The days are spinning into weeks faster than I can weave them into any sort of sense, my journal lies untouched, my calendar is blank. This doesn’t mean that nothing is happening – but the sense I had on the ride of moving forward every day towards a tangible goal has been (temporarily?) suspended. I feel like I’m living in a kaleidoscope of moments: of chores and weather and animals and morning mochas and visitations and sudden crises and random miracles and riding in vehicles and my very own mail box and house training two dogs and wee bits of progress and Gryph visiting from Vermont and sweet potatoes and venison and happy new year and frozen pipes (bad) and frozen biscuits (good) and “your horses are on my lawn” and a $30 trip to the laundromat in Calhoun City and late morning sunshine on the front steps of the porch and the bathtub starting to sink…
…all the while negotiating the wood stove and keeping a fire burning at an appropriate level – until the morning I walked across the floor and the stove pipe came apart inside the house and smoke came pouring into the room and lucky for me I was on the ‘phone with Jess and he told me to shut the damper quick! Then I held the hot pipes mostly in place with a folded towel while Jess called Mike and asked him to come rescue me real quick. I guess the floor is going down a little under the weight and heat of the stove? In any case, with four hands we could fit the pipes back together and there’s a new (and very useful!) wire in place, pulling the vertical pipe back towards the wall.
That was the same day I woke to the sound of Jesse James clomping his way up the steps and across the front porch and banging on the front door because 8am is enough of a lie-in for any sort of human and where’s his breakfast? The afternoon before, he’d come up wondering where I was disappearing to – so I showed him the house and he discovered where the feed is stored. He’d really like to live inside with me and once it’s warmer I’ll be outside a lot more (and the windows will be open so he can visit) but meanwhile there’s a hay string tied across the porch as a reminder that the floor probably isn’t strong enough for him to live on.
The ponies had spent a couple of weeks in a pasture down the road and they loved the chance to stretch their legs a bit but I missed them and mr.James was feeling sad and barely speaking to me and there was another mare already in residence who seemed determined to be divisive, not only driving Jesse and Finehorn apart, but trying to keep them from me as well. Then came the honk in the driveway at 8:30pm, horses out again! Gryph and I found Saint Finehorn restless in the pasture and she walked with us through the Cold Dark Night in search of the outlaws. She was spectacular, a great golden beast, solid and confident in her pursuit; she led over half a mile us to the Chapel Hill Cemetery where Jesse did his best to apologize to her (she was having none of it) and Cocoa did her best to keep us from getting a halter on mr.James (with no better luck). We got home with the herd before 11pm, the stars were epic! Then Cocoa went running through the goat fence, tangling it all up and eventually spent the night tied to a tree since she wouldn’t leave the other two alone. Next day her owner came and retrieved her and we ran tape through the woods to make a big enough yard – tho house yard or barn yard would be tough to figure.
The word “menagerie” comes to us from the French. In the 1700s it referred to housekeeping, which at that time included the care of domestic (farm) animals. In modern English usage it refers to “a collection of wild or unusual animals, usually kept for exhibition.” The past month has given me a much deeper understanding of that sort of devolution. The ponies and I have been joined by one Perfect Cat, two dogs (Sheela and Brownie), three goats (of the original four picked up in TN) and four ridiculously glamorous Polish chickens (two hens and two roosters). This brings our current numbers to 13 – with Luna Jack yet to return from Texas.
I’d had very definite ideas about the animals I planned to have here. Very definite ideas about a lot of things, but the animals in particular I’d really thought about. The idea of a smallholding is a measure of self-sufficiency including some surplus to barter or sell. I had two young goats (Spot and Spotless) waiting for me in Tennessee from last summer. They’re half Saanen (Swiss milk goats, lovely serene temperament and lots of milk) and half Nigerian Dwarf (mischevous African multi-purpose goats, higher butterfat content – for better cheese). I also picked up Mama Pearl, a full Saanen doe, coming 3 years old and in kid to a Saanen buck. She’s an experienced milker and a good mom, walks on a leash, gentle with people, a lady. The girls were supposed to be bred when I picked them up but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Instead I also acquired a (still a bit too young to do the job) Dwarf Myotonic billy goat – aka Tennessee Fainting Goat – except he doesn’t seem particularly prone to fainting which makes him devilish hard to catch. Gryph claimed him on sight and named him Billy Taz – which suits him (but I hadn’t planned to have a billy on the property).
