The Man arrived at what would become known as The Farm in 1991, and I joined him 11 years later. Over the years, we have worked together to make it a special place, both for ourselves and for the many animals that we have brought into our lives. Overgrown fields that once held cattle in the 1800s were cleared, with the majestic old rock walls once again visible, marking the edges of the new horse paddocks. One horse became two, then we added a donkey, and now the Farm is a safe, quiet sanctuary for 8, some of whom had been heavily abused in their early lives. A multitude of chickens gift us with their eggs daily, and rarely does any visitor to the Farm leave without a dozen in their front seat. Old man Kody was our first dog, and he was laid to rest a few years ago next to the family fire pit, where we and other dogs that have followed visit him daily. Other critters have come and gone over the years, and our goal to one day add a few Scottish Highlanders has always been just over the horizon. Raised bed gardens were created that in late summer could easily have been featured in any home and garden magazines, with it’s towering sunflowers and the plentiful harvest of vegetables that we happily shared with neighbors and the local food pantry. One of the Man’s passions is fruit trees, and over the years he has planted a wide variety of them. Peaches, plums, cherries, quince and apples, as well as the various berries that we’ve planted, all end up canned as jams and jellies in the pantry I built the Man a few years ago. We’ve added to the barns, and shored up it’s old beams to make sure they would still be standing strong for many years to come. The main house has been restored in nearly every way possible, and it’s exposed beams and well insulated walls now offer warmth and coziness to all that enter. We have researched it’s rich past, and have always been deeply aware that any changes that we made would become a part of that history. We have left our mark on the Farm, as many before us have done, and we were content with the life that we have created here. The thought of ever leaving to make a new life somewhere else never crossed our minds…until a year ago.
One of the Man’s peers at the hospital told him awhile back that the best time to reinvent yourself is in your 50s, and about a year and a half ago, we started to feel that “itch”. Not something we could put our fingers on exactly, but it was there nonetheless. We were restless. The Man was working incredibly long hours every day, and when someone is in his 30s, he can skate by on 3 or 4 hours of sleep each night. Not so when he is in his middle 50s. Little time at home, and exhausted when he was, was finally wearing him down, and the idea of a change while we were still young enough to pull it off started to formulate. He casually started looking to see what opportunities were out there, and although there were plenty to choose from, none seemed to be at the right hospital or in the right location. Then one day, a new job listing appeared for an Anesthesiologist in Cooperstown, NY, at a large teaching hospital nestled among the hills on the edge of a pristine lake. Within a couple months, we made the drive to Cooperstown, and at the end of the trip, the Man had completed a successful interview and we had fallen in love with the area. For me, it was like taking a trip back in time to my childhood in Bingham, with it’s small town feel, rolling hills, beautiful lake and the promise of a simple life. We looked at a few farms and although most weren’t what we needed, there was one that caught our eye. It was perfect in every way. An old and beautiful farm house built in the mid-1800s, with a tall majestic barn that was ready to move the horses and donkeys into, and with plenty of fields for growing our own hay. Everything seemed to be falling into place for us to begin our “reinvention”…but, the timing wasn’t right.
When it came to the point that hard and fast choices were to be made, we realized that we weren’t quite ready to make such a drastic life change. The Man felt like he still had unfinished goals at the hospital here, and his commitment to his hospital family and what they were accomplishing remained as strong as ever. As for me, my mother’s health was steadily declining, and it was clear that her time was limited. I couldn’t move to another state during her last days and leave my family behind to handle what was to come. And so, we recommitted to our lives here in Maine, and life carried on. The Man dove even deeper into his work, working longer hours than before and taking on more responsibilities at the hospital. I spent more time with my family and took care of the Farm and all of our critters. Various projects around the Farm continued as though we would be staying here for the rest of our lives. At the beginning of the year, fate introduced me to Emmett muscle release therapy for horses, and throughout the year I traveled a great deal to learn all that I could about it. It became my passion, as well as a business opportunity, and through it all I came away with a renewed sense of confidence and purpose. The man teaching the technique, an Aussie named Gary, not only became my mentor, but a cherished friend. Life carried on, and we never gave Cooperstown another thought…until this past December.
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and I’ve collected many ornaments over the years as we’ve traveled. They serve as reminders of where we have been and the good times we’ve had. Decorating my trees this year didn’t hold the same excitement as in years past. Something was off. The joy of the season wasn’t quite there, with my mother’s rapidly changing health and with the Man’s ever expanding work load. Once again, we felt the pull to go, but this time, we resisted. We had committed to staying, and had put all thoughts of moving aside. The month of December was a tough one, for many different reasons, and it felt as though we were running into road blocks no matter which direction we turned. Finally, one day, when we had reached the end of our exasperated rope, we threw up our hands and gave in to the Universe. We had fought the good fight, but it was clear that in some grand plan, and for whatever reason, it was time for the next chapter in our lives…and the title of that chapter was Cooperstown.
Once we gave in and let go, all of the road blocks before us fell like dominos. My mother passed away a few days before Christmas, and I no longer felt as though I needed to stay for my family. The Man had a standing offer from the hospital in Cooperstown, and they were delighted to have him join their Anesthesia group, which would allow him to work better hours and spend more time at home with me and the critters. Only one thing remained that could hinder this new path we were on. A farm. Surely, the majestic farm we had looked at a year earlier would no longer be available, and no others came close to meeting our needs. We opened up the webpage of the local realtor, fully expecting it to be gone, but there it was. Still available. Waiting for us to come back and claim it. We took another trip to Cooperstown to tour it’s quaint old rooms and amazing old barn. We walked it’s fields, and stood inside the massive riding arena that had been built not too long ago. When we had done this a year earlier, we loved what it offered to both us and our animals, but it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like it could be “home”. But this time was different. This time, we stood in the yard and closed our eyes, hearing it’s sounds and breathing it’s air. It wrapped it’s arms around our souls, and we felt peace. This town, this way of life, this farm…is where we belonged.
An offer on the new farm was made, and much to our surprise, was accepted. Contracts were signed, both for the farm and the Man’s new job. A year ago, I never thought this would be where we are now. The road ahead seems daunting. The idea of moving one Farm and all of it’s contents to another farm 6 hours away makes my head spin. We have moments when we can’t believe this is where the road has taken us, and while we stress over the process of it all, we know that this is the right path for us. Though the Man has lived in various states in the past, I was born and raised here. It’s my home. But as the saying goes, home truly is where the heart is, and my heart is with the Man and the life we have created. He starts his new job in Cooperstown in August, and I will follow shortly after with all of our belongings, horses and donkeys, dogs and chickens. We will leave behind a lifetime of memories, and an amazing circle of friends that we have come to consider family. The next three months will be a whirlwind of activity, as we move into one farm and prepare the other to be sold. Old man Kody will make the trip with us, as leaving him behind is not an option. No doubt, we will have moments where we wonder if we’ve done the right thing, and that is to be expected. But in those moments, I will walk out into the yard of our new farm in Cooperstown, and I will once again close my eyes, hear it’s sounds and smell it’s smells, and feel it’s gentle embrace as it welcomes me home. Then, with the dogs, and perhaps a new puppy, the Man and I will gather as a family next to Kody’s new resting spot on a small hill overlooking our new Farm…and life will be good once again.
The day started like every other day here at the Farm. When the Man rolled out of bed at 5 am as he usually does for work, I reset the alarm and moved over into the warm spot he left behind, eager to enjoy a couple hours of quiet slumber before the hustle and bustle of Farm life started. When I finally shuffled groggily downstairs, Gracie was waiting for me as usual, her tail wagging so fast you could barely see it, and with that squinty eyed look that always started my day with a smile. The boys were behind her, knowing that with my appearance breakfast was on the horizon, and if they let her do the wagging, it would arrive sooner rather than later. As with every other morning, they patiently waited while I started perking my much needed first cup of coffee, and when I moved to pick up her food bowl from the same corner spot it had sit in for nearly 13 years, their excitement grew. As the smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the kitchen, I added the pain medications that she had needed for many months to her food, and placed her bowl in the corner where she waited. Sebastian quickly gobbled down his breakfast in true Golden style, but Dewey patiently waited for her to finish her meal before he started his, something he had done since he first arrived as a pup. In his mind, the Alpha always ate first, and that morning’s meal was no exception.
The next hour or so also went as usual, with no variation from the countless mornings that had come before. Hot coffee flowed through my veins, each soothing sip warming my body until it felt young and limber enough to slip on my muck boots and go tend to the barn full of hungry horses and donkeys. On my way, I looked in on the chickens, who were loudly proclaiming that a new shipment of eggs had arrived, and that they were happy to be alive. By the time I closed the door on the chicken pen, Sassy, the resident queen donkey, had worked herself up into a bellowing lather anticipating fresh hay and freedom from her stall. By the time I rounded the corner, all of the horses and donkeys were saying “Good Morning!”, each in their own special way. Although my Alex was just as anxious to head out to survey his kingdom, he stopped to take the time to gently rub his massive head on my back a few times, showing that he was as happy to see me as I was him. It was the perfect start to my morning, and I had no reason to believe that it wouldn’t continue on that path for the rest of the day.
All three dogs knew the routine well enough to know that when I return from the barn in the morning, it was time for them to go outside to greet our friends, Chris and Levi, who have been a near daily fixture for the past few months helping us give the Farm a badly needed facelift. The pups adore them, and their arrival in the morning is always a cause for celebration. Even I look forward to the mornings when the two guys arrive, as the cheerful morning chat over coffee as the pups swirl around us has become a central part of my day, and it will be sorely missed when the work on the Farm is complete. Dewey and Sebastian are always first out of the gate when the porch door is opened, and Gracie, as always, waited for me to bring up the rear. All was going according to habit, and life was good. Until she stepped off the porch onto the grass.
When I heard her cry out in a sharp yelp, my heart sank, and I knew it wasn’t good. Gracie’s tolerance to pain of any sort has been well documented, so her reaction to simply stepping down a few inches onto the ground ran a chill down my spine. The scared and confused look on her face, as well as how her left front leg was dangling, told me all I needed to know, and in my heart, I knew that for Gracie, there would be no coming back from this injury. Her other arthritic legs trembled as she struggled to stand, and she buried her face into my chest as I tried to support her body. Levi helped me get her get back into the house to her spot in front of the fireplace, and then I started making calls, first to the Man at work, then to the vet, who said to bring her right over immediately. Chris gently cradled her in his arms as he carried her out to my truck and laid her on the blanket in the back seat, and by the time I arrived at the vet’s office, Jack was right behind me, still in his hospital scrubs.
