Miracles and Paradise

Sunday:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

The tune lilts through my head as I look around the house, but while there is probably a tree in the grand hotel, and while friends have been sending me pictures of their trees and decorations, my house…well, so far it’s slightly less than festive.

I know.  I know.  My last post outlined my determination to really be ready for the holiday this year.  I was to have all my shopping and gift wrapping done by now…and all the decorating…and even have cookie dough mixed up and waiting in the freezer for cookie making, ready for my now highly efficient self to commence with the baking.  Instead, I have a tree up in the living room with no decorations (yet), about two-thirds of my gifts purchased and none of them wrapped, and a couple of packages of sugar cookie dough in the cupboard ready to mix up in the next few weeks because really the fun part is the decorating anyway…

And I’m sitting on my couch sipping coffee just now, with barn chores in my near future, realizing that today is the first day all week without anything specific on the calendar.  No work.  No grading.  No event that I signed up for while feeling extroverted that I begin to regret as soon as my introverted brain kicks in again.  I just know this, tonight, John and I will finally decorate the tree…very gingerly with our most durable ornaments that the kitten hopefully won’t be able to break.  

This life is chaos.  Sometimes it’s controlled, and often it isn’t, but, right now, it feels a little bit like Paradise.

<<<>>>

November was more chaotic than usual.

If you follow almostfarmgirl on Facebook or Instagram, you already know about our latest rescue and source of chaos, Miracle Max.

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Max had the dual misfortune of being orphaned at birth and being owned by idiots.  At two weeks old, having bottle fed him in the house since his birth, his breeders decided to put him up for sale… for $500.  

Let me be clear: a two-week old, bottle-fed llama cria is not worth a dollar, especially a two-week old, bottle-fed cria with questionable breeding and no papers, but I digress.

Anyway, the owners put him up for sale on Facebook, commenting that he “loves attention and hanging out with us.  He will follow us anywhere doesn’t matter if we are inside or outside,” and the post was immediately very popular and littered with two sorts of comments.  There were the less experienced people who thought raising a bottled cria (baby llama) would be all sorts of fun. “Oh look how cute he is!!!” over and over.  Then there were the experienced llama handlers who were generally horrified.  My friend, Elizabeth, was among the later group.

Most people don’t realize this, but bottle fed crias are notoriously difficult to raise: far more difficult than a goat or a calf or even a horse (and horses have their own challenges).  The reasons for this are many, including the fact that they need to be fed every 2-3 hours or so around the clock, but one of the big ones is that bottle fed cria are prone to developing Aberrant Behavior Syndrome (or ABS… otherwise known as Berserk Male Syndrome).  When they are inappropriately socialized with people, specifically when they are over socialized or coddled as babies to the point that they fail to recognize the difference between other llamas and people, they basically lose their minds.  The females are bad enough; the males are nightmares.  Bottle raising any cria, but especially a male, is not for the faint of heart, or the inexperienced, or for anyone who is inclined to ignore warnings and make a pet of the poor thing while it’s tiny and extra cute.  (Saying in the ad that he loved attention and followed them everywhere was a huge red flag for how things would go if left in his original owners’ care.)

Elizabeth messaged me the posting and asked if I had room for him.

Did I have space in the barn?  Sure.  But I knew the question was more about space in my life and my head than it was about space in the barn.

The answer, as usual, was no.  And yes.  And no.

I can’t save them all.

Even as I write that, it stings a little.  It reminds me that there’s an invisible line out the door of all the creatures and people whose pain I can’t alleviate.  The world is big, and people are cruel.  I am small.

And yet, I firmly believe that we are sent that which is supposed to be ours, and somehow I always know when I see the creatures who have been sent to me.

I knew when Jiminy’s photo showed up, from Pennsylvania, as he stood in a kill lot waiting to ship to Canada.  I knew when my friend posted Miss Rosie Posie after her daughter found her in a ditch in Texas.  And I knew when I saw this tiny cria.

There is a voice somewhere deep down inside that says, “This one, darling.  This one will hold a piece of your heart.”

So I said yes.

