Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

Happy leap day!

(That's B.G.'s daughter Briony Bluebell, in case you'd forgotten . . . and yes, her legs are better now. She lives with a family on South Whidbey Island.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The second best thing in the world

FarmWife is torn about the second best thing in the world, after the friendship of a good mule: is it the great outdoors, or is it cuddling a warm chihuahua?

Option A:
Option B:

The wonderful thing about this dilemma is this: FarmWife can enjoy the great outdoors, the friendship of a good mule, and cuddling a warm chihuahua—simultaneously!

Ah. Life is good.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Under the wire

We had a splendiferously springy day yesterday, despite waking up to a blanket of snow. My raggedy old hens have been inspired to start laying eggs again, my mama goat is developing an udder despite having been at least 5 miles away from the nearest buck all fall and winter, and I am dropping hairs like nobody's business. We celebrated by taking the first serious hike of 2012—me on hoof, FarmWife on foot, and my oldest human filly (age 12) on muleback. We went up Lyman Hill and down the electric line to the scenic vista, where we were met with a marvelous sky dotted with blue. We came down Lyman hill and up Wickersham Street just in time to beat the snow, which fell half-heartedly for just long enough to make us glad to be home.

I am proud to say that I was less winded than FarmWife during the climb, which just goes to show that the size of a mule's tummy means nothing next to the size of his capacious heart.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Match the breed/species to the body part!

A little bit of weekend fun for you: match the breed/species to the body part!

A. Googly eyes

B. Huge ass

C. Sparse tail

D. Gigantamundo forelock

E. Roman nose

F. Dinner-plate hooves

G. Tremendous ears

1. Shire

2. Friesian

3. Appaloosa

4. Donkey

5. Arabian

6. Quarter horse

7. Lusitano

Friday, February 24, 2012

Le Spook

Bad news.

I had a fantabulous idea: "FarmWife, take me in a parade! Dye my hoofies green! Dress me up in a thousand gold coins! I will be the treasure at the end of the Saint Patrick's Day rainbow, and every Bellinghamster will revel in my splendiferous mulishousness!"

She knocked it down flat: "FenBar, I love you with all my heart. You know I do. You are a perfect mule for Bent Barrow Farm, but you are no sort of mule for a parade. You cannot go into the town in a thousand gold coins when a sheep makes you do this:

And when a ruffed grouse makes you do this:

And when a motorbike makes you do this:

It simply would not be safe, my darling. I am thinking of your safety."

I told her, "I will learn not to wheel about and gallop home when I see a motorbike. You will see."

FarmWife said, "I believe you, Fenway. We will teach an old mule new tricks."


Thursday, February 23, 2012

What is writing for, anyway?

I was thinking about why I write, or about what I like about writing, more specifically, and I realized it's like making friends. It connects me to like-minded people. To people who are crazy about animals; who understand dry humor; who see the point in fending for one's self, yet indulge in the conveniences of the modern world; who grieve when a chicken dies; who love their dogs like children; who sweep up dust bison instead of dust bunnies; whose outbuildings are made of salvaged material. It connects me to people who live in the city but yearn for the country, or people who live in the boondocks and yearn for a town like Acme, or people who live right where they want to live but who find me interesting, and want to hear what I have to say. It is as much as an inlet as an outlet. It brings readers into my world, and I love them as friends.

Blogging has prepared me for writing my book, because it has shown me that I do have an audience, and that it's made up of people like me. Maybe they're people who like what I like, and who can laugh when I laugh, cry when I cry, and share my amazement at this life I've stumbled into. Maybe they're people who can understand how this motley crew of people and animals, this logging town, and this little green acre add up to a downright amazing life.

Grow Northwest

Are any of you interested in the agriculture/gardening/local food scene in the Northwestern Washington State? Do any of you get your carrots, hay, or mules from small farmers, or do any of you want to learn more about growing carrots, hay, or mules of your own?

You might know that FarmWife writes for Grow Northwest Magazine, a family-owned publication out of Whatcom County. I'm going to take the liberty of sharing a fundraising letter from the editor, as I think their mission is an important one:

"Dear readers, supporters and community members,  

Thank you for your support and interest in Grow Northwest magazine!

Grow Northwest is going monthly in March and we are raising funds through Kickstarter to support the magazine. We are an independent, family-owned publication, but operate much like a non-profit — we have a bare bones budget and strive to be a community resource.

