Betsy

she tried to warn me.

it was so sweet of her.

I didn’t understand.

Sunday morning, I went out to do the chores. I had gotten a new round bale the day before, but it was dark when I got home with it. this morning, I had to put it out in the ring in the mushy, muddy paddock. sometimes I can back the truck in there and just roll the bale off, but with all the mud I felt like I should definitely use the tractor this time, just in case.

first, I had to get the bale off the truck. always a little scary. I can’t handle round bales without thinking of the guy from ELO (the band, from the 80’s) who got killed by a runaway one while he was innocently driving down some highway in England, minding his own business. I opened the tailgate and reached up, wrapping my fingers around the string as high as I could get a grip, and pulled. the giant cylinder of hay ponderously rolled a few inches towards the end of the bed. I reached up higher, got another handful of twine, and rocked it back and forth a few times, then pulled hard and jumped out of the way.

800lbs of hay rolled off the truck and bounced gently once before coming to rest. I went around to the far side and pushed it over onto its flat end.

I went over to Betsy, my blue tractor. the seat was wet with dew. I turned the key without getting up onto it. there is a failsafe under the seat and if no one is sitting in it the tractor won’t run. I knew that already but I really didn’t want to get my bum wet. Betsy cleared her throat vigorously but did not start. I sighed, left the key “on” and walked to the barn, about 20 feet away, to get a dry grain bag to put on the seat.

when I came back, I got up onto the seat, turned the key off and then pushed it back forward.

nothing.

no sound, not even a click.

shit.

I don’t even know how to open the hood, let alone if there’s anything different about jumpstarting a tractor than a car. (or a lawnmower, I’ve done that too… but wrong!) I spent a few futile minutes trying to figure out how to pop Betsy’s hood. didn’t get anywhere. now the bale is off the truck so I can’t even move it at all. shit.

I walked away, to the barn. thinking about having to leave the bale there and peel hunks off of it for the animals until Monday when Union Farm Supply opens. and how long it might take for them to fit me into their busy schedule. argh. I went back over to Betsy, climbed up and tried turning the key again, just out of pure desperation and stubbornness.

Betsy roared to life!

I heaved a giant sigh of relief and thanked Betsy from the bottom of my heart.

(Betsy is named after the girl who mercilessly bullied me all through grade and middle school. it’s fun to have her working for me now.)

I happily raised the rear weight box, adjusted the bucket, and drove over to the bale. I move the round bales with a chain and the two hooks welded to the ends of the loader bucket. tilt the bucket down, wrap the chain from one hook, around the middle of the bale, to the other hook. get back on the tractor and tilt the bucket up. the round bale rises into the air. lift it up just slightly (tipping forward is a real concern, even with the weighted rear tires and box full of rocks on the back) and head for the gate.

as I passed through the gate into the slop of mud, the tractor lurched slightly. I wasn’t surprised. it’s been raining and nothing is frozen and it’s just awful. I prayed to not get stuck and drove straight ahead. put the bale down on a spot just slightly less muddy than the current location of the ring feeder that prevents the horses from using the round bale as a bed. then hopped off the tractor to loose the chain.

I took it off the left side hook and took sticky steps around to the other side, gathering up chain. as I lifted the last link out of the hook on the bucket, the corner of my eye caught an angle that didn’t seem right.

I looked at Betsy’s front wheel.

the tire was off the rim.

well, shit.

I guess that lurch wasn’t just the mud. and those odd tracks I noticed after the last time I did this… I think I get why they looked weird now.

the bucket was still mashed tight to the bale. I climbed back up onto the tractor seat, crossed my fingers, and shifted into reverse. took my foot off the clutch just long enough to get about a foot away from the hay. the flat tire swung crazily and threatened to separate completely from its wheel… but did not. I shut the tractor off and dismounted into the mud, boundlessly grateful that I had gotten the horses out of the way by putting them in the front field instead of shutting them in their stalls.

my friend Elaine knows everybody, and she doesn’t go to church. I called her.
“would you happen to know anyone who might be able to help me with a flat tire on my tractor, on a Sunday morning, in Union, Maine?”
she did. his name is John. I called John’s number. his wife called him to the phone and he sounded completely unfazed and said he’d be over in a bit.