Although we had been mentally preparing ourselves to the inevitable the past few months, we had hoped that we at least would have the summer to spend with Gracie, and as bad as her injury looked, we still held out the tiniest bit of hope that this wouldn’t be our last day with her. Our good friend, Denise, who works at the veterinary hospital and who also has been our house sitter for many years, met us in the waiting room, and it was a great relief to see her approach. Denise is family to Gracie, and over the years they had developed a deep bond. She did her best to comfort and reassure, but her face told us all we needed to know. She quickly brought us into one of the exam rooms, where she had already prepared a warm bed of blankets for Gracie. I laid on the blankets beside the one that had been my best friend for the past 13 years, and I cradled her head and tried to calm the tremors that were wracking her body. The Man was beside us, trying his best to comfort both Gracie and me, but struggling to control the floodgate of tears that were welling in his eyes. Dr. Burgess, who had been Gracie’s vet for many years and had helped us navigate her arthritis issues, arrived soon after, and she joined us on the floor, speaking quietly and gently stroking Gracie’s face. We quietly watched as her hands passed over Gracie’s trembling, but useless, leg and shoulder, and when I looked at her face for any sign of hope, I saw none. What I did see, though, was not just a Veterinarian in a lab coat, but another part of Gracie’s extended family, who was also struggling emotionally to see a dog that she had come to care for deeply in as much pain as Gracie was then. A shot of Morphine was given, and as it flowed through her veins, the pain in her body and the fear in her eyes subsided.
The Man and I waited in the exam room while they took Gracie away on a stretcher to take some x-rays to confirm what was suspected, and when Dr. Burgess returned a few minutes later to show us the results, the tiniest sliver of hope remained deep in my heart. In an instant, that hope disappeared when the x-ray showed the broken bones that could not be repaired. While we had been preparing ourselves for a few months that the arthritis would someday be too much for her to overcome, we had no idea that what would be her downfall would be bone cancer. The x-ray showed the thinned walls of what was left of the bones in her upper leg, with a milky cloud surrounding it marking where the cancer had slowly been spreading and doing what it did best. The following conversation is a blur, and when I now try to remember it all, only certain words remain. Cancer. Bone loss. Amputation not an option. If it’s there, it’s everywhere. Nothing to be done. So, so very sorry. Kindest thing for Gracie. Take all the time you need.
When they brought her back a few minutes later, she was gently eased back onto the bed of blankets on the floor, and the Man and I once again laid beside her. As I cradled her head in my arms, I stroked her now white face, and remembered her younger days when it was a youthful yellow. I softly whispered her name, and though her brown eyes had slowly gotten cloudy with cataracts over time, I could still see the love and trust for me in them as she rested her chin on my arm and looked up at me. In times past, it had always been her job to comfort me in times of trouble, and in her mind, that was still her responsibility. As I tried to hold back the building dam of tears, she lovingly licked my arm as if to say “It’s all going to be ok.”. I’m not sure how long we laid there with her waiting for Denise and Dr. Burgess to return, but when the door opened and they appeared, I knew that it had not been long enough. They took a few moments to say their own last goodbyes to Gracie, each with tears in their eyes, and when the time came for Gracie’s pain to end once and for all, I buried my head next to hers and let my grief flow. I felt the Man’s arm slip around my shoulders, and I felt his deep grief, not only for Gracie, but for me as well. I felt the pain loosen it’s long held power over her, and as her body relaxed in my arms, I whispered in her ear that I loved her like no other, and that Kody was waiting for her.
When old man Kody left us a few years ago, we were fortunate enough to have known what was coming, and could plan a day when all those that were important in his life were able to come visit and say their goodbyes to him. We were also able to have his vet come to the Farm so that his last moments were spent in the home that he loved surrounded by those that loved him. With Gracie, we thought that we would be able to do the same, but it was not meant to be, and as the day unfolded, that weighed heavily on my mind. But in the end, I came to realize that it wasn’t so different after all. Chris and Levi were there for her at the Farm that morning, and their love and tenderness to her when her body gave out was a blessing, and allowed them to show her how much they had grown to love her as we did. Denise’s presence both at the Farm and the vet hospital over the years had long ago given Gracie a sense of comfort when she had visited there in the past, and her being there for Gracie during her last hours was a gift we could never have hoped for. Dr. Burgess had always had a special place in her heart for Gracie, so having her beside us was a relief to us, and an immeasurable comfort for Gracie. Tears were shed, comfort provided and goodbyes were also given by others working that day, including Kathy, whose gentle touch helped ease Gracie’s fear and pain near the end. Maybe Gracie wasn’t home at the Farm, but she was in a place that she didn’t fear, and she was surrounded by those that loved her and knew how special she was. I could not have asked for more, and I will forever be grateful.
Days later, my sorrow still overwhelms me when I least expect it, and I suspect it will for quite some time. Writing this blog has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and though the Man gently advised me that I didn’t have to, it had to be done. For me, for all the special people in her life, but most of all, for Gracie. It has helped me process, as well as to grieve. My greatest comfort, though, is knowing that Gracie is no longer shackled by an old dog’s body, but is instead now free to run on strong legs through fields of long green grass, catching frisbees alongside a young, strong and handsome Kody. I also know that just like I felt her presence by my side for 13 years, I still feel her beside me now as I write, and always will. It’s time for you to run, my Gracie girl, run like the wind…and tell Kody that I love and miss him.
Over the years, I’ve shared many stories about the various animals that we’ve been blessed to share our life with here on the Farm. Most of you are familiar with old man Kody, and how he was our first, and the impact that he made upon our lives and continues to even though he has been gone for nearly 4 years now. I’ve shared the stories telling about the bond that I have with my very handsome, and equally spoiled horse, Alex. Other horses, as well as donkeys, both of various size and shapes, have been mentioned. An equal share of indoor and outdoor cats have come and gone, and I’ve shared both the joy and the sadness of their lives in my written word. Dewey and Sebastian, our boy pups, have made many appearances. I’ve happily and willingly shared them all with you. All except one. I’m not sure why I haven’t focused a blog about her before. There is no doubt that she has deserved one. Certainly, I’ve given it some thought a time or two, but my muse would fail me, and I could never put words to screen that seemed to do her justice. Perhaps this time, the words will flow easily, and you will finally know her story. This may be the toughest post I’ve ever tried to write, but hopefully you will know the special place she holds in my heart.
The Man and I had been together for 5 years, and old man Kody was still a young pup at three years old. We were both away during the day a lot, and although the Man was perfectly (and adamantly) happy being a one dog household, the idea of adding a second dog started percolating in my head. I convinced myself that if adding a puppy to our happy little family was meant to be, then who was I to argue with the Universe? Before long, we found ourselves knocking on the door of a small house that had a litter of half Lab, half Golden puppies that were looking for homes. Although he still wasn’t convinced that we needed another puppy, the Man did begrudgingly agree that IF we were to choose a puppy that day, it should be another male to be good company for Kody. He grumbled under his breath as we made our way to the living room where the pups awaited, and since we had already decided that it should be me that made the choice, he took a chair near the door in silent protest. The mother of the pups was a stunning Yellow Lab who seemed very proud of her energetic and beautiful puppies, and she quickly took up station near me as I surveyed the nine bouncing balls of yellow at our feet. I ignored the barely audible harumph behind me as I picked up the pups, one at a time, to quickly determine which ones were male and which were female. The first three were female, and although they were adorable, they lacked the hardware I was looking for. The fourth puppy had the required bits, and when I brought him closer, he wagged his little tail and smothered me with puppy breath kisses. “I found him!” I exclaimed, and turned to the Man to present him. He still sat in that same chair near the door, but this time his folded arms were wrapped around the fattest, and clearly female, pup laying on her back with one paw on his chin while he tickled her belly and made little cooing sounds. He lifted his head, and with the high pitched glee of a nine year old, he squealed “She picked me!!!”. I gently set the pup I was holding back into the puppy area, knowing that the choice had been made. Not by me, not by the Man, but by a charming, rotund, butterball female that we would come to know as Gracie.
When we brought her home a few weeks later, Kody was, as expected, quite happy with the addition to the Farm. He always had a knack for knowing when new things were meant for him, whether it was a new toy, bone, or bed, and he knew without a doubt that this fat little puppy with the sharp teeth pulling on his tail was our gift to him. Overnight, he changed from a young dog without a care in the world to an Alpha with a purpose. We quickly discovered that while a single puppy can be a challenge to train in all things domesticated, a new puppy with a brother 3 years older can be a wonder to behold. With the addition of Gracie to the Farm, we were no longer two guys and a dog, but rather we had become a pack, at least in Kody’s eyes. Kody knew the rules, and although he was fond of ignoring them, it became his mission to teach those rules to the newer, lower ranking member of the pack. He became the teacher, and she became his willing student. It only took us a day or two to finally relinquish the control of her training to Kody, realizing that dogs learn best when lessons are served with a low growl or a controlled nip of teeth. Kody did his job well, and she learned fast, but it wasn’t all because of Kody’s efforts. As we watched them interact, it became clear to us that while this fat little ball of yellow with the bad puppy breath was younger than Kody, she clearly was the smarter of the two. She did all of the usual puppy antics, right down to pulling all of the long flowing hair out of Kody’s tail, which never grew back properly and looked more like a rat tail than a Golden’s tail. The difference was that she was doing it all with an intent and intelligence far beyond her weeks. Instead of waiting to learn a lesson when the time was right, she was testing him and taking notes. Over the next few months, we watched with wonder the interaction between the two, and it was a blessing to experience. By the time she was a year old, and Kody was four, she was clearly the one in charge, but she was smart enough to let him think he was. The four of us flourished throughout that first year, and grew closer as a true pack. The two dogs saw the Man and I as equal Alphas, although we each had our specific roles to them. The Man became the fun one, who provided hugs, cuddles and treats when he came home from work. I became the one with the rules, and the provider of all things essential for a dog’s happy life. Since Kody had long since bonded with the Man and his happy go lucky rules of life, it was no surprise that Gracie would bond with me and my need for structure and routine.
