crust that I dropped off of my son’s sandwich. He chirped angerly at us before finally racing back to the bin with his treasure and diving underneath the can’s swinging lid. That’s the last time I’ve ever tossed anything away without double checking for squirrels. I later came into contact with a woman who had been bitten and attacked by a squirrel herself, she was forced to get a series of rabies shots and even required surgery! Never underestimate the size of a creature or the damage they are capable of inflicting.
Before the sun had graced the day, my girlfriend and I tacked up our horses so we could enjoy a foggy trail ride through the woods. Moody mornings have always been among my most favorite kind of mornings. There was a clearing where the tall grass swayed in the breeze and tickled the bellies of our horses. It was the best spot to allow my chestnut mare to take her time so she could gather enough sweet grass in her mouth to turn her lips green. I was enjoying the gentle sway of my hips rocking to her gait when I noticed her swiveling ears and felt the flick of her tail. All at once I felt the warning of danger as her body tensed underneath me.
“Mia” who was normally quiet and steady, balked and danced a jig using her long slender legs. My eyes searched the wood line looking for the obvious such as a herd of deer, a bear, or a bobcat. Instead, my girlfriend pointed and gasped while holding her own mare steady from surging forward into the thicket. There under our feet were six bottle brush black tails with striking white stripes through them. We immediately stopped holding our girls back to allow their hooves to fly. I looked behind us as we galloped away only to realize that we were being chased by a family of skunks. They ran after our horses but thankfully our girls outraced them before they had a moment to spray us. I have no idea what it would take to get the smell of skunk off of a horse and I didn’t want to find out but it was a close call!
One of my most bizarre encounters occurred while taking a walk through a Florida subdivision. Out of my peripheral I saw the ground move below the towering pines and realized that I had stumbled upon a roll (also known as a herd) of armadillo. They typically don’t come out during the day and I had never seen one alive before. I had to bury one that our dog Moose killed on our farm. I remember being shocked to come across one on our little mountain… but this situation was something else entirely.
I got a little too curious and stuck around to watch them in order to understand what they were eating. Unfortunately, that’s when they noticed me as well. I’ll never again assume that armadillos are slow moving and social animals because once they realized I was there, they began to chase me. I had to run for my life past a row of houses and a gawking girl in pigtails that was sitting on her tricycle. I was convinced that if they caught up to me that I might contract leprosy. I never did figure out what they found so delicious but I left my dignity behind so I could escape with my health intact… and that was good enough for me.
It’s no secret that I loathe swimming (see last week’s post on this subject here). Since I was young, I’ve hated water activities of any kind and preferred to read a book pool side than join my peers. I’ll happily wade out into the water but once its lapping at my belly and I can no longer see my toes… I’ve had enough. Nikolai (my son) and Rob (my husband) talked me into going swimming at our favorite mountain top lake with them. I was having a wonderful time cooling off until I felt something bite me on the rump. Swirling about to save myself, I brushed it off as a fluke until it happened again. Then again! Only that last time… really hurt!
I screamed for my life and tried to run through water to get to shore but the stupid thing just kept biting me! I couldn’t figure out what it was and I couldn’t get traction. I shoved past a group of kids, stubbed my toe on a rock, tripped, and landed face first with an epic 10/10 worthy splash. Rob and Nikolai didn’t even try to hide their amusement and neither did the locals. When I finally made it close enough to shore to search my swimsuit bottoms, I felt humiliated to realize that the culprit which had bitten on my derriere was a small but apparently hungry fish. There wasn’t a soul on that beach that wasn’t laughing at my horror show and azalea-red cheeks.
Among all the birds in the bird world, Sparrows and Canadian Geese are my least favorite species. Sparrows are known for being territorial and Canadian geese… well they’re known for attacking people. My most traumatic memory as a four-year-old was when I attempted to feed bread to a Canadian goose only to have it come after me. It bit my finger, took some of the flesh off of it, and then beat me with its massive wings. Now having owned a farm as well as geese… I’m older, wiser, and far more prepared to handle them. Yet I’ve held a grudge ever since.
When Tallulah (my service dog in training) was around 11 weeks old, a territorial sparrow at a hotel gave both of us a lesson in PTSD. There we were, enjoying a walk together to stretch our legs outside our hotel room when a ninja in trees began to nail me repeatedly in the head. I never saw it coming! Poor Tallulah was caught off guard as well. One moment she was squatting to pee and the next, this insane bird was slamming into her nose pointy beak first. My brave half German shepherd girl yiped and attempted to hide behind me for cover.
This bird wasn’t giving up. As we ran from it, the bird flew from one tree to the next in pursuit of execution. Our only chance of escape was to run inside and allow the glass side-door to slam behind us. I will say that although the bird made Tallulah’s bathroom breaks a nightmare… we enjoyed watching the show from our hotel window as it attacked other unsuspecting victims. One woman clutching the hand of her lover had screamed and tossed her pool-side reading material at the bird. Another gentleman walking a Pitbull had to pick up his dog and run across the parking lot to his car when his dog became paralyzed with fear.
A horse, a donkey, a group of pigs, more than one rooster, an evil goat, a turkey, a snake, a swan, a bear, a feral cat, a racoon, a buffalo, and so many more have chased me. I have enough stories that I could probably fill the pages of a book. You would think that it would deter me but somehow, I only love them more which is probably why my neighbors know me as “the crazy animal lady.”
Is it just me or have you had some crazy experiences too?
I sat on the dock with my feet dangling over the edge. Wisps of my red hair that had mixed with the salty sweat on my forehead and neck had practically glued themselves to my skin. I tried to pry them away by piling the mass of flames onto the top of my crown to cool myself but they just kept tumbling back down again. I felt sticky and it made the humidity that much more unbearable. Maybe that’s why the idea popped into my head in the first place. A combination between the wicked Tennessee heat wave I had been enduring and the stress that war had brought into my life.
Fear constantly played in the background of my mind like static taking over a good song on the radio. Somehow the events of the day had subdued it for the time being. It was as if someone turned down the volume just long enough to quiet my insecurities so I could enjoy myself for a spell. The worry that my husband might not make it home was still there, it just played a little softer. My irrational fear of deep dark water was still there too. The fact that I never really got the hang of swimming any more than I could flail my arms during a doggie paddle. A graceful swan dive wasn’t within my skill set so it probably wasn’t the best idea. I also never really got over that weird self-conscious feeling whenever I was forced to undress in the girl’s locker room.
I swirled my toes around the murky darkness at the edge of the bank. It was a fear facing kind of night. The stars danced on the water like fireflies in the middle of summer. The moon shattered into pieces of light over the lake and three of my favorite girlfriends gathered around me. We laughed together after a full day of trail riding horses and eating buttered popcorn for dinner. We smelled like manure and bug spray which made me happy even though in the back of my mind I knew that somewhere in Afghanistan my husband was probably running from mortars. Every day without him was a struggle. I thought a lot about death in between the moments of living my life and I needed an escape.
