notnearenough

image

the monsoons reappeared
soonafter you left
and the nights turned just
coldenough
that the tomatoes knocked
at the back door andthe
peppers lost their heat.
iwaited.

the sows areonvacation
under the watchful eye
of the lonelyboar who
Does Not Like
being soallalone.
neitherdoi.

one could walk
among the cows
inthemeadow
but unless you
Are Meadow
they pretend you don’t
exist.
i amnotmeadow.

the mountains
holdtheirbreath
Waiting
for you to return
like they wait
for snow to fly
onthewind.
my heart flies
between hereandthere.

then last night
inadream you came
Home To Me
and the mountains exhaled
and i slept
inyourarms
right where my heart
belongs.
your heart
alsoisthere.

(if i cannotfeel
the beating of your heart,
then the mountains of you
are notnearenough.)

Waking Dr. Devine, Part Four

Retired: Riley 'Bear' and Imperial Alexander the Great

Retired: Riley ‘Bear’ and Imperial Alexander the Great

I awoke suddenly at 2 am this morning and spent the next hour trying to fall back asleep. Once I remembered the coming Super Moon, I gave up at my futile attempts to resume slumber. My brain was awash with thoughts and ideas about cows, horses, the farm, and my family. I stayed in bed for hours, silently contemplating how to move forward from the events at the beginning of the month. It has been over a week since I said goodbye to Alex and two weeks since he fell ill…and I still don’t feel like I fit into my own skin. I have not felt this lost in a long time. I cannot seem to find solid ground, physically or emotionally. I am a complete mess.

Alex nickered softly when they opened the door from the exam room. It was bright and sunny outside after a few weeks of heavy monsoons. The air was thick and still as we crept out into the light, towards the outdoor paddock where Alex would take his last breaths.

“I have one of those,” the vet tech exclaimed as she pointed at the leather bracelet on my wrist. It was engraved with the name of my first horse, Riley, who I had to put down only 4 years ago.

“Yep,” I replied, “I guess I’ll be getting another one here pretty soon.” I grabbed onto Alex’s neck, trying not to fixate on what was about to take place. As we walked down the hill towards a grassy field, Alex picked up his pace and stuck close to me like glue – enough so that I almost ran into the vet tech as we walked.

“You in a hurry to get somewhere, big guy?” I asked, trying to fight back the tears.

Everyone chuckled as he quickened his pace, not seeming to care if he left us behind in the dust. Maybe he was just on a schedule. I hear angels have schedules.

Alexander 1

After a night of no sleep I am usually tired and a bit cranky. Today was no exception. I have been trying to figure out where to move the sows when I wean the piglets next week, and where to put the goats before they kid late this month or early next, or how to situate the duck house so we can get the best coverage for fly and mosquito control. I have also been thinking about what to do for Yak. We will need another horse soon – but it’s hard to say if my heart is up to the task of finding that next horse. My heart is in a thousand million tiny pieces in the pit of my stomach, in the empty stall in the barn, in the little trailer that smells like a big horse. My heart has been asking me to put off this final piece of Alex’s story because telling it will make it real. Saying it out loud will make it final. But after I spent the afternoon saving tiny animals from a wicked hail storm and lighting up the barn with heat lamps, I hopped into a hot shower and turned on the radio. The first song on was a heartbreaking song about holding on to something you know is no good, for the sake of not having to let go. And right then I knew I would spend the rest of my evening letting go. And here I am.

As we walked into the paddock, I felt relief that we were outside. Alex loved his stall but was happiest out in the paddock, playing in the sun, splashing in his water trough. I stood him next to a wooden wall that had pieces of mane and tail caught in the splintered pieces. I kept his eye on mine so he wouldn’t notice the death all around him, I didn’t want him to be afraid. As I was looking into his eyes, my husband put his arms around me and spoke into my ear, just as I would speak for one of my animals, using the “voice” I reserve for Alex:

“Thanks Jennifer. Thanks for taking such good care of me and for making sure I was always well-fed. Thanks for always loving me. I sure will miss you.”

The vet tech turned and asked if I was ready, and I nodded my head ‘yes’ as a stream of tears fell down my cheeks. He took his time, as is usual for Alex, to say goodbye. I stroked his cheek and waited patiently as he transitioned onto the next. Then I collected his halter and walked back to the truck and trailer. Brian held me close as we walked and we talked about how much peace there was in knowing why we were saying goodbye. Then, I shut the empty trailer door, and we headed home. If we missed the Friday rush hour, we would be home just in time for our daughter’s birthday dinner. The roads were as clear as the sky the whole way back.