Therein began a two day long saga of getting the little guy home.  The owner refused to take a penny less than $500, telling us that there was a petting zoo that wanted him if we didn’t.  (I  cannot think of a worse situation for a bottle fed cria, or a more dangerous situation for the public, than placing him in a petting zoo.)  Truthfully, neither Elizabeth or I had ready access to $500 to throw at a rescue, not really, but, since I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try, I told her to commit to buying him.  I would figure the money out later.

Later that day, the owner reported that the baby had died.  Rescue off.  Later still, he realized that he had mistaken a stillborn baby on the ground for the bottle baby he had been feeding for two weeks.  Rescue back on.

Two days later, with $500 borrowed from various sources I usually don’t touch, including my hay fund, and an online appeal for help hopefully crowdfunding his ransom and the associated bills I knew would be coming, Elizabeth and her husband purchased the little guy.  They drove him home where I was waiting with a new dog coat, lots of goats milk, a shot of antibiotics, and my little herd of mamas and babies, who were shut in a stall and exceptionally confused.

I saw him and heard that little voice again.  “This one.”

Rescue, like life, never has guaranteed outcomes.  You never know what you’ll encounter. What will come up.  Health issues.  Behavioral issues.  You just do it, because it’s the right thing to do.  Because something in you tells you to jump even when you can’t see the net.

I wasn’t quite sure what to name him until I saw him.  Originally, I had thought “Little Orphan Andy” (for obvious reasons) or “King’s Ransom” (because the $500 we paid for him was basically ransom money), but neither of those names quite fit.  Honestly, it came down to this: I didn’t want his entire life to be defined by being an orphan if I could help it, and, as cute as he is, he is never quite going to look like a “King.”

I landed, instead, on “Miracle Max,” partly because I went in hoping for miracles with this guy (and so far, by the way, I’ve gotten them), partly because Elizabeth and I found ourselves referencing Miracle Max from The Princess Bride during the whole “is he dead or alive” debacle, and, honestly, partly because one of the best dogs I’ve ever known was named Max.  I thought naming the cria Max might invite my dearly departed, dog Max to look out for the little dude from heaven, and dog Max would make an exceptionally good guardian angel and namesake.

I put Max in a dog jacket, fed him straight away with a warmed up mixture of 2/3 goat’s milk and 1/3 water.   His wool felt like spun cotton under my fingers.  He was alert and curious.  I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking.

<<<>>>

John and I alternated feedings that night.  I fed at 11:00 and 2:00.  He got up and fed him at 5:00.  The mama llamas and babies were intrigued, but not yet attached, and I felt bad every time I came out to see him sitting alone.  Bonding with a herd is a process…I thought, watching for signs of attachment.  Starry Knight, my oldest cria, seemed to take to him first.  I hoped the others would follow suit.

Over the next few days, donations began to pour in.  Some from social media followers who I had never met.  Some from dear friends.  Some came in locally.  Some from across oceans.  I found myself in tears more than once as paypal notified me of a donation with a message like “thanks for saving the baby llama.”  People were sharing his posts across Facebook and keeping tabs on his story.  Max, it would seem, had a whole host of fans out there rooting for him, dozens of good people cheering him on from all over the world.

The world is small, and people are kind.  We belong to eachother.

<<<>>>

Within three days, my mama llamas started allowing Max to occasionally nurse.  The babies counted him as one of their own, and I would see the three playing in their pen, the two older boys obviously being extra gentle with their new little friend.

That night, I had concerns that he seems lathargic.  I gave him his bottle before bed.  Gave him another in the middle of the night.  I convinced myself I was being hypervigillant.  Two friends, and fellow livestock people, reminded me that Max was likely to have a lot of catching up to do after the way he was handled for the first two weeks (in addition to everything else, he was also notably underfed).  I slept fitfully, even more fitfully than you get when you have to go to a barn every few hours.

The next morning, I found him in the corner of the stall, almost unable to stand up.

Something was very wrong.

I took his temperature.  94.4.

Very, very wrong.  Part of me wondered if my thermometer was malfunctioning.

My mama llamas looked on with obvious confusion as I ran back down to the house.  They were downright alarmed when I collected Max and put him in the car.

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I drove us straight to the vet, keeping him from standing on the seat with one hand while steering with the other.   (It only worked because he was pretty out of it at that point.) The vet techs ushered us straight into an exam room where we placed Max on a heating pad, covered him with extra blankets, and began running a space heater while we waited on the vet.  Everything we knew said hypothermia.

