I’m on the road again, taking my bi-annual writing retreat to my friend’s ranch in northern California. I’m finishing up a revision and working on a NEW VERY SEEKRIT PROJECT. It’s actually not that secret but everyone else keeps secrets, so I might as well, too.
The Ranch Life
An earwig lies belly-up on the gate latch to the pool, like an offering to the Ranch Gods.
We walk into the tall grass, bare calves brushing thistles, ticks leaping with outstretched arms onto my pants, onto the dog. He wants to stay ahead, keep an eye out for danger.
Heel. Stay close, I tell him. The billy goat’s stinky dead body calls out to him. But he’s a good dog. He listens. He stays close by my leg, sniffing the air. The vultures scatter anyway, irritated that we’d even consider getting this close to their meal.
The goat’s eyes are gone. Che said that’d be the first thing to go. He was right.
On the wildlife cam, we don’t find anything more interesting than vultures stopping by to feast on the remains.
The pigs make a noise like a tractor and lean over, like cats, when you scratch them. A pig’s fur is like nothing else: coarse and wiry and ram-rod straight. Bristles on a hair brush.
Everything they say about pigs and mud is true. They maintain their mud. They worship it. They make sturdier walls around their pit and push at the hay and then, go wild and sprint up and down the hill like puppies playing in a pen.
The chickens aren’t afraid of me anymore. The duck still wants nothing to do with me, after our encounter last December.
On the thirty-first of May, five days after arriving, ten days until I leave again, it seems like my time at the ranch is spiraling away faster than a kite cut loose.
I’m drinking my morning tea and a glass full of goat milk I produced with my own hands last night. Milking is tiring work. My back is sore, but also stronger. The dog chews at his foreleg—must be another tick. Once they get a taste of his blood, they’ll fall off and die. It’s getting them to take that plunge that’s tricky.
I love this place. I think everyone who comes here loves it because we can feel the pure undercurrent, the silent air waves, and there’s a peace to it that is missing everywhere else. No television screens buzz or blink here. You have jobs to do. Easy jobs—feeding chickens, carrying back eggs in the curled-up hem of your shirt, watering a wild garden—but satisfying jobs. Jobs that make the ranch keep working, keep turning.
Evenings are easy. Read a book. Have friends over. Make dinner and share it. Watch out the back door as the dog kills a rat in the yard, and call to him, “Good dog. Good dog.”
Take the electric four-wheeler up into the hills. Look at the stars. Argue about which one is the North Star, because we’ve all been led to believe it’s a bright one—it’s not. It’s just a regular star. Less bright, even, than most.
Sleep on the couch. It’s the best couch. Not great for sitting but delightful for sleeping. You get to be in the middle of it when you sleep on the couch. If you’re tired enough, you can fall asleep while everyone else is still awake; and you wake up when the coffee grinder gets going, and the sun is still low and cool and fresh, and you feel like the whole day, sometimes the whole world, is waiting for you to put on some clothes and get out there. The ranch couch is so big that there’s even a spot for the dog, who puts his head under your chin and lets out a loooong, deeeeeep sigh, as you both fall asleep.