Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April's Closing

After the sublime rest of our two day vacation at the beach, we returned once again to farm world and to all the critters and plants that live here with us. It was nice to see Jack seemingly nonplused about his bout with the horse tranquilizer in our absence, happily barking at our arrival. Marley, Heidi, and Memphis gave equal wags of tails as the others in the welcoming reception committee. Back home is good, but back home means back to work, and in spring on a farm, there is no end to the stuff that needs tending to, should be tended to, and doesn’t necessarily include that which one might actually want, to get done. It can be simply overwhelming, to the point of doing absolutely none of it, which is the exact approach we took the weekend before last.

There was yet another in the continuing series of  full moons to be rising on Sunday. It had been waxing on Saturday and we noticed the fish were being very active along the shoreline in the little pond behind the barn. The scent of fish on the bed was heavy when down wind of their underwater nests. We tossed some lures out and quickly caught several nice fish, both bream and bass, and one bass that was so large and fast it snapped Mark’s line, jumped, and spit the lure back at him. Spring fishing is an opportunity to not miss when at its peak and so that was our plan for Sunday, a catch and fry day. We made some calls for recruits to come help with our mission, our daughter and son in law, two of their friends, and a new friend who had never fished but who was very interested in the challenge to learn. I assessed the inventory of oil and cornmeal, and having sufficient quantities of both, the plan for a fish dinner was on, if, the fish cooperated as was expected of them.

This new friend of ours was someone we met recently at an art reception, and who is an internationally known violinist, female, who is currently in our town on a fellowship with our symphony orchestra. Lianna is from Russian, and she speaks with an interesting accent having learned her English in France and carries the lilt of that influence into her words and which makes for very charming conversation. She is recently engaged to the cello playing French fellow who I spoke of in a past blog, who liked our homemade wine, a lot. She is a lovely girl, dark haired and with sultry eyes, she is lithe, graceful, and is a sensitive soul. She played the violin one night in our gallery while Mark did a photo shoot of her and the walls echoed with the strength of her notes and the resonance of her skill. Lianna is beautiful and charming, etc, and has traveled the globe playing before critiquing audiences, but had never fished in her life. So out to the farm she came to try something new.

I had to spend some of the Sunday in town dealing with family matters with my parents so I missed her lesson but was told when I got back out to the farm the news was good. She had learned how to fish, and most importantly, to catch fish. Not afraid to get her hands dirty, Lianna had easily taken to baiting a hook with a live cricket, and tossing the line and bobber out to the waiting fish and then pulling them in. Not only did she catch her first fish, she caught her first bass, which in fishing fresh water is the gold standard of the fish most prized as game fish. Regrettably she had to leave to go rehearse her violin playing for several hours and was not able to stay for the dinner to come but was smiling and quite pleased with her new found activity and hoped to do it again soon.

There are few things as gratifying as catching very aggressive and strong large mouth bass on light tackle, and on this Palm Sunday, with a full moon rising, the fishing was at its best. We said good byes to Lianna and I climbed into the boat and we began the more serious quest for catching dinner. The fish obliged and we did, and then some, and threw the extras and the too big ones back.

I do not clean fish and left that job to the fellows while I went to the kitchen to prepare the mix for the batter and get the other things ready for dinner A marvelous time fishing, and then eating was had by the weary fisher people, sadly minus Lianna, and that week was done and made room for another.

A fairly monumental moment was had by one member of the barn yard in the past week or so. Frank, the Tank, my former young stallion, well not technically active as such but beginning to try, has become lightened of his load and is now, a gelding. In the history of man kind dealing with its shepherding of animals, and really its choirs too, I can’t imagine the idea suddenly popping into someone’s brain that if one were to cut the prized jewels off of a male animal, it suddenly becomes something one can use for anything besides the sharing of those jewels and their cargo, and no longer is it a rearing, biting, Mr. Stud, who thinks everything is his to, own and take his pleasure with. In the case of the choir boys, it lets them sing at high ranges for many years, their voices not succumbing to the evil forces of those hormones released by those prepubescent jewels. What random thought led anyone to think, ah, “male, cut do dads, then behavior better.”? Deductive reasoning of any sort has to have come with some experience to make judgment enough to elicit change of action. Perhaps an accidental cutting, without death, showed a delightful change in personality and behavior that led others to see a correlation to the lightening of the load of the testosterone producing glands.

