Nostalgia and Priorities

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It’s a funny thing, but even in the midst of the moving and packing and tearing down and rebuilding, the grass doesn’t stop growing, the laundry and dishes still need to be done, the weeds keep invading the garden and flower beds – life just keeps marching on.  The other morning found me ripping great handfuls of clover from around Mom’s chives and lemon thyme.  It felt wrong, somehow -?-?- and then I realized that I wanted to save it for the ponies.  Yes, the mounding round leaves and yellow flowers were beautiful and lush, but mostly I was struck by a deep nostalgia for grazing with the ponies; for the intimacies of the life we’d shared, for the two years I spent living as part of the herd.  I was homesick.  In the midst of that Gryph called, asking me to check on line for a Missouri zip code so she could arrange her next mail drop, and I told her about the clover.  She laughed and sighed and said that she had that exact same feeling every time she ate an apple when she wasn’t with the herd.  She always had the inclination to save the core for the ponies.  It’s hard to get over that sort of thing.
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The horse part of the herd missed it too.  One of the things it’s been hard to write about is how little the ponies and I had in common once the ride was over.  I’d go out to visit, but there was nothing to talk about.  They had Zero interest in a jaunt around the block.  It didn’t work for them to live at the house, nor me out in the pasture.  We were estranged: strangers to one anothers lives.  Gone were the days of near telepathic closeness, the three of us moving as one being, the bond of adventure, the in-jokes and squabbles.  I remember days I’d be talking to myself as we rode along, grumbling and mumbling about something when suddenly mr.James would chime in with his own mumbles and grumbles, making me laugh.  Or I’d look back to catch Saint Finehorn making faces at me, reminding me to look around and remember what a grand life we had. Those two knew exactly what they wanted to be doing with their lives, but they needed a human herd member – and once we arrived in Big Creek I was suddenly failing them on that front.  The ponies Really don’t care about the book writing project.  I try to explain, but they yawn and turn away.
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Jesse and Finehorn both adore the Gryphon.  They were thrilled to see her when she arrived after so many months away, but she’s come (and gone) before.  They were happy enough to accompany her to town and back, but there was still a hint of attitude if they were kept standing in the yard too long and a sort of disdainful brattiness (especially from Finehorn).  The moment the big yellow dry-bag packs came out of Gryph’s room – full – there was a huge and palpable change of attitude.  They were suddenly 100% on-board and paying attention.  mr.James was hovering close and breathing down our arms as we packed Finehorn for the trial overnight jaunt to the Wildlife Management Area up the road. Finehorn was squared up and steady as a rock as we got her packs clipped on and tarped down.  Jesse made his opinions clear in terms of the saddle he prefered and the flowing purple silk cloak that he did Not (stomping foot).  Their eyes were clear and bright, their ears followed our every move, they were absolute professionals ready to get back in the game.  Magnificent Road Creatures – they were heading out – with Gryph this time.
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I was literally running with the camera to stay ahead of them as they rode out the drive of the Old Dickens’ Place, their steps buoyant and eager, their ears alert, the happiest I’d seen them in years.  The ponies are both around 15 years old at this stage (in human years they’re in their late 40’s) but there was none of that showing, none of the weariness we’d all been feeling by the time we reached Maine.  They were bold and bright and exactly in their element.  Long Ride Horses, returning to the trail with one of their favorite people in the whole world.  When Gryph calls with reports of the ponies sleeping with their heads over her hammock at night, keeping watch, enfolding her in the safety and comfort of the herd, it just squeezes my heart ’til my eyes leak.
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But now it’s time to change gears.  I’m turning 50 today.  Friday I’m getting in the car with my folks and heading up to my brother’s “little cabin in the woods” to celebrate my birthday.  My dad is baking our family’s traditional birthday cake (uber-rich chocolate with peppermint frosting) and mom is preparing chicken and zucchini for the grill.  Shrimp and pineapple kabobs for appetizers, fruit salad, home made bread – my mouth is watering just thinking about it.  And then, on the 4th of July, I’m going to be left alone up there – for 8 weeks – and my only responsibility (apart from keeping body and soul together) will be to work on getting “the book” written.  This is an amazing gift from my brother and his family.  I finished writing Chapter 12 at the end of April.  Then life took over with all sorts  of chaos and distractions and I’ve managed a sum total of 3 pages since then.
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The cabin is off-grid and secluded, nestled in tall pines by a lovely, rocky creek.  There’s no internet, the cell ‘phone doesn’t get reception and the solar panels will (hopefully!) provide just enough power to keep my laptop charged for writing.  One mile away there’s cold, pure spring water coming out of the side of a hill through a pipe.  Town is 2.5 miles via borrowed bicycle.  The plan is to head in once a week to check messages, send chapters out to my “first readers” and re-provision.  The goal is a finished first draft before the weather turns.  There is a story in the Bible about “the pearl of great price” – it’s about recognizing what really matters most and being willing to give up everything else in exchange.  The ride was like that for me.  I was riding on faith, and it wasn’t just about giving up comfort and convenience and the illusion of security – in many ways that was the easy part.  The harder part was not seeing friends and family for so long.  Being so wrapped up in the Journey that I couldn’t be there for the people I love, becoming a stranger to their lives.
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And now i’m learning that writing the book takes that same sort of single-pointed focus (read: obsession.)  When I’m in writing mode I can’t read or listen to music.  A simple conversation, other people’s words and ideas in my head, can end my writing for the day. After my weekend shifts at the Steakhouse it often took two days to find my way back into the story.  At my best I was writing about as fast as I had been riding, week for week, and I honestly Do Not want to spend another year and a half writing this book.  Twelve chapters in and I can honestly say that I believe it’s worth writing, it’s working, I have what it takes to do this.  Now it’s time to give it my full attention and get it finished, adhering to my own rhythms and listening to the voices inside my own head; the long thoughts that come to form the chapters.  At this stage I’m not sure if I’ll be writing blog posts while I’m away.  I hope so, but I can’t promise.  Blessings and Adventures,  and thank you all for reading!
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Babies in Big Creek!

