Do you see what I see?

clouds

The answer to that question is, “Probably not.”  I don’t see dead people or anything, but sometimes I do see things that no one else can seem to see. And yet, it’s always so darn clear to me.

Clouds for example. Who doesn’t love to look into big, fluffy clouds to see what shapes might appear? “I see a pony!” “I see a bunny!” “I see a puppy!” “I see a pterodactyl!”

Yeah, that last one would be me. From childhood to whatever this stage I’m in now is labeled, I have seen shapes a tad outside the box. Lately the skies around my home have been filled with gorgeous clouds. You know, skyscapes that make you want to just find a cool spot in the grass, spread out a blanket and collapse for a bit, just to watch the day pass by.

michelin-man1

Well, the other day, I allowed myself a few peaceful moments to just cloud-gaze. The first shapes that popped right out for me? Bob Hope in profile followed by the Michelin Man–you know, that character that looks like an inverted white bee hive with arms and legs? Ponies and butterflies? No. A legendary comedian and a cartoon tire man? Clear as day.

Growing up and well into young adulthood it seemed I worked very hard to fit in, to be like the other kids. Now, as I float somewhere in middle-age, I find that I am not one bit frustrated by my different views of the world. In all actuality, I have come to embrace them. It’s a bit like hating freckles when you’re covered with them. What’s the point in that? And yes, I have freckles too. I see weird stuff in clouds and I’m covered in brown dots. It’s all good.

Perhaps I can best sum it up by borrowing a quote by Jacob Nordby that a friend posted to Facebook today: “Blessed are the weird people–poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, troubadours–for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.”

So today, we may all look up at the lovely clouds that are floating past my home. We may all study the shapes. You may see a beautiful angel. Someone else may see a frolicking kitten. Me? Well, I see Abraham Lincoln taking a nap. Vive la différence!

(The Michelin Man is a registered trademark of the Michelin Tire Company…They may tell me to take his photo down, OR they could choose to send me a million dollars for promoting their fine cartoon character and products. Hey, a girl can dream.)

Outwitted, Outplayed, Outlasted. Outfoxed by a Beaver.

Sapulpa-20110724-00036

We have been playing our own little version of Survivor here at Tails You Win Farm. In this episode, we have humans verses Mother Nature’s finest little workers: beavers.

A little background is in order here. I purchased this land, our little slice of the world, in 1997. It was an 80 acre tract that had been part of a larger ranch that was divided and to be sold in an auction. I experienced the thrill of sitting through the bidding, waiting for my moment. I held my breath as the bidding for my dream parcel of land reached what I knew was my financial ceiling. I held up my hand for what had to be my last bid. I sat in disbelief as the auctioneer encouraged the crowd by saying “don’t let $100 per acre stand between you and your dream” as the current bid–MY bid–sat at my maximum purchase price. “WHAT?” Yelled the voice inside my head at the enthusiastic auctioneer. “SHUT UP!” My reality was that $100 more per acre would most definitely stand between me and my dream.

Finally, after three agonizing hours of silence (ok, it was really just a few seconds), no one else raised their hand, no one raised the bid, and finally, blissfully, the gavel fell and the land was mine. Well, it was technically “ours.” At that time, “I” was a “we.” But within four years of buying the land, the “we” decided to divorce and the “I” decided the one thing in my seemingly shattered world that truly mattered, that truly gave me peace, was the land. My land. My dream.

So obviously there is a huge yadda-yadda-yadda between the auction and today. The fast forward is that I survived divorce, met and fell in love with a wonderful man who also shared my love for this undeveloped, blank canvas of dirt, grass, and trees. We built a barn, we built a home, we added a few fences, but basically, we left the land as we found it. Unspoiled, natural and beautiful.

Living here was and still is an adventure. I was raised in the city, but I always felt out of place there. I love animals. I love nature. I hug trees. Our theory with this land is that the wild beings that inhabit it were here before we moved in and it is our job to share this place with them in a responsible manner. The coyotes, deer, raccoons, rabbits, turtles, snakes, possums, armadillos, hawks, and more are all welcome friends. All are intriguing studies in wildlife.

