Amanda Hopper Writes

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

Month: November 2010

The Strangest Place I’ve Ever Gone…..Swimming.

Today as I stared at my cows grazing on the neighbor’s property…again…I began having flashbacks of this summer. A summer so crazy that many of the crazy things that happened never even made the top ten. At least three of the top 15 involve my cows who seem to have the uncanny ability to escape barbwire fences. They are definitely grass is greener animals, and if they even think something better is going down on the other side of that fence, they are gone. This time it was hay. My neighbor put out hay the night before I did. He did it for the deer, but awoke to find my cows happily munching on his bait. Every time I went out to check, they were all on my side of the fence. These stupid cows are the smartest animals I have ever met! They are double dipping hay! As soon as my neighbor’s supply runs out, they mosey back over the fence and eat our stash. Seeing them grazing next door brings back bad memories. One I had almost forgotten came to mind today and makes for a good laugh…now, months later it makes for a good laugh…
Flashback to late July…

The cows and new born calves are at the neighboring property and we still haven’t had a free moment to work on the fence. The heat is stubbornly stuck above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the stock tank is still in our back pasture. I suit up in my grubby cowgirl gear and drain the stock tank. Our metal stock tank has a rubber stopper at the bottom of the tank to allow for draining, but it has to be unscrewed with a socket wrench. When the tank is empty, Grant and I load the silver tub into the bed of the truck and drive it over next door. We set it up next to our fence and run 150 feet of hose to allow for fill-up. I scrub the tank out since it is empty and spend a few minutes replacing the rubber stopper. We painstakingly turn on the water and wait, in the burning sun, for the tank to fill with cool water. The cows are hoovering, waiting for us to be done. Grant and I take turns sitting in the truck with the air conditioning, the temperature gage states that it is now 108 degrees F. outside.
During my turn, the tank reached half capacity and…the dam brakes. The rubber stopper shoots out the tank at alarming speed and the cold well water begins pouring out the metal tank. I run to the truck and snatch the wrench. I locate the stopper and began struggling to get it back in place before all the water drains out.
After working for a few minutes with water still fleeing behind the stopper, realization dawns. There is  a matching rubber nut that hold the stopper from the inside of the tank. It can only be tightened by holding the nut and continuing to wrench from the outside. I stand up straight and stare at Grant. He stares back, alarmed that the water we have just spent 30 minutes filling is leaving in much less time.
I know what I have to do. But it means plunging half my body into the stock tank. A stock tank filled with cow cooties. You know they regurgitate their food right?
And they drool.
But the heat is overwhelming, and I am not willing to spend more time in the sun for fear of my clothes catch on fire. So I take a deep breath and shove my left arm all the way up to my shoulder into the water, holding the nut and trying to quickly wrench from the outside of the now cold metal.
I soon realize there is a big problem. My arms are too short. I can’t fight the pressure from the water with my one hand while wrenching with the other. The solution is so unpleasant I find myself saying words that I didn’t know I actually knew.
I keep telling myself that I am a grown-up and that my boys are watching from inside the car. I hate being a grown-up. Why does being a grown-up always involve cleaning up something gross?
I plunge my leg, complete with jeans and boot into the frigid water, bending at the waist and shoving my wet arm back into the abyss. I am now half-in, half-out of the tank, straddling the metal wall, cursing the existence of cows, in a bizarre game of twister.
Have you ever felt God laughing at you? I can tell you that I have. He was having a good ol’ chuckle at my predicament.
It took several tries, and the placement of my cheek in the water before I was successful at sealing the gap. When I stood up, half my body soaking wet, I looked around to find the cows staring at me. The kids were pressed up against their truck windows…laughing. I apparently was the only one who did not find my being covered in cow spit not funny.
I suppose now it’s funny. I would have laughed at the time if it was someone else in the tank. I never thought a year ago, that I would be spending my days cleaning and filling stock tanks…driving around a small farm towing hay bales for hungry calves.
I also never thought I would get to spend every evening watching the most beautiful sunsets in the world. So I guess I’ll take the ugly and sometimes nasty chores that come with farming as long as God keeps sending the sunsets….

