Monday, June 17, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 213

 I’ve been exhausted for the past two weeks, since Little Man came home, settled in, and was checked out with two thumbs up by our regular vet practice. As is true for mothers in general, I think, we manage to put off sickness, exhaustion, and all the things that come with maternal cellular focus and worry until we know things are okay, or at the very least, stable, and then we … sleep? Fall apart? Catch our breaths?

The summer heat is hitting us this week too, and I took a long nap on Saturday and a short nap today and neither kind of nap is the norm for me, so I can tell that I’m playing catch up. 

We have 19 days to go until the pony king gets his back door opened up to his small barnyard paddock. I’m sure he and Rafer will be thrilled to be back to that normal, which, this time of year IS the norm for summer days. At night they’ll be able to open into the grass paddock and graze alongside Cody and Redford in the front pasture. By August we’ll be back to herd turning out together. 

When I write that seeing one horse and donkey in the front pasture seems odd, I mean it. It is so rare that we ever split the herd up or have needed to keep one in, seeing Cody and Redford, or one or the other if they’ve wandered apart from one another, is just not right. I find myself counting. I’m still shocked to see 4 and not 5 when they’re all together. I still search for Keil Bay as my eyes go from one to the next in my counting sequence. It’s going to be good to see them all together again. 

We’ve had heat and no rain for the past 4 or 5 days, or maybe even longer, as I’ve been too distracted to count days without rain. I’ve been doing some watering but need to do more of that for the further out plants that went in earlier this spring and need a little pampering this first year during the heat. I’ve only managed to do one patch of stiltgrass removal but I’ll get back into the swing of a little weeding work a day. 

The terraced beds look pretty good right now. This is the view from the back deck looking down. I glimpse these beds from the laundry room window as well as any time I drive in or out, and it’s a joy. Right now everything is white and pink but soon the yellows will begin to come in. 

And more white when the button bush blooms!

We learned last night that the owners of the property we’d been hoping to buy accepted another offer, which we could not counter due to our waiting game with the one thing being in place. It will be, but not in time for this property, unless this offer falls through. I’m trusting that the right thing will happen at the right time, as that has always been the case with us and real estate, and I’m confident that trend is carrying forward to this next and presumably final move. 

For now I’m circling back to my summer plan: do a little of a few things every day. 

Sunday, June 09, 2024

And the Little Man is home!

 They bumped his discharge up a day because he was feeling very good, all his tests were great, and he tried to run away from the techs who were charged with taking him to hand graze. That was the story we were told, but the transporter told me this morning they said he actually DID get away and ran all over the place two times so they stopped taking him out. They assured us no damage was done to stitches and they ultrasounded him to check on the intestinal repair. 

Apparently his recovery is the fastest they’ve ever seen from this kind of surgery. I’m not surprised at all, and am very grateful for it! 

They were expecting him to try to make a break for it today while loading to come home, and battened down the hatches as a precaution, but when my husband took the lead line and led him out, he marched right onto the trailer without any problems at all. He’s a smart little guy. He knew he was coming home!

Here on November Hill, the herd of three and I prepared for his arrival. After I fed them breakfast I told them he was on the way home. And these two stood in exactly these spots until the trailer pulled in about 25 minutes later.

When the trailer pulled in, Cody started whinnying and was very excited. I was a little surprised that he was so vocal, but it reminded me that he, and all of them, lost Salina and then Keil Bay, whose hasn’t even been gone a year yet, so I am sure they were all overjoyed to see that in fact they had not lost another family member. On some level I think they knew he was alive and returning because they didn’t grieve the way they did when they lost their two Hanoverian friends. 

The reunion:

Best buddies together again. :) And the Little Man in his stall.

He’s eaten hay, had half a bucket of water, and a small wet meal. Dropped a very nice pile of manure and is set for hand grazing in about 15 minutes. We have a schedule and a list to detail what goes in and what comes out. This will be our routine until July 5th or so. 

I didn’t get a photo, but Rafer Johnson is right outside Little Man’s stall with his own hay to eat right there, together. And Rafer has access to the stall right across the aisle if he wants to use it. Cody and Redford are in and out of their double stall to the back. All nice and close so Little Man is not lonely. Home!!! 

Thursday, June 06, 2024

A very very very good update!


He’s doing great, coming off a couple of meds, no signs of laminitis or sepsis, eating his feed and dropping manure, and gets to go on a hand graze today! 

Husband gets to visit today while I catch up with clients, and I’ll get back to him tomorrow. So so grateful and relieved to see this progress. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Please send light to Little Man

 Wednesday afternoon: 

He’s bright and alert, was happy to see us, and is still doing very well. It was hard to see him in full ice boots, with iv in neck and very long surgical incision - but he is not in distress or pain and one of his vets reminded me that the surgery itself is a huge procedure for any horse, so he is recovering from something very major. 

He has a great team and he’s the cutest pony ever, so getting a lot of attention from everyone. 

I think I am going to take another nap!

