Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Best Birthday Present Ever

The photo on the right is a self portrait. Though it bears a certain resemblance to the Light at the end of the tunnel in a near death experience, or the brilliant aura of a highly evolved spiritual person, it is only me, wearing the best birthday present ever.

It is an Energizer L.E.D. headlamp with an adjustable headband in stylish green and black comfort elastic, and three settings. The portrait shows the main head lamp. There is a "low beam" with two smaller LED's that look like Terminator eyes, and the infra red beams that look like devil eyes glowing in the dark.

My kids gave this to me for my birthday a few days ago. It is to wear to the barn in the winter mornings when I have to feed the horses before dawn. Luckily, I have a complete and utter lack of vanity which enables me to actually wear it.

I think it blinds the horses or maybe it just irritates them. Duke was embarrassed for me, but he still accompanied me to the barn. The chickens crowded around their little front door when I looked in on the them, their little eyes glowing, as they jostled and craned their necks to investigate.

I am fully aware of the implications here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Formerly Known as Tiny Elvis

This is Elvis, the Porcelain D'Uccle rooster I raised from a peep. When he was an adolescent, he was so goofy looking with his silly top knot comb. He zipped around in the pen with a certain attitude, like a little punk rocker. That comb reminded me of the famous Elvis hair style from the 1950's. Because I knew he would be handsome when he grew up, I named him Tiny Elvis.

Almost fully mature, his iridescent feathers befit a king. He is now simply "Elvis".

Elvis is the most vocal of all the roosters, and he crows at all hours of the day and night. He is practicing to woo the laaaaaaadies! In his mind, he is a hunk of burning love.

As I suspected, Elvis is even more fearless than Big Man, the smallest but most dominate rooster. Unfortunately for me, my work coat is red and all four roosters try to attack me when I am wearing it. I have to chase them around and throw the plastic feed cup at them at least once a week. This does not hurt them, but they act as if they have been attacked by the most horrifying predator known to all of chickendom. Well...they ARE being attacked by the worst of all predators known to chickendom. Even if they can not recall that I have handled them gently and lovingly, fed and watered them every single day of their lives, they are not so dumb after all.

See Elvis as a goofy adolescent here:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Morning

Christmas dawn was beautiful, but fleeting. The ephemeral glow rising behind the black lace of bare trees was a delicate greeting out the east window. Once again, I was thankful for my humble home here beside Spirit Creek.

Christmas has lost almost all of its magic for me. My children are grown and the one beautiful granddaughter - Miss Thing, as I affectionately think of her - is tearing around in a black Mustang. Not much an old hippie grandmother can offer by way of Christmas magic to her these days!

Every year I recall my childhood excitement over the magic of Santa Claus. I gave serious consideration to the magical aspects of Santa Claus when I was a child. As a three year old, I accepted the magic, but by the age of six I was seriously doubting some of that story. It just did not add up. By age eight, I knew better than to believe in Santa Claus. Christmas has held a shade of disappointment and depression for me ever since I concluded Santa was a fairy tale.

To shake off the nostalgia of Christmas Past this morning, I planned special treats for the animals of Spirit Creek Farm. Ms Ginger and Ms Annie, the resident Horse persons, received a red apple and a green apple diced up in their feed this morning. Ginger expressed her appreciation for a Christmas treat with her usual regal disregard. I was summarily dismissed from the royal feed tub once breakfast was served. Annie has not yet learned what treats are. Tart Granny Smith apple bites are a surprise rather than a treat. There was much head tossing as she tasted the tartness and mouthed the unexpected textures of the apples in the feed. She makes me laugh. There is a sweetness about her that is so endearing.

The ol' Dukester, that good old dog, was in his usual high dog spirits. For one thing, it is really, really cold. He chases around like a pup, and flops over on his back in the snow, growling his delight at the weather and the fact that I am home in the middle of the week. He was jealous of the horses' treats and I had to admonish him to get out of both feed tubs. I do not understand why, but Duke thinks he has to eat horse feed. He thinks he has to eat chicken feed and cat food, too. But, if I leave him a little bowl of horse feed or chicken feed, it is left untouched. It is not a serious character flaw for a good dog like Ol' Duke, but I think dogs have been our companions for such a long evolutionary time that they are acquiring our worst traits, like jealousy! Santa Claus did not forget the ol' Dukemeister, jealousy aside. He got a warm, steaming soup bone served up in his dish this morning. He stared at it so I had to encourage him toward his bowl. (Maybe he was thinking: There IS a Santa Claus after all!) Merry Christmas, Duke, you good old dog!

Big Man and his merry band of trickster chickens were not forgotten on Christmas morn. I scrambled a half dozen eggs, shells and all, and threw it in with their scratch this morning. The roosters have a little ceremony they do whenever they find new food. They test it to make sure it is edible, then they call the others with a low rolling cluck, as they peck the food and drop it repeatedly. The rest of the flock know to come investigate. Of course, the hens have already recognized it as food and have been gobbling up as much as they can, but I am sure they appreciate the roosterly good manners. I only felt a twinge of guilt feeding eggs to my chickens but the eggs were not relatives, you know.

Mrs. Kitty received warm milk poured over her kibbles this morning, and I know she thoroughly enjoyed that treat. But she does not give a rat's behind that it is Christmas, either.

As for me, I am going to take my little bag of cheap Christmas presents over to my daughter's new home, only five miles from my front door, as soon as I finish this post. No more traveling 1,500 miles, or 3,000 miles, or more to see my daughter at Christmas. Now she is home right here in the Flint Hills. We will be painting and scraping old wallpaper today - not the usual Christmas. My handsome son will be there too. It will be the best Christmas.