John had to put his truck back together, so it took him all of about 45  minutes to get to me. he looks like a skinny Santa Claus in a dirty Carhart. I had warned him about the mud. he said it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as he was expecting. he instructed me to raise the front end of the tractor by pressing the loader down on the ground, then removed the rim and tire and we threw a cinder block and a 2×6 under the axle to spare the hydraulics. we had a brief conversation about the cost of new tractor tires and he went off to see if he could find a tube at Tractor Supply in Thomaston. no dice. there are actually two different tractor dealers right down the road from me, in Union. of course neither is open Sundays.

the next morning, John called at 10am. the tire was all ready to go. he was here in 15 minutes and I met him at the paddock gate. the horses had spent the night in the paddock, eating (and trashing) the un-ringed round bale and investigating, but thankfully not damaging, the tractor. I had brought them back up front before John got here so we could work in peace.

he rolled the tire over to Betsy. I followed. as we got closer, I heard him start to mutter, “oh dear, oh dear…” and at the same moment I wondered what had happened to the bolts that held the rim on.

I had been on the phone briefly while he was working Sunday. left on his own, John had made a little pile of the bolts on the ground… and forgotten to go back for them.
and then the horses walked around on top of them for 12 hours.

we were able to find one just by looking.

then, I sighed and went to get a pitchfork.
I turned the mud (and manure) over, sifting small bits at a time. soon enough the second bolt appeared. then the third, and the fourth.
John took over with the fork.
the other two bolts were eventually recovered as well.

the horses had moved the bucket joystick overnight and let Betsy down so her full weight was on the block. I started her up and hoisted her front end back up into the air so John could replace the rim and tire.

when he was finished, I triumphantly drove Betsy out onto dry land.

I paid John for his work.

then, after he left, I went to the hay feeder ring. it is about 8 feet across. I tipped it up onto its side. I’m always tempted to try walking in it to move it, like a hamster wheel. but I’m chicken. if I hit my head there’s no one to call 911. so I got behind it and pushed, rolling it over to the exploded round bale. the horses had pulled one side out and each of them had spent a few hours laying on the resulting “couch”.
I rolled the ring as close as I could, then went around and reached down, taking hold of the pipe that forms a sort of cage on top. I pulled up hard and the ring fell down… right on top of the bale. it was too loose and messy. I went around to the other side and pulled until the ring settled down a bit. I stuffed the hay in on that side as best I could. then went all the way around, pushing the ring down around the blob of hay.

finally, I took an armload of the hay and brought it over to the calves. they capered around happily. I scratched their cheeks and Earl started licking me like he always does.
I gave him my finger and he latched on.

and all was well once more.

Betsy

stupid bird

Skipper is missing.
Skipper is the one remaining chicken that was born here this past summer. I gave two of her siblings away and the other three all committed suicide by popping out of the fence around the yard and getting eaten by the fox.
Skipper is beautiful. charcoal grey with a rusty chestnut wash on her breast, she has bright yellow earlobes and a small pea comb, and her father’s puffy cheeks. I thought for sure she was a cockerel for weeks and weeks and was very surprised when she didn’t start crowing or growing shiny hackle and saddle feathers.
she grew up in the yard, and I moved her to the barn about a month ago, since she is finally old enough to eat layer pellets.
she promptly flew over the 6′ fence around the barn chickens’ run and went back to the yard.
I trimmed one wing and brought her back to the barn that evening.
the next morning she was back in the yard first thing.
so this time, I trimmed both wings back hard. now she has nothing to fly with. I decided to stop letting the barn chickens out to play in the afternoons for a few days so she could learn where her new home is.
Skipper stayed up on the highest perch in the barn for several days. the barn chickens were very mean to her, as they are when a new bird is introduced. I had tried to set Skipper up for less bullying by initially putting her in with the two legbars and Marilyn at the same time, so the punishment would be spread out amongst the four of them. but Skipper sabotaged my plan and now she was the only “new” one.
eventually she started coming down and taking her requisite beatings.
I left them all locked up for over a week, maybe two.
today a friend came to visit and meet all the animals. as I showed her around the barn I decided it was time to let the chickens out again. it had been so long I hesitated and it felt odd to open the run door… but the chickens were SO happy. they quickly dispersed out through the pig paddocks, cleaning up spilled grain and calling excitedly to each other.

this evening when I went to do the chores, there were not enough chickens in the barn.
I had seen Skipper and one of the legbars poking around the far side of the house earlier. I looked around and determined that both legbars were present and accounted for.
sigh.
she can’t fly at all.
I looked around for her with a flashlight for about half an hour.
didn’t find her.

