Winter Days

If I had a blog, today I would write about The Greenwood in winter.

The Missouri Arctic

The Missouri Arctic

Winter is back. Yesterday’s high was 15 degrees (with 25 mph winds) and today is even colder. The low last night was -2 and we’ll be lucky if we crawl into the teens for a high this afternoon. The snow that fell on Monday is reflecting most of the sun’s warmth back into space, leaving us wrapped in a blanket that offers no warmth. Until the weather breaks, our lives revolve around caring for our animals 24-7; keeping them well-fed and sheltered from the wind and snow.

Rain in the Snow

Rain in the Snow

Yesterday, despite the wind, we let the horses out for the day to stretch their legs and get some fresh air after three days in the barn. Horses are a great source of potential energy and when they are kept up, that energy builds day by day until they can get outside and burn it off. They made quite a spectacle of themselves, running, bucking, and even rolling in the snow; thrilled to be out in the sun and cold. Watching them play like kids on a Snow Day always lifts my spirits; at least someone is enjoying life in the freezer. I don’t really hate the cold weather, but as I get older I tend to adopt the Zen of the Hen instead.

The Zen of the Hen

The Zen of the Hen

Over at the chicken house, the tenor is quite different. My laying hens, rooster, and Ferdinand the duck prefer to stay indoors when snow is on the ground. I opened their door to the coop this morning, but no one wanted to venture out. The hens spent their day on the roost, under their heat lamp, or busy scratching for the dried mealworms I scattered in the straw as a treat. Ferdinand, my fawn and white runner duck, did have to forego his daily bath, but he when he saw his swimming pool had turned into a skating rink, he, too, was content to nestle down in the straw and enjoy winter from afar, alongside his roommate Edward, the Australorp rooster. I promised my boys warmer days will return, but even as I said it, I wondered how many times I’ll make that promise before the cold is through.

The Horse Barn

The Horse Barn

The bulk of our winter chores revolves around cleaning horse stalls. When all five horses are indoors full-time, keeping their quarters clean is an arduous job. While it is easier to scoop frozen “horse apples” and our work is certainly less fragrant this time of year, there is no getting around the fact that it’s plain old hard work. To pass the time, I turned to the mantra I used when backpacking. Most backpackers have a chant they use to distract themselves when hiking up an endless hill or trudging across rugged terrain. I adopted mine from a book I read about a woman who through-hiked the Appalachian Trail. It goes like this: “We are the through-hikers, mighty, mighty through-hikers. Every where we go-oh, people want to know-oh, who we are and so we tell them, ‘We are the through-hikers, mighty, mighty through-hikers…’ ” This encouragement has gotten me to the top of many mountain passes and today, it got me to the end of my task in record time. When I was finally able to stand up straight and stretch my aching back I felt as though I had reached the summit of Everest. Mom and I gave the horses a round of apple-treats, checked in with the barn cats and headed home for lunch in front of the fire. Mission accomplished.

Me

Me

In five hours, it will be chore-time again and we’ll start the lugging, lifting, and loading all over again. Some days I wonder why I chose this life rather than that of a business-woman. I could be sitting behind a desk in a warm office on these bitter mornings, sipping coffee and chatting with clients and co-workers, far removed from the wind that rattles the windows and the curtains of snow that dance across the parking lot, but then I open the barn door and am greeted by a symphony of nickers, clucks, meows, and crows that remind me just how much I am needed by the creatures I love. I might be able to earn more or achieve more at another job, but nowhere on earth could I feel more complete. This is where I belong.

The Perfect Christmas Eve

If I had a blog, today I would write about my recipe for a perfect Christmas Eve day.

Sawyer - Zen Master of the Nap

Sawyer – Zen Master of the Nap

Throughout the years, I’ve always had trouble knowing what to do with the daytime hours of Christmas Eve. In our family, we actually wait until evening to start our celebration, so the early part of the day can be a little flat. Well, no more. Today I discovered the perfect lead-in to my favorite Eve of the year: Spend the day with cats. There is no creature on this planet that understands the finer points of rest, relaxation, rejuvenation better than a cat and today, I let Sawyer and Claudia Jean set the tempo of my day.

