Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You Can Dress Her Up, But

With a full half hour before leaving for my allergy appointment (yes, I'm allergic to all of my animals: cats, horses, pigs), I styled my hair, brushed my teeth, swiped on some tinted moisturizer and mascara, and slipped on a pretty, airy summer dress. Then I jumped into a pair of patent-leather, pink-heeled sandals. A glance in the mirror assured me I was "good to go," so I flew out the door and backed the car from the driveway.
At the doctor's office, I took my allergy shots like a girl while Carol, the nurse, fussed over my new look. "My goodness," she said. "You look so nice today. Are you going somewhere all fancied up like that?"
"No," I laughed. "I'm just going home."
"Usually you come here in your barn clothes," she said. "We don't ever get to see you all dressed up."
"Yeah, all dressed up and no place to go," I sang with a big grin.
Everyone laughed. I said good-bye, high-stepped out to the car, and in a half hour I was barreling up our driveway past the swimming pool.
"THE FROG!" I yelled with horror. In a flash I parked the car and ran to the barn where sat the golfcart. Dress hiked to my thighs, I climbed into the cart, pulled the choke and stepped on the accelerator. My trusty cart coughed and spit, and I yanked the wheel to the left. I roared out of the barn but had forgotten something. So, I put the gear in reverse, backed up to the barn door, and leaped from the cart. Inside the barn I pulled an old dirty horse bucket from a pile in a corner. Then I tip-toe-ran through the grass and back to the cart. I wasn't at all used to running in heeled sandals and a dress, but I didn't have time to change: a frog's life depended on me.
I stepped on the gas, and the cart and I jerked forward, hanging onto the wheel with one hand and the bucket with the other. "I'm coming!"I shouted.
I stopped the cart at the pool, ran to the edge, squatted, and looked along the stone border.
Earlier in the day I had seen a frog zi-i-i-i-i-inging through the water--water that I had super-chlorinated the evening before. I was reaching for the skimming pole when I heard the horses squealing in the pasture: a battle of the equines. So, I ran to break up the disagreement before anyone got hurt.
Once the frog was out of sight it was out of my mind. I forgot about him swimming in all those chemicals. I went about my chores for the day and then left for the allergist.
I stumbled around the pool edge in my fancy fuschia sandals, trying hard not to overtread my ankle: Where could the frog be? I'd never forgive myself if he lay dead somewhere--dead from swimming in and inhaling chlorine for half a day.
I ran around the pool edge: no sign of the frog. I ran to one of the skimmers, pulling off the lid.
A frog was swirling, helpless, in the maelstrom created by the pump's vacuum. I reached down and scooped him up. Then I opened my fist, dreading to find him lifeless and bleached pale by the super-concentrated chlorine. Amazingly, he was still alive!
Tripping over the grass, I ran him over to the horse bucket into which I had put a small amount of fresh water. I put him into the bucket, and he began to leap for the edge. But the bucket was too deep for him to escape. Then, I teetered back through the grass to the other skimmer. Where there was one frog, there could be another. And so it was. Another frog! Scooping him up, I ran him to the bucket, too.
Then I hopped into the cart, stomped on the pedal and the frogs and I flew down the driveway, water sloshing all over the floor. We roared across the street, through our grove of fruit trees, and down the hill to the pond.
At the edge of the pond, I stopped the cart, grabbed the bucket with the frantic frogs leapng like pole vaulters, and squidged my way to the water's edge. I glanced at the muddy edge, full of divots made by the hooves of the Belted Galloways. In order to release the frogs I would have to step into the mud. I suppose I could have taken off my sandals, but the idea of squishing through manure-tainted mud and having it come up through my toes really grossed me out.
The frogs were manic and perfecting their vaulting. I had to hurry. So, with much distaste, I gripped the horse bucket handle and stepped gingerly into the mud. Two feet from the edge of the water, I sank almost to my arches. Slime bubbled around the edges of my shoes. I felt sick. Then, teetering on a small stone, I was able to pour the frogs into the pond. They slid away into the muddy water and were out of sight.
I hopped away from the edge. Mud was splattered up my calves and had hit the hem of my dress. What a mess! I would spend the next hour holding my sandals underneath the kitchen faucet and scrubbing them with Dawn liquid.
The most important thing, however, was that the frogs were safe and happy in the farm pond. I could wash the dress, and, though the sandals would never be as shiny as when I first put them on, their appearance is tolerable.
Just another day in paradise.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's all in the bone structure.

