Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An old one but a good one

Such nobility! Such poise! Such a look of "Oh My Gosh What Is In That SWAMP?????"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Field trip!

Bad news: I was not invited on FarmWife's field trip, which took place in Alexandria, Virginia at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate a couple of weeks ago.

Good news: FarmWife got to go (she was the organizer, of course she got to!) and she brought back photos and stories.

FarmWife quizzed her tour guide, a knowledgable and amenable fellow, on his understanding of George Washington's mule-breeding exploits. She was delighted to hear that he knew all about our first president's prominence as an early supporter of the mule, that he knew of the jack Royal Gift (a present to Washington from the King of Spain, and one of this continent's first good mule sires), and that even today mules and donkeys are kept near Mount Vernon Estate and brought back for demonstrations and for farm work in the spring. They were offsite at the time of FarmWife's visit, so she contented herself with visiting some steers and sheep.

FarmWife loved the livestock, but she was really there for the timber frames. She thought the buildings, both original and reproduced, were breathtaking. If you ever have the chance to visit Washington's estate, do take it! You won't be sorry!

This wheat looks so delicious, I cannot begin to imagine why FarmWife didn't snarf it all up.
(Maybe it would have been a professional humiliation.) This photo shows a hopperboy, which raked and cooled the freshly-ground wheat flour in the attic of the timber-framed grist mill. 

FarmWife rather liked Mount Vernon's Red Devon steers. The tour guide offered to sell her a pair of calves and she very nearly would have accepted had it not been for the 3000 mile flight home. 

This reproduction of Washington's 16-sided timber-framed treading barn was made for horses: a pair or a quartet of them were trained to trot in continuous circles around the slatted second story floor, threshing the wheat underfoot. Grains were gathered on the first floor after falling through.

FarmWife thinks that I ought to have a job like that. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gravedigging for beginners

Missy, left, and B.G., right
This was a hard week.

Last month, B.G., who has been on-again off-again lame for most of her life, was finally diagnosed at four years of age with laminitis and arthritis. Severe changes in the outer claw of her left hoof meant that, for the last several weeks, she had been virtually unable to walk. The third vet to see her about the lameness finally got the diagnosis right, and it was not a happy one. NSAIDS and dietary changes did nothing to improve the situation, and the vet and I agreed on Tuesday that it was time to put B.G. down. I made an appointment for Thursday.

This decision came at around 10 am, and I went for a tearful muleback ride (my first in over a year, due to Fenway's old hock injury) thereafter. From the saddle I called my mom, which is always good therapy, and soon felt somewhat better.

I came home from that ride to the news that my friend A. (www.mamacan.blogspot.com) had died of cervical cancer. She had a ferocious nearly four-year battle with the disease, which left her ravaged, and had been in hospice care for a week.

Here's what I think about A: she had a magnetic, joyful presence that made me feel amazing. I didn't get to know her as well as I would have liked, as we started running into one another (her sister-in-law is a dear friend of mine) just before she became sick. I took her a dinner, once, and often commented on her blog. I saw her at her family's parties over the years, and later I thought of her and worried for her and encouraged her from the sidelines. From the get-go, before and after cancer, she was an incredible woman: always smiling, always warm, always beautiful and creative and compassionate. She lit up a room. She made me feel like a good friend even when I barely knew her, and it felt like a privilege to be around her.

There came a time when she was sick, too sick to cultivate a new friendship, and I was busy and broke and living in another town. It's too bad I let any of that stop me. I should have signed up to drive her to Seattle for treatment. I should have taken her more meals. Four hours in the car with A. would have been four priceless, precious hours and I'm sorry I missed that opportunity.

A was surrounded by friends throughout, and it's no surprise: everyone felt drawn to her as I did, I think. The outpouring of love that I've seen on her facebook page and her husband B.'s has been tremendous. Her preschooler son C. got her beautiful smile, and those boys B. and C. are going to need these friends now. They are beloved by their entire community, as A. was. I hope I get the chance to know them better over the years.

As for my goat, she was beloved too. I'm not one to believe much in an afterlife, but I do take some small pleasure in thinking that if A. ever wanted a dairy goat, she's got a good one now. The tiny little part of me that wants to believe in magic can imagine them together, now, in some pastoral place.

