Grit Blogs > Living Small In New Mexico

Dog Tales

Virginia HawthornWell, in April, winter made one last swipe at us just a couple of days after the average last frost date in our area. That’s why the weather forecasters are careful to say average, I guess. We had not planted any tender things yet – we wait at least until May 1 regardless of what the Almanac says about frost dates. However, our little fruit trees thought spring had arrived, and the apricots had even set some fruit. As our neighbor said, her fruit trees got “thinned” quite a bit, and so did ours! A few small trees were really set back and a couple may not make it, but that’s the way it goes around here, and probably just about everywhere I suppose.

Anyway, it seems that spring has finally sprung and things, especially weeds, are growing like mad. Our new baby chicks arrived in the mail – Pearl-white Leghorns and Black Stars, plus a bonus free chick of unspecified but “rare, exotic” heritage. Hopefully, all female. The baby chicks are also growing like mad, graduating from their child’s wading pool in the sunroom to the big retired stock tank in the barn.

A Tiny Chick 

 A sweet little Pearl White.

Chicks at Dinner

Chicks in their wading pool home.           

Tales of the Farm Dogs

Now and then I have mentioned our dogs, and it’s time to formally introduce them. Our first farm dog was our darling Millie. She was a Jack Russell, very smart, very active (of course), fast as the wind, and a bit large for her breed. Millie could do anything, even spell, I believe. Her favorite game was when her mom would hide little bits of dog treats all over the living room – under rugs, behind cushions, in corners and nooks and crannies. Then Millie would scurry around looking everywhere until she had found every last one.

Millie

Millie

But Millie’s quick mind, athletic abilities, and urge to run proved to be her downfall. She was an escape artist, and probably always had been, since she turned up as a stray in the animal shelter in Santa Fe, where she was rescued by my daughter. There was no fence high enough or secure enough to keep her in – not even when the fence was hot-wired and she wore a shock collar. Neighbors would call us, or we would come home to find her outside the fence with the gate still securely fastened. We never could figure out how she did it. And as you may have guessed, my daughter came home one afternoon to find Millie had been hit by a car right outside the front gate. She is buried under the big cottonwood in the backyard.

Not too long after Millie came here to live, the Farmer and her husband decided it would be a good idea to have a larger dog to provide a bit of protection, at least with a big bark to discourage intruders or other dogs from coming onto the property without an invitation. And one day here came Buddy, obviously some sort of shepherd mix, with beautiful light coloring, a soft, fluffy coat, and a big smile. He came before the perimeter fencing was even completed, stayed around for a couple of days, and then disappeared again just at the point where my daughter had decided that perhaps he could stay. Oh well, back to the computer to check the listings at the animal shelter – and there he was, looking for a home! Obviously, some Good Samaritan had taken him to the shelter. So, he became ours after all, and took on the name Buddy because he was Millie’s buddy, as well as anyone else’s, dog or human, who came along. Not exactly a guard dog, but he did have some size and a big bark.

Buddy 

Buddy is a handsome boy ...

Buddy on Guard Duty

but not a ferocious watchdog!

In spite of his friendliness and lack of much in the way of smarts (he is sometimes known as “Buddy with no Brain”), Buddy can be protective of his family. He chases off any vehicles, especially white pickup trucks with dogs in the back, that have the nerve to drive along “our” road or ditch bank access. Thank goodness there is very little traffic along here except during chile harvesting season. He is an ardent critter hunter, along with the two Jack Russells (introduced below), and can dismantle a rock or brick pile, a stack of pipes or lumber, or just about anything else in no time flat in pursuit of a squirrel, gopher, lizard, mouse, or any other intruder. He’s a one-dog demolition crew, a talent that might be very useful if only we could channel it to tasks we wanted done instead of un-done.

One time, after Buddy had been living here for several years, he and the other dogs cornered something in an irrigation culvert and were creating quite an uproar. Finally, the Farmer decided to see what the problem was. There were eyes gleaming in there, so she went to the far end of the culvert with a stick to encourage whatever it was to go out – maybe not the wisest thing she has ever done! Husband and dogs were at the other end, when out popped a skunk and back jumped the hunting party. Except for Buddy. He flexed his muscles, told everyone to stand back, and WHAM! He jumped at that skunk, grabbed it by the neck and flung it to the ground, picked it back up and flung it down again, all in less time than it takes you to read this sentence. The poor skunk never had a chance to spray or run, and Buddy certainly proved his courage in an emergency.

In his younger days, Buddy was very fast, and displayed his heritage as a herding dog by running in circles to try to head off those cars and trucks he was chasing, although with no success since they were on the road and he was inside our fence. It was funny to see Buddy run to get ahead of the truck to “turn the herd” while the other two dogs ran to get behind the truck to chase it off. Now he’s getting pretty old and slow, with hip problems typical of larger dogs. But he still puts on a bit of speed now and then, he still has his smile, and he enjoys life in the sunshine.

