Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Sheep Is Life

This morning Joshua, one of my original Jacob sheep, who will be 11 this summer, was obviously ailing. The arthritis is exacerbated by the fact that it is 8 degrees out even though it’s March, and he was disinclined to hold his ground to eat chicken feed out of the snow with his able-bodied barn mates. He laid down, shivering, in the barn. When everyone else was sorted out, I threw a fleece blanket over him and snuck him some chicken feed on the side. Of course we were immediately discovered by the donkey and Esme, the lead female goat, past whom no grain slips. In the course of running her off, I disturbed Joshua, so he got up and limped out into the barn yard, where the sight of him in his green fleece was a shock and awe moment for the flock. I took advantage of this brief disruption in space-time to feed him a crumb of donkey painkiller hidden in a waffle. Shout-out to my daughter for leaving a waffle in the freezer last time she went back to college. 

The cast of characters has changed here since the early days of this blog. The husband is gone, the kids are away at college, the corgis and the fat gray cat are dead. Earlier this week my friend Eliza sent me a post from StoryCorps about a woman who came home from the wars and started a sheep farm to help her manage her PTSD, because the sheep react to her state of mind, so she can use that feedback to stop and look at her own spirit when it needs realignment. Eliza said it reminded her of me. I didn’t get into the question of why, probably because I don’t want to know. But we agreed with the farmer’s quote from the Navajo: dibé bé iiná. Sheep is life. “No matter what’s smoldering…the animals need to be fed.” 

There was a doctor on Fresh Air last night, talking about orchid children and dandelion children—the more biologically reactive to stress, and the less so, who take things more in their stride. My friend in Vermont thought she was an orchid, and I thought maybe I was a dandelion. Or maybe a fighting orchid. This morning I think I am a fighting orchid with sheep. It would be nice to be a domestic orchid in a good home, but given the vagaries of human life, you'd be better advised to use your sensitive wiring to figure out where to throw down your taproot and start pumping life out of the lawn. 

P.S. The meds have kicked in, and the patient is eating hay, still wearing the robes of glory. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hoof Proud

Last night after work and a hellacious thunderstorm that just hung over the house for about an hour, throwing down lightning bolts and rain until the barnyard looked like the boiling mud that spews from volcanos—except with ducks in it—the farrier came and trimmed the hooves of my donkey, Neb. His feet are sound and tidy, and James says it is the first time he’s ever done Neb’s hooves without getting cut. I feel a lot better about life today.

Somehow I had this idea that donkeys had to have their hooves done once a year, the way you shear most sheep. But one day this spring I went out to feed the barn folk and noticed that, in fact, my donkey was getting slipper-footed, like one of those “Before” pictures you see on donkey rescue websites. I was mortified, so I immediately called the farrier and set up an appointment. But when that day arrived, I went down to the gate with the halter to suit Nebbie up for his spa treatment, and he heard the halter clanging before I was halfway down the yard, and off he went down the hill, never to return until after I had gone indoors and cancelled the appointment. I called around my equine acquaintance and got the name of a sweet woman just a few miles away who has several smaller donkeys. She provided some advice and emotional support (because I defy you to name another person you know who has been on the cover of Bad Farmer magazine as often as I have), and I came home to get to work. I bought a new halter in a different color—the checkout girl at Tractor Supply advised me to point out to the donkey up front how handsome he was going to look in red, as this knowledge would make it far easier to get him into the device—and I started going out every afternoon on my lunch break and brushing him a bit with a soft scrub brush, because he likes that, and gradually introducing the new halter by sight and by feel. After several weeks of consistent appointments, lubricated by about 20 pounds of chopped carrots, this process resulted in the donkey wearing his new halter; walking on his matching new lead rope; and standing in relative peace for the farrier, magnanimously overlooking their past history together, and the fact that the farrier is male, a category which I have been told Neb is prejudiced against. The reader will also note there was no biting, which is another fast solution the donkey favors when the odds are running against him. All in all, I think anyone would agree that the donkey has made the executive decision to rise above.