While it hadn’t taken long to realize how smart young Gracie was, we also quickly learned that she possessed an amazingly high pain tolerance, one that I had never seen in a dog. One morning, a few weeks after her arrival at the Farm, I noticed a small white dot on her upper lip after she had pulled away from me and didn’t want her face touched. Within hours, she was in a fight for her life from a condition called Puppy Strangles. Her lips, her gums, and around her eyes were covered in swollen pustules that were weeping pus, and causing her intense pain. It’s a rarely seen condition, but thanks to the Man’s own medical knowledge and some frantic web searching, we finally were able to convince the vet what we thought was happening to her, and treatment was started just as her throat was starting to close shut from the swelling. Through it all, one would never have known the intense pain she was enduring other than she didn’t want to be touched on her face, something that she has refused until just recently. She returned to her quest for world domination in short order, and she developed into an athletic muscular dog who lived for chasing down tennis balls and flying through the air to catch a long thrown frisbee. Kody was content to lay in the shade, for the most part, except for the one time he decided to he had the energy to try to catch the frisbee before she did. The slow motion midair collision ended with Gracie proudly bringing the frisbee back to me to be thrown again, and Kody with missing front teeth that greatly added to his goofy grin. He never challenged her again, knowing from that day on that it wouldn’t end well for him if he tried. Her strong muscled legs vaulted her 10 feet in the air to snatch that frisbee with strong jaws time and time again, and it was a sight to behold, but what gave her the most joy would also become her downfall. A few years ago, when she was still considered a young dog, those strong legs sent her high into the air, but when she came down with the frisbee in her mouth, she landed wrong and one of her hind knees blew out. True to form, it didn’t slow her down, and as I ran to her in a panic, she was running to me, a wild grin on her face and one hind leg flopping about like it had always been that way. Needless to say, that ended her dreams of becoming one of The Flying Wallendas. Soon after surgery to repair the one knee, the other gave out, and although surgery was successful for both knees, they never were quite the same. She eventually learned to run with both hind legs acting as one, and would look like a giant yellow rabbit running through the fields chasing squirrels, or hopping through the deep snow during the winter months. When she wasn’t off hopping around the property, she was by my side. She was my faithful sidekick, both night and day, and it was clear to all that in her eyes, I was the true alpha of her pack. When Dewey joined us a few years later, it was her turn to take on the role of teacher, and she took on the role with the same conviction that she had shown in her earlier years while chasing anything thrown for her. She was on point and efficient, and Dewey learned his lessons well. Each time there was a point to be made, she made it and then quickly returned to my side where she knew she belonged.
When Kody passed away nearly 4 years ago, Gracie naturally took her place as the clear leader of the pack within a pack, especially when Sebastian joined our family a couple months later. She wasn’t impressed with the addition of another puppy at first, and she ignored both me and Sebastian for three weeks. Finally, she decided that if this unruly ball of white was going to learn to behave according to her standards, then it was going to be up to her to make it happen. One quick “Come to Jesus” moment left Sebastian with a slightly bleeding ear tip and a new outlook on life. While the Man ran after the young Sebastian to dole out bandaids and reassurance, Gracie slowly approached me with her head down, eyes buttoned up and a slight grin on her face. This form of submission from her wasn’t new, but the circumstance was. I knelt down and cradled her already graying face, my gentle touch telling her instantly that she needn’t worry, and that I approved of her teaching style. One quick bunny hop later, she was by my side, and together we laughed at the Man zigzagging through the yard, Benny Hill style, trying to catch a screaming white puppy who was clearly not having a good day. To Gracie’s complete satisfaction, each member of her pack now knew their place in the hierarchy, and life was good again.
Over the years, Gracie would accompany me when I made the rounds to check on various critters or projects around the Farm. She was a regular in the horse fields with me until the day that Alex delivered a glancing blow to the side of her head with one of his massive front feet. As she always did with any sort of trauma, she brushed it off and returned to my side, waiting to head off to our next adventure with squinted eyes and a grin on her face. She never did go inside the horse field again after that, by her own choice, but would instead sit and wait for me at the gate, keeping a watchful eye on what I was doing. Most days, at least in the summer, if I wasn’t with the horses, I was in the garden. Garden time has always been Gracie’s favorite time of the day, mostly because Dewey and Sebastian were never allowed inside the garden gate. It was our time together, and she had me all to herself. After she made the rounds to each corner of the garden, being careful not to tread on any plants or flowers, she would usually settle down in the carrot patch, happily pulling up carrots and eating her fill. As the years have passed, she has remained a constant presence in my life. Where I go, she goes, and at the end of the day when the Farm finally sleeps, she is beside me on the couch. She stays especially close when I’ve made no bake cookies, and she knows that she will get a few tiny bites when the boys aren’t looking.
Mentally, she is as sharp as she was when as a pup she figured out she was smarter than Kody. Her body, however, is betraying her more every day. Her surgically repaired knees have fused together and no longer support her like they used to, and the crippling arthritis they developed has spread like wildfire to all of her other weight bearing joints. Her front feet are gnarled and twisted, and together with her aching shoulders, failing hips and unbendable knees, she is no longer able to run and play with the boys. Our walks in the yard are slow and methodical, and because of the added strain it puts on her hindquarters, she has difficulty holding her head up when she walks. In her younger days, our time in the yard would include stopping by her favorite apple tree, where she would leap into the air to grab an apple from the branches high above her. Now, she is content to search along the ground for ones that have dropped. She has been on various medications over the past couple of years to help with the gradual but constant onslaught of arthritis, and though the edge was taken off, the pain never left her. Through it all, she has remained as faithful to me as she ever was, and the love in her eyes has never been dimmed by the pain.
Winter on the Farm has always been a challenge to both humans and critters, but for Gracie, the one that is ending has been her hardest yet. The signs are clear that her time with me is limited. When I first noticed the shift in her demeanor and her body, I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t then, and I struggle with it now. The pain of losing Kody is still just as fresh as though it happened yesterday. When I see her try to walk, or yelp in pain when she tries to stand up, I feel the tears well up. When her tired body needs help to jump up on the couch at night to lay beside me as she has for nearly 13 years, I grieve, both for her and for me. I know what is coming, but I’m not ready. She is currently on a new round of anti-inflammatory meds, as well as some pain medications that do help her forget her pain for a few short hours. When the pain is lessened, she is by my side, limping along to help in whatever I am doing, but when it returns, it hits her hard, and she will collapse in her spot in front of the fire place. At this point, our only option is to keep her medicated as much as she can handle, and hope that with warmer weather around the corner, she will be able to enjoy one more summer here on the Farm. When she is at her lowest, I look in her eyes and I can see how tired she is, and the pain she carries. But even when she is hurting, she still looks at me with the same love and devotion that she always has, and the desire to still be beside me is there. I’m not ready to say goodbye, and she is telling me that neither is she. She will let me know when she is, I have no doubt. She is still fighting, and her eyes still light up when I speak her name. The coming weeks, hopefully months, will be full of short, slow walks in the yard, couch snuggles and no bake cookies. I will do my best to prepare for what’s to come, but I know that I will fail. She has been my best friend and constant companion, and I know I will never experience a love like hers again. She is, and always will be, my sweet irreplaceable Gracie girl…
Tomorrow, I will be having surgery to repair multiple torn and weak abdominal muscles. Again. The first time was probably 8 or 9 years ago, and I’ve honestly lost track of the number of times I’ve had to revisit the operating room to repair the repairs. Time and again, the various techniques and meshes used have not held, resulting in the injuries being worse than they were before. This particular operation, however, will be done by a specialist whose only focus is repairing and reinforcing the various layers of the abdomen, one at a time. It’s been months in the planning, and the closer it has gotten, the more anxious I am about it. I am not worried about the operation itself, rather it’s the lengthy recuperation that follows that has weighed me down. A strict three months of sitting on the couch watching court shows and bad zombie movies might sound attractive to some, but in case you’ve forgotten, I live on a Farm. Taking three months off at this time of year isn’t easy when you are responsible for a growing Farm with large gardens and enough animals to stock up a modern day ark. Preparing and planting the gardens alone is a full time job, and the daily care of the growing number of horses and donkeys can easily fill every other hour within the day. Of course, there is also a never ending list of other Spring chores like fence repairs, winter clean up of the horse fields, mowing and restocking of the depleted hay supply. How can I sit for three months knowing there is so much to do? It became clear months ago that we would need some help, and although at the time I had no idea what form that help would come in, I had faith that the Universe would provide. And provide It has.
Hannah entered our lives a couple years ago, when it had become increasingly clear that I had enough time in the day to be a good husband, farmer and builder of things, but not a housekeeper. What started as an occasional visit to help straighten up after two messy members of the male species turned into a more regular appearance, and she soon became a part of the Farm family. The dogs took a liking to her straight away, and it wasn’t long before they became more excited to see her than they were me or the Man. Young pup Sebastian quickly developed a bond with her, both for her gentle ways and the extra treats she would sneak him when they both thought no one was watching. On occasion, she would find her to way to the barn to visit the horses and donkeys, and little by little I noticed that they too were warming up to her presence. While some might say that the one true test of a person’s character is how a dog responds to them has clearly never owned a donkey. It is impossible to hide anything from a donkey, and if you have any character flaws at all, you will not pass go and collect $200 dollars in the game called “Donkey Land”. Hannah was fitting in well, and it was clear to anyone watching that she had a knack for the farm life. I remember the day it dawned on me that perhaps she might be the solution that I had been waiting for. “Hannah!” I hollered from the porch into the house. When she finished sneaking a treat to the dogs, she appeared in the doorway, and we began a conversation that eventually led to her moving into the tiny guesthouse next to the barn a few months later. Little by little, she has taken on many responsibilities here at the Farm, including a lot of the daily routine of caring for the horses and the donkeys. I’ve enjoyed the role of teacher, and she has taken on the job of farm apprentice with a work ethic rarely seen in others her age. In a few short months, she has become my right hand man, and will be the one that takes care of the physical aspects of the Farm while I patiently heal and recuperate like I should.
