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Well, not many people would call Santa Fe “the city”, but when comparing to Taos, it feels that way to me.

I had an allergy testing appointment – one of those FUN ones with a total of 76 individual pricks over both forearms and biceps. And then the nurse says “DO NOT SCRATCH!!!” And, as my arms felt like they were covered with 50,000 crawling ants, with welts popping up like prairie dogs, that warning made me want to punch… something! Good thing she was so sweet. So I sat there in the testing room, reading my book on how to run a small goat dairy, after being hastily hooked up to oxygen when they feared I was going into anaphylactic shock. I was starving for something green. I was not allowed to eat ANYTHING with Vitamin C in it for 3 full days prior, as Vitamin C can mask the histamine response to an allergy, subsequently giving false negative results. That means no fruits and no vegetables. It was almost funny, except it wasn’t. So when I wasn’t reading about lactation curves, and getting a high off the O2, I was fantasizing about the trough of salad I was going to have in just a few… more… minutes.

I arrived at the restaurant, excited to have lunch with my new friend. She is a wonderful woman who has a heart the size of the state of Texas she hails from. She arrived with an ear to ear grin, even more beautiful than when I first met her last fall – outside AND in. Being with her is akin to being washed from head to toe with love, acceptance, and appreciation. Is there anyone who can’t use a dose of those? We had lots to talk about over soup, salad, and a hot chai for me. In the parking lot I passed off her delivery: goat milk, goat kefir, kefir grains, goat chevre, olive bruschetta, and 1 doz eggs. My second ever goat product sale! And I drove reluctantly away, with my back seat full of generous gifts for the family, and my heart even fuller from her presence.

It was a good thing she had filled me up with positive energy, because I was heading for the emotional dungeon….

Disney World. Or at least that is what a mall feels like to me. But I had been forced into it – I had to buy new bras. I am embarrassed to admit I was still subsisting off the same two nursing bras I had bought 3 years ago, and my daughter had been weaned for 6 months! Not only were these 2 archeological antiquities threadbare, they were WAY too big now. Imagine a pair of hammocks with tiny, limp, water balloons hiding in the depths of each, swinging glumly, side by side, a bit like Eyore’s tail. Breast feeding is hard on a woman’s body image, I’ll tell you! As I pulled into a parking space I thought back to Hazelnut’s shriveled, pendulous teats this morning as I walked away with my  milking pail a 1/3 full. The resemblance was uncanny. Except for the hair (thank god). But my mama friend told me I probably needed to be measured as I would be a totally different size by now (Size F – for Flaccid), and this was the only place I knew to go for this demeaning task. I might even prefer a mammogram. Because I was now walking, al beit with extreme difficulty, toward THAT store! You know… THAT ONE! The dreaded VICTORIA’S SECRET! And I can tell you what her secret is too: 10% of the female population, or less, can actually wear the bras in this store! HA! And guess where my water balloons fall on that statistic? (yes, down to my belly button – I know, I know!)

I was cranky with anticipation, so the store barely had a chance. But I walked boldly in, sheilding my eyes from the relentless spread of neon colors, and ignoring my frayed pants hem 3 inches above my sockless shoes. I smelled of goats. I barely cared. I took one lap and headed back out the entrance. There was NOTHING for me in there! Who WERE those mannequins modeled after anyway?? And how many retouches did that poster take? Grrr….. I took a deep breath, pivoted on my dirty heels caked with “nanny berries”, and re-entered, only slightly more composed. I found a sales chick (because I could not have called her a woman) and asked where the non-neon bras were without underwire and push up pads. She said they had two models without underwire and neither were push ups. The “regular” colors (black, white and nude) were in the drawers. She showed me, then pushed a lock of dyed hair from her eye, stiff with a milking pail full of hair gel. They were padded. I explained I did not need a padded bra (nor had I since I’d been 11). She said all their bras were “lined” (as in – with foam). I sighed. She measured me, with my arms outstretched like a sacrificial maiden (and I hoped hysterically that my pits REALLY stank), and gave me several choices to try. Again I heaved a sigh. When asked how the bras were fitting, I unabashedly opened the dressing room door, grabbed a pinch full of loose skin from the sides of the bra cups, lifted them up in synch, and said, “Not very well.” I saw the girl glance instead at my arms which were riddled with what appeared to be track marks of an intravenous drug user. “Allergy testing”, I said and smiled. She smiled back. One look at my country mouse farm clothes was all it took to convince her of the truth. I probably didn’t look like I’d been “shooting up” with my morning coffee.

So I said a grouchy farewell to Disney World and drove out through the maze of parking, still wearing my boob-beaten, sweat filled bra, feeling like a little test mouse in a research maze. Mini Mouse perhaps? And the further away I got from the neon pink thong bikinis and neon green pushup bras, the better I felt. I headed north, deciding what I might need to fully return myself to my former dignity. Hmmm… perhaps a quick stop at Home Depot to fondle some power tools? Some heavy petting with the coveted Dewalt table saw? Naw, I didn’t have the guts to get across the 6 lanes of traffic in time. Then my steering wheel started pulling to the right… HARD. Whoa! Right into the Toyota dealership! Time to drool over some Tundra trucks I guess. I asked for my favorite salesman, a 6′-5″ Isreali who had changed his name to Aspen Leaf after immigrating. One of my favorite past times is picking on him until he cracks a smile. I’ve bought 3 Toyotas from him trying. But Aspen was not in and there were no used crew cab Tundras.

The only thing still missing was my always dependable Attitude Adjuster (nope, not the margarita – I was still driving). CHOCOLATE! So back on the road to figure out where that fancy pants chocolate store was. The 18′ stretch limo parked in back clued me in. I slowly sipped my Havana Rum hot chocolate back to my Happy Place as I read about manger designs and how to trim a hoof correctly. Ahh. In my body once more. Time to head home.

A fierce windstorm buffeted me violently just north of Espanola, followed by driving rain of a spring squall. But as I enter the Gorge of the Rio Grande, the rain shifted to a gentle drizzle, just enough to keep my intermittent wipers clicking rhythmically across the crack in my windshield. The gorge opened up through Rinconda and the flood plain burst forth with a symphony of greens and pastels! Fruit orchards were heavy with blossom and lilacs flashed past in ice cream colors: lovely lavender, very berry and violent violet! Spreading, long leaf willows struggled to release new leaflets from their winter bondage. Purple catkins drooped heavily from the stately cottonwoods that marched along the river bank. In another week or two they would release their namesake fluff on the wind to go forth and propagate. Then the walls closed back in and I happily dodged fallen rocks while watching the sinuous Rio wind it’s way up the rift of shiny, black basalt. As a rainbow appeared from behind a tall cliff, I was overcome with a feeling of expansive gratitude. OK, that was hard on my ego, but I am SO thankful to have these 2 teats – I mean breasts – that nurtured my child for 2-1/2 yrs. I am SO thankful to have a husband who loves me whether he finds those breasts at my waist or above it.

And I am SO thankful to have a daughter who will grow up free of the damaging, sexualizing media of television and magazines, reveling in her strong, athletic body, knowing what REAL woman’s bodies REALLY look like.

And believing that every body is perfect…

…just as it is.

Hazelnut and I can relate around REAL mammaries (and daughters).

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I never liked her much, but it seemed like a good… learning opportunity for my almost 3 yr old. I am speaking of my chicken, Gertie. She died last night. It was not particularly tragic, but there was great need for verbal and emotional processing. From Isla anyway. And perhaps from me too. The “Part One” of this story can be read here.

We found her this morning, as I expected, stiff and quite dead where we had left her. Although the “Part One” tells the touching tale of Dot, the caring Americana, who “stood” by Gertie’s death bed, supporting her physically and emotionally through her transition – the rest of the story was slightly less… touching.

Last night I loaded Isla into the back on my back, covered her and me against the wet spring snowstorm, and sloshed out into the dark to “put the chickens to bed”. Of course, the goats now get first priority, especially as Bucky is still being bottle fed. But after the goats were tucked in, we headed to the coop to shut the girls and Little Willie up. And, of course, check on the “almost dead Gertie”. I expected another tender scene of flock devotion for the failing Queen. Instead we found Gertie at the bottom of the coop ramp laying the snow and mud, struggling on her side. Ouch. She was bleeding heavily from her comb. I could only imagine one of the other chickens, perhaps the “next in line”, pecking aggressively at her head as she lay helpless and dying on the floor of the coop. And perhaps Gertie struggled to escape, ending in a tumble out the door and down the ramp. It made us very sad.

We raised the hatch on the “chicken condo”, the screwed on coop addition for our expanding flock, and took a look within. Perfect! Only Rosie, sweet Rosie Livingston Seagull Chicken. She was our first chicken and Gertie was our second. They were fast buds for an entire summer of camping in our yard. Rosie would not harm her. I picked up Gertie tenderly and laid her on the fresh, dry, wood shavings inside the condo, and even turned on the heat lamp. Her legs were already growing stiff. Rosie stood, shifted, and nestled back into the shavings beside her dying, old friend. I believed Gertie would be able to pass into the spirit world safely beside Rosie. I HAD to believe, or I would not sleep. Isla witnessed it all over my shoulder by the light of my headlamp – the Biggest Lesson of all – Life and Death and the harshness of Nature. Farm life never glosses over uncomfortable realities. Farm life never says “Oh it’s OK, they’ll just be happy up in Heaven watching over us.” Life and Death is never… “OK”, it just… IS.

