Saturday, January 22, 2011

This Isn't 'Little House on the Prairie'

I wish I could say "winter marches on" here in Brumley Gap. More like, it creeps --  a wooly white blob from a B-movie that crawls over the landscape and doesn't really frighten, just annoys. I would like to kick it. During the shortest, darkest days a few weeks ago, I barely held my tongue as so many others rejoiced in sledding, snowmen, missed school days and hot chocolate. It seemed like the height of luxury in the oil age, that so many had nothing more to do than play in week after week of snow, or that they could put off the outside chores and wait for breaks in the bitter wind. How lovely. The animals here can't wait to be fed, water troughs can't be left for the spring thaw. Water hoses freeze, eggs freeze, gloves that inadvertently get wet mummify into macabre black ice sculptures, and snowdrifts are always uphill, both ways. Worst for me is that the weather calls to a halt the work I love most, the "fun part." That and, I worry about the animals. After raising children for more than 25 years, I would like not to worry quite so much.

Of course I realize how ridiculous it is to complain compared to what our forebears endured, and of course I know that I chose this life and dream of no other. Look who's talking about "oil age" luxury  --  an environmentalist who generally means well, but who went ahead and warmed up the truck before driving to work every morning, and slurped down several packages of processed frozen SeaPak shrimp scampi, scowling, daring anyone in range to mention that it wasn't local. What does logic have to do with anything? I often reminded myself that wincing in psychological pain over the weather is like obsessing about the colorlessness of water. Then I promptly offered a tongue-lashing to anyone who cracked a smile at the majesty of the winter landscape.

I have to admit it's getting better. Though I'm wary of speaking too soon on this cold-but-sunny January 22, the days seem to have lengthened just enough to let a little sun shine on my frosted soul. I can live with temperatures in the 30s and 40s about half the time, instead of constant bone-chilling teens. I have managed to ride horses a few times a week and, no matter how much I am spitting about the cold when I get on, I always get off grinning and relaxed as a wet noodle.

The blessings of living on this farm just keep coming, no matter the state of mind I have to receive them. The hens we brought home as pullets in the spring last year have laid eggs every single day like clockwork, beyond all reason in this weather and at this time of year. I've proudly walked into a friend's house several times bearing extra dozens of eggs, blushing in the knowledge that her hens haven't laid for months. Ours are hybrids called "Red Stars," representing a wobble in our loose commitment to heritage animal breeds on this farm. We ordered them in advance of their arrival at the feed store, and were rather horrified to discover they came with their upper beaks clipped. Beaks are clipped for large-scale commercial production (to limit hen-pecking injuries)  --  unnecessary for our situation but far worse, making the goods in our first real farm animal purchase look really, really stupid. Picture Miss Prissy (the Looney Tunes hen who had a crush on Foghorn Leghorn) with the under-bite of an English bulldog. The maiming, it turned out, did not affect their good health and foraging abilities, and now I cannot recommend them highly enough. Just ask my girlfriend who gets all our excess eggs.

My favorite story from recent days involves my 9-month-old filly Salsa. Doug and I were huffing around the pasture on the first good day we had for checking fences and the overall condition of their space. We found that the horses' round bale of hay, about 4 feet tall, was looking a little rotten on the outside, so Doug began to roll it to make the crummy layer flake off onto the ground. Suddenly, I saw horse behavior I'd never seen before:  Salsa ran up and threw her front legs over the bale like a kitten on a ball of yarn. Walking on her hind legs, she followed the rolling hay 20 feet, trying to hold the bale in place with her front teeth, apparently to keep Doug from taking it.

Yellow sunshine on golden hay
bright russet coat shining
horse and rider prance
thanks be to the heavens
for a warm winter day.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Please Enjoy the Music While You Wait ...

Several friends / readers have asked me lately some version of Hey Bathtub Lady  --  did you drown? Thank you for asking. I'm still breathing but have drowned in a way, in not one but two heavy and overly ambitious blogs that are a long way from being finished. (This plus the full-time work, the farm and the horses, and of course, having so many of my daughters at home.)

And to think I recently announced I wasn't going to blog again unless I thought up something "fun and funny." No such luck with the two behemoths I've got in the hopper at the moment. Sometimes I feel the ghost of Edward Abbey following me around, reading a particular set of lines from Desert Solitaire: "Roy's expression saddened ...  He looked away and into the emptiness, thinking again; the smoke from his forgotten cigarette rose slowly into the haze beneath the ceiling." [And here, Ed's crotchety ghost voice, about the last one a woman wants to hear when she's sunk into the bathtub, adds extra emphasis aimed especially at me.]  "Stop that, I wanted to tell him. Stop that thinking."

Tonight I write with plans to publish some lighter, shorter fare, more regularly. Look for a simple update on the horses and the farm tomorrow (or maybe the day after). Other ideas are getting jotted down under the heading "Edward Abbey Might Actually Approve."