Category Archives: Little Farm

Taking the Sickness South

This piece is dedicated to the people of Lousiville. From Chef, who made the thick and hearty chicken broth on my first day of sickness…to Ms. Vickie who loves me and all my babies, and gave them all sweet nicknames and taught us how to shine our boots the southern way…to my sweet cousin I hadn’t seen in decades and who drove and gave up her weeknight just to spend an hour with us… and all the folks in between: you have all taught this band of northerners what the phrase “Southern Hospitality” means. Even though most of my time was spent in my hotel room, it was a beautiful trip because of you. Thank you. 

So I took my kids -my own kids and my 4-H kids- South for their big competition and it was all they ever wanted and all they had been looking forward to, and two days after we got there, I got sick.

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Now, you have to understand somethin’ bout this Mama. If I ever tell you I got sick, I got sick. Having a mind that tends toward worst-case-scenarios, I’m in the business of intentally down playing any illness that may strike me. I constantly talk myself out of being sick so that I don’t end up seeming sicker that I really am. Plus, other than the wonky thyroid, I’m very seldom sick. I had to go back and look up the last time I was sick, because that was the time I was so sick I had to write a blog piece about it.

I was SICK y’all.

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And now, this time, I was that sick again. Except this time, I was 5,000 miles from home, I was trip coach to my team and chaperones who were on their dream journey to a national competition, I didn’t have a car, I was bunking up with my two teenagers, and I was stuck in a hotel room with windows that DON’T OPEN.

It was sheer pain, hell, and knarliness for six straight days and the worst of it was, I wanted to TALK! I got to be coach for the first Alaska team of our type to EVER grace these competitions and I had coaches to meet and new friends to make! Nope, by Day 3, once the fevers, chills, and body aches had subsided, so had my voice.

By the time my second kiddo fell, I was tired and feeble enough from the long days of illness to have several quiet spells of crying at the unfairness of traveling all this way just for my big boy to not be able to attend the banquet that would tell him how he and his team did, or to only get to do half of the fun tours we had planned that would show us around this huge city most of my team had never seen.

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By the time I had the hotel shuttle man, Eddie the Awesome hustle our hineys over to the Kroger -did you know you can see a nurse at the Kroger now?- where I spent $400 for a nice man in scrubs to tickle our nostrils and tell me the kids were still showing for Influenza while my boogies were clean and that really the best thing for us was just to rest up in our hotel room, (if I’d had a voice I would have laughed hysterically, as it was, he just got a deadpan stare.) I was a mad mess of mama coach mixed in with irritation, surrender, and resolve when we left. No more tears, we just needed to get through the rest of the trip and infect the least amount of people we could and try not to take any souvenirs of the Influenza Type A type home.

My team moms took the reins and 3/4 of the team still got to see the sights. My kids all rocked it and worked through the sickness (one started to fall on the day of the last competition, bringing the team sickness ratio to 2:3) and they celebrated that, as the contest’s obvious Underdog, they succeeded in NOT taking the title of last place. We all laughed at the differences between livestock people and chicken people. We made a group decision to skip out on the official dinner in order to go gather round the tables that had become so familiar at the hotel restaurant so we could be homey and enjoy our last meal in Kentucky together just us, as a team. They leaned in to my whisper voice and I smiled at their accomplishments and the good that comes even when things go much much differently than you’d anticipated.

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And then, on the way home, our week flown much, much too fast and yet dreadfully slow at the same time, my team girls were strewn all about the airport chairs, legs akimbo and having conversations teens have when they talk as if they are the only ones in the whole world, and one said to the other as they laughed over junk food….

man that’s so sick.

And they just laughed and laughed and glowed the glow of youth when they’re just happy and perfect and content and everything is perfect and cool -sick- in their world. 

We took our sickness south. 

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We didn’t win by any means. Not even close. Heck, out of 19 teams, we didn’t even place in the top ten. Second-to-last is farrr from winning.

And on a scale of one to ten, with one being Small Fry Farms and ten being Big Ag, we learned that here in Alaska, we’re barely on the paper. 

I had folks tell me that all the big states had qualifiers to even go to their state competition and that by the time their kids got to Nationals, they’d been competing at the national skill level for years.

We had folks tell us that Alaska would lose.

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But we didn’t lose and do you know why?

Because we went.

We put our little Ag big state on the map of national livestock contests and we showed them that we want to be part of things too.

We met people over the course of our six days that’d we’ll remember forever and we gave out smiles and we gave out hugs to folks who won’t soon forget us.

We took all of the love of our community, and all the well wishes and financial support of our sponsors, and we put it in our pockets and we put it on our shirts and we put it in our hearts and my kids were brave and they went.

And everywhere we’d go, out of all the teams, it was Alaska that got the biggest applause.

Not because we won, but because we showed up.

