Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Month: June 2010

Perspectives

My heart sank as I watched the fire racing across the pasture, consuming large round hay bales and threatening to swallow the arena. A grass fire. North Texas has had a very dry summer and the grass has become kindling waiting for a spark. Giant plumes of smoke and waves of flames on a field used to cause concern, now they cause dread. Each acre scorched means money lost, livestock threatened, and so much hard work for nothing. Thankfully this was not my pasture….
The lack of rain has turned the landscape from green to gold. Which to a city girl means that the sprinklers must be run more often, but to a rancher, it can mean devastation. If the grass is too dry, the livestock do not get the nutrients they need. The grasshoppers thrive and move like a plague over pastures and gardens.
So last night as I looked up to see black clouds forming over our small farm, I prayed a “thank you”…all while realizing that the metal tractor I was sitting upon did double duty as a giant lightning rod. We all ran to grab tools and implements and bolted for the shed.
Giant raindrops splashed on the windshield as we drove away. From high on the road, we could see the edge of the storm. It seemed as if the light and dark were fighting over the countryside, the dark winning. You could smell the rain, and almost hear the trees sighing as the water hit their leaves.Rain used to mean wet feet messing up the carpet, and interruption to my well planned life. Now it reminds me that life is a delicate balance…easily swallowed by destruction. The rain now reminds me to take a breathe and let the cool water refresh me as it does the parched land…to be thankful for every moment that God sends the rain.

Close Encounters of the Wild Kind

“Amanda, come here!” yelled Andy.
I turned around to see him and the three boys looking at something on the ground.
That had better not be another huge spider, I thought. Andy knows I loathe spiders… I come from a long line of spider haters… and he loves to point out the really big ones.
I walk up and follow their gazes to the ground. What? I don’t see anything at first, but then I see a clump of dirt jump. In disbelief, I look harder and see that it is not a clump of dirt, but in fact, the smallest toad (now identified as a Texas Toad) I have ever seen.
“Pick it up.” Andy suggests.
I peek to either side of me and realize that 4 males are standing around asking the only girl there to pick up the toad. I lean over and usher the little jumper into my hand. There are now 5 toads hopping along, 4 of them are no bigger than nickels, and one is smaller than a dime. So cute.
Suddenly, Sam declares, “Stand back, I have done this before”, in a most serious tone while pushing up his sleeves. 
The crazy thing is, my kids had never seen a toad until last week. Grant had been mowing at the rental house when he ran in screaming that there was a frog in the flower bed. All the boys start running around screaming. They are under the false impression that frogs are akin to snakes. I assure them that frogs are cool, and Sam is the only one brave enough to pick it up. Now, there is a whole slew of baby toads on some sort of pilgrimage across our front pasture.
Last night, an enormous commotion caused me to turn and witness 3 dogs and 6 kids running down our front drive. Turns out they were chasing an armadillo. It was still daylight, but the armored creature decided to take a stroll only to be accosted by screaming giants.
We have encountered runaway longhorns, a 5 foot long rat snake, tons of rabbits, beautiful hawks, herds of deer, a 6 foot long rattlesnake, a bobcat, lightning bugs, a massive turtle, an aramdillo, and loads of toads so far at the farm and we only spend a few hours a day there. We have seen tracks for wild pigs, and a friend who went camping one night claims we have at least 3 large owls. Wonder what interesting creatures will come into view when we actually live there….

