A dozen years ago, a seed landed in a field next to where we would eventually install a driveway. There were no cars, no trucks, no roads or electrical lines. There was just an adult mesquite tree, and a cedar seed lying at its roots.
Over time the seed grew into a sapling, and during the summers of its youth the mesquite leaves would shelter it from the worst ravages of the sun. Mesquite thorns kept away any deer or other wildlife who might want to dine on the new shoots, and discouraged rabbits from tunneling through and destroying the young tree.
During the winter, when the sheltering mesquite still had protective thorns but no leaves, the cedar sapling drank in the sun spilling through the naked branches. Safe from predators and without competition for light, times were good.
Eventually Annie and I moved in. We put in a road that skirted the two intertwined trees, installed a house, imported dogs and donkeys and goats and wireless internet and all the detrius that accompanies us. The cedar is no longer a sapling, and the mesquite is no longer the protector. Now the mesquite is struggling for its own life, as the cedar branches block out the sun and acidic needles drop to the ground below.
This is no warm embrace of a mentor and student. No, this is a life and death struggle taking place in slow motion, over the course of instants that stretch for years. Eventually the cedar will choke out the mesquite, and the thorns that once served as armor will instead become markers for a grave.
I pass these trees every day, and I wonder at the lessons they hold. Are they a metaphor for the older giving way naturally and gracefully to the younger? Or are they evidence that the wages of kindess are death and destruction?
I am not wise enough to know for sure. I can but watch, and wonder, and be thankful that my eyes are able to see the struggle.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Monday, January 30, 2006
My brother Johnny writes books about the history and meaning of the holy Eucharist in the Catholic faith.
I write a blog about mowing the grass and poop-eating dogs.
Maybe I really am still the Baby of the family ...
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Sometimes I look at the other guys around here and I think, "What the hell have I been doing with my life?" Take this steely-eyed man in the photo to the right, George. He's Leann's uncle by marriage.
At our old five-acre place we had a two-horse trailer that wasn't working right when hooked up to the truck. You'd turn on the blinkers and the brake lights would come on. You'd hit the brakes and the horn would sound, that kind of thing.
We needed to get the trailer in the driveway, which wound all around a bunch of trees and in general was a real bear to navigate. I tried a dozen times couldn't get it backed in. Luckily George was there, and he guided me with a sure hand to the stall where we needed it. Turns out that in the Army he used to train guys how to drive enormous military vehicles.
Once we got it parked, I told him about the problem with the trailer hookup. He pulled out a screw driver, sat down with the cord, and in half an hour had rewired it so everything worked right.
He knows about vehicles, pastures, real estate, fishing, boats, animals, playing poker, and pretty much anything else you'd need to turn your hand to out in the country. He's seen more, done more, and knows more than I ever could in a dozen lifetimes.
I see guys like him, and I think, "What the hell have I been doing with my life?" If a web site needs redesigning, I'm the man, but that kind of pales compared to rewiring a trailer at the drop of a hat. Your animals and your family rely on that working properly or they could lose their lives. I make a bad web site and feh, who cares? Nobody dies.
It's humbling, knowing someone like George. Humbling, and enobling, and inspiring. I'm only half a country boy; it's good to see a country man to show me what to aim for.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Leann went to San Antonio today to visit Cousin Jill and it almost got a goat eaten.
No sooner was she out the gate than I thought "What a nice afternoon, I think I'll take the dogs for a walk." I should know better than to think, nothing but trouble comes from it. But we'd just found a home for Major, our latest foster dog, and I thought a reward for the four permanent canine members of the household might be in order.
I fed the horses so they wouldn't bother us, rounded up the dogs, and headed out the gate. I got a bit of a late start, so the walk would be short but the dogs just love to get out and run so it was well worth it.
One of the highlights of any sortie out to the "back 40" from the dogs' point of view is Goat Visitation. Our neighbor with whom we share a fence on the south side has a gigantic barn that they keep a big goat herd in. There are a lot of goat babies (or kids as they're called) at this time of year that are pretty cute, and the border collies like to race up and down the fenceline, pretending that they're herding the nannies and kids. Good doggie fun and it gives me a chance to rest, so I usually try to make the stop even on a short walk.
As I huffed and puffed over the last rise, I noticed the dogs racing a bit more than usual. There were four kids also racing the fenceline, which was odd because usually the goats look at us like we're some sort of fungus, vaguely wondering what the heck we're doing walking around on two legs and all.
