Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Find what you love

Image from www.designmom.com
Find what you love and do it. That seems to be MY answer to happiness, anyway! (I'm not so sure this philosophy applies to all—I've a friend, for instance, whose compelling passions are zombies, chainsaws, metal music, vampires, and the dream of chainsawing zombies and vampires to the tune of some heavy metal music. I'd advise him to stick with something a bit more practical.)

I've always loved animals. I've always been horse-crazy. My first word was cat. My first memory was of a dog—Danny, I believe—lapping my split pea soup right out of my bowl. Before I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be a vet. Before I wanted to be a vet, I wanted to be a famous jumper rider.

It took a half-decade or so of adult life (college, motherhood, marriage—in that order, for me, since I am unexpectedly fertile and occasionally stupid) for me to remember what makes me tick. I love to RIDE. I love to have a little farm, a number of pets, a beloved animal sidekick that I trust with my life. Once that sidekick was Mirri, my cattle dog, and now that sidekick is Fenway Bartholomule.

And on writing? I've written for food magazines. I've written for parenting magazines. I've written on ecology and society and gardening and food. What I'm best at writing on, though, and what I love to write on more than anything, are animals. Poetry. Prose. Children's verse. Expository journalism. Anything—anything on animals.

I'm lucky that I've finally found my reset button. When I'm cranky, I go ride. I'm lucky that I have identified my "dream career," and that it will not take a miracle or a six-figure education to achieve the dream. I'm lucky, as a writer, that I have a constant source of compelling inspiration. Curled at my feet—inspiration. Warming my lap—inspiration. Hopping across my livingroom—inspiration. Standing on the milkstand—inspiration. Pecking through the barnyard—inspiration. Grazing in the pasture—inspiration. I am surrounded by what I love, and my life is a joy worth sharing.

For the Curious . . .

Tanner in his new career
An update on yesterday's horses:

Shorty lived to old age with young FarmWife, and was euthanized when his Cushings advanced to an unmanageable level. He was buried on the farm.

Panda was euthanized at age 22. He contracted terminal pneumonia while moving across the country with Bob Hubbard horse transportation. Panda went on the truck in tip-top shape to join FarmWife, who was going to college in Massachusetts. Bob Hubbard kept him longer than they said they would, shipped him farther than they said they would, obscured important information about his location, and returned him weeks late, very ill, and extremely underweight. FarmWife will never forgive them.

Fahrenheit never learned to like to jump, but he left FarmWife's Pony Club home for a very happy dressage career with another owner.

Duracell and FarmWife fell over a cross-country schooling fence when she was 14—neither was seriously hurt, but FarmWife's confidence for jumping was never the same. He went on to compete at Preliminary level with a more advanced rider, and FarmWife went on to college and other horses. He was a good boy, though, and she still misses him.

Painter was too much horse for FarmWife's available time, money, and experience (she was a young single mother and a college student, he a green 7 year-old stallion). He was gelded and sold as a dressage prospect to a talented young rider with ample resources.

Tanner found his niche—while he never learned to enjoy being ridden, he did learn to enjoy being lunged! He went on to be a successful vaulting horse, placing at national level competitions with an ambitious team of young vaulters and serving them well in their lesson program.

Jack Vance went to a dressage home in the Puget Sound area, where his mane is appreciated and allowed to grow to its full potential. He is someone's lifetime horse, now, and FarmWife gets happy updates from time to time.

I am staying with FarmWife forever. Panda and I will remain in her heart for all of her life—we are those sorts of mounts.


Monday, November 29, 2010


Tanner, who wouldn't be rushed

Shorty was FarmWife's first pony of her very own. He taught her how to post, how to mount, and how to avoid getting wiped off on low-hanging branches.

Panda was FarmWife's first "big horse." He taught her how to jump, how to ride with two sets of reins, and how to stop a runaway.

Fahrenheit was FarmWife's first thoroughbred. He taught her that no amount of schooling will force a square peg into a round hole, and that some horses need to stay with what they're good at.

Duracell was FarmWife's first eventer. He taught her that horse dealers lie, that pulling on the reins never resolves a conflict, and that there's nothing quite as exciting as galloping bareback and bridleless.

Painter was FarmWife's first stallion. He taught her that within every stallion there's an even a better gelding.

Tanner was FarmWife's first PMU horse. He taught her that progress is fastest when you're in no hurry.

Jack Vance was FarmWife's first friesian-cross. He taught her that there is no way to get the perfect pulled-mane look without actually pulling the mane.

I am FarmWife's first mule. I've been teaching her that the most important measure of a ride is whether we both had fun.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

One of life's great questions . . .

Why is it that minimule Harriet gets couch privileges and I do not? It cannot be her size alone, as baby goats are easily as small. THEY do not get couch privileges.

It cannot be manners. I am more polite.

It cannot be softness. I am quite soft.

It is unexplainable, but I think I can get over the hurt. Minimule Harriet does not get pasture turnout.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Few Little Abnormalities.

There are a number of slightly odd things about the citizens of Bent Barrow Farm. Here are a few, presented at random: 1. FarmWife is deaf in her left ear; 2. Paisley the Dog is deaf in both; 3. FarmTiger Townes has some undiagnosed disfunction that gives him the gait of a drunken belly dancer; 4. I have nipples on my sheath (many mules and most donkeys do); 5. Paisley the dog has one black toe and nineteen pink ones (catch a rare glimpse of the black one in the photo above).

Nothing's perfect in this world—even my beloved (half-deaf) FarmWife has a glitchy knee. Still, though, everything here is perfectly suited to us!

FarmWife wrote a little poem on the subject this morning, and I'll share it with you (though I do usually ask her to limit her musings to her OWN blog, www.puddlerun.com.)

My favorite car is bad at starting,
Favorite dog walks with a limp.
Favorite ear is stone-deaf, broken—
Favorite cat's a droopy gimp.

My favorite mule toes out a little,
And he has a notched-in ear,
Favorite man is nearly perfect
(shh—don't tell—he's losing hair!)

Favorite girls are prone to rashes,
Favorite book is coffee-stained,
Favorite acre tends towards muddy,
Favorite house? It needs new paint.

Nothing's perfect, that's for certain—
Nothing's perfect, s'pose it's true—
And yet I could not be more happy
with Bent Barrow's motley crew.

Ears to you, and may you be perfectly suited by the many quirky things and people in YOUR life!

Fenway Bartholomule

Friday, November 26, 2010

These are a few of my least favorite things

If you've been hanging around Brays of Our Lives for a while now, you'll know that not much scares me. I'm not afraid of wearing bells, towing poles, leaping logs, fording streams, passing trucks, carrying children, or crossing bridges. I'm not afraid of flapping tarps, honking cars, rumbling tractors, speeding bikes, flashing lights, or slithering snakes.

