Happiness is sunshine, low humidity and 350 bales of hay in your barn by 10:30 AM!
When friends ask me why I like to read memoirs I usually say it’s because I’m the curious sort. Perhaps that’s just another way of saying I’m nosy, but there you have it. I like to read about how other people have navigated the challenges they’ve met in life. Because we all have them, you know. Some memoirs do a great job of telling you about everything that went right or wrong, but fail to really explore the nuts and bolts of the journey. That’s not a criticism; everyone tells their story their own way and for different reasons. But I happen to be most fond of the memoirs that tackle the grittier stuff. The stuff that makes you have to put the book down and really chew on the words for a bit.
Stable Relation is that kind of memoir. A perfect blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, confessional and a heaping dash of salt-of-the-earth common sense. This book not only challenges how you think and feel, but encourages you to become more present and aware of your path in life. Yes, there were several Kleenex moments for me. Actually, I lost count, but I’m a woman of a certain age and I’ve earned the right to lean more toward the sentimental side now. And no, I’m not ashamed. You won’t be either. It’s OK.
This memoir is about Cattle Dogs, Dobies, mutts, ducks, horses, llamas and goats. There are blizzards, bad memories, blistering sun and batty first dates, as well as the occasional flashback about dysfunctional family, distant relatives and old friends. Anna makes it pretty clear from the start that her birthright was an early life chock full of crap and crisis. By the time she hit midlife she was at a crossroad. She wanted to exorcise the crazy and decided to use a career dilemma as her turning point. With little more than burning passion, determination and an abundance of elbow grease, Anna begins to carve out a place of her own on the prairie.
As the story unfolds, Anna talks about becoming temporarily attached to the various assortment of birds and critters that share the daily routine at her farm. I can relate. The first Spring on my farm we were visited nightly by a methodical, comedic female raccoon who not only stopped by to see what we might have to offer, but for several years thereafter brought her entire family along for the ride! (We called her Sport) And I still search the trees by the pond where I once photographed a one-eyed hawk. I have no reason to believe she might still be around, except that I’d like to think she is. Anna writes about her awe for the creatures and the unique environment she shares with them, in spite of life’s ups, downs and (often times) harsh lessons. Anyone who grew up on a farm knows that as beautiful as farm life can be, an unforgiving and harsh reality is always lurking in the shadows. Survival depends on balancing what is perfect and good with the fear of what that can morph into in the blink of an eye. Mention the word colic around any horse person and you’ll see what I mean.
Anna shares several experiences that helped her find the strength to push past a miserable start in life and mature into a woman who, above all, values and models grace, kindness and generosity of heart and spirit. What makes this book so special is the hilarious cast of characters who mentor Anna on this journey and help her build a new trust in the healing balm of love. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be humbled by the author’s unfiltered adoration and devotion for her charges and impressed by her intuitive, gentle approach. These gifts seem especially unique given how little love or compassion she was shown as a child. How does one learn to use these tools if they’ve never been taught? Anna shows you how. And if she can do it, so can you.
I started out reading this memoir slowly. I wanted to savor every chapter. But as the story continued I no longer had to force myself to slow down rather, I NEEDED to read islowly.
This book is not just good.
It’s not just a winner.
And if Stable Relation is any indication of what we might be hearing from Anna in the future, I can’t wait for more!
Once you move animals into a new barn it doesn’t take long to know what you’ve gotten right and what you’ve gotten wrong. Some things you can change, like where you put things and how well they work for your routine. Other things you’re stuck with, like the lay of the land and what’s on or under it. Like ledge. Or a high water table. Or trees.
The land around our new barn is much like our property in general, which is to say it’s gently sloping. That’s what I’ll call it for now. But come winter I know it will become ‘that damn hill.’ I’m already worrying about footing and runoff, slipping and sliding. Slopes, ice and horses do not go well together. The fifty or so yards between our house and barn are ledge disguised as a gentle rolling (downhill) grade. Try to stick a spade anywhere in the soil and you’ll quickly discover it’s impossible to dig more than six or seven inches deep without hitting rock ledge. Being an avid gardener, I’ve tried. In light of wanting to run water to our barn, this isn’t good news. And it’s debatable if we can dig deep enough to bury an electrical line. (The trench might end up looking like a mole path!) Worse case scenario we run an aerial line to the barn, but being a photographer I’m not particularly happy about that prospect either.
