Sunday, April 27, 2014

Silk is 26

Tomorrow is Silk’s 26th birthday, and that’s pretty old for a horse.  I stood with her in silence this morning, marveling at our sixteen-year adventure together.  She let me know that she is happy, munching her hay but then, taking a moment to raise her head and look me in the eye to check on how I am doing.  We both saw trust, contentment and appreciation in each other’s gaze.

When I first saw Silk, she was sleek and muscled, tense, fearful and finely tuned like an expensive sports car. She had been a reasonably successful show horse, but along the way someone had beaten her, ripped on her mouth and there were four-inch scars on both her back legs. I knew I had to set her free. Now, she is fuzzy, unhurried, curious and at ease. In fact, we both are.  There are distinct parallels between us.

We had our daughters late in life. They were not easy births, but we each value the joys of motherhood. As I watch Silk and Siete roam our pasture discovering the fresh green morsels of new grass, I am glad I have been able to give them the gift of living their lives as mother and child together. Most animals do not have that opportunity. It gives my horses a security and tranquility that people who visit us often notice.

When my daughter was little, we always made a big deal out of Silk’s birthday. There were lots of kids invited, and I made a carrot cake and a fruit salad for the birthday girl. One year, a neighbor called me to explain that even though her son had been grounded for doing something naughty, she would let him come because “this is the only time in his life that he will be invited to a horse’s birthday party”. It turned out he had never touched a real horse before.

Silk’s velvety lips brush very gently on my palm when she takes a piece of carrot. She is never pushy or demanding.  It makes my heart soar to watch her dance with a lithe, lady-like trot out of the barn to welcome the world on a sunny morning. She is loveliness and elegance, a fine, radiant red soul mate that I treasure every day.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Country Mouse

It is impossible to live in the country and not have a relationship with mice.  At one point, I even wrote a blues song with a friend of mine called  “Dead Mouse in the Water Bucket Blues”.  I’ll spare you the lyrics, but there was a time when I realized I was going to have a bad day if I found a dead mouse floating in Silk’s water bucket when I fed the horses their breakfast. It was a real, true omen.  The heated bucket has the exotic lure of a Jacuzzi, but once they jump in, there’s no way out.  It makes me so sad to find a floater, and even worse, to discover a mangled victim in the house left by our cat, Velcro. If at all possible, I try to make my husband “take care of it” to avoid having to confront the tragic reality.

For the last few weeks, as the weather warmed up, “someone” kept leaving the garage door open, despite my protests that the mice would come waltzing in.  So it was no surprise that we had several unwelcome dinner guests in our kitchen.  One mouse in particular found a way to get inside our stove and bury a stash of rice crackers in the insulation under the warming unit.  The first clue was the terrible burning smell and smoke. It required dismantling the stove, which was not easy or fun.  This critter was persistent and very industrious, working through all the chocolate cookies and cinnamon bread that I left in a basket on top of my refrigerator. Finally, we decided to make Velcro earn his keep. 

Our cat is a reluctant mouser. He often catches his prey and then, gets bored and drops them before finishing the job. On the first night, he did get one prize which he left for my husband on the chair in his office.  Unfortunately, the clever little scavenger that was busy dragging stuff off the refrigerator, across the kitchen floor and into the stove was more illusive. And this routine of having to dismantle the oven wore on all of our nerves.

I was greeted by a meowing cat at my bedroom door  at 5 am this morning, and as I questioned Mr. Velcro about his nighttime affairs, there was a loud banging in the kitchen. I forced my husband to wake up and go check it out while I cowered at the top of the stairs. With the cat firmly under his arm, he marched into the kitchen and found absolutely nothing. Growling and snarling, he climbed back into bed. I timidly ventured down to make some coffee.

Suddenly, the banging started again, right above the refrigerator. There on the shelf, was a pitcher with a lid that I like to use to make lemonade. Our little friend had managed to get trapped inside. Delighted, but afraid that I would drop the pitcher if I climbed up to get it, I went back up to the lion’s den and woke the sleeping beast again. My husband heroically set the mouse free in the backyard, as I told him that in the eyes of mice all around the world, he was a saint among men.  As for our intrepid little visitor-- No more chocolate and rice crackers for you, buddy, you’ll have to get used to eating nuts and berries again – that is, until you find your way to a garage door that “someone” might leave open.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Life in the Mud

I was reminded recently of what my elegant godmother announced the first time she visited me at our home in the “country” many years ago. “You were the most sophisticated young woman I ever knew in New York City,” she exclaimed, ”Good heavens, Victoria, what happened to you?” This week, I discovered once again that life lessons come in strange packages that I often wish had gotten lost in the mail.

When I heard the steady heavy rhythm of rain on the roof over my bed last Saturday, I sat up in fear. In other circumstances, this is a sound that would lull me to sleep.  But I knew that the barn was flooding again, and at three in the morning, there was not a thing I could do to stop it.  For over eight years, we have experienced the pain and agony of draining the horses’ stalls after heavy rains and cursed the foolish people who built our barn in the lowest part of our property.  What made this instance particularly frightening for me was that I would have to fix the problem without any help from my husband or daughter, who were both away from home.

As I headed out to the barn, not even waiting for the sun to rise last Sunday morning, I could see that the trouble was in Silk’s stall. There was a knee-deep pool of poop soup by the front door, and my sweet horse was marooned in the back half of her bedroom. We had seriously sandbagged the back door, so there was no way for me to open it and lead her to dry land. It was still raining non-stop, but I put a halter and lead on her and escorted her next door to hang out with her daughter.  Being a brave and trusting partner, Silk followed me without hesitation through the downpour and boot-sucking mud to safety.

I knew the drill, dragging the sump pump, heavy extra-long electric cords, the 50 foot drainage hose and the colander from the basement to the barn.  I assembled everything and turned on the pump. The hose had a hole where it attached to the pump, sending a spray of stinky, filthy water right into my face and soaking me head to toe.  When I ran back to the house for a towel, it took every ounce of will-power not to just hop in a warm shower and crawl back into my bed.  Instead, I located another hose, positioned it so that it would drain out back into the ditch and re-attached it to the sump pump. 

For a couple of hours, I stayed with the pump, moving it with the colander so that it didn’t get clogged, praying that the mucky water would recede. Once I finally got it drained, I walked away, knowing full well that when I returned about an hour later, the stall would be flooded again as the water seeped up from the ground under the barn.  Three more times, I drained the stall and finally, before it got dark, I began dragging these back-breaking, heavy bags of wood pellets from the garage to the barn where I poured them into the hole to hopefully soak up the water as it returned overnight. My last thought before I fell into a dead sleep was that I was amazed and quite proud that even at my age, I was still able to conquer the flood on my own.

Monday morning, I woke up to the joy of Silk standing happily on dry pellets and shavings and the horror of Siete’s stall flooding. Again, feeling like Prometheus, I dragged the sump pump and all the paraphernalia back from the garage to the barn. This time, I had a much harder task since the hill above the barn was so saturated that it was not until this morning, a week later, for true dryness to be achieved.

Other women might long for new kitchens or expensive jewelry or exotic trips abroad. French drains, excavators, big trucks full of lovely gravel and crushed limestone fill my dreams. My husband has returned, and the best thing that he has promised me is that this is going to be the year when we conquer the flood.