Thursday, June 28, 2012

Simmer and Steam

The heat index has been in the triple digits all week with no relief in sight, unless you count a "cool front" with temperatures at 98 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit as relief.  Technically, it is relief - negligible relief.

So far, my animals seem to be alright.  Wally behaves as if he feels okay, but his hair is spiky and stiff from sweating.  I hope this is normal Wally physiology.  Ginger does not sweat in the heat unless she exerts herself, which of course she does not.  Duke is allowed to sleep in the house at night and he falls into such a deep sleep that I check on him several times to make sure he is okay.  My neighbor lost one of her cats to the heat yesterday.  I assume if this terrible heat and humidity continue with no true relief in sight, livestock, crops, and human beings will begin to succumb.  Already the machinery is failing, with cars and trucks stalled in both directions along I70 between my exit and Topeka.

I do not know if this terrible weather is the result of anthropogenic action.  It would seem logical with a human population at such incredibly high numbers, the highest in the entire existence of the earth, that our industrial activities would make a significant and harmful impact. In the long history of the earth, the climate has dramatically changed causing immense die-offs of all manner of lifeforms.  So, maybe it is a double-jeopardy of natural cycles coinciding with peak human activity that is going to deal homo sapiens and fellow lifeforms a punishing blow over the next centuries.

All I can do for now is pray for mercy and be thankful for air conditioning.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rite of Passage

When Dogs Go Wild

Eventually, every farm dog succumbs to the siren call of reeking trash.  That cute little puppy, the Jake'N'Bake, has been working diligently at the cans and finally broke the code.  This was the scene that assailed my senses when I stepped outside to enjoy the unexpected rain Saturday morning.  Not surprisingly, there were no canines visible from the front porch, neither whisker nor tip of a tail.  Everyone knew a serious dog crime had been committed.

No dog has ever been "disciplined" for this treasonous act mainly because it is discovered long after the fact.  But the dogs all know exactly how happy I am when picking up stinking trash because I cuss and shout and give them the evil eye and repeat "Bad Dog!"  They fully understand this is a transgression of magnitude.

I do not remember Duke ever knocking over trash cans.  If I set a bag of trash on the porch (to carry to the cans later), Duke will not touch it as long as I am home.  If I leave the premises, even for fifteen minutes, that trash bag is fair game in Duke's judgement.  Even then, if I drive in and see trash strung from hell to breakfast, the Duke is conspicuously absent.  He is suddenly too busy to greet me, his beloved master and benefactor and the supreme ruler of Spirit Creek Farm.  There is no barking, no joyous whining, no jumping, no effusive greeting and enthusiastic tail wagging and sneezing.  The guilty cur stays out of sight until I call him.  Dutifully he answers my call, head down, and takes tiny little dog steps toward me, his guilt so great he cannot make eye contact.  It is so pathetic and pitiful that I normally do not even yell at him any more.  He is a dog after all, not a saint.  Duke cannot pass up an unprotected bag of trash any more than I can pass up the treats in the break room at work.  The spirit is willing...

As of Saturday morning, Jake had not been party to a trash raid nor had he witnessed Duke's shame and guilt demeanor.  But Jake is no dummy.  He was quiet and out of sight, too.  It is normally impossible for me to open the front door without being swarmed by these two dogs.  Stepping onto an empty porch was the first clue of a trash raid.  When I was cleaning up the mess later, Duke stayed far away and thereby implicated himself.  Jake could not help himself and came within ten feet of me, but laid submissively on the ground, following me with his eyes.  Once all the shameful evidence of the trash had been removed, the cans set up and the lids tightly returned, those two dogs were immediately unburdened.  Their pitiful guilt and shame fell away and they were born again into the innocence and happiness of a good dog's normal life.  "We are happy!  Are you happy?  See how easy it is to be happy?  Let's all be happy right now!"  And why not? 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Pick Up Game on the Prairie

Lucky me, I just happened by this pick-up game of equid competition between the Stripes and the Wild Asses.  I do not know the name of the game, none of the rules, nor how either side knows when they have scored, blocked a point, or won the game.

The uniforms are great though.

A Leopard Cannot Change Its Spots Nor a Horse Her Bossy Ways

Wally the new horse has slipped into the routine of things here at Spirit Creek effortlessly.  He covers a lot more ground in the pasture on any given day than Ginger would on her own, so she might be slimming down a bit with so much more daily exercise.  He is not allowed out of her sight.  If Wally sees me at the barn or at the "front gate", he comes to investigate.  There might be treats involved, possibly even pears.  Ginger must come too because someone named Wally might get something only she should have.

