Friday, April 30, 2010

The time to be happy is now

(Introducing a new feature, in which we bring you a quote on non-blogging days.)

"The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so." Robert G. Ingersoll

Destination: Sand Wallow

I, Fenway Bartholomule, have three priorities when selecting a vacation destination. In no particular order, they are: 1. Wallowing texture, 2., Wallowing resilience, and 3., Wallowing accessibility. There is no more compelling reason to leave home than the burning desire for a nice roll in the sand. Someday, FarmWife will build a nice sand arena. She can use it to jog about in imitation of a dressage mount whilst I use it for rolling. Perfect.
In the meantime, here are a few destinations that have met with my consideration:
Iceland. On the one hoof, as an island nation it is
sure to have beaches. On the other, it also has wretched dining opportunities and tremendously dangerous volcanos. My impression about the
diminuitive Icelandic Horse is that he would look less like a pony if it were not for his ancestral diet of
dried herring and seaweed.

2. Australia. Firstly, it is a nation of dingos and convicts. That said, I am generally good at getting along with people from all walks of life,
and it is also home to Thowra, the Silver Brumby stallion with mucho muleness. If you are a
human child between the ages of 8 and 13, your education is not complete unless you know
exactly what I am talking about, and I am not talking about the Russell Crowe movie.
Rollable beaches? Check. Delicious foliage? Check. Fluffy little animals that smell like air fresheners? Check. A definite possibility.

3. New Zealand. Home to the flightless kiwi, Clifton Eventers, and Middle Earth. I have always
dreamed of galloping through Rohan with a Shadowfax and his kin. Do the Rohirrim have a proper appreciation for mules?

4. New Hampshire. The beaches are cold and stony, the grasses obscured by a carpet of rotting foliage, and the growing season short, but New Hampshire is home to some of the nicest humans that side of the Mississippi. My humans go there regularly, and it is only a matter of time before I get an invitation to accompany them.

5. Hawai'i. Downsides? The smoke monster, the Others, and the Hostiles, plus dangerous levels of electromagnetic energy. Upsides? No
passport required, the beaches are to die for, and there's actually a reasonable amount of tasty hay in this wee island state. Better yet? We have people there. We will stay with our friend Mayumi the Graduate Student. If she has managed to find accommodations for Taco the Boston Terrier, surely she can squeeze in a 14 hand mule.

There are many more destinations worthy of my mulish consideration, but when it comes down to it there's this: I'm still waiting on that private jet. Perhaps I should look into Dune City, Oregon . . . I hear the rolling is lovely this time of year.

Your friend,

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Letting Go and Moving On

Preface: Daughter three, little R, is the nicest, warmest, most optimistic ray of sun in human form that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. She is a blessing, a gift, and a fantastic addition to the Bent Barrow family. She gives the best hugs in the world and may well be the finest thing to come along since sliced bread. I wouldn't trade her for a million riding lessons.

That said, I must be honest: the news of my third pregnancy was not met with joyful welcome. It came at a time when we were feeling cash-strapped, hemmed in, and harried, and came despite our several reliable forms of birth control. (A too-familiar feeling—this was accident number three for little miss Fertile Vessel and I was sick of the surprises! IUDs, the pill, barriers, blah blah blah—I've tried them all and I report zero success.) We were restless. Our apartment was shrinking in around us, and I was psychologically trapped in a pattern of self-doubt. I'd given up a free ride to a good law school for my prior unplanned pregnancy, and my career options felt as though they'd narrowed to a) housewife or b) horseback-riding housewife. I was unwilling to sacrifice option b, and saw this news as a death knell for my horse time.

While Mat and I juggled family, work, and home, Tanner continued to prove himself a challenge under saddle. He had come a long way, but he was still a complicated mount for an intermediate rider. I did have one heartening experience, if you can call it that: nearly three years after his purchase, I called his former owners about a never-delivered bill of sale. Over the phone, they gave me another story on the "potential husband horse." "You still have him!?" they gaped. "And you RIDE him!?" I had been, it seemed, his last stop before the slaughterhouse. The story came out: he'd been brought out of Canada with the goal of reselling him with a load of bucking stock. He was the bronc who "wouldn't buck, and wouldn't break," they told me. Unable to settle with the trauma of being cowboyed and unwilling to fight like a rodeo horse, he was dropped down, rung by rung, into my unwitting lap.

With my riding opportunities threatened by my toddler D's ever dwindling nap schedule and my future clouded by the unwelcome news of baby number three, I grasped at dreams like lifelines. To own a house would make me happy, I thought. To have done things differently would make me happy. To have not gotten pregnant. To have gone to law school. To be able to afford dressage lessons. To fix Tanner. To have it easy.

To Mat's credit, he worked his butt off as a husband, a father, a breadwinner and a counselor when I was in the throws of my quarter-life crisis. He listened to my ranting, and latched on to the one obtainable thing in my list—owning a house. We both wanted it, and we both thought that it would make everything better. No more flushing money down the toilet. Imagining the investment power, equity mounting in the Eden of our own home, we saw a home purchase as a financial as well as an emotional solution. Welcoming another child would be MUCH more rewarding in the comfort and security of our own little kingdom.