Now that this handsome fellow is possessed of adorable cute feet and all these skills—we have pretty much mastered “kiss” this week, in a manner so gentle that no blood at all has been shed from my nose, though I did see stars the first couple of tries—I cannot help but reflect on the fact that when Neb stepped off the trailer here last summer, he arrived with a driving harness in his luggage, as well as a library of books on the subject. When he hastened to the graveside of the second dog to die last month—the funeral having been conducted in the family plot inside the pasture—I told him he was going to have to absorb a lot of unused dog love, and even though the new dog is coming home this weekend, I think Neb and I had just enough of a gap to establish our understanding, and that we can commence sorting out what a donkey might like to do with his time besides stand around the barn with the grazing classes, who, much as I love them, are not as smart as a donkey. There are definitely no Scrabble tournaments going on out there. The ass might like more to ponder.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Great Aunt Matilda Prepares to Ride Again

You will be pleased to know that Great Aunt Matilda, she of the Severed Limbs post last fall, is still whinnying with us, unlike Dylan Thomas's poor old aunt. This is not exactly a heartwarming made-for-TV story of recovery and renewal, but GAM's two remaining branches, each of which sport a tiny little brand new leaf, have demonstrated yet again that given the very slightest opportunity, life will find a way. And I figure if I help her recover for the same amount of time I spent inadvertently letting her perish, why, she should be in sporting condition.  A tip of the large, ornately decorated bonnet to NanaBeast for inquiring after the old one's health.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Miracle

My jade plant is blooming. A rose in December may be possible in England, but it stands the same chances in northern Pennsylvania as a snowball in hell. And here, even less likely--the indoor blooming jade plant. This thing is almost 5 feet tall and probably outweighs me, which explains why it has not left its south-facing window in years. It was started by a cat, now deceased, who, during her kitten rampages around the house, took a cutting from the plant of my friend, now deceased. Happy New Year, friends and pets on both sides of the great divide.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Using A Fat-Old-Cat-O-Meter to Optimize Burn Rate & Fuel Usage in Your Woodstove

The beginning woodstove owner may question whether they are operating the stove properly, and getting the optimal amount of heat per stick of firewood. The Fat-Old-Cat-O-Meter is a simple tool that takes the guesswork out of deciding when to add another log to the fire, and when to open or close the damper (air intake). The large indicator on the Fat-Old-Cat-O-Meter is easy to read even with your glasses off, and because its working parts work as little as possible, it will provide reliable feedback for many years.

Fat-Old-Cat-O-Meter Guide to Fuel Usage & Damper Position in Common Situations

  • ·      Indicator lying directly on hearthrug: Fuel quantity ideal, burn rate well calibrated.
  • ·      Indicator off at a distance but still in the same room: Damp it down a little, you’re burning too hard. (See illustration.)
  • ·      Indicator hugging chimneystack in upstairs hallway: Fire has died down overnight. Add fuel and open damper.
  • ·      Indicator smoking: Close the stove door, extinguish the indicator without waking it. Fuel and damper probably OK. Do not operate woodstove with door open.
  • ·      Indicator in the dog bed all the way at the other end of the house: Did you get that firewood for free? Are you hoping to move your truck into the garage after the wood is gone? Damp it way down and don’t add any more logs until it’s nothing but coals. Wasteful jackass.
Good luck with your new woodstove. We wish you many years of comfort and energy independence!

Monday, November 3, 2014

I Go Out Walkin' After Midnight

This is our tipi. If you look carefully at its interior you will see an old brown Adirondack chair. And then you will know where the center of the tipi was until we were visited by this weekend's high winds, under whose influence the tipi started heading south, literally. Fortunately, when it got light out Sunday morning, John noticed the effect that the cover was having on the frame, and struck the mainsail before the whole thing sank.

In the background to the left you can see a side view of the partially fallen tree we talked about last time.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Archaeology by Nonhumans

This fringe of roots is still attached to a tree that blew over in a hurricane about two years ago. The tree is still alive and growing aslant, with its limbs resting comfortably in the limbs of another tree some distance away. When the root mat flipped up, I naturally could not wait to look under it. There I found a rectangular stone box with fitted lid that I think may have been a water feature back in the Sheep Days (the earth is full of springs around here). I thought this was a sufficiently thrilling discovery to do for one downed tree, but this summer, as you can see on the left of the photo above, some helpful groundhog (Marmota utilis digibus) in the course of her labors, started tossing up terra cotta pipe fragments from the burrow she sited under the root mat overhang. You must admit, this is a very convenient spot to live, as it includes this huge covered porch. So I think the pipe shards are definitely associated with drainage, but I don't know if the groundhog hit a refuse dump full of broken piping (middens are another thing we have a lot of here), or if she is burrowing right through the old drain system itself, long since crushed by the weight of the world. In any event, water and marmots and the passage of time, and the passage of water and marmots through time, seem to be the theme of the day.