Its getting close to that time of year when I have to decide what I’m going to do for vegetable gardens. (Planting for my area is traditionally Memorial weekend) Last summer we had a horrible drought and I spent way too many hot, humid days dragging a heavy garden hose from bed to bed. At some point I found myself swearing through my dripping sweat that I was done with vegetable gardening for good. I reasoned that we have several veggie stands nearby and our town does a nice little farmer’s market every Saturday morning. I even visited the farmer’s market once to see what they might have and I discovered they sell most of what I usually plant. So I know I can get fresh veggies without having to invest in all those hot, buggy hours of toil.
Easier said than done! I love watching things grow. For some reason that whole process from seed to produce never fails to trip my trigger. So I say I might forego the vegetable garden this year, but the truth of that statement remains to be seen. The lure of our local nursery might call to me and I may cave, but I’m seriously kicking some alternative ideas around. I think this might be the summer to shake things up and do the opposite. It just might be a better fit!
Things are melting, refreezing, then melting again. We have lots of icy morning paths, frozen piles of manure and a light skin of ice on the water tank. I’ve smartened up. Instead of trying to pick the paddock I only clear a few areas to put out the hay. After the sun has warmed the surface of the ground I go back out and finish the job more thoroughly. All but one large patch of stubborn snow has slid off the roof of the barn, making it less dangerous for me to be out there with horses who bolt and run at the slightest notion that the sky is falling. This has been our first winter in the new barn and I’m still getting used to the ups and downs of the environment. The snow-sliding-off-the-roof drama is a new experience for me and I’ve had to cultivate an awareness of where I am in proximity to the horses when the conditions are ripe for a snow slide. It’s a whole different kind of learning curve.
We have to wait until the sun has softened the frozen landscape, but by mid-afternoon I can get the dogs out to play a little ball and Frisbee, after which Hazer would be content to find a sunny spot and just curl up in the snow. But with not much to do in the way of chores our time outside is still limited. We all have a bad case of cabin fever. The gardening catalogs that keep jamming my mailbox are no help.
(Click on photo)
This photo was taken two weeks ago. Nothing has changed except the snow on the the barn roof slid off, creating a 5 foot wall of snow the entire length of the run-in. This happened an hour after we spent three hours plowing and shoveling the paddock, the drive and various paths. *Sigh* For weeks I played the blanket game: blankets on, blankets off, double blankets at night for the mare, no blanket for the buckskin during the day. It about drove me to drink. And if that didn’t make me woozy enough we had endless days with sub-zero temps. One morning it took three attempts to get everyone fed, blankets sorted out and the paddock picked to my liking. I had to keep running inside (and I do mean running) because my fingers and toes were on fire from the cold. I’ve learned that while it might not look pretty, it’s possible to run wearing ice cleats! I may have invented a new Olympic sport.
My house is now leaking, my back yard is a skating rink and I hold my breath every time I let the dogs out. Speaking of which, they’ve coped pretty well with being cooped-up for so long. That can only mean one thing: they’re getting old.
We’ve spent the better part of the last two days prepping for the looming “historic” snow storm of 2015. We have batteries, candles, propane, gas for the tractor and snow blower and plenty of milk and bread. (?) It started snowing at 9:15 this morning and so far it looks like any other gray, mid-winter January day. That’s to say that at this point our storm of ‘epic proportions’ doesn’t have much bite. The weather channel has been peppering their forecast with words like ‘gravely dangerous’ and ‘life-threatening.’ I’m not exactly sure why, but perhaps we’ll find out as the night progresses? I’d think a better choice of words might be ‘inconvenient’ or ‘bothersome,’ but I suspect those words aren’t sensational enough to drive ratings.
So here we sit, waiting.