On one hand, it is a relief to know that the Farm, and it’s myriad of critters, will be well taken care of over the next few months. I trust Hannah to care and watch out for my animals as I would, and as most know by now, my trust does not come easily these days. My only concern at this point is how I am going to occupy my time over the coming weeks and months. More than likely, I will make a lot of baskets, and have already ordered new supplies to prepare for that. I plan on finally spending time honing my sad ukulele playing skills, and I am looking forward to sitting on a stool in the back barn yard playing and singing for the donkeys. I never did get to any of my winter reading, and I have a stack of untouched books waiting for me to disappear into. My foremost wish, though, is to spend more time with my camera, refocusing my mind’s eye through the lens. And, I want to write. I miss writing, but I am often too tired at the end of the day to share my life in a way that might be entertaining to those that might read my blogs. Slowly, my life has evolved to the point of being so busy that I do not have the time or energy to be creative, and I really miss it. Perhaps this mandatory time off is the Universe’s way of allowing me to not only heal physically, but mentally and creatively as well. Time will tell, I suppose. By the middle of Summer, I will either be an enlightened ukulele playing basket maker with a good eye and a tale to tell, or I will have gone stark raving mad from watching Judge Judy repeats all day on Court TV.
It’s been a rough week here on the Farm. A dark cloud hangs above our home, and the Man and I have slogged through the past few days on autopilot with shock, disappointment, sadness and a great deal of anger in our hearts. While my intent for this blog has always been to write and share our lives in order to uplift and entertain the masses, this particular tale will fall far short of that goal. It is deeply personal and not easily shared, and describes one of the darkest periods of my life to date. I apologize in advance for not offering up my usual, but I feel the need to put down on paper my thoughts and feelings. Simply put, I need to vent. Perhaps it will help me process what has happened, and maybe my words will reach those that need to hear it. Maybe they can understand what they have done, and how it has effected the Man and myself, as well as those within the small circle of friends we have given our trust to. The tale actually begins not last week, but nine years ago.
During the winter of 2008, the Farm was broken into one Saturday morning while we were away for the day. The thieves used a sledgehammer to batter down a door that leads from the small barn into the house, and proceeded to ransack the Farm of anything valuable that they could load into their van in a short amount of time. When I returned home a few hours later, I didn’t notice that the door to the barn was hanging oddly, as I don’t normally look in that direction when I walk into the house. What I did notice first was that the television that we had hanging on the wall was no longer there, leaving only a trail of wires hanging down towards the floor. The electronics that those wires usually plug into were also missing, leaving the shelves eerily empty. As the shock of what had happened settled in, I remember being frozen where I stood, and time truly stood still. While staring in disbelief at the dark spots on the shelves where the various electronic boxes once sat, my first irrational thought was that we really needed to dust more often. When I fully understood what had happened, I quickly ran from room to room, taking initial stock in what was missing. The list of what was taken was a long one, but the most heartbreaking loss was my laptop, which contained 7 years worth of pictures that were irreplaceable. Pictures of vacations that the Man and I had taken together, our lives at the Farm in the early years, all puppy and kitten pictures. All just gone, never to be seen again. The police were called, and reports were filed. Weeks later, our hopes were lifted when we were told a confession had been given, only to be dashed when we learn that the charges had been dropped in order for our thief to cooperate in catching a bigger thief. None of our belongings were ever found and the case was closed. When the dust finally settled, we had been victimized twice. Once by the spineless coward who bashed in our door with my own sledgehammer, and the second time by the system that was supposed to protect us. There was nothing left to be done, except mourn our losses, put it all behind us, and move on with life. That certainly was our intention, and although the Man seemed to be having better luck at putting it all behind him, I found myself struggling a great deal to “let it go”. I couldn’t, and the following months, and years, proved to be the hardest ones of my life.
It was difficult at the time to describe what was happening to me, and still now, after all these years, I find myself struggling to find the words. As I sit here trying to tell the story, I feel the anxiety and shortness of breath creeping in. I can feel the familiar fingers of panic reaching for me as it did back then. I remember not being able to leave the house, even for short trips into town to do errands. The sheer panic and fear that someone was again entering my home while I was gone was crippling, and more than once I would abandon a shopping cart to race home convinced that I would find that the door was once again hanging by one hinge, and my belongings missing. I became a complete shut in, afraid to leave and trusting no one. Friendships deteriorated and disappeared. Every day began and ended with immobilizing fear and tears. As I slipped deeper into a dark depression, thoughts of despair and self harm were my constant companion, and often times suicide was the most welcome solution to making the anguish and pain go away. The Man stood by me, and there were a handful of times that it was only His never wavering love, support and quiet presence that kept me from listening to the ever present thoughts of ending the pain once and for all. The dark depression and anxiety lasted for years, but with the help of antidepressants, I eventually started having more good days than bad. I was able to travel north to visit my parents, or enjoy time away with the Man without the constant fear that the Farm, and the things that I held dear, might be in danger again. As the the anxiety continued to subside, I was able to interact with others again, and our circle of friends began to grow once more. Where I once had anger and distrust towards everyone, I started to see the glimmer of good in others once again. Although still very protective of the Farm, as well as the life that the Man and I have built here, a small circle of people that we dared to trust as friends once again became part of the daily life and routine. I soon reached a point that I no longer felt as though I needed the antidepressants to get through the day, and after weening myself off them, I felt better than I had in years. They had served their purpose for a time when I needed them, but the clouds had mostly lifted, and life was moving on. I was “letting it go”, but it was not gone, and certainly not forgotten.
Life on the Farm had returned to normal, and then some, and my days were full from sun up till sun down. As each year passed, the holidays became a source of excitement and joy again, and this year was no exception. We have continued to welcome others into our home as members of our extended family, with a level of trust given that I never thought would be possible again. On occasion, I will have a flashback of nine years ago with a mild dose of anxiety over the safety of the Farm from the outside world, but never have I worried about an attack from within. That all ended just over a week ago, when we realized that a few items of great sentimental value was missing. They had been stored in a secure place that only a handful of people were aware of, and were the only things missing. Like madmen, the Man and I scoured the Farm, hoping against all odds that maybe, just maybe, we had misplaced them ourselves. When we finally had to admit that they were indeed missing, we then tried to figure out the “how”, and most importantly the “why”, behind it all. After a few days of head scratching, theories, investigating, and more searches just in case we had missed some nook or cranny, we came to the one remaining conclusion that shook us to the core. Not only was something of great value and importance taken from us again, it had been done by someone we trusted, and who knew full well the attachment of the items they had taken. To say that the emotions that we’ve dealt with this time around are similar to those we faced nine years ago could not be farther from the truth. Sure, the basics are the same. Shock, immense anger, the intense feelings of violation, being reminded that there truly is evil in this world. The one ingredient that is new this time around is the profound feelings of betrayal that we feel. I’ve sat here at the screen for twenty minutes trying to find the words to describe what I feel in my soul, but they do not come. Nothing can describe the gut wrenching feeling that comes from the blind sided betrayal of someone whom you have given all of your trust and love, that you have supported in any way possible in all times of need. Have no doubt, we deeply mourn the loss of what was stolen from us, as they are truly irreplaceable, but the betrayal of someone you once counted as a trusted friend is a loss like no other.
I am not sure how long the dark cloud will linger. I feel those cold fingers of depression reaching for me again, and the anxiety about the safety of my own home is slowly rising within me. I would like to think that having gone through this before, I should be better equipped to handle it this time around. Someone once said something about we are “the sum of our experiences”, and this particular experience has left a mark on my soul that will certainly shape and influence who I will be in the future. For the most part, I did eventually “let go” of what happened nine years ago, but I fear that this time I won’t be quite as lucky, and neither will the Man. Oh, I know that most things will eventually return to normal, or as close to it as possible. The Farm doesn’t run itself, and it’s allowance for personal time lasts about as long as the hay bins stay full. If there was to be any good come from this, it would be a reminder to the Man and myself that no matter what gets thrown at us, we have each other to lean on, to support each other when one is down, and that in the end, the trust that we share is the only trust that truly matters. Ours is a trust that cannot be betrayed or taken away by a thief wielding a sledgehammer, or by a coward with sticky fingers and the inability to feel remorse. We may someday open our doors again to others, but if you happen to be one of them, don’t expect to be getting a house key any time soon.
Sometimes, life doesn’t play out the way you think, or hope, that it should. Sometimes, it does. Am I disappointed in the results of last night’s election? Of course. Half of our great country is. The other half is having a good day. Good on ’em. They got the results that they wanted, at least for the short term. How those results will parlay into the change that they seek remains to be seen. What’s done is done, for sure, and it’s time to move on and hope for the best. Sure, I am in shock, as many are, and I worry for the millions of people who placed their vote hoping for a change for the better; it’s a change that may not come. I am worried for those people that live with inequality, because this election has given rise and permission to those who would further that inequality, with an option for violence front and center. Change on many fronts is coming, as demanded and received by a vast number of voices yesterday, but it’s a change that holds a great deal of uncertainty for countless others, for a myriad of reasons.
Although the start to my day was not what I had thought it would be when I went to bed last night, I soon remembered that my routine here on the Farm did not change overnight. I still had three sets of dog eyes reminding me that they were waiting for their breakfast, followed by a romp in the yard. I heard the wails of the wee donkeys echoing out of the barn, wanting attention and freedom from their stalls. I knew that Alex, Diva and Sassy would be waiting by the gate to the field for their morning hay and ear scratches. Planting the last of the garlic and clearing the garden for Spring was also on the agenda for my day, as was the usual daily cleaning of stalls and paddocks. Somewhere in all of that, I would take a trip into town for chicken grain and shavings to mulch the garlic bed when I finished planting. Any gaps would be filled in by numerous other chores that needed to be done. And at the end of the day, when the Man comes home from work, we will wonder what to have for supper, and after tucking all of the critters into various stalls, rooms, and cages, we will settle in to watch a movie. The dogs will gather around us on the couches, and maybe I will build a fire in the stove to take the chill out of the Fall air. It’s a routine that doesn’t change much from day to day, even if it happens to be the day after a doozy of an election.