Newest update as of Wednesday a.m.:

Little Man had surgery and around 4:30 a.m. was in recovery and starting to wake up. The surgery confirmed strangulating lipoma and that was removed along with around 5 feet of intestine that had died. The surgeon felt good about the surgery and said it went very well. The next hurdle is getting his intestinal motility going normally and gradually introducing feed. I am hopeful that this very spunky pony will come through this, but of course it’s a major surgery and no one knows how things will go. 

I went out just now to tell his herd that he made it through this first phase of treatment, that he needs herd energy, and they were all very vocal and happy to see me and hear this. Salina is here with the herd and Keil Bay has spirited to the vet school hospital to stay with Little Man. I told Little Man this last night before he left, and my husband (who went to the hospital with him) was able to give him hugs before the surgery from all of us and to talk to him in recovery this morning before coming home. 

I’ll go see him at mid-day assuming things are going well. Right now I’m assuming the very best. 


Little Man is very sick. Vet is on the way. 


It is a strangulating lipoma colic. He was in a lot of pain - this all came about between noon and 5 p.m. or so. He was down in his stall and was able to get up and go into grassy barnyard but needed to lay down again, up and down a few times but no thrashing. It was very clear something was seriously wrong but nothing we’d ever dealt with before. Nearly white gums, respiration was normal. 

We gave banamine which relieved him some while vet was on the way. This was our first time using NC State’s Mobile Equine Emergency After Hours Unit - they now take calls after 5 p.m. and on weekends for our vet practice. They were great - the vet was a surgeon and was extremely knowledgeable and kind. 

He will be going into surgery in the next hour, so around 12:30 a.m. EST. Please send him good thoughts. If he had other health issues or were older, we wouldn’t have gone forward, but he has been and is such a healthy, happy pony we knew we had to give him this chance. 

Brave Little Man loaded onto a huge trailer in the dark barnyard and stood up all the way to the vet school hospital. Rafer Johnson stood at the barnyard fence and watched until he drove away, then brayed loudly. We are all pulling for this pony boy who we have loved for 20 years. 

Monday, June 03, 2024

More Moments In Shetland

 I haven’t posted much about the trip yet, but it was magnificent. I loved Shetland more than I expected to, and I really did expect to love it, so in the end I loved it a lot!

I think the way I would characterize it is that Shetland is both rugged and tender. You can see these things in these two photographs:

There’s something about the tender lying alongside the rugged that is so powerful. We were there to see landscape and wildlife, so we didn’t go into the towns like Lerwick, but we drove and took ferries all over the country and I never saw a fast food restaurant or anything resembling a mall. I loved that about Shetland. 

I’m still feeling the peacefulness of being there and the feel of its wind and its sunshine and just a little of its rain. 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 212

 Getting back into my routine this week with daily gardening, mostly hand weeding the native beds again, starting with the upper terraced bed, which was overrun for some reason. I’ve been pulling weeds for three days and also cutting the tall goldenrod back by 2/3 so the summer blooming plants aren’t dwarfed. I’m pulling out some of the tall goldenrod too, but allowing some to stay for autumn forage. It’s a great plant but as I have noted many times, I made a big mistake putting it in any bed! 

Husband is catching up with some mowing in the mornings before it gets too hot and I started the daily groom and insect proofing of the equine herd yesterday, as we are definitely now fully in that time of year. All appreciate having their legs and bellies sprayed with the nontoxic but noxious spray I’ve been using the past few years. It works the best of anything I’ve ever tried and although they “improved” the smell, it is still not something you want to get in your eyes or nose. We do they spraying in the barnyard and I aim carefully. 

Redford donkey still doesn’t allow spray but was happy to have me apply Coat Defense powder to his entire body. It smells good and he enjoys the rub in part. Everyone looks good and were noticeably happier after the spa treatment. 

I think Cody is looking particularly handsome these days. 

Unfortunately I have not yet gotten his saddle on site and haven’t started riding. I was so excited for that and still am. It will happen. 

The volunteer elderberries are quite stunning right now:

All doing wonderful jobs controlling soil erosion, stormwater run-off, and providing amazing food and shelter for birds and insects. If I get my ducks in a row, maybe I will make some elderberry syrup or cordial or jam when the berries are ready!

I spotted the first Monarchs yesterday and am happy the milkweek is abundant and ready to provide food for the very hungry caterpillars. 

The large blueberry bush in the back yard is loaded and will be fun to pick from when the berries ripen. We also have many figs on the fig tree and will see if they ripen earlier this year as they did last year. 

The potager is looking very lush - I didn’t get photos yet but we’re harvesting lettuce, spinach, kale and have cucumbers and tomatoes on the way. Husband planted everything this year and has done a great job keeping it watered on these hot days. 

We’re all happy to see the barn swallows nesting in the barn and are all keeping a look out for snakes. I noticed a very long snakeskin outside the barn yesterday - we welcome the black racers and other black snake species but also always offer some help to the birds when we can. 

We have had bunny nests too and I think they’re all safely out at this point. 

While we were away, husband encountered (and relocated) a large copperhead in Poplar Folly and also an Eastern box turtle who was allowed to remain. I haven’t made any progress on my work back there but I’ll get around to it eventually. There is much to do and I’ll continue rotating around the farm doing some daily work without going into overdrive. I have committed to that and I’m sticking to it. 

