Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Pre-Spring Not-So Blues

It isn’t officially Spring yet but don’t tell the flowers and bees, and amorous birds on wing. After a nasty start to February, the recent weeks have been so balmy and deliciously gentle. The sky has remained a powder blue with a few fluffy clouds drifting along pushed by a soft breeze from the south. The low angle of the sun keeps the shadows long and makes for dramatic scenery when it hits the still bare trees and brightly lights one side and keeps the back in a cold, dark contrast giving the horizon strong vertical lines of silvers and blacks
These easy weather days have made for good opportunity to get horses worked, though the ones still wearing their long furry coats are sweating a bit more than they want. I will probably clip the woolliest of them soon, and that will probably get the weather riled up again and cold, but I hope not.

I have been spending a lot of time ground working my soon to be four year old filly, Cistine and she is doing so well now, after surviving her bout with the circingle that slipped on her back and startled her a few weeks ago. She is now pretty confident on the lunge line and has just started working with my training trash. I noticed today that on one side she was wearing a plastic vodka bottle with a pebble inside, and on the other side I had hung a V8 juice. I just need to add a few more things to her wardrobe like a bottle of Worchestershire sauce, a pepper grinder, and some Tabasco and I will have the makings for a nice Bloody Mary. Or wait, if they are all empty, that means I already drank them.

After our work today I walked her down to the pond dam where the grass is bright green and enjoyed standing in the sunshine while she devoured the shoots of green. Her eyes blinked in a slow motion repeatedly, deeply calm and relaxed as she ripped the grasses and munched them away. I could fully empathize with her state of mind.

Yesterday as I headed to the barn I noticed my neighbor’s truck parked up at the top of the hill where our driveway cuts next to an old graveyard. Margerie had called earlier to ask permission to come look at the stones because the local historical group is trying to get all of the little abandoned cemeteries catalogued and noted. I changed my course and drove up the road to visit with them, giving the horses a few more moments to eat before working them.

We had first learned that there was a graveyard on our property when we were building the driveway and a gravel truck found one of the unmarked graves, sinking a front tire to its axel. After looking around we noticed many more indented places all running east and west on the crest of this hill. Few had stones to mark their names or the few facts of their lives gone by. The ones that remain are crudely hand scratched reminders of the names of the buried, lives over a century ago, that once shared a story of this land that we now are caretakers of. These are obviously not the graves of aristocrats.

Margerie, and her husband Davis, live down the road from us and own most of the many acres surrounding our farm. They both grew up in this area, she was the daughter of a dairy farming family, and he the son of a general all round farmer, who raised cattle, chickens, oats, corn, and whatever was needed to live on.

They know the history of this area well, but they also know the tales, the stories, the names, and the things that happened that won’t make it into a history book and which will soon be faded memories that will most likely die with them or perhaps linger a bit more by their sons hearing and remembering. We stood together over these graves and she jotted down the few inscriptions left and we talked and looked around, and I took in several stories about things that had happened on our property and of the lives of those that had been previous stewards of it. We talked about the spring that once flowed near our house that once watered the crops, and the people and livestock that lived here to work this land, in a very different time and way of life.

Early sign of spring are definitely happening now. The daffodils that grow around these graves are now in full bloom and I saw the first Trillium coming up there as well. When I walked past the now suddenly in bloom, Flowering Almond tree, yesterday, it was alive with the sound of thousands of busy bees hitting on the first bit of pollen they have seen in a long time, their legs bloated with yellow. There was a continuous drone of their collective buzzing wings that gave the tree a vibration that could be felt as well as heard.

The main harbingers of spring arrived in full force today though. The long awaited sound of a group of Purple Martins’ morning calls filled the air when I opened the front door this morning. There were three pairs flitting around all the houses and gourds, checking them all out. In and out they went, some showing preferences to the older gourds and others liking the new super large gourds we recently added to the colony pole. At one point a male flew to one of the gourds and stuck his feet inside the hole and pulled out another male. They fell towards the ground with the first male still holding onto the second, and finally he released the relocated martin before they hit the ground. I guess the wife of the first really wanted that one house, or else. I absolutely love to hear their lyrical songs and watch them in flight, and the fact that they return each year at this same time is simply magic. Their arrival really marks the beginning of the season for me and for all of the folks who raise a pole up to try to attract these flying nomads. Turn up your computer volume for a treat below.

