I love this country life. I love it so much I’ve been waking up at 4:30am for the chance to appreciate it dressed in its early morning garb. It is nice being alone in my solitude, the morning chill lying just outside the window, the darkness and silence settled like a blanket covering the world that lies in a murmuring sleep. The land is absolutely beautiful and we live in a farmhouse that is just the perfect size: nothing more, nothing less.
When you walk onto the house, you first step onto a large porch that wraps around a third of the house. There is a break in its continuity around a corner to the back of the house where it picks up and continues on for the next third. I’ve always loved and enjoyed big porches for their open and inviting natures. It seems there is so much possibility in a good, large porch. A gathering spot. A place of borders, where house meets world and there is always so much life at borders. There is a line strung along where we hang our laundry up to dry into a clean and crispy shell in this searing, and ultimately cleansing, Texas heat.
Julius the cat slinks in unknown places during the daytime, but in the mornings and evenings makes his appearance on this porch. A sweet orange creamsicle color, he looks so demure like an indoor cat it’s hard to believe he isn’t. But an outdoor cat he is, as proven when I invited him in the house and he stood inside the threshold awkwardly, like he didn’t belong, his eyes glancing every which way before rubbing his side on the screen door indicating his preference.
Around the porch lies many chairs all shapes and sizes: benches, mini rocking chairs, large rocking chairs, sturdy straight backed chairs, and a lounging wicker chaise. There are two barn swallow nests positioned like dome lights on the ceiling of the porch. The Mamas and the Papas spend all day swooping hither and thither bringing home the bacon to hungry little mouths that go – Tweet! Tweet! -and open wide, singing a chipper song of youth that trills without hesitation. One can spy their mouths flung open just above the rim of the nest when this happens and it is the sweetest thing to see the chorus of hungry mouths lined in a row.
At the back of the house is the entrance used most often at first. One steps into a little vestibule, where to the right, is a platform where we leave our keys and sunglasses. Standing here, there is the beautiful blue bathroom just up ahead, and to the left is the spare bedroom that holds a little library, two floor-to-ceiling book shelves buttress the window that shines above the bed and captures the fingers of the sunrise. The energy flow of the house is such that one naturally walks on into the kitchen, though, which lies to the right of the vestibule.
Although they may be of ordinary height, the ceilings feel high here, lending a spaciousness that is felt rather than seen. The kitchen is comfortable with plenty of free counter space for Jim and I to take care of our culinary aspirations and needs. There is no dishwasher present, which enables a new attitude when cooking – just use the utensils that are needed. When I wash dishes by hand, I am more thoughtful, enjoying the ritual, letting the water run through my hands and admire their deftness as they work. There is a window I can stare out of too and sometimes Julius sprawls out on the porch in front of the window. His hind legs stretch back as his front paws reach out in front of him, his muscles melting in the heat into taffy.
Through the kitchen, lies the next room, the dining room. A beautiful wooden table and comfortable, simple chairs with woven seats dominate the space. There are beautiful touches that accent the home, many antiques and gorgeous wood create the identity of a Texas farmhouse.
Just beyond the dining room is the living room, which Jim uses as his office space and from which a door at the back opens onto the front porch. Expect for the back vestibule, the house doesn’t have transition spaces between adjacent rooms, like hallways or a stairway, and instead each room opens right into the next. For some reason, I really like this.
East of the dining room opens into the master bedroom, which itself, is also connected to the bathroom as well as the porch. The morning light in here is spectacular and when the bedroom door is ajar, I watch the sunlight saturate the room in a tawny glow from where I sit in the dining room typing on my laptop. When the bed is unkempt and the air rumpled with shadows strewn across it like a forlorn lover, the scene is like a Parisian romance. So many stories can be told from just a simple image.