I’m happy to have writing weekend coming up in June and also a reading of my work with Door=Jar which I’ll share this week. It’s online and anyone reading here is most welcome to join us there. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 211

 We got home from Shetland yesterday and it was completely amazing, as is arriving back on November Hill. The very best thing about traveling to new places is how much it opens you up, and also how when you return to the routine of home, so many of those routine tasks seem elevated and special. Right now I am sitting on the sofa with Clem leaning into my left hip and Bear stretched out on the floor in front of me and these things are remarkable in this moment. 

So first, a glimpse of Shetland:

It is both rugged and tender at the same time. There are almost no trees. I loved it. 

And now, a return to November Hill and my gardens and family. We have so many trees! The whole world here on November Here is green and lush and blooming. There is no sea and no wind. 

We are up to six honeybee hives! The barn swallows are back!

I am so happy to have had the ability to travel to Shetland, and I plan to go again. I am grateful for home and all the living beings here. I will always come back! That is the beauty of travel in a nutshell for me. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

A Favorite Moment In Shetland

 When I found the Shetland pony who looked like Keil Bay!

If I could bring this little guy home, I would! 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Horse abusers Austin Wayne Simpson and Kylie Lenore Parker update

 They have reportedly moved to Robeson County, NC while still awaiting trial for the horrible abuse of horses, including the very young foal Faith, who was removed from them and had to be put down after months of treatment efforts to save her. 

This couple have also reportedly been banned from the AQHA as members and breeders, however I have read they currently have more foals on the ground. 

Do not buy horses from them, do not support them in any way. Hopefully they are found guilty and will serve the consequences for their actions. 

This is what Kylie recently posted on FB:

No, Kylie, your abuse of horses and foals is not our issue. The abuse of defenseless animals, children, and any other living creature does in fact define a person. If you have learned and grown from an experience as abuser, you take responsibility and you apologize. You do not project that others have a  problem and you do not minimize what you have done. 

The past is relevant. The past and this current denial of responsibility and continued arrogance (“when we are ready to share details we will do so but on our terms”) are both evidence that you have neither learned nor grown. 

It’s appalling that you are still allowed to own animals, period. If justice is served you will not be. 

Thursday, May 02, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 210


We are full bore into spring moving quickly to summer here on November Hill, and the cicadas are emerging and starting their very loud chorus. Unfortunately, even the cicadas aren’t loud enough to mask the sound of the neighbor bellowing at her poor horse in the round pen as she chases him around. My heart goes out to him. 

Meanwhile, the November Hill herd are in their barn with fans on during these very hot days this week, meandering around and getting the first cold hosings of the year. Not the donka boys, of course, as they want nothing to do with cold water showers. 

Because I put in some new plantings this spring I’m having to water them during these weeks without good rain, but it’s not too bad. Baloo and I walk the watering can 7 times out to the front fence and water the viburnums and the one winterberry by hand since the hoses don’t reach that far. The others are in easy access areas so not quite as intensive as when we put in the row of hollies and the cedars!

I’m doing an embodied writing workshop on Substack this spring and it’s been a productive three weeks so far - I have four new flash pieces that have come out of the prompts and the yoga that’s offered with them. Very happy to be part of that. You can check out Jeannine Ouellette’s Writing In The Dark there if you’re interested. It’s never too late to start and the prompts go into her archives for ongoing use. 

A hopeful bit of news, please send all the good energy you have … we found a farm we love and are working on the steps to purchase it. It is the first place we’ve seen that all three of us love and there were signs and omens and I am holding the space for it to remain with no other offers until we can go for it. There is one piece that needs to be in place for us to move forward and it is outside my control (as so many things are, LOL) but it’s in motion - just not yet in place. Once it is we can leap. And I know, as much as I would love this to be the place we go to next, that if this doesn’t work out something else will. And the piece that gets into place will be there for the next property if this one doesn’t work. It felt like home. And it is private and very sequestered. I hope I get to share it here and if I do, that means we got it!

I also have a very special journey coming up - my daughter and I will be traveling to Shetland for two weeks to see and photograph birds and whales. I’m so excited and really looking forward to finally visiting the home of Little Man’s ancestral origins. :)  It’s going to be amazing. 

When we return I’ll be hunkering down for the summer months seeing clients and digging in with advanced EMDR training and certification. I continue to be wowed by the impact this has on clients and on trauma. After my own EMDR treatment for early childhood medical trauma, I went to the dentist this week for dental work and did not have nightmares, slept well even the night before the appointment, and did not have to take valium to endure the visit. I didn’t even death grip the arms of the dental chair! It’s a very effective treatment modality that I’m recommending to anyone who has had trauma or disturbing experiences that impact current daily life. 

I’m also hunkering down to finish the new novel and hopefully also finish the TV series pitch deck that is mostly done but needs a final review and edit. This is the summer of hunkering down. Unless of course it is the summer of MOVING. I’ll go with what comes!

Happy May - I know I’ll be sharing tales and photos from Shetland on the other side of the trip. 

OH - my piece in Door Is A Jar is coming out I think June 4th - here’s a link to the issue with places you can purchase if you would like to:


This one is special as it’s about my mom. I hope you’ll check it out. The journal is generally available online but also in Barnes and Noble! If you purchase it there, send me a photo! 