I’ve been calling Saint George frequently this past week, pestering him for updates and news.  A dream I’ve been harbouring since I crossed the Mississippi/Tennessee border more than 2 years ago is manifesting on a table in the old Log Cabin room at the Old Dickens’ Place in Big Creek and I’m missing all the action.  Saint George is being remarkably patient with all my questions:  “Anything happening?  Have they hatched yet? How many?  Can you send pictures?  Please?”
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All chickens are not created equal.  Different breeds have different purposes, thrive in different environments, have their own unique look and personalities.  Growing up my sister always had Rhode Island Reds; plump reddish brown hens that laid nice brown eggs on a fairly regular basis.  They were hardy, pleasant enough, difficult to tell apart – and lived with an incredibly evil rooster named Pavarotti.  The chicken coop was between the house and the barn and I had to carry a dressage whip to get past Pavarotti every time I went to feed the horses.  I Hated that rooster.  Then one day I was on the way out to the barn with our 6 year old neighbor to give her a riding lesson.  Pavarotti got past me, flew at her chest, knocked her down and went for her face.  I kicked him away and she scrambled to her feet, but enough was enough.  Dad sharpened the big butcher knife.  We all stood on the porch, watching as he walked towards the chicken coop, knife in hand.  I was wondering how he’d catch the rooster but it turned out he didn’t need to.  Pavarotti flew at his face, Dad swung with the knife in self-defence and suddenly the rooster’s head was flying one way while his body flew another.  (We all cheered from the porch!)
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After that I really didn’t think too much about getting chickens of my own.  I love eggs, especially fresh eggs, but I’ve led a rambling sort of life and chickens aren’t the sort of creature one travels with.  Of course then I rode through Big Creek, found the house, and by the time I’d reached the northern border of Mississippi I was thinking pretty hard about settling down, planting a garden, maybe even getting a dog.  That was where I encountered my first French Marans Egg.  The colour of cocoa with darker speckles, the yolk was rich gold and thick as caramel; I was convinced it was the best egg I’d ever eaten.  James Bond apparently shares my opinion.  I went to meet the woman who had the chickens that laid these glorious eggs.  The hens were plump and black with copper neck feathers, the rooster was majestic and not at all aggressive.  They were Black Copper French Marans – and I was hooked.
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I researched Heirloom varieties of chickens, breeds that were endangered or currently out of fashion.  I considered Australorps and Dominiques, Dorkings and Orpingtons, but my heart was with the French Marans.  I wanted a multi-purpose breed; good layers that were also tasty meat birds.  Any of the above breeds would probably trump the Marans, but despite my best research my mind was already made up.  So last spring I started trolling Craigslist.  Very occasionally I’d see something, but it was always too far away and too expensive.  By this spring I was immersed in too may other things and finding Marans had been pushed off onto a back burner somewhere.
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Unbeknownst to me, Saint George hadn’t forgotten my desire for these particular birds.  At the appropriate season he started quietly looking for eggs.  And an incubator.  And here’s where the story gets good.  Because when he drove over to pick up a dozen Black Copper French Marans eggs, at a very fair price, practically next door in Vardaman, who did he meet?  The local source for French Marans turned out to be Frances Simmons, who has been following Free Range Rodeo via facebook since I rode through Mississippi two years ago.  How amazing is that!?!  And now, thanks to Frances and Saint George, there are 11 recently hatched balls of fluff and another dozen or so due to hatch out on my birthday and by the time I see them they’ll be feathered out and looking like chickens!  Happy Day!

 

 

 