We bought Bent Barrow Farm just a few months later, before the great economic crash of the Bush era and after a great bit of hoop-jumping that deserves a chapter of its own. Building equity? Perhaps not, these days. Welcoming a child? We did, and it taught me more than I can say. She's wonderful. Everything is better, myself included. I'm fixed.

I parted with Tanner when R was just two months old, in what I like to think of as a grown-up moment of maturity. He was driving me batty, I was failing to progress with him, and my husband and I were barely speaking on the subject of my hay-guzzling, hard-keeping walking veterinary emergency. After a colic-scare and a couple of late night vet calls,I had an awakening. It was in my power, I realized, to let go of Tanner. To put my marriage and my children first. To admit that I was not in the financial or practical position to maintain a horse with chronic health and behavior issues, and to admit that he could use a human caregiver who WAS in that position.

Tanner is now safely established with a loving and grateful owner. Selling him turned out to be five times as easy and a hundred times as rewarding as I expected—with full disclosure of his issues, including reactivity to sounds, seasonal head-shaking, melanomas, and resistance to the bit, I found him a job as a vaulting horse with an experienced trainer. He can perform in the predictable setting of the lunging circle without the confusing addition of rein communication. His mouth-fear issues, which may have stemmed from a mysterious scarring injury that left his lips lacerated and sensitive, were no longer called up in his daily work. His sensitivity to auditory stimulus decreased when he identified the predictable safety of his new work environment. I accepted partial payment for him, donating a portion of his asking price to the non-profit to which he now belongs, and they accepted the many risks and potential benefits of owning a kind draft-cross with some special needs. He's proven himself beyond their wildest expectations, placing with his team of young vaulters in his first trip to the American Vaulting Associations Nationals and performing with tremendous reliability in a lesson program. He's had extensive diagnostics and helpful treatments for his seasonal health issues, and has become fitter, saner, and more relaxed.

He's thriving, and so am I.


These are FarmWife's vacation stories:

Three summers ago, she had no mule. She didn't dare to dream of a time when she might have a mule, and she didn't take any fun trips so far as I have been informed. Poor FarmWife.

Two summers ago, FarmWife went camping with her extended family in the lovely Payette National Forest of Idaho. She saw shepherds with their mules and flocks, she saw meandering trails stretching up and away across the landscape and to the highest reaches of the peaks, and she said, "this would be a good place to bring my neighbor's mule." She was already daydreaming, two summers ago, of life with me, Fenway Bartholomule, né Buck.

Last summer, FarmWife went camping with her extended family in the lovely Deschutes National Forest of Oregon. She and her kin were bitten many times and muchly by a million fat mosquitos, leading her to say, "it is good that my mule was spared." They say that it was wonderful fun, but I can't tell you how glad I am to have missed it. I have sensitive skin, if you hadn't heard.

This summer, the family reunion is taking place here in Wickersham due to budget shortfalls. (As I had mentioned previously, my weekly upkeep costs a mere $12.57, and both FarmWife and I refuse to acknowledge the mule's role in these fund deficits.) This is a wonderful development, because it means that I get to enjoy the fun and the festivities without the long drives and the mosquito bites. Kumbaya, S'mores by the fire . . . it will be stupendous.

Next summer, FarmWife is rallying for a Bishop, CA reunion. Five blown kisses to whomever can imagine when and why! I have the sinking feeling that, again due to cost of gas, I will not be going, but at least I could send FarmWife as my investigative reporter to bring back juicy blog fodder.

As for me, I have some vacation dreams. I'll tell you all about them tomorrow, but now let me just say this: Sand was made for rollin', and I hear the sand in Hawai'i is nice this time of year.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Things Learned and Confirmed

Last night, dear readers, I tried something new.

You see, FarmWife, exhibiting some sixth-sensitive premonition, has gotten the hankering to teach me to drive. I have not told her that I am saving up to buy her a harness in 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014 so I can only guess that she retains more of my dictation than I had previously realized. I guess her transcription work is not as passive as I had assumed. 

Given my foggy memory of early events and FarmWife's total lack of knowledge about my first 13 years of life, we had no way of knowing whether driving was one of skills I'd picked up in Ohio. Now, we do: we have learned, by my obvious lack of familiarity with the concept, that being ground-driven was very new to me. 

During my brief initial ground-driving lesson, conducted in my surcingle and snaffle bridle with long-reins, I conducted a Rearrangement of Hoofies. This caused no danger to FarmWife or myself, because of the mulish composure with which I managed the Rearrangement, but my tip-tappety reorganization of my limbs led FarmWife to the conclusion that this was something different for me. 

Confirmed, though, was my tremendous wonderfulness and my openness to things that are new. FarmWife drove me hither and yon, hither and yon, up and down our dead-end lane until she was sure of two things: first, that I was still in command of my obedience to her voice (whoa, walk, and trot . . . gee and haw will come later) with rock-like adherence to her spoken requests, and second, that I was still the Best in the World. I performed like a champion, ears a'flickin' in startled wonderment at this new scenario. I was surprised and amazed but I was not confused. Mules are clever like that. 

Now, FarmWife has plenty of opportunity before her. Not being in possession of a harness, she will spend many a happy afternoon following my glorious behind down the sunny and shade-dappled corridors of Wickersham before she introduces the concept of pulling. When the time for that endeavor comes, she will be well-prepared, as she has already identified a source for an eminently draggable Old Tire. Give us a year, and we'll be haulin' in firewood with the best of them. 

