There are ice crystals blanketing everything and the water troughs are frozen, except for those that we have put heaters in. The world is quiet and the animals huddle, waiting for their breakfast. The pups have just come back from their patrol. It’s been very quiet the past several nights, unlike a few weeks ago when we heard coyotes everywhere. The Maremmas have been busy keeping everything at bay so our little band of sheep and goats can venture out safely.
There is a new couple on the ranch. He is a trapper and carpenter by trade. He has been helping reduce the unusually high coyote population. Bruno was late coming home one morning. That is because an old horse was humanely destroyed out on the ranch and that drew lots and lots of coyotes. The coyotes drew Bruno. Because the coyotes were all around, Cletus stayed with the sheep and did not know Bruno ventured out alone to run off the intruders and got caught in the trap. The guy felt just awful about it. Bruno allowed the guy to free him but wasn’t about to get in his truck. He came to get us and Randyman took me a couple miles down the road to where Bruno was limping along next to the guys wife. They are very nice people and had no idea the pups would range that far. I don’t believe they normally do, but that is where the threat was. Bruno is none the worse for wear, his foot was swollen and sore, but he went to work that night. The guy has since moved all his traps further to the south and across the road at the base of the mountains. Bruno seems to have things back under control again. I have heard no coyotes and very little barking, which means, nothing has been crossing their perimeter. I am grateful I have socialized these dogs to the point I have. Being as remote as we are, human predators are not a concern for us. Had I not introduced Bruno to this guy the night before, the chances are much higher that Bruno would have been more seriously injured. As it is, these dogs are intelligent enough to make good judgement calls.
The chickens are fluttering around in their run, waiting for me to set them free. I throw them a large chunk of cheese that wasn’t up to par. Most of my hard cheeses have not been what I had hoped, I think because of the trouble I am having controlling temps. Once making Christmas gifts are not taking up so much of my time I will go back to making cheese. At least the dogs and chickens are happy with my failures. There are 12 gallons of milk in the fridge again, and 9 that I have to skim heavy cream off of. That will give me another gallon and a half of heavy whipping cream to make butter, or ghee or whatever. Its good to know that Emma will continue to gift us with this, until we dry her off, next May. There are several cartons of fresh eggs in the extra fridge, as the little hens are giving me 4-5 a day even in this cold weather. I can’t eat store bought eggs anymore. The watery whites, weak shells and anemic looking yolks just have to stay on the plate, as I cannot choke them down anymore. There is no flavor to them. I thank my God for the opportunity to eat fresh food, as there are many who are not so fortunate.
Being here, hours from people, without pavement, cars, sirens, the need to lock everything, complaining neighbors, competition, consumerism and claustrophobia that comes from being in crowded conditions with horizon to horizon concrete buildings is a relief I cannot even begin to express. To enjoy all that nature has to offer in this place, watching a hawk lazily riding the air currents, rising higher and higher, watching the quail grow from fuzzy little marbles with legs to full grown fat, sassy birds with their little floppy topknots, to see the grass go through its changing of seasons, from brilliant green to tawny gold, watching birds like the trumpeter swans, the egrets, the Canadian honkers, and a myriad of others come and go, is an immense gift. Being able to ride out on the ranch and see the deer and antelope grazing alongside cattle, waking up to see big bucks and does cleaning up the fallen apples on the lawn next to the house, having the time to ponder the shape of the puffy clouds and watch the lightening that splits the sky over and over, these are the things that make up the rhythm of my life. Listening to the music of the milking machine or a stream of goatmilk pinging the bottom of my steel bucket, raucious bird calls, the snorting of horses or the egg song of a hen are some of the melodies that carry me through a day.
I skim the cream from 9 gallons of milk and gather half a dozen fresh eggs from the coop. I crack one in the pan and it looks nothing like a commercial egg. The yolk is bright orange and stands up tall, with a white that does not spread. It's flavorful and I appreciate having them. I cut out the biscuits made with buttermilk left over from making butter of EmmaLou's cream. They rise up flakey and soft and my mouth waters, thinking of the just made butter and homemade apricot jam that I will smother them with. After milking and cleaning up, I toss in a load of laundry and wash it with a mix made with my own soap. It's lightly scented of lavender and makes a monotonous chore more palatable. I visit with the Maremma pups and they fawn over me as if they've not seem me for ages. Christmas cookies are ready to come out of the oven. Hopefully someone makes a trip to town soon, as I am out of ingredients to make the next batch.
I have to decide on something for dinner and gaze at the venison, homegrown chicken, beef and lamb in the freezer. I settle on a roast from last years spring lamb.
I put potatoes in with it and the smell of fresh garlic and rosemary permeate the air and stimulate my appetite. A loaf of fresh, hot bread and green beans will finish off the meal and we will be well fed and sated as the sun disappears from the horizon. I feel a warmth envelope me, like all is right with my world...and it is.
It's like having a foot in paradise.