We are hoping you can help us spread the word about our fundraiser as we try to raise $10,000 to help with initial costs in going monthly. As a thank you to donors we have t-shirts, subscriptions, stickers, gift baskets, etc. and will print all supporters' names in a special thank you section in print and on our website. Eternal thanks, hugs and high fives as well. 

Pledge a $25 donation and you receive a Grow Northwest t-shirt, sticker and your name in our special thank you section! Other thank you gifts also available. Any size donation welcome and appreciated.
Here’s the link:
THANK YOU for considering making a small donation and/or helping to spread the word. And please forward to anyone you think might be interested in our mission! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Take care, Becca

Becca Schwarz Cole
Grow Northwest magazine
editor@grownorthwest.comPO Box 30373 Bellingham, WA 98228"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


In Wickersham, we have plenty of berries.
There are some things of which we can never get enough, and there are other things of which we have plenty. Now, this is distinct from the category of things we would like none of (though there are such things: contagious diseases, quarrelsome neighbors, barbed wires, bills).

These are things we have that are, in the immortal words of Goldilocks, just right:

Goats. Two is a nice harmonious number for this little acre.

Outbuildings. We have a human house, a chicken coop, a duck hut, a greenhouse, a woodshed, a woodshop, and now a fine little barn. There is no room for anything else on this particular acre.

Rabbits. Two rabbits go a long way, which isn't to say that we don't adore them. We do. Speaking of rabbits, mine now have a nice little paddock for sunny weather, and when they're in it we can visit. Nose to nose, ear to ear.

Raspberry canes. Our patch provides up to two gallons a week in July, which is just about all my humans have time to pick. I offered to prune the patch for them. They declined.

Scarves. FarmWife has been knitting up a frenzy, and now every human (and some of the pets) is equipped with a snug and colorful scarf. It is time for FarmWife to broaden her repertoire, and so she has begun to make round things. I would not be surprised if I wind up with a stripey woolen mule hat one of these days.

Hobbies. Knitting, shooting, cooking, riding, hiking, and writing will do it for FarmWife, and eating, braying, goat herding, trail-conquering, babysitting, blogging, and looking majestic will do it for me. FarmWife once fancied herself a jogger and a kayaker, too, though she hardly ever does either of those things. She wouldn't mind being a rally obedience trainer, too, but she has hobbies enough.

What do you have just enough of?


Monday, February 20, 2012

Never too many

Books, but not too many. Trinity College Library, Dublin.
Since FarmWife is a human, and since many of my dear readers (i.e. YOU!) are humans, I thought I would dedicate some time today to thinking of things that humans can not have too many of. There are many delights in this world, humans, and you deserve them all.

A human cannot have too many:

Blankets (horse or human)
Field guides
Bath towels

There are surely a million more things that one cannot have too many of. What would you add to the list?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reprinted from The Brayer, January 2012

Photo by Jennifer Singleton—
borrowed from
with thanks to Kathleen Conklin

The Bold and the Brayful 
A column by Fenway Bartholomule

Rest in Peace

I used to have a mule hero. His name was John Henry. He did terribly mulish things—hunting, showing, pulling butcher's carts. He was elegant, tremendous, and noble. He inspired. 

I never got to meet John Henry, though many of you did. I'd venture a guess that no mule graces the pages of so many BRAYER's as John Henry. He was truly one in a million. 

FarmWife, who has a business writing poetry, wrote this back in the summer when we were all still reeling from the news of his sudden illness and death. As Thanksgiving passes and Christmas inches closer, FarmWife and I can't help but be grateful that we have each other, our family, our friends, and our health. May the new year keep us safe. 

My earful thoughts are with Kathleen this holiday season, as they are with each of you who lost someone close this year. May you find joy in your memories. 

John Henry

Beloved? That's not good enough. 
A friend? The word's a shadow. 
There is not language strong enough.
All phrases feel too shallow. 
John Henry, indescribable—
John Henry, so adored—
These words may scratch the surface,
But his life was so much more. 

Charisma? Yes, he had it.
Charm, intelligence? Those too.
He was an athlete and a star,
A brave and soulful mule.
He made inroads where none had gone.
He forged his path, and yes—
he stole one heart completely 
and he made a thousand friends. 

