Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Heartland Mesa

Turtle Back Mountain

In the desert of New Mexico on the Rio Grande sits a mesa (flat tableland with steep edges). The landscape at first quick glance appears desolate. A longer slower look yields sights of life thriving. Flame red like a lit candle, firecracker cacti bloom. Under the delicate leaves of the Mesquite Bush in spring a blue tailed lizard takes refuge from the heat and predators. Over and between the gusts of dry wind the sharp tweets and cooing of local larks, swallows, finches and mourning doves can be heard. Mountains with names like Turtle Back and Caballo (pronounced Ca-bai-yo) fill the horizons.

Rohan and a blooming cactus

Welcome to Heartland Mesa. Current residents: people (including Rohan and me until today), donkeys, dogs, goats and chickens, scores of wild birds, lizards, snakes, rabbits, hares and a few coyote. On either side of the 40 acres we’ve been staying on sits BLM land (public land).

Horned Lizard

Early on in our stay I bonded with Lil’ Ezy (named after the owner of Heartland due to his stubbornness, or so I’ve been told). One morning I got up and walked over to Rohan at the goats’ pen. He gave me a hug to chase away the night’s bad dream. Lil’ Ezy must’ve sensed how I was feeling because he walked up behind me and gently rested his head against my back. Such a lovely way to begin the day!

Lil' Ezy

To welcome us to the farm Ezy prepared us a desert style barbeque. In a deep pit mesquite wood was burnt down to coals. Goat’s ribs (born and raised on the farm) prepared by Tim from Mississippi were placed in a turkey baking dish, wrapped in wet pillow shams (Ezy’s wife’s) and placed in the pit atop the coals. After putting iron and wood sheeting over the top a mini front loader (see photo) was used to cover the hole. Five hours later the most tender, savory goat I could imagine was unearthed and eaten with campfire roasted potatoes. The goat we ate gave its life to a very good cause.

The boys digging up dinner

Every day the goats, chickens and donkeys need to be fed and watered. Sometimes we do a bit of pottering in the garden, planting squash or beans or beets. A few days ago we started milking the goats. Before we could milk the goats we had to move their kids away from their moms. What a noisy affair that was! First thing every morning and then last thing in the evening the goats climb up on that milking bench to be filled up with grain while one of us coax milk out of teats. Apart from sore wrists, the only drawback is the cheesy goat’s milk smell that just doesn’t seem to wash off.
Milking! If you look closely you can actually see the milk.

Two nights ago the major event of our stay at the Mesa happened. Rohan was over by the goats’ pen (he spent a lot of time there. . .) brushing his teeth and saying goodnight to the goats. I heard him come running back to the car. “I think one of the goats is about to give birth!”

I put down my book and rushed out of bed. The pained bleating combined with moaning led me to believe that yes indeed, Sophie the goat was in labor. Ro ran to get Caroline, the long term “Woofer” (World Wide Opportunity on Organic Farms. It's how we found the Mesa.) at the farm to come see what was happening. For about forty-five very intense minutes we followed the goat’s contractions. With only one hoof and the head hanging out of her, she was getting tired. It was decided that a bit of help was called for. So, I reached in, grabbed the kid’s front legs and with Sophie’s contractions pulled out the baby goat. Sophie immediately proved to be a good mom, helping to clean the baby up and softly carrying on a conversation with her new bub. We couldn’t get the kid to eat, but we went to bed figuring that she’d sort it out. It was such an amazing experience to watch this little life emerge.

Maya resting near her new neighbors.

The kid’s first day (as the midwife for the birth, I got to name her: Maya Twiggy is what I came up with) was a bit touch and go. By midday she hadn’t eaten anything and was weak as can be. We milked mom and fed the baby by bottle, which is not as easy as it may sound. Maya needed to be taught how to suck, but she finally got the hang of it. Each feeding was like the first though, having to teach her anew each time. When we went to bed I was feeling a bit anxious, wondering if the little one was gonna make it through the night.

Sophie, Maya and I

I awoke early this morning and went to straight to visit Sophie and Maya to see how they were coping. Before I went to the trouble of milking Sophie for Maya’s morning feed I thought I would try to introduce her to the teat again. Miracle of all miracles, she sucked and filled her little belly right before my eyes! Looks like little Maya’s gonna be alright.

Sophie, Maya and I

Today we’re back on the road again. The Mesa proved to be a difficult place to say goodbye to (though after cleaning out the kilos of sand in our van, neither one of us are going to miss the dust and wind!). Both Ro and I found ourselves quite attached to the people and the animals. There’s still a big country ahead of us yet to cross and if we want to make it before the end of the year, we have got to keep some momentum. We’re going to Los Cruces tonight and then continuing east. Stay tuned, more soon!

The fate of my Crocs after an hour in a 60 mph wind storm.
Taken by: Sandy Drayton

Sunset at the Mesa.
Taken by: Rohan Smith