I wonder if Dr. Devine has thought about Alex since his last exam. I wonder if he has stopped beating himself up for missing the signs of his illness. I wonder if he will take a little piece of Alex into the exam room with him from now on. None of this matters except to serve as further proof that some animals are here to teach us the good, fun lessons of life – and some are here to teach us the hard, dark ones. And although I often proclaim to know what my animals are thinking when I choose to speak for them in an attempt to annoy my husband, I still don’t know what Alex is trying to teach me. Maybe it’s that life can be hard. Maybe it’s that life can be unfair. And maybe it’s that somewhere in between that rock and that hard place, there is the possibility for beauty, for strength, and for love. And if you’re not careful, you just might blink, and miss out on the whole thing – because it can be gone in one, unmistakable instant.

In Memory:
Imperial Alexander the Great
June 15, 2009 – August 1, 2014

Imperial Alexander the Great

Imperial Alexander the Great

Waking Dr. Devine, Part Three

(This story is getting harder and harder to write. Tonight’s portion required a bit of liquid courage and I still found that I wasn’t ready for it to end. I appreciate your patience. The next installment will be the last.)

After I put the kids to bed, I went out to the barn to help Brian complete the evening chores. All I could do was look at Alex. He looked so bright and alert for a horse that was slowly dying. He had still managed to maintain reasonable hydration, though his sides were terribly sunken in from days of not eating enough, if anything at all. I knew he expected me to feed him since I was standing in the barn at dinner time. I asked Brian to follow me out so we could discuss the plans for the following morning.

“So, if it comes down to it, where do we want him to go down?” I said, looking away from my husband, trying to avoid making eye contact.

“Well, we need to be able to access him from the driveway – either the barn or the lower drive. We could take him a good ways to the south and – ”

“I don’t want him too far from Yak,” I interjected, “I don’t want them both feeling nervous and upset because they can’t see each other.”

“Ok. How about right here.”

I looked at the ground, then I looked up at Brian. “Oh Brian, I don’t think I can do this!” I began to lose my composure, the one which I had held strong all night in front of my family and my children. “Right here? I just don’t know if I can be here, I don’t think I can do it. I am not okay with this happening right here, right now. I am not okay with this! I’m not ever gonna be okay with this!”

“Well, you don’t have to be here for it, Jen. And that’s ok.”

“No, it’s not okay. I could never do that to him, I have to be here.”

“Well, we could wait through the weekend and see how he’s doing on Sunday.”

“No. I only want Leslie to do it and she is leaving tomorrow. We’ll do it here. But I am not going to be okay – I need you to know that. I might just curl up and die with him.”

“Ok. We’ll do it here. You coming in?”

“No. I’m going to be with Alex.”

“Alright, don’t be too late.”

I didn’t sleep well that night and the alarm went off bright and early. I crawled out of bed with swollen eyes and very little energy. The dawn, as is common on nights like these, came entirely too soon.

I went into the barn more to be with Alex than anything else. I already knew he had not miraculously improved. I called Leslie. She had been up late, just as I had, looking into causes of both laryngeal and pharyngeal paralysis in horses. Her main concern was that if it was a case of botulism, we would need to know that for certain so we could protect our other animals from the cause of the infection – most likely the soil in this instance. The other possibility was rabies. She didn’t think he had rabies and she wasn’t entirely sure how likely botulism was, but the possibility of either meant that he needed to be euthanized at a hospital and necropsied. I decided to call Littleton Equine to see if they considered either of these illnesses possible and if I should bring him back to them or if we had to go to the University.

When the on-call Doc rang me back, I was standing outside the barn drinking some coffee. I tried to explain my concerns to her regarding Alex’s apparent inability to swallow, how I worried some larger issue may have caused the partial laryngeal paralysis and a pharyngeal paralysis. I brought up Leslie’s points about botulism and having a necropsy done.

“There is no way that a laryngeal paralysis could lead to an inability to swallow or a bout of choke. I don’t think your horse ‘can’t swallow’ I think he has simply choked again and it needs to be cleared by your vet prior to feeding him a runny mash.”

“No, I am aware that the laryngeal paralysis is not ‘causing’ any of this, but I don’t believe he has choked again. I think he is losing his ability to swallow and my concerns now are figuring out why for the safety and management of my other animals. Maybe I am wrong, maybe I’m misreading the signs, I just want to know what is wrong with my horse.”

“Ok, I’ll tell you what, I’m going to have Dr. Devine call you back since he saw the horse yesterday. He might have a better idea of what is going on. It may take a few hours, but I will have him get in touch with you.”

I felt a bit battered and unsure of my reasoning. I went over the signs and symptoms of botulism and rabies and felt confident it could be neither – but I am not a vet, I am not trained in animal science. I could be wrong. In fact, I kind of wished I was.