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Because it’s pretty dang cool that a little band of everyday Joes from a land so far away that it’s barely on the map would drive three hours to take three different planes for a whole day of flying to go to a land to play on a playground with kids who are so used to the playground equipment it feels like their backyard tree fort, while the faraway kids are just seeing the playground for the first time.

That’s what the clapping said. That’s what the questions asked and what the smiles spoke. And everywhere we went in our new southern city, we were bombarded with questions like Alaskans always are when they go Outside, but at the end of it, after all the questions and all the learning, what my kids heard from their peers, these kids who grow up Ag, was

We’re glad you came. It’s good that you’re here.

Half of us missed the events and tours we had scheduled.

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I became more familiar with a hotel room that I ever want to be again.

I wish our group would’ve been able to spend more time together.

We weren’t 100%.

But as we came home, I realized that the magnitude and the excitement of what we had done hadn’t been changed just because we got influenza or even because we hadn’t won.

Nothing had changed at all.

We still put Alaska on the map.

We showed folks that we care enough to show up.

We saw so much.

We learned SO MUCH.

Team, you smiled at your accomplishments instead of seeing your lack of winning as losing.

You were the Underdog but you were brave.

You were brave.

And that, my kids, is SO sick.

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So Goes a Year

It’s been a year already since he laid his big strong body down and how do 365 days go by seeming like it’s been both just a week and a lifetime?

I started a list on my iPhone of all the things that went haywire beginning with the day my old truck quit running.

It was going to be the list that reminded me how strong our family was and how gracefully we overcame adversity.

Then the pony died that spring Monday morning, and I realized that life can sometimes knock a gal out at the knees and that keeping track of adversity wasn’t as important as I thought it was.

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Because it all just kept coming and since the Garden, isn’t that what life really is anyway?

One big adversity?

One long, unmeasurable struggle.

Those you thought were your friends betray you.

Those you know are your friends face death straight in the face.

Your body quits working as it should and life as you know it is altered by silent sickness.

Neighbors are not neighborly.

Babies die.

The peaceful plans you dream of and hope for and pray over are riddled with twists and turns and paths that keep you pining for the flatter trail that doesn’t trip you up.

The news brings heartache daily til the day it all seems the same.

Struggle.

Strife.

A planet aching.

Adversity.

The day last month that my big little horse started limping, I did what I’ve done every time one of the minis has gotten any little ailment these past twelve months.

I worried and I fret and I flashed back to the cold nights in the barn when we willed our big boy to keep standing and keep fighting in those hours before we knew he’d given us his all and had to finally lie down and leave us.

It’s a year later and the same time of the month that he got sick when our mini starts to slow down and look uncomfortable. It must be the season. It must be something about our farm in the spring.

It must be something I’m doing wrong and I worry as I go to a boring meeting and remember the boring meeting I was sitting in last year when my daughter called to get me coming home to her and her very sick pony.

He was a horse not a person but I will always grieve the loss of him like I would a best friend or a member of this family.

Because he was.

It was our first time losing a horse and the pain of it was enough to make me think of letting my other two go to another farm so we’d never have to deal with that kind of loss ever again.

That thought was short-lived because I know they belong with us and they belong together, but as I watch my mini’s coat dull and I take the weight tape to her and see she’s dropped fifteen pounds, it makes me choke back a sob as I think of our big pony standing noble and quiet in the barn last year with his dull coat and thin neck.

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A whole year feels like yesterday when I start calling the people I know to call and text video clips of my little horse limping, and as soon as he’s back in town, my farrier is here to trim up her feet and he reminds me yet again that I shouldn’t worry so, that this horse came to us with a condition that will always cause her to have troublesome feet in cold weather and the changing of seasons.

He reminds me that I’ll always have to watch her sugar intake and that the good nourishment I was giving her to help her weight and her coat might be too much, and that cutting back just a little will tell me for sure.

And he reminds me gently that this horse isn’t the same horse as the horse we lost.

That every ailment isn’t worst case scenario.

That even though my mind and my heart go back to the loss, this horse won’t die from sore feet.

That the love on our farm is big and goes a long way toward keeping our animals healthy and me and the kids learning.

He reminds me how much we love.

Struggles will come but love covers a multitude, and it is patient and it is kind, and it protects and trusts and hopes, and it always, always perseveres.

I quit making a list this year and instead made myself persevere.

Made myself love.

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God knows my faith has been quiet but that it is strong and it is persevering.

Have you been quiet in your faith?

Have you had doubts? Struggles? Adversity?

He knows when our love is true and trusting and even though it may not be loud, He knows when it is there.

A trauma, a loss, a year of battles one after another can knock out strong knees, but on our knees is best because He so loved the world, He so loved me and He so loved you, and love will.never.fail.

The disappointments of yesterday melt in the face of the love that dwells in the rough-hewn wood of this strong house.

The crushing weight of sorrow for friends fighting a too-hard war lightens as they raise their hands to glory and love all they touch.