Max at Vet 1

(This, by the way, is what happens when you try to raise livestock in the house; their system doesn’t know how to handle actual weather.)

I waited until the vet came in.  He wanted to keep him for the day and work on the body temp.  I left Max in the capable care of the vet techs.  He was alert and his temp was steadily ticking up.

I went home and took a nap.  Four days of about five hours of heavily interrupted sleep was taking a toll.  I rested for several hours, checked in with the vet when I woke up, and was told that it looked like I could bring Max home that night.

<<<>>>

Max Riding Home

Max rode home on my lap in the backseat of my sister’s SUV.  He wore four blankets to sleep that first night, and  woke up not only to feed him every few hours, but also to take his temperature.  It dipped down a tiny bit in the middle of the night, but generally held steady.

Over the next few days, I watched as my mama llamas went from sort of adopting Max to fully adopting Max.  I moved them all into my front pasture, which is drier and can be seen from the house, and watched as he fully integrated into the little herd.  (Personally, I think maybe the mamas doubted my ability to keep him alive, given the whole putting him in the car debacle, and begrudgedly took over.)  His bottle feedings decreased the more llama milk he drank until he eventually refused them altogether.

<<<>>>

Last week, I pulled Max’s little coat off of him.  He had outgrown it, playing catch up with his weight after a very rough start.  I watch in the evenings as one of my mamas, Baby, nurses Max and Hardy Boy at the same time.  They both tuck against her at night to sleep.

This one, darling…

Max, for sure, has captured a bit of my heart, but he also reminded me of just how small and kind this world can be, even in the face of ugliness.  He reminded me that, even when one day at a time seems like too much, we always have it in us to do the next right thing.

His temp is holding steady.  He is adopted and healthy and on track to be a normal, non-abberent little llama.  He is a miracle for sure, in every sense of the word.

The world is small, and people are kind.  We belong to eachother.

Max Eyelashes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Four Ponies of the Apocalypse…

Sunday…

7:29 am.

I’m still curled up in bed, asleep enough to be dreaming, when the phone goes off.  I don’t check it, letting the caller go to voicemail.  I snuggle back into the sheets for a moment before thinking that I should at least look to see who it was.

Bad Pony…

If I’m getting a 7:29 am phone call from the neighbor who I’ve always had in my phone as “bad pony,” it’s probably because I have some bad ponies…

I roll over and begin to sit up.

“I think the ponies got out,” I tell John.

The first time this happened with John, when I got a call that the horses broke loose from their pasture well before dawn in the middle of winter– this was early in our dating life–John moved like molasses, a lot of “what” and “huh” as I shot out of bed.  Now, more than a year and a half in, he beat me to the window.

“Can you see them?” I ask.

“Yeah…” He pauses before replying, “They just ran down the driveway.”

John watches as they run up the hill towards the neighbors, tiny tails bopping joyfully as they trot to freedom.

(98 acres out here, and those tiny monsters just want to eat my neighbor’s front lawn.)

We left them in a temporary pen overnight, letting them graze and enjoy the cool evening, but apparently they got bored at some point and pushed a gate away from the fence.

Guys, letting miniature ponies get bored is like feeding gremlins after midnight.  JUST DON’T FUCKING DO IT.

I pull on the official uniform of “my livestock escaped before I got out of bed”: yesterday’s jeans, a gray tank top with no bra, flip-flops, and a baseball cap.  John, apparently competing for the redneck hall of fame, pulls on dirty jeans and muckboots.  He decides to forgo his shirt entirely, showing off the beginnings of a notable farmer’s tan.

I know it seems unlikely, but the ranch really is part of a very nice neighborhood, probably the nicest one in town.  I am just at the edge of it, but the real estate around me is not the sort that you would expect to host rogue ponies, or horses, or llamas. However, at some point or another, I have chased each species through a neighbor’s yard.  Behind the ranch, I am surrounded by farmers and country people, the sort that just happen to have old horse halters hiding in a barn somewhere that they grab when someone else’s horse (read: mine) shows up in their front yard.  But next to the ranch?  I have genteel city people who moved out-of-town to appreciate the peace and quiet.