And as we lay in the dark warmth of our down comforter, the processing began. Isla is a BIG verbal processor. We talked and talked about Gertie and her spirit and how her spirit would leave her body behind. We discussed how she would not need her body anymore, and that her spirit would go to the spirit world and be free of her physical body and unencumbered. I told her I felt certain that she would be dead in the morning. We discussed the act of burial. And Isla made the obvious comparison to her own dead brother, Rowan. “Will Gertie’s spirit be with Rowan’s spirit Mama?” “That’s hard to say Sweetie. It’s possible. Chicken spirits and little boy spirits may not go to the same places. Would you like for Gertie and Rowan to be together?” She thought long and hard on that question, but the answer never came. She had finally, gratefully, fallen asleep.

With 6″ of fresh, wet, heavy, spring snow this morning, I thought I would wait until after nap for Gertie’s ceremony. I re-dressed my groggy, cranky toddler at 4:30 PM and we headed out the door in our muck boots for afternoon farm chores. Goats first, then scraps and scratch to the chickens, and collection of eggs (only 4 today instead of the usually 7-8). Then with shovel in hand, I hefted Old Dead Gertie by her legs, and we headed out of our gate and across the trail to the vacant lot to the east. I chose a nice spot next to the acequia and stamped the shovel into the clay. It was a mud fest. The clumps of wet snow had soaked into the earth creating a slick bog that a mud wrestler would envy. I dug and dug, determined to keep the coyotes away from her grave. Isla watched, talked about Gertie, and squished her boots into the mud. I laid our old Matriarch in her grave and explained the process of saying a little something and then sprinkling her body with dirt. After I had my go at a chicken epithet, Isla took the podium: “Gertie, you were a good chicken. I love you.”

We sprinkled our handfuls of dirt over her rust colored feathers, the red clay nearly the same color as her body. Then I began a chant, dredged up from my short stint with Paganism, and as we stomped down the dirt we droned along… “We all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return, like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean.” On and on we chanted and stomped as the newest snow flurry blew in around us from the north. And we continued to sing as we slopped back along the edge of the acequia, kept upright by the shared shovel. Green blades of grass poked up through the remaining clumps of snow, lining the path homeward. Our boots were 5 lbs each by the time we reached the coop again, pausing briefly to grab up the egg basket. These signs of rebirth, these cycles of life, were not lost on me…. spring snow, green grass poking through, eggs, and Easter less than a week away. Life and death are forever inseparable. Our compost pile rots all winter to give us fresh wormy dirt for our spring beds. Gertie will go back to the earth and the same red wigglers that once fed her, will feed on her, leading her slowly and steadily back to the Grand Mother of us all.

We sighed, leaned the shovel against the porch post, kicked off our boots and went back inside.

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It’s Saturday. A not too abnormal Saturday. The 3 of us began to tangle about in the untucked sheets around 6:10 AM. Isla said suddenly and loudly, “Mama, I want to get up!”  Groan. “Soon honey. I am not quite ready.” I mumbled. “Popee, I want to get up!” The sound of “Murph!” issued from the dusky blob on the far side of the bed. The room began to slowly lighten and I heard Little Willie protesting his dawn captivity with a trumpeting crow. “OK Isla, I’m ready.” I said.

We dropped our bare feet onto the floor and pattered through our bathroom routines, Papa on our heels. The tea kettle on, I filled Bucky’s beer bottle of goat milk and settled it into a pot of water on the remaining working stove unit. Randy’s espresso pot waited in line. Tea kettle whistled and the timer went off for the milk. A few minutes later, the espresso hissed to life. I filled the milk crate with the milking pail, a tub of rolled barley and equine pellets (goat kibble), Bucky’s nippled bottle, a small jar of olive oil (teat lube), and a tub of warm water with grapefruit seed extract and rag (teat wash). I was looking forward to when we could move these goat feed bins out of the living room. My pot of green tea slowly steeped. Randy checked email. Isla nibbled on some honey and butter toast. With a contented sigh, I sipped carefully and thankfully from my steamy mug – currently my favorite mug – from an apple orchard in Hancock, NH that I used to visit every fall. My vision began to clear as the dark green, bitter brew infused into my veins. Staring thoughtfully at the spreading green apple tree across the grey ceramic backdrop, I admitted – it’s going to be a busy day…

And so it unfolded….

Randy stepped into the brightening dawn first to open the chicken coop, a fuzzy Isla on his hip, her bed-headed, golden mohawk waving and glowing in the shimmering morning air.

The same 2 family members started some breakfast while I bottle fed Bucky, milked Hazelnut (only 5 cups of milk as Fiona and Bucky were coursing off the milking stand pissing both mamas off to the extreme). As I grumbled and elbowed off another flying kid, I mentally designed the detention pen I would build the next day. Alfalfa flakes and grain were dumped into respected tubs and bowls and 5 gal buckets of water hauled to another tub from a spigot way too far away. Gave the chickens a quick check, topped off their tube of layer mash, checked their water tube (low). Molly leaped repeated beside me, wondering why I didn’t have her lead in my free 7th hand.

We ate a sustaining farm breaky of sausage, fried eggs, toast and sauerkraut. I always prefer a cooked breakfast to cereal and seem to need the protein. And as Randy and Isla headed to the hardware store for lumber and a new faucet, I headed back to the salt mines, I mean apartment, to continue where I had left off cleaning from the 1-1/2hrs of the day before. I cursed. A lot. At least I only needed to walk 4 steps from door to door.

3 hrs later I was done, in more ways than one, and exhausted, and pissed off by the state the tenants had left it in. I felt violated and taken advantage of as we had given them such a killer deal. Lesson number one – nice gals don’t always finish first. I dragged into our half of the house in time to pull bee suit and tools out of the closet. Then Robert, our bagpipping, retired-doctor friend, who is also a beekeeper, arrived in his bright red Madza convertible with bee suit in hand (but no bagpipes I was sad to see). I was thankful for his presence this day. It had been years since I had had a bee mentor and I was delighted to have him agree to be such for me. Of course it had been St. Paddy’s Day, at the local brew pub, and we were drinking…. he was playing bagpipes in full Scottish attire. I reminded him of who I was –  “MacLaren Scott, remember? You played at my wedding. There is my husband Randy over there. Perhaps you’d remember him better if you imagined him on stage, in his skivvies, being “kilted” by my father and 2 brothers, in front of 300 guests at our reception?” But Robert remembered long before I got my story out. I had hoped he hadn’t thought better about our beer induced agreement by today.

But here he was, right on time. We donned suits and fired up my smoker on the back porch. I glanced longingly through the french doors at the hot quesadillas Randy had just set on the table, settled my bee veil and hat on my head, and the 2 of us walked to the hive with my stomach gurgling loudly. We smoked liberally, removed the entrance reducer, and cracked the lid. More smoke. We cracked the inner cover. More smoke. Slowly we removed several frames to find them chocked full of honey… and bees. By that time I was wishing I had brought a large serving spoon with my hive tools. The good news was the bees were fit as a fiddles and had plenty of food. I did not even need to feed them. The hive was full and the colony healthy. Bad news was I didn’t get to steal any honey… yet.

Robert and I chatted as we slowly meandered away from the hive, waiting for the bees to get bored of us and go home. We took a circuitous route as their interest was not waning. While commiserating over all the bear attacks fellow bee keepers have recently been victim to, we were finally able to take off veils and suits, and return for introductions to the kids and Hazelnut. It would seem the bees didn’t recognize us without the white coveralls on. And then a farewell in the driveway which overlapped a hello in the same location with our new apartment guests. As this Canadian couple were our first “official” guests in the apartment, reserved through our airbnb site, I had hoped to make an impression. And I am sure I did – with my half naked child clinging to me like a baby monkey, bee helmut hair sticking out in all directions, stinking of smoke, stomach growling as loud as an attacking bear, and farm clothes covered in milk and little muddy hoof prints. But it wasn’t exactly the impression I was aiming for.

Flustered, I settled the Canadians into the apartment, and returned to our kitchen famished and shaky. I devoured the now cold quesadillas, grateful my hubby had gone all domestic on me this day. Daddy and daughter had laid down for books and quiet time so I crept in stealthily to slip in beside them. “Mama, I don’t want you in bed with us. I just want Papa.” Ouch. “Well dear, it’s my bed as well and I need to rest a bit too, so I AM going to lie down with you.” I slithered between the sheets and drifted to the sounds of Randy reading. Then delightful silence. Ahhhh. 25 minutes later I was done and slipped back out to resume the day.

While Isla napped and Randy surfed, I grabbed the keys and headed out for errands. After restocking the apartment at the natural foods store, I headed to the kitchen store to replace items that had been… trashed. Sigh. Our first unofficial guests had been a definite trial by fire.

Then home again for Bucky’s 4:30ish feeding and evening farm chores. More water, more alfalfa, more grain and kibble, more bottle feeding, and affection to all 3 goats. Isla amused herself in the mud puddle I’d created with the old water I’d poured out of their tub. Randy worked on cutting a hole through the outer fence so we could bring in the new hay bales that had been delivered the day before. We needed to store them properly on pallets beside the goat pen. I had finally resorted to cashing in almost all of my measly IRA in order to stock pile the hay now, before the shortage left my goats with no food. The report from John, who was bucking our bales off the back of his flat bed, was: only one more batch of bales coming, and those would cost $20-$25 a bale! From the goat pen I saw that one of our new guests had found Randy outside and they were chatting by the green stack. I hoped I looked impressive in my Australian fur felt hat lugging a 5 gallon bucket of water through the gate. I was impressed I was still standing at all!

