Although we should be looking at what we can do every day in order to live more responsibly in the world, today that conversation may be louder due to global protests and profound activists. The vegan message is loud, but that’s no solution because massive amounts of industrialized soy and corn are needed to make those fake meat burgers, which is enormously damaging, as is all industrialized farming.
I see lots of people rave about cheap food in Mexico; food is cheap for a lot of reasons, and the industrialized methods are just as prevalent in Mexico as they are with our neighbors to the north. You can eat at Pollo Feliz and watch truckloads of fat, diseased chickens drive by on their way to slaughter, it’s that viceral.
I see people on the pro-meat side of the world encouraging meat eating to save the planet, and none of it means a thing if you source your meat or vegetables from industrialized chemical farms. There’s no easy solution, but maybe together we can help each other be more accountable to our choices.
It goes deeper than the label, deeper than the price. Head swirling with all there is to think about…. get grounded, go local, be present, cut out the middleman, think clearly. Peace out from this ol’Farm Crone #regenerativeagriculture
Mid-September is a gorgeous time on Cañada de la Virgen; fruits and vegetables are coming into full maturation, the days are a bit cooler and ending a bit earlier, insects are moulting into their next carnation, and the full Harvest Moon put on a grand show in the clear dark skies of Central Mexico. I love spending time on the farm and enjoying the fruits of the season, so incredibly special.
The unbearable heatwave in Amsterdam ended almost as soon as the Urban Sketchers Symposium’s closing ceremony, and I was thrilled to jump on a train and head to Belgium, with a stop in Antwerp, bound for Brugge. I’ll be honest I first learned about Brugge about ten years ago when the movie “In Brugge” came out, and knew immediately it was a town I wanted to see and explore, even though it was the butt of many jokes throughout the dark-ish yet hilarious-ish movie.
I was NOT disappointed! It was cloudy and cool when I arrived, and lucky me chose and Airbnb room equipped with a bike, which was the perfect method to travel about the area. I totally fell for medieval Brugge, enjoyed its history museum, the main plaza, the locally produced beer, and I will never, ever forget the incredible Belgium chocolate sold in about every third shoppe. Belgium has never really ranked on a “must-see” list, but now I’m scheming to find ways to return. It was lovely, delightful, gorgeous, so long as you stayed a step ahead of the throngs of tourists who arrive by the busload beginning about 10am, but by that time I was well on my way to see windmills and the beach-loving dachunds on the Netherland coast. Sunset in Brugge, which much like Amsterdam lasted about four hours, was a delightful time to watch the twinkling lights come alive in Brugge, as the horses clopped by, and the action turned local.
On my way to the airport, I stopped for an afternoon in Brussels, and as a good student of Rick Steves, I marched right into the Tourist Office to ask what should I see right here, right now. They told me the Royal Belgium Palace is only open to the public four weeks each each, and today was the first day, so they recommended I march right over — and oo-la-la I did march right over! I saw the Royal Belgium Palace in all its glory! After that, a quick handstand in the Grand Marketplace, followed by some mussels from Brussels and a gorgeous local beer, and then away I went.
Three days, that’s all I had, and I can’t wait to return. I see there’s an illustration workshop there early next year…. hey what a great idea, a sketch workshop IN BRUGGE … <3
July, 2019 I finally attended my first Urban Sketchers Symposium, this year held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands –and it was amazing! The only downside was that there was a historic heatwave throughout all of Europe, and made it quite challenging to endure the long days spent sketching out in the streets. I stayed in an adorable attic apartment, but it was sweltering as well, so it was a crazy-hot and bright week. Would I do it again? IN A HEARTBEAT. Next year’s event will be held in Hong Kong, and it’s my intention to get my heiney and my sketchbook in HKG next April!
My photos and sketches from my time in sweltering Amsterdam, where I took the following workshops:
Memories of a City, Reportage with Veronica Lawlor
Amsterdam Rooftops with Hugo Costa
Urban Portraits with Marina Grechanik
I could not be more delighted to be aligned with Central Mexico’s only certified organic cattle ranch and federally protected sanctuary, Cañada de la Virgen. I’ve been aware of this ranch and it’s owners from the first month I began making grass-fed beef, because their products went in the shelves the same month as the beef products I was producing. In the ensuing months, I watched as their products became more professional; their labels became more informed and I remember declaring to myself, “they are in it to WIN IT.” I studied their pricing structure because I was basically winging it and following prices in America, which made no sense to apply those rigors in Mexico. I searched the internets to discover more about Cañada de la Virgen, and although I found much information about their sacred pyramid and the tourism it supports, I found very little about their beef production. I was intrigued.
I then found myself without a ranch and a place to do business. It was a terrifying time once again, as I had no idea what I was going to do and how I was going to support myself. I quietly crawled through this muck and mire of disillusionment, yet my determination to work in the cattle industry could not be extinguished. Somehow I was going to find a way.
A few weeks later, I received a message to contact Sophia Trapp, the owner and director of Cañada de la Virgen. I knew very little about her, she was this mysterious female cattle rancher living in Mexico, raising her children and carrying on her mother’s work. I had to know her.
