Poker Face

For a week we’ve had a deep, sick feeling growing in our bellies. Forecasts grew steadily more ominous, the atmosphere still sweltering – as it has been since June – suddenly became thick with the anticipation of weather. Gelatinous, almost. By Thursday we had to push the air away, it was palpable. Something was brewing. Something was coming. Something was spinning and growing and ready to spit fury just off the coast that sits some 120 miles to the south.

I’ve been afraid of weather since I can remember, probably because I’m from Texas and have the misfortune of an elephant’s memory. At the age of five I distinctly remember the lights in kindergarten blinking, then dying as a storm thrashed against the little school house windows. Even at that tender age I read the expressions of fear in my teachers’ eyes as they ushered us into a hallway, whispered prayers under their breath. I remember their hands trembling as a tornado touched down nearby. The sound of silence followed by chaos still resonates. I listen for it every spring. Life here is organized around the seasons and their various forms of fury. We accept this when we agree to either move or stay here. It’s a pact with the devil: you let us remain in this arguably still unsettled pocket of humanity that juts its chest out alongside the Mexican border – not entirely an American state – not entirely its own nation – but with the firm belief it has the right to claim autonomy (despite our proclivity and constant need for federal aid. Ahem..). Even those of us who rage against the conservative independence that thrives here feel our blood course to the tune of “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You.” We can’t help it. It’s a drug in the water. It’s a scent on the breeze. It’s the vast expanse, the big (big) skies, the rough terrain, the rivers, the cattle, the nachos, the Lone Star. It is Us. It is Ours. It is Texas.

I was born here, I’m no transplant, although every summer and in the depths of tornado season, I threaten to pull up my thorny mesquite roots and leave – an empty threat because this is home. This is home. For better or worse.

Right now it’s 8:15 pm on Aug. 27, 2017. 48 hours after a Category 4 hurricane slammed into a beautiful town on the gulf coast. 120 miles inland, it took the hurricane several hours to reach us and throughout the day yesterday the approach of this monster was evident as band after band after band of rain and wind grew stronger and steadier. By midnight the wind howled and the ancient elms that encircle our home thrashed and whipped against the windows. Within this historically unsteady atmosphere in central TX, at the convergence of west and east and south and north – we are no strangers to weather. But this..this..unyielding rain – the intermittent tropical storm gusts that refuse to leave – this is something else. The monster has parked just south of us, spinning and refueling from the coast, dumping more and more moisture over this region of the state. Tonight the windows are still pelted, and we’ve got towels shoved against them to keep the rain out. 48hours later. They’re forecasting, in the best circumstance, another week of this water.

Years ago I would have spent this solemn Sunday curled on the couch around a warm beverage, watching movies and the news. Wearing pajamas from dusk to dawn. But I decided to dispose of those luxuries when I bred my first goats and asked them to produce milk for me. Asked them to keep those udders full every day for 10 months each year. In trade, I agreed to milk them twice daily – no matter what. No matter what. It was a marriage contract, really. In sickness and health – til death do us part. Normally it feels less dramatic, this agreement we made with each other. It’s a chore that is, actually, the backbone of the business I’m trying to germinate. Right now – as the rain pelts sideways so it cuts (my arms bled last night on my walk home from the dairy) – it’s no chore. It’s a promise I am keeping. Right now – when I peel myself off the couch, force my body out of shelter into wind that’s got trees bent horizontal – it’s a duty I am fulfilling. Keeping the barn dry, the feeders full of fresh hay. It’s the best I can do. I’m doing my best.

With that said: I will not for a single moment exaggerate our suffering. We are not suffering, not even a little. We have power, we are above water. Our animals are dry, our water is clean, our walls are standing – our roof is solid. I am beyond any words for the millions whose situation is much, much more serious. And for the farmers in south east Texas and those on the coastal bend – the men and women who huddled over their herds and crops – watched them disintegrate and disappear. For you, I am weeping and speechless. Your heart is our heart and our heart is Texas – with all of its enormous faults. And enormous beauty.

On Friday evening we took the herd for a walk in the woods. I called it “the last supper” since the forecast warned it would be the last dinner out for our herd for a week. Maybe for weeks. The irony was tangible that after so many months of heat too intolerable to allow us to venture out, our first brief moments of reprieve came only hours before the bottom would fall out. Even then, in the calm of that evening, the clouds to the south moved fast and were attached to the outer bands rolling in. I was nauseous with worry that night, sipping my yeti filled with bourbon, but I leaned into a goat and wore my best poker face against what was coming. It’s what we do here. Paw at the ground, heads down, dig in, brace for impact. For all of you Texas farmers in the path of Harvey – you, like me, knew the risks, took the same solid vow to protect our stock and to show up – despite the weather. In solidarity, I send you all the strength I can spare, and I know no matter the outcome, you’ll return to your roots – wherever they land – digging into this Texas soil that inexplicably keeps us coming back, keeps us here. Stay strong.



Dairy, Goats, Motivation