I was the girl that never really took risks- unlike my husband who pulled me out of my comfort zone whenever he had the opportunity to do so. Mid-twenties at the time and I had never been drunk (I still haven’t). I had never so much as considered trying drugs, and I certainly never put a cigarette to my lips. I was proud of that (I still am), but I wanted to know what freedom felt like. To not be so wrapped up in worry that it prevented me from actually living my life. To all my church friends I was the “bad girl” who made inappropriate sex jokes because I grew up in Chicago. I thought they were funny… they didn’t. Yet to all of my non-Christian friends, I was the religious kill-joy who played it safe and ruined their fun.
All of those things encompassed who I was to some degree or another and yet none of them expressed me at all. There was a whole other version of me that very few got to know. Sure, I was uptight at times. Yet my soul had been searching for the kind of freedom that came with letting go of what was expected of me and finally doing the things that made me happy. I needed liberation from the prison I had built within myself. I looked at the water rippling below me and I couldn’t shake how good it might feel to be fully submerged. To quench the heat of the day. To put a stop to thinking endlessly about what could go wrong and just enjoy everything that could go right.
The tree frogs serenaded one another and the crickets joined in harmony. My friends and I talked about our lives. We cried over things we had never spoken out loud before. We howled over shared memories that had long-since passed and the mood of the night unchained me, link by link. The background noise in my head sounded a lot more like my husband’s voice of reason and his endless support.
“We should go swimming.” Did I say that out loud?
“We don’t have enough swimsuits.” My blonde friend replied pouting with disappointment.
“Do we really need them?” I pondered.
“You mean like… skinny dipping?” My brunette friend giggled.
“Why not?” My heart was racing as I said it.
How deep was the lake again? I couldn’t remember. Could my feet touch the bottom? Doubtful. Weren’t there fish in there? Probably.
Snakes? Most definitely.
It was too late to take it back; a pact of trust had been made. All four of us left piles of discarded clothing on the landing. I pulled the hair tie from my tresses and curled my toes around the edge of the pier. My stomach lurched and goosebumps sent a shiver over my spine but the rest of me was still. My bare-bottom faced the woods but I was locked on the rippling reflection of the sky beneath me. I took in several gulps of air, squeezed my eyes shut, and squealed before launching myself into the milky way.
Twisted red locks suspended like a halo and my heart paused for a moment. I left everything I had been afraid of behind me with the heap of laundry that I didn’t need. Within that moment I was the brave one. Within that moment, I could do anything I set my mind to and I could do it on my own. The lake kissed my flesh with ice water as I plunged below the surface. It was a shock to my mind. I was swimming naked in an inland with no bottom while facing some of my biggest fears. My soul had never tasted such joy… right up until my foot touched something slimy.
My pale legs danced beneath me and parted water to keep me afloat. I imagined that I looked something like a gladiator or a goddess because that’s how I felt. To everyone else I probably looked like a fish slapping its fins against the shore and begging to be released… but it didn’t matter. A whippoorwill cried out from the darkness like my soul had been reaching towards the light.
I didn’t need anyone to help me get there. No hand holding was required as I stood at the edge of the pier. I did that all on my own. There’s a sense of empowerment when you tackle things you didn’t originally feel comfortable doing. You become washed in pride over having proved to yourself that you could do the unthinkable. A caged bird no longer, fear facing nights are the kind of nights that set you free.
So tell me, what fears have you faced and how did coming to terms with those fears help you?
Spring in North Georgia among the pines and wildflowers gives off a similar experience as autumn. You can smell floral notes on the breeze as colors of red, florescent green, pink, and purple paint the wood line and open themselves up to rolling hills. Ribbons of gold thread their way through spiral black-tops that wind up mountains and weave through farmland. It’s enough to have us rolling down our car windows or opening up every door in our little house… even when that means that we have to chase the ducks and chickens out.
The hummingbirds who dine on spring blooms have been bravely coming up to my house, sitting on my planter boxes and knocking on the windows. If I’m not quick enough with my early morning chores I have more than just my farm animals to lecture me for it. There’s a family of blue jays that like to steal left over cat food from my six barn cats. They sit on the electrical wire or sometimes on nearby tree limbs, they puff out their feathers and make sharp chirping sounds as if they are telling me off when I get behind.
There’s a squirrel who lives in a tree on our new property who has a habit of tormenting Tallulah. She’ll come down, flick her bushy tail, make noises to catch Tallulah’s attention and then bound right back up into her nest again. Tallulah will make chase and stand on her hind legs frantically barking in desperation of catching her until that funny little squirrel cackles with laughter. Tallulah will get frustrated and find a spot to sulk until that silly creature torments her all over again.
One of the best things about living out here is that even when we’re gone from home for a day or a few hours… we miss it deeply. I’ve never lived somewhere that despite the endless list of work that needs to be done, felt more like a vacation than an actual vacation does. Of course, that’s not to say that I won’t change my mind and feel desperate for a vacation after all the excitement of this next week. We’ve hired a digging company to remove and replace our culvert (the large pipe that allows our creek to flow underneath our driveway), as well as an electrical company who’s coming to re-wire and fix our well issues.
It’s been at least a couple of months since our well went out and we’ve had to run it off of a generator in order to have flowing water in the house again. We have also occasionally hooked up the rain water collection tank as well. My hair has never felt more amazing than on the days when I get hot rainwater showers, but I can’t wait to be able to turn on the faucet without having to take a walk down to the well house to do it. All of that aside, it’s officially gardening season and I’m behind. I had planned on starting seedlings but with all the construction I wasn’t sure where to put them… so I waited.
The most recent plan is the one I had been hoping for all along. We’re going to take down and remove Harlow’s original pasture and make a new pasture on our recently obtained property. We’ll be chopping down trees, stacking trunks to use as fencing material, and creating a much larger space for both our boys (Harlow & Caspian). I’m certain I’ll get to experience exactly how my mom and my grandparents felt when they we’re doing similar things for the forestry service like I wrote about last week!
The old pasture will become our new gardening oasis. Harlow and Caspian’s composted manure will be good food for fragile seedlings. We’ll clean our bunny coop out and add that manure to our garden as well as the adding all of the left-over scraps of hay from the horse trailer where we store our bales. I even have several piles of compost from Harlow and Caspian’s stalls that I’ve been churning, as well as compost piles inside of our chicken coop!
Having the entire pasture to use as a garden this year will greatly improve how much we are able to harvest. This autumn we’ll dismantle the ugly cement blocks that protect our well house and replace them with a greenhouse so that we can continue planting and growing things throughout the winter. Since the well has access to power, we’ll be able to run a heater that will keep the pipes and pump from freezing over while keeping our plants warm from bitter wind and frost. This will essentially fix several problems all at once.
As I said in “The Leap” buying the land to add to our property was only the beginning. The work that comes after is what shapes it into what it can become and how it can provide for us. It’s a wonder that the love we put into the soil, we get back ten folds. The work load is overwhelming to be sure… but it’s also invigorating! Our peach and apples trees are dappled with blooms. It won’t be long until I’m filling baskets to the brim with fruit and hauling fresh cut flowers into the house.
