Tuesday, December 29, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 115

 While Christmas was nice for me, I’m relieved to have it past us, as that means all my close beloveds are home, moved and settling in, and we are in the process of staying quarantined for the most part as we tighten our pod. Little Will joining us outside the womb is a huge incentive to doing that. 

I’m thinking of a pod of whales, maybe orcas, and love the idea of swimming out at sea, diving deep, breaching the water, and staying safe until we all move past Covid, a slow but hopefully steady progression back toward the way our lives were before it started. 

November Hill is for me like the ocean. I can putter for weeks here without even the thought of venturing out, and I personally do not feel alone at all, thanks to my human and animal family, my friends and writing colleagues I see via Zoom, and iphone messages that have become ongoing conversations. Technology sometimes drives me crazy, but this year it has been a blessing.

It’s winter in all the ways we mark it in NC. While we have some warm days, the foliage is gone on many trees and plants, the pasture is mostly dormant now, and after rainy days I always look at the ground and think that nothing will ever grow there again. It always does, come spring. 

My pollinator gardens are also mostly dormant, except for the birds, who are devouring seeds left over on the brown plants which I’ve left to overwinter. The bees are taking sugar patties and holding their own. Artemis hive is lower in population than Hegemone, who seem to be a very solid colony. My hope is that we can get a swarm trap up in the early spring and lure a swarm from them to replenish the Echo hive and capture Hegemone’s good genetics. 

We purchased inner covers for these two hives that have screened mesh openings in a row and the rest of the cover is glass. This is amazing - we can take the tops off the hives and see right through the glass into the top box of frames. We can put small sugar patties in the mesh circles during the winter months, and in other months if we need to feed syrup, we can invert mason jars there. I’m very happy we discovered these. I need to get photographs but for whatever reason, I just don’t seem to be focused on photos lately.

Cody destroyed a second blanket, but to be fair, these were two old ones whose straps had dry rotted. His new one is arriving today. This has effectively cleaned out my blanket stash - the pony has his new sheet and a serviceable mid-weight blanket that fit well. Keil has his new mid-weight and a nice fleece, and Cody as of today will have a new mid-weight. I need two new sheets for the big boys to round out their wardrobe. 

Keil Bay has finished his third month of Marquis and we’re giving him a couple of days before moving on to the Rebalance we have on hand. He is holding his own - and I feel like we will get through this with some more time for neuro-regeneration. EPM is a terrible disease and I wish there was more active research focusing on prevention for horse owners and their horses.

Dogs and cats are happy and healthy. Clementine is scheduled for her spaying early in January, and her Penn Hip testing. She’s so grown up. 

A large part of what happens here is me writing, or trying to (I need 36-hour days), and I’m sad to report that my 8-week ms clinic via Zoom wraps up tonight. It’s been such a pleasure to work with the instructor and the 5 other women who are in the class. Next week I’ll start the next incarnation of the Writing In The Dark course, which I’ve done through most of this year, also on Zoom. These six-week sessions focusing on short work have really been a silver thread running through this year. 

It’s hard to believe we’re nearing the end of it, and if you’ve never seen Chris Guillebeau’s outline for doing an annual review for yourself, google it and rejoice. It’s a great way to assess the year and how it’s gone, and to think about how you want to create the new year in terms of time, energy, focus, and yes, goals. But really, his format is more than just goal setting. I’ve been doing it for a number of years now and highly recommend it.

In case I don’t get another post in before January, happy new year to all. This is definitely a year I think most of us will be happy to leave behind, but I also know that the difficulties we’ve been through, and continue to go through, have also offered us a new and very sharp lens through which to look at our days, our country, and our flaws. Sometimes that can be a good thing. We can move forward with new perspectives and hopefully, solutions. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Book Review: Jo Ann Beard’s forthcoming Festival Days

I discovered Jo Ann Beard’s rich, riveting work when a writing teacher assigned her essay The Fourth State Of Matter, which appeared in the New Yorker in 1996. That essay so wowed me, I couldn’t wait to read more. This forthcoming book, Festival Days, is a potent treasure, jammed with perfectly-observed details and a rhythm that tumbles forward like a song. Beard chronicles the commonplace and the unusual with equal beauty. Her ability to make time do what she wants is impressive. She can make it drag, while simultaneous pulling the reader forward, in The Tomb of Wrestling, and pushes it into quick leaps as if choreographing a fast-paced dance in the title piece Festival Days. As she so often does, each piece, and the collection as a whole, come to a smashing final beat, more than the sum of its parts, both separate and connected. A beautiful book, highly recommended

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas morning, November Hill

 My daughter and I are here with the animals until this evening when the rest of our family arrive in town, so we’ve done our own thing. Watched Little Women last night, woke up with nice Christmas music and a few gifts, and managing a very cold day for the herd today, after yesterday’s 65 degrees and pouring rain. Thankfully the sun is out, but the wind is blowing and it topped out at 34 earlier - we’re going down to 19 tonight. Blanketing has been a challenge, but I found an almost brand new pony sheet in my storage bins that I’d forgotten, so now the pony has a sheet to wear during this cold windy day and can give his heavier blanket a rest until later tonight. Keil has switched into his fleece for the day, and Cody’s getting Keil’s old Schneider’s sheet which will give his (not that well fitting) warmer blanket time to air out. I am ready for his new one to get here!

The dogs got new stuffies last night and provided quite the show for us, new dog chews this morning, and the cats got a new cubby/house, toys, catnip, and treats. They too provided quite a show. My daughter and her amazing photo skills captured this fueled-by-catnip play:

Happy Christmas, all!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve day, November Hill

Yesterday was so lovely. I started the very dry morning watching these three crows enjoy what remains of the final Halloween pumpkin.

 Today, it is pouring down rain off and on, and we just had a very intense wind gusting for a few minutes, but nevertheless, we are warm (it’s 62 degrees outside) and hopefully I can get the pony dry before the temps go down to below freezing tonight. There are some dire predictions for parts of North Carolina, so I hope everyone remains safe.

The beginning of the stream that runs through the front pasture when we get big rain. I’m happy to see that it’s flowing nicely, in between the row of alternating elderberries we put in last winter. While not yet big up top, under the ground their root systems are securing the banks on either side of the water. Allowing the leaves to remain on the ground also helps with run-off water.