Friday, April 26, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 209

 I’m still doing daily gardening, mostly weeding the various beds/areas of non-natives and some of the more aggressive natives that will take over if allowed. It’s working well for me to take it a couple of trugs at a time, and I am working hard to think of it as a daily practice rather than a to do list check off of a task. 

Today I watered the viburnums along the front fence and they’re all doing quite well. Most of the southern bayberries continue to grow and thrive; there are two small strips where they just won’t grow and I don’t really know why. Since my larger plan is to create a native hedgerow along the front fencing, I’m going to do some research and see if I can find something new and of course native to fill these gaps. By the time fall comes around again I’ll have that figured out. 

I noticed today that the live stake elderberries we pounded in along several areas of perimeter fence line are also doing well. I focused on sloped areas where they will provide some screening but even more importantly erosion control. 

I’m really happy with what I call the “shady strip.” It’s taken a couple of years to get it looking more like the vision I had, but it’s finally starting to, and I took some photos today to try and capture that. I remember when it was a huge tangle of poison ivy and smilax and also a lot of interesting things trying hard to grow. It’s an area where water from the crow forest tends to join with drainage pipes coming from one side of the driveway down from the barnyard that feed into a larger drainage pipe that goes further down the driveway and across to the front pasture. That confluence of stormwater combined with shade at the edge of forest creates an interesting opportunity for some really nice natives. 

There are a lot of plants volunteering around and mixed in with the things I’ve put in, some native and some not, and I’m working on removing the nonnatives and making decisions about the natives, but also not wanting to take all the roots out of the ground until I can replace them with what I want to be there. In some instances I’m moving the native volunteers to other places. It’s so nice when good things pop up!

It’s lovely seeing that the things I planted settling in and spreading. If I can keep the things I don’t want from taking over, this visioned space will continue coming into reality. 

There used to be one gigantic brush pile in this area, but now there are two where I put things I pull out of all the various beds. Brown bunnies and birds love these brushy areas at the edge of the forest and I have come to love the patterns of the discarded stems and foliage. 

We have a lot of stone to continue lining the drainage area and I may make a border along the front edge to create a hardscape boundary to this long and winding bed. 

Across the driveway at the corner of the fencing where the drainage pipe comes out to the front pasture, I made the bluebird bed a few years ago and have continued adding to it. I started weeding there today and it too is coming into its own now. The bluebirds are nesting in their box and I really loved seeing the Indian physic at the bottom of the post, which was tiny when I put it in two years ago, really thriving this spring. 

I’d like to outline this bed with some stone too, and give it some definition. 

Across the front pasture, down to the far corner, the bird haven absolutely feels that way now. It turned a corner this year, it seems, though that area too needs some very focused weeding to keep a few things from taking over. I’ll be working on that over the next week or so. 

The place I never get to is Poplar Folly, where I still have the plan to make an actual woodland pathway that winds in a sort of figure 8 pattern down there. We’ve gotten the apiary organized for the season, and thanks to my husband, the two colonies that made it through winter (out of 4) are now split and we had a swarm come into the Hegemone hive (I actually think they came back!) for a total now of 5 thriving colonies. We plan to split Hegemone as they are building up very quickly, and that will be 6. I have one more hive box and a lovely wooden nuc box I may set up down there to see if we lure any more swarms with them. 8 would be a sort of magic number and I’d rather see the boxes being used than sitting in my beekeeping storage room!

The potager is also booming and needs to be weed-eated and tidied for the summer season. I’ll get around to it as I continue rotating around the farm. 

It’s a busy and rich springtime here. I am loving the privacy that comes with the leafing out of all our trees. The cicadas are emerging, the swallows are back, and we have a nest of eastern phoebes this year too. Chickadees in one bluebird box, bluebirds in the other. My owl box ready and waiting from an owl family to move in. There have been some hard things this year but as usual, November Hill is holding things together. 

Saturday, April 13, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 208

 The front garden bed is doing its amazing first wave of spring show right now:

My viburnums are all leafed out!

We’ve had a swarm move into our empty honeybee hive.

We’re planting the vegetable beds.

Someone dear is learning to love our other dear ones.

Life is being challenging in a lot of ways right now, but the farm and its routines, its joys and beauties, keeps us going. 

And might I note that we looked at a farm we wanted to make an offer on and then learned that its HOA did not allow donkeys! Never mind, we said, noting that they are missing out to prohibit such gentle, loving creatures. 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 207

 We are in the midst of three days of rain and today a new washing machine is arriving which means the delivery folks will be slogging through the soggy path into our back yard. I’m grateful I found this replacement machine - the exact same machine that has bearings wearing out at age 4 - in a very good deal online. The repair was going to cost $1300+ and the new machine was much much less than that. However, on this rainy day with animals sequestered during a two-hour window, and a washing machine that technically still works, I’m wishing I had a magic wand that would just keep it running instead of the hullabaloo of people tromping in and out with a new one. 