I am afraid of rainbows. (Click for the full story)

I am DEATHLY afraid of rainbows in puddles—reflections from the sky, or, even worse, shimmering pools of oil on the road.

I'm am nervous about footing changes. More specifically, I am afraid of stepping off of grass and onto gravel, or off of gravel and onto pavement, or off of pavement and onto dirt.

I am afraid of walking directly onto my own shadow. I hate walking away from the sun.

I am TERRIFIED of walking onto my own shadow during a footing change. Ask me to step away from the sun onto pavement from gravel and I may just fall into a dead faint.

I am not afraid of buzzing alarms, blaring horns, flapping wings, flapping coats, blowing bags, fluttering flags, or leaping elk. I am not afraid of rushing water, sucking mud, tangled brush, barking dogs, milling livestock, ringing bells, or crashing trees.

Just don't you dare ask me to cross a shadowed rainbow puddle at the edge of a paved road. I would die.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving thanks

Every fourth Thursday in November I stop and count my blessings, and this one is no exception. I've encountered such generosity this year that I have no shortage of thanks to offer, today and always. While I can't possibly fit every gratitude on the page without overwhelming your patience and your available time, I did compose this little verse which summarizes just a few of my many thanks owed:

Thank you, FarmWife, for the hay,
Thank you, goats, for company,
Thanks, FarmHusband, for this shed,
Thank you, Earth, for room to stand.
Thank you, readers, for your praise,
Thank you, neighbors, for your waves.
Thank you, pasture, for the grass,
Thank you, children, for your pats.
Thank you for my harness, fans,
Thank you for my trailer, Gran.
Thank you, hooves, for holding me,
Thank you, fur, for warming me,
Thank you, ears, for gracing me,
Thank you, world, for cradling me,
Thank you, fans, for postcards, for the letters, for the art,
Thank you for the sharing—for the giving—for your hearts.
Thank you, friends, for reading—for believing—for your love.
I bray for you, I bray for you—it's love that I bray of.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Counting my blessings

Image from www.telegraph.co.uk
What's troubling me today? Not much. There are trivial matters, of course. I would trade this freezing weather for our typical balmy drizzle in a heartbeat, but I can't complain about the lack of mud. I would love to upgrade my wardrobe—my holey socks and busted zippers—but I have clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. I would take a bigger paycheck, but I wouldn't trade this work—stay-at-home motherhood, part-time writing—for anything. I am lucky.

Below, if I had to list them, are my top three complaints today. I am excluding the "big picture" irritants, and you will see no mention here of the obviously unacceptable global phenomena (child sex trafficking, war, animal abuse, the Tea Party). I'm keeping this simple.

 1) The freezing weather, which requires bucketing water to my livestock. And yet—they live a mere 30 yards from my door and drink a mere 20 gallons per day. Compared to a rancher or a boarding barn proprietor, for instance, I have light work.

2) The mysterious disappearance of my "good" winter jacket, which means I must wear my hayish one to work. And yet—my coworkers forgive me! After all, I have six photos of my mule pinned to the communal bulletin board. Hay is just part of the package.

3) The shortage of funds since Mr. Jones ran short on carpentry work this month. This is probably the biggest hassle, and yet still slight in the grand scheme: we have each other. We have our home. We have our health, and while we may end up with a homemade Christmas we certainly will not end up on the street. We even have money trickling in, in the meantime, from my entrepreneurial endeavors: a $10 poem here, a $15 book there. It's food on the table.

And what I'm thankful for? More than there's room to write. Indoor plumbing. Hay. My health. My children. My husband. Love. This house, this farm, this mule, these bunnies. My work, my friends, my parents, my in-laws. These goats, these chickens, this dog, these cats. My hat, my boots, my saddle, my harness. My sleigh bells, my trails, my hopes, my goals. My dreams awaiting, and those already come true.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May your hassles pale before your gratitude.


A conversation on the etiquette of soliciting funds

"I need hay," I told FarmWife.

"You have hay," she told me. "You have half a bale of delicious orchard grass. It will last you a week."

"I need buffer hay," I told her. "I need hay stored against the possibility of a calamity." 

"We cannot afford buffer hay," she told me. "FarmHusband's work has been patchy, and we cannot buy hay in any fashion but one bale at a time."

"We need a Paypal button. I will earn my own money."

"You cannot simply ask people for money, Fenway. You need to provide a service."

"I asked for harness money, and look what that got us! It got you the nicest birthday present you've ever had. I got it myself, by asking for money." 

"You did that once, Fenway, but twice would be tacky."

"It isn't tacky when you get paid to write a magazine article." 


"It isn't tacky when you sell a copy of your book.


"It isn't tacky when you accept payment for a poem."


"It won't be tacky, then, for me to suggest that people might throw something in the tip jar at Brays Of Our Lives."

"You can't make them feel obligated."

"They are not obligated. I blog because I love to blog—you transcribe for me because you love me, and they read because they love me too."

"Just so we're clear—no one has to chip in to your "Feed Fenway" fund. I will feed you—always. You will not go hungry."

"But if they do chip in, FarmWife, don't tell me you won't be grateful." 

"I will be grateful."

"Okay then."

"Okay, Fen. You may have a Paypal button."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An amazing rider

There are an abundance of videos on Youtube showing equines doing strange and dangerous things: galloping on pavement, jumping wire fences, carrying helmetless riders at breakneck speeds through unsafe landscapes and over treacherous obstacles. I frown upon them all.

Here is a video that I prefer: a video full of amazing leaps, astonishing feats, and wild exploits. A video in which helmets feature prominently, and a video in which no mules were jeopardized, endangered, or yanked on.

It is a riding video, but it is not about horse- or mule-back riding.

It is full of muleness, but it is not about mules.

If you ever want to speed on concrete, leap a chainlink fence, or jump a cement wall, learn to do it on your bicycle. It will be beautiful. If you do it on a mule, it will make you look like a moron and a meanie. 

Ears to you,

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'd like to place an order, please

Image from www.caffeinatedthoughts.com
It's 20 degrees outside and FarmWife has just delivered the first two of our six daily water buckets. They arrive at regular intervals—clean, tepid, liquid water for our refreshment and our health.

What part of "half-caff, no foam, double tall soy caramel latte" did she not understand? I have been waiting for some alternative to this water from the bathtub spigot for some time now, and except for the occasional splash of apple cider vinegar (for the health of the goats, and for acidifying the reproductive tract in hopes of baby girl goatlings) I've been disappointed.