FarmWife has started a miniature horse in harness, and he was so small as to be little more than half a horse, really. I, too, am half a horse, and we have also in our favor the fact of our unrelenting mutual trust and love. We are sure that this driving training will go nicely, but FarmWife welcomes advice, comments, and criticism on the subject. Just refrain, please, from recommending lessons—FarmWife regrets that there is no budget for instruction. 

I, for one, am excited about this turn of events. It is fun to grow in my capabilities, and this ground driving business is a nice alternative to carrying Miss Ganglylimbs up the mountain. 


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Gift of the Decade

Contributions for the gift of the decade are being accepted via Paypal, with utmost thanks from the bottom of my capacious and noble heart.  Strike that—our fundraising goal was met this Tuesday the 29th of June. You guys are AMAZING! 

I do not say "the gift of the decade" because it will be the most special, friends (although it may), but because I am estimating ten years' time to save the necessary cash. I will be 25 in ten years; FarmWife will be nearly 41. That's a fine time to learn to drive.

You see, dear readers, it's like this: FarmWife has a birthday coming up. Since she is my very best friend, I want to make it special. I want to give her more than my affectionate feelings, my hearty greetings, my shed fur and my nuzzles. I want to get her a nice harness from Chimacum tack, along with the promise of my attention and labor during driving lessons. It will be all sorts of fun.

The harness that I want to surprise her with will run me 675 dollars after a generous discount from Chimacum Tack, supporters of the Muleness. I'm well on my way—I have a shiny dime set aside! Now, I've installed a Paypal button here on my blog, and I'm accepting donations towards my goal. Every penny counts, and even the smallest donation will be gratefully accepted.

FarmWife's birthday is in June. This gives me roughly a generous month to save for her 31st birthday, but I'm not afraid of that deadline. FarmWife will enjoy the gift of a harness for her 32nd birthday, or her 33rd, just as well. We'll get there when we get there, one dime at a time. When it comes to saving, there's no time like the present to begin!

Readers, you may remember that I had a Paypal button on this site in February for contributions to the veterinary care of Amigo, the impaled Arabian. Such donations are still being accepted by his owners. Anyone wishing to donate to Amigo's treatment can do so though Paypal by using Kara's email for the account: 

Now, on a less imploring subject, tell me—what was your favorite gift ever? FarmWife has to say that I, Fenway Bartholomule, was the best. I was given to her by her mother, as an alternative to Prozac when FarmWife was depressed. I worked like a charm!! Her other favorite gift ever was her minimule Harriet, given to her by her loving husband Matthew. Longeared pets are the key to a woman's heart, it seems! 

As for me, I've received several wonderful things—for Christmas, a selenium-enriched salt block. It weighed 50 pounds then, and now it weighs about 49.9976 pounds. It will last ages, if sheltered from the rain. It is the gift that keeps on giving. 


Monday, April 26, 2010

The Husband Horse Who Wasn't

You may recall that my best argument for buying Tanner (sight unseen) via paypal from 2000 miles away was his advertised suitability as a potential husband horse. For the uninitiated, this is a term indicating that a horse is strong enough to carry a man and mannerly enough to be ridden by a beginner. It is not the sort of determination that one can make via email, however, and I was wrong to believe it. 

Tanner and Mat were wrong for each other: Tanner because he was headshy, fearful, reactive and desperately in need of restarting, from scratch, in his under-saddle training; Mat because he didn't want, need, or enjoy a horse and because he had no interest one way or the other in my inconvenient new pet. It worked out: I really wanted a horse for me, and a horse for me is what I ended up with. A big, shivering wreck of a horse. 

Being pregnant, I found that the summer of 2004 was the perfect time for Tanner's ground work. We worked on leading, loading, tying, and trusting, and by September I was ground-driving and lunging my steed with my big belly out between us. D, born in October, caused some delays in the process, but stay-at-home motherhood allowed me to spend plenty of time befriending my backyard gelding. At that point, friendship was a big accomplishment, as mistrust was Tanner's biggest personal hurdle. By the time D was a crawling and I was riding fit, Tanner was passably obedient and could behave himself on the ground and in the arena. He could walk, trot, canter, lead, lunge, load, and tie, and enjoyed being groomed and handled. By the time I moved him to a Bellingham area boarding barn, he was sort of, but not entirely, normal.

Mat and I moved to Bellingham in 2005 for a job opportunity, and apartment life meant curtains for my at-home horsekeeping. We found a lovely and affordable private facility at which to board, and toddler D was young enough for daily extended naps. With the barn owner present in case of an accident, I could leave sleeping D in a shady alcove and spend an hour riding. We passed many a happy afternoon in that quiet backyard, and Tanner's skills grew. I took occasional lessons, and struggled with the wall that Tanner and I were up against: he was better, but he was still resistant. He had lovely gaits, but misused his body and resisted the aids. I had decent skills, but bringing along a retraining project was proving to be a challenge for me. As one trainer said, "he may have improved as much as he can under these circumstances, and he's not an easy ride." It was amazing that he'd come so far, but with my limited time, money, and experience he seemed to have reached the extent of his potential. 

 . . . to be continued . . . 

Trail Notes: Man, This Place is Pretty!

