Since the early summer of 2010, my bags have been packed most of the time. I lost my farm in the Great Recession, transferring my horses and goats to a boarding facility where I visited them everyday for the next several years. My dogs, goats and horses stayed with me until they passed on from old age.
During a short time, less than two years I lived with a man who had a severe drinking problem when I first lost my place. I was vulnerable looking for a savior and a place of refuge where I could rest and take care of my animals. A place where I could regroup and try to figure what my next step was. Instead, I found a worse hell than the one I had just been ejected from. Suffice to say, it took me a week to get into that relationship and a year and half to gather the pieces of myself with my animals to get out. Get out I did, and right before the bottom fell completely out, a horse ranch in the golden hills near my family home opened and I was able to trailer all of my animals there.
The ranch was owned by a proud Republican family (their political banner erected on the front of the ranch). The patriarch of the family was almost 97 years old. He had bought the farm during the depression driving trucks delivering fuel to come up with the money. He built the barn stone by stone from small boulders and rocks he found in the creek beds on the property. His first son was born in the barn before the house was completed. When I met him and he agreed to board my goats and horses, I was at my wit's end. I had two dollars to my name. Fortunately, I had a couple of family members and a friend who I could turn to for the first month's board and an account in good standing at the local feed store to charge hay and grain.
Standing there that day looking over the five acre pasture where my animals would be transported to in two weeks, I could finally breathe. It was perfect with rolling hills, trees for shelter and shade until we could build permanent out buildings, an automatic water source and open space bordering solid fences. I had visioned just this place during my worst downs when I didn't know where I was going to go to escape the relationship (later I learned how many women stay in abusive relationships because they don't want to leave their animals).
I figured I would do whatever I needed to do to pay for the monthly board even if that meant every waking hour was spent working. When the old dairy farmer turned to me and quoted me $90 a month which included the morning feeding for my goats and horse at the time, raising it to less than $150 when the rest of the horses arrived later, I almost cried right there.
I kept my animals at that farm until they all passed away years later.
When the old man was alive, he passed away a year after we arrived, his son took over and kept his father's promise to keep my animals safe at a low cost. When he was alive, I would sit with him for hours every morning after I visited my animals.
We were so different, the old man and me in so many ways. He was a veal farmer back in the day, no cows were left on the ranch by the time I got there. I was an animal rights activist in the 1980's organizing veal protests in the same area. Our slogan and chant was "Off the Plates, Out of the Crates, No More Veal". By the 90's veal (baby cow meat) was revolting to most of the public and still is to some degree. The old man was a staunch Republican feared by most of the liberal politicians in the area. Civic minded to the soul, he attended most city and supervisor meetings rallying against any proposed new tax or restriction. The old man was tall, intimidating and aggressive. To me, he was the most gentlest, kind hearted man I had ever known.
We sat with each other every day for almost a year until dementia got the best of him and he died a short time later.
I will always remember the hurt he shared with me. He wanted so badly to connect with his new neighbors, the affluent people moving in from the San Francisco Bay area to the country. He tried to reach out to them. He wanted to share his knowledge of the land, the water, the animals but he couldn't get through their gates, their security gates dotted all over the valley were not open to the casual visit.
I think the old man would be proud to know that his ranch, his home, his property, his barn built from stones has withstood every single firestorm that has hit that valley since he died. Maybe, if some of his neighbors had welcomed his gesture of friendship, their homes would be still standing too.