The unending pain of the planet and her people are held, because in Him all things hold together.

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My little horse began to move smoother after her foot trim, and as the sun came out and spring moved onto our farm, I’d see her napping on all fours instead of lying down to get off her feet.

Her head would bob and her top lip quiver as she soaked up the fresh air and healing rays of sunshine after our long cold winter.

She wasn’t going to die like our pony did.

And today, the exact day he left us last year, I pulled my little gal out and marveled at how much better she was looking.

I smiled at her yellow-white mane and tail as she walked across the yard, a happy sparkle in her eye as she tried to find just one green blade of grass.

I thought of how much I love these little horses and how much we’ve gone through on the farm this year.

How much those close to us have endured.

How much our world has changed.

How much we are loved in the midst of it all.

And as I was watching her walk beside my daughter, my girl who said goodbye to her best equine friend too soon exactly one year ago, a peace washed over me that assured me that not only was my little horse going to be fine but so was everything else.

Those things I can control…those things I can’t…those battles friends fight…those injustices that plague so many…

Because He said it…because He loves…

We are assured that even in the evils and the sadness and the pain He will never leave us.

He will take the quiet faith, the wavering faith, the tentative faith, and He will grow it louder and steadier and surer, whether through sunny seasons or through sorrow seasons.

My peace grew strong and I thought of our pony gone a year, and I tucked up his memory into my heart once again where it now always lives, and I watch my girl walk my big mini back toward the pen.

And just before she got there, our little red pony hopped a little hop on her once-sore feet and she kicked up her heels and she tossed her mane…

And then she started to trot.

~

In memory of all the ponies and all the horses who have left this earth too soon. Your trust and service and faithfulness are twisted up into the hearts of the many who have loved you and will miss you all the days of their lives.

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Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 7:8-10

 

 

 

 

Pushing

I decided to update my folder of barn records in the morning and before long there were surprised tears in my coffee as I typed up Beau’s last notes.

Our long weekend with him…

and then his final lay down.

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The afternoon was filled with 4-H and phone calls and sunshine and then yells from the front yard that the dog had eaten the sheep’s leg off.

There were angry tears when I saw that the dog hadn’t actually EATEN the sheep’s leg, but had tried to herd the sheep and a tied sheep won’t herd and a cattle dog without a job sometimes herds too hard.

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The evening saw us in the hayfield, dropping everything to go on that one day a year when the hay man says it’s here, and the injured sheep stayed home with his girl and my boys donned gloves and my big man does what he does best, he hefts and he pushes through life so he hefts and he pushes through the field of hay and I want to lay down but I drive slow instead and sometimes heft too and then, when my littlest baby is driving the truck and the music is playing and the sun is shining, tired tears come because sometimes a mama really does just want to lay down.

Because sometimes all life is, is hopping from one mishap to another…one mess to the next…one big job to one more big job…

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and it can be overwhelming.

And a mama gets tired.

But when a few more quiet tears come on the way home, hay loaded up and midnight approaching, they’re both sad and sweet and grateful because sometimes in the tired we can forget who we are and where our strength comes from.

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And while I follow in the second truck and the hay on the trailer in front of me rocks through the Alaska wilderness and the construction zones, I realize how far I am from where I want to be. From where I should be.

All the things…all the places…all the words…how have I gotten this far and left them all undone, unsaid?

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But as the midnight sun glares and my baby switches songs on the playlist like a big boy next to me, I remember that I’m close to the One who’s taking me there.

And that every breath is the opposite of mishap and an opportunity to do the things and go the places and say the words.

The mountains are purple on the flats and we take our hay home and my men unload and my girls put the crock pot away and we tuck in the sheep and we go to bed.

And I tell myself that tomorrow there will probably be more mishaps and messes. But that I need to listen. I need to remember the wide open sky and the freshness of hay and the muscles that move.

I need to listen to it all.

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So I’ll remember. I’ll remember that tears come when I’m listening and when I’m listening, I am strong.

I’ll remember that my job is to grow into who He made me to be and while I’m doing that, to love.

To share.

To remember where I get my strength.

And to use that strength to manage the mishaps and weather the worries and surrender the sorrows so that I’ll keep standing.

I’ll keep standing and I’ll keep lifting and I’ll keep pushing and I’ll keep hefting…

All the way up to my final lay down.

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Great is Your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters and to mercy
And nothing can keep us apart

Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me

~Your Grace is Enough, Chris Tomlin

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13

 

 

 

 

It’ll Be Okay

There was something wrong with my Wishy.

Lord, No. Please.

It’s too soon after Beau.

I wiped the inside of her hind legs off with a warm wet cloth and tried to figure out what could be causing her diarrhea.

I’m irritated with myself and wondering how it was that her symptoms slipped by my eagle eye that’s become even more watchful this spring.