It was just wishful thinking on my part that Ginger would be so darned happy to have a nice companion that she would transform her bossy ways.  Wally is allowed to arrive at the barn or the gate first.  Wally can be petted and showered with attention:  ear scratches and head rubbings and neck huggings.  Wally can sniff every pocket and nibble at everyone's head with his rubbery horse lips.  It is all good until someone brings out the treats.  In the interest of my horse's' health and well-being, I rarely give her a real peppermint candy.  Instead, I buy peppermint flavored horse treats that Ginger likes almost as well.  Either it was the peppermint treats or the honeymoon is just naturally off.  When I stopped at the gate this evening on the way to run an errand, Ms Thing actually laid back her ears and threatened poor Wally because he dared to take his share of the treats! 

Wally deals with any rebuke by merely turning his back and feigning disinterest, a good, solid move on his part as far as I can tell.  He did not get clobbered by Ginger - but her body language was crystal clear even to a dolt of a human like myself.  I gently slapped her face away when I gave Wally his second and third share, and that put her in an even bigger snit.  I was sorely disappointed.  I thought Wally was the boss.  Wally thought he was the boss.  Ginger has cleared up any misconceptions on our part.

But Wally already knows his true worth to Ginger.  After only 36 hours together, it was Ginger's scheduled farrier visit.  Ginger was in the round pen and Wally was busy sampling the mineral block and otherwise snooping around in full view next to it.  Afterward, while Terrie put her equipment away and I paid her, I left Ginger in the round pen.  That way there would be only one horse at large when I opened the gate for Terrie to leave.  As soon as Wally, following me toward the gate, was out of Ginger's sight, she began urgently calling to him and pacing worriedly in the pen.  It was actually rather heart-rending.  Wally, like the true gentleman he is, answered her calls and immediately returned to wait patiently in sight of her.  She was quiet but still pacing, afraid she was going to be left in the round pen where she could not follow Wally.  She wanted to bolt out of the pen, but I made her behave herself and led her out of the pen and made her lower her head so I could remove her halter.  (Since Wally's arrival, I am even further down Ginger's list of lowly peasantry - probably the very bottom.)  If I ever have to separate those two horses, it is going to be a terrible thing for all of us.

We all know Ginger loves the Wallymeister with all her heart and soul - he just better keep his handsome horse lips to himself when it comes to the peppermint treats.  That's all she's sayin'.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Hawk Couple and The Dangerous Wild Animal

The hawk pair that nest in the bend of the river just south of Ginger's pasture are back again this year.  It is highly upsetting to them whenever I go into the southwest corner of the pasture.  Both parents fly out of sight, calling loudly in warning and alarm, "kerrrrrr, kerrrrr" (my best written impression).  When I tied ribbons on the fence Friday morning, it upset them and they remained upset the entire morning, based on their calls.  Saturday morning when I was cutting the fallen tree I must have been too close for far beyond their tolerance level.  Both birds were agitated.  I caught brief glimpses of one then the other through the trees.  They called more frequently and urgently and they continued calling so long and loudly that we could easily hear them from the road later in the day.

Using binoculars I have tried to locate their nest from the safe distance of the road, at least a third of a mile away, but so far have had no luck.  I consider their nesting on my creek, possibly on my property, as a mighty blessing.  They hunt my pasture and meet in a tree in the winter months at dawn right out my window.  They belong here and I hope I did not disturb them so much that they move their nest.  They hunt a much larger area of prairie than just my few acres, but they are headquartered here.  They are most welcome, even if they should ever take one of my chickens.  It would be a small token of appreciation from one human being to all of red tail hawkind for every hawk heartlessly shot out of the sky by human beings who have viewed them as pests and an enemy.


Three o'clock am and the dogs were barking at something.  Poor old Duke still barks, but his voice is muffled and weakened by age.  The coyotes know the Guardian of Spirit Creek is too old to truly defend against their nighttime sneaking anymore.  But in their circle, those wild cousins surely honor his brave warrior spirit as he alone protected this farm for the last thirteen years. 

Jake is a strange dog, not a cross of German Shepherd and Chow as advertised, but of German Shepherd and some exotic small breed that gives him a sleek look and the propensity to not bark much.  Both dogs were barking at something I judged as not too dangerous based on the lack of ferocity in their voices, maybe a racoon or a opossum.  But then I heard Jake yelp.  Oh oh.  I went to investigate in my underwear.  Underwear does not give a person any psychological advantage whatsoever - just FYI.  I used the trusty headlamp to investigate what might be attacking that ding-a-ling pup with no farm savvy. 