Then back to the chickens with the scrap pan, I scattered scratch on the ground, refilled layer mash, hefted the water tube (noting it would need filling first thing in the morning), and collected eggs. I stooped low to scoop up Little Willie for a few minutes of rooster therapy, convinced this was the key to keeping him gentle. Whenever I thought he was getting too rough with the girls, I would carry him over to the outdoor freezer, open the door and point to what remained of his mean brothers. “Don’t forget Willie. I’m watching you Mister.” But for this therapy session, I simply stroked his shimmering sunset feathers and iridescent green tail. He was a very handsome boy. I hoped he would behave for many years… long enough for generations of little Willies, or preferably Willaminas, to cruise through the sage brush behind their mamas. Time for a quick cuddle with Bobo, my favorite Black Australorp. Then I strolled over to Randy who was chatting now with both guests, swinging the egg basket with confidence. I had a second chance at making a good impression and didn’t want to blow it. Smiling broadly, I offered Connie her pick of 4 fresh eggs, so very glad I had thought to knock the poop off the shells first. She beamed back at me, choosing a lovely blue egg and 3 shades of brown.  The 4 of us chatted a bit, then I led the group into the goat pen for the requisite introductions. Isla was now total mud from toe to thigh and finger tip to elbow. Fortunately Connie and Ken found this amusing. And I am sure I made quite a lasting impression when I stood my child on a stump of the goat play ground and stripped off her pants and boots, leaving them behind in a muddy heap. I departed with a loving smile towards my husband, “Honey, could you grab those for me please?” and swung my monkey back on my hip, headed for the house.

It was too bad I took off her rain pants and muck boots as she was right back outside on her balance bike, in her clean PJs, within 10 minutes. So I gave up the fight, mixed up 2 strong margaritas with fresh squeezed lime and hobbled back out to find Randy. He was by the garden fence talking with Ken, so I offered them each a glass. They were definitely big enough to share with spouses. Once Ken headed back to the apartment, Randy and I had a rare moment, sitting side by side on the porch love seat, sharing the last of the one margie, watching our child taking dust baths under a sage brush with her chickens. Glorious! Much too short. Then I headed for the bath, reminding myself there were always more PJs.

Randy continued to work on moving hay bales while Isla filled her wheelbarrow with dirt and gave it to him as a present. When my dusty child trotted into the bathroom, I was nicely soaked, so I stepped out and let her climb into the same bath water. It’s a good practice in the high desert. I laid naked across our king bed, the cool sheets absorbing my sweat, listening to the trickle of Randy’s shower and Isla’s constant chatter to her tub friends. I was too tired to cook dinner. Thank god for rice noodles and jars of pasta sauce. Randy joined me on the bed, naked as well. It had been a hot day for March – probably had hit 70. The room was warm. The waterfall in the koi pond tickled my ears through the open window. A cooling breeze moved the wind chimes. Chickens bucked and Bucky bleated. Molly barked once from the west. “I’m ready to get out Mama!”

After a simple pasta meal, Randy began the teethbrushing and getting in bed march of death. I started to heat Bucky another bottle of milk and sat down to write. The timer beeped, I donned my head lamp, and stepped out into the night. Bucky ran out of the barn to greet me and inhaled the milk in seconds. Once again, I had that uncomfortable feeling that he was starving. I ducked inside the barn to give Hazelnut and Fiona goodnight pats where they were nestled in the straw. Then with Molly’s escort, I went to put the chickens to bed. Closed one gate, closed the coop door, and did a head count through the window. Only 14. Hmmm…. Lifted the nesting box flap and looked through sideways. As I thought – there was Dot, under the roosting bars on the floor. 15 all accounted for. I felt great gratitude to Randy for replacing the constantly falling upper roosting bar the day before. The chickens were so much happier with 2. Last gate closed. I took a deep breath of the night air.

Stopping in the sage as I headed to the house, I switched off my headlamp and stood still. The night sky was stunning. And this was the sky I knew well from my winter sailing days in the tropics. Orion the Hunter was high above me in his end-of-winter position. Taurus, the bull was close by… Cassiopeia… the Pleiades or 7 Sisters (known to me as The Shopping Cart)… the Big Dipper…. Jupiter and Venus were hanging one over the other in the western sky. And just on the western horizon was the setting crescent moon beneath the planets, the entire orb visible as a faint illuminated tracing. Neighborhood sounds filled my ears: dogs barking here and there, cars on the main road, a distant siren. I don’t think this would be considered the country… quite… but currently, it was our paradise. Then as I passed the koi pond I saw a flicker of motion from the edge of my lamp. Ahhh, yet another koi had survived the winter – the little orange and white one. Two so far. It put a smile on my face.

I fed Molly on the back porch and wrote some more. Still no internet service. Still no cell phone service. I felt isolated from the world and mildly content about it. I kept struggling with the urge to check the NASA site for solar flare activity – but of course, I couldn’t. As Molly had been barking for a minute or so, I stepped onto the back porch once more to quiet her. A flash of light stole my glance and I looked up in time to catch the burning blaze of a shooting star streak across the western sky. It felt like something strange and magical was afoot – the alignment of planets and new moon, the shooting star, the cell and web outage. A coyote howled in the distance sending a shiver up my spine. But then again, magic was always afoot. I only had to remember to look up from my chores to see it. A good reminder as I said goodnight to the darkness and headed gratefully off to bed…. without starting the new batch of goat chevre.

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Shoosh, shoosh, shoosh, shoosh….

Shifting my butt, I glanced up through the barn doors at the snowy southern mountains. My hands ache from the repetitive motion.

Shoosh, shoosh, shoosh, shoosh…

After 10 days this all seemed so… normal now: me with the shiny stainless steel between my knees, my nose mere inches from a goat’s butt, while Isla jumped off a hay bale, taking turns with her caprine siblings.

Shoosh, shoosh, shoosh, shoosh…

Hazelnut leaned on her right leg and stomped her left hoof once. Being a (self-proclaimed) expert by now, I smoothly slipped the bucket back until she settled, then took her teats again…

…and continued my ruminations on how I might actually be using my college degree in my current Dream Life.

10 days ago, on a stormy Sunday, Isla (my almost 3 yr old), Randy Grubiss (loyal friend and vice president of the Three Goats Health and Fitness Club), and Kim Keyser (kayaker/rafter/neighbor/parmacist), walked ceremoniously through the gate of the goat pen – the gate that was being tied onto the posts as we had not yet had time to mount the hinges. RG carried 20 day old Fiona, Kim – Fiona’s 9 day old buckling cousin Buckbeak, I led Mama Hazelnut on a spare dog leash, and Isla showed us the way through. It was not the ribbon-cutting event I had imaged – me weeping with joy and publicly thanking my husband for his timely change of attitude and undaunting, backbreaking work to help make my Dream of Goats become a reality. I had even imagined breaking a bottle of champagne on the gate post to properly christen the beautiful barn and pen, expensive bubbles succumbing to the force of gravity as they wound their rivulets through the fuzzy cedar bark. But instead of scissors and red ribbons, there was nervous stress, fresh snow and moody skies. Randy, back at his paying job, was conspicuously absent for this monumental event. Molly, our farm Pyrenees, lunged at the end of her cable, attached firmly to the back porch, dying to lick the babies into slimy, wet heaps. The goats were jumpy and frightened. The gate listed. And my fingers fumbled at Hazelnut’s collar.

Breathe…..

Would I be able to milk her? What if Buckbeak wouldn’t take the bottle for me? What if we ran out of hay (a very real concern as a tragic hay shortage was threatening many farms and animals in our area and the supply was just about out)? I did not have enough money saved to stockpile through the 5 months until July and the first cutting of the year – yet. But I would by god! If I could just sell our LED monitor… or my black, leather motorcycle jacket…. or my lovely, old road bike… And how will I get the money together to purchase a used horse trailer before fire season?

Getting a loving greeting from Buckbeak and Fiona at the Pieper's farm.

14 yr old Gwendolyn Pieper says goodbye to her sweet Fiona...

Chris gives Hazelnut some encouragement from the rear. She is not keen on a car ride. And Elana and Gwendolyn get their last snuggles from the kids.

All 3 kids in the backseat. Buckbeak is still sporting his homemade sweater.

Bringing the goats through the gate of their new home.

Randy sneaks home from work to help with the first bottle feeding. Fiona, the amazing lap goat, is ALWAYS in someone's lap!

I had lain awake through a good portion of last summer’s drought, designing mobile goat/chicken/bee barn-trailers to evac the farm animals in case of wildfire (and I didn’t even HAVE goats then!). It was a very real concern as the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history was raging unchecked a mere 60 miles to the SW, sweeping past the Los Alamos National Labs, past the barrels of nuclear waste stored above ground in fabric tents waiting for a forever storage location to be approved. And that was just one of several fires that had filled our high desert valley with choking smoke for weeks. I finally packed up my 2 yr old and a SUV full of group camping gear and drove…. away. I wasn’t sure how far we would need to go to reach clean air once more. We found an ideal guerilla camping spot in the National Forest, a few miles outside of Pagosa Springs, CO, on the banks of the East Fork of the San Juan River. Over the 10 days the 2 of us were refugees, 3 other Taos families joined us for a few days here and a few days there. It was much harder than I had imagined – guerilla camping with a 2 yr old. Randy had to stay at home as he managed the BLM Lower Gorge rec area. He explained that he couldn’t very well dessert his staff unless they all decided to bail as well. I had made a mad scramble around town before leaving, borrowing enough dog transport cages to hold our entire flock of chickens. I gave him specific instructions on how to catch them, what food to bring, etc. It was all worked out in my mind. But though the smoke was horrific most days with 1 mile visibility at times, he persevered and did not leave his post.

After too long away from home, Isla and I were finally convinced to return. There had been several days of clear skies as the fire had moved north and Papa missed his girls as much as his girls missed him. But the day we began our drive back, the noxious smoke bank moved back in. I pulled into our driveway in tears – both from smoke and from disappointment. I was too tired to turn around and just frigging wanted to be HOME. Ah – but thankfully it was merely a tease and the wind graciously nudged the wall back west in time for my birthday dinner outside in the yard. That was a scary time. I didn’t doubt it may happen again this summer. I needed to be ready to move the animals out of harms way and with very little notice. A dry lightening strike down wind of us could send up a blaze on a windy summer day in a short hour. It could travel north through our neighborhood so fast the wildfire crews would barely have time to assemble and mobilize their rigs. It has happened many times in our town’s history. The scars on the hillsides and painful memories of the great losses of property and forest, remain as proof.

