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.

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.

After all, I’m still living the dream.

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Talking about the weather…

I’m beginning to think that Spring in the Midwest is really just a nasty rumor.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  I do, after all, live in Central Illinois.  Weather seldom makes a whole lot of sense here, and this year was worse than usual.  Today especially seems to be a regression for us, back into the low forties for most of the day.  It’s a damp cold, and to be honest, all I want to do right now is leave work three hours early (obviously, it’s not busy; I’m blogging from the office…) and curl up under my heated blanket.

But then I remember, it could be so much worse…because, you know, a few months ago it was.

Enter the Arctic Vortex…

A few months ago, it settled directly above us for weeks, bringing record lows and buckets of snow. We were out in the thick of it, braving the sometimes almost impassable roads between our house and the ranch.  (Thank God for our big-ass diesel truck is all I can say.) L and her husband were away on a trip at the time, and we were taking care of the llamas in addition to our own horses.  When you have a wind chill of negative twenty to thirty degrees, it’s difficult to pile on enough layers to ward off frostbite.  My husband, who used to be a professional fireman, went straight for his ARFF gear.

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Our snow covered grasses look like tiny, attacking aliens.
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My hero! Shoer of horses, rescuer of hedgehogs, and cleaner of snow covered car and truck windows.
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Jeremiah approaching Vinny. My OTTB wasn’t even afraid of the silver alien…probably because it brought corn.

The llamas have a heated barn.  They were livin’ it up!  30 degrees!  That fact admittedly made llama-barn chores easier.  The horses were a different matter entirely.  They live in the back pasture with access to a large stall in the hay barn.  At the point of the polar vortex, the three horses regularly refused to go into their stall, so when we got there to take care of them, all three looked kind of like yetis…

If I’m being completely honest, the worst part of it was the water.  Sometime in the middle of all of that cold mess, the waterline to the horse barn froze.  If there is any one thing worse than freezing cold weather, it’s carrying waterbuckets down iced over lanes in said freezing cold weather.  I spent hours out there carrying buckets to fill our 100 gallon trough.

It’s still cold.  The raindrops early sent chills down my spine, and the damp chill refuses to leave the air.  Looking out the window, everything is playing out in shades of gray; if weatherbug is correct, a storm is rolling in.  But it’s not hard to find things to be thankful for, even in this cold, tired blah.  For example, it was rain earlier, not snow.  Also, we have hose lines hooked up to fill the water trough (now that we don’t have to worry that they’ll freeze), so I won’t have to spend my evening hauling water buckets.

I’m almost sure that Spring will make it here eventually.  Nearly positive.  In the meantime, I’ll just act like a crazy Midwesterner and wear sandals in 45 degree weather while pretending that I’m not cold.