My love of nature and small farm living didn’t burrow its way underneath my skin on some random Saturday afternoon. Instead, it was deeply rooted into my history years before my childhood began. It was planted and nurtured by my grandparents and their parents before them where it blossomed like a flowering vine that somehow wove us all together. It started sometime when people valued the kind of richness from life that flowed from calloused and hard-working hands, but like an invasive species… it never let our family go.
In a diner amid a small copper mining town… a tiny slip of a waitress with auburn hair was taking orders during the lunch rush. A shy but dashingly handsome man made the extra effort of sitting in her section as soon as he had set eyes on her. He was quiet, fresh out of the Army, and kept to himself. Yet he tucked his long legs underneath the booth and studied the barely five-foot-tall girl with the fresh face and crooked smile as she danced around tables and balanced discarded dishes onto her arms. The sound of her laugh made his heart swell and he couldn’t help ease dropping whenever she made small talk with the locals.
It was the kind of earth swelling moment where a plot twist hung in the air. Yet it took time to unfold all of the pages before they realized just how important those first moments between them really were. Thirty-eight lives were in the making on a day that otherwise would have been insignificant. If the soldier had chosen another diner, or the girl had called out sick that day. If he had stopped in another town, or she had accepted the marriage proposal from the rich gentleman who wanted to build her a big house in the city… maybe then things would have gone differently.
Instead, she chose him because they could talk for hours, because they shared a love for Arizona, and most of all because he loved adventure as much as she did. He didn’t give her a fancy pick-up line like some of the other soldiers had attempted to do. He treated her with loving kindness and it felt as if their souls had found what they never realized they had been searching for. He had the unique ability to drop everything and start over just because he wanted to see something new and it fueled a life well-traveled.
Together they taught their children how to read a map at a young age and how to navigate rough terrain. As their family grew into having three boys and two young girls, my grandfather took a contracted job for the forestry service. They were able to camp at campgrounds that were closed for public use by joining teams of men yielding chainsaws and hatchets. They would cut down what they called “dog hairs” which were large gatherings of small trees that could easily make a forest fire become uncontainable.
The men would cut the tree trunks to the ground while the women and children would follow behind and stack the limbs into large burn piles. My mom was eight years old and my Aunt Susie was five but they all hiked the woods together. The work in the Arizona sunshine wasn’t an easy accomplishment especially in locations like Flagstaff, Prescott, and on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Yet nothing tasted better than the fizz inside a chilled bottle of root beer or a delicious sandwich after hours of hard work. My mom’s favorite treat was listening to the great American broadcaster Paul Harvey over the radio while she ate her lunch among family.
My grandfather (Dale, or as I call him “Papa“) and my uncles Vaughn, Clay, and Brent frequently crossed paths with wildlife that found a way to humble them. On an evening where they returned to their camper after a long day in the woods, a bear had ripped the door off of their icebox and had used its teeth to pry into their supply of canned goods. Their camper trailer had been all but ripped apart. My Papa had to load his riffle to search the grounds and make sure that the animal wasn’t lingering somewhere nearby.
In a separate incident a herd of elk bounded through the forest and soared over a fence when a calf got its leg hung up in barbwire. To this day my uncle Brent (the youngest of the three boys) still recalls running to my grandfather’s truck to retrieve a pair of wire nippers so he could help rescue the thrashing infant. It was a moment of awe that left a lasting impact on my Papa’s memory as well. He talked about it with such fondness and reverence in the years that followed. I still remember my own first encounter with elk when I was left in wonderment over how they sounded a lot like singing blue whales that vibrated around mountains rather than within the swells of ocean waves.
My grandmother (Helen) left her children in the care of her mother (my great-grandmother) one winter afternoon so that she and my grandfather could photograph a heard of elk that were making their way to a local feeding station. They never did come across the elk that they were looking for that day, but as they made their way down the mountain my grandfather nearly stepped on a rattlesnake instead! Backing up ever-so-slowly he reached behind him so that my grandmother could place large rocks into his open palms in order to discourage the snake from coming any closer. As she searched for one boulder after the next, she nearly served up another rattler instead.
There was a sudden shock when the two of them realized that they had stumbled upon a den of rattlesnakes. Everywhere they looked the ground was camouflaged and covered with them. My quick-thinking grandfather located a walking stick in order to very carefully pick their way through the path home. He kept my grandmother close behind him as he poked at the ground to see if anything moved before placing another foot in front of them. It took a lot of extra time but thankfully they made it back to safety.
Beyond forestry contracts and working in the copper mine, my grandfather had other odd jobs as well. He road and adored horses. He had a friend who married into ranch life and owned several head of cattle. My grandfather would lend a hand sorting and moving them. When I was younger my papa worked as a ground’s keeper for a hospital near Chicago where he blessed others with his ability to make things grow from nothing. To this day those who knew him talked about how incredible his gardens looked and how no one has been able to measure up since.
When my Papa finally planted roots of his own… it was on the twenty acres he and my grandmother had invested in. They built a life together in a town that was smaller than the town where they had first meet, surrounded by mountains near the border of Arizona. They had dreams of building a house that they could grow old in but settled for a large greenhouse and added several rooms onto their mobile home instead. That well-loved house helped raise the five additional children that they adopted together.
Two of my uncles bought land in other states, and my mom has taken over the upkeep of the farm in Arizona. My Grandparent’s love of travel, and desire to live life on their terms taught me how to fulfill the dreams of my own family. Our son Nikolai at seven years old has visited sixteen states in the United States and we are working on adding to that by planning trips to Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park in the near future.
My grandfather isn’t here anymore but his legacy continues in every adventure we take and in how we build lives of our own here in the mountains of North Georgia. I sit and marvel over watching pine trees taller than apartment buildings sway in the balmy spring air and I smile because I know how proud he would have been to see me here. But as my wonderful Grandmother likes to remind me… “We can’t go back. We can only make new plans, new memories, and continue moving forward.”
Other than being a pretty face, Aspen arrived on our farm without a true purpose and with very little expectations from me. I had heard that geese made wonderful guardians for chickens and livestock, but I really only picked him out because I thought he would look lovely swimming around in our creek. He was a sight to behold for sure but in a very short amount of time his real worth came in teaching my family that the best friendships happen organically and when you least expect them.
Noelle and Bells we’re Aspen’s mates and even though he loved his girls, to our delight he still made time for us. He would spend the early morning hours preening his stunning white and silver down and then take his daily walk to the creek with a dame (female goose) on either side. Shockingly Aspen set aside the late afternoon warmth in order to sunbathe right next to our front door by himself. He would peak into our little house and watch our every move. If he caught someone walking by in the living room he would tap-tap-tap on the glass and horrify them with what sounded like a bike horn inside of a megaphone.
If he was ignored further, he would waddle down a step or two so he could peak into the other window and tap on the glass over there. He would make as much racket as possible in order to get the human contact that he felt he justly deserved. Back and forth this crazy bird would go from one window to the next even long after we had tossed him kitchen scraps in an attempt to silence him. His nemesis the broom would shoo him down the stairs to prevent Aspen’s poop from sticking to our welcome mat but even that wasn’t a strong enough deterrent to keep him away for very long.