Shoosh, shoosh, shoosh, shoosh…

The pressurized streams of warm milk frothed the surface like one of Isla’s bubble baths. I felt pride at having figured it out after my harrowing trial by fire. Note to others: Never bring home a lactating milking goat, as a newbie, 30 minutes before the previous owners are leaving town… to spend several days in an area not accessible by their cell phone. Just don’t do it. Trust me. Don’t. Hazelnuts teats were beginning to resemble elongated prunes. My job was almost done. I massaged her udder and gave the bag some bounces and jiggles, approximating the abuse regularly given by a suckling kid. A few more squeezes, and I patted her on her rump and thanked her for her milk.

Yup! It’s finally true –

I Milk Goats!

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That would be…. Me. It’s true. I chose to be one today. It was so preferable over my other choice – doing the exact same tasks while whining about it. Might as well embrace it enthusiastically! Yes?

So while Randy went to work (BLM) for a quick check in, and then to the mill for more lumber, I began my day of devahood. First I showered (with Isla) and dressed (while Isla sat on the floor of the shower, water trickling between her shoulder blades, scrubbing the bottoms of her little feet). Then I dressed the reluctant 2 yr old as well. Next I washed the pile of dishes (from last night’s dinner) and cleaned the counter tops (while Isla alternately became either a goat named Gwendolyn or a girl named Gwendolyn). Then I began the prep for the potato leek soup.

First, I sliced and washed the leeks, then Isla helped me scrub the last of our purple potatoes from the fall harvest. I peeled their nobbly, old surfaces, revealing the violet and lavender meat beneath. Isla walked a large potato around the counter tops on it’s dark purple sprout feet. Taters chopped, I sauteed the leeks in olive oil, added garlic, caraway seeds and pepper, and finally the taters.

I love the spring colors of chopped leeks.

Fresh ground pepper, celtic sea salt, caraway seeds, and garlic.

When I say "the last" of the purple potatoes, I really mean it as we are not planning on planting any purple varieties this spring.

Broth from boiling down some very mean roosters.

All was covered in defrosted rooster broth, salted, and brought to a boil, very slowly. Very, VERY slowly, as there are only 2 working units on our old stove top and both are of the most tiniest variety. I think on the high setting, the big soup pot, reserved for group rafting trips, MIGHT have felt a slight… tickle on it’s nether regions. But it gave me plenty of time to deal with the bread.

No-knead bread dough after the first rise.

I pulled the bowl of dough out of the fridge and stretched the sticky batch into 2 hunks. This is my favorite recipe for artisan bread – 4 ingredients and no-knead. But I kneaded each hunk a few times anyway just because I like to. After rolling the logs in some seeds  and cutting some sexy diagonal slices in the bulging mounds, I placed them on the baker’s peel with a sprinkling of cornmeal between. They rose for the second time beneath a clean towel while I went back to the soup. Then Randy arrived with the lumber.

Who can resist a little kneading?

Rising on the baker's peel.

Next was the kale. RG, here to add more time to his work barter, pulled into the driveway, and pushed through the gate with toolbelt slung over his shoulder. I tore chunks of kale off the stems and swished the pile in a sink of cold water, remembering to chop the stems up for the chickens. The soup was FINALLY at a boil, so I piled the kale on top and stirred it in. Yummmm. I love kale. Have you ever had kale chips? I made an entire dehydrator full last summer and they did not even last 24 hrs. Absolutely addictive!

Ripped kale.

Chickens get all the decent scraps - never just "compost" which goes in another container - and always organic.

“Mama? Can you read this to me?” It was the 3rd book from “elsewhere” that I had passed her to keep her from under foot. She was being extremely wonderful in occupying herself so her request gave me a pang of Mama guilt. I had a moment between the next boil (possibly hours with the stove top handicap) and when the bread would go in the oven. So we sat together in our reading nook and read some Aesop’s Fables.

The percussive waves of rhythmic hammering reached my chest. “I’ve got to get back to the cooking sweetie.” “No, my name is Gwendolyn Mama, not Sweetie, said Gwendolyn.” I have no idea how she developed this 3rd person narrative style of talking, but as it’s been in use for a few months now, we are getting used to it. “Yes… ah, Gwendolyn.” The oven was pre-heated enough (about an hour). I slid the 2 loaves from the peel to the pizza stone and filled the tray on the top rack with hot water. Steam issued from the oven as I slammed the door shut! “OK. Where was I?” I said aloud. Set the table, fill the water glasses, and peek periodically out the window as the siding went up, one board at a time. It was looking more and more like a barn every minute. MY barn. I heaved a happy sigh.

Working on the facia board for the upper clerestory roof.

As I washed dishes a second time, I thought back to my email volley with Elana, from whom I was buying our goats. She had decided that the kid “cousin” I could take, in addition to Fiona and her mom Hazelnut, would be Buckbeak. “Bucky” was 1 of 2 goatlings born in the most recent, and final kidding of the spring at the Pieper’s farm. He was actually 1 of triplets, but the second buckling had been stillborn. Bucky and his sister Prim had had a rough start, confused with the bottle and struggling with sucking from the nipple. They had not been sure Bucky would make it at all, even though he was massive for a newborn. But the siblings had made a strong recovery and were reported to be feeding voraciously as of today. Buckbeak also had an impressive overbite which made his appearance rather… dorky, but also quite lovable. As the castration process would begin in another day or so via the rubber band method (I saw that grimace, boys!), his poor confirmation would never pass to another generation. He would, in fact, be passing through our lives for a short year only…. on his way to our freezer. I had hoped for Hazelnut and 2 doelings, as well as a meat buckling. But in all honesty, it could have sent me deep into overwhelm. I have two hands that can hold two bottles. Two kids to bottlefeed makes the most sense. I ran my sudsy hand through my hair absentmindedly, leaving some decidedly goat-like horns behind. Yes. I think I would take Buckbeak. Fiona needs a play mate. And I don’t need more than 2 milking does next year.

Hot from the stone - delicious!

The oven timer said 5 minutes until blastoff. I opened the porch door, which immediately tried to deck me with a blast of warm, springlike wind. I gave one of my famous, piercing whistles and signaled with a double-handed welcoming wave to the boys. Lunch was almost ready. Isla streaked through the dining room, leaving a bubble of wild cackling in her path. “Honey – I mean Gwendolyn! Put your clothes back on please. We’re about to eat.” I glance back out at the 2 Randys, laughing together as one climbed down from the ladder and the other unclipped his tool belt. It made me smile to see my husband and my X-boyfriend in such camaraderie. They were terrifically good friends and had a connection like no other. I was most definitely aware of how lucky I was to have them both in my life.

As the wind blew in the stubbly, dusty, joking men, I ladled out the steaming soup and plopped a dollop of sour cream on top of each helping. I sawed off hot slices of bread and slathered butter on each. The boys wiped their noses and beamed at their bowls. I tied a towel around the neck of my still naked child, sat daintily on my chair (well, I can try at least), and scooped a steaming, purple potato onto my spoon. Being a Domestic Diva really wasn’t so bad after all.

It might look like dishwater and chicken scraps in this photo, but it is actually divine!

And for a finish to the repast, 77% cacao chocolate, fresh strawberries and coffee.

No rest for the weary. After slacking over lunch, the men are back at it as our next winter storm rolls in. Here, the purlins are being set for the southern roof.

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The winter sun cracked a beam over the top of our eastern hills as I squeaked down the trail through the new fallen snow. Molly, our 80 lb Pyrenees, did her best to pull my arm out of it’s socket. She may be small for a Pyr, but she still does an impressive impersonation of a sled dog, with me as her sled. It was 9 degrees and still, the NM sky a pale, early-dawn blue, the color of Easter baskets. I took in a deep, lung searing breath of crisp, desert morning. Then my mind turned back to it’s mastications….

Randy will go to the mill and get the siding… 1×8’s and 1×4’s….what lengths? I think 8′ and 10’ers…. I need to pick the meat off the rooster for the stew…. chop the veggies and get things simmering…. hope we have enough avocado… will anyone even show up on such a cold morning? Could my friends love me THIS much? I bet no one shows…. I’ll just freeze the rest of the tortilla soup….

Well, apparently they DID love me, evidenced by cars pulling into our muddy cul-de-sac just after 10. RG and Donna arrived first, hefting tools and tool belts out of the hatch. Randy returning next with the lumber, then Jim and Ray, then Jeremy…. I was a bit overwhelmed by this incredible display of support! It had been years since I had thrown a work party. While building our straw bale home, there had been several BIG work parties: the slab pouring, the wall raising (stacking of the in-fill bales), and 2 exterior mudding parties. The loft pony walls still show the slight wobble of a keg tapped a few hours too early. Damn those days were fun! But this time our dear friends were not arriving to help build OUR home, they were here to build a home for our goats.

My other friend was late to pick up Isla and I was trying to figure out what to do with her while the assembled crew told bad jokes and floated their teeth with hot coffee. The ironic thing was Kiersten, who would be taking my 2 yr old to support the work party efforts, was late because she was at the farm where our goats were! Why? She was midwifing out the last of the herd’s kids, along with the farm owners and their 3 collective teenage girls. Kiersten had also caught OUR two babies (the human ones), as midwifery is her full time job! So as I had a quick goat check-in with the Pieper’s to see how our goats, and the laboring mama, were doing this morning, they filled me in that Kiersten was there assisting. And when Kiersten arrived at our farm, covered in goat poop and afterbirth, she filled me in on our goats and the final kidding of the spring at the Pieper’s farm. Sadly, one of the triplets was stillborn. She had even tried to resuscitate the little buckling but he had remained slimy and still.