When the warm house water arrives, Missy drinks first. We all like to see Missy hydrated, and she does not disappoint. She is a quaffer, not a sipper. FarmWife loves that about her.

I am a good drinker, and do my duty. FarmWife tells me that adequate hydration is essential to good gut function, and then Jasper Jules always throws in that I obviously have a very robust gut, thank you. I have tried telling FarmWife that herbivores require constant digestive activity in order to stay alive in temperatures like these, to which she replies that constant eating would make me die of explosion. I get a half a flake extra when temperatures drop below freezing—no more, no less.

Jasper Jules and his sister Mon Petit do not condescend to drink from FarmWife's two blue buckets—at least not in her presence. They would have her worry that they will die of dehydration in this cold weather, but I know that they just like to have a sip when she's departed. They are sneaky like that, with their little head games.

As for me, I hope you're all staying warm, refreshed, and surrounded by delicious beverages in this windup to the holiday season. Have a caramel latte for me, will you? It doesn't look like I'll be getting one myself anytime soon.

Frosty ears to you,


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jingle bells, Jasper smells, Feather laid an egg

Actually, Feather did no such thing. Neither Feather nor her companions in wings have laid a thing this autumn. (We are down to 14 hens, as the humans have recently euthanized poor, blind Violet. That is a sad story for a different time. The remaining chickens, between them, have laid a total of one egg during the month of November.)

Back to my original point, though—jingle bells! I've got 'em! Many, many thanks to Mary Ellen from New Jersey, who, in sending them, indulged me in one of my favorite holiday fantasies. She has contributed greatly, I'm sure, to the general good cheer in these parts. My neighbors cannot help but enjoy the sonorous tone of my passage!

I'd like you to know, if you're of a traditional school, that I am aware these bells are being worn "wrong." They have since been adapted to fit, and I promise that you shall see them draped correctly around the entirety of my capacious barrel at their next appearance. This image, and the linked video, were taken on day one when we were simply too eager to wait. I wore them about the neighborhood, and they were good.

Ears and jingles to you,

Fenway Bartholomule

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An open letter to David 4D (pronounced Ford)

Dear Fenway,
My latest person reads me your column.  I'm a donkey, a saddle donkey, 13hh, and I've had  AppleLady about a year.   I call her that because she shares apples with me.   Well, in your latest column, when we came to the sentence about your FarmWife saying "I wish you had a mane," it brought up a subject close to home.   Why don't donkeys and mules have manes?   My AppleLady wondered about this, and no one had a good answer.  She wondered if it was because the manes don't grow well, or are unsightly.  So we decided to grow mine out and see what happened (it was completely shaved off when I first came to live with her.).   Here is a picture of me with 9 months growth.  AppleLady thinks it's very becoming, and wonders if it will be twice that long next summer.  She combs it with a purple comb.   I like having a mane because it helps shoo flies away in summer, and provides a little warmth and snow protection in the winter.   And of course, riders could have something to hang on to if they were riding bareback. (I doubt AppleLady would try it, but The Boy might when he comes home from college.)  If you or your person have any info on why donkeys and mules' manes are kept short or how, why, when this fashion started, we'd be interested in knowing!
David 4D  (4D is my freeze brand, and Apple Lady pronounces it Ford, tells people it's my surname.)

Dear David,

It was a pleasure to receive your letter and picture, and I hope you won't mind me sharing them here. You are cute, and cuteness like this should be widely publicized. I am cute, too, but this is not something one can have too much of! There is no maximum cuteness capacity here at Brays of Our Lives—like Muleness, cuteness only gets better when shared.

Your mane is quite dapper. I admire its well-trained lay. Please commend AppleLady on her attention to detail—you would not want, in the words of children's book* author Don Freeman, to appear "wild and foolish" nor "a little unrulish"!

I had a mane like that once, but it went straight up. It was not unattractive, but FarmWife has always adored the tidy look of a roached mane on an animal of cobby build. (I hope that
"of cobby build" is not, in my case, simply her nice way of saying "fat".)

In their book Mule Trader, Ray Lum and William Ferris write that most people roach a mule's mane to keep him from looking like a horse. I'm not sure I follow this logic, since a horse can wear a roached mane as well as the next guy. Oh, well.

In your case, I think some silken locks are just the thing. I'm glad you grew them, and I hope you'll update us with your growth reports!

Ears to you,

p.s. Do you think you might be related to Henry Ford, the entrepreneur, or Harrison Ford, the movie star? It's a very dapper name, anyway. I like the way you spell it. I know a human who has his name tattooed upon himself . . . inside his lip, like a racehorse. That way, he can be identified if he ever winds up lost.

(*this is not a link to Don Freeman's book. This is a link to FARMWIFE's book! Wasn't that tricky of me? I am a marketing genius.)
The author at his former home, exhibiting his maximum mane length

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Studies indicate that smoking is hazardous to your health.

image from http://littlepeoplemeetmrpotatohead.com/MrPotatoHeadsroots.htm

My children are debating the relative threat of Mr. Potatohead's pipe. 

Dylann: "He could get sick or even die." 

Robin: "It's only pretend, and only for a while." 

Dylann: "OK, but don't blame me when he has to go to the vegetable hospital."

The Bold and the Brayful: reprinted from the Brayer, Vol. 43 #5

The Bold and the Brayful, a column by Fenway Barthlomule


How to Spook like a Mule

If you spend enough time around humans, you'll find that there are two sorts: there are the humans who think mules are stupid, and there are the humans who think mules are smart. Put differently, there are those who see wisdom in the solid stance and investigative gaze of a curious longear, and there are those who see stubborness in the planted feet and wide-eyed stare of the very same animal.

My FarmWife knows what's up, and she loves the way I spook. Sure, riders dream of the spook-proof beast, but would you really want to ride an animal who marches nonchalantly into the bear's den or off the crumbling cliffside trail? Do you want to go along on the back of a beast with no sense of self-preservation, no knowledge of his own mortality? I think not! Nor, though, should you enjoy the whirl-and-bolt mania of a flighty mount, the sideways-sproing of an edgy saddle animal. No, what you want is a sensible spooker—a critter like me, Fenway Barthomule, who will have a look at something without losing his head.

When I feel threatened—and it happens fairly often, for while I am sensible I am not particularly brave—I execute what I call the F.E.A.R.R. response: my Five Point Strategy for the Preservation of Life and Limb. My FarmWife indulges me in it whenever we're out in the presence of something foreboding. It goes like this: Freeze. Ears fore. Analyze. Rearrange Hoofies. Retreat.

