Spring

I just found hay in my hair, a memento from the time I spent in the horse field this afternoon lying on my back in what remained of a round bale. It’s sixty degrees.  Just a few days ago, there was snow on the ground.  Spring is like that here.

Unpredictable.

Fickle.

Unruly.

(Not unlike my hair now that I think about it.)

But back to the hay bale.  I buy hay in 1200 lb bales to feed my horses.  The bales are tall and round.  I cover them with impossibly large nets that hold the bale together as horses slowly eat it down.  The bales are made for eating, but sometimes I sit in them instead. Today, home early after having been haunted by the ghost of a migraine, I wandered out in the warm air and and made myself comfortable in the hay.

I am like a barometer, at least according to my chiropractor who has to adjust away the headaches I wake up with every time the barometric pressure swings wildly.  A migraine crept in during the first part of this swing two days ago; I could barely walk without the urge to be sick.  For the past two days, it’s lingered, just at the edge of my awareness, just enough there to make me fearful that it will crash back down on me the moment I feel comfortable.  I wore sunglasses at the office today, and left as soon as I had the opportunity, anxious to be away from the buzz of the fluorescent lights and the glare of my computer screen.  I drove myself home, walked up the lane to the horse field, and laid down in the hay.

I closed my eyes, listening to the breeze and the birds, enveloped in the smell of sweet grass hay, a smell that always seems to bring me back to my childhood.  A few of the horses came up, and I kept a wary eye on them in case they set their mind upon mischief, but instead, they nuzzled and blew their warm breath onto my forehead, checking to see if I had shrunk I suppose, or reassuring themselves that it was me even when I laid down.

There is something about the change of the seasons here on the ranch that always seems to bring me back to myself, reawaken pieces of me that sleep for a time.  In the winter, we rest.  The farm.  The animals.  Me.  Our numbers are fewer from the autumn migrations that call our wild, summer residents away.  I buckle down, bundle up, and steel my mind to keeping all of us alive through the cold.  Water unfrozen.  Animals bundled in blankets or locked into barns as necessary.  Everyone well-fed…maybe even overfed.  And, at the same time, I also relax, putting projects on hold, contenting myself to spend cold nights cuddled up under blankets next to the fire.

When the Spring comes, I watch as all of us wake up.  I’m called to the outside.  I sit and listen to the birds with my morning coffee.  (Sometimes I think that I should learn to identify them by song, a “get to know your neighbors” kind of thing.)  I watch our bluebirds come home, and I wait anxiously for the first butterfly.  There is a gentleness to it, but the to-do list seems to grow daily.  Shearing, hoof trimming, vaccines–not to mention pasture clean-up, barn cleaning, and mowing–are about to be upon me.

From my spot in the hay, I couldn’t help but notice that the horses need a thorough grooming; they are blowing their winter coat, leaving the season behind them.  They remind me that transitions can be messy, but that there’s a loveliness in the mess, if you’re willing to see it.  The mess with always be there somehow; there’s always going to be a new thing to take of, another item on the never ending list.  But sometimes, in the moments between the winter and spring, all you need do is close you eyes, listen, and breathe in the sweet smell that come along as things change.

Advertisements

The Trouble with Turkeys

Do you guys remember my three little turkey peeps from last year?  The ones we rescued from the feed store when it became clear that they were quickly destined to be dinner?

We lost one little peep (my favorite) to his birth defect.  We lost another to a predator.

But one of the little peeps survived.

And he isn’t so little anymore.

DSC_2300 (2).JPG
Arthur

Meet Arthur of Camelot.

(You know, because llamas are camelids, and he lives with them…Aren’t we clever?)

He is a year old, nearly fifty pound, broad-breasted Tom.

Being a broad breasted turkey, Arthur is basically a mutant, but he’s our mutant, so we love him.  He spends his days wandering around, looking pretty, gobbling about how impressive he is, and also following Jeremiah and I around while we do chores, requesting clover flowers and chest scratches.

After he lost both his friends, I sort of panicked that he would be lonely, so I searched online for a couple of pet turkeys.  (I’m realizing that that sentence says more about who I am than almost anything I’ve ever written on here…)

I found these two. In keeping with our Camelot theme, I named them Guinevere and Morgana.