She’s my low-maintenance mini. Beau was our big boy and Charlotte is our keyed-up mare, but Wishes…Wishes is a go-with-the-flow horse if ever there was one. Her previous owner compared her to Eeyore, and the personality suits her perfectly. She goes along and gets along and she’ll get a little pout to her every now and then, but nothing that a few soft words and two soft hands can’t soothe.

I love that horse.

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And now, as I put her back in the pen with Char, my brain goes into high gear thinking on how I’m going to get my kids to the good-bye party for friends that we all realllly really want to go to, yet be here too in order to assess Wishes a little better while trying to get the vet out. My hands tremble while latching the gate and in my mind I’m standing in the barn at 4 a.m., exhausted after days on my feet in hopeful vigil while watching a brave and noble pony’s lips clamp tight in pain and dehydration just hours before his body lies down one last time.

I can’t stand up under it if something happens to her, Lord. Not now.

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A sweet friend shuttles my kids, and my man-boy and I watch Wishy in the pen, and before I say anything about what I think, he tells me “I think she’s having a hard time holding her back end up. She’s swaying in the hind.”

Which is a sign of neurological damage from the common weed called mare’s tail that grows prevelantly in our area. I’ve not seen it in our yard, but I remember a week or so ago when we found her grazing behind a new shed we put up last year. My boy and I wander back to take a look and sure enough, the area is packed full of brand new shoots of the toxic horsetail.

My heart falls and I get my horse friend on text and she’s Googling and I’m researching and watching Wishy at the same time, and there right in front of my eyes she tries to pee and can only pee down her legs.

I can’t stop scared tears from coming and I’m trying to keep a grip on my fear and my big boy, he tells me it’ll be okay Mama.

I breathe deep and amp up my calls and texts to the vet and track down another one that’s a friend-of-a-friend and we all suspect plant toxicity and if that doesn’t take her, it’ll throw her into colic and if she pulls out of the toxicity, she might not pull out of the colic and that’s what took Beau and there she goes swaying her hind again and then settling into a new place that she’s never lain before in the shady part of the pen not the sunny, and that’s a bad sign too so I text the vet.

Again.

He tells me just what shot to give her to relieve pain and help her pee and says he can come see her some time the next day.

So we order pizza and eat out at the barn and I watch her and as I watch her close…so closely…I remember something small.

Small like her.

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The day we rolled our little horse trailer onto the barnyard and walked the new pony Beau over to the horse pen, both minis went into a wild fit of star struck crazy horse love. They fussed and fought and bucked and ran around him so much it was like watching a bunch of barfly groupies at a Tim McGraw concert.

Both of them were thrown into heat that day and for about a week, every time we’d go out to do chores, we were stepping into a world of premenstrual high school girls. Hair flinging and head tossing and eye rolling and snap talking had become the norm on the barnyard.

Our boy horse, though castrated, (gelded in horse terminology) had thrown both our mares into heat.

But once things leveled out on our barnyard, -in the hormones and in the herd- I never saw either of our mares behave that way again. The three of them made a happy herd, and if any one of the three got grumpy, it was usually Beau, tired of their constant snuggling up to him, them preferring to stand in the warmth of his flanks over the barn almost every time. Marish behavior had gone by the wayside after that first few days of getting over their boy-horse crush and a calm, serene trio prevailed.

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And now, here they were, just over a month without him, and right around the time when mares in our area go into season.

But why wasn’t Wishes drinking much water? Why was her hind end swaying like her back legs weren’t working? It couldn’t be that my wee little mare was just in heat. These symptoms were so different from anything I’ve ever seen before. She’s so level-headed and submissive and quiet, this couldn’t all be just a normal hormonal thing.

I lunged her in circles in the driveway to make sure all her legs and her back were working. I put a bucket of water in front of her so I could monitor her intake. I tied her outside the pen so I could watch and see how much she peed and pooped.

I saw how she reacted to her half ration of feed and gave her a little more when she still acted hungry. I saw how she blinked her soft, wide-eyed blink at me, just like normal with no flaring of her nostrils or clamping of her lips.

She seemed just like my regular ol’ Wishes.

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I pondered the possibilities and I put her back in the pen for the night and my panic level came down after seeing her eat and drink and poop and kind of pee. I kept thinking over her symptoms and worried about them, but felt secure enough to let her overnight until I’d do an early morning check, so I tucked her in with a fresh trough of water, a few flakes of hay, and her pal Charlotte.

In the morning the vet texted that he’d be out later in the day and I posted my son as sentry and watcher of Wishy while I went to another appointment that I needed to keep. I raced home after the appointment, anxious at the fact that she’d not taken in much water all morning. At this point I was convinced that she had an Urinary Tract Infection, which was causing her to not be able to pee, which would cause her hind end to hurt and sway, and which could be deadly.

Doc came just as I was pulling Wishes out and getting her ready to see him and he took his stethoscope and his old sparkly blue veterinarian eyes and his knarled up country hands and he looked her over.