Claudia Jean

Claudia Jean

The three of us got up early and had breakfast, then returned to bed for an hour of luxurious rest. I left the cats curled up among the blankets and did barn chores around 9:00, then returned to the cat-cave for more nourishment of body and soul. After a long bath, with cats sitting on the tub’s edge, basking in the steam, I gave myself a pedicure, put on my comfiest jeans and a favorite shirt, then did a bit web-surfing with Claudia perched on my shoulder like a guardian angel turned gargoyle. She particularly enjoyed the funny cat videos a friend posted on Facebook.

Claudia Working Hard

Claudia Working Hard

By then, it was time for a holiday ice cream cone (shared among the three of us), followed by another rest-period. I plumped up the pillows on my bed, put a heating pad on my back, and snuggled beneath my favorite fleece blanket, the edges held down by my feline friends. We napped and watched a movie, then napped some more. Occasionally I’d feel a bit guilty for doing nothing more than lounging, but one look at the cats, dozing peacefully around me, and my concerns vanished. If the cats’ say its ok to lounge, then its ok to lounge.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Even though I don’t put much stock in New Year’s resolutions, I am tempted to make “Cat Days” a regular feature in my life this coming year. Cat’s understand something we humans don’t: They are masters of the art of “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and that is a skill I desperately need to learn. Today, for the first time in ages, I feel relaxed, refreshed, and filled with peace – the things I believe Christmas should bring. Thank you Claudia and Sawyer, for giving me this rarest of gifts – a truly happy Christmas Eve.

 

My Shopping Cart

If I had a blog, today I would write about the oddity that is my shopping cart.

It never fails. Every time I go to the store the cashier comments on the contents of my cart. Usually the comments are curious, but friendly, and I can see why my cart draws attention. Even in a world where you can by Twinkies and horror movies in the same store, my shopping habits are a little out of the ordinary.

In the top basket you will find fishing worms: Big, fat Canadian nightcrawlers, no wimpy red wigglers here. Their presence usually results in the comment, “Gonna go fishin’ this weekend?”

Mr. Turtelle

Mr. Turtelle

“No,” I reply, “they are for my box turtle.”

Blank stare, possibly accompanied by a, “Uh-Huh.”

“You see we have this box turtle that got run over in our garage a few years back and although we saved his life, he can’t use his back legs properly and can’t go back to the wild. He lives in a big terrarium in our spare room.”

“Uh-huh.”

Out of the bottom of the cart come four big bags of  dried mealworms.

Male and female cashiers alike  handle the vacuum sealed bags with their fingertips and say something to the effect of, “Eew. What eats these?”

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Since there are bluebirds printed all over the packaging, the question seems rather unnecessary, but since the answer isn’t bluebirds, I proceed with, “They are for my pet duck.”

“Pet duck?”

“Well, we used to have a whole flock of ducks that were free range, but three years ago, a coyote family ate all but one and now he lives in the barn with our rooster and the mealworms give him good protein.”

“Uh-huh.”

Sawyer - Mr. Sensitivity

Sawyer – Mr. Sensitivity

Then I extract two bags of dry cat food, different brands, and a box of wet cat food.

“Wow, you must have a lot of cats,” says the cashier.

“I have four, but one has an environmental sensitivity and can’t eat cat food that contains wheat gluten or corn.”

“Uh-Huh.”

By the time we get to the more banal pet items, the cashier’s interest has waned. She scans the cat litter, dry dog food, wet dog food, and black oil sunflower seed without comment.

At last we come to a few packages of human food: Ice cream, bread, milk, and the like. It accounts for about one-quarter of the grocery bill.

I try to make light of the situation, “I spend more on my animals than I do on myself,” I say with a self-deprecating smile.

“Uh-huh.”

My mission complete, I wheel my cart-full across the parking lot and heft my purchases into the car. Occasionally an older gentleman will ask if I need help loading the 50 pound bags of bird seed and dog food. By the time I’ve thanked him and politely declined, he can see the rest of my purchases.

“Gonna go fishin’ this weekend?” he asks.

“Uh-huh,” I reply.

