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Tuesday, August 30 2016

Sometimes living out here is like driving on a winding country road, where you cruise along, enjoying the scenery, smelling the fresh air through opened windows, just loving life in general, and as you crest the top of a mountain the grand scenic expanse spreads out in front of you, with rolling hills dotted with mesquite trees under a layered blue sky, and rays of  sunlight burst through painted clouds to fan out on the valley below as if touched by the hand of God, and that's when a bird slams into your windshield.

Yeah, that's pretty much what living out here is like. You get to enjoying the rugged beauty, and bam! Suddenly nature is up close and personal like stray feathers floating through opened windows to land in your lap. Let us examine just one of last week's little adventures.

Because I have several large soap orders to fill, I spent the last few weeks furiously making, cutting, drying, packaging, and shipping soap.  Soaping is not the quaint cottage task that one would imagine from reading Hobby Farm magazine where you can see in your mind's eye a woman in homespun dress making soap like making butter in a stoneware butter churn. Soaping is a chemistry experiment, much like making meth, except you're less likely to blow the house up.

Soaping is Hobby Farms meets Breaking Bad. True cold process soap, like Grandma used to make, involves mixing lye with fats and oils. There are as many recipes as there are soapers but they all come down to mixing a variety of fats, and oils with lye which is a very dangerous chemical and should be treated with the greatest of respect - long sleeves, shoes, goggles, mask.

Yes, you can skip the goggles and the mask, and make your soap in shorts and flip-flops instead. You can. I wouldn't advise it, but you can. You can also find yourself backing away from the sink, coughing and gagging when a whiff of vapor blows your way too. And be careful not to spill it as you recoil across the kitchen with a wet spoon. That stuff burns. No children. No pets. No kidding.

But once mixed, the fats and lye join in holy matrimony, kiss and walk down the aisle, and a new union is formed - soap. It is a glorious marriage, where the properties of the individual are no longer separate, but become one. This new something is born completely different from its parts.  The chemical reaction is complete and the result is a wonderfully safe, wholly decadent bar of sudsy indulgence. But until then, it's like making meth in your kitchen.

When you make a lot of soap, it's easy to get complacent, but for the sake of safety, I observe a few rules. I never talk on the phone. I never get involved in the television. And I never stop in the middle of the recipe.

And so I ignored the barking.

Plopped in his recliner, Other Half was Facebooking and watching television, while I was busy trying to finish up Soap Batch #3 of that day. This third batch is where mistakes are most likely to occur because I am tired, it is the third hour on my feet, and I've done the same messy, methodical steps through three hours of daytime television and things are beginning the run together like the same guests on all the morning shows just walking from one studio into another. I continued to ignore the barking outside as I poured liquid soap into flat slab molds.

There is a point in the barking, where it reaches a feverish pitch and moves to the forefront of your attention, kinda like when the optometrist dials and clicks those funny little goggles and the letters of the card in front of you finally come into focus.  Yeah, that's it. That's the spot. Things are clear now. Some serious shit is going on outside.

I set my soap bucket down, walked past the husband in the recliner, picked up a revolver, and stepped outside the kitchen door to stomp off in the direction of the barking. Always the picture of fashion, having exchanged the goggles for the gun, I was wearing yoga pants and cowboy boots. Perhaps that would be why my husband didn't come out with me.

Once outside I marched toward the barking. Somehow poor Briar had managed to get locked in the barn aisle, and so when I opened the gate she shot out of the barn like a loosed arrow, leading me toward the source of Judge's barking. I followed the big white dog through the yard and into the forest. There is a curious point when you are trailing a large dog through the woods in North Texas where you regret your fashion choices. Cowboy boots are not snake boots, and you may as well be naked when wearing yoga pants. While this doesn't seem like a big deal in the air conditioning, when the forest is clawing at your thighs, denim is your friend.

I must say that when I stepped out of the kitchen, I expected that Judge had found a snake. I was prepared to shoot a snake and treat the dog for multiple snake bites. I was not prepared for a hike through cedar and mesquite in a bizarre game of Marco Polo.

I called out "JUDGE!"  (Marco!")

Deep in the forest, he answered, "POLO!"

We continued shouting Marco and Polo at each other for a while until he appeared, panting and exhausted at the base of a cedar tree. I peeked around but saw nothing. He gave me the "Follow Me" look and trotted off into the brush. Lovely. Just blooming lovely. I cursed my fashion decisions again and dove off after him.

And that's when the bird slammed into my windshield.

I expected a snake. Or possibly a raccoon. Or maybe an armadillo. Or a possum even.

What I did not expect to see was a small black feral pig backed up to the base of a cedar tree. Judge informed me that he'd apprehended a trespasser. Since there was a small band of eight piglets in our area, my guess was that they were headed to the pond behind the house when Judge found them and managed to separate this guy from his siblings. Now that he had bayed the pig up, he didn't know what to do with it. That's when Briar burst forward and said,

"You KILL IT!"