Cody and Rafer Johnson pushed through the un-electrified HorseGuard tape last night through the arena to get to the big barnyard grass, so that repair is on the docket for sometime today. Ready for sunshine and blue skies and drying out. It’s on my list to replace the tape at that end of the arena and on around to the barnyard gate with wood fencing, but that isn’t near the top of my list yet and they have lived with it undisturbed for 20 years! The boredom of rainy days in the barn, the lure of spring grass. 

Last weekend I went to a local pop-up native plant sale to get short-toothed mountain mint, which I’ve been looking for the past couple of years. I got there early and nabbed 5 beautiful plants, plus Wherry’s foamflower, woodland phlox, and Virginia mountain mint. We had two nights of frost warning so I kept the new haul in the garage until yesterday when things warmed up enough that I could put them outside. I managed to get one mountain mint in the ground during a break in the rain. Hopefully tomorrow I can get the rest in the ground and complete the prepping of the upper terrace for spring. 

I’m about 1/3 through the lower terrace removing some invasive non-natives but I’ve done enough to have uncovered the downy wood mint, curlyheads, and asters coming up. The patch of wild bergamot has grown larger and should be pretty spectacular when it blooms! Also pruned the beauty berry and button bush at the end of the terraced beds. I’m glad to be giving that whole area a needed sprucing up this year. 

On the other side of the driveway that bed awaits - all I’ve done over there is a little weeding and pruning of the very large button bush. 

All the viburnums I planted are leafing out, and in general, things are looking good, though I know at some point I’ll lose control of how fast things are growing and at that point I’ll sit back and just enjoy the jungle. 

Otherwise, life is busy but I am persisting in my effort to, as Cal Newport prescribes in his newest book Slow Productivity:

Do fewer things.

Work at a natural pace.

Obsess over quality.

It’s funny because I’ve been looking at my longtime goal to focus on three things in a day. He recommends this in the book, and it’s definitely fueled my motivation to adhere to this plan. The addition of working at a natural pace is helping too - just moving normally and not racing ahead to try to get more done. The book is good; if you’re like me and need some encouragement to slow down, I recommend it!

The delivery guy just called and they’re on the way so I’m going to meditate on that being almost done. The rain seems to have stopped so maybe this won’t be the big deal it feels like. I’m hoping their truck is not huge, as the last time they had to wheel the machines down the entire driveway! 


Had to add this in. Washer installed by two super competent young men this morning. And I just posted the following to my horsekeeping group. 

Today I was tending Keil Bay’s and Salina’s gravesites, after doing winter planting of some rarer native plants that seemed to be a suitable match for these two horses. I’ve been keeping the spring weeds that are popping up pulled on and around the graves and had the final plants in hand to put in for this spring. After getting them in the ground, and pulling the weeds, I walked over to the part of the grave where Keil’s head is and leaned down to say something to him. There was a Red Bird peppermint wrapper lying there on the soil, exactly where his muzzle is. 

For the past 20 years we have never been without Red Bird peppermints because they were his favorite treat. The night he died I fed him every single peppermint we had on hand, which was about half of a large bag. I never reordered because the remaining herd members do not really need those peppermints. We haven’t had any since October 25th.

I’m not sure where that wrapper came from but it sure made me smile to think that Keil Bay is at least in some way still getting his peppermints on this was rainy/now sunny spring day. :)

Monday, March 04, 2024

Dreaming About Keil Bay

 For the past month or so I’ve been having exquisitely detailed dreams about the Big Bay. In one dream we took him to a nearby pond for a therapeutic soak. When I unhooked his lead rope, he bypassed the “safe” pond and power walked to a further pond that was deep and steep and rock lined, and jumped into it. While I fretted about how we would get him out safely, he tried backing up the steep slope, couldn’t manage it, and soared out in a giant magnificent leap that defied all expectations. He was fine. He was happy. This woke me up smiling because it is so Keil Bay.

In another dream I brought him to live inside the house for total safety. Within about an hour he was jumping up on the kitchen island and countertops just like our cats do. Thankfully in the dream world the ceilings and square footage magically grew to accommodate him. 

Last night I dreamed that a repair person showed up unscheduled, managed to open our farm gate, and Keil Bay and Cody trotted down the driveway and out onto the gravel lane, where they began to gallop up and down. In a panic, I ran with halters and lead ropes to get them. Once they galloped back to me, I saw they had tacked themselves up and were fully ready for riding. However, they were still having fun galloping so off they went again. As Keil galloped past me for the third time I called out to him and he turned to look at me, then slid to a stop, going onto his side and skidding for what seemed like many minutes. I was sure he would be injured but he wasn’t, and we finally got them back to the confines of the farm.

I also dreamed I brought Keil Bay into the house again, for another round of safekeeping, and this time I made him a huge comfortable bed of blankets and pillows in the corner of our dream world’s huge living room. It was a holiday of some kind, and we had guests stop by. Keil Bay loved lying snug in his bed while people oohed and aahhed over him. 

Later after everyone left I was in the kitchen bemoaning all the dirty dishes. Keil appeared in the doorway and said “I’ll do the dishes!” And so he did. 

I’m not sure what it means that he’s becoming ever more human and that I am trying to keep him safe in my dreams. I’ve long had dreams of keeping our animals and farm safe from intruders, but these safekeeping dreams are about his comfort, not his safety so much. 

