The heart of the matter

There’s a scene in Sex and the City where Charlotte bemoans “I’ve been dating since I was 15. I’m exhausted. Where is he?”

Oh Charlotte, I can relate.

I’ve been on a wild rash of awful dates. I blame this primarily on the online dating world, which is frought with: liars, cheaters, intellectually barren misfits, self-absorbed jerks, closet masogynists and emotional malcontents. You never discover this, however, until you’re actually sitting in front of them. Before that, they are wonderful emailers, full of eloquent prose that would make even Keats swoon. Once you sit down at the table, however, it’s game on. Among the worst offenders:

Mr. Lawyer: On our first and only date, he had our entire life mapped out by dessert. We’d be at Giants games, staying in SF, wine tasting in Napa, the list goes on. The next day, after I told him I wasn’t interested, he texted me a link to the hotel he wanted to take me to, as if that would win me over. Um, no.

Firefighter #1: This one appeared perfect. But after talking for weeks and a date at a local bar, he texted me only to say that he shouldn’t talk to me ever again because I’m a great woman and he isn’t emotionally available. I was polite and kind in my acceptance of this information, despite my suspicions that he was still attached to a wife or girlfriend. Weeks go by and I get another similar message, this time explaining that if something were to transpire between us, it would only be physical. I never responded, essentially saying “Go away, you married dog.”

Mr. Selfie, aka Firefighter #2 (also known as the man who made me swear off the entire firefighter race): Great first date. He became really obsessed with obtaining photos of me, which irritated me and made me question his intentions. His idea of a follow up? “Why don’t you come by the firehouse? I’m allowed visitors.” I declined. A few days later, he wanted to plan another date. This time, his offer was oh-so-much-better. Why don’t I just come by his house after his kids are asleep? We could listen to music in his room. Why yes, I would love to pretend like I’m reliving the Wonder Years and hang out in your room listening to records ….NOT bloody likely. When I declined, he asked for another picture.

Probation Officer: I figured I’d give him a chance, despite him being 14 years my senior. Age was the least of his problems.

Like Charlotte, I am exhausted.

 

A series of unfortunate (yet fortunate) events

I didn’t know her. She didn’t know me.

But last week, in the midst of parallel tragedies, we found each other.

Laura was faced with the daunting task of dispersing her herd. Faced with divorce, financial devastation, a pit bull attack on one of her does that left babies orphaned, and her leased pasture being rezoned, she had to grapple with the unthinkable – selling, in some cases giving away, animals that in so many ways felt like family.

ImageOver the past month and a half, I had suffered four deaths. My Nigerian Dwarf goats, Scout and Boo, were killed on otherwise lovely day. I had returned one early evening from having been gone for just 45 minutes. My dog sat between their bodies in the pasture.  A month later, having decided to try again at raising goats, this time Nubians, I returned home from work to find Klaus and Violet, just a month old, dead. This time, the kill was in their day stall, a horse stall retrofitted for baby goats to not escape. It was the first day I had left the dog in the backyard since the first round of death. For hours, I sat in the dark stillness of night, shotgun readied with game load, convinced that a predator would be returning any moment. And when it did, I would deliver retribution. None came. The predator, my brain finally told my heart the next morning, had slept under my bed that night. A few tests and consultation with the veterinarian later – who agreed that the dog now posed a threat to my children – and it was time to do what my gut had screamed at me after the first two were killed. It felt like a very Sopranos sort of day.

I had been poking around the internet in the days that followed and landed upon Laura’s site because she was just a few hours north of where I lived and happened to raise Nigerian Dwarf goats. But a plea for help she had posted caught my attention. A few text messages later and it was arranged. I would take in a few of her does that needed a loving home.

I borrowed a truck from one friend; a horse trailer from another. When I woke that Sunday and gave my children back to their dad, it was time to go. I couldn’t eat for the excitement. The 55 mph drive to Oroville felt like an eternity, with me, fretting, the entire way. Would they go willingly? Would they be so stressed they’d make themselves sick? Just how friendly was this LaMancha breed anyhow?