Merry Christmas from Spirit Creek Farm.
Peace on earth, good will toward (some) men and all animals.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gingeris Khan, the Horse Empress

This is a digital photo of a paper photo - Ginger when she was two years old, the first year she came to Spirit Creek Farm.

I do not know how Ginger, my American Quarter Horse mare, would stack up in a herd of other horses but I do know she would not give up her crown as Empress of Spirit Creek Farm without a tremendous battle of will. She is not a mean horse, but a willful one and I recognize that determination.

I do not know a lot about her early life. She was foaled on a farm somewhere by Lawrence, Kansas. The owners were allowing their horses to freely breed, so Ginger was sold away from her mother and her herd due to overcrowding. At her second home, she was a bit flighty and "buddy sour" and so she was sold again, the second time she was not wanted. The day she was moved to my house, Ginger trustingly loaded for her second owner, not realizing she would never see Mac again, her beloved stablemate. I only had an eighty foot pen with a three sided run-in for shade when she first arrived. Before spring was gone, there was a nice open-sided barn for her to shelter in. It took another season to get the full pasture fenced so she had space to roam.

When Ginger lived in the corral, she was fed twice a day, groomed, petted, loved and fed carrots or apples. She eventually seemed to bond with me. It was a lot of work when she was in the pen, keeping manure out of the stall and out of the pen itself. I spread a mountain of horse manure around my pasture from the back of my pickup. The last big mountain of horse manure became so large that there was enough to spread over the entire pasture. I hired one of my neighbors who owns all the correct farming equipment to spread an enormous pile of horse manure. Whenever I looked at that huge mound, of which I had personally scooped every steaming ounce by hand, I became mighty self righteous. Ginger should love me unequivocally, I thought. She should appreciate how much I work and sacrifice for her, I thought.

In the deep of winter, when the temperature does not rise above freezing for days, eventually the water tank freezes solid. I have to haul water buckets up hill for Ginger, and I am old... and overweight... and my knees hurt. She should love me and appreciate me, I always think sorrowfully to myself. But horses, especially bossy horses, do not think in these terms. They seem to know they are descendants of the great horse nations that predate human beings on this planet by thousands of years. They apparently have genetic memories of the time when humans were slow, miserable beings, huddled in caves, banging rocks together for amusement. In the considered opinion of modern horses, human beings have not evolved much. In Ginger's opinion, we have not evolved at all.

She came to me knowing most of the things she needed to know - how to lead on a halter, pick up her feet and stand for a farrier. She has never liked having a bit in her mouth, but willingly allows one to be placed there. I can saddle her, flap towels around her, and place a fly mask over her eyes, but I had to work really hard to teach her fly spray would not hurt. She hated the sound of it.

No one had ever ridden her, so I sent her off to be trained for riding the summer she was four. I regretted leaving her at those stables, though I could clearly see she would be well cared for. She would have many horse friends, too. I thought she would enjoy that time away at horse school.

When she came home, I was thinking I had a finished horse to ride. As I was picking myself up from the ground, I realized that Ginger held the same opinion of hauling me around as she held for fly spray: NO WAY. She held as much respect for me in the saddle as she has for me scooping out her stall. Not only was it embarrassing to fall off a horse (for the first time in my entire life) but it hurt my feelings. I was so bummed out that I considered selling Ginger to someone who could still ride, someone with good knees.

So, sadly I advertised "Pretty little Quarter Horse mare for sale." I was selling her very cheaply, and not even factoring in all the labor for hauling water and scooping manure! A young cowboy came to look at her. I had never personally sold a horse before, so I had no idea what I was doing. Not to mention, my heart was broken at the idea of Ginger going to yet another home.

I saddled her up and snapped a long line on her. I told the young cowboy that anything Ginger did not know was my fault. As I tried to long line her, for the first and only time ever, she reared up like Roy Roger's Trigger- right in front of the young cowboy and his girlfriend! I was appalled! He said she was a nice looking little mare but too much horse for him. As he walked away, I looked at Ginger and she was looking back at me. Devil horse!

When I told my kids what happened, they each had the same separate response: "She doesn't want to be sold, Mom!" Well, duh! She would have to work and behave herself if a cowboy owned her.

Eventually, I had a replanted tall grass pasture, and a good fence around about 22 acres, so I was able to let Ginger out of the dry lot where she had lived since she came to Spirit Creek Farm. My friend Kathyrne helped lead Ginger all the way around the perimeter of the pasture, along the fence, as a safety precaution. When we took the halter off and turned Ginger loose, she began to trot, then run and then full-out gallop in ecstatic freedom. Her hoof beats were literally booming on the soft ground as she picked up speed, and tears welled in my eyes at her joy.

Since that time, Annie has come to Spirit Creek Farm, another post for another day. And that brings us right up to today, a cold Kansas morning when my knees were really aching and my face was freezing in the arctic conditions. It snowed and it was a bitterly cold and windy night, so the horses were eagerly awaiting breakfast. First, Ginger did not think she had to back up so I could get in the gate. Then she was immensely put out when I picked up her feed tub and tried to knock the snow and ice out of it before I poured the feed in. She kept crowding me, tossing her head, and letting me know that as a servant I was truly lacking in all ways. She worked herself into such a snit, that when I insisted she back up, she actually turned her hind end toward me and bucked up with both rear hooves pointed in my direction! She did not actually kick at me. If she had, I would probably be dead or in the hospital right now. If she had kicked and missed, SHE would be in a horse hospital right now.

So, Gingeris Khan, the Horse Empress of Spirit Creek Farm and I are going to come to a little understanding: I will not ride her, she will not threaten to kick me. I will bring the feed, she will not crowd me at the gate or the tub. She will get room, board and free medical, I get to take care of her. She gets to boss Annie around, I get to look out my window any time to see two horses contentedly grazing in my restored pasture. Somehow I think these negotiations will require all of my evolutionary gifts.