I fully realize that the decisions that other people make are based on their life experiences, current situations and/or the hope for a better future. I am no different, so I do not hold that against them. The life that the Man and I have built together here on the Farm is based on all of those factors, so why it should it be different for anyone else? It isn’t. What is different is that while one candidate promised that the life we have built would remain with no threat from the government or religious fanatics, the other promised to dismantle our marriage, take away our rights, and return us to the days of having to worry about our personal safety. But I get it, I really do. It’s self preservation at it’s finest, and no amount of reasoning works once someone has their knickers in a twist, no matter if it’s an educated, well informed twist or one based on fear and lack of understanding. It’s all about perspective, and what is important to me may not be important to others, including family. It just so happens that what is a big deal to me is being able to walk down the sidewalk without fear of harassment or physical harm.
Change has come, for sure, and time will tell how it effects the Man and me in the future, if at all. What hasn’t changed, though, is the love that we share, and the unwavering commitment to each other. Come what may, at the end of the day, that is all that matters. This bond we share is built upon the same principles of many of the votes cast yesterday. Past experiences and hope for the future. While we wait for that future, however challenging it may or may not be, we will still be building this world we call “The Farm”. We will continue to foster all who enter this world of ours, both human and animal, because that is what we do, and it’s who we are. It is our chosen path.
Yesterday, millions of people took a stand in an effort to have more control over or change their own path. That is their right, and I support their right to vote for the person that can help them to a better place in life. My place in life is right here, at the Farm, with the man that I love, and there is nothing about it that I would change if I could. I am happy with the choices that I have made in life that have led me to both where and who I am. For the multitudes of people who voted for their own path yesterday, I truly hope that the choice that they have made is the right one. For them, and for us…
I had been feeling uneasy for a few days concerning Alex, my horse, like something dark was coming, although I did not know what. He was “summer lean”, as those in the horse world would say, but that is the norm for him. Physically, I could find nothing with him that would support my uneasiness. I started to tweak his diet, as I usually do this time of year anyway, to help him bulk up for the coming cold months, and I had already started to see him respond. All I could do from then on was continue to watch him from day to day, and hope that the dark cloud in my mind was imagined, and not the foreboding premonition that it felt like. The other day, when I woke up, the cloud was still there, along with a healthy case of nausea. I went to the barn to check on and turn out Alex and his stablemates, and noticed nothing wrong with him or any of the others. I set them up with fresh water and hay, then proceeded with my day on the road with Susan, my farrier friend. As usual, it was a good day, as I always enjoy her company, horse knowledge and wisdom, but I felt antsy throughout the day. The horses that I helped with that day all knew me well from past visits, and they knew that I was a bit off my game. The one thing about horses is that you can hide nothing from them. They see and feel everything, and I wasn’t able to interact with them as I usually do. I did my best to leave my uneasiness at the barn door, but I couldn’t, and they held me at leg and hoof’s length, both physically and mentally.
The Man arrived home from work shortly after I did, and after spending some time with him before he ran into town on errands, I went out to replenish everyone’s fresh water and hay. I grabbed a few flakes of hay on the way through the barn, and as soon as I stepped into the back yard to greet the wee ones (both donkey and horse), their tension hit me like a wave. They were on high alert, especially the donkeys, and on first glance, I could see nothing wrong with either them or their surroundings. Then, I heard it. Heavy pounding coming from the big horse’s paddock. My first thought was that Diva had decided to play in the giant water trough, as she has a fondness for doing, but then realized that it couldn’t be her, as the pounding was too erratic, coming in a flurry for a few seconds, then stopping completely. I dropped the flakes of hay and headed towards the gate, not knowing what I would find, but it didn’t feel right. In seconds, I had reached the gate and was quickly scanning the field, hoping that I was wrong and that it actually was Diva who was gleefully destroying another water tub. And then I saw him.
He was on his side, with most of his lower body inside one of the horse shelters, and he wasn’t moving, even when I called his name. My immediate thought was that I was too late for whatever was happening, and that he was dead, but as I neared him he started thrashing and kicking his legs up against the inside wall of the shelter. My mind shifted to colic, which in horses quite often can be deadly, and I knew I had to get him up and moving. He was clearly exhausted, and the panic in his movements mirrored what I saw in his eyes. Having just spent the day trying, and failing miserably, to keep my anxiety hidden from horses, I knew that this moment was key to whatever came next. I took a deep breath, centered my thoughts, and quietly said his name. “Alex” I whispered, as I knelt down beside him, laying one hand on his neck. His huge head swiveled towards me, and as he looked up at me, I saw the panic and fear in his eyes instantly disappear. I am not sure if a horse can feel relief, but in that moment, that is what I felt from him. Good sign, I thought, for in my small handful of colic experiences, the discomfort and fear in a horse’s eyes that is feeling that much pain does not go away that quickly. After calling the Man, and asking for his help, I again knelt at my best friend’s side, trying to figure out what was happening. I soon realized that Alex had been trying to get up, most likely after napping or rolling in the dirt, and had become wedged up against the wall of the shelter. With no room to get his legs under him to either get up or simply roll over, he had spent all of his energy pounding his feet and legs against the close wall trying to move. He lay there breathing heavily, his muscles shaking and his eyes following me intently. Far from relieved at realizing it wasn’t colic that had brought him down, I now worried that he might have injured a leg, hoof, or somehow injured himself internally while struggling so heavily for who knows how long. Or, possibly, all of the above.
I cradled his face with my hands, whispering to him that I was going to help, but that he had to preserve his strength so that he could help me help him when the time came. His eyes followed me as I rose, and as I turned towards the barn, I heard him sigh deeply. When I returned moments later with a halter and a lead, he had remained still and was waiting for me. I went behind him, and with my hands dug as much of the hard packed stone dust away from his body as I could to help him roll away from the wall. Wrapping the lead around his front legs and planting my feet, I looked him in the eye and whispered “Now, Alex, now!”. I knew me being able to pull him over was a long shot, but that was my only thought at the time. He kicked and arched his back, trying to roll over, with me pulling on his front legs with all of my might. It might have worked, and nearly did each time we tried, but his arching caused him to stop the roll with his head. By the time the Man arrived, I had slipped the halter over Alex’s head, and while the Man braced himself to hold Alex’s head and halter still, I again wrapped the lead around his front legs. I met Alex’s never wavering gaze, and he knew it was time to try again. He pushed, I pulled, the Man held, and after much groaning and straining from all of us, and with the Man and I dodging flying hoofs, Alex rolled onto his left side and onto his feet. I held my breath, watching as he shook off the dirt like a phoenix rising from the ashes. With still held breath, I watched him run out of the shelter to greet Diva and Sassy, who had remained close throughout the whole ordeal. I had expected him to be limping after what he had gone through, and he was, though his head was high and majestic as he ran around the paddock a couple times, as if he were checking to see what worked and what didn’t. His body language told me all I needed to know for the time being, and as he ran and stretched his legs, the limp nearly disappeared. The Man and I continued to watch him for a few minutes, and after giving him some medicine to help with the muscle soreness, we left him in Diva and Sassy’s care, who continued to follow and watch him closely with concern. It wasn’t until a few hours later that we realized how scared those two must have been watching him struggle. He is their Alpha, and as with all of us here at the Farm, all things truly do revolve around him.
I spent the next few hours cleaning stalls, and the Big 3 all had brand new, clean and dry bedding waiting for them when they came in for the night. Alex’s bedding was extra thick, because though he usually doesn’t lay down to sleep each night, I knew that on this particular night, the chances that he would rest those overworked and aching muscles were pretty high. When it came time for them to walk the short road that led from the field to the barn, I watched Alex closely for any signs of injury that might still be setting in. I could still see a slight limp in his back legs, but by morning, that would most likely be gone. His head was high, ears were alert, and the average man would see nothing that would indicate what had happened just a few short hours before. After everyone was settled into their stalls, happily munching on some grain and hay, I went to spend some time with Alex before turning out the lights for the night. He has never been one for being overly affectionate, so I wasn’t expecting anything different from him this night. True to form, he didn’t want to be fawned over, but he did lower his massive head, gently placing his forehead onto mine. We stood that way for about 10 seconds, eye to eye, then he turned back to his grain. For those 10 seconds, he offered love and gratitude in the only way that he knows how to show it. It was freely given, and gratefully accepted.
In the few days since, the uneasiness and foreboding that I had experienced leading up to that day has disappeared, and life has returned to normal here at the Farm. Earlier tonight, I stood next to Alex, with my head buried in his neck, while he ate his grain. As a rule, he has never liked to be bothered while he eats, but tonight he leaned into me as I wrapped my arms around him. For now, he still wants me near, and I am happy to oblige him. He is content, and tonight he will sleep feeling safe and knowing that all is well within his kingdom. I, too, will sleep peacefully knowing that in the morning, I will be greeted by the knicker of a horse that truly understands how much he is loved…
I’ve learned to keep my opinions to myself, and on most days I am successful at it, or at least I think I am. I live my life my way, you live yours as you see fit. For the most part, it works out just fine for all involved, no matter if you are a close friend or a casual acquaintance. We all have different life experiences to draw upon, with odd quirks that can either be entertaining or maddening to those around us. We all have different views on religion, with different levels of belief (or not) in a higher power governing our lives. Live and let live, you do your thing and I’ll do mine, let’s raise a glass and toast to our differences…and be kind along the way. That’s my philosophy, and it’s served me well over the years. Unless, of course, it’s election year. That is when I struggle. When someone is making life choices that only determine their own fate and surroundings, it truly is none of my business if it does not effect me or my loved ones. When that person (or a group of like minded people) are willing to vote for someone or something that will adversely effect my life, and they are ok with it, then I have an obligation (and a right) to speak my mind. For months now on a popular social media site, I’ve watched as others spoke their minds and posted their memes, most often with “facts” that are untrue, or at the very least greatly misquoted. The amount of frothy hatred that was appearing on my news feed was getting more than a little overwhelming, and I made the decision to not subject myself to what they were saying, even though in some cases, they were friends and sometimes family. One tap of a button allows me to not see the hatred, the racism, the bigotry and the outright lies that they themselves choose to believe. I cannot change what they allow to fill their lives, but I can choose to not let it drag me down on a daily basis.