Soon after Millie left us, my daughter decided that a Jack Russell had become a necessary part of her life. She really missed Millie, so back to the computer to search for another little speedball doggie. Bingo! Meet Sally and Rex. They were a special pair, not litter mates but raised together in a rescue shelter, with Rex being about a year older. But yikes! – they were in Cortez, Colorado. That’s 321 miles away, one way! However, after more unsuccessful searching, and more conversations with the rescue folks, it became obvious that Sally was the one … but the only one, please. Arrangements were made to meet the rescue family in Farmington, New Mexico, a mere 251 miles from here, with the promise that Rex would stay at home, since my daughter knew that once she saw him there would be no way to leave him behind. So, little white Sally came to Lemitar and Buddy had a new buddy.

Sally

Sally, built for speed and sitting on laps.

Rex was out of sight, but not out of mind. My daughter kept checking the computer and finding that he still had not been placed. The situation was becoming rather desperate, since the rescue family was planning to move to another state and really needed to find a home for him. Need I say more? Soon it was off to pick up Rex. This time I went along and we drove all the way to Cortez, where Sally and Rex had a happy reunion and we started on the long road back home. It was somewhere along the way that the Farmer’s husband, riding in the back seat with the dogs at the time, discovered that Rex suffers from car sickness. Oh, my …. Fortunately, we were well supplied with napkins and water, and Rex managed to settle down on the floor and make it back to his new home without further disasters. Poor Rex still has difficulty riding in cars, although he would really love to be a regular traveler.

Rex

Everyone loves Rex.

The three dogs get along well together, sleeping in the sun, digging for gophers, running races after cars and other dogs, and following us every step of the way as we work in the fields. Now I know where the term “dogging” someone’s footsteps comes from.  Rex and Buddy are especially good buddies, hanging out together doing guy things. 

Our farm is fairly close to the railroad tracks; near enough to enjoy the sound of the train whistles and far enough away so they aren’t intrusive and don’t keep us awake nights. But there is something about a train whistle that brings out a dog’s primitive ancestry. As the freight trains toil up or down the valley, they blow a warning at each grade crossing of each little farm road – and there are many. As the sound grows nearer, the dogs gather in a circle, point their noses at the sky, and howl: Sally is the soprano, Rex the tenor, and Buddy the baritone. Dogs are still only modified wolves, no matter how long they have been human companions, and even if they are little white terriers small enough to pick up and tuck under your arm.

Wolf calls 

Channeling their inner wolves.

Gopher hunt

Gopher hunt!

Jack Russells never give up when on the hunt, and they will go right underground after their prey. They were originally bred for going in after foxes that had "gone to ground" (into a burrow) during fox hunts in England. The fox would usually go out another entrance to the tunnel and the Jack was then retrieved by its stubby little tail. However, a cornered fox would sometimes turn and engage them in ferocious fights, and the intense little dogs were sometimes seriously injured, but they never give up when going down after anything – fox, gopher, mouse, whatever. Ours are a terrific help in controlling the rodent population here on the farm.

Enough with the dog stories – there are many more to come. Like the time they treed a squirrel in the engine compartment of the pickup. Or Sally’s pig races. And the times other lost dogs have arrived at our gate asking for help. Meanwhile, I need to proceed with my promised living small segment:

Learning to Live Small – Making Maximum Use of Space

When I first moved into this home, there was a large pantry closet beside the refrigerator, which had lots of space – big, empty space, unfortunately. The pantry closet is still there, of course, but I did some modifying which helped make that big, empty space much more useful. Since the top and bottom sections each had only one shelf, I immediately set about adding some shelving, simply using pegs in the pre-drilled holes and cutting some shelves to fit. I also put a half shelf at the back of each section, which provides space for smaller items while not blocking the view clear to the back. Getting those two small shelves put in was a bit tricky for me to manage, but they are very useful and well worth the effort.

Pantry door Pantry open

Views of the pantry.

Next, I struggled with the trash and recycle bins for a while, putting two large bins one behind the other on the very bottom shelf. They held a lot, but I had to pull the front bin out entirely to get anything into the back bin – something of a pain in the neck. So I shopped around on the Internet and discovered the somewhat smaller bins you see here, which are set in a rack that glides in and out with the touch of a finger. Better yet, I realized that I could mount the entire mechanism on the far right of the cabinet while still allowing it to glide freely. That left space on the left, where I store the garbage bags, extra cat food, and hang the dustpan and brush on the wall beside it. That dustpan had been driving me nutty for months because I use it frequently and needed a quick and handy spot to put it where it was accessible but didn’t fall out on my feet all the time. Finally – success!

Trash 

Trash out

Bees, Bees, Bees!

We have now become beekeepers! Or perhaps I should say bee landlords, since the bee care will be provided by some good friends who had a bee overflow problem and have placed some of their hives at the far end of our pasture. They will do all the bee work while we provide the space and the flowers – the yellow hive is reserved just for Lucky Us. Such a sweet deal, and we could not be happier with the arrangement. I can’t wait to taste our very own honey!

Bees