It dawned on me slowly -- too slowly -- that the kids were actually on OUR side of the fence instead of being safely ensconced with their moms and the big protective dog that shepherded them. My heart started pounding, because nothing sets off the prey drive of a dog like a small, rapidly racing little critter making loud noises.
The borders were thrilled, chasing the small four-member pack along the fence, but not biting at them or anything. Before I could get close enough, though, Flash (our big Shiloh Shepherd) raced up and got his jaws around a little white kid's back. "FLASH!" I yelled out as I raced towards them, stomach dropping down to my feet. "Drop it Flash, FLASH!!" He seemed to have gotten his teeth in, though I couldn't see any blood. Flash is not violent at all, but he does like to get a blanket or pillow and shake it all around. I think he thought that's what the kid was, a particularly loud piece of linen or something, because he was shaking it the same way.
Finally I got close enough for my voice to register and he dropped it, slinking down to the ground with a guilty look on his face. The borders were still standing over it, and my hands were shaking as I grabbed Flash's collar. The kid wasn't moving, and laid there at an odd angle, eyes staring open, but completely vacant. "Please please please just be in shock," I was thinking. I dragged Flash away by the coller, hollering for the borders to come.
It seemed like the walk back to the house took an hour, but it couldn't have been more than five minutes. I was breathing heavily, cursing my lack of conditioning. I needed to get back to the kid, but I had to make sure the dogs were up -- there were still three more little goats running around out there.
I got back as quickly as I could, searching for the tiny body, but it was nowhere to be found. Was I in the right place? Or had it gotten up after all? My eyes combed the fenceline for the break, wondering how they'd gotten through and why they'd left the protection of the herd.
The big shepherd on the other side of the fence paced worriedly, his anxiety plain to see. What must it have been like for him, knowing his job was to protect those babies and unable to do anything as one of them was possibly ripped apart right in front of him?
I still couldn't find the fallen goat, and as I got closer to the fence I saw the most amazing thing. The big 50 pound shepherd squeezed himself through one of the squares in the goat fence! The square opening, formed by the wires of the fence as they cross each other, can't be more than 12 inches by 6 inches, but he shoved his way right through. I'd have sworn it was physically impossible for a dog that big to get through an opening that small, and even though I've seen it I still can barely believe it
Then I got worried -- was he pissed? Was he going to exact revenge on the only culprit in jaw-reach? And here I was, fresh out of firepower and emergency back-up dogs. I braced myself, but he just ran over and flopped down, panting, a plea plain to see in his face. "Get them back over the fence!" he seemed to be saying. "Do something, you're a two-legs, get off your ass!"
Either that, or "Look how cute I am before I chew your nuts off", it was hard to tell for sure ...
I searched the fenceline some more but couldn't find a break. Suddenly I heard some bleating in the distance, and trotting up came four little baby goats, including the white one I thought had died!
The neighbor who owns these goats has a lot of guns and owns a construction company, so not only would I be dead but no one would ever find the body. Plus I hate to think of our dogs as killers, so I was relieved that the little guy was all right. The guard dog seemed happy, but he had no more idea how to get them over the fence than I did.
The goats wouldn't let me get very close, and I didn't really trust what the dog would do if I tried picking one of his charges up. So I decided they would be safe enough on our side of the fence with our dogs put up in the house, and went back to call our neighbor. Hopefully he'll be over soon to get his livestock back.
It was a weird experience. We think of dogs as docile little furry people, but there is always a spark of the wolf in them, just below the surface. No matter their size, they're killers at heart, predators built for the chase and the hunt. I wonder if maybe that's part of why we love them so much, if there isn't some part of us that wishes to control our own inner killers, to keep our murderous hearts on a leash.
Regardless, I am glad the little goat lived, and I am glad that we can go back to pretending that our dogs are harmless. It's fun chasing and shooting things in a video game, but seeing it happen in front of you in real life is something else entirely.
Friday, January 27, 2006
The whole time, I kept thinking "If they tried to serve sushi in the little town where I live, half the people would try to put it on a hook and use it as bait."
Thursday, January 26, 2006
If you're going to be a nerd who moves to the country, and you're going to have to learn how to use a tractor, and if that tractor is then run over property that is like a gigantic field full of speed bumps that rattle you to the core, and if you're going to have to be on that tractor for three full weekends in a row ...
Then by all that's holy you should be on a University-of-Texas-burnt-orange tractor with a matching UT-burnt-orange shirt.
God Bless Texas.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Only in Nerd Country could I find myself crawling on my hands and knees into a garbage can filled with the pungent aroma of dog doo-doo in search of a piece to a robotic vacuum cleaner. And yet, there I crawled.