There are no words. There is no way.
And yet a poet tries . . . 
What phrases, put together, 
catch the kindness in his eye? 
What words speak to his patience,
to his presence, to his smarts? 
What words explain the magic,
How he touched so many hearts? 

John Henry was the kind of mule
a person can't forget—
And so, although he's lost to us, 
His legend lives on yet. 
And if God has a pasture
Where his finest equines play,
Then there, upon those golden hills,
rings sweet John Henry's bray. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

A ride

There's very little this view can't fix. 
A ride: FarmWife needs one.

How elementary school teachers survive the oversight of 20+ seven year-olds for six hours a day—and three times that many at recess—is beyond FarmWife. She is exhausted after a week of escorting her broken daughter to school and sitting in during library, reading, math, music, etcetera, plus making a couple of trips to the people-vet with tired and cranky children. She is completely sapped. She spent last night dragging around the house, frowning, grumping, and generally being a little bit unbearable to the people around her.

FarmHusband and I know how to mend her spirits, though. "You need a ride," he told her. "A nice ride on your mule will fix you."

We are going to hit the hills tomorrow afternoon, and I am going to take her hunting for scenic vistas and breathtaking little moments. I'm sure we'll find some.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Update #1

It's been a week since my big "make me do it!" spiel, and I'm tempted to offer excuses: my daughter is broken (her tibia, fractured at school on Friday, is in a full-leg cast until April) ; my work is piling up; my house is a mess.

I am less than ten pages in to the new content of the book and I have about fifty pages selected from among old writing—pages that need some tweaking, but that fit in. I am still excited, though, and I think I can develop a good new habit of working on this project daily.

I have not forgotten my promises.


The end of the internet

My friend Bif found the end of the internet, and it is even more amazing than you might think!

What I want to know is this: can I have a lion like that? Please?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The cruel impartiality of Father Time

Father Time waits for no mule.

I told the guy, "cut me some slack. I've got this hay to eat, these goats to mind, this grass to trim, this cool refreshing water to drink . . . and, Father, I've got a blog to attend. I can't do all of this in 24 hours! I need a break." I asked him to bump me up to an allotment of 25 hours—maybe 26, max—on Friday, the day FarmWife was busy at the medical clinic all day. I asked for an extra 45 minutes on Saturday, the day FarmWife was out with Husband and Daughters trying to get some very small crutches for a very small filly (they are hard to find, it turns out, but if you are in Bellingham you should start at Hoagland's Pharmacy and save yourself the trouble of calling 30 other places). I asked for an extra hour or two yesterday, too, so that FarmWife could finish building a bunny paddock and still have time to blog with me before cooking some heart-shaped pizzas. He wouldn't budge.

24 hours is what you get, it turns out, whether you are an orphan or a hero or a dullard or a celebrity mule. Father Time is severe in his adherence to the rules, but he is also the world's greatest defender of equity. The only people who get a break from the 86,400 seconds-per-day rule are hypothetical speed-of-light travelers, and since I'm not one of those then I suppose I'm going to stop fussing about it and simply leave you with this: FarmWife and I apologize for the patchy content this week, and we promise to do better. You, dear readers, are never forgotten.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Broken person

I have a broken person here at Bent Barrow Farm. I've only caught glimpses of her—first, being carried from the truck to the house after an emergency call from her elementary school—then, a bit later, being carried from the house to the truck and whisked away. She was brought back, five hours later, smelling of antiseptics and swaddled from foot to thigh in a hard cast.

"A broken leg?!!?", I asked.

"Yes, Fenway, but don't worry," FarmWife said. "They don't shoot people for that."

She's going to be OK after six weeks in a cast, I hear. There is a "no muleback riding" rule in place, which I find terribly silly! I'm safer, stronger, and less challenging to use than those darned crutches. She probably never would have gotten broken in the first place if only she had been riding upon me, Fenway Bartholomule, instead of racing down a hill on her own two feet.

I'll show you a picture of her as soon as she emerges from the house again.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

One hoof, two hoof, red hoof, blue hoof


The little humans have developed a fondness for fashion, and I have my suspicions that they will soon eye me with more than just a curry comb in hand.

D: "Can we put purple hair dye on Harriet?"

FW: "No. She might lick it off and get sick."

R: "Can we paint Clover's toenails?"

FW: "No. She likes to chew on her feet."

R: "Can we cut Paisley's hair?"

FW: "No, let's let it grow back in."

