Saturday, February 20, 2010

Timmy's World

We lost another horse yesterday—Timmy--one of our old saddlebreds.
Between the tears, I experience moments of quiet satisfaction knowing Timmy had a charmed life with us. He was born on our farm, raised here, and even broke to ride here—never saw any other place or part of the world. He had a club foot, so we never asked him to carry us over the countreyside. His life revolved around lazy days in the pasture, nights in his stall, and, in general, enjoying a simple, relaxing life—one with no human demands.
Always a well-mannered horse, Timmy was a fixture here at our farm for the twenty-two years of his life. His stall stands silent without him, and though I have not detected any behavioral changes in the other horses because of his absence, they must know he’s not there in the pasture with them. Again—with the death of another of our animals—our place is not the same: I look around the barn and pastures, and the palette has changed--forever.
I have only one regret.
In order to try to save his life we had to transport Timmy to a veterinary surgical facility an hour’s drive away. I regret we had to remove Timmy, in his most painful and fearful moments, from the only world he knew: from the stall he had known for so many years, from his barn, from the pastures, and from all that was familiar to him: the wandering cats, pot-bellies, and us.
As we led him down the driveway to the horse trailer, his eyes grew wide, even as he was sedated with painkillers. Even being led down our drive must have been scary for him—he had never been out of the pastures or the barn; he had never walked on macadam before. Likewise, he had never expected to be lifted by four strange men and locked inside a horse trailer with its rattling, body-jarring ride.
Had I known, then, that surgery was not an option for Timmy, that he had a huge, inoperable tumor that hadn’t raised its ugly head until just two days before, we would not have swept our horse from the only world he knew into what must have been, for him, a strange and frightening environment. We would have put him to sleep where he felt safe, loved, and comfortable: in his barn, the barn where he was born and raised and fed every day, the barn where Julie, Lucy, and his new friend, Bo, lived beside him. Had we known the outcome, we would have let Timmy die in his world-home.
During the hours it took to drive to Quakertown, wait for the surgeon to arrive, do the ultrasound that discovered the tumor, and make the diagnosis, Timmy’s condition deteriorated rapidly. Though we wanted to bring him back home to end his suffering, doing so would have caused him even more misery. So, in that strange, horse-scary place, we euthanized him, calming him, patting his neck, whispering how we loved him, and covering his wide eye so that he couldn’t see the death needle.
That Timmy died outside his familiar world is our only regret. But we can feel good about having kept Timmy, with his club foot, his foundered front feet, and his roaring trachea, as our pet for 22 years. Many a horse person would have sold such an unserviceable animal to the auction where he would have likely gone to the butcher.
We are grateful to have known Timmy, to have taken care of him, and we are privileged to have witnessed his equine antics in his pasture. Bo will surely miss him as much as we will; Bo and Timmy always groomed each other’s withers, as brother horses often do. Though Timmy was seventeen years older than Bo, he could keep up with the young feisty horse. The two played together, play-biting each other and annoying each other like little kids until the lush grass lured them from play. Likewise, Timmy and his full sister, Lucy, hung out together much of the time—just lazing in the pasture side by side. Timmy seemed always to be a comfort to the other horses, assuring them in his sedate manner that there was nothing to be upset about, that this world was a good, safe world.
We brought Timmy’s body back home and buried him—in his world—next to Fancy, his mother Lillie, Nicky, Fax, and Merry.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowstorm Revenge

Well, the big storm is in process, and I'm really irritated. It's a heavy snow, and I just about tore open my guts brooming off the front deck. And that was only the first sweep of three inches. By the time the snow has stopped, I will have brushed the same porch about four times. The cats are having trouble walking around in it; the pigs hate it: everyone's grumpy here. Plus, I can't very well ride the horses in this stuff, so, though it's pretty, it's a pain in all our asses.

Edgar's out blowing our thousand yard driveway with a snowblower hooked up to the farm tractor. He just called to say it wasn't blowing well because it's so heavy. That means he'll have to do the properties often to keep up with it. Poor guy.

So, the cats, the pigs, the horses and I are all sitting around watching the snow accumulate and glaring at one another. The pigs blame me for putting he snow there, despite my telling them it's not my fault. But ya can't convince a pig otherwise once he's made up his mind. If I give each one a cookie, though, it'll soften their resentment.

