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.