The Tapping Game

Kayla put my hand on the rounded side of her belly and held it there.  She was smiling and holding still, and said to wait for it.

Then she pushed in slightly with her fingers, three light taps, just above my hand.  There was a tap against my hand, from the inside.

She laughed and tapped again, and there was another tap from inside.

My astonishment at those first taps has been followed by many attempts, on my part, to get an answer from the little one.  She responds to my cues by shifting her weight inside of Kayla, or with kicks or light touches.  Sometimes she doesn’t answer, and I wait for long moments, and there is nothing.

The nights are cold now, and it is very cold in our room without a heater, and we can see our breath as we lay down for sleep.  Lying next to Kayla, nine months along, in the quiet dark, my hand on the tight skin of her belly, tapping, waiting for a reply, and drifting to sleep, the scene changes.  The new setting is from memory:  the inside of a tent on the ledge of a mountain.

It was too early in the year for that trip, and I knew it was risky, with winter still clinging to the mountains.  But it was the only time I could get off work, and I had the youthful confidence of one who does not know the true weight of snow.

It was a cross-country trek, a hundred miles through the back country, ten or twelve days if all went well, breaking brush through untouched forest, far from roads or trails.  The plan to was navigate the terrain below the snow line all the way to the river, then down a trail to a highway, then hitchhike back to my car.

It was several days into the hike–deep into the mountains, through towering forests with soft pine-needle floors, across steep ledges, alpine meadows, chest-burning ascents, the views opening up at the lower summits, a vertical white wall of barren 13,000 feet peaks to the front, the river somewhere in the unseen distance–when the blizzard came.

A dark wall of clouds rolled over the mountains and consumed me where I was hurriedly trying to descend to a lower altitude.  At first the sleet came at an angle, then turned to hard pellets of snow, then the sky went nearly black with snow and it did not stop coming down for two days.

It was difficult to walk in the slush after a short time, and impossible to see with the snow blowing like needles into my face, and as the powder created a new surface there was no way to know what was beneath each step on the white crust; solid ground, a fallen tree, a chasm twenty feet deep.  I found a windbreak on a ledge next to a boulder with a tall fir tree on each side, and set up the tent.

There was nothing to read in that tent, nothing to do but to conserve food and water, to freeze to the core, to toss and turn, to lay and think, my stormy history playing in my head, my dreams for the future shrinking to one or two very definite short term goals. The snow piled up continually with a weight to crush my tiny hollow space on the side of the mountain.

Finally, on the third morning, the sun rose and began to melt the snow.  After much miserable trudging, after sliding and tumbling in the knee-high slush, switching back and forth downward across snow-covered rocks and brush, the branches of trees dropping huge wet clumps in a bitter second snowfall, and descending finally into the green forest and the wet green grass, and at last down to the river, the water roaring and rushing over boulders and far above the banks, I was able to find a way back to the world.

But now, in this dream, I was back inside that tent on the side of the mountain, so dark at night I could not see my hands, and nearly as dark in the day, with the opaque light showing beige through the tent-walls, until the snow piled up again to create a new frozen darkness.

Except now, I was holding our baby, tiny, perfectly silent, but warm and alive and curling and uncurling against my chest.  I pulled her close and covered her in a fold of the sleeping bag.  We reached up together, feeling the smooth contours of the tent wall with our fingertips, watching our breath, my breath rushing out in big dissolving clouds, hers in short small bursts.

She pulled away from the tent walls.  She was afraid that the snow piling up on the roof would collapse and bury us.

I told her not to worry, that if we tapped on the tight skin of the tent, Kayla would reach down with fingers like the branches of a fir tree, and tap lightly from the other side.

I told her in the dream that everything would be okay; that we would find a way down from this mountain, down to the rushing river—that we would sleep soon in our own warm bed, covered in blankets, with Kayla looking down at us.

Girls Have China

Kayla and I attended a marriage and family seminar at the Baptist Church in Corpus Christi.  The preacher who led the class said the main thing to know about children is that you have to talk straight to them about ‘the business’.

He said to never use cute names for body parts, and not to use pseudonyms for the birds and the bees, which only causes confusion, and creates trouble later on.  Especially with daughters, he said, dads must have the courage to tell it straight.

So, our little girl, at five years old, while we were all sitting at the table, surprised us with some awkward anatomical questions.  I graciously yielded the floor to Kayla so they could have ‘the discussion’, and I went outside for some pressing work that couldn’t wait another moment, like making sure the grass was still growing.

Later that evening, the little one came and sat down next me on the couch and gave me a serious look.  She said she had something important to tell me.

“Yes, ma’am?” I said.