FarmWife and I had a lovely ride yesterday, despite her having squandered the first hour of our free time with a radical currying attempt. The interesting thing about the seasonal change in equines is this: In the winter, you can whip off our blankets, mop off our legs and necks, give us a five-minute touchup and head for the trail. In the summer, you can give us a quick once-over and, in five minutes, hit the trail on a mount that looks like a million bucks. In the autumn, you can curry and brush us once over quickly with great results. In the spring, two hours of arm-wrenching effort will not be enough to transform the furry behemoth before you into a respectable-looking equine citizen.

I will say this for our fan Ann, though . . . that lady has very clever taste in t-shirts! FarmWife's "Go ride a mule" shirt is exactly and precisely the same beautiful shade of brown as me, Fenway Bartholomule, in my shedding-ist winter colors. By the time I was ready to go, FarmWife looked just as tidy as she had at the outset of our grooming session. Wowie-Zowie. Magic.

FarmWife ought to have brought her camera, I think, but when we set out she was not thinking in terms of scenic vistas and FenBar poses. We rode past our usual inroad, noting the doubled population of new No Trespassing signs from two to four, and continued in hang-dog fashion down the road. It was an act of desperation, but these are quiet rural roads and generally not threatening to life and limb. Even the yellow and white lines on the road were harmless yesterday, perhaps not yet awakened from their hibernation.

We rode further than we've ever ridden here in Wickersham, and we saw all sorts of things: golden retrievers, pointers, hounds, little black mongrels, brindle boxers, big brown Viszlas, terriers, turkeys, ducks and geese, llamapillars, goats and sheep, cattle, fowl of all sizes, mares and geldings of all types, tobianos, chestnuts, bays, motorcycles, fountains, mountains, lawns and houses, cars and trucks and ruffed grouse flying. We met a number of new neighbors, with whom FarmWife exchanged a good deal of pleasant conversation, and we ended up down yonder near Katrina's trails.

If you, Katrina, are reading this, then you will enjoy the pride of knowing that I, Fenway Bartholomule, give your trails an "A." You will also enjoy the feeling of being a little bit famous, having been mentioned at Brays Of Our Lives. If you are not reading, well, let that be a lesson to you. You missed a double opportunity.

FarmWife and I let ourselves into the timberland by way of Katrina's inroad, and we rode along most merrily for some time in ever ascending briskness. There was a quality of footing and grade that particularly lent itself to trotting and cantering, and we did so with gusto. We did suffer one trauma, which was the rapid approach of four motorcyclists. I, Fenway Bartholomule, embarrassed myself with my first-ever real spook of horselike proportion. It was something else entirely, and for three strides of awful confusion I was not in control of my feelings. FarmWife, in my defense, offers that it was less a bolt than a scoot, and less scary than annoying for her, the rider. This is good, coming from a rider who used to describe herself as "low in confidence." She has ridden my most terrible spook in the universe and still finds me good and trustworthy.

We stopped for a "sorry, and thank you, and we do appreciate your slowing down" chat with the motorists, who were most apologetic and not too critical, and continued up with a new dawning hope: could we, by crossing the mountain, emerge near our home? Could we find our way back to our old stomping grounds, emerging from behind the four new "no trespassing" signs in feigned ignorance? We thought, as our view widened, that we might.

FarmWife likes a good view as much as the next person, and she is lucky to live in a place where she sees them every day. If she had brought her camera along, you could join us now in a chorus of, "ooooh," and "aaaaaah," and "wow!!" Since she didn't, I will just tell you what to imagine. To our left, the twin sisters (pictured, above) loom in their springtime bonnet of lacy snow. To our right, the valley in which we reside sprawls out like an undulating paradise, the dark green shoulders of Mounts Stewart and Anderson shining emerald under the afternoon sun. A pastel softness defines the scene, a special quality of light unique to the sunniest day in an otherwise rainy week. The valley looks airbrushed, or like a classical landscape painting.

FarmWife has lived in this valley for three years, and in this region for 15. She still finds that her breath catches in her throat at sights like this. I know this feeling—I get it, not from the sight of a valley laying before us but from the sight of my hay arriving ten minutes late. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking of it.

FarmWife sometimes asks me if Ohio was this beautiful. I simply cannot remember—the primary feature of Ohio, as far as I can recall, was a mare's udder full of delicious milk. It may well have been a state of lovely landscapes, but for FarmWife I must allow that this place is beautiful. Truly the Flying Spaghetti Monster's country.

FarmWife and I descended the mountain, and as we came to familiar territory she broke out in a jaunty song. It was mostly about me, Fenway Bartholomule, and I'm sure she'll sing it to you sometime. We arrived home, cool, dry, happy, and just in time for dinner. It was delicious.

Fenway Bartholomule

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hair Styles and Me

Dear Readers, 

It's a sunny Sunday in Wickersham and we've a trail ride to enjoy, but I wanted to take a quick moment to answer this pressing question: have I, Fenway Bartholomule, ever appeared with my mane intact?

Karen W. writes, "Great pictures! Looks like a fun outting too. I'm curious Fenway, does Farmwife roach your mane? I just realized I've never seen a mule wearing a long mane, are they always shaved, or do you not grow mane?"

Karen, most mules have a sparse mane. This means, for most of us, that a roach is the way to go. The exception to this rule would be the case of the ewe-necked mule, or the mule whose topline is so unFenwayish as to require a little bit of illusory additional width. 

