When manure beckons

With kids and horses and sheep and a dog, we are acutely aware of poop. There’s no avoiding it, no way to shield yourself from the dirty fact that every day brings various forms of waste removal.

And you might think that the biggest beasts are the worst offenders. But mucking horse stalls isn’t as bad as you’d think. In fact I’ve grown to enjoy it.

Armed with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow, scooping poop is a satisfying task. It’s that mindless, methodical progression from stall to stall to restore order. Improvement is instantly evident.

Plus mucking guarantees 20 minutes of peace and solitude. No one wants to be around when you’re flinging great mounds of manure and urine-soaked bedding through the air. Scooping poop is an escape from toddler demands, vibrating cell phones and blaring tv commercials. A temporary reprieve from the food-encrusted dishes teetering in the sink and the funky-smelling laundry forgotten in the washing machine. There’s dinner that no one’s planned — much less cooked — a kitchen trash can that screams to be emptied, and a patchwork of muddy paw prints on the floor.

I survey this scene, shake my leg free of the kid who needs a snack now! and make my pitch to Martin: “Why don’t you stay here and chill out with the kids. Just get things started and I’ll go muck stalls.” As if I’m making a big sacrifice. Like I’m doing him a favor. Woe is me, I’m venturing out to sling manure.

But in the barn there’s no talking or crying or TV din. It’s just me and the rhythmic chirp of the crickets. The occasional snort as a grazing horse clears his nose. A passing train’s hollow racket against the tracks. The scamper of claws on concrete as the cats leap at the moths drawn to the barn. And the muted “whump” of manure as it lands in the wheelbarrow.

Lost in thought the stalls are cleaned fast — too fast. So I dump the wheelbarrow, scrub and refill the water buckets, place a flake of hay in each stall, sweep the aisle and set out the morning feed.

It’s when the cat food rattles in the bowls and I extract my legs from the purring fur that it hits me:

The barn is done. It’s time to go back inside. And face the insanity.