At first I thought Jake had cornered the rat that has been chewing through the wiring on my lawn tractor and the battle was ON!  With double extra large underwear girding my loins and crowned with The Light, I charged forward to avenge my stricken tractor against the vermin, screaming like a righteous banshee!  It was a small gray calico cat, almost starved, who calmly faced the horror of my vengence with perfect feline equamity.  We stared at one another for a long moment and then I carefully reached toward her.  She was friendly and happy to see a human being, even one in its underwear.  I fed her dog food and water out of Jake's dog bowl.  She is most welcome here, too.  Hopefully she can avoid Jake's enthusiastic and possibly harmful intentions until I can get her to the vet, and nursed back into good heath.  She was covered with fleas and ticks so I did not pick her up or try to bring her in the house.  I hope she is still here this evening when I will have time to deal with her with my clothes on.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I Ain't Bull Sh*ttin' About the Poison Ivy!

When I walked the fence Friday tying yellow ribbons on the wire as a safety measure in preparation for Wally's homecoming, I discovered a few things that had to be taken care of first thing Saturday morning.  Last year a large dead limb fell across the fence.  I was able to heave that limb off the fence without too much effort.  Friday I found that the rest of the tree had fallen across the fence in the same place.  It had to be sawn apart before I could move it, but the numerous limbs were fairly small in diameter, so it was not too difficult to cut the tree into pieces I could handle.  The bad news is that it was in a spot of tall grass and poison ivy, the bane of my existence.  Once I had removed the big tree, a hated juniper was growing directly beneath the fence, growing through the strands of wire.  It had to be cut down - at ground level - where the poison ivy was happily growing.  I had no choice but to get down and rustle around in the poison ivy, sawing this way and that, telling myself I would be extremely careful to bathe with Clorox water later.

I also found that when my cattle-raising neighbors had 'somewhat' repaired the deteriorating fence shared at the east end of my pasture, someone had thoughtfully left all the old hedge posts laying on my side of the fence, hidden in the grass where the sharp pointed ends could cut my horses legs and hooves.  I also found an enormous wad of wire someone had wrestled into a large, dangerous ball and thoughtfully hung on my side of the fence, some of it still buried in the ground.  At least it was visible to Ginger so she had avoided getting tangled in it all this time I was unaware such a hazard was in the pasture.  I also found a piece of crumpled aluminum siding in the grass where it was like a multi-bladed razor waiting to cut into unsuspecting legs.  And as you may easily guess, there were beer cans, hundreds of feet from the road.  What I did not find was my missing 'no hunting' sign. 

I do not know if this is some unspoken rule of fencing that I am unaware of, that the party repairing a fence leaves dangerous crap lying on the neighbor's land without saying anything about it.  Maybe it was an honest oversight.  What I do know is that after my fence was put in, and before I turned Ginger lose, I had worked diligently to clean up all hazards I could find. If those fence posts had been already lying along that fence, I would have found them and removed them then.  There was so many posts that they literally filled the back of my truck.  The wad of wire was roughly five feet in diameter.  Thanks to a recent rain, the ground was soft enough I was able to pull the buried ends out.  I had no idea how far it might go when I started pulling it up.  I had to work pretty hard at it, but eventually I got it all out of the ground and into the back of the truck.  The harder I had to work, the angrier I became.  I would never do such a thing to any neighbor.  Since I am not a big cattle rancher, not a descendant of the first settlers, and since I only own a measly 26 acres, it must be acceptable to leave trash on my side of the fence. How much I wanted to stack it all in one big pile right inside the gate on the other side of the property line.  I did no such thing of course.  There is only one person to be angry on this side of the fence but a whole dynasty of people who would be mad on that side of the fence.  My daughter helped me unload it at the landfill later that afternoon and I tried to dispose of my hard feelings with the trash.  The good news is that Ginger had not been harmed and I found it all in time to keep Wally from unsuspectingly hurting himself.

