I spent most of Saturday in the barn, cleaning up, oiling leather, trying to hang a gambrel in the rafters on a pulley, and talking to Barnacles, the sole remaining barn cat. I don’t know what happened to the other one. He, or maybe it was a she, has vanished into the night. Maybe it didn’t like it here. Maybe it was eaten by coyotes, or carried off by an owl. Hard to say. The Figure 8’s record of maintaining cats is not a good one, but that’s true anywhere in the woods. Barnacles–so named by one of the four kids we babysat last week–is still with us, padding around in the rafters, hiding in the haystack, or sleeping on my old bedroll above the tack room. And I think Barnacles is a mouser too, which makes me like him, or her, or whatever it is, quite a bit.
When the rain started Saturday I was in mid-putter, hunched over the calculus of this pulley rig I am trying to create, so I can hang an elk, or a deer, next fall, and I was grabbed by the sound, hard by the scruff of the neck, and it stood me up to listen. There may not be much better than the sound of rain coming down, as it is heard from the inside of a barn, any barn, but particularly a wood barn full of the richness of hay and horses and the steady pattern of raindrops on a metal roof. My friend Jim Cornelius speaks often of gratitude as a way of life–a word borrowed from Middle French, or taken directly from the Latin gratitudo–and first recorded in English usage in 1565. It is a word that sounds like what it means: thankfulness–and as I stood there, down in the barn, I was simply filled to overflowing with an inarticulate gratitude, a wide ranging and thoroughly encompassing sense that I am thankful for the life we get to live just now, and for however long we get to live it.
This kind of gratitude, when it grabs you, rapidly fills the spiritual vessel and overflows into the physical. I’ve told you once that I don’t dance, except in the barn, and so I can admit that with the rain coming down, Barnacles watching me with shark eyes from the rafters, our oldest dog staring at me with his head cocked to the side, and soft country music coming from the radio in the tack room, I gave a little jig of gratitude. It was a quick shot, nothing to overwhelm, but just enough between me and God to let the heavens know how truly grateful I am.
Sunday brought the sun back, and in the afternoon Wendy and I retired to the back porch to enjoy its thin warmth, cocktails in hand. We sat there, listening to the waters run in Wendy Creek, looking down at the horses sunning between shadows in their turnout, the squirrels running up and down the trees, the dogs doing laps around the chicken house. We talked about the garden, things that need to be done because even though it isn’t quite here yet, spring is coming. We lined out various projects and laughed about last year’s failures, and we built big dreams of bounty for this year’s harvest of vegetables.
And as we were sitting there, sipping our cocktails, full of gratitude on a Sunday afternoon, the sun just warm enough to whisper something sly about the promise of a changing season, we heard it. The first frog of the season, somewhere in the rocks of our little water feature, an outsized croaking that rebounded hard against the house and went filtering back out into the trees. And both of us laughed and cried out and we bumped knuckles because we were lucky enough to hear it.
In a few more weeks the creek will fill up with frogs. By mid-April they will be loud enough to keep us up at night, a symphony of croaks like old wood bent to breaking, a call and response symphony shaking the windows, and there is zero doubt that the snakes will come back too. The snakes are known as Pacific aquatic garter snakes, and I only know this because we have sat on the porch and watched one wind through the rocks that edge the creek, to sneak up behind a frog, to strike faster than the human eye, and to eat one whole. It was a built in Mystery Dinner Theater, that event, and found us sitting on the porch with a bag of chips and a bowl of homemade guacamole, our eyes wide and our mouths full.
So this weekend it rained, I danced, and we heard our first frog of the season. Down in the meadow below our butte the redwing blackbirds are back on the fence line too, and that is another hard sign of spring in the offing. We are grateful, and we are happy, and we are looking forward to the warm days and nights in the ways that long winters and cabin fever can drive our human yearning. And of course, somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that the snakes are coming too. They always do. How they find us here, on our little ranch in the trees, is a mystery, but they are coming, perhaps even as I write this, emerging from the ground with that first frog call, now slithering slowly, inexorably, through the duff.