Unlike Arthur, they are a heritage breed (Blue Slate), so I don’t have to worry about them outgrowing their own skeletal system, which, frankly, is a relief.

Of course, Arthur never really bonded with them and, instead, thinks he’s an alpaca who happens to gobble a lot.

2015-09-01 17.44.45
Arthur in the stall with his old men llamas.

And the Blue Slates never really bonded with him either.  In fact, they don’t seem to know they aren’t chickens.

So, I guess my mission to find friends for Arthur kind of failed.

I ended up with three completely useless, but kinda cute, birds that I never really planned on.  I nicknamed them “the three most useless creatures on the farm,” and just accepted their gobble-y little selves for what they were…

But, it turns out, I had it all wrong.  They aren’t so useless at all.

A few weeks ago, Jeremiah and I were standing in front of the llama barn talking while the poultry free-ranged.  They were scattered about the pastures when I glanced up and noticed a sandhill crane flying over the farm.  It wasn’t a hawk or an eagle, both of which will gladly prey upon my flock, but Arthur didn’t know that.

I watched him look up and start gobbling (apparently a different than normal gobble).  As soon as his warning went out, all of my hens and the two other turkeys ducked and ran as fast as their little feathery legs could carry them out of the open pasture and into the barn!

That was when we realized that our ridiculous, fifty pound, pet turkey had appointed himself as guardian of our flock (like any good turkey who thinks he’s an alpaca would), doing a better job of watching out for the girls than any rooster we’ve ever had.    (Guys, it was maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.  I swear, he practically counted them once they were in to make sure everyone made it.)

Of course, that’s just one with a purpose out of three…

Until about two weeks ago.

2016-03-27 18.35.41.jpg
Farm fresh eggs – with a blue slate turkey egg on top!

See that fancy pants, speckled egg on top?  That was our first ever turkey egg!

The turkey hens just started laying.  So far, they’ve almost kept pace with the chickens, laying these big speckled eggs in the same nesting boxes.

The turkey eggs have higher fat and cholesterol than the chicken eggs, which makes them less ideal as a stand alone food, but perfect for baking!  (I started using them last week, making a dish of brownies for my mom, and then another for my brother-in-law’s birthday.)

Guys, you have not lived until you have eaten brownies made with turkey eggs!  They are so rich that it’s almost like fudge.  I’m excited to experiment with cakes and breads!

Turns out, my turkeys had purpose all along.  I just didn’t know it yet.

 

2016-03-23 11.26.54
Jeremiah and Guinevere…or maybe Morgana (even I can’t tell them apart most of the time)

The Seven Emotional Stages of Hauling Water

For many of us in the Midwest, El Nino has been a kind and benevolent overlord this winter.  Sure, he brought with him some scary-ass storms and some flooding (more towards St. Louis really, but the Illinois River is pretty freaking high for this time of year), but he has also kept the frigid temperatures away…For the bulk of this season, I’ve been reveling in 40-50 degree days.  With the memory of the Polar Vortex  and it’s negative thirty degree windchills of a few years ago still fresh in my mind, that’s basically t-shirt weather.

(Images from the Polar Vortex)

Until this week.

This week kicked off our first round of single digits and negative numbers, and while no one I know likes those sort of numbers, it’s especially vexing for those of us who take care of livestock.  For me, extreme cold means that I spend about twice as much time outside every day.  My aging herd of llamas is locked in to the barn with their heat lamps.  When they’re locked in, they eat more.  They poop more.  They some how dirty their waterers faster.  Plus, I’m pretty sure they get super bored and annoyed with me.  (How dare I shut them in to prevent frostbite and exposure???  I am SO rude!)

All of the creatures, from the 4 lb chickens to the 1200 lb horses, require more care and more clean up when the weather is this wretched.  I feed more.  I clean more.  I go outside more often, and I stay there longer.

Most of the time, I don’t really mind.  It’s part of this gig, and I usually see it as an unfortunate but fair trade for my wonderful spring, summer, and fall days out here.  But there is one event that can turn it from generally unpleasant to downright nasty: Freezing Water Lines.

Continue reading “The Seven Emotional Stages of Hauling Water”

Autumn –Or– We can still do hard things.

