Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #68 – “Ch-Ch-Changes”

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

Doug the Dog Breeder’s recent comments about patterns of behavior have gotten me thinking about the animals at Cloud Creek Ranch.

Common wisdom says animals in general are creatures of habit. But Brody experience says, “Not the dogs, cats, and chickens here. For them, change has become the order of the day—as of this week.

Take our dogs, for example.

For over three years, since the birth of Decker the Gentle Giant and Belle the Wary, the dogs had the same morning pattern. At seven o’clock, after I fed the horses, I would let the two younger dogs out of their yard and they would run into the house with me to join their mother, Emmy the Bold, for breakfast.

Emmy always finished first. Then she and whichever of her kids ate the quickest would rush to the door so I could let them out to roam the woods for about an hour.

The remaining dog—usually Belle—would curl up on the couch until the others returned. As soon as I opened the door, Decker, run ragged by his super-energetic mom, would shove his massive way inside and Belle, like his partner in a tag team match, would take his place, going back into the woods with her mother.

This week, though, Belle has proved herself the Queen of Creative Thinking.

Instead of coming in for breakfast and trying to rush her food down in a usually futile attempt to eat faster than her brother, now she stays outside and waits for Emmy to join her. Then off they go.

“Food?” Belle says. “Who needs it? I’ve got first dibs on the action!”

Then there’s the cats. Thei change in behavior looks to have been a joint decision of Baggy, the twenty-five pound look-alike of Fantasia’s hippo ballerinas, and Roberto El Gato, the tuxedo cat who never has let anyone but Gwen the Beautiful touch him.

(Actually, no one’s ever even seen him but Gwen, Youngest Daughter Amber, and me. That’s what being born in a box alongside a busy freeway does to even the bravest of critters.)

For almost five years, the two cats were for all practical purposes the owners of the back of our house, as anyone with a working sense of smell could attest. The guest room, downstairs bathroom, hallway, and laundry room were their domain, and neither cat so much as ventured beyond an invisible boundary line.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this week they decided to broaden their horizons.

Suddenly they’re everywhere. Splashing papers off the partners desk Gwen and I share. Taking over as centerpieces on the dining table. Sprawling across Gwen’s pillow in the evening. (They still won’t touch mine, which has taught me to be grateful for small mercies.)

What made them change the pattern? I don’t have a clue. Maybe they just did it because they could. Or maybe they did it to prove they could. Or maybe they’ve been talking to Belle.

Then there’s the chickens’ new behavior. For years the same thing happened every time I entered their domain. They’d cackle and flutter and flap themselves out of my way, eating the bread I threw only if I threw it farther than my shadow.

All except the old brood hen. She would sit in the coop, atop the day’s eggs, and sing and sigh and spread her feathers so I could pick her up, pet her, and take away those yummy little omelet makers.

When the hen died last year the next hen in line replaced her but would have no part of me. The sight of me would make her shriek and puff herself up and fly from the nest, abandoning the future kids and “saving” herself.

Ah, but this week it’s a whole new ballgame. I walk into the chicken yard and the chickens come swarming to me. Not only do they not care how far I throw the bread, they clamber all over my feet to get at it.

And the new brood hen! She sees me and sings and sighs and spreads her feathers. When I reach down to her she draws herself up into my arms and vibrates as though purring. “What’s mine is yours!” I hear her say. “Take whatever you want.”

Humans are special? Isn’t that the usual thing we humans say? That we’re the only animals who can grab the bull by the horns and initiate the kind of change they hope will improve their lives?

Not here on the mountain top above Cloud Creek.

Not this week anyway.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #67 – “There’s Something Wrong with Sebastion”

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

A couple of months ago, when Gwen the Beautiful and I were over at Doug the Dog Breeder’s house, he and his wife Anita introduced us to Dora, a young woman with a month old baby.

Dora and her husband, who wasn’t there, were renting a trailer on the property next door. They were new in Paradise and, “We love it here,” Dora said.

After Dora and her baby left, Doug filled me in a little.

“Dora’s husband’s name is Sebastian,” he said. “Hails from Texas. Dora’s from Oklahoma. They moved in last week. Sebastian’s a carpenter. Not good enough to do finish work, but he’s a decent framer. He’s already got himself a home remodeling job.”

“Sounds industrious,” I said. “Like a man making a good start.”

“Yep, sounds that way.”

But I could see from the look on Doug’s face that he wasn’t all that sure. A couple of minutes later, after Anita and Gwen went outside, I found out I was right.

