Photo Challenge: Collage

How many times did I ask
on a breath and a thought
that you consider the moment?
Consider joining me in an adventure
or a moment of solitude,
or a wisp of air.

Your thoughtful response; a
soft eye, maybe an interested ear.
And in another breath, the arc of your
glorious neck sharing an indelible
instant, season, lifetime. 
It was enough.
….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Collage

Caring for the Lead Mare

It was a perfect day. There were just enough clouds to soften the heat. The front gate didn’t open once all day long. No emergency vet calls. Best of all, I had some fence to repair. Perfect.

There was still dew on the grass when I loaded up my yellow wagon with the t-post driver, post hole digger, and a bucket of hand tools, headed for the north pen. Like usual, I had to go back for the wire cutters. A few days before, I’d come home to find one of the geldings over the fence in my neighbor’s pasture. He was banged up and limping, posts bent with chunks of hair, and part of the fence pushed over.

I’d been thinking about a reader request: “Did you ever write a blog on the gossip/nit picking that goes on at boarding stables and from barn to barn especially in small communities? It never seems to end…”

I started cutting down the old field fence, laying it down, folding the end piece over, and walking on the edges to flatten it, and then repeating the process. Taking out perimeter fence is always unsettling. I depend on that line of demarcation as much to keep others out as to keep mine in.

I know what she means about the gossip. Horse people are a passionate and opinionated crowd. We all have that neighbor whose horses are just too thin. That barn that sold to new owners. Who’s laid up, who’s got a new horse, who’s struggling to get by? Those jumpers or reiners or dressage queens or trail riders who make us squint and whisper. The truth is almost all of us have been on both sides; gossip blows in the wind. It’s how we know to send a sympathy card and find the best trailer repair. It’s how we let people know we’re smarter than them.

By now Edgar Rice Burro is snoring. The gelding herd is scattered flat in the morning sun.  I sink down on a tire feeder and take a long drink, surveying the work I’ve done, feeling strong.

Most of my days are over-scheduled with training and lessons and writing. Crossing out days for fence repair is almost like a vacation. The work is simple and I can keep an eye on the pond while wondering what it is about us humans tearing each other down.

There are always litters of ducklings on the pond but this is the first time there are Canada geese hatchlings –four little ones and two relentlessly protective parents. They move in a tiny gaggle searching for bugs in the prairie grass and then waddling back to the pond. The parents constantly scan the horizon, so aware of the treasure they protect. What is it about us humans?

Time for new t-posts now. I eyeball the line, lean one way and then the other, and judge it straight enough. It’s never perfect, string guide or not. I’m just straight enough.

Some clients of mine have a new fence, professionally built with huge gate posts, tight corners, and as pretty a line of wire as I’ve ever seen. I’ve had offers of help, too, but I like to hoard this time for me and my land. The birds are so loud that I can barely hear the fence post driver.

Another hour passes and I stop for lunch and a small nap. I’ve read that countries who practice siesta have better health. Some folks prefer a blanket but I use a Corgi for that. I nap for my health. Really.

Back out after the sun has peaked. Nickers follow me, I throw more hay, and then grab my fork. Mucking is a time-honored ritual for true horse lovers. No complaints while pulling the cart from pen to pen, celebrating healthy manure. Never trust a horseperson who doesn’t muck.

Finally, I make my way to the west pen where the ancient donkey leans into her scratching post, slowly rocking with her neck stretched low and her eyes closed. I almost feel like I should look away; her sublime bliss is too naked. But I keep my wits about me. She’ll still kick if I startle her and bray with impatience if I’m late with her mush. This little donkey isn’t burdened with the need to be a people pleaser. I’m learning it from her.

I scrub some water tanks and try to fill them without flooding the runs. My mare lets me know it’s time to come in from turnout; she wants me to bring her in first. That way she can nip at the geldings as they pass her run. I check my watch; I’ve lost hours tinkering through chores and the afternoon is gone. She’s right.