I met Sophia and after some initial conversations, I learned her mission was to make and have available clean meat for the mothers of Mexico. Most of the good meat produced in Mexico is exported, leaving the sub-par cuts of meat here at home for the people of Mexico. Sophia has stayed true to this mission, as the meat is packaged for ease of cooking and consumption for mom’s making meals at home. I totally respect this mission and believe in it as well. On about our third meeting, she said, “Why aren’t you working with us? We love your passion and dedication to this industry, and where else in the world would I find someone that gets the spiritual side of sacrificing cows?”
It’s been an amazing education to work the Cañada de la Virgen team, and I will always think of them as my family and friends. We’ve done amazing work together, put the business on the national map, and we now sell organic grass-fed, grass-finished meat throughout all of Mexico.
I spent Easter weekend with the family at the Hacienda, and I absolutely love the opportunity to stick my hands and feet into the sacred and magical dirt of Cañada de la Virgen, and hope to return in the years to come.
“Cows have a hold over us, and once you develop a passion for them, it will never leave you.” —Werner Lampert, The Cow, A Tribute
For some time now, I’ve been searching for a way to get back to the Mother Country, back into the fold, to expand my business, my network, my craft and career. Yet I kept coming up against a big fat stupid wall, and could see no clear path before me. The work I’ve done in Mexico has been like no other work; I’ve had monumental experiences with cattle ranching, butchering, and ethical meat like I never would in America, yet it has all whet my whistle to want to experience more — and become a stronger advocate. I’m extremely grateful to the people and places that have presented and provided opportunities in the past few years, ay Chihuahua what an education!
Somehow along the way while in Mexico, I lost contact with the family I once knew, and it’s been quite odd to no longer have a home nor place in America — anywhere in America. I’ve never been okay with this lack of status. Thankfully, I’ve come to know a vital and strong local community, and continue to meet new friends and allies within my sketching and ethical meat communities.
I’ve had a desire to get back to America for some time now, even as the country marinates in a strange orange hue. My schemes and dreams have often awakened me in the wee hours of the night, because I’m not ready to live full time in a retirement town. There’s still much more to sort out, yet I found a portal opportunity in San Diego, California — and I couldn’t be more delighted to cast the net in that direction.
I’ve been approved to teach “Sketch Balboa Park” as an Airbnb Experience, and I begin in May, as I will be there for an extended Memorial Day holiday. I’m excited to stay at a friend’s house and dog sit her brilliantly bouncy dog, Belle. I’m bringing Art Leap Adventures with me, as it’s time to make it a legit business and expand my efforts into America and market to a larger audience. I’ll to continue to organize sketch tours to Mexico, partner with more top-notch instructors, and explore the fascinating and diverse country that is Mexico.
It’s good to learn how to sketch, and I’ll continue to encourage people to do so. We all need a break from our screaming phones, no?
I am not abandoning my ethical meat and cattle welfare efforts; in fact I feel as though I’ve gone as far as I could in Mexico, and now it’s time to take it home. I continue to stay current with the Regenerative Agriculture communities of America, yet it’s certain more will be revealed when I’m on the ground. Meat is so mysterious in America, mostly fast and cheap, as is much of the food these days. Now it’s my turn to follow my own advice to find a local farmer and hold him or her tight — because I’ll need a local source for good clean meat and bones.
Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee I’m so excited to get back to America!
I’m re-posting my explanation of how and why I became a Modern Farmer, and will ignore the desire to make changes like omitting a person, and will allow the excitement of my new found passion, purpose, clarity and gratitude remain the focus of the story.
In 2013, I was hit with a powerful waterfall of emotions and tears as I blurted out I wanted to be a Modern Farmer, in the last hour of the last day of a Sonia Choquette six-sensory workshop. A Modern Farmer, what the heck does that mean?!! Aside from the magazine of the same name, I was very unclear about where this explosion of feelings came from, and laughed and scoffed the entire way home, no way could I be a modern farmer, oh the audacity!
Truth be told, once I uttered those words, I felt as if I had been hit by lightning; the spark had been lit but I had no idea what to do with it. A modern farmer, you say!? Oh stop.
I did spend the first few years of my life on a dairy farm in Huntley, Illinois, although I have little-to-no-memory of it. But now that both my parents were dead, the pull to be in the country was strong, much to my chagrin. I fought it, dug my heels in, as I really believed I was supposed to be in Chicago. I was a Big City Gal, in fact, I was afraid of the country and all its creatures that go boo in the night; the wide open spaces made me terribly nervous. Give me a deserted city street at midnight any time over a quiet country, star-lit night. Once while house-sitting for my brother and his wife in Hebron, Illinois, I called 911 because I heard noises and was certain I was about to be terrorized. After a brief inspection, the policemen said to me, “do you realize that’s the wind?”
I called the cops on the wind.