Both stalls have double Dutch doors that exit into the loafing shed. We’ve been working in and around this barn for two years and it’s only now, after the horses have been moved in, that I realize one stall should have had the doors mounted to swing open from the other side. Every time I go to let Dharla into that stall we bottleneck. It seems totally awkward and I know she feels it too. I’m not sure if it’s annoying enough to re-hang that set of doors. Hell, I’m not even sure if it’s worth mentioning. Yes, it’s been hinted that I’m a bit picky, but in my own defense I’m the one who does 98% of the daily horse care and upkeep.
The vast majority of the things surrounding the move have been an improvement. No daily parade of hikers and bikers yelling at my horses. No strange dogs bounding down the trail embankment into my paddocks. Not having to listen to the constant barrage of verbal diarrhea as I go about my daily chores. But the greatest of all is the hay drop. Who would think such a simple thing would be the winning perk? And the horses seem to like the new setup. At first you could tell they were wondering if it was just temporary, but now they’re starting to settle in. Bully found a new patch of dirt to lay in, Dharla had a few smudges of pine sap on her hip, and this morning Rascal had a few twigs tangled in his mane. Obviously they’re feeling comfortable enough to find places to lay down and take a snooze, which is always a good sign.
It took a little over two years, but yesterday we finally moved our three horses from our “old” barn to our “new” barn. (Insert a huge sigh of satisfaction and relief) It never dawned on me how much finishing work a barn requires before it’s suitable to house horses. And even though the horses have been moved there’s still several projects yet to complete. Like getting an inside wall properly finished off and slapping a coat of polyurethane on all the inside surfaces. We still need to figure out the schematics of the grain and tack room and the stalls need rubber mats that will require some custom fitting. (Insert several curse words here) The barn doesn’t have any electrical power yet and we’ve pretty much decided that getting water from the house to the barn might be impossible. Ledge. Our entire damn property is cursed with ledge and/or water. Yes, that’s a huge disappointment, but I suppose there’s some consolation in the fact that it’s a much shorter distance to run a hose than our old barn.
Yesterday as the humidity and temperature crept higher and higher my husband worked to wire the power box for the electric fence and I took hammer in hand and proceeded to bend the tips of a gazillion nail points. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that horses will find any little thing to get injured on when they are moved to a new location. Then I made countless trips to and from one barn or the other, moving essentials that we’d need once the horses were relocated. It’s kind of like moving into a new house, but not having any of your stuff unpacked. It was mid afternoon before we finally threw halters on all three horses and walked them over. They weren’t as impressed as I’d hoped. There’s a small area of green grass in the new paddock and they all promptly dropped their heads and proceeded to eat. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I guess that’s about as excited as a horse gets over new digs.
I had to make a couple of trips out to the old barn this morning. I was greeted by a strange silence and a feeling of desertion and melancholy. It’s not like the old barn won’t ever get used, but it’s unlikely it will ever house our horses again. And that’s a little sad. My husband built that barn in 1989 and there are lots of memories associated with the structure. Good memories and bad, good times and sad. I’ve been going out to that barn at least three times a day for two and a half decades. I know every nook, cranny and nail of that barn and I could walk there in my sleep. I wonder how many times next week I’ll head out of the basement and get halfway to the old barn before I remember where I’m going.
Goodbye old barn. You’ve earned your rest.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Every fall I get a hankerin’ to go home that makes me melancholy with a lingering homesickness for the farm of my youth. Back in the 80’s my parents decided to sell the farm and it’s contents and move to something a little less demanding. At the time, I was living in another state and the chances of the farm passing into my hands was about as realistic as thinking I could buy the Taj Mahal. None of my three siblings had the desire or opportunity to buy it either and we sadly watched it pass into other hands. In a situation like this you hope the new owners will love and care for the land the way our family did, but sadly that was not the case. The farmland got divvied up and sold to people who (gasp) built houses in the hay fields and pastures and the multiple barns on the original property fell into disrepair.
I’ve never stopped kicking myself for not buying the family farm. A few years after it sold I introduced my husband to horses and we’ve been trying to turn our meager land into an adequate hobby farm ever since. Cutting down trees, moving dirt and gravel around and building not one, but two barns, we’ve probably spent tenfold what we would have spent if we’d only relocated three decades ago. But you can’t cry over spilled milk.
They say you can never go home again, and regrettably, in my case that’s true.
