Times of Refreshment, With Quacks of Joy

The specter of drought is always present in Texas, even when we’re having plenty of rain. During those rare times when it rains to the point of inconvenience, and we comment on it, we’re always quick to add, “Not that I’m complaining!” A rural Texan being swept off in a torrent of floodwaters would probably feel compelled to say, “Well, we did need the rain.”

Lately we’ve been dealing with not just the specter but the reality of drought. Even the oak trees, stalwart and hardy, are showing signs of stress. There’s not much grass for the horses or cattle, and the big stock pond, which Greg filled with catfish and perch a few months back, has gotten low.

Weather is cyclical, but not in the sense of things repeating themselves in strict and tidy patterns. Averages are just averages, not some sort of natural law, and things deviate farther and more frequently from the expected norm than we’d like. When Greg was a boy that big stock tank never went dry; now it frequently does. It’s sad to see the water receding from dry banks and getting dark and scummy in the low center before vanishing altogether in a damp bit of cracked black clay.

This morning I woke at 4:30 to let the dogs out. I stood a moment with the front door open, wondering what that sound was. When a drought goes on long enough you actually forget the sound of rain.

We had no social plans for Memorial Day, no cookouts to be rained out. I had knitting projects and plenty of yarn; Greg had a number of jobs around the place that could be accomplished just as well in rainy weather. His big outbuilding has become a catchall for tools, horse tack, gardening supplies, random trash, and cats. With a fresh breeze and plenty of animals for company, he knocked out some repair projects and tidied up. It’s now possible to reach the feed bin without first performing a contortionist’s act around the four-wheeler.


And we like for feed to be easy to reach.

I decided I’d had enough of knitting directly from twisty yarn skeins and dealing with the resulting tangles. I looked online, found instructions for how to make a center-pull yarn ball, and got to it. One of the skeins was already pretty messed up; untangling it took a lot longer than getting it into ball form. Well, that’s a lesson for next time: wind the yarn right away. We don’t start out knowing everything in any discipline. We learn as we go.


Mmm, yes. Quite.

I, too, had plenty of animal company. Dogs and cats contribute little of a positive nature to the process of winding yarn, but they are willing and enthusiastic participants. Ginny the Chihuahua stayed especially close. Rain worries her; she likes to be snug against a person, preferably under a blanket, during storms. She would have liked it if I had settled down on the sofa with my knitting, but I had to get my yarn in shape first. I put two chairs back to back, spread out the tangled yarn on the dining table, worked some out, wound some it around the chairs, stopped to untangle again, and wound some more. Wanting to be as near me as possible, Ginny sat on one of the chairs. Later, when Daniel came home, he saw the whole set-up from across the room and thought for a moment that I was lashing Ginny to the chair like a little prisoner.


From that angle, an easy mistake.

I worked with the windows open, and what sounded at first like quacks of delight coming from the direction of the creek turned out to be exactly that. The ducks were glad of the rain too. They quacked steadily for hours. Once I had my yarn taken care of I stood outside on the back porch a while and just listened.

Today is Memorial Day. The whole idea behind memorial, behind memory, is calling to mind things that aren’t happening anymore, things that ought to be remembered. Like the weather, life has its cycles: loss and renewal, dearth and plenty, sacrifice and reward. And as with weather, the patterns aren’t predictable or tidy. Sometimes the one doing the sacrificing doesn’t get to reap the reward. Sometimes your allotted days don’t allow you to hear the dissonance resolved or to see the purpose and beauty emerge in a design that looks like chaos. Hope is what bridges the gap—the hope that God is good and will make all things right, in this life or in the life to come.

The young nation of Israel that wandered through the wilderness in the book of Exodus gets a lot of flack from modern churchgoers, but I wonder which of us in the same circumstances would do better or as well. They didn’t know how the story would end; the God of Abraham was still largely an unknown quantity to them. They had a promise and the testimony of some compelling miracles, yes, but the future was still the future, not an accomplished fact. God allowed them to run out of water, to experience genuine privation, to have real cause for fear and doubt. If he hadn’t, they’d have had no opportunity to demonstrate faith.