I have a sinking suspicion here . . . that my hoofies, which are the most tremendous and spacious canvases, might become the next outlet for their beautician-inspired urges.

Bray for me!


Begin at the beginning. Go on until you reach the end. Stop.

I decided to write a book last month, which sounded like an easy enough thing to do: I love writing, after all, and I love talking and telling stories about me, about my animals, about my people and my home.  Think James Herriot/John Katz/Cleveland Amory/Betty McDonald.

It turns out I have been stymied, ever since, by the questions of how to begin—how to organize—how to transition—how to end. I decided, yesterday, that I'd better begin at any old place (but not necessarily at the beginning) and write a copious abundance of material between now and summer, then face at that time the tremendous hurdle of organization. Trying to organize as I go is like trying to keep my boat dry while I paddle—it causes an immediate and profound absence of progress. I'm going to take my rough outline and shove it, only referring to it again when I have the content in hand.

This, then, is going to become—from now until June—not a blog about my life, but a blog about a book about my life. I will let you know, every day or two, how it's going. If I don't, you can ask me how it's going. You can remind me to finish what I set out to do, which is one of the hardest things in the world for a person prone to procrastination and lapses in focus. You can prod me if you have to, and in fact I'd appreciate it if you would: I know, you see, that I have the talent and the material to write a book. I just don't know that I have the attention span without some outside interference.

I am going to start with a story about a muleback ride, because it is upon muleback that I think best.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I don't know if you can tell what a splendid thing you are looking at—the resolution, I'm afraid, is low—but this is a selection of paint chip colors that was generated from a photo of me, Fenway Bartholomule. The magic is in the names—Cloud Nine speaks of blissful happiness, while Sturdy Brown could not be more aptly fitted! Secure Blue, Dignified . . . so perfect for me. Gray Matters? Well, I am rather brainful most of the time!

Tikihut? Hmmmm. I guess I am going to let that one slide in as an alternative and more festive title for my new barn, and Tricorn Black makes me feel like a masterfully stern naval officer.

You can play with this tool yourself by visiting the Sherwin-Williams website or going to


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Picnic report

Since I forgot to have the humans bring the camera on today's picnic,
I'll have to ask you to make do with this photo of my picnic-mate and youngest human, R. 
One thing you can count on—I never lose my head during a picnic. There is just too much at stake! Only an impeccably mannered mule will be allowed an ample portion of the basket's contents, you see. I'm not picky—today, FarmWife ran out of apple slices early so I gladly shared her cheese and mustard sandwich. A bite for her, a bite for me . . . a bite for her, a bite for me. I had a bit of my youngest filly's PB and J—though in that case, I was not allowed a bite straight off the sandwich. Too many small fingers nearby! Instead, I waited patiently, hooves just at the edge of the picnic blanket, for a hand-selected tidbit.

The apples, of course, were splendid while they lasted. The sandwiches were lovely too, and I gave them both four hooves up to FarmWife's surprise. Seeing as it is like pulling teeth to get me to eat a bran mash or a wet handful of oats (too watery! Blech!), she expected the mayo and mustard to scare me off. No sirree Bob! I like a good sharp cheddar as well as the next guy.

I didn't get any punch (young R, four, told me it was because of my too-big lips) and I didn't care for the Reese's Pieces (too small!), but it was a successful picnic all the same. I got turned loose to look for grass, which was a bit of a flop due to it being February but which was, I suppose, better than a stick in the eye. I summited a small gravel heap, looked about, and came down again. I smelled, but did not taste, the pond.

Passersby who happened to glance at the salmon pond today would have been treated with a delightful scene of pastoral calm. One driver even slowed to a halt at the spectacle of a mule enjoying a picnic lunch! FarmWife told Iggy Tribble stories all the way home, which is a particular delight which I shall have to explain another day.

Fenway Bartholomule

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Five perpetrators of unbraining

There are three magical and powerful creatures in Wickersham who have the power to instantaneously unbrain a mule—to abscond with his thinking organ—to turn him into a mindless atomoton, capable only of heedless flight. They are, in no particular order:

Motorbikes. I've been twice unbrained by motorbikes once they've stopped, then begun to slowly reaccelerate. The zipping-by kind of motorbike doesn't seem to harm a mule's brainfulness at all! Last time I saw a slowly accelerating motorbike, I whirled about and galloped for a hundred yards before my brain reinhabited its place inside my head.