This is what happens when your farm helper thinks he’s doing the right thing by removing every single autumn leaf. I saw this today and remember last week when it rained and no water collected - the leaves were still there. I raked out the leaves he’d banked around the oak tree and put them back where they were. This area is the back of the donkeys and pony’s small barnyard paddock outside their stall and shelter. They put the manure on the leaves along the fence, which are then easily mucked. Today, they couldn’t even get over there. The one small pile was before the rain started early this a.m. After I put the leaves back, this standing water was quickly absorbed. I’m not even entirely sure what magic leaves perform, but after years of living here, I’ve learned that taking them away is detrimental in horse-keeping and in water run-off control. Leave the leaves! 

The horses and donkeys are hanging in there - yesterday was beautiful and 55, so I let them stay out until 8 pm knowing they’d be in all day today. They did some galloping, Keil Bay included, and they all seem peaceful and content hanging out in their stalls and shelters and paddocks in this big rain.

The dogs went out dressed in their rain coats. Is Bear adorable or what?

This shows how much of his body is actually fur! He looks so slim and trim with the fur pressed down by the jacket!

Baloo ripped his brand new rain jacket off and tore it up within minutes of being outside. Sigh. However, he won a Twitter photo contest and had a prize portrait painted from the photo, so perhaps we will just call the ruined rain coat a wash. 

Tomorrow will be cold but sunny - a wonderful combination for Christmas Day.

Be safe, be happy, celebrate whatever you celebrate this time of year! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Winter Solstice 2020

 I had grand ideas of what I would do to mark the winter solstice, but in the end, I went out just before sunset to help get the herd in, give Keil Bay his Marquis, and do a little work with my husband on one of Redford’s hooves, which seemed to have a sudden growth spurt (or wasn’t quite trimmed all the way in his recent hoof trim) and was in need of adjustment.

It was a quiet and sweet time, and afterward, we looked for the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn but couldn’t yet see it. 

I peeked out later and spotted this wonder, and overall, that was my solstice celebration!

We have a big week ahead, with my son and daughter-in-law moving their household from north to south. My part will mostly be waiting and holding down the farm here on November Hill. That’s a harder role for me than being actively involved, but it will be sweet and I hope as quiet as a December morning before anyone is up and about. 

The shortest day, the longest night, and now we’re tipped over to increasing our days bit by bit. It has been a dark year in some ways, so moving to more light feels like an important part of this year’s journey.

Happy Winter Solstice! 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A week of ups and downs

We started the week with rain and we’re ending it with more rain. Clementine is all of us right now, I think, longing for sunshine and better days.

On the sunny days, in the mornings, we enjoy the light coming through the plants, which after years of being kept upstairs in the winter, migrated back to their original spot here. I remember now how much I liked them there. The weeping fig has its own little autumnal response to being brought inside. Some leaves yellow, then fall, and it shoots out new growth. We repotted it this year and I’ve shaped it a bit.

One of the ups this week was finding this Meyer lemon bud, the first we’ve had in several years of caring for this plant. It’s the slowest growing thing I’ve ever had. If we get a lemon I will be over the moon!

Another sunny day Keil Bay and I waited for his acupuncture vet and I chronicled the oak tree shadow on the barn, something I love seeing, and often think how wonderful it would be to paint a wall with such a shadow on it. It transforms the entire barn.

After two and a half weeks of total normalcy, Keil has had a relapse and is holding his right rear leg outward again. He’s weak in the hind end and putting his feet in awkward places. But his spirit is good and he’s enjoying time in the barnyard with his fleece on, knowing the peppermint brigade is on the way.

The acupuncture helps, and while we’re now having yet another rain event that means he’s not moving as much, I hope we come out of this soon. He did a little trotting in his PT time and looked very good. We hope that time will heal the nerve damage and he’ll get back to his normal self and stay there. 

 It occurs to me that a week of ups and downs is basically a little piece of a life pulled out and observed, like a series of watercolors or notes on a pad. It is all ups and downs, isn’t it? And that’s not a bad thing, simply a true thing. In the middle of the acupuncture, when Keil had his blanket off, the vet’s assistant said she wanted to wrap up in Keil’s blanket, and she did, and in some small way that brightened up the moment, when he was standing wonky and tilting in the rear, and yet the three young women who come to minister to him were cheerful and behaving as if nothing were other than it should be. He’s having a wonky day. This will help. Let’s wrap up in his fancy fleece and give peppermints and update his treatment plan and aim for the next time. 

He walked them to the barnyard gate when they were done. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 114


Earlier this week I was filling the water trough in the back pasture when I glanced up and noticed the golden hour light near sunset had hit my favorite oak tree. As I watched, two handsome donkeys climbed through the arena fencing and illuminated themselves. What a sight. 

We’ve had some cold nights the past week, a couple of which also had rain, so both Keil and Cody were in  blankets so that if they wandered out of stalls and shelter they wouldn’t get wet. I wanted to do the same for the pony, but he hates being blanketed and his fur is so very thick. I left him as he was and he did get wet, but also had plenty of hay and shelter, and is fine.

The blanket we first put on Cody lasted two nights and then one of the belly straps broke away where it was stitched to the blanket. It’s years old and possibly dry rot was behind this, so I’m shopping for a new blanket for him. We had Salina’s newest blanket that fits Cody, so he moved into that, but his QH neck and chest make it snugger than I’d like it to be, so once I get his new one in, I’ll donate these two. 

The pony has a sheet and a blanket and both are old, so I’m going to need to get him something new as well. In the past I always had two for each horse, a sheet and a medium weight, so we could use as appropriate to temps but also have a spare to switch into if we had many days of cold/wet conditions. Even the most waterproof of blankets will get soggy if we have days and days of cold rain. It’s not a common event here, but good to be prepared.

Right now Keil has updated to a medium weight and a really nice fleece stable blanket. He still has an older Schneider sheet but it’s quite heavy and I may try that on Cody to see if it fits him well enough to be a spare for him. 

What I really need right now is a blanket rack so I can hang them up in the tack room. If you’re reading and have one you like, I’d love to know where you got it.

