Monday, October 29, 2007

Requiem for my old friend

I said goodbye to my old girl on Saturday. She wasn't the most beautiful horse in the world, or the strongest or the fastest, but she was my dream come true, and I loved her. Because I loved her, I agonized for a long time as to whether I would choose to lay her to rest forever. But then I realized that my choice was to either do it and wonder whether it was the right thing, or to avoid doing it because it was going to be hard and then regret it. So because she was in failing health, I like to think I chose to do a hard thing for her sake, and to wonder instead of regret. I have always wanted to do right by her as she was a steady, faithful presence my life for over 22 years, and that means something.

I believe I saved Mistie twice: once from her first home, and then from a leasing family who had started to neglect her before I moved to the Midwest. But Mistie saved me far more times, from adolescent angst, from boredom, from crashing while jumping her over picnic tables in the park or riding her down Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway in nothing but a halter and rope. She kept me safe while also keeping my sense of youthful power and immortality in tact. She was a truly gifted jumper. She was sensible and stoic. She wasn't a complainer. She constantly forgave my numerous rookie mistakes. In her final years she was a fine barn mascot and the epitome of gentle kindness to Owain and my nieces Hope and Ellie, who took a special shine to her. She gave me focus, responsibility, and years and years of fun. She loved me back in her no-nonsense way.

She died peacefully on a beautiful, uncharacteristically warm October day, and spent her last morning in the corner of the pasture, where I found and photographed her sunning herself happily. I'm glad I was able to bury her here on the farm, where we will hold her in our memories.

I thank my stalwart husband, who I'm sure had no idea what he was getting into when he married a horse girl twelve years ago. He saw to some of the hardest parts on Saturday when I couldn't. I also thank all of my kind friends and family for their support and dear messages to me, none of which I've been able to respond to properly. So many of you have been there from the beginning of my journey with Mistie, and it is evident to me that you truly understand. Your love has filled me with gratitude and eased the way along this path.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


So over the last few days, I've been writing a blog in my head about my struggles - one about how we can feel a little lost here sometimes in our mission, about how Jay is burnt out on his job - on the futility of the institution in its current form - but is chained to it for the health insurance; how we want to be working for ourselves in every sense of the word, but how getting a good night's sleep trumps all right now, even pursuing our dreams; how having a rambunctious one-year-old makes projects stretch lazily over months and months; how my geldings look like a couple of hefty Jenny Craig weight loss program rejects who are cottoning a little too kindly to the job title of Pasture Ornament.

I was going to write about learning hard things while living communally, and how sharing my life so intimately with more people has made me aware of some of the ways in which I need to grow (and grow up); how I'm having a hard time connecting with other moms around here and despite the stars and the trees and the soothing quiet I feel isolated sometimes; how life or death can be determined by nothing more than the thin reed of a choice, and how heavy it is to have to make that kind of choice for another warm, breathing being, especially one I hold dear.

But sitting in the hot tub alone tonight, bathed in the glow of a silver-eyed moon, all I could feel was overwhelming humility and above all gratitude, for this place, for my people here, for a beautiful opportunity.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Owain at 14 months

Frequent words: "car"; "cow" (with subsequent "moo"); "cracker"; "cheese"; "hot" and sometimes "dog", "pear" and "shoes."

Eyes: hazel, Hair (what there is of it): reddish-blond

Favorites and joys: animals; exploring the woods fearlessly; being outside; taking walks; playing in the barn; speed-reading his books (especially pop-ups and books with little doors to open and tabs to pull); people and parties and any sort of social activity; being in the hot tub; playing chase; messing around on the piano; nursing; wrestling with Ellis on the bed; being loud with Ellis; pretty much anything with Ellis; climbing on chairs; anything that switches on and off; the phone; the stereo; bellybuttons; flirting with Auntie Becca and Uncle Chris; guacamole; eating apples and pears whole; butt-shakin' music; roaming and running around the farm with wild abandon (so far the only thing he's expressed even the slightest apprehension about has been the noisy, odd-smelling milk room at Bill's farm).

Understands: "Go get your shoes"; "Say bye-bye"; "Go find mama a book to read"; "What does the cow say?"; "Let's go down to the barn." He'll also put his finger up to his mouth and say "Shhh, Shhh" when we've had enough of the screaming.

