Lost. Found. Never Really Lost In The First Place?

Jerry is backJerry Swinefeld, the 700ish pound Hampshire hog that calls Tails You Win Farm his home, is a bit of a Houdini hog. Seriously. Yesterday he vanished into thin air. And this morning?

Yep, snoring away in his stall, right where he should be.

How the hell does he do that?

This creature is larger than my smallest horse. Larger than my miniature donkeys. Big enough to command a little respect from even our big horses and mule. He sends coyotes running in terror. And yet, he can just seemingly pop in and out of existence on a whim.

Maybe he really is a magical pig. Maybe I’m actually a witch and I just don’t know it! It’s my own little Harry Potter world. Harry Potter had an owl as his special, magical companion. Figures I would get a giant, lumbering hog.

But I’m not the one with the magic. It’s all on Jerry. Yesterday, he disappeared; he was no where to be found. He did not answer when Jim whistled, as he normally does (that whistle means dinner). He did not answer when I called out for him, as he sometimes does if he feels like it. He was not napping in any of his favorite hideouts.

However, today when I went to look for him again, I found him sound asleep, back inside his stall, inside the barn, inside his fenced pasture.

Huh.

Well, no harm done (as far as I know). I checked on Jim’s cherished, still-ripening, late-season tomatoes and they were all present and accounted for. Whew.

You see, I wasn’t really too concerned about Jerry being lost. He’s a big boy and can take care of himself. I was more worried what havoc he might be wreaking in an unsuspecting world. One year he took a bite out of every cantaloupe Jim had growing in his garden. He didn’t just pluck one and eat it. Nope, he did the Goldilocks routine: This one isn’t ripe enough, this one is too ripe, this one is just right.

But so far it appears he truly just went on a little walk-about, as one friend suggested. Then he apparently got sleepy and magically popped back inside his fence. Poof!

I suspect his magic has more to do with “hey, look what happens when I shove all 700 solid pounds of myself against this fence” than it does with magic wands and invisibility cloaks. That means I need to head back out to the barn with some tools to see what damage has been done. You’d think a hog-sized hole in the fence wouldn’t be too hard to find, but there have been times when we never could figure out his escape route.

Delta and Ferris

Delta Dawnkey and Ferris Muler on a sleepy Sunday morning.

In the meantime, Jerry got to have a bite of breakfast and I got to enjoy a lovely early morning visit to the barn. My horsey friends will understand this immediately. There is nothing better than visiting with your horses/donkeys/mule in the night or in the early morning. It’s a very serene time in the barn and so very good for my soul.

The flies are still asleep (do flies sleep?), the temperature is pleasant, and everyone still seems a bit drowsy. The start to this Sunday was rainy and gray, no spectacular sunrise to light the day, but that just made the inside of the barn seem even cozier. I spent some great quiet time just moving from animals to animal, saying good morning, and giving scratches in all the right places.

Horse lips quivered in appreciation. Ferris Muler played with the hood of my sweatshirt as he always does. My miniature horse rubbed his head on my hip (I’m a great scratching post). My big red appaloosa, Dublin, put his nose against my cheek for a thorough sniff.

I’m pretty sure I now have horse slobber on my face. My clean jeans are now filthy. My hoodie may have some carrot crumbles hiding in it. And I’m starting the day with a huge, relaxed grin on my face.

All is right in our world today. I got the boost that even good old caffeine can’t deliver. And it’s all thanks to a mischievous, sneaky pig.

Yesterday I believe I ended my post with the worlds “dammit Jerry.” Today I think I’ll end with something a little different.

Thanks, Jerry. (Now stay put, damn you!)

You Are NOT Alone.

Image

One of my favorite gorgeous weather activities here on Tails You Win Farm is heading out with my camera for a nature walk back in the still-wild-and-woolly section of our 70-some-odd acres (72.25 for those who prefer to be specific). I generally start my hike by walking through the barn to get to the north pasture and then I head back to the east pasture (yeah, I may appear to have mad directional skills, but not really. I get lost on my own property on a regular basis.).

So on Easter Sunday, a beautiful day was unfolding so I headed out, camera in hand and ready to capture the magic of a new spring. I dove straight in to the woods and brush and quickly realized that I would have made a terrible Indian scout. Light on my feet is apparently also not one of my mad skills. My dreams of photographing wild creatures enjoying the rebirth of the land were quickly dashed by my clumsy feet snapping every twig and crunching through the remaining dry grass.

I flushed three groups of quail. I spooked two groups of deer. All were far swifter than my fledgling could-you-hold-still-for-just-a-moment camera ability. I also tried to creep up to get a closer shot of numerous birds, but the birds just found me flat creepy, and played a fine and elusive game of ring around the brier patch with me. This little exercise in the tall grass resulted in many, many, MANY chigger bites in many, many, MANY delicate places on my body. Hooray spring.

So I kept wandering, thinking that if I found a good spot I should just stop, plant myself and try…really TRY…to stay quiet to see what might stumble upon me instead.

So I did just that. I planted myself. I waited.

Soon enough, I did hear the distinct sound of something approaching. Something on the large side. We’re not talking bunny here.

I got ready. I put my eye to the viewfinder. I held my breath. I was finally going to get that shot of a deer or something equally fabulous.

But wait.

Um. We also have a huge population of coyotes here. Oh…and didn’t I write about wild boars on our land in the not so distant past? Then the reports of cougars cruising around in the area popped into my head. Cougar stories aside, I had personally seen a beautiful bobcat nearby and I’m pretty sure babbling “nice kitty, gooooooood kitty,” would not sooth a startled wild cat.