Chaos Theory

The Morning Buzz

The Morning Buzz

If I had blog, today I would write about the fact that when I am running the farm by myself I don’t have time to blog. My day starts early, around 7:00. My first order of business, after starting the coffee, is to let the dogs out and feed the hummingbirds. I swig my coffee and down a bowl of cereal while the dogs circle like sharks homing in for a feeding frenzy. I could feed them before I eat, but I’d pass out from hypoglycemia before I got my own breakfast. Feeding three, very opinionated, elderly dogs, is quite a process.

If you can't be smart, be regal.

If you can’t be smart, be regal.

Bree, the eight year old Pyrenees whose motto is: “If you can’t be smart, be regal,”  won’t stand up to eat. If I put the bowl down before Bree has positioned herself, she will lay down on the dish and end up wearing her food. Even so, I often have to wash her shaggy neck after breakfast, especially if wet dog food has been involved.

Owain, Hank, & Mom

Owain, Hank, & Mom

Hank, the eleven year-old yellow lab, is a grazer. When he’s at home with David and Kindra, he has free-choice food and nibbles all day, but when he’s in Doggy Daycare at my house, its eat or be eaten, so I have to keep encouraging Hank to return to his food before Owain descends. Owain, the eleven year-old border collie is the smartest, and fastest, dog in the world. Even with hip dysplasia, he can whip in and clean up everyone’s leftovers in just a few seconds. That might not seem like a problem, but since we’re dealing with geriatric dogs, everyone takes medicine and no one takes the same kind, so there’s no sharing of food at breakfast. So, in the end, my job is food referee. Once  the dogs have gone out again and are secure in the knowledge that the proper scent is dominating the yard, they crash for a morning nap. That’s when I go to the barn.

Where have you been?

Where have you been?

Regardless of the weather, the horses are waiting at the gate when I drive into the barn lot. Their long night of grazing has tired them and they are ready to come in, stand under their fans, and eat hay during the hot part of the day. If I am late, my big paint horse, Rain, will be six inches taller than usual, boring holes in me with her stare of desperation. Before I bring the girls into the barn, I fill their mangers with hay and put a handful of feed in their bucket. If I fail to do this, Nika, Mom’s Arabian, squeals and bangs on the wall with her hooves until her needs are met. It reminds me of my first job, working in a daycare. If only horses responded to “time-outs.”

I love you! Feed me.

I love you! Feed me.

Once the equine contingent is munching hay, I feed the barn cats. Toby and Miranda want their breakfast, but they also want their morning tete-a-tete. It often comes just before I leave the barn, but I always make time to sit on a hay bale and love on my two tiger-cats. Miranda is the last surviving member of three siblings I adopted in 2003. Her brother Viggo and sister Tasha have passed on, but soon after Tasha left us in 2012, a new yellow cat entered my life. His name is Toby and I suspect he found me after his owner, an elderly neighbor, died. Wherever he came from, Toby is a sweetheart and his soft, tawny coat matches Miranda perfectly.

Edward & Fardinand

Edward & Fardinand

Then its off to meet the needs of the poultry. Two of the feathered-folk live at the barn: Edward, the huge, black and shiny rooster and his life-mate, Ferdinand, the white and fawn runner duck. Ed and Ferdie have their own digs because they were a little too randy to live with the lady-birds. Edward is too big to “tread” my smaller hens and ducks just have a different sensibility when it comes to romance. Feather-pulling is a integral part of the ducky love-dance and since all of my lady-ducks perished in the coyote massacre of 2010, Ferdie was turning my hen-house into a nudist colony. Fortunately, Ed and Ferdie are very happy together and, in today’s world, I think it is lovely they can live together without fear of discrimination.

My Ladies Fair

My Ladies Fair

Once I’ve filled Ferdinand’s swimming-pool and offered Ed some mealworms, its off to the hen-house. My girlie-birds used to be free-range, but after the massacre, when I lost fifteen beloved hens in twenty-four hours, the flock is now restricted to getting their fresh air in the safety of their coop. Every morning, they are waiting at the little chicken door, like a group of nuns called to morning prayer. I let them out, feed and water them, and head back to my house, where I have one last family member to feed.