And then he looked at me and he said if I wanted him to, he could find a little miniature stallion to come on over and visit my little mare because it was pretty obvious to him that my little girl horse was just in heat.

Oh!

My deep-down was right!

I was paying attention.

I did know my little horse.

And my fears, -those doubts, that grief, that insecure feeling that I must’ve done everything wrong with Beau since he didn’t live- they had just manifested so much louder than my deep-down knowledge of my little mare.

My tears started to push against my eyes and pretty soon my shoulders were shaking because I lost a horse once and once was once too many times but now, today, I wasn’t going to lose this one.

I wasn’t going to have to say goodbye to the soft eyes of a creature that loves so loyally.

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Not today.

So I cried quietly.

All the grief that’s been working its way out…all the hoping that it would go differently…all the wishing that it could’ve been this easy with Beau too…I just let the tears fall while the sun shined and the minis munched their hay.

And my vet, the vet to all the farms and mushers and 4-H kids here in paradise, he looked at me and saw I was crying and he was quiet too and he just stood with me like a gentlemanly elderly man would while the woman next to him cries, and then he gave me a little pat on the shoulder and he said I know. It’s hard. 

And I know he knows every last thing I’m crying about and how it’s all tied up into farming and the future and the kids and the critters and our hearts and our life and how a soul crumples a little when she loses a beloved animal and how the loss puts something into that soul that makes it never quite be the same.

And then he tells me it’s okay.

It’ll be okay.

So we stood quiet for a few more seconds in the sunshine and looked at my fuzzy little mini in heat and I wiped my eyes on my sleeve and he honked into his hankerchief and then we walked past the barn and past the chickens and back toward his truck that was waiting to take him to the next call.

And as it is with a farm vet, he was soon sitting on the tailgate surrounded by kids and showing them his veterinarian bible, a current edition of the book he read every night in vet school. They oohed and aahed and coveted the thick copy and learned from him and from it the number of days in the estrus cycles of horses…and barn cats…guinea pigs…goats…alpacas…ferrets…and fox.

We learn from him and we glean from him and we send him on his way with a dozen pheasant eggs and his refusal to take a penny for his care and his call and his time.

It’s good that you called he tells me.

His blue eyes twinkle when he tells me we’ll just call this one an ‘information only’ call.

And it was information.

Good information.

The disruption in the herd, losing their gelding, this being the first heat cycle of the season…those things can cause a mare to have an out-of-whack cycle, one that involves hind-end swaying and pheromone peeing and out-of-the-ordinary behavior. That’s good information. That’s information I didn’t have before.

But knowing that I can trust my deep-down when it comes to my animals…that’s good information too. Being able to sense when something is just slightly off… Knowing that I had a gut instinct and action behind it is important for me right now as we still process the loss of one of our animals and fight to not second-guess all we did.

But the best information that came out of our farm call was information that I already knew: that while us folks that manage animals and farms tend to the critters we love, one of the most valuable resources we will ever have is the kindness, care, and compassion of a country vet.

He puts on his sunglasses and starts his truck and it rumbles to life, and while I wave him goodbye and watch him leave our driveway and turn toward his next call, a farm up the road, I’m thankful…so thankful.

Thankful my wee horse will be fine…

Thankful for the life and love and lessons of the one we lost…

Thankful for this farm and these kids and these critters…

And thankful that while I tend to them all, I have a good farm vet on my side.

~

To everything there is a season,  a time for every purpose under heaven…Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Beau’s Birch

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It’s only been twenty-four hours since he left us but I know this for sure: our farm, and our hearts…

They’ll never be the same.

*

She wanted a pony but thought we probably couldn’t have one. She’s always been so conscious of what things cost the family.

My thoughtful girl.

We had the minis…everyone was learning horsemanship. We had friends and lessons where she could ride big horses whenever she wanted.

But one night she said something at prayers that made her Daddy’s eyes water.

God please help me be happy for other people who have their own horses so that I won’t always just want one for myself.

And my husband whispered later that night…

We’re gonna get that girl a pony.

We brought Beau home after a friend told us he’d be a great match for our girl. He was so big compared to our minis, he was a Clydesdale on the barnyard. It made my head spin when I first walked him.

He’d been a Pony Club pony. He had such good manners. His girl had trained him well but she needed a bigger horse to do the kind of horse activities she wanted to do, her mama said. Her legs were getting too long.

That mama cried when we pulled out with him in our trailer. That pony had seen her little girl grow up.

And when my husband walked up to my girl with that pony and gave her the lead rope, she cried too. She couldn’t believe she was a little girl who had her very own horse.

It was the happiest day we’ve ever had on our little farm.

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Beau went from being a fancy pony to a farm pony, and while secretly this mama thought maybe our farm wasn’t fancy enough and that maybe a fancy pony is meant to be a fancy pony forever, a horse friend that knew him in both lives said “No. He fits here. I can see it. He’s relaxed. He loves this farm.”