“Daddy, girls have China.”

“Girls have what?” I said.

“Girls have China,” she said.  “I know all about it.”

I knew that Kayla had taught her the proper anatomical names, like the preacher told us to do.  The little one had obviously misunderstood the terms, and it was up to me to straighten it out.

“That’s right,” I said.  “Girls have China.  And do you know what they have in China?”

“No, what?”

“In China, they have big cuddly koala bears!” I said.

“Oh, I love koala bears, they are so cute!” she said.  “What else do they have in China?”

“In China, they have big cuddly koala bears and soft fluffy white tigers and really good Chinese food.”

“Oh Daddy!  I love all of those things!” she said.

“That’s right, so always remember, girls have China, and boys have Africa,” I said, hoping to take the discussion in a different direction.

“Daddy,” she said, “that’s not right.  Boys don’t have Africa.”

“They don’t?  What do boys have?”

“Girls have China and boys have peanuts,” she said.

“That’s right!  Boys have peanuts!  And you know that you are really, really allergic to peanuts, right?”

“I am?” she said.

“Yes, you are now,” I said.  “Really allergic.  You will be allergic to peanuts until you are 30 years old.  Got it?”

Eight Months Along

Kayla Pregnant 36 weeks 12-5-13

Kayla and I had an appointment yesterday to have family pictures taken on our farm, but while we were waiting for the photographer to arrive, this winter storm blew in.

The temperature dropped from 70 degrees to 40 degrees in about an hour, and the sky turned dark and gray.  We had to reschedule with the photographer for next week, when, hopefully, there will be more sunshine and less cold wind.

But I had already dragged our fancy green chair out to a pasture, and Kayla had her red pants on, so I went back to the house for my camera.  Emma may want to look at this someday.  I took these pictures of Kayla, eight months pregnant, as the last of the charcoal light drained from the sky.

Kayla Pregnant by Lake 12-5-13Kayla Pregnant in Chair 12-5-13

January 1, 2014

I finally could see the rounded curve of her.  It was funny to be this far along and just now to see her.

Outside the windows, the sky turned gray and white with a summer storm.  In the far distance, the mountains we had slept in the night before were purple, and they were not cold and rainy for us anymore.

Kayla turned to the side so I could get a picture with the camera phone, and held the dress back to show me.

I had already felt her moving beneath the skin, the little arms reaching, the kicks, gentle at first, then more insistent, the tension curling and uncurling beneath the surface.

And now, finally, looking at Kayla, standing like a statue, her hands on the rounded curve, I can see the outline of our little girl.

She will come into full view on January 1, 2014.

On the top floor of the Museum of Art in Denver

On the top floor of the Museum of Art in Denver

A Nice Swim

On our drive back from a friend’s wedding in Austin, Kayla and I stopped at a place I know on the Guadalupe River.  It is a beautiful spot.  The brush opens at the bank to form a smooth sandy beach.  Oak and pecan trees tower over the river casting dappled light and shadows on the water.

I only meant for us to stop and admire the scenery in our fancy clothes, but her satin dress was instantly on a branch, and she dove into the green water.

“What are you waiting for?” she said from the middle of the river.  She laughed out loud from the cold water and her voice rang in the forest and she swam backward taunting me and splashing water.

I looked up and down the river.  I was still wearing my suit jacket.  “Come on!” she said, “no one will ever find out!”

I have never wished I could paint so much as that afternoon, to paint the gold of the sun on her skin, the different gold of her hair, the soft white outline of her arms, her shoulders, her face–her eyes a deeper green than the green flowing water.

“Come on, you big chicken!” she said.  She started making bok bok bok chicken noises, and then went under the water and came back up swimming.  The birds sang in the high in the branches of the trees.

She held herself in the middle of the river, waiting for me, her face glowing above the surface of the water, and I swam to her.

Weeding in a Nice Dress

Kayla in Blue Dress

I love it when Kayla comes home from work, in her nice dress, and comes out to the garden to tell me it’s time for Wednesday Bible class.  Then, she starts weeding and working in the garden, and after a while we are both working, with her still in her nice dress.

And then she sees me through the vegetables, taking pictures of her, and now it is really time to go.

Kayla in Blue Dress and Bando

Welcome Edible Austin Readers

If you found us through Edible Austin magazine, welcome to our farm.  We are located on the windswept sands of the Gulf Coast of Texas, and we are thrilled to be a part of the Edible Austin community.

Our farm is built on a network of relationships:  relationships between seed and soil, plants and animals, pests and predators, carbon and nitrogen, the gardener and the garden, me and you.

None of these relationships are isolated or disconnected from the rest.  Our farm is strongest when these complex relationships are in balance.