Cow Wrangler

Apparently cows are smarter than people. 
That was my thought as we, the five of us, failed to usher Jenny into the corral. How could five people be unsuccessful in herding an almost full-term cow trough a gate?
‘Cause that momma can run.
She was able to out run, and out smart all of us. She wanted to be next to Clara on the fence line and we were unable to convince her otherwise. The corral was in the middle our neighbor’s property, nowhere near the fence, and she realized she was bigger than all of us…. until Andy found his inner cow wrangler. More on that later.
First try:
Andy and the neighbor head down to the pasture with a bag of bread. Andy leads while the neighbor chases. She plays along for about 5 minutes. Eventually, she finds her way back to the fence. Fail.
Second try:
Andy, me, Grant, the neighbor, and his 9-year-old son make a human wall to herd her toward the corral. Complete chaos. Epic fail.
Third time’s a charm:
After calling local ranchers, the advice was all the same…cut the fence. The cow was getting stressed, we were getting frustrated, and she hadn’t had a good source of water for 24 hours. Everyone was hopeful she would walk through the fence wanting to be reunited with Clara and in need of a drink.
We enlist the help of friends and take two trucks into the neighbor’s pasture, hoping that she would respect the size of the trucks instead of scoffing at us on foot. Andy cuts the fence. If you have any ranching experience you can guess what happened next.
Clara ran through the cut fence to our neighbor’s pasture to be reunited with Jenny.
We maneuver the two trucks to keep them close to Andy and the dangling barb wire. All of a sudden, Andy turns into Curly from the movie City Slickers. Maybe it was the heat, or the exhaustion, but he started after those cows, yelling at them to “go on”.
And they did.
I thought it might be a fluke, but he proved himself to be a cow wrangler again later when the cows tried to escape through the fence as he was mending it. I had the truck blocking the opening, but the cows now associate the truck with snack time and kept coming up to the window for bread. They tried to divide and conquer, but Andy had had enough of the cowtitude and told them they were not going through the fence under any circumstances. He threw out his arms and told them to “move it”.
And they did.
I’m struggling with this new turn of events. I am supposed to be the cow-keeper, but Jenny has decided that she is only going to listen to Andy. She loves me for my bread, but I get the feeling that she’s humoring me when it comes to obeying me. I’m pretty certain if I was her only roadblock, she would be long gone. This is a very humbling position to be in.
My cow doesn’t respect me.
How do I live with that? How do I look myself in the mirror everyday with that hanging over me? What will happen if the kids realize? Revolution…anarchy…catastrophe.

Holy Cow

We arrived tonight like any other night, to work on the clean up. We barely got the tractor out of the shed when one of the boys starts yelling that our cow is in the neighbor’s pasture. Andy takes the tractor and heads down to our back pasture to check the fence line, and I climb in the truck to follow him. By the time I am through the gate, Andy has made the perimeter and laid eyes on one of the cows. He is certain the other cow is nearby since the fence is secure.
I decide to drive the perimeter anyway since I have the truck. I make it all the way around and only see one cow, Clara. I stop to watch her for a moment until I realize that she is pacing the fence at one section, not moving away even when the dogs start harassing her. I follow her line of sight and see Jenny staring at me from across my neighbor’s field. Her eyes are wide with unease and the words “freaking cow” escape my lips before my brain assesses all the information.
I drive around the fence again, just to be sure. There are no holes in the fence. The fence is solid.
How did the cow get to the other side of the fence?
I can read Clara’s expression easily as she keeps glancing between me and Jenny, get her back! Clara and Jenny are sisters, they have never been separated. They stick together like peanut butter and jelly in the pasture.
I just stare back at her and keep asking the question, “How did she get over there?!”
Unfortunately she doesn’t answer, she was probably sparing me the details.  Then again, she probably didn’t really believe what she saw.
The little boy next door runs up to me and says he saw Jenny jump the fence. He said his dog was pestering her and she chased the dog to the fence line and proceeded to jump and continue her pursuit.
Strangely, he has to be right. There is no other way she could have gotten across the pasture. I am not sure this has played in your imagination yet, but Jenny is 8 1/2 months pregnant. She could calve at any time.
Take a moment and let this run through your mind. My very pregnant cow jumped over a fence to chase a dog.
I will be shocked if she doesn’t have that baby in my neighbor’s pasture before we can move her tomorrow.
As we were leaving we spotted a bobcat sitting on our dirt pile watching us after dark. The bobcat seemed very curious and I began to wonder if it was waiting for us to leave so it could take a stroll through house.
Note to self: never leave the doors open at night, you never know what you will wake up to.

Mishaps (formerly Fiascoes, but my husband disagrees with my usage of that word)