I am hoping she will be pecking and scratching around in the morning. she’s a wily little bird.
fingers crossed.

stupid bird

home again

I’ve been gone a lot lately.

Carole died.

Carole was my partner, back in the city. we lived together for 9 years. I broke her heart when I decided it was time to leave and pursue my country dream. she was a deeply troubled woman, her illness was catastrophic, and her death was sudden and shocking.

it was pure chance that I happened to contact her the day before she was admitted to the hospital. we hadn’t really spoken in over four years. I was terribly afraid of hurting her again.

she was only in there for a week. she and I talked and texted every day until her last.

I did not get there in time to see her.

so I had to go down for her funeral. it was a sweet, loving service; and on the way back to Brooklyn from Beth David Cemetery in Queens, a breathtaking sunset filled the sky like a peach-gold satin curtain that got brighter and brighter, shining gorgeous orange and crimson and pink all across the city. my friend Anne and I were awestruck in the car and it felt like a benediction.

then I went and picked up Kira Joy, Carole’s dog, and came home for a few busy days leading up to Thanksgiving, then went to Jen’s house in Rhode Island to spend the holiday with her and her family, and then back to Brooklyn, to get Adrian.

Adrian is an African Grey Parrot, like Deuter, the one I’ve had for 25 years. I brought Adrian home after he was left on the floor in the lobby of the animal hospital where I worked, intending to foster him and find him a home. but Carole decided she wanted to keep him. so she did… and now I feel responsible for him once again.

I was very nervous about driving my big truck in Brooklyn. the holiday weekend was to my advantage, but I knew there was a clock ticking on that and due to the fact that there was no way to secure Adrian’s cage in the bed against vandals or (very motivated) thieves, I made the decision to make the whole trip in one day. the parking gods smiled, and sent a nice man in a mail truck to be done and pulling away JUST when I needed a spot right in front of Carole’s building. after the cage was loaded, I put the blankets I had brought in the space behind the truck seats and moved George and Kira back there. the dogs had come with me and had a lovely Thanksgiving at Jen’s, playing with her dogs and enjoying many treats. this riding behind the seats was not exactly what they’d had in mind. Kira whined and tried to squeeze out and George looked betrayed. I apologized and went back in to get Adrian in his travel cage… the same one he had been abandoned in some 8 years earlier. I brought him out to the truck, put him in and asked him nicely not to chew the seat.

and then it was time to go get the rooster.

someone found him running around loose, somewhere in Brooklyn: a Sebright rooster. a bantam (miniature) breed, they are silvery white or gold, with black lacing around each feather. the males also have the distinction of being “hen-feathered”: they lack the long, glossy hackle and saddle feathers that distinguish most adult male chickens. this guy’s silver. he had been at the vet hospital the week before when I went to pick up Kira and they wondered if I would want him. I don’t, (I have 5, four times his size, that would all like to have him for breakfast) but I posted his picture on facebook when I got home just for kicks and five minutes later my friend Jami said she’d like to have him. so I had to go to Bensonhurst and pick him up from the kindly bartender who’d been fostering him.

the guy was waiting on the stoop with a cardboard carrier when I got there.

“want my cock?” he said with a grin.