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Turning Pages

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Everything, Everything is (Subject to Change) – I’m pretty good with that one, but I really should have looked twice at my “Confirmation Number” – which is mostly letters, not numbers, and turned out to be a warning in thin disguise.
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My folks are moving this summer, from their Country House (of 33 years) to a smaller place in town which is less than a mile from their church, closer to friends, errands, choir rehearsals, doctor’s appointments and the Honest Weight Food Co-op, which has evolved in my absence into the most wonderful “grocery store” I’ve ever seen!  I haven’t seen my family since last summer when they came down to Big Creek to see my “new” house, help with renovations and celebrate my birthday.  My turn to make the trek.
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But first, there was an expedition to launch.  Gryph returned to Big Creek in May to consult with Saint Finehorn and Jesse James about going back out on the road.  Of course they were delighted, especially when she said that this time they were going out as performers.  Costumes and Coggins tests, stilts and saddle pads, so much to figure out so quickly and suddenly it was Sunday, 7. June and everything was packed and loaded.  Jess generously loaned his truck and trailer for the trek across the Mississippi River into Arkansas, Saint George handled the chaos and the driving with aplomb, we found a spot along the Saint Francis River with plenty of graze (and even more mosquitos – good thing the ponies are up to date on vaccinations!) and suddenly I was waving good-bye to the horse/human herd now traveling as Finehorn’s Fancy Circus.  Wow!  New blog post up at: http://www.finehornsfancy.wordpress.com
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It feels very strange not to be on the road with the herd, but at the moment other duties call…  sometimes literally.  Tuesday morning a week ago my cell ‘phone rang but I missed the call.  It was a Louisiana number that I didn’t recognize; out of curiosity I called back.  A woman’s voice answered and said that she hadn’t called me, her ‘phone had been in the car, but now that I was on the ‘phone she wanted to know how the book was coming along.  I told her that I had 12 chapters that I was pretty happy with; that lately I’ve had a Lot going on but hoped to be back under way with the writing by July.  I still don’t know who it was, but it was a timely reminder that there are people Waiting Expectantly for this book that seems to be taking me forever to write.  Thank You!!!
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Wednesday, Saint George was once again behind the wheel, delivering me to the Memphis airport to catch a Southwest flight that was supposed to carry me to LaGuardia (NYC) via Midway (Chicago).  My bags were checked and I was at the gate two hours before the flight was due to depart -> learning that my flight was delayed by weather and I was going to miss my connection.  I was absolutely Not looking forward to spending the night at the airport in Chicago, waiting for the next flight out in the morning.  I won’t bore you with the details, but by a miracle of grace I suddenly had tickets in my hand for a flight to Albany, NY (the airport closest to my folks’) via Baltimore.  At about the time (midnight-ish) I was supposed to be landing in LaGuardia and figuring out how to navigate a bus, 2 subways, and the streets of Manhattan to a friend’s apartment (while carrying 90 pounds of luggage) I found myself stumbling off the plane in Albany, NY – surprised and delighted to find my beautiful mother waiting to drive me home.
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Except my luggage hadn’t gotten the memo.  I’d carefully packed my trail journals, maps and notes – everything I need to write the book – in one of those bags.  And my bags were AWOL.  My folks left Thursday morning, glad I was home early to house-sit and give the cat her medicine.  It was just as well that they were away for the two days it took my bags to find me again, because until I unzipped the pack and had my journals literally in my hands I was not a particularly sane human being.  That’s an understatement.
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I’m assuming most of you have moved at least once in your life.  The sorting, the packing, the endless decisions as the house fills with liquor boxes (they’re free if you get them empty!) and the liquor boxes fill with carefully wrapped dishes and trinkets and treasures. The pile for the rummage sale grows, and shrinks (what!? you’re getting rid of that!? Nooooo…) and the stories attached to each item rise into memory – or not.  It’s chaos. Emotional, muscle-taxing, time-devouring chaos.  And meanwhile the rest of life doesn’t stop.  (Have I mentioned that mom is leading a mission trip to Nicaragua in mid-July?) The house ‘phone keeps ringing, the truck inspection is over-due, all three cell ‘phones are ringing, there’s a blog post to write, has anybody seen the cat?  Gryph calls, checking in from Arkansas, from Missouri…
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Simultaneously, the new house, which has been a rental for the past decade, is undergoing some serious renovations, inside and out.  Walls are being moved.  Plumbers and electricians and carpenters and a big loud machine ripping up trees and feeding them into an even louder chipper; ripping off crumbling brick and, oh no! that was a hidden pipe and there’s suddenly water pouring into the basement (good thing the plumber was right there and thinking fast!) and now the only working toilet is in the basement – where dad is constructing his workshop, the future contents of which are filling the adjoining room. Wouldn’t it be easier to paint the bedroom before the furniture is in there?  Won’t it be lovely when it’s all done?  Sanity?  Has anybody seen the dog?  Where are the keys?  How’s that book coming along, Sea?  Has anybody seen my brain?
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This too shall pass.  Cherish the moments, the stories, the chaos.  Won’t it be lovely when it’s all done?  Cherish the life that we have.
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Traveling Woman

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Sometimes it’s good to get a little perspective.  I’m sitting here in my “Cell”, bundled up and snuggled down into blankets and shawls, with a cup of tea and a small electric heater – and a flush toilet I can access without going outside.  I’m not sure how cold it got last night but Inside my bedroom it was 36*F at 9:30 this morning.   (One of the frustrations of poverty is that we’re spending more on heating because we can’t afford to adequately insulate – and the more we spend on heating the less we have available for insulation. Right now I am blessing the green indoor/outdoor carpeting that Saint George brought home from the city dump for the fireplace room.  The ladies who’d lived here had laid down all those layers of linoleum we tore up and got rid of for a Reason!)  It rained hard yesterday and coupled with the cold the ponies got extra rations to help them stay warm from the inside out – calories are a valuable source of heat for mammals!

Fox found Oyster Mushrooms

Fox found Oyster Mushrooms

Meanwhile my folks, up in NY, have been getting snow and sub-zero temperatures for weeks now and this morning my mom said they didn’t expect it to get above 30*F, night OR DAY, at least through the end of this month.  Their house is a bit more winterized than mine, but they also go outside (and drive around in all that snow and ice and slush) much more often than I do.

Luna Jack still looking for a new home.

Luna Jack still looking for a new home.

