Little Rock Arkansas, Part One

February 2020

It takes me two days by bus to get from Albuquerque to Little Rock. Before Albuquerque, I’d ridden twice on Flixbux and once on Greyhound without incident, but every bus since (entirely  Greyhound) has been late both arriving and departing. Each time there is no explanation given, no apology made. As the woman behind the counter in Amarillo puts it, “That’s just how it is.” We are on the way to Dallas for my third connection in 24 hours when the bus driver pulls in to a truck stop just outside Wichita Falls. It’s barely 6am and not yet daylight. At first he tells us this is a “break stop,” so I stay in my seat, trying to sleep. Five minutes later he announces that the bus has broken down, and everyone needs to disembark while we wait for someone to come and make the necessary repairs. We all huddle inside the building to get out of the cold. I feel like I’m in the middle of a Steinbeck novel.

I miss my connection in Dallas, so I’m almost five hours late arriving in Little Rock. I’m here to work on a goat farm for a week, a situation I found through the Workaway website. If you aren’t familiar with this organization, it introduces hosts and volunteers all over the world. The idea is the volunteer goes to “work” for the host, someone s/he has selected based on interest in the type of help needed, giving approximately 5 hours a day five days a week in exchange for room and board. My hosts are Tammy and Skip, and it’s Skip who pulls up to the bus station to fetch me, having left Tammy at a nearby theatre where they were attending a play. He invites me to join them, but when I tell him how exhausted I am, he takes me straight back to the farm so I can call it an early night. He puts me in one of the guest rooms in their house and I crash almost immediately. 

The next morning I meet Tammy and the critters: three dogs, two cats, 31 goats, 70-odd chickens, two bee hives, a rabbit, a donkey, and a llama. They all, including some of the chickens, have names. I also meet Dan, another Workaway volunteer, who is staying at the “soap cottage” rather than in the house. This is a two story wooden structure up the road behind the main house and outbuildings, so named because it’s where Tammy makes, packages and stores the goats’ milk products she sells online and at events statewide. Soap is her biggest seller, though she also makes lotions, creams, lip balm, shampoo, insect repellent, and a number of other things including colorful soap covers she crochets in the evenings. Dan has been here for almost a month and will be leaving in a few days, heading on to another volunteer situation then back to Montana where he lives from spring to fall. He says he is in the process of deciding if he wants to keep his home there or sell and relocate somewhere that isn’t so cold he feels the need to escape every winter. When Skip tells me I’m welcome to stay in the soap cottage if I prefer it to the main house, I tell him I would, and Tammy drives me up there so I won’t have to lug my bags. Dan is in the only bedroom downstairs so I take the second bedroom up in the loft. The bed is only a twin, but the space is much larger and more open. 

Around 5:30 dinner is served, and it smells delicious. Skip has prepared a pork loin in his new smoker out on the deck (which he and Dan just built over the last two weeks). I sit down at the table but to my dismay Skip reaches out a hand and clasps mine as he bows his head and begins to pray. This is to be the case before every meal we eat, including the two in restaurants. I keep my head up and my eyes open and remain quiet when he and Tammy say “Amen,” but I don’t complain. They are my hosts, and they are feeding me.

Two cats reside in the soap cottage at all times, and they waste no time in greeting me. They are called Bubbles and Suds, a couple of two year old black and white domestic short hairs. They are both playful, affectionate and curious, with one very distinct difference between them. Bubbles was born without eyes. Over the next week I will watch him, observe how he moves forward in every space, from floor to kitchen countertops, with only the merest hint of hesitation in his front paws to alert him to changes in depth. He is understandably more cautious than his brother, but he has adapted so well to his environment that he moves almost seamlessly throughout. I’m told he once fell downstairs from the loft. I am fascinated to observe that, although he has never seen another cat, he does the following just like his brother: uses the litter box, washes himself, purrs, jumps. The one thing he does very seldom, in fact I only witness it once in the course of the week, is meow.

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