Before the land, I had only a vague understanding of the meaning of “equity.” It was a nebulous concept, something about investments of some sort, definitely monetary, and far beyond my meager participation in the country’s economy. Back then I was still thumbing my way through graduate school catalogs deciding what courses to enroll in that may (or may not, depending) plunge us further into debt. Equity had nothing to do with me. Maybe it never would.
5-10 years later, relative to wherever this trajectory derives, I found myself standing by the side of a busy intersection just at the western edge of Austin where the city officially becomes hill country, and people jam up in long, hot traffic lines to either squeeze their way out of, or in to, the city. It was at precisely this spot, where one highway splits into two, that Buster the busted farm truck busted his brake fluid line yesterday. The brakes got mushy, and Jer carefully eased us into a grassy median. This is annoying under any circumstance but particularly frustrating since Buster was hauling precious cargo: a bull calf headed home to our farm. One of the only things worse than being stranded is being stranded with livestock in a metal trailer. On a hot day. I kicked a tire once then sighed heavily as Jer took a few deep breaths and ticked off the names of people who might help. “Your parents?” he said. “Their small truck isn’t strong enough,” I shot back. “My parents?” He responded, “They. Are. Out. Of. Town, ” I retorted, my voice punctuated by angry hunger (or “hangry,” if you’re in a hurry). He paused momentarily, then: “Dwayne. I will call Dwayne.” Of course he would because Dwayne, or Dee-you-wayne, our deeply Texan neighbor who has been firmly rooted in our farm story since Day 1, has served as our knight in shining armor on countless occasions. Or maybe our knight on a chocolate brown quarter horse, or on an ATV or – in this case – a knight in a glossy black truck.
One phone call later, and we were assured that Dwayne was on his way, 30+ miles across town, ready to attach the trailer with bull onto his truck and haul us back home. Dwayne’s truck was visible 40 minutes later in a long line where the intersection Y’s and bottlenecks. I jumped up and down waving, indifferent to the countless pairs of eyes already staring at the boot clad couple standing alongside a busted truck and trailer on the side of the road. He tipped his head in hello back at me, cowboy style. And within 10 minutes we were hitched to his truck and pointed east towards home. The moment we unloaded, Jeremy and Dwayne swapped the livestock trailer for the flatbed and turned back west to pick up the truck. Hours later, they were home with Buster. Dwayne had sacrificed more than half his day to help. (Are you hearing the faint notes of “That’s What Friends are For” wafting in the background yet? Yea, me too.). Dwayne: the cowboy with no cows who uses the word “interstate” for “internet”, who calls me “darlin’ ,” who famously helped save our cow back in the very, very beginning, who shows up just when things look bleak. As he says, “I ain’t your family, but I’m your neighbor, and that’s sure as shit nearly the same thing.”
We sat on the porch last night with some wine. It was silent between us, as it often is after days like this, when we allow the enormity of whatever recent drama just ended to seep in slowly through the pores, to find its way into memory, sear deep, become catalogued alongside all the other stories we’ve collected. The pasture, once a dense jumble of forest, cactus, wild beasts and trash, is clear now and open after years’ worth of afternoons with a chainsaw and tractor. The pond is finally visible from the porch, no longer shrouded in cedar trees and Devil’s vine, allowing the frog song to ring shrill up at the house from sun-up to sun down, punctuated only by the low and lonely whippoorwill. My own stupidity hit me then, just then, when the first whippoorwill of this season called out, that song I wait for every April.
This is equity, you dummy.
This view, this sweat we dropped down onto feral soil where grass now grows, this porch we have cried on (and about) for so many nights. And Dwayne’s presence in our lives, the fact he answers his phone when we call. The friendship equity Jer cashed in, the same favors they’ve been swapping for years. In good time, this one will be returned, too.
A friend wrote recently who underwent some farm drama of her own and, in relaying the experience stated, “Everything that costs us energy or spirit or money or heart gives us equity.” Here, I’ve found a definition for that word which is poorly articulated in dictionaries – the invaluable, immeasurable, intangible currency of experience and relationships. Last night, we felt rich.