Sunshine, Twisters, and Thunderstorms

“There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside of it.”
– George Elliot, Middlemarch.

February

It isn’t as warm as yesterday, but I cannot call it cold.  As of morning chores, the thermometer was flirting with 50 degrees, unseasonably warm for Midwestern Februarys.   Walking to the barn in just a sweatshirt is a rare treat.  The day is overcast; my weather app tells me that it will drop back down into the 30s tomorrow.

The squirrels seems to be celebrating this momentary gift of warmth. I watch two of them flitting through the trees like little furry ninjas, taking aerial leaps from tree to tree, branch to branch, that I wouldn’t have thought possible.  I can’t help but laugh aloud, pausing for several minutes to stand and watch them as they chitter back and forth, oblivious to my presence.

The horses, llamas, ponies, alpacas, chickens, and even barn cats are likewise “feeling their oats.”  They all seems especially enthusiastic today; whether playing or eating or just napping in the sun, they are going about their business with a little bit of sunshine in their step.  So am I.

It’s temporary; I know, but when February gives you light, you let that light in.

March

The day has been gray.  The weather forecast warned me that rain is likely, but things are warm and dry as I go about most of my day, and I forget about the impending squall.  The text from my mother warning me about the oncoming storm stops me in the middle of cooking dinner; I run to the barn, hoping to settle the animals in for the night before the thunderstorm makes it to the ranch.  The storm begins to blow in as I run up the barn lane. My solitary set of winds chimes tolls a panicked warning; they ring out loud and angry and dissonant.  The same wind rattles my aluminum gates in their hinges, creaking and crashing.  The trees swayed back and forth, deep roots digging in against the front coming out of the west.  I wonder briefly if any of them will fall.

Rain comes down cold and heavy on my shoulders as I roll open my barn doors and begin ticking chores off my list.  Shut the barn cats inside their tack room.  Shut the chickens into their coop.

Sirens begin blaring as I fill hay nets.  That means that a tornado has been sighted in the county.  I glance outside; the sky bares no tell-tale signs of a twister. The heavens are angry, to be sure, but dark gray, not green.  The wind is frenzied.  My Midwestern upbringing has taught me that the sky to worry about is a calm green one.  I glance at my weather app and confirm that the touch down was on the other side of the county, miles and miles away.  I make hasty work of the last few hay nets, and, comfortable that everyone is as well set to weather the storm as I can make them, I run back through the downpour to the comfort of the house.

The sounds of the storm wake me several times throughout the night.  Hail pinging on a metal roof, thunder crashing in the distance, wind and rain railing against every corner of the house as the winds shift direction.  I lie in bed and pray for my creatures, hoping they have the sense to go inside.  Hoping that no trees fall and take down fences.  Hoping no more twisters are born of this storm system.  I fall back asleep as the rain continues down.

April

April showers are said to bring May flowers, but so far they are only bringing me mud.  The two horses in the main barn have churned up their paddock so badly that I have ankle deep mud to contend with every time I have to get to the chicken coop.  Of course, that’s inconvenient, but the bigger problem is the way they tend to slip around.  I picture them falling, and worry that someone will get hurt…whether that someone would be one of them, or me, is yet to be seen.  I decide to move them in with the other horses in the back pasture to keep all of us safer.

My world is wet and damp.  The rain is unrelenting from the end of March through the first part of April.  Everything is more difficult in the mud, from chores every morning to keeping my tile floors clean against the dogs’ muddy paws.  The mud makes me irrationally angry every time I have to slog through it. There’s a crack in my rubber boots that lets cold, mucky water in when I step.  I really need to replace those…

If I were to begin building an ark up here, high on the ridge above the Illinois River, no one would even blink.  The animals barely step out of the barn, and they are as cranky as I am.  The forecast says that the rain will end soon, but it feels like it will keep falling down forever.

The daffodils are up along the farm road.  Yellow and bright against the new green grass that I’ve been waiting for.  The sun is out, and the animals spend their time outside.  They are decidedly happier than they have been in weeks.  I still need to replace those boots, but the mud is no longer deep enough to seep in through the crack.  Things are warming up, sprouting up, waking up, and coming to life all around me.  The warm weather wakes me up too.  Months of cold and damp and dark are coming to an end.  I feel lighter.  The anger from the mud is wearing off as things dry.  Of course, the storms will still come–they always do–but when April give you light, you let that light in.

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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”

With rumors of Spring…

They tell me spring is on its way.  They say it will start on March 20th.  I’m not sure I believe them.

Jeremiah took off around 5:30 this morning for another shoeing conference.  He will be gone for about a week.  Then I’ll be leaving the morning of the day he gets back for a vacation in Costa Rica with my sister.  Thankfully, one of us will be at the ranch the whole time, so we won’t need to call on too much help, but taken together, these next two weeks will probably account for the most time we’ve spent apart since we first started dating in 2010.