Faith is a challenge by definition. It means hanging in there on the strength of a promise, often when everything around you looks like a reason to give up. I know a lot of people right now who are clinging to faith and longing for times of refreshment. I pray that those times will come, and soon, for all of us.

The rain came down steadily for most of the day, and more is expected for the rest of the week. Greg drove by the stock tank and said it’s looking good. He may get to go fishing in October after all.

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

~Genesis 8:22

 Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.

~Isaiah 45:8


The Courthouse, the Quadrail, the Yarn Store, and Home

What I wanted to do that day was knit, preferably for four and a half hours, the estimated time of completion for the afghan I’d been working on. What I did instead was accompany my daughter to the courthouse to take care of her speeding ticket. Interestingly, the time I spent, including the drive there and back, came out to about four hours and fifteen minutes.

To call the experience excruciating would be to overstate things, but that is the word that kept coming to mind. We spent about an hour just standing in line. The man in front of us talked a lot—about the lack of available parking at the courthouse, the idiocy of whoever green-lit the parking lot’s design, and how highway patrol officers are always so quick to pull over a decent chap like himself who is barely speeding but are nowhere to be found when reckless maniacs are running people off the road. The guy was plainly hostile to authority in general and law enforcement in particular; he kept up a steady stream of vaguely surly remarks while I silently wondered whether he would dare to say those things in front of my Uncle Gary. The presence of two officers at the courthouse didn’t seem to faze him. At one point a woman standing somewhere behind us in line was suddenly called by name and taken directly to a front desk, and Cop-Disparaging Guy, in a tone of thinly veiled sullenness, asked one of the officers what was so special about this woman that she got to cut in front of all the rest of us. For a moment it seemed possible that Cop-Disparaging Guy might provide exciting entertainment by causing a real disturbance and getting taken down in a dramatic fashion, but no. The officer replied pleasantly that the woman had a warrant out for her arrest. He refrained from adding that if Cop-Disparaging Guy liked, a similar warrant could be issued for him in order to expedite his own case.

Once we made it through the line, we filed into the courtroom, a big chilly space filled with defendants who got there ahead of us. One by one they were called to the bench. I began counting seconds in order to determine how much time was spent on each defendant and make a rough estimate of how long we’d be there. It was an average of about one and a half to two minutes per, if you want to know, which doesn’t sound like much, but there were so many of them. Time crawled. I wanted desperately to be home.

I am not agoraphobic per se. It’s only a phobia if it’s irrational, and what I have is merely a perfectly natural and reasonable preference of home over every other place. Home is where I keep my electric kettle and distilled water and loose-leaf Darjeeling tea. It’s where our dogs and cats and horses live. It’s where our vegetable garden is growing inside the fence my husband made. It’s where Jarvis the Roomba cleans the floor and sings his triumphant little tune whenever he returns to his docking station. It’s where I keep my books and blankets and favorite hoodie. It’s where I play The Goo Goo Dolls on my laptop while cleaning the refrigerator. It’s where I sit with my family and a Chihuahua and a cat or two, on the gold sofa in the office, to watch DVDs on our computer screen. It’s where I cook, and write, and knit, and sleep, and talk to the people I love most. What’s not to prefer?