“There’s something wrong with Sebastian,” he said. “I can’t put my finger on it, but I know it’s there. He’s twice as old as Dora is. Won’t talk about his past. I don’t trust a man with no stories.”

Doug’s an ex-lawman. A former federal marshal. When he says he doesn’t trust someone, I listen. This time, though, there wasn’t anything more to listen to. Not until last week, when I stopped by to see Doug’s latest litter. Six round, fat, little golden retriever pups.

Across the yard, through the fence, I saw Anita and a middle-aged woman I didn’t know come out of the trailer with Dora and the baby. They walked over to a beat-up old Dodge with boxes piled up inside and a U-Haul trailer attached to the back.

After a last hug from Anita, Dora and the baby got into the car. The other woman took her place at the wheel, and they drove off. “That’s Dora’s mother,” Doug said. “Taking her daughter and granddaughter home.”

“I thought they were happy here,” I said.

Doug looked out at the road. “Remember what I said about the husband? Sebastian? Turns out he was a convicted felon in Texas.

“Dora met him on the internet,” Doug continued. “He came to see her in Oklahoma, and sparks flew. They got married without Sebastian ever telling his bride what he was. Mama didn’t like him and kicked him out right after the baby was born. Dora chose to stand by her man.

“Things went pretty well for awhile. Then, a couple of weeks ago, two Deputy Sheriffs came by and arrested Sebastian for violating parole, and for not registering as a sex offender, which is what he really is. Dora’s been crying ever since.

I thought about what Doug was saying. “How do you suppose the law knew to find the guy here?”

Doug shrugged. “Could have to do with the fact that somebody who knew what he was doing dug into Sebastian’s past. And that same somebody also learned that the people whose house Sebastian was working at everyday had a young son, same age as the boy who figured in his conviction.”

We left the puppies. Walked over to the run where Doug keeps Boomer, their hundred and twenty-five pound daddy.

Doug was still talking: “It could even have to do with the fact that it’s one thing for a man to try to mend himself and another for him to welcome back an old pattern guaranteed to cause misery to everybody around him–”

Doug looked like he had more on his mind, but Boomer’s happy barking as he saw his favorite human interrupted him. The dog high-tailed it over to our end of his run, barking and wagging and leaping excitedly.

Like all folks who are good with dogs, Doug had a pocketful of treats. “Hey, Boomer! Here you go, boy!” He reached over the fence and fed his big friend.

Boomer chowed down. Barked for more. “Know what I love most about dogs?” Doug said. “We can change their patterns. All it takes is a little work. And they can’t lie or hold back about it. All they can be is honest and open and true.”

He scrounged a few more liver snaps from his pocket. As Boomer gulped them down, Doug’s face squinched up into a look I couldn’t quite identify but was either ineffable sadness or radiant joy.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #66 – “Fun With House Guests?”

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

Summer isn’t exactly the best time to visit Paradise. With the temperature in the hundreds and humidity to match, my favorite summer activity is camping in living room, up against the air-conditioning vent.

Still, for reasons boiling down to our friends explaining, “This is when I’ve got time off!” Gwen the Beautiful and I have had more than our usual share of house guests over the past few weeks. We looked forward to all of them. But what we hope and what really happens aren’t necessarily the same.

Our first guest was Jim the Banker. Shortly after Jim arrived, he and I visited the feed store to get some chicken scratch. When we walked in Jim stopped short. Took a deep breath. “Smells like pigs!” he called out.

Everyone in the place turned, staring at him. “Why are they looking at me like that?” Jim whispered. He raised his voice. “Pigs!” he said. “Pigs!”

The stares turned to glowers. I steered Jim out the door. “C’mon,” I said. “We’d better get back home.”

Jim looked forlorn. “But I don’t want to leave. I was born on a farm. The smell of grain always reminds me of pigs. And I really miss our pigs.”

Our second house guest was Lex from Upstate New York. He was driving across country with his two Doberman Pinschers.

“This is going to be a great visit,” Lex said as he let the Dobies out of his car. “You and Gwen and me and Bruno and Helga—“

That’s when we heard the deep, rumbling growl from one of his dogs. And turned to see her standing nose to nose with Emmy the Pit Mom.

“Oh,” said Lex, “I forgot to tell you. Helga hates other dogs.”

Decker the Giant-Hearted came running to his mother’s defense, followed closely by Belle the Wary. Joining Helga was Bruno, the other Dobie. Helga snapped at Emmy. Emmy lunged. Yours truly dived between them, and

“Yikes!—”

Time now to mercifully move along to guest number three. Our old pal Kevin the San Francisco Realtor. He, Gwen, and I were doing great until we took him into Paradise for some Saturday night Music-On-The-Square.