Until I leave, things will be cold.  Really cold.  (Like, -7 degrees tonight.)  Right now, outside looks like this.

The woods are lovely dark and deep
The woods are lovely dark and deep

The woods remind me of a Robert Frost poem as I make my nightly trudge out to the barn, but I have hopes that we will at least be above freezing temperatures by the time I get home.  In the meantime, Spring whispers sweet nothings, small promises that give me just a little hope that its closer than we think.

For example, my chickens have started laying a bit more.  A few days ago, Jeremiah collected 5 eggs, up from the 2, 1, or 0 we have been collecting each day this winter.  Of course, all of the eggs were frozen solid.  But hey, it’s a start, right?

Also, we have a bit more daylight each day.  The sun won’t set until 5:40 today.  I am in love with each extra second of daylight.

Spring cannot get here soon enough for my liking.  Everything we do out here on the ranch takes more time and costs more money in the winter, and I’m kind of over it.  Stalls get dirtier.  Chores have to be done in the dark.  We use more electricity for lights and water heaters. We have to feed more hay and more grain.  Not to mention keeping the house heated.

I’m looking forward to warmer weather.  To daylight into late evening.  I’m looking forward to riding my horses again.  And I’m looking forward to being able to go out to the barn without adding layers and layers of bulky clothes.

I think maybe the critters are looking forward to Spring too.

DSC_1803 DSC_1808

Has Spring sprung in your neck of the woods, or are you still shivering with me and all the critters out here at Eagle Ridge?

Spring!

Friday started with Jeremiah and I filing our taxes, then going to get ice cream (you know, to drown our sorrows…)

We made it out to the ranch later, after I took a nap (because sometimes you just need to hit reset on the day).

Days like Friday make every miserable, sub-zero winter day hauling water and hay in carharts totally worth it.  I mean, not to go all country western song on ya’ll, but we’re talking sunny and seventy-five.

Jeremiah decided that he wanted to build our new property sign.  With wood that had been discarded in the hay barn (long before it became our horse barn) and a post hole digger that he bought off of craigslist several years ago (from someone who bought it to prospect for gold in his backyard in central Illinois…not even kidding), he and I drove to the property’s front entrance.

Post hole digger...
Post hole digger…

I helped with the post holes, all the while thinking of advice my grandmother had given me when she realized I was marrying a farm boy: “Don’t do anything on the farm once that you don’t want to do for the rest of your life.”  (She had married a farmer herself; that gem of advice had come from my grandfather’s aunt.)  When I mentioned the advice to Jeremiah, he agreed that she was probably right, and then he reminded me that we would need to dig hundreds of post holes across the property over the next few years.  I’m sunk.

Anyway, after that I wandered off and let him get to building his sign.  I had a wild hare to pull one of the horses out of the pasture and go for a trail ride.

Meet Cinco.

Cinco
Cinco

Cinco is a 15…maybe 16… year old Missouri Foxtrotter, Arabian Cross.  He spent years as a lesson horse, is trained to do about anything I could ever think to ask of him, and is my go-to when I have an idea to do something like, I don’t know, ride one of my horses on a trail after they’ve had months off.  He came to us last October from a friend of my husband’s.  I honestly could not ask for a sweeter, better horse than Cinco.  I would have a pasture full of him if I could.

However, even with a horse as wonderful as Cinco, I will not ride any of my horses out of the pasture without a helmet.  And yesterday, I couldn’t find one.  (Brief PSA: Riding without a helmet is a stupid way to get dead.  Horses are sentient creatures with a mind of their own, even on the most dependable horse, unexpected things happen.  End PSA.)

I looked in the horse barn.  I looked in the tack room three times.  I looked in my husband’s truck while he was building his sign.  I even walked down to the guest house and looked in there…

Turns out, it was at my house across the river in the living room…where it’s useful.

Anyway, no ride on Friday.  Instead I settled on grabbing a halter and taking him for a walk.  We went up the lane, back down the lane, and then up the lane and back again and again until he decided to stop yelling at his girlfriend.  (My mare, Morana.  The two are ridiculously herd bound at this point.  More on that later.)

We checked on the status of the sign a few times (it was coming along nicely).  Then, he was good and calm, I let him stand by the fence and graze a bit.

Being away from Morana isn't as bad when there is grass involved...
Being away from Morana isn’t as bad when there is grass involved…

When I put Cinco back, Morana looked like she had just been through an endurance ride.  She had apparently been running the fence line the entire time he had been gone.

Also, Jeremiah had finished building his sign.

A little like Washington Crossing the Delaware, except with a sign.
A little like Washington Crossing the Delaware, except with a sign.

Someone will eventually paint the words “Eagle Ridge” across this.  I also want to add a few grazing horses and llamas (or maybe alpacas) to the bottom.  Of course, since my primary skill with paint involves a solid color and baseboards…maybe we will have to call someone else out.

 

 

 

 

 

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.