Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

What a lovely gift, I said to just myself. A weekend away for my daughter and her man and I will take care of their ranch. I will enjoy so much peace and quiet and even get time to work on my next book! And so, I proudly scripted the Christmas card with my generous offer and forgot all about it.

“Yeah, we’ve booked to go away,” they said. “This weekend.” Gulp. I had not been quite ready for their vacation, having only just returned from mine, but a written promise was a promise and I had better suck it up and make it happen.

It just so happened that it was going to be a busy weekend for my work, and I would be packing up at my own ranch in the morning, doing an open house in town and then speeding back against the fading light in the afternoon to go and do my ranchly duties in Arroyo Seco. By the time the two love birds got home from work, the light was fading fast and so was their patience. They wanted to be off and away to their fun weekend in Santa Cruz. “But wait,” I say. “The boy goats get this, and the girl goats get that?” Mother was already befuddled.

“No, Mom. Don’t ever give that to the girls!” Daughter responds firmly. Good grief, you need a detailed manual for this ranch sitting lark. Made me giggle, because it gave me a real insight into my own ranch and how difficult it is when you know exactly where and what and other people certainly do not!

As they accelerated out of the driveway, I gasped. How was I going to successfully sit my daughter’s ranch for the weekend without losing or killing any of the critters?

The first night passed peacefully enough with two large dogs on top of me. We had watched some relaxing crime shows and eaten some leftover lasagna before we settled down for the night. I could do this ranch sitting lark — even for my daughter, the toughest boss in the business! The following morning was trickier, because not all the gates were easy to close behind me — and when you have goats scatting around behind you with curious minds, things can happen.

First of all, they managed to break into the chicken pen and discover how tasty chicken feed can be. I then left the feed pen unlatched briefly, and that was a huge mistake, when they all piled in there, chickens and all, to make hay with all the food. One pitchfork later and they were out with gate properly secured. As I always tell my farm sitters, the most important things are water and gates. I was already breaking all my own rules. Next the Nigerian nu nu piggies (or something like that) decided they could push their gate open too and out they came. (I hear my daughter’s voice in the back of my head, cautioning this, because the nu nus will nibble on the goat’s ears.) Oh, for crying out loud. I put them back home with the lure of carrots and old pumpkin and felt as if I could then safely put the pups in the pen with a treat and get ready for work.

As I took off out of the driveway, I caught sight of the darn nu nus frolicking with the goats. “Gaaaa!” I said to myself, or words to that effect. But I didn’t have time to run down there and fix the scenario in my glad rags, so I just hoped that they wouldn’t feel like nibbling ears today on my watch, as it were. As I drove along the beautiful Arroyo Seco Road to my open house event, I noticed I was wearing a little light green alfalfa in my hair — the girls’ feed — and a brown mud smudge was nicely positioned on my cheek. The country life is not for the faint of heart.

I made it to my open house and then raced back again with the sunlight fading, to go and see what kind of a mess I had left behind. “God, I hope my daughter isn’t checking me on her ranch cameras,” I thought to myself with just a small giggle. Years ago, when I would leave her copious lists of how to run my ranch when I was away, she would just roll her eyes and ignore my anal descriptions. I felt that there was just a little divine justice there in the smaller scheme of things that here I was, not performing exactly as she would on her ranch — just as she had not ever on mine. But I was a little afraid about who was playing with who and who was now sporting nibbled ears.

I threw on my ranch rags and stumbled on down to the back 40 to see what all had transpired in the three hours since I left. The doggies were still in their pen. Check. Marvelous. The chickens were all present and scratching, the bucks were nicely secured in their area and the ladies were happily tooting around with the nu nus. Their ears were all fine. “Oh, you little blessings, all of you!” I exclaimed and promptly guided the nu nus toward their pink pig palace with copious slices of pumpkin in hand.

Then I needed to put the chickens to bed. In a normal farm situation, they would put themselves down to slumber, but not at my daughter’s place. Oh no, there it is all hands on to collect each chick individually and put them in their nite-nite. All good except the black one was on the roof. “No, you may not stay out on the tiles all night!” I joked to myself. All of a sudden there was a black, flapping chicken on my head and I had to control myself from screaming or she would be lost to the night. I could not let their parents arrive home to one head missing. I gathered my strength and held onto the flapping mess in one hand while I opened the chicken roost with the other. God I am good. I hoped she hadn’t pooped on my head in the mean time, but that was not a priority.

I limped back up the hill to feed the feral cats and the regular cats and the dogs. Then I collapsed with a glass of wine. Fortunately, there was still leftover lasagna in the fridge. This ranch lark is not for the faint of heart, I tell ya!

When darling returned home, I was so happy to see her and be able to tell her that all her babies were safe and sound that I forgot about the nu nus and the chicken poop in the hair. “It was so lovely and peaceful!” I tell her. “I’d be happy to do it again sometime, just give me a little warning.”

Ha, some of us ranch chicks never learn.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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