The phone hadn’t rung in over two hours. We got the kids dressed and ready to go to the hotsprings for the afternoon with my parents. I was glad to have a distraction for the kids throughout this ordeal which had started out bad and just kept getting worse. I decided to phone the equine hospital in the chance that the on-call Doc had written me off as crazy and neglected to relay my message. I left a message with the front desk ladies who had informed me that Dr. Devine had surgeries all morning. I wasn’t expecting the phone to ring when it did, ten minutes later. Dr. Devine expressed the same sentiments that the on-call Doc had expressed: the two things were not related, if Alex had botulism or rabies he would be dead by now, and that he most likely choked again and needed to be cleared. I was beginning to feel like no one believed me – or that I was dead wrong. We spoke for a bit about leaving Alex at the hospital to be cared for and treated under Dr. Devine’s supervision. I decided it was the best thing to do for a couple reasons: 1. I was beginning to lose my faith in my ability to read my horse and treat him accordingly. 2. I wanted to buy into the idea that he might pull through this and come out the other side. So we loaded up in under 10 minutes and hit the road, back to Denver, without hesitation.

We stopped off to fill up the gas tank and air up the tires at a busy gas station off the highway. I took a few minutes to go ahead and give Alex his next dose of Metronidazole, which we were using to get ahead of the aspiration pneumonia. I opened up the top half to the back trailer doors and went to work at Alex’s tail, inserting 15 pills into his rectum. Hopefully no one was paying me too much attention – except for Alex, he had his eyes on me the whole time. “So it’s going to be one of those cruises, is it?” I giggled at the sideways glances he was shooting my way, patted him on his rump and we headed out of the valley. I felt anxious, hopeful, and ready to fight the good fight.

After we pulled up to the equine hospital, I had my husband stand with the trailer while I went to the front desk to let them know we were bringing Alex in for treatment and a stall. It was only a few minutes before they were out to check Alex before having me unload him and bring him into the same exam room as before – Dr. Devine wanted to examine him again. I had my husband stand outside as Dr. Devine prepared to scope Alex. It appeared that they were busy, with only half the hands in the room as we’d had the day before. I assumed that was why Dr. Devine was having a hard time getting the scope into Alex’s esophagus.

“Hmmm. I’m having a hard time getting the scope in, he’s not swallowing as he should be. See…you bump a horse there with the scope and they should swallow every time. Let me try again.”

After several more tries, he managed to get the scope into Alex’s esophagus and down into his stomach. There were no signs of a recurrent choke. Shit. Dr. Devine went to a different scope so he could check Alex’s guttural pouches.

“Guttural pouches are like our eustachian tubes,” he explained to me as he led the wire through a series of acrobatic flips and slides in Alex’s head, “only a few species of mammal have them and…oh, damn. There it is, there is the source of our problem.”

I was looking at the screen but it meant nothing to me, it was a tangled web of foreign languages I would never come to understand.

“So, what is it?”

“Aspergillus. Alex has guttural pouch mycosis. It’s pretty rare, but I saw another case of this just yesterday. That never happens, you could go three or four years without seeing a single case like this. This one is advanced, it spans from the carotid over the smaller arteries and all the way over to the nerve. Ugh, I am so sorry. Has he been in Colorado all his life?”

“No. He lived in the Midwest when he was younger, I’ve only had him for about 18 months. Is this something I’ve exposed him to? Should I be concerned about my other animals?”

“It’s possible, but not very likely. You might see more of this in Florida or somewhere very moist, but it is very rare in Colorado. We have had more rain this year than usual but, …no, it’s too advanced.”

We talked about the surgery techniques used to correct guttural pouch mycosis as well as the effectiveness of the techniques on varying degrees of artery and nerve exposure. I appreciated the information, but I already knew what was coming.

“If it was my horse and I was going to choose a surgical technique to try and fix this, I would take him to the University for ligation and balloon catheter occlusion of the internal carotid artery. But if it were my horse…if it were my horse I would do the humane thing and put him down.”

“Well, to be honest I had already decided that was the thing to do last night, I just didn’t know why. Alex was rescued from a starvation situation at a young age and I just couldn’t let him go out that way too. Thanks for taking the time to figure this thing out, I was starting to feel a little crazy.”

“I’m sorry, he’s such a good horse – he’s a sweet guy. I should’ve seen this yesterday. I mean, I was so focused on the choke and we cleared that. I didn’t think to look any further, but you’re right. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck! I don’t know how I missed this, I truly apologize. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s ok Doc, finding out yesterday or finding out today doesn’t change the end of the story. I’m just relieved to know why I’m saying goodbye.”

“Alright then, I’ll give you a moment – as long as you need. Just let us know when you’re ready.”

I opened the door to the front of the hospital where my husband had been waiting and motioned him over. I explained the situation and asked him if he wanted to be with me to say goodbye. He was in shock. He thought I wanted him to come help me get Alex settled into his stall. He didn’t realize we would be saying goodbye so soon. He nodded yes, he wanted to be there. Then, I took a small fraction of space, I beckoned time to stand still, I stole precious moments from the continuum, moments which I plan to hold onto forever – never to give back. They are mine and mine alone. They left wrinkles in his neck and dirt under my fingernails. They left a hole in the universe and an emptiness in my heart. I let go and slowly opened the door.