The plan to repair the deck had to be postponed due to materials not arriving, so we pivoted to some barn repairs. FINALLY! I had the top “windows” to the exterior stall doors pulled down to replace the old and in some cases very rickety lower doors. For whatever reason, when this barn was originally built, the windows were made much longer than the doors, so they are heavy and honestly we almost never have closed them, so they are in near pristine condition. I bought new hinges and stall latches and they look quite nice, though taller when closed than “normal.” Since we rarely close horses in, this isn’t an issue. Keil and Cody are fine since they’re tall, but the pony and donkeys won’t be able to see out with their back door closed. It’s almost a non-event that we ever do close them in, though, so we’ll get some years of use out of these and when they need replacing, I’m going to go with some nicer Dutch door/window sets I found online. 

We also had all the doors and windows in the barn worked on to insure that all of them open and close easily. There were two that were super “sticky” and now they are easy as pie. The new stall latches are on all the doors, the tie backs for the exterior doors are all replaced and work perfectly, and I also have window latches that will go on next week. We had a couple of windows that need more work, and a couple of interior stall doors need some work, so these things are on the slate for next week. There are a few more sprucing up details that had never been done in the barn aisle that are getting done next week as well. I’m happy to see this stuff coming off my list. It was too cold to do any painting this week, but when we have a nice dry, warmish day, I’ll do the touch up trim painting that will brighten everything up again. 

It’s definitely a winter landscape here now, and the birds are searching out every seed that remains in our pollinator beds. We also had a small group of crows who are eating into one of the leftover pumpkins. They’ve made a perfect circle and are pulling the seeds out of the middle!

There’s one farm task that I’m saving as a surprise reveal. I should be able to do a show and tell sometime this month! 

Friday, December 04, 2020

Rehabbing the EPM Horse/ Update on Keil Bay

 Keil Bay begins his third month of Marquis today. He’s on 8000 ius of vitamin E, reduced from 10,000 as I felt he was a little spooky and that can be one side effect of too much E, and both Equioxx and Duralactin for inflammation (and since he’s 31, for mild arthritic issues). I added Smooth Run Equine’s Challenge supplement, which is bovine colostrum + mushroom extracts to assist with immune system support, per a research study I found online. This combo had a very good positive outcome rate for horses with EPM, and Keil is doing well on it. He often looks totally normal, but there are still days when he sticks one of his hind legs out to the side when standing, and days when he comes in and leans against the barn wall to rest. 

At 31, it’s hard to tell what is neurological and what is normal aging, with some of the more minor symptoms, and I know with my own aging body that healing and recovery from simple things (like the slip and fall I did on a plastic syrup bag in the apiary) can take longer than when I was young. So I am trying hard not to stress but to follow my daughter’s wise advice - let him live his life. Do the things I can do, watch for problems and signs that he’s unhappy, but don’t let my own desire for everything to be perfect make me think he’s not. 

He is turning out normally now, and has been for a month or so, and the hills in our main pastures offer a daily PT exercise for him. Going up and down the gentle slopes is, I think, good for him, and when I researched rehab exercises for neurological deficits in horses, one of the common ones recommended is to hand walk the horse up and down gentle hills. So he is getting that every day, on his own volition, with his herd, and I think it’s the best medicine I can offer.

This week we have started some additional rehab/PT with him, to see if we can help with the leg sticking out issue. He looks the best when he’s moving - at the walk, trot, and canter, which he does off and on during the days of turn out. It’s always when he stands that I see his symptoms. The proprioception piece, which is a big part of EPM - his brain seems not to be always able to tell his hind legs where to go. So I brainstormed some exercise we can do that might help rebuild that. We started yesterday, and my husband is helping, as it’s easier to do and observe with two people. 

We took Keil in the arena with halter and lead rope, hoof pick and hoof brush, and his favorite Red Bird peppermints. I did the walking, at first going around the arena as if we were warming up for a ride, but with me obviously on the ground. After a few circuits I stopped randomly and had Keil adjust his feet as needed so that my husband could lift one leg and clean that hoof. 

My hope was that the muscle memory of Keil getting his feet picked, and knowing where his feet normally rest for that, might be engaged, and combined with the forward movement that he’s already doing well, we could make some progress toward a more normal stance, more of the time. Rebuilding those neural pathways. At the same time we’re working on his balance for hoof cleaning and trimming. 

It went very well, and I made this up myself, so we’ll see how it goes. After we did all four hooves, we did some large circles and a couple of smaller ones, following the dressage patterns he’s done most of his life, which again, I hope might help engage brain/nervous system/muscle communication. 

Near the end we put a ground pole down and walked over it from both directions. He navigated that perfectly and he seemed quite happy to get his peppermints and do this bit of focused work. We’re starting with 10 or so minutes. I want to engage the nerves and muscles but I do not want to push into fatigue. 

For more info on rehabbing EPM horses, there’s a nice article HERE.

I’ve also ordered a book that uses Linda Tellington Jones’ T-touch exercises specifically for rehabbing neurologic deficits. I’m eager to apply these when the book arrives, as I’ve used her exercises in the past for other things and found them very helpful.

For an overall picture of what we’re tracking with Keil, his vets are pulling CBC panels regularly, as the anti-protozoa meds can be hard on the system, and also to insure the Equioxx is not taxing his kidneys. So far he’s normal. 

Because he tested into PPID range in October (even factoring in seasonal rise), he’s now on 1 mg Prascend and his PPID came down to normal since he tapered onto the full dose. We’ll keep an eye on his ACTH level and adjust the Prascend as needed. 

He’s also getting acupuncture once a month (and more frequently if I think he needs it), plus he’s back to his chiro adjustments and his hoof trims. 

And finally, I also have him on homeopathic remedies for both PPID and EPM. I’m coming at this from every angle and while I will have no idea which thing is helping the most, or not helping at all, my goal is to get the best outcome possible for him. 

I’ll update as we go. And I have to say thank you to his entire treatment team, which includes four vets and my husband and daughter, and his herd. Cody is a best friend he literally leans on if needed, and Redford has become a constant companion who stands near Keil Bay no matter what. We’re lucky to have Keil Bay and he’s lucky to have all of us! 