And then there’s Sarah Outen, who is on a Bicycle in Ohio right now.  I first found out about Sarah while I was on the ponies riding across the United States and she was in a tiny boat called Happy Socks, rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.  Anybody who thinks of me as any sort of brave adventuress?  Check out Sarah Outen.  150 days alone Rowing Across an Ocean!   This woman rocks, and rows, and pedals and kayaks – she’s making a human-powered Journey around the Planet Earth!  “London to London via the World”  This winter found her bicycling across Canada and states like Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Absolutely mea culpa for not alerting you to her Journey sooner but she’s now pedaling her way into areas that I rode through and it finally occurred to me because I remembered how much it meant to me when somebody drove up with a thermos of something hot to drink, or a fresh-baked muffin, or an offer of a place to come in and rest and get cleaned up, words of encouragement, or “how can I help?”

Saint George cooked on New Year's!

Saint George cooked on New Year’s!

If you want to check out her blog she’s at http://www.SarahOuten.com  and there’s a “Where’s Sarah?” mission tracker here: http://www.sarahouten.com/the-mission/journey-tracker/  where you can see on a map where she is within an hour or two.  Bicycles are FAST compared to ponies.  She’s covering in a day what took me a week!
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So – perspective!  I’m working away on Chapter 8, cozied up with not a thing to complain about – and never mind that there are icicles hanging from the outdoor shower.  We all make our choices in life, bound by pragma and priorities, and grateful I am for the path that’s led me here.  Because camping in a house is rather posh compared to a lot of places I’ve spent the night and electricity is really handy for the current project of book writing. Nobody is starving and the roof is holding up.   And while maybe some people don’t mean it quite exactly as a compliment when they refer to me as “that travelling woman”, if that puts me in the company of women like Sarah Outen, Mesannie Wilkins, Katie Cooper, Basha O’Reilly,  Lucy Leaf, Bernice Ende, Isabella Bird…
May I travel to the end of my days!

the dining room 'windows' at dusk

the dining room ‘windows’ at dusk

 

 

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a new year dawns

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It’s been so long since I have written a blog post I had to remember where to start!  The good news is that I’m alive and well and making progress on “The Book” – 4 chapters down and chugging along.  It’s very much the same process as the Long Ride – as I’m writing I’m feeling the very same sense of struggling along moment by moment trying to figure out just how to do this thing.  The false starts and re-starts, the daily struggle of figuring out the process, what to do next, how can I move forward, what will make this better?  The flashes of “aha!”  when a section finally comes together.  Of course, the knowing that This is what I’m Meant to be Doing with my life (right now) is Not the same thing as sitting down in the cell every day and actually doing it. Writing a book is a lot lonelier than the ride – and it has to be.  As long as I kept letting myself get distracted by other people I kept not writing the book.
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I am spending a crazy amount of time in the cell, a 9×10 room at the back of the house – the only room in the house that has fresh paint on the walls and rugs on the floor, it’s cozy and I love it in here.  Which is a good thing, really!  Many nights find me still writing at 3am and up again 6 hours later to re-read what I wrote the night before and see if I can make it better.  Last weekend I worked my shifts at Paisley’s Steakhouse and slept 11 hours a night on friday and saturday nights.  Then on Sunday night I wrote until 4:20am.  Today I took a break because George and Jess showed up with a big load of firewood and the day was incredibly gorgeous, warm and breezy and so nice to be outside doing something physical. Then Robert Doolittle showed up with a dozen (dead) ducks which Saint George and I plucked and fileted on the front porch.  These are the first ducks of the season and I’m so excited!

