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.
The spigot in my horse barn has managed to remain unfrozen this year, thanks entirely to my father’s handiwork, wrapping it in heat tape and insulating it against the cold, so I haven’t spent this year’s Polar Vortex hand filling a 100 gallon trough, carrying buckets one by one up my icy lane. Rather, when the arctic temps settled in over the midwest a few weeks ago, I found myself battling frozen auto waterers on one side of my barn, frozen furnace lines in my barn furnace (the one that heats my feed room and tack room), and frozen pipes in those same rooms. I’ve been filling water buckets by hand, heating my rooms with space heaters, and hoping for the best. Winter will move on eventually; it always does. And when it does I will have a good idea of what will need to be fixed before the cold strikes again. And something else will break next winter from completely out of left field, because that’s how farms work.
I remember when I was fourteen, walking up the barn lane in the summer, and thinking to myself that “I want a place like this someday.” I remember that moment clearly, though there was nothing significant about it, walking the same steps on the same path that I took everyday to begin work in the morning, but something about it stuck.
I constantly hear people remark that I’m “living the dream.” And, honestly, being here, in this place, with these animals is the culmination of years of dreaming. For so many, myself included, land is “the dream,” horses are “the dream,” eggs from your own hens are “the dream.”
I think about that sometimes when I’m fighting sub-zero temperatures wearing soaked through gloves. I think about it when the manure in the barn stalls is frozen to the ground and can’t be cleaned up. I think about it when my hose lines freeze, or an animal gets injured, or a llama chokes and has to be driven to the University Livestock Hospital two hours away on the night that I’m supposed to be at my Nana’s birthday party.
This is just another reality of “the dream.”
And yet, I could take a thousand photographs and never capture the way that the snow glitters out here in the light of the full moon. I could try to describe the way sunset paints the sky from pink to orange, then to blue and purple fading black, in every post I write from here on out and never do it justice. I don’t know how to express the calm that settles over the horses when I feed them their evening hay, or the glee that overtakes the alpacas when they decide it’s time to play, prancing from one hill in their front pasture to the next and then erupting into bucks and a mad run.
That’s probably more what people have in mind when they decide that I’m “living the dream” out here.
The beauty. The calm.
Dreams aren’t usually what we think they’ll be, and I think some people get discouraged when they realize that their dreams aren’t all sunshine and roses. But, having known any number of people, myself included, who are truly living their dreams, I’m not sure this world ever offers a lifelong dream without difficulty. It always comes at a cost.
It’s usually worth it anyway.
Right now, even though I’ve just about had enough of the cold and all the problems that accompany it, even though the cost is high, it’s worth it.
With that in mind, I’m going to go slip on boots and wander out into the snow. I will feed horses and llamas and ponies. I will brave the cold, again, and try not to slip on the ice. And I will remember that winter will end soon enough, and that anything worth doing is worth doing even when it’s really, really hard.
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
It’s still warm enough for crickets to chirp their song at the end of the day, but only just. Our fall colors are still flirting with the green of summer. Fall happens slowly here. You almost miss it, sandwiched between our Midwestern summers and winters which compete every year to be fiercer than the other. Fall is quiet. Unlike the famous colors out east, our colors don’t come all at once. We entertain shades of gold and green and red in the same moment. Oranges like pumpkins. Scarlet like the lips of emboldened women. Yellow leaves reminiscent of gold jewelry worn to be noticed and envied. All of this beside the slow trees that cling to their chlorophyll, still green into November. Even lovelier for their slow and steady, almost cautious, pace.
I walked out to the barn this evening wearing a sweatshirt and jeans; it’s not cold enough to break out my winter things yet, but if I know anything about time and seasons and the Midwest and ranch work, I know that those coats and hats and gloves aren’t as far away as they seem right now. Acorns crunched under each step; in no time their crunch will be replaced by the crunch of snow underfoot.
The barn was quiet. Most of the animals, especially the llamas, were out in their fields enjoying the green grass. I walked down the barn aisle attending to those who required a special dinner. The quiet of my evening interrupted by the occasional impatient whinny or llama hum.