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

A Tribute to Rafer Lewis Johnson, Olympic Gold Medalist who died today at 86

 I’m sad to report that I got an email today letting me know that Rafer Lewis Johnson, an Olympic Gold Medalist and the man for whom our own Rafer Johnson was named, died today at the age of 86.

I might never have known who this athlete was except that Rafer was named for him and we were told the reason why by Rafer’s first family, Ken and Marty, who took the naming of their donkeys to a high art form. Rafer’s mom Contessa was very much ready to give birth, and when they went to check on her the day Rafer was born, he was already being born. Contessa ran to her shelter where the delivery was completed, thus Rafer Johnson was running before his hooves touched the ground. He still runs, in a very fancy athletic way that makes me think of an Olympic athlete, so his name truly suits him, and every time he meets someone new and I say his name, they mention how distinctive it is - and I get to tell this story all over again and share the story of the man he was named for.

Over the years, I have read articles about Rafer Lewis Johnson, a Black athlete who retired from running after winning the gold medal and went on to have quite a remarkable life. One notable thing was his friendship with Robert F. Kennedy. Mr. Johnson was present at RFK’s assassination, and tackled and wrenched the gun from Sirhan Sirhan’s fingers. The death of his friend left him traumatized and depressed, but he went on to help launch the California Special Olympics and remained involved with that cause the rest of his life.

There are many more aspects of Rafer Lewis Johnson’s life that made him special. It’s a huge honor for our Rafer to be named for such a remarkable man. I encourage you to read about him in his LA Times obituary, HERE.

In this year of pandemic and the long overdue focus on Black lives, Rafer Lewis Johnson is a beacon and an inspiration. Our little Rafer Johnson and we are sad that he’s gone. His spirit lives on though, and I’m so glad we came to know of him. Rest in peace, Mr. Johnson.

Monday, November 30, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 113

 It’s hard to believe today is the last day of November. We’re having a rainy, windy day that is quite warm but on the other side of this is a cold front, so we’ll soon have chilly days and even colder nights. Fitting for the season, though, and conducive to thinking of decorating for Christmas. We got a live tree yesterday at a very near to us Christmas tree farm, and it’s up in our living room with about 3/4 of the lights put on. We’ll continue working on it today. I replaced my fall season gate wreaths with the winter season ones yesterday, and we’ll begin the annual tradition of bringing up bins with decorations tonight. 

Yesterday while it was still dry I made candy boards for the honey bees and we removed the syrup in advance of the colder weather. Did I mention here that two of my hives robbed the third hive and they left? I suspect I triggered this by disposing of some old syrup near the hive, which is a big no-no, but I simply forgot that it was a very bad idea. 

I hope that colony has found themselves a place to be for the winter. It’s not likely they’ll make it given they will have no honey stores. It’s also likely they were not a very strong hive if they weren’t able to defend against robbing, so from that perspective they have culled themselves from my apiary genetics. A hard truth.

The two remaining hives are very strong and okay. I hope to be able to catch a swarm off the very strong hive, as they seem to be thriving and I’d love to replace the lost hive with their genetics in the new year.

In the barn, I’m happy that the semi-annual barn cleaning got done, and I’m still making my way through the feed/tack room. The horses are good. Keil has had several weeks of being super good and now has had a few days of holding a hind leg out again. We’re in the final week of the second month of Marquis treatment, and I feel we need to go a third month. I’ve read that many horses need a 90-day treatment. I’m checking in with the vet today and we’ll figure it out.

This month our barn roof is scheduled to get some updating done - actually it is being repaired along the edges which unbeknownst to us were never properly finished by the guy who installed the roof three years ago. I’m annoyed, and when we first noticed a seeping issue coming in from one edge, I tried to get him over here to fix it, but he didn’t respond to my messages until I mentioned it on a FB group based in the town where he lives (big horse community that we’re a part of from way back) - once I said in that forum that I was trying to get a response from him, it was only a half hour until he reached out to me. By that time I had waited several months and already had someone else lined up. I hope this is it for the roof. We love it, but obviously things need to be installed properly to work!

Next week my farm helper and his friend will be replacing the railings on our back deck, and widening the steps so the three dogs can more easily go up and down without a logjam occurring. I’m also installing a ramp for Bear! We had planned to put a full back porch on in place of the deck, but after sitting with that plan I realized the roofline would interfere with several upstairs windows, some pipes along the back of the house, and the existing roofline and gutters. Visually I’m not sure how it could be integrated so that it looked like it was meant to be that way. For now, we’re repairing what needs to be fixed, creating something that works better (the wider steps plus ramp), and an area for the cats to have near their cat tunnel entrance that is secure from the dogs, who like to run over there and interfere with comings and goings. My desire for a covered space may be able to be met a different way - we’ll see. In the past I’ve considered enclosing the square deck area to make a sun room/den area and maybe that’s a better way to go. I guess part of the fun of living in a place is plotting how one would make it better. Certainly that’s true for me!

Right now I’m in my garret and the clouds are blowing away to reveal blue sky and some sunshine, so it’s nice to have gotten some rain and nicer still to have it move on through so the horses aren’t in the barn too long. 

December! I love the solstice time of year and it’s sweeter this year thanks to election results and also the vaccines that will start being distributed to those who need it most. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Shopping the Day After Thanksgiving? Jane Smiley’s New Novel!

 Actually, for us, today IS Thanksgiving, as we shamelessly changed the day to accommodate our own needs. I spent yesterday leisure making some of our favorite Thanksgiving entrees, all of which are ready to be popped into the oven when we get hungry today. 

I have never shopped on Black Friday - our tradition leans to going for a local hike or simply walking out with the herd, but I did read emails this morning and when I saw that Jane Smiley has a new novel coming out, I scurried to a new tab in my browser and looked it up.

It’s a novel about a race horse named Perestroika who lives on a track in France and escapes one day to visit Paris. Okay, Jane, you won me over. I’ve now shopped on Black Friday and pre-ordered this alluring new book for myself.

Jane Smiley is a prize-winning author and she is a horsewoman. I’d check this one out if you need an engaging, horsey read. It’ll be extra good if you also love Paris. 