In any case, I welcome them. In every dream he is 100% Keil Bay, in body and in spirit and personality. It’s a joy to have him in a house that magically grows to accommodate him. I’m grateful for these moments of whimsy and time with him. 

In an extra note, we hung the owl box my daughter gave us for Christmas and I am waiting for an owl to move in. With several big owl meetings at Keil’s passing I think the appearance of an owl in the box will be a huge comfort, not to mention generally exciting! 

Friday, March 01, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 206

 We’ve had a rainy off and on week which has been helpful in keeping all the viburnums and other newly put in plants watered. I did some pruning today of one of the button bushes and the beauty berry that is just in front of it, on the lower native bed tier. 

The invasive mock strawberry (Potentilla indica) still needs to be removed from the two beds I started working on and doing that is how I got hold of poison ivy. I’m going to wait for some of my natives to come up and once I can see them and where they are, I’ll use a weeding hoe and clear out the nonnative things. 

There are a few larger invaders who I’ll dig out and remove individually. I really look forward to seeing these beds this spring, summer, and fall with this good clearing out done early on. 

In other news, the saddle fitter arrived today as scheduled and I cannot tell you how excited I was as she made the tracings of Cody’s back and then took me to her mobile fitting very large van where she set out a work table, three saddle racks, and a model “horse” for me to try saddles on. She brought out saddle after saddle and all I had to do was hop on, say yay or neigh (ha), and save the ones I liked. In the end the one that I liked best of all turned out to be a very good fit on Cody, in the reasonable middle range cost-wise, and oh, the comfort. We didn’t saddle Cody up today for the trial ride in the saddle I picked, mainly because he has dental care scheduled for March 11 and I’d like to get him on the other side of that before putting a bridle on. The saddle fitter agreed that was a good plan. 

I don’t even know how to describe how it felt to be sitting in saddles. I feel very ready for this new journey with Cody. He was cooperative and very curious about the saddle being put on his back. 

Of course the rest of the herd were clustered by the barn whinnying and braying for their own saddle fittings. 

The rain held off until the very end of the fitting, and I remembered days when rain came just as it did today during rides with Keil Bay, who always put on his best movement as the rain began, knowing that I would want to end on a very good note. Today he was absolutely with us as we went through this big step. 

My daughter captured this photo on my birthday and I love it. It felt like the perfect image for that day. 

The whole wide world pours down, as William Stafford wrote in his amazing poem:


By William Stafford

You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightning before it says
its names – and then the clouds’ wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles – you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head –
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Sad update on the little filly named Faith

 Last week the rescue group and vet team who have taken amazing care of Faith, the little filly who was removed from owners due to terrible physical and emotional abuse, had to make the heartbreaking decision to help Faith go peacefully. Her injuries were too severe for her to live a pain-free life even as a pasture only horse. 

So many people have put time and money and love into giving this young horse a chance to live a healthy life. It’s a tragedy that such a sweet girl has not been able to find stability without pain. 

The couple who bred and abused Faith have had their court case continued numerous times. We all need to reach out to Cumberland County Animal Control and encourage them not to let up with this case. These two people should never own horses again and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for their abuse of this horse. 

You can easily google the numbers to call, write, and you can also help by sharing this far and wide and encouraging others to call and write. 

Thanks for your help in speaking out for Faith. 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 205: A New Adventure

 This Friday my birthday present on this 16th leap year birthday is a saddle fitting for Cody. He and I are going to begin a new adventure in riding. Years ago, I did a period of weekly lessons on Cody to try and expand my adult body skills while also learning about what he needs from a rider to offer the relaxed, beautiful movement we see him exhibiting in free play. 

Cody is light years different from Keil Bay: different breed, different build, different movement, but also different training. Keil was trained by someone who bred, trained, and competed upper level dressage horses, and it was very clear that Keil had been encouraged to use his body and not constrained by his rider. Keil expected, trusted in, and received competent riding his entire life. 

Cody came to us as a fully trained under saddle western pleasure QH. We thought he was 4 years old. Still early in a horse’s life to be fully trained under saddle, but we planned to take it easy until he grew up a bit more. When his papers arrived in the mail, we learned he was TWO years old. He had a weekly ride for the next year and a half to let him grow up some more, and a very specific kind of ride - with an English saddle and encouragement for relaxing and using his body. His gaits were tight, mincing western pleasure trained movement, nothing we wanted to continue. He figured it out, and with a sensitive, quiet rider he really shines. Too much use of rein, leg, and weight and he tenses up and reverts to the old learning. 

I’m not an intentionally loud rider with the aids, but I’ve had to work as an adult to regain some of my youthful balance in the saddle. Keil Bay was always very forgiving of me, and big enough not to care too much. He took care of me with his own impeccable athleticism and elegant movement. 

Cody needs what I call butterfly aids. For me, that means I have to focus on keeping my legs off him more than on him, as even the lightest touch is for him a big cue. What I learned in my lessons on Cody was that if I could lighten in every way as a rider, find my balance, and most of all remain relaxed, Cody would follow suit. And what came then was beautiful. In a way, Cody taught me more than Keil did because he needed more from me to get to the good place where both our bodies moved in harmony. 