Circle of Life

I’m not talkin’ about the Disney-fied, cartoon explanation with the sticky-sweet music overlay.
I’m talkin’ about the real circle of life that promises to make your breakfast reappear.
The circle of life that leaves you completely in awe of nature and completely grossed out at the same time.
People in the city panic when they awake to find a dead animal on their front lawn. If it’s small, they may double up an inside-out trash bag and grudgingly pick it up. Stuffing it in the tidy green trash bin and letting the sanitary engineers haul it away, never considering that the plastic encasing the carcass can never decompose. If it’s large? Well they call somebody.
People in the country? They almost never wake up to anything dead still in their yard ’cause dead things tend to run away in the mouths of alive things in the night. But if they do happen to find leftovers in the morning…assuming it’s not too close to the house…they leave it. ‘Cause in the country, the sanitary engineers are not hindered by paved roads.
It’s a frightening thing, to see vultures up close. There is a terrifying grace about them as dozens of them erase flesh from bone. Their size is surprising at first… so is their confidence. Driving up to a family reunion over last night’s roadkill inevitably finds the truck moving to the side while numerous beady eyes glare threats at the driver.
It’s even more frightening to be working among the trees only to look up and see them circling above.
It’s like they know something you don’t.
Our boys have taken a crash course in the circle of life. It seems every country kid has some story about a beloved family pet being whisked away in the jaws of a coyote, or of their dog making the fatal choice to chase a car instead of tennis balls. 
Grant went to fill the stock tank a couple of days ago only to be seen running back to the house a moment later. He was visibly shaken and begged Sam to come with him. Sam refused until Grant uttered the words too tempting to pass up.
Dead. Floating. Squirrel.
Sam used to be the squeamish one. Now, the prankster gene from his daddy has overtaken him. Anything that could make Grant beg like a dog at a Thanksgiving table was worth a look.
I watched from high up on the porch as the brothers trudged down to the pasture. Grant stopped at the gate, refusing to go further, while Sam just had to see what all the fuss was about. There was a lot of shouting from Grant and a lot of laughing from Sam. Through the trees, I spied Sam wielding a large stick and the hose. Grant oversaw the filling of the tank from the safety of the gate while Sam seemed to be waiting for something. Eventually I saw the water rising and realization hit.
Sam was waiting for the dead squirrel to float to the top of the tank.
As it did, Sam steadied himself and used the stick to fling the wide-eyed bobber out of the tank and onto the ground. Grant thanked him profusely, and the gleam that came into Sam’s eyes was visible even from my faraway vantage point. He started chasing Grant with the stick, covered in dead squirrel cooties. Grant ran around screaming and shouting. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t find the air to scold him. After a few minutes, Sam tuckered out and they began to discuss burial strategy.
Bury the squirrel or leave it for natures trash men? Ultimately they decided to leave it for the hungry vultures but Sam said a few parting words over the little body. Sam could be heard teasing Grant about “screaming like a girl” as they made their way back to the house. Grant could be heard defending his honor, saying that he “didn’t have to touch dead animals because he could fix things.” Sam nodded, seeming to agree.
Later, as I was making dinner, a strange thought came to me.
What happens to the bones?
The vultures eat everything but the bones. Where do the bones go? That question was later answered when I went to check on the dogs, and both were laying in the yard gnawing on bones.
Only I never gave them any.
Nasty.
Ian gave me his best Hopper arched eyebrow as I walked into the kitchen muttering to myself, “I will never let them lick me again.”

Watching the Grass Grow

Rain and dirt do not go well together. The combination results in mud. Mud and steep inclines are not pretty. We had a lot of dirt, a steep incline, and we were dreading the rain.
Andy decided to take the bull by the horns. Mother Nature be damned! He set out on his dusty red tractor and a sprayer full of weed killer and killed every living green patch visible. A week later, he sped out of the shed towing the big-daddy tiller and tore up the place.  Our beautiful farm looked like a tree-dotted wasteland.
I began to wonder if our shed had the same dimensions as Mary Poppins’ travel bag when Andy drove out the next day with the tractor and a spreader. How did all of those implements fit into our little shed? He raced around the front 3 1/2 acres with Bermuda seed flying in all directions. After he finished, he set up a camping chair and set about waiting for the grass to grow.
“You know it takes like a week to germinate, right?” I hinted.
He nodded in agreement, but made no effort to move.
Eventually he set up a labyrinth of automatic sprinklers, all timed to graciously water the hard seeds. Apparently the weather had other ideas. Decatur got 8 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. Did I mention that our property slopes from front to back? To the untrained eye, it looks like a gradual slope, but the survey says it slopes down 40 feet from front to back. A gaping creek at the back stands ready to swallow anything coming it’s way. In this instance…it swallowed all our seed. Somewhere, where the creek runs, someone got free grass.
Andy was beside himself. His first task at farming had failed and his eyes blazed whenever he looked at his blank canvas. He already knew that he couldn’t plant Bermuda again, it was too late in the season. So I picked up Rye seed from a shack of seed store and he fired up the tractor. He blanketed the dirt with seed and prayed daily for the rain to hold off.
Every time I couldn’t find Andy in the house, inevitably I found him outside staring at the ground.
“I think I can see green shoots.” he would hope.
“We’ll have a good idea if it took after 7 days.” I would reply.
He would glare at me and then return his gaze to the ground.
Seven days later, he ran into the house and started yelling, “come outside!”. I dried my soapy hands off and followed him to the front yard.
“Look.” he demanded.
I couldn’t really make out anything, but the dirt did have a green tint to it. I squinted… I looked from my peripheral… and about to give up, I finally bent down to stare at the ground. And then I saw them. Itsy, bitsy green baby blades poking out of the earth.
I turned to look up at Andy and the look on his face was priceless. I’m not sure that I had ever seen him that happy. I wanted to be mad at him for being that happy about grass. His excitement would have led someone not in the know to believe he had hit oil.
Believing he had out-smarted nature, Andy relaxed into the new house. A few days later, the clouds rolled into town, and all over Andy’s face. He stood still as a statue on the back porch watching the rain for hours. His eyes narrowed, as if silently commanding the rain to stop. No one could convince him to leave his post.
The evening brought clear skies and the happiness back to his eyes. The baby grass had stood it’s ground and the rain had not washed it away. Andy quickly put down more seed to thicken the green carpet and he now checks daily for the second batch to hatch.
We don’t have T.V. yet, and our Internet service is currently dial-up… so essentially we don’t have Internet. You find you have a lot of time on your hands without knowledge of the outside world. Time to fill the stock tank, read a book on the porch, and yes…watch the grass grow