If you haven't seen one, a Roomba is a really cool round, flat robot that vacuums your floor without you having to do anything but push the "Clean" button, George Jetson style. I was dubious that the thing would actually work but Cousin Jill has one and convinced us to treat ourselves at Christmas.
The problem is that the little sucker has a relatively small dust bin, and we have multiple very large, very hairy, very inside dogs that shed fur faster than a PETA protester at a mink convention. As a result I have to clean the Roomba out every other time we use it. If it were just a matter of emptying a bin, it wouldn't be a big deal. But the dog hair gets EVERYWHERE. I have a little pick/comb combination device that came with it and I have to dig out hair wrapped around the little wheels, hair packed into the receptacle where the drive shaft goes in, hair wound around the brushes, hair entwined in the filter ... you get the picture.
The other day I had the bright idea to carry out this routine maintenance out in the garage, over our (jumbo-country-sized) outside garbage can. What could possibly go wrong when one is disassembling a robot full of very small gears over a garbage can, right? A garbage can that until that very morning had been about half full of smelly, disgusting, half-dried half-slimy dog feces after cleaning up the back yard?
You know where this is going. Within seconds one of the tiny little rotor wheels dropped out from the Roomba and landed in the bottom of the trash can. Blinking, I marveled at my stupidity. Setting the Roomba down, I leaned into the putrid abyss and fished around in the sludge for my tiny little gear. Holding my breath desperately against the noxious fumes, torso completely inside the can, I finally grasped it and flipped back out, gasping for air. I carefully -- but not carefully enough -- unwrapped the cog from whatever foul piece of paper I'd brought up with it and ... promptly dropped it again.
Unbelievable. To quote an old Scottish proverb, "Drop it once, shame on me. Drop it twice, shame on anyone who's ever known me."
This time, of course, the gear dropped into a deeper part of the trash can and I couldn't reach it by just bending down into it. Oh no, no such mercy for me! I had to tip it over and CRAWL INTO THE DISGUSTING FUNK-FILLED TRASH CAN ON MY HANDS AND KNEES to find it!
Grumbling and woozy from the fumes, I finally retrieved the gear and slammed it back into place in the Roomba. I am pretty sure the robot dropped the thing on purpose, finally seeing a way to strike back at its organic overlords. I'm trying to cool off for a few days before deciding once and for all if I'm going to keep using it as a vacuum cleaner or put it in the skeet machine for target practice. I'll keep you posted on what I decide.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Anyway, I was advised to just mow right over the tops of little cedar trees in the way, anything smaller than about three inches in diameter. Sure enough the deck whacked right through them without much of a problem.
In walking the property the other day, though, I think I might've made a major mistake. Now all of these less-than-three-inch-diameter stumpes are sticking up out of the ground and, come next year, the grass is going to cover them up. When there were trees attached to them they were easy to spot -- aim the tractor at them and mow 'em down. But now they're going to be hidden, little Vietnam-style punji shafts just waiting to spike into and deflate my tractor tires.
I never had this problem in the city or suburbs, the plants there were very docile. Very few azaleas or rhododendrons lurk in the high grass, waiting to spring on your mower from hiding. Just one more way the country flora find to make your life difficult.
Monday, January 23, 2006
While searching around for additional things to sell with our new body jewelry line at work, we came across this site that advertises:
Everything you need to start some fly ass dreads.
If I were to suggest to anyone within 30 miles of where I live that they could have "fly ass dreads" they'd look at me like I was nuts.
... you will be shocked at how quickly and easily you can turn innocent straight hair into nappy dread-breeding-masses of knottyness.
Wow, I haven't seen dread-breeding-masses since I graduated from high school.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could sprinkle some magic dust on your hair and it would just knot up easily when you started rubbing it?
If I had a dollar for everything on my body that knotted up easily when I started rubbing it ...
Non-Sticky, chemical free formula gets the job done without sticking to clothes, steering wheels, keyboards or anything else you might come in contact with while you're chillin' out and twistin' your dreads.
I am relatively sure -- no, make that absolutely sure -- that I do not want to imagine what else these folks "might come in contact with while ... chillin' out and twistin' ... dreads". Yikes.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
This raises the issue of what to do with the cedar trees we've cleared here at the property. You pull them out of the ground using a tractor or Bobcat, then pile them up and let them dry out. When they're dry enough, ideally you burn them to the ground and bury the ashes under.
During dry times that's not possible, however, due to the possibility of a wildfire getting out of control. In talking with the neighbors, I learned that each of them at one time or another has almost accidentally burned down the entire neighborhood. This makes me nervous. The record so far is 45 acres burned out, with two fire trucks having to respond. That guy's house almost bought it.