Twice a day, everyday, this is my world. Llamas. Alpacas. Horses. Chickens. Silly little ponies. A random pet turkey hen who doesn’t really like me all that much. It comes complete with all the dust, and manure, and work I can manage…plus just enough more to remind me that the work will never, ever actually be done. It is overwhelming sometimes. Exhausting sometimes. Heartbreaking sometimes.
It is also beautiful in ways I still struggle to put to words.
I walked down the lane farther and dislodged a hay bale from my stack. Hooves pounded the ground, and my horses called to me as I carried a bale out into the field. Some trotted. A few cantered. One sprung into a mad gallop that ended in bucks of pure joy. I watched and listened. I will never tire of the sound of hoof beats. Watching my horses gallop in for dinner will never get old.
But I don’t always watch or listen.
I try to practice mindfulness in my life: taking the time to center myself to my breath, notice what is going on around me, and live in the moment.
I have to be honest, I’m really bad at it most of the time.
I’m a very cerebral person in general, and it’s hard for me to let go of what’s going on in my head long enough to notice what’s going on in front of me. When I finally take a moment to slow down and notice the world around me, I am most often struck by what I miss out on everyday.
Tonight could have passed that way, like so many others. But for some reason, instead of quickly tossing hay and leaving my horses to their dinner, I walked around checking in with each of them. I kissed Phoenix on the nose. I scratched Morana’s neck. I said hello to each horse. Then, impulsively when he came up to me and seemed to offer it, I climbed on Jiminy Cricket’s back.
It’s been a while since I climbed on a horse bareback.
I had no intention of asking him for anything. This wasn’t going to be a battle of wills; I wasn’t a rider, just a passenger. He had complete say over where we went. How fast we traveled. He wasn’t bothered, settling in quietly to eat hay with his pet monkey on his back.
I sat there while the sun set. The oak leaves ruffled gently in the breeze and the light glittered between them. The sunlight played in a way that made me understand why the ancients believed in faeries.
Jiminy felt warm and powerful and gentle beneath me. He took a deep breath in response to my own, and we settled into this moment in the fall, the light like golden glitter between the leaves, and the sweet smell of hay.
I slid off his back as the light I had been watching began to dim. The horses watched me leave, and I walked back to the house hearing the crunch of acorns.
And I thought about Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the poet who once wrote that “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.” Most of the time, we miss it, but sometimes? Sometimes we see the fire. We recognize the holy. We sit in the sacred, and we remember, though we will probably soon forget again, that the sacred is always within reach.
I was lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon-a weekend in early May of 2016-feeling extraordinarily lazy, and watching my ceiling fan spin circles above me. I held my phone to my ear and listened as Jeremiah began to explain the plight of a unfortunate four-year-old desert bred Arabian gelding who had been injured in a pasture accident. The injury was deemed “career ending” for the young gelding, once an exceptionally promising and talented performance prospect, and the decision was made to put him down. He was three-legged lame, currently residing in a stall awaiting his appointment for euthanasia after x-rays revealed that he had torn much of the connective tissue in his lower right front leg. He only had a few days before the vet would be back out.
Through an unlikely chain of events (involving the horse’s previous owner, an unexpected shoeing appointment, and a brief conversation with the consulting vet), the gelding, named Phoenix, had made his way onto Jeremiah’s radar. Jeremiah had known Phoenix’s mother and was the farrier for Phoenix’s previous owner. He was just connected enough to the horse to be interested, and he started making phone calls to get to the bottom of the situation.
His conversation with the vet led to his conversation with me. He explained that Phoenix had an excellent shot to recover to pasture sound (pain free but unridable), a decent chance of recovering to trail sound (noncompetitively ridable), and a very, very slim chance of recovering to performance sound, but that, in any case, he would require a lot of time and a lot of money. His owners weren’t willing to make that sort of investment in an almost definitely noncompetitive horse with such an uncertain future.
“What do you think?” Jeremiah asked. “Should we bring him home?”
If you’ve been following this blog for any time at all, you will know quite well that sad creatures are my kryptonite. I have barely bought myself a new pair of jeans in the past four years, but my creatures are well-stocked with their own comforts. However, the fact is, as much as I would like to try, I cannot save them all. My resources are finite, and every animal requires hay and time and space. All of those things have their limits, even out here on 100 acres. I try to be very aware of those limits because at my core, the space in my heart drastically outdistances the space in my pastures or leeway in my pocketbook. That could get me in trouble really quickly. Not to mention, as you might guess given my last post on my divorce, Jeremiah and I weren’t on terribly solid footing ourselves just then…
I paused before responding. “It’s probably a terrible idea…and we might just be bringing the poor thing up here to euthanize in a few months if things don’t heal…”
“I know.” Jeremiah sounded resigned, another horse, especially an injured one, would be a huge responsibility to add to already chaotic and complicated lives.