I am richly blessed in that I get to stay home a lot. There just aren’t a lot of places I have to go. I order household goods online, and the kids do a lot of grocery shopping for me; my debit card is in their possession more frequently than in my own. It often happens that I go days or even weeks at a stretch without once leaving the property.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of knitting, a very home-ish activity. A few days ago I tried to order yarn online but got confused about weight and ply and such and decided it would be best to visit an actual yarn store this time. A quick Google search turned up Lucky Ewe Yarn in nearby Gruene. I texted Greg, and he proposed that we go there that very day as soon as he got off work. I think he was pleased that I had thought of an outing all by myself, and he patiently stood around the yarn shop while I asked questions of the helpful shop lady and made my selections. Lucky Ewe is a fun shop, with lots of artisanal stuff like hand-woven, hand-dyed yarn spun from the fleeces of local alpacas. I’ll probably go there again sometime, and bring home even more yarn and other supplies that will enable me to stay home and knit.

Recently Daniel laughed to see me lying on the sofa, covered down to my feet by the afghan I was knitting. I looked like I was spinning a cocoon. Maybe I was, in a way. A cocoon is such a nice concept, a protective shell under which you are free to revert to a sort of amorphous goop with your DNA free-floating around.

I had considered bringing my knitting along to court but decided not to because 1) my knitting bag and the afghan-in-progress take up a lot of room and 2) the close quarters and wonky yarn might cause me to make difficult-to-unravel mistakes in my stitches and 3) knitting might not be considered in keeping with the dignity of the court. I did, however, bring a paperback book—The Third Lynx, a Christmas gift from Daniel, second in Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series. These books are a wonderful mix of space opera and detective noir. Zahn is a good, smart, entertaining writer; his Star Wars novels, beginning with The Thrawn Trilogy, are the best in the Expanded Universe, and the character Mara Jade is his creation. I was grateful to have his book with me, and I appreciated the irony in the fact that the story I’d chosen to comfort me while I pined for home is one that takes place almost entirely while the characters are traveling. The Quadrail is an intra-galactic rail system—a space train, basically—connecting the Twelve Empires of the known galaxy. Plucky hero Frank Compton works with a telepathic assistant to keep the Quadrail, and the galaxy, from being taken over by an alien groupmind entity. Frank rarely visits his apartment on Earth; he is constantly on the go, often spending days at a time just getting from one port to another to carry out the next step in his investigations, and continually trying to outwit the groupmind entity’s various agents while coping with the local customs of wildly diverse alien cultures and eating a lot of exotic food. Depending on Frank’s current luck and sleuthing needs, he might travel first, second, or third class; he might get a double sleeping berth with his partner, Bayta, or end up in a modified baggage car. He takes whatever level of comfort he can get, makes a home away from home, and then leaves it for another. He is adaptable and quick on his feet, and if he ever longs for the comfort of home, he doesn’t say so.


Frank does not carry a knitting bag.

Maeve Binchy once said, “You have to live in your mind or imagination in your writing, more than you do in your real life. I’m a matronly, mumsy woman, and if it was all about me and my cats, it would be boring for the readers, and that’s not the way novels are made; there’s no tension or drama.” A lot of fiction is set in exotic locales and concerned with danger and trouble (though I would add that there’s plenty of tension and drama to be found in home-like settings as well), but I think most of us prefer the actual reading of novels, however far-flung their settings, to take place at home, in the most comfortable and familiar of places, with a hot drink and perhaps a cat or two. C.S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

The chilly courtroom was far from homelike. Time wore on as name after name was called, none of them my daughter’s. At one point the judge cleared things out a bit by saying that everyone who planned to plead not guilty should go to another room. Cop-Disparaging Guy left along with maybe one or two others. We waited, and waited, and waited.

At last it was Emilie’s turn. Her traffic violation was not a particularly egregious one, but because she was under eighteen—a mere two days under eighteen at the time of the court date—I had to be there too. We spoke to the judge for our minute and a half and then went to another room where we again sat and waited.

Finally, finally, we were released. Emilie drove off to meet a friend, and I took my frazzled nerves straight home. As I walked to the gate, the horses, Monte and Pippin, came to meet me. I petted them over the fence and immediately felt better. Then I went inside, put on my aqua hoodie, and felt better still.


Edith Pargeter once said of her home, “This is where I put up my feet and thank God.” Yes.