For my part, though, I have vowed revenge on the snowstorm: I am going to sit down with a flower catalogue and order a bunch of tropical plants and bulbs for the garden. In so doing, I'm going to transport myself to my summer garden outfitted like a tropical paradise--so there, snow. The windmill palm tree planted next to the barn will remind me of our favorite tropical island, Grand Cayman, as well as the cannas, elephant ears, and the weird voodoo lily. I can see it all now: this summer Balliet's property will be ablaze in tropical plants--big-leaved, hardy banana plants, castor bean plants, whose seeds I collected this past fall. Picotee begonias, orange candleflowers, and mixed caladiums will compete for space amidst the profusion of emerald greens. Loud tangerine canna torches, a bi-color butterfly bush, red lilies dancing amid the huge green and red-veined castor bean plants--I see them!--towering above the electric-blue lobelia lining the walkway. And the caladium interspersed with the tuberous begonias should be striking, especially with a cat resting beneath the leaves.

Ah-h-h . . . ., I feel a bit better now. Now to the phone to call in my order of tropical plants---hey, if I order $40 worth, I get $20 worth of goods free. My kind of deal.

If you and your critters have cabin fever, you can transport yourself or carry out you storm-vengeance in other ways, too. For those of you always in a mad rush, multi-tasking, rushing about fitting in one more chore before work, take the time to foster mindfulness: slow down, call your pet to your side and luxuriate in his or her company for a moment. Curl up under a blanket with your pet by your side, listen to the roar of her purr, have a conversation with your kitty or dog, look into your fish's eye and just try to imagine what he or she is thinking about you at that moment, about life with you. And I'm sure, if you allow your mind to imagine such things, you will have taken yourself to a place that is warm, comforting, and inspiring--and the snowstorm will disappear, if only for a few moments, like magic.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Li'l Ralphie's eye

We just brought Li'l Ralphie home from the veterinary opthalmalogist. I'm glad to report that Li'l Ralphie does not have a cataract but has a condition, whose name I can't remember, that is, essentially, bad tissue growing over his cornea. It's caused by a herpes virus and is common in cats. The eye underneath the filmy covering looks good, said the doctor. He also said that since Li'l Ralphie has his other good eye, we wouldn't have to do anything because he gets along fine, but that, if we wanted him to, he could operate, cutting away that growthy stuff over his cornea.

I nodded and said that I'd like Li'l Ralphie to be able to have the opportunity to see normally out of that eye.

He said he would gladly operate but that he wanted to wait a few months so that Li'l Ralphie's eye would be fully grown. We should call back and have the eye re-evaluated in June.

I'm very pleased--for Li'l Ralphie. At least we can try to make up for his first owners discarding him onto the highway. And I still am impressed by the state-of-the-art veterinary medicine that we all have within our reaches.

I remember being similarly astounded when Edgar was in his last year in vet school in 1979. As I peeked into the operating room where the students and surgeons were operating on a horse's leg, I thought to myself how professional it all looked: just like an operating room for humans, with big white lights, elevated surgery table, surgeon gowns, instruments, anesthesia machine, and technical monitoring devices. What these doctors can do these days is nothing short of miraculous. And the cost? Very reasonable, compared to an equivalent human surgery, yet nothing is left to chance simply because the patient is an animal, not a human.

I'm really happy for Li'l Ralphie and can't wait until he's able to get that nasty, thickened "blue" eyeball made right. And I'm thankful for all the dedicated veterinary surgeons and medicine men and women who can make our sick animals better.

Prizes in peacock-naming contest

Four prizes will be sent to the persons coming up with the best names for our peacocks. Those prizes are copies of my book, LIONS & TIGERS & MARES--oH, MY! And they will be autographed ones. So, for each name selected, I'll send that prize-winning name's owner an autographed book.

We've gotten some super-creative names so far, but the contest for naming my two female and two male peacocks isn't over until March 31st, so you all have plenty of time to mull things over and get back to me. I'm excited about this contest; without it, I wouldn't be speaking with any of you fun people. For that alone, the contest is worth it.

Now, realize that you need to sign up as followers on my blogsite in order for you to be eligible to win a book. So, if you already posted a comment, be sure to sign up as a follower.