Freeze—this is key. This is where mules get their reputation for stubbornness, but it's also how a good many mules have survived to see another day. Where our horse ancestors survived on the open plains by fleetness of foot and quick evasion, our donkey heritage teaches us to hold still and blend in. The same relatives that gave us our rock-hard, ledge-gripping, cylindrical hooves and our sensitive, magnificent ears gave us this instinct, which serves us as well on the dappled and meandering trails of rural North America as it did on the craggy desert slopes of our ancestral lands. Freezing allows us to blend in, turn invisible, and remain safe while we examine our surroundings.

Ears fore. Our ears are the most important sensory organ of our bodies, next to our eyes and nostrils which are also very useful. (Actually, we mules are just tremendously good at sensing in general.) Not only do our ears allow us to understand a great deal of what goes on around us, they also allow us to look regal and stupendous while we do so. Win-win!

Analyze. We use our marvelous liquid eyes, our sensitive flaring nostrils, our graceful curving ears, and our tender silken hide to understand all that there is to know about the world around us. Whether we're threatened by a mountain lion, a landslide, or a misplaced grocery bag, these senses will help us determine a safe course of action. A thorough analysis is the key to positive action.

Rearrange hoofies. This is not an "AAAAAAHHHHHHH!"" sort of an action, and should involve no indelicate or clumsy activity. The rider, should the mule be under saddle at this point, should remain comfortably seated throughout the rearrangement. This is a delicate, careful and precise examination of the trail surface with the hooves, designed to establish a safe foundation from which to retreat, and should look a little like a slo-mo Fred Astaire number. To the human rider, it will feel a little bit like a gentle hula.

Retreat. We retreat, not in the manner of the runaway coach team or the panicked jack-rabbit but in the manner of a mule—with good sense and clear intent. The retreat should look more like a bold step in the direction of new adventure than like a frightened extrication from danger. To the human, the retreat will look simply like a resumption of the trail-ride, as planned, but to the mule, it will be a move towards safety based on his analysis of the threat and the likeliest direction and manner of safe travel.

I have survived many things with my F.E.A.R.R. response—bear encounters, freshly tarred roads, ruffed grouse-attacks, ATV encounters, deadly garden hoses—and my human thanks me for my calm response to danger. She, thank goodness, falls into the camp of humans who say mules are brilliant, clever, and wise. Here's hoping that you, dear reader, do too.

Ears to You,

Fenway Barthlomule


The Birds of Bray

With spawning salmon come the raptors. These "birds of bray," as I like to call them ("prey" sounds so violent) come to Wickersham every autumn and populate the foothills and wetlands with their nests, their cries, and their majestic presence. If you've never seen a bald eagle up close, toss out any misconceptions you may have about the fragility of birds with their delicate, hollow frames—picture instead a Rottweiler on wings. These birds are BIG.

FarmWife set out to count the birds on our last outing, but by the time we got to the first bend in the road (not to the trailhead yet, understand, but just on the road TO the trailhead) she had counted eight bald eagles, two red tailed hawks, one great blue heron, and one bird that may have been a golden eagle or a juvenile bald eagle. She gave up, being out of fingers and wanting to spend more time in enjoyment of my company than in concentration on her ornithological survey.

FarmWife learned, much to her disappointment, that it is very hard to get a crisp, clear photo of a bird at the top of a 100-ft. conifer in the pouring rain from the back of a moving mule with an automatic camera. Even when it is a very BIG bird. In fact, this is the best she could do despite an abundance of opportunity.

That's all right. I love her anyway, even if she's never going to make a name for herself as a photographer of birds. I'd rather she make a name for herself as the FarmWife of Bent Barrow Farm, and as Fenway's human, and as the typist of Brays of Our Lives.

As for the birds, we like them. They've never yet snatched up a chicken, a cat, or a baby, and they keep the fish carcasses from creating a stink come spawning season. They still thrill my humans by soaring over Bent Barrow Farm—it's a sight that never grows old. Not unlike the sight of me, Fenway Bartholomule.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One fish, two fish

Red fish . . .

Red fish—coho salmon, if I'm not mistaken—are afoot (afin?) in my local creek. Wickersham is teeming with them as they fight their way upstream to spawn. Even I, the mighty Fenway Bartholomule, am amazed at their strength and endurance as they crawl bodily through the shallow rapids, their slippery, contorted forms braced against a rushing torrent, nobly surmounting obstacles in sheer determination.

You may be aware that the Whatcom Land Trust—an organization with much Muleness—owns much of Wickersham's open space, including and not limited to the 63 acre Samish headwaters which directly adjoin Bent Barrow Farm. These great big fish, each longer than my head (ears too!), people the headwaters and their tributary creeks for several weeks every third autumn. The last time the salmon spawned here in Wickersham, I belonged to the neighbor and FarmWife was merely a covetous acquaintance. To think, these fish have lived a whole life since then! Hatched, lived, returned to die.

Here is a photo of me, Fenway Bartholomule, sacrificing my bit cleanliness and my respectability in FarmWife's eyes by personally clearing the banks. Note how fully I give of myself to aid these brave fish in their noble efforts. Anything a fellow can do to help, you know?

Tomorrow, I'll tell you all about the impact these fish are having on other wildlife in a post entitled "the Birds of Bray."


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You Can't Beat Quality—a product endorsement

A couple of years ago, my FarmWife (who looooves animal clothing) ordered me a super-cheap, $25 rainproof quarter sheet. You know, the bargain basement, bottom end quarter sheet—the one she could afford.

It was a TERRIBLE mistake. The thing fit like a glass slipper on an ugly step-sister. Crinkly, wrinkly, bumpy, lumpy, flippy, flappy, lousy, mousy thing. We couldn't bring ourselves to keep it, and promptly asked for and received a refund.

Today, thanks to the generosity of HaHaHorses and KBC Intl., we have received the gift of a small, FenBar-sized gold-striped Rambo Newmarket fleece quarter sheet. It is STUPENDOUS! Thick, fuzzy, warm, beautiful, heavy, and tailored perfectly to my short but ample frame. Nothing could be more suited to a blustery November day, and I promise you photos before the week is out.

FarmWife has been taught a lesson—you can't beat quality, and you can't expect the $25 quarter sheet to do the job of a brand name product. If you don't want crap, don't buy crap. Wait, as her friends so kindly advised her during the harness-saving project, until you can afford what you REALLY want.

It is for this reason that I now assign FarmWife to the task of saving for next year's Rhino Wug and Rambo fleece cooler. My old Weatherbeeta will do the job until then, and I believe that the Horsewear Ireland (including Rambo and Rhino) products are worthy of me, and I of them. They are of mulish beauty, mulish quality, and mulish resiliance. I endorse them with all of my noble and capacious heart.