The other day, I made a comment about how I had blocked another person from my news feed because I did not want to see their daily dose of misinformed hatred anymore. The mistake that I made was the wording that I had used. Many took offense that I had used the word “unfriend” instead of explaining in clearly needed simpler terms that I had only blocked their posts from appearing in my news feed. Hell fire rained upon me from all directions, and I have to admit, I was taken completely by surprise by the reaction from some people who follow my posts. One person wrote that they thought I was “better than that”, others wrote in great detail about how disappointed they were that I could pass judgement so easily on others, and that I was, in fact, the one that was now discriminating against others for their beliefs. It was clearly pointed out to me that I needed to stick to posting pictures of the garden, the dogs and the horses, as well as daily updates of how long the grass has gotten and how many eggs I had collected that morning. I was so shocked and initially hurt by the accusations of judgement and discrimination that I made the decision to delete any political posts that I had recently posted, and would from now on mind my own business and let others continue to create their own path, complete with their own consequences. I would move on and let be, or so I thought. That night, and for the few days since, I have slept very little, and my mood is dark. Not because others may think badly of me (I’m a big boy), but because I think badly of myself for allowing others to bully me into censoring what I say and post, while they continue to post their thoughts, comments and memes willy-nilly without bothering to do even two minutes of fact checking with reliable sources. “Freedom of speech!!” they scream, except for if someone doesn’t agree with their bigotry. Yes, we all do have “Freedom of Speech”, as guaranteed by the Constitution of this already great country we share, but with that freedom comes a responsibility to be truthful, not hateful. To judge each other by our words and our actions, not by the color of our skin. To celebrate our differences, not promote candidates that would undo years of progress, or laws that would further separate us into different classes not worthy of the same rights. To be accepting of our individual religious beliefs, not promote violence if we don’t share those same convictions. To promote unity, not divide by using fear and lies. To show compassion, not look down upon. We have a responsibility to be kind in all that we do and say to each of us every day…and that also applies to what we choose to post on our social media pages. If you choose to post something that is untruthful, hateful and divisive, then it has not come from a place of kindness, and the results will have far reaching effects. Life truly is about choices, and the words that come out of our mouths and the company that we keep will surely determine the paths that we take.
I will admit that I might have gotten a little testy the other night, and if I hurt anyone’s delicate sensibilities in any way, that was not my intention. It was born out of frustration, and of concern for my future and the futures of those that I hold dear, and for that I will not apologize. Your freedoms do include being able to say and do what you like, as do mine, but not at the expense of others. I will continue to share photos and updates about the Farm, and about the Man, and I will do that mostly because that is what a great many people have to come to love and expect. I will also continue to share those things because they are the two things that I love the most in this world. For the same reason, I will continue to voice my opinion on the current political scene, and will keep an open mind about what other people may care to post, if they are reasonable and intelligent postings. I will also continue to censor what others post if they do not come from a place of kindness and compassion. I don’t allow that in my life outside of social media, and I will not allow it within.
Because, as a matter of fact, I believe that I AM better than that. We should all be better than that…
It’s a rainy day here at the Farm. The skies are dark, and it’s cold and damp…and my body aches. I have thought about writing this entry for many months, but whenever I sit and try to put words to paper, my muse fails me and my mind goes blank. Perhaps it’s because this blog I call “Me and the Man..” has always been about just that…me, the Man and this life we have created called The Farm. It’s not about just one of us, only one of our horses or chickens, and even though she may be worthy of her own blog, it’s not just about Miss Sassy, the resident queen donkey. It’s a joint effort that brings us joy, and I like to share that with others who like to take time out of their day to read about our day. For me to sit and talk about me, and the struggles that I face every day, is very difficult. I’ve grown old and wizened enough to know that life isn’t just about me, and I try every day to make sure that others come first in every way. The Man will tell you that I rarely complain about physical pain, but when I do, it’s usually pretty bad, and if I then stop talking about it, it’s probably gotten worse. But I’ve come to learn that keeping quiet isn’t always the best policy, and that sometimes sharing the bad with the good is a better balance for the soul. For my soul.
In February of 2008, The Man and I were in Honduras, participating in what would become our last trip with a group of doctors and nurses providing care to a population in desperate need of medical help and attention. We worked long days providing surgeries for various maladies to the local and very poor mountain village people, and we collapsed with exhaustion each night. In previous trips, we had never had any spare time or days off, but this time we did have a free day, and the Man and I spent it at a local orphanage. We brought food and sweets to pass around, and spent hours with the children that lived there. When we weren’t playing soccer, swinging, telling stories or playing tag, the children were very excited to show us where they lived and what their daily lives were like. We toured their sleeping quarters, with dozens of bunk beds filling the sparsely decorated rooms. We shared a meager meal with them in the large dining hall packed with wobbly picnic tables, and for desert, we all enjoyed the large cakes that we had brought with us. The young boys were eager to show us the large flock of chickens that provided them with eggs and meat. It was an amazing day filled with laughter and piggy back rides, and when the day ended there were lots of hugs, and even a few tears. I had particularly bonded with one young boy, and he held my hand as we walked to the end of the long dirt road where our cab waited. He hugged me tight, and cried in my arms, not understanding why he could not leave with us. My heart was broken for him, and as we drove away, I knew that this day, those children, and this young boy would all have a lasting impact on my life. Little did I know at the time just how lasting that would be.
The next day, completely drained physically and mentally from the past week, we started the long journey back home to the Farm. By the time we arrived, I was sick with what we assumed was some sort of flu, most likely caught from someone on the plane. I became sicker by the day, and for nearly a month, no doctor could figure out was wrong. By the time I was admitted to the hospital, my organs were on the brink of shutting down, and I could feel Death’s cold fingers reaching for me. Finally, Typhoid Fever (a more serious form of salmonella) was determined to be the culprit, and after nearly a week cooped up in a tiny room hooked up to all sorts of machines, I was sent home to finish recovering. The only remaining question was how I had contracted food poisoning in the first place. It was the Man that had the answer. The young boy that had wept in my arms when we left the orphanage had also spent a great deal of time riding my shoulders, with his hands using my face for balance. It was this same boy that with his friends had helped to slaughter the chickens that morning that we had eaten for lunch. And it was pretty safe to assume he hadn’t washed his hands between the beheadings and his ride on my shoulders. Mystery solved! I was on the mend, and life would go on as before. But no…it did not.
A few weeks later, I still did not feel right, and my body still ached, specifically various joints. I was also battling what I thought was a bladder infection, as well as incredible pain in my eyes. The pain in my knees hobbled me to the point of needing a cane to walk, and only the darkest of rooms eased the pain and pressure in my eyes. Severe depression entered my life, and it became increasingly difficult to continue working at the group home I was managing. My physician at the time didn’t seem to believe that all of my symptoms were real, and at one point threatened to admit me to a psychiatric unit for what she thought was the “real” issue. True to form, I gave up trying to explain to anyone what I was going through, and stopped complaining. Only the Man saw me struggle every day, and finally one night, an obscure illness that he had read about in medical school popped into his mind. It was soon determined that the severe food poisoning that had nearly cost me my life had left me with a condition known as Reiter’s Syndrome. Knowing (and proving) that it wasn’t all in my head was, of course, an immense relief, and I was filled with hope that soon my days of physical and mental pain were nearly over.
Having Reiter’s Syndrome means my immune system has been damaged, and if I get something as simple as a splinter in my thumb, my body goes into overdrive to attack it, and will also attack anything in it’s way, specifically all of my joints, my eyes, and my urinary system. The new, politically correct name for it is Reactive Arthritis, since our good Dr. Reiter ended up being a Nazi war criminal. Informally, it’s known as the “Can’t pee, can’t see, can’t climb a tree” syndrome. On any given day, one of the three symptoms keeps me company, but every once in awhile, they all strike at once. When they do, you can pretty much count me out for a week or so, mentally and physically. For the most part, though, the average Joe on the street wouldn’t know. I have a slight limp, but I am very aware of it, and most likely only the Man notices. The strength in my hands are a daily challenge, and some mornings, I cannot lift my coffee cup. I’ve tried a variety of medications to help keep the arthritis at bay, but like most drugs, some work, some don’t, some make me sick, and some have side effects that make me question taking them in the first place. But regardless of whether or not they work, or how strong the pain is, this place we call the Farm does not take care of itself. Horses, donkeys, dogs, and chickens all need tending to, and summer brings more than I can handle with gardens, lawns, fence mending…the list goes on. There is no rest, at least until Winter arrives, which allows me to slow down a little.
Some might wonder why I share this part of my life, and to be honest, I’m not comfortable with it. I share because there are others who live this secret life as well, and understand the struggle, then maybe they won’t feel as alone in their pain. Life can be good despite it all. I have one friend, a young lady, who is one of the bravest people I know. She has been suffering with arthritis her entire young life, but she never gives up, never lets it get her down. She has no way of knowing how much of an inspiration she is to me, but I think of her whenever I am at my lowest. Her story, her struggle, her determination to not give up…it lifts me up and pushes me forward. If my story can help inspire others the way hers does for me, then this is why I share.
There is one other person that I think of whenever my hands have no strength, when I cannot hide the limp or when my eyes hurt so bad that I wear sunglasses indoors. It’s been 8 years since he cried in my arms, and by now he is a young man. I often wonder if he recalls that day, and if he knows the roll that he has played in my life. Some might point out that if we hadn’t visited the orphanage that day, I would not be burdened with this disease, and they would be right. Do I regret sharing the day with him. Absolutely not, and if I could go back and perhaps forgo the shoulder rides in order to have avoided all of this, I wouldn’t. My path is my path, and it matters not how I got here. What matters is that for one day, that young boy, and others like him, felt that they mattered, and that someone cared enough to spend time with them. If I had a thousand lives to live, each one would include a visit to that orphanage, and each would be full of laughter, soccer, shoulder rides, and cake. And chickens…
A few years back, as the Farm was in it’s early stages of becoming “The Farm”, the Man came home from work one day with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face and said the words “I’ve found him…I’ve found the horse you’ve been dreaming of.”. And he had, just a few miles up the road living with a woman that he worked with at the time. She had a small group of horses on her farm, mostly rescues, and when he told her about my dream horse, she excitedly exclaimed “I have Him!”. We went to visit Him a few days later, and it was absolute love at first sight. He was majestic in my eyes, and although I knew then that He would soon be mine, there was work to be done at the Farm before He could come home to be with me. It took longer than we expected to put up fences and renovate the old barn that He would call home, and by the time that we were ready for Him, he had lost weight and His spirit had been broken. He had been low man on the totem pole in the herd that He lived with, and had resorted to having to eat bark off the trees within His paddock to survive. By no means can you fault His owner at the time. She was saving lives and finding homes the best that she could. Horses have pecking orders, and He was doing what He needed to do at the time to survive His place within the herd. My heart broke for Him on the day that He arrived, feeling as though it was my fault that it had taken so long to prepare His new home, and as I stood beside Him in his large dry stall, I whispered in His ear a promise that He would never go hungry again. And that promise to Him I have faithfully and fervently kept…until today.