When I got to Laura’s pasture, I noticed an abundance of babies frolicking about, and one very distraught little Nigerian dwarf wandering around by himself. After settling matters about the two LaMancha does I’d be taking, I asked Laura about the babies. “Oh, no one wants them – they’re boys,” she said. “I’ll probably just have to sell them for meat.” I looked at the horse trailer that could easily have transported her entire herd back to my four-acre farm. “Laura, can I have them? I can’t let them die,” I said. Laura’s face lit up, a smile spreading widely as the distinct reality of death evaporated.

Twenty minutes later, I was driving down Highway 70, a horse trailer of four boys, one yearling doe and a very pregnant 2-year-old doe in my rearview mirror. As we bumped down the road, other cars passing us by and passengers straining to get a glimpse of what I could possibly have in the trailer, I named each and every one of my new babies. They would be the Highwaymen – Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson (KK), Wailin’ Jennings and Johnny Cash, my sprightly little Nigerian dwarf. CoRhona, a registered doe from award-winning dairy lines, is now affectionately called “Mama” and my somewhat skittish yearling, with her beautiful hazel eyes, Stella.

They happily grazed in the pasture for hours upon our arrival home, making their way like an odd parade into the paddock, and later, into the foaling stall of the barn. Every morning, I’m greeted by bleats as soon as I push back the heavy barn door. They wait for me to open the top of the dutch door before getting up, the girls from their regal poses in the corner, the boys from their haphazard pile in the middle of the stall. Every morning, they follow me diligently out into their pasture, one by one making their way past the chickens, over the tires, through the gate. Every morning, I smile as I realize that the dream is real.

I have a herd.Image

One flew the coop

It’s dark in my little corner of the county. Dark enough to see a litany of stars and constellations. Dark enough to have to use a flashlight and the protection of my Queensland Heeler, Izzy, on the cold dash to the barn when I forget to turn the lights out. Every few days, I’ll roll over in the middle of the night and wake just enough to notice the deep black outside my bedroom window, marveling at the fact that I actually embarked on this adventure.

A few months ago, I decided to tackle the dream I had long put on hold – living out in the country. Owning livestock. Raising my children with an appreciation of the land and the beauty that grows from it. I was living in the city, in an adorable WWII-era home two blocks from my ex-husband, which was close enough to be convenient for swapping the kids to and fro, but also close enough to be a little too close. It was perfect for that first year of adjustment – for all of us – but as I reconnected with my independence, I felt a tug toward a quieter life, devoid of the sound of police cars speeding down the heavily-trafficked corridor that flanked my neighborhood. Then the gears started clicking into place. A tumultuous relationship ended. My career shifted unexpectedly and I secured a wonderful job in the heart of the state capital. I found the perfect house, nestled on a four-acre ranch in a rural town where there’s two restaurants, one hardware store, a feed store and a lone watering hole with a generous jukebox. My kind of town.

One door had shut, but two doors had opened. Nudge nudge, a voice whispered, take the leap.

Most mornings, I pad down the cold tile floor of my house, hit the brew button on my coffeemaker and watch the sun rise up over the barn. When I open the sliding glass door to let my dogs out into the yard, we’re often met with the gobbling of wild turkeys foraging in the pasture. About once a week, I’ll spot Peter, the peacock who runs in their gang, his magnificent tail dragging along through the rocky, dusty terrain. Lessons come in all forms here, from the impact of freezing temperatures on water tank pressure to the beauty of hearing children’s laughter above the whinnying of distant horses. There’s a take-no-prisoners approach to bugs and my children are, for some reason, enthralled with D-Con and its, ahem, attributes. In a little more than a week, we’ll add two baby goats to our fold. As the cold grip of winter releases her hold a bit, five chickens will come to roost in the coop that my parents built with reclaimed wood and imagination.

Welcome to Blackbird Ranch, where, like the Beatles tune it was named for, there is light in the dark black night. I was only waiting for this moment to arise.

Sunrise over the barn