So Beau was our fancy farm pony.

And my girl said, See that patch of brown right there on his flank Mama? That color right there is my favorite color in the whole world.”

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He came out of his first winter here a little thinner and weaker after a bag of bad feed had us learning how to give a horse a shot, and our vet came to put his vet hands on him for us and he told us Beau was just fine and that sometimes a horse just doesn’t winter very easily, but that we’d learn exactly what he needs as we got to know him better. Just our love and a little medicine will have him back to his big old self in no time.

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We had the love and we had the medicine, and we got him on a feed that was better for his body. He went to a horse camp with my girl that spring, and even though she learned that sometimes the circles of horse folks can be harsh and assume the worst of a person by the size of their horse, my girl and her pony had a great time at that camp learning new things about each other and they grew in trust and they grew in skills…

And our vet was right.

In no time at all he was back to his big old self.

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Over years, my girl’s legs grew a little longer, and Beau grew a little older and they were partners and they were friends. On our barnyard, he was the big boss of the herd and even as herd boss, he was sweet. The minis doted on him, and in the dusk, they’d find shelter under his tall-to-them flanks. Twice a day my girl would feed and water the horses and  because she was horse manager on the farm, she knew them well.

She knew that she liked them to go in order when the farrier came:  biggest to littlest.

She knew that Beau didn’t like it when his minis were away from him, even for a minute.

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She knew when her body was growing too big for a pony.

She knew that even though riding him may not be an option, she could still teach him and learn from him, so she decided that together, they’d start training to drive a cart.

She knew he would pick it up easily.

She knew how awesome it was that he didn’t even flinch when she started walking behind him with her long reins and teaching him Gee and Haw and driving him all summer all over the round pen and the yard and up the driveway.

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She knew what a great teacher he would be for her younger sister and little brother and started teaching them how to work a pony in the round pen.

She knew that the biggest mini was a little like a toddler and that the littlest mini was like a friend feeling left out, and she knew that Beau would peek over the pony wall of the stall every morning to wait for his girl to come out and say hi.

She knew that he was gentle and that he was kind.

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And she knew him well enough to know that something was wrong when she saw him standing weak at feed time, and she texted me immediately and got me coming home and on the phone with the vet. We got a shot in him right away, gave him his own room in the barn, and in the morning Doc came out and said colic was working on our boy. Told us to use our hands and our medicine to help him feel better.

He pepped up a bit midweek and his minis were glad to have him back with them in the big pen where he went right back to bossing and big-brothering them to whinnies.

His downturn was a surprise and before we could even celebrate that he’d been improving, we were camped out in the barn with him tucked into his blanket and us tucked into our Carharrts, him looking at us with big brown eyes puzzled at having his whole family sleeping in the barn in lawn chairs.

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The little heater for ice fishing kept people and pony from freezing, and he stood on all four feet and drank water and nibbled hay and the doc said keep doing what you’re doing because that’s what’s keeping him here. He put a tube in our pony that night and gave him oil in his tummy to help coat things and protect him from the environmental toxin he suspected our boy had in his system. Our extra warm winter…our very early spring thaw…it’s messed with the soil and plant life this year and horses in high numbers are colicking all over he said.

But I told myself that our pony was strong and he’d be okay every time I put my hands on him and I’d pray to God, the one who created horses. Father please help us keep him strong enough to heal and we’ll keep on loving this pony all his days.

Our pony’s girl, my girl, she’d be dozing through the middle-of-the-night hours, tucked into the little pallet bed she’d made out of pillows and sleeping bags all folded up into the garden cart attached to the four-wheeler over in the corner barn.

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We played the radio soft and she told us to keep it on the country station because that’s what he liked the best.

His same low nicker every time he’d see his girl was like music on the heart.

Shock after the nasal tube panicked him and I had Doc on speed dial while Matt set up flood lights over the paddock and neighbors came and friends brought stethoscopes and we monitored his heart rate as he sweat his panic out and mouth-breathed and coughed up blood clots like pudding. I never would’ve thought he was going to make it through the night but each time he coughed, he’d settle a bit more, and then at 2 a.m., he coughed up one last clot and calmed.

The doc set aside his morning and came to see him and said from the sounds of his night, he was surprised to come out and not see a dead pony. But our boy was on all fours and blinking his big brown eyes softly at Doc, and if it weren’t for his heart rate still being high and the bloodstains on the straw and on the gates and on his nose, no one would ever guess our little pony had been on death’s door just seven hours before.

We took him out into the sun and he napped like he always does on spring days.

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We wondered if we’d know when it was time. Doc said his heart rate needed to come down and if it didn’t, we’d probably know which way things were going to go by noon or so. But noon came and went and Beau stood with his face in the sun and my husband said God can heal ponies too and if Doc said it’ll take 36 hours for that oil to kick in, well, we’ll give him every minute of that 36 hours to get better because it’s not fair to Beau if we don’t, and that’s our job as his people, to give him every chance he has to fight.