I felt bumbling and odd clipping on my old, stiff tool belt. It had been a while – full time mommys don’t get much time to hammer nails. Then Donna, designer/builder extraordinaire, my mentor and clone, said the dreaded words…. “Hey Mac! Where are the plans?” Plans? Ha! PLANS? Hee! What was wrong? Couldn’t she see them all neatly there in my mind? I had been planning and redesigning this barn, in my mind, for a couple of years! “Well, uh, ya see, Ranger D…. I was stressing out about that just the other night I was! Where are those plans? And, ya know, after YOU (I turned an accusatory eye at innocent RG) wiped our laptop for us and loaded those recovery disks, well, I just haven’t gotten around to reloading ACAD. And then I had an epiphany, in those wee hours of the night. And a voice said to me….. it said… ‘IT’S AN F’ING GOAT SHED FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! STOP DESIGNING AND START BUILDING!’ And so… we are!” I turned away from 6 blank faces, cleared my throat, and bent to pick up some 1×4’s, groaning as I stood back up. Fortunately, I heard a few chuckles in my wake, and the design challenges were successfully worked out in the field. As I had planned, all along… in my head.

I felt guilty as I tiptoed off through the sage brush to the back porch and scraped the 5 lbs of adobe mud from my rubber boots. I should be out there with everyone screwing, hammering and sawing…. laughing and joking…. telling stories while passing a handful of fence staples to a good friend. But then who would make lunch? Back to the kitchen with you wench! Well OK. I’ll chop these veggies and stir this soup and set this table, but don’t forget I built my own house! (Many, many, many aches and pains and years ago) Well, I did build the chicken coop two years ago! (Please don’t look too closely though.) I think one of the sweetest things I heard all day (other than car tires crunching up the driveway), was Randy, at the end of the long successful day, who lovingly said, “Honey, I know you wanted to be out there with us, but what you did – preparing the meal, getting Isla out the door, getting her down for nap when she returned, and washing dishes while she slept, was equally as important. This day would not have happened without your efforts either.” That man is a keeper. I brushed away a little tear and kissed him on his stubbly cheek (his beard always grows super fast when he uses a chainsaw… which he had).

And by the end of the day the house was an impressive disaster, with an inch of mud on the saltillo tiles and a leaning tower of bowls on the soup smeared counter. But outside, oh my! It was beautiful! About a 1/3 of the stock panel fence was attached to deeply sunk cedar posts, pole barn roof structure was in place, rafters on the south roof, and board and batten siding on 1/4 of the walls. The freshly milled, green wood shone in the setting sun. It had been a very good weekend.

One more weekend like this and I think Hazelnut, Fiona and her cousin or 2 can come home for good. I can almost taste the goat cheese!

After setting 4 posts by hand the previous weekend with RG, THIS weekend Randy rented a working auger! Here are the 6 poles for the first module of the barn.

Digging bars are essential once the layer of caliche is hit. Fortunately the auger sliced through it with ease, although adjusting the location of the hole was often done by hand.

This digging auger was a life and back saver! Here Randy and RG dig their umpteenth pole hole (I think there were 19 posts total for barn and pen, but they actually DUG about 25 holes due to misunderstandings and changed minds).

Here I am giving the auger a try. Niiiice!

Randy and Ray help plumb the post for Jim.

I am trying hard to ignore the mud and debris on Isla's hand wash only wool mittens....I succeeded.

Day 2 of the 3-day project weekend. Beautiful but frustrating. Randy took advantage of the down day by hauling home more lumber, hardware and stock panels in preparation for the following day of clear weather.

Donna, Jeremy and I discuss the lack of lag screws. Fortunately the can of old pole barn nails from our strawbale house building days sufficed.

Randy lops off the post tops with the chain saw. The round of wood he is standing on is part of the goat playground. They also work great as step ladders.

Donna and Jeremy rockin' on the siding. They made a great team! And just to prevent any gossip - they met that morning, Donna is happily married to another lucky fella, and is actually old enough to be Jeremy's mother!

Here is the floor BEFORE lunch... thanks to an escape Pyrenees I know....

Randy gives Jim and Ray a hand on the facia board while Donna steadies the ladder.

Whether goats or humans, I am a mama first.

Love these guys! Jeremy and Donna...

Randy and RG working on the pen fence. For goats, you need nothing short of a fortress. This 16'x50" stock panel is 6 gauge. We will also dig down 12 or more inches to bury more fencing (I haven't yet decided what kind), wire 36" of 18 gauge stucco netting to the bottom of the panels, and string several runs of plain wire above the panels. In my opinion I should not have goats unless I can keep them in their enclosure and keep predators out.

The goat gang, mid afternoon on the second work day. From left to right: Ray Baker, Jim Watson, Randy Roch, Jeremy Jette, Randy Grubiss (RG), Donna Lefurgey, Isla Roch, MacLaren Scott.

The morning after at quiet sunrise..... the first of the 5 modules, so near to completion. The clerestory will bring light and solar gain into the double 6'x8' stall at the back of the barn. The front 6'x8' "lounging porch" will have double barn doors in case of bad weather and space for the milking stand. It might be small, but by god, it IS a barn!

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Her long, ash-gray ears felt like velvet to the pads of my fingers. I could not stop stroking them, or tracing a line along the jet black ridge of her spine, surrounded on both sides by a sea of dark chocolate. She was the most beautiful animal I had ever seen, so small, so vulnerable, so perfect…. and she had been so close to death just a few hours before.

Here Fiona is 3 or 4 hrs old. Amazing that such a tiny creature can elicit such fierce, unconditional love from so many.

Hazelnut gave birth earlier than expected, in the wee hours of dawn amidst a driving blizzard. While she labored through the storm, both inside and out, I had one of my worst nights of insomnia on record. Up for 5 straight hours, I thought incessantly and obsessively about baby goats and goats being born. I can only imagine I was in some sort of spiritual link with my future goat. When Chris, Hazelnut’s human papa, bundled again the snow and tromped off to the barn to check on the three expectant caprine mothers, it was already too late for the little buckling. Hazelnut had been pushed away from the heat lamp by the herd matriarch, and the buckling had froze while his sister was being born. This tragic news gave me more insight into my “labor bond” with Hazelnut. I too, had lost my son at birth. Fiona, as I named her, was on Death’s door. But Death did not have the firm grip on her that took her brother. The Pieper family acted fast, stoking the wood stove and dragging out the radiant heat lamp. Someone milked Hazelnut and the warm colostrum was dribbled down Fiona’s throat with a dropper, as she was still too weak to swallow. When Isla and I arrived, and I held the tiny doeling in my lap, she was still shivering from her frigid entry into our harsh world. But 3 hrs later, when we said a reluctant farewell, she was already struggling to stand…

and I was hopelessly in love.

The morning of Fiona's birth

Elana Pieper nursing Fiona back to life

Isla and I get our chance... and that was that. We were hooked.

Gwendolyn Pieper lets Hazelnut have some time with her down-wrapped baby.

We returned to the Pieper’s farm the following day. After a nice visit with the family, and Hazelnut, who would soon be OUR herd matriarch, we packed up a mason jar of colostrum, and a clean beer bottle with rubber nipple. And with Fiona in my lap, and Isla in her car seat, I drove slowly home. The wee lassies slept soundly for the 30 minute drive. We made our doeling a comfy bed in the corner of the kitchen and nursed her every couple of hours. We held her as much as we possibly could – attachment parenting will always be my choice with a human baby, and when needed, with an animal one too. That night I snuggled our furry newborn daughter in bed beside me, getting up 3 times in the night to bottle feed and let her pee. Not much sleep was had for me, but I didn’t really care. All my newborn/second child mothering urges were being exquisitely fulfilled with this big act of love between me and a 5 lb. lump of fur, warmth and trust. I was in groggy heaven.

Fiona checking out the goat on our rug while sporting an old pair of Isla's pull ups.

Isla introduces each of her many friends to her new caprine sibling.

"And you and Hazelnut will come live with us as soon the your house is finished! We'll be sisters!"

After returning Fiona to Hazelnut and the Piepers, Isla and I each gave a heavy sigh and trudged back to the car. It was wonderful to see mama and baby bonding the way Nature intended and that sight gave me joy… but also a strange pang of jealousy. I have so badly wanted a second child, and Fiona is already satiating so much of that primal, and sometimes painful desire. And Isla is already accepting her as the little sibling she has been asking for, human or not. But the hardest thing was the unexpected separation over the following days as I immediately came down with a nasty cold and could not come visit the goats again for 4 long days. After the intimate bond created from sleeping with Fiona, this was pure torture for me. It gave me some insight into how Hazelnut must feel being separated from her baby! BOTH her babies!

But today Fiona is a week old and sleeping safely in the barn with her animal mama. She is running, jumping and playing – still wobbly but so very much more sure hoofed! Her recovery has been a miracle in my eyes. And this morning’s sunrise brought her 2 new cousins born into the herd from her half sister, Wren. The role call is not yet over either. Mamacita is expecting certainly triplets, and possibly quadruplets! We hope to bring home one of the bucklings as well.