Anyway it is a weird way of expressing and controlling animal husbandry, which is a strange name to call it too. Be that as it may, the act of gelding, or neutering a male horse, is critical if one wants a horse that is not prefixed on replication, to all and any ends, including but not limited to having a large horse standing on its hind legs over your head, ready for action. Geldings are not perfect, but they tend to be infinitely more consistent in behavior, and ignore those former urges to feel like, “They Rule,” and rather tend to become great partners, friends, and even, confidents who are comfortable wearing the new blanket with the gold trim their owner got for them at Christmas.

Frank has now, thankfully, joined the fraternity, or sorority, of males relieved of the baggage of the motivation for the perpetuation of the gene pool. Frank has made a definitive change from being a young brat to becoming a very sweet kid once again, and that has made my life safer, and Kitty, his pasture mate and nanny, very happy. Is the process a judgment call of nature? Sure. Do I feel guilt at the disfigurement it entails, the temporary pain, and permanent hormonal change? Absolutely, I do. This is farm world tho, where the animals are often big, fast and dangerous at times, and so my goal is to limit my risks. Having a young stallion is very low on my priority list. Having a superior and mentally focused, riding horse without the potential danger of the effects of its raging hormones is very high, and in gelding, this variable is largely eliminated. Frank is free now from the stresses of these hormones and already shows a more mellow character. This I like, a lot.

Years ago, when my mother’s father died, the estate was sold off, but my mother brought me one thing from his farm. He had been a cattle farmer most of his life on five hundred lush acres of Mississippi delta land, and had run a large herd of well bred Angus cows. The one thing that mom brought me from his life, from the possessions that he no longer needed, was a surgical stainless steel set of the tools one uses to perform an emasculation. I thought that was a rather strange legacy to leave a granddaughter but it was a very nice set of tools, the when and where I might actually use them was up for grabs however. For some strange reason I recently haven’t been able to find this box that holds such a sacred set of instruments and I have reason to suspect Mark of hiding the thing, but have no proof of such. I will keep looking, just in case.

And so, another week, another month, all going by so quickly it numbs the brain. So what of our actions, our experiences, our thoughts and our deeds that happens as we bumble our way through this life? If there were no photos and no written form of what makes our memories, those ephemoral events would be lost.  It is in their chronicling here that sets mine into a form that might be remembered and shared, and so I write as they happen, and I wait, for the next installment which will surely come when least expected and unpredicted.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Beer and Beaches

Day two was a Sunday and we had a problem. In this state, the Bible Belt rules say that you have to wait until after church to buy libation at any independently operated establishment for the sale any fermented liquids designed to make sure your vacation is comfortable and enjoyable. One can absolutely rule out the option of buying the necessities at a state run store. They are closed in observation of the sacred day and will not open under any circumstances. Being observant creatures we happened to notice a nice wine shop tucked in between a Radio Shack and a video rental shop. Once well supplied, off we went to the Fort.

Fort Morgan was begun being built after the War of 1812 when the USA figured out that it needed to boost the coastal defenses and defend the waterways that were the main methods of transporting people and goods to interior states. This fort sits on a prominent point on the eastern shore of the mouth of the Mobile Bay which is fed by the Alabama River. Initial construction was completed in 1833 largely remained idle until the Civil War broke out in ’61. There was a heated battle there in’64 at which time it fell to the Union army. It was active during the Spanish-American War and during the First World War, and was continually being added to and damages fixed from cannon fire and bullets. One can still see pock marks from the exchange of lead balls that hit the bricks, and mortar repair where cannons hit walls and tore them up. It is a testimony to the fine bricklaying and the engineering of its design that the structure withstood the various barrages and remains standing, an elegant and impressive old soldier still on attention.

When I was young, my parents took us to this fort once for our spring break. They sat my brothers and me on one of the large cannons that are on display in the front of the place to take a picture. At the last second before my dad took a photo of us I threw my hands up into the air and smiled, a big goofy missing two front teeth clowning act. Boy did I catch grief for that. I never really figured exactly why a very serious photo would have suited my folks better, but apparently it really mattered to them for some reason. The cannon is still there, and of course I had to climb on, this trip, for old times sake but left off the clown act. We wandered around the fort for a while, and then decided it was time to hit the sand and sit by some waves for a while.

The water on the bay side of the fort’s beach was fairly calm and a stained color, but we walked around the point to where the blue-green waves of the Gulf meets with this southward flowing river. The surface of the water where this confluence occurred showed intense currents boiling as they collided, and did not look like a very safe place to swim under any situation. We spread some towels on the white sand, put on some sunscreen, popped open a few beers, and enjoyed the view and the melting feeling of warm sunshine with a nice salty breeze in our faces.