We kept a little bit of hay and a lot of water in front of him and we encouraged him to lay down and rest a bit, but he insisted on doing what he normally does, take the occasional sugar cube from his girl and kick his back leg in some, all while blinking a napping blink and bobbing his head lazy like in the sunshine with his minis slinking around him and stealing bits of his hay.

His heart rate came down some when he was in the sun. So for two whole days of daytime hours, he lived with his sweet face pointing south in our front yard, the Alaskan spring sun warming his white blaze and black forelock while his kids and his minis and his chickens went around him…next to him…under him…with him…

We slept in the barn again for the third night and even though his 36-hour mark had come and gone, our boy was still not showing signs of being in big distress. We still felt like if we cut his time short and opted to euthanize now, we would be giving up on him since he was still fighting so quietly and valiantly.

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But there was no doubt that he was starting to weaken.

When a call to an equine vet with a clinic four hours away through the mountains gave us disbelief that our pony was still standing after almost three days with a heart rate that would’ve killed any other horse after just one day, we wondered if maybe we should load our little boy up for some big city care.

We consulted with our vet and another vet closer to home, and she showered us with words of love and kindness, having been through this with her own animals and knowing all too well the pain of trying to decide when it’s time to relieve our animal friends of their burden of illness. She confirmed what we were feeling: yes an elevated heart rate indicates trouble; he was definitely a sick boy. But being a pony, his heart rate would be a little higher than a full-sized horse, and without a baseline on him, we didn’t know if he normally ran a little higher regularly, and most of all, if he is still standing on all four feet and seemed peaceful enough to fight it out, why not give him every chance we could to let him do that?

When making a game plan for that night and weighing our options -euthanization, continuing to sit vigil, trying to load him quickly and haul him up north for specialized care- my thoughtful girl thought about it, then came to me and said she’d like to keep her pony at home where he’d feel safe and not have to be scared on top of being sick. His minis are here. The ride would be long and scary for him and she couldn’t ride in the trailer to help him not be scared, and he might not be able to stand that long and he wouldn’t want to lay down.

This is his home Mama.

One more night -even though we all knew he was getting on time to run out of time- we put on our layers and we boiled water for tea and we went to the store for another small box of sugar cubes and we put needles in our pockets for his shots and we freshened the clipboard full of our times and our notes about our boy and all his round-the-clock care.

Every walk, every pet, every shot, every movement…every moment…

Even my horse-scorning big boy who delights in telling his little sister how much he doesn’t like horses, he slept in the barn and he hauled water and he held her hand when we prayed and it’s different when it’s your little sister’s horse and shouldn’t a whole family hold out hope for one little pony?

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My husband led us in prayer at every turn and we’d bow our heads and we’d cry our tears and we’d ask God to help Beau. To help him in his brave and courageous fight. To help him poop. To help his heart rate come down. To help his little  body heal. To help our hands help him.

I came back to the barn from a house trip with hot coffee and tea at sunrise that third morning and there, right there over the barn was a huge arc-shaped cloud. I stood in the driveway and wondered if it might look a little bit like a white fluffy rainbow. It had that wispy cotton candy texture to it that the kids told me is called mare’s mane.

It took me a minute to realize that a shape was at the base of the arc and that if you looked just hard enough, and a little tear-stained and barn-weary enough, it could almost look like a little horse coming down to a perfect landing from a beautiful and arcing jump.

A fancy-pony jump.

And I knew when I saw it that it would be Beau’s last morning here on our farm.

He showed us that morning that his strong and courageous little body was growing tired of standing on all four feet and that our hands weren’t going to be able to help him win this one and that it was time for us to call the vet out.

Doc didn’t even have time to get heading our way. Not even a half hour later we were all cheering Beau gently and encouraging him through our tears to go ahead and lie down when we could see he’d decided it was finally time to get off his strong little feet.

He died minutes later, at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, and it was the saddest day we’ve ever had on our little farm.

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Farm kids are tough but farm kids grieve and my littlest daughter brought Kleenex and my baby asked Why? Just why? and my menfolk let unashamed tears run down their faces and we all cried together and mourned the beautiful creature that God had sent our way. We loved that pony.

My girl asked her daddy if we could lay him to rest on our new land, a piece of simple north road we bought last year just a quarter mile away, a chunk of our future, a homestead we plan to settle in the upcoming months.

So the same Daddy that bought his girl a pony brought home a tractor to bury that pony. She chose a beautiful clearing under a tall birch, and while he dug, we watched and we fetched logs when he’d get stuck and we rested and we loved.

We were exhausted and we were sad and we were thankful…all at the same time.

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Our girl’s fancy farm pony taught us so much in our four short years with him.

He taught us that being fancy was a good thing.

And he taught us that being farmy was a good thing too.