Fortunately, these particular city people think I am an amusing novelty and that ponies are cute.

I think that I have four ponies and that there are supposed to be four horsemen of the apocalypse. (Or alpacalypse… maybe llamageddon…)  As I walk up my driveway and see the ponies looking at me wearily from the top of the hill, I think that those apocalyptic horses probably won’t look like people expect.

Immediately across the road, my neighbor rents out his massive colonial-style home as an AirB&B.  This weekend’s renters chatted with my boyfriend as he tried to flank my four tiniest horses.

“We just woke up,” they told him from the driveway, “and there were tiny horses running down the road.  It was so cute!”

Cute…

John’s presence sends Violet, Slash, Gem, and Cody running back into my yard, the temporary neighbors looking on with amusement.  They would have a story to tell about their vacation rental in the country.

“Just don’t let them go back up the road,” I tell him.

“No kidding,” he replies.

Two laps of the front yard, one detour to the big horses’ barn, and an almost-trek through the manure pit in flip-flops to head them off later, the ponies run back into their pasture, seemingly at least a little confused about how they got there.

Such, I suppose, is life with livestock.

<<<>>>

Ponies tucked safely away, John and I walk back to the house together.  He makes coffee–he makes really good coffee–and we sit on the couch until our cups run low and the barn calls us back out to finish morning chores.  The rest of the day will come soon enough, bringing with it more work than either of us woke up with any intention of completing, but for a moment, we sit back and appreciate the momentary, and elusive, peace and quiet of the country.

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I really need to learn my neighbor’s name…

Take Me Home Country Roads

My commute to the office usually takes about twenty-five minutes.  It’s two-lane, country driving the entire way along one of the Illinois’ River Roads.  My landmarks as I drive are a railroad crossing, a bald eagle nest, and a couple of roadside picnic benches.  There usually isn’t much traffic, but you do have to watch for deer.  Especially during the rut.

This time of year, I watch for turtles.  So far, I’ve stopped and given a crossing assist to five of them, parking along the roadside with my hazards flashing.  (Only one peed on me…but that’s a different story.) Continue reading “Take Me Home Country Roads”

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.) Continue reading “Spring”

Living the Dream

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I forgot to step tall over the hot wire.

I felt my rubber muck boot catch the bottom wire of the horse fence.  My ankle caught the strand that I had strung there this summer.  My knees hit the snow.  The five gallon bucket I had been filling at the spigot fell forward out of my hands and spilled into the stark, white snow, soaking my hands through my gloves, emptying in a mockery of the small task I was trying to accomplish.

I was wearing too many layers to injure myself in the fall: my legs were insulated against their snowy landing spot by two pairs of pants and a pair of heavy duty coveralls.  Rather, the -15 degree windchill made the possibility of frostbite through my wet gloves my most pressing concern.  I stood up slowly–the only possible way to stand in coveralls–and, swearing at the wind or the weather or my own clumsiness, began to refill the bucket.  Ponies need water.  It is my job to make sure they have it, whether the process for getting it is pleasant or not. Continue reading “Living the Dream”

The Anniversary that Wasn’t: Why I Wish I had just “Thrown Away” my Marriage.

I was scrolling through the calendar on my phone, looking for an appointment I couldn’t remember making, when I scrolled across a repeating reminder.

“Anniversary”


It made my stomach drop to be honest, and I flashed to memories of a lacy white dress, yellow roses on white tablecloths, and promises that were supposed to last forever.

“For better or for worse.”

“For richer or for poorer.”

“Forsaking all others…”

“Anniversary…” plugged in to my phone because I’ve always had a hell of a time with dates, even important ones, and I need reminders.    And there it was, my reminder, set to repeat into infinity, because when you get married you promise each other forever, and you can’t imagine a world where you won’t need a reminder for that date.

I deleted the reminder–I wouldn’t need it anymore–but the word hung like a shadow for the rest of the day.  It would have been seven years this year, and, even though I’ve honestly gotten to the place where I feel pretty damn lucky that the marriage ended, the reminder still tagged along with me for the rest of the day. Continue reading “The Anniversary that Wasn’t: Why I Wish I had just “Thrown Away” my Marriage.”