The past two days have seen more mishaps (ahem, refer to title) than normal. The night before last, I was picking up lumber pieces and ran *smack* into a rafter. I hit the beam so hard with my eye that my contact was literally catapulted out of my eye. I sustained very small cuts above, under, and on my eye but am otherwise fine. I’m still trying to come up with a really good story to accompany my injuries, because I walked into a piece of wood doesn’t have a very impressive ring to it.
Last night while we were working, I watched as Andy did almost the exact same thing. I know what you are thinking, just watch where you are going. I really wish it were that easy. No one mentioned that a lesson in contortionism would be needed to maneuver the treacherous piles of wood and nails surrounding the house. Or that a lesson in rock climbing would be handy to reach the second floor.
A third incident took place while I was sweeping.. again. My mom ears tuned in to hear Ian insist to Grant and Sam that “he could do it”. I couldn’t see them, but there are key phrases that my brain unconsciously scans for when the kids are out of my sight. “Put me in the hole!” turns out to be one of them. Ian was trying to convince Grant and Sam to lower him into the area below one of the porches to collect wood that had dropped into the darkness. I made the decision to just let this one play out, knowing in my heart that my super-responsible 10-year-old, Grant, would never let this idea take shape. I was right, Grant made the solo decision that Ian was too little to go down into the pit alone…he convinced Sam to go with him. I inconspicuously worked my way to sweeping closer to their location and turned my alarm-widened eyes away as Grant lowered their bodies between the floor beams. Let me just take this moment to say that the area connects to the crawl space and the kids were in no danger of getting stuck. I just wanted to see what conclusion this instance of teamwork would bring. The crawl space opening is currently covered by exterior doors awaiting installation, so the boys lowered themselves into this dark abyss truly believing that their only way out was back up through the porch.
Sam and Ian went about chucking trash out of the hole. The process reminded me of watching sand crabs at the beach. After they get slightly below the surface of the sand, all you can see is frequent plumes of sand being blasted out of the site of their disappearance. Replace the crabs with Sam and Ian, and the plumes of sand with chunks of wood. You get the picture.
After making my third gargantuan pile of sawdust for collection, I hear the rumblings of exit strategies. My interest peaked, I work the broom back to a line of sight of Grant, now using a piece of wood to prop up the massive plywood covering the porch floor. Ian uses the rebar sticking out of the concrete walls to pull himself out of the enclosure. Then comes Sam’s turn. Houston we have a problem. Grant’s middle name is Houston…get it? Never mind.
Grant, being a product of his Papa Cordray and Grandad Hopper, starts devising hoists and ramps to bring Sam to safety. The plans are solid, safe, and frankly awesome, but Sam has lost trust in Grant since being lowered into the chasm. Grant calmly tries to convince Sam that these inventions will, in fact, bring him into the light, but Sam stubbornly refuses to be persuaded. Finally comes the call for Daddy to pull Sam to freedom, he does, and is a super-hero once again.
The outside of the house is being enclosed in plywood and the roof panels are complete over the back half of the house. The rooms are taking shape now that they are enclosed. Andy and I are trying to place TVs and computers in our minds so the wiring can begin. I picked up the two types of floor tiles being used in the bathrooms. Currently, I am coveting soapstone counter tops and Andy is awaiting the delivery of his most prized purchase to date…the Johnny Bucket Jr.
Taken a couple of days ago.

   

Back of house before roof. 

Tile going in Master bathroom, boys’ bathroom, and laundry room.

Coveted soapstone. It is darker in person.

8 Seconds

As we were loading everything into the shed yesterday at the farm I had a realization. Ian’s life has been a series of seconds where I am holding my breathe waiting for everything to be okay.
30 seconds. His birth. C-sections are usually jovial and noisy with the surgeon and nurses laughing and talking. I had already had two, so I knew the procedure well. Ian’s was different. Everything was fine… and then silence. The doctor and nurses sped up their pace and no one spoke. I felt the air being sucked out of the room. I didn’t even ask what was wrong because I knew that only something serious would focus an entire room of people that way. What felt like hours was really only minutes. The true danger was only seconds. They brought him to me and then swept him out of the room, never explaining. Only later, when nurses kept coming in to the recovery room to congratulate Andy on the miracle, did I hear that Ian should not have survived. His umbilical cord was not only wrapped around his neck several times, but was tied in four knots. The doctor came in to ask my permission to preserve the cord and possibly write an article about the birth. I knew I should be truly shaken, but I felt more like I was standing in the middle of a tornado watching the trucks and cows spin around me while I sat safely in the eye.
Ian has no fear. He seems to know that God saved him for some higher purpose and he lives like prisoner freed from a darkened cell. His laughter is infectious and common, and his trust is….breathtaking. Literally.
15 seconds. The time it takes my heart to start when he jumps into a pool, never having swam before, and fights his way to the top. He grabs the side, pulls himself out, and with the biggest, most beautiful grin… jumps in again. 
5 seconds. The time it takes Andy to pull Ian out of the way of a rather large and unhappy rattlesnake. Ian, furious at a shaking Andy for making him leave, complains that he just wanted to see it.
So yesterday as I hear the words that usually precede these heart wrenching moments, “Momma look!”, I inhale deeply before turning. Ian is performing a show of stunt riding on his little four-wheeler for his brothers, looking at them instead of where he is going. Instantly, a flash of the future steals my vision.
“Ladies and gentlemen, up next is Ian Hopper from north Texas riding the bull aptly named Killer. No one has ever ridden this bull for the full 8 seconds, will he?!”
The house is progressing well. The roof is going on, and we can precariously climb onto the second floor now. We will meet with the cabinet maker in two weeks, and the plumber and electrician are about to begin.
I am confident now that both cows are pregnant. I find myself in awe of them as their bellies grow in the blazing heat. I could never have survived pregnancy outside in the sweltering air, eating nothing but grass. They have become more like dogs, coming up to the fence when we arrive to greet us. You can see their eyes searching to see if I have brought the beloved bread bag for a treat. Our dog Missy has taken to being my cow defender. She can be completely out of sight, but if I walk into the pasture, she is immediately at my side warning the cows to keep a safe distance. They seem to believe her threat and only eat out of my hand when the gate is separating us. I wonder what Missy’s response would be if she understood that I was trying to get close enough to touch them. She is hindering my progress, but then again maybe she knows something I don’t….