“It’s good that we’re in agreement on that…” I inhaled deeply. “But I think we should do it anyway.”
Jeremiah spent the next week getting Phoenix set to travel while I got the barn ready to accommodate a seriously injured horse. Jeremiah shod his uninjured front hoof in a fancy set of composite shoes for extra support. We had a vet in Southern Illinois cast his injured leg, and we had radiographs and records sent to our vet up here. By the time he loaded onto our trailer to travel three hours North, he had already required a significant investment in vet bills and hoof work.
I had been sent a few photos of him, but when I agreed to take him in, it was sight unseen, so when he stepped off the trailer, I was surprised by a few things. First, Phoenix was stunningly beautiful, and TALL, much taller than I had expected given his Arabian Heritage. Second, with his lower limb in a cast, he was fairly ambulatory, not nearly as lame as I expected. (I had been under the impression that we were bringing home a half-dead horse with a slim chance of survival, but he was in far better shape than I had imagined.) Third, he was taking his trailer ride and new surroundings mostly in stride. He seemed nervous, but obliging. All of that was encouraging.
I got him settled in to an empty stall on the far edge of the barn and began a routine that we hoped would make him better. The vet came out regularly to administer Ozone Therapy. We found someone locally who could administer pulsed magnetic wave therapy. We tried to limit his movement, control his pain, and give him any sort of edge we could find to give him. He was underweight when he came, so in addition to hay, he was also fed grain twice daily.
I was basically already running the farm by myself at that point, with Jeremiah away for weeks at a time, so Phoenix and I spent a lot of time together, especially early on. I cleaned his stall; I fed him; I held him for his treatments; I kept him clean, and fed, and as happy as possible. I planned to remain somewhat distant with him, not wanting to get overly attached if we were to have to put him down, but he had one of those difficult to resist personalities. My sister-in-law took to calling him a “puppy horse” due to his tendency to follow us, demand attention, and cuddle. It wasn’t long before he wiggled his giant self right into my heart.
For several months, things went very well. Better than expected, in fact. The combination of treatments seemed to be working splendidly. Phoenix moved into his second cast without a hiccup, continuing his treatments each step of the way.
Getting a Magnawave treatment and eating hay; this became a favorite routine.
Sedated to remove his first cast and set the second
I started planning for his future with us.
Despite offers from a few of Jeremiah’s clients to take him once he was sound, I decided he would stay. As far as I was concerned, he would always be something of a time bomb for the wrong owner: High spirited and athletic but with potential for a re-injury. He was built like a jumper, and I was afraid that would be his undoing in the wrong hands. Also, if I’m being terribly honest, it bugged me a little that plenty of people wanted him sound, but no one else was willing to take the chance on him or spend the required money on him when his fate was uncertain.
And somewhere along the line, between my initial resolution to keep emotional distance from him and the day Jeremiah came home to remove his second cast twelve weeks later, I had unconsciously decided that he would get better. He had gone from being a anonymous horse we were going to try to save, but would likely have to euthanize, to a member of my herd with a future, his own personality, and a place in my heart.
He stood patiently as Jeremiah removed his cast. The leg underneath was atrophied from under-use, but we expected that. Jeremiah asked me to lead him away, and Phoenix followed me obligingly…completely unable to bear weight on his injured leg. I had so thoroughly convinced myself that Phoenix would be sound out of the cast that those first few steps shocked me to my core.
Jeremiah watched him walk and shook his head, lips pursed, brow furrowed. I had seen that look so many times, usually as he tried to decide how to tell a client that things didn’t look so good for their horse.
“Did we expect this?” I asked, hoping he knew something I didn’t.
“No,” he said simply. “But, maybe it will take him a few days to get used to it.”
I put Phoenix back in his stall. He settled in, refusing to put weight on his hoof but otherwise paying it no mind. I fed him, just as I had done every day since Jeremiah brought him home, and Jeremiah and I walked back down to the house.