“We’re ready,” I said.

To be continued…

Alex and I.

Alex and I.

Waking Dr. Devine, Part Two

As Dr. Devine began the endoscopy procedure on Alex, he explained the symptoms of choke and the possible complications that could go along with it. I spent part of the time admiring his short handlebar mustache which was waxed into a slight twist at the ends. He was young and straightforward, very clinical in his approach and in the explanation of his findings. I asked questions pertaining to the matter as we watched the scope move through his esophagus.

“You’re pretty sharp on this,” said Dr. Devine as he advanced the scope through Alex’s esophagus.
“Well, I like to read up on things, especially if they happen to one of my animals,” I replied.

I didn’t want to seem like a know-it-all who resented being at a vet office. I admire and respect vets and, at one point in my life, wanted to be one. I don’t normally admit to having a copy of the Merck Veterinary Manual on my kitchen counter – where a mother of three young children spends most of her time. Nor do I usually find myself in the company of individuals who enjoy a good conversation about equine illnesses, piglet castration methods, or tubing cattle in an emergency. I quieted down and watched intently as the scope picked up on a large bolus of hay in Alex’s esophagus down in his chest.

“Here is the choke,” Dr Devine said, “and here is why it was impossible to palpate.”

The bolus was in the part of Alex’s esophagus that ran down through his chest prior to entering into his stomach. A somewhat strange place for a choke to occur. Dr Devine attempted to remove the bolus during a tense moment of pumping water through a stomach tube and moving it back and forth to dislodge the feed. There was a chance that his esophagus could rupture during this procedure and everyone in the room knew it.

“So Doc, have you ever encountered a choke you couldn’t clear?” I asked.
“Nah. I’ve had a few I had to get pretty western on, but they came out alright,” he replied.

I resisted the urge to jokingly retort, ‘Well, you’ve certainly got the mustache for it.’ But I didn’t want his focus drawn away from the task of clearing the choke lodged in my horse’s throat. Once the choke was cleared, Alex was scoped for a second time to confirm the clearance and to check the mucosal lining for damage. Even though damage can exist in any of the three linings of the esophagus, the fact that his interior mucosal lining looked fine gave us a better prognosis than not. I held back tears of joy and rubbed Alex on his forelock. I was relieved to be taking him home even though the scope had confirmed food particles in his trachea. The Doc warned me that the pneumonia was just as serious as the choke – we were not out of the woods yet. He gave me the daily dose of antibiotics to be given by injection and the antifungal pills which I was to either feed to Alex or insert rectally if needed. I asked the Doc what version of rectal insertion was necessary to be compliant with the dosage; a finger tip, a wrist, an elbow, or a shoulder? I was half joking at this point, relief was settling in as I hugged Alex’s neck and held back from doing the same to Dr Devine.

“Just inside the sphincter will be fine,” he said in a dry tone.
“So, what are the chances that I get him home and he has no interest in food or water due to soreness or further complications?” I asked.
“None,” said Dr Devine. “You will not have any issues with that, he is going to want to eat and drink when you are home.”

And with that, we headed for home. Visiting family members and a little girl’s birthday party were awaiting me at home. I drove off and finally let loose those tears of joy.

Alexander 2

When I met Brian, he didn’t have any pets. In fact, the last time he’d had any pets was when he lived in his parent’s home in Garland, Texas as a young boy. I only had a dog and a cat at the time, but I had grown up with multiple dogs, cats, horses, and rescue animals. I spent most of my high school and college years interning and working at a local vet office. I strongly considered studying veterinary medicine in college, but my heart led me to study writing. In most cases, the boy woos the girl by writing poems and making grandeur displays of romanticism – in our case, the opposite was true. Perhaps I forgot to mention, in my many love poems to Brian, that I loved animals just as much as I loved him. After we began our little family together, I prompted him to get a couple of dairy goats…we settled on a small flock of laying hens instead. So one afternoon, I took his mother Judy with me to buy a batch of day old chicks, brought them home, and plopped them down in the middle of our living room floor as she silently shook her head. And that was it, the beginning of our small family farm.

The Crowded Acre; the early days.

The Crowded Acre; the early days.

I arrived home late in the afternoon, but still in front of my parents who were busy buying bathroom cabinetry for the home they are building on our shared property. I passed my husband at Elephant Rock and we stopped briefly to chat about the afternoon, Alex, and the egg deliveries he was on his way to complete. I took one kid and he kept the other two as we parted ways for the next hour or so. When I backed the trailer to the barn, I placed my youngest son out of harms way before I backed Alex off the trailer – I knew he would be tired after six hours on a trailer to Denver and back. And that was when it happened. The moment I backed him off the trailer and saw the mucus still dripping fervently from his nostrils, I knew I had lost him. I knew he was gone forever and that I was going to have to make the call – definitive diagnosis or not.

