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.