Maisie

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.

NIGHT

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.

New resident

 

Meet “Jazz,” a recent addition to the farm.

He’s my new project horse.

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Jazz is a 4-year-old OTTB (an “off the track Thoroughbred.”) He’s Kentucky-bred and the offspring of respectable bloodlines. But when the starting gate opened, he never delivered.

His race record? Abysmal. Eleven starts and one paltry win. Plenty of 9th, 10th, and 12th-place finishes. Running fast wasn’t in the cards. Now we’ll see if he can succeed in a new career.

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A new career, beyond eating…

 

With Jazz’s arrival, we are officially booked up. There’s no vacancy at the farm.

We’ve got 5 horses, 5 sheep, 5 cats and 1 Border Collie.

And 1 Border Collie is equivalent to 5 normal dogs….

 

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Tardy

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Three days a week, Brynn attends preschool at a pre-K to 8th-grade school nearby. And every morning, we arrive late.

Not just a few minutes late. But Late, like… the carpool people are long gone, the school doors are locked and the front desk person has to buzz us in.

It’s not a big deal — Brynnzilla is three for Christ sake. It’s not like she’s late for geography class or something. And the lady in the office has been cool; she waves a hand toward Brynn’s class and checks her name on the attendance list. 

But a couple weeks ago, the school lady buzzed us in and handed me a square of turquoise paper.

It was a tardy slip.

It’s official, Brynn’s got a record. 

After collecting a few blue slips, I made a conscious effort to deflect them. Not by waking up earlier, but by justifying our delayed arrival. I used the typical reasons. Traffic woes — with a rural spin.

Sorry we’re late, we got stuck behind a combine.” Or “We got stuck behind a hay truck.” Or a tractor. Really, any mobile farm implement is plausible.

I’ve used the absent-minded parent approach.

I forgot her lunch; we had to go all the way back home…

And there’s always the sympathy card.

Brynn’s CF treatment took longer than usual.” (Which often is accurate; Brynn is a beast about wearing her vest for treatment.)

But this morning when we arrived 20 minutes late, I didn’t bellyache about a fictitious traffic snag or car trouble. I stated fact.

We had to shoot a rabid raccoon by the mudroom before we could leave the house.

“By all means, go on up,” the front office lady said, gesturing toward the classrooms. It was a solid excuse. Rabid raccoon is well beyond the realm of creatively-conjured delays. And my disheveled appearance and Brynn’s mop of bed-head hair confirmed a morning of disorder.

It was a truthful tale. My only embellishment? The use of “we.” We did not dispatch the raccoon. We prodded the raccoon with a pitchfork, surmised it was alive and crazy-angry, and then we summoned the neighbor. He kindly drove down and did the deed.

 

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Don’t be fooled — this guy was neither cute nor harmless. Photo snapped using a long lens.

 

Credit also goes to Maisie, who alerted me to the problem. I missed her first cue; when I walked outside just after sunrise, I actually yelled at her to “leave it,” (whatever “it” was) and follow me to the barn. But when we got back to the house, without provocation Maisie thrust her snout between the deck railings and violently snapped her jaws. I peered over the side and spotted the raccoon, huddled by the mudroom, under the dog-door ramp. He was not friendly and not healthy.

 

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So, good job, Chet. Well done, Maisie.

But dammit, I’m running out of tardy excuses. Dangerous rabid raccoon?

That’s a tough one to recycle.