Nocturnal Camaraderie


Editor’s note: I wrote the following a few weeks ago, pre-polar vortex. Lately, evening walks are perfunctory if performed at all. Secondly, it’s tough to locate a graphic that depicts nighttime, so please excuse this random photo. I wish our evenings were this star-laden.


It’s 8:30 on any given night. Insert winter date here.

Clad in my dirty barn jacket and muck boots, I plunge into the dark for evening animal duty: walking the dog, then feeding the horses and cats. It’s cold but not too windy, and considering the alternative — bathing grubby kids and putting them to bed — I’ve got the easy task tonight.

On this particular night there’s no moon and my route is bathed in black. But Martin and I can navigate the path blindfolded. We know the pitch of the drive, the ruts at the bend, where the mud puddles lurk. In the inky dark I sense them and skirt their edges.

Maisie is doing her dance: goading me like a sullen sheep, nipping my heels and piercing the quiet with staccato barks. Scuffing my toes, I shower her in gravel, but she’s undeterred. Only a coyote clips her short. The coyotes were once an infrequent, distant presence, a lonely howl from some far-flung ridge. But now they’re near, yipping or baying from the next field.

Mel, our elder-orange cat, jogs ahead. It is winter which means he’s the postman: neither snow, nor sleet nor rain deters him. Martin was the first to recognize the seasonal change in him: in summertime Mel looks sickly, molted and dull-coated, but in winter he’s spry and energetic. The night blots him out, but I follow the purr.

And now we’re trailed by his fat friend: Felix, the quasi-domestic/feral feline, built like Garfield with tuxedo markings. Felix darts ahead, rolling on his back to expose his impossibly fat, white belly in the scant light.

And then there are the cattle. The new herd. In the past the cattle were skittish and easily spooked. But this group, a dozen youngsters of black-and-white dairy persuasion, are conditioned to humans. They follow me, hugging the fence and mooing, as though we need a constant reminder of their existence.

It’s an impromptu, multi-species parade. I u-turn at the pine trees and the cows copy my loop, shadowing me along the divide. The cats loiter behind and I call them, worrying about the coyotes. I imagine furry, gray, sleek shapes, silently jogging in soldier fashion across the field. I’m relieved when Mel and Felix materialize, tripping me as they collapse before me.

Bathed in the barn light, I call the horses and rattle a grain bucket. Soon they appear, apparitions in the field. They amble to their stalls while the cats squat on the loft stairs, bowed over their dishes. Finally, I turn off the lights and bring back the dark. The coyotes are silent and only Maisie huffs as she run circles until we reach the house and bask in the warm glow of porch lights.

Christmas Aftermath


Coherent thoughts, complete sentences and meaningful posts will resume once these kids return to school. For the time being, I’m leaning heavily on photos. And a fleeting word or two, in the momentary pause between someone yelling “Mom? Mom! Mommmmm…..Where are you?”

I try to hide. Right now I’m hunkered down behind the bed — sitting on the floor, my laptop tottering on my knees. And I’m typing…. as gently and soundlessly as possible.

But those gremlins always sniff me out. Here comes one now. Thumping up the stairs like a wounded wildebeest, then silent…pausing to listen…before cracking open my bedroom door. Then Thump-Thump-Thump… around the bed and — voila…

…or “viola” as my Dad liked to say…

I’ve been found.

So with that, here are a few holiday photos.

Christmas morning… here’s the typical scene moments before the kids lay a path of destruction.

Note the bailing twine in the top left corner — tethering the tree to the doorway. See, the tree fell down 10 days ago. It was what you’d expect — a hailstorm of ornaments and a peppering of pine needles. But there was an added bonus: all the water in the base spilled out, seeping through the floor boards into the cellar. So that twine is there to prevent a repeat performance.

But this next photo really sums up Christmas morning. After ripping open every present possible, it’s time to build. Assembly required. With a mimosa nearby, of course.



Christmas Day isn’t complete without a walk up the driveway with Bugsy. We pull the pony from the field, grab the dog and set out. To see the cows.



The new cows. The previous cattle were loaded up a month ago and —

well… processed.

Here’s the next batch — 26 in all — still skittish and fascinated by the kids-pony-Border Collie freak show.



Normally, we head up the driveway and bang on Chet’s door. This year we visited the other neighbors. Walked past their chickens, turkeys, Highland cows (mentioned here) and into the barn..

…to see the day-old lamb, cooking beneath a heat lamp.



We kept our visit brief. The mother sheep wasn’t thrilled to see us. In fact, she looked menacing.

If it’s possible for a sheep to look menacing.


“I am going to mess you up,” she seemed to say.

So we hustled out of there. I wouldn’t let the kids get trampled.

Not on Christmas, at least….





Sounds and Random Ramblings

Random ramblings. That’s what follows a post about insomnia.

String together several lousy nights of sleep and what you get is a quasi-functioning robot, who drives, walks and talks. The lights are on but no one’s home.

Saturday I was tired and zombified. My mom offered to take the kids and we arranged a hand-off at a little church fair that afternoon. The church has been hosting the event for 137 years and not much has changed since it began. Glance around at the weathered wooden booths, the penny candy games and the jousting competition, and — I’m telling you — it elicits a Back to the Future moment. Suddenly I’m whisked back 50 years.

The kids took about a minute to slip out of sight. Brynn was pretty easy to find. She’d snuck under a table at a game booth and was raiding the prize box, stuffing plastic toys down the front of her diaper (her solution when she’s without pockets).

Well, there’s one kid, I thought, scanning the crowd. I wasn’t too concerned. A small-town church where everyone’s neighbors? Pretty low risk on the lost-kid meter.

At that very moment I heard a whump! and a horse with an empty saddle trotted by. By my feet rested a jousting contestant. He was an older man and flat on his back, his lance pointing straight up as if he planned to spear a cloud. Turns out, he just had the wind knocked out of him. By the time I’d disarmed him, others were there to help him up.

But while I was distracted, Brynn snuck off. Fortunately Mom arrived. She helped with the round-up and carted the kids away. I went home and napped.

For five hours.

I napped the equivalent of a cross-country flight. I closed my eyes mid-afternoon and woke at 8 pm. At sunset. Utterly disoriented.

“Hey there,” Martin said from the couch. “Welcome back.”

I stumbled outside to get my bearings. The sun was orange and pink, hunkered over the trees, the air was still and I could hear a band playing —  a concert at a distant vineyard, across the Potomac. I walked up the neighbor’s gravel drive and sat cross-legged by the pine trees. I closed my eyes and listened. The band was covering Tom Petty. “Free Fallin.”

In between music sets, it was quiet and still. So quiet I heard Mel purring in the pine trees. I also heard a hushing sound. A steady huff, huff, huff.

It was the cows. I thought they’d sound like horses, who audibly crop the grass. But what I heard were breaths — as the cows grazed, their heaving breaths whooshed out their noses. The herd, exhaling at different times, sounded like someone scuffing their feet through a thick carpet.

I called the cat and dog home. Then I dragged Martin outside to listen to the band and watch the sunset.

I didn’t ask him to listen to the cows. Too weird.

But when I went to sleep later on, I didn’t count sheep. I thought of cows and carpeting.