Morning light.

Morning light.

Brian and I sold our first house and moved onto an acre of land with an old log cabin just outside of town when our daughter was a year old. We called it The Crowded Acre after we slowly started adding more laying hens, meat birds, turkeys, dairy goats, and feeder pigs. We raised our daughter on raw goats milk, we enjoyed farm fresh eggs, we made our own cheese and dairy products, and we fried our own bacon and pork chops. We renovated the house and had a second child, a son. We brought my childhood horse, Riley, out from Georgia to spend the last of his days with me and my new family. Brian was not only tolerant of our new four-legged family members, he was encouraging of my desire to help provide sustenance for our growing family. He has never been the kind of man to ask me to change bits and pieces of myself to better suit him, he has only been grateful for who I already am. That is true love.

Family photo, wedding day.

Family photo, wedding day.

I immediately called the emergency service for the Littleton Equine Hospital. I was hoping to connect with Dr. Devine since he had seen Alex just hours before, but I settled for the on-call Doc. I explained my concerns to her about Alex and how I believed he was losing his ability to swallow. He hadn’t had access to any food or roughage on the way home and he appeared to be choking again. I also explained that Dr. Devine had discovered that Alex was what they refer to as a “roarer,” meaning he had a consistent paralysis of part of his laryngeal nerve. At the time, this was viewed as a separate occurrence, not related to his current condition – now I wasn’t so sure. The on-call Doc explained that laryngeal paralysis and pharyngeal paralysis had nothing to do with each other. She was convinced that Alex had simply choked again and that recurrent choke was common among horses that had this issue to begin with. Her advice was to have him seen again by my local vet and to have her clear the choke and move on. I put a bowl of runny, mashed Equine Sr in front of Alex just before I put in a call to Leslie, my vet, to ask her opinion on the matter. Alex didn’t even try to eat it. My heart sank.

On pasture with Yak.

On pasture with Yak.

After several years on The Crowded Acre, we decided that we were ready for a bigger farm. We were the current home to laying hens, meat birds, turkeys, feeder pigs, dairy goats, a horse, two cats, two dogs, two adults, and two children – we needed a bigger boat. Since land is horrendously expensive in the mountains of Colorado, we enlisted my parents to look for a joint piece of property with us. They were happy to oblige and after some looking, we found our forever home. 15 acres situated on the east side of the valley, nestled in the Pinon forest, only a couple hundred yards from the mighty Arkansas River, and surrounded by BLM land. The land was bare except for a 24′ diameter yurt which we immediately made our home. We spent the next year building our house, introducing new family members, and saying goodbye to old ones.

Home Sweet Yurt.

Home Sweet Yurt.

Leslie answered the phone and I quickly began to explain the situation to her. ‘Oh, no,’ was all she could say at first. She didn’t think he was choking, but offered to come out and tube him anyway. I told her I didn’t see the point in it, that I had an intuition that something else was wrong, that his prognosis wasn’t good. Leslie agreed. We decided to talk again in the morning, at which point she would come out and examine him and, most likely, euthanize him.

“I need to know what you’re going to want to do with him,” she said, as I tried to maintain my composure. “If you want me to euthanize him, I usually call the guys down at the county dump and we trailer the horse down and unload him before I…”
“Leslie, I could never do that,” I interjected. “I just…I just couldn’t ever do that to him.”
“Okay, Jen. Well, you could pick a spot and I could put him to sleep like I’m about to do surgery and then stop his heart. That way you could feed him or bury him wherever you would like.”
“Ok,” I said, “Brian and I will have it all figured out by morning. Thanks Leslie.”

I got off the phone and turned into the house to let my family know the bad news. That on the day we were set to celebrate my daughter’s eighth birthday, we would be saying goodbye to a dear friend and companion. My voice quivered as I spoke.

Whatcha doin'?