Don't think, folks, that just because your pet doesn't wrap his or her hoofs around you and licks your chinny-chin-chin that she's not expressing content or love for you. You must look for other indications that your pet is trying to get cozy with you.

You see: it's all about bone structure.

For instance, neither a horse nor a pig has a skeletal structure that will allow cuddling in the same way that a cat, a dog, or even a guinea pig is able to embrace his or her human. Horses, for one, are way too big to be wrapping themselves lovingly around their owners. That would be life-threatening, for heaven's sake. The same holds true for pigs. Pigs are round, thickly padded, rigidly made animals whose bones don't "give way" in reaction to feelings of contentment and love. It's not their fault; that's how they are designed.

The answer to this problematic attempt in assessing emotion in these kinds of pets whose bodies are a bit challenged is to find a way to contort yourself to receive their cuddles; after all, humans have relatively malleable bone structure. We need to get into position--to feel the love "their way." I found that opportunity, as I wrote last--with The Big Flapper. I was able to get him in a horse hug, which he returned in like kind--nuzzling me on the knee and rubbing his face against my chest. If I hadn't taken the opportunity to get down to his level, I might never have known how he felt about me.

So it is with pot-bellied pigs. I'll tell you the secret for getting cozy with your pig: become a pig yourself. Pigs are very sociable animals; they love the company of other pigs they know. How do they show that affection? Here's the secret: by lying close beside their friends--like shrink-wrapped hot dogs (beef or vegetarian hot dogs, of course). So, if you're ever wondering whether your pet pig loves you, become a pig for awhile. Hunker down on the carpet or grass, call your piggy love over to your side, and after you've been checked out by his or her sniffer, pretend to be sleeping. In most cases, your piggy person will turn his butt toward your face and his face toward your butt. Then, in that position parallel to your body, he'll lie down. And you will feel his affection as he turns his body into you, putting his full weight against you. He will sigh as you put your arm around him, and then he'll fall asleep. This parallel plane of resting next to a cherishd soul characterizes a pig's expression of love.

So, if you get down onto a pig's level, and your pig assumes the position, take it as an expression of his or her love for you. Take a well-deserved nap yourself--with your arm embracing your friend's waist.
Painting by Pat Saunders-White: www.patsaunderswhite.com

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More on The Big Flapper

So, the other night I walked into the barn to check the horses one more time before turning in myself. I looked in Bo's stall--nada. There was no horse there. How could such a big horse not be visible in a 12 by 12 foot enclosure?

Bo, otherwise known as The Big Flapper because he wakes us up whinnying every morning, was lying down in his stall. He was resting.

For a horse that probably exceeds 16.2 hands, only a rare moment allows me to be taller than he. Most always I have trouble clipping his ears, dressing him in his bridle, or even seeing over his back--he's THAT big. But this night would be different:I'd tower over him for a change.

Quietly, carefully, I opened his stall door. He was lying sternal (on his chest, not on his side), and his head was only a few feet from the entrance. I squatted down, so that he wouldn't be alarmed by a person looming over him, and duck-walked to him, talking in a soft voice.

His big eyeball had me in its sight, but it wasn't fearful. "Bo-Bo. Are you sleeping?" I cooed. The eye stared.

I stroked his face, neck, and withers, all the while speaking in soft tones. I was amazed by the animal's mass as I soothed him all over--so much strength, so much power temporarily on hold by sleep.

