Like a soap bubble happiness eluded me.
Shimmering and floating always beyond my grasp
Reaching to touch it only to have it burst as if to say
Not for you.
I saw it everywhere in the faces of others
Believing they found the key to unlock its door
Peering closer I saw they, too, found it impossible to catch
They could not help me.
I grew weary. Finally I let it go.
Only to have it sneak up on me.
Wrapping its arms around me with the scent of a citrus breeze
Cascading its light down mountain flanks to pool at my feet
Serenading me with birdsong, vermillion notes dripping like rain
Upon fields of purple lupines and desert cotton.
With every breath I take it in, filling body and soul
A sensual serenity smoothing the corners of my heart
Into a circle of contentment that grows larger every day.
Now I know it was here all along.
Stair climbing, running, biking…none of these cardio workouts can compare to chasing cows! It’s a showdown between me and six head of cattle and one little calf. The darn things sneak onto the property and drop their calling cards everywhere. Meeting planning used to be one of my corporate responsibilities and I often went on site inspections in search of the perfect places for meetings. Now I am on the other side of the coin, encouraging potential clients to come out to the ranch and conduct their event here. My experience is my competitive advantage. I see the ranch as if I were the client, noticing the little things that can make or break a booking. Today I have a site inspection scheduled at noon. For me, cow pies are a deal breaker. I’m a one-woman show here so I spent the morning walking around with a rake and wheelbarrow, scooping up cow manure.
India is not the only land that holds cows sacred. Arizona does too. It is open range here. That means if you don’t want cattle wandering onto your property it is your responsibility to fence them out. The cattle rancher is within his rights to allow his animals to wander at will and on anyone’s property. This is a mystery to me. I know people in the canyon who threaten to shoot dogs, horses, hunters and hikers for trespassing. But the cows rule. When David bought the ranch it was enclosed with a barbed wire fence. It made him feel closed in so he took most of it down much to the delight of the cows.
The first morning I woke to find a big white face looming in my bedroom window I whooped with delight. It reminded me of childhood vacations on my Aunt Nell’s and Uncle Ed’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. The dairy cows were docile creatures that followed a strict but leisurely routine. After a five a.m. milking in the big barn, the cows were herded across the road to the fenced in pasture. Twelve hours later, the dogs rounded them up and herded them back to the barn for the second milking of the day. It was a huge operation. Stall after hay filled stall bordered the center concrete walkway on both sides, names painted above each stall. Aunt Nell and Uncle Ed knew each and every cow by name, but what amazed me more than that is the cows knew their stalls. As a kid I wondered if the cows could secretly read, at least enough to recognize their names.
I never went to the morning milking. I would hear the cows mooing in the pre-dawn dark as Uncle Ed and my cousin Peter walked out of the farm house swinging lanterns to light their way to the barn. Often my dad would join them and we kids would be welcome as well, but I always snuggled deeper under the goose down quilt to wait for the sun. After milking the cows went out to pasture and it was our opportunity to explore the barn. The hay scented the air with warmth and crunched like dried leaves under our feet. Although it was an old fashioned wooden barn the operation was mechanized. Tubing and air lines ran from each stall for the milking machines. Big round canisters with long tubes that suctioned onto the cows’ teats replaced the old milk pail. I never tired of poking around the barn, but the cow pen was a different story. It was full of sloppy wet greenish brown cow pies. Uncle Ed and Peter didn’t give it a second thought, walking through the cow pies in their black rubber boots, slapping cows on the rump to get them to move. They teased us to come help but there was no way I would ever step into that stinky cow pen.
I didn’t like the cow pies then and I’m not fond of them now. The cattle are grazing on the other side of the creek on Steve and Jane’s property. They watch me, waiting for me to disappear into the singlewide so they can make their move. I see the horses looking over the northwest corner of the corral and I know the cows are here. I walk outside and start yelling but they ignore me until I draw close and wave my arms. They shuffle off a little way then stop, calling my bluff. That’s when I start to run.
“Git! Git! Go on!” I run and shout, waving my arms.
The cattle leap into a gallop, their hooves sound like rubber mallets on the dirt. The horses, seeing the cattle run, begin to gallop around their corral whinnying good-bye. The cattle splash into the creek and run up the bank. Satisfied, I retreat to the singlewide feeling accomplished. I pour a glass of water and look out the window defeated. The cows are back.
The pot was boiling over! I ran to the stove, whipped the lid off the pot, turned down the heat and began to stir. I managed to bring the pot under control. It is my first experience cooking tepary beans, a staple of the Tohono O’odham Nation. All the locals encourage cooking with indigenous plants. I have prickly pear syrup and mesquite syrup in the fridge, mesquite flour in the pantry and now tepary beans. The bag of beans was given to me by Muffin Burgess, a local ethnobotanist. She and her colleague Pam Hyde Nakai were here last week leading a group in the harvesting of desert plants for medicinal and food purposes. They gifted me a bag of beans for cooking, a bag of tepary bean seeds, lemon basil hydrosol and a tin of larrea salve mixed with jojoba and beeswax.
I searched for tepary bean recipes online and learned a few things about teparies, primarily that they are desert beans that do well in drought conditions. They are tough little beans of high fiber density and therefore take a long, long time to cook. Last night I put the beans in a pot full of water and left them to soak overnight. This morning the beans were plump but as I dumped them into the colander to rinse them they pinged telling me they were still a bit hard. I picked one up and was surprised. It seemed a bit tough.
I did not have the proper ingredients for any one particular online recipe so decided to improvise. I always ad lib when I cook and I haven’t died yet so felt confident I could make a decent bean soup or stew. Starting with a basic recipe for black bean soup, I sautéed onions, garlic and red peppers, added a can of plum tomatoes, some sausage and spices. Then I added in a few extras like a jar of salsa and vegetable broth instead of water. After turning down the heat I tasted a spoonful of beans but they were still tough. I am still not used to this electric range and it takes time for the heat to adjust. I dumped in some more liquid and replaced the lid. These beans are taking a long time to cook. I wish I had a crock pot.