In the middle of a weekday Noelle went missing and Bells became Aspen’s leading lady. Several months went by before Bells went missing as well. Predators are an unfortunate hazard of farm life and in the summer, we become surrounded by hungry mating coyotes. Aspen kept to his routine without his girls but his love affair with people (most particularly my husband) grew stronger than ever. As Rob (my husband) would leave for work, Aspen would fly the entire length of our driveway and chase his car all the way down the dirt road just to catch up to him. This crazy goose would then hitch a ride home in the car so that my husband could drop him back off before attempting to leave for work all over again.
I was sitting on my bed distracted from having deep conversations with my grandmother over the phone when a deafening “HONK! HONK! HONK!” overpowered my ability to speak or listen to anything that was being said to me.
There in my bedroom stood our insane goose. His big blue eyes swirling suspiciously to get a better look at my face from his position on the floor and his feathers puffed out for full effect. Apparently, Rob had been bringing in groceries and left the storm door open just enough for Aspen to slide his beak into so he could finally make his way inside the house. He had been trying to follow the dogs inside for ages but this time he finally made it! There he was filling my bedroom with his megaphone voice box when my husband and our son Nikolai sprinted to my rescue in order to aid in chasing him back out again.
This bird somehow dodged three people only to escape by waddling between Nikolai’s open legs. He pitter-pattered as quick as his flippers could take him into the living room where he helped himself up onto the sofa. When he thought he was cornered he spread open his stunning wingspan to fly around the kitchen counter before landing with a wicked “THUMP!” back onto the living-room floor. It took some football style tackling but my husband was successful at scaring him out of the house again. Rob then caught the big guy outside and brought him back in to make a round of apologies.
He once had a week-long vacation spent at one of my best friend’s house. While farm sitting for me, he made it a point to climb up into Heather’s truck and out-right refused to get back out again. Luckily for Aspen, Heather spoils my farm more than I do. She came to the conclusion that my poor goose was lonely so she hauled his kiddy pool all the way to her house. She created a pen of his own where she fed him all the kale he had ever dreamed of… until Aspen fell in love with Jimmy (Heather’s husband).
Poor Heather got caught up in a love triangle between Aspen and her beloved Jimmy. Aspen loved Jimmy so much that he would bite at Heather if she tried to get between him and the whirlwind love of his life. Aspen would fly to Jimmy so he could sit on Jimmy’s foot, where he would love bite the heck out of Jimmy’s knee caps before making sweet love to him by humping his foot. I have never laughed so hard or snorted so loudly as the night I got that phone call from the hysterical and gasping for air version of my friend Heather.
We had joyful tears poring down our cheeks as Jimmy exclaimed in the background… “It’s not funny!!! He tried to mate with me!”
Aspen also tried to mate with Rob as well. As Rob was sitting outside working on our broken-down dodge in the driveway, Aspen would get upset over any lack of interest in him by the men within his vicinity. He would steal Rob’s tools and haul them off into the woods. I would watch the two of them as they interacted with one another from the window while clutching my heaving sides. Rob would yell and chase down this massive goose while carefully searching the bramble for his missing equipment. However, the longer Rob went on ignoring him the angrier Aspen got until… he would love-bite Rob in the knee cap and start dry humping Rob’s leg and foot. Whenever Rob wasn’t home, our poor farrier became Aspen’s next love interest whenever he popped by to trim the hooves on the equine.
Until Aspen we had no idea that Geese would hump the objects of their obsession. We also had no clue that they might get so attached to one person that they make the decision to mate with them for the rest of their lives. We bought some baby ducklings who liked to follow behind Rob and I. Aspen took to them as if they were the fruit of his love for my husband. He looked after them, took walks to the creek with them, and scolded Rob for neglecting them.
We had a family movie night one summer evening and while being emotionally invested into the plot, Aspen snuck in to join us on the sofa. When I got up to grab a second helping of popcorn… I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. That crazy goose had his eyes glued to the screen and watched the movie as if he understood everything that was being said. He even reached over to steal some popcorn that Nikolai had dropped between the cushions.
I think my most favorite memory was when a car pulled into my driveway to deliver a package. A man stepped out of the passenger seat carrying a box that they thought was mine but he only got halfway to my front door before spotting Aspen. That bird spread his wings open and screamed a battle cry that I could hear from within my house. The poor unsuspecting man’s face changed to several shades of white. He threw the box at Aspen and made a run for the car door. His foot lost grip and slipped in the mud underneath his boot as he scrambled to reach the door handle. Aspen had already surpassed the runway for flight and landed directly on top of this poor soul. He was bashing his wings against this man’s head while biting the guy who was now screaming for his life. To this day that car made the fastest three point turn that I’ve ever seen.
We loved Aspen so much that we created a dating profile on Facebook to help him find the perfect mate. It got thousands of views and spread joy to everyone who got to know him through social media. We also tried to keep Aspen safe by penning him up at night in our big coop with all the chickens. Yet he made his opinion on the matter VERY clear to us when in retaliation and anger he would grab the chickens by the back of the head and launch them through the air behind him. Like a three-year-old throwing a temper tantrum at the expense of the poor chickens. He would thrash his wings against the wire pen, and stomp around throwing chickens in his wake.
We came to the understanding that his happiness revolved around his ability to go where he pleased… even if that meant I was scrubbing goose poop off my front porch every single day. His zest for life was more important than our desires to keep him as safe as possible even if at some point we would have to live without him. Besides that we were sure that even the neighbors could hear him scream/honking in anger over his confinement. The quality of a life is far better than the quantity of days in which that life is on this earth. We knew that his days were numbered and yet we had our dogs on patrol to keep him around for as long as we could.
Even still, when that day finally came it hurt our family deeper than we could have ever anticipated. We missed the sound of Aspen’s voice echoing through the mountains. We searched the woods for a body to bury but we never found one. Whenever we went hiking around the farm and looked behind us to where he normally would be… the only thing left was emptiness. Aspen became a beacon of light within our lives, an endless supply of humor, but most of all… he became our friend.
We risked everything when we first bought our little farm. We sold whatever we could for 4.71 acres of mountain land that we bought from a meth addict. 3.71 acres of which was sight unseen. It was among the most crazy endeavors that we had ever tackled in our lives and I’m not the risk taking type. I’m the think-everything-through-from-all-angles type of woman. The ask-100-questions-before-you-ride-or-die sort of girl, while my husband is my polar opposite.
We couldn’t afford much but we had this little dream tucked away in our hearts of owning our own property and finding financial freedom. Throughout the years, my husband and I talked about our love of country living and our desire to be engulphed by mountains. Early on in our marriage we bought a house near an Army base in Tennessee. It was a stunning old farmhouse in suburbia with original hard wood floors on .25 acres of land. We loved that house. We wanted to raise our babies in that house. Unfortunately the year after purchasing was when the housing market came to a crashing halt. We paid far more for it than what it ended up being worth.
We tried to hold onto to our love of that old house for dear life. Meanwhile, my husband barely made it through five different layoffs at work. He needed a position with better healthcare and stronger job security. We tried to sell the house to get out from underneath it. We tried to rent it out, and we tried paying for two mortgages. In the end we were left living pay check to pay check and struggling to keep the piles of bills at bay. We spent many nights fighting between our fears of losing everything and our need for sleep. When we finally filed for bankruptcy and foreclosure, my husband took it as a deeply personal failure on his part, while I felt relieved of our biggest burden.