Changes

“I can do it momma.” Grant reassures.
“Maybe we should wait for daddy.” I reply.
I hesitantly hand Grant the keys to the tractor and watch through my fingers as he brings the red beast to life and takes her out of neutral.
We arrived at the farm 40 minutes before Andy and the house site desperately needed cleaned of debris. Andy would not arrive until almost sunset. This is why I birthed three boys right? Right?
My mouth audibly drops open as my 9-year-old backs the tractor out of a shed door that is way too small for the tractor to fit through. He uses one foot to hold  up the mower cover and eases it through the opening.  
Impressive.
The boys and I load up the dump cart and head to work. I send Sam and Ian inside to throw out little pieces of wood while Grant and I pick up around the outside. Andy drives in through the front gate, consumed by the progress on the house, then he spots us. Confusion and incredulity set the features on his face. I smile and wink and say, “You’ve been replaced.”
I prophesied this event in a previous blog. Grant would soon overtake his dad in the war for Roxanne (my pet name for the tractor). I guessed it would take 3 weeks, he succeeded on his first attempt, 5 weeks later. 
Competition flashed in Andy’s eyes, but was quickly replaced by awe. He didn’t think Grant could do it. I can’t help but silently enjoy the moment. A few days ago, Sam told me that daddy was smarter than me, and I am slightly relishing the humbly moment Andy is suffering. It’s just a moment, gone too soon.
The humble pie did die quickly when we discovered that the master bedroom ceiling had been framed wrong. Which meant the loft was being framed wrong. Fortunately we check everyday, so the mistake was noticed right away. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a good signal to reach the builder so he didn’t tell the framers until the next morning after they had already started working. Oh well, I guess that’s why we have the builder, so he can deal with the notification that they have to rip the ceiling down. He can also deal with the fact that we need to change the stairway plans. Luckily, he had been thinking the same thing we were thinking, so no power struggles in the near future.

Front of house.

Back of house.

View out back windows from front door.