Monday, November 15, 2010

The State of the World Today

Art by Alison Fennell—purchase at www.eastwitching.etsy.com.
I was listening to FM radio yesterday, and during one particular commercial break I heard the following products and services advertised, in this order:

Gambling, liposuction, fast food, gambling, petroleum.

What, I wondered, is this world coming to? Can anyone truly listen to a commercial for $995-per-part body sculpting followed by an ad for juicy, crispy, fried chicken thighs without noting the hypocrisy? Is this really what's important in this year's windup to the holiday season?

Today, I woke up with the "gambling, liposuction, fast food, gambling" commercials in my head, and then I looked out the window. Fenway, braying, slopped in from the pasture through a heavy rain. And then, one after another, three goat heads appeared over the shed wall: Pop! Pop! Pop! The chickens began to stir, expecting turnout into the gardens and orchard, and the rabbits rang their bells in anticipation of breakfast and a mornings' free exercise. My daughters clamored for paintbrushes, some creative exploit in their sights. The cats twined themselves through and around the dog's legs, each waiting for his turn to gallop through the rain. A caraf of coffee, still warm, stood as evidence of my husband's recent presence.

I signed onto facebook, and got mixed news: a lost calf in New Hampshire? Sad, but not without hope as friends mobilize to find her. A caroling party in Wickersham? Scheduled, and looking more festive with each passing minute. Fundraisers for various social and humane issues are running fast and furious, and the donations are flying. Backcountry adventures, community events, small businesses, small miracles. Good dogs, good horses, good mules, good people—they're out there. They're everywhere. They're riding, planting, writing, teaching, hiking, giving, biking, painting, reading, learning, growing, reaching. This is the state of the world as I like to see it. This little slice of the world—the slice that facebook showed me this morning—is what I choose to believe in. I think it's growing.


An Invitation

I, Fenway Bartholomule, cordially invite my friends to join me for an evening of caroling and hot cider in Wickersham, Washington, on the afternoon of Sunday, December 18, 2011.

That's right, folks . . . 2011. I'm talking 13 months from now. 

A wise person once said that, when preparing a goat for a parade, you should pick your event and then commence to training for its NEXT occurrence—that is, one year later. Animals need time to learn, to grow, and to relax into the hustle and bustle of these human festivities, and as I am a green-broke harness mule I figured 13 months is just right for obtaining a vehicle, learning to tolerate the jingle-jingle-jingle of sleigh bells, and adjusting to the phenomenon of cruising the neighborhood after hours with a raucous load of festive carolers. 

In the meantime, I propose a caroling circuit of Wickersham, SANS wagon, on or around December 18, 2010. I'd love to come, I may just sing, and I promise to provide companionship and a pleasing jingle. If anyone's interested, drop me a line and we'll make a solid plan.

Ears and good cheer to you!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

For Anita

image from www.tvcream.co.uk
Anita, you wondered on Facebook what FarmWife's five HUMAN life priorities are—five things no human should have to live without.

I thought I would have nailed it with my guesses, which were 1. Shiny brown mules, 2. Cute baby animals; 3. Delicious things like carrots and blackberries; 4. A room full of hay, and 5. The internet. She says these are all very good, but that she might instead list, off the top of her head, these five alternatives:

1. Health (including healthy food and a healthy environment)
 2. Relationships (including love, family, and friendship—even when your best friend is a mule)
3. Home (a sense of place, ownership, or belonging, and a sense of community)
4. Productivity (feeling valuable, or contributing to something greater than oneself; feeling that the general impact of your life on others is positive, or feeling that what one does is worthwhile)
 5. Joyfulness (call it joie de vivre if you'd like—enthusiasm, appreciation, or eagerness. This can be passion for your work, for your hobby, for your day-to-day routine, for your mule. Everyone needs something they're excited about).

FarmWife would argue that 1, 2, 3, and 4 can contribute to #5 but that #5 can be cultivated on its own through conscious gratitude. "Sometimes," writes Thich Nhat Hanh; "your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."

I still think that cute baby animals and a room full of hay are pretty darn important, too.

Fenway Bartholomule

Saturday, November 13, 2010

5 life priorities, according to the mule:

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer's "The Shoeing"
1. Personal safety. We may be mighty, we may be majestic, but we are essentially Prey Animals. Don't forget it. If we don't feel safe, we don't feel happy.

2. Nourishment. A well-fed mule is a happy mule. Fresh water goes with abundant, clean hay on the list of things every mule deserves. We may tell you that we need apples, carrots, oats, alfalfa, and omolene, too, but the fact remains: good hay is a thing we shouldn't live without.

3. Shelter. We like to get out of the wind as much as the next guy, and under this tough-as-nails exterior is a fellow who likes to get cozy in a snug, clean little shed. Braving the elements during a ride is one thing, but braving them 24/7 is no fun at all. A guy's gotta dry off sometime!

4. Friendship. When we love you, we love you for life. When we trust you, we trust you to the ends of the earth. When you hurt us, you hurt us to the very center of our being. We do not forget.

5. Exercise. When we are safe, fed, housed, and befriended, our next priority is the liberty to move about, physically, in an amply-sized space. When I am safe, fed, sheltered, befriended, and limited to my gravel sacrifice paddock due to weather or plant growth, I grow restless. The solution, short of turning me into the pasture, is a ride.

Of course, there are other things that mules depend upon from their human custodians—veterinary care, sanitation, hoof care, and training, for instance—but if we don't feel safe, fed, sheltered, befriended, and exercised, it's very hard to enjoy anything at all. Luckily for me, FarmWife recognizes these needs and meets them.

Your brayful friend,
Fenway Bartholomule

Still here . . .

I'm still here, but busy with the enjoyable presence of my MIL and FIL from Ye Olde New Hampshire. Any stereotypes that may exist around the matter of visiting mothers-in-law (see image) do not apply—these are lovely people, and on top of the general fun surrounding their visits, they take us to lunch (their treat); help around the house (dishes, anyone?); admire SeƱor Bartholomule (a requirement at Bent Barrow Farm); and generally take care of our every need and want. It will be a sad day when they are swept back to the east. And so, without further ado . . . I'm off to enjoy their continued company, and to abandon my blogging for another day.


Friday, November 12, 2010

DYI for frugal bit-collectors.

Dear Reader,

You may remember that my opinions on bits and bitting are quite solid and developed; that is, I like what I like, and I know what I like, and FarmWife knows what I like too. FarmWife loves her bits, but most of all she loves bits that make her mule comfortable, happy, and calm. She likes her bits "just so," and so do I. So, when FarmWife decided she wanted a traditionally-styled driving bit to go with my stupendously splendiferous harness, she set out to find a 5-in. mullen mouth, low-port, rubber, 2-slot, fixed-cheek (no-pinch) liverpool.