Read more and order here.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A Goal To Sing

 I Worried

Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows 
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Isn’t this perfect? I worry about everything, not so much in a stressed out oh my god kind of way, but more like if I think of everything that might go wrong, I can fix it ahead of time so it doesn’t. 

This of course takes its own toll, and manifests in a lot of to do lists and a running monologue inside my head. The horses have taught me other ways to be, and I’m grateful to them. 

On Friday and again yesterday, instead of mucking pastures, I began to clean the tack room - most importantly the tack. For someone who has not ridden in over a year, this is singing, don’t you think? Holding the reins in my hands, lifting the saddle, its weight and heft, gauging which length of stirrup and leather I might need as I clean them.

It was a lovely day, and Keil was good, and while I am not setting a goal to ride him again, the possibility that such a thing might present itself was potent. Cody was hanging around as if making an offering, and I imagined taking him up on that.

When I walked across the top of the front pasture, this is what I saw:

The X is Gebo, the rune of gifts and partnership, and the sun was there glowing like a beacon of light, not at the end of a tunnel, but omnipresent and all knowing. I know the optical explanation for the two orbs, but am taking them to be my first horse Bo-Jinx, and Salina, hanging out with the herd and letting me know they’re here. 

I remember my first ride as a child holding the reins, feet in stirrups, and I remember the first ride on Keil Bay, in a sunny indoor arena with mirrors at one end, hardly able to believe that the woman in the mirror was me. Keil Bay sailed us through the sunbeams that day. A month later he came to live with me.

I see the next ride, the culmination of every ride, but without the worries. Just the song.

Monday, November 16, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 112

 A week ago my farm helper put in the bit of interior fencing in the corner of our front pasture, to keep the horses and donkeys out of that corner. I have southern bayberries planted inside the perimeter fence down there, as well as 10 winterberry hollies, and my plan is to add more rain garden plantings and stone to help with the rain run-off at that side of our property.

All was well until he hit our internet cable. All my fault, as I had No Cuts out previously and misunderstood where the line went up the fence over there. So suddenly we had no internet and a two-day wait for repair. Thankfully our little town has a very cool co-working business where you can rent space to work. They have two different high speed internet providers so the chance of both having problems is nil. With husband and daughter both working from home, this was a lifesaver. I had two writing workshop Zoom meetings there, as well as my monthly writing retreat Zoom meeting. I was so grateful not to have to cancel all of these. 

We have a temporary repair as of last Thursday but now waiting for the permanent repair this week plus another look at our internet speed, which is very slow. Hopefully all this will get organized soon. It’s hard to be without decent internet!

Other than the internet being cut, the fencing is wonderful. They used materials we had on the farm, so we didn’t have to spend money for that + it got some of those materials out of storage and into use. They put in a section of removable rails so I can easily get a wheelbarrow in there when needed. So happy with the excellent work!

In other news, Keil Bay seems to be back to a good place with the EPM. He’s on his second 30-day Marquis pack, has had his third acupuncture session, and we’ve put him on Equioxx for the anti-inflammatory effect. I also have him on Duralactin and will be putting him on bovine colostrum + a mushroom compound after reading a research study that treated EPM with Marquis/Duralactin/Vitamin E at 10k ius/Transfer Factor. I couldn’t find the Transfer Factor but found a reputable company making a supplement that matches the ingredients. It should boost his immune system, which is important in general, but especially during EPM recovery.

He’s on regular turn-out with his herd and seems to be quite happy with the fall weather we’re having. I’ve worried a bit about the upcoming cold nights on the radar and took this opportunity to order two new blankets for him. A little bit of an early holiday gift. All hail the Big Handsome Bay!

I don’t have photos or the recipe after our fig tree has gone totally wild with ripe, gorgeous figs this year, my husband picked a huge number and has made three fig cobblers. I took one to my mom and brother yesterday, but we’ve enjoyed the other two and they were delicious. I wish I could serve bowls to all reading this. A perfect fall dessert.

I’m doing a lot of writing and workshop assignments the past couple of weeks, and also have had some work going for the two boards I serve on, so my home projects have slowed. However, we have a barn roof repair being done soon and tomorrow my farm helper is going to focus on doing a semi-annual barn clean out. It desperately needs it. I am hoping the next week I can get to the barn door repairs that need doing. 

Inside, I have plenty to do. Too much to do. But I’m taking it a bit at a time and not getting too riled up about the pace at which I’m accomplishing the long list of tasks I have in mind. 

We had a lot of wind and rain last week with the hurricane that came through and many of the trees are bare now, but there’s still lovely color and it’s such a lovely autumn overall I just want to look out the windows, look up at the trees and sky, and soak it all in.

As we move toward Thanksgiving, let me say it now: thank you who read here, thank you who comment, and thank you to the voters in the US for taking back the White House. I am so grateful. We have a lot of work to do but this was the first step, and it was a big one.

Friday, November 06, 2020

A few photos of the Big Bay, this week

 Keil Bay got a big thumbs up from his vet on Monday, but yesterday had a relapse so we’re continuing the Marquis for another month. The relapse was not severe, but it definitely warrants continuing the medication. I’m stressed but hopeful. (This seems to be my default mode wrt many things right now - Keil, the election, our country)

I think the series of portraits my daughter took this week captures perfectly what I’m seeing with the Big Bay. He’s an amazing horse and I hope you’ll send him good thoughts as he moves on with EPM treatment!

Thursday, November 05, 2020

A fascinating tale about the Keebler Elf and dreams

 Years ago I posted a dream I had about the Keebler Elf. It was quite intricate and involved horses and at the time I marveled that my unconscious would insert the Keebler Elf into my dream world.

Today my fascinating tale is that of all the posts I’ve made here on camera-obscura, the post about the Keebler Elf dream is the second most-viewed posts of all time. What?!

It’s true! I have no idea why, but can only surmise that other people have dreams about the Keebler Elf.

Another interesting fact is that the views of my old Keebler Elf dream post tend to increase during times of “stress.” There’s been a huge uptick since Covid hit, and now there’s another big uptick during the elections here in the US.

Why do we dream about the Keebler Elf?