In the world of dog rescue there’s an often-practiced way of celebrating the “birthday” of an animal whose date of birth is unknown. We commemorate their adoption date, or in certain cases a better term would be their “Gotcha” day. Some of these adoptions are formal endeavors, with long, dragged-out protocols that include the filling out of page-long detailed forms, telephone interviews with every member of the family, calls to your vet and a handful of character references and a final home inspection visit that includes a meet-and-greet for household members and all current pets, after which (if you make the grade) you sign multiple documents whereby you must agree to relinquish the rescued animal should the rescue organization ever deem you unfit, and the exchange of a rapidly increasing amount of money. (Yeah. Feel free to take a big deep breath and exhale s-l-o-w-l-y.) But other “adoptions” are precarious events where the animal in question barely gets out of a bad situation by the skin of their teeth and the adopter flys by the seat of their pants. They don’t get the luxury of knowing if the animal will be a great “fit” or not and if things fall apart no one has their back because oftentimes, all the parties involved are working in the red and flying blind. Which is how I’d like to think the term “Gotcha Day” was coined. It makes things sound a little more like Raiders of the Lost Ark than Lassie Come Home.
Rascal’s “adoption” (December 14, 2013) was somewhere in the middle: Not quite a full blown Rader’s situation, but not a Lassie story either. His owner was down-to-her-last-bale-of-hay desperate, but Rascal was in good health and condition. So I got there in the nick of time, but not a minute too soon. I don’t like to think of myself as an angel or even a Good Samaritan, but the truth of the matter is, this woman had reached out to our local horse community (on Facebook) more than once and nobody stepped forward to help. Nobody. Oh, there were several suggestions that covered everything from where she might be able to buy more hay (no funds) to warning that she should avoid offering him on a free lease (because the lessee would surely turn around and sell him to a kill buyer), but nobody said they’d take him. Not even temporarily. Nobody.
The picture she posted haunted me for days. Not because the horse looked abused or thin or sick. No, it wasn’t that. (Those make it easy to determine right v/s wrong!) The picture haunted me because this horse looked just like my husbands first horse, Beanie, whom we’d lost only a year prior. But I truly thought somebody (else) would step up to the plate and take this horse, and I was so sure of it that I didn’t call to inquire about his story until weeks passed and she posted again. I think it was at that moment that I realized I couldn’t sit and wait for somebody else to do the right thing. It was quite possible that I was “it,” the only person who would call. And so I did and the rest is history.
I’m not a hero. For the first few months I worried a lot that I’d made a horrible mistake. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop; for the horse to get sick or lame or mean and crazy or …. something. Instead, what I discovered restored my faith in people. Rascal’s former owner never painted a false picture just to place him. Maybe I was just very lucky, but Rascal is every bit the exact horse his owner told me he would be; Kind, sweet, silly, wary, rascally. Yes, he is VERY rascally at times!
I won’t lie, there are days when I don’t relish having that “extra” horse to take care of and another mouth to feed, but 99% of the time I have no regrets. And yes, I still hold to my word that Rascal belongs to his prior owner and if that day ever comes that she can have him back, he’s hers. But I say that with less conviction now. I’d let him go, but now I know how she felt on that cold December day when she stood, tears streaming down her cheeks as she waved goodbye to Rascal. My heart would ache for a long, long time.
I’m a few days late, but Happy “Gotcha” Day little buddy!
Bullet & Rascal
A recent post from a fellow blogger brought up some thoughts and feelings that I’ve visited regularly throughout my life. I guess I could say I’ve always thought horses, dogs and other animals have feelings and form attachments (or aversion) not only to us, but to one another. In fact, my belief in this can be traced to my childhood and is probably a direct result of having read Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe at a young and impressionable age. I suppose it’s normal for children to believe concepts put forth in books and movies, but I’m not sure why some children never set those beliefs aside when they grow up. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I didn’t.
I can recount numerous times when I thought I sensed something akin to human friendship taking place between certain critters. I’ve watched horses bond closely and stress over even just the temporary separation they experience when a buddy leaves the herd to go for a ride. For example, I’ve noticed in my current herd both geldings are far more stressed when the mare leaves than when one of the boys goes and she stays behind with the other. Why that is I don’t know because she seems (to me) like the least congenial companion in the group. But apparently she has a calming affect on the boys because they become restless and vocal until she returns … where upon she immediately pins her ears and threatens to kick if they crowd around to greet her!