As the sound of “something” approaching grew louder, I grew a tad bit nervous about just what kind of critter was about to discover me hiding in the brush.

And then…

And then…

Image

Yes, I captured a photo of the rare, wild Iniature-ma Onkey-da (that’s the technical pig Latin term for…well…you get it.) Yes, my mini donkey, Stormin’ Norman proved that he is a far better tracker that I am. Upon finding me, he sounded the loud, yodeling bray that can only mean “tag, you’re it,” and I was soon surrounded by the rest of the players–four more miniature donkeys and our new standard donkey, Delta Dawnkey.

Wildlife photo session quickly morphed into donkey and horse photo session. Eh, sometimes you just have to go with it. They are willing models and WAY less scary than a wild boar.

OK kids, strike a pose!

Image

The mighty Fergus

Image

My 2014 Easter parade

Image

Patty…I’m pretty sure she’s mocking me.

Image

Small, but mighty.

Image

Gorgeous GoGo

 NOTE: I am a very amateur photographer just figuring out my new, fancy (meaning not a cell phone) camera. These photos are raw, have not passed through Photoshop (because I still don’t get it), and are just a result of my shoot-to-learn theory. Tips from true shutterbugs always welcome. 

Image

Silent’s Vigil

Silent's Vigil

The donkeys are standing very still—all together in a line, all staring at the same something.

If I have learned anything from living with donkeys, horses, and one fine mule it’s that you should always look in the same direction as your herd animals are looking. If all eyes and pointy ears are riveted and locked in one direction, there is always something to see.

Always.

They may show you deer. They may show you coyotes. They may show you a random plastic bag blowing across the field. In one instance they pointed out a young orange-clad hunter that had come onto our property “by accident.”

Today they are showing me our mare, Silent. Silent Confidence, as she is formally known, is a tall, willowy, black thoroughbred. She is a retired racehorse that boards with us. Her owner keeps Silent in memory of her late husband, who had cherished the horse, his dream horse.

Silent was injured in her last race. A tendon damaged in one of her delicate front legs forced her into an early retirement. She went on to have two foals, both used as pleasure mounts.

Then her owner, the man who lived the dream of owning his own Black Beauty, passed away. For a time the mare was left in the hands of people at a racing stable. There she may not have technically been abused, but she was certainly not leading a life of comfortable retirement and the woman who had inherited responsibility for the mare recognized that.

Silent hated being in a stall. She would pace from side-to-side. She would weave back and forth in frustration. She refused to eat her full ration of grain and hay. Basically, she was miserable.

A common friend knew I had a large pasture that was home to a few horses and donkeys, so she mentioned the plight of the beautiful mare to me. Her owner could not afford to pay much in board, but truly wanted to find a place where the horse could just enjoy life.

Having already provided a haven for a few other “useless” animals, it didn’t take much for us to agree to give Silent a home. It didn’t really matter to us that she couldn’t be ridden. It was enough to look out into the pasture to see the shiny black mare frolicking and stretching her legs across our gently rolling acres.

Now, we fast-forward more than a decade. Silent is a senior citizen horse of more than 30 years. Her black shiny coat is salted with a good deal of gray now. Her tall body has lost its tone and bones protrude where muscles once rippled tightly beneath her skin.

Every winter we wonder if it will be her last. We blanket her, we feed her a special diet that is easy for old teeth and systems to process. We provide shelter, though never, never inside a stall in the barn. No, Silent still can’t tolerate confinement after her years on the track.

So Silent lives in the small pasture behind our house with a loafing shed for cover and our mismatched herd of miniature donkeys, a miniature horse, one sheep, and our young orphaned filly for company.

Today, all eyes and ears are focused on Silent. The donkeys, filly, mini horse and sheep stand at attention, a respectful distance from the grand old lady who is lying in the middle of her pasture, embraced in beams of gentle morning sun. Even my big horses are perfectly still in the back pasture, focused on the old mare. Everyone is watching. Everyone is waiting. I am watching and waiting too.

Silent is lying on her left side. Her graceful neck is curved around to allow her graying muzzle to rest on her front legs. Her back legs are pulled in to meet her front legs against her belly. Everything about her posture is almost fetal, as if she is curling into herself.

I hold my breath for a moment as I watch, joining my animals in this delicate early morning vigil. Is she in distress? Is she “down,” or just sunbathing? I think in this moment my animals and I share the same images, the same concern. We all, animals and humans alike, recognize that Silent’s time with us is limited. The years are catching up with her. It’s just a matter of time.

Slowly, deliberately our precious paint filly walks quietly over to the old mare, the horse that stepped in to mother her when she lost her own mother just a few weeks after her birth. The filly sniffs the old mare’s neck and softly nuzzles her mane.

Silent raises her head to return the attention offered by the younger horse. Then, with a big stretch of her front legs, she pulls herself up, heaves a big sigh and shakes her whole body as if she were a dog coming out of a pond.

1 4 14 donksIn an instant, every member of our herd resumes normal activity. The big horses head out to graze in the east pasture. Silent’s little crew wanders to the big round bale of hay for a bit of breakfast. And with a relieved and grateful heart, I head off to feed the dogs.

We will have another day to enjoy Silent’s grace. Perhaps another week with Silent. Hopefully another month, or even year. Whatever the amount of time, we’ll all treasure it. Then, when the time comes for Silent to leave our herd, we’ll help her do that with respect, with love, and with an honor guard of wise eyes and sensitive ears giving her a final, fitting salute.