Fox’s French-side family do things with wild duck livers and so this year we decided to take the livers as well.  We opened up the central cavity of the first duck, a Teal, found heart, lungs, intestines, gizzard – no liver?  Three adult humans working this out as logically as we can -> simply cannot find the liver.  George has raised, killed and cleaned a lot of birds and even he can’t find the liver.  Feeling like an impossibly modern human I go fetch my laptop and ask google – which is ridiculous.  How can I Be this Ignorant?  Google sheds no light on the dilemma but leads me to step-by-step directions for disemboweling a duck.  I open the second duck, determined to follow the directions exactly – as if I lost the liver by doing things in the wrong order the last time and it escaped?  Strangely enough, the second duck is carrying its liver exactly where it’s supposed to – impossible to miss. This is true of ducks 3 through 12 as well, except for #11 whose liver was fairly well shredded by the tiny bullets.  I am left wondering how Duck #1 managed to survive and eat and fly without a liver…?
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The menagerie here at what we’ve come to call “The Old Dickens’ Place” is much smaller than the last time I wrote.  Gryph left for San Francisco and clown school on the Autumnal Equinox, hitching the big trucks and making the run safely and triumphantly in 48 hours for a sum total of $8.50.  A few days later Sheela-na-gig had a collision with a moving vehicle and was found by our lovely mail lady who had just finally the day before gotten her to the point where she’d accept a treat from her hand.  Such a sad day, for everybody.  A few days after that Stretchy (the chicken) disappeared while no humans were home.  Turned out to be a hawk who returned over the next week and a half and took the Baits as well – three hens down.  We did add a Golden Comet hen named Temple Tuttle (which is the name of the mother comet of the Perseids – how cool is that!?) so the current count is two roosters and three hens.
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The problem with hawks eating chickens is that it’s illegal to kill the hawks.  Which makes perfect sense until they’re eating MY chickens.  And I really didn’t want to kill them, I just wanted them to leave my flock alone.  Solution!?  Bottlerockets.  Any sign of a hawk and the bottle rocket goes in the PVC pipe that functions as an aimable rocket launcher.  The rockets (sometimes we triangulate and set off two or three) scare away the hawks and we’re seeing them less and less often so I’m assuming we’re onto something here.  Legal (at least in Mississippi) and Fun!  (And now I’m ready to get more chickens.)
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No goats though.  I sold Spot and Taz to what I believe to be a good situation.  The young man who bought them is working his grandfather’s farm – with his wife and kids (when the babies get old enough!) and he liked the goats and they took to him right away.  He’s building a herd so they’ll have plenty of company and a much bigger fenced area to roam in than they had here.  I don’t actually miss the goats so much.  Much better in fantasy than reality – lesson learned!   The Perfect Cat, That One, Spuds MaGee (aka Brownie) and Annie P are very much in residence.
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Which brings us to the herd.  A few days before Christmas we brought the ponies back to Big Creek where we’ve been offered a pasture to use that’s a 5 minute walk from the house and has trees and a pond.  (Thank you Frank!)  They’d been 8 miles away in a lovely pasture all Autumn, which is quite a distance if you don’t have wheels.  In November Luna Jack suffered a mysterious pasture accident.  Saint George went out to feed the ponies and she was all banged up, like she’d been hit by a truck, which was obviously impossible since she was in a pasture.  For several days it was touch and go, she was eating and drinking but laying down most of the time and then one morning she just wasn’t going to get up.  I’d gone so far as to call a man with a gun but when he arrived a couple of hours later the Bute had kicked in and she was on her feet again.  That was the turning point in her recovery but we still had to deal with a Staph infection in her left front pastern and significant stiffness and abrasions.  She also lost a lot of weight.
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She’s doing better now, mostly healed up and mostly sound but I’ve finally come to the realization that she needs to find a different home.  Right now I have three horses and only one of them can actually be ridden.  That’s silly and makes it impossible for two people to go out riding together.  Jesse James and Saint Finehorn still haven’t really taken to Luna Jack.  I have no idea what their problem is with her but they haven’t liked her since the first time they met her and that situation hasn’t improved with time.  I’m having a hard time with the idea of “putting her up on Craigslist” or “calling a rescue”.  I need to find the right situation for her with someone who will care for her, will understand her and help her find her calling in life.  She isn’t the sort of horse that can go to a complete novice who always wanted a horse and wants her because she’s pretty.  She’s got great Quarter Horse bloodlines (and papers) but I hate to think of her being Bred Every Year until she can’t. She’s smart and affectionate and – – – obviously I haven’t got a clear vision of “the perfect situation for Luna Jack” but after much deliberation I decided the smartest thing I can think of is to let you all know the situation and see what happens from there.
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All the photos in this post were taken by Fox – the resident ODPP.  Hopefully I’ll be sharing more of his work here soon!
 

 

 

 

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Allies

Here’s one of the things I love about this house and its inhabitants:

surprise visitor

surprise visitor

The four humans and two cats were in the parlour watching a movie.  This was an unusual occurrence, practically a special occasion.  We don’t have a TV and there’s a certain amount of arranging that has to happen:  cobbing together Saint George’s laptop (the only one with a DVD drive) with the monitor I’ve been using since my beloved Acer (which survived two years in the packs – including being bucked off several times and fallen on a time or three as well) finally fell apart and the two halves are no longer communicating.  I’m not sure where the speakers live in their “real life” but they’ve been conscripted as well, along with a table to hold it all.   It was dark.  We were watching The Mist, of all things.  I try very hard NEVER to watch scary movies and this one was pretty tense (tho the humans interactions were waaay scarier than the alien bugs!  Including Flying alien bugs.)

the guardian of the bathroom window

the guardian of the bathroom window

We become aware that something is occasionally flying through the room.   Big moth?  Lost bird?  Alien insect?  No – it’s a bat.  I turn on the light and now we’re all standing,  all sort of bobbing up and down watching the bat swoop around the parlour.  Fox goes for a cardboard box and I realize that the screen door is closed so the bat would have a hard time leaving even if it wanted to.   I go open the door, calling to Gryph “I believe the traditional method calls for a broom.”  “Then hand me the broom,” replies Gryph, so I do.   The bat has landed on the ceiling (see above) so Gryph ever so slowly and gently moves the broom towards the bat on the side opposite the door.  The bat resumes flying about the room and the humans resume their avoidance bobbing.

a green lynx spider - it can shoot poison up to 1'!

a green lynx spider – it can shoot poison up to 1’!

Soon, one of us casually mentions that bats eat mosquitoes.  I’ve been slapping mosquitoes all through the movie.  The bat really isn’t bothering anybody; it’s back on the ceiling again, watching, checking us out.  Gryph and I return the gesture, talking to the bat and admiring it.  We grab the camera and at one point I’m standing on the couch with my face less than 2′ from the bat.  Yes, we do know (and take into consideration) that bats can carry rabies and that this is a wild animal.  We collectively decide to let it stay and resume watching the DVD.  I didn’t get a single mosquito bite the whole rest of the movie!

one of Gryph's allies

one of Gryph’s allies

 

 