(The farm pictured at the top is not my family farm)
We’ve made progress getting the basics dug out, which is a good thing because today we’re supposed to be hit with round two. Not snow, but rain and freezing rain. I’m not sure where all this participation is supposed to go, but I suspect a good portion of it is going to end up in places it’s not supposed to be. As of this morning we’ve been unable to clear the barn roof … just too much manual labor for two middle-age people to handle in 24 hours. I can only hope the roof holds up under the weight of all the rain and ice we’re supposed to get. If we can hang in there another day or two the temperatures should begin to rise into the 40’s and perhaps some of this mess will begin to abate on it’s own. Here’s to the power staying on and everyone staying safe even if they’re stuck in their own home!
We got snow. And more snow. And even MORE snow!
In the end, we got walloped with about 37-38 inches of snow in 28 hours. It was both exciting and overwhelming. The storm built gradually, going from light flurries at 8 AM to full force gale winds and blizzard conditions by dusk. That evening, horses fed (but outside) dogs content, we hunkered down to watch a movie (Red Dog), totally unaware that the precipitation was falling at an alarming rate. At 10:30 I nudged my snoring husband awake. We decided it was time to get the dogs back out for last call, check on the horses and distribute more hay. There was a good bit of dialogue about whether or not to bring the horses into the barn, but against my better judgement it was decided they were happier outside. After all, they are used to being out and have full use of two covered lean-to sheds.
Aldo went downstairs with the dogs while I puttered around and basically avoided going to help. I didn’t think he needed my assistance, but when it became obvious that there was a problem I poked my head down the cellar stairs to ask what was going on? Apparently, the snow was so deep he couldn’t get the basement door open! Oh boy! In the end, I suited up and I shoveled while he went to fire up the snow blower. We worked for almost two hours, digging our way though almost two feet of snow. We cleared paths for the dogs and dug our way out to the barn. The horses were fine, but welcomed more hay. Again, against my better judgement, we let them stay outside. Exhausted and cold, we finally called it quits and went inside. Meanwhile, the storm raged on.
I awoke sometime around 5 AM and glanced out the front window only to see that it was still snowing as hard as it had been the night before! My first concern was the horses, so we soon suited up and prepared to re-shovel the paths we’d made hours prior. I grabbed a yardstick on my way out the door and we were stunned when we saw that the storm had dumped another 15 inches on us in the last 6 hours … and it was STILL coming down! We got the horses in their stalls and fed. They were toasty dry beneath their blankets, but their tails and manes were heavy with icicles.
It snowed almost until noon, whereupon the wind immediately increased until we could tell viability and wind chill was going to hamper our clean-up progress. We hadn’t seen a town plow go by since the day before and our truck needed to be dug out and moved in order to reach our Kabota tractor. (In hindsight, even if we’d relocated the truck prior and parked the Kabota at the “ready to go” spot, we still would have had to do considerable clearing just to reach the tractor!) It took an hour to snow-blow enough driveway to move the truck, then it took an hour to dig the truck free and move it. Finally, the Kabota (with it’s bucket loader) was ready to tackle the rest of the driveway. The goal was to clear the driveway, then open the lane to the barn and push back as much snow as possible in the horse paddock. But somewhere along the way my husband got distracted. About mid-afternoon I went out to take some pictures and realized he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Worried, I abandoned my camera and went looking for him, hoping I wouldn’t find the tractor upside down in a ditch.
Walking anywhere a path hadn’t been cleared was impossible because the snow was some 3+ feet deep in most places. To give you a little idea of how deep that is in relationship to my size, that meant trying to navigate through snow that was at least crotch-deep. Fun as that was initially … for the challenge certainly kindles the child in me … after about 20 yards you’re just exhausted. So the search for my husband was limited to the small labyrinth of dog paths we’d made and the trails we’d cleared to reach the various key points of necessity on the farm. He was nowhere to be found.
Eventually the husband reappeared on the radar. Apparently he’d driven down the road to plow out an elderly neighbor. Now as much as I commend him for his generosity and kindness, I was a little stumped. I mean, it’s not like our neighbor could go anywhere! (All state and secondary roads were still closed!) Meanwhile, we had animals that needed a cleared place so they could be out and move around safely. Instead, my husband spent the rapidly dwindling daylight clearing someone elses’ driveway. Long story short, the horses spent the night in the barn. Snow is still blocking everything …. and this morning I still don’t have a path to the manure pile. Cleaning stalls is starting to get a little tricky! Hopefully, we’ll do a better job of prioritizing the clean-up process today and get our horses back outside where they belong!