There’s something about early summer. The light lingers in pastel color. Hours later, as I carry the last bucket of mush out to the ancient donkey, the grass is cool again and the prairie moon illuminates all the best and worst of the world.

I have no idea what to do about all the negative chatter. It wears me down, too. We’re an imperfect species and sometimes we need to build better boundaries to keep our hearts safe. Give ourselves time to rest and time to nurture our hope for the future. And the strength to find a truthful, yet kind, voice to lift the quality of gossip.

Some women have salon days but some of us practice self-care by spending the day being part Canada Goose, part Corgi, and part wise old Longear. Miracle cure.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Photo Challenge: Evanescent

After the bay gelding's leg has been
doctored, I walk the fence line looking
at bent posts and hair caught up on wire.
Clues don't change the task ahead. 
Unload the rolls of fencing and tools to 
start early. The horses will be in stalls 
until the work is done and new tires
for the truck will have to wait.

Then the day sneaks west and darkness 
gathers all the colors back home,
restored. Debt paid.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Evanescent

Photo Challenge: The Road Taken.

wm-road-taken
Dreams are only transparent.
Let my lungs fill,
here, now,
in simple praise
for ordinary moments
of wanting what I already have.
….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

The Road Taken

Photo Challenge: Against the Odds

wm-gray-sunset
Hailed a far distance,
heart-sore,
across broken peaks
and thirsty creek beds,
to surrender the ache
in the cooling air
at the edge of the stars;
home.
….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Photo Challenge: Repurpose

wm-all-itch

All of us here…
we used to be someone else.

We each had a plan;
it was meant to go another way
but there was always a stumble.
We lost balance and compromised,

recycled into this different plan
that fits like skin and teeth.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. All photos were taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Repurpose

Climate Change: Not Just Bad for Polar Bears.

wm-golden-spirit

Farm kids, like me, learn early that a healthy anxiety about the weather is the subtext of every task–from lambing season, to planting corn, to rushing to get the bales out of the hay-field, as thunder booms close by. It’s consulting the dog-eared copy of the Farmer’s Almanac. It’s the habit of listening to the weather report more closely than the news, while pulling on boots first thing in the morning.

Townies chat about the weather as the tiniest of small talk; weather can be an inconvenience. Farmers stake their crops, and the family’s security, gambling on the weather, year after year.

Not much has changed. Now I’m older than my folks were when they gave up their farm. I still depend on working outside but we have smartphones with a few weather apps. I usually check a couple of different sources and then average the results; weather is still a guess.

Last week in Illinois there were rain storms, ice, and fifty degree days. It’s the kind of weather that’s average for November but not now; not in the middle of January.

Here on my small Colorado farm, we’ve had the same temperature swings; the pond ice is unsteady and the pasture is bone dry. There have been some sub-zero wind-chill nights followed by fifty degree days. It’s the transitional weather we watch for in spring and fall. Horse people don’t want to say it out-loud, but it’s colic weather.

Sure, every farm could destroy more pasture and hay fields to build a huge indoor arenas and pretend to ignore the weather. Is this how we want to use our precious land? Besides, this whining about weather is all anecdotal, and scientists don’t pay farmers much mind. Except now.

“A NASA press release pointed out “Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).” Sixteen of the warmest 17 warmest years on record have been observed since 2001.”

Through December, the mares in my barn were cycling still. They used to take the winter off from snake fights and screaming at geldings but it’s dragged on long enough that we had the vet check for ovarian cysts. My final questioning act for them was to ask my Facebook friends across the country about their mares. The response was overwhelming and the consensus surprised me: Mares were still cycling everywhere, and raw with the long-term hormonal emotions. Anecdotal for sure, and a cynic might call it coincidental. When will we trust what we see? When will we speak up?

This week I read more on climate change. Arctic melting is changing coastlines around the world. Weather scientists are behaving more like mares in estrus. The undeniable change is still being denied… not by farmers but by politicians.

Do these guys ever come out of their offices long enough to look up? I’d invite the idiots along with me for a week of outdoor work if any of them were strong enough to keep up.