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not our ways

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Sometimes sad things take longer to share.  Especially around things that feel like they make no sense I have a tendency to need to try and figure out the Reasons – whether that’s the “big picture” God’s Eye View or the crucial mistake – I have a need to Understand, to find a story I can tell myself (and you) that makes it all make sense.  A fool’s quest – but there it is.  The saga of the goats is one of those things.  Remember back in February when Pearl had two beautiful kids and everything seemed to be going well and then two days later she died?  Well, those two kids are alive and healthy and living in up Banner, much thanks to Rachelle’s rescue and care.  Pearl’s corpus is well mixed back into the molecular stew by now and the rest of us go on.
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Fast forward five months from Pearl and Spot is due to kid – it’s her first time.  I’ve done a bunch more reading and researching about goat kidding and been reassured by goat people that these things do sometimes happen – goats seem to have a high mortality rate compared to most domesticated animals.  I’ve midwifed over 100 horse births in my life but in goat world I’m still barely a rookie.  At least Gryph’s here.  I’m still  nervous.
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It’s the morning of my birthday, Saint George has left for work.  I’m sipping my second mocha of the morning on the front porch, enjoying a rambling conversation with Fox and easing my way into a beautiful morning 49 years into my tenure here on Earth.  Gryph is still asleep, the chickens are scratching around the edges of the yard, it’s peaceful.  The sudden loud panicked bleating tapering into a moan is not peaceful.  “What is That?”  asks Fox.  “Go get Gryph, it’s Spot.”  and I’m down the steps and around the house in search of the source of the sound.  I’m on hands and knees when I find her; she’s almost directly under Gryph – with a floor between them.  She’s centered under the front room of the house in a space less than 2′ high and she’s in labor.  It looks like there’s about 4″ of kid emerged but when she’s pushing it’s not moving.  She looks straight at me and bleats “help!”  Fox goes under the house and gently pulls Spot out into the yard as Gryph joins us.
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It takes Spot a few minutes to settle down again.  She’s licking and blowing and gently nuzzling me and needing some reassurance.  When she’s ready she lies down so as to deposit her kid in my lap.  The first kid is stillborn.  The cord is wrapped around his neck and one leg, the other leg is folded back along his body.  He’s white with a few small brown spots and he’s gone.  Spot is licking him and nuzzling him and Gryph is quietly crying,  “It’s so sad.”  And then there’s another kid arriving  and this one is alive!  Pure white and smaller than his brother, he’s alert and adorable.  Spot shifts focus to the new kid easily, cleaning him up and loving him.
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Gryph and I put the dead kid into a big black garbage bag and the new arrival figures out how to stand up.  Spot gives him her full attention until he’s had his first meal and then she goes looking for his brother.  Which feels a little macabre, but we roll with it and open the bag so she can see her dead kid.  I make up a story in my head about her saying good-bye. She goes back and forth between the two kids a few times and I make up a story in my head about her working out the difference between alive and dead.  Then she starts licking and cleaning her dead kid who is still wrapped in most of the afterbirth.  It turns out that the afterbirth is what she is after, because goats eat their afterbirth.  They don’t do it because it’s fun, they do it because they need the nutrients – which means that despite the fact that there is something deeply and viscerally disturbing about watching an herbivore slowly masticate a large and bloody mass we stand back and let nature take its course. Before breakfast.
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And things are good for a few days.  Quid spends a lot of time sleeping in the hollow of the venerable cedar.  Spot is attentive and the nursing is going well.  Quid is adorable and getting better at gamboling and cavorting between naps.  Then in the afternoon on day 3 Spot takes Quid under the house, tucks him in behind the concrete steps, and leaves him there.  Eventually we bring him back out but she isn’t interested.  It takes two humans helping so he can nurse.  He starts getting wobbly and weird.  He won’t take a bottle and his attempts at nursing are getting feebler.  Spot is more inclined to push him down than to help him find her teat.  Cute turns pathetic and hope goes grim.  When he’s two weeks old he starts head banging (unable to stand up) and we give up.  No sense prolonging the misery. Meanwhile, one side of Spot’s udder has dried up and once Quid is gone we let the other one dry up as well.  It’s all just too much.
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Which brings us to August with Spot and Taz sharing an enclosure more or less harmoniously and lately a bit more amorously.  Of course, last week Spot figured out how to climb the goat fence panels and ate most of the millet patch before it could come to seed. I’m stymied by the goat situation.  The idea was chevre, goat cheese, which I love, also milk – both of which would reduce the grocery bill.  Meanwhile, while the chickens pretty much feed themselves, the goats do not.  Having goats costs money.  Gestation on a goat is about 5 months – so the soonest we’ll have milk available for human use is the end of January.  That’s assuming things go better this next time – and my track record isn’t so good!  Maybe I’m just not meant to have goats at this point in my life?  (But we do all love Spot and we’d miss her if she wasn’t here.)  Obviously, I’m still working things out.
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And this is where I bump back into my search for Reasons, Meaning, Understanding. Because sometimes a sad farewell is really a search for nutrition.  Sometimes a nanny knows there’s an invisible fatal flaw long before a human does.  Sometimes a fantasy is a whole lot different from a reality.  And sometimes goats just die.
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The Blank Canvas

i had a fry cook dream the other night
i was working at a cafe
that catered to creatives
it was called the blank canvas
the menu was a blank page
a writer came in and ordered an oxymoron
so i sent out jumbo shrimp
i awoke in a panic
– what if they’d asked for an extended metaphor?