Whatcha doin’? – with Bonnie, the intern

A year after building our house, we began building our barn. We moved from operating a homestead to running a small family farm which offers humanely raised animal proteins such as beef, pork, eggs, and poultry. We provide all of our own dairy and grow an annual summer garden to support our family of five. Our motto is ‘Honor the Beast,’ something we strive to do every day of our lives. We have lost animals, we have witnessed the birth of animals, and we have slaughtered animals for our own consumption. Everything in its place and a place for every thing. It takes a strong relationship to weather the storms of marriage, children, homeschooling, firefighting (my husband’s profession), farming, and the ever changing task of moving forward. We like to find comic relief wherever we can as a way to brush the hardships off our shoulders and to keep on keepin’ on. My favorite way to add humor to any situation is to pretend that I am speaking for any one of our animals. Each animal has a different voice and I often use it to irritate Brian when he is trying to have a serious conversation with me. I like to say that it is the animal speaking through me and that I have no control over it…he likes to roll his eyes and snort and sneer as if I am something he merely tolerates, along with “my” animals. He often convinces our friends and family that this is the case – Jen and her animals, my wife the farmer, this life that I married – but I know he has a soft spot for me and the animals. We don’t make decisions separate from each other, we drive this life together, and he has agreed to it every step of the way. Sometimes we take a step backwards, or decide that a specific avenue is not right for us, but we continue to move forward. Together, hand in hand – annoying animal voices and all.

The Crowded Acre logo art, with Alex in the top right corner.

The Crowded Acre logo art, with Alex in the top right corner.

To be continued…

Waking Dr. Devine, Part One

After reading the title to this story, you might assume that it is about winning the lottery or waking the dead. In fact, it is not. It is quite the opposite. It is about losing the lottery. It is about saying goodbye to the living, and leaving the dead where they lie.

Exactly one week ago, on a Sunday, one of my horses started to spit out random wads of hay. He also had a slight runny nose with a clear discharge. I had worked him just the day before, nothing hard or exhaustive, just a normal day for a pleasure horse. The following morning, on Monday, I noticed that the discharge from his right nostril looked green and profuse. I took his temperature, 100.8, prior to calling the vet. Little did I know, this was the beginning of a very long week – a week that would not end well.

Imperial Alexander the Great

Imperial Alexander the Great

Imperial Alexander the Great, or Alex as he was known around the barn, was rescued as a youngster from a situation where he was not being cared for properly. He was young and thin when Elizabeth found him in Kansas and brought him home to her farm, Imperial Drafts and Drums. He had been bred with intention, half Friesian and half Shire. But for some reason, the breeders were unable to care for him properly and he found a home with the lovely Elizabeth. At some point during his stay at Imperial Drafts and Drums, he impaled his right breast on a t-post, leaving a huge gash. His spirit never broke during this ordeal and he was cared for and nursed back to health by the patient Elizabeth. She noticed right away that even after a starvation situation and a gnarly wound, his trust in people never subsided. This was true to his final day.

Young Alexander.

Young Alexander.

When Leslie, our vet, arrived to look at Alex, I told her the symptoms he was having as we walked into his stall. After a brief examination she asked me if he had choked. I replied that I wasn’t aware of any choke or episode in which he had choked. There was no obvious bolus of feed in his throatlatch or neck, so she began to wonder if he had the flu or perhaps a pharyngitis. She treated him with some Banamine, Dex, and a tranquilizer to relax him and his neck in the case he had something lodged in there. We spoke about the necessary monitoring and when to call if he had not improved. I felt confident we were dealing with something viral that we would just have to wait out. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I drove out to Nebraska to look at Alexander, I was nervous and cautious. I had never purchased a green horse before, nor had I ever driven so far to consider one. To be honest, I left Colorado with a near certainty that I would be returning with a horse. I had spent weeks talking with Elizabeth, watching current videos of Alexander’s movement and behavior, and considering all of my other options. None of these things affected my confidence. The single thing that both created and sustained my belief in this animal was a simple photo – a photo of his eye. You can look into a horse’s eye and know many things about him. Is he kind? Is he pensive? Does he trust you? When I arrived in Nebraska to meet Alexander for the first time, I knew everything there was to know in seconds. In less than two hours I was pulling him in my trailer, Colorado bound.

On Tuesday, I didn’t notice much of a change in Alex. He still had no fever, a good appetite, and heavy nasal discharge, now out of both nostrils. I gave him a dose of Banamine and waited until the following morning to see how he was faring. Wednesday morning, I noticed a cough/blow along with his morning meal. Even though we had been soaking his hay, he seemed to be having a hard time getting it down. I also looked closely at the nasal discharge and found that the green color was due to hay particles in his mucus. I immediately called Leslie to let her know that I thought Alex should be seen soon. She managed to make it out that afternoon and I explained to her that I didn’t think he had the flu or pharyngitis. She agreed. She believed he was suffering from choke and that I should have him looked at right away. I asked her if she wanted to pass a tube and she said no. She told me to get him into the University or the hospital in Littleton, she didn’t want to risk rupturing his esophagus by passing a tube blindly. We made the appointment for the following morning. Leslie followed up our appointment by explaining that choke was a very serious condition which was almost always followed by aspiration pneumonia, an equally serious condition. She then walked over to look at our two week old piglets, new life at its beginning. I had seen her do this once before when my lead dairy cow was dying from acidosis. My heart sank.

Alex meets Yak for the first time.

Alex meets Yak for the first time.