We’ve all seen heart-wrenching video of polar bears starving on ice floats, but let’s get personal. Is there a horse owner who isn’t wildly aware of how fragile horses are? Does anyone think that horses won’t be one of the first domestic animals to suffer, and die, for our selfish, arrogant ways? I mean even more than happens now… Will we be this greedy and self-serving until we kill everything dear to us?

And then, when I think post-apocalyptic, I think how few pets exist in science fiction. Okay, Star Trek had tribbles. And there was Mel Gibson sharing a can of Dinky-Do dog food with that genius cattle dog in the movie, Road Warrior.  Remember? It was a quiet moment between rapes and car wrecks in the end-of-the-world fight for gasoline. It would be like humans to eat dog food and wear kinky outfits instead of grow crops or raise animals. It’s a fact that there is no romance in farming.

Like I said, I researched climate change and horses. I wanted to share just one article; a brief scientific paper from Australia, a bit removed from our soil. Please take a moment to read The Impact of Climate Change on Horses, and Horse Industries. The bibliography makes the piece look longer than it is. There are certainly some details that I hadn’t thought out before, even though they make perfect sense. Mostly I’m struck by the very fine line between science and science fiction. Like usual, the fiction part is more true than we want to think. There are words all too familiar to horse owners in the article. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the path ahead–like a trashy B-movie.

 This is the way the world ends                                                                     Not with a bang but a whimper.  –T S Eliot

I’m not sure how politicians decided that climate change could even be voted on in the first place. And it’s too late to blame others. This global issue is so much bigger than our horses; other losses will be larger and more pivotal to the planet’s destruction. There is no more time to debate and whine. It’s time to make our voices heard. Time for each of us who make our lives, and our living, out in the environment, to speak up. There are more farmers than politicians and business people. And between rants, we can do every small thing we can do to turn this planet around. It’s up to us; we’re the ones who know first-hand what we stand to lose.

Here on the prairie, I’m pulled to look to the west at dusk. The outrageous beauty stills my rat-on-a-wheel mind. Awe is the only word; the preciousness of each sunset burns my heart. Maybe I’m selfishly aware of the number of sunsets left in my puny little life. Or maybe it’s knowing that my silence contributes to the death of the infinite number of lives that we will surely take down with us.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Photo Challenge: Resilient

wm-sunrise-llama
If this outlandish prairie,
sun-burned and wind-scraped,
can show up every morning
with a torrid definition 
of what an "earth-tone" looks like,

then claim this life deliberately 
with garish celebration; 
be no less than sunrise.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.)

Resilient

Remembrance: Someone’s Always Dying

wm-gray-circle

It’s that weird week between the holidays. I never know what day it is so I mess up scheduling around Christmas, only to follow through and mess up the same exact way one week later for New Years. Squinting at the calendar doesn’t help tether me and everyone seems immersed on a remembrance vacation. There are the best of lists of movies and books and anything else we give awards for. Those achievements are followed with a memorial for the famous people we’ve lost. It’s a long list this year and it’s all that anyone talks about. It’s like an end of the year emotional profit-loss statement.

I do the same thing here on the farm, with less fanfare and more wonder. This year the Best Geriatric Come Back goes to Lilith, the carbon-dated foster donkey. She gained weight, shed out years of steel wool, and went on Previcox for major lameness. Her physical quality of life is a complicated question, but she’s loud, cantankerous, and she can land a decent kick now. Her life had been fighting coyotes before her rescue; sometimes I wonder if she just can’t find a way to rest. Either that or this warm mush diet rocks.

Most Improved Dog goes to Moose, the corgi, also a foster. He came off his puppy Prozac, his collar still frightens him, even though we stopped the electroshock therapy, and he’s detoxing from his strong meds and over-correcting people. The darkness is slowly getting lighter. I no longer have to lock myself in the bathroom to put my socks on. Rehab continues; he was doing well but then relapsed when we had workers in the house for a couple of weeks. He tore the linoleum off the bathroom floor. That was fair. They made me crazy enough to have a relapse myself.