Dear Readers,

How I’ve missed you.  Last I posted, I wrote about how we can do hard things.  Since then, well, I’ve mostly been doing those hard things.  Under my breath, every day, “I can do hard things…I can do hard things…I can do hard things.”  And guys?  It’s getting easier.  (My mother-in-law bought me a print, just to remind me; I hung it on the wall in my bedroom.  (It’s an Etsy thing; you can find the print here if you like.) It’s one of the first things I see when I wake up and one of the last things I see before I go to bed.  And I think it helps.)

2015-10-14 19.45.40

Have you ever been at a spot in your life where you can literally feel things transition around you?  The winds shift, and things change, and you have to learn to adapt or you get left behind.

In the past few weeks on the ranch, I’ve felt the shift as seasons transition from summer to autumn. A few leaves have already fallen, but most are holding tight, ablaze in a sea of colors that remind us how beautiful transitions can be.  Temperatures are dropping at night, and high and low temps easily vary by more than 20 degrees over the course of the day.  The shift in seasons, slow at first then all at once, seems an apt metaphor for my life right now.  Jeremiah’s business keeps him on the road almost constantly these days as he shoes horses and attends conventions and clinics, sometimes student, sometimes speaker.  He’s gone more than he’s here at the moment, and I’m convinced that isn’t going to change.

Our relationship dynamic is shifting like the seasons, adapting to our new reality.

My relationship with with the farm is changing too.  I’m learning to take care of things, not just the day-in and day-out, but all of it.  This almost farmgirl is taking farmgirl lessons all over again with a long list of things to learn.  Mostly it has to do with equipment, the only area of the farm that was completely Jeremiah’s domain up until this point.  In my husband’s absence, my dad, a former farmboy himself, is teaching me.  A few weeks ago, he taught me to use our zero turn mower, a necessity as every stitch of grass on the property was overgrown. Continue reading “Autumn –Or– We can still do hard things.”

Just a quick trip…

2015-07-03 14.41.21
Lauren, Jeremiah, and me, riding at Cavalli.

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.

Continue reading “Just a quick trip…”

A Springtime Walk in the Woods.

So, out here in the Midwest Springtime means a lot of things: Warmer weather.  Longer days.  Allergies (or is that one more just me?).  And… mushroom season.

Morel Mushrooms are wild, and delicious, and native.  Unlike their cousins that you find in supermarkets, they’re almost impossible to cultivate.  If you have a taste for them, you have to search them out in the woods (or pay roughly $50 a pound for them…).

I’m a very casual mushroom hunter.  I’m thrilled when I find them, but I kind of just use them as an excuse to disappear into the woods for an hour or two.  There are other people who nearly make a religion out of the hunt, paying homage to the mushroom god Morel and telling tales of their encounters time and time again.  The pilot lounge at the airport (where I work) has been abuzz with rumors of sightings for the last week.  So I thought I’d check things out.

Jeremiah thinks I’m nuts…or that I’m going to poison myself.  I keep telling him that no other mushroom can be mistaken for a morel, but I’m not sure he believes me.

I changed into long sleeves and threw on a hat.  Jeremiah asked me if it was my mushroom hunting hat; I said that it’s my “I really hate ticks and don’t want them in my hair” hat.  He seemed astonished.

2015-04-27 15.48.49

“Ticks?  In your hair?”

Apparently, with his flat-top haircut, this is unheard of.  But I’m not crazy, right?  Getting ticks in your hair is totally a thing.

I took off down our back road, wandering past the llama barn where the llamas paid me no mind.

2015-04-27 15.53.58

In fact, no one paid me any mind…except my sweet old man, Cinco.

2015-04-27 15.54.39

Cinco followed me along the fence line of the horse pasture, stopping in front of me to request some of the long grass that had grown up along the other side of the fence (where the grass really is greener…).

Then I popped out to look at the site of my future outdoor arena.  I knew I wouldn’t find any mushrooms there, but I like to wander out and stare at it sometimes.  And dream about the day when we can afford to haul in the materials to finish it.

2015-04-27 15.56.01

And dream about all the time I will spend riding my ponies under the pines.

2015-04-27 15.56.03

Isn’t it lovely?

Then, since all quests need a villain, and this mushroom quest is no different, I present to you POISON IVY!