Why do we dream about him when we’re stressed?

I do not know, and while the post has the second most views of any post I’ve written, it doesn’t get comments from readers.

If you are reading this, and you found this post because you were searching for information about Keebler Elf dreams, PLEASE take a moment and just let me know why. 

You can comment anonymously and I will see them, or you can comment and request that I not approve the comment for the blog, and I will honor that. I’m just very interested in what brings people to that particular post.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 111

 We’ve had a lot going on. I’m happy to say that Keil Bay is much, much improved and that is a weight off my mind, body, and spirit. I’m grateful for Marquis, Prascend, HA injections, APF, and acupuncture, and also for three great vets who love the Big Bay and helped put together a treatment plan. 

I also need to say a special thank you to Cody and the donka boys, and to remind all readers that if you don’t already know this, horses have the capacity for emotion, and they also have the capacity for deep friendship. When Keil first exhibited symptoms, Cody came up to me over and over again that first day, facing me directly, putting his face to mine, and it was clear what he was saying. HELP him. 

In the days that followed, Cody spent many hours side by side with Keil, putting himself on whichever side seemed weakest, and literally held Keil upright with his own height and weight. It might not be obvious to those who don’t know the different sizes and weights of my herd, but Cody is the only living thing on November Hill farm who is big enough to do this for Keil Bay. And he did it. He did it in the double stall, he did it in the barn aisle, he did it in the barnyards. I watched him watching Keil and putting himself right next to him, their barrels touching, Keil’s weak hind end resting against Cody. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed.

The donkeys, especially Redford, stayed with Keil overnight, because I knew they would bray their little hearts out if he went down and could not get up again. They did that for Salina, and I trusted them to do it for Keil Bay. Thankfully it didn’t happen, but what a gift to me to know they would call me if needed. 

Little Man was Keil’s first new herd member when Keil joined our family. They joined us two weeks apart, and suddenly they were pasture mates in their boarding facility, then they were the two who moved here with us to the farm. Little Man has a very bossy personality but he’s also a good friend to his herd. He has been super sweet to me since Keil got sick, coming up and licking my hands, standing quietly beside me, and in subtle ways he took over as interim herd leader. I’m sure he’s been waiting for this for years - but while he took on that role, he gave it back whenever Keil Bay asked for it. 

I’ve lived with this little herd for years now, and they have taught me so much about how horses live together and how they care for one another. They have their little arguments, they converse, they share and say no, they play, they form unique bonds, and they do, without question, love and grieve and mourn. 

In other farm news, we are fully into autumn now. The dogwood trees are gorgeous this year, with burnished red leaves and berries, and the hickory trees have gone brilliant yellow. Our late ripening fig tree is laden and giving us delicious ripe figs on a daily basis right now. As long as we don’t have a hard freeze in the next few weeks, I think this will end up being one of the best harvests ever for this tree.

We’re not having a mast year with the oaks, but there are many acorns on the ground, and in the high winds we had this week from Zeta moving through, many more fell. 

Our front pasture was limed and overseeded with orchard grass earlier in the fall, and we’ve had it closed off to the herd for well over a month now. It looks amazing! And they are definitely aware of how good it looks. I’m giving it another few weeks to mature, and once Keil has the all clear to go out to that much larger space, we’ll open the gate and let them have some time on the grass, probably an hour or two a day for a few weeks, and then I’m hoping, if weather cooperates, to do a quick liming and overseeding of the back pasture, though it may only need rest to bounce back. 

I’m definitely liming and reseeding the big barnyard, to help with the trenching that was done to run our electrical line to the camper. 

In good to do list news, my farm helper put in 40 southern bayberry bushes along the front and around the side of our property. The front line are all mulched and look really good already. As they grow and offer some privacy it’s going to be wonderful. The ones on the side are inside the pasture, in an area that has always been a bit problematic, as it’s where the storm water runs out of the front pasture. We’re going to put some fencing in that corner, to keep the horses and donkeys out of it, and that will allow me to put in a rain garden area with rock/stone to help with erosion and to give a dedicated space for pooling that will hopefully end up being a sanctuary for birds and other critters. The bayberries will add privacy from the lane and also provide a nice evergreen backdrop for our new rain garden. 

I have 10 winterberry hollies to go in that area next. They lose their leaves but are known for their bright red wintertime berries, which will be great forage for birds and a bright spot in the winter for our eyes and spirits. 

Once we get the wild plums, pawpaw, and persimmon put in, all but one down in Poplar Folly, I’ll be done with planting for this season. (Okay, I do have some native seed mixes I’m going to toss out in a few spots, but other than that...)

The bees are moving into winter mode now. There are still some things for them to forage, and they are on warm sunny days, but we’re feeding this year since these were all nucs in late spring and don’t have quite the honey stores to make it through the winter. Next year I hope they’ll have their own honey to carry them all the way through. I’m feeding 2:1 cane sugar syrup, adding an essential oil mix called Honey Bee Healthy, and also adding a tablespoon each of powdered probiotics on the side. It was recommended in a beekeeping workshop I attended via Zoom recently to feed small amounts, enough for 3 days or so, rather than one large amount less often. We’re lucky that our hives have the capacity on top to open a panel and slide the food in without disturbing the bees or allowing cold air into the hive bodies. And this week on one of the super warm days we were able to install a new inner board that has a glass panel plus three vents which allows us to feed syrup or powder using a mason jar, and which offers a very nice view of the top box frames - again, with very little disruption or cold air going into the hive itself. I’m going to see how this goes and if we find it works well, will get these panels for the other hives too. 

I hope the bees make it through the winter this year. We’ve done some things differently and I hope these colonies are strong enough to make it!

Yesterday I was thinking about the fact that I haven’t been to a store of any kind since March. My shopping is online now; thankfully our local grocery, feed, pet supply, and wine stores are all well set up for curbside pick-up or delivery. I haven’t been to malls or shopping centers regularly in years so that part isn’t much different for me, but I have loved supporting local stores and businesses and getting to know the owners and staff, and I miss that part a lot. 