“They call this blues?” Kevin said. “The music scene in San Francisco, that’s where you’ll find down home blues.”

Then there was his reaction when we joined a group from Big Paul’s Wilderness Outfitters for a morning of floating on the Buffalo National River.

“You call this a river?” Kevin said to everyone who could hear. “Northern California, that’s where you’ll get hardcore whitewater.”

Our fourth house guest was my Old Elementary School Buddy. He roared up on his new BMW motorcycle. Showed me not one, not two, but five handguns hidden on his body.

“Let’s stake out this bike near town tonight and see who tries to steal it,” he said. “Then, when they do…”

He did a quick draw from his boot. Made the same shooting sound he used to back when we were kids playing.

Guests five and six arrived together. Gwen’s Old Boyfriend Gary and his wife, Norma the Nerve Jangler.

We met them at the airport in Little Rock. “Hi, Gwenny!” Gary said. And gave Gwen a big hug.

“Glad to see you, Gary,” I said.

“You sure look wonderful, Gwenny,” said Gary. He hugged Gwen tighter.

“Eee–!” Norma screamed. She pointed at some good ole boys across the baggage claim. “I know their kind,” Norma said. “They’re going to steal our luggage. They do it all the time back home in Chicago.”

Gary was still talking to Gwen. “Remember that summer when we went to Taos…?”

And these are the highlights of each visit.

Because of all this, yesterday morning Gwen and I made a vow. “No more houseguests,” I said.

“Pinky promise,” said Gwen. We did the silly handshake we’ve done so many times with our kids.

I went outside to feed the horses. Huck the Spotless Appaloosa squealed as a dozen mares and their foals crested our driveway and moseyed over to the corral. Buck the Ex-Navy Seal’s little herd had gotten out of their pasture and were calling on their closest friends.

The happy horses pranced and snorted and nuzzled over the fence, and although I knew I was going to have to bring the ladies home eventually, I also knew Gwen and I had been wrong to make our vow.

There are guests…and there are guests.

And these are the kind I’ll welcome any time.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #65 – “A Few Words from the Not So Rich and Strange”

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

I’m still getting e-mail regarding what I wrote about the day I spilled coffee when there was no coffee to spill, watched change in my pocket vanish and reappear, and found birdseed I’d bought put away in our storage shed before I ever took it out of the truck.

Thanks to this publication and the wonderment of the internets, I’ve been inundated with responses from all over the planet to the questions I posed at the end of the column:

“How about it, readers? Any strange experiences like this you’d care to share? Better yet, any explanations of what’s really going on?”

I’ve gotten both positive responses and negative ones. The negatives mostly go like this:

“You weren’t serious about that stuff, were you? My wife thinks you’ve lost it.”

“What meds are you on? Those can really effect your memory.”

And the one that still hurts: “Who cares about your Twilight Zone coffee? Sorry, but I want the three minutes of my life back that it took me to read this.”

The positive responses of course are more fun:

“Things like that happen to me all the time. I used to think of them as ‘Old Guy Moments’ even though I’ve had them since I was 17. Your piece made me realize that I’m not alone. I’m not crazy after all.”
“Throughout my life I’ve relived various events over and over, especially ones where I meet people. It’s like an eternal state of deja vous.”

“My studies show that matter isn’t nearly as stable as we’re taught. What we think is the universe is a false belief and the universe doesn’t always play along.”

“These slip-ups happen constantly. Mostly we miss them. Your eyes were wide open this time.”

And my favorite. “I’ve been doing probability experiments. You would be amazed. I can’t stress enough the importance of what I have found!”

When I wrote my musings I had no idea I’d be opening such a large can of worms. The fact that so many people live with so many strange things happening to them made me want to grab Gwen the Beautiful and jump into the truck for a cross country jaunt to visit as many of them as we could. To learn who they are and how they live and what truths they have to share.

Since the journey was on my mind, I had to share it as well. With those who’re most important in my life.

First I talked to Huck the Spotless Appaloosa. I told him I was thinking about taking a long trip. His response was to shake his head so hard that his forelock and mane swept from side to side.

“You want to leave us?” Huck said. “Who’ll brush me? Who’ll tell me stories? Who’ll listen to what I’ve got to say?!”

Decker the Giant-Hearted, son of the Big Red Chow Dude, was so upset that he leapt off the porch swing we shared. “Who’ll wrestle with me?” he said. “Who’ll let me out every day? Who’ll listen to what I’ve got to say?!”