We also have a beautiful pond in front of our house. When we built the house, deer at pondwe positioned it so we would have a view of the pond from our generous front porch. The pond is home to a healthy stock of fish. Turtles sun themselves on the banks during the summer months. Waterfowl use it as a migration hotel every fall and spring.  Herons strut in the shallows. We have a paddle boat that allows us to peacefully share the pond with our wild friends. It’s all very Disney-esque. Snow White would be so happy here.

Our “share our home with nature” theory has worked very well for years. Very well. Until now. Enter the beavers.

About two years ago we discovered we had some new neighbors. Well, actually, the first thing we discovered was a willow tree neatly felled along the shore of our pond. The trunk of the tree had been nibbled to a sharp point about a foot above the ground. A little twilight surveillance revealed our industrious new friend gliding smoothly through the water with only his blocky brown head visible above the surface.

Justin close upAt first we were enchanted. The beaver was fascinating, industrious, and in his own beady-eyed little way, quite endearing. For a time. For a very short time.

How fun! How cute! Ok, he destroyed a tree we really liked, but it seemed a small price to pay for the right to witness a side of nature we had yet to experience. Sometimes he would even come out of hiding while we were in the paddle boat. He would glide by in surveillance mode and then smack the water sharply with his giant flat tail as he dove for cover. Apparently, he was not as happy about our invasion as we initially were with his.

Then we noticed just how many trees he had destroyed. And then we noticed the toll his extensive dens were taking on our shoreline, and more concerning, the dam that allowed our pond to exist. Hmmmm…not so darn cute now, Mr. Beaver. So we did a little research which led us to Ned, a local, humane wildlife control specialist known as the Skunk Whisperer. Ned taught us how to disrupt our beaver’s life just enough so that he would just decide to move away. And move away he did. Hooray! No harm, no foul.

But then last summer there was a drought. Every water source in the area dried up–creeks and ponds alike–with the exception of our lovely pond. Guess what? Yeah, the beaver moved back in and there was no way to send him away during a drought.

Most representatives of the “pest removal” community advised that the only resolution involved bullets and someone with a steady hand and and a good eye. Shoot Mr. Beaver? Shoot one of God’s creatures just because he was living his life the only way he knew how, in the only pond that was currently available? Well, no. I just could not condone that. I was determined to let the beaver stay until rains finally arrived to allow him to find another pond to destroy…I mean inhabit.

Well, the rains didn’t come that summer. Then we were into fall and winter. You can’t send a creature away from his home in the cold of winter, right? And then it was spring, and the rains did come. However, now we had seen more than one beaver in the pond and worried that they might have a little family inside their den. Well, you can’t send them away until the babies are old enough to survive, right? So we waited.

At this point the tree loss count was up well over 100 saplings and several mature trees. Our pond, that should have been filled to the brim by spring rains, was once again very low, apparently the result of the beaver den punching through a spot in our dam. Yes, our beautiful pond would not realize its potential again without some serious and expensive restoration. Great.

I have to admit that my love affair with our busy little friends was waning. Their last defender was seriously on the fence. Was I really going to have to face the reality that the only answer was to shoot these little guys?

I started justifying that scenario in my mind. The beavers were NOT here first. Actually, we were. The beavers were destroying a pond that was a vital resource for so many other creatures. If our pond dried up, where would the deer quench their thirst in the evenings? Where would the turtles hide? Where would our tired migratory friends stop for a well-deserved rest?

But still…kill them? Ugh. So one more call to my now-friend the Skunk Whisperer. Ned referred me to the one person he knew who was properly licensed and willing to humanely trap our no-longer-welcome guests. Once trapped, he would relocate them to a safe area where their natural instincts would no longer collide with humanity.

Enter Terry and his “clam-shell” traps. The traps were designed to capture beavers safely, keeping them partially in the water but safe from drowning. With careful supervision, the beavers could be trapped and quickly moved to a new habitat far, far away from our pond.

trapped beaver

Safe, unharmed and headed to a new, wonderful habitat!

Two traps were set and baited with willow tree branches and some smelly brown stuff from a jar that Terry swore was to beavers what catnip is to cats. Around midnight that night I grabbed a flashlight and headed to the pond to check the traps. Lo and behold my little beam of light revealed two shining eyes and I heard a quiet, but meaningful hiss from the trap. Success!