It’s time for us to work together again. With Keil Bay only being ridden in my dreams (it is happening, and I treasure it) and my visualizations, I am craving being on the back of an in the flesh horse. Cody has PSSM, which likely exacerbates his sensitivity, but consistent work also helps his condition. So my job will be to get as light and as balanced and as relaxed as I can for him. In return, his balanced movement will do wonders for my fitness and my back and hips. We are going to be a team, and he is actively participating in this as we move toward Friday.

Last week he had a chiro appointment, and unlike Keil Bay, it’s not his favorite thing on the planet. But as if something had shifted, he relaxed into his chiro adjustments and began to offer behaviors that were exactly like Keil’s during his chiro time. Cody turned his neck many times to look back at his chiro vet, something he’s never done before, something Keil Bay did constantly. Cody nudged me when I was talking about something not related to him, as Keil Bay always did. And when the work was done, instead of being eager to walk away and rejoin his herd, he stopped and turned to his vet and touched her arm with his muzzle. A signature Keil Bay move. 

Is Cody channeling the Big Bay? I don’t know! But the change was unmistakable. I think he’s probably stepping into Keil’s role in the ways he noticed Keil behaving all the years they lived together, which was most of Cody’s life. 

I’m so happy to be on this new adventure with him. I hope we both get a lot out of it. More to come as we move forward into 2024. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Happy Birthday, Redford!!!

 This February we have two sweet 16 birthdays happening. Redford turned 16 on the 19th and I will have my 16th Leap Year birthday on the 29th. I’m very happy to share this milestone with Redford, who has been and remains the caretaker equine on November Hill. 

When he first came to us around 6 months of age, he came earlier than planned to help keep Rafer Johnson, who had a broken leg in a big cast, company. Salina had gone temporarily awol due to hormones and Rafer needed a companion at the barn. Redford came and took the role beautifully. Of course, once Redford came and Salina saw him, she immediately reverted to mama bear and would not leave the donkey boys, so then we had the trio who became deeply bonded until Salina passed away at age 30.

As the herd reconfigured Redford began to attach himself to Keil and Cody, always offering to stay with either one of them if needed. When Keil developed EPM, Redford stayed by his side and that continued until Keil’s passing in October. 

The herd is still settling into its new order after losing their long-time leader, but Redford seems to float between Cody and Little Man and Rafer Johnson. I’m sure he’s going to the one who needs his company the most - that’s just who he is. 

Since Salina’s death, Redford also tends to me. He began to leave the herd to come be near me around that time, whenever I’m out doing chores or just spending time with the herd. He has been sticking to me like glue when I’m at the barn since Keil’s death, and I appreciate his presence and his care. He is such a special little donkey. We’re honored to have him here, keeping his eyes on all of us. 

Here he is last week, sticking close as I worked in the back pasture. 

Happy sweet 16, Redbug! We love you so much!

Monday, February 05, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 204

 Much work in the upper pollinator bed this weekend, removing some winter foliage and thinning out the potentilla, which is native but can get overbearing. I also ripped out many tall/Canada goldenrod (native and terrific but have taken over this bed and need to go!) and several Japanese honeysuckle vines. Not done but unearthed many of the original native plantings which had gotten overshadowed by the tall goldenrod. 

No photos yet!

Spent time with the herd yesterday afternoon and dear husband did hoof trims for the donka boys while I groomed. I visited Keil Bay’s grave this morning and stood awhile with, for the first time since he passed, no tears. I had a visceral image of him coming up from the grave, shaking, jumping into the arena and doing a very fancy dressage test while I watched. This is how I remember him, the beauty of his movement, his amazing personality, and how happy I felt and still feel when I see him go. 

It’s a beautiful February day that started when I woke up early to find an acceptance email for my flash fiction piece titled She Wants To Swim With Narwhals. It is forthcoming in Permafrost Magazine, and I’ll post a link when it publishes. 

Monday, January 29, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 203

 We’ve had a very warm spell the past week or so, with two big rains and days of gray skies, which followed a very cold spell for nearly two weeks before that. Now we’re shifting back to fairly normal winter weather for us, with highs in the low 50s and nights in the low 30s. I’ll take it. 

I’ve been busy planting a batch of natives I got in January right before the cold snap. They all had to live in the garage for a week until we got to the rainy warm spell, and once the rain stopped, the ground was perfect for digging and planting six viburnums (three different species) into the front fence native mixed hedge area. I also put in 25 elderberry live stakes and a few garden bed plantings. Right now I have one winterberry holly that needs to go into the ground and then I am done with planting for this season. 

We’ve also been moving large stones from our mother-in-law cottage to the farm, little by little, in two different dry creek bed areas. This will take awhile to complete but hopefully by mid-spring we’re done with it.

Yesterday I worked on getting butterfly bushes out of the upper pollinator bed. We took out the grandfather butterfly bush last year and it is trying to come back. Thankfully the five volunteers weren’t too hard to remove. I’ll be doing a major weeding out of that upper bed this spring, as it’s gotten overgrown with both non-native invaders and some unruly goldenrod, which I like, but it has taken over. I’ll be removing as many of the goldenrod as I can this spring and moving them to an area where they can go wild without crowding my small bed. I have a spot in Arcadia that is perfect for them. 