Oh, yes. I wanted to post, also, that we counted 34 deer beyond our window at dusk last night. What a sight! And I just came inside from putting another couple of gallons of corn in the trough for tonight's feeding. But we may miss the deer tonight because Li'l Ralphie has an appointment with a veterinary opthalmalogist. My people eye doctor said Li'l Ralphie has a cataract. I hope the doctor recommends surgery because Li'l Raphie deserves it. Just maybe we'll be able to help restore some of his eyesight.

reply to comments

Good choices, Loree. I can see already that this is going to be a tough task. I even like "rough" and "tough," so I'll give you credit for that, too. And, Stella, the bathroom isn't finished yet, but in two weeks it should be. I'll post pics then. You can see the one pic of the peacock we're getting at the top of my last post, but I did'nt take any pics of the emerald spaldings because I would've had to trek back out in the snow to do it. The females are really blah looking, but ya really need females to keep the males around--figures. They're going to be free-roaming eventually, so it'll be interesting to see if they stick around the patch. They're also going to be loud, so I must be prepared. Just hope the horses don't go berserk when they hear all the honking and screeching.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Peacock Naming Contest

I'm in a peacock frame of mind.

It all started with our downstairs bathroom.

I saw a tiny picture in my VOGUE Magazine that showed a small sitting room with wallpaper that wasn't wallpaper at all: the walls were covered in peacock feather eyes.

That was my chance. If the cost was reasonable, I was going to cover the walls of my downstairs powder room in peacock feather eyes. Onto the internet I went, located the feathers, placed my first order, and that was the beginning of what was, today, the end of the beginning--sort of.
After approximately 12 solid hours of placing peacock eyes--one at a sickening time--onto the walls, I have about two more hours of work--after another shipment comes this week from California--until I'm finished. At this time, too, I'd like to thank Edgar and my friend Sheryl, who helped me with the project, handing me each feather--one at a time--to me as I placed it on the wall.

The overall effect: it's a love/hate thing. People entering this bathroom will either love it or hate it. But, one thing's for sure: before they make a decision as to whether the style's for them or not, they will probably gasp like an asthmatic at first sight. It is, to say the least, shocking! After one gets over the initial sensation of being eye-balled by the feathered walls, staring down, hard, on the uneasy person trying to empty his or her bladder, then, that person, once the wits have organized, can mull over the beauty, the intensity of it all. We are, be assured, not used to our walls having a furry, feathery feel.

Personally, I love them. It's just so different, so textured, so off-the-wall. My husband, on the other hand, says, "It's okay, I suppose. Certainly is different." Thank goodness he allows me to express myself in these terms. What other husband would encourage his wife to cover the bathroom walls with feathers, fur, or scales. Hey, fish scales--we have an upstairs bathroom, too. :)

But I think pasting all these feathers to the walls got into my brain a bit more than I had expected. The feathers, so individual, so irridescently beautiful--some large, some dainty--tickled my brain into wanting the beast that could produce such lovely body parts.

To the internet I flew and googled "peacocks for sale."

This morning we went to Kutztown, PA to meet Amy of Amy's Peacock Paradise and her 250 or so peacocks. Amy began raising peacocks on the family farm at the age of 13. Here she is, ten years later, in the thick of selling, breeding, raising, and loving these wonderful birds.

Always appreciative of a fellow animal-lover, I shook Amy's hand, knowing we were kindred spirits--birds of the same feather. :)

The three of us--Edgar, Amy, and I--walked up to the aviary where roosted the peacocks. She opened the door, and we stepped inside.

I must admit I was spellbound. Birds of different shapes and colors roosted high, stepped low, and honked and screeched as we passed by. Amy, who graduated with a degree in English from Amherst University, explained the habits of peacocks, but I could hardly concentrate on what she was saying, so overcome with curiosity was I. I was rapt, as a tourist is upon his or her first visit to New York City. But this was the country, and I was fathoming peacock paradise.

One thing I hadn't expected from these birds: they're brutes. Yes--brutes. I guess I had thought that since they were so beautiful, that they'd be graceful and lithe. They're not.

Very shortly after entering the aviary, one three year old bird jumped down to the ground from his roost.


Then another leaped to the floor. BANG!

I laughed out loud and said to Amy, "Jeez, they land like a ton of bricks." She agreed and shrugged her shoulders. "They weigh 15 to 20 pounds, some of them. When you think of it, that's a lot of weight hitting the floor."

Then a loud honk resounded, followed by an even louder screech. "Ree-ee-eech!"