While life on our little farm has its own time and space, and the “apartness” of it from the world is one of the things I love most about it, I do feel a large sense of anxiety right now that stems from the upcoming election and the things that are at risk for our country if it doesn’t go toward the light. It feels like we’re in some kind of dark place now, and while I have issues with a lot of politicians about various things, it’s clear to me that we need a change in leadership, or to put it more accurately, we need an actual leader in the White House. I want a landslide. I want to know that a lot of the people in this country care about science, about the earth, about each other. I want to know that while many of us didn’t get our first choice in the primary, we are clear enough about what is needed to take us there with this election. It’s a big step, it’s a needed step, it’s a critical step. Where we go at that point is what we face next - and we should be ready to remain engaged and demand good leadership and progressive, humane policies throughout our layers of government. But right now we have to put out the toxic fire that’s smoldering. 

That’s as much as I’m going to say today, but as protected as November Hill is from the real world issues, it’s now holding this stress as well. I know it’s so much harder for so many people. May we find a path out of this mess and may we work toward helping everyone have their own safe haven. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Addendum to the Keil “Bronco” Bay update

 Yesterday was acupuncture treatment. Today was Billie almost loses her mind while Keil goes on the rodeo circuit right here on November Hill.

They turned out after breakfast tubs this morning, and when I went out at noon to give Keil’s Prascend and bring him in, they were all lolly-gagging around in the back pasture. I went through the arena and opened its back gate so Rafer Johnson could rejoin the herd - he’d climbed through to the arena. When I walked into the back pasture, Keil cantered from a standstill up the hill to me.

Wow, I said, look at you! I gave his med and a peppermint and was thinking maybe he could just stay out another hour with his buddies. The pony cantered up just in case I had extra peppermints. I turned to walk back through the arena, and before I could even get to the gate, Keil Bay, Little Man, and Cody GALLOPED in past me and proceeded to do their galloping/bucking/rearing routine. This is pretty much the norm for them - it’s never been an everyday occurrence, but they enjoy playing in the arena when I let them. But really? While Keil is still recovering from EPM? The day after he had a swollen hock? 

They were galloping so hard the donkeys went around to the barn shelter, safely out of the way. I got a few flakes of hay and took them to the back field, through the main gate, hoping once they saw the hay they’d settle down and head back out. But no, they went on for 15 solid minutes.

I could hardly watch - I kept calling out soothing commands - waaallkkkk, and slowwwww - to no avail. When I did look, Keil was totally steady on his feet, but still, this performance scared the heck out of me.

I was afraid to intervene, as they have their patterns and were in “herd mind” - I was worried if I went in and tried to stop any of them, it would create a logjam or cause one to veer in the way of the others. 

Finally, they slowed down and once they did, I opened the arena gate that leads into the dirt paddock by the barn (which I didn’t dare do until they slowed, because they also tend to use the dirt paddock like a race track when in this mode). Keil went to his stall door and I let him through to his stall and the barn aisle. 

I’m not even kidding - he went to his hay, leaned his butt against the barn wall, and wasn’t even breathing hard. 

I messaged his acupuncture vet and said “if this is what acupuncture does, sign me up now!” I could also have used a valium! 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Update, the third, on the Big Handsome Bay

 Keil Bay seems to have come through the worst of the EPM protozoa die-off and is moving much more solidly this week. We’ve had several episodes where he’s made a break for the back pasture, at least once at a full/fast trot, and in general he’s back to wanting to be on a normal turn-out routine. 

He’s still eating well, drinking normally, and generally hoovering up all the meds he’s getting each day. He has 2.5 weeks left on Marquis, and we’ll see if he needs to go longer on it when we’re closer to the 30-day mark. He remains on Bute as an anti-inflammatory. He’s also getting two alternating homeopathic remedies for PPID, was tapered to a full dose of the adaptogen tincture APF, and as the die-off has died down, we’re tapering him onto Prascend. He’s up to .5 mg and after two more days of that, we’ll move him up to .75 mg.

Today he had his second acupuncture treatment and he loved it even more this time. He has a slightly swollen hock today, and we decided to start him on monthly HA injections to help with overall joint health, and believe it or not, he loved getting the injection! It’s arterial, so no big deal, but he leaned into the vet tech as she gave it and did his googly eyes at her. What a horse - he followed the vet, the tech, and I through the barn and I think would have gone all the way to the vet truck if I’d let him. 

So he’s through the worst of the EPM, we’re working on the PPID, and he’s got several new therapies on board to make life better as he goes on into his 31st year. I’m happy to be on this side of the EPM stuff, but obviously we’re still treating, still monitoring, still making sure things are moving in the right direction.

I’m grateful for good vet care and for all the treatment options at our disposal. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 62: southern bayberry (aka wax myrtle)

 Yesterday my super farm helper put in 23 of the 25 southern bayberries I ordered last spring. We’ve put them in in front of our front pasture fencing, where they will not only offer a native plant benefit to pollinators, birds, and other wildlife, they’ll also provide privacy screening for us as they grow. 

These bushes are evergreen, deer resistant, hardy once established, and they can grow up to 8 feet per year, which means you get your privacy very quickly. They can be pruned or let go to create a very thick hedgerow effect, and you can let them grow to the ground for a full shrub effect, or limb them up to get more of a single trunk/tree effect. 

Right now, I’m just thrilled they are in the ground, watered, and waiting for mulch. Up near the gate, we will put them in behind the fence instead of in front, to give a layered effect and keep the gateway from the road tidy and distinct. 

I love the idea of a dense thicket effect and spaced them such that they will definitely grow to meet in the middle unless we intervene. One more thing checked off the list!

We also finally had the barn electric box updated, a line run to the barnyard/camper, and new outlets installed in the barn aisle. I have more projects for the electrician in the barn and the house, but this was a full day of work, and got done what we needed for now. Check, and onward. 

More info on the bayberries:

Morella cerifera

Morella cerifera (L.) Small

Wax Myrtle , Southern Wax Myrtle, Southern Bayberry, Eastern Bayberry, Bayberry, Candleberry, Tallow Shrub

Myricaceae (Bayberry Family)

Synonym(s): Cerothamnus ceriferusCerothamnus pumilusMorella ceriferavar. pumilaMyrica ceriferaMyrica cerifera var. pumilaMyrica pusilla

USDA Symbol: moce2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), HI (I), PR (N)

A wispy, 6-12 ft., multi-trunked, evergreen shrub, southern bayberry or wax myrtle can reach 20 ft. in height. The light olive-green foliage has a spicy fragrance. Pale blue berries occur on female plants in the winter. Handsome gray bark is almost white on some plants. 