“your TINY cock?” I replied with a bigger one.

poor Frank. the little rooster was just getting started every morning as he got home from work. I was glad to be able to end his suffering.

and then it was off to Maine. two dogs, a parrot and a rooster, and me. in Thanksgiving traffic, on I-95.

it took about 8 1/2 hours, with 2 short stops. I got home around 12:15.

tonight, I did the chores, had some dinner, and then went back down to the barn with Earl’s milk. he slurped it greedily and then commenced to try to suck on anything he could get his face near. I took his empty bucket and backed away before he could slime me too badly.

the horses were waiting. Bailey in her stall, Lucy just outside. I scratched Bailey’s cheeks and fussed with her hair. she nibbled me gently. I gave her a kiss and breathed her scent deep into my lungs. oh look, treats in my pocket. I gave her one and went outside to see Lucy. Lucy took her first treat, crunched it twice and immediately frisked me for more. since I want her to like me, I had another ready… but just as she took it her head snapped up and she gazed off to the east.

Prince always used to look over that way and I could never see or hear what he was focused on. I glanced back over my shoulder and stroked Lucy’s neck. she still wouldn’t chew her treat, standing stock still, ears tilted forward.

I pushed my hood back and turned around, and there it was.

a deer, stepping carefully out of the darkness.

it stopped and stared back at Lucy for a moment, then picked at the rye grass growing on the garden. Lucy walked away from me, over to the fence for a better view. Bailey came out of the barn to stare as well, and I edged closer to the fence myself, trying to make out the deer’s head in the dim light of the half moon. I couldn’t decide if I saw antlers or not. the deer took a few steps to the right, taking in the two giant horses and woman all approaching it together, froze for a few seconds, then fled.

Lucy chewed her treat and gulped it down.

I patted them, said goodnight and went back to the warm, bright house.

I love my home.

Adrian

this is his travel cage. he moves back into his regular big one tomorrow.

home again

Lucy and I: getting to know you, and your pigs

Lucy dressed

I brought Lucy down the barn aisle and out to the grooming area in front of the barn. we said hello to the stocks on the way. I tied her leadrope to the ring and picked up the rubber curry comb I had left outside last time I groomed Bailey, and began scrubbing Lucy’s neck in big circles. she was very fidgety, unhappy about the pigs she could see moving contentedly around in their pen on the other side of the barn. as I brushed her she stepped all the way over to the right, then swung around the other way, ending up “hiding” around the corner. I pushed her back, then just followed as she took another look at the pigs, then ran back to see Bailey around the corner. Bailey unhelpfully neighed, expressing her fear that her new “friend” that she hasn’t even shared a paddock with yet might be disappearing. Lucy broke out in a sweat.

I went to get King’s collar.

we had a brief discussion about how it was going to get over her head. she was busy doing her pigs-to-Bailey arc and gently moved her head up out of my reach. I asked her to stand still and tried again to put the collar on. she lost focus and went to see Bailey. this time I pulled her back over and told her to stand more assertively. she put her head through the collar. it fits.

I went back in the tack room and slung King’s harness over my shoulder. walked around to Lucy’s left side and raised the hames high in the air, then placed them over her withers. awkwardly, as always, fumbled the rest of the harness onto her back. she stood still. I fastened the hame strap, then started letting all the buckles out two or three holes. she is much bigger than King. I loosened the two straps down the top of her back, so the britchen could reach over her massive, gorgeous bum. pulled the britchen back: it still wouldn’t go all the way. ah. the quarter straps were still clipped to the D rings on the sides, too short. I undid them and let them hang while I let out the pole strap, between her front legs, a few holes. then I made the quarter straps as long as possible and tried to connect them to the pole strap. not even close. I let it out more. still not enough. I loosened the strap it’s connected to all the way. that’s more like it.

dropped the butt strap of the britchen two holes all the way around. now it’s starting to look like she’s wearing her own harness instead of someone else’s.

time for the bridle. I let it out all the way before attempting to put it on. Lucy has a little issue with putting her head down for the bridle, so I didn’t want to “reward” her by squeezing her head and hurting her mouth. it’s a good thing I am tall. Lucy and I had another discussion about her accepting the bridle and bit and eventually I prevailed. I tucked her ears in and started checking out the fit. Lucy frantically champed her jaws. the bit was too small, it was pinching and the shank was poking her in the mouth! I unbuckled it from the bit straps… but by then she had decided it was more comfortable to hold tightly onto it. I asked her to drop it and her mouth popped open. King’s bit fell into my hands. I took it into the tack room and hung it on the back of the door where the bit stash lives. my hand lingered on it for a moment and I missed King intensely. then I took Prince’s old too-big military elbow bit down. it’s the biggest one I have.

