On Shearing and Doing Hard Things

This is me.

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This is me on an almost 90 degree day, after shearing nine of my llamas over the course of about two hours.

This is me sweaty and exhausted.  Covered in tiny bits of wool.  Thoroughly uncomfortable

And thrilled that my animals were cool again. Continue reading “On Shearing and Doing Hard Things”

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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”

I get by with a little help from my friends.

My ex didn’t want the farm.

Actually, he did, until he didn’t anymore, but that’s a little beside the point.

That day last summer, the day that he yelled over the phone that the farm would kill me, that it was too much for me to do on my own, he was pretty clear on not wanting the farm.

I stood between my barns, acutely aware of everything that was broken or undone.  Everything that required my time and my energy and my money.  Everything that needed to be done that I didn’t know how to do.  Tears ran down my cheeks, because his words left me with no future. Continue reading “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

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”

Cooking as an Act of Love

Recipes are coming down the line on Almost Farmgirl.  I thought I would let you know why…

I never thought I’d be the sort of person who cooks.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, back in college, I could microwave an INSANE cup of Ramen, but something about cooking, actually cooking, rubbed me the wrong way.  Continue reading “Cooking as an Act of Love”

I can do hard things.

Jeremiah pulled the covers back and kissed me goodbye at about 7:30.  I was still in bed, unmotivated to get up and start my Sunday.

“I put fly masks on the horses and scrubbed the trough.  The stalls are clean, and the water buckets are filled.  The chickens are fed.  The barn cats are let out.  And don’t let our cats convince you to give them second breakfast” [for those of you who haven’t met them, our house cats are basically hobbits…] “because I just fed them too.”

I rolled over to say thank you when a rooster crowed in the distance, as though he knew he’d been left out.

“Oh, right,” Jeremiah continued, “I let the chickens out too.”

Jeremiah is gone a lot for work, especially lately, but when he has time, he does a sweep of the barn before leaving so that I don’t have to worry about such things immediately.  He will be gone for four days, another trip east.  This one is to outfit his shoeing trailer and ride with a fellow farrier for a few days.  The last trip was for three clinics.  The next will be for a clinic and a number of distant consult cases and closer client stops.  While he’s gone I’m here with the creatures, and the property, and my job.  Everyday looks like sixty-two creatures, two barns (eight stalls), one very big chicken coop, and that’s just before I go to work…

Usually, it’s fine.  I love this place and these creatures, and, I’ve said it before, there is a certain zen to cleaning stalls that I have yet to find anywhere else except maybe a yoga studio.  (Like yoga!  But with manure!!!)

But, if I’m telling the truth, the yoke of this place is heavy, heavier to carry alone.  And there is always uncertainty in it.  The skid steer is broken right now.  It needs five-hundred dollars worth of repairs.  And we will get it done.  We always do.  But my car needs tires too, and the house needs a new roof desperately.  And the propane bill is coming due…and, and, and… Continue reading “I can do hard things.”

Just a quick trip…

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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…”

Oh Honey.

We pulled down the lane to sprawling pastures, rustic buildings.  There was a pen full of horses to our right.  The horses were screaming and running around like lunatics as two young handlers seemed to be working to catch them, or maybe just calm them down.

“That doesn’t look encouraging.”

Jeremiah shook his head no, exasperation apparent.

“Part of me just wants to turn around and leave now.”

We had just pulled into the drive at a local summer camp.  A new client of Jeremiah’s, they had called for trims earlier in the week.  He scheduled with them–seventeen local trims in an afternoon is nothing to sneeze at–but he was vaguely nervous about the whole experience.  He last experience with summer camps had led him to a corral full of ill-behaved horses with completely green handlers.  (And by that I mean that they literally had never worked with horses before.  Ever.)  He was concerned that this one would be the same, an accident just waiting to happen.

I came along just in case.  If no one there knew how to hold a horse for trimming, I was there to pick up the slack and try to keep Jeremiah safe.  I would be able to manage vaguely naughty animals, but if they were truly dangerous, we would leave.