We moved around quite a bit with my husband’s new position in life-flight until we ended up in a little mountain town called Ellijay. It was one step closer to everything we had ever wanted and we had the privilege of renting a house with some amazing views. The “No pets allowed” policy however was a stab in my animal loving heart. I longed for something that was ours. My husband was convinced after our foreclosure that we wouldn’t be able to buy anything of our own for a very long time. Yet there it was… that little dream tugging on the strings of my heart. So I started browsing Facebook Marketplace for land. Who would have thought that a seller might be satisfied with owner financing something just to have money in their pockets and not have to pay the taxes on a property they don’t use anymore?
There were so many listings that found their way onto my feed. Most of them were far above our price range, some were in gated communities, and others were land parcels that were lacking in natural resources. I kept looking until I spotted an advertisement that read something like “Nearly five secluded acres in Georgia off of a private dirt road. Needs work, asking 28K. Has a well and a septic tank.” I gasped. There was no way it could be possible, but I wasn’t about to walk away without being sure. I knew that if it was true… it was more than likely going to get snatched up by someone who probably had enough cash in their pockets to throw at it than we did. Yet I wouldn’t forgive myself if we didn’t at least have a look.
My husband thought I was crazy at first. He was right, I was. Yet I knew that there had to be a better way to live rather than struggling from pay check to paycheck. I was done with worrying late into the night and watching my husband fight to keep a roof over our heads. I was tired of throwing rent money away while never seeing the end of the rat race. So I begged him to think about it, and then I drove to the property with Nikolai so we could have a look. The bumpy dirt road was a muddy disaster. My car nearly got stuck and the first driveway I came to made my heart sink because it was steep… but I kept going anyway.
When I finally found our destination, the property was a mess. The only building on it had burnt down and needed to be removed. The drug addicted mother to the man who was selling the parcel had left trash everywhere and hoarded old tires. Yet if you looked past what needed elbow work… stunning large pines loomed overhead. The smell of forest and earth lingered in the air, the creek babbled over rocks, and you couldn’t see a single neighbor because you were surrounded by nature everywhere you looked. It was dripping with potential in my eyes.
I talked the seller down in price due to the cleanup involved and the taxes they owed on it. We walked away having paid 21K, interest free for almost five acres of land. It was one of the most challenging things we had ever done because once we bought it, that’s when the real work began. We downsized our belongings, threw everything else into a storage unit and lived in hotels for 6 months. Nikolai wasn’t in school yet. Rob traveled for work anyway and his company paid to put him up in hotels, so we traveled with him. In between my husband’s work, we would drop by the farm to clean it up. Little by little we took it from where it was and polished it into what we knew it could become.
We didn’t have time to build a house. We didn’t have the funds to build one either. Instead we bought a brand new two bedroom, one bathroom single wide mobile home. 782 sq. feet, just a little bit bigger than the largest tiny house. I didn’t think I would be the kind of woman who would fall in love with what most people call a trailer. It wasn’t my dream option as a little girl or as an adult. That all changed once I started pouring my heart and soul into it. Between my love of decorating and our stunning $300.00 a month mortgage payment… I lost all desire for having a big house with fat monthly bills no matter how pretty the house might be. Peace of mind was worth it’s weight in gold.
We had everything we needed and so much more. We paid off our land, both of our cars, and brought home some pretty amazing fuzzy faces to add to our little family. I learned how to compost and began creating the garden of my dreams. We spent evenings catching fire flies with our son and cutting walking paths into the woodlands. When we finally got around to seeing the rest of our property, we discovered incredible mountain views and explored the little creek that runs through the entire front end of our property. With hard work, dedication, and a shoe string budget, we created the kind of life that we had always dreamed of.
In the beginning stages of filing paperwork to close on our property and feeling the pressure to get the clean up sorted as quickly as possible, we had moments of doubt. Living out of a suitcase with a three year old made me want to loose my mind. It was challenging, frustrating, and at times we thought that perhaps we had made the biggest mistake of our lives. Yet, we stuck it out and we found that sweat equity more than doubled the value of what we had originally put into it. On the other hand, the memories we made while we were working together and the lessons that our hard work taught our son was priceless.
Four years into living the life we had always dreamed of and another unexpected opportunity ended up coming our way. The property directly across from our driveway went up for sale. 6.49 acres listed below fair market value and it was sitting directly within view out my bedroom and living room window. We talked to the land owner and created a plan to start saving. In December we applied for a bank loan to purchase the property but a week later we received a call from the loan manager who told us that we had been denied. Our bankruptcy and foreclosure date disqualified us from meeting the bank’s requirements by only one month. We waited 6 weeks, held our breath, and we applied again.
Those six weeks crept by at a snail’s pace but we kept in contact with the seller and saved money like crazy. Many weeks that rob could have spent with us at home were used up as he put in extra hours at work. When the day finally arrived to reapply, Rob sent in the paperwork and then we waited… again. Four days later we got a call from the bank telling us that our loan had officially been approved. The two weeks after that moment were a blur of filling out and faxing information over to our lawyer as we inched our way towards receiving a closing date. In the meantime, we went through one crisis after the next from December to March.
My nerves were raw, stress levels high, and my hopes needed to come back down to earth before I hurt myself. Still, I looked around at all we had built together over the whirlwind of this adventure and I was overflowing with wonderment and gratitude. We had been gifted the ability to more than double the size of the lot that we already had without having to move anywhere to do it. This is the moment that we had been blessed with. That crazy dream that we held in our hearts until we took one leap of faith after the next is what brought us to the point of owning 11.20 stunning acres.
I created this blog and website with the hope that our farm might grow and that we might be able to rebrand it. I decided to keep the website and the dream even after our first refusal from the bank. Sometimes that leap of faith turns out better than those carefully choreographed plans that we make. Sometimes doing what feels safe is actually the very thing that’s holding you back from living the life you’ve always wanted. No matter how things worked themselves out, I knew that we were exactly where we were meant to be.
Today we signed the closing documents with the bank and the seller of the property. Once again we find ourselves at the beginning of all the hard work that is to follow. It’s a beautiful place to be. Our goal of having a greenhouse, turning Harlow’s current pasture into rows of cut flowers and garden beds while eventually obtaining cows… is now a reachable one! Happy birthday to Everpine Forest and Farm.
I was walking down a city street in Chicago. Garbage littered the edges of the hot pavement, and there was a smell I couldn’t quite identify. The blacktop was so poorly maintained that it was broken up into large chunks which I nearly tripped on, yet there arising from the cracks was a lone flower. The purple upturned petals lifted skyward, it had taken root in the smallest patch of soil and despite being engulfed by skyscrapers… it had bloomed. This tiny little thing among giants was a marvel of strength to behold.
When I wrote my story titled “The Night I Had to Save Our Lives”… I decided to post it because I felt that it might make me feel better. I was reliving what happened to me as if it was permanently locked into my brain and I felt compelled to find a way to pour it out. In a world where women’s rights and gun rights are a hot topic, I felt a lot like that tiny flower. A small thing among the giants who more than likely voted towards whatever swayed their hearts and lined their pockets. Yet it’s impact negatively effected my life.