There are not many things better than a fine day in pre-Spring listening to martins once again singing in the barn yard. Aaahhhh.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Learning Curves and Signs of Spring

One doesn’t have to be crazy to be able to endure the weather in the south in February, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The repeated assaults by the western blown cold fronts combined with balmy sunshine filled days leaves one wondering every day what to wear. It is amazing more folks don’t have perpetual colds. How the poor animals that do live outside in the changing elements deal with it all, I cannot imagine. I am sure that some don’t.

This past first week of February has been text book to this description, first roaring in with a terrible rainy cold few days which were then followed by a few days of bright blue sky and warm sunshine. Already the tease of spring’s arrival is being made evident. The best part is the ever increasing daylight time in the afternoon. Trees are beginning to bud tiny little future leaves and flowers, and the empty veggie garden is calling me to come get my hands dirty and plant something. We have seen the first scout of the Purple Martins and have gotten all of the nesting boxes ready and we now await the arrival of the entire returning flock.

Yesterday I noticed the first daffodil that has bloomed at the old trailer site where some folks named Blanche and her husband, Eddie, I think, planted row upon row of bulbs many years back. There are the daffodils, and paper white narcissus, and the little white bell shaped blooms with the little green dots around the petals. All of these were planted by some unsophisticated simple folks, who cared whether their yard in front of their very not new house trailer sat, looked pretty. And bulbs being what they are, have survived them and multiplied and each year now they remind me of these people and I appreciate what they did that marks the beginning of spring on this land.

It has been a good week of working the horses after a time off dealing with other stuff, like life. There were a few in the herd that needed a refresher on proper behavior but no real ground was lost and all are back in the working groove and continuing to learn. They are also beginning their spring ritual, shedding, not a lot yet, but my clothes and face bear the evidence that the changing light is triggering their bodies to let go of that long fuzz. A look at the weather report for tonight and another approaching possible snow/rain/cold front says they’d best hang on to being yaks for just a bit more.

Regular work has begun with Cistine, my soon to be four year old daughter of Joline. Cistine is still lanky and quite tall, at 17hh+, and has a long way to fill out and hopefully not any more upward, but is sweet and generally fairly quiet, for a teenager with the attention span of a half a nanosecond. Her days recently have been about learning to focus, primarily on me and my body language, working in hand on the lunge line. She had had time off as well for a few weeks and the other day I got her out to start again on these basic things. All groomed up and tacked with pad, circingle, and Portugeuse cavesson, off we went to the field where I work the young ones.

I could tell right off that there was a buzz in her brain, a bit of a squint to her eye when looking at me, and her focus could not be found, anywhere. It was like a bubble enlarging and getting ready to pop and there was a good breeze blowing and leaves were rustling giving the day a pretty high spook factor for even the solid ones, so I didn’t think it would take much.

I just did not know what the trigger would be, but with young ones I tend to go look for buggers to school at this stage, for me to learn more about what gets their goat and how they might react. The older I get the more of this stuff I do so that upon that fateful day when I tread into a stirrup to get on her back for the first time, I want to know what to expect, and I also want her to know what to expect as much as possible. So I was paying close attention to this time bomb ticking away at the end of my feeble cotton rope.

Things were ok up to a point and then it was time for her to enlarge the circle she was making around me and so I sent her away from me and then asked her to trot. This was the moment she had been waiting for. With enormous drama, she grandly leapt with the theatrics of a movie star, into the air, shaking her head, as all of Joline’s foals learned to do in a gesture of showing anger, impatience, or just enthusiasm. That would have been ok, a bit of over doing it, but the problem was that the loosely buckled on circingle was no longer just behind the withers, but had slid backward to her flanks, the forbidden and most personal, zone of most young mares.

Her eyes widened and the rodeo was on, and with the next moves she made, I know that there is no human alive who could have hung on, or would have wanted to have been there. More like “Beam me up, Scotty, and make it fast.” I was very happy to not be passenger at this point but suddenly got very busy with a very large, very agile, very panicking giant of a horse who was bucking and jumping into the stratosphere in a misshapen circle around me. I felt like I was the tether for a 747 doing the up and down exercises they fly to make potential space men feel weightlessness, and vomit, and all of this exploding energy was being held down with a gossamer thread in relationship, that and that fine new cavesson I recently had bought. Her sire’s genetics for being a jumper were showing in fine form and I couldn’t help but be amazed at her achieved altitude with each trip upward.