By seeking out fresh food from your local farmer, you become a part of this network.  You are as connected to the seed as if you planted it, and you embrace all the health and taste benefits of a really good farming program.  We hope this relationship also helps bring balance to your life.

You can find our products every day through Coastal Bend Health Foods in Rockport.  Kimmi’s store offers an amazing range of farm fresh products:  pastured pork, poultry, eggs, a wide variety of freshly picked vegetables, herbs, grass-fed beef, and much more.

We are proud to partner with GLOW of Rockport, one of the finest restaurants on the Gulf Coast.  Check their menu to see about our specials.  You can also find our products at farmers’ markets across South/Central Texas, available through our good friend and fellow farmer, Greg Edelen.  Click here for his market schedule.

For a quick tour of our site, we invite you to check out our most popular posts:  Moonlighting Sonata, about working nights to support the farm; The Storm, about hawks killing chickens; Notes on Growing Tomatoes, an overview of our farming methods; and A Record Year, about the struggles of small-scale farming.

Our Fresh Ham Roast Recipe is one of the most popular ham roast recipe on the internet, ahead of even Paula Deen’s famous ham roast!  Google searches for all things ham bring thousands of visitors to our site, and help spread the word about the value of really good pastured pork.

Thank you MM Pack for taking an interest in our farm, and for making the drive down to visit.  We hope to see you again very soon.  And thanks Jenna, Marla, and the staff of Edible Austin, for your work on this beautiful magazine, and for letting us be a part of it.

Nati with Edible Austin

Stinker Pot Pie

You have to be careful when giving special names.

The name of my farm dog is Bando, but, if he gets into trouble, or does something really clever, I call him Stinker.  I call him Stinker because when my cousin gave me the dog, he said, “I’ve got to warn you, he’s a real stinker.”

Kayla’s dog is named Pressley.  But I needed a good name for her, for when she gets into trouble.  So I call her Stinkerbelle.

When my mom brought over her hyperactive nine pound frenetic rescue dog, Tibbydough, only one name seemed to fit:  Stinker Pot Pie.

When I yelled, “Get over here, Stinker Pot Pie!” at TibbyDough, my five-year-old daughter squealed with laughter.  Of all the times I have heard her laugh, and she is always laughing, I have never heard her laugh so hard.  I said it again, in opera baritone: “Stinker Pot Pie, get off of that table!”  She erupted with laughter.

She laughed so hard she doubled over, and slapped her thigh, and finally, through her giggles, said, “Daddy, you called him a Stinker Pot Pie!”

Here is the problem with giving special names to dogs: they don’t recognize linguistic nuance.  They only catch the first syllable or two of what you tell them.  Now, whether I yell Stinker, Stinkerbelle, or Stinker Pot Pie, all of them straighten up and coming running.

So, Kayla asked me to get everyone together in the car, so we could go on a family outing.  If you have a rambunctious family of people and animals, you know what a struggle it can be to get everyone together to leave.  I took our daughter outside and said, “Get in the car please, Stinker Pot Pie!”

She squealed with laughter and said, “I’m not a Stinker Pot Pie, you’re a Stinker Pot Pie!”

“No, you’re a Stinker Pot Pie!”

“No, YOU’RE a Stinker Pot Pie!”

All of the dogs thought we were yelling at them and came running.  They sat down in a well-behaved line in front of our little girl.

Kayla came out with the bags and said, “Hey! Great job getting everyone together! Let’s go!”

Yes, it’s all part of my grand design.


Making It

The Crucified Land, by Alexandre Hogue

The Crucified Land, by Alexandre Hogue

The paintings of Alexandre Hogue came to town.  Hogue was the Dust Bowl painter of the Great Depression.  Someone at the museum has a dark sense of humor, to show those paintings around here.

Still, Kayla and I packed our picnic basket, to stay within budget, and went down to the museum to look at the paintings.

Houge depicted the soil erosion of 1930’s industrial farming, and the ensuing dust storms that transformed the landscape.  He painted the failed farms of the Great Depression.

In The Crucified Land, a muddy ditch opens in the foreground of the painting and rips gashes out of the field.  The vertical rows of the crops point to the tractor.  Hogue blamed the machinery of corporate farming for devouring the soft crust of the earth and throwing the crumbs to the wind.

There are no people in the Dust Bowl paintings.  The people on the farms did not make it.

My great-grandpa would tell of the Depression.  They ate fried eggs every day, and homemade bread; there was nothing else.  How could he explain it to children?  It was the unreality of history.