In the front of the house is the garden oasis. Within a few days of our arrival, Jim and I planted some beans from our pantry: black beans, cannellini, garbanzo, lentil, mung bean, and soybeans. We planted them along the fence, each distance from stake to stake demarcating each type of bean. Me being who I am, planted them in alphabetical order. We also planted the Korean melon (참외, ‘Chamoe’) sprouts that Jim’s dad had started before we left New England. They drove with us across the country sitting on the platform beneath the rear window, their faces pressed up against the glass like children on a school bus, basking in the sun rays. It was their own little greenhouse, buffered on one side by the jangling banjo we also packed into the car. In the garden, we leaned two rectangular pieces of metal grid against each other with three stakes carefully placed along the junction to create a sturdy tent-shaped structure over the melons. “So the melons can climb this,” Jim offered as I enthusiastically agreed to the vision. It feels good to get my hands in some dirt. On the first day, I learned about thinning the sprouts, which were later arranged into our salads. We ate a lot of salad the first few weeks; constant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Every morning, we go out after our morning exercise with a cup of tea and weed the garden in the cool, morning air before the sun comes out in its full radiance. Every day, it grows and I notice more and more each day. I watch the growing figs on the two trees that flank the large clay water bath in the center of the garden. The bath is a terracotta color and comes up to my chest. It holds fish and water lilies and algae, a dank underworld of aquatic life that lies in another dimension, and serves as a central point from which it seems the rest of the garden pours out of. Off a branch of one of the fig trees and over the water bath, is draped a rubber snake, playfully placed there by a child and perfectly poised as a symbol of the Garden of Eden.
On the other side of the fig tree is a raised bed full of sunflowers. They tower with the trees over the rest of the plants below. Each day, more flowers bloom and say hello. And at their feet, little chickens run amok. Peggy the Orpington, the tiny mixed game bird, and the two young roosters peck and scratch the dirt and take cover in the shadows of the foliage. They add to the aliveness in the garden with their twittering and busybody ambling into each crevice and every corner.
It was here that I plucked my first carrot out of the ground. Triumphant and in awe, I loved the way dirt clung to its skin, hanging off in clumpy tendrils of root and earth. Smaller carrots I give to
Bess, the potbelly pig, who runs to the fence every morning, oinking with each step. And for breakfast, she will gallop clear across the field in enthusiastic anticipation, bounding over to me with a big grin, her tail wagging like a pendulum set on perpetual motion. Gallop seems like a stretch for stumpy pig limbs, but somehow this is the fitting word for what I see. Her little field is picturesque and dotted with yellow flowers. Sometimes I see her at the far side of the fence grazing next to Napoleon, the big, black bull, the two separated only by some thin wiry fencing.
Napoleon grazes alone, cutting a melancholic figure in the field, alone under the trees, alone by the fence, alone by the road. Sometimes, the three donkeys are close by but they don’t get too close to him. So I spend extra time with Napoleon. I talk to him. He scared me a little at first. He is retired bull, but still a bull after all. One night, I was feeling all sorts of wacky and ran outside to the animals. In the dusk, I found Napoleon standing by the fence behind the barn and began sharing my thoughts. He stood there, listening, as the sun set entirely and the night bugs came out. When I finally had nothing left to say and was starting to feel alright, he remained where he was, waiting, and only when the silence stretched on did he begin to walk away. Since then, we’ve been friends.
The donkeys are sweet and demure. They flock around me when I come bearing tributes in the form of “cow cubes”, treats for cattle. All three nose me with their velvety, whiskered muzzles, moving with a gentle docility. Their lips search me for more cow cubes while I stroke their noses and their necks and pat their muscled backs. They stand still for their brushings and allow me to attempt to pluck the burrs from their hair that cling like velcro. Sometimes there is dried earth clinging to their hair from when they roll around in the dirt. When I skip rope on the paved walkway by the barn, they gather near the fence there, watching me watch them in between jumps. And at the end of my workout, I press tiny pieces of cow cubes into their eager mouths.
To be continued …