(originally written March 2005)
Billie had told me to wear old jeans, a tshirt, and sports shoes. So I did, and I had a straw hat so I wore that too. It was going to be warm and nice that day for a change. Billie's house is 20 minutes away from Stillwater near another town called Cushing. She picked me up at 1130am at my dorm and we drove to a deli and had lunch on the way. I had catfish and fries and ice cream. We were there until 1230pm and then we went on to her house. Her family owns a lot of acres (I forget how many), but she lives in a little house with her husband who just had knee surgery two weeks ago. Darrell runs the ranch. He's in his mid-60s and he was out most of the time with the animals, although I met him for a total of 15 minutes at various times of the day. Billie's house is made of wood (around 100 years old), and they bought it 35 years ago when it was broken down and redid it. Her three daughters are married and live in different places in OK with their husbands and two children each. Her house was very warm and cozy. It had a light brown carpet and lots of photographs on the walls alongwith candles and cute things like that. I had bought a present for her because it was the first time I was going to her house. I had bought her a candle holder that holds three small candles and had a mirror attached to it so you can hang it on the wall or something (the grills built around it are black and shaped like vines). She liked that very much and she put candles in it and lit them and everything. Anyway, it was like the little house on the prairie business. She had a yard running all around her house and then she had fenced-off areas for the animals at various distances although it all amalgamated into one gigantic piece of land with everything in it. Anyway, once we got out of the car, I met her husband who was working in the area with the fowls (around 15 of them!). Of course, Billie's two little dogs came running. One's a tiny rat terrier called Sally and the other's a small dog (I don't know the breed) and he's called Lucky. (I kept calling him khushqismat ha ha ha ha). They were very nice dogs and very friendly, and I made friends with them fast. Billie doesn't let her animals into her house so they sat out on the porch. She showed me around the house and everything too. Then we went out for a walk which probably came upto 5 miles. We left the house and stepped into the barn first. I met one donkey who was called Lucius and he was very nice. And then I met the two goats Tippy and Nani. Billie let those two out of their pens and they followed us on our walk the whole time alongwith the dogs. It was all open land with trees and grass and I saw anthills and molehills and badger holes on the way. We first went to the huge pond behind a hill, and there I saw turtles bobbing their heads in and out of the water while they were underwater. I also saw mallards and other ducks flying and swimming. Billie and her family (children, grandchildren and all) like to swim, boat, etc. at the pond in the summers. Then we walked on to another smaller pond area and then started walking into this old avenue like road which had trees all along it on both sides. This long road used to be a railroad track but it got removed over a 100 years ago. This road led to Billie's house, and the whole time the dogs and the goats were walking with us, the dogs especially running around us and sometimes sitting between my feet when we stopped for a second. We were at another barn near her house where the fenced-off area has cows (the unhorned variety) and she even has 2 llamas (their names are Tuxedo and Stapleton). I had to hold out my hands to the llamas because they like to sniff at it for some reason.
Billie has an electric wire running around all her fences. I was sitting on the ground next to the fence there, and Lucky was trying to lick my left hand so I would pat his head, and I absentmindedly moved my left hand out to my left side trying to stop Lucky from licking it, and I got zapped by the electric fence and of course, Lucky did too. We both yowled and I fell off onto a dirt mound. It was funny! Apparently the animals and humans get zapped by the fence quite a bit. It was more startling really than painful. In fact it wasn't painful at all. On a scale from 1-10 where 10 is a major shock, I'd say that the zap was around 1. Anyway, we then walked the goats back to their pen but only after Billie shovelled their pens clean and put fresh food in there. Then we locked the goats in. She even had peacocks! Three peahens and one peacock really. Someone had given Darrell the eggs and he'd hatched them (they used to hatch poultry and so they have a mechanical hatcher). Wow - they were the biggest surprise of all. Billie and I then walked to her home where I splashed water on my face and then she had me have ice cream as we talked in her 'yoga room' (Billie does Yoga, and she used to do kickboxing and taek won do before). They had hired someone to till the garden patch beside their house where Billie is going to grow veggies (she used to grow all their own veggies until she started working full-time recently after her children grew up and got married and everything). Another cowboy was tilling the patch with a tractor and it really looked so nice, you know? That area was beside the area with the horses and the mules, too. I sat on some square bales of hay with the dogs and was surprised how heavy they really were (the bales not the dogs). After a while, Billie drove me home back to my dorm, but before we left, I saw some of her cats running around in the pasture. It was a great day!