2015-04-27 15.57.25

No!!! The bane of my summers!  Kill it!  Kill it dead!

*Rages incoherently for a moment…*

“Oh, look!  A pretty flower.”

2015-04-27 15.57.51

I’m not sure what these are, but they kind of look like little stars.  And they’re lovely.  And they’re all over this time of year.

And of course, the wild violets are everywhere.  A ground cover in places.

2015-04-27 16.01.47

When I was little, I used to pick bouquets of wild violets for my mom and put them in a tiny vase with dandelions.  The violets I used to pick were purple or lavender or white.

2015-04-27 16.02.14

I didn’t even know they came in yellow until I was older.

The may apples are up as well, covering our trails.

2015-04-27 16.03.41

But they aren’t blooming yet.

2015-04-27 16.03.41-1

Then I walked under a fallen reminder that we need to clear the trail if we ever want to ride back here with horses

2015-04-27 16.04.31

And I noticed a tree just beside that one that had been down so long it had almost taken care of itself.  Ashes to ashes…to ummm…moss.

2015-04-27 16.05.07

These little flowers are all over.  They remind me of bleeding hearts, but instead of hearts, their tiny flowers look like butterflies.

2015-04-27 16.05.39 2015-04-27 16.05.422015-04-27 16.07.25

Another tree across the trail, this one more recent.  I had to climb through it.  *Mumbles something about needing to clear trail*

2015-04-27 16.06.14

More flowers!  Bluebells!

2015-04-27 16.11.03

Anybody notice what I hadn’t seen yet?  If you’re thinking mushrooms, you’re right.   I kind of think it’s still a little early.  Or maybe I just missed them.

2015-04-27 16.13.08

Here’s the thing about morels: they aren’t very big, and they’re roughly the same color as the forest floor.

2015-04-27 16.16.11

Hey, look!  A Jack-in-the-Pulpit  .

2015-04-27 16.21.17

Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate that this is in my backyard?

2015-04-27 16.24.21

But alas, still no morels.

2015-04-27 16.31.50

So back down the trail to our farm road.  I’ll try again when the may apples bloom.

2015-04-27 16.39.34

Wish me luck!

P.S. – My blogger friend over at The Wicked Chicken takes a weekly walk kind of like this one but with better photos.  If you’re into nature photography, you should check her out.

Here on the Island of Misfit Toys…err…Critters…

There are days when our little corner of the world starts to feel like the Island of Misfit Toys…except, instead of toys, we have creatures, and they don’t really seem in a hurry to leave.

Still, just from where I sit in our sunroom, I see a one-time alley cat who hates outside, a one-time barn cat who was literally too dumb to survive in the barn, and a German Shepherd with hip dysplasia and allergies to pretty much everything (like me!).  Out in the pastures, I have two mini-ponies rescued from New Holland, an off the track thoroughbred who wasn’t nearly fast enough, and more rescued llamas than you can shake a stick at…  And, in my basement…Turkeys.

Our latest misfits are Turkeys.  I am now officially sharing my home with large poultry (but only until they’re big enough to go outside).

My husband brought them home…

You see, my husband…

Well, some of you are familiar with him…

Let Him Eat Cake!
Let Him Eat Cake!
Kilt Man
Kilt Man
Pilot in Command...
Pilot in Command…

He’s…different…

Erm…I mean complex.

On the one hand, he’s a former professional firefighter, former cop, trained farrier, trained sniper who has been in more intense situations than anyone else I’ve ever met.  (Jeremiah once called me to let me know that he had gotten in a fistfight with a professional boxer who had been beating on his girlfriend…SWAT ended up being called in that day.)  On the other hand, he’s a total goofball and one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known.  (Such aspects of his personality are lesser known; this post is totally going to mess with his image…)

A few weeks ago, while I was at the office, he was charged with running to the feed store to pick up some of the farm necessities that we always seem to be running out of.  While he was there, he wandered over to the chicks.  All they had were turkeys, and three of them were separated out from the rest.  Apparently, those three were picked on by the other, bigger turkeys, necessitating their move.

As he was speaking with the clerk, a big guy in camo wandered by.  Upon hearing that the little ones in front of him got picked on, he interjected.

