April 2004–In a crass world like ours with all of the wars and fighting, it’s good to have a place that brings a little hope to life. Not far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Houston, about thirty miles to be more precise, there is a small plot of land. What sets this piece of land aside is that in the 21st century world of machines and technology, this little twelve acre plot of land has only a few small buildings and a fence all made by a family of amateur carpenters.
This ranch is in a part of Texas known as Cypress, like many other outlying areas in south east Texas Cypress is another annex of the Houston Metropolis. My family bought the ranch a few years ago as an investment, but its sentimental value has far outgrown its monetary worth. The animals and the property itself need to be fed and tended to daily.
When it’s my turn I prefer going by myself because out in the country it’s really peaceful and it gives me time away from all of my siblings, which can really be nice in a family with five other brothers and sisters. It’s not too far from my house which is just north east of Katy; a short trip west on the windy, hill-covered highway 290, then some back country dirt roads and finally I can hear the gravel kicking up against the undercarriage of my car like a dozen fists trying to beat their way through the bottom. A short distance up the road I take the left onto the ranch driveway. Immediately the wrought iron gate unveils itself from behind the massive Sago palms which shine a brilliant white as the sun bounces off the thin green needles in the breeze giving the appearance of twin disco balls swaying in the wind. “Little Hope Ranch” the gate reads in crooked letters that seem to have been created by a five year old. As soon as I step outside of the car the potent smell of hay, animals and the overall elusive scent of nature fills my nostrils. I walk up to the gate which was installed by me and my brother and unbolt the rusty padlock; it squeaks just a bit as I slide out the curled fastener. I open the creaking gate and drive through, down to the far end of the property to prepare the buckets of feed for my animals. We have four horses, one of which is more of a trophy piece because he is so mean it’s almost impossible to ride him without getting hurt. Aside from my horses I have a dozen goats and four cows. Contrary to what people belief cows don’t really “MOO,” but make the kind of noise people make when they clear their throats.
On the way to the feed bin all I can hear is the hollow field grass thumping the bottom of my car giving the illusion that I’m constantly hitting road cones. Each time the animals get fed we are suppose to check the fence line to make sure that no coyotes or foxes dug under it. As I walk down the fence line I remember the searing month of July when my mom, siblings and myself built the fence: It was the middle of July, probably the hottest time of the year in Texas. Our ranch was originally part of a seventy acre tract of land. The previous owner decided to divide it up and consequently we obtained new neighbors, and when they came we had to fence off our property to keep our animals off their land. The day the neighbors showed up we went to Home Depot and bought a manual hole digger as well as about two-hundred landscaping planks. The ground was so dry that we had to pour water on the spots we wanted to dig to soften the hard, cracked surface of the earth. It took us about two months to dig all 187 holes over the 2100 foot length of our property. We set the concrete with water from the near by pond.
To attach the wire fence itself to the posts we had to attach the whole fence to the back of our pick up and pull it taught. When it was all said and done it took us about three months to complete the fence, and the amazing part is that even though the fence is over a quarter of a mile long there is only a two inch variation in the posts. As I approach the bin I glance out the dusty window of my car towards the chicken coop to count the chickens and pigeons to make sure that foxes or opossums hadn’t snuck in and killed our birds. The chicken coop took the better part of a month to build; my siblings, Curtis, Krystal, Erika and Sabrinah and I did most of the work and my mom painted and decorated it. The parts where the boards are not quite flush let everyone know that it was build by young, unskilled carpenters.
Originally the chicken coop was suppose to face away from the fierce winter winds that are really common in Texas flatlands, but my mom made me and my brother construct the frame and we accidentally made one pole crooked and so we had to make the whole building crooked. After that we used fence posts to make the wall for it and gardening lattice for the roof. We didn’t realize that there were foxes and other predators in the area so we didn’t worry too much about sealing the roof, but after something kept getting in and killing our chickens we had to wrap the entire building in chicken wire. There is no worse sight or smell than the sun baking raw animal flesh.
Right past the chicken coop is the feeding area; complete with water trough and a five hundred gallon Rubbermaid container which conceals the livestock feed. I stop, turn the car off and half wrestle the key from the ignition. I step out of the driver’s seat to see the ever so common sight of our four horses and three cows running towards me because they know it’s that time. As I pour the feed into the buckets the cows begin to lumber towards me with a full head of steam and just when I think that I’ll be flattened by their two ton bodies they grind to a halt. The horses usually come further behind the cows from the farthest end of the pasture and they don’t need to hear the feed being poured to realize its time to eat. They charge at me as fast as they can and even though they are far away, barely specs to my eyes I can feel the ground shaking on their approach.
I feed the horses separately from the cows, mainly because the horses like to chase the cows and also because the horses always eat more than their share of food. Horses are a lot different than cows. Cows only eat and sleep; horses on the other hand have personalities and have really sincere facial expressions. I’ve been around horses and the riding equipment so much that I can’t tell whether the horses smell like saddles or vise versa.
After feeding the animals and inspecting them for ticks, cuts and scrapes I put everything back in its place and sit on my car and relax while the animals eat. After I drive out and lock the main gate sometimes I can’t help but look up at the ranch sign. “Little Hope” reminds me that there is nothing little about hope at all; a little hope for anything: humanity or something as mundane as your day is all a person needs sometimes to make it all bearable.