Taking a vacation when you run a farm with multiple animals is no easy task. It takes months of planning, with one person to live at the Farm taking care of the dogs, cats and birds, and another person tasked with daily visits to care for the two large horses, two mini horses and one very opinionated and demanding donkey. Even then, leaving the Farm and the critters in the care of another is stressful, because nobody truly knows the routine and personalities of my four footed children like I do. It takes a vast amount of trust for me to leave them, and I never rest easy while I am gone. One way that I’ve found to help with that stress is to install a live cam in the barn that I can check on whenever I need to to calm my worries. Perhaps some might think that it is a tad overkill to be so protective and worrisome, but to me it is peace of mind. It allows me to relax and enjoy my day with the Man wherever we may be, on a well earned vacation for both of us. It would require multiple cameras to view all that live in the barn, so instead I focus the one camera on Him, knowing that if something were wrong with another, I would be able to tell by His body language, and I would act accordingly. For this particular trip, I hired a young man that has worked on the Farm off and on for a few years, and I left with the Man for our warm destination knowing that all of our horses would be taken care of the way that I had both instructed and expected them to be. The time difference between paradise and home is 5 hours, and by the time I rise in the morning, and sit down at the computer with coffee in hand, the routine at the Farm is usually well under way. This morning, I casually clicked on the link bringing up the live cam, expecting to see an empty stall in a brightly lit barn, but instead I saw darkness. Through the shadows I could see Him, pacing in His stall with His ears back, tail swishing and stomping His feet. In horror, I watched as He pawed at His bedding that hadn’t been cleaned in days, trying to find bits of hay that He might have missed. Usually, by this time of day, He and the others would have been fed their oats and hay, and then turned out to pasture to enjoy the sun and fresh air. With no phone service where we are staying, I was left with only social media to try and contact the person that had been charged with their care. By the time he finally arrived, with young attitude in tow, it was early afternoon, and the horses were finally turned out to pasture without their morning rations.
I watched as He left His stall, His body language showing both anger and betrayal. The one promise that I had made to Him had been broken. I had chosen the wrong person to care and feed Him every morning while I was gone. As He left the barn with His head hanging low, I broke down and wept, knowing that I had failed Him, and that He would blame me, not the young man that I had hired to care for Him. I spent the morning crying, and contacting friends that I knew would step up and take care of Him and the others, despite having full schedules, commitments and animals of their own to take care of. Problem fixed, but damage done. There are some that do not have horses in their lives that might think that I overreacted, and that He doesn’t have the capacity to blame me for the neglect that He faced this morning, but He does, and He will. It will take weeks for Him to interact with me again as He did before, and the trust that we shared will certainly be damaged for much longer than that. A promise broken, will never be forgiven…
“Tis almost midnight, and the Farm is silent. Well, silent except for the crackle of the wood stoves and the gentle snoring of the three dogs scattered around the darkened room. Anything else that could make any sounds would require electricity, of which we have none. Losing power isn’t a rare thing here on the Farm, especially during blizzards like the one currently rattling our windows. For the most part, the Man and I usually take it all in stride, because most power outages are quickly remedied by the hardy and stout line workers of our State who live for braving the storm. Losing power at night has almost become a cause for celebration for us. One of us lights a couple oil lamps, while the other gathers snacks and drinks, then meeting by the fire for a game or three of cribbage. It’s a time out for the soul. Days on the Farm can be long and tiring, and coupled with the Man’s responsibilities at his job, we often don’t have much time together until well into the evening. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Life is good. And it’s busy. But we’ve created this busy life, and we wouldn’t change a thing. When the power goes out in the evening, though, life comes to a standstill. All of the Critters, large, small, four footed and winged, are already tucked into bed, so unless the storm of the century is knocking at the door, there are no worries about them. There’s no tv, no computers, no chores to do, no animals to tend to. Mother Nature has unplugged us, and is providing us with the chance to slow down and breath. Just the two of us. We break bread and share a glass of wine, and we tell each other about our day. We sit on the floor, in the glow of the fire, and scratch dog bellies. We battle to the bitter end playing cribbage, a game we stopped keeping track who won or lost many years ago. It’s a gift, this quiet time, and we almost always feel a bit disappointed when the power finally does return. The oil lamps go back to their spot in the pantry, and the cribbage board slides back onto the shelf under the coffee table. We give the dogs a treat, then slip on the muck boots and go check on the horses. The well oiled machine we call “The Farm” slowly grinds back to life, and all returns to normal. Our routines become automatic again, and we often will head in different directions to finish what we had started before the world went dark. It is winter in Maine, however, and the chances are pretty good that we will receive another unplugged evening by the fire, surrounded by our pups. In the meantime, I will fill up the oil lamps, restock the snacks and wine, and dry out the soaked and mangled 7 of clubs that young pup Sebastian grabbed from the stack of cards while we weren’t looking…
There are many benefits to owning and running a working Farm. Creating and maintaining the gardens are a lot of hard work, but they provide us with fresh vegetables and beautiful flowers, as well as the satisfaction of hard work well done. Hours of labor to put up fences around fields for the horses, and around yards for our dogs, have provided a safe and carefree habitat for those that we take care of, and great peace of mind for us. Other summertime projects like building stalls in the barn, planting fruit trees, never ending grass cutting, and putting in firewood for the long winter allow us to feel the sun on our faces and fill our lungs with fresh air every day. The winter months bring the joy of nesting in a 200 year old farm house that we have worked endless hours for years restoring to it’s former glory, with wood stoves providing our heat and the pantry full of summer bounty. There are downsides as well to being a farmer, and one of them is having to inevitably say goodbye to those whose company we have enjoyed for many years. While it is always especially sad to say farewell to one of the animals that have called the Farm home, I’ve never experienced grief when a vehicle has become aged and worn out, and has needed to be replaced. Until today, that is.
The day that I brought her home 11 years ago, I named my truck Jezebel, in honor of my oldest brother who had passed away just a month prior, and who had a fondness for naming his vehicles Jezebel. For every single day of those 11 years, a buffalo head nickel that he had worn around his neck hung from my rear view mirror, and each day when I saw it, I thought of him, and knew he would watch over me when I was driving. Kody, our old man Golden who left us last year, was just a few months old when Jezebel arrived, and he quickly claimed the back seat to stretch out on and sleep when we traveled north to a camp we owned near Sugarloaf Mountain. Two years later, a beautiful yellow lab puppy named Gracie joined our family, and Kody begrudgingly had to share the back seat with a little yellow terror that had decided that her new sibling shouldn’t have hair on his tail. We once rescued a goat that badly needed a new home, and the only way to transport her at the time was in Jezebel’s back seat. It took months and a lot of air freshener for the smell of a scared and incontinent goat to finally fade away. I never removed the dent left after Alex, my horse, decided to kick the truck when he was mad at me one day, preferring instead the smile it brought to my face every time I walked by it. Jezebel shuffled four dogs, seven cats and two parrots back and forth to vet appointments and emergency rooms, and more than once I had to scrub dog vomit from the seat and carpets. Some rides to the vet became heartbreak, last moments and goodbyes, and this truck became witness to some of my lowest moments.
As the Farm grew, so did Jezebel’s duties. Fencing supplies, lumber for various projects, railroad ties for the gardens, hay and grain for the horses, feed and shavings for the chickens, and trees and shrubs for landscaping and harvest are just a handful of things brought to the Farm by her. She was the workhorse for every project at the Farm, inside and out, that we have accomplished during the 11 years she has been with us. She dutifully performed all we asked of her, but as she aged, the Farm became bigger than what she could handle, and so…the time had come.
Although reluctant to say goodbye to Jezebel, I knew that I needed a more reliable and powerful truck to handle hay, wood and horse trailers, and for whatever a growing Farm might need in the future. When the right truck was found to fill her shoes, I was tasked with the final cleaning of Jezebel in preparation for her leaving. I knew there would be a bit of sadness involved, but I wasn’t prepared for what was to come. Behind the back seat, I found a chewed and faded tennis ball, and immediately recognized it as Kody’s favorite toy for many years until it disappeared one day. From there, a deluge of memories flooded my mind, and I could clearly see Kody and Gracie fighting over space in the back seat, with Kody winning every time. I remembered how the back windows were always wet with dog drool and nose prints, and the carpet of dog hair always left behind. I discovered music cd’s that were the soundtrack to many trips taken to as north as Quebec City and as far south as Atlanta, where a rebuilt engine for a Fiat 124 Spider joined us and occupied the back seat on the return trip home. That trip also saw me and the Man in the worst storm of our lives in North Carolina, with me driving as fast as I could in torrential wind and rain with a death grip on the wheel, and seeing tornadoes touching down behind us in Jezebel’s rear view mirror. From behind the driver’s side visor, I removed a picture that had been pinned there for many years of a friend that I had cared deeply for at the time, and who has just recently reentered my life. Change from toll booths and the local Dunkin Donuts drive thru filled various nooks and crannies, as well as crumpled up receipts, registrations and insurance cards from every year except 2009. One by one the memories flowed, and I took my time acknowledging each as I finished cleaning out my four wheeled companion of the past 11 years. Most were happy, a few were sad, I laughed a little, and I cried a lot.