“Oh, that’s easy.  If they get picked on you just kill ’em younger.  Makes good eatin.”

And that’s when my firefighter, cop, sniper, farrier husband who forges his own swords said, “Nope.  They’re mine.  I’ll take them.”

Moments later, he posted this photo to Facebook

“Cherity left my unsupervised and they looked sad… I have peeps!”

I’m not sure what we’re going to do with our turkey friends once they get bigger, but I do know they won’t end up on our dinner plates.  This trio is safe.

For now, they’re living it up in the basement…

DSC_0711DSC_0699

DSC_0712

DSC_0732

DSC_0756

Shakin’ their tail feathers…

DSC_0734

DSC_0750

And discovering the joy of mealworms.  These guys think Jeremiah is pretty great; they follow him around with enthusiasm when given the chance.

And really, when you have 50+ animals, what’s three more misfits???

P.S. – Welcome to all of you recent subscribers.  I’m so glad to have you here!

The Strangest Wake-Up Call.

You know that moment just between waking and sleeping? The one where your head is heavy on your pillow and you’re tucked under a pile of blankets that have just become the perfect amount of warm? Out at the ranch, that moment is usually accompanied by perfect silence. No city noises. No cars. Maybe the occasional owl.

A few days ago, that moment came to me in all its glory around 12:40pm. We had gone to bed later than usual already, and so when that moment was spoiled by the cats beating their furious little paws against the bedroom door, I was more than a little irritated. I got up and walked towards the hallway. Opening the door, I expected one or more cats to be standing on the other side looking guilty. I found nothing. Perfect silence. Perfect stillness.

So I went back to bed, but, upon laying back down I heard it again, a rhythmic sound I couldn’t quite place. Maybe the hedgehogs in their wheel? No. That wasn’t it. But the sound was something familiar and out of context. I sat up in bed, trying to isolate the noise. Trying to place it.

Outside the window, a horse screamed in the distance, a panicked whinny that cut through the cold air like a knife.

I froze. Maybe I heard wrong?

But then I heard the whinny again only a moment later.

And suddenly, it clicked. Hoof beats.

Oh God.

Jeremiah sat up in bed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Hoof beats. The horses are screaming.”

And with that, he climbed out of bed and pulled on his barn clothes as quick as a whip. I watched him grab his Glock–God forbid he need it, but you never can tell on a farm–before heading outside to check things out.

For a very brief moment, I considered staying inside. Most of the time, when something is awry, he checks it out on his own, proclaims an all clear, and crawls back under the covers. He usually didn’t need me.

And a horse screamed again. This wasn’t most of the time.

I threw off the covers and, faster than I would have thought possible, I pulled on a sweatshirt and jeans. Boots came on on the way out the door.

Worst case scenarios flashed through my mind rapid fire.  Barn fires. Predators. Oh my God, what if the Mountain Lion we saw earlier this year was back? What if one of the horses was caught in a fence or had broken a limb?

I wanted to run out the door and towards the back barn–the alpacas weren’t alarming, so I knew the problem, whatever it was, was likely isolated to the horses—but our snow had melted that day and refroze with the sunset. The driveway and lane were solid sheets of ice, as smooth as glass in many places. I would be no good sprawled out on the ice with a concussion, so I opened the breezeway door and resigned myself to walking…quickly.

As I rounded the garden beside the house, I heard yet another unexpected sound. A nicker.

Glancing left, I saw the a most glorious sight. Horses.

Three of our horses starred back at me. They looked surprised, but uninjured. A year ago, I might have tried to walk over to them, but I have learned. The last thing I wanted was for them to spook and run off again, this time down the road. I would come back with food. Halters. Besides, I could only account for three of the four full-sized horses on property. Anything could have happened to their companion.

I started walking down the lane, feeling less panicked than before but still uneasy. It was hard to walk with out slipping, but I made it to the horse barn in one piece.

Jeremiah was inside gathering a bucket of corn and a halter.

“Where’s Candi?” I asked.

“In the field being distracted with food.”

“Is she ok?”

“She’s fine. She was standing at the edge of the field screaming. Apparently everyone else jumped the pile of wood at the edge of the barn to take off, and she was afraid to follow.”

I let out a breath that I didn’t realize I had been holding.

“We are so lucky.” I responded.