There had been such tremendous and rapid loss at this point in my life; jobs, addresses, jewelry, my truck — my mom — and through all this I could feel the magnetic pull back to the country. Or maybe it was fear? Or, I know, it was shame, because how embarrassing to lose my everything, so why not run to the country with my tail between my legs? And what was I supposed to do, pray tell, become a tomato farmer? Can I support myself on tomatoes? Maybe a sprout farmer? My track record with plants has never been great and now I think I can be a sprout farmer? Fat Chance. I may have been sitting squarely in the farmlands of Northern Illinois-Southern Wisconsin, but I had a snowball’s chance in hell to become a farmer, modern or old-timey, at this point.
I filed the day dream away and continued my desperate search of WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE?!
Days after Sonia’s workshop, it was Thanksgiving, and thanks to a wonderful invite from my generous ex-husband, Reed, I made my way back to San Miguel de Allende and then to Austin, which I now call home. I quickly forgot all about my farming declaration and moved on to the task of cleaning up the wreckage from my past. I was a fairly miserable girl when I was married to Reed and had felt terribly guilty about how our marriage ended. It ended badly. Certainly not the worst divorce in the world, but I never got over the guilt for my bad behavior and selfish ways. The years I lived in Illinois after the divorce were one big alcohol-fueled guilt trip. This was my opportunity to make amends for my harmful behavior.
Whether he would agree or not, I believe I have made amends to the best of my abilities, first and foremost by being kind to the deserving Reed, and then by trying to be there in ways I had not been in the past. Not everyone gets a shot at this, nor would many want one, and even though it’s been messy and painful all over again, I am super-grateful I had this opportunity to make right a few of my wrongs. This has helped me to grow up. I like growing up, it feels good.
In early August of this year, after returning once again to San Miguel, I overheard Reed on the phone making a deal to sell his Mexican cows to a factory farm in Northern Mexico. Wait, wait, whoa, whoa WHAT?! I said as he hung up the phone.
Reed purchased his ranch in Dolores Hidalgo after we married in 2005; there were little or few cattle when he purchased it, and he spent the past 10 years adding to and cleaning up the breed of Limousin cattle to create a fine, handsome, beautiful breed of cattle; in addition to drilling for water and creating a majestic, sprawling, lush, 250-hectare Guanajuato rancho. The sound of the wind is amazing out here; I would never call the cops on it.
Given my recent experience with a thyroid condition and the need to eat paleo, yet finding little-to-no resources for grass-fed beef in San Miguel de Allende, I chimed in with, “we need grass-fed beef right here in San Miguel and that’s what you have. Why don’t we make meat right here instead of shipping them off to a feed lot, where the cows are mostly wanted only for their arrachera?” Reed responded, “If you can find someone to process the cows, you can have some cows.”
The next day I was at Via Organica, aka, Central Mexico’s Whole Foods, and within two weeks, the team was assembled to produce grass-fed beef.
And so began Rancho Santo Niño.
I had spent the past year living with the cows at Reed’s ranch in Texas; I practiced reiki on them, played crystal bowls for them, and especially loved watching the Texas sunsets with them within an earshot. I loved those cows and had (have) great regard for them. Reed says, “cows are dumb.” I say no they are not! They are amazing mothers and any creature that is a wonderful mother is not dumb.
While I have great respect for the cows and their place in the world, I do know why these cows are here. They are fuel for the people. Oh but how to get them to the people?!
I think factory farming is an unspeakable, horrible injustice to all the animals churned out through them, in turn turning out sick food; to which some people have responded, yeah but you kill the cows too! This is true, but how the cows are treated until it is their time to become fuel for the people is where I want to do it different. I see the hidden videos of how animals are slaughtered; it bothers me tremendously as well. Have you see the Temple Grandin’s movie? She understood this on an entirely different level.
The hard-working cattle ranchers out there producing responsibly raised grass-fed beef are my inspiration, and I don’t pretend for one moment to be a fraction of a rancher, nor skilled tradesperson that they are, but I have learned amazing things through them and with my own experience of working with the ranchers and butchers of Dolores Hidalgo. I have thrown my hat in the ring of producing responsibly-raised grass-fed beef and this makes me incredibly proud and I am excited as I forge ahead and learn new things everyday. I am in on every step of this process and believe it has made me a kinder person, a more mindful person and the gratitude I feel each day when I drink my bone broth is a feeling I don’t want to shake anytime soon.
Producing grass-fed beef been a profound experience thus far.
Cattle ranching done right can save the world’s global warming demise, so says Allan Savory; his TED Talk is extremely moving and inspiring.
Oh and that declaration I made two years ago? I suppose it came true…
With each line I thought of my time in Paris, the boy I dated, the friends I met, and the streets I walked. She will be rebuilt, but I know many of us watched in horror as the flames engulfed the mighty catedral.
I had a marvelous time running and gunning the streets and beaches of San Diego, travel sketching my way around town. I want to live in San Diego!
I’ve been an Urban Sketcher for about a year, and with each sketch I look at it as the foundation for the next; there’s no finish line, it’s just a way to get things out and on the paper. I’ve met some awesome new friends, I’ve traveled and drawn with other Urban Sketchers. I’ve helped organize San Miguel de Allende to be a Regional Chapter, and the group is growing daily. I organize traveling workshops to take Urban Sketching on the road — all super-fun!