Last night we helped celebrate Chris Pieper’s 45th birthday and I ate an excellent home cooked meal with little Fiona in my arms. I shared her with the other guests too… reluctantly. Many wanted to hold the little fuzzy nugget and kiss her knobbly head, on the snow white patch, just between her little horn buds. With all the preparation for the coming weekend work party to finish the goat shed and fence, I do not know when my next visit to the girls will be and that leaves me with a certain anxiousness in my gut. But I also need to remember my human daughter. She loves the goats too, but doesn’t fancy the competition for Mama’s love and focus. Tonight she insisted on pulling out her old baby bottle and having me feed her. “I’m a little goat, Mama, and my name is Fiona. I can’t hold my bottle. YOU have to feed me. Make sure I stretch my neck out nice and long, OK?” This is more humorous than one might think as Isla would NEVER take a bottle in all her infancy! She was solely breast fed!

My token "breaking ground" photo taken just before the storm, and Fiona, arrived.

10 stock panels for the pen - 50" high by 16' long.

Returning home with cedar posts for both pole barn and pen.

The two Randy's trying to look tough next to their first sunk posts. Unfortunately the post hole auger failed to work.

I have wanted goats for decades and felt a strange, comfortable and curious bond with them. Randy and I have always been interested in gardening, but as our food supply has become less and less safe and predictable, we have turned more toward a deep desire for some level of homesteading. Nowadays, it is the only true way to know what you are ingesting. When I was pregnant with Isla, we discussed what my “job” would be once she was born. We both heartily agreed that we did not want for me to take on a paying job, just to afford to pay someone else to raise our child! I had closed the doors on my sustainable house design business a year or so prior and had welcomed the ease of drafting land survey plats for my friend and his thriving survey business. It was such a stress relief to leave my work at the office (someone else’s office) and not stay awake at night working out a design challenge for a demanding client. But CAD work would not be compatible with raising a newborn in a Waldorf inspired home. So it was decided. I would be the stay-at-home mommy and manage a little farm… an urban homestead… basically the life I had dreamed of for many, many years. Not only would I nurture the mind of my long awaited daughter, but I would nurture the bodies of my partner, my child, and myself. It was the ultimate mothering job. Really? Me? I could do this?

We bought a house on a little piece of land at the outskirts of town and found a tenant for our existing home. We were tired of the isolation and barren lands of our mesa living and were ready for community. It wasn’t much – 1.7 acres. But it had a well which was HUGE for us, having live in a our owner-built, off-grid, strawbale house for years. There, we collected rainwater or hauled it from a spring. The closest aquifer was 1300′ straight down and no one in the neighborhood could even consider drilling! A well sounded like pure decadence to us leather-skinned mesa rats.

We moved into our new home in Oct of ’09, little Isla at 5 months old, strapped to my body as we unpacked boxes. We talked and planned through the winter, ordered seeds and researched bees and chickens. Randy took on the majority of the garden, and me the animals and insects. By the end of the first year we had a flock of 12 chickens (2 of which were laying), 1 bee hive, 8 fruit trees planted, and a good sized garden with fencing. But no goats. By the end of the 2nd year we were pulling in our second honey harvest, had expanded the garden, built raised beds and added drip irrigation. The orchard had a total of 18 trees – all on drip, and the chicken flock had been increased to 15 by natural means of broody birds (tallied after the loss of 3 laying hens and 4 peeps to a predator, and the 3 mean roosters we’d relegated to the freezer). But no goats.

But THIS year….. oh my! I am getting my goats I am! No more buying local, raw, goat and cow milk to keep kefir, yogurt and cheese in my family’s bellies. We’ll raise the buckling for meat, right along side Fiona. She’ll have a playmate during her kid months, and we will know our dinner was loved, cared for, raised organically in comfortable, healthy conditions, and was killed with reverence and respect. After shelving my dream for years, I am mere weeks away! Soon I’ll be milking Hazelnut, steps away from my back porch, and drinking her milk, warm and fresh, mild and creamy, as only a Nubian’s is.

And when I lead Hazelnut, Fiona, and her buckling cousin into their new pen and shed, I think I will finally be able to call myself a mother AND a true urban homesteader! Damn it is going to feel good!!!

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It’s that time of year again: The sun sets earlier, there is a wee nip of fall in the air, the divine smell of roasting chilies is everywhere, I am beginning to get sick of fresh veggies, and a deep melancholy is winding it’s way to the surface of my heart. Why does it surprise me year after year? I am happily busy with farm chores, family trips, visitors, daily life… and then my feet start to drag and I find myself turning inward. Yes, it’s that time of year again… time to light the candle, time to remember difficult memories. 6 yrs ago today, on August 28th, 2005, our son Rowan was born… and died. Or perhaps I should rephrase: He died and was born.

Rowan Cecil Scott Roch was 20 inches long and weighed 7 lbs 11 oz. He had wavy ginger hair. He looked like his namesake – his great grandmother Cecil. His eyes never gazed into mine and his lungs never knew the shock of the first inhalation of our atmosphere. He was beautiful, perfect, and dead.

Our last prenatal appointment was on a Tues and he was very active with a strong heartbeat, ready to take on birth and life. My due date was 4 days later – on a Saturday – and like clockwork, my contractions began in earnest, exactly on time. Birth bag was packed, car seat strapped in awaiting his little body, and we drove to the birth center, nervous and very, very excited to meet our son after a natural water birth. But the midwife could find no heartbeat. I didn’t worry for a second. Truly. It was all too right. My pregnancy had been picture-perfect, I had taken my pre-natals and fish oil, done my pre-natal yoga, meditated and talked to our son, had (reluctantly) one ultrasound at 25 wks, taken long walks while describing to our baby the beauties of the stark, windswept mesa we lived on. I had faith and I had trust… back then. The hospital nurse ran the ultrasound wand over my bursting belly again and again in silence. The midwives were silent. Randy was silent. The entire world seemed to hold it’s breath. “I am sorry Ms. Scott. There is no heartbeat. Your baby is dead.”

Time screeched to a halt. No one moved. I heard the blood rushing in my ears, pounding along with my racing heart, beating fiercely enough for both of us. Disbelief. Anger. But not grief – not yet. I slammed the door on my grief and my eyes remained dry. Some other part of my personality pulled out my “take charge” hat and slapped it firmly on my head, pushing back the panic, the collapse, the puddle on the floor I so badly wanted to be. “Are you sure?” Was that really my voice? I sounded so far away… so not like myself… so harsh… so stern. “Yes.” the nurse confirmed. “I am so very sorry.” I cleared my throat. “Well,” I said in the distant stranger’s voice, “I guess I don’t need a natural birth anymore as that was for my baby. Let’s get this over with then. I want an epidural and a C-section. Let’s do it.” Christ! Who WAS this woman talking? How could she be so cold and calculated?

It was 30 minutes before the anesthesiologist came to the room. My contractions continued. I told Randy to call my support person, Joanne, and tell her she didn’t need to come. I was all steel, teeth clenched. The anesthesiologist returned again after an additional 30 minutes to inform me he could not give me any form of anesthesia due to the types of supplements I had been taking. There was a chance my blood would not clot and I could bleed internally. Too risky. Joanne burst in, face stained with tears, and marched to my bed. “Not coming my ass! Fuck that!” Some how I found the ability to laugh – only she could have gotten away with that maneuver. My labor lasted 12 hrs, my heart numb and my body wracked with pain. My sole job was to keep my shit together and push away the stinkin’ elephant in the room: You are going through all this pain and suffering for nothing! Your baby is DEAD.

On the morning after my due date, with an unbelievable rush of pain, Rowan’s body sloshed out into the waiting hands of our loving midwife. I was cynically aware the doctor had let her catch – after all, there was no liability issue with an already dead baby. I closed my eyes in utter relief and drifted into a dark silence, so akin to the world he had just come from. After what seemed like eternity, there was a nudge against my arm, bringing me back to my exquisite pain. I opened my eyes upon Randy’s tear-stained face. In his arms was a little blanketed bundle. How could this be happening? Why were those long, strong limbs so still and white? Where was the newborn mewling? The thrashing, pink fists? I noticed then I was seeing the scene from above my body, void of emotion, watching the exhausted midwives, Joanne beside me, the nurse a discrete distant away, and Randy’s shoulders shaking in unchecked grief. I reached out instinctively for my son, cradled him tenderly, and set about examining every inch of his body with stoic remove. His tiny fingernails were stained with meconium. There was a crimson drop of blood resting just inside one nostril. His lips were the color of ripe cherries. His skin was white, waterlogged, wrinkled and blistered. I realized with a clinical eye that he had been dead for a few days and the lack of circulation had caused this. His wet hair was plastered against his head in light auburn waves. He was so very limp and heavy; It was hard to contain his drooping, flaccid appendages. My heart wrapped around him like a steel band of fierce protection. Laying on my side, both my body and soul in tremendous pain, I cuddled him tightly in my arms refusing to let go…. for a long time. The warmth he had borrowed from my womb slowly faded and his stiffening body became cold against me.

We were left alone to say our hello and goodbye to this tiny dream before us. I pushed away thoughts of our waiting home, so perfectly ready for him…. drawers filled with freshly laundered clothes, off-road stroller, baby packs and slings, stacks of cloth diapers and wool covers, everything organic, books, toys, and stuffed animals ready to greet him. We un-swaddled him together and bathed his blistered skin carefully – it was very fragile and tore so easily. He was as white as a porcelain doll. With characteristic practicality, I left him undiapered and undressed, merely re-swaddled in the blanket from the hospital. I knew his wrinkled body would first pass by the pathologist’s scalpel before burning to ashes in the crematorium. Why waste the organic cotton diapers and onsie, the wee matching hat and booties, still zipped tightly in my birth bag? We spent 4 hrs with our baby’s body, trying to remember every detail, every dimple, every lock of hair. We took dozens of pictures. We kissed his cold toes and fingers, his little nose so like my own. But I never had the courage to open his eyes. And then, against every bone in my body, we laid him on the bed, turned our backs, and walked slowly down the long corridor to our unexpected, new life and our waiting grief.