Early the next morning, Terry returned to move the beaver to his new home before the heat of day could cause him any stress. The traps were reset in the hopes that we could quickly capture a second beaver–the one I knew to be our original visitor–a much larger, mature beaver.

Each night and day we checked the traps. Each night and day the traps remained untouched. Problem most definitely NOT solved. Then it happened. I glanced out my back windows to a neighboring pond, just across our property line. There, happily soaking in the shallows, was our beaver. I swear he saw me too and was doing the gopher dance from Caddy Shack…”I’m alright, don’t nobody worry ’bout me…”

If you ever wonder about the intelligence of beavers, I’m here to tell you that I find at least one representative of the species to be quite clever. Justin Beaver, as I now call him (because, no offense, but I’m not overly fond of Justin Bieber either–he needs to pull up his pants and go to college) has officially outfoxed us. I know that the pond he is currently occupying will likely dry up by the end of summer. I know that thisJustin Beaver fall he will likely move back to our pond. But be warned, Justin. This time, I will not care if it is summer, fall or winter and I will be ready for you. I have an eviction notice with your name on it.

We will continue to perform the balancing act that allows us, with our menagerie of farm animals and dogs, to coexist with our wild brethren in peace. But when it comes to Justin Beaver? Game on, my furry friend. Game on.

To-do & Ta-da!

front porchI gave myself a gift today. I took the day off from work. I have a job that I love. I co-own a dog care business with a dear friend and am living the “do what you love, love what you do” credo to its fullest. But every now and then, even when you have a really great job, you need a day off.

This day had no specific purpose and that made it all the lovelier. You know how it goes, you take a day off because you have a doctor’s appointment. You take a day off because you have a repairman coming to the house. You take a day off because you have a reason and a plan.

But today was just a do-whatever day that I tied up in a pretty bow and gave to myself. Of course that doesn’t mean I sat around eating bonbons and reading romance novels all day. That’s just not my style. Today I decided I would tackle a few things on my to-do list, and a few things on my ta-da list. Ta-da list? Let me explain.

We all have to-do lists. Mine is not likely too different from yours. Clean the bathroom. Change the sheets. Vacuum the floors. Do the dishes. You know, the list of all the things you need to do as someone attempting to be a responsible adult.

And then there is my ta-da list. This is a list I created for all of the things I want to do–things that make me happy, inspire me and challenge my creativity. There are even a few things on my ta-da list that are outside my comfort zone (like joining in one of my friend Karen’s belly dancing classes!), but that makes checking them off the list all the sweeter. When I check something off this list, I salute myself with a loud “TA-DA,” and throw my arms in the air like Rocky after he ran up the stairs in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts.

Today was all about to-dos and ta-das. I washed the covers for my dogs’ beds. Check.  I dusted. Check. I vacuumed (our herd of dogs make sure that to-do is on my list every single day). I put the clean dishes away and loaded the morning’s cereal bowls and coffee cups into the dishwasher. Check and check.

Then I went out and took some photos. TA-DA! I bought some new canvases and art supplies so I can breath new life into a neglected love for painting. TA-DA! I allowed myself to sit on my front porch and just be quiet for a bit. Shhhhh…ta-da!

Oh, and hey, I added a post to my blog and taught you about the beauty of the ta-da list. TAAAAA-DAAAAAA! Try it out, I think you’ll enjoy it. Who knows, maybe you’ll even go try belly dancing. If I eventually do, that may well be the ta-da heard ’round the world!

Farm Animals Can’t Tell Time.

Jerry at the porchThis morning, at still-too-dark:30, my dogs went nuts. Not a little nuts–full blown bouncing from window to window barking at the top of their lungs nuts.

So, jolted none-too-gently from a sound sleep, my first response was to issue a very effective command to the dogs to calm down. I think it was something like, “OH DEAR LORD, PLEASE SHUT UP!” May I add here that I am a professional dog trainer? Yes, I am. Impressive demonstration of my abilities, I know. Let me know if you want my business card.

When my command did not result in a return to immediate, blissful silence, I too joined the pack at the window to see what in the world inspired such a frenzy. Coyote? Raccoon? Mastodon? Zombie attack? Nope. Jerry Swinefeld? Yep.