It was a hard year for losses to our home herd. We said goodbye to Hank, the elderly toothless cat who fought vermin and intimidated dogs well past his prime. And Walter, the Corgi rescue with an operatic bark and a lure coursing title, whose short life was surrendered to chronic liver ailments. To the Grandfather Horse after thirty years of excellence, carrying me over rough ground until I had my footing. It’s easy to see how fortunate we are here, isn’t it?

It’s common sense that with so many animals, we’d have more frequent passings, as well. You’d think that it would get easier to say goodbye. I can remember a time, a perfect summer, when every animal on the farm was young and strong, and I had a season of almost invincible confidence. Even then I was aware of the fragility of life and grateful for every sunset.

In truth, I think the process of dying is a constant and not a special occasion in any way. I’d do better to make friends with it. After all, there’s a twenty-two-year-old llama in the south pasture that’s bound to slow down one of these years and a fifteen-year-old dog sleeping under my desk as I write.

Most of us are linear thinkers trained to see time as a beginning, a middle, and an end, with a straight flat precision. I prefer Vonnegut’s concept of being unstuck in time. I want to think all the moments happen simultaneously, so as the Grandfather Horse drew his last breath, we were galloping the old airstrip when he was five. It doesn’t take a fleck of the pain away, but I do it for selfish reasons. This way the last moment has less power.

Yes, mourning is a good thing. Our beloveds deserve that affirmation that they’re loved and missed and worthy of our tears. And after the cards and condolences, after our friends forget, the beloved memory lingers. There’s a hang-time for loss. It can circle around and ambush us when we least expect it and then the smart thing to do is just give in and have a good screaming cry. Nap during the day. Feel sorry for yourself. But beware: it’s just in this moment that we must be the most careful.

Because if we let that moment of loss have too much power, then death gets as loud as an overbearing house-guest and we can become afraid of having an open heart. Afraid of rescue puppies and cranky old donkeys and our own mortality.

“What good are they if they are just going to die on us?”

What a stupid question. What good are your parents, then, or great philosophers or authors or artists? Religions can debate terminology but the spiritual truth is undeniable: Life is a continuum and even when the landscape appears barren there is life everywhere.

Walter 1

Most animals do have shorter lives than humans, but what if that isn’t wrong? Not just that the design of this Circle of Life isn’t wrong, but also that death isn’t the villain. It’s like railing against gravity.

Then, by adjusting your perspective and making a conscious choice, experiencing loss can be a path to insight and even inspiration. Wouldn’t that give purpose to the lost life as well as our own?

So now I reserve the warmest run in my barn for a lost elder who needs a soft place to land. I do it in memory of my Grandfather Horse but I’m the one who benefits by staring down death and loss. When you screw together your courage and look it straight in the eye, it just doesn’t deserve the same respect that a skanky old donkey does.

Maybe the problem is that we’ve lost our sense of proportion. None of us humans are getting out alive either. There is nothing remarkable about death. It’s sad and ordinary and as common as dirt.

Yes, it’s been a rough year. Winter encourages us to contemplate the dark and the landscape chimes in with agreement. But even now the days are getting longer and the sun is coming back to us. Death will always be a part of life, but we can put it on stall-rest and get about living life in a way that honors those who have gone ahead.

As long as we breathe, there’s promise in a New Year and that’s worth celebrating.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

The Politics of Holiday Pie

wm-bhim-applesInconceivable: I’m going to share my pie recipe. I’ll pause and give my friends time to pick themselves up. They know this sort of thing could go either way.

There was that time years ago, that I had a date over for dinner. We hadn’t known each other long and I always want to get off on the right foot. We were sipping wine in the living room when I went to check on dinner in the kitchen. I had rice on the stove. Lifting the lid, there was no water visible. I could see the beginning of a light golden color around the edges. So naturally, I turned up the heat and returned to the living room.