Here is a photo of me, Fenway, when I still belonged to the neighbors and had my mane and tail intact. You'll note that I had a nice, fluffy little mane, and a long, beautiful tail, but that the big picture is a bit more casual than my current classic look. 

I have a busy day of playing, braying, shining and dining in store for me, so I'll leave off here. Until next time!

Your friend,

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Wickershams of Wickersham, Washington

April Picnic Report

I, Fenway Bartholomule, was invited to go on an Earth Day picnic yesterday with FarmWife and her littlest humans. It is nice that Worrydog is gone—with no dog to walk, FarmWife often ends up walking me. (Paisley, the Clouddog, has a limb deformity that precludes excessive exercise.) This is a win-win situation: I get a little exercise, a chance to visit the neighbors, and a few bites of tender and delicious grasses, and FarmWife gets the company of a pet that is unlikely to bite anyone and unlikely to require a pooper scooper. (I only poop on the home pile).

Whenever we tour the neighborhood, we get reviews on my stupendous bray. My sound has led to many comparisons: I have been likened to a monster, a dinosaur, a demon from hell, a murder victim, a dog being horribly damaged, the sound of joy itself, a fire alarm, someone suffering, and a giant peacock. I rather liked Bob's interpretation (the sound of joy) best.

When I go picnicking, I have three priorities—

First, I provide companionship, by means of being mannerly, obedient, quiet, and responsive. This is important when one picnics with humans who are three and five, and requires the ability and willingness to move at a snails pace in irregular patterns with occasional bursts of speed. I never outpace my humans, nor step on their heels, and I never resist a signal to stop, start, pause, hurry, or linger.

Second, I seek ideal rolling conditions. If I am tacked up, this requires a plaintive stare at FarmWife during the stationary portion of our picnic outing, that she might remove my tack for a wallow. This also requires that she demonstrate the foresight to bring a dandy brush along, but she knows me well enough by now that she rarely fails in this capacity. Yesterday, I was not to be ridden and therefore enjoyed the ease of rolling which total nudity allows. I rolled thrice under Charlotte's plum tree, leaving a gift of shed hair for her population of songbirds to enjoy.

Third, I enjoy tender morsels of delicate grasses. The grasses on the other side of our Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway spur taste so deliciously exotic! It's like a trip to another time and place. Charlotte permitted me to eat the tender greens, untouched by equine mouth, from beneath several fruit trees and across a capacious lawn.

Sometimes FarmWife brings a temporary fence along, in the form of a dozen or so baling twines knotted end-to-end. An unnecessary precaution, but one does want her to feel safe. Other times, I graze with my leadrope on that I might be caught in an emergency. If FarmWife and I ever go camping, I will be the mule that she trusts to be present in the morning. And, what if I were not? Why, then she would call, "Muuuuule!" and, like magic, I would appear cantering over the horizon with a hearty bray. I am that kind of friend.

Traveling to the other side of the BNSF railway was very exciting and took some great deal of time, but this had more to do with the length of my small companions' legs and attention than with the distance traversed. At top, you will see a photo of Bent Barrow Farm taken from our destination, the house at right, the tracks between, and my profile in the foreground. It is not so far, as the crow flies, but it felt like a grand adventure.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Bit of Wifely Boasting, if I May

Lost as I have been in joyful appreciation of the Here and Now, I seem to have jumped ahead. Spring will bring you to the present like nothing else, I suppose, with all its exultant aliveness. Before I jump back, however, to 2004, Whidbey Island, and the Husband-Horse-Who-Wasn't, let me say this: this husband of mine can ride.

Mat's premarital experience with horses was limited to one brief and unhappy trail string experience as a sullen teen. The rented horses failed to spark an interest in him, and he never went back.

I finally put Mat on a borrowed Paint retiree last summer, more for my pleasure than his own. He submitted to my eager invitation, donning a helmet and mounting in an appropriately manly Western saddle that I'd scrounged up for the occasion. I turned my husband and his steed, the subdued Polychrome, loose in a roundpen, expecting a hurky-jerky walk around the perimeter and some occasion to call, "heels down, dear! Don't hang on the reins!"

If I had wanted to scream directions, I was to be disappointed—Mat was a natural. He rode like he'd been doing it all his life, with the comfort and poise of a true cowhand.  We were at the Cowboy Campsite, a Lyman, Washington facility for trail rider camping, and had just celebrated my 30th birthday. My birthday guests, horsewomen all, crowded around the rails and admired. "What a great seat," claimed one, and "lovely hands!" another. He was a vision of competence.

Mat questioned the sincerity of those compliments, feeling like the brunt of some horsie wives' joke, but I convinced him on the car ride home that we'd meant every word. We had been impressed. We had been admiring, not teasing. We had seen something in him: a gift.

There are horsepeople who get on and seem immediately at home—hips following the motion of the horse, hands moving in quiet reciprocation. There are others who get on and struggle, but who find, through devotion, effort, and practice, a long-sought harmony. There are some, even, for whom riding is not natural, who flounce into the saddle with great anticipation but find the experience so alien, so difficult, that only a deep love of their mount will keep them there. 

I thought that the grace with which Mat mounted, walked, trotted, steered, and stopped was sure to light a burning desire. I guessed that he would, at least, have had enough fun in the roundpen to warrant a followup trailride. Instead, his debriefing on the ride home revealed a continuing disinterest. "Horses," he said. "Meh. I don't see the point."