Gwen’s response was both tender and knowing. “Sweetie,” she said, “do you really think you can bring yourself to leave Paradise for as long as this kind of trip would take?”

She stroked my cheek. “You’ve got a bond here. If we take off, who’s going to listen to everything the Wind’s got to say?”

Thinking about my wife’s words, I went down to the pond. As I sat down on one of the benches there, a little wind chime in the nearest cedar sang more than it should have on such a still day.

“I don’t understand,” it said. “You want to find magic by leaving here?

“By journeying from a place where the animals and the trees and the rocks and the very house you live in talk to you all night and day?

“Where everything you see and hear and touch says ‘I love you,’ and all you’ve had to do to earn that love is live?

“Where all you’ve had to do to experience it is…listen. Listen to all your friends?”

Looks like Gwen’s right. Paradise and I are one. I hate leaving for even a day.

But y’all are invited over here any time. And you’re welcome even if your lives don’t feel all that strange.

All you’ve got to do when you get here is tell me about yourselves.

I’ll be glad to listen.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #64 – “Farm Bliss”

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

Whew! What a wonderful week I’ve had! One of building and fixing and tending and going and going and going till I drop, and loving it all.

Who could ask for anything more?

Back when I went to an office and was yelled at by just about everyone everyday I found solace in the writing part of the job. I felt as close to a universal presence as I could get while I worked on my words.

Now that I’m in Paradise my truest feeling of belonging to something greater than myself comes while I work on the things that are part and parcel of country life. When I get so immersed in each moment of each task that all my shields are down and I forget just about everything other than the matter at hand.

For the past several days I’ve been concentrating on getting Cloud Creek in shape. My routine has been to awaken at sunrise, arch my way out of bed to stand and stretch beside it like a great tree, with my raised arms feeling like they’re holding up the sky and my feet forming roots to the center of the earth.

After I force myself to stop stretching I pull on my work clothes. A T-shirt. An old long-sleeved cowboy shirt. Thick canvas work jeans. I tuck the jeans into my beloved harness boots (the ones that look so much like the engineer boots my mother never would let me have as a kid), have a quick cup of coffee and put on my work gloves.

Then it’s outside to stretch once more. This time I stand on the area we call The Mound, where the Ghost Dog was first spotted, and I listen to everything around me—the house, the Annex, the sheds, pens, grass, trees, sky, and all the animals—say, “I love you!” so loudly my ears ring.

I say it back, luxuriating in the wind for a few minutes, and then I’m at work, tossing a bale of hay to the horses, feeding several cans of food to the dogs, and bread to the chickens, refilling the wild bird feeders—

And doing my chores. I morph into Brody the Horsepucky Raker, protecting Huck and Elaine from disease! Brody the Fence Repairer, splicing wire and straightening posts!

Brody the Chicken Coop Conqueror, using my trusty staple gun and chicken wire to keep out the wrens and even crows who’ve been coming in through a tear in the window and frightening the hens out of laying!

Brody the Wonder Putterer, sweeping the floor and rearranging everything in the storage shed, nailing the old dog houses back together, scrubbing the bed of the pickup truck!

I circle the house, tightening the outside plumbing and electrical connections, feeling a power just like electricity surge through my body so that I’m absolutely certain lightning bolts are crashing from my fists!

I aim the bolts down the backside of the mountain and take flight with my eagle wings, soaring above the clearing and over the trees and laughing. Oh, how I laugh. It’s a mighty roar, that laugh, scattering the buzzards and crows and summoning my brothers, the hawks!

I know what you’re thinking. Sometimes I’ll look over to the window and see Gwen thinking it too. Her expression says it all. “The boy’s gone crazy.” But invariably she joins in my joy.

By mid-afternoon, when it’s too hot to work, I’m exhausted anyway. In I come, a separate being again, aware of my hunger and the ache in my legs, back, and arms. That’s when I eat. Check my e-mail. Make phone calls. Write things like this.

And think. Now with my fingers on the keys, as I try to figure out what this wonderful week means, I find myself thinking about farmers—real farmers—everywhere. The farmers who’re up and at ‘em at dawn, doing what they need to do because they just plain need to do it. Because it’s what their lives are all about.

Why do my neighbors work so hard, and fight so hard, to keep their back-breaking family farms? Why do they do everything possible to not only hang onto their land but to expand it so they can toil even harder?

Can it be that they’re lucky enough to feel the way I’ve felt this week every day of their lives? Are they this happy? This blissed out?

I sure hope so.