What does FarmWife do when she wants a 5-in. mullen mouth, low-port, rubber, fixed-cheek liverpool and the only 5-in. mullen mouth, low-port, rubber, fixed-cheek liverpools she can find are overseas and retail for £85 and up? I'll tell you what she does—she gets a 5-3/4-in. straight-mouth, low-port, stainless steel, 2-slot, sliding-cheek liverpool. She takes it into the workshop, wraps it in a rag, and hammers on it until the mouthpiece has a nice, gentle curve (and is a half-inch narrower). She wraps it in abundance of Sealtex, a rubbery wonder-substance donated to me this summer by fantastic reader K. She applies bit guards, thereby eliminating any pinchiness and taking up the last 1/4 inch. You know what she ends up with, then?

A 5-in. mullen mouth, low-port, rubber, 2-slot, no-pinch liverpool. For cheap. It's PERFECT.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bray for our veterans

Photo courtesy www.marinecorptimes.com
Take some time today to remember our four- AND two-legged friends who have served; to remember their sacrifice, and to remember their daring.

It is my profound hope that our U.S. federal government will someday value its equine veterans and its human ones equally, and highly, and that its mules who have served shall never again find themselves on the auction block—waiting, like outdated equipment, for the scrapyard.

These men, women, dogs and mules are braver than me, and stronger than me—would that each could be as safe as me, and as loved.


Photo courtesy www.allamericanpatriots.com

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You Mustn't Call Me Fat

You mustn't call me fat, and here is why:

1. I am not fat, I am muscular. This is the body of a chiseled athlete. These well-sprung ribs house a heart of steel, and lungs like vast bellows. Each breath stokes a raging fire, and this round belly fuels the blaze. I do exercise, and I do so handily (as this video demonstrates).

2. If I am a wee pinch fleshy—on top of the muscles—this is not obesity. This is a caloric buffer against famine, a defense evolved to withstand any hardship. Who knows how long the Volvo hay mother shall continue to bear her fruit? Should she fail in her duty, I would perish but not for this cushion of stored energy. Curse the electric fence!

3. I have FarmWife's comfort in mind. Have you ever ridden bareback on a shark-finned TB? A jaunt on me is like a lounge in a La-Z-Boy by comparison. I am softer than a saddle, and more fuzzy.

4. I earn my own hay money (if you like this blog, you can paypal your thanks to afatbrownmare at yahoo dot com!) and I am simply cannot afford the high-calorie fare so popular among hard keepers. Alfalfa meal? Oats? Sweet feed? Chopped hay? Beet pulp? The bills would skyrocket! As it stands, I eat about ten pounds of grass hay every day. It's what I can afford, and it does the job nicely. On top of that, my vet warned me not to eat a bite less. A body needs a certain amount of roughage just to stay regular, you know.

5. Exercise certainly does a body good, and it could be true that my athletic physique would be all the finer if I could get out five days per week versus two, but there are limits to FarmWife's availability. As a stay-at-home mom, full-time mule owner, part-time freelancer, and part-time employee, she's spread a bit thin. She could really use a two-hour break, three days a week, in which to ride me.To this end, qualified volunteers are invited to babysit the larval humans. Free dog hair with every visit! Email to sign up.

Ears to you,

Fenway "More to Love" Bartholomule

Monday, November 8, 2010

This crazy week

Here is FarmWife, who always wears her helmet.
Too bad she wasn't wearing it when she smashed into Jasper Jules the other day.
FarmWife, who has a concussion and a 27-item to-do list, needs my help. She has had a headache since Friday's headbonk, and now she's dizzy, nauseous, spaced out, and generally less-than-mulish. I had hoped to use today to tell you why you mustn't call me fat, and to tell you why FarmWife is allergic to flashlights, and to tell you why FarmWife relies on my ears (which is really part of the flashlight story). Instead, I will use today to say, "rest, FarmWife. Rest, then clean the house and mow the lawn."

Tomorrow, "Why You Mustn't Call Me Fat—a lecture in five points."


Sunday, November 7, 2010

A word to the four-season, northern rider.

Some days, you've just gotta groom us as best you can. Even ,I suppose, if the best you can do is to carve out a clean place to set your saddle. 

Fenway "mud monster" Bartholomule

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Busy day!

The humans have had a very busy day.

1: welcoming company for lunch. This particular company is practically family, AND they think I have a beautiful nose. They said so. They also admired my rolling tactics (all the way over, and all the way back again) and my goats. Good people.

2: watching PerryGripp's channel on Youtube. You can't go wrong with Perry's cute animal numbers: "This is the best burrito I've ever eaten, yum yum yum!" Or, for variety: "Fuzzy, fuzzy, cute, cute, fuzzy, fuzzy, cute, cute." Google them, but be warned—they're catchy.

3: going to a wedding reception. I was not invited. They did not bring me cake. I was, however, discussed among the gathered company; it turns out that FarmWife was recognized several times as "the Bartholomule lady." My reputation precedes me!

4: finding out that FarmWife's book has already printed and is being bound this week! If you haven't ordered one, you should. Everyone's doing it, and it's sure to be the must-have gift of Holiday 2010.

Ears and heart,


This particular photo is not topically relevant, except in that it is "fuzzy fuzzy cute cute."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Butt Heads with a Goat

Here are the facts: 

1. It gets dark, now, rather early in the evening. FarmWife prefers to feed dinner rather late in the evening, so as to have our breakfast arrive 12 rather than 14 or 16 hours later. Therefore, it gets dark before FarmWife feeds dinner.

2. Our shed is rustic. Unlit. 

3. FarmWife divides the goats up at dinner time, that Missy and B.G. may sup upon alfalfa whilst Jasper Jules joins me in a bland, grass hay repast. She accomplishes this by feel. Jasper has a 1", double-layer nylon collar and a beard; B.G. has a thin, 3/4" nylon collar and no beard; Missy is naked entirely. Groping in the darkness for the bearded goat with the fattest collar, FarmWife shepherds JJ away from the delectable edibles and locks him into my half of the shed. Again—a dark, cave-like, primitive dwelling.

4. Did I mention that our shed is dark, and that FarmWife accomplishes all of this without the aid of vision? On a moonless or foggy night, it's like braille. 

5. Goat heads are really, really, really, really, really, really hard.

So, the scene is set: Dark shed, moonless night. FarmWife, cradling delicious alfalfa against her busom in defense against the hungry, fat boys. Groping, blindly, through the dark. 

FarmWife bent down last night, as is her habit, to duck under the board dividing Here from There. This board keeps me from snuggling down into the comfiest part of the shed, but that's another subject for another day. Today's matter: when FarmWife bent down (briskly, and with great energy), Jasper Jules happened to be rushing her (briskly, and with great energy) in pursuit of the alfalfa. The consequence? A great, resounding crack. FarmWife's forehead against J.Js, with the force of a small traffic accident. 