For the first time ever, when I “adopted” Rascal I witnessed (what I believe was) grief for a human companion. His former owner got Rascal when she was just a young girl and he was a young horse. Since then, he hadn’t been very far away from her or known any other owner until now. When Rascal first arrived he was skiddish and wary. I was very relieved to see that true to his nature, Bullet was curious, but welcoming. With Dharla away for the winter, the boys had plenty of time to get to know one another without having to jockey for hierarchy. Bullet was so happy to have company that he willingly shared his hay and shelter with his new companion. Still, Rascal stayed wary, especially of humans. He didn’t run from me or behave badly, he just seemed tense and aloof.
I gave Rascal lots of space and love. I can’t explain why, but I sensed he was grieving. Something about the look in his eye, his posture, spoke of sadness. Yes, all his needs were being met, but there was an emptiness I couldn’t put my finger on except to say that I felt it. We’d go out on a quiet trail ride together and I’d talk to him, praise him for his effort to do what I asked. He was a good boy and instead of testing me it felt like he was trying very hard to please me. He did great, and I found many opportunities to tell him so. Still, his demeanor didn’t really change very much. Back home Rascal would always move just slightly out of reach where he would stand, gazing off in the distance with a faraway look in his eye. It was during those melancholy moments that I wondered most what Rascal was feeling. Did he miss his old pasture mates? Did he miss his old owner? Did he wonder why she’d left him, forcing him to adapt to a whole new way of life? Do horses blame themselves? Like any human might, did he think his new circumstance was his fault?
Slowly, over many months something started to change. I’d go out to the pasture and instead of having to pursue Rascal’s eye, he started to look for mine! Then one day I was shaking out Rascal’s morning hay when he turned his head and nuzzled my hand. It was subtle, but it was the first time Rascal had reached out to me instead of the other way around. And just a few days ago Rascal actually walked up to me for no other reason than to say hello! I smiled as I scratched his jaw, enjoying the knowledge that Rascal has finally decided I’m family.
Welcome home little brother. I’ve been waiting for you to choose to join us.
A late Sunday afternoon visit, the old-fashioned way!
A much younger Hazer
Hazer turns ten this fall. There, I’ve said it. As much as I’d like to think he has several good years still ahead of him, I can’t help notice how much he’s aged. Oh sure, he still wants to play Frisbee once or twice a day, but even that extracts a toll. And it’s the little changes I’ve seen that make my eyes mist up when I think about them. Like how he still lays on a nearby hill as I garden, but instead of overseeing his domain he’s sprawled out fast asleep. Or how he doesn’t always drag his sorry butt off my bed and come greet me at the door the minute I get home from an errand. And how he does the “old dog shriek” which is basically just noise that consists of yipping and barking at anything and everything simply because he can. But the most telling sign is that in his own dysfunctional way Hazer has grown affectionate in his old age. He wags his tail more often than he did when he was younger and he occasionally flops down at my feet to ask for a belly rub; something he’d never in a million years want before. In fact until now, general touching has not had any part in Hazer’s repartee at all. So it seems a bit odd to have Hazer milling about, trying to outdo the other dogs for my affection. He’s not very good at it either, never really sure if he wants to be pet or just plain left alone, thankyouverymuch. It’s a constant physical run-on sentence that says, “touch me, no don’t touch me, yes, touch me …. not!”
And then there’s those little marble-like bumps on his head. I gently feel them every day. Measuring. Worrying. Have they grown any bigger? Are they painful? Are there any new ones sprouting? You can’t see them, they’re beneath the skin. Lurking. Probably just fatty cysts, but I worry as time ticks on. His teeth are worn and getting nasty again. Should suck it up and drag his butt off to the holistic dental hygienist this fall? Although he does much better with this appointment than we ever dared hope (a tribute to her, not him), it’s expensive. Does he really need it, does it matter? To look at Hazer he’s doing great. He spends his day pushing his weight around when he can and shrieking when he can’t. He plays Frisbee, accompanies me to the barn where he snoozes in the sunshine, pretending to watch as I do chores. He still loves going to work with Dad on Saturday and jumping into my hatchback while I unload groceries. For the most part, life is good. Here’s to it staying that way for as long as possible.