They were screaming and carrying on as we pulled up next to the horse barn and parked alongside a beater truck that probably belonged to the camp.  As we climbed out, we were introduced to the director of the equine program at camp.  She was on the shorter side with long, dark hair.  Only twenty years old, a fact that she kept apologizing for, she was the one in charge of the seventeen horses in the corral and soon to be in charge of all the children who would ride them.  As we made introductions, I watch another girl, her helper, climb out of the horse pasture carrying a fawn.

The director glanced over.

“I’m so sorry about the horses.  They were spooked by the fawn just a few minutes ago and took off running.”

I think Jeremiah may have breathed an audible sigh of relief at that.  When spooked, even good horses sometimes behave badly.

I watched the helper carry the fawn to the shade.

“How’s Bambi?” I asked.

The director shook her head.  “Bambi got trampled by the horses, and I think she has a broken leg.  I don’t think she’ll make it.”
Continue reading “Oh Honey.”

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.

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“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.

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

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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.

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

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Isn’t it lovely?

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

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

*Rages incoherently for a moment…*

“Oh, look!  A pretty flower.”

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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.

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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.

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

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

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But they aren’t blooming yet.

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

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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.

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

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

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More flowers!  Bluebells!

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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.

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

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Hey, look!  A Jack-in-the-Pulpit  .

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

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But alas, still no morels.

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

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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.

Because God Put Him in my Way…

My husband is prone to mayhem.  I’m not sure why (though I do have a theory that’s loosely based on the Percy Jackson novels) but weird things happen to him, or around him, almost daily.  (Want an example?  He’s been dead three times…)  Nothing surprises me anymore.

So, Monday morning, as we drove out towards the highway on our way to Wildlife Prairie State Park with an injured Turkey Vulture in the backseat, I found myself in a state of disbelief that this felt so completely normal.  And when the vulture sharted on my backseat cover, I just took another sip of my coffee.  We rolled the back windows down.  And we kept trucking.

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We called the Turkey Vulture Dante.  Jeremiah had nearly hit him with my Jetta the day before; the poor thing had been stumbling around a road, nearly blind and dazed by a brush with an automobile.  Jeremiah had watched him in the rearview mirror for a few moments before stopping the car and going back for him.

I found out about Dante when Jeremiah posted this on his Facebook business page:

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Dante the Turkey Vulture

“Well, sometimes God puts obstacles in your way that are rather hard to avoid. Like, you will take out the ditch trying to avoid them kind of obstacles. Everyone, I would like you to meet my obstacle of the day, the injured and blind turkey vulture that wandered out into the road. His name is Dante, and we will traveling together today.”

He gave Dante his lunch and they began the drive back to the ranch together.

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Dante with Jeremiah’s lunch

On the ride home, Jeremiah learned some new vulture facts.  For example, when a vulture poops in your car, the only course of action is to evacuate the vehicle…and wait.  Also, vultures (or maybe just Dante) grow agitated when listening to Taylor Swift, but they chill out and jam to Johnny Cash.  (They listened to Johnny Cash all the way home after making this discovering, because no matter how much you enjoy listening to “Blank Space,” it isn’t worth an agitated vulture in the backseat.)

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Dante during the Jetta evacuation

Jeremiah planned to find a rehabilitator or rescue for Dante, but it was Sunday evening, so the search had to wait until the next day. In the meantime, Jeremiah laid down some straw in our feed room, hooked up a heat light, and gave Dante some food and water.  We left him there through the night, basking soundly in the glow of the heat lamp.

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Dante basking under the heat lamp

I know this may sound strange, but I’m a fan of vultures.  A few years ago, I attended a information session about birds of prey that featured some rehabilitated birds.  Though not nearly as striking as the eagles or the owls, the turkey vultures stole the show.  They were funny and interactive and seemed to really enjoy showing off for the people.  Vultures get a bad rap, but they serve a vital purpose in the ecosystem.  Rather than kill prey, these birds feed on what has already died.  Their digestive systems sanitize what they eat, preventing the spread of disease throughout a population.  They are nature’s clean up crew, and they really are very cool animals.