The eye blinked, and then I took advantage. I wrapped my arms loosely around his neck in a huge horse hug. He turned and nuzzled my leg. I held his face close, his warm, moist breath, and I whispered lovey things in his ear. He listened with much intent, swallowed, and slid his nose along my leg again--acceptance.

What a totally different and wonderful moment I had with Bo, who was, no doubt, somewhat tranquilized by the curtain of sleep. With no hint of annoyance that I had disturbed his sleep, he almost seemed to enjoy my cradling him in my arms--a rare and poignant moment between a horse and his human. And, for once, I was larger than he. This usually spirited powerhouse of an animal seemed diminutive, tender, in his resting position. This was a side of Bo that I had never known or realized: my horse of Lilliput, my horse of sweet softness--Cotton Candy Bo.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Skippy's Nest

Surely visitors to our home would think us the penultimate slobs.

Though probably not much different from those of millions of homeowners in the United States, our garage, its walls stacked high with crates and bags of wet and dry cat food, rakes, shovels, buckets filled with various things, a working refrigerator filled with summer drinks, and three large cabinets loaded with cleaning fluids, brushes, and brooms, sports one feature that sets it apart from those other million Americans' garages: Skippy's nest.

There, sandwiched between the stoop that leads into the kitchen and a long, rectangular, homemade box with entry holes that I like to call the "cat apartment," lies Skippy's nest--a concoction of all things a pig can find that, together, he or she can call home. When Skippy's occupancy light is on, i.e. he's lying in the middle of his nest, a stranger to our home probably wouldn't think twice about the pile of debris upon which he sits. But when Skippy has had his afternoon nap and then waltzes off into the woods for some tasty morsel, he leaves his nest behind for all to observe and, probably, analyze in wonder or disgust.

Without the nest's tenant nearby, a non-acquaintance of ours would observe a bundle of junk heaped at least a foot high: old blankets torn to pieces, ripped-up empty cardboard crates that had stored soda cans, an empty cardboard Snapple holder in shreds, a bottle of diet Lipton Green Tea, an empty can of cat food, a feather duster that Skippy wrested from the utility cabinet, and, along with that, my plastic bucket for mopping floors, and a tangle of rags, too.

"What a bunch of slops live here," a stranger would think. "Why doesn't someone clean up this mess?"

What the stranger may not notice is that this pile of junk has been compiled out of keen deliberation and effort. Centered in the pile is a neat heap of straw and grass that Skippy had very carefully carried to his bed. Too, the edges of the junk pile are neatly arranged. Skippy's nest doesn't protrude underneath our cars or out the garage doors--for, then, it wouldn't really be a nest. A nest is contained--for the purpose of coziness, no doubt.

I once had the opportunity to watch Skippy building this nest in the garage. With much care and delicateness, he ripped an old blanket I had given him. Then, he nosed the pieces into submission, turning one piece with his nose--just so--and arranging the next one strategically next to it. Another day I saw him with a plastic bottle in his mouth. Evidently I had missed the recyclable can, and he retrieved the bottle: a treasure for his nest. I watched as he carried it in his mouth with the gingerness of a tight-rope walker, for he didn't want to drop it and possibly lose or shatter it on the way to the nest. Stepping lightly, he walked to his nest and placed it, after standing for a moment, thinking. Then, after a long pause, he moved it off to the right corner of the pile. In contemplation, he stepped into his nest, positioned himself just so, and prepared to take a nap.

We have cleaned the garage several times this summer already, sweeping out pebbles and grit that gets caught in our cars' tires. But I have given strict orders to Edgar, my housekeeper, and others who mean well to never disturb the pile of rags, plastic, paper, straw, and cardboard that is Skippy's special place.

"That's Skippy's nest," I say to all who stare and then question with crossed eyebrows. "It's his home, and I don't care how awful it looks. Skippy likes it, and that's all that matters. It stays here until he abandons it."

Skippy's nest is testament to what is important to me, too. Not only does Skippy's nest define him as the careful architect that he is, but it defines me, too, as a proponent of an animal's right to comfort and a need to find his own space in his world and make it his own.