So I sit here, watching the rain, hoping it keeps up for another day or two so I can burn our piles in safety. The ground's so parched just one good soaking won't do, the grass can still catch a spark and before you know it you're racing for the phone.
If it doesn't get better soon I might have to rent a chipper and chip it into mulch which, given the last scene in the movie "Fargo", makes me a little uncomfortable.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Today my wife went out for a ride with a bunch of other people on a real Texas ranch. She hooked up the gooseneck, loaded the horses, trailered down there, unloaded, rode, ate a hearty lunch amid the wild frontier, trotted back, loaded up and came home.
I stayed inside, watched basketball on TV, played a little World of Warcraft, made a pasta salad (!), did some laundry, ran the Roomba, and napped.
The Man Store called this evening and informed me I'll need to turn in my testicles in the morning.
Friday, January 20, 2006
One of the first things people notice when driving in the country is that drivers wave at each other. The theory, I think, is that all of the people living in that area know each other, and since the guy coming the other way is probably a neighbor it's just polite to give a wave. In the city the odds of you knowing someone passing you in a car are about zero, so no wave is required.
With that in mind, here is your guide to proper waving technique while driving in the country.
To be given if you don't really recognize the other person, or if you know and dislike them. Proper technique is to keep your hand on the steering wheel and lift just your index finger as the car approaches.
If you know the person and feel generally kindly towards them without liking them overly much, you can use more than one finger to wave. The palm of the hand remains in contact with the wheel. Most commonly two fingers are used, since any more and you look a little "brokeback" hanging on to the wheel with just your thumb and pinky.
The Full Hand
For someone you both recognize and like, nothing less than a full wave will do. Lift your hand completely off the steering wheel and raise it high enough to clearly see from the approaching vehicle. Now don't get carried away and waggle your hand back and forth like you're on a parade float or anything, you're not askin' to marry the other guy, just say howdy.
If the other person doesn't wave back at all, even though you took the effort to at least lift a finger, then you respond with this one-fingered salute of a different kind. Wait until they pass you to make sure they did not return your greeting, then keep "the finger" below the level of the dashboard. After all there might be someone else coming up along behind them that'd catch an accidental fingering, and no one wants that.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
- They had six children and a seventh -- me -- about to be born. That's Seven. I have no children.
- They had to scrimp and save every penny to put food on the table. My wife and I both make very comfortable livings and, while not rich, rarely worry about paying the bills.
- They were devout Catholics. I do not participate in any religion at all.
- They ate out -- with all seven kids, mind you -- maybe once every few months. Getting ice cream after church or pizza from Shakey's was a Major Event. My wife and I eat out very often.
- My mother had severe chemical depression that went undiagnosed for years while my father was manic-depressive and an alcoholic; they had nowhere to turn to for help with their medical and psychological demons. While Annie and I each have our issues, we have been able to get good, professional, medical and psychological help dealing with them and, more importantly, we live in a time when seeking such help is acceptable.
- My parents lived in a very typical suburban type of neighborhood, where their kids knew all the neighbors, they all went to the same schools, etc. We live in the middle of the country with very few neighbors at all.
- My parents never had pets in the house. We have nothing but pets everywhere you look.
- My parents' home was filled with laughter and anger, cheering and crying, tickling and fighting, and all of the other thousands of sounds seven children can generate. Our home is quiet most of the time, and the sound we hear most often is our own voices or that of the characters on TV.
- My parents were partners, but the partnership was of a very certain kind -- Mom took care of the house and the kids while working as a full-time secretary, Dad went out and tried to bring home money, spending a lot of time out drinking and carrying on while Mom was trying to keep things rolling on the home front. Annie and I are also partners, but I do a lot of things my father would have scorned while Annie is outside shoveling manure, grooming animals, hauling hay, you name it.
But then, aren't we all? We are neither our parents nor our siblings, neither our friends nor our neighbors. We're the accumulation of thousands of decisions, large and small, that somehow, without us even noticing most of the time, wash us up on shore somewhere downstream. We emerge every now and then, wet and blinking and wondering how in the world we got there, usually just long enough to catch our breath before being dragged downstream by life again, hurtling towards a destination that we cannot imagine.
I've made different choices than my parents made and, while I am very happy with my life, part of me will always wonder "What if". What if I had seven kids, or what if I struggled with addiction, or faced any of the myriad of other challenges they did. Would I handle it as well? Would I look back decades later and be proud of how things turned out like they could?