Just a few short weeks later, Russia invaded Ukraine. My husband and I stared at our smart phones while checking for updates about the war on a daily basis. We watched videos of mothers clutching their children while rockets zinged over their heads. We saw images of a father weeping over the lifeless body of his son. We heard stories about brave families who fled the country but left loved ones behind to defend their homes. As more and more media piled into news feeds and the shock of the unjust radiated through the comfort of American homes… people were overwhelmed with the question of “How could something like this happen to someone like me?”
Meanwhile, alone on my laptop I browsed through stories that total strangers shared with me about horrific events that happened to them in their own homes. The messages in my inbox on Facebook discussed the topic of being empowered over taking back the control and responsibility over one’s personal safety rather than leaving it in the hands of others. Women reached out to me and talked about being raped, beaten, and many times caught off guard by an intruder within their own homes. What happened to me was a nightmare and yet many had stories that were so much worse than my own.
Some days ago a clip rolled around of the Ukrainian government giving out weapons that had been shipped straight from American soil. These firearms were being placed into the hands of grandmothers, CEO’S, mothers, and even stunning debutant winners. Soldiers helped prepare these brave people by setting up targets in alley ways to show them how to use their weapons to defend what’s rightfully theirs. Over here in America we continued to take our children to school and live our lives almost untouched by such traumatic events with the exception of the rising cost of oil and gasoline.
My story proved to many of my personal friends that the complacency of the thought that “This won’t happen to me”… was a dangerous precedent. How can we swell with pride for Ukrainian mothers over defending their own and yet ridicule American women for protecting their homes and children at the same time? How can we readily ship firearms overseas to make them more accessible in the hands of law abiding citizens and yet create antigun laws within cities like Chicago? The average man is capable of overpowering the average woman and a firearm in the hands of a law abiding woman is the only equalizer she has.
Weather you’re comfortable with firearms or not, most people can physically see how itty bitty Ukraine is bravely giving Russia a reason to reconsider entering their home and country… one bullet at a time. A tiny Ukrainian woman went viral for going nose to nose with a Russian soldier who was twice her size. She handed him sunflower seeds to put in his pocket “So that flowers would grow when he died on Ukrainian soil.” If the power of that statement and the bravery of what that implies doesn’t move you to tears I don’t know what will.
We all have to live and survive within this great big world. I pray that the voices of humanity will echo throughout world history loud enough so that there is a brand new movement for the right to bare arms. There is a reason why the second amendment was written into the American constitution and Ukraine is the perfect example of that. To be able to defend our homes, our loved ones, and to neutralize any threat both foreign and domestic. If history teaches you nothing, I hope that you will allow it to teach you this: Don’t get too comfortable. What happens to a small thing like me… can happen to you too.
You ever have one of those days when after a storm in your life has passed, you’re finally overcome with an overwhelming sense of peace? Almost like God and nature just wrapped their arms around you and hugged you until you had no choice other than to smile again? The last couple of days have been like that for me. Wandering around the farm, grinning, and counting my blessings.
There’s this pressure in the spring time to hurry up and get the next batch of baby chicks, to rush to get seeds started, and to mend pasture fences in a timely manor. Farms, homesteads, and gardeners are in a race with the seasons until harvest time. This winter has been especially challenging for my family, but the sun is finally out again. The decay from winter is seeping nutrients into the soil of the forest and new life is springing into motion. The process is as humbling as it is healing.
I myself have been fighting with time to overcome the trauma and decay that we have endured. I have been searching for my peace of mind and the harder I push, the longer it takes. One moment I think I’m feeling like my old self and the next, like a sneaky final frost… something will trigger that overwhelming feeling of terror that I had when I found the hooded stranger standing in my bedroom. I’m starting to learn that healing and happiness is an awful lot like slow feeding fertilizer. The damage has been done and it will take a while for me to bloom again, but I can enjoy the sun while it’s shining.
In the last couple of weeks I have struggled with depression, hypervigilance, insecurity, flash backs, and PTSD. I have blamed myself and made lists of things we can implement to make us safer. I’ve had nightmares that even kept my husband up late into the night with concern, and I’ve had to help Nikolai through nightmares of his own. Then out of nowhere, like a spring rain I almost feel normal again. I’m able to smile and to laugh again. I embrace feeling that way and hold on tight. Sometimes it lasts for a day or two, sometimes just a couple of hours but it’s a wonderful glimpse of what I know is to come.
I had to read the police report over the phone to the insurance company. It sounded easy enough but it ended up being a detailed retelling of the events of that terrible night through the eyes of the arresting officers. They mentioned that my hands shook with fear as they were speaking to me. That I told them over and over again how afraid I was for our lives. They mentioned that both Nikolai and I were traumatized. As I read it, I found myself stumbling over their words and choking back sobs.
Later that night a brand new furry of nightmares began. It left me getting a total of 6 hours of sleep over the length of 3 days. My eyes were bloodshot, I was angry all over again, and back to feeling depressed. It took five days from the moment I read the report to feel the sun on my face and to find my smile again. I went to church with Rob even though I didn’t want to go and hadn’t been to church in a long while. The pastor whom I had never meet, handed me a Bible verse that I kept in my pocket. I’m sure I gave off the worst impression but the verse was about hope and healing. It was exactly what I needed and it took my breath away. It was another beautiful reminder that this season won’t last forever.
Back when I was mostly bedridden, I learned that the best way to find joy was to create it myself. A quiet moment stolen to sip on a hot cup of tea and listen to the birds sing. Taking some precious time to lean against a fence post and hear the sound of my horse thoughtfully grinding the hay left dangling between his lips. A hot bath full of bubbles, my favorite scent, and a good book did wonders for my mental health on a night when I was in too much pain to sleep. When I can’t feel joy naturally, I know the recipe to create it.
It will probably become more challenging when my husband leaves for work. He will be gone for a couple of weeks. He has been the glue holding me together on my roughest days. It won’t be much longer now until he has to return to help the life-flight helicopters and airplanes so that they can continue flying people to major hospitals. His job matters and we make sacrifices as his family so that he is able to serve those who need him most. I’m not looking forward to his departure but I know that we will be okay.
This past weekend I visited one of my best friends and she loaded my car up with enough plants to jump start the garden of my dreams. I filled the planters on my porch with stunning cold hearty bulbs. The sun was shining as dirt found it’s way underneath my finger nails, smeared across my arms, and Georgia clay stained my blue jeans. I was humming to myself, grinning, and completely filthy. Yet there it was… happiness again.
“Weeping may tarry for thenight, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5
Tallulah had been whining, she was running from one window to the next and I heard my roosters stirring. It’s a sound that I hear a lot when something is trying to eat them. The scuttle of feathers and wings slapping together… it was nothing new. The hair on Tallulah’s back stood up, but no alarm bells rang in my head because we live among bears. So I let the dogs out to make noise, to sound threatening. If I had decided not to let them out, Tallulah would have pestered me until I caved. She would run to me, then to the door, then back to me again like always.