The midwives let us rest on a birth bed in their nurturing birth center. It had been over 24 hrs since we had slept and we had just survived the most difficult experience of our lives. Randy and I laid thankfully under the homemade quilt, wrapped in each other arms, our bodies completely empty and totally spent. And as the late summer rain began to fall outside the open windows, my heart released it’s iron control and the floodgates opened. I cried my first tears. And then I sobbed a river of grief for which there was no end.

And 6 yrs later I still cry. In fact, there is a pile of wadded tissues beside me as I type. Certainly the pain has subsided… changed. But it never leaves. It makes it more difficult that a cause was never found. Both Rowan and I underwent a battery of tests after his death, but nothing was uncovered – the mystery remains. Perhaps a wrapped cord? A clot in the cord? We will never know. People who have never lost a child make the assumption that a subsequent child will “make it all better”. They think the score card is settled, our grief erased, a baby for a baby. And, as parents who have lost a child know well, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead we feel the the absence of Isla’s big brother even more. There was suppose to be two! They should be growing up together, playing side by side, adventuring, loving, learning, experiencing life as siblings. When I first put Isla to my breast, her unfocused gray eyes searching my face, certainly I felt a great joy and a profound love. But I also remembered the feverish pain of my hot, swollen breasts, leaking colostrum that my son would never taste. At each developmental step Isla reaches, I realize more fully what we have missed with Rowan. I still have dreams about finding a little boy with red hair, adopting a little boy, rescuing a little boy. These dreams seem to increase around his birthday and around the holidays – the times for family celebration and togetherness, the times when I feel the hole in my heart the most.

It was a huge step in my healing process to purge our lives of all the baby things that Isla could no longer use. Even though Randy had a vasectomy several months after Isla’s birth, I still clung to the fantasy that I would miraculously get pregnant again, or our foster/adoption counselor would make that long awaited call to us. I believe I have fully accepted, finally, that Isla will be an only child, and even feel contentment in that acceptance. At the ripe age of 49, I am truly happy to be done with the newborn combat zone. But then Rowan’s birthday sneaks up on me and I find my mind full of fantasies of little red-headed boys once more.

It’s that time of year again.

And we miss you so much my son.

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White water, rivers and camping have always been in my blood. To some degree I assumed it was an inherited trait. My father and Uncle Fred were sent to Camp Mondamin in Tuxedo, NC when they were young boys. Grandmother Cecil, an avid outdoors woman who found herself a sudden widow with a 5 and 7 yr old, started them early. The founder of Mondamin, Chief Bell, always gave me “special attention”, telling me time and again what a soft spot he had had for my grandmother and what a fine woman she had been. Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure to have known her, though I think we would have gotten along swimmingly. 30 some years after the founding of Camp Mondamin in 1921, Camp Green Cove opened for girls, just a mile or so up the Green River. In later years, me and my cousins attended Green Cove while the male contingency of the Scott Clan descended upon Mondamin for the second generation. But of all the Scotts, I think my little brother and I took camp the most seriously. Both camps have put out many Olympic white water competitors, and many more white water paddlers that competed at a high level and still do. My brother Norwood is one of those. Not only has he competed in his C-1 (closed or decked canoe) in countless competitions over the decades since camp, and participated in serious, backcountry paddling expeditions in several remote countries, he was also on the US C-2 Wildwater Team 3 different years. Now he is president of the American Whitewater Association. Can you tell this big sister is just a teeny bit proud?

After 8 years as a camper, and 4 as a counselor, I tackled the rivers with the eye of the recreationist. I tried kayaking but it never fit for me. Solo whitewater canoeing has always been where my comfort lies. My husband, Randy, trained me to row a raft, starting me with a 14ft one laden with 2000 lbs of gear, down the Grand Canyon for 21 days! Some initiation! I rowed as many of the class 5 and smaller rapids I had the balls for, and Randy rowed the remainder on up to the famous Class 10 Lava Falls (The rapid rating system is different for the “Grand” – it ranges from an exciting class 1 to a sphincter-clenching 10. Therefore, when my sphincter clenched on the first, unclassified rapid, I knew I was in deep doodoo – or lack there of!) But it’s still back to our gentle home waters and my purple Dagger canoe that I am most drawn. Isla was conceived the summer after our Grand Canyon trip. I had time for one last Chama River 3-day in my canoe before our little blastocyst started her journey into our life, and I haven’t been since. I’ll do the math for you – that’s 3 years. 3 long years of sacrifice, pain and suffering while my canoe and river gear collected cobwebs. It’s rough being a mom.  With this family history, I was not surprised when a clairvoyant said my fetus was very excited to go rafting with us! I kid you not! This is Taos, after all!

Planning, organizing and packing for trips has always been my forte…. until I became a Mama. Now, with the addition of “Mommy-brain” and the 2 yr old responsible for it, it takes an entire extra day to pack with both adults participating. But plan, organize and pack we did – slowly but with forward progress. Isla…. “helped”. The day before our departure, she also developed diarrhea. I watched the signs with concern, taking her temperature constantly. No other symptoms developed and she remained in good spirits so we continued with our plans. The day we were leaving, her diarrhea became worse, and I started to feel some of my own rumblings deep in my gut like the warning of distant thunder. Hmmm….

We reached the BLM cabin on the banks of the Chama River in good time, excited to begin our adventure the next day. I immediately soaked the rice I had bought on the way out of town – a remedy for diarrhea recommended by a mama friend. But before Isla had time to consume the rice water, the explosions began (and thank god I had the foresight to put a diaper on her…. that time.). After perhaps the most cathartic experience in her life, next to being born, she downed the rice water, happily pronouncing it “yummy!” And then, in perfect synchronization, my “moon time” started. Funny how my body always seems to know when a river trip is about to begin. As I know all things come in threes, I wondered enthusiastically if perhaps Randy might join us with a urinary tract infection. There was still one more Important Orifice needing representation.

But no matter, our attitudes adjusted to our handicaps quickly and we had a fine sleep, lulled off into watery dreams by the song of the river gurgling past the head of our bed. The next morning, Randy donned his BLM uniform and went to work. He is fortunate to have the highly coveted job of park ranger/manager which includes patrolling the Chama River – on the clock! He would be paid wages and per diem while rowing his family down the river for 3 days. Isla walked with him to the gauging station to log the 1000 cfs of river flow – perfect amount! And with the Nugget on his hip he checked in the early boaters while I whipped up some coffee for us and rice cereal for Isla’s sick little tummy. We took a family stroll over the upstream swinging bridge to the opposite bank. There, Papa and daughter rescued a stranded fish from the entrapment of the tall river grass. My bad to look down mid-river through the grate floor panels on the return trip. I experienced instant motion sickness which was still perceptible 2 days later!

And then the repacking began.

It is no small task to prepare for a multi-day river trip. Add to it 3 years of “rust” to brush off my packing skills, and the addition of a needy, sick, 2 yr old, and I might as well be climbing Everest! We deliberated on cancelling at the eleventh hour as I was quite concerned about Isla’s bowels, but she seriously had NO other symptoms and seemed as happy as a lark. So we continued. We were rather fortunate to have a group of 4 rafts and four families (7 parents and 9 kids) rigging and packing their boats directly in front of us. Isla was entranced! And this gave me the break I needed to GET THINGS DONE. She was so puppy-eyed for all the “big kids” that an indoor lunch was cause for a MASSIVE meltdown! To keep sanity for us and all the boaters in ear shot, we compromised by eating lunch on the porch, sitting on the cooler. As her mouth was continually open in amazement, I was able to shove an entire meal into her pie hole, one spoonful at a time. I should have filmed the entertainment for later meals.

Finally! Randy felt that he had fulfilled his duty, the raft was loaded, the family strapped into PFDs, smeared with sun screen, and topped with river hats. We eagerly shoved off from shore.

Wow! We were on the river again, and this time with our amazing little daughter, our mini river rat, our Isie. We beamed with teary pride as Isla stared with wide eyes at the river banks slipping past. We drifted next to some overhanging cliff walls…. “Look Isla! See there?” I pointed under an overhang. “That is a little birds nest made of mud. And there is a swallow hanging on upside down! And look downstream… that way sweetie. See those ducks?” Time sped by as the river carried us to new excitement around each bend.

We were quickly at our first stop – Ward Ranch. This is the ruin of an old cabin built in the late 1920’s by a homesteading family known as the Wards. They had the amazing foresight to build their cabin over a hot spring! Talk about hot water on demand! We explored inside the tiny cabin and around the toppled corral. I showed Isla one of my most favorite rocks. I love textures of Nature and this particular rock, riddled with pockmarks, is near and dear to my heart.

Once back on board our craft, Isla took the oars for the first time. Boy was she serious about it too!!


And then, sitting comfortably in her Papa’s lap, lulled by the slapping ripples and gentle motion of the boat, exhausted from the stimuli of an outrageous day, first one hand, and then the other, slipped from the huge oars. She slumped again her Papa’s padded chest… and was deeply, and happily, asleep.

Our first campsite was a sweet little spot tucked in a juniper grove and nestled against a lichen covered outcropping. It was perfect for just us. We unloaded and started setting up camp – a task Isla eagerly participates in. The girls set up the tent and our cozy little sleeping nest, while Papa set up the kitchen. After our apres-river ritual of a frigid bath and change of clothes, Isla and I went off exploring leaving Randy to stir up a fajita dinner. We poured enamel cups of river water onto patches of dry, brown moss, just to watch them plump and green-up before our eyes. We crawled through jumbles of massive, flat boulders pretending we were caving. We sat on a riverside rock and watched fish jump for their dinners. And we collected wood for our dinner time fire, although half the sticks were confiscated for fairy house construction.