Yes, my 900 pound hog had decided to escape his pasture and come for a little early morning visit to the house. Apparently, I have failed to teach my large porcine friend proper etiquette when it comes to the art of dropping in uninvited.

So, in my pajamas, robe and house shoes, I stepped onto the porch where I was greeted by the familiar soft grunting of one pleased-to-see-me hog. My hogs have a little greeting they give me that I choose to interpret as an expression of endearment, but realistically, it’s probably more of a  may-I-have-a-cookie plea.

I said good morning to my charming escape-artist and gave him a reluctant scratch on the head. After all, how the heck do you scold a giant slab of pig? Jerry and I walked back to the barn together where his barn-mate, Spamela Anderson, was still sound asleep. See that Jerry? ASLEEP.

Yes, I gave him some cookies for coming along with me and for going back in his pen without a fuss. Trust me, if he wants to, Jerry can make quite a fuss. Rewarding compliance is a wise choice. I identified his latest escape route–he pushed out a section of the barn wall–and made a temporary repair. If I seem rather blase’ about the fact that one of my animals pushed through the wall of my barn, you have to understand that it’s not the first time it’s happened, and I have to assume you’ve never lived with giant hogs.

Peace restored to the barn, I shuffled back to the house where I could hopefully grab a couple more hours of sleep before the day was really supposed to begin. The dogs where still crazy, so I pacified them by letting them all take deep sniffs of my hands. This was my way of telling them that it was Jerry outside the window, not the rabid bear they were so certain it was just a short time ago.

Within 15 minutes of my very rude awakening, I was back snug in my bed and feeling very grateful. You may think it’s odd to find gratitude in this event, but find it I did. For one thing, it was NOT a rabid bear (we don’t have bears around here, but my dogs have very vivid imaginations), it was not a zombie attack (though we ARE ready for that). Perhaps more importantly, I am the one who discovered Jerry on the lam. I did NOT receive a phone call from sleepy, startled neighbors. Yeah, that has happened too. Jerry can cover quite a few acres in a surprisingly short amount of time.

So I drifted back into near-sleep, happy and content…until something set the dogs off once again. Who needs an alarm clock when apparently you have zombies to shoot? Ah sleep…we shall meet another night. Farm animals 1 – Sandman 0, but who’s keeping score?

When I grow up I want to be a writer.

computerA few years ago, I was reading a book written by an author I truly admire. I like his frank writing style. I love his subject matter and the fact that he writes about his own experiences in the world.

When I find authors I can relate to they become friends to me. I feel as though I know them and I develop a  relationship with them, albeit a very one-sided one. I think this must be the ultimate compliment to an author…or perhaps it’s something that totally creeps them out. Hard to say, but most never know about me. In fact, all but one don’t even know I exist.

When I reached the end of this particular book, I noticed that the author had included his personal email address in the notes. At the time, I just thought it was a rather brave, personal touch. Here was a man willing to put himself out there, willing to hear direct feedback and, apparently, willing to sort through a lot of junk mail and spam.

I was…and still am (hope that part is obvious) a writer. My professional writing career centered around making other people sound good and around persuading people to do something, support something or buy something. I wrote speeches, letters for executives. I wrote brochures, advertisements, and commercials to convince you to rent a certain car or buy a specific brand of gasoline. I had a good career, but I was not the writer I really dreamed of becoming.

I have always wanted to tell stories. I want to reflect, to share, to laugh, to create laughter, to stir feelings. I have a lot of words and stories bouncing around in my head and it’s a scary thing to put them out there for others to see, but you can’t exactly be a writer if no one else ever reads your work. And there it is…the tricky part. How do you actually put your work out there for others to read?

That author’s email address popped into my mind when I was asking myself that very question. So I sent “my friend” an email. I introduced myself, I told him how much I enjoy his work. I explained my desire to pursue a career in writing. I asked for some advice, some direction. I hit send.

Within days, I found a response in my inbox. How wonderful! This author was officially going to be my friend, perhaps even my mentor! Alas…naivete’…my nemesis once again. The email was short and to the point. Basically the author offered me no advice other than to tell me I should go to school…take some writing classes. That was that. No figurative hand extended in friendship. No taking me under his wing. Just a seemingly grumpy response telling this adult, college graduate to take a class.

Quite honestly, I was a little mad. I thought about responding, but hit delete instead.  How dare he treat me like some unrealistic kid looking for a fast track to fame.