Lucy and I had another discussion at the very upper limit of my arms’ reach about opening her mouth for the new bit. once it was in, I busied myself doing up the straps. it seems a bit on the roomy side but that’s ok. it’s more worrisome that her old bit at Larry’s was a totally different type: a thin loose ring snaffle. I don’t know if she’s ever had a solid mouthpiece in her mouth or a curb chain under her chin. I considered leaving it hanging but decided the flapping would be worse and did it up very loosely.

Lucy bridled

oh, right, the head check. that took some fiddling.

attached the lines.

unclipped the lead rope.

and off we went.

I drove her to the front field. Bailey called frantically as we went over the rise and out of her sight. Lucy hesitated, but heeded my kiss to walk on and went through the gate. I turned her to the left and we walked the inside of the fenceline across the top of the sloping pasture.

there is a huge log in the front field. (don’t ask me why) it is from a big, beautiful tree that stood beside, and sort of menacingly over, the barn. I named the tree Stella: she had three branching trunks and a crazy, sprawling shape. I loved that tree, but she was too close to the barn and I had to have her taken down. the log in the front field was the longest, straightest piece of all her trunks. I thought perhaps I might have it milled into boards and build something from it… but I’ve since been informed that it’s not a good candidate for that after all. so I need to tow the splitter in there one of these days and cut it up for firewood.

Lucy’s ears snapped forward as we approached the log. she has been pulling out several cords of firewood with her previous owner in the past few weeks prior to coming here. I doubt very much she could budge this log: the tractor could hardly pull it. but she was game!! I steered her around and down the hill. we got to the middle plateau. squish, squish. not good footing for either one of us. we squished around, I asked her to do a few circles, and then turned her up toward the gate. her pace quickened.

“whoa.”

she stopped dead instantly.

I took a few beats and then we moved off again. left the pasture, went through the opening in the stone wall, hung a right across the bottom of the lawn, went over and up the driveway, then straight back down the “carriage road” that leads to the clearing in the woods. Lucy put her head down and did the little sneezy blow that means a horse is focusing on its work. I praised her and we went down the hill and over the culvert, then up the wooded track to the clearing. I steered her around the outer edge, then into the middle and asked her to stop. she stops really well, but she doesn’t stand well. or maybe she was distracted by Bailey’s renewed wailing. much fidgeting was done in the clearing. eventually she settled down enough to justify being allowed to leave.

by this time, Lucy was very sweaty and beginning to lather a bit under the snugger spots of the harness.

we started back down the woods trail. so far so good. when we got back over the culvert, I steered her to the right and we checked out the sweat lodge structure that perhaps one day I will use as a pea-and-bean trellis.

Lucy was getting agitated. I took a deep, calm breath. we continued up the hill. she wanted to run. I made her walk. I couldn’t make her walk slowly,  but I was glad she was walking like I told her to. about 3/4 of the way up, I asked her to do a circle to the right. she listened to me but her “circle” was a wobbly lopsided oval and she froze when I turned her back downhill, away from the barn. I asked her for another one. it was similarly distracted but I cut my losses and we headed back. her pace picked up again but she slowed down when I asked her to. the whole time I was driving her, she was flipping her head in an irritated way. she’s wearing all new tack and a new kind of bit. I didn’t really correct her much but I need to try a different bit next time. we walked into the parking area, past the trailer, the wagon and my truck, hung a left around her stocks and she walked right past the tie up rings and over to Bailey! oops. wasn’t paying attention: I’m so used to the horses going back to their rings on autopilot. I circled Lucy around and we went to her ring. I flicked the right line over her back and went around to clip the lead rope to her halter.
“good girl!!!”

I patted her, took all the tack off. she was drenched. I curried her again, then brushed. sweat droplets flew off her back and tickled my face. ugh. better take her for a walk to cool off. I untied the lead and we took a lap around the parking area. but. as we turned back towards the barn something caught my eye.

a big red pig, not where he belonged.

uh oh.