Jeremiah stopped mid-stride and looked at me, perplexed.

“No. We’re really not. We’re missing all the others.”

It was my turn to be confused.

“They’re all in the front yard…”

“You didn’t think to lead with that?”

“There’s nearly four thousand pounds of horse standing in the front yard. I didn’t think you could have missed them.”

Apparently, he had been about to call the cops and alert them that three horses were loose within a half a mile of a major highway. (Guys, this could have been so bad.) Still, our crisis wasn’t completely over. We still needed to get them back in their field without spooking them and without anyone, human or equine, injuring themselves on the ice.

We walked down the slick lane towards the llama barn. Jeremiah opened the doors and turned on the lights. Then he and I stood in the lane, and he shook his bucket of corn.

Apparently, this was what they had been waiting for.

Hoof beats like thunder roared out of the front yard. Jeremiah, content that they would come, walked into the open barn and began pouring piles of grain onto the floor.

I stood in the lane, thinking that I would make sure they went where they were supposed to. I watched three horses, with a combined weight of around 3500 lbs and one of them a retired racing thoroughbred, careen down an ice covered driveway with all the unbridled power of tornado. I swear to you, in that moment time slowed down.

I watched, standing in the lane, initially worried that one of them would fall and hurt themselves.  I considered my powerlessness, and they picked up more speed.

Then I realized that I had three half-spooked horses coming directly towards me. I was standing on an ice slick. They were running on an ice slick. They weren’t slowing down.

I stepped to the side of the lane. No good. I was still right in their path. I really didn’t want to end this adventure by being body-slammed by my warmblood, but I had no where to go but down a hill to my left. If I leapt sideways down that hill, which I considered, I would tumble directly into a hedge of thorn bushes. I would be briar rabbit; that would hurt, but probably not as much as being trampled.

For about one millisecond, I debated crossing the lane. The barn side of the lane was clearer. I could get out of the way of the horses without being bramble fodder. I almost ran across. Almost. Suddenly I understood how a squirrel feels in their last moments.

Fortunately, as my thundering herd ran past, I found I was just far enough out of the way to avoid the crashing hooves.

I continued to watch as all three horses turned and ran into the barn. I shut the doors behind them, nearly walking in before remembering that we were two halters short. I turned walked down to the horse barn to fetched halters for my geldings.

Here’s what happened when I left:

Vinny and Cinco immediately noticed the large bale of alfalfa and the piles of corn.

Morana, a former bottle-fed foal with an oral fixation, noticed something else.

Jeremiah turned toward the horses, ready to halter Morana and lead her back to her barn.

She was where he had left her, only now his Glock, which he had placed on the hay bale, was held in her mouth, gansta style and pointed right at him.

In those moments, he was apparently thinking that being shot by his own horse with his own gun would be an exceptionally stupid way to die, but that he would more or less be ok with an end that epic. Also, he wondered if Morana had noticed the limp he was sporting after a particularly nasty horse kick, more pronounced since he fell on the ice on his way out, and planned to put him down. (”It’s been a good run buddy, but you’ve been too lame for too long.”)

And my husband, cool in the face of every crisis he has ever faced, including, apparently, being held at gunpoint by his mare, simply shook the bucket of corn again.

She dropped the gun on the bale and nosed into the bucket. Calmly, he haltered her and led her out of the barn. She placidly followed, content with her corn and completely forgetting her recent homicidal episode.

For my part, I watched him walk out of the barn with Morana, and I haltered Cinco. When he came back, he grabbed Vinny, and we walked down to the horse barn with our last two escapees.

We released them into their field, secured the gate, and shuffled down the icy lane back to the house.

I spoke first as we walked back.

“I’m so glad everyone is ok. We are so lucky.”

“Yeah.” He paused, almost unsure of what to say next…

I waited.

”That could have been so much worse.” Another pause. “Also, Morana just tried to shoot me with my own gun.”

So…what was your strangest wake-up call?

The good with the bad and into the New Year

The sky is blue fading black. Snow blankets the ground. Not deep snow, but enough to cover the mud and the muck and the browned out remnants of fall and summer. It’s unmolested, still a perfect shimmering white reflecting the brightest stars, the ones that manage to shine out between the wispy clouds. The light of the moon is mirrored by the snow covered earth, giving the entire outdoors an other-earthly feel. It’s stunning beyond the ability of pictures to capture.