Drought Stricken Area, by Alexandre Hogue

Houge told it this way:  A busted windmill stands in front of a house.  The house is buried in the dust of a thousand farms. A cow stares into an empty trough.  A buzzard waits for the cow to finish dying.  The texture of Drought Stricken Area is red grit sifting from the canvas into your shoes and behind your neck and down your throat as you stand in the museum and look at it.

If you kept great-grandpa talking about the Depression, he would tap his cane on the porch and smile and tell of their little escapes:  the cinema in Shiner; picnics beside the green river.  Not everyone made it, he said; we made it.

I started my farm business four years ago; the first year of this drought, the first year of the recession. The drought has changed the ecology of the land. The recession reset the context.

I wonder what Kayla will tell our great-grandchildren of now, of this time. Even if I live to be old, I probably will never meet them; but Kayla will. I wonder if she will tell about the exquisite irony of fried eggs and toast.

We need a new painter, to help her tell it.  We need a painter for this time, this recession, this drought.

The new painter will show Kayla in her red dress, after church, standing in the garden, about to pick a watermelon.  The light is from the top, harsh sunlight.  Her dress is defiantly red against the papery brown corn stalks and her hair is up in braids.  Behind her, sunflowers grow in a thick hedge, tight gray-green vertical lines, 20 feet tall, and no yellow flowers at the tops.  Nothing moves in the heat of the painting, not the corn stalks or sunflowers, not the lizards in the sand, not the alligator eyes in the lake, nor the hawk in the distant tree.  Only the woman moves as she reaches down with both hands for one sweet thing in the ravaged landscape.

Another painting will show a garden of freshly tilled black soil.  The long rows form horizontal lines in the foreground that run parallel up the painting, shrinking into the distance.  The lighting is indirect from the left, morning light, the sun behind the trees.  The sky is pale blue, the clouds over the Gulf pink and golden in their billows.  The eye climbs the garden rows like steps into the far distance, to the shape of a woman, tiny, with her hair up in braids.

If you look closely at the painting, close enough for a security guard in the museum to clear his throat, you will see that the woman is kneeling beside the first row.  Sacks of seeds surround her, and she pushes each seed into its place in the soil, and shifts herself down the row.  The painting cannot show the light move from the left to the far right, the rich mauves of sunset draping the distant trees.  The woman has worked all the way down the garden to the foreground of the painting.  She is now perfectly clear, filling the frame, the center of the composition, still planting seeds, injecting life with her fingers, life to the painting, life to the world.

I wonder if she will tell our great-grandchildren about our picnics; how she carefully laid out the food we grew on a blanket; how we ate till we were full; how she rested her head on my shoulder and we slept outside the museum in the shade of an oak tree.

I wonder if she will tell of the museum–our escape. If she will tell how I stood to the side at the Hogue exhibit and watched her move down the line of paintings, savoring each one, more beautiful than each one.

I wonder if she will tell that we made it.

A Hundred Degree Harvest


We have enjoyed several days of triple-digit heat this week.  In this picture, Kayla is harvesting vegetables in 101 degrees of direct sunlight.  I don’t know how she stays so lovely in this heat.

Our vegetables, however, will not stay lovely for long.  We design our gardens to endure the blistering heat of a Rockport summer; but eventually our vegetables will play out  for the season.

A Diverse Harvest

Our harvest today includes:  tomatoes; eggplant; okra; butternut, spaghetti, and scallopini squash; sweet corn; Thai, serrano, jalepeno, and habanero peppers; collards; carrots; basil; mint; ginger; and more.

Stop by Coastal Bend Health Foods today for freshly picked local produce, while it is still available.

We feature fresh pastured chicken today in the four and five pound range, as well as half chickens, perfect for roasting.  We also offer fresh eggs and pastured pork chops, roast, ribs, ground pork, and bacon.

Companion Planting for the Heat

Several gardeners have asked how we continue to get such beautiful tomatoes and eggplant in this oppressive heat, much less collard greens and carrots.

One technique we use is to inter-plant our tomatoes with our collards.  The collards serve as a living mulch for the tomatoes and help keep the soil shaded and cool and moist.  As the tomato vines grow thick on their trellises, they in turn shade the collards when collards need a little protection from the sun.

Tomatoes and eggplant also grow extremely well when companion planted with carrots, lettuce, chard, mustard greens, and in many other combinations.

There are no monocultures in our garden–every row of crops features innovative combinations of two, three, or more vegetables.  Herbs and native flowering plants seeded among our vegetables help attract birds and beneficial insects to the garden, increase biodiversity and soil health, and add flavor to our harvest.

But our summer crop will soon play out in the South Texas heat.  We encourage you to stop by Coastal Bend Health Foods today and enjoy freshly picked local produce while you can.

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