Bottom line: I love to sketch and play with sketchbooks :))) follow along at @meagan_burns_
How do I not sound cliche when talking about how tremendously remarkable it is to be a Chicagoan this week? How do I contain myself when thoughts of the World Series makes me cry, even now, half-a week later? How do I bottle these warm fuzzies emanating from my heart, so that they stay with me forever, especially as we’re staring down the loaded barrel of the most terrifying presidential election the world has ever seen? How do I thank the Cubs for what they’ve done? How do I thank my tremendous friends, who are my family?
I feel a sense of urgency to write about my recent visit to Chicago, as I suspect the outcome of next week’s brutal presidential gun fight will not end peacefully on Tuesday, nor anytime soon thereafter. The rally cry of either losing team is going to be horrendous, horrific and no doubt appalling, continuing America’s downward orange spiral into becoming an actual reality tv show, which I will also refuse to watch, just like reality tv.
BUT OH MY STARS. Did you see that World Series??? Ten Epic Innings, One Tremendous Outcome!
I purchased tickets to Chicago several months ago, before having a whisper of a clue they were headed for greatness. By early October, I was sitting on an undecided fence, leaning towards canceling, as a run to the Midwest did not seem appropriate, nor affordable.
See, I don’t have family in Chicago anymore; everyone has either died, moved away or is angry. I must always think twice about Chicago, the place I grew up, the city where I was educated, worked and played, fell down then stood up to only fall down again, the place where my family and its familiarity once was — all things I once knew are no longer there. I am uncertain if I belong in Chicago, if anywhere at all.
Cubs in the playoffs, how cool is that, poor Bartman.
Wait, wait, WAIT A MINUTE, win this game, go to the WORLD SERIES?? As in the REAL World Series??
I jumped on Twitter — I can’t see baseball in Mexico, so Twitter’s the next best thing. Hey look! All my real Twitter pals are actually on Twitter and they’re tweeting each other! I throw out a tweet, my friends tweet back! No one tweets anymore, haven’t you heard? But right now we’re here and in an electrified state of disbelief, omg CUBS WIN HEY HEY, everyone tweets they got to get to Chicago!!
The Cubs won the playoffs and they’re going to the World Series WHAT!?
I must go to Chicago. I began to cry as memories of my youth came flooding back. My parents, uncles, cousins, grandparents — the Cubs peppered my youth; but we became numb to the salt in our wounds, didn’t we? We’re talking about the Cubs after all. The loveable losers, just WAIT til next year, we’ll really show youz guyz something! No, THIS is the year, it’s really happening.
My time living on Waveland, just past Murphy’s, please tell me they’re losing so it’s easier to get tickets for the bleachers. Right field sucks, by the way, and for the love of God, throw it back you moron. I can hear Harry singing in my kitchen, lemme hear ya now! I rarely slept while living on Waveland; I was voted most popular cousin and someone was always clawing at my door. It was. Hilarious, to say the least.
My dad took us to Wrigley more than a few times. Always two sections up from third base, my brothers and dad remained focused on game details as we chomped on hotdogs and peanuts, yet always promptly departing after the 7th inning stretch to finish the game on the car radio. God forbid we get stuck in Cubs traffic. Looking back, I think my dad was afraid of Chicago, but he loved the Cubs and rooted for them until the end of his days. He retired in Phoenix and my brothers and I went to see the Cubs play the Sox in Mesa; the Sox won and the hotdogs were lousy. Arizona hotdogs hmmmmppfffh.
My uncles preferred the White Sox, a team for the working man, the salt of the earth, with Comisky a stone’s throw away from Maywood race track. “A man can afford to take his kids and have a beer with the Sox,” I recall uncle Buzz telling me once. He took my brothers and I to a few Sox games, but most memorable for me was the Maywood race track afterwards. Kids are King!
My grandmother was a Lone Fox in her family, in more ways than one, and she too adored the Cubs in a sea of black and white hats. She would watch The Young and the Restless then tidy up before the Cubs game, which she always watched with the shades drawn, and sunglasses on. She spoke of Ryne Sandburg often, as if they were acquainted; she adored him. On a balmy September day in 1994, my grandmother Rose fell over from a brain aneurysm while watching her team; she was dead before she hit the floor. My mom was asked, “did she die doing what she loved?” Nope, she didn’t. But just wait til her next reincarnation!!
All my people are gone, but not forgotten, and I quickly realized my entire hometown was not only balling because the Cubs were gonna win today, but because of what the Cubs meant to their families and to their youth. It was a huge homecoming, and I was a part of the mad dash to O’Hare. Everyone smiled and hugged and held doors for strangers, I was never so delightfully thrilled to be home, and for a brief moment it was easy to forget about the hateful political season and enjoy the game of baseball in November in Chicago.
My week in Chicago was spent with some of the most awesome and amazing friends I tried for years to forget, because I assumed they forgot me. The girls I grew up with, the girl I got sober with, the girl I Instagram with, the girl in Texas who treats me like family, the girl from San Miguel and my little screaming Italian Aunt, who remains my hometown cheerleader, proudly displaying my Modern Farmer magazine article on her highly Lemon-Pledged coffee table, for all to see.