… And it’s so damn cold your boogers will freeze right on your face.

Weather in the Midwest is notoriously unstable. Lately, we’ve had swings of 40 degrees or so several times a week. Most of the animals are handling it fairly well, but the older among them are having some difficultly with the extremes. Couple that with a string of bad luck, and it’s been a weird couple of weeks seemingly living in reaction to the realities of the ranch.

Since just before Christmas, I’ve had three sick llamas (two with infections and one with an upset tummy), one lame llama (who stood up when her foot was asleep and pulled a muscle), two lame horses (stone bruising due to the quick deep freeze), two lame cats, a lacerated dog requiring stitches, and an injured husband.  I just came inside from the barn a few moments ago, sick myself with a nasty cough, after dealing with a llama who somehow managed to choke on crumbled grain…(Don’t ask; I have no idea.)

It was while I was walking toward the barn, mostly preoccupied with helping the choking animal Jeremiah had called to report, that I noticed the wild and untamable winter beauty of the place. It was on the way back from the other barn, with thirty mile an hour winds and a temperature of seven degrees, that I realized, pretty or not, the cold will cut through you like a knife and freeze exposed skin with a chill that somehow burns. (And your boogers, as mentioned, it will also freeze your boogers.)

This ranch is a lot like the cold, beautiful and harsh, sometimes in almost equal measure.

Llamas are usually a pretty hearty bunch, but our herd is aging. Nearly all of them are north of ten years old; several are flirting with twenty. In the past couple of weeks, mostly right around the holidays, we’ve had three vet visits to deal with the issues of various critters (one cat, one dog, one llama).

We sometimes jokingly refer to the ranch as the llama nursing home. It’s one of those jokes that’s only funny because it’s true. This summer, we had a bout of strange behavior that led both Jeremiah and I to believe that several animals were heading downhill, that they wouldn’t be with us much longer. We watched them closely and changed their diet. We put in a superbly expensive water filtration system (that eliminated the heavy metals that were disturbingly prevalent in the well). And they bounced back, but we continue to watch.

I don’t think it’s the trials themselves that make ranch life harsh, or the work. I am no stranger to hard work, nor is my husband. I think it’s the knowledge that whatever you do, out here you will eventually lose the fight. After all, as often as not, the fight is against time itself.

It’s a common saying amongst ranch people: “If you’re gunna have livestock, you’re gunna have deadstock.” My cousin and uncle who run a dairy farm and have lost far too many calves this year have muttered that adage the same way I do when one of our critters gets sick, the way I did last year when we lost two alpacas to the cold and the damp. I’ve been saying it since I was fourteen years old.

But the saying is just a saying when you watch animals you care about get sick. Last week, the three sick llamas were three of my favorites. Even though I know I will lose animals, that these creatures won’t be around forever, I was ready to raze hell for those three. Fortunately, all but one has fully recovered, and I think the last will be all better in a few days. Still, for a little while there, I felt like Molly Weasley taking on Bellatrix Lastrange in the last Harry Potter book, screaming “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Except in my case I wasn’t facing a Death Eater, just time and illness, screaming “Not my pets, you bitch!”

I know for a lot of you it probably seems strange to be so attached to such creatures; even I would have found myself less upset by everything if it had only been one, but three of my favorite animals in as many days was rough even by my standards.

However, for now, all is well. The llamas and alpacas and ponies are tucked in snug in their stalls with blankets and heat lamps as necessary. The barn doors and stall doors are shut tight against the wind and the chill. They have more hay to munch than they probably need for the night. The chickens are likewise warm in their coop, the barn cats in their tack room, even the feral kitty is tucked into the hayloft. The big horses in the back field are fluffed up with their winter coats (all four of them resembling equine Yetis). Jeremiah and I are in the house with the house pets, the dogs curled up in front of the hearth. Most everyone is well, or on the way to being well.

I know that this place with always have the bitter mixed with the sweet, that it will likely always be beautiful and harsh in equal measure, but I also know that it’s worth it. The land is worth it, the house is worth it, and, more than anything else, the animals are worth every bit of heartbreak that I will ever feel on their behalf.