We’re all hanging in there in general here. I’ve started a new novel, quite unintentionally, and have been enjoying my near daily writing sessions with it. Continuing my interior painting projects slowly but surely, and we got the new barn windows installed - now need to paint the barn with the remaining exterior house paint. That’s a job that requires the right weather, so it’s on hold for right now.

Meanwhile, a certain family member turned 5 years old!

Happy birthday, our darling Clementine! 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 91: blackhaw

 Viburnum prunifolium is a wonderful native shrub that offers many wildlife and pollinator benefits as well as erosion control and fall color. 

I’m in the process of adding three species of viburnum staggered along our front fencing, between the southern bayberries already thriving there. My goal is to created a mixed native hedge that supports wildlife, offers screening, and enhances the beautiful view from our front porch. 

By staggering three species I’ll broaden the wildlife and insect support while getting a consistent visual look across the length of the hedge, especially during bloom times. 

For the horses, it offers a layer of privacy and some sound protection from passing cars and people. 

Friday, January 26, 2024

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 90: marsh rattlesnake master

 I’ve loved another native species of rattlesnake master since the year I added it to my very first native pollinator bed. It has done beautifully there and is one of my favorite plants. 

This marsh species is beautiful to me because I love the lavender color of the flowers and I’ve added it to a new bed in the barnyard. It’s not the ideal marshy setting this plant loves, but often enough, natives can do well in less than ideal conditions. I’ve planted five and will keep them well watered to see if they can take off where I’ve put them. 

I’m going to have some new plants to track this spring - stay tuned for updates. 

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 89: poke milkweed

 Asclepias exaltata is a beautiful and not easy to find species of milkweed that does well in part shade and has a wonderful nodding quality to it thanks to the flowers dangling on stems. When I looked for rarer natives to honor Keil Bay and Salina in their partly shady resting place I discovered this and actually found it in a nursery about an hour away. 

I’ve planted these and am so eager to see them come up this spring. 

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 88: Sweetleaf, aka Horse Sugar

 Symplocos tinctoria is a native to NC (and other states, check yours to be sure) semi-evergreen shrub that does well in part shade, has leaves that taste sweet, hence the common names, and has lovely flowers that offer forage for pollinators. It’s also the host plant for King’s hairstreak butterflies. 

This is one of the plants I chose and have planted on Keil Bay’s and Salina’s gravesites. I’m excited to see it grow and to know that both my dear equine friends will appreciate the sweet leaves of this lovely plant. 

Salina famously stole sunflowers from my garden and ran with them, and Keil was also famously known for his love of honeysuckle. It makes me happy to see this growing in the place both have been laid to rest here on the farm. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 202 (the herd moves on)


As we closed out 2023 a number of little things happened and then one big thing to mark this passage. The little things: we had a relatively quiet new year’s eve with not much noise, which made me very happy. On the early morning of the new year, I was out with Baloo when I noticed the birds were singing madly on the farm. A week before I had bemoaned never seeing a northern flicker in my life. The patterns of their feathering and colors make me smile (in pictures!) and I wished to see one. As the birds chorused I turned on my Cornell bird sound app and in seconds had this reading:

The northern flicker was calling from one of two oaks in the front pasture. While I couldn’t locate the bird visually, I now know they are on the farm and I will be sure to listen and look in the days to come. What a gift it will be if I catch a glimpse!

The big thing happened yesterday mid-morning when I glanced out the back window after my daughter said that both Cody and Apache Moon were rolling at the same time. Always on the alert for trouble, I thought colic, then biting insects, neither of which were likely. By the time I glanced out, they were both up on all fours again, and then Cody laid back down to roll. He went all the way over, back and forth, as if giving his back a good scratch, and then leaped up with two double-barrel bucks and his characteristic “let’s play” head toss. When Apache didn’t respond, Cody walked up to him and they touched muzzles. Cody rarely approaches Apache face to face like this - they have their infamous over the fence tag game they play regularly, but the pony has always reigned superior over Cody and the past two weeks he’s been very bossy, moving Cody away from hay piles or even just moving him for no good reason. 

I speculated that Apache was making a play to be herd leader. But yesterday morning Cody turned the tables on Apache, not backing down, not being aggressive, but being very forward about his ability to be in Apache’s space without being moved. 

For several minutes they stood there and it looked exactly like they were having a discussion. There was gesturing with heads and muzzles and neither moved their hooves an inch. Then suddenly they shared breath and then Cody went off into a huge floating trot that turned to a slow gallop in a large circle, tossing his head and soon joined by the pony. 

They trotted, they galloped, they did levade, they spun on hind hooves, they cantered along the dirt paddock and back out again. It was a play session in the order of the ones they usually have, the very first I’ve seen since Keil Bay passed away. 

I do not know how they know it’s the start of a new year or that it means something to humans, but there is no doubt in my mind that this herd has made the decision to move on, to reform, to get back to their routine of grazing together, sleeping together, rolling together, playing together. And they are dealing with the question of herd order and how that will proceed. 

I’m so relieved and so grateful that they helped start 2024 off on such a beautiful note.