Satan's chickens, also known as ruffed grouse, also known as rough chickens. These birds of the netherworld lurk silently until they are within beaking reach of one's precious hoofie, then unnervingly (and unbrainingly) rattle. No good shall come of it. Last time I heard a rough chicken rattling, I stampeded into the underbrush and was thorned by a berry bush, the surprise of which restored my brainfullness.

Satan's goats. These are called "dear" by the humans. The fathers have pitchforks on their heads. They only unbrain me when they stare . . . deer in motion are not a thing to worry about. Last time I was unbrained by a deer, FarmWife was on the ground holding my reins and was able to reinstall my brain with a bit of lunging.

FarmWife says that there are a good many mules who are not so spooky as me, Fenway Bartholomule, but this is what I think about them: they just haven't met the right unbrainer yet.


Friday, February 3, 2012

A gentle guiding hand . . . er, mouth

I have a goat infestation, if you will recall, but they generally mind their manners when it comes to staying out of my hay flake, yielding the road, etcetera. Not yesterday, when B.G. had her smelly hard head right in my very own dinner pile!

A more short-tempered mule would have resorted to violence. A more passive one might have accepted defeat. Not I! Diplomacy is equal parts tact and gumption, and so I solved the problem without bloodshed.

I pinned my ears, glaring with nostril upcurled. She looked startled, but recommenced to eating. I snaked my head at her, lips tight. She edged away, but continued to snack. I took her ear, then. I took it ehhhhhhver so gently in my teeth. With delicate, guiding pressure, I lifted her head out of my meal and onto her own. I walked her like a naughty schoolboy over to her own delicious dinner and I deposited her there with a look of stern reprehension. She stayed put, and if she had had command of the English language she might have said, "yes, sir. I won't do it again, sir."

I am a problem solver. I am a diplomat. I am never cruel.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Iota McHippus

I've had a tremendous suggestion from my diminuative peer Iota McHippus—a karaoke duet! I have hardly ever heard a more compelling idea. The accompanying sketch cinched the deal—we MUST sing together. I shall bray, Iota shall neigh, and joy shall reign supreme in the hearts of all who chance to listen.

Now, I'm off to to see about airfare. (Do you think they'll make me pay for two seats? Maybe the wee lad had better come here.)


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My barn

Disclaimer: safety is relative. These cattle panels would not make suitable interior dividers for a flighty horse, as they could present a leg-ensnarement threat. Since I, Fenway Bartholomule, have never so much as gesticulated with a hind leg in the entirety of my career as Head Mule of Bent Barrow Farm, FarmWife feels safe using them to divide me from the goats. Please don't use cattle panels in your own barn without a similar confidence in your hoofbeast's sensibility.

If FarmWife could afford a more high-tech divider system, then perhaps we would use something different. One day, we may even have real gates.

Here, then, is my barn in progress. Please forgive the absence of siding and the incompletely-papered walls.

Goat accomodations.
Note the abundance of alfalfa and a terribly obstructive gate barring entry to me, Fenway Bartholomule.
Pardon the lumber pile, which will be moving, and observe the little blue barn in the distance:
it belongs to the neighbors, and FarmWife can finally stop coveting it! 

Hay storage. Someday, we shall have a real floor. Today, we have this tarp-strewn platform.
 It's classic Wickersham style at its best. 

Me, Fenway Bartholomule, standing in the spot where alfalfa used to be served
back when the goats had a shed-within-a-shed. The lopsided construct in the background is FarmWife's
attempt at building a goat shed. It is about to serve the third of three purposes: first, it sheltered Burzom, Bowdoin, and Briony Bluebell during weaning. Second, it allowed FarmWife to better understand the limits of her carpentry skills. Third, it will accomodate ducks when we add them to the family in March. 
The barn viewed from the south. Note the ample overhang, under which FarmHusband will place his lumber.

Barn from the East. Note roof height, the better for to stack hay beneath.
 The cruddy row of bent-up gates is a temporary solution to keep us from eating the felt paper before the barn is sided. 

Me, Fenway Bartholomule, basking in the ambient light which is allowed in by transparent roof panels.
It's February in Western Washington—we can use all the light we can get. Note the flags, which are a nod to
Save Your Ass Equine Rescue who recently decorated their new quarantine barn with same.