Bringing Alexander home was very exciting for me. As a mother of three who spends most of her time homeschooling kids and running a small, diverse farm, this was guaranteed to be a project I could enjoy. I had never worked with a green horse before and Alexander was a growing three year old with a small amount of training in him. He immediately became friends with our one-eyed Haflinger, Yak. They were the only two horses on a farm full of beef cows, dairy cows, dairy goats, pigs, chickens, and turkeys. They were also the only two animals that didn’t produce something we would eventually consume or sell to be consumed. No, Alexander was a buddy. A sweet, good-natured companion. A pleasure horse for our family and friends. A solid, trustworthy, smooth-gaited hayburner. His job was to be big and happy and beautiful. He was so very good at it.

Thursday morning, I loaded Alex into the trailer bright and early. Even though we had switched him over to a runny mash of Equine Sr, his food was still pouring out of his nostrils when he ate. I pulled out of the driveway hopeful that I would be bringing him home with me. We were expecting a visit from my parents over the weekend. My daughter’s eighth birthday was coming up and they had planned to fly out to celebrate with us – a horse themed party. My parents were to arrive Thursday afternoon and we were to celebrate Friday evening. We had already purchased a new saddle and grooming kit to go along with letting Maya, my daughter, be the sole caretaker for Yak. The plan was for her to learn how to care for a horse of her own before we bought one for her. If the day went well, I would roll back into the valley with Alex in tow just as my parents were arriving for the festivities. I knew I would be tied up with caring for a sick horse, but that seemed apt for a weekend celebrating girls and their horses.

Alex and Maya.

Alex and Maya.

Working with Alexander was well-suited for a beginner like me. I have been around horses since I was four and have been riding just as long. But as far as getting a horse under-saddle from the ground up, I was a baby. Alexander was patient and kind, smart and inquisitive, pensive and quiet. He still behaved like a youngster at times, jumping three feet in the air at the squirt of the fly spray bottle or prancing around on a cold, winter morning. But for the most part, he was content to teach me how to teach him, allowing me to make mistakes and correct myself before completing a task and moving on to the next. He was a gracious partner who was never pushy or demanding, even though he must have been bored at my pace. We developed a bond I have not felt with many beings. I felt pride and accomplishment just to know that I had found a friend that I could grow old with – we didn’t have to be flashy or fancy, rich or well-adorned. All we needed was to wake up each morning knowing that we would see each other throughout the day, making sure we each had what we needed to get through that day, stopping often for scritches and hugs, conversations and reflection.

Waiting for the Doc in the Box.

Waiting for the Doc in the Box.

When we arrived at the Littleton Equine Center, Alex waited patiently on the trailer for our appointment. I could tell he was nervous and a bit tired from the long drive over the mountain passes and down into the plains. When it was time to pull him off the trailer, he backed slowly out into my arms. As he turned to face the entrance into the exam room, he quivered in his shoulder. We walked slowly towards the double doors which lead into the room where he would have an endoscopy performed to determine the cause of his symptoms. He refused to walk over the wet puddles in the concrete – it had been over a year since he had experienced asphalt or concrete and he didn’t know if he liked it. He entered the room and walked into the stand, unsure if he wanted to be there but trusting my judgment along the way. As the tranquilizer began to kick in, I handed the lead line over to the vet techs and stood back to make room for the vet. Dr. Devine walked into the room with a waxed handlebar mustache and clean flannel shirt. He spoke a few words before he was off to get his supplies, the most important of which was a pair of coveralls. Alex blew another round of mucus out of his nostrils and into the faces of the present parties. I had learned to keep a terry cloth rag handy for just such an event and was wiping off my face as Dr. Devine reentered the room.

Training Alex...or Alex training me.

Training Alex…or Alex training me.

I hadn’t sat on Alexander yet. We were getting very close to being under saddle, but had a minor setback over a recent visit from the farrier. In the round pen, Alex had performed every task I asked of him. He had been sacked out, long-lined, worked over. But when the farrier came out and we were outside of the round pen and away from his buddy Yak, Alexander seemed to think he was no longer under any obligation to behave. He danced around to show that not only was he bigger than us, but that he didn’t have to do what we wanted. The afternoon ended fine, he got his feet trimmed and the farrier was no worse for the wear. But it made me think that I should reinforce our training that we had accomplished inside the round pen, outside of the round pen again, just for good measure. He didn’t fuss or fight when I reintroduced the same ideas in a different setting over and over again. In fact, he seemed to pay more attention without the barriers of a round pen because the situation was demanding it of him. His movements were more open and free because his environment was open and free. I could sense what it would be like to ride him for the first time, and for a lifetime after that. He responded well to all of my cues and was ready for the saddle. He was ready for me to be in the saddle and I was ready for it too. This was the day before he started spitting out boluses of hay.

