WHERE I LIVE AND WHAT I LIVE FOR
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life . . . and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
I think I have heard these words somewhere before, thank you, Henry David Thoreau and for sharing why you needed a cabin in the woods and a break from urban life in your classic Walden. I feel the same way.
It is not wilderness where I live by any means. In the past five years, my road has changed from a sleepy country back street on the edge of town to a major thoroughfare with heavy oil field, school, and hospital traffic in what is now the center of town. I am not a fan of urban progress and development.
The Double D Ranchette
My little piece of paradise is a small, 2 ½ acre ranchette, that’s a word I made up because my place certainly doesn’t have the spread of a ranch which is usually hundreds, even thousands, of acres. But it functions, on a small scale, as a plot of land where I can keep two horses along with two barn cats to keep them company and manage the rodent population and sometimes the bunny, snake, and robin population as well, I am sorry to say.
There’s room for two dogs, one big and one small, one Louisiana bred and closely descended from red wolves just a couple of centuries ago and one small, very opinionated and spunky, German dog who is brindled, spotted and ticked. Izzy is the Louisiana Catahoula and she is named after Isabella Bird, one feisty English lady who traveled these parts of Colorado (by herself!) in the 1800s, mostly in the Rocky Mountains around Longs Peak and Estes Park and mostly on foot and horseback, a woman after my heart but bolder than me. Moon Pie is a red piebald Dachshund and though he was born just down Hwy 85 in Fort Lupton, I thought he should have a Southern name. I considered quite a few, like Honey Pie, Cutey Pie, Sweetie Pie but settled on Moon Pie.
In case you were born recently (i.e. the last 40 years or so) or have not spent much time in the south, moon pies were once the “fast food” of choice, along with an ice-cold RC Cola. They were popular roadside treats in the days of filling stations, pre-convenience store, in the 1950s and ’60s. This remains true to an extent today at least with traditionalists like dove hunters and farmers in Louisiana and Mississippi. A moon pie is a chocolate wafer delight with marshmallow like filling, brown and white like my little dog. Since this cookbook is supposed to be about “slow food” and healthy eating, don’t mention to anyone that I named my dog after junk food.
The ranchette has a large back yard where the dogs can play, running and chasing rabbits, and the front yard affords plenty of room for a chicken coop along with predator proof pen (I continue to hope) and free range chicken garden behind a picket fence. I tend a flock of five hens who provide fresh eggs and hours of enjoyment watching them scratch and listening to their clucking and cooing. There is an extra horse stall that would be perfect for a couple of goats to bunk in and entertain us all and I long for their assistance weed eating. But so far, I haven’t been able to figure out how to easily and economically goat proof the horse fence around the paddock much less the pasture. I understand that goats are escape artists and I certainly would not want them scrambling under the fence on the busy road that runs along the back pasture or on the north side where they would probably enjoy munching on my neighbor’s rose garden.
I call my place the Double D Ranchette for several reasons. It’s named after my Andalusian, Don Diego, who I call DD, the Double D brand of women’s western wear clothing that I love, and the size of a certain article of clothing that in olden days was “unmentionable” but happens to be my size. Oops, that may be too much information.
Thoreau gave up his original farm idea for a cabin in the woods because he wanted to live free and uncommitted. I can attest to the fact that farm life, even on a small scale, is based on commitment and definitely limits leisure and travel time. Animals need feeding and turn out at certain times of day, usually two, often three. Dogs need to be let out and taken on walks. Gardens need to be watered, grass mowed, weeds wacked and pulled, trees and shrubs pruned, flowers tended. In summer, though I am grateful to have ditch water irrigation, I have to be at home three times a week at certain times to manually turn the pump on and off at assigned hours. The timing has to be exact or else the neighborhood pond pump goes down. There are hours involved in repairing broken irrigation sprinkler heads and underground water lines.
It is astonishing how much poop management a small farm can generate. I haul as much as 100 pounds of horse manure in a cart each day to the compost pile and scoop that many pounds of wet shavings from their stalls into bins that become so heavy they are nearly impossible to push. There are cat boxes and the chicken coop to clean out and doggy poo to gather like Easter eggs from the back yard.
There are dog and horse sitters to be found (not always easy), trained, and paid. Scheduling the sitters, who have classes and jobs to juggle, and explaining the multitude of tasks to them plus the pre-trip prep filling of water troughs, buckets, and bowls and such before leaving town, as well as catching up upon return home, are exhausting tasks.
Why do you do it, my friends often ask.
I love my animals and get to ride tractors, I try to explain as their eyes glaze over. On cool spring and summer mornings, I can drink my coffee in the secret garden, a sacred space I created behind the giant Colorado blue spruce, sitting in my Adirondack chair next to where the horses live. If you want to witness contentment, and be content, listen to the soft sound of a horse munching hay.
In the fall, I sip wine by the toasty blaze of a fire pit, gazing at colorful sunsets turning the sky to striated shades of orange and red before sinking below the horizon at the base of the mountains. When the winter chill sets in, I move inside for my Vielle Ferme (Old Farm) cote du rhone by the fireplace with the dogs curled up at hearth on linen cushions that are remnants of my Southern sofa before I re-covered it in Western cowhides.
I watch the horses grazing in the pasture while I am eating on my deck and patio as well as through windows when I must be inside the house. I can see them while I am cooking in the kitchen, reading in the bedroom, entertaining dinner guests in the dining room, and at my computer or notebook in my office. Sigh. Does it get any better than this? These are daily meditative moments of being.
I wish, like Thoreau, to live deliberately. I would add to strive for a life of beauty and truth. To be out in nature. To have passion for what is meaningful to me: horses and dogs, gardening, cooking, and eating.
If I may quote from a very wise, contemporary novelist, short story and essay writer, Annie Proulx (Brokeback Mountain and The Shipping News), in a 2018 interview in the Washington Post, “I feel sorry and urgency about the state of the natural world,” she said. “So many extinctions loom, so much plastic chokes the waters, so many stars are blotted out by light pollution, so many birds have flown into oblivion. I sometimes ask friends who are passionate about the natural world how they manage to stave off grief at the visible decline of a world we took for granted only a few decades ago. The consensus is to keep working in personal ways to protect what we still have, through citizen science or private behavior.”
I cannot say it better than Ms. Proulx. If I can do my part, no matter how small, by taking care of, living with, and learning to communicate with animals; growing a little food organically; working to conserve; trying to live as sustainably as I can, cooking and eating “good” food, that is “slow food” not “fast food”, then maybe, just maybe I can add to the contributions of others to save our planet, one individual at a time.