Oh. Wait. As far as he knew, I was some unrealistic kid. While I knew a good deal about this man from reading his books, he knew absolutely nothing about me beyond my email address. I didn’t exactly include a resume detailing my previous work, awards won, and list of professional references.

And in reality, what did I expect? That he would have a feeling about this anonymous stranger tossing an email his way and decide to show me the shortcut to certain publication? Actually, I was pretty much looking to him to show me a direction, instead of rolling up my sleeves and figuring it out myself.

The whole situation reminded me of little girl Nancy. I grew up in a great family with my parents and two older sisters. We also had another family that we were very close with. They had four kids, also all older than me. The closest to my age was my sister and she was four years, eight months my senior. I was surrounded by kids, teenagers and adults who basically catered to the baby’s every need.

Shoelace untied? No problem. Someone would tie it for me. Need a snack? Plenty of people around to help me find something to eat. Lost a toy? Someone would find it. Wonder what time it was? There was always someone there to tell me. I didn’t need to know how to tell time on my own.

My dad finally noticed that his youngest daughter couldn’t read a clock. I think it was when I was in second grade, and maybe it came up as a homework assignment. All I vividly remember is my dad sitting me down with a little white wind-up alarm clock. He would move the hands into different positions and ask me to tell him what time it was. Over and over and over. I was not a willing student. I saw no reason to learn this task. But Dad was determined and I am proud to say that I can, to this very day, tell time.

In a way, my author friend (yeah, I still consider him my friend), was doing the same thing. He wasn’t going to tell me what time it was, he wanted me to read the clock for myself. It’s either that, or, thanks to the anonymity of email, he truly thought I was an 18 year old slacker who had once won a poetry contest in the fifth grade. Either way, it worked and I’m paving my own way to the writing career I want. Much the same way I’m sure he did, once upon a time.

I will add that, even well into adulthood, my mother would never buy me a digital clock because she was sure I would backslide, so don’t anyone dare offer me any advice. Now, the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the five. That means it’s five o’clock and time to go feed the dogs. Thanks, Dad. Thanks too…my friend the author.

A funny thing happened while saving my horse’s life…

Dub hoovesI had the farrier out to trim my horse’s hooves last Sunday. Just a routine, responsible horse owner thing to do. Nothing exciting or profound. Yet this time, this visit from the farrier was special for me. Honestly, it almost didn’t happen because Saturday my horse very nearly died.  And oddly, that was a good thing.

Before I can explain about that, you should know about Scout. Before I can tell you about Scout, you should know a little about me as a scrawny little tomboy. The joke in my family is that my first word was not mommy or daddy, it was horse. Every Christmas wish list had horse at the top. Every birthday candle extinguished by a puff of air from my lungs carried the wish for a horse of my own. I had a huge collection of Breyer model horses that I played with non-stop (and yeah…I still have them). I was a card-carrying member of the “I want a horse” club to which so many little girls belong.

I was a lucky kid. My parents did grant my wish, first by giving me riding lessons and then, oh glorious day, by presenting me with a horse of my own when I was about 12 years old. My horse became a huge part of who I was then, who I am now, and certainly consumed every spare moment I had. The barn was my haven…the place where I was free from the pressures of being a young teenager and where I was surrounded by other girls who were just as horse crazy as I was. It was a great way to grow up.

I have had a number of wonderful horses through the years. Chet was the first and will always hold a special place in my heart. Trigger followed Chet and basically raised me into adulthood. I have never sold a horse. The horses that I choose as mine stay with me until they pass. Trigger lived well into his thirties.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit to Scout. Scout was the horse I have dreamed about my whole life. He was the horse born in a little girl’s imagination. He was very tall, strong, handsome, full of personality and spirit. He was my pal, my silly companion. I bought him when he was just a young colt and planned a lifetime of adventures with him.

And then, in an instant, all of my dreams were crushed. A freak accident, a diagnosis of a severely broken pelvis, a giant horse who stayed calm and trusting through all of the pain. He was only four years old and I had to face my veterinarian and say the hardest words any animal lover has to say…put him down.