Challenges: Anything relating to sleep still (getting to and staying there); ferocious will; ceaseless energy; endless teething; the general lack of an "inside" voice; insanely random eating patterns; some recent hair-pulling incidents; loads of head bonks from constant Three Stooges-esque falls.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Autumn 2007 Garden/Preservation Inventory

~ A whopping 54 quarts of applesauce and...
~ 16 jars of apple butter and...
~ 40 gallons of apple cider!
~ 6 gallon bags of diced rhubarb
~ 4 quarts of strawberry freezer jam
~ 4 gallon freezer bags of strawberries
~ 11 quart jars and 4 gallon freezer bags of tomatoes
~ 4 quart jars of pickled beets
~ 6 pint jars of dill pickles
~ 3 pint jars of dilly beans
~ 3 quart freezer bags of cut corn
~ 6 pint freezer bags of pesto
~ 3 gallon freezer bags of cut carrots
~ 20 some-odd pumpkins and gourds (see above photo)
~ 17 assorted buttercup and acorn squashes
~14 butternut squashes, 4 cut up, blanched and frozen for soup!
~ big boxes of onions, carrots, potatoes and beets
~ small box of garlic (all re-planted)

Bumper crops: apples, beets, potatoes, onions, squash, carrots
Bad year for: broccoli (deer ate starts), tomatoes (rained too much in August) and cucumbers (blasted beetles and slugs!)

Monday, October 15, 2007


With the season change, we go straight from the garden to trees. In many ways the forest is its own kind of garden where we harvest, plant, thin, cultivate, weed, store and walk through with inspecting eyes. The forest as garden is a gigantic leap in learning for me, and I am proud of what I have learned. I can identify different trees by their leaves. Three years ago I would not have been able to separate the oak from the maple. I am about 75% accurate on identifying trees by their bark and limb structure, and I now know the type of tree by the smell after I split it.

How do we best care for our forest in terms of habitat (animals, water and soil)?
How do we best care for our forest in regard to our resource needs (wood, nuts, animals, syrup)?

A giant elm tree died. Elm wood is wonderful for burning but extremely difficult to split. The little red machine is a hydrolic wood spliter. Pump the white arms and the wood slowly cracks apart. The tear inching through the wood sounds like a castle door slowly opening on 100 year old rusty hinges. After the spliter, the maul will finish the wood apart.

The pile up by the house with mostly dead elm.

The remains of the giant elm tree that have not been cut up yet. Any suggestions?

Piles out in full sun to dry quicker.

Chris found a great and Andy Goldsworthy way to help dry popple wood. Can you tell which one Chris built and which one I built?

Popple wood is a weed. Three years ago these trees did not block the pines. Yes, there are pines back there. We are cutting the popples down. There are a lot of baby oaks on the hill and the pines need room. I learned that popple grow from their roots. Therefore, they will just grow right back. Any suggestions on organic ways to keep the popple from reappearing?

Part of our woods looks like it was clear cut 10 to 15 years ago. It is filled with maples about the size of my shins. Ten years from now this could be syrup heaven. How do we manage this forest to be its healthiest? It already appears overcrowded and needs help.

It is my plan to try maple syrup this February. With the help of Matt and Owain, we painted red the maple trees on the hill by our house. I went back and put a green string around about 10 more trees right on the top of our hill. They are all an easy walk from the forest road. I also built an outdoor firepit to boil down the syrup. A neighbor friend says he has connections for me to buy a stainless steel pan for outdoor boiling. Another neighbor has an abundance of buckets. I just need bucket lids, taps and tubing. Plus, I need a large growth in understanding how to do all this. Does anybody else syrup and have pointers?

For the past two weeks when I take Owain for a walk, he heads straight off the path and bushwhacks it through the woods. We could be there for hours. He longer than I. This is the top of the hill looking towards our farm.


Monday, October 08, 2007

When to say goodbye

There have been many times in my life for many reasons I've wished animals could talk to me. Many of you know Mistie. She is the horse I bought when I was 13 years old, and she remains with me today, having now surpassed the 30-year mark. This makes her pretty old in the equine realm. She's generally reasonably healthy systemically, and can maintain a decent weight on appropriate (read: mushy) feed. Her issue is that she's got terrible arthritis, and she clearly aches. She's fallen down on the farrier a few times, and creaks and groans and hobbles around - on damp, cool days especially.

I have three or four weeks left to decide whether or not I will euthanize her. I want to bury her on the farm, and around here, the frozen winter ground makes that impossible November - March. I fear she will die in the middle of winter, or worse yet, lie down and not be able to get up again and I'll have to put her down in a traumatic, painful situation. But my courage is failing me and I'm struggling with planning her demise. She is representative of so much to me: my childhood, my dream, a whole world of fun and learning and relationship. Part of me wants to spare her pain and offer her a way to go with dignity and peace, and part of me wants to hang on to her at all costs. Winter is hard on old horses. Why can't I do this? What, exactly, do I owe her? Am I right to continue to extend her life unnaturally or right to end her life unnaturally? I want a sign. I want to know for sure. But a definitive answer may never come.

Does anyone have any advice for me, or any experience in this area? How do I best honor this wise old friend? I could use some help.