This all seemed to go on for several epochs but finally the silly thing stopped these bouncing antics and just stared at me quite perplexed now at her situation. I walked over to her and released the circingle figuring to reintroduce wearing it when I can actually make it fit and have it not slide backwards, and I dropped it to the ground.

The pad and the evil circingle lay there and suddenly became the most horrifying of unknown creatures to her, so that become our new schooling tool. I lead her away from it and then got her into a circle where she would have to pass very close to the villainous pile of leather. When she got close to it again she leapt sideways away from it, into my space, which was what I was waiting for and set her up for. I bellowed something to catch her attention and stepped sharply at her and surprised the heck out of her. Poor thing got her legs tangled up and down she went into the sand. Without panicking this time, she got up and stood staring at me again, this time with head quite low and eyes were softly blinking, this time in submission. She thought I had made her fall, and sometimes accidents like this are the best training thing that can happen. Her face was now one of acceptance and relaxation.

We quit on that and I placed the pad and, now ignored circingle, on top of her back and walked slowly her to the barn, her total focus on me and how she could figure out how to get back in my grace again. I gave her a carrot after I groomed her and put her away to think on it all.

The next sessions have been super but I will continue to pursue the scary things long before I will be ready to get on her, but waiting will be hard. Cistine is so supple and athletic, and has amazing big super gaits with crisp leg action. I got to see a whole lot of her athleticism in her airs above the earth episode, more than I really wanted to, but time will work the silly frolics out. Training is always ongoing and is a process, as is all learning of any type, as well.

On a different note, I spent some time doing some learning a couple of nights ago. I actually took a photography workshop/class with my favorite photographer, my husband Mark. Someone who had to reschedule for one of his classes left an empty spot, so I took it. In the years we have been married I have never sat down to learn anything from him about what all those dials and buttons are for on these new fangled digital cameras, even tho I have been on the sidelines at all of his workshops all over the place. The learning curve was too steep, I had thought.

We actually got together way back when, in art class at college, when I asked him advice on what type of camera to buy. It was back when film and darkrooms were how images were made and he was just out of the army where he had been an instructor of it all. Back then I took some rolls and processed them under his guidance, but when the digital era emerged, I quit trying and resorted to my cell phone as my camera. So it was quite a treat to sit and have him show me what the controls were and I look forward to learning more about it now. My intimidation of the digital realm has lessened and I got a better glimpse of how much this guy knows about not just taking the picture and printing and all, but what a fabulous teacher. Who would have thought it? It was a classic case of the cobblers’ kids having no shoes, but by my own fault.

Off to barn world to feed and batten the hatches for the incoming front. Hopefully it will be kind and gentle and return to the beginnings of spring soon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Birthdays and the Big Boom Theory

The last weekend of January was a pleasant one, marked by the annual visit of our friend and his wife who come down every year at this time and use the house as base camp while they attend a historical symposium of some sort. This fellow is the one who sent me the link on the mortar for Mark’s Christmas gift, and he came here on this trip with the back of his truck full of boxes of powder, several different cannons and mortars, and lots of golf balls and wine corks. So Friday afternoon upon their arrival we set up on our tail gates out on the pond dam with our toys,  I mean guns, and fired lots and lots of charges. I am sure my neighbors must’ve been thinking that the siege had begun and the horses went to the far end of the field to escape the loud blasts.

The wine corks were for a tiny brass mortar that had a bore the diameter of the cork and this tiny gun would fire the cork out into the pond about fifty yards with an amazingly loud boom, unexpected from such a diminutive thing. The fact that one must drink a bottle of wine to save up ammunition for such a cause was not lost on our friend and he had lots of corks to fire.

Many dozens of golf balls were sent sailing into the sky, our general target being the moored pontoon boat at about a hundred yards out. Getting the powder to fire consistently, tho, was a bit of an issue for Mark’s mortar so a great deal of thought and discussion as to why filled the dinner time conversation with many theories brought forth.