These women rallied around and with me, made me feel comfortable in their homes and trusted me with their pets. They included me in their family meals and made space for me to watch the game on the couch. We cried when the Cubs lost, and cheered and sang like fools when the Cubs won. Fly that W and Go Cubs Go!
I had an amazing time in Chicago and I’m so grateful to my friends and family who graciously welcomed me home, when I was certain I had nowhere to go. Thank you Pate, Noelle, Kristin, Rose, Judy, Joan and Aunt Nancy; in the words of Eddie Hinsberger, I love you all.
eddie loves you
Thank you Chicago Cubs for making it the best week in the world to be home, and congratulations on being the 2016 World Series Champions. Please pardon me for assuming you’d never get there, but thank you for proving me wrong from the bottom of my warm, fuzzy and reinvigorated heart.
Hey Chicago ya know what I say? The Cubs made me believe again. Orange is the new hate — but it will never prevail; the river is blue, faith’s been restored, the Cubs won the pennant, and I have a place in Chicago. THANK YOU.
Go Cubs Go! xx
It’s been one year since Reed Burns gave me one cow to figure out how to produce grass-fed beef in San Miguel, and what a tremendous year of learning it’s been — and hopefully far from over. I find it all so very fascinating, interesting, satisfying and completely heartbreaking.
One year later still, the most difficult cow is Reed Burns, but that’s the price of this front line education on cattle ranching and making meat. Reed and I have evolved together in this partnership because we both have great regard and determination to make an agricultural contribution, but Lordy the road has been bumpy and difficult.
When I walked into that meeting with Via Organica last year, I wasn’t sure of the name of the ranch, how many cows there were, what they did all day, and I barely knew of the breed “Limousin”. I googled it that morning to discover they’re a hearty French cow, good in this terrain, known for easy birth and similar in meat quality to the Angus. Reed Burns knew what he was doing when he choose the breed for his Guanajuato ranch over a decade ago. And I knew that we needed a better quality of meat in our community.
I didn’t know many of the things I know today, and looking back, I may have thought twice if I knew what I was in for… but then again, no. I have loved all the challenges of learning about cows, ranching in Mexico, butchering — soup-to-nuts, as they say. I’d never have privy to the things I’ve experienced if I were in the States, that’s one of the beautiful things about an unregulated life in Mexico; I’ve had face-to-face access to the blood, sweat and tears of raising cows.
I am not hardened or immune to any of it and sometimes all this blood, sweat and tears takes my breathe away. It has brought me to my knees more than a few times. Ranch life is very close to the bone and I am surrounded by men who seem to be unaffected by the death or killing of cows, whereas I’m affected by it all and still want to be involved. I prefer to be affected, but it requires me to take care of myself so I can continue to tend to the job at hand with a clear mind. It requires me to elevate my thinking and continue to strive to be a better person in all that I do.
Yes, I do take it very personally and work diligently with the folks I am working with to provide a good life to the cows, before we take their final sacrifice. Who are we to ask for the life of a cow if we are not clear in our own lives?
My heart has grown with the cows and I get accused of being too emotionally attached to them. It’s true I love them. One of my most favorite places on earth is sunrise in the corral, when I can hear all the cows breathing and chewing and snorting. I breathe with them. I stare. They stare. They get up slowly and stretch their front legs much like dogs. An avalanche of poop and whiz begins to splat on the dirt. Sun up, time to eat, time to move out into the fields. It’s strenuous work getting out to the fields and these cows work hard and are quite lean, yet very well-natured. I bless them with reiki as they march out into the rocky pasture. Another day of hiking across the hills of Rancho Santo Niño in search of food.
I continue to work with Reed Burns because I want them to have a better life and their lives have improved over the past year. They eat better food, their housing structures have been expanded, and greater attention has been given to their health. If I were to walk away right now, I would be content to know their lives are better now than when they were a hobby ranch a year ago. But I haven’t walked away; I am also in on the butchering of these animals when it is time, because it is my commitment to make sure they have a good death, as well as a good life. None of it is easy, however.
We have been fortunate to have found a butcher in Dolores who has a tremendous heart and has taken time and consideration to teach me so many things about cows and meat. He has taught me how to smell a carcass and what to “look” for when smelling that carcass. So many cows are fed horrible diets and no matter what’s said when the animal is sold, the smell of the meat never lies.
My butcher has taught me the importance of a veterinarian who is not afraid to bend over. What, bend over??! Yes, when cows need shots, and they all do at some point, you want to work with a vet who will bend down to administer the shot in the lower leg quarter and not in the prime rump, because that affects the quality of the meat. Our butcher has also taken time to work with our ranch boys to teach them how unnecessary it is to hit or beat the cows. He takes care to photograph the results of a bruised cow — or rather, bruised meat, to show them the consequence of not taking care. It has worked! The ranch family now flail their arms and yelp to move the cows. It literally made me cry when I saw this the first time.
A good life and a good death, right?
I am emotionally attached, but I also butcher, deliver and devour con gusto. It’s the most profound and soulful work I’ve ever done. It also completely kicks my ass.
