the barn in fall

the barn in fall

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dirt Roads

I suppose I can't write this blog without paying tribute to its namesake.  Living on a dirt road is not the same as living on a paved street.  It's a love-hate relationship.  We put up with a lot - pot holes, washboard ruts, and blowing dust that coats bushes, trees, and windows.  Corrosive mud and the embarrasment of constantly being the "brown" vehicle in the parking lot when you distinctly remember buying a red one.  It's enough to make you miss asphalt. 

But then you come home to a shaded, peaceful lane.  The kind that makes you want to take the dog for a long, long walk.  A road that invites you to exhale. 

You just don't get that with pavement. 

My road:

Monday, August 30, 2010

Morning Routine

Monday morning - back to work.  I write Mon. - Fri., either plugging along on my current book in progress, or doing requested edits on the previous book.  But before I can sit in my "office" in the corner of the family room, I have barn chores.  So while others are preparing to start work by fighting the morning rush hour, or hopping a train, bus, or subway, this is what I'm doing:
I could probably say something about mornings being shitty, but that would be too obvious.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

They don't ring the doorbell...yet

This half-grown fawn was with its mother, who was just to the left of the picture, munching on crab apples.  The dog thinks these visits are SO EXCITING!  She barks at them from her fenced yard, while they stand fifteen feet away, trying not to choke on crabapples while they laugh hysterically.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Horse Shows

I'm a retired horse show parent.  That's like a soccer mom, but with heavier equipment and a horse trailer.  For many years, May through September meant weekends filled with trailering horses, schlepping saddles, bridles, and buckets from truck to barn, helping tack and untack, and doing it all in reverse when it was time to leave.  For some, horse shows are a serious business.  For us, they were mostly fun.  You cheered your friends, tried events just for the fun of it, and if it was a very good day, you left with a few pretty reminders of how much fun you can have on a horse.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Barn Cats

A truism about barns and cats:  If you build it, they will come.  I suspect that somewhere in the trees behind our barn, at cat-level, there is a sign reading "Free Room and Board" with a flashing neon arrow pointing at our barn.  In fourteen years here, six stray cats have moved into our barn.  Some later "moved up" to become house cats; currently three cats call our barn home.  They earn their keep, killing mice.

Most cats that come are tame.  Two were wild, and both had litters before I could trap them and have them spayed ( and eventually tame them.)  We placed all the kittens in homes except for two which we kept.  Sophie and Frieda became a group project for our animals, with two of our male cats watching over them, bathing them, and bringing them dead mice - and later live ones - to teach them to hunt.  Our extremely patient male husky played mom to the kittens who loved cuddling up to his furry stomach.  This is Juneau, with his foster kittens Sophie and Frieda.  Everyone say, Awww...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Silver Dollars

There's nothing unique or "rural" about the silver dollar (or honesty) plant, except that's where I found these - growing untended along the side of my rural road.  The plants may have started decades past in someone's garden, but long ago some seeds found their way to the thick weeds at the side of our road.  For years they have been seeding themselves there, surviving the sodium chloride sprays that reduce dust on the dirt roads in the summer, and the packed ice and snow from plows in the winter.  In spring they have beautiful purple flowers, and in late summer they look like this, with large round dull-looking seed pods.


But when you take them home and pull off the papery-thin membrane on each side and flick off the flat black seeds, they look like this:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Chickens and Dinosaurs

Let me tell you the one good thing about chickens:  Eggs.  Fresh eggs make the store-bought ones look anemic by comparison.  That said...
We first started keeping chickens when my kids were in 4-H and wanted to show them.  If the phrase "showing chickens" sounds ridiculous to you, let me tell you, I'm right there with you.  No one should have to spend a half hour scrubbing chicken feet with a toothbrush and Palmolive detergent on the chance that a judge might give them a blue ribbon.  So not worth it.

And do the chickens appreciate this pampering?  No, they do not.  I love animals.  I take good care of my chickens.  But honestly, chickens are dirty, mean birds.  They will turn on the weakest among them and drive them away or kill them.  Having your eyes pecked out is not a pretty way to go.  Most have no mothering instinct and couldn't care less about the eggs they lay.

But still, there's those lovely fresh eggs.  Meet my girls:

I have four hens - two leghorns and two Araucanas.  No roosters.  Roosters have long spurs on their legs, and are not afraid to use them.  They live for one thing - sex.  Every 10 or fifteen minutes they are looking for a hen to rape.  5-10 hens per rooster is a good ratio in order to keep the guy from wearing out the hens.  Take it from a romance novelist, this is not the character profile of a hero.

Scientists say the only living descendants of dinosaurs today are birds.  Want proof?  Take a look at the two Araucanas in the picture below and tell me they don't remind you of those raptors in Jurasic Park.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I mentioned the horrors of horse flies in my last post, no doubt causing many of you to snicker at my wimpiness.  Allow me to defend myself.

Horse flies are not regular flies. They are mutant, blood-sucking monsters, trolling the pasture for victims. And they do not die easily. Smacking them with your hand merely stuns them. You must then grind them underfoot until they are mere pieces of fly. Or stab them in the heart with a silver dagger - whichever is easiest. This means it is rare to find a dead, intact horse fly. But I did! The little demon was on our deck, kicking back with a cool drink, taking a break from the blood fest in the pasture. And my daughter smacked him with a flyswatter. Hard. Twice. And he died. So for demonstration purposes, I killed a regular housefly (yes, I took a life needlessly) and placed it beside the horsefly and took their picture:

See?  Now are you scared?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Horse Pedicures

Farrier day - Two horses got their feet trimmed, and one got a trim with two shoes on the front to protect his sensitive front feet from stones when riding on our dirt roads.

Horse's hooves are like fingernails, and need a trim every 6-8 weeks.  Same procedure, but with really big clippers and a really big file.  See lower part of tool box:

Above:  Fritz getting his back foot filed down after a trim, and Code Red getting his front foot filed to fit his new shoe.  Shoes are custom fitted to each horse, so after choosing the correct size the farrier slips them over an anvil and bangs them into shape, stopping several times to check the fit against the horse's foot.  Good as a Gucci.  Then he holds them against the bottom of the foot and nails them into place.  The nails go into the hoof wall - it doesn't hurt the horse - then the hoof and shoe are filed to finish it off.

The three trims and two shoes took a couple hours.  The biggest problem isn't keeping the horses still - they're well-behaved - it's the flies.  The little buggers bite, and they buzz all around the horses, especially their legs.  Trying to trim a horse while he's stamping his feet is not easy.  Also not safe.  Fly spray helps keep them away, but not entirely.  While I stand there holding the horses I usually swing the end of the lead rope around their front legs to help chase flies away.

And those are just the little house-fly size flies.  Horse flies - now that's another post entirely. 

Another annoying problem while shoeing horses - owners who make you pose during the procedure so they can take pictures for their blog.  Thanks to Bill the Farrier for his patience!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Like Money In the Bank

This is the best time of year to walk into the barn - it's filled with all the hay we will need for the coming winter.  Well, almost all - I may get a little more of that lovely second cutting.  The three horses all watch as we stack bale after bale - which by the way is hard, sweaty, itchy work and it has to be done during the hottest days of the year.  This is the definition of Not Fun!  My old horse Fritz nickers softly the whole time I'm stacking hay, hoping he'll get a taste of the lovely green stuff.  As if I could resist that cute face.

This is the newly stacked hay, with one of the farm cats on top, enjoying the new view.