Nikolai and I did our usual routines. We were in bed by 7:30 PM because it was a school night, but I couldn’t sleep for some reason. I stayed up laughing at videos posted on Facebook and browsed the headlines. It was around 11:30 pm by the time I had decided to let the dogs out and it was as dark outside as it normally is. No lights flashing through the darkness, just the wind slapping gently on tree branches. I was finally feeling the full effects of exhaustion and my chest had been aching but I planned on letting the dogs back in again before going to sleep, so I closed the the door but I left it unlocked. I- left-the-door-unlocked.
I had dozed off in the middle of a TikTok video and woke sleepily when I heard Tallulah and Moose barking like crazy. I smirked before tucking my phone underneath my pillow and drifting back to sleep again. I figured they had something cornered out there and were on the brink of annihilation. The last peaceful thought that I had that night was that my chickens were safe due to the watchful eye of my amazing dogs. When I woke up again, it was to the sound of Tallulah’s feet pounding on the floor throughout my house. Down the hallway she galloped and right into my bedroom. I felt disoriented and I was trying to connect the conscious thoughts together that were swirling around in my head as she launched her body on top of mine.
I was lecturing Tallulah on her etiquette while loving on one of her ears with one hand and simultaneously fumbling to grab my glasses and locate my cell phone with the other. I wanted to see what time it was. That’s the moment I realized… I wasn’t the one who let the dogs in. It took a second to grasp the weight of it, but the feeling that something was horribly wrong crept over my body like ice. I tried to rationalize with myself that perhaps Tallulah had gotten the door open on her own somehow but I knew that just wasn’t possible. I had to get up and I HAD to get to my firearm as quickly as possible.
After mashing my glasses onto my face, I sat up in bed and hit the button on the side of my phone that illuminated the room. I glanced over at Nikolai (who always sleeps on daddy’s side of the bed when my husband isn’t home) to check on him. To my horror there stood a man wearing a dark blue hoodie pulled down over his face who was looming over my sleeping son. My ability to scream was tangled in my throat. I tried to adjust my eyes to the light and reason with my brain that the man had to be my husband. Who else would let themselves into a house that wasn’t their own? Who else would stand over a sleeping child and his mother in the middle of the night? I was forced to face a sickening reality when I discovered that this man’s skin color and my husband’s were not the same.
Shock and terror overtook my limbs as they shook with what felt like chills running though me. My body pumped adrenaline into my chest with every thundering heart beat. This was real. This was happening and it was happening to me. Every mother’s worst nightmare was my waking reality, my child was between me and this man rather than the other way around.
My ability to safely retrieve my firearm had been cut off. It was too late because it sat in the safe on my husband’s side of the bed between my son and the intruder. I had forgotten to move it over to my nightstand after my husband left and if I managed to get to it, there was a good chance that my son would have been in the way or it could have been taken from me. I was sitting in bed wearing only my T-shirt and a pair of panties while gawking at this man who was standing in my bedroom over my child.
Did he want to kill us? Was he here to take my son from me? Rape me? Steal from us? I didn’t know but I felt like I had to cover myself and I had to save my sleeping son who was waking up. My number one priority was to position myself between him and Nikolai, and then fight my way out of it to protect us. There was no other option. My husband was taking a call for a helicopter that was down in a city on the other side of Atlanta, there was nobody else here to save us. I had to save us. “I HAVE TO SAVE US!” was the thought that I was screaming in my brain even though I had yet to find my voice to speak.
I leapt from my bed and shrieked “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! GET OUT NOW! GET OUT!”
I searched in the dark for something to cover my bare legs with while the figure made his way down the hallway. Tallulah who was sitting on my bed, came to realize that all of her service dog training that I had drilled into her head to be accepting of strangers was now void. As I wrestled to put pajama bottoms on and race down the hallway after the stranger, she was hot on my heels. We made our way into the living room where the man stood. I had hoped I scared him off but I was wrong. He wasn’t leaving and I could smell the heat of alcohol on his breath.
“I crashed my car into your creek.” his words slurred together so that I barely made out what he was saying.
“There is absolutely nothing you can say that would excuse the fact that I woke up to you standing in my bedroom over MY son. GET OUT!”
“I got lost. I crashed my car.”
“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”
He walked onto the porch and stood there, the glass door some-what between him and myself but largely agape.
I clutched my cell phone like a weapon and tried to call my neighbor with the volume on low so the man couldn’t hear and then sent her an SOS in text:
“Send your husband.”
“Get a gun. help.”
I once saw an ambulance search for a man who needed medical attention off of my dirt road. They never found him and he died of a heart attack. I knew that my neighbor was a lot closer than any police officer would be so she was my first call and my first text while I occupied the man in the blue hoodie with conversation. Talking my way out of it was the only option I had, he was twice my size and I had to protect my son at all cost.
“You know your dogs allowed me to let them inside your house right?” he slurred some more.
“They let me let them in… you can trust me. I can come in.”
“I would never trust someone that I caught leaning over my son in my bedroom in the middle of the night. I have no idea who you are but you’re not coming back into my house.”
“Your dogs wont bite. I pet them earlier.”
“You want to make a bet?” I taunted, I could hear Tallulah snarling at my side a deep growl rattled her chest.
“I need a phone. Give me your phone.” he demanded as he reached in to grab my phone from out of my fingers. Thankfully Tallulah took this opportunity to lunge forward placing herself between him and I while biting towards the hand grasping the other end of my cell phone. Her warning made him recoil from taking my phone from me and also stopped his attempt to get back inside my house.
If he had gotten a hold of my phone and taken it from me and if my neighbor hadn’t gotten my message due to a lack of cell reception… then no one would have been available to help us. My cell phone was the only lifeline I had to protect my son and I. By this time Nikolai was awake and sobbing in the bedroom because he heard everything, right down to Tallulah snapping at the stranger within our walls. I had yelled at him to stay put, to hide and to not come out no matter what.
The man still stood there on my porch in a stand-off with Tallulah and I.
“Where is YOUR phone?” I asked shakily.
“I lost it in your creek.”
“What’s your number? I’ll call it for you so you can find it.” I had no intention of sitting around to help him find his phone. I knew that he was drunk and that a ringing phone may draw him away from the house so I could close the door and lock it without being overpowered. He rattled off the numbers and I was pretty sure I got them wrong because I couldn’t understand him but I called it anyway.
He left my porch to look for his phone and the moment his feet touched earth my front door was slammed and locked behind him. I hung up my call and dialed 911. As suspected the 911 dispatcher as well as the police couldn’t locate our road. I grabbed my son from my bedroom and forced him to lock himself in the bathroom while I pulled my firearm and loaded a round into the chamber.
I can’t tell you how many times I practiced shooting scenarios in the woods at home. I had drills on pulling my firearm from my holster with the prayer that I would never have to use it on animals or people. The last time I shot at something other then a target was last summer when I saw a snake messing with one of our cats. I couldn’t tell if it was poisonous or not at the distance I was positioned, but once my cat ran off I aimed for it’s head anyway because it was coiled up where my son liked to play. My husband is rarely home to help me with these things so I’ve learned how to take care of myself.