Both of us were despondent, but I think I felt more defeated. The uncertainty, defeat, fear of loss–those emotions, that vulnerability–are the true cost of what I do out here. The sacrifice of time or of money is easy by comparison.
The next few days showed little improvement. Phoenix seemed happy enough, but seldom put any weight at all on his injured leg, hobbling around pathetically on three legs instead.
The vet needed to come out again; this time to x-ray the affected leg and determine where Phoenix was at. Had the leg been reinjured? Had the tears healed? Was he developing rapid early arthritis (a concern from the beginning)? I needed to know whether or not he was getting better and whether or not I could offer him a good quality of life.
I needed to know whether my baby boy–you know, the one I wouldn’t let myself get attached to–would make it.
The vet wasn’t able to come out for two more weeks. Jeremiah went off on another month long trip and I stayed, feeding Phoenix twice a day (along with everyone else), cleaning his stall, and studying his every movement, looking for improvement…hope…
When our vet’s farm truck rolled up two weeks later, my stomach was in knots. It had already been decided that we would only keep going with treatment if it was fair to the horse, and his state at that moment, still not walking on the injured leg with three months of rehab behind him, made me desperately afraid that I would have to schedule his euthanasia before Doc drove away that afternoon.
I brought Phoenix out of his stall, and he stood calmly as the vet went about his business. He was used to being poked and prodded by then.
The vet was able to pull the x-rays up on his laptop within minutes. He viewed them side-by-side with the x-rays of the initial injury.
“Oh, ok. These look good. See here? This is much better.”
That knot in my stomach melted, and tried to pay attention as Doc explained all the intricacies of the x-rays we were looking at, but all I could focus on was that Phoenix was better. Things would be ok. I could hardly believe that things would be ok.
I watched him drive away with a sense of relief. He wouldn’t be coming back to help me give a unrecoverable horse a kind end. Instead, Doc told me that the muscles had atrophied in the cast, that Phoenix needed time and space. Those things, I could give him.
I opened up his stall to a small run that day. I moved him into his own small pasture within about a month. Then, this Spring, I walked him down the lane and introduced him to the other horses, moving him into the big field where he could run and play to his heart’s content.
Phoenix with his chickens.
Phoenix with his kitty.
I watched the horses munching their hay tonight as the sun set behind us. Phoenix stood in the field with everyone else, sound and a true-blue member of the herd, and I breathed a sigh of relief, remembering again just how miraculous that was.
I spent the other morning holding the lead line of my largest horse, an off the track thoroughbred named Vinny, while our vet quietly sedated him and stitched a gaping dermal laceration on his neck. It was ugly, probably four inches long, and bloody, a surprise when I went out to check the horses. It’s his second emergency vet visit this month; a few weeks ago he tore open his shoulder open just about six inches below his current tear. That, plus another “stitch” visit (for one of my ponies, Slash) has made our vet such a common sight for us this month that I’m beginning to feel like he lives here.
I’m still not entirely sure how he hurt himself. Sometimes with horses it’s like that. You just have to concentrate on fixing the issues even if you don’t understand why there was an issue in the first place.
I watched the vet stretch the broken skin back over the tissue on Vin’s neck. Vin, whose sedation had him happily enjoying the sound of the color orange, barely seemed to notice the curved needle slowly, methodically, putting him back together where he had torn himself apart.
There’s been a lot of stitching around the farm lately: literal and metaphoric.
The last eighteen months have been difficult for me for a lot of reasons, many of them stories that aren’t entirely mine to tell. I’ve lost creatures who were dear to me. I’ve had relationships that I believed to be as steady and dependable as the hills turn upside down. I’ve lost people I cared for. And, for a little while, it began to feel like I would lose myself.
Depression is a strange thing, and a lot of people just don’t understand it. It isn’t just “sad.” We all get sad, and we all feel depressed sometimes. But honest to goodness depression takes up residence, moving in as a second occupant in your life, one that zaps you of all the joy you would normally feel. Days that should be good feel indifferent, and days that would normally be difficult feel impossible. It leaves you nearly numb to the best of life while simultaneously leaving you raw and exposed to the worst of it, like nerves that have been left open to the air.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I haven’t had a good day for over a year, but all of the good seemed to belong to a sort of fog that wouldn’t entirely lift. I spent a lot of time crying, a lot of time talking with friends (while crying), and a really healthy chunk of time talking to a therapist (still crying).