As a kid I was not too fond of beans. I ate my green beans but if kidney beans or lima beans showed up on the table I resisted. Whenever we had the occasional pot of chili, I discretely pushed the kidney beans to the side. The food on our table growing up was a fusion of Mediterranean and Polish cooking so eating beans was never really an issue. As an adult I originally followed my family’s footsteps when it came to cooking. One Sunday afternoon, my mother-in-law wanted to go to a place called White Fence Farm, a huge family run restaurant out in Joliet Illinois with rooms and rooms of dining and a turn of the century museum. The menu is all things chicken and the side dishes are served family style. As soon as you are seated the waitress brings out relishes including a three bean salad.
“Eeeewwww! What is that stuff?” The kids’ reaction secretly mirrored my own. But when you are a mom, you have to set a good example.
“That is three bean salad.” Gram said. “It is good for you and tastes good too. You should try it.”
“I’m not eating it.” Chorused the kids.
“Well, I’ll try it.” I bravely said as I placed a small scoop on my plate.
I tried a forkful. It was good! I ate my scoop and, picking up the dish of three bean salad I politely passed it around the table. It went from person to person until it ended up back in my hand. Since there were no takers and as it was a small dish, I put the rest of it on my plate. Suddenly I was hooked on beans.
When I discovered I was gluten and lactose intolerant, I was angry. I didn’t want to give up the foods I loved….bread, chocolate chip cookies, and biscotti. Oh, what I would do for a biscotti with my cup of tea. I never was much for dunking an oreo cookie in milk, but a hot cup of apricot tea with almond biscotti is heavenly comfort.
Pizza was the Friday night dinner for as long as I can remember, until I could no longer eat the crust or the cheese. Gluten free pizza dough is possible but not very good. I was forced to try and find new food favorites. Vegetarian cookbooks and recipes were better suited to my dietary restrictions and although I did not give up meat, I began cooking more and more vegetarian meals. Black bean chilaquile, bean soups, refried beans…. I have come to enjoy beans in all forms and they are now a staple in my pantry. So I was game for trying tepary beans.
While waiting for the beans to cook I went back online to look into the symbolism of beans. I discovered beans symbolize embryos and growth. Beans are symbols of the reincarnation of the souls of the dead. How appropriate. During the days that Muffin and her group were here at the ranch, I spent my days spreading compost and turning the garden. On the last day, Muffin came to me with the bag of bean seeds. Together we went to the east end of the garden. Kneeling down, we drew a small circle in the soft earth about two feet in diameter.
“We ask the Great Spirit to bless this soil. We offer our deepest gratitude for this rich earth, the warmth of the sun, the cool water and these seeds which hold the promise of abundance. We offer our gratitude to you, Great Spirit, for nourishing our spirit, our minds, and our bodies. With these seeds we plant our hopes and dreams.”
We planted our seeds on the circumference of the circle, placing each seed about an inch into the warm brown soil, covering them gently. It seemed to me that ancient spirits were at our side smiling.
“Take these seeds to plant the rest of your garden.” Muffin smiled. “And this bag of beans is yours to cook. I hope you enjoy them.”
I checked the pot. I don’t know whether to call my creation tepary bean soup or stew but after three hours, I decided the beans were finally done. I scooped some in a bowl and went outside. I sat on the deck, watching the horses, eating my lunch and grateful for the goodness in my bowl.
Raining again, flooding again, stuck again. It’s to the point that it’s become routine. Blame it on El Nino, but it really doesn’t matter. It is what it is. Most people in the canyon live on the west side of the creek, the side the road is on. But there are a few of us who live on the east side, the folks at Aravaipa Farms, Charlie and Jeau and me. Aravaipa Farms is a family owned bed and breakfast operation. There are at least three people there at all times. Charlie and Jeau have two things going for them. They have each other and they do have a back road that, although it’s primitive, they can take it to get to Mammoth in an emergency. As for me, I am alone. I am the one person in the canyon who is completely isolated when the waters rise. I have no back road.
A few people called to give me pep talks.
“Hang in there.”
“You’re safe and in a beautiful place.”
“It could be worse. You could still be in Chicago buried in snow.”
“It won’t rain forever.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all this stuff. I also know it takes sheer force of will to keep my spirits up and I am determined to do that.
Each morning I get up around 6:15 a.m., the time that Kitty’s belly tells her it’s time for breakfast. After I feed her I shower and wash my hair. I blow my hair dry and then curl it so it looks decent. After I dress I put on a pair of small earrings. Even though I won’t see anyone, it makes me feel better to be clean and neat. I eat a good breakfast. I check the online site for the latest water update and check the weather. Then I shut down and meditate for an hour before I start the day’s work. I do these things for me. They keep me sane while I wait out the flood waters.
From time to time it can still be hard to stay positive and focused. Sometimes I feel trapped. And so today, as I listened to the creek rumbling by and the rain splattering on the roof, I decided a rampage of appreciation was in order.
I am grateful for:
· How green the landscape has become.
· The desert flowers that are on the verge of blooming.
· The garden which is ready for planting.
· The herbs I planted in pots last week are thriving.
· The cottonwoods and how they grace the banks of the creek.
· The mist on the mountain.
· The sun when it peeks through.
· The little bird sitting outside the window.
· The fact that we haven’t lost power!
· The ever changing music of the water.
· No need to wash the car.
· The folks who call to check on me.
· The pleasant temperatures.
· The loss of control. Surrendering to the fact that I am not in control is a relief.