And what if they, 36-years both, could open a window into my life now? Would they find it as full and satisfying as I do, or would they see me as sad and cut off from too many other people? Would they feel jealousy at our freedom or sorrow at our constraints?
I don't know, because I am not the person my parents were. I can only hope to make them proud of the man I am becoming.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
We think maybe one -- or more -- of our geldings are, shall we say, "playing for the other team". Or maybe they were just auditioning for a guest role in "Brokeback Mountain", I dunno. Here's the photo so you can decide for yourself if the kissing is sincere or just part of an audition.
One of the first rules of country life you need to learn regards gate etiquette. Ranchers rely on gates to prevent cows or horses from getting out onto a road and hitting a car (dangerous for driver and animal alike as you can imagine), to separate females from males in breeding season to prevent unwanted pregnancies (why can't we do this in public schools?!), and to manage pastures, among other things.
So the rule you need to know is:
Leave it like you found it.
In other words, if you drive up and the gate is closed and locked, close and lock it after you pass through. If it's open, leave it open once you're through. If it's latched but not locked, you guessed it, leave it that way.
Which brings me to an incident involving the driver of a large cement truck and our front gate, pictured here after the meeting. Due to an error in spatial judgement, he trashed the gate right off the hinges and twisted it beyond recognition. This would be a good example of NOT following proper gate etiquette, because the gate sure didn't look like that when he drove up.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
You probably don't think much about taking out the trash. A few steps to the curb once or twice a week and you're done, right city slicker? Out in the country it's a little different -- I have to load the trash cans up in my truck and drive them to the end of the road. Yes, I take my trash out for a spin every week.
We'll come back to that in a bit, but first I wanted to mention our friend Jeanette, who sadly passed away a few weeks ago at a very young age. Jeanette worked for the Post Office, and she was convinced that someone was deliberately sabotaging her car, a two-door Mustang. The driver's side door panel was dented up pretty badly, almost like it was hit with a hammer over and over.
Jeanette suspected one of her angry co-workers (hey, this is the Post Office, it could happen!) so she went so far as to install a video camera system in a friend's car across the parking lot, situated where it had her vehicle in view at all times. For weeks she meticulously recorded her car in the lot, sure she'd catch the culprit red-handed. After weeks of failing to garner any video evidence of the perpetrator, she finally gave up reluctantly.
A few days later her husband, Daniel, was home earlier than usual, on what happened to be trash day. He watched Jeanette cruise up the driveway, one arm out of the window holding the trash can and dragging it behind her while it was ... bouncing merrily along ... smashing repeatedly into the driver's side door ... while Jeanette sang loudly with the radio, oblivious to the noise.
Mystery solved, and one more reason that trucks are good things.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Man, the hits just keep on comin' this morning. We're researching autoclaves for sterilizing jewelry we're going to be sending out. Some of the ad copy on these sites cracks me up.
LISA WATER STEAM STERILIZER
The Sterilizer with Extra Class
Now I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but I know if I were going to get sterilized, I'd sure want it done with extra class.
Feel free to check it out and sign up for our monthly infection control report information.
I can't count the times I've been sitting there wondering what the status of infection control is. Now I don't have to wonder any more.
PORTER SES 2000E and 2012E are matched to today's heightened demand for sterilization vigilance.
Ah, blessed Sterilization Vigilance. If we're not all vigiliant all the time, the next thing you know we'll all be sterilized and what then for our future?
So I'm looking through this company's web catalog for body jewelry to buy for our business, when I come across a heading that I think is the Greatest Jewelry Name Ever:
I bet that's also what they call call normal bananas after they go completely black and sit apart from the other fruit, resenting them.
See, the thing about satellite radio is, if you don't turn it off all weekend you'll drain the battery in your truck. How do I know this, you might ask? Let's just say I dare to experiment in stupidity.
I've done this kind of thing before, of course, draining a battery or running out of gas on the highway. I've never drained all the oil out of an engine and ruined it -- twice -- like some relatives I could mention but still, I've had my share of stupidosity.
It feels different out in the country, though. Help's a lot further away, for one thing. If you need help in a suburb or city, usually someone can get there in just a few minutes and it's no big deal. But when you're far from others, you have to be more self-reliant. I think that's why farmers and ranchers and such are so deliberate about how they do things. If you always act in the same way, then you are sure of what the outcome will be.
So on the one hand, I felt like I'd backslid a little into city mode, draining the battery by not following the usual routine and putting myself in a bind. But on the other hand, I was glad that just a week before I'd put jumper cables in the truck and checked them over to make sure they worked. So it was just a few moments' work to jump the truck and I was off to work.