The horses are starting to realize the new barn is home. I’ve let them down back to graze a couple of times and after having to go down and lead them up the lane twice, they figured out how to get back to the new barn on their own. It’s not complicated, just different. In fact, they have to walk past the lane that leads up to the new barn in order to go to the old barn. It’s really just a matter of them understanding that the new barn is where the hay, water and shelter can be found now.
It seems they like to spend their nights under the pines. At first they avoided the wooded part of their new paddock, but they’ve gradually started to explore it a bit more on their own. I’m seeing signs that they’ve bedded down in the pine needles and both Dharla and Rascal have had oak leaves tangled in their tail and mane the last few mornings. When I was picking the pasture today I noticed several piles of manure in the woods. Apparently they like to lay right where Beanie and Tia were buried. At first that discovery seemed a bit creepy, but after some thought I came to the conclusion that dead horses probably don’t mind the company. When we were first thinking about including the burial ground in the paddock my husband was hesitant, but I didn’t think it all that strange. It’s one of the rare flat spots on our property and since it abuts the new barn it would be silly to exclude it from the paddock. With only a few suitable acres, every square inch of property that we can wrangle for turnout counts.
It’s been four years since both Bean & Tia died. The ground over their resting place has long since settled and were it not for the large flat stone that marks their grave you’d be hard pressed to know where they’re buried. Do our horses sense something we can’t? I don’t know, but I find it both strange and comforting that they’ve chosen this very spot in the woods to lay down. Their caramel-colored dropping mix with the long pine needles and I smile as I pick through their cozy slumber nest. In that moment I feel like we’re all together again, one big family.
It’s easy to tell it’s almost full-fledged fall. I get three distinct reminders:
- The horses start shedding their summer coats
- The dinner plate-size hibiscus burst into bloom
- The skunks make their dusk or dawn presence known
Twice in the last week I’ve been jarred out of sleep by the pungent scent of Peppy LePew wafting through my open bedroom window. The first time it happened I could hear the low rumble of Gus growling in his crate. Gus typically doesn’t make a peep during the night, but his highly tuned nose put him on full alert. The scent wasn’t too horribly strong, but there was no mistaking that a skunk had wandered across our property. When this happens in the spring it’s usually the young skunks who don’t have full control over their scent glands yet. But when it happens in the fall it’s more likely a full-fledged adult, which is a little more worrisome. It’s been years since I’ve had a dog get skunked, but it’s something you never forget. The smell that you usually associate with a skunk meandering through the area is nothing like the full force stench of them using their smell for defense. It’s got to be one of the most gagging, God-awful, eye-watering smells on earth. And it’s dangerous too. The dog who got skunked took a close-range shot to the face and I’m still not convinced that didn’t contribute to his blindness just a year or two later. With that episode in mind I’m not taking any chances. At the first indication that a skunk might be nearby the dogs get leashed and walked and there’s no running about freely until we’re sure the coast is clear. The pups are a little put out by that, but it’s far better than the alternative!
There are other signs of the approaching fall. The hummingbird feeder has transitioned from a dull roar to the occasional passer-by. We’re on the migration route so I’ll continue to fill the feeder until a couple of days pass with no visitors. The cardinals are getting very vocal. I’m not sure why because they’re here all summer, but every fall they become more active and noticeable. Could it be one of their food staples has come into season and they get more competitive over that? I don’t know, but I enjoy seeing the colorful pairs. Crickets are louder. I always end up with a few that get into my basement looking for what, I’m not sure! And the days have grown noticeably shorter. Our mornings stay dark now until almost 6:30 and the late afternoon sun slips over the ridge across the road by a little after 7 PM. The changing of seasons happens so fast that if I didn’t have nature to remind me I might miss it altogether.