Telly in the garden with Mom

Telly in the garden with Mom

Because having the standard fare of domestic animals was not enough, we also provide living quarters for a three-toed box turtle. Mr. Turtelle (Telly for short) has been our friend for almost twenty years. Until 2011, Telly was a wild turtle who summered in our yard. He’d arrive in May, patiently waiting by the back door for a handful of grape-tomatoes or apple-bits. We fed and watered him through the heat of summer days, then, with the coming of frost, Telly would vanish into the forest to hibernate until spring. In 2011, that changed. One fateful night, Telly got into the garage and when Dad went to work the next morning, he accidentally backed over our beloved Turtelle. Telly’s shell was cracked (thank goodness it wasn’t fully broken) and one leg was almost torn off. It was an awful day, but thanks to a very kind veterinarian, we pulled Telly through the worst. The only lasting damage is Telly’s inability to retract his injured leg and it is because of this, he cannot return to the wild. The leg would make Telly vulnerable to predators during the summer and to frost-bite during the winter, so now he lives with us. He has a spacious terrarium in our spare room where we keep his humidity and temperature at optimum levels year-round. He has a UV by day and a infrared heat-lamp by night, a bathing pool, a basking stone, and his own iPod that plays bird songs during the day and night sounds after dark. Telly does quite well for himself, dining on earthworms, tomatoes, and apples. He is my Turtle Prince and I am The Worm Goddess, dispensing bounty from on high. I am honored to serve such a noble creature.

Now, with the morning round of animal care is done, its almost eleven and time for lunch. After that I’ll start watering the yard and feed the hummingbirds. Soon it will be time for afternoon chores to begin, but, to be honest, there’s no where on earth I would rather be.

The Dominion of Cats

Claudia Jean and her feather boa.

Claudia Jean and her feather boa.

If I had a blog, I would write about cats. I believe, if cats had opposable thumbs, they would have developed a civilization equal or superior to our own Why? Because there is no animal on the planet that ponders, “I wonder what would happen if I….?” more than the cat. I watch Claudia and Sawyer go about their daily rounds and nothing escapes them. The smallest change in orientation or location of a trinket immediately catches their eye and they must, at all costs, investigate the possibilities.

Sawyer's First Christmas

Sawyer’s First Christmas

In the world of cats, the most important questions to answer are: “What does it taste like?”; “Is there any way I can make myself choke on it?”; “Will it come apart if I claw it?”; “Does it make my owner use the word, ‘expensive!’?” and “What will happen if it falls to the floor?” Once these properties are tested, the cat will then decide if its worth further investigation or if, like most things, is it simply to be ignored. If time is short, the one test all new objects must pass is the “falling to the floor” test, thus proving that cats could, at the very least least, grasp the rudiments of Newtonian physics.

Miss Miranda

Miss Miranda

Personally, I think the real obstacles to feline world domination are cats themselves. If they rose to power, they would no longer be the pampered pet; fed, groomed, and appointed with riches such as cat trees, heated beds, and fleece-lined blankets. To rule the world takes energy and that would seriously erode the 18 hours of sleep cats require per day. The biggest problem, though, would be an organized military. Ever heard the phrase, “That was like trying to herd cats.” ? Yeah. unless they could recruit dogs to work as enlisted soldiers, I don’t think we’ll see a feline version of Patton’s 3rd Army marching into Japan to put down a tuna rebellion.

Those Gypsy Eyes

Those Gypsy Eyes

And yet…what can we say about a species that rose from lowly wild creature to domestic icon more than 9500 years ago? Ancient Egypt was quite a coup, and the Middle Ages a bit of a blot on cat history, but today cats are living large. They have personal-shoppers, personal-groomers, personal physicians, and a chauffeur to drive them hither and yon. They draw a bead on soft-touches like my myself and insinuate themselves into our lives with ease.  In addition to Claudia and Sawyer, who sought out my cat-allergic brother before coming to me, I have two barn cats: Miranda and Toby. I adopted Miranda from the vet clinic as an abandoned kitten and Toby just appeared at the barn a few years ago, looking for a nice place to call home. He found it, too. The barn cats have a heated “Cat Room” complete with cushy beds in winter and a cool fan in summer. No cat in my world lives life on the edge of anything but obesity.

Toby's Bedroom

Toby’s Bedroom

So who’s to say? Maybe the cat has accomplished with guile and beauty what man cannot attain: An endless sea of willing servants, loyal unto death to these marvelous, frustrating, curious creatures. Long may they reign.