So it is with that thought that I look forward, into next year, into the next stage of things.

In a place like this, in a life like mine, you must learn to take the bad with the good. But guys? There is so much good to go around.

2014-03-09 15.57.42 2014-03-09 15.33.21 2014-03-09 16.15.24

The bitty babies!
The bitty babies!

2014-12-09 10.05.49

Llamas and Gardens and Chickens (Oh My!)

Northstar.  (Jeremiah calls him Marvin)
Northstar. (Jeremiah calls him Marvin)

See this face?  This cute, adorable little llama?

Don’t let him fool you.  This is a guilty face.  This is the face of a culprit.  (Admittedly, a very cute culprit…)

Gabby and I had just finished up evening chores, and I decided, probably against my own better judgment, to check on my garden.  (You see, no one was weeding it while we were gone in Orlando, so, while I’ve made a valiant effort to beat back the weeds from the veggies, there are unplanted sections with weeds that are waist high.)  I think I was about halfway out when I realized something was amiss.

To get to my garden, you have to walk through several pastures.  (It actually used to be a pasture itself, but has since been converted.)  At first, I just thought that llamas were in the pasture next to my garden.  Turns out, they were actually making a pasture out of my garden.  I tried to run.  Several awkward, clomping strides later, I remembered that one does not run in welllies (rubber boots?  I started wearing such footwear while working at an internationally staffed sleep-away camp, and everyone used the British term…In America, I think we just call them rubber boots…).  So I stopped running and starting power walking (or something), and I briefly thought about stopping to take pictures–because I’m a blogger, I guess–but then I decided my squash and cucumbers and everything else were more important than photographic evidence.

So Gabby and I chased the llamas out of the garden.  (The llamas were not happy.)  Then I took pictures.

This is a llama footprint
This is a llama footprint
Evidence!  (This is a llama footprint and what was a very nice onion.)
Evidence! (This is a llama footprint and what was a very nice onion.)

They ate several onions.  (I can’t imagine why…)  Knocked over a tomato cage.  Generally ran a muck.

…Actually, they didn’t do too much damage.  In fact, if I let them back in, I think they’d mostly eat the weeds…

Once we were done chasing llamas out, we set about to beat back some more weeds and look over the plants.

Everything, including the weeds, seems to be doing quite well.

Look at all those blooms!
Look at all those blooms!

Nearly every vining plant I have is riddled with blooms.  We should be rolling in cucumbers, zucchini, spaghetti squash, watermelon, acorn squash, pumpkin…and the other stuff I can’t really remember.  (Don’t blame me!  All the rain has washed off most of the garden markers.  Either way, lots of food.)

The tomatillos are loaded!  I cannot wait!

2014-07-01 20.10.03
Admittedly, you can’t really tell from this photo, but we have four tomatillo plants, and they will be pretty prolific.

More tomatoes than I can imagine what to do with.

2014-07-01 20.10.222014-07-01 20.10.12

We found this cuteness in the raspberry thicket.  I imagine there may have been an unhappy bird around when we took this photo.  Other than the picture, we left it completely undisturbed.

2014-07-01 20.19.34

Oh, and my chickens are laying!  They’ve been living in a stall since their coop isn’t done.

The coop, in progress.  My ridiculously talented carpenter/husband has the redesign in progress.  Cluckingham Palace (I WILL have a sign made up) will probably be nicer than our house with shade via a chickeny pergola, insulated walls, lighting inside and out, and a washable surface in and out.
The coop, in progress. My ridiculously talented carpenter/husband has the redesign in progress. Cluckingham Palace (I WILL have a sign made up) will probably be nicer than our house with shade via a chickeny pergola, insulated walls, lighting inside and out, and a washable surface in and out.

Can anyone tell me what kind of chickens I have?  I’m completely clueless.

20140630-215817-79097457.jpg20140630-215815-79095662.jpg

I know, not great photos.  You will see more once they move into the palace, but that won’t be for a week or so.

This one is my favorite...
This one is my favorite…

Anyone know what this is?  She (possibly he?) is my favorite.  Hatched this Spring, I cannot tell if it’s a roo or a hen.  (Please be a hen.  Please be a hen.  Please be a hen…)