He taught us that friends come in all sizes and species and that sometimes friendship doesn’t look the way everyone else thinks it should look.

He taught us that a low rumble of recognition is a gift to be treasured.

He taught us to pay close attention because not everyone speaks loudly.

He taught us that good training is also a good teacher.

He taught us that true friendships adapt.

He taught us that a quiet fight is a strong fight.

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I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the shock of what happened this past weekend on our farm.

I don’t know if the trauma of caring for an animal so closely that literally every moment is filled with them, -their breathing, their movements, their improvements, their subtle decline- and then watching the life leave the eyes of that animal as it falls to the ground after standing so bravely in hope is something I’ll ever be able to fully process.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk outside like I did this morning and not cry in grief when I see reminders of him on every inch of our barnyard. This morning it was the indent in the thick bed of straw that was the same size and shape of a miniature horse and was situated in the exact spot where Beau’s handsome head fell when he died.

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I don’t know if I will.

The grief is so deep, this saying goodbye too soon to a friend of your heart…when you didn’t even know they were going to leave.

My daughter, -exhausted and processing our weekend like her pony did, stoickly, when I told our flower-bringing friend that the whole barnyard has shifted on end with the loss of one little-but-mighty pony- she said “Mama, it’s kind of like the universe. Everything effects everything else. One little change makes the whole universe different.”

Yes baby.

That’s exactly what it’s like.

One little pony…and the loss of him…

It makes the whole universe different.

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And it’s only been twenty-four hours since he left us but I know this for sure: our farm, and our hearts…

They’ll never be the same.

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 Then thundered the horses’ hooves—
    galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.

Judges 5:22

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 In loving memory of Beau, a brave and strong and courageous pony.

2000-2016

Crazy For The Birds

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I made our manager of the poultry department take inventory yesterday. This is what he came up with:

18 layer hens of varying ages

2 roosters, one big, one tiny

5 baby chicks

4 hen pheasants

2 rooster pheasants

1 guinea fowl

2 Embden geese

1 house quail named Rooster Cogburn; Chuck for short.

Thirty-five birds total.

He then proceeded to convince his Dad and I that we should let him purchase two full grown turkeys to live on the barnyard and go to the fair with him this summer.

He’s even got us seriously considering letting him add peacocks to the farm.

I think we may have officially gone to the birds.

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Long Weekends and New Life

I love life.

I love OUR life.

I especially love babies and old folks and watching children smile as they grow into the huge hearts they carry in their small chests.

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Sometimes, amid the work and the bustle of this house and this farm and the daily everything that gets in the way of peace, I’ll remember…

to live IS peace.

This life is peace.

The air, the sunshine, the animals, the people…this world, crazy as it is…as sad as it can sometimes be…it was made by the One who speaks peace and who gives peace, and because of that, when we’re with Him, we HAVE peace.

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I forget.

And when people are sometimes mean and friends can make your chin quiver and the news can crush a soul…

forgetting peace is easy to do.

But when we look, won’t we find it?

Those few words while hiding from the world in the bathroom stall…those Psalms that wash over a soul and change the breathing and change a spirit in just the few quiet minutes it takes to read them.

Those smiles that come with the bright from a sunny morning when just the day before it was dreary.

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Those screams that can sometimes pierce the ears but when you fine tune the speaker they remind you of the joyful and fleeting days of childhood and youth.

Those voices from strong men growing stronger as they sing in their bass and baritones and prop their brothers up.

Those warm minutes just before sunrise when the blankets envelop and there’s one beside you breathing deeply.

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People can sometimes be hard and life can sometimes be hard but aren’t we all growing toward peace and isn’t every day a new chance at life?

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We set it all aside and got ready for this weekend, this big weekend that had families red-faced and covered in glue and glitter and moms trying to make the best better for all those beautiful smart kids who were carrying all their little and big kid-pressure to perform well for their clubs and their judges…and somehow we all made it out alive and then the next day we all woke up and did it again, with just a little more fun and relaxed pep in our steps the second time around.

Big things are hard and sometimes little things are even harder but when we came home tired and smiling…

there was new life.

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There was new life to remind us that hard things are worth it and when things are a little hard, or even a lot hard, time goes on and life goes on.

There was new life to remind us of what we’re really doing here and how there will always be hard things and even hard people, but if we keep our focus on the people in our homes and the critters in our care, and on the friends that walk the path alongside…and always on the One who gave them all to us…

life won’t be so hard.

We came home and watched as they came out of their shells, weak and struggling and gasping, trying to get legs strong enough to hold bodies upright.

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They flop and they flail as they push through the hardness of their shell and the hardness of being born.

They lie breathless, resting and gulping until the next burst of strength.

They push on through each step and stage, life imprinted on their instincts, survival written into their cells.

New life brings joy.

New life brings smiles.

New life brings quiet and music and refreshment and hope.

And with it, new life always brings peace.

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