The other side: More on Divorce

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become.  No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell.  There are no maps of the change.  You just come out the other side.  Or you don’t.”
~ Stephen King

My divorce, so long in the making, was final at the end of March.  My cousin, Erin, came down for a long weekend and stayed to hold my hand in a mostly empty courtroom on a Monday morning while I answered questions from a bored-looking judge for five minutes so that he could declare my marriage dissolved.   My ex didn’t come; in Illinois you don’t have to have both parties present to finalize a divorce, and I had decided that the whole thing would probably be easier if I didn’t have to face him.

Divorce is strange.  It can be equal parts terrifying and debilitating and liberating.  Even world-ending.  It’s unexpected for some.  It feels inevitable for others.  The cutting of a cord. The removing of a limb.  A decision that you make, but that feels as though it had been made without you.  One that somehow feels equal parts devastating and hopeful.

It’s the end of something you never thought would end, and the beginning of something you never prepared for.

At least, that’s how it was for me.

Divorces seem to be like couples; each one of them is different. Continue reading “The other side: More on Divorce”

A little bit of kindness and a tiny chicken

Let me be crystal clear: I didn’t NEED any more chickens.  Cluckingham Palace is currently home to 11 laying chickens, 1 lavender turkey hen, and, of course, Arthur of Camelot.  I currently collect more eggs than I can personally use, and I’ve been pretty open about the fact that eggs cost more to raise than to buy.

I know all of these things, but I have a mild case of chicken math disorder…which is basically a psychological disorder, and every Spring I seem to manage to fill up a brooder.  There are some very reasonable arguments for doing so.  (Chickens lay fewer eggs as they age.  If you free-range, it is understood that you will lose an occasional hen to predators, etc.)  But, when you get right down to it,  I know that the real reason I keep buying chickens is that I like having chickens hanging around and that itty-bitty chicks are basically the cutest things ever in the history of all time; all of the other reasons are ancillary. Continue reading “A little bit of kindness and a tiny chicken”

The Adventures of Kahn

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Kahn was someone’s house cat once.  I’m almost sure of it.  Feral cats don’t come to humans to ask for help, which is just what he was doing when he and I first met.  It was the coldest, darkest part of winter, more than a year before we took over at the ranch.  I was helping to keep an eye on things while the owners were away, doing evening chores and hanging out with a friend, Katie, who had come along to keep me company.

The night was quiet, so we heard the his cries from outside the shut barn door.  Katie slid it open to find a battered-looking, black cat standing just out of reach.  It was snowy, and he was cold.  His inky fur was rough and made him stand in stark contrast to the snow.  He held one foot above the cold ground, obviously wounded and infected.  His right eye was swollen nearly shut, and despite his size–Kahn is a big cat–he was desperately underweight and looked very small.  He continued to cry as we looked on, but skirted us.  Nervous and scared but pleading for help. Continue reading “The Adventures of Kahn”

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

DSC_2496NI know.  I know.  That phrase usually belongs to Christmas, and I love Christmas, but whoever first coined that phrase and applied it to Christmastime obviously didn’t know the joys of springtime on a ranch.

Out here in the Midwest, March is when the Earth starts to wake from her long, restless, winter sleep, but, like me before my first cup of coffee, she moves slowly, and yawning, meanders through the month in a bit of a cloud covered haze.  March comes with sprinklings of hope and signs of warmth.  But it also comes with snows and drops from 70 degrees one day to 25 degrees the next.  March is the messenger that Spring is coming, but March is not Spring.

But April?  In April, things come alive again.  For about two weeks, I have been soaking in blue skies and green grass.  Reveling in the new flowers, chirping birds, buzzing bees.  I find that there is something deeply intoxicating about the color green, and I’ve spent hours and hours aimlessly wandering our fields to soak in the spirits of the season.

Spring is when the ranch wakes up again.

My first trip to the ranch was in the Spring, over 15 years ago now.  I recently stumbled across that story, one originally written for a Master’s level class in creative nonfiction.  If you’ve ever wondered how on earth I ended up on this ranch, this is it.  That day was when my love affair with the ranch started; thus far, with ten years on my marriage to Jeremiah, it’s been the most enduring love of my life.

It doesn’t hurt that it all started one beautiful Spring day… Continue reading “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”