I am not offended, nor sorry. He is a father, a husband, a carpenter, a boater, a gardener, musician, fisherman, and mountain biker. He neither needs nor wants another expensive hobby, and I enjoy the quiet contemplation in which I can indulge when out on solo trail rides with my Fenway Bartholomule. I am proud, however, and happy to have watched the man I love enjoy such an easy communication with that splendid beast, the horse.

(disclaimer: I acknowledge that the pictured horse, who had just changed hands, was in need of a hoof trim. It was for this reason that we restricted his exercise to the forgiving footing of the roundpen.)

"Mother Earth Will Make You Strong . . .

. . . if you give her loving care."

(title taken from "Garden Song" by David Mallett)

Happy Earth day, everyone! This month has been action packed . . . FarmWife and FarmHusband celebrated their sixth anniversary of marriage this month (without me, I might add), Little Larval Human turned three years old (which means that she should soon be ready to start doing heavy labor such as pulling and carrying), tax day came and went (but the refund's long since spent), Minimule Harriet turned one year old (stuck though she is at a fetal stage of development), and International Grass Day hit us like a delicious flavor explosion. Today, April 22nd, we celebrate the Mother that we all share. Not horse mother, not donkey mother, not Mother Goose or Mother Hubbard . . . I mean Earth, in whose loving arms we all reside.

Humans, here this: my overgrazed pasture ain't nothin' compared to the abuse you've committed towards our dear Mother. I won't go into detail—that would be depressing, and this website is a happy place. I will just say this—as you love your mules, love your planet. As you look after their bodies, their minds, their hearts, love her land, her atmosphere, her waters. As you give them tender care and ask in return that they nourish your soul, be to her a kind custodian that she might feed you, house you, make you strong. If she ends up run-down and starving, it is you who will suffer. And me, Fenway Bartholomule.

On a happier note, our friend over at Meandering Washington  has a much happier take, and a very valid one, on this day we love to celebrate. It's important to remember that the Earth is still a vibrant and healthy mother for us, and that there is no beauty she cannot show us.

After all, where did the mule come from? From the mare, from the jack, from the human's management of his stock . . . but before that, really, from the Earth. She's a generous lady.

Fenway Bartholomule

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The View from Up There

Just in case you were wondering what it is like to be FarmWife, we thought we'd share with you this little photographic demonstration of the splendors of riding me, Fenway Bartholomule, bareback. Handy text boxes show you the key sights, in case you wouldn't have noticed them for yourself. These include a bored expression; a furry wintery poll; smooth, summery ears; shoulder bars and a dorsal stripe; a saddle sore scar from a long-ago time; and FarmWife's ridiculously bright high-vis jacket.

Be warned: the high you get from gazing down my tremendous neck can be addictive. One look and you may never be the same.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

And Six Ways in which Goats are Weird

1. They look forward to paste deworming. They suck on the wormer syringe like it is a lollipop from the drive-through banking window.

2. They have eight hooves. Two on each leg.

3. They have little fermentation vats in their stomachs, and burp lager-scented burps.

4. They relish the weeds and ignore the grasses. This is why the goats have not had their pasture privileges limited, whilst I have been barred from entry to the Regrowth Area.

5. They have no swatters on their tails. This is a tragedy.

6. They have no top incisors. Those are the teeth that one would need to use if one were to dine upon delicious bites of tender grasses, and this may be an explanation for why they don't prefer these bites. They like things that can be grasped with the molars and rended violently into the mouth, such as the leafy end of a spiny shrub-branch. It takes all kinds.

Our baby goatlings are very big now—at 13 days of age, in fact, they are now too big to nurse standing up!  FarmWife took them to the vet that they might have their horn buds cauterized, thereby neutralizing the Seventh Way in which Goats are Weird, and soon she will begin locking them up for 12 hours at a time that she might milk their mother in the mornings. She wants to drink the product of this lactation in her coffee, which is a bizarrely human desire but which Missy the goat will kindly indulge.

I, Fenway Bartholomule, will stick with the tender grasses and orchard grass hay, thank you, whilst of course cherishing the memory of my own horse mother's sweet white milk.

We have, by the way, a special new song coming up. Next time we're out for a sunny-day ride, FarmWife will sing it for you . . . it's all about my own dear mother, and the astonishment with which she must have greeted me, her strange mule child.

Fenway Bartholomule

Monday, April 19, 2010

This is How We Live in This Town

My children have a picture book called "This is How We Live in the Town." I've never been crazy about the book, but I love the title.

In this town, we sit down together over fresh rhubarb pie from one neighbor's kitchen and another neighbor's rhubarb patch. We dollop on fresh whipped cream from the Jersey cow next door. We look after one anothers' children so that we might ride, or run, or hike or bike in the cool forests and broad tracks of the looming hills, or so that we might enjoy the company of one anothers' children for their own sake. When we see one another, we stop in the lane and lose an hour chatting. We phone one another because our headlights were left on, or because we have an extra slice of cake, or because there are perennials to be divided.

In this town, we all grow the same great garlic, a strain that has been spreading in concentric circles from one well-tended garden. Bulb by bulb, generation by generation, season by season. We grow the same fat, sweet raspberries, too, from a patch that has been widening since 1986. There are canes as far away as the penninsula. In this town, we gather to plant flowers in February, and we picnic in the sun in March. In April, we drink tea beside the woodstove against the chill of a rainy morning.