I calmly steered Lucy back towards the barn. it was starting to get dark. the warm light in the barn aisle spilled out into the dusk. Lucy froze on the threshold. horses don’t like changes in light, and they get spooky at twilight anyway. I kissed and encouraged her. she stood still. I pushed her gently to one side. she took a step. I used that momentum to get her through the doorway and into the barn. we went through her stall and out into her paddock. she was still completely sweaty. I walked her around her paddock a couple of times, still trying to cool her off a little. but then I noticed there were LITTLE red pigs hanging out with the loose big red pig. and a whole section of their fence was down.

shit.

if they come anywhere near here, Lucy will be scarred for life.

I unclipped the lead, gave Lucy a pile of hay and went to turn off the fence.

the pigs were all back in in a few minutes. I have such good pigs.

Lucy and I: getting to know you, and your pigs

here I am: pilgrimage to Meader Supply

lots of people have been telling me for years and years that I should “write”. a book, a blog, stories… well. I love to write. and I’m glad you guys like it. so I’m going to try this.

today I went to New Hampshire to get a restraint device for Lucy. Lucy is a great horse, she has been well trained and seems to have a good mind and temperament… but she has one flaw.

she is not good for the farrier.

she needs stocks.

like the devices used to publicly humiliate people in Puritan days, draft horse stocks are big chunky wooden (or steel) things that you use to tie the horse’s legs up so nobody, horse or innocent hardworking farrier, has to hold them there. unlike the hapless erstwhile human residents of stocks, though; horses seem to like them, from what I’ve seen. I have seen pictures of horses hanging in them like hammocks, or sleeping in them. (there are chains that go under the belly that make this possible) I have read disparaging comment threads about using stocks that are very judgy and mean, but I don’t have a problem with Lucy needing them… aside from the cost (don’t ask) and the inconvenience (seven hours round trip, and it’s still on my truck and I hope to god I can get it off without breaking it or wrecking my tractor).

I asked around locally and looked on craigslist and such, but couldn’t find any quickly. and I need Lucy’s shoes pulled right away. so off to Meader Supply, capital of the New England draft horse world, I went with my truck. Meader’s is like disneyland. all the tack, all the cool toys and boots and blankets and halters… and EVERYTHING FITS. they had orange, teal and pink camo draft horse blankets. all I’ve ever seen was plain red and blue before, in the “big boy” sizes. I took my time, browsing around, found a PURPLE halter for Bailey and some discounted fly spray, and then it was time to take the plunge.

“I’m here for a set of stocks.”

the young woman was very nice. she rang up my giant bill and informed me I had won a wall thermometer, would I like Percheron or Belgian? I chose Belgian of course. (I NEVER thought I would turn into a breed snob!) she told me where to pull my truck around and I complied. the girl said she would try to find someone to run the forklift. turned out it was her dad. and then another woman came out and was hanging around, I guess her mom. the forklift was VERY fancy. pinstripes everywhere. I commented to the daughter and she said her dad was very persnickety about having all his vehicles painted. I looked around and there were several trucks, all with the same blue and silver color scheme, with a construction company name on the doors… but none of them had the elaborate scrollwork borne by the magnificent forklift.

the first set of stocks he brought over had a chip on one of the cleats. I pointed it out while they were dumping the rusty water out of the hoses around the chains. he took the broken one away and went to get another one. it has pink carpet on the board across the front, where Lucy’s chest will be. the girl said they probably had to hide that one when guys came to buy stocks. I hate pink but I have to appreciate the pink carpet on the stock for this beautiful lady horse.

up into the truck bed the giant contraption went… and then, down. and DOWN. it is 4′ wide, 6′ tall, made from 6×6 white oak beams. with a floor and crosspieces. it is a beast. the girl helped me tie it down with the ratchet strap I brought. and off I drove, away from the setting sun.

I didn’t get home til after dark, thank you very much daylight “saving”.

it’s still up there.

I don’t THINK it weighs more than a round bale… still, pray for me and my little tractor, wouldja?

here I am: pilgrimage to Meader Supply