When I was nearly finished, I took a step back to take one final look, and to say one last goodbye. I thanked her for the years she gave me, and for the gift of her companionship. For the final time, I laid a hand on the seat where Kody had laid his head, then I reached up to the mirror and took down my brother’s buffalo head nickel. Just a truck, yes, but not just any truck. She was mine for a time, and she shared my life for many years…and I will miss my Jezebel…
Animals have always been a part of our lives. Dogs and cats were a constant part of our childhoods, and now as adults, we can add horses, goats, donkeys, parrots, chickens, and recently a bearded dragon. Future plans include some Scottish Highlander cattle, Baby Doll sheep, and perhaps an Alpaca or two. I wouldn’t be surprised if a pig entered the picture at some point. For some, animals are just pets, and they come and go through their lives with little to no fanfare. But for most, these critters become much more than just pets. They become family. There is no place that this is more true than here on the Farm. Each new arrival brings excitement and joy, with a healthy dose of upheaval as the new member struggles to find it’s place within the Family. It usually doesn’t take long for things to settle down each time, and soon we are all laughing, playing, connecting, eating, and even snuggling together. It’s a gift from the Universe, this dance between us all. The Man and I cherish every day we have with our “children”, for we know all too well that those days are limited. My Gracie’s graying face reminds me of that every day. Their departure is inevitable, and the more animals a person shares their life with, the more often they are faced with tearful goodbyes and the sadness and mourning that follows. One would almost think that these goodbyes should get easier or that the grieving should lesson over time. Although the Man might appear to have better control over his grieving process than I do, it never gets easier for either one of us. Today marks the one year anniversary of the day that we said goodbye to Kody, and even as I put these words to paper, the tears well up, and the pain is as fresh as it was that day. Everyday I visit his grave, sometimes surrounded by our other dogs or with the Man, but most often by myself. It’s my time to say hello, to make sure he knows that he hasn’t been forgotten, and that he is still very much a part of life on the Farm. Of all the many threads in the tapestry that the Man and I weave into our life here on the Farm, Kody remains the strongest thread of them all. He was the first, and all that have come after have been bound to him in one way or another. There have been many other goodbyes over the years. Some were beloved cats, like Toby, Trouble, Bert and Ellie. Last week, we said goodbye to Chester, a beautiful black Himalayan, rescued from the roadside after his mother had been hit by a car. Even losing Harriet the chicken a few days ago filled me with sadness. Yes, just a chicken, but my chicken nonetheless, and I did my best to nurse her back to health even though her outlook was grim. Rudy the goat had a very special place in my heart, partly because he wasn’t very bright, and partly because he was devoted to me, and followed me around like a puppy dog. His leaving was sudden and unexpected, and I cried like a baby as he passed away in my arms. Despite all of the heartache when they say goodbye, the love and affection they give us while they are here is immeasurable, and we find ourselves opening our doors to them every time with little hesitation. That’s what we do. We welcome, we love, we say goodbye. And soon after, another thread is added to the tapestry…and we love again…
When He first came in from playing in the yard, I didn’t notice anything might be wrong. I hadn’t been feeling well for a few hours, so at the time I certainly wasn’t the sharpest tack in the drawer. A few moments later, however, it became clear that He was in distress. Having seen more seizures than I cared to see last Spring, my immediate thought was that history was repeating itself. As He frenetically rolled on the floor, his breathing became labored, his back arched and He was pawing at the air. In the time it took me to cross the room and kneel at his side, I had figured out that it was not a seizure wracking his twisted white body, but that He was choking. Both of his paws began clawing at his mouth, his eyes full of panic as He struggled to breath. At first, He resisted me, and He fought my hands as I tried to look in his mouth. And then…our eyes made contact, and I felt his body relax. I was there to help. He knew it, and He let me. When it was all said and done, I held a stick over two inches long in my hand, and He was licking my face. Then off He went in typical bouncy Golden fashion, hell bent on attacking his brother and chewing on his ears. With the Man away visiting his family in Georgia, I settled in with a fire in the stove, and a scary movie qued up on the telly. Soon though, the mild flu-like symptoms I had been feeling all day decided that they had different plans for my evening. First the cramps, then the sweating, nausea and dizziness. And then I got hot..very hot. Drenched in sweat, with who knows how high a temp at the time and naked as the day I was born, I collapsed onto the cold tile floor of the bathroom in search of relief. I was dehydrated, weak, no strength to move, and with the Man not due home for another three days, I was alone and starting to worry more than just a little bit. And then…there He was. I opened my eyes to see four white legs towering over me. He laid beside me, his paw in my hand, and He gently licked my face and looked me in the eye. He was there to help. I knew it, and I let him. How long we laid there together on the floor, I do not know. But I do know that He did not leave my side until the fever broke and I could again stand without fear of passing out. I was actually a tad relieved when He did finally trot away to annoy his brother, because then I knew that at least I was no longer at risk of dying, at least in his eyes. In the days since that night, life on the Farm has carried on, with the Man returning home, and the days starting to feel warmer…and a much stronger bond with a young dog named Sebastian…
I have to admit, that for the most part, I pretty much kept forgetting that today was Valentine’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the sentiment of the holiday, but here at the Farm, it’s really not that big of a deal. We’ve had more than our fair share of Valentine’s Days, and in the beginning we had fun with the presents, the flowers, the kisses, the restaurants and the romantic movies. As the story usually goes, it was fun while it lasted. At some point over the years, it just started to feel more odd than fun, and we slowly weaned ourselves away from the traditions. Of course, we still get each other cards dripping with proclamations of love, and we smile and kiss, then put the cards on the mantle above the living room fireplace. Then we sort of just go about our day. Our usual day in, day out, predictable routine sort of day. You see, every day we spend with each other is a celebration of our friendship, and our love. To set aside one day to celebrate that love seems a bit silly above and beyond the card and the kiss. We already spend nearly every minute together, out of choice, not holiday. We make sure that our days begin and end with “I love you”, and that is repeated dozens of times in between, sometimes verbally, sometimes with a touch. Every evening we share a meal that has been prepared just for us by the Man, a Southern man who truly understands the power that a good meal can wield over another man’s heart. We routinely settle in beside each other most nights to watch a good movie, complete with malted milk balls and other snacks, and feeling as though we were teenagers at the drive-in. Every night, we fall asleep knowing that each one loves the other with all of his heart, and that same love will be just as strong and present the next day. Each and every day with the Man is a blessing, and that is truly the only gift I need…
I didn’t want another dog. Not so soon, anyway. After losing our old man Kody such a short time before, I really couldn’t bring myself to think about it. I was still grieving heavily, and to entertain the thought of replacing him felt like I was betraying him. Kody was the first four footed friend we had welcomed to our life together on the Farm, and his departure had taken me to a level of pain and anguish I had never experienced before. Of course, as in all things, it wasn’t just about me. The Man and our other two dogs, Gracie and Dewey, were all grieving the loss of a beloved Pack member in their own ways. When I discovered that the Man had been quietly researching English Cream Golden Retrievers, I simply thought it was his way of mourning. We all have our own coping skills, this was his. Even when he came home from work one day excitedly babbling something about a friend of a cousin to a woman that was a childhood friend of the Preacher’s step sister’s dog had just had a litter of puppies, I still wasn’t taking him very seriously. Then, with the barely contained excitement of an eight year old, he softly squealed that they were just a few miles up the road, and we were expected there in an hour to see them. The next sixty minutes were a blur, and before I knew it, we had pulled up to the house where the puppies lived. When I stepped out of the car, the door to the house opened, releasing a flood of white puppies. Twelve of them. Six boys wearing blue collars, and six girls wearing pink collars. The Man had informed me on the ride there that he preferred that I be the one to choose the puppy, but it had to be a male so Dewey could have a playmate. Still not quite believing that we were where we were, and doing what we were doing, I started looking for blue collars. At first, none of the blue tagged wee ones stood out to me, but then I noticed that one had a tiny little blue bell attached to his tiny little collar around his tiny little neck. And then he turned and looked at me with those black as night eyes that were ringed with beautiful white eyelashes. And in an instant…I was pudding. Done deal, stop looking, he found us. I turned to get the Man’s attention, only to find the puppy’s one hundred pound father balls to heaven in the Man’s lap, enjoying a good belly scratch. After seeing proof of goofy genetics, I held the puppy up Lion King style, and presented the Man with the newest member of our Pack. Over the next month, we visited him at least once each week, and each time, he was happier to see us. We decided to name him Sebastian, a fine English sounding moniker that befits his breed. By the time I drove those few miles one last time to pick him up when he was eight weeks old, he was answering to his name. As we had planned beforehand, our first gathering as a family took place on the back lawn, near where we had laid Kody to rest. I needed him to be near, to feel him near. Dogs being dogs, that first gathering didn’t go as well as we had hoped, but they eventually all worked out where they each stood in the Pack hierarchy. At the end of the day, Sebastian was a very tired pup more than ready to lay down and collapse. Having done the whole puppy thing three times together already, we were well prepared, with the appropriate amount of toys, a plushy bed, and a large crate that stood beside his new brother Dewey’s crate. Gracie took up residence under the kitchen table a few feet away, rightly claiming the night time space and bed that once belonged to Kody. For the most part, the months since Sebastian’s homecoming have played out pretty much as I expected they would with no big surprises, but for one thing. When Sebastian first came to live with us, there were often times when his Golden personality would remind me of Kody, and the sadness would return. But Sebastian’s own personality quickly started to reveal itself, and the times I saw Kody in him grew fewer every day. He and I bonded quickly, and he rarely left my side. I came to rely on him for bad breath puppy kisses and laughter as much as he depended on me for unconditional love and approval. The normal routine of life returned to the Farm once more. Sebastian is now seven months old, and he is developing into a beautiful and rugged young English Cream Golden. He is nearly as big as his brother and sister, and will likely surpass them in size and weight soon. As the Man predicted, Sebastian and Dewey have become the best of friends, and spend hours each day getting into impish trouble together. Of course, Sebastian still reminds me of Kody at times. It’s hard to deny those Golden quirks, after all. The difference now is that my memories of Kody are no longer painful, but are full of joy and laughter, with new memories being made every day. I am grateful to the Man for knowing what our family needed, and also what I needed. I’ve come to learn that sometimes in order to begin saying goodbye, one must first not be afraid to say hello…