Native from New Jersey west to eastern Oklahoma and east Texas, south through Mexico to Central America as well as through much of the Caribbean, this popular evergreen ornamental is used for screens, hedges, landscaping, wetland gardens, habitat restoration, and as a source of honey. Essentially a shrub, it serves as an excellent screen plant, with both standard and dwarf varieties available. Because there are separate male and female plants, if you want berries you must have male plants close enough to the berry-producing female plants for pollination to occur. The leaves are aromatic, with an appealing, piquant fragrance when crushed. Colonists separated the fruits waxy covering in boiling water to make fragrant-burning candles, a custom still followed in some countries.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A few farm photos

 My husband took this one the other morning and I love the foggy landscape, the redbud leaves now yellow, and a certain Bear Corgi showing off his home.

This is one large cluster of asters in the pollinator bed. There are two other large clusters as well, and I can tell you that if you want to support bees, whether honey bees, native bees or all of the above, this is a must-have for autumn forage. It’s covered on these sunny fall days.

Here’s one of our girls foraging, with already full pollen baskets!

I also noticed and took a photo today (but it isn’t loading on my ipad via icloud and I don’t have phone with me at the moment) of my climbing asters newly planted this summer. They kept getting nibbled back by bunnies until we fenced them off, and then they leafed out nicely. They now have buds soon to open! I’ll take a photo of the blooms when they open up. I’m happy they’re finally kicking off to a good start.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Clementina Pumpkin

 Every day I get photos like this in our fam chat and all I can think is - Clem needs her own calendar. :)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Spotlight on Clem and Baloo, again

 My daughter keeps taking stunning portraits of our dogs. Hello, Baloo:

And hello, Clementine and Baloo, best friends:

Friday, October 16, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 61: blue vervain


This little plant seems small and ground-hovering, but will grow tall and spiky next spring/summer. It will be lovely wafting next to the fuchsia bluebird box, I think! Imagine the color combination of purple + fuchsia + the blue and cinnamon of bluebirds! 

More info:

Blue Vervain can offer a strong upright accent to any perennial garden or prairie/savanna.  The small, tubular, blue-violet flowers bloom from the bottom up in July's heat.  The numerous crowning spikes of blossoms give a candelabra-like appearance to this graceful plant.

Livestock will not eat Verbena so it may be thought of as "weedy" by some who observe it in a pasture setting. In a natural prairie it is not aggressive.  In fact, it is a rather short-lived perennial that will not compete well with more aggressive vegetation.  It self-seeds readily and is very easy to germinate, so it is a common component of many drier prairie seed mixes.  The seeds are a staple for many small mammals and birds that depend on this widely-distributed plant.

As the alternative name Swamp Verbena suggests, this Vervain likes wet, even soggy, conditions but also will grow in medium soils.  Full sun to partial sun are its preferred sun conditions. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Second update on the Big Bay

 The Marquis prescribed for his EPM is on allocation and shipping was delayed, so we started him on a different EPM med called Re-Balance last week. On day three of that, symptoms worsened slightly, but by day four he was back to his improved self. The Marquis arrived yesterday just in time to give his daily dose, so we’ve switched him to the Marquis for 28 days and will finish off the Re-Balance at the end of that, assuming things look good.

Being the generally cooperative guy he is, I usually don’t have to halter Keil to give meds, so he took the Marquis easily, but then didn’t want to stand still for some needed fly spray (we got close to 80 yesterday and the gnats were back in full force!). My husband got his halter and Keil Bay cantered from a standstill around the entire barn and into the other end of the barn aisle, looking quite stable and fit. So I’m feeling relieved about how this is going so far.

I’m tapering him off the Bute now and he’ll go on Duralactin to keep a non-prescription, milder anti-inflammatory on board through the EPM treatment. 

Today he’s starting APF (an adaptogen) in advance of tapering slowly onto Prascend to treat the PPID/Cushings. After consulting with my homeopathic vet, he’ll stay on his two remedies and I’m going to use the Prascend to see if there is improvement overall while also pulling bloodwork each 4-6 weeks to track his ACTH level. We’re in the seasonal rise still so I want to have a snapshot of how his ACTH tracks coming out of it. We should have one more look at it before the Prascend kicks in, and then see where it goes from there. 

ECIRhorse.org has a database of great information about managing horses dealing with this disease, which is quite common in older horses and if left untreated can cause severe symptoms in some. 

Overall, Keil Bay is looking good and while I’m keeping a close eye on him, he seems to be his usual self right now. He has hoof trim tomorrow and chiro on Saturday so those two things will offer some more clues to how he’s doing, and he’ll get another acupuncture treatment next week. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 60: Culver’s root

 The wonderful extension agent Debbie Roos taught me that using something tall like Culver’s root is a good accent mixed into a native plant design, so I’ve incorporated this idea into the new pollinator bed. I’m so excited to see how it looks next spring and summer!

More info:

Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver's root)
Bruso, George H. 

Veronicastrum virginicum

Veronicastrum virginicum (L.) Farw.

Culver's Root

Scrophulariaceae (Figwort Family)

Synonym(s): Leptandra virginicaVeronica virginica

USDA Symbol: vevi4

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

The unbranched stems of Culver’s-root grow 2-6 ft. tall and are topped by several spikes of densely-clustered, tiny, white flowers. The total effect is candelabra-like. Narrowly oval, dark-green leaves are arranged in whorls around the stem. The common name was to honour Dr. Culver who prescribed the plant as an effective laxative. (Lamb/Rhynard) Dense, narrow, cylindrical, spike-like clusters of small, white, tubular flowers are at the top of an erect stem over whorled leaves. 

The genus name, a combination of Veronica and the suffix astrum (false), describes this plants resemblance to the Veronicas. It is the only species in the genus. It can be grown easily in wildflower gardens. The root contains a powerful emetic and cathartic.