There were cute little gray birds that darted back and forth trying to stay out of the waves, scooping into the sand as the wave retreated looking for something to eat. Terns and black headed gulls screamed as they flew by us. Then we noticed that there was a calm spot behind the confluence of waters that a large number of birds were repeatedly diving into with quite a flurry of excitement. The surface of the water showed there to be a large school of little fish, which would flush to avoid the predators. Then the show got more interesting.

The birds were just the first to tap into this hemmed up food source. Then came the other predators from the under the water. Larger fish flashed silver sides as they struck at the school, most likely Spanish Mackerels, perhaps King Mackerels, and Blue Fish too. The frenzy was on and the water was splashing and was whipped into froth. Porpoises got into the scene next, large groups moved into the fray, moving along side by side, working in team to massacre what fish were left. The worst of this dining experience was not 50 yards away, but several of the porpoises came by us, very close up, and were varying colors and sizes. Occasionally a porpoise would flap its tail on the water before diving, perhaps to startle the bait.

Our beers went down easy as we watched this show and we kicked ourselves for not having taken any gear to fish with. Well, we thought about it and decided that it probably would have taken too much energy and interfered with our relaxing plan anyway, and opened another beer.

Beer and beaches, together, are one of my earliest memories. My folks loved the white sands and big waves of the Gulf and took us there quite a bit to a house that someone lent them once a year. The routine was for Dad to pop over to a bar somewhere close by and bring a milk jug full of draft beer back for them to drink while we all played on the beach for the day. The draft beer had a rich froth on the top of their cups and so did the incoming waves. They would let me have a sip of the yellow brew and it puzzled me deeply why one tasted infinitely better than the other. Sea water simply doesn’t do the same thing for me, but visually they are inseparable in their connection in my brain.

Finally the beer ran out, the fishy frenzy had subsided, and we had certainly gotten more sun than we needed, even with the sp lotion, so we went to find the bird groups that were supposed to be trapping the migratory birds that fly into this first bit of land after crossing the Gulf from Central America this time of year. We found one group next to a small group of trees just taking their mist nets down and packing them away. They said they had seen very few for this day and were all a bit puzzled at the lack of numbers and wondered if perhaps the fog had messed the birds up.

Many moons ago, in college, Mark and I had come down to help with the netting, banding, etc with our friend and biology professor, Dr Tom. I was new to all the diverse types of birds there were at that time and the experience was amazing. To hold a tiny Painted Bunting in your hand, for the first time you have ever seen one, is a treat. The colors on it and the rest of the poor exhausted travelers were stunning. The banding gives valuable information to scientists as to populations and multi-continent migratory routes of these birds, and people from all over come to watch the process and see up close these little winged jewels.

Day light of two was toast, dinner on the water’s edge again, and back to the hotel for shuteye before the long drive back to home, horses, dogs, parents, and reality. It was good to get away, if only for two days, and a still alive, wide awake Jack met us at the carport with enthusiastic yelps. Home again, home again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

in continuum...

in the continuum….of the saga of Jack the potamus…

“I made a mistake and gave Jack the wrong shot.” I was listening very carefully now to what my caretaker/friend was telling me on the other end of the cell phone as we stood under the canopy of these gnarly oaks feeling the cool mist of the fog rolling off the ocean behind us. She asked me what might have been in the other needles that had been in the refrigerator down at the barn where I had left his insulin for her to have given him. I though a real big “Oh, crap,” because I had thought when I left the insulin in there that surely there would be no confusion as to which to use. There were the tiny insulin syringes I had left, and then there were three large other ones with writing one them for the horses’ use. Apparently I was quite wrong in my assumption, and Murphy’s Law proved to be correct, an error had indeed been made, again, but now my thoughts were racing to which of these three possibilities that were also in the fridg might be in play, and none of the three were good.

For those who have not followed Jack and his culinary capers and mishaps over that past year, Jack is an Australian terrorist, weighing in at varying weights but generally well over breed standard of somewhere around 14 lbs. He is somewhere closer to 23 lbs. and eats anything and every thing edible or not and has spent way too much time in the intensive care of my good vet, and this of course has led to the extreme level of expenditure of funds spent on his near demises. Jack has hypothyroid issues and takes his synthetic thyroid pill everyday, is a recovering pancreatitis victim from having devoured a half gallon of cooking grease, and the list continues but, he is also a diabetic and requires two shots of insulin daily. It is a holy wonder the dog is alive from these past and present problems but this one, I thought, might finally do him in if the dose of whatever it was that he had been given in error was too much for him to handle. It would be a peaceful end, no doubt, but after all that previous vet care and expense I was hoping he might hang around just a bit more if possible.