So that was Saturday morning.  I took the requisite Clorox bath later that afternoon, taking care to pour the holy water over every place poison ivy could possibly have touched me - except my face and neck.  When I woke up Sunday morning, I was pretty sure there was going to be a reckoning with the poison ivy.  By 9:15 Sunday night, it was so bad that I went to the ER.  I am going to post the brutal truth from the ER, but believe me, and my vanity assures me of this, I am much more attractive than I appear in this photo.  And I do not think this picture does justice to the angry red swollen face.  It was spectacular! 
With Poison Ivy
Without Poison Ivy

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Wally Arrives at Spirit Creek

Wally and Ginger 
Someone Call Us for Treats?

Wally, but I call him William Wallace

The Peace of Horses

Soggy and tired, the Old Dukenator rests beside the car.

Jake, entirely tuckered out.
Friday morning at 6 am the prairie was still wet, but the dogs and I headed out to Ginger's pasture to tie yellow ribbons on the fence all the way around the pasture.  That was to help Wally, the new horse scheduled to arrive that morning, to easily see the fences.  I thought I could accomplish this in an hour, but the total length of the fence is right at a mile.  It actually took almost four hours and all of us were hot, wet, and tired.  Since I had just immersed myself in a literal mile of chiggers, I took a bath with a half-cup of clorox in the water, the only thing I know of that prevents chigger bites.  In dry clothes, I drove up to the gate to wait.  Duke and Jake rested in the road beside the car.

Ginger had followed along the fence to keep an eye on the ribbon tying.  She must have sensed something was about to happen because for no reason she tossed her head and took off for a grand gallop to the far east end, then back, then she was off for the far corner and stayed there grazing, done with it all.

It seemed to take forever, but eventually we heard the truck and trailer approaching.  I was a little worried.  You never know what might happen with horses.  It was perfect that Ginger was out of sight.  It would be a great surprise for her to discover a horse in her pasture.

I heard some commotion in the trailer as I opened the gate to the pasture, but soon out steps a tall Arabian, his head high, wondering what in the world was about to happen.  He was nervous, but like all horses that have been well-treated, he was trusting his people, which is the most heartbreaking thing about horses.  I called Ginger three times.  Just when I thought I would have to go get her, I saw her rounding the low hill in the southeast corner of the pasture.  She came, mane flying, thundering directly up to Wally.  She was beautiful, shining like a copper penny, her neck arched and her nostrils flared.  There was a lot of snorting and Ginger squealed and threatened to kick, but never did.  When Wally's halter was taken off, both horses took off.  Wally ignored Ginger and Ginger was instantly smitten with this handsome new guy.  Within a few minutes, both horses were grazing.  The former owners said "That's it.  They are a herd."  They were not worried any more for Wally.  They said Wally was going to be the boss.  "Imagine that," I said wonderingly.

As far as Ginger is concerned, Wally is the best thing since carrots.  She does not even want to boss me around but we will see how long that lasts.  Wally is a wonderful spirit.  He is kind and friendly.  I see him motionless and staring to the east sometimes.  I know he is missing his home and his herdmates but hopefully that will not last too long.  Ginger absolutely adores him.  I do not believe she will ever kick or bite him - I can even feed him treats first and she does not pound him with a kick to the belly or a bite on the butt.  I absolutely adore him.  He allows me to wrap my arms around his neck and give him a big hug, which Ginger only tolerates for about 30 seconds.  Wally seems to enjoy being hugged.  He will soon find out that he is king of the world here. Maybe that will make up for being homesick.

Thanks to Barry and Linda for the wonderful gift of Wally.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Another Horse...

Since the young horse, my dear Annie, was lost to me, I have been looking for another horse.  It has been an ordeal.  The first horse I considered buying was a beautiful palomino with a blemished ear.  There was no spark of recognition between that horse and me, so I did not get her.  A year later, I looked at her half-brother who was even more beautiful.  I decided against him because his hooves had horizontal splits in them, either through neglect or disease or both.  After a long winter, I reconsidered but by then the owner did not want to sell. 

I have talked to several horse rescues too, and I wonder how they ever manage to rescue any horse as they are full of changing schedules, no shows, failure to return calls, and all manner of et cetera and et cetera.  Some of the horse rescues have such restrictive rules that it is a wonder they ever manage to place a horse.  I understand wanting to forever protect the horses from the same horrendous abuse and neglect they've suffered, but a good dose of common sense would help those rescue people out, and the horses, too.

Then the palomino brood mare that seemed to be such a sure thing last winter was lost when someone arrived at the holding pen and took possession of all the horses.  The sheriff in Osage County would not reveal the man's name who took those horses.  Many people fear that after being rescued from starvation, finally taken away from their owner by the courts, those horses ended up at slaughter anyway.  I sincerely hope not but when the sheriff is not willing to identify the new owner to anyone, it casts a long, dark shadow of doubt.