The same part of me—the part that wants to believe in magic—saw significance in the tremendous double rainbow that appeared over Western Washington the day A. died. She loved rainbows, and her "rainbow connection" group (to encourage healthier eating) inspired me to bring more fruits and vegetables into my life. I'm going to blog about it, in guised and upbeat terms, on my nutrition blog for the Bellingham Herald later today.

I dug two graves yesterday—the first was easy going in light, sandy soil. I was two and a half feet down and feeling like a gravedigging machine when I hit the water table, and then I stood in two inches of silty water wondering how many fish would die if I put a poisoned carcass into the
Samish headwaters. I called around, learned it would cost $300 to have the body taken away, and decided I really did want her grave to be at home where we could someday visit it. I filled in my beautiful, shallow hole and hiked to the high side of the property, closer to the sunken railroad tracks than the spreading river. There, near Meredith Lane, I tried another hole. This one was gravelly but I was able to dig deeper without hitting water. I should have been thinking.

I buried B.G. in her mother's paddock—the mother who you'll remember, if you're following www.braysofourlives.com, as having also been scheduled for euthanasia that same day. The vet, my husband, and I finally decided that being thin, old, and lopsided is not the same as being in pain, and that Missy was not ready to throw it in. I'm glad of that, as she seems unfazed by the loss of a herd mate and I'm certainly grateful for her company now.

My nose keeps bleeding, off and on, from a whack B.G. gave me with her head as she went down under sedation. So much for chemical euthanasia as a clean method—she was clean, yes, but I was covered in tears and snot and blood. I was not at my most dignified when B.G. died, but she went with quiet grace. It didn't look like murder, anyway.

I wonder sometimes if a bullet would have been better for the environment. I do now have a toxic body buried on my organic farm, and a place where the clover will always be suspect. I don't know if roots can carry sodium pentobarbital to the surface, but I plan to cover B.G.'s grave in a thick mulch as a preventative measure, in case.

As much as I say I feel no attachment to the body, I placed value on the experience of burying her. I dragged her unceremoniously by her neck, apologizing through my tears, but when I had her in the grave I arranged her comfortably. I tucked her legs beneath her. I excavated a shelf for her chin, extending her neck into a somewhat natural position. I comfortably covered her body with earth but had to avert my eyes as it fell around her nose and eyes. She still looked too much like herself.

How's that for a rambling blog post? I'm not sure I said enough about any of this, but there it is. My week in a nutshell.


Thursday, October 25, 2012


Here's an update for all my kind friends who offered condolences on B.G.'s passing. FarnWife and the vet spent a long time talking about Missy and decided to wait. Her daughter went quietly; Missy is attending the body now with no apparent concern. Time will tell if this was the right decision.


There's been some sadness hanging around here lately. FarmWife's friend Alexis (mamacan.blogspot.com) died of cervical cancer on Tuesday after a fierce, nearly four-year battle. She leaves behind a loving husband and preschooler son.
Today, the vet is coming for B.G.'s end-of-life appointment.  We always expected her mother, Missy, to go first. Now it's B.G. who is in chronic pain from arthritis and laminitis, conditions which became apparent during her pregnancy and which were misdiagnosed twice before we finally got a clue. She is not well.

FarmWife is left with the difficult decision of whether to put Missy down too. On the one hoof, she's weak and crooked and thin despite a high calorie diet. She sees demons, butting her head and hackling at invisible invaders every day. FarmWife fears she will feel vulnerable if left alone. She is afraid of me, now, and terrified of my sweet Arrietty. 

On the other hoof, she's not declining. She's been a skinny, geriatric goat ever since her stroke (or whatever it was) two and a half years ago. She does not seem to be in decline, and maybe she could live a couple more years like this.

FarmWife made the appointment for both goats, thinking it's better to bring death a year too soon than a minute too late and fearing desperately that Missy, weak and alone without her daughter, would be afraid. Now, as the hour draws near, she is wavering.

Your thoughts are welcome.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I'm off to the 28th annual eastern conference of the Timber Framers Guild. Those of you who know me well will realize the extent to which this event has absorbed my attention for the last four months. I'm glad it is finally here! Watch for updates here and at www.tfguild.org.

Happy birthday to me!