Recently, two bulls got into an argument as bulls do, and one bull took a horn under his jaw, which caused an existing tumor to very quickly grow and swell up the bull’s head. He stopped eating, became listless and motionless. We had to end his misery. I went to see our butcher to talk about it and he took from a very large bucket the head of this bull that I have enjoyed breathing with on occasion, and plopped it on the table in front of me. We looked at the jaw, we analyzed everything, as the dead eyes looked at nothing. I knew that cow and I liked him a lot. “This is what happens Meag, just deal with it,” I kept telling myself. This is what happens, cows die, deal with it.
Guess what? I have no clue how to deal with it. I don’t want any of these cows to die and how in the world did I arrive at a place in my life that I’m in on the killing of cows?? How did this happen and will I ever be forgiven???
This has cracked my soul wide open to a very strange place and I find myself considering life and death, love and hate, sex and dying, as well as wondering how far away am I from having my head on a table being examined and considered if there was anything more that could’ve been done? Is this who I am, a murderer of cows, a happy carnivore, or is it forcing me to see and experience life from a place of extreme gratitude for all that I have?
The other day I began to sob about my part in the killing of these cows to the point where no sound came out and my rib cage trembled and ached. I asked for forgiveness, I asked if maybe I should go instead of the next cow. I looked to the sun and wondered am I good enough to be doing this work and to please help me become a better person.
There is more work to do. But first I will draw Negro el Toro because he is so handsome and strong…
My time at Charro Ranch started with a heartbreak, ended with a heart stop, and had me question everything in between. Driftwood, Texas will forever be visceral in its realities of life and death, so long as it’s not gobbled up by concrete subdivisions, and has reminded me often not to take things too personally, because it is never about me and always something bigger. It has afforded me an opportunity to learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I’ve come to appreciate all my experiences over the years on the ranch, as they race through my mind.
The plan was to meet Reed in Texas after a few days in Chicago, but he never arrived and now it seems quite possible he will always avoid the places I am standing, for reasons beyond my reasoning. It is because of these reasons I spent the time reorganizing my Texas life and preparing for a new direction, one that will include cows, but will not include Reed.
My first day in Texas, I backed my car up the driveway and heard a strange yelp as I rolled up to the house. I paused, looked out my car window and was horrified to see tiny legs kicking under the car. I maneuvered the car away, exposing a whimpering newborn deer who’s head I just crushed. She was still alive when I dropped to the ground and put my hands on her jerking body to calm her, or perhaps to calm my horror and give me the exasperated chance to apologize for killing her on her first day of life.
It was terribly heartbreaking. I was officially a wreck and fought back my tears during my eye exam later that morning, even my eye doctor, bless his heart, paused to hug and comfort me over the unfortunate early morning death of a fawn.
After she left this world, I placed her lifeless body in a beautiful field of wildflowers I now call Fawn Field.
The days ticked by and it became evident Reed would not arrive. Our phone conversations were awful and ugly, his rage over me being in Texas grew by the hour.
The rains soon arrived and with it came an army of spiders, mud and scorpions looking for higher ground. Electricity flickered and roads disappeared. I was killing scorpions without batting an eye and barely flinched when I awakened a huge 5-inch centipede. On the third day, I could stand it no more and fled to Austin to escape the pounding rains and my saddening heart. Thank God for cousin Noelle; she helps me feel normal in the world again as I follow behind her in malls I am literally a foreigner in, stomping the scorpions away from my mind.
Texas has always tested me in this regard; its weather and insects always a bit bad-asser and larger than what I’m accustomed, and in hindsight I’ll always be grateful it hasn’t yet killed me, but in fact has made me stronger. I spent many years at odds with Texas; it is arrogant and uppity when you’re not from here, but now she’s in my blood and I love her many people, places, animals and occasional gut-wrenching lessons.
I soon returned to the ranch to finalize the condensing of my life, and spent a stormy sunset with the cows on Swan Lake. They moved in to stand closer, which surprised and delighted me, as the Texas cows have always kept a fair distance, but not on this night. Did they know I was sad and in need of a friend? No, I’m sure they did not but who’s to say if they did?
Reed was not coming, and in fact he had since exploded in a sea of stabbing words at me, for me and about me; it is time for me to go. There is no point in details because when two people live in entirely different worlds, the details are unnecessary and the truth unavoidable; get out and away before someone gets hurt. Although someone may be hurt.
The last day at the ranch I was prepared to leave and went to dip my feet in a raging Onion Creek where Bandito Bridge crosses; I have renamed this bridge because I miss that dog terribly and we always had a blast at the river. It’s a beautiful day and I notice everything; I feel so privileged to know this part of the Texas Hill Country; it is magical and raw in so many ways and I think back to when I first arrived in 2005 and hated it with all its bugs and creatures that go bump in the night. I have come so far because now I love to spend time at Charro Ranch and will miss it terribly. But it is time to go. One last visit with the cows …
I pulled up to the barn and all the cows were wailing and screaming and mooing like mad, it was an awful, awful scene! I jumped out of my car to see that the calves were in the pen and the mommas were out; the calves were being weaned and everyone was wailing. RayRay the horse was in the pen too, and was more unsettled than usual, pushing the calves around with his nose, completely uninterested in the apple I had for him, heyying and neyying all over the place. “What the hell is going on here??!” I asked as the wailing got louder and cows who normally keep their distance moved still closer to me.