Some of us live here because our fathers' fathers lived here, and some because it was what we could afford. Some of us came here to get away, and some came here to stay. Some of us live here because it would hurt our hearts to leave. Some of us live in houses, some in trailers, some in cabins. We all wake up to the song of the marsh, though, and we all go to sleep under an incredible sky. This is how we live in Wickersham.

Six Ways to Say I Love You

Despite the great importance of the Bringing Of The Hay, I, Fenway Bartholomule, think of my FarmWife as so much more than a waitress. The fact of the matter is that I love her, as she loves me. These are the ways in which I show my love:

I bray to her. I do this even when the hay is not exected, for instance In Between Meal Times. Some have (correctly) identified this behavior as an affectionate gesture, whilst others have called it misplaced optimism. Know this: it is friendliness, not wishful thinking, that inspires my joyful song.

I frolic with her. When she walks in the pasture, I walk at her side. When she jogs in the pasture, I trot behind. When she jumps about in a foolish way, I prop and spin and shake my head like a wild mustang. It is terribly fun.

I submit to her attention. I do this even when her attention is unwelcome, involving for instance paste dewormers, French-link snaffles, or the tidying up of my nether-regions.

I carry her. This is no small thing when one is a small mule and when one's FarmWife is a gangly woman. I even carry her when she wants to gallop bareback and hands-free. (Perhaps she likes to pretend that she is the young Alec from The Black Stallion. She is not. She is heavier and less graceful.)

I come when she calls "Muuuuuule!" She calls "muuuuule" because I used to live next door, and under a different name. When I was newly relocated, FarmWife feared to tell my former humans about my dignified new name. Now they are my facebook friends, and there is no possibility for awkwardness. They've even said they like "Fenway Bartholomule," and I for one cannot see why FarmWife cannot now yell "FenBar!!" across the neighborhood.

I place my closed eyes, one or the other, upon her tummy. If you can close YOUR eyes for a moment and try to imagine this, you will agree that it is a very tender embrace.


69th annual International Plow Match

Katy and Patti, a team of riding/driving mules, put in a good showing at the 69th annual International Plow Match in Lynden in Whatcom county, Washington this weekend. I was not able to go along, being too large for the Volvo, but my five human representatives went and reported that the event was a great success. As the only longeared team competing, the diminutive sorrel mare mules kept their wits about them despite the explosive antics of some of the younger teams. A pair of grey Percherons had a bit of a moment when a line snapped and spooked the team, but there were no injuries or further mishaps during the day. 

My contingent was there early, and missed the judging and winners' announcements. Results, unfortunately, have been hard to come by—most of these hard working farmers are probably too busy plowing their own plots to post online updates about the contest winners—but the mule team, in for their seventh year, expected to do a very fair job. Not a small aspiration, since the team came in a good foot shorter and a shy ton lighter than most of the other entrants! The 20 year old gals were an island of calm in the hubub of early plowing, and their first row was a vision of beauty. 

Also present was this grulla miniature mule, pictured with our larval humans (and a rainbow umbrella). She appeared to have forgotten her harness at home. I would guess that she would have struggled to plow the loamy soil, given her stature, but it was nice that she made an appearance, at least. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hmmm. Something's not right.

Today FarmWife will spend 8 hours at work and 2 hours riding. This, and yet she says riding is her favorite thing in the world. I just don't quite get it.

The good news, though, is that fly season is finally here—and this means that I get to wear my special alien ray-deflection bonnet! No manipulative extraterrestrial mind-control for me, no sirree . . . I've got protection.


Friday, April 16, 2010

A Random Assortment of Things That are Wonderful

I, Fenway Bartholomule, have a number of wonderful features, and as a result of my own wonderful features I am allowed wonderful priviledges and access to wonderful things. Here are a few of my favorite things, in no particular order:

Spring grasses. I am allowed out to eat these in moderation because I, Fenway, am an easy-keeper but not too fat.

Baby animals. I, Fenway, am allowed to commingle with them–baby goatlings, larval humans, etcetera—because I am gentle and courteous.

New tack. I wouldn't quite see the appeal myself, except that the joy on FarmWife's face when she comes out with some comfy new contraption is contagious, making tack wonderful enough for the both of us.

My tail. Thank you for noticing, commentators! FarmWife has never prepared my tail for full effect—if you like it now, then you must try imagine how the muddy dangly bits would do with a washing and combing on show day!

Katie Scarlett. Still my valentine.

Writing. Having this blog has been just wonderful for me. I, Fenway Bartholomule, have so much to say, and FarmWife so enjoys helping me say it. Thank goodness for her nimble typing fingers, and her 90 words per minute to my two.

Fences. I, Fenway Bartholomule, have the esteemed honor of being contained this morning behind a single strand of baling twine that I might mow the approach to Bent Barrow Farm. This is because I respect fences—all and any fences, in all and any of their various forms. I respect and honor them, and never use them to scratch an itch.

Goats. Don't let their creepy square pupils fool you—they're darlings, really. This is not obvious at first, but if you give them time goats will show you their wonderful side.

Precipitous slopes. I am very good at navigating them, as I am good at jumping over things on command and otherwise performing as a Stupendous Mount. We are lucky enough to live in the Foothills. The Foothills, despite their having been named after a unit of measurement comprising 12 inches, are really rather big.