I, Fenway Bartholomule, have been abandoned yet again by my human mother (FarmWife). She is away on business, which doubtless means that she is hobnobbing with interesting people, eating interesting food, and washing her hair with *teeny weeny* shampoos.

I envy her the food and the company, but I don't need the teeny shampoos. I have my own jumbo toiletries and medicinal balms, thanks to my kind friends at Simple Relief Products (www.simplereliefproducts.com). They heard I was turning 18 and sent me a sweet-smelling box of wound-soothing, coat-shining, skin-nourishing goodness. I will tell you more when FarmWife returns and conducts my next spa day. In the meantime, visit my new friends online or at their Facebook page to see their line of natural products!

FarmWife promised presents for her daughters on return from her conference, and I rather hope she'll bring Arrietty a new halter, but my needs are met. I just need her back to help me enjoy these gifts.

Thank you, Simple Relief! You are Simply Wonderful.

Ears to you,
Fenway Bartholomule

Friday, October 12, 2012

The difference between veterinarians

I have had dealings with a veterinarian who called me a donkey, and I have had dealings with a veterinarian who call me a dear. The difference is stark.

The former veterinarian said things like, "careful, you have to show donkeys who's in charge," and "you'll need a stud chain if your donkey won't come in here."

He is not my veterinarian any more.

The latter veterinarian said things like, "he's a wonderful mule—even nicer than most," and "he's being so good, we hardly need to sedate him," and "it's no wonder you are so proud of him. He's gorgeous."

He is going to be my veterinarian forever.

Thanks, Dr. Leisher, for being so nice to me and for knowing that there is a difference between mules and donkeys. You are the right kind of veterinarian for me.


Mule recipe from peer.tamu.edu

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What I expect

FarmWife has taken me on some test walks (better, now, with shoes) and my hock has been rock solid all along. This is a wonderful improvement over last summer, a year ago, when my thoroughpin blew up to tennis-ball size after even light exercise.

I've had more than a year off, and it is only recently that I've dared to hope that FarmWife may ride me again one day! No terribly high expectations, of course—I won't be foxhunting, completing the Tevis Cup, or entering Rolex anytime soon. It would please us all, though, if I could meander from here to Skagit County, ponying my pony mule, for a trailside picnic. (I do love sandwiches!)

I shall keep you informed.


Thursday, October 4, 2012


Barter: I love the concept, and I'm grateful for frequent opportunities to practice this ancient means of commerce in this closely intertwined community I call home. Here's my new tattoo, which I got in trade for writing through a convoluted string of IOUs. (Next question . . . to tip? I thought "yes," settling on some cash and a beaver skull. It suited the artist's decor better than my own.)
The original design was by Briony Morrow-Cribbs, artist, illustrator, fine art professor, and childhood best friend.
The tattoo was by Bob Yaple at Bellingham's Sabbath Tattoo.
It's a robin amidst dill and sage, and reminds me of my three daughters (Robin Elizabeth, Dylann Hannah, and Mia Sage).

Out on a walk

I'm strolling with my buddies and my feet feel fine!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

FarmWife is back!

FarmWife is back! She spent nearly a week in New Hampshire and Massachusetts enjoying the delightful company of her extended family, which includes a lot of people and a couple of cats but not a single mule. She came home, needless to say, in desperate need of a big furry mule hug. Arrietty and I provided eight hooves, four ears, four steaming nostrils, and a whole lot of fuzzy autumnal hairyness for the comfort of her lonesome soul. She is once again covered in hair, dust, hay, and straw—just like we like her.

Jason Rutledge, www.healingharvestforestfoundation.org
FarmWife is desperately eager to enroll students in her upcoming workshop, "Restorative forestry through horse logging," scheduled for Thursday, October 18 from 8:30 am to 5 pm in Leesburg, Virginia. Enrollment is low and the session will be cancelled on Friday if something doesn't change between now and then. If you have ever wanted to learn to work draft horses in the woods, or to promote the long-term health of a forest through "tree gardening" and single-selection logging, this is an excellent chance to learn. Details about the session are available at www.tinyurl.com/horselogging and registration information is available at www.tfguild.org. If you are someone with an interest in healthy ecosystems, I encourage you to attend. You need not be a logger or own a team to participate, learn, and boost your muleness through education!

Fenway Bartholomule