After a few more questions back and forth over the phone, I told my friend to call the vet and try to read the labeling on the used syringe to see what the heck she had given him, and then see what to do. She did say he was acting very sleepy, slumbering actually. We hung up and I waited for a reply. The news was a real stumper on the mood that we had mellowed into but there was simply nothing we could do but wait and see, so on we wondered through the foggy woods. It is an absolutely crazy world we live in that one can be at such a peaceful place in a physical and mental state and still be vulnerable to the dreaded ring of the cell phone. Does the falling tree not make any noise when it hits the forest floor if no one is there to hear it? Does bad news not really happen if you don’t answer the phone?

She called back about an hour later, and told me that the syringe had been a load of Acepromazine, a MAJOR tranquilizer, for horses. The load had been in the fridg for a just in case need, the dosage designed to knock a 1200 + lb horse to its wobbly knees, and definitely not to a somewhat, overweight, but still, very, little dog. The dosage was a major overload, but Jack wasn’t worried. Jack was in a basic coma, sleeping soundly, and was totally oblivious to his predicament. She had taken him to the vet where the vet had given Jack some form of shot to hopefully counteract the narcotic and was told to watch the poor puppy carefully, that he would sleep soundly for a day, then have a hell of a hangover but be fine afterwards, most likely. She drove the sleeping beast home with her for the night and gave him a bed on her screened porch. He really didn’t care.

We continued our journey on towards the Fort but, once there, found a sign that said it was closed after hours. Thwarted on that mission, we noticed a pier next to the dock for the ferry that shuttles cars to Daulphin Island that was facing the Mobile Bay and westward and so we sat on it and watched an orange sun slowly settle into the shrouds of fog out on the water. Mark took lovely photos and I marveled at the change in the view of the bay since I had last been there some nearly 20 years ago. Everywhere there were lights on ominous shadowy platforms of the pumps and drills of the oil wells that pump crude black oil from deep under the sands. It was a stunning sight, especially in the aftermath of last summer’s fiasco with the deep wells in Louisiana and the mess it made of the entire Gulf region. Statistics say the room for error increases exponentially with the increase in number of the rigs, each one before me a possible equal or worse disaster waiting to happen. It was stunning and sobering to see. The sun gone, we moved on to find some grub and libation.

I don’t know what made me do it but the seafood platter, fried, seemed the best choice and so we sat on the pier in a pleasantly cool night air, contentedly munching away at globular morsels of fat and flour with a nugget of some form of former sea animal in there somewhere that had been cooked in some equally unidentified form of serious fat. The lights of the oil rigs twinkled before us with a mocking innocence and mingled with the further away lights of the shore on the other side of the bay. Once damage was done to our gastronomical systems, my pancreas in overdrive, we headed for our base camp, Hotel Nondescript, and called it a day. My thoughts were with sleepy Jack, and I hoped to sleep almost as well as he was presently doing, well, almost as well.

Sleep well we did. We awoke to yet another rare foggy day, and gulls screamed as they flew past our balcony as we walked to the elevator to start our day. I needed a pair of shorts to wear since it was fairly muggy, an so we dropped into my idea of hell, the ultimate tourist store extravaganza, a store called Alvin’s Island, a place where every person who wants to look like they surf, wants a tattoo, or a piercing or two or three, and needs a reminder of exactly what town they got these relics from and want to wear a garment to keep them fresh on the idea of where they came from, can get all this, and more.

We had visited this store in a past lifetime when our kids were small and this was kind of a relatively benign place at that time. Now as I wandered past vast racks of incredibly trashy items of clothing, all emblazoned with something about having “done it” at Gulf Shores, I was trying desperately to block out the lyrics of a female singer that was blaring over the pa of the establishment, singing about having sex in the air with whips and chains to the beat of synthetic drums knocking my ear drums silly. I didn’t get it, but on I trudged thru the store and finally, at the very back of the store, I found the 75% off rack and a pair of very plain black shorts. Perfect. And then, my phone rang, again. This time the news was good. Jack was awake and ready for more.

Shorts purchased, mission accomplished, Jack was amazingly still alive, we set off to the Fort for day two of the mini-vacation.

Also to be continued,…no dangling cliffhanger this time…rather chilled out instead… just drifting