With a grateful heart I celebrate 15 years at this place.
With a grateful heart I celebrate 15 years at this place.
This autumn will sparkle forever like a jewel in my memory. (These photos are better than my words.)
Fencerows Popping With Color
Happy Dogs, Happy Horses
If you were to call me a bird nerd I would beam with pride. I have nest boxes tacked up all over the farm. Here’s the proof:
And where do the wrens nest since they aren’t in the expensive boxes I provided for them?
We have had better luck with other boxes.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology sets the standard in citizen science programs involving wild birds. Be sure to check out nestwatch.org where you will be welcomed into a huge family of bird nerds.
An acquaintance of mine, a friend of a friend, once said to me: “You need to get your life philosophy straight.”
Well, it’s hard to argue with that advice. Actually I quite agree. A life philosophy, however, needs a little time to germinate…you know, while you are in the process of actually living it.
I do not have a comprehensive life philosophy (yet) but I do have a couple of, shall we say, tenets, that are fully-fleshed. One of them is:
Humans are meant to be in relationship with their geography by moving across it.
And by that I mean on foot, and preferably every day. Think about it; we are built to move across a landscape, one foot in front of the other, a pace that allows us to absorb sight and sound and touch but also give our minds a chance to relax and process and, dare I say, dream. (I get crazy-wonderful ideas when I’m out walking.) Walking is the perfect pace for our brains to capture data and assimilate it.
I am lucky to be accompanied every day by two beagles who would rather give up eating than be denied a long walk through the fields. The dogs give themselves over to the experience and, being hounds, literally follow their noses. Last month one of the beagles was hospitalized for an entire day for minor surgery and she was too groggy that night to go for more than a little wobbly stumble in the back yard. But she was raring to go the next day and announced her triumphant return to the fields by baying at the top of her lungs. It was great and I knew exactly how she felt.
I am lucky to have as-yet undeveloped land in which to traverse and after 14 years of trudging daily through the hay fields I have learned the terrain well. I have learned the gentle rise and fall of the fields, which fencerows harbor deer and wild turkey, which old fence lines have the eye-popping dogwoods and are not to be missed and which fence lines have fall persimmons that must be avoided by beagles. In the spring I know my boots and jeans will be damp from the dewy first-growth hay, that the beagles will come home soaked and most likely full of ticks. In the summer we know to watch for hornet’s nests in the swells of the grass hay. In winter we can plow through the fields unhindered, tickled by the shadows of the bare bones of trees revealed by long shafts of winter sunlight.
I take all of this in and it gives me my bearings. I know where I am in the hemisphere based on the slant of the sun in the sky, the look of vegetation, the peeping of spring frogs and the chuckle of wild turkeys. And I must not forget the night skies. Here the skies are dark and reveal a carousel of constellations, some of which I know but most of which I don’t. The fireflies in summer are breathtakingly spectacular as they bridge the starry skies with the trees and I have learned to watch for them in the grass when I am walking at night so as not to step on them. At night, as the crickets chirp away, I often think of the horses out in the fields covered in an inky blanket of stars just like their ancestors and mine, and the thought comforts me to the point of sleep.
I have learned this place by moving through it, experiencing it in every season. The daily walks have never become dull; rather, I feel as though I can never be sated by the experience, like I can’t be outside long enough, that there is just too much ever-changing scenery to digest. I never find walks to be tiring (but thankfully, the beagles do) and instead I return home rejuvenated and also relaxed and very reluctant to do anything that will alter that mood. I feel deprived when life’s demands keep me out of the fields.
What have I gained from the relationship with this geography? I think it is a sense of peace brought on by familiarity, the sense of connection one gets from being a caretaker, and certainly I find comfort in the daily routine. There is a gentle rhythm to stable life and that is what I find most fulfilling.
Yes, I love this place.
Saturday morning was great. The overnight temp was around 50 degrees so all of the barn doors were left open without worry that the horses would get chilled. They greeted me — heads over their stall doors, eyes bright, ears forward — as I walked in. And this is how I became a morning person.