Meanwhile, early on, I came out to find Spotless lying dead with her horns in the electric fence. There was no sign of struggle (the fence is super flimsy and I didn’t even have to reset it) and there’s not nearly enough current to electrocute anything – but there she lay, dead. Bad morning, that one. So – three goats – and not 100% sure Mama Pearl is pregnant because she’s theoretically due on Valentine’s Day and she doesn’t seem nearly fat enough. Gryph and I got a new pen set up around the hedges so the goats can browse the landscape and today I’m experimenting with letting Mama Pearl roam free while the two youngsters are in the pen. At night they’re all still locked up safe in the stock trailer until I can figure out a barn.
I’d planned on a herding dog – thought I’d lined things up to pick up a 12 week old English Shepherd puppy on the way down, but she had found another home by the time I arrived and somehow I wound up with Sheela-na-gig. Eight month old survivor of a puppy mill, agoraphobic and crazy smart and practically feral. At one point she holed up under the house and it took me two days and offerings of raw duck meat to get her back out. Most of the time she’s either hiding under the bed or under the house, generally with a leash attached so I can retrieve her. She’s slowly getting better, loves to cuddle, hasn’t messed in the house in several days now – and runs away from the goats when they so much as look at her.
Then, a watch/guard dog. My idea had been a Great Pyrenees or something along those lines, to live outside and keep predators away. Well, the best laid plans… A friend’s father passed away, leaving 7 dogs in need of homes. Brownie waited for me at the Humane Society in Oxford until I could get to Mississippi and bring him home. He’s 19 months, a hound cross, meaty, beaty, big and bouncy – and no respecter of boundaries. One day I tied him up while I went to visit the ponies and when I turned around, there he was, having cheerfully chewed through the rope because I couldn’t possibly have meant to leave him behind! He’s absolutely determined to be a house dog and wasn’t even close to house trained when he arrived. The doors in this house are mere formalities, not a one of them closes securely, certainly not enough to keep out (or in!) a determined dog. Brownie is gimpy with pins in his left shoulder from when he tried to herd a car and it honestly hasn’t occurred to him that I might like to know if somebody shows up – but his friendliness extends to the goats and the chickens and everybody else and he lives here now – so be it!
I’d envisioned a grizzled old Tom Cat, battle scarred and maybe a little grumpy, to keep the rodent population at bay and sleep in the sunshine. Instead I’ve been adopted by The Perfect Cat (which has become his name) who is young and beautiful and brash and self-confident and sleeps on the bed more than I’d thought possible and has such incredible rat mojo that I haven’t seen Any sign of a live rodent since he arrived. (That’s saying something considering the open bags of feed in the parlour!) Gryph was instantly enamored and I keep thinking of that line from The Sound of Music, “somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good”. Every once in awhile I do find myself saying things like, “Perfect Cat, that was an imperfect action.” But those times are rare indeed.
Then we come to the topic of chickens. I’d done my research and I had my heart set on French Marans. Plump, black, multi-purpose hens that lay dark chocolate colored eggs, rare enough to be worth a bit if I had extras, but desirable mostly because they’re good layers and the surplus roosters would be tasty additions to the larder. Then Chris and PeeWee showed up with a wee chicken house and constructed a pen and Cathy brought me 4 Polish chickens (which are from the Netherlands, not Poland) – two hens and two roosters. Polish chickens are mostly ornamental, glamorous and silly and bred for looks. We named one of the roosters Bowie (David, not Jim of the Knife), the orange one became not-Bowie, the hens are the Bobettes and there you have it. They make lovely sounds and Jesse James thinks they go perfectly with his go-go boots – he has taken to sleeping by the chicken coop at night.
Gryph and I found a bunch of Hedgehog mushrooms in the forest next to the driveway last week, brought them in and sauteed them in butter and garlic with a pinch of pink salt – yummy! Hedgehogs are my favorite mushroom, and these are much bigger than the ones in the North East – Hydnum Repandum, they’ve got “teeth” instead of gills or pores underneath and nothing poisonous looks even remotely like them. Really an exciting find and I’ve marked where they grow so I don’t do anything do disturb the area. Unexpected Treasure!
Just to keep life interesting the weather has ranged from the high 70s with a tornado warning (no tornado, but the big winds blew a tree down across the driveway) to a low of 7 (during a multi-day cold spell which froze all the water except for the cold faucet in the kitchen sink which I kept running for the duration – glad I know how to flush with a bucket!) The rain has been frequent enough to make the “yard” rather swampy (when it’s not frozen) and the sun has been shining enough to make life more cheerful than not, even when it’s too chilly to sit on the porch for very long. Yesterday morning I went to make coffee and the pilot lights had gone out – a little proud of myself for swapping out the propane tank “all by myself” (yes – silly). Meanwhile it’s taken me three days (between everything else) to get this blog post written, photos loaded, etc. because the internet keeps cutting in and out. Such is the life of a modern day “pioneer lady” (which is what they call me in town).