A month and a half ago I sent that in an e-mail to my friend Tom in Ireland.  I was feeling frustrated about my progress (or lack thereof) writing much of anything, much less anything that I felt was “good enough” for “the book”.  He wrote back instructing me to “go to here: (insert the above) and stay there, regurgitating…”  I knew what he meant and I knew he was right but I was in the middle of everything and couldn’t figure out how.  July was swallowed whole by visitors and projects and while it was a great month on many levels, sitting down and writing wasn’t exactly one of them.  And then it was August which started out with three shifts in two days at my waking life job as a fry cook.

the blank canvas

the blank canvas

So then it was Sunday and I was out of excuses.  I wrote the dream on an index card and pinned it to the porch railing.  With the encouragement of my cohorts I set up a wee cafe’ on the front porch and I’ve been going there every day since.  As small as it sounds I’m aiming for “at least” 500 words a day and I’ve been doing it.  Not every day’s writing is brilliant, not every day’s writing is aimed at “the book” because that’s not the point.  The point, as far as I can suss it out from here, is that the only way to get better at writing is to write and keep writing, because that’s what writers do.  And they do it even when there are other things to be done.  They do it even when they’re not in the mood.  And e-mails don’t count, although today’s blog post does – because I spent the morning on editing and re-writes (after working with Gryph to restore and reseed some of the lettuce pallets.)

One of the difficult things about writing is that it often looks a lot like sitting around  doing nothing.  Last week, while I was writing, I had a visitor who walked up on the front porch and asked me “Whatcha doin’?”  I said that I was writing, working on the book.  She asked a few more questions and then asked “So, have you accomplished anything productive today, or just… writing?”  (she waved her hands dismissively at my computer on ‘writing’).

Well guess what!?  If I’m going to be a Writer and eventually have a book Written, then probably The Most Productive thing I can be doing is: Writing!  And I’m claiming that.  I know there will be days I don’t manage to write.  There will also be days that I let the world fall apart around me because I’m Writing.  The beauty of a cafe’ is that it’s absolutely appropriate to ignore the other patrons, to disappear into my own little world, and Write. I’m not being rude, I’m working.  ;-) Thanks for the encouragement!

Speaking of work, that’s Gryph, on silks during her final performance at NECCA (Circus School).  There are more photos up on her blog at:  www.finehornsfancy.wordpress.com.  While you’re there be sure to check out her paintings by clicking on the words “Art Portfolio” over on on the left side of the page.  It was a huge encouragement to her when one of her paintings sold last month.

Oh, maybe I should ask for opinions on this one.  Along with the sage advice recounted above, Tom wrote: “Treat your material with Irish flexibility of factuality, no one, other than the worst of muggledom, wants to hear bald truth! People subconsciously require to be shaken awake with that which is, at the least, unlikely, and at the most Elysian fantasy.” True or False?

 

 

 

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cohabitation

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I’ve always dreamed of an inside-outside house.  A dwelling place where the boundaries get a little blurred and I don’t feel so much like I’m trapped in a box.  The dogs and cats appreciate not having to wait for a human to open the door and I love hearing the insects and chickens and cardinals and the wind in the trees.  I also love the privacy of living in a green bowl surrounded by trees and shrubberies.  Walking back down the driveway with my mail,  seeing the random gardens and the laundry on the line, the magnanimous front porch where we share meals and hatch plans and talk and laugh and sometimes simply sit and ponder, watching the goats and the chickens foraging, Brownie sleeping at the top of the steps and sun tea brewing in a gallon glass jar – I am happy.   This is a good place for me to be.
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When my folks arrived they wanted to help get the house in better shape heading into next winter.  We discussed various ideas over the ‘phone until Saint George pointed out that the Bible says a house must have a solid foundation – and that we needed to start by leveling the floors.  Of course.  Let’s start with the dining room as it’s the most desperate.  My folks arrived a day late due to cancelled flights and an unexpected night in Chicago.  The 4th of July found mom and I in Oxford, MS with a wagon train of Home Depot carts and half the young men in the store helping locate and load cinder blocks and cap blocks by the score, 6×6 beams for the house to rest upon, highly specific nails and bolts and screws, a 5 gallon bucket of KILZ, etc, etc, etc.  Then all of these things had to be loaded onto a 16′ long flatbed trailer and driven carefully home.  Meanwhile, back at the Smallholding, Dad and George and Fox were disemboweling the dining room and coming to grips with the extent of the problem.
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Gryph was busy painting closets: a Fire closet in which to store winter blankets, linens, towels, etc.  and an Air closet for hanging clothes.  I love them.  The shelves are made of bamboo, cut to length and laid side by side with their ends supported by small wooden ledges. There’s a beautiful stand of bamboo invading the forest, coming through the fence from Jo’s place.  If you’re going to be invaded, bamboo is a lovely and useful thing to be invaded by.  We’ve been harvesting carefully selected canes for various purposes, like hanging a privacy curtain around the outdoor shower and shading Vienna (as the soaking pool has come to be called).  Free and renewable construction materials are a blessing.
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"This is what 74 looks like!"  ~ Dad

“This is what 74 looks like!” ~ Dad

For several days in early July, life as we knew it was suspended and revolved around jacks and crowbars, saws and mallets and shovels.  The wall between the dining room and the great-out-of-doors disappeared and will be replaced by summer screens and winter insulation panels.  The wall between the dining room and the kitchen disappeared in favor of an eventual bar/counter top.  The floor disappeared entirely and cinder block steps were constructed to ease travel between the kitchen and the rest of the house.  Years ago, the kitchen was a separate building – the connecting dining room was a later addition (and not properly tied in to the rest of the structure) so this was a taste of what that time might have felt like (with the added modern bonus of hot and cold running water and electricity.)  There were scary moments of living in “Big Creak” as the weight of the house shifted and adjusted.  Mom and Gryph were Herculean in cleaning and organizing the shifting kitchen – and the weeding and garden chores I’d fallen woefully behind on were caught up by the end of the week despite heat and humidity well beyond the call of duty.  My amazing mother even managed to figure out how to weed the millet, which looks very like the grassy invaders it was infested with. THEN it was time to head off to a family reunion in Missouri, leaving the construction carnage behind.
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At this point, largely thanks to Saint George, the floor joists are in place and enough of the floor boards are down that in-house navigation is no longer a hazard.  There’s a wide open space instead of a dining room wall.  It’s actually glorious in an strange (and knowing it’s temporary) sort of way.  The entire kitchen is very much an inside-outside space and it’s working just fine.  Mosquito nets have helped immensely in terms of getting a midsummer night’s sleep and the unseasonably cool weather we’ve been enjoying lately has me lulled into an obviously false sense of my ability to handle summer in Mississippi with no air conditioning.  On a hot day, a Vacation to Vienna helps immensely – soaking in cool water in the shade lowers the entire body temperature very quickly and even a five minute visit makes the next hour much more tolerable.