My own version of the Texas Two-Step I suppose -- one step backwards and one step forwards.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
They brought a load of hay out here a few days ago, three big huge round bales and about 100 square bales. While they were unloading it, my wife Annie drove off in her big giant Ford F250 Heavy Duty Turbo-Diesel Crew Cab Lariat package pickup truck. The hay guy watched her drive off, then looked back at my little Ford Ranger mini-pickup still in the driveway.
"So she drives that big ol' truck and you have that li'l one, hunh?" he said.
"Um, yeah, that's right," I said, abashed.
He nodded knowingly. "Just moved out here, didn't ya?" Then he patted me on the back comfortingly and moved on out into the field to help unload the bales.
I'm thinking of buying a semi next week, just to have a vehicle -- any vehicle -- bigger than hers. Because out here in the country, apparently, size does matter.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
What would a blog dealing with country folks be without the blogger talking about one of his hot relatives? A sham, that's what it would be, and I will not have shammery on this blog!
In that vein, I present to you my cousin Jill.
Jill's sort of a BubbaGeek too, in that although she lives in the city she comes up most weekends to ride horses, feed donkeys, and in general partake of good country livin'. She works as a pharmaceutical company sales rep.
Anyway, she went to Boston for a company training trip a few weeks ago and got hit on by a policeman who used the worst pickup line I've ever heard of. He came up and asked her and her friend what they did for a living. "We sell drugs," Jill said, to his surprise.
See, she's pretty AND clever, runs in the family I think -- she's my wife's cousin.
After assuring him that they were in fact reps for a major drug company, the cop relaxed. Grinning, he then pops off with "Drug company, hunh? Hey, can you gals get me some Viagra ... ?"
Yes, you read that right. Trying to pick up two cute girls, his best line is "Can you get me some Viagra." I can't think of anything more likely to make a girl want to go out with a guy than the sure knowledge that he has some sort of erectile dysfunction. Even out here in the country we know that dog won't hunt.
I just figured out how to enable people to comment without having to be signed up with Blogger. Sorry about that, if you tried to comment before! Now you can just leave a comment without having to do anything too complicated.
For any geek considering a move to the country, your first and foremost concern has to be internet access. The web is your gateway to the wider world and helps you feel like you haven't had to give up the perks of being in the city.
The problem is that most rural internet access sucks, to use a technical term. At our first pseudo-country ranch it was really rough. There was no cable, no DSL, no wireless, nothing but good old fashioned dialup. And the phone lines (as is often the case out in the country) were really, really bad. The fastest connection I could get was 14k. Yes, you read that right. 14k. It was inhuman.
I tried satellite internet, but it was actually even worse for my internet usage patterns than dialup. I was paying ten times as much for something that was half as useful. The problem with satellite internet is that every time your computer needs to make a transaction with the computer you're talking to, a signal has to go from your dish to a satellite up in space, and then from the satellite to the other guy. Each time that happens you have a 1.5 second lag built in (space is really really far away). So for gaming or online banking, it was awful, since each of those has lots and lots of transactions to get the job done.
Out here at Shiloh Falls, though, I got lucky. The little town of Bertram that's closest to us has a wireless broadband receiver/transmitter on the town water tower. So if you can see the tower from your house, you get a great DSL-speed connection wirelessly. Since you're only having to talk to a dish that's over the hill versus up in space, you don't have the lag problems of satellite communication.
Unluckily, the only way to see the tower from my house is if you sit on a very tall pole. Don't ask how I found that out, let's just say I had trouble sitting down for a few weeks afterwards. Next time I definitely need to remember Vaseline.
In any event, that is how we came to have The Abomination on top of the garage, pictured here. It's a 15-foot tall tower with a receiving dish on top of it, held in place against the high Texas winds with guy wires. I have to give Annie credit, she didn't give me much grief about it, even though it honestly looks pretty bad. Nothing disturbs that bucolic country ambiance like a big metal pole and dish jutting angrily into the sky.
It may be an Abomination, but I don't want to think about living without it. If I had to go back to 14k dialup service for my internet lifeline, I think the next thing hanging from that pole would be me.
Early on in our country adventure, we visited a stable. I noticed the dogs ravenously gobbling up something on the ground. "What are they eating?" I asked in full city-slicker innocence. "Oh, dogs love horse apples," chuckled the stable owner.
"Hunh, horse apples," I thought. "Must be some kind of weird plant they only grow in stables."
Well, I was sort of right, because I later learned that horse apples is a nice way of saying horse poop. For someone with LVT (Low Vomit Threshold) that was not a good thing to see.
