Go home, City Mouse!

The City Mouse said to the Country Mouse: “I’m bored!”

The Country Mouse replied: “Go Home.”   [bio excerpt three]

There was the time on the ranch when my big-city in-laws came to spend a holiday week-end with us.  We had been there about a year and, in that time, I had never known a dull moment.  But after one afternoon at the ranch my in-laws were ready to leave.  “Man, this place is boring,” I was to hear from both parents and children over and over again. “There’s nothing to do here!”   Well, I don’t know what “there was to do” at their house, but life on the ranch was anything but boring.  To begin with, the semi-rustic living conditions required a good amount of time just to keep things ship-shape, in the house and on the grounds.

The fast-growing grass needed constant mowing. That meant getting out the machete and hacking away at the fenced ¼ acre that surrounded  the house. Lawn mowers were not heard of.  No, it was not I who wielded the machete, but between “mowings” when the grass, like everything else that grows in the sub-tropics, rose to a considerable height, the diversion came in making one’s way through it: coral snakes and water moccasin’s were native to the area.  I wasn’t about to run care-free through the grass each time I went out.

As careful as my husband and the ranch hands were about keeping the fences mended and strong, invariably, the cattle would break through to our hilltop perch and we would have to shoo them out again, mending the fence-break after them. Shooing the cattle out of the yard was not a quick fix: Brahma’s aren’t as docile as some cattle. It would take all four of us to surround the mavericks and herd them out, with frequent back-steps to gather in the break-aways.

Even though the house was surrounded by grass and elegant chaco trees, I needed flowers!   So, I purchased them at market one day and proceeded to break ground around the house to plant them.  I got a surprise.  All the ground close to the house was full of – not little rocks and sundry bits of concrete from the foundation laying, but small boulders!  Undaunted and determined to plant my flowers, I managed to pry them out with a sturdy shovel, one by one, over the course of a couple of weeks.  Leverage is amazingly productive.  The flowers got planted.  Watering them in the hot season was a bit of a chore (remember that we only had one tractor-hauled metal drum of water every couple of days for all of our household needs).  Trips to the hose to fill the buckets and water the plants takes longer than turning on the sprinkler.

We used a small tank of propane for our cooking, that stood just below the kitchen window.  When the gas ran out, I would close the valve, unscrew the connection with a wrench and roll it out to the front steps.  A ranch hand would then load it on the tractor, haul it down the hill and onto a jeep, take it to town to fill, and bring it back to the house, where I would roll it back into place and re-hook everything.  This was a weekly event.

As for cooking, we had no refrigerator (no electricity), so I had to boil everything that was left over from the evening meal, then re-boil it again in the morning. This preserved the beans, water and other dished that I put together while we lived there.  You didn’t cook something once – you cooked it again and maybe again, as long as anything was left.

This brings us of course to the usual housewife/mother duties of cooking, cleaning, getting the kids ready for school or town – and the unusual duties of shooing our favorite horse off of the porch when he came up to peek through the screen door several times a day, or cleaning the chicken poop off the porch: the chickens insisted on sitting on the railing surrounding the house, facing out of course, as they exchanged their daily chicken news.

Our forays to the city for supplies and an occasional doctor visit for the kids, who were constantly suffering from tonsillitis because of the extreme, damp climate, took a healthy amount of time out of our lives.

So much for being “bored.”   The real truth about life on our hilltop aerie, however, is that even if I had had no chores at all, I could never have been bored.  The most fulfilling part of life was just being there!  Nature has a way of filling the soul to overflowing that no amount of city life can ever do.  And when that nature is spectacular, it holds your attention.  Although I have left many homes in my life, to travel on to new places, this Mexican ranch was the one that produced copious tears when I had to leave.

We finally managed to amuse my city in-laws with a trip to the river. We had a ranch hand hook the the wagon they used to haul feed onto the back of a tractor and bring it up the hill.  We loaded everyone on and set off.  If navigating the hill in a tractor alone was scary, you should try it in a rickety  cart of questionable construction hanging being the same tractor!  The city folk finally got some excitement.  After the initial screams, as everyone tried to find something to hold on to (there wasn’t much), everyone got a little crazy and started to sing. What a sight we must have been for anyone watching:  a cart-full of loud songsters, bobbing around in all directions as we tried to keep our balance, wending our way down a steep hill in a tractor-drawn wagon!  Like something out of Don Quixote.

We finally made our way downhill, across the highway and fields to the river Quilate, a crystal clear, fast-flowing river, situated in one of the most beautiful pieces of paradise you can imagine.   Unfortunately, the water was so cold that you couldn’t even put your feet in.  We ate our packed lunch out on the rocks, listening to the sweet sounds of water rippling over stones,  and had a great time anyway.

The hour return trip was tiring – and quiet – as we tried our best to keep our balance again over steep, uneven terrain, falling down, getting up again, holding on to each other or whichever piece of the rails looked halfway sturdy, every time we hit a bump.  The in-laws were too tired to complain and slept well before leaving in the morning.   As I watched them returning to their car down at the ranch (walking down the hill this time), I heaved a sigh of relief.  It was quiet as I sat on the steps looking out at the expanse of lush green hills, then the cicadas began their song – and I was filled again.


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