Our second morning on the river we arose late after a restless, hot night spent on top of our bags. We chowed down some excellent cheese grits with bacon, broke down camp, loaded the boat, and hit the water for our second day of adventures. And this is where the fun begins.

Warning: if you are at all squeamish about bodily functions, STOP READING HERE. (I am serious)

Our first big (class II-plus) rapid was approaching – Aragon. We had originally planned to pull over above so Isla and I could walk down the flat flood plain. Randy would navigate the rapid and pick us back up at the eddy below. But as the class I rapids soon failed to crack a smile, and the class IIs were being greeted with a yawn, we quickly concluded our 2 yr old was up for the challenge. “I need to peepee Mama.” Oh, well OK. That was good timing. We pulled over just above Aragon and Isla squatted on a partially submerged, flat rock to raise the level of the river a hair. With her safely back on board I commenced to do the same while Randy held our position in the eddy. Little did I know I was about to get a taste of my daughter’s illness. Is there anything worse for an adult than the sudden, panicked realization that you are about to shit on yourself? Excuse me, but I warned you. “WHOA BABY! What the F–k? Where did THAT come from?” I was paralyzed with horror as I watched the insides of my gut churning about my ankles in the eddy current. Randy discreetly turned his face downstream as his shoulders shook with silent laughter. “I could give you a clue honey,” he snorted sarcastically. Having traveled extensively in India, he was no stranger to this exact experience. “Crap. So much for the Wild and Scenic designation. Not exactly “low impact” camping,” I mumbled, sloshing my sandled feet in fresher water. Randy dug out the “groover” and swung it over to me. With my head hung low with shame, I shuffled into the woods to finish what had begun without my consent or control.

Now for a quick explanation of a “groover” for those of you uninitiated with rafting. With the high use from recreational boaters, it is required that all solid waste be packed out on river trips. This of course would include garbage (and food scraps too), but also human feces. In the not so distant days, large ammo cans were used without seats, which created the telltale grooves the appliance was named after. Sure, it can be a bit gross to be on groover duty and have to pack it back up to load on the raft again. But with the high tech portable units available these days, and a sanitary, systematic way to handle them, it’s truly not that bad. Plus, sitting meditatively on the river bank, it can be the best seat in the house. I pondered as I sat, staring blankly at the view, whether my “accident” qualified as “solid waste” or not.

Aragon got an ear to ear, toothy grin from our toddler. “More rapids mama! More big waves!” As the wavelets settled back to ripples, she climbed astraddle my lap and worked hard at unzipping my life jacket so she could “say hi to My Boobas”. I hadn’t nursed her in 3 days, hoping the last time would truly be the last, so I granted her this little act of intimacy. She could only get within 2 layers of “her boobas” anyway. Within minutes she was limp and breathing heavily, face crushed against my rash guard shirt, zipper imprinting a tire track across her soft cheek. Much to our dismay, she then proceeded to sleep through the biggest rapids of the entire trip.

Near starvation drove Randy and me to the shore for a lunch stop. Isla awoke cranky and sweaty as the raft bumped the bank. We settled under a massive box elder with folding chairs and a lunch bag and surveyed the brooding sky. Isla walked with confidence up a thick, gnarled branch, holding lightly to Papa’s big hand.

Another group of paddlers drifted by. A green canoe diverged from the group and paddled towards us. “Hey Ranger!” he called out to Randy and lobbed him a cold brew. Ahhh. A sweet life it is.

Our second campsite wasn’t too much farther downstream and we reached it within an hours’ row;  Chama Wall. We had camped here 3 years ago on our last Chama trip together, across from the massive, towering red rock face. Thunder rumbled as we unloaded and hauled gear up to the site. We shuffled to get tent and large tarp up quickly. Kitchen was set, wood collected for our fire, and we had time for a quick, chilly dunking before a change into night time clothes. It was in the tent while dressing that I noticed an odd, unpleasant, and too familiar odor. I was drawn to sniff the running shoe I was tying on my clean, waterlogged foot. “Aaaack! Cat piss! F-ing One-eyed Murphy!” The representation of the third Important Orifice had arrived in an unexpected package. As I dug into my dry bag for wool socks, recalling recipes for Kitty Kassarole, I calculated how many hours I had already spent sockless in these shoes since leaving home. Grrr…oss. And then, with a long, deep throated BAROOOM!, the rain began.

Being veterans of the outdoors, we were, of course, prepared for these stormy occasions. We were warmly clothed, topped off with wool hats and rain gear, and quite comfortable in front of our portable fire pan under the huge group tarp.

We stoked the fire and let the coals get just so, then nestled 3 ears of corn into the glowing embers, roasting our cats, I mean, dogs above, impaled on freshly whittled willow sticks. Ice cold Guinness cleansed our palettes for the second course – S’mores! It had been years since I had eaten s’mores, and Isla had no idea what she was in for! The camera clicked madly as she covered her grinning face in sticky marshmallow goo and melted chocolate. So much for raising my child without sugar.

The rain, though mildly inconvenient, was also delightful. When the downpour lessened, we ventured out into the drizzle to collect more wood, point to sleeping dragons encircling the red cliffs, shimmering with runoff…

…and check on the nearby wash. I was determined to witness a flash flood. Although our neighboring wash never ran, the river gave strong evidence of a large blow out upstream. The Chama is never clear, per se, but the change in personality was dramatic. As I squatted on the river bank to release my Guinness build up, I marveled at the churning, foaming coffee milkshake before me, tumbling branches and debris in it’s current. Impressive! The rain continued throughout the night, very hard at times, and the river had risen perceptibly by morning. As we stirred in our little nest, I discerned a clammy dampness around me. It’s usually rather sweaty sleeping on a rubber Paco pad, specifically made for rafting. But as I sat up and cleared the crusties from my eyes, I saw we had had our very own flash flood – in our tent. Isla had wet the bed. Hadn’t we taken care of that orifice last night, I thought? It was a mere sneak preview of what was yet to come.

Randy fried sausage patties and simmered a pot of oatmeal while Isla and I peeled hard boiled eggs brought from home. “Who do you think laid this blue one Honey?” I quized. “Mmmm… I think… Dot. Or Jackie. Or maybe Dusty.” Isla had listed our 3 Americanas, also known as Easter Eggers for their blue-green eggs. The drizzle continued off and on as we huddled groggily beneath the tarp. I stole Randy’s mug of coffee back once more, tucking it furtively behind my calf. We were quietly eating our warm meal when Isla announced she needed to poop. So, we pulled our hoods back up and trudged to the groover for a poo with a view.

It was too late. “Raaaandyyyy! I need you!” WAY too late. Hazardous waste had leaked through undies and tights. But the clean up was tolerably simple with a change and wipe down of the bottom half, and we were soon back at breakfast. Then she got that look again… that “uh-oh” look of a potty trained toddler. Uh-oh was no joke. This time, she spare no effect. Shit was EVERYWHERE. Poor little Nugget. It was definitely a family affair. Randy brought a bucket of river water, cloth, peppermint soap, and a change of clothes (we were running out of options). And THIS time, I had him dig out an emergency diaper! (Soooo smart. Soooo late.) It took 45 minutes to get back to ground zero. I had to wash, not only my kiddo, while she stood happily in the rain in a 5 gal bucket, but also both her rain coat and rain pants. Meanwhile Randy washed dishes and started packing up camp. 5 minutes after depositing my squeaky clean, 5 lb lighter daughter back under the tarp, I returned to the groover once more for my own personal expulsion. At least the raft would ride a bit higher today.

We launched at the butt crack of noon – 12:21 to be precise.

As we drifted down toward a bruised, foreboding skyline, all jokes were of the toilet variety: “Hey! What was that sound? Was that a duck? I think it came out of Papa’s butt quack!” And Papa’s butt was the ONLY butt quacking with confidence on our raft. I wondered what it felt like to wear an adult diaper and almost wished I had brought one. But spirits were still high and attitude pretty good, considering. We sang silly songs, taking bets on the storm ahead. Should we take off our rain gear? Should we leave it on? “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream!!!” we yelled. We came to the flat section of the 3-day run, drifting lazily past Christ of the Desert Monastery. I took the oars for a bit with Isla as first mate. Isla took the oars alone with a great sense of responsibility.

“Mama! I made the boat move!” she smiled with delight as she pushed slowly on the very heavy oar. Papa slipped over the side for a quick shrinking of the family jewels, and Isla insisted on joining him. Cold water has never phased her. We passed a side stream washing thick red mud into the main river, rolling clouds of red and green-brown along the right hand bank. The storm rumbled around us but continued to hold off. And then our early take out at Chavez landing was in sight. “Next year we are doing the bottom rapids and taking out at Big Eddy for sure,” we both agreed. Isla could have not only survived it, but really enjoyed the final hour of continuous class II and III. Once again, we underestimated our little adventurer.

Back to unpacking, hauling gear, de-rigging, and repacking into our waiting pickup and trailer. One last chilly plunge, clean clothes, goodbyes and thank-yous to the River, and we were “Ready to rock and roll Mama!” Isla, our happy, exhausted, river monkey, was asleep in her car seat within minutes. It had been a wonderful trip.

As we drove out along the dirt road, past the red and white sandstone towers, and towards the flashing bolts of lightening in our path, I felt a deep contentment. I had FINALLY gotten my river fix. Next year we would take our little fish down both the Chama and San Juan Rivers, hopefully with a handful of other families. And with the addition to the raft of a certain babysitter I know, I MIGHT even be able to get those cobwebs off my canoe. I know one thing for sure – I’ll be adding a few items to my pack list. Most importantly: a full haz-mat suit and a few pairs of adult diapers… just in case.

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Any guesses to what we’re doing this weekend? A 2 yr old I know is about to become a river rat! Stayed tuned for the full story next week!

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