Here's the way things stand today: Jasper, so far as we can tell, is physically uninjured. FarmWife has a throbbing headache and a tender goose egg. Jasper, however, has conceded the win to FarmWife! Convinced that she attacked him as an intentional display of status, he is cowed before her almighty presence. He is downright nervous, now, and cedes the road to her at every opportunity. She has plied him with gentle pats, handfed treats, and quiet words, but he is quite convinced that she is a titan, a warrior, and a dominating master. "She," he says, "has one hard head." 

If he could only see her now—four ibuprofin and a frozen gel pack later. 


Thursday, November 4, 2010

One year in retrospect

One year ago, I posted a video online of myself riding down the road, singing a happy tune to the rhythm of Fenway's clip-clopping hooves. Who knew what it would lead to?

11 months ago, Fenway had 36 fans on his fledgeling fanpage. Today, he has 845.

10 months ago, I used my nimble fingers and opposable thumbs to help Fen launch Brays of Our Lives. I was guessing that the world was ready for Fenway, and that they would love him as I do. Today, he's had over 70,000 site visits from friends in 18 nations.

Six months ago, I leaked to the world that I was dreaming of training Fenway to drive. Today, he happily skids tires in the pasture and ground-drives down the road with a clattering travois. Next step: a cart, which is blossoming on my mechanic/inventor/father's drawing board.

Five months ago, I was given an incredible, gorgeous harness—a gift from Fenway's readers. Today I have the prettiest piece of tack I have ever owned AND a mule who has happily added pulling to his repertoire!

Four months ago, I was glad to learn of the launching of a new magazine on local food, farming, and gardening in the Pacific Northwest. Today, I am honored to be among Grow Northwest's regular contributors and have been lucky enough to write and photograph for every issue.

Three months ago, my mule miraculously and totally rebounded from a serious mystery lameness. He paid for his own x-rays, selling $380 in poetry in 24 hours. Today, he's sound as a pound.

Two months ago, I wondered if a stranger—a gifted artist from Wales—would ever do a story with me. Today, the first edition of our book is on the printing press.

One month ago, I wondered if my goat would live. Today, she's out in the field browsing with the herd.

2010 has been good to me. You have been good to me, too.


A Good Mail Day

Yesterday was a good mail day: Missy got her new goat coat (it fits!), and FarmWife got a mulishly splendiferous t-shirt in the mail from our dear fan K.. A giant, mule-sized public thanks to you, K.! FarmWife does, indeed, love "sitting on her ass." This is, if FarmWife will forgive me for saying so, a perfect t-shirt in more ways than one. 

Today, FarmWife is going to celebrate the beauty of our Wickersham autumn by mucking the paddock, grooming the mule (me, Fenway Bartholomule), tidying up in the garden, and so forth. 

FarmWife is terribly suggestible, and so I shall suggest that she stuff her pockets with carrots before getting to her outside chores. A lovely afternoon is in store for all!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What is the BLM up to with our tax dollars?

I'm just starting to clue into the full horror of the BLM/mustang relationship now, so forgive me if my facts are not entirely straight. While I've always looked askance at the BLM's high-stress roundups, I never thought too much further on the safety of our wild/feral horse herds in the United States. I took notice of the situation when the Texas parks department took to shooting burros to make room for big game in Big Bend Ranch State Park, and my general impression is that this is a very faulty system. 

Here is the BLM's plan, so far as I can tell: 1) attempt to exterminate natural predators. 2) complain that the American mustang has no natural predators. 3) overpopulate public land with subsidized, privately owned beef herds. 4) complain that the public land is overpopulated and overgrazed. 5) ask American taxpayers to embrace "herd management," which amounts to terrorization and imprisonment of tens of thousands of feral horses. 5b)Say that this "management" is in the interest of preserving mustang heritage and genetic diversity, whilst endangering even the most genetically superior specimens with helicopter roundups, high-stress capture methods, and family-group disruption. 5c) lie about the deaths that occur during and immediately after these roundups. Forbid the public from observing, or establish remote "viewing locations" that are situated so as to hide the corral entrances and other high-risk areas. 6) Release traumatized, stressed, isolated horses back into the wild (where, in fact, natural predators DO still exist). 7) sell a few specimens to the general public, without particular attention to the public's practical ability to tame, train, and maintain them. 8) stockpile the remaining agitated herds in holding pens—for life. 

Meanwhile, are we still killing coyotes and cougars in the United States? Are we still removing grey wolves from the endangered species list? Are we still grazing over 4 million domestic sheep and cattle on the same public land populated by American mustangs? At a cost, to ranchers, of just a couple of dollars per head, per month? And complaining that the 30,000 wild equines on this continent are a threat to this habitat? 

If you—our government—want to ruin the genetic viability of the wild or feral horse population in North America, you're on your way. Please, for the sake of the mustangs and for those Americans who might still rally to save these unique animals, confess to what you're doing. Don't call it "management." Call it gradual extermination. 

Even in 1916 . . .

 . . . . mules knew how to SHINE!

Here is a photo from FarmWife's good human friend L., who reports that it was taken in Texas and shows her great grandfather and his mule brigade searching for Pancho Villa.

I, for one, would like to go roaming in Texas under different circumstances; I would like to meet the cattle with the very big horns. It's always been a dream of mine—I think they evoke some sort of ancestral longing for the time when the prehistoric Hipparion and Auroch grazed side-by-side.

Thanks, L., for sharing this beautiful bit of family history and this beautiful mule. Your great grandpa shall be remembered as a man with Muleness.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

10 basic blanketing rules

1) Many of us equines grow a lovely, thick winter coat. Don't blanket if you don't need to. Do blanket if you plan to body clip, or if your cold-climate equine is a skinny minny and can't spare any calories. I wear a blanket, even though I am a furry fatty, because I live in a damp climate with 24 hour turnout. I came to FW with rainrot and she doesn't want to go there again.

2) Take your equine's blanket off in warm weather. Even a dry, cold day can be a lovely time for a roll and a fresh breeze, and a blanket left on all winter without pause can be dangerous and uncomfortable.

3) Check for rubs. There are several brands of underwear available, and some get better reviews than others. If your blanket doesn't fit, find a solution or find a new blanket. Don't be afraid to embarrass your gelding by making him wear a brassiere: it's better than raw sores!

