It was the 29th of July. Jeremiah and I were sitting down to dinner, and a good friend shot me a message on Facebook.
“Do you guys know when you’ll be able to come out? I need Jeremiah’s help.”
The message came from my friend Lauren, a teacher and ranch owner in Maine. We met about six years ago while working at a summer camp. She ran the horse barn; I ran the llama barn. We bonded over our willingness to get our hands dirty and get shit done. (That and the mutual dislike of a few of the other employees who didn’t have that same willingness…) Since that time, we stayed in touch on Facebook and realized that our lives were moving in creepily similar directions. She became a teacher. I became a teacher. I married a farrier. She married a farrier. She bought and renovated an old house. I bought and renovated an old house. Most recently, we both bought ranches and spend most of our lives keeping them running. We joke that we live the same lives in different states. It’s uncanny.
But back to the message – Jeremiah and I had been planning a trip to visit Lauren and her husband sometime during August. (It had been way too long since we had seen each other in person, and I missed her.) However, Jon, Lauren’s husband/farrier, was injured in a horse riding accident and couldn’t trim any of their horses, and they were coming due. So we bumped up our vacation and, at 9:00pm on the 29th, we started scrambling to leave for Maine on the 1st.
I’m not sure how, but our one day to plan coincided with running out of just about every possible critter supply. I had to fetch barn cat food and house cat food from the vet, and dog food and cat litter from Costco. Hedgehog food and bedding came from Petsmart, and chicken food from the feed store. I even arranged for my mother to pick up my dogs for a sleepover; I knew they would miss us more than all of the others. (Somewhere in there, probably as I made a final mad dash to the grocery store to actually buy food for our trip, and for the farm sitter, I realized that my creatures unequivocally run my life.) That night, after I finished packing not only shirts and pants but also rubber boots, riding helmets, and half-chaps, we tucked in for the night. Jeremiah set the alarm, asking me when he thought we’d get up.
When we had first discussed things, we had planned to leave no later than 6am to start out on the twenty-one hour trip. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I stood in my bedroom at midnight, having finished packing only minutes before, I decided leaving could be delayed a little.
Jeremiah showed me his alarm settings.
I informed him that we would, at the very least, be dishonoring our dead relatives.
The next morning, our dead relatives thoroughly dishonored, we loaded the Jetta to the brim and pulled out of our driveway a little after 7am. Stopping very occasionally for fuel, food, or a bathroom break, we listened to a series of podcasts on the Mongolian Empire and proceeded to drive until 3am, eventually stopping at a hotel on the far side of Massachusetts. Our arrival was so late that the night clerk gave us a discount on the room. We crashed for six sweet hours before heading out all over again.
Jeremiah had barely slept, courtesy of an icemachine and several children screaming in the hallway starting at 6:00. I had fared better and drove the rest of the way to Lauren’s, excitement making up for what I lacked in rest.
At 11:45, she texted us.
“Where are you at?! I feel like a kid at christmas.”
I felt the exact same way.
We pulled in the driveway at Cavalli Farm in Newburgh, Maine about forty-five minutes later. Lauren ran out to meet us. She and I hugged our hellos while Jeremiah and Jon awkwardly introduced themselves.
Jeremiah had asked me before we left what Lauren and Jon were like; I had never met Jon, so I couldn’t really say. (I think my response was something like, “I don’t know. I just hope he isn’t a jerk.” He wasn’t.) But Lauren I was familiar with. So I told Jeremiah that she was funny and kind, that she had a huge heart for animals. I told him that she was phenomenal with horses. And I told him that she was one of the toughest women I had ever met.
Once we dropped our bags in the guest room, Lauren showed us around Cavalli. I had seen photos, but they don’t do the place justice. It’s beautiful, for sure, but more than that, It’s truly and deeply lovely in a way that not many places are: welcoming, well managed, and immensely well cared for.
I could see plainly that this farm was Lauren’s dream come true, even with all the work it requires, the energy it zaps, the money she pours through it…I saw it because she looks at Cavalli the way I look at Eagle Ridge…and I know that look.
Lauren and Jon have a menagerie that rivals our own. Eleven horses and ponies of their own, plus boarders (who she treats just like her own horses), goats, a whole flock of chickens, cats, and a bunch of friendly dogs made me feel like I had never left home. (That and the fact that our similarities extend even to our choice of kitchen decor…that was weird.)
Jeremiah wanted to start work right away, so it wasn’t too long after arrival before we found ourselves in the barn and fields. Lauren handled each horse for Jeremiah. The horses were pleasant and obviously used to the routine.
Zipper, Lauren’s mini gelding, was possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
Lauren’s rescued mare, Abby, needed special consideration. Lauren sedated her a bit, then held Abby’s rear hoofs while Jeremiah trimmed. Abby truly only trusts Lauren, and the tag team approach made for a happier mare and a safe trim for everyone.
Lauren got a call the next day from her hay supplier. He had baled, and the first batch of her winter hay was in the field waiting to be picked up. Guests or no, holiday weekend or not, it had to be fetched.
Jon, with his injury, had no business throwing hay, so, despite Lauren and Jon’s protests that we should stay at the farm and relax, we piled into the truck with them to help.
Once in the field, Jeremiah, Lauren, and I settled into a routine pretty quickly. Lauren and I pulled hay off the wagon. Jeremiah stacked it on the trailer. Jon stood around trying to help without anyone noticing, and we yelled at him.
Pull the bale, throw the bale, stack the bale. Jeremiah and Lauren worked like machines, and I struggled to try and keep up.
We went back for more hay the next day, running on Gatorade and crackers. (No one ate anything terribly substantial for fear of working themselves sick.) Somewhere around the two-hundredth bale, my arms started to give up and I took a minute to lean against the hay rack and rest. Jeremiah and Lauren, both more machine than human I think, kept going without breaking for a moment.
As I rested, Jon climbed onto the trailer and tried to take my place. I had been handing bales up to Jeremiah, who was climbing on the stacked pile of hay, and Jon had taken over, throwing them up…
“Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He looked momentarily sheepish.
“My leg is hurt, but I can still throw up!”
For a moment, everyone paused. I started giggling almost uncontrollably.
“Uh-huh.” I replied between laughs, “I can throw up too.”
Lauren and Jeremiah chimed in, still laughing but already back to work.
“I think everyone could throw up right now.”
We finished the last load that second day around dusk. Maybe it was the company. Maybe it was the weather. (Seriously, out here in the Midwest, we stack hay in 100+ degree heat index; it was 70 degrees in Maine. I could bring that home with me.) Maybe it was the odd satisfaction that comes from completely such a job. But regardless of the reason, we had more fun loading and unloading someone else’s hay than during many of our trips to “vacation spots.” And bonus? It turns out Lauren is the first person, ever, who cannot only keep up with Jeremiah, but keep him running to not fall behind…as his wife who can never keep up his pace, that tickled me to no end.
With hay all set up, Jeremiah and I spent our final day in Maine in Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. Sand beach in Acadia is my happy place, so I dragged Jeremiah out to see it. The beach was packed close to the steps, but once you wandered off some, it was quiet and beautiful. Everything I remembered and have always loved about it.
Under different circumstances, I think we would have hiked Acadia, but both of us had a decent case of muscle ache from two days of haying. Instead we sat and enjoyed the view.
We left the next day around 6am, saying goodbye and promising not to let another six years go by. We spent vacation trimming horses, riding, stacking hay, and helping with barn chores. And I’m not sure how, but it was exactly the break I needed.