Morning starts with the quiet “click, click, click” of eight paws marching through the great room, down the hall and into the bedroom. The clicking stops long enough for two air sniffs and then usually a sneeze; Winston’s version of surveying a situation. By this time, I’m awake and know exactly the view that will greet me when I finally pop open my right eye; a dog nose shoved under the pillow and pointed at my face. Only two weeks now that we’ve been staying there more than our old house and the two boys already have a solid routine. Just when the sun starts to warm the eastern sky, they’re both up and clicking down the hall to wake me for their morning constitutional. Winston always draws the short straw, so Romeo gets to wait at the bedroom door while the oversized labrador wakes me. There are worse ways to meet a new day.
Despite our many nights spent in the new house, it’s not yet (even close to being) finished. As suspected, doing finish-out work is labor intensive, painful, and not for the impatient. There’s been broken tile, ill-fitting pipes, electrical disasters, and lots of bourbon. The radio silence on our end is due to pure exhaustion since the end of each weekday is spent knee-deep in mortar and IKEA cabinetry. We also don’t have internet there yet and finding a good solution is tricky in those parts. We’re working on it.
We’re working on a lot of things at the moment.
But the rewards for this work are plenty. What we do have is hot water, toilets, a kitchen island (with a sink!), refrigerator, some lighting, and the blessed wood stove. On clear nights we can see the stars blink through the upper windows when sitting in the great room. And in the morning the birds dive and swoop outside our windows onto the forest. Free cable television at its finest. We’re learning more about the neighbors, too. The good and the bad. For example: You burn perished animals out here, apparently, if you don’t have the money or equipment to properly haul or bury; a fact that shocked us at the sight of a dead steer laying amidst a burn pile on our property line. We discovered that fences are mere suggestions of boundary lines when new neighbors emerged from the woods with yellow spray paint, claiming their lines a few feet past our fence. These aren’t negative realizations so much as a growing awareness of this new life that’s coming, whether or not we’re ready. In some ways, it’s easier to focus on tile and lights. That’s tangible stuff we understand and can manage. The country beyond our porches has its own set of laws we’re just learning.
Last night we sat on the front porch with my in-laws, each of us covered in varying degrees of mortar dust, tile chips, and plumbing glue. We grasped our respective glasses of drink and stared out into the pasture, lit deep blue in the cloudy night. My mother-in law remarked how nice it will be to someday spend our evenings on this porch with nothing left to do, or nothing needed to be done. And it occurred to me that “nothing left to do” is a luxury we left behind somewhere in 2008. Back when we bought the parcel. This land is no one’s burden but our own, and we took it on (blindly), but willingly. So it’s not a complaint but observation that when you choose the country, you’re choosing work. Or a life filled with grit. You’re choosing three more steps for tasks that usually require one in the city.
As our Austin house slowly empties I feel a shift. All the things that have collected here over the course of almost a decade seem like remnants of our past selves. I look for clues among the piles of stuff we’ve accumulated. Something to indicate that we were destined for this path. Some assurance that it’s worth it. Then I spend one fine morning in a dew-dropped pasture listening to a nest of baby foxes down the hill, watching a donkey herd graze. We signed up for a life of fixing. Fixing the house, fixing the hay ring, fixing a mesquite thorn poked tire, and fixing fences. Although I can’t find words to articulate why, I do have every confidence: