I had intended to introduce this homesteading blog with a light-hearted story starring a cowboy who roped a Texas longhorn cow in the vestibule of a bank and shoved two goats into the back seat of a pickup. I assure you, that will come.
In the meantime, please indulge me the opportunity to wax poetic — or at least attempt to be a bit thoughtful — about the importance of and blessing that is a good support unit to those of us who would undertake modern-day homesteading.
Robert Frost once wrote (albeit ironically) “Good fences make good neighbors.” But I’m more inclined to agree with the first line of his poem, “Mending Wall”: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the good, strong fences and the steel gate that define the perimeter of our property and keep our animals secured … especially right now, as yet another random, stray horse is trotting around the pasture across the road. But I really don’t believe it’s our great fences that have made for good neighbors.
Rather, it’s good hearts in good people that make good neighbors.
And last night reminded me that we know some of the best around.
Andy and I live in an agrarian area that is subdivided, on our side of the county line, into 40-plus-acre parcels. Some of those are developed into ranchettes, and some remain simply open fields of buffalo grass, natural arroyos and cholla forests. Given that there are only about 300 properties in this entire development located a 30-minute drive from anything, I consider it fortuitous that two families’ worth of our closest friends happen to live within two miles of our house.
Both of which were ready to jump into action to help save our butts Friday night. That’s because while both Andy and were at work Friday, a thunderstorm of nearly Biblical proportions opened up and hammered our area. It flattened gardens, filled ditches and washed out an entire section of the only ingress/egress roadway serving roughly half of the development.
For those who were at home, there was no exiting absent a watercraft or helicopter. For those of us who weren’t, well … suffice it to say Andy and I stayed in a hotel last night.
Which poses a big, big problem when you have four dogs, three horses, roughly four dozen chickens and a cat at home, all depending on you for their survival needs.
There’s something innately isolated about living on a ranch/homestead located miles from, well, anything.
There’s a different mindset among those who would undertake this effort, and who do so with a vision toward reducing their ecological footprint and living sustainably. We tend to be self-sufficient, self-reliant and have minimal predisposition to ask for help with anything.
During the day, I work in Colorado’s second-largest city as the founding editor and general manager of a newspaper dedicated to the state’s most diverse district. This often means I have after-work obligations, whether they be for coverage or cultural purposes; and Friday found me at an evening event supporting one of my sister publications.
When one of my neighbor-family members, Andreas McMurtry, announced on social media that the road had turned from washboard-laden, dirt pathway to raging river of flood waters, my initial response was – verbatim – “Fuck! We’re both at work.”
Within five minutes, both Andreas and our long-time friend, three-year neighbor and hugely trusted horse-trainer, Shea Wallin, chimed in, wanting to know what they could do to help.
To be clear, both of these people have children – in Andreas’ case three teens and in Shea’s a trio of young girls – ranches, home-based businesses (Simplicity Farm LLC and Shea Wallin Horsemanship, respectively) and spouses who were stuck on the wrong side of the river. They both have animals for whom they are responsible: In Shea’s case, client horses and his own, in Andreas’ a peck of piglets that she is raising for clients, a pair of baby donkeys with mamas, and at least one of almost every other imaginable domestic type of livestock, including the world’s coolest mule. They both have massive gardens with which they are endeavoring to grow their family’s produce, and both of which were doubtless as battered as mine this morning (probably even more so).
The point being, both have tremendous obligations outside of caring for us. And yet neither hesitated to battle the weather and do whatever was necessary to batten down the High Plans Hatches.
Andreas’ eldest son, a spry Pueblo West High School freshman named Jaylan, lept our electric fence into the dog run, trudged through sucking mud, let out and feed the dogs, and open the house so his mom could come inside and find the spare key in case they needed to repeat this morning. Jaylan then apologized for the mud he had tracked in and volunteered to clean it up, because he’s that kind of remarkable young man.
Andreas, knowing I was concerned about my senior horse, not only slogged through the mud to go visit the pasture, but sent me a video showing Sonny safe, well and begging for his dinner like always. It made me tear up when I saw it.
To me, all of this means something quite profound.
We are blessed beyond measure to have such a support unit, and I am grateful that they are so willing to jump in and be of assistance without thought to the additional time or responsibility.
When Sonny badly choked last December, Shea walked him in the freezing cold with me for hours, because I needed to not be alone thinking my beloved horse was going to die and Andy didn’t know what else to do. When he needed a place to stay isolated and out of the weather for 10 days of antibiotics immediately thereafter, Andreas and her family opened their barn and offered him a stall. I would often find her youngest, a sweet-natured boy named JayAndre, in the barn brushing the old man during his convalescence … much to Sonny’s absolute delight.
Which is to say nothing of the medical expertise that Andreas, a skilled emergency veterinary technician, willingly offered last fall as my beloved mastiff puppy, Tre, was recovering from back-to-back abdominal surgeries.
I am humbled to know these amazingly gifted individuals care so very much, and am always there when I have the opportunity to repay the favor. There reaches a point where good people become good neighbors, then good friends, then good family. So rarely is that balance found, and such a precious thing it is.