After that, there was the spirited bay horse that turned out to be far too high-powered and valuable.  He had a tangibly sweet spirit and I would have taken him but a more knowledgeable person identified him as a tremendously valuable sport horse.  He had been judged by a male trainer as a "crazy horse that was going to kill someone" but none of the women who had dealings with that horse felt he was crazy or dangerous.  He went to a woman trainer and then was sold to an experienced woman rider.  I have not heard of anyone being killed by that "crazy horse" yet.

Next came the black paint mare with a white valentine on her face.  I thought that was a sure deal.  I liked her a lot.  She turned out to be even more stubborn, uncooperative and difficult than my horse Ginger. Which is not saying that much, really, but the black mare was going to require a lot of work on ground manners and standing for the farrier and such.  So rather by general consensus, that horse became a no-go, after three months of patient waiting. 

I most recently talked to another woman with two horses needing homes.  One was a quarter/draft cross mare.  The owner thought she would not be a good fit for what I am wanting.  The other horse, a pony, found a new home while I was exchanging emails.  In desperation, I called a woman with miniature horses for sale.  I was sorely tempted because this would be the chance to accomplish the lifelong dream of bringing a horse into the house - just once!  I could at last appease the four-year-old in me that once ferociously dreamed of bringing Cricket, the dear old broke-down cowpony my Grandpa sent to my parent's farm for me to ride.  Or, more appropriately, for me to sit on since the poor old thing, after a lifetime of hard work, refused to do anything but patiently stand in one spot.  I loved that horse so dearly that I wanted to bring her into the house so she could be warm in the winter.  I wanted to go to sleep at night hearing her comforting breathing next to me and wake up to see that dear old face first thing.  My parents were not willing to indulge me to that extent, amazingly enough.

But all of this disappointment and worry may pay off today.  At 10:30 I am going to take a look at a handsome gray Arab gelding.  His owner wants him to go to a good home where he will be well-cared for and loved, petted, and looked after.  I think Ginger will adore a male companion.  I hope this is the end of the long quest to find a companion for Ginger, and to put another horse into my pasture.  It is so much fun to stand at the barn calling horses.  They come running, manes flying, racing to see who will get to the barn first for a peppermint, or a carrot, or maybe just scratch behind the ears.  Most always they get a treat so they will come when called.  Sometimes Ginger refuses to answer the call - it just depends on how she feels.  But, if it is possible that another horse might get a peppermint, Ginger races to the barn, too.   

I hope the long wait is over at last.  I will keep you posted.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Venus Passes Before the Sun - Next Show: 2117

It was reported on local early news that a camera shop was selling eclipse viewing glasses which allow people to safely look directly at the sun.  The glasses were necessary in order to witness Venus passing between earth and the sun.  So, I made a trip to get a pair of Eclipse Glasses.  They look like the olde tyme paper glasses handed out at the 3D movies in the 1950's, except the film in them is so dark that nothing is visible through them except the sun.

I had my doubts as to whether I would be able to see Venus with my less than perfect eyesight.  Late in the afternoon I drove up the road to get a clear view of the setting sun.  I donned the fashionable glasses and fixed my mortal gaze upon the nearest star.  And yes, through the magic glasses, there was a perfect black circle appearing on the face of the sun - visible proof, a tiny little tick in the spinning gears of the physical universe.  There may be a few children here today who will be alive in 2117 to witness the next transit of Venus across the sun, but most of us will be long gone.  It puts things in perspective.

This photo is from the most wonderful web site in the world:  Astronomy Picture of the Day.  "Occurring in pairs separated by over a hundred years, there have now been only eight transits of Venus since the invention of the telescope in 1608." Quoted from APOD.
Venus Transit 2012
Image Credit &
Copyright: Chris Hetlage

To see many stunning photos of the Venus transit, go here:
(Especially look for the photos posted by Neil Winston.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

After the Storm

The Sweetest Day of the Year...

In the Gloaming

Kansas Exotica
When cool northern air settles into Kansas displacing the humidity and heat from the Gulf of Mexico, the sky becomes a brilliant blue jewel glowing behind scintillating white clouds.  The beauty follows the storms.  Heaven could not be more beautiful.

And when the sun slides into the west, a magic hour transforms the green prairie into a golden glowing realm - the perfect time to photograph zebra.