First of all, it felt wonderful getting so close to normal things. I felt so healthy. I was freshly scrubbed and showered that day (all I had done was take a shower in he morning before leaving), but my skin felt so clean with the wind and the nice sun and everything. I was feeling so healthy and nice, especially with all the hills and river and animals and actual physical work of walking so much over ups and downs in the ground. I got mud randomly all over my jeans because the dogs would put their paws on me after they'd splashed in water (and I'd even dripped some ice cream on myself earlier that day), but for a change, I didn't really care which is a big surprise. I felt like I was in a Mark Twain book when Billie would say things like 'Darrell's sister lives across the creek on the other side of that hill' or 'The river runs through our land' or '150 years ago they used to have dances and singing at the pond in the summer evenings'. Goodness, I was so tired by the time I got back, but it was a good tired. It might sound stupid but I felt I got my body functioning properly after spending just a few hours at the farm, like I started feeling tired after walking so much but just in time for dinner and things like that, you know? I had the best sleep ever last night. I just plopped right to sleep with my lungs and brain all clear and nice. I even felt my cells functioning happily. And it was SO nice hanging around animals after so long. I'd forgotten that you can actually talk to them and stuff. I mean, really! The llamas especially. I'd never seen a llama before in real life and they looked like a cross between an ostrich and a camel. It was such an experience to actually interact with so many different things, all of which are just as alive as you are, and to look at each other and actually communicate mostly through sounds and speech tones. It was so much fun and so surprising to have the goats and dogs actually walk with us all over the place. I kept feeling like Tan-sen when he would sing and the animals would come to hang around him. Wow, wow, wow. Spring has barely started so the trees had no leaves and a lot of the grass was yellow and crunchy, but it is starting to get green and a lot of the flowers were starting to grow again. There were oaks and pine trees too, and grapevines, just growing on their own. I loved the feel of the ground under my shoes and it made me so happy to be able to hear the crunch of the dry grass, rocks, twigs, as I walked around. I told Billie how Abbu likes to know the names of plants and flowers and stuff, and she said that my family and friends are welcome to come to her place whenever they're here, and she knows that Amma especially like to write and likes gardens and land and cottages and stuff. My friends Vlasta and Diviya were invited too, but Diviya has friends over for Spring Break and Vlasta was working that day splat in the middle of the day and couldn't make it. But Billie's said she will have them come over again.
Billie and her husband bought this land years ago, and they raised their children on it. At various points in time before, they used to do dairy, poulty, grow veggies like corn, etc., but that was mostly when their children were growing and Billie used to not work but run the ranch. After her children grew up and bought their own homes (in OK), Billie started working full-time at Career Services at our school here, so she doesn't have time to really work at the ranch as much, but she still works on it when she gets home from her job in Stillwater. She told me that she used to grow and bottle her own food before, like veggies and fruits, eggs, milk, jams, pickles, whatever. She grew up on a farm in North (or South?) Carolina where her father used to be a pilot, and she's lived in cities too after she got married.
Phew! That was a long email. I had fun and was very happy yesterday, and was wishing that Abbu, Amma and the bhais could be there too. I took pictures but I hope I they came out okay because I suspect that the film might not have loaded perfectly. But once I develop them, I will scan them and email them too. :D
But now I'm back, it's back to my IT homework...
Update: One week after my visit, Lucky died.