Things that go, "bray!" I would like to have a miniature donkey sometime, because I think that a voice like Hank's would make a lovely accompanyment to my "brayyyhhhssscccreaaaammmm!" falsetto.

You. Dear readers, you make blogging fun. Thank you.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

April Grasses for Lovely Asses!

FenBar's June and July Itinerary

In case any of you loyal and devoted fans want to make the schlepp to Skagit County, Washington this spring, I wanted to announce that FarmWife's 31st birthday will be celebrated at the Cowboy Campsite in Lyman on the weekend of June 5-6th. Those who attended last year will recall that this is actually a chance to celebrate me, Fenway Bartholomule, with such things as mule-themed cakes, mule rides, and mule talk.

The following weekend, June 11th, FarmWife and I will be back at the campsite for some serious trail riding action . . . you see, her dear husband is taking the larval humans away for a visit to his ancestral home. FarmWife and I would have liked to have gone along, but they really ding the 800-pounds-and-over set for extra seat room in coach and we simply haven't the means to fly first class. Perhaps another time.

That particular week will be packed with fun at home: FarmWife weedwhacking, FarmWife mending fences, FarmWife riding me, Fenway Bartholomule, at every opportunity, FarmWife taking me camping and taking me walking and taking me some little snacks every hour on the hour.

In early July, we shall have the Descent of the Pitneys, during which my various human aunts, uncles and cousins will drive in from all points for a weekend of backyard camping, kiddie mule rides, and campfire singalongs. I can't wait to amaze them with my new rendition of Kumbayah! I was particularly excited about the s'mores opportunity until FarmWife told me about gelatin, but I remain enthused about the graham cracker components.

In late July, a Visitation of Texans will occur. These are the best Texans ever, in my humble opinion, and they will bring with them a darling toddler of the sort that I like best—adventurous, animal-loving, and primed for a mule ride! I hope he brings his helmet, or that FarmWife can find one to fit him. The Father Texan is a hard-working and mulish man of tremendous endurance, and last time he visited he practically single-handedly turned our overgrown plum thicket into a comfortable pasture addition. He is a Helpful Relative. His wife, too, is a Very Best Texan, known far and wide for her generosity and kindness. In that way, she too is mulish. She will be most welcome in my paddock, and I cannot wait to greet her with my resounding bray.

Also in late July, FarmWife and FarmHusband will be taking the larval and weanling humans to see the Red Sox play at . . . Safeco Field in Seattle?? Really, what are they thinking? Fenway Park has got to be the best thing about the Red Sox, and if they can't enjoy the game in the presence of the Big Green Monster then I'm really not sure that they'll enjoy it at all. Of course, I'll be with them in spirit if not in practice—their own little bit of Fenway.

Fen Bar


There's a time in many young couples' lives for parentally-subsidized housing, late-night baby soothing, and just-getting-by. Today, though, I stand here on our own little farm, pitchfork in hand, looking at a spectacular vegetable patch. In the background, our newborn Saanen doelings discover their frolicking legs, gamboling wildly around our small pasture to the frank astonishment of their older brother Jasper Jules. The comfrey is knee-high, the rhubarb nearly so, and the pear and cherry blossoms coming fully on. We've harvested our first round of brocolli raab from the greenhouse, the sunchokes are coming up again in ever-increasing numbers, and the arugula is so thick you could lose a baby in it.

We're still just getting by, in the sense that our net income never quite pushes its head above the red line of monthly expenses, and in the sense that we ate jerusalem artichokes, salad thinnings, and last year's kale and potatoes for dinner more than once in the last days of March, but we have abundance. We live in a fertile cradle, surrounded by earthly bounty and natural beauty, and we have our health, our children, our four- and two-legged friends.

We made a rare and much-anticipated trip to the grocery store to stock up on staples yesterday—more exciting than the oatmeal and bagged rice, however, were the dozen elk we passed on our way out of Wickersham, or the massive bald eagles that looped overhead as we returned home. We came home with sugar, flour, toilet paper, and a stronger-than ever conviction: all that we really need is right here.

I won't deny that I fantasize about a day when cash is not so tight, when our debt is lower and our income higher. A time when Mat can be home more, when his work is here at home. In that fantasy, though, I'm still out in the garden, and still serving sunchokes for dinner. I wouldn't shake a stick at a ten-acre hay field, a comfortable barn, or a shady wood lot. If I had those things, this is what I would love: the beauty of the land, the sound of the mules working, the warmth of a family dinner at the end of the day, the bright spring evenings with Mat and the girls. These are things I have here, and now. I have what makes me happy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Do You Know Your Horses?

Do You Know Your Horses?

Time is short today, and real life beckons. I'll leave you to ponder this jewel from the interwebs.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My photo shoot

These are the results of our fashion photo shoot this morning. FarmWife wanted to model her new t-shirt from the Grand Canyon, which was a gift from a wonderful fan and which happens to be her favorite clothing color (brown, like me, Fenway Bartholomule). I wanted to model my new neck ring, which FarmWife made out of things and scraps and which is a nice alternative to a halter and leadrope for Casual Fridays.

All photographs were taken by D., larval human, who is only five years old and who did a great job considering—especially if you remember that humans and mules mature at different rates.