The next morning, Jeremiah began the search for a rehabilitator, planning to look locally first, then start to work through a list that my blogger friend over at Day by Day the Farm Girl Way sent me.  Fortunately, Wildlife Prairie Park (less than an hour away) agreed to take him, so we loaded him up in the backseat and drove out.

We pulled around at the front entrance where they were expecting us.  They had a small kennel set up for Dante, where he would wait until their bird keeper picked him up.  We made a small cash donation towards his care and left, feeling grateful that someone was willing to give him a shot.

Unfortunately, Dante had to be euthanized later that day.  He had more injuries than we knew, and he went into seizures.  I was saddened by the news, but glad that Jeremiah had picked him up off the road, that the old guy hadn’t died slowly on the side of the highway, scared and confused.  The night Dante spent in the barn, it had brutally stormed.  Trees came down; thunder crashed so loudly that I woke halfway through the night.  And I was glad that the old guy was tucked in safe and sound and warm.  Even though no one could have saved him, we helped make his last night far more comfortable, and that is something that all God’s creatures deserve.

I emailed my blogger friend when I found out that Dante was euthanized.  I knew I would post about it, and I wanted to tell her via email before she read about it on my blog.

I wrote, saying,
“I plan on posting about this whole experience, but I wanted to let you know first.  We got an update from wildlife that they humanely euthanized Dante yesterday.  He was apparently very old (the zoologist used the word ancient) for a vulture, and he had a head trauma.   By the time she saw him, he was having seizures.  There was nothing they could do beyond give him a peaceful end.

I wish it would have turned out better, but I’m glad he didn’t die alone, terrified, and confused by the side of the road.  There was a massive storm across the Midwest the night he stayed with us, and he got to spend it in a dry room with a heat lamp instead of dying in a ditch.

Thank you for your help.  Thank you mostly for your reassurance that we did the right thing.”

Her reply was sweet and thoughtful.  I asked her permission to share it with you.
“Cherity, I’m so sorry. I had a feeling he might have been old by the looks of his head. I’m also not surprised at his injury. Many large birds are hit while feasting on roadkill. Especially this time of year when parents are looking to feed their young. Forrest and I have transported many male owls and hawks to WildCare during the spring and summer months… hit by vehicles. I suspect since the males do most of the feeding of the young and the female (after the eggs hatch), they are very busy looking for meat to feed all of those mouths!

Dante was a magnificent bird… and you and Jeremiah are fortunate to have shared in the last of his life’s experience. You are the benefactors, and his life was not lived in vain (not that it would have been in vain at all – we are all here for the experience of knowing God/Universe). When you write about him, and your experience, you will have made his life all the more influential on humans. It was his gift to mankind to be a cleanser of the earth all of his life… and in the end, he was a gift for all of us, to understand showing kindness to those who need our help.

I believe that animals/birds/all life forms, read or sense energy. Dante knew the kindness of humans. He felt your touch, and your energy. Wouldn’t that be the best way to have the ending of life here on planet Earth? To know the kindness and love of another? Gentle hands placed on you with soft words and a sense of being cared for? When Jeremiah removed Dante from the chaos and terror of the pavement, he had to have known or sensed that something greater was happening. He probably knew his end was near… and death was imminent, but because of the kindness of you and your husband, and the people at the wildlife rescue, he knew goodness and kindness.

I am so proud of both you and Jeremiah. Thank you for including me in this experience. I look forward to reading your blog post about Dante. It is a beautiful story that should be shared with others.”

My husband was asked why he bothered to pick up a wounded buzzard. Jeremiah simply replied, “Because God put him in my way.”   I think God puts opportunities to show kindness in our way, and I think Dante was one of those opportunities.  And no kindness is ever wasted, even if it is just shown to a wounded buzzard.