Well, I must admit I was smitten and almost as admiring of Amy as I was of the peacocks. Amy had built herself a little girl's paradise from the age of thirteen. How refreshing! Not the usual teenager's choice of pastime.

We tramped around the peacock pens, in the snow, and through the aviary for over an hour. I was particularly attracted to three different types, but I knew Edgar, who had since retired to the car out of boredom, would only allow me two birds at the most. I had tough decisions to make. So, I made my choices, and then Edgar climbed from the car to join us outside the aviary.

He said to me in a matter-of-fact voice, "Let's get four: two males and two females."

"FOUR!" I gasped, grinning. I looked at Amy who was smiling broadly. "Okay, then, Amy. I'd like the black shoulder and an emerald spalding." I was tossing peacock terms around as though I, too, had been raising them since I was thirteen. I had to laugh at myself.

Edgar said, "I know where I'm going to build the pen. It won't take long to set up."

"You're going to build them a pen?" I was astounded. Edgar always encouraged me to reduce our animal population. I never expected him to be inclined toward acquiring more pets.

In the next couple of weeks, I'll be helping Edgar build the peacock pen. Then, once all is set up and working, we'll be visiting the lovely Amy to take home our birds.

I love projects, especially when they involve animals.

And to think: it all started with remodeling our downstairs bathroom. What an unlikely progression.
And this is leading me to think that I should have a contest to name the four peacocks. The prize will be a one of my veterinary adventure books--to the persons who come up with the most original, most creative names for our peacocks. So, for all my faithful blog followers, why don't you help us come up with two names suitable for male peacocks and two for females. I can't wait to see what you come up with. I'll need the names by the time we bring home the birds, so let's make the date March 31. Post your names with your comments, and I'll accumulate them until Edgar and I have enough to make our choices. Oh, and you need to sign on as followers of my site. Thanks for your help.
Happy thinking!

Pigs in Snow . . .

. . . is like mixing oil with water. Pigs hate the cold, but they hate snow even more.

All our pot-bellies have overhead heaters in their pens. If you ever think of getting a pot-belly, you need to keep them inside the house just as you would an inside dog or, if he or she is to be outside, you need to provide heat--they are, after all, tropical animals.

We start up the heaters in late fall when the temperature drops below fifty degrees, and we throw in a couple of extra blankets for them to cuddle into--so that their very sensitive schnozzles stay warm and moist. The phrase, "Pig in a blanket" wasn't coined for no reason at all: pigs love snuggling into blankets.

I'll never forget when, may years ago, I first brought my first baby pig, Lowell, home. By the time the cold weather came, he had grown as round as my Electrolux vacuum cleaner. He was only half as long as the cleaner, but he was a solid cylinder that hoovered up hay scraps and other delectables just as the vacuum sucked up dirt. Pigs and vacuums have a lot in common.

Anyway, when late fall approached, I threw a couple of old blankets in little Lowell's pen in the barn. And I had also sifted through old clothes and dumped a couple pairs of old holey sweatpants in along with the blankets. Right away Lowell sidled over to the pile of old clothes and blankets and began his inspection: rooting and arranging the articles in pig-order. For pigs, everything has its place.

Later that evening I went out to do a barn check--making sure none of the horses had colic. As I looked around at each horse standing quietly in a stall, I heard a high whining coming from the corner. Lowell.

"Lowell?" I yelled, running over to his pen. I could see nothing but blankets in the twilight of the barn, but he had to be there underneath them somewhere. "Lowell!" I called, digging through the blankets. "Where are you?"

But all I heard was a very distressed, high-pitched whine that translated to, "Help!!! For cryin' out loud, help me!"

I flipped blankets from his pen, and as the squealing became more intense, I still couldn't make out the figure of my juvenile pot-belly. I knew he was there somewhere, but he was camouflaged within the tangle of old clothes and blankets. So, I continued to dig.

Soon I discovered what I could best describe as one leg of a sweatpant straining at the seams, filled to the brim--with my pig. Yep--Lowell had crawled down one leg of one of my old sweatpants and had gotten stuck in it. The pant leg resembled a over-stuffed sausage, and Lowell's muffled whine was originating from it.

With frantic speed, I went to work extricating the pig, but I had to work like hell--he was really stuck, and he was angry. Pigs don't tend to take responsibility for their own actions, being more likely to blame someone else for their predicaments. Lowell was so annoyed with me for having set him up with pants he could get caught in.