Me and the big guy.

Me and the big guy.

To be continued…

for Alex

driving out of the valley
pulling a big horse
in a small trailer.
I try to keep
my spirits high
as I drop down
out of the mountains.
aiming towards
the plains below
I meet up with
the north fork of the south platte
and I follow it down
down
down.
no matter how intent I am
or how fast I go
I will never be as fast
as a single
drop of water.

my heart flows
like that water does
through valleys and canyons
fields and ravines.
originating from the mountaintops,
cutting through centuries-old
earth and rock.
flowing through time
with a history
well-worn.

but unlike that water
my heart stops
when we reach the plains.
it heaves heavy
and deep.
it weeps at the passing
of water
and other things.

it breaks,
it leaves pieces of me
behind.
I will never look
for them again.
they are gone forever.

then,
unlike that water
my heart knows
when it is time
to flow uphill
to pull an empty trailer
back up that mountain
so it may start the journey
all over again,
this time anew:

a luxury water
will only ever hope
to behold.

Tomorrow

Alex.

Alex.

Tomorrow might be a bad day.

Tomorrow I might have to choose to put my horse down. My five year old, friend for the next 25 years, best guy ever, horse.

My Alex.

It’s a long story. One which I don’t wish to recount tonight.

Tonight I am hoping beyond all hope that a miracle happens.

Tonight I can’t think about what this all would mean.

Tomorrow is not a thing to worry about, not as long as we have tonight.

I may sleep in the barn. Or maybe I will not sleep…in the barn.

I definitely won’t sleep.

What…that?

What’s that? Oh, just the best week ever here on the Acre. 

 

We started the week with Clara giving us 13 piglets in a 6 hour span. Yay!

 

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The following morning we welcomed 10 new Muscovy ducklings into the fold. We are hoping they will help to control the fly population…and provide some yummy meat in the process. 

 

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Luckily Annabellie decided to give us 36 hours after Clara’s farrowing before she decided to grace us with 8 new piglets of her own. Last year we had a 12 hour separation between farrowings…that caused us to lose a lot of sleep!

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That same afternoon was followed by washing and delivering eggs as well as a meeting for The Farmers Femme. We are a group of women farmers that get together to talk about the trials and tribulations of being a woman farmer in a man’s world. Awesomesauce.

 

Today my husband was able to come home early after a week full of fire calls and late night trainings. We decided to spend the afternoon boiling skulls from the cows we had processed in January.

 

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We also rode the 4wheelers down to my parents’ new home on the Acre, aka our future retirement home. What is the weight rating on the 4wheelers, you ask? We don’t know because we don’t ask those kinds of questions…

 

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But really, is there a better ending to a better week? A glass of wine, a 4wheeler ride, 21 new piglets in the barn, a dead battery at the top of the hill, new ducklings, future pork shares for a potential multi-farm meat CSA, happy kids, open fire, excited husband, slow weekend ahead…gotta love this life, gotta life I love.

 

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Blow Up Your TV

Someone I no longer know once said to me, “Go to school, finish your studies, get a job and make a living. Then, if you want to move to a cabin in the woods, do it because it is your choice, not because it is the only option you have.”

I didn’t finish school and I may not be great at making large amounts of money. But I am great at making a life and a home in my cabin in the woods. And what do you know…I didn’t have to get a career in order to buy myself the option of a life worth living. I just live it, day to day.

I don’t begrudge that person or their advice to me, but I do think that too many people think success is a one-sided story. It starts with this and ends with that. This just isn’t true, for so many reasons. Too many people do what they are “supposed” to do instead of what they long to do. Me? I’m just over here blowin’ up my tv and eatin’ more peaches…

A Country Mouse Can Survive

Just in case you were worried about this little country mouse…I survived Ikea. We fed the animals early and headed out for the big city first thing Wednesday morning. I considered wearing a skirt but couldn’t stand the thought of my thighs audibly high-fiving each other everywhere I went, so I stuck with my usual jean shorts and tank top. We had lunch shortly after we arrived, then cautiously sauntered into the giant warehouse. I walked away without a single purchase, though I am still wondering if that squeeze tube of pureed crab product might have been worth it…

We took the kids to the amusement park later that day and finished it all off with a short date night at a horrible restaurant. After being in the food industry for so long, I can hardly find a decent place to eat. Everything is over seasoned, over cooked, and over priced. Poop. We stayed the night in Denver before going to the zoo the following afternoon. Zoos make me sad and that is all I’m going to say about that.

We drove home that evening, getting stuck in pre-4th of July traffic. Yay. We managed to entertain ourselves during the five hour trip (twice as long as normal) by eating leftover lunch for dinner, having a dance-off, and playing the always irritating game of copycat. I was more than happy to make it home and see the animals. I love where I live and who I live with…I can’t imagine it any other way.