Compression of the exploding air inside the barrel is what sends the golf ball, or cork, into the air, and this was being difficult to control. The fabric patches Mark was using didn’t make a tight fit every time and occasionally the “fire in the hole” signal was followed by a soft “poof” and the ball would slowly roll out of the barrel, which was hilarious to everyone but Mark.

The next day, eureka, our friend John came up with the solution for these embarrassing silly expulsions, in the form of good ol’ southern grits. The brilliant idea was to put grits in front of the powder with the grains sealing the shape of the ball to the barrel perfectly. From then on there were no more soft “poofs”, but resounding “BOOM”s were then the norm as Mark’s golf ball flew far and high.

So Saturday afternoon we set another siege on the pond and we all had such fun making loud booms but disappointingly, when done, we still had not gotten one ball to assail our target, the boat, having given it  a first class effort. Sunday, however, when Mark and I were out in the fishing boat we went over to the pontoon boat and found that, yes indeed, one ball had actually landed on the floor on the soft carpet and hadn’t made a noise, and which had lead us to believe in the failure of our attempts. The question remains as to whose ball it was and both the fellows are claiming it  and the victory.

It was thirty years ago, this week, that our first child was born, a lovely little girl, who we gave a family name of Emily. We had been expecting a boy back then, as we had just felt that having a boy child was our destiny, and with the lack of ultrasound back in the day, it could not reveal the answer. So it was pretty funny when Mark’s first words upon her arrival were, “Honey! He’s a girl!” We were certainly not disappointed at this turn of our imagined fate then, and in the rest of her time since that day, Emily has failed miserably to disappoint us at almost everything. She has grown up into an epitome of grace, beauty, and intelligence and it is my privilege to have known her as she has progressed through her years to this point.

I do have to admit that in thinking about having a kid of mine now be thirty years old is a bit daunting in its milestone marker. My father must have thought the same at my fiftieth birthday when he turned to me and asked me how I had gotten so old, as tho he hadn't. I am questioning this too now myself because I sure don’t feel much different than I did when I had her, way back then, at least mentally. I will refrain from the whining I could do about the physical damages that have come with both age and injury that do make me painfully aware of the passing of the decades.

Emily and her husband came out to dinner to celebrate the blessed event the other night, along with a good friend of ours. I fixed a rich thick stew of boeuf bourguignon, sautéed some fresh green beans and shallots, and mashed up some creamy potatoes. All of this fare was nice pure comfort food, a soothing end of the January night and the month. There was champagne and toasts to begin the evening and copious amounts of red wine for dinner. Not being able to deside between them, dessert was a helping of both a tiramisu that my aunt had sent to Emily, and a pumpkin bread pudding with rum sauce that I had made. There were many “mmmm’s” while we munched merrily away.

When dinner was finished and plates put away, the shaker came out and graciously chilled enough vodka to go around the five empty martini glasses, each with a nice plump olive awaiting emmersion. Then we went outside to fire the mortar into the night sky to further celebrate the birthday of this fine child. With a full load of black powder and a good sparkling fuse, the charge exploded, sending the poor golf ball far into the air, way across the pond to the other side.

No mere ordinary golf ball, this was, but this one was one that upon impact, or explosion, a light comes on inside the ball and flickers. The flickering continues for about five minutes and then turns off until the next impact. So we watched the ball as it rose high above the trees and it traced a perfect arc across the dark sky. Gun powder, loud booms, and martinis were the perfect end to the evening that recounted a very special day for a very special person, our daughter, Miss Emily, or as she has been called by her dad all of her life, Pooh.

So January has come and gone now, a fairly benign couple of weeks, weather wise, but February has begun  with a monster of a storm that has screamed across the map and has blanketed a line from Texas to Maine with deep snow, ice, and treacherous conditions. Where we are here, below that frontal line, it is simply very cold, wet, and gray, this the official Ground Hog Day. I have not read yet what the verdict was on the forecast for the next six weeks, but today, here, it is gross outside and the now nearly bomb proof horses munching hay in the barn will not be worked.

My parents were married on this day fifty nine years ago and I will take them some flowers later today and tell them thank you for starting the chain of events which, by their union, became the amazing gift which led to not only to my birth, but subsequently, to the births and lives of both of our two wonderful daughters.