There was really no choice to be made. The injury was profound and even if we could have tried to treat him, his other leg would not have held up through the healing process. That’s the tricky part about horses. They seem so big and strong, they carry us with ease, but in reality, they are fragile beings. When you give your heart to horses, along with the undeniable joy, you have to be able to face some unavoidable and seemingly unbearable sorrow.

So as I stood by his side and told him what a wonderful, beautiful, good boy he was, my veterinarian gave the injection that immediately sent my Scout crashing to the ground, but to a place where pain did not haunt him and where he could race free once again.

As much as my heart was broken, the idea of living without a horse to call my own, to ride, to care for…well, that was just an impossible future for me. So the search started for a new friend. I would find a new horse–not to replace Scout, but one to fill the void, to create a new tomorrow with.

I’m picky and I looked at countless nice horses. The right horse for me needed to be a gelding and he needed to be big. I love riding a tall horse. I also like a colorful horse. Scout was a spotted draft horse and I loved paints. The horse that finally really caught my eye was a beautiful light sorrel appaloosa gelding. I visited him, rode him and decided he would come home with me.

I call him Dub and he is a great horse. He is sound, strong, tall, and very handsome. He rides well. He is everything I love about horses. But he is not Scout. Well of course he’s not Scout. The problem is that when I brought Dub home, I guess I really didn’t realize how much my heart was still hurting, how much I was still obsessed with not only Scout’s physical loss, but also his lost potential. The horse of my dreams, gone.

So Dub joined our pasture and our other horses. We took care of him. I visited him, brushed him, fed him. But I did not allow myself to love him. We did not bond. All I seemed to do was pine for Scout. I even contacted his breeder to see if Scout’s dam could be bred back to his sire in the hopes of creating another Scout.

Then Dub almost died. Another freak accident. Dub apparently decided to roll in the dirt as horses often will. When he rolled, however, he was too close to the pasture fence, rolled into it, and his legs became entangled in the wire. Dub was trapped, on his back, on a very hot summer day. If you know anything about horses, you know that this is a deadly situation. Thankfully, I was home. Thankfully, I looked out into the pasture. Thankfully, my partner, Jim, was home with me.

Jim ran for wire cutters, I sprinted out to Dub. I knew I had to be careful not to spook him so I started talking to him as I continued to run. “I’m coming, Dub…hang on big boy…take it easy.” My beautiful horse raised his head to look at me, letting me know that, for the moment, my horse was alive.

We worked quickly to free his legs. Amazingly, Dub stayed calm and did not struggle. Horses often suffer horrible injuries in these situations out of sheer panic. Dub stayed quiet. Once free of the fence he was still in an awkward position and unable to right himself. Jim and I literally had to grab his legs to roll him away from the fence, putting us in a dangerous position as we rolled his legs our direction.

Again, Dub stayed calm. Once away from the fence and able to get his feet under him, he immediately stood up, shook, and trotted a little distance away. The other horses followed him and then they all ran to the barn. The wave of relief in seeing him run was huge. I followed them to the barn so I could check Dub over and access any injuries. Beyond a few minor cuts and scrapes, he was, by all appearances, fine.

Of course with horses, what you can’t see is often the problem. When a horse is cast like that, you run the risk of intestinal torsion–a potentially deadly condition. For the next 24 hours I kept a close eye on Dub for any signs of colic. I sat in the barn with him. I brushed him. I talked to him. I got to know my horse. My horse got to know me.

In that moment when I ran to Dub’s side and he looked up at me from the ground, something changed. There was a connection. I hate to think that it takes a life-threatening emergency for me to wake up and appreciate what I have, but that’s exactly what it took. I opened my mind and my heart and I fell in love with Dub. I think he fell for me at the same time.

Scout is gone. That is still a sad, sore spot for me, and I think it always will be. We can talk about letting go, we can talk about moving on, but there is nothing I can do to trick my mind and emotions into tucking Scout’s memory away and erasing the sorrow of his untimely loss.

What I can do is look forward to a long happy relationship with a really cool appaloosa horse named Dub. I’m sure there are all kinds of lessons to be learned here, conclusions to be drawn, but the lesson I’m going to go with is that I need to get my butt out to the barn and hug my big spotted horse. Anything anyone else draws from this post, well, that’s just the icing on top. Carpe diem, people. Or maybe, more appropriately, that should be carpe equus.