And dogs don't just eat it, they chug it like they're bellying up to the finest caviar bar on the East Coast. I wonder if they have little doggie tasting parties, as if they were going on a tour of wineries. "Oh Radar, you simply must try this excellent Milagro scat, it's simply unbelievable. Just the faintest hint of rye grass with slightly oaky overtones. Divine!"
I looked at our dog food bill the other day and couldn't believe it. We buy this ultra-pure human-grade dry food for them, but I honestly think they'd be happier if we just scooped up horse apples and shoveled it in all day.
City Slicker Lesson of the Day: If you go out for a nice country drive some day and your host offers you "horse apple pie" -- say NO!
Friday, January 13, 2006
Before I moved to the country, I had this sort of vague concept of animals that I think is pretty common among city people. Animals were somehow "purer" than dirty, nasty old humanity. I imagined them as pristine, noble beasts, completely free of the baser behavior that humans are prone to. But now that I have animals, I have learned something important:
Animals can be downright mean!
And not just a "Hey, that one animal just ate that other one" kind of mean, but more like "high schoolers picking on the fat kid" kind of mean. I see it in the dog pack and the horse/donkey herds at the ranch every day. The girls gang up on the boys, kicking them off of the feed. The big horses shoo off the little donkeys to get the best hay. One dog corners another, smaller dog to harass him.
I love the animals, I really do. They're great, and there's no doubt that they can be both noble and great-hearted. But this is a heads-up for all you city people out there -- watch your back. Fluffy might be planning even now to sell naked photos of you in the shower to the Enquirer.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
The Spurs-Pistons NBA game just ended and my team lost (feh). It's only the first or second game I've seen all year, and I discovered that my taste for pro ball has really faded.
It wasn't always like that though. There was a time when my hoops appetite was insatiable. In fact, I watched so much basketball on DirecTV's NBA League Pass that at one point I was on the phone with the network, livid that a Raptors-Grizzlies game wasn't being broadcast. Raptors-Grizzlies! I mean come on, even the fansof those teams wouldn't watch that game, and there I was screaming my head off on the phone because I wanted to see it. Pathetic!
The further I got from city life, though, the less important the NBA became. Several Spurs championships kept it going somewhat, but it was hard to maintain the passion I'd once had. Basketball is mostly a city sport, and I'm not wholly of the city any more. Nowadays, about the only Raptors I get worked up over are the falcons flying overhead, or when I visit Lake Buchanon and watch for eagles.
It does make me a bit nostalgic, though, one more milestone on my journey away from what I once was. I remind myself that I'm also moving towards something, but sometimes it's hard to keep the destination in focus when you realize that where you are is so much different than where you were.
My wife Annie is a very good rider. She loves her horses, spends lots of time reading about and trying training methods, and in general has a great rapport with them. But horseback riding is inherently dangerous, and sure enough one day (not too long before this photo was taken -- she's cute, ain't she?) she got thrown when Milagro spooked at whatever invisible things horses spook at. It hurt her back pretty badly for a month or so, and we were lucky it wasn't any worse.
Anyway, now when she asks what it is that's so great about computers, I respond that when my computer goes haywire it has 0% chance of killing me. I don't get kicked by computers, I don't get bitten by computers, and no one I know has ever been stomped to death by computers.
That, my friends, is user-friendly.
Now if you're a nerd sitting in front of a computer like I do all day, you might ask yourself "Why in the name of all that's holy would I want to move away from my great city and high speed broadband and nubile college females wandering drunk through the streets of downtown to go live in the middle of nowhere?"
That is an excellent question. The photo to the right is one of many reasons why.
That's my house at the end of the rainbow, just over the hill. You don't get views like that downtown. A 45 minute drive hardly seems worth mentioning on days like that.
If you're a nerd who's going to move to the country, that probably means you're going to have a commute. Or that you're going to be so far in the middle of BFE that you can only get three radio stations, all of which suck. To feel like you're not completely losing touch with civilization, there's only one solution: Satellite Radio.
Thanks to my wonderful wife Annie, for Christmas I got a new Sirius radio installed in the truck. This, trust me, is an essential tool in your new country lifestyle. For some few minutes a day while you drive back and forth you can listen to more than a hundred different stations, many of which contain music from countries your new neighbors have probably never heard of.
When you get tired of farm reports, fishing forecasts, and "Truck and Tractor Pull" promos, Sirius or XM will be there to gently guide you back into nerd nirvana. Trust me, this is a must-have BubbaGeek accessory. No need to thank me, just send checks.