Trauma

Bigger than a pizza, or smaller than a pizza?
That is the question that runs through my mind as I sort remnant pieces of lumber into keep or toss piles. The organizer in me would love to make neat stacks of like-sized keep-lumber all over the work site, but the human being in me screams at the organizer reminding her that it is 100 degrees outside and that death by sweat is a bad way to go.
Over the fighting in my head, and the grumbling of the tractor, I hear a sound that momentarily stops my heart and sucks the breathe right out of my lungs. Ian is screaming. The kind of screaming that jump starts horrible scenarios in my vivid imagination. I start running before I actually know where to go, and my eyes frantically scan the landscape looking for the source. I spot his toy 4-wheeler abandoned near the house and immediately my mind concludes that he went into the newly framed house and fell off an unfinished porch. So I run toward the house. But the screaming is not coming from that direction, so I change course and start running toward the blood-curdling cries for help. Finally I locate him and I stop dead in my tracks.
Then the laughter begins.
Across the yard from me, the port-o-potty is rocking. And the screams are coming from inside the shed-o-nasty. I grab the handle and have to struggle with the door to pry it open. Ian’s little shaking body falls out of the door into my arms. The tears have soaked his face and shirt. He keeps mumbling like a madman that he was going to be stuck in the stinky Tardis forever.
He insists that we were going to leave without him and that he would be trapped in the smelly potty for the rest of eternity. It takes me at least 10 minutes to calm him down, and in between trying to console him, I’m chuckling to myself, this is gonna need counseling. He claims he went into the trap, thinking it was like the Tardis. If you don’t know what a Tardis is you must not be a sci-fi fan. Go immediately to Google.com, type in Dr. Who’s Tardis and learn everything you can…..
Ian finally pulled himself together, my heart finally regained a normal rythm and we can all laugh about it now. Ian’s laugh is more of a nervous laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. We finished our cleaning just as the sun fell and the moon rose. Our trip home was quiet until Ian ripped of his headphones with a disgusted look on his face and asked, “What is that smell?”
I answered, “It’s a skunk honey.”
He scrunched up his nose and replied, “That stunk smells yucky” as he returned to watching his movie.
No, the above is not a typo, he called it a stunk instead of a skunk. I refuse to correct him, it’s too funny.

Thinking of You

Morning are becoming something I dread. The alarm is still set to wake me early so I can get the boys ready for school. So my eyes fly open and I involuntarily stretch.
Ouch.
My stretching causes Andy to turn and stretch, and I hear, “Ouch.”
I stumble down the hall and wake the boys, who look and walk like zombies. They eat in silence. The first noise they make is the inevitable groan when they try to stand. They are so sweet to suffer in silence. It’s almost unnatural.
But appreciated.
They don’t fuss or fret (much) when we spend hours cleaning the work site at our new house. We saved a lot of money by agreeing to clean the house and surrounding yard of cut lumber and debris left behind by the contractors. It gives us the ability to check every secured board and rescue cut lumber that can be reused. This work is necessary…but painful.
Anywhere from two to six hours bending over picking up a houseful of cut studs and decking is harder than we imagined. Not to mention that it is now June in Texas, which brings the threat of heatstroke and 3rd degree sunburns. We can only work late in the evening until dark because the workers slave from sun-up until early afternoon to avoid the daily high of 98 degrees.
We head over at dinner time, and take a picnic. After eating, we all head off to our posts. Andy and I hand pick most of the lumber off the ground. The boys help pick up strewn pieces from inside the house, then toss them through the transparent walls to the trash stack. They work in tandem to pass large orphaned studs through the front door of the future office to me, waiting on the ground, 10 feet below them. We sweep the sawdust and forgotten nails out of the basement and first floor. That’s where I discovered that if you sweep for two hours with a wooden-handled broom you are rewarded with blisters on your fingers. Who knew? As my brother pointed out, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman probably knew. But she didn’t blog, so I had to learn the hard way.
On the positive side, my skin is fabulous. Women pay lots of money to be tanned and exfoliated.  True, they may not pay for an exfoliating treatment of sweat blended with sawdust, but the effect is the same.
We are all happy to do the work no matter the cost. We see the house grow substantially every day and we all know that our home will have been christened with our drops of blood, gallons of sweat, and trickles of tears.
And God always seems to provide a little, “I’m thinking of you” at the end of a hard day.
Last night, as we were loading up the dump cart at the end of the work session, Grant yells, “Mom, there is a spark in the trees!” I look over and see nothing, so I go back to loading and he yells again, “There is the spark again, higher up this time!” All of a sudden my heart swells. A few days ago, I told Andy that I prayed that I would someday see fireflies in Texas.  I look at Grant’s puzzled face and ask him if the spark is moving like a bug. He says “yes” and then wonder and amazement flood his face. He asks with trepidation, “Momma, could it be a firefly, like we saw in Ohio when I was little?”

I turn around and stare into the trees and the fireflies are lighting up the forest like twinkling Christmas lights. I have not seen fireflies in Texas in the thirteen years that I have lived here. And after a long day, a long season, of working to fulfill this dream we have been given, that little answered prayer was like rain watering a parched field. Enough rain to energize the fields to put forth new fruit and for the wilting grass to reach toward the sky again.

Basement and first floor, from rear of house.

First floor from front.