For some people, cooking is a creative passion. I mean no disrespect; I hope they invite me for dinner. Somehow cooking wound up being political for me.

I was raised in traditional home, meaning it was plain to see that men and boys had all the power and unhappy women cleaned up after them. My mother, who also hated cooking, tried to teach me right. She knew that ordinary girls, ones who couldn’t get by just on their good looks, would need serious domestic skills if they were ever to find a husband. Especially an ordinary girl with a mouth like mine.

So yes, I sew beautifully but I used the concept of piecing fabric into clothing as a way of understanding how to hand-build gemstone settings, using tools like my oxy-acetylene torch, when I was a goldsmith. And it’s only recently that I’ve admitted knowing how to type. It’s been decades since a man has asked me to type their term paper. And now, three books later, I seem to have found good use for those “secretarial skills” they talked about in high school. Finally, truth be told, I’m a great cook… but it gives me no joy.

To each his own; it wasn’t the life I wanted. Once I left home, I shunned any traditional “women’s work.” Maybe I was afraid if I faltered once, I’d be type cast forever. Instead, I bit my tongue and pretended ignorance.

It was horses who made kitchens safe again. My pie recipe will make more sense now.

First, it must be understood that the pie is always made from fresh apples. In the beginning, I used to make my grandmother’s crust recipe. It has a secret ingredient and is outlandishly good. Now, I buy the pre-rolled Pillsbury crusts. They’re passable and my grandmother was always disappointed with me anyway.

Next, the apples. Buy a huge bag of them and do the worst job of peeling them possible. Sure, I was born with the gene that allows a paper-thin one piece curl of apple skin, but that’s just showing off and doesn’t serve the big picture. I like to hack thick slabs of the peel off so that when I’m done, the apple has a wonky octagon shape and is only two-thirds the size it was before I started. Then core the apple and slice what’s left into the pie shell. Continue until the pie shell is heaping full. Quarter the rest of the apples and put them in with the peels.

Then I drag out my Betty Crocker cook book with the red gingham cover. Mom gave it to me while I was still in high school and I certainly haven’t bought another since. I turn to the Perfect Apple Pie recipe to remember how much flour, sugar, and cinnamon to sprinkle in. Then dab butter on top, but use more than they say. See? I’ve gone off recipe already. Put the lid on the pie, crinkle the edges together, and put it in the oven.

Now hurry. You only have an hour. Scoop the chunky apple peels into a bag and scurry out to the barn. Put a handful of peels in every feeder, while relaxing into the first equine thought that comes into your head. For me, it’s always my Grandfather Horse. I miss him. This will be the first year in thirty that he and I haven’t avoided this holiday together.

So I made the pie early this year; I needed the apple-peel ritual that’s part political, part spiritual, and part therapeutic. It’s been a mean year and I’m behind on my breathing.

As the horses chew, my jaw softens. Sinking down on a bale; the barn feels like home and all the memories of good horses come galloping back. It’s good to be reminded. If you’re like me, you’ve been stronger than you ever thought possible. Some days you failed your horse, but you didn’t quit. Other days, you’ve been lifted high and carried like treasure.

(If you don’t have a barn, it doesn’t matter. Quietly remember the first horse you loved. Call him to you; let him star in his own movie. You know the plot by heart.)

Through the manure and the mud, the horses saw something in us that had nothing to do with sex or career. It was beyond hair color or dress size or age. Horses treated us in a way that our own species struggles with. They treated us as equals.

An hour later, back in the house, the air is sweet with warm cinnamon and now you have a second apple treat to share with friends or family. They welcome you in with a hug that lasts longer than usual and they hold eye contact. The pie is an after thought.

There is something about women who know horses. It’s part apples and part muck boots, along with some stray white hairs on her sweatshirt. She’s comfortable in her body because she knows acceptance; the glow that lingers from the barn.

At any age, we should know better than to confuse a silly pie with a woman’s real worth. Never underestimate her. A heart filled with horses can accomplish anything.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro