I couldn’t find my older daughter. My other children hadn’t seen her for a while either. Her room was empty. I rang the Texas-shaped dinner bell outside the back door that signals the children to come in from outside. Still, she didn’t appear. It’s unlike her to ignore my calls so I started to worry a bit. I checked the barn and then quickly circled around the house and my eye caught a glimpse of her shiny brown hair. I immediately smiled. She was sitting on top of the round hay bale situated under a huge live oak tree out in the side pasture. She was reading a book out loud as the horse and cows chomped on the hay around her. The calf was lying against the bale looking up at her like he was listening to the story she told. I went back inside without interrupting her time. She read on, not knowing she had been lost and found.
“If we do this, we will never go away,” I warned my husband on our way to sign the paperwork at closing. How could we ever expect anybody to watch all the animals we planned on getting so we could go on vacation? Even an evening out would be a lot to ask of anybody. There wouldn’t just be instructions detailing our children’s evening routine. There’d be a list of franch chores as well. But, life on a franch was something we had dreamed of for our family and so we penned our signature that day without further hesitation. We figured our life would be quiet, romantic evenings spent at home on the franch with very few opportunities to travel. Fortunately, I was wrong. We were first blessed to find a babysitter who loves helping our children with all the franch chores. I will always remember one evening I was giving our babysitter instructions on what to do with our new border collie puppy. I always spend a little time on what franch chores need to be done, but, this time, I was going on and on and on and on about how to handle the needs of our new puppy. She finally interrupted, “Wow, the puppy is going to be more work than the children – I feel like I’m here to babysit the puppy!” How funny! We agreed I usually have more to say about what needs to be done with the franch than with the children. We decided she doesn’t just babysits, she also franchsits. Also, by good fortune, we moved in next to an amazing neighbor who is always willing to watch our place for any extended times away. She is our dependable long-term franchsitter. Admittedly, she even takes better care of our animals than we do! She will do everything we ask no matter how ridiculous. We joked with her one time that our daughter’s hermit crabs like to be sung to, and she later texted to let me know that she’d been singing to them during our time away. Even my newly retired parents, who know little about farming and ranching, recently agreed to do all the franch chores for one week so we could go on a family vacation to Florida. I think they had second thoughts when I started reviewing a one-page Word document detailing how to manage the franch and care for all the animals. But, my parents survived, and even exceeded our expectations during a week when lousy weather made franching more difficult! I am so thankful for all of our willing franchsitters who make it possible for us to live our days on a franch and still get-away a little too.
One morning, our observant daughter noticed a hawk flying back and forth in the sky above our property. In the afternoon, she spotted it again. This time, it was circling high in the sky above our chicken coop. It seemed to be eyeing our several free-range chickens which were happily pecking around the pasture totally oblivious of the danger we knew was above. The chickens, raised by our children since they were one day old, were not yet full-grown. To our children, the chickens were dear friends, but, to the hawk, they were a tasty lunch. Since we hadn’t lost any of our free-range chickens to hawks in broad daylight, we went about our day. As the time for evening chores approached, it grew very windy and chilly. Our children decided to do chores a bit early as the clouds were growing darker. A heavy rainstorm was in the forecast for early evening. Moments later, I looked out our kitchen window to see my older daughter running toward the house. Our daughter had counted and recounted the chickens resting on their perches inside the coop. She kept coming up two short. Usually, as dusk approaches, chickens will return from the pastures on their own to the safety of their coop for the night. So, where were those other two? As I pulled on my barn boots to help in a search, my teary-eyed daughter guessed the likely reason for our missing chickens. “The hawk,” she remembered. We eventually called off the search as the rain started to come down hard, soaking us. My daughter was quiet in deep thought the rest of the night. Surprisingly, there were no dramatic outbursts over the lost chickens that evening. As I tucked her in bed, her spirit seemed even a little cheerful, “Mom, I’m pretty sure that hawk got my chickens. I’m very sad for them, but I can be glad that the hawk is now happy with a full tummy.” Wow. That’s a very “the glass is half-full” thing to say. And I guess she was paying attention to Mufasa’s circle of life lecture to Simba in The Lion King. Early the next morning, the chickens were found hunkered down in a corner of the pasture. The poor things had probably just been disoriented by the sudden change in weather. My daughter was very happy to locate her lost chickens, but her smile wasn’t as big as I expected. She expressed her mixed emotions, “I’m so happy our chickens are okay, but now I’m a bit sad the hawk is out there still hungry.” We both looked up at the clear blue sky but the hungry hawk was nowhere to be seen.