But then, last week, the fog lifted.
I want to be careful here, because a lot of people who are depressed are told to just “get over it” or “think positive,” and I don’t want to contribute to the belief that it’s that simple. Trust me when I tell you that if a depressed person could just “happy thoughts” their way out of depression, they would. But I will say that the end of my depression seemed to come from a new understanding of my emotions and thoughts. I began to understand how to not be a slave to them, how to take the negative thoughts off of the endless loop that had been created in my head before they could direct my emotions and thereby control my worldview. I decided not to give those thoughts the time of day-dismissing them, not repressing them-and with them left the fog.
I cannot explain why it worked this time and didn’t the thousand other times I tried to “be more positive.” I don’t have a formula. Despite my Midwestern upbringing with it’s emphasis on hard work and bootstrap success, I would not say that I pulled myself out of this by force of will.
I have never had depression flip like a switch before. In the past, climbing out of it was slow and difficult, a trail you blaze uphill in a Midwestern heat wave.
I just know that I was depressed for a really long time and now I’m not. I know because the numbness is gone. Food tastes better (or, really, just tastes). I can see the beauty in small things. And I can feel things fully, all the way down to my soul.
Guys, today I found myself reflecting on just how stunningly beautiful the color green is and just how delicious raspberry jelly tastes. It seems ridiculous, but when you’ve been deprived of feeling deeply for this long, when you’ve been numb, you appreciate things that most people would overlook a million times.
This last week has been like waking up, shaking off the dust of a sleep that lasted far too long.
So why am I telling you this?
We live in an age of Instagram and WordPress and Facebook. And, because of that, we think we see each other, but most of the time we don’t. We see the lives of everyone else through a filter, and we see our own lives without one, and we start to think that maybe we are the only ones who don’t have our shit together. And I don’t want this blog, this space, to be one more place to see through that sort of filter. Yes, I have a thousand pictures of adorable, fluffy animals. Yes, I adore this place and this opportunity. Yes, it’s serene and beautiful and lovely…and a complete and total mess.
I’ve tried to write about all of this a dozen times in the last eighteen months, and I think I’ve touched on it here and there, but I couldn’t really find the words. Maybe because of the numbness, maybe because of fear. (If I’m being honest, this is a scary thing to hit the publish button on…) Likely because it came hand-in-hand with a hefty dose of writer’s block.
But here it is: If you feel like your life is in chaos, I can promise you that you aren’t alone. If you’re depressed, you’re not alone. If every single day feels like walking through quicksand, I’ve been there. If you’re looking at your life in disbelief, wondering how on earth you got here, I understand.
You are not alone, and it gets better.
I remember having lunch with a dear friend a few months ago and learning about some of the struggles she faced in high school. I was stunned by what she told me. Flabbergasted by what she had suffered through alone. She didn’t have to be alone. I was only a phone call away the whole time, but she didn’t pick up the phone.
Depression is bad enough all by itself. It can be isolating, and it does a really good job of making you feel unworthy of love and light. And the more you pull into yourself, the worse it gets. It’s not a mood. It’s a disease. And isolation and loneliness are symptoms.
If I learned nothing else in the last year and a half, I learned this: Reach out.
Glennon Melton of Momastery.com (one of my Yodas these days) says this:
“Sometimes life’s load gets too heavy and hard for us to carry alone. I don’t think the hard is a mistake. I don’t think the hard means we’ve done anything wrong. I think the hard is purposeful, so that we’ll need our sisters.”
Sisters, brothers, friends…we need our people. None of us are without struggle. None of us can do it alone. We all need each other. Especially when it feels like the best course of action is to shut down into yourself.
Vin’s stiches came together beautifully. Then he came out of the sedation slowly. Today, my herd check revealed that his neck is healing well; I’m not sure there will even be a scar from this wound.
It’s amazing, the things that can be stitched back together.