And it was on like Donkey Kong.

Right in front of me. Once the decision was made for him, Judge took control, snatched the pig away from Briar, and began shaking it. The piglet weighed somewhere between 25-35 pounds and Judge shook it like a rag. The screams of that piglet echoed through the forest and three thoughts rocked through my head.

#1 - "Awww... poor piggie."
#2 - "Holy shit! That dog is strong."
#3 - "That piglet is calling his momma and I'm standing here in f@#king yoga pants and cowboy boots."

Over the piglet's screams I heard Other Half calling. Apparently he had reached the end of his Facebook scroll feed and was now curious as to where I was, why I needed a gun, and why a pig was squealing.

Just as fast as it started, it was over. Judge stood panting over the dead pig.

Briar stepped forward to sniff it and he informed her that if she didn't get away from his piglet that she would be next.

Alrightie then.

It is a curious fact of life that you can raise a dog from a bumbling puppy to the size of a small Great Dane, and still not fully appreciate their size until you watch them kill a 25 lb pig in front of you. That's when you realize the animal at your feet with the glazed eyes is not a squishy snuggly pup but a predator who demands a whole new level of respect. I called to him,


He shifted his gaze in my direction and growled.


Forget peace in the Middle East, diplomacy is the art of getting a dog away from something he has just killed. I slowly walked past his pig and called him again. This time the giant dog meekly followed me. Away from the pig, I told him he was a fine dog. He was a brave dog. And piglets come with large, angry, dangerous mothers, and we were wearing yoga pants and cowboy boots and thus  couldn't stay here.

And that's when Briar couldn't resist sneaking a sniff of the dead pig. The squishy Doctor Jekyll at my side mutated into Mr Hyde and roared past me to knock Briar away from his pig with such force that she and I believed he would kill her if she dared to touch it  again. Sigh . . .

The dust settled and I called him away from the pig. Shooting a warning glare at Briar, he reluctantly came and I praised him for that, gave him a pat on the head, and said a prayer that the momma pig was nowhere around as I looked  for the closest tree to climb in case she came bursting through the brush.

The plan was to scream, "He did it!" and climb a tree, hoping to shoot her before she could kill my dogs. I figured Judge had a better shot of getting away from an angry sow because he wasn't wearing yoga pants.

So I stood with the dogs and the dead pig, playing the same Marco Polo game with Other Half, and no enraged mother hog appeared. He drove up in the mule and I was painfully aware of the picture that greeted him, but Friends and neighbors, let me tell you this. Few things get a man's respect more than a woman and a dog standing in the woods over a dead hog. (okay, it was just a pig but it was dead and that impresses men) And nothing quite screams 'crazy' like a woman in yoga pants and cowboy boots, carrying a big-ass revolver loaded with .410 shotgun shells, with a dog the size of a small pony and a dead pig.

He gave us a cautious, quizzical look and I held Judge while he admired the hog. Judge and Briar and I slowly walked back home through the forest while he drove the pig another direction. Since the pig was perfect grilling size, we figured that we may as well enjoy the bounty of Judge's prize and share a little with him, but alas, such was not to be.

What started out as a butchering, turned into a morbidly fascinating necropsy and a new-found respect for the power of a dog. Judge had done so much damage that butchering the piglet for cooking was more trouble than it was worth. It was less than thirty seconds from the time he engaged until the time the piglet was dead. And in that time these are the minimun of injuries the piglet sustained:

Broken neck
Broken back
Rib broken completely off at spine which severed stomach
other broken ribs with punctured lung
abdominal cavity filled with yucky contents we don't want on meat

Was it edible? Yes. Did we want to go to all the trouble? No. Does Other Half have a greater respect for my dog? You betcha. I do too. I still think of him as my squishy bumbling puppy.

But I cannot forget that he has matured into a warrior.

And so that's a slice of life in the country. One minute you're cruising along the highway, happily absorbed in your world of making soap, and the next moment a bird slams into your windshield and you're watching your dog kill a feral hog at your feet.

In yoga pants and cowboy boots.

Me. Not the dog.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:25 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
I was happy to see your post this morning, I kind of lost myself in your soap making and then your trek into the woods with killer (pup) dog. I assume there aren't too many things that would surprise The Other Half but as you say he was impressed this morning. Good on you that you were on your way to rescue the pup but found he didn't need rescuing, he was doing his job that he was bred for.
Posted by Terry on 08/30/2016 - 09:49 AM
After finishing reading this, I kept thinking of Alice's Restaurant Massacree. I know. I have an odd sense of humor.
Posted by Eric on 09/01/2016 - 10:23 PM
It was a beautiful day for soap making and pig killing!! Judge did a good job, as well as the Other Half.
Posted by Robin on 09/03/2016 - 03:59 AM

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