Slow-motion turn, just like the movies.
I turned around and saw “him”. A huge, raging black Spanish bull, a bullfighting bull to be precise, as I have seen many times at the bullfights in Mexico. He had escaped from a ranch down the highway and was crazed with lust. He was panting and grunting, his head darting impatiently and aggressively. Without a moment to think, I hopped on air the 30-or-so feet back to my car — the bull moved towards me and grunted even more. Then he began to run towards me yet turned on a dime just as I reached my car. Fight or flight, I was completely in it and have no recollection of anything for the next several whatever’s, but sat there with my mouth agape completely aghast that there was a raging bullfighting bull on the loose now raping all the wailing momma cows. The bellowing moos still haunt me, as does the fact I’m still alive when a bull bred to kill somehow did not to kill me. Remember this is not personal, Meag.
My week at Charro Ranch started with a tearful, dying whimper and ended in an explosion of seething anger, and while it is true my heart is still lodged in my throat, I’m alive with a flush in my veins and more wiser view of the world thanks to this Driftwood, Texas ranch and its owner Reed Burns.
Thank you for all the adventures Charro Ranch, I love you so much xx
While on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, I quietly completed one year of daily drawings, based on a mostly-randomly-selected tweets. It was an extraordinary personal exercise, and challenged me in ways I had no idea would be challenged. A drawing a day? Seems fairly straight forward and people are doing it all the time, no big whip.
I had no idea I was bent towards drawing the naked body, but I really enjoy drawing the naked body. If I could draw the body in one fell, solid stroke, I was happy as a lark and felt accomplished as I began my day. Little victories. Early on during this drawing exercise, I began to attend live model drawing classes, and the things I learned in there, oh my! We all have bodies, right, but have you ever thought about all the different ways we can move, bend, stretch, contort? Simply amazing! The body aside, what about emotions? Emotions can make a body erect as the Washington Monument or crumble in a heap of rumbles all over the floor –and everything in between.
I also liked the idea of trying to tell a story from someone’s tweet. This was not always easy, but in hindsight, it was invigorating. I was accused of being a pervert, gay (really?), asked “how do you figure a naked person from this?” and unfollowed more than a few times. I didn’t mind — although it’s not my intention to be offensive, I was simply practicing my story-telling abilities, which may or may not have included a naked person, but never vulgar and always joyfully intended.
On March 17, 2016, I completed a full year of daily drawings — I did not miss one day, thank you very much.
It has been almost two weeks since #PicTweetArt ended. I’ve dreamt of it, day-dreamed of it, looked at people hard and wondered how I would draw the lines of their face or the shape of their calves. I even got busted in Vallarta for taking a picture of a woman’s legs as she stood in line at the bank because she had truly amazing calves.
As much as I loved how this exercise changed me; it improved my confidence, opened my mind, taught me anatomy, ETC., the most difficult part of #PicTweetArt was reading Twitter each morning.
Ugggggg Twitter. No one talks on the platform anymore, people are mostly pushing out their stuff — just as I was pushing out my stuff. I had to search for real tweets, so many brutally empty tweets that no one gives a rats ass about. I allowed myself about 10 minutes to search for a tweet and as loathsome as it was, I somehow found a tweet for one whole damn year, and I drew that tweet — hard.
All this brutal poppycock aside, I’ve decided to continue the practice of daily drawings via Twitter and starting Friday April 1st, I will be back at it!
See you on Twitter my Darlings!
A broken website kept me from updating the PicTweetArt’s so here is February’s, a wee bit late!
Are you enjoying your January hibernation?
Thank you for following along xx
New Year’s Day 2016
I’ve unintentionally started a habit I quite like; each New Year’s Eve I draw my version of a Marc Chagall painting, because Chagall was all about love; at least he is to me. His paintings calm me down, give me hope and make me buzz, happily. I like this ritual…
The Artist’s Wife:
I recall with a pang in my breath the times my mother mentioned Christmas was not the same without her mother. I barely flinched, I may have flashed an eye to meet hers, but rarely did I extend compassion to my mom when she spoke of such things. More than likely I returned to my own desperate thoughts of yet another devoid holiday season.
I recently realized I was on that same self-inflicted, torturous path, even though I’m a long ways from home. My mom has been gone for almost three years and so far this “joyful” season was kicking my ass. I stood last week in the center of San Miguel as the decorations went up. Mom would have liked that, I said under my breath, as I turned and walked flatly away. It’s just weird without her.
I still reach for the phone most Sundays to call her; it’s become my missing limb with it’s phantom feelings; she’s not there. My brothers are not speaking to me, most of my family is dead or very distant, and I forgot to have a daughter who will hold my hand as I lay dying. The world has gone crazy-violent, the Republicans are hell-bent on destroying any shred of decency remaining in my country, and chemicals, pollutants and plastics are choking the earth to death. Whoa is me, this is all made a just tad worse by the fact that I am alone once again, ooooooh whoa is me.