4) Take your equine's blanket off daily, or as often as possible, to check his or her condition. If your equine is thin, you'll want to check daily to be sure she isn't getting thinner. If your equine is fat, you'll want to check daily to be sure she isn't getting fatter. This latter point is an important part of FarmWife's daily check, and there's nothing as distressing as uncovering your mule after three chilly days to find that he has ballooned into a hippopotamus.

5) Wet blankets are worse than no blankets at all. If it's not waterproof, don't bother—at least for turnout in areas where precipitation happens.

6) Dry us off before you blanket. FarmWife doesn't always have time to make me completely cool, dry, groomed, and perfect before blanketing me, but she does strive for cool and dry. She absolutely won't ride me hard late in the day when I've got a winter coat. I am not allowed to go to bed sweaty. Cool is good enough in the summer, but cool AND dry is the wintertime mantra.

7) Don't be afraid to make your gelding wear pink. I look lovely in a purplish shade of maroon, and most equines have full confidence in their natural beauty.

8) Don't overdress us. If temperatures are in the 60s, chances are we don't need that heavyweight Rambo. Sweating under a blanket is no fun at all, and if you don't think you'll have time to take our blanket off when temperatures surge and the sun beats down, don't put it on in the first place. We'd rather grow our own hair, which can be fluffed or smoothed to suit the weather.

9) Buckle your blanket systematically. Everyone has different rules about this, but FarmWife was taught to begin at the front, then do the underbelly sircingles, then one strap around a hind leg (not crossed!) and the other strap around the other leg, THREADED THROUGH the first, and strapped. This keeps our straps from chafing, and the front-to-back progression is safer than the opposite in case we should break free and run about unfastened. Undo in reverse order.

10) Don't wash your blankets during dinner if your laundry room is adjacent to the dinner table. Hardworking husbands don't deserve the auricular abuse of clanging hardware during the end-of-day repast.

Monday, November 1, 2010

This is How I Wash Dishes

I have been told that I exhibit certain compulsive behaviors. I don't think this is necessarily pathological, but it does lend predictability to my dishwashing experience.

I wash dishes once per day, at the end of the day. With a family of five, this ends up being rather a lot of dishes. My husband, on the other hand, likes to wash dishes a few at a time, after each meal, so that there are never more than a few dirty dishes at any given time. I like my way, he likes his, and neither of us shirks the responsibility of washing up. We do it differently, but we both do it well.

This is how I wash dishes: I empty the dish drainer, but I do not empty the utensil holder. I hate emptying the utensil holder, and will avoid it for days until my dear husband succumbs to the temptation to do it himself.

I rinse and seal both sides of the sink, making them clean and watertight.

I scrape all the plates into the compost, and stack them in the left hand sink compartment. I stack them in reverse order of heft; that is, lightweight, small, plastic plates at the bottom and heavy, large dinner plates at the top.

I organize my remaining dishes in this order, from right to left: knives next to the sink, bowls and glass jars next, glasses and mugs after that, then pots and pans, then plastic cups, storage containers, etcetera on the far side. Finally, miscellany (cheese graters, colanders, etcetera) and beyond that, to the far left of the kitchen counter, chopping blocks, cast iron skillets, and other non-soapables.

I start the hot dishwater, squirt some dish soap on top of my plate pile, and ready my soapy scrubber. This is one of those green scrubbers, like you'd find on the back of a sponge but without the sponge part. Sponges are just gross pockets of bacterial filth.

I fit all the utensils, large and small, and all jar lids and rings, in around my plate pile so that they fall to the bottom of the soapy bath.

I begin washing the plates, heaviest first, and set them into the right half of the sink as I go.

As the left half fills up with soapy water, I run clean water into the right half of the sink for rinsing.

I wash all the plates (but none of the utensils, yet). I rinse them on the right. I place them carefully in the back of the dishdrainer. When they are in place, I wash the utensils, which are now cleverly soaked and exposed at the bottom of the left (soapy) half of the sink. I rinse them, I wedge them into the already over-full utensil holder. I wash the bowls. I leave the knives lying next to the sink, saving them for last as a safety measure. I once watched my Aunt Alice go to the emergency room over a dishwashing accident.

I wash the jars, cups, and mugs, finding room for each in the dish drainer. Air circulation is of vital importance when drying jars.

I then proceed through my stack of dirty dishes, from right to left, washing each category in turn and stacking them on top of my tidy plate/bowl/jar/mug/glass collection. The stack grows, and teeters, and grows, and totters, and I eventually cause the entire heap to rest back against the kitchen window through a delicate act of balancing.

You will note that the plastic cups and storage containers make nice toppers for the pile, being that they are easily propped, stacked, and balanced, and wedged without threat to their safety. I like putting the cheese grater on the very top, like the star on a Christmas tree, but this only works if the dish load is not too great.

When my rinse water begins to look soapy (this usually happens around the beginning of the pots and pans), I drain and refill it. I rinse the milking pail, milk filter, and milk-storage jars separately, too, running them under cold water before the soapy bath and rinsing them under hot water after the soapy bath. Raw milk + germs = almost as gross as store bought milk.

Finally, before I drain my soapy water but after I make my giant dish mountain, I wash the knives, rinse them, and dry them one at a time. Then I drain my water, wash my cutting boards and iron skillets under very hot running water (no soap!); dry them, and put them A) away or B) on the top of the dish mountain, if it is not too great and if it seems stable enough to support such an addition.

Once all this is done, I rinse out the sink, turn on the kettle, and make a cup of tea. And, I regret, another dirty dish.

I was touched, and a little sorry, when I saw FarmWife approaching me in the dark last Saturday night. It was after midnight, it was beginning to rain, and she was arriving home from work just as a brisk and unpredictable wind whipped up in the pasture. It had been a pleasant day, and she'd done me the courtesy of leaving me unblanketed. I do love a good roll and a bit of fresh air!

I was sorry because you humans can be so awkward after dark. Like little children, groping along on wobbling legs. Feeling before her, stepping in every muddy rut, and taking tiny, hesitant steps, FarmWife waded into the darkness like it was a thick miasma—a physical barrier dividing Here from There. I saw her coming, clear as day. I saw her fumbling, stumbling, creeping, and tottering through the paddock with the appearance of someone who could not five inches in front of her nose. From across the field, I saw her and became convinced that she could not see a thing.

I helped her out, cantering to her with grace and ease. She was thrilled to catch the flash of my eye before her, and to feel my hot breath on her outstretched hand. She blanketed me quickly, and by feel. She talked to me in the dark, perhaps thinking that I needed to hear her in order to know she was there. I didn't—I already knew.

It was nice of FarmWife to wade into the darkness to dress me. What you humans have lost in terms of harmony with nature—its cycles of warm and cold, light and dark—you make up for in terms of harmony with equines. We still love you, blind and fumbling though you may sometimes be.