In her fantastic book In Service To The Horse, Susan Nusser writes about Samantha, a groom to a set of elite sporthorses, who says of the horses and the early start to her days “Mornings are when they love you best.” In my experience this is absolutely true and I suppose Samantha’s words have become my mantra.
I have long mused that mucking is my meditation and I really mean it. There is a quality to a horse barn in the early morning that imparts a feeling far more spiritual than that of any cathedral I have entered. There is a stillness to the barn that paralyzes busyness. Frenzy and rushing have no place in the barn. As the sunlight peeks in over the window sills the horses calmly begin to eat their breakfast hay and the mucking meditation begins.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “mucking” is the act of cleaning manure and urine-soaked bedding out of a horse’s stall. A stall must be mucked out at least once a day, and if a horse is unfortunate enough to be injured and is required to live in his stall for a period of recuperation, the stall will need to be picked and mucked out more often. There is an old adage about little girls who refuse to clean their bedrooms but who will ride their bikes through heavy rain to get to the barn and muck stalls. When you are lucky enough to work with horses even the act of cleaning their stalls for them is an enjoyable task.
My horse Hero has been with me for three years. In those three years I have missed only eight mornings with him because I was traveling. When I am away I miss him and our routines intensely.
The early Saturday morning sunlight brightened the barn and the warm spring air made it comfortable to work in shirt sleeves. As Hero ate his breakfast hay I scooped manure and wet bedding out of the stall and into the manure skiff. His stall door was wide open and he was completely comfortable with me walking around him, sorting through the stall shavings as he sorted through his hay. I don’t worry that he will kick me. (In our early days together, before we knew each other, I was careful to always touch his hindquarters and talk to him as I worked around him so he wouldn’t be frightened and kick, and in time I earned his trust.) When I finished with the stall, I left the door wide open as I went to get him fresh water. He looked over his shoulder at me, acknowledging my whereabouts, but he made no move to leave. Thus, Hero has earned the privilege of an open stall door. And I have earned an intense feeling of connection with this horse. I crave our time together.
Once the horses finish eating, they are groomed and turned out in the field for grazing and exercise. At this point the day begins to lose some of its charm because they are off on their own being horses and the magic of the morning has faded. I linger in the barn, cleaning out water buckets, sweeping the aisle, emptying the manure skiff into the ever-expanding manure pile at the edge of the farm. I store the horses’ halters and leads and grooming kits, tidy up, and make my notes about their daily care. Other commitments begin to enter my thoughts and as the sun rises higher I reluctantly leave the barn, already missing the quiet moments with my boy, silently wishing him “have a good day, buddy” and already looking forward to the meditation that awaits me, God willing, tomorrow morning.
Well, hello there.
I am so glad to have you here and I’m dying to tell you my inspiration for this blog.
There are many, many great blogs out there but I have one favorite out of all of them: Robert’s Philosophy Bistro. Like Robert himself, his blog is funny, witty, and charming. Robert is also one of the best writers I know. In fact, I am lucky to know him personally and can attest to what a gentleman he is, and what a perfect reflection of the man his blog is. It is therefore my goal to create a blog space that reflects me and my life, too.
So of course I’m going to pay Robert that ultimate compliment and liberally steal from his blog format. The Philosophy Bistro is more than just Robert’s stellar writing. He also includes recipes and drawings and doodles and scribbled notes and (that blogger luxury) guest writers. The Philosophy Bistro is the most wonderful of virtual spaces, where Robert invites us to stop by to visit and read and listen and think and learn and be entertained and also be challenged. Read his recent piece on Becoming A Character and tell me you don’t love it.
I endeavor to write like Robert. I’m still working on it. But I can mimic his virtual space, one that so captures his personality; mine is Pappy’s Shanty. Where Robert’s entrees are philosophies, I dabble in a different kind of words. I’m really more of a tinkerer with words. I kind of report on things and then ask for comments. Robert and I are alike in one area, though: we both want to start a conversation.
So please accept my official welcome to Pappy’s Shanty. I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you’ll come back. Many times.