I got my conceal carry license a couple of years ago. I woke up one morning and I decided that my safety was my own responsibility. Especially when you live way back in the woods like I do and you’re on your own a lot with a baby who relies on you. It was important to learn how to protect us and I practiced this skill weekly on our little farm (and still do). I know my Glock as if it were an extension of my limbs. Other than petty crimes and random drug users… my town has 750 people in it and is far safer than most. It’s easy to get complacent, to feel like this kind of thing will never happen to you. Suddenly you realize too late that you’ve made a mistake or two. Like not having your bedside safe in it’s usual place, and not locking the door because you dozed off.
Yet once that round was loaded and I was on the phone with 911, I felt safer than I had since I found the blue hooded man standing over my son at 1 AM. In the middle of trying and failing to give directions to the police, the man came back and was standing on my porch. My neighbor had texted me that she too was on the phone with 911. Her husband had tried to keep eyes on the guy in the hood but the stranger took off. Nikolai was screaming and hyperventilating in the bathroom. I could hear him sobbing while begging to be let out and praying I was okay.
The man was pounding his fist on my front door. I held my gun where he couldn’t see it below the glass window and kept it pointed directly at him. I told the dispatcher that I was armed and I knew that if he broke through my front door, I intended to fire. My mind was made up and it was the most terrifying moment of life. I’m a vegetarian. I love all living things. I believe in second chances and equality for all. I believe in kindness, but I would end my life if it meant allowing my son to live his.
I told the operator that the hooded man was trying to get back in. Through more slurred words behind my front door he didn’t ask but rather demanded to be allowed in from the cold.
“Is your husband home? Where is your husband at?”
“That’s none of your business! GO SIT IN YOUR CAR.”
“It’s cold out here! You’re going to let me in RIGHT NOW to warm up.”
“I’m not opening this door. I’m not an idiot. Go wait in your car for the police.”
“You called the cops?! OH SHIT!!” Down my steps, across the lawn and into the darkness he ran.
It took a while for the police to find us, my nerves were shot by the time they arrived and arrested the stranger who broke into my house. Four or five cop cars lined my dirt road and some officers arrived on foot. The hooded man didn’t live in my town, in fact he lived almost an hour away. I had never meet him before. Police corroborated his story through his text messages that he had intended on hooking up with a woman he meet online at her place on the other side of my little town.
His cell phone fell between his drivers seat and the center console while he was driving. It was Valentines Day night and he later told one of the detectives that he had stopped drinking at 6 pm. A whole 7 hours prior to him being arrested with the smell of alcohol on his breath outside of my home. A bottle of booze rolled out of his car and landed in my creek while his vehicle was being searched by officers. In the week that followed, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the bottle. A storm rolled in and the flood of rain water in my creek washed the bottle away. The only thing I felt about it was relief.
He told detectives several lies, the first being that he wasn’t drunk by the time he arrived to my house. The second lie being that when I asked him to leave my house that he did so immediately (my call to 911 thankfully backed me up). When I went out to speak with the officers, the man’s car had run over the culvert to my creek but was in no way submerged. His drivers side was easily accessible. The blowers in his car were still running and were blowing out warm air. I could feel and hear them as I walked by and I remembered him trying to convince me to let him into my house to get warm.
One detective felt that perhaps the man was mentally off. The hooded man claimed to have knocked on my door before entering. He meet Tallulah and Moose who seemed friendly and upon not getting a response… he let himself in. He admitted to that much while being interviewed. He walked through the entire length of my house to get into my bedroom. Not once did I hear a knock or hear someone cry out. I had been teaching Tallulah to be more accepting of strangers and she did exactly as she had been taught to do, up until she realized that the situation was all wrong. My pounding heart beat and the smell of fear flipped a switch in her that gave him a reason to think twice about re-entering my house. If she hadn’t stepped in, I wouldn’t have been able to call for help since he grabbed my phone and tried to take it from me with force.
It’s possible that he was mentally off and for that reason, I’m thankful my firearm was out of reach and we all walked away alive. Yet the little things he lied about ate away at me all week long. My son was traumatized. He had a panic attack after the incident because I was going to look for his jacket for school without him and he was afraid to be left alone. He hid when Izzy came to the door later in the week to see us, and he ask me to hold his hand while we walked to lock the door together. He struggled with some nightmares, but most of it seems like it’s finally beginning to ease up. I had to notify the school about what happened in case he tried to talk about it (which he did). He told a little friend about the bad man in our house, was called a liar by his friend, and came home in tears. I tried to reassure him that to most people… the event sounds unbelievable.
I felt like I was living someone else’s life. I sobbed in front of more strangers than I care to admit. I drove myself to see a therapist and broke down in the car before making it to her office door. I’ve had more panic attacks the past two weeks than I’ve ever had in all the years I’ve been struggling with my health. I had a panic attack when a man wearing a hoodie crossed in front of my car at a stop sign. I had a panic attack when I parked away from all the other cars in a parking lot and a stranger darted by my car and ran into the woods on a walking path. I’ve dreamt vivid and violent dreams which is unusual for me.
It took me a long time to be able to sit down and write about what happened to us two weeks ago. Upon typing the first few paragraphs I was shaking so hard that I slammed my computer shut and left the draft unfinished. On week one I couldn’t stop talking about it because it was all I could think about. On week two I was having a hard thinking about it after anyone talked about it. The flip in how I felt was bizarre. I’m still flinching over unexpected visitors. I don’t sleep until I’m too exhausted to stay awake or force myself to sleep by taking a sleep aid. Every sound has my eyelids flying open and I relive it again and again while triple checking that the door I know I locked is truly… locked.
Last night I dreamt that instead of a hooded figure, it was a bear looming over my son. I had to chase him out of my house, it ripped someone to pieces, and I was forced to shoot it to death. I woke up drenched in my own sweat this morning. I have gone over the story with friends and family members as well as police and detectives multiple times. I was victim shamed on Facebook in both public and private messages with lists of things people would have done differently or better. I was told by multiple people to “just teach my son not to touch guns and leave the weapon sitting out.” Which is some of the most ignorant parenting advice I’ve ever read. I will never feel guilty about locking up my firearm because kids are kids and they make mistakes too.
Someone also said something along the lines of “Well, at least he didn’t steal anything.” Except that he did. He took my peace of mind, my sense of security, and my ability to feel safe. I don’t know when I’ll ever feel normal again. The messages have died down, I’m still consulting with the DA and the state is working on filing charges. I’m not thrilled with how some things have been handled there either. As far as I’m aware, no breathalyzer was done. No drug testing, no DUI is being filed. They never got his license and car insurance information, they never made any kind of an accident report so that I could get the property damage fixed. The man made bail the next day and I’m left wondering… if he can lie, what else is he hiding?
Meanwhile I’m seeing a therapist and trying to find my way back to happiness. Some days I just don’t feel like myself at all. What I know for certain, is that I still love where I live. My home in the woods is still my haven, I’d have to be dead for him to have taken that away from me and thankfully Nikolai feels that way too. I’m not okay today… but maybe I’ll be okay tomorrow.
*100% True story, took place on 2/15/22 at around 1:00 AM