"Okay, okay," I tried to reassure him. "I'm working as fast as I can." Speed is very important to an irritated pig. The more I worked at the sweatpant, the more he yelled, "Hurry up! You got me into this thing, now get me out!" Finally, I accordioned the leg up and over his body, and he popped out. He grunted as if to say, "What the hell took you so long!" and I told him, "I can't help it you got stuck. Don't blame me because your belly is bigger than my thigh!" He glared once at me and went to the corner.

That happened about 15 years ago. Lowell is so big now, he'd never get even his head caught in a pant's leg. Still, he does demand he have clean blankets, and he adores his overhead heater, as do the other six pot-bellies that share the barn with him.

Even during a cold afternoon in the winter, the younger pigs, Skippy, Lillie, Ivy Mae, and Annie venture from their heated pens to snack on some hay in the barn. On sunny days they'll find a sheltered area in the sun and sun-bathe there until the sun fades into the west. Then they walk back to their pens and take a nap beneath their heaters until dinnertime. All--from a pig's perspective--is right with the world.

But what pot-bellies won't do is go for a walk in the snow. They detest cold, wet anything between their toes. And, when they venture out to check out their sun-bathing spots, if their trek is hampered by a layer of snow that had fallen overnight, they stand back several feet from the white stuff and begin complaining.

And, of course, the snow's being there is all my fault. "Wree-wree-wree," Skippy says, staring at the snow. In other words, "What did you mess up my yard for? You know I don't like walking in that stuff." And then I try to reason with him. "It's not my fault Skippy! I didn't do it. It came from the sky!" But he won't listen to reason and continues babbling and whining in pig language. "I DON'T LIKE IT! GET RID OF IT! GET RID OF IT ALL--NOW!"

I try to calm him by patting his shoulder and assuring him it'll all be gone in a few weeks, but it serves no comfort. He hates snow, and he wants it gone.

I'll be glad when spring comes. At least I won't get the blame for spreading around pig-feet- clenching snow. But then the spring rains will come. And those will be my fault, too. Pigs don't like rain either.

animals in winter

During the winter as dusk approaches, the local deer herd tip-toe over the snow-covered alfalfa fields and step with light feet into our isolated woods. They look cautiously around--sniffing and listening for predators--as they make their way to our house where lies their treasure: a trough full of shelled field corn.

That corn my husband or I put out every day--no matter the howling wind or depth of snow. We know that the deer herd depends on us for that food, and, from our point of view, these animals are no different than our own horses, pot-bellied pigs, cats, and fish that are our obligation to feed. We feel they are our responsibility simply because we share ground and locale with them and because we are able to help these animals whose reason-for-being, every minute of every day of the winter, is to survive.

When the weather people predict a nor'easter, we begin to prepare: not only for the safety and well-being of our own animals, but also for the wildlife that find it extra tough finding food, water, and shelter during the harsh winter months. Not only do we put out large salt blocks for the deer and fill an old metal pig trough with corn, but we also load the homemade squirrel-feeder with peanuts, and put out my homemade suet and commercial birdseed at the bird feeders. Only then can we ourselves hunker down before the stove and enjoy the falling snow--comfortable knowing that our pets' and the wildlife's bellies are full. We've done our part.

So, as usual, the deer cautiously approached the feeder last night, and I was able to capture them feeding with my iPhone. Since we've been feeding them during the winter for the past number of years, they are not quite as wary as they had first been, yet they still are alert for any signs of danger--after all, their delectable corn sits only twenty feet from a human habitation, and deer consider humans predators.

Through all these years the deer have come to regard our peering out the window watching their feast as part of the corn deal. In order to eat, they will allow us to watch--if we are still and quiet. They will spook if we move too fast, but if we crawl slowly over the floor, creeping up to the windows of the garden room for a closer look, they tolerate our intrusion. Yes, indeed--so that we don't frighten the deer from the trough--we do get down on all fours and creep to the window. Then, we poke our heads over the sills and marvel at these creatures who have slowly come to trust us.

Pennsylvania's winters can be so harsh on her inhabitants--the animals and people--but moments like these remind me that humans and animals are not so remote in our struggle to endure and prosper--no matter the time of year. And in the struggle arises a communal kind of acceptance and trust between man and beast that can be rarely rivalled.