I tumbled into a dark rabbit hole for a number of days, sad and weepy, deep in the clutches of grief. It has turned cold in Central Mexico, so I crawled under a mountain of blankets and stayed there; highly unusual for me. I’ve orchestrated this highly solitary life and it is no longer working for me. And oooohhhhh my gawd, my birthday, the big FIVE-O is approaching, aaah boy, hand me another hanky.
Sunday morning I awoke with tears streaming down my cheeks, but everything felt different. I could see colorful, brilliant, twirling lights in the corners of my eyes; something I used to see quite often as a kid, but not so much as an adult. I used to called these lights “fairies”, although I really have no clue. They do however, make me feel better; they generate heat within. I stood up and noticed things looked brighter, so I karate chopped my way out of my bedroom, “I live in Saint Michael’s town and I have a bazillion things to be grateful for, just LOOK at how well I can karate chop my way around the house!!” I got dressed and ran down the hill to dance class; I felt a pep in my step and was eager to move. My eyes were full from the idea of tears, as I glanced at some new and familiar faces in Sunday’s ecstatic dance class. The song, “Hallelujah” came on. It poured over me like a waterfall.
Yes, I’m going to be fifty years old and how fucking amazing is it that I am still alive?!? How tremendous is it that I am dancing like a champ in the ballet room of Bellas Artes, in the middle of Mexico!?!?!? And hallelujah to be free of a relationship that has been wearing me down ever since it started?!?! I love the cows of Rancho Santo Niño! I love my strong legs! I love my jibbly belly! I love my dog! I love Mexico! I love the United States! I love Donald Trump! I love my artwork! I love my energy!!
Uhhhh ok I would love for Donald Trump to shut his racist cake hole and go away forever. This is where delusion and optimism come in handy.
On and on I pranced, HALLELUJAH my forties are over! I hid out for so many of them; I tried so hard to be invisible, but nothing worked. I hated myself and wished I were dead. The gravity of these sentiments is not lost on me, ever; it wakes me in the wee hours of the night, but throughout the years, I honestly thought I was quite deficient. I was always buzzing in a quiet desperation to find a cure outside myself, but in the meantime I distracted myself with a number of mind-numbing pacifiers because — well, because get me out of this pain now.
I struggled over a lot of things my forties. I felt awful about a marriage to a man I should not have married. We liked each other a lot, we still do, but we never once worked as a couple, and so I strayed, before we divorced. I was wracked with guilt, angry too. I was a failure. I crawled back to Illinois with my tail between my legs and worked for awful people because they helped punish me when I fell short. I didn’t care about my future, I didn’t want to travel, I didn’t want to learn anything new, I had zero interest in any long term goals. I deserved no happiness.
I hope it’s not too late.
Then my mom got sick and needed me. She was going down for the count and reached for my hand like never before. She apologized to me. She told me she was very sorry she had not been nicer to me and had deep regrets. “I wish I had been nicer to you Meag.”
With those words, my mom healed a thousand and one wounds; I can picture myself falling slow-motion backwards through a time warp as these words penetrate. My focus went from staring deep inside my jagged soul, to turning around and looking at the horizon out in front of me, “There it is, my death, over there towards the horizon. I better live the best damn life I can possibly live before I reach my horizon.”
It’s true, I fell into a rabbit hole, what with the coming holidays, my approaching half-century birthday, the holidays without my mom nor family, and dang I forgot to have a kid, and well, why not have another holiday as a singleton…. oy vey, the grief is huge.
Although, none of this matters if I slather on the right combination of denial, delusion and optimism, because I have the greatest gift inside my heart; my mom’s blessings.
She set me free and I will be forever grateful, even if she did wait until her deathbed — but oh my she finished strong. It’s time to get busy living or get busy dying, as they say in prison. Don’t forget the denial — fake it til I make it is in full swing right now.
San Miguel de Allende is a lot of things, and it is also a city full of women who have come to re-invent themselves after the divorce, the retirement, the breakup, the failure, the success; this path has been blazed many times, but never duplicated. I am in the right place, at the right time, at the right age.
So let’s dance…
Thank you Fairies!
Love you like a diamond! xx
Happy Birthday to my brothers Sean & Kevin too, I love you both wherever you are! xx
This was an extraordinarily strange and sad, yet inspiring week; my dear pal Kay passed away after bringing her to the hospital, I introduced the cows to some highly talented chefs, my interview with Modern Farmer came out, and it was my first solo Thanksgiving sans family nor significant other here in Mexico. I was highly distracted and busy with meaty business, yet remain committed my daily drawing because I see how my skills are improving. Plus I feel closer to my mom when I draw.
Thank you for following along; I am enjoying this journey tremendously, and totally appreciate the support I’ve received. I am sad to have lost some people from my life, but am inspired by new friends I have met and the places we are going. My feet are planted firmly on the ground as I reach for it all… and wish it all for you as well.