Saint George

Saint George

Summer is a strange combination of busy and slow, accomplishment and sloth.  Everything stops while the hummingbirds attend to the zinnias.  The dogs have the most regular routines in the house.  The prevailing relationship between humans and insects ranges from fascination to irritation.  The bees visit the Basils every day, making me wish I had a hive for them to live in (basil honey?  please!?)  Some of the hugest dragonflies I’ve ever seen swoop across the garden, along with multicolored moths and butterflies, large and small. Epic struggles transpire between spider and hornet, That One and a June bug.  I love the nights I drift off to glimmers from a firefly that has strayed inside.  When did I become so accustomed to sleeping inside every night?  What’s keeping me from stringing my hammock up outside and sleeping in my forest instead of inside my stout log cabin room?  On the other hand are mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, horseflies, hornets and midges.  The less attention we give those sorts the better.
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There’s a new hen in the flock, a white Leghorn named Tart.  She arrived from Jess’s where she was the lone remaining member of a flock.  She’d survived there, solo, for most of a year until one day Saint George brought her home.  This was a good thing since Stretchy had disappeared under the house at the end of June taking her daily egg with her. Occasionally one of us would see her, so we knew she was still alive, but when the rest of the flock went to roost she was conspicuously absent.  Jo assured us that she was setting but nobody had seen an egg and we weren’t even sure of her nesting place.  I thought she was probably delusional and hoped she’d eventually get hungry and come out to join the rest of us again.  Then last week she showed back up with two little mushroom-headed chicks.  I’ve been calling them “Bait 1″ and “Bait 2″ – but they’re not dead yet!  Good Momma, bringing them about and teaching them to forage by day, tucking them in under her wings under the house at night.
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The ponies are back in the close (1 mile away) pasture where it’s easier to visit with them. Wednesday Saint Finehorn finally decided Gryph had done enough penance and allowed her up for a ride.  When they returned to the pasture Jesse James let them know in no uncertain terms that he was mightily upset to have been left out.  As I type, Gryph and Fox are bringing both of them back to the house to get tacked up for a ride.  Hopefully by the end of the summer Luna Jack will be coming along as a riding horse as well.  The urge to go walkabout is strong but Fox reminds me that I have a book to write before I can go on another adventure (so I’d best get rolling on that project!)
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Back from a ride!  Fox opted for a nap so it was Gryph and I on our faithful steeds down the road as in days of old.  Gryph rode Finehorn bareback, as they prefer.  All three dogs accompanied us and we went “around the block” – a 6 mile loop.  It was amazing.  In the midst of all the muchness, everything suddenly felt normal.  Beautiful, sane and normal.

humans: "Bliss!" ponies: "duh?  about time you two remembered - let's go somewhere."

humans: “Bliss!”
ponies: “duh? about time you two remembered – let’s go somewhere.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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20 years later…

cucumber plant

cucumber plant

The last time I tried to grow a zucchini I was living in Albany, NY.  I’d rented a drafty little old house blessed with a double lot – it was the original farmhouse from way back when but by the time I lived there (20 years ago) a ghetto had grown up around it – I was the only Anglo on the block.  I was thrilled about the big yard when I moved in mid-December and immediately started planning a garden for Spring.  I dug and planted, sprouts emerged and started growing, I was gone for a couple of weeks and when I returned I went out the back  door to discover a dark green, perfect zucchini (if a tad over-large).  I harvested it immediately, brought it into the kitchen, laid it on the cutting board and started slicing.  The sudden aroma of gasoline emerging was incredible – I literally couldn’t believe it at first and started sniffing around my kitchen for the source of the smell.  Ugh – it really was coming from my beautiful squash.  Realizing I wouldn’t be able to eat a thing from my urban garden that summer I locked the back door and didn’t venture into the yard for the rest of the year that I lived there.  (An over-reaction, probably – but I was that upset.)
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Three weeks ago my folks arrived in Big Creek to celebrate my 49th birthday (2.July) and it was a delight to share with them a meal of my first ever successful zucchini harvest (about time!?!) – along with a delicious pesto from home grown basil and tender, sharp little Mikado turnips served raw.  That night I almost felt like a smallholder.  Then last week we had two days of heavy, hard rain and 3/4 of the corn crop laid down – dropping the young pole bean vines at the same time.  Bummer!  The reality is that I live in a world with grocery stores and this is not a major crisis in terms of my yearly food supply – but it’s sure a reality check!  If I really was a pioneer I’d probably be a dead one.  On the other hand, if woman could live on basil alone…

zinnias

zinnias

 

 

 

 

 

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