So I get to work this morning and see a spreadsheet from a vendor in China who's bidding on some new stuff we're thinking of adding to our jewelry line. At the top of one column is the heading "Stainless Stealth". I'm not sure if that means it's really nice stainless jewelry you can't see or what ...
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
When we were building our house (well, ok, when Bobby the builder was building our house, I didn't lift so much as a hammer the whole time -- that's it there on the right if you're interested), we were convinced it was going to be too small when we saw the foundation. Apparently that's not unusual, most people think the slab's too tiny on first viewing. But as soon as they put up the walls and sheetrock, it seemed plenty big. Super big. Ginormous. Isn't it weird that sometimes, putting up walls can make it seem like we have more space than when things are wide open?
I think rules are kind of like walls. They seem to hem us in, but often they give structure and shape to life, giving us a greater sense of freedom than if we had no rules at all.
For example, I've been feeding the horses and donkeys for a couple of weeks because my wife Annie has been sick (allergies turned into bronchitis, Texas cedar is utterly evil). There are lots of rules for feeding the animals -- Toby the horse gets TWO scoops of oats, but the other two get only one and a half. You have to maneuver the two standard donkeys separately so they get more feed than the miniature donks. They have to get hay with every meal or they colic. Separate Avalon from the other horses or they fight. Don't let Major the dog out with Flash the other dog or they get mad at each other.
You get the idea. LOTS of rules to follow and if you don't SOMETHING MIGHT DIE!!!1!1
But I got to thinking that it's no different in the tech world I live in by day. HTML (or any other coding language) also has rules, lots of them. Leave out a tag and all kinds of inappropriate things can happen. Misplace a decimal and a NASA space probe gets lost on the way to the planets.
I get put out sometimes by all the rules I have to follow and walls I encounter in both worlds, but without them I suspect my life would feel as small and cramped as that slab in the middle of the pasture, without shape or ability to hold warmth and love.
Update: The photo on this entry is courtesy of my cousin, Jill Phenix Avila.
I commute 45 minutes every day each way, from my little BFE town to Round Rock, home of Dell Computers and the little Internet retailer where I work. It gives me time to make the mental transition from Bubba to Geek, but the other day I noticed that the transition had become more than a figurative one.
Looking back from the front door of the office, I saw a trail of white footprints leading from my truck to the sidewalk. See, out in the country you usually don't have a nice paved road leading to your house. And your house usually isn't right up against the road, it's generally pretty far back on your property. That means you have to get from the street to your house in a car, which means you need a little personal road of your own. Driveways are for city wimps, out in the country we need our own roads, but that costs money. Lots of money. In fact we moved the location of our homesite from the back of the property to the front because a road to the front door was going to be $20,000. I can think of a lot of things I'd like to do with twenty g's and a road ain't on the list.
Even a shorter road/driveway (oh heck, let's coin a term and call it a "driveroad") is pricey, and if you want it paved it's ten times as much. So you usually use crushed stone as a cheaper, but still durable, alternative. Here in Texas, that means crushed white limestone. Limestone's great, but it powders easily. So when I walk to my truck, drive to the gate and undo it, then drive through the gate, get back out, relatch it, get back in the truck and drive to town, I pick up tons of the white dust on my shoes.
Arriving in the Paved World, then, I leave a nice trail of white footprints from my truck to my office. They fade out the more I walk, as I lose more and more dust. By the time I step off the blacktop and onto the sidewalk, the footprints are pretty much gone. But it reminds me of the larger journey I take every day, from 100 acres of donkeys and horses and home, to paved roads, Internet web design, and work.
Kind of a fitting metaphor as I start this blog, also a trail of footprints in my transition from one world to the other, although in digits and pixels instead of shoes and limestone. I hope you enjoy the trip as much as I do.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
After long consideration and consultation (mostly with the animals on the ranch who, to be honest, weren't terribly helpful), I've decided to start a blog. The idea came to me initially while I was bouncing around on the rented tractor while "shredding" our new property, my iPod headphone cords whipping madly about, wondering just what in the hell a geek from the city was doing on a hundred acre ranch in the middle of nowhere.
Perhaps, I thought, other nerds, geeks, or even regular ol' city-slickers might find something educational and entertaining about my struggles to adapt to life in BFE.
I want to try to be as open and honest as possible, while never forgetting that some day my wife, mother, or boss might read what I'm writing. In other words, I don't want to say anything that's gonna get me hit, split, or pink-slipped. Other than that I'll try to let it all hang out and give you an idea of what's going on out here in Red State Land.