She thinks she’s bragging, but the little girl, or teen, or grown-ass woman (or perhaps man) who utters those words in the horseback riding world has failed to read the room. We are not impressed. In fact, the polite among us are trying not to laugh in her face. She looks with at the other riders with expectation, all of us with muck on our boots, sweat under our helmets and horsehair on our jeans. We, she implies, have fallen, and she has not; therefore, obviously, her skills are greater. We should accept the inevitable conclusion that she is the superior rider.
It’s almost cute, really…
But we know something she doesn’t. We know there are only two types of horseback riders: Those who have fallen off, and those who will. Continue reading “Falling”→
My bipedal servants seem to think that I owe you an apology.
I think they’re wrong…but they do refill the hay nets on demand, and I believe that they have access to grain, even though they don’t give me any of it, so I do what I can to stay in their good graces when it isn’t too inconvenient.
I, of course, am Slash. High King of the Hill, Guardian of Camelot, and First Pony of the Alpacalypse.
I assume you’ve heard of me? (Of course you have. It was silly of me to even ask, but I do try to stay humble.)
And you, I believe, are referred to by the bipeds a “Neigh Bores.” (They worry about us making noise, but you have “Neigh” right there in your name.) I gather that you are other bipeds who are not indentured to any equines, camelids, or chooks. That’s sad for you, but I won’t rub it in, as I imagine it is a source of despair and humiliation in your little hooman lives. (Seriously, what do you even do with your time? If a hooman wakes up in the morning without a horse to feed, does it even exist?)
Oh, right, apology…
(How does one even do this?)
I’m sorry that you were unprepared to behold all of my majesty, standing, as it were, in your front yard. It must have been quite a shock. (Next time, avoid looking at me directly, or perhaps wear sunglasses. I hear that helps when beholding glory.)
Also, that I pooped on your lawn; apparently that was “inappropriate” and “gross.”
In my defense, it was a lovely yard, and someone left corn there.
(*Editors note: regardless of how hard I try to convince him otherwise, Slash still thinks you left the corn there for him, as he believe that feeding the local deer is a waste of perfectly good horse food.)
My servants have informed me that it was naughty of me to climb under the gate and spend the day “running amok” while they were at work.
I think it’s naughty of them to put up gates and fences. We all have opinions.
The bipeds wish for me to conclude this little literary experiment with a promise to “never be such a little ass again,” but there, they ask too much. (Also, I’m really not sure how they can mistake me for a donkey, but the one is pretty nearsighted.)
I will grace you with my presence as soon as I can once again escape these foul fence lines. Leave more corn next time, and try to shoo the deer off as they were in my way.
(Ha. Not really)
(*Editors note: The neighbors were actually super nice about the fact that our tiny horse took up temporary residence in their front lawn.)
“I don’t wanna go outside!” I whined. We whine together a lot. If we lived closer, we’d wine together a lot…and that would be better. “I checked, Lauren. It’s been consistently colder here than at your place. Which seems completely unfair given that you’re basically Canadian!”
Lauren laughed, but acknowledged that it’s true. They live far enough north that she could damn near apply for dual citizenship. I, however, live in the middle ground of the country. Illinois. Home of Chicago at one end and cornfields at the other. Despite the expectations that it’s more temperate here, we get nearly arctic colds and southern warms. (Temperate my ass…110 heat index in Summers and -20+ windchill in the winter.) Last week, my little corner of creation went through a cold snap. It was colder here than in Bangor, ME. Actually, as a matter of fact, it was colder here than in Nome, AK.
And it was a problem.
Last week, for me, getting dressed in the morning to do chores has been more like assembling a piece of IKEA furniture than anything else. (“Cover shirt A and B with shirt C. Insert legs one and two into pants D, then pants E. Maybe pants F…) Continue reading “Dangerous Cold and a Full Barn”→
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.
middle of the day…
(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.
January 1st of 2016 surprised me with a nearly perfect blue sky. Having spent weeks overwhelmed by my Season of Gray, the blue sky was the perfect antidote to my melancholy, and, in my own humble opinion, barn chores under the blue sky were the perfect was to start the new year.
First thing, I wandered out to one of the back pasture to check on a tree fall that one of my neighbors reported to me. Their tree; our fence.
It pretty much destroyed that section of fence, but it’s so big that no one is going anywhere over, around, or through it. I